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

“Take Shelter” – 2011 Dir. Jeff Nichols

With Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham and Kathy Baker

“Is anyone seeing this?”

    “Take Shelter” seemed to follow the trend of the 2011 spectacle films like “The Tree of Life”, “Melancholia”, and Abel Ferrera’s “444: Last Day on Earth”. I missed this movie in theaters and I was really excited to rent this movie, considering it currently trends with a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and much critical appraise for Michael Shannon.


    I did not dig this movie. While the premise of this film, Curtis (Shannon) having premonitions of an apocalypse, and we can’t decide weather (get the pun?) or not they are actual foreshadowings, or if it is a hereditary mental illness (his mother, played briefly by Kathy Baker, is held up in an assisted living place because she’s mentally ill).

    The first act of this film builds really nicely, and Curtis is a very complex character. He has a loving and beautiful wife, played by the remarkable Jessica Chastian, and an adorable as well as deaf daughter. Curtis takes out a loan, borrows construction equipment from his work to construct a very big storm shelter in his back yard. The dreams that Curtis has are very frightening, but by the time unwinds, and then spins to a “gotcha” ending, I could have cared less about Curtis, or his family or especially the movie.

    Michael Shannon was good in the movie, but he wasn’t anything remarkable, and wasn’t anything that you wouldn’t have expected him to be. He essentially plays the same character he plays in “Revolutionary Road” and “My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done?”. I don’t mean to take away from Shannon’s performance, it was very good, but a lot of bloggers and Oscar Sayers keep sighting his performance as the biggest Oscar snub since (insert name here).


    It’s really not. Albert Brooks not getting nominated for “Drive” is the biggest Oscar snub since (insert name here).

    After the film closes with its “gotcha” ending, it just didn’t make much sense to me, not that I didn’t understand the ending of the movie, it’s obvious, but the events and dreams Curtis’ had had leading up the ending that just don’t make a lot of sense, it really doesn’t add up.

    “Take Shelter” is a very good effort by writer/director Jeff Nichols, but it comes up very short, and it isn’t daring, or anything particularly special, it’s just rather bland.

Rating: 6/10

    

“Mississippi Burning” 1988 Dir. Alan Parker


With Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, Stephen Tobolowsky, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kevin Dunn and Michael Rooker

“You know, [baseball] it’s the only time when a black man can wave a stick at a white man and not start a riot”

    “Mississippi Burning” is an agenda movie. Plain and simple. The film is made by Alan Parker, who also directed the liberal guilt ridden film, “The Life of David Gale” which made an extremely strong case against the death penalty. Here, Parker unapologetically shines a light on America’s worst trait – racism.

    Taking place in Mississippi in the 1960’s, the most fertile landscape for birth of America’s decline as a Great Society, Parker fictionalizes the true story of three civil rights activists, two white and one black, who are killed by the KKK. Two FBI men are sent in, Willem Dafoe as the by the book bleeding heart liberal, and the realist played by Gene Hackman.


    The two men turn the small southern town upside-down, trying to find the three “missing” men. They both use different tactics. Dafoe, being the “outsider” calls in a slew of FBI and naval reserves to comb the rural landscape for any clues to the men’s disappearance. All the while Hackman uses a much different and more successful tactic, brute intimidation.

    The band of Klansmen are made up of a plethora of great character actors, stemming from Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, Stephen Tobolowsky, Pruitt Taylor Vince to the scariest of all of them, Michael Rooker. Each actor paints a cliché yet realistic portrait of the American bigot.


    Gene Hackman turns in a career highlight of a performance as a former Mississippi sheriff turned G-man who has a complete understanding of the racial issues that plague the American south. His performance is a more heroic turn of Popeye Doyle from “The French Connection”, the performance that earned him his first Oscar, and also set the typecast and tone for the rest of his career.

    “Mississippi Burning” is an agenda film, but that doesn’t take anything away from the powerful and moving story about the American Experience fused with the good cop/bad cop genre movie. Alan Parker is an incredibly talented filmmaker who is able to construct multiple bodies of work, consisting of the “liberal guilt” films, music films (“Pink Floyd’s The Wall”, “The Commitments”, “Evita” ) and the very dark portraits of humanity (“Angel Heart” and “Midnight Express”). “Mississippi Burning” is a film that still holds up true to this day.

