Posts Tagged ‘alex rocco’

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It’s definitely a tough call, with many worthy contenders to the “throne,” but if someone were to ask me what the out-and-out sleaziest entry in the Crown International Pictures “canon” is, I’d probably have to go with writer/director Richard Kanter’s ultra-mean-spirited, deeply misogynistic Wild Riders, a bikesploitation flick that positively oozes ill will toward the fairer sex and does its best to make tragic heroes out of a pair of thieves, rapists, and murderers. As is so often the case with movies we look at around here, they sure don’t make ’em like this anymore, and maybe that’s not always such a bad thing —

Consider : the “action” here starts with two obviously fucked-in-the head bikers (our titular “Wild Riders”), whose names we later learn are Pete (the comparably “suave” one, played to the hilt by Arell Blanton) and Stick (the scruffy one, played by Alex Rocco in the same year he’d take his legendary turn as Moe Green in The Godfather), not only raping some luckless lass, but then proceeding to nail her to a fucking tree, an act so outlandish and beyond the pale that it proves to be too much even for the outlaw Florida cycle club they’re riding with, with the end result being that the gang gives ’em the boot and Pete and Stick make tracks for sunny California (which is where the supposed “Florida” scenes were shot, anyway).

Our psychopathic twosome doesn’t waste too much time getting to know the lay of the (La-La) land once out west, deciding almost immediately to go have some — ahem! — “fun” at the snazzy Hollywood Hills home of a good-looking young lady they spy laying out by her pool. It turns out the aforementioned mistress of the house, buxom brunette Rona (Elizabeth Knowles) , who likes to live on the wild side a bit, is sharing her semi-palatial digs for a few days with her equally-buxom, but frankly kinda repressed, red-headed gal pal Laure (I know, I know — it looks like there should be an “i” in her name, but there isn’t — oh, and she’s played by Sherry Bain) while her apparently-not-all-that-missed hubby, an accomplished cellist, is away. If  all that sounds to you like a sure-fire set-up for disaster —well, you’re right.

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Pete manages to smooth-talk his way into Rona’s pool, then her house, then her bed, but things don’t go so well for semi-retarded dirtball Stick and Laure, and when she insults his manhood, he ends up raping her in rather savage fashion.  To her credit, she doesn’t take this indignity laying down (no pun intended, honestly) and after informing Rona what her new house “guests” are really like, Pete flips his lid and decides to get just as rough as his buddy. An odyssey of home-ransacking, hostage-taking, and violent sexual assault soon unfolds — and then things get really weird.

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Despite his rather sudden and violent about-face, Rona actually finds herself falling in love with Pete (hey, actor Arell Blanton did, in fact, sing this movie’s low-grade folk-ish theme song, so maybe he’s got other hidden “talents,” as well), and Kanter most definitely plays up some kind of pseudo-sympathetic angle vis-a-vis his thoroughly sadistic protagonists, to the point that what when the cello-wielding man of the house makes his return , finds what’s happened to his home and his honey (and her friend), and uses his instrument to exact murderous revenge on the interlopers, we’re actually supposed to feel, well — kinda sorry for them!

I’m sure, at this point, that this all sounds, as the title for this review would imply, like Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda have wandered into Wes Craven’s classic The Last House On The Left, but this movie actually came out a year before Krug and his fucked-up family changed cinematic history forever. Am I saying Craven copied Kanter in any way, shape, or form? Probably not — it’s been well-established that Bergman’s The Virgin Spring was the thematic progenitor for Last House, and we’re definitely supposed to sympathize with the victims and their grief-stricken paretnts in both those films rather than their attackers, but the timing is quite interesting, to say the least.

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Still, to be perfectly honest, that strange historical parallel is probably about the only reason I can think of to recommend that anyone sit through Wild Riders. This is some thoroughly unpleasant stuff, and the “just a good ol’ boy, never meanin’ no harm” angle that Kanter plays is only compounded in its offensiveness when he has one of his victims end up having her hear stolen by her victimizer. I’m normally the first guy in the room to enjoy it when all conventions of good taste and morality are thrown out the window (the less enlightened might go so far as to celebrate this film’s “political incorrectness,” but there’s nothing noble about bucking the supposed “PC” status quo when we’re talking about rape, for Christ’s sake), but this one was a little much even for me. Sure, later fare like I Spit On Your Grave is much more graphic and brutal, but at least Meir Zarchi had enough sense to know who the villains were in his film.

