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Hurrah for the King of Cool!
11 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
As a childhood fan of Steve McQueen, I had been harboring in my heart for many years the hope that I would someday be able to give this up-until-recently "buried" picture a mature review. With this year's Warner Bros Archive Collection release--which amazingly, included this long-obscure title--I was able to do just that.

Prior to typing this small review; I took a moment to read the 11 other IMDb user-comments for the movie. They are all quite spot-on in their assessments. I see little that I can add to them for the purpose of simply encouraging newcomers to seek out this McQueen episode. The film is exactly what they say; and if you are fascinated by the story of how the production came into being--as I am--you will be satisfied with the end-product.

One place I veer from those reviews is in the labeling of the performances (McQueen's or Bibi Andersson's) as "Oscar deserving". The performances in this film are--I was relieved to see--universally very solid; and the actors more than stand up to the rare, theatrical material and this unusual stage/cinema experiment. But that's as far as I will go.

There are many reasons to seek out this small, quiet movie; many reasons to savor every bit of it as it unfolds; and at the end of it all, there are quite a few reasons to enjoy and value the picture. Fans of Ibsen; fans of theater itself; fans of good acting; clever period set design; those interested in political theory; and enthusiasts of 1970s movies in general, will all be pleased by this movie. It is good to know that this type of film was capable of being undertaken in 1978.

Of course, it is not a perfect outing. There is some awkwardness. There is some ineffectuality. Its a slow picture in places. And it is not a film that would have shaken the movie industry--or the world--had the studio allowed it to circulate.

I'll just tick off some personal pro's and con's:

Disliked: the camera spends far too much time on a couple of minor characters--the newspapermen (and their ethical shallowness); the romance between the newspaperman and the daughter is not developed (or later rescinded); and the ending of the movie is perplexing--this is probably the most serious flaw. The film just sort of "trails off". Additionally, the movie is almost **stolen** by a supporting character of no significance - the sea captain!

Liked: the 'family dinner' scene; the superb acting of Charles Durning; the sets and costumes; the lighting and feeling for 'small town drama'; the quality of the adaptation in general (speeches and mannerisms were modern enough to not cause any "anachronism'); the sweet title and credits montage (daguerreotype style); the wonderful supporting players; and Steve McQueen, of course.

Saving the best for last. Steve McQueen. I am so glad to be able to see him in this performance. It is just as vital to see him in this, as it is to see him in 'Papillon', 'The Reivers' and 'Thomas Crowne'. I watched with pleasure, his characterization. Because this film, as those others are, films he deliberately sought out to challenge himself; films via which he wished to broaden himself and express himself as an actor and a man. That is to say, expressing his values by his choice of roles.

It was a treat to see all the familiar McQueen mannerisms shine through--to see his mind at work in the exercise of those mannerisms for each scene; and to observe the respect he pays to his character by keeping his powers under restraint. He discards all traces of the 'movie-star' McQueen here. He is slow and careful; with fine and detailed gesture and expression. Its a respectful performance; he acknowledges the duty he owes to the noble material.

Remember that--this being entirely his production--his idea to even embark into these waters--he could have done anything he wanted. But he takes the high road. He worked for scale pay and he works in harness, like any other actor who cares about doing a good job first and foremost. Though his speeches are hoarse and controlled; though his hands shake and his shoulders are stooped--he is as powerful here in his meek, frail doctor's guise as anywhere else in his career; riding a motorcycle or what-have-you. To see him in the public meeting--after having been shouted down by his community--choosing to stride right through them with family in tow, making his way past their despising glares, is a true 'McQueen moment' and should not be missed by any of his fans.

Its a heroic role; and McQueen had a heroic role in trying to bring this odd, unwelcome project to the big screen. I am mightily proud to have been able to see it.
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Forty Guns (1957)
a bumpy ride
30 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
In Martin Scorcese's 'A Personal Journey Through American Movies' you can hear him, in his overview of Samuel Fuller, mention "Forty Guns" as one of his favorites. But he's not sure why.

