Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Today You Die (2005)

There is a fine truck stop off the highway in Connecticut just before you enter Massachusetts where you can find everything you could ever want, as long as you only want bad action movies and Wolf T-shirts. This magical place is where I came across the DVD "Today You Die" starring the pony tailed prince of action films, Steven Seagal and his newest hip-hop pal Treach of Naughty By Nature. (Seagal has also starred alongside DMX, Ja Rule and Nas.) I had my choice of many Seagal straight to video releases, but what attracted me to this particular film was the tag line "What Seagal Does in Vegas, Nearly Destroys It". Sounds promising, right?

Seagal plays Harlan Banks, who after giving up his life as a cat burglar who robs from scumbags and gives to the helpless, decides to go straight and get himself a real job.  He and his girlfriend Jada go to Las Vegas where Harlan is hired by the over-the-top Max to drive an armored car. Max is played by Kevin Tighe and better known as John Locke's dad on "Lost" (I'm pretty sure he's playing John Locke's dad in this too).  During a routine money pick up, Harlan's partner Bruno shoots some armed guards and then holds a gun to Harlan's head, forcing him to drive through the streets of Vegas while being chased by the police. Three cops are killed in the process. He's able to knock Bruno out with some bad driving, but injures himself in the process and has just enough time to stash the money ($20 million) before he is caught by the police. Even though they never show him taking the money and he is caught almost immediately.

This gets him sent straight to prison, no trial needed. While there, he makes friends with fellow convict, Ice Kool (Anthony 'Treach' Criss) by informing Ice that someone is out to shank him. (shanks are easy to come by in this place as we see at least three of them within ten minutes). Having gained Ice's trust, Harlan agrees to cut him in on a piece of the $20 million. Now all they need to do is get out of jail.

Well, the getting out of jail part is easy. Apparently all you need to do is take footage from the Wesley Snipes movie "Undisputed". Understanding what's going on in the rest of the movie? That's where it gets hard. There are a lot of characters here, most of them could go, including Harlan's girlfriend. The movie actually starts with her having Tarrot cards read and about five poorly timed freeze frames of the cards, usually when a hand is covering most of them. From then on, she has dreams of Harlan dying and a bunch of other crap that is completely meaningless and never comes into play. The relationship between the two is more like a brother and sister. A brother and a sister who have never met each other.

Don't look at me.

However, the relationship between Harlan and his new pal Ice is remarkable. After just one day in prison, Harlan is speaking jive and has not only Ice's trust, but his complete respect. They even kind of look alike...
You know, I almost bought the brown one

The "plot" with Max is never made clear. In fact, for some reason everyone thinks that Max is dead, but the viewer is never lead to believe that. This storyline comes to a conclusion that is maybe the least climactic part of the whole movie. I think that Jada discovering a Mandala on the floor when she wakes up is more exciting than that whole part of the movie. Someone either came into her room and painted that Mandala, or that girl is so psychic that she just makes things happen. Either way, it means NOTHING!

There is another sub plot with DEA agents. This just adds more names and faces to an already overcrowded cast. Agent Rachel Knowles is on Harlan's side and wants to help him find the money. Her shady boss, Agent Saunders (played by Nick Mancuso), may not be. Throw everyone in a warehouse and add in an Asian gang and see what happens.

There is a great deal of stock footage used throughout the movie and plenty of repeated shots. They use the same two close-ups of Seagal about twenty times during all the fight scenes. I don't know where these shots came from, but they are not from this movie. He's not even wearing the right clothes or in the right atmosphere. All stunts are performed by other people, including the very dangerous "walking past a fence at night" stunt. This may be because Seagal is very overweight and they do a poor job of trying to hide his stomach by placing things in front of him, putting him in giant coats, and rarely using  full body shots.

One of the nicer touches to this film is Harlan's devotion to people in need. In the beginning of the film while driving into Vegas, he passes a Children's hospital that is...going out of business? We see a sick little girl in a wheelchair being pushed by a Nun. He never stops at this hospital, but somehow makes a psychic connection with the girl because he comes back at the end of the film just to give her a hug. That's two psychic connections with little girls in two separate movies (see Mark's review for "Out of Reach")

Half off our already low prices!

All that said, is it a good move? Definitely not, but it is somewhat entertaining and I'll probably watch it a few more times in this lifetime. 