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What the hell, though — if you’re curious, Wild Riders is available on DVD from Mill Creek as part of their three-DVD, 12-movie Savage Cinema collection, where’s it’s presented with a nice-looking widescreen transfer, good mono sound, and no extras. This set’s pretty heavy on biker fare in general, so all in all it’s a solid purchase — especially given its well-under-$10 price point — but honestly, this particular flick is only worth taking in for its value as a historical curiosity, and is repugnant enough to probably  make even the most die-hard Tea Party supporter and/or Fox “news” viewer thankful for at least some social progress.

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Arthur Marks has certainly been getting a lot of love around these parts lately, hasn’t he? Recently I more or less politely begged for a long-overdue reappraisal of his fine Pam Grier flick Friday Foster, and today I’m here to spread the good word about what is undoubtedly his absolute masterwork (a term regular readers of this site will know I don’t toss around loosely), 1973’s Detroit 9000.

Honestly, this is one of those movies I probably should have reviewed ages ago, but now’s as good a  time as any seeing as how Lionsgate has recently re-released it on DVD alongside The Mighty Peking Man and Jack Hill’s Swtichblade Sisters in a nifty little package called “Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature,” Tarantino having acquired the rights to all three titles back in the 1990s for the midnight screening/revival circuit. None of the films contain any extra features to speak of, but they do feature nicely remastered widescreen transfers and perfectly serviceable mono sound, and seeing as how the disc retails for under ten bucks from most online outlets — well, how many ways can you say “essential purchase?”

But enough with the free plug for Lionsgate product. What sets Detroit 9000 apart from much of the other blaxploitation fare of the time (a category which this flick may or may not actually fall into — it’s certainly debatable) is the intelligence and extra level of humanity and characterization that Marks, his fine cast, and screenwriter Orville H. Hampton inject into the proceedings. Sure, this is a pretty goddamn violent pressure-cooker of a flick, with uneasy police partners Lt. Danny Bassett (the legendary-in-my-book Alex Rocco) and Sgt. Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes) tasked with tracking down the armed masked men who ripped off $400,000 from a black-tie fundraiser for ethically-questionable African-American congressman Aubrey Hale Clayton (Rudy Challenger), and okay, Scatman Crothers pops up along the way as — gosh, what a shocker — a crooked preacher-man, and fair enough, some bits of dialogue are “borrowed” directly from Dirty Harry, as is a heavy dose of atmosphere,  but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a slice of B-movie bad-ass-ness worth taking seriously.

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For one thing, nobody here is a saint. Both leads are deeply flawed, all-too-human individuals, and Rocco and Rhodes turn in superb performances that bring out all the nuances in the script. This is an intelligent story delivered by intelligent performers with a firm grasp on the surprising subtlety inherent in the material. sure, the old “this is a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the top” angle was predictable even by 1973, but come on — would you honestly have it any other way? Some things become formulaic simply because — well, they work. And Detroit 9000 doesn’t just work, it works overtime, providing a very real sense of the intense political weight being brought to bear on these guys to crack this case open, and crack it open quickly. As long as they find an “acceptable” solution, of course —

And that means, of course, even more stress for our fallible-yet-intrepid twosome, since it’s a lead-pipe cinch that the answers they find aren’t going to be what the higher-ups want to hear. Rest assured, though — in a world where the good guy aren’t so great, the presumed bad guys aren’t necessarily so bad, either (even when they are, if you get my meaning), so definitely expect a few surprises along the way.

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Marks, absolute master of pacing that he is, keeps things moving along at a very nice clip here, and there’s never a dull moment — the action scenes are explosive and fraught with drama and tension, but even the quieter moments aren’t so quiet as every word in every off-handed exchange does at least something to propel the main narrative forward. This is a very economical film (both metaphorically and, I’m sure, literally), and the always-resourceful Arthur doesn’t waste a frame. Run to the kitchen or bathroom and you’re guaranteed to miss something — good thing for that “pause” button.

