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Monday, October 20, 2014

FILM REVIEW OF ''GONE GIRL" (2014)




Watching David Fincher’s deliriously tantalizing whodunit “Gone Girl,” (**** OUT OF ****) a melodrama about a troubled married couple wrestling with compatibility issues, reminded me of the film classic “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) co-starring Lana Turner and John Garfield.  Turner and Garfield played illicit lovers who arranged the murder of Lana’s elderly husband so Garfield and she could indulge their lust.  Eventually, each had second thoughts, and murder reared its ugly head.   In “Gone Girl,” Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike experience somewhat similar woes.  They are cast as a husband and wife who have lost their jobs and find their marriage unraveling with ugly ramifications. They embark on a nerve-racking odyssey through Hell with more outlandish things happening to them than you can possibly imagine—unless you’ve read the novel.  “Gone Girl” constitutes another Hollywood adaptation of a runaway bestseller.  Happily, for a change, director David Fincher hired bestselling author Gilliam Flynn to adapt her own work.  Yes, I’ve perused Flynn’s masterpiece, and she has exercised good taste and judgment in modifying her compulsive page-turner for the screen.  Basically, this Twentieth Century Fox film release is about as faithful as any movie can be to its source material.  Minor changes occur, and some characters have been eliminated.   Nevertheless, nothing substantial has been altered.   In other words, if you loved the novel, you won’t hate what Fincher and Flynn have done with it.   As much as I enjoyed “Gone Girl,” I’ll concede the novel is slightly better than the film.   Principally, Flynn cannot translate to the screen the depths of Amy’s subversive thoughts.   Meantime, Fincher has done an admirable job of orchestrating the ‘he said; she said’ shenanigans of husband and wife.  Mind you, “Gone Girl” qualifies as more than just a spine-tingling exercise in suspense and tension where the authorities believe the husband is the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance.   This movie succeeds on multiple levels as Fincher and Flynn skewer gender politics, scandal-mongering television news personalities, marriage dynamics, and essentially society in general.
 
Nick (Ben Affleck of “Argo”) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike of “Die Another Day”) are a sophisticated New York couple who lost their jobs as a result of the recession.  When his mother is diagnosed with cancer, Nick persuades Amy to forsake her elegant brownstone in New York City, and they relocate to his North Carthage, Missouri, hometown.  Amy buys Nick a tavern called ‘The Bar’ with her trust fund to keep him busy, and Nick’s twin sister Margo Dunne (Broadway actress Carrie Coon) helps manage it.  Meantime, Nick and Amy’s marriage steadily erodes as trust issues and power dynamics exert a toll on it.  A life-long city dweller, Amy feels miserably out of place in a small town in the middle of Heartland America with too little to occupy her imagination.  She doesn’t adapt as well to this dire change of scenery as her husband.   As the morning of their fifth anniversary dawns, Nick leaves Amy at home and cruises into town to check up on his sister at the bar.  No sooner has Nick gotten there and swapped shots with Margo than a neighbor calls Nick and informs him that his front door is standing mysteriously wide open.  Rushing home, Nick finds pieces of furniture either smashed or overturned in the living room.  Amy is nowhere in sight.  Nick alerts the authorities.  North Carthage Police Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickins of TV’s “Lost”) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit of “Almost Famous”) comb the premises and collect clues.  Later, the North Carthage crime scene crew uncovers evidence of a huge blood puddle in the kitchen that had been sloppily mopped up.  Repeatedly, Nick swears his innocence, but things spiral hopelessly out of control.  He learns from the police that Amy was pregnant.  Ultimately, in an act of sheer desperation, Nick hires celebrity lawyer, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry of “Alex Cross”), to defend him.  Worst, the jealous college girl with whom Nick was having an affair exposes their adultery on prime-time television.  Although the detectives have amassed an abundance of evidence implicating Nick, Boney and Gilpin have no luck finding Amy’s body.

