"Cujo" is a Classic Horror Masterpiece!


Stephen King is one of the world's great storytellers with over 350 million copies of his books in print, not to mention about 75 movies based on his books and short stories.  Some of the earlier movies that came out in the 80s are now being remade and updated for the modern era.  Most notably “It” from 2017 and “Pet Cemetery” which will come out in 2019.

“Cujo” is one of the greats and an icon of horror, similar to that of “Jaws”.  It’s the story of a big lumbering St. Bernard who is bitten by a rabid bat and turns in a slobbering, bloodthirsty beast.  Dee Wallace plays Donna, a wife, and mother, who must save herself and young son Tad from Cujo with only their tiny Ford Pinto to protect them.  She gives a miraculous performance full of emotion and determination that gives her character some real depth and dimension.  Although she is far from the perfect wife as she has been having an affair with a close family friend, Steve, played by her real-life husband Christopher Stone.  Her onscreen husband Vic is an advertising executive who drives a hot little red sports car, while she gets the trashy, broken down Pinto.  He does, however, seem to be a relatively good guy and a loving father to Tad.  Tad, their five-year-old son, is also well played by Danny Pintauro.  

“Cujo” spends a good amount of time building its characters and creating a compelling drama that makes the latter half of the film even more terrifying.  When Donna’s infidelity is revealed to her husband, he takes off on a business trip leaving her and Tad to bring the Pinto up to the mechanic shop.  They barely make it to the dusty and remote shop when the car finally dies.  The Camber family owns the joint is nowhere to be found, although a side story about the family explain where they are.  Cujo is the only one present and he is not looking very good as the rabies are taking full effect.  Director Lewis Teague mentioned that they used 11 different St. Bernards along with a mechanical head and a man in a dog suit to fully realize the character.  Cujo has already torn apart a Camber family friend when Donna and Tad come rolling in.  They are introduced to Cujo in a very well earned jump scare as he ferociously attacks the car.   The two of them are now prisoners in the claustrophobic confines of the Pinto.  They wait and hope for someone to come by and save them but as night falls so does their hope of rescue.  In today's world, a person would just pop out their cell phone and boom problem solved.  The invention and proliferation of smartphones have almost single-handedly killed off the horror movie.  It becomes more and more difficult to explain them away, but hopefully, this will lead to better stories and newer ways to scare people.

A few days into their showdown with Cujo, the hot summer sun beating down on them, Donna decides to make a run for the house and the phone.  This is a total failure as Cujo is always waiting, always ready to attack.  Donna is bitten and scratched, Cujo even manages to get inside the car.  Tad is balled up and crying in the back, it’s a pretty intense scene.  She eventually kicks him out and they are back to where they were before, only bitten and defeated.  Her husband Vic has been trying to reach her for days but has gotten no answer.  A bit worried he contacts the police who go to their house to find that their bedroom has been ransacked by Steve.  An officer then goes up to the mechanic shop to check things out only to meet his end at the jaws of Cujo.  All this in full view of Donna and Tad.  Tad then starts having some serious medical issues, Donna can't wait any longer and makes a second attempt for the house and this time with the help of a baseball bat is successful.  Tad is unconscious and she vigorously tries to revive him and brings him back to life.  This is a major departure from the book where it actually dies.  As with most horror films, Cujo does give us one last scare until he is finally put down.  “Cujo” is one of the more well known and terrifying of King’s adaptations and I’m sure a remake is in its future somewhere down the line.

"Fright Night" is a Magical 80s Horror Classic!

"Fright Night (1985)"

“Fright Night” is an absolute classic of 80s horror that spawned many imitators as well as a remake in 2011.  The original film stars William Ragsdale as Charley Brewster, a suburban teenager who becomes suspicious of a new neighbor.  This mysterious person is Jerry Dandridge, played by Chris Sarandon, a tall dark and handsome man.  Charley and his girlfriend Amy, played by Amanda Bearse, are fooling around one night while watching the TV show “Fright Night” and its’ host Peter Vincent who is played wonderfully by Roddy McDowell.  Vincent is an Elvira type character who was known for playing a vampire hunter in old horror movies and now plays host to vampire films.  When Charley notices movers in the middle of the night carrying a coffin into the house next door he becomes more interested in that than possibly having sex with Amy.

