Deep Cuts: “Fear City” 1984 Dir. Abel Ferrara

With Tom Berenger, Billy Dee Williams, Melanie Griffith, Jack Scalia, Rae Dawn Chong and Michael V. Gazzo

“There’s nothing I hate more than guineas in Cadillacs.” –Al Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams)

    I absolutely love Abel Ferrara’s films. While I might not enjoy watching them, I do appreciate and respect the shit out of them. I’ve seen most of his films, and they’re very hard to come by. His staples, “Bad Lieutenant”, “Dangerous Game” and “The Funeral” are floating around on DVD, but it’s his deeper cuts that are very, very hard to come by. This is mainly due to the fact that most of his films fail to find distribution.

If Ferrara ever made a mainstream film, it would be “Fear City”. Starring, at the time, an A-list cast, which is very unusual for a Ferrara film. This film, much like his others, takes place in New York City where the city is turned upside down by a serial killer who is preying on strippers.

    Tom Berenger headlines the cast as Matt Rossi, a former boxer who is now a talent agent for strippers. He runs the agency with his best friend and partner, Nicky (Jack Scalia). Rossi lines up all the girls for most of the clubs in New York that the Italian mob owns and runs.

He frequents one club that’s run by Michael V. Gazzo (most known from “Godfather 2” and “Fingers”) to see his ex-girlfriend Loretta (Melanie Griffith) perform. Rossi is a complex character; he’s haunted by his last boxing match that left the other fighter dead. He’s also trying to vie for the attention of Loretta, and now he’s out to find the serial killer.

    Billy Dee Williams gives a command performance as Al Wheeler, a hardnosed vice cop who now works for homicide. He’s also on the hunt for the serial killer, all the while clashing with the mob and Rossi. Williams has always been an excellent character actor, and I will always think of him as Lando and the original Harvey Dent, but in this film, he’s the anti-Lando. He’s terrific.

“Fear City” is a very strange and bizarre film. What else would you expect from Ferrara? This film is very choppy and disjointed, due to two reasons. The first is because the version I watched (DVD from Amazon) is the “cut” version that edits out a lot the gruesome violence and unapologetic nudity that was in the original cut. I’m Not saying the version I watched is tame, because it’s not.

The second reason this is such a disjointed movie is because that is essentially Ferrara’s authorship. All of his films aren’t cohesive or even coherent. Why should they be? Life isn’t. Ferrara and his screenwriting partner Nicholas St. John create yet another film that displays the dark side of humanity that doesn’t need explanations or accountability, because the evil that brews inside this killer reminds me much of Travis Bickle, he is a manifestation of society.

    What I found really fascinating about this film is the fact that the serial killer in the film isn’t given a name and even more interesting is that he’s not even credited in the film. He’s an actor I’ve never seen before, and while searching the IMDb message boards and using the Google Machine, I still can’t find out who this guy is. But I can tell you one thing; he scared the shit out of me in this movie.

“Fear City” is available for purchase on DVD on Amazon, and also to rent on Amazon Prime for $1.99.

Rating: 8/10

“Bloodworth” – 2011. Dir. Shane Dax Taylor

With Kris Kristofferson, Val Kilmer, Hillary Duff, W. Earl Brown, Frances Conroy, Reece Thompson and Dwight Yoakam

Music by T. Bone Burnett

“I’ve been shot at more times than I’ve been hit. I’ve always considered myself ahead of the game. I just never knew how to quit.” – E. F. Bloodworth (Kris Kristofferson)

 

    The new Indie film “Bloodworth” may lead you to believe it’s in line with “Crazy Heart” since it’s about a country singer E. F. Bloodworth (Kris Kristofferson) coming home after abandoning his wife (Frances Conroy) and his three children Warren (Val Kilmer), Boyd (Dwight Yoakam) and Brady (W. Earl Brown) fourty years ago for a life on the road as a country western musician. He’s come home not to reconcile with his children or his wife, not to explain himself, but to die.

    This film is the furthest thing for “Crazy Heart”.

