Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vigilante (1983)

The story of “Vigilante” [1983] starts with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (“Mean Johnny Barrows”) in an underground room, surrounded by several people. He starts to explain to them that he is sick and tired of being afraid at nights and how they need to take the streets back from the gangs.

The tone of the picture is officially set after this one shot.

Soon after, we see for ourselves exactly what Williamson was talking about.
This is the best “Death Wish” rip-off – one which even manages to surpass its inspiration.

What separates “Vigilante” from “Death Wish” is that William Lustig (”Relentless”) directed without concern for the box-office and attempted to see how far he could push the audience, resulting in a no holds barred film that manages to consistently shock its audience.

Simply put, it’s an exploitation masterpiece.

Robert Forster, (”Walking the Edge”), is an Oscar-nominated, underrated B-movie veteran who gives a brave and daring performance in “Vigiliante,” playing Eddie Marino, whose life is ruined after a gang of punks brutally murder his son and severely injure his wife. Although he continues to believe that the system will provide justice, a harsh reality proves just how corrupt society can be.

As stated earlier, Williamson’s character of Nick is sick and tired of seeing the trash run his neighborhood. He knows how unjust the system is and that is why he has taken the law into his own hands. He declares himself early on as “Judge, Jury and Executioner.”

Seeing Williamson distributing his own brand of justice to these punks is a thrilling endeavor. A chase between Nick and a drug dealer through the streets also provides ample thrills; especially because you can rest assured that “The Hammer” will catch him. It’s not until Marino finally decides to team up with him, the streets start to rain with blood.

Williamson seems to be playing himself in the film, but the truth is actually that he has a natural screen presence – and this performance is not nearly as showy as some others.

The supporting cast is also strong. Woody Strode (”Once Upon a Time in the West”) plays Rake, who befriends Marino while he is in prison and becomes his bodyguard. Strode never rose to great success in Hollywood, but has collected a huge list of credits, often playing the strong silent type.

The sleazy and always reliable Joe Spinell (”Maniac,” “Rocky”) plays a smarmy lawyer on the take. His brief appearance is good enough to make you believe he is an actual lawyer.

An apology to all you attorneys out there, but the man virtually oozes professional sliminess.

The real treat of ”Vigilante” is that it allows you to be a voyeur in an area you normally wouldn’t want to visit. That mood that the director controls quite nicely allows you to root for the good guys and wish death upon the punks on the streets. No one ever said that the characters were three-dimensional, but the appeal of “Vigilante” isn’t in its ability to provoke a critically thoughtful response – it’s in its ability to make you feel as though you’re there, in this archaic and precarious time and place.

When the camera is on the streets, fear is palpable.

Early scenes set up the uncertainty people risk when walking to the grocery store or coming home from work. The audience is instantly confused on what to expect, but feels safe once the vigilantes clean up the raw sewage.

Films like these provide good escapism as well. We are allowed to be exposed to the dark side of the world and our very own minds.

However, unlike the very complex and mystifying real life, justice on these factious streets always prevails.

Friday, June 26, 2009

R.I.P: Jackson

Throughout the years Jackson was able to convince some of the greatest artists from the movies, sports and music worlds to help him create lavish music videos and improve his music. His music videos were mini-movies and the best music videos we have seen. That image alone is enough, but when realize some of the best directors helped create his music videos. John Landis, ("Trading Places") with the make-up of Rick Baker, ("The Exorcist") helped create the creepy zombie creations in "Thriller".

Also you have Martin Scorsese ("Raging Bull") shooting "Bad" and utilizing the griminess of the New York subway transit.

Most musicians were never lucky enough to have directors like that, but there's more. A-list actors such as Marlon Brando,("The Godfather") Joe Pesci, ("Goodfellas") Eddie Murphy, ("Beverly Hills Cop") and Michael Madsen ("Kill Bill") all elevated his music videos to something more. They often had unique stories to tell giving these actors meaty roles.

The man was able to create magically music videos that will continue to find an audience for years to come.

Whether Jackson was singing a duet with Paul McCartney or letting Eddie Van Halen perform a mean guitar solo in "Beat It" it just added a new dimension to his work as an artist.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Goodbye Grasshopper

June 3, 2009 marked the passing of 72-year-old actor David Carradine.

When a friend called me that day to tell me the news, I was a bit taken.

You see, to the cult film fan, Carradine was a hero. He was always taking chances on obscure films for the better of his career, much like his father. Regardless of the role he occupied however, Carradine was always cool and collected.

