Short Takes: J

The Jackals (1967)

Producer/Director: Robert D Webb
Screenwriters: Lamar Trotti and Harold Medford (story: WR Burnett)

In South Africa, five outlaws on the run after a bank robbery come upon an old prospector and his granddaughter. At first, they are only trying to survive, but once they learn there is gold, conflicts develop.

The film works well enough with the head outlaw ultimately showing he is fundamentally decent and becoming attached to the granddaughter. But the main reason to watch this is for Vincent Price’s performance as the slightly crazy old man.

Starring Robert Gunner (Planet of the Apes), Diana Ivarson (The Jesus Trip), and Vincent Price (Theatre of Blood). Patrick Mynhardt (The Naked Prey) also has a small role.

The Jackals is under copyright. It’s available on DVD (there are other versions that you should probably skip). And it is on numerous collections.

2 April 2020

The Jack in the Box (2020)

Producers: Geoff Fowler and Lawrence Fowler
Director/Screenwriter: Lawrence Fowler

A man digs up a jack in the box and a creature comes out, kills his wife, and drags her away. It’s 12 years later and a museum has found the box. Now people start disappearing.

This film takes itself very seriously. At first it kind of annoyed me given the material. But about halfway through, it clicked. Jack is wonderfully rendered — up there with Freddy Krueger! Overall, a really well-constructed horror film.

Starring Ethan Taylor, Lucy-Jane Quinlan (Media Studies), Tom Carter, and Robert Nairne (In the Trap).

The Jack in the Box is under copyright. It is available on DVD.

4 November 2020

Jail Bait (1954)

Producer/Director: Edward D Wood, Jr
Screenwriters: Alex Gordon and Edward D Wood, Jr
Other titles: Hidden Face

Son of a famous surgeon rebels by leading a life of crime. He gets in big trouble. He dies, but otherwise, it all works out. It stars familiar Ed Wood people like Dolores Fuller, Lyle Talbot, and Timothy Farrell as the heavy. This was silent film star Herbert Rawlinson’s last film and future cinematic Hercules Steve Reeves’ first feature film. Word is, Wood shot 17 takes of Reeves trying to shave. I don’t know if that is true, but years later, Reeves said that Wood was a very kind director. This is the film to show anyone claiming Wood was a bad director. It’s a competent and enjoyable B feature.

It is in the public domain.

The January Man (1989)

Producers: Norman Jewison and Ezra Swerdlow
Director: Pat O’Connor
Screenwriter: John Patrick Shanley

A disgraced cop is reinstated to find a serial killer. While doing so, he also determines who set him up to take the fall for real corruption in the force.

This is a fun film. Just don’t focus on the serial killer because this film isn’t much interested in that part of the plot and it is absurd. Just enjoy the odd characters. That is enough.

Starring Kevin Kline (Dave), Alan Rickman (Truly, Madly, Deeply), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (The Abyss), Susan Sarandon (Speed Racer), Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs), Danny Aiello (Mistress), and Rod Steiger (On the Waterfront).

The January Man is copyrighted. It is available on an expensive DVD and Blu-ray neither with any real extras.

23 March 2021

Jaws (1975)

Producers: Richard D Zanuck & David Brown
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriters: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb (novel: Peter Benchley)

Amity Island has a shark that has taken up residence and is eating swimmers. They need to kill the shark before the tourists get scared and stay away. Three unusual characters — a big city cop, a salty sea captain, and a nerdy scientist — must solve this problem.

It’s hard to say exactly why this film is so good. Part of it is the barrels: knowing the shark is there but not being able to see it. Part of it is the cast: the three principals are great. And the script is wonderful — much better than the novel. Spielberg gets a lot of credit but I don’t see that he did anything remarkable here. Sometimes, films just work and we can’t say why. This is one of those films.

Starring Roy Scheider (All That Jazz), Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Robert Shaw (Black Sunday), Lorraine Gary (1941), and Murray Hamilton (13 Frightened Girls).

Jaws is under copyright. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray. There are many other releases.

29 August 2021

Jaws 2 (1978)

Producers: Richard D Zanuck & David Brown
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Screenwriters: Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler (characters: Peter Benchley)

There’s something about Amity Island — the sharks just love it. Another one is back. It’s eating divers and water skiers. And now it’s after the kids! So Brody has to go electrocute him some shark.

