Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Fool's Views (5/1 – 5/10)

"G'day, mate! I'll have the Double Impossible Whopper...
What do you mean no substitutions? Let me talk to your manager..."

Hey there, kids!

Hope everyone is staying safe, staying healthy, and staying the course!

The opening May Day celebrations entailed knocking out the remainder of the Death Wish films (special thanks to Dan and Tim for riding shotgun), which was quite the cause for celebration. We also clocked a couple more Bronson flicks (over 30 for the year!), as well as sampling a double scoop of Stallone, a pair of peliculas peligrosas for Kitley’s Krypt, and kept things reel/real with another smattering of documentaries.

We’ve got a ton of fun stuff on the to-watch stack, so let’s get to it without any further delay.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Wolf Creek 2 (2013) d. McLean, Greg (Australia) (1st viewing)



Rider of the Skulls (1965) d. Salazar, Alfredo (Mexico) (1st viewing)

When Unrepentant Cinephile Jason Coffman invited me to a “virtual movie party,” with a group of us watching a movie together online, I had no idea who Alfredo Salazar was. All I knew was that Jason was screening a Mexican horror movie I hadn’t seen, which was exactly what was needed to fulfill this month’s mission. The flick in question, however, ended up being an incredibly entertaining and rollicking monster mash-up of The Mask of Zorro and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a masked rider pledged to “fight evil in all its forms” facing off against a werewolf, a vampire, and a headless horseman, all in neatly divided sections like the episodic serial it clearly started out as. Not sure if it was made for TV or the big screen, but it clearly wasn’t conceived as a whole, because each of the different stories has its own beginning, middle, and end. Not only that, characters disappear without explanation, costumes undergo radical design changes, and even the time periods fluctuate from the wild west of the 1880s to the 1960s with modern automobiles and motorcycles!

Which brings us back to screenwriter Alfredo Salazar, behind the camera for the first time (and in front, Hitchcock-style, serving as the vampire’s first victim). Who is Alfredo Salazar, you ask? Well, other than being the brother of prolific actor, director, and producer Abel Salazar (The Brainiac, La Llorona, El Vampiro), he’s the guy who scripted myriad fright flicks from across the border, ranging from the Aztec Mummy outings of the late 1950s to The World of the Vampires (1961) to several lucha libre monster flicks featuring Santo, Blue Demon, and others. Hell, he even co-wrote La Bruja (1954), which served as my Army mission in April! The guy is an unsung legend and deserves a lot more love.

Santo vs. the Zombies (1962) d. Alazraki, Benito (Mexico) (1st viewing)

Speaking of Lucha Libre movies, this was the third Santo effort I’ve seen and I gotta say, I’m a fan. I love the fact that Mexican audiences just went along with the notion that this guy’s day job is being a masked professional wrestler and in his off-hours, he’s out there fighting crime (wearing the same duds as in the ring)! Turns out this was actually a rather significant film for Santo in terms of his screen career, as this was his first starring role (he was the sidekick to the main hero, El Incognito, in his first two outings), launching a 52-feature streak and a subgenre in the process.

The story is pretty basic, with an Evil Scientist controlling some beefy dead guys via their remote control belts, robbing banks, setting orphanages on fire, and kidnapping beautiful women. It’s up to Santo and the cops to track him down and solve the mystery as to who the bad guy is. (He also wears a mask, natch.) The scenes inside the wrestling ring are pretty darn great, which is a good things since the film’s “action” is muddy and the fight scenes outside the ring are way sloppy. All in all, it’s a spirited and goofy surreal romp that’s always fun and never boring.


The Big Lebowski (1998) d. Coen, Joel (USA) (3rd viewing)

I confess, I’m not sure I will ever understand this one’s cult appeal. Yes, it’s got some memorable lines (many of which are repeated ad infinitum), but don’t most of the Coens’ films? Jeff Bridges is certainly appealing as The Dude in his rumpled gone-to-seed stoner way, although he does seem to waver between being a rational cognitive being and a gassed-out observer of life as the script deems necessary. But John Goodman’s hyper-sensitive and abrasive Vietnam vet is more off-putting than charming and Steve Buscemi is given so very little to do that it’s hard to key into either of their characters. The plot itself, involving The Dude being confused with a millionaire with the same given name and a convoluted kidnapping/ransom scheme, feels like an alternate universe draft of Fargo – not that this is a bad thing, it’s that we just did that movie two years earlier. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy Lebowski, but I don’t think it would land in my Top 10 Coen Movies (which I need to get around to creating someday).

