Friday, August 16, 2019
Fabulous Faves - Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner is a film that remains spellbinding better than thirty years after hitting the scene. It remains a thorough yet quizzical offering that paints a complex picture, exploring some epic questions with pain-staking attention to detail. Yet it leaves the viewer to ponder many of these questions, and that is what makes it so majestic. It has so many strengths, to include visionary director Ridley Scott's most creative work, one of Harrison Ford's best performances, and mind-boggling special effects. Yet I find this beloved film's most potent draw to be dear departed Rutger Hauer's stunning portrayal of one of the cinema's most compelling villains. Hauer's Roy Batty is as tragic as he is fearsome, and the actor owned the role. He brought subtlety and introspection to the table, and he also brought brute force and a fiendish zeal. He was explosive and yet utterly relaxed; it is a completely natural showing that displays remarkable theatrics. When Hauer recently passed and I paused to look back on his body of work, I couldn't stop thinking about his poignant demise in Blade Runner. That sequence is truly sublime, and it is merely one of the many vibrant flourishes that make this 1982 production so profound. All these years after being released, it continues to provide viewers with a fully realized escape into a stark and strangely hypnotic vision of a future that did not come to pass. It boasts incredible drama, excitement, and stimulation that lasts until the final frame--and beyond. Blade Runner remains a stunning achievement that surely ranks among the finest motion pictures ever made.
Final Grade: A+
Short Attention Span Review - The Seven-Ups (1973)
As a Jaws fanatic, it should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of Roy Scheider, and the dude just positively killed it in the 70s. Jaws is my favorite movie, Sorcerer is a scorcher, All That Jazz is sensational, and in addition to lead roles in those winners, Scheider co-starred in notable pictures like Marathon Man and The French Connection. While The Seven-Ups isn't on par with those films, it is a capable thriller with a nifty plot and enough white-knuckle thrills to warrant a viewing. Scheider is rock solid in the lead role, and this cops and robbers yarn moves at a brisk pace. The biggest takeaway here, though, is a marvelous car chase. I don't think I've ever seen this movie discussed when great car chases in cinema are debated, and it belongs in that conversation. While it is a bit basic in many ways and doesn't approach greatness, The Seven-Ups is a solid venture that delivers a potent mix of thrills and intrigue. Bonus points awarded for Richard Lynch's work as one of the primary villains and the ominous score from Don Ellis, whose efforts here would likely be more at home in a chiller. I thought that dark score worked well here, ramping up the tension and underscoring the carnage. In summary, while The Seven-Ups doesn't stack up to Roy's biggest features produced in the same decade, it is perfectly serviceable--it's a gritty thriller with a fine lead, enough suspense to keep the viewer invested, and one extra gnarly car chase. Buckle up.
Final Grade: B+
|I gave this one a B+ and not just a B because of that riveting car chase.|
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Four weeks ago, I was on my way to work, you know, typical Monday stuff, and everything changed in a wicked instant. Everything. My life was totally upended in a fraction of a second amid the squeal of burning rubber and the thunderous bellow of impact. Now, this is no tragedy, good people, far from it, in fact. Did I catch a bad break? I guess so. I could have died. Heck, I probably should have died, and my future is suddenly wildly uncertain. And yes, I'm a hard-working father of five who basically lives paycheck to paycheck. This is America in 2019, after all, and where finances are concerned, I'm poor from poor. Go ahead and put those tissues away, though, because I swear to you that this is a happy story. You see, finances are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and dollars and cents aside, I'm stinking rich. I may well be poor from poor, but I'm also loved from loved, and despite that which could have or should have happened, I'm still here. After spending right at a month in the hospital, I'm at home with my wonderful wife and my precious children. Okay, my recovery is far from over, the pain is intense, and no one really knows just what I'll be capable of when this journey is complete, but life is good. Like I said, everything changed a month ago, but I'm alive, and my family, my friends, and my community are rallying behind me. People I don't even know are rallying behind me.
That Monday morning that now somehow feels like it was both eons ago and yet mere moments ago at the same time didn't seem like anything special. I got up at 5:00 a.m., like always (read: WAY TOO EARLY), and I had just about completed my thirty-minute trek to work when an oncoming vehicle swerved into my lane. Why? Good question. There really isn't a good answer to that question, not on that road, but from where I sit, it really doesn't matter. It happened. I was doing about 55 in my trusty 2005 Suzuki Reno (best $1200 I ever spent), and I'm guessing the other guy was doing about the same. He wasn't driving a Reno, though. He sat behind the wheel of a Tahoe, and for those of you keeping score, the final from that little showdown reads like this: Tahoe 1, Reno 0.
I can remember the impact, which was kinda like taking a stiff jab from King Kong, and then there's a little gap. After that black hole in my recollection, I came to and felt nothing but gratitude. I was alive! This seemed like a miracle to me, because while I couldn't recall anything but the very onset of the crash, I knew that I had survived a head-on collision with a much larger vehicle. The notion that my wife and kids might have awoken to a knock at the door and some horrendous news loomed large in my mind, and I was so thankful that I hadn't perished on impact. That's the first thing that I recall, an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
The second thing to ping on my radar was pain, and good and plenty of it. I'm talking pain on a scale that I couldn't have imagined prior to the accident. This monumental suffering prompted a gruesome survey. I glanced about the vehicle first, actually thinking that it would be prudent to locate my phone and call my wife to tell her that my day had taken a bit of a swerve. The phone was nowhere to be found, and I remember thinking that the interior of the car looked like a Dali painting. Broken glass was everywhere. The Reno appeared to have taken a direct hit from a bazooka. My cd player was sideways. And there was blood all over the place. Blood was dripping from my face, And as I continued to process my surroundings, I looked over at my left arm. It appeared to be broken into three or four pieces, and it was bleeding freely. Okay, let's be clear, it was a gusher.
Time for some truth, good people. When I saw my arm, two things happened. First, the mystery of the colossal pain was solved. Just looking at my arm crystallized everything--that destroyed limb was the beacon broadcasting all that agony at full volume. Secondly, a dreadful certainty sank in. I figured I was a goner, my friends. I was surely going to bleed out. I wasn't going to see my lovely wife or my amazing children again. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't recall any sort of fear where my life was concerned, no despair or remorse festered on a personal level-- at that moment, my own hopes and dreams didn't hold any value. All I could think about was my family. This would crush them. We are a family of seven, and we are a tight-knit bunch. Things were going to be so hard for my wife. My children were going to have to grapple with a glaring absence, and I could hardly bear to think about just how much this would devastate them.
