The Excellent Eighties: Casablanca Express (1989)

Oh, yes! The ’80s are excellent when you get an old Sergio Martino war flick from those HBO days of yore, as you binged this alongside High Risk, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior (both reviewed this month via Mill Creek, look for them), and Inglorious Bastards. And don’t let the fact that we have the sons of Sean Connery and Anthony Quinn, Jason and Francesco, as our costarring leading men, deter your watching: they’re very good, here. When it is learned the Nazis are plotting to kidnap Winston Churchill on his way to the 1942 Casablanca Conference also attended by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, a crack commando unit is assigned for protection. Let the bullets fly and the explosions mushroom!

This isn’t — based on it being an Italian production headed by Sergio Martino, who gave us 2019: After the Fall of New York and Monster Shark (and too many Giallos* to mention) — a copycat schlock festival of pasta-war madness. Thanks to Glenn Ford and Donald Pleasence (as Maj. General Williams and Col. Bats) classing up the joint as only they know how, this — for moi — goes down as one of the best war movies of the early ’80s cable-era. This is the level of film that Michael Sopkiw deserved to be in. Even though Mike retired from acting by this point, Sergio should have called him in — especially after sticking him with Monster Shark. Mike would have been great in Jason Connery’s role.

You can get your own copy of Casablanca Express as part of Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties 50-Film Set and you can watch it on You Tube.

* We dive deep into the bloody, yellow mayhem of Sergio Martino’s — and many other’s films — with our “Exploring: Giallo” featurette of 70-plus film reviews.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Still the Water (2021)

The ecosystems of islands, by nature, are self-sufficient biological communities that, sans the intrusion of man’s foolish nature, can survive and thrive for an eternity. Man, on the other hand, is not an island; man is a social animal that withers and dies in their Don Quixote quest for independence. Autonomy doesn’t grant self-worth, but self-loathing.

And the Brothers McAuley of Prince Edward Island — the eldest Nicky, the troubled middle child Jordie, and the cooler-passionate youngest Noah — are about to learn a geographical lesson in futility.

The not-so-Musketeers are led by the bullish Nicky, a man-child who hasn’t learned the craft of thinking before he lets his tempers flare. Jordie is a semi-pro hockey star who runs from life’s responsibilities for the ice and comes to discover the “lone wolf” approach to life simply doesn’t work. Noah, for the most part, escaped his father Doug’s alcoholism to mature into a somewhat well-adjusted, approachable free spirit. When Jordie’s propensity in taking out his frustrations on the ice result in his being kicked off his team for fighting, he has no place to go other than home. And while forgiveness lingers in the mists, family resentments towards the hell the now-recovered father Doug’s drinking brewed, lies within the fogs of the past.

This powerful, dramatic feature-film debut regarding the trials and tribulations of family from from writer-director Susan Rogers encapsulates her passions for her Malpeque Bay, Prince Edward Island home; an adoration encapsulated by Cinematographer Christopher Ball (Black Swan; second unit on Aquaman, multiple episodes of SyFy’s Haven). Courtesy of Ball’s experienced eye for crafting shots for his first-time director, Roger’s debut film accomplishes what most movies do not: create a character out of a location.

There’s an err in screenwriting where neophyte writers are of the opinion that characters (if properly written, aren’t “characters” with “motivation”; they’re people with emotions) must speak by words; forgetting that we, as people, communicate silently 70 to 93 percent of the time via facial expressions and body language. A character in a screenplay is a person who drives a plot and inspires other characters, in the effort to create drama. Locations — even objects with a close connection to a person — that inspire and influence characters and drive the plot, also work as “characters” (that’s my opinion and I am sticking to it). Susan Rogers, through her usage of the history and beauty of Prince Edward Island, understands this little-used fact of screenwriting to make the island sing its siren song to the McAuley brothers.

A lesser writer would have had the patriarch-father die and, through a will or some type of legal or heirloom McGuffin, put the three brothers into a cross-country road movie-to-catharsis. We’ve been there on that expanse of asphalt and done that white line fever, ad nauseam. Roger’s debut is a road movie without the road trope; a film where man learns to function as part of an island’s ecosystem and learns how self-sufficiency comes from the reliance of the other and each other.

After completing a successful theatrical and streaming-run in its native Canada, Still the Water is fresh off an equally successful series of U.S. festival showings. It is now available as a free-with-ads stream in North American courtesy of Indie Rights Movies on Tubi TV.

Other recent releases from the Indie Rights Films catalog we’ve reviewed include A Band of Rogues, Banging Lanie, Blood from Stone, The Brink (Edge of Extinction), Chasing the Rain, Double Riddle, The Girls of Summer, Gozo, Loqueesha, and Making Time.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

Disclaimer: We did not receive a review request for this film from its director, distributor, or P.R firm. We discovered the trailer on social media, were intrigued by the film, and we truly enjoyed the film.

The Excellent Eighties: Callie & Son (1981)

This is the great thing about Mill Creek box sets: we probably would have never reviewed this TV Movie obscurity for the site. Well . . . maybe we would have . . . you know us and those “Big Three” network TV flicks of the ’70s and ’80s.

Before Michelle Pfeiffer outshined them all and took over the later DVD boxes.

The cheapjack DVDs you pick up from those cardboard-boxed impulse buy end caps at your favorite retail outlets (Dollar Tree, Marshalls, and Bealls; even those Walmart barrels ‘o plenty in the electronics section) woefully credit Michelle “Catwoman” Pfeiffer as the “star” of this TV mini-series that originally ran for two nights in October 1981. The cast is a TV Movie support cast-dream, with just about every actor who ever booked a supporting role on a ’70s TV series or movie (Joy Garrett, John Harkins, Macon McCalman, and James Sloyan, in particular) appearing in a wide array of bit parts. The cast is not headed by Michelle, but by ubiquitous TV actors Lindsay “Bionic Woman” Wagner, along with Jameson “Simon & Simon” Parker, and the-easily-moves-between-TV-and-film actors Dabney Coleman (McKittrick from WarGames; in production on his 178th project!) and Andrew Prine, who shows us just how great of an actor he really is — and if you’ve spent any amount of time at B&S About Movies, you know Prine’s done his share of Drive-In junk, yet always shines in his role. (If you’re new here and not familiar with Prine’s work The Town that Dreaded SundownSimon King of the Witches, and Hannah, Queen of the Witches will get you started down your own Prine-rabbit hole.)