“Mississippi Burning” is available to watch on Netflix Instant.


Rating: 8.5/10

“The Flock” – 2007. Dir. Wai-keung Lau

With Richard Gere, Claire Danes, KaDee Strickland, Avril Lavigne and Ray Wise

 

“I think about a girl who didn’t come home… what I might’ve missed… and if I miss something again, who’s next.”

“The Flock”, to me, was a film that sounded very interesting; Richard Gere plays Erroll Babbage a retiring public service officer whose job is to check up on registered sex offenders. Claire Danes plays Allison Lowry, Erroll’s replacement who he is training during his remaining two weeks on the job. During these final days a girl goes missing, and Erroll believes that it’s one of his registers.

Erroll plays a burnt out public servant who is an alcoholic and has made his work his lives obsession. The film opens up with a creepyish title sequence of Erroll at home drinking, his apartment is littered with news paper clippings of missing girls and he has a state map on his wall with pins scattered all over the map representing the registered location of sex offenders.

This film is nothing more than a poor quality want-to-be “Seven”. While watching this film, you become so dis-attached from it, you find yourself not caring out the characters, not even caring out the victim of the film. Everything in the film feels forced, and everything happens all too easy. The film even ends with a “Seven” style ending.

This film tries to take you into the “underground” world of pornography and pedophilia, but it ends up looking like some low rent straight to DVD film – which this very well could have been. I don’t remember this being a theatrical release and I doubt very much this was played at festivals. What’s sad about this film is that it makes “8MM” look like “Citizen Kane”. Yeah.

I had much hope for this film, giving the brief plot synopsis I read, and the casting of Richard Gere and Ray Wise, who I have always considered one of the most underrated character actors working in film and TV. Watching Richard Gere play Erroll Babbage is like watching Jason Biggs play Richard Gere’s character in “Brooklyn’s Finest”.

I thought that Gere was incredible in “Brooklyn’s Finest”, but in this film he’s borderline mediocre, the exception is Gere’s performance in the horrible climax of the film – Gere is pretty damn good during that part. While watching this film, the events almost become comedic in the fact that the twist and turns are so outlandish and, forgive me for using this term – retarded.

The quality of this film is so poor that it seems like those slew of serial killer films such as “Ed Gein”, “Dahmer” and “Gacy”. This film is so poor and so low brow that I can’t even believe that anyone involved in this film would take it seriously. I can’t even begin to understand why Richard Gere would sign on to a film like this, and I can’t even believe that Wai-keung Lau (the director of the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy) would make a film this terrible. The only explanation I can think of is that the two of them wanted to work together.

I love Richard Gere, I mean, I think the guy is one incredible actor and ever since his turn in “Chicago”, he’s pumped out some outstanding performances. Watching Richard Gere in this film hurts my heart.

Rating: 2/10

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

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” – 1975. Dir. Jim Sharman

With Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Meat Loaf, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell with Charles Grey and Richard O’Brien

“Frank-n-Furter it’s all over. Your mission is a failure, your lifestyle’s too extreme. I’m your new commander. You are now my prisoner. We return to Transylvania. Prepare the transit beam.”

I was in 6th grade, and one of my friends was telling me about “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and offered to sell me the VHS for a dollar. So I went home, asked my Mom for a dollar, and when she asked me what for, I told her it was for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. Needless to say – she didn’t give it to me. So I scraped together change, and brought my friend two quarters and an assortment of dimes and nickels.

I remember the cover art to the VHS box vividly – it was all black, with red lips on the front, and bright red bloody text displaying the title. I was taken aback. I rushed home, and put in the VHS – I had a good three hours before my Mom would get home from work. What I witnessed was one of the most intense and confusing things of my life.

I don’t want to call this film an obsession of mine, perhaps it’s more of a compulsion. I can’t get enough of it. When I was in high school, I had a tape deck in my Toyota pickup truck, for my birthday my Mom bought me a six disc CD changer, while it was being installed in Best Buy, the first CD I bought for my new changer was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” soundtrack.