Body Count : 29
Freeze Frames: at least 10

Today you live

-By Ben Stumpf

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Silent Rage (1982) - by Mark Oswald


Here’s something you don’t see every day: a low budget slasher-movie mixed with an even lower budget Chuck Norris action vehicle.

When a clandestine psychopath (wearing a fully-buttoned collared shirt so you know he’s crazy) finally wigs out and kills two people in their suburban home in Texas, local Sherriff, Dan Stevens is called to the scene to deal with the perpetrator. After some of the most poorly choreographed fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a film…of any kind, the killer ends up being shot multiple times by Dan’s fellow officers. It’s then that he’s taken to the local hospital that coincidentally doubles for a research facility…and placed under the care of three doctors. One is Dr. Tom Halman, a level-headed guy played by Timecop villain Ron Silver, who seems to have everyone’s best interests at heart when he makes the decision to let the killer die of his wounds, rather than be subjected to an experimental formula devised by his creepy associates. One that, according to them, could possibly save the man’s life, though the side effects would be completely unpredictable. If the good doctor’s orders had been properly followed we probably wouldn’t be talking about this film right now, so it’s pretty obvious that once Halman leaves the room, the remaining doctors, Spires and Vaughn, decide to administer the formula anyway. 

What happens next is just really a shock to everyone (unless they read the film’s description on the DVD case or online somewhere). The killer, awkwardly played by Brian Libby, gains a Wolverine-like or The Crow-like ability to heal himself after being injured. I have to say that the practical effect they use to show the healing process is one of the more admirable things about the film. So I will give the filmmakers points for that one. What I will NOT give them points for are the ridiculously obvious ways they rip-off John Carpenter’s Halloween. From the P.O.V. shot walking into the house, grabbing a knife, etc. at the beginning to placing bodies around the house to surprise his next supposed victim. They’re all here once again for you to enjoy, only in a far inferior movie.

So what do you think?

One thing that surprised me though, was the relationship between Chuck and his girl. They start the film bickering, due to their previous failed relationship, but when things get going again between them, they really seem to be into each other, like convincingly. They have a surprisingly good chemistry, which I normally wouldn’t expect between Chuck and anyone outside of his pet Armadillo from Invasion U.S.A. The two of them even spend a whole day just having sex and nibbling off this fruit & cheese plate that always seems to be nearby. I do have to mention that Chuck’s character, Dan Stevens, has a big “Texas-sized” belt buckle sporting a huge “S” in the center. As corny as this is, I also found it to be a nice little personal touch to help any Norris fans to distinguish Stevens from Walker, Texas Ranger. Because aside from the belt buckle, his outfit is damn near identical. Oh, and I guess since he has a full beard in Walker and only a mustache in this one, that they are totally different characters. Another excellent personal touch!

So what do YOU think?

There is a great bar fight in the middle of the film where Chuck’s partner/comic relief, played by Steven Furst, leaves him to “call for backup.” Even though any self-respecting Norris fan knows that he needs no help in defeating an entire bar full of unruly bikers. The fighting here is slightly better choreographed than that abominatiuon in the first scene. Or maybe there’s just more going on to distract your eyes. This scene is a lot of fun and I really wished the movie had featured more like it (Chuck kicks a guy in the face roughly seven times before the dude hits the floor). If there had been, it probably would have been more entertaining all around. You see, there are several “stalking” scenes where the Michael Myers-esque Libby slowly follows his victims around in the dark. I don’t understand why sometimes he is moving at a literal snail’s pace, and then all of a sudden he’ll burst into action and go after people like his life depended on it. Needless to say, the majority of these scenes aren’t all that exciting since there really isnt’t any tension, probably because of Libby’s general goofiness.

Also, I just have to mention the part where Libby gets dragged by a car through grassy terrain. It’s clearly somebody really getting dragged here, which always these types of stunts more exciting to watch. Finally, I’m not really giving anything away, but the final battle between Chuck and Libby could almost rival They Live in its awkwardness and extreme length. Then again, I did say “almost.” Another plus is Ron Silver. He’s a good actor and I’m surprised he hasn’t had more high-profile work. He sort of gives the film some legitimacy here and there. Also, he’s looking kind of like Al Pacino in Serpico in this one, which is obviously a plus. And come to think of it, I’ll be damned if he hasn’t aged in the time between this film (1982) and Timecop (1994). Good genes, I guess.

