The Hard Way (1991, directed by John Badham)


Lt. John Moss (James Woods) is a cop with a problem.  A serial killer who calls himself the Party Crasher (Stephen Lang) is killing people all across New York and he has decided that he will be coming for Moss next.  However, Moss’s captain (Delroy Lindo) says that Moss is off of the Party Crasher case and, instead, he’s supposed to babysit a big time movie star named Nick Lang (Michael J. Fox)!

Nick is famous for playing “Smoking” Joe Gunn in a series of Indiana Jones-style action films.  However, Nick wants to be taken seriously.  He wants to play Hamlet, just like his rival Mel Gibson!  (That Hard Way came out a year after Mel Gibson played the melancholy Dame in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.)  Nick thinks that if he can land the lead role in a hard-boiled detective film, it will give him a chance to show that he actually can act.  To prepare for his audition, he’s asked to spend some time following Moss on the job.  Mayor David Dinkins, always eager to improve New York’s reputation, agrees.  (David Dinkins does not actually appear in The Hard Way, though his name is often mentioned with a derision that will be familiar to anyone who spent any time in New York in the 90s.)  Of course, Moss isn’t going to stop investigating the Party Crasher murders and, of course, Nick isn’t going to follow Moss’s orders to just stay in his apartment and not get in his way.

The Hard Way is a predictable mix of action and comedy but it’s also entertaining in its own sloppy way.  Director John Badham brings the same grit that he brought to his other action films but he also proves himself to have a deft comedic touch.  Most of the laughs come from the contrast between James Woods playing one of his typically hyperactive, edgy roles and Michael J. Fox doing an extended and surprisingly convincing impersonation of Tom Cruise.  Woods and Fox prove to be an unexpectedly effective comedic team.  One of the best running jokes in the film is Woods’s exasperation as he discovers that everyone, from his girlfriend (Annabella Sciorra) to his no-nonsense boss, are huge fans of Nick Lang.  Even with a serial killer running loose in the city, Moss’s captain is more concerned with getting Nick’s autograph.

Woods and Fox are the main attractions here but Stephen Lang is a good, unhinged villain and Annabella Sciorra brings some verve to her underwritten role as Moss’s girlfriend.  Viewers will also want to keep an eye out for familiar faces like Penny Marshall as Nick’s agent, a very young Christina Ricci as Sciorra’s daughter, and Luis Guzman as Moss’s partner.

With its references to David Dinkins, Mel Gibson’s superstardom, and Premiere Magazine, its LL Cool J-filled soundtrack, and a plot that was obviously influenced by Lethal Weapon, The Hard Way is very much a period piece but it’s an entertaining one.

The Tokoloshe: Movie Preview, Review and Trailer


Poster tokoloshe

Technicals:

Director: Jerome Pikwane

Writers: Richard Kunzmann and Jerome Pikwane,

Stars: Petronella Tshuma, Kwande Nkosi, and Dawid Minnaar,

Preview:

Busi, a young destitute woman with dangerously repressed emotions, lands a job as a cleaner at a rundown hospital in the heart of Johannesburg. Desperate for the money so she can bring her younger sister to Johannesburg, she must cope despite the predatory and corrupt hospital manager. When Busi discovers an abandoned young girl in the hospital, who believes she is tormented by a supernatural force, Busi must face her own demons from her past in order to save the child from the abusive monster that pursues them both relentlessly.

 

Review:

Between some of the other horror movies I have watched recently, and this one, South Africa is becoming a haven for independent horror movies (and I meant that in a good way). With mind f**kery and subtle scare tactics, this is one of the best horror movies I have seen this year! There is a good bit of subtitles in this movie, but, they never distract from the movie itself.

Would I Recommend The Tokoloshe?

Absolutely! As soon as you can spend your Bitcoins, Amazon coins, or any other coins you have and watch this movie!

Where can you see it?

The Tokoloshe will be distributed on all video platforms by Uncork’d Entertainment with Evolutionary Films on December 3rd.

Wait, What if  I can’t wait that long to see it?

Well, you’ll have to. But, until then here is the trailer!

 

 

Viva Knievel (1977, directed by Gordon Douglas)


Last night, I watched one of the greatest movies of all time, Viva Knievel!

