Flesh and Bullets (1985)

Flesh and Bullets (1985) movie poster

director Carlos Tobalina
viewed: 02/09/2018

How do you like your male machismo and misogyny? With a side of homophobia? Well, then, Flesh and Bullets may be just your cup of tea.

Carlos Tobalina’s one non-porn film isn’t drenched in deplorable traits, but it’s certainly seasoned with them. Two guys who hate their ex-wives meet up in a bar and decide to do that Strangers on a Train thing of killing off each other’s ex-spouse so they can get away with murder. Only in the end, they end up falling for each other’s ex and one of the most unlikely of movies comes to a close.

The homophobia is much weirder. What with one of the dudes recalling killing to gay wrestlers that raped him. And the final moment of the film, which made me laugh out loud, when the dudes embrace at becoming like family with adoptive children, a stranger on the street pipes in “Fags!”

Flesh and Bullets is indeed bizarre with its genuine slumming celebrity cameos in blink-or-you’ll-miss-it asides.

I thought it was weird that it culminated at Los Angeles’s Mayan Theater, but I guess that Tobalina owned it at the time.

Night Moves (2013)

Night Moves (2013) movie poster

director Kelly Reichardt
viewed: 01/26/2018

Writer-director Kelly Reichardt has carved out a particular niche in her more than 20 year career in cinema. In Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves, she deepens and widens that niche by delving into genre, something with which her earlier films stand in contrast.

She shoots so significant in Oregon, almost as much focus of her films as the small, naturalistic dramas and the characters who experience them.

Night Moves is a thriller, by definition. About a trio of environmental activists who look to blow up a hydroelectric dam. The plan is already in action, as Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning meet up with Peter Sarsgaard to pull of a secretive plan.

Reinhardt doesn’t delve into their politics much, leaving the tension and activity to describe the actors and supply their motivations and intent.

Reichardt’s low-key style doesn’t crank up the tension artificially, but it also leaves it a bit on its own to communicate the drama.

It doesn’t help the Eisenberg is the ultimate cipher of an actor, giving so little to knowledge of what is happening in his psyche.

The lush countryside of Oregon and the earthy organic farm on which Eisenberg works portray a beauty in communal work and largely undespoilt nature. Is this act even necessary? What drives the morality of Eisenberg’s activism? Is the cipher’s ironic transformation in the end some cosmic punishment?

I liked the film, but couldn’t quite find it either thrilling or morally complete. Dakota Fanning, as usual, though, was very good. Reinhardt continues to be interesting though I wonder if she doesn’t need to give in to more elements of genre to really get more out of it.

The Beguiled (1971)

The Beguiled (1971) movie poster

director Don Siegel
viewed: 12/30/2017

There’s a reason you don’t let the fox into the henhouse. In Don Siegel’s The Beguiled, Clint Eastwood is the foxy fox in the henhouse is the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. These ladies, old and young aren’t worried about getting eaten alive, but rather to fear and desire the Mr. Eastwood.

Eastwood at the time was probably at the top of his acting career, but he was already forty years old.  Still, he’s the exact kind of lure that has all of the ladies aflush and aquiver. Heck, he’s even got the literal hens laying eggs again.

It’s amazing how good this movie is, especially considering Siegel and Eastwood’s prior Western Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), which was nothing by comparison. It’s rich material, I suppose, and like others can see why Sofia Coppola took her swing at it (which I have yet to see but have as a high priority now).

The setting is gorgeous, the Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation near Baton-Rouge and the trees all languorous hung heavy with Spanish moss. And the period of the story, the tail end of the American Civil War, the enemy brought literally inside the gates as the wounded soldier is a Yankee, who, according to Doris, want to “rape all the women”.

Everyone is beguiled, including Eastwood himself. He’s got them all from 12 years of age to the fifty-something Miss Martha herself (a terrific Geraldine Page) all so hot and bothered.

Some consider this one of Eastwood’s best performances, but I though Eastwood was stiff as a board. Everyone else is terrific, including Mae Mercer and Pamelyn Ferdin. But very much so Jo Ann Harris. This is, after all, much more about the ladies, who dominate the picture and narrative. The film and story are ripe for interpretation in a number of ways.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) movie poster

director Yorgos Lanthimos
viewed: 11/04/2017 at the Alamo Drafthouse – New Mission, SF, CA

A slow-burn blackly comic, surrealistic thriller. With the heaviest emphasis on “slow-burn”.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s second feature in English, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is on a continuum of his other awkward worlds, ruled by random logic, in which human connection is ultimately impossible.

Like his breakout film Dogtooth (2009), The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the study of a family and its patriarch. Though Colin Farrell’s heart surgeon here isn’t so much controlling the world of his nuclear clan but rather trying to somehow protect it from an ill that he has brought upon it.

The whole thing uncoils very slowly, impregnating the strangeness of the world and the characters with a sense not just of discomfort but of dread. Something is behind Farrell’s unusual relationship with sleepy-eyed teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan). His illegitimate son? His teenage lover?

Of course, it’s not anything remotely so straight-forward. When Farrell’s son and daughter fall ill with paralysis, lack of appetite, and eventually bleeding eyes, it takes the surgeon a long time to figure out that there isn’t anything medical but what? supernatural? uncontrollable?