“Fright Night” has that perfect balance of humor and horror.  Charley is an extremely likable and relatable teenager and has an obnoxious but funny best friend nicknamed Evil Ed.  Charley becomes obsessed with watching Jerry’s house and when he gets busted for peeping their little cat and mouse game begins and lasts throughout the movie.  Jerry likes his apples for some reason and only comes out a night for more substantial meals (if you know what I mean).  He has a male roommate named Billy who acts as a sort of servant who looks after the house in the daytime.  The same night Charley is busted, he then sees Billy taking a body bag out of the house and loading into a car.  He’s finally seen enough and calls the cops.  But who is going to believe a crazy kid, right?  And Vampires?  Charley is made to look foolish and Jerry starts to seek revenge and starts becoming a terrible menace in his life.  Even playing up his charms to his mother.  Jerry really is a terrifying character even though his name is Jerry, I mean come on Jerry the Vampire?  Charley then looks to Evil Ed for help who gives him a few pointers and a cross.  Shortly after though Ed is paid a visit by Jerry and needless to say, Charley needs to find a new best friend.  

Charley and Amy then get the idea to recruit Peter Vincent, who better right?  Although we find out he is just a washed up actor who doesn’t even believe in vampires.  After working on him for a while Peter agrees to at least meet with Jerry to prove to the kids that he is not a vampire at all.  All is good until Peter drops a mirror only to find that Jerry doesn’t have a reflection.  This is where shit starts to get real.  After a few scenes of some seriously intense staring, Amy is glamoured by Jerry and becomes his slave.  It is now up to Charley and Vincent to take down Jerry, just like one of Vincent’s old movie roles.  The final battles are fun, scary, and a little weird, which is great.  The effects are awesome and to plug in a cheesy cliche, it’s quite the wild ride.  “Fright Night” captures this magic that can’t quite be described.  For me, it’s probably a big dose of sentimentality since it was part of my childhood horror movie experiences, but even if you’re seeing it for the first time it is hard not to like it.  

Cheesy Horror/Comedy "House" should be Homeless


While the 1980s were a golden age for horror films, they weren’t all great and several were actually pretty bad.  Fresh off directing “Friday the 13th II and III” director Steve Miner’s next film was the horror/comedy “House”.  It was also produced by Sean S. Cunningham the creator of “Friday the 13th”.  Composer Harry Manfredini, who found fame with the “Friday” films, also scored “House”.  A lot of great people came together for this film only to churn a huge turd.

Our main character Roger Cobb is played by William Katt, who previously played Tommy Ross in “Carrie”.  He’s a struggling writer of horror novels whose life has fallen in the crapper.  His son disappeared a few years back, his wife has left him and he’s having issues with his new book.  He then gets a call that the Aunt who helped raise him has killed herself.  She leaves behind a large house that Roger decides is the perfect place to get going on his new book about his experiences in Vietnam.  I can remember “House” being in heavy rotation on HBO and Showtime back in the late 80s.  My 10-year-old self thought this was pretty cool and scary, but like a lot of movies rewatching it 30 years later, it is a completely different experience.  I can’t remember if it was originally supposed to be so comedic but seeing it now everything comes off as ridiculous and cheesy.  Although so many people from the “Friday” movies worked on this film it is really missing special effects guru Tom Savini.  The monsters in “House” are terrible, nothing but stuntmen in cheap latex suits, like a bad “Godzilla” movie.  No blood or gore of any kind and not the least bit scary.

There is an interesting story buried here somewhere though.  Although words like PTSD were not used back in the 80s with Vietnam vets, Roger is suffering from it big time.  A lot of guilt and regret about his wartime experiences are brought up in a number of flashbacks.  These scenes also suffer greatly from cheap set design and just bad filmmaking.  Roger’s friend Big Ben was captured by the enemy and tortured for weeks before being killed.  Ben begged for Roger to kill him after he was injured by he refused.  All of the ghosts and monsters that Roger encounters in the house could be a manifestation of his anger and guilt, but it doesn’t come off that way.  George Wendt, from the hit 80s show “Cheers”, plays Rogers extremely intrusive and annoying neighbor Harold tries to turn this move into a buddy film.  In my mind, the film hits every wrong note and certainly doesn’t hold up to the passage of time.  It did quite well in its time at the box office making almost 20 million dollars on a 3 million budget.  It might have some sentimental value for some but it's not something I will return to again.

"Phantasm II" The Glorious Return of the Tall Man!


The review for the original Phantasm Film can be found here Phantasm (1979)

The sequel to the original cult favorite film “Phantasm” didn’t come around until 1988 which was about 10 years later.  Writer/Director Don Coscarelli is back along with the two main protagonists Mike and Reggie as they continue their battle with the Tall Man.  Like most sequels, it plays on what worked well in the first film as well as trying to add to the whole mythology.  We get a lot more of the Tall Man and of course those crazy flying spheres of death.  We also get a couple of girls to join the group, because obviously, the guys need love interests.

