Black Caesar

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Black Caesar

Release Date: February 7, 1973

Genre: Action, Drama, Crime

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Art Lund, D’Urville Martin

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Perhaps the most underrated and underappreciated filmmaker in cinema is Larry Cohen. He started out his career as a writer for studio-based television show to getting his opportunity to write and direct his own movies.  He was a pioneer of the independent film industry by creating the most innovating low budget movies of our time that dealt with social issues and commentary on American culture. His well-known films include “It’s Alive” which is about a mutant baby being born and “The Stuff” which is an intergalactic organism with the taste and texture of yogurt that gets the consuming public addicted.  Those films have become a staple in the horror community. Nowadays Cohen focuses more of screenplay writing and has written many scripts for some blockbuster movies (ironic since he’s always had a disdain for Hollywood).  After recently watching a documentary on Cohen’s career, there was one film that stood out as I was watching it that peaked my interest. It was a film from 1973 that is regarding by many as one of the best movies you’ve never seen before. The movie I’m referring to is called “Black Caesar!”

“Black Caesar” (or “Godfather of Harlem” as it was called in the United Kingdom) is a crime drama that tells the story of Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson). Tommy is raised in Harlem, New York city during the 50s. As a boy, he would be beaten by a cop named McKinney who would also throw racial slurs at him. The stigmatization of these incidents leads him to a path of crime. When Tommy becomes an adult in the 60s, he joins the mafia and becomes head of the black crime syndicate in Harlem. As his power and influence grows, Tommy splinters from the mafia starting his own empire and eliminating the competition. Like most crime films, as soon as Tommy reaches his peak, he starts to decline as numerous people are out to get him.

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“Black Caesar” was hailed as a critically acclaimed masterpiece for a low budget independent movie. The response from the viewing audience led Cohen to make a follow up film called “Hell Up In Harlem,” which would be released the same year in December.  The godfather of soul James Brown composed the music for the film which became a hit soundtrack and many musical pieces would be sampled by prominent hip hop musicians in the 90s. On average, the movie ranks in the Top 3 among Larry Cohen’s best films trailing behind the aforementioned horror flicks.

The film is garnered as a blaxploitation film which if you aren’t familiar with the term it means an ethnic sub-genre of exploitation movies in which African American characters and communities are the subject and are portrayed as the heroes rather than victims of brutality and segregation. The term was coined by Junius Griffin who was the head of the Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during this period. (1)  While technically a blaxploitation movie, I didn’t see it this way. I found “Black Caesar” to be an original crime film with flair and style. There is so much to enjoy from this movie. Everything works clockwork from the characters to the story to the action to the music. Being a fan of crime movies, I’m surprised it took me this long to discover this film.

There’s enough going on in this movie to please fans of gangster movies. There’s action, violence, colorful characters. It follows the same character arc as in the first two “Godfather” movies and “Scarface.” You have someone climbing the ladder and reaching the top of power only to slowly start falling down the mountain and crashing into the ravine.

Fred Williamson who plays Tommy owns the film throughout its duration. Much like Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson (in his early years of course) Williamson was a professional football player who played in the American Football League during the 60s and transitioned into acting after his playing days were over. He is strong, confident and handsome and he oozes of machismo all throughout this film. Through his brutal forceful tactics, he earns the respect of his fellow henchmen and the ire of the crime syndicates in New York. Always carrying his Mauser C96 “Red 9” pistol, Williamson dominates the screen as he sets out on his plan to create his own criminal empire and seek revenge on those who may have wronged him in the past. How Williamson turns out could have been overplayed or underplayed by an actor with more ego, but he brushes that aside and creates a magnifying character with a similar arc to Michael Corleone or Tony Montana. Williamson proves he can be a leading actor on many scales.

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The rest of the supporting cast is small but fit into the plot. You have Gloria Hendry who plays Helen, a singer that Tommy falls in love with and marries. As Tommy is building his gang, she becomes unhappy and tries her best to get him to stop while he can much to no avail. You also have D’Urville Martin who plays Reverend Rufus, a preacher who grew up with Tommy in the same building who gets some involvement with Tommy’s group but keeps his distance due to his oath to God and the Church. Then you have Art Lind who plays the bigoted cop McKinney. He is as dirty as they come, and Lind shows that throughout his scenes. He continues to berate and slander Tommy even during his ascension into the crime world. Tommy has the stomach to handle McKinney until the time comes to take him out once and for all.

The film is primarily shot in New York City and Harlem with one scene being shot in California at Larry Cohen’s house (which you will see appear in many of his films). Cohen, born and raised in New York City gives the audience an intimate look of life in the big city especially in its neighborhoods. Cohen was able to get a lot of scenes done in Harlem due to making deals with the local gangs and from there you see a part of New York City that isn’t shown much in today’s movies and television series. It shows the racial makeup and the tensions going on during the time. Remember, this was before the Civil Rights Act.

I will caution you that ‘Black Caesar’ is as graphic of a movie as it could be. Not so much in terms of violence, but there are suggestive themes and concepts. Obviously, there is a lot of racial slander between the characters, again in part due to the time period that the movie takes place. There is also a rape scene and a domestic violence scene that could make you uneasy. It sure did for me. These things would not pass today in our society and culture. I don’t think this movie would even be released in theaters today unless they cut a bunch of things out and clean up the language.

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James Brown wrote and compose the music to “Black Caesar.” The Godfather of Soul provides a mix of smoking R&B to the sound of funky disco. The music is appropriately fitted within the movie to give it emotion, character and intensity. Many people consider his soundtrack to be the best album Brown has ever released.

People credit Larry Cohen with the concept of “stealing” scenes. What “stealing” means in this context is the ability to shoot scenes with no permits. There were no permits for this movie, so everything that was shot was by stealth and trickery. For example, the overhead shots in the movie were done by setting cameras up on corner roofs of buildings or on light posts. The car chase sequence was a real car chase where roads weren’t blocked off for shooting and you had bystanders going about their business. The scene where Tommy is shot and is stammering throughout the road and sidewalks, you get a mixed reaction from people. Some in typical New York fashion ignore his cries for help while others express great concern or shock. You see some people reaching out to Tommy to see if he needs assistance. Getting those raw unscripted reactions from ordinary people heightens the quality of the movie.