Sadly, Prine isn’t here much, only acting as the story-narrating Kimbel Smyth, as the story of Callie Lord (Wagner) unfolds: She’s a 1940’s unwed mother forced to give up her son for black market adoption. Moving from her small Texas town to the big city of Dallas for a new start (to study to become a courtroom stenographer), she comes to meet newspaper editor-in-chief Randall Bordeaux (Coleman) while working as a waitress. They marry. And understanding her pain, he tracks down her once-a-rebel-always-a-rebel son, Randy (Parker). Now a powerful newspaper editor after her husband’s passing, Callie looses it all when her son is up on murder charges over his gold digging, ne’er-do-well wife (a rather pudgy Pfeiffer; not at all the svelte Cat Woman we know).

If you’re a fan of those prime soap operas of the ’80s, with their ongoing tales of secrets, lies, and betrayals committed by the underprivileged behaving very badly, there’s something here for you to spend your two-plus hours on. Just don’t be duped into thinking Michelle Pfeiffer is running the show, but Lindsay Wagner fans will enjoy it. And while Wagner’s southern accent leaves a bit to be desired, Prine thrives in southern-slang roles; even in voice over, he’s excellent.

Director Waris Hussein, whose TV career began in Britain with a dozen episodes of Doctor Who in the mid-’60s and moved into the theatrical realms with the very early Gene Wilder film Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970), serviceably moves the camera about the solid set design that transitions from the 1940s to the late 1970s. We could easily do a week of just Waris Hussein TV movies, but we’ll call out the two we remember best: The Henderson Monster, a 1980 Frankenstein-esque horrror starring Stephen “7th Heaven” Colllins, and the really good John Savage-starring Coming Out of the Ice, a 1982 Cold War bio-drama. Teleplay scribe Thomas Thompson is an old TV western scribe whose career goes back to the days of The Rifleman, Rawhide, Wagon Train, The Virginian, Bonanza, and High Chaparral, but . . . he penned one of the great TV movies, well two: The Death of Richie (1977) and — the one that we really need to re-watch (and review!) after all these years — the two-night mini-series rating winner, A Death in Canaan (1978), which stars the sorely-missed-from-acting Paul Clemens (The Beast Within).

You can, of course, pick this up as one of the 50 movies offered on Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties box set. There’s also a freebie upload on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Excellent Eighties: Slipstream (1989)

Editor’s Note: Beware of the duplicate titles snafu, for there are two Slipstream movies: The 1973 one by William Fruet of Funeral Home, Baker County, U.S.A., Killer Party, and Blue Monkey fame, which is a Canadian drama about a troubled disc jockey: that’s the Slipstream no one knows. Then there’s the one that everyone knows — and most haven’t seen: the Mark Hamill one that, regardless of its pedigree, fails on all levels. And we wish that Mill Creek would save the 1973 one from obscurity and put it on a box set. You have two choices to pick up a copy of the Mark Hamill Slipstream: we reviewed it on November 5, 2020, as part of their Sci-Fi Invasion set and we’re revisiting it — with this second, alternate take — as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties 50-film pack, which we are reviewing all this month.

The overseas 25-minute making-of documentary courtesy of Pineapples 101 Movie Memorabilia Emporium blogspot.

This is a movie that many of us encountered, not in theaters as intended (at least not in the U.S.), or on VHS where it ended up: but as an oft-run movie on HBO. And regardless of how many times the pay-channel ran the film, most of us never finished it.

Why? Because it’s boring. But how is that possible?

We have Gary Kurtz who produced the first two Star Wars films with George Lucas at the helm. We have director Steven Lisberger who set the tone for future computer-animated universe films with Tron. And how can we forget Kurtz also gave us The Dark Crystal, and a bit further back, Two-Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti. Behind the camera is Frank Tidy, who got his start working with the Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, in commercials and came to shoot The Duellists for Ridley, as well as one of the better Star Wars droppings with Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (a film that’s still eluded a B&S once-over). We’ve got a score by Elmer Bernstein, whose work goes all the way back to Cat-Women of the Moon (you’ve seen, at the very least, ten movies in your lifetime with his composing and/or conducting). Behind the typewriter is, in part, Charles Pogue, who gave us David Cronenberg’s The Fly reboot and the Star Wars-inspired swords-and-sorcery romps Dragonheart and Kull the Conqueror. In the plot department: you’ve got a Mad Mad-cum-The Road Warrior post-apocalyptic vibe about dueling bounty hunters. In front of the camera: you’ve got Mark Hamill from Star Wars and Bil Paxton (who was fantastic) in Aliens, along with support roles by both Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham.

So what went wrong?

Maybe it’s because the film opens with a homage to the “Crop Duster Scene” from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (You Tube) that many seemed to miss — and those that “got it,” weren’t wowed by it. Then there’s that kiss of death: the dreaded voiceover that sets up the mythology where “global warming” finally did it: the Harmonic Converge baked the Earth, split the continents and created a “river of wind” that rendered the planet into one big dust bowl. The few who survive are the ones who’ve learned to harness the wind and solar power, just as Al Gore has always hoped for.

Amid this “green new deal” backstory: We meet Will Tasker (Mark Hamill) and Belitski (British actress Kitty Aldridge, who came to marry Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits) who are — as in Mad Max — part of a ragtag not-the-Main Force Patrol law enforcement agency that allows their agents to sideline as bounty hunters. After a run-in with Matt Owens (Bill Paxton) and confiscating his illegal arms contraband, Owens kidnaps Tasker’s bounty (British Shakespearean stalwart Bob Peck) to collect the reward and recoup the cost of his arms shipment. Oh, and Peck is actually a healing-android (he can heal blindness) who perpetually quotes the poems of Lord Byron to communicate his feelings, which leads Owens to call his new solar-wind plane shipmate, Bryon. Before you know it: Owens gets caught up in Bryon’s quest to reach a mystical land beyond the Slipstream where others, like him, live in peace and harmony.

In the end: No one was ready for an off-the-road aviation-version of The Road Warrior (or Kevin Costner’s all-water version, either). And for as many who consider this Mark Hamill’s best role, there are those who say this role — as well as his work (in the even more abysmal) Time Runner (Australian made) and The Guyver (Japanese made) — is why Harrison Ford and not him — became an A-List Hollywood leading man. Yes, there’s a reason why Hamill retreated (abet successfully) into video game and anime voice work: Slipstream is one of those reasons.

