God Told Me To

 

God Told Me To (1976) aka Demon Directed by Larry Cohen Shown: Poster Art

God Told Me To

Release Date: October 22, 1976

Genre: Crime, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sam Levene, Mike Kellin, Richard Lynch

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re now on to the second movie in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. For this review, we’re going to be looking at a social commentary quasi science fiction movie about religion. It looks at how religion can influence the minds of those who believe in the scriptures. It influences them so much that they go out and do horrible things. It’s a movie that was not a success when it first came out, but over the years grew into an important film tackling this kind of subject. This review we will be looking at 1976’s ‘God Told Me To!’

The movie begins with a man on top of a water tower who opens fire on people walking the street with a .22 caliber rifle. His actions result in the death of fifteen people. Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) is called in to stop the sniper. He climbs the water tower and talks to the sniper about why he is doing what he is doing. The sniper responds by telling Peter, “God told me to!” before jumping off the water tower to his death. The incident would be the first of many random murders to come throughout the movie all with the suspects seemingly implying that they were told by God to kill. As Peter investigates these strange acts, his clues lead him to a man named Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch) who is the leader of a religious cult who according to the members has psychic powers and is controlling the minds of people to commit murder. Peter pursues Phillips through various avenues where he will be shocked about what he has discovered not only about Phillips, but about himself.

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This is perhaps Larry Cohen’s most bizarre and controversial movie as it deals with religion and religious extremism. Cohen deals with the rationalization believers go to in order to follow “the word of God.” There is extremism in every religion. You have people killing each other in the name of religion. Everyone believes their religion is one true religion and that those who practice something else is a heathen, infidel, unbeliever, etc. The movie also deals with cultism as the antagonist is the leader of a cult who is controlling the minds of others to kill people to spread his message. It’s relatable to this day with all the numerous cults that are out today. You could compare this film today to the rhetoric of Scientology.

Cohen brings in a cast of well-respected veteran working actors to assist with his vision with Tony Lo Bianco playing the lead as Detective Peter Nicholas. Lo Bianco doesn’t look like a lead actor, but he is the meat and potatoes of the story. In addition to dealing with these crimes and looking at the religious aspect, he is also dealing with his own beliefs. Peter Nicholas is shown throughout the movie as a devout Catholic. You see shots of him in a Church praying, talking to his wife about going to confession and begins to question his faith as these random murders continue. He’s also conflicted in his ranks as he feels that he is on his own with the investigation, not receiving support from his fellow police officers. The supporting cast features Deborah Raffin as Casey Forster who is Peter’s mistress, Sandy Dennis as Peter’s wife Martha whom is on the verge of divorcing him, Sylvia Sidney as Elizabeth Mullin who becomes a central figure in the film and has a connection to Bernard Phillips and Mike Kellin of ‘Midnight Express and ‘Sleepaway Camp’ fame as the Deputy Commissioner who is desperately trying to get the situation under control. Finally, you have the antagonist Bernard Phillips in a chilling performance by Richard Lynch. He appears in all gold and glowing, kind of like Jesus (which is what Cohen based Phillips on). Everything he does in the movie is to get Nicholas to come to him for which he makes a shocking revelation to Nicholas and unveils his master plan.

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As is customary in a Larry Cohen movie, Cohen fills the scenes with stolen shots and unplanned sequences which gives the movie a realistic tone. Cameras are placed all over the city to get many intriguing shots of the city and the everyday people who walk and commute in it. The most iconic scene in the movie is Cohen shoots the St. Patrick’s Day Parade filled with thousands of New York City Police Officers and features a cameo from comedian Andy Kauffman dressed up as an officer. Again, they didn’t have permission to shoot the parade so there are many shots of the police overhead, the Mayor and city officials and of course Kauffman. It’s great to see the unscripted reactions of fellow officers when they recognize Kauffman. They though Kauffman was doing another one of his typical jokes.

While Cohen was unable to return legendary film composer Bernard Hermann to score this movie after previous scoring ‘It’s Alive’ due to his untimely death, Cohen brings in Frank Cordell to the music. Cordell provides booming biblical tones which adds another dimension to the movie. The music is placed appropriately through tension scenes and plot reveals.

The pacing of the movie starts out quick and gutsy. By the time the second and third act come around things start to slow down creating a feeling of unbalance. The events and situations seem to jump around. I think this is in part to the condensed schedule that Cohen had when making this film.

