Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Five Favorite First Watches Last Week

Big Deal on Madonna Street - Mario Monicelli - I'd never seen the pre-make of the Russo Brothers' debut feature Welcome to Collinwood. Having seen the 2002 film a handful of times and enjoyed it (I mean, that Steven Soderbergh curated-cast is un-impeachable: Luis Guzm├ín , Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, William H. Macy, Isaiah Washington, Patricia Clarkson, Gabrielle Union and George Clooney) and just being a general Philistine I doubted there was more the original could offer me, but man was I wrong. Big Deal is damned fun, charming, beautiful movie full of laugh out loud bits, big performances and black and white pictures so textured and seductive I couldn't stop reaching out to touch my screen. Also, I was surprised how keeping Madonna in the title really made Big Deal work on a thematic level that Collinwood never quite got to... maybe I'm just a dumb MTV generation American who needs to be spoonfed subtext, but it was a richer experience and I'm glad I finally got around to it (still haven't seen Louis Malle's 1984 remake Crackers).

Gone With the Pope - Duke Mitchell - Palm Spring lounge performer Mitchell made exactly two independent feature films before his death in 1981. Both are Italian-American mafia dramas of questionable quality and taste; alternately amusingly amateurish and audaciously auteurish they are equal parts low-brow exploitation sleaze and high-sited vanity projects full of sex, violence, slapstick humor and rock and roll. They positively ooze boozy hubris and cocaine cocksurity, but damned if they don't deliver entertainment. Massacre Mafia Style had a release in 1974 and was something of a cult object, but Gone With the Pope was unassembled and unreleased until 2010. I'd highly recommend both to folks who enjoy a heap of whatthefuckery in their movie shows, but pressed I'd say that I prefer Pope to Massacre for the added layers of lunacy both in plot (kidnapping the pope and demanding a $1 ransom from every Catholic world-wide) and in macho, clenched-fist, railing at the fates spiritual asides that absolutely grind the proceedings to a standstill, but end up being too hilarious to even think about trimming. A slightly better film maker would've made a considerably worse film.

Highway Patrolman - Alex Cox - The story of a Mexican policeman's life from academy graduation to the end of his law enforcement career. He starts off naive and idealistic and goes through life events like marriage, fatherhood, promotion, demotion, corruption, tragedy, crisis of conscience and vengeance the way everyone does. That's the feeling anyhow. That these are the experiences common to everyone in the world and we pass through them with as much agency as we experience the weather or the passage of time. Not a fatalistic picture though; it's warm and sincere and even sweet without sentimentality or judgement. I was moved and frankly unprepared; I wouldn't have guessed Cox had something like this in him. Not a cynical or sarcastic frame (qualities I quite enjoy and expect from Cox).

King of the Gypsies
- Frank Pierson - Kindly had my hair blown back by this one, just came out of nowhere. The story of a traveler clan in the U.S. drifting with the seasons, the opportunities and the times, through the decline of their aging patriarch and the troubled ascendancy of his chosen, reluctant heir. Judd Hirsch and Susan Sarandon are good and Sterling Hayden turns in what might be my favorite latter-career performance of his, but holy shit is it Eric Roberts in his debut feature film role that super-charges the picture. A little all over the place, but so very worth it for the big good moments. 

Stone Cold - Craig R. Baxley - Joe Huff, a hot shot loner cop with a bad haircut and a worse attitude goes recklessly undercover into the ultra violent Mississippi outlaw biker gang "The Brotherhood" who deal drugs and murder politicians. Huff suffers the indignity of a square, federal partner and speeches about procedure with the patience of a bullet and the retention of a sieve, but hell if he doesn't get results. I was hyper aware of this picture when it came out - the action hero debut of former Oklahoma Sooner linebacker Brian "The Boz" Bosworth and as a loyal fan of OU's Big 8 rivals KU and CU I avoided anything remotely Boz related. Well, joke's on me because of my big, dumb principles I missed out on 30 years' worth of rewarding rewatches of this redneck action classic. I have zeeeeeeeero complaints and wouldn't change a frame of Stone Cold. I fuckin dug this shit like it was crabs in my crotch and enjoyed my much needed delousing afterward knowing I'd be getting bit by the bug to watch it and get dirty all over again quick like. As good as The Boz is I think baddies Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe did every bit as much to sell me on it and are probably the only movie bikers I've ever believed in my life. Make a great double feature with Roadhouse and I don't say that shit lightly.