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The first glimmer I ever had of the importance of "The Outer Limits" was in
Stephen King's "Danse Macabre", where he stated unequivocally that it was
the better anthology series of the '60s. At the time, I viewed it as
sacrilege. Some nothing series without the immortal Rod Serling better than
"Twilight Zone"? Ridiculous. One "Twilight Zone" marathon later, I began to
see what King was talking about. As King himself pointed out, there were
plenty of good shows, but they groaned under the weight of the bad ones.
That's when I decided to investigate "The Outer Limits". I've not regretted
In fact, I would go so far as to say that "The Outer Limits" produced more quality shows in two seasons than "Twilight Zone" did in three. Even with the drop in quality in the second season, it still did outdid Serling's baby on average. Why is this so? Some reasons come to mind:
1)Good writers. TZ had three acknowledged masters of the art of writing (Serling, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson), but "The Outer Limits" attracted several different writers that added to the variety: Harlan Ellison (of course), Robert Towne, and several others who, sadly, did not become better known from their work on the series (though, in some cases, as with "Specimen: Unknown" and "ZZZZZ", maybe that's not such a bad thing). Also, let us not forget series creator and first year producer Joseph Stephano, who made a name for himself by adapting Hitchcock's "Psycho" to the screen. His contributions ("Nightmare", "Fun and Games", "Form of Things Unknown") are a close second to Ellison's equally laudable episodes ("Demon with A Glass Hand", "The Soldier") for their claustrophobic feel, uncertainities, and richly drawn, highly tormented characters.
2)Excellent actors. The thing that consistently amazed me about the series was how many people who went on to hit it big wound up on screen. The list is staggering to my mind: Martin Landau ("The Man Who Was Never Born"), Robert Duvall ("The Chameleon", "The Inheritors"), Donald Pleasance ("The Man With The Power"), Carrol O'Connor ("Controlled Experiment"), David McCallum ("The Sixth Finger", "Form Of Things Unknown"), Leonard Nimoy ("I, Robot"), Robert Culp ("The Architects of Fear", "Demon With A Glass Hand") and on and on. Writing definitely made this show possible, but the star wattage is a nice bonus that enhances the experience.
3)A questioning tone. Too many people in this day and age ascribe the term "thought-provoking" to material that, while entertaining, is about as full of intellectual content as the Yellow Pages ("X-Files" comes to mind). Not so with this series; it did what any true science fiction story SHOULD do: reflect on the perils of man's place in the universe. Whether it's the horrible cost of idealism and love ("The Man Who Was Never Born"), the dangers of the tormented subconscious ("The Man With The Power"), the chilling lengths that man will go to to prepare for war ("Nightmare"), the equally terrible measures used to create peace ("The Architects of Fear"), the eventual end of the evolutionary ladder ("The Sixth Finger"), or the price of duty ("Demon With A Glass Hand"), the show's best moments always came from giving its viewers the often-unpleasant answers to these questions. Though the "bears" (as OL's monsters were called) drew the viewer in, the REAL monsters were often human beings who look no different than you or I...a far more frightening prospect.
James Van Hise once stated that no other science fiction series has ever come close to the aims and accomplishments of "The Outer Limits". No argument from this quarter; long after so many vapid sci-fi serieses have gone down the drain, "The Outer Limits" will still be standing as solidly as ever.
Because it is based on the same novel, "Payback" has been held up as the
(gag) remake of "Point Blank". Anyone who has seen "The Limey", as I have,
could definitely tell you different. Though the style of the film
comes from John Boorman's sometimes forgotten masterpiece, Soderbergh
deserves credit for expanding on that style and giving it some touchs that
make it even better.
"Point Blank" had a hopscotch method to it's storyline, randomly jumping around from past to present to future and back again at the drop of hat (suggesting that it's main character, Walker, was actually dead). Soderbergh goes further, giving a voice-over to some of the final words in the film, and running through several possible futures at the dinner party. All adrenline junkies should definitely stay away from this film on account of that fact; nothing about how things develop is straightforward or typical of the action genre. That said, it's everything that someone with an appreciation for a damn good film of any genre could want. Another interesting item of note is the fact that both films take place in L.A. and have leads with only a last name with a W (in this case, Wilson).
