Scarred City (1998, directed by Kim Sanzel)


John Trace (Stephen Baldwin) is a patrolman who has managed to shoot four unarmed suspects in one month.  Most people would say that it might be time to put Trace on desk duty but Lt. Devon (Chazz Palminteri) thinks that Trace will be a perfect addition to the SCAR unit.  SCAR is an elite group of police officers who deal with the city’s worst thugs by gunning them down.  A typical SCAR operation involves setting up a fake adult bookstore just so they can ambush a group of men who come in to rob the place.

Even for someone as trigger happy as John Trace, being a member of SCAR proves to be too much.  When the SCAR team murders a group of gangsters who were having a party in a mansion, Trace is disgusted when two prostitutes are blown away as well.  When he discovers a third prostitute, Candy (Tia Carrere), hiding in an upstairs bedroom, Trace helps her escape.  With both the police and the mob now after them, Trace and Candy try to escape the city.

For some reason, Stephen Baldwin appeared in a lot of direct-to-video action films in the 90s.  I guess it was because he had appeared in The Usual Suspects and, at the time, he was also the cheapest Baldwin brother available.  (The Baldwins were hot commodity in the 90s.  Today, you could probably put William, Daniel, and Stephen all in the same film and still have enough money left over to hire a halfway decent cinematographer.)  Stephen has such a goofy screen presence that it was always strange to see him playing either tough cops or hardened criminals.  In Scarred City, he does that thing where he closes his eyes while delivering his lines and he looks even more awkward handling a gun than usual.

However, for a direct-to-video Stephen Baldwin action film, Scarred City isn’t that bad.  The script is surprisingly witty and even the bad guys get their share of good one-liners.  “Pretty fucking dead, sir,” one of the cops yells to their lieutenant when he asks how one of their partners is handling having been shot.  (Later, the same cop looks at her partner’s dead body and says, “Thanks to his dead ass, we’re going to have a parade.”)  Tia Carrere and Chazz Palmentiri both bring a lot of life to their otherwise underdeveloped roles and the action scenes are violent, exciting, and well-shot, which is good since the last half of the movie is a nonstop chase.  Scarred City may just be a B-movie but it’s a good one.

Insomnia File #43: Legend (dir by Brian Helgeland)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were having trouble getting to sleep around two in the morning, you could have turned over to HBO and watched the 2015 British gangster film, Legend.

Tom Hardy is Reggie Kray.  Arrogant, handsome, charming, and dangerous to know, Reggie is a club owner who is also an up-and-coming gangster in 1960s London.  Scotland Yard has him under surveillance.  The East End both fears and respects him.  American gangsters want to do business with him.

Tom Hardy is also Ronny Kray!  Ronny is the ugly twin, the one who lives in a trailer and has just been released from a psychiatric institution.  Ronny is openly gay at a time when that was still illegal in the UK.  Driven by jealousy of Reggie and a desire to prove himself superior to everyone who has ever judged or looked down on him, Ronny is determined to make sure that he and his brother become the top gangsters in London.

Together …. they solve crimes!

No, actually, they do the exact opposite.  They commit a lot of crimes.  Ronny is willing to shoot anyone in the head.  Reggie tries to be a bit more respectable.  He even attempts to run a legitimate nightclub.  Reggie understand that sometimes, the threat of violence is more effective than violence itself.  Reggie and Ronny are about as close as siblings can be, even if they do spend a lot of time beating each other up.

Frances Shea (Emily Browning) is the sister of Reggie’s driver, Frankie (Colin Morgan).  She’s sixteen when she meets and falls in love with Reggie Kray.  Reggie loves her too and he even marries her.  (Of course, he has to do a stint in prison first.)  Reggie swears to Frances that he’s going to go straight and that they’re going to have a normal life.  Deep down, Frances know that will never happen so, while her husband and brother-in-law conquer London, she copes with pills.  Lots and lots of pills.

For an American viewer like myself, British gangster films are always fun to watch because they’re just as violent as American gangster films but, at the same time, everyone’s always dressed impeccably and stopping in the middle of all the mayhem to have a cup of tea.  Legend is based on a true story, which turns out to be both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.  On the one hand, it’s fascinating to see the film’s recreation of London in the early 60s.  On the other hand, the film never convinces us that we should really care about the Krays.  This isn’t a case where, like the Corleones, the Krays are tragic figures who can’t escape their destiny.  Tom Hardy does a great job playing Reggie and he’s an adequate Ronny but you can never quite escape the feeling that the two brothers are just — to use one of their own preferred insults — two wankers who aren’t really worth all the trouble.  This is a film that you watch and you ask yourself, “Why should we care?”  Beyond the novelty of the Krays being twins, the film really can’t provide an answer.

