A Movie A Day #308: Number One With A Bullet (1987, directed by Jack Smight)


Number One With A Bullet is the story of two cops.  Nick Barzack (Robert Carradine) is so crazy that the all criminals have nicknamed “Beserk.”  (Who says criminals aren’t clever?)  Nick’s partner, Frank Hazeltine (Billy Dee Williams) is so smooth that jazz starts to play whenever he steps into a room.  Nick keeps a motorcycle in his living room, wants to get back together with his wife (Valerie Bertinelli), and has an overprotective mother (Doris Roberts).  Hazeltine is Billy Dee Williams so all he has to worry about is being the coolest man on Earth.  Their captain (Peter Graves!) may want them to do things by the book but Nick and Hazeltine are willing to throw the book out if it means taking down DaCosta, a so-called respectable citizen who they think is actually the city’s biggest drug lord.

It is natural to assume that, because of the whole crazy white cop/centered black cop storyline, this movie was meant to be a rip-off of a well-known film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but actually, Number One With A Bullet was released a week before Lethal Weapon.  As well, while Carradine’s Nick is almost as crazy as Mel Gibson’s Riggs, it is impossible to imagine Billy Dee Williams ever saying that he’s “too old for this shit.”  Williams is having too good a time listening to jazz and picking up women.  Whenever Hazeltine shows up, Number One With A Bullet feels like a Colt 45 commercial that somehow costars Robert Carradine.  Whenever the film is just Carradine, it feels like an unauthorized sequel to Revenge of the Nerds where Lewis gets really, really pissed off.

Number One With A Bullet is a Cannon film and entertaining in the way that most late 80s Cannon films are.  There is a lot of action, a little skin, and some dated comedy, much of it featuring Robert Carradine having to dress in drag.  There is also a mud wrestling scene because I guess mud wrestling was extremely popular back in the 80s.  They may not be Gibson and Glover but Carradine and Williams still make a good team and they both seem to be having a ball.  For fans of cheap 80s action films, there is a lot to enjoy in Number One With A Bullet.

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Sci-Fi Film Review: Return of the Jedi (dir by Richard Marquand)


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As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve devoted this month to science fiction here at the Shattered Lens.  Gary Loggins reviewed THX-1138.  Valerie took a look at everything from The Star Wars Holiday Special to Turkish Star Wars to Return of the Ewok.  Ryan the Trashfilm Guru reviewed such Italian classics as Cosmos: War of Planets and War of the Robots.  Patrick Smith reviewed a terrifying Christmas movie about Santa. Myself, I’ve taken a look at such films as Contamination and 2019: After the Fall of New York.  

We’ve reviewed a lot of science fiction and we’ve got a lot more left to go.  (Keep an eye out for my reviews of Starcrash and The Humanoid over the upcoming few days.)  However, from the beginning, this month has always been centered around Star Wars.  You may have heard that there’s a little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it’s opening this week.  Apparently, a few people are excited about it.  Since we love reviewing little known art films here at the Shattered Lens, we decided why not review all of the previous Star Wars films during the week leading up to the release of The Force Awakens?  Jeff (a.k.a. the blogger known as Jedadiah Leland) started us off by reviewing The Phantom Menace.  Then Alexandre Rothier took a look at Attack of the Clones, followed by Jeff’s look at Revenge of the Sith.  Leonard Wilson was the next to step up to the plate, reviewing both A New Hope and The Empire Strike Back.

And now, it’s my turn to add my thoughts to this project.  It’s time to review the 1983 film, Return of the Jedi.  And I have to admit that, when I first thought about what I wanted to say in this review, I was totally intimidated.  Unlike my fellow writers here at the Shattered Lens, I’m hardly an expert when it comes to Star Wars.  Don’t get me wrong — I know the basics.  I know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father.  I know that Han Solo flies the Millennium Falcon and that Princess Leia is in love with him.  I know there’s an evil Empire and I know that there are rebels.  I’m not a virgin when it comes to Star Wars but, at the same time, I’m definitely not as experienced (with Star Wars) as most of my friends and fellow movie bloggers.

"Dang, Lisa, get over it!"

“Dang, Lisa, get over it!”

So, late this afternoon, when I sat down to watch Return of the Jedi, it was with more than a little trepidation.  My obvious panic and welling tears convinced Jeff to watch the movie with me and I was happy for that.  He loves Star Wars so I knew he could explain to me what was going on.

