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The Driver (1978)
Small Gem of Late 79's Crime Dramas. Plain, but Powerful.
14 January 2006
"The Driver" is a very well-done crime drama that features excellent chase scenes, strong acting and an interesting script. Walter Hill's directing lacks style, but his simple, blunt approach works for the story. Ryan O'Neil is outstanding as the unnamed driver of the story. His good looks and natural intelligence work for him in this role. Since he had few lines, much of his acting was in the unspoken moments. Bruce Dern, on the other hand, pushes too much in the role. He tries hard to be weird and tough, when just tough would suffice. I like Dern as an actor, but sometimes you can see him working. Still, he didn't hold the film back and at times he was quite effective. Too bad Walter Hill didn't tell him to pick up his cues because his performance would have benefited from a quicker pace. Isabella Adjani did very well in a somewhat typed role (the mysterious woman). I particularly liked her in the scene with Bruce Dern that takes place in her hotel. I don't think she liked Dern very much. She was natural and focused and didn't play any of the "languid, bored sex honey" that she could have played. The films score was very well done. Some odd fusion jazz in the mix made me sit up and pay attention. Michael Small did the score. He also did the score for "Night Moves" and "the Drowning Pool". Both of which are good.

One last note: recent novel by James Sallis called "Drive" covers some of the same territory as this movie, but in a completely different style . I wonder if Sallis saw this film?
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Funny, Ed Wood style documentary with King Crimson music!
13 August 2004
This is a short, entertaining documentary that gets most of it's mileage from the slightly arch voice work of the great Vincent Price and from it's very silly script. You can't really take the documentary seriously because, as other reviewers have pointed out, the production values are so bad they are funny! It's an "Ed Wood style" documentary with lots of laughs. They start early when you get not one, but two openings for the film ending with Price intoning the oft-repeated line..."in...the..DEVIL'S TRIANGLE!". Then you get badly edited cuts that jump all over in time. At one point you are in the 40's with a Christmas day flight that disappears while singing Christmas Carols. Of course, the director uses a recording of a whole chorus singing while Price ominously intones that they had flown into (yes, you guessed it) "..the..DEVIL'S TRIANGLE". Another fun bit in the show is the fragmented use of music by King Crimson. I couldn't quite place the album it was pulled from, but the same piece was used over and over again along with some weird noises that sound like they came from an old Halloween record. There are also some very funny re-enactments in the film. At one point an eccentric captain of a Navy coal ship heading to South America strolls onto the deck of the ship with his hat and cane, wearing only long underwear. Later in the story we see the same actor strolling back and forth across the deck in the same long-johns! And last, but not least, there are many "artists conception" paintings of what the director thinks may have happened on board the missing ships. The paintings look like they've been drawn and colored by a 12-year old. But the real fun here is with the voice acting of Vincent Price, who pulls back from the top just enough to keep his performance from becoming camp. But he just can't resist a little exaggeration here and there, like when he is describing the people who are heading through the triangle to get to vacations spots and describes the "..unattached women who find unattached men..". He gives the lines just a hint of perversion which is very funny indeed. Oh, give this documentary a try. You will enjoy it immensely if you try to see it as an Ed Wood film. I'm voting for Guy Maddin to do the remake.
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The Outfit (1973)
Well-made crime drama that honors the Richard Stark novel
25 February 2004
Everyone else has covered this movie well. It is indeed a tight, well-made crime drama with an excellent under-played central performance by Duval along with many very good scenes by classic character actors like Richard Jaeckel, Joanna Cassidy (who should have starred in Jim Thompson's "Hell of a Woman"), Marie Windsor, Henry Jones and many others. But the real stand-out (to my mind) is Karen Black. In the kind of roll that is generally reduced to an over-sexed gun-moll, Karen gives her character a real humanity. In one scene during a shoot out, she saves Duval and Baker by driving into and pinning against the wall the two mob men who are just about to take down our two guys. And in another scene she calls home on a pay-phone and is very chilly with her mother, but just about breaks down in asking her father if she can "come home for a while". She has never looked better in a film.

Having read all of the Richard Stark books (Richard Stark is a pseudonym for Donald Westlake), the film catches the stripped-down, hard-boiled tone of the novels and it's central character who is on a controlled journey into vengeance. In fact the film is very much like many of the great Gold Medal paperback originals published in the 1950's and 1960's. If you like this kind of story, look for authors like Peter Rabe, Charles Williams, Milton Ozaki, Lionel White and many others. "Hard-Boiled America" by Geoffrey O'Brien (recently reprinted) covers the genre and it's authors very well and is highly recommended.

