Posted by: on March 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Joseph Sargent, 1974)

If you aren’t aware of it, let me let you in on a little secret… Walter Matthau kicks ass.  Known more for the Neil Simon comedies he did with Jack Lemmon, Matthau should best be remembered for a trio of films he made in the early ’70s — Charley Varrick, The Laughing Policeman, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Matthau stars as Lt. Zachary Garber, a transit worker who gets stuck between a quartet of criminals who took a subway train hostage and the bureaucracy of City Hall.   With his hangdog expression, Matthau perfectly plays Garber as someone trying to do the right thing despite everyone around him.  Also along for the ride are a cadre of character actors including Kenneth McMillan, Jerry Stiller, Hector Elizondo, Martin Balsam, and Robert Shaw as the criminal mastermind behind the heist.  This is the film that gave Quentin Tarantino the idea to use colors instead of names for the robbers in Reservoir Dogs.

Remade once already as a TV movie with Edward James Olmos in the Garber role, a new remake is due out in June.  Trust me, the original is the way to go with this one. Stick It In Your Queue.

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Posted by: on March 9, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Prayer of the Rollerboys (Rick King, 1990)

There were several rollerblade flicks to grace screens in the late eighties and early nineties (Solarbabies, Rollerblade 7, Roller Blade Warriors), but only one had the vision to cast one of the Two Coreys. Corey Haim, stars as Griffin in Prayer of the Rollerboys, a low rent post-apocalyptic flick in which a band of trenchcoated teens terrorize society.  The Roller Boys are yuppie scum on skates and earn their bread by making and selling the designer drug “Mist.” Their goal: use their drug profits to buy back America from the foreign powers that bought out the U.S. after the “Great Crash” of the economy.  If you live in Detroit, sharpen your skates because the “Day of the Rope” may soon be upon us.

Despite Griffin and Roller Boy leader Gary Lee (Christopher Collet) growing up together, Griffin steers clear of the Roller Boys until his little brother Milton (Devin Clark) gets mixed up in some bad business.  Griffin has to go undercover to save his brother and help out policewoman hottie Casey (Patricia Arquette).  A goofus getting in good with a band of twisted criminals while bedding a short-haired chick?  If this sounds like an early draft of Point Break, that’s probably because writer W. Peter Iliff went on to pen the Keanu Reeves cult classic.

At times reminiscent of Peter George’s Surf Nazis Must Die (especially with Gary Lee’s “final solution”), Prayer of the Rollerboys is a classic case of bad film pouncing on a trend.  A must see for Corey Haim’s extensive headband and do-rag collection.  “Day of the rope… Day of the rope… Day of the rope…”

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Posted by: on March 9, 2009 at 9:00 am

The groundbreaking comic series Watchmen redefined what was possible with the comic medium. Written by Alan Moore and drawn by David Gibbons, Watchmen is set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes have been outlawed. The story takes place in 1986. Richard Nixon is still in office and riding high off of the victory in Vietnam thanks to two “heroes” employed by the U.S. government, mad mercenary The Comedian and molecular master Dr. Manhattan. The narrative of Watchmen is a murder mystery. When The Comedian is killed, fellow vigilante Rorschach makes it his business to find the culprit. Based on Steve Ditko’s character, Question, Rorschach is so obsessive about justice that he makes Batman look wishy-washy on crime. The story follows Rorschach on his quest, introducing the reader to Watchmen who hung up their tights when vigilantism was outlawed. Described by many (including Moore) as “unfilmable,” it was only a matter of time before the underground comic made its way to the multiplex. Hollywood loves the quixotic notion of making movies out of impossible properties that have the potential for a massive box office.

Sam Hamm (1989)
The transformation from printed page to silver screen hasn’t been easy. For years, the project languished in the hands of 20th Century Fox. The studio gave Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm the thankless task of adapting Moore’s epic in the late ‘80s. The basic structure of Watchmen remains in place in Hamm’s draft insofar that the characters are the same, though far fewer in number and with less complicated relationships. Hamm’s bizarre decisions on which complex areas to eliminate and which to keep molds the story into an odd shape. This pushes the setting from one that was rooted fairly close to reality into a clunky science fiction realm, evidenced most at the film’s finale.

Subsequent drafts of Watchmen screenplay by David Hayter (X-Men) and Alex Tse (Sucker Free City) also splintered at their conclusion, but none so spectacularly as Hamm’s. In Moore’s graphic novel, Silk Spectre struggles to convince Dr. Manhattan to come out of a self-imposed exile on Mars to save the Earth from imminent destruction. It’s ultimately the miracle of humanity and its struggle against insurmountable odds that convinces the deific Manhattan to return for a literal deus ex machina finale. Hamm changed this scene’s conclusion, removing the redemption of humanity.