This is probably the best role that I've ever seen Terence Stamp play, a hard-edged ex-con with a vicious streak the size of Santa Monica Boulevard. He's not an especially likable bloke, but he gradually becomes someone you can sympathize with. Peter Fonda, to my mind, was a natural for the music producer, a shallow, vain sellout who has made a fortune out of other people's talent. He has everything that the market teachs us that we could want, yet you get the sense that for Fonda, it's a hollow victory, made even more hollow by Stamp's vendetta.
The film's greatest strength to me is that absolutely NOTHING winds up the way that the viewer thinks it should. That may be a bit offputting for some, but it truly helps make "The Limey" stand out from the rest of the all-too-predictable landscape of cinema. Watch it and see for yourself.
This particular little gem is in serious danger of being
when one watches the film, it's understandable why. It's too violent for
serious drama, too literary for the (insert vomiting sound to the point of
dry heaves) Tarintino crowd of faux crime, and way, way too little action
for the testerone junkies who watch appalling, shoddily made action films
for the cool explosions instead of the non-existent plotlines.
So, having established what "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samuri" is not, what exactly is it? When it comes to thumbnails, only one brief descriptor comes to mind: a quiet action film. There are, of course, some serious differences between it and your standard action film. They are as follows:
1)Fewer targets. Adding up the body count of your average action flick would probably result in the approximate population of a small city. Here, there are only a few aging thugs still trying to pretend that all is well with Cosa Nostra (Italian for "Our Thing"; watching these sad relics makes me think of Andrew Vachss only unpublished novel, "A Bomb Built In Hell", written in 1972. One of the major characters, a mobster doing a life sentence says something to the effect of "Our thing is dead. It used to be a blood thing, now it's just criminals."). Still, they are menacing enough to make the viewer miss the real danger to Ghost Dog.
2)A moral center. The only ethos of your average action film (important exceptions being the Hong Kong films of John Woo) is "whoever has the most ammunition wins". Every now and again here, we are given passages from the Way of the Samauri, which add heft and meaning to the cold and final actions of a master assasin.
3)No real love interest. I don't think I need to explain that those have been de rijour since at least the Golden Age of James Bond, if not further back. Not so here. The only one that comes close is the mobster daughter we meet in the beginning and things don't play out like you would think.
4)The violence. John Woo still did it better back in Hong Kong, but the violence here is a close second. Here, it is vicious, cold, and final. No second chances. It almost makes one realize what it takes to commit such acts...not something to contemplate comfortably.
5)A vulnerable hero. Granted, Ghost Dog pulls off all his kills without a hitch, but it must not be forgotten that how he came to be in this business was based on a moment when he was helpless. The only reason all his kills go down so smooth is that he is better prepared than his targets. This is true even in the movie's ending, when the circle of blood closes.
This will be a movie, like "This Gun For Hire", "The Limey", and "Point Blank", that will stay with me for a long time, regardless of how it is ultimately remembered. The wisest words of all usually come in whispers.
My first glimpse of this film was in "L.A. Confidential", where Kim
Basinger, a Veronica Lake look-alike hooker (I'm totally in agreement with
Russell Crowe's character when he comments that Basinger looks better than
Veronica Lake), has the movie playing in the background during the train
scene. Having finally watched the whole thing, I can easily see why Curtis
Hansen and Brian Helgaland gave "This Gun For Hire" that respectful tip of
It is obvious that this was made during WWII from its references to the overseas menace, but I personally wouldn't let such politics get in the way of enjoying and understanding this movie. To do that, one must focus on the character of Raven (as played by Alan Ladd), a vicious, detached hitman with a soft spot for kids and cats...but no friends. He doesn't kill because it's fun for him; it's just a job. He does live by his own code, a major tenet of which is never to doublecross him. One thing that seems to sail right over people's heads is the fact that Raven is the product of an abused childhood. That such a defining bit made it to the screen (and that the abuser was female) should tell one how little audiences paid attention to such things, in spite of the fact that such were not and are still not isolated incidents.