Starting right where the last film left off we get a kind of reminder of what happened previously. Then we flash forward a number of years to see Mike (now played by “Minnesota Native” James Le Gros) a 19-year-old just getting out of a Mental Hospital.  He is taken in by Reggie and upon pulling up his house, the place explodes with family members inside.  The shit then starts to get real.  There is an action movie style gearing up for war sequence at a supply store they break into and then they hit the road in search of the Tall Man and his army of undead dwarfs.  The Tall Man is scouring small towns on the pacific northwest and digging up cemeteries to build his other dimensional armies.

This film does have its fair share of humor to go along with the horror and is mostly carried by Reggie who hauls around a ridiculous tool belt of weapons.  He also totes a seldom-used four-barreled sawed-off shotgun (wicked awesome).  Mike and Reggie are a great horror duo somewhat similar to the more recent “Tucker and Dale vs Evil”.  In their travels, the guys pick up a hitchhiker named Alchemy, a free-spirited love interest for Reggie.  When they track down the Tall Man to another small town Mike finally meets up with Liz, a girl he has a sort of telepathic connection too.  Liz is quite the typical innocent, suburban white girl.  She has a run in with the Tall Man at her Grandmothers funeral and is now on the run from him.  We now have our fab four groups of heroes and in the funniest scene of the film, Reggie and Alchemy have this weirdly awkward sex scene.  There is also a scene in the crematorium where a guy is bagging up some ashes labeled “Sam Raimi” a jab at the writer/director of the “Evil Dead” Films.  

As promised we get more flying silver spheres chasing and mutilating people, but they do also have another purpose as the guys find out.  To round out the general awesomeness of this movie is a  chainsaw fight and another surprise ending.  Just like all of the 80s horror super villain’s you can’t really kill evil and the Tall Man will surely be back for more sequels.  In the time between reviewing the first film in 2009 and this review another sequel was made in 2016 called “Phantasm: Ravager” still starring the original Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man.  Sadly Angus passed away shortly after completing the film as he was 89 years old.  As of right now, all 5 Phantasm films are available to rent from Amazon’s streaming service. 

Time to get "In the Mood for Love"


The first film ever reviewed on this blog, back in 2009, was the amazing “Chungking Express” by writer/director Wong Kar-Wai.  For the 9th anniversary of the Rockport Review, I’m going back to the beginning with a review of Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece “In the Mood for Love” starring Tony Leung (who also starred in “Chungking Express”) and Maggie Cheung.  As I write this the film currently ranks #237 on imdb.com's list of the Top 250 rated films.

“In the Mood for Love” takes place in Hong Kong in the early 1960s and is a slow burn film about restraint, repression, guilt, and relationships prior to a cultural revolution.  Mr. Chow and his wife move into a new apartment right next to Mrs. Chan and her husband.  Although we hear their spouses talk we never actually see their faces, which was a deliberate attempt to keep them isolated and mysterious.  Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan do have a sort of chemistry together but it looks to be purely platonic.  They have a lot in common and enjoy each other's company, while their spouses are supposedly away for business.  While out for noodles they begin to suspect that their spouses are having an affair with each other and realizing this has them mulling over whether it’s now okay for them to pursue a relationship of their own.  This film is interested in the ethics of human emotion and the human condition.  Everything that went into the creation of this film has been well done, from the actors, the costuming, the music, and cinematography.  Even with everything I’ve mentioned above I thought the film was good but not the greatest.  I think it has to do with cultural differences.  I can acknowledge that it is a great film, but I personally liked “Chungking Express” a lot better.  Even though both films deal a lot with love, relationships, and loneliness at their core.  “Chungking Express” has this vital kinetic energy to it.  It was also a more modern depiction while “In the Mood for Love” plays a lot more like an old Victorian love story.  Both of these films are available from the Criterion Collection and I own them both.

Vintage 80s Horror Film "Pumpkinhead"


The 1980s were a golden age for horror fans and in 1988 special effects wizard Stan Winston got behind the camera to direct a moderately successful film called “Pumpkinhead”.  This was a movie that was popular on late-night Cinemax and HBO also on VHS. 

We open on a small farmhouse in 1957 with a mother, father, and their small son.  There is a furious banging at the door, a teenager running for his life is looking for help, but the people inside don’t move and refuse to help him.  The boy outside is taken by some kind of monster with the little boy inside seeing the outline of a tall an ominous being.  Flash forward to the present (1988) and the little boy is all grown up.  His name is Ed Harley, played by Lance Henriksen, he has a little boy of his own now named Billy.  He has a sweet and loving relationship with him that is built up for what looks to be an upcoming tragedy.  This appears in the form of a couple carloads of teenagers from the city.  The teens are not overtly mean or evil except for maybe one of the guys who is kind of a douche.  Being that it's an 80s movie the teens are hauling a trailer with a couple of totally rad dirt bikes that are taken out for extremely reckless driving.  Ed owns an old dusty road ride grocery store and leaves Billy alone with the teens to run a quick errand.  What could possibly happen right? Well, when Billy’s dog runs out the door after the bikes, Billy is close behind after him only to get a face full of rampaging dirt bike.  He lies unconscious as the teens all rush over to him, after some arguing some of them leave, while a few go for help while one of them stays with him until Ed gets back.