If I had to rank the Top 10 Gangster Movies, I would put “Black Caesar” easily in the Top 5 or maybe in the Top 3. As stated in the beginning, it’s a movie with a lot of flair, and style. There’s enough going on to satisfy the gangster movie fan. Overall, it’s very underrated and entertaining. It’s a surprise gem that sadly gets overlooked due to the heavyweight titans of “The Godfather Trilogy,” “Scarface,” “Goodfellas,” etc. If you’re able to find this movie at your local movie store, Amazon or other streaming services, you should check this movie out. If you enjoy it, you’ll be ready to move forward in Larry Cohen’s film chronology which only gets better.

 

(1) James, Darius (1995). That’s Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury). ISBN0-312-13192-5.

 

TRIVIA

  • Originally offered to Sammy Davis Jr., who turned it down.
  • When filming in Harlem, Larry Cohen was accosted by local gangsters who threatened to disrupt the shoot unless they were paid off. Instead, Cohen offered them small roles in the film. They helped so enthusiastically that they attended the premiere to sign autographs.
  • The name Caesar is never spoken in the movie.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Shine Em Up Good

Down And Out In New York City – James Brown Song

You’ve Never Seen Me

You’re The Big Brain

Sammy, Don’t Disfigure The Man

Sauce Needed Some More Meat

The Boss – James Brown Song

Never Fear

We’ll Make Sure The Garbage Is Picked Up

Play A Couple Tunes

Somebody Call Down For A Shine?

I Want Him Nice And Fat

Sleep Well, Mr. Gibbs

Who’s Lincoln?

Been Waiting 25 Years To Kill You

I Miss My Old Bed

Heal Him Lord

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No Escape

 

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No Escape

Release Date: April 24, 1994

Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Martin Campbell

Writers: Richard Herley (Novel), Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross (Screenplay)

Starring: Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson, Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Wow! We’re already into the second review of 2019 (I promise I won’t be counting the number of reviews done)! For the next ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,’ we’re going back to the year 1994. During this year in cinema we had “Forest Gump.” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” (just to name a few). Of course, those movies were mega blockbusters, and all competed for the Best Picture Award at the Oscars. 1994 also had some movies that were overlooked and turned out to be very good in this reviewer’s opinion. We’ll be reviewing one of those movies right now. This week’s review is the dystopian future action/sci-fi flick “No Escape!”

Directed by Martin Campbell, best known for making two of the best James Bond films (again in this reviewer’s opinion) “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale,” “No Escape” is set in the year 2022 and stars Ray Liotta as John Robbins, a highly trained ex-Marine who is imprisoned for life for murdering his commanding officer. After breaking out of two Level 5 maximum security prisons he’s sent to a Level 6 facility. After holding the Warden at gunpoint in a punishment scene, Robbins is exiled to a placed called “Absolom,” island prison hundreds of miles off the main land. The island is where they send the worst prisoners to live out their days in exile. Unbeknownst, Robbins is caught in the middle of a tribal conflict between the ‘Outsiders’ who are savages that live in the jungle and are led by the sociopathic Walter Marek (Stuart Wilson) and the ‘Insiders’ who are a cooperative autonomous community living a life of peace and purpose led by a terminally ill doctor called the ‘Father’ (Lance Henriksen). Robbins assists the ‘Insiders’ repel an attack from the ‘Outsiders’ and is asked by ‘Father’ to join the community. He refuses and intends to find a way to escape Absolom even though no one has escaped the island and lived to tell about it. The rest of the supporting cast includes Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon, Ian McNeice and Michael Lerner.

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“No Escape” is based off the 1987 novel “The Penal Colony” by Richard Herley. The film got mixed reviews upon its released and only made $15M out of a reported $20M budget making it a flop. Just because a movie flops at the Box Office doesn’t mean it’s a complete failure. I first saw the preview for this movie back in 1994 when I was nine years old. I stumbled upon the film later in life on Netflix. When I saw it was available to stream it refreshed my memory of the preview and gave it a shot. I went into the movie with little expectations, but after watching it, I felt the movie was a rare gem. There’s so much about this movie I enjoyed. Let’s go ahead and break it down.

First is the story. It’s nothing original as you can compare it to any other prison escape film, but it merges with elements of tribalism, authoritarianism and hope to make it compelling. What makes the story fresher is how likable the good characters are despite their alleged crimes for which they are banished to the island for. It’s reminds me of a line that Tim Robbins says in “The Shawshank Redemption” when replying to Morgan Freeman’s question as to how he ended up in prison with, “I’m innocent along with everyone else here.”  The movie sets up Robbins as a detestable character for what he had done. He was a Marine who killed his superior. You don’t know the reason why a man who served his country would do such a thing to one of his own. You find out later the reason for it and you sympathize with him even if it was still the wrong thing to do.

Next is the settings. We start the movie in a giant Level 6 prison that is surrounded by an endless windstorm. The industrial cold environment sets the tension between Robbins and the Warden. When Robbins is banished to Absolom, we get this beautiful spacious island with breathtaking views and luscious jungles where you have the freedom to do what you want. The island portion of the film was shot in Queensland, Australia. It does give the audience a sense of peace, happiness and hope as they are emerged in this environment. Heck, it makes me want to join up with the ‘Insiders’ and live a peaceful life where you contribute to the community, you’re far away from civilization and you don’t have to worry about money or bills!

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Third is the acting. There are some great performances from each character. Obviously, Ray Liotta is the star of the movie. I was surprised that he would take on a role like this given his resume and that he is mostly a dramatic actor. Liotta has always played a character of some authority whether it is a law enforcement officer or a gangster.  Of course, we all know him from his iconic portrayal of Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic “Goodfellas.” He played this role with enthusiasm and dedication. He starts off as this cold loner with the only goal of getting off the island. As the movie progresses, so does his feelings. While he still wants to get off the island, he finds compassion among the ‘Insiders’ and confines with ‘Father’ with what he had done to land him in prison in the way a Catholic goes to a priest to confess his sins. Liotta had not only the acting chops, but the brains and stamina as many scenes where he is fighting with the ‘Outsiders’ and using instinct and the land much in a sense as Rambo to subdue his pursuers. I loved everything Ray Liotta has done, this is in my top three favorite performances of his.

