Monthly Archives: May 2013

Vic’s Classics – Hang Em High (1968)

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“Hang ‘Em High”

Directed by Ted Post

8 out of 10

Director Ted Post ( Gunsmoke, Magnum Force) and TV writers Leonard Freeman ( Hawaii Five-O ) and Mel Goldberg (Bonanza) brought to the screen one of Actor / Director Clint Eastwood’s (Million Dollar Baby, Firefox) more memorable westerns about revenge and injustice. It isn’t by far the most seminal of Eastwood’s westerns of the 1960’s but it is an interesting character study and has enough juice to demand we stick around and find out what becomes to the men that run afoul of Eastwood’s main character named Jed Cooper. Cooper is a no nonsense type like many of Eastwood’s cowboys who happens to be herding some cattle in Oklahoma in the year 1889. As he does he is approached by a posse of nine men looking to get to the bottom of the murder of  the Herd owner. Apparently, Cooper purchased the Herd not from it’s owner but from a rustler who had killed him and posed as it’s owner during the sale of the herd to Cooper. Even as he shows the posse his receipt he is still met with hostility from the men. Only one, Jenkins (Bob Steele) shows a bit of concern and doubt as to Cooper’s culpability in the alleged robbery and murder. This though does not stop the men from taking the law into their own hands and it is this plot device that propels the story and movie forward in an entertaining fashion despite a bit of laziness from director Ted Post here and there.

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2 men named Reno and Miller (Bruce Dern) steal a saddle and wallet from Cooper. The men then grab Cooper, hang him and leave him to die painfully as they ride away. Well, as it happens, a Federal Marshal named Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson of Terror Train) sees Cooper hanging and cuts him down barely alive. Bliss helps out Jed and gets him on a horse and takes him to Fort Grant to let a frontier Judge named Adam Fenton. Fenton is loosely based on a true life Judge named Issac Parker who in real life was called “The Hanging Judge” and didn’t get that name from selling cookies. Fenton finds Cooper innocent and he then lets him free to re-coup in Fort Grant. Eventually he is offered the position of a Marshal and Cooper accepts. On one condition from Fenton: That he does not hunt down and kill the men that wronged him. Later in the film things get hairy for Cooper as finds his saddle on a horse in a small town saloon. He finds Reno who tries to shoot Cooper but not in time and he is shot dead. Jenkins on the other hand gives himself up. As more men are found Cooper is drawn into a moral battle with himself and tries to do what s right by the law. The film straddles those gray areas and Eastwood and Post, both in good form, deliver a decent western with some drama, wry levity and great performances.

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“Hang em High” can at times seem a bit like a carbon copy of previous Italian westerns and Eastwood has indeed done better but I felt that the story, while a bit dated even for 1968, was cool enough to keep me interested. This is done by the good performances here by the large cast which includes Bruce Dern, Pat Hingle, Eastwood himself, Ben Johnson, Alan Ladd Jr., the beautiful Inger Stevens (The Twilight Zone) and a young Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Waterworld) as “The Prophet” who is gunned down by Bliss in a foiled escape attemot. The cast all work well within the revenge tale and Bruce Dern stands out as an especially slimy bad guy to oppose Eastwood. Clint here is stern, gravelly voiced and dead serious. Eastwood the way Eastwood should be. Being Eastwood’s first american western and the first Malpaso Company production, the film is a good indicator from which to forsee some greatness being born for Eastwood’s future movies. The film is indeed under-appreciated and plays out true to form. I feel the film may be a bit under-estimated as well. It isn’t a magical western like “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” or the seminal “Unforgiven” but it is thought provoking and features solid action and style. Some of the convictions and motivations fall by the wayside though when some characters make strange decisions but these things never distract Post, Eastwood and the writers from spinning a cool and stable revenge yarn. Eastwood finally puts a name to his fabled image of the cowboy with “no name” and here we get a truly interesting side to this mythos. It’s not magical like the Leone pictures but it just fine. Richard Kline’s (Body Heat, The Andromeda Strain) photography is nice and engaging with frames filled with great costumes, grit and dusty landscapes. I thought Dominic Frontiere’s ( Color of Money, Chisum) music was a bit underwhelming but appropriate in the right places. All in all this Eastwood western entry is not bad but it isn’t great either. It strives to work though. I appreciate it’s ability to remain an under-appreciated and oft overlooked movie in Eastwood’s body of work. It’s just that it is eclipsed, appropriately, by better fare like the Leone films and the director’s own powerhouse, “Unforgiven.”

