The TSL’s Grindhouse: A Boy And His Dog (dir by L.Q. Jones)


(Nearly every Saturday night, the Late Night Movie Gang and I watch a movie.  On January 20th, we watched the 1975 science fiction satire, A Boy and His Dog.)

A Boy and His Dog begins, quite literally, with a bang.  A bang followed by a mushroom cloud.  And then a second mushroom cloud.  And then another.  And another.  When the explosions finally stop, we are informed that World War IV only lasted five days.  Of course, it destroyed most of society.  The year is now 2024 and … well, things aren’t great.

(For those of you keeping track, that means we’ve got another six years left.  Enjoy them!)

The world is now a barren wasteland, an endless stretch of desert.  There are a handful of survivors but they’re not exactly the types who you would want to survive an apocalypse.  Take Vic, for instance.  Vic (played by Don Johnson) is an absolute moron.  He can’t read.  He’s not very good at thinking.  He has no conscience.  He’s someone who kills and rapes without giving it a second thought.  When Vic isn’t scavenging for food and supplies, he’s obsessing on sex.  When we first meet him, the only thing redeeming about Vic is that almost everyone else in the world is even worse than he is.

That Vic has managed to survive for as long as he has is something of a minor miracle.  Vic has been lucky enough to team up with a dog named Blood.  Blood is not only surprisingly intelligent but he’s also telepathic.  Unfortunately, the same experiment that granted him telepathy also caused him to lose his instinct as a hunter.  So, Blood and Vic have an arrangement.  Vic keeps Blood supplied with food and Blood helps Vic track down women.

Blood’s voice is provided by actor Tim McIntire and, from the minute we first hear him, it becomes obvious that Blood may be cute on the outside but, on the inside, it’s a totally different story.  Blood rarely has a good word for anyone or anything.  He delights in annoying Vic, calling him “Albert” while still demanding that Vic get him food.  He’s a surprisingly well-read dog but you wouldn’t necessarily want to get stuck in a kennel with him.  Much as with Vic, Blood’s only redeeming trait is that everyone else is marginally worse than he is.

(Sadly, if there was an apocalypse like the one that starts this movie, most of the survivors probably would be like Vic.  The only people who would survive something like that would be the people who were solely looking out for themselves.)

A Boy and His Dog is a highly episodic film, following Vic and Blood as they wander across the wasteland and bicker.  They fight other scavengers.  They spend a rather depressing night at a makeshift movie theater.  Eventually, they come across a young woman named Quilla June (Suanne Benton).  Blood dislikes her but Vic says he’s in love.  (Mostly, he’s just excited that he’s now having sex regularly.)  Eventually, through a whole series of events, Vic discovers an underground city named Topeka, where everyone wears clown makeup.  The head of the town (Jason Robards) informs Vic that his sperm will be used to impregnate 35 women.  Vic is excited until he finds out that reproduction in Topeka is a matter of artificial insemination.

(Both the wasteland and Topeka are nightmarish in their own different ways.  The wasteland is world without morality or compassion.  Topeka is a world where everyone looks like a mime, there’s always a marching band, and order is maintained by a robot wearing overalls.)

Of course, while Vic is dealing with life underground, Blood waits above ground.  By the end of the film, Vic is forced to make a choice between settling down or remaining loyal to his dog.  It all leads to a final comment from Blood that will either make you laugh or throw a shoe at your TV.  I did both.

A Boy and His Dog is a strange movie.  It definitely isn’t for everyone.  It’s a comedy but the humor is pitch black.  Still, that strangeness — along with the talent of the dog playing Blood and Tim McIntire’s savagely sarcastic voice work — is what makes the film watchable.  There’s literally no other film like A Boy and His Dog.  By the time Vic ends up in Topeka, the film has become almost a fever dream of apocalyptic paranoia and satire.  The ultimate message of the film appears to be that the apocalypse would really suck so let’s try to not blow each other up.

Who can’t get behind that?