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Detroit’s a simmering powder keg of barely-subsumed racial tensions here, as well, and that only adds to the brooding-bordering-on-oppressive vibe that this film captures. Anything could happen at any moment — look at a guy the wrong way and things are gonna blow sky high. Any alliances formed are temporary, purely for the sake of expediency, and susceptible to fracture without a moment’s notice. Buckle up, folks — the road start out bumpy and it only gets bumpier. All of which is fun, of course, but it means you’ve gotta keep your wits about you, as well — and trust me, when the shit hits the fan at the end, you’ll be glad you did.

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There’s no two ways about it, friends — Detroit 9000 (the title refers to a distress code on the police radio band, if you were wondering) is the real deal. There’s no slack in its act. It’s not afraid to get its hands dirty because they were never clean to begin with. Good times are fun and all, but they’re transitory, fleeting; the best times come with a price and force you to remember them, even when it’s inconvenient. This flick is a terrific piece of crime drama from start to finish, but it demands — and takes — its pound of flesh along the way. Get your ass off my blog and watch it right now.

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What the hell, these reviews of titles in Warner Premiere’s “DC Universe” straight-to-video animation line seem to be getting a reasonably healthy response around these parts, so let’s plug away and do at least a couple more until I’m bored with the whole thing and feel like getting back to horror, exploitation, and all that other good stuff, shall we? And seeing as how our first entrants in this little sidebar series took a look at the two-part Dark Knight Returns, based on Frank Miller’s justifiably legendary take on the “omega” phase of Batman’s crime-fighting career,  it seems only right that we next turn our attentions to 2011’s animated adaptation of Batman : Year One, based on Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli’s take on the Caped Crusader’s “alpha” period.

Again, a little background for those not steeped in comic lore : hot on the heels of the success of The Dark Knight mini-series, Bat-books editor-at-the-time Denny O’Neil (a fairly accomplished author of numerous well-regarded Batman stories in his own right), approached said title’s creator, Frank Miller, with a proposal to essentially give him carte-blanche to retell the Gotham Guardian’s origin story as a way of “re-setting the table” on the regular monthly Batman series. Miller agreed, but only wanted to write it, bringing in as his artistic partner on the project one David Mazzuchelli, with whom he had collaborated on a recent run of stories for Marvel’s Daredevil book. Mazzuchelli bought a distinctly noir-ish and cinematic sensibility to the proceedings, and the end result , while admittedly a fairly basic, if extrapolated, take on events we already knew which sees Bruce Wayne return to Gotham to embark on his one-man war on crime, form an uneasy alliance with then-Lieutenant Jim Gordon (who seems to be one of the few honest cops in town), have his first series of encounters with a prostitute-turned-cat-burglar named Selina Kyle, and go after the beating heart of the city’s organized crime operation in the form of Carmine “The Roman” Falcone, is nonetheless a deeply resonant character-driven piece with a pleasing “pulp detective” artistic sensibility that feels both nostalgic and oddly contemporary at the same time. If the word timeless comes to mind from the brief run-down just provided, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark, as this brief-but-no-doubt historic four-issue Batman run, which has since been collected in near-innumerable paperback and hardcover iterations, feels as fresh and vital today as it did when first published way back in 1987.

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The real genius of what Miller chose to do story-wise,though,  is that, despite the fact that we are granted numerous takes on the events depicted from the vantage points of both Batman and Catwoman, this is more or less Gordon’s tale, and we see get to see both the cesspool of corruption and vice that is Gotham City, as well as witness the dawn of a new age of weirdos in costumes, through his eyes. Miler’s version of Gordon is hardly a flawless hero — he’s stepping out on his pregnant wife with one of his colleagues on the force (who long-time Bat-fans will know becomes the second Mrs. Gordon at some unspecified future point), for instance, but by and large this is a decent guy trying to make sense of circumstances, and a city, that he can’t quite get his head around.

The powers that be in the suits at Warner and DC wisely decided to retain this Gordon-centric narrative structure when they adapted the story for home video release in 2011, and even more wisely opted to cast Bryan Cranston as Jimbo’s voice ‘artist,” so needless to say — expect some great things here. Yeah, okay, again it would have been nice (and frankly pretty gutsy) for directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery to have their animators hue a bit more closely to Mazzuchelli’s visual style, but the finished product probably would have been considered somewhat inaccessible for, at least, a non-comics audience (although I gotta wonder how much a “non-comics audience” would even care about this thing in the first place), but at least most of the characters in this one look like real people rather than the non-green Hulks of (the otherwise generally excellent ) The Dark Knight Returns.

