Friday, September 23, 2011

Beyond the Law

Beyond the Law
D: Larry Ferguson (also wrote)

Pretty much Stone Cold with Charlie Sheen instead of Brian Bosworth

"Beyond the Law," yet another reason I have no regrets about the fact that I ignored the biker flicks of this period when they were new, has almost the same exact set-up as the previous year's "Stone Cold." Crazy cop is kicked off the force, then approached by the FBI to go undercover. He ends up deep inside a motorcycle club, and feels conflicted and begins to lose sight of his original mission. Fortunatley differences do emerge, because for a while this just seems like a remake.
There's other good news as well. Charlie Sheen is just a bit better an actor than fucking Brian Bosworth, the FBI guy is Courtney B. Vance (ADA Carver from Criminal Intent, my favorite of the Law & Order shows), and the main supporting actor and bike club prez is Michael Madsen. Let's put off the bad news for now.
Since Sheen is not the one dimensional actor Bosworth is, his character has a little more depth as well, corny as it may be. Dan Saxon was himself raised by a cop, a sadistic uncle who beat him severely and without reason, until Saxon shot him to death at age six. He is, of course, still haunted by nightmares of this. He's also not suspended for being a badass like John Stone, but fired, essentially because his boss is a prick. And he doesn't exactly have immediate success as an undercover man.
Saxon, in fact, has no luck at all making contacts as a drug dealer, and confides in a grease monkey he meets in a white trash dive--who just happens to be a motorcycle mechanic that always wanted to be a cop and offers to help him adopt a biker image and infiltrate local club the Jackals.
After learing how to "be a biker," building a Harley from scratch, and adorning colors for a fake club (the Pythons, Cleveland chapter), Saxon is ready. And, this being a movie, he's accepted rather quickly by Blood (Madsen), the Jackals' president.
From there things vary wildly, from the not bad to the ridiculous. Mostly ridiculous. Worst of all is the love story angle, involving Linda Fiorentino. She's a photojournalist hanging out with the club, who recognizes Saxon as the cop who pulled her over prior to his firing and undercover work. Despite the fact that she repeatedly mentions how dangerous his work is and that she'll be heading home to finish her project soon, she falls for Saxon, and after one night of lovin' (in a rather unsexy sex scene), allows him to bond with her six-year-old daughter. It also leads to an absolutely painfully cliche "Renee...I..." as he walks out the door.
Aside from the typically watchable Madsen performance, most of the rest of what's enjoyable here is only fun in retrospect. There's a three-way gun standoff like in "Reservoir Dogs," and in 2011 a scene where Charlie Sheen is pressured into doing coke (he likes it!) is pretty goddamnned funny.
I can't say enough about Madsen, who's always fun to watch, and would finally get to do a good biker film a decade+ later. And other small parts go to Rip Torn (as Saxon's original partner) and Dennis Burkley (from Sanford, "Mask," etc). All in all, this should have been a pretty enjoyable movie. So what's the problem?
The problem is that this is close to TWO FUCKING HOURS LONG, which is just obscene. And it's not exactly a tight 110 minutes, as there are so many fucking montages in this (even for an action movie of its era) that I started to wonder if it was a joke. The learning to be a biker montage, the getting ready to go out montage, the riding montage, the falling in love montage...Bloody hell.
Besides Michael Madsen and Sheen's performance (a throwaway, which from him is still good), the only real fun here is the titty bar, The Hole Thing, which features a Pabst "This Is The Place" sign that I would kill to own.
Would have been a good one if half of it was left on the cutting room floor, but as it is, this gets 1.5 lines of heavily stepped on blow.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Werewolves on Wheels

Werewolves on Wheels
D: Michel Levesque (also co-wrote)

With roles as bikers for Barry McGuire (it was the "Eve of Destruction" for his acting career) and Bud from Father Knows Best
Bikers, cursed by occultists, become werewolves

