Dead On: Relentless II (1992, directed by Michael Schroeder)


Still struggling to recover from having to act opposite Judd Nelson in the previous Relentless film, Los Angeles homicide detective Sam Deitz (Leo Rossi) finds himself investigating another string of seemingly random murders.  This time, the killer is Gregor (Miles O’Keeffe), a master of disguise who hangs his victims, decorates the crime scene with Satanic graffiti, and takes a lot of ice baths.  Deitz is forced to team up with a condescending FBI agent named Kyle Valsone (Ray Sharkey), who has his own reasons for wanting to capture Gregor and who might not have the best interests of the case in mind.  As if having to deal with killer Russians and crooked FBI agents isn’t bad enough, Deitz is also having to deal with the collapse of his married to Meg Foster and the everyday irritations of being an intense New York cop in laid back Los Angeles.

Relentless II is a better than the first Relentless, mostly because Miles O’Keeffe is a better villain than Judd Nelson.  Whereas Nelson was too twitchy to be taken seriously in the first Relentless, O’Keeffe is cold as ice and believably dangerous.  He’s a worthy opponent for Rossi and Sharkey.  How much Keeffe was in this movie?  Just enough to make it work.

Whenever O’Keeffe isn’t doing his thing, the movie focuses on Deitz and Valsone.  To a certain extent, their relationship mirrors the relationship that Deitz had with Malloy in the first Relentless except, this time, the mentor turns out to be just as bad the killer.  Ray Sharkey was a good actor whose career nosedived because of his own addictions.  He was always at his best playing streetwise bad guys, like Sonny Steelgrave in Wiseguy.  He’s good as Valsone, giving a performance that indicates that, even if mainstream Hollywood wasn’t willing to take a chance of him, he could have carved out a direct-to-video career as a poor man’s Michael Madsen.  Unfortunately, Sharkey contracted HIV as a result of his heroin addiction and he died of AIDS just a year after the release of Relentless II.

Leo Rossi gives another good performance as Sam Deitz.  Rossi was usually cast as abusive boyfriends and low-level mobsters and it’s obvious that he enjoyed getting to play a hero for once.  Meg Foster may not get to do much as Deitz’s wife but her otherworldly eyes are always a welcome sight.

Relentless II was the high point of the Relentless films.  It made enough money to lead to a sequel.  Sam Deitz’s days of hunting serial killers were not over.

Some Kind of Hero (1982, directed by Michael Pressman)


Eddie Keller (Richard Pryor) is a member of the U.S. Army, serving in Vietnam when he gets captured by the VC and spends the next few years in a POW camp.  During that time, he befriends another POW named Vinnie (Ray Sharkey).  Though the quick-witted Eddie is often able to outsmart his captors and their attempts to turn him into a propaganda tool, he finally snaps when he’s told that Vinnie will be allowed to die unless Eddie signs a “confession” in which he renounces both America and the war.  Hoping to save his friend’s life, Eddie signs the paper.

After 5 long years in the camp, Eddie finally returns to America.  He’s given a momentary hero’s welcome and then he is quickly forgotten about.  After all, everyone wants to move on from Vietnam and Eddie, by his very existence, is a reminder of the war.  However, Eddie can’t move on.  His wife (Lynne Moody) left him for another man while he was missing.  His mother (Olivia Cole) suffered a stroke and is now in a nursing home.  Worst of all, because Eddie signed that confession, the army considers him to be a traitor and is refusing to release his backpay.

What can Eddie do?  How about a rob a bank and then run off with Toni (Margot Kidder), a hooker with a heart of gold?

Like a lot of Richard Pryor’s starring vehicles, Some Kind of Hero is an uneven film.  Pryor was a skilled dramatic actor but he was best known as a comedian and, in most of his starring roles, there was always a conflict between his serious instincts and the demand that all of his films be funny.  Some Kind of Hero starts out strong with Pryor in Vietnam.  The scenes with Pyror and Sharkey in the POW camp are strong.  (In the novel on which the film was based, Eddie and Vinnie were lovers.  In the film, they’re just friends.)  Though there are funny moments during the first half of the film, the humor arises naturally out of the situation.  During the first half of the film, Pryor may make you laugh but he also makes sure that you never forget that he’s on joking to maintain his sanity.  But once Eddie returns to the U.S., Some Kind of Hero awkwardly turns into a heist film and the comedy goes from being darkly humorous to being broadly slaptstick.  Eddie, who could survive being a prisoner of war and who could usually outsmart the VC, is suddenly transformed into a naive klutz.  Richard Pyror does his best but the two halves of the film never seem to belong together.

Unfortunately, Hollywood never really figured out what to do with Richard Pryor as an actor.  Some Kind of Hero at least shows that Richard Pryor could be a strong dramatic actor.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really live up to his talents.

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?

Danger Is Their Business: STUNTS (New Line Cinema 1977)


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With the success of films like WHITE LIGHTING, CANNONBALL, DEATH RACE 2000, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (not to mention the continuing fascination with Evel Knenevel), movies revolving around stunts and stuntmen were big box office in the 1970’s. New Line Cinema took note and produced STUNTS, a murder mystery about stuntmen being killed off that gives us a behind-the-scenes look at low-budget filmmaking in addition to a good cast and well-staged action.

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When stuntman Greg Wilson’s hanging from a helicopter gag goes horribly awry, resulting in him plummeting to his death, his brother Glen arrives on the set determined to do the stunt himself and investigate Greg’s demise. Along the way he picks up B.J. Parswell, an attractive reporter doing a story on stuntmen. Glen’s fellow stuntmen start getting picked off one by one in gruesome “accidents”, and he must find the killer before he becomes next.