You could watch “Gone Girl” a dozen times and come away with something memorable each time.   Fincher has fashioned a tense thriller just as immaculate and flawless as his best movies, including “Fight Club,” “The Game,” “The Social Network,” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  Affleck is at the top of his game as the gullible husband with something to conceal, while Pike deserves an Oscar for the many faces that she forges as Nick’s long, lost Amy.  Neal Patrick Harris displays his chameleon ability to play a cross-section of characters.  He emerges as one of Amy’s warped lovers who once stalked her.  Clocking in at virtually two hours and half, “Gone Girl” defies expectations—unless you’re conversant with the novel.  Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out, Fincher and Flynn twist another loop into their Gordian knot of a narrative.   The effect is similar to being spun around about every half-hour and gaping at the experience.    Beware, “Gone Girl” boasts a blood-soaked murder scene that is rather graphic, but this thriller remains extremely literate.   Anybody who abhors HLN ‘victim’s rights’ advocate Nancy Grace is going to appreciate the pompous character of Ellen Abbott who goes after Nick’s scalp after Amy vanishes.   Tyler Perry plays it straight as Nick’s high-profile attorney Tanner Bolt who coaches him throughout the ordeal.   In one scene, Tanner prepares his client for an important television interview.   Each time Nick answers a question with either an inappropriate tone or expression, Tanner bombards him with jelly beans.   Anybody who has ever complained about Ben Affleck’s smug pretty boy persona will love this scene.   As much as I would love to divulge some of the juicier scenes in “Gone Girl,” I cannot without spoiling the outcome.   If you love husband and wife murder movies or murder melodramas altogether, “Gone Girl” shouldn’t disappoint you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

FILM REVIEW OF ''DRACULA UNTOLD" (2014)



“Dracula Untold” (** OUT OF ****) is a picturesque potboiler.  A tapestry of gorgeous computer generated imagery, this predictable prequel about Bram Stoker’s immortal bloodsucker before he forsook his sword for fangs springs few surprises. Essentially, it looks like Universal has revamped the franchise.  Luke Evans, who played in “Clash of the Titans,” “Immortals,” “The Three Musketeers,” and the last two “The Hobbit” movies, seems appropriately cast as the virile protagonist.  Sadly, he brings little charisma to the role.  When he wields a sword, rides a horse, and cavorts about in period apparel, Evans displays more than enough competence.  Indeed, he is the ‘before’ Dracula, better known as Vlad Tepes, who impaled his adversaries on stakes for the terrible psychological effect it wrought.  Unfortunately, Dominic Cooper struggles to be villainous.  Aside from his ominous eye-liner and elaborate armor, the plucky little Englishman from “Need for Speed” poses little threat.  The problem is that Cooper’s Turkish Sultan Mehmed II isn’t half as wicked as his sinister lieutenant, Dumitru (Diarmaid Murtagh of “The Monuments Men”), who instills greater fear.  Although Dracula and Mehmed clash swords in a dramatic but drawn-out fight scene near the end, with Dracula stumbling around on a treacherous floor of silver coins, the fight is virtually anti-climactic after our hero’s encounter with Dumitru.  Comparably, as supernatural horror movies go, “Dracula Untold” isn’t scary.  Some spooky scenes in a cave with Charles Dance hideously made-up as the Master Vampire generate anxiety, but this PG-13 rated release relies more on spectacle rather than shivers.  Imagine the brawny Gerald Butler action fantasy “300” crisscrossed with Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien trilogies, and you’ll have a clue about what to expect from this nimble, but immaculate 92 minute melodrama.

