Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
"Elections are next week and I don't need dead fat ladies on video screens all over the city"
Albert Pyun has built a steady career filming trashy, often straight to video, genre flicks. Often vituperated as a hack director of disposable, cheaply made trash, his films are nevertheless marked by a distinctive, if slightly borrowed, voice. Given his tutelage under Kurosawa, and his love of Sergio Leone, it is no surprise that his frequently close to budget-less pictures still contain striking visuals. Even though many of his pictures would be released straight to VHS, and thus horribly panned and scanned, he has opted to shoot in scope (a ridiculous rarity in his niche), thus aiming to give his pictures the look and feel of the works of his mentor. His reach may be beyond his grasp, but at least the motherfucker's reaching.
With his Tim Thomerson (Trancers) and Jackie Earle Haley (Breaking Away, [I think he was also in a comic book movie earlier this year.]) starring, straight to video, sci-fi/action pic Dollman, Pyun proudly wears his influences on his sleeve. [Side note: sadly, the Dollman DVD I received from Netflix was pan and scan.]
After coming up with the idea for Dollman, an eager Pyun, likely called up his producer and exclaimed, "Hey, I like Clint Eastwood. Let's make a Clint Eastwood movie."
"Ok, yeah. That'd be cool. We could do a sly homage. Borrow a few things from his movie persona, but make our character different enough that we can call him our own."
"Fuck that noise. Let's just take every Clint Eastwood character cliche, jam it all into one movie, crank that shit up to eleven, and see what happens. Give Clint the script. He'll be so flattered by it that I'm sure he'll take the role."
"I hate to break it to you Albert, we can't afford the man with no name. I don't even know that we can even afford film stock."
"Alright, get Trancers star Tim Thomerson instead."
Significantly (for me anyways), Pyun birthed Dollman in 1991, the year that I was eleven. This is significant because Dollman has the sort of plot that I would have dreamed up back then and subsequently creamed myself over (believe me, it is not far from the sorts of movie ideas I had in '91). Because this movie made me feel like a kid again, let me explain Dollman's plot the way I would have described it to a friend if I had thought it up at that age.
"Alright, so there's this cop who's like Dirty Harry and stuff and he's got this gun, this space gun. It's like really powerful and stuff. It's like the size of a regular Dirty Harry gun but it like shoots...when it shoots, it shoots like a bomb. It blows up whatever it hits."
"Space gun? So did it fall to Earth from another planet?"
"No, no. I forget to mention, but he's from another planet."
"What, like Mars or something?"
"No, he's from really far away. Not one of the close planets. A planet we haven't heard of."
"What kind of alien does he look like? Is he like E.T. or is he like Close Encounters of the Third Kind or something?"
"No, no. He's like us. He looks human. His planet is like ours, but more advanced and stuff. They got like flying cars, but it's also really dirty. It's like Earth but in the future. But anyways, he's like a cop here on his planet. He's really good at his job but his boss hates him and stuff because he's too violent."
"Yeah, so he's in a space ship chasing this bad guy who's like just a head."
"Just ahead of him? Does he catch up?"
"No, no. I meant the bad guy only has a head. He doesn't have a body."
"Holy shit. That's weird. I thought you said the people on this planet were just like us."
"No, but yeah they are. But this guy used to be whole, but Brick Bardo, that's the name of the Dirty Harry cop guy, had shot off the rest of the guy's body so now he's just a head."
"So he's chasing the head guy in space and he flies through this like dimension thingy-"
"So he's from another dimension? I thought he was just from another planet."
"No, sure, um...well, he is, but no, but yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I guess It's like another dimension and stuff, like The Twilight Zone or something. That's why it's like Earth and stuff and why they speak English and stuff. It's like our world but different."
"So why don't they speak Spanish? Why English."
"I don't know...they just...that's just the way it is. But, anyways, they fly through this space hole and they end up falling to Earth. Then he fights crime here."
"Oh shit. So he fights crime on Earth, blowing up bad guys with his gun?"
"Almost, but here's what's different. When he comes to Earth, he's only thirteen inches tall. See, on his planet, this like...they're all...this is their regular size. Everything on Earth is the same, just bigger. We don't know this until he gets to Earth, though. Because how would he know that he's too small if this is regular size on his planet.
"Rad. But couldn't the bad guys on Earth just step on him if he's only thirteen inches tall here?"
"No, cause he's still got his gun. On his planet it's like really powerful and stuff, blowing stuff up, but because it's so much smaller on Earth, here it's like a regular Earth gun. When he shoots bad guys, they don't blow up, they just like get shot...you know and die regular. But he can still kill bad guys with his gun."
[Thirteen inches of raw man, Brick Bardo don't treat 'em gently.]
"Oh, that's pretty rad."
"Yeah, you know, because in these movies whenever aliens come to our planet they're like our size. No one ever thought about, well what if they're small and stuff."
"Wow, that's smart, I never thought of that stuff before."
"Yeah, I thought it was pretty cool when I thought about it."
"Will it have boobies?"
[Side note: Dollman does not contain boobies.]
Yes, Dollman is a dumb and obvious movie jukebox rip-off pastiche. But, for catering to the kid in me, this movie is a winner.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
"Look, I'm not here to pick a fight. I'm just here to party all night. So chill out and enjoy the sights."
-John "Rappin" Hood
With their production company Cannon, the Israeli producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were responsible for some of the most entertainingly bad (frequently straight to video) flicks of the eighties. Aside from funding a large swath of Albert Pyun's career, the Golan-Globus team was also responsible for Death Wish sequels, Missing in Action films, The Delta Force, The Apple, Masters of the Universe, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Bloodsport, Over the Top, Cobra, and Runaway Train (I actually enjoy this one unironically). As is obvious from their filmography, this team had quite a knack for latching onto whatever current film trend was sure to bring in the scratch. Thus they were able to consistently turn a profit and churn out cheap, quickly made pictures.
