Cleaning Out The DVR: In the Blink of An Eye (dir by Michael Sinclair)


I recorded the 2009 film, In The Blink of an Eye, off of one of the local channels on September 9th.

Remember how Bill Murray had to relive the same day over and over again in Groundhog Day?

Well, consider this to be Rapture Day!

David A.R. White, who has been involved in several faith-based, apocalyptic-minded productions, plays David, an agnostic cop who saves the life of pop star Lindsey O’Connor (Jessica Hope), who is obviously meant to be a Britney Spears/Miley Cyrus type of figure.  She really needs someone to step in and help her get some control over her life but, before that can happen, she has to go on vacation in Mexico with her manager.  Since David saved her life and all, he and his wife (Andrea Logan White) and his ultra-religious partner (Lonnie Colon) are invited to accompany her.

Of course, David has an ulterior motive for accepting that invitation.  David’s captain (Eric Roberts!) thinks that Lindsey’s manager might have connections to the shadowy world of international organized crime!  So, David is not only going to Mexico to relax.  He’s also going down there to investigate!

But, of course, then the Rapture happens so none of that really matters.  David’s wife vanishes.  David’s partner vanishes.  You know who doesn’t vanish?  That’s right — David!

At first, David is confused as to what happened.  In fact, he’s so confused that he ends up getting killed by Lindsey’s manager!  But fear not!  No sooner has David died than he’s waking up and reliving the day.  Once again, his wife and his partner vanish.  Once again, David gets killed.  Once again, David awakens and has to relive the whole day all over again…

So, here’s my issue with In the Blink Of An Eye.  Now, admittedly, I don’t share the film’s Evangelical background but, since the film takes a premillennialist approach to its story, doesn’t that mean that everyone in the movie should only get one chance to be raptured?  I mean, isn’t the idea that the “living elect” ascend to the Heaven and everyone who didn’t get selected basically has to live through the tribulation, regardless of whether they later come to have faith or not?

But instead, in this film, David gets not just one chance but six different chances to get raptured!  That doesn’t seem quite fair, especially since no one else in the film appears to get that chance.  Eric Roberts certainly doesn’t get that chance.  Instead, he just get an email telling him not accept the sign of the beast.  That really doesn’t seem quite fair.

But hey, at least Eric Roberts is in the movie!  Seriously, you never know where Eric Roberts is going to pop up.  He doesn’t really get to do much in this movie.  His role is mostly a cameo but he’s Eric Roberts so who cares?

In the Blink of an Eye attempts to wed religious debate with a crime thriller plot.  Due to some awkward dialogue, stiff performances, and a particularly bizarre obsession with denouncing popular music, (the cops make some comments about dealing with “the people who listen to rap music” that will literally have you cringing), the film doesn’t come any where close to working.  That said, I have to admit that, as someone who is always interested in films made outside of the normal studio system, that I do often find these low-budget, faith-based films to be interesting, just for the chance to see what people can do when they have no money but a lot of enthusiasm.

Film Review: The Island (dir by Michael Ritchie)


Last night, after I watched Cutthroat Island, I continued to prepare for Talk Like A Pirate Day by watching The Island, a pirate movie from 1980.

Michael Caine has appeared in some truly bizarre films over the course of his long career but The Island may be the strangest.  (According to the imdb, it’s also one of the few films that he refuses to discuss in interviews, which is kind of amazing when you consider some of the films that Caine will discuss.)  In The Island, Caine is plays Blair Maynard, a cynical New York journalist who happens to have a cockney accent.  Looking to do a story about the Bermuda Triangle, Maynard heads down to Florida.  He takes along his 12 year-old son, Justin (Jeffrey Frank), because what father wouldn’t unnecessarily put his only child’s life in danger?  Of course, Justin isn’t happy when he finds out that his father lied about visiting Disney World but all is forgiven after Maynard buys him a gun.  Justin does love to shoot guns, which will become a plot point soon enough.

Anyway, Maynard and Justin soon discover that the reason people are disappearing in the Bermuda Triangle is because they’re being kidnapped by … wait for it … PIRATES!

David Warner and the Pirates

That’s right, real-life pirates!  Apparently, centuries ago, a group of French pirates set up a colony on an uncharted island in the Caribbean.  Now, under the leadership of the savage Nau (played by the very British and not very savage David Warner), these pirates spend their time attacking boats, murdering people, and speaking in an odd combination of English, French, and Portuguese.  However, centuries of in-breeding have weakened the bloodline.  So, while Nau brainwashes Justin and turns him into a little buccaneer, Maynard is given to Beth (Angela Punch McGregor) and told to “thrust thrust.”

