Philly's a shit-hole. -Tagline I came up with for Fighting Back. You're welcome.
I've done so many of these every-man-pushed-to-the-brink-by-violent-crime-and-thus-forced-into-vigilantism-as-a-way-of,-not-only-cleaning-up-the-streets-that-the-ineffectual-and-or-corrupt-police-force-refuse-to,-but-also,-avenging-wrongs-done-to-loved-ones-by-the-no-good-punks-now-ruling-the-streets movies over the years that it gets damn hard to come up with an original intro for these reviews. Of course, the folks who made Fighting Back also faced similar difficulties.
By the time Alligator director Lewis Teague tackled the subject, it was not only well-trodden territory, it was also done a lot. Also, it wasn't new. And the idea wasn't terribly original. So what did Alligator director Lewis Teague decide do with this material when presented with Fighting Back? Alligator director Lewis Teague took the trailer approach: that is, he he turned his entire 90 minute movie into one long revenge-sploitation trailer. He hit every note and then some. He started at eleven and then somehow, miraculously, defying all logic and good taste, managed to crank that shit even further.
Fighting Back's plot plays like a greatest hits collection of revenge movies—a desperate attempt by Teague to get his film into this genre's pantheon. So determined was Teague to force Fighting Back onto the top of the violent, vigilante (trash) heap, that he opened the film with a montage of actual atrocities. Not that Teague is to blame for such shamelessness: a character in his movie constructs this montage. You see, ratings-hungry news producer Michael Taylor (David Rasche) is making a heavy-handed statement on our society's descent into unlivable cesspool-itude. If he has to air footage of actual people being murdered, then so be it. You might say that employing actual footage of actual atrocities—no matter the context in the film—is a cheap and exploitative way of manipulating an audience, but you...actually you'd be right.
No worries, viewers, we are soon transported away from these images and into a loving Philadelphia (Uh oh) home where a family headed by John (Tom Skerritt) and Lisa D'Angelo (Patti LuPone) is attending a going away party. How does Teague transition from the opening montage to this scene? Easy: the folks at the light-hearted party just happen to be watching the horrifying footage on TV. Because that's what people do at warm, carefree get-togethers.
[Loving couple with a child on the way in a revenge movie—I'm sure everything will be fine for them. Also, you can tell Mr. Skerritt's character is Italian because he's got an ethnic-y mustache.]
Teague wastes no time cranking the story into high gear. As the D'Angelos—grandma and son Danny in tow—drive back home, pregnant Lisa becomes angered when she sees a pimp viciously beating his employee. Pregnant Lisa jumps from the car and attacks the pimp. John runs close behind, partly to pull Lisa away from danger, but mostly to avoid getting on the pimp's shit list. Too late.
Car chase ensues, ending with pimp-mobile smashing into John's family-mobile, landing Lisa in the hospital with a miscarriage.
But it's back to work for John the next day who must juggle family life with the running of an Italian deli and the shooting of the shit with the customers. We soon learn that John ain't the only one with a short memory as regards the previous day's pimp attack. When John offers his mother a ride home that night, she refuses because she'd rather not wait a couple minutes for him to close the shop. She instead walks grandson Danny home, but not before taking a detour to the pharmacy so that...goddamnit, thieves. Ok, the muggers only want money; it's not like...Jesus fuck, they just bludgeoned Grandma, cut off her finger and stole her ring.
Jesus Goddamn Christ! Enough is enough! For the love of fuck, someone open a can of justice on these punks! (Also, Philly's a shit-hole.)
["I'm sorry, sir, I can't talk to you right now; I'm fulfilling my legally required exploitation role of the cop who doesn't give a shit when a citizen comes by with complaints of his family being terrorized."]
Enter John's new Guardian Angels-esque Neighborhood Watch group, the People's Neighborhood Patrol. Eliminating random thug violence ain't the only thing on the group's to-do list, however. The People's Neighborhood Patrol must also contend with a local park whose deterioration into an open air drug and sex market has become so extreme that the denizens of Hamsterdam would tsk tsk in disgust. And how do you contend with such a situation?
["No, tricking out my ride with a little battering ram action is totally street legal. There's contending to contend to."]
But the group lacks one important element. Not until the People's Neighborhood Patrol gets the aid of the local dance instructor (Yaphet motherfucking Kotto) will it be able to operate at full capacity.
[Even as a dance instructor, Yaphet Kotto can't help but be badass.]
