Archives for July 2008 | Varied Celluloid - Page 2

Archive for July, 2008

Deadbeat At Dawn

Posted by On July - 30 - 2008
Reviewed By: Rat Faced Killa

Plot Outline: Goose is the leader of the Ravens, a street gang in Daton, Ohio. As a result of his girlfriend’s pleas, he decides to quit the gang. Taking advantage of the loss of protection Goose had from his gang, a rival gang, The Spiders, decide to kill him. Unfortunately, they break into his house while he is doing one last drug deal and kill his girlfriend instead. After giving her a decent burial in a trash compactor, Goose goes on a drug binge before re-joining the Ravens for an armored car heist assisted by the Spiders. When the Spiders double-cross the Ravens, Goose has to engage the rival gang alone in a bloody fight to the death


The Review
The first thing that should be mentioned is that this film is cheap. I don’t mean Reservoir Dogs cheap, I mean El Mariachi cheap. Even cheaper. In fact, I’d be surprised if the film cost more than I paid for the DVD. This is primarily where its problems lie. Deadbeat at Dawn makes a poor initial impression. One negative factor is the short psychedelic kaleidoscope sequence which begins the film and is (unfortunately) repeated several times throughout as a transition between scenes. In the opening scenes when Goose’s girlfriend is attacked by a member of The Spiders, we are presented with a less-than-believable police officer. Apparently the film-makers couldn’t locate a uniform because this officer’s attire consists of a windbreaker, jeans, and a hat. Enter the two gangs the movie is centered on, who look like rejects from Walter Hill’s The Warriors, at a cemetery, which must be a cool place for gangs to fight in Daton. What follows is a brawl between the two gangs, which could have been entertaining had the fight scenes in this film been choreographed better. Instead, we watch a bunch of people pull their punches and kicks poorly, noticeably missing in most of the shots. This is quite unfortunate, since the film has to depend on these sequences. Had the script been more than a standard revenge fare this may have been acceptable.

The acting in this film is strictly amateur night. It’s as if director Jim Van Bebber grabbed these people from the street and asked them if they wanted a part in a movie. Bebber himself, who plays Goose, does a decent job and seems natural in the low-life surroundings, but his lines usually come off as forced.This situation is made worse by his screenplay, which is accented with moronic lines like “Come on out, snakes” (said by the murderer of Goose’s girlfriend, referring to her intestines). There are also several logic problems with the film. One example would be why Goose and his girlfriend have a padlock on the outside of their apartment door. And why don’t the Spiders take advantage of certain situations and shoot Goose, such as near the end of the film when he is unarmed? These contrivances don’t really help the credibility of the film. Other problems associated with the films lack of budget include people looking directly into the camera in public scenes and the absence of a competent cinematographer. In many of the scenes, shadows, garish colored lights, and bright light fall across the onscreen characters haphazardly. This really interferes with the movie and doesn’t help with suspension of disbelief at all, making the viewer self aware of the lighting and cheapening the overall look of the film. I imagine most of the problems I had with this film would be non-existent if the film had a higher budget, but Bebber does the best he can with what is available.

The Conclusion
Even considering all the negative aspects of that I’ve mentioned, Deadbeat at Dawn still manages be a watchable film with several positive attributes. Although the first half of the film is pretty boring, the second half moves at a rapid pace until the conclusion, which is an insanely bloody battle between Goose and The Spiders. The film also manages to deliver some realistic looking makeup effects, a majority of those showcased in final scene. Bebber also adds some humor to the script, such as Goose’s crazy junkie dad (not sure if that was intentional). Other moments of hilarity include a scene where a vagrant asks Goose what he’s going to do with his brandished gun. Goose replies that he is going to kill himself the vagrant retorts, “Alright, yeah, cool”. It’s also quite funny and ridiculous when Bebber tries to rob a gas station and a geek bystander grabs his grandmothers’s gun and starts shooting while the grandmother yells, “Shoot him in the head!”. Some of the stunt work is impressive as well, including a sequence where Goose descends down a parking garage with only a rope or gets hit by a car. It’s a wonder that Bebber was still alive when this movie was completed. Even though they are poorly choreographed, Bebber puts his energy into every one of the fights. This is especially the case for the finale, which is the best segment in this movie. The climatic fight combines kung-fu, outrageous violence and brutal gore. Goose gets beat up, his fingers bitten off, scraped against a brick wall, and stabbed multiple times. Deadbeat at Dawn wasn’t the great no-budget flick I expected it to be, but it should be of interest to fans of the obscure or no-budget. It’s a deeply flawed but energetic action/gang film that is worth tracking down. That is if you can find it, because the DVD is now out of print.


