Friday, June 28, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... JUBAL

Only now does it occur to me...  that my lifelong dream to see Charles Bronson throw a table at Ernest Borgnine would one day be realized!

Sheer visual poetry!  And from the freeze-framing, it looks like Bronson is in fact heaving that table across the room, while Borgnine has been replaced by a stunt double.

The movie's pretty good, too– a loose (very loose) retelling of OTHELLO (with Borgnine as Marty– I mean Othello, Rod Steiger as Iago, Valerie French as Desdemona, and Glenn Ford as Cassio),
JUBAL is a beautiful Eastmancolor Western that's tense, well-acted, and bursting with Douglas Sirk-ian melodrama.  It's not quite as good as my other Delmer Daves favorites (DARK PASSAGE and 3:10 TO YUMA), but it's well worth your time (even though Bronson's only in a supporting role).  It's also clear that Sergio Leone was a Delmer Daves fan, and it's funny how many of the film's tableaux are comprised entirely of actors who would go on to work with the Spaghetti Master:

Rod Steiger (DUCK, YOU SUCKER) and henchman Jack Elam (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.)

Charles Bronson (even wearing practically the same hat as in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) faces off with Steiger.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Junta Juleil's 900th Post!

I don't know, it kinda feels like a big deal.  That's a helluva lot of posts about stuff like Mandom aftershave and Carpy and Ironside and POV shots in Italian horror movies and Golan n' Globus and the Slater Factor and the Muscles from Brussels.

So, in celebration, here's a picture of Captain Ron, on the high seas:

A big thank you to all of my readers, and hope everybody's enjoying their summer!

Coming this summer:
More Van Damme
More Bronson
More Albert Pyun
Some Peter Weller
John Carpenter, Screenwriter
A Smattering of Brion James
Hell, Maybe I'll Resurrect the Top 100 Countdown
Other Good Stuff

If you have suggestions for my summer viewing, please leave 'em in the comments section below!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... FOXES

Only now does it occur to me...

Okay, three things.

#1.  Continuing the Adrian Lyne rewatch (as previously glimpsed in silly observations on FLASHDANCEUNFAITHFUL, and INDECENT PROPOSAL), I took a second look at FOXES, a coming-of-age drama that I'd last glimpsed as a youngster, via a library VHS.  It's actually still a solid movie, and well-acted, with fantastic 1980 flourish in the costumes, the random Randy Quaid, the glory of Scott Baio in a tuxedo t-shirt, the likably raw performance of Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie, and the ever-present Giorgio Moroder-produced soundtrack... there's a lot to like here, and the story is told in a way that's unflinching and authentic, making it feel like a definite precursor to "adult" teen fare like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH.

#2.  An unexpected, super-young, super-nerdy, quasi-villanous performance from a thirteen-year-old Laura Dern!
If I were Donald Gibb in REVENGE OF THE NERDS, I just might say "Nice glasses, neeeeeeeeeeeeeerd!"

#3.  At one point, Cherrie Curie gets picked up while hitchhiking by a couple of leering, lecherous San Fernando Valley swingers who are so caricatured and clearly "evil" that they look they swung straight out of EATING RAOUL.  Now, I don't know if it's because it was late at night, or because I'd had a few drinks already, but it struck me suddenly that the swingers were the exact Bizarro versions of Faye Dunaway and William Shatner.  Amirite?

Well, maybe.  Anyway.  FOXES, ladies and gentlemen!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Television Review: QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY (1997, Mick Garris)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Christopher Lloyd (BACK TO THE FUTURE, CLUE), Matt Frewer (MAX HEADROOM, HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS), Raphael Sbarge (RISKY BUSINESS, INDEPENDENCE DAY), Missy Crider (MULHOLLAND DR., POWDER), Silas Weir Mitchell (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, 24), Bill Nunn (DO THE RIGHT THING, SPIDER-MAN), Veronica Cartwright (ALIEN, THE BIRDS, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS '78), with a cameo by John Landis (THE BLUES BROTHERS, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON).  Music by Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS).  Based on short stories by Stephen King (CAT'S EYE, THE NIGHT FLIER) and Clive Barker (HELLRAISER, NIGHTBREED).
Tag-line:  "Fright titans Stephen King and Clive Barker send a shiver up your spine!"
Best one-liner:  "If you can't see the black heart of America, you're either blind, or a fool!"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

