May 22 2017

The Firm (1993)

If you’ve ever wanted to see someone kick the ever-lovin’ crap out of Wilford Brimley while he’s down on the ground — and let’s face it, we all have at one point in our lives — then why don’t you just go right ahead and move The Firm to the top of your queue.

We tend to forget there was a time when legal thrillers were actually Academy Award-chasing, taut courtroom explorations of a usually broken legal system, stylistically told in such a legalese-driven, attention-demanding way where viewers, no matter how bored, collectively waited on the edge of their bench for a jury-read verdict in the last 15 minutes so nerve-wracking you’d think it was their mama up for murder one; TL;DR, remember movies like The Verdict, … And Justice for All or From the Hip?

In the early 1990s, however, much like a young Michael Bay with LegalZoom gift certificate, that all changed when along came best-selling wunderkind John Grisham, an author whose works of idealist first-year Southern lawyers taking on a judicial system for dummies in very stupid (but thoroughly entertaining) works like The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill and Christmas with the Kranks were adapted for films in a rapid succession not seen since the great Stephen King boom of the mid-’80s, dumbing down a subgenre that has never since recovered.

The best of these cinematic legal briefs, in my opinion, was the 1993 adaptation of The Firm — not to be confused with the best-selling series of booty-enhancement exercise videos, unfortunately — starring Tom Cruise as a super-driven hotshot fresh out of law school (and harnessing unexplained Olympic-level gymnastic abilities for reasons never offered) as he takes a job with a shadowy law firm made up of some of the most aged Caucasian actors Hollywood had to offer, including Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook and the aforementioned Brimley as the oatmeal-lovin’ head of security. I’m pretty sure I saw Statler and Waldorf in one of the sweeping long shots, but that could just be the Mandela Effect.

When a well-meaning business trip to the Cayman Islands leads to Cruise seeing some clearly marked and easy-to-read files he apparently wasn’t meant to see, things get pretty complicated as he tries to figure out a way to turn everything over to the feds without being disbarred or have the mafia (obligatory Paul Sorvino cameo) cap him. When a short-lived, mostly cognizant Gary Busey enters the picture, things get mildly confusing, what with all the switcheroos and double-dealing and subplots about overbilling, many scenes of which are still parodied today, as of late by an extremely irritating M&M’s ad that plays before most movie trailers.

With a very strong cast, including the mannish-jawed, Southern-style bold ’n’ saucy combo of Holly Hunter and Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ed Harris as an impatient spook and an out-of-place David Strathairn as a supposedly hardened convict, perhaps the most memorable character is Saw’s Tobin Bell as the law firm’s hitman, a role made even creepier by him sporting an albino mullet, apparently from the Rutger Hauer for Men signature hairpiece collection.

Director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie) does a great job of crafting a tense, paranoid thriller based around the dumbest of conceits, but with a smirking Cruise in control and a cast of fermented gravitas, it surprisingly still holds up almost 25 years later, with enough turns and twists to keep anyone from yelling “Objection!” to their television, no one in particular listening. Apparently they made a sequel to this, in the form of a TV series, but I’ll be damned if I ever heard about it. Case closed. — Louis Fowler

Get it at Amazon.

May 21 2017

Reading Material: Short Ends 5/21/17

I suspect I’m not the only one who, upon the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert in 2013, bought his 2006 collection, Awake in the Dark, thinking it to be the definitive summation of his prolific and distinguished career. The University of Chicago Press has proven me wrong, by issuing Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert — Second Edition. Roughly half of the original volume was taken up by his best-of-year reviews from 1967 (Bonnie and Clyde) to 2005 (uh, Crash); this newer edition picks up where that left off, from 2006 (Pan’s Labyrinth) to 2012 (um, Argo). While his choices could be suspect, he nonetheless demonstrated an affinity for making his case, and making it sing; most notable — and representative of his power — are his now-famous support for the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams and the ’98 sci-fi mind-bender Dark City. The book also features sections on docs, foreign pics and underseen gems, as well as assorted essays, including a Pauline Kael tribute, a list of the century’s 10 most influential movies and a round-robin series from the early ’90s on the state of film criticism, in which Ebert gets into it with peers Richard Corliss and Andrew Sarris. This book is as essential as the man is missed.

