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The Hit (1984)
The Hit: brilliant and inpredictable
Willie Parker (Terence Stamp) has been preparing for death for ten years. After testifying against mobsters he left England, got a shelter in Spain and began waiting for the killers. He read books, thought about meaning of life and death and finally got more or less comfortable with the idea of his mortality. When killers finally arrive, he's almost happy, because waiting for something terrible is actually much worse than the thing itself. At first professional hitman Braddock (John Hurt) and his cocky apprentice Myron (Tim Roth) are confused by Parker's attitude to death. They've got orders to bring Parker to Paris, where the mobsters prepare his execution. Situation complicates as the police begins the search. Killers are forced to communicate with their victim. And the more they communicate (and even collaborate), the more strange and bizarre their relationship becomes. "The Hit" is one of the most unpredictable movies of the decade. Although we understand from the beginning that the outcome must be far from happy, the actual bitter and wry denouement shocks by its intensity and logical simplicity. If you're a killer, don't try to do anything good, because any attempt only increases the body count. The film is pregnant with terrible revelations and is especially intense in the scenes where nothing obvious happens. Set against the backdrop of arid, desert plains, "The Hit" is full of desperation, and yet offers the possibility of redemption to the characters and the our old tired society. Raw, animal striving for life can overcome everything. Ironically, woman becomes the personification of the will to live in this strictly masculine world. In his second feature Frears already shows terrific sense of atmosphere and expertly works with actors. Terence Stamp is absolutely credible in challenging part of a man who's not afraid of dying. He's already beyond human foibles; there is a shadow of death in his eyes and something ethereal in his face of fallen angel. John Hurt exudes quiet desperation "just the English way" and very soon we begin to perceive his character as victim too. As to Tim Roth, he's so fresh and innocent in his insolence that his character's hesitation between two older men's views seems pathetic and convincing. "The Hit" is now 15 years old, but since 1984 the film hadn't aged at all. It's double pleasure to watch it now, knowing that Tim Roth, whose character Myron tried to figure out doomed stoolie Parker, later became the most brilliant stoolie of "Reservoir Dogs", and Terence Stamp is today the Chancellor of the Universe. Hopefully Hurt's best movie is in the future.
The Keep (1983)
Today "The Keep" is true movie buff's paradise. A lot of pic's ideas were used later in more famous films and now "The Keep" looks like an encyclopedia of themes and ideas that were fully developed only in the 90-s. There will be many wows during watching the tape. Wow! - here are the magic stones, absolutely identical to the ones in "The Fifth Element". Wow! - here is a character with black eyes like the ones we saw in "Babylon-5", "The X-Files" and a myriad of clones! Here are inscriptions in the dead language, lots of smoke and other cryptic stuff. Here's mysterious "something" that obviously lives in a different dimension, and no-less -mysterious someone who looks human (at least he spends a night with a woman and she seems completely satisfied in the morning) - but he has green blood, his eyes occasionally emit lightnings and he can't be killed with three rounds of automatic weapons. And here's the story. During the Second World War German troops arrive in a little Romanian village somewhere in the Carpatian mountains where local peasants are guarding from strangers an unusual black keep. Of course, soldiers can't resist the temptation to pillage the keep because of silver crosses in the wall. They open the door to fourth dimension\parallel universe\whatever and the party begins. After collecting a number of mutilated and\or burnt bodies bad German Gabriel Byrne and good German Jurgen Prochnow bring dying Jewish professor Ian MacKellen (along with his ravishing daughter Alberta Watson) to help them. And at the same time a stranger with stoic Scott Glenn's face carries from Greece to Romania a box containing a long metallic stick and warns that nobody should touch it. The movie exists in its own universe, and to accept it you must not get irritated if you find the peasants too tidy, neatly dressed and colourful to be real and miss Watson - too well-groomed for a Jewish refugee. This is not important; it's her glance in the final freeze-frame that is important. What are the forces awaken in the keep? Are they the incarnation of eternal evil or "just" invaders from another galaxy? The question remains open while many cultural and metaphysical layers of the movie (from "Faust" and Grimm tales to "Star Wars" and trashy cartoons) visibly erode the storyline - especially at the end. "The Keep" is flawed but extremely interesting attempt to find new sub-genre and new ambience - brave and desperate search of the pattern Chris Carter eventually found ten years later. Still, Michael Mann's first and last foray into horror\sci-fi excels in dazzling visuals and beautiful pulsing music score, while the list of actors reads like mini-"Who is Who in the Cinema" and they somehow manage to look more or less decently in thankless roles-personifications of evil, guilt, wisdom, innocence and stoicism. p.s. Two years after completing this movie Scott Glenn had told (at Deauville film fest) that he liked to write a biography of every character he plays. I wonder what's his take of Glacken's past.
Forest fire may be very cinematic disaster. Especially coupled with diabolically smart prison break by one of the most ruthless and ingenious criminals in history. Add into the mix fearless smoke-jumper, his wise mentor, who wants to retire, and beautiful woman-ornithologist, caught in the fire; spice it up with hidden loot, use majestic mountain nature as a background, and the movie can't fail, can it?
