Film Review: Blood Red (1989, directed by Peter Masterson)


The time is the 1890s.  The place is California.  Sicilian immigrant Sebastian Collogero (Giancarlo Giannini) has just been sworn in as an American citizen and owns his own vineyard.  When Irish immigrant William Bradford Berrigan (Dennis Hopper) demands that Sebastian give up his land so Berrigan run a railroad through it, Sebastian refuses.  Berrigan hires a group of thugs led by Andrews (Burt Young) to make Sebastian see the error of his ways.  When Sebastian ends up dead, his wayward son, Marco (Eric Roberts), takes up arms and seeks revenge.

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the famously self-indulgent directors Michael Cimino and Francis Ford Coppola teamed up to make a movie about the American Dream?  The end result would probably be something like Blood Red.  Like Cimino’s The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate, Blood Red begins with a lengthy celebration (in this case, in honor of Sebastian’s naturalization ceremony) that doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the film but which is included just to make sure we know that what we’re about to see is more than just a mere genre piece.  Like many of Coppola’s films, Blood Red features a tight-knit family, flowing wine, and a score composed by Carmine Coppola.  The only difference between our hypothetical Cimino/Coppola collaboration and Blood Red is that the Cimino/Coppola film would probably be longer and more interesting than Blood Red.  Blood Red is only 80 minutes long and directed by Peter Masterson, who seems lost.  There’s a potentially interesting story here about two different immigrants fighting to determine the future of America but it gets lost in all of the shots of Eric Roberts flexing his muscles.

For an actor known for his demented energy, Eric Roberts is surprisingly dull as the lead but Blood Red is a film that even manages to make veteran scenery chewers like Dennis Hopper and Burt Young seem boring.  (Hopper’s bizarre attempt at an Irish brogue does occasionally liven things up.)  The cast is full of familiar faces like Michael Madsen, Aldo Ray, Marc Lawrence, and Elias Koteas but none of them get to do much.  Of course, the most familiar face of all belongs to Eric’s sister, Julia.  Julia Roberts made her film debut playing Marco’s sister, Maria.  (Because the film sat on the shelf for three years after production was completed, Blood Red wasn’t released until after Julia has subsequently appeared in Mystic Pizza and Satisfaction.)  She gets three lines and less than five minutes of screen time but she does get to briefly show off the smile that would later make her famous.  Today, of course, that smile is the only reason anyone remembers Blood Red.

Remembering Roger Moore: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (United Artists 1974)


cracked rear viewer

I didn’t realize Sir Roger Moore was 89 years old when I first heard he’d passed away on May 23. But as Mick Jagger once sang, time waits for no one, and Moore’s passing is another sad reminder of our own mortality. It seemed like Roger had been around forever though, from his TV stardom as Simon Templar in THE SAINT (1962-69) though his seven appearances as James Bond, Agent 007.

There’s always been a rift  between fans of original film Bond Sean Connery and fans of Moore’s interpretation. The Connery camp maintains Moore’s Bond movies rely too much on comedy, turning the superspy into a parody of himself. Many point to his second, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, as an example, but I disagree. I think the film strikes a good balance between humor and suspense, with Roger on-target as 007, and the great Christopher Lee (who’d guest starred in Moore’s syndicated…

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A Movie A Day #91: Ruby (1992, directed by John Mackenzie)


Of all the stars to come out of Twin Peaks, Sherilyn Fenn’s star briefly shined the brightest and sadly, she was the most misused by Hollywood.  While it is true that Fenn has worked regularly since Twin Peaks went off the air, she has rarely gotten the great roles that someone with her talent deserves.  Instead, her performances have far too often been the best thing about an otherwise mediocre film.

For example, Ruby.

In this very speculative biopic about the strip club owner who killed Lee Harvey Oswald and whose organized crime background has put him at the center of a thousand conspiracy theories, Danny Aiello plays Jack Ruby and Sherilyn Fenn plays his only friend, Sheryl Ann Dujean (or, when she’s stripping in the Carousel Club, Candy Cane).  The film portrays Jack Ruby as being a low-level mobster who is never as valuable or as important to his superiors as he thinks he is.  In this movie, Ruby is always on the outside looking in on the conspiracy and, when he kills Oswald, it is because he wants to prove that he is more than just a small time hood.  Candy, who was a composite of several Carousel Club dancers, maintains a strong platonic friendship with Jack and is always there for him to talk to, except for when she goes to Vegas to perform for and sleep with the President.