Meanwhile, as Hamill kept pumping out one late-’80s clinker after clunker, poor Gary Kurtz didn’t fair much better. After his creative fallout with George Lucas that lead to Kurtz leaving the franchise during the pre-production of Return of the Jedi and still feeling the sting of his first post-Star Wars outing, The Dark Crystal, bombing with critics and audiences, Kurtz was hoping for a box office bonanza that would set up another franchise. Instead, Slipstream — even more so that The Dark Crystal — was a critical and commercial box office bomb that also failed to find a cult audience on home video. The film drove him into bankruptcy that, in turn, lead to his divorce. Worse: he burned though his Lucasian cash windfall to create his fantasy world solely dependent on wind and sun, just like Al Gore always wanted.

So, was it all worth it? The criticism on this British-made sci-fi’er splits down the middle with no middle ground: Star Wars ephemera-oids either love it or hate. And you can decide by checking out Slipstream on Tubi or own a copy as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion and Excellent Eighties 50-film box sets.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.

Stealing School (2021)

“Like many immigrant children, I was raised to believe that the prestigiousness of a person’s career directly correlated with how good of a person they were, morally speaking. I was also raised to believe that no such prestigious career would be attainable without first paying for the privilege of a university education. Finally, I was told that my own race and appearance would have no effect on my future prospects in life, or on how people treated me here in Canada. At some point during my life, I realized these were all lies. This film is about my revelation at the bold hypocrisy that pervades throughout the esteemed institution of higher education, and indeed perhaps all western institutions held in high regard.”
— Director Li Dong, from the film’s press kit

Any aspiring writer and director who receives an anointing from acclaimed German director Werner Herzog goes to the top of the streaming list of the B&S About Movies’ review stacks. If you read our “Klaus Kinski vs. Werner Herzog Night” Drive-In Friday featurette, you know how we feel about Herzog in these wilds of Allegheny Country.

The creative tales of lawyer-cum-filmmaker Li Dong, who made his feature film debut as a screenwriter with the Canadian feature drama Samanthology (2019), began on the campus of Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University, where he graduated in 2006 with honours in English and history, and then went on to graduate from Dalhousie Law School. After law school, Li satiated his love of poker as a professional player prior to being selected by Oscar-nominated Werner Herzog for his “Rogue Film School” project. After directing episodes of the Canadian TV drama Model Minority, Li Dong’s now made his feature film debut, as both the writer and director, with this timely exploration of systematic racism — which he experienced growing up in Toronto.

However, despite the suggested heaviness of the material, Stealing School is, instead of a serious drama, an absurdist social satire. It’s a dark comedy that, instead of pointing fingers, offer solutions regarding sociopolitical issues, racial and gender inequalities, and the unilateral powers giving to school administrators of prestigious universities (and the nepotism of our employers in the real world).

Li Dong’s work also questions the value of liberal arts degrees in the real world (April thinks the class, which she’s accused of cheating, is beneath her) — a world now overwhelmed (and ever changing) by globalization and technology — and the resulting anxieties and fears inflicted on the futures of an institution’s students by the world’s archaic social views. As did Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s early ’60s explorations of regarding the alienation of the self in the modern world, Li Dong offers solutions to the development of our neuroses that result from our failure to adapt to our changing environs. While lacking the ubiquitous dead body (but filled with its share of Gogolian dead souls), Stealing School unfolds as a pseudo-film noir rife with analogously James M. Cain-twisted characters driven by ulterior motives and changing allegiances — whose own corruption and egotism becomes their moral and professional undoing.

We come to meet April (Celine Tsai; the Canadian TV series Rising Suns and the Hallmark Channel entry Christmas by Chance), an Asian-Canadian tech prodigy (sent to Toronto from China by her parents) accused of plagiarism by Keith, her humanities teaching assistant (Jonathan Keltz; got his start on Degrassi: The Next Generation and starred as Jake Steinberg on HBO’s Entourage), which jeopardizes her graduation from a prestigious Toronto university. Once friends, their relationship is, at best, acrimonious.

Meanwhile, a newly appointed faculty administrator wants to sweep it under the rug, lest the bad publicity derails her career. Another professor deciding April’s fate deals with clouded judgement as result of a personal grudge against April’s professor. And that professor, in turn, fears April’s fate will expose his infidelities with a student. And the student newspaper-journalism student? He’s looking for a resume-building “scoop” to start his career, so he works the racism angle to his advantage, even going as far as leaking information to off-campus publications.

Is April innocent . . . or did she actually cheat and frame others for her cheating scam. Or is she being railroaded — or not — for others’ personal gains. And what secrets about the racial and professional biases of her professors will come to light. What is the true meaning of accusing another of “guilt” and leaving them fighting for their “innocence” when it can expose an accuser’s own skeletons? For on this university campus, the halls of right and wrong are a murky maze of double-standard corridors . . . with the accuser and the accused ending their journey at a bus stop sharing a cigarette. Which is the martyr and which is the saint. Who is the sociopath let loose on the world to destroy more lives in their quest for professional admiration?

Or is it a shackle?

While Li Dong is obviously a writer and director of extinction, he’s still an indie director scratching and surviving in a streaming verse overflowing with other indie filmmakers in need of funding. And when you’re up against the budget: you write what you know around sets you know can secure. As result of his academic endeavors, Li Dong intelligently handles the poignant material in a budget efficient, subtle manner. In more a established director’s hands backed by a major studio, Stealing School, which also works as a courtroom drama (a university tribunal seated by three professors, with a teaching assistant as the prosecutor and student advisor (a law major) as the defense attorney), could have easily turned into a bloated production filled with matured Disney actors — when it doesn’t have to be bloated. Sometimes, simpler is beter, as “simple” can still convey complex subject matter (and it runs a tight 74-minutes).

In the film’s press materials, Li Dong stated that, despite the film’s potentially weighty subject matter, his first and foremost aim was to create a fun and entertaining film.

He did.

Stealing School rises proudly over the usual indie-streaming norms we experience at B&S About Movies. In fact, when considering the film is lead by a strong, female protagonist-cum-her own antagonist, the film would fit nicely into the female-driven programming blocks of the U.S.-based Lifetime Channel — but Stealing School also rises proudly over the quality of that channel’s “damsel-in-distress” telefilms. The cast of unknown actors are skilled in their roles, Li Dong’s non-linear (which turns off the many; but not me) script is followed with ease, and his camera work is engagingly well-shot.

I look forward to what the Werner Herzog-inspired Li Dong can accomplish with a larger budget on his future feature-film projects.

After its successful premiere at the Napa Valley Film Festival in 2019, Stealing School was released by Game Theory in June of 2020 on the iTunes platform in its native Canada. It becomes available across multiple streaming platforms in the U.S. courtesy Vertical Entertainment on February 26, 2021. You can follow the film on Instagram.

