Blood Work – Clint Eastwood week

This is Clint Eastwood week. Blood Work is currently available on instant Netflix.

Blood Work

WATCH: Blood Work (2002) – Rated R for violence and language.

“Retired FBI director Terry McCaleb (Clint Eastwood), feeble from a recent heart transplant, is hired by Graciela Rivers (Wanda De Jesus) to investigate the death of her sister, Gloria — who is, coincidentally, the donor of McCaleb’s new heart. McCaleb soon deduces that Gloria was murdered by a serial killer he was trailing for years while in the FBI … but can the elderly agent muster the strength to hunt down the killer and stop him for good?”

The script is written by Brian Helgeland from the novel by Michael Connelly. I can’t speak to the faithfulness of the script to the book but Helgeland’s script is quite literate. Characters are likeable and well-fleshed out. Dialogue is believable and flows nicely.

Eastwood’s direction is assured but not flashy. Events move at a brisk clip without skimping on the investigation part. The focus is more on the whydunit than the whodunit.

Eastwood’s performance as an aging detective is quite good. Jeff Daniels is amusing as Buddy. The female leads, Wanda De Jesus, Tina Lifford and Anjelica Huston all do an excellent job, especially as none of them fall into the stereotypical romantic interest role (for the most part).

All in all, this is a very enjoyable if not entirely memorable mystery.

People Watch: Comedian Paul Rodriguez plays Detective Arrango and Clint’s wife Dina plays Reporter #1.

Firefox – Clint Eastwood week

This is Clint Eastwood week. Firefox is currently available on instant Netflix.

Firefox

PASS: Firefox (1982) – Rated PG

“When the Russians develop a Mach 5 jet with thought-controlled weaponry, the free world needs someone to go steal it from them to maintain the balance of power. Despite suffering from posttraumatic stress as a result of his Vietnam experiences, Mitch Gant (Clint Eastwood), who was once a hotshot pilot and speaks fluent Russian, is given the assignment. Nigel Hawthorne plays a Jewish dissident who aids Gant in his mission.”

“The American is a dead man, First Secretary.”

Yes, this movie is as jingoistic as that quote would lead you to believe. This movie is more groan-inducingly anti-Communist than Red Dawn but sadly not nearly so much cheesy fun.

I am very patriotic but the plot behind this movie is utter rubbish. The first two-thirds of the film involve people comically taking literal and figurative bullets for Gant to get him to steal the jet. I’ll sacrifice my life for Clint – no it’s my turn to to sacrifice my life – get out of the way!

The last third is Gant flying the plane. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to note that of course there is another Firefox (LAZY writing). A particular scene late in the film is literally lifted from Ice Station Zebra (way back in 1968). The plot is ludicrous as it is obvious to the Russians that Gant, an American, has stolen their plane.

Acting is just fine if not Oscar-caliber. Clint capably plays Gant. Nigel Hawthorne lends some weight as Baranovich and it is nice to see the fascinating Freddie Jones as Aubrey.

While Clint is, as always, eminently watchable, there is nothing special to recommend this film.

People Watch: Look for John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers) as Chief Peck.

The Dead Pool – Clint Eastwood week

This is Clint Eastwood week. The Dead Pool is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Dead Pool

PASS: The Dead Pool (1988) – Rated R

“A macabre sports pool is placing bets on which celebrity is going to die next and crossing names off a list as each of them meets their demise. A serial killer who preys on famous figures enters the scene, and suddenly the odds are dramatically changed. When rogue cop “Dirty Harry” Callahan (Clint Eastwood) and high-profile TV journalist Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson) suddenly find their names on the list, the game hits too close to home.”

“Do you like cops?” – “As long as they’re not in my rearview mirror”

Yes even 17 years later this is still Dirty Harry. Harry has no problem shooting a fleeing criminal in the back. At this point Harry hardly even seems like a policeman. He doesn’t do police work so much as stumble from shooting to shooting killing everyone. His decision at the end of the film is again vintage Harry.

The real problem with The Dead Pool is that this is a completely lazy by-the-numbers sequel. Instead of stumbling into a bank robbery or a hijacking as in the first two films, Harry stumbles into a restaurant killing which is tangentially related to the plot.

Instead of an African-American partner or a female partner, this time Harry gets a Chinese-American partner. Surprise, the Chinese-American partner knows martial arts (yawn). As with all Dirty Harry films, this partner may as well be wearing a red shirt.

There is a completely disposable, not to mention boring, subplot involving an imprisoned organized crime boss taking out a contract on Harry. This gives Harry an excuse to threaten, beat up, and shoot people.

The Dead Pool portion of the plot could actually have made for a good mystery movie but it is given a half hour at most even though it is the main plot thread.

