The French Connection
Besides still being the quintessential “cop vs. international drug traffickers” flick and winning a boatload of Oscars, The French Connection also helped to establish director William Friedkin and star Gene Hackman as major talents. Hackman would hold onto his status for decades while Friedkin’s career would continue to rise before a major fizzle out.
In still maybe his greatest role, Hackman plays the doggedly determined New York narcotics detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle. Even when off work having drinks (and like most movie cops he has lots of them) he’s putting a tail on potential dope-peddling mobster creeps. He plays his hunches, which have paid off before, but more often than not have gotten him in trouble or made him look foolish. He’s a new kind of film cop—he’s as hard-boiled as Bogart but less heroic and certainly less likable. With his overt racism and lack of ethics, he’s all about busting the bad guys at any cost. With his slightly more rational sidekick Russo (Roy Scheider, in the first of his many cop roles in the ‘70s), they have a natural inclination to fight their bosses as much as the criminals. (Interestingly this was the same year that Dirty Harry was released, another famous rebel-cop.)
As a follow-up to director Joe Carnahan’s crazy action indie Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, he chose to write and direct one of the grittiest, low down cop flicks in recent years, if not ever, Narc. It’s the story of two cops (Ray Liotta and Jason Patric) investigating the death of one of their colleagues. The investigation leads them deep into the heart of Detroit’s brutal drug trade (though most of the film was actually shot in Toronto). Each has their own heavy cop baggage and demons that they must tote with them through the brutal streets.
Over the years Carnahan has been linked to a number of high profile projects that have either vanished or come to fruition with other directors at the helm (ranging from Mission Impossible III to adaptations of Killing Pablo and James Ellroy’s White Jazz with George Clooney). In recent years he made the overly hyper action comedy Smokin’ Aces and the decent but forgettable restaging of TV’s The A-Team. Narc has been the peak of Carnahan’s career; it’s the film that is still getting him attached to so many high profile projects. It showed so much potential; time will tell if he is ever able to match it in quality. He was able to bring an arresting visual style, emphasizing the cool blue streets of Detroit in winter (similar to the hues Steven Soderbergh shot Detroit with in Out of Sight). The city is made to feel frigid, not just in the air, but also in the hearts of the players on both sides of the law.Continue Reading
Walter Hill’s long directing resume had a number of interesting genre movies early in his career (Southern Comfort, The Warriors, The Driver, The Long Riders) but 48 Hrs. stands out not only as a gritty piece of cop pulp, but as the slam bang debut of the then edgy 21-year old Eddie Murphy, transforming the usually dour Hill formula into a funny, action comedy and one of the best films of both Hill and Murphy’s career. And frankly neither has ever lived up to the promise 48 Hrs. showed for both of them. Murphy has enjoyed some massive mainstream success but for the most part, both he and Hill most have spent the last couple decades treading between mediocre, dull, and lame.
Writing the screenplay for tough guy director Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway in the early '70s got Hill going in the business. He got his start directing soon after with the Bronson/Coburn fight fest Hard Times. He would carry on the Peckinpah legacy with films about badass guys who live in a hard-boiled world under a certain violent code (with underwhelming women’s roles, usually as hookers). With The Warriors Hill would score a bonafide hit, though it’s dark and ugly it would turn away from the Peckinpah realism into comic book territory, a style Hill would take to the max with his 48 Hrs. follow up, the action rock ‘n roll musical dud Streets Of Fire. With 48 Hrs. Hill would go back to gritty realism but find some humor, mostly because of his intensely funny actor discovery.Continue Reading
Dark Of The Sun
As of writing, the tough as nails action flick Dark Of The Sun is still not available in the U.S. on DVD. To see it at home you have to endure an old pan n’ scan VHS edition, which is reportedly edited (for violence) from the original cut that graced cinemas in the late '60s. Also known as The Mercenaries, even with the low quality options, it’s worth watching. Filled with spectacular African locations, cool action, solid performances, and, most importantly, a wildly inventive score by the French composer Jacques Loussier, Dark of The Sun is a lost gem that deserves to be rediscovered.