“Dracula Untold” unfolds with a prologue about Vlad’s sadistic wartime past as narrated by his son Ingeras.  Suspense takes flight from the outset since we know nothing catastrophic can occur to Ingeras if he can provide fodder about his father’s infamous feats. The imperial Ottoman Turks enthrone Dracula as the Prince of Transylvania after his splendid sadistic exploits in battle.  Our hero marries a sweet, lovely, but naïve bride, Mirena (Sarah Gadon of “Charlie Bartlett”), promises her peace, and they have a son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson of “Freakdog”), who has not a care in the world. Dracula continues to appease the Sultan of Turkey with tributes that consist of treasure chests piled with silver coins.  One day, while Dracula and two soldiers are out scouting the countryside, they find a dented Turkish helmet in a stream and search for the army that the Sultan has sent to their homeland.  Dracula and company trace the helmet back to a cave in Broken Tooth Mountain where they encounter the Master Vampire (Charles Dance of “Last Action Hero”) who makes mincemeat out of Dracula’s lieutenants.  No sooner has Dracula survived this predicament than he arrives home to be greeted by a Turkish envoy who wants more than his customary monetary tribute.  Not only does the envoy demand thousands of boys as conscripts for the Sultan’s army, but also he specifically wants Dracula’s son Ingeras.  Naturally, Dracula refuses to hand over Ingeras.  Later, after a disastrous diplomatic episode ends with bloodshed, Dracula returns to the mountain and negotiates a pact with the Master Vampire.  Since he lacks an army to pit against the Sultan, Dracula resorts to sorcery.  Of course, when he reveals he has sold his soul, Dracula finds himself persona non grata.  As the Sultan’s armies lay siege to Dracula’s Castle, all Hell breaks loose, and Dracula prepares to retaliate with his supernatural powers.

Moviegoers who relish buckets of blood as well as an abundance of severed body parts will be sorely disappointed with “Dracula Untold.”  Freshman film director Gary Shore, who has been directing television commercials, provides a high enough body count by anybody’s standards, but the MPAA’s chaste PG-13 rating has compelled him to scale back considerably on the bloodletting. Swords shriek as combatants unsheathe them and glint as the aforementioned slash with feverish abandon at their enemy.  Nevertheless, contact between blade and flesh has been minimized.  One of the more imaginative images of warfare used to mask the violence is the reflection of bloodshed on a sword.  Only time will tell if an unrated version will accompany the home video release.  Meantime, Shore keeps the action moving briskly enough, in part because rookie co-scripters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless have penned such a formulaic, origins screenplay.  Memorable dialogue is certainly not one of their assets.  Meantime, after impaling thousands of combatants on pikes, Vlad must have lost his nerve because he behaves like a wimp when the Sultan shows up looking for juvenile recruits.  Indeed, Sazama and Sharpless paint Dracula into a corner, but it is still difficult to believe Dracula would have degenerated from a warlord into a whiner.  Since Shore had to diminish the violence, the only thing menacing about the Sultan’s army is its immense size.  Mind you, Dumitru’s coiffure qualifies as pretty disturbing.  Once Dracula acquires immortality courtesy of the Master Vampire, he is practically invincible.  Evans is shown poised atop a cliff, gesticulating passionately like a wizard, as he dispatches colonies of bats against the marauding Turks, emphasizing the true meaning of the word ‘combat.’  Nevertheless, the violence is depicted in such broad strokes that you cannot see how the bats are actually slaughtering their opponents.

Little in “Dracula Untold” constitutes a revelation.  Most of what happens is roughly based on sections of Stoker’s 1897 Gothic tale of terror.  Francis Ford Coppola’s above-average “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” covered his chapter of Dracula’s life with greater artistry and action. Additional movies such as “Vlad” (2003), “Dracula the Impaler” (2002), Vlad Tepes” (1979) as well as the made-for-television opus “Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula” (2000) has embellished Dracula’s origins. Universal has tacked on a provocative modern-day epilogue should audiences want a sequel. Although it possesses some potential, "Dracula Untold" amounts to a second-rate sword and sorcery saga.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

FILM REVIEW OF "TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES" (2014)

