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Shotgun Blvd

jacksonindex.jpgAll films have outtakes. Some films never even get made, their footage is just left there to rot on the cutting room floor. What do you do when that happens? If you’re Scott Shaw and Donald G. Jackson, you just gather up all that footage from three disparate movies and roll it into one feature. That’s how we get the strange patchwork quilt that we call “Shotgun Blvd.”

“Shotgun Blvd.” takes the footage from two unfinished films; “Armageddon Blvd.”, “Naked Avenger” and mashes them up with Jackson and Shaw’s short film “Yin Yang Insane” featuring Robert Z’Dar. Shaw would later go on to fully edit “Naked Avenger”, featuring porn star Jill Kelly as well as fleshing out “Armageddon Blvd.” into a feature length film. But before any of that would happen, we got “Shotgun Blvd.”.It’s important to understand this. We’re watching an anthology. This is three separate films, three separate stories. The fact that we cut back and forth between them is largely to accommodate the runtime and to keep the music consistent. It wasn’t unusual for Jackson to keep switching back and forth between dual narratives in a film (Legend of the Lost Boyz does this constantly), but this is the epitome of that technique. With the lack of a wraparound container to link the stories, this can get confusing. As long as you keep in mind you’re watching three unrelated short films, you’ll be fine.

index3.jpgShotgun Boulevard begins with credits that list the usual suspects – Scott Shaw, Roberts Z’Dar, Conrad Brooks and Jill Kelly.  It’s interesting to note this film boasts a CD soundtrack and plugs it in the opening credits rather than the end ones. It makes sense though, since the soundtrack is almost a character itself here, tying the three narratives together.

The music pulses over the opening credits and opening scene. We’ve got Lorielle New (billed only as “The Model”), getting dressed in seductive underwear (could be a swimsuit, but that sheer camisole makes it look like lingerie) and then pulling out a small Walther pistol – the kind James Bond would carry.

She exits the bathroom and heads to a pool (It’s a familiar one, located in Kevin Eastman and Julie Strain’s backyard) that she dips her toes into before immersing herself completely, pistol and all. She swims over to the edge and creeps close to the wall, pistol at the ready until she comes upon a man sleeping in a chair.

Underneath that greasy long hair and dark hat pulled over his face, we can see it’s Roger Ellis. He grabbed the gun and tosses the model (Who it turns out is his wife) on his lap then turns, and firing at an assassin behind her. The dead gunman tumbles into the pool.

We have a slow fade into the lights of nighttime LA downtown. As we gear up for an atmosphere montage. We follow a hooker from a strip club as she walks on the Hollywood walk of fame, then a quick cut to a girl in a photo session against a blue screen.

We cut back to Roger Ellis, whose character of Jacob is having an ominous conversation with Conrad Brooks as Mr. Rinaldi (but not the same one from “Rock n’ Roll Cops” It’s just that in the Jacksonverse, all mafia dons are named Rinaldi). Brooks is doing his best godfather impression and threatening Jacob.

“You’ve worked for me and against me. I understand it’s all part of the game.”
“What we have now is king against king – in a stalemate.”
“I think it’s time we end the game”

We cut to an office hallway where a cartwheeling vampire attacks the model from the photo shoot. We then cut to a pretty girl in pigtails staggering across the bridge of broken dreams, then down stairs and an escalator into the waiting arms of Scott Shaw (I assumed she was on drugs or dazed from an attack, but what we’ll discover later on is that her name is “Rag Doll” and she thinks she’s a human marionette. There’s no explanation as to why, that’s just who she is). Shaw’s name in this incarnation is Jack B. Quick. He’s not the space Sherriff of the same name from the Guns of El Chupacabra though. Nor is he the violence happy street cop from “Rock n’ Roll Cops” (though there are similarities to both). He’s just you’re average toothpick chomping gumshoe in this film.

imagesSo far, we’ve pretty much been following the footage from “Armageddon Blvd”. Next, ee cut to a smarmy guy on a giant 90s car phone as he drives his jeep out to pick up Jill Kelly. This is where the “Naked Avenger” inserts start. It also stands out as the point where the background soundtrack cuts out. The aspect ratio changes ever so slightly as well, black lines appearing on both the left and right of the screen. The soundtrack starts back up as we get to the scene from Naked Avenger where Jill Kelly strips.

