Film Review: Gone In 60 Seconds (1974)

Also known as: Gone In Sixty Seconds (alternate spelling)
Release Date: July 28th, 1974
Directed by: H. B. Halicki
Written by: H. B. Halicki
Music by: Ronald Halicki, Philip Kachaturian
Cast: H. B. Halicki, Eleanor, Marion Busia, Jerry Daugirda, James McIntyre, George Cole, Ronald Halicki, Markos Kotsikos

H. B. Halicki Junkyard and Mercantile Company, 105 Minutes

Review:

“This job is ruining my sex life.” – Maindrian Pace

For those who love the Nic Cage movie Gone In 60 Seconds, you might not know that it was a remake. In fact, it was the second attempt at a remake. There was 1989’s Gone In 60 Seconds 2, which actually wasn’t completed due to the death of H. B. Halicki during production. Before that though, there was this film and a couple similar ones by Halicki: Deadline Auto Theft and The Junkman.

This film is unique in that Halicki directed, wrote and starred in the film and only hired friends and family members to play the other roles. This was done in order to keep the cost of production down. The police officers, fireman and paramedics are all real. Halicki even did his own stunts and the cars destroyed in the film were owned by him. The emergency vehicles in the film were bought at an auction for an average price of $200 each.

The big car chase in the film takes up the last forty minutes or so and sees 93 cars get wrecked. It is still the longest car chase sequence in movie history.

The premise of the film is about a group of thieves tasked with stealing 48 cars over the course of just a few days. While the setup is cool, most of the film drags on and isn’t as interesting as it could have been. The lengthy action finale certainly makes up for the first fifty minutes or so but it is a drag trying to get there, except in the few earlier scenes that provide a bit of car action.

Considering that this film was made by an unknown in the film industry and he made an impact due to his resourcefulness and skill, Gone In 60 Seconds is pretty impressive. It’s certainly not a great movie but it is hard to deny how fun and how well executed the massive car chase is, as it plows through five California towns and sees the destruction of nearly 100 vehicles. If anything, this film has got me interested in checking out Halicki’s other films.

If you love car action movies, this will be your cup of tea after surviving the first fifty minutes.

Film Review: Keoma (1976)

Also known as: Django Rides Again, Django Returns (both US informal titles), Desperado (US cut version), Keoma: The Avenger (US dubbed version), Coolman Keoma (West Germany video title)
Release Date: November 25th, 1976 (Italy
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Mino Roli, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori, Enzo G. Castellari, Joshua Sinclair (dialogue – uncredited)
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Woody Strode

Uranos Cinematografica, Far International Films, 101 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (US cut version)

Review:

“I need to find out who I am. To give the simplest of my actions a reason. I know by being in this world has some significance, but I’m afraid that when I found out what it is, it will be too late. In the meantime, I’m a vagabond. I keep traveling. Even when the earth sleeps, I keep traveling… chasing shadows.” – Keoma

Who doesn’t want to watch a movie where Franco Nero and his chiseled visage and dreamy eyes take on the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth as a badass gunslinger? Okay, he isn’t Jesus of Nazareth, he is Keoma, but damn, he looks like some sort of spaghetti western Messiah here to save us from mundane and derivative spaghetti schlock. I mean, it’s like Jesus and the original Django had a baby and gave him tight pants, a cool hat and some big guns. Never has a man looked so manly, so pretty and exuded some sort of mystical sexual fire by simply standing within the frame of scratchy and grainy celluloid.

I’ll admit, I have never seen Keoma, even though I am a big fan of Nero and spaghetti westerns. Now that I have, it is pretty high up on my list of Nero gunslinger pictures. Man, he is so damn good in this and his gaze is chilling when he needs to communicate that he’s coming for your ass. Franco Nero just has a presence and never has that presence been as strong as it is here, even if he isn’t spraying down dozens of evil soldiers with a giant Gatling gun yanked out of a casket.

The film is directed by Enzo G. Castellari, a guy not necessarily known for quality but known for having a real sense of style and accomplishing a lot with very little. The man made magic with the 1978 film The Inglorious Bastards, a film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to “borrow” its title. He also did the extremely low budget but impressive 1990: Bronx Warriors, a sort of Italian ripoff of Walter Hill’s classic The Warriors.