Finally, we watched Return of the Jedi and I discovered that I was panicking over nothing.  Return of the Jedi may be the third part of trilogy and I may not be an expert on the films that came before it.  But, even with all that in mind, Return of the Jedi is not a difficult film to figure out.  As opposed to the finales of Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and The Hunger Games, Return of the Jedi keeps things simple.  A good guy has been kidnapped by a bad guy.  The other good guys come to the rescue and then go to another planet so that they can fight an even bigger bad guy.  It’s not complicated.

As I watched Return of the Jedi and realized that I was having absolutely no problem following the film’s plot, I also realized that the Star Wars films are such a huge part of our culture that, regardless of how many of them we’ve actually sat through, everyone has absorbed them by osmosis.  Bits and pieces of it are everywhere, showing up in everything from TV sitcoms to political commentary.  (Remember how everyone used to compare Dick Cheney to Darth Vader?)  The Star Wars franchise is almost biblical in that respect.  At the same time, the fact that everyone knows about these movies makes them a little difficult to review.  You don’t so much watch a Star Wars film as you join in a universal experience.  As a reviewer, you definitely find yourself wondering what you can add to a conversation that everyone else has already had.

As a stand alone movie, Return of the Jedi is actually three separate films mixed together.  The first film deals with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) showing up at Jabba the Hutt’s palace and rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and two robots from being tossed into a creature called the Sarlacc, which is basically a giant vagina out in the middle of the desert.  The second film deals with the rebels teaming up with a bunch of teddy bears and fighting the Empire on a jungle planet.  And the third film features Luke and Darth Vader (body of David Prowse, voice of James Earl Jones, face of either Sebastian Shaw and Hayden Christensen, depending on which version of the film you’re watching) dealing with their family issues while the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) cackles in the background.  Some parts of the film work better than others.  The end result is entertaining but definitely uneven.

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Jedi‘s heart belongs to that third film, the one dealing with Luke and Darth Vader.  I’ve read some pretty negative online comments about Mark Hamill’s performance in New Hope and Empire Strikes Back but, in Return of the Jedi, he brings an almost haunted intensity to the role of Luke.  In theory, it’s easy to be snarky about all the talk about the “Dark Side of the Force,” but, when you look in Hamill’s eyes, you totally understand what everyone’s going on about.  You see the fire and the anger but, even more importantly, you see the struggle between good and evil.  There’s a very poignant sadness to the scenes where he and his father prepare to meet the Emperor.

And speaking of the Emperor, he is pure nightmare fuel!  AGCK!

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As for the other two films to found within Return of the Jedi, the jungles of Endor didn’t do much for me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I thought the action scenes were handled well and, unlike apparently everyone else in the world, I was not annoyed by the inclusion of the Ewoks, the killer teddy bears who helped to the Rebels to take down the Empire.  I thought the Ewoks were cute and I actually got pretty upset when one of them was killed in battle.  If I had been alive when Return of the Jedi had been released, I probably would have wanted a stuffed Ewok and, I imagine, that was the main reason they were included in the film.  (I also imagine that’s the main reason why a lot of people can’t stand them.)

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So, no, the Ewoks did not bother me.  What did bother me was that under-construction Death Star floating out in the middle of space.  It bothered me because I really couldn’t imagine any reason why — after the first Death Star was apparently such a colossal failure — the Empire would insist on trying to do the exact same thing all over again.  This, along with the fact that they were rather easily defeated by a bunch of teddy bears, leads me to wonder whether the effectiveness of the Empire was just a little overrated.  I mean, the Emperor was scary but otherwise, everyone involved with the Empire was pretty incompetent.

Far more impressive, as far as villains go, was Jabba the Hut.  In fact, Jabba and his decadent entourage were so memorable and colorful and evil and icky that they pretty much overshadowed almost everything else in the film.  I mean, Jabba even had a blue elephant playing music for him!  And I know that I’m supposed to be critical of the film for putting Leia in that gold bikini but you know what?  Leia may have been forced to wear a gold bikini but she never gave up her dignity or her defiance.  And when it came time to take out Jabba, Leia used the tools of her oppression to do so, strangling him with his own chains.  In that one scene, Leia proved herself to be a true rebel.

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There’s a lot that’s good about Return of the Jedi but, as I said earlier, it’s definitely an uneven film.  Richard Marquand’s direction is perhaps the epitome of workmanlike.  It’s efficient and it’s dependable and there’s absolutely nothing surprising or particularly challenging about it.

It’s interesting to note that, before Richard Marquand was selected as director, the job was offered to both David Lynch and David Cronenberg, two directors who are all about surprising and challenging the audience.  What would David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi been like?  Well, here’s one possibility:

As for David Cronenberg’s Return of the Jedi, it might have looked something like this:

For better or worse, the world got Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi, which I imagine was pretty close to what George Lucas wanted the film to be.