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‘God Told Me To’ was not well received when it first opened. Critics including Roger Ebert vivisected this film. However, as time went by, critics revisited this movie and like its premise, it’s become a cult film. Rolling Stone listed it as one of “20 Scariest Films You’ve Never Seen!” [1] If you’re a fan of movies with crazy and weird plots, this movie is for you. You could even joke with people that ‘God told me to watch this movie!’

That concludes the second movie in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. Next week we continue the special with another film of his that has had widespread acclaim and legacy. Don’t miss out!

TRIVIA

  • Composer Bernard Herrmann, Larry Cohen’s first choice to score the film, died that night after seeing the film without music. The film is dedicated to Hermann in his honor.
  • Larry Cohen did not have a permit to film the scene at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but he did it anyway.
  • According to Larry Cohen, during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade scene, he was organizing the crew, only to see Andy Kaufman, dressed in his policeman’s uniform, antagonizing and making faces at the crowd. Some of the crowd members then attempted to jump the barricades and beat Kaufman, and Cohen had to hold them back.
  • Tony Lo Bianco accidentally broke actor William Roerick’s rib performing CPR in the heart attack scene.
  • Many years after the film’s release, a 70-something year old Larry Cohen stated in an interview that a young French filmmaker had asked him if he could remake the film. He couldn’t remember who this guy was, but he had left some of his films for Cohen to see, and when he took them out, that young French filmmaker turned out to be no other than Gaspar Noé.
  • When Larry Cohen asked composer Miklós Rózsa to score this picture, Rozsa replied, “God told me not to.”
  • Tony Lo Bianco replaced Robert Forster.

AUDIO CLIPS

Police Debrief

God Told Me To

How Would You Like To Be Mugged By A Detective?

You Confess Everything To The Priest

The Irish Have Waited All Year For This Day

People Like That Got No Business

Say It

You Have No Pity

Come On That’s Crap

Discipline Through Fear

Religious Editor Is On The Second Floor

He Truly Believes

Fight Him

Women Claim That They Were Laid By The Almighty

He Can Make Us Know What He Wishes

All My Life I Felt So Close To God

You’ve Tested Yourself

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The ‘Burbs

 

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The ‘Burbs

Release Date: February 17, 1989

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Joe Dante

Writer: Dana Olsen

Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 There’s no arguing that Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors to appear on the big screen. He’s brought to life some of the most memorable characters of the last thirty plus years. He’s played iconic fictional characters Andrew Beckett in ‘Philadelphia’ to Forrest Gump in the film of the same name to Woody the Sherriff in the ‘Toy Story’ franchise. He’s also portrayed living heroes such as Jim Lovell in ‘Apollo 13’, Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger in ‘Sully.’ and Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ Hanks started his career in the field of comedy before he became a serious actor. Most of the films he was in during that era are considered cult classics. For this edition of ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ I decided to re-watch one of his movies from the 80s that is perhaps my personal favorite, which is 1989’s ‘The ‘Burbs!’

The film is a comical satire of life in a suburban neighborhood. Hanks plays Ray Peterson, who is on vacation from his job hoping to come back to work with a clear head. Despite the requests from his wife Carol (Carrie Fisher), he decides to stay home during his vacation. Along with his neighbors, former military serviceman Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) and next door mooch Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommum) they begin to investigate their new neighbors the Klopeks. No one in the neighborhood has seen them nor have met them. Strange things start to happen to only add to their curiosity such as massive power surges coming from the Klopeks’ basement, giant bags of garbage being dropped off in the front and digging up the backyard on a dark rainy night. Art tries to convince Ray that the Klopeks are part of a Satanic cult. And when one of their neighbors disappears leaving his dog behind, they are convinced that something has happened to him considering he is next door to the Klopeks. Art, Ray and Mark team up together to uncover what the Klopeks are hiding.

Directed by Joe Dante, best known for his films ‘Gremlins,’ ‘The Howling,’ and ‘Piranha’, this movie is radically different from his known work. Fans of Joe Dante have nothing to fear as he creates something that is original, simple and funny. This movie was a test for him to get out of the horror label (even though he is considered one of the Masters of Horror) and he passed with flying colors. There’s not a dull moment in this movie.

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‘The ‘Burbs’ is not so much about the plot (which is admittedly thin and which the critics are too concerned with) as it is about the characters who become entangled within it. The plot is simple where you don’t need to read between the lines as to what is happening. Instead Dante makes the audience focus on the action that is taking place. The pacing provides gives the audience plenty of time to laugh and take a breather before the next scene.

The movie doesn’t rely on special effects or any other tricks as the comedy is unfolded through not only physical effects but the dialogue and situations they are in. The writing is credited to Dana Olsen who had worked as a writer in television before getting her big break in writing for Hollywood with this movie. Olsen wrote a clever and relatable script as she based it off her own experience with strange neighbors she was surrounded by when she was growing up.

