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.

Advertisements

A Movie A Day #263: Running Scared (1986, directed by Peter Hyams)


Running Scared is weird but good.

Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines!) and Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal!!!) are two tough detectives in Chicago.  All they want to do is three things: retire, open a bar in Florida, and bust Chicago’s most ruthless drug dealer, Julio Gonzalez (Jimmy Smits).  Their captain (Dan Hedaya) wants them to leave for Florida as soon as possible but they are determined to take down Julio first.’

There are two strange things about this otherwise formulaic crime film.  First off, the two tough cops are played by Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal.  According to the film’s Wikipedia page, director Peter Hyams realized that Running Scared‘s plot was nothing special so he decided that the only way to make the movie stand out was by doing it “with two actors you would not normally expect to see in an action movie.”  The other strange thing is that Hyams’s gambit worked.  Gregory Hines may have been best known as a dancer and Billy Crystal as a comedian but both of them were surprisingly believable as Chicago cops.  Running Scared is actually one of Billy Crystal’s best performances.  For once, he’s believable as being someone other than a version of himself.  Even his frequent one liners seem like something that a detective would say instead of Crystal recycling punch lines from his act.  Whether they are chasing down perps and firing their guns at a moving vehicle, Hines and Crystal are never less than credible as action stars.  Lorenzo Lamas has got nothing on the team of Hines and Crystal.

Predictable though it may be, Running Scared is one of the better late 80s cop films.  The action scenes are exciting and Hyams does a good job capturing the grittiness of Chicago.  Jimmy Smits is a good villain and Joe Pantoliano, Steven Bauer, and Jon Gries all shine in supporting roles.  Keep an eye out for the always underrated Darlanne Fluegel, playing Danny’s ex-wife.

A Movie A Day #186: Joysticks (1983, directed by Greydon Clark)


It’s Porky’s in an arcade!

Every gamer knows how accurate this is.

Jeff Bailey (Scott McGinnis) is the manager of the hottest (and only) arcade in town.  His grandfather owns the place and Jeff is everyone’s friend but he does not play any of the games.  When he was younger, he was caught getting it on with his girlfriend in an arcade.  She was sent out of town and Jeff was left so traumatized that he swore he would never touch another joystick.  However, he may have to go back on his pledge because the local evil businessman (Joe Don Baker) is determined to take over the arcade and he has recruited King Vidiot (Jon Gries) to help him do it.  In between Jeff getting laid and King Vidiot scheming, there are all the usual teen sex comedy hijinks.  Just like in real life, the arcade is perpetually full of hot, single girls wearing bikinis.  A hot dog gets stuck between a pair of breasts.   Pacman is played by a topless video game groupie.  Inevitably it all leads to a training montage and a showdown between Jeff and King Vidiot, with whoever gets the highest score at Super Pacman winning control of the arcade.

King Vidiot was the height of 80s fashion.

Joysticks is as dumb as it sounds but it is also a lot of fun, especially if you want to see what life was like before everyone had internet access and their own home gaming console.  The movie is full of classic games, from Pac-Man to Satan’s Hollow.  The best thing about the arcade is that the final video game duel is played with giant, floor-mounted joysticks.  I’m not sure they would work well in real life but they look extremely cool.

Check out those joysticks!

For those wondering, at no point does Joe Don Baker play Pacman during Joysticks.  If he had, the end result would have been a classic for all time.

Grab that joystick, Joe Don. You know you want to.

Joysticks?  I wonder if that title was supposed to have a double meaning.

Arcade Life, 1983

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Stick It (dir by Jessica Bendinger)


With our look back at Twin Peaks now entering its final week, it’s time for me to get back to trying to clean out my DVR.  When last we checked on the DVR, I had about 187 movies that I needed to watch.  At the end of March, I started in on them but then I got distracted by a number of things.  I put the clean-up on hold for a month and I even recorded some more films.

So, now, as April comes to a close, I have 200 movies on my DVR.

(The writer Derrick Ferguson once asked me just how much space I have on my DVR.  To be honest, I’m really not sure.  All I know is that I’ve got 200 movies recorded and 20% of the DVR is still free.)

If I’m going to have my DVR cleaned out by the end of May, then I better get back to watching all of this stuff.  I got things off to a good start, on Monday night, by watching a film about gymnastics in Texas, Stick It.

