This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hardware Wars (1977)

"Get us out of here!"
"Take it easy, kid. It's only a movie."
-Fluke Starbucker and Ham Salad.

Once it became clear that Star Wars (1977) was not only a classic film, but would forever change the course of movie history, fan films and parodies were inevitable.
The most famous of these is the Mel Brooks film Spaceballs (1987). I actually know people who saw this movie before Star Wars and thought the George Lucas film was a serious treatment of it. In addition, "Ludicrous Speed" has become as quoted as "May the Force Be With You."
But the first parody was Hardware Wars, which came out the same year as Star Wars.
This short film, while not as famous as Spaceballs, went on to win many awards and was even praised by Lucas as his favorite Star Wars parody.
It is presented in the manner of a movie trailer with narration by Paul Frees, who also narrated the Star Wars trailers.
Fluke Starbucker (Scott Mathews) receives a message from Princess Anne-Droid (Cindy Furgatch) after purchasing Tin Man lookalike 4-Q-2 and his vaccum cleaner lookalike Arty-Deco.
With the help of Red Eye Knight Auggie Ben Dogie (Jeff Hale), they recruit pilot Ham Salad (Bob Knickerbocker) and his Cookie Monster-esque sidekick Chewchilla, to fight Darph Nader (who is as incomphrensible as the adults in a Peanuts TV special).
It's a pity that this film's writer-editor-director Ernie Fosselius didn't make similar films about The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) the way Family Guy did.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hannie Caulder (1971)

"Like the man said, there aren't any hard women, only soft men."
-Hannie Caulder.

This may sound ironic, but, in some ways, the western, a genre indigenous to the U.S., has become the most problematic for American filmmakers over the decades.

As someone whose father grew up with westerns on TV and the big screen, I certainly have an idea of how they thrived during the 1930s-1960s.

Today, though, while we have successes such as the History Channel's Hatfields & McCoys, westerns themselves seem few and far between.

We've certainly had homages, such as many of Quentin Tarantino's movies, including his upcoming one Django Unchained. While we have yet to see how good that film is, for every bonafide success like Unforgiven (1992), we get crap like Bad Girls (1994), which leads to another drought of the genre again.

I've heard some say that the western began dying out by the start of the 1970s. Hannie Caulder is one which arrived during that time, although it did not make the same impression as the Clint Eastwood films High Plains Drifter (1973) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) or John Wayne's swan song The Shootist (1976).

The title character (Raquel Welch) is a simple woman whose life is turned upside down after she is raped, her house burned to the ground, and her husband murdered by three brothers (Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, and Jack Elam).

Hannie is left for dead, but encounters bounty hunter Thomas Price (Robert Culp), who reluctantly agrees to help her seek revenge by training her in gun use.

After obtaining weapons from gunsmith Bailey (Christopher Lee, a great actor whom I seem to end up writing about a lot on this site), they confront the murderous trio.

While the rape scene is not as jolting as the ones in Deliverance (1972) and Boys Don't Cry (1999), Borgnine, Martin, and Elam still manage to give us villains we love to hate and are clearly having fun.

Not surprisingly, the posters for this film emphasized Welch's sex appeal. Fortunately, this film is still entertaining because, unlike the four actresses in the aforementioned Bad Girls (Madeline Stowe, Drew Barrymore, Andie MacDowell, and Mary Stuart Masterson), Welch is given an actual character to play and has a great supporting cast to back her up.

Indeed, one could say this film is everything Girls should have been because that movie basically tries to become a revisionist western without bothering to show any grittiness (let alone realism) of that time period. This was quite a shame since the four leading actresses are all charismatic and deserved a better film to share the screen with. For all the crimes Girls commits (check out this review for a list of those crimes) I'd say the four leads deserve the least amount of blame for its failure.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Underrated movie lines

For this entry, I'm actually going to focus on five films which most everyone knows about, even if they haven't seen them. Specifically, I'm going to look at lines from those films which I haven't heard many people quote as often as, say, "I am your father," but which I still loved.

1. Dr. No (1962):
This film, of course, began the James Bond film series and, naturally, introduced the world to the line "Bond...James Bond."
One line that I've always loved from this film, though, is the one spoken by Bond (Sean Connery) when he dines with the villainous title character (Joseph Wiseman).
"Tell me, does the toppling of American missiles really compensate for having no hands?"
The doctor, whose hands were lost in a lab accident and replaced with metallic appendages that can crush steel, actually pauses before simply telling Bond that his plans to sabotage the U.S. space program is just one step in bringing the world to its knees.

