Saturday, March 25, 2023

Only now does it occur to me... NEXT OF KIN (1989)

Only now does it occur to me... that NEXT OF KIN ('89)––which is not to be confused with Atom Egoyan's debut feature, NEXT OF KIN ('84), an excellent arthouse tract about found family––should just be a run-of-the-mill, direct-to-video hillbilly-sploitation flick starring, at best, a Chuck Norris or a Michael Dudikoff. However, in a spot of brilliant work by a trio of casting directors with an eye for ensemble [Shelley Andreas (MIDNIGHT RUN, CHILD'S PLAY, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF), Jane Alderman (CANDYMAN, THE COLOR OF MONEY), and Mindy Marin (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, MYSTERY MEN, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE–FALLOUT)], they've assembled a well-rounded troupe who are somehow capable of elevating a film which was surely pitched as a "redneck revenge" thriller.

For starters, the lead is Patrick Swayze, who lends genuine sincerity and sensitivity to a part that's about as well-written as the Chuck Norris role in INVASION USA. As a tuff Chicago cop from a Kentucky holler who dresses like a Wild West lawman and has a mullet which sometimes masquerades as a ponytail, you could say that Swayze must animate a character with "not enough" and "perhaps too much" to work with.

He displays both the pathos of GHOST and the hot-blooded fervency of RED DAWN, as well as a large helping of "dignity-in-the-face-of-kitsch" which he demonstrated so well in ROAD HOUSE (which had come out earlier that year).

This is one of those films which acts as if "hillbillies" are the most persecuted minority in the United States, a quality which certainly elevates its paracinematic value, at the very least.

The "hillbilly wacko" in question is the excellent Ted Levine––"Buffalo Bill" in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS––who decides to turn his single scene into a craft workshop/an audition for the next Sam Shepard play.

Next, we have Helen Hunt playing one of only four named female characters, and the only one to deliver more than three lines. She plays Swayze's refined, concert violinist girlfriend, a sitcom-style development which is never properly mined for its inherent highbrow vs. lowbrow comedy value.

Her character only really exists to be threatened by mobsters and therefore unleash Swayze's ire, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Nonetheless, she does an excellent job with the material, considering, and gets to work alongside her eventual TWISTER costar...

Bill Paxton!

Paxton plays Swayze's little brother, another Kentucky transplant living in the big city. He's not in the movie for very long, since his murder (at the hands of mobsters) is the inciting incident of the movie. He does that likably nutty "Paxton thing" and the bulk of his performance is contained in a scene wherein he discusses rap music with a black co-worker. 

Truly a moment for the annals of film history. The mobsters in question are also well cast––

On the left is baby Ben Stiller as the Don's nerdy son who is dragged along for the murderous ride. In the center is Andreas Katsulas (THE FUGITIVE, EXECUTIVE DECISION) who plays the Don. On the right is Adam Baldwin (FIREFLY, "Animal Mother" in FULL METAL JACKET), who plays a gleefully murderous psychopath and the principal villain of the picture. Sorta strange to see Stiller in the 1980s, and in a serious role,

but he gives it the proper "rich kid twerpitude" as well as some degree of childish vulnerability.

Paxton's murder brings the third brother, "Briar," to town, the eldest, who never forsook his Kentucky identity and is only coming to Chicago for revenge purposes. It's Liam Neeson!

He brings the proper gravity and badassery, but boy, he can't seem to lose that Irish accent.

Being as this predates even DARKMAN, this feels like the ur-Badass role which has defined the latter-half of Neeson's career. There's a great scene where, in order to intimidate some mobsters, he shoots up a bunch of pinball machines.


Check out Gorgar, over there 


BONNIE AND CLYDE's Michael J. Pollard shows up in a weirdly delicate performance as a "flophouse owner sympathetic to Neeson's cause."

This is the sort of thing you really don't expect in a movie like this. He pounds a lot of Old Styles, too, which reminds us again that this film is set in Chicago, like every other '80s movie.