Quite simply, he was “the man.”

I am going to find it so hard watching his films now and realizing that his career is over. I honestly don’t think we need to know why he committed suicide because what is important is the over 200 credits he made to television and film.

So rather than harp on the mysterious and provocative way he passed, I think it’s better to remember what we loved about him, rather than what shocked us.

And boy, was there a lot to love.

It often seemed that the secret ingredient to a cult film was the addition of a Carradine. The Carradines were a hard working family of actors that seemingly took on all the roles they were offered. That work ethic often landed them in some bizarre and classic cult films. The patriarch of the family, John Carradine, had a career that ranged from “Stagecoach” to “Vampire Hookers.”

The younger Carradine however made his mark in some very important films of our times, with an early appearance as a drunk in Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough 1973 film, “Mean Streets.” The year before, he beat out Bruce Lee for the role of “Caine” on “Kung Fu,” which permanently etched his name in pop culture lore.

However, his greatest contribution to film was the 1976 bio picture, “Bound for Glory.” The then 40-year-old Carradine played folk legend Woody Guthrie. The film was director Hal Ashby’s (”Eight Million Ways to Die”) tour de force and it catapulted Carradine to the A-list for a brief period. After that film, he went to work for the legendary Ingmar Bergman in “The Serpent’s Egg.”

But I suppose people best remember his most recent success in 2005’s “Kill Bill.”

As a cult film fan, my top five favorites from Carradine. These five flicks will help you better appreciate his work.

1. ”Q: The Winged Serpent,” directed by cult film legend, Larry Cohen. (writer of “Maniac Cop”)
It is the tale of a giant flying serpent that takes over Manhattan. What separates this film from other cult films are the strong performances. Michael Moriarty, (”Bang the Drum Slowly”) gives a brilliant method performance that seems out of place in this film, but makes for great fun. Carradine and Richard Roundtree (”Shaft”) turn in some good supporting performances as detectives. Of course the real star is Q himself, who is created from stop motion animation.

2. ”Lone Wolf McQuade”
This tale finds Carradine going toe to toe with Chuck Norris in one pretty sweet action film. The martial arts are outstanding and the finale leaves you with a bang.

3. ”The Warrior and the Sorceress
This is a cheaply made Roger Corman rip off of “Yojimbo.” The variation with this film is that it is set in a mythic world. Carradine starts a major war between two feuding gangs. The flick is cheesy schlock that will appease fans of the genre.

4. ”Sonny Boy
One of the strangest films ever made. Carradine plays a woman– and what an ugly one. This is one real wacky movie and a testament to Carradine’s convictions as an actor.

5. ”Roadside Prophets
This was Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz’s first feature and is a road trip film, with a ton of cameos including Carradine and John Cusack. A fun ride.

We’ll miss you, Grasshopper.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fritz the Cat (1972)

"Fritz the Cat" is an animated feature that could have only been made in the decadent seventies era of film.

Simply put, it is a film that will offend everyone looking for something to be offended about.

Because of this, it is an audacious and brilliant satire of the seventies and a film worth watching over 30 years later.

Everything in “Fritz the Cat” has a deeper meaning than you would expect, giving it a levity and social significance not found in many animated films, never mind an X-rated one.

For example, the cats oppress the crows, which is meant to deal with the racism many faced at that time. Early in the film, one cat asks a crow, “Why does James Earl Jones always have to play a black man?” making us wonder if “the cats” really understand what is going on with “the crows” at all.

Aside from from addressing the issue of race, Fritz tackles authority by portraying police officers as pigs. Today, a film would never be this bold on the issue of racism and authority. The funny thing is that “Fritz the Cat” deals with the issue better then the pointless exercise in futility known as “Crash,” despite being over 30 years old.

If it isn’t obvious already, this is a film that dares to be bold and in your face. This ability and the fact that it can still make you laugh through all of this is what makes this an admirable film. Films like this are what make the cinema sometimes a great adventure. However, as stated before, this is a film for open minded and smart adults.

Aside from the story, the animation was both gritty and imaginative and a breakthrough for its time, especially since it was the first X-rated cartoon. The film’s use of vibrant colors and real life New York locations allow you to forget you are basically watching a horny cat. The film also animates real pictures to provide some of the landscapes. It is sad that not many more inventive cartoons like this were produced.