2. Superman (1978):
This film became the yardstick by which all superhero movies have since been measured for many reasons. One major reason is, of course, Christopher Reeve's wonderful portrayal of the title character. In lesser hands, the Man of Steel/Clark Kent would have been reduced to a second-rate Dudley Do-Right in this film, but, thanks to the foresight of director Richard Donner, Reeve was able to bring actual acting to the table (unlike Michael Keaton when he played Batman) and, thus, was able to act morally righteous without coming off as sappy.
That was probably best illustrated when the Man of Steel and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) meet on her balcony before taking their romantic flight. When Lois asks him why he's on Earth, he replies with:
"I'm here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way!"
To which Lois, without missing a beat, replies:
"You're gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country."
This film, which was released the year the superhero turned 40, came out years after Watergate shook our faith in our elected officials, so this exchange is great because it reminds us of what Superman is about and how the character can adapt to changing times.

3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979):
This movie is what I call a 'rainy day' film, meaning that if I'm flipping through channels and come across this, I'd be willing to sit through it if nothing better is on. Yes, with the exception of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), all the following movies with the original Trek crew are better than this one. But this is not to say that TMP does not have its good points (my wife liked this film a lot more than I thought she would). Production value-wise, it remains, to this day, the best looking of all the Trek films. I must also mention the great Jerry Goldsmith score, which is probably my favorite aspect of the film.
Although TMP was criticized for not giving Trek fans the character interplay that the series possessed, there is one nice moment which briefly captures that aspect of the beloved series.
Once Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has come back on the Enterprise, he meets with Kirk (William Shatner) and McCoy (DeForest Kelley). The good doctor begins by saying:
"Spock, you haven't changed a bit. You're just as warm and as sociable as ever!"
To which Spock replies with:
"Nor have you, Doctor, as your continued predilection toward irrelevancy demonstrates."
This harkens back to the classic Spock/McCoy exchanges of the series. Nimoy wrote in his autobiography I am Spock that he offered a line for Spock in the film's final scene when Scotty (James Doohan) tells him that he can be back on Vulcan in four days. Nimoy said that he suggested Spock say that his continued presence on the ship would be essential if McCoy was to remain on board.
However, what could have been a great line was cut from the final film, which is a shame as more witty dialogue such as that would certainly have given TMP a better reputation.

4. The Princess Bride (1987):
Now here is one film which has many classic lines. I have seen "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!" on more bumper stickers than I can count.
One nice line which I haven't heard quoted from this great film often, though, is what Humperdink (Chris Sarandon) tells Westley (Cary Elwes) before he unleashes the Machine's full strength on him.
"You truly love each other, and so you might have been truly happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, no matter what the storybooks say."
While the Shrek films ended up beating us over the head with the fact that they were spoofs of fairy tales, Bride was a fairy tale played out in a straightforward manner, which makes this one line a great wink at the audience.

5. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997):
This film obviously has a following, but, while Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow made a nice team, I didn't find it very funny.
However, there is one line that cracked me up. When Romy (Sorvino) suggests that she and Michele (Kudrow) invented post-its, Michele becomes irritable because it sounds like Romy is taking all the credit for their 'invention.' This leads to a verbal fight in which they argue about, among other things, which of them is better looking. Michele then asks:
"Who lost their virginity first?"
To which Romy answers:
"Oh, big whoop with your cousin Barry. I wouldn't brag about it."
I wish the rest of the film had lines that made me chuckle as much as that one did.

Monday, October 15, 2012

From Here to Infinity-The Ultimate Voyage (1994)

"Think of it: There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts of Earth." -Patrick Stewart This documentary about what lies beyond our solar system came at an appropriate time. Star Trek: The Next Generation had just ended its seven-year run (the show's finale, "All Good Things...," won the 1994 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation), so having Patrick Stewart host/narrate this opus was definitely a plus. While Sir Patrick's career has definitely thrived since then, the four subsequent movies TNG spawned-Star Trek: Generations (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), while they certainly have their good points, overall failed to capture the magic of what made TNG itself work. For anyone who has already seen their share of documentaries about the stars, this film doesn't really say anything you may not have already heard. But for novices on the subject, this is a great introductary tool. But its nice pace makes it worth watching again and again, and, hey, how can anyone resist a documentary Sir Patrick narrates?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Oblong Box (1969)