But I wasn't dead yet, and I figured God had already dealt me one miracle, so I quickly concluded that there could be no harm in hoping (and working) for another. The pain was severe enough that I could have lost myself in hysterics, and it may have been significant enough that I could have just closed my eyes and passed out. I had an idea that it would have been that simple. But I was thinking of my family, and yes, I was praying and thinking about miracles too. I decided to focus on my breathing. This is something my sensei (I have enjoyed the privilege of learning Tae Kwon Do from the incomparable Randy Misketch and his spectacular family for five years now) has promoted at length, and while a few of my peers have occasionally snickered at these exercises, I've always been a believer. So I inhaled strength and courage, and I exhaled fear and doubt. And I found my center, and I took control of the situation.
An EMT with a radio in hand showed up at what remained of my door. This seemed odd, because I didn't feel like a lot of time had elapsed, and I hadn't heard any sirens wailing or caught sight of any flashing lights. I calmly directed him to some work clothes in the back of my misshapen Reno and used them to create a makeshift compress, which I pressed against my arm in a desperate bid to slow the bleeding. Maybe I had some success on this front; I don't know, it felt like a losing battle, particularly where my bicep was concerned. I still had the impression that I had broken my arm badly in a few places, and I figured I had also severed an artery. As it turns out, I was right about the artery. While I waged this battle, the EMT used his radio to make it clear that we were dealing with heavy bleeding and the need for a tourniquet and additional treatment was dire. I tried to get out of the car and found that my legs and my right arm seemed to be functional even though the Suzuki was basically wrapped around me. The door hadn't fared as well, though, and neither my mangled arm or the twisted vehicle would allow me to find another exit. I was trapped.
Then there were sirens, and I heard an angry old woman shouting about reckless driving. She sounded like she was ready to fight, and I was glad that she was on my side and not vice-versa. A tourniquet was applied to my arm while I was still trapped in what remained of my Reno, which was further dismantled in short order as emergency personnel hustled to remove the door and then the roof. This happened very quickly, and my view was limited; I had been covered with a sheet to shield me from all the broken glass. In spite of this, I would pick little specks out of my hair for weeks. Before I knew it, I was being loaded on a stretcher by several strong hands.
Another tourniquet was quickly applied in the ambulance as we raced down the highway. No one told me to stay awake like they do in the movies, but it seemed like the right thing to do. So, I kept on inhaling strength and courage and exhaling fear and doubt when I wasn't too busy praying. The pain had grown stronger, but my resolve seemed to be increasing as well. I remained calm, I stayed alert, and I obeyed every command promptly and answered every question posed with great clarity--and maybe a bit more detail than was necessary. I talked to avoid thinking about the pain or wondering how badly my favorite left arm had been damaged. My EMTs were skilled and dedicated, and this gave me hope, but the pain continued to roar as I continued to bleed--and the ride to the hospital seemed to take forever.
Finally, we hit the ground running (or, in my case, being wheeled into the hospital on a stretcher by people who were running) at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. I got passed around a bit, still lucid, praying, breathing in strength and courage and exhaling fear and doubt, answering questions as needed and chatting amicably (I can't remember any of them, but I did try a few jokes) when there were no questions, though such shortages proved rare. Then I found myself being prepared for surgery. No one had been able to get through to my wife, so I was alone, but I felt optimistic--I had done all I could do, and I had made it this far. Then I overheard one of my surgeons addressing an aide with a desperate plea: "Is there anyone we can reach? It's critical that his loved ones get a chance to see him before surgery." That didn't sound so good. Another prayer went up. Another gulp of strength and courage got sucked in. Honestly, I still felt optimistic, and I was still hurting something fierce. I figured we might as well roll the dice and see if this second miracle would take. I hoped to wake up with two arms and my wife at my side, and I couldn't stand much more pain. I went under the knife with gratitude. There's that word again. For a guy whose life was in doubt, I was finding gratitude at every turn. I think it was my faith, and maybe the fact that I grew up on a dirt road.
Some say the struggle is real. I say that it runs through my veins. I went under.
The second miracle landed. Surgeons saved my arm and my life. I came through feeling blessed, so very blessed. They gave me a breakdown of the damage, and I didn't even care, my spirits continued to soar. The tally included one ravaged left arm, a badly broken nose, a fractured orbital bone, and a broken kneecap--and an awful lot of lacerations and scrapes, most of which were relatively minor. Straight up, I felt like celebrating. Yes, the road to recovery would be long and difficult. Yes, the pain was ferocious. Yes, there was still so damn much to fret over, to include the dangers of infection and the possibility that my arm might still be lost, and the knowledge that I may not be able to use it even if I kept it throughout all that lay ahead. But I was alive. My wife and kids didn't have to endure that knock at the door and all that came with it. I felt so incredibly thankful.
Speaking of my wife, who works nights and has her phone set to avoid alerts until 8 a.m., she finally got that phone call while I was undergoing my first surgery. I would undergo five more surgeries during my three weeks at NHRMC. Since there was very little she could be told during that first call aside from the fact that I was in surgery, she drove to the hospital scared out of her mind. She has been by my side ever since, and in the last week, her duties have increased dramatically due to my being discharged from the hospital. In addition to managing my meds and working diligently to keep me as clean and as comfortable as possible, she mans my IV. She does pin care for me twice a day (I left the hospital with a stabilizing rod in my arm), and that is no easy feat. Thankfully for me, she is a strong and amazing woman, and she feels like God has used this experience to call upon her. She is beginning the journey toward being a nurse. So I'm in good hands, good people. My wife is a treasure, and I could never deserve her, but that's old news. I can't imagine trying to weather this storm without her.
The early stages were really hairy. Every trip to the bathroom felt like a round with Drago. Sleep lurked safely beyond my grasp, and a guy who lives paycheck to paycheck with a family of seven to fend for found himself on the shelf, wondering if he would be able to resume his job whenever this unexpected journey comes to an end. The prognosis was grim. The damage my left arm had been subjected to and the required treatment were both more in line with what physicians would see and recommend for a victim of a shark attack. No, my bones had not been broken or dislocated, but I had lost all that skin and tissue, to include all of my ligaments in my elbow, and the joint itself was completely exposed, drastically increasing my risk of infection. Still, I couldn't help but recall that hellacious impact, and the devastation it had wrought upon my beloved little Reno. I felt lucky. I could look at my wife and children and think about that knock at the door we avoided, and my heart would swell with gratitude. I did my best to share my appreciation with all the terrific doctors, nurses, and aides who tended to me in my time of need, offering them all the praise and thanks I could give voice to. It really seemed to touch many of them, and I was proud to do my best to lift up these hard-working people who have devoted themselves to helping others. And I kept at it with the jokes. A few of them hit the mark.