 

Film Review: 12 Strong (dir by Nicolai Fuglsig)


12 Strong begins with a montage of terror.

The World Trade Center is bombed in 1993.  Planes are bombed.  Ships are attacked.  Bill Clinton gives a speech in which he impotently condemns Al-Qaeda.  Finally, we reach September 11th, 2001.  Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is playing with his daughter when she suddenly looks up at the TV behind him.  “Look, Daddy,” she says.  Nelson turns around and sees The World Trade Center on fire.

Even though he’s recently announced his intention to retire, Nelson reports for duty.  Despite the skepticism of his commanding officer (Rob Riggle), Nelson and 11 others are sent into Afghanistan.  Their mission is to meet up with a warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) and to capture territory from the Taliban.  Nelson is initially given 6 weeks to complete this task.  Nelson replies that he’ll get it done in three, before the harsh Afghan winter makes it impossible to move through the mountains.

Among the actors who make up Nelson’s team: Michael Shannon, Trevante Rhodes, Austin Stowell, and Geoff Stults.  Fortunately, the cast is made up of familiar faces.  Even though you might not learn everyone’s name, you still feel as if you know them because you’ve seen all of them playing similar roles in other movies.  (After his performance in Moonlight, it’s a bit disappointing to see Trevante Rhodes playing such a minor supporting role in his follow-up but still, he’s a charismatic actor and he has enough screen presence that he definitely makes an impression.)  Somewhat inevitably, Michael Pena plays the funny member of the team.  It’s not a 21st century action film without Michael Pena providing comedic relief.

(That’s actually a little unfair to Michael Pena, who is a good actor and who gives a pretty good performance in 12 Strong.  It’s just that he’s played this role so many times that it’s almost become a cliché that every action movie will feature Micheal Pena making jokes.)

When the team first meets up with Dostum, there’s immediate tension between the supposed allies.  As Dostum puts it, the United States only cares about getting rid of the Taliban but they don’t care about what will happen afterward.  When Dostum looks at Nelson, he immediately announces that Nelson does not have killer eyes.  Everyone else on the team has killer eyes but not Nelson.  Dostum and his men are even less impressed when they see the Americans struggling to ride the horses that are required to get through the mountains.  Will Nelson win Dostum’s respect?  Will he develop the eyes of a killer?

You probably already know the answer to that.  There’s really not a single moment in 12 Strong that you won’t see coming.  As soon as Dostum says that Nelson needs to prove himself in battle, you know that he’ll get a chance to do just that.  As soon as another soldier talks about home, you know that he’s going to be seriously wounded.  When you first spot the child soldiers among Dostum’s forces and you see one of them give Nelson a nervous smile, you know that child’s probably going to be one of the first casualties of the attack.

12 Strong is a predictable movie but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad one.  It’s a well-made film, with the cast all giving strong performances and director Nicolai Fuglsig doing a good job with the battle scenes.  My heart was racing during the film’s final battle.  New Mexico doubled for Afghanistan and the film features some truly stunning shots of the mountainous landscape.  The film even makes a point about why, after 17 years, there still doesn’t appear to be any end in sight to the War in Afghanistan.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 9 minutes, 12 Strong is probably about thirty minutes too long.  It’s a predictable movie but it’s well-made and the fact that it’s based on a true story does make it a bit more poignant than it would be otherwise.  It’s not a bad war film, particularly for January.

Cold in Them Thar Hills: THE FAR COUNTRY (Universal-International 1955)


cracked rear viewer

James Stewart and Anthony Mann’s  fourth Western together, 1955’s THE FAR COUNTRY, takes them due North to the Klondike during the Gold Rush of 1896. It’s a bit more formulaic than other Stewart/Mann collaborations, but a strong cast and some gorgeous Technicolor photography by William H. Daniels more than make up for it. The film is definitely worth watching for Western fans, but I’d rank it lowest on the Stewart/Mann totem pole.