The theme of Fritz is a bi-product of the film’s director, Ralph Bakshi, who was equally as provocative and interesting. Throughout his career, his films dealt with important issues of there time and were all animated. Starting out in the sixties with Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Captain America cartoons, Bakshi evolved into a Hollywood director. Aside from Fritz the Cat, Bakshi’s other great films include "Fire and Ice", (Inspired by Conan the Barbarian) and "Coonskin".

However, Fritz served as many viewers’ introduction to his work.

To this day, “Fritz the Cat” remains a constant reminder of a time when movies didn’t try to cater to everyone or try to beat a message in by being overtly obvious. It makes you laugh, and also points out the flaws in society.

As a matter of fact, even if the message was removed from this film, it would still be a very funny film to watch.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

In the 1980s, the screen was littered with gore-filled slashers. It seemed like every couple of weeks a new one was ushered into the theaters, where teenagers were having sex and then being hacked to pieces.

Some of them were kitschy fun, but others were extremely boring.

A select few- were actually excellent, well-made horror films.

“Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” falls into the latter catergory.
This is the best film in the series. If only the series decided to live up to the title, “The Final Chapter” would have been a good conclusion to the series. Far superior to the first one, due to the gore effects of Tom Savani, the film also has excellent performances from the actors playing the teenagers. It would have worked well as a comedy and it is actually sad to see these characters be murdered.
However, again it is Savani,(”The Prowler”, “Manaic”) and his knack for creating the best at creating realistic gore flicks in Hollywood that truly elevates the film. Putting in a good amount of imagination into the on-screen murders in this film, they are the biggest reason to partake in this bloody adventure. Simply put, a teenager’s face being smashed against the shower wall, or a cork screw being plunged into someone’s hand come off very brutal and original, even for a slasher flick. The fact is that Savani makes the harmless cabin seems like one of the scariest deathtraps around is a testament to his genius.
Films of the slasher genre are not often made with such care.
The way Savani and director, Joseph Zito (”Invasion U.S.A”) handle the killings is what makes this film the best slasher of its time. It is a refreshing sight to see such work put into this genre by someone that knows what he is doing.
On top of the murders, Savani also put a lot of detail into the make-up for Jason. This creates the appearance of one of the scariest creatures put on film.
As far as the plot is concerned, the film begins where Part three left off, as an ambulance arrives and takes Jason to the morgue. He then escapes and returns to camp Crystal Lake.
Once back there, the film focuses on two specific cabins. One Cabin contains the Jarvis family and the other houses a bunch of care-free teenagers. Thrown into the mix is a man that lost his sister to Jason and wants revenge. The plot is simple, but is standard for the slasher genre.

Nonetheless, the rest of the film is so inventive that this doesn’t matter if the film copies your standard plot.
Our young hero is Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman, “The Goonies”, “Stand By Me”) a young man with a passion for horror movie masks and effects. He lives with his sister, Trish, (Kimberly Beck, “Massacre At Central High”) and his Mother (Joan Freeman). Though the family dynamic scenes leave much to be desired, Jarvis always seems to be left alone at dangerous times, making the film the moody gore-fest it should be and anything but an episode of “7th Heaven.”
The best performance comes from Lawrence Monoson (”The Last American Virgin”) who plays Ted. Monoson’s character is painted perfectly by his advice to his friend Jim on the car ride upstate- “Jimbo, calling Betty is definitely a dead fuck thing to do. Look first rule of love: never get rejected by the same girl twice. I mean that’s useless. If you want to make a fool out of yourself, always do it with someone new.”
Advice to live by.
Ted is a laid back stoner that seems to voice his opinion on everything. He desperately wants to have sex on this trip, but everything goes wrong for him. Nonetheless, he keeps trying. Monoson proved what a good actor he was in “The Last American Virgin” and he elevates this character into something more. In the film, he is never seen as a two dimensional character, but rather a real teenager with a very funny sense of humor.
Ted’s best friend is Jim played by Crispin Glover (Back to the Future.) According to Ted, Jim is a “Dead Fuck” and that is why women don’t seem to be calling him back. In his performance, Glover manages to capture the awkwardness of those teenage years. The character is very funny and easy to identify with. Glover even has a hysterical dance scene.
The young lovers are Doug and Sara played by Peter Barton (”Hell Night”) and Barbara Howard (”White Palace”). The two of them share some genuine on-screen chemistry. Their first appearance on screen comes off like that goofy teenage love, that we’ve all experienced. Sara is shy and Doug helps her to mature. Their love is cemented by a very steamy shower scene.
The last of the characters are Alan Hayes (”Neon Maniacs”) who plays Paulie, dating the very sexy Samantha (Judie Aronson, “American Ninja”). Unfortunately, he has a wandering eye, which sets forth soap opera fodder for the film. The tension between them allows the film to start you down the slope of horror to come.
The other big stars in the film are the locations of Lake Minnewashta, Chanhassen, Minnesota and Topanga Canyon, California, which create the genuine tension of isolation. The area is beautiful, but also a place where Jason Voorhies’ unspeakable acts of horror can be carried out.
Just add a catchy tagline, “Three Times Before You Have Felt The Terror,” “Known The Madness,” “ Lived The Horror. But This Is The One You’ve Been Screaming For,” and you have a successful horror film. The film’s opening date was Friday April 13th 1984, which would be Jason’s unlucky day.