"'Forty Guns' is--well--I don't know what the hell 'Forty Guns' is!" he barks.

Okay well, at last I know what he means by his statement. How did I like it? Well, it left me rather ambivalent. Didn't affect me strongly either way. Its like a soup with a mixture of things in it: some likable; some not; but the broth itself adequate.

There are a few interesting moments where I appreciated Fuller's visual compositions; or his sense of timing and story flow. The overall story (his creation) was inventive; as was the odd arrangement of his characters and the way he wrote their parts "against" the usual western clichés.

But its simply a very weird movie; somewhat unsatisfying, I'm bound to say. Sometimes it seems like a noir-western; sometimes a noir/musical/western, sometimes a romance/family-drama/noir/musical/western.

Definitely the the places where one character breaks out into song, are unsettling. And Dean Jagger's bizarre lovelorn scene with Stanwyck towards the end--where did that come from? Essentially, every character is somehow bent and twisted around by the screenplay to overturn and go against whatever they happened to be about; when first you are introduced to them. The sheriff is not what he seems; the town rowdy is not what he seems; the town tamers are not what they seem; the lady rancher is not what she seems. A bathhouse operator turns out to be a chorus boy. A gunsmith is a pretty young blond. A tornado cleaves through the middle of the film.

What I'm trying to say is: not only is the internal structure here strange; and not only is the western 'world' surrounding the characters strange...but the total way in which events play out in the narrative, has all sorts of distortion and grotesqueness about it. Its a surreal film. Jack-in-the-Box type film, quirky, bumpy, and uneven.

Casting was well done though; with actors I don't usually get a chance to see. Gene Barry, etc. Of course this is a Babs Stanwyck picture but surprisingly she doesn't have that much to perform here.

At the end of it all I have no idea what Fuller was trying to convey with this western; perhaps it was all just a way of skewering sacred cows and infecting the genre with his own sense of humor.

'Forty Guns' is decent but I'd not go out of my way to ever watch it again. Unlike Scorcese, it won't make my favorites list. But it was worth seeing.
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Balthazar (1966)
delicate and raw at the same time
30 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Bresson is a difficult talent to warm to. However, as opposed to 'Pickpocket' (which was so tedious I left the theater fuming and disgusted); towards 'Balthasar', I am much more favorably disposed.

Although better than 'Pickpocket', 'Balthasar' is still such an odd film I feel it will not soon again be seeking it out for a re-watch. It is a movie which one cannot help but gain from; and be charmed by--you feel that the director really has imparted his vision to you successfully. That is the best thing I can say about it. Bresson finally showed me the directorial mastery I had been looking for. Still, the flick has a disquieting, slightly bitter aftertaste. Hard to say exactly why.

The very simple--but ingenious--tale was infused with potency and depth. At all times it is very economically and eloquently photographed. It is a very grave, subdued movie--fantastically austere; and at the same time, humble--extraordinary in many ways, for these impressions alone. Never seen a film quite like it.

Many key moments in the film are presented strictly with visuals; there are very deft gestures done with camera motion; camera placement, set design; composition; and actorial devices which all amaze. Example: a man having a conference with his lawyer; we never see the lawyer's face or even much of the room in which the conference takes place. Camera focus is entirely on character/emotion. We see, however, a glimpse of both as the man leaves (lawyer closes inner door and man pulls outer door shut as he enters street). Simply by the angle of the shot. Done with one second of footage.

There are strange visual quirks too, oddities--such as the way the camera habitually follows characters' moving feet, or shows them confronting things off-camera--sometimes important things--which the camera never pans or dollies back to show us. Strangely imagined film, to say the least. I would not say it is a beautiful movie...but it is a film which photographs ugliness very beautifully.

Perhaps the ugliness is in the story's characters themselves--almost no one in the movie is a person one can 'warm up to'. Some characters have gracefulness and poise--but black hearts; others are clearly consumed by various human failings (greed, wrath, pride, envy) and still others are simply not handsome in any way, while being the least objectionable personally. For instance, an old crone in the movie has the sweetest and most delicate heart; while a gorgeous young girl is nearly despicable. The people in this film are mostly a shambles; but they are presented with an incredible force from every angle.

