A New Orleans Film Review: J.D.’s Revenge (dir by Arthur Marks)


Ike (Glynn Turman) is a nice guy.  He’s a law student living in New Orleans.  When not studying, he makes money driving a taxi cab.  He has a beautiful and loving wife named Christella (Joan Pringle).  He has a nice but modest apartment.  When we first see Ike, he is calmly and rationally breaking up a fight.  Perhaps the only real complain that can be made about Ike is that he’s actually too nice.  There’s nothing dangerous about Ike.  He works hard.  He studies.  That’s about it.

When Christella and their friends tell him that he needs to take a night off from studying, Ike is reluctant.  However, he finally agrees to go out with them.  They start out at a strip club in the French Quarter and eventually, they end up watching a hypnotist.  Ike is one of the men randomly selected to go up on stage.  Amazingly, rational and mild Ike is easily hypnotized.  The audience loves watching as Ike and the other men all reacts to hypnotic suggestion.  What they don’t know is that, while in his trance, Ike has been … possessed!

That’s right!  The ghost of J.D. Walker has entered Ike.  Who is J.D. Walker?  As we learn from a series of gauzy flashbacks, J.D. Walker was a gangster in the 1940s.  He wore a fedora.  He wore nice suits.  He was every bit as flamboyant as Ike is mild.  But then, one day, J.D. was killed, gunned down by his former business partner, Theotis Bliss (Fred Pinkard).

Soon, Ike starts to act … well, not like himself.  Suddenly, Ike is using 1940s slang.  He’s wearing 1940s clothes.  He’s gambling.  He mugs an old lady who gets in his cab and then abandons her on the wharf.  When his wife asks him why he’s acting like a 1940s gangster, he gets violent.  Soon, Ike is speaking in a different voice and dancing.

What does J.D. want?  He wants revenge against not only the man who shot him but also Theotis’s younger brother, a popular preacher named Elijah (Lou Gossett, Jr.).  As wild as the possessed Ike may be, he’s got nothing on Elijah.  Elijah was a boxer before he became a man of God and he’s still liable to throw a punch or two during his sermons.  Elijah, however, is also rather naive and has no hesitation about inviting J.D. to become a member of his congregation.  Theotis, who is now Elijah’s manager, is a bit more suspicious…

An oddly paced film that never quite escapes the lengthy shadows of all of the horror films that inspired it, J.D.’s Revenge is worth seeing for the performances Glynn Thurman and Lou Gossett, Jr.  Gossett is all energetic charisma in the role of the reverend, giving a performance that features just enough ambiguity that you’re never sure whether you should trust Elijah or not.  Meanwhile, Thurman is very good as the mild-mannered Ike but he seems to be having an absolute blast whenever he gets to play the psychotic J.D.  During the final confrontation between Ike/J.D. and the Bliss Brothers, Thurman’s performance is so bizarre and over the top that you simply cannot stop watching him.

J.D.’s Revenge was filmed in New Orleans, which add a little bit of gothic atmosphere to the film.  As I write this, a lot of our readers may currently be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  I wish them all well but I hope they’ll remember the lesson of J.D.’s Revenge.  Just say no to hypnosis!

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.23 “Shadow Play” (dir by Paul Lynch)


For tonight’s trip into the world of televised horror, we have an episode from a 1986 attempt to revive The Twilight Zone.

This episode is a remake of one of my favorite episodes of the original series, Shadow Play.  That’s the one where the guy is on death row but he says he’s not worried about being executed because he knows he’s just having a reoccuring nightmare.  Of course, this kind of freaks out some of the people around him because, if he’s just having a dream, what happens to them when the dream ends?

While the remake is nowhere near as good as the original, it’s still fairly well done.  Plus, it’s on YouTube and the original isn’t.

This episode was directed by Paul Lynch, the Canadian director who also directed the original Prom Night.

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #70: Wired (1989, directed by Larry Peerce)


Sometimes, you watch a movie and all you cay say, at the end, is “What the Hell were they thinking?”

Wired is one such movie.  Based on a widely discredited biography by Bob Woodward, Wired tells two stories.  In the first story, John Belushi (Michael Chiklis, making an unfortunate film debut) wakes up in a morgue and is told by his guardian angel that he has died of a drug overdose.  Did I mention that his guardian angel is Puerto Rican cabbie named Angel Vasquez (Ray Sharkey) and Angel drives Belushi through a series of flashbacks?  Belushi meets Dan Aykroyd (Gary Groomes, who looks nothing like Dan Aykroyd).  Belushi gets cast on Saturday Night Live.  Belushi marries Judy (Lucinda Jenney).  Belushi uses drugs, costars in The Blues Brothers, dies of a drug overdose in a sleazy motel, and plays a pinball game to determine whether he’ll go to Heaven or Hell.  While this is going on, Bob Woodward (J.T. Walsh) is interviewing everyone who knew Belushi while he was alive.