Believe it or not, I saw the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie when it appeared in theaters back in 1990, and I enjoyed it for the harmless guilty pleasure that it provided.  The exploits of a quartet of anthropomorphic chelonian crime-fighters was as entertaining as its eponymous characters were bizarre.  Bandanna-clad vigilantes armed with an arsenal of feudal Japanese weaponry; these nimble turtles talked, walked, and displayed a predilection for pizza.  Creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird never imagined their mutated box turtles with the names of Renaissance painters would become a comic book sensation and would remain in print for 26 years from 1984 to 2010.  Eastman and Laird said they drew inspiration from the works of Frank Miller and Jack Kirby.  Specifically, Eastman and Laird sought to skewer not only “The New Mutants” and “Daredevil” at Marvel, but also the eccentric Canadian comic “Cerebus the Aardvark” as well as Frank Miller’s “Ronin” at DC Comics.  The Ninja Turtles have since metamorphosed into a social phenomenon, with three animated television series and a short-lived live-action series debuting a fifth turtle, a female called "Venus de Milo" skilled in the supernatural art of shinobi.  Four “TMNT” films followed from 1990 to 2007.  The first three movies were live-action while the fourth film “TMNT” (2007) was animated opus.  Almost 25 years after the original “Turtles” movie came out; Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon have rebooted “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” with bombastic “Transformers” director Michael Bay as producer and “Wrath of the Titans” director Jonathan Liebesman calling the shots.  No matter what you’ve heard about this latest adaptation, the new “Ninja Turtles” movie sticks pretty much to the basics.  Casey Jones, the human vigilante with a hockey stick who served as a romantic interest for news reporter April O’Neil, has been jettisoned by “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” scenarists Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec and “Divergent” scripter Evan Daugherty.  Happily, while the characters have undergone some significant changes, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (**** OUT OF ****) emerges as a derivative but exhilarating rollercoaster of a joyride that should satisfy most of the vintage fans.  
 
Unlike the 1990 version, this “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot revises the characters.  Channel 6 news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox of “Jennifer’s Body”) is more than a television journalist covering a widespread crime wave engulfing New York City.  April is now the daughter of one of the scientists who toiled on Project Renaissance.  April’s father and his partner Eric Sacks (William Fichtner of “The Lone Ranger”) were conducting experiments on four turtles and a rodent to devise a new mutagen strain for its medicinal qualities.  Unfortunately, O’Neil’s father perished in a mysterious fire in their laboratory while Sacks managed to survive.  Neither April’s deceased father nor Eric Sacks knew about April’s role in rescuing the rodent Splinter and the turtles from the conflagration.  She turned them loose in the sewer.   Years later April finds herself struggling with a story about the Foot Clan, an underworld syndicate run by a notorious Asian criminal called Shredder.  Unlike the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, Shredder doesn’t use runaway adolescents to execute his evil designs.  Instead, he commands an army of deadly adult ninjas packing automatic weapons with orders to kill.  After Shredder discovers that the Ninja Turtles survived the fire, he orders his second-in-command, Karai (Minae Noji of “The Last Run”), to take hostages.  Shredder hopes the vigilante turtles will try to rescue the hostages and fall into his trap.  Naturally, Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) show up to save the hostages held at gunpoint in a subway station.  Shredder explodes with rage when the Turtles not only thwart his plan but also leave his minions trussed up like turkeys for the police.  Meantime, April shadows the Turtles and tries to photograph them, but they frustrate her efforts and delete the pictures from her cell phone.  Eventually, the Turtles escort her to their lair where Master Splinter (Danny Woodburn) reveals that she alone rescued them from the fire.  When April takes her outlandish tale to her boss, Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg of “Ghosts of Mississippi”), she loses her job.  Basically, April finds herself back at square one with nobody to help her than her father’s old partner affluent billionaire Eric Sacks.  
 