 "So... I just saw QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY..."
–"What's that?"
"It's an omnibus horror flick with stories by Stephen King and Clive Barker, made for television."
–"Awesome!  Is it good?"
"Well, uh... what is it that I always say about Mick Garris?
–"That CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE is his finest achievement."
"No, besides that."
–"That he's a one-man Matt Frewer employment agency?"
"No, besides that."
–"That HOCUS POCUS is a forgotten masterpiece?"
"Look, just forget it.  Anyway, my point is that this is full of the silly, sloppy storytelling that Garris is well-known for, and feels a helluva lot like a failed pilot episode for an anthology series, which is what it might even have been.  I don't know.  I'm so demoralized, I don't even feel like researching that information."
"On the Mick Garris failure index, it's not as good as CRITTERS 2, SLEEPWALKERS, or his MASTERS OF HORROR episodes, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of THE STAND and THE SHINING."
–"Well, that's not saying much."
"But it is saying something.  Anyway, let's get into the nitty-gritty.  As in most omnibus horror films, there's a frame story.  This frame story involves a manic Christopher Lloyd who is wearing an S&M dog collar, a Sherlock Holmes coat, and a leather peasant shirt.  Also, for some reason, he's looking a lot like Jeremy Irons."

–"Does he bring the crazy?"
"Of course he brings the crazy.  He's doing psychotic facial mugging, improvising some great acting business with a dish of strawberries, and trying his goddamned best with Garris' mealy-mouthed dialogue. In fact, that's the main problem here:  out of a 90 minute runtime, there's probably a half-hour's worth of Garris-scripted frame padding, which has absolutely nothing to do with the work of Stephen King or Clive Barker and is incredibly, needlessly verbose." 

Lloyd is a living legend, but that doesn't discount the fact that 100% of the props and costumes pictured above may have been purchased from the nearest Spencer's Gifts.

–"Lloyd can't save it?"
"Sadly, no.  But he tries.  And it is kinda fun to watch him try.  For a few minutes, anyway."
–"Oh.  So what's the first story?"
"We begin with Stephen King.  'Chattery Teeth,' from the King collection NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES.  'Chattery Teeth' was my favorite Stephen King short story of all time... when I was ten."
–"That's a good age."
"Anyway, 'Chattery Teeth' is the tale of a traveling salesman who stumbles across a ramshackle Route 66 gas station and comes into the possession of a pair of novelty chattering teeth."

–"I had a pair of those when I was a kid!"
"Yeah, me too.  Anyway, the salesman encounters a deranged hitchhiker, and then things get interesting..."
–"Do the teeth come to life?"
"I'm not telling you."
–"Do they start chomping on people?"
"Shhh.  Anyway, we get a nice supporting role from acting legend Veronica Cartwright as a licorice-chewin' proprietress, decked out in trashy Southwestern jewelry.  Along with Christopher Lloyd, Charles Durning in DESPERATION, and Ed Harris in THE STAND, she's probably the best actor to ever appear in a Mick Garris movie."

Veronica Cartwright:  too good for this movie.

–"Well, how is it?  The segment, I mean."
"It's actually not bad, it just doesn't have a lot of 'oomph.'  The story's only 39 pages, and the segment's around 30 minutes, so it's probably got one of the lowest page-to-minute ratios of any King adaptation.  It's very faithful to the short story, but it should have been shorter, and with a lot more flair, especially in regard to the um... 'chomping.'"
–"I knew it!  I knew there was chomping!"
"Yeah, yeah.  Anyway, it should have been a fifteen minute CREEPSHOW piece, is what I'm saying."
–"So what about the next piece– the Barker?"
"Hoo boy."
–"I hate it when you say 'hoo boy.'"
"Aw, shut it.  Now, the Barker segment is adapted from 'The Body Politic,' a taut, bizarre piece of body horror from BOOKS OF BLOOD: VOLUME IV.  It's the story of a man whose hands may or may not have achieved consciousness and are clandestinely plotting a revolution while he sleeps."
"Garris blows it.  Big.  He changes and waters down everything about the story that made it work.  Then he drenches it in bad CGI."
"At least we get a John Landis cameo."
–"Well, that's nice."
John Landis: always up for a horror cameo.