"I might find myself buying your pretty little body one day for a guinea or two." -Dr. Neuhartt. One of Michael Mann's best movies is Heat (1995), an exciting police drama which became noteworthy for its teaming of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (they both starred in 1974's The Godfather Part II but shared no scenes). But it also has nice work from Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore at a time before their offscreen antics pissed away the goodwill they had established for themselves in the business. However, Pacino and De Niro only have two scenes and roughly 10 minutes of screentime together. That dynamic always reminded me of The Oblong Box, which was promoted as being the first film to team legends Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. But they only have a brief scene together. Loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's story of the same name, the film begins in 1865. Julian Markham (Price) returns to England from Africa. His brother, Sir Edward (Alister Williamson), has been disfigured by an African voodoo tribe for a crime he allegedly committed against them. This prompts Julian to lock him in his room. However, Sir Edward attempts to escape by faking his death, thanks to a witchdoctor (Harry Baird) family lawyer Trench (Peter Arne) has contacted. However, Julian puts Sir Edward in the title box before Trench can do anything more. At the viewing of the body, Julian asks Trench to find another body to stand in for Sir Edward's, which leads to Trench and the witchdoctor killing one Tom Hacket (Maxwell Shaw). Sir Edward is buried and Hacket's body is thrown into a river. Julian promptly resumes his life by marrying the beautiful Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer), but Sir Edward is later exhumed by graverobbers in the employ of Dr. Newhartt (Lee). Sir Edward revives shortly after the not-so-good doctor opens the casket and promptly blackmails Neuhartt into giving him shelter while he concocts his revenge on Trench. To that end, he covers his face with a crimson hood when he goes out. Neuhartt's maid Sally (Sally Geeson) takes pity on Sir Edward, which prompts Neuhartt to fire her. Ironically, she quickly finds employment with Julian, who has become suspicious of Trench's activities after he realizes that a friend found Becket's body in the river. Trench later informs him that Sir Edward was buried alive. Sir Edward's run in with drunks in town, which ends in murder, prompts Neuharrt to find ways to rid himself of him. Eventually, Sir Edward finds the witchdoctor and learns that he was punished becasue Julian killed a child during their time in Africa. The witchdoctor claims he cannot help Sir Edward and, after a fight, the latter returns to Neuharrt, whom he promptly kills after the doctor attempts to give him poison. Sally, upon hearing news of Sir Edward's activities, informs Julian of her knowledge of him, which prompts Julian to go to Neuharrt's where, dying, the doctor informs him that Sir Edward is going to Julian's home. The climax ends with Julian shooting Sir Edward, but being bitten by his brother before he dies. This, naturally, leads to Julian getting the same curse, to Elizabeth's horror. Both stars are great, although it would have been nice if they had more screen time together. Fortunately, they would reteam twice more: Scream and Scream Again (1969), which reunited both with this film's director, Gordon Hessler, and House of the Long Shadows (1983).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fear in the Dark (1991)

"From the earliest fireside ghost stories to big budget blockbuster horror movies of today, we have entertained ourselves with terrifying visions drawn from our darkest nightmares."
-Christopher Lee

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I suppose I have always loved the horror genre. Every Halloween growing up, I always enjoyed watching classics such as the 1931 gems Dracula and Frankenstein. I remember wanting to see Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) when they were originally released, even though I didn't actually watch the films themselves until I reached high school. But when The Silence of the Lambs (1991) came out, my love for the genre seemed to increase ten-fold (some say Silence isn't a horror film, but the rest of us know better). Maybe it was because I was a teenager, but I started seeking out more and more horror entertainment after seeing that classic. Eventually, I even sat down and, over time (not in one sitting, because I had other priorities), watched all the Friday the 13th entries. Like Star Trek: Voyager, that series is too non-sensical to be classifed as 'good,' but it can be fun to watch. But this documentary on the horror genre, which was televised on the BBC the same year Silence appeared in cinemas, is definitely good, as I found out after purchasing it on VHS (remember those?). It discusses the beginnings of the genre, which, at the time, emphasized vampires and other supernatural figures. The references to McCarthyism in such classics as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is also referenced, as are the 'nature gone amuck' genre which, in the 1970s, was reinvented by Jaws (1975). There is also reference to Jack the Ripper and how that case eventually led to the influence of Psycho (1960). That film, of course, led to the slasher film genre such as Halloween (1978) and its subsequent ilk. Ed Gein, a farmer from Wisconsin who was imprisoned for killing a number of women in 1957, is also mentioned, as it was his story which would inspire Psycho, Silence, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Other notable highmarks of the genre include The Exorcist (1973) and the EC comics, such as Tales From the Crypt, which would sadly fall victim to McCarthyism. The emphasis on then-recent release Silence is also nice (I wonder how this documentary would have played out if it was televised after its well-deserved Oscar wins). Directors such as Dario Argento, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and William Friedkin, writers like Kim Newman, and Saul Bass (who worked on Psycho's shower sequence) give wonderful insight. Christopher Lee's narration is the icing on the cake.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

