Lou Diamond Phillips is an actor who’s never really impressed me much, except for this one. Lone Hero sees him headline a low key action B flick and steal the show as Bart, a nasty biker gang chief who rolls into a tiny Montana town with his boys, looking for nothing but violence and trouble. Here’s the cool thing about his performance: while many actors who have played evil bikers tried out the straight up savage, hotheaded route (which admittedly works if done right), Lou switches it up and plays the guy as a calm, free spirited scoundrel who although is an indefensibly scummy fellow, does it with a gleam in his eye and smile on his face. That’s a courageous choice for a villain role of this ilk, but it’s a great fit for him and his best work I’ve seen. Because this town oddly doesn’t seem to have any cops let alone a local Sheriff, it’s up to a few plucky locals to fight off the biker menace and take back their town. Sean Patrick Flanery plays a guy who isn’t necessarily a western cowboy hero, but plays one in a local tourist attraction and therefore must step up to the plate, and in a place as bereft of law enforcement as this burg, that’s what they’ll have to settle for. He’s joined by the great Robert Forster as an ageing frontier man who grabs his trusty rifle and starts blasting bikers all to hell alongside Flanery when things get rough. This is TV movie territory and nothing of consequence really jumps out at you, but the three actors make it a damn good little show, the banter between the them is genuinely fun stuff and acted well by all. Oh and like I said, Phillips makes it a Diamond of a performance, a true scene stealing villain in the spiritual energy of someone like Robert Downey Jr, I’d love to hear if anyone can think of a role he’s been better in. Good stuff.
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.
Arena is a rip snorting, bloody balls out sleaze-fest of a flick, admittedly a straight up terrible piece, but too off the wall and fucking out of its head to not deserve a look. It’s one of those high concept, low ethics extreme action things that you’d see Stallone or Schwarzenegger headlining in the 80’s (perhaps Ray Liotta or Chris Lambert on a lower budget) except here we get the ever wooden Kellan Lutz, a dude with adequate physical presence but the acting skills of a nail gun, which coincidentally is legit a thing used in a fight scene here. Lutz plays an ex-military tough guy who is kidnaped by raving lunatic computer tycoon Samuel L. Jackson into an elite, extremely illegal underground fighting syndicate, where players literally brawl to the death using anything they can get their hands on. If one guy wins ten fights (I think it’s ten), they win their freedom, or so Jackson eerily assures them with that evil, unnerving smirk. I admire the film for going all out with the fight sequences, this is truly a gruesome, fucked up piece of ultraviolet postmodern grindhouse garbage with the kind of carnage that would make Hobo With A Shotgun raise its whiskey glass and give the slow clap, especially in a montage sequence that showcases different themed fights in Virtual Reality space, the construction site one garnering the most cringes with maximum bodily harm. Jackson is truly in his final form here, he’s so far into the stratosphere of scenery chewing that you feel like running and hiding in another room to take a break from his bellowing intensity, all that’s missing is a literal moustache to twirl. Lutz forms a bond with a vixen (Katia Winter) who’s placed in his way by Sam to do just that, but her allegiance remains a mystery til later on, as does the involvement of a mysterious dude (James Remar) from his past. He also clashes with Jackson’s prized gladiator, played with sneering, rock voiced evil by Johnny Messner, who needs better roles. This flick screams by at a bulldozer’s pace and leaves you feeling like you got hit by one, it’s a thorough piece of shit if I’m being honest, but it sure kills ninety restless minutes if you’re looking for something silly to raise hell, never mind pulses.
Guardian falls squarely into the ‘ancient relic B flick’, a well worn path in which some obscure archaeological dig unearths a crazy evil that plagues everyone and causes a monumental ruckus, or in this one’s case, a laid back low budget ruckus. The incident here happened during the Gulf war, in which special forces badass Mario Van Peebles witnessed something escape a tomb, something that’s now reared it’s head years later in inner city LA, and he’s now a detective who has to deal with it, assisted by his partner (James Remar). The beauty of making your antagonist a shapeless, invisible identity that takes over human hosts and jumps from person to person is that special effects aren’t even required and you can stay within budget restrictions (I imagine that was on Gregory Hoblit’s mind for Fallen, and he was able to save a few bucks for the wicked cast he scored) which in this film’s case is a concern that was probably paramount, this is about as scantly funded as they get. It’s scrappy, atmospheric and works well enough for something like this. Remar is underused for the first half as the classic wise-ass sidekick, until the demon jumps into him and we get to see some of that classic Remar menace take the controls from Peebles’s moody cop, he’s a guy I never saw the point in having as your leading man, the necessary amount of charisma just isn’t there. This actually makes a great Remar/Peebles double feature with another obscure horror called Blowback, in which cop Mario is hunting down crazed serial killer James. I’ll get to that one eventually. Oh yeah, Ice T has a small role as a gangbanger here too, almost forgot about him.