"And Clive Barker even shows up in the same scene, though you're struck with the horrific idea that that his presence here represents some kind of implicit condonation of the proceedings."

Clive Barker:  cool with directors half-assing adaptations of his work.

–"You said something about bad CGI?"
"Yeah.  So, Matt Frewer plays the lead–"
–"As if you even had to say that out loud."
"To be fair, it could have just as easily been Henry Thomas or Stephen Weber."
–"Good point."
"And Frewer's fine–  but, for instance, he's no Bruce Campbell."

–"Ah, but who is."
"Anyway, when his hands decide to, eh, liberate themselves, there's an amazing practical effect–

which leads almost immediately to some of the worst CGI I've ever seen.  A screen-cap cannot do it justice.  It makes that 90s dancing baby GIF look like something out of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES."

"By the time there's an army of the things, you're going to be weeping aloud.  And to think that he should have learned his lesson from his depiction of "The Hand of God" in THE STAND!"

–"So you don't think I should watch this one?"
"Well, I'm sure I'm not going to be able to stop you."
–"Yeah, you're probably right.  I am a glutton for punishment."
"Just have the fast-forward button handy.  In closing, if you're gonna watch an adaptation of a Stephen King short story from the collection NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES that was released in 1997... make it THE NIGHT FLIER."

–Sean Gill

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE

Only now does it occur to me...  that Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton were good 'ole boy soldier cronies back in 1983, three years before ALIENS.

Based on a novel by Pat Conroy that I read for a high school English class, THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE is set at a Citadel-esque military academy on the cusp of the Civil Rights era.
Biehn and Paxton play a couple of classic asshole hazer bullies who usually torment the weakest of the new guys

Paxton (far left) and Biehn (second from left) do their thing.

and enacting hardcore harassments, like turning the fat guy into Paxton's personal piggy bank.

Things take a turn for the worse when the school admits its first-ever black cadet, and Biehn and Paxton (along with a shadowy organization called "The Ten," that seems like a blend of the KKK and Yale's Skull and Bones) begin a torturous, drawn-out persecution of the black guy, who's only friend on campus is David Keith (unfortunately, not Keith David).

Biehn chomps the scenery, trying to outdo Paxton's crazy face.

The culmination of all this is probably the scene where Paxton and Biehn sing with the full company of cadets and proceed in a behavior I can only describe as trying to "Out-Dixie" one another.  Well done.

Also, Paxton is credited as "Wild" Bill Paxton.  It's too bad that didn't stick!

Anyway, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and one which continued in THE TERMINATOR (1984), ALIENS (1986), NAVY SEALS (1990), and TOMBSTONE (1993).

P.S. There's also a meaty character role (Colonel "Bear" Berrineau) for crotchety old man and cigar-chomping virtuoso Robert Prosky (GREMLINS 2, CHRISTINE).  Always good to see ya, Mr. Prosky!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... MY CRASY LIFE

Only now does it occur to me...  that French arthouse director and Jean-Luc Godard crony Jean-Pierre Gorin's 1992 documentary on Samoan street gangs in Long Beach features the voice of accomplished character actor and quintessential 80s dad Richard Masur!

You'll naturally recognize Masur

from such films as STEPHEN KING'S IT, THE THING, LICENSE TO DRIVE, MY GIRL, MY GIRL 2, MR. BOOGEDY, HEAVEN'S GATE, BRIDE OF BOOGEDY, RENT-A-COP, RISKY BUSINESS, NIGHTMARES, THE BELIEVERS, MY SCIENCE PROJECT, and MULTIPLICITY, but he doesn't show his face here.  In the MY CRASY LIFE, he voices a snarky, fictionalized police dashboard computer which serves as a quasi-artsy and not-entirely-successful narrative device that acts as a sort of comic foil to the the gritty vérité.

Pretty bizarre, but there it is.  (And obviously any shortcomings in the computer as a narrative device ought not to be blamed on Masur, who does a fine job.)

