Archive for the ‘Walter Hill’ Category

Southern Comfort (1981)

 

Walter Hill has a new movie coming out this week called BULLET TO THE HEAD.  I’m cautiously looking forward to it, since I am a fan of many of Walter Hill’s movies.  This new one can go any of a few different ways, but I’m on board for any movie that gives sizable roles to Sarah Shahi and Sung Kang.  (You’ll know those names better someday soon.)

Here’s what I had to say about 48 HRS.,  STREETS OF FIRE, and TRESPASS.  And as of today, for Daily Grindhouse, I have had some words about SOUTHERN COMFORT:

 

>>>READ IT HERE!!!<<<

 

And I’m always reachable here:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

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And we’re back!  Ready for round two.  Inspired again by my friend-in-movies at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, I’m re-presenting and reshuffling my top fifty movies of all time.  “Reshuffling” sounds a little more extreme than what I’ve done here — most of the titles remain the same, and the order isn’t much different.  But there’s a fair amount of new blood, and I’ve updated the links to any movies I’ve written about at length (those are bolded in red.) 

This list is absolutely subject to change, so keep watching this space, but while you’re at it, don’t forget to keep watching the skies.

1. THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY (1966).

2. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984).

3. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978).

4.  ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968).

5.  UNFORGIVEN (1992).

6.  KING KONG (1933).

7.  PREDATOR (1987).

8.  MANHUNTER (1986).

9.  BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986).

10.  MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976).

11.  John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

12.  HEAT (1995).

13.  FREAKS (1932).

14. JAWS (1975).

15.  Berry Gordy’s THE LAST DRAGON (1985).

16.  THE WILD BUNCH (1969).

17.  SHAFT (1971).

18.  BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984).

19.  THE BIG GUNDOWN (1966).

20.  SEA OF LOVE (1989).

21. RAISING ARIZONA (1987).

22.  EVIL DEAD 2 (1987).

23.  OUT OF SIGHT (1998).

24.  THE INSIDER (1999).

25.  ALLIGATOR (1980).

26.  COLLATERAL (2004).

27.  THE GREAT SILENCE (1968).

28.  AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).

29.  MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946).

30.  CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954).

31. PRIME CUT (1972).

32. WATERMELON MAN (1970).

33.  GROSSE POINTE BLANK (1997).

34.  25th HOUR (2002).

35.  COFFY (1973).

36. QUICK CHANGE (1990).

37.  MAGNOLIA (1999).

38.  HANNIE CAULDER (1971).

39. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981).

40.  48 HRS. (1982).

41.  GOODFELLAS (1990).

42.  SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980).

43.  PURPLE RAIN (1984).

44.  THE UNHOLY THREE (1925).

45.  TRUE GRIT (2010).

46.  THE PROFESSIONALS (1966).

47.  VIOLENT CITY aka THE FAMILY (1973).

48.  THE HIT (1984).

49.  EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE (1973).

50.  ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011).

50 1/2.  The five-minute skeleton swordfight in JASON & THE ARGONAUTS (1963).

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And that’s that…. for now.

For a little bit more all the time, find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

At the last minute, I hopped on this limited-time-only sale from the great Warner Archive service, which makes older movies available to order.  It’s a great, fun way to catch up on (or discover) titles which fall outside of the quote-unquote canon.  I’ve got a growing stack of Warner Archive titles, and that continues today.

As an excuse to post some beautiful old-fashioned movie poster art, I’ll share the four titles I ordered today, and include the brief descriptions of the movies, which should make it immediately clear why I had to have them in my library.

 

FLAREUP (1969)

Raquel Welch stars as an exotic dancer stalked from Las Vegas to Los Angeles by the psychopathic ex-husband (Luke Askew) of her friend, who blames her for the break-up of their marriage.

HICKEY & BOGGS (1972)

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp (“I Spy”) are united again as private eyes in this Walter Hill-scripted “film noir.” Searching for a missing girl, they find themselves involved with vicious criminals and precipitating a string of deaths.

 

 

THE STONE KILLER (1973)

A new breed of anti-hero appeared in 1970s cinema. Obsession, violence and instability characterized these protagonists, regardless of what side of the law they were on. “Stone Killer” is underworld argot for these particularly cold-blooded and ruthless characters and New York detective Torrey (Charles Bronson) is just such a man.

