Cinemax Friday: The Hit List (1993, directed by William Webb)

Charlie Pike (Jeff Fahey) is an assassin with a conscience.  He learned how to kill while serving in the military and now, he uses his skills to help out the Committee, a shadowy organization of lawyers who are determined to take out the leaders of organized crime.  When Charlie announces that he has decided to retire from the killing game, the Committee’s Peter Mayhew (James Coburn!) asks him to take on one more job as a personal favor to him.

Mayhew puts Charlie in contact with the beautiful and alluring Jordan (Yancy Butler, making her film debut).  Jordan is the widow of a businessman who was murdered by the mob.  Jordan asks Charlie to kill the man who killed her husband.  Charlie agrees but, after he does the job, he discovers that the man he killed was actually a government informant who was scheduled to testify to Congress!  Someone double-crossed Charlie and now, Charlie’s got both the police and another group of assassins trying to track him down.  Jordan claims that Mayhew told her that the informant was responsible for her husband’s death.  Mayhew denies it and says that Jordan must have set Charlie up.  Charlie has to figure out who to trust before it’s too late.  Complicating matters is that Charlie and Jordan have become lovers.

The Hit List is essentially a 40s film noir reinterpreted for the direct-to-video age.  Jeff Fahey has the Alan Ladd role while Yancy Butler does her best imitation of Lana Turner.  Fahey was one of the best actors to routinely star in the neo-noirs that used to populate late night Cinemax and The Hit List features one of his best performances.  Fahey is a convincing killer but he still brings enough humanity to the role that you believe Charlie could find himself falling for Jordan.  Yancy Butler is a sultry and sexy femme fatale and James Coburn is James Coburn, supercool, slick, and always in control.  It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which one of the two is betraying Fahey but all three commit to their roles and give enjoyable performances.  I especially liked the scene where Mayhew accuses Jordan of double-crossing Charlie and James Coburn grins like he’s having the time of his life.  James Coburn was one of those actors who could liven up and improve any scene in any movie and he proves that here.

The Hit List is a well-made B-noir that’s elevated by its cast and which will leave you nostalgic for Cinemax in the 90s.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Robert Clouse Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, we pay tribute to director Robert Clouse, who was born 92 years ago today.  Best-known for directing Bruce Lee’s biggest hit, Enter The Dragon, Clouse was responsible for some of the most memorable action films of the 70s and the 80s.  He was an action auteur who never got the respect that he deserved but we can pay tribute to him today.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Enter The Dragon (1973, directed by Robert Clouse)

Black Belt Jones (1974, directed by Robert Clouse)

The Ultimate Warrior (1975, directed by Robert Clouse)

Gymkata (1985, directed by Robert Clouse)

Scenes That We Love: The Bandit Fools Smokey in Hal Needham’s Smokey and The Bandit

Today would have been Hal Needham’s 89th birthday and that means that it’s time to celebrate with Smokey and the Bandit.

Before he made a name for himself as a director, Hal Needham was a legendary stuntman.  In 1977, the same year that Smokey and the Bandit came out, Gabriel Toys even sold as a “Hal Needham Western Movie Stunt Set,” which came with a spring-launched Hal Needham action figure.  When Needham went into directing, he made unpretentious movies for people who wanted to have a good time at the theater.  The majority of his films featured fast cars, tough good old boys, and spectacular action.  They also often featured Burt Reynolds doing what he did best.  Needham made the type of movies that never won Academy Awards but which audiences loved.  In fact, audiences still love them.  When I watch Smokey and the Bandit, I always want to quit my job and just smuggle Coors east of the Mississippi for a living.  I know that Coors is legal now so there’s no need to smuggle it but that’s the power of a good Hal Needham film.

In the scene below, the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and Snowman (Jerry Reed) manage to avoid getting caught by the Mississippi Highway Patrol.  Not only do we get to hear Eastbound and Down but this scene also features the moment that Hal Needham knew the film was going to be a hit.  He later said that, as soon as Burt Reynolds broke the fourth wall and stared straight at the camera with “that shit-eating grin on his face,” he knew that audiences were going to love the Bandit.

And he was right.

Hal Needham died in 2013 and Burt Reynolds followed him five years later.  However, their legacy lives on.  The characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood were based on Burt and Hal.  If anyone could have taken on and beat the Manson family single-handed, it would have been the great Hal Needham.

Spring Breakdown: The Spring Break Murders (a.k.a. To.Get.Her) (dir by Erica Dunton)

“It’s a weekend of no consequences.”