Another all-time favorite actor of mine is Lance Henriksen. His performance as ‘Father’ is a natural fit for him. His namesake is that of a man carrying for his children. In this, the people of his colony are his children and must do everything in his power to protect them. Henriksen has played a diverse role of characters throughout his career. This performance has similarities to his most known role portraying the android Bishop in the “Alien” movie franchise.

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The third most notable performance of this movie goes to Stuart Wilson, who plays the antagonist Walter Marek. Stuart Wilson is not a household name, but if you’re a movie buff, you may remember him from playing other villainous roles such as playing the main villain in “Lethal Weapon 3” and one of the villains in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III!” The villain role suits him well. Marek is a sociopath who is looking to dominate all of Absolom and enslave the ‘Insiders’ under the laws of the jungle. He takes over as de facto leaders of all the jungle tribes. Wilson gives a weirdly amusing performance full of laughs, jokes and downright brutality.

 

“No Escape” has the right amount of action that it doesn’t take over the rest of the movie. There’s enough explosions and battles to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are several shots including Liotta jumping off the waterfall that would be used again in director Martin Campbell’s follow up film “Goldeneye!” Campbell is an underappreciated filmmaker. He knows how to create action movies when he’s given the chance. He is one of three directors to direct multiple installments of the James Bond series.

If you’re looking for an under the radar action/sci-fi flick, look no further than “No Escape!” I’ve said previous that this is a rare gem flick and it still is. It doesn’t need over the top action nor an over preachy story to be enjoyable. If you’re lucky to find a copy of the film online or in your local video store, it is worth the money.  It’s a perfect flick to watch on a Saturday night with a buddy or two.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Throughout the entire movie, there is not one single female character. There are only male characters.
  • The film is known in other countries as “Escape from Absolom”.
  • Filmed in Far North Queensland, Australia.
  • Ray Liotta agreed to take the lead role of Robbins, because he had always wanted to do an action movie, where he played a heroic character.
  • 400 extras played The Outsiders.
  • Most of the extras were European backpackers from local backpacking hostel’s in and around cairn’s north Queensland.
  • A special rig was set up for Ray Liotta’s stunt double, for the sequence which Robbins is shot in the neck by poison darts and falls into the water below, allowing the camera to follow the stunt performer as he falls.
  • After production was complete on the film, Martin Campbell was hired to direct the 1995 James Bond film “Goldeneye” and later, the 2006 reboot “Casino Royale”. “Goldeneye” bares some similarities with this film: The Goldeneye satellite, Bond getting shot with a tranquilizer dart, Boris Grishenko secretly working for Janus, Natalya taking over a helicopter and Alec Trevelyan falling to his death, in the hand to hand combat with Bond

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Don’t Ever Turn Your Back On Me Again

Absolom

Welcome To Paradise

Not In The Mood For An Interrogation

Wipe Your Feet

He Does That With Everyone

If You Like Roadkill

Two Shots Of Your Finest 12 Day Old

Find Forgiveness

Basket Weaving

Warden’s Dry Cleaning

No You Cannot Have My Shoes

I Thought You Were My Friend

Second Prize

We’ve Always Been About Survival

Come And Get It

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evilspeak

 

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Evilspeak

Release Date: February 26, 1982

Genre: Horror, Drama

Director: Eric Weston

Writers: Eric Weston (Screenplay) and Joseph Garofalo (Screenplay and Story)

Starring: Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joe Cortese, Don Stark

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Happy 2019 dead readers! Here’s to another year! The first year of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” has been a success! I again want to thank all of you for supporting the site. Hopefully we can continue to grow and expand our viewing audience. I’ve got plenty of movies to review and I’m looking to find some rare movies that perhaps the reading audiences aren’t familiar with. There will be full of surprises. If you have the following social media accounts, please make sure you follow my pages below:

Facebook – Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review

Twitter – @GPCRMovies

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s kick off the new year by reviewing a movie in my favorite genre. If you haven’t guessed by the numerous reviews including an October special, my favorite genre of movies is Horror. I stumbled upon this movie searching for some rare and unique Horror movies that I haven’t seen yet. It had an appealing cover, but you know what they say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover!” Would it live it up to the cover? Let’s find out. Here is the first “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” of 2019, the 1982 demonic horror flick “Evilspeak!”

Starring Clint Howard (brother of Ron Howard) in a rare leading role, the film focuses on Stanley Coopersmith, who is enrolled at military school due to the unfortunate deaths of his mother and father. Coopersmith is an outcast at the school. He is constantly bullied by the other cadets, gets berated by the senior personnel and laughed at by the women. The only compassion he receives is from the school chef and a little puppy that he adopts from the chef when he originally planned on letting it die because it is a runt. Stanley is forced to clean the church cellar at the school as punishment (for no clear reason). As he is cleaning the cellar, Stanley stumbles upon a room belonging to Father Esteban, a priest from the Dark Ages who had been banished from his church in Spain due to dabbling in black magic and refusing to renounce Satan. In his room is a book of black magic along with Esteban’s diary. Using a computer, Stanley translates the book from Latin to English where it contains instructions for a ritual called the “Black Mass.” The “Black Mass” would allow the soul of Esteban to return and possess the human being that performs the ritual, in this case Stanley. Stanley calls upon him to exact revenge on those who have mistreated him.

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Directed by Eric Weston (also co-wrote the screenplay) the film also stars R.G. Armstrong as ‘Sarge’, Joe Cortese as ‘Reverend Jameson’ and Don Stark of “That’s 70s Show” fame as ‘Bubba Caldwell’, the lead bully of the gang that torments Stanley throughout the movie. “Evilspeak” was released in only three countries which were the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. The film was banned in the United Kingdom due to its climax and Satanic Themes. It was cited as a ‘Video Nasty’, which was a collection of movies under the UK Video Recordings Act of 1984 that are banned due to its graphic nature or subject matter. It would later be reclassified and re-released in 1987 with three minutes cut from the original release and the text images of the “Black Mass” ritual removed on the computer screen. The film has a cult following (pun intended) and is the favorite film of Anton LaVey, the late founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan.