Local Roadkill BBQ was a bad choice...

Well I think overall this movie is definitely worth a look, if only for its own oddities. “Michael Myers” vs. Chuck Norris? Sign me up.

Body Count – 10

Number of times Halloween is ripped off – 7 (at least)

This came up in the "Silent Rage" Google search...?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Out of Reach (2004) - by Mark Oswald

In Out of Reach, Steven Seagal plays Ex-CSA, and apparently psychic animal rescuer, William Lansing (more on that psychic part later). For what must be some time, he has been corresponding back and forth with a European orphan girl named Irena Morawska. He sends her Indian friendship bracelets and puzzles and tells her of his days wandering through the woods in leather trench coats, looking for injured wildlife. She tells him all about living in an orphanage. They are Pen Pals…and very close ones at that.

Alright, I have to preface something here before I go on. I truly am a Seagal fan and have enjoyed his older films since I was a kid, but I’ve never had any interest in checking out his later films beyond Fire Down Below (1997). What changed this was the authoring of a little book entitled, “Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal” by Aint it Cool News contributor and self-styled “Outlaw Film Critic”, Vern. There was just something very appealing about a person dedicating a lengthy amount of time to the works of the often-mocked Steven Seagal. I do understand the criticism of Seagal’s films and I have often been a part of it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what the guy has to offer. I even think that in his earlier films, his acting was somewhat dynamic; Especially when he utilized an absurdly over-the-top Brooklyn accent in Out for Justice. Sure it was ridiculous, but I definitely think it added something to the picture beyond pure silliness. So anyway, since I bought a copy of Seagalogy, I’ve been making sure to watch all of the films I’d never seen before reading their respective chapters in the book. It’s certainly been rough sitting through some of the later pictures, but following them up with the chapters has been the light at the end of the tunnel.

One such viewing was of Out of Reach and I have to say it’s one of the more incompetent Seagal pictures I’ve seen lately. Towards the beginning, a former associate of Seagal’s, Agent Shepherd, shows up while he is eating lunch at a local establishment. According to Shepherd, Seagal has saved his life more than once in the past, but it seems something happened since then because Seagal is reluctant to talk much to him or accept a new assignment. Shepherd and other government goons “surprise” Seagal at his home, where they proceed to get their asses handed to them in typical Seagalian fashion.

Now these men aren’t the villains of the picture, although they do join up with the main bad guy later on for reasons I honestly don’t believe were ever explained. Hmm…yeah I guess that does make them villains. I just wouldn’t refer to them as main. The actual main a-hole here is a familiar face if you are an action movie aficionado like myself. His name is Matt Schulze and played the central baddie in The Transporter, apparently named Wall Street. I always referred to him as The Creep, since he was, but whatever. Schulze plays Faisal essentially the same way in this movie accept now he is sporting slicked-back blonde hair, looking more like a young Don Johnson/George Michael half-breed than anything else.
His main offence in the film is trafficking young girls via the Internet. It’s never fully explained what they are specifically being trafficked for, but we must assume it’s something bad. Not that trafficking humans can ever be good, but…yeah. He of course gets his most recent batch of little ladies from you guessed it, the orphanage where Seagal’s star-crossed puzzle-whiz is staying. Now I said I’d explain the whole possibly psychic aspect of Seagal’s character, and so here we go. The reason I make this assumption is that in his most recent letter from Irena, she tells him how she will soon be too old to stay at the orphanage anymore. Shortly after this he goes to the post office to pick up his mail, dressed in a fur coat and sporting a 5 o’clock shadow while referring to himself as “Mr. De la Croix”. You see he’s got a lot of aliases in this movie, which is fine and all but why would he use a semi-disguise like this to pick up his mail that is clearly addressed to “William Lansing” and not “Mr. De la Croix”, and the post master has no problem handing it over. Sorry for rambling, but come on. So ok, Seagal gets this response letter from the school saying that Irena can no longer be reached there. Now wouldn’t most people assume that her previously saying that she wouldn’t be staying there much longer, and then her not being reachable there mean that she probably just moved out? Well maybe, but as you’re all well aware, Steven Seagal is not most people.