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The cast is terrific and contemplate each other well. Obviously, Hanks is the lead in this movie. He plays Ray Peterson as an over stressed family man who seems to be the reasonable one in the neighborhood. As the movie progressed, so does his curiosity about the new neighbors. His curiosity turns into paranoia thanks to the thoughts that Art puts in his head. Hanks provides plenty of laughs, both physical and verbal comedy. Bruce Dern as Mark Rumsfield was a surprisingly delightful performance. He is a man who can’t get over his life serving his country and continues to portray that all throughout the movie. His years in service come in handy as he provides devices such as infrared scopes and advanced walkie talkies to stakeout the Klopek’s home. Dern is not known for playing comedic parts, but his antics and dialogue provide many laugh out loud moments. The award for Best Performance in this movie goes to Rick Ducommum as Art. He plays Art like Kramer from ‘Seinfeld.’ He is obnoxious and loud and is always coming up with a scheme to find out who the Klopeks are and prove his theory that they are part of a cult. He fills Ray’s head with delusional thoughts about them through his fast tongue. I can’t find a moment in the movie where Ducommum wasn’t funny. It’s a shame that this movie would be the only big role for him as he would spend most of his acting career playing bit roles until his untimely passing in 2016 due to complications from Diabetes. As for the remaining supporting cast, Carrie Fisher is a nice surprise as Ray’s wife Carol. She sheds her Princess Leia image to that of a concerned wife who grows weary of Ray’s antics and tries all she can to snap him out of his obsession with the Klopeks. Corey Feldman plays Ricky Butler, a teenager who is seen throughout most of the movie either painting his house or inviting friends over to watch Ray, Art and Mark snoop on the Klopeks. He even remarks at one point in the movie that this is better entertainment than going to a movie theater. Wendy Schaal plays Mark’s wife Bonnie, who is half his age and seems to play along with Mark’s shenanigans.

As for the characters of the Klopeks, they remind me somewhat of the Munsters. There are only three of them in the movie and each one has a personality different from the other. The first one to appear is Hans played by Courtney Gains, best known for playing Malachai in ‘Children of the Corn!’ Gaines keeps his natural red hair and adds pale skin and unbrushed teeth to his figure. He is shy and quiet. When he grabs the newspaper or takes out the trash, he is cautiously looking around to see if there are people staring at him. The next family member to appear is Reuben Klopek played by Brother Theodore. He appears as the neighbors finally introduce themselves. Like Hans he is quiet, but when he talks, it is in a thick German accent. His appearance reminds me of Billy Crystal’s character in ‘The Princess Bride.’ Finally, you have Werner Klopek played by Henry Gibson. He is the most normal and accomplished member of the family as he is a doctor at the local university. He speaks in a softer German accent and is more hospitable than the other members of his family.

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There’s not much more to say about ‘The ‘Burbs’ only then it’s perhaps one of the most overlooked movies of the 80s. If you were to separate Tom Hanks’ performances by categories, I would put this as one of his top comedic movies.  It’s relatable to all of us as I’m sure you have some weird and colorful neighbors where you live as does yours truly. It’s almost as if you’re watching your neighborhood being depicted on the big screen for the rest of the movie going audience to see.

 

TRIVIA

  • Walter’s toy poodle Queenie, was played by the same dog that played Precious in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
  • Prop Master Mark Jameson was charged with making fake dog poop when the actors complained that they didn’t want to step in the real thing. The mixture included canned dog food and bean dip. It was loaded into caulking tubes and squeezed out where needed.
  • Early in the movie, when Cory Danziger is eating breakfast, a box of Gremlins cereal can be seen on the kitchen counter in the background. Joe Dante also directed Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Corey Feldman was in Gremlins (1984).
  • Final film of actor Gale Gordon.
  • Last appearance of Brother Theodore.
  • Ricky Butler’s (Corey Feldman’s) house is the house formerly used by The Munsters in The Munsters (1964). This is probably why you never get a really good look at it, as it would be too recognizable as that house.
  • Everyone in the cast and crew had a good time working on the film so much so that Tom Hanks, personally bought everyone sunglasses and left a personal thank you note to everyone in the cast and the crew.
  • The filming location of The ‘Burbs set was also used for another Tom Hanks film, Dragnet (1987) for the character Connie Swail’s house.
  • Before climbing the fence to investigate the Klopek’s backyard, Art (Rick Ducommun) dresses up as a powerline technician and cuts the power to disable the security system. However, he ends up disabling the power to the whole neighborhood as well, according to Ricky Butler. In the movie Die Hard (1988), Rick Ducommun played a powerline worker for the city who was ordered by the FBI to disable the power to the Nakatomi Tower.
  • In the scene at the Klopek’s house, Bruce Dern is fascinated by one of Dr. Klopek’s paintings, turning it upside down. That painting appeared in the opening sequence of an early episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969).

