Film Review: Gasoline Alley (dir by Edward Drake)


Believe it or not, Gasoline Alley is not that bad.

Don’t get me wrong.  Gasoline Alley is definitely a pulpy film.  The plot is full of twists and turns and it doesn’t always hang together.  There’s more than a few holes to be found in the story.  There’s also a few threads that are left hanging.  Much as in real life, characters appear and then disappear almost at random.  In many ways, the film plays out like a dream, a jumbled mix of concerns and ideas and images.  The viewer is often left to figure out how to fit everything together on their own.  Obviously, that type of  approach won’t appeal to everyone but, for me, it was the perfect way to tell the film’s story.  The world of Gasoline Alley often doesn’t make sense but neither does the world outside of your window.  Gasoline Alley‘s mystery often feels like a jigsaw puzzle where someone has jammed pieces randomly into each square and then pounded on them until they managed to fit in the slots.  It’s chaos but it’s an appropriate approach for a film that takes place in a chaotic world.

Gasoline Alley also one of the final films that Bruce Willis made before his retirement and, with all the rumors about whether or not Willis was pushed into spending the last few years of his career appearing in low-budget and B-movies, it’s often undeniably awkward to watch him in his final films.  As is the case with almost all of Willis’s recent films, he doesn’t get much screen time in Gasoline Alley.  He’s only in a handful of scenes and his dialogue is limited and delivered in a flat monotone.  He plays a key character but much of what the character does and says occurs off-screen and is described to us second-hand.  And yet, at the same time, Willis still has enough natural presence that his performance works as far as the basic needs of the film are concerned.  He’s playing a character who is meant to be intimidating and Willis still has enough of that tough guy energy that his performance is effective.    

Willis plays a homicide detective named Freeman.  Freeman and his partner, Vargas (Luke Wilson), are investigating the murder of four prostitutes and their number one suspect is a tattoo artist named Jimmy Jayne (Devon Sawa).  Jimmy’s father was a decorated police detective.  His mother was a prostitute.  Jimmy spent several years in prison for assault, though Jimmy claims that he was simply acting in self-defense.  (“He came at me with a screwdriver,” Jimmy says, without further elaboration.)  While he was in prison, Jimmy befriended an actor who was doing time for DUI.  Having been released, Jimmy is now the tattoo artist to the stars.  He has his own tattoo parlor, called Gasoline Alley.  Because one of the murdered women was found with one of Jimmy’s personalized lighters on her body, Jimmy is a suspect.  Jimmy, however, claims that he merely met her in a bar.

Jimmy starts to investigate the murders on his own and it quickly becomes clear that he’s a better investigator than either of the detectives who are on the case.  Though Jimmy is trying to clear his name, he’s also determined to get justice for the murdered women, all four of whom appear to him as either ghosts or drug-induced hallucinations at a key moment in the film.  Jimmy’s investigation leads him into the world of human trafficking, police corruption, and the darkest corners of the film industry.  Indeed, one of Gasoline Alley‘s major points seems to be that everyone in Hollywood is corrupt.  The actor who Jimmy saved in prison is a pretentious loser who, at one point, goes off on a rant that was obviously based on Christian Bale’s infamous Terminator meltdown.  Meanwhile, the adult film industry is represented by a sleazy director who snorts cocaine, tells bad jokes, and throws parties that are almost exclusively populated by crooked cops.  As one cop puts it, “He knows whose lives matter.”