Dead Calm

Posted by On July - 30 - 2008
Review Originally Written by Belle Alabaster

Plot Outline: After their young son is killed in a tragic car accident Sailor John Ingram (Sam Neill) and his wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) go on a cruise together in their yacht, the Saracen, in an attempt to deal with their grief. One day, adrift in the middle of the dead calm sea, their isolation is interrupted when they spot a schooner in the distance and a distressed man, Hughie (Billy Zane), rowing furiously away from it on a dingy. He tells them he’s abandoning his sinking ship after everyone else on board died of food poisoning ten days earlier. The husband, suspicious of the young man’s story, decides to investigae. He takes Hughie’s dingy and rows out to the sinking vessel, leaving his wife alone with the clearly unstable young man. Hughie, figuring out that his cover is blown, wrestles control of the Saracen out of Rae’s hands, kidnapping her and leaving John stranded on the sinking ship with a whole bunch of rotting corpses. Stupidity ensues.


The Review
The most annoying thing about this Dead Calm is that it had the potential to be a really great movie. Everything was there to build a taunt psychological thriller: a great set up, complex characters, one of the most isolated settings you could find, good actors and director. But, somehow, ten minutes in everything turns to mush. I have a feeling the producers started to fuck around with the storyline, hoping to cash in on the psycho stranger movies that were popular at the time, and saying to themselves “hey guys, don’t worry if the story makes no sense, as long as we show tits and have an explosion at the end people will be queing up to see it!”. Dead Calm is certainly a product of it’s time. It presumes we’re stupid and that we have to have everything explained to us or we won’t understand what is going on. The atmosphere, which could have been creepy, has all the suspense stripped away by the blatant obviousness of the script. We’re not not allowed to decide for ourselves just how mentally unstable Hughie is, we’re continuously beat over the head with “look! he’s crazy! look how crazy he’s acting now! what a nut!”. We’re not allowed to imagine the horrific nature of Hughie’s crimes by seeing quick glimpses or shadows of his victims. Instead they show a naked female corpse floating by in full graphic detail. It takes away the mystery and lessens the impact of the movie.

My main problem with the movie is that all the events occur because of stupid choices the characters make. A mentally unstable man comes on board his boat and the first thing the experienced sailor does is to leave him alone with his wife while he rows out to the sinking vessel. It never occurs to him to radio for help or to just move his own boat closer to the sinking one so it will be easier to get on board. He tells his wife to load their gun and keep it with her, which, of course, she doesn’t do because she’s an idiot. Rae has quite a few chances to push Hughie overboard, but she never does. She drugs Hughie and then, instead of staying out of his way until the drugs kick in, she goes back into the room and almost gets strangled by him. She actually holds the gun to his throat but doesn’t shoot him. The stupidity just goes on and on.

The Conclusion
Okay, let’s get to the good points of the movie. Suprisingly, it does have some. The acting is good, especially considering what the actors had to work with. This was Nicole Kidman’s first major US movie and I think that her work in this shows that she would still be recognised as a great actress today even if she hadn’t become Mrs Tom Cruise a little over a year later. Billy Zane looks hot (he has magnificent bone structure) and enjoys playing the part of the crazy guy. The direction is good and what little suspense the movie does manage to capture is because of this. The location is absolutely beautiful. But good acting and pretty scenery doesn’t make up for a preposterous script. The only thing scary about Dead Calm is the fact that it was made fourteen years ago and Nicole Kidman doesn’t appear to have aged since then.