Riddled with unbearable grief Ed searches out a backwoods woman named Haggis, a witch with supernatural powers.  She performs a ceremony, with Ed’s blood, to summon the demon Pumpkinhead who resides in a pumpkin patch/graveyard.  Pumpkinhead is resurrected and sent on a mission of revenge against the teens responsible for Billy’s death.  Although as the teens start to die one by one, Ed also feels it and starts to regret his actions.  He then goes out to stop Pumpkinhead before they are all dead.

“Pumpkinhead” is a good but not great film from a decade that has so much more to offer.  Its got a very nostalgic feel to it, for me anyway.   The story is quite simplistic and deals with some well-worn themes.  It plays out like a twisted fairy tale  The effects and performance by Henriksen do stand out as well as Pumpkinhead himself.  Shout Factory gave the movie a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release a few years back with a number of special features that are worth checking out.  The movie is also available to watch for free with Amazon Prime.

"Run Lola Run"


German Filmmaker Tom Tykwer set the world on fire with his 1998 hyper-kinetic film “Run Lola Run” starring Franka Potente and her blazing red hair.  A master class in editing, pacing, and the use of music to pump up the action.  No matter what language you speak, Run Lola Run should be enjoyed by all.

When Lola’s boyfriend Manni leaves a bag of money on the train meant to pay off some pretty serious dudes, she now must come up with 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes in order to save his life.  The film is structured in a way that we see her goes through three different attempts each with different outcomes.  With a driving techno score, the pressure and urgency are bumped up to the max.  Color also plays a key role in the film with red obviously being most prominent, not only in her hair but with various other objects she comes in contact with.  Red is emergency, danger, and love.

Lola follows the same path and runs into the same people in each of her attempts to save Manni.  Although everything is just a little different each time.  Like a different plane of reality.  So where is Lola going to get the money?  Her father is a bank manager, but she is a little estranged from him as he left her mother and is in a relationship with another woman.  This plays out like a cheesy soap opera, but in a satirical way, just another distraction in Lola's quest.  Manni contemplates robbing a supermarket and when Lola is held up and doesn’t meet him at the agreed time he goes for it only to be shot down in front of her.  After each attempt, we have a scene with Lola and Manni in bed bathed in red light talking about their relationship.

Lola seems to learn from her mistakes in her previous attempts but fails on the second time as well.  Will the third time be the charm?  This time she's trying her luck at a casino and for a second time she lets out a glass-shattering scream that seems to stop time.  Will she crack the code this time and make all the right moves to save Manni once and for all?  “Run Lola Run” is truly an intoxicating experience that will keep you going for all of its brief 81 minute runtime.

John Waters "Pecker" is Full of Grace!


If there is such a thing as an accessible mainstream Jon Waters’s film it would be the 1998 film “Pecker”.  Without going into an in-depth biography of his long and storied film career, let's just say he has a passion for the trashy and distasteful.  Most all his films take place in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and are filled with eccentric larger than life characters.  While set in Baltimore, the characters of “Pecker” are actually sweet and endearing while being just a little off.

Edward Furlong plays the title character of Pecker, the nickname was earned because of his picky eating habits.  When not working at the Sub Pit, he roams the streets with his camera photographing his world.  From the rats screwing in the alley to his girlfriend Shelly (Christina Ricci who works at the  Spin ’n Grin laundromat.  The Sub Pit will eventually become the scene of his photography exhibition that spins his life in a crazy new direction.

This film is jam-packed with interesting characters that occupy Pecker’s life.  His kleptomaniac best friend Matt, his Mema and her statue of the Virgin Mary, and we can’t forget his little sister appropriately referred to as Little Chrissy, who ends up trading one addiction for another.  His older sister is a bartender at a gay bar, who teaches us about “tea bagging” and his mother who helps the homeless dress in style at her Thrift Shop.  Last but not least his father and his bar, that has a stringent belief that pubic hair and liquor don’t mix.

