Saturday, April 21, 2012

Attack of the Killer B's

I've been pulling up some old DVD reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy. This was actually one of my first "Video Risk" columns from November 2000.

Anyone who grew up in the South in the 1960s and 70's probably developed a love for "B" movies. The humidity, the Drive-ins and southern women with their special type of hospitality resulted in many a passionate night in the back seat of the old Chevy Impala with its Holley four-barrelled carb, 350 V-8 engine and glass-pac mufflers.... Oh well enough redneck reminiscing. If one was unlucky enough to have to watch the movie showing on the screen of the old drive-in theater they developed a love for low-budget action films, which in some rare occasions are still worth a look today via video.

The following three films illustrate what is great about "B" movies. "White Lightning," "Fast Walking" and "Vice Squad" each embody the quirky, charismatic, action-packed, sexy, testosterone-driven celluloid which made drive-in theaters popular.

"White Lightning" (1973) features the ultimate drive-in movie cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beaty, Matt Clark, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley and Diane Ladd. Look for Ms. Ladd's daughter, Laura Dern making her screen debut as a poor-white-trash yard ape.

As the credits roll the evil sheriff of Pulaski County, Arkansas (Ned Beaty) sadistically murders an "outside hippie agitator." This is a big mistake because the victim just happens to be the younger brother of the number-one-turbocharged moonshine driver in the state, Gator McKluskey (Burt Reynolds). The feds spring Gator from the Arkansas State penitentiary in order to infiltrate the rouge Sheriff's organization and bring him down.

"White Lightning" is pure evisceral entertainment. It offers car chases, fist-fights, sexual innuendo (just what does "Shaky Pudding" mean anyway)?, machismo and brainless fun. The performances are well above average for this type of film. Several later Oscar nominees and winners populate this trashy fun.

Ned Beaty is the personification of evil. The fact that he is so low-key and subdued makes his performance all the more chilling after the murder he commits during the opening scene. To anyone who did not grow up in the 1970s, one viewing of this movie will let you know why Burt Reynolds was the highest paid star during that era. His portrayal of Gator McKluskey shows the wide range he has as an actor. Despite the comic book tone of the movie, Reynolds shows a depth of humor, sexuality, and the pain and obsession of a man whose kinfolk must be avenged in his portrayal of Gator. Gator is a macho good-old-boy who is misunderstood and grudgingly admired by the same folks who put him in jail. According to Gator, "There are only two things I'm afraid of...women and the po-lice." The truth is that it doesn't matter if the women love him and the po-lice fear him. (By the way, please do not under any circumstances rent the sequel, "Gator" it sucks. It illustrates all the characteristics of the worst of "B" movies.) I'm not going to harp on this movie anymore, either you'll rent it of you won't. I don't care 'cause I've already seen it. If you want to go to your grave without seeing this redneck gem then be my guest!

I saw "Fast Walking" on cable back in the 1980s. I watched it mainly because I had been an extradition officer during the 80's and had seen the old Montana State prison in Deer Lodge during one of my trips. I recognized the old prison shown in the opening credits, so I watched it. What a great quirky movie! James Woods plays "Fast Walking" Miniver: a corrupt prison guard who is involved in plots to both free and kill an African-American militant prisoner (Kevin Hooks). This movie has so much going for it that I have a hard time knowing where to start. Kay Lenz plays "Moke," the sexiest woman to ever traipse across a redneck's fantasy. Is she a kindred spirit of Wood's or is she playing this poor sap like everyone else? M. Emmett Walsh brings his usual excellence to this film as an over the hill cop. Kevin Hooks brings just the right touch of dignity and righteous indignation to his performance as the 1960s radical. But what really sets this movie apart; what really makes this movie worth watching is the Oscar-caliber performance of Tim McIntire as "Wasco," the pure-d evil, megalomaniac prisoner who holds all the strings of the rest of the puppet-like characters.

Tim McIntire brings a charisma to this character which is seldom seen on celluloid. His performance alone is worth the price of a rental. Wasco sees himself as God. He manipulates the other prisoners and guards with the same ease that Hitler manipulated the Germans during W.W.II. For me, the standout scene takes place in the prison chapel between Woods and McIntire, as McIntire feels out the amoral guard concerning Woods' sincerity about killing Hooks character. Woods' character has no character so McIntire cannot be sure of his loyalty. The question becomes, will "Fast-Walking" Miniver grow a conscience or not? Who can be trusted?