Back at Kevin Eastman’s Pool, Jack (Shaw) comes to visit Jacob, asking about the situation he needs taken care of. From off screen Jacobs adopted Cambodian daughter Tanila (played by bouncy blonde Sabrina Duncan) bounds into the scene. Tanila is all over The flabbergasted and clearly uncomfortable Jack B. Quick who still sees her as a kid.

“The last time I saw you, you were knee-high to a water buffalo!” he protests as she glomps onto him.

Jacob stares on disapprovingly, then whips out his gun and fires… another assassin falls in the pool right next to the previous one.

We cut to more footage of Kelly running through the woods, and then back to Jack and Jacob. Jack sits listening to Jacob, holding a shotgun and chewing on a toothpick.

Jacob admits, his problem is Rinaldi – and he needs Jack to take Rinaldi out. Jacob is willing to pay a top dollar and then tie up any loose ends.

“You take out Rinaldi and I’ll take out the rest of the situation.”

We cut to another beautiful overhead shot of LA at night, and then back into the hallway. Rinaldi is heading to his office while his security guard keeps an eye out. We cut back to Jacob, creeping up on his model wife in an attack that quickly shifts from violence into enthusiastic nookie and then ends inexplicably with a quick punch to the face.

We cut back to the hallway, where the security guard blocks Jack B. Quick from seeing Rinaldi. The scene has Jackson’s trademark where the corners are cut off. It looks like the lens is a little loose in this shot.

Jack confronts Rinaldi, trying to talk things out and find out what the problem is between Rinaldi and Jacob, but Rinaldi won’t relent.

“I think it’s too late for us.”

“And I guess it’s every man for himself,” Jack concludes.

index2.jpgWe are a full third of the way through the movie before Robert Z’Dar pulls up to the Texaco plaza, signaling the beginning of the Yin Yang Insane segments.  Is it wrong that the first thing I noticed inside the gas station is the comic book rack?

We switch to Jack, lying asleep on the couch and Jacob’s daughter creeping up on him, doing her best to get in Shaw’s pants. The encounter is interrupted by the son of the hammer on a gun being pulled into position, Jacob effectively cock-blocking Jack from taking his daughters virginity.

Back at the Texaco station Z’Dar is freaking out. He swears he is seeing someone who looks just like him, with a long coat and a gun. Daniel Jackson pops up at his car window and tells him he just needs a cup of coffee. Jackson obviously doesn’t believe Z’Dar’s story, but as soon as he leaves, the trench coat clad clone arrives. He walks straight up to the car and grins into the windshield. It may be the single creepiest scene in the entire film.

After an unrelated fight scene in a random office hallway, we’re back to clips from “Naked Avenger” and then cut to a desert road.

Nervous Z’Dar drives his Jeep out through the desert as he tries to convince himself that he is alone out here.

“There is no one out there”, he insists, panicked. “I’m flipping out, I’m flipping out! You look just like me, he WAS me! Only different, and he kept beckoning to me…”

We move on to the junkyard scene from “Naked Avenger”, the locale and time of day blending it surprisingly well with these shots from “Yin Yang Insane”.

Back at Jacobs house, The Model has a chat with Tanilia (her step daughter).

“Drop the little girl act, I know all about you and Jack!”

“What about Jack? Jack is cool! “

“What do you know about Jack? Jack kills people “

It May well be that The Model is merely jealous, as she makes a somewhat more successful attempt to get Jack to knock boots. It’s a fairly typical love scene for a Jackson film; awkward, fully clothed, and ridiculously unappealing.