Soulkeeper is a diamond in the rough, in the sense that it has all the trappings of a forgettable trashy B grade flick, and ends up being something way more fun and adventurous than it has any right to be. Dressed up like your average schlocky horror fling, it also carries a cheeky Indiana Jones vibe with it’s two treasure seeking bro-tagonists and all the right character actors showing up in all the right places. The two renegade brothers are after an ancient relic from the age of Simon Magus (he shows up briefly too) and all that hocus pocus, an artifact that is valuable beyond anything but also has the power to bring evil souls and demon spirits back from the underworld, which naturally causes all kinds of gory chaos for everyone later. It’s super duper fun, with evil curses bringing forth all kinds of gooey special effects, in the tradition of everyone from Joe Dante to Sam Raimi. Then there’s the eclectic genre cast: Brad Dourif does a hysterical Vincent Price pastiche as an eccentric archeologist, Robert Davi charms as the ghost of some Italian nobleman who guides our heroes here and there, Michael Ironside literally phones in a cameo a lá Charlie’s Angels as the mysterious employee of their mission, and watch for Tiny Lister as well as the late great Karen Black too. This won’t go down in history as one of the greats, but you can certainly do a lot worse in terms of this genre and budget range, it’s pure horror/fantasy/adventure escapism. Oh and if you can score a DVD somewhere it comes with a wicked cool retro cover slip with an awesome hologram 3D poster where one of the many gruesome monsters leers out at you. Cool stuff.
Java Heat is an odd one, and by odd I mean Mickey Rourke as a weirdo terrorist with an accent that doesn’t sound like anything from any region anywhere. It’s pretty standard action flick set in Jakarta Indonesia in which an American undercover agent (Kellan Lutz) teams up with a local Muslim police inspector (Ario Bayu) to take down ruthless international baddie Malik (Rourke), who’s involved in everything from gun running to jewel thievery to human trafficking. International really is the key word for Mickey’s approach to the role, this guy could be anywhere, sounds vaguely French sometimes, wears a crisp white pinstripe suit that seems to get cleaner with every bloody car chase and grimy street side shootout, and barks out poetic threats in a garbled tone that gives his performance a Rourke flavour all it’s own. The film is pretty substandard, Lutz is about as good an actor as a traffic median and the story is all been there done that. But Rourke, man. It’s no secret that for whatever behavioural reason he keeps getting put in the doghouse of B movies after several hopeful high profile comebacks (remember The Wrestler?), and it’s fascinating to see what little projects he does here and there to grab a buck. Although not toting his trademark little chihuahua here like in some flicks, he’s obviously been allowed to to go rebel renegade with stylistic choices as far as the role is concerned, and naturally is the most memorable thing about this. Java Mickey for the win.
Gun is one of the countless disposable B grade flicks that 50 Cent insists on starring in, for some reason. I mean, the guy got rich, he didn’t die trying, he’s set up for a few lifetimes and he just won’t quit showing up in direct to DVD genre stuff, it’s amusingly weird and I’d love to one day ask him why. Maybe he just really enjoys acting, in which case I say go for it, but maybe with an agent who’s a bit choosier at the script roulette table. This one also stars Val Kilmer, a similarly afflicted actor who’s recently been slumming it, but the two aren’t half bad here as a powerful gun runner (fiddy) and his old prison buddy (Vally) who’s looking for a job. What the big guy doesn’t know is that Kilmer is has actually been tagged by the Feds as an informant, which turns the situation into a powder keg of betrayal and secrets that could get lit any minute. The real scene stealer here is James Remar as a dogged vice detective who has been consumed by the task of taking them both down, he puts actual grit and feeling into the role and seems to be a guest star from a way better film. Others include beauty queen Annalynne McCord as a dangerous rival arms dealer, a quick cameo from Danny Trejo playing his usual brand of aggressive thug, and strangely enough John Larroquette as well, who I swear I haven’t seen in anything since Richie Rich back in the 90’s. You could do worse for this kind of fare, but it’s nothing special.