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This basic variation on “Ten…

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So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star: The Idolmaker, Breaking Glass, That’ll Be The Day, Stardust


So, you want to be a rock and roll star?  Then listen now to what I say: just get an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play.  And when your hair’s combed right and your pants fit tight, it’s gonna be all right.

If you need any more help, try watching these four films:

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The Idolmaker (1980, directed by Taylor Hackford)

The Idolmaker is a movie that asks the question, “What does it take to be a star?  Who is more interesting, the Svengalis or the Trilbys?”  The year is 1959 and Vinny Vacari (Ray Sharkey, who won a Golden Globe for his performance but don’t let that dissuade you from seeing the movie) is a local kid from New Jersey who dreams of being a star.  He has got the talent.  He has got the ambition and he has got the media savvy.  He also has a receding hairline and a face like a porcupine.

Realizing that someone who looks like him is never going to make hundreds of teenage girls all scream at once, Vinny instead becomes a starmaker.  With the help of his girlfriend, teen mag editor Brenda (Tovah Feldshuh) and a little payola, he turns saxophone player Tomaso DeLorussa into teen idol Tommy Dee.  When Tommy Dee becomes a star and leaves his mentor, Vinny takes a shy waiter named Guido (Peter Gallagher) and turns him into a Neil Diamond-style crooner named Cesare.  Destined to always be  abandoned by the stars that he creates, Vinny continually ends up back in the same Jersey dive, performing his own songs with piano accompaniment.

The Idolmaker is a nostalgic look at rock and roll in the years between Elvis’s induction into the Army and the British invasion.  The Idolmaker has some slow spots but Ray Sharkey is great in the role of Vinny and the film’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of stardom is always interesting.  In the movie’s best scene, Tommy performs in front of an audience of screaming teenagers while Vinny mimics his exact moments backstage.

Vinny was based on real-life rock promoter and manager, Bob Marcucci.  Marcucci was responsible for launching the careers of both Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte.  Marcucci served as an executive producer on The Idolmaker, which probably explains why this is the rare rock film in which the manager is more sympathetic than the musicians.

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Breaking Glass (1980, directed by Brian Gibson)

At the same time that The Idolmaker was providing American audiences with a look at life behind-the-scenes of music stardom, Breaking Glass was doing the same thing for British audiences.

In Breaking Glass, the idolmaker is Danny (Phil Daniels, who also starred in Quadrophenia) and his star is an angry New Wave singer named Kate (Hazel O’Connor).  Danny first spots Kate while she is putting up flyers promoting herself and her band and talks her into allowing him to mange her.  At first, Kate refuses to compromise either her beliefs or her lyrics but that is before she starts to get famous.  The bigger a star she becomes, the more distant she becomes from Danny and her old life and the less control she has over what her music says.  While her new fans scare her by all trying to dress and look like her, Kate’s old fans accuse her of selling out.

As a performer, Hazel O’Connor can be an acquired taste and how you feel about Breaking Glass will depend on how much tolerance you have for her and her music.  (She wrote and composed all of the songs here.)  Breaking Glass does provide an interesting look at post-punk London and Jonathan Pryce gives a good performance as a sax player with a heroin addiction.

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That’ll Be The Day (1973, directed by Claude Whatham)

Real-life teen idol David Essex plays Jim MacClaine, a teenager in 1958 who blows off his university exams and runs away to the Isle of Wright.  He goes from renting deckchairs at a resort to being a barman to working as a carny.  He lives in squalor, has lots of sex, and constantly listens to rock and roll.  Eventually, when he has no other choice, he does return home and works in his mother’s shop.  He gets married and has a son but still finds himself tempted to abandon his family (just as his father previously abandoned him) and pursue his dreams of stardom.

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Based loosely on the early life of John Lennon, the tough and gritty That’ll Be The Day is more of a British kitchen sink character study than a traditional rock and roll film but rock fans will still find the film interesting because of its great soundtrack of late 50s rock and roll and a cast that is full of musical luminaries who actually lived through and survived the era.  Billy Fury and the Who’s Keith Moon both appear in small roles.  Mike, Jim’s mentor and best friend, is played by Ringo Starr who, of all the Beatles, was always the best actor.

That’ll Be The Day ends on a downbeat note but it does leave the story open for a sequel.

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Stardust (1974, directed by Michael Apted)

Stardust continues the story of Jim MacClaine.  Jim hires his old friend Mike (Adam Faith, replacing Ringo Starr) to manage a band that he is in, The Straycats (which includes Keith Moon, playing a far more prominent role here than in That’ll Be the Day).  With the help of Mike’s business savvy, The Stray Cats find early success and are signed to a record deal by eccentric Texas millionaire, Porter Lee Austin (Larry Hagman, playing an early version of J.R. Ewing).

When he becomes the breakout star of the group, Jim starts to overindulge in drugs, groupies, and everything that goes with being a superstar.  Having alienated both Mike and the rest of the group, Jim ends up as a recluse living in a Spanish castle.  Even worse, he gives into his own ego and writes a rock opera, Dea Sancta, which is reminiscent of the absolute worst of progressive rock.  Watching Jim perform Dea Sancta, you understand why, just a few years later, Johnny Rotten would be wearing a homemade “Pink Floyd Sucks” t-shirt.

Stardust works best as a sad-eyed look back at the lost promise of the 1960s and its music.  Watch the movie and then ask yourself, “So, do you really want to be a rock and roll star?”

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