Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Replicant (2001)

You never know what kinda shit you might find under your bed. I got home, after a hard day's work, to my sweltering apartment and realized I had nothing to watch. No Netflix, no recently purchased DVDs that have been sitting on my television for weeks, no cable TV. I thought about reading for about a minute to the point that I even took out a book I've been slogging my way through. Too fucking hot. That's when it hit me. Holy shit, I have one of those VCR machines. Under my bed was a box of VHS tapes. Surely there was something in there. Well, I pulled the sucker out, opened it up, and Lo and behold the first thing I set my eyes upon was this plastic wrapped, never been watched, copy of a Jean Claude Van Damme picture from earlier in the decade called Replicant. Didn't even remember where I got the thing...or even if I paid for it. Maybe it was a gift. Oh well, this sure as shit beats reading.

Fuck man, this picture is actually pretty fucking good, way better than I expected. I usually don't go for this direct to video action movie type shit. Too often they look cheap, are full of amateur actors, and too boring for my tastes. Well, this one looks good enough to show in an actual theater. It's full of very good action scenes, good acting (Yes, even from JCVD), humor, and some of the better stunt work I've seen in a while. It's a shame this thing's been trapped under my bed for the last 3-5 years.

What we got here is the story of a cop (Michael Rooker) one hour past retirement (interesting twist on the cliche) sticking around a little longer to chase a serial killer
he's obsessed over for the last few years. The killer, JCVD with long hair and looking like a heroin addict, kills mothers that he perceives to be unfit. He beats them to death, cuts them, burns them, and leaves the child to die. This is his M.O. and also what he does in that first scene. Rooker arrives just as the killer is leaving, saves the baby, and then pursues the killer. Holy shit, their encounter in the parking garage is a thing of beauty as Rooker clings to a gate while JCVD drives right through it, flipping Rooker over the length of the car at high speed. This one's full of terrific stunt work, the kind that they don't even attempt these days. Rooker (or, I should say his double) gets the shit kicked out of him in this movie.

So, the killer gets away and Rooker still retires (even receives a congratulatory call from the killer at his party). Rooker's not going to let this shit go so he accepts recruitment into an elite government anti-terrorist organization known as the NSF (National Security Force). These guys are on the cutting edge of science and have devised a cloning process that allows them to replicate JCVD (they found a hair at a crime scene) in the hope of using the replicant to catch the killer (replicant's have a genetic memory and also a telepathic bond with whatever they were replicated from). Unfortunately, once birthed they require a few hours to learn things like "sit, stand, walk" and also complex gymnastic moves. So, now Rooker will be teamed with this replicant and together will be tasked with catching the killer. Rooker has reservations, wonders what if the replicant turns bad, it's in his makeup, etc. He's told that "at the end of the day, a replicant is disposable." He's also like a dog apparently.

Well, this is it. This is the best performance of Jean Claude's career (and yes, I've seen JCVD and really liked it). As the killer, he is pretty much one-note but as the replicant we feel great sympathy for the guy, the ultimate fish out of water. He's trained like a dog, humiliated, told to sit, constantly handcuffed. He begins to understand this as just the way things are. Rooker treats him like shit at first. He brings him home at one point and when his kid gets hurt Rooker jumps to the conclusion that the replicant did it and reigns blows down upon him. He feels pretty bad when he learns that his actual dog, and not the guy he treats like a dog, was responsible. This is just like that movie Jet Li did, Danny the Dog, only it came out a few years earlier. This one's also better. We actually start to wonder if the replicant will become like the killer, maybe even join him. Our sympathies start to wane a bit and then he does something like save a hooker from her lifestyle and we're right back with him. He hardly speaks, but does a good job conveying this performance through his eyes, facial expressions, body language. He is like a dog, actually...almost completely lovable...even eats dog food at one point before learning about ice cream. Of course now he's going to expect ice cream all the time. It's impressive that he didn't phone this part in.

The developing relationship between Rooker and the replicant drives the picture. The story involving the serial killer is less effective. We got your typical product of an abusive childhood. The most interesting thing about the killer is he still visits his invalid mother in the nursing home. Of course, he forces her to look at photos of his victims but at least he makes the attempt which is more than I can say about several absentee sons and daughters I might know about.

The action scenes are almost all top notch. There's a solid bar fight, a nifty explosion, and the coup de grace is a chase through the old folks home where the killer uses whatever he can get his hands on (old guy in wheel chair, old guy's portable IV, another guy in wheel chair) to fend off his pursuers. This leads directly to another parking garage chase scene with the killer driving an ambulance and Rooker holding on for dear life. I'm trying, but having a hard time, to remember a theatrical action scene in the last year that tops this one. Maybe that has something to do with Hong Kong director, Ringo Lam. I don't know, I've never seen any of his other shit, but I'm planning on it now.

I also appreciated that this thing was filmed in Seattle and even acknowledged as Seattle. None of that "let's film it in Toronto and call it New York City" type bullshit. It was a good choice to have the killer JCVD wear his hair long so that when he fought the replicant JCVD they could actually use a double and we would buy it. When these guys fight it's pretty funny though. They are exactly alike, know each other's moves. Lots of ineffective roundhouse kicks and punching each other in the fists.

To sum up: Holy shit. I liked it, it's good. It might even be better than Timecop....or maybe I'm just over hyping it. My expectations were pretty god damned low. I liked so much about this movie though, the action, the ideas (something about free will and whether it's ethical to clone something for the purpose of harvesting organs or catching a killer or whatever), the stunts, and the performances. I loved the moment when Rooker walks the replicant out into the sunlight (his first time outside, ever) and asks an NSF agent for his sunglasses (to give to the replicant). The agent protests, says they cost 500 bucks, but relents. Rooker gives the replicant his sunglasses and keeps the expensive pair for himself. It's a little moment, but a good one. I also liked that in the end JCVD saved a Rooker and a hooker (sorry).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

King of the Ants (2003)

Turns out that title is a metaphor or something. This isn't a Willard style Ant story like I had hoped. Shit, what I got might not be what I hoped for but sometimes its good when they throw you a curveball.

What we got here is the story of Sean Crawley, a grade-A nobody. Kid's not really good at anything. He paints houses for a living but even George Wendt can tell he's not a professional. Wendt is the electrician working on the same house. Wendt's named "Duke" Wayne, not sure why. They get to talking, have a few beers, few laughs, really buddy type shit. Duke takes Crawley's number, maybe he'll call him, his boss might have some work for him down the road. Wouldn't it be weird if Duke was calling just as Crawley got home. Sorta weird I guess. Maybe not weird at all.