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Staple His Ass Shut

A Hideous Raging Inferno

Why Don’t You Go Say Hi?

Bad Karma

Prank On Ray

Acting Like A Guy On Vacation

You Are A Garbage Man

A Soldier’s Way Saves The Day

Unconscious Chanting

Can’t Come Out

This Is Walter

A Fine Christian Name

9 On The Tension Scale

Red Rover

I Really Like Your Hair

Art On The News

Prison

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Prison

Release Date: December 8, 1987 (UK)

Genre: Horror, Crime, Drama

Director: Renny Harlin

Writers: Irwin Yablans (Story), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenplay)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lane Smith, Chelsea Field, Lincoln Kirkpatrick, Tom Everett

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Happy Halloween! We’ve reached the final review in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. Hope you enjoyed reading them up to this point. If you’ve been keeping up with each review this week, you may have realized that I picked a movie based on a genre of Horror Movies. The movies I reviewed included a cannibal comedy, a deformed sibling monster film, a camp slasher and a slug infested zombie homage. You may have also noticed that all these movies came out in the 80s. For the final film, I decided to go with the old-fashioned ghost story and yes it was released in the 80s. It was a limited release movie and the directing debut of Renny Harlin, the man who would go on to make blockbuster action movies such as “Die Hard 2” and “Cliffhanger” as well as the third highest grossing “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie in the franchise in “Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.” It was this film that got Harlin hired to do Nightmare 4. Buckle up because the last film in our special is 1988’s “Prison”!

The plot is simple and straight to the point. Due to a suspension of funding for a new state of the art prison in Wyoming, the Board of Prisons is left no choice but to re-open the Creedmore Prison, a prison that was shut down twenty years ago. The prison will be run by Ethan Sharpe (Lane Smith), who knows the prison well as he was a corrections officer when it was open. Inmates from all over the state are transferred to this prison and are used as workers to restore the prison to full working capacity.  Two inmates Burke (Viggo Mortensen) and Sandos (Andre DeShields) are assigned to break open the Execution Chamber that has been sealed off. As they break through with pickaxes a flash of blue light appears and starts to suck Burke in. Suddenly, there’s flashes of electricity, glass breaking and boilers flaming. The inmates have released a spirit believed to have been the last person executed at the prison and looks to seek his revenge on not only the prison but the man who helped send him to the electric chair, Sharpe.

I heard of this film during Renny Harlin’s interview in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” documentary “Never Sleep Again.” He talked about this film as his first film and that he used household effects and tricks to make the movie look good. The movie was a limited theatrical release in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its total gross was a little over $300,000 on a reported budget of $1.5 million. It was released on VHS in 1988. The movie was never released on DVD or Blu Ray until 2013 when Shout Factory acquired the distribution rights and made it available. I purchased the movie last December.

Prison (1988)

My first reaction when watching this movie was mixed. I thought it felt shallow and bare feeling that there needed to be a lot more meat to the bones. While researching movies to review for this special, I saw “Prison” in my library of movies and decided to give it another chance to see if this was something worth reviewing. I watched it again and enjoyed it for its atmosphere, use of special effects and creative death scenes. I watched it a third time and I convinced myself that this is a great movie for this special. There’s a certain quality to this movie that I feel has not been replicated when it comes to making a supernatural film.

The mood is everything in “Prison”. An air of confinement overtakes the film as soon the buses roll into the yard to drop the work crew off at their new home. The look, sound and smell of penitentiary life hangs all over the place. If you’ve watched any of Renny Harlin’s movies he really loves mood when it comes to people and the situations they get themselves involved in.

Lane Smith is billed as the lead in this movie as he is the veteran and recognized actor at the time (Vigo Mortensen was not well known). His performance of Sharpe is a troupe of wardens in movies.  He is a hard nose, bug eyed, short tempered warden who is haunted by memories of the executed prisoner who spirit is alive and wreaking havoc on him. It takes a toll on him and his ability to manage the prison and keep things under his control. His paranoia deepens to where he starts to behave irrationally and barks orders that even draw concern looks on the guard captains. Smith has played various characters of authority throughout his career and this is no exception.