 

 

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

In this fast-paced adventure, an embittered Vietnam veteran (Kris Kristofferson) is hired by the residents of a small California town, who are weary of the disruption caused by unruly oil workers. The vet brings in other workers who do the job, then take over the town themselves…
 
 

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You’ll hear about these movies from me again, somewhere down the line.  Count on it.

In the meanwhile: @jonnyabomb

Trespass is a vastly-underrated, hugely-watchable flick from the great Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs., Streets Of Fire), with a script by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (Used Cars, Back To The Future).  It’s a loose remake of The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre — in this case the greedy search for gold involves two opportunistic firefighters who venture into an abandoned building in search of treasure, witness a gang hit, and are stalked relentlessly by the gang for the rest of the movie.

I’m going to try a little experiment, since I fired off a volley on Twitter as I was watching this movie.  I’m going to cluster all those Tweets together, with illustrations, and see if the “list of thoughts” format is as interesting as the way I usually write about movies.  (It’s all relative.)  My gut tells me this is a lazier way to do it, but you never know, maybe some people will find it more readable than usual.  Here goes:

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Now watching Trespass, starring Bills Paxton & Sadler, and Ices T & Cube. It’s a two-Bill, two-Ice kinda picture.

Bill.

Bill.

Ice.

Ice.

First thing you see in Trespass are the words: “East St. Louis, ILL”. I’m in the right movie.  (Ill.)

A man catches on fire and burns away in the first couple minutes of Trespass. I’m in the right movie.

Throughout Trespass, Bill Paxton and Ice-T are both sporting the same mullet. I’m in the right movie.

 

Trespass is a great showcase for veteran character actor Bill Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption).  If you don’t know Bill Sadler by name, you definitely know his face. He’s basically a terrific blend of Willem Dafoe and Gary Busey.

  

 

A reference to Geraldo Rivera illustrates how that dude has been a punchline for at least twenty years.  Nice longevity, dickhead.

Argyle from Die Hard is sixth billed in this movie.  Victory!

Fifth billed is Art Evans, who I recognized but couldn’t identify. Upon an IMDb search, I discovered he was also in a Die Hard movie. #2. Die Harder. With Bill Sadler!

If I could summarize the fashion in this movie, it’d be as the halfway point between Ready For The World and “Ready To Die.”

Cube’s character is named Savon, which explains where the pharmacy chain got its name. #TRESPASS

Trespass features the great Tommy “Tiny” Lister (Friday), and also Byron Minns from Black Dynamite.

Fun fact about Trespass, via #IMDb: “There are no women whatsoever in this movie.”

Only “problem” with this movie is that I’m rooting against it’s “heroes”, Sadler (playing a dick) and Paxton (playing a punk).  It’s much easier to root for the Ices.

Let’s face it: I’m always, always going to root for the guys who listen to Public Enemy over the guys who don’t.

Okay, I’m signing off.  This is a Walter Hill movie and as such it warrants my full attention.  More in daylight, maybe. #TRESPASS

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

48 Hrs. is the midnight movie this weekend at IFC Center in New York City.  This movie is important for what it represents in the continuum of American action movies, and surprising as a viewing experience if that first point is all you know about it. Directed by essential action auteur Walter Hill and starring Nick Nolte, 48 Hrs. is most famous for introducing film audiences to the comedic A-bomb that was Eddie Murphy, and as a result revolutionizing the politics of action-comedies.

 

 

 

There were buddy-comedies before 48 Hrs. (for example: Freebie And The Bean), and there were black & white crime-fighting duos before 48 Hrs. (for example: the Hill-scripted Hickey & Boggs), but the violent electricity generated by Nolte and Murphy in 48 Hrs. is what made the genre an American institution.  It’s impossible to imagine now, but in the years before 48 Hrs., Nick Nolte was a leading man, a pretty-boy, reportedly considered for the role of Superman, and Eddie Murphy was absolutely no one.  What you have in this movie is Nolte, cresting forty and heading towards the grizzled character-actor persona that he’s occupied ever since, and Murphy, barely out of his teens, furious, with everything in the world to prove and ready and willing to conquer.  The blond, blue-eyed, middle-American shitkicker and the quick-talking black kid from Brooklyn — the conflict is coded directly into the casting.

