THE MICHAEL MANN FILES: BAND OF THE HAND (D. PAUL MICHAEL GLASER – 1986)

The exact formula for 1986’s Band of the Hand is this: The Dirty Dozen minus seven, divided by approximately half in age, strain through Miami Vice, and a tablespoon of sugar stirred in for taste. A corny, violent, foul mouthed, junior varsity Mod Squad with an odd sense of pacing and a structure that feels suspiciously like two episodes of a TV show that never happened but maybe should have, Band of the Hand is both aggressively stupid and thoroughly lovable from the first frame to its last. If I believed in the notion of guilty pleasures, I’d label it as such. But since I harbor zero guilt nor shame in my taste or what brings me joy, Band of the Hand stands as a delicious piece of gorgeous, brainless cheese that was worth the six American dollars I spent on the no-frills and pristine Blu ray from the fine folks at the non-flashy yet solid Mill Creek, the Southwest Airlines of boutique physical media labels.

The story is simple: a group of malcontented, underage criminals from all over greater Miami are locked into a paddy wagon and dumped into the middle of the Florida Everglades where Miccosukee Indian Joe Tegra (Stephen Lang… yes, you read that right) teaches them how to survive in the wilderness so they can go back to the urban jungle of Miami and take the streets back from crime lord, coke distributor, and black magic enthusiast Nestor (James Remar… yes, you read that right).

Split right down the middle as if structured as a two-act play, the first half of the film is all set-up and introduction with a generous amount of padding when moving through the Lord of the Flies portion of the film. First we meet our anti-heroes in an excitingly cut montage over which the title track of the film, written and performed by Bob Dylan with backup by The Heartbreakers (yes… you read that right), is laid with such confidence and gusto that it’s likely to never don on the viewer just how incredibly bizarre all of it is. First in the slam are Reuben (Michael Carmine) and Moss (Leon Robinson), the respective heads of rival street gangs, the Cuban Homeboys and the African-American 27th Avenue Players. Next we meet ultra-slick Carlos (Danny Quinn) who is stung by undercover vice cops while trying to middleman a deal for Nestor (and I swear to all that’s holy that I was shocked that someone didn’t scream “Freeze! Miami vice!” when they flashed their badges). The group is rounded out by J.L. (John Cameron Mitchell), a mute demolitions expert who murders his abusive stepfather in the film’s opening moments, and Dorsey (Al Shannon), an illiterate ne’er do well who has an uncanny skill for escaping from from juvenile lock ups. Quite predictably, but no less entertainingly, these rough and incorrigible youths will be taught a thing or seven by the stoic Joe Tegra including how to build a comfortable sleeping area out of branches and leaves and also how to trap and kill a wild boar. You know… as one has to do when fighting drug lords in Miami.

Once conditioned, the group moves their action back into the city where they take over a derelict building in which Haitian squatters are seeking refuge from the drug dealers that are crawling all over the streets outside (marshaled by a slick drug dealer named Cream, played to the nines by Laurence, then Larry, Fishburne). And like the half before it, this portion is padded out with some really time-specific D.A.R.E.-adjacent do-gooding like the sequence where Moss and Reuben rook their gangs Tom Sawyer-style into painting their building (and, naturally, these otherwise deadly gangs with ancient beefs against each other do this task in absolute harmony). But everything takes a deadly turn which sets up a particularly violent third-act that climaxes in the Band of the Hand, as they begin to call themselves, concocting a scheme to kill Nestor’s drug operation at the source.

Also rolling around in the narrative are a couple of side joints involving Carlos’s girlfriend (Lauren Holly) who Nestor keeps as his own after Carlos is disappeared into the juvenile system and Joe’s battle with keeping his reform program alive. A scene involving the man in charge of funding for Joe’s program (Bill Smitrovich) promises more to Joe’s story but winds up being a half-assed dramatic punctuation mark which catapults Joe into a state of complete frustration where he adopts a total ‘fuck the system, I ain’t backin’ down no more’ attitude.

