A Movie A Day #282: Jack’s Back (1988, directed by Rowdy Herrington)


When med student Rick Westford (James Spader) is found hung at the free clinic where he worked, the police say that he committed suicide.  Rick’s estranged twin brother, John (James Spader), does not agree and launches an investigation of his own.  With the help of Rick’s co-worker, Chris (Cynthia Gibb), John discovers that Rick may have learned the identity of a serial killer who has been copying the crimes of Jack the Ripper and murdering prostitutes in Los Angeles.  However, the killer knows that John is getting close to discovering his identity so the killer sets out to frame John not only for the prostitute murders but for the murder of his brother as well.

Jack’s Back is a movie that deserves to be better known than it is.  James Spader gives two great performances, as both Rick and John.  He and Cynthia Gibb make a good team and Jack’s Back actually does some unexpected things with their relationship.  Jack’s Back was directed by Rowdy Herrington, who is best known for Roadhouse and Gladiator.  Jack’s Back is part murder mystery, part action thriller, and part horror movie and Herrington does a good job of switching back and forth through Jack’s Back constantly shifting tone.  Because this is a low-budget movie with a small cast, there really are not enough suspects to make the murderer’s identity a surprise but Spader, Herrington, and Gibb always keep things interesting.

This is a film that really does deserve to be better known.

Back to School Part II #21: Brotherhood of Justice (dir by Charles Braverman)


Brotherhood_of_Justice_FilmPoster

For my next back to school review, I want to take a look at one of the best films that you’ve probably never heard of, the 1986 made-for-TV film Brotherhood Justice!

Brotherhood of Justice takes place at a California high school.  It’s a school that is pretty much ruled by the football team and the divide between the children of the upper and the working class is often violently apparent.  After several acts of violence, drug dealing, and vandalism, the school’s principal (Joe Spano) is left with a choice.  He can either hire full-time security guards and turn his school into an armed camp or he can meet with the most popular seniors and ask them to do their part to maintain order at the school.

He goes with the latter option.

At first, quarterback Derek (Keanu Reeves) is excited about doing his part to make the school a better place.  He and his friends quickly form the Brotherhood of Justice and make out a list of trouble makers.  At first, Derek and his friends are just roughing up drug dealers and demanding that all students show some school pride.  (In order to maintain their anonymity, they all wear masks to hide their faces.  However, no effort is made to disguise anyone’s voice, which means that this film takes place in a world where no one can recognize the voice of Keanu Reeves.)  However, things quickly escalate.  One member of the Brotherhood — Les (Billy Zane) — is especially enthusiastic and he has a thing for knives.

Meanwhile, Derek is having issues with his girlfriend, Christie (Lori Loughlin).  Christie, who is apparently incapable of recognizing her boyfriend’s voice whenever he’s wearing a mask, thinks that the Brotherhood is idiotic.  Christie also has a new job as a waitress and one of her co-workers is Victor (Kiefer Sutherland).  Victor obviously likes Christie and he also bravely stands up to the Brotherhood when they try to harass a student who is named Pasty.  (I kid you not.)

When Derek grows disillusioned with the Brotherhood, they decide that the situation with Christie must be distracting him.  So, they decide to blow up Victor’s car…

It’s all in the name of justice!

Obviously, one of the best things about Brotherhood of Justice is that it’s a chance to see Neo and Jack Bauer compete over Aunt Becky while Cal Hockley plays with a switch blade in the background.  (Oddly enough, Derek’s younger brother is played by Danny Nucci, who later appeared with Zane in Titanic.)  But there’s more to Brotherhood of Justice than just the curiosity value of the cast.

That plot hole about the voices aside, Brotherhood of Justice is actually a really good movie and one that everyone should watch.  If anything, it’s even more relevant today than it probably was when it was originally made.  It’s easy to be dismissive of the self-righteous and judgmental Brotherhood but actually, how different are they from the outrage brigade who show up everyday on twitter?  When the Brotherhood demands that everyone follow the rules and love their school, how different are they from those assholes who, today, claim that anyone who disagrees with the president or questions the moral authority of the government is somehow guilty of treason?  If the Brotherhood existed today, they would be cyberbullying and doxxing anyone who they felt had failed to say or think the right thing.

Let’s face it — we currently live in a fascist culture.  In its own modest but important way, Brotherhood of Justice is one of those films that can tell us why.

And you can watch it below!