Other instances of psychic activity include a voice over by Irena which indicated that she is somewhere without writing utilities, being cared for by men she is suspicious of. This is all played over a shot of Seagal riding in a car, nodding along as if he is hearing every word. It might explain how he always knows where to go and where to look for her, but other than being a bizarre plot device, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

It seems our requisite villain, Faisal, has psychic powers too, albeit not as impressive as Seagal’s, but still admirable. He somehow knows that the person who is causing him heaps of trouble in his operation is an American Ex-CSA animal enthusiast, even though he isn’t ever given any specific reason to jump to such a ballsy conclusion. Both characters may even have some sort of psychic link to each other. After all, they do share another possible link in their frequent over-dubbing. Now this may be a bold claim, but I swear to Christ that the voice-work for both characters is done by THE SAME PERSON!!! Now whoever it is does a pretty decent job on Faisal, but he in no way, shape, or form sounds anything like Seagal! This is an immediate distraction in the film because all of Seagal’s letters to Irena are spoken in voice-over. So there you are in the very beginning of the film watching montages of Seagal walking around and writing letters, while hearing a blatantly non-Seagal voice read them aloud. Now the big guy has had some bad voice-over work done for him in his past couple movies, but it’s never been quite this laughable. An extra bit of icing on this cheese-cake is toward the end of the film when Seagal’s yelling is over-dubbed during a gun fight by what I swear was a totally different person than before. This new guy sounds more like someone’s drunk southern uncle and even less like Seagal than the guy who had done the previous dubbing.

Another little oddity in the picture is Seagal using a stunt double for the highly dangerous execution of a somersault. I mean how much effort does it really take to do a somersault? Seagal even did one in his previous film, Belly of the Beast, where the camera was specifically positioned so that the viewer knew it was him doing it. He clearly had a lot more to prove in 2003 than he did in 2004.

All in all, Out of Reach was fairly entertaining for the reasons specified above, but for those unfamiliar to what Seagal is all about, I would definitely recommend his earlier pictures like Above the Law, Marked for Death, or Out for Justice. And yes, most Steven Seagal films have three words and/or syllables.

There’s a lot more I could go into, but this review is long enough already. If you want more insight, check out Vern’s book. While I do consider myself a practicing Seagalogist, that man is the Professor. I would definitely recommend watching the films before reading the chapters, but I understand if you are not up to the task.

Body Count: 12 (kind of low for most action movies)

Broken Limbs: 1 (very low for most Seagal movies)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ghoulies II (1987)

I was taking a road trip a couple of years ago with my girlfriend, Sara, and we found ourselves in the small Cape Cod town of Sandwich Massachusetts. We were looking for a place to get some snacks and stopped at a convenience store which was luckily right next to a video rental store. It was a sad sight in there, like most rental stores these days. There were far too many copies of new releases and only one person inside, the owner. We browsed around to see if they were selling anything (they are usually good places to get used DVDs for cheap) and discovered an entire rack jammed with VHS tapes for $1 each. We decided we would each get five. Among my picks were Meatballs 2 + 3 (I almost picked up Meatballs 4 starring Corey Feldman) and Ghoulies II.

I first caught this movie on HBO when I was a kid. It was towards the end of the film and the only memory I had of it was the infamous “Ghoulie up the ass” scene.  The cover of the VHS copy I have shows the main Ghoulie popping out of the toilet bowl with another turd-like Ghoulie coming out of the toilet tank. The tagline is “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom.” This is far different from the cover of the first Ghoulies which shows just one Ghoulie coming out of a toilet with the tagline “They’ll get you in the end.”

For the newcomers to the Ghoulie series, the filmmakers decided to give us a nice intro to fill us in on these creatures. The film starts with a panicked man running through the woods being chased by what are either KKK members in red robes, or Satanic cult members. Either way, this man is far too sly for these goons and is able to lose them by ducking into a closed gas station. The cult members look in the window, but since the door is locked, they decide he must not be in there. What is in there though is an old gas station standard, a giant open barrel of smoking, bubbling toxic waste. Perfect for dumping a bag of Ghoulies into, which luckily this man has. The bag goes in, but shortly after, a window is broken by a rogue Ghoulie that looks like a flying stingray. The man is knocked into the waste and dies instantly. If he had only lived for another minute, he would have seen that the toxic waste has no affect on Ghoulies and that he died in vein.