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As far as the rest of the cast goes, Ben McKenzie positively nails it as Bruce Wayne/Batman, GreyDeLisle is pitch-perfect as the suffering-in-silence Barbara Gordon, Katee Sackhoff is suitably sultry as the object of Jim’s extra-curricular affections, Detective Sarah Essen, supposed “nerd culture” sex object Eliza Dushku inhabits Selina Kyle/Catwoman quite nicely, and it’s an out-and-out treat to hear the great Alex Rocco giving vocal “life” to Falcone. It’s Cranston’s show all the way, but these folks add plenty of spice to the stew.

On the technical specs front, Batman : Year One is available on three different home video formats : single-disc DVD, single-disc Blu-Ray, and a double-disc DVD “special edition.” All three feature superb widescreen picture and a genuinely dynamic 5.1 sound mix, as well as a rather risque but otherwise generally uninteresting Catwoman short, and a smattering of promo stuff for other entrants in the “DCU” line. The Blu-Ray and two-disc DVD also feature a pretty sold little mini-documentary on the genesis  of, and influences on,  Batman : Year One in its original comic book form, and a couple of episodes of the Batman animated TV series that are at least tangentially related to the main course on offer here (again with the food metaphors, sorry — haven’t eaten lunch yet).

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Final verdict, then : as with Miller’s Dark Knight, this is a seminal Bat-story that most definitely live up to all the hype, and its home video animated offspring is a faithful, exciting, well-constructed work that sticks to the character-driven narrative design of its printed-page progenitor for a highly-accessible translation that retains both the boldness and simplicity of Miller/Mazzuchelli while smoothing out its rough (but oh-so-lovely) edges just a bit.

Hell, just writing about it puts me in the mood to watch it again.

"Bonnie's Kids" Movie Poster

If you’re looking for the prototype exploitation film, the one that has it all and then some, then friends, look no further than writer-director Arthur Marks’ 1973 low-budget opus Bonnie’s Kids.

First off, there’s the matter of the title — Bonnie And Clyde, despite being a couple years old, was still doing brisk box-office business at the time — and as the titular Bonnie in this film, the mother of the two protagonists we’ll get to in a moment, is dead, and never so much appears even in flashbacks, this flick’s name is an obvious cash-in attempt to “tie in” with the Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty classic.

So far, so good. Let’s turn our attention, then, to the advertising campaign. Just take a look at that poster, dear readers — it features the lead actress’s (highly exaggerated, of course) measurements prominently displayed! I ask you, does it get any better than that? Your host thinks not.

Next up there’s the matter of the cast — exploitation veterans all around, from Tiffany Bolling (The Candy Snatchers, The Centerfold Girls) to Alex Rocco (Brute Corps, The Wild Riders) to Steve Sandor (Stryker, The No Mercy Man) to Robin Mattson (Candy Stripe Nurses, Phantom of the Paradise).

And finally, of course, there’s the plot — or rather, the sheer, perverse tawdriness of so many of the plot elements. Bad-news sisters Ellie (Bolling) and Myra (Mattson) Thomas, a small-town waitress and high school student, respectively, live with their good-for-nothing alcoholic stepfather, a guy so foul even his own poker buddies hate his guts and tell him so, frequently. One night after the game breaks up, step-daddy overhears Myra engaging in a little titillating phone talk with one of the many junior Romeo pricks she’s teasing. Slapping the phone out of her hand, he picks her up and hits her, kicking and screaming, to the bedroom. As he attempts to mount her, Ellie walks in and, resisting his charming entreaties to “come over and join them” and “give stepdaddy a kiss, like when you were a little girl” (or words to that effect), she decides, instead, to pull out a shotgun and blow his ass to kingdom come.  And did I mention (okay, I didn’t) that Myra’s phone frolicking takes places after she’s already taken a shower in full view of the leering eyes of both her stepdad’s poker pals and the local cops?

So we’ve already got bare teenage boobs, voyeurism, phone sex, attempted rape, implied child molestation, pseudo-incest, and bloody murder of a (sort of) family member — before the opening credits even roll!