As I sit here finishing up this review and wondering just why exactly I was so intimidated earlier (seriously, this turned out to be one the easiest reviews that I’ve ever written), I estimate that 75% of the people that I know are currently sitting in a theater and watching The Force Awakens.  Keep an eye out for Arleigh’s review in the next few days!

And in closing, here’s that blue elephant that I mentioned earlier.  Dance!

Maxrebo

Sci-Fi Review: The Empire Strikes Back (dir. by Irvin Kershner)


empire_strikes_back_style_aThe Year was 1980.

Though three years had passed since A New Hope’s release, it was never truly gone. In the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, there was a huge jump in Science Fiction. Films like Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and  The Black Hole jumped on the sci-fi wave and kept audiences busy. If you didn’t want to go to the movies, you could always watch the original Battlestar Galactica.

My father was always a stickler for presentation when it came to movies. It had to be the biggest screen and the best sound available, if possible. My parents took my brother and I on what felt like one of the longest road trips to see the movie. Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, some films were presented in a 70MM format. In the early 80’s, saying “Panavision” was like saying “IMAX” today. The only problem with this was that Dad decided we should sit like 3 rows from the screen. It remains one of my favorite Star Wars related experiences.

There was a bit of a scare before the film was made. Sometime before production, Mark Hamill was involved in a car accident that broke his nose and part of his cheek. The reconstructive surgery required part of his ear to fix his nose, and anyone watching the film could tell that he looked pretty different from A New Hope. It was like watching Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and then following that with The Stepford Wives. Still, the accident didn’t get in the way of production and it’s believed that Hamill’s damaged look may have actually helped add some authenticity to the Wampa scene, where he’s attacked by a Yeti-looking creature.

If A New Hope was the feel good movie of the year, with heroes winning the day, then The Empire Strikes Back was a downer of a film. Everyone you rooted for in the first film is made to face a challenge that completely knocks them down a peg. It’s almost a perfect middle part to any trilogy. There’s an improvement in nearly every part of the process in the movie, despite the fact that George Lucas didn’t have the directorial duties. It’s as if most of the money earned from A New Hope was moved to ILM’s R&D department. The sound and visual effects have improved, thanks to better blue screen work and recording equipment and the rotoscoping for the lightsabers is sharper. John Williams was brought back to score the film, which features a new theme both for the Empire, Yoda and Han & Leia’s love story.

From a writing standpoint, The Empire Strikes Back serves as the best example of Lucas getting out of the way. Though the story is his, the screenplay was written by both Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Between the two of them and director Irwin Kershner’s input, Empire has the tightest characterization of all the films (in my opinion). We’re given a love story that’s both subtle and believable, a villain worth hating without being overly campy, and a hero who discovers that as good as he believes himself to be, he still has much to learn. There’s also an element of comedy peppered throughout, with James Earl Jones and Harrison Ford getting some of the best lines and/or moments. New characters are introduced in the form of Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Boba Fett (Played by Jeremy Bulloch and voiced by Jason Wingreen. On a trivia side note, Frank Oz and George Lucas would reunite some years later in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, produced by Lucas.

The film opens with the Empire sending out probes to locate the rebel forces. There a focus on the Rebellion, stationed on the icy planet of Hoth. The audience is allowed to catch up on our heroes. Luke Skywalker is slowly learning the ways of the Force and is coming into his own. Han Solo and Chewbacca remain his friends and have stayed behind, rather than choosing to leave. Both gentlemen have an awkward approach towards Princess Leia, who continues to lead the Alliance. When Han and Chewie stumble on one of the Empire’s droids, it’s clear they’re going to have to be ready for battle.

The audience is brought back to the Empire’s viewpoint with a grand introduction to former henchman turned major villian, Lord Darth Vader. Seeing as he survived the attack on the first death star (and no one challenged him) he saw fit to give himself a promotion. With the promotion came some perks, including a super Star Destroyer complete with his own little pod chamber. Vader begins a relentless assault on the rebel troops in his search for Luke, who he’s recognized as having some Force abilities. This turns out to be Vader’s one big mistake. While his attentions are focused on the Millenium Falcon, Luke travels to the planet Dagobah to see out Master Yoda. As this was some time before CGI, the original Yoda was more or less a Muppet. Mind you, this was probably a shock to a many viewers. Obi-Wan was good, but this little green fellow was a Jedi? How did that even happen? Still, he was awesome. Through Yoda, Luke gains more skill with the force, but he leaves before he can finish.