They are messy; foul; they torture each other with their wants and scorns--not so unusual, but I have never seen a motley group of characters filmed in such a way as Bresson has done here. He travels right along with them, forcing his camera in among them in a very unflinching manner--but also, not so much 'concerned with every loose end'. He doesn't 'fuss'. Pieces of information are left out or left off. People come and go without explanations (a main character dies but we never see it--just one example). It doesn't seem to matter though. The viewpoint itself has a primacy and immediacy which becomes more important.
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Don't turn up yer nose!
20 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A movie which sounds pornographic but isn't--and now rarely seen and hard-to-find; this is a compelling little movie from 1973.

It's one of the few movies ever made (at least which I know of anyway) which treats such a rural setting--Tennessee--and maybe that makes it memorable right off the bat. Theme-wise as well: family feuds are a topic not often used as a backdrop. There was a Burt Lancaster film called 'The Kentuckian' which featured a feud but that's the only other one which springs to mind. The famous Hatfield/McCoy feud this film stylizes, is true, FYI.

The director --Richard Sarafian--is not a famous name. He started in TV and after the seventies were over, went back to it (tv movies, rather). Recognizable credits are 'Man in the Wilderness'; 'Fragment of Fear'; 'Vanishing Point'; and 'Sunburn'.

Here, he has the advantage of a thoroughly beautiful countryside and wonderful cinematography by Phillip Lathrop to start with. Lathrop, by the way, IS a notable cinematographer--just look at the long string of hits he shot!

And Sarafian also has one of the best ensemble casts ever, to play with: Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger, Jeff Bridges, Ed Lauter, Garey Busey, Randy Quaid, Scott Wilson, Season Hubley. Supported by Paul Koslo; Timothy Scott; and a surprisingly good turn by Kiel Martin. You haven't seen a cast like that outside of "The Long Riders".

The story, two hick families warring over a contested meadow; has some wonderful moments. Season Hubley (remember her in 'Hardcore'?) is the perfect waif for this film (she's hitch-hiking through and gets snatched by one of the families) but for the focal point of the movie there's not a lot of impact which stems from her presence. She and Bridges develop a romance, that's all.

The cast in general has a sweet chemistry and everything looks so convincing--dirt/squalor, etc that one is easily drawn into the narrative. To be fair, once you're in--you're sort of just left there. It's really the one criticism I have for the flick; it just doesn't explode. Stays rather quiet and subdued the whole way through. Elements of the plot make for potentially winning drama but somehow nothing really shocking ever happens.

But it's one of those films where I guess it doesn't really matter. The chance to see a sweating, grizzled, Robert Ryan and slovenly, brooding, Rod Steiger as characters nursing a huge hatred for each other is a helluva treat. There's strong work from everybody in the film and even one awesome laugh-out-loud moment.

What I found very interesting reading the IMDb page for the movie is that the screenplay is by none other than Sue Grafton. Can you beat that? I didn't know she was writing screenplays in the early 70s.

Lolly Madonna XXX: worth a look!
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Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
film-making as situational awareness
19 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Koyaanisqati deserves much more positive appreciation these days. It is a very powerful and salient work of cinema.

One simply can't describe this kind of film as "lacking dialog or plot". There are other ways to tell a story, rather than carrying a narrative with actors and dialog. 'Koyannisqati' was a project that was never designed with these elements. What it really is, can only be described by the rather snooty-sounding phrase "visual tone-poem". But this is very moot, once you're actually watching the movie and feel its highly-compelling power.

Another common mis-assumption about the 'Koyannisqati' soundtrack is that it is one long, un-variegated music composition from start to finish. In fact, Phillip Glass composed several unique and distinct pieces of music for this film. The phases of the movie and the music weave and play off one another in a way which is completely mesmerizing and novel.