During my stay in the hospital, I would learn that I had been far luckier than I realized. While my ability* to emerge mostly intact from a vehicle that looked like it had been stepped on by Godzilla remained largely unexplained, there was a reason help had arrived at the scene with such haste. It would also explain why I saw an EMT before I heard any sirens or beheld any flashing lights. My accident had happened within a hundred yards or of the rescue squad and fire department in Riegelwood. They actually heard the wreck, and they came running. Without that particular break (and that is a monumental break, wouldn't you agree?), there is little doubt that I wouldn't have made it out of the car. I got another good break in that our hometown hospital is nothing short of phenomenal, with ortho ranking among their specialties. The surgeon who performed my pivotal first operation did a superb job, getting me off to a great start.
So now, this fortunate and grateful dude is back home. My arm has that pesky stabilizing rod in it, and I'm wearing a giant immobilizing brace on my knee. I'm still on an IV as we work to avoid infection, and my wife does pin care on the stabilizing rod twice a day. I have one wound vac** change per week at home with a nurse's assistance, and I do the same thing once per week at the doctor's office. I am working toward a skin graft, but at present, I don't have enough skin at the wound site (my elbow) to support a graft. How long until we get there? Like many things, that is still up in the air. Could be four weeks, could be four months. Could be longer. Once we do the graft, provided the graft takes, we'll allow that time enough to heal, and then we'll do another surgery, and the doctors will repair my elbow. Yes, the joint is intact, but it won't function minus all those ligaments that I lost. Infection is still my biggest threat, and while we've come so far, a single bad break could send us back to square one.
Once that repair takes place, I can throw myself into physical therapy, which will surely represent a battle, though I assure you all that I'm up to the challenge. Provided there are no setbacks along the way, what should I expect from my arm? Again, my future is uncertain. One thing is clear: a full recovery is not in the cards. Beyond that, some physicians have stated that I'll get pretty damn close to a full recovery while others have cautioned that I might not be able to do much at all with my arm. My job as an NDT technician requires me to perform vigorous inspections on welds in hard to reach places. It's a dangerous gig, with much of the work taking place at considerable heights. We do a lot of work in confined spaces. There's a lot of climbing involved, and there's a lot of crawling. There are volatile chemicals, radiation, and a host of other risk factors to contend with, great and small. It's physically demanding. It requires brains. It requires caution, diligence, and the ability to conquer your fears, as well as the ability to interpret and organize data, to engineer solutions and record our findings. It's quirky, truth be told, and for some reason, I dig it. And I won't be able to do it unless my left arm is at 75% or better in terms of function. My kids love softball and baseball, and I cherish pitching and catching with them. We enjoy those excellent Se Jong Tae Kwon Do classes together as a family. My life as I know it is hanging in the balance, good people.
But that's okay. I'm lucky to be here, and I'm optimistic. I think I'm going to get 75% or more out of this arm--and if I don't, I'll be okay. I still have so many reasons for gratitude that it would be pointless to try and list them all. However, some praise is most assuredly warranted here. I would start with my God, who has surrounded me with love and support. I would then point to the family I treasure and the friends who have my back like a jacket. Our church family at Pine Valley Baptist Church truly rocks, and the same could be said for both our martial arts family and our softball family. I need to dish out some props to my company and all of my exceptional co-workers. And I would not proceed here without alluding to my community at large and even all of those strangers who have thrown their weight behind me. We have a fundraiser that is going strong, we've been showered with donations, meals, and gifts. People have watched our children and helped us transport them to practice or church. Friends have moved furniture for us and tended to our lawn. We have been awed and humbled by the assistance we have received. Last but surely not least, I would single out my wife. She's my best friend, and she's the best person I have ever known.
Kristen has helped me every step of the way, and we're taking things one day at a time, rising to every challenge, embracing every success, and accepting any setbacks with grace. God is with us, and so are you, and we're going to win this one.
You can support our fundraiser on Facebook here. Every donation helps, and even a simple share is greatly appreciated. Your prayers and thoughts are welcome; I am a man of faith, and even if I wasn't, it would be hard to discredit the power of prayer in light of my experience. My journey is far from over. My future remains uncertain, but I am blessed, and I continue to find gratitude at every turn. Honestly, I'm compelled to do another round of thank yous. I thank God again for allowing me to make it this far, and I thank him for giving me hope that the recovery I'm working toward will be our next miracle. I want to thank my wife for being nothing short of amazing. I could spend all day thanking her for being my wife, and it would not be enough. I want to thank my children for being the wind beneath my wings and the joy that dances within my merry soul. I want to thank my family and friends for supporting us and lifting us up in amazing ways. I want to thank our church family once more for being there whenever and wherever we need them, and showering us with love. I want to thank our Tae Kwon Do family and our softball family for helping us as much as they possibly can, and going above and beyond any and all reasonable expectations in their support. I would also thank the community at large once more, to include all those lovely folks I don't personally know from near and far who have joined themselves to our cause--these giving souls should be noted again for the aid and encouragement they have directed our way. I thank the skilled people at New Hanover for getting me this fair, and I stand ready for whatever tomorrow may bring with the knowledge that I am blessed and loved far more than I could have imagined before Monday, July 15.
That's when I nearly died, but more importantly, that's when everything changed for me, because that's when I learned the true meaning of gratitude. Thank you all so very much, and God bless.
*Those who know me well understand that I take my fitness seriously. I lead an active life, and my job is strenuous. Being in shape is very important to me. Several physicians have advised me that my conditioning likely played a key role in my initial survival. Leading up to the crash, I was a bit fanatical about ramping up my workouts, often to my wonderful wife's chagrin. A few people had taken note of this, and I had responded that I didn't know what fight I was training for, but I fully intended to be ready. Well, I guess that's just another good break, as it turns out, and there's no longer any mystery about my opponent.
**A wound vac is a machine that pumps fluid out of an open wound. With my elbow, it was useful in the early stages as a means to avoid infection. At present, it is more beneficial because it stimulates skin growth, so it's helping me as I work toward that skin graft.
