“Kingpin” #1 Reigns Supreme

Trash Film Guru


After giving Bullseye #1 a richly-deserved rough time of it in my review last week, I was leaning pretty heavily towards giving the rest of Marvel’s “Running With The Devil” titles a pass, but some nagging little voice in my head told me that Kingpin would probably be worth at least an initial $3.99 investment. Okay, fair enough, Matthew Rosenberg’s earlier Civil War II : Kingpin series was generally savaged by critics (to the point where I stayed away), but I chalk that up to the fact that all “event” tie-ins are garbage weighed down by a shit-ton of editorial mandates — surely free of these constraints, the writer behind 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank and We Can Never Go Home can give us a decent crime story, don’tcha think?

Jeff Dekal’s cover doesn’t necessarily inspire a ton of confidence — he’s been absolutely killing it over on Hulk

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Film Review: From Straight A’s to XXX (dir by Vanessa Parise)


I just finished watching the latest Lifetime original film, From Straight A’s to XXX.

Like many Lifetime films, it’s based on a true story.  In this case, it tells the story of Miriam Weeks (Haley Pullos), who briefly became notorious for paying her tuition to Duke University by appearing in adult films under the name Belle Knox.  Her story became notorious because it touched on almost every important cultural issue of the past twenty years.  Stuffy pundits acted as if Belle Knox was somehow a sign of the collapse of civilization.  The story was regularly held up as a sign that my generation was spoiled and entitled, which was interesting since Miriam wouldn’t have ever made her first movie if college was actually affordable.  That’s one issue that, interestingly enough, was rarely brought up in all the discussions about the Duke porn star.  If students are having to do pornography to pay for college, shouldn’t the question be why it costs so much to get an education?

As for Belle Knox herself, she became a media celebrity.  She was interviewed by people like Piers Morgan and she proved herself to be quite adroit at putting that windbag in his place.  Rather than asking for sympathy, Belle defended herself and asked a very important question: why was the stigma of porn on her, as opposed to the men who watched her?

From Straight A’s to XXX does a good job telling Belle’s story.  Interestingly enough, it actually goes out of its way to be fair and evenhanded.  While the film is on Belle’s side, it doesn’t dismiss those who had concerns about how she was paying her way through college.  While Belle is shown defending herself to the media and explaining how her career has empowered her, the film also makes a point to show that not every porn actress is Belle Knox.  At one convention, she’s confronted by two veteran porn actresses who point out that they work just as hard as she does but, unlike her, they will never be invited to appear on CNN, suggesting that the only reason anyone cares about her or what she thinks is because of the novelty of her being a student at Duke.  And while this may be the most pro-porn film to ever appear on Lifetime, it doesn’t shy away from the dark side of the industry.  Belle’s first job is a genuinely disturbing nightmare of abuse and serves as a valuable warning.  Make sure you know who you’re working with before you show up for the job.  As a producer later explains to Belle, there are professionals and unprofessionals in every industry and porn is no different.

As for Duke University — well, let’s just say that Duke doesn’t come across as looking all that good by the end of From Straight A’s to XXX.  With a few notable exceptions, all of the students are portrayed as being rich snobs.  When Belle’s secret life is discovered, she finds herself harassed by every man on campus.  In one particularly disturbing scene, she returns to her dorm room just to discover that her door has been defaced.  When she tries to sleep, drunk frat boys try to break into her room.  When she reports that she’s being harassed, she gets little help.  Her roommate remains supportive throughout the entire film but otherwise, Duke does not come across well.

From Straight A’s to XXX is well-directed by Vanessa Parise, who has also directed such Lifetime films as Perfect High and The Unauthorized Beverly Hills 90210 Story.  Much like The Unauthorized Beverly Hills 90210 Story, From Straight A’s to XXX is a tribute to a strong woman who was ultimately punished for being stronger than others were comfortable with.  (That From Straight A’s to XXX was written and directed by women goes a long way to keeping potentially salacious material from becoming sordid.)  Haley Pullos is sympathetic as Miriam/Belle and a bearded Judd Nelson does a good job in the role of a porn producer who shows the difference between professionals and unprofessionals in the industry.

Finally, From Straight A’s to XXX ends with Belle becoming a Libertarian activist and that fact alone makes this one of the best Lifetime films of the year so far!  You can’t go wrong with any film that ends with a Libertarian political rally.

A Movie A Day #42: Hero and The Terror (1988, directed by Steve Tannen)

hero_and_the_terror_posterDanny O’Brien (Chuck Fucking Norris!) is a tough Los Angeles cop who has been nicknamed Hero.  Danny hates it when people call him “Hero.”  Maybe if Danny knew what people usually call cops, he would not complain so much about his nickname.  Three years ago, Danny captured Simon Moon (Jack O’Halloran), a neck-breaking serial killer nicknamed “The Terror.”  After he was captured, The Terror faked his own death and disappeared.  He ended up living in a deserted theater and not bothering anyone until the Mayor of Los Angeles (Ron O’Neal, Superfly himself!) decides to tear down his new home.  The Terror does not take kindly to urban renewal and goes on another killing spree.  Can Hero track down and beat the The Terror while also making it to the hospital in time to see his girlfriend give birth to their baby?