[Any lovers of cheesy eighties action films are sure to have seen this logo more than once during their formative movie viewing years.]
In their quest for profit, Golan-Globus found no fad or cultural movement that they weren't willing to co-opt. In the early eighties, when, after a long gestation period, rap spread from its birthplace in the South Bronx to the rest of New York and the country, rap movies soon followed. Two of the earliest hip-hop films, the documentary Style Wars, and the frequently sampled, fictionalized documentary Wild Style, boldly announced the dynamic new subculture to the world. Focusing not just on the music but also on the graffiti art and break-dancing movements, these two films proved that this was more than a new style of music. It was a way of life. [Wow, sorry for the obnoxious hyperbolizing.] Golan-Globus rightly recognized that this would be a sure-fire money maker. Their first attempts at using this music to bring in the dollar dollar bills were Breakin' and the sequel Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (both released in 1984). Although these films were laughably condescending attempts to co-opt the hip-hop culture, they did not go far enough.
Golan-Globus would have to give it their all if they wanted to completely appropriate hip-hop, and erase everything hip-hopian about it. The Breakin' movies were just a little too authentic. After much deliberation and intense planning, they birthed the rap/comedy/musical Rappin'. This further attempt to make rap safe for mass consumption, would soon die sad and lonely, resting eternally in the coffins of numerous dusty VHS bargain bins.
A flamboyant pre-New Jack City Mario Van Peebles stars as John "Rappin" Hood, a Pittsburghian, just released from the pen after serving eighteen months for assault, who has moved back in with his loving grandma (Eyde Byrde) and younger brother Allan (Leo O'Brien). As Hood explains with the power of his rappin' (hey, that's the name of the movie), this is one tight family.
Hood can't stick around to reminisce with the fam, unfortunately, because he has to go to his favorite club and catch up with his entourage. Among the members of Hood's posse are a pre-"E.R." Eriq La Salle as Ice, and a pre-"A Different World" Kadeem Hardison as Moon. While at the club, Hood runs afoul of former partner, now rival, Duane (Charles Grant), a man thirsting for a fight. Hood has sworn off his previous fightin' ways, however, and fights the urge to fight the fight that Duane is itching to fight with him.
Although the Hood/Duane brawl is averted, other conflicts soon arise. Two rivals, one from Hood's crew and the other from Duane's, bump into each other on the dance floor and then have an intense showdown. Instead of succumbing to fisticuffs, however, they resort to an impassioned Broadway style dance-off. Although failing as a credible rap movie, Rappin' succeeds as a piece of fabulous gay cinema. The entire movie is one lead up to a man on man sex scene that never happens. It is a gay porn without the fuckin'.
[Fighting the urge to kiss each other before an intense dance-off.]
The gang rivalry soon takes a backseat to another more important conflict. It seems that greedy landlord Mr. Thorndike (Harry Goz, "Sealab 2021") and his henchman Cedric (Rony Clanton) have been using less than legal means to oust the tenants of Hood's neighborhood so that the two greedy business tycoons can use the land to construct buildings for a mysterious, evil business venture. Although their plan is never made clear, one can only assume that the proposed business involves some combination of baby seal clubbing, tire fires, puppy drowning, and elementary school toxic waste dumping.
Hood and his gang vow to thwart the evil businessman's designs. With Hood's help, the tenants prove too formidable an obstacle for Thorndike and Cedric, who, in turn, hire Duane's gang to rough up the tenants and vandalize property. Oh snap! It's on! The rival gangs converge in a back alley and have at the fightin', though not the fuckin', that this film has been building to. Although Hood's gang triumph's over Duane's, the fight is not over.
Thorndike uses his powerful connections in the city council to get his way. At an intense city-wide meeting, when it seems that all hope is lost, Hood uses the power of his rappin' (hey, that's the name of the movie) to set things right once again.
In case, viewers were unsure whether the previous rap set things right, another rap is included to show that all the folks be getting along now.
Rappin's laughably atrocious rap lyrics are truly where this movie shines. My personal favorite rhymes come during a scene in which Cedric is kicked out of the neighborhood by Hood's gang. After a number of kids jump onto Cedric's car as he attempts to drive away, Hood decides to narrate the events with the power of his rappin' (hey, that's the name of the movie):
Cedric, my man, don't you know that you're wrong?
You need to go back right where you belong.
With your polyester suit and a phony briefcase,
Don't you know that you're a total disgrace?
Sold out to the man for the promise of cash,
And that's why you're about to crash.
And then Cedric crashes into a trash truck. Pure fuckin' poetry.
After witnessing the cartoon that is Rappin', a viewer back in the day might have been forgiven for assuming that this cultural movement had reached its apex and was fading away into parody and eventual obscurity. It would seem that rap had lost any street-cred and was now playing the Vegas circuit. It was far from over, of course, as we all know. Rap's artistic renaissance in the nineties still lay a decade away. [Of course, it's safe to say now that it's a shell of its former self.] Although many more embarrassment's still lay ahead for rap [Trace Adkins' country rap Honky Tonk Badonkadonk comes to mind (I apologize for linking to this).], nothing will ever top the craptasticularness of this particular Golan-Globus feature.
Friday, July 17, 2009
The Plot: After uncovering the wrongdoings of a U.S. president, two scrappy journalists work to expose him, leading to his downfall. In his taut thriller All the President's Men, Alan J. Pakula creates a world in which the newspaper reigns supreme. It is all powerful. Rather than acting as a cheerleader for a war waged on false premises, journalism, in this film, holds the powerful accountable. Rather than bandying about in pointless conjectures, journalists publish only what can be verified. They are committed to the facts. Newspapers hold themselves to high standards because the citizens demand it. The citizens in this picture, rather than relying on the news for mindless tabloid celebrity gossip, read newspapers to stay abreast of the latest political and world news.