It can. "Firestorm" is a complete disaster - both artistic and commercial. Film's short running time indicates that it had been considerably trimmed during editing. Maybe pic's makers accidentally cut out the most essential sequences? Because nothing makes sense in the final version. All the characters take illogical decisions to move the plot forward; plot twists are sketched out but never fully developped; and this movie can win competition in "density of stupid lines on a square meter of film" category. While "Firestorm" boasts fine supporting cast, the main hero is irrevocably dumb and unsympathetic. Why on hell studio took Howie Long as leading man in the film, where Scott Glenn, Susy Amis and William Forsythe all play second fiddle, is not quite clear, but hopefully nobody will make the same mistake twice. Cinematographer-turned-director Dean Semler courageously fights silly script and mr. Long who looks like parody on superhero. Other thesps try to help the director in his hopeless task and they almost succeed: Forsythe is suitably creepy as the main baddie, Amis is suitably spunky and Glenn is suitably valiant and virile. But they can't save the day, because only super-genius of a director could overcome overall stupidity of the project; and Semler is no Jan De Bont.
Edie & Pen (1996)
Edie and Pen are two women who came to Reno to divorce their husbands. Young and cheerful Edie had spent only two weeks with a spouse who left her five years ago; more mature and high-strung Penelope (a.k.a. Pen) had been married for more than nine years. Five minutes of formalities - and both women are free. Free to do what? Edie has "plan B" - her fiancee is waiting, tomorrow she's going to marry him in Acapulco. And Pen... she has nothing but freedom now - freedom to get drunk in bars, take pills and wake up in bed with local dude who seems even more miserable than herself. Yet life is beautiful and full of surprises - both women will appreciate the slyness of fate in final sequences. "Edie and Pen" is "The First Wives' Club" from the feminine point of view. Unlike "Club", this movie boasts neither flashy wittisisms courtesy of Paul Rudnick nor gorgeous female movie stars in their early fifties who look their late twenties. Yet the pic's amusing, sad, funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes comedic (Pen's first "big night" with a man turns out to be such a global disaster!) and irresistibly charming. "Edie and Pen" is a very rare exhibit of moviemaking where laughter is intertwined with tears as romantic hopes are constantly crashed by life's absurdity. Because everything in this world is deceptive. The man you once married for pity turns out to be cold liar. Good-natured guys who invited you for a ride, can leave you alone on desert freeway at the night. A man who looks like weathered cowboy turns out to be pharmacist. And the girl who wants to be your friend... well, enough spoilers! All it should be said here - that pic's scribe Victoria Tennant wrote clever and memorable tale with twisted bittersweet ending. Tennant's script and Matthew Irmas' even direction allow all the actors to show their best. There are many nice cameos in the movie - including Louise Fletcher as judge in court, Beverly D'Angelo as barmaid and Stuart Wilson as Pen's ex-husband who gets asleep every time he hears the word "sex". Jennifer Tilly is very touching as silly, funny and optimistic Edie. Scott Glenn finds a rare opportunity to show his gift for physical and verbal comedy as Harry, ageing seducer who had slept with all women in Reno and now has to pay for his past sins. Glenn's role in "Edie and Pen" shows that his acting range is much wider than his traditional action guy image - his irresponsible and restless Harry stirs up laughter, pity, anger and, at the end, deep sympathy. But, of course, movie belongs to Stockard Channing who proves here that her character in "The First Wives' Club" had an option - not extremely romantic, but... Maybe Pen's new boyfriend will prove to be capable of loving a woman almost as much as he loves his dog.
The Flight of the Dove (1994)
She's a NSA spy on the run. He's an innocent bystander with requisite guilt complex. They meet in a bar, spend a (very hot) night together and fall in love. Next day bad boys try to eliminate them, but they outsmart bad boys and begin - you've guessed it! - a happy new life. No problem imagining such a movie as low-budget camp comedy with Shannon Dougherty and Matthew Perry. Or as brainless summer actioner with Schwarzenegger and Neve Campbell\Jennifer Love Hewitt\etc. It's much harder imagining (let alone making) it with Theresa Russell and Scott Glenn - actors, whose personalities automatically suggest more twisted, complex and ambivalent story. A movie with such blatantly unprobable premise needs either Bruchheimer scope or Tarantino touch. Steve Railsback has neither. Former actor turned director, Railback obviously doesn't know how to act behind the camera and simply lets it go as it goes. Good actors caught in bad movie try to rise above the mediocrity but it's almost impossible. They still make some attempts when their heroes stop running, shooting or f***ing and begin talking. No, their lines are as banal as the action, but actors' faces sometimes display emotions unheard-of in the cartoon universe of the movie. When she's got a chance, Russell looks almost convincing in her character's transformations from vulgar broad to desperate woman, but she's still light years away from the image of tough agent. Glenn's situation is especially hard; in movie's clumsy erotic scenes he looks like he's dying of shame. But Glenn's inner charisma greatly helps him in his interactions with Russell when he isn't forced to do anything but exist onscreen. Helas, such moments are very rare and actors are wasted. Railsback, who once was an actor in classic "The Stunt Man", should know that a movie like "The Flight of the Dove" could work only if it was directed by someone like megalomaniac Eli Cross, his evil genius in that old masterpiece.