Sunday, June 30, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Dog Eat Dog (2016)
Dark as all get out, quirky at every turn, and punctuated by startling displays of violence, Dog Eat Dog is a comedy at heart. And it's a sick comedy, and several key plot points are nothing short of revolting, but damn if it isn't funny. Aside from dishing out disturbing chuckles, it also takes time to explore the nature of good and evil at the intersection of convenience if not need, and it asks whether or not a hardened con is more or less inclined (or even capable) of changing after spending time behind bars. None of the answers this quixotic offering from Paul Schrader provides are all that hopeful, and many of the biggest questions aren't really answered at all. This is a journey with an ultimate destination that is difficult to define, and there are several junctures where the line between reality and fantasy are blurred. In truth, I think Schrader was more interested in showcasing his talent and provoking the audience than in arriving at anything resembling a conclusion, and this may be both the picture's greatest flaw and its biggest selling point. Cage is on in a relatively tame performance, while Dafoe is at his best in a dizzying turn as a run of the mill fearsome lovable lunatic with bloody hands and a warm smile. I can't tell you what it all means, but I can tell you that I laughed way more than I should have, and I was never bored by this wonky caper flick from a tinseltown legend who shows no signs of mellowing with age.
Final Grade: B
|It can't be easy to out-crazy Nicolas Cage on set, but this guy got the job done. In truth, the script decided this battle in his favor before filming ever started.|
Monday, June 17, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
Dripping with nuance and a sinister vibe, equally mysterious and wild, Bad Times at the El Royale is a picture that hits a lot of familiar beats in fresh and unexpected ways. The first act is a nifty slow burn that draws you in, the second act is a dazzling descent into secret identities and desperate situations, and the third act is a sizzling eruption of violence served Grand Guignol. Crafted with nuance and wit, built upon a lethal script and masterful direction from Drew Goddard, this is a striking venture that never fails to enthrall and entertain. Goddard, who also gave us the splendid and wickedly inventive Cabin in the Woods, shows a real knack for taking cliches and standard tropes and twisting them into diabolical new shapes. However, while Cabin in the Woods was a devious kick in the pants, I found Bad Times at the El Royale to be a masterpiece that takes noir to groovy new heights while striking some truly ominous chords along the way. The performances are exceptional, with Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo leading the way while everyone delivers. Jon Hamm really sets the stage in the opening reel, while Chris Hemsworth arrives closer to the finale, delivering what may have been his most challenging and richest work. Psychotic and seductive in equal measures, he is the lynchpin for this rollicking odyssey born of paranoia and intrigue, and he is the catalyst for all the groundwork that Goddard lays along the way to a powerful climax. This review may ring of hyperbole, but I can honestly say that I had high hopes for this one, and it far surpassed my expectations. I hoped for a gnarly oddity, and I got that and so much more--Bad Times at the El Royale is one of the best films I've seen in a while, and it is a credit to the efforts of everyone involved that it proves to be so mesmerizing.
Final Grade: A+
|Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Bridges: American Treasure. If you don't love this dude, there's something wrong with you.|
Sunday, June 9, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - White of the Eye (1987)
This little-known thriller from the late 80s is often described as an American stab at the beloved Giallo sub-genre that put so many Italian directors on the map. I can see some similarities, so I understand that sentiment, but I find it to be something different, a curious opus that pays homage to many things but ultimately stands on its own. The direction from Donald Cammell represents a stellar vision that is stark, inviting, subversive, and wildly grim. This picture has a thing for vivid colors and gruesome subject matter, and it is rooted in the queasy realms of power and domination masquerading as purpose, painting an intimate portrait of a madman. In fact, the lines between the killer we fear and the leading man we are drawn to are blurred, and even those with the closest ties to the murders contained within this pulsing chiller can't decide whether they love or hate the twisted soul who finds purpose in dismemberment. The score by Nick Mason is a big winner, and the performances are on point. David Keith is perfect, and Cathy Moriarty matches him stride for stride, while Art Evans and Alan Rosenberg take smaller roles and turn them into major assets. Few thrillers operate with this much charisma while probing such depths, and the end result is a bit of a mystery. While the events portrayed are far from ambiguous, the viewer's reaction may be defined by a sense of puzzlement. When all is revealed, it is difficult to determine just how we should feel about everyone involved, and that is why I cherish White of the Eye. It is provocative, it is exciting, and it asks a lot of tough questions that it answers by dishing out a lot of tough answers. Evil can be quite seductive. Evil may even be rather charming at times. And those who go toe to toe with evil may taint themselves in the process. Most don't view this type of fare for such meditation on the darker aspects of humanity, but those who do may find this true one of a kind to be immensely satisfying in its thirst for perversion and identity.
Final Grade: A
|Like the best Italian thrillers, this American production is a quirky thriller that oozes style and vibrancy.|
Sunday, May 19, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Dragged Across Concrete (2018)
Some might bill Dragged Across Concrete as a dark thriller, but I'm not so sure. Yes, it is punctuated by shocking acts of violence, and yes it centers on some cops and robbers interplay of a sort that we often see portrayed on the big screen. However, its more about the characters and their circumstances than their actions. Dragged Across Concrete struck me as a hard-boiled drama, a stark departure from a garden variety police procedural or a guns blazing shoot 'em up. More to the point, everything is painted in murky shades of gray, and the picture is bereft of any classical good guys. The standard rules don't apply either, and this gives the picture a few jolts that most movies in the same vein are lacking. This is a movie about desperate people making desperate choices and hoping to survive in the wake of these fateful decisions. The pace is methodical; a stakeout is explored with incredible attention to detail, and though shots are fired and bodies are shredded, Dragged Across Concrete is always more concerned with what its characters are doing between these outbursts of carnage and death. This is Craig S. Zahler's third film, and it's clearly his most deliberate effort to date. It is both a throwback and a subversion of the genre, and it will excite many viewers for the very same reasons that it will bore others. Zahler also pushes a lot of buttons, with a lot of social issues coming into play, though he doesn't seek to preach or provide answers as much as he allows his characters to offer up pointed questions while grappling with life as they know it. Stars Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn fully embrace the material, and they invest such gravity into their performances that both disappear into parts that don't cater to their usual strengths. Gibson simmers where he usually boils over, while Vaughn is more subdued and inquisitive than showy or declarative. Tory Kittles upstages everyone as the unofficial third lead, an equally complex ex-con with a fluid knack for survival that serves him better than brutality or strategy serve his counterparts. From the onset, we like all of these players in spite of their flaws, which are many, just as we recognize that this is not a happy ending kind of show. While the gritty drama steadily nears a gruesome conclusion, we are continually surprised by the all too familiar yet oh so foreign plot. It's not quite a masterpiece, but Dragged Across Concrete is really fresh, really intricate, and thereby really damn good.