“Battle Los Angeles” director Jonathan Liebesman generates madcap momentum throughout the PG-rated film’s agile 101 minutes.  The new Ninja Turtles are even more differentiated than their predecessors.  Standing six feet tall, they resemble the Marvel Comics character the Hulk.  They still crave pizza, but their abilities have been ramped up far and away beyond what they could achieve before this outrageous reboot.  For example, Donatello has been transformed into a nerdy computer hacker.  Furthermore, the Turtles’ leader Splinter sports a longer tale which he deploys as if it were a bullwhip.  Shredder resembles a samurai version of Darth Vader from “Star Wars.”  He has special devices attached to his wrists that enable him to sling dozens of deadly knives. The knives behave like boomerangs so he can retrieve them if they miss their targets.  Truly, Shredder here emerges as a stronger, more contentious villain who puts the lives of our heroes in jeopardy until the last minute.  Interestingly enough, unlike most fantasy thrillers that create massive destruction but almost no collateral damage, innocent bystanders suffer from the falling debris in one scene.  Liebesman lenses the action so his cameras are constantly whirling around the various characters.  The most gripping scene occurs when our heroes are in an 18-wheeler that plunges down the snow-swept mountain.  This adrenaline-laced scene alone makes the classic chase in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” look like a spin on a tricycle!  People who suffer from motion sickness may find this scene a challenge to handle.  You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate this muscular, slam-bang, over-the-top actioneer with incomparable computer generated imagery and hilarious shenanigans to spare.

FILM REVIEW OF ''TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES" (1990)

Indeed, as incredibly outlandish as fantasy thrillers go, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (*** OUT OF ****) amounts to a whole lot of far-fetched fun. The humanoid characters are pretty far out. A pet rat named Master Splinter who mimicked his Japanese master's moves and has taught himself how to be a ninja has moved to New York City where he discovers four baby turtles crawling around in a pool of radioactive slim in the sewer. Naturally, Splinter is shocked after he collects them in a coffee can, and they start talking the following day! Splinter teaches them the art of invisibility—the art of the ninja. The radioactive waste in the sewer exerts a strange, unreal effect on these turtles and they grow to ten times their size. Now, they look like over-grown midgets. Splinter names them Leonardo, Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Donatello. Of course, music video director Steve Barron and freshman film scribes Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck have adapted Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's characters and unleashed them in a crime thriller about a renegade Japanese ninja who has assembled a small army of children to steal the island of Manhattan blind. Sure, recruiting kids as criminals to steal is reminiscent of Charles Dickens' second novel "Oliver Twist."

Channel 3 television anchor lady, April O'Neil (Judith Hoag of "Armageddon"), is determined to get to the bottom of the unsolved crime wave. As the film unfolds, these youthful thieves try to steal April's purse, but Raphael comes to her rescue. Raphael ties them up and leaves them for the police to haul off. Naturally, April cannot believe her eyes after she meets the Turtles and Splinter. Now, more than ever, she wants to expose the Foot Clan, but she gets no help from frustrated N.Y.P.D Chief Stearns (Raymond Serra of "Prizzi's Honor") who brings pressure down on April's boss, Charles Pennington (Jay Patterson of "Street Smart"), to take April off the story. Stearns has arrested Pennington's larcenous son Danny (Michael Turney of "Cost of Living") who has been nabbed for stealing. Indeed, Danny is a member of this secret underworld organization. Meanwhile, April is working with them to bring the heat down on Chief Stearns. Stearns compels Charles to fire April. Splinter's arch enemy, the Shredder--the Asian equivalent in looks and voice to "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader--dispatches his American ninjas to take care of the Turtles. Shredder's abduct Splinter while April and the Turtle quartet leave the city to hide out on a remote farm out in the country. The Turtles are at a loss as to what they can do until Splinter contacts them through telepathy despite being held in chains like the Count of Monte Cristo in an abandoned factory. Leonardo congregates the other three around a campfire, and and they meditate at length. This group meditation effort enables them to conjure up Splinter's spirit, and Splinter communicates momentarily with them. Our quartet of half-shell heroes hates the fact that Splinter has been captured. Indeed, Michaelangelo grows so emotional that he cannot help but cry. A hockey stick wielding vigilante, Casey Jones (Elias Koteas of "Shutter Island"), who clashed with Raphael earlier, joins them as they battle Shredder and his ninjas. Clearly, Barron and his writers needed a real human to give April a romantic relationship. Incidentally, Casey Jones doesn't reappear in the 2014 reboot, and the origins of the Turtles is tweaked.

