All posts by Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

Harley Cokeliss’ MALONE

 

Malone Burt Reynolds 1986

They sure do not make them like Burt Reynolds anymore, do they? After maxing out being a movie star, and before getting resurrected in the role of a lifetime in BOOGIE NIGHTS (“Jack Horner, filmmaker.”), Reynolds starred in what could and should have been a JOHN WICK-esque action vehicle, MALONE, a very lean and action-packed extravaganza that has a formulaic story with an excellent cast and a magnificently satisfying climax.

In typical Reynolds fashion, he plays a mysterious drifter on the lam from his past, whereby fate, his Mustang (of course) breaks down in some small town and befriends the mechanic and his daughter, and by happenstance uncovers a sinister plot of a deep state takeover. Seriously.

As noted, the ensemble is terrific. Lauren Hutton plays a maturely sexy government assassin sent after Reynolds. She’s either his former protege or lover, but probably both, and in typical style, she’s a total badass in the film, and is a lot of fun; think Dafoe in JOHN WICK. Cliff Robertson’s combover and bronzer perfectly compliment his character, which is one of deep-rooted and misguided “patriotism” who has bred and nurtured a following of homegrown extremists ready to take the government back. Rather timely.

Tracey Walter is a polished redneck goon, and he’s wonderful. A good precursor to his role as Bob in BATMAN. Scott Wilson is the town mechanic, who has backed and stood by Reynolds’ ultra cool and machismo antics, Cynthia Gibb as Wilson’s daughter and Reynolds’ just too young to be his love interest, and the film does a very smooth way of acknowledging that fact. Dennis Burkley, Cliff Gardner, and Kenneth McMillan all play their respective typecast and do it exceptionally well.

Malone VHS

The narrative is lean, almost too lean. While the story is very formulaic, which totally works, some of the snappy dialogue gets lost in translation being used on underdeveloped (or undercast) characters. Everything about Reynolds in this film is gold, though. From smoking cigarettes to his alpha vernacular, right down to his rather apparent toupee, it all works so damn well.

The third act is the payoff. After a series of melodramatic events, it comes down to Reynolds versus Robertson and his WASP brotherhood of weekend warriors. And yes, absolutely, this film snap, crackles, and pops into an overly satisfying showdown that is squib city and practical explosions that will set anyone’s chest hair on fire.

The film itself plays it like an “edgy” contemporary tale of a ronin from some old black and white Kurosawa flick (just supplement Toshiro Mifune’s man bun for Reynolds’ toupee), and a western like SHANE (supplementing Alan Ladd’s mustang with a mechanical one). It’s not quite neo-noir, nor is it a time capsule piece of the era either. It just exists, in an almost forgotten yet certainly undervalued way; in a decade that most will bypass or fail to acknowledge.

There is a lot of good stuff from the 80s, and a bounty of those films paved the way for the big budget 90s adult, R rated dramas that are held in such nostalgic fashion in the current era of CGI and regarded thespians rendering themselves into superheroes. There was a time before, there were no boxes to check or poorly dated popular music featured in the film, for it was a time of cigarette smoke and stuntmen and movies that did not get a sequel; MALONE is one of those films.

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Martin Scorsese’s BOXCAR BERTHA

BOXCAR BERTHA is not only an aesthetic precursor to Martin Scorsese’s seminal picture, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST but also a thematic one. It is equal parts a love story between the lead, Barbara Hershey, and man, David Carradine but also Scorsese’s most Americana film that encompasses the life of the 1930s through craps games, bank robberies, and our heroes riding the rails.

The film is very low budget and not as polished as those of us who have followed Scorsese’s career are used to. It’s rough and hard, playing less like a Scorsese picture and more like a less tuned version of BADLANDS or some early Malick movie that time forgot; yet the film plays more like an exploitation than something whimsical.

Boxcar Bertha

In typical Scorsese fashion, he has his core ensemble of actors who would again appear in later works, Hershey, Carradine, Barry Primus, Harry Northrup, and Victor Argo. And naturally, the film features a cameo by Scorsese himself. Bernie Casey is also featured in an excellent turn, who brutishly rounds out the gang.

In the film’s less than ninety minute runtime, a lot of ground gets covered, and the plot devices and the pacing is slightly out of sync but works towards the film’s advantage. Through it’s exploration of sex and violence, this was the first “studio” film where Scorsese honed his skills as one of cinema’s most important auteurs.

Hershey gives a marvelous performance as a young woman who accidentally gets ensnared in a fight between the railroad and its workers, becoming the eye of Carradine’s storm. Big Bill Shelley is his name, and busting up the railroad is his game. Carradine is such a magnificent bastard in the film, and wonderfully chews each scene he is in. John Carradine, his father, gets a very fun, albeit, brief role as the railroad tycoon determined to bring Big Bill Shelley down. And of course, Scorsese gives us one scene between the two.