Jimmy is Jeff Webster, a headstrong cattleman who drives his herd from Wyoming to Seattle to ship up north to the beef-starved gold miners for a huge profit. Webster killed two men along the way who tried to desert the drive, and barely escapes Seattle before arriving in Skagway, Alaska. There, he unintentionally interrupts a hanging being conducted by crooked town boss ‘Judge’ Gannon, who confiscates Webster’s herd as a fine for spoiling his fun. Webster and his two…

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Film Review: Forever My Girl (dir by Bethany Ashton Wolf)


Forever My Girl is a film about a country music star who doesn’t understand how voicemail works.

It’s been nearly a decade since Liam Pace (Alex Roe) fled his Louisiana hometown.  On the plus side, fleeing his town gave Liam the chance to become a country music star.  He plays to sell-out crowds.  His manager keeps him endlessly supplied with groupies and vodka.  Apparently, he once got so strung out that, afterward, he didn’t even remember telling his father, the Reverend (John Benjamin Hickey), that he never wanted to talk to him again.  The Reverend Pace did have some important news to give to Liam but … oh well.

On the negative side, when Liam fled his hometown, he also left behind his fiancée, Josie (Jessica Rohe).  In fact, they were supposed to be married on the day that Liam left town.  Eight years ago, Josie left him one message.  Every day since then, Liam has listened to that voicemail.  When a groupie accidentally steps on his ancient flip phone, Liam freaks and ends up running barefoot to the closest phone store.  He’s chased by a group of adoring fans.  Video of barefoot Liam goes viral!  Liam doesn’t care.  He’s just desperate to get the phone repaired because, again, Liam doesn’t understand how voicemail works.

(As we learn later in the film, Liam also doesn’t understand how to order stuff online.  He doesn’t even carry his own credit cards.  He’s a celebrity.  People do stuff for him.)

Anyway, when an old friend of Liam’s dies, Liam returns to his hometown for the funeral.  He doesn’t actually attend the funeral, of course.  He just sits outside the church and listens to his Dad give the eulogy.  Josie, when she spots him, proceeds to punch him in the stomach and then introduce him to her daughter, Billie (Abby Ryder Fortson).  Billie is cute and adorable and 7 years old…

OH MY GOD!

LIAM HAS A DAUGHTER!

(Personally, I think it would have been funny if Josie had replied, “No, she’s your best friend’s daughter and she was conceived right after I called you and left that message…”)

Nobody in town thinks that Liam will ever be responsible enough to be a good father.  They’re probably all looking at him and thinking, “How is he going to be a father when he’s still using a flip phone from 2008?”  But Liam is determined to prove that he can be a good father and also to win back Josie.  Fortunately, it doesn’t turn out to be too hard to win back Josie.  Apparently, she hasn’t had a date in 8 years.  But being a good father, that’s another challenge all together…

Forever My Girl, which is based on a novel by Heidi McLaughlin, is being advertised as a film for people “who love Nicholas Sparks movies.”  Superficially, Forever My Girl may look similar to a Nicholas Sparks adaptation but actually, it’s never comes close to equaling the over the top melodrama of a good Nicholas Sparks film.  If anything, Forever My Girl is such a mild and innocuous film that it feels more like something you’d expect to find on the Hallmark Channel rather than playing in theaters.  You could easily imagine the film being turned into a television series where, every week, Liam would learn another lesson that would lead to him better appreciating small town life.

Forever My Girl is a sweet-natured movie and Alex Roe and Jessica Rothe are appealing in the lead roles.  It’s a film that doesn’t feature people shooting guns or blowing stuff up and, for some people, that’s going to provide a nice diversion from the usual January releases.  But, ultimately, the film is too thin and insubstantial to make much of a lasting impression.

Sundance Film Review: Circle of Power (dir by Bobby Roth)


With the Sundance Film festival currently taking place in Utah, I am currently reviewing films that originally made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival!

(a.k.a. Circle of Power, Mystique, Naked Weekend, and probably a handful of other titles)

The Sundance Film Festival wasn’t always the Sundance Film Festival.