We previously reviewed the 2019 Vertical release, Portal.

Disclaimer: We received a screener for this film. That has no bearing on our review. Film still, theatrical one-sheet, and trailer courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

Happy Cleaners (2021)

“Have you ever wondered if our family is blessed or cursed?”
— Kevin Choi

Being a third or longer-generation child in the U.S. is sometimes hard enough: but be a child of immigrant parents steeped in the ways of the old country. My pop’s parents came here from Europe and his dad, my grandfather, never got on board with the “wild life” of Americans. The stories my father told me of him and his father’s battles over the “old” vs. “the new” were many and shaped the values I hold today. The most eye-opening aspect of Happy Cleaners: regardless of your family’s origin of birth, as much as we are different is how much we are the same; the same in our trials, tribulations, and values.

And I am reminded that a skin cell is just that: a cell filled with melanin.

One day, as a young man, as I conducted business at — ironically enough — a dry cleaner as I picked up my suits and pressed shirts, I noticed a person come to stand next to me at the counter. His hands, which met at the wrist with a long-sleeve business shirt, were white (actual albino-to-translucent). When I lifted my head to greet the man, he was an African-American. At the time, I was aware of the skin condition know as vitiligo, as result of Michael Jackson’s affliction, but never experienced it close and personal: it was an eye-opening experience for me. At that moment, I realized that we are all the same, inside and out: the only difference between us is the pigmentation in our skin cells. After that, the loves and joy, the trials and tribulations, the disappoints and triumphs we experience are all the same. We walk the same road, together, and our goals are all the same: for the Earth really is a single, perfect sphere.

So goes the plight of Korean-American Kevin Choi. His mother and father (the fantastic Hyang-hwa Lim Charles Ryu) struggle to instill traditional homeland values in their American-born children Kevin and Hyunny (the equally stellar Yun Jeong and Yeena Sung) tempted-influenced by all that western culture has to offer. Their parents operate a struggling dry cleaning business in Flushing, Queens, with the hope their strict values and hard work will inspire their children: they instead succeed in pushing their children away. And with that, the children struggle with the dichotomy of their lives: Why did their parents make the personal sacrifices to give their children a better life in America, only to caution and forbid their children the ways of American life. Does family loyalty go to the point where the children must carry on a family business — along with their family’s debts. Does one give up their dreams (in Kevin’s case, moving to Los Angeles) for family?

Happy Cleaners is the dual feature film writing and directing debut by New York City born-and-bred Korean-American animator and documentary-reality television editor Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee; the filmmaking duo previously worked on — along with actor Yun Jeong (here, as Kevin, in his leading man debut) — on the dramatic short, Call Taxi (2016). Well-received on the festival circuit, winning an “Audience Award for Best Narrative” at the 2019 CAAMFest and “Emerging Filmmaker Award” at the VC FilmFest at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, the film is now available across all domestic streaming platforms.

In a Hallmark and Lifetime drama-glut cableverse that’s nullified the family drama genre at the theatrical level, Happy Cleaners is a film that reminds us that poignant family dramas (Robert Redford’s 1980 directorial debut Ordinary People comes to mind) can still be brought to theater screens to inspire our intellects and stir our souls. In a current Hollywood obsessed with tentpole movies and explosive popcorn balls of the comic book (Wonder Woman 1984 is now out in theaters) and Micheal Bay variety (his latest Transformers flick is in pre-production), it’s nice to see filmmakers with a desire to bring family dramas to the screen. Hopefully, Hollywood will remember Kim and Lee come the 2021 award season.

You can enjoy this U.S.-shot, English-language film (with occasion English-Korean subtitles) courtesy of Korean American Story.org via all the usual online streaming platforms. The mission of the non-profit organization is to capture, create, preserve and share the stories of the Korean American experience by supporting and promoting storytelling in all forms that explore and reflect the ever evolving Korean American story. KAS seeks to be an inclusive hub that bridges gaps between communities and desires to instill cultural awareness and pride among the Korean American community.

And with films like Happy Cleaners, they’ve succeed. And we look forward to their next production.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

The Excellent Eighties: Tuareg: The Desert Warrior (1984)

Okay, ye purveyor of B-Trash, let’s unpack the caveats:

  1. While that looks like a rendering of Michael Sopkiw on the one-sheet, this isn’t a repack of Blastfighter made to look like a First Blood/Rambo sequel — although that film was inspired by the adventures of Rambo.
  2. While it looks like it’s a Mark Gregory War movie — of which he made four, plus three Thunder movies — themselves each inspired by Rambo — this isn’t a repack of any of those movies. (We break those flicks down as part of our “Mark Gregory Week” tribute.
  3. Do not do what I did and confuse this with Jim Goldman, aka John Gale, aka Filipina Jun Gallardo’s Mad Max apoc-poo Desert Warrior starring Lou Ferrigno.
  4. No, this isn’t a Stallone Rambo foreign repack with bad art work.
  5. Yes, as incredible as it may seem, the Mark Harmon in the credits — in lieu of Michael Sopkiw or Mark Gregory (!) that should be starring — is the same Mark Harmon you’re now watching in reruns from CBS-TV’s NCIS.
  6. This is, in fact, a Enzo G. Castellari’s production, aka The Desert Warrior, aka Tuareg: The Desert Warrior, aka Rambo of the Desert Warrior, which makes no sense. Why not Rambo, the Desert Warrior or Rambo: Desert Blood?

Now, when you see the dependable name of Enzo G. Castellari — the man who gave us Inglorious Bastards, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape from the Bronx, and Warriors of the Wasteland, you know you’re getting intriguing action, and a bag o’ chips.

In a desolate section of the Libyan-Algerian Sahara once ruled by the French, Gacel Sayah (Mark Harmon), a Tuareg tribal leader (in tanning make-up and blue contacts), offers refuge to two government fugitives. When soldiers from the newly-installed Arab regime demand the “war criminals” be turned over to them, our desert Rambo refuses, based on the region’s ancient, scared laws. When the soldiers murder one and kidnap the other war criminal, Sayah mounts a bloody campaign to rescue his charge, for so says “the law.”

If you’ve watched any of Enzo’s westerns — A Few Dollars for Django and One Dollar Too Many — then you’ll know that Enzo was into desert-based mayhem long before Stallone came on the scene, so what you get with this much HBO-aired ditty is a war-modernized Spaghetti Western. And be it western, poliziotteschi, or post-apocalypse, Castellari never disappoints, non-A-List Hollywood budgets be damned.