While Jack is boning his bosses wife, Rinaldi meets with a hitman to plot Jack’s death. Out of nowhere, a psychic (who bears more than a small resemblance to Raven from Teen Titans), appears to help the hitman locate Jack. A fight ensues, with roundhouse kicks and gunshots. The hitman lies dead in his leather chaps and Jack B. Quick drags the psychic back with him to confront Rinaldi.

Next we find ourselves back at the junkyard in the middle of some more “Naked Avenger” footage as Jill Kelley carefully stalks through the maze of broken down machinery with the Saturday night special cocked and loaded in her hand. She shoots at the rapey guys as they harass one of the new captures. The gunshot serves as a hard cut back to Jacob’s house where he is trying to explain his life to his daughter.

While Jill Kelley engages in a gunfight at the junkyard (interestingly enough, it’s a better edited version than the one that was in the actual movie. The extra cuts, shifting back and forth between the other movies actually helps build tension), the daughter confronts Jack about whether not he actually kills people. Jack goes on an extended monologue about life, death, philosophy and guns… Lots of guns.

It’s back to Roberts Z’Dar then, driving home only to discover is evil twin waiting there for him. The calm, satisfied look on the twin is a beautiful contrast to the frantic manic paranoia Z’Dar displays. It’s beautiful and eerie and Z’Dar himself is the best prop anyone could ask for.

“You! Who are you? Talk to me!” He screams as he pursues his evil twin, a pistol tightly clenched in one hand.

Back in “Armageddon Blvd”, we find ourself high u on the roof of a Hollywood building. Jacobs wife sneaks up on Jack B. Quick, levels a gun and tells him it’s time for him to die. Jack throws her off the roof as Z’Dar’s evil twin just laughs. It’s a horrible whiny sound, almost like the scream of Donald Sutherland at the end of the invasion of the body snatchers remake.

The cuts are coming quicker now, shifting between “Armageddon Blvd”, “Yin Yang Insane”, and “Naked Avenger”.

A hooker is delivered to Conrad Brooks who tells her he has a very special job for her. She listens, skeptical but open. His Godfather impression convinces her.

“You need someone smart! Someone who can use their brain? I’m your lady!” she exclaims in a Harley Quinn accent.  Rinaldi is pleased and sends her off to set up Jack. She starts to have second thoughts though, when she discovers Rinaldi is attempting to start a gang war on the streets. Back in his lair, Rinaldi terrorizes a girl whose face is covered in bandages.

Jacob comes and finds Jack. They stare down each other, guns drawn in a stand-off. It’s unclear whether Jacob is after Jack for killing his wife or deflowering his daughter, but either way he is determined.

“You’ve only got one bullet in that gun,” he tells Jack.

“One bullet is all I need,” Jack responds and pulls the trigger.

Back at the stables, Z’Dar continues to stalk his evil twin. It’s beginning to take a toll though, as he continues to clutch his chest. The clone brandishes his gun with an evil grin that would terrify The Joker himself.

Z’Dar stumbles back into his jeep and finally succumbs to a heart attack.

As the “Naked Avenger” scenes reach a climax, Elsewhere Jack B. Quick climbs back onto the roof of the LA building only to discover Rinaldi holding the marionette girl hostage.

“Drop the gun!” Rinaldi demands…

Jack slowly sets his gun on the ground, then quickly draws a second pistol from his waistband to blow poor Conrad Brooks away. Jack helps marionette girl up as the naked avenger steals a Jeep and rolls away.

Of the three films represented, “Naked Avenger” comes off the worst. It’s a gimmicky concept to begin with and what little story it has gets stripped away in the context of this film stew. It actually fares much better when Shaw would edit it together for a solo release later in 2008. Both “Armageddon Blvd” and “Yin Yang Insane” benefit from the shorter runtime and quicker pace. “Armageddon Blvd” feels complete enough here that I don’t even feel the need to go and find the full version. That’s the trick with Jackson’s films of course, choosing the best version to watch (since there are frequently two or three edits of any Shaw collaborations). For that reason alone, this one is a high recommend. It’s a great way to dip your toe in the madness of Zen filmmaking and the film universe that Jackson created.