Still, I happen to be fascinated by the early 60s so I enjoyed the film as a historical recreation.  Legend isn’t a bad film.  It’s just somewhat underwhelming.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Guilty Pleasure No. 33: In the Mix (dir by Ron Underwood)


Back in January, I had to get a new cable box.  Sadly, when the boxes were switched, I lost everything that I had saved on the DVR.  Over a hundred movies and TV shows were wiped away!  However, I did not let this get me down.  Instead, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I now had a lot more free space by literally recording anything that looked the least bit interesting.

Well, the day of reckoning has finally arrived.  It is now March 21st and the DVR is nearly full.  So, for the next few weeks, I am going to clean out my DVR and review what I watch!  Now, I can’t say how long this is going to take.  In the past, I’ve always given myself unrealistic deadlines.  So, this time, I’m not giving myself a time limit.  Instead, I’m just going to start watching what I’ve got recorded and hope that I’m done by 2018.  We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, I started things off by watching the 2005 mafia romance film, In the Mix.

I recorded In The Mix off of Starz on March 16th.  I did this despite the fact that I’ve actually seen In The Mix quite a few times.  In The Mix, which is technically a beyond terrible movie, is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine.  It’s a bit like From Justin To Kelly or On The Line.  Even though all my instincts as a movie snob tell me not to do it, I can’t help but watch it.

In the Mix stars Usher as Darrell, the hottest DJ in New York.  Every woman wants him and every man wants to be him.  However, all Usher wants to do is hang out with the family of the local mob boss.  It turns out that Don Frank (Chazz Palminteri) was friends with Darrell’s father and Darrell is now friends with Frank’s son, Frankie Jr. (Anthony Fazio).  Frank hires Darrell to DJ his daughter’s birthday party.

(Frankie, Jr. is a white kid who wants to be black.  Personally, I think there’s probably an interesting story in the idea of the son of an old-fashioned Italian mafia don who idolizes — or appropriates, depending on how you look at it — black culture but Frankie, Jr.’s characterization pretty much starts and ends with him saying, “Yo.”)

At the party, Darrell quickly falls in love with Frank’s daughter, Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Dolly likes him too.  Especially after he takes a bullet that was intended for her father.  While Darrell is recuperating at the mansion, Frank tells Dolly that she can’t go outside unless she has a bodyguard.  Dolly says that’s fine as long as the bodyguard is Darrell.

And you know what that means!  It’s time for a makeover montage as Darrell gets a whole new wardrobe!  Yay!

Anyway, the plot is about as predictable as the casting of Kevin Hart as Usher’s comedic sidekick and Robert Davi as a sinister gangster.  Dolly and Darrell fall in love but you already knew that was going to happen.  You also probably already guessed that Dolly already has a boring boyfriend named Chad (Geoff Stults) and that Darrell has a crazy ex-girlfriend named Cherise (K.D. Aubert).  And, of course, Frank is not initially happy with the idea of Dolly leaving her rich lawyer boyfriend so that she can be with Darrell.  However, Darrell eventually gets a chance to prove himself by rescuing Dolly from some rival gangsters and he’s welcomed into the crime family.  Of course, he gets shot a second time.  “If the ghetto’s so dangerous,” he says as he lies on the ground, “how come I keep getting shot by white people?”  Everyone has a good laugh as they wait for the ambulance.  That’s the type of movie that In The Mix is.

As I watched In The Mix, I realized that it was actually a lot worse than I remembered and yet, I still enjoyed it.  Why?  To be honest, it all comes down to Usher and Emmauelle Chriqui, both of whom look really, really good and who have enough chemistry that they can overcome an amazingly clunky script.  You reallydo believe that the two of them actually are into each other and you hope that things will work out for them because they’re such a ludicrously attractive couple.  In The Mix is an incredibly shallow and silly movie but the stars both look good when they kiss and, ultimately, that’s what a movie like this is all about.

