Brewster’s Millions -1985-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 97 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Watched on DVD)

Aw, the first straight-up comedy in the Hillmography is a bummer. Walter tries (or does he?) to channel his inner Blake Edwards, and the end result just sorta sputters.

How does this sort of thing happen? You got Pryor and Candy, two of the greatest American comedy legends in the last half-century. You’re working with time-tested source material and an adaptation by a writing team who came fresh from the success of Trading Places. Moreover, you have Jerry Orbach in a supporting role. As William Hurt said in A History of Violence, “How do you fuck that up?

From the lack of people getting punched in the face, I can only conclude that Hill had little to no interest in this project.  Tying the package together is a confused fable that attempts to teach a lesson of the emotional emptiness of possessing obscene wealth. Pryor’s character learns that money can’t buy happiness. The result? He’s rewarded with far more money than he received in the first place.

Of course, the biggest obscenity on display in Brewster’s Millions is the total squandering of Pryor and Candy. The duo gives it their all, but there simply isn’t much for them to do. No matter how talented the two of them are, they can’t squeeze comedy blood from a stone of a screenplay.

The film isn’t putrid, but it’s still a big disappointment. If you come across Brewster’s Millions on Comedy Central on a Saturday afternoon, maybe you’ll find a laugh or two in it.

I’m just kidding, of course. Office Space will be on in that time slot. I guarantee it.

– Lonette McKee’s character has a bangin’ haircut.

– Oh, come on, this is ANOTHER Hill/Cooder collaboration? I could understand it in the previous films, but Brewster’s Millions seems like the kinda a movie for which a mid-80s Hans Zimmer would compose the score.
Next up in the Hillmography: Crossroads.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-01- 30)

Streets of Fire -1984-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 93 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 Whoa, this movie totally sucker-punched me. I didn’t know anything about Streets of Fire going into it, but I certainly wans’t expecting a rockabilly Western with notes of Grease and The Phantom of the Paradise. While it may not be my favorite film thusfar in the Hillmography, it’s definitely the Most Totally Awesomest™.

 Leading man Michael Paré may actually be the movie’s weakest link. Hill clearly miscalculated the actor’s capacity for badassery (and wearing suspenders with a sleeveless shirt is hilarious, not intimidating). Luckily, he spends most of his time sharing the screen with one of a bucket o’ great co-start: Diane Lane, Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis, and a young (but still super-creeper) Willem Dafoe. Hell, even Lee Ving from FEAR shows up in a biker gang. What more do you want?

Oh, you want more? Well, in that case, you also get Bill Paxton, Robert Townsend and Elizabeth Daily (better known as Dottie from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure).

 Like The Warriors, Streets of Fire feels like a self-contained universe. The action takes place in a huge city that seems to be only four square blocks (not knocking it – I had a similar feeling when watching Eyes Wide Shut). And, of course, the musical numbers of this self-proclaimed “Rock & Roll Fable,” courtesy of Jim Steinman, are as catchy as you would hope and expect.  

 Next up in the Hillmography: Brewster’s Millions.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-01- 29)

48 Hrs. -1982-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 96 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 Walter Hill’s most influential film (it arguably triggered the “buddy cop” craze of the 80s) almost feels like an apology for Sothern Comfort. Gone are the drab colors, annoying characters and vague attempts at social commentary. 48 Hrs. brings back the brilliant neons of The Driver and The Warriors, two perfectly-cast leads with consistently clever dialogue, and seeks only to entertain the viewer.

A lot of the elements of the film have fallen into cliché over the last three decades and for good reason: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and 48 Hrs. deserves all the flattery it can get. I only wish Hollywood could churn out this kinda quality entertainment more often.

 Eddie Murphy is shockingly good, especially when we live in the age of A Thousand Words and Meet Dave. Listen up, kids: you may not know this, but there was once a time long ago when people thought Murphy was set to fill the enormous shoes of Richard Pryor. Watch Raw or Delirious if you want absolute proof, but Murphy also brings the same sort of presence to the screen as he did onstage.