Gasoline Alley has gotten terrible reviews but I think those reviews have more to do with the fact that this is a low-budget Bruce Willis flick than the film itself.  Gasoline Alley is actually not bad at all.  It’s an entertaining work of pulp fiction, a quickly-paced film that takes a look at how life is lived and lost in the shadows of “decent” society.  Because he’s an ex-con, Jimmy is destined to be an outcast, regardless of how many stars come to him for their tattoos.  But, at the same time, it’s Jimmy’s outcast status that allows him to infiltrate and understand the dark side of Los Angeles.  It’s because Jimmy’s an outcast that he’s determined to get justice for the victims that respectable society would rather just ignore.  Director Edward Drake fills the movie with images of neon-suffused decadence.  The atmosphere may be sleazy but it’s also undeniably plausible.  Luke Wilson does a good job playing Willis’s talkative partner but the film is stolen by Devon Sawa, who brings a mix of weary dignity and righteous fury to the role of Jimmy.  Sawa has been through his own well-publicized troubles and perhaps that’s why he seems to instinctively understand why it’s so important that Jimmy not only clear his name but also get justice for those who have been victimized in the shadows.  As played by Sawa, Jimmy is cynical and often tired but he still hasn’t given up his desire to make the world a better place.

No, Gasoline Alley is not a bad film at all.  Instead, it’s a portrait of a harsh world and a look at the people who are simply trying to make it from one day to the next.  Much like Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, Gasoline Alley is a journey through a brutal world where people get what they want at the cost of their own souls.  It’s a film that, like many of the classic B-movies and film noirs of the 40s and 50s, will be rediscovered and better appreciated in the future.

Quick Review – Grindhouse (dir. by Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino)


The following was posted on 4/6/2007 from my LiveJournal on Grindhouse (which is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary). I’ll admit I respect Death Proof a bit more now than I did back then:

Gotta write fast. Have to jump into shower and head for work.

I got into the movie theatre at about 8pm, and spent the hour talking with a pair of film students from the School of Visual Arts. At 9 (an hour before the movie), the rest of the sold out crowd appeared. I was officially 3rd in line. Sweet. 🙂 I didn’t my preferred seat (the single one on the right reserved for patrons coming in with someone in a wheelchair), but did get a seat in the empty row (meaning I could stretch my legs, even better).

The short of it: Grindhouse is paying one low price for 2 bad movies, on purpose. You get 3 great built in trailers, and two mini movies. Between the two mini movies, I loved “Planet Terror” (the Rodriguez one) more than “Death Proof” (The Tarantino film), simply because Death Proof had too much of Tarantino’s conversational style that all of his films have. It’s like you’re listening to a conversation that absolutely doesn’t tie itself to any of the storyline’s major points. It’s just “cool” stuff, but I literally almost fell asleep until Kurt Russell showed up on screen. I think that if one knows to expect this from Tarantino, it comes across better. It’s like watching both Kill Bill volumes back to back. The first one’s cool and action packed, and the second one has some action (the chase scene alone in Death Proof had me wondering how they did that), but is so slow before getting there, you want to sigh.

Being a Charmed Fan, it was great to see Rose McGowan again, and there were so many cameos to laugh at. Fergie has a cameo, and Michael Biehn’s (“Hicks” from Aliens, Navy Seals) even in this. Where did they dig up these guys?

Grindhouse is easily a party film. I’d go see it again in the theatre, but I don’t see myself getting the DVD. It takes you back about a good 30 years, and does that really well. There are missing reels, serious jump cuts in the film and the sound sometimes cuts out. 🙂 In that sense, it’s really beautiful. The audience laughed and applauded, though there were some that at the end were like “Man, that sucked.” In the 60’s and 70’s, Grindhouse movies were pretty bad. I guess it’s like watching one of those old Hammer films, mixed in with a cheap horror flick. You have to walk into this movie not expecting “The Departed” for it to work. Just have fun with what you’re seeing and remember, this is what your parents sometimes saw in the movies (it should be noted that my parents went to something of a Grindhouse once – the movie they went to see was Night of the Living Dead. The other movie that was in the show was John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, which freaked my Dad out).

