Saturday, November 28, 2015

#220: Bail Out (Max Kleven, 1989)

This super-goofy, low-budget action thriller written and directed by stuntman Max Kleven, also known as W.B., Blue and the Bean and Outlaws Incorporated, moves at a decent clip and is reasonably entertaining and entertainingly stupid and certainly didn't eat up too much of my precious, valuable time over this long Thanksgiving weekend, and for that I salute it, with some raspberries blown in the general direction of the ridiculous racial and sexual stereotypes casually sprinkled throughout this turkey like a poorly chosen seasoning. I think a brief description will let you know what you're in for.
Bail Out stars the one, the only David Hasselhoff as Roger "White Bread" Donaldson (W.B. for short), a tennis instructor/bounty hunter for an unscrupulous, sleazy bail bondsman named Haronian (Charlie Brill). W.B. is assigned to the case of Annette "Nettie" Ridgeway (Linda Blair), the wealthy daughter of millionaire developer Mr. Ridgeway (a what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here John Vernon). Nettie was in the car with a man busted for $5 million worth of cocaine, and W.B. is hired to ensure she makes her court date on Tuesday.
When W.B. arrives to pick her up from her night in jail, Nettie is kidnapped by a couple of detectives hired to take her to her father's house. W.B. follows in his sweet ride, just in time to see another van pull in, this one driven by Colombian drug smugglers. They mow down the detectives and kidnap Nettie from the first kidnappers. W.B. is bummed about his job evaporating, but then concocts an elaborate scheme to wrest Nettie from the Colombians and get an even bigger payday than originally planned. He enlists a couple of racially diverse bounty hunter friends with nicknames to help him -- Mason "Blue" Walcott (Tony Brubaker), a former L.A. Raider, and Casper "Bean" Garcia (Thomas Rosales Jr.), a walking Mexican stereotype.
The three friends get mixed up in all kinds of crazy adventures along the way, especially when Nettie is kidnapped for a third time, this time by Colombian drug czar Zalazar (the very white Gregory Scott Cummins) after she slips free of the 'Hoff. These adventures will see them cross paths with an Iranian drug lord, strippers (one of whom plays a pantomimed game of tennis with W.B.), a nude motel clerk (ballet dancer and B-movie actor Debra Lamb), machine gun-toting Colombians, the guy who played Swamp Thing, a flamboyant gay stereotype car rental clerk, a guy dressed as a mariachi for no discernible reason, horses, and Danny Trejo. Oh yeah, and they eventually end up on a South American island.
Along the way, we learn that Mr. Ridgeway is not just a developer, but also a guy who lets drug smugglers use his dummy corporations and empty warehouses for some kickbacks, W.B. can pilot a helicopter, Nettie is an expert shot, nobody is getting paid enough for this shit, and Bean is great with explosives. Everybody has a good time, Hasselhoff butchers "La Bamba," rubs dirt in his hair, and makes comical facial expressions, and Bean hopefully makes enough cash to feed his nine kids. Cue '80s cheeseball guitars and gated drums while a pseudo-Eddie Money sings a theme song about our characters.
I don't need to spend any time analyzing this movie. You know exactly what it looks like and you can get it from Amazon Prime, YouTube, or your local independent video store. Or not. I had a good time.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

#219: The Awakening (Mike Newell, 1980)