Cut Throats Nine

Posted by On July - 30 - 2008

Plot Outline: Seven convicts (that’s right, there are only nine if you count the soldier and his daughter) in a chain gang are being transferred from one labor camp to another, but on the way they run into trouble when a gang who is expecting a shipment of gold halts their wagon. The gang ends up killing some of the officers and scaring the horses, sending the wagon fleeing into the wilderness. A sargeant inside the wagon with his daughter soon jump off and leave the wagon to careen over and dump the prisoners. Being the seemingly honorable man he is, the sergeant takes the convicts and begins the journey to their destination once again. Will he be able to deal with the wily and murderous criminals? You’ll have to find out yourself.


The Review: Talk about a surprise! When I sat down to Cut Throats Nine, I can’t say I knew what all to expect. The first thing you’ll ever hear about the film is that it’s the goriest western ever made, and although I find this claim to be dubious to say the least,
there’s no denying Nine is easily one of the greatest non-Leone spaghetti westerns ever made. That
is, if you can even call it a spaghetti western. The director is from Spain, and the imdb page
says it was originally in Spanish, but who knows. I recognize at least a couple of spaghetti western
regulars, so I would guess that the cast was a fairly Italian group. Regardless of the nationality,
for a Euro western in general, this is just an amazing piece of cinema. It takes aesthetics from so
many different subgenres and adds a storyline that veers so much and so often, that unpredictable
doesn’t even begin to describe how tricky the film is. To go into what exactly makes the film so
morally unpredictable would be a spoiler, just trust me when I say it leads about as far away from
formula as you can expect. There’s also amazing direction, bizarre but impressive editing and a cast of
some of the most vile criminals you’ll see. It makes me wonder why this film isn’t more popular. I
don’t expect it to reach the popularity of The Good The Bad and The Ugly, but c’mon, this is classic!

Violence, Violence, Violence, Gore, Gore, Gore. It’s all I pretty much heard about before watching, and
obviously it was the major selling point of the whole film for me. Normally if I would have sat through
a film that had been hyped to have so much violence I would have just scoffed and walked away angrily (as I did with Irreversible, disturbing my foot!), but with Cut Throats Nine it was the violence that got me in the seat, but it was everything else that kept me there. About the violence, don’t get me wrong, there is quite a bit of gore in the film. The violence would be more akin to Nightmare City than it would be The Wild Bunch. There are some intestines here and there, a few exploding gunshots to the head and such. Nothing that would warrant a reputaion as something ‘extreme’ in my eyes, but
regardles of gore or not, any spaghetti western fan should see this film. When I first read about the
film, I was expecting to have something along the lines of ‘chain gang goes on killing spree, get in
big shoot out and die’. That’s what you get when you don’t read carefully. The first half of Cut
Throats Nine actually seems more like a pioneer film than a western. A “Man in the Wilderness” kind of
vibe. Our characters are pushed to their breaking points out in the freezing cold, while the sherrif
pushes them on. The strange thing about the film is, even though the men slowly but surely die, the
audience never cares. The only character we’re shown any sympathy to is the sherrif’s daughter. The
sherrif himself seems alright at first, but then his alterior motives are presented and he becomes more
human and less heroic. The rest of the convicts, save one, are all scum. This is what they call ‘drama’
for those of you at home. One man and his daughter travelling across snowy mountains, can you guess what happens? Likely not with Cut Throats Nine.

The film really is unpredictable. There are no heroes in the film. The lead characters who do seem at
least honest are given about as much character development as the cruel and vicious convicts are. That, and the twisty (even though it feels like the writers didn’t want it to seem so) script make the film almost impossible to read while watching. It slips into formulaic territory here and there, but
what film doesn’t. Every film has it’s downfalls and I suppose Cut Throats Nine, for me, would be the
lack of a good score. The one that is presented is just bland, and I’ve heard it gets on many viewers
nerves. I just thought it was tacky and didn’t compliment the film at all. That’s really the only thing
about the film that I didn’t care for. Everything else is either impressive or just okay. The acting,
that was okay. It’s an Italian/Spanish western from the 70s dubbed into english, I try not expect
miracles. The directing, now that was impressive. Using some of the most bizarre techniques I’ve seen
in a while, I just couldn’t help but love what Marchant was going for here. There are moments where the film will just stop on a character’s face, leaving it there for moments and then cutting to a
flashback that gives a little color to the characters. It happens about four or so times in the film,
each time catching me off guard. The flashbacks tend to actually just seem like strange images, or just hints at bigger things. For a pulp western, it seemed as if Marchent wanted to throw as much depth into the picture as he could. There are even quite a few surreal moments, I wish I could go on about them but it would just be spoiler territory. Let me just say, even if you hated the film, I would hope that you at least appreciate the fine direction.