The music in particular is really great. Robert Rodriguez, Chingon, and a few friends come up with a sound for Planet Terror that’s in essence a John Carpenter like sound. If you have access to the Itunes Music Store, give it a listen (I bought it). Plus, if you’re a fan of some of the older movies out there, you’ll find references to some of Carpenter’s films in there (for example, one of the songs from “Escape from New York” is actually used in the film). The same occurs with the soundtrack from “Creepshow” – The story with the drowned couple. There are also tons of older Tarantino/Rodriguez references in there. One fellow actually yelled out a line, word for word, from what was on screen. It took me a second to realize the line came from “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Sweet.

The in betwen trailers are absolutely fantastic. If I were to get the DVD, it would probably be for this reason alone. You can tell that Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel) really had fun with their pieces.

So, Grindhouse is worth seeing in theatre at least once with a bunch of friends, but know what you’re walking into. The movie can get gross at times and no young kid should even be brought near to this (we got carded to actually get into the theatre, and a Weinstein Rep. was on hand after the film to let us take surveys). Also before the movies, one of the teaser trailers is for Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. I haven’t been so excited for a horror film like this since Zack Snyder’s version of “Dawn of the Dead”. This looks really good, and I’m wondering what Michael Myers is going to look like when someone like Tyler Mane (Sabretooth from the first X-Men movie) is playing him. That’s going to be creepy.

Music Video of the Day: Young Blood by Bruce Willis (1987, directed by ????)


I’m still taking in the news that Bruce Willis has retired from acting for health reasons.  When I was growing up, Bruce was the closest thing we had to an old fashioned movie star.  No one can beat the bad guys like Bruce Willis.  No one could deliver a stone cold perfect one liner like Bruce Willis.  No one could liven up a movie like Bruce Willis.  No one could surprise you with an unexpectedly sensitive and good performance like Bruce Willis.  As far as I’m concerned, he is still the epitome of cool..  Moonlighting, Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Sin City, Looper, and more, Bruce Willis had quite a career and I think that his reputation as an actor will only grow as his performance are rediscovered and reevaluated.

Bruce Willis was not only an actor but he also a singer.  In 1987, at the height of his Moonlighting fame, he released The Return of Bruno, an album the featured Bruce Willis covering several classic R&B tunes.  To support the album, he toured in the the character of veteran singer, Bruno.  Today’s music video of the day was originally a part of an HBO special that was designed to promote the album.  Bruno remembers performing at Woodstock and covers Young Blood, which was originally recorded by The Coasters in 1957.

Enjoy!

Here’s The Life-Affirming Trailer for Fortress!


I’m still struggling to get back into my non-Halloween routine of regular posting.  If I remember correctly, I think I’ve had to deal with post-Horrorthon exhaustion every year since we first started the Shattered Lens.  It’s worth it, though!

Fortunately, a trailer a film like Fortress can only encourage me to get back in the swing of things!  Bruce Willis, Shannen Doherty, and Chad Michael Murray!?  Hell yeah!

Anyway, here’s the trailer:

Here’s The Trailer For Deadlock!


Patrick Muldoon and Bruce Wills in the same movie!?

Finally, the ancient prophecy has come true.

Deadlock will be released on December 3rd. It looks like Bruce might actually make more than a five minute appearance in this film. I guess someone here at the Shattered Lens will find out when we force them to watch this movie.

Here’s the trailer!

Striking Distance (1993, directed by Rowdy Herrington)


Thomas Hardy (Bruce Willis) comes from a huge family of Pittsburgh cops.  He used to be a homicide detective but then his father (John Mahoney) was murdered by a serial killer and his cousin (Robert Pastorelli) jumped off a bridge after Hardy turned him in for being crooked.  When Hardy insisted that the serial killer who murdered his father and countless others in Pittsburgh had to be a cop, he was kicked out of homicide and reassigned to the river patrol.

Two years later, Hardy drinks too much and spends his time floating up and down the river.  He’s got a new, younger partner named Emily (Sarah Jessica Parker) but not even Emily can snap him out of his funk.  It’s not until the serial killer starts to strike again — this time specifically targeting people from Hardy’s life — that Hardy starts to care about police work again.