The Verne Miller Story (1987)
It's really funny - watching "Verne Miller" today, after the triumph of "The Miller's Crossing". Where Coen brothers weave a brilliantly tricky and slick tale of deceit and treachery, director Rod Hewitt chooses more simple and straightforward approach to a story of real gangster Verne Miller who once has been as famous as Al Capone. And the man was worth it. Verne Miller began his criminal career during "the roaring twenties" and had been killed in 1933 (his killers were never found). His name was on the front pages for almost a decade and yet he remained a mystery. He liked to show off: once he forced his victim to inform the newspapers about his own death (the man was executed by Miller a few moments later with a receiver in his hand - thus providing reporters with the first "live" murder coverage in history). As irresistibly sexy as imaginatively cruel, this man was a true Don Juan: women loved Miller and stayed loyal to him not only in his days of glory but even when he became desperate and ill animal, hunted by police, FBI and criminals. Larger than life and bigger than his time, Verne Miller was also a gentleman: he couldn't fail a friend as well as he couldn't miss a shot - that's why he didn't survive in the world of organized crime. Film's stylized, half-documentary style (probably imposed by the budget restraints) paradoxically clicks with Miller's outrageous story (a little more of "attitude" - and it would become utterly camp). Hewitt's direction sometimes is too reserved and detached, but he manages to avoid both romantization and cheap moralism while Scott Glenn gives a winning performance as Vern Miller - he plays him as true crime artist, vulgar and pathetic poet of adrenalin rush. Of course, the material itself is very rewarding, but it's Glenn's strong presence that makes Miller's flights of fancy quite convincing - for example, once he fools the enemy and his bodyguards by pretending a mannequin with a painted face. While other actors occasionally slip into self-parody, Glenn shines in both action and romance, exuding inner force and raw sexuality. Looking eerily Bogartian with his rugged face and sardonic grin, Glenn is the main reason to watch this movie, as repulsively charismatic as its protagonist. Verne Miller, sporting garish red ties and old-fashioned code of honour, seems an ironic monument to American individualism, crashed by corporative society - a lonely, tragic figure in a bleak, desolate landscape. It's a pity Vern Miller hadn't been born fifty years earlier. It's a pity Scott Glenn didn't end up in "The Miller's Crossing".
Slaughter of the Innocents (1993)
Do you like mysteries? Me too. Here is a big mystery: why Scott Glenn, who worked with Demmi (thrice), Altman (twice) as well as Kaufman, Figgis, Howard, Frankenheimer, Towne and Coppola, agreed to play in such bull****?! In "Slaughter of the Innocents" (directed by James Glickenhaus) Glenn plays an FBI agent who tracks down a ritual killer. The only person who can help him to solve the case is his little son. As the boy is ten times smarter than all the FBI, he alone can create a special multi-search program on his personal computer and find an evil maniac who builds a new Noah's Ark. By the way, young wunderkind is played by some Jesse Cameron-Glickenhaus - have you got it? Naturally, he is cute and fearless. He plays baseball, rides the motorcycle and easily sneaks through the airport controls as he travels by plane to the place of crime. He even chats with his father about pubic hairs in the victim's mouth. Maybe the script looked like a parody on "The Silence of the Lambs" and Glenn decided to dilute his macho image with a little humour? Maybe Glickenhaus decided to turn his opus to dramatic course when he saw that it doesn't work as comedy? Still a mystery.
Man on Fire (1987)
French auteur Elie Chouraqui often demonstrates his interest in dissecting film structure and conventions. Unlike "Menteurs" where Chouraqui constructs a (French) movie within a (French) movie, his earlier work "Man on Fire" deftly collides elements of European and Hollywood moviemaking by putting American actors inside the universe of Italian political thriller and making them look utterly un-American....A man is dying in some Italian military hospital. We see a body in a bag, though man's face remains obscure."That's how I died", - begins the narration, thus creating creepy and weird ambience for this otherwise formulaic story. Bodyguard Chris (Scott Glenn) is hired to protect Sam (Jade Malle), 12-year old daughter of American businessman (Jonathan Pryce). Chris doesnt't want to bond with Sam, but he can't resist her charms and reluctantly becomes her friend and mentor. These scenes are filmed with tact and delicacy; even some"Lolita-ish" touches can't spoil them. Chris' past remains a mystery, but when terrorists kidnap Sam, he will stop at nothing to save her. The direction is elegant (if a bit slow), but movie's biggest assets are its two leads: Jade Malle with her sincerity and freshness and Scott Glenn - one of the most underrated American actors. Former Marine, Glenn brings authenticity to a part where another thesp would look downright embarrassing. The bottom-line is: whose who seeks entertainment will not be disappointed in case they don't expect an "event" movie with a lot of pyrotechnics, while movie buffs will undoubtedly appreciate the chance to find out where Scorcese found his "Casino" story frame.