Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Posterized: Now Playing July 1981

Another month, another eclectic mix of titles released in 1981. Like this year, July 1981 saw the release of a John Carpenter film, though I am assuming Escape From New York received more than a perfunctory week long one-theatre per town, one-showtime per day release. Though in fairness, Escape From New York is a much better film that The Ward.

Blow Out, which received a great Criterion Blu-Ray and DVD edition this Spring is clearly the class of this batch for myself. Other than that and Escape, I've seen Arthur, The Decline of Western Civilization, Fox and the Hound, S.O.B. and Victory.

Anyone want to make the case that any other of these July 1981 releases are hidden gems?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trailers of the Moment: Drivin'

"You know what I do first thing every morning? Read the sports page. You know why? Best part of the newspaper. Winners, losers, how it happened, score."--The Detective (Bruce Dern)

My last post was a review of a Walter Hill film, and the one prior to that focused on the trailers for two vehicular centric movies, so I thought I'd follow up with a post concerning a film that combines the direction of Hill with an auto themed plot, the 1978's badass minimalist piece, The Driver.

Before cutting to any footage from the film, the trailer opens introducing the characters, who all go by their occupation/description (keeping with the minimalist theme and the quote above which could serve as a statement of intention for Hill's film) with still images of the stars: Ryan O'Neal (The Driver), Bruce Dern (The Detective) and Isabelle Adjani (The Player)...speaking of which, how awesome were the 70's that Bruce Dern was ever a major marketing point of a film.

If you're a fan of the work of the crime cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Doulos, Le Samourai), Donald Westlake's Parker series written under the nom de plum of Richard Stark or the general 1970's American crime cinema aesthetic of the likes of Charley Varrick, you should add this to your must see list.

As a bonus, here's the trailer for what is currently my most anticipated film of the year, Drive, which netted it's director, Nicholas Winding Refn the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and me being so excited is saying a lot seeing how I wasn't even a fan of the only Refn film I've seen to this point, 2009's Bronson. But the buzz from Cannes was amazing and combined with a solid cast featuring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Hendricks, Ron Perlman, and apparently a great evil turn by Albert Brooks (!) and a stylistically direct crime story cut from the same cloth as the Hill film which I treasure, have amped up my desire to see this one ASAP.

Here's the Red Band trailer which just made it's internet debut this week and has got me all kinds of psyched.

Drive opens September 16th.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Southern Comfort (1981, Walter Hill)

Part of the 1981 Project

Deliverance, the 1972 John Boorman directed adaptation of James Dickey’s suburban male survivalist tale, became one of those films like Jaws or Halloween that saw an influx of imitations following in its wake. Itself a modern day take on the Richard Connell’s story “The Most Dangerous Game”, the appeal of the basic template is letting a cross section of men (educated, gym rats, chubby) and pit them against locals (mostly from the Southern part of the United States) who abide by more antiquated and simpler instincts and the elements. Out of all these Deliverance followers, one of the best is Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort. The basic framework is there, but thoughtfully tweaked through the culpability of the “protagonists” themselves, and their military training, which provides a subtext of a microcosm of the clusterfuck that was Vietnam.

It’s Louisiana 1973, a National Guard troop featuring a bevy of great characters actors like Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward and TK Carter, is being lead on a routine trial run (aren’t they always routine?) by their captain (Peter Coyote) in the bayou. Armed with heavy artillery loaded with only blanks (representing impotence…a key subtext of the film) yet completely under prepared, even for a trial run, they encounter a river sans any means of crossing. Seeing some docked canoes, they decide to abscond with them, figuring the importance of their mission (reminder: a trial run) far exceeds any other possible purpose. Mid-way through their trip, the owners of the vessels, bayou dwelling Cajuns, return, and not knowing any details, yell and scream like anyone who catches a thief in action probably would. A National Guard member responds not with explaining words but by firing a loud round of blanks from his machine gun. The Cajuns respond by shooting their guns, the type with actual bullets in them, and murder one of the Guardsmen. Tensions escalate as the troop is obviously lost in an unfamiliar land and begin to unravel psychologically.

Set while the conflict in Vietnam was still raging, the film serves as a microcosm for the myriad of circumstances (i.e. generally being lost in unknown land, unprepared and undermanned) that led to the malaise that was America’s involvement in Vietnam. Primary being a complete and utter inability to communicate, how could one expect the lines of communication to persons in another continent, when even native Louisianans cannot understand one another based upon dwelling location? The film also deals with a very American sense of entitlement as evidence in the film’s instigating moment, the taking of the canoes. The majority of the men don’t let their artillery impotence prevent their machismo impulses, revealed when coming across a Cajun in the bayou (the wonderful character actor Brion James), unable to deduce with certainty his involvement, but guilty by association, the men convince themselves to take him hostage, and one particular maverick amongst them destroys the man’s humble home.