At its core, Koyannisqati has a very fascinating technique behind it--the frame rate of the footage shot gradually, steadily increases from turgidly slow to frenzied hi-speed and as crashing climax. It's the cinema equivalent to the Beatles "A Day in the Life". I know of no other movie which attempted this previously; and to date I know of no other film which carried it off so successfully.

So much for methodology. What is the purpose of the film? I think it is this: in 'Koyannisqati', you are shown your own culture as captured along a unique, downward visual transect--a dissection happening at an oblique angle, rather than a storyline; and what the camera observes forces you to re-adjust your own observations of what the world is really going through at this point in history. I will go so far as to state that no other work of cinema sums up modern culture as adroitly.

Point blank: Koyaanisqati is at first, a bewildering--but finally a profoundly moving and memorable cinema experience. It breaks all the rules and completely achieves its ends. The sensitive and mature viewer will be thoroughly rewarded by giving this unusual work a chance--hopefully on the biggest widest home theater possible.

It's a movie I personally am proud to own--and a soundtrack I frequently listen to.
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The Host (2006)
gotta be, fraudulent reviews
27 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Please disregard some of the comments written so far. They are obviously written from paid employees from the production company itself.

The telltale sign is their over-effusiveness. They are practically falling over themselves to praise this as one of the best films ever made. Nice try, guys. That the way they do things in Korea?

Here's an *honest* opinion: there is no way this movie should be treated with anything but a sneer or perhaps a visit to the men's room, to retch. Certainly some rolling of the eyes and outright guffaws, is in order.

It's a "monster" movie, for God's sake! Complete with "mutant creature" and "heroic scientist"! Does anything get more trite than this old format? Why not just rent any of the Godzilla series, for more genuine fun than this piece of buffoonery and schlock.
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a workingman's movie
20 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
'Hide in Plain Sight' is a solid, functional, lean, and smoothly done film. It is 'no frills' in style, but that does not mean that it has a "tv movie of the week" vibe.

The film does it's best to bring out the emotional pitch of the complex situation. In this, it largely succeeds. HIPS is not a glossy, gorgeous film, with memorable cinematography--it is strongly blue-collar and gritty in its general feel. But it is focused and stays on-target for what it is trying to do. That's more than you can say for a lot of movies.

I hadn't realized until now, that this flick was directed by Caan. This work does credit to his already great resume. He keeps a firm hand on the production and doesn't make any sophomoric mistakes. It is not a 'great' film but it is a good film --realistic--and doesn't disappoint.

By the way, it's hard to overlook the relevancy of a plot like this, with current events the way they are, in the U.S. today. This film is particularly poignant and resonant for those of us concerned about American civil liberties.

There is a great scene near the end where Caan makes his final stand against the government agencies he has fought throughout the film.
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Lifepod (1981)
let's hear it for low-budget sci-fi!
2 December 2005
Life Pod is one of those films to watch out for, should it appear on your local cable station's movie listings late at night. Those who dismiss it in the first glance will miss an unusually compelling, worthwhile science fiction film that belies its low-budget origin.

Let's briefly rattle off some of it's merits:

~It's got no annoying loopholes; everything works and makes sense. Odd how a 'small' movie can sometimes do this better than a big-budget production.

~The special effects don't get in the way of the story. And there is quite good photography, too.

~The narrative itself, focuses on a human situation, rather than being pointlessly technological, or un-engaging fantasy. It's the same foundation that made 'Alien' great. People are at the heart of this movie.

~Set design is complementary in that is innocuous, unobtrusive, measured. Again, properly servile to the plot.

~The actors are all low-budget actors from TV land. Once again, a case of "less is more". They are unknowns, so they are abstracted for the viewer, and this allows for fluid, accessible characterizations.

~Pacing is efficient, economical, simple, and linear, with no waste. The director takes us exactly to the emotional climax comfortably and confidently.

With all that said, I think its just a great little sci-fi story: an intriguing plot that, humbly executed in a no-frills manner, sticks with you over time. I would love to have this in my collection.
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The Glove (1979)
quirky, seedy, low-key--is that a bad thing?
14 October 2005
A film like this can't be rated on any normative 1-10 scale which we usually enlist to appraise the world's great cinema landmarks. This movie appeals only to the shrewder connoisseur of the halt and the lame, the distressed, and the warped. There is no scale for such a movie as 'The Glove' (except perhaps if we use negative integers or decimals).