Strangely, this credit does not appear on IMDb, but I'm here to confirm it for all you Masur die-hards out there.  Now let's go watch some BOOGEDY!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Film Review: LIONHEART (1990, Sheldon Lettich)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Written by Jean-Claude Van Damme, S.N. Warren, and Sheldon Lettich (RAMBO III, BLOODSPORT).  Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page (CARNOSAUR, SLEDGE HAMMER!), Deborah Rennard (DALLAS, LAND OF DOOM), Lisa Pelikan (GHOULIES, SWING SHIFT), Ashley Johnson (GROWING PAINS, THE AVENGERS), Brian Thompson ("The Night Slasher" in COBRA, MOON 44, THE X-FILES), Michel Qissi (BLOODSPORT, KICKBOXER), Billy Blanks (THE LAST BOY SCOUT, TAE-BO WORKOUT), Abdel Qissi (THE QUEST, THE ORDER), and cameo appearances by Lawrence Bender (producer of PULP FICTION, KILL BILL, and RESERVOIR DOGS) and Scott Spiegel (Sam Raimi crony, co-writer of EVIL DEAD II, and director of INTRUDER).
Tag-line:  "Too tough to die."  Though I prefer:  "When the streets are a jungle... there can only be one king."
Best one-liner:  "Sometimes life is... is... ugly... and stupid... and mean."   [said expressively by the Muscles from Brussels himself]

The weather's getting nice, and summer's on the way.  Ladies and germs, it's time for some Van Damme!

Some films are more important than mere "films."  ROSETTA gave the minimum wage to children in Belgium.  THE THIN BLUE LINE helped free a man from prison.  HARLAN COUNTY, USA led to better conditions in Kentucky coal mines.  LIONHEART, too, is more than just a movie.  It boldly dared to expose the dangerous, yuppie-kumite full-contact street-fighting circuit that plagued America's upscale parking garages, health clubs, and private pools until 1990:

Let the networking begin– I hope you brought enough Chardonnay for everybody!

I can't tell if that's a squash court or a racquetball court.  Or are they the same thing?

Hurry it up, already– I need to be home in time for THIRTYSOMETHING!

They even used yuppie one-liners right before performing their finishing moves–  "Let's do lunch sometime," indeed!

And is that girl who's licking proletarian-kumite-blood off of her chest, there... on a date with Patrick Bateman?  And are they headed to Dorsia afterward? (Actually it's a cameo by PULP FICTION producer Lawrence Bender.)

Anywho, this upstart young Belgian muckraker named Jean-Claude Van Damme decided to write and star in a movie unmasking the cold harsh truths of this savage fighting circuit


and while it did succeed in shutting down this black market brawling for all time, in 2013 we can still take a step back and enjoy it as one hell of an action movie.  So kick back, grab some junk food, put on your THEY LIVE sunglasses, and prepare to appreciate sixteen reasons why LIONHEART is still relevant in a post-yuppie world:

#16.  Van Damme body part introduced before the rest of Van Damme.
Just as in CYBORG (which revealed Van Damme's leg before Van Damme), LIONHEART takes its time revealing JCVD's veiny French Foreign Legion bicep before we actually learn that it's attached to Van Damme.
I've theorized that this is because Van Damme's limber limbs are considered to be more iconic than his face, but that discounts the beauty of Van Damme's magnificent, endlessly sincere smile, pictured below:

Also the sheer brilliance of Van Damme's magnificent, endlessly sincere crazy face, pictured below in all of its eye-bulging, blood-streaked glory:

But I don't want to get ahead of myself.  How 'bout something simple, like–

#15.  Roller skates!

This may not be a Cannon Film, but the sudden, unexpected, and wholly unnecessary inclusion of a man on roller skates reveals the film's true inspiration.

#14.  Full-contact Pool Party!

Uh, wait– what are we watching again?

 #13.  Face grabs!
 Ah, truly the face grab cometh just before the fall.  Nobody grabs JCVD's face and gets away with it.  And note workout master Billy Blanks in the background– his smug expression indicates that he will shortly be blasted in the mouth with Jean-Claude's toes.