Less preachy in its mission than more recent films like Blood Diamond, the social statements about race and economic exploitation of Africa are there, but Dark Of The Sun is more concerned with action. Ultra-cool Rod Taylor (The Birds) plays Captain Bruce Curry, a mercenary in the Congo. He is hired to retrieve a load of diamonds deep in the mountains and, while there, rescue a group of white company workers about to be attacked by rebel soldiers (Simbas). Aided by his top man, Sergeant Ruffo (American football star Jim Brown), and a drunken British doctor Wreid (Kenneth More), they put together a team of Congolese soldiers led by a nasty German Nazi officer, Henlein (Peter Carsten). Along the way they pick up a saucy Belgian care worker, Claire, who has some obvious chemistry with Curry (Yvette Mimieux, Taylor’s love interest a decade earlier in The Time Machine) and fight though UN roadblocks, rebel soldiers, and airplanes.Continue Reading
The Poseidon Adventure
After the phenomenal success in 1970 of Airport (“Grand Hotel on a Airplane”), disaster films became all the rage of '70s pop cinema. The formula consisted of a melodramatic, soapy script with a handful of Oscar winners slumming, stuck in some kind of disastrous situation ranging from earthquakes to meteors. The best of the genre was The Poseidon Adventure, about a luxury liner that gets toppled by a tidal wave and the group of passengers trying to escape (by reaching the bottom of the boat). Besides excellent special effects and a great cast, what makes The Poseidon Adventure especially unusual is the underlying religious subtext; in some ways it’s also an allegory about the story of Jesus Christ and his followers.
On its final voyage across the Atlantic, passengers celebrate New Year's Eve on the SS Poseidon. We are introduced to a cross section of archetypes that will become the group we will stick with as they are all invited to sit at the captain’s dinner table (played with a straight face by Leslie Nielsen). A teenage girl (Pamela Sue Martin) and her obnoxious little brother (Eric Shea) travel without their parents; a brash New York cop (Ernest Borgnine) and his ex-hooker wife (Stella Stevens), on their way to meet their grandson in Israel (via Greece?); a sweet, old retired Jewish couple (Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson) play to the appropriate clichÃ©s; a lonely, soft-spoken bachelor (Red Buttons); and, most importantly, an outspoken renegade priest, Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman). Eventually, after being forced to fall in love with the cast, a massive tidal wave strikes the ship, flipping the boat upside down; a great scene of destructive mayhem follows, with some amazing stunt work.Continue Reading
Billy Jack was a minor cultural phenomenon back in 1971. Written, directed, produced by, and starring Tom Laughlin, he probably made the set coffee in the morning as well. A vanity project, to say the least, but one that entertains and works as a document to the issues of the day, though the themes and ideas are incredibly muddled, which makes it all the more fascinating. Laughlin plays Billy Jack, a decorated Vietnam vet ("who turned his back on the war") and karate expert, he’s a "half-breed," hip to the philosophy and ways of the Native Americans. Billy rides around in his Jeep (and motorcycle and on horseback) toting a rifle - he uses violence for peace. Billy Jack, the film, has a lot of hippie mantra spoken, but underneath the grooviness it's actually a perfectly crafted, good, old fashion, revenge-driven, exploitation flick.
The character of Billy Jack first showed up with his badass black cowboy hat in Laughlin's earlier film, The Born Losers. In that one, Billy used his karate and his shotgun to protect a small town from a pack of scumbag bikers. Now he is protecting "The School," a different kind of educational institute, deep in the mountains of a hostile small Southwestern town. This is a place for hippies and pregnant girls and minority kids to learn chanting, ride horses, sing songs, and do groovy improv, questioning the man (led by Howard Hesseman, then of the far-out improv group, The Committee). The School is run by Jean and she is also Billy's girlfriend, or at least his biggest booster, though she digs his Indian mysticism she doesn't cotton to the violence. Laughlin’s real life old lady, Delores Taylor, plays Jean. She also co-wrote the script (under the pseudonym Teresa Christina), as well as its two unwatchable sequels, Billy Jack Goes To Washington and The Trial of Billy Jack. Taylor may know how to type pages but as an actress she is utterly uncomfortable in front of the camera, as if egged on by her boyfriend. Mercifully she has never appeared in any films outside the Laughlin canon.Continue Reading
ELEC-TRON-IC A cheated and spurned former computer programmer, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), of computer company ENCOM has become an arcade owner and operator. While trying to reclaim his stolen work he enlists the help of two former coworkers and current employees of ENCOM, Lora (Cindy Morgan) and Alan (Bruce Boxleitner). However they are up against Dillinger (David Warner), ENCOM’s unrightfully elected man in control, and the even more controlling super computer known as Master Control Program (MCP). Master Control has been absorbing other programs, thus becoming stronger and stronger.
