Stranger On My Land (1988, directed by Larry Elikann)


The Air Force wants to build a new air base in Utah but the Whitman family refuses to sell their ranch.  Bud Whitman (Tommy Lee Jones) served in Vietnam and he disapproved just as much of forcing Vietnamese villagers to move as he now disapproves of the idea of allowing the government to force American citizens to move.  When a judge rules that the Air Force can force the Whitmans to vacate their property under the rule of eminent domain, Bud announces that he still will not be moving.  With several of Bud’s old combat buddies showing up to support Bud, the villainous county surveyor, Connie Priest (Terry O’Quinn), prepares to take matters in his own hands.

Tommy Lee Jones vs. Terry O’Quinn?  That sounds like it should have the makings of a classic but Stranger On My Land is a largely forgettable made-for-TV movie.  A huge part of the problem is that O’Quinn’s character doesn’t have any real motivation beyond just being a prick and that seems like a waste when you consider the number of interesting villains that Terry O’Quinn has played over the years.  This is the actor who, in The Stepfather, actually made a multiple murderer seem a little bit likable.  Connie Priest seems like a villain that O’Quinn could have done a lot with if only the film’s script hadn’t been so simplistic.  Tommy Lee Jones is always well-cast as a modern day western hero but again, the script doesn’t do much with his character.  He’s just Tommy Lee Jones yelling at people to get off his property.  You could probably go to Tommy Lee Jones’s own ranch and have the exact same experience without having to sit through the rest of this movie.  Even Bud’s ethical objections to the Vietnam War feel like something that was just tossed in to assure the people watching at home that he’s not meant to be some sort of gun-toting militiaman.  The best performance in the movie comes from Ben Johnson, who is plays Tommy Lee Jones’s father.  That’s prefect casting.  If Ben Johnson wasn’t actually Tommy Lee Jones’s father, he probably should have been.

The main problem with Stranger On My Land is that it was made for television and it had to operate within the limits of what was acceptable for television in 1988.  The entire movie seems to be building up to a fierce battle between Bud and law enforcement but instead, it settles for a personal fight between Bud and Connie.  The film’s sudden ending doesn’t feel authentic but it does feel like what you’d expect to find on ABC in the late 80s.

Cinemax Friday: Lipstick Camera (1994, directed by Mike Bonifer)


Omy Clark (Ele Keats) is an aspiring journalist who wants to work with the world famous videographer, Flynn Dailey (Brian Wimmer).  When she shows up at Flynn’s studio and marvels at how much power the filmed image can wield, Flynn blows her off.  While Flynn is busy ignoring Omy, Lily Miller (Sandahl Bergman) drops by and tries to hire Flynn to film her and her husband, Raymond (Terry O’Quinn), making love.  When Flynn heads out to the Miller residence, Omy tags along as an uninvited guest.  She happens to have a tiny camera that she stole from her best friend, Joule (Corey Feldman, sporting a beard and a beret).  Omy plants the camera in Lily’s bedroom.  Later, when Flynn, Omy, and Joule all return to the Miller house to retrieve the tiny camera, they discover that Lily has been murdered and that Raymond is a communist war criminal who fled East Germany following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Lipstick Camera has an intriguing premise and, even in 1994, it was trying to say something about media manipulation and what is today referred to as being “fake news.”  You could say that it was a film that was ahead of its time.  You could also say that it’s a complete mess or that it’s an erotic thriller that is neither erotic nor thrilling and you would be just as correct.  The main problem with the film is that almost every plot development is set in motion by Omy being either extremely self-absorbed or extremely stupid.  When she’s not manipulating Joule (who is not too secretly in love with her), she’s stalking Flynn and carelessly losing an expensive camera that didn’t even belong to her in the first place.  And she, of course, is meant to be our hero!

In the 90s, former teen idol Corey Feldman was one of the mainstays of late night Cinemax.  Even during his Cinemax years, Feldman would occasionally give a good performance.  Lipstick Camera was not one of those occasions.  In Lipstick Camera, Feldman wears a beard and a beret and spends a lot of time in a room that’s full of computer monitors and TV screens and that’s the extent of his characterization.  He does get a dramatic death scene, in which Joule appears to be determined to stave off the grim reaper by giving a monologue of Shakespearean proportions but otherwise, this is Corey Feldman at his worst.  Faring slightly better is Terry O’Quinn, who, at least, gets to deliver his lines in a light German accent.