"Muppets" mastermind Jim Henson created Splinter and the Turtles look amusing. Splinter looks more realistic than the Turtles with their variously colored bandannas that they wear like masks. Michaelangelo has an orange bandannas, Raphael prefers the color red, Leonardo adopts blue as his color, and Donatello dresses in purple. "Entertainment Weekly" reviewer Owen Gleiberman complained in his review of the original film that the Turtles lacked personality. According to Gleiberman, only Raphael had a shred of personality. Essentially, Gleiberman is correct. Indeed, our heroes lack differentiation aside from the difference in their weapons. Raphael wields the sai, a three-pronged weapon which resembles a fork. Leonardo carries the katana, a traditional Japanese sword used in feudal Japan. Michaelangelo prefers the nunchuks, and Donatello dazzles his adversaries with a staff.

Barron doesn't malinger for a moment aside from some obvious expository bits of dialogue. The action is swift and cool. The Turtles uses some profanity, usually the word damn. The humor shines through, and the scene in April's apartment above an antiques shop when the Turtles conceal themselves from Danny and his father are amusing. Henson complained about the dark nature of the film. Juvenile delinquents smoke stogies and gamble. The Turtles like to use the D-word. The sewer sets look genuine, and Judith Hoag makes a plucky damsel-in-distress. Incidentally, aside from some Big Apple landmark shots, such as the Twin Towers in the first scene, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was lensed largely in North Carolina by Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest studio.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

FILM REVIEW OF ''TAILS, YOU LOSE" (1969-Italian)



“Zorro the Rebel” director Piero Pierotti’s “Tails, You Lose” qualifies as a sophisticated but bizarre Spaghetti western.  Pierotti combines social commentary with a murder mystery and does a splendid job with both themes.  Top-notch production values, exterior & interior sets, Carlo Savina’s superb orchestra score, strong performances, and Pierotti’s complex screenplay distinguish this out of the ordinary Italian oater.  Although it isn’t strictly a savage shoot’em up over real estate or livestock, this sun-baked sagebrusher features several interesting characters, and Pierotti’s dialogue is occasionally catchy.  The local undertaker observes after the hero is gunned down: “They all look the same when they’re dead, these no-good, two-bit, double-dealing cowards.”  Essentially, the hero conforms to the anti-heroic tradition of the Clint Eastwood bounty hunter, except that he is an outlaw.  Hollywood actor John Ericson establishes his felonious credentials during the pre-credit sequence.  He vanishes for almost a half-an-hour after sticking up the stagecoach. Alluring actress Spela Rozin gets to wear a variety of costumes beginning with the regalia of a dance hall girl to a babe in buckskins.  She undergoes a transformation.  The roles for women here are traditional in one respect.  Like the good ladies in John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” the good ladies in “Tails, You Lose” send the harlots packing, but they are a great deal more brutal than the “Stagecoach” ladies.

Not only does wanted desperado William Huston, alias the Black Talisman, (John Ericson of “Bad Day at Black Rock”) rob a stagecoach in Texas in 1892, but he also hijacks a sack of money and shoots the shotgun rider.  Lenser Fausto Zuccoli zooms out to reveal our hard-riding highwayman galloping away; the awesome backdrop of a prodigious mountain dwarfs him and looks spectacular.  The trouble erupts in the Arizona town of Plata in the 1890s when two gunslingers shoot each other over the affections of a dance hall warbler.  One guy seized her umbrella and another knocked him down.  They were prepared to shoot it out in the saloon but the town sheriff intervened and ordered them to take it to the streets.  Imaginatively, Pierotti confines Fausto Zuccoli’s cameras to the saloon interior while the sounds of the gunshots occur off screen.  Comparatively, he doesn't show the heroine as she is raped.  One of the duelers enters the saloon as if in triumph until we get a glimpse of his perspective and the point of view shot quivers.  The man, who we may have mistaken labeled the survivor, drops dead.  