Throughout his career, Clint Howard has always been a character actor. You will likely see him in every movie his brother Ron Howard has directed. You’ve also seen him in the “Austin Powers Trilogy” as a military radar operator or as Paco in the Adam Sandler comedy “The Waterboy.” He has that distinct look that sticks out like a sore thumb. In this rare starring role for Howard he takes advantage of this by creating a lovable and sympathetic character. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He tries his best going through the rigorous routines of military school only to be harassed by the fellow cadets and the teachers showing disdain for his tardiness and his inability to comply with the rules of the institution. His only sanctuary is the computer lab where he is building a class project with the aid of technology. His only friends are the chef and puppy dog that he keeps hidden from everyone in the church cellar as he spends more time studying the book and being fascinated with Father Esteban’s words. Although we shouldn’t seek revenge in real life, I was cheering for Stanley to get back at the bullies once his soul was possessed by Esteban. The antagonists in the movie were truly the lowest forms of life.

Speaking of the antagonists, there’s plenty of them in this film. Veteran actor R.G. Armstrong was a nice fit as ‘Sarge’ and Don Stark embellished the bully role of pack leader Bubba Caldwell with glee and delight. From Sarge to Reverend Jameson to Bubba Caldwell and his gang, all these people are despicable and nasty. I understand that you need to instill discipline on those who act out or misbehave, but some of the punishments in the film could be considered excessive in today’s world. They embarrass and humiliate Stanley every chance they get throughout the film. As a big believer in karma, they get theirs in the end.

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“Evilspeak” is not an original concept. Many have compared it to “Carrie” even calling it the male version of the horror classic. There are numerous similarities between the two films. There’s a lot of holes in the screenplay leaving many questions unanswered. The overall theme of the movie is how far does one get pushed to the point where they seek revenge? It’s a humanitarian struggle for Stanley. As he dives more into the book and translates the passages, the more intrigued and curious he becomes. He continues down a dark path where there is no return. His view of redemption is by killing those that have made his life miserable.

The pacing is slow as it spends ninety percent of the movie building up the characters until the climax where everything is moving fast as if the filmmakers were given a time limit to complete the last act. The makeup and effects are dated for its time. And if you pay attention closely, you could see a dummy or two during Despite these flaws, I think it’s a technically good film that gets as much out as it could on its reported $1M budget. It’s not a slasher film in any sense so don’t expect to see a high body count, but there’s just the right amount of gore to appease the fans.

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What makes “Evilspeak” work is how relatable it is today. Bullying continues to be a problem in schools today and with social media being a regular outlet for impressionable young people, it makes it worse when they post pictures or say mean comments about someone they like for reasons known only to them. The kids that are bullied end up taking dramatic and consequential actions such as hurting people or hurting themselves. No kid should have to go through life feeling miserable, sad or wishing they were never born. They should be enjoying their youth by having fun. Although this isn’t a movie to show kids about the effects bullying has, but it puts things in retrospect since we all have been a bully or have been bullied sometime in our lives.

If you enjoy low budget horror films that are simple and straight to the point, “Evilspeak” may be right up your alley.  Even if it’s the same old story told, and you are seething with anger over the characters, there is enough cheese going on that it can brighten your mood. Sometimes that’s all you need in a horror movie to prevent it from being all doom and gloom.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • According to Clint Howard, one night after shooting a scene he drove home while still wearing his bloody cadet outfit. He stopped at a light and noticed a woman staring at him from a nearby car, so he turned and smiled at her, and she responded by immediately locking all of her car’s doors.
  • Clint Howard and Don Stark agreed not to socialize during filming so that they could maintain the hostility that existed between their characters.
  • Previously banned in the UK as part of the infamous “Video Nasty” list during the 1980s.
  • The title “Evilspeak” was derived from the phrase “computer-speak”, a term used to describe the shorthand used by computer specialists for the otherwise complex. In the film the protagonist uses computers to summon evil spirits.
  • One of the prosthetic heads was accidentally made too tough for the decapitation scene it was intended for, and when Clint Howard struck it with the sword to his embarrassment it merely bounced off. Frustrated, he found a large sledge hammer then took some time to practice swinging it around until the added weight made wielding the sword seem easy by comparison, and when the scene was shot again he finally took the head off.
  • According to Clint Howard and director Eric Weston, the original cut of the film which he submitted to the ratings board contained even more footage than the uncut DVD release, including more special effects, as well as extensions of the bathtub death scene and the cadet having his heart ripped out. But their labored efforts to find a copy of this version have proven futile, and they believe it is likely gone forever.
  • Actor R.G. Armstrong was offered a choice between playing Sarge and Colonel Kincaid before assuming the role of Sarge.
  • The computer used by Stanley in the film is an Apple II, which was a very popular brand of computer at the time the film was made.
  • Richard Moll plays Father Esteban, the priest sentenced to exile for practicing the occult, and is seen performing the Black Mass in the beginning of the movie, two years before making a name for himself as Bull Shannon in Night Court (1984).
  • The production did some filming in a South Central church that had been condemned and scheduled to be torn down. When the aged minister saw that the crew were refurbishing the church, he didn’t understand that this was “show business refurbishing” and that the church would ultimately be burned down, dropping down on his knees and thanking God. Nobody had the heart to tell him the truth.

AUDIO CLIPS

Pawn Sacrifice

 

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Pawn Sacrifice

Release Date: September 25, 2015

Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Steven Knight (Screenplay), Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight (Story)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

First off I wish to thank everyone for their continued support of the site. I have reached Review #30. For this review of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” I decided to go with a genre that I’ve not done a review for. I went with a Biopic film. I enjoy Biopic films as they give you a cinematic view of a person or a historical event. I went with an individual biopic. This biopic is based on a person that is arguably the best at what he did. What he did was play Chess. He not only became the first (and only) American to win the World Championship, but he unlocked centuries of secrets that were contained in the game. I’m referring to Bobby Fischer.

I’ve been an amateur Chess player for over a year and I’ve been fascinated with Bobby Fischer as an individual. I’ve read many books on him as well as the award-winning HBO documentary “Bobby Fischer Against The World.” He is a man shrouded in mystery and lived in his own world which consists of 64 squares and 16 pieces. At age fifteen he became the youngest United States Chess Champion. By the time he was twenty-nine, he won the 1972 World Championship against Soviet Champion Boris Spassky. The match is hailed as the only “physical” battle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The match soared Chess into mainstream popularity. Fischer became a rock star. Right as he won the title, he went into seclusion never playing another professional game until twenty years later. In 2015, a biopic about Fischer and the ’72 Championship was released in limited theaters called “Pawn Sacrifice!”