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Vigo Mortensen plays the prisoner who is followed throughout the movie, Burke. Not much is known about Burke only that he is famous for stealing cars and is seen as a sort of “celebrity” within the prison. Mortensen plays Burke as a quiet inmate who keeps to himself in the beginning. He befriends two inmates, his cell mate Cresus (Lincoln Kirkpatrick) and Lasagna (Ivan Kane). During the movie, he becomes a hero when he saves the life of an inmate in solitary confinement from burning alive from the evil spirit when the cowardly guards refused to do so. He is the polar opposite of Sharpe. It’s the perfect role reversal of the criminal being the hero and the law enforcement officer being the villain.

The other lead in the movie is Chelsea Field who plays Katherine Walker who works internally at the Bureau of Prisons and is overseeing the re-opening. She doesn’t like the fact that the board put Sharpe in charge of the prison referring to him as an “Old Dinosaur.”  While she has attempted to work with Sharpe, she quickly realizes that she is being shut down by him at every turn especially when the prisoner body count starts to accumulate. She takes it upon herself to find out everything she can about the prisons history and Sharpe’s role in it. Field pops up in the movie from time to time, but I think gives a decent performance.

I love physical special effects and there is plenty of that in “Prison”. The lightning looks homemade, but authentic and the death scenes are innovative and make great use of the surroundings the impending victims are in. I could tell that the kill scenes in “Nightmare on Elm Street 4” drew inspiration from “Prison”.  The only death scene I had a gripe on was the smoking prisoner being burned alive. While it was indeed creative and intense, there were a few shots where you could see a dummy head just rotating its head from side to side.

As I do in most of my reviews, I try not to spoil the ending. I will say that the ending has been done before in a couple ghost themed movies I’ve seen, but I feel is satisfying. It brings a sense of closure to the story. Harlin seems to wrap up his movies by bringing closure or a sense of relief that things are over.

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Overall, I would check out “Prison”. It’s a fine horror movie that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a blockbuster horror movie. I’ve watched a lot of Renny Harlin’s movies and if you were to ask me to give a list of his five best movies, this would be on the list. His introductory film showcases his talent for vision and atmosphere that would be seen throughout his film making career. Some good, some bad.

That concludes my “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I hope you enjoyed these reviews. It took a lot of time and effort to watch, write and record these pieces, but I have to say that this was fun to do. The big accomplishment I hope to achieve from these is that you go out and watch these movies and see what you think.

Happy Halloween!

 

TRIVIA

  • Most of the inmate extras in the film were portrayed by real-life inmates from a nearby prison to add realism to their performances. The armed guards on the towers were, of course, armed with live ammo at the time. Stephen E. Little (Rhino) was a former Hollywood stuntman, who was still a member of SAG, who happened to be serving time for manslaughter that he committed during a bar-room brawl.
  • The prison where the movie was shot, the former Wyoming State Prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming, has daily tours and much of the set remains intact from when crews filmed there in 1987.
  • The electric chair (which was never used in Wyoming) was built into the actual gas chamber of the Wyoming Prison and the death scenes were filmed there. The original chair, was carefully removed and an electric chair was built in its place. During the shooting, Viggo Mortensen’s convulsions were so violent the arms of the chair were broken and needed to be repaired.
  • Chelsea Field was supposed to do a scene in a bathtub but refused to do it.
  • Viggo Mortensen did the bulk of his own stunts. Moreover, stunt coordinator Kane Hodder gave Mortensen an honorary stuntman’s shirt at the completion of the shooting for this film.
  • The high-altitude sun in Wyoming caused shooting issues in the scene where the prisoners are stripped to their underwear and forced to stand outside all day. Due to technical issues, the scene was shot over and over and the prisoners in the background become sunburned on one side of their bodies only as extras were not provided sunblock.
  • The water that Viggo Mortensen runs through in his underwear was real. That part of the prison had been flooded for years, the temperature in the room was below 50F and the water temperature was 46F. Mortensen’s shivering is real. He insisted on shooting the scenes without a double, and only at being forced to relented for some close-up scenes.
  • Before casting Viggo Mortensen, Thom Matthews auditioned and was being considered for the part of Burke.
  • Lane Smith remained in character as Warden Sharpe throughout the duration of filming.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

Sushi Girl

Sushi Girl

Release Date: Novemeber 27, 2012

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Kern Saxton

Writers: Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff

Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Before I go into the review, I would like to take this time to apologize for not posting weekly. I’ve had some personal tragedies in my life that took me away from various projects. In addition, I wanted to take some time off and rethink the concept of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review”. When I first started this blog, the concept was to review movies that I particularly liked that perhaps only a small cult would enjoy. I started to find myself digging into movies that have already been done before. I took a seat back and took notes on how to keep this blog going but make it appealing to the viewers. I decided that I would focus on movies that the mainstream movie goer may not have heard of before or movies that may be seen as bad by the general public, but I enjoy.  I know there will be people out there (even you the reader) that may have seen the movie I’m reviewing before, but my goal in reviewing these underrated movies is to attempt to capture a new audience. As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this.  With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s “Sushi Girl”.