That’s a phrase that is uttered many times over the course of the 2011 film, The Spring Break Murders (which is also known as To.Get.Her.)  In fact, it’s a phrase that’s uttered so many times that I actually started to get sick of hearing it.  Initially, I thought that it was evidence of lazy writing and that the film’s director and screenwriter, Erica Dunton, was so oddly proud of the phrase that she was determined to push it on us whether it actually meant anything or not.

By the end of the film, my opinion had changed.  There’s a big twist in The Spring Break Murders, one that took me totally by surprise and which I’m still thinking about as I write up this review.  Needless to say, I can’t reveal the twist here in this review.  But I can say that it’s a good one and it’s worth the wait and, by the end of it, you’ll understand why the characters were so fixated on that phrase.  By the end of the film, “It’s a weekend of no consequences” goes from being a cliche to a truly brilliant piece of dialogue.

The Spring Break Murders tells the story of five friends and one eventful weekend.  At the start of the movie, a voice-over informs us that, by the end of the weekend, only one of the friends will still be alive and the four others will be dead at the hands of one man.  The five friends have flown in from all over so that they can spend the weekend at a beach house owned by the mother of Ana Frost (Jazzy de Liser).  Ana is apparently a bit of a problem child.  Haunted by her father’s suicide, she hates her mother’s fiancee, Robert (Ed Wagenseller), and is secretly paying for the entire weekend with his credit card.  (She even bought everyone’s plane tickets.)  Robert is supposed to be staying at the beach house with Ana while Ana’s mother has a weekend to herself but Ana sharply informs him that he will be spending the weekend at a hotel.  Though angered, Robert agrees.  At first, it’s tempting to assume that Ana is just a spoiled brat but, as with everything in this movie, there’s more to it than that and nothing is what it first seems.

All five of the friends have their own issues that they’re dealing with.  One of them has just discovered that she won’t be attending Oxford.  Another one blames herself for death of her sister.  The token religious girl is scared to come out to her parents while the pregnant girl has been dumped by her boyfriend and has been overly medicated by her family.  And, at first, it’s easy to roll your eyes at the fact that everyone has at least one dramatic problem.  As I watched these five friends acting miserable in a nightclub, I found myself wondering if I really wanted to watch a movie about the type of depressing and overly dramatic people who I usually mute on twitter.  But I kept watching because I suspected there was more to the story than was immediately apparent.

And it turned out that I was right.  There’s a lot more to the story.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it is without spoiling the film.  What I can tell you is that this is a film that worth sticking with.  During the film’s first half (which can seem unfocused before you learn the film’s twist), you may be tempted to stop watching but stick with it because almost everything that initially seems self-indulgent pays off in the end.  Though both of this film’s titles — To.Get.Her and The Spring Break Murders — might make it sound like a generic horror film, it’s actually an intriguing mystery with a clever twist.  It’s a movie that sicks with you.  I imagine that I’ll be thinking about it for days to come.

That said, it’s not a perfect film.  There’s a subplot about Ana’s mother cheating on Robert that never really makes much sense and the pace lags whenever the attention is taken away from the friends and given to any of the film’s other characters.  There are also a few flashbacks that, occasionally, feel a bit awkward, as if they’ve been forced into the action.  As one might expect from a low-budget independent film, some of the actors are better than others.  Jazzy de Lisser is a stand-out and she gets good support from Chelsea Logan, who plays the pregnant friend.  The rest of the cast is a bit more uneven.  In the end, though, this is an effectively clever little film and one that will reward repeat viewings.

Music Video of the Day: In Front Of The Alamo by Hal Ketchum (2007, dir by Glenn Sweitzer)

Today is Alamo Day.  It was 184 years ago, today, that 600 men gave their lives in the name of Texas.

That’s one of the many things that I think sets us native Texans apart from the rest of the United States.  Texans believe in freedom.  We always have and we always will.  Some of us may be conservative and some of us may be liberal but what we have in common is a desire to do it our own way.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as moved as I was during the days immediately after Hurricane Harvey.  A lot of people outside of the state seemed to think that Harvey was a disaster of such immense proportions that it would lead to the end of both the state’s reputation for independence and our way of life.   So, what did we do?  We did what Texans always do.  We came together and we helped each other.  We did what we could and, when someone came along who could do the job better, we supported them.  We appreciated everyone who came down to lend a helping hand and we checked on our neighbors to make sure that they were okay.  See, that’s the thing about Texas.  We don’t surrender.  We fight and we help those who need it and, for that reason, we’re the greatest state in the union.

(In fact, if we had never joined the United States, the Republic Texas would probably be a world superpower right now.  Oh well.  In the end, it all worked out.)

Anyway. this music video is about the Alamo so it seems appropriate for today!