The film's plot is quite simple but well-executed with all the wonderfully drawn characters and Waters signature wicked humor.  Pecker’s photo show at the Sub Pit is seen by a New York Gallerist Rorey Wheeler, played by Lili Taylor.  She turns Pecker's life upside down with the promise of becoming a famous New York City artist or more likely flavor of the month outsider.   Pecker enjoys all the attention but the photos he took are now unwittingly alienating the friends and family of his close-knit neighborhood.  This premise has been covered by both “The Simpsons”, “Family Guy”, and probably many other non-animated shows.  Waters captures Baltimore as the dirty little stepchild to the glossy sexiness of New York.  Also emphasizing that no matter what you can’t escape your roots and home is where the heart is.  The film is crafted in such a way that multiple viewings are just as enjoyable as the first.  From the Pelt Room to the Fudge Palace, Jon Waters vision of Baltimore is hilariously human and down to earth.

"The Witch" Casts a Spell of Terror!


“The Witch” is a painstakingly authentic look at a dark time in the New World called America.  This is an immigrant family’s tale of terror from 1630s New England.  Set before the infamous Salem Witch Trails a family of six has been banished from the safety of the plantation and forced to make it on their own.

William, Katherine and their four children Thomasin, Caleb, Twins Mercy, and Jonas and baby Thomas settle on a small farm on the edge of the forest.  Day to day life is a struggle and when forces outside your control seem to be conspiring against you a desperate search for answers drives people to insane lengths. The dialogue in the film is of the period and taken from the actual journals of the people who lived in that time.  The atmosphere created by director Robert Eggers is amazing and together with the haunting score its adds to the many layers that make up the film.

This story belongs to Thomasin, a beautiful blonde teenage girl on the verge of womanhood.  In there very religious and very repressed society, the most dangerous and fearful thing imaginable is a young woman’s burgeoning sexuality and its effect on everybody else.  While playing an innocent game of peek-a-boo with baby Samuel, the baby suddenly disappears.  Although we the audience see what happens to Samuel, the family does not.  Numerous other strange happenings start occurring.  The crops wither and die, Caleb has impure thoughts of his sister.  The Mother exudes anger and jealousy over Thomasin’s youth and beauty.  The animals also take on a sinister appeal, none more than Black Phillip the goat.  This overarching feeling of doom and dread all seem to point to Thomasin.

When Caleb and Thomasin slip out to look for their baby brother, the horse gets spooked and the dog runs away.  Caleb goes after them but gets lost only to find the witch house.  Thomasin is found by her father, but Caleb doesn’t return until a day later and in some sort of trance, he’s been bewitched.  The family is physically and psychologically being torn apart leaving Katherine homesick for England.  Everyone gets swept up into hysteria leading to accusations of witchcraft.  Everyone turns on each other.  Katherine’s hallucinations are absolutely frightening as well as Caleb’s delirium right before he dies.  Everyone has their spirit shattered in horrific ways all ending up with Thomasin being that last one standing.  Eventually walking into the woods to join a coven of Witches dancing naked around a fire.  This “New England Folktale” is extremely well made and acted and seethes authenticity and fear.  

"The Autopsy of Jane Doe" is the Sleeper Horror Hit of 2017!


Truly great Horror films are very hard to find these days.  Since they are relatively cheap to produce and proven money makers there is a lot out there.  Most of which are pure crap.  “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is a rare treat, it’s engaging, suspenseful, and well-acted.  The absolute sleeper hit of 2017!

Veteran actor Brian Cox plays Tommy who with his son Austin, played by Emile Hirsh, run a generations-old Mortuary and Crematorium business.  Both actors give grounded and realistic performances even when things a little crazy.  The perceived ages of the two characters seems a little off, but it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise believable duo.

The film opens with crime scene investigation and a mysterious young woman half-buried in the cellar.  We then cut to our guys Tommy and Austin as we watch them perform an autopsy on a man who is burnt to a crisp.  The gory nasty bits are extremely well done.  They go about their business of cutting up the body weighing the organs and such.  Although they seem to have a good working relationship there is some tension between them.  When the work is done, we meet Austin’s girlfriend Emma.   Emma is excited and curious to see some dead bodies, while initially hesitant, the lockers are opened.  As a throwback to an earlier time, one of the corpses has a bell tied to their toe.  This little item is used to great effect later on.   Austin and Emma’s plans for a night out are put on hold when the Sheriff rolls in the body of the Mystery Woman.  Not wanting to leave his dad with all the work Austin goes back to help solve the mystery of the Jane Doe.

On the outside, the woman’s body looks immaculate except for some dirt (or peat) under the nails.  Her insides, however, tell a much different story.  She looks to have been beaten and tortured.  Her lungs are black suggesting she died in a fire.  Although you get the hint of what she is and what’s really going on, the characters take their time and eventually come to the realization.  The film succeeds in its execution of the material and the portrayal of its characters.  Tommy and Austin are people we care for, they are our close friends.  They are not your typical horror stereotype douche bags whose only reason for being is to get sliced and diced.