Viva Knievel! starts with the real-life, motorcycle-riding daredevil Evel Knievel breaking into an orphanage in the middle of the night, waking up all the children, and giving each of them their own Evel Knievel action figure.  When one of the kids says, “You actually came!,” Evel replies that he always keeps his word.  Another one of the orphans then throws away his crutches as he announced that he can walk again!

From there, Viva Knievel! only gets better as Evel preaches against drug use, helps his alcoholic mechanic (Gene Kelly) bond with his son, and flirts with a glamorous photojournalist (Lauren Hutton).  Evel was married at the time that Viva Knievel! was produced but his wife and family go unmentioned as Evel, Kelly, and Hutton travel through Mexico, jumping over fire pits, and battling drug dealers.

Evel’s former protegee, Jessie (former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner), has fallen in with a bad crowd and gotten messed up on the same drugs that Evel spends the entire movie preaching against.  An evil drug trafficker (Leslie Nielsen, a few years before Airplane! and The Naked Gun) pressures Jessie to convince Evel to do a dangerous stunt.  The plot is to replace Evel’s trusted mechanic with a crooked mechanic (Cameron Mitchell) who will sabotage the jump.  When Evel dies, he will be shipped back to the U.S. in a coffin and, hidden within the walls of the coffin, will be several kilos of cocaine.  Oh, the irony!  Evel Knievel, America’s number one spokesman against drugs, will be responsible for bringing them into the United States!  Can Evel thwart the nefarious plans of Leslie Nielsen while still finding time to fall in love with Lauren Hutton and break Gene Kelly out of a psychiatric ward?  If anyone can do it, Evel can.

Even Dabney Coleman’s in this movie!

From the start, Viva Knievel! is a vanity project but in the best, most loony and entertaining way possible.  There are many well-known actors in this film and all of them take a backseat to Evel Knievel, whom they all speak of as if he’s a cross between Gary Cooper and Jesus Christ.  Watching this movie, you learn three things: 1) Evel Knievel was high on life but not dope, 2) Evel Knievel always kept his word, and 3) Evel Knievel always wore his helmet.  He even makes sure that Lauren Hutton is wearing one before he takes her for a spin on his motorcycle.  You also learn that Evel Knievel liked to get paid.  He nearly beats up his manager (Red Buttons) when he thinks that he’s been cheated but they’re still friends afterwards because how could anyone turn down a chance to be in Evel’s presence?

There are plenty of stunts and jumps to be seen in Viva Knievel!, though watching Leslie Nielsen play a villain is almost as fun as watching Evel jump over a fire pit.  Judging from his performance here, Evel Knievel probably could have had a film career.  He had a natural screen presence and delivered even the worst dialogue with sincerity.   Unfortunately, three months after Viva Knievel! opened in the United States, Evel attacked a promoter with an aluminum baseball bat and ended up doing 6 months in jail.  Evel said it was because the promoter was spreading lies about him but, regardless, Evel lost most of his sponsorships and his toyline was discontinued.  Viva Knievel! sunk into an obscurity from which it has only recently reemerged.  Viva Knievel! is cheesy fun, a relic of a bygone era.  Watch it, think about whatever problems you may be dealing with in your own life, and then ask yourself, “What would Evel do?”

 

Dangerous Curves (1988, directed by David Lewis)


Last night, I watched Dangerous Curves.

This was a dumb, dumb film from the late 80s.  Tate Donovan and Grant Heslov star as two college students who lose a Porsche in San Diego and then have to get it back.  Fortunately, the Porsche is the grand prize in a beauty contest so Donovan and Heslov just have to hope that their friend Michelle (Danielle van Zernick) wins.  This should have been fun because it featured a hot car and several hot girls in bikinis but it also featured Tate Donovan and Grant Heslov as our “heroes.”  Donovan plays the uptight college student and comes across like one of the flunkies who helped Ted Kennedy cover-up Chappaquiddick.  Grant Heslov plays the carefree college student who constantly ruins everyone else’s life.  Neither one has the screen presence necessary to make us overlook how stupid their characters are.  On the basis of Dangerous Curves, it’s easy to see why Heslov went into producing and Tate Donovan went into doing character roles in films produced by Grant Heslov.