Someone in production must have really loved Guns ‘n Roses. “Welcome to the Jungle” is prominently featured twice in the film which, while a good song, is a bit of overkill. In addition look for Steven Adler, Duff McKagan, Axl Rose, Slash, and Izzy Stradlin as musicians at a funeral.

There is a hilarious sequence late in the film where they replicate the famous Bullitt car chase. Only this time one of the cars barreling over San Francisco’s hills is a remote-controlled explosive miniature car. This inspired scene alone is almost worth recommending the film.

The Dead Pool is not good but it is quite watchable simply by virtue of Clint’s presence. It is a shame that this was how they chose to end the series.

People Watch: Look for Jim Carrey in an early role as Johnny Squares.

Magnum Force – Clint Eastwood week

Last year I reviewed 13 Clint Eastwood movies available on instant Netflix. Netflix has now released a bunch more. Magnum Force is currently available on instant Netflix.

Magnum Force

WATCH: Magnum Force (1973) – Rated R

“The second of five Dirty Harry movies, Magnum Force finds Clint Eastwood revisiting his career-making turn as a tough-as-nails detective who makes his own rules. A wayward cop is enforcing vigilante justice by assassinating several criminals who manage to escape punishment by slipping through legal loopholes, and “Dirty” Harry Callahan is on the case. Watch for an uncredited appearance by a young Suzanne Somers.”

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

“Nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot.”

This is an excellent follow-up to Dirty Harry. The opening credits are a hand holding a gun and Clint’s voice-over ad for the .44 Magnum. The killings (initially) are shown being committed by a uniformed patrolman in iconic gear – perhaps an inspiration for the later Maniac Cop series. The ending, as with Dirty Harry, does not drag after the climax.

Magnum Force features, albeit briefly, perhaps the second greatest pimp-mobile of all time. Top pimp mobile still goes to Isaac Hayes’ vehicle in Escape from New York – nothing beats chandelier headlights.

Screenwriter John Milius stated that Clint’s sex scene with an Asian woman was added because of all the Asian fan mail propositions Clint had received. That was awfully nice of him to respond to fan requests.

Clint Eastwood is marvelous as always in perhaps his most iconic role. Unlike Dirty Harry, this is not quite a one-man show. Hal Holbrook is excellent as Harry’s superior. Tim Matheson capably plays one of the junior officers. The other actors are all good.

Magnum Force mildly corrects a few of the right-wing fantasy issues from the first film. The movie shows that vigilante justice is a slippery slope. Harry has a speech about taking things too far as well.

San Francisco scenery is once again put to fantastic use here. There are many shots of the Golden Gate bridge and the harbor. There is a nice though brief chase in the winding hilly streets. The action sequence on the carriers is impressive and features some nice stunt work.

Again I wholeheartedly recommend this sequel to Dirty Harry. Unlike Dirty Harry, this film is shown in its original aspect ratio (widescreen).

People Watch: Well Netflix stole my thunder by mentioning Suzanne Somers’ bit part in this. Robert Urich appears as a police officer in this before moving on to SWAT, Vega$, and Spenser for Hire. David Soul plays another officer before his role as Hutchinson in Starsky & Hutch.

Dirty Harry – Clint Eastwood week

Last year I reviewed 13 Clint Eastwood movies available on instant Netflix. Netflix has now released a bunch more. Dirty Harry is currently available on instant Netflix.

Dirty Harry

WATCH: Dirty Harry (1971) – Rated R

“When a madman dubbed the “Scorpio Killer” terrorizes San Francisco, hard-boiled cop Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) — famous for his take-no-prisoners approach to law enforcement — is tasked with hunting down the psychopath. Harry eventually collars Scorpio in the process of rescuing a kidnap victim, only to see him walk on technicalities. Now, the maverick detective is determined to nail the maniac himself.”

“Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya Punk?”

I am of two completely disparate opinions on this film.

First this film is an absolute classic from a classic era of cop movies. Steve McQueen’s Bullitt was also filmed in San Francisco a few years prior to Dirty Harry and The French Connection came out the same year as Dirty Harry. These three films formed the basis for the modern police movie.

All the classic hallmarks are here. Dirty Harry is a cop who plays by his own rules – this was before, and also why, it became a cliche. There is wonderful use of San Francisco’s unique scenery (though nothing to equal Bullitt’s car chase). The villain is so despicable that one roots for his demise.

Don Siegel’s direction is quite assured. Everything moves at a brisk pace. The movie opens with a bang. The villain’s nom de guerre is ‘Scorpio’, an obvious reference to the then still fresh Zodiac killer. The end shot after the film’s climax is wonderful.

Clint Eastwood is a wonderful tough guy hero and does all of his own stunts here. Thankfully he can carry the movie all by himself as this is essentially a one-man show. The character of Dirty Harry is well-realized and spawned 4 sequels – two of which I’ll cover this week.

My second opinion is that this is an absolutely hysterical extreme right-wing fantasy. Dirty Harry has no problems shooting an unarmed man because it is expedient to do so and then physically torturing the suspect. It is mentioned that Harry hates pretty much every ethnic group and refers to one of his police peers as ‘fatso’ and another as a ‘spic’.

The killer is a sniveling weasel who knows his rights. He is a young man with long hair and wears a peace symbol belt buckle. Keep in mind that this was 1971 so he pretty much represents the left. All the officials who actually advocate following the law, procedure, or being reasonable are portrayed as gutless.

Unfortunately Netflix has chosen to convert a pan-and-scan (or Fool-screen) version of this iconic movie. In spite of the above-mentioned issues, I have no reservations about recommending this movie whole-heartedly. If you ever wanted to see the original Jack Bauer, watch this film.

By the way – it is a shame that they dropped the original title of the film. The title of the script was ‘Dead Right’.

People Watch: The ever-reliable John Vernon plays the mayor and director Don Siegel has a cameo as a pedestrian by Harry’s car.

Satan’s Little Helper – Children’s Week

In celebration of the birth of our littlest angel, I thought I’d feature movies about angelic tykes. What’s that you say? There aren’t any? Hrrrrm. I guess we’ll feature the opposite then.

Satan's Little Helper

PASS: Satan’s Little Helper (2004) – Rated R for violence/gore, some sexual content and language.

“It’s Halloween eve, and 9-year-old Douglas (Alexander Brickel) is in for the fright of his life in this chilling horror tale. Dressed as “Satan’s Little Helper” (from his favorite video game), Douglas goes out trick-or-treating and meets a guy dressed as the monstrous boss from the same video game. Staying true to the game, Doug offers to be his assistant, unaware that the masked man is really a serial killer on a Halloween murdering spree.”

I had never heard of this film until I saw it recently on a horror blogger’s Top Ten List. Written, directed and produced by Jeff Lieberman, this is clearly a quirky labor of love. Lieberman wrote and directed the delightful Squirm, a horror movie about earthworms way back in 1976.

The script appears to be trying to say something about video-game players’ desensitization to violence but it is handled so obtusely that it is hard to say which side of the issue it is on. The video game dreamed up for the movie is cute but very old school and cartoony. Most desensitization arguments stem from how video games are almost photo-realistic.

The biggest problem with this satire is that pretty much every character in it is thick as a brick. There is some evidence that Douglas is mentally challenged in some fashion. It is a bit of a leap but one could draw the conclusion that this condition is hereditary so that would explain sister and either mom or dad but not both. It also doesn’t explain the intense stupidity of the boyfriend.

If you can ignore the stupidity of the characters then there is much to like about this film. It isn’t scary, gory, or particularly humorous but it does have a quirky charm. The killer has a humorous Halloween display and communicates through nods and gestures.

I liked this film but the glaring flaws in the script keep me from recommending it.

People Watch: Look for the ever whimsical Amanda Plummer as the mom.

It’s Alive (2008) – Children’s Week

In celebration of the birth of our littlest angel, I thought I’d feature movies about angelic tykes. What’s that you say? There aren’t any? Hrrrrm. I guess we’ll feature the opposite then.

It's Alive

AVOID: It’s Alive (2008) – Unrated (contains violence, bloody images, language, and brief nudity)

“After participating in a series of seemingly safe drug testing experiments, grad student Lenore (Bijou Phillips) endures some horrifying side effects when her new baby turns out to be a natural born killer, leaving a trail of dead in its tiny wake. As the death toll mounts, the doting mom can stay in denial for only so long in this chilling remake of Larry Cohen’s 1974 cult horror hit, also starring James Murray as the proud papa.”

I’m going to try and avoid any jokes about how this movie should have been aborted, stillborn, etc. It’s Alive does appear to have been dumped straight to DVD. The poster, while intriguing, has nothing to do with the movie.

When Zak Snyder remade Dawn of the Dead, he brushed away the social commentary and much of the humor of the original movie. What was left was a slick but very visceral and scary movie. In this remake of It’s Alive, director Josef Rusnak has brushed away the social commentary and humor of the original movie. What is left is sadly not much.

The actors show very little range and several of the leads look more like models than people. It is nearly impossible to take a killer baby seriously but this movie plays it straight instead of for the camp value. There are no scares and only some minor gore scenes.

The script is a strictly by-the-numbers, scene-by-scene affair. While the scenes progress chronologically, many of them seem disjointed as if written without any thought to how they would fit into the whole story. Larry Cohen is listed as one of the three screenwriters but my guess would be that he simply gets credit for penning the original – there are none of his societal or delightfully trashy touches here.