Up until 1984, it was known as the US Film Festival.  Because of the involvement of Robert Redford, it was something of a big deal but still nowhere as big a deal as it is today.  In fact, many of the films that were showcased and celebrated at the US Film Festival have slipped into obscurity.  While winning an award at the US Film Festival may have been nice a ego boost for an independent filmmaker, it certainly didn’t bring a film anywhere near the amount of attention that winning at Sundance does now.

Take the long and strange saga of Circle of Power, for instance.

From my own research, it appears that Circle of Power was originally filmed in 1980.  At that time, it was called Mystique.  It premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1981.  A year later, under the title Circle of Power, it played at the US Film Festival.  It was awarded the Dramatic prize (which was the forerunner for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize).

After that, it still took Circle of Power two years to achieve national distribution.  In 1984, when it was reviewed by Roger Ebert, the film had been released as Naked Weekend, a title that was as commercial as it was misleading.  (There is nudity in the film but probably not the type of nudity that Naked Weekend‘s audience was expecting.)  By the time the film was finally released on VHS, it had picked up yet another title: Brainwash.

That’s the poster for Brainwash at the top of this video.  There are two images on that poster.  One is of a woman holding a riding crop and showing off her bra.  The other is of a naked man in a cage.  Only the latter image actually appears in the movie.

The film’s distributors were obviously trying to sell Circle of Power as an exploitation film.  Actually, it’s not.  It’s … well, it’s hard to describe what exactly it is.  It starts out with a title card, informing us that what we’re about to see is based on a true story.  The rest of the film deals with a group of executives and their wives who are required to spend the weekend attending a “training course” at a beautiful hotel.  The weekend gets off to a good start, with lots of dancing and laughing.  Of course, none of the executives seem to notice that the hotel staff is watching them with a mix of scorn and pity.

(The film continually contrasts the privileged white executives with the largely black and Hispanic hotel staff.)

Before the training sessions begin, all of the executives and their wives are forced to sign a paper that states they understand that they will be psychologically and physically abused over the weekend.  Only one executive objects and he is quickly bullied into signing by his co-workers.  Apparently, they can’t do the training unless everyone agrees to sign.

The men and the women are separated.  (Interestingly, all of the executives are men.)  The men are “trained” by Bianca Ray (Yvete Mimieux, who is chilling in her final performance to date) while the women are left with Jordan Carelli (John Considine).  The training turns out to be a combination of ego stripping and physical abuse.  One overweight executive (Walter Olkewicz) is ordered to strip naked and is then locked in a cage, where food is dumped on him.  An alcoholic is forced to lay down in a coffin.  Soon, everyone is covered in bruises.  What’s remarkable is that only one executive and his wife actually seems to find any of this to be objectionable.  In fact, everyone else reacts to the abuse by hugging their abusers and crying for joy.

It’s a strange little film, one that often seems to be unsure of what it’s saying but which, at the same time, still possesses an undeniable power.  The film may be 38 years old but brainwashing is a timeless subject.  One need only spend an hour or two on twitter to see how easily people can be brainwashed.  While the film probably disappointed those seeking a naked weekend, it’s still an undeniably watchable oddity.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Step Inside “Apartment Number Three”


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

It’s something, isn’t it? Sometimes a mere 28 pages can make you feel all kinds of ways.

Such is the case with Pascal Girard’s Apartment Number Three, an unassuming-on-its-surface little number that took a long and circuitous route to getting where it is today (which, “spoiler” alert as to where this review is going, should be right into your hands as soon as possible), starting life as 24-hour comic in 2010 before being re-drawn, polished up, and published in French (I’ve included a page in its original language with this review just because, hey, why not?) by Montreal’s Colosse the following year, and finally landing an English translation/re-publication at the tail end of last year courtesy of John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half. Whew!

Gotta say that it was all worth it, though, and that its complex and time-consuming path traveled is proof positive that quality material will always…

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