Of course, it ain't long before law enforcement and the political establishment take note of John's vigilante ways, and meet with him in an attempt to co-opt his populist appeal.
[If this man's mustache is real then he is now officially my favorite person of all time.]
But Philly will just not stop having crime. A drug syndicate, headed by the owner of a fast-food chicken joint, peddles junk to Danny's friend Mario.
["Mario, whya you strung out ona smack?"]
And then Captain Pimp kills John's cop friend Morelli. The resultant funeral brings the entire city to John's side: Morelli's widow locks arms with John and then leads an enough-is-enough march through town.
[The grieving-Italian-widow-who-will-act-as-the-symbol-for-your-cause you ordered is here.]
And then John's men clean up the park, and he runs for political office and blabbity blah and blah and what have you.
All plot ridiculousness aside, Fighting Back's does contain one killer ringer of a saving grace: the ridiculously good performances. Although the depiction of the close-knit Italian community veers sometimes toward simplistic, Scorsese-lite, stereotypical, "I'ma talking witha my hands" territory; the apparently improvised nature of many of the scenes keeps it from plunging head-on into caricature land. The credible performances lend this film an undeserved authenticity.
Aside from the leads, Skerritt and LuPone, the cast is also rounded out with character actor ringers: Yaphet Kotto, David Rasche, and Frank Sivero. Sivero is a name you'll recognize from the cast of Goodfellas. Who am I kidding? You don't know the name Frank Sivero. This is the guy I'm talking about:
But yeah, he's in this movie.
Fighting Back is also distinguished in being one of the few movies of its ilk to actually pay lip-service to the idea that roving bands of armed vigilantes might not be the super awesomest bestest thing in the world, man. And then Tom Skerrit beats the shit out of straw men—er, I mean dudes selling heroin to ten-year olds on the front steps of an elementary school. Yep, that happens in the movie.
Hey, I never said Fighting Back took seriously the moral qualms associated with vigilante justice. I just said it pretended to. But when viewed against the multitude of blindly amoral films to which this film is a party, Fighting Back is damn near as intellectual and even-handed a debate on the subject as you're likely to see.
My friend Bill Mayo, of the band Black Taxi, and I discuss one of my favorite Brian De Palma movies: Phantom of the Paradise.
Also, this is the first episode with theme music. This awesome music, incidentally, was composed and recorded by Bill Mayo and Keith Reynolds of 2 Cent Bridge Music Production. You can listen to the episode here.
Ok, ok, I know I already posted the clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian commentary track some time ago. So there's no reason to return to this dried-up well, you must be saying. Oh if only that were the case. But you see, Arnold had to go ahead and (ten years ago) record another awesomatastical commentary track, this time for Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall.
As with the Conan commentary track, Arnold does nothing more here than recite the goings-on going on on the screen. I'm convinced that in both instances Arnold was told that he was recording a special descriptive audio track for sightless viewers. No other explanation makes sense.
My writing partner Roger Snead and I discuss Chuck Norris' bizarrely noir-inspired action flick Forced Vengeance. Also, yours truly does his best lame imitation of the same Mr. Norris. You can listen to the episode here.
Ok, so my computer went ahead and shit the bed this weekend, which means I spent most of Sunday getting it fixed and whatnot, which means I didn't have time to watch a movie for to review, nor to review the movie I didn't have time to watch.
In the meantime, here's a deleted scene from Blue Velvet featuring the awesome Megan Mullally. You know who loves Megan Mullally? This guy.
As you may have come to realize, my movie reviews of late have skewed toward humorous take-downs of poop movies. Sure, I enjoy praising legitimately decent movies, but who are we kidding: That ain't what I've got this blog for. Pooping on poop movies is not only more within my wheelhouse, but the wheelhouse itself is made of poop...which is sitting on other lesser poop...which is tarnished by the snarky poop sitting on top of it (don't bother asking me to decode this jumbled misuse of a metaphor; I don't even know what I was going for here...or what exactly the metaphor is).
And so I went into the blaxploitation pic Detroit 9000 hoping to hurl at least a few handfuls of feces, but, no, the movie had to be so, so, just so damn cool. From the look (you readers know I'm a sucker for sweet seventies style), to the unexpectedly nuanced political/social commentary, to the stunning Detroit location photography, to the soundtrack, to the action, to the...everything; this movie has it all. Sure it has some flaws—as I'll enumerate later—and some delightfully cheesy datedness, but this is a movie I found hard to make jokes toward. Who knows, maybe I was just lazy this week.