Yes, that’s right.  This is a film in which a middle-aged Michael Caine — complete with his trademark glasses and his “what the bloody Hell?” attitude — is turned into a sex slave.  (Again, this is one of the few films that Caine apparently refuses to discuss.)  The scene in which Beth strips the chained Maynard naked and then starts to rub Vaseline on him would be strange regardless of who played the main role but when it’s Michael Caine, it goes beyond the merely strange to becoming almost a work of outsider art.

Anyway, the movie only gets stranger from there as Justin grows to love the pirate life style and, eventually, both he and his father even get to take part in a raid on a schooner.  It’s during this raid that, from out of nowhere, a guy in extremely tight shorts pops up and starts doing all sorts of elaborate kung fu moves.  (He also makes all of the expected kung fu sounds while David Warner has a good laugh.)  It’s also during this raid that the pirates come across several packets of white powder.

“It’s a drug called cocaine,” Maynard says.

“What does it cure?” Beth asks.

“Insecurity,” Maynard answers.

It all leads to not only an impromptu wedding ceremony but also to the sight of Michael Caine screaming his head off while firing a machine gun.  I think we’re supposed to feel that the ordeal has driven Maynard somewhat mad but it’s hard to tell.  Caine has always been open about the fact that, for many years, he basically just accepted any role that was offered to him and The Island would appear to be a perfect example.  Maynard may have been trying to rescue his son but Caine’s main concern was obviously getting his paycheck and moving on to the next role.

Michael Caine in The Island

The Island is one of those movies that’s so odd that it really doesn’t matter whether it’s any good or not.  Between the strange plot and Michael Caine’s almost comically detached performance, this one of those films that, once you start watching, you really can’t look away from it.  In the end, The Island is so weird and misjudged that it becomes brilliant despite itself.

Film Review: Cutthroat Island (dir by Renny Harlin)


Today is Talk Like A Pirate Day which, let’s just be honest, is an extremely stupid holiday that mainly exists to remind us that “doubloon” is a deeply silly word.

Doubloons were a currency that were popular in Europe and South America back in the 18th century and pirates were always looking for doubloons.  If you listen to enough pirate talk, you’ll quickly discover that there’s a lot different ways to say the word doubloon.  Some people put the emphasis on the fist syllable while others emphasize the second.  Some people say Due-bloon while others say Duh-bloon.  Either way, it’s impossible to listen to pirates talk about doubloons without thinking that they sound very, very silly.  The secret behind the success of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is an understanding that it’s impossible to take pirates seriously.

Unfortunately, I chose not to watch The Pirates of the Caribbean for Talk Like A Pirate Day.  Instead, I watched 1995’s Cutthroat Island.

Cutthroat Island is a story of pirates, a lost treasure, and one big sea battle that literally seems to go on and on.  There is occasional talk of doubloons, though not enough for my liking.  Instead, most of the film deals with the efforts of Morgan (Geena Davis) to find a hidden treasure before her uncle, Dawg (Frank Langella), discovers it.  Morgan has one-third of a map.  It was originally tattooed on her father’s head.  After he died, she scalped him and took over his boat.  She also purchased a swashbuckling slave named Shaw (Matthew Modine) because Shaw is capable of reading Latin, the language in which the map is written.  Needless to say, Shaw and Mogan fall in love while Dawg teams up with corrupt colonial officials to not only track down the treasure but to also capture his niece.

The film starts out as a romance with a dash of comedy before eventually transforming into a standard action movie.  That means that boats get blown up and there’s a lot of scenes of people fencing.  There’s also a lot of slow motion footage of bodies plunging into the ocean.  The climatic battle goes on forever and it actually features Morgan hissing, “Bad dawg!” at her uncle.

(Amazingly, “Bad Dawg” isn’t the worst of the dialogue to be heard in Cutthroat Island.  Morgan has a habit of saying stuff like, “I will maroon you on a rock the size of this table, instead of splattering your brains across my bulkhead” and “Since you lie so easily and since you are so shallow, I shall lie you in a shallow grave.”)

