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April 3rd, 2017

THE KILLER INSIDE ME (1976) ** ½

Burt Kennedy directed this workmanlike adaptation of Jim Thompson’s classic novel. It sure does take its sweet time getting going, but it does gather a modicum of steam as it reaches its inevitably downbeat conclusion. While Michael Winterbottom’s recent remake captured the essence of the novel better, Stacy Keach embodied the spirit of its protagonist, Lou Ford better than Casey Affleck did.

Lou Ford is a seemingly gregarious small town cop who is dating the local schoolmarm. Ford gets an assignment from the old coot who owns the town (the great Keenan Wynn) to quietly run a hussy (Susan Tyrrell) over the county line for making time with his son (Don Stroud). When Ford goes to do the job, the prostitute provokes him and sends him into a violent rage. The thing is, she kind of likes the negative attention, and she and Lou begin a love affair. Things eventually get a little too complicated for Lou and he hatches a coldblooded murder scheme to do away with her. Naturally, things don’t go exactly as planned and Lou has to murder more people to cover his tracks.

Keach and Tyrrell are excellent together. Unlike the remake, you have to wait a long time until her character is introduced. Once she is brought into the fold, the movie really kicks into gear. The duo also starred in the much better Fat City, and if you haven’t seen that one, I’d highly suggest you check it out.

This is a perfectly serviceable character study/noir drama. If I’d never read the novel, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more. It just seems that Kennedy and his screenwriters were much too shy to really delve into Ford’s ruthless character. They use a lot of flashbacks of his past traumas to let him (and the audience) off the hook in a futile effort to excuse and/or explain his diabolical actions. It was much more effective in the book (and the remake) where we slowly learn he's a sociopath without remorse.

The flashbacks that try to explain everything are pretty hokey. The use of irritating sound effects to signal a traumatic event is really annoying too. Kennedy films some of these sections in black and white to make it look like an old horror movie, which is a little too on the nose. Also, the scene with a doctor, played by John Carradine, is unnecessary as the character is only there to further spell out what we already know.

Whenever the plot focuses on the dynamic between Keach and Tyrrell, it works. The supporting cast is equally fine as they put in some strong performances. Their efforts keep you watching, even when the film falters.

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GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) *** ½

I’m not really an anime guy. I wouldn’t know a Ghost in the Shell from an Akira. All I know is that this movie, based on the beloved Japanese cartoon and comic book, rocks.

Imagine if John Woo used The Matrix technology to remake Blade Runner (okay, Johnny Mnemonic) and that might give you an idea of what we’re talking about.

The movie is basically a remake of Robocop. In fact, I kind of wish this really was the legit Robocop remake instead of that forgettable Robocop remake from a few years ago. It uses the same themes as a Robocop movie and tweaks them for the 21st century, creating something familiar, and at the same time, fresh.

It also happens to be one of Scarlett Johansson’s best. I didn’t think she’d be able to top her performances in the Marvel movies where she wore incredibly skintight suits and beat up hundreds of guys, but somehow she does just that here. What makes her performance so great in this one is that she wears a skintight suit that is flesh-toned and nearly anatomically correct. This way whenever she’s beating up hundreds of guys, it leaves little to the imagination as to what’s underneath.

The film also gives us some pretty neat glimpses into the future. I liked that hookers have floating LCD signs above their heads that advertise what they’re charging. I also dug the body modifications that allow people to become more robot-like. I’m not talking about the eyeballs that give you instant night vision. I’m of course referring to the modified liver that allows you to drink like a fish without damaging your innards.

Director Rupert (Snow White and the Huntsman) Sanders does some pretty nifty stuff with the action. The opening sequence is breathtaking and he also gives us a cool, atmospheric fight in a darkened hallway where the only flashes of light come from electric tasers. While some of the fight scenes feel a bit generic, I defy you not to smile when you hear the words “Activate Spider Tank!” This Spider Tank guy is pretty badass and he can kick butt like ED-209.

A side note regarding the whole “Whitewashing” debacle. I have seen the original Ghost in the Shell anime, although I can’t for the life of me remember anything about it. All I can say is that this is a case of people condemning something before they actually see the finished product. You see, the “shell”, or robot exterior, may be Caucasian, but the “ghost” or spirit that is inside of it, is Asian. Since my mother always told me it’s what’s on the inside that counts, I have to say a lot of the negative comments that were heaped on the film before its release were unjust. Then again, I’m not an anime guy, so what do I know?

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