Patriotism does not motivate Raven in the slightest, just his own self interest. The reason he eventually does what he does has more to do with Veronica Lake, probably the only friend he has ever truly had. I almost wonder if, in her, he sees the mother that he never truly had...but one can also write that one off as Freudian BS so make of it what you will. One thing that shouldn't be ignored, on the other hand, is the fact that, but for a lucky distraction, he would have plugged her to leave less of a trail. It's only when she refuses to hand him over to his enemies that their strange friendship really begins. All this makes Raven one of the most unromantic, unglamourous hard-boiled protagonists that have made it to screen.
Now, as to Ms. Lake, the thing that struck me about her was how unglamourous SHE was here. I don't mean that as an insult, mind, just that she seemed to share a characteristic with Kathrine Hepburn in that comparing her with the other sex goddesses of the time would be like comparing the moon to the sun. As is fitting with the story, she strikes one as being more motherly rather than gun moll material. Not that she can't bring the house down; her opening song-and-magic routine is one of the great all-time showstoppers. In fact, the only time I really had cause to hate her is when she gets into the arms of her cop fiancee and says "Hold me." at the end, but it's a minor complaint. Had there been a more radiant actress, the whole thing would have fallen apart. As it is, she fits perfectly.
Don't let the overt mobilization messages distract you. "This Gun For Hire" has a lot more on its mind that's still with us today.
Well, what is there left to say after the justly deserved accolades laid at
the feet of Tim Burton's direction (particularly his inspired decision to
shoot in black and white), Johnny Depp's quirky but on-target performance
(the real Ed Wood, from what I've read, truly did believe that he was making
films of importance), and, of course, Martin Landau's career-best
performance as Bela Lugosi (anyone who likes him here should check out his
work in the old "Outer Limits" episode, "The Man Who Was Never Born")? Well,
how about Burton's subtext about the headaches of getting a movie
You see it practically every step of the way. Wood trying to find positives in a decidedly negative review of his play. His trying to convince a producer that only he and he alone can film the story of a transsexual. His infuriating said producer twice, first by changing the story to that of a transvetite, then by making it so badly that the producer will never have anything to do with him again. His pitch session with David O. Selznick, which he had to sell an idea off-the-cuff as it were (I imagine Burton has had to go through similar aggrevation with studio suits, whom Harlan Ellison once described as less literate than a dyslexic). His trying to keep his actors happy with their dialogue, parts, etc. so that they keep working. His never-ending struggle to find financing for his films. His duking it out with his financiers (a Baptist church, no less!) over what his vision of the movie should be. I sincerely believe that there is not a director on the planet who could not relate to at least one of these instances, if not several. The scene where Wood meets his idol, Orson Welles (another director who had to swim upstream for his entire career in film), just underscores many of the points made here.
Not that anything else that's been squeezed into this picture doesn't help make it great. But that little facet of this gem of a film has never been alluded to and I thought that it would be best if it were. I wonder what the real Edward D. Wood Jr. would make of this representation of his life story?
As I've scanned through here, with varying takes on how good or bad "Pitch
Black" is, it never seems to have occurred to anyone that the kind of story
that this movie tells is what science-fiction is SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT.
Despite what the tagline would have you believe, it was never truly intended
to be a horror piece ala' "Aliens" per se (though the design for these
unnamed beasties are definitely ripped off from H.R. Giger's original
design). Like many of the best episodes of "The Outer Limits" (where a story
of this sort would have fit perfectly, I might add), it's just old-fashioned
science fiction in the fashion of "The Day the Earth Stood Still"...that is,
dubious science but believable human interaction.
Much of the film's power comes from Vin Diesel as ice-cold, convicted murderer Riddick. His opening voice-over sets the tone quite well. Plenty of time for things to go wrong, indeed. How they go wrong is, in much the same way the dubious scientific mechanics of the eclipse are handled, unimportant. What IS important is how the survivors react to them and each other. While Riddick is about the last person one would want to be stranded on a rock crawling with insects, he ultimately turns out to be the only one who knows how to survive...which isn't to say that he's not willing to leave the rest of them behind. It takes the guilt-ridden acting Captain of the ship to get him to follow through. He's more intrigued by her attitude than moved, I felt. It's not until she comes back to save his bacon that he begins to change (and not that much, considering how he says "Good night" to the aliens). Add a junkie merc with a badge who becomes the party's biggest liability and the most important components of the story are in place. Practically everything else, by itself, would not have been able to sustain the movie.
