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Sunday, March 13, 2016

FILM REVIEW OF ''FOUR FAST GUNS" (1960)

The title "Four Fast Guns"(**1/2 OUT OF ****) refers to the hero's expertise with a six-shooter as well as the three pistoleros hired to kill him. "Hell Bound" director William J. Hole Jr.'s western melodrama "Four Fast Guns" qualifies as a low-budget but above-average 'town tamer' sagebrusher with a good cast, compelling characters, and several surprises. This black and white, 72-minute oater reminded me of the Wayne Morris B-western "Two Guns and A Badge." In "Two Guns and A Badge," Morris is appointed the deputy marshal of a lawless town. In reality, he isn't the man that the townspeople were supposed to have as deputy marshal. Similarly, "Four Fast Guns" protagonist Tom Sabin (James Craig of "Drums in the Deep South") has been run out of a Kansas by the hired gunman, Haggerty, who was paid to clean up the territory. The obnoxious 'town tamer' encounters Sabin along the trail. Haggerty warns him to steer clear of Purgatory where his next job is. Sabin ignores him so Haggerty goads Sabin into a gunfight. Indeed, Haggerty clips Sabin's arm between the shoulder and the bicep and then demands that Sabin show him the palm of his hand. Presumably, Haggerty intends to put a bullet through Sabin's hand and end his days as a gunfighter. Haggerty has his own gun drawn when Sabin surprises him and drops him dead in his own tracks.

Sabin rides into the town of Purgatory. Inscribed on an archway that welcomes visitors are the words: Purgatory: When you ride into Purgatory, "Say goodbye to God." The citizens have never seen Haggerty. When Sabin shows up, they ask him if he is the 'town tamer?' Like the Wayne Morris hero in "Two Guns and a Badge," Sabin tells them that the 'town tamer' Haggerty sent him to Purgatory all the way from Kansas. At first, Sabin isn't altogether sure that he wants to maintain this masquerade. The citizens offer him $500 for the job. When somebody suggests that Sabin may be afraid, our protagonist accepts the job. The townspeople want to see the owner of The Babylon Saloon, Hoag (Paul Richards of "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre"), run out of town since he controls all the killing, rustling and gambling in those parts. Sabin and the citizens strike a compromise. They will try him out and pay him after he cleans up Purgatory. When they want to know where to send the $500, Sabin gives them the address of the widow of Jay Cassavedas. Later, when Sabin prowls around the marshal's office, he spots a wanted poster of himself on the wall. He is wanted for the killing of Jay Cassavedas.

Hoag indulges in a hobby of importing works of art as well as minions of evil. The first work of art is a replica of Venus De Milo.
Ironically, Hoag is an invalid confined to a wheelchair. He spends his time plinking the piano in his bar. Later, Hoag's pretty wife, Mary Hoag (Martha Vickers of "The Big Sleep"), explains that a stagecoach wreck crippled her husband. Nevertheless, Hoag is a power neither to be trifled with nor ignored. Hoag is as cold-blooded as they come, and he antes up a thousand dollars to pay for Sabin's demise. Hoag sends one of his henchmen, Grady, over to kill the sheriff, but Sabin kills Grady. As each gunslinger botches the job, Hoag increases his offer, until the third gunslinger, Johnny Naco (Brett Halsey of "To Hell and Back"), arrives and takes the three thousand dollars to kill Sabin. One of the major surprises in "Four Fast Guns" occurs at this point and everything afterward clashes with the typical 'town tamer' western.

No sooner has Sabin arrives met Hoag that the crippled saloon owner sends a gunman to kill him. Sabin is in the marshal's office when his would-be assassin enters. Predictably, Sabin survives this encounter, but the twists are what distinguish this western. He has to contend with three gunslingers before he cleans up Purgatory and rides away to Tombstone. Along the way, Sabin befriends the alcoholic living in the abandoned marshal's office, Dipper (Edgar Buchanan of "Texas"), who wears a small cup around his neck that he uses to drink his whiskey. Despite his drinking, Dipper is a lot smarter than most people take him. Essentially, Dipper serves as the quasi-narrator of sort. Although he isn't seen until later in the action, Dipper provides narration at the outset. "This man came along the trail one Sunday morning back in '73 taking it slow and easy keeping his open eyes and his gun hand ready. Came
from nowhere I guess. Anyhow, he never said from where and we never asked. He was going to stop off in Purgatory, make his stand, like he lived alone. This is number one. He called himself Sabin." Dipper becomes Sabin's closest ally. Hoag's wife is another interesting character. She supports her husband, but her sentiments toward Sabin change over time. Ultimately, she grows to love Sabin, but she refuses to end her marriage to Hoag. The three gunslingers are worthy of note, particularly the Brett Halsey character. One of them is named Farmer Brown and he tries to shoot Sabin from under table as they are playing poker. Sabin outsmarts him. He pulls out his revolver and cocks it as
soon as he sits down so the weapon is on his thigh within easy reach. Since the outcome to this duel is such a foregone conclusion, director William J. Hole Jr., doesn't even show us how it happened. This strategy occurred in an earlier scene when a gunslinger entered the jail but the camera remained stationed outside. Shots were audible, and then the gunslinger walked outside and fell dead on the street.