 

Horror Film Review: Sleepwalkers (dir by Mick Garris)


Sleepwalkers_Motivational_by_Hailtothechimp

So, last night, I was looking for something to watch and I came across Sleepwalkers, a horror film from 1992.  And you know what?  I could sit here and I could get all snarky about Sleepwalkers and I could be hypercritical and all that other stuff.  It’s tempting because the film was written by Stephen King and Stephen King has had so much success that it’s easy to be overly critical of anything he’s involved with.

But I’m not going to do that.  Or, at least, that’s not my main objective with this review.  No, with this review, I want to pay tribute to cat named Clovis.

You see, there are several humans and humanoids in Sleepwalkers.  The film is about two energy vampires — Charles (Brian Krause) and his mother Mary (Alice Krige) — who have an icky incestuous relationship and who need to suck energy from virgins in order to survive.  Charles, who appears to be a teenager, has selected Tanya (Madchen Amick) as his latest target.  Tanya has loving parents (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett, who also played Ferris Bueller‘s parents) and there’s also a creepy English teacher (Glenn Shadix) who tries to blackmail Charles and ends up losing a hand as a result.  There’s several police officers, one of whom is killed when a corncob is driven into his spine.  And Steven King appears in an awkward cameo, along with Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper.

That’s right — there’s a lot of people in this movie but none of them made as big an impression as Sparks, the talented little kitty who plays Clovis.  Seriously, check Clovis out!

You see, there’s only one thing that can kill Charles and Mary and that’s the scratch of a cat.  From the minute that Charles and Mary move into their latest home, cats start to gather outside the house, meowing and just waiting for their chance to pounce.  And, when it comes time for the cats to finally make their movie, who is their leader?

CLOVIS!

After Charles kills Clovis’s owner, Clovis gathers every other cat around and we watch as, in slow motion, they run through the streets of the town.  That’s right — whatever else you may want to say about Sleepwalkers, this is a movie where cats finally get to kick some ass.

And who is the main ass kicker?

Little Clovis, of course!

At the end of the film, Tanya might not have many people left in her life but she’s got Clovis and, because of that, you know that everything’s going to be okay.

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As for the rest of Sleepwalkers … well, it’s watchable but it still really doesn’t make a huge impression.  And, to be honest, that really is the fault of the script.  It’s hard to know who (out of the humans) you’re supposed to care about.  Charles and Mary are pure evil and Charles has a really bad habit of speaking in lame one liners.  Tanya, meanwhile, is well-played by Madchen Amick but, as written, she’s a bit of a nonentity.  There is one fun scene when Tanya dances but then again, you have to wonder why movies, regardless of when they were made, always insist on making teenagers dance to songs that were written decades before they were born.

Fortunately, the film has Clovis.  Not only does he save the day but he saves the movie as well!

GO CLOVIS!

Clovis

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #62: Time After Time (dir by Nicholas Meyer)


TimeAfterTime79So, I just gave the 1979 film Home Before Midnight a fairly negative review but I simply cannot end the 70s section of Embracing the Melodrama on such a negative note!  So, before we move on to the 80s, allow me to suggest another film from 1979 that you could watch while you’re not watching Home Before Midnight!

Time After Time opens in London.  The year is 1893.  Writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) is having a dinner party so that he can show off his latest invention, a time machine.  Among his guests is a surgeon named John Stevenson (David Warner).  What nobody at the party suspects is that Stevenson also goes by the name Jack the Ripper and that he enjoys killing prostitutes.  When a detective from Scotland Yard shows up at Wells’s home, Stevenson jumps into the time machine and escapes into the future.  Since Stevenson does not have the “non-return key,” the machine returns back to 1893 but Stevenson has apparently escaped.

Wells uses the machine to pursue Stevenson and soon finds himself in 1979 San Francisco.  Wells had expected to find that the future would be a utopia but instead, he discovers the world of 1979 is loud, polluted, violent, angry, and dangerous.  (Kinda like the world of 2015…)  As Wells pursues Stevenson, he struggles to adjust to the world of the “future,” and he also meets a bank clerk, Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen).

Time After Time is probably the sweetest movie ever made about Jack the Ripper and that’s largely because of the romance between both Wells and Amy and the two actors who played them.  After watching Time After Time, I was not surprised to learn that McDowell and Steenburgen got married shortly after appearing in this film.  They were so incredibly sweet together!

Add to that, considering the he’s best known for playing villains and other menacing types, it’s interesting to see Malcolm McDowell plays such a gentle and nice character.  Wells’ befuddlement is charming to watch.  There’s a great scene where Amy calls Wells on a landline phone and Wells stares down at the receiver in frightened amazement.

Time After Time is a really good and likable movie.  It’s sweet and it proves that even hunting for Jack the Ripper can be a romantic experience if it’s done with the right person.  Watch it and enjoy!