When they’ve finally had enough weird shit happening to them they decide to leave.  With a raging thunderstorm going on outside, a large fallen tree has blocked their escape.  Needless to say, things start getting a little crazy and they guys must double their efforts in finding out who this Jane Doe really is.  The ending to all this mayhem is a little unsettling but does fit well within the whole mythology of the story.  It’s a fun late night movie that is a step above most other scary movies.

Take a Ride through the "Badlands" with Terrence Malick


“Badlands” was the debut film from American auteur Terrance Malick and brings us the story of lovers on the run.  Released in 1973 and starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, the film has its characters desperate for something else.  Loosely Based on the true story of Charles Starkweather, the teenage spree killer who tore a path through Nebraska and Wyoming in the late 1950s.  Along for the ride was his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate.

Holly is a lonely 15-year-old girl in a small Texas town who lives with her dad.  He voice echoes throughout the film in voice-over that is more than just narration but is like a diary of her thoughts and feeling about life.  While twirling her baton one afternoon in the front yard a young and muscular garbage collector starts up a conversation, this is Kit.  Kit is a charismatic bad boy from the other side of the tracks with a strong resemblance to James Dean.  Kit is about 10 years older than Holly and their fast-moving relationship has been kept from her father.  But when he finds out he takes it out on her dog by shooting it in the yard.  Kit pleads to him that he is a good man and that he means only the best, but this doesn’t work.  When things come to a head Kit gets violent and when trying to take Holly away he shoots him dead.  Holly seems rather indifferent to this.  It could be that she is in a state of shock cause she does slap Kit, but sees this as a chance for freedom.  They bury his body and set the house ablaze before hitting the dusty open road.

They hideout in the woods making treehouses and eating what they can find or steal.  When a group of bounty hunters comes across their camp Kit is ready for them and kills all 3.  Holly is quick to defend him although does she really know what kind of person he really is?  They run to a friend of Kit’s and stay with him for a while until Kit’s paranoia gets the better of him and shoots him in the back when he thinks he is about to rat on them.  Kit and Holly hit the road once again but for Holly life on the run is still a life of solitude and loneliness.  She doesn’t take part in the killings but she is loyal to Kit.  They become a part of the landscape just like all of the other animals we see in the barren plains.  They make their own roads with no destination in mind.  Although they are both looking to be free, they end up creating their own prisons.  The law finally catches up with them in Montana.  He leaves Holly so she doesn’t get hurt and burns a path through the plains.  He seems to have outrun the police but sabotages his own car, and allows himself to be caught.  He is polite and congenial to all of the law enforcement people.  He is so charismatic and likable that some of the cops even ask for his autograph.

This is one of the great films of the 70s and introduced the world to Terrance Malick.  His films are deeply meditative and in tune with the natural world and people's involvement with it.  He later went on to direct the equally brilliant “Days of Heaven” in 1978.  Only then to take an astonishing 20-year break from filmmaking and reappearing with “The Thin Red Line” in 1998.  He has now been making films at a regular rate.  An artist and philosopher Malick is truly one of a kind. 

"Natural Born Killers" by Oliver Stone


Controversial in its time Oliver Stone’s 1994 film “Natural Born Killers” was at the center of the long heated debate of whether media violence influences actual violence, especially in young people.  Similar to rock music and horror movie outrage in the 80s.  It’s just one of those issues that will never go away.  
This film is an all-out assault on the senses, an acid trip down desert roads and small towns.  A sharply satirical look at the early 90’s when the “Talk Show” was king and tabloid journalism went to unimaginable lengths.  While inspired by the true story of Bonnie and Clyde and the Arthur Penn film, “Natural Born Killers” is pure fiction.  Here we have Mickey and Mallory Knox, a love-crazed couple on a vicious killing spree and becoming a tabloid and talk show megastars in the process.  The film is shot completely in dutch angles giving every moment a jagged and uneasy feeling.  The editing is a cocaine-fueled chop shop with almost 3,000 cuts.  Cutting in black and white footage, animation, different film stocks, you name it it’s in there.

Mickey, “the big bad wolf," is played by Woody Harrelson and is a revelation when compared to his previous persona of the meek country boy Woody Boyd in the popular T.V. show “Cheers”.  Mallory is played by the little-known actress Juliette Lewis.  While looking like a young Patti Smith, she matches Harrelson’s crazy intensity.  A pre-drug rehab Robert Downy Jr. plays Wayne Gale, a self-righteous Geraldo Rivera like television journalist who will do anything to get the story, no matter how many people he hurts along the way.  On the hunt for Mickey and Mallory is an equally twisted Detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), while being an author himself he falls for the media hype surrounding the couple.  Comedian Rodney Dangerfield also goes against type as Mallory’s abusive father, while brief his scenes are pretty amazing.