 

 

Nolte’s Jack Cates is an embattled detective who is chasing down a pair of cop-killers (James Remar and Sonny Landham).  Needing a lead, he goes to see an imprisoned colleague of one of the criminals, Murphy’s Reggie Hammond.  Jack borrows Reggie away from the penal system for the titular amount of time, and the search begins.  What’s amazing about this plot, and what everyone who hasn’t seen the movie in some time seems to forget, is that this isn’t a comedy plot.  48 Hrs. isn’t a comedy, hardly at all.  It’s a prime-era Walter Hill movie.  It’s a low-down, gritty, ruthless action movie.  The supporting cast includes awesome and fearsome career tough guys, including James Remar (The Warriors), David Patrick Kelly (also The Warriors), Brion James (Blade Runner), Sonny Landham (Predator), and Jonathan Banks (Beverly Hills Cop, more recently Breaking Bad).  Make no mistake, 48 Hrs. is an action movie before and after anything else.  It just happens to feature Eddie Murphy.

 

 

Eddie Murphy was — and still is, somewhere within him — one of the most incendiary comic talents this country has ever seen.  It’s little coincidence that he did such a killer James Brown impression, because he really is the James Brown of comedy.  Just a thorough, unforgettable, timeless talent, and a peerless entertainer right out of the gate.  I mean, I think Eddie only recently turned fifty.  It’s insane to contemplate how young he was when he tore right into the role of Reggie Hammond, singing “Roxanne” by The Police in a jail cell in a hilarious falsetto — one of the more indelible cinematic debuts I could ever name.  Eddie’s every scene lifts the movie into vivid comedy, just by proximity to the supernova of his talent.  In hindsight, that’s why 48 Hrs. is remembered as more of a comedy than it actually is in practice.  Eddie is an absolute firecracker in this movie, completely unintimidated by Nolte’s lurching and barking, giving as good as he gets.  And neither of these guys pulled a single punch — they portrayed two guys who HATE each other.  The dialogue between Jack and Reggie is as vicious as it is funny, and usually more of the former than the latter.  And to this day, their speech is uncompromisingly uncomfortable.  Among plenty of other awful epithets, Jack calls Reggie “nigger”.  To my ear, that’s not enjoyable banter, but it is scarily honest.

 

 

 

That was probably one of Eddie Murphy’s most significant artistic contributions:  As the first comedic superstar of the hip-hop age, he scorched the earth, loudly and with style, and boldly went after the racism that still existed then (and still does today, although just a little bit less as a result of the accomplishments of himself and others).  In 48 Hrs., Eddie Murphy gets the blond, blue-eyed action hero to shout that awful, awful word  — but somehow that’s a weird kind of progress.  Okay, we all heard it, now we know what’s under the blond, blue-eyed surface.  Now it’s out in the open.  Now we can deal with it.  If we don’t acknowledge the sick American shit under the polite veneers, there’ll be no solving it.  Meanwhile, if you’re a little kid watching Eddie in movies, you’re not thinking about any of this specifically.  If you’re a little kid, you just fucking love him.  I know growing up I personally never wanted to be Captain Kirk or Captain America or Luke Skywalker or Han Solo — I wanted to be Axel Foley.  Eddie Murphy brought this rare energy and charismatic anarchy to movies that for all its cultural significance, was also just plain cool.  He was Bugs Bunny come to life.

 

48 HRS.

 

With all that charm, there’s no way that Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond wouldn’t ultimately come to an understanding, a partnership even.  And there’s no way that his performance in 48 Hrs. wouldn’t have made Eddie Murphy a star.

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

Streets Of Fire is a deeply, profoundly, compellingly strange movie. It’s an action movie. It’s a musical. It’s both at the same time. It’s fun to try to describe this movie:  Is it Blade Runner meets West Side Story? Is it a Broadway-fied spin on the early Bruce Springsteen catalogue?  Is it The Warriors welded to a Meat Loaf album?  (Actually, it’s almost exactly that.)

Streets Of Fire takes place in a weird future-past: A doo-wop group features prominently, the bad guys are greasers, and almost everyone drives ’50s-style dragsters, but much of the movie plays in a more contemporary style.   The story plays like a classic Hollywood teen love story, but Michael Paré’s character Tom Cody seems to have walked in from a different movie, with his Once Upon A Time In The West duster and his arsenal of weapons, just one of which being the shotgun you see on the poster up there.  Cody is in love with rock star Ellen Aim (Diane Lane, lips-sync-ing her heart out and completely crushworthy in an early role), who has been kidnapped by an evil biker gang, led by Willem Dafoe in just one of his many creepily awesome bad-guy roles from the 1980s.