Why this movie could not exist today: See the plot description.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
"The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed."
-bra-less, big-titted college student
Convincing, intelligently conceived plots are so over-rated. Whenever watching a seventies or eighties slasher pic, I inevitably think to myself, 'this has lots of tits and all, but why do it gotta make me think? Why do it gotta have all that plot shit?' Although many have tried, few have satisfied my desire for complete mind-numbingly dumb entertainment--movies devoid of any artistic merit whatsoever. Thankfully Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon found out that I didn't like my brain to be all hurtin' and shit while trying to decipher the labyrinthine plots of these deliciously trashy genre films, and thus decided to go back in time to the early eighties in order to film Pieces, one of the dumbest of these films to emerge from the era.
Simon opens Pieces on an idyllic 1942 New England home, a home in which a young boy works on a dirty jigsaw puzzle, one with a nudy picture of a young woman. [Why the nekkid lady in the 1940s puzzle has feathered late seventies style "Charlies Angels" hair is never explained. I would like to believe that this puzzle was transported back in time by evil spirits. The production company decided to cut this scene, however, because of time constraints.] When the boy's mother catches him working on the Oui pinup puzzle, she goes all apeshit, reprimanding the lad for thinking dirty thoughts. She then threatens to burn all of his naked lady paraphernalia. The child, upset about the potential loss of spank material, reacts, in the only logical manner, by axing his moms. Oh snap! By the time the authorities arrive, the boy has hidden in the closet, pretending that some random axe-wielding maniac had broken in and committed the slaughter. Then the credits roll.
Generally, the formula in movies of this sort, is to start off with a bang and then introduce the characters and story, gradually building to the next kill, usually to take place about another twenty minutes or so into the picture. Pieces doesn't follow this pansy-ass rule. All too aware of the short attention spans of slasher film connoisseurs such as myself, as soon as the credits finish rolling, Simon brings us to the present day and presents the chainsaw induced beheading of a young college student. At regular intervals of about ten to fifteen minutes, Simon has his killer off various other, mostly naked, college gals.
The college's Dean (Edmund Perdum), concerned that a chainsaw wielding maniac on campus would be bad for the school's image, decides to keep this shit on the down-low. When the Five-O arrives on campus to solve the crime, he tells them to keep everything secret so as not to upset the students. Enter husband and wife acting juggernauts Lynda Day George (Day of the motherfuckin' Animals, "The Love Boat") and Christopher George (The Exterminator, "The Love Boat") as two of the cops on the case. Lynda Day plays Mary Riggs, a world-renowned tennis star moonlighting as a cop who goes undercover as the school's tennis instructor in order to solve the murder mystery. This is the smartest thing ever to occur in film.
Although the police work diligently to uncover the mystery, they are forever one step behind the killer. They consistently discover the victims just after the killer has fled, taking with him random body parts from the kills. The killer stitches these parts, or pieces (hey that's the name of the movie), together to make a new jigsaw puzzle of a woman. After discovering one particularly mutilated victim, Lynda Day treats us to the single greatest line delivery in film history:
Of course, there are awesome lines aplenty in this film, such as this exchange between two cops:
"This case is giving me the creeps."
"I know. I wonder what he's doing with all the missing pieces."
"That's what I mean. He's creepy."
And then there is this gem from a police Sergeant, explaining the lack of discernible leads in the case:
"Who knows at this stage. We're just out buying clothes without labels and trying 'em on for size."
Among the suspects in the case are college student Kendall (Ian Sera), gardener Willard (Paul L. Smith, Bluto in Robert Altman's Popeye), and head of the Anatomy Department Professor Brown (Jack Taylor). Simon frequently presents us with various obvious signs of the suspects' possible guilt in order to throw us off the track of the real killer, including such scenes as Willard gleefully polishing his chainsaw and the emotionless Professor nonchalantly talking about all the dead bodies he has seen throughout the course of his life. In keeping with the shallow characters, plot and every other aspect of this film, Simon may as well have named these characters Red Herrings One, Two, and Three. It all works to naught, of course, because when the actual killer is revealed, no explanation is given for his murders/jigsaw woman creation other than that he likes jigsaw puzzles and murdering people. The exceedingly dumb reveal is soon followed by one of the most head-scratchingly, random, out-of-place conclusions to any slasher pic.
Speaking of random-assness, the film's producer, Dick Randall, was also working on Kung Fu pictures at the time and decided that Simon should include this scene in the middle of his film:
For those who haven't seen Pieces, this scene makes even less sense within the context of the picture. Explaining away the random-ass Kung-Fu interlude by revealing that the Asian stereotype character, is the college's Kung-Fu instructor is a delicious piece of dumb film shit. Apparently, this college has departments for just about anything a person could want to study. Here are a few other majors that could very well be offered at this prestigious learning institution: Alchemy, Animal Husbandry/Psychiatry, and Falafelology.
As with many other films in the genre, Pieces has been assailed as a piece of misogynistic crap. This claim is not without basis, of course. It is true, after all, that all of the frequently nude female victims are brutally slaughtered only to be turned into a a jigsaw woman. Women here are seen as just a series of pieces, lacking any depth or humanity. Then again, the male characters are equally vapid, lacking any depth, humanity, or reason for being. The one-dimensional characters of both sexes are a result, more than anything, of inept writing. It could actually be argued that Lynda Day's character is more empowered and multi-layered than any of the male characters. Her Riggs is a powerful woman, balancing multiple careers, all while solving a crime, helping to bring down the vicious killer. The fact that she has two jobs automatically makes her more complex than anyone else in the film.
It should also be noted that, although it doesn't compare to the copious amount of female nudity on display, Pieces does contain a wang shot, a rare occurrence in films of this sort (and indeed most films in general). With this scene, the objectification-of-male-and-female-bodies scales are brought closer into balance.
