Dec 052010

Pump Up The Volume - Christian Slater

Like many in my generation, my impressions of Pirate Radio were largely formed in 1990 when Christian Slater starred as “Hard Harry” in Pump up the Volume. Unfortunately, Jeff Pearson’s Pirate Radio USAcouldn’t be much farther away from Pump Up The Volume if it had been a documentary about ice cubes rather than one, supposedly, covering the pirate radio movement in America.

Here’s how Pearson describes his film…

Pirate Radio USA is a feature length documentary about the underground world of unlicensed radio in the USA, where people play what they want and say what they want-unless the FCC catches them. On the way see the rise of Big Media, the growth of Indy Media to encounter it, and witness their showdown over the truth during the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. DJ’s Him and Her, from their live Pirate Radio USA Studio, take you on a rock -n-roll journey inside rogue radio stations across the country to see why Americans defy Federal Law to free the radio airwaves. Seize the Airwaves!

Sound interesting?  I thought so to … until I actually spent an hour and a half watching DJ Him and DJ Her share their tale of failing to keep one pirate station after another on the air.  Continue reading »

Nov 302008

Banner__bf08_300x250_google Despite their monopoly status (which is enforced with the government’s guns, of course) Charter is having to try harder and harder to get people to sign up for their cable television, internet and home phone services.  In fact, as the ad to the left shows, they’re currently offering a free gift card (to the business of your choice) worth up to $250 with you sign up for any of their black friday deals.

Whether you’re just looking broadband internet service ($24.99/month for 6 months plus a $25 gift card), want their Charter Communications Ultimate Service Bundle with 10 Mbps High Speed internet access, Digital Home television with Charter HD, Sports View, HBO, Cinemax, Starz, Encore, Showtime, The Movie Channel, and Unlimited Calling on your home phone ($165.97/month for one year plus a $250 Gift card with purchase), or something in between Charter’s got you covered withboth some of the best prices available and free gift cards.

Not sold yet?  How about the fact that any person who places an order through December 5thwill also be entered into a drawing to win one of 45 Xbox 360 gaming systems.  If you’re not currently happy with your television service provider or have simply been looking for a better deal, than Charter is willing to pay you to give them a shot.  Me, I just suggest you check out the current deals and run your own numbers.


Sep 042008
Part of the Hollywood Hit Men Project Series - Previous in series         

Although not truly a hitman movie, El Mariachi is the beginning of Robert Rodriguez’ Mexico trilogy, and its brief 81 minute running time still qualifies as the longest back-story for any cinematic hit man to date. A tale of luck, music, and gunplay, El Mariachi tells the story of a nightmare-ridden traveling mariachi trying to make his way in the world.  Although our hero regularly claims to be out of luck, the film shows that he has enough to spare: both good and bad.

In the course of a few short days, El Mariachi is mistaken for a killer who carries an arsenal in his guitar case, dodges dozens of bullets (literally), finds work, falls in love, loses his job, loses the love of his life, seeks revenge, and gains a motorcycle, a dog, and a briefcase full of guns.  All he ever wanted be was a mariachi, like his father, grandfathre and great grandfather, but now he is destined to be so much more.

The hype around El Mariachi is that it was made on a mere $7,000 budget.  However, reader’s of Robert Rodriguez’ Rebel without a Crew learn that the film we see today is not a result of such a low-budget.  Rodriguez’ film was shot on 16mm without sound.  The sound was all recorded and added in after shooting.  Additionally, since Rodriguez knew that he would be editing the film he essentially edited in camera while filming.  He also didn’t pay any of his actors, many of whom (including star Carlos Gallardo) also worked as crew members on the film.  All of this information, plus lighting tips, advice for saving on props, and more is included in the short film “10 Minute Film School” which is also included on the El Mariachi DVD.   What Rodriguez doesn’t mention there is that instead of having prints made, he transferred the film straight to video in order to use it as a resume of sorts, rather than try and distribute it himself.

Still, El Mariachi is an enjoyable film.  I can’t stand subtitles, but the dialogue is light and it’s not too difficult to keep up with even if you miss a line here or there.  The action scenes aren’t particularly action-packed, and theescapes aren’t exactly believable, but there’s an earnestness about the film that cannot be denied and it is regularly infused with comedic situations.  Although the second film in the trilogy, Desperado (which I’ll be reviewing next week) retells much of the story found here, it’s always nice to see the original for yourself.

The great thing about the El Mariachi trailer is that not only does it not give anything away, but it completely misleads you as to the storyline of the film, all while making you anticipate seeing it and without feeling ripped off after the fact-

visit for more info

Best Line: “If his name’s Azul, why doesn’t he wear blue?”
Overall Rating: 2.5 outta 5

More Mariachi stuff-

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Aug 262008
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When I was a little kid, my mother allowed my sister and I to have televisions in our rooms.  I ad an old black-and-white set that always had some static, even after we got cable.  It would have been on that set that I first saw the film that would prompt my near-obsession with hit man films and contract killers in general – The Mechanic aka  Killer of Killers.  Now, there’s no way I could have ever seen the trailer for the film (I was, after all, two years old when it was in theaters), but if I had I know it would have had me chomping at the bit-

Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent will forever define the role of cinematic hit man in my mind.  In fact, this movie is probably the very reason that the Hollywood Hit Men series even exists here on Philaahzophy.  Bronson is smart, calm, and professional throughout every moment of this film.  His trademark “cool” is in high gear as he methodically plans and executes his assignments.  Meanwhile, Jan-Michael Vincent seems to be be taking lessons in cool from Bronson just as his character is taking lessons on murder for hire.

