Film Review: The Gauntlet (1977)

Release Date: December 17th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince, Bill McKinney, Michael Cavanaugh

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes

Review:

“You cheap shot, gutless bastard! You really get off roughing up girls, don’t you? Big man! Big 45 caliber fruit!” – Gus Mally

People often confuse this movie as a Dirty Harry film. It’s not but it is damn similar to that series and it fits well within its style and tone. I actually think of it as Dirty Harry 3.5 and often times mix it in when watching some Dirty Harry flicks.

While they actually played with the idea of making it a Dirty Harry picture, the film wasn’t originally made to star Clint Eastwood. In fact, Marlon Brando and Barbara Streisand were original cast for the film. Brando had some issues and was replaced by Steve McQueen. McQueen and Streisand pretty much hated each other and then both left the production. Clint Eastwood and his then significant other, Sandra Locke, were cast in their place. Eastwood’s production company then got involved and Eastwood ended up directing the film, as well.

The film’s plot is pretty simple. A tough-as-nails cop has to escort a prostitute from Las Vegas to Phoenix. However, the mob and someone on the inside of the police force wants her to die before she can make it to Phoenix. So Eastwood must protect her and get her to the finish line while dealing with an army of cops, criminals and a biker gang. Everything comes to a head in one of the greatest action movie finales of all-time, which sees Eastwood drive a bus into downtown Phoenix where he is met by the entire police force, who are armed to the teeth and dead set on preventing the bus from reaching its final destination.

That finale is so damn good and iconic that I think that people fixate on it when thinking about this film and forget about how good the movie is as a total package. In fact, this is my favorite non-western Eastwood film after the original Dirty Harry. And honestly, it’s pretty close in quality to Dirty Harry and I’d even say it has better replay value.

The action in the film is incredible, especially for the time. I don’t know if the movie holds the record for squibs used but it’s got to be pretty close to the top.

Also, it’s a picture that has aged tremendously well and plays much better than most modern action films that are created for the ADHD generation that needs constant engagement and for every stunt and action sequence to be bigger than anything they’ve seen before it. The Gauntlet is a very grounded film that feels real and seems plausible unlike one of the thirty-nine Fast & Furious movies.

If you’ve never seen The Gauntlet or just haven’t seen it in a long time, you should probably check it out. Eastwood is an absolute badass, Locke is tremendous and the greatness of that finale will outlive us all.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the Dirty Harry film series, as well as the Death Wish movies.

Film Review: Cannonball! (1976)

Also known as: Carquake! (UK)
Release Date: July 6th, 1976
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Donald C. Simpson
Music by: David A. Axelrod
Cast: David Carradine, Bill McKinney, Veronica Hamel, Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Mary Woronov, James Keach, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman, Don Simpson, Martin Scorsese (uncredited), Sylvester Stallone (uncredited)

Cross Country Productions, Harbor Productions, New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I thought this car could beat anything on the road.” – Linda Maxwell, “This car’s a winner.” – Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman

A year after Paul Bartel directed the cult classic Death Race 2000, he made a very similar film with a lot of the same core cast members, as well as producer and B-movie legend, Roger Corman.

In this film, take the Death Race 2000 concept and strip away the futuristic sci-fi setting, the slapstick uber violence and the plot to assassinate a corrupt president and you’ve essentially got the same film.

Granted, Cannonball! isn’t as good and I kind of blame that on stripping away the things that made Death Race 2000 so unique. This is still really enjoyable, though, and fans of that more beloved flick will probably dig this one too.

The race car driving hero is still David Carradine and he’s re-joined in the cast by Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel (the director), Sylvester Stallone in an uncredited cameo, as well as some of the other bit players.

Like Death Race, the film follows a cross-country auto race, all the wacky characters involved and all the crazy shenanigans of racers trying to sabotage and outperform one another.

I like a lot of the new additions to the cast like the always great Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Belinda Balaski and the inclusion of Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman (the producer), Don Simpson and Martin Scorsese, who is also uncredited for his appearance here.

The action is good, the comedy still works and this film has that unique Paul Bartel charm.

In the end, this isn’t quite a classic but it did help pave the way for all the other movies like it that followed for years to come.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, as well as other cross-country racing movies of the ’70s and ’80s like the Cannonball Run films, The Gumball Rally and Speed Zone.

Film Review: First Blood (1982)

Also known as: Rambo (Argentina, Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Venezuela), Rambo: First Blood (informal title)
Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Written by: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, Sylvester Stallone
Based on: First Blood by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna, David Caruso, Bill McKinney

Anabasis N.V., Elcajo Productions, Orion Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I could have killed’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!” – Rambo

I wanted to see Rambo: Last Blood in the theater. But when it came out, I had a lot going on and next thing I knew, it was out of my local cinema. It’s out digitally now but before finally watching it, I thought I’d start way back at the beginning and work my way through the franchise, as I haven’t watched any of these in at least a decade.