It feels a bit strange to write a post about a silly horror film after last night's horrible tragedy in Paris. I can't say anything about it that is not inadequate and banal and unhelpful and inconsequential, but here I go anyway. We're a violent and destructive species, and we will be until we finally exhaust ourselves into extinction and let the world balance itself again. Some of us are capable of  extending tiny pleasures and kindnesses to each other, though, and there is a quiet dignity and grace in getting through our largely inconsequential lives with a minimum of damage to others. I may be no great shakes as a human, but I spend my days trying to make my wife and my cats happy and trying to make reasonably decent music with my friends and trying to write fun stuff for people who share my interests and trying to spend as much time listening to, watching, reading, looking at, eating, and experiencing the creative things some of my fellow humans have made when they were at their least crappy instead of spending my days mired in violence and greed and hate. Sometimes I fail at all these things, but I try. If that's what you're doing, too, thank you, and if that's what you're not doing, fuck you. Life is sad enough. Stop making it sadder.
In the spirit of getting on with it, let's talk about Mike Newell's 1980 horror film, The Awakening. I can't wholeheartedly recommend this film to a modern, general audience, but it's a fascinating period piece with some gorgeous cinematography, and I think film buffs will get a kick out of it. It has a very old-fashioned vibe (even by 1980 standards), for good and ill, and a lot of heavy hitters behind the camera. Unavailable for years, the film is now on DVD as a part of the bare-bones, mail-order Warner Archives series in a beautiful, widescreen reproduction. (Another great reason to support your local video stores. Netflix doesn't carry this series, but most existing independent video stores have a ton of them.)
Based on the Bram Stoker novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, The Awakening is about famed Egyptologist Matthew Corbeck (Charlton Heston) and his erstwhile assistant Jane Turner (Susannah York) searching for the tomb of an obscure Egyptian queen whose history has been scrubbed from the Egyptian records due to her murderous rage and overall scariness. Corbeck has been obsessed with this quest for years, much to the chagrin of his pregnant, neglected wife Anne (Jill Townsend). It's hard to tell whether Heston is supposed to be American or British in the film, but really, every character Heston plays is from the country of CHUCK HESTON, so that's very much where he's playing this character.
Matthew and Jane eventually find the queen and her tomb, which coincides with the premature birth of his daughter Margaret. Of course, Matthew misses the birth, and his fed-up wife takes the baby and splits as soon as she recovers. Matthew and his find are the hit of Egypt, and his obsession with the queen only increases, even as people in his orbit start dying mysteriously and gruesomely. The film then jumps ahead 18 years. Matthew is a professor in England and has left his family for his assistant Jane. His wife and daughter live in the United States. Margaret is 18 now and has grown up to become a pre-Remington Steele Stephanie Zimbalist, and she gets the urge to visit her absentee father in England.
Though they haven't seen each other in years, they connect immediately and creepily obsess over each other and the queen. When Matthew gets the news that there has been some damage to the queen's corpse due to a fungus or virus, he and Margaret go to Egypt and then bring the queen back to England for restoration. Lots of people die mysteriously, Matthew gets even more obsessively bonkers, and Margaret starts believing she's the reincarnated queen.
The Awakening has a very deliberate, slow pace that gradually accumulates in detail (except for the final third, where it's a little too obvious that some scenes have been cut for time and important details have been excised). This approach to storytelling was on its last legs in Hollywood productions at the time, and it's an approach I miss. The Awakening drags a bit, but overall, the slower pace creates an atmosphere and mood that fits the film well. Heston's hamminess works here. The story is silly but not ridiculous, and the tone is serious but not deathly self-important, and Heston never slides too far into campy self-parody while at the same time his scenery chewing keeps the film from being overly precious and pretentious.
On the negative side, the film is also old-fashioned when it comes to male/female relationships. Though the film is full of women characters, they are all fairly one-dimensional and are given only as much as they need to illuminate Matthew's character. They are defined by their relationships to him, not by their own personalities. Still, Matthew gets his comeuppance in the pretty awesome and pretty silly final scene.
The Awakening was the first feature film by British director Mike Newell, who up to that point had been an almost 20-year veteran of British television. He's had a pretty interesting career since in both the American and UK film industries. Newell is one of the last of the master craftsmen for hire in the Michael Curtiz mold, and his credits include such disparate films as Bad Blood, The Good Father, Enchanted April, Four Weddings and a Funeral, An Awfully Big Adventure, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The film's real star, though, is cinematographer Jack Cardiff. The guy is a wizard with light, and the golden sun and deserts of Egypt, the interiors of museums, and the vegetation and cityscapes of England are all captured beautifully by him. Cardiff had a long, distinguished career that included a fruitful collaboration with Powell & Pressburger on Stairway to Heaven, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes, and his other credits include Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The African Queen, The Barefoot Contessa, Under Capricorn, Ghost Story, Conan the Destroyer, Cat's Eye, and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Even the ridiculous movies looked good when he photographed them.