Steven Seagal, eh. The guy has had one rocky road of a career ranging from great stuff to wilful self parody to full on lazy garbage, but The Glimmer Man has to be one of my favourites, and one that doesn’t get mentioned too often. A spooky urban buddy cop flick, it sees Seagal as an esoteric NYC detective and Keenan Ivory Wayans as his more traditionalist partner, the two of them hunting down a ruthless serial killer nicknamed The Family Man. After they arrest and gun down a disturbed suspect (Stephen Tobolowsky is creepy as fuck) who seems like a surefire culprit, the case goes deeper and they uncover a net of corruption, cover ups and further villains including Johnny Strong, Bob Gunton and a smarmy Brian Cox, naturally named Mr. Smith. The dynamic between Seagal and Wayans works well enough, but what I really like is that this is less centred on constant action as with many Seagal flicks, and rather has a slower, sort of horror/thriller pace instead, with a neat ‘big city thriller meets big time killer’ vibe like Seven. The atmosphere is dark, hellish and free of any heavy camp too, just focused on producing a twisted, gory tale. Love Seagal’s jacket by the way, looks like he stole drapes from an old age home and stitched them up for new threads.
The rumour mill recently informed me that Jet Li is going through some rough health issues lately, so let’s send loving thoughts his way and take a look back it one of his best, Louis Leterrier’s Unleashed, aka Danny The Dog. Scripted by Luc Besson, this is a gruesomely entertaining fight club style action gong show set in Glasgow’s shady underground, co-starring the late Bob Hoskins as Bart, a maniacal mobster with a serious god complex. Li is Danny, the orphan he has raised basically as a dog and transformed into a vicious killing machine who does his bidding. Bart straps a metallic collar on him that keeps him docile, but when he needs someone taken care of, that collar comes and fuck… better hope you’re nowhere within Danny’s vicinity because he basically lays waste to anything that moves. The film is chock full of absolutely breathless, tooth and nail action sequences with a washed out, desaturated visual flourish that’s edgy and menacing. Eventually Danny runs away, then the film takes a softer tone when he’s given shelter and companionship from a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman hiding behind Stevie Wonder shades) and his daughter (Kerry Condon), this is where his dormant humanity is awakened and he’s essentially given both something to live for and stakes to finally stand up to Bart’s cruelty. Hoskins goes for broke and plays it like a dog more than Li does really, snarling and setting ferocious Danny on anyone who looks at him wrong. The Glasgow criminal underworld has a snazzy, stylish way about it here, each new adversary Danny goes up against seems to have leapt in from a comic book and the fights are detailed, elaborate and grisly as all hell. The film is strongest when Li breaks out the choreography and takes on hordes of monstrous thugs, while getting to show off his subtler, softer side in between. I hear he’s going to appear in the new live action remake of Mulan next year, it will be nice to see him on the big screen again and I wish him easy recovery from whatever he is dealing with.
F. Gary Gray’s A Man Apart isn’t exactly the glowing pinnacle of Vin Diesel’s varied career so far, but it sure as hell isn’t one of the lower points either (I reserve that label for garbage like The Pacifier). A scrappy, brutally violent revenge flick, Vin is cast here as Sean Vetter, moody DEA badass who decides to take on the Mexican cartels almost singlehandedly when they wipe out his family. He drags his partner (Larenz Tate) into going rogue and before he knows it the cartels have dispatched a few colourful contract killers his way including Joker-esque Hollywood Jack (Timothy Olyphant), ruthless cowboy Pomona Joe (Jeff Kober), psychotic Hondo (character actor Marco Rodriguez) and others. Despite heavy reshoots and re-edits, this just works as a dark, entertaining piece of action pulp. Diesel is appropriately fuming as a guy with nothing to lose who is capable of horrific violence at the drop of a hat and has long since broken free of the constraints of his badge, it’s a nice no holds barred turn from the actor. Director Gray has an extensive, impressive resume in the action/crime genre, having helmed everything from The Italian Job to cult classic Friday to one of the Fast & Furious films. A Man Apart certainly isn’t his calling card or most prolific effort, and it has its issues, but I admire how down and dirty it gets, it’s like a 70’s Clint Eastwood flick that is so violent and industrial strength rough that it almost feels like an exploitation film. Fun stuff.