Hill and his co-screenwriters Michael Kane and David Giler do a wonderful job creating realistic and fully realized characters that also serve as symbolic archetypes of masculinity. They are aided in this cause by a game cast of hungry actors who bring a verisimilitude to their performance that increases the already intense atmosphere. Every character is flawed in one way or another, even our alleged “good guys” Charles Hardin (Boothe) the fish-out-of-water member of the team, he’s from Texas, who slowly begins to give into his more paranoid thoughts, and Spencer (Carradine) who maintains a lackadaisical disposition even under the most inappropriate circumstances. As the journey home extends, all the men grapple with such issues as an inability to lead, catatonia, racism, and their most psychotic impulses coming out from beneath the surfaces.

This was the fourth in what is quite an amazing streak of five great films over the course of five years for director Walter Hill (preceded by The Driver, The Warriors, The Long Riders (my review) and followed by 1982’s 48 Hrs.), and his assuredness oozes from the screen. Smartly, he makes the decision to never give the viewer a clear shot of the Cajun persuers, so when the surviving members of the troop come across their potential nemesises, we are in the same position as they are: uncertainty. Hill imbues a strong sense of atmosphere through location shooting and is as skilled at manufacturing suspense as any of his peers. Ry Cooder provides an appropriately spiced score that is both minimal and effective.

The film that this most resembles in Hill’s oeuvre is The Warriors, a group of men just trying to get home, faced with well-armed groups attempting to prevent that very goal. While not as iconic as that film, nor Deliverance which it shares some spiritual connections, Southern Comfort deserves to be remembered thirty years on and is still relevant today as the allegory intended for Vietnam could be substituted for any war that followed and men are still lead by their base masculine impulses. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Trailer of the Moment: I Survived Carmaggedon Weekend Edition

The digital sign on the 134 informed me this afternoon that the 405 is officially reopened, and Los Angeles has survived it's closure, whose inconvenience was considered so severe and heinous it was named after a Michael Bay film, relatively unscathed. But before you hop in your car to celebrate the returning integration of LA locales, let's take a look at the trailers for two films which may give you pause, because they suggest some truly dangerous vehicular possibilities.

Duel (1971, Steven Spielberg)

The first feature length film directed by Steven Spielberg, scripted by the great genre author Richard Matheson (I am Legend) originally aired on television as a Movie of the Week, where it was so popular that it received a theatrical release in Europe and eventually in America. I notice a copyright date of 1972 on the trailer, so I am guessing this is from it's European release.

I know some might find this shocking, but after Jaws this is my favorite Spielberg film (emphasis on favorite over best). There's a basic primal aspect to the story and filmmaking that I really respond to, putting an everyman in a senseless terror ride. The primitiveness extends to the narration free trailer whose sixty seconds are action packed. Have fun counting the number of times the title of the film appears in this minute long trailer (I counted nine)!

The Car (1977, Elliot Silverstein)

The result of combining the ingredients of both Spielberg suspense films Duel and Jaws (the introduction to the lead, James Brolin, even features him being woken up a la Roy Scheider's Brody...but he has two daughters instead of two sons, so completely different) with a sprinkling of the devil based horror sub-genre that rose in the wake of The Exorcist (the film even opens with a quote from Church of Satan founder Anton LeVey), 1977's The Car is one of those enjoyable ridiculous films that were common in the 70's or 80's when studios quickly attempted to jump on a popular trend.

Similarly to the Duel trailer, The Car trailer heavily showcases the action sequences, but this time with a narrator informing us of the possessive power within, who ponders "what evil force drives...The Car!" (too bad they didn't get Percy Rodrigues) and the bellowing audio symbol of it's destructive urges...the ever threatening horn honk!

If you survived this weekend and find your appetite for vehicular mayhem whetted after these two films, I also recommend Race with the Devil (1975, Jack Starrett) where satanic cults chase after Warren Oates and Peter Fonda who are trying to enjoy a vacation in their Winnebago and Christine (1983, John Carpenter), the Stephen King adaptation where a boys first car has deadly impulses.

And in the meantime, watch the roads!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Return from Vacation

I would like to apologize for another rather lengthy hiatus from my blogging duties here. The combination of a short vacation to Portland, Oregon, the sunny (but pleasantly not oppressively hot) Southern California weather, and being stuck in jury duty for 3 days before dismissal (being married to a Public Defender has its privileges) led me to take a lax attitude towards updating the site or even surfing the web in general.

This was my second trip to Portland in the last decade (third visit there in my life, counting when my family visited my aunt and uncle when I was five years old), and I have to say, it’s my kind of town. Granted, we were blessed with beautiful weather that fluxuated between the mid-70s and low-80s the entire time, which I realize is a stark contrast to the eight plus months of rainfall the Pacific Northwest city is known for (my last visit was during the month of December, so I definitely have experienced that), but I imagine the city’s walkability and reliable public transportation certainly would provide respite during more inclement days.

While some residents (especially those that write for the weeklys) have some of that “I live in a great city superiority complex” thing going on that drove me a bit batty when I lived in San Francisco, that’s forgivable for a place where record and book stores still thrive, good food and drink (especially DRINKS) are not only appreciated but affordable, a large contingencies of movie theatres serve beer and/or quality meals, and where despite being a bastion of left of Nader liberals (of which I tend to fall on the political spectrum) there’s no sales tax!