According to Netflix, the original is coming soon to instant view. If you need to see a killer baby movie then my advice is to wait for that one. It’s Alive (2008) just doesn’t have anything to recommend it.

People Watch: Hunh – I’m stumped. Ty Glaser plays Marnie and was also in Bikini-Blitzkrieg Part One: Dance Domination so that’s got to count for something.

Exorcist II – Children’s Week

In celebration of the birth of our littlest angel, I thought I’d feature movies about angelic tykes. What’s that you say? There aren’t any? Hrrrrm. I guess we’ll feature the opposite then.

The Exorcist 2

PASS: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) – Rated R

“Intent on discovering why Regan (Linda Blair) was possessed by the demon Pazuzu, Father Lamont (Richard Burton) travels to Africa in search of another who was once possessed by the same demon — and learns that Pazuzu traverses the world via locusts. But when Father Lamont returns to New York, he discovers Pazuzu has reached Regan again through Dr. Gene Tuskin’s (Louise Fletcher) hypnosis machine.”

“No! Once the wings have brushed you, you’re mine forever!”

“If Pazuzu comes for you, I will spit a leopard.”

Yes, those are actual quotes from the movie. No, they don’t make much more sense in context. Unlike The Exorcist, the script is not written by William Peter Blatty nor is this an adaptation of his book.

This film was not the travesty I’d been led to believe but neither is it very good. The first film was an excellent blend of psychology and religion. Apparently they felt that the only way to top that was to throw in parapsychology and faith healing as well. It is not a good fit.

Richard Burton plays Father Lamont, an amalgam of Father Karras (priest questioning his path and faith) and Father Merrin (learned exorcist) from the first film. Linda Blair plays a mostly grown-up Regan who now apparently has healing powers. Ellen Burstyn as the mom is nowhere to be found and is replaced by Louise Fletcher who gets an upgrade from her Nurse Ratched status by playing Doctor Tuskin here.

The real problem with this film is that John Boorman (normally a good director) clearly didn’t understand what made the first film work so well. He throws in scenes from an exotic land seemingly because of the dig scenes in the original. The locust tie-in could have been interesting but it is merely dumped into the pot with faith/psychic healing and machines that allow merged dream/memory states.

It is best to pretend that this movie doesn’t exist. Exorcist III written and directed by author William Peter Blatty is a good thriller (though not on the original’s level of course) and should be considered the real Exorcist sequel. Sadly it is not available on instant Netflix.

People Watch: James Earl Jones plays Kokumo and Ned Beatty appears as Edwards but the real surprise here is Paul (Casablanca) Henreid is the Cardinal. Sadly this was his last film.

The Exorcist – Children’s week

Please accept my humble apologies for the long delay in blogging. My baby daughter gave birth to her own baby daughter earlier this week. We were blessed to have a week to go down and see friends and family (although we’ll have to tighten our belts this month as it was a week without pay).

In celebration of the birth of our littlest angel, I thought I’d feature movies about angelic tykes. What’s that you say? There aren’t any? Hrrrrm. I guess we’ll feature the opposite then.

The Exorcist

WATCH: The Exorcist (1973) – Rated R

“If this horror classic doesn’t terrify you, maybe you need a shrink. Movie actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) realizes an evil spirit may possess her daughter (Linda Blair). Against formidable odds, two priests (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) try to exorcise the demon. A superb meditation about the nature of evil, The Exorcist was created with adults in mind and isn’t appropriate for youngsters.”

“You’re going to die up there.”

William Peter Blatty wrote the screenplay from his own novel as well as producing. He won an Oscar for the screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Picture. The slow burn in the script and fairly logical progression while establishing the characters really works.

William Friedkin’s direction is superb. There is a wonderful tracking shot as Father Karras and Lt. Kinderman have their first discussion. A shot of the Pazuzu statue and Father Merrin is gorgeously framed. The first death is never even shown (something unheard of today) but is merely mentioned and slowly developed through dialogue.

Performances are all great here. Linda Blair’s breakthrough role as Regan is a tour de force. She goes from a sweet young child to a quite profane demon without missing a beat. Max von Sydow is marvelous as the wise Father Merrin as is Jason Miller as the tortured Father Karras. Ellen Burstyn (as the suffering mother), Jason Miller, and Linda Blair were all nominated for Academy Awards for their performances.

The Exorcist develops fairly slowly but is well worth the time investment. Much of what was shocking at the time has become trite now although it does still break some serious taboos. It’s the feeling that the characters are real people and the gradual ratcheting up of tension that make this an absolute classic.

People Watch: Author William Peter Blatty has a cameo as a producer.