The box office did so well that “Friday the 13th Part Five: A New Beginning” was put into production almost immediately.
Overall, “The Final Chapter” is a slasher film that packs a real punch. It provides horror film fans with everything their gore filled hearts could desire.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Island (1980)

Good music, a quality cast and a terrifying concept alone should be enough to induce a quality performance on the big screen, right?

Add in pirates and you’ve got yourself a smörgåsbord of cinematic du-jour, right?

Aside from it’s qualities, “The Island,” starring Michael Caine [“Peeper,” “Get Carter”] is in itself an extremely bizarre moment in cinema, lacking the intelligence and plot-logic to be taken ultimately seriously.

Nevertheless, it’s still fun.

The film has many going things in its favor, including a screenplay written by the author of the novel on which it is based, Peter Benchley, who is probably most famous for having penned “Jaws” and several other sea-fearing novels.

Following the exploits of Blair Maynard, [played by Caine,] a journalist that takes his bratty son, Justin [Jeffrey Frank] on a work related trip with him, “The Island” is a leave your brain at home thrill ride. After a spell, the two decide to go fishing and are kidnapped by a nasty group of pirates. These primitive assailants have existed for three hundred years, isolated from the real world.

Filmed by Michael Ritchie, ["Downhill Racer"] “The Island,” features strong action scenes. In spite of this, Ritchie’s direction doesn’t compare in scenes with the novice actors playing the pirates. Most of them are so over the top that the film loses some of its impact.

The only pirate that evokes any real fear is played by David Warner [“Tron,” Time Bandits”]. Warner is a talented classically-trained actor that adds a touch of class to the film. Ritchie seems to have directed him and Caine very well. They give earnest performances in a production that is below their normal standards.

However, Frank’s character is utterly loathsome. It’s not that Jeffrey is a bad actor, it’s just that Benchley wrote a character with no redeeming qualities. Because of this, you may find yourself wishing Caine would just save himself and leave his son to his own fate.

On the plus side, the film is pampered with a decent amount of gore, for lovers of the horror genre. The gore early on enables us to feel the tension for the main character on his voyage to reclaim his son.

Another saving grace is Ennio Morricone’s [legendary composer of such films as "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" and "Once Upon a Time in America"] score, which manages to balance the drama and horror aspects quite well. The score slowly sets each scene. At the end of the film, it even forces you to watch the entire credit sequence.

Bottom line:- it is rare to find a bad movie with so many things to recommend. That is what one misses the most from the 70’s and 80’s – bad movies had character. This could be enjoyed as your guilty pleasure. At the center of “The Island,” you have a chance to see just how talented Caine really is because this film is not something many actors would have taken seriously.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sneak Peek from Review

I have been in writing boot camp at

This site is going to be used more for my Creative Writing but here is a look at how my work improved.

Our Ten Best- Episode Two: Movies That Deserve a DVD Release
Posted by Anthony Benedetto on 6/13/09 • Categorized as Movies

Why is everyone anxiously anticipating Blu-Ray releases when so many great movies have not yet received a proper DVD release? With that being said, here is a list of films that desperately need to be released on DVD. A majority of these films haven’t even surfaced o video format.
However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t fantastic works of cinema in their own right.