The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table.  Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.

I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled “Sushi Girl”. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about “Sushi Girl”, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.

The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick “Reservoir Dogs”. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. “Sushi Girl” follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like “Reservoir Dogs”, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).

The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than “Candyman” which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.

Clocking in at 98 minutes, “Sushi Girl” may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.

 

TRIVIA (According to IMDB)

 

  • While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.

 

  • The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.

 

  • This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.

 

  • Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.

 

  • One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).

 

  • Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

The Rookie

 

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The Rookie

Release Date: December 7, 1990

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia, Tom Skerritt, Lara Flynn Boyle

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

While Buddy Cop movies have been around since the dawn of film, they didn’t start becoming commercially successful until around the seventies. Some of the more memorable duos include Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and in today’s Buddy films, you could argue Kevin Hart/Ice Cube or Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum. Then there are those that didn’t pair well like Chevy Chase/Jack Palance, Jay Leno/Pat Morita, Burt Reynolds/an eight year old boy. As the nineties began, you saw more offbeat pairings. One of those offbeat pairings included Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood and Hollywood Bad Boy Charlie Sheen (Yeah never in a million years did I think that would be possible). Both appeared in the 1990 film “The Rookie”.

Like all Buddy Cop movies this movie focuses on two cops with very different and conflicting personalities who are forced to work together to solve a major crime. Sheen plays David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is assigned to the LAPD’s Robbery and Auto Theft Division. He is partnered with Eastwood’s Nick Pulovski, a rough wisecracking Sergeant Detective who uses tactics against police procedures to get what he needs to put the bad guys away. David gets thrust into Nick’s case involving a car theft ring that is run by a man named Strom, played by the late great Raul Julia. In addition, Strom is responsible for killing Eastwood’s original partner. Throughout the film, David gets cold feet when it comes to helping Nick. It’s attributed to not only his family background, which he comes from money and power as portrayed in a dinner party scene, but also a post traumatic episode involving the accidental death of his brother when they were children and feeling responsible for it. During a tip from an illegal wiretap, Nick and David head to a local casino where Strom is attempting to steal $2 million dollars to pay his creditors due to Nick constantly disrupting his business. During a search, Strom’s right hand woman slowly walks towards David. David has his gun pointed at her threatening her to stop or he will shoot. He hesitates and allows himself to be shot and Nick being taken hostage by Strom. David is put on leave from the department due to his cowardice and allowing his partner to be taken. Strom demands the money within twenty four hours otherwise he will kill Nick. David, feeling guilt and tired of being afraid hunts down Strom’s associates in order to find where Nick is in time before the police decide to pay up.

I first encountered this movie during a night flipping through channels with my father several years ago. It appeared on one of the major film channels you can get on cable or satellite. The film was already playing, but we decide to check it out. We turned it on and the first scene we see is Eastwood giving a local news interview on a junkyard search and seizure. In typical Eastwood humor, he begins a profanity laced taunt at the criminal he is after. My dad I instantly cracked up and continued to watch the film all the way through. After the movie, we both agreed that it was a fun flick with loads of action and humor. Recently, I shopped at the place where I do all my movie shopping and found “The Rookie” on DVD for a mere two dollars. I instantly picked it up. I watched it in full for the first time over the weekend and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around.

Clint Eastwood’s performance in this movie is a carbon copy of Dirty Harry, not like that’s a bad thing. From the physical gruffness and aggressive tactics to the smart ass comments, Eastwood doesn’t skip a beat. When Eastwood gets paired up with Sheen, he’s not amused to the fact that he has to “babysit” this rookie. He keeps his pursuit of Strom close to his chest, not revealing too much information to his new partner.