On the plus side, Robert Stack and Leslie Nielsen are funny in small roles.  And the car is hot and the film features as many bikinis as a typical episode of Miami Vice.  Watching the movie might remind you of the fun you had playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City back in the day.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

Film Review: Kindred Spirits (dir by Lucky McKee)


Kindred Spirits tells the story of two sisters.

Chloe (Thora Birch) is the older sister.  She’s the one who literally raised her younger sister, Sadie (Caitlin Stasey).  At one point, in the film, Sadie even says that she thinks of Chloe as being her mom.  Chloe got pregnant when she was 17 and had a daughter named Nicole (Sasha Frolova).  Just as Sadie considers Chloe to be her mom, she also grew up considering Nicole to be more of a little sister than a niece.  Once, Sadie even saved a very young Nicole from getting run over by a car.  That’s what a good sister does.

Eventually, Sadie left home.  When Kindred Spirits begins, it’s been a while since anyone has heard from Sadie.  As for Chloe, it’s been a struggle but she’s built a good home and good life for herself and her daughter.  However, Nicole has now reached her own rebellious stage and Chloe’s clumsy attempts to warn her about “making the same mistakes I did” do not make things any less awkward between them.  Chloe has stated as secret relationship with her neighbor, Alex (Blue Ruin‘s Macon Blair) but she doesn’t know how Nicole will react.

And I’m sure that many people would dismiss Nicole as just being a ungrateful brat or Chloe as just being an overly protective mother but both Sasha Frolova and Thora Birch do a very good job of bringing some unexpected shading to their roles.  The details of Nicole and Chloe’s relationship ring true, everything from the awkward conversations to the rare moments of open closeness.

Suddenly, Sadie shows back up!  Both Chloe and Nicole are happy to see her and, when Sadie says that she needs a place to say, they of course invite her to live with them.  At first, everything’s perfect but soon, Sadie is showing some signs of instability.  She wants to be Chloe’s daughter but, at the same time, she wants to be Nicole’s best friend.  She starts dressing like Nicole and even sneaks off to a high school party where she’s thrilled to discover that everyone thinks that she’s still a teenager. Nicole starts to suspect that something might be off about Sadie.  Meanwhile, Sadie is busy murdering people.  Throats will be slit.  Dollhouse furniture will be driven into foreheads.  Blood will be spilled.

In fact, quite a lot of blood will be spilled.  Though this film aired on the Lifetime Movie Network towards the end of October and it’s plot certainly sounds Lifetime-y, Kindred Spirits only ended up on LMN after traveling the film festival circuit.  As such, it’s a bit more graphic than the usual Lifetime film, with close-ups of wounds and plenty of language that ended up getting awkwardly silenced during the film’s airing.  The ending is also considerably darker than the average Lifetime film.

I liked Kindred Spirits.  The story may be predictable but Lucky McKee directs with a lot energy and brings a lot of atmosphere to the film.  Best of all, Birch, Frolova, and especially Stasey all give excellent performances.  It’s nice to see a film with not just one but three strong female roles.  It’s a pity that a few good people end up dying but …. well, that’s family.

Lifetime Film Review: Sleeping With My Student (dir by Tom Shell)


So, here you are.

You’re middle-aged.  You’ve just split up with your adulterous husband.  Your teenage daughter is upset because she’s about to start at a new school.  Even worse, you’ve just been hired to be the new principal at that school.  It’s the summer.  You’re at a conference.  This is your last chance to enjoy yourself before a new school year begins.

You’re at the hotel pool.  Suddenly, a handsome man who is quite a bit younger than you jumps into the pool and, after briefly fooling you into thinking that he’s drowned, he starts up a conversation with you.  He’s charming in a simple way.  He says that you were sexy when you were concerned that he might be dead.  He invites you back to his room and you know exactly why.

Do you go with him?

That’s the decision that Kathy (Gina Holden) is faced with at the start of the Lifetime film, Sleeping With My Student.  What does she do when she’s given the opportunity to have one night of passion with Ian (Mitchell Hoog)?  Well, your answer is right there in the first half of the film’s title.  And, as you can probably guess from the second half of title, Ian eventually turns up as a student at Kathy’s school!  Even worse, Ian has a reputation for being a bad boy and a trouble maker and soon, he’s dating Kathy’s daughter, Bree (Jessica Belkin)!

