DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Blowback, Milk and Honey, Chicago Stories, The Usual Suspects, Sling Blade, The Spanish Prisoner, Redbelt, The Last Seduction

 

Title:  Blowback

Release Date:  2000

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 91 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Lions Gate / Sterling / American World

Director; Writer: Mark lester

Producer:

Cast:  James Remar, Mario Van Peebles

Technical: Full standard

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  government covert operations

 

Blowback refers to an intelligence operative to goes renegade. It can also refer to the “skunk at the picnic” problem. Here, a serial killer Matt Whitman (James Remar) is executed in the California gas chamber with witnesses, even vomiting during the process. However, he is rescued from the body bag, brought back to life and given a new face as Schmidt. His body is quite hairless during the procedures. He is made into a CIA operative, to act on the phrase “The Unicorn is in the garden.” He goes renegade and becomes a killer again, determined to recreate the crucifixion. It is up to a priest turned cop (Mario Van Peebles) to stop him. At one point his girl friend (Gladyz Jiminez) asks him why he became a cop instead of remaining a priest, and the answer is obvious.

 

Milk and Honey (2002), written and directed by Joe Maggio, was the subject of analysis at the IFPMSP Producer’s Conference in 2003 (regarding movie making on micro-budgets, $1 million or less). Shot in MinidDV in New York City, this little gem starts with a middle-aged man (Clint Jordan) trying to hold onto a marriage. His wife (Kirsten Russell) is drifting into other relationships (as with a young party animal played by Anthony Howard) that will create their own stories, and the protagonist will enter a bizarre suicide plan that starts with a chance encounter at a hospital. What is interesting how the characters’ stories crisscross and create a series of bizarre encounters.

 

 This film has a few shots of total nudity, which may cause NC-17 rating problems if the film is submitted. But, again, I agree with Roger Ebert: we need to develop the convention that an adult rating on a serious film does not carry a naughty stigma that drives away exhibitors. This film may become an early example of the new d-cinema (digital projection) project promised by Landmark Theaters. (Variety.com, “Landmark Going Digital,” by Carl Diorio, Apr. 3, 2003).

 

Wellspring Media is providing this film a commercial screening party and reception in New York City on March 18, 2005. Location: The Stoned Crow, 85 Washington Place, 212-677-4022 6:30 PM

Here is the film’s Website: http://www.wellspring.com/movies/movie.html?movie_id=36

 

Chicago Stories (King Productions/Avenue) is a quartet of short stories directed by Duane Edwards. The stories are “The Confession,” “Contest Winner,” “Imagine This,” “Hit & Run.” They are a bit it the style of a gentler Stephen King. I won’t give the loglines here. But I’ll say that a bit of “Glen Garry Glen Ross” and “Always be Closing” in one of the clips, where a salesman really finds out if he’s ballsy or not. There is some irony about the priesthood, and a woman really does a horrible thing, worthy of “Days of our Lives.” Two of the films are in black-and-white, and another uses it; they remind me of the black-and-white scene composition of the famous opening of “Touch of Evil.” Edwards is a finalist in the 2004 Project Greenlight Director’s Contest, with a clip that jerks us around with the unexpected. (Do not confuse this film with the big 2002 Miramax release, “Chicago!”)

 

The Usual Suspects (1995, Gramercy, dir. Bryan Singer, wr. Christopher McQuarrie) was a Sundance sensation that set up a mystery regarding a ship explosion and previous truck hijacking, with bizarre characters played by Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak. What is interesting here is the writing technique of referring to this mystery person Hungarian mobster Keyser Soze, as a third party who pulls the strings but is somehow vulnerable. Sometimes this kind of technique is considered annoying by screenwriters, if it seems like the characters don’t want to deal with themselves or each other. Who is this guy anyway? Is he one of them?

 

Sling Blade (1996, Miramax, dir. Billy Bob Thornton, R, 135 min) is an ambitious if low-budget character study of Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) who has been released from an Alabama mental institution for murdering his mother in childhood. He does seem retarded, with every sentence ending with a suffixed “Uh huh” as if that were a case inflection in his own private language. He befriends a small boy Frank (Lucas Black) and them becomes drawn into the boy’s family with mother Linda (Natalie Canderday) and his tempestuous boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakim). Karl’s new loyalties will be tested, as he finally kills with his blade, and then calls the police, calmly, telling them that a guy’s head is split in two, uh huh, and then Karl might have to be put away again. 

 

The Spanish Prisoner (1998, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. David Mamet) is a contemporary American setting of what is essentially the Nigerian Scam. The con-artist tells the mark that he is in touch with a prisoner kept under a false identity. The confidence game is defined precisely at http://psychcentral.com/psypsych/Spanish_Prisoner.  Of course, the modern setting has no prisoners and no Moorish castles in Spain. There is a loyal techie Joe Ross (Campbell Scott), inventor of “The Process,” who seems set up by his boss (Ben Gazarra) and turns to Jimmy Dell (the affable Steve Martin) for help, and he may be the real con man. There are the expected Caribbean trips and mystery drop off. The film has always been considered a masterpiece of screenwriting and audience manipulation, predating faster paced indie thrillers of a few years later.

 

Redbelt (2008, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. David Mamet) mixes the marial arts or jiu-jitsu world with the movies and competition, raising questions as it moves back and forth from one treachery to another, some in imagination, some in reality. Blogger

 

The Last Seduction (1994, Artisan / October / Burnholtz / HBO, dir. John Dahl, dir. Steve Barancik) is a famous film noir about a "femme fatale" tricking and knocking of men, somewhat in the tradition of "Body Heat." This is a smaller film, originally made for HBO (and the DVD is full screen). In the opening scene, she (Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino)) is brutally supervising a team of quota-driven debt collectors. She plots to have her wanna be doctor husband Clay Gregory (Bill Pullman, who never has chest hair in any movie) killed after she steals some medicinal drug money (he was struggling with med school debts). She travels to a small town and gets a contract job with an insurance company where he unsuspecting partner in crime Mike Swale (Peter Berg) already works as a claims adjuster, and takes on the pseudonym Wendy Kroy "with a K" (New York spelled in palindrome, and her trick works as well as a weak password). An auto crash scene (where a goon is thrown through the windshield) is especially well done, as is a later tire blowout. A couple of great lines are "just as in the movies" and later "I'm going to Miami, not Iraq" (and this is 1994).  As with her B-movie husband, she treats Swale as a total cock-tease, even when he asks for privacy in the shower. The climactic scene back in Clay's New York apartment is a nice maze of double twists and evil manipulation, worthy of Hitchcok and Patricia Highsmith. This film seems to be a favorite of movie bloggers.

 

The movie recently received attention (in the fall of 2007) as a murder in Alaska seems to follow the plot. The AP story is on MSNBC ("Ex-stripper accused of plot similar to '94 movie; prosecutors: The controversy caused the movie to become in suddenly high demand for rental. Woman fond of 'Last Seduction' follows script to very end." here. The case reminds one of the legal controversy over the novel "Touching" which does not seem to have been made into a film (yet). However, Sylvia Plathe 's similarly controversial "The Bell Jar" was an Embassy picture directed by Larry Peerce in 1979, and has never been a DVD; it is being remade by Plum Pictures for 2008 release (to star Julia Stiles). We may be talking a lot about the legal ramifications of "art resembling life" a year from now (it bit me once as a substitute teacher already).

 

 

 

Related reviews:. Brokeback Mountain    Body Heat

 

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