Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buddha Man Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol!

Take off with the original golden headed movie reviewer and some new civilian recruits as they take to the streets and the skies to review movies!

William Shatner.

Martin (1978) Writer/director George Romero brings his unique vision and social commentary to the vampire mythos with this horror movie. We meet Martin (John Amplas-Creepshow) as he is being sent from the Midwest to live with his aged cousin in Pittsburgh. On the train he attacks a woman in her sleeping compartment with a drugged needle and razor blade, drinking the woman's blood, though it is not clear if he kills her. When Martin steps off the train in Pittsburgh, his cousin, the formidable Tata Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) immediately pronounces Martin "nosferatu" or undead creature. He tells Martin he is well aware of Martin's curse and that he means to stop it. Cuda's granddaughter Christine also lives with them, and she thinks Cuda is crazy because of his suspicions about Martin. However, Martin tells Christine he is 84 years old but that he has no supernatural powers, which he calls magic. The age thing seems impossible but would explain why he and the elderly Cuda are cousins. Christine doesn't believe Martin, but fears he is unstable from listening to Tata Cuda's rants. From there we watch as Martin continues to live the life of a fangless vampire, stalking people and using razor blades to drink their blood. He also takes to calling a radio talk show where he becomes a minor celebrity of the local airwaves, called the Count by the cynical host who doesn't believe anything Martin says but loves the sensationalism for his ratings. It is never clear if Martin really is or isn't a true vampire, but the distinction is kind of moot since he is definitely attacking people and drinking their blood.

Sometimes vampires bare their fangs; Martin bears his fangs.
This is an absorbing movie, mixing real drama of lower middle class life in the 70's with the usual Romero social commentary and the horror aspects, with the ambiguity of Martin's character the clincher in making this one of the best horror movies of the 70's and possibly Romero's best as well. It is low budget and rather deliberately paced, but keeps your attention throughout. Romero directs well, interspersing old fashioned black and white vampire movie scenes that seem to be Martin's fantasies (or are they memories?) at key points along the way, and letting the rest of the movie play out in quiet, almost documentary like fashion. The cast is unknown but decent, including Romero himself as a local priest not hip to the old ways of Tata Cuda, and makeup man Tom Savini as Christine's not very pleasant boyfriend. This was also the first time Romero and Savini worked together behind the scenes as well, and Savini provides some fine if somewhat low key gore effects. If you've enjoyed any of Romero's other movies like Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead, or you don't mind slower paced horror fare, definitely give this one a look!

Chris Pine.

16 Blocks  (Warner Bros, 2006)  Director Richard Donner shows he's still got it with this well done thriller. Bruce Willis is Jack Mosley, a worn out drunk marking time as a New York City cop. Although he is a detective, he's given crappy jobs babysitting crime scenes and filling in reports, and spends the bulk of his time with a bottle stashed away nearby. After pulling an all-nighter, Jack is given an assignment to transport a prisoner sixteen blocks to the courthouse to appear before a grand jury. It's a simple task, but weary and unused to being handed real responsibility of any kind, Jack begs off. Finally, he is ordered and takes the assignment. Shortly after, he meets his charge Eddie (Mos Def), a career petty criminal with a mouth that can almost match Chris Tucker's in volume (loud) and volume (lots o words). This only makes Jack wish he'd fought harder to dodge this job. Jack and Eddie take a car for the brief drive, but Jack's nerves and Eddie's non-stop monologue don't go well together, so Jack stops the car seconds into the trip outside a liquor store. When Jack drops in for some "nerve tonic," the men who have been watching and waiting move in. Jack's day hops in a handbasket and heads down to warmer climes; and before it is over, Jack will find himself threatened, chased, and shot at, and discover that even a tired old lush might have one shot at redemption if he can stop making the easy decision and instead make the right one.