Anyway, Duke's boss has a job for Crawley. Duke's boss is also a Baldwin, Daniel Baldwin. Looks and talks just like Alec, only something's off, can't really place what it is. Baldwin wants Crawley to spy on this guy played by Ron Livingston (Swingers and Office Space). If Livingston takes a piss, Baldwin wants to know the color. Crawley takes the job which helps to satiate his James Bond fantasy. He follows Livingston to work (he's a city hall accountant), on the train, home. He's pretty terrible at it. I think at one point he was taking surveillance photos with a polaroid. Not exactly a certified private dick. At Livingston's home he sees, and falls in love with, his wife played by Kari Wuhrer. They have a kid, live in a nice suburban neighborhood, etc. Crawley falls asleep across the street propped up against the curb, wakes up the next morning, tries to act nondescript, does a shitty job but still goes unnoticed (he was pretending to change his bicycle tire). The fact the guy's no good is a pretty obvious fact.

Well, I had the picture figured out by this point. Crawley is the rube, right. The patsy. They're setting him up for something because no criminal mastermind (I guess that's Baldwin) would hire this guy to run surveillance. Then Crawley runs into Baldwin waiting outside his apartment with a bottle of nearly empty Jack Daniels (it was full when he got there). They have an odd discussion, the subject of murder comes up and suddenly it appears that Crawley's been offered thirteen grand to kill Livingston. Why would they want to kill the guy? He seems nice enough. He kisses his wife goodbye on her way to work and says "go save the world" (she works at a homeless mission). He gardens. He's good with kids. When Crawley shows up at his door wearing the strangest hit man getup since Nail Gun Massacre, Livingston's still friendly to him. After Crawley bashes him in the head with a valuable sculpture he kinda simply just asks "what are you doing?" Nice guy. Then Crawley drops the fridge on his head. And this is the guy we are supposed to pull for I guess.

The movie takes an unexpected turn when Crawley tries to blackmail Baldwin and his men (including a normal looking Vernon Wells, not so normal looking in The Road Warrior and Commando). Well, maybe blackmail is the wrong term. He tries to get them to pay the money that they owe him. He claims to have documents linking them to the crime, etc. Then they drag Crawley off into the desert, lock him in a shed, and the movie gets weird.

I'm not sure what I think about this one. Baldwin, Wendt, and a guy named Carl have plans for Crawley. They bind him to a chair, tie part of a mattress around his head, and then whack him with a golf club. This shit gets pretty brutal. Their plan is to make him a vegetable so he can't implicate them I guess...or maybe he'll spill the beans on the alleged documents. Between each vicious whack Crawley is left alone to his fantasies, all involving Wuhrer. First she's naked, then she's naked with a power drill, then she has a dick, and finally she's a blob type creature eating her own shit. Yeah, it's a little weird.

Fuck it though, you gotta love Stuart Gordon for doing shit like this. I mean, he made Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon, and other Lovecraft type shit. Maybe Castle Freak? On the other hand, he made stuff like Edmond, Stuck, and this....weird shit to be sure, but also daring, funny, and more grounded in reality. Stuck was even based on a true story. Even if this shit ain't working it's still impressive.

I couldn't figure out where this movie was going after those scenes in the shed. Crawley develops a welt the size of a softball on his head. How is he even alive? He becomes more animal-like, simple, drools a whole lot, shits himself, etc. Is it an act? The picture is full of ambiguity in my opinion. I kept thinking of that picture, Brazil. You know how that shit ends? With the hero about to be tortured or lobotomized or something and at the last second he's rescued and escapes to the countryside with his beautiful girlfriend only at the end we realize he never left his torture chair. I kept figuring that's where this thing was going. I won't spoil the surprise on that one. Let's just say it didn't happen the way I figured. Whoops.

My only problem with the movie is the main character. I didn't think Chris McKenna was a very compelling lead. I didn't like him, too raw I guess. I mean, he made Daniel Baldwin look like Alec Baldwin. His scenes sorta had that verite (reminded me a little of Slacker at first, must have been some of the "unscripted" conversations) thing going on and then I realized it's just because he's not very good, but then I realized maybe that's the point. You don't want a star in that part, you want some average shlub, a nobody. If you got someone more experienced he probably wouldn't convince us he's a rotten painter or a terrible snoop. Also, the scene where he murders Ron Livingston is near perfection. Shit, I didn't expect him to go through with it. Just seemed like it kinda happened against his will. I guess I take it back, Mckenna was a good choice. Still, kind of a douche.

To sum up, we got a strange little picture here with some weird directional shit going on, some terrific gore moments, sledge hammer violence, Kari Wuhrer with a penis, etc. I guess you're still wondering about the ants? At first, I thought that Baldwin was the king and the rest of us were ants. However, Wendt pointed out to Crawley that he's an ant which, I guess, makes Wendt his king. I still don't have a fucking clue what it all means but I do know this one is probably worth checking out. I think Wuhrer's penis was likely a prosthetic.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Beast (1996)

I remember watching this movie back when it first aired, on one of those network things people used to watch back in the nineties, and thinking it wasn't too bad. In those days, they used to film stories for one of the three major networks and usually air them in a couple installments usually starting on sunday night. So, instead of a tight 90 minute story about a giant squid on a rampage we got a bloated three hour epic.

Well, this being based on a Peter Benchley story we can pretty much assume it will be structured identical to Jaws. We got a small island community. Instead of Amity it's called Grave's Point. There's a like-able everyman type of person as the star. Instead of Roy Scheider we got William Petersen. There's a giant sea monster attacking and eating people. Instead of a giant shark we got a giant squid. There are a few subtle differences. Grave's Point is more of a fishing community than a tourist destination. Peterson is a fishing boat captain, not a chief of police. Also, this thing is three hours long, not two hours and ten minutes (I had to look it up).

The picture opens with a couple in a sinking schooner being eaten by archy-toothy (technical term for squid). Cops find the boat, national guard get involved, Petersen's character (named Whip) finds out, etc. They find a tooth or a claw or something in the debris, so Whip sends it to some marine biologists who show up soon after (not Richard Dreyfuss, but some guy named Dr. Talley and his assistant Chris, another subtle difference). Also, the guy that played Dr. Giggles and Durand and Lenny plays a rival fishing boat captain to Whip. He's a drunk, a baffoon, traps his fish (big no no), and likes his porn. In addition, Whip has a daughter who might be in danger, a dead wife (died offscreen, ten years earlier) and a love interest, national guardswoman.

Almost forgot, Whip has a first mate named Mike who he can't really pay since the fishing has dried up thanks to something eating them all or maybe it's the illegal trapping. Mike puts a smile on his face when he's with his wife but then wonders why the local grocery store won't extend his credit. Mike looks for work but no one's hiring. Nothing to do in town but fish and their ain't no fish. He may have to take some work he wouldn't normally take...maybe something dangerous.