First Blood is the best film, at least from my memory. But my opinion doesn’t really seem to be that different from the general consensus. And after revisiting it, I think the other ones have their work cut out for them, as this still holds up and hits the same notes it did when I first saw it, a few decades ago.

This is the most serious and dramatic of the films and Stallone is pretty damn stellar in this. He carries the entire film on his back and shows why he was one of the biggest action movie stars of all-time. People will always debate who was better between Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger but this film, like the original Rocky, shows that Stallone was the better actor.

The story here is simple, Rambo is a Vietnam veteran that just happens to be traveling on foot through a small town. He draws the attention of a bigoted sheriff that thinks it’s wise to fuck with Rambo. Both men push each other back a little bit and it escalates into the police going on a manhunt for a legitimately deadly soldier that knows how to use his wild environment to his extreme advantage.

What sets this film apart from the other Rambo movies is that this one has a clear message that really resonated at the time that it was released. It’s a straight up action movie, for sure, but beyond that, it examines the treatment of Vietnam veterans by their own country once they got home from the hell that was the Vietnam War.

The film conveys its message quite well and Stallone’s final moments in this film really show the audience the horrors and the effects of war on those who are closest to it. You sympathize with Rambo, you feel what he’s feeling in your gut and its hard not to truly feel his emotion and pain as he breaks down in the arms of his former commander.

In regards to the bulk of the film, which is action, everything is wonderfully shot and executed. I love the look of this picture, the choice of using the Pacific Northwest and how it becomes Rambo’s real weapon against a corrupt, power mad sheriff and his police force.

I also like the final act of the film which brings Rambo back into town for a showdown with the sheriff. Speaking of which, Brian Dennehy was pretty good as the slimeball sheriff and this is the role that helped to give him a pretty solid and respectable career.

One thing that really takes this movie to the next level is the Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s pretty perfect, especially in how it gives extra energy to the spectacle of the action heavy sequences.

First Blood is still a damn good motion picture to watch and it carries a message that is still relevant while not being too heavy handed, allowing the movie to still entertain you. Modern Hollywood could learn a lot from First Blood in that it doesn’t sacrifice story and character to force feed its audience an agenda. It presents its message and allows you to digest it, think on it and then do what you will with it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo films, as well as Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action movies.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part III (1990)

Also known as: Three (fake working title)
Release Date: May 25th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Donovan Scott, Bill McKinney

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Listen up, Eastwood! I aim to shoot somebody today and I’d prefer it’d be you. But if you’re just too damn yella, I guess it’ll just have to be your blacksmith friend.” – Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen

The Back to the Future trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. It’s damn near perfect and the films are still just as enjoyable now, as they were thirty years ago.

Each one is a tad bit weaker than the previous but since the first one is an absolute masterpiece, the sequels are still better than 95 percent of all the movies ever made.

Part III is my least favorite chapter in the trilogy but it is still one of the best popcorn movies a film fan could ask for.

This takes the Back to the Future formula and throws it into the Old West. I like that they did this and it opens up the series for some fresh takes on some of its tropes but I also feel like the western twist maybe wasn’t strong enough on its own to carry the whole film. What I liked most about the second film, the one I find to be the most entertaining, is that it jumped around and showed us a variety of different times and alternate timelines.

Also, I feel like going further back in time to the Old West might have worked better in the second film. Like maybe they could have flip-flopped the second and third pictures. Which also could have given us the wonderful Mary Steenburgen in two movies instead of just this one where she was actually a bit underutilized. Sure, you’d have to rework some narrative details.

I am going off on some tangents and most people will probably disagree with my take but in the end, this was still a superb motion picture and one of the best from its era.

While it is still exciting it is a bit bogged down by the scenery and is the slowest of the three films, which also adds to my thoughts on it not being the best choice for the final chapter. This feels more like a second act and when it ends, it ends quite abruptly.

But I love the tone of the film and it still captures the amazing Back to the Future spirit. It also probably would have played better, at least for me, if they kept making these and just didn’t cap it off at three films like every other movie franchise of its time. They could’ve given us two more of these pictures, had they made them shortly after this one and frankly, I’m pretty sure they would have maintained the same quality had they utilized the same creative team.