Keoma is damn good for what it is. It isn’t just a throwaway spaghetti western in a sea of similar films. It is ballsy and gritty and showcases the great Franco Nero in his best kind of role. It is also one of the best films Enzo G. Castellari ever directed.

Film Review: The Bad Bunch (1973)

Also known as: Tom (original theatrical title), Nigger Lover, America the Beautiful, Kiss the Establishment Goodbye, Love In Our Time (all working titles), Mothers, Fathers and Lovers (alternate title), The Brothers (reissue title)
Release Date: October, 1973
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Greydon Clark, Alvin L. Fast
Music by: Ed Cobb
Cast: Greydon Clark, Tom Johnigarn, Jacqueline Cole, Bambi Allen, Aldo Ray

Dimension Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Let’s get that honkey!” – Everyone in the film

I was anticipating this being better than it was but I should have been warned by other people’s reviews of it. Also, it is directed by Greydon Clark, who also stars in it, and nothing he has done has been very good.

Two of his films were bad enough to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000Final Justice and Angels Revenge. Some of his other films are also duds: JoysticksBlack ShampooStargames and really, who am I kidding, all his pictures are dead on arrival.

The Bad Bunch or Tom or whatever you want to call it probably would have been on MST3K too, if it weren’t for the copious amounts of boobies and over the top racial hatred.

There’s really nothing positive about this picture. I love grindhouse movies and blaxploitation flicks but this is one of the worst I’ve seen. Based off of the premise, which sees an ex-GI from Vietnam go to Watts to give a medal to the father of his deceased friend and then finds himself in the ghetto being hunted by blacks full of hatred for whitey, I thought that this had some promise.

The hunt for whitey culminates into a one on about a dozen brawl, which is broken up by cops less than twenty minutes into the film. Then the rest of the movie is full of nonsensical scenes that mostly do nothing to advance the plot other than displaying racial hatred and a lot of breasts and ’70s bush.

A much better movie would have been the white guy on the run, trying to survive, using his military skills. This guy had no skills whatsoever and when his shirt was off, he looked like my old Uncle Claude, who never lifted a weight in his life.

This film is a prime example of wasted potential but maybe I’m jumping the gun, as there really wasn’t anything here that had potential, other than the premise. The direction was horrible, the acting was atrocious and not much about the plot made sense.

So does The Bad Bunch deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes! The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Executioners From Shaolin (1977)

Also known as: Hong Xi Guan (original Mandarin title), The Executioners of Death (original US dubbed version), Shaolin Executioners (worldwide English video title)
Release Date: February 16th, 1977 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lau Kar-leung
Written by: Kuang Ni
Music by: Yung-yu Chen
Cast: Chen Kuan-tai, Li-Li Li, Wong Yue, Lo Lieh, Gordon Liu

Shaw Brothers Studio, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Tiger style!” – Pai Mei

For fans of the Kill Bill films, this is a picture that has some relevance to those movies. First of all, it features Pai Mei as the story’s main villain. He was the old Chinese kung fu master that trained the Bride in Kill Bill: Volume 2. Also, Quentin Tarantino used one of the main actors from this film in his Kill Bill films: Gordon Liu. Liu actually plays Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Volume 2 and he also played Johnny Mo in Kill Bill: Volume 1.

This film was also very influential on the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, as they sampled Pai Mei’s line “Tiger style!” on their records and used a lot of the concepts and ideas from this film in their lyrics and their style.

Apart from the film’s pop culture influence, it is a pretty stellar kung fu epic. It is a historical drama with comedy elements sprinkled in to keep things mostly pretty light, even if we do get to witness some serious violence from time to time.

Directed by Lau Kar-leung, a guy who made several great pictures, Executioners From Shaolin has a great look with solid performances and enjoyable fight choreography. Pai Mei’s killer combo move is pretty cool and terrifying, after seeing what it can do in the incredibly stylized intro to the film during the credits sequence.

Kar-leung had a unique style that set him apart from other Hong Kong action directors. His intro scene was done in a style that became a signature of the director. I’ve actually posted that below, as opposed to a trailer like I usually do.

