The Dirt On The Relentless: American Satan (2017, directed by Ash Avildsen)


The Relentless are the biggest band in the world, even though their music sounds like it belongs in the 80s.  Led by charismatic singer Johnny Faust (Andy Biersack), the Relentless have just released their debut album, American Satan.  Now, they’re touring the country, doing every drug they can get their hands on and every groupie that stops by their hotel.  The moral guardians say that The Relentless are a bad influence and are leading their children into Satanism.  For once, the moral guardians are right.  Back when they were just a struggling band in Los Angeles, The Relentless made a deal with Satan (Malcolm McDowell).  All they had to do was sacrifice the lead singer of a rival band (played by former teen idol Drake Bell) and all their dreams would come true.  However, if Johnny Faust had bothered to study his namesake, he’d know better than to make a deal with the devil.

The best thing about American Satan is that it was obviously made by people who know the music industry.  All of the details at the start of the film, with the Relentless struggling to get noticed and having to hit the streets and sell tickets to their own show, felt true.  It helps that most of the members of the Relentless were played by actual musicians.  What they lacked in acting talent, they made up for with authenticity.  The music industry is a tough business to break into, regardless of how good or bad your band is.  After watching Johnny and the Relentless struggle with crooked promoters and unsympathetic label owners, it was believable that they would consider signing a deal with the devil.

Much like the band, the movie lost its way after the contract with the devil was signed and official.  The rioting, the groupies, and the drugs were all too predictable and the movie just became The Dirt with Satan replacing Ozzy.  American Satan seems to be building up to an epic conclusion but it never seals the deal.  Instead, it just ends with a whimper, as if no one was sure where the story was supposed to be heading.  Still, any movie that finds roles for Malcolm McDowell, Bill Duke, Goldberg, and Denise Richards can’t be all bad.

At its worse, American Satan is an anti-climatic take on the Faust legend.  At its best, its Tipper Gore’s worst nightmare.

Scenes I Love: Predator “Jungle Shootout”


Predator Jungle Shoot

I recently reviewed John McTiernan’s classic scifi action Predator. It is a film that many kids both young and those young at heart loved watching on the bigscreen. The 1980’s some would consider the golden years of action filmmaking.

It was a decade where action instead of dialogue ruled. Where muscle-bound stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone dominated the box-office. Even with the resurgence and current renaissance of the action film genre, many still reminisce about the action flicks of the 80’s and how they truly didn’t make them like they used to.

If there’s ever a great example of just how over-the-top and testosterone-fueled the action films were of this decade of the 80’s (also known as the decade of excess) then one can’t go wrong with showing the uninitiated the jungle shootout scene from Predator.

One doesn’t need to be into guns to appreciate the majesty of this scene.

Review: Predator (dir. John McTiernan)


Predator 1987

It would be accurate for one to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger was king of the 80’s action flicks. He first burst onto the scene in the titular role in Conan the Barbarian then it’s follow-up sequel. Yet, it would be his role in James Cameron’s The Terminator in 1985 that would make him a household name.

He began to crank out action films after action film every year to varying degrees of success and quality between 1984 and 1987. It would be in the summer of 1987 that he would add a third iconic action film role to stint as Conan the Barbarian and the relentless cybernetic killer, the Terminator.

Maj. Dutch Schaefer in John McTiernan’s action scifi Predator cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger as the most bankable movie star of the 1980’s. The film itself has become a go-to classic whenever film fans of all stripes discuss what were some of the best films of the era. Yes, I do categorize Predator as one of the best to come out of the 1980’s. It does more than hold it’s own when stacked up against Oscar winners, festival darlings and indie cult-favorites.

It’s a film that takes the premise that “man is the most dangerous game” to new levels by adding in a scifi element to the story. That scifi element being an extraterrestrial hunter who comes to Earth every so often to hunt. It’s chosen prey tends to be killers, fighters and soldiers at the top of their craft and usually during times of extreme conflict.

The film, as written by the two brothers John and Jim Thomas, actually works like a slasher horror film in the beginning as Dutch and his team of elite commandos trek through the Central American jungle on a rescue mission. A mission that lands the team in finding the grisly remains of another American special forces team. Questions come up as to whether their CIA liaison (played by Carl Weathers of Rocky and Rocky II fame) knows more about the true nature of their supposed rescue mission than he’s willing to let on.

It’s once the team, still being stalked through the jungle by an unseen predator, finally find the people they’re suppose to rescue that all hell breaks loose in more ways than one. The action is loud, messy and exquisitely choreographed and filmed. Unlike some of the action films of the last ten years, Predator succeeds with it’s action scenes for having a director who uses very long takes and little to no hand-held to keep the action geography easy to follow and the action choreography unencumbered by too many edits and cuts.

Even once the team realizes that they were now being hunted and that whoever, or whatever is hunting them, the film still continues to stay on a creative track. When I mentioned that the film plays out like slasher film, it does in way in that the titular character behaves and moves like slasher killers. It seems to be everywhere and nowhere. The very victims it’s hunting only see it when it’s too late and death’s upon them.