    E. F. Bloodworth is unapologetic. He doesn’t feel the need to explain himself to anyone. He’s hard, he’s mean, and he’s real. What makes this film very effective is that it’s not the typical pappy crap you’d expect from a film like this. This film deals with, for lack of a better phrase, a history of evilness.

    Each one of Bloodworth’s sons is a bad man. Not just bad, but truly evil men. Warren owns a bar, he’s a drug addict and a womanizer. Boyd is a disgruntled ex husband, who travels to Nashville to look up his ex wife, because Warren had told Boyd that he’s seen her with another man, and that she just signed a record deal. Warren isn’t telling this to Boyd to help him, but to be sadistic.

    Brady, the oldest of the boys, looks after the matriarch of the Bloodworth family, played by an ever-so-fragile Frances Conroy. Brady believes that he can put curses on people, and each curse he puts on a person is to kill them. He believes he has a special bond with God, and that by putting curses on people, he is serving the Lord.

Take that Sarah Palin!

    The only sense of normality in the Bloodworth family is Boyd’s son Fleming (played very effectively by Reece Thompson). Fleming is a bring young thing, he’s an avid reader, and dreams of being a writer, but everything is holding him back – his father, his new found girlfriend Raven (Hillary Duff) who gets pregnant by another member of the Bloodworth family.

    Kris Kristofferson absolutely nails the part as E. F. Bloodworth. He’s a man who’s filled with wisdom, but who also protects himself with a lot of hard bark that he’s accumulated over the years. I know it won’t happen, but it’s for damn sure that Kris Kristofferson should get a nomination for Best Actor in a Lead Role at this year’s Academy Awards.

    Dwight Yoakam, who usually brings his A game to the roles he plays, is excellent in this film. It seems to me that Yoakam usually takes on roles that were meant for Billy Bob Thornton, doesn’t it? The most impressive thing about this film, too me, is the fact that Val Kilmer is actually really, really, really good. I’m talking “Tombstone” good. What happened to you Val Kilmer? Your ass used to be beautiful. I miss you, boo.

    This is a film that takes you on a strange and bizarre journey. It’s honest and unapologetic, and while watching this you may feel like the story doesn’t have a direction too it, once the end of the film closes – everything comes together perfectly – at least in my mind.

Rating: 8.5/10

    

“Passion Play” – 2010. Dir. Mitch Glazer


With Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, Kelly Lynch with Rhys Ifans and Bill Murray

“Normal? Fuck normal! When the hell has normal ever won a goddamn prize!?”


“Passion Play” is an interesting little film. It’s currently peaked at a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been bashed by everyone who has seen it. Well, I decided to check this movie out last night, to actually see how bad it is – and wouldn’t you know it – “Passion Play” is the best film I have seen so far this year.

Don’t make fun. It’s just like my opinion, man.

The cliché overly stylized film noir movie follows Nate Poole (Mickey Rourke), a three time loser who is on the lamb from a mobster Happy Shannon (Bill Murray), because he slept with Happy’s wife.

    Nate passes through a carnival, and meets Lily (Megan Fox) who’s a sideshow attraction. She’s a beautiful girl who has wings. Yes. Wings. Literally. Nate wants to rescue Lily from the carnival where she is held by a very flamboyant and sneering man named Sam (Rhys Ifans).

Nate has an ulterior motive to saving Lily. He wants to pitch an idea to Happy. He wants to set up an attraction to display Lily and her wings. He figures that he can share the profits with Happy in return for his life.

The film is fascinating. It’s very corny and cliché, but it works and the writing is amazing. The actors are given very juicy and pulpy lines of dialogue to bounce off one another. This noir in this film feels very much like a John Huston film. And when Rourke and Murray interact with one another, it very much reminds me of the chemistry Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson had in “Key Largo”.

    Mickey Rourke is perfectly cast as the washed out trumpet player. The oxymoron of style and patheticness that Rourke brings to these roles feel so authentic and so real. The vulnerability and poise that Rourke brings is great, and this performance should be high on the list of his career best.