Of course, it all turns out to be about more than just one night stands and bad disciplinary histories.  It turns out that it wasn’t a coincidence that Ian showed up at the hotel and jumped into the pool at the same moment that Kathy just happened to be there.  It also wasn’t a coincidence that Ian just happened to end up getting transferred to Kathy’s new school.  It’s all a part of a massive scheme that Ian has cooked up in order to get vengeance for something that happened in the past.  I mean, seriously, no one should be surprised.  There are no coincidences when it comes to Lifetime.

Speaking as someone who has seen a few hundred Lifetime films over the past few years, I enjoyed Sleeping With My Student.  Gina Holde, Mitchell Hoog, and Jessica Belkin were all well-cast in their rules and the great Gerald Webb showed up as Officer Compton, the school security officer who first explains that Ian is bad news.  Yes, the plot was a bit predictable but that’s honestly a part of the film’s appeal.  You don’t necessarily watch a Lifetime film because you want to see something unexpected.  Instead, the appeal of these films is to be found in their very predictability.  There’s something comforting in knowing that, on Lifetime, no one night stand will turn out to be just a one night stand and that the film’s villain will always do something particularly evil at the halfway mark.  The best Lifetime films are cinematic comfort food.  They give you exactly what you want and they don’t demand much in return and we’re all the better for it!

Lifetime Film Review: Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter (dir by Catherine Cyran)


I have to admit that, for some reason, I’ve always had a weakness of Mafia movies.

For whatever reason, I just find them to be fascinating, as well as terrifically entertaining.  And when I say that I love mafia movies, I’m not just talking about the ones that everyone else loves, either.  I mean, sure, I love The Godfather films and Goodfellas and all of that.  I can’t wait for the Sopranos prequel to come out next year and I’m eagerly counting down the days until The Irishman drops on Netflix.  However, I also love the Mafia movies that everyone else seems to hate.  Some day, I’m going to get around to writing a stirring defense of Gotti.  Just you wait!

I’m half-Irish and fourth-Italian.  As far as I know, I don’t have any relatives involved with organized crime and, to be honest, I should probably be offended by all of the Mafia stereotypes that I’m exposed too whenever I turn on the television.  But, I have to be honest.  If my father had been in the Mafia, I totally would have used it to my advantage.  I would have been like, “You think you’re some sort of big shot, like Frankie Valli or somebody?  Do you know who my faddah is?  You want me to call him down here right now?”

The Lifetime film Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter is all about being the daughter of a very powerful man.  Victoria Gotti herself even narrates the film and appears in cut-away scenes to discuss what it was like to grow up as the daughter of notorious mob boss, John Gotti.  At the same time, Chelsea Frei plays Victoria in dramatized scenes, showing her talking to her father (Maurice Benard) and dealing with her good-for-nothing husband, Carmine (Elijah Silva).  Because the film is told entirely from Victoria’s point of view, we only see John Gotti through her eyes. In this film, John Gotti is a loving father who is often away from his wife and daughters because he’s either in jail or hiding out from the authorities.  He’s fond of saying stuff like, “Nothing’s more important than family.”  Despite the fact that Maurice Benard gives a convincing performance as Gotti, you’re never quite sure what’s actually going on in his head.  Is he a ruthless murderer or is he just a blue collar guy looking out for his family?  The film isn’t sure but then again, Victoria seems to be unsure as well.  Undoubtedly, someone like John Gotti had to keep a lot of himself hidden away from even those closest to him.

Because of the film’s Victoria-centric structure, we don’t actually get to see any of the standard mafia action.  We hear about people getting taken out by the mob but we don’t actually see any of it happen.  Those hoping for a big mafia epic will undoubtedly be disappointed.  (The film is nearly over before John Gotti even takes over the Gambino Family.)  Instead, the film focuses on Victoria dealing with people judging her because of who her father is and her subsequent marriage to the worthless Carmine.  To be absolutely honest, there’s really not much going on in the movie, as most of the major action occurs off-screen.  However, Chelsea Frei gives a good performance as Victoria and the film occasionally does a good job of contrasting Gotti family life with Gotti crime life.  It’s not a classic mob film but it does provide just enough Cosa Nostra swagger to keep the viewer occupied until the release of The Irishman.