Remember when cell phones were just that, phones and not the pocket computers of today? Cellular remembers, and did a bang up job of crafting a thriller around the concept back in 2004 when the age of the smartphone had yet to enter and we still had those glorious Nokia flippers. Based on a story by B-Movie guru Larry Cohen, it’s a breakneck paced, Bourne-lite action flick that works surprisingly well and offers engaging work from a young Chris Evans, a frantic Kim Basinger, a lovably intrepid William H. Macy and an especially nasty Jason Statham. Basinger is a Santa Monica housewife kidnapped by Statham and his band of thugs for reasons slowly revealed. Keeping her in a locked attic, he makes a violent ceremony of busting up the landline phone with a baseball bat, so naturally when she tries to dial what’s left of it in a panic, there a ghost of a signal and she’s able to make one random call. Evans’ beach bum college kid picks up the other line and is caught up in the intrigue, staging an impromptu search and rescue for her with the help of Macy’s dogged detective. It works well thanks to taut pacing, convincing performances (especially Statham) and editing that jars yet keeps it fluid. The main quartet are supported by the likes of Eric Christian Olsen, Noah Emmerich, Richard Burgi, Al Sapienza, Lin Shaye and Jessica Biel, but I gotta give a shoutout to Suits’ Rick Hoffman in a precious cameo as the world’s most obnoxious lawyer, who finds himself at the wrong end of a carjacking on Evans’ part, fuck can that guy ever mug the camera and effortlessly play for laughs. Cohen also wrote the story that ended up being Joel Schumacher’s Phonebooth, intending it to be the antithesis of that single location premise, the two films work nicely as a double feature tied together by similar concepts. It’s nice to see Statham in a straight up, no nonsense villain role, his stoic glowering and brutal physicality goes a long way in drumming up palpable menace. Further personality is given by a slick remix of Nina Simone’s Sinner Man worked in over the credits, too. Fun stuff.
John Flynn’s Lock Up is a great early Sylvester Stallone prison flick, back in the late 80’s heyday of the action genre where envelopes were pushed, no punches were pulled and rough, brutal scripts were green-lit on the daily. Stallone plays Frank Leone, a genuinely likeable guy who has a few weeks left on a sentence that resulted from a trumped up charge to begin with, and he’s ready to get out. Donald Sutherland’s Drumgool, the new warden, has other plans though, as the two of them have a rocky past and he has nothing but contempt for Frank. This spurs an onslaught of ruthless, bloody prison violence, yard fights, shankings, betrayal and riots as sneering sociopath Sutherland does his best to ensure that Stallone never again breathes free air. The film is so charged up and cold blooded it’s almost comical at times, but always enjoyable and hard hitting. Director Flynn is responsible for stuff like the Steven Seagal bone cruncher Out For Justice and notorious 70’s exploitation flick Rolling Thunder, so grit and machismo are par for the course and then some. Sutherland just goes above and beyond as Drumgool, it’s one of the great under-sung villain performances in the genre, the guy is fucking evil personified and the legendary actor eats up every frame of screentime, demolishing scene partners left and right with that leering glare and slate granite drawl. John Amos scores as the incredibly stoic captain of the guard, there’s great work from Sonny Landham, Darlene Fluegel, Frank McRae, Larry Romano, Danny Trejo and a stunning film debut by Tom Sizemore, already a scene stealer as a fast talking con who plays sidekick to Stallone. You won’t often hear this mentioned in the prison flick round table discussion but it’s really one of the best out there, rough and ready to brawl, with a galvanized steel veneer over the fight sequences, hard bitten performances, nice moments of fleeting humour and no shortage of breathless, pulverizing violence.
It was weird sitting down and watching Return of the Killer Shrews. My wife and I were not far in when I paused the movie and said, “Hang on, I’ve seen this before.” I jumped up from the chair and went to the library. Removing row upon row of DVDs, I soon came across it. I took out the disc, popped it in the player and “yes”, right I was – I had seen the movie before – under the guise of a re-titled release called MEGA RATS.
But I kept on. In part because I love the flick and the genre it is a part of. Also because I have such fond memories of watching the 1959 original on a rainy day with my grandmother on her big plushy green couch, with a huge bowl of warm, buttery popcorn and the open fire’s glow dancing against our faces. Truth is she loved monster flicks. THEM, JAWS, DARK AGE, ANACONDA, even BIG ASS SPIDER was one of the last she saw and enjoyed.
Me personally, it hits the right notes just like pictures of its ilk like PRIMAL FORCE, PIRANHACONDA, HOUSE OF THE DEAD(because yeah, I’m a stickler for Dr. Boll alright – I get a giggle out of it), and SCREAMERS (not to be confused with the Christian Duguay film, but the Sergio Martino film also known as Island of the Fishmen).