The film may be mean spirited, it may even seem hateful but as far as Euro westerns go, this ranks in
as one of the finest. Don’t get fooled into it because of the violence, go into it because you love the
genre and you’ll likely have a good go at it. I rate it a four and you may wonder why, I can’t quite
explain. It came close to getting a five, thus getting the Stubbing Award™, but it just didn’t
feel like a five. It’s definitely a four, but there’s no shame in that. See this film!


Basket Case II

Posted by JoshSamford On July - 30 - 2008
The Plot: Duane and Belial are back in this sequel, taking place immediately after the first film with the two brothers being rushed to the hospital and becoming an overnight news sensation. The whole country goes nuts over the story of the two conjoined twins who were seperated and then decided to get revenge on the doctors who performed the surgery. Duane and Belial, once they have their senses about them both rush out of the hospital as quick as possible, and are promptly rescued by Granny Ruth and her assistant Susan. Turns out this Granny Ruth woman runs a home for the supposed “freaks” of nature, and there she has created almost a cult like following amongst those she has helped. Once there, Belial finds the home he has always wanted, with others like him and with Granny Ruth taking time out to listen to his inaudible grunts. Duane on the other hand feels left out and desperately wants to get out into the world and experience his own life for a change. Things are soon complicated though when a nosey reporter puts a series of incidents together and traces Duane to the Ruth home – now Duane must step up to the plate and save the “freaks” and save himself as well.

The Review: Frank Henenlotter is a director who has certainly done it his own way, there’s no denying that. When I first saw the original Basket Case, I knew I liked it but wasn’t even sure I knew why. When I saw Brain Damage though, I knew Basket Case was no fluke and that Henenlotter was a force. It is unfortunate that he took such a long break away from filmmaking between the third Basket Case film and his most recent feature Bad Biology; but better late than never and I welcome Mr. Henenlotter back to the fold with this review for another classic of his. Basket Case II may not have that same “shoestring budget, punk rock, shoot anywhere do anything” feel to it that the first film had; but it’s apparent that Henenlotter had no intentions of making a film he couldn’t be proud of with the step up in budget. Everything is back in this sequel, the gore, the goofy over the top actors and all the fun camp but most of all it still has the heart that the original had. There’s a love for cinema in these films that I genuinely enjoy, more than in a Troma production where all the over the top goofy dialogue sometimes comes off as phony to me as it seems like everyone has been trying to top The Toxic Avenger since its original release and so far no one has. The Basket Case films feature a similar style to what Troma does, but in a far more conservative manner and dare I say much more tolerable form. The actual acting in this sequel has been stepped up no doubt due to the budget and ability to cast more experienced actors – but there’s still that hint of camp that keeps the film from being a bore when no one is being killed and no strange happenings are going on… which would be like, three minutes of the film?

Placing the character of Duane as the “freak” of the house was a nice decision and an inventive way to keep the series fresh. Henenlotter could have just kept Duane wandering around mad at his psychotic brother forever, but putting Duane at odds with his environment while Belial slowly begins to normalize within the settings creates a completely different atmosphere and actually creates a lot of growth for the Duane character. Duane can be a bit whiney at times, but he’s still as lovable as he was in the first film. The violence level in the film was taken down a bit from the first however, so fans of the grue might be a bit dissapointed to find a lack of plentiful death scenes – but what is here is at least quality. There’s a lot of emphasis on faces, and their being ripped off. What’s not to like about that? As far as visual effects go, the real showstopper would be the creature effects of all the various “freaks” who share their home with Granny Ruth. There are a few times where the effects are pretty obvious, like when looking into the mouth of a character who’s face is about four foot wide and it’s obvious that the interior of the mouth is simply a black cloth rather than a shadow being cast. Takes you out of the scene for a moment, but what can you do? Other than that, the visuals usually range from stunning to simply cool. Some might be disappointed by the direction of the film, being that it takes a slightly more comedic/entertaining approach this time around but after that first film you could either keep beating the same dead horse or approach the material with something new and I’ll congratulate Henenlotter for taking the refreshing approach he did.