Shit, there's also Charles Martin Smith who plays the mayor, Skyler Graves. He's like the mayor from Jaws only slightly less despicable. I kinda felt bad for the guy. He only wants what's best for the town and by extension himself. His goal is to kill the beast. Well, his goal is actually to pay someone else to kill the beast. Why would anyone get mad at him for that? I mean, look at the guy! He's Charles Martin Smith.

I don't know, when the first disc ended it felt sorta like an anti-climax. Dr. Giggles and his crew dropping depth charges on the beast and eventually it floats up to the surface dead and they laugh all the way to the bank. The end. Only, it's not the end. There's another disc to watch. Shit.

Turns out the beast was just a three month old baby. Whip and friends would hate to meet what gave birth to that thing. Before they know there's a bigger squid they send down a three man submersible to check things out. Christopher, Talley's assistant, signs on. He's kept himself busy these past few days by falling in love with Whip's daughter ("seems like we've known each other our whole lives"). I think he probably porked her at some point 'cause she seems pretty broken up when their submersible is squashed like an empty beer can against Archy-toothy's giant forehead.

Well, this is not a bad movie. There's a good cast in here somewhere. I like Petersen and Charles Martin Smith is good and funny and shit. Then you got the guy that played Dr. Talley as sorta an uppity British guy. Actually, I don't know if he was uppity that's just my universal description for British people. To be honest, not even sure if he was British. Dr. Giggles...ah..who am I kidding, I know his name is Larry Drake, I love the guy...is terrific as the rival captain. My favorite scene strangely was the quiet one of him at home pouring beer into his soupy beans and getting them all in his goatee. Also, the scene where he frantically fires his pistol at tentacles as they close around his captain's cabin (sorry, don't know the technical term for it).

The special effects are not bad for a made for network television type of movie. We got several creepy shots of the beast swimming or whatever it does under boats, lots of rubber tentacles, shots of one big eye, and teeth. Lots of decent model boats, good sound effects, etc. Unfortunately, the thing is three hours long. The first ninety minutes we deal with the baby squid and I guess character development. The second ninety minutes is all about revenge on the part of the giant squid and on the part of Whip since it's pretty clear the squid must have killed his wife all those years earlier. Anyway, for a three hour movie with an unoriginal premise this one's not bad. It's no Jaws I, II, III, or IV, it's no Orca, Deep Blue Sea, or Pirates of the Carribean part II which had a giant squid. I only saw Peter Benchley's Creature in parts, so I'm not sure which is better. I think that one had super shark soldiers which is indisputably a pretty cool premise. If the giant squid had body armor and a bazooka or something this would probably be the better movie and I'd be more forgiving of the run time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Star Knight (1986)

Every so often I stumble upon a film that causes me to wonder how in the world have I never heard of this before? This is one of those genre-mixing (genre-blending? genre mashing?) type deals. On the surface, we got a medieval tale about some knights, wizards, princesses, and shit. On top of that, we got an alien and a spaceship too. The description sorta made me think of that film from the 80s, Krull. An alien invades a kingdom, abducts a princess and it's up to her knight in shining armor to rescue her. Unfortunately, the invading alien in this picture is nothing like "the beast", more like David Bowie in a space suit. No glave, no cyclops, no sense of adventure, etc.

So, I'll just end the review right here by telling you not to watch, this is a piece of shit, there's minimal action, poor effects, it's tedious, etc.

Still here?

Ok, carrying on. Star Knight is set in some kingdom during some time (presumably medieval) in some galaxy (presumably the milky way) on some planet (presumably earth). We've got a knight-like character played by Harvey Keitel. He's a knight. I think the kingdom has one other knight, the green knight, who waits on the other side of some bridge challenging all those that dare cross to a duel. There's also a magician played by Klaus Kinski, a king, a clergyman, and a princess. Also, an alien is worked into this mix somehow.

The best scene in the picture is the first scene, or maybe it was the second scene. Who can remember this shit? Anyway, it involves a shepherd and his herd of sheep. Or, maybe it was lambs. Anyway, one of his lambs climbed a small hill and is standing on the edge of a rock face. The shepherd commands the sheep to jump which would mean certain death for the sheep...or lamb. The lamb jumps and is suddenly whooshed up into the air by some sorta unseen force. I had to wonder to myself if it was an alien perhaps. Maybe an alien collecting animals for his space-ark...or for experimenting on or something?

I mentioned Harvey Keitel was in this I think. You know, the Keitel that was in Mean Streets and also Bad Lieutenant. Well, he plays a knight who would like nothing more than to wed the princess and gain her father's favor while also acquiring a nice piece of ass in the process. The princess wants nothing to do with him. He's weird, goofy, and incompetent. If this is the best prospect the kingdom has to offer than she lives in a pretty shitty kingdom. One day she rides out to the countryside so she can go swim naked in a lake and possibly be abducted by some creepy emo alien. All this shit happens but here's the kicker. She falls in love with him apparently, even though it never talks and can't even kiss her since he has to wear a space suit at all times or he'll die I guess.

Keitel, the king, and the clergyman won't stand for this kind of shit. They find the lair of the "dragon" (how they refer to the spaceship) which is a lake. Keitel and his men paddle out to it and the ship takes off with Keitel shouting things at it like "now you've made me mad you demon dragon" or whatever. I'll be honest with you here for a moment. This is not a good picture. It's actually pretty terrible. Since it's a spanish production with an international cast (Keitel is american and Kinski is german) we got to deal with some dubbing and, let me tell you, this is the worst dubbing I have ever seen. At least they kept Keitel's real voice. The words spoken never even come close to matching up with the vocal movements. It's completely distracting to the point that I just gave up and tried to enjoy this as a comedy which I guess is how it was intended to be watched.

Too bad it's a pretty bad to mediocre comedy. The green knight on the bridge was clearly intended as an homage to Monty Python. He challenges all who pass to a duel but for various reasons never actually gets to fight one. At one point, an entire army passes while he is taking a piss behind some bushes. Keitel seems to be in on the joke. At least I hope he was. It's hard to judge his performance, with the dubbing being as awful as it is, but he manages to throw in some scenery chewing here and there. Like when the princess and her alien boyfriend jump off a tower while he is giving chase and he grabs her dress as she jumps and rips off part of it. Later, he shows the king and tells him "look what she threw to me as she fell....clearly it's a sign of her betrothal to me" or something like that, not an exact quote.

What I don't get here is what's the big deal with this princess anyway? She's not that good looking to be honest. I mean, maybe in a plague ridden city she might be considered a keeper and she's got that whole royalty thing going for her but she's not that nice. She's kind of a c-word. Near the end, Keitel rides out to the spaceship to challenge the alien (his name is IX) to a duel. The alien resists. He's a lover not a xenomorph. The princess basically calls him a coward and leaves. Then Keitel swings his mace at the spaceship and the thing flies off. He did it, he defeated the dragon.

