Tag Archives: r. Lee Ermey

DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, a fascinating hybrid between go-for-broke, tweaked out drug cinema, bloody, violent crime revenge thriller and moody, jazz soaked neo-noir, with a central performance from a committed Val Kilmer that goes waist deep in all three. I would say that it was ahead of its time and for that reason didn’t quite fully find its audience, but upon years of reflection I think it’s just such a specific piece that one has to be tuned in just right, and invest enough attention to appreciate it, the first time anyways. Kilmer is washed out meth head snitch Danny Parker, playing both sides of the narcotics game in hazy LA. Or is he trumpet player Tom Van Allen, haunted by past tragedy? The first half of the film sees him awash in an endless cycle of drug fuelled debauchery, stuck in a tireless set of hijinks with his tweaked out ‘friends’ (Adam Goldberg, Peter Saarsgard and more), and habitually snitching out dealers to two very corrupt cops (Doug Hutchison and Anthony Lapaglia, both royally sleazy). The second half shows us why, what dark passage of events led him to the lifestyle and the cursed trajectory he finds himself on in the final act. Kilmer is a restless fallen angel in the role, a man with secrets that the film respects by taking its time unfolding and not revealing too much too soon (avoid any trailers). His Danny even begs the audience to stick around, promising us there’s more to his story than rampant substance abuse. The cast is thick with talent, including Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Chandra West, B.D. Wong, Shirley Knight, Luis Guzman, Meat Loaf, Deborah Kara Unger and a crazed, memorable Glenn Plummer. The scene stealer award has to go to thespian Vincent D’Onofrio though as one of the antagonists, a terrifying drug baron called Pooh Bear because he railed so much blow they had to cut off his nose and replace it with a disturbing prosthetic. His favourite pastimes include reenacting the Kennedy assassination with pigeons and an air rifle, smoking crack to yodel music CD’s and setting a rabid badger called ‘Captain Striving’ loose on the genitals of disloyal employees. The film finds a demented dark humour in him and many other characters, but the other side of that coin is the emotional turbulence and tragic resonance to Kilmer’s arc, two conflicting energies that seem to somehow coexist beautifully. The score by Thomas Newton is noirish and sad, with strains that sound almost like heavenly choirs too, giving the city of angels a half lit, otherworldly quality. The title is important; the Salton Sea represents three key elements to the film. The incident that spurs Kilmer down the rabbit hole takes place right near the picturesque titular place, but it also represents both the sea of excess and scum that Danny basks in, and the ocean of anguish, regret and sadness that engulfs Tom. A brilliant piece.

-Nate Hill

Ted Demme’s Life

Ted Demme’s Life is a hard one to classify or box into genres, which may have been why it didn’t do all that great at the box office and subsequently slipped through the cracks, a result that often befalls ambitious, unique films that people aren’t ready to surrender to. Part comedy, part tragedy, all drama infused with just a bit of whimsy, it’s a brilliant piece and one of the most underrated outings from both of it’s high profile stars, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. It seems fitting that the two lively, cartoonish cowboys of comedy should share the screen, and it’s lucky they got such a wicked script. In the roaring twenties, Murphy is smooth talking petty thief Ray, Lawrence is hapless, hot blooded bank teller Claude, and the pair couldn’t be more suited or dysfunctional towards each other. Brought together for an ill fated moonshine run bankrolled by a nasty NYC Gangster (Rick James), things go wrong in the most auspicious of places a black man could find himself during that time: Mississippi. Framed for the murder of a local conman (Clarence Williams III) by a psychotic, corrupt Sheriff (Ned Vaughn), they’re given life in prison by the judge, and this is where their peculiar adventure really begins. Put under the supervision of a violent but oddly sympathetic corrections officer played awesomely by Nick Cassavetes, the two wrongfully convicted, hard-luck fellows spend their entire adult life and most of the twentieth century incarcerated… and that’s the film. Squabbling year by year, making a whole host of friends out of their fellow convicts and never losing their sense of humour, it’s the one of the strangest narratives I’ve seen, and somehow works wonders in keeping us glued to the screen. Supporting the two leads is a legendary ensemble including Ned Beatty as warm hearted superintendent, Anthony Anderson, Bernie Mac, Bokeem Woodbine, Barry Shabaka Henley, Heavy D, Don Harvey, Noah Emmerich, Obba Babatundé, Sanaa Latham, R. Lee Ermey and more. Murphy and Lawrence have never been better, shining through Rick Baker’s wicked old age makeup in the latter portion of the film, and letting the organic outrage and frustration towards their situation pepper the many instances of humour, accenting everything with their friendship, which is the core element really. The film’s title, simple as it, has a few meanings, at least for me. Life as in ‘life in prison’, in it’s most literal and outright sense. Life as in ‘well tough shit, that’s life and it ain’t always pretty,’ another reality shared with us by the story. But really it’s something more oblique, the closest form of explanation I can give being ‘life happens.’ There’s no real social issues explored here, no heavy handed agenda (had the film been released in this day and age, that would have almost certainly been a different story), no real message, we just see these events befall the two men. They roll with each new development, they adapt and adjust, they learn, they live. In a medium that’s always being plumbed and mined for deeper meanings, subtext and allegories, it’s nice to see a picture that serves up the human condition without all those lofty bells and whistles. Their story is random, awkward, unpredictable, never short on irony, seldom fair, often tragic, and ever forward moving. That’s Life.