This one is okay. Everyone is acting their asses off. But the original crew is gone. Sure, Brody’s back but Shaw is dead and Dreyfuss said, “Hell no!” But it is more or less the same even with many of the same plot points.

Starring Roy Scheider (The French Connection), Lorraine Gary (Jaws: The Revenge), Murray Hamilton (1941), and Joseph Mascolo (Hot Spur).

Jaws 2 is under copyright. It is available on Blu-ray. You can get the second, third, and fourth films on Blu-ray.

29 August 2021

La Jetée (1962)

Producer: Anatole Dauman
Director/Screenwriter: Chris Marker
Length: 28 minutes

Best known as the basis for 12 Monkeys, La Jetée is a film told in static shots with narration, sound effects, and music. As with 12 Monkeys, it tells the story of a man living in a post-apocalyptic world who takes part in time travel experiments to fix the present. The denouement is clever, but hardly the point of the film.

Jean Négroni does the narration. The film features Davos Hanich, Hélène Chatelain, and Jacques Ledoux.

La Jetée seems to be in the public domain in French, and it is available at Archive.org. There has never been a time when I haven’t been able to find it on a popular sharing site. It is available on disc along with Chris Marker’s feature-length documentary, Sans Soleil. You’d think it would come with 12 Monkeys but Terry Gilliam seems oddly defensive about the film (which is odd given that 12 Monkeys is one of the greatest films ever).

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)

Producer: Caroll Case
Director: William Beaudine
Screenwriter: Carl K Hittleman

The granddaughter of Dr Frankenstein is in the old west doing even more dastardly deeds than he did. Jesse James gets shot during a robbery nearby and eventually falls into the evil hands of the female Frankenstein.

This was Beaudine’s last feature film. After it, he directed exclusively for television, including 80 episodes of Lassie. This film goes along with Billy the Kid vs Dracula, which I prefer.

Starring John Lupton, Narda Onyx, and Estelita Rodriguez (Rio Bravo).

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter may be in the public domain. There is a reasonable copy on Archive.org. If you are willing to pay, Elite Entertainment produced a great version on DVD that comes with a commentary track by Joe Bob Briggs.

31 March 2020

Jim, the World’s Greatest (1975)

Producer: Don Coscarelli
Directors/Screenwriters: Don Coscarelli & Craig Mitchell

A high school boy tries to grow into adulthood while trying to protect his younger brother from their abusive alcoholic father.

This film was clearly a collaboration and I don’t want to diminish the contributions of Craig Mitchell, but this film shares a lot with Kenny & Co and Phantasm. It is a more serious and objective a rendering of growing up than the other films. Although it’s not really a psychotronic film, it’s shockingly engaging.

Starring Gregory Harrison (Logan’s Run), Robbie Wolcott, and Angus Scrimm (John Dies at the End). Reggie Bannister (Bubba Ho-Tep) has a small part as the hang-gliding hippy.

Jim, The World’s Greatest doesn’t look like it was ever released on VHS. And it hasn’t been released on disc in the US. I have seen a version that is apparently available in the UK, but I’m not sure if those sites can be trusted. I found it on YouTube. If you look around, you should be able to find it.

21 March 2020

John Dies at the End (2012)

Producers: Brad Baruh & Don Coscarelli and Andy Meyers & Roman Perez
Director: Don Coscarelli
Screenwriter: Don Coscarelli (novel: David Wong/Jason Pargin)

A new drug is on the street called Soy Sauce. It allows people to break out of time and space. Through it, David and John are drawn into a plot to destroy an AI in another universe that wants to take over ours.

The plot doesn’t so much matter. This is a very clever and fun film with some great action sequences. It’s one of my favorite films.

Starring Chase Williamson (Beyond the Gates), Rob Mayes (The American Mall), Clancy Brown (Cast a Deadly Spell), and Paul Giamatti (The Negotiator). Featuring Glynn Turman (Cooley High), Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth), Daniel Roebuck (Eddie Presley), and Fabianne Therese (Teenage Cocktail).