On a sliding pop culture scale of female empowerment, Pieces lies somewhere between this
If Simon's film had been marked by any signs of quality, it would be a deeply troubling and questionable picture. It is far too dumb/inept a film, however, to be anything other than unintentionally funny. As with a dumb, sexist, homophobic, drunken frat-douche attempting to roofie an unsuspecting girl, only to fall backwards from the frat's porch-railing, hit his head, pass out, and shit his pants; it is hard to do anything other than laugh at Simon's work. There is no better way to sum up this picture than with its tagline: "It's exactly what you think it is."
[This is quite possibly my favorite teaser trailer of all time:]
Thursday, July 9, 2009
The Plot: In 1985 Martin Scorsese was all set to shoot The Last Temptation of Christ when, at the last minute, the studio pulled the rug out from under him. The director, frustrated with the cancelled project, decided to trudge on regardless and make an entirely different movie, quick and on the cheap--something he hadn't done since his early days as a filmmaker. After rummaging through a pile of scripts, he came upon an exceptionally clever screenplay by young up and comer Joseph Minion. With a limited budget Scorsese soon began shooting in downtown Manhattan. What resulted was After Hours, one of the director's most under-appreciated efforts and just an all around great New York movie.
Griffine Dunne stars as word processor Paul Hackett, a man who meets a woman in a coffee shop and agrees to meet her later that night at her Soho loft. What was supposed to be a nice night out, soon detoriorates into a hellish Kafka-esque nightmare as he loses his money, gets mistaken for a burglar, gets pursed by a vigilante mob, and becomes involved in other such mishigas. The only thing he is concerned with, aside from not being murdered, is getting back home. Considering his circumstances, however, his home base of the Upper East Side may as well be all the way in Los Angeles. Scorsese's minor masterpiece is one of the tensest, most pitch-black comedies you could ever want to see.
Why this movie could not exist today: Cell phones and ATM's aplenty.
[Side note: does the job title "word processor" exist anymore?]
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
-Mrs. Daphne Flatow (Wild in the Streets)
Seeing as it's been a while since I've made any lists, I thought I'd have another go at it. And because I occasionally like a challenge, I decided to make a comprehensive list of my all time favorite movies. This proved to be an enormous undertaking, however, so I decided to separate the list into my favorite movies from each decade. I will start with the sixties and then move in turn to the fifties, the seventies, the forties, the eighties, the thirties, the nineties, the twenties, etc. [Side note: I will not make a list per week. I wish I could give you a time-line on the rate at which I will pump these out, but I don't like to give dates on such shit. They'll get done when they get done.]
Since my favorite movie was made in 1962, it seemed only appropriate to begin with this decade. Of course, the sixties is also an appropriate starting point in that it proved to be a watershed decade for film. A generation of French filmmakers weened on American films started a movement that would violently shake the underpinnings of popular film. Frequently examining genre films through a decidedly French mindset, these films redefined the potential for the medium. Italy's neo-realist movement of the previous decade and a half gave way to the formalist surreal experimentation of Fellini and the austere existential examinations of ennui by Antonioni. Gaining some international attention in the previous decade through the work of such directors as Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi; Japanese cinema continued to flourish in the sixties. Indeed many other national cinemas (Czech, Swedish, Polish) came into their own during this decade. In America, the various revolutions bubbling throughout the culture began to seep into the mainstream films. And with the gradual destruction of the Production Code in the states, boundaries continued to be pushed. As Linda Williams points out in her comprehensive book Screening Sex, this was the decade in which American Cinema came of age sexually. The decade in which American movies went all the way.
I know I'm sure to get some flack for this piece, if for no other reason than that, Jules and Jim excepted, it doesn't contain any French New Wave films. While I understand the importance of this film movement, and admire the inventiveness of many of these films (as well as the new life they breathed into a staid film world), I simply could not point to any (with the exception of Jules and Jim) that I would consider among my favorites. If this had been a list of what I considered to be the most important movies of the sixties, French New Wave films would make up half of it. Rather, this is just a list of my favorite pictures from the decade.
I should point out, though, that the absence of a particular movie from this list does not necessarily mean that I would not consider it among my favorites. I may very well have some favorites that I didn't include here for the simple reason that I forgot. I am only one man, after all, and my memory is slightly shite. Speaking of which, please forgive any occasional inaccuracies in my descriptions of the films. I cover a lot of ground here and did not have time to rewatch all of these pictures before writing this piece. [Wow, way to cover my ass.]
Incidentally, when I compiled this list, I realized that it would be damn near impossible to rank these films. I like and appreciate them all for various differing reasons, so to rank them seemed pointless. In the end, I decided to order them in the only way that seemed logical to me, chronologically.
The Apartment (1960)
dir. Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder's mature tale of adultery remains one of the few films that I saw as a child that still remains watchable after innumerable viewings. Told from the perspective of a schmuck who lets the higher ups in his company use his apartment as a secret bangin' pad, this story, despite its tawdry trappings, retains an innocent charm. This innocence is due largely to Jack Lemmon's performance as the aforementioned schmuck C. C. Baxter. Lemmon, unsurpassed in his portrayals of put upon losers, imbues his character with depth and relatability, making it all the more heartbreaking when it is revealed that his love interest is having an affair with his boss. Avoiding the schmaltziness that would become de riguer in Hollywood romantic comedies, Wilder still treats us to a feel good ending that is both earnest and earned.
dir. Alfred Hitchcock
What can be said about Psycho that hasn't already been stated more eloquently elsewhere by reviewers more experienced than I? Although it might be an overstatement to claim that Hitchcock's thriller was single-handedly responsible for the horror film output of the next few decades (particularly the slasher genre) there is no denying its massive influence. Yes, some of its bite has been lessened by the sea of imitators, and more gruesome, though less artful, depictions of murder in subsequent horror pictures, but Psycho remains one of the most masterfully crafted horror pictures ever made. This is one that never fails to astound me.