I think I may have actually seen Stick It when it was originally released in 2006.  I can’t say for sure because I spent most of 2006 in a daze but it seems like the type of movie that I would have gone to see back then.  The film itself felt familiar but that could just be because I’ve seen a lot of movies about gymnasts.

Anyway, Stick It is one of those movies that’s set in Texas but was filmed in California.  This leads to several unintentional laughs.  For instance, the movie opens in Plano, Texas.  Plano is a suburb of Dallas.  For some reason, Plano seems to show up in a lot of random movies.  (When Ed Helms visits his sister and Chris Hemsworth in Vacation, we are specifically told that they live in Plano.)  The movies, of course, never get Plano right.  Plano is not a rural community nor is it a junior version of the Park Cities.  Instead, it’s a typical suburb, one that is somewhat infamous for being home to a lot of people who have moved down to Texas from up north.

In Stick It, Plano is portrayed as being surrounded by mountains.  When the action later moves down to Houston, there are even more mountains in the background.  Of course, any true Texan knows that there aren’t any mountains near either Dallas or Houston.  Dallas sits on the plains.  Houston is known as the Bayou City.  If you want to make a movie about Texas with mountains, go film in El Paso.

As for the rest of the film, it tells the story of Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym), who was one of the top ranked gymnasts in America until she walked out during the World Gymnastics Championship, costing her team a gold medal and making her one of the most hated people in America.  Having abandoned gymnastics, Haley spends her time hanging out with skaters in Plano.  (I used to do the same thing.  Plano skaters are wild and rich.)  One day, Haley and the skaters get caught breaking into an abandoned building.  The judge gives Haley a choice.  Either go to military school or enroll at the prestigious but tough Vickerman Gymnastics Academy.  Haley picks military school so, of course, the judge sends her to VGA.

And here’s the thing.  It’s easy to be dismissive of a character like Haley but Missy Peregrym gives such a sincere performance and is so committed to the role that you’re on her side even when she seems like a privileged brat.  Haley’s parents are bitterly divorced and, even though they’re presented as being cartoonish caricatures, I could immediately relate to Haley.  When my parents got divorced, I acted out too.  I even hung out with wild skaters in Plano.

Anyway, Haley ends up in Houston.  Her new coach is Burt Veckerman (Jeff Bridges) who convinces her to start competing again, just so she can win enough money to pay off all of that Plano property damage.  She agrees, reluctantly.  Haley may love gymnastics but she hates all of the little rules that come along with competition.  Interestingly enough, that’s the way I’ve always felt about dancing.  Haley might as well have just been named Lisa.

Haley returns to the competition world and, while she’s obviously talented, she struggles to prove that she’s better than her reputation.  Even worse, she has to deal with judges who are obsessed with minutiae and who are biased towards their pre-determined favorites.  It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how well you compete.  All that matters is that you follow the rules and that you have the “right” attitude.

The movie ends with Haley taking a stand against the unfair judging system and humiliating the clueless judges.  It’s a great moment, even though it would never happen in real life.  For one thing, it involves convincing all the other gymnasts to give up their chance to win just so they can do the right thing.  Myself, I would never go along with that.  I may hate following rules but I love winning trophies.

But still, it’s a nice little fantasy.  Stick It is one of those films that got terrible reviews when it was released but it’s a real crowd pleaser.  This is a fun movie and, while it doesn’t tell a particularly deep story, it’s message of ignoring rules is one that’s needed in this increasingly authoritarian society.  Both Missy Peregrym and Jeff Bridges gave good performances and director Jessica Bendinger did a good job of keeping the action moving quickly.  (Bendiner also wrote the greatest of all cheerleading movies, Bring It On.)

How entertaining was Stick It?

Entertaining enough to survive mountains in Plano.

A Movie A Day #19: Kill Me Again (1989, directed by John Dahl)


killmeagainFay Forrest (Joanne Whalley) and her boyfriend, Vince Miller (Michael Madsen), make their living stealing from the mob.  After their latest job results in the death of a made man, Fay decides that she needs to escape from the abusive Vince.  She runs away to Las Vegas, where she looks up a small-time, financially strapped P.I., Jack Andrews (Val Kilmer).  She hires Jack to help her fake her death, offering to pay him $5,000 upfront and $5,000 after she’s dead.  Jack is reluctant to get involved but he also has a loan shark threatening to break every bone in his body.  Jack helps Fay fake her death but then Fay leaves town without paying him the second $5,000.  Even worse, both Vince and the mob quickly figure out that Fay is not actually dead and join Jack in trying to track her down.