Anyway, the whole thing ends with a Swayze vs. Mobsters showdown in a graveyard where Swayze wields a bow and arrow like he's John Rambo.

In all, this is way more watchable than it has any right to be, and due to the nature of its success, I can't think of anyone to thank beyond the casting directors. So... thanks!

Monday, February 6, 2023

Sean Gill's "Join Hands" Named a Finalist for the Scottish Arts Trust Story Awards' 2023 Edinburgh Award for Flash Fiction

My short story "Join Hands" has been named a finalist for the Scottish Arts Trust Story Awards' 2023 Edinburgh Award for Flash Fiction, with the winner to be announced at the The Scottish Arts Club later in February. My story is available to read on their website temporarily and will be anthologized in print this November.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Only now does it occur to me... INTERCEPTOR FORCE (1999)

Only now does it occur to me...  that I would like to raise a toast to everyone involved in INTERCEPTOR FORCE (1999), a rock-bottom CGI-heavy PREDATOR rip-off, inflected with Robert Rodriguez-inspired panache. The vibe is very "if Full Moon Pictures did a Syfy Channel original movie," and the plot is "commandos find themselves fighting a fake Predator in a Mexican cartel town which is probably a recycled set from DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN."

My first toast is for the SFX team, whose N64 cut-scene-lookin' nonsense has been jerry-rigged with love. I mean, look at that alien. The movie's tag-line––no joke––is: "An Elite Force ... An Alien Enemy ... An Impossible Deadline." It is my belief that this tag-line, specifically the "impossible deadline" part, was written by the SFX team.

My next toast is to "Mad Bus." They did the music, and are credited only within the film itself and not on IMDb.

They offer an electronic soundtrack which was characterized as "some pretty tedious techno" by the startup screen to MORTAL KOMBAT 3.


The first actor I'd like to honor is William Zabka, best known as "Johnny Lawrence" in THE KARATE KID and COBRA KAI.

Zabka's simply a member of the commando team––technically, the lead is seated there on his left: a poor man's Daniel Bernhardt named Olivier Gruner. I'd say he's "no Olivier," but in fact, his first name is Olivier. But anyway, back to Zabka: he's the "hacker" of the outfit, which means he often wears a headset, types feverishly into a laptop, and then exclaims words like "Jackpot!"


He's having a lot of fun here, and for all you KARATE KID/COBRA KAI diehards, I think you should definitely watch the following clip, which I have entitled "Hey, buddy, what was that for?" and is best enjoyed out of context.


I would be remiss if I didn't toast a... Diet Coke to Glenn Plummer––a talented character actor best known to me for his turns in SHOWGIRLS and ER––

who seems a little depressed to be in this movie, or at least a little depressed that his scene partner is a can of Diet Coke. Anyway, he's a member of the commando team here as well, and would later go on to get top billing in SHOWGIRLS 2: PENNY'S FROM HEAVEN.


My next toast is for Ernie Hudson (GHOSTBUSTERS, THE CROW, TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, GRACE & FRANKIE) who plays "The Major," a generic air force commander who spends 97% of his time on the phone. It's an insult to underwritten characters to call "The Major" underwritten, cause he's not really written at all. It's just Ernie Hudson wearing a commercial airline pilot costume speaking words into a telephone.

I would say the producers may have tricked him into believing he was appearing on the X-FILES, but something tells me that when he arrived on set at what the script called a "high-tech military HQ"


but was actually a "telemarketing firm which gave permission to shoot on the weekends," he sized things up pretty quickly.

Regardless, it is Hudson's agent who snagged the coveted "and Ernie Hudson as" credit, and not his fellow character-acting heavyweight who's standing beside him in the above photo.

Oh, don't you recognize who that is? Is the issue that his head is facing the floor and you can't see his face? Well, allow me to offer a theory along with my toast.

This toast is for... Brad Dourif (!), who attempts to maintain his dignity as "Weber," some kind of Project Blue Book/Cigarette Smoking Man-type personality. His main character trait is that his head is always aimed downward, his eyes seemingly reading something off-screen:

If I didn't know better

I might jump to the conclusion

that Brad Dourif didn't think it was worth

going off-book

or even memorizing

a single line of the script to INTERCEPTOR FORCE, really.