Le Trou (1960)
dir. Jacques Becker
Detailed processes depicted from start to finish have always been one of my favorite things to watch in film. Whether it's building a house, committing a jewelry heist, or preparing for an attack, I just love seeing people complete tasks. It is not surprising therefore that Jacques Becker's prison escape flick, Le Trou would be one of my favorite movies. Seeing as the entirety of Becker's picture is a depiction in detail of every step of a prison escape (the planning, the tunneling, etc.), this film is basically process porn. One can't help but become wrapped up in this nail-biting tale.
Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
dir. Sam Fuller
Trained as a crime reporter in the early years of the twentieth century, Fuller is one director who never lost his edge. His hardbitten journalistic past informed all of his work. Most importantly, his experience helped him understand the importance of a compelling hook. As he states in his autobiography, "If a story doesn't give you a hard-on in the first couple of scenes, throw it in the goddamned garbage." Underworld U.S.A. like all fuller pictures starts with a bang. As a boy, main character Tolly Devlin witnesses the murder of his father at the hands of brutal thugs. Scheming his vengeance over an extended period of time, Devlin grows up to join the ranks of the very criminal organization whose members had a hand in his father's death, so as to gain the confidence of his future victims. Fuller's film is notable as being one in a series of crime pictures that attempted to portray the criminal world in the same manner as the business world.
dir. Akira Kurosawa
One of the more frequently adapted tales in film, Kurosawa's Yojimbo remains my favorite version of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. Toshiro Mifune (who else) plays a wandering samurai who happens into a town divided between two warring gangs. Offering to help both sides, he plays them against each other. It is immediately apparent, of course, that the only faction he has any interest in is himself.
One, Two, Three (1961)
dir. Billy Wilder
Hands down, the most entertaining, fast paced comedy of the post 1930s screwball era. James Cagney plays a Coca Cola executive operating in West Berlin, intent on keeping the Coca Cola formula secret from scheming Soviets. Wilder, a native German, superbly captures the fractured mindset of Berlin at this point in time, while simultaneously skewering Germany's collective amnesia concerning its barbaric past. Cagney's kinetic performance belies his advanced years. Because of the reams of witty dialogue that he was tasked to memorize and spout in a fast-paced manner, this film was so demanding for the aging actor that he retired from motion pictures momentarily, appearing again two decades later in Milos Forman's Ragtime. Although not usually lumped among Wilder's other masterpieces One, Two, Three is one film that I can never tire of.
Jules and Jim (1962)
dir. Francois Truffaut
The love triangle movie to end them all, Jules and Jim is also director Francois Truffaut's most accomplished picture. Spanning decades, the film follows two lifelong friends, Jules and Jim as they become romantically involved with Jeanne Moreau's carefree Catherine. Of all the French New Wave pictures, this was the most perfect synthesis of style and substance. Of his group of filmmaking compatriots, Truffaut proved the most adept at playing with film conventions without alienating viewers.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
dir. John Ford
Read my review here.
Hell Is for Heroes (1962)
dir. Don Siegel
Along with Robert Aldrich and Sam Fuller, Don Siegel helped reshape the boundaries of the American action picture. Containing an unlikely cast, including Bob Newhart and Bobby Darin, Siegel's World War II picture does not let up. Truth be told, Siegel was not the first choice to direct this picture, which was originally intended as a black comedy. Although it does include some humor (most notably through the use of one of Newhart's signature phone routines), Siegel's picture is anything but a farce. Because the studio did not have enough funds to finish the picture, Siegel was unable to film the closing scene. In any other hands, this could have resulted in a truncated, sloppy conclusion. In Siegel's (and the editor's) hands the anti-conclusion feels like the only logical ending for such a relentless picture.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
dir. Herk Harvey
A masterpiece of low budget film-making, Herk Harvey's sole directorial effort still has the power to send chills down my spine. Almost functioning as an extended twilight zone episode, Carnival of Souls is an expertly crafted and beautifully shot horror film. The surprise twist at the film's conclusion may have lost some of the shock in subsequent years and numerous imitations, but this film is more about the creepy journey than the payoff. It would not surprise me to learn that M. Night Shyamalan watched this film before writing each of his screenplays.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
dir. John Frankenheimer
The overstatement of John Frankenheimer's importance to the film world is due mostly to his work on The Manchurian Candidate. Although he directed a few other gems (one of which is on this list), this is the film that cemented his place in film history. Capitalizing on Cold War paranoia, The Manchurian Candidate tells of a young man brainwashed by the Soviets for use in a political assassination. The film was timely, indeed even more timely than Frankenheimer intended. With the assassination of JFK the following year, this film quickly went into hiding, as its themes hit a little too close to home. It wasn't until it was unearthed some years later that it developed a renewed following.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
dir. Robert Aldrich
Any people unfamiliar with the works of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, who wonder why these two became such cult gay icons need only watch What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to understand. Robert Aldrich's picture is a masterpiece of tawdry intrigue and queeny bitchiness. A master of both action pictures and high camp, Aldrich's one rule seemed to have been more, more, more. A former childhood star, Bette Davis's titular Jane is a woman still living in the bubble, deluded to the point of insanity. Joan Crawford plays the Queen Bitch's crippled sister, a woman at the mercy of the crazy one's whims. Part character study, part Hollywood critique, part thriller, this film is all kinds of awesome.