This film also stars Lo Lieh in one of my favorite roles he’s played. He was one of Hong Kong’s busiest actors and anything with him in it always makes a picture feel more legitimate than something similar that he’s not a part of.

A lot of kung fu movies all sort of just blend together but this is one that really has its own identity and stands tall. I love this movie and always have. When I rented it as a kid, it became one of those films I’d have to rent again and again, almost monthly.

The copies of this film that exist now are really good too. It is streaming for free for Prime members on Amazon Video and I have never seen this movie look so clean, clear and pristine.

Executioners From Shaolin is a hell of a lot of fun. If you are a fan of old school kung fu cinema, you really need to check this one out if you haven’t yet. It is one of many Pai Mei movies but I love the iconic character in this, probably above the other films.

Film Review: Mitchell (1975)

Also known as: Kill Mr. Mitchell (Hong Kong – English premiere title)
Release Date: September 10th, 1975
Directed by: Andrew V. McLaglen
Written by: Ian Kennedy Martin
Music by: Larry Brown, Jerry Styner
Cast: Joe Don Baker, Linda Evans, Martin Balsam, John Saxon

Allied Artists Pictures Corporation, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Piss off, kid!” – Mitchell

The only reason people even remember this movie now is because it was featured on one of the most important episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the episode that was the big farewell to original host Joel Hodgson.

Apart from that great episode, the movie itself is absolutely atrocious. It is a massive pile of steaming shit. It’s fucking horrible, if I can be so bold.

Sure, Joe Don Baker is the man. This also has John Saxon in it. But even these two can’t save a picture that is so poorly written and horrendously directed. It is one of those movies where watching too much of it will cause your eyeballs to bleed out of your sockets. It may even induce vomiting and diarrhea.

Yet, I still love Baker and Saxon and for some reason I’ll never understand, I love to torture myself with the worst movies that Earth has to offer. Maybe I should see a therapist but my Uncle Grapes once told me that “therapist” is spelled the same as “the rapist”. He spent a lot of time in a sanitarium though because he tried gluing cats to his naked body to “blend in with the bears”.

So what’s really wrong with this shit pancake of a movie? Well, a lot… frankly.

To start, lets talk about the action. There is a car chase that is so slow and boring that Crow T. Robot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 commented that it made “…Driving Miss Daisy look like Bullitt.” Also, watching Mitchell (Baker) do anything athletic, like running away from gunmen and such, was laughably bad. Although, we get that scene where he waves down a helicopter and it drops a shotgun down to him. I mean, who doesn’t want a shotgun dispensing chopper overhead when bad guys got you surrounded? Maybe that part of the action was kind of cool.

You also have to sit through one of the most awkward and strange sex scenes in movie history. Plus, it is accented by the horrible Mitchell theme song that just won’t go away from the time the picture starts till the very end of the credits when this turkey stuffed with crap finally ends.

Honestly, these could have all been different songs throughout the movie but they all sounded the same and I had to be on suicide watch for 37 days because that’s how long it took to get them out of my head.

Mitchell really is friggin’ dreadful. That being said, it has to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.” Ew… gross, Mitchell!

Film Review: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Release Date: August 8th, 1975
Directed by: Dick Richards
Written by: David Zelag Goodman
Based on: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Sylvia Miles, Anthony Zerbe, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack O’Halloran, Joe Spinell, Sylvester Stallone

ITC Entertainment, Avco Embassy Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[opening lines] This past spring was the first that I felt tired and realized I was growing old. Maybe it was the rotten weather we’d had in L.A. Maybe the rotten cases I’d had. Mostly chasing a few missing husbands and then chasing their wives once I found them, in order to get paid. Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old.” – Philip Marlowe

Farewell, My Lovely is the first of two pictures where Robert Mitchum plays the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe. This is also a remake of 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, as both films were adaptations of the Farewell, My Lovely novel by Raymond Chandler.

Additionally, this came out during the 1970s, when neo-noir was starting to flourish, as a resurgence in the noir style began with the success of Roman Polanski’s 1974 masterpiece Chinatown. Plus, period gangster dramas were also gaining popularity for the first time since the 1930s and 1940s due to The Godfather films by Francis Ford Coppola.