This is the feature film debut by actor/director Paul Michael Glaser who had previously directed a couple of notable Miami Vice episodes for executive producer Michael Mann, filling the same production role here. But even if the film isn’t directed by Mann, none of this would be remotely possible if not for him. It’s hard to imagine this movie looking or feeling like this without Michael Mann injecting the production with his very unique look and style; it’s as much a “Michael Mann film” as Cat People is a “Val Lewton movie.” Additionally, the idea of vigilantism at the core of the film in which the bad guys become good by comparison (a little Magnum Force here), is prime Michael Mann territory.

Given that it’s not a movie that anyone over thirteen should take very seriously, there are things about it that the audience has to put up with which extends beyond the frontiers of the acceptable, even for 1986. Each time a spat between Reuben and Moss breaks out, they cock sideways and slam their torsos into each other to the point where I wasn’t convinced they didn’t think gold coins would fall out of their nipples if the force was great enough. And it’s a cinch that the entire world will hear your audible eyeroll when J.L. breaks his silence because HE’S HAD ENOUGH OF THEM FUCKIN’ AROUND AND THEY NEED TO WORK TOGETHER, GODDAMNIT!!!! LET’S DO IT FOR THE BAND OF THE HAND!!!

But, God help me, I love the film’s go-for-broke and vulgar style and the filmmakers get extra props for plopping this 70’s vigilante movie into the 80’s without the slightest bit of care how dated its premise was. Additionally, all the performances are fun (dig Miami Vice regular Martin Ferrero as a hardware proprietor) and the film is packed with great tunes by Shriekback and the Reds, contributing to a much better soundtrack than it deserves.

In the annals of 80’s pop culture, there were precious few things that didn’t get some kind of splash influence by Miami Vice. Given its production team and cast, most of whom at least contributed one day’s work on Vice, Band of the Hand might be the one piece of entertainment that feels like it organically grew out of the show and, to be honest, it serves as a better back-door pilot than the one that actually occurred in the waning days of Vice’s fifth season. And if you can’t get down with James Remar playing a Latino drug lord, Stephen Lang playing a swamp Indian, and a whole lot of things getting blowed up real good in-between, stay away from Crain Manor because, first chance I get, I’m pairing this beauty with Miami Connection or any random Andy Sidaris film for the people in my life who like to pile into my living room and know how to party correctly.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain

Oz Perkin’s February, aka The Blackcoat’s Daughter

I like Emma Roberts, and really dig the career path she’s chosen for herself so far. Daughter of eccentric, legendary badass Eric Roberts and niece to Hollywood’s darling superstar Julia, she could have easily taken the oft trodden path of teen sensation, appearing only in stuff that appeals to a new generation that’s forgotten much of the odd, freaky stuff of former times. Instead she’s deliberately accepted best, off kilter genre scripts, using an ongoing stint on FX’s American Horror Story as a launching pad for some really interesting projects that duck the mainstream, just like her dad. Oz Perkin’s February is one such outing, a laconic, nightmarish mood piece that plays like a demon possession film without all of the tired hysterics, using pacing, atmosphere and glacially mounting dread to tell its story. Roberts plays a young runaway stranded outside a hospital on one cold night. Picked up by a kindly man (James Remar ditching the villain shtick) and his wife (Lauren Holly, who apparently is still in films after all!), she embarks on a tense road trip towards a county far away. In said county, two forgotten girls (Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton) spend the holiday break at their catholic school. Gradually they start to feel some presence in the building, haunting them, and then shit gets crazy. This is textbook slow burn territory though, and anyone expecting a trove of jump scares need not apply. There are a few well earned moments of terror, but they’re fleeting, and all the more disturbing as a result. There’s a vagueness to the narrative too, with just enough left unexplained to spark some interesting Reddit discussions. A dark, moody flick that rewards those who give full attention with some scary secrets and a smothering atmosphere of danger on the horizon. You’ll find this titled as ‘The Blackcoat’s Daughter’ on demand and iTunes, but that title seems to not mean much except to quite an eerie song used throughout the film.

