James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.
Rated R, 112 minutes.
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, and Gig Young
Sam Peckinpah was a famously unhinged director who poured himself into his work, and the results never lived up to what the filmmaker saw in his mind, except for one film.
BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, in Peckinpah’s eyes, was his masterpiece, a pure and unfiltered look into his mind. In this dusty and grimy road film, the director explores his passion for and relationship to women, the failure of masculinity, and Mexican culture. It’s a brilliant film–and its star, Warren Oates, operates on a level few actors have ever been able to channel.
Mexican crime lord, only known as El Jefe’s daughter, is pregnant, and the culprit is his right-hand man is the enigmatic Alfredo “Al” Garcia. The boss puts a million-dollar bounty on the head of Garcia, and the word spreads that a massive payday is up for grabs.
Bartender/piano player Bennie (Oates) is recruited by a couple of effeminate assassins (Gig Young and Robert Weber) to bring them the head for 10k, but he wants the whole tequila bottle, even the worm. Set across an increasingly feverish landscape, Oates and (a brilliant) Isela Vega tap into a neo-Western classic that pulsates with tension and expert storytelling.
RENT/BUY: BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is perfect for repeat viewings. From Oates’s dynamic performance to Peckinpah’s observations on the parallels between the film and crime industry. This is the rare film that only gets riper with age. It’s a must-own.
Note: Kino Lorber recently announced that the wrong master from the UK label was used. A disc replacement program has been initiated by Kino Lorber for those who have purchased the o-card and reversible cover art of the film. Click here for the form>>
Rated R, 111 minutes.
Director: Andrey Konchalovsky
Cast: John Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca DeMornay
RUNAWAY TRAIN may be the only tough-guy movie of the ’80s to receive multiple Academy Award nominations for acting and still somehow have a low profile in the modern film landscape.
The Andrey Konchalovsky-directed film starts as a prison drama, morphs into an action epic, and still has time to stop and build up its two leading characters (played by Eric Roberts and a never-better Jon Voight). (I was today years old when I discovered Eric Roberts was nominated for an Oscar.)
Aside from the two leading men in the film, Rebecca DeMornay comes in to bat clean up with a performance that doesn’t enter the (literal) picture until an hour into the film. The stage and character dynamics have been set, but DeMornay’s performance registers with hutzpah and pathos. This has to be one of the crown jewels of the storied 1980s film house Cannon Films.
Let’s keep it simple: Manny (Voight) is a legendary prisoner at a remote Alaskan prison where he’s been kept in solitary confinement for three years because he’s a known escape artist. Manny’s bravado is quiet, but don’t test him because his will to be free cannot be broken. One thing (a mangled hand from being stabbed) leads to another (swimming through a soiled sewer), and Manny has teamed up with Buck (Roberts) on a fast track to freedom.
RUNAWAY TRAIN is an awe-inspiring action flick no matter the decad. The Kino Lorber release is filled with commentary on masculinity and authority. It has the brains of a counterculture film with the Braun you’d come to expect from a Cannon action picture. This is one seemingly deep cut that will be tossed into heavy rotation.
RENT/BUY: This is one of the most exciting Kino Lorber Studio Classic releases in the spring crop. It comes with a sharp slipcover and a fascinating audio commentary with Eric Roberts and film historians. The features lack a little bit, but there are not many available 35 years later. However, my favorite thing to do before watching a Kino Lorber release is to watch the trailers on the disc before the film starts. Each one is thematically relevant to the main feature and sets a great mood like you’re back in your favorite repertory house. Keep em coming to Kino. RUNAWAY TRAIN is special.
Rated R, 95 minutes.
Director: Andy Anderson
Cast: Stephanie Rascoe Myers, and John S. Davies
Note: This review contains subject matter that may be triggering.
Texas is a place ripe with scenery, feeling, and aesthetics, but very few filmmakers can capture the state with earnest reverence for such a strange place. Filmmaker and academic Andy Anderson did just that, but with relevant commentary on sexual politics with his low-budget film POSITIVE I.D.
The film got a jump on major studio films like FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and BASIC INSTINCT (1992), each of which took on a more suggestive tone that ignited audiences and broke down a barrier when it comes to sex on screen.
Anderson wasn’t attempting to get the same thrills from his small albeit potent audience. With POSITIVE I.D. It’s not about what we see but the effects sexual trauma has on women. His film takes a systematic approach to revenge, the little steps and sacrifices one woman makes to find some respite from the pain. We are kept guessing until the last heartbreaking moment.
Julie Kenner (Stephanie Rascoe) is removed from being attacked by a man released early from prison. She’s not doing well. Julie regularly breaks down crying and has not shared a bed with her husband (John Davies) since her assault. Friends frequently ask her if she enjoyed the experience and that she’s to blame. Julie has decided she’s had enough and jumps through incredibly ingenious hoops to assume a new identity and exact her revenge.
Anderson’s film is operating on a tiny budget, and while it’s not much to look at from a visual perspective, POSITIVE I.D. finds success thematically and with its plotting.
RENT/BUY: This is a Kino Lorber Studio Classic that’s worth purchasing for it being a rare film alone. It’s a lot to take in, but POSITIVE I.D. sets a mood.