Hell Ride (2008): Biker Film Homage

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Written and directed by Larry Bishop (son of Joey) Hell Ride is an apparent homage to the Roger Corman Biker films of the 60’s and 70’s. The “original” biker films were cheap, loud and full of bad acting and great moments. *who can forget a mortally wounded Bruce Dern in The Wild Angels asking as he dies, “Does anybody have a straight cigarette?”*

Unfortunately Bishop’s homage, while it looks good, does not contain any “great” moments like the old 70’s films. You can call Roger Corman many things, but corny wouldn’t be one of them.

Hell Ride has a good cast:

Larry Bishop
Michael Madsen
Vinnie Jones
David Carradine
Dennis HopperEric Balfour

The film looks like a part of the “Grindhouse” flicks that Tarantino and Rodriguez put out in 2007 and appropriately enough the idea came about when Bishop was working with Tarantino on Kill Bill 2. While the idea might have been a brilliant one, the actual execution left a lot to be desired.

I’ll start by saying what I think was wrong with the film. Firstly, all the leads seemed to be doing their best Clint Eastwood impression. It was all clenched teeth and guttural whispering of lines; even the females. Everyone, that is, except Michael Madsen who played his character like…well, Michael Madsen. If ever there was an actor who could be considered a “one-trick-pony” it is Madsen. Don’t get me wrong, I like Michael, but there is a reason why he doesn’t work that much. There are only so many films that need a Michael Madsen character.

The bikes all looked great, except for the chopper that Madsen rode, it looked like it belonged to another biker and he’d borrowed it. It just did not fit.

Madsen riding his big brothers bike.
Madsen riding his big brothers bike.

The other “problem with the film was the dialogue. It tried too hard to be “cute” and amusing. The blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of Larry Bishop. It’s obvious that his father (who was known as a “comedians comedian”) was a comedy writer and comic. Where these type of lines, “It’s a business. Speaking of business. How’s business” (Spoken between David Carradine and Bishop) reeked of last generation “smart ass” humour that did not fit in the realm of the biker world.

The locations were fine and in keeping with the Southern California setting that the original biker films favoured. But that was about the only thing the film had going for it.

Eric Balfour as Comanche/Bix/Sonny/Son was pretty much wasted in his part. I’ve already groused about Madsen, so we won’t mention him. David Carradine was seen too little. Vinnie Jones was miscast and seen too much. Dennis Hopper was, as usual, great; Hopper cut his teeth on the Biker Genre a’ la Easy Rider. Larry Bishop? Well, suffice to say, if he hadn’t written the damn thing and gotten Quentin to produce it and had Bruce Willis drop out as the lead, he wouldn’t have had to “star” in the film at all.

And that would have been a good thing.

Speaking of good thing (s): the score was boss. It fit the mood and the feeling of the old biker films, but, a good score does not a good movie make.

The final verdict? Crass, crude, creative-not, cinematic chaos. Poorly acted, poorly edited, and poorly received (by me). If you want to re-live the madness that was 60’s and 70’s biker films, watch the real deal, check out the originals and don’t waste your time on this one.

2 out of 5 stars and that’s only because of Hopper and Carradine’s presence.

The original, watch this instead of a crappy homage film. Just sayin'.
The original, watch this instead of a crappy homage film. Just sayin’.

The Hole (2009): There’s Something Down There

Directed by Joe Dante and written by Mark L. Smith, The Hole is a horror film that is aimed at the teen audience no doubt. But despite the fact that the targeted demographic is quite a lot younger than I am, I enjoyed the film immensely.

The film stars Chris Massoglia (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant),Haley Bennett (The Haunting of Molly Hartley), Nathan Gamble (The Mist) and a brilliant (too small) cameo by acting veteran Bruce Dern.

Brothers Dane (Massoglia) and Lucas (Gamble) and mother Susan (Teri Polo) move the quiet suburbs of Bensonville from New York. While the family is settling in their new home, the boys discover a hole in the basement that has been covered and locked. With the boy’s curiosity peaked, they pry open the hole’s lid while mom Susan is at work.

Once they open the lid, they find out that the hole appears to be so deep that there isn’t a bottom to it. They enlist the help of their next door neighbour Julie (Bennett) to find out if she knows about the hole. Perplexed they decide to leave it alone and close the lid. But it appears that when they opened the hole, they let something out.

All three of the children have something scary happen to them. Lucas has a fear of clowns and a clown puppet shows up in his room, alive. Dane is visited by a large, very strong scary man and Julie is visited by a ghost in her dark bathroom.

Bruce Dern as Creepy Carl.

After watching the hole all night to see if anything comes out, Julie tells the boys about the previous owner of the house “Creepy” Carl (Dern). They decide to visit Carl and find him sitting in a room where he is surrounded by light bulbs. Carl admonishes the boys for opening the hole and tells them that by doing so they’ve let “the darkness” out and it will get them.

As the children leave, Carl’s light bulbs start going out and he is left in the dark screaming.

The rest of the film is about the three kids battling the things that come out of the hole. They try to defeat the hole and the darkness.

Although this was a horror/thriller aimed at a young teen audience, the movie works well. It was filmed in 3D and opened to positive reviews. I did not watch the 3D version; I watched the blu ray DVD and still enjoyed the film.

