Cult Movies: Billy Jack

MV5BMTkwNTg4MDYwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjIzMTQyMQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_Billy Jack is the story of a half Indian/half white ex-Green Beret hapkido expert (played by Tom Laughlin). He was a war hero in Vietnam, but ultimately turned his back on the war.

As the movie opens, Billy Jack interrupts the slaughter of wild mustangs and runs afoul of the rich-guy-who-actually-runs-the- town and his weak-willed, spoiled-rotten son, Bernard.

Billy Jack also protects the “freedom school” run by Jean Roberts (Laughlin’s real-life wife, Delores Taylor.) It is a school for troubled teens, dropouts, and others who do not fit into normal, polite (read “white”) society. Of course, being hippies, the good, decent (and racist) townsfolk do not like them, and are frightened by their liberal ways.

Billy Jack is very much a movie of its time. Released in 1971 when the Vietnam war was in full swing, the movie deals with pacifism, violence, hippie counter-culture, and social consciousness.  Billy Jack is not a good film; the acting is sub-standard, it is overlong in spots, is preachy and its “peace through violence” message is incongruous. But it is a time capsule; a glimpse into a time of civil unrest and American involvement an unpopular war.

The one thing the movie does well is violence. After Billy Jack has beaten the crap out of Bernard Posner and his gigantic buddy, Dinosaur, Billy is confronted in the town park by Posner’s dad and a bunch of racist rednecks. Billy dispatches dad with a single kick and subsequently takes on the rest of the rednecks. At first Billy holds his own, but eventually is overcome by their sheer numbers. I find this to be very realistic. In most movies with martial arts sequences, the hero is usually untouchable, taking on wave after wave of villains and ultimately dispatching them all (although it would help their odds if the villains would attack more than one at a time, but I digress.) Not so in Billy Jack; Billy is no Superman, and although has expert fighting skill, he does succumb to superior numbers, especially after many attach him at once. Billy is saved only through the intervention of the town sheriff.

The fight scenes were choreographed by Bong Soo Han, a hapkido expert and Laughlin’s real-life martial arts teacher. Han even doubled for Laughlin in some of the fight scenes and can be spotted if you watch carefully enough.

Originally under-promoted by its initial distributor, Warner Studios, Tom Laughlin took matters into his own hands and distributed and promoted the film himself. It later became a cult hit due to its being shown on TV and subsequent VHS and DVD releases.

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Billy Jack

Worth a look if you want a glimpse into the turbulent Vietnam era.

Skip it if you don’t like dated films or movies about dirty hippies.





Fun Movies: Need for Speed

MV5BMTY3NjMyMjc3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTE1MzcwMjE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Right up front, let me say that Need for Speed is not a great movie. But it is not a bad one either. It’s not going to get nominated for a best picture Oscar, and neither is any of the cast. But it is a fun movie; the highlights being the racing scenes.

Wrongly convicted and imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, Tobey Marshall (played by Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul) gets out of prison and obtains a super-fast Ford Mustang that he and his crew tuned prior to his incarceration. The whole idea is that he will drive the car to California from New York in to compete in an illegal street race against his nemesis, Dino Brewster (played by Dominic Cooper.) The catch is that the race will be in two days, and Marshall needs to drive really fast to get there, avoiding police whenever possible.

The plot, such as it is, is a pretty standard revenge fantasy. There was never any doubt in my mind how the events would unfold.

The real stars of this movie are the cars: there is a “Shelby” Mustang, a Lamborghini Elemento, three Koenigsegg Ageras, and a Bugatti Veyron. The racing is reckless but a whole lot of fun to watch. Apparently, the super car races only used shells, which is nice as I would hate to think they destroyed multimillion dollar cars for movie stunts.

In many ways, the racing is derivative of the Fast & Furious franchise but instead of tuned Asian cars, Euro super cars stand in as substitutes.

Worth a look if you like white-knuckle car races with super-fast cars.

Skip it if you like more cerebral movies.

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Need for Speed


Cerebral Movies: Enemy

MV5BMTQ2NzA5NjE4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjQ4NzMxMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Enemy, based on the novel The Double by José Saramago, stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a dual role as Adam and Anthony. It is a cerebral movie in that not much is explained. The director, Denis Villeneuve leaves little clues as the film unfolds, but ultimately any meaning is left to the viewer to decipher. It is a compact, dense film and every object, every scene has meaning. However, the meaning is oblique and not fully explained. Careful watching of this film will reveal a story which is much more than it appears to be on the surface.

Adam Bell, a history professor in Toronto, doesn’t seem to be happy. He always has a disheveled appearance, his apartment is unkempt, and his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) seems to be unhappy with him. He is in a rut in his classes; we see him delivering the same lecture several times to different students.

He sees his identical twin in a bit part in a movie which was recommended by a co-worker. He tracks down the actor whose stage name is Daniel Saint Claire and whose legal name is Anthony Claire. Adam meets Anthony and things go bad. Anthony seemingly is better off than Adam. Anthony has a beautiful, pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon), dresses well, has a nice apartment, and seems to have a lot of money, despite being a bit-part actor. But he doesn’t appear to be any happier than Adam.

Isabella Rossellini has a small role as Anthony’s mother. Again, careful viewing and listening to the scenes she is in will be rewarding in understanding what the movie is about.

The ending of this movie is confusing if you haven’t been paying attention, but packs a startling punch if you have.

Worth a look if you like cerebral movies which make you think.

Skip it if you like your movies explained and wrapped up in neat packages.

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Blue Ruin

MV5BMTY4NTM2MDg5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDA3OTAwMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Blue Ruin is an atypical revenge film. In most revenge films, the protagonist is a highly trained super soldier of some sort. Or maybe a skilled martial arts expert with deadly skills. Not so for the protagonist of Blue Ruin, Dwight (played by Macon Blair.)

Dwight is a shell of a man. He is virtually homeless; living out of his car, sleeping on the beach and eating out of garbage cans. The film alludes to his father’s murder as the cause of this, but never explicitly states it.

Early in the film, the police track Dwight down, informing him of the imminent release of his father’s convicted murder. Dwight cleans himself up, goes to the prison and witnesses the murderer’s release. Dwight follows the murderer and his family to a bar. Dwight goes into the restroom and waits for the murder. On an impulse, Dwight stabs the murderer in the head, killing him.  This sets off a chain of consequences which not only affect Dwight, but the rest of his family as well.

Dwight may have killed his father’s murderer on impulse, but he realizes that he is in way over his head. Dwight soon learns the family of the murdered murderer are coming after his sister and her two kids for revenge. The film explores what would happen to a normal, average (or even less-than-average) person who takes it upon himself to exact revenge. Dwight is not a super soldier, he does not have access to a cache of military-grade weapons and a seemingly endless supply ammunition. He doesn’t have enough money to purchase a firearm and has to settle for knife instead. He doesn’t posses spectacular unarmed or edged weapon fighting skills (or any for that matter, killing the murder was an ostensible stroke of luck.) There are serious consequences for his actions and much of the film derives tension from whether or not Dwight will be able to survive the onslaught of the murdered man’s family and their need to avenge the murder of the murderer.

Look for a cameo from Eve Plumb (Jan from TV’s The Brady Bunch.)

Worth a look if you like believable, gritty, realistic films which deal with the real-world consequences of exacting revenge.

Skip it if you like your revenge films about ‘roided up super soldiers with automatic weapons mowing down a legion of bad guys with little to no consequences for their actions.

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Blue Ruin