“Pawn Sacrifice” chronicles Fischer’s interest in Chess as a young boy to winning his first United States Chess Championship to his preparation for the World Championship against Spassky. His frosty relationship with his mother, his early signs of paranoia and his all-out desire to be the best in the world weave into the plot.  Directed by Edward Zwick whose credits include numerous critically acclaimed films including “Glory,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Courage Under Fire,” and “The Last Samurai” the cast includes Tobey Magurie as Bobby Fischer, Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, Fischer’s assistant and backup player and Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall who becomes Fischer’s lawyer.

Let me go ahead and get the negatives out of this movie first before going into the reasons why I enjoy this film. It’s a flawed historical account of Fischer’s rise to Chess immortality. There are a lot of inaccuracies during the timeline of events. I won’t document all the inaccuracies I found out due to not giving out spoilers (although I warn about potential spoilers). I understand that biopic films can’t reveal a full narrative unless you plan on having a four plus hour movie. I think the film trims the fat in the wrong places.

Instead what “Pawn Sacrifice” does is gives you a psychological story. Throughout the film you watch Fischer slowly deteriorate mentally from his constant studying of the game, to his heightened senses which breaks his concentration to his ever growing distrust for those around him to tearing up telephones and breaking any equipment he thinks the Russians can use to spy on him. Yes, the film focuses on Fischer, but it also focuses on his opponent Spassky. Both are considered the best Chess players by their respective homelands. Both are used as pawns to their countries to show off the superiority of each ideological concept. Each play their own psychological games. For Fischer its constant demands on the rules, setting and prize money. For Spassky it’s doing things like standing up and slowly pacing causing noises to interrupt Fischer’s train of thought.  There are moments in the film where Spassky is suspicious of his assistant’s motives and reasonings. All Spassky wants to do is play Fischer in a battle of wits and skill.

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As far as the story, the film starts out with Bobby as a young boy garnering an interest in Chess to his quick rise to being the youngest Chess Grandmaster in history to his legendary match with Boris Spassky for the World Championship. The third act of the movie is the dramatization of the Championship match. The original match consisted of twenty four games with Fischer needing to get to twelve and half points to win the title. What director Edward Zwick does is not bore you with highlights from all twenty four games, but rather shows you the important matches in the game along with some of the issues that arise during the match.

The cast of the movie is small which is fine since it centralizes on the two figures. Tobey Maguire is not the ideal actor to play Fischer, but I think he did a good job with the performance. Maguire is short is height compared to the real Bobby Fischer who was tall and lanky. I give the makeup department an ‘A+’ for getting Fischer’s hair and facial features. Maguire gets Fischer’s unique walk down to a science. The voice was hard to nail down since Fischer spoke with a soft Brooklyn accent, but it came out in many scenes where Fischer would be fired up about the Russian’s tactics in Chess and complaints about competitive disadvantage and some tense moments between him, Bill Lombardi and Paul Marshall.  Maguire commanded the screen throughout the film with his tactics which were humorous at times including waiting to the last second to make his first move against a Russian opponent and stopping the clock with one second to spare.

While Tobey Maguire may have the full look of Bobby Fischer, the opposite could be said of Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. Schreiber was the perfect choice for Spassky. If you put a photo of Schreiber and Spassky together you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. Schreiber speaks Russian throughout the entire movie with the exception of a few tiny moments where he speaks English. Schreiber portrays Spassky like a quiet rock star making entrances with his sunglasses on surrounded by his entourage. Even though he comes from the Soviet Union, we see moments in the film where Spassky is enjoying American culture from listening to music, to playing pinball to taking a swim in the ocean. This does not please his manager who is trying to keep a tight leash on him throughout the movie.

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Finally the two remaining cast members, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg play their parts respectively. Sarsgaard plays Bill Lombardi, Fischer’s coach and second and Stuhlbarg plays Paul Marshall, Fischer’s pro bono lawyer who has his work cut out trying to satisfy all of Bobby’s demands. Lombardi is essentially the middle man between Fischer and Marshall. He does his best to keep both on even footing. Sarsgaard plays Lombardi as calm, wise and observational as he can tell right away that Fischer is falling into the same madness that has taken so many Chess prodigies in the past. Stuhlbarg portrays Marshall as somewhat of a weasel as he goes behind Bobby’s back to stay in touch with his sister, Joan who expresses the same concerns that Lombardi has and being a go to contact for people high up in the United States government who have taken a strong interest in Fischer and would like to exploit him to be a shining symbol of American freedom and idealism.

As far as the technical aspects of the film, the visual locations are beautiful and breathtaking as you see the sunny beaches of California to the cold and vast landscape of Iceland with New York being sandwiched in between the two. The film is very bright due to the digital film that was used although it makes up by setting the right lighting and mood during some of Fischer’s darkest moments including his vast breakdown in between games of the World Chess Championship. The music heightens the scenes throughout the movie and add a touch of classic rock and roll music during numerous scenes of Fischer’s dominance of the game when he destroys his opponents left and right.

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“Pawn Sacrifice” is the first film I can think of that focuses on a person from the Chess world. I’ve heard of the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” but that film was never about Fischer. It was a catchy title. If you’re not familiar with Bobby Fischer and would like to learn more about him I would recommend watching this movie. In addition I would watch the documentary I mentioned earlier “Bobby Fischer Against The World” and read numerous books about him. Fischer is an interesting character study. Who knows? Maybe it will spark your interest in Chess if you haven’t been interested in it already.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • A “Pawn Sacrifice” is a move in chess in which a player sacrifices his pawn for a soft advantage such as more space for his pieces or positioning them in better squares in order to develop an attack subsequently. It aims to create unbalanced positions so if the player who is committed to the pawn sacrifice did not capitalize on his temporary advantage, he would lose the game at the end due to his inferiority in material.
  • The narrator of the conspiracy theory audio that Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is listening to is Liev Schreiber, who plays Boris Spassky.
  • In preparing to write the movie’s script, screenwriter Steven Knight read many of the books that have been written about Bobby Fischer and the “Match of the Century”, as well as speaking with people who knew him. “The most useful material was archival footage of him being interviewed,” said screenwriter Knight. “Bobby spoke and moved oddly, and to see that was helpful. If you noticed him walking down the street, you’d think, ‘there is a curious person’. He might have ended up just another homeless person, but he was just so good at chess that he was saved by it. And, of course, cursed by it as well.”
  • The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist, a list of the most liked unmade scripts of the year.
  • Of the movie’s title, the film’s director Edward Zwick said: “You have Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon calling Bobby Fischer; you have [Leonid] Brezhnev [Leonid Brezhnev] and the KGB agents following Boris Spassky. Both of these men were pawns of their nations”.
  • Bobby Fischer passed away at the age of 64, which is coincidentally the same number of fields on a chessboard.
  • David Fincher was linked to the project for several years.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