Predictable but entertaining, Kill Me Again is an early example of the type of modern neo-noir that would become extremely popular in the 1990s.  In his directorial debut, John Dahl shows some hints of the style that he later brought to films like Red Rock West and The Last Seduction.  Val Kilmer was miscast and a few years too young for his role but Joanne Whalley (or Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as she was known when Kill Me Again was filmed) fully inhabitanted the stock role of the sultry femme fatale who can never quite be trusted.  Michael Madsen goes all out as Vince, giving an early version of his performance in Reservoir Dogs.

 

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Quickie Reviews: The Big Game, The Connection, Graduation Day, McFarland USA, Taken 3, and War Room


Here are 6 more reviews of 6 other films that I watched this year.  Why six?  Because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers, that’s why.

The Big Game (dir by Jalmari Helander)

In The Big Game, Samuel L. Jackson plays the President of the United States and you would think that fact alone would make this film an instant classic.  Unfortunately, this film never really takes advantage of the inherent coolness of Samuel L. Jackson playing the leader of the free world.  When Air Force One is sabotaged and crashes in the wilderness of Finland, President Jackson has to rely on a young hunter (Onni Tommila) from a group of CIA agents disguised as terrorists.  Tommila does a pretty good job and the scenery looks great but at no point does Samuel L. Jackson says, “Check out this executive action, motherfucker,” and that’s a huge missed opportunity.  As for the rest of the film, it takes itself a bit too seriously and if you can’t figure out the big twist from the minute the movie starts, you obviously haven’t seen enough movies.

The Connection (dir by Cedric Jiminez)

Taking place over the 1970s, the French crime thriller tells the largely true story of the efforts of a French judge (played by Jean Dujardin) to take down a ruthless gangster (Gilles Lellouche) who is the head of one of the biggest drug cartels in the world.  The Connection run for a bit too long but, ultimately, it’s a stylish thriller that does a very good job of creating a world where literally no one can be trusted.  Dujardin, best known here in the States for his Oscar-winning role in The Artist, does a great job playing an honest man who is nearly driven to the point of insanity by the corruption all around him.

Graduation Day (dir by Chris Stokes)

Hey, it’s another found footage horror film!  Bleh!  Now, I should admit that this horror film — which is NOT a remake of that classic 1980s slasher — does have a fairly clever twist towards the end, that goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the inconsistencies that, up until that point, had pretty much dominated the film.  But, even with that in mind and admitting that Unfriended and Devil’s Due worked wonders with the concept, it’s still hard to feel any enthusiasm about yet another found footage horror film.

McFarland USA (dir by Niki Caro)

McFarland USA is an extremely predictable but likable movie.  Kevin Costner plays a former football coach who, while teaching at a mostly Latino high school, organizes a cross country team that goes on to win the state championship.  It’s based on a true story and, at the end of the film, all of the real people appear alongside the actors who played them.  There’s nothing about this film that will surprise you but it’s still fairly well-done.  Even Kevin Costner, who usually gets on my last nerve, gives a good performance.

Taken 3 (dir by Olivier Megaton)

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is back and he’s killing even more people!  Fortunately, they’re all bad people but you really do have to wonder what type of dreams Bryan has whenever he goes to sleep.  In Taken 3, Bryan’s wife (Famke Janssen) has been murdered and Bryan has been framed.  He has to solve the case and kill the bad guys while staying one step ahead of the police (represented by a bored-looking Forest Whitaker).  Neeson does all of his usual Taken stuff — the intense phone conversation, the steely glare, and all the rest — but at this point, it has literally been parodied to death.  If you’re into watching Liam Neeson kill ugly people, Taken 3 will provide you with adequate entertainment but, for the most part, it’s but a shadow of the first Taken.

War Room (dir by Alex Kendrick)

I saw the War Room in Oklahoma.  It was being shown as part of a double feature with The Martian, of all things!  Anyway, this film is about an upper middle class family that hits rock bottom but they’re saved by the power of prayer!  Lots and lots of prayer!  Seriously, this film almost qualifies as “prayer porn.”  Anyway, the film was badly acted, badly written, incredibly heavy-handed, and ran on way too long but, on the plus side, it did eventually end.