I thought I’d share some of the entertainment highlights and purchases of my trip with you.


My wife and I caught two films at two separate movie theatres while vacationing. The first was Werner Herzog’s captivating documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, one of the only 3-D films of the modern era where the extra dimension was actually necessary, providing texture and scope, at the Living Room Theatres. The theatres seats are comprised solely of barcalounger/couch style material with a table between each seat. We had a later lunch that afternoon so we didn’t order a meal, however, spying on other attendees’ food showed a wide assortment of fine cuisine, in addition to a full bar drink menu and Espresso bar (I had an Americano). We did order some popcorn, which was brought to our seats in an actual ceramic bowl. Ooo la la, indeed. The price was $12 for each ticket, which is a little pricier than normal, but still cheaper than the Arclight on a weekend night.

The next movie we saw was at the Laurelhurst, a theatre I visited the last time I was in Portland. It’s a small, independently operated, neighborhood theatre that used to be one large theatre that was cut into about six screens decades ago. In addition to normal concession items, they also make fresh pizzas and have a tap with a selection of a half dozen beers. The programming is pretty much second run independent fare, and admission for a 4:00 screening was only three dollars! Two of the best films of the year so far were playing when we went (those would be Meek’s Cutoff and 13 Assassins), but my wife and I caught the one repertory screening they had of the Michael Cimino directed, Clint Eastwood/Jeff Bridges starring cult classic, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The print was not in the best condition and the projector bulb was wearing out, making everything darker than it should be, but for the price of admission and the chance to consume a beer during a theatrical screening, I won’t complain too much.


The world famous Powell’s Books takes over a block of space, and is a bibliophile’s paradise. In addition to the main store, there are several smaller stores throughout the City, and for those that want to give business to a smaller entity than Amazon, you can order stuff from their website and have it shipped to anywhere. During the two or three hours I shopped there I actually spent so much time in the Crime Fiction and Film related rooms that I barely scratched the surface of the actual Literature room. Oh well, next time.

Here’s my haul:

For those who cannot see all the titles too well, here’s the list of what I purchased:

Norwegian Wood-Haruki Murakami

The Score-Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)…which I already read in two days, finishing on the flight home

Fatale-Jean Patrick Manchette…which I finished yesterday during breaks at jury duty

Lady Killer-Ed McBain…the first McBain/Precinct 87 book I’ve ever purchased, anyone recommend a good starting point for this series?

The Deep Blue Good-By and the Dreadful Lemon Sky-John D. MacDonald…looking forward to entering the world of Travis McGee after hearing so much about the series

Shock Value-John Waters

Melville on Melville…one of those interview series with famous film directors, this one with Army of Shadows/Le Samoraui auteur Jean-Pierre Melville

The Locked Room-Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

A Swell Looking Babe-Jim Thompson

Child of God-Cormac McCarthy

Swag-Elmore Leonard…I read Stick earlier this year, and didn’t realize that there was another book chronicling the character Ernest Stickley until reading the back cover

Button, Button and Other Stories-Richard Matheson…now I can finally see if I was right in assuming that the recent Richard Kelly film adaption of the cover story (The Box) starting going off the rails once Matheson’s story concluded and new strains were added

I also picked up those two swanky t-shirts, and my wife found several books of interest for her that are not included in that photo.


Risking the possibility that we would have to check luggage (which we actually did not…I packed lightly), my wife and I purchased the following LPs at Jackpot Records, a local independent record chain. We had our first and only celebrity sighting there, Carrie Brownstein of the band Sleater-Kinney and the Portland centric sketch comedy show Portlandia, was shooting something in front of the store, possibly a segment for a future Portlandia episode?

Here’s what we purchased:

Otis Redding-Tell the Truth

Alice Cooper-Welcome to my Nightmare…for $ 2

Donald Byrd-The Cat Walk

Soft Machine-4

Led Zepplin-II…fun fact: though I am a pretty large music fan, this is the first Led Zeppelin album I’ve owned in any format, and I only paid a buck for it!

The Fugs-It Crawled Into My Hands, Honestly

Miles Davis-Filles De Kilimanjaro


Honestly, considering we ate out pretty much the entire trip (save for a picnic at the Rose Garden), there are too many fine establishments to mention them all in this post. But one I would really recommend to any Portland residents or visitors is a place called Evoe. It is connected to a small Italian grocery store, and there’s only two tables and counter space. The chef, Kevin Gibson, used to work at an upscale restaurant, but feeling disillusioned with the scene opened this smaller place of his own. Everything is made of fresh organic ingredients, and if you sit at the counter, right in front of your eyes. We had a small lunch comprised of a selection of pickled items as an appetizer, a salad with thinly cut slices of artichoke as the base, and a wonderful dish of fresh peas on top of toast with a bĂ©arnaise-esque sauce. And all for about twenty dollars!

So if you can’t afford a trip out of the country, but have the urge to take a small vacation this summer, I highly recommend making the journey to Portland. And hey, good news, they hate Californians slightly less than they used to!
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