Daily Archives: April 26, 2020

BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

The bad news is the coronavirus is causing worldwide devastation.

The good news is I’m catching up on my movie watching.

BQB here with yet another classic movie review.

Ever since I saw Escape from New York (and more recently, They Live) I have become a fan of John Carpenter films. This is ironic, because though his Halloween is the film that started the slasher movie craze, the original Halloween doesn’t seem like it really holds up when it comes to plot, at least IMO, but at any rate, They Live, Escape from NY and this film are all good.

The plot? Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker), working his first night out as a newly minted police lieutenant, is recruited to stand watch over a rundown police precinct in a crime ridden neighborhood during the building’s last night of operation. The precinct is slated to be closed permanently the next morning, so Lt. Bishop is the only cop on scene.

Mr. Lawson, a father who loses his young daughter to a terrifyingly violent street gang, fights back, only to be marked for death. He seeks shelter at the station and the gang, seeing the precinct is poorly defended, begin to lay siege.

Bishop’s only backup includes secretary Leigh (Laurie Zimmer, playing against old fashioned female stereotypes as she looks quite comfortable wielding a six shooter), and convicts Napoleon Hill and Wells (Darwin Joston and Tony Burton, who later went on to play Rocky’s trainer, Duke, following the passing of Mickey.)

Unlikely allies, the convicts, stuck in the station’s cells due to a prison transfer gone awry, realize they need to help Bishop because the gang plans to execute anyone inside the building, no questions asked. Bishop, no fan of law breakers, realizes he’ll have to trust the baddies because he can’t take the gang on by himself.

It’s a short film, only 90 minutes long and it cuts to the chase quickly.  An early scene where Lawson’s daughter is killed is horribly gruesome and something that shocked me as I don’t think you’d see a scene like that in a movie today.

Sidenote – the 1970s were kind of a wild west time period for film. The 1950s and 1960s mostly gave us films that were glorified stage plays, heavily scripted and nothing that you wouldn’t take your family to see if it were showing on Broadway. Filmmakers rebelled against the old norms in the 70s, sometimes bringing us cinema gold but often going way too far. By the 1980s, the movie rating system reigned a lot of it in.

Anyway, when you see the ice cream truck, you might want to just fast forward it a little while. I wish I had. Just assume Mr. Lawson has been wronged.  No need to see why.

STATUS: Shelfworthy. I think it was available on tubi or some such nonsense.  There is a 2005 remake which I remember as being decent but I don’t remember enough about it to make a comparison.

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Movie Review – The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

BQB’s classic movie marathon, as inspired by the coronavirus, continues, 3.5 readers.

Before the 2009 remake, there was the original. Both are good and now, after seeing the original, I can see how the remake stayed somewhat true to the source material while updating for the modern age.  Yeeh, hard to believe the remake was 11 years ago.

Anyway.

I have a hunch that Quentin Tarantino must have been a fan of this movie, for, just as in Reservoir Dogs, it too features a band of gun wielding crooks who have to deal with their own wild card.

Here, the crooks are led by Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) an ex-British military man who became a soldier of fortune in Africa before turning to a life of crime. His comrades are Misters Green, Grey, and Brown.  Grey, played by a young Hector Elizondo, is the wild card who doesn’t follow orders well.

Together, the bad hombres take control of the subway train, Pelham 123. They strand it in a tunnel and radio in to the NYC dispatch center, giving a deadline of 1 hour for the city to cough up a million dollars. Failure to comply will lead to the madmen killing one hostage for every minute that payment is overdue.

Before he became a grumpy old man in the 1990s, Walter Matthau was a grumpy middle aged man who played Lt. Garber, the transit police man who leads the investigation and communicates with Mr. Blue.

There’s a lot of over the top “New Yorkishness” here. A lot of subway workers yelling and shouting at each other as they’re trying to figure out what’s going on, and the actors really lean into those New York accents.

If you’re PC, definitely keep some smelling salts handy as there are many things that don’t hold up today. One worker openly complains about not being able to swear in the presence of a newly hired female coworker keeps him from doing his job effectively. A black police officer hiding near the track worries he might get shot by accident by his fellow officers because, quote, “I’m hard to see in the dark.”