By the time Harmon went all spaghetti-Rambo in the joint, he got his start with guest shots as cops on Adam-12 and its ’70s sister show, Emergency (which I’ve seen these past months as Antenna TV reruns). Harmon also starred in two, failed one-season series with the cop procedural-dramas Sam (1977) and (the one I remember watching first-run) 240-Robert (1979). He was one season deep into his breakthrough role as Dr. Robert Caldwell in the NBC-TV medical drama St. Elsewhere when Tuareg: The Desert Warrior was released. But I have a feeling Harmon probably filmed this Italian romp long before production on the series began — with Enzo holding back the film (due to creative or cash flow issues), then realized he had a “star” in his film. As for Harmon: when it came to crossing over to a theatrical career, he went for comedy instead of action, with the (date night) flops Summer School and Worth Winning (both utter awful) and some military drama with Sean Connery (that I am too lazy to research, but also sucked) and eventually, like David Caruso before him, came back to television.

When you think that Harmon is the guy from TV’s NCIS . . . made-up to look Middle Eastern . . . makes this spaghetti Rambo an even more fascinating watch. And you can watch this Mill Creek box set public domain ditty on You Tube or get your own copy as part of their Excellent Eighties 50-Movie Pack.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Excellent Eighties: Reborn (1981)

Ah, Sam knows my Bigas Luna fandom*, as I gushed my philosophical wax over the majesty of Luna in our review of Anguish. Gracias, mi amigo: your X-Mas gift of film is enjoyed.

What saddens me: that this, Bigas’s fourth directing effort — and his first English-language film (the second was Anguish) — ends up on a Mill Creek box set. No offense to the executives of Mill Creek, as we devour your box sets like a serial killer with a chest ripped-out heart on a Valentine’s Day murder spree . . . but wow, you’d think, with Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) and Micheal Moriatry (The Stuff) on the marquee, Reborn would have not fallen into the public domain and received a proper digital reissue. Sadly, a deserved John Carpenter, Sean S. Cunningham, or Wes Craven-like success was not in the cards for Luna. As with Anguish, Reborn bombed at the U.S. box-office (as result of a poorly-received limited release) for which it was intended. What we really need is a double disc restore with Reborn packed with Anguish in honor of Bigas Luna. Now.

Okay. Enough with the ranting. Let me a have nice, warm cup of Ovaltine (Well, Roundtine, because, as Jerry Seinfeld pointed out: the cup is round and the jar is round. . . .) and finish this review. (Sorry, Sam. It can’t be done.)

It’s no mystery that Reborn, like Anguish before it, is beyond the bizarre — even for Satan’s tomfoolery — only this first English-language film for Luna is a bit more low-key than the eye-ball carving and snail fetishisms of Anguish. Luna’s eye for set design is on fire, natch, oozing with style and substance that’s punctuated by his usual taste for the erotic mixed with the spiritual: it’s a religious fantasy piece that questions faith, explores Luna’s Catholicism, and the mysteries of one’s acquiring healing powers. And, if those powers are real (they are, in this case), how does the one blessed (or cursed) used them? And, if that person is with child (she is, here), then will that child inherit the mother’s powers of stigmata and healing?

The story concerns Giacomo (Francesco Rabal, the real “leading man,” here), who discovers his Holy Ghost-hearing girlfriend (Antonella Murgia, the real “leading lady,” here) is a “stigmata”: someone whose hands and feet mysteriously bleed in the same places where Jesus Christ was crucified. (At the risk of getting into a religious debate: It is said Christ was crucified through his achilles (the back of the foot, above the heel) and his wrists; anyone “bleeding” from their palms and insteps are phonies, because, there’s no way nails can be driven through those parts of the body without shattering bones . . . then hang from those wound-points without ripping through the flesh and shattered bones, and falling off the crucifix. So read your Roman history before committing religious fraud, preacher man.) Of course, no surprise, Dennis Hooper is the maniacal Rev. Tom Hartley, an American televangelist-head of a racketeering “revivalist” church** — and he exploits the situation for his own, greedy purposes. Moriarty is Mark, Hopper’s kidnapping sidekick, sent to Italy to “recruit” the girl — they fall in love; he impregnates her — is his usual, off-the-chain self in a role that rises to his work in Q: The Winged Serpent.

The reason why we are here: Mill Creek Entertainment features this Bigas Luna classic on their Excellent Eighties 50-Movie Pack. There’s (awful, with muddy images and distorted audio) steaming copies at Amazon Prime and You Tube, but emptor those caveats, ye streamer: both platforms stream the 92-minute, shorter U.S.-version — when, what we really want, is the extra 13 minutes of the 105-minute original version. And trust me: those lost minutes are why so many detract this Luna masterpiece as “confusing junk.” And these bad prints aren’t helping matters, leaving you think you’re watching a knockoff of Giulio Paradisi’s confusing mess-of-a-mess The Exorcist knockoff that is the The Visitor — and Reborn is not that bad, for it is so, so much better. And it has nothing to do with exorcism.

The Exorcist-inspired theatrical one-sheet that hurt the film more than helped.

MGM currently holds the copyright on Reborn, with Park Circus/Arts Alliance as its TV/Home Video distributor. Again, we need a restore on this one, so help us out MGM and Park Circus!

* You can learn more about Bigas Luna with his 2013 obituary at Variety.
** Beth B’s dark comedy, Salvation!, starring Exene Cervenka, tackles the same material.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Excellent Eighties: Hard Knox (1984)

The joy of enjoying Robert Conrad as an actor is a case of you had to be there: if you weren’t, you missed out. Back in the day: we went gold, red and black because Conrad told us so. And we can remember those days thanks to Mill Creek rescuing this lost and forgotten TV Movie adrift in the public domain.

If you’re a younger surfer amid the digital pages of B&S About Movies, Conrad is just that old guy from The Wild Wild West (1965 – 1969) adapted into that utterly awful Will Smith movie Wild Wild West (1999) where Smith portrayed Conrad’s Jim West: no, there was never any giant, Civil War-era mechanical spiders in the series. If you’re a wee-bit older and go back to the pre-cable days of local UHF-TV, you remember coming home from school and watching Conrad as Tom Lopaka on the early ’60s series 77 Sunset Strip, a character which grew into its own four-years series, Hawaiian Eye. And the not-so-old and the not-so-young remember Conrad as Pappy Boyington on Black Sheep Squadron in the ’80s.