"There's not a lot that I am good at. But I'm good at getting guys to want me. Not date me, or marry me, but want me."
-Rose Lorkowski

Although she would become a bona fide star with the delightful Enchanted (2007), the film that made me an Amy Adams fan was Catch Me If You Can (2002) because she expressed sweetness and vulnerability that made you believe Leonardo DiCaprio's con man would want to give up his womanizing ways and settle down with her. 
For some reason, though, there was a bit of a delay before other, equally juicy parts would head her way.  One of those parts was in this film, in which she plays Rose Lorkowski, a single mother who is having an affair with a married man and who needs to raise enough money to send her son to a private school. With the help of her high school friend Mac (Steve Zahn), she evenutally finds work in an unlikely profession, as a crime scene cleanup lady.
Rose eventually persuades her underachieving sister Norah (Emily Blunt) to join her on her unorthodox venture and, together, they create Sunshine Cleaning. Despite some initial false steps, the business becomes successful, and gives Rose enough confidence to end her relationship. One day, however, Norah accidentally burns down a house she is cleaning (Rose is attending a baby shower at the time). This leads to Sunshine Cleaning going out of business.
Fortunately, their eccentric father (Alan Arkin) evenutally comes to the rescue with a new cleaning business that Rose agrees to go into with him. Norah, presumably, finds peace with herself after taking a road trip to find herself.
While I doubt setting up a business such as cleaning up crime scenes is as simple as this film makes it out to be, this movie is still a wonderful, uplifting character study.
Both Adams and Blunt are great and instantly likeable, but the scene-stealer is Arkin who quite funny as the father who, despite his seeming, life-long indifference, manages to come through for his little girls.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Deadlock (1991)

"I swear, if that collar doesn't kill you, I will! -Tracy Riggs to Frank Warren. Although recent events have reminded us that she was once Mrs. Tom Cruise, Mimi Rogers has a number of good films and performances to her name, perhaps her most well-known being Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) and The Rapture (1991). Right up there with those two films is this science fiction film, also known as Wedlock, which orginally aired on HBO. The movie begins with diamond thief Frank Warren (Rutger Hauer) who, after pulling off his latest heist, is set up by his partners-in-crime, his fiance Noelle (Joan Chen) and his friend Sam (James Remar), who turn him in to the police. However, they are unable to find where Frank has stashed the diamonds. Frank is sent to Camp Holliday, where each prisoner is forced to wear a collar with an explosive which connected to another, unknown inmate. If they are separated by more than 100 yards, both explosives go off. Frank later learns that he is connected to fellow inmate Tracy Riggs (Rogers) when they escape with their collars intact. By this point, the film becomes an enjoyable sci-fi version of the great Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps (1935), with Hauer and Rogers sharing great chemistry as Frank and Tracy must find a way to deal with each other as they are being pursued by Noelle, Sam and Warden Holliday (Stephen Tobolowsky). In addition to having great starring roles for two underrated actors, the film was directed by the equally underrated Lewis Teague, who made the memorable creature features Alligator (1980) and Cujo (1983).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Powwow Highway (1989)