Former Nevada Film Office deputy director Robin Holabird draws upon nearly a quarter-century of government work scouting locations for motion pictures and television shows in the Silver State, for her memoir on those glitzy, glamorous years, Elvis, Marilyn, and the Space Aliens: Icons on Screen in Nevada. With such big movies as Independence Day, Ocean’s 11, Showgirls, Smokin’ Aces, Jane Austen’s Mafia and Casino on the table, one longs for a VIP tour through the making of these flicks, but in that department, the author woefully rolls snake eyes. Readers are lucky to get a quote relayed through her here and there, but most of the content is strictly a rundown of Such-and-Such Project shooting Such-and-Such Scene at Such-and-Such scenic spot. At least Holabird keeps the University of Nevada Press paperback moving at a whirlwind, not to mention spanning the gamut of prestige, from the long-running TV smash CSI: Crime Scene Investigation to the chintzy Stella Stevens project Las Vegas Lady. All in all, though, a missed opportunity.

Attention, cult cinemaniacs who like to sniff out zines catering to their peculiar tastes: Hunt down Woof! Dog Eat Cinema Magazine. The damaged brainchild of Hans Minkes, the Netherlands-based publication combines enthusiastic movie reviews with top-notch illustrations, then shoves the oft-ribald results into the size of your standard comic book. Like a Cinema Sewer from the other half of the world, contents lean into the lascivious, yet are wonderfully varied; among the three issues I’ve read (#2-#4), spotlighted titles include Lady Iron Monkey, Pete Walker’s The Comeback, the infamous atrocity pic Men Behind the Sun, a Django porn parody and Albert Band’s Ghoulies II, the latter as part of each issue’s “Whatever Lola Wants,” in which Minkes’ young daughter randomly selects a VHS tape for Dad to cover. Another recurring feature is Hans Van Den Broeck’s “Fur on Film,” with each installment exploring a werewolf subgenre, whether Asian, X-rated or good ol’ Andy Milligan. From my POV, Woof’s two best articles savaged the films of Draculina publisher Hugh Gallagher (Goregasm, et al.) and the post-apocalyptic roller-skate movie, of which there are more than you think (mostly “thanks” to Donald G. Jackson). Interested pups should email woofmagazine at hotmail dot com for ordering deets!

Presumably tied to this summer’s highly anticipated release of War for the Planet of the Apes, Abrams ComicsArts continues its exquisitely packaged series of Topps trading-card retrospectives with Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series. The hardback devotes a full page to each card’s front and back, numerically going through the entire stack — not just the one based on the 1968 classic film, but also the short-lived TV show and the Tim Burton remake (and its numerous limited-edition cards), with author Gary Gerani contributing commentary as we go. (His introductory essay is fascinating; for example, Charlton Heston initially balked at being pictured on those damn, dirty bubble-gum cards.) As with Abrams’ other Topps books, a sealed pack of cards is glued onto the inside back cover. For Apes fans — and especially collectors of the franchise’s memorabilia — it’s a madhouse of pop-culture preservation! —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

May 17 2017

Guest List: Mark Anthony Lacy’s Top 12 Sexploitation Films of the 1960s

My foray into the world of pinup photography began way back in the mid ’90s. Now, some 20 years later, a collection of my work has been turned into a coffee-table book, Retro Glamour Photography of Mark Anthony Lacy, by Schiffer Publishing. The journey has been long and arduous, but well worth it. I’ve worked hard at my craft and love creating authentic looking images of vintage vixens for the world to enjoy.