Before there was a Tom Selleck, there was Robert Conrad: he was the “he man” of the ’70s, rife with the “sex” for the women and the “brawn” for the men. From Murph the Surf (1975), Sudden Death (1977), and The Lady in Red (1979), he packed the duplexes and the Drive-Ins. From Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976), Coach of the Year (1980), and Two Father’s Justice (1994), we turned his TV movies into ratings winners. If Conrad was still active and relevant as an actor in the 21st Century, Sylvester Stallone would have cast him in The Expendables, because, for his fans (moi): Action equals Conrad and vise versa.

However, Conrad, even when playing off his tough guy image, isn’t comedy. And that led to his decision, which he later regretted, in turning down the role of Cmndt. Lassard in the first Police Academy film. Conrad tried to correct that career misstep with a role in Neal Isreal and Pat Profts’s next film, Moving Violations (1985) and this military comedy. With his two comedic bids failing at the box office, he went back to the action genre with the TV movies The Fifth Missile (1986) and Assassin (1986; which we reviewed as part of our last Mill Creek blowout with their Sci-Fi Invasion set).

Image courtesy of terriers4u/eBay.

In a story idea conjured by Conrad, and in an obvious bid to correct the wrong of turning down Police Academy, he’s Joe Knox: a hard-nosed, retired Air Force Colonel who takes over the leadership of a co-ed military academy from his mentor, General Garfield (Bill Erwin; Across 240-plus credits: Plains, Trains & Automobiles, Home Alone . . . and too many TV series to mention, yes, Samuel, even Seinfeld: “My Teeth, My Teeth, you moron!”). Helping Col. Knox whip the Porky’s-cum-Animal House bumbling cadets (including Alan Ruck of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame) into shape is Thomas “Top” Tuttle (ex-Elvis body guard Red West of Road House).

Since this is an ’80s TV movie, the shenanigans are innocuous and not as racy as the Police Academy films it apes, and it’s not as funny as No Time for Sergeants (the military comedy gold standard, so what film is), but it doesn’t fail as badly as Mad Magazine‘s (really awful) military school romp Up the Academy (1980). Also keep your eyes open for Reb Brown (TV’s original Captain America, Space Mutiny) and Dennis Farina (in an early role; on his way to TV’s Law & Order as Det. Fontana).

Sam? Notice how I got a plug for both Law & Order and Seinfeld into one review? Sweet!

You can get your own copy of Hard Knox as part of Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties box set and watch it on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Rage (2021)

Back in the analog days of old, before digital streaming and before home video, the only way to enjoy a film was in the cinema. There were no “home theaters” or man cave-cum-movie rooms (Samuel!) to order-in a movie on your voice remote or yank out a classic from your personal hard-media collection. Going to the movies was an “event,” an event that lead to your parents calling in a babysitter, your dad put on a suit and tie, and your mom wore a dress and heels. And they usually went to dinner before and drinks after. (“Happy Birthday, Pop!,” a 1972 episode of NBC-TV’s Sanford and Son, comically played off this now lost piece of Americana, as Fred Sanford says, during the intermission to Fiddler on the Roof, “You mean there’s more? Oh, I ain’t going back in there . . . the movie’s too long, get some cartoons in here.” (You Tube).)

In the earliest days of cinema, the intermission was necessary to allow projectionists to change out film reels, due to the length of a movie exceeding the length of a reel’s film stock. In the Drive-In arena, the intermission was less mechanical and more financially driven: it boosted concession sales between the double features of what became our later DVD-based, 70-minute trash classics. (Hey, there, Mill Creek!) While there’s Queen Elizabeth (1912), The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939) as early intermission-examples, it wasn’t until the 1950s that the intermission — at least in theaters — was reserved for the two-hour plus epics; the “events” your parents gussied up for and stuck you with your Aunt Martha (who, years later, you discovered wasn’t really your Aunt, just an elderly next door neighbor). Then, by the 1960’s, the intermission served a dual purpose: changing out the film reels to thread up the second half of a (long) movie . . . and boosting concession sales.

We could do one of our patented B&S About Movies theme weeks filled with intermission-based “epic” films, those regal, Americana cinematic events of yesteryear with the titles of Seven Samurai (1954), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959), Spartacus (1960), King of Kings (1961), West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Cleopatra (1963), How the West Was Won (1963), It’s a Mad Mad Mad World (1963), My Fair Lady (1964), Dr. Zhivago (1965), The Great Race (1965), Those Magnificent Men in the their Flying Machines (1965), The Sound of Music (1965), John Guillermin’s The Blue Max (1966), Grand Prix (1966), Walt Disney’s The Happiest Millionaire (1967), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Funny Girl (1968), John Sturges’s Ice Station Zebra (1968), Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Bernard L. Kowalski’s failed epic on-a-budget, Krakatoa, East of Java (1968), Oliver! (1968), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968), Hello, Dolly! (1969), Paint Your Wagon (1969), Patton (1970), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), and The Godfather (1972), Barry Lyndon (1975; again, Kubrick), and Michael Cimino’s now infamous film idiom, Heaven’s Gate (1980) (i.e,. Waterworld became “Kevin’s Gate”). Then there’s John Sturges’s The Great Escape (1963), which intended to have an intermission, but despite its 172-minute/two hour fifty-two minute running time, ran without one. The same holds true for Warren Beatty’s bloated passion-project, Reds (1981).

Courtesy of the advent of the behemothian multiplexes (that, thanks to COVID, may not be able to make a comeback), and good ‘ol corporate greed in wanting to fit more screenings into a day (which meant larger box office returns), the final mainstream film with an intermission was Sir Richard Attenborough’s three-hour biopic, Gandhi (1982); there were a few exceptions, such as (again) Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and (again) Franco Zeffirelli’s Mel Gibson-starring Hamlet (1990), both which ran with or without intermissions, depending on the showing.

Today, the two-hour plus cinematic event is rarity; it’s a right of passage reserved for the dues-paying writer-director combos of the Hollywood A-List, such as James Cameron, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, David O. Russell, and Martin Scorsese. However, as result of advances in film technologies and the industry’s transition from celluloid reels to digital storage, a film can now be longer without the intermission. And while films such as Dances with Wolves (1990), Titanic (1997), Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), The Avengers (2012), A Few Good Men (1992), American Hustle (2013), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hunger Games, and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) are certainly artistic achievements deserving of the indulges of time, there’s no denying those films tried your patience and caused you to look down at your watch (more than once) and realize you’ve been sitting for two-hours . . . and you’ve still got the equivalent of a one-hour TV drama (sans commercials) to go. (As many had cursed the “when is it going to end” Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood.)