With its focus on the media and communist war criminals, Lipstick Camera is an example of a direct-to-video film that tried to be about something more than just sex and murder.  (Though, this being a DTV film, there is one brief sex scene that takes place in front of a TV that’s showing a video of a fireplace.)  Unfortunately, nobody involved seems to know what that something was supposed to be.

American Outlaws (2001, directed by Les Mayfield)


Returning to their hometown in Missouri in the days following the end of the Civil War, former Confederate guerrillas Jesse James (Colin Farrell) and Cole Younger (Scott Caan) are disgusted to discover that the railroad companies are trying to take over everyone’s land.  After Cole’s cousin and Jesse’s mother are killed by railway thugs, Jesse and Cole take revenge by forming the James/Younger Gang and robbing banks.  Soon, the members of the James/Younger Gang become folk heroes and the railroad company resorts to bringing in Alan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) to track the outlaws down.  However, even as they try to remain out of the clutches of Pinkerton’s men, there is growing dissension in the ranks of the James/Younger Gang.  Cole feels like Jesse doesn’t respect his opinions while Jesse is falling in love with Zee (Ali Larter) and it’s hard to court a girl when you’re constantly having to hide out from Alan Pinkertson.  Meanwhile, the other members of the gang wonder why their wanted posters never look as good as Jesse’s and Cole’s.

There have been many movies made about the James/Younger Gang and this is certainly one of them.  What sets this telling apart from other versions of this familiar tale is that American Outlaws is the feel-good version of the story.  Bob and Charley Ford are nowhere to be seen in American Outlaws and Jesse James doesn’t get shot in the back while straightening a picture.  This approach misses the point of what makes the legend of Jesse James so memorable in the first place.  Jesse James was the greatest outlaw in the west but he was ultimately taken down by a coward who shot him in the back.  Take out that part of the story and the story loses all of its power.  Jesse James just becomes another outlaw.

In real life, the James/Younger Gang were reportedly a rough group of outlaws who didn’t hesitate when it came to killing.  In American Outlaws, they come across more like a boy band with a side hustle robbing banks.  Jesse is the soulful leader, Cole is the rebel, and the other members of the gang are the interchangeable backup vocalists.  There’s been many good and even great films made about the James/Younger Game.  American Outlaws is not one of them.  For a good movie about the life and times of Jesse James and his associates, I would suggest checking out Walter Hill’s The Long Riders or Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Horror Film Review: The Stepfather (dir by Joseph Ruben)


Who is Jerry Blake?

That is the question at the heart of the classic 1987 horror thriller, The Stepfather.

Most of the people who know Jerry (brilliantly played by Terry O’Quinn) would say that he’s just a really nice guy.  He’s responsible.  He’s a good employee.  He can be trusted.  He works in real estate and spends his days selling perfect homes to perfect families.  Jerry always has a friendly smile and hearty manner.  He’s the perfect neighbor, precisely because he’s so boring.  You don’t have to worry about Jerry not taking care of his yard or throwing a loud party or … well, doing anything anyone else would do.  Sure, Jerry seems to be a little bit old-fashioned and sure, sometimes he’s a little bit too good to be believed.  But what’s wrong with that?  I mean, the man makes birdhouses!  Jerry is so dedicated to creating perfect families that he even tries to make the perfect home for the birds in his back yard!

In fact, the only person who seems to have any doubts about Jerry is his new stepdaughter, Stephanie (Jill Schoelen).  Stephanie is a teenager so, occasionally, she’s less than perfect.  Sometimes, she gets into a fight at school.  Sometimes, she talks back.  To be honest, to me, nothing she does seems like it’s really that big of a deal.  But Jerry simply cannot handle the fact that Stephanie is making his new family just a little less than perfect.  When Jerry catches Stephanie and her boyfriend sharing a very chaste kiss, he freaks out.  KISSING!?  Why that could only lead to one thing…

But it’s not just that Jerry is kind of controlling and seems to be living in a 1950s sitcom.  There’s also the fact that sometimes, Jerry goes down in the basement and just starts yelling and throwing stuff.  That’s what Jerry does when he gets angry.  He hides in the basement and he totally loses control.  When Stephanie overhears him, Jerry just gives her a bland smile and says that he was blowing off some steam.