Death Wish (2008) d. Roth, Eli (USA) (1st viewing)

Honestly, if I hadn’t been going through the original DW films as part of my Bronson-fest, there’s probably no way I would have ever bothered to sit down with this. I’ve been well over Roth and Bruce for a while now, and having now seen it, it’s just as pedestrian and pointless as anyone could have been imagined. Much like his sniggering attempt at social commentary with The Green Inferno, Roth plays at presenting two sides of the vigilante story but, really, we all know whose side he’s on.

The whole point of Brian Garfield’s source novel was to show that blood only begets more blood, that vengeance leaves everyone blind, etc., but not only does our wannabe bad boy (well past his “sell-by” date) decide to tell a straightforward “righteous revenge” tale, he even blows the one thing that Michael Winner’s original got right: the fact that Paul Kersey never gets to exact justice on the thugs that killed his wife and raped his daughter. Every criminal that he murders is an empty substitute, which is why he has to keep killing. Here, Willis’ version is allowed to track down every single one of the baddies and personally put them in the ground. Wow. Also, it’s worth pointing out that if the Kerseys live in Evanston, the Chicago police department would have never been involved. Oh, but that would mess with your “Chicago’s gun violence is out of control” backdrop, wouldn’t it? Sigh.


Becoming (2020) d. Hallgren, Nadia (USA) (1st viewing)

Engaging account of Michelle Obama’s book tour of the same name, discussing her journey from low-income child on Chicago’s South Side to Princeton grad to First Lady of the United States. Along the way, we are treated to behind-the-scenes glimpses of her not-so-private private life and her tight circle of family and confidantes, as well as the multitude of lives she touches (particularly young and female) along the way. Inspiring and graceful as its subject.

Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed (2007) d. Burns, Kevin (USA) (1st viewing)

In honor of May the Fourth, we took in this literate and thoughtful discussion of the archetypes present throughout the first six films of the franchise, with talking heads ranging from film critics to philosophy scholars to network new anchors to US Congress members Newt Gingrinch and Nancy Pelosi. Seems everyone has something to say about the power of the Dark Side.

The Wrecking Crew! (2008) d. Tedesco, Denny (USA) (1st viewing)

A celebration of a group of session musicians known as “The Wrecking Crew,” who provided (uncredited) sonic backdrops to a host of legendary recording artists such as Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Jan and Dean, The Byrds, and The Monkees, as well as a host of television theme songs. You name it, they played it.


Chato’s Land (1972) d. Winner, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

Charles Bronson’s first of six collaborations with Winner sees him as Chato, a “half-breed” Apache who outdraws an abusive sheriff in self-defense and is subsequently pursued by a lynch mob, er, posse led by former Confederate soldier Jack Palance. The hunters, a mostly terrible group of racists and rapists, are so odious that the fact that we are forced to spend the majority of the running time in their company makes for a thoroughly unpleasant experience, waiting impatiently for Chato to knock them off and/or set them against one another. The cast is solid enough (Simon Oakland, Richard Jordan, Victor French, James Whitmore) and Bronson tenders an impressive physical performance, speaking only a handful of lines (almost exclusively in Native American dialect). Some have claimed that the film is a commentary on the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam (a boorish group of warriors outmatched by their opponents and the landscape), but that might be giving Winner too much credit.

Death Wish II (1982) d. Winner, Michael (USA) (2nd viewing)

Eight years later, Cannon head honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus lured Bronson back to reprise his most iconic role, upping the sleaze and violence factors, as well as the sheer ridiculousness. Having relocated to Los Angeles, architect Paul Kersey is once again visited by tragedy when his housekeeper and daughter are raped and murdered, but this time, being that he actually surprises the thugs (which include a young, post-Apocalypse Now Laurence Fishburne,) in the act, he can identify and track them down one by one. Vincent Gardenia is also back as the NYPD detective who let Kersey go in the original, and Jill Ireland plays the rare series love interest who doesn’t end up dead by the final credits.

Death Wish 3 (1985) d. Winner, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

Oh, wow. Why did no one tell me about the bonkers glory that is DW3 before now? Almost from the opening frames, this is the cartoon version of what the quintessential vigilante film can be, with Paul Kersey (Bronson) returning to NYC to visit an old buddy only to find that his pal has been beaten to death by gang members only moments before his arrival! (Seriously, don’t get involved with Paul Kersey. It never turns out well.)