That said, in the future, I probably won’t bother to set the DVR for it again.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D

A Movie A Day #29: Boss of Bosses (2001, directed by Dwight H. Little)


bossWho was the boss of bosses?  According to this movie, he was Paul Castellano.  A cousin-by-marriage to the notorious crime boss Carlo Gambino, Castellano grew up in New York City and first became a made man in the 1930s.  After four decades of loyal service, Castellano succeeded Carlo as the boss of the Gambino Crime Family.  As portrayed in this movie, Castellano attempted to keep the Gambinos out of the drug trade and tried to steer both his biological and his crime family into legitimate businesses.  However, not everyone appreciated Castellano’s vision of the future and, in 1985, he was assassinated on the orders of his eventual successor, John Gotti.

Considering that this biopic was made for TNT and was directed by Dwight H. Little (who was best known for directing films like Halloween 4 and Free Willy 2), it’s probably not surprising that not a single mob cliché goes unturned in Boss of Bosses.  At first, I had a hard time accepting Chazz Palminteri as Castellano because Palminteri sounded exactly like Joe Mantegna voicing Fat Tony on The Simpsons.  Once I got over the vocal similarities, I saw that Palminteri was actually giving a very good, noncartoonish performance as Castellano but the film itself never convinces us that Castellano was anything more than a forgettable placeholder between the reigns of the legendary Gambino and the flamboyant Gotti.

Boss of Bosses, which is also known as Godfather of New York, is currently available on YouTube.

Quickie Review: Running Scared (dir. by Wayne Kramer)


Director Wayne Kramer’s follow-up to his directorial debut (The Cooler) shows that he has a flair for drama and suspense that borders the line between reality and surrealism. Running Scared has such a gritty, washed out look right from the get-go that one starts to think it’s a film lifted right out of the 70’s. But that is only part of what Kramer does in creating a look and feel for Running Scared. Kramer actually uses every kind of trick in a director’s book to give his film such an over-the-top sense that the audience really doesn’t know what to expect just around the next dark corner.

Running Scared‘s first ten minutes sets up what the rest of the next two hours are going to be like. Kramer direct’s this ten minutes like a man possessed. The direction and editing is frantic and frenetic. Some have said that it’s all been done before by Tarantino, Woo and a dozen other action-stylists out of Hong Kong, but I disagree. Kramer’s style owes alot more to the grandfather of excessive film violence and that’s Sam Peckinpah. I’m not comparing Running Scared to Peckinpah’s seminal classic The Wild Bunch, but the pace and look of the chaotic shoot-out in the tiny apartment to start the film brings to mind the opening and closing shoot-outs of Peckinpah’s film.

Kramer knows he’s not making a social statement or even an intellectually relevant film. What he does know is that he wants to tell a fairy tale of one man’s hectic day and all the craziness he has to go through during that day. And this is what Running Scared really has turned out to be. A fairy tale set in an modern, dank, urban landscape where our hero (though anti-hero is more like it) and the two kids in his life must travel a surreal place filled with mack-daddy pimps, hooker with a heart of gold, corrupt cops and even a pair of child pedophiles who also turn out to be husband and wife. Running Scared is a like Grimms fairy tale as seen and told in a modern setting.

The cast of actors Kramer has assembled all do a good job in populating this violent, profane modern fairy tale. I’d be the last to think that Paul Walker was an actor who had any talent, but his performance in this film has given me pause to think that maybe its not him, but the projects he’s been doing that’s given him a bad reputation as an actor (which continues to this day as he continues to put himself in bad projects). Gone is the California surfer dude persona he seems to saddle himself with in most of his roles. He actually inhabits the low-level mobster soldier he plays as Joey Gazelle. This film may not be his breakout performance but it will open up some eyes. The boy’s got some skill he’s never been able to show before. The other actor who makes a standout performance is one Cameron Bright who plays Oleg. The neighbor kid whose theft of a mob gun Joey is suppose to make disappear turns Joey’s life upside down. Cameron’s almost like Pinocchio in that its through him that we see all the crazy characters he runs across. It’s a testament to Kramer’s direction that he’s able to get such good performances from Walker, Bright and the rest of the cast in a film that’s as confusing, complicated and surreal as this film turned out to be.

Running Scared was a wonderful surprise of a film for 2006. It’s an unabashed fun, thrilling urban fairy tale that goes for broke in everything it does. Wayne Kramer’s direction shows that his very good work in filming The Cooler wasn’t a fluke and one-time deal. He’s no Tarantino and surely not in the same league as Sam Peckinpah whose films this one owes alot to in style and feel, but he’s slowly making a name for himself as one who can do good work. Oh, Paul Walker does a good job in it as well.