Ruby came out as the same time as JFK and it often seems like a fanfic based on Stone’s film.  Low budget and overwritten, Ruby never works as a movie but Danny Aiello is perfectly cast as the bombastic but insecure Jack Ruby.  Unfortunately, Ruby‘s screenplay often does not seem to know what it wants to say about its main character.  As Candy, Fenn is not given nearly enough to do but she still manages to show the same natural spark that made her a star on Twin Peaks.

Sherilyn Fenn is not the only Twin Peaks cast member to have a role in Ruby.  Keep an eye out for a post-Twin Peaks, pre-X-Files David Duchovny, playing the role of J.D. Tippit.

Lisa Cleans Out The DVR: Road Gang (dir by Louis King)


I was going to start this review with a quote from Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its prisoners.”  That was something that I first heard from a perpetually stoned ex-seminarian who used to live in a trailer park in Lake Dallas.  I always figured that, being as stoned as he usually was, he probably knew what he was talking about but, upon doing research for this review, I have discovered that Gandhi actually didn’t say that.  What Gandhi said was, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”  Fortunately, it’s the same basic idea and, regardless of how you phrase it, it’s a quote that perfectly encapsulates the message of the 1936 film, Road Gang.

Road Gang tells the story of Jim (Donald Woods) and Bob (Carlyle Moore, Jr.).  Bob is fun-loving.  Jim is more serious and engaged to marry heiress Barbara Winston (Kay Linaker).  Jim and Bob live in an unnamed Southern state (though I’m going to assume that the state is supposed to be Georgia, just because).  Jim has just written an article that exposes the corruption of political boss, J.W. Moett (Joe King).  The article is so good that both Jim and Bob have been offered jobs in Chicago!  There’s a lot of corrupt political figures who can be exposed in Chicago!

However, while driving up north, Jim and Bob are arrested on trumped-up charges.  At first, Jim and Bob laugh off Moett’s desperation but, unfortunately, another criminal happens to be breaking out of jail at the same time that Jim and Bob arrives for booking.  That criminal kills the arresting officer and then forces Jim and Bob to drive him across the state.  Eventually, the police recapture the three of them.  However, the escaping criminal is killed and Jim and Bob are arrested as accessories.  Under the advice of their lawyer, Mr. Dudley (Edward Van Sloan), they plead guilty and accept a deal.  What they don’t know is that Dudley works for Moett and that, as a result of pleading guilty, they are going to be sentenced to five years in a prison camp.

Okay, so the film gets off to a pretty melodramatic start.  And, to be honest, the entire film is extremely melodramatic.  A lot of time is devoted to Barbara trying find evidence that Jim and Bob were set up, something that is made difficult by the fact that Barbara’s father, like Mr. Dudley, works for Moett.  Fast-paced and not-always-logical, this is a B-movie, in every sense of the term.

And yet, as melodramatic as it is, Road Gang is deadly serious when it comes to portraying the brutality of the prison camp.  From the minute that Bob and Jim arrive, they find themselves at the mercy of the corrupt warden and his sadistic guards.  The prisoners are largely used as slave labor and subjected to punishments that are often arbitrary and extreme.

Road Gang doesn’t flinch when it comes to portraying why prison often not only fails to rehabilitate but also helps to transform minor offenders into hardened criminals.  There’s a disturbing scene in which Jim, Bob, and the other prisoners are forced to listen as another prisoner is whipped.  The crack of the whip and his howls of agony explode across the soundtrack in a symphony of pain and sadism.  Jim and Bob have two very different reactions to being in prison.  One survives.  One allows himself to be killed rather than take one more day in confinement.

Road Gang is often compared to I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang.  Actually, beyond the theme of a fatally compromised justice system, there is no comparison.  The angry and fact-based I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang is a hundred times better and, quite frankly, Donald Woods was no Paul Muni.  However, Road Gang still has its moments of power.  Decades after it was made, the issues it raises continue to be relevant.  Do we send people to prison to rehabilitate them or to punish them and are the two goals mutually exclusive?  And how can we say that someone has “paid his debt to society” when, even after a prisoner serves his time, the stigma of having been imprisoned closes and locks most doors of opportunity?

Road Gang shows up occasionally on TCM.  There’s where I recorded it on January 23rd of this year.