 As for Nick Nolte – well, could listen to his gritty voice all day. I appreciate how he’s stopped by police almost everytime he pulls out a gun (why doesn’t that happen to plain-clothes cops in other movies?) and it’s nice to see he playing a lovably alcoholic character back when it was all in fun, and not a reminder of Nolte’s increasingly frequent run-ins with the law. I was thinking about linking to his mugshot, but there’s no way you haven’t seen it by now.

 I doubt that Another 48 Hrs. will be as good as its predecessor, but that’s a ways down the road. I’m cautiously optimistic, however.

 –      One minor complaint I have is the inclusion of steel drums in the score. It just really doesn’t fit the rest of the soundtrack or the tone of the film as a whole.

–      Actor David Patrick Kelly plays characters named Luther in both The Warriors and 48 Hrs. Are they the same guy? Maybe Luther escaped the wrath of the Riffs gang and fled to San Francisco.

–      The long take when Nolte arrives at the station after the first shoot-out is almost Altman-eqsue. Heckuva job, Walter.

 Next up in the Hillmography: Streets of Fire.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-01- 28)

Flirting with Disaster -1996-

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Directed by David O. Russell. 92 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

If you like your comedy neurotic and GenX-cellent, you’ll be in hog heaven. David O. Russell’s screenplay is fast, funny, and never seems like it’s trying too hard to be hip. Unlike Little Miss Sunshine (another on-the-road indie comedy whose characters felt like they were air-dropped into the same family moments prior), most of the characters in Flirting With Disaster are broken into couples. The chemistry between these characters is so real that it’s easy to believe that they’ve driven one another to such heights of zaniness over long periods of time.

The movie’s success is in no small part due to the fantastic casting (Brolin and Jenkins are hilarious, and Tomlin and Alda, of course, feel perfect together). Plus, it’s always good so see a movie where Ben Stiller plays a person, not just an extended sketch character.

(Watched and originally written during Summer 2010 when I was on a real movie bender)

Southern Comfort -1981-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 105 mins.

 Worth my time? No. (Watched on DVD)

 Walter Hill’s second collaboration with Keith Carradine is a little bit of Fear and Desire (Kubrick’s seldom-seen debut) and a whole lotta Deliverance. Sadly, it features neither the low-budget charm of the former nor the suspenseful genius of the latter. At five films deep into the Hillmography, Southern Comfort is definitely my least favorite of the bunch.

 The great roster of character actors that accompanies Carradine on this National Guard training exercise from Hell are largely put to waste. I was excited to see that the film starred veterans such Peter Coyote, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward, And T.K. Carter, but none of their characters are likeable or even marginally interesting. There are no believable humans onscreen, just numbskulls making stupid decisions (like, slasher film “Don’t-go-into-the-unlit-basement” stupid) and trying to out-badass one another with smack talk. As far as I can tell, Hill and his co-writers made the script by filling out a book of Military Mad Libs.

 Most of the film is a long slog through a swamp, literally and figuratively. This is an ugly movie – lots of greys upon greys and indistinguishable locations. Maybe this is an accurate depiction of the Louisiana bayou, but come on, Walter. You aren’t exactly a naturalistic filmmaker – liven this shit up, for Pete’s sake.

 The film does pick up with a tense sequence in the final act, partly because the action leaves the swamps and partly because most of the really annoying characters have died. Additionally, Ry Cooder returns with a score just as good as in The Long Riders. However, neither of these highlights are adequate rewards for sloshing through all this mediocrity.

 Next up in the Hillmography: 48 Hrs.

 

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-01- 27)

The Long Riders -1980-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 100 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 Also known as The Assassination of James Keach by the Coward Nicholas Guest. Walter Hill’s first Western isn’t a game-changer (The legend of Jesse James has been retold countless times prior and since), but the film sets itself apart by giving more screen time to the outlaws’ personal and family lives. Think The Wild Bunch meets Heat.

 After getting off to a slow start, the movies inner Hill kicks in with plenty of squibs and slow motion. Interestingly, the movie balances out its stylized violence with a more realistic portrayal of its aftermath. Most of the characters who are shot are later shown in the hospital, and those who die are shown in the morgue or funeral home, usually surrounded by grieving friends and family.