Striking Distance is a good example of a thoroughly mediocre film that bombed at the box office but was given a new lease on life by HBO.  During the 90s, it sometimes seemed as if there wasn’t a day that went by that HBO didn’t air Striking Distance at least once.  I guess it makes sense.  Bruce Willis was a big name and Sarah Jessica Parker did eventually end up starring on one of HBO’s signature hits.  Still, it seems like they could have found a better Bruce Willis film to air.  When critics in the 90s complained that Bruce Willis was an ego-driven star who wasn’t willing to break out of his comfort zone, they weren’t talking about Willis’s appearances in films like Pulp Fiction or 12 Monkeys or even Die Hard.  They were talking about movies like Striking Distance, where Willis smirks his way through the film and spends more time making the camera gets his good side than actually developing a character.

The most interesting thing about Striking Distance is that it manages to be too simple and too complicated at the same time.  There’s no mystery to the identity of the serial killer or why Hardy is being targeted.  There’s also no depth to Hardy and Emily’s relationship.  As soon as they meet, everyone knows where their relationship is going to head.  At the same time, the movie is full of red herrings and unnecessary characters.  Hardy comes from a family of policemen and it seems like we meet every single one of them.  Tom Atkins, Dennis Farina, and Tom Sizemore all show up as different relatives.  They don’t add much to the movie but they’re there.  Andre Braugher, Timothy Busfield, and Brion James also all show up in minor roles, to no great effect beyond providing the film with an “It’s that guy!” moment.

To the film’s credit, it has a few good chase scenes, though the novelty of everyone being in a boat wears off pretty quickly.  Striking Distance is a mess but everyone who had HBO in the 90s sat through it at least once.

 

Music Video Of The Day: Under The Boardwalk, performed by Bruce Willis and The Temptations (1987, directed by ????)


Today is Bruce Willis’s birthday!

Everyone knows that Bruce Willis is the film star who, late in his career, turned out to be an unexpectedly good character actor.  Quentin Tarantino once said that Willis as one of the only modern stars who seemed as if he could easily step into an old gangster movie or film noir and not seem like he was out of place.  Tarantino was right.

What is often forgotten is that, early on his career, Willis also pursued musical stardom.  He released two albums of R&B covers, the best known of which was the first, The Return of Bruno.  Released by Motown, The Return of Bruno was critically dismissed as being a vanity project but Bruce got the last laugh when the album exceeded expectations commercially and Willis went on to appear in movies like Pulp Fiction and 12 Monkeys.  Meanwhile, his critics had to settle for appearing in Rolling Stone.

When the album was released in 1987, HBO aired a concert film of Willis performing.  The video above is taking from that concert film and it features Bruce singing Under The Boardwalk with The Temptations.  Willis’s cover of Under The Boardwalk did not chart in the U.S. but it was hugely popular in the UK, where it reached the second spot on the charts.

Enjoy!

Icarus File No. 3: Glass (dir by M. Night Shyamalan)


Oh, Glass.  We all had such hopes for you.

Glass, as you may remember, came out in January and was one of the first big cinematic disappointments of the 2019.  People were certainly excited about it before the film was released.  Glass was a sequel to not only Split but also Unbreakable.  James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bruce Willis would all be returning to the roles that they played in those original films.  Glass was viewed as being the film that would establish whether director M. Night Shyamalan was truly back after the critical and commercial success of Split or if he was going to return to being the kinda hacky director who we all remembered from the mid to late-aughts.

Actually, it can probably be argued that, as a director, M. Night Shyamalan managed to go from being slightly overrated to being wildly underrated.  Even his worse films aren’t exactly terrible.  Even the incredibly silly The Happening had a few effective scenes.  Shyamalan wasn’t a bad director as much as he was a director who, at times, seemed to be way too convinced of his own cleverness.  The Shyamalan twist became both his trademark and his curse.  I can still remember an entire theater audibly groaning during The Village, not because the twist was necessarily bad as much as just because it was so expected.  Was Shyamalan capable of making a film that didn’t end with a gimmicky twist?  Interestingly, for most of its running time, Split seemed like a straight forward story about a psychotic man with multiple personalities.  It was only at the last minute, when Bruce Willis showed up in that bar, the people realized that Split had a Shyamalan twist.