After a run-in with the resident ineffectual cops (led by Ed Lauter, who basically says, “Hey, I know you’re Paul Kersey, so if you want to waste anybody, go ahead and just keep me in the loop so I can take credit.”) and a prison cell altercation with the local reverse-Mohawked gang leader (Gavan O’Herlihy), Kersey and his .475 Wildey Magnum end up playing savior to an apartment block of senior citizens and put-upon minorities, waging war against the makeup-wearing, motorcycle-riding hooligans (with Alex Winter winning the DW Thug Breakout Star lottery this time around).

It’s impossible to accurately depict in words the over-the-top mayhem and destruction, except to say that by the end credits, an entire city block is nothing more than smoking rubble (London standing in for NYC) and septegenarians are toting machine guns left over from WWII. Aside from an egregiously gratuitous rape scene (because Michael Winner), this is LOL entertainment from beginning to end.


Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) d. Thompson, J. Lee (USA) (1st viewing)

After the balls to the wall insanity of the preceding chapter, it’s understandable that DW4 couldn’t quite match the mark, but that’s not to say that things aren’t still pretty bonkers with veteran Thompson at the helm. Despite having nightmares about his bloody past (a standout opening sequence), Bronson’s aging warrior decides to take up arms in service of America’s war on drugs when his latest girlfriend’s (Kay Lenz) daughter suffers a fatal overdose. As a millionaire with a similar ax to grind, John P. Ryan delivers his usual stalwart work, hiring Kersey to set two rival mob gangs against one another (because why not hire a freelance vigilante architect?), leading to oodles of explosions and bloodshed. Danny Trejo has a brief cameo as a mafia foot soldier and Lenz almost makes it through the picture unscathed. (Seriously, ladies, DO NOT HOOK UP WTH PAUL KERSEY.)

Messenger of Death (1988) d. Thompson, J. Lee (USA) (1st viewing)

In this strange little yarn about two warring Mormon sects led by onscreen brothers Jeff Corey and John Ireland, Bronson re-teams with Thompson for their penultimate collaboration (of nine), playing a Denver news reporter trying to uncover the reasons behind the feud and the puppet master pulling the strings. While there’s not a ton in the way of action, the film does feature a shockingly brutal opening, depicting a family’s mass slaying (with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’s Kimberly Beck showing up for a brief bug-eyed second) and a wingding car chase sequence that attempts to out-duel Duel by having TWO tanker trucks jousting with Bronson’s Jeep.


Cop Land (1997) d. Mangold, James (USA) (2nd viewing)

Gaining 40 pounds and surrounded by a rock-solid if overstuffed supporting cast, Sylvester Stallone turns in one of his finest and most subdued performances as the sheriff of a fictitious and corrupt New Jersey town populated by NYPD officers. Everyone does solid work, and though the collection of worthwhile moments don’t necessarily add up to a satisfying whole, it’s still enjoyable watching everyone Act Really Hard. Mangold, who also wrote the script, managed to not only score his tremendous cast and get them to work for scale wages, he also met his future bride, producer Cathy Konrad, in the process. Konrad would go on to produce several of Mangold’s projects (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Knight and Day) until their divorce in 2014.

Nighthawks (1981) d. Malmuth, Bruce (USA) (4th viewing)

Stallone grows out his Serpico beard to deal with rogue terrorist Rutger Hauer (in a smashing Hollywood debut), chasing each other all over the Big Apple. Sly and Billy Dee Williams seem determined to out-hokey one another with their hysterical line readings, while former bionic woman Lindsey Wagner is wasted as Stallone’s estranged wife. Original director Gary Nelson (The Black Hole) was booted off the production after conflicts with his star, whereupon Malmuth was brought in to basically do whatever he was told to do. (Stallone, chagrined that Hauer’s charismatic turn was stealing the show in dailies, apparently had a hand in re-editing the film, as well as writing new material to beef up his own part. Of course, this was before the studio stepped in and made further trims!) I remember first finding out about Nighthawks in the 1984 horror documentary Terror in the Aisles, back when having a ruthless killer in your flick was apparently all you needed to qualify (see also Vice Squad).

2020 Totals to Date: 170 films, 122 first time views, 52 horror, 2 cinema


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