 The Long Riders is for genre fans (or Carradine/Keach/Quaid/Guest fans) only, but it’s a solid film. There’s really not much more to write on the matter. Next up in the Hillmography: Southern Comfort.

 – Shout-out to Ry Cooder for providing the score.

– I had no idea that Stacy Keach had a brother until I saw The Long Riders.

– Keith Carradine looks a lot like a young Klause Kinski in this movie.

– The David Carradine knife-fight was particularly epic.

– Four films into the Hillmography, and I have yet to encounter one positive, fleshed out woman. It’s enough to make Aaron Sorkin look like a feminist.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-01- 26)

Repulsion -1965-

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Directed by Roman Polanski. 105 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater)

 I was lucky enough to catch the new 35mm print of Repulsion playing at the Cinefamily for the next week, and I’m thrilled to report that it made my skin crawl just as much as it did when I first saw it years ago. My mind tends to occasionally wander during even excellent films, but Polanski’s English-language debut is so sharply made and packed with tension that it’s impossible to think of anything else.

 Catherine Deneuve is spellbinding as Carol, a girl whose mental condition decays until she becomes as monstrous as whoever hurt her in her past (someone in her family photo, I’d suspect, but that’s my interpretation). Polanski shows in Repulsion, just as he shows in Knife in the Water, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, Frantic, The Ghost Writer, etc., that he is a master of suspense. The man does Hitchcock better than Hitchcock as far as I’m concerned.

 I first noticed the excellent sound engineering in Polanski films when I heard the whey dripping from cheese cloths in Tess, and this ear for detail holds true in Repulsion. Whether Carol hears a ticking clock, a ringing bell, or flies circling a rabbit carcass, there is always a sound to feed her fear and raise her defenses. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety in the past (although not to the degree as the character portrayed), I can relate. There are few things scarier than the collapse of one’s own reality, and Repulsion may quite possibly be the greatest film ever made on the subject.

 – I certainly won’t call Catherine Deneuve next time I need a house-sitter, that’s for damn sure.

 

Polanski’s “Repulsion” (trailer) from Cinefamily on Vimeo.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-01-25)

The Warriors -1979-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 93 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

The third installment in the Hillmography is one of the director’s best-know works, probably just a few notches below 48 Hrs. When I first saw The Warriors around age 15 or so, I thought it was garbage. I don’t know if my taste in film has changed in the subsequent years, but I got a big kick out of it this time around. The fact that I watched it without editing and commercials certainly helped.

The Warriors is even more dated than The Driver. Unlike its predecessor, however, The Warriors doesn’t feel dated. Every aspect of this film is so stylized that the whole product transcends its real-world setting (New York City, 1979) and becomes a separate, timeless universe. Having a seemingly omniscient/omnipresent DJ narrating the story adds is a very nice touch, almost bordering on science-fiction. Personally, I think that the film is most enjoyable when I think of it as a prequel to John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. Try it!

Don’t go into The Warriors expecting airtight logic; there are plenty of holes. Who knows how a street gang wearing cumbersome, flowing robes became the predominant force in the city? How could “regular street-gang news reports” possibly a profitable format on FM radio? How long does it take for the Baseball Furies to apply their makeup?

The Warriors is essentially a comic book, and you should enjoy it as such. Unless you’re a relentless nitpicker (or if you’re one of those comic geeks who whined until DC caved and did Crisis on Infinite Earths), I’ll bet you can dig it.

– The film’s score (courtesy of Barry De Vorzon and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh) is awesome.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-01- 25)

The Driver -1978-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 91 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

My exploration of the Hillmography continues with the director’s sophomore caper. I should remind that reader that just because I write that a film was worth my time does not necessarily mean it was a “good movie.” While The Driver has some great chases and a few clever plot developments, it has more than its share of boring stretches and poor acting. To make matters worse, Bruce Dern (the only cast member making any serious effort to act) seems miscast as the rogue detective.

Still, I believe that there is virtue in knowing my roots as a film fan, and The Driver was worthwhile since its influence carries on to this day. The most obvious recent example would be (no surprise here) Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn. Both films feature actors named Ryan playing quiet, gun-adverse getaway drivers who acquire someone’s dirty money after a job-gone-sour. Ryan O’Neal was a great pick to play the Driver, since his complete inability to act fits the character’s stoic nature perfectly.