I’ve never seen Megan Fox in anything that I know of. She’s fine as the innocent tart (which begs the question, can a tart really be innocent). She’s a lot better than I expected. I suppose she plays her character rather vaguely – which is perfect.

Bill Murray has turned into quite an interesting actor. Ever since his ego explosion that was “Lost in Translation” I think he has carefully picked his roles. Which is why “Ghostbusters 3” hasn’t been made yet – I can’t even imagine what a nightmare of a script that is.

    As Happy Shannon, Billy Murray gives us a very subtle and subdued performance that I think could be his very best. Murray isn’t funny. Nothing he says is funny, though he has the opportunity to put a twist on it, and give a wickedly good performance as a gangster named Happy Shannon.

Everything about Murray’s performance is calm and cool. I never really thought Murray could give a straight performance. Think of his best, “Groundhog’s Day”, “Lost in Translation”, “Rushmore” – he’s very good, but he’s still Bill Murray.

Alright, I’ll just say it. Bill Murray is perfect in this movie. He gives such a small performance, but the progression his character makes is pretty amazing, given the limited screen time and development we get of his character. Bill Murray is going to win an Oscar yet. Just you wait and see.

I mean, my little Cinnamon Girl is going to see this. So you should too.

“Passion Play” is a very offbeat and bizarre movie. If “Passion Play” were directed by David Lynch, David Cronenberg or even the Coen Brothers, critics would have loved the shit out of it. Sometimes people just hate a movie to jump on the bandwagon. “Heaven’s Gate” ring any bells?

Rating: 10/10

My Mentor’s Review: “100 Rifles”

Note: I wish I could take credit for this piece, but I just can’t. This was emailed to me and written by my mentor. A man, who attended SMU, played professional soccer, played soccer with Rod Stewart and appeared in the film “Semi Tough” with Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson. He now owns and operates a couple of small businesses which are nearly run into the ground by my Mother. He is an incredible writer and I wish I could write as half as good as he can. Enjoy this.

Channeling Gene Siskel

Recently, and for no reason imaginable, I have been wondering if someone could make a living reviewing bad movies that were released a long time ago.

One might go something like this….

It has been many years since its release, but “100 Rifles” remains iconic in my memory as one of the standards of its genre.

It featured Burt Reynolds, far in advance of all the plastic surgery that has him looking like a wax figure in Madame Tussaud’s museum; Jim Brown before he started wearing those weird activist hats; Raquel Welch when she was sportin’ those magnificent McGuffies (well, she still has them, it’s just that back when the movie was made they were firmly planted parallel with her armpits, versus today’s version which NORAD confirms now inhabit the immediate area of her kneecaps); and finally, the inimitable Ricardo Montalban, who is the featured nasty in this particular piece of work. He is the oppressive commandante of a rundown garrison full of heavily-mustachioed mercenaries who wear giant sombreros, even indoors, and who are happiest when they are following Ricardo’s orders to crush the peasants and the Apaches, and have their way with the women of the village while the elder men are forced to watch.

BUT, as is the standard with cinema of this ilk, things always take a decided turn for the better for the peasants and the Apaches. In this masterpiece, said peasants commandeer Ricardo’s train with all his cache of weapons and launch themselves into full attack mode against the bad guys.

The action at this point is spectacular. Jim Brown explodes for a 68 yard run that was very reminiscent of his days with the Cleveland Browns, only this one ended with a trail of eleven dead Mexicans instead of a first down.

While Jim is sprinting, Burt Reynolds shoots some especially despicable n’er do well in the face at point blank range, and then throws a big stick of dynamite into the barracks full of bad guys. He’s apparently genuinely pleased, because one can see his smiling teeth gleaming from the depths of the sombrero-induced shadow that otherwise completely darkens his face.

