HANDLEBAR – indie film review

Editorials: HANDLEBAR -film review
Rebel Films brings us another great indie feature. A madcap crime caper about two bumbling idiots trying to pull of a kidnapping for the local mob boss. Michael McCallum stars as Dwayne, a drunk that cares about nobody but himself, who teams up with Benny, a mentally challenged man with the brain of a five year old. Now these two together are the type to mess up a cup of coffee. Manny, the head mob boss hires them to kidnap the rival mafioso’s daughter. All hi jinx pursue once Dwayne and Benny kidnap the wrong girl, who happens to be Manny’s daughter. They try desperately to hold on to her and keep Manny at a long distance. Manny played by W. McCallum steals half the show with his serious, yet sarcastic dialogue. The gritty cinematography goes well with the story and some very funny moments with Dwayne ( McCallum) and Benny (Hagedorn). Also Grace Ann Rowan is hysterical as the fiesty mob daughter that gives it right back to them.

More info at handlebarmovie.com

Neal Damiano
Film Journalist



Top 10 James Gandolfini Films ( tribute)

Neal Damiano pays tribute to late actor James Gandolfini. Widely remembered as Tony Soprano in HBO’s award-winning television drama The Sopranos, he also appeared in many great films.

10. Crimson Tide (Scott, 1995)
When a volatile Russian nationalist and Soviet Union Army seize control of a nuclear missile base, it starts the biggest global emergency since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The world on the edge of disaster, the USS Alabama sets sail, patrolling Russian waters with enough firepower to start another World War. As the crisis continues, the unthinkable occurs: the Alabama is given an order to launch its nuclear missles. In the resulting Captain Frank Ramsey, and his executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter clash over orders and fight for control of the sub. With an all star cast it’s hard to stand out here, but Gandolfini shines bright in his small role as Lt Bobby Dougherty trying to help save the US from seige.

9. The Juror (Gibson, 1996)
Annie Laird ( Demi Moore) is selected as a juror in a Mafia trial, she is forced by someone known as “The Teacher” to persuade the other jurors to vote “not guilty”. He threatens to kill her son if she doesn’t commit. When the trial is over, he can’t let her go. James Gandolfini plays a viscious hitman named Eddie, this particular film really shows his acting ability, he is so convincing one would think he is actually in the mafia.

8. Get Shorty (Sonnenfeld, 1995)
Chili Palmer (Travolta) is a loanshark from Miami sent to Los Angeles to collect a debt from a famous film producer Harry Zimm ( Devito) Unknown to Zimm, Chili happens to be a big movie fan especially of B movies. So they hit it off due to their quirky personalitites. James Gandolfini plays a larger than life Hollywood stuntman, who moonlights as a body guard for the mob. His characters name is Bear if thats not cool enough alone. He is so likable in this character, clashing with Chili at first, but Chili finds a soft spot and offers him a job. Great chemistry between Gandolfini and Travolta some really funny moments.

7. The Mexican (Verbinski, 2001)
Jerry Welbach (Pitt) has two choices. His mob boss wants him to travel to Mexico to find an antique Pistol called The Mexican or he will die. The other choice is from his grilfriend Samantha (Roberts), who wants him to end his relationship with the mob. Leroy is a gay hit man (Gandolfini) sent to kidnap Sam in return of the priceless pistol safely. The film doesn’t get moving until Gandolfini picks up Roberts. The exchange between the two in this road trip romp is so entertaining and Gandolfini’s charisma really shines through here, whether he is telling Sam about a hit he did or the men in and out of his life. He has the ability to play characters normally you would hate, but he does it with such endearing charm you can’t help but like him. He does that very well in this film.

6. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, 2012)
It’s been more than a decade since the attacks of 2001, but terrorist Osama Bin Laden is still out there, somewhere. A CIA operative travels down a long dark path that ends in the killing of the most notorious terrorist in history. Although a very small role, James Gandolfini is such a dominating force as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, with such a presence in the boardroom.