Fans of modern action films are probably going to be bored with The Mechanic as it is, without a doubt, a product of its times.  While there are a few explosions and a car chase scene, they’re spaced throughout the film and you’ll see no two-fisted gunslingers diving across warehouses a la John Woo.  The Mechanic replaces the modern hard-hitting soundtrack and quick-cut editing with 70s style long shots, dramatic framing, thoughtful near-silence, and intense characterization.  Hell, the first piece of dialog in the film isn’t uttered for more than 15 minutes!

Screenwriter Lewis John Carlino has crafted a script that allows us to feel both the pain and the joy of being a hit man.  Bronson’s character may be teaching Vincent’s character the ropes of being a professional killer, but at the same time we’re learning ourselves.  A professional doesn’t just pick up a gun, find the mark, and put a bullet in their head.  No.  First he learns everything he can about them – their schedule, their habits, medical information, friends and family – everything.  He then uses this information to formulate a plan to take out the target so masterfully that it’s a wonder he ever gets paid because all of the deaths seem accidental or completely natural.  Meanwhile, director Michael Winner clearly understands that while The Mechanic is about a mafia hitman (Bronson works for “The Organization”, but it’s clearly still the mob) this is a drama, not an action film or even a thriller.  Both the cinematography and the acting highlight this difference in nearly every footage of film.

While The Mechanic has absolutely zero semblance to any video game ever made it will long reign supreme among hit man movies.  This film is the total package and has an ending that you may not readily believe, but you’ll certainly accept, and most likely honor as one of the best in all of movie history.

Best Line: “My Friends are so happy they’re killing themselves.”
Overall Rating: 5 outta 5

More from Charles Bronson

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Aug 202008
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2 Days In The Valley comes with an all-star ensemble cast, a perfect soundtrack, and way too much story to fit into one film. It seems writer/director John Herzfeld thought this was going to be his big break away from TV movies and into making major motion pictures, so he was looking to provide something for everyone. Even IMDB felt the need to include the film in four distinct genres (comedy, crime, drama and thriller). Unfortunately, it’s not quite any of these.

The Cast-

Danny Aiello plays a washed up hitman trying to get back in the game; James Spader plays his client who just happens to be an ubercool hit man himself; Charlize Theron makes her first (credited) appearance as Spader’s girlfriend; Teri Hatcher plays an Olympic skier going through a messy divorce; Keith Carradine, Eric Stoltz and Jeff Daniels are all cops who stumble into the middle of the mess being made; Paul Mazursky plays John Herzfeld, er… I mean the suicidal writer/director of poorly made TV movies; and, finally, Greg Cutwell, Glenne Headly, and Marsha Mason all manage to get caught up in the madness as well.

The Trailer-

For a mystery/thriller, the trailer for 2 Days In The Valley, gives away far too much, in my opinion. But then, perhaps that’s only because I’m seeing it for the first time after seeing the film. Still, it does make the movie intriguing, while at the same time highlighting some of its worst moments of acting-

The Good-

As an aficionado of hitman movies I can say that this one certainly is unique.  It blends the traditional ‘redemption of the assassin’ and ‘hitman vs. hitman’ sub-genres quite well.

The acting is excellent all around, though James Spader really shines while giving the phrase ‘minute man’ a rather unique twist.  The chemistry between Aiello and Headly is absolutely palpable and Greg Cutwell does such a great job in his role as a pompous jerk that most viewers will probably want to shoot him themselves.  In fact, most of the characters are compelling.

It’s the soundtrack, however, that bumps 2 Days In The Valley from a mediocre two stars to a ‘see it if you’ve got some time’ three stars.  Since watching this film I’ve decided that all hit-man films should have a blues-based soundtrack.  I’m not usually much of a music guy and tend to only notice film music except when it gets in the way, but the tracks by Erin O’Hara, Junior Wells, Scott Reeder, Wilson Pickett, Taj Mahal, and Otis Redding really make this film worthwhile.  They more than set the mood, they carry you along with the story, particularly when the direction bogs it down.

The Bad-

Had Herzfeld been creating a television mini-series I think he may have been able to pull off the stories he was trying to relate here.  But there’s just not not enough room in 104 minutes of film to allow us to explore the rich characters he presents.  Instead, we get a few tantalizing tastes.  Intriguing bits and pieces of both characterization and plot lines appear before us, grabbing our attention, only to then vanish into the netherworld while we’re presented with another compelling tale to enjoy.  Even as the tale wraps to a close, bringing all the characters together again I couldn’t help but feel disappointment as well as excitement.


If you’re a fan of any of the outstanding actors in this film (and there’s plenty of them) than you’ll probably want to see 2 Days In The Valley.  If you’re interested in learning how to blend a blues soundtrack with a storyline it would be a good bet as well.  But if you’re just looking to fill a couple of hours with an interesting tale or two, then there are many far better choices awaiting you.
Best Line: “Now, I may be an asshole, but I’ve worked hard to become one.”
Overall Rating: 2 outta 5

More from Danny Aiello

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More from James Spader

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