Steve Latshaw directs James Best, returning after 53 years to take on those nasty, blood-ravenous shrews with a little help from a couple of the Dukes of Hazard. A reality TV crew, in the midst of an island paradise, soon find they are no match for the four-legged terrors that are stalking them at the behest, it would seem, of the deliciously villainous Bruce Davison (who is clearly relishing his part). ROTKS is as delightful, endearing and just as loaded with double, B-movie-cheesy-goodness as the original. It’s streaming NOW, so jump on the couch and grab a bite and thrill at those killer shrews, while enjoying that buttery popcorn you’ll chew.
My guests are a couple of the men behind the shrews. Director/screenwriter extraordinaire, Steve Latshaw, and special effects maestro, Jeff Farley. Have a listen and gain some insights on the careers this pair of amazing cinematic artists and how they came together to try and tame those killer shrews…
Born in Decatur, Illinois, Steve began his film career in a distinctly Corman-esque style, directing a string of successful B movies in Florida in the early 90s. These included the home video/cable hits Dark Universe (1993) and Jack-O (1995), as well as the cult classic Vampire Trailer Park (1991). Relocating to Los Angeles, Steve continued his career as both writer and director, though on markedly larger budgeted projects. With a filmography well into the double digits, Steve’s recent screenwriting credits have included the family adventure _American Black Beauty (2005), starring Dean Stockwell and the upcoming Sci Fi Channel superhero adventure, _Stan Lee’s Lightspeed (2006).
Well I’ve been working on this one for a while now. A collection, a tribute to the wondrous array of talents out there doing exactly what they want to do. Godard famously once said: “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.” That may have been the case for him, but I like my movies with a few more ingredients. Werewolves, giant snakes, sharks – it’s all part of my complete breakfast so, I endeavored to get in contact with those few, those happy few, this band of indie auteurs who don’t need permission or studio backing to do what they love to do – which is make movies.
Perhaps it is fortuitous regarding the timing of the release of this piece that all of the films here mentioned are now out there and available for your enjoyment. Mr. Bonk’s ‘Jaws Indoors’ sharksploitation offering, House Shark, Mr. Braxtan’s urban anaconda comedic actioner, Snake Outta Compton, Mr. Sheets Werewolf O’ glorious Werewolf killing by night picture, Bonehill Road and finally, Mr. Dean brings us his second installment of justice wreaking havoc by the full moon with his part man, part wolf, all cop, Another WolfCop.
We need these independents now more than ever ladies and gentlemen. Hollywood at large has become a cookie-cutter industry were everything is either a remake, a sequel or an adaptation. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something boring. It is and has degenerated into a vicious cycle that sees the movie business in the safest place it has been in decades. And why? Because dear reader, there is no gambling on a property that doesn’t already carry a built-in audience. No risk versus reward. It’s the same old shit – just in a different box.
So thank God for the Independents. Robert Rodriguez once said, “Don’t give me any money, don’t give me any people, but give me freedom, and I’ll give you a movie that looks gigantic.” Hollywood has long forgotten that the size of the budget does not equal the size of a film’s success. It is the films that defy convention, that resist formula, that are at play in the fields of freedom and creativity and not those designed and dictated via a committee in some corporate office that are still exciting audiences.
The studios may have the guns, but we got the numbers. We have the power now to embrace these magnificent artists. Together we can bring them in from the fringes and with all the social media tools at our command, we can use our influence to elevate these men and their glorious pictures to ever greater heights, instead of perpetuating the norm which sees us elevating fools into rich heroes.
Yes dear reader, today is the day. The day on which we can declare in one voice, “We will not go quietly into the night – we will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate, The Independent’s Day.
(DUE TO A BAD CONNECTION, SOME OF MY INTERVIEW WITH RON WAS LOST - BUT PLENTY REMAINS - I TRUST YOU'LL STILL ENJOY)
Ron Bonk is a producer and writer, known for Clay (2007), Night of Something Strange (2016) Strawberry Estates (2001) and She Kills 2016. He was born in Cicero N.Y. and attended Cicero, North Syracuse H.S. Then he graduated from M.V.C.C. , and Utica College. He is the president of S.R.S. Cinema L.L.C. in Central New York.
Hank was born and raised in Grand Junction, Colorado; this would be his greatest accomplishment until dropping out of film school at age 26. Even from a very early age, Hank showed a genuine interest in being entertained. In 1998, he put his lack of ambition on hold and joined the US Army as an Intelligence Analyst. After his discharge for honorable behavior in 2004, Hank attended film school for a short while, and made a bunch of nonsense about Ghostbusters fighting Freddy Krueger and other copyrighted materials. In the days before YouTube, that was kind of a big deal.
Hank has since gone on to work in the same town as many famous filmmakers. He currently has several projects in several stages of development, etc.