Friday, July 4, 2014

Worth Mentioning - For God & Country & Horse Flesh

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 ropes in some Elmore Leonard, Judd Nelson goes psycho, and Japan responds to Star Wars.


Based on a novel written by the late, amazing Elmore Leonard and first published in 1959, this made-for-TNT TV movie, directed by Dick Lowry from an screenplay adaptation by Ronald M. Cohen, stars Tom Selleck as a man named Paul Cable.

The year is 1865, the Civil War still rages on in the United States, and we meet up with Cable as he rides back to his family in Texas after several years away fighting for the Confederacy. His loved ones were notified that he was killed in action and died a hero, but the fact is that he was merely wounded, catching a bullet in the backside, and has given up on the war. It's still being fought, but Cable knows that it has already been lost. He comes home to children who barely know him, even discovering that one of his children fell ill and died while he was away, and to a wife who is very bitter that he volunteered to leave them and go off to war. She has done her best to pass on her bitter feelings to their son and daughter.

Cable's family has been staying with his wife's father during his absence, but now that he's back and gradually reconnecting with them, he proceeds to move his wife and children back to their homestead in Arizona. Upon reaching their land, they find that it has been confiscated by the Kidstons, ranchers providing remounts to the Union Army.

While Cable fights to wrest back control over his property from the interlopers, a fight which already has enough hard feelings, gunfire, and bloodshed involved, the owner of the local store, a one-armed former Confederate soldier named Edward Janroe, stokes the flames even further.

Janroe's store doubles as a way station for shipments of guns that are smuggled in from Mexico with the ultimate destination of arming Confederate soldiers. If he can manipulate the situation to get Cable to kill off the Union collaborators in town, it would help Janroe's gun-running business run more smoothly...

Last Stand at Saber River isn't the type of movie we've come to expect to have Elmore Leonard's name attached to it. There's no trace within this film that its ideas came from the same author who wrote the source material movies like Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, and Out of Sight are based on, none of his usual character types or dialogue exchanges. But before he started writing the sort of crime novels he's most well known for today, Westerns were Leonard's bread and butter.

As one would assume given the Saber River novel's original year of publication, the story is a good old fashioned Western. Its simple set-up provides good old fashioned types of Western conflicts, with some turns along the way that causes the situation to escalate while also taking it in unexpected directions.

Selleck gives a reliably strong performance as Cable, and Westerns are a good fit for the actor. He's paired with a great supporting cast that includes Suzy Amis, Lumi Cavazos, Tracey Needham, and Harry Carey, Jr., with a young Haley Joel Osment as his son. The characters that antagonize the Cables are played by the likes of Keith and David Carradine, Patrick Kilpatrick, Rex Linn, and David Dukes. Good casting all around.

The production made good use of the New Mexico countryside that stands in for Arizona and Texas, and when the required gunfights ensue, the sound of shots echo through those wide open spaces nicely.

Saber River doesn't break any new ground and isn't going to convert anyone who didn't like Westerns in the first place, but it's a solid entry in the genre that fans who miss the old days when Westerns dominated the screen will likely enjoy watching.


Director William Lustig, best known for the slasher movies Maniac (1980), Maniac Cop and its sequels, brought another killing spree to the screen with Relentless, this time working from a script written by filmmaker Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, The Sum of All Fears) under the pen name Jack T.D. Robinson.

Robinson's story centers on Sam Dietz, a veteran police officer who recently transferred from the NYPD to the LAPD and is leaving his days as a patrol man behind, having just made detective.

The first crime scene Dietz and his old timer partner Billy Malloy report to just happens to be the first murder committed by a serial killer who has started picking off Los Angeles citizens, choosing victims with the names Arthur and Taylor from the phone book. The choice of names isn't the only message the killer is sending out, he also leaves taunting notes to the police at the scenes. Messages like "Come and get me if you can" and "What's taking you so long?"

Dietz has experience with serial killers, having been on the NYPD in the Son of Sam days, and is immediately fed up with Malloy's lackadaisical approach to the case. As more and more people turn up dead, Dietz puts all his energy into tracking down the murderer, butting heads with fellow authority figures every step of the way and gradually bonding with his partner while getting the older man invested in his job again.

As well as being a dedicated cop, Dietz is also a family man, a New Yorker married to a California native, father to a young son named Cory. Dietz is played by Leo Rossi, a fantastic character who often turned up in Lustig's films - so often that he was even in Maniac Cop and then in Maniac Cop 2 as a totally different character. Rossi makes Dietz a really likeable, fun guy to watch, the viewer gets behind him completely, and his interactions with his son and his wife Carol, played by Meg Foster and her otherworldly blue eyes. Dietz is a man's man who wants to crack heads and eat meat, Carol does her best to keep him mellow and healthy.

Scenes of Dietz's home life and the progress he makes on the case are intercut with glimpses into the life of the killer; Judd Nelson as Arthur "Buck" Taylor.

Nelson very effectively gets across how out of his mind his character is, it's hard to believe he was portraying such a psychopath just four years removed from becoming a teenage heartthrob with The Breakfast Club. The murder scenes, during which he forces his victims to participate in their own murders, are chilling.