Glass has a few twists of its own, most of them dealing with how Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) became the killer known as The Beast.  It’s all connected to Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also the supervillain named Mr. Glass.  Kevin, Elijah, and David Dunn (Bruce Willis) all end up in a mental asylum together.  Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) insists that the three of them do not have any super powers and instead, they’re all suffering from a shared delusion.  Of course, Dr. Staple has an agenda of her own.  It’s not a particularly interesting agenda but then again, who cares, right?  I mean, the main reason people are going to watch this movie is so they can watch James McAvoy and Bruce Willis square off against each other, right?

Well, those people are out of luck.  The audience may not care about Dr. Staple’s agenda but Shyamalan certainly does and, as a result, McAvoy, Jackson, and Willis often seem to be bystanders in their own film.  When the long-promised confrontations between our three main characters finally do occur, it all leads to a finale that leaves a rather sour aftertaste.  You can’t help but feel that the characters (and their actors) deserved better.  What ultimately happens to David Dunn in Glass feels almost like an extended middle finger to anyone who has ever defended Unbreakable.  One gets the feeling that Shyamalan was so eager to work in one of his trademark surprises that he never stopped to consider whether the film’s storyline was strong enough to support his ambition.

The other problem is that Bruce Willis’s David Dunn and James McAvoy’s The Beast really don’t belong in the same movie together.  Willis gives an understated and rather haunted performance as David but McAvoy is so flamboyantly evil as the Beast that it destroys whatever gritty reality Willis had managed to develop.  Both McAvoy and Willis give good performances but they appear to be performing in different films.  As for Jackson, nobody glowers with the power of Samuel L. Jackson.  But, oddly, he never seems to have much to do.  Glass may be named after his character but Mr. Glass often feels superfluous to the overall plot.

Glass is ultimately a rather forgettable movie.  One gets the feeling that Shyamalan was truly trying to say something profound about heroism and pulp mythology in the final part of the trilogy that began with Unbreakable.  But, ultimately, Glass‘s message is too muddled to have much of an effect.  In the end, Glass leaves Shyamalan’s ambitions unfulfilled.

Previous Icarus Files:

  1. Cloud Atlas
  2. Maximum Overdrive

Film Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (dir by Mike Mitchell)


Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel that the Lego movies are their own worst enemy.

I mean, they’re just so cute and fun and likable and cheerfully dorky that it’s easy to overlook just clever they often are.  Everything is Awesome may have been a cute song but it was also a pitch perfect parody of mindless conformity.  And yes, The Lego Batman Movie got a lot of laughs out of Will Arnett’s guttural growl but it was also the best Batman film since The Dark Knight and it also had a lot to say about how lonely it can be when you’re an extremely paranoid super hero.  As for The Lego Ninjago Movie …. well, give me a minute and I’ll think of something.  Uhmmmm …. it had that cute kitty!  Woo hoo!

Beyond all that, all of the Lego movies — from the best to the less-than-the-best — celebrate imagination.  They celebrate being an individual and the joy of creating your own world as opposed to just conforming to someone else’s rules.  As much as I loved Chris Pratt as Emmett and Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle, the heart of the first Lego Movie is to be found in the scene where Will Ferrell essentially realizes that he’s being a jerk when he won’t let his son build what he wants to build.