It gets worse. Seeing Manhattan’s existence as the cause of more problems than the solution, mastermind Ozymandias opens a hole in time to assassinate Manhattan before the accident that made him omnipotent. This essentially takes the former Outer Limits “Architects of Fear” ending into something closer to the Twilight Zone episode “No Time like the Past”. By shooting Manhattan, Ozymandias unravels a timeline and deposits Rorschach, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl in a world where they never existed but where Watchmen is just a comic book. This ridiculous twist leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. Hamm’s draft was rewritten by Charles McKeown when Terry Gilliam agreed to direct the project. Ironically, McKeown did an uncredited rewrite of Hamm’s work on Batman.

David Hayter (2003)
David Hayter took over the reins of writing a Watchmen adaptation in 2001. He stuck closer to the original source material, making his additional flourishes stick out like sore thumbs. The strangest augmentation includes a “Memory Mirror” that Dr. Manhattan creates for “Slingshot,” the renamed and powered-up Silk Spectre. This mirror shows Slingshot scenes from her past, introducing flashbacks that never fit into the plot. Hayter also gives Slingshot the ability to shoot balls of energy from between her fingers, eliminating the pesky use of a handgun during the film’s climax.

Hayter’s attempt to tone down the finale has Ozymandias shooting a beam of concentrated solar energy into Manhattan Island, killing the population but somehow leaving everything else intact. This attack results in a city bereft of population but decorated with the kind of silhouettes of bodies that Rorschach sees on one of his patrols. Ozymandias’s plan also includes the dispersal of black boxes to every world leader (a clever nod to the comic) which Nite Owl later uses to send a worldwide message of peace and love via a quote from The Beatles. This gesture comes off as syrupy and regrettable.

Alex Tse (2006)
Eventually, Alex Tse was brought in to rewrite Hayter’s script. Tse’s draft sticks fairly close to Moore’s original story. He strays occasionally in scenes where the U.S. government uses Silk Spectre as a human tracking device to discover Dr. Manhattan on Mars. While Hayter moved the world of Watchmen out of its alternate history to something closer to our own timeline, Tse addresses 9/11 via dialogue about Dr. Manhattan saving the World Trade Center and by pitting him against a gang of terrorists whose stolen uranium he turns to sand. During the climax, Tse has Ozymandias beaming concentrated energy from Dr. Manhattan into “the hearts of nine key regions around the globe, crossing all traditional politics and ideologies,” leaving the same black silhouettes and thus eliminating the carnage and horror of such an event.

In all three drafts, the most startling departure from the Watchmen graphic novel is the death of Ozymandias. Apparently, the writers found it simply abhorrent that Ozymandias, after murdering millions, would be allowed to live. In Hamm’s draft, Dr. Manhattan vaporizes him. In the Hayter and Tse scripts, he’s eliminated by a razor sharp boomerang owl, allowing Nite Owl further redemption and virility. Like Rorschach, the writers knew that evil must be punished. The death of Ozymandias simplifies Moore’s original work from a multifaceted examination of fascism, storytelling, and hope into a derivative “good guy versus bad guy” shadow play. The subtleties of Watchmen are lost in all of the drafts, making the label “unfilmable” all the more appropriate.

What You Saw (Theatrical Release)
While there’s still a 204-minute (at least) director’s cut of Watchmen yet to make its appearance (perhaps with the death of the original Nite Owl), the theatrical version did well to correct a lot of the errors still found in the scripts. Ozymandias managed to survive, though he still seems more like a  corporate raider than an egocentric superbeing.  While the Twin Towers still stand, looming in the background of Ozymandias’s office and the cemetery, it’s not called out that Dr. Manhattan saved them. Having Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias recall three different aspects of The Comedian while attending his funeral were a great way of giving backstory in a satisfying way.  Also, the opening credits do a good job of providing the history of the main characters along with placing the world of the movie in the right alternate history (especially when Silhouette is at the center of the famous VE day photograph).

Some will go to their graves bemoaning the loss of the “squid” from the graphic novel but would that have really played in Podunk?  As it was, the least of three evils was chosen as Ozymandias’s masterstroke and most of the other changes in the adaption were laudable.  In all, the Watchmen film triumphed over the evil plans laid out by its screenwriters.