Film Review: Faults (dir by Riley Stearns)


Faults_(film)_POSTER

Faults is many things.

It’s a character study.  It’s a thriller.  It’s a deeply unsettling horror film.  It’s a darker-than-dark comedy that will make you laugh even while you’re glancing over your shoulder to make sure there are no strangers hiding in the shadows.  It’s a look at religion, faith, free will, and guilt.  It’s a declaration that a major talent — writer/director Riley Stearns — has arrived.  It’s an acting showcase for both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser.  It’s a film that found success on the festival circuit and then had an all-too brief theatrical release in March.  It’s also a film that’s currently available on Netflix.  Finally, it’s one of the best films of the year so far.

When we first meet professional cult deprogrammer Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), he is eating dinner in a hotel restaurant and desperately trying to convince his waiter that he has an agreement with management, guaranteeing him free meals while staying at the hotel.  After Ansel is kicked out of the restaurant, he then tries to convince the hotel manager that his room is supposed to be free as well.  The manager gives Ansel an hour to check out.

As quickly becomes apparent, Ansel is nearly broke and he’s living out of his car.  What little money he has, he makes from giving sparsely attended lecture where he literally begs people to pay fifteen dollars to get a copy of his latest book.  After his lectures, Ansel is willing to sign his new book at a cost of five dollars per signature.

(At one point, when someone asks Ansel to sign his previous book, Ansel abruptly explains that he no longer signs that book.  If you want his five dollar autograph, you have to first pay fifteen dollars to get his new book.)

At one point, Ansel was a minor celebrity with his own talk show but, after a girl he deprogrammed subsequently committed suicide, Ansel’s life fell apart.  His latest book is self-published and his former manager, the oddly polite Terry (Jon Gries), claims that Ansel owes him money.  Terry’s enforcer, Mick (the always intimidating Lance Reddick), is stalking Ansel from cheap motel to cheap motel.

However, things start to look up for Ansel when he’s approached by Paul (Chris Ellis) and Evelyn (Beth Grant).  They explain that their daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), has joined a cult known as Faults and is a follower of a mysterious figure named Ira.  They ask Ansel to deprogram her.  Ansel agrees to do so and charges them $20,000.

After Ansel and two “assistants” literally grab Claire off the street, they take her to a cheap motel where, behind locked doors, Ansel starts to try to deprogram Claire.  However, from the start, Ansel discovers that it’s going to be more difficult than he realized.

For one thing, Claire remains calm throughout the whole kidnapping and, even when locked in the shabby motel room, is confident that she is about to “move on” and achieve a higher level of existence.  When Paul and Evelyn show up and try to talk to Claire, it turns out that they’re not quite the loving parents that they initially presented themselves as being.  Paul, in particular, reveals himself to have a fierce temper and he demands that Claire change into clothes that would be more appropriate for a teenager than for an adult.  When Ansel suggests that the overbearing Paul should back off, Paul replies that he “knows” what Ansel truly wants to do with Claire.

Secondly, even as Ansel tries to deprogram Claire, he still has to deal with Terry and Mick.  Neither one of them is particularly concerned about whether or not Ansel can pull Claire away from Faults.  Instead, Terry just wants his money.

And finally, even as Ansel tries to keep control of the situation, he is personally falling apart.  He finds himself having sudden nosebleeds.  At one point, his suit spontaneously combusts into flame.  (Believe it or not, there is a relatively plausible reason for why this happens but that doesn’t make it even less shocking.)  When Ansel falls asleep in the motel room, he subsequently wakes up in his car and has no memory of how he got there.

And through it all, Claire remains a seductive and manipulative enigma.  Sometimes she’s cold and in control.  Other times, she’s surprisingly vulnerable.  Ansel finds himself both attracted to and frightened of Claire.  Throughout the film, Ansel insists that he has “free will” but Claire forces him to reconsider that assumption.

Faults is a low-key and disturbing film that is distinguished by a very dark and cynical sense of humor.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is amazing as the mysterious Claire while Leland Orser is wonderfully desperate and surprisingly sympathetic as Ansel.  When Faults first started, I was concerned that, since it largely takes place in one cramped motel room, the film would be too stagey to be effective.  But director Riley Stearns does amazing work with that one location and, as a result, Faults is one of those rare films that actually gets more intriguing the deeper you get into it.

Faults is currently available on Netflix and you should watch it.