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I think we discovered what happened to Mario Van Peebles: Posse (1993)

As you know, in my last post, I asked the question, what the hell happened to Mario Van Peebles?  Well, after he directed and starred in Posse (1993) we now know where he went—into the can.

Obviously, this is my humble opinion.  After Van Peebles costarred in Heartbreak Ridge (1986) with Eastwood, he then costarred with Wesley Snipes and others in New Jack City (1991) which was probably the best film Van Peebles has been in.  So a couple of years after New Jack City, a screw must have come loose when Van Peebles decided to direct and star in Posse.  As my regular visitors know, I have a very high threshold for bad movie pain but Posse took me to the limits.

Where to start.  Well, the story is presented as a flashback told by an unnamed Old Man with a Cuban prologue during the Spanish American War—one of the most cliché devices I think film makers use.  Jesse Lee (Mario Van Peebles) leads the US Army 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers who are fighting in the Spanish-American War in Cuba.  The 10th is barely holding its own and is under constant attack from enemy troops.  Jesse Lee runs back to the command post of the corrupt and racist Colonel Graham (Billy Zane) asking that the 10th Cavalry be allowed to pull back and regroup.  The crooked Colonel offers him a deal: in exchange for shooting a deserter he will permit the retreat.  Instead of killing the man in cold blood, Lee shoots a cigar out of his mouth.  After killing the deserter himself, the Colonel offers Jesse Lee’s command of the 10th to another prisoner called “Little J” (Stephen Baldwin) (the alternative is a firing squad). Graham then orders the 10th to fall back in order to begin another mission that will require them to wear civilian clothing, as opposed to their Cavalry uniforms, making them spies under the rules of war and deserters under the U.S. Army code of military justice.  The 10th is ordered to rob a Spanish gold shipment, which is really a setup to give the Colonel an excuse to execute the entire 10th Cavalry as deserters. 

The 10th get the gold and begin to run somewhere as a newly formed “Posse,” always just one step ahead of the evil Colonel.  After a number of chase scenes and close encounters, we discover that Jesse is really seeking revenge for the hanging of his father.  The run takes the Posse to some small towns where Jesse is known, respected and feared.  Eventually there is  about a 30 minute battle royale between the Posse and the white town folks and the evil Colonel.  Some of the Posse is killed (except of course for Jesse and his Indian squaw) and all of the white folks and soldiers either flee or die a loud death.  Then of course there is the climactic battle between Jesse and his arch nemesis the Colonel.  Well, I don’t think I need to tell you how that comes out. 

Finally, after the bloodshed, the gold and riding off into the sunset, we flash forward to the narrator who is now an old man telling the tale to some journalists and even has a book that Jesse’s father had given him somewhere along the way.

This move is bad on so many levels I hardly know where to start.  The film starts out looking good until the characters open their mouths, then it becomes clear that they are so flat, so comic book, so ‘much’, both the good and the bad guys are just over the top bad; I would try to describe them further but my fingers might turn to rust as if a pox were put on my computer.  Every stereotype imaginable manages to get a role in this one—right down to their names, like “Father Time” or “King David.”  Moreover, throughout the movie we are presented with an in-your-face history lesson of whitey’s oppression of everyone.  True or not: save it for the PBS documentaries. 

Now here is the worst part: the talent.  This movie had a formidable cast. Just look at this list:

Mario Van Peebles – as Jesse Lee

Stephen Baldwin – as Little J

Billy Zane – as Colonel Graham

Melvin Van Peebles – as Papa Joe

Big Daddy Kane – as Father Time

Blair Underwood – as Carver

Isaac Hayes – as Cable

Charles Lane – as Weezie

Robert Hooks – as King David

Richard Jordan – as Sheriff Bates

Pam Grier – as Phoebe

Aaron Neville – as Railroad Singer

Stephen J. Cannell (yes the TV & film writer who recently died of skin cancer)- as Jimmy Love

I mean come on, Pam Grier, Isaac Hayes, Blair Underwood (L.A. Law)!  Van Peebles managed to take a great cast, lots of money and a potential story and create something unbearable to watch.  Unfortunately, Posse is yet another classic example of what Hollywood considers its audiences to be—simple minded.  I don’t know, maybe they are, but that does not mean I have to like it.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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What the hell happened to Mario Van Peebles? Well in 1986 we know he co-starred with Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge.