The Exterminating Angel (1962)
dir. Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel is perhaps the only director that has defied Sick Boy's rule of the inevitable downward trajectory of artists, in that he continued to get better with age. Indeed, he made some of his best pictures after the age of sixty. Perhaps this is due to the stifling nature of being stuck in the film-making ghetto of Mexico throughout the forties and fifties. Although he did make some gems during this period, it wasn't until he returned to Spain in 1960 to make Viridiana that he was both rediscovered and reinvigorated with a new life and sense of purpose in his filmmaking. Responsible, along with Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali, for the short lived anarchic surreal film movement of the twenties, Bunuel never stopped throwing bombs, he never lost his surreal edge. He always aimed to offend our sensibilities. Indeed, many of the films he made until his death could be mistaken for the works of a much younger prankster revolutionary. The Exterminating Angel is perhaps the crowning achievement of his late period renaissance. His last Mexican film, this picture follows a bourgeois group of fancy dinner party guests who, for no explicable reason, are unable to leave once the party is over. Succumbing to starvation and thirst these people struggle to survive while being confined in a room that has no ties binding them there. The Exterminating Angel is a triumph of both absurdity and frustration.
The Trial (1962)
dir. Orson Welles
By far the most whacked out of Welles' output, The Trial is a masterpiece of photography in a career that has some of the best. This unflinching adaptation of Franz Kafka's masterpiece of alienation, persecution and bureaucracy (is there any other kind of Kafka story?), stars Anthony Perkins as an individual unfairly persecuted by the government for a crime that he had no part in and that he does not understand. Instead of working toward a coherent explanatory conclusion, this film delves deeper and deeper into madness, until finally climaxing with an explosive finale.
8 1/2 (1963)
dir. Federico Fellini
Perhaps time and countless imitations have robbed this film of its impact, but 8 1/2 still remains one of the most revelatory examinations of the artistic process. Like most of his pictures, Felinni's 8 1/2 is highly autobiographical. This portrait of a director suffering from filmmaking block as he struggles to come up with a follow up to his previous highly acclaimed picture is achingly personal. Containing a series of flashback, dream, and fantasy sequences; Marcello Mastroianni's character relives key moments of his life and his loves, struggling to make sense of it all--all while his present world spirals into one chaotic revelatory mess.
The Haunting (1963)
dir. Robert Wise
Robert Wise was a studio director extraordinaire. While competent in the production of studio and audience pleasing Hollywood fare, he always managed to toy with conventions, sometimes imperceptibly so. With The Haunting he made a haunted house picture in which no ghosts are ever seen. He achieves his scares through inventive camera and sound-work. Wise, wisely realized that the unknown can be scarier than all of the fancy effects you could ever think to throw at an audience.
dir. Martin Ritt
Larry McMurtry is the preeminent chronicler of sadness in the American West. Based on a McMurtry novel, Hud stars Paul Newman as the title character, an amoral, self-destructive (hell, just plain destructive) fellow rebelling against God knows what. Newman's character proves an interesting flip-side to many of the non-conformist, anti-authoritarian, anti-heroes that would appear in the films of the following decade or so. Winning us over with his charms, Newman's character soon alienates us with his non-stop devotion to all things self.
The Great Escape (1963)
dir. John Sturges
John Sturges worked out a steady career as a director of competent, entertaining action pictures. Like most competent craftsmen, when presented with extraordinary material, he was able to surpass his abilities. Rushing along at a lightning pace, the just under three hour The Great Escape contains not an ounce of fat. In this star studded action tale of a an attempted escape from a Nazi prison camp, Sturges makes every moment count. It is a stirring example of big budget studio spectacle done right. Remembered mostly for such spectacles as Steve McQueen's motorcycle chase, this film was also not afraid to linger on the little moments (such as a scene in which Donald Pleasance's legally blind passport forger sets up a scenario to convince his comrades that his sight is still intact).
Shock Corridor (1963)
dir. Sam Fuller
Like all of Fuller's films, Shock Corridor is deliriously over the top. Given that its subject matter is an insane asylum, it was only appropriate that Fuller cranked this shit up to eleven, imbuing the film with a delirium far in excess of his other pictures. Peter Breck stars as a journalist sent on a mission to examine a murder in an insane asylum. Going undercover as on of the inmates, he must discover the mystery of this crime before succumbing to madness. Like many crazy house pictures, this film functions as an examination of the lunacy of the modern world. Fuller examines such subjects as racism and nuclear proliferation without ever leaving the confines of the asylum. The murder mystery plot is really just an excuse for Fuller to examine other social issues of deep importance to himself.
High and Low (1963)
dir. Akira Kurosawa
On the surface, a by the books police procedural, High and Low, Kurosawa's film about kidnapping also functions as a potent examination of class divisions. When a criminal kidnaps the son of a wealthy shoe tycoon's servant, the business man (played by Mifune, of course) must decide between the life of his servant's child and his own career. Seeing as the other shareholders in his company are on the verge of buying him out, Mifune will loose his company if he pays the ransom. In this cold, calculating business world, Kurosawa shows the ease with which a price tag can be put on an individual's life.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
dir. Stanley Kubrick
As with many of the other film's here, Dr. Strangelove may seem a tad obvious. Sometimes the obvious choices are obvious for a reason, however. This comedic take on the insanity of the arms race has lost almost none of its bite over subsequent years. Peter Sellers, ever the chameleon, shines in the three roles he performs here. [For an interesting dramatic take on the same subject, Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe, released the same year, is well worth a watch.]
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
dir. Ubaldo Ragona
The first and best adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, this film was also something of an inspiration for Night of the Living Dead, among many other pictures. Vincent Price stars as the titular man. Living in a post apocalyptic wasteland, he spends his days wandering the deserted wasteland and his nights fending off slow-moving zombie-like vampires. More than anything, this film is an examination of loneliness, and the ways in which people come to grips with and adapt to a world of forced isolation.
The Killers (1964)
dir. Don Siegel
How many directors other than Don Siegel would open a film with a gangland slaying at a school for the blind? It is not surprising that, although originally made for TV, this picture would be deemed to violent for the medium and thus released to theaters instead. The third film based on Hemingway's short story of the same name (after Robert Siodmak's 1946 noir and a Tarkovsky short), this one bears the least resemblance to the original. Siegel's version eschews everything from the Hemingway's story except for one element, the mystery of a man who seems all too willing to accept his fate at the hands of hired gunmen. This film follows two hitmen as they put the pieces together and examine why they were sent to kill a former race car driver.