Throughout the film, there are hints of what Cutthroat Island could have been, if it hadn’t been such a by-the-numbers action flick.  The fact that it was Morgan who was continually rescuing Shaw was a nice change-of-pace from the usual damsel-in-distress clichés that one finds in most pirate movies.  When Morgan effortlessly breaks the neck of a soldier and sets free her crew, it’s a great moment, comparable to Angelina Jolie taking out Liev Schreiber in Salt or Milla Jovovich kicking zombie ass in a Resident Evil film.  Unfortunately, director Renny Harlin (who was married to star Geena Davis, at the time) is usually too concerned with getting to the next action set piece to truly take advantage of the film’s subversive potential.

Frank Langella is smart enough to bellow his way through his villainous role while Matthew Modine appears to be so amused by the film’s terrible dialogue that it’s impossible not to like him.  Geena Davis is convincing when she’s breaking necks and swinging swords but she delivers her dialogue like someone who has already figured out that the movie was a bad idea and resigned herself to the fact that her film career will never recover.  She doesn’t appear to be having any fun, which kind of defeats the purpose of being a pirate.

Cutthroat Island was a huge and notorious box office flop and it’s still considered to be one of the biggest financial disasters in film history.  Apparently, Hollywood was so traumatized that it would be another 8 years before there was another major pirate production.  That production, of course, was Pirates of the Caribbean, a film that captured the fun that was so lacking in Cutthroat Island.

Campus Kooks: The Ritz Brothers in LIFE BEGINS IN COLLEGE (20th Century Fox 1937)


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I haven’t posted anything on The Ritz Brothers since January of 2016 , so when TCM aired a trio of their films this weekend, I chose to review what I consider their best solo effort, 1937’s LIFE BEGINS IN COLLEGE. This was their first name-above-the-title movie, and features Harry, Jimmy, and Al at their zaniest, with the added bonus of comedienne Joan Davis as a kooky coed with her sights on Native American football hero Nat Pendleton.

Collegiate musical comedies were a popular sub-genre in the 30’s: COLLEGE HUMOR, PIGSKIN PARADE, COLLEGE SWING, COLLEGE HOLIDAY, et al, so it seemed the perfect milieu for the Ritzes to showcase their peculiar brand of nuttiness. The story is typical campus corniness, as George “Little Black Cloud” Black arrives at Lombardy College (crashing his motorcycle for an entrance) wanting to join the football team, and immediately developing a rivalry with football team captain…

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Dead Man Walking: Clint Eastwood in HANG ‘EM HIGH (United Artists 1968)


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Clint Eastwood  returned to America after his amazing success in Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy as a star to be reckoned with, forming his own production company (Malpaso) and filming HANG ‘EM HIGH, a Spaghetti-flavored Western in theme and construction. Clint was taking no chances here, surrounding himself with an all-star cast of character actors and a director he trusted, and the result was box office gold, cementing his status as a top star.

Clint plays ex-lawman Jed Cooper, who we meet driving a herd of cattle he just purchased (reminding us of his days on TV’s RAWHIDE). A posse of nine men ride up on him and accuse him of rustling and murder, appointing themselves judge, jury, and executioner, and hang him. He’s left for dead, until Marshal Dave Bliss comes along and cuts him down, taking Jed prisoner and transporting him to nearby Ft. Grant. Evidence…

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Pre Code Confidential #23: Marlene Dietrich in BLONDE VENUS (Paramount 1932)


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Director Josef von Sternberg and his marvelous muse Marlene Dietrich  teamed for their fifth film together with BLONDE VENUS, a deliciously decadent soap opera that’s a whole lot of fun for Pre-Code lovers. Sternberg indulges his Marlene fetish by exploring both sides of her personality, as both Madonna and whore, and Dietrich plays it to the hilt in a film that no censor would dare let pass just a scant two years later.

How’s this for an opening: a group of schoolboys hiking through the Black Forest stumble upon a bevy of naked stage chanteuses taking a swim! The girls scream and try to hide, and beautiful Helen (Marlene) tries to shoo them away. Ned Faraday refuses until Helen agrees to meet him later. Flash forward to a scene of Helen and Ned now married with a young son named Johnny. Ned, a chemist by trade, has been poisoned by…

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Review: Predators (dir. by Nimrod Antal)


Predators

It would be 20 years before those space-faring hunters, the Predators, would grace the bigscreen once again. Sure, they were part of the two Aliens vs. Predator films of the early 2000’s, but I don’t count them as part of the Predator franchise just due to the fact that they weren’t the headliner. Plus, those two mash-up films were all sorts of something awful.