"Ambush at Cimarron Pass" lenser John M. Nickolaus Jr.'s black & white, widescreen cinematography is an asset. "Four Fast Guns" qualifies as an above-average western that doesn't always draw things out to their inevitable conclusion and never wears out its welcome.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

FILM REVIEW OF ''GODS OF EGYPT'' (2016)


Hollywood has always suffered from a jaundiced perception of reality that creates discontent about its films, and “Dark City” director Alexis Proyas’ superficial sword & sorcery saga “Gods of Egypt” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) is the latest casualty.  Anybody who followed the pre-release controversy surrounding this $140 million spectacle about Egyptian mythology knows that the pillars of political correctitude have criticized it savagely it for its largely all-white cast.  Comparably, “Alien” director Ridley Scott contended with the same criticism of his Biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” for its essentially Caucasian cast.  Scott claimed he couldn’t find bankable actors of color or ethnicity to portray his characters so his film could recoup its multi-million dollar budget.  “Gods of Egypt” director Alexis Proyas and Summit Entertainment, the studio that released this 127 minute extravaganza, apologized about their whitewashed cast before the film’s release.  Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time Hollywood has clashed with the politically correct about casting the appropriate actor and actress.  Most recently, the botched fairy-tale fantasy “Pan” cast Mara Rooney as a Native American character when she was anything but Native American.  Films better and worse than “Gods of Egypt” have drawn flak from the Politically Correct fraction.  “Birth of a Nation,” “Cleopatra,” “Prince of Persia,” “Argo,” and “A Beautiful Mind” exemplify popular Hollywood films that violated the tenets of political correctness.  Casting celebrity actors rather than unknown native counterparts to attract audiences is the primary reason.  Clark Gable was far from British when he starred in “Mutiny on the Bounty” back in 1935.  Of course, a British actor would have been more credible, but Hollywood wanted a genuine star instead of an authentic Englishman.  John Wayne was miscast as the Asian warlord Genghis Khan when he appeared in "The Conqueror" in 1956.  Hollywood concerns itself about making money more than abiding by political correctness.  Occasionally, however, a Hollywood producer appeared, like Mel Gibson, who defied traditional casting protocol.  In his adventure epic “Apocalypto” (2006), Gibson hired Native American actor Rudy Youngblood to play a Mayan warrior.  Happily, Youngblood was conversant enough with speaking in Mayan to make the difference work.  In “Gods of Egypt,” Gerard Butler could have eliminated his Scottish accent, but the political incorrectness of his casting prompted neither Proyas nor Summit to recast another actor.  Indeed, miscast as he is, Butler remains a highly sought-after actor and his bankability as a star enhanced the box office potential for this mythological melodrama.