I almost forgot about Kinski being in this thing. Kinski was in Aguirre and Fitzcaraldo. A couple of legitimately great movies. In Star Knight he gets to play a wizard. He forms some sort of bond with the spaceman even though they have minimal scenes together. I guess they're both sorta outsiders. Both are looked down upon by the clergy. Both sorta mystical, probably considered pawns of the devil. Kinski doesn't really shine in this part except for the scene where his face is illuminated by the spaceship lights.

The special effects aren't too bad, I mean they're not good or anything, but I expected worse. The DVD looked like it was transferred directly from a shitty VHS tape. The picture was dark. I don't know, I had hopes for this one. I expected some kind of forgotten gem or something. Maybe a Krull rip-off with exploitative elements. This one is kinda tame. Light on the violence and the nudity. The production values weren't too bad though. I actually bought into some of the costumes and shit and that was a real castle they filmed in. I only wish the alien had more balls and the princess more tits. If you're looking for a good genre mashing picture involving space aliens and historical people may I suggest Outlander? That one was pretty good.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Silent Running (1972)

I saw this movie last week called Moon which I thought was pretty interesting. Somehow, it managed to be compelling even though there was primarily one actor in the thing and also Kevin Spacey as a not HAL-like computer. It was a quiet little movie about a guy finishing up his three year shift of tightening screws and wiping down some mining equipment on the moon. If it sounds mind blowingly exciting, that's because it was. For some reason I forgot to write about it. So, to make up for that, I decided to seek out other space type movies that might feature one character in similar harrowing situations. I had already seen that picture called 2001 which was pretty good if I recall. Had something to do with a giant space rectangle I think. Turns out the supervisor of effects for that thing made a movie a few years later about a space gardener called Silent Running. I could barely contain my excitement.

Turns out I actually managed to enjoy this one, even if it is no Moon or 2001. Sometime in the distant future, or maybe not so distant, all vegetation on earth dies out. The reasons are unexplained. Nuclear winter, an overabundance of mini-malls, whatever. Doesn't really matter I suppose. So, the U.S. governement, along with American Airlines as a sponsor, create these giant spaceships with these giant bio-domes (Pauly Shore not included) to try and preserve some trees, fruits, vegetables, bunny rabbits, etc. The space project is manned by three men and Bruce Dern. Also, three drone robots that would later be stolen and dismantled for parts by some Jawas. Dern plays a guy named Freeman Lowell. He's the space gardener, loves his plants, doesn't eat that processed shit the others do, and frequently chastises them for driving their go-carts on his lawn. The others are sick of the job, have been there for years (I'm assuming) and just want to go back to the desolate wasteland they left behind, known as Earth, and their mutant families. So, when word comes from Earth that they are to destroy the domes and return home, they're not too broken up about it. Freeman, though, well, he goes a little crazy.

Here's a little free advice to all you future filmmakers. If you're going to set a film in the future it's a pretty good idea not to use contemporary music. It's even more important not to use contemporary music if you are making your picture during the later 1960s - early 1970s. I love Joan Baez and all, but c'mon. We don't need a scene where Freeman wanders through his forest as she sings some folksy hippie bullshit and birds land on his shoulders, etc. The movie is almost instantly dated and almost ruined. There are two such scenes where I'd suggest the mute button and also try to look away just before the bird lands on his shoulder. We get it. Hippies, even hippies in the future, love their plants and animals. We hate them. Serious sci-fi is usually better off not being disney-fied.

Anyway, Freeman kills the crew as they begin to plant the nukes in his dome. Mission control wants to know what the problem is. Freeman makes some shit up, something about a malfunction, and heads for Saturn's rings where he can fake the destruction of his ship, hence the title, Silent Running I guess (It's a submarine thing). So, the picture has an eco-message, namely it's alright to kill a few men to stave off the extinction of vegetables and, to be honest, I gotta kinda agree with that. I mean, I wouldn't suggest killing someone that drove through your garden but if it was the last garden on earth I suppose you could be justified. The movie also deals with the issue of what would it be like to be all alone, drifting through space, for an indeterminate time? Kinda lonely I guess is the answer to that question.

So, to cure his loneliness Freeman reprograms the three drones to do things like perform surgery, water plants, and play poker (the poker game is the comedic high point of the picture). They become his three buddies and he even gives them names; Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Unfortunately, Louie had to be named posthumously as he was blown off the ship while making repairs to the outer hull. At first I thought the droids were a bit too cutesy, kinda like R2-D2, but like R2 they grow on you. There are a couple of scenes where they seem to be communicating with each other and you begin to wonder if they're plotting against Freeman. Also, it's pretty strange how they walk. I assumed they hired some little people actors and then I learned that they actually used amputees which, visually, makes more sense. They kinda looked like a couple of guys walking on their hands.

Bruce Dern is very good as Freeman. He's got a pretty nifty character arc. Starts out as a loner, just likes to tend to his space forests since that's all he knows (turns out he's got no family on Earth to go back to either). Then, he becomes a bit of a murderer, although a fairly good intentioned one. Later, he misses the companionship of his victims and comes to the realization that while they weren't his friends he actually "liked them". He even programs the droids to give one of the guys a proper burial in his forest.

So, this sounds like a pretty exciting picture, huh? You got a guy drifting alone through space with his trees and a couple droids. White knuckle type stuff occurs when the trees start dying and he has to figure out why. Holy fucking shit.

I actually like this kind of film. They don't all have to be Star Wars or Transmorphers 2 or whatever. Here we got a simple picture, with some solid model type special effects, a couple of amputees walking around on their hands in droid outfits, and some trees. Fuck it, you could make a movie about a guy clipping his toe nails or painting his bedroom and if you set the thing in space, I'd probably watch it. Ultimately, it's up to you if you want to watch or not. We got no aliens, no space battles (couple explosions though), no killer robots, not even a single scene set in an airlock. It doesn't matter. You probably couldn't see that shit through the trees anyway.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bone: Bad Day in Beverly Hills (1972)

Bone is a picture that failed to snag an audience upon it's release. They tried to sell it as blaxsploitation. When that didn't work, they tried to market it to the art house crowds. Again, it failed. Not black enough for the blacks. Not pretentious enough for the artists. Not middle of the road enough for the rest of us. Nice try Larry Cohen (writer-director-producer), but you probably released this thing about ten years too soon.