As far as movies I hadn't seen in a while living up to or exceeding my memory of them, I've had a pretty good run. So I guess it had to end eventually.
In this '71 biker-horror (odd how few of them there were), an MC called the Devil's Advocates, a typical hassle the squares type club, tempts fate by scoffing at a Tarot card reader and later partying in a graveyard, and then hanging out with some clearly evil cult types. Jeez, what could this lead to that's any good? (Certainly not the movie.)
After being drugged by the cult, Adam (Stephen Oliver) and the rest of the Advocates pass out, and the ritual begins. Cult leader One (Severn Darden, who not only has a great name but was in "Vanishing Point" and the final two of the original "Planet of the Apes" movies) guides them through some pretty cliche occult stuff in a scene that would be pretty cool if trimmed a bit. Adam's girl Helen (DJ Anderson) is bewitched after eating bread dipped in blood; when the bikers come to, they beat the crap out of the cult, grab her, and split to the desert to get their heads straight, man.
I dunno, then some stuff happens. Helen is suddenly fine, but then not fine because she looked into the fire. A couple is killed by a werewolf (not shown, but the resultant gore isn't too bad), though it's assumed to have been a coyote attack. Tarot (Duece Berry [Duece Berry was a workin' man...(Neil Young joke, in case you missed it)]) gets lines about heavy vibes and bad omens and the like, weird shit goes on, etc. And it all just kinda limps along to the ending.
Though a bit silly, this really isn't a bad premise. There are also some fantastic shots (the dust storm looks especially good), the acting is ok, and the soundtrack (by Don Gere) is great, especially the opening theme and a Velvet Underground-ish tune during the topless snakedance. Plus, yeah, there's a topless snakedance. Not to mention a van that's a-rockin' and a cool "local" type with a Billy Jack hat. The bikers look pretty legit, and include characters named Scarf, Mouse, and Movie.
The problem is that the script should have been fleshed out a little more, because there's a huge amount of padding and filler. Though it's only an 80 minute film, it's an 80 minute film that should have been an hour at most. I should probably mention as well that you only actually see a werewolf on a Harley for a few seconds, at the end.
And while I'm complaining, I'm really tired of seeing colors attached with pins and/or glue in so many movies. I can dig the low budget thing but can getting some sewing done really eat into a budget all that much?
This shoulda-been-great plodding mess is nowhere near as fun as I remembered it. Two dull, chipped wolf fangs for this one.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Angel Unchained

Angel Unchained
D: Lee Madden (also P, story writer)

Another biker-hippie teamup movie

Like "Run, Angel, Run," the lead is a biker named Angel who leaves the outlaw life behind; like "The Peace Killers" and "Angels Hard As They Come" it's a hippies-team-up-with-bikers tale. And it's not as good as any of those.
Busy character actor Don Stroud stars as the titular Angel, a club VP who's had enough and wants to move on. He leaves the club with the blessing of prez Pilot (Larry Bishop), whose life he's saved; Pilot even reminds him that he's always there if Angel needs him.
After some lone wolf riding, Angel saves some members of a commune, which he quickly joins. As it turns out, the hippies are constantly harrassed by the local rancher types. He tries to deal with the 'necks; doing so peacefully doesn't work, and due to their numbers, his fists aren't enough, either. Reluctantly, he goes to his old bros for help. Which opens up the expected can of worms.
There's really not a lot to this not particularly original film, but it's one I've always liked. The action's pretty decent, especially the opening brawl at an amusement park. In fact, the stunts are quite good overall. Randy Sparks provides the soundtrack, which doesn't hurt.
It's mostly carried by the cast, which besides Stroud and Bishop includes Luke Askew, Aldo Ray in a small role, and Neil Moran (the Boss from "Eraserhead"). I've heard a lot of jokes about it including some brief nudity by female lead Tyne Daly, but fuck them, she's a good actress and was pretty damned cute then. The Arizona Dirty Dozen appear as extras for some realism.
Nothing special, but it's one I've just always dug for some reason. It's where I swiped the "Our Man in Arizona" credit, by the way.
Honestly though? A 2.5.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Loveless

The Loveless
D: Kathryn Bigelow & Monty Montgomery (also co-writers)

Notable: First big role for Willem Dafoe, first feature by director Bigelow

Set in the late '50s, a gang of biker/greasers stops in a small town on their way to the races in Daytona, which of course leads to trouble.

