Friday, March 8, 2013

Worth Mentioning - A Reckless Girl, A Nervous Gun

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody digs a chick from fifty years in the past and Sylvester Stallone keeps doing what he does.


After spotting a stolen car in their quiet little Pacific northwest town, a couple police officers find the perpetrators in a cafe, two young toughs and the female hitchhiker who's gotten caught up with them. The three criminals are taken into custody, but things go wrong on the way to the police station thanks to the fact that it's against regulations to search females. The girl had a gun on her. The hoodlums take control of the situation and ditch one of the cops, but take the other, Sergeant Steve Walsh, hostage to help them get out of the area. The escape attempt sends the four off on a more than twenty mile hike through the middle of a million and a half acre forest, with a search team of police and volunteers on their trail.

Two of this film's stars would go on to become very popular in the '60s: David Janssen, soon to be cast in the lead of the original The Fugitive television series, makes a good heroic-type in the role of Walsh, and Frank Gorshin, who would go on to be The Riddler on the Batman TV series, is the leader of the criminal pack, adding kidnapping to his list of crimes that also includes armed robbery, assault, and burglary.

But the standout for me is Joyce Taylor as hitchhiker Bobbie Adams, nicknamed Skidoo. Taylor is given some great, very much of the time dialogue to deliver, and she's captivating from the moment she first appears on screen. She's eating dinner in the cafe when Walsh approaches her table and comments that he hasn't seen her around before, and without looking at the man who's speaking to her she starts mockingly questioning him about where he wants to take her and if his wife is out of town. When she sees she's talking to a cop, she explains why she was talking that way: "guys think every chick's an easy ball."

She's sharp and she's playful. Walsh puts her in his cruiser, and while he walks around to the driver's side she gets out of the car and runs back into the diner... Not to get away, just to get her hamburger to take with her.

She seems to take an instant interest in Walsh, who she often refers to as "daddio". She offers him a drag from her cigarette, now "lipstick flavor" since it's been on her lips, "the taste that satisfies." She doesn't usually rat him out when he's doing things to work against her cohorts, she doesn't give him much trouble because "I don't dig that gas chamber deal." She's the most mixed up character Walsh has ever met, and the more they're around each other the more suggestive her interactions with him get.

Joyce Taylor is stunning in this film, whether in her initial delinquent look of tied back hair and blouse tied in front or the more adult look she adopts when she lets her hair down and tucks her blouse in, and especially in the scene where she strips down to nothing but Walsh's uniform shirt. Taylor was in her late twenties when the film was made, so it's alright for viewers to fall for her, but the character she's playing is "under eighteen", so Walsh has to resist her advances.

The hostage situation is resolved in time for the movie to become a disaster film of sorts in the second half; the area it's set in is experiencing its driest summer in years, and a cigarette dropped thoughtlessly during the trek through the woods ignites a forest fire, one that threatens to destroy Walsh's town. If the inferno and the evacuation of citizens wasn't enough for him to worry about, Walsh also has a charge of statuatory rape hanging over his head - Gorshin's character accuses him of getting up to some illegal activity with Skidoo while they were in the woods, and she backs up his claim despite Walsh's denials. There was a fade to black at a crucial moment so we can't be sure who's telling the truth, we can only decide whose word we trust.

The action climax features a train on a crumbling, burning bridge, and more than fifty years later the wreckage from this sequence can still be found lying in, and on the banks of, Washington state's Wynoochee River.

In the end, it looks like Skidoo has come around. She seems like she's going to straighten her life out and clear up what happened between her and Walsh... Then again, the way Walsh kisses her in the final moment, he might just earn the charge.

I found Ring of Fire to be a very entertaining film to watch, and my enjoyment of it was mostly due to Taylor's performance and appearance as Skidoo. She rocked that role. It's a shame that she didn't have a bigger career.

I'd definitely recommend that people check the movie out, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be officially available on home video. I caught it with my DVR when it aired on Turner Classic Movies a while back. Looks like it won't be on TCM again until June 2nd, but next weekend there will be two theatrical screenings of it in Shelton, Washington, where it was partially filmed. If only I could be there to see that.



This adaptation of a French graphic novel went through some twists and turns on its way to the big screen. Originally the film was set to be the intriguing pairing of star Sylvester Stallone with director Wayne Kramer, who had previously made The Cooler (2003) and Running Scared (2006). That could've led to something interesting, but unfortunately the two had creative differences over the tone they should be shooting for, and Kramer left the project. His very cool replacement: Walter Hill, director of The Warriors, 48 Hrs., Southern Comfort, Streets of Fire, Extreme Prejudice, Red Heat, Trespass... the list goes on, and finally the list would include a film starring Stallone. It was a match made in Action Heaven.

There was a big change in front of the camera as well, as Thomas Jane was the actor initially cast beside in Stallone in this "buddy picture", but he was replaced before filming began, a decision made by producer Joel Silver. Silver is said to have wanted a more "ethnic" co-star to appeal to a wider audience, thus the casting of Korean actor Sung Kang. Kang is also more appealing to the youth audience, due to his likeable role in several of the Fast and Furious films. I assume the script went through a rewrite to play up that youthful aspect as well, since Kang's character is a young man who's very reliant on his smartphone, which is commented on throughout. "Thank God for Google."

After filming was complete, the movie hit another speed bump when it was delayed for almost a year, finally reaching screens last month.

The names attached and the marketing have indicated that Bullet to the Head would be a throwback of sorts, and as the film begins with a gunshot to a head and the title sequence featuring credits for Stallone, Silver, and Hill playing over shots of nudity and coke-snorting, fans of '80s action will be feeling right at home.

The story covers ground that is very well-trodden; an uneasy, odd couple pair are forced by circumstances to work together to right wrongs and thwart mutual enemies. Things kick off when Jimmy Bobo, a lifelong criminal and a professional hitman, and his partner are hired to kill a corrupt cop. They do the job, but then their mysterious employer sends in hulking mercenary Keegan to kill them as well. He succeeds in killing Bobo's partner, sending Bobo on a mission of revenge and opening him up to working with Taylor Kwon, a cop investigating the murder of his fellow officer. Kwon knows Bobo pulled the trigger, but he wants to know who hired him to do so and why.

Stallone and Kang work well enough together and there are some nice supporting turns from Sarah Shahi as Bobo's tattoo artist daughter, who took a year of med school so she also comes in handy for extracting bullets when you get shot, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost's Mr. Eko), Christian Slater, and Jason Momoa as the bad guys. Momoa is especially badass as Keegan.

The film is indeed a throwback, but it doesn't quite live up to the similar films that its director and star have made before. There are some good fights and plenty of gunfire, the action is enjoyable but not all that spectacular, and the story and execution are about as generic as it gets. The movie would've been fine going to direct-to-video, and looking at its box office numbers it might've been better off doing so. It's worth checking out for fans of those involved, but I'm glad I didn't spend much money to see it. I saw it at the dollar theatre, which was a fitting venue for it. But if I had watched it on DVD, I would've been able to add a screen cap of a strategically blocked shot of Sarah Shahi in the bathtub to this write-up.

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