I have to comment on the music and sound in the film - absolutely top notch! Many other crime films of the period would fill scenes with unnecessary music to amp up the suspense. "The Outfit" is very restrained and the music is used mostly to accent scenes and help transitions. Excellent score by Jerry Fielding. The sound work is great as well. The guns have a meaty sound without being to loud and dry. In one surprising scene, Joe Don Baker punches out a female receptionist and you hear her intake of breath, his fist whacking her jaw and the sound of her falling on the chair. All done with great finesse despite the brutality.

One previous reviewer got it right when he talked about the last part of the film descending into a Quinn/Martin television style. I think the director, John Flynn, is responsible. "The Outfit" seemed to me to be a lot like TV - with the old, wide master shoot to establish, cut to over-the-shoulder, back to the other close-up and end with the master. The director didn't have a real sense of the style of the film. I disagree that his work is like a "shaker chair". I think John Flynn directed it blandly, not simply, because he has a limited imagination. So many scenes could have benefited from a moving camera or more imaginative lighting. Flynn's work just didn't measure up to the excellent script and the great performances. Still, he didn't kill the film and even today (2004) it remains a little gem of the seventies that deserves a DVD release with extras.
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Not the cult classic people say it is - but fun!
25 February 2004
I'm afraid I have to disagree with the previous viewer. I've been looking for a copy of "Blast of Silence" for several years because I'd heard it was such a unique and hard-hitting late noir. Finally found a copy at the great video store "Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee" in North Hollywood (they have everything) and watched it last night. Admittedly, it was not a pristine copy, but even so the film has not aged well. The narration the the previous reviewer describes as hard-hitting is laughable. Primarily because the narrator often describes what is simply not happening on the screen in front of you. Much of the narrator's tone is smarmy and the actor over-acts like crazy. Most of it was just plain distracting. It's pretty obvious that the narration was done because the producers didn't have the money for sync sound.

The story as a whole is interesting; hit man from Cleveland (they call him "Cleveland" throughout the film) comes to his old stomping grounds in New York City to do a hit on a mid-level mobster who's making waves. The bulk of the film is taken up with the hit man's sussing out the best way to do the job, his attempts to get a gun, and bizarrely, his winning a peanut race with his nose at a party of an old school-chum. Most of the plot just doesn't make a lot of sense. The over-blown stock suspense orchestra music is very bothersome. At times even obscuring the narrator. There is a particularly sleazy performance by Larry Tucker as "Big Ralph" the hit-man's gun connection. "Big Ralph" likes rats and keeps a bunch of 'em in cages in his tenement apartment. Probably the best scene in the film is when the hit-man comes to "Big Ralphs" apartment to negotiate for a specific gun. Thank God the scene is done with sync-sound and the pretentious narrator doesn't appear making comments like "Now Frank is upset. He knows he's getting a raw deal, but what can he do? He scratches his head and looks out the grimy window as he thinks, 'what can he do?'" Or, comments to that effect.

What I like most about the film are the many shots that are of New York in the late fifties. Shots obviously caught on the fly from a car window as the hit-man is walking down 5th Avenue or in Greenwich Village. One scene takes place in that great old club the Village Gate, with an amazing bongo-playing singer who steals the show. At one point Frank stops in front of a great carousel Christmas display in front of a posh 5th Ave. department store. It's creepy and strange at the same time to see all of these amazing Old New York locations in black and white.

In the end, poor Frankie does the hit and ends up getting whacked himself when he tries to collect his pay. The slowest among us could have seen this ending coming, why couldn't Frank? Blast of Silence is worth watching, but watch the background to see a piece of New York history.
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Tornado Warning (2002 TV Movie)
Well-written Movie of the Week with sold performances
12 September 2002
This movie of the week clears up many of the popular myths regarding tornados. You don't open all of the windows the "equalize the pressure"; you don't go a certain part of the house to escape the brunt of the tornados fury. The writers have certainly done their homework regarding the science of studying tornados. It also features refreshingly intelligent dialogue and believable female characters. While still fitting into the PAX network theme of 'family in peril', "Tornado Warning" manages to avoid many of the cliches and pitfalls that accompany this kind of movie. In addition, the performances by Gerald McRaney and Thea Gill are excellent - simple, clear and uncliched. Surprisingly good is David Milbern as the smarmy newscaster Kirk Reed. Usually this kind of part is played with moustache twirling cliche. Milburn imbues his character with a sticky charm that stays in your head after the movie is over. The only real drawback to this film is it's low-budget production design. It would have been nice to see the computer screen that the characters are looking at. However, this is a flaw in most lower-budget MOW's of this type. "Tornado Warning" is a promising opening for the PAX family network and is a good omen of things to come.
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