The film’s dialogue has been quoted by so many fans that memes have been created around them. Yet, this doesn’t mean that the film is hilarious. What it does have was that masculine, brother’s-in-arms banter and quips that’s become a sort of signature for screenwriter and director Shane Black who was hired to do some uncredited rewrites on the Thomas Brother’s original script. Black would also end up playing one of the commandos in the film.

Outside of Arnold himself, Predator would be best-known for the effects work by the late and great Stan Winston, who would come in to help redesign the title character (with some help from his buddy James Cameron) and the rest as they would say was film history. It would be difficult to go anywhere around the world, show the Predator to some random person and they not know what it is.

Predator was one of those films that people, at first, thought was just a mindless, popcorn flick. The type of cinema that was to be seen then forgotten for better fare. Yet, in the end, Predator ended up becoming not just a classic of its genre, but a perfect example of a film that transcends it’s genre roots to become just a great film, in general.

A Movie A Day #265: Hoodlum (1997, directed by Bill Duke)


1930s.  New York City.  For years, Stephanie St. Clair (Cicely Tyson) has been the benevolent queen of the Harlem underworld, running a successful numbers game and protecting her community from outsiders.  However, psychotic crime boss Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) is determined to move into Harlem and take over the rackets for himself.  With the weary support of Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia), Schultz thinks that he is unstoppable but he did not count on the intervention of Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne).  Just paroled from Sing Sing, Bumpy is determined to do whatever has to be done to keep Schultz out of Harlem.

When I reviewed The Cotton Club yesterday, I knew that I would have to do Hoodlum today.  Hoodlum and The Cotton Club are based on the same historic events and both of them feature Laurence Fishburne in the role of Bumpy Johnson.  Of the two, Hoodlum is the more straightforward film, without any of the operatic flourishes that Coppola brought to The Cotton Club.  Fisburne is surprisingly dull as Bumpy Johnson but Tim Roth goes all in as Dutch Schultz and Andy Garcia is memorably oily as the Machiavellian Luciano.  Hoodlum is about forty minutes too long but the gangster action scenes are staged well.  Bumpy Johnson lived a fascinating life and it is unfortunate that no film has yet to really do him justice, though Clarence Williams III came close with his brief cameo in American Gangster.  (Interestingly enough, Williams is also in Hoodlum, playing one of Shultz’s lieutenants.)

One final note: Hoodlum features William Atherton in the role of District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey.  Atherton plays Dewey as being a corrupt and sleazy politician on Luciano’s payroll.  In real life, Dewey was known for being so honest that Dutch Schultz actually put a contract out on his life after he discovered that Dewey could not be bribed.  I am not sure why Hoodlum decided to slander the subject of one of America’s most famous headlines but it seems unnecessary.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #63: American Gigolo (dir by Paul Schrader)


American_gigolo_postWell, here we are!  A month and two days ago, I announced the start of Embracing the Melodrama Part II, a 126-film series of reviews.  At the time, I somewhat foolishly declared that I would manage to review all of these films in just three weeks!  Four weeks later and we have finally reached the halfway point.

So yeah…

Anyway!  We started this series of reviews with 1927’s Sunrise and we have worked our way through the films of the 30s, the 40s, the 50s, the 60s, and the 70s.  And now, as we hit the halfway point, it’s appropriate that we start a new cinematic decade.

In other words, welcome to the 80s!

Let’s start the 80s off with the 1980 film, American Gigolo.  Directed by Paul Schrader, American Gigolo is — much like Schrader’s Hardcore and The Canyons — a look at the sleazier side of life in California.  Julian Kaye (Richard Gere) is the most successful male escort in Los Angeles.  He’s handsome, he’s confident, he speaks multiple languages, and he maintains a proper emotional distance from … well, from everyone.  He’s got a fast car, expensive clothes, a great apartment, and — because it is the 80s after all — a small mirror that is perpetually coated in cocaine residue.

We don’t really learn much about Julian’s past.  We don’t know much about who he was before he became the American Gigolo.  (If this movie were made today, American Gigolo would be a part of the MCU and would end up joining The Avengers.)  However, the film is littered with clues.  For instance, we know that he used to work exclusively for Anne (Nina Van Pallandt) but he’s become so successful that Anne has lost her hold over him.  Before Julian worked for Anne, he worked for Leon (Bill Duke), a gay pimp.

Julian’s sexuality is a big question mark throughout the entire film.  Though all of his current clients are female and Julian brags about his ability to leave a woman feeling sexually satisifed, the film leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not he actually likes women.  (It’s suggested — though never explicitly stated — that Julian slept with men while he was working for Leon.)  Ultimately, for someone who has sex for a living, Julian seems oddly asexual.  It’s hard not to feel that Julian is only truly capable of desiring his own carefully constructed image.

Is Julian capable of love?  That’s the question that Michelle Stratton (Lauren Hutton) has to consider.  Michelle is unhappily married to a member of the U.S. Senate but she’s having an affair with Julian.