And don’t think for a second that Raquel didn’t do her part. SHE was the one who managed to bring the entire munitions train to a complete halt so the good guys could attack it! Fortuitously, she decided to take a shower under the railroad’s water tower right when the train full of weapons and guards was approaching, and she stopped that baby right on its tracks…literally. She was soaking wet, and though the movie doesn’t have subtitles, I think the last thing one of the banditos said to his buddy before a stray round caught him between the eyes was, “I’ll bet those things are gonna be down around her knees in about 40 years”.

The high action portion of the movie concludes with Ricardo eating roughly an acre of machetes from a bunch of monumentally perturbed villagers. (Had the director of the movie been Nostradamus, he doubtless would have cast a little person as Ricardo’s sidekick, and just before the villagers close in, Ricardo could have asked him if there was any escape route, to which his ever-faithful partner could have replied…”De plains, boss, de plains!”)

And of course, after the splinters from the vaporized garrison have settled, and the blood has stopped dripping from all the victims, and the sun starts to go purple on the far horizon, our three heroes rejoin in the suddenly quiet town square. They exchange some clever dialog, touch foreheads during an awkward three way hug, and then share a quiet and satisfied chuckle. The movie ends with the viewer’s confidence restored that once again all is well south of the border.

South of the border.

That reminds me.

I have to pee.

“Life During Wartime” – 2009. Dir. Todd Solondz

With Allison Janey, Michael Lerner, Dylan Riley Snyder, Ally Sheedy, Shirley Henderson, Michael K. Williams with Paul Reubens with Charlotte Rampling and Ciaran Hinds

“I’m sorry I said you were shit and I was champagne.” – Andy (Paul Reubens)

Man, how does one even begin to review a Todd Solondz film? Better yet – how does one even begin to review a Todd Solondz film that’s a sequel to his masterpiece “Happiness”? “Life During Wartime” has to be one of the most imaginative and inventive sequels that I’ve seen. Most of the characters from “Happiness” do appear in this film, but the catch is this film has an entirely different cast.

As in “Happiness”, this film at its core revolves around three sisters who are all confused – and for that matter – are all fucked up. Joy (Shirley Henderson – Jane Adams in “Happiness”) is the “innocent” and “good natured” Joy who in reality does nothing but hurt people. She’s so dumb and “good natured” to realize what she’s actually doing.

While Joy married Allen, who has the most radical transformation between the frumpy Phillip Seymour Hoffman from “Happiness” to Michael K. Williams a scared black gangbangerish creeper in the new film, she has frequent visits from the deceased Andy (Paul Reubens – Jon Lovitz in “Happiness”) who had killed himself because Joy broke his heart.

Andy is very gentle at first, as Joy tells him how guilty she feels, how horrible she feels for breaking his heart – and then when Andy asks if she’d like to try again, she coldly shuts him down by insulting him and demeaning him.

Trish (Allison Janey – Cynthia Stevenson in “Happiness”) is struggling to find normality while she raises Timmy and Billy (who is off at college now) on her own, while her husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds – Dylan Walsh in “Happiness”) is just being released from prison for sexually molesting one of Billy’s friends when they were young boys.

Trish has begun dating Harvey Wiener (Michael Lerner – and yes, the name makes me laugh), who is a divorcee and as Trish calls him, “normal”. They’re relationship grows, but as Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) questions Trish more about his father – things become confused with Timmy and he assumes the role of man of the house.

Helen (Ally Sheedy – Lara Flynn Boyle in “Happiness”) is an introverted, alcoholic screen writer that is still a snide bitch, and very paranoid by her surroundings. Joy has always looked up to Helen, and always sought out her advice – which makes sense since Joy is just as snide and introverted.

While all these actors (minus Michael Learner and Charlotte Rampling) are playing characters that have already been established, they bring their own to the role they’ve assumed. Aside from Allen being the most drastic transformation I felt that Ciaran Hinds take on Bill was much different from Dylan Walsh’s.

While the character of Bill is a child rapist, when Walsh played him he wasn’t menacing, and you somehow found a way to like him. With Hinds’ performance, I do “like” his character, but he is more menacing – particularly due to his physical appearance.