Not surprisingly, Hero and the Terror is one of the films that Chuck made for Cannon Films in the late 80s and, along with Chuck and Ron O’Neal, it features Cannon regulars Steve James and Billy Drago.  (Billy Drago actually plays a good guy, for a change.)  It’s obvious that Chuck was trying to broaden his horizons with Hero and the Terror: with the exception of the final confrontation between Hero and the Terror, there’s less kung fu action than in his previous films and a lot of the movie is dedicated to his relationship with his girlfriend and his struggle to handle her pregnancy.  That’s all good and well and the Chuck Norris of Hero and The Terror is a much better actor than the Chuck Norris who could barely deliver his lines in Breaker, Breaker but, ultimately, a Chuck Norris movie with more human interest and less roundhouse kicks just feels wrong.

(On Netflix, there’s a whole documentary about how Chuck Norris’s roundhouse kicks led to the collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s communist dictatorship in Romania.  It’s called Chuck Norris vs. Communism.  Communism didn’t have a chance.  Hopefully, Chuck will never turn against capitalism because, if he does, it’ll probably lead to another stock market crash.)

I once read an interview with Gene Hackman, in which he was asked to name his least favorite of the movies that he had made.  Hackman selected March or Die.  “I can’t believe I was in something called March or Die,” Hackman said.  If he thought March or Die was a bad title, he should be happy that he didn’t end up in Hero and The Terror.  Give Chuck Norris credit.  Even if he’s not Gene Hackman and even if the movie does not really work, he is the only actor who could credibly star in something called Hero and the Terror.

The Perfect Crime Film: KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (United Artists 1952)

cracked rear viewer


My friend Rob suggested I review KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL awhile back, and I’m sorry I waited so long. This is a film noir lover’s delight, packed with tension, violence, double-crosses, and a head-turning performance by John Payne in the lead. Made on an economical budget like the same year’s THE NARROW MARGIN , director Phil Karlson and George Diskant create a shadowy, claustrophobic atmosphere brimming with danger at every turn.

I knew Payne mainly from his 40’s musicals and his idealistic lawyer opposite Maureen O’Hara in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, but he’s a revelation here as Joe Rolfe, a florist truck driver who’s set up as a patsy by a gang of armored car robbers. He can dish out (and take) beatings with the best them, and delivers the tough-talking dialog with aplomb. KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL helped Payne shed his lightweight image, and he went on to do other dark crime films and rugged…

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Beware The “Mountain Devil” — I Guess

Trash Film Guru


I’m not really sure how to classify this one, to be honest — writer/director/producer Ryan Cavalline’s 2017 no-budgeter  Mountain Devil (now streaming on Amazon Prime) isn’t exactly a “found footage” flick so much as it is a “mockumentary,” which is to say, yeah, there’s plenty of phony “footage” of the “long-lost home movie” variety, but it’s also “supplemented” by “dramatized re-creations” and the whole package is “hosted” by some charisma-free zone named Duane Bradley — who, near as I can tell, isn’t an actor, but a real guy. Or maybe he’s just a real guy who’s never taken any acting lessons. I dunno.

Nor, frankly, does it really matter. Apparently this standard-issue Bigfoot yarn about a guy named Frank Peterson (played by Eddie Benevich) and his pal, Randy Wallis (Eric Koval), who decided to spend a weekend getting drunk and playing with firearms at a secluded cabin along the Appalachian…

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International Weirdness : “Toxic Apocalypse” (A.K.A. “The Wrong Floor”)

Trash Film Guru


As a general rule, I have precisely zero faith in humanity. Evidence for why this would be the case abounds, of course : the election of Donald Trump. Keeping wild animals caged in zoos for our entertainment. The wholesale destruction of our environment. The enduring popularity of Billy Joel. Yup, friends, there’s just no doubt — people don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

But then along comes some (usually out- of- left- field and entirely unassuming) reminder that maybe — just maybe — all is not lost, after all. Maybe somebody out there “gets it” and knows what needs to be done in order to, if not save us, at least keep us good and entertained while the whole shithouse goes up in flames. Enter Leicester, UK-based brothers Carl and Marc (no relation to you-know-who) Hamill, masterminds behind the 2015 mini-masterpiece Toxic Apocalypse (or, as it was known upon…

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Music Video of the Day: Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire (1981, dir. Ron Hays)

Since I did acid jazz yesterday, I thought it was a little too on the nose to follow that with George Clinton or A Tribe Called Quest, so instead I thought of Earth, Wind & Fire.

According to Wikipedia, this was the first music video to be played on BET’s show called Video Soul. It was created by Ron Hays using an analog computer animation system called Scanimate. It should come as no surprise that Hays would end up working on an Earth, Wind & Fire music video considering he also did the video effects for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), which had the group in it. He also worked on Grease (1978), Starcrash (1978), and Can’t Stop The Music (1980).