There are so many things wrong with Wired that it is hard to know where to even begin.  I haven’t even mentioned the scene where Bob Woodward travels back in time and has a conversation with Belushi while he’s dying on the motel room floor.  Wired tries to be a cautionary tale about getting seduced by fame and drugs but how seriously can anyone take the message of any movie that features Ray Sharkey as a guardian angel?  The scenes with Woodward are strange, mostly because the hero of Watergate is being played by an actor best known for playing sinister villains.  (Seven years after playing Bob Woodward, J.T. Walsh was actually cast as Watergate figure John Ehrlichman in Nixon.)  Considering that this was his first movie, Michael Chiklis is not bad when it comes to playing a drug addict named John but he’s never convincing as John Belushi.  He never captures the mix of charisma and danger that made John Belushi a superstar.  Wired wants to tell the story of Belushi’s downfall but never understands what made him special to begin with.

Wired tries to be edgy but it only succeeds for one split second.  During the filming of The Blues Brothers, a director who is clearly meant to be John Landis walks over to Belushi’s trailer.  Listen carefully, and a helicopter can be heard in the background.

As for the rest of Wired, what the Hell were they thinking?

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #87: One False Move (dir by Carl Franklin)


One_false_moveWho doesn’t love Bill Paxton?

Seriously, he’s just one of those actors.  He’s appeared in a countless number of films and he’s played a lot of different characters.  He was a psycho vampire in Near Dark.  He was the underwater explorer who got stuck with all of the worst lines in Titanic.  In Frailty, he was a father who was driven to murder by heavenly visions.  He was the sleaziest of sleazes in Nightcrawler.  And, of course, in Big Love, he was an unrepentant polygamist.  In all of these roles, Paxton showed the quirkiness that has made him so beloved to film lovers like me.  Much like Kevin Bacon, it doesn’t matter what role Bill Paxton is playing.  You’re going to like him and you’re going to be happy to see him onscreen.

And yet, considering just how many popular films that he’s appeared in, it’s interesting to note that Bill Paxton’s best performance can be found in a film about which not many people seem to have heard.  That film is the 1992 Southern crime drama, One False Move.

Actually, it does the film a disservice to refer to it as merely being a crime drama.  I mean, it is a drama and it even has a properly dark ending to prove that fact.  And it is about criminals and police officers.  But ultimately, the film’s plot is just a starting point that the film uses to examine issues of culture, race, and guilt.  In the end, One False Movie is an unexpectedly poignant and penatrating character study of 5 very different people.

We start out with three criminals.  Ray (played by Billy Bob Thornton, who also co-wrote the script) is a career criminal, a white trash redneck who is not particularly smart but who is dangerous because he’s ruthless and he’s willing to whatever he need to do to survive.  (If you’ve lived in the country, you will recognize Ray’s type as soon as you see him.)  Ray’s girlfriend is Fantasia (Cynda Williams), a beautiful but insecure woman.  And finally, there’s Ray’s partner and former cellmate, Pluto (Michael Beach).  Of the three of them, Pluto is the most menacing, a knife-wielding sociopath with an IQ of 150.  Even though he’s working with Ray and Fantasia, Pluto always makes it clear that he considers himself to be both separate from and better than both of them.

Ray, Pluto, and Fantasia have just brutally murdered 6 people in Los Angeles, all of whom were friends of Fantasia’s.  Now, they’re making their way to Houston, planning on selling stolen cocaine.  Pursuing them are two LAPD detective, Cole (Jim Metzler) and McFeeley (Earl Billings).  When Cole and McFeeley come across evidence that the three criminals might have a connection with the tiny town of Star City, Arkansas, they call up the local sheriff.

And that’s where Bill Paxton shows up.

Paxton plays Sheriff Dale Dixon.  Dale’s nickname is Hurricane and it’s soon obvious why.  Like a hurricane, Dale never stops moving.  He’s a well-meaning but hyperactive good old boy who has a talent for saying exactly the wrong thing.  When he first talks to Cole and McFeeley over the phone, he amuses them with his enthusiastic bragging and briefly offends them with his casual racism.

Cole and McFeeley eventually end up taking a trip to Star City, so that they can investigate how the three criminals are connected to this tiny town.  When Dixon meets up with them, he asks them if they could help him get a job with the LAPD.  The two cops initially humor Dixon and laugh at him behind his back.  When Dixon’s wife (a wonderful performance from Natalie Canerday) asks Cole to keep Dixon safe, Cole assures her that Ray, Fantasia, and Pluto are probably not even going to come anywhere near Star City.

However, Dixon soon reveals to the two cops that Fantasia’s name is Lila and that her family lives in Star City.  What he doesn’t tell them, however, is that he and Lila have a personal connection of their own…

One False Move is a twisty and intense thriller, one that’s distinguished by strong performances from the entire cast.  (Even Metzler and Billings bring unexpected shadings to Cole and McFeeley, who, in any other film, would have been portrayed as being stock characters.)  But the film is truly dominated by Bill Paxton.  When we first meet Dixon, he seems like a joke.  We’re sure that he’ll somehow end up being the film’s hero (because that’s what happens in movies about small town sheriffs being underestimated by big city cops) but what we’re not expecting is that Dale is going to turn out to be such a multi-layered and fascinating character.  Just as Dale eventually starts to lower his defenses and reveal who he truly is, Paxton also starts to reign in his initially overwhelming performance and reveals himself to be a subtle and perceptive actor.  It’s a great performance that elevates the entire film.  Al Pacino won the 1992 Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Scent of a Woman.  That award should have gone to the unnominated Bill Paxton.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal One False Move‘s secrets.  It’s a film that you really should see for yourself.