 

 

RocketMan

RocketMan_(1997_film)

RocketMan

Release Date: October 10, 1997

Genre: Comedy, Family, Science Fiction

Director: Stuart Gillard

Writers; Oren Aviv, Craig Mazin, Greg Erb

Starring: Harland Williams, Jessica Lundy, William Sadler, Beau Bridges, Jeffrey DeMunn

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

When we think about Disney, we think about Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. When we think about Disney movies, we think about all those fairy tale adaptations such as “Snow White and The Seven Dwarves,” “Peter Pan,” and “Sleeping Beauty” (and many more). When we think about Disney today we think about how they’ve dominated the film industry with its acquisition of Marvel and the Star Wars Franchise. One thing most people don’t think about is some of the original movies they’ve released throughout their tenure. Disney releases original family-oriented movies and they’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been alive. As a kid growing up in the 90s, many of these movies came out and at the time I found them to have all the elements of a Disney movie. They were funny, heartfelt and had an underlying positive message. There’s too many of these movies to name here, but for this next review I went back in time to the 90s to find a Disney movie that I really enjoyed. The one that stuck out is considered a cult classic by many. That the 1997 Sci-Fi Comedy film “RocketMan!”

Not to be confused with the upcoming Elton John biopic movie, “RocketMan” tells the story of Fred Z. Randall (Harland Williams) who is a computer programmer for a NASA Contractor. As a boy he always dreamed of being an Astronaut, but this is the closest he could get into the space program. He developed the Lander Program for the astronauts who are using it to train for their upcoming mission to Mars. After a confrontation with the astronauts concerning that the program has a glitch due to it miscalculating their landing trajectory, one of the astronauts is wounded in a freak accident. Putting the Mars mission in jeopardy, the mission’s Flight Director Paul Wick (Jeffrey DeMunn) enlists Randall to test along with another astronaut to join the Mars crew which consists of Captain William Overbeck (William Sadler), Julie Ford (Jessica Lundy) and Chimpanzee, Ulysses. After passing each test (which included breaking Overbeck’s records in each test), Fred is chosen to join the team. With that, there becomes one hiccup after another during the trip to Mars and when they arrive on Mars, much ado to Fred’s curious and clumsy nature. Will they make it out of Mars with their mission completed and return home safely?

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Released in 1997, “RocketMan” broke even at the box office reclaiming its reported $15 million budget. Reviews for the film were mixed with Roger Ebert giving it three stars out of four calling it “a wacky comedy in the Jerry Lewis-Jim Carrey mold”.  The film is more slap sticky in the Jerry Lewis sense rather than the Jim Carrey sense. The movie is silly with plenty of jokes and gags that will drive younger audiences bonkers. The older generation may not find this movie laughable and flat out stupid, but again this movie was intended for kids.

If you’re not familiar with Harland Williams, he has been a standup comedian since the early 90s with his outlandish improvisation style. His first film appearance would launch him into notoriety as the State Trooper in the Farrelly Brothers smash hit “Dumb and Dumber” who pulls the duo over for speeding and proceeds to take a drink of their opened “beer”.  He would go on to appear in longer roles in the movies “Down Periscope,” “Half Baked,” and the Tom Green disaster flick “Freddy Got Fingered”.  “RocketMan” would be Williams’ first leading role. His improv skills are on full display in this movie as the protagonist, Fred Randall. Williams plays Fred like a manchild. He’s thirty years old (almost a full-grown man in a quip with his mother) and like a child, he’s pure, heartfelt, clumsy and innocent. When he causes an accident, he responds the same way a child would, “It wasn’t me!” He gets easily excited when he sees the astronauts and other members of NASA and knows their specialty. It’s like he’s seen a movie star. He’s very curious and is on full display with his head movements and attention span. Above all, Fred finds ways to keep himself amused like waiting for his clearance badge or finding ways to make time fly during the isolation chamber test in a hilarious scene. Despite his quirkiness, Fred is a computer genius (he has to be if he’s working for NASA). It’s shown during the trip to Mars and through the climax of the movie. Williams provides moment after moment of silly over the top laughter in not just physical comedy, but also with his words and facial expressions. It would not surprise me if he deviated from the script.

The supporting cast is top notch and is doesn’t play a backseat to all of Fred’s screen time. William Sadler plays Mission Commander William Overbeck, the man who is destined to be the first person to step foot on Mars and into history immortality in the way Neil Armstrong did when he was the first man to land on the moon. Overbeck is not amused by Fred even objecting to the Flight Director about his qualifications about joining the Mars team. Bill has some fun at the expense of Fred by getting him drunk before his training, cranking up the speed in the Centrifugal Force Machine and initiating the artificial gravity on the rocket when Fred is floating and making bird noises. Unfortunately, he becomes the brute of Fred’s carelessness (and bodily functions in perhaps the most notable scene in the film). While not known for being a comedic actor, except for his performance of Death in a previous “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” film “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” Sadler is perfectly fitted for this role and playing it grounded and straight laced.

Jessica Lundy as Mission Specialist/Geologist Julie Ford is Fred’s love interest. She is determined, strong willed and is a bridge between Fred and Bill. She too is not amused with Fred’s actions but as the movie progresses she has a change of heart and sees that Fred does care about his role in the mission and cares about the success of all of them.

