Monday, August 3, 2020

You Lie

I kicked off July with San Francisco crime spree weekend watching Steve McQueen ride the ever-cresting wave of Peter Yates' slick and efficient Bullitt, Lee Marvin tear up Los Angeles with Alcatraz bookends in John Boorman's stylish take on Richard Stark's The Hunter and Clint Eastwood fuck up the Scorpio killer's plans in Don Siegel's Dirty Harry (the perfecting of the kind picture he'd been working toward with Madigan and Coogan's Bluff). Then I revisited Walter Hill's 48 Hrs. and way undervalued Another 48 Hrs. before capping my city by the bay weekend with a first-viewing of Richard Rush's Freebie & the Bean.

Really hard to stress how underrated Another 48 Hrs. is (by me too - I'll own it). I threw Hill's Red Heat on afterward and the dude just knows the formula for action comedies. Yeah, they're funny, but he never lets the laughs upstage the crime-thriller elements and that helps them age gracefully. I rewatched Martin Brest's Midnight Run and feeling lucky with the crime comedies gave Julie Anne Robinson's One For the Money starring Katherine Heigel as Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, but alas my winning streak was over. 

A couple more revisits for the month that improved on my initial impressions; Richard Donner's 16 Blocks and David Fincher's Panic Room. 16 Blocks starts off with Bruce Willis as a sad sack cop riding out the end of his less than illustrious career. Oh man, he's beautiful with his receding hairline, (now you see it, now you don't) spare tire, and droopy mustache. He's the guy that gets called in to sit on a crime scene until it can get cleared and he seems happy to booze among the bodies until his shift is over. In fact it becomes clear that his getting stuck with the shit job of transporting Mos Def's small time criminal from lockup to his grand jury testimony at the courthouse was all part of the plan of David Morse and some dirty cops who have no intention of letting Def's Eddie Bunker - yeah, that's his name - get there. But Willis has one good day left in him and boy oh boy did he choose the wrong day to shine. A little more convoluted than it needed to be, but really a much better effort than I gave it credit for when it first came out. Now, on the far end of Bruce giving up I long for the days of 16 Blocks. 

And Panic Room's improved mainly because I now have tempered expectations for Fincher. On the heels of Fight Club I was a little let down by this pretty straight-forward and simple thriller about Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart riding out a home invasion inside the um panic room of their brand new home while a trio of thieves try to break in. The procedural beauty of it really stuck out to me this time, it's a this is how this works and this is how this doesn't fix the problem thriller and is bolstered by a solid cast including Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam as the dudes Jared Leto's rich kid with a scheme brings along to pull of the job. 

I watched the Mission: Impossible flicks with my son and man oh man, what a treat that was. Biggest standouts for us were John Woo's II, Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol and Christopher McQuarrie's Fallout. Each picture's got it's own reason to be there though and it was fun to watch them all in quick succession. I think my personal ranking now would go: Ghost Protocol, Fallout, II, Rogue Nation, Mission: Impossible and III

Also very much enjoyed a run of Class of films from the 80s & 90s

Class of 1984 - Mark L. Lester - This story of an idealistic young teacher driven over the edge by disciplinary issues revolving around a rowdy group of punks who begin by generally fucking off in class, but also deal a bad batch of drugs that hilariously drive good kids to bizarre deaths fits comfortably into the fascists fix schools subgenre that seems to become briefly popular again once a decade or so and it's fun to look at what the squares of the early 80s perceived as the generation's big challenges. "Punks" are a problem as evidenced by the group of bullies (punk bullies, remember that non-existent high school menace?) who wear t-shirts with swastikas and ripped jackets advertising The Clash and terrorize all the good, clean cut kids including baby Michael J. Fox. When this shit escalates to murder it's a hoot.

Class of Nuke 'Em HighLloyd Kaufman, Richard W. Haines - Another bad batch of feel goods drive the plot such as it exists in Troma's version of the horny teen comedy which adds a good dose of corporate malfeasance, nuclear calamity, gruesome mutations and buckets of gore to goose their straight genre peers like Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds... edge goes to Troma.

Class of 1999 - Mark L. Lester - Improving on his initial fascists fix schools entry Class of 1984, director Lester elevates the concept with the introduction of android teachers originally designed for law enforcement who take order and discipline a little too seriously. This is basically RoboCop in the classroom minus any robo-hero. Instead we have a trio of technological terminators (Patrick Kilpatrick, Pam Grier and John P. Ryan) running amok massacring unruly students in a grand experiment run by Stacy Keach and Malcolm McDowell. Fucking A+ for effort. 

Class of 1999 II: The SubstituteSpiro Razatos - The sequel concerns the exploits of a rogue Robo Teacher missing and presumed destroyed from the original batch. Sasha Mitchell plays the terminator and employs his rest of the best level martial arts skills to fuck shit up. Good fun.

And now for a few notable first watches from July...

City Streets
Rouben Mamoulian - Very much enjoyed this early Dashiell Hammett-penned film starring Sylvia Sidney and Gary Cooper as young lovers separated by lifestyle; he's a straight shooter (literally - he's a carnival sharp shooter) and she's a gangster's daughter. Over the course of the movie they'll swap outlooks on crime and easy money as their love refuses to be thwarted. 