'The Glove' has that quintessential charm of the 1970's movie. The grainy stock, fuzzy sound recording, squinty leading men, large automobiles, aimless & episodic screenplay; yes, everything right down to the sentimental piano notes in the score wordlessly 'decrying the violence deep inside man'.

The plot is simple at first. Hulking Marauder, methodically eliminating Taxpaying Citizens in a Relentless Revenge Ritual. Big and ugly in the black leather outfit (+ black motorcycle visor helmet?? yes!) has some incredible wicked strange instrument of death--fascinating in its own unique way--a bonafide 'restricted' riot-glove {sometimes used by law enforcement personnel in the course of their 1970s duties}. You can still buy these via mail-order, you know. They are fearsome devices. OK so, simple plot wrapped around an obscure piece of morbid guy-gear--true. But this film is not without character or psychology.

I say, any film with Rosy Grier is worth a look. Need I remind you of 'The Thing with Two Heads'? Now, in this movie, Grier plays his role with restraint and aplomb. Let's give him some credit. Even if just for his sheer physical size, he is interesting to watch. Combine that with his wispy, faint-hearted voice (in this film, philosophizing about 'defining boundaries' and 'the cyclical nature of violence' and you have the basic ingredients for a memorable cult film. In one scene he even plays guitar.

In fact, he is jovial throughout most of the flick. It's perfect. He plays the anti-hero well, and by the end of the movie, fully manages to evoke a twinge of sympathy. Makes an engaging contrast with our growing suspicion that of course, it is him committing these brutal executions.

The violent scenes we witness (as the film develops), fyi, are not boring at all! Lovable Aldo Ray (another big guy, remember him from 'Battle Cry'?) getting "the Glove treatment" while he is trying to instead cage some nooky in the shadowy back seat of what looks like a Chevy LeSabre. Coitus interruptus! Fantastic. 70's film-making at its seamy best.

Another great 'Glove revenge' scene: a revisitation of that old stand-by of the 70s thriller--masked assailant and victim thrashing around in a brightly-lit bathroom, with the shower curtain flailing wildly around and the light strobing. Ending with victim seeping blood over white grouted porcelain tile. Classic.

As for John Saxon: he is fine in this movie. He does his best. Makes it look sincere as he can. He has a secretary he is pursuing, debts to pay, a young daughter to raise, a great old Caddy convertible to keep up--this is a sensitive guy. You can see he is not really that into the violent side of his work. This is a character that has some delicacy, not just the usual 70s slob cop/bounty hunter/detective.

Saxon's character is soft-spoken--shrewd--and good at his job, where his job requires brainwork. Where it requires the strong arm stuff--well, we see that he gets by. But here's where the psychology comes in: Grier (the suspect) is not just a dumb ex-con and through their game of cat-and-mouse he gradually works on Saxon and makes Saxon at least see Grier's motives for the crazy glove killings.

So the interplay between Saxon and Grier is basically where it's all at in this film. And of course that fiendish glove. You just gotta wonder what its like both to hit someone with that thing and also to get hit by it. Anyway, Grier, tired of being chased, forces Saxon to give him a fair fight. And he gets it. And that Glove is used one last time.

Guys, a good fight scene like this deserves our esteem. Take another look at what's going on. Would you accept the terms of the final fight as laid down by Grier? You can at least see how smart he is, by arranging it just in this manner? Its clever resolution to what would be, in any other movie of the same stripe, just another shootout.

This movie is worth recalling in any retrospective of twisted B-violence flicks. I personally, will always recall 'The Glove' with some fondness.
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dissing an entire genre?
21 August 2005
For anyone to disparage the long history of the farce (as someone did in their review here) just boggles my mind. The farce has a long and rich history.