Unless you’re a hardcore fan of the genre or curious to see what influenced your fave Ry-Gos film, you can probably skip this one. Still, The Driver was a step up from Hard Times. Next up in the Hillmography: The Warriors.

– Come to think of it, Ryan O’Neal has a knack for using his lack of acting talent to great effect. Take Barry Lyndon for example: O’Neal’s performance is unconvincing at every turn, a perfect fit for the protagonist’s sociopathic lack of empathy.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-01- 24)

Woman in the Dunes -1964-

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Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. 148 mins.

***MINOR SPOILERS (albeit through the lens of my interpretation and relatively free of specific plot details. And it probably won’t make sense unless you’ve seen the film.)***

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

If Pitfall was a walk into the abyss, Woman in the Dunes is a permanent vacation. I don’t know which genre this film is conventionally described to belong – it defies clean categorization – but it comes closest to being a horror movie. It truly* scared the shit outta me. Here’s why:

(Note: The following italicized portion digs into my personal thoughts regarding issues such as rights, freedom, obligation, and oppression. I don’t mean to preach, but I must touch on them so that the reader understands why the ending frightened me when it may not frighten others so such a degree. If you don’t care why I had such a reaction to the ending, feel free to skip it.)

A fellow film fan (whom I deeply love and respect) informed me that once could interpret the film’s ending as upbeat. After all, the once-tormented protagonist finds contentment and a measure of newfound ingenuity. To me, this was one of the more frightening endings to any movie I’ve recently seen. The protagonist has been broken; once defiant in the face of oppression, he is now compliant, relishing in the little victories of self-sufficiency. He has been broken like a wild animal sold to the circus.

 Granted, one could argue that everyone (myself included) falls somewhere on the spectrum of institutional domestication, whether that institution be a relationship, a family, a job, a country, a religion, etc. The protagonist is more “free,” one could argue, because he is no longer dependent on his job, or the union to which he belonged, or the bills he had to pay. However, I don’t categorize all constraints to my actions as “oppression.”

 True, my weekly schedule has restrictions because I must commute to work. However, this restriction has not been unduly thrust upon me. I made a contract with an employer that we both view as mutually beneficial. Some may retort that I (or, more likely, someone in more dire conditions) am a “wage slave.” But to say that a job amounts to wage slavery implies that the employee in question has a right to receive x amount of income. On the flip-side of rights are obligations. If I have the right to receive x, someone else has an obligation to provide me with x. I fundamentally disagree that anyone has an obligation to provide me with a living. Their refusal to do so is not a violation of my rights and is, therefore, not oppressive. In a similar vein, I was born without wings, restricting the mobility that I would otherwise have. But am I being oppressed by lack of wings? No, because I have no fight to them. Again, constrained options does not always signify evidence of oppression.

 I also take issue with the claim that self-sufficiency (such as the kind the protagonist exhibits) demonstrates that someone is free from depending on others. I have heard this trope many times in my life, and I call bullshit on it. Self-sufficiency is not freedom – it is poverty.

 Think of all the items you use and consume in a given day. How many of them could you make by yourself? How would you even begin to build a single pencil? I wholeheartedly reject the premise that one must acknowledge his/her dependence on others and accompanying oppression, or else live life as a recluse or a hermit. The capacity for cooperation and interdependence is what makes humanity beautiful. The trick is to make sure that these relationships are increasingly voluntary and decreasingly coercive.

 Plus, the protagonist still seeks the praise of the villagers, so even his self-sufficiency if done for the sake of others. In my opinion, such a state of affairs is no different than the institutions from which he supposedly escapes.

The film is even more hauntingly beautiful than Pitfall. Extreme close-ups of sand glisten like precious stones, and the sliding of the dunes encroaches like some sort of alien slime. Collective action (the large quantities of tiny grains of sand in this case) adds up, that’s for damn sure. Woman in the Dunes also gets lotsa bonus points for making great use of its single, cramped setting without ever getting boring or feeling stagey.

–Teshigahara likes his bugs something fierce.

*Thankfully, not literally.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-01- 23)