Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Buddha Man Academy 3: Back in Training!

Run for Cover! The original golden head movie critic is coming to save his blog...and it's open season on any movie that gets within range!

Johnny Weismuller

Rolling Thunder  (MGM, 1977)  Here's a 70's revenge flick that isn't hugely known, but has enough of a following that Quentin Tarantino named his video releasing company after it! After seeing it in the early 80's on VHS, I caught up with it again on my new old buddy MGM/HD. In 1973, two Vietnam veteran prisoners of war are finally released and shipped back to Texas. One of them is Major Charles Rane (William Devane - Poor White Trash), the older, married guy; the other is Johnny (Tommy Lee Jones - The Fugitive), the younger, twitchier one. They have been through hell for several years, and although mostly happy to be home, they definitely find the hoopla they face a bit overwhelming. Rane is so devastated by what he suffered he can't even stay in his own house, choosing instead a cot in a room in the garage. Johnny heads back to Fort Worth, and tries to readjust to his life at his parents' home. Rane's son has never met his father, and their initial introduction is uncomfortable. It also becomes quickly obvious that the dynamic in the house has changed - perhaps something to do with the deputy sheriff hanging around a lot "keeping an eye on things." Rane's time in the hands of the Viet Cong have left him shattered and unable to connect to his emotions, so he spends a lot of time sitting quietly. Not long after the major is feted by just about everybody in his small town, including the mayor - and Linda (Linda Haynes - Latitude Zero), the young woman who wore his POW bracelet the whole time he was a prisoner. She presents him with a gift from the town - a briefcase containing one silver dollar for every day he was held captive. (Somewhere in the neighborhood of $2200). Rane politely thanks everyone, makes a brief speech, then goes back to just sitting quietly.
    Then Lopez, Automatic Slim, and the Texan come a'calling. These lowlifes want those silver dollars. The Major, however, is not cooperative, and when it is all over Major Rane has lost his family and, thanks to a novel use of a garbage disposal, his hand. Shortly after, outfitted with a new razor sharp hook, Rane goes and picks up Johnny, and together, they set out on the road to revenge city.

As if being held by the Viet Cong wasn't bad enough - Tommy Lee Jones
has to come home to a family that includes Franklin from the original
Texas Chain Saw Massacre!
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It is an unsung hero of the revenge genre, and should be as well known as Death Wish and Straw Dogs. It's not wall to wall action and a bodycount in the dozens - but it's the very real emotions (or lack of them) that Rane displays throughout the movie. We see brief snippets of the torture he endured in the hands of the Viet Cong, and so we can understand why the character is kind of a blank slate on his return to the world. Devane is excellent in the role, dispassionate in everything he does from the first frame to the last. It's very cool to see Tommy Lee Jones in this at about 14 years of age - j/k - but it is cool, though Johnny is a supporting character despite his billing and disappears from the middle half of the movie. And how about those bad guys? Lopez is James Victor, a familiar face from a lot of TV. But Automatic Slim? The always cool Luke Askew (The Beast Within)! And "best" of all - the Texan is none other than James Best - Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane himself! Now those are some good bad guys! The rest of the cast is pretty good - with Haynes standing out. You can also look quickly for Dabney Coleman in a brief appearance as a military guy near the opening of the picture. The other good aspects of this flick: the script, by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould is spot on - a good mix of dramatics and action, and the direction, well orchestrated by John Flynn. If you like a good 70's flick or a revenge movie, I highly recommend letting the Thunder get to Rolling.

Casper Van Dien

The Child (1977) This is an ultra low budget horror flick from distributor Box Office International, run by the amazing Harry Novak. Harry would scope out movies like this and put them on the drive in circuit throughout the 1960's and 1970's. In this rather odd little movie, pretty young Alicianne has been hired as a nanny for a girl named Rosalie. Little Rosalie lives way out in the boonies in an old house with her crabby old dad and much older brother. Alicianne finds Rosalie to be a strange little girl who spends a lot of time in the cemetery down the road. Don't feel too bad for Rosalie, though, because she does have some friends. Friends who hail from that very same cemetery. Soon, everyone who makes Rosalie mad starts to die horrible gory deaths. With no real explanation, it seems Rosalie has some kind of funky control over the dead, willing them to crawl out of their graves and attack those she feels are responsible for the death of her beloved mom, which is pretty much everybody, including the old neighbor lady, the gardener, her dad, her brother, and eventually even the new nanny.

It does say you're in danger too, my dear, right there...
I enjoyed this movie's modest charms, though there's seemingly not much to recommend about it. The script is more a series of scenes than a story, and that lack of flow is not helped by director Robert Voskanian who keeps the pace pretty slow for the most part. One scene ends, another begins and there's no feeling or connection between them. The passage of time in the movie is poorly communicated. It's day, it's night, it's day again, but no time seems to have passed. The acting is not very good, and it's not helped by the fact that all of the dialogue on the soundtrack seems to have been dubbed back in later. On the plus side, there is a Halloween scene involving the scariest Jack O'Lantern EVER, the last twenty minutes are pretty zippy, the gore and makeup effects are nicely done considering the money involved, and there's a general air of dread about the movie starting from the early scenes that gave me enough to mark this one on the positive side of the entertainment scorecard. I'm not sure most would agree with me, so approach this one at your own risk. Something Weird's DVD release features several fun extras as well, including another zombie movie, two old film shorts and some wonderful 60's and 70's era radio ads for horror flicks played over a gallery of movie posters for the same kinds of movies.

Denny Miller

Bikini Med School/Bikini House Calls  (Vista Street Entertainment, 1994)  These two movies are completely interchangeable with each other and must have been shot back-to-back one afternoon. I've joked a lot about movies that "had no plot to get in the way of the story," which is a line I stole from Joe Bob Briggs. It's never been more true than it is about these two plotless wonders. Both films are structured exactly the same - each opens with a voiceover that informs us we are present at a medical school whose initials spell QUACS. (Har de har har). The viewer then quickly discovers the films are a static hodgepodge of scenes set at a frat party at the school. You get about thirty extras dancing badly to some earnest but cheesy pop rock music, girls dancing onstage in skimpy or no clothing, brief dialogue scenes between various couplings of six or so characters, and sex scenes in an upstairs bedroom that stick to the visual mantra "no erections, no ejections." This twaddle is intercut with 1940's stock footage of medical and research activity from public domain educational shorts.

If they can use stock footage, so can I.
There's no overreaching plot, just these barely connected segments. Each film does have an appearance from the University's dean, who is shown to be the usual hypocritical horndog who states he is appalled by the "sexy" shenanigans, trying to put an end to the party while diddling his assistant mostly offscreen. But even this cannot be construed as a storyline because he gets his comeuppance about five minutes later. So, in both cases, these flicks are completely indefensible as cinematographs - there's no camera work, it's all static shots; there's no production value, it's minimalist sets (big room with dancing, stage, bedroom); there's no acting - the performers wear a cloak of porn about them. In fact, that's what these movies feel like - low grade porn minus the truly naughty bits. I continue to marvel at what gets released as a movie (in this case - to late night cable and on VHS) so I sat through both of them. I can't imagine anyone else needing to see them, so place these at the top of your "Skip It" list unless you're desperate for some cut-rate female nudity. Look at me saving you almost three hours of your life! I make this cape look good, don't I?

That is all I can stands; I can't stands no more. As I leave you, try to remember - there is a land, a land down under, where women glow and men plunder.

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