At about the midpoint of the film Mickey and Mallory run into a Native American man who can see them for who they are.  He is the only selfless and kind character in the whole film.  Around the fire, he puts them into a nightmarish trance where they relive the abuse inflicted upon them by their parents.  Mickey is jolted awake only to shoot the native man as a reflex.  As they leave this is the only time he feels real regret for what they’ve done.  Outside they become surrounded by an army of rattlesnakes and are bitten numerous times.  Life on the run is about to come to an end in the parking of a pharmacy where they try to get the “snake juice”.  Separated and taken to prison they come under the eye of Warden Wurlitzer, played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Just like all the other characters, the warden is an extremely intense looking dude like he is 2 seconds from a massive heart attack.  However, the warden allows Wayne Gale a special post-Super Bowl live interview with Mickey himself.  This is just the moment needed to light a fuse and bring down the whole establishment.  While trying to figure out why Mickey is the way he is we come to a tipping point.  “I guess I’m just a Natural Born Killer” (Hey, that’s the title of the film) after those words a prison riot erupts and an orgy of anger, violence, and mayhem is released.  Mickey and Mallory escape and our heroes/mass murderers are free and their newest superfan Wayne Gale is along for the ride.  Until they make an example of him being the worst kind of person.  The epitome of what is wrong with modern society.  He begs for his life and that he needs to survive to tell their tale.  They point to the running camera and his life is ended.  Does this film glamorize violence and manipulate young minds into deviant life choices? Does music?  Does the daily news?

Take the Trip with "Bonnie and Clyde"


“Bonnie and Clyde” was released in 1967 and based on the true story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow whose depression era crime spree is one of the most infamous in American History.  Starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway this film is a true classic.  The film was released in a time when the country was going through some tough times both socially and politically.  The film's depiction of on-screen violence was quite the landmark in that it set the tone for films to come.  The filmmakers don’t just show the violence, but the consequences of it as well.  It depicts Bonnie and Clyde as heroes even as they rob banks and murder police officers.  They were also decades ahead of their time as they were some of the first media superstars.  They were proud of what they were doing and told people “We rob banks”.  They took pictures of themselves holding guns and looking tough, especially Bonnie with a cigar in her mouth and a gun on her hip.  Bonnie was a lonely and bored small-town waitress with no hopes for the future, while Clyde was an ex-con with a talent for stealing cars.  They were the perfect match and fell in love almost immediately.  The film is so many things it’s a love story, a road movie, a crime drama and even funny at times.

The themes of personal freedom, rebelling against authority, and strong women fit in perfectly with the ideals of the 1960s.  Bonnie and Clyde end up forming the Barrow Gang which included his brother Buck and his wife Blanche and C. W.  Moss a young gas station attendant who is good at driving and fixing cars.  During a bank robbery, while the gang gathers up all the money, Clyde asks an old man in overalls if “That’s his money or the banks?” “Its mine,” he says and Clyde lets him keep it.  Clyde is not out to harm and steal from the good blue collar working man, but the establishment itself.  I think he sees himself as a sort of vigilante against the oppressive government. 

While the film is light on music and quiet in some dramatic moments, there are several scenes with a loud banjo playing.  It just doesn’t seem to fit.  It’s probably put in for a light-hearted and comedic tone, but I found it quite distracting.  The editing was also a little off-putting at times.  When Bonnie and Clyde are hiding out and in bed together Clyde proclaims again that he is no lover boy and gets up frustrated, the cuts are rather disorienting.  I get what the director wants to communicate, but I just think it looks bad and sloppy.  There were also a few scenes that looked way too melodramatic and overacted.  The actress Estelle Parson who plays Blanche actually won an Academy Award for her role which I thought was way over the top and actually annoying at times.

As I mentioned previously the violence is quite brutal and realistic for the time.  There are a number of shootouts with the cops and in the last one, Buck is shot in the face but staggers around in a bloody mess for the next few scenes before finally dying.  Both Bonnie and Clyde get shot in the arm and Blanche gets glass in her eyes.  But the ultimate scene is when Bonnie and Clyde finally reach the end of their crime spree and are taken out in a hail of gunfire. I really liked this film and can see why people call it a classic and although its 50 years old it still holds up as an entertaining and engaging film.