Boxcar Bertha Carradine Hershey

It is not Scorsese’s most important film, nor by any means is the film a masterwork. It plays like a thesis film he’s making as so he can graduate and blossom into the filmmaker he is known for today. It is sexy and dangerous, it is rough around the edges, and has such a grandiose ending; one that is one so striking and powerful, both thematically and practically made, that any serious viewer of film cannot help but absolutely admire how audacious it is.

BOXCAR BERTHA is available on blu ray from Twilight Time and to stream on Amazon Prime.

Harvey Hart’s BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN

If the Eagle’s LYIN’ EYES was a film, it would most certainly be Harvey Hart’s BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN. The perverse and transgressive drama features an exceptional cast led by Michael Parks and Ann-Margret with supporting turns by Kim Darby, Brad Dexter, Brett Sommers, and David Carradine. The film has the Old Hollywood look of silky black and white, sharp camera work, and two beautiful movie stars, but with New Hollywood themes; homosexuality, adultery, apathy, and a man’s penchant for underage girls. 

Michael Parks brings his all as a young man recently returned from a two-year stint in the Navy, tattooed with his love for Ann-Margret on his forearm, only to find that she had married a rich old man. Angst and apathy engulf Parks has he walks the streets of his old town, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers with David Carradine, he drifts in his home town, as he zigzags between jobs, all the while trying to avoid the nostalgically emotional traps Ann-Margret lays for him. 

The more “controversial” themes of the film are mainly left to not just the viewer’s interpretation, but their intellect. It is not that Parks’ fondness for high school girls comes off predatory or aggressive, it is difficult to dissect if it something that is consciously doing or subconsciously. He isn’t a sexual predator, but it certainly is not a coincidence either. 

Ann-Margret is wickedly fun in this film. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and my oh my, does she know how to arrange things. She’s the best kind of femme fatal; sexy, alluring, yet deep down inside of her lay a turmoil with no resolution, no end in site – she is destined to be vapid and hollow for eternity. She is magnificent in this role in a beautiful showboat of a performance. 

BUS RILEY’S BACK IN TOWN is the epitome of a “sleeper”, it’s a film that is underseen, and due to its racy subject matter, is a film that more than likely did not find its proper audience upon its release, and still has yet to find home video distribution in any region. While the film is tame, by today’s standards and those of other late 60s and 70s films – given the context, the film is well crafted and features a young Michael Parks whose on-screen charm and aesthetic would give James Dean a run for his money any day.

Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand

In the wake of EASY RIDER reinventing the cinematic wheel, Universal Pictures made a five-picture deal with young filmmakers, offering them each a million dollar budget and final cut, one of these films was Peter Fonda’s THE HIRED HAND. In his directorial debut, Fonda captures an intimate portrait of friendship and identity and foregoes the ultra-violence of Sam Peckinpah and embraces the melodrama of Douglas Sirk

What is most striking about the film is the technical achievements, the cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is without a doubt, absolutely astounding. He captures life, which at no point seems staged, as if it is happenstance that he just happened to be there to document the story; it all just seems so effortless. Bruce Langhorne’s score further laminates the remarkable visual beauty, with serene musical numbers that accompany Fonda and Warren Oates as they travel back to Fonda’s homestead. 

The two men head back, in hopes that Fonda’s wife (played by the remarkable Verna Bloom), ten years his senior, will accept him back after he left unannounced years ago. The pair was originally a trio, and the third, a young hand, gets murdered under a mysterious cloud in the first town they stop in, those are the events that lead to Fonda’s awakening of needing to go home.

Once the pair reach the homestead, many revelations lead to an introspective crisis for all involved. Fonda forcing himself back into a life he left behind, Bloom and her transgressions while Fonda had been away, and Oates and his silent love for Bloom. The performances are as magnificent as one would think. Fonda gives a sleeper performance, very understated yet quietly raw and vulnerable. He doesn’t speak much, he doesn’t do much; yet every single frame he is in, one cannot help but be completely captivated and enamored by him. Bloom is just as wonderful, showcasing her range by providing grit with deep vulnerability. And then there is Warren Oates, and in this film, he is as expected, Warren Oates playing Warren Oates. He is remarkable.

Technically, the film is a hybrid of its time, much like EASY RIDER, the film looks and feels like it takes place in the time it is set, yet it is absolutely apparent when the film was made, the freeze-frame psychedelic aesthetic is used just enough, without wearing itself out, and the editing by Frank Mazzola is out of this world. THE HIRED HAND fits perfectly with the cinematic output of the late 60s and early 70s, and is absolutely the conventionally unconventional western much like the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. 