To add several more layers of tone to this already schizophrenic movie, the eternally-undervalued Rick Moranis plays Ellen Aim’s manager, Billy Fish, a fast-talking stock archetype of a rival who competes with Cody for the girl.  Fans of his performance in Frank Oz’s version of Little Shop Of Horrors know that Moranis is the right guy for an offbeat movie like this one.  He’s obnoxious and funny and really a welcome presence — it’s a shame he retired so early.

Streets Of Fire was directed by action auteur Walter Hill (48 Hours, The Warriors, The Long Riders, The Driver, Southern Comfort, etc.).  Basically, one of the few ways you can get me to willingly watch a musical is to tell me that it was directed by Walter Hill.  The title, if you know your Darkness On The Edge Of Town, comes from a Springsteen song, and all the fast cars and pretty girls certainly suggest a Springsteen spirit, but the music is actually a hodge-podge of contributions from regular Hill composer Ry Cooder,  Meat Loaf composer Jim Steinman, and pop songs such as “I Can Dream About You” by Dan Hartman.  The music is one of several reasons why I can’t tell you if this movie is meant to take place in the future or the past, but it’s also why this movie has such a unique energy.

I can’t argue for the place of Streets Of Fire in the pantheon of movie musicals, because I’m just not well-versed enough.  But I can tell you that if you’re a fan of esoteric and adventurous cinema, it’s definitely one you’ll want to give a try, at least once.  Along with The Blues Brothers, Purple Rain, Popeye, and The Muppet Movie, Streets Of Fire is one of the more excellently unexpected choices playing at the Hollywood Musicals series at Anthology Film Archives.  It’s certainly one you’ll want to see with a crowd.

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This one took a little extra time to percolate because I took not one but two sidebars to talk about two movies that are significantly better than this one.  The second one of those happens to be my favorite movie of all time, but I think I managed to catch myself before this turned into an epic essay about epic awesomeness.

Anyway, let’s see how this worked out:

Faster is the first time I’ve seen a movie attempt to become a badass action-movie classic by opening with a close-up of a man’s nipples.  I know you’ve seen the trailers and the posters and you’re going in there expecting to see Dwayne Johnson’s famous arched-eyebrowed glare, or even his surging biceps, but no, the first thing you see on screen in Faster is, in fact, his nipples.  I’m not saying it’s the first movie ever to begin with such a shot, because I’m not willing to do that research.  But it is the first one I’ve seen, and the first of many weird choices in a movie that definitely isn’t the badass action-movie classic it hoped to be.

Faster purports to be a simple, bare-bones revenge thriller, a descendant from the realm once inhabited by giants such as Eastwood and Bronson and McQueen, where a man known only as Driver (Dwayne Johnson, the man formerly known as The Rock) exits prison to immediately search out revenge on the men who killed his bank-robber brother.  Along the way, he has to contend with a low-rent police detective (Billy Bob Thornton), introduced only as Cop, and a pretty-boy hit man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) introduced only as Killer, who is hired to stop Driver’s rampage.  I think if Faster was content to stay that simple, then it might have been a more creatively successful movie.  But real names and personal histories come into play, and then come the complicated emotional backstories, and soon afterwards there are attempts at sympathy for characters that don’t need to be so sympathetic, and all of a sudden the movie’s less of an old-school action throwback and more of a muddy mess.

Because I’m an optimist, I’m hoping that two good things will come out of the theatrical release of Faster:  The first is that I hope that it gets people to check out one of the movies that obviously inspired it originally – Walter Hill’s underrated 1978 crime flick The Driver (the movie he made right before The Warriors!), starring Ryan O’Neal (surprisingly badass) as The Driver, and Bruce Dern (predictably sinister) as The Detective.

The Driver has some of the greatest movie car chases you have probably never seen, done in real life with real cars, long before computer effects were ever a possibility.  It’s also about as terse and as direct as cinema gets.  It’s just this car thief trying to get his job done without letting this detective trip him up – of course there’s a pretty lady in the mix, but no pretty-boy hitman or orbit of peripheral characters to complicate things.  Anyway, whether or not you go to see Faster, track down The Driver.  You’ll probably like it a lot.