I mentioned earlier that the character of Duane goes through a series of motions throughout this film, and I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement. I personally enjoyed his metamorphosis throughout the film. From loving his brother, to hating him, to understanding their cause… he’s all over the place but thanks to Kevin Van Hentenryck and his tackling of the character he keeps it under control. His naive and laidback attitude throughout the film keeps the change steady and subtle. Subtle in a Basket Case film, if you can believe it. So, if you’re a fan of the first and you’re curious about the sequels – whether you like it or not, Basket Case is as much a classic piece of Henenlotter’s work as the original and I think most fans will respect that. Definitely check it out and hopefully you enjoy it as much as I did!

Straight Time

Posted by On July - 25 - 2008
Plot Outline: Max Dembo a recently paroled ex-burglar is set free into society. He has no intentions of getting back into his old life style and tries his best to fly straight, even getting a job and a girlfriend. Although he still has no intentions of going back to the life he visits one of his old friends, Willy Darin, who has a family of his own. Willy and Max begin to spark up their relationship again, Max even finds out Willy is a heroine addict after he shoots up in his room. Well, after Willy shoots up Max’s parole officer checks in on him. When he finds a match on the floor, he deducts that Max is the one on heroin. He throws Max in jail for literally nothing, and after a few days Max is found to be clean and let loose. Max then beats his parole officer down and heads back to the life, looking for that one last big score.


The Review: There was once a land called “the seventies”, of course I wasn’t even born when this land was in swing so I can’t comment much on it that can’t be found in the history books, but I’ll say this, the land of the seventies brought us some phenomenal cinema. I doubt things were any less complicated during this time, but at least America was making valuable cinema. Some might say the sixties were a better time, but I’ve never been much for all that counter culture hippie bull, and the seventies was part of what helped kill all that garbage. Making way for the capitalism of the eighties, where the hippies proved once and for all that they stood for nothing anyway. Still, there once was the seventies. A time when America was still trying to find it’s footing after Vietnam, and a time that makes someone from my generation ask “Why was something like this ever made? Did people actually truly care about the artistry of film back in those days?”. Today it seems like a film is either about money or getting that gold statue. Just look at the star of this film’s career, the nineties killed Dustin Hoffman. The eighties beamed him with baseball bats, but the nineties put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Spraying his collective talent all over the wall behind him. I’m not disrespecting the man, he’s put out a few worthy films during the nineties, but when was the last time he made a risky film? Matter of fact, when was the last time the Hollywood machine cranked out anything risky? These days if anything like that even qualifies, it’s immediately a cult classic or just ignored. If you look back though, risky films seemed to just come along more often.

Once more, look at Hoffman’s career. After making Midnight Cowboy at the end of the sixties he rebounded with Straw Dogs. Little Big Man came first, but I’ve never seen that. Anyway, After Straw Dogs came Pappilion, Lenny, All the President’s Men, and Marathon Man. I’ve yet to see Lenny, but the other films, we’re talking all classics. Now take a look at Hoffman’s career now, it’s the same with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, they’re all skating on what they used to be. Hoffman had Moonlight Mile came out a year or so ago, but I can’t even make myself actually rent it. It just seems like one of those flicks that are coming out every so often that seem to be begging the academy to notice them. I mean, how many more dysfunctional family films do we need? No offense, I’ve never seen the film, but I just get tired of seeing films like it here lately. Life as a House, Moonlight Mile, In the Bedroom or whatever give them their oscars and let’s move on. I hate to slam these flicks I’ve never seen (and probably won’t) but c’mon, anyone notice some similarities? Forget it, the whole point I’m trying to make is this: in a time where it seems everything is nothing but fake repetitive garbage, it’s almost shocking to look back on a film from twenty years ago that has more to say than anything we’ve been able to produce in a very long time. That’s what makes it so shocking when something like Narc comes along. Sure, it may not be the most original thing in the world, but my god is it alive.