Final Grade: A-
|Vaughn and Gibson make an excellent pair in this gritty drama masquerading as a thriller, a grim saga where nothing comes easy and no one is safe.|
Saturday, May 18, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Triple Threat (2019)
First off, let me acknowledge that as an action film, Triple Threat probably fails more than it succeeds. The plot is riddled with so many holes that it is fairly nonsensical, the dialogue is atrocious, and a few poignant scenes are so sorely out of place that they veer toward purely unintentional comedy. And, it should be noted, that as a kung-fu flick, it doesn't even approach the level of greatness that a venture with this cast could attain. However, anyone who gets their kicks from this sort of fare will find plenty to enjoy nonetheless, because even a bad rock 'em sock 'em movie with these cats winds up being mediocre. We've got Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen, Scott Adkins, and two of my all-time favorites, Iko Uwais and Michael Jai White, in the mix, after all. And while director Jesse V. Johnson fumbles where the exposition (and pretty much everything aside from the action bits) is concerned, he does capture some excellent martial arts mayhem. Unfortunately, some of the clashes are a bit too brief, and a few of these Grade A combatants never get to engage one another. Yet the fights we do get are compelling match-ups, and all of the players get to show their stuff to devastating effect. In particular, I loved seeing Uwais and White square off, and Adkins and Jaa also have a fantastic battle. Chen also shines, doing a fine job in his work with MMA vet Michael Bisping, who proves rather adept at cinematic fisticuffs. In truth, I think Adkins may steal the show, with his amazing talents establishing him as a stellar villain. Dude is so versatile and smooth, he makes dizzying acrobatics look easy, and he can play an arrogant badass with the very best of them. In a lot of ways, Triple Threat reminded me of one of those 90s martial arts movies I used to enjoy, pictures with guys like Gary Daniels, Don Wilson, and Billy Blanks taking on all comers. The movies themselves were quite pedestrian, but the fight scenes made them worthwhile. Triple Threat is far better than most of those, but it doesn't leave them in the dust the way it should. Regardless, if you're a fan of this sort of show, or an admirer of any of the people involved, this is one you can't pass up.
Final Grade: A very fun C
|As a movie, Triple Threat is prone to misfires. As a martial arts bonanza, it falls well short of its potential, but still emerges as a rollicking showcase for the extraordinary talent involved.|
Thursday, April 25, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Hell or High Water (2016)
Hell or High Water is a little slow, rather grim, genuinely interested in those areas where morality and integrity stand at odds with the foundations of society, and built on the bonds of family and loyalty. The violence is realistic, the choices are dire, and the cost of living is high. It's a movie that boasts many robberies and a couple of shootouts, but it offers much more in the way of drama than excitement because we care so deeply about the players. This is due to an excellent script, some rich characters, and a wonderful cast that really grasps what the picture is all about and brings it to life with gut-wrenching authenticity. We sense doom for some of these players from the moment the picture opens, and while we are propelled forward by the choices required of them, we never fully accept their fates, and are reluctant to see just how this uncompromising landscape will break them. Jeff Bridges does an astounding job as a fair and likable lawman who is as human as he is larger than life--kinda sounds like a Jeff Bridges sort of role, doesn't it? Gil Birmingham should not be overlooked as perhaps the most dignified person embroiled in this unforgiving saga. Chris Pine and Ben Foster make the whole thing click on another level altogether as two very different siblings, with their work here draped in authenticity and crackling with purpose. Pine is a bit reserved as the more introverted of the two, allowing Foster to light the screen up in one of his best performances to date. Foster plays the most flawed and also the most generous of all these characters, and in a story like this, those who are willing to give of themselves are issued a bloody receipt for their efforts. That's okay, though, because he plays the kind of man who is more than willing to man up and pay his dues, especially if his family is at stake. Hell or High Water is another top-notch film from the mind of Taylor Sheridan, who also gave us 2017's unofficial best picture, Wind River. Director David Mackenzie does a stellar job of bringing this deft combination of a modern western and an essay in noir to fruition, and I rate Hell or High Water as an absolute must-watch for those who like tough movies about hard choices.
Final Grade: A
|Jeff Bridges remains an American treasure, but the work that Pine and Foster do here|
Monday, April 22, 2019
Short Attention Span Review: Suspiria (2018)
Someone I know heralded this remake/reboot of Dario Argento's most beloved motion picture as superior to the original. He did go on to say that given how far it strays from the 1977 cult classic, this should have been crafted as something else altogether. "If that were the case," he said with the utmost confidence, "We would all be hailing this as a genuine masterpiece." Full disclosure: this guy is clearly an idiot. Of course, some of you liked Hereditary, so maybe shitshows are en vogue these days. I don't know. But I do know this: the 2018 Suspiria is a monumental clusterfuck with only a few stunning flourishes to offer any enjoyment for those who suffer through this master class in turd burglary. This is far too little for me to submit any sort of recommendation, for while there are a handful of pieces to the puzzle that sizzle, they are few and far between. And they are buried in a plodding and nonsensical affair that tries so very hard to be grandiose and transformative that it renders itself overwrought and tedious. In many ways, it's a joke, a really bad joke, like a dad joke that has died and gone to hell. The director has no feel for the material, and the cast and crew are betrayed by a script that is a mess when it aims for intrigue and a bit of a bore when it strives for excitement, save a few instances that must have been accidental forays into entertainment. Remember the score for the original Suspiria? Of course you do, Goblin's dizzying array of energy and brilliance were among that startling shocker's greatest strengths. This time out, we get a softer approach from Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and I think this take on the material could best be described as one basic bitch of a score. I would categorize the whole thing as abysmal, but I don't want to insult any abysses. Friends, let me put it to you like this: Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria is like a reboot of John Wick directed by Steven Soderbergh that runs nearly three hours long and only dishes out six minutes of action. And there is an entirely pointless subplot that constantly drags the whole sorry affair even further into tedium wherein Keanu's titular surrogate pulls double duty in a second role as an old woman with feeble ties to the plot. And we're not supposed to know it's the same performer in another role, but it is painfully obvious and only makes this particular ingredient and the recipe as a whole less appetizing. And those who like the original John Wick and those who don't give a shit about John Wick alike can only wonder why they bothered to waste their time with this hypothetical piece of shit. Though, in fairness, any hypothetical piece of shit is better than the 2018 Suspiria in my book, because I can't really waste 152 minutes of my life watching a hypothetical piece of shit, can I?