Then there’s the ticket prices: they’re higher than ever before. And there’s no intermission. And at those prices (I have to a pay for the seat, as well as the actual ticket-for-admission?), getting up for a snack — or a pee — isn’t a prudent financial option. What is this sick, twisted game Hollywood plays with us? The movies are even longer than in the ol’ intermission-days, the drinks are super-duper sized caffeine-shockers, and there’s no intermission? There’s simply no way to sit through today’s epics without the need of a bathroom break. (In fact, when Solo: A Star Wars Story, running at meager 135 minutes (when compared to the “epics” of the ’60s and ’70s, noted above), wasn’t getting any better by the halfway point, and with a need to urinate — and the bathrooms were all the way down the other end of 28-plex’s behemothian corridor — I did my urinal dump, then walked out of the theater. And since the Disney World-esque parking shuttles weren’t running upon my walkout — I had to hoof it back to the car. To paraphrase Fred Sanford: “There’s more? Hell, I ain’t walkin’ all the way back down there, then ‘up’ to my seat in the nosebleeds. It’s a shorter walk to the car.”)

Now, with the stay-at-home streaming age in digital overdrive, an auteur like Martin Scorsese can push the three and a half hour envelope — and skip theaters all together and go straight to the Netflix streaming service. And it’s our paradise: the director can indulge his unfettered artistic desires, the snacks are more bountiful, a better quality, and cheaper — and we have the option of pause buttons to answer to the bladder.

Today, courtesy of the digital-sans-celluloid (I still prefer the scope and depth of 35mm over Reds) cost-effectiveness and ease in which today’s filmmakers can crowdsource and self-produce their visions without studio interference, and with “movie rooms” that we can now set up in our homes courtesy of streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Vudu, not only the “Scorseses” are becoming more ambitious in their narrative scope, so are first time filmmakers. And the streaming-verse is rife with first-time (mostly indie) writers and directors. And some are better than others. For unfettered does not always lead to better (film). (And when those films come down my pipeline, my “review” is not reviewing that film; for there’s no positive endgame, in my opinion, in crushing a filmmaker’s passions. I’ll leave that to the Roger Eberts and Rex Reeds of the review-verse.)

When it comes to first time or “established” unknown indie filmmakers, I will always err (with notable exceptions) that brevity is best. I believe first timers (with notable skill-set exceptions) are best discovered by way of a more commercially palpable 80-minute running time, as such lengths became hard-media de rigueur in the DVD ’90s, since those indie films on the shelf of your local Blockbuster were cross-distributed into two-hour commercial blocks on cable television (see The Asylum-SyFy Channel synergy). But those hard media halcyons of the ’90s are disc-dead in the digital waters. Today’s burgeoning unknowns can even push beyond a patience-trying 90-minute mark to test a streamer’s willingness to dedicate their time to an unknown’s work. Out in those digital wilds on their own, sans a studio’s interference and streaming distributors proliferating the web — complete with their online clarion calls to “fill out our online submission form for your film” — indie filmmakers are free to indulge in their narratives . . . and also unable to separate themselves from the forest to make those hard editing choices to their Canon Red trees.

However, in the case of Rage, the editing and unconventional running time is solidly warranted. So strap on your streaming bucket and get ready for a jolting, 143-minute/two hour and 23-minute physiological ride . . . a graphic journey shot for only $170,000. Just wow. Never has a film accomplished so much with so little (in budget).

Let’s the the big red streaming button, shall we?

Rage is the second, full-length feature film from Melbourne, Australia-based director John Balazs, who made his feature film debut with the Danny Glover-starring Ninja Immovable Heart (2014). Rage also serves as his first internationally-distributed film. The screenplay is by Michael J. Kospiah, an award-winning screenwriter and playwright based out of New York City. He began his writing career as a sports columnist for newspapers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Rage also serves as his second and most widely-distributed feature film; his first was the multiple-festival winner, The Suicide Theory (2014). Each are currently working on their third features films: Balazs’s is the action film, Alpha Dogs (2022); Kospiah’s is the horror film, They Never Left (2022).

Based on what I’ve just watched with Rage, not only am I going to seek out their two earlier films, I will also keep my streaming eagle eyes on-point as I wait for the release of Alpha Dog and They Never Left. Why? Because, regardless of the at-first, apprehensive length of their mutual, first-internationally distributed film, everything works in Rage. We have Kospiah’s QWERTYs into his Final Draft with a non-superfluous, focused reason and purpose backed by thought provoking, solid research of his subject matter. Then it all streams with a digital ease across the finish line courtesy of expertly composited shots by John Balazs and his cinematographer, Ben Luck. The acting by the experienced but unknown Aussie cast (at least here in the U.S.) is of an Oscar-level across all quarters, but do keep your eye out for the best-known thespian of the cast: Richard Norton (here as Detective John Bennett) . . . yes, “The Prime Imperator” in Mad Max: Fury Road (which we discuss in passing during our review of China’s Mad Sheila).

Yeah, you know us all to well, ye reader: There’s more, so much more to Richard Norton when it comes to B&S About Movies film geek fandom. And Norton’s the reason why, in addition to this film’s fine craftsmanship, that we were willing to take on a two-hour digital plunge into the stream from an unknown writing and directing team. Richard Norton got his start in Chuck Norris’s The Octagon (1980) and Forced Vengeance (1982), as well as contributing to multiple episodes of CBS-TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger, starring in Robert Clouse’s Force: Five (1981) and Gymkata (1985), as well as with Michael Dudikoff in American Ninja (1985). And do we really have to remind you that Richard Norton starred as Slade in the great Cirio H. Santiago’s Philippine post-apoc’er Equalizer 2000 (1987)? Well, now you know: Richard Norton is right up there with Mark Gregory, Michael Sopkiw, and Daniel Greene on the B&S About Movies A-Team. (Uh, Sam? How many times must fate drop the Gymkata gauntlet at your QWERTY processor? Review the damn thing already and show the love.)

While we haven’t seen all of Richard’s 67 credits, we’ve seen most of them. And some are great — like the films we’ve mentioned — while others are not so great (Ugh. We’re talking to you, so-not-Alien Hyper Space*.) There’s not another actor that’s more hard working, who was stuck in some questionable projects over the years, more deserving of being cast in a leading role in such a high-quality film. Yeah, we love it when our celluloid heroes — who, in the case of Richard, started out as a bodyguard to the Rolling Stones and personal trainer to Mick Jagger — from our VHS-yesteryears books a role in a great film. (From Jagger to Cirio to this? My head spins . . . what a career!)