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Vic’s Review – Stand Up Guys (2012)

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A pair of aging stickup men try to get the old gang back together for one last hurrah before one of the guys takes his last assignment – to kill his comrade.

Directed by Fisher Stevens

4 out of 10

What the hell did I just watch? Oh man, is this what Christopher Walken and Al Pacino been reduced to? Lowbrow humor about Boners, prostitutes, and snorting prescription drugs? “Stand Up Guys” establishes that it is parody pretty early on but it isn’t even good or witty parody. It’s a bunch of disjointed skit-like scenes that that are neither funny or remotely smart.  It has some interesting bits of the “fish out of water” or “I’ve been out of the game” elements but they only elicited a smirk or a slight giggle from me. I never actually laughed out loud. Not even once. I did sit up and take notice at perhaps the coolest part of this mess but I’ll get to that later. I really wanted to enjoy this but instead watched something that was very similar to the comedy “The Crew” with Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds. “The Crew” while not a classic either still had some great chemistry among the leads and while the story stalled in places it got the parody right in more than one instance. “The Crew” is even a guilty pleasure of mine. I watch it once in a while.  As much as I want to judge “Stand Up Guys” on it’s own merits I just can’t. The film is too feeble and expects us to enjoy two, no, make that three excellent actors trade very SNL type dialog that seems more appropriate in an “Harold and Kumar” movie. Too bad.

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Director Fisher Stevens ( Californication and Short Circuit) and writer Noah Haidle brings us a movie of firsts. First directing gig for Stevens and first major gig for Haidle for the writing. Unfortunately neither the direction or writing amount to anything that good or funny. Al Pacino ( Carlito’s Way, Scarface, The Devil’s Advocate) plays an ex-mobster simply named “Val” Val is being released from prison after being incarcerated for 28 years. His friend “Doc” played by Walken is there to pick him up. What Val doesn’t know is that Doc has been ordered to whack Val by crime boss “Claphands” ( A name that sounds like a Dick Tracy villain ) and he has until 10am to do it. Val, being quite horny, convinces Doc to break into a pharmacy to get some type of erectile meds in order for him to “perform.” After he takes a handful of them, which is a very stupid thing to do, he has Doc take him to a brothel nearby. A few sex and dick jokes later Val lands in the ER only to confront Julianna Margulies as Nina. Nina happens to be the daughter of their other friend, Hirsch. Nina and another Doc have to wait around after all of the boner humor is done and Val is given something for his perpetual hard on. Ugh. Sometime later after Nina tells the guys that Hirsch is in a home and slowly dying. They decide to pick him up for a last hurrah around town. A last hurrah that includes fast cars, ( with a stolen Dodge Challenger SRT8 no less ), close calls, police chases and guess what? A brothel! Haha, Sooo hilarious and original! I must admit that Alan Arkin was refreshing to watch and it made the movie suck a bit less but even Arkin is stalled here because the un-witty banter and humor is just too pedestrian.

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So, after Arkin croaks, because we don’t see THAT coming. Doc and Val find a naked girl named Sylvia ( Vanessa Ferlito from “Death Proof”) in the trunk of the SRT8 and helps her  get even with some thugs that violated her. Ferlito is quite cute and sexy but here she is wasted. She’s not appealing enough to really like and is forced to deliver a very bad one-liner about “The Nutcracker”  Ho hum. There is dull subplot about Doc’s grandaughter who is a waitress and some money that Doc wants to leave her and then by the third act Doc and Val ponder how things will go down. Will Doc spare Val and defy Claphands? Or will he do him in? Well, by the time the climax and story wrap up I’m not very interested or even care about what happens. Stevens gives his gravelly voiced leads way too much room to go overboard on delivery, exposition and much of the film is spent with the two trading lame quips and one liners. They are given way too much room to indulge. Watching Arkin, Pacino and Walken all together onscreen should have been a hit out of the park here. Stevens takes way too long to let them play well off each other, unfortunately. Most of the scenes with Pacino and Walken has a sort of desperation about it. It tries to be some kind of “Bucket List” meets “Goodfellas” type comedy or maybe it is trying to cash in on some of the vulgar sensibilities of “The Hangover” movies except using a couple of elder actors that should have really dissected this script before accepting the roles. The material is way beneath them and if they wanted to make this work they should have had a director on-board who totally gets the ironies, wit and aplomb that a comedy of this type involves. I can in no way recommend this movie. A shame really. I cringed way too many times during most of the painful scenes with these legends instead of laughing and appreciating the humor that is really lacking here.