This film is a fusion of the Golden Era horror classics, Douglas Sirk style melodramas of the 1950’s, the raunchiness of the 1970’s and the freed sexuality of the 60’s. This is unlike any film I have ever seen. The themes to this film are all charged on sexuality, but with a blanket of campy horror. This is one of those films that are a rare cinematic treat.

The music to this film is phenomenal, and I do consider this film the finest musical ever made. The music to the film is that of pure perfection. If Stanley Kubrick made a musical – this is what the film would look like.

Tim Curry who plays the diabolical Dr. Frank-n-Furte is working on his new creation Rocky, who is six feet tall, hasblonde hair with a tan – is a transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania. His Igor inspired Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien who also put together the London musical production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” years earlier) hunches around with him, as well as his two groupies Magenta (Patricia Quinn) and Columbia (Little Nell) sing and dance around Frank-n-Furter and Riff Raff.

The music to this film is wonderful. Aside from the staple song, “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” – I find many of these songs very powerful. I’m not ashamed to admit, but I do know all these songs by heart. I haven’t seen this film in years; I watched the “Glee” episode – the only “Glee” episode I’ve ever watched – I felt that the homage they showed to the film was excellent. There were things that I didn’t like very much, but the one thing that I love, love, love, love, love, loved was when John Stamos sang the Meat Loaf song “Hot Patootie”. John Stamos officially joined my top tier of mancrushes.

This film is so insanely ludicrous it’s hard to explain what it’s about. A lot of this film I still don’t fully understand (I don’t think you’re supposed too), but all I know is that this film is a lot of fucking fun. It’s amazing, and it’s excellent. This film is an amazing feat, it’s challenging and it’s inspiring. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a benchmark in American cinema, and it is a film that is just as important as “Citizen Kane”, “Taxi Driver” and “Lawrence of Arabia” – plus – it’s a lot of fun.

On a Blu-Ray note: The audio is superb and the video transfer is far beyond your expectations, this is one of the best Blu Ray special editions that I have encountered. Steal this movie.

Rating: 10/10

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” – 2008. Dir. Steven Spielberg

 


With Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Shia LeBeouf, Jim Broadbent, with Ray Winstone and John Hurt

 

“Any last words Dr. Jones?” – Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett)

“I like IKE!” – Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford)

So it is 19 years after Indiana Jones’ adventure to find the Holy Grail where his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) was introduced, and the film also included franchise staples of Sallah and Marcus Brody. In the fourth film, we of course have Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) who we haven’t seen since “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

The film opens with a great scene of Indy and “longtime” sidekick George “Mac” Macale (Ray Winstone) being kidnapped by Russians led by Dr. Irina Spalko (Blanchett), and they take the two men to a remote military base in the dessert because Spalko wants something that’s inside this huge warehouse. She knows that Indy knows the contents of the case they’re looking for, and forces him at gunpoint to find the item she’s looking for.

Indy does find it, and Spalko has the Russian soldiers load the case into the back of her jeep and she scurries away. Indy then cracks his whip around, beats up a bunch of Russians and escapes. He escapes to a nuclear blast test site that is a mock suburban town, and as the countdown nears zero, Indy hides in a refrigerator and survives the blast.

Wow…

I mean, he’s not outside of the blast radius, he’s at the heart of the mushroom cloud.

As the story progresses Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) is introduced and you can guess his significance to the story… He talks to Indy on and on and on about how his mother Marion and his “mentor” and Indy’s old classmate Dr. Harold Oxley (John Hurt) were kidnapped by the Russians and taken to Peru to find the – wait for it – crystal skulls. Indy and Mutt travel to Peru to save Oxley and Marion.

They fight Russians, fight weird ape style natives and try and prevent Spalko from obtaining the crystal skulls because the skulls power is – wait for it – mind control. The crystal skull looks like an alien head. Seriously.

Give me a FUCKING BREAK!

Look. I love Indiana Jones. I grew up watching the films, and I love the series so much that I’ll defend “The Temple of Doom”. As for “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” – I can’t even begin to defend the film, but what I do like to do is talk about how fucking terrible this film is.

The only other good scene is the scene that follows the opening, were Indy is being interrogated by two FBI Agents because his sidekick Mac was a turn coat and was working for the Russians. So Indy’s patriotism is being questioned. Indy explains that during WWII when he was an OSS Agent for the US Military he conducted a lot of covert missions with Mac who worked for MI6 and was a covert British agent. He talked to them about how many missions Mac and he completed – that short scene was so much more interesting than the crystal skull story line. I wanted to see Indy in WWII performing covert military operations, fighting Nazi’s once again.