The Fabulous Forties #27: Sundown (dir by Henry Hathaway)


40s

You may remember how, back in April, I started on a mission to review all 50 of the films included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.  I actually got off to a pretty good start and, by the end of the month, I was about halfway through.  Yay me!

However, then the month of May began.  And May turned out to be a very, very busy month.  As I sit here writing this, it’s been 27 days since I last posted a Fabulous Forties review.  That review was …. well, I can’t even remember what it was.  After I post this, I’ll click on this link to find out.

However, things have calmed down a bit and now I can go ahead and finish up the Fabulous Forties box set.  And that’s a good thing because, between me and you, I am more than ready to move on to the Nifty Fifties box set!

Anyway, without further ado, let’s consider the 27th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties, 1941’s Sundown!

Poster_of_the_movie_Sundown

Sundown was released by United Artists in 1941.  It’s a propaganda film, telling the story of British soldiers in North Africa and their attempts to both maintain the peace among the natives and to keep the Axis powers from arming the local rebels.  Bruce Cabot is the experienced soldier who knows how things work in Africa.  George Sanders is the new commander who is a bit more by-the-book.  At first, you think that the film is going to be dominated by the rivalry between Sanders and Cabot but actually it’s not much of a rivalry.  For the most part, they get along just fine and I guess that’s to be expected considering that the film was made at a time when the emphasis was on everyone remaining unified against the Nazis.

Speaking of the Axis powers, they’re always in hovering in the shadows of the film but it’s rare that we actually see any enemy soldiers.  Perhaps this is because the film was made at a time when the United States was technically neutral.  Joseph Calleia plays a prisoner of war who has rejected fascism and instead just wants to sing opera and cook for Sanders and Cabot.  Calleia’s character is specifically identified as being an Italian.  If not for that (and the fact that the film was made in 1941), it would be just as easy to assume that Sanders and Cabot were fighting the French or maybe the Russians.

There’s an enemy agent in one of the tribes and it’s up to Sanders and Cabot to figure out who.  Helping them out is the local big game hunter, played by Harry Carey.  And, on top of that, there’s also a mysterious native woman played by Gene Tierney.  Gene Tierney is totally miscast but that adds to this film’s odd charm.

And, for modern viewers, it definitely is an odd charm.  I watched Sundown twice and I’m still not sure exactly what happened in the film.  Sundown is one of those films that doesn’t so much have a plot as it just has a lot of scenes that kind of tell a story, assuming that you have the patience and concentration to figure out how they all link together.  Between Cabot’s roguish smile, Sanders’s stiff upper lip performance, Calleia’s enjoyable overacting, and Gene Tierney’s otherworldly beauty, Sundown is unexpectedly dream-like.  The film even features a sudden sermon in which a clergyman (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) exhorts everyone to fight.  The clergyman is never seen again.

Sundown was a strange movie, one that I often found myself struggling to follow.  It was also apparently a box office bomb, though it did receive 3 Oscar nominations.  One of those nominations was for Charles Lang’s cinematography and it was definitely deserved.  Even the version I saw (which suffered from a typically poor Mill Creek transfer) was still impressive to look at.

James Bond Film Review: The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. by Guy Hamilton)


Hi there!  The name’s Bowman.  Lisa Marie Bowman.  Yes, I’ve made that joke a few times over the past two weeks but so what?  Let me have my fun!  And speaking of fun, we’ve been reviewing the entire James Bond franchise here at the Shattered Lens.  Today, we’re going to take a look at 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun, the 9th “official” James Bond film and the second Bond film to feature Roger Moore in the lead role.

The Man With The Golden Gun is Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), the world’s most feared assassin.  Living on his own private island, Scaramanga is waited on hand-and-foot by a murderous dwarf named Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) and his mistress Andrea Anders (played by Maud Adams, who, like me, is a member of the red-headed 2%).  Every few days or so, Nick Nack arranges for a different gangster or spy to come to the island and fight a duel with Scaramanga.  Much to Nick Nack’s disappointment, Scaramanga always manages to win each duel.  However, Scaramanga remains a frustrated assassin because he’s never had the chance to take on (and kill) his hero, James Bond.

Just how obsessed is Scaramanga with Bond?  Scaramanga has his own private funhouse set up on the island and the star exhibit at that funhouse is a wax figure of Bond that Scaramanga enjoys firing golden bullets at.