Oh and back to the reason I gave this movie it’s rating, well maybe 2 reasons. There is a shootout and the film could have used a few shootouts and the other reason is: Doc and Val quote Nada  ( Roddy Piper) from John Carpenter’s “They Live” The only really cool part of the  movie.

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Brian’s Review – Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

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In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.

2 out of 10

This is a God awful boring and joyless experience of a film. I could accept how dark it is if it were a crime thriller or some form of horror movie where hope has little meaning. But, for a film about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, you expect it to have some fantasy or wonder in the experience. It isn’t helped by the fact that the producers decided to cast the worst actress of her generation in Kristen Stewart. She is so painfully untalented and brings absolutely NOTHING to any character she plays. And, she can’t emote! I mean, that’s the entire fucking job! Emoting feelings from the script to be an ambassador of the story!

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She has one acting face and exists somewhere between looking perpetually high on weed and in mid bowel movement. The worst part is that she’s playing Snow White. She’s supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the land (Stewart sure isn’t) and her mere gaze draws people in and makes them happy. Are they kidding with putting her in that kind of role? For instance, the woodsman played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor and Star Trek) is all out for himself and could care less what happens to Snow White. A few scenes later, he’s diving into action and putting his life on the line for hers. Why??? They have almost no dialogue to back up that kind of loyalty. So, is he smitten with her? And if so, why? At this point, I was too bored to care. There aren’t any interesting characters in this farce to follow or give a shit about. So, what are we left with? A scene stealing performance by Charlize Theron who’s utterly wasted and a cast of characters with no personality. Oh, don’t forget about “Princess Constipated.” Seriously, just go and spend 2 hours doing almost anything else.

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Vic’s Review – Texas Chainsaw (2013)

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A young woman travels to Texas to collect an inheritance; little does she know that an encounter with a chainsaw-wielding killer is part of the reward.

“Texas Chainsaw”

Directed by John Luessenhop

4 out of 10

Egads. Even though horror fans have seen iconic movie villains like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and even ole Mikey Myers rebooted, remade and re-imagined we seem to have forgotten Leatherface somewhat. Well in true predictable form we are treated to a grittier, violent and deranged Leatherface but a Leatherface that is actually a type of vigilante or “anti-hero” that is going after some people who either get in his way or have it coming. What Director John Luessenhop (Takers) gets right out of the gate is deftly re-create the climax of Tobe Hooper’s seminal movie. Using some new footage smartly intermixed with Hooper’s. Here he sets things up for us and with precision and gravity Luessenhop manages to invent some mood with dark carnage and twists. Unfortunately, that is all that he gets right. Everything else after the interesting set up is so predictable, fabricated, boring and incredibly dull. I have never been a huge Leatherface fan having only watched some entries of the franchise here and there. Luessenhop doesn’t accomplish much in the way of sparking some real interest all around here. It’s all violent style over much needed substance.

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Some will argue that it is indeed a decent entry because it does deliver some of the more horrific elements of a crazed slasher film but I have to disagree. It delivers all right but it’s not chills and thrills. Actress Alexandria Daddario (Hall Pass) plays Heather Miller who has been notified that her wealthy Grandmother  has left her a huge house and property. After she discovers that she is adopted, Heather reluctantly decides to  travel to collect her inheritance. She gets her  friends Ryan, Nikki and Kenny together for the road trip and they head out. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker named Darryl. They make it to the house and after doing a walk through of it Heather decides to go and get some supplies from town and they leave Darryl behind to loot the place. Dumb thing number 1. Never leave a total stranger to watch your brand new house which is full of expensive silver objects. And the dumb things continue. One right after a another. We are introduced to Leatherface (Dan Yeager) who survived the attack upon the Sawyer Home 20 years before. He is indeed creepy and very menacing but only in a cartoony sort of way. I just couldn’t take him seriously. So, Heather and her friends learn the hard way that Leatherface comes with the house like some sort of rapid pet. Yikes.