Trust me folks, if you want to be enthralled by the magic of a performance rent this movie. Tim McIntire's performance is incredible!

The final killer "B" is the 1983 movie "Vice Squad." This little sordid gem was produced by Frank Capra Jr. (My how his daddy would spin in his grave!) The plot of this movie concerns an L.A.P.D. detective (Gary Swanson) who tries to use a hooker with a heart of gold (Season Hubley) to catch a vicious killer-pimp named Ramrod (Wings Hauser). Why should you rent this movie? Two reasons (really one serious reason and one trivial reason). The first and main reason is to witness Hauser's "Ramrod", one of the most vile bad guys ever put on screen. I am a criminal defense lawyer and I would have big trouble defending a real person as evil as this character. In one scene "Ramrod" is approached by an elderly street woman hoping to rescue a young prostitute that he is abducting. He shoves a lighter in the old woman's face and says "I'm the Devil baby" (or words to that effect). This is one of the more tame scenes, and lesser offenses that "Ramrod" commits in this movie, but it is the sheer delight with which Hauser delivers the lines that shows just what a badass he is.

There is much more to this movie than just Hauser's performance. Season Hubley and Gary Swanson have a definite chemistry. The kink factor is also high. As a warning, there are a couple of violent scenes which are hard to watch. This warning is especially true during the scene in which "Ramrod" punishes his errant working girl "Ginger" (former MTV vee-jay Nina Blackwood). I don't have a problem with movie violence as long as it is not presented for titillation purposes. This scene comes close and I am still bothered by it even though I have seen the movie numerous times. The scene illustrates the way that those particularly low forms of life know as "Pimps" abuse and exploit lost women for their own benefit. So, if you rent this movie, and are bothered by this type of scene then fast-forward your VCR when "Ramrod" comes knocking on "Ginger's" motel room door. I don't like "spoiler" reviews of movies, but I feel that it is only fair to warn you about this scene.

The second reason I liked this movie is the fact that Gary Swanson said "Go ahead, make my day!" one year before Clint Eastwood said it in "Sudden Impact."

Well folks, I figured you needed a little light entertainment after the several serious films I have thrown at you the last few weeks. Don't worry, though. Next week I''ll be reviewing, "Shoot the Moon," Alan Parker's harrowing study of divorce. Until then, pop open a six-pack of Schlitz beer, kick back and hoop and holler with one of these Killer B's.

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

I've been pulling up some old DVD reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy.

L.Q. Jones' "A Boy and His Dog" was one of the quintessential cult films of the 70s. I must have seen the movie 20 times during high school. Based on a Harlen Elison novella, "A Boy and His Dog" is a biting satire set in 2024, following WWIV. "A Boy and His Dog" tells the tale of a solo named Vic (Don Johnson) who scavenges the barren wastelands in search of food and women. Vic would be lost without Blood (Tim McIntire). Blood is the brains of the outfit, while Vic provides the brawn. Blood is educated, funny, intelligent and he has an innate ability to find women. Did I fail to mention that Blood is a telepathic, talking dog? The original ad campaign for Christopher Reeve's first "Superman" film said, "You will believe a man can fly!" With "A Boy and His Dog," you will believe that a dog can talk. There is no problem with the willing suspension of disbelief.

Shot in magnificent widescreen photography, "A Boy and His Dog" is a forerunner of George Miller's "Mad Max" series. "The Road Warrior" owes more than a little to this great film. I'll provide little more than a rough thumbnail of the plot as this movie deserves to be discovered afresh. This is one of those movies that I'd give a money back guarantee if I were a rich man.

Vic provides food for Blood and himself. In exchange for the food and companionship, Blood leads Vic to women, warns him of potential marauders and educates the feral man-child. As Vic raids fellow scavengers, he is watched from afar by a mysterious trio. The trio wants Vic for something. I won't say what. To trap the crafty Vic, the trio sends the best kind of bait: Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton). You'll have to watch to learn any more about the plot.

Mr. Jones and producing partner Alvy Moore spent five years bringing this gem to the screen. "A Boy and His Dog" is an obvious work of love. In an interview with director Jones, he told me that people needed to see the movie four times to catch all of the movie's subtleties. I say you can watch the movie over and over because it is so funny. "A Boy and His Dog" is filled with biting satire. The film starts with a placard that reads "WWIV lasted five days...politicians finally found a cure for urban blight." Jones adapted Elison's novella after Elison came down with writer's block. Elison told Jones that the film captured his story. The two had a dispute over the film's hilarious final line, but otherwise Elison was pleased. Mr. Jones' final line works much better. This is due to the fact that L.Q. Jones works in the medium of film.