"This ain't the American Dream. This here's the Third World." -Buddy Red Bow. Almost a decade before Smoke Signals (1998) gained notoriety for being the first movie made exculsively by Native Americans (on both sides of the camera), this funny, uplifting film came along and even won a prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Buddy Red Bow (A Martinez) is an activist fighting a proposal for strip-mining at his home-the Cheyenne reservation in Lame Deer, MO. He then receives word that his estranged sister Bonnie (Joannelle Nadine Romero) has been framed and arrested in Santa Fe, NM after police find marijuana in the trunk of her car. As he does not own his own transportation, Buddy asks his friend Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer), whose recent spiritual visions have led to his purchase of a car, to drive him to Santa Fe. But Buddy is taken aback by Philbert's newly acquired automobile-a rusted, beat 1964 Buick Wildcat Philbert christens "Protector-the war pony." Along the way, Philbert (to Buddy's chagrin) makes a detour in Rapid City, SD in response to further spiritual callings. Despite his anger, he and Philbert, whom he has known since childhood, begin to appreciate each other more. They even meet up with their friend Rabbit Layton (Amanda Wyss), who is also trying to get Bonnie out of jail. In the end, our heroes break Bonnie out of jail with the help of her children after police say they cannot do anything immediately due to the Christmas season. The manage to elude the feds at the cost of Protector, whom Philbert praises for throwing him out when his pony goes down a cliff at the climax. First and foremost, this movie has many funny moments. One of my favorites is when Buddy insists that Philbert buy a radio for his pony. After it is installed but does not work, Buddy angrily returns to the store demanding his money back and partially trashing the store in the process. At the same time, Philbert gets the radio to work after merely consulting the owner's manual. I've always felt that this film was somewhat reminiscent of the classic movie Easy Rider (1969) in that it centers on characters on a quest to get something better out of life. This film, though, ends on a more uplifting note. This is also the first film I remember seeing in which Native Americans take center stage without the cliches of feathers and war paint (although Philbert sees such visions). The whole cast is great, but the scene-stealer is Farmer, who is sensitive, funny, and immediately likeable. Despite his large size, you know that he is not a violent person.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Home Room (2002)

"High school is no place for kids anymore." -Det. Martin Van Zandt. This movie, interestingly enough, was released the same year as Michael Moore's Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine, which also discussed school kids killing other school kids. While the characters in Home Room are fictitious, this film is just as powerful. The film begins with the aftermath of a school shooting in which nine students are killed. The perpetrator himself is shot dead, not by his own hand, but by police. Det. Martin Van Zandt (Victor Garber) is assigned to the case and begins questioning student Alicia Browning (Busy Philipps), who was acquainted with the perpetrator. Alicia is also asked by the school principal to visit Deanna Cartwright (Erika Christensen), a student who was injured in the shooting and is now recuperating at the nearby hospital. The best parts of the film are of the two girls slowly but surely forming a kinship over the horrific events which brought them together. Alicia is an outcast with a single parent, while Deanna has rich parents and is popular with her fellow classmates. Despite those differences, Alicia, who once attempted suicide, begins to realize that Deanna is hiding psychological scars beneath her cheerful exterior. Van Zandt begins to feel doubt and fear himself since he has children who, a few years down the road, will be the same age that the two girls are. Hence, he wonders if they will have to contend with similar tragedy. All three stars are great, each playing likeable characters who try to make sense out of the most horrible kind of chaos, just like we in the real world do whenever tragedies such as Columbine have occurred. Fittingly, Christensen and director Paul F. Ryan visited Columbine High School prior to the movie's release to speak with the students and staff, as well as give them a private screening of the film. While fools are all too quick to blame school shootings on violent movies or video games, Home Room basically concludes that no one element can be held responsible. Rather, the movie focuses on the attempts of the survivors to move on.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Professional: Golgo 13 (1983)

"I'm going to settle this problem with Golgo 13 no matter what it takes! And if I have to blow up a city or two in the process, I will!"
-Leonard Dawson

I must confess that, while I've read many comics, I'm not what you would call a Manga expert. The only Manga character I know anything about is hitman Duke Togo, codename: Golgo 13. Created in 1969, this guy is a professional hit man for hire. I've heard some compare him to James Bond (he travels the world and beds a number of women), but, while 007 acts on behalf of Queen and country, Golgo 13 is just in it for the money (much like Clint Eastwood in the great westerns he did for Sergio Leone).
Ironically, I first heard of Golgo 13, not by reading one of his stories, but with a video game. In 1988, the original Nintendo system released Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode, which was the most complex video game I played at that time. Hence, it was all the more gratifying when I finally beat it. Hence, I was the first in line when its sequel The Mafat Conspiracy hit stores two years later.
This film was the first animated movie based on the manga.
It begins with Golgo 13 killing Robert Dawson, the son of ruthless industrialist Leonard Dawson.
This act prompts the elder Dawson to terminate Golgo 13 using many of the cronies at his disposal. One of them, a James Bond-esque villain called Snake, agrees to do so after Dawson allows him to rape his now-widowed daughter-in-law Laura.
Eventually, Togo goes through all of Dawson's men and, after confronting Dawson, we learn that Robert ordered Golgo 13 to kill him because he did not view himself worthy of inheriting his father's giant empire.
I also want to note that, given how Togo is so stone faced whether facing certain death or having sex, this may be the perfect part for Steven Seagal.
This film is also noteworthy for being the first to incorporate CGI animation, something we all basically take for granted today.
Other films and video games about Togo have followed but I still don't know of many people who have heard of him.
This is why I think it was smart of Steven Spielberg to have released his latest film, The Adventures of Tintin (2011), in Europe before the U.S. Tintin has been a legend in Europe for a while and the response of the Tintin's huge following there basically determined if Spielberg did the character justice. Hence, it wouldn't have really mattered if Tintin did any business in the U.S.-for fans of Herge's character the film was a success.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Continental Divide (1981)