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Beau Bridges is another crutch for Fred as Bud Nesbitt. He gives Fred encouragement when Fred starts to get cold feet about getting into the rocket.  Their collaboration is key during a debate about landing on Mars when the weather patterns change from their earlier projections and Bud, attempting to avoid another disaster like the Apollo 13, tries to convince his boss Wick to reconsider the mission, much to no avail considering that Bud’s reputation at NASA is not credible by the others (they put the blame on him for what happen to Apollo 13). Bud is resilient and does what he can to ensure that the crew gets home safely.

Finally, we can’t forget about the chimpanzee, Ulysses. Played by a three-year-old chimpanzee named Raven, Ulysses has been trained to find fossils on Mars. He’s also Fred’s roommate. Him and Fred develop a special bond with each other, even when Ulysses plays pranks on him such as switching his food and taking his hyper sleep chamber. He’s as scared as Fred when they’re on the rocket, but Fred provides him a sense of comfort and calm. He provides as many laughs as Williams does throughout the movie.

The movie was directed by Stuart Gillard, whose mainly been a television director, but he has directed another kid friendly movie, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III” from 1993. Gillard carried that experience over to this movie. He did a great job keeping the film family friendly and focused. There’s no real unique or Dutch angle shots in the movie, which is fine. Kids aren’t focused on shots, they’re focused on what is happening in the movie with the characters and their locations. Speaking of location, I think they did a great job with the look of Mars. As stated in the trivia, the Mars scenes were shot in Utah. The red rock and lack of vegetation gave Mars the look of being distant and lonely.

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“RocketMan delivers plenty of laughs from ten years olds and adults. Not a single joke or physical gag is overused (except for Fred trying to point the blame on someone else). The pacing is fast which is a good thing. You don’t have to worry about scenes being drawn out for substance or trying to establish the characters. And like all Disney movies, “RocketMan” has not only heart, but morality. It shows that despite the personality differences between the crew, by working as a team they accomplish much. They stick together during their time in Mars and when trouble starts to come during the nerve wracking climax, they don’t leave without each other.

I would easily put “RocketMan” in my Top 10 Non-Disney Animated movies. This is a movie that has become a must watch at my household from time to time. It’s a movie that families will enjoy, and parents won’t have to worry about their children being exposed to violence or sex or other mature subjects. It’s a clean wholesome film that carries with you as you continue to grow old. There’s never a bad time to pop in this movie and enjoy the viewing experience with your loved ones.

TRIVIA (per IMDB)

  • When Randall is singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands” on the world broadcast, he starts faking singing in foreign languages. Ironically, he says in French: “Je suis le papillon sur la table”, which translates to “I am the butterfly on the table”.
  • For the surface of Mars, the filmmakers shot in Moab, Utah, where they found giant cliffs, red rocks, a lack of vegetation, and the overall scale of what could be a distant planet.
  • The filmmakers spent nine weeks at the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, shooting at the famous Rocket Park (the gargantuan Building 9 that houses all of the spacecraft mock-ups for the ongoing shuttle missions) and Building 32, which houses the world’s largest thermal vacuum chamber and simulates all conditions of outer space (except zero gravity).
  • To prepare for their roles as astronauts, the three stars attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, riding in simulators and participating in other activities.
  • The working title for this film was “Space Cadet”.
  • At one point in the film, the commander tells Randall, “Have fun.” Randall replies with “Fun is my Chinese neighbors middle name.” Disney was afraid that the joke would offend Chinese viewers. However, many Chinese fans actually found the joke to be very funny.

AUDIO CLIPS

Out For Justice

 

 

Out_for_justice

Out For Justice

Release Date: April 12, 1991

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Director: John Flynn

Writer: R. Lance Hill (as David Lee Henry)

Starring: Steven Seagal, William Forsythe, Jerry Orbach, Jo Champa, Shareen Mitchell

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Whether you like Steven Seagal or your hate him, you can’t deny his accomplishments. He is a seventh degree black belt in Aikido and became the first American to teach the martial art in Japan. He’s been a Deputy Sheriff for Jefferson Parish in New Orleans for more than twenty years.  Lately, he’s been in the press as a Russian liaison to the United States and Japan working on improving relations between the countries. Of course, most of us will know Steven Seagal as an action star. Since he appeared in his first film “Above The Law” in the late 80s, Seagal has become a recognizable face in the action cinema world. He rose to fame in the early to mid-90s as a man who would always be asked who would win in a fight between him and his action peers such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme. I haven’t reviewed an action movie in a while and looking through my movie collection, I noticed a bunch of Steven Seagal movies. I decided to review one but didn’t know which one I should review.  I took up an online poll to see which Steven Seagal movie I should write about. After a 24-hour survey, the overwhelming majority of votes went to his 1991 crime thriller “Out For Justice.” So, with that ladies and gentlemen, here is the review for “Out For Justice”.

Seagal plays Gino Fellino, a NYPD detective from Brooklyn where he has close connections with his neighborhood. After he and his partner Bobby Lupo are involved in a botched drug raid which leads to Gino intervening in an incident across the street where a pimp is assaulting one of his girls, Bobby is gunned down shortly after by Richie Madano, a mobster who grew up with Gino and Bobby. Richie is addicted to crack which has made him psychotic and act out on his homicidal urges which includes killing a woman at a traffic stop all because she asks him to move his car. After receiving clearance from his boss to track down and apprehend Richie, Gino uses his connections within the mob to find out where Gino is. The mob warns Gino not to get in their way, as they plan to take out Richie themselves. Gino is now in a race to find Richie and get to the truth about why he killed his partner before the mob can get his hands on him.

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The movie received mixed to negative reviews when it was first released. Despite those reviews, “Out For Justice” debut at Number 1 at the Box office and grossed a little over $40 million. As time has gone by since its initial release “Out For Justice” has developed a cult following.

The film takes place in Brooklyn and there’s plenty of moments in the film where Seagal is cruising around town talking to various citizens. Brooklyn is not like Manhattan with its giant skyscrapers, lights and exciting atmosphere. It’s a quiet and close-knit community. The movie gives it a neighborly feel as everyone seems to know each other by name. It’s a great montage to the ethnic diversity and history of Brooklyn.