Final Grade: F for "Fuck this."
|This clip from the film stands as a perfect metaphor for the joy I experienced while watching director Luca Guadagnino's valiant effort to deeply insult anyone and everyone who enjoys the original. Personally, I'm ready to throw hands.|
Saturday, April 6, 2019
Comics Corner - The Immortal Hulk (2018 - Present)
One comic that has been garnering a lot of praise recently is Marvel's latest take on the Hulk, aptly titled The Immortal Hulk. This is partly a fresh approach, but it also serves to turn back the clock to the days when everyone's favorite green behemoth first hit the scene. Once upon a when, the Hulk was more of a monster that men feared who only became a hero when greater threats arose--sort of like Godzilla in the flicks where he gets to play the good guy.
Writer Al Ewing has certainly cast the Hulk as a creature to be feared in this stellar run, and he has conjured up some wicked threats to pit against the titular character. Joe Bennett has done a gnarly job of translating Ewing's vision to the medium. Combine their fiendish efforts, and this book somehow manages to give me the Hulk I crave while seemingly paying homage to the grotesque delights of John Carpenter's The Thing, or perhaps some of Sam Raimi's work when he's in "paint the screen red with blood" mode. Then there's the icing on the cake: the covers from Alex Ross, who is always impeccable, but has taken things up a notch with these diabolical visions of everyone's favorite raging jade goliath.
With Marvel being known and loved the world over for its playful sense of humor, I feel that people probably underestimate what I and other fans mean when we refer to this as a horror comic featuring the Hulk. It's not a typical Hulk book with him facing off against a few beasties with red eyes, it runs much, much darker than that. The Hulk himself is a tortured creature, and he has been dismembered, corrupted, and even taken to hell in the fourteen issues of this title released to date. He has faced off against some deeply malevolent foes, and the pages have dripped with sinister imagery. Is it on the same level as Alan Moore's legendary take on Swamp Thing so far as plunging a beloved entity into the very depths of the macabre is concerned? That's a good question. Maybe it hasn't gone quite that far, but then again, maybe it has.
It hasn't been as surreal as Moore's work with DC's green force of nature, though it has paused to ask some very profound questions and there have been some metaphysics in play. I like the way the supernatural elements have been portrayed in a straightforward manner--it's quite unique, somewhat akin to marrying high adventure to the sort of body horror that David Cronenberg is famous for. Seriously, I'll stand by that. I have always enjoyed the Hulk, but this direction caters directly to my sensibilities, and I will join the choir in hailing it as perhaps Marvel's finest offering in 2018 and 2019.
In short, if you dig comics, and you like the Hulk, you may well be intrigued. If you dig horror and you like material with some serious oomph, you too may enjoy this title. And if you dig the Hulk, you have love for comic books, and you're a horror fanatic like yours truly, this is looking like "can't miss" territory, isn't it? While there are a lot of good books out there these days, and the last couple of years have been really kind to horror lovers (Elvira, Gravetrancers, Blackwood, Justice League Dark, and The Spider King are among my recent favorites), this is probably the title I look forward to most on my pull list these days. The hype is real, my friends. Long live The Immortal Hulk.
Final Grade: A
Short Attention Span Review - Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)
I may have mentioned before that I'm a big fan of the film sub-genre I refer to as "Movies on Wheels," and if so, I surely mentioned that while I still like pictures in this vein, older flicks like Vanishing Point, White Line Fever, and this 1974 surprise hit rule the roost. Why? Well, because back in the good old days, there was no CGI to thank for such white-knuckle escapades. Nope, there were real stunt drivers crashing real cars, and the cheap thrills born of that authenticity is impossible to duplicate with even the best modern effects that Hollywood has to offer. However, there's much more to Dirty Mary Crazy Larry than the vehicular exploits, to include a great cast, a flamboyant but gritty script, and masterful direction from John Hough. There's also a darkness at the heart of this rip-roaring jaunt down the asphalt that gives it some serious punch. Yes, it's an entertaining film, and Peter Fonda simply oozes cool as the hotshot driver at the center of the piece, but he's also a real dick. The movie succeeds because of Fonda's charisma and the character's nerve and skill behind the wheel. Ultimately, however, all of the players suffer because this captivating figure is more than a little unhinged, and he steers everyone around him down a dangerous path. The wicked ending that still gives viewers jolts doesn't come off as a cheap trick because it is totally warranted even if it does come out of nowhere. Crazy Larry himself was practically begging for such a conclusion from the second he put his foot on the gas. Fonda is joined by Adam Roarke, Susan George, and Vic Morrow, with an uncredited Roddy McDowall aiding the proceedings as well. All save McDowall play intriguing but flawed parts, and while their story is entertaining as hell, the film's true impact stems from the fact that these are lost souls on destructive paths, and not the nobler and ultimately courageous types that most films concern themselves with. No, these are bad people racing down tricky roads; some are addicted to adrenaline, some are just desperate for a score, and some wield a badge but truly serve their own need for authority. Even those who are simply along for the ride can't claim innocence, and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry keeps us on the edge of our seats for 90 minutes and then gives all of the characters just what they deserve. The stunt work is among the best you'll ever see, the lines* are zingers, and Hough did something daring and ultimately quite remarkable with this unlikely thriller that defies expectations at every turn.
Larry: Yeah, yeah. So we got off to a bad start. Well, ya know what it means when somebody like me gets off to a bad start? Not a goddamn thing.
Larry: You know what a man would do right now if he were smart?
Larry: I don't know.
|The car stuff is among the best you'll ever see, but it's the grim vibe and the director's prowess that make Dirty Mary Crazy Larry so memorable.|
Final Grade: A
Monday, April 1, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Castle Freak (1995)
Like many of my fellow fright fans, I spent Friday night enjoying The Last Drive-In courtesy of the good folks at Shudder* and Joe Bob Briggs**. Not only did I have entirely too much fun with this resurrection of one of the horror staples of my youth, but I also watched Castle Freak for the first time as a result of its inclusion in a nifty double feature (the first film was C.H.U.D., a familiar favorite that I like a lot, even though Joe Bob was clearly not a fan). Now, I may have mentioned my disdain for Full Moon before. I know, I know, that's a Holy Grail of sorts for some of you horror lovers out there, but the studio never really did a lot for me. With that in mind, I'm pretty sure that I never even noticed that Castle Freak was a Stuart Gordon film with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in the lead roles. After Seedpeople, I avoided Full Moon productions like the plague. Regardless, that was a mistake, and I'm glad that Joe Bob remedied this situation for me. Castle Freak is a creepy picture, lean and incredibly mean, with fine performances, quality direction, and a beastie that really made my skin crawl. Despite the presence of Combs in the lead and Gordon in the director's chair, there was no humor in play, and Castle Freak painted a nasty picture in gruesome detail. Like most Full Moon features, the budget wasn't an asset, but in this case, a crafty screenplay and terrific work from the cast and crew enabled the film to rise above any limitations. In truth, while a tale of this variety could never find as much love with a larger audience, I think it sits as a worthy companion piece to either Re-Animator or From Beyond, and it was far more unnerving than either of those beloved oddities from the same diabolical entertainers. The effects were gnarly, and Jonathan Fuller positively slayed it as Giorgi, who is both a creature to be pitied and the stuff of nightmares. This isn't one of those fun horror movies where you snicker and lay odds on which dumb teenager will be next on the chopping block, this is a frightening spectacle where everyone involved worked very hard to scare the hell out of the audience. I rate it as a success, and I'm going to join Joe Bob in hailing it as a superior effort that warrants more attention from the horror community.