Lanthimos continues to be one of the most interesting directors to me. Always a lot to ruminate on afterwards.


The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables (1987) movie poster

director Brian De Palma
viewed: 11/03/2017

Personally, I think Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime movie The Untouchables holds up pretty well.

There is a lot of cool cinematography and set pieces, the highlights of the film. That opening overhead shot of Robert De Niro getting a shave. The whole sequence of the bar getting blown up. The baseball scene. The interior tracking and everything happening in Sean Connery’s apartment when he gets it.

And the cast is great. Okay, I won’t argue strongly for Kevin Costner. He’s a bland lawman at the head of the thing. But Connery, De Niro, Andy Garcia, and in particular Charles Martin Smith are solid and each gets some choice lines and scenes. Can you imagine it if Mickey Rourke had been Eliot Ness?

Certainly, it’s a man’s man’s man’s world. And it takes some fascism (via David Mamet’s script) to gain control of Al Capone and the mafia.

The one scene that didn’t hold up so well is the balletic slo-mo Odessa Steps homage shootout. I recall thinking it was really cool back in 1987. Now it seems like a lot of build-up to almost comedic action. My son chuckled during it.

Roadgames (1981)

Roadgames (1981) movie poster

director  Richard Franklin
viewed: 09/27/2017

Roadgames is a thriller on the road, the Australian highway system to be exact.  It’s stylish, almost DaPalma-esque (minus split-screens), though more accurately it  name-checks Hitchcock in various ways.

Stacy Keach stars as the chatty (mostly to himself and his pet dingo) trucker, an intellectual of sorts who has taken to the road, hauling meat during a strike. He eventually picks up Jamie Lee Curtis, a child of means dodging her family. They both wind up on the trail of a possible serial killer, also on the highway, dodging in and out.

It’s a plucky affair, a very likable film which lurches towards comedy even at times of the highest intensity. Probably the most polished movie I’ve watched in a while. I guess I’ve been slumming it a lot.

The single best scene takes place in the interior of a roadhouse, a nice 360 shot while Keach tries to dial the cops about his suspicions. As the camera slowly gazes around the room, it takes in a Playboy pinball machine, your typical Outback rednecks, and vivid murals of colonials killing aborigines.

Really good stuff.






Pyro… The Thing Without a Face (1964)

Pyro... The Thing Without a Face (1964) movie poster

director Julio Coll
viewed: 07/08/2017

Pyro… The Thing Without a Face, no matter how it was marketed or what it looks like, is no horror film. In fact, it’s ill-served by the pretense of being one. Expectations will be sorely met. But as a cheap thriller, in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock with no budget or too much talent, it’s actually half-way decent.

Produced by Sidney W. Pink (who deserves more investigation for his interesting and odd filmography), Pyro was set and shot in Spain, and follows Barry Sullivan, an engineer inspired by Ferris wheels, who falls into an affair with Martha Hyer, the real “pyro” in the movie. She was about to commit arson when he met her. Is it little wonder when scorned after the affair ends that she sets fire to Sullivan’s house and kills his wife and child?

The film then turns to revenge and Sullivan does become a “thing without a face”, but not so monstrous as all that. He also takes up with a young Soledad Miranda as the whole thing tips toward gruesome vengeance and tragedy.

Really, not half-bad. But no horror picture.

The Rapist (1994)

The Rapist (1994) DVD cover

director Chuen-Yee Cha
viewed: 06/08/2017

The Rapist is a sleazy little category 3 Hong Kong policier about a serial rapist on the loose and the police team trying to catch him.

At its sleazier moments, it’s kind of creepy and weird and dark. But more of the film is focused on the police procedural (such as it is), the many man hours and hackneyed schemes of catching a rapist who is getting more violent and graduating to murder.

The lead cop has an obsessional quality that almost links him to the rapist, able to envision the crimes, think like the killer. Is it because he was raped himself as he jokes? Or that his younger sister was raped and traumatized? The psychological angles are not all that sharp and some of the joking (i.e., that the rapes wouldn’t happen if there were more prostitutes out there) certainly off-key.

Interesting, but only so much so.

Into the Night (1985)

Into the Night (1985) movie poster

director John Landis
viewed: 05/31/2017

Into the Night is a mid-Eighties comedy about an average American man (Jeff Goldblum) suffering from insomnia, who discovers his wife is cheating on him and finds himself adrift “into the night” and all over LA. Circumstances being what they are, he meets up with a beautiful woman on the run (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is being hunted by some Persians from whom she stole some smuggled jewels.

I’d remembered it being one of those kind of cool comedy thrillers of the era, but it’s not really so sharp or funny. Director John Landis, though, seemed to have a great time playing a voiceless killer in the pack of Persian thugs.

Landis also seems to have had a great time packing cameos into the film by some great and though probably-not-recognizable-to-the-average-filmgoer movie notables. Really, when you get right down to it, it’s the cameos and surprising faces that make the film a little more fun than it really is.

The other points of interest are perhaps the streets of LA and Hollywood and the locations caught in their mid-Eighties states.