The Hole is very similar to the 2003 film Holes which was aimed at a similar demographic. Unlike Holes with its too simple plot and childish villains, The Hole has genuinely creepy ghosts and scary monsters.

The film has an “open” ending which seems to suggest the possibility of a sequel but it appears that despite the good opening reviews the film itself did not make enough money to qualify for one.

Despite the fact that I did enjoy the film and the creative ways that the three kids disposed of the monsters (or ghosts) I felt it could have benefited from more Bruce Dern (more cowbell, I need to hear that cowbell) and less of the neighbour girl. But that could have just been me.

The actors all do a capable job and the film is definitely worth watching. Although The Hole is not in the same league as the 1987 film The Monster Squad, it is just as enjoyable.

Scary clown puppet.

Django Unchained – A Western Tarantino Style

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I got quite  excited when I heard that Quentin Tarantino had written and directed a new film. I got even more excited when I found out it was going to be a western (my favourite type of film). Add to the mix that it is a ‘homage’ to the spaghetti western and its multiple Django films and I was in heaven. But the real icing on the cake is that Tarantino will be working with Samuel L. Jackson again.

Samuel L. Jackson at the San Diego ComicCon 2008

He’s also got a few other actors who have worn  spurs before. Leonardo DiCaprio (Lonesome Dove), Franco Nero (just insert the Django title of your choice) and of course the stalwart of  western bad men Bruce Dern. It is interesting to note that he is using Don Johnson, perhaps Don is hoping that Tarantino will revitalize his career. John Travolta‘s sagging career was given a booster shot when he did Pulp Fiction, so I guess Don has nothing to lose.

He also has his “childhood hero” Tom Savini and Christopher Waltz, who is becoming a Tarantino regular. Of course the real surprise is his casting of Jamie Foxx as Django. Not because he is black, but because his build is nothing like Franco Nero’s. Nero pretty much built a career out of playing Django and I would have thought that Quentin would have tried to match him at least in build.

I do think that Jamie Foxx will bring a lot to the role. He is a damn fine actor and I believe this will be his first western. Looking at the story line on IMDb, it looks like the story will feature the ubiquitous bounty hunter that most spaghetti westerns are built around.

Foxx promoting Stealth in July 2005

I’m also keen to see if Tarantino will use a dubbing system that will emulate the sound of a Spaghetti Western a la Mickey Knox. And of course I am expecting all the guns to sound like howitzer cannon with screaming ricochets. Tarantino is a film fan first and foremost. He loves a range of genre films and has always, where ever possible, paid several homages to his love of the Spaghetti Western.

So even though we are not scheduled to see this film until January 2013, I’ll saddle up and ride down to the local cinema to give it a look see. Yee Haw!

The Glass House (2001): Teen Troubles

Cover of "The Glass House"
Cover of The Glass House

Teenager Ruby Baker is out on the town and past her curfew. As she says goodbye to her friend and explains that she is going to be in trouble again for being late she hurriedly leaves. While this is going on, her parents are in a car crash and both of them die. She arrives home to find two policemen in her home. When they try to tell her about her parents, she faints.

The beginning of this film leaps into action. Before the first reel has been changed over by the projectionist, Ruby and her younger brother Rhett have been orphaned and now must live with their old neighbours acting as their guardians. The ‘best friends’ have moved to a huge glass house in an exclusive area. This will be their new home.

Once the two children move into the glass mansion, things  start getting strange and it seems the ‘old friends’ have changed from the nice people that used to live next door.

While not anywhere near blockbuster territory, The Glass House delivers very well. For a start Tom Hanks‘s missus Rita Wilson is in an uncredited cameo that must surely classify as the smallest in the world. Ms Wilson plays Ruby and Rhett’s mother and dies roughly about ten minutes into the film with her husband Michael O’Keefe the other candidate for the worlds smallest cameo award. Both Wilson and O’Keefe are seen later in the film when their daughter Ruby visualises their death, over and over.

Ruby is played by the very capable Leelee Sobieski a young actress that make me think of a young Helen Hunt. With two awards under her belt and quite a few more nominations this young lady is not lightweight. She had no trouble convincing me that her character was grieving, confused, and finally suspicious about this couple that she and her brother were wards of. When she takes action, it does not jar or stretch belief.

Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit...
Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit at the Berlin Film Festival 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Glass couple that take over as the children’s guardians are played by Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgård. My only complaint about the film has to do with the fact that I felt that Ms Lane was not used enough. That is most likely my problem only as I have been a huge fan of this talented lady’s work for years. Stellan Skarsgård does a great job as the devious and slight scary Mr Glass. Glass, it seems, can only afford the grand lifestyle he and his wife have by less than legal means.

English: Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård.

The nicest thing about the film was seeing Bruce Dern as  Ruby’s family lawyer. Dern has been acting since grass was green it seems and the old boy has still got the chops. Although it was a change to see him playing a ‘normal’ good guy part instead of the usual eccentric parts he is famous for.

Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, Cali...
Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All in all a film worth watching. Released in 2001 it is recent enough that it doesn’t suffer from being too outdated. Add the fact that the film is easily available via Netflix and other streaming film sites, it won’t cost you the earth to give it a look.