The Ghoulies crawl out and get into an unlocked truck outside that is bound for the carnival. The truck is driven by our young stud of a hero, Larry played by Damon Martin. Larry is accompanied by his Uncle Ned played by Royal Dano. Ned is an aging magician whose only trick seems to be turning alcohol into urine. Now, from this point forward there is a lot of talk of magic, but don’t worry, you’ll never see any performed.

The Carnival has just been taken over by P. Hardin, a no-bullshit businessman more suited for a Wall Street job than a carnival owner. He's in it for the money of course and is ready to shut down any act that doesn't start pulling in some serious cash. These carnies have just one weekend to get their acts together. The act voted most likely to be shut down is Larry and Ned's house of horribles, Satan's Den. It's not scary and looks more like a run down museum. How will they ever get people to come? Enter our unlikely heros, the Ghoulies.

That's right, the Ghoulies are here to save the day. How will they make a difference? Well, how about they kill a couple people and see how that goes over? Well, it goes over great. People think that the Ghoulies are part of the show and tell all their friends how cool Satan's Den is. Thanks Ghoulies, looks like Satan's Den wont be shut down after all.

 The Ghoulies continue to somehow capture people (they don't look very strong or hard to get away from) including, Uncle Ned! While pounding the booze, Ned discovers the Ghoulies and thinks he's conjured them up from Hell and it's time he sends them back where they came from. Luckily he finds a book in a box of props that tells him exactly how to do it.
Unfortunately these creatures are too clever and attack him. He gets cut in the neck by the bat (stingray) Ghoulie and stabbed through the chest with a switchblade by the cat Ghoulie. I know I thought he was done for, but luckily the knife just went through a deck of cards in his shirt pocket. “I’m a magician, you can’t kill me”, at least not yet. He first manages to draw a pentagram with his own blood and recite some of the spell to send the Ghoulies to Hell, but is stopped short when he gets electrocuted. The local police arrive on the scene and find dead Uncle Ned and declare it “a tragic accident”. They don’t comment on the switchblade or the bloody pentagram..

There is a love story here too with Larry and a belly dancer, Nicole, played by Kerry Remsen. Hardin is into her too and I don't think it's her looks. Maybe it’s her secret tightrope walking past that makes her appealing. That’s right, she’s a former tightrope walker, but it’s a secret. She says she just wants to make enough money to get out of this place. I don't blame her. I wanted to get out of there too. 

The movie drags at points, but never for very long, it's only 89 minutes, so it at least wont take up too much of your time. The problem is that the characters are all just kind of dumb. That is except for the Ghoulies, who you end up rooting for. They are ugly little bastards and definitely Gremlins knockoffs, but they coo like babies and have the potential to be funny. They just needed more screen time. They really should have made a sequel to this where, I don't know, maybe they go to college? Oh wait...

Out of the bowl...and totally out of control!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus - "Hey Ben" Mini-Review 1 - by Mark Oswald

Just a few moments ago I was writing an email to my Soda on the Roof Blog life-partner, Ben Stumpf. I brought up how I watched a movie last week featuring two gargantuan beasts, life long enemies, and relics of a simpler time. As I gave a brief explanation of the "film", I thought, "hey, this might as well be up on the Blog". So as a tribute to its origins, smaller reviews posted on this site (by me, at least) will be categorized as "Hey Ben" Mini-Reviews. Read on and enjoy!

Last week my girlfriend and I were looking for something fairly low brow to enjoy on a night that began like any other. Perhaps still under the influence of Troll 2 (viewed 11/27/09), my lady scoured my Netflix account in search of a "Watch Instantly" gem that would make the night complete. To be honest, searching Netflix for a movie to watch isn't always our strong suit. We'll look and look, finding nothing, and just end up watching re-runs of LOST. So I got up to check out my own vast collection of DVDs, when not a minute goes by before I hear, "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus!" A smile gleemed across my face as I turned around to give the thumbs up.

Now this was not a new discovery for me. I had heard things about this title, off and on, for months now. Even more than that, it was actually already on my Netflix Queue, which I admitted (confessed?) not long after we had made our decision. Regardless, beers in hand, we decided to start it up.

So what was the damage?

This scene is only beaten by the one where the titular Mega-Shark takes out a jumbo jet, mid-flight.