The larger-than-life exploits in “Gods of Egypt” occur before the dawn of dynastic history, and all of it is preposterously outlandish.  “Dracula Untold” and “The Last Witch Hunter” scenarists Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless appropriated the Egyptian myth "The Contendings of Horus and Set" as their source material.  Pitting the gods Set and Horus against each other with the throne of Egypt as the prize, Sazama and Sharpless have forged an above-average, often contrived, but nevertheless entertaining escapade.  Indeed, they recycle familiar conventions, but they have enlivened these shenanigans with a surprise or two.  Proyas, who also helmed “The Crow” and “I, Robot,” never lets the pace slacken, and he stages some compelling close-quarters combat sequences.   Of course, we know the young mortal heroine, Zaya (Courtney Eaton of “Mad Max: Fury Road”), never stands a chance of being condemned to death in the Underworld.  The images of the Underworld look pretty creepy as a group of living skeletons preside over the induction process.  Similarly, you also know the Egyptian Lord of the Air, Horus (Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of “Game of Thrones”), is going to reclaim his throne that his treacherous uncle, Set (Gerard Butler of “300”), took from him after he tore Horus’ eyes out and forced him into exile.  Not only did villainous Set steal the crown from Horus, but he also stabbed Horus’ noble father Osiris (Bryan Brown of “FX”) to death in front of everybody at Horus’ coronation.  Mind you, you need not avert your eyes because this lavishly produced, PG-13 rated movie depicts these depredations in a manner shouldn’t offend anybody.   Despite some grandiosely choreographed battle sequences, “Gods of Egypt” never wallows in blood and gore.  Everything unfolds as our charismatic young hero, an “Aladdin” like thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites of “Maleficent”), steals a dress for his gorgeous girlfriend, Zaya, so she can attend Horus’ coronation in the height of fashion.  After Set halts the coronation, murders Orisis, and then blinds Horus, Zaya finds herself enslaved to the evil Grand Architect Urshu (Rufus Sewell of “Dark City”), but she concocts a plan so Bek can steal back Horus’ eyes and restore him to his rightful position as monarch.  Urshu surprises them and kills poor Zaya with a well-aimed arrow.  A desperate Bek appeals to Horus to save Zaya. The lofty Lord of the Air calculates that he can save her before she reaches the ninth gate of the Underworld.  Secretly, Horus isn’t being entirely truthful to Bek.  Meantime, Horus’ grandfather, the Sun God Ra (Geoffrey Rush of “Shine”), wages a never ending battle against a toothy titanic worm with which Set seeks to destroy Egypt so he can acquire immortality in life. 

Most of what occurs is stuff you’ve seen before in movies celebrating legendary Greek gods, such as “Clash of the Titans,” “Wrath of the Titans,” and “The Immortals.”  The Egyptian settings, however, add novelty to this narrative.  The deserts of Australia stand-in splendidly for the Sahara Desert. The computer-generated imagery is truly exceptional, with some of the best 3-D effects.  At times, when you are admiring some of these over-the-top shenanigans, “Gods of Egypt” feels like an awesome guilty pleasure. Despite its politically incorrect casting, “Gods of Egypt” qualifies as exciting from start to finish. The spectacular CGI laden effects are dazzling enough to compensate for its standard-issue, formulaic conventions.  The shape-shifting gods who tower above mere mortals reminded me of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Transformers” franchise.  Some scenes that invite derision involve characters riding humongous, fire-breathing snakes or Set soaring above a battle in a sleigh pulled by giant scarab beetles.  Sadly, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau emerges as a rather lackluster hero, while Butler overshadows him in every scene. Altogether, “Gods of Egypt” is lightweight but enjoyable hokum.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

FILM REVIEW OF ''RIDE ALONG" (2014)

Stand-up comic Kevin Hart cracks me up. The 5-ft. 2-in., bantamweight African-American comedian reminds me of Chris Tucker stuck in a hole two-feet deep. Hart's hyperactive loquacity, colossal impertinence, and contagious energy make him riotously funny. He could stand around and do nothing, and he would still be hilarious. "Think Like A Man" director Tim Story casts the charismatic Hart as a wacky wannabe cop cooped up in a car with Ice Cube's stoic Atlanta Police Detective in "Ride Along" (**1/2 OUT OF ****), a standard-issue, odd couple, buddy comedy with shoot-outs and explosions. A veteran cop with anger management issues, Ice Cube scowls and grimaces throughout "Ride Along" as he did in "21 Jump Street." Cube's character is obsessed with arresting an enigmatic criminal mastermind known only as Omar, but his obnoxious superior keeps reprimanding him about his rogue behavior. Story and four writers, including "Sorority Boys" scripter Greg Coolidge, newcomer Jason Mantzoukas, and "R.I.P.D" co-scribes Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, have recycled dutifully every cliché from those 1980s era police procedurals. They set up at least one gag early in the action and pay it off during the finale. Another inevitable gag involving a video gamers' microphone headset is so obviously set-up that you'd have to miss it with a trip to the concession counter or elsewhere, to overlook it. Actors John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Bryan Callen, and Laurence Fishburne grace this predictable, but energetic potboiler with their illustrious presence. If you've seen cop movies like "Rush Hour," "Fuzz," "48 HRS," "Training Day," and "Paul Blart, Mall Cop," you know what to expect at every turn. "Ride Along" sticks to the formula with slavish zeal, but the camaraderie between Kevin Hart and Ice Cube as polar opposites overshadows the film's sophomoric shenanigans.