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The devil is  in the details here in this movie and some things do not gel. The film shows a lynch mob that destroys the Sawyer home with fire but 20 years later it’s perfectly re-built. Characters do not age and bodies are found with no explanation. It’s these little things that wreck the film. Well, this and the fact that everything else sucks. There is no suspense. The chases are boring and uninspired. Kenny and Darryl both run afoul of Leatherface in grisly ways that involves large metal hooks and Kenny gets sliced right in half in a deliciously gory and funny moment. Leatherface goes after Heather and the rest and in the escape he causes the getaway van to crash. Heather gets away from the wreck but her boyfriend Ryan (Rapper Trey Songz) doesn’t fare too well. Tania Raymonde (Lost) plays Nikki, who even though very sexy here,  can’t seem to escape cliche territory when facing the killer. The one high point of the film is when Leatherface runs amok at a carnival that Heather escapes to. But it is too little too late. Texas Chainsaw delivers a dull continuation of the iconic and mythical  film. It is riddled with cliche after cliche and it is incredibly boring. Luessenhop fails in his plot and execution. In the last act the movie totally falls apart. In a last ditch effort to impress, Luessenhop reveals something about both Heather and Leatherface that is a bit laughable and trite. I’d stay clear of this mess gang. But if you do have to see it then don’t expect anything other than a bad movie that isn’t bad enough to be good.

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Brian’s Review – Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Brian

Rating: 9 out of 10

Holy Shit! Bradley Cooper can act! I honestly had no idea. Everything I’ve ever seen him in prior to this movie, he’s always delivered a minimalist performance where he seems to be doing little more than acting like himself. But, here he delivers a nuanced and fleshed out character that isn’t just interesting, but funny and touching as well. Honestly, all the acting in this film is fantastic. Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jacki Weaver are all top notch and make the film work but I knew THEY could act. Cooper caught me a bit off guard.

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As I’m sure you’ve read from the above synopsis, this is a film about mental illness and the long term effects it can have on life, love, and finding your place in the world. As generalized as that description can sound, it describes the experience of watching the film perfectly. David O. Russell does his best work since Three Kings here. He has always been a visionary director that uses interesting characters to help round out a detailed and oft-kilter world. But, here is a film that is more about emotion than rational thought. Cooper, De Niro, and Lawrence all have their mental illness vices. De Niro is obsessive compulsive, Lawrence lost her husband and has thrown herself to any man sexually who will make her forget her pain, and Cooper has constant fits of rage stemming all the way back to an incident where his wife was unfaithful. Each of them is looking for their own “Silver Lining.”

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 That makes for an interesting premise and certainly Russell is adept at weaving the tale but it’s the interaction between the characters that makes this film special, particularly the believable chemistry between Lawrence and Cooper. Their relationship builds over the course of the movie, not from some lame chance meeting like all of the predictable romantic comedies. They have very little in common except for one thing: they both have no filter between their brains and their mouths. This makes for some funny and unpredictable dialogue that is completely original.

I’ll admit that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. A lot of film goers like their neat and tidy films that ride off into the sunset. While this film is far from a negative experience, it doesn’t dare to think that these people are cured. It just lets them find their silver lining within their imperfect existence. 

 

Vic’s Review – Outland (1981)

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In the distant future, a police marshal stationed at a remote mining colony on the Jupiter moon of Io uncovers a drug-smuggling conspiracy, and gets no help from the populace when he later finds himself marked for murder.