Well for starters, it starred 80's pop star Debbie Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas, who most notably starred in the 90's outlaw action TV show, Renegade (which I will admit to loving at the time). It had the kind of budget matched only by the Sci-fi (sorry, Sy-Fy, ugh) Channel. In my email to Ben I told him that if he was annoyed at the re-using of shots in Enemy at the Gates, then this would just blow his mind. Perhaps the CGI was so impressive during post-production, that they wanted to make sure each and every effects shot was used at least 12 times. Fascinating.

In all honesty though, the CGI was bad, the acting was worse, and for some reason, every other character seemed to have a lisp. Oh yes, it was truly a golden goose egg of movie-making.

Take a drink every time this face is made. Good luck liver!

This being a Mini-Review, I won't spoil much more, as I'm not the type of person to ruin classics of cinema with my over-active mouth. I'll just say that I do not regret watching this movie at all. It fits in well with my odd tastes as of late. These days I've just been in the mood to watch complete garbage. Oscar bait? No thanks. I think i'll stick to the likes of Gymkata.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Steady Rain - Dec 6, 2009 Broadway Performance - by Mark Oswald

I remember hearing something about this production mentioned at the tail end of a news bit focusing on some Hugh Jackman or Daniel Craig film project. I thought, “Whoa, Wolverine and James Bond on Broadway in a gritty police drama? I gotta check this out!” But then I didn’t and I didn’t hear any more news on it for a while either. Then there was that whole “cell-phone endlessly going off during the production” story, with accompanying video which I, of course, took the time to watch. After this, the show was constantly in my mind. I loved the fact that the show is just these two hyper-manly actors doing their thing on stage together, no other cast included, with minimal props/backdrops. “Great idea,” I thought, “must be one hell of a show!”

So suffice to say that this is a performance I really wanted to catch. My girlfriend, not surprisingly, was also highly interested. So we looked around for tickets but all were either sold out or far too pricey for our check books to handle. Then all of a sudden her friend tells her how she saw the play and it was great and they’re actually having one additional performance and that the tickets for the back couple rows were much cheaper. So my lady and I agreed that we should snatch up a couple of these bad boys immediately. Good thing we did too, because this is one show that truly did not disappoint.

The show follows these two Chicago cops, explaining the story of events that occurred in the recent past. It’s never made clear if they’re supposed to be explaining this to someone else in particular, or just the audience. It didn’t matter, really. This show was not about bloated story-telling or lavish production values. It was two actors, two chairs, two hanging metal ceiling lights, and an occasional backdrop that would appear out the darkness behind them. These were not cheesy set pieces either; they were highly detailed, three dimensional beauties and held a quality that can only be described as eerie, setting a great noir tone for the proceedings.

All the way through, I would occasionally stop to wonder how long this had actually been going on for. “Probably much longer than it feels like,” I thought. I refused to take time away to check my watch though, fearing that I would miss something integral to the story. That’s just the type of show it was; a real testament to the talents of both Craig and Jackman. There is barely a moment to breathe between the two actors machine-gunning out line after line for 90 minutes in an attempt to explain what brought them to their current states. In fact, when there is a pause, you really feel it. It’s not unlike being on a speeding train, flying down the tracks until it screeches to a sudden halt. Then before you know it, you’re back on your way to the inevitable conclusion; a conclusion that could not come in any other form than the one that’s been chosen, if you ask me.

Now who did I like better? Who blew me away with more charismatic intensity? Well that’s tough to say. Both actors were excellent, clearly reveling in every moment on stage, playing off each other just as if, like their characters, they’ve known each other since kindergarten. I will say that Daniel Craig was the one who surprised me the most, however. I already knew Jackman as sort of a “Jack” of all trades (sorry); with him doing Broadway theatre, musicals, action films, romantic comedies, and even hosting the Oscars, doing the best job I think anyone’s done in years. Craig, however, had the advantage of getting to play completely against type. No suave secret agents or brutish badasses here. He plays the meeker of these two partners and friends. He really got to go all out too. Both he and Jackman sport heavy Chicago accents, but Craig seems to take his all the way to the bank, transforming into a completely different person. The mustache didn’t hurt either.