Stephanie suspects that something’s wrong with Jerry but, of course, no one believes her.  However, we know that Stephanie’s right to be suspicious.  At the start of the film, we saw Jerry walking out of his old house, leaving behind the dead bodies of his wife and children.  At that time, of course, Jerry’s name was Henry Morrison.  Henry’s previous family disappointed him so he killed them and then vanished, changing his identity and marrying Stephanie’s mother, Susan (Shelley Hack).

Jerry wants everything to be perfect.  He’s an old-fashioned guy with old-fashioned values and, whenever anyone disappoints him, he kills them and changes his identity once again.  He’s the type who will kill you but then make sure that your seat belt is fastened when he puts you back in your car.  “Buckle up for safety,” Jerry says.

There’s a 2009 remake of The Stepfather.  For some reason, it regularly shows up on Lifetime.  Ignore the remake and track down the original.  Long before he played John Locke on Lost, Terry O’Quinn gave a simply amazing performance in the role of Jerry Blake.  Jerry is so friendly and likable that, even though we know he’s a murderer, it’s still hard not to fall under his spell.

Why, we wonder, can’t the world be as perfect as Jerry wants it to be?

Because Jerry’s world is not the real world.  In the real world, family are never perfect but they love each other anyway.  In Jerry’s world, it’s more important that things appear to be perfect than that anyone actually be honest or, for that matter, happy.

The Stepfather is a chillingly effective thriller, featuring a brilliant performance from Terry O’Quinn.  If you haven’t seen it, see it!

Back to School Part II #29: A Friend To Die For a.k.a. Death of a Cheerleader (dir by William A. Graham)


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Over the past couple of year, I’ve had so much fun making fun of Tori Spelling’s performance in the original Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? that I almost feel like I have an obligation to review a movie in which she gave a halfway decent performance.

That film would be another 1994 made-for-TV-movie.  It was apparently originally broadcast as A Friend To Die For but most of us know it better as Death of a Cheerleader.  That’s the title that’s used whenever it shows up on Lifetime.  There actually was a time when Death of a Cheerleader used to show up on almost a monthly basis but that was a while ago.  Lifetime has since moved on to other movies about dead cheerleaders.

Technically, as my sister immediately pointed out when I made her watch the movie, the title isn’t quite correct.  Though Stacy Lockwood (Tori Spelling) does try out for and is named to her school’s cheerleading squad, she never actually gets to cheer.  Instead, shortly after the school assembly in which her selection is announced, Stacy is found stabbed to death.  But really, Death of A Future Cheerleader doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

As for who killed Stacy … well, it’s no secret.  This is one of those true crime films where the murderer is not only portrayed sympathetically but is the main character as well.  Angela Delvecchio (Kellie Martin) was a high school sophomore who was obsessed with trying to become popular.  She looked up to Stacey and desperately wanted to be her best friend.  (Why she didn’t just offer to bribe Stacey, I don’t know.  Maybe she hadn’t seen Can’t Buy Me Love….)  When Stacey got a job working in the school office, so did Angela.  Of course, the school’s somewhat sleazy principal (Terry O’Quinn, coming across like John Locke’s worst nightmare) only made it a point to talk to Stacey and pretty much ignored Angela.  When Stacey applied to work on the yearbook, so did Angela.  When Stacey tried out for cheerleading, so did Angela.

In fact, the only time that Angela stood up to Stacey was when Angela was taunting the school’s token goth (played by Kathryn Morris).  That turned out to be a mistake because Stacey never forgave her.  When Angela invited Stacey to a party, Stacey was reluctant to go.  When Stacey did finally accept the invitation, Angela stabbed her to death.

A Friend to Die For/Death of a Cheerleader is based on a true story and the film tries to lay the blame for Angela’s crime on the affluent neighborhood she was raised in.  Just in case we missed the message, the film actually features a Priest (played by Eugene Roche) who says that the community put too much pressure on Angela to succeed.