L.Q. Jones never directed another film. This is a shame as he learned his craft well from such mentors as Raoul Walsh (White Heat), Sam Peckinpah and John Ford. John Morrill's widescreen photography is reminiscent of the great Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. Jones and Morrill make incredible use of the widescreen format.

Don Johnson is young and hot in this film. It is easy to see how he charmed the pants off of the young Melanie Griffith back in the day. When judging his performance, remember that he was acting with a dog. The dog's line were later looped in by Tim McIntire. Blood holds our attention, and has the best lines in the film. But as the movie was being shot, Don Johnson was acting with a silent dog. It is a wonderfully funny performance. Susanne Benton is also very ripe. The sexy actress is best known for this film and her cameo as "Dreedle's WAC" in Mike Nichols' misfire "Catch-22." She seems to have disappeared from film. That is a shame as she had both sex appeal and intelligence. The always great Jason Robards delivers one of his usual fine performances.

The star of the movie is Blood. The dog itself was the same dog from "The Brady Bunch." His voice was provided by the great Tim McIntire. Mr. McIntire delivers an unforgettably charismatic performance as the evil Waco in that film. On the commentary track, director L.Q. Jones reveals that James Cagey was considering coming out of retirement to provide the voice of Blood. Jones decided against it as having such a high profile actor do the voice would distract from the film. Tim McIntire has just the right tone and delivery to make the film believable. His sarcastic dry performance steals the show. In addition to providing the voice of Blood, McIntire did half of the musical score. McIntire scored the aboveground scenes, bringing along friends like Ray Manzarek of The Doors to help. "A Boy and His Dog" deserves its Cult Classic status. It is a gem worth rediscovering.

The Disc
Great movie. Fair picture and good sound. Great extras.

Picture Quality: 6/10
Director L.Q. Jones told me that there are plans to restore "A Boy and His Dog" for a theatrical re-release. Until then, this print is the best there is. 85% of the film is fine. However, there are a number of artifacts during the film's darker scenes. There are no major delineation problems. The color is very good. They just need to clean up the print. The excellent widescreen photography deserves to be restored to its original majesty.

Sound Quality: 7/10
You don't miss any of the dialogue. At times the mono track is a bit flat and tinny at the top end of the ranges.

Easter Eggs:
No Easter Eggs Found on Disc.

Extra Features: 10/10
The commentary track provides an ton of information about the film's history. Director Jones is joined by top film critic Charles Champlin and DP John Morrill. Photography fans will really enjoy this commentary track as Jones and Morrill share a lot of secrets concerning widescreen photography. Mr. Champlin provides great insights as to the movie and its impact, including the heat it took from many feminists.

There are two trailers for the film. They are very cool. The DVD also includes sneak peeks for other First Run Features.

The Final Word:

A must have for 1970s film fans. This is a one of a kind movie that gets better with every viewing.

Bukowski: Born Into This (2004)

I've been pulling up some old DVD reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy.

Wow! "Bukowski: Born Into This" is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. An amazing tale of talent and destruction. Pain and redemption. A love story with scars. This movie needs to be seen by all. If only high school English and literature classes were like this movie. We might have more kids interested in reading and writing. Below is Warren Curry's insightful review of the film from its theatrical run.

Sex, fighting and drinking were topics often covered in the writing of notorious author Charles Bukowski. A voice for those who proudly cling to life’s seamy underbelly, Bukowski’s tales of debauchery also exposed him to be a keen observer of the human condition. His direct, mostly autobiographical prose and poetry earned him a loyal following in his hometown of Los Angeles in the 1960s, although he was first published two decades earlier. Through the years, Bukowski’s legion of fans grew to the point where he gained a degree of international celebrity, and with the fame emerged a mythic status that constantly threatened to overshadow the man.

Seven years in the making, John Dullaghan’s superb documentary, “Bukowski: Born Into This,” is a fascinating examination of the person behind the legend. Most crucial to the film’s success is the extraordinary amount of footage of Bukowski, himself, that Dullaghan has managed to assemble. Whereas many documentaries I’ve seen recently rely too heavily on adoring interviews with friends and fans of the subject, Dullaghan’s film never devolves into a pastiche of talking heads. The director uses interviews with Bukowski’s friends, family members, co-workers and admirers to embellish rather than comprise the documentary’s core.

Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr. was born in 1920 in Germany, the son of an American serviceman and a German mother, and lived until 1994 when he succumbed to leukemia. After surviving an abusive childhood, Bukowski began writing while in his early 20s, but initially found it a tough chore to get published. This left the man with no choice but to acquire various day jobs in order to support himself while he wrote diligently at night. After flirting with death in the mid 1950s, Bukowski took a job with the U.S. Postal Service, a relationship that wouldn’t permanently end until 1970. In the early 60s, along with having numerous poems published, the writer penned a weekly column entitled “Notes of a Dirty Old Man” for the LA-based paper, Open City, and then later for Free Times. It wasn’t until John Martin, the founder of Black Sparrow Press, offered Bukowski the opportunity to write full time that the author finally quit his job at the Post Office. His experiences there would be the subject of his first novel appropriately entitled “Post Office.” Bukowski’s level of recognition was elevated enormously in 1987, when Barbet Schroeder filmed his autobiographical screenplay, “Barfly,” starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunawaye.

The Bukowski that we see in various stages of his life is a haggard looking individual, who it seems could be nothing but honest. There’s an obvious cynicism to his outlook on the world, but what’s more noticeable is the great passion with which he lived his 73 years on earth, as is evidenced by his amazingly prolific output as a writer. There were many frivolous drunken escapades to be certain, yet beneath it all was a vulnerable person who grew accustomed to receiving the short end of the stick, but also tried to better himself. When we see him fight back tears while reading a poem that makes him reflect on a particularly painful time in his life, the difficulties of being an iconic figure are plain to see.

As for the interview footage, such notable figures as Tom Waits, Bono, Sean Penn and Harry Dean Stanton are called upon to relate their feelings about the man and also read from his work. The best of the interviewees though is his wife, Linda Lee Beighle, who married Bukowski in 1985. She confirms the trouble her husband had in the final stages of his life -- with his body the victim of various forms of self-abuse -- when for health reasons he simply was forced to be “less than his myth.” Possibly the most troubling scene in the film is taken from footage of Bukowski and Linda that Barbet Schroeder shot before production commenced on “Barfly,” as we witness the paranoid writer at his worst, lashing out verbally, and then physically, at his wife.

Digging past the aura of an icon is an exceedingly daunting task, and if Dullaghan doesn’t completely succeed in this mission, he comes surprisingly close. Were Bukowski still alive, one can only imagine that he’d scoff at the notion of being the subject of a documentary film, but it's also just as difficult to envision the writer not appreciating the director’s sincere effort. 2003 was a spectacular year for documentaries (“Capturing The Friedmans,” “Bus 174,” “Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator”), and “Bukowski: Born Into This” is arguably the genre’s first superlative work of 2004.

The Disc
Great movie. OK picture and sound. Can't tell you a thing about the extras as the screener only contained the movie.

Picture Quality: 7/10
This documentary contains footage shot over 30 years ago. The quality of some of the source material is grainy and dark. Other footage is great. This is what you expect from documentaries.

Sound Quality: 7/10
Ditto for the sound. Some of it is fine, while other times it seems flat.

Easter Eggs:
No Easter Eggs Found on Disc.

Extra Features: 0/10
I can't rate the extras. This screener contained the film only. I have listed what the PR person told me are the extras. I'm sure they are excellent. If I receive a full street copy I will update the review.

The Final Word:

Powerful filmmaking. Powerful words. A raw portrait of a dangerous talent.

KatieBird *Certifiable Crazy Person (2004)

I've been pulling up some old DVD reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy.

Justin Paul Ritter’s “KatieBird *Certifiable Crazy Person” is a disturbing masterpiece of subversive horror. While “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” was a serious character study with horrific elements, “KatieBird *Certifiable Crazy Person” is a exploitation horror movie with unexpectedly intelligent, serious and artistic undertones. I’ve watched this movie four times in the last few days to try and figure out why it works so well. In my years at Einsiders, several up-and-coming filmmakers (think Dante Tomaselli, Steve Balderson, Jeremy Benson) have captured my imagination so much that I have tried to do everything in my power to spread the word about their work. Justin Paul Ritter is another visionary filmmaker. I hope to interview him in the future. In the meantime, I can’t recommend a movie higher that “KatieBird *Certifiable Crazy Person.” Just be sure to bring a cast iron stomach!