All right, so "Pitch Black" is no more "The Matrix" than it is "evil vs. evil" (more like "alien nature vs. human sociopath"). That still does not make it any less a small gem in the all-too barren wasteland of sci-fi.
As the above title should indicate, I do not overly care much for Raymond
Chandler. "The Big Sleep" is the only novel of his that I have been able to
make it through and even that was an uphill struggle against crippling
boredom. The effect was not unlike what I would imagine being pumped full of
tranquilizers and being made to run the New York Marathon would be like. A
big sleep, indeed...
Thankfully, because Howard Hawks did take the time to listen to his audience before releasing the version known best to later generations, he managed to hammer the movie version into something that never gets dull, not for a minute. Granted, you're not sure who's who, what just happened, or when the next dead body is going to hit the ground (this particular mystery has the highest body count of any I've seen in recent memory outside of "L.A. Confidential"), but the razor-sharp dialogue keeps things entertaining throughout.
Bogie could call himself Phil Marlowe, Sam Spade, Rick Blaine, or Howdy Doody for that matter, but Chandler, when asked about his performance in "The Big Sleep", probably said it best, "Bogart is always superb playing Bogart." Here, he plays that role probably the best that I have ever seen him do it. He takes more of a beating this time out than usual, worked over a couple of times and none too gently, either. The sense one gets is that he's a man trying to get a handle on a situation that keeps threatening to spin out of control. The miracle is that Bogie is able to keep track of the plotline better than the audience (including myself).
Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention a certain lady by the professional name of Lauren Bacall. She provides the film with it's other stable axis. She comes off as mysterious, tough, over her head in trouble, and head over heels in love. The moment where she and Bogie clicked into place for me was the phone "conversation" with the police line they dialed up. I get the impression that she didn't want Bogie to probe any deeper because she knew that he'd land in the spot she was in. Of course, getting info from her is like trying to pry open Fort Knox with a crowbar. She keeps her cards as close to her chest, if not closer, than Bogie. You never know where she's going to pop up next, but you know it's going to be interesting.
Now, to answer the all-important question of who killed Regan,...watch the movie again. Failing that, read the novel (if you can). The answer to that burning question IS there, but, like everything else in this film, it's tossed out so fast that if you blink, you miss it. Failing that, just enjoy it, I say. Bogie and Bacall pairings don't get any better than this.
"Come to Los Angelos...it's Paradise on Earth. Hahaha...that's what they
tell ya anyway." Danny Devito's opening voiceover sets the mood for the one
of the moodiest and best film noirs ever released from the dream factory
that is Hollywood. I first heard about "L.A. Confidential", appropiately
enough, from looking at the ad for it on the back of a tabloid. While I'd
not heard of Ellroy prior to this film's release, I was shocked to find out
that one of his first novels, "Blood on the Moon", served as the basis for
one of the most foul-mouthed, brutal, and, to my mind, underrated films on
the market, "Cop". No matter; my subsequent reading of Ellroy's work proves
to me that the man is at his best by using the known facts of history as a
prybar for showing the rot underneath the veneer.
Curtis Hanson remarked, in a documentary about the film, that as he read the book and was introduced to the three main guys (Bud White, Jack Vincenes, and Edmond Exley), he found that he didn't like them. That would seem to parallel my own reactions to them. Bud White scared the hell out of me. Jack Vincenes, for all his smooth charm, disgusted me. Ed Exley, with his wimpy exterior, reminded me a little too much of the kid I used to be. Every one of these cops are corrupt to various extents. But all that changes with the Nightowl Massacre.
At roughly the halfway point of the film, when the whole business of the Nightowl killings have been "resolved", all three of these guys come to the exact same conclusion: this isn't what it's supposed to be all about. It winds up putting them on a collision course for the real culprits behind the crime and for two of these guys, the price of defiance turns out to be astronomical.