I'm not gonna bother detailing the plot of Arthur Marks' picture because I think you should just go ahead and watch it. Take my word for it. But because you'll wanna know at least a little about this movie before diving in, I'll give you a taste. Briefly, Alex Rocco (as the white cop Danny) and Hari Rhodes (as the black black cop Jesse) team up take on the case of the year: uncover the heist that netted half a million from a fundraiser for the campaign of the state's potential first black governor.
Also, here's just a bunch of cool imagery from the movie.
[You know who's more stylish than a Detroit cop? Not a goddamn person. That's who. Robocop ain't got shit on them.]
[A radio show from the movie in which citizens can call and question members of the Detroit police. Goddamn, I love the seventies.]
[Seventies exploitation cinema was there to let you know that somewhere, anywhere, everywhere two ladies were always about to get it on—whether it had anything to do with the plot or not. Seriously, this lengthy sequence—viewed from afar by Jesse, while on a stakeout—is so quickly divorced from any preceding or subsequent scenes that...you know what? I was gonna make a cheap, easy, no-longer-timely Kardashian joke but I'm above that. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some Mark Foley references to polish.]
[When Alex Rocco's nipples lay siege to your recurring life-as-a-congressional-page nightmares tonight, you'll have me to thank for putting this image in your head.]
[Who'd a thunk Detroit could be so photogenic? No, I'm not being facetious.]
[The people of Detroit should thank this movie for making the motor city look so damn cool.]
Now that all the dick-sucking is aside, I should note that Detroit 9000 is not without its faults. One of my chief complaints lies in the rather (relatively speaking) thin characterization of Jesse. Don't get me wrong, this guy's stool emits enough badassery/cool to fill ten movies; and he is a constant pleasure to watch. But, perhaps he's just a little too cool, at least compared to Danny. (Listen to me: complaining that the hero of a blaxploitation pic is too cool. What blasphemy.) You see, Rocco plays an ambiguous, deeply flawed, deeply human character; wheras Rhodes' cop exists somewhere in the stratosphere.
Obviously, as with all blaxplotation pictures, Detroit 9000 was rightfully working against, and actively laying waste to, a history of buffoonish, larcenous, lecherous portrayals of black folks in cinema. Detroit 9000 had to make Jesse as untroubled and as uncomplicated as possible to obliterate decades of damage inflicted on the image of black America by Hollywood.
Perhaps the fault lies with the complex characterization of Danny. If he had been written in a similarly simplistic vein, I wouldn't have even had any complaints with Jesse. But because Danny is such a troubled, complex character, I wanted more from his partner. Jesse is less a character and more a statement.
Detroit 900's biggest fault, paradoxically, is contained in its greatest strength: its ambiguous ending. I was surprised at the subtlety with which the film refused closure on an important plot point. And I would have enjoyed it more had the movie not spent the next five minutes or so hammering home what a bold and audacious movie it was to stage such an ending. Director Arthur Marks may as well have stepped in front of the camera and shouted, "Hey, look at how ambiguous this ending is. Isn't it ballsy that we're doing this? Seriously, we should get a fucking medal or something. Love me."
Every now and then a movie just begs me to watch it. Whether it's the poster, setting, star or director; some, however insignificant seeming quality, will have me thirsting for a movie. Sometimes a single sentence will do it.
Here is the Netflix description for the mid-eighties movie Revolt: "Rand Martin stars in this tense actioner as a drug runner who decides to turn the tables on his longtime employer -- a power-wielding drug lord and gangster -- by paying him back in piles and piles of revenge." Who could say no to that?
Who is Rand Martin? I have no clue. But I had to see this movie. He paid back his drug-dealer employer in, not one, but multiple piles of revenge. Well, damned if I didn't hop on this movie right away...well, not right away. I wanted to get a little more info on it first. So I searched around and, not only is this movie not listed on IMDb, but I couldn't find any info on the star nor director J. Sheybani. Wow, secret movie. Even better. So I watched and watched and watched.
Good goddamn, everything about Revolt is so pitch-unperfect, so ill-conceived, so mal-executed, so, so...just...well, what's the opposite of good? If this movie wasn't still available on the Netflix I would have sworn that I hallucinated the entire thing. Indeed, seeing as I could find next-to-no info on this film, I'm going to assume that the entire affair was a tax dodge to make drug money disappear.