My final toast is for Phillip Roth, writer and director.

Sadly, it's Z-movie maven Phillip Roth (ROBOSHARK, LAKE PLACID VS. ANACONDA) and not PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT/PLOT AGAINST AMERICA/AMERICAN PASTORAL Philip Roth. Regardless, I'll leave you all to contemplate the film along with this hastily Photoshopped  book cover:

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Television Review: YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS (1991, Charles Jarrott)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Richard Thomas (STEPHEN KING'S IT '90, WONDER BOYS, THE WALTONS), Charles Bronson (DEATH WISH 3, Mandom spokesman), Ed Asner (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, LOU GRANT, JFK), Colleen Winton (THE X-FILES, BIG EYES), Katharine Isabelle (FREDDY VS. JASON, GINGER SNAPS), Frank C. Turner (UNFORGIVEN, multiple AIR BUD movies, Bev Marsh's creepy dad in IT '90).
Tag-line: None.
Best one-liner: "Aw, Frank, even you were a kid once."
eah, heh, it took me a lot of years to get over it.
"Nobody ever gets over it."

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"At last, we're going to spend Christmas the right way."

–"What do you mean? We've had plenty of good Christmas fare over the years. French survival horror, Arnold Schwarzenegger-directed romantic comedies, Arnold Schwarzenegger cold cocking reindeer, Grace Jones accidentally mailed to Pee-Wee Herman in a box, Nakatomi Plaza holiday celebrations, Vincent Schiavelli commandeering a life-sized toy choo-choo train of kidnapping and child murder, Tim Curry's shit-eating grin, Bob Mitchum and John Glover as scene partners, a John Waters Christmas, Grizzly Adams taking on Nazi elves, and my personal favorite, Gary Sinise using Ben Affleck as a dartboard."

"Ah, I don't believe, however, that you said 'Charles Bronson' anywhere on that list."

–"If there was a good Charles Bronson Christmas movie, we would have seen it already, right?"

"Wrong. Er––half wrong. What we've got here is YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS, a TV movie from 1991."

–"1991?! The same year as THE INDIAN RUNNER? Don't tell me you've brought me more 'stacheless Bronson!"

"No, no, there's Bronson 'stache here, no need to worry."

–"Is he playing with a baby rattle? What the hell is this movie about?"

"It's only about the most famous editorial in American newspaper history––Francis Pharcellus Church's 1897 reply to an eight-year-old girl named Virginia who asked if Santa Claus was real. Only he turned his response into a meditation on faith, fancy, romance, poetry, love, beauty, and childlike joy."

–Okay, I'm not sure where Charles Bronson is going to fit in here. Does he say 'Santa's good, I like Santa?' Does Santa try to steal his car? Does he shoot Santa?"

"No. Try and get into the Christmas spirit. He says, 'No Santa Claus?! Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.'"

–"Ha ha ha, that's pretty good, but I think his numbers are a little off. If he manages to flee the North Pole in time, Santa'll be lucky if he gets a hundred, maybe two hundred years. But I guess they didn't know about climate change back then."

"Will you stop it? It's Christmas!"

–"I just don't see how they turn this into a movie. What you just described is a ten minute vignette, tops. Girl writes Bronson; Bronson writes girl. Girl's heart is warmed. The end."

"Well, they do pad it a little. She doesn't even write Bronson till forty-five minutes into a ninety minute movie."

–"As long as they pad it with nonstop Bronson action, I'm all good."


–"Okay. Why don't you tell me what they actually pad it with."

"So... Richard Thomas is Virginia's dad."

–"'John Boy,' from THE WALTONS? 'Stuttering Bill' from the original IT?"

"The very same. Anyway, he plays an Irish dockworker (with a spotty accent) who loses his job due to racism

Ethnically motivated fistfights at the docks! What every kid loves in a Christmas movie.

and, despite being completely broke, is trying to scrape together enough to buy presents for his five-member family on Christmas."