What fascinated me the most about this film was it's use of actual history, be it Mickey Cohen, Johnny Stompanato, Lana Turner, the opening night of "Worlds Collide", or the beginning of the construction of the Santa Monica Boulevard. These bits of historical grounding act as a wall that the story bounces off of like a racquet ball. Like "Chinatown", Hanson and Helgelund (and, of course, Ellroy before them) make no bones about the fact that the official histories of 1950's L.A. are just sanitized versions of the real thing. Unlike "Chinatown", however, the movie doesn't end on a note of hopelessness, though not in the traditional "justice has been served" wrap-up, either.
It struck me, especially considering Hanson's comments on the naturalistic lighting scheme employed by Dante Spinotti, that this piece could almost be considered anti-noir. By that, I mean, it uses the noir conventions that date back to Hollywood's "Golden Age", but in a way that sets a somewhat different tone. It's not hopelessness, as I've pointed out, but it's not the uplifting feel-good kind of mood, either. It is its own thing. It will be interesting to see if a movie that follows that sort of pattern is made within the next few years.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Belfast-based comics writer Garth Ennis said it best: "There are two kinds
of people in the world, my friend...those who dig Clint Eastwood
movies...and dweebs." While I have to admit that my heart belongs to the
opening act of "The Man With No Name" trilogy, "A Fistful of Dollars",
is no denial in my mind that "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is actually
the better film. Many directors have tried imitating it's style (including
Don Siegel's substandard "Hang 'Em High" and Eastwood's own first Western
offering as star/director in "High Plains Drifter"), but none have truly
come close to the eccentricities on display here.
I have a suspicion that the storyline is actually based on historical fact. Consider this account from Joel Rose's "The Big Book of Thugs" under the entry of "The Reynolds Gang": They were organized in 1863 by Texans Jim and John Reynolds. They were briefly interned in a Civil War prison camp for Confederate sympathizers and after being released, began making robberies that, according to Jim Reynolds, were to help out Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy. The loot was buried somewhere in the area of Handcart Gulch and Spanish Peaks in Colarado Territory and later, after Jim Reynolds and four members of his gang had been executed by Colonel John M. Chivington of the Union Army, John Reynolds, dying from a fatal wound during a holdup, supposedly whispered out the location of his old gang's ill gotten loot. Unlike the movie version, it was never found.
Regardless of whether or not this was the actual basis for TGTBATU, it is nevertheless a film more grounded in history than a lot of it's comtemparies and, indeed, more than a few of it's successors. The Civil War is part of the backdrop, but it does so on a forgotten front of that war, the Western theater. Most high-school history classes would have us believe that nothing happened out West, but plenty did. In fact, the last skirmish of the war, if I'm not mistaken, was in New Mexico and, ironically enough, a Confederate victory.
The central of this film is greed. You don't just see it in the quest for the Confederate gold by Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tuco. There are signs of it everywhere; in the hotel manager talking about how he'll be glad to get the Northerners in town for the money they'll bring in, Bill Carson appealing to Tuco's greed for a single sip of water, the gang of cutthroats who are systematically robbing the Confederate prisoners of their goods. Set up against the harsh desert backdrop, it exposes the ultimate folly of that greed (the best symbol of it perhaps being the cemetary where the gold is buried). A little over a decade before the Reagan era of "Greed is healthy, greed is good", this film provides the ultimate rebuttal to that argument. Greed has gotten just as many men killed, if not more, than patriotism ever did. Such a subtext makes "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" the cinematic child of John Huston's "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and the precursor to Oliver Stone's "Wall Street".
As great as Leone, Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach are, there is one member of this team that pushs this film into the status of greatness: score writer Ennio Morricone. Not only does he manage to write one of the most recognized theme tunes on the planet, he also adds the extra tension needed to convey the drama with the necessary oomph, the best examples being in Blondie's torturous walk across the desert, Tuco's frantic search through the cemetary (my personal favorite and so good that Lucasarts did a slowed-down version of it for their western shooter, "Outlaws"), and, of course, the final three way shoot-out. He still composes scores for many other films to this day, I've been told. A good example of his most recent work would be the 1990 version of "Hamlet" starring Mel Gibson and directed by Franco Zefferelli. But I truly doubt that he'll ever be able to top the legendary work he did here.