Charlie Sheen’s performance was pretty mellow, but I think he nailed the character of David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is getting more than what he bargained for when joining the force. He becomes a burden to Eastwood due to his inexperience and the fact that Eastwood has to bail him out on several occasions. Besides the things I mentioned about Ackerman in the beginning of the review, he also has to deal with his girlfriend (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) who is finishing law school. He feels his job is beneath to what she will become. He does gain Eastwood’s admiration in the film when he helps him fix his motorcycle. You will see in a couple scenes how good Sheen is at fixing things. This is in part to Ackerman’s degrees in Engineering and Economics as mentioned during the party scene. Other than that he struggles to build Eastwood’s trust in him. The botched arrest of Strom along with the kidnapping of Eastwood becomes Sheen’s turning point. When he faces his fears and stops blaming himself for the tragic events of his childhood, he learns from his subordinate and does what he can to find his partner even going as far as breaking up his dad’s meeting to confront him.

The last great performance goes to Raul Julia playing Strom. He is cunning at first when things go as planned. As the movie progresses and Eastwood thwarts his criminal business, Strom becomes angry and determined.  When he kidnaps Eastwood, he gains leverage over the cops and devises a way to get his money and take out his enemy at the same time. The only gripe I have about Julia’s character is that he is supposed to be German. Raul Julia is Puerto Rican. It would’ve made more sense to change the character of Strom to a different nationality, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance.

A Buddy Cop film wouldn’t be complete without loads of action. There’s not a lot of shootouts in this film, but there are quite a few chase sequences. There’s one shortly after the beginning of the film, a chase scene involving Sheen and a motorcycle and a chase scene at the climax. The film does a good job of changing the chases so that they’re not repetitive as in car chase after car chase after car chase. All these chases were performed by stuntmen at the physical shooting locations. The explosion effects were also done on location without the use of any blue or green screens which brings a sense of authenticity. One particular scene was done in one take due to the fact they did not have the means to keep doing take after take. It’s incredible what these stuntmen put themselves through to create an entertaining picture. They are the real heroes in the movie industry.

The film does have its flaws. The film doesn’t divulge into Sheen and Boyle’s relationship. She appears in only a handful of shots and one important scene of the film. The same goes with Sheen’s parents. While you know he comes from luxury, you really don’t know much about his dad’s business. One of the more controversial moments in the film is when Strom’s right hand woman is toying with a tied up Eastwood. As she speaks to him and slashes his forehead with a razor, she turns on a video camera and begins to rape him. Was it something she did with all her male victims? Did she see something in Eastwood she found attractive such as his boldness or the fact when she gave him a drink of water he proceeded to spit it at her face? I didn’t think it was necessary especially since you didn’t know anything about her other than she’s a trusted accomplice.

The movie’s run time is two hours on the dot, but it doesn’t feel like a two hour movie. It’s pretty fast paced with everything going on. You get immersed with what is going on in each scene that time doesn’t exist.

Overall “The Rookie” is a good Buddy Cop flick. It may not stand out like the “Lethal Weapon” movies, but it is better than most of the recent movies of this genre that have been released. The pairing of Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen is still baffling, but it works in this concept if these two could work great together in a Buddy Cop film, who knows what the next great pairing will be? I could see Tom Hardy and Michael Cera in a Buddy Cop flick……..or maybe not.

TRIVIA

  • According to the book “Clint Eastwood A Cultural Production” by Paul Smith, during the early stages of principal photography, actor Charlie Sheen had substance abuse problems. Eastwood reportedly took on a father-figure role in disciplining Sheen into responsible behavior.
  • The film featured over twice as many stuntmen as it did actors. Held the world record for the biggest ratio of stuntmen/actors. Reportedly, over eighty stuntmen worked on the movie.
  • Clint Eastwood agreed to do this movie in exchange for Warner Brothers letting him make his personal film project, White Hunter Black Heart (1990).
  • The movie was to be directed by Craig R. Baxley starring Matthew Modine and Gene Hackman in 1988 but the production was stopped by the Screen Actors Guild strike
  • The make and model of the car that Clint Eastwood took a disliking to its color was a lime green Type 85 Lotus Esprit SE. The Lotus Esprit was the car that had become famous for appearing in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and later used again in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the movie, Eastwood gets to drive the famous James Bond car.
  • According to the article ‘Slam, Bang, Crash, Boom for The Rookie” published in American Cinematographer in January 1991, the movie’s stunt scenes were mostly shot at night with no use of blue screens and with no use of miniatures.

AUDIO CLIPS

The Perfect Host

 

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The Perfect Host

Release Date: January 10, 2010 (Sundance Premiere)

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Director: Nick Tom nay

Writers: Nick Tomnay, Krishna Jones

Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Cloyne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Megahn Perry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Do you ever flip around the movie titles on Netflix and find a movie that you’ve never heard of? Does the title and the cover give you a curious interest as to what the movie is about? While Netflix has devoted the majority of its programming to original series, they do turn out a bunch of independent movies that were only screened at film festivals and other small venues. One movie I recently came across looked appealing and therefore I was enticed to watch. The movie was titled, “The Perfect Host”.