This film isn’t as visually disturbing as “Happiness”, it still is disturbing. Many events in the film are as uncomfortable as ever, but you still find away to laugh. Whether it be disbelieve in the events on screen, or a simple dialogue exchange Solondz has impeccable humor and comedic timing that he brings to his screenplays.

If you can decode the film enough, it’s a very interesting look at the human condition, and how forgiveness is a very powerful tool, and how we are all so misunderstood and so misguided through life. This film is not for everyone and for that matter; Todd Solondz’s films in general are not for everyone. While the ending of the first film had an almost heartwarming feel to it, Solondz pulls the rug from under our feet in “Life During Wartime” and breaks our hearts. Well, at least he broke mine. This is one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

Close Encounters with the Third Kind – 1977. Dir. Steven Spielberg

Close Encounters with the Third Kind

“Have you recently had a close encounter?” –David Laughlin

When I sat down to write the review to Close Encounters of the Third Kind my biggest concern was how to reconcile how I felt about the first half of the movie, which was a little luke warm, to the how I felt about the last half of the movie, which was amazing.
Continue reading “Close Encounters with the Third Kind – 1977. Dir. Steven Spielberg”

Deep Cuts: “Naked Lunch” – 1991. Dir. David Cronenberg

With Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands and Roy Scheider

“What do you mean – “it’s a literary high?””

“It’s a Kafka high, you feel like a bug.”

 

Bill Lee (Peter Weller) is an exterminator whose “bug powder” also acts as a hallucinogenic drug that is becoming extremely rare and in demand. Lee’s wife Joan (Judy Davis) has become addicted, and has been skimming Lee’s bug powder from him, causing him to get in trouble at work, and causing his work to report him to the police. Lee gets arrested and he’s left in an interrogation room with a bug that begins to talk to him, the bug tells Lee that he’s a secret agent and a writer, and that he needs to get to “Interzone”.

I am a big fan of David Cronenberg, and due to the fact that Barnes and Noble was doing their 50% off Criterion Collection sale, I picked up “Naked Lunch” and watched last night. As a body of work, I think that Cronenberg has made very good films, and I think he’s a very good auteur – but as for “Naked Lunch”, it’s Cronenberg’s masterpiece.


This comes from the “unfilmable” novel by William S. Burroughs, and much of what takes place in the film took place in Burrough’s life. There is a scene early on in the film, where Lee tells his wife it’s time for the old William Tell trick. Joan puts a glass on top of her head, and Lee pulls out a pistol to shoot the glass off. Lee pulls the trigger and shoots Joan in the forehead – this event happened to Burroughs’ while he was living in Mexico and he fled to the United States – in the film Lee fleas to “Interzone”.

This film is built around paranoia and mystery, it’s very incoherent with its flow and intention and the film is the perfect metaphor about the writing process. As Lee dives further into the underground world of drugs and being a secret agent Cronenberg builds the paranoia which at times feel sort of Polanski-esq.


I’ve always felt that Cronenberg’s themes to his films is a central character that has to lead a dual life (whether he wants too or not), and from that dual life comes a lot of repercussions and struggles. In “Naked Lunch” Bill Lee deals with the dual life of first being an exterminator and second being this secret agent/writer.

Peter Weller is amazing in this film. I’ve always liked him since “Robocop”, and his stint on this season of “Dexter” displays the range he has as an actor. He brings this Humphrey Bogart style domineer and perspective to the role of Bill Lee. This is a character that we’ve seen before, but Weller puts his own unique style and brand on it. Weller is slowly making his way to becoming one of my favorite actors.


Roy Scheider (who I heart) plays Dr. Benway who Bill Lee goes to for help for his addiction to bug powder. Scheider has limited screen time but he is incredibly precise and effective in his small roll that should have earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

The film is a remarkable homage to pulp fiction. The set décor, consumes and especially the music are all musings of a film noir, and that era of film. The film feels a lot like “Chinatown” because it’s a merging of film and neo noir. As to where many feel that “Chinatown” is a perfect film, I feel that “Naked Lunch” is a perfect film.

Exterminate all rational thought.

Rating: 10/10