The second hope I have, probably a bit more likely, is that Faster does well enough at the box office to send Dwayne Johnson the message that he belongs in action movies, but not so well that he thinks this movie is as good as we can expect from him.

Faster’s director, George Tillman Jr., is a journeyman with some admirable reach (see my review of Notorious), but ultimately, when you’re trying to make an adrenaline-amassing revenge thriller, the guy who made Soul Food probably isn’t going to get into that end zone.  Faster has a bunch of good moments, but not nearly enough, and rather than sending an audience out of the theater with their blood pumping, any momentum the movie had going has completely derailed by the end.  Nice try – seriously – but still not anything anyone will remember half as fondly as I remember The Driver.

But back to Dwayne Johnson.  The fellow has all kinds of promise in this arena.  I once wrote a detailed thesis bemoaning the lack of modern-day action heroes, in which I considered some of the prospects at hand.  (My conclusions were dire.)  Though I wondered about his ability to play it straight with no winking, I think most action fans will agree with me that Johnson is one of our last best hopes.  He’s convincing as a person you’d prefer not to mess with, but unlike most muscle-monsters he can actually speak and convey emotion, and audiences clearly love him.  Generally he’s been working in shoddy kids’ movies, but Faster seemed to be a step in the right direction.  I was excited.

More encouraging, the fact that the Killer character was an avid practitioner of yoga and a dead ringer for Jake Gyllenhaal made me hope that Faster was going to be a commentary on this state of action-movie affairs.  I thought that by taking on this reedy, geeky pretty-boy, Dwayne Johnson was going to send a message to the legions of pretty-boys and nerds who have been claiming the majority of action-movie lead roles for such a long time now.  As it turns out, the Jake Gyllenhaal guy hardly has any interaction with Johnson’s character, aside from one lame shoot-out which, no joke, is interrupted by a little girl.  There’s actually no reason for this character to be in the movie, if you’ve seen it and you go back to think about it.  No offense to Oliver Jackson-Cohen (except to note that badass action heroes rarely have hyphenated surnames), but I didn’t go in to Faster to see him cavorting around in sports cars and implusive wedding scenes with Maggie Grace from Lost.  I came to see Dwayne Johnson knock his lights out, and I didn’t even get that.

The movie also makes the strange choice of having the Killer’s ringtone be Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (a dangerous choice with me, as it’s my favorite movie of all time and no movie should reference it lightly.  I worry that the movie is trying to set up the Driver/Cop/Killer axis of characters as an iconic trio to compete with that previous perennial of simple and pure ass-kickery.  Any modern-day movie is destined to fall short of such a comparison.  Why set yourself up to fail?  Here’s a little bit of Film School 101 and then I’m done:

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly still carries a mythic resonance because it doesn’t clutter itself with the kind of irrelevant side business that Faster chooses to shoulder.  Clint Eastwood’s character never nearly came to tears over his beloved brother (“Gary!”).  Lee Van Cleef’s character never struggled with an adversarial wife, or a comically chubby pre-adolescent son in a Little League outfit.  In fact, we never even learned those two guys’ names for sure.  The only backstory that The Good, The Bad And The Ugly feels [almost perversely] compelled to provide (and it is compelling) is Tuco’s.  And it’s fair to say that, again no offense intended, Oliver Jackson-Cohen is no Eli Wallach.

I could talk about The Good, The Bad And The Ugly all day, but none of us came here for that.  We came here to talk about Faster, and unfortunately I think I’ve said all there is to say about it.  Faster introduces some interesting thematic overtures about race and faith and addiction and forgiveness, all of which I’d like to see explored in a different movie, but they enter this one too late in the game to register.  This is not a movie that has the timelessness or the weight of some of the classics it explicitly references, and it’s not as breezy or as reckless as it would need to be to be trashy fun.  In the end, Faster limps towards the middle and just slumps down, waiting for the credits to roll.  But Dwayne Johnson?  Maybe, hopefully, we’ll see him in something better next time.  Somebody hook him up with a Neil Marshall or a Joe Carnahan or hell – long as I’m dreaming it – a Walter Hill.  It can’t be that hard to make this happen.