Now, I'm not saying it's a masterpiece or anything like that, but it's a pretty good picture about a black man who invades the home of an affluent white couple in Beverly Hills. Since this is a home invasion picture made during the 1970s we can pretty much assume what happens, right? Some tea, some sun bathing, maybe some baseball talk, etc. Well, fuck, that can't be right, can it? Nah, it's gotta be some sorta mental, followed closely by phsyical, torture, and then some robbery, maybe some rape, etc. Well, that ain't exactly it either.

The movie starts off with one of those commercials featuring a used car salesman trying to unload one of his death traps. We realize this must be a fantasy of some sort since there are dead people in all the cars, some of which are totaled. The car salesman is not "Crazy Eddie" or whatever, but simply Bill Lennox (played by Andrew Duggan) who implores his viewers to "for Christ's sake take these cars off my hands!" Bill is your typical used car salesman; slimy, deceitful, a lousy husband. He lives in a sizeable house (borderline mansion) and refers to his hired help in unsavory terms ("imbecile Jap gardener" and "even the god damned garbage man has got no pride"). His wife, Bernadette (Joyce Van Patten), is sorta the typical wife for a guy like this. A "yes dear", almost oblivious type. For example, she knows nothing of their shoddy finances and convinces herself, and anyone who will listen, that their son is M.I.A. in Vietnam and not serving a prison sentence somewhere in Spain for transporting Hash. Typical rich person household.

Into their lives comes the guy they figured was sent over by the pool service (there's a rat stuck in the filter) only it turns out he's not even the garbageman or affiliated with any other service type trade. Instead, he's Yaphet Kotto, aka Bone, robberer and serial rapist. Still, he subverts expectations by unplugging the rat from the filter and chucking the thing in the bushes. At first Bone seems pretty friendly. Then he insists on coming up to the house, ransacking their office, looking for the "big bread" and making snide comments about all of the bills he finds; loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc. Fuck man, their wealth is a sham. It's all an illusion. Bill even forged his wife's signature on their third mortgage which is considered a criminal act, putting Bill close to Bone's level (except for the rape). Bill and his wife argue about money, in Bone's presence. Bone sends Bill to the bank to unload what funds he can. If he's not back in an hour he's going to rape and, he threatens, murder his wife. This is where the picture gets interesting.

What we expect to happen isn't even close to what really happens. It's actually fairly accurate to portray this thing as a comedy, albeit an extremely black one. We started watching this with certain expectations. We got a big, black guy, a self professed rapist. Does he behave the way we would assume? Not exactly. Oh sure, he attempts to rape Bernadette after the hour has passed (Long story, but the husband was in line at the bank before reflecting on the argument with his wife and ditching the line and hitting a nearby bar and other various adventures) but realizes he can't. She's not putting up enough of a fight, calling him slurs. Maybe it's the booze he let her have. Anyway, he relents, they talk, begin to understand each other, have a few laughs, look up her husband's life insurance policy, and so on.

Bone is disarmingly honest with her and even comments on her "booze fat" after she mixes another drink. Meanwhile, Bill is out on the town learning his own life lessons. He hooks up with a woman who occupies a shit hole apartment, has food stamps but doesn't use them. She thinks food tastes a lot better if you "steal it". She makes a living writing complaint letters to various corporations and living off the free shit they send her. Not exactly the kinda lifestyle Bill is used to. Then she uses him in her molestation fantasy and things start to get pretty weird.

Shit man, this picture deals with issues like race and class in a fairly unorthodox way. It makes us a bit uncomfortable. Roles are reversed, jokes are made. To say any more about the story would spoil it. I knew nothing going in and was genuinely surprised. Larry Cohen had some balls on him to make this his first picture as director. Actually, he wrote, produced, and directed the thing so the responsibility was all his. He went on to helm a couple of actual blaxploitation movies (Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem), some killer baby pictures (the It's Alive series), a killer dessert picture (The Stuff) and a killer glow in the dark messiah movie (God Told Me To). He's also a pretty proficient screenwriter (Maniac Cop, Phone Booth, Cellular, Body Snatchers, etc). He's a little like John Sayles in that he seems to love injecting social commentary into his creature features. I especially like the sub title for this picture, which evokes the Spencer Tracy classic, Bad Day at Black Rock. I hope that was his idea.

Bone is a good start to his career, not really in a commercial or even critical sense (it bombed and was panned by the few critics that saw it back in the day), but more in a "wow, looking back...this is actually a pretty good movie with elements that seem well ahead of its time" kinda way. There's also a terrific jazz score by Gil Melle who, according to the wikipedia, was a pretty accomplished artist (creating the album covers for such greats as Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis). This picture is probably worth it for the scene at the end where Bernadette calls 911 and, when asked to describe the perpetrator, can only say "well, he was a huge black man". And if you don't find that funny, then you are a racist.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Frankenhooker (1990)

"If you only see one movie this year, it should be Frankenhooker"
-Bill Murray

Frank Henenlotter, the genius (yes, this label definitely applies) behind Basket Case and Brain Damage is back with perhaps his wildest, and funniest, picture, Frankenhooker. Ignore the "PG" on the poster above, this one is a fairly hard R, full of breasts, thongs, exploding hookers, drug use, and a look into the seedier side of vintage Times Square. Also included is an absolute looney tunes performance by James Lorinz as Jeffrey Franken, the resident med school dropout/electrician/inventor. Lorinz is almost overshadowed by former Penthouse Pet, Patty Mullen as Elizabeth Shelley, Franken's overweight fiance/lawnmower victim. I'm thinking you should probably stop reading now and just see the thing.

Franken and Shelley lead a quiet, pre-title sequence, New Jersey type of life. He messes around in his fiance's kitchen attempting to register some kind of higher function in a brain that he stuffed with a giant eyeball while Shelley (Mullens in a fat suit) entertains the guests outside who've arrived for her father's birthday. Shelley presents her father with his gift, a souped up radio control lawn mower invented by Franken. The lawn mower turns on, runs out of control, runs over Shelley and later we see a reporter describing her as being "instantly reduced to a tossed human salad." Also, certain parts of her (in particular, her head) have gone missing. Hmmmm...

Jeffrey Franken is traumatized by the accident. He tells his mother he's becoming "antisocial, dangerously amoral, can't tell right from wrong" and finishes with "I'm scared Ma!" to which his mother replies "let me make you a sandwich." Of course, this is just the sort of enabler he needs to continue his experiments in reanimation. He'll find his girlfriend a new body, a less fat one. He explains all this to Shelley's head over a romantic Italian dinner of pizza and a nice Bojole wine. He then shows her pictures of her head on new bodies (all naked, of course). "I could make you the centerfold goddess of the century! I just need the right parts."