Seagal is decent in his lead role as Gino, a cop with connections all over the neighborhood and uses those connections to track down Richie’s whereabouts. He also struggles with the duality of his job and his family. He has numerous “families” throughout the film. First, he has his own family in which he and his wife are going through a divorce and splitting custody of their son. Their relationship is strained in the beginning of the film but as the story progresses, they rekindle that love they have for each other and that whatever problems have been going on they can work it out and come out even stronger. The other family is his mob family. He is well known by the mob family led by Don Vittorio. Gino can easily come to him for information and have a mutual respect. The middle man between Vittorio and Gino is a man named Frank, whom also grew up with Gino in the neighborhood and become close friends. Frank keeps his eye on Gino not because his boss tells him to, but to also save him from making any mistakes that could trigger a retaliatory response.  The last families of Gino include consoling both his partner’s family and Richie’s parents. There is a powerful scene where Gino confronts Richie’s parents trying to squeeze any information they have on their son. His father, played by Dominic Chianese (Junior of “Sopranos” fame) tells the story of how he came to America with nothing and worked to provide for his family and give them a roof over their head and that Richie has been taken away from him by drugs. It gives you sympathy for the parents for what they are going through.

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The award for Best Performance in this movie I give to William Forsythe as Richie Madano. As I mentioned in the synopsis, Richie is a mafia enforcer who has become psychotic due to his addiction to crack. He is paranoid, suspicious of people and reckless. Forsythe portrays Richie as someone who has succumbed to his addictions that he can’t see straight. His crew is trapped with him and no amount of reasoning can convince Richie to control his impulses. People are fearful of Richie that they surrender to his will, especially when he shows up uninvited to the home of a girl who was once his hooker. He kills a woman in broad daylight in front of everyone when she honks the horn at him telling him to move his car and kills a friend of his in a wheelchair when he is questioned why he killed Gino’s partner and believing that he called the cops on him. His own family are fearful for their lives as you see in many instances throughout the movie. Richie Madano is a relentless character who the audience can easily despise and hopes that his day of retribution is coming.

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There’s plenty of action and violence to salivate the typical action movie fan. You can’t go wrong with shoot outs and hand to hand combat courtesy of Mr. Seagal. Seagal demonstrates his masterful Aikido skills in perhaps the best scene of the whole movie is when he interrogates Richie’s brother who owns a joint run by Richie, a bartender and its patrons. It’s amazing to see how fast Seagal’s hands move when taking down those who wish to do harm on him. Seagal is also a master sharpshooter in real life and you see that in several instances in the film including when he defends his family when members of Richie’s crew break into Gino’s apartment looking to terrorize his wife and son.

The only gripes I have with the movie is the lack of plot and character development, especially with Seagal’s family. You really don’t know what caused them to start going through divorce proceedings other than Gino’s job on the force has taken away from spending time with them. You don’t know much about Gino’s son except for his name. I also believe the title of the movie is misleading. There are also some small continuity errors due in part to the poor re-editing. Apparently this movie was even longer that dealt more with Richie and how he got into drugs, but Seagal had the Editor take a big chunk out because he felt that Forsythe was “overshadowing his great performance”. That’s why during the music montage you see a scene where Gino is talking to Frank and you don’t know what they’re saying because the audio has been drowned out by the music. The last gripe I have is with the theme of the movie. The title is “Out For Justice” but this is more of a revenge movie. Except for telling Richie’s parents that if they see him, he needs to turn himself in, his goal is to kill him, not arrest him and stand trial for the murder of his partner and other crimes he has committed. Yes, Gino is dealing with a personal tragedy, but in the real world the cops need to ascertain the suspect alive. You only kill the suspect is if he is engaged in attacking the officer.

As Steven Seagal movies go (before they went downhill starting in the late 90s), “Out For Justice” is up there among the best of his movies. This is in my Top Five Favorite Steven Seagal movies. It’s a fast-paced movie with plenty of action, violence, a balanced widescreen framing and a good cast to give it lasting appeal. It’s a movie that is relatable to the audience with its close community feel. This is perhaps the last movie where Steven Seagal is in prime form.

 

TRIVIA

  • Gino fights a character called Sticks in the bar, played by veteran martial artist Dan Inosanto. He was one of Bruce Lee’s best friends and one of the three people Bruce let train others in Jeet Kune Do. He is also a master stick fighter and has studied multiple disciplines like Escrima and Silat and was the person who taught Bruce Lee to use nunchaku.
  • According to William Forsythe, Steven Seagal told Forsythe, “You really need to work on your Brooklyn accent.” Forsythe, a Brooklyn native, replied, “Trust me, YOU do.”
  • The only Steven Seagal movie between 1988 and 1998 to not feature a single explosion.
  • Steven Seagal declared in an interview that the movie’s bar brawl was his personal favorite among all fight scenes he’s done.
  • Whilst on the production set, Steven Seagal claimed that due to his Aikido training, he was ‘immune’ to being choked unconscious. It has been alleged that at some point Gene LeBell (who was a stunt coordinator for the movie) heard about the claim and gave Seagal the opportunity to prove it. LeBell is said to have placed his arms around Seagal’s neck, and once Seagal said “go”, proceeded to choke him unconscious. After refusing to comment for many years, LeBell confirmed the story in 2012 and said that after Seagal fell unconscious, he proceeded to defecate and urinate himself. Whenever Seagal has been asked about the incident, he has constantly denied the allegations.
  • Julianna Marguiles was cast specifically by Steven Seagal for her role in this film, but she didn’t enjoy working with him at all. She later said in an interview that she used to see Seagal working on projects for Warner Brothers while she was a regular on “ER”, and he would always say “Marguiles, come over here and show me some respect”. She bluntly said, “He’s not someone I keep in contact with.”
  • The movie was originally over 30 minutes longer, which included some more plot details and character development. Steven Seagal cut some of William Forsythe’s scenes because he felt that Forsythe was upstaging him. Also, editor Michael Eliot re-edited the original cut of the movie. He did the same job with some other Warner Bros movies. Some scenes were deleted and some others were cut down for pacing. This is why there are two montage scenes with no dialogue in the finished film. Re-editing also caused some minor continuity mistakes.
  • During the filming of the showdown between Gino and Richie, Steven Seagal broke William Forsythe’s front tooth when he shoved his face into a brick wall.
  • To date, this is the only Steven Seagal movie shot in New York.
  • Steven Seagal was difficult to work with during filming. At one point, he was driven to tears on set when a light went out in his trailer. He attempted to blame the mishap on a Teamster and have him fired, but was unsuccessful.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

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