Walking Hills
 - John Sturges - A bordertown backroom card game comes to a screeching halt when someone mentions having seen some wagon tracks in the desert that happen to line up with a local legend about a wagon full of gold swallowed up by the sand. The whole group immediately set out to find and share their fortune, but things never go well when you've got partners in a scheme to get rich. The cast of casual comrades quickly break up into factions and then fractions as everybody's story and character come under scrutiny if not quite into focus and you can bet they're not all going to walk out again. Randolph Scott leads a cast that includes Ella Raines, John Ireland, Arthur Raines and Edgar Buchanan

Man of the West - Anthony Mann - Gary Cooper, Julie London and Arthur O'Connell are strangers stranded in the wilderness in the aftermath of a train robbery. When they stumble upon the desperadoes counting the loot their odds of survival get even longer. But Coop's got a history with the outlaws, one that he'll have to go back to to get any of them out alive. I can hear Tony Soprano lamenting 21st century masculinity from here. 

Ten Seconds to Hell
- Robert Aldrich -  Before he sent The Dirty Dozen off to certain death, Aldrich made this picture about a group of German bomb disposal workers clearing post-war Berlin of unexploded British bombs. It's a job so dangerous that the crew do not expect all to survive. Deciding they're already underpaid for their work they decide to pool their money, dedicating half of their checks to the pot so that the last surviving member of the group gets a bigger payday. Jack Palance leads the team and Jeff Chandler is his rival. Not a crime picture, but noirsh hardboiled sensibility to the core. 

Time to Die
- Arturo Ripstein - Oh man, one of my favorite subgenres (man out of prison) gets a great new to me entry here. Written by Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez from a Márquez story, Jorge Martínez de Hoyos is Juan, the just-released convicted killer come back to town and trying to pick up where he left off with the woman he loved eighteen years ago. In the meantime she married, had a kid and is widowed and unsure what to do about her complicated feelings for Juan. Most people seem happy to see Juan again, seems like he was generally well-liked, but the wealthy sons of his victim have sworn vengeance for their father and hound him at every turn trying to incite him to fight. The older son is driven by honor and rage to avenge his father and the younger brother, having met Juan on his way into town before knowing who he was, is somewhat less eager to kill him. Will Juan be allowed to live in peace or will he once again be driven to violence? Terrific Mexican melodrama I was entirely absorbed by.

Mise à sac
- Alain Cavalier - Michel Constantin plays Georges, the Parker role, in this adaptation of Richard Stark's The Score. The job this time around is an entire small mining town in badlands middle America including a couple of banks and retailers and will mean incapacitating police and all of the town's communications on top of the usual concerns of safes and security. The extra ambitious nature of the heist in this story, with the larger than usual team and multiple moving parts, is nicely juxtaposed by the stripped down simplicity of the film's approach. No high-energy editing, score or flamboyance in performances, just straight-forward procedural thievery and the character moments at the end add an unexpected emotional element to the finale. 

Freebie & the Bean
- Richard Rush - James Caan and Alan Arkin are the titular cops in this buddy comedy that seems at once to be establishing and skewering genre tropes as it goes from the odd-couple pairing to the comic deployment of racial invective and two way verbal abuse, the petty squabbling and competition masking deep devotion to the over the top aspects of the action and villains. You can see the blueprint of the genre before its eventual perfection by your Walter Hills and Shane Blacks. It's honestly a bit jarring at times and I'm not entirely sure if that's when it's not working as well as it should or when it is at its most effective, it's one I"ll need to see again before I'm confident about it, but it's most certainly a thing and one with plenty to enjoy.

White of the Eye
- Donald Cammell - David Keith stars as a sound installation expert at the center of a police investigation into some brutal murders in this fucking weirdly amazing serial-killer tone poem. As familiar as all the elements are; (giallo-staged killings, Art Evans' driven detective, native peoples' spiritual overtones, obsessive off-beat charming suspect) I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. Probably won't be for everybody (I mean, it's over 30 years old and I'm just hearing about it), but man did it hit a sweet spot for me. Loved it.

Jan Kounen - Vincent Cassel stars as the namesake thief robbing banks, creating chaos, generally upsetting the bourgeoisie and causing headaches for Parisian police in this it-came-from-the-90s piece of celluloid detritus. You'll probably lose track of the story because literally every other aspect of the production is screaming much louder for your attention; the soundtrack, the crazy angles and editing, the costume and set design and performances too. It's a fucking mess. But it's a distinctly 90s fucking mess and that has some value as an artifact. Hey kids, this is what it felt like all the time. Really. Yes, your parents liked this shit, got off on this shit and fucked to this shit and that's where you come from. Sorry.

Sterlin Harjo - Another man out of prison tale, this time it's Rod Rondeaux as the convicted killer released to the streets of Tulsa nineteen years after his crime. It's a sad, slow, large-hearted, heartbreaker of a portrait of down and out street dwelling among the overlooked, a beautiful losers story unique for its largely American Indian cast and bleakly beautiful midwest setting.