Robert Mitchum, a man who was at the forefront of film-noir during its heyday, finally got his chance to play the genre’s most notable male character. He is also the only actor to get a chance to play Marlowe more than just once, as this film was followed up by 1978’s The Big Sleep, a remake of the iconic 1946 film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

In regards to the narrative, there really isn’t all that much that is different from this picture and Murder, My Sweet. Sure, it is more violent and some details have changed but it is essentially the same story. It even has a weird drug trip sequence similar to what we got in the 1944 film.

There really isn’t much to sink your teeth into with this movie. It feels like a pointless and fairly soulless attempt at a reboot of the Marlowe character. The art direction and the cinematography are decent but the only real thing that holds this picture above water is Robert Mitchum, as well as some of the other actors.

Charlotte Rampling is decent but she doesn’t have much to do. Harry Dean Stanton appears but he doesn’t have enough meat to chew on. You also get to see a young Sylvester Stallone and Joe Spinell play some henchmen. The only real standout, other than Mitchum, is Jack O’Halloran as the Moose Malloy character.

I had high hopes for this movie but was pretty much let down once seeing it. I’ll still check out its sequel but this is not one of the better neo-noirs of the 1970s.

Film Review: Chinatown (1974)

Release Date: June 20th, 1974
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Burt Young, John Huston, Diane Ladd, Bruce Glover, James Hong

Paramount-Penthouse, Long Road Productions, Robert Evans Company, Paramount Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“What can I tell you, kid? You’re right. When you’re right, you’re right, and you’re right.” – Jake Gittes

Chinatown could very well be the best noir film that didn’t come out in the genre’s heyday of the 1940s and 1950s. It really embraces the style at its core but it is also a much harsher film than those older classics. In fact, it has a violent ending on par with Bonnie and Clyde, which is ironic, as Faye Dunaway is the female lead in both films.

This is my favorite Roman Polanski picture, although I need to rewatch several of them. But ultimately, the auteur director created a mesmerizing and well paced neo-noir that boasted stupendous acting from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, as well as creating an environment that felt authentic and lived in but also alien. But as noir pictures go, you really never know who anyone is and what their real motivations are. Chinatown is a well crafted tapestry of amazement and discomfort for the viewer, especially for a fan of film-noir or general crime thrillers.

The film takes place in 1930s Los Angeles, a decade before noir was born, but it feels truly at home in the style. Jack Nicholson plays private eye Jake Gittes, who traverses through the film as a rugged hero who is quick witted and always ready to deliver a killer one-liner. He is initially pulled into the story by a woman posing as someone she’s not. He takes the case but soon learns that all is not as it seems. In comes Faye Dunaway, the real woman who Gittes thought he was working for. There’s murder, political conspiracy and some dark secrets that come out, effecting the lives of all the key players. Although, Dunaway’s Evelyn Mulwray is not your typical femme fatale.

Chinatown paints most of its characters as being guilty of something but also being victims. It makes you uncertain of all the characters and wary of the twists and turns that happen. This is a film with layers upon layers but everything just flows well and even if you’ve seen the film and you know what happens, the picture is still emotionally effective. The suspense is like a thick cloud that continues to grow from scene to scene.

John A. Alonzo handled the cinematography and this is probably the film he is most known for, even though he also did a stellar job with 1983’s Scarface. Before this picture, he worked on Harold and Maude and Vanishing Point. This film alone should have really made Alonzo’s career and even though he worked in Hollywood until his death in 2001, later in his career he worked on straightforward comedies like The Meteor ManHousesitter and Overboard. At least he went out with a good last effort with Deuces Wild, which wasn’t a great movie but it was a period film that captured 1950s Brooklyn quite well.

Roman Polanski would go on to be embroiled in controversy due to allegedly drugging and raping a thirteen year-old girl. He fled to France, where he has lived since the 1970s, never returning to the United States. He continued to make films, a dozen or so in fact, but there are only two of them that I found to be good, The Ninth Gate and The Pianist, both of which came out over twenty-five years after Chinatown. Polanski was never quite the auteur that he was, after fleeing the States and leaving behind the Hollywood system.

Chinatown is a true classic, though. In my opinion, it is Polanski’s best work. Jack Nicholson would try to replicate the film with a sequel that he directed in 1990 called The Two Jakes. It’s pretty good but it’s no Chinatown.