After drilling into his head to jar his brain, he comes up with the perfect idea: Hookers. He drives into Times Square, meets a couple, deals with their pimp, buys some crack, and arranges to meet a gaggle of hookers the following night. He's got the dough and he'll have the blow. Of course, he's also a chemist so he modifies that crack a bit, turns it into "supercrack", tests it on his guinea pig and, after seeing the results, declares "this could get ugly." Shit man, there is a lot of plot going on here. Without going much further, let's just say he feeds the crack to the hookers, they explode, and he takes the body parts back to his garage laboratory where he puts his fiance back together and reanimates her with a well timed lightning bolt. Only, when she comes back it was not exactly as the Elizabeth he had hoped for. Now, he's got to deal with his fiance (turned into a lethal hooker), this pimp named Zorro, and several moral conundrums.

This picture is pretty close to perfection. James Lorinz and his perfect Joisy accent is absolutely hilarious as Franken. If I had to single out one scene, it would be where he's trying to rationalize giving these hookers a lethal form of crack that he knows will separate their limbs from their torsos; "I'm not killing anyone, it's not like I'm holding a gun to their head" and "They can always just say no. It's not me, it's the crack." If he just puts the crack down on a table or something and they happen to use it, it's not his fault. The drug will kill them eventually anyway. He's just "speeding up the process."

Mullen is almost as good as Franken's creation, a stitched together abomination of a hooker. Purple hair, a black forearm, I think an Asian leg, etc. She twitches, spasms, repeats things like "wanna date", "lookin for some action" and "got some money" ad nauseum. This ain't the woman Franken was engaged to marry. She's an amalgamation of every hooker he blew up. It's a great physical performance from the former Penthouse Pet and I don't just say that because she bares her breasts.

The special effects in this picture are awful, but loveable. Clearly the exploding hookers are dynamyted mannequins. That's fine, just adds to the fun. There's a scene at the end where flailing, shunted body parts leap out of a fridge that probably stole all the effects budget. I loved Franken's explanation for why he can only reanimate females (he "deals strictly with an estrogen based blood serum"). This also explains the hilarious, and predictable, finale.

If this sounds like the height of camp, well I suppose it is. Still, it feels more grounded somehow. This isn't a Troma picture (thankfully). There's no winking at the camera, no singing. I mean, we get ridiculous lines like (when Franken is measuring a hooker's breasts) "if I take the circumference and divide that by Pi..." and "nice bouyancy" but they're all delivered fairly straight (or, as straight as Lorinz can muster which I suppose isn't very). The world of the picture may not be our world, but it's a....uh...world. Hell, maybe Times Square was really like this twenty years ago with crazy pimp branded hookers, wild crack parties, random Rutger Hauer sightings (I swear that was him), and a guy in a bar who explodes after going down on frankenhooker under the table.

When the hell is Bad Biology going to be available for my viewing pleasure?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

Here's a strange little spaghetti western that could be considered revisionist if anyone had bothered to see it. Lucio Fulci (Zombi 2, The Beyond, etc) has crafted a somber, elegiac, and often moving story about four strangers who must band together to survive the rugged terrain that is the American West. Of course, this being a Fulci picture there's no shortage of blood, grue, being skinned alive, cannibalism, and perhaps some violence of a carnal nature.

The titular "four" meet in a jail cell in the small town of Salt Flats, Utah. The hero of the story, Stubby Preston, travels there to win some money playing cards. His reputation preceeds him, however, and the sheriff throws him in jail after burning his five decks of marked cards. The three other characters await Stubby in the jail cell. There's Bunny, the pregnant whore with a heart of gold. We've got Clem (Michael Pollard of Bonnie & Clyde, also Tango & Cash) as the wild eyed drunk. And finally, there's the lone black man in the cast named Bud. Unfortunately, not much progress had been made in Italian cinema by this point in time so Bud was portrayed as a bit of a simpleton who sees dead people. Not a ton of nuance to this particular character.

Anyway, little do they know that Salt Flats is looked upon as a town of sinners by a group of vigilantes that wear white sashes over their heads. While they sit in jail, the town is massacred as the sheriff sits idly by shoveling his stew into his mouth. We got a pretty decent scene of carnage here, gamblers and drunks alike gunned down, whore runners hung from the neck until they be dead, and so on. I guess the sheriff has a heart since he eventually lets the four out the back, gives them a horse and carriage and shoos them off across the desert.

This picture is basically one damned episode after the other. Stubby and Clem nearly come to blows when Clem drinks Stub's toilet water thinking it was alcohol. When Bunny is revealed to be pregnant, Stubby isn't too pleased..."li'l bitch thinks she's gonna hold us back?" They encounter a group of bible toters of the "joyful church of the living christ" who, it turns out, carry no weapons but the ever loving "word of god." We can figure out what happens to them easily enough. There's an encounter with the villainous Chaco, a Charles Manson type figure, that doesn't end too well. Chaco comes and goes, haunting the picture , committing various atrocities here and there. In one scene, he gets everyone high on peyote, ties them up, rapes poor Bunny, shoots Clem in the leg, and then leaves them to bake in the sun. So, yeah, he's not always an endearing character.

This is a weird, almost aimless, movie that somehow manages to be compelling. The appearance of Chaco actually manages to be funny. The group is sitting on a river bed, celebrating Bunny's birthday, when a couple of shots ring out. Chaco struts into their midst, with his rifle down low, the hilt by his crotch and the barrel suddenly standing straight up. He rubs Stubby's face with it and asks to join the group saying "wherever you go, you'll always have meat". Did I say funny? I think I meant gay. Turns out Chaco is an expert hunter. He joins them on their quest (to what ends, I'm still not sure), shooting fowl along the way while Bud (the lone black man, remember) runs off into the fields to retrieve them (progress, people, progress). All this scored to some trippy folk shit by some band called The Benjamin Franklin Group. We got songs like "movin on", "bunny", "stubby", etc....some real Bob Dylan or Simon & Garfunkel type shit. Only shitty. So, I guess that's one issue with the picture. The music (at least the songs) are all wrong.

Still, we got some very effective scenes like the one where Chaco skins the bounty hunter alive and then sticks his deputy badge in the poor guy's bare chest. That's also the scene where the "four of the apocalypse" maybe realize that this Chaco guy isn't right for their little group. Then there's the rape, the being left for dead, etc that really cements it. Anyway, there's a great scene that delves into horror when the four come upon a ghost town where it never stops raining. They dry themselves by the fire, naked, while Bud hits up the local cemetery to make some new friends. They try eating some mice, Clem succumbs to his leg wound, and then Bud brings in some pretty sweet looking meat all of a sudden that I wouldn't even think to question until looking in an adjacent home and finding Clem with a big hole in his left ass cheek. As you can imagine, the four of the apocalypse is very soon down to two. Of the apocalypse.