5. 8MM (Schumacher, 1999)
Starring Nic Cage as a survelliance expert hired to investigate a snuff film murder. Gandolfini plays Eddie Poole and quite possibly one of the sleaziest characters in film history. A low down and money hungry porno producer, who lures girls in only to exploit them. He plays this role so well and convincing that you actually hope and can’t wait until he gets his due. This happens to be one of my favorites performances from him because he is that good.

4. In The Loop (Iannucci, 2009)
A parody of the inner workings of U.S. and British government agencies and their international relations. General Miller is played by Gandolfini, and he puts his own humorous spin on it.

3. The Man Who Wasn’t There (Coen/Coen, 2001)
As the philandering store manager who finds himself suddenly blackmailed, Gandolfini injects Big Dave Brewster with a combination of fragility and rage that makes us sympathize with him despite being terrified.

2. The Last Castle (Lurie, 2001)
A battle of morals between inmates and the warden of a military prison, based on the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Gandolfini plays Colonel Winter, a sadistic prison warden with military background. He is the perfect villain to Robert Redford with mental and physical warfare against each other. He is just so engaging with power in this film.

1. True Romance (Scott, 1993)
Gandolfini is so convincing as a sociopathic cold blooded killer in True Romance. I don’t believe they could of gotten anyone else to play this role better. The fight scene in the hotel room between him and Alabama, is one of the best fights in film history, in my opinion. James Gandolfini is one of the reasons why True romance is one of my favorite films. His dialogue in the hotel scene is both frightening and alluring, thats what makes James so great.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.
Follow Neal (@nealreviews1) on Twitter.

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Top 10 American Indie Films

When you’re tired of formulaic, big-budget Hollywood blockbusters you can often find solace in indie films, which often become the most talked about movies of the year.

10. Clerks (Smith, 1994)
Armed with a 16mm Arri SR2 camera using black and white film stock, Kevin Smith made the quintessential slacker film of the 90s. Miraculously, Smith funded Clerks using ten credit cards, raising the $27,575 he needed to produce the indie film. To play Dante, Smith’s wise cracking clerk of a convenience store, he hired struggling New Jersey actor Brian O’Halloran primarily for his ability to work with the verbose dialogue. Set across a single day, we meet all sorts of quirky characters, the result being one of the most hilarious indie films of the 1990s.

9. Party Girl (Mayer, 1995)
There was an influx of indie films in the early 1990s and Party Girl stood out from the crowd. Parker Posey plays Mary, a free spirited club girl, who throws wild raves in her apartment to pay the rent. She finally gets arrested for illegally charging people before being released on bail and realising she needs to get a proper job. She calls upon her godmother for help and lands a job as a library clerk. Along the way we meet very eccentric characters that are the centre of Mary’s universe. Mary finally realises she needs to grow as an adult and ironically becomes a librarian. This film put Parker Posey on the map. She went on to do several other indie films, and Hollywood affectionately labelled her the Indie Film Queen.

8. Welcome to the Dollhouse (Solondz, 1995)
During the indie film craze of the 1990s we discovered some great directors. One of them was Todd Solondz. Welcome to the Dollhouse was his second film and definitely made its mark thanks to being one of the quirkiest films of the 90s. Solondz has such a unique way of telling a story on screen that he often divides audiences. You either get him or you don’t.

7. Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch, 1984)
Stranger Than Paradise is the closest thing you can get to a reality based film without it being one; the way it’s filmed seems like you’re right there with the three protagonists, filming them yourself. Shot in black and white, Stranger Than Paradise follows three drifters travelling from New York to Florida. Jim Jarmusch had such a unique, stylised way of filming – it was way ahead of its time, in my opinion. The film really set a benchmark for the indie films to come.

6. Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969)
The ultimate independent film, Dennis Hopper directed a masterpiece in Easy Rider. The film represented anti-establishment to the core with the simple moniker – They’re not scared of you…they’re scared of what you represent. That representation is freedom from the entanglements of modern day society. Two travel buddies Billy (Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) epitomised the druggy rebellion of the 60s drop-out generation with their Wild West mentality and costumes. The film still resonates today because of the timeless theme it promoted and that is individualism.

5. Mean Streets (Scorsese, 1973)
Mean Streets is Martin Scorsese’s third feature and one of his best films to date. Scorsese gives the viewer a candid glimpse into the gritty hustle of 1970s Little Italy. Shot in New York for six days on a shoestring budget, the film tells of the day to day antics of Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and Johnny Boy (Robert Deniro) which essentially consists of brawls and gunfire. Johnny boy seems to have a death wish, which he is trying to fulfil, as he sinks deeper and deeper into debt with the local mob bosses and then spits in the face of authority. Charlie is loyal and tries to help but loses grip fast. The film brings up questions of morality, loyalty, and the brutality of your environment. Mean Streets really showed the brilliance of Robert De Niro.

4. Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1992)
Reservoir Dogs is the first feature by Quentin Tarantino. Little did anyone know that this film fanatic and ex-video store clerk would change the face of cinema as we knew it. Tarantino, obsessed with b-movies and indie films, went on to become a cultural icon in cinema. Reservoir Dogs was made for $1.2m and had virtually no promotion attached to it. It grew to prominence thanks to word of mouth, and the film set the stage for the indie film explosion in the early 90s. Heavily influenced by 70s cinema, Tarantino used witty dialogue, pop culture references, and creative shots to tell the story of a violent jewellery heist gone wrong. Reservoir Dogs is a very bloody ride from beginning to end, and features one of the most graphic scenes involving a strait edge razor and an ear you’re ever likely to see.

3. The Squid And The Whale (Baumbach, 2005)
The Squid And The Whale centres around a dysfunctional family living in Brooklyn. The family is led by a pompous writer played by Jeff Daniels. Daniels’ character is so self righteous, he’s almost unlikeable, but somehow you feel empathy for him. His wife Joan, played by Laura Linney, is so fed up with his behaviour that she walks out. Jessie Eisenberg plays the oldest son and the most troubled by far. He maintains a resentment towards women and sides with his father during the divorce. What I found so fascinating about this film is that both parents have few redeeming qualities, but somehow you still care for them. You can relate to the drama in their lives and the performances are exceptional. The movie deservedly won five Indie spirit awards.

2. Sex, Lies and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989)
More than any other film, Sex, Lies and Videotape encapsulates the American independent film renaissance of the late 80s and early 90s. Shot in Louisiana for $1million by first time director Steven Soderbergh, the film is an erotic ride of racy thrills that made quite the splash at Sundance in 1989. The film is not conventional in any way at all until the end and that’s what makes it so quirky. The characters are on the fringes of life and devoid of emotion. It is a very dark film that deals with betrayal, voyeurism, and sexuality. James Spader is so convincing in his obsession with sexuality it’s utterly scary.

1. Buffalo ’66 (Gallo, 1998)
Writer-director-star Vincent Gallo takes the quirky film genre and makes it his own. Gallo plays Billy Brown, a slacker with no goals in mind, that reaches an all time low when he bets $10,000 on the Buffalo Bills in the 1966 Super Bowl. He doesn’t have the “vig” to pay when the Bills’ kicker misses the field goal. So to make amends with the bookie he takes the rap for a crime committed by one of the associates. Fresh out of jail he decides to kidnap a fiery little dance student named Layla (Christina Ricci) to play his wife as he returns home to have dinner with his family. The bond between the two is unlikely but does spark up and it’s interesting to see the two misfit characters relate to each other as if they are the only two people left on earth. This happens to be one of my favourite films. The chemistry between Gallo and Ricci is undeniable, you can’t take your eyes of the screen.

Neal Damiano
Top 10 Films