Nicholas Roeg's "Walkabout" is a Spiritual Journey


A walkabout is an Australian aboriginal ritual right of passage a young boy makes to become a man.  Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 film “Walkabout” is a study of humanity and the clashes of old and new.  Juxtaposing the fast and furious city life to that of the slowed-down outback and quite the shock for a couple of kids who like the aboriginal boy are thrust into the harsh landscape to fend for themselves.

A teenage girl, played by Jenny Agutter, and her little brother, the director's son Luc, play unnamed characters who are going out on a picnic with their father.  Not to Hanging Rock mind you, but into the flat and desolate outback.  The father character, played by John Meillon, remains in the VW Bug rather distraught as he looks at his newspaper and listens to the radio.  The children investigate the landscape and the girl sets up the picnic area.  Then shockingly the reason for the picnic becomes clear, the father takes out a gun and fires on the kids, who duck for cover.   He then douses the car in gasoline and lights it up, then kneeling before it raises the gun to his head and fires.  In shock, the kids gather their few possessions and head into the landscape.  Roeg keeps the cameras eye on various different animals that populate the outback usually opening a new scene with a different animal, the character has now entered an area where they are also one of the animals.

The kids roam the dusty expanse in the full sun with no clear destination.  Nearing exhaustion they finally find an oasis, a small watering hole with trees and little fruits.  They bathe, drink, and rest until the next morning when everything has dried up.  With their survival in doubt a figure appears on the horizon, its an aboriginal boy hunting lizards.  The boy is played by David Gulpilil who has since had a long career of playing aboriginal characters. “Walkabout” being his film debut he plays a character about the same age as the girl about 16 or so.  Although there is a language barrier, he helps them out with survival techniques and companionship.  He is your average teenage boy, he likes to goof around and has an amazing smile.  Undertones of sexuality begin to filter in as their journey continues, although still with no destination in sight.  There is a quick cut montage of the aboriginal boy hunting and the girl swimming naked.  Death, beauty, and survival are the themes that rule in the outback.

They end up finding the abandoned ruins of a farm and set up camp there for the foreseeable future.  One of the main overarching themes of the film is of the white man's desecration of the native people and their lands, similar to the United States.  The aboriginal boy disappears for a while and returns to perform what looks to be a mating ritual.  He is painted white and dances outside the household plants in each hand.  From the girl's point of view, this looks to be a frightening and menacing dance.  All through this he is silent and makes strange facial expressions.  She stays away from him in fear while he does this dance all throughout the night.  Things happen that I don’t want to give away in this review, but the girl is obviously left changed by her experiences in the outback. 

“Walkabout” is a great film that has so many things to say.  It is the death of innocence, a comment on modern (1971) society, and mainly of the human condition.  It is made by a master filmmaker and deserves to be seen by all.

The Beautiful and Uplifting "Whale Rider"


The New Zealand based film “Whale Rider” was the indie phenomenon of the 2002 award season.  Directed by Niki Caro and starring 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, both of which receiving numerous awards and critical praise.  Castle-Hughes was at the time the youngest person to ever be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards.  The film is about girl power, about strength and determination in the face of male-dominated traditions.

Paikea, is a young Maori girl descended from a long line of tribal chiefs.  She would be in line to take over one day but she happens to be a girl.  Only firstborn sons are allowed to rule.  Her mother and twin brother died in childbirth and she is being raised by her Father and Grandfather named Koro.  Koro has always resented Paikea and blames her for killing his daughter and the firstborn son.  Although they love each other, they have a very strained relationship. Their society is deeply traditional and has no desire to change, but with Paikea’s will and determination, not to mention natural born talents, she will try to push Koro to institute long-needed changes. 

This relationship between Paikea and Koro is at the heart of the film.  Paikea is constantly testing Koro’s patience as she tries to train with the boys and at one point defeats one of them in a stick exercise.  Blasphemy! Koro feels that she is desecrating sacred rituals.  She then goes to live with another woman and shows off some amazing skills in the water.  While back home Koro slips into a deep depression, his conflicted feelings have thrown his whole life out of whack.  He can’t even find it in his heart to attend Paikea’s big play at school.  At this play she gives this absolutely heartbreaking speech, that really kicks the film into high gear.  Koro ends up taking a walk along the beach to get some air and encounters a beached whale.  He gets some help and the race is on to save it.  While Paikea arrives home just in time to become the person she was born to be.  With a calm confidence way beyond her years she instinctually climbs atop the giant mammal and directs it back to sea.  Just like the old stories and folklore foretold, Paikea is the one.  Koro has this major epiphany and accepts Paikea as the true heir and next tribal chief.  “Whale Rider” is a deeply emotional and entertaining film without being overly sappy and over the top.  It feels true to life and all the performances are absolutely incredible.