I think what I appreciated most was the lack of a true hero in this thing. Not one of these four carries a gun. When one character uses one in a climactic moment it's clear he's got no idea what he's doing. Hell, the guy uses both hands, so the idea clearly was not to make him (Let's face it, it's Stubby, everyone else is probably dead or talking to the dead or giving birth somewhere) into an iconic character like Django or Eastwood. This is about 4 regular stereotypes like you or me and two other people trying to traverse some barren desert type scenery and not get killed in the process.

There's a scene in a snowbound mountain town that could be from an entirely different movie. Stubby brings Bunny here to give birth to her child. Only problem, it's a town full of rugged men, no women, and a drunk doctor. Fuck man, it's incredibly moving to see these salty old dogs warm to the idea of a child being born into their midst. Oh, sure, at first they act all tough and shit saying things like "this is man's country!" and "hell, if we want a whore we'll just head on down to Salt Flats or wherever and buy us one". Then, in a masterfully shot scene, we see the look on their faces as the sound of a baby crying can be heard from inside the manger or stock house or wherever it was and the camera pans back. Later, the men line up to see the baby, present it with donations, name the thing Lucky, and try to "figure out which one of us he looks like the most."

So, what we have here is something other than a traditionally satisfying western. Oh, sure, there's a scene tacked on where Stubby gets his revenge but the picture had really ended, for me, before that final moment where Stubby stands over a pathetic Chaco uttering lame poker metaphors like "you overplayed your hand" or "you never split a pair of tens" or, well, maybe that's black jack. Anyway, we don't need to see this revenge because the picture up until this point was more about things like surviving. Revenge is nice enough and all, but not very realistic for this Stubby guy. I mean, it's just not believable that he could waltz in on Chaco's camp aiming his pistol with two hands and take out Chaco and his two compadres. There's no way Stubby is a match for a sleeping Chaco, let alone one who's groggily waking up. And I guess let's just ignore the luck of him blindly stumbling upon his camp. Or, if it wasn't so "blindly", I guess I want to know when he become a capable tracker?

Despite my issues with that final scene this is still a pretty good one. Sorry if I spoiled too much of it. We got a well shot picture here with lots of blood, some humor, some beauty, some bizarreness, some decent dubbing, some restored gore footage, and a nice little moment where four (carriage riders) of the apocalypse place bets on a beetle race in a jail cell. The only scene in the picture involving living creatures (excepting horses and a person or two) not being gunned down by Chaco. He shoots birds, drunks, rabbits, bible toters, children, a dead fish, dogs, etc. Something for everyone.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Duel (1971)

Now this is the kind of little thriller I tend to enjoy. You got a couple of characters (business man, evil truck, couple of people along the way), minimal settings (interior of car, diner, gas station/snake farm), and lots of high speed driving. You also got a first time film director in Steven Spielberg so you know things like suspense, well shot chases, and maybe even some excitement are likely to be involved. Call it "Jaws with a drive shaft" or something.

Like I alluded to earlier, the story is pretty simple. A business man (the cracking under pressure Dennis Weaver) leaves his quaint little home in the city to deliver some papers or have a talk or something (I don't know, it's never made clear) with some guy he'd like to do business with. Anyway, this guy lives across the desert. I'm not sure if this picture takes place in California, Arizona, Nevada or the Sahara (never made too clear either or maybe I just wasn't paying attention when they mentioned it). I probably shoulda checked out those license plates when the camera showed them for like the millionth time. Anyway, Dennis Weaver (character never named) heads out across the desert to deliver some business. Along the way, he goes up a mountain and encounters a pretty evil looking truck. The truck blows black smoke in his face so he passes it while ridiculing the unseen driver's lack of concern for the environment. I guess the driver doesn't like being passed so he proceeds to terrorize the business man for the next 70-80 minutes or so (I don't think it was real time). He does things like bump his bumper, honk the horn, plow into phone booths while he's trying to make a call, etc.

I was pretty suprised that I had never seen this thing. I saw that movie Joy Ride which was pretty similiar except in that one they give the trucker a motivation for his actions (CB prank gone bad) and also a voice (Buffalo Bill). This one, in a way, is almost creepier since the crime is motiveless. And, also, we never see the trucker. At first we wonder if this isn't some sorta possessed truck since after all this was written by the guy that gave us the evil little zuni doll (Richard Matheson). Eventually, we realize there's a man in that cab (we see an arm, I think part of a hat, and some boots at one point). A man is probably scarier anyway. We can believe a guy like this would actually exist.

At first, he just toys with poor Dennis Weaver. Weaver just laughs it off. The trucker, at one point, waves for Weaver to pass him. Weaver starts to and is almost killed in a head on collision with another car. These are the kinda games the trucker finds amusing. The best scene is probably the diner scene after the trucker chases Weaver down the mountain, Weaver crashes into a fence and the trucker keeps driving. Weaver, shaken, drenched in sweat, makes his way to the diner. He sits inside for a while, orders some lunch. Eventually, he notices the truck parked outside. One of the guys sitting at the bar is trying to kill him. Or maybe it's the guy playing pool. Shit man, this is Spielberg's first film and he's already a master of suspence.

The movie isn't perfect. I kept yelling at Weaver to keep the pedal to the metal every time he passed the truck, but he always let up. Matheson (or maybe Spielberg) perhaps realizing this (blunder?) threw in an awkward voice over for Weaver where he acknowledges this and then blames it on "habit". That doesn't really fly with me and it shouldn't fly with his character either. An evil looking truck is bearing down on you from behind, you don't let up. You floor that fucker until the tank is dry or you've hit civilization.

And, when I say that truck is "evil looking" I damn well mean it. It's old, rusty and has this elongated nose. Spielberg, in the interview that comes with the DVD, mentions that he chose the truck since it looked like it had a face. You got the eyes (split windshield), and some massive teeth (the grill), and I guess that makes the headlights the dimples and the side mirrors the ears or some shit. Maybe the exhaust is the ass. Take my word for it, it's evil.

This is one that'll keep you on the edge of your seat. Spielberg made this thing for TV but it doesn't really feel like it. Yeah, it only comes in full screen but you'll get over it. There are some great shots including the title sequence all shot from Weaver's car's point of view. Weaver gives a fittingly unsettled performance. The end is a little too satisfying in my view. I'm not sure if the original story ends this way. I guess I'll just have to read it or search the internet for spoilers to find out. Almost forgot about the score. It's some eerily great shit, lots of chimes, low percussions. Very unorthodox for a TV movie, or any movie come to think of it. Shit man, I'm trying to find the perfect way to end this thing, but I can't do it. Stop reading now and just pretend I said something clever.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vigilante (1983)

Back in the early 80s New York City (and it's many burroughs) was not a safe place to live. Gangs ruled the streets. Thousands of people were murdered every second in NYC alone as the result of gun violence, car violence, or crow bar violence. Thousands! It had gotten so bad that a guy couldn't even go out after dark to "get a pack of cigarrettes" from the corner store (according to Fred Williamson, leader of the vigilantes in Vigilante). The police force was basically useless; understaffed, underpaid, undersupplied (no kevlar, rude 911 operators, etc), etc. The courts were just as ineffectual, full of corrupt attorneys and judges. The prisons, with their revolving doors, weren't much better. We were losing our streets to the scum.