-Nate Hill

Marcus Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 


In most cases, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes label has made dismal attempts at horror remakes (see their Elm Street and Friday The 13th for cringe cases in point). However, the version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre they did was pretty damn good on my barometer, a brooding, darkly humorous and fiercely frightening piece that reworks the barebones, grainy vibe of Tobe Hooper’s original classic into something more dingy and atmospheric. It’s the 70’s, and rural Texas is as humid and inhospitable as ever, particularly so in Travis County, right in time for a Volkswagen bus full of nimrod partygoers to trundle through and get caught in the snare of the severely disturbed Hewitt clan, spearheaded by big ol’ Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), a mute, disfigured monster with a penchant for taking a chainsaw to people’s vitals and wearing their skin over his own, inspired by the less imposing real life killer Ed Gein. Sexy Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Eric Balfour and Mike Vogel plays these ill fated kids, serving mainly as power tool sharpening blocks. I love the slow, eerie buildup of this one, as they begin to realize that the town isn’t just sleepy or hidden, it’s pretty much dead save for these last straggling residents who are clearly off their head. A huge asset for the film is R. Lee Ermey as the creepy, hostile county Sheriff, who let’s just say… isn’t really the Sheriff at all. He gets many chances to mean mug, terrorize and intimidate these kids and the old gunnery sergeant has a ball. The rest of the townsfolk are a creepy bunch of hayseed yokels without a brain or conscience between them, and serve as a luring posse to Leatherface. The killings are appropriately gory, and hats off to director Marcus Nispel for a striking opening shot that sees his camera pan through the still smoking head-wound of a poor girl who’s just blown her dome off with a giant revolver. Ew. The high praise I’m giving this one does not apply to the follow up prequel called The Beginning, which ditches all mood and pacing for an exercise in abrasive, unforgivable sadism and lazy plotting. Ermey goes full nutso in that one and still is having fun, but not even he can pull it out of the shit. I’d imagine same goes for the host of others that came after, including a new entry that’s slated for this year, if memory serves. This one got lucky because it played it’s cards right, and earned the position of a remake that does indeed hold a candle. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Sender


The Sender is godawful Z-Grade SciFi with cloying, grating intentions, a script with War Of The World’s type ambitions that was given an allowance of like ten bucks to come into fruition, and the result is a windows 98 screensaver with a fraction of a pulse. It’s a shame because they scored two dope actors in Michael Madsen and R. Lee Ermey, but as good as they are they’re both sheepishly notorious for appearing in bottom feeding diarrhea like this to put food on the table. Madsen strains his tear ducts as the sympathetic father whose adorable daughter has mysterious connections to extraterrestrial activity from years before. He’s on the run from all kinds of government folks including Ermey’s gonzo, overzealous military asshole, a one dimensional fire and brimstone go-getter who hunts them six ways to Sunday. That’s about all you’ll get, besides cameos from Dyan Cannon and golden oldie Robert Vaughn, as well as some Fisher Price worthy UFO effects and an all round lack of pride in the craft from everyone involved. Poo.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Rift