Rage is a dramatic thriller that deals with the issues of trauma after experiencing a violent episode, how that trauma affects a marriage, and the errs of revenge and marital infidelity. And to bring it’s Neo-noir narrative full circle, Rage goes uncomfortably dark with bloody, nasty violence — and one of the most graphic rape scenes ever committed to film. This is no weeping willow of an 80-minute, quickly wrapped tight, Lifetime channel damsel-in-distress romp for U.S. TV rife with stagnant camera shots of cardboard situations accented with wooden acting (with all due respect to Sir Eric Roberts and directors Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau who collectively rise the Lifetime sauages to a B&S-approved level).

Rage is a film about truth. Rage is about the real, ugly-dark violence that exists in society — a violence that is, sadly, much more violent that our reality-escapes in film depict. Take Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), then strip away that early decade’s then puritanical censorship film rating boards’ griping about the “rising violence” in films — and let ‘er rip. However, even at that most graphic moment (sans the pre-and-post rape carnage), Rage is still not as scuzzy as Last House on the Left (1972), Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham’s less-tasteful (but the best-made of the ’70s exploitative rape-revenge horror sub-genre) homage-remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960).

Could the brutality of Rage‘s rape scene have benefited from a softer, artfully-styled cut, as seen in Nicolos Roeg’s Don’t Look Now¹ (1973), his mainstream, British Giallo exploration on the psychology of grief and the effects of trauma? Yes. However, that particular editing choice would have diminished the impact of screenwriter Michael J. Kospiah’s “Do the ends justify the means?” and “Who’s the real monster?” exploration end game. For me, Rage isn’t the scuz of the I Spit On Your Grave (1978) variety: Rage is on the respect-level of Takashi Ishii’s Freeze Me (2000). And for as hard as it is for some (most) to watch Gaspar Noé’s non-exploitative Irréversible (2002), Rage is analogous, not only in its “hard to watch” moment (but not as much), but in its cinematic qualities.

(¹ I know . . . everyone says Don’t Look Now meshes the occult-thriller and Gothic genres, but as Sam pointed out in his review: we see it as William Freidkin’s The Exorcist meets Dario Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. If you’re not familiar with the scene: To get past the sensors, Roeg fragmentary softened-the-shock of the then “graphic” depiction of sexual intercourse between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland post-coitally preparing to go out to a dinner party.)

In a way, Rage not only works as a twisty, ulterior-motives fueled neo-noir and retro rape-revenge film, but as a pseudo-portmanteau inspired by the very same “Gothic” Amicus anthologies that inspired Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Michael J. Kospiah’s complex-yet-easily-followed narrative not only explores the distrusts and deceptions between the married as-you-sow-ye-shall-reap victims Noah and Madeline; it also avoids the plot-trope of disposing its law enforcement and criminal aspects as boiler-plated afterthoughts: Kospiah also explores how Noah and Madeline’s noirish ne’er do well activities affects the lives of police detective Rudy Bennett, his wife, therapist Dr Elizabeth Montrose, reluctant femme fatale Sophia Odgen, and the underbelly-existence of Melbourne police officer Tommy Wells and disgraced, ex-cop-cum-private investigator Randy Cooke. As in a Paul Naschy movie — only not as outlandishly Giallo-improbable as his (adored) film Panic Beats — everyone here is spiritually and emotionally rotted — and connected — rattling their bones and hiding skeletons.

And it’s those hearts and bones of all concerned that attract as they repel the viewer in the aftermath of a violent home invasion that leaves the body of Noah (Matt Theo; also served as the film’s executive producer), a mild-mannered, yet ne’er do well husband, in a bullet-ridden coma, his sister-in-law dead, and his wife, Madeline (Hayley Beveridge; 2012’s Dead Moon Circus and 2014’s The Ghost of Victoria Park), adrift in the throes of a speechless, post-traumatic stress disorder existence. As result, the months-on investigation by police detective Rudy Bennett (Richard Norton) is at a dead end — even with his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Montrose (Tottie Goldsmith; much-cast Aussie TV actress) improperly disclosing her sessions with Madeline. And the crime deepens Rudy’s emotional scars connected to his ex-partner Randy Cooke (the incredible Jasper Bagg; Thor: Ragnarok and Pacific Rim: Uprising), and their mutual connection to Officer Tommy Wells (Tony Kotsopoulos; he reminds me of the great British actor Ben Cross) and his connection to this latest rape-murder’s similarity to a series of “unsolved” crimes.

As Noah and Madeline try to move on with the lives . . . one day, Madeline spots her “attacker.” And instead of telling Rudy or disclosing to his therapist wife, the couple devises their own twisted plan of a brutal, “eye for an eye” revenge — a revenge that will change the lives of all involved, forever; for love can make you do terrible things. But even when done out of love . . . or guilt to right a wrong . . . is that “terrible thing” justified?

Oddly enough, as Rage rolls out these various character’s dark confessionals with director John Balazs’s unconventional Scorsese-like length, the film ends up being not too long . . . but too short. Rage is a film that could have easily been expanded — so that we could learn even more about (the engaging) Randy Cooke and Tommy Wells, and the defeated-before-they-were-even born lives of the film’s rapists Anthony Bridgewater and Robert Conway — into a mesmerizing, two-day television mini-series event (and back to those intermission-event films of yore, ye go). Or into a Tarantinoesque (again, reflecting to our discussion about “intermission movies”) Kill Bill two-part styled film. At the very least — and considering how Rage leaves its narrative open-ended (Argh! No! But I “get” it.) — Rage deserves, no demands, a sequel. (And please, for god sake Hollywood: Don’t remake Rage, just shower the film with well-deserved foreign award accolades during the 2022 season — then call Kospiah and Balazs up to the la-la land big leagues and leave it at that.)

Rage will be released in the U.S. on February 23, 2021, through Gravitas Ventures. Other films on the imprint we’ve reviewed at B&S About Movies includes Alien Addiction, The Argument, The Arrangement, Don’t Look Back, The Good Things Devil’s Do, and No Way Out. You can discover more of their films via trailers on their official You Tube page.

* We’re scraping the cream . . . and the bottom of the VHS barrels . . . with a week-long blowout tribute to film’s set in outer space. So “like” and “bookmark” us, and come back for our “Space Week” this coming May 2021, won’t you?

Disclaimer: We received a screener of this film from the studio’s P.R. firm. That has no impact on our review.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.