Ben Barber (Kevin Hart of "Grudge Match") works as a security guard at an Atlanta area high school where he does his best to keep some of the kids in class and off the streets. Ben has a live-in girlfriend, Angela Payton (Tika Sumpter of "Sparkle"), who happens to be the sister of tough-as-nails Atlanta detective James Payton. Make no mistake; the bad-tempered Payton has nothing but contempt for the upstart Barber. He doesn't understand what Angela sees in the runt. Barber wants to marry Angela, but he feels compelled to obtain James' blessing. Imagine Barber's surprise when he learns that he has been accepted into the police academy. Barber approaches Payton with his news, and Payton challenges our pint-sized protagonist to a 'ride along' to measure his mettle. Naturally, Barber takes advantage of this opportunity and gets to don a windbreaker with POLICE stenciled across the back. Meantime, Payton gets the dispatcher to send him every annoying call so he can disillusion Barber and get on with his life. Everybody that Barber encounters winds up intimidating him, particularly Benjamin "Lil P-Nut" Flores Jr., who upstages Hart during a one-on-one scene on a basketball court. Barber is struggling to learn the whereabouts of the kid's big brother, but "Lil-P Nut" thwarts him at every turn. During the ride along, Barber contends with a gang of motorcycle riders, specifically one who appears to be a woman with some physical characteristics of a man. Eventually, after our hero learns that Payton has been trying to break his spirit with harmless but annoying incidents, he rebounds and finds himself deep in Payton's business. A scene at an Atlanta strip club puts Ben in the line of fire. Later, our heroes manage to draw out the elusive Mr. Big behind an arms deal, and all Hell breaks looses with a revelation that weights heavily on Payton. Of course, the villains target Payton's sister, and "Ride Along" shifts to the dependable damsel-in-distress subplot. By the time all the dust has settled, our two heroes have a different opinion of each other and are more amenable to each other.

Basically, "Ride Along" whittles Kevin Hart down to size before it converts him into a force to be reckoned with by the bad guys. This movie even makes video gamers look useful for something because they can differentiate between the sounds of a variety of submachine guns. Our hero employs this bit of knowledge to good effect in helping Payton capture a world class villain. Before this 99 minute opus is over, our heroes have redeemed themselves suitably enough in each other's eyes to emerge as friends, despite an amusing cook-out segment during the end credits. "Ride Along" is pretty dull when Hart isn't going full-tilt with his motor-mouth slapstick. Director Tim Story, who helmed "Taxi" and the original, live-action "Fantastic Four" franchise with Jessica Alba, maintains headlong momentum that doesn't relent and provides enough shoot-outs and tough-talking showdowns to make "Ride Along" tolerable when Hart isn't sparring with Ice Cube. Ultimately, everything boils down to Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. These two thespians have a blast playing off each other, so much so that "Ride Along" has topped the box office charts three weeks in a row. The film coined $154-million off a $25 million budget. Unfortunately, "Ride Along" qualifies as superior compared with its superficial Miami-set sequel with no surprises.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

FILM REVIEW OF ''STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS'' (2015)

Apparently, "Star Trek" and "Star Trek into Darkness" director J.J. Abrams adopted the strategy 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' for Disney's revival of George Lucas' "Star War" franchise. "Star Wars: The
Force Awakens" (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as an uninspired but entertaining science fiction/fantasy saga with spectacular CGI special effects. Unfortunately, it suffers from half-baked villains and a shamelessly derivative script. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt must have cherry-picked their favorite scenes and characters from earlier "Star Wars" epics, retooled them for this reboot, and then placed them in similar order to comply with the formula. Originally, George Lucas hired Kasdan to rewrite "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," while Arndt wrote "The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire" and "Toy Story 3." Despite this gifted talent, Abrams and company don't awaken as much as recycle the Force. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" duplicates the formulaic narrative of the original trilogy without a flaw, but Abrams cannot conjure up Lucas' buoyant spirit of feel-good spontaneity. Nevertheless, unless you're a nit-picky franchise aficionado, you'll have four reasons to appreciate this melodramatic franchise reboot from the House of Mouse. First, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is a full-fledged sequel instead of a prequel. (Mind you, the prequels weren't entirely ponderous, and each chronicled Anakin Skywalker's walk on the dark side.) Second, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker return after a 32-year hiatus. Mind you, C3P0 and R2-D2 are back, but they linger on the periphery. A new droid designated BB-8 replaces R2-D2 as comic relief. Third, Harrison Ford gives one of his strongest performances as Han Solo. You'll enjoy his shenanigans with the 'rathars,' tentacled, carnivorous, alien predators aboard his spaceship. Abrams confines Carrie Fisher to the sidelines, while Mark Hamill appears at the last minute. London-born Daisy Ridley, whose character draws on both Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, is the fourth reason you'll want to see the seventh movie again. You won't take your eyes off this scrappy waif until Solo emerges to challenge her dominance. "Attack the Block" actor John Boyega plays the most interesting new character but his character appears to be given the short-shrift, Combat fighter pilot Oscar Isaac of "The Bourne Legacy" emulates Han Solo with his daredevil aerial skills. At the least, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" amounts to a swiftly plotted, larger-than-life, crowd-pleasing space opera with dialogue that propels the plot.