"But why ornithology?"
"I like the uniform."
-Ernie Souchak and Nell Porter

Thirty years ago this month, John Belushi tragically died of a drug overdose. Like Robert Shaw and John Candy, Belushi was a wonderful and underrated talent who was taken from us too soon.
He deservedly became famous with his work on Saturday Night Live, but it was National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) that made him a film star. That film is one of the few to give bodily humor a good name and Belushi's character, Bluto, became ingrained into the minds of filmgoers.
Continental Divide, however, showed people that there was more to Belushi's acting than just playing a college delinquent who thought the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.
Here, he played Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ernie Souchak, whose work has both its fans and detractors. His fame comes in handy when muggers recognize him, giving police time to arrive. Ironically, those very cops put Souchak in a hospital due to their unhappiness with his work.
This hospital stay prompts his editor to give Souchak a change of pace by sending him to the Rocky Mountains to interview reclusive ornithologist Nell Porter (Blair Brown).
Souchak is against this due to his love for the city life and his unfamiliarity with the country. Although they argue at first, Sourchak and Porter slowly fall in love the more they adjust to each other's personalities. This love wins out despite the fact that they are in their professional depth at opposite ends of the country.
This film reminds me a bit of Crocodile Dundee(1986), in that it deals with a reporter who goes into unfamiliar territory only to find happiness with one of the locals.
In the cases of both films, the romance is played in a nice way which doesn't hammer into our skulls that our two leads just have to get in bed together (and the pathetic way other subsequent comedies have tried to put irony into the proceedings by having them hate each other when they first meet). The fact that the two evenutal lovebirds are likeable-in contrast to, say, Tomcats(2001)-is another reason we hope this love story ends on a happy note.
In addition to being proof that Belushi could play a 'straight man' role, this film was the first to be produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment company (although Amblin would become better known once it got its logo of E.T. and Elliott on their bicycle). The film would also prove a good thing for its screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan, because it was his Divide script which would convince Spielberg and George Lucas that he was the best choice to write the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
The less said about Belushi's next and final film-Neighbors (1981)-the better, but Divide should stand proudly alongside Animal House and The Blues Brothers (1980) as proof of how good he really was.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Swimming Pool (2003)

"I'm so tired."
"Not surprising. It's tiring to kill a man."
-Julie Bosland and Sarah Morton.

It's one thing to come away from a film with disappointment, but it's quite another to go into a film expecting one kind of story but getting another-and yet still be satisfied with the finished product.

Long ago, I was at a movie theater in Kentucky to see Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes(1984) when I first saw the film poster for Tightrope(1984). The poster, with its image of Clint Eastwood bathed in red and the tagline "A cop on the edge...," made me think initially that this would be the next Dirty Harry film, which, believe it or not, surprised me even at that very young age because the fourth film in that series, Sudden Impact(1983), was released the previous year and most film series took at least two years between entries (at least those with studio backing).

When I finally saw Tightrope years later, I went into it knowing Clint wasn't playing Harry, but the film still struck me with its differences not only from the Dirty Harry films, but most other police films. For one thing, Clint doesn't have any one-liners in the movie, which adds to the wonderfully gritty nature of the film. Also unlike most movie detectives, his character (Wes Block) spends a lot of the film inside his own head which makes the film as much a character study as a straight thriller.

Likewise, when I first saw the poster for Swimming Pool, I thought it would be a take on Lolita(1962), but, upon seeing it, I found it to be something more surprising.

Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is a British author who is experiencing writer’s block while writing her next book. At the behest of her publisher, John Bosland (Charles Dance), Sarah goes to his country house in France to unwind.

Not long after her arrival, however, Sarah meets Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), who claims to be John’s daughter, and makes herself at home in order to take a vacation herself.

Although Sarah disapproves of Julie’s lifestyle, which consists of one-night stands, she, nonetheless, finds herself developing a fascination with them. This fascination eventually turns into envy, which isn’t helped when Julie brings home a waiter named Franck (Jean-Marie Lamour), who becomes more interested in Sarah.

This triangle comes to a tragic end when Julie kills Franck after he attempted to leave her one evening. She later tells Sarah that his body is in one of the sheds.
Sarah then seduces Marcel (Marc Fayolle), the gardener, in order to distract him when he becomes suspicious of a mound of fresh soil (where Franck’s body is). Julie then leaves and thanks Sarah by leaving her the manuscript of an unpublished novel written by her late mother.

Upon returning to England, Sarah delivers her new novel and encounters Julie, albeit a completely different person than the one she shared a roof with in France.
Both Rampling and Sagnier are wonderful (and wonderful to look at) as characters who have been through a lot and just want time to relax, but find their problems increase ten-fold.

The ending was controversial to some, who found it unclear if all the events truly occurred or if it was the work of Sarah's imagination. Such ambiguity is perfect for this film and, in particular, her character since she's a writer.

As I said before, I expected a story along the lines of Lolita when I first saw the poster for this film. What makes this gem unique, though, is that it has not one but two beautiful female leads, both of whom are sympathetic and develop an intriguing bond which is the core of the film.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

"You're pretty fancy, Wilson."
"I have moments."
-Lt. Ethan Bishop and Napoleon Wilson.

Like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, if anyone knows about this film, chances are it was due to the lame remake it inspired years later.
Just before his career-defining triumph with Halloween(1978), John Carpenter wrote and directed this jolting urban thriller which is a variation on the great western Rio Bravo(1959), in the same way that A Fistful of Dollars(1964) is a variation on the great samurai film Yojimbo(1961).
In the aforementioned Howard Hawks film, John Wayne plays a sheriff who enlists the help of a drunk man, a crippled man and a overly confident gunfighter to keep the brother of a wanted man in jail.
In Assault, Police Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is given the unenviable task of supervising the closing of the title precinct (which, in the film, is referred to as Precinct 9, Division 13, but I guess that title wouldn't have sounded as cool). Not long after arriving, Bishop and the skeleton crew receive two surprises.
First, a police bus stops by to get medical attention to one of the prisoners it is tranferring.
Once the two healthier convicts, convicted murderers Wells (Tony Burton) and Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), are put in the available holding cells, a man named Lawson (Martin West) arrives at the precinct in a state of shock. His arrival is followed by gunshots from violent street thugs (introduced at the beginning of the picture) who want to kill him to avenge his killing of one of their own (that thug, in the film's most shocking scene, murdered Lawson's daughter, played by none other than reality TV star Kim Richards).
The gunshots take out most of the inhabitants of the nearly-deserted precinct except for Bishop, Lawson, Wilson, Wells, and two secretaries Leigh (Laurie Zimmer) and Julie (Nancy Loomis).
Bishop reluctantly frees Wilson and Wells who agree to assist him in their struggle. After a failed attempt to gain entry into the building, the thugs decide to mount a siege of the station. Everyone correctly deduces that Lawson is the reason they are essentially trapped now. Although Wells and Julie show reluctance at going through such hell for the sake of just one man, Bishop is determined to protect him and salvage the situation. But the thugs plan for another attempt to take the building, which they know is in a sparsely populated area. Eventually, a final standoff ends in the basement with only a tank of acetylene gas standing between the thugs and Bishop, Leigh, and Wilson.
This movie's tension is complemented by its great Carpenter score, which is just as memorable as his music for his three following films Halloween, The Fog(1980) and Escape From New York(1981).
The film began what I call a golden period for John Carpenter. Although it went virtually unnoticed in the U.S., Assault won numerous awards in Europe. That success led to Carpenter getting complete creative control for Halloween. That film's great success itself led to The Fog, Escape, The Thing(1982), Christine(1983), and Starman(1984), as well as the TV movies Elvis(1977) and Someone's Watching Me(1978).
It's quite sad that his subsequent films haven't matched the quality of the work he was putting out during that time.