I felt extremely fortunate to catch this last showing of the production. It was a unique experience to see these big time movie stars in an intimate and entertaining performance right in front of my eyes. After the show, they came back out on stage. Craig brought out glasses of wine for the both of them. Then they proceeded, in their native accents (quite a shock after listening to them in the other voices for the whole show), to auction off pieces of their clothing, signed posters, signed teddy bears modeled after their characters, and pictures to be taken with them backstage. These all brought in some pretty big numbers, I must say, but all of the proceeds from this final show were going to two charities: New Yorkers for Children, which helps kids in foster care, and NYCPBA Widows & Children’s Fund, which provides aid and assistance to widows, widowers, and dependents of police officers who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty. The actors kept the auctioning lively and fun, doing Auctioneer impressions and joking around with each other and the audience. All in all, it was a great time that I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness. Well done, fellas, and keep up the good work!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

1st Review! - Coogan's Bluff (1968) - by Mark Oswald

Hello there! I am Mark Oswald and I present to you the first of many Action-themed movie reviews to come! I've got a couple to post in the near future, featuring such Action Titans as Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

But for now, I'm kicking this off with the very first of 5 collaborations between the legendary Clint Eastwood and Director Don Siegel. Read on and enjoy!

Clint Eastwood is a man who needs no introduction. This review on the other hand, requires one. Any self-respected action fan, or film fan in general, should be well aware of Clint’s contribution to the art of ass kicking. Unfortunately for me, I arrived a little late in the game to Mr. Eastwood’s fan club. Growing up I had seen only a couple of his movies (The Rookie, In the Line of Fire), but even then I was aware of his bad ass reputation. It was something that seemed to be instilled in the public consciousness, regardless of whether or not you had seen any of the man’s films. My initial introduction to the world of Badass Cinema was through the big names of the time; mainly Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Later on Bruce Willis emerged as my favorite; his every-man image being the most endearing to a young mind such as my own. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I got my head out of my ass and decided to give this Eastwood fellow a fair shake.

I started with Dirty Harry, and from there I went on watching any Clint film I could get my hands on. The vast majority of them were purchased without prior viewing. Now this isn’t a practice I tend to exercise all that often, but after I had seen a few Clint movies, I decided that even if I didn’t end up loving the film, there was always something to get out of it, and would probably suck me into repeat viewings in the future. There was only one instance where one of the movies I bought (Firefox) was so blatantly unenjoyable, that I sold it on e-bay shortly after, knowing that I’d never feel the urge to watch it again; a statement that to this day, remains true. Currently there is only one Eastwood film that I have yet to see. Paint Your Wagon, a western musical co-starring Lee Marvin that even Clint himself isn’t too fond of, so I’m not exactly sure when I will get to that one.

So where does Coogan’s Bluff factor in all of this? It was Eastwood’s very first collaboration with Director Don Siegel. They obviously must’ve gotten along quite well seeing that they continued working together over the years on four subsequent films; Two Mules for Sister Sarah, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, and Escape From Alcatraz. When I initially saw Coogan’s Bluff, I was sort of on the fence about it. I thought it had some good scenes, but overall I wasn’t blown away. This being my second viewing, I have to say I liked it quite a bit more.

This film’s most interesting aspect is the fact that it acts as a perfect connector film to bridge the gap between Eastwood’s cowboy and big city cop personas. Prior to 1968, Clint had only appeared in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, and the western T.V. show, Rawhide. Then came Clint’s first American-made western, Hang ‘Em High, which was released just a couple months before Coogan’s Bluff. It seemed like the perfect time for Clint to transition from cowboy to cop.

In the film, Eastwood plays Walt Coogan, a Deputy Sherriff from Arizona who is first seen tracking a Native American fellow who had apparently shot some people and headed out into the mountains. After capturing the man, Clint decides that instead of bringing him in to the station, he’ll stop off for a little afternoon delight with a married woman he has been sleeping with while her husband’s away. All the while, the Native man is handcuffed to her porch. As Clint is bathing, his superiors bust in and decide to give him a shit assignment as punishment for not obeying standard procedure. Presumably stopping off for quickies and a bath isn’t exactly the norm around those parts. The assignment is to travel to New York City and transport a prisoner back to Arizona, where he’s wanted for something or other. They may have explained it but I forgot, so sue me.