Buck is the son of the late Ike Taylor, a legend of the police force, a mean, tough cop who lost his job during a crackdown on the violation of suspects' rights. Nobody knows how abusive Ike was to Buck during his downtime, putting his son through brutal, militaristic training sessions and beating him when he didn't live up to his father's expectations. Buck has attempted to follow in his dad's footsteps, but the LAPD has rejected him at the advisement of the psychiatrist who evaluated him. Since he can't be a cop, Buck decides to become a criminal for the police to catch, desperate for them to solve the case and stop him because he knows his father would want someone like him taken off the streets.

In his mind, he has a very specific purpose, so he doesn't take kindly to comments and reports in the media that question his mental state. Realizing through the notes he leaves that these things get to him, Dietz purposely has the papers take these assessments even further in an effort to draw him out... But toying with a serial killer is a very dangerous game to play.

Relentless is a great little detective movie with an engaging lead character who's pitted against a creepy, unbalanced killer. This movie wasn't out to break the mould, there's nothing to really set it apart from the style of numerous detective stories that preceded it or followed, it's just out to tell its story and examine its characters in the best way possible, and it succeeds at that.

I'm not generally a fan of crime procedurals, I don't watch shows like CSI, NCIS, or Criminal Minds, I don't really find them interesting, but Relentless works for me.

I've always been a fan of Leo Rossi from his roles in movies like the aforementioned Maniac Cops, Halloween II, and his co-starring roles with Corey Haim in the Fast Getaway movies. Too often, Rossi is cast in smaller parts, so it's awesome to see him take the lead here. Rossi did so well at bringing Sam Dietz to life that he earned himself a franchise - three sequels to Relentless were produced in the early '90s.


A 1977 release from Toho Studios, the company behind the Godzilla franchise, The War in Space is, as its title and the year may immediately give away, the Japanese studio's reaction to the worldwide success of George Lucas's Star Wars, which became an instant smash when it opened in the United States in May of '77. Toho rushed their own sci-fi action adventure into production as soon they heard what a sensation Star Wars was becoming and got The War in Space into theatres in Japan by the end of December '77... Star Wars itself didn't even reach Japan until the end of June '78.

While Lucas created an entirely different galaxy for his space opera to occur in, Toho kept their setting more simple, setting in our own world, which is a better fit for rushed, low budget projects. The War in Space was slightly futuristic at the time - it's set in the autumn of 1988, but those eleven years don't make much of a difference.

Viewers familiar with the storylines of the Godzilla movies and Toho's other sci-fi offerings of the past won't find much new or surprising about the plot screenwriters Shuichi Nagahara and Ryûzô Nakanishi crafted for director Jun Fukuda (a veteran of several Godzilla films) to bring to the screen.

The film kicks off with a series of events building up to alien forces launch a full-on invasion of the Earth - electronic waves bouncing back and forth between our planet and Venus, comets raining debris down on areas around the globe, UFO sightings, the destruction of a space station. Soon lazer-blasting UFOs are attacking every major city in the world.

In response, the UN Space Federation revives a long-abandoned project that was once being worked on to defend us if just such an occasion were to arise - the construction of the space warship Gohten. Gohten is built and, with an international crew, departs Earth to take the fight where they believe is the home base of the alien invaders. Venus.

During the course of their mission, Gohten's crew must contend with alien soldiers that have disguised themselves as humans and the abduction of the captain's daughter (once kidnapped, she is dressed in a leather outfit and guarded by a giant, hairy, horned, axe-wielding beast), attempt to pull off the demolition of the alien headquarters on Venus, and destroy the forces of the alien leading this assault: Commander Hell, Emperor of the Galaxy.

As the characters come to find out, the aliens attempting to take over our planet are not Venusians, they are in fact from a galaxy far far away. Specifically, they're from the planet Meshie 13, third planet in the Yomi system and the Imperial Planet of the Galaxy... Meshie 13, and Earth is perfectly inhabitable to its people, so Commander Hell wants to come in and enslave the residents of Earth rather than cohabitate with us.

Commander Hell has a very inflated opinion of himself, and the crew of Gohten ultimately show him the error of his ways.

The War in Space isn't a great film, but I do feel that it has caught a bit too much negativity over the years, perhaps since it does sort of put itself up for comparison to Star Wars. Still, despite the fact that it was a rushed cash-in and some of the destruction shots were actually stock footage from previous Toho productions (Toho never did shy away from using stock footage), I find the movie to be a rather entertaining adventure.

Padded out with stock footage or not, the action sequences are really fun. There are ray gun shoot-outs, mass destruction on Earth, aerial dogfights with UFOs, and it all looks great, it's well shot and exciting. It may not be Star Wars, but it's a solid film in its own right. There's not much to the characters, but stuff blows up real good. And it's got a monster with an axe! Things don't get much better than that.

Interestingly, the ship Gohten is basically the flying, drill-tipped submarine from Toho's 1963 film Atragon, just retrofitted for interplanetary travel. No wonder the UN Space Federation was able to get it completed so quickly.

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