Flynn, Lora, and Alan break in to ENCOM and attempt to distract Master Control while Flynn hacks into Master Control’s system long enough to find his stolen work and get back out again. However, things take a turn when Master Control uses an experimental laser to literally digitize Flynn into the cyber world of its inner workings. Welcome to the world of TRON!Continue Reading
2 Fast 2 Furious
The Fast And The Furious is a guilty pleasure of mine; this amped up, goofy remake of Point Break is actually a ridiculously fun adrenaline rush. As a sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious is pointless (it’s sorely missing the presence of the first film's co-star, Vin Diesel). As an exciting action film it’s just lacking. As a fun-dumb genre movie, it doesn’t deliver. HOWEVER, as apparently lame a movie as it is, it does work as a touching gay love story between two men whose macho cultures suppress them from revealing their true feelings and stop them from acting on their apparent lust. In that context this is powerful, beautiful film. 2 Fast 2 Furious is like a sexless, jacked-up Brokeback Mountain on speed.
Returning from the first film Paul Walker (a not very impressive pretty boy actor) plays Brian O’Conner, once an undercover cop who used his love of cars and drag racing to do some deep cover, infiltrating a ring of racing crooks. Now pushed by the Florida State cops to crack a ring of drag racing drug dealers led by the evil Carter Verone (Cole Hauser, star of the entertainingly awful Paparazzi, channeling fellow actor James Remar in his younger 48 Hrs days). Brian recruits Roman Pearce (Gibson), his childhood homie and the love of his life. Roman blames him for his prison stint some years ago, but after seeing each other for the first time, they roll around on the ground together and Roman completely agrees to work with Brian. As Monica, Eva Mendes is the low-cut top wearing, undercover Fed who tries to come between them.Continue Reading
10 to Midnight
Before there were hot-shot police officers - predominately played by Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson - there was Charles Bronson, and before there was American Psycho, there was 10 to Midnight. Like the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard sagas, this film functions as an action movie with lots of tongue-and-cheek dialogue that is more genius than the explosions, though not nearly as ridiculous as an Andy Sedaris film, for example. Unlike your typical action flick, 10 to Midnight is double-layered. On one hand, you’ve got the story of a cop trying to get to the bottom of a case that has become a personal interest; and on the other, you have a serial killer who slays his beautiful female victims while naked, as in a slasher. Similar to American Psycho, it boasts a young and attractive egomaniac and leaves most of its suggestive elements in the form of phallic symbols, like knives and cigarettes.
Charles Bronson plays Leo Kessler, a cop who is easing up toward retirement and is appalled at the new supposed ideas of justice, where "the law" can now be used to protect people who are most likely guilty. His newest case surrounds a murderer who kills young girls and likes to harass his victims over the phone, using a Mexican accent and talking dirty in Spanish. The only lead they have is the first victim’s diary, which contains a detailed account of every man she ever dated or went to bed with. Among them is Warren Stacy (Gene Davis) whose description after a first date is simple: "What a creep."Continue Reading
On paper the first Rocky may be a better film than Rocky III - and don't let the fact that Sylvester Stallone would become a muscle-headed goon persuade you that he didn't once have talent. The original Rocky was a moving film and Stallone gave a nice performance - though not sure if it deserved to win the Best Picture Oscar over All the President's Men, Network and Taxi Driver - but still, it was a film to admire. Rocky II was a dull follow up that stuck to the formula. Rocky III sticks to the formula and gives it some twists. In terms of sheer entertainment it's a knockout (that's a boxing term, get it?) and at a compact 100 minutes it's a fast and easy ride.
Bill Conte's infectious "Rocky Theme" opens the film and a recap of the final fight from the previous movie as Rocky predictably finally beats Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Then BAM! It’s the rockin' sounds of Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" and a montage of Rocky living the celebrity life while busting heads in the ring. Meanwhile a new Mike Tyson-type of up & comer, Clubber Lane, is demolishing opponents (played very well by Mr. T). After a wild charity match against a pro wrestler, Thunder Lips (Hulk Hogan looking like a giant), Clubber publicly pressures Rocky into meeting him in the ring. Clubber trains hard and Rocky trains soft. Before the fight Rocky learns from his manager, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), that he's not as good a fighter as he thinks he is - since fighting Apollo those were all tomato-cans he has been beating up on. And then in a twist to the Rocky formula Clubber gives Rocky a real whuppin', so bad in fact it kills Mickey and Clubber becomes the new champ.Continue Reading