Back to the Future, Part III is the weakest of the three but the bronze medal winner in the strongman championships is still stronger than just about everyone else in the world.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: The Green Mile (1999)

Release Date: December 10th, 1999
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on: The Green Mile by Stephen King
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton, William Sadler, Gary Sinise, Dabbs Greer, Jon Polito, Bill McKinney

Castle Rock Entertainment, Warner Bros., 189 Minutes

Review:

“On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That it was my job? My job?” – Paul Edgecomb

After Frank Darabont made one of the greatest films of all-time when he adapted Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption, he couldn’t have found a more natural followup project than King’s The Green Mile. Both are prison stories and have some similar themes, although The Green Mile is closer to what people are used to from King, as it has a supernatural and magical element to it.

The story follows a prison guard named Paul Edgecomb, played by Tom Hanks with the elderly version played by Dabbs Greer. The story is told as a flashback to 1935 when Edgecomb was running a prison block called the Green Mile. While there, he met John Coffey, a man sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit but who also has special powers. Coffey is a giant black man, accused of raping and murdering two young white girls, as he was found clutching onto their bodies while covered in their blood and crying. As the story progresses, we see an intimate look into life in Edgecomb’s cell block and we also come to discover that Coffey is a gentle giant with the ability to heal the sick and to feel a sort of psychic empathy when others are in pain.

The look of the film is pristine. It has a majestic and magical quality to it while still being grounded in a sort of gritty realism. The cinematography was handled by David Tattersall, who worked on the Star Wars prequel films, as well as The MajesticSpeed RacerCon Air and several other notable films since the early ’90s. He also handled the bulk of cinematography for the entire run of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which was one of the most impressive things to ever hit television screens in the ’90s.

Populating the visually stunning world was a myriad of talented actors. In fact, there are so many great people in front of the camera it is hard to believe that they all worked on this film. Some of them aren’t massive stars like Tom Hanks but they are some of the best people who have worked in Hollywood over the last few decades. The acting is so superb in this that you get pulled in the same way that you do with The Shawshank Redemption. Maybe it’s a testament to how good Darabont is at directing, as he got incredible performances out of every member of this film’s large ensemble. And while I love Michael Clarke Duncan, the man has never been better than he is here.

The Green Mile isn’t a pillar of perfection like The Shawshank Redemption but it is a near flawless companion piece to it.

This film is absolutely stellar in the highest regard. Maybe the running time is a bit long but there isn’t a dull moment within the film. It feels more like a miniseries than a singular motion picture but everything that happens is meticulously crafted and executed and their isn’t an unimportant moment within the film.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: Final Justice (1985)

Release Date: May 1985
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Greydon Clark
Music by: David Bell
Cast: Joe Don Baker, Rossano Brazzi, Venantino Venantini, Patrizia Pellegrino, Bill McKinney, Helena Dalli, Lino Grech, Tony Ellul

Arista Films, 90 Minutes 

final_justiceReview:

This is one of those films that I actually saw before it appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, it is so awful that I didn’t enjoy the experience until it got the professional riffing treatment.

I remember my Uncle renting this one weekend in 1986 or so. He had a love for shitty action films but even he couldn’t stomach this lumpy puddle of dung.

Final Justice stars Joe Don Baker, who also starred in the more famously MST3K riffed Mitchell. That film, or that MST3K episode, is better known because it was the last one to feature Joel Hodgson as host. Being that Joe Don Baker was the star of that episode’s film, makes a second Joe Don Baker episode a natural choice.

In this movie, Joe Don Baker is a Texas sheriff that travels to Malta to hunt down a criminal. He acts super Texas-like and pisses off the local police, the local people and pretty much anyone that doesn’t appreciate a big Texan sausage waving its badge around like it owns a small Italian island. It’s hard taking a good ol’ boy seriously when he looks down his good ol’ nose at the Maltese people, their beautiful island and their culture.

Shoot first, ask questions later – if he even feels like it, is the big Texan’s philosophy. Hell, he barely pays attention to his hot Maltese guide because he’s trying to wave his gun around while delivering Texas justice to Malta.

And the worst part of it all, is his stupid good ol’ boy sheriff jacket.

Oh yeah, his character’s name is actually Sheriff Thomas Jefferson Geronimo III. Who the hell comes up with this stuff?

There is one good thing in this film and that is Malta. It is truly a beautiful place and the architecture and landscapes are breathtaking. However, the cinematography is terrible and it doesn’t do Malta any favors. Also, the film benefits just because it was filmed there. The amazing locations have nothing to do with this worthless picture. In fact, it’s a slap in the face to Malta that it was featured in such a piece of crap that boasts grade school level filmmaking prowess.

Final Justice is an unwatchable turd. It is boring and deplorable. It also promotes the idea that the world is America’s to step on because Texans, big hats, cowboy boots, six shooters and beer bellies trump everything else, boy!

Rating: 2/10