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
dir. Richard Lester
It is a testament to Richard Lester's prowess as a comedy director that a movie produced with the intention of quickly cashing in on a seemingly ephemeral new fad, would long stand the test of time. Much of this film's staying power is also due to The Beatles long lasting popularity, of course. Were they to have faded away as a one hit wonder, this film might exist as nothing more than an interesting cultural artifact. Updating the anarchic sensibility of the Marx Brothers, this surreal comedy abandons all the rules. It was one of the first mainstream English language pictures to embrace the spirit and experimentation of the French New Wave. It announced the arrival of the British Invasion, a new generation of soon to be rebellious youth, and long shaggy hair. Most importantly, of course, it's a damned funny movie.
Lady in a Cage (1964)
dir. Walter Grauman
Read my review here.
Woman in the Dunes (1964)
dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara
Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes is a simultaneously nerve-wrackingly repetitive and deeply sensuous/beautiful motion picture. Although the tale told here, as with The Exterminating Angel, is initially frustrating it soon takes on a hypnotic quality. In this Sisyphian tale, a man wandering through the desert is conned into staying with a woman living in a house surrounded by impenetrably large sand dunes. He soon finds that he is trapped here with this woman and must spend the rest of his days shoveling sand from the ever collapsing pit. He soon succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome and develops a sexually charged relationship with this woman. Due to the
beautiful desert photography, this is the most sensuous tale of repetition you could ever want to see.
The Naked Kiss (1964)
dir. Sam Fuller
Fuller's final masterpiece (well, it was until the Director's Cut of The Big Red One was released a few years back), The Naked Kiss tackled previously taboo subjects head on. Constance Towers is a hooker with a heart of gold, who escapes her former life after beating the shit out of the pimp who tried to cheat her out of her hard earned money. Starting life anew in an all too perfect small town, she soon becomes involved with a man who seems to good to be true. After witnessing a horrifying event, the new life she worked so hard for comes crashing down. Functioning as a critique of so called good old fashioned small town values, this film also explores the idea of the possibility of redemption.
I Am Cuba (1964)
dir. Mikhail Kalatozov
Those watching Kalatozov's film for its story and/or messages, will no doubt be put off by its didactic, laughably naive political propagandizing. Those watching this film for its camera work, however, will cum in their pants. Sent to Cuba to make a film celebrating the recent revolution, the accomplished Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov, instead used it as an opportunity to further experiment with his already impressive camera techniques.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
dir. Russ Meyer
Speed, sex, and action -- perhaps the most apt description of Meyer's crowning achievement. Because Meyer's oeuvre is remembered more for the breastular achievements of the starlets, few people remember that this perv extraordinaire was also a master craftsmen of dialogue. Such exchanges as:
"Look, I don't know what the hell your point is-"
"The point is of no return and you've reached it."
are pure trash poetry. The plot is simple enough. A group of strippers goes on a crime spree throughout the Southwest. Under the guise of such a titilating premise, Meyer manged to toy with our notions of sexuality and gender relations. This cunning exploitation director managed to sneak some quality in under the radar.
The Loved One (1965)
dir. Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson's The Loved One is is one of the only filmic examinations of the funeral industry. This brutally funny film is a comedy of the darkest sort. Like some other films on this list, some of the comedy here has become dated, though no less biting.
Simon of the Desert (1965)
dir. Luis Bunuel
I am breaking a small rule here, in that Simon of the Desert, Bunuel's wonderfully sacrilegious picture, which runs at 45 minutes, is technically not a feature length movie. For Bunuel, however, I am willing to break this rule. In the most whacked-out manner possible, this film follows the life of Saint Simon, a forth century ascetic who climbs a pillar so as to be closer to God. Incidentally, this film is notable as having the best Satan-in-a-hip-New-York-night-club sequence in film history (Yes, you heard me).
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
dir. Gillo Pontecorvo
The Battle of Algiers is Gillo Pontecorvo's unflinching depiction of the Algerian revolution against French occupation. Although it is obvious where Pontecorvo's sympathies lie, his film does not bludgeon the viewer with pompous didacticism. He presents in a relatively straightforward manner, the realities of the conflict here. He manages to present the conflict in a relatively unbiased manner, depicting brutalities committed by both sides. The film is rooted in a documentary reportage aesthetic. With such works as The Corner, The Wire, and Generation Kill, David Simon is one of the few artists whose work has come close to Pontecorvo's in documentary realist approach to examining a subject.
dir. John Frankenheimer
Read my review here.
dir. Michelangelo Antonioni
Antonioni is one of the few directors who could take a tale of an oversexed, mod photographer and turn it into an existential examination of modern ennui. Those unaccustomed to Antonioni's style might find Blow-Up cold, boring, or even worse, obnoxiously hip. Although, it might be seen as reveling in the coolness of its subject, Antonioni's film is a more a critique of the vapid, empty lives of the characters. Oh yeah, this film also contains something of an accidental murder mystery, one that is never solved and which may not even exist.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
dir. Sergio Leone
Although the first two entries in Leone's "Man with No Name Trilogy", were excellent works, it was with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, that the Italian director came into his own.
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
dir. Robert Aldrich
Action war pictures rarely get more exciting than The Dirty Dozen. Lee Marvin leads a ragtag group of jailed American soldiers on a suicide mission behind enemy lines to a Nazi chateau in order to kill as many German officers as possible and disrupt the enemy. Nazis getting killed--is there anything more fun to watch in film? I don't think so.
Le Samourai (1967)
dir. Jean Pierre Melville
Alain motherfuckin' Delon is an assassin for hire.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
dir. Stuart Rosenberg
Paul Newman rebels against authorities while in a motherfuckin' chain gang.
The Incident (1967)
dir. Larry Peerce
Martin Sheen and his buddy terrorize the passengers on a subway train.