Elliot Silverstein’s THE CAR

A sharp and witty script along with cracking performances is what keeps Elliot Silverstein’s THE CAR above the fray of the below-the-line grindhouse inspired cult films of the 70s. James Brolin, who in his younger days is a dead ringer for Christian Bale and sounds like Matthew McConaughey, is the lone sheriff in Santa Ynez who must stop a demonic car from killing people. Whilst not a direct inspiration,  there are elements and similarities to Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, and would be near impossible for this film to not be an influence. This flick is a lot of fun. 

The supporting cast populated by a wickedly fun R.G. Armstrong, a playful Kathleen Lloyd, stoic John Marley, and a vulnerable turn from Ronny Cox. The principle characters are given a bit more to do than they normally would in a film like this. Brolin is raising two daughters on his own while courting a local school teacher; Marley’s first love is in an abusive relationship with Armstrong, and Cox is the closet alcoholic who puts the pieces together about the demonic car.

The Car itself is a lot fun. It is matte black, indestructible, and terrifying. One of the many highlights of the film is the point of view of The Car, which is cut to during key moments of the film and adds a heightened sense of reality to the situation this dusty California town finds itself in.  The practicality of the effects is another aspect to not only admire but respect about the film. The stunts are wonderful, and the Car brings the action, especially in the third act where the Car literally gets airborne and drives through a house to take someone out. It is rather awesome.

The strengths of this film surely out way any slight aspects that potentially hinder the film’s enjoyment factor. James Brolin is quintessentially cool in this film, and carries the weight of the lead perfectly – if this film had been made in the 40s, Gary Cooper most certainly would have played the role. The menacing score, the remarkable set pieces and expansive cinematography are all factors that showcase what a wonderfully fun picture this is. A minimalist approach is very effect in horror, and THE CAR is a prime example.

Quentin Tarantino’s kill bill volume i

“You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right about now, if I wanted to.”

What was once a film that would star Warren Beatty in the title role, wherein Bill would have been more James Bond and less David Carradine, tensions mounted as production stalled due to Uma Thurman’s pregnancy. Beatty grew impatient with not only the delay in production, but the constant reference to Beatty playing the role like Carradine would. Beatty inevitably left the picture, imploring Tarantino to cast the only actor alive or dead to play Bill, David Carradine.

The film marks one of Tarantino’s most dynamic screenplays, a soundtrack featuring score tracks only used in other films films, Robert Richardson’s richly fulfilling cinematography, and an ensemble bread from his most organically diverse cast.

What is encompassed within is his most seminal and homage laden film to date is referencing everything from Mark Goldblatt’s THE PUNISHER, to the STREET FIGHTER films, with a ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST capstone.

This isn’t just some hardcore, stylishly sexy revenge flick (which it is), at its heart is a story about a scorn lover whose hubris sets a deadly chain of events in motion. Bill, who is only heard and whose hands and boots are only seen, loves the heroine so much, he would rather kill her than to be without her. Potent stuff.

What ensues is a tale of bloody revenge where Tarantino’s most ass-kicking character stops at nothing to exact a near equal measure of revenge to those who killed what was supposed to be the greatest day of her life, marrying “some fucking jerk” and leaving behind her life of being a member of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad.

In the Tarantino-Verse, things get much more colorful and downright self indulgent, but baby, it is absolutely glorious.

Uma Thurman gets shot in the head, Daryl Hannah is featured in the best Brian De Palma homage ever, Michael Madsen acts as the thread that directly leads into the second volume, Production I.G. came in and did an amazing animated segment, RZA supplied the sound effects, Lucy Liu gets a reintroduction sequence that any actor would kill for; not to mention getting scalped, Sonny Chiba gives an encore as Hatori Hanzo, Michael Parks returns as Sheriff Earl McGraw, Vivica A. Fox delivers one of the most memorable on screen deaths in a QT movie, and David Carradine is the man.

None of that even begins to scratch the surface.

The first volume of KILL BILL is what rebirthed Tarantino into an acutely self righteous auteur. Making films for not just his rabid and loyal fanbase, but most importantly films that he, as a passionate fanboy of cinema, would want to see on screen.

For Your Ears Only: Lewis Gilbert’s MOONRAKER

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Artwork by Jeff Marshall

After a brief hiatus, Frank and Tom are back with Podcasting Them Softly’s James Bond series, For Your Ears Only. They discuss at length the 1979 film that cascades into James Bond fighting in space, arguably the franchises answer to STAR WARS. They also briefly discuss BOND 25, but this recording predates the recent casting announcement and new theories surrounding the film. Frank and Tom will return with FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and as well as a BOND 25 update.

Artwork was supplied to us by the very talented Jeff Marshall. Please visit his website here to view his other works.