For that same someone also to slip in a comment about how they dislike the entire country and culture of France, well, that says it all--about them. No need for me to point out (but I will) their location is in Texas. Sheeeesh.

I saw this particular farce (which stars one of the greatest British actors of stage/screen, mind you) many years ago and it left a vivid enough impression, simply as a well-made comedy, that I would have no hesitation about renting it again.

Worrying about whether one is 'understanding the farce' --or resenting the insecurity you may feel if you suspect that you don't understand the format--has nothing to do with it.

Watch films you like--don't watch films that you dislike, and you will never need any further defense than this. Personal taste is yours to command. Don't worry about fitting in with other people, worry about yourself.
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Green Ice (1981)
wilted greens are not always inedible (spoilers included)
8 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Such a range of comments for this forgotten film! What exactly is it's appeal? One commenter denounces it as unmitigatedly dull. Another reviewer gives it a 9 out of 10??

I agree at least in part with almost everything said here. As far as a serious movie is concerned (not serious subject matter, but in terms of a 'serious' production effort) 'Green Ice' certainly isn't much. It is a highly-predictable, run-of-the-mill property. It almost excels at being boring. But is that always a bad thing? Sometimes one wants precisely that. A simple exercise in a known format. Some eye-candy to watch when you come home on a Friday night after an exhausting week. So let's not turn up our noses entirely at this kind of picture. It has its uses.

Now, as far as particulars: Ryan O' Neal is worth watching in almost anything. That's one. He is interesting enough as an actor, to be found entertaining even in a snoozer like this one. Secondly, the film has demure beauty Anne Archer as his co-star. This alone makes it worth a view.

Third, although the acting is hum-drum, it is at least adequate. Let's face it the roles as written don't offer much to any actor. The dialog and the mild chemistry between the two leads, is at least passable. . on the low end of the scale. And that's what we're talking about here. Low end. A movie can be bereft of many redeeming qualities but as long as it doesn't really do anything that is blatantly wrong, can it be all bad?

Fourth: amazing scenery. South America. Nuf said.

Fifth, some intriguing stunts with hang-gliders.

Sixth: Bill Wyman's unusual, upbeat soundtrack. At first, it seems ludicrous and inept. But you'd be surprised how it it sticks with you. In retrospect, it works.

Seventh, (and not least of which) there is one quite chilling scene in the very beginning of the movie: the killing of six Anglos in the forest which includes the rape of a young American tourist (in the film, she is Archer's sister). This scene has the appropriate edge to it.

So there you have it. Yes, its stilted and awkward and trite and forgettable, by the standards of normal film-viewing. We acknowledge that. This is a mediocre film. But it is not sub-par for what it set out to do.

So, judge it by the standards of something like, say . . "Capricorn One", "Avalanche Express", "Cassandra Crossing" and others of the same stripe. Looking at it that way, it's really not all that bad. you just have to like slumming.
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Travis Logan, D.A. (1971 TV Movie)
taut, controlled crescendo
13 November 2004
This movie is barely remembered when the topic of great legal/trial films is discussed on IMDb. But I'd suggest this obscure TV movie for anyone who likes good courtoom dramas.

It's a tiny, made-for-TV flick, of course, so the scale can hardly be the same. But pound for pound, it holds up. The cast are all talented veterans and they sync well together. Dialogue is crisp and the plot has enough clever twists to satisfy anyone (especially if you like "committing a perfect crime" stories).

In this case the perpetrator is Hal Holbrook. He has come up with a clever legal loophole which he thinks will allow him to get away with murder. Brenda Vacarro is his reluctant accomplice. Its up to Vic Morrow, the local D.A. to break their plot apart. He detects something fishy about Holbrook's alibi and becomes obsessed with breaking it down.

An absorbing battle-of-wits between Holbrook and Morrow wages back and forth throughout the short film until it climaxes in a truly mesmerizing cross-examination scene. Perfectly controlled unravelling of plot and emotion at the finale.

Make some time for this little gem if you ever come across it. On the surface, it looks about as mundane and trifling as a hundred others just like it; but stick with it till the end and you'll be glad you did.
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