The fourth sequel unfolds on the desolate, sun-scorched planet of
Jakku. A lone girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley of "Scrawl") survives by
scavenging parts from a crashed Empire starship. She lives alone in the
desert. Eventually, Rey rescues an adorable little droid BB-8 from
another native scavenger. BB-8 is an insufferably scene-stealer.
Meantime, the infamous First Order regime has risen from the ashes of
the defeated Empire. These imperialist minded maniacs are no different
from their draconian predecessors. They've been scouring the galaxy
like bloodhounds for the last surviving Jedi knight, Luke Skywalker
(Mark Hamill of "Kingsman: The Secret Service"), and they've finally
located a lead on Jakku. Simultaneously, the rebel Resistance, led by
Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), has dispatched a pilot, Poe Dameron
(Oscar Isaac of "Ex Machina"), to retrieve information from Lor San
Tekka (Max von Sydow of "The Exorcist") about Luke's whereabouts. No
sooner has San Tekka confided in Poe than the First Order, led by
wannabe Dark Vader lookalike Kylo Ren (Adam Driver of "Lincoln"),
arrives with squads of Stormtroopers. One of those armor-clad soldiers,
FN-2187 (John Boyega), suffers a crisis of conscience and deserts from
the ranks when he is ordered to massacre innocents. FN-2187's superior,
Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie of "The Zero Theorem"), keeps him
under close scrutiny because he refused to fire his blaster. Although
the First Order rounded up Poe, FN-2187 sticks around long enough to
rescue him. He pretends to take him at gunpoint into the hanger. They
steal a TIE fighter but crash on Jakku. Eventually, a lost and
wandering FN-2187 befriends Rey. When maurading Stormtroopers invade
Jakku, our heroes stumble accidentally onto Han Solo's long, lost
Millennium Falcon and steal it to escape. Han intercepts them while
engaged on a mission to deliver exotic but carnivorous alien wildlife.

Despite a fresh crop of new characters, including Rey, Finn, Poe
Dameron, Kylo Ren, and Snoke, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" imitates
virtually everything in the six previous entries as well as the title.
Han Solo's cliffhanger confrontation and the finale with the new Death
Star situated in a planet recalls the original. Helmer J.J. Abrams
directs with slick but soulless efficiency. Rarely does he let the
breathless momentum abate. When the momentum does slacken, however, you
realize that this is just a glossy facsimile. Of course, unless you
have seen the first six films, you may not recognize the rampant
similarities since you'll be too swept up in the whirlwind of heroics.
Happily, Rey emerges as a tenacious but sympathetic female version of
Luke. The charismatic Ridley radiates personality galore, and casting
her as the no-nonsense heroine was a stroke of genius. She shares two
scenes with Luke's old lightsaber, and she wields it with surprising
familiarity the second time. It should be obvious that Rey is Luke's
daughter, but we'll have to wait for Rian Johnson's "Star Wars: Chapter
VIII" to confirm this matter. Rey makes a greater impression on-screen
than either Finn or Poe. Finn and Poe received some of Han Solo's
attributes. Finn cannot tolerate the amoral regimen of a Stormtrooper,
and Poe rivals Han's superior skills as a pilot without his mercenary
impulses. Kylo Ren resembles Anakin Skywalker, but Ren emerges as far
more murderous. Although Kylo Ren is every bit as dastardly as Darth
Vader behind the helmet, he doesn't dredge up adequate dread to match
him as an adversary. Meanwhile, the holographic Snoke pales by
comparison with the evil Emperor. Altogether, "Star Wars: The Force
Awakens" doesn't depart from the classic formula, but provides a few
surprises, like Daisy Ridley.