The Rift is a nifty little underwater creature feature in the tradition of stuff like The Abyss and Leviathan, a low budget affait that uses neat practical model effects to churn out some gooey thrills, and a cool cast to run around being hunted by them. When an experimental submarine dubbed the ‘Siren II’ (after the disappearance of the Siren I, naturally) descends into a deep fissure in the ocean, things begin to pop up that shouldn’t be down there. By things I mean cleverly designed miniature models that are lit just right enough to fake us out into believing they are actually giant underwater behemoths from the darkest nightmares of marine cryptozoology. Captained by R. Lee Ermey, giving the character gravitas the film almost doesn’t deserve, it’s a doomed mission from the start, especially when you factor in the shady presence of first mate Ray ‘Leland Palmer’ Wise, who has a few tricks up the old sleeve. It’s up to man of the hour Jack Scalia to swagger their way out of danger, but the rift is deep, dark and pretty soon all kinds of gooey things find their way aboard the craft. It’s not half bad, at least nowhere near the second tier hack job some critics dubbed it as. Any effort that puts that much artisan ingenuity into deep sea monsters with as little money as they were given gets a handful of gold stars from me. Plus, you can’t go wrong with that cast. 

-Nate Hill

On Deadly Ground: A Review by Nate Hill

  
I tend to actively avoid Steven Seagal films like the plague, and realize intermittently that I do in fact enjoy certain ones from back in the day. He’s made a ton of trash, no doubt, but the clouds part every now and again, for select occasions like Under Siege, The Glimmer Man, Above The Law, Fire Down Below and the snowbound On Deadly Ground. The main marvel in this one is an incredibly hammy Michael Caine as the mustache twirling villain, a Big Oil maniac who has his amoral sights set on sacred land belonging to Inuit tribesman. Seagal plays yet another martial arts trained badass who takes it upon himself to bring down Caine, his nefarious capitalist plans and the violent mercenaries he has hired to wipe the land of indigenous natives. It’s as silly as silly can be, right down to him falling in love with a beautiful Inuit girl (Joan Chen, actually Chinese), but enjoyable on its own terms when you look at the solid choreography, stunts and impressive location work. Also, the roster of villains is too good to pass up, starting with Caine’s outright, wanton psychopath. We’re also treated to the Sergeant himself, R. Lee Ermey as a merc with a particularly salty attitude, John C. McGinley over-playing one of his patented schoolyard bullies, and even Billy Bob Thornton shows up, adding to the sleaze factor. Watch for cameos from Mike Starr, Michael Jai White and an unbilled Louise Fletcher as well. Seagal directed this himself, so it’s essentially one big vanity piece where he gets to play Dances With Wolves for a couple hours, but the trick is to see the unintentional comedy in that and enjoy it. Seagal is one of those goofs who I am not a ashamed to say I am laughing at, not with. Caine is the real prize here, and his merry band of assholes. An action flick is only as good as it’s antagonist, and this guy is bad to the bone in hilariously over the top ways. A big dumb flick, nothing more, nothing le- well maybe a little less in places, but fun in other spots nonetheless.

B Movie Glory with Nate: Gunshy

  

Looking for a moody Atlantic City crime drama that isn’t Boardwalk Empire? Well you’re gonna get a review of one, anyway. Gunshy may not have all the bells and whistles of a studio produced film, and admittedly is a little tattered around the edges as a result, but it’s still a solid, quaint little fish out of water story about a man out of his depth and in deep water with some dangerous people. Jake (William L. Peterson) is a failing journalist who yearns to live on the edge, mired in the doldrums of a creative sinkhole. After his boss (R. Lee Ermey cameo) fires him, he heads to the one place that offers unconditional solace to us writers all over: the bar. After an altercation with a violent scumbag (Meat Loaf offering up ham to go with his edible moniker), he meets an event more violent individual in the form of Frankie (Michael Wincott) a volatile mob enforcer. Frankie takes a shine to Jake, and in particular is fascinated by his literacy and knowledge of the written word. Frankie offers a bargain: show him the world of books and intellectual fare, and he will navigate Jake through the seedy world of organized crime, teaching each other a thing or two along the way. The plot thickens when Frankie’s girlfriend Melissa (Diane Lane, stunning as ever) drives a wedge between them, effectively creating a romantic triangle. These three leads take subpar material and make it shine, especially Wincott who rarely gets a lead role, but steals every scene with his childlike curiosity contrasted with violent tendancy. The boardwalks do make an appearance here, and they just beg to be filmed, really. In a genre centralized mainly in L.A. or New York, I’d love to see more pieces set in the baleful, windswept oceanfront locales of Atlantic City. There’s numerous supporting turns including Musetta Vander, Kevin Gage as a cop who harassed Frankie on the daily, and intense Michael Byrne as his gruesome gangster boss. It’s silly in places and clunky in others, but when it works, it works, mainly thanks to the great turns from Wincott and Lane, who seem very naturalistic and unforced as a couple. Give it a go.