Film Review: Smoke Signals (1998)

Release Date: June 26th, 1998
Directed by: Chris Eyre
Written by: Sherman Alexie
Based on: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Music by: B. C. Smith
Cast: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal, Perrey Reeves, Tom Skerritt

Miramax, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes it’s a good day to die, and sometimes it’s a good day to have breakfast.” – Thomas Builds-the-Fire

For a film that’s title is written across the screen in Papyrus, this isn’t a bad little picture despite its poor choice in typeface.

This is a coming of age story but it is also about shifting into manhood. The interesting twist, is this is told from a Native American perspective. In fact, the entire film, top to bottom, is a Native American production. Sherman Alexie, the writer, did this to properly convey Native American culture, as Hollywood has typically misinterpreted Native life in the United States.

The core of the story is about two young men going on a road trip together, as one of their fathers, who left years ago, passed away in his trailer outside of Phoenix. The two young men travel on a bus from their reservation in Idaho down to Arizona. The young men have never really been off the reservation or experienced life in the world outside of their tiny bubble.

What really holds this film together is the performances of Adam Beach and Evan Adams. The two actors were very much different characters but they had a good chemistry that propelled the picture forward. I have really come to like Beach over the years and this may be the earliest example of his work that I’ve seen.

Gary Farmer plays Beach’s father and he does so with such grace. He’s shown being abusive to his son and his wife, as he is an angry alcoholic. But as the story unfolds and we see his regrets and understand the weight on his shoulders, which ultimately pushed him towards the bottle, we see a different man, a soft, caring, guilt ridden human being that can’t face the wreckage he caused. And like his son, we have to find a way to accept the man for who he is and make peace with him.

Smoke Signals isn’t a great film but it is unique and even though it is heavy in the emotion department, it is sweet and relatable to any man that has grown up having issues with their father, Native American or not.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Powwow Highway.

Film Review: Demon Knight (1995)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (complete title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1995
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Music by: Edward Shearmur
Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, C. C. H. Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, Dick Miller, John Schuck, Gary Farmer, Charles Fleischer, Chasey Lain, Traci Bingham, John Larroquette (cameo), John Kassir

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck this cowboy shit! You fucking ho-dunk, po-dunk, well then there motherfuckers! All you had to do was give me the goddamn key! Then we could get on with our lives. [cuts his hand to make new creatures] Alright… this house is hereby… condemned…” – The Collector

As a horror loving kid in the ’80s, I used to watch the shit out of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. So when the show ended but they turned to producing movies, I was saddened but also kind of stoked.

I saw Demon Knight when it first came out in my local theater and I even got a copy of it on VHS when it was released later that year. It has been a really long time since I’ve seen it, however. Actually, the last time I saw it was when I still had a working VCR. Seeing it now, I forgot how absolutely insane and fun this movie was.

The film is directed by Ernest Dickerson, who started his career doing the cinematography in Spike Lee’s earliest films. Before directing this, he was in the director’s chair for Juice and Surviving the Game, two films I really liked as a teen and still enjoy today. Dickerson was a young, up and coming filmmaker when he got this gig. I feel like his work on Demon Knight enriched his oeuvre.

It didn’t hurt that Dickerson had an all-star cast in this thing. The two top roles went to William Sadler and Billy Zane. To be frank, this is still my favorite role that Zane has ever played. The film is rounded out by Jada Pinkett, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, Dick Miller, Brenda Bakke and Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer. As a huge Dick Miller fanboy, I love him in this and he got his just desserts, at this point in his long career, as he gets to star opposite of a horde of big breasted naked ladies in his final scene.

This is a film that pulls no punches and just goes for it and that’s why it works so well, has held up nicely and is infinitely more fun and entertaining than 99 percent of modern horror. The demons are cool, Zane is cool, Sadler is cool, Dick Miller is Dick f’n Miller and this is just a bonkers movie in the greatest regard. In a lot of ways, Dickerson out Joe Dante’d Joe Dante.

I’m glad that I revisited this, which also has got me enthused about revisiting that other Tales From the Crypt movie, Bordello of Blood.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything related to Tales From the Crypt.