That said, the main appeal of the Lego movies is that they’re incredibly cute.  Just take The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part for instance.  Especially when compared to the first Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, this sequel has its flaws.  Admittedly, some of those flaws are unavoidable.  Just the fact that we start the movie knowing that everyone is in Will Ferrell’s house means that the sequel can’t take us as much by surprise as the first Lego Movie did.  Though the film’s original directors, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, wrote the script and contribute some genuinely witty dialogue, the sequel’s pacing occasionally seems a little bit off.  There’s a few slow spots, the majority of which are really only noticeable when you compare the sequel to the flawlessly paced first film.  And yet, in the end, it’s such a cute movie that it’s easy to overlook those flaws.

The sequel begins immediately where the first ended, with Will Ferrell decreeing that both his son and his daughter are now allowed to play with his Lego collection.  Jump forward five years and this has basically led to chaos.  The Lego Universe is now a Mad Max-style wasteland.  Not surprisingly, both Wylstyle and Batman have really gotten into their new dystopian lifestyle.  Meanwhile, Emmett remains just as blindly cheerful and optimistic as ever.  He still feels that everything is awesome.

Or, at least Emmet feels that way until all of his friends are kidnapped to the Systar System, where Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) wants to marry Batman.  Determined to rescue his friends, Emmett decides to travel to the Systar System himself.  Helping him out is Rex Dangervest, who seems like the type of adventurer that Emmett has always dreamed of becoming.  Chris Pratt voices both Rex and Emmett and the film has a lot of fun playing with Pratt’s post-Guardians of the Galaxy stardom.  Rex is not just an intergalactic explorer.  No, he’s also a cowboy, a dinosaur trainer, an archaeologist, a first baseman, and — we’re told — a script doctor.  (Those, of course, are references to Pratt’s roles in The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World, and Moneyball.  Interestingly enough, his work in Passengers goes unmentioned.)  Rex pressures Emmett to become more cynical and ruthless in his efforts to save his friends and destroy the Systar System and Chris Pratt does a great job voicing both roles.  Indeed, if nothing else, this film will always stand as a tribute to the incredible and unending charm of Chris Pratt.

If Lego Movie 2 never reaches the glorious heights of the first film, that’s because the element of surprise has been lost.  There’s no moment  in the sequel that’s as memorable as when a live action Will Ferrell suddenly showed up in the first movie.  (In the second movie, Ferrell appears in a flashback and has a brief voice cameo as President Business.  Maya Rudolph does show up as his wife but the sequel’s live action scenes just don’t have the emotional impact of the first film’s.)  But, with all that in mind, it’s still an undeniably cute and entertaining movie.  All of your old favorites back — everyone from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Green Lantern to Alison Brie as Unikitty to Charlie Day as the astronaut. (Sadly, Liam Neeson did not return as the Good Cop/Bad Cop and his absence is felt.)  The film is full of clever parodies, my favorite being the references to Mad Max: Fury Road.  There’s more than enough witty lines, visual gags, and sweet moments that Lego Movie 2 will hold your interest and bring a smile to your face.

At the box office, Lego Movie 2 fell victim to the same Lego fatigue that took down the Lego Ninjago film and it did not become quite the phenomenon that the first movie did.  Regardless, it’s still a worthy sequel.  I wouldn’t quite say it’s awesome but it’s definitely a lot of fun.

Horror Trailer: Glass


Glass

Yes, I think next year’s film from M. Night Shyamalan is a horror to a certain degree. It’s what one may call a horror-thriller with superhero aspects. It helps that one of the returning characters for the film is The Beast played by James McAvoy from M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 psychological horror film Split.

With Glass still set for a January 19, 2019 release it’s time we got a new trailer that gives a bit of a look at the basic premise of the film’s story. From this trailer it looks like Mr. Glass will not just team-up with The Beast but do so in order to prove to the rest of the world that superheroes and supervillains do exist and that they’re not just a mental disorder.

There’s definitely some creepy beats in this trailer that hopefully will lend itself for some disturbing sequences in the film. It’s the horror aspect of Split that made it quite popular with audiences. Now time to see whether it’ll combine well with the superhero journey narrative of David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis).