Geoffrey Lewis

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The Devil's Rejects Review


Excellent
House of 1000 Corpses, the last song on Rob Zombie's 2001 album The Sinister Urge, also served as the title track to the metal frontman-turned-filmmaker's 2003 directorial debut, but the cut's country twang-inflected ghoulishness would have made a more apt musical accompaniment for Zombie's The Devil's Rejects. Less a sequel than a spiritual follow-up, the director's latest revisits House's serial-killing Firefly clan as they're cast into the backwater dustbowls of rural America by a sheriff (William Forsythe) intent on exacting vigilante revenge for the murder of his brother. A gritty Western-via-grindhouse modern exploitation flick imbued with the ferocity of independent '70s horror, Zombie's splatterfest wisely alters virtually everything (narratively, stylistically, thematically) that characterized his campy, cartoonish and awkward first film. And from its coarse, graphic visual aesthetic, profusion of classic Southern rock tunes, and portrait of unrepentant mayhem, his film reverentially exults in the deranged spirit and impulsive, unpredictable energy of seminal genre masterpieces The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes.

The Devil's Rejects diverges from its predecessor beginning with its opening frames, in which the depiction of the Firefly residence - no longer a remote, forest-shrouded funhouse of horrors but, rather, a dilapidated structure situated in a stretch of open land - speaks to the film's rejection of atmospheric claustrophobia in favor of wide-open anarchy. A fascination with rampant disorder certainly fuels the tour de force intro sequence, a bullet-strewn siege on the Firefly home by Sheriff Wydell (Forsythe) and an army of police officers heightened by Zombie's sly use of freeze frames, Sergio Leone-esque close-ups, and The Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider." Exhibiting a directorial maturity devoid of his former MTV-ish gimmickry (no hyper-edited montages with varying film stocks or bludgeoning industrial heavy metal here), the director orchestrates the chaotic events with feverish abandon, his shaky handheld camera set-ups and scraggly, sun-bleached cinematography (courtesy of Phil Parmet) placing us directly inside the carnage. By the time murderous siblings Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon) escape their now overrun home to seek shelter in the rotting, blindingly white desert, Zombie has demonstrated a newfound adeptness at lacing nasty action with a breakneck thrust and vicious wit.

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Smile Review


Good
The film references tend to term it "overlooked," but there are many of us who never forgot the wonderful comedy Smile from its theatrical release in 1975. '75 was a great year for movies, and it could be that Smile, like the fresh-faced competitors that populate it, just faced some really rough competition that year; maybe, in the company of Nashville, The Story of Adèle H., One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Grey Gardens, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and so on, this relatively modest beauty fades into the wallpaper. Maybe its comparatively adult wit would get lost among the frantic adolescence of screen comedy in any year. Whatever the reason, it's a pleasure to welcome back a really funny and distinctively American satire, now available on DVD.

Smile charts the progress of a round of finals for the fictitious Young American Miss pageant being held in Santa Rosa, California. The civic force behind this event is a community-minded car salesman named Big Bob Freelander (Bruce Dern), a yokel with good intentions, an abiding optimism, and an inexhaustible reserve of clichéd bromides about the importance of a positive attitude. Brenda DiCarlo (Barbara Feldon) acts as pageant coordinator and den mother to the young contestants; her husband Andy's suicidal tendencies are exacerbated, rather than quelled, by all the forced goodwill she radiates and by the pageant's general, bright, can-do American vibe. Big Bob, especially, finds this mystifying - what on Earth is there to be blue about in a land of such copious opportunity and beautiful young women such as ours? - and the best advice he can muster for his desperate friend is to "go out there and have some fun."

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Blueberry Review


Excellent
Moebius, aka Jean Giraud, is best known as the artist who revolutionized Continental comic books in the 1960s and 1970s. His work, highly stylized and fittingly surreal, is synonymous with science fiction illustration and the premier adult fantasy comic magazine, Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal, in the states.) While he began his work as an illustrator for various French magazines and fanzines, it wasn't until the 1970s, when he adopted the pen name Moebius, that his work became internationally recognized. Despite his frequent forays into science fiction and fantasy, his western strip Blueberry (with Jean-Michel Charlier) is perhaps his best-known work. While Mike Blueberry, the cowboy hero of the eponymous strip, has traveled the dusty back roads for over 30 years there has not been a film adaptation of his adventures until now.

Jan Kounen, the Dutch cause celebre responsible for the hyperactive cult film Dobermann, tackles the epic story of Blueberry with a careful, almost blissed out style - much to the dismay of fans of his earlier work. Blueberry is a meditative work, a somnambulist's ramble through western history and psychedelica. The film is slowly paced but crescendos in a special effects blowout, a literal celluloid peyote trip, which would make Alejandro Jodorowsky jump with joy. (That isn't a random aside, Blueberry is as close an homage to Jodorowsky's El Topo as a big budget western can get.)

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The Return of a Man Called Horse Review


OK
You just can't keep Horse down. Or in England. In this sequel to the jawdropping A Man Called Horse, our British-adopted Indian hero gets a pang in his heart and returns to the American Dakotas to find his former tribe besieged by the American army. The bulk of the film concerns his attempt to save them and fight back against the nearby U.S. Army fort. Sadly, none of the charm of the original (a former day Dances with Wolves that was almost entirely concerned with culture, not combat) is present in this straight-out shoot-'em-up flick. Not that it's bad, but you've seen it all before in umpteen rote westerns. Of course, in those movies the cowboys win, not the Indians...

The Way Of The Gun Review


Grim

A belated, Tarantino-spawn crime caper picture packed with highly contrived, high-caliber gunplay and other bursts of meaningless creativity, "The Way of the Gun" is the gritty and stylish, but hollow and hyperbolic, directorial debut of "The Usual Suspects" screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie.

A tangled and twisty yarn of dastardly deeds and double-crosses, the plot begins with a conversation between two bodyguards charged with protecting a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis), who is carrying a baby for a crooked L.A. millionaire and his frigid, disinterested trophy wife.

Eavesdropping are a pair of glum petty thugs (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) who concoct, on the spot, a scheme to kidnap the woman and ransom the unborn kid for the kind of money they always thought they deserved but could never procure with their small-time villainy.

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Geoffrey Lewis

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