Michelle’s relationship with Julian is tested when Julian is accused of murdering one of his clients.  While Julian begs both his clients and his business associated to provide him with an alibi, he discovers that he’s basically alone.  Convinced that someone’s trying to frame him, Julian destroys his apartment and his car searching for clues.  As he grows more and more paranoid, his perfect image starts to crack and Michelle has to decide whether or not to sacrifice her marriage to protect him.

American Gigolo is technically a murder mystery but the murder doesn’t really matter.  Instead, it’s a character study of a man who is empty inside until, in Job-like fashion, he loses everything.  It’s also a very watchable exercise in pure, sleek, and probably cocaine-fueled style.  Richard Gere has always been an oddly hollow actor (and that’s not necessarily meant as a criticism) and that suggestion of inner emptiness makes him the perfect choice for the role of Julian Kaye.

American Gigolo is making the premium cable rounds right now.  Keep an eye out for it and don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing Call Me afterwards.

What Lisa Marie and the Snarkalecs Watched Last Night #78: Battledogs (dir by Alexander Yellen)


On Saturday night, the Snarkalecs and I watched the SyFy original movie, Battledogs.  (Also watching was a mentally unstable moron from Buffalo, NY named Michael Conklin.  But more about him later…)

Battledogs

Why Were We Watching It?

Because we’re snarkalecs and that’s what snarkalecs do.

What Was It About?

Donna Voorhees (Ariana Richards) is a nature photographers who visits our friend to the north and gets bitten by a Canadian lycanthrope.  When she returns to New York, she ends up transforming into a werewolf  herself and manages to kill nearly everyone at JFK Airport.  Everyone that she doesn’t kill is infected with the werewolf virus.

Donna and the rest of the infected are captured by the military.  Under the watch of the sinister Lt. Gen. Monning (Dennis Haysbert), the infected are doped up with tranquilizers and left to aimlessly wander around a prison.  With the help of a sympathetic major (Craig Sheffer) and a scientist (Kate Vernon), Donna and the rest of the infected escape the prison and soon New York is overrun by werewolves.

Meanwhile, the U.S. President (Bill Duke) spends a lot of time sitting out in the middle of Central Park and looking depressed…

What Worked?

Battledogs was produced by the Asylum.  As soon as I saw the words “The Asylum Presents…” at the beginning of the opening credits, I knew that Battledogs was going to be a lot of fun.

Battledogs was surprisingly well-cast.  While Craig Sheffer made for a dull hero, Dennis Haysbert was a great villain.  Admittedly, he was one of those villains who spent the whole movie talking about his plans as opposed to actually carrying them out but, fortunately. Haysbert has a great voice.  Haysbert turned Lt. Gen. Monning into a genuinely menacing character.

The scenes in which the tranquilized infected wander about in a daze had a nicely surreal feel to them.  While watching them, I actually compared them to a similar scene from Jean Rollin’s Night of the Hunted.  That’s probably going a bit too far but still, they were handled very well.

On a final note, Bill Duke plays perhaps the most ineffectual president in the history of ineffectual presidents.  Speaking as someone who has little faith in governmental authority, I found Duke’s performance to be the most realistic part of the film.

What Did Not Work?

Oh, I suppose there are things I could complain about.  I could point out that the film may have been set in New York but it was obviously (and I do mean obviously) filmed in Canada.  (Actually, no, it was not!  As Mike Conklin so politely points out in the comments below, Battledogs was filmed in Buffalo and yes, a look at the imdb does confirm that this film — despite seeming very Canadian, was indeed filmed in New York.  I apologize for the careless error. — LMB)   There were also a few plot holes that I could talk about if I felt like being nit-picky.

But you know what?

There is nobody worse than someone who would actually get nit-picky about an Asylum film.  Asylum Films are made for audiences who have a sense of humor and their “flaws” are ultimately a very intentional part of the fun.  The Asylum makes fast-paced, unpretentious films for people who want to be entertained for 90 minutes.  You know what you’re going to get when you see “The Asylum” name and, unlike most major studio films, Asylum films can be counted on to deliver exactly what they promise.  This film promised battle dogs and it delivered.

Therefore, the entire film worked.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

To be honest, despite featuring not one but two female leads, Battledogs was a pretty masculine film.  The emphasis was definitely on people either shooting guns or beating each other up.  That’s not necessarily a criticism because, if New York was overrun by werewolves, I imagine there was be a certain amount of societal breakdown.  However, the fact of the matter is that I’m scared of guns and the only fights I’ve ever been in have involved a lot of hair-pulling and little else.  As a result, there really weren’t any “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moments in Battledogs.

That said, Ariana Richards’ character reminded me of my sister, the Dazzling Erin, because they’re both talented photographers.

Lessons Learned

Apparently, the best way to avoid being killed in a nuclear blast is to jump into the Hudson River right when the bomb goes off.  In today’s unpredictable world, that’s a good thing to know.