John Dies at the End is copyrighted. You can, and should, get it on DVD or Blu-ray. They are both filled with extras as with all Coscarelli films.

John Wick (2014)

Producers: Basil Iwanyk and David Leitch and Eva Longoria and Michael Witherill
Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad

John Wick is a retired assassin grieving his recently dead wife when a thug kills his dog and steals his car. So Wick kills dozens of people in his attempt to get revenge. Then he kills some more.

This is a very stylish action film in the mold of The Matrix but without a solid script. Lots of people really like this film. What’s perhaps more amazing is that critics, who nitpick low-budget films to death, love this film. It makes sense: it’s the pinnacle of professionalism wedded to a mediocre creative effort.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Constantine), Michael Nyqvist, (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Willem Dafoe (Platoon), and Ian McShane (Deadwood).

John Wick is copyrighted. It is available on DVD and combo Blu-ray/DVD. There are other releases of it. I’m sure there are ones with commentaries but I can hardly imagine a group of filmmakers I’m less interested in hearing from.

24 July 2021

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Producers: Basil Iwanyk & Erica Lee
Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad

John Wick kills a few dozen people who just happen to be working in an illegal auto shop so he can get his car back. He’s the Good Guy. Then he is forced to kill some guy’s sister so that the brother can take her place on the High Table — a kind of international crime government made up for this film to make it even more ridiculous than the first one. When John Wick accomplishes this, the brother takes out a $7 million contract on John Wick, which everyone rushes to claim despite the fact that everyone knows Wick is basically impossible to kill.

Although I had problems with the first film, I was looking forward to this. I figured they would at least get the script right. Instead, it’s even more like a first-person shooter game on easy level. The critics liked this film even more than the original.

Starring Keanu Reeves (Constantine), Common, Riccardo Scamarcio (Welcome Home), Laurence Fishburne (What’s Love Got to Do with It), and Ian McShane (The Devil’s Widow). Franco Nero (Django) has a small role.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is copyrighted. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo.

24 July 2021

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Producers: Basil Iwanyk & Erica Lee
Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenwriters: Derek Kolstad and Shay Hatten and Chris Collins & Marc Abrams (story: Derek Kolstad)

John Wick is on the run having been excommunicated by the crime syndicate that he didn’t want to be part of. But everyone is still trying to kill him. So he goes around the world and there is always a group of a dozen or more people only too happy to be quickly dispatched by him. He then meets with the only person above the High Table — who appears to have escaped from a cut subplot of Hidalgo. Wick accepts an assignment to get back in and has his finger cut off to prove his commitment but then just goes back on his word.

As well-loved by critics as the second film, this is a nightmare. Most of the fight scenes are explicitly done in the style of first-person shooter games. So many special effects are used that the film switches between live-action and cartoon. The plot features a bunch of mystical mumbo-jumbo that makes The Matrix sequels seem profound. And again we have a plot that makes no sense. John Wick is never killed because those after him insist on not killing him despite at least a dozen opportunities to do so. And by the end of this mess, I wanted him dead! Yet two more sequels are coming…

Starring Keanu Reeves (Constantine), Halle Berry (Gothika), Laurence Fishburne (King of New York), Lance Reddick (Canal Street), and Ian McShane (Villain).

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is copyrighted. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

24 July 2021

Jug Face (2013)

Producers: Robert Tonino and Andrew van den Houten
Director/Screenwriter: Chad Crawford Kinkle

In the rural south, a community provides “the pit” with human sacrifices in exchange for health. Who is to be sacrificed is determined by the jugs made by a mystic potter. But when a young woman friend of his sees her face on a new jug, she hides it with terrible consequences.

This film is really well made but it suffers from a less than inspiring story. There’s no brilliant idea fueling it; the story is tired. But it is told with great skill and that very much includes the screenplay. It’s a good choice to show to your friends who may not be big psychotronic fans.

Starring Sean Bridgers (Deadwood) and Lauren Ashley Carter (Darling). With Kaitlin Cullum (Grace Under Fire) and Larry Fessenden (River of Grass), and Sean Young (Blade Runner).

Jug Face is under copyright. You can get it on DVD or Blu-ray.

15 February 2020

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