–"That looks like some Bob Cratchit-y bullshit, and I don't have any patience for that. Hey, maybe he should've scraped together enough to buy some condoms instead."

"Whoa, will you stop it!"

–"Maybe the movie should be about Virginia? Isn't she in the one in the title?"

"Nah, it's a man's world, bub. Obviously this movie wasn't geared toward kids, or else the main characters probably wouldn't be cigar-chomping dudes who are about four hundred years old."

–"Is that Ed Asner?"

"Yep. And he's basically playing the exact character he played on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and later, LOU GRANT: he's a gruff, hard-boiled, bossy newspaperman with a corner office and an (eventual) heart of gold."

–"Nice. So tell me about Bronson."

"As a semi-fictionalized version of the historical Francis Church, he's an alcoholic writer who used to be great, a muck-raking journalist who brought the fight to the robber barons. Asner tolerates him because, even completely soused, his pages are better than most of the other reporters. There are skeptics, however: there's a subplot where some pud named Cornelius (John Novak) busts his balls every time he's at the bar.

Obviously, this leads to a solid payoff where Bronson punches him in the face.

And I'm not gonna lie to you: this is where the movie peaks. Most everybody is trying their best––Bronson and Asner included––but I'm not sure how 'directed' they were. But I can't be too hard on it: it's a TV movie from 1991."

–"Wait, why is Bronson's character such a drunk?"

"Prepare yourself: here's the one truly affecting part of the movie. Francis Church is a mess because his wife recently died. Just like Charles Bronson's real-life wife, Jill Ireland, who succumbed to cancer a year before they filmed this. All of the graveyard scenes––in stark contrast with 95% of the movie––have a genuine poignancy."

–"Man, that's heavy. So how does drunken Francis turn it all around and become an inspirational figure?"

"This is where the teleplay writers get lazy. They have him get the assignment and then he walks around town. He, uh, sees some Christmas-y things on his walk and decides to, uh, throw the bottle away and write his historic editorial."

–"He must've seen some serious shit, then, huh?"

"He saw a toy drive..."

–"Uh huh..."

"And then he saw a cop about to beat a homeless man who looked like Santa..."

–"Uh huh..."

"And then Bronson looked concerned..."

–"Uh huh..."

"And then the cop didn't actually beat the homeless man."

–"Uh huh..."

"And that's about it."

–"Uh huh."

"Hey man, this ain't ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, nor is it supposed to be. In the end, Virginia's editorial is answered, 


Richard Thomas gets a job as a cop, and a bunch of other people get jobs as cops, too, including his stock Italian immigrant pal who I forgot to mention.

 Basically, everybody becomes a cop."

–"So...are they gonna hunt Paul Kersey, New York vigilante?"

"Stop trying to bring DEATH WISH into this. It's a sweet holiday movie, where John Boy says things like 'what a bright goose of a boy.'"

–"Now that is some of that Bob Cratchit-y bullshit I was talking about."

"Don't be such a bastard. Can't you derive any pleasure in the fact that Bronson was in a 'Christmas movie period piece?'"

 –"Eh, I guess."

"Oh yeah, one last thing: so Virginia––who never interacts with Bronson 'in-scene,' and is a supporting character in her own story––is played by Katharine Isabelle, who went on to become a minor horror icon. She's a lead in multiple GINGER SNAPS movies, and appears in THE X-FILES, FREDDY VS. JASON, GOOSEBUMPS, THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER, a 30 DAYS OF NIGHT sequel, and Bryan Fuller's HANNIBAL. Here she is interacting with a produce vendor, played by fellow minor horror icon Frank C. Turner (NEEDFUL THINGS, THE FLY II, ALONE IN THE DARK, THE HITCHHIKER, WATCHERS, THE X-FILES, the new TWILIGHT ZONE, and, most notably, as Bev's creepy dad in the original IT)!"

–"Uh. Cool."