While a little light on plot, the mood and atmosphere in this one is laid on with a trowel. The whole thing is a modern hipster's dream, and I find it hard to believe this hasn't garnered a big cult following (that I know of, anyway).
Told in a noir-ish flashback ("You never can tell on a day like this- things could be goin' jake one minute, then, presto --before you know it, you're history...), just out of jail Willem Dafoe and his gang of denim 'n' leather clad, switchblade wielding bikers --including neo-rockabilly singer Robert Gordon-- rendezvous in a small town on their way to the Daytona races. They rent garage space to work on the bikes, and take a short break before continuing on. Although they arouse some interest from the local women, the menfolk aren't exactly happy to have them there. "They're animals," says one. "Wish I could trade places with 'em for a day or two." The rest aren't even that kind, figuring them for goddamn commies. The violence in the air is finally manifest in the climax and somewhat existentialist ending.
Really, there's not much more to it than that. If you need a deeper plot than that you might not be satisfied here, but you do get some classic tunes ("Raunchy," "Rip It Up," Brenda Lee's "I Want to Be Wanted"...), great lines, a strip scene with some very nice naturals, great looking Harleys, classic Daytona footage, hoods being hoods (gunplay, playing "spreads" chicken with switchblades, etc), and more mood than any other movie you're likely to watch this week. The bikers look fucking great, with the creepy/cool Dafoe looking and acting like the exact point at which James Dean and Charlie Starkweather meet (If you've seen "Streets of Fire" from two years later, his character Raven is sort of an amplified version of this role). I also dig the probably local extra who looks like a real life version of Harry Dean Stanton. 3 stilettoes for this one.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chrome and Hot Leather

Chrome and Hot Leather
D: Lee Frost

Claim to fame: With Marvin Gaye, Cheryl Ladd in a tiny role, and (uncredited) Erik Estrada and Grizzly Adams

Soldier hunts down the bike club responsible for the death of his fiancee

Odd that there were only a few biker flicks aimed at the "returning vet" audience; this is one of the best.
Motorcycle club the Wizards (nice colors), out riding, start clowning with a couple of girls in a car. One, Casey, gets a little too aggressive; the girls get scared and make a hard turn, causing Casey to lay down his bike. Not heeding club prez TJ (William Smith), Casey gives chase and smashes their windshield with a chain, sending the car out of control and over a cliff, killing the girls. (Like in "She-Devils on Wheels," the chain is left behind as evidence.) Casey, a very pissed-off TJ, and the rest of the Wizards split the scene.
Turns out one of the girls (Kathy, played by a very young Cheryl Ladd, then known as Cheryl Moor) is the fiancee of Mitch (veteran character actor Tony Young), a sergeant who trains young soldiers on their way to 'Nam. The police have no solid leads, so Mitch enliststs (sorry for the pun) a few of his buddies (including Marvin Gaye; oddly the publicity for the film doesn't seem to have really pushed him) to help him track down the club responsible. No outlaws will help a bunch of squares like them, so they decide to form their own club as a front.
In a learning to ride montage accompanied by a pretty lame song, the three master riding their (dirt)bikes, create dopey cuts with sergeant stripes to try to look like outlaws, and are on their way.
Meanwhile, TJ is not happy about Casey bringing possible heat on them, or Casey in general for that matter. They've got a good thing going, with the local police and citizens intimidated, and dumb shit like killing girls is grief they don't need. TJ would clearly like to just dump a headache like Casey, but a brother's a brother so what can one do.
Eventually Mitch tracks the Wizards down to their hangout at the Piru Billard [sic] Parlor, and even gets so in with them that he gets the whole story out of Casey's girl. The club eventually gets wise to and captures Mitch, but his buddies manage to free him and plot their final revenge.
A pretty cool (if a bit corny) plot, carried by a strong cast. Tony Young is so stiff it's enjoyable, and Michael Haynes is great as asshole Casey. William Smith is William Smith--the best. The big motherfucker, with his fu manchu and open-legged riding style, could not look cooler. Gaye is actually pretty natural as an actor, and Larry Bishop steals his scenes as the spaced out Gabriel.
Wish I know who that was doing the rockin' main theme. The rest of the music mostly sucks.
A legitimately solid and enjoyable action movie with very little filler or padding that still shows up on tv sometimes, usually on Turner stations. A fun and satisfying 3.5