Now many may look at this guy Coogan and see him as just another Eastwood tough-guy character (I know that’s how I saw him the first time), when in actuality, he is quite a bit different. Coogan is more of a young hot-shot type. While Dirty Harry was a confident bad ass with a distain for authority like Coogan, he also comes across as wiser, more world-wary, and he only got more-so as that series progressed. Coogan doesn’t like following procedure, he’s impatient, and has a tendency to try and get with any woman he meets, except for a semi-busted hooker (or something) that lives in his hotel. He boots her on out the door after she tries to get a little loving, and then tries to steal his wallet.

Coogan is told that he has to go through all these steps to get his prisoner, James Ringerman, out of a mental hospital (where he was sent to after tripping on some LSD), but instead of playing by the rules, he “bluffs” himself into the hospital and leaves with the prisoner in his custody. Not the best move however, seeing as Ringerman set up Coogan for an ambush before they were to take off in a helicopter to Arizona. The movie follows that old “hero gets in trouble and taken off the case but his pride won’t allow him to let it go, so he pursues the bad guy anyways” type of mold that we’ve all seen before. Part of the reason that this film stands out however, is also one of the reasons I feel its structure is so uneven. There is a romantic subplot between Eastwood and a Probation Officer named Julie Roth. Their scenes together are good and I definitely feel would work in more of a romantic movie, but in a police drama such as this, I think their relationship throws off the pace of much of the movie. I mean I really don’t want to sound like I’m crapping on romance or anything. The Bridges of Madison County is an excellent Clint romance that I honestly think showcases his best acting performance to date. In this movie, however, it just feels like it takes too much screen time away from all the cop business. This was the big thing that bothered me upon my first viewing, and though I obviously still think it’s an issue, it didn’t get to me as much this time around, probably because I knew it was coming.

Other notable things about the movie are the special little touches that you would only find in a movie from this era. Odd fish-eye close-ups, a psychedelic rave scene, and one of those great extended vehicle chases like you’d find in Bullitt or The French Connection. This one is on a smaller scale than those others, but still works quite well, especially since it involves motorcycles through Central Park and you can clearly tell that the actors did a lot of the riding themselves (great stuff!). There’s also a pretty solid bar fight in the picture as well (FYI). There’s also this running gag about how since Clint is wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and bolo tie, people think he’s from Texas, because apparently only people from Texas dress that way. I guess this is the filmmakers’ way of poking fun at stereotypes. It may be a little silly, but I still think it’s pretty funny due to the looks on Clint’s face and when he corrects them with just, “Arizona”.

One more thing that will probably only matter to serious Clintologists, is the brief appearance of Albert Popwell in the club scene. This guy must have been a buddy of Eastwood’s because he shows up not only in this movie, but also in the first four Dirty Harry films, playing a different character each time. He goes from a Bank Robber, to a Pimp, to the leader of a Black militant group, and then finally a fellow police officer and friend of Harry’s.

All in all this is a solid movie. Not my favorite Eastwood/Siegel collaboration, but it’s definitely worth a look for those who want to view Clint’s onscreen transition from “The Man with No Name” to “‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan”.

- Body Count – 0 (weird, I know)

- Women who succumb to the Eastwood charm - 3

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Who You Gonna Call?

For anyone who missed it the first time around or just miss it, the McFly EP "Who You Gonna Call?!?!...." is available as a free download.

                                                                     Download it here!!!!!
For anybody who doesn't know, McFly was a band featuring me aka Ben Stumpf (Finco Mase), Mark Oswald (Finco Mase, Attitude), Jeff Roberts (Pinsky), and Jon Reilly (former Big D and the Kids Table). It was recorded in Spring 2001 in Nashua, NH by Professor Sound himself, John Shirley. It may not sound great, but it has charm. Download it, burn CDs, give them to your friends, do whatever you want.

Does any body out there have a physical copy of this? Mark and I made all of them by hand. Some have fold out booklets with pictures of us as kids. I'd love to get scans of those. Also, there were four versions of the artwork on the actual CDs, a different picture for each member. Anyone have any of those?

Monday, November 30, 2009

What is This?

This blog was created by Ben Stumpf and Mark Oswald to let people in on the things they are working on or find important to share. They will be posting music from their current and past projects, movie reviews, artwork, and anything else they can find to waste your time with. They will be making this as interactive as possible with contests and giveaways.