Uhmmm….okay, if you say so.

Seriously, this is a pretty good little true crime film and both Tori Spelling and Kellie Martin give really good performances but this whole “It’s society’s fault” argument is typical, mushy, made-for-TV, bourgeois liberal BS.  Angela picked up the knife, Angela committed the crime, end of story.  That said, A Friend To Die For is pretty good as far as these movies go.  I already mentioned the performances of Spelling and Martin but also keep an eye out for Marley Shelton, who gets a really good scene in which she explains that she never liked Stacey that much while she was alive.

You can watch A Friend To Die For/Death of a Cheerleader below!

 

An Olympic Review: The Cutting Edge (dir by Paul Michael Glaser)


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Hi everyone!

So, I just watched the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics!  And I have to say that I really enjoyed them but then again, I always enjoy the Olympics and not just the gymnastic stuff that everyone loves.  It’s odd because I’m really not into sports at all.  I guess I just like the idea behind the Olympics.  I like the idea of people from all nations gathered together in one country, linked together in the spirit of fair competition and, most importantly, not killing each other.

Plus, I can’t help but love the spectacle of it all!

I figured that, for the duration of the games, I would attempt to post one Olympic-themed film a day.  Now, I have to admit that this is one of those things that seemed easier when I was thinking about it then it does now that I’m actually trying to do it.  But we’ll see what happens!

Originally, I was going to limit myself to films about the Summer Olympics but then I realized that, by doing that, I wouldn’t be able to write about the 1992 film, The Cutting Edge!  And that would be a shame because I really like The Cutting Edge!

The Cutting Edge tells a story that is both thoroughly predictable and yet thoroughly charming at the same time.  Doug Dorsey (D.B. Sweeney) is a likable and kinda dorky blue collar guy who also happens to be one of the best hockey players in the world.  Kate Moseley (Moira Kelly) is a world-class figure skater who has been totally spoiled by her father (Terry O’Quinn) and whose imperious attitude has managed to alienate every partner that she’s ever had.

At the 1988 Olympics, Doug and Kate run into each other.  Literally, they collide with each other in the arena.  Doug is apologetic.  Kate snaps at him to watch where he’s going.  Later, Doug is injured in a game and is forced to retire from hockey.  Meanwhile, Kate’s latest partner deliberately drops her during their program and Kate is forced to settle for a silver medal.

Two years pass.  Doug is working at a steel mill when he’s approached by a Russian coach named Anton Pamchenko (Roy Dotrice).  Anton explains that Kate needs yet another new partner.  Desperate to return to the Olympics, Doug agrees to skate with her.

And things go about the way you would expect.  At first, Kate hates Doug.  But slowly, Doug starts to win her over and Kate starts to lower her defenses and warm up to him.  Kate teaches Doug how to be a champion figure skater.  Doug teaches Kate how to be nice.  Soon, they’re in love but unfortunately, Kate already has a boyfriend — a lawyer named Stuffy Q. McBorington (Dwier Brown).

(Actually, he might not be a lawyer.  And his name isn’t Stuffy Q. McBorington.  But it might as well be!)

Convincing Kate to leave her boyfriend is actually the easy part.  The hard part is going to be winning the gold!  Doug still has some rough edges and Kate can still be demanding but they love each other and we all know that love conquers all!

The Cutting Edge is one of those movies that used to be on cable all the time when I was growing up and I always loved watching it!  I wanted a boyfriend like Doug and I wanted to wear cute costumes like Kate and I wanted to win a gold medal.

Yes, it’s a totally predictable movie.  Not a single moment or line will surprise you.  But it’s such a likable movie!  Sweeney and Kelly have a really sweet chemistry and the skating action is well-directed and what more can you ask for a romantic comedy about ice skating?

I rewatched The Cutting Edge earlier today.

I still love it!

Enjoy the Olympics, everyone!

 

Back to School #36: Mischief (dir by Mel Damski)


Mischief

Have you ever noticed how, occasionally, a totally obscure film that was made several decades ago will suddenly show up on either Starz or Encore and, the next thing you know, it’s only like every other day?  That was the case a few months ago when, at times, it seemed as if the only thing playing on cable was a teen comedy from 1985 called Mischief.