1- “Walk Proud” (1979): Recently on Turner Classic Movies on May 26 , some may be a bit stunned at the unintentional racism within it. It is truly an oddity of American cinema. Instead of hiring a tough Spanish actor to play the lead in this gang film, they went with an American actor, this case, the extremely miscast Robby Benson, (“Die Laughing,” “One on One”) plays a Chicano. That fatal flaw makes this film campy trash that is amazingly entertaining. The flick desperately wants to be the 70s answer to “West Side Story,” but those are very big shoes to fill. Oddly enough, the film has a strong soundtrack, which includes Elton John’s “We All Fall in Love Sometimes.” Despite its obscurity, “Walk Proud” still serves as an entertaining time capsule of a very strange period in cinema.

2- “Harry in Your Pocket” (1973): Thank you once again to Turner Classic Movies for showcasing this film and allowing the public a chance to see it. “Harry in Your Pocket” has been unavailable since its theatrical release. It is simply great and leaves you wanting more once the credits start to roll. James Coburn (“Candy”) plays a pickpocket teaching two newcomers how to properly lift wallets. Coburn was always one cool guy in every one of his films and this was a prime showcase for him. However, the real scene stealer here was the 76-year-old Walter Pidgeon (“How Green was my Valley”). He plays an over the hill cocaine addicted pick pocket. The real thrill is watching an old pro that loved acting give one of the best performances of his career. Also in the film are Michael Sarrazin, (“They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”) and Trish Van Devere, (“The Landlord”) as the young couple that are being trained. They share great screen chemistry together.

3- “Lucky Lady” (1975): Gene Hackman (“The French Connection”) and Burt Reynolds (“Deliverance”) ignite the screen in this lost gem. The casting of these two tough guys is pretty exciting in its own rights. Plus, it is directed by the multi-talented Stanly Donen, (”Charade”). This film focuses on the hazards of rum-running in the prohibition era of the 1930s.

4- “Fighting Mad” (1976): This the third film that Jonathan Demme’s (“The Silence of the Lamb”) directed, which marked his presence in Hollywood. It sadly has not been seen since its days in the theatres. Peter Fonda (“Spasms,” “High Ballin”) stars a man that has to fight to protect his home because he refuses to sell it to the greedy land developers. He is a peaceful man that gets pushed to the edge. This is one of the best vigilante movies of the 1970’s and deserves a wider audience. Also, Fonda’s use of a bow and arrow is very original. It would be a great addition to the Criterion Collection of DVDs.

5- “It Came Without Warning” (1980): This is a grim and violent tale of alien invasion that is “Friday the 13th” meets “The Predator.” The creature effects were done by Greg Canom, who recently won the Oscar for his effects work in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” With his help, the film is filled with slimy goodness to delight horror fans. If that wasn’t enough, director, Greydon Clark (”Final Justice”) acquired a few talented character actors, which include Jack Palance (“City Slickers”) and Martin Landau (“Ed Wood”).

6- “No Blade of Grass” (1970): This is a post apocalyptic film with the tagline “The creeping terror drifted towards them stamping out all civilization in its eerie path!” It was directed by legendary actor and director Cornel Wilde, (“The Naked Prey”), who he created a cautionary and visionary outlook on the future. He filled the cast with mostly unknowns to concoct an eerie and realistic portrait.

7- “Harry and Son” (1984): This was a labor of love for director and star Paul Newman (“When Time Ran Out…”). He created a poignant and emotional tale of the bond between a father and his son, who are on two different paths in life. With Newman’s passing last year, it is about time all of his work finally come to DVD. He was a national treasure that deserves that sense of respect.

8- “WUSA” (1970): This is another lost Paul Newman film, in which he co-stars with his wife Joanne Woodward (“The End”). It was always a pleasure to see this real life couple share the screen because of their authentic chemistry together. “WUSA’s” focal point is about a radio station in the south that becomes entrenched in a right wing conspiracy.

9- “Lolly Madonna XXX” (1973): Don’t let the name fool you; this is not a porno. It is a tale of two families that are at war with each other. The film is loaded with violence and sadness, which convey the senselessness of the war they had started. The amazing cast includes Rod Steiger, (“Duck, You Sucker”) Robert Ryan (“The Wild Bunch”) and Jeff Bridges (“Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”).

10- “From Noon Till Three” (1976): Charles Bronson (“The White Buffalo” which deserves a DVD also.) drops his tough guy act to star in a Western comedy alongside his wife, Jill Ireland (“Love and Bullets”). The audience has as much fun watching it as Bronson did making the film. Much of the fun comes from seeing Bronson play with the genre that he was a major part of. The other great thing is to see his wife as the focus is on the time they spend together which is “From Noon Till Three”.

Now that we’re done here, I would love to know- what are you waiting for on DVD?