In Cold Blood (1967)
dir. Richard Brooks
In Cold Blood, Richard Brooks' adaptation of Truman Capote's true crime novel, pulls no punches in its retelling of the murder of the Clutter family and pursuit of the killers. This film is a perfect symbiosis of subject matter and style. Brooks aims for verisimilitude in his recreation of events. Conrad Hall's crisp, stark, and at times beautiful black and white photography lends the film an appropriate air of gravity.
The Graduate (1967)
dir. Mike Nichols
Dustin Hoffman sexes on slightly older MILF Anne Bancroft.
The Shooting (1967)
dir. Monte Hellman
The Shooting, Monte Hellman's revisionist, Spaghetti Western influenced take on the Western genre is one of the sparest, bleakest of the genre to emerge from the sixties. Having a dreamlike quality, the fairly simple plot can still confuse after a single viewing. Jack Nicholson and a few others join Warren motherfuckin' Oates' bounty hunter as he searches for the killer of a partner. To be honest, I don't think I have ever fully understood this film. Understanderin', however is not necessarily what this film is all about (unless I'm understanding it wrong). What Hellman has achieved here is a perfect sense of time and place. His West is one relentless, unforgiving bitch. With The Shooting, tone is everything.
Spider Baby (1968)
dir. Jack Hill
Jack Hill was the Howard Hawks of exploitation movies. Excelling in genres as diverse as action, comedy, women in prison, blaxploitation; with Spider Baby he proved an excellent horror director. This film tells the story of a crazy inbred hillbilly family whose members become more childlike and murderously psychotic as they age. Although a delicious piece of camp, Spider Baby also foretold much of the move toward the more brutally realistic horror of such seventies films as The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
dir. Franklin J. Schaffner
Charlton Heston versus Apes. 'Nuff said.
Wild in the Streets (1968)
dir. Barry Shear
Read my review here.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
dir. George Romero
For many years my favorite movie, Romero's triumphant debut, Night of the Living Dead, still remains my favorite horror film. The film that revolutionized and introduced the modern zombie (later to be replaced by the annoying fast zombie), Romero's picture is more than just a horror movie. As with his other pictures, he was also concerned with other social, political issues--in this case race relations and to a lesser extent the Vietnam War. Unlike some of his later works, which could be quite blunt in their critiques of American society, Night of the Living Dead introduces these topics in a sly manner. Without ever emphasizing the point, the smartest character in this movie is the black hero. The violent rednecks roaming the countryside, in many instances are seen as indistinguishable from the flesh eating zombies.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
dir. Sergio Leone
Every so often a movie comes along that makes you clap your hands and shout, "Goddamn, now that's a fucking movie!" Although not my favorite Western, it is one that, more than any other, inspires me to want to make movies. The plot is a smorgasbord of the hundreds of Westerns that Leone had viewed over the course of his lifetime. Most importantly, this film is unabashedly, unapologetically beautifully cinematical. Whereas most filmmakers will try to submerge their style, so as to let viewers forget they are watching movies, Leone's technique (extreme closeups, odd angles) constantly reminds the viewers that they are in the hands of an expert filmmaker. The filmmaking calls attention to itself in the best manner possible.
dir. Albert and David Maysles
Frederick Wiseman has stated that all documentaries are subjective. The decision to cut two images together is a choice on the part of the filmmaker meant to elicit a reaction. The director also chooses what to shoot. No matter how minimal the style, an un-biased documentary is something that simply does not exist. Champions of the "direct cinema" documentary style, the Maysles proved that a documentary as austere as their Salesman, is not without a point of view. Following a group of bible salesmen throughout the Northeast the Maysles examine capitalism and the commodification of all aspects of our lives. Everyone and everything has a price tag. Mercenary motives underlie even the most seemingly mundane conversations. The hustle never ends.
[Incidentally, if I had seen any of Wiseman's sixties films, I would have undoubtedly included them on this list. Wiseman, unfortunately, has made his movies frustratingly hard to obtain. The only one of his that I have seen is the epic tragedy Welfare. It will, of course be included on my favorite movies of the seventies list.]
The Italian Job (1969)
dir. Peter Collinson
Although The Italian Job remake was an enjoyable heist film, it lacked two ingredients integral to the awesomeness of the original, a Quincy Jones score and Michael motherfuckin' Caine. Sure, to some, the original may be a slight piece of mod-sploitation but it is one fucking entertaing movie.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
dir. Sam Peckinpah
With this film, Peckinpah introduced graphic violence to the American West. Although definitely not the first of the Western revisionists, Peckinpah was certainly the bloodiest. A group of anachronistic outlaws fights against a changing world in its attempt at one last big score. This film, more than anything, is a swan song for the American West. Rather than ending with a peaceful dignified death in bed, however, the West goes out guns a blazin', taking out as many motherfuckers as possible before succumbing to the march of time.
Army of Shadows (1969)
dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Long unreleased in the United States, Melville's espionage/war picture Army of Shadows is perhaps his most personal. Undoubtedly drawing on his own experiences, Melville gives an in depth look at the French resistance of World War II. With a blunt, matter of fact style, this film pulls no punches in its depictions of the cruelties of war and the often tenuous relationships among spies.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
dir. George Roy Hill
Paul Newman and Robert Redford rob banks and trains. What's not to love?
Putney Swope (1969)
dir. Robert Downey Sr.
After the executive of a Madison Avenue ad agency suddenly dies, the other suits hold a quick vote for a new leader, accidentally electing the token black man at the company, Putney Swope. Swope soon revolutionizes the firm. Director Robert Downey Sr.'s crowning achievement is an examination of race relations and the business world. He takes particular glee in skewering the ad world. Indeed much of the film is a series of commercial parodies. Although much of the humor and politics in Downey's film have become dated by this point, it will always appeal to my inner teenage, fuck the system, anarchist.