Later, the sister of a local pastor, Miss Phillips, advocates the exile of all the saloon harpies.  “My brother—the minister--shall thunder from the pulpit: do we want Plata City to become another Sodom and Gomorrah?”  Later, this grim dame in gray and black proclaims ominously, “We cannot allow that witch from the saloon and her tarts to continue”  She pauses for dramatic emphasis, “To take our sons from us, our brothers, our husbands.”  The Christian ladies invite the sheriff to their meeting to discuss their grievances or as he says “put him on trial.”  “You know those ladies,” the lawman emphasizes, “they don’t spare you nothing.”  Burton the banker warns Shanda about the wrath of the women.  “They’re envious and they’re bored,” he explains.  “They have turned to religion for excitement.  Ever since you arrived with your girls, they say that they are losing the fervor of their husbands, and the number one bigot among those shrews is the pastor’s sister.”  The severe-looking, tight-lipped Miss Phillips leads a crowd of women to the saloon, and they trash the premises.  The saloon girls try to escape without luck.  The sadomasochistic wife of a philandering banker derives sexual gratification from watching a bare-backed prostitute, a Mexican girl (Edwige Fenech), whipped by another woman in brown.    Some of these girls are whipped, while others are tarred and feathered.  The banker’s wife, who turns out to be a sexual deviant, kills her husband and then frames the saloon girl Shanda (Spela Rozin) for his demise.  The sheriff spares Shanda and sends two of his deputies to escort her to Phoenix.  Along the way, another man of questionable character joins the two deputies. The three rape her.   

Although he held up the stage like a villain, Huston shows up and discovers Shanda after she has left for dead in the desert.  Spela Rozin presents a delectable looking specimen of feminity sprawled nearly nude except for a blanket.  Initially, Shanda mistakes Huston of one of the men.  Eventually, they grow to trust each other.  Huston makes an interesting comment about Shanda: “You know, if you’ve been wronged, you’ve got what it takes for revenge.  You’re quite a wild cat.”  The curious Huston launches his own investigation.  “Tails, You Lose” amounts to a different kind of Spaghetti western.  The lean, good-looking Ericson cuts a distinctive figure in his green denims. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

FILM REVIEW OF "THE PURGE: ANARCHY" (2014)

Eighteenth century Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift would have enjoyed writer & director James DeManaco’s violent, sanguine, urban crime thriller “The Purge: Anarchy” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) even more than its predecessor the home invasion epic “The Purge.”  The premise that our government has allocated one day annually for citizens to assuage their violent urges by committing criminal acts of any kind without fear of punishment is audacious.  Moreover, since America has been purging for 6 years, the economy has improved significant and crime has been cut to the bone.  “The Purge: Anarchy” is comparable to Swift’s immortal essay “A Modest Proposal.”  Written in 1729, “A Modest Proposal” urged destitute Irishmen to sell their children as fodder to feed the insatiable appetites of the wealthy.  In “The Purge: Anarchy,” a terminally-ill senior citizen, sells himself for $100-thousand to an affluent family so they can purge in the confines of their palatial mansion without risking their lives on the streets. Mind you, DeMonaco doesn’t advocate the idea of an annual government-sanctioned crime holiday any more than Swift expected his impoverished counterparts to cannibalize their children.  Hollywood doesn’t often attempt to be as satirical as the “Purge” movies.  Lately, “The Hunger Games” movies with their annual tournament of death is the closest that Tinsel town has come to incisive political satire for mainstream audiences.  Unlike “The Hunger Games,” the “Purge” movies occur about a decade in the future.  Nevertheless, everything looks and sounds like contemporary America as we know it.  The New Founding Fathers, who rule America, appear to be ultra-conservatives, and they place a high premium on religion, but the God that they worship bears little resemblance to the popular, mainstream religious denominations. 
 