After I saw it listed in the guide a few dozen times, I thought to myself, “Somebody at that station must really like that movie.”  So, one night, I actually took the time to watch it and discovered why that mysterious person loved this movie.  Mischief may not be as well-known as some of the other films in this series of Back to School reviews but it’s still a pretty good movie.

Like so many of the teen films that were released in the 70s and 80s, Mischief takes place in the 1950s.  (I assume that’s because most films about teenagers are made by adults who want to both relive and perhaps change the past.  I suppose that’s one reason why so many films released today are set in the 1990s.  In another ten years or so, all of the new high school films will be set in 2003.)  The very shy and clumsy Jonathan (Doug McKeon) has a crush on the beautiful but unattainable Marilyn (Kelly Preston).  Fortunately, Jonathan is befriended by Gene (Chris Nash) who is the prototypical rebel without a cause.  Gene wears a leather jacket.  Gene rides a motorcycle.  Gene doesn’t get along with his alcoholic, violin-playing father (Terry O’Quinn, in full asshole mode here).  Gene even stands up to the school bully (D.W. Brown) and starts dating the bully’s ex-girlfriend, Bunny (Catherine Mary Stewart).  Most importantly, Gene helps Jonathan finally develop the confidence necessary to ask Marilyn out.

And, for a while, Gene & Bunny and Jonathan & Marilyn make for the perfect foursome.  But, as we all know, perfection can never last in a coming-of-age story.  Jonathan starts to discover that he and Marilyn are not quite as compatible as he originally assumed that they were.  As for Gene, he has to deal with his increasingly violent and drunken father…

That last paragraph probably makes Mischief sound a lot more dramatic than it actually is.  Make no mistake about it — while Mischief does deal with some serious issues — it is primarily a comedy and a pretty good one at that.  McKeon is endearingly clumsy in his initial attempts to get Marilyn to notice him and Nash — even though he’s playing a very familiar character — is likable as well.  Perhaps the smartest thing that Mischief did is that it made Gene cool but it didn’t make him too cool.  The film’s best scenes are the ones where Gene momentarily surrenders his rebel facade and reveals that he’s just as confused as everyone else.  Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelly Preston are well-cast as well, with Preston especially doing a good job at making a potentially unsympathetic character likable.

In many ways, Mischief is a pretty predictable film.  I think it features probably every single cinematic cliché that one would expect to see in a film about the 50s.  But the film itself is so likable and good-natured that it doesn’t matter if it’s predictable.  It’s just a good, enjoyable movie and what’s wrong with that?

(Incidentally, the screenplay for Mischief was written by Noel Black, who also directed the previously reviewed Private School.)

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Back to School #31: All The Right Moves (dir by Michael Chapman)


For the past week, we’ve been taking a look at 80 of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable films ever made about being a teenager and going to high school.  We’ve been posting the reviews in chronological order and now, 30 reviews since we started this series with a film from 1946, we have reached the 1980s, a decade this is often considered to be the golden age of teen films.  For our 31st Back To School review, we take a look at 1983’s All The Right Moves.

How did you spend your Labor Day weekend?  Me, I spent it visiting with my family down at my uncle’s place.  Sunday afternoon, I was laying out by the pool and listening to my cousins Peter Paul and Paul Peter have a conversation.  (And yes, I do call both of them “Paulie.”)  They were talking about the Dallas Cowboys and I have to admit that I could not understand a word that they were saying.  It was like attending a Latin Mass, in that all I could do was hope that I was nodding at the right moment.  I can’t help it.  Football goes right over my head.  I know that the players are trying to score touchdowns and I know that whenever fall and winter come around, everyone I know is going to be complaining about the Cowboys.  But that’s it. (I also know that, what we in America call soccer, the rest of the world calls football.  But, to be honest, I really don’t care.)   Football talk might as well be a secret language.

However, I’m clearly in the minority as far as that’s concerned.  America loves football and so does Texas.  (Yes, I do consider my home state to be its own independent nation.  Take that, Vermont.)  And the American film industry has a long tradition of making movies — like All The Right Moves — about football.