-Nate Hill

Tales of Enchantment, Aliens, Arthurian Legend and the Lone Ranger: An Interview with Edward Khmara by Kent Hill

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Edward Khmara grew up in California and had the desire to become an actor when he sold his first script and his career was set in motion.

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It was not the first script he’d written, but he was the one that got him noticed. It was a little film called Ladyhawke. But, as all first-time screenwriters know, once you make that sale, you have very little input into the journey your film will take from there.

Still, now a screenwriter, Edward would go on to pen one of the truly great, often forgotten gems of the eighties, Hell in the Pacific in outer space: Enemy Mine. This time he would right in the middle of it all. From being on set, to being invited to watch dailies, to having to comfort his daughter after her terrifying encounter with a completely transformed Louis Gossett Jr. in his Drac make-up.

Like most folks who have worked in show business, Edward has known the lows as well as the highs. But those negative experiences didn’t discourage him as he charged ahead, tackling to legends. One in the form of a lavish television production with an all-star cast; Merlin would be the telling of Arthurian days solely from the perspective of the mythical wizard. Then of course there would be his work on the retelling of the life of another legend, one who achieved this status during his own lifetime, Bruce Lee.

But one of the truly heart-warming moments of our conversation was chatting with Edward about him finally getting his shot at the profession he sought after before he took to the typewriter – his part in Gore Verbinski’s Lone Ranger.

A true gentleman of the old school, full of great tales and tremendous experiences – it was a real pleasure to interview him and now to present to you my conversation with the legendary screenwriter (and sometimes actor) Edward Khmara.

Turbulence: A Review by Nate Hill

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Before there were snakes on a plane, there was a charming serial killer named Ryan Weaver (Ray Liotta). We meet Ryan as he’s about to go on a blind date with a cutie, and he seems like your average sweet guy. The scene plays out in romcom mode… until a SWAT team led by a veteran detective (Hector Elizondo) busts in and arrests Weaver, apparantly just minutes in time. We then learn that Weaver is an extremely dangerous Ted Bundy type of dude who suckers women in with his flashy grin and good looks, only to murder them soon after. With the big bad wolf now in chains, Elizondo can rest easy, as it becomes clear he has been hunting him for some years now. The last step: transporting him by plane to the state where he will be tried and senteanced. Naturally, every security protocol is rigidly in effect, right down to Elizondo stubbornly accompanying the flight. And, naturally, Weaver finds a harebrained way to break his shackles and terrorize the nearest thing to him, which in this case happens to be a gorgeous flight attendant (Lauren Holly). Now they’re 30,000 feet in the air with not a cop in sight but the aging Elizondo, and Weaver free to roam about as he pleases, teasing and taunting Holly with both mirth and menace. The film hinges on an actor’s ability to be convincing, and Liotta is downright perfect in the role. He’s played so many nut jobs and angry lunatics he could do it in his sleep by now, yet he still manages to give each baddie their own unique flavor and flourish. He is downright scary here, geniunly winning you over with his dapper gentleman act, then pouncing like a lion. He’s a one man Con Air, and means business, piloting the movie with a sure hand and leading man talents. I consider this one of the great overlooked thrillers of the 90’s, and certainly my favourite one set on a plane. Watch for appearances from Rachel Ticotin, Ben Cross, Jeffrey Demunn and Brendan Gleeson. Now there’s two sequels: one with Tom Berenger and Jennifer Beals, which I still have to see, and another called ‘Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal’, which is a demented little shit of a flick with Rutger Hauer and Gabrielle Anwar. Neither have Liotta on their side, but the third is worth a watch just for its unintentional hilarity. This first one is the real deal, though.