"I am the way to the city of woe/I am the way to a forsaken people/I am
way to eternal sorrow./Sacred justice moved my architect/I was raised here
by divine omnipotence, primordial love, and ultimate intellect./Only those
elements time cannot wear/Were made before me and beyond time I
stand/Abandon all hope ye who enter here."--Dante, "The Divine Comedy Part
I: Inferno", Canto 3, Verse 1-3
Nothing could have prepared me for that opening scene: fade in on a jungle backdrop. Distorted swishing sounds coming through the soundtrack, getting slightly louder as an army copter comes by. Smoke begins to rise as a tinkly bell sounds, seguing into a haunting tune. All the while, like a leitmotif in a Wagner opera, the swishing continues, getting slightly louder as yet another copter goes by. The jungle explodes with fire as Jim Morrison begins singing the first lines of the only Doors tune that I can truly say that I have ever liked: "The End".
It wasn't until those first few moments that I understood what Harlan Ellison was talking about when he named Francis Ford Coppola as one of the greatest directors in the world (other notables on that list included Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, and Luis Buenel). I'd already heard a little about the background behind this film; Martin Sheen wrote an article about it a few years back. Having seen the finished product of "Apocalypse Now", I have no trouble believing whatsoever that every calamity that befell the production actually happened. The kind of chaos and darkness that wound up on the screen wouldn't be near as convincing if it hadn't been a reflection of what was really happening on the set.
As the POV character on this modern interpretation of Dante's Inferno (yes, I realize this is based on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", but Dante's version of Hell served as a nice reference guide for reasons I will explain later), Martin Sheen as Capt. Willard is human enough to make the viewer sympathize with him a little and INhuman enough to make said viewer feel repulsed by the depths he winds up sinking to...which is, actually, straight down to the bottom. He's given a seemingly simple mission: kill an insane colonel who's become a law unto himself. But once things get rolling, the simplicity goes right out the window.
First we meet Col. Kilgore (a great, memorable performance from Robert Duvall), who actually isn't too dissimilar to Kurtz in that he's doing what he think will wind up winning the war (when he's not busy thinking about surfing; such an attitude would qualify him for the first circle of Hell, Virtuous Pagans). Then we see things escalate, little by little: the riot at the USO show (Lust), the massacre of the tampan crew(Pride), the endless battle of keeping one lousy bridge in operation(Wrath). Along the way, we get to know more about Kurtz's background, which makes him look a little less insane and more rational than the mess he's in. The lines begin to blur.
How could I not think of Cocytus, the very last level of the Inferno, when we finally get to meet Col. Walter E. Kurtz? In Dante's conception, the devil stands at it's center, mindlessly flapping it's wings and freezing souls over in the process. It's a fair description what Kurtz has managed to do to all his followers. After all, isn't man his own ultimate devil? The only one who doesn't seem to be too affected (though he's definitely touched in the head by the rest of the insanity) is Dennis Hopper's riddle-talking photojournalist. Kurtz himself (played with great and underacknowledged aplomb by Marlon Brando) is a little harder to figure out. He goes off on bizarre tangents in any conversation, will chop off the head of anyone who threatens him and then seems to regret it, talks seeming nonsense into Army radio frequencies, reads poetry aloud to anyone who'll listen (the choice of T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" is no coincidence; it actually contains a quote from "Hearts of Darkness": "Mister Kurtz, he dead.")but one doesn't get the feeling that he's actually insane (my theory is that those who say that he is have given up trying to figure him out). There's a lot of pain involved with what he's become, but even that doesn't sum him up. Brando's Kurtz is like quicksilver; just when you think you've got a handle on him, he slips through your fingers.
Could his end really have come any other way? Eliot said it himself in "The Hollow Men": "This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang, but with a whimper." But it coming from Brando, what a whimper: "the horror...the horror". The horror he's talking about is what human beings can allow themselves to become. Not just in war, but any great disaster that strikes at and breaks the foundations of any person's view of the world. That is why this movie is ultimately NOT about Vietnam; it's about what happens to Everyman when he learns dark truths that can not be rationalized and can not be denied. The Vietnam War was Kurtz's catalyst...who can say what ours could be?
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