After all the incredibly loud gunplay in this movie, he was known as Totally Def.
 Bruce Willis went through a period in the late 80's and well into the 90's where he was much more a "movie star" than an "actor." His paychecks were huge, his performances lazy, but he stayed on top because the movies made money. Then, somewhere around the time he was in Nobody's Fool in 1996, Bruce Willis decided to become an actor again, and he's mostly been one ever since. It's a pleasure to watch him here, convincingly tired and worn looking beyond his off-camera years. Mos Def is pretty funny, though there are a few moments where he strays dangerously close to cartoon territory, but he pulls it back and stays on track through most of the picture. Third lead David Morse (my old buddy!) is solid as usual, though to be honest he's played this role now several times and it's not that exciting to see him doing it again (and it's no fault of his.) Casting someone else in the role - a veteran like Robert Forster (who also could have played Jack), a younger actor like a Dennis Quaid, or even a weird choice like Adam Sandler might have yielded interesting results, but that's quibbling. The rest of the cast is fine, with a few familiar faces dotted in here and there. Director Donner orchestrates the dramatics with aplomb, showing us again that he can mix drama and action with thrills and lighter moments like a master chef, putting a terrific meal on the table. The story may not take off into too many unexpected directions, but it's all well played and recommended to those who enjoy this kind of police story. Check it out!

Breaker! Breaker!  (American International Pictures, 1977)  We're going back into some early Chuck Norris for this flick! Chuck plays JD, a trucker with an easygoing attitude and a heart of gold. He also has a little brother, Billy (Michael Augenstein, with a whopping two entries on the IMDB). Billy's learning to drive the big rigs like his big brother, and he sets out on a delivery of frozen TV dinners as JD winds down from the road in his usual way - dinner at the truck stop, flirting with the waitress, and topping it off with a arm wrestling match that turns into a brawl. Meanwhile, Billy finds himself diverted off the main highway by some traffic department signs and eventually detoured into a small town called Texas City. Joshua Trimmings (George Murdock - the doctor on the original Battlestar Galactica) is the town mayor, and the local judge. He's got a twisted way of collecting fines and taxes on goods that travel through his town, and soon Billy has disappeared. Of course, JD is not going to be long in following Billy's trail, and he's soon in Texas City, where he finds nearly every citizen turned against him. It's going to take some devastating roundhouse kicks and eventually a small convoy of diesel rigs to blow the lid off the corruption in Texas City and find out what happened to Billy!

Stretch Armstrong couldn't move his body like that.
Early Chuck Norris is a different animal than stuff from the late 80's and Walker: Texas Ranger. For one thing, Chuck's upper lip is discomfortingly bare in this flick. Yes, that's right. He has no mustache here! And, Chuck truly did grow as an actor all through there, so if you are not much on his performing skills from his CBS series from the 90's, try to picture the level of his acting a decade or more before. Still, this kind of drive-in fodder is right up my alley, and if you're regularly reading this blog, it's probably up yours too. This is an old school action movie, with sporadic bursts of fights, gunshots, chases, etc around several dialogue scenes and even a smidgen of romantic schmoozing. It was made before MTV worked our attention spans over, so it's moving a little slower than action CGI fests of this century. But you get to see Chuck Norris liberally apply his feet all over several slimy character actors, and you get the great Jack Nance right around the same time he did Eraserhead as JD's good buddy Burton. Murdock plays a solid villain, a pretentious jackwagon so sure he's always right even as his henchmen are obliquely threatening his grandson. I also like how Trimmings is drunk in nearly every scene he's in, and yet his townspeople (mostly) hang on his every word, as if every drunken syllable is a nugget of ultimate understanding, when instead it's just drunken mutterings. And while the title suggests a trucker flick with CB slang flying left and right everytime somebody opens their mouth ala Convoy, 10-4 good buddy, my handle's not Alligator Station - I'm comin in loud and proud - this movie does its thing in the left lane - so y'all need to drop the hammer and make this your 10-17. I just used more CB slang than the movie does, though there are CBs in use and a few trucks in view before it's all over. But in any case, remember, there's a reason the Boogeyman checks his closet every night for Chuck Norris; and you can watch this movie to get an idea why...

My time with you has reached its end. Until next time, always remember - wherever you go, there you are.

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