“The Purge: Anarchy” opens two hours and 26 minutes before the annual purge scheduled each March.  Waitress Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo of “Absolute Beginners”) and another waitress Tanya (Justina Machado of “Torque”) are waiting on their boss to let them go home for the evening.  Things tonight are drastically different because it is purge night.  Essentially, you can do anything criminal during this twelve-hour period, but the authorities cannot prosecute you.  Eva tries to persuade her boss to raise her salary since she is finding it difficult to pay for her father’s pricey medicine.  Papa Rico (John Beasley of “The General’s Daughter”) hates this medicine and refuses to take it.  Rico’s granddaughter, Cali (Zoë Soul of “Prisoners”), convinces him to take it.  Rico warns Eva and Cali not to awake him from his slumber; all he wants to do is sleep through this terrifying holiday.  Meanwhile, Eva informs Cali that her boss balked at her pay raise request.  Later, these two women are shocked when they discover Papa Rico has sold himself to the highest bidder to be slaughtered.  He has arranged matters so Eva and Cali will receive a small monetary fortune for his sacrificial act.  Eva and Cali are sitting safely in their apartment when intruders in black combat gear with automatic weapons burst in and abduct them at gun point. 
 
In another part of the city, an anonymous individual known only as Sergeant (Frank Grillo of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) is arming himself to the teeth for an evening of purging.  He knows how to wield a variety of lethal firearms.  Sergeant is one tough looking dude, and he drives an evil black sedan with a trunk crammed with an arsenal of firearms.  Sergeant is set to purge until he spots the thugs-in-black dragging Eva and Cali against their will from their apartment building.  A menacing looking man in a baseball cap and a long butcher’s apron, Big Daddy (Jack Conley of “Payback”), who is standing in an 18-wheeler, wants the women.  Against his better judgment, Sergeant intervenes.  He riddles the thugs manhandling Eva and Cali, and one of his bullets creases Big Daddy’s left cheek and knocks the villain off his feet.  Sergeant escorts Eva and Cali back to his car, but he finds a surprise awaiting them.  Two more innocent bystanders whose car broke down on them have taken refuge in his back seat, and he cannot force them to get out.  Sergeant understands the old saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  Big Daddy recovers in time to open fire with his machine gun that spews armor-piercing rounds.  Our heroes escape his wrath, but Sergeant’s car conks out on him because Big Daddy’s bullets have blown out the engine.  Sergeant and his quartet of refugees set out on foot through the city with Eva assuring him that he can get another car from her waitress friend Tonya at her apartment building.  More surprises ensue for Sergeant and his new friends.
 
Watching either “The Purge” or “The Purge: Anarchy,” you might be tempted to reprimand DeManaco for his implied advocacy of firearms and murder.  In fact, however, DeManaco deplores the overt use of gunplay.  What makes “The Purge: Anarchy” even more relevant is the class warfare theme that DeManaco has developed with even greater intensity than he did in “The Purge.”  DeManaco hammers home the theme of haves versus have-nots emphatically throughout this superior, slam-bang sequel.  Meantime, the only link between the sequel and the original is an African-American supporting character that you might have missed, even if you’ve seen the original.  He was referred to simply as the Bloody Stranger in “The Purge.”  In “The Purge: Anarchy,” he is designated strictly as the Stranger.  If you have not seen “The Purge,” you won’t appreciate the irony in actor Edwin Hodge’s encore performance.  Whereas “The Purge” occurred in a gated, elite neighborhood, “The Purge: Anarchy” expands the playing field to the city at large.  For example, obese woman roams a bridge with a bull horn and a machine gun urging citizens to test her marksmanship.  Busses set ablaze cruise through the night. DeManaco makes maximum use of his sinewy, 103 minutes to forge a palatable atmosphere of paranoia.