 #12. Fashionable gangs!
Another trick JCVD learned from the Cannon Film playbook.  That guy on the far right has got kind of a SCORPIO RISING pattern going on across the back of his jacket, and I feel like there's some CYBORG and COBRA references going on around here, too, somehow.  Speaking of COBRA...

#11.  Brian Thompson.
I've referred to him as the "Klaus Kinski of Cannon Films," though I think "poor man's Dolph Lundgren" or "direct-to-video Rondo Hatton" might work okay, too.
He's not given quite as much to do here as he should.  He's relegated mostly to "corporate bad guy sidekick/semi-bodyguard" type stuff.  My point is that he doesn't get to take on Van Damme in a show-stopping cage match meat-hook battle or anything, so that's a little disappointing.  Still, good to see him.

#10.  Harrison Page as "Joshua Eldridge."
Every Van Damme movie needs a crass, distinctly American, occasionally zany sidekick to stand by him through thick n' thin.  This noble tradition includes heavyweights like Donald Gibb in BLOODSPORT, James Remar in THE QUEST, Haskell V. Anderson III in KICKBOXER, Wilford Brimley in HARD TARGET, and Jean-Claude Van Damme himself in DOUBLE IMPACT.  In the above photographs, Harrison Page is pictured gallantly renaming "Lyon" as "Lion," because seriously, what the fuck is a "Lyon?"  

Anyway, Harrison Page fits pretty well in the pantheon of JCVD sidekickery.  (Though that's not literal sidekickery– if the sidekicks actually kicked, that would pull focus from JCVD's patented displays of kicking prowess, except in DOUBLE IMPACT, when the sidekick is JCVD himself.  Whew.  Maybe we should call them "sidepunches?")

#9. The social conscience of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
He gives himself this nice moment where he walks past some homeless people and gets to look sad.  (It also foreshadows how he'll– in a clown outfit– help a bunch of impoverished French orphans in 1996's THE QUEST!)  LIONHEART is a movie whose heart and flying roundhouse kicks will always land in the right place.

#8.  The battle for the social conscience of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
A couple of silk sheets later and the soul of Van Damme hangs in the balance.  Will he fall prey to a PRETTY WOMAN-ish yuppie makeover or will he maintain his street smarts and split-kick integrity?  This leads us to a...

#7.  Shopping montage!
Jean-Claude Vogue Damme goes on a whirlwind, frantically edited shopping montage with his new yuppie handlers.  If LIONHEART was a rock n' roll film, this would be the part of the movie where the band temporarily breaks up, and the lead singer starts a solo career with a really sleazy, soulless manager with slicked-back hair.  Gotta get the band back together, man!

#6.  Jean-Drunk Van Damme.

You have to love Jean-Drunk Van Damme.  I last glimpsed him in KICKBOXER.  It's sort of like a kid who's O.D.'d on a sugar high, and it's sort of like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon.  Whatever it is, keep up the good work!

#5. Abdel Qissi.

Part Andre the Giant, part Ernst Stavro Blofeld, cat-stroking Van Damme crony Abdel Qissi plays the tournament "baddie," as he later would in Van Damme's directorial debut, THE QUEST.  Here, he's "Attila."  In THE QUEST, he's "Khan."  You have to love the lack of creativity/Capcom-style logic at play there.  It's really quite endearing.

#4.  Michel Qissi.

Whoa-ho-ho-NO!  You thought there was only gonna be one Qissi in this flick?  Think again.   This is Michel, probably best known as the evil "Tong Po" in KICKBOXER.  Between 'em, the Qissi brothers have appeared in five JCVD films.  Above, he's seen partaking in an inspirational slow clap.

#3.  A Scottish fighter in a kilt!

In a nod to BLOODSPORT's international kumite of amusing cultural stereotypes, we get this Scottish fighter who wears a kilt.  (When he needed to depict a Scottish fighter again in THE QUEST, he kept the kilt, but upped the stakes with full Tam o' Shanter action!)


#2.  This line of dialogue, which requires no further explanation:

#1. And finally, this exchange, which is basically the entirety of LIONHEART– nay, the entirety of JCVD's career– distilled into four glorious screen grabs:

You got a big heart, LIONHEART.  Nearly five stars.

–Sean Gill