Released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, the movie is about a man named John Taylor who is on the run after pulling off a bank heist and collecting over $300,000. His car breaks down in a plush Los Angeles neighborhood. After a failed attempt to convince a neighbor to let him use the phone, he is able to use some cunning skills to convince a man named Warwick Wilson to let him in. Warwick is in the middle of cooking dinner as he is throwing a dinner party and has invited several of his friends to join. Warwick offers John some red wine and helps him trying to get into contact with his cousin so they could meet up (which is a ruse). A news bulletin goes off on the radio describing John and the heist. John grabs Warwick’s butcher knife and holds him hostage. His plan is to lay low until the next morning and leave. However, John begins to feel dizzy and collapses on the floor. Unbeknownst to John, Warwick drugged the wine. The tables turn as John is tied up in a chair and is sitting at the head of the dinner table. He is now the guest of honor in what is to be a very bizarre party.

Written and Directed by Nick Tom nay, which is his first feature film according to records, “The Perfect Host” is reminiscent of an Albert Hitchcock film. It’s filled with tension, suspense, surprises and shocks. The reversal of roles between predator and prey slither slow and steady transition. It’s almost like watching a Chess game where each player is strategically plan their moves. Ironically, the two main characters engage in a game of Chess where each has their own stake in the winnings.

The film is shot on digital video. I’m not a huge fan of digital video for numerous reasons, but it works within the context of the film. There’s a lot of bright lighting throughout the film. I also enjoy the constant back and forth first person views of the two main characters as you see what they’re interpreting in their own mind of the scenario that is playing around them.

This is the first starring role for David Hyde Pierce. If you’re not familiar with his work, he is best known as his portrayal of Niles Crane in the sitcom “Frasier”. His portrayal of Warwick is not much different from his portrayal of Niles. He’s articulate, eccentric, excited and knowledgeable. Warwick comes off as a gracious generous host. He plays the victim role early in the film. When he is in control of the situation, his deep desires and fantasies come out while having fun and entertaining his “guest”.  He slowly morphs into a character that is a combination of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman. From there comes the final phase of his character where he is grounded and determined (I’ll get to that later in the review). Pierce provides plenty of laughs while at the same time provides creepy and unsettled moments that make you anxious as to what is he planning with John.

Speaking of John Taylor, he is portrayed by Cloyne Crawford. I’m not familiar with any of his other film roles, so this was an introductory role for me. John is determined to get out of Los Angeles with the money he steals. He is cunning and manipulative at first and then becomes aggressive and violent especially when he tells Warwick to “shut up” when a radio bulletin comes on the air regarding his robbery. He holds Warwick hostage in his own home while he lays low. His control over the situation is short lived as he collapses from drinking red wine that was drugged by Warwick. He becomes the hostage and is powerless to regain control. He is at the mercy of Warwick and does his best to resist compliance from Warwick. Throughout the film there are flashbacks involving John and an unidentified woman. These pieces would reveal who the woman is and what is her relation to John.

While the film focuses primarily on John and Warwick, there are a few minor characters. As I’ve stated there is a woman who is involved with John and then there are two police detectives who are looking into the heist and John’s background and there is a concerned neighbor when she sees John floating in a pool and yell.  While these characters add to the layer of the story, they are used minimally. You don’t see the woman or the police detectives until the climax of the film.

The only thing I didn’t like about this film was the climax. It felt rushed and didn’t flow with the rest of the film.  You find out what Warwick does for a living and this triggers another personality trait in him. It’s strange since the film doesn’t give clues about who he really is. It does have a somewhat comical ending to it as it would set up another event that I’m sure we’ll never see unless they decide to make a sequel.

While “The Perfect Host” cant’ be described as a perfect film, but it’s a clever spin on a classic genre of films. As I mentioned early in the review, it’s got the look and feel of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s about as close of a Hitchcockian film you’re going to see in recent years. It makes you appreciate independent films and what they’re trying to make. If I found this film on Netflix, there’s no telling where other sleeper indie hits may be out there. I’ll just have to find them.

 

TRIVIA

  • First starring film role for David Hyde Pierce.
  • Shot in seventeen days with a budget just under $500,000
  • The tattoo on John’s hand contains 3 Hebrew letters, which are the initials for “Uri Riva Yariv” – a kabbalah term that means absolute certainty and is supposed to enhance confidence and belief.

 

AUDIO CLIPS