Against this filthy backdrop, stands a man, a man with blinders on, a man that believes in the system. Eddie Marino (Robert Forster), a good guy, a good mechanic, good husband, good father, etc. It's a perfect life kinda scenario. His auto shop buddies are into the whole vigilantism thing, but not Eddie. He has a sweet little home in the suburbs, a place where crime isn't welcome. He spends his days at the shop and his evenings and weekends with his little boy and his wife (picnics, radio control airplanes, the whole works, etc). Things are going pretty damned great if he does say so himself. The only way things could get screwed up would be something terrible happening. Perhaps a relative dying, a fire, foreclosure, maybe a dead pet or something like that.

Anyway, after his boy is shot dead and his wife beaten and raped by gang members, Eddie's outlook changes a bit. Maybe that vigilante bullshit the guys down at the shop are into isn't such misguided bullshit after all.

Still, despite this tragedy, Eddie continues to trust in the system. The system didn't kill his kid and rape his wife, some gang did. I'd like to take a moment to comment on the gang. This is the kind of gang we only see in the movies (particularly, movies from the 80s). We got a Puerto Rican (the leader), a black guy, an Asian, a white guy, and some blonde bimbo (she's dating the leader). This is an equal opportunity gang. Skin color isn't nearly as important as whether or not you're willing to pull the trigger on a young child cowering behind a shower curtain or whether you're willing to beat a housewife and violate her in the backyard in full view of her cowardly suburbanite neighbors. Very progressive gang as you can see.

So, like I said, Eddie still believes in the system. He cooperates with the Assistant D.A., signs some papers, wants to see the bastards punished for what they did. Unfortunately, the case is assigned to a corrupt judge, an "asshole" according to his attorney. The defense attorney is played by Joe Spinell (Maniac) and therefore pretty sleazy. He takes bribes from the gang member that shot Eddie's son. I'm assuming Spinell shared those bribes with the judge (Vincent Beck) otherwise they don't really make sense. We'll just assume I guess. Maybe I'm not really understanding the way the system works is also possible. Anyway, Eddie doesn't really think a two year suspended sentence is much of a punishment and, considering this was just the indictment, it doesn't really sit well. The killer goes free and Eddie gets thrown in jail for trying to beat the shit out of the judge. Some system we got here.

I liked this picture even if it's sorta just a highly entertaining Dirty Harry knock off. Forster gives a good solid performance. Is there a more underrated actor out there? He's one of those actors that seems like he's not acting most of the time. He always just seems mildly uncomfortable. When he walks through his house (after his son was murdered and wife raped) his reaction is to almost have no reaction at all. It's unimaginable to him, he's in a daze, just sorta simmering ready to boil over, but not quite getting there. We don't see the guy actually "act" until the courtroom scene. I'd argue that the more showy he gets ("you killed my son!", etc) the less effective his performance is.

Fred Williamson is the other big actor in the cast. He plays a guy named Nick, a friend of Eddies, but not a good friend. For most of the picture, he just looks cool and walks around with his hands in his jacket pockets (I believe Williamson trademarked this particular look). This is the kind of guy who, when chasing a drug dealer, will stop to pick up the wheelchair bound guy that the drug dealer knocked over before continuing his pursuit. He's also pretty ruthless in his beatings; lots of kickings while they're down, dangling out of windows, shotgunning mob kingpins, etc. I liked his brief exchange with a hood walking on the sidewalk:

Hood: You're in my way.
Fred: No shit.

Steve James shows up in a small role as a young idealistic police officer. He wants Williamson and his boys to knock off the vigilante bullshit already so he can do his job. There was a time when James was one of my favorite actors (appearing in American Ninja, Delta Force, Brother From Another Planet, etc). He had a strong physical presence, a gift for gab, and was someone who could hold his own against the likes of Williamson. Unfortunately, James died back in 1993 as a result of pancreatic cancer. Would have been nice to see where his career might have gone. Here, he's just a rookie cop in over his head. He exits the movie when - spoiler - he and his partner (some old white guy) are brutally murdered by the same thugs that destroyed Eddie's life (oh yeah, forgot to mention his wife decides to leave him). I assumed this was some sort of frame up. The thugs drove a van that resembled the vigilante mobile. Maybe get the cops to take on the vigilantes and get off their backs. Nope, it was just the thugs being bloodthirsty and not thinking more than one step ahead. If I have one complaint with the movie, it's with the script, which doesn't seem too interested in following through with some of its own ideas.

I also expected Eddie to have a few more layers. He basically goes directly from point A to point B. One moment he's a nice guy. Then, he's capable of gunning down crooks in cold blood. The scene where Eddie blows away the gang leader in his pad (I laughed when I realized this guy, for all his stealing and raping, still lived in a studio apartment) is a good one. Williams does something in this scene that might cause him to reconsider his path in life, or at least give him something to regret, but like other issues that pop up from time to time in this picture, it's never addressed again. Ok, another spoiler, Williamson blew away the girlfriend of the gang leader as she was coming out of the bathroom (it was an undesired reaction). He gives a look immediately following that implies moderate sorrow. That's pretty much it. Conflicting emotions are not where this picture's heart lies.

There's a subplot involving a gangster named Mr.T who is shown on the news chastising the media for stereotyping Italians as gangsters. Next he is shown doing some sort of money for drugs exchange down on the docks before - spoiler - being blown away by Fred Williamson. Williamson does some pretty nifty detective work to make his way to Mr. T. He beats up a small time corner dealer ("where do you get your stuff?") which leads him to a pimp, who he runs off the road, which leads him to the head of the New York Mafia who apparently, is not against making deals down by the docks in person, and alone. I respect that.

William Lustig (Maniac) did a pretty good job directing this one. His action scenes aren't perfect. There's a car chase that's unexciting, has no sense of scope or direction, and goes on for too long. There's plenty of blood, a little nudity (not the good kind) and a scene where a gang member's woman gets propelled from a bedroom into the bathroom (and into a tub) with a shotgun. Anyway, this is a solid one full of good characters, despicable actions, and I'm sure there were some other characteristics. Check it out.