Meanwhile, in London, MI6 receives one of those golden bullets with “007” etched into the surface.  M (Bernard Lee), not wishing to see his best agent killed, immediately relieves Bond from his current mission.  Bond, along with a painfully dizzy British agent named Mary Goodnight (played by Britt Ekland), responds by setting off to track down Scaramanga on his own.

Bond eventually tracks Scaramanga down to Bangkok where Scaramanga is busy scheming to steal something called a Solex agitator which, depending on who is using it, can either be the key to solving the energy crisis or it can be a deadly, solar-powered weapon.  Bond also discovers that the bullet wasn’t sent by Scaramanga but was instead sent by Andrea who wants Scaramanga dead.

Not surprisingly, this all leads to what you would expect — an elaborate car chase, a Bond girl in a bikini, and a final duel between Bond and Scaramanga.

When The Man With The Golden Gun was first released way back in 1974, the film received some of the worst reviews in the Bond franchise’s history.  A typical review came from Time Magazine’s Jay Cocks who complained that Moore “lacks all Connery’s strengths and has several deep deficiencies”, whilst Lee was “an unusually unimpressive villain.”  In a complaint that would be made about the majority of the post-Connery, pre-Craig Bond films, Cocks also criticized the film’s plot for being too dependent on both Bond and Scaramanga using implausible gadgets.

While most of the Bond films were treated dismissively by critics when they were first released, the majority of them have also come to be seen in a more positive light  as the years have passed.  The Man With The Golden Gun, however, is an exception to that rule.  Nearly four decades after first being released, The Man With The Golden Gun still has a reputation for being a disappointment.  While Christopher Lee has rightly come to be recognized as one of the best Bond villains, the film itself is still regularly dismissed as one of the worst of the Bond films.

The Man With The Golden Gun‘s flaws are pretty obvious.

As played by Britt Ekland, Mary Goodnight is perhaps one of the most useless Bond girls ever and pretty much confirms every accusation of sexism that’s ever been made against the Bond films.  It’s hard not to wish that the role of Goodnight had been played by Maud Adams who, as Andrea Anders, proves to be one of the best of the Bond femme fatales.

Redneck Sheriff J. W. Pepper (Clifton James) was an acquired taste when he first showed up in Live and Let Die and those who were annoyed by his character the first time will probably not be happy when he implausibly pops up in this film, vacationing in Bangkok and somehow getting involved in yet another car chase.

Finally, while Roger Moore’s performance as James Bond has always been rather underrated, it’s hard to deny that he looks a bit ill-at-ease in this film.  As opposed to Live and Let Die (which was clearly written to match Moore’s interpretation of the role), The Man With The Golden Gun feels like it was written for Sean Connery’s more ruthless interpretation of the role.  There’s a rather ugly scene where Bond roughly slaps Andrea to get her to tell him about Scaramanga.  It’s the type of thing that you could imagine Connery doing without a second thought but Moore seems uncomfortable with it.  His Bond simply doesn’t have the sadistic streak that hid underneath the surface of Connery’s interpretation.

That said, The Man With The Golden Gun is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.  The Man With The Golden Gun is one of the Bond films that I always make a point to catch whenever it shows up on television and I certainly had a better time rewatching it than I did when I rewatched You Only Live Twice.  The film moves along quickly enough, the car chases are a lot of fun, and Scaramanga’s funhouse is one of the best of the Bond sets.  

For all of its flaws, The Man With The Golden Gun is saved by its trio of villains. Maud Adams, Herve Villechaize, and especially Christopher Lee give three of the most memorably eccentric performances in the history of the Bond franchise.  They’re so much fun to watch that, if spending time with them also means spending time with Mary Goodnight and Sheriff Pepper, it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.

The strength of Christopher Lee’s performance as Scaramanga cannot be understated.  There’s something oddly touching in the contrast between Scaramanga the steely assassin with the golden gun and Scaramanga, the insecure killer who is apparently always comparing his accomplishments to the accomplishments of James Bond.  Lee’s Scaramanga is such a compelling character that you almost regret that he can’t, in some way, be allowed to achieve some sort of victory at the end of the film.

But, of course, if that happened then it would no longer be a James Bond film.

As always, regardless of what the critics may have wished, James Bond would return.  Ironically, Moore would follow-up a what many considered to be the worst James Bond adventure with a film that many consider to be one of the best.  We’ll be taking a look at The Spy Who Loved Me tomorrow.

Until then, let’s enjoy one of the most underrated theme songs in the history of the Bond franchise.