Perhaps Revolt's biggest misstep is a confusion of tones. And most of this fault can be laid at the doorstep of the line-dubbers. Shot silent—or in a foreign language, I really don't know—the dubbed dialogue in Revolt is so off-key I'm going to assume the folks who dubbed the dialogue were fed some booze and told they were working on a light-hearted comedy.
While watching I damn near wore out my hand, writing down all the hilariously clunky lines that had me chortling. I was going to transcribe most of them here until I realized that near all was lost in translation from poorly-dubbed, wrongly-toned spoken word to the page. Huh, I guess this is only funny when tone-deaf voice actors speak the lines.
As the movie opens, a low-rent Dick Wesson-esque narrator happily states over various poorly-shot, industrial-film-caliber, silent scenes: "There's a drug dealer arriving on that train. Ah, there he is...his target is a natural: any educational center—from grade schools to universities. This could be happening on a campus anywhere USA....Drug dealers could be anywhere—such as this little town where our story takes place."
And then the story proper kicks in. As we enter the bucolic town that is the center of this story, drug-runner Curtis is being treated to some chin music by the goons of one hood Macintosh, on account of his desire to quit Macintosh's syndicate. Curtis soon escapes, and Macintosh hires new man George.
This is where George ends up.
[Ah, the majestic midwestern palm tree.]
George's brother Steve decides to pay a visit to Macintosh's compound.
["Hey, you guys ever see The Searchers?"]
Nothing happens. Macintosh lets Steve go.
Then, midway through movie, the story stops so that all the characters can react to the 1980 Iran hostage crisis. (Hello, topicality called, it wants its six-year-old event back.) Macintosh takes advantage of the ensuing anti-Iranian bigotry to stage the murder of Steve's half-Iranian son.
Although you gotta admire the attempt by the film-maker to include in his mindless action film a comment on narrow-minded reactionary hysteria, and the bubbling-under-the-surface racist attitudes of small town folks; the whole thing is so tone deaf as to negate any good intentions. When will film-makers learn: good intentions ain't got no place in exploitation films.
Macintosh soon has a pow-wow with his men to discuss the progress on locating Curtis.
["Remember we're not attacking you. Now I want everyone to take turns telling Hank how his beard has negatively affected them."
"I told you, I'm not gonna go straight mustache. My face don't look good without the extra—"
"Hank, you will speak when spoken to...and ain't nothin' straight about our 'staches"]
Steve decides to join forces with Curtis...
["I'm sorry, I kinda spaced. We were talking about Nagel prints?"]
...but not before Macintosh sends some men to take care of Curtis' girlfriend...
["I should've worn a deeper v-neck. I definitely could've done a better job trimming this 'stache. It would've been nice if I— enough of these would'a, could'a, should'a's buster brown, you know what Dr. McCoy told us about that."]
...leaving Macintosh's men in anticipation of the hellish fury soon to be unleashed on their narrow behinds.
["You guys ever see The Searchers? I feel three times awesomer than that movie right now."]
But Macintosh's men don't stand a chance, because this is what they're up against.
[Note to self: Buy denim vest for Halloween next year. Also: no shirt.]
And then Badass McDenimVest gets his ass killed.
Here is a shot-for-shot rundown of the what-the-fuck-is-happening-ness that comes after:
All of Macintosh's men get killed, and Steve corners the big man. Macintosh gets in his car and flees, and Steve hops in a car and pursues.
The cops catch wind of the shenanigans; they hop in a car and head for the highway.
[SCENE MISSING APPARENTLY]
Macintosh—whose wife and child are now in the car for some reason—is speeding down the highway.
Cops pursue Macintosh.
[ANOTHER SCENE MISSING APPARENTLY]
Steve, somewhere on the highway (seriously, no attempt is made to depict where the hell he is in relation to any of the other characters, or to any of the action in general), is driving fast to somewhere.
[ANOTHER SCENE MISSING APPARENTLY]
Macintosh sees a police roadblock before it's too late, tries to swerve out of the way, and sends his car flying off a cliff.
And then when the car is midair this happens.
[Because science says so.]
[ANOTHER SCENE MISSING APPARENTLY]
Steve's wife, for some reason on the side of the highway, finds Macintosh's son—who apparently escaped the explosion just in time—on the side of the road and picks him up. She is joined by Steve who is now here for some reason.