*For any horror fan who has yet to subscribe, Shudder is an absolute steal.
**I mean, he's no Elvira, but Joe Bob is great at what he does--and his recent work for Shudder has found him at the very height of his game. You may not agree with everything he says, but it's a lot more fun to watch one of these pictures with him, and even diehard genre fans like yours truly will gather a few nuggets along the way.
Final Grade: B+
|The cast as a whole performs admirably, but it is quite possible that Jonathan Fuller's work as the titular creature is the key to Castle Freak's success.|
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Aquaman (2018)
A visual spectacle that dishes out ample doses of excitement and cheer, Aquaman is a glorious achievement. This offbeat superhero yarn is a fun picture that offers up thrills, laughs, drama, and magical special effects. It is a journey brimming with epic staples, and as such, it is centered upon a daunting quest with the fate of the world at stake. Yet even as director James Wan dazzles us with grandeur and all the most rousing aspects of a legit blockbuster, he allows his imposing but playful star to wink at the audience from time to time. Arriving as DC's second surefire hit amid a couple of mediocre outings and at least one misunderstood gem*, Aquaman stands proudly alongside Wonder Woman, giving us renewed hope in this comic book juggernaut's ability to translate their work to the screen for current audiences. For me, the most impressive thing about this crowd-pleaser was the fact that while it was overflowing with eye candy of the highest order, the visual treats never overshadowed the characters or the performances. This cast and the story may have won me over even if the FX wizardry had fallen short. Seeing both of these elements of the production fire on all cylinders is a fabulous experience. At the center of all this enchantment is Jason Momoa as a hero who has been a punchline for much of his existence, at least where the general public is concerned. Despite bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the character, this dude was born to play the king of the sea, and his casting is the biggest gun in DC's arsenal right now. Truth. His physicality and charisma are the foundation upon which Aquaman is built, and it's one hell of a foundation. Stars like Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe join Momoa and the ever-potent Amber Heard in elevating this impressive adventure, while Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II portray dastardly threats to the world Wan has created. In fact, Wilson really impresses, making Orm an arrogant and dangerous opponent despite Momoa's prowess, while Abdul-Mateen II damn near steals the show. In closing, Aquaman is an enjoyable film that aims for the stars and soars to incredible heights.
*Batman vs. Superman (the extended cut)
Final Grade: A
|Aquaman is a stunning movie that likely would have survived the presence of a lesser performer in the lead role, but Momoa's athleticism and warmth only add to its wow factor.|
Monday, March 25, 2019
Fabulous Faves - All That Jazz (1979)
All That Jazz doesn't sound like my kind of film. I love movies in general, but we all know that I'm a horror guy first and foremost, and I greatly enjoy a lot of pulp. And a lot of the stuff I call pulp, the rest of you would simply dub trash. All That Jazz is a musical. Not really my thing. All That Jazz is famous for its dance choreography. Again, not really my thing. All That Jazz is a surreal narrative that frequently delves into the metaphysical, to include a healthy part for Death herself. Yeah, just not the type of thing that usually does it for me. And yet, . . . I cherish this picture. I fell head over heels for it the first time I watched it, and it is one of those masterful endeavors where I seem to find more to love every time I revisit it. The plot is a manic exercise that straddles so many genres that it would be hard to list all of them, and I feel that it hits every note that it aims to deliver. Fosse's dazzling spectacle is buoyed by humor at every turn, but it is an unflinching look at dying. It showcases the excitement and drama of performing on stage with dizzying grandeur, but it does so while also probing self-destruction and addiction with painful intimacy. All That Jazz explores the highs and lows of fame, and love, and life as we know it. With Fosse in the director's chair, the authenticity on the screen is a joy to behold, and Roy Scheider is unbelievable in the lead role. I have always been a fan of Roy's work, and this is both a big stretch for him and his greatest achievement; he went big, very big, and he delivered something so mesmerizing that it could aptly be described as magical. Everyone involved in the production of this quizzical and riveting jewel succeeds, and this is one that I can't really find any faults with. It is a trip, and it oozes morbid humor and surreal escapism while dissecting immense and controversial behavior issues with shameless attention to detail, so I can see where many would be put off by it. That's okay, some of the best movies ever made can be uncomfortable and astounding in equal measures. This is one of them.
Final Grade: A+*
*All Fabulous Faves get an A+ from me. That's why I call them Fabulous Faves!
Monday, March 18, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
I've been down with Spidey for about as long as I can remember, and I'm a 40-year-old dude who still rocks comics. Bonus points: the one mainstay on my pull list has always been The Amazing Spider-Man. With that in mind, I believe I can speak with some authority when it comes to the webhead. My expertise extends beyond the comics and also applies to the movies, to include the appropriately obscure. Of course, I've seen all the mainstream ventures, but I didn't stop there. Seriously, have you ever gone on a quest to track down every episode of the 1977 television series starring Nicholas Hammond--and forced yourself to watch them all? Dear lord, I hope not. I like to think that I paid that tab for all of us.* Anyway, I say all that to say this: I was a bit unsure about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and my unease may have increased in light of all the incredible praise heaped upon this 2018 animated adventure. Surely, I thought, it can't be that good. Listen up, peeps. It's that good. It's freaking epic. It rocks. I didn't like it, I positively loved it. The animation is unique but brilliant, the voice performances are perfect, and the soundtrack is nothing short of superb. Most importantly, the direction courtesy of Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman is amazing, and the screenplay from Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman is spectacular. They weave a mesmerizing web of rollicking action and heartfelt drama that elevate this into the upper stratosphere of comic book movies. Look, I drooled over Infinity War with the rest of you, but Spidey snuck in like a thief in the night and rocked the Casbah with this vivid and thoroughly entertaining smash hit. I do not believe I am taking things too far when I dub this the best Spider-Man movie we have seen to date, and I enjoy all of the previous efforts, even Spider-Man 3**. I rate Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming as among the best comic book adaptations ever produced. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse surpasses all of these adventures starring the wallcrawler we hold so dear. Guess what? I'm not stopping there. No, I would like to take things even further, to be honest, and I'm here to declare this one of the best superhero movies out there. In terms of craftsmanship and quality, it is on par with the best of the lot, to include the previously-mentioned Infinity War, as well as other legit classics in that realm, movies like Logan, The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Superman II. I can't recommend this one highly enough, and it is a joy to encounter something that is equal parts diverse, inclusive, and splendid. I want to thank everyone involved for taking my favorite superhero to new heights.