2010’s Predators by Nimrod Antal (produced by Robert Rodriguez) looked to bring some new life into the scifi action franchise which the two AvP films quickly drained of life and excitement. From the early 1990’s til the release of this film, the franchise gradually built up it’s very own unique film universe which (through novels, comics, games, etc.) was as rich as any scifi franchise. Those who followed this world-building began to understand the Predators culture, mindset and technology.

For some, this meant erasing some of the mystery that made the Predator such an iconic film monster, but others thought it helped established rules for others to follow to help streamline the stories instead of relying too much on one-upping one story after the other.

Predators followed some of the world-building done prior, but also introduces a new wrinkle in the lore by adding the so-called “Super Predators” who were bigger, faster and meaner than the classic ones we’ve seen through the decades. Also new to the Predator lore was setting the film on an unnamed planet which would act as some sort extraplanetary game preserve where Predators could hunt their chosen prey at their leisure and on ground they know.

This new plot point adds a dimension to the film’s narrative in that the humans being hunted had no where to go. Their chances for survival even less now that whatever advantage they might have had on Earth go by the wayside. They’re now being hunted on Predator ground. It’s akin to sport’s game hunting where rich dentists and lawyers pay to hunt specific game in a controlled and managed way in the savannah’s of Africa.

Yet, despite these new additions to the franchise’s lore the film, for the most part, works as an action film. We have the requisite band of misfits, murderers and killers. The worst humanity has to offer but the best at what they do. They run the gamut of black ops mercenaries, elite snipers, drug cartel and rebel enforcers and right up to even a serial killer.

Leading this ragtag bunch, however reluctantly, was the enigmatic Royce played by Oscar-winner Adrien Brody (who actually pulls off the wiry, cold-hearted black ops killer). It’s through his character that the entire film hinges. He’s not the type to play well with others, let alone work with a team as disparate as the one he’s accidentally been stuck with on an unnamed death world. Still, the film works with him as it’s lead. It doesn’t take long for the viewer to believe that this character could easily kill everyone around him and have the best chance to survive being hunted.

He’s the stand-in for the audience who scoff at how those around him make one dumb mistake after another. This is not to say that he’s likable, because he’s definitely in the anti-hero mold who would sacrifice his own teammates if it meant living another hour. Yet, he also understands that his best chance at survival is to continue to use the others even if it means saving their lives.

Nimrod Antal has an eye for action that was very much a throwback to the McTiernan days of the franchise. He allows the scene to unfold in long, sweeping takes to establish a sense of the action’s geography. It’s a skill that less and less action filmmakers use nowadays as quick cuts and edits have become the go-to technique to make a scene more action-packed than it truly is.

Where the film suffers has less to do with Antal’s direction, but more on how exposition-heavy the film gets to try and explain the situation to the rest of the cast. Every time the film ends an action sequence we get some exposition to explain what’s going on to the characters. the writers even wrote in a character (played by a very game Laurence Fishburne) whose only role is to be Exposition Man.

Now, let’s talk about the new Super Predators. They’re an interesting trio of hunters that actually adds some new color and excitement to the Predator series, but at the cost of the more classic Predator we saw with the first two films.

We have three new types of Predators who represent three types of hunters. There’s the Tracker who uses a sort of alien hunting dog to flush out the prey. Then there’s the Falconer who uses a sort of cybernetic drone who scout ahead and look for the prey. The drone looks like something out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Falcon bag of gadgets. But it’s the biggest and baddest of the three, the Berserker, who headlines the new trio. Where the other two have a specific hunting role to play, the Berserker is just as its named. There’s no skill to this hunter, but just sheer brute force to take down what it’s hunting.

They’re a cool-looking bunch but they do detract from the more classic Predator. They actually make the original ones seem more than just a tad useless and helpless when put up against these newest trio.

Predators was definitely a couple steps above what audiences had received with the two Aliens vs. Predator films. Despite some shortcomings with an exposition-heavy screenplay and a narrative choice to make the classic Predator less intimidating, Nimrod Antal’s entry into the Predator franchise has enough action and new world-building additions to bring back some excitement into the series. It’s a shame that the stink from the two AvP films impacted this film and how many people ended up seeing it, but with each passing year more and more people have begun to rethink their initial negative feelings about Predators and give the film it’s just due of being a fun and exciting scifi actioner.