FILM REVIEW OF ''TUMBLEWEED" (1953)



Audie Murphy finds himself in desperate trouble in “Land Raiders” director Nathan Juran’s exciting western “Tumbleweed” (*** OUT OF ****) when he tangles with hostile Yaqui Indians and treacherous whites.  What sets this Murphy horse opera apart is “Red Mountain” scenarist John Meredyth Lucas’ audacious screenplay based on Kenneth Perkins’ novel "Three Were Renegades."  Murphy gets himself mired deeper into danger to clear himself as this adventurous 79-minute oater winds down to its finale.  Initially, our resourceful hero displays benevolence when he comes to the aid of a wounded Yaqui brave in the desert.  Apparently, an unknown white gunman shot the Yaqui in the left shoulder and left him for dead.  Jim Harvey (Audie Murphy of “The Kid from Texas”) digs a bullet out of Tigre (Eugene Iglesias of “Apache Rifles”), the son of Yaqui chieftain Aguila (Ralph Moody of “Reprisal!”) who abhors whites with a passion.  At one point, a hateful Tigre tries to stab Harvey, but our hero manages to deflect this futile effort.  After saving Tigre’s life, our hero accepts a job as a guide for a group of pioneers.  At first, when he meets Harvey in the town of Mile High, wagon train master Seth Blanden (Ross Elliot of “Never So Few”) thinks Harvey is too young to provide them with adequate guidance.  Attractive Laura Saunders (Lori Nelson) is the sister-in-law traveling with relatives.  She likes the sight of Harvey, but Seth’s wife Sarah (Madge Meredith of “Trail Street”) disapproves of a drifter like Harvey.  Sarah wanted Laura to marry Seth’s brother Lam (Russell Johnson of “Gilligan’s Island”) because he is a stable individual. Harvey does a good job as a guide until the Yaquis box them in and try to burn their wagons.  Harvey sends the two women into hiding, and then he rides under a white flag of truce to parley with Aguila.  As it turns out, Aguila doesn’t believe that his son would befriend a white man.  The Yaqui chief ties Jim down between two spears and promises to carve his eyelids so he can watch the sun burn out his vision at dawn.  Tigre’s mother (Belle Mitchell of “Soylent Green”) lets Jim escape.  Afterward, Jim catches a ride back into the town of Borax.  He discovers that he is a persona non grata because the Yaquis scalped and killed the men, but the two women and a baby in the wagon train survived.

Ironically, Sheriff Murchoree (Chill Wills of “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”) keeps the townspeople from lynching Harvey when he shows up in town and generates controversy with his unaccounted for presence.  The citizens have a noose around Harvey’s neck and they have Murchoree crowded, so he cannot get to Harvey until one of his deputies, Marv (Lee Van Cleef of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”), armed with a Winchester intervenes, and Murchoree can extract his six-gun from his shoulder holster.  Murchoree puts Harvey into protective custody.  Later, during the night, Tigre breaks into the jail where Harvey is being held, stabs the guard that Murchoree left in charge, and the Yaqui explains that the guards were going to let the townspeople into lynch him.  Not long afterward, they are pursued by the townspeople and Tigre takes a bullet and dies.  Before the Yaqui dies, he informs Harvey that a white man had a hand into the massacre.  Eventually, a posse pursues Harvey.  Meantime, he finds himself afoot again when his horse goes lame.  Initially, he tries to steal a horse from a rancher, Nick Buckley (Roy Roberts of “Kid Galahad”), but Buckley’s ranch hand catches him before he can.  Harvey meets Buckley and his wife Louella (K.T. Stevens of “Vice Squad”) and explains his awful predicament.  Buckley takes sympathy on him and loads him calls the decrepit looking horse called ‘Tumbleweed.’ An incredulous Harvey is surprised when the animal displays amazing mountain sense and enables him to elude the posse.  At one point, when Harvey is about to die of thirst, ‘Tumbleweed’ scrapes a hole into the dirt that yields water.  Murchoree catches up with Harvey, but he is dying from thirst, too, when our hero finds him.  Strangely enough, Harvey wants to find Aguila because he is the only man who can clear him.  The revelation as to the identity of the white man who worked with the Indians is a surprise.  Our hero and the villain battle it out with their fists and the fight progresses from the desert floor up atop a mountain where the villain tries to crush Harvey with a rock.  