*For the record, they're kinda fun, and I give the makers of the show props for trying really hard. That's probably too kind. Okay, okay. Let's be real here. The show was so hokey that it flirts with comedic glory.
**Shoot me if you must. It's true.
Final Grade: A+
|This wonderful feature succeeds partly by inviting lots of takes on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to the party, but mostly because it nails each and every one of them, and allows them to participate in a marvelous story.|
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Curse of Chucky (2013)
We're getting a new Chucky movie, and by that, I mean a reboot, not a continuation of the series as we know it. I share Jennifer Tilly's thoughts on the matter, and lest you're unaware: we're not too keen on the idea. Honestly, between 2013's Curse of Chucky and 2017's Cult of Chucky (and talks of a tie-in series from the man behind this franchise, Don Mancini), I see no need to do something new and different here. Now, I enjoy these movies, but I'm not necessarily what I would consider a diehard fan. Still, as a guy who digs horror, this does feel like hallowed ground for a few reasons. First off, they're revamping Chucky himself. That's a terrible fucking idea. Secondly, they're looking for an "A-list talent" to try and fill Brad Dourif's shoes where the voice of everyone's favorite sadistic doll from hell is concerned. The phrase "good luck with that" comes to mind. Anyway, I'm going to push my little tangent here aside (sorry, but not really sorry at all) and review this 2013 chiller for you. It is not a reboot at all, but something of a restart, taking the story in a new direction without severing any ties to the pictures that came before. The tone is a fairly significant departure, with this being more of a sinister and spooky tale largely devoid of the zealous lunacy that we saw in the last few entries. In that regard, it is a lot closer to Tom Holland's killer venture that started the ball rolling, though I would argue that Curse of Chucky is even more subdued, and plays a little more like an old school shocker. It slowly builds to a crescendo, and even though we all come to this particular party knowing just what to expect, Curse of Chucky takes its time getting to the good stuff. After all, the family at the center of the tale doesn't know that the doll young Alice is so taken with is a supernatural vessel for one vicious son of a bitch's tainted soul. Mancini surely understands the lay of the land, and he handles Chucky's malicious exploits with great skill; the design and effects are on point, and the character's behavior is just what fans are hoping for. Mancini's greatest feat may be pairing Brad Dourif's unbelievable performance with the ominous nature of the piece. Brad isn't the only Dourif who shines in this outing, as his daughter Fiona excels as our lead. Her part is both complex and endearing, and Mancini encourages us to really invest in this strong-willed heroine as he puts the screws to her in a big way. While I won't rate this as the best of the lot, it is a welcome addition to a legacy that remains potent better than three decades after Chucky hit the scene--a legacy that need not be refashioned for current audiences when all the necessary parties are still fully capable of delivering the goods.
Final Grade: B-
|Non-Spoiler Alert: Chucky is still one mean little bastard.|
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Powerful Pages - Mr. Majestyk by Elmore Leonard (1974)
Man, I miss Elmore. He had such a gift for telling gripping stories populated with vivid characters. He did so by painting incredible pictures with as few brush strokes as possible. Mr. Majestyk is a perfect example of his style, lean but provocative, fast-paced but detailed, a dramatic confrontation that is never dull and consistently defies expectations. Majestyk himself is an ideal hero in the Leonard mold, a stoic type with a willingness to strike hard when given no alternative, as well as a deliberate man with a code he will not violate. Frank Renda, the villain, is another classic Leonard creation, a nuanced tough guy who is both deeply flawed and wildly dangerous. Majestyk is a melon farmer while Renda is a contract killer, and their little war is as entertaining as it is unlikely. As with any of the author's works, the dialogue sizzles, and every word brings us closer to a reckoning. While my efforts here may lead the uninitiated to imagine a cartoonish machismo extravaganza masquerading as a novel, that would be grossly inaccurate. Yes, Elmore liked to spin yarns about tough guys caught up in even tougher situations, and he had a real knack for one-liners and unexpected laughs. He also had an unbelievable feel for his medium coupled with a pretty sound grasp of human nature, thus his writing is also insightful and moving. Don't confuse brief with shallow, and please understand that guns-blazing action and potent drama can occupy the same space. And if you don't believe me, hell, go ahead and ask Mr. Majestyk. It is a quick and enjoyable read, and I think it was one of Leonard's best.
Final Grade: A
Monday, March 11, 2019
Short Attention Span Review - Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)
Q works for a few reasons. As many have pointed out before, the most significant boost comes from Michael Moriarty, who just acts his ass off. In the midst of a campy horror movie with a flying monstrosity and killer cultists, Moriarty lets it all fly, and his performance is positively Oscar-worthy. There is no way that previous statement won't come off as hyperbole, but it's totally true. Moriarty does some Daniel Day-Lewis method shit and slays his role as a petty crook who is both a coward and a dreamer who won't shy away from a big play. Another key to this cult classic's place in the hearts of horror fans is that while it does contain a flying serpent and those bloodthirsty cultists, that's not really what it's about. It's mostly about the characters, to include Moriarty's ambitious thief, David Carradine's inquisitive detective (he's equal parts tough and thoughtful), and Candy Clark as Joan, the woman who loves Moriarty's Jimmy Quinn and also despises him. Cohen's direction and witty script (there are some top-shelf lines in this one) are also winners, but that won't surprise anyone who digs his work. The effects are sinister where the cultists are concerned and downright hokey where the titular terror is concerned. This flying fiend is captured via stop motion a la Harryhausen, making this both a kooky frightfest and a love letter of sorts to the creature features of the 50s and 60s. Q is a strange dish, and it surely registers as junk food, but it remains tasty after all these years.
Final Grade: B
|Yes, it's a goofy monster movie, but the praise often heaped upon Moriarty's jazzy performance is wholly warranted. He should have gotten an Oscar. I'm dead fucking serious right now.|