For a while, it seemed like Mario Van Peebles was on every silver screen.  Then it seemed like he just disappeared and/or started making junk movies that probably went right to DVD.  Putting that to one side, we do know that in 1986 he co-starred in Heartbreak Ridge, a film produced by, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood.

 

Heartbreak Ridge is Dirty Harry in the military—specifically the U.S. Marines.  Eastwood’s attitude is, I am good enough at what I do allowing me to flout the establishment and do my job on my own terms.  We’ve seen this before in Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character–this time he is wearing a U.S. Marine uniform.

 

Eastwood plays the role of an aging but highly decorated Marine sergeant who has a penchant for boozing it up and urinating on police cars.  Tom Highway (Eastwood) has been in the Marine Corps since he was 16, fought in the bloody battle of Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean war, where he was awarded his medal of honor, and did three tours in “Nam.”  Despite his almost three decades in the military, he still has a problem with authority,  hitting officers who he considers “limp dicks,” and disobeying orders that he doesn’t think are appropriate.

 

In the last days before he reaches mandatory retirement, at his request, Highway is transferred back to a combat ready unit.  While he is in transit to his new post, enter Mario Van Peebles (“Stitch Jones”), a Marine who is trying to become the next Elvis.  While at a rest stop Stitch steals Highway’s money and bus ticket.  But Stitch is in for a real problem when Highway turns out to be his platoon leader.  Highway gets paid back and rips an earring out of Stitch’s ear presumably as interest.

 

Naturally Highway repeatedly clashes with his commander, Major Powers, and his flunky, Staff Sergeant Webster (Moses Gunn), over unorthodox training techniques (like firing an AK-47 at his men so they get used to the noise); Powers makes it clear that he views Highway’s platoon as only a training tool for his own elite outfit.  Major Powers goes so far as to script “ambushes” by making Highway’s Recon platoon nothing more than targets.  However, Highway is supported by an old comrade-in-arms, Sergeant Major Choozoo (Arlen Dean Snyder), and a college educated but inexperienced Lieutenant Ring (Boyd Gaines).  Once Highway’s disciplinary methods set in and the men learn that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor they gain respect for him and close ranks against Major Powers, their perceived enemy.

 

Then the unit gets the call to participate in the 1983 invasion of Grenada.  Though in reality a giant screw up by the Unites States, Highway et al are competent and even creative soldiers who achieve their mission objectives quite well.  Two scenes are lifted from the real invasion of Grenada; they are the scenes where Highway orders Stitch Jones to use a bulldozer to provide cover so they can advance on and destroy an enemy machine gun nest.  When Highway and his men are trapped in a building by enemy forces without any means of communication, they use a telephone to make a long distance call to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in order to call in air support using a credit card supplied by Stitch Jones.  No joke, the invasion was so screwed up that trapped units had to use a credit card to place a long distance call.

Needless to say when the troops come back home, they are met with cheering crowds—a first for Highway.

 

What is really interesting about this movie is not the movie, but the events that surrounded and inspired the film.  There was a battle for Heartbreak Ridge fought between September 13 and October 15, 1951. The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge was one of several major engagements in an area known as “The Punchbowl.”  The battle took place in the hills of North Korea and both sides suffered high casualties: over 3,700 American and French soldiers and an estimated 25,000 North Korean and Chinese.

 

Originally Eastwood pitched the movie to the U.S. Army, which refused to participate, due to Highway being portrayed as a hard drinker, divorced from his wife, and using unapproved motivational methods to his troops, and obscene dialogue.  However, Eastwood went to the Marine Corps, which allowed much of the filming to be done at Camp Pendleton.  There are some differences though; the Recon Marines highway commands are on a par with Army Rangers or Special Forces.  The military also stated it would be entirely implausible for an elite Marine Recon unit to be populated with slackers and misfits as portrayed in the film.

 

Like I said in the beginning, this film is Dirty Harry enlists in the Marines.  But hey if you are a Dirty Harry fan you’ll be a fan of Heartbreak Ridge.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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