First off, Harrison Ford isn’t believable as Indiana Jones. It breaks my heart to say it, but it’s true. It’s not because Ford is older, but because the story is so ludicrous, and the dialogue that Indy says (aside from “I like Ike”) is atrociously bad. Just because Ford is wearing a leather jacket and a fedora doesn’t validate anything. Nice try guys, B- for effort.

Cate Blanchett, who I love, is the best part of this film. The only down side is that she looks like Natasha from “Rocky and Bullwinkle”. The film does take place in the 1950’s – so naturally Indy is fighting the Russians. Cate Blanchett is wasted in this film.

Shia LeBeouf portrays Mutt who is Indy’s son with Marion. Yikes. I smell a spin off, “The Adventures of Mutt Williams” or “The Adventures of Indiana Jones, Jr.” Real nice. What’s even worse than this is John Hurt. He’s horrible in the movie, and has a terrible character. I strongly believe that Dr. Oxley was originally Sean Connery in the first draft of the script. You want to know how bad this film is? Sean Connery declined to participate in it. Double yikes.

What else de-validates this movie is the abundance of CGI. It’s disgusting how much CGI is used in this film. It’s fucking Indiana Jones! The first trilogy was filmed on location, featured miniatures, and a lot of camera trickery! Not fucking CGI!!!!! Triple fucking YIKES!

What made the “Raiders” and “Last Crusade” so good? There are a bunch of common elements: historical objects (The Grail, the Ark), took place in the dessert, had franchise staple characters of Sallah and Marcus, and fucking NAZIS!

What made “The Temple of Doom” mediocre? Aside from it being an EXTREMELY dark film (Lucas was going through a divorce while writing the script). It takes place in the jungle (Peru in this film), annoying characters (Willie Scott – Kate Capshaw), and in the new film Mutt Williams, Mac, Dr. Oxley. The artifacts are fictionalish – the three stones in “Temple” and the crystal skulls in this film. The crystal skulls are real, but they don’t look anything like they do in the film, and their authenticity is in much question.

I had an idea of what the fourth film should have been. It’s in the late 1950’s, and the lingering remains of the Third Reich are held up in South America. They’ve been excavating in Egypt because they’re looking for the Staff of Ra (which the headpiece of the staff was used in “Raiders”). William Hurt (who previously worked with Spielberg in “A.I.”) would portray the Nazi who would be Indy’s nemesis in the film. The Nazi’s are looking for this staff because it would, in theory, gives them the supreme and divine power to once again rise to power. Since Indy is not only knowledgeable of ancient artifacts, but also was an OSS Agent during WWII, the American government would ask him for his assistance.

This would not only bring the Nazi’s back into play, but it would also bring Indiana Jones back to the dessert like “Raiders” and “The Last Crusade” – it would also allow Sean Connery to return, and also allow the return of Indy’s old friend Sallah. I think that sounds like a much more engaging story, and a story that remains true to the previous Indiana Jones films. Just imagine William Hurt in Nazi attire, the Nazi’s finally acquire the staff, he’s holding it – he’s about to activate the staff – and in comes Indiana Jones, he engages with Hurt, cracks his whip, fights Hurt, and somehow the staff destroys Hurt because the power it holds cannot be manipulated by just any man, especially such an evil man (much like the Ark and the cup of Christ did to the bad guys in “Raiders” and “The Last Crusade”) and Indy watches Hurt’s demise he smugly says, “Heil Hitler”.

I think I’m going to resume work on my “Indiana Jones 4” treatment; I promise it will not have “Mutt Williams” in it.

I know you have to suspend believe while watching Indiana Jones films – but when Indiana Jones is standing at the top of a temple, and watches a fucking UFO fly from the temple and into space – that is where I draw the line. Indiana Jones and aliens don’t mesh with me. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford should all be ashamed of this finished product. Thanks for keeping up waiting for 19 years guys. I think there was a reason the previous installment was titled: “The Last Crusade”.

Rating: 3.5/10