The battle itself is an air to ground one, with giant walking tanks (AT-AT’s) on the Empire’s side and Snowspeeders for the rebels. While it’s a great fight, the Rebels are forced to escape their home, looking more like the Quarian Migrant Fleet in Mass Effect by the end of the film. The scene is a great example of how the technology in the Star Wars universe has grown. New ships such as the Tie Bomber also made an appearance. For each film in the series, you’re introduced to some new vehicle and/or weapon. One can only hope that with The Force Awakens, we’ll see more than just Tie Fighters and X-Wings.

Vader eventually catches up with Solo and the Princess by way of Boba Fett, a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter working for Jabba the Hutt. Cinema audiences still wouldn’t see Jabba until 1983’s Return of the Jedi, but it was a good foreshadowing. Under the impression they’ve escaped the Empire, Han & Leia head over to the Cloud City at Bespin, where Han is reunited with his old friend Lando Calrissian. Here we gain a bit of backstory on how Solo acquired the Falcon. It all seems a little too perfect and safe until we all discover that the bad guys (yet again) have the drop on our heroes.

Solo is tortured, along with the rest of the friends in an effort to lure Luke to Bespin. The Empire uses the Cloud City’s carbonite system on Solo as a test (considering that the process could kill him) for when Skywalker arrives. This results in one of the best one liners in the original trilogy, as well as one of the saddest scenes. Five year old me cried so much, this film was just depressing at every turn.

With the stage set for the showdown between Luke and Vader, the Lightsaber battle was cut between the escape of Leia, Chewie and Lando, who takes the place of Han as the Millenium Falcon’s pilot. The fight is slow compared to the prequels, but Vader is his best here, easily besting Luke with one hand at the start while trying to seduce him to the Dark Side of the Force. It’s a beautifully lit sequence by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky that would end with a revelation that would leave audiences questioning the film for the 3 years leading up to Return of the Jedi. Luke is able to escape Vader, but given the knowledge that he could be his father, everything changes for him from a character standpoint. Why did Obi-Wan lie to him about it? Can he, knowing Vader is his father, kill him? Should he, even?  Granted, as anyone who’s seen Pitch Perfect knows (or anyone who’s studied basic German), Vader means Father in German. How he didn’t see that coming is beyond me. Then again, when I first saw the film it was news to me, too.

So, there you have The Empire Strikes Back, easily the best film in the entire Star Wars saga. It’s proof that a Star Wars film can be made without Lucas controlling every aspect of it – though it should be noted that as Executive Producer, he was on hand in just about every other scene. We’ll around out our Star Wars coverage on the Eve of The Force Awakens’ release with Return of the Jedi.

Shut up, Billy Dee Williams — It’s Time For Six More Trailers


Here’s the latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers.  (I know, I know — worst intro paragraph evuh!  Following the tradition of the Pieces trailer, which can be found below, I’m keeping things simple.  I’ll be back to my usual complicated self next week.)

1) Fear City

Believe it or not, this was directed by Abel Ferrara, the same man who directed Ms. 45Fear City is one of the few Ferrara films that I haven’t seen but the trailer just oozes sleaze doesn’t it?  And speaking of sleaze, maybe that’s what all the men in this film were putting in their hair.  Seriously, why not call it Gel City?  And how about Billy Dee Williams there, sounding like the angel of the final judgment?  Shut up, Billy Dee Williams!

2) A Cat In The Brain

This is one of Lucio Fulci’s final films and you’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it.  The film is surprisingly meta for an Italian horror film not directed by Michele Soavi.  This is the one where Fulci plays himself and attempts to personally answer his critics.  Anyway, the reason I love this trailer is because of the cat puppet that appears at the end.  It’s so cute!  (Ignore the quote from Clive Barker — he’s almost as much of a whore as Stephen King.)

3) Pieces

“It’s exactly what you think it is!”  Anyone who wants to go into advertising should watch this and learn.

4) The Stud

I imagine this is another film that’s “exactly what you think it is.”  I love trailers that show off what was considered to be chic and decadent in the past.  This is one is from the 70s.  (Surprised?)

5) Cannibal Apocalypse

While the rich people were partying in London, cannibals were apparently ruling the streets of Atlanta.  According to actor John Saxon, starring in Cannibal Apocalypse made him suicidal.  Cannibal Apocalypse is actually a pretty good film with an anti-war subtext and it features a great supporting performance from Giovanni Lombardo Radice so seriously — shut up, John Saxon!  (Actually, Saxon gives a really great performance here — of course, his character is meant to be suicidal — and he’s the main reason that Cannibal Apocalypse works.)

6) Cannibal Man

Much like Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Man is actually an allegory of alienation that’s disguised as a horror movie.  Cannibal Man is a seriously strange movie and highly recommended.