Lee Van Cleef has a bigger than usual role and he isn’t a slimy villain like he was during his usual 1950s westerns.  “Tumbleweed” qualifies not only as an above-average Audie Murphy oater but a welcome departure from his more straightforward routine sagebrushers.
 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

FILM REVIEW OF ''STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS" (2015)

Apparently, “Star Trek” and “Star Trek into Darkness” director J.J. Abrams adopted the strategy ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ for Disney’s revival of George Lucas’ “Star War” franchise.  “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as an uninspired but entertaining science fiction/fantasy saga with spectacular CGI special effects. Unfortunately, it suffers from half-baked villains and a shamelessly derivative script. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt must have cherry-picked their favorite scenes and characters from earlier “Star Wars” epics, retooled them for this reboot, and then placed them in similar order to comform with the formula. Originally, Lucas hired Kasdan to rewrite “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” while Arndt wrote “The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire” and “Toy Story 3.”  Despite this gifted talent, Abrams and company don’t awaken as much as recycle the Force. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” duplicates the formulaic narrative of the original trilogy with nary a flaw, but Abrams cannot conjure up Lucas’ buoyant spirit of feel-good spontaneity.  Nevertheless, unless you’re a nitpicky franchise aficionado, you’ll have four reasons to welcome this melodramatic franchise reboot from the House of Mouse.  First, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a full-fledged sequel instead of a prequel.  (Mind you, the prequels weren’t entirely ponderous, and each chronicled Anakin Skywalker’s walk on the dark side.) Second, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker return after a 32-year hiatus.  Mind you, C3P0 and R2-D2 are back, but they linger on the periphery.  A new droid designated BB-8 replaces R2-D2 as comic relief.  Third, Harrison Ford gives one of his strongest performances as Han Solo.  You’ll enjoy his shenanigans with the ‘rathars,’ tentacled, carnivorous, alien predators that he is transporting aboard his spaceship.  Abrams confines Carrie Fisher to the sidelines, while Mark Hamill appears at the last minute. London-born Daisy Ridley, whose character draws on both Luke and Leia, is the fourth reason you’ll want to see the seventh movie again.  You won’t take your eyes off this scrappy waif until Solo emerges to challenge her dominance.  Meantime, “Attack the Block” actor John Boyega plays the most interesting new character, but his character appears to be given the short-shrift. Combat fighter pilot Oscar Isaac of “The Bourne Legacy” emulates Han Solo with his daredevil aerial skills. At the least, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” amounts to a swiftly plotted, larger-than-life, crowd-pleasing space opera with dialogue that propels the plot.
 
The third sequel unfolds on the desolate, sun-scorched planet of Jakku. A single girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley of “Scrawl”) survives by scavenging parts from a crashed Empire starship. She lives alone in the desert. Eventually, Rey rescues an adorable little droid BB-8 from another native scavenger.  BB-8 is an insufferable scene-stealer.  Meantime, the infamous First Order regime has risen from the ashes of the defeated Empire.  These imperialist minded maniacs are no different from their draconian predecessors.  They’ve been scouring the galaxy like bloodhounds for the last surviving Jedi knight, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), and they’ve finally located a lead on Jakku.  Simultaneously, the rebel Resistance, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), has dispatched a pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac of “Ex Machina”), to retrieve information from Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow of “The Exorcist”) about Luke’s whereabouts.  No sooner has San Tekka confided in Poe than the First Order, led by wannabe Dark Vader lookalike Kylo Ren (Adam Driver of “Lincoln”), arrives with squads of Stormtroopers.  One of those armor-clad soldiers, FN-2187 (John Boyega), suffers a crisis of conscience and deserts when he is ordered to massacre innocents.  FN-2187’s superior, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie of “The Zero Theorem”), keeps him under close scrutiny because he refused to fire his blaster. Although the First Order has rounded up Poe, FN-2187 sticks around long enough to rescue Poe. He pretends to take Poe at gunpoint into the hanger. They steal a TIE fighter but crash on Jakku. Eventually, a lost and wandering FN-2187 befriends Rey.  When marauding Stormtroopers invade Jakku, our heroes stumble accidentally onto Han Solo’s long, lost Millennium Falcon and steal it to escape.  Han intercepts them while engaged on a mission to deliver exotic but carnivorous alien wildlife.
 