Back when I started, my knowledge of pinup imagery and the whole midcentury aesthetic was next to nil. So, unlike my schoolboy days, I relished doing homework and learning all that I could about the era and its styles. One avenue that I took was to watch films made back then to study the hairdos, wardrobe, styling and settings. But not just any films. Those Doris Day/Rock Hudson pictures were cute, but not quite what I needed. So I dove deep into the murky waters of ’60s sexploitation!

Continue reading

May 15 2017

The Belko Experiment (2017)

According to the scientific method — which you would have learned in middle school, had you been paying attention — every experiment exists to test the validity of one’s hypothesis. For example:
• “Refrigerating food will extend its life of edibility.”
• “A brick falls faster than a feather.”
• “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
• Or, in the case of The Belko Experiment, “If you lock 80 people inside an office building and tell them to kill, they totally will.”

From director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and screenwriter James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), The Belko Experiment proves its hypothesis true, in brutally bloody fashion and with a palpable edge not often seen in mainstream movies.

Some 80 men and women, most of them Americans, work in the high-rise corporate headquarters of Belko Industries in Bogotá, Colombia. Why is the film set in South America? Good question — and one McLean and Gunn do not answer; my suspicion is the foreign setting, coupled with the remote location of the offices, deliberately feeds into the audience’s fear of the unfamiliar “other.” Dorothy was right, you know: There is no place like home, where dozens of people aren’t actively trying to snuff your life, and even if they were, you’d at least know the perfect hidey-hole to sit out the chaos.

It’s tough to tell which startles the Belko workforce more: an intercom message demanding they kill a couple of colleagues within the half-hour or the steel walls that seal them inside a multifloored cage of cubicles. At first, they think the announcement might be a hacker’s prank. (But we know that’s not the case since the voice belongs to Gregg Henry — c’mon, we’ve all seen Body Double!) When the backs of a few heads begin to explode — and the bodies attached instantly slump to the lobby tile in sickening heavy thuds — they know this is no game.

Well, in a manner most most macabre, it absolutely is a game — a Battle Royale among pencil-pushers and number-crunchers. Only one will be left standing, with luck, and it’s exactly who you think it will be, thanks to the movie’s early alignment with that character. Beyond that, however, the lack of marquee names ensures that in this bloodbath, anyone could be taking a dip. One of the Experiment’s strengths is its casting of reliable character actors, including John C. McGinley (Surviving the Game), Tony Goldwyn (2009’s The Last House on the Left), John Gallagher Jr. (Hush), Brent Sexton (TV’s The Killing) and Gunn favored player Michael Rooker (Slither). No one is particularly well-drawn before shit gets real; paying the larger price for that are the few ladies, notably Adria Arjona (TV’s True Detective) and Melonie Diaz (Ghost Team). For the latter’s character, it’s her first day — talk about a flawed onboarding experience!

There is more to The Belko Experiment than just a high concept. As with his underseen 2010 film, Super, Gunn’s screenplay lulls you into its darkly comic world before pivoting into unrelenting violence — a tonal shift so swift and severe, you’re supposed to feel discomfort. Many viewers will check out long before the intended message — admittedly delivered sans subtlety — has time to sink in. Give it a shot! —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

May 14 2017

Reading Material: ’80s Action Movies on the Cheap: 284 Low Budget, High Impact Pictures

A word of warning to those interested in the book ’80s Action Movies on the Cheap: 284 Low Budget, High Impact Pictures: “Cheap” is an adjective not used carelessly, so expect neither Stallone nor Schwarzenegger. Know that there is nary a Batman or Bond, and that Van Damme is more or less persona non grata. In fact, Mr. American Ninja himself, Michael Dudikoff, is as mainstream as it gets. This is the kind of book in which Reb Brown claims 14 pages, which is nothing compared to Godfrey Ho’s 36 — and if you don’t know who they are, this McFarland & Company paperback release is not for you. I happen to love it like a child.

Continue reading