8 out of 10

The consistently like-able film director Peter Hyams (2010, The Relic, Running Scared) brought to the screen, in  1981, what is obviously a “High Noon” in space sci-fi movie. His film, called “Outland” stars ex-James Bond actor Sean Connery (Rising Sun, The Untouchables) as Marshall William T. O’Niel.  O’Niel has the pleasure of watching over a Titanium ore refinery way out on a moon of Jupiter, Io. The script written by Hyams as well is thematically a western plain and simple. It wears this theme (and comparisons) on it’s sleeve and makes no pretenses about what it truly is. This is why I like “Outland” very much. It’s about good guys and bad guys. Nothing complicated or very dynamic except for the actors are on display here. There are some very good performances from the late Peter Boyle as Mark Sheppard, the Director of the mining facility. James B Sikking (Hill Street Blues) as Deputy Montone is near perfect here as a by the book law enforcer. Frances Sternhagen is the irascible Dr. Lazarus and she steals every scene she’s in as the reluctant Health officer that is forced to chose a side when the battle comes down to O’Neil and the menacing Sheppard. Hyams begins the film with Jerry Goldsmith’s (who did “Capricorn One” with Hyams also) very cool title track which leads us up to an incident that starts the proceedings. A miner, suffering from sort of mental breakdown or psychosis, freaks out and opens his space suit to the atmosphere of Io which causes him to decompress and die explosively.

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It seems that this miner is not the only one. There seems to be a pattern and O’Niel’s deputies and even Doc Lazarus have their hands full with miners acting violently and suffering from a form of cabin fever. Soon after another miner exposes himself to the Jovian atmosphere by getting in an elevator which leads outdoors. O’Neil enlists Lazarus to help him with these mysterious circumstances and discreetly they discover that the miners all have something in common. A psychotic drug in their systems. Yet another worker also attacks a prostitute and Montone hastily dispatches him much to O’Neil’s dismay. When O’Niel approaches Sheppard he is met with resistance. It seems that Sheppard has a different outlook and philosophy regarding his men. “They work hard and I let them play hard” – is what he tells O’Niel, who seems to have his back up against the wall since no one wants to help him take down Sheppard. Sheppard is supplying the men with some hardcore drugs and he is turning a blind eye, like most of O’Niel’s men, to the problem. For Sheppard it’s business as usual and O’Niel is not having it.

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Hyams brilliantly directs Connery here who was born to play O’Niel. He isn’t as tough as nails as, say, Malone from “The Untouchables’ but he is bad ass none the less. He’s kind, by the book and is a man with a good moral center but that isn’t enough to keep him out of trouble. After he sends his wife and son away, O’Niel now has to face Sheppard. Sheppard receives a phone call from some “benefactors” regarding O’Niel and in turn he sends for some hit-men to take care of this Pebble in his shoe. It’s around here that Hyams jacks up the suspense and the movie truly becomes “Hign Noon” in space. O’Niel searches for help and never gets any and he even tries to enlist some of his men who back out. Only Dr Lazarus is willing to help but reluctantly. So, since O’Niel is monitoring Sheppard’s com system he prepares himself for the impending showdown with Sheppard’s thugs. “Outland” is tight, well paced and supremely acted. Hyams gives us a claustrophobic setting and uses it to maximum effect here. Every set has that dirty tech look and the miners all look tired, impatient and frenzied. Stephen Goldblatt’s camera work is impeccable as is Goldsmith’s score. Long hallways, hatches, air locks, rusty elevators, cramped bunk spaces, an outlandish “sex’ bar and some exquisite shots of Jupiter are all nice touches in “Outland”

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Upon it’s release “Outland” was a bit vilified for it’s obvious western style conventions. Over the years that viewpoint has changed a bit. I applaud it’s conventions because Hyams treats the material and his superb leads with respect. Connery is great in the lead and he and Boyle have some very interesting and cryptic exchanges. Sternhagen steals her scenes as she quips to and fro with Connery. She brings an old school charm as she runs about talking to herself and being jumpy and nervous. The story is lean and the climactic showdown does not disappoint especially as O’Niel learns the hard way that some people he thought he could trust are really deceitful scumbags. Hyams delivers the quintessential western in space with “Outland” He gives us a frightful, real and sobering look of what life out on the frontiers of space could one day really be like. Enjoy, gang! Highly recommended!

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