Despite a fresh crop of new characters, including Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, and Snoke, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” imitates virtually everything in the six previous entries as well as the title.  Han Solo’s cliffhanger confrontation and the finale with the new Death Star situated in a planet recalls the original.  Helmer J.J. Abrams directs with slick but soulless efficiency.  Rarely does he let the breathless momentum abate.  When the momentum does slacken, however, you realize that this is just a glossy facsimile.  Of course, unless you have seen the first six films, you may not recognize the rampant similarities since you’ll be too swept up in the whirlwind of heroics.  Happily, Rey emerges as a tenacious but sympathetic female version of Luke.  The charismatic Ridley radiates personality galore, and casting her as the no-nonsense heroine was a stroke of genius. She shares two scenes with Luke’s old lightsaber, and she wields it with surprising familiarity the second time.  It should be obvious that Rey is Luke’s daughter, but we’ll have to wait for Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: Chapter VIII” to confirm this matter.  Rey makes a greater impression on-screen than either Finn or Poe.  Finn and Poe received some of Han Solo’s attributes.  Finn cannot tolerate the amoral regimen of a Stormtrooper, and Poe rivals Han’s superior skills as a pilot without his mercenary impulses.  Kylo Ren resembles Anakin Skywalker, but Ren emerges as far more murderous.  Although Kylo Ren is every bit as dastardly as Darth Vader behind the helmet, he doesn’t dredge up adequate dread to match him as an adversary. Meanwhile, Ren’s superior Snoke pales by comparison with the evil Emperor.  Altogether, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” doesn’t depart from the classic formula and provides a few surprises, like Daisy Ridley

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

FILM REVIEW OF ''SOL MADRID" (1968)



You've never seen actor David McCallum play a more anti-heroic character than in director Brian G. Hutton's above-average narcotics thriller "Sol Madrid." McCallum headlines the cast as the eponymous protagonist who works undercover for Interpol and lives to bust illegal drug dealers. Indeed, he believes that he shouldn't have to abide by the rules because the bad guys don't. The biggest heroin dealer of them all here is Emil Dietrich. "Dirty Dozen" psycho Telly Savalas is charming as the cigarette-smoking villain who lives high, wide, and handsome in his estate in sunny Acapulco, Mexico. Initially, our hero doesn't have his sights set on the urbane Dietrich. He learns from his Interpol superior that the mistress of a Mafioso kingpin, Dano Villanova (Rip Torn of "Men in Black"), has left him. Moreover, the man with a computerized mind who knows everything about the Mafia's accounts, Harry Mitchell (Pat Hingle of "Hang'em High") has fled from the Mafia, too. At first, Sol's mission is to find Mitchell and persuade him to testify against the Mafia. Stacey Woodward (Stella Stevens of "The Ballad of Cable Hogue"), joined Mitchell for $250-thousand dollars. but she didn't accompnay him to Mexico. Sol Madrid breaks into Woodward's bedroom, surprises her, confiscates her loot, and they head off to see Dietrich and his guest Mitchell. Madrid works his way into Dietrich's confidence when he manages to smuggle heroin into California by means of an oil pipeline. The Interpol agent reels in Dietrich afterward for $25 million. Meanwhile, another Interpol agent working undercover in Acapulco is a smiling dude known as Jalisco (Ricardo Montalban of "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan"), and he works as a cabbie when he isn't crusading for law and order. Eventually, Madrid is able to persuade Dietrich to sell him heroin on the premises of his house, something that Dietrich had never done before. During the big bust scene, our hero gets into a fight with the villain, and you can guess who survives the confrontation. Sol Madrid emerges as one of those cops who doesn't take prisoners and he isn't afraid of anything. Eventually, he is able to rescue Stacey from the mitts of the mafia. Once the evil Villanova ferrets Stacey out, he incarcerates her in a cabin and gets her hooked on heroin.

What sets "Sol Madrid" (*** OUT OF ****) apart from all of McCallum's other films is the savagery of his character. He exposes a double-agent in one scene and shoots the man at point blank range without a qualm and lets him fall down and die. Later, he tangles with a well-dressed Mafioso and drowns the dastard face down in a muddy pool in Mexico. I don't think that I've ever seen David McCallum play a character as brutal of Sol Madrid, and he displays no remorse for his murderous behavior. "Sol Madrid" was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer a year before Hutton made history with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in the explosive World War II thriller "Where Eagles Dare." Hutton's next film was "Kelly's Heroes. If you want to see David McCallum as you have never seen him before, check out "Sol Madrid."