I have been an avid true crime buff fan since I was just a kid. More often than not, the real facts behind most serial killers are more bizarre than anything Hollywood has ever been able to think up. Justin Paul Ritter did come up with something out of the ordinary. I love the premise. What would happen if a serial killer had a child that they nurtured to follow in his bloody footsteps? Sure, we’ve had families of killers before, but we’ve never had a character like Katie Bird. Mr. Ritter’s intelligent script takes up places we have never been before. So, why is “KatieBird *Certifiable Crazy Person” so much more than your run-of-the-mill serial killer movie?

ACTING: The cast is uniformly fine. Helene Udy and Taylor M. Dooley and former racing champion Lee Perkins are scary, scary individuals. They all walk that fine line between outward sanity and inner madness that real serial killer must tread daily. When they let the inner madness surface, the results are chilling. I imagine that this group of actors was delighted to be given such a wonderful script to interpret. I also imagine that writer/director Ritter was happy with their work. It would have been easy for an actor to go over the top. The choices made by the actors in this film are as close to perfect as I can imagine.

EDITING: “KatieBird *Certifiable Crazy Person” uses split-screen to an amazing affect. The truth of the matter is, I have never seen better use of the device in any other film, including the entire works of Brian De Palma. Director Ritter uses the multiple screens for a many reasons. At times it symbolizes the fractured psyche of the killers. At other times it amplifies the emotions felt by the viewers. Other times, it just provides more story. The scenes between Helene Udy as Older Katie Bird and Todd Gordon as her latest captive benefit most from this process.

WRITING: I think this is the key to this film’s success. If you watch the movie with the sound off, it may just appear to be a stylish gorefest. Ritter’s Katie Bird is one of the most fully realized characters in the horror film genre. Three actresses play the loony killer from early childhood through her early 40s. There is an organic consistency in the growth of this character through the running time of the film. Great casting and great words by Mr. Ritter. Mr. Ritter picks his words very carefully. He is not verbose or pretentious in his choices. His words do not draw attention to him as a writer until later. His words define and expand the world of this film.

HORROR: This movie is creepy, scary, disturbing, funny…hell I could go on. The point is, you will not easily forget the images and scenes. The performances are unreal. The movie puts Katie Bird’s first killing and last killing in juxtaposition. The ritual that Katie Worked out in the beginning has become her paradigm of death. The difference is, when Katie Bird as a teen (Taylor M. Dooley) commits her first killing there is a perverted joy and zeal to her actions. The ritual performed by the older Katie Bird (Helene Udy) is tired, jaded and painful.

If one thing is for certain in the film business, it is that you need a certain amount of luck to go along with your talent. Justin Paul Ritter has tons of talent as a writer and director. Here’s hoping that lady luck smiles on him so that we may enjoy his future work.

The Disc
A great indie horror film. Hell, a great any kind of film! Good picture. OK sound. Excellent extras.

Picture Quality: 8/10
This is a digital movie. While it doesn't have the depth of field and richness of color of a movie shot on film, the movie still looks great. Director Ritter uses color themes, light and shadows as well as glaring harshness to establish mood. The horrors take place in well lit surroundings. This allows for an unflinching look at the inner workings of a mad man and his very mad daughter. No artifacts, pixilation or delineation problems.

Sound Quality: 6/10
For the most part, the sound is excellent. However, there are several scenes, which required me to play them more than once in order to hear everything that was being said. The fact that the DVD doesn't have any subtitles didn't help either.

Easter Eggs:
There are Easter Eggs on just about every menu screen. The Easter Eggs are mini interviews with the director, cast and crew.

Extra Features: 7/10
I really like the director's attitude. In the featurette "Movies, Not Excuses" director Ritter goes of on a rant about working and sacrificing for what you want in life. While I'm not big on motivational speakers as a rule, I did get a boost from this guy. He has passion. He urges the viewer to work for their passion. I loved the bit where he said, "If you tell me you're a cake baker and you haven't bakes a cake this week then you're nothing but a f**king liar." Blunt but to the point.

The commentary track by director Ritter and the three main actors is great. Halfway through, the director gave out his e-mail address and asked for comments. I immediately wrote him and asked to do an interview. Turned out it was his real e-mail address. I hope to do the interview in the next few weeks.

Folks who buy the first edition of this DVD will also recieve a second disc: a CD of the soundtrack!

The Final Word:

Horror movie fans must buy this DVD. A new voice in the horror field is yelling and shouting high above the crowded din of mediocre practitioners. That voice belongs to Justin Paul Ritter. Long may it rave!