Meanwhile, Matthau, possibly the film’s worst offender, while escorting a group of Japanese subway workers on a tour, openly calls them dummies and monkies, making fun of their limited English speaking abilities. He is surprised when he learns a police inspector he has been communicating with over the radio for the entire film is black (the only assumption being that Garber didn’t think a black man would be so competent), jokes that his Italian coworker works for the Mafia on the weekends, and at several points in the movie, notes that an undercover officer who has blended in among the passengers would be “useless” if it turns out the officer is a “dame.”

To the film’s credit, I think a lot of these things that wouldn’t fly then, didn’t necessarily fly back then either, except that back then, movies were at least to point out that prejudices were wrong by showing characters engage in them only to get their comeuppance later.  For example, Matthau is embarrassed upon realizing that the Japanese subway workers could understand him all along and were just being gracious in not responding to his insults. Meanwhile, he looks like a dick when he underestimates the police inspector, and the look on his face makes us think that perhaps even he realizes he was being a dick.

Back on the train, wild card Mr. Grey calls a passenger an “N-word” and this is a turning point in the film where we realize Grey is nuts and is going to be a problem for his fellow crooks. Mr. Blue, a cold hearted, calculating criminal who is so cold that he is prepared to shoot passengers in the head as just a cost of doing business won’t stand for racial intolerance and realize Mr. Grey was a bad hire at this moment.

I get both points about the racial content in movies debate. I get the one side where it might be best to remove it all. I get the other side where we are asked to take things in context. At any rate, there are a lot of things in this movie that are jarring to modern ears and eyes.

Seinfeld fans will be happy to see a young Jerry Stiller as Matthau’s partner and Stiller’s wife, Doris Roberts, plays the wife of “The Mayor.” We never get the Mayor’s name (played by Lee Wallace) but he is a parody of politicians, worried more about picking the option that will get him the most votes and not about doing the right thing.

Inflation really is a bitch. The crooks rob a train for 1 million dollars, each taking $250,000 a piece. Even today, $250,000 is nothing to sneeze at, but is it worth robbing a train, risking that you might be shot by police or end up in jail?  Probably not, though I guess in the 1970s it was a vast fortune.  The whole thing made me think of the “one million dollars” joke from Austin Powers.

Central to the plot is the mystery of how the bad guys expect to get away when they are underground, surrounded by police and the only way out is to get off at a station, where they will be bound to be caught.

STATUS: Shelfworthy.

 

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Movie Review – Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

You’ve seen director Taika Waititi take off in films such as Thor:Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit, now see the movie that took him to the next level just a few years ago in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Old couple Bella (Rema Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill of Jurassic Park fame) take in Ricky (Julian Dennison of Deadpool 2 fame), the least popular kid in the New Zealand foster care system. Ricky has a habit of being uncontrollable and has a habit of running away from his assigned families.

Something about this family is different. Hec is grumpy and doesn’t hide the fact that he doesn’t want the kid living on the couple’s farm. Bella is sweet and kind, nurturing Ricky to the point where he loses the desire to run.

Alas, all this changes when Bella passes away unexpectedly.   Upon learning that his social worker, Paula, is coming to collect him (she thinks the boy would be better off with a couple and Hec, no fan of Ricky, doesn’t protest) Ricky, true to form, runs off into the forest.

Hec ventures after him, only to break his leg, rendering him immobilized for weeks. Ricky takes care of the man he comes to call Uncle, but also true to form, the media makes a mountain out of a molehill, ginning up a false narrative of how Hec has kidnapped the boy and run off into the woods with him with all manner of evil intentions under the sun.

I wasn’t a fan of the ending. Not to give it away, but it doesn’t seem fair what happens to Hec, but then again, life is not fair. I think the underlying point of the tale is when the media and government team up in believing a false story, they rarely, if ever, are willing to admit they got it wrong and won’t stop until they get their scapegoat, that being Hec, here. Dennison is funny as Ricky, though at times, Ricky is a little jerk who fans the flames against Hec when he doesn’t get his way, and sometimes one wonders why Hec doesn’t just drop the kid off at the nearest sign of civilization and then run.

Sam Neill is great in this role and personally, I think this is the best thing he’s done since Jurassic Park. I’m sure he’s done a lot of great stuff but generally, he always plays the same stern, grumpy, leave me alone type character and that pays off here as he plays opposite a very annoying kid.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Available on Hulu.

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