From there’s things just get sleazier. Ellie and Myra split town and seek out their rich uncle, Ben, a fashion-industry mogul who puts them up on his expansive ranch-cum-estate and has a little plan : a couple of his —ahem! — “associates” (the aforementioned Rocco and Scott Brady) are arranging to pick up a package he’s sending them at the local bus station, but first Ben needs  someone to drop the package off, and the thugs he’s dealing with need someone to pick it up and bring it to another bus station, where it will be shipped to the one they intend to pick it up at (unnecessarily convoluted? You betcha). Ben enlists Ellie’s help to bring the package tothe drop-off-spot, a relatively seedy motel, and the two sorta-gangsters hire a dim-witted private eye (Sandor) to pick it up from her and take it to the Greyhound terminal for shipment.

At this point the two sisters, pictured as essentially inseparable in most of the film’s advertising, are split up — for the rest of the movie. While the main plot revolves around Ellie and her newfound PI boyfriend opening the package to discover a half-million dollars in cash, at which point she decides their best bet is to make off with it, the film turns back to Myra solely, it seems, to keep the sleaze quotient high.

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Not that Ellie’s story is, you know, classy — there’s plenty of pure, unadulterated raunchiness going on there, including gratuitous nudity (Bolling, a prototypical good-lookin’ 70s blonde bombshell bares almost all, I’m willing to bet, in every single movie she was ever in), amoral (we’ll get back to that word shortly) theft from a family member, the (temporary) selling out of her new boyfriend in order to get a shot at all the cash to herself, and the calculated making-up with the guy (guess he’s a real sucker) when she needs his help. Oh, and there’s accidental murder along the way, too — the two toughs kill the wrong couple in another motel room and Ellie and her beau mistakenly do away with the guy she’s trying to catch a ride off in her attempt to abscond with the cash by herself (it’s a long story).

But geez, our gal Ellie is positively a candidate for sainthood compared to her kid sister.

Back at Uncle Ben’s, Myra is busy bedding an older ranch-hand more out of boredom than anything else, stealing trinkets from her aunt, and teasing said aunt, a lecherous older lesbian, with her teenage charms in order to woo stuff out of her when she realizes that outright theft probably won’t be necessary.

And now we get back to that word amoral again. It’s pretty clear that either one of Bonnie’s little darlings will do whatever it takes to get them selves ahead, and when the aunt who’s taken a shine to young Myra is — uhhhmmm — “dispatched” from the ranch, in a truly shocking manner, the younger sister shows no more qualms about it than the elder does in selling out the guy who’s been risking his as for her.

And that streak or amorality plays all the way through to the film’s conclusion, when Ellie and her fella finally come face-to-face with the two small-time gangsters (and by the way, Rocco and Brady’s characters are the obvious prototypes — there’s that word again,  I guess amoral isn’t the only “Pee-Wee’s Word of the Day” in effect here — for John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s cons in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction) who’ve been on their tails, precluding the happy reunion of the two sisters (I’ll spare the specifics, since you really need to see this flick) at the end — and Myra, true to form ,brushes off the nixed meeting with astonishing nonchalance.

"Bonnie's Kids" DVD from Dark Sky Films

After years of clamoring from fans, Bonnie’s Kids has just been released on DVD from Dark Sky Films. For a so-called “Special Edition” it’s pretty light on the extras, but there are theatrical and TV ad spots included, and he disc features a fairly comprehensive interview with Arthur Marks (who also gave us exploitation gems like Bucktown and Detroit 9000 among other exploitation gems). The remastered anamorphic picture looks great and the mono audio track is crisp, clean, and largely distortion-free. A commentary would’ve been nice, but on the whole it’s a fairly solid little package.

There are better drive-in/grindhouse movies than Bonnie’s Kids, but few that tick off so many boxes on the unofficial comprehensive exploitation checklist. It’s sleazy, it’s violent, it’s surprisingly dark in tone and nihilistic, and there’s very little by way of pure filler in its 105-minute run time. Whatever you’re looking for in a B-movie sleazefest, this one;s got it, along with plenty you probably quite frankly weren’t looking for. You certainly couldn’t make a film anything like this today, it’s a sheer product of its time.

You’ll enjoy it, and hate yourself for enjoying it. What more could you possibly ask for?