The thing that got me so interested in seeing Straight Time is probably what’s drawn many to see it. Eddie Bunker. I’ve never read the book this film is based upon nor have I ever read another book by Eddie Bunker, so I can’t comment on how truthful the film is to it’s original source, but if that could ruin the film for me I’ll never ever read the book. The film just stands too well on it’s own, and anything that could stop me from loving this film isn’t worth the time. No offense to Bunker, he’s the man no doubt, but I just love this film too much. To think I wasn’t really expecting too much from it either. The 6.8 on the imdb should have said more to me than it did, but it didn’t and I was almost expecting mediocrity. I mean, how can anyone expect a sleeper film from the 70’s that has no real fame be that great? I don’t know, but it is. Straight Time is one of the most undervalued and unappreciated films I think I’ve ever seen. During the first thirty minutes or so of the film I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen, man wants out of the game but is dragged back in, Carlito’s Way style. Well, that’s essentially what happens but the big difference is Max Dembo isn’t an unwilling pawn in a game bigger than himself. He goes back to his old lifestyle totally willing and ready. He just comes to the point where he realizes he doesn’t want to live the way he is, and that it isn’t worth it. He’d rather risk his life for everything, than live his life with nothing. Dustin Hoffman, better here than I think he’s ever been, brings so much depth to a character that probably doesn’t even deserve it. Not even mentioning the supporting cast. Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, M. Emmet Walsh and even Kathy Bates in her first credited appearance with the name “Kathy Bates”. Of all the supporting cast talent, not surprisingly Harry Dean Stanton stands out the most. From Dillinger to Repo Man, he’s just impossible not to like. One of my personal favorite character actors in the biz. Gary Busey also puts in a great and subtle performance believe it or not, as the junky of the group, one can’t help but feel some pity for him. Last but not least, Theresa Russell. Not only is she a beautiful girl, but she’s also a tremendous actress. She’s basically caught in the center of all this mess, and Max Dembo knows it. She’s kind of a pitiful character, but she’s also fairly aware of what she’s getting into. She kind of lives in a lighter world than Max Dembo, since she doesn’t see it all, it doesn’t exist.

What I really loved and found so genuine about Straight Time was how real it all felt. It’s not the romanticized version of the ‘gangster’ we usually have in our minds, these are men, and mortal men at that, who commit terrible acts but aren’t without a conscious. Although the film is set in California, the supporting cast and even Hoffman actually give the film a sort of Southern feel. Maybe it’s just cause I’m from Louisiana, but with the accents and even the way they talk and act, it almost felt like I was sitting in someone’s living room. I’ve met people who act just like Max Dembo, Willy Darin and Jerry Schlue. The scene in Willy Darin’s house (with Kathy Bates) is a prime example, people sitting around drinking beer and just talking about nothing, there’s something real and subtle about that scene. This isn’t Reservoir Dogs, these people aren’t witty and they aren’t really all that intelligent, at least when it comes to something other than crime. It’s reality, sure some things don’t completely add up and there might be a plot gap or two, but it’s all easy to look over when you see the film as a whole. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the ending. Man, the ending! One of the most tense getaway scenes ever filmed and one of the most exhilarating action scenes known to man. There’s no huge car chase or explosions, there’s no helicopters or even large gun fights. It’s just men trying to run for their lives. I won’t go into spoilers, but if you watch the film watch it only for the spectacular ending. Since I’m an avid gamer the first things that popped in my mind were “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and “Driver”, the scene plays out like it could easily come from either game. Actually the scene is actually quite reminiscent of the bank heist mission on Vice City, but that’s neither here nor there.

Nothing much else to say, this is a forgotten masterpiece. Along with “The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3”, “The French Connection” and “Dog Day Afternoon” Straight Time stands out as one of the many great crime films released in the decade known as the seventies. It’s a film that anyone interested in crime films should see, and anyone who loves good cinema should see. A classic.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.