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Posted by: on March 5, 2009 at 3:37 pm

hecklerHeckler (Michael Addis, 2007)

Jamie Kennedy has an ax to grind. Once in danger of knocking Pauley Shore from his position as the most easily disparaged comedian, Kennedy comes out swinging in Michael Addis’s Heckler, a documentary that starts as a look at comedians and hecklers before quickly turning into a counter-attack on critics. The film features interviews with a bevy of comedians and feels a bit like a sequel to The Aristocrats during the heckler section. When the subject turns to critics, Kennedy comes to the fore as he interviews a few of the scribes who wrote the most scathing reviews of his work. The cajones of these critics, particularly Peter Grumbine, are jaw dropping. The only thing possibly more disconcerting is that Kennedy feels the need to defend some of his shitty films, like Son of the Mask. Kennedy isn’t particularly endearing or fabulously funny but Heckler works when he’s not whining about the unfair treatment Malibu’s Most Wanted got. Stick It In Your Queue.

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Posted by: on November 24, 2008 at 8:00 am

Bruce Campbell will stand out in the freezing cold after a screening to make sure everyone who wants to say hello or get a picture with him get their time. His fans love him and that adoration has been reciprocated by Bruce in his latest motion picture project, My Name is Bruce. Not to be confused with the 1982 film They Call Me Bruce? about an Asian fellow who keeps getting mistaken for Bruce Lee, My Name is Bruce is about a fellow who looks a lot like Bruce Campbell who’s asked to save the town of Gold Lick, Oregon from an evil Asian spirit.

Similar to the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle JCVD, My Name is Bruce has Campbell playing an alternative version of himself. Here the hard working Michigan native is a hard drinking slob who’s content to take any role offered to him as long as it pays the bills. The well has run dry and his inept agent (Ted Raimi in one of several roles) can’t line up any new gigs. Through a series of misunderstandings, and the handy use of a baseball bat, Bruce ends up on a Podunk town in what he thinks is just another B-movie role.

Bruce has been touring his sophomore directorial effort around the country. This past Friday, he made his way back to Michigan for a series of screenings at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak. He took time on the road (literally) for a quickie interview.

Mike White: What interview question are you getting sick of hearing?

Bruce Campbell: Mostly Evil Dead 4. It’s such old news. What do you do with it?

MW: It seems that you’d have to let the life go out of Spiderman before Sam Raimi would get back to that.

BC: It’s not even that. I’ve got a TV show I’m committed to.

MW: Which sounds like a hell of a gig. You’re shooting in Florida, right?

BC: Shoots in Miami!

MW: Very nice. Last time we spoke you talked about doing every touristy thing imaginable while working down on Congo.

BC: All on their dime.

MW: Do you get that question during your Q&As a lot as well?

BC: Of course I do. People can ask whatever they want. They’re paying customers.

MW: I imagine you’ve gotten a lot of questions about how similar the Bruce Campbell of My Name is Bruce is to the real Bruce Campbell.

BC: Well, you’d better hope he’s pretty damn different! This is always the danger of doing this sort of thing. Some idiot in the audience is going go, “Wow, I didn’t know he drank whiskey out of a dog bowl!” There are similarities all over the place, but only I know them and I will never reveal them. There’s a sequence in the movie where I’m talking with fans outside of a studio and every bit of dialogue is verbatim from real life.

MW: It had that feel, especially the guy in the wheelchair.

BC: I met the rudest man on the planet so what are you going to do? Kick the wheel chair under a bus? You can’t really do that but in the movie I can!

MW: How do you feel about Jean-Claude Van Damme ripping you off with this whole “meta movie” idea?

BC: I’m going to have to kick his ass.

MW: That, I’d like to see. Sounds like a sequel. Where can I find one of those Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way standees like I saw in the film?

BC: Limited edition only. Try Craigslist.

MW: How’d you get in with the guys from Dark Horse Comics?

BC: I’ve known Mike Richardson for years. They put out the Evil Dead comic. They’re good quality and I always favor the littler guy. They’re a smaller, cooler company. I live in Oregon now and Mike lives in Oregon and Mark Verheiden. who wrote the movie, is also from Oregon. We had our own little state bond going on there.

MW: Did Dark Horse also put out the Man with the Screaming Brain comic book?

BC: Yeah, they did. It really was what the movie wanted to be and we were able to do it in a comic. I’m not going to make fun of my own movie, though, there are plenty of other people who will do that for me.

MW: How’s the My Name is Bruce Tour going so far?

BC: Good. We’re about halfway through the tour now. I’m headed to Birmingham and in Monroe now. If it sounds weird for a second; I’m going through a car wash. Life must continue on the road.

MW: Who all is on this trip with you?

BC: I’m going with a buddy of mine.

MW: Are you going to be home in time for Thanksgiving?

BC: No, I’m doing that with family in Michigan. Some things you get screwed on but other things work out great.

And, with that, the car wash jets began and Bruce Campbell signed off.

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