BADLAND (2019)

October 31, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Westerns are always a risky proposition for a filmmaker, but some are drawn to the genre and seem to thrive on the intricacies that fans have come to expect. Justin Lee is one such filmmaker. He wrote and directed this film and follows the familiar tropes: a quiet, proud protagonist; the strong, lonely woman; the corrupt gunslinger – maybe wearing a badge, maybe not; and of course, the battle of good versus evil.

Kevin Makely stars as Matthias Breecher, a Civil War veteran and now Pinkerton detective carrying out the orders of Senator Benjamin Burke (Tony Todd, CANDY MAN, 1992). Senator Burke has pledged to track down war criminals and hold them accountable by administering justice. Breecher is the Senator’s hired hand who travels from town to town, serving warrants and dealing with those who refuse to abide

Mr. Lee’s film is divided into four chapters. Chapter 1, “The General”, finds Breecher face-to-face with tough-talking General Corbin Dandridge (Trace Adkins). It’s here where Breecher first flashes his impressive gun skills, and it’s soon after where he crosses paths with Harlow (recent honorary Oscar recipient Wes Studi), a competitor in the “bounty-hunter” game. Chapter 2, “The Cooke’s” has Breecher tracking down Reginald Cooke (played for all it’s worth by a finger-wagging Bruce Dern), a sickly old man dying slowly from pneumonia and living with his daughter Sarah (Oscar winner Mira Sorvino). Local bad guy Fred Quaid (James Russo) is trying to seize the Cooke’s land (apparently this is the possessive apostrophe in the chapter title). During this segment we get a nasty fist fight, an ugly shootout, and Breecher falling for Sarah and actually shushing his horse. Chapter 3, “The Sheriff”, brings us to the terrifically named town of “Knife’s Edge” where equally terrifically named evil guy Huxley Wainwright (Jeff Fahey) wears a badge and rules the town with a reign of terror, and with Old West waterboarding. There is even a double-tap grave side shootout. It’s an old mining town and the citizens live in fear – especially the good-hearted barkeep Alice (Amanda Wyss). The segment ends with a ‘high noon’ duel in the dusty street.

Chapter 4, “Breecher”, acts as a finale for our hero, a man we are told was “born to violence.” His dreams of owning land may have faded, and soul-searching has him reckoning with the man he’s become. Mr. Makely reminds of actor Anson Mount in his ability to hold a scene, and we can’t help but think that in his younger years, Mr. Fahey could have easily played the Breecher role. Despite the out-of-place linguistic stylings, director Lee proves the lessons of the old west never get old, and it leaves us with the message … ‘Be still, young man.”

watch the trailer:


TOO LATE (2016)

April 7, 2016

too late Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from writer/director Dennis Hauck has a number of elements that are appealing to movie lovers on the lookout for something a bit outside the box. It’s the type of film that would be a festival favorite, as it provides no shortage of “talking points” for discussion afterwards.

Of course, casting John Hawkes is always a good start. Here he plays a Private Investigator named Sampson. The story is presented in 5 segments – each filmed in one extended shot. Oh, and it’s not presented in sequential order, so some assembly is required. The real end to the story is not the same as the ending of the movie, and the beginning of the story is actually in the middle of the movie. Confused yet? Well a loss of equilibrium is what makes this one so much fun to watch. Characters and story lines are intertwined – some accidentally, some secretly, and some surprisingly.

Hawkes appears in each of the five segments, and sprinkled throughout you will find such recognizable faces as Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey, Natalie Zea, Joanna Cassidy, Crystal Reed, Dash Mihok, Rider Strong, Vail Bloom, Sydney Tamilia Poitier and singer Sally Jaye. A strip club, the Hollywood hills, a Park Ranger, a suicide, and multiple murders all are key pieces to the puzzle … and none are presented exactly as we would expect.

With an unpolished 1970’s look and feel, the film offers a touch of Tarantino (including some of the actors who have worked with him), but mostly the vibe is refreshingly throwback. Even the music … Joe Tex, Cowboy Junkies, etc … is a bit offbeat, and of course, any movie that references Genevieve Bujold and Choose Me deserves a special place in my heart. It may not be the typically structured PI murder mystery that we have come to expect, but an unusual approach and the performance of Hawkes, makes this one to see.

watch the trailer:

 


MACHETE (2010)

September 6, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Sprung from the loins of the fake trailer during the Tarantino/Rodriguez double bill Grindhouse, this one delivers everything it promises: comedy, corn, bloody violence, over-the-top political statements, and wild spoofy stunts. There really is no legitimate way to critique it or review it. If you possess the gene that allowed you to enjoy Grindhouse, you will certainly be entertained by Machete.

Robert Rodriguez co-directed and co-wrote the film and puts his stamp all over it. There is no challenge to discovering where Mr. Rodriguez stands on the immigration issues. He is fortunate enough to be a filmmaker who can deliver a message in ways that very few can. Of course, this is not strictly speaking a message movie. It is better termed a spoof … heck, it’s billed as mexploitation! Danny Trejo, character actor extraordinare, finally gets his chance to carry a movie and he seizes the moment. His portrayal of Machete is with striking force and a straight poker face. There is little doubt that he is the Mexican federale whose family was killed by a drug kingpin (played by Steven Segal). Trejo tries to get on with his life, but is drawn right back in to the battle thanks to a local activist played by Michelle Rodriguez (headquartered in a Taco stand … yes, really), and by Jeff Fahey, henchman to an ultra racist State Senator played by Robert Deniro.

For a movie that prides itself more on brain spatters than brain matter, there are sufficient twists to the story to keep the viewer interested. But the real fun comes in the outrageous moments like opening credits “introducing Don Johnson“, and the cat-like ability of Machete to avoid certain death. Laughs ensue when Machete drags his brother into the fight. His brother? A new-age priest (Cheech Marin) packing an arsenal in the pews.

All of this is going on while an immigration agent played by Jessica Alba is trying to put the squeeze on Latin legend “She”, who she suspects is Michelle Rodriguez. Alba spends her lunch break playing Wii to keep fit. If all this isn’t quirky enough for you, how about Lindsay Lohan playing Fahey’s strung-out daughter, who later in the film dons a nun’s habit and a pistol?

You could think of this movie along the lines of a master spoof, similar to Airplane, only with tons of violence and explosions. The visual gags are on display, as are the one-liners that come out of left field. Mr. Rodriguez has done well for himself and his high expectation fans. I believe he knows what we want because it’s exactly what he wants himself!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you loved Grindhouse and can appreciate violent, over-the-top action spoofs … or if you just want to be shocked by seeing Steven Segal onscreen again.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are “normal”