In All The Right Moves, Tom Cruise plays Stefan Djordjevic.  Stefan lives in a poor town in Pennsylvania and happens to be one of the stars of the Ampipe High School football team.  And that’s a pretty good thing because this town is obsessed with football.  The proud Coach Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson) is under constant pressure to win and Nickerson responds by pushing all of his players.  However, it finally looks like his approach is going to pay for both him and Stefan.  Nickerson is being considered for a college coaching  job.  Meanwhile, Stefan has a chance to get a scholarship to play football in college.  Interestingly, Stefan’s ambition is not to play professional football.  Instead, he wants to go to a good college so he can get an engineering degree.  Stefan’s main fear is to end up like everyone else in the town, working in a steel mill and not having any way to escape from a life of poverty.

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All The Right Moves starts out as a standard sports film but, halfway through, it takes an unexpected turn.  Ampipe High plays a game against their main rival, Walnut Heights High School.  This is the big game.  This is the game that most sports movies end with.  This is the game that you watch knowing that Nickerson and Stefan will overcome their differences (Nickerson is stubborn, Stefan is cocky) and that they will manage to narrowly win.

Except, of course, Ampipe doesn’t win.  As the result of a last minute mistake, Ampipe loses their lead and they lose the big game.  Nickerson yells at the team in the locker room.  Stefan yells back and Nickerson kicks him off the team.  Suddenly, Stefan finds himself with no future.  And Nickerson finds himself and his family being targeted by the angry, football-crazed citizens of the town…

For a football movie, All The Right Moves is actually pretty good.  Of course, it’s not really about football.  It’s about the desperation of people who have found themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and how something as seemingly inconsequential as the high school football team can become an entire town’s life.  It’s about how two stubborn men — Stefan and Nickerson — allow their own fear of being trapped to keep them from thinking and acting rationally.

The film is also distinguished by good performances from Tom Cruise (who, in the same year, would play a much different high school senior in Risky Business), Craig T. Nelson, and Chris Penn (who plays Stefan’s best friend on the team).  However, the film’s best performance comes from Lea Thompson, who is so good in the role of Lisa, Stefan’s girlfriend, that you can’t help but wish that the film had been more about her than him.  In probably the film’s best scene, she calls out Stefan for being selfish and points out that, regardless of what happens in Stefan’s future, she’s going to be stuck in the town that he’s so desperate to escape from.  The scene where she and Stefan make love is sensitively handled and it also features a split-second or so of Tom Cruise full front nudity.

So, there’s always that.

It’s no Risky Business or Fast Times At Ridgemont High but, as far as high school football films are concerned, All The Right Moves is not a bad one.

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“What’s Wrong?” He asked. “I’m late,” I replied as we watched 6 more trailers…


Hi there!

Yes, I’m late.  Usually, whenever I utter those words, I’m greeted with a look of terror.  But, luckily, this time I’m just running a day late with the latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers. 

Saturday was our big sister’s birthday so me and Dazzling Erin spent almost the entire weekend hanging out in a strange city called Ft. Worth.  Erin even sang the longest karaoke version of American Pie ever!  (And she sang it beautifully, by the way!) It was good fun but unfortunately, I couldn’t put a trailer post together while singing and drinking.  However, we are back home and, without further ado, here’s 6 more trailers!

1) The Stepfather (1987)

Almost in time for Father’s Day, here’s the original Stepfather, starring a pre-Lost Terry O’Quinn.

2) The Stepfather Part II (1989)

You can’t keep a good stepfather down…

3) The Stepfather Part III (1992)

Wait — that’s not Terry O’Quinn!

4) Double Agent 73 (1974)

This film was directed by the famous Doris Wishman.  “Watch out for her booby traps…”

5) The Ghastly Ones (1968)

Speaking of famous and notorious directors, this trailer is for a film directed by Andy Milligan.

6) The Rats Are Coming, The Werewolves Are Here! (1972)

Actually, I think I’ll close this entry with yet another Milligan film.  He’s been underrepresented in my trailer posts so far and that’s a shame because if any director screams “grindhouse,” it’s Andy Milligan.