When The Warriors was released in 1979, it quickly became a favorite of gangs nationwide; several people believed the film would incite violence though, and it was quickly pulled from theaters.  The movie’s brief run didn’t prevent it from becoming a success financially, and today, The Warriors is rightfully regarded by critics and audiences as a quintessential cult classic.  The costumes are outstanding, amplifying the sense of camp and spectacle (the two stand-outs are the uniforms of the Baseball Furies, who look like they can’t decide whether to go to a Yankees game or a Kiss concert, and the very non-threatening, rollerskating, overall-wearing Punks) and the brawls are expertly executed, combining brutal violence with overtly stylized choreography.

This is what happens when you don't wash your hands.

The plot is simple: The Warriors, having been framed for the murder of the leader of the biggest gang in New York by another gang, find themselves suddenly positioned deep within enemy territory and must make it back to their own turf as every gang in the city searches for them.  There are no complexities, no twists or turns, but it hardly seems to matter; there’s enough atmosphere and thrills to keep the audience invested for the entirety of the run time.

Typically, I spend a little more time reviewing the film as a whole, but I was struck by the position of women in the film and want to delve a little bit deeper into the issue.  The film is comprised of a predominantly male cast, and, one would think, given the subject matter, that women would be pushed to the margins, but they have the most important roles in the film.  First, there’s the DJ.  Her true identity is never revealed; she remains, throughout the film, a pair of lips.  The camera never strays from the close-up on the DJ’s lips, and it is this focus that gives the character her strength.  She becomes a leader to the gangs pursuing the warriors, urging them towards their goal with frequent updates as to the locations and status of the rogue group.  Her lips, these sensual parts of the  body, are her means of communication, and so become the source of her power.

The Lizzies, a group that exploits their own sexuality in order to achieve their goals.  In their only scene in the movie, the primarily female group seduces three Warriors up to an apartment.  Hoping for a little more than mild foreplay, the three men seem to forget their goal give into the advances of the women…Then, they pull out their pistols and The Warriors find themselves in a difficult situation.  The world of The Warriors is a world where brawn determines the status of your gang.  Almost nobody uses guns; the weapons of choice seem to be blunt melee weapons like bats.  An entirely female gang, lacking in physical strength, must turn to other means if they expect to hold their own.  It’s interesting to note that, once the women do have the gang members in their snare, they resort to that phallic symbol of power, the firearm, to finish the job.

Finally, there’s Mercy, a young woman The Warrior’s pick up during a confrontation between them and the Orphans.  She’s promiscuous, but, as her relationship with The Warriors develops, several situations evidence that she’s deeper than she’s given credit for.  She will eventually be a catalyst for Swan, the group’s leader, though at first, nobody wants to recognize her as anything other than what she is.  Swan in particular maintains his emotional distance and treats her poorly.  It’s not until 2/3 of the way through the movie, during a scene in which Swan and Mercy are walking through the subway tunnel, that her character is able to have an impact.  Both Swan and Mercy are living in stagnation because it’s safe, familiar.  However, Swan has had his familiar world disrupted by the events of the evening.  Mercy also finds herself in an unusual situation when Swan initially accepts, then rejects, her advances.  Her attempts to get through to, and with, Swan, do have an impact on the laconic leader of The Warriors.   “This if the life I got left,” Mercy says to Swan in the subway, referring to her promiscuous ways.  Her words reach Swan and he begins to wonder if maybe there’s more to life than idleness and violence.  A perfect example of the change in his character can be seen when he picks up a forgotten corsage he finds on the ground and gives it to Mercy.  Maybe it’s not too late to change.

Stars :****1/2


Best Quotes

Luther: Waaariors….Come out to play-ay!

Ajax: I’ll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle!


Recommended Viewing: Southern Comfort, Assault on Precinct 13

Next Weekend

Movie #7


By the time The Cannonball Run was released, former stuntman Hal Needham was no stranger to the camera.  He had already directed several films, including Smokey and the Bandit, and collaborated with Cannonball leading man Burt Reynolds three times. Despite this experience though, Hal Needham is little more than a “point-and-shoot” director.  On a technical level, he regularly fails to make the most out of the resources he has available, using the camera to capture visuals but rarely to elicit emotional responses from the audience.  Still, a bit of laziness behind the camera is more than made up for by an entertaining script and excellent performances by a dynamite cast.

J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds), Victor Prinzim (Dom DeLuise), and Victor’s alter-ego “Captain Chaos”, enter the infamous Cannonball Run, a dangerous, highly illegal race in which hundreds of drivers speed cross-country in hopes of being the first to reach California.  Choosing an ambulance as their mode of transportation (a wise move considering cops are out in abundance), the two friends hire a doctor, kidnap an eco-activist to use as their patient in the event that they’re pulled over, and hit the road.

The film takes a little while to “start its engines”, so to speak.  The first fifteen or twenty minutes are comprised of clunky, disjointed introductory segments which serve to familiarize the audience with the idiosyncratic characters.  These cannonballers, including Roger Moore, Jackie Chan, and Adrienne Barbeau,  are great to watch, but though they’re intended to be the main competitors, they feel more like extended cameos and rarely interact with, or represent any real threat to, Reynolds and DeLouise.  Gimmicks though these appearances may be, they provide a lot of humor.  Moore plays Seymour Goldfarb, Jr., a womanizing, Aston Martin-driving actor known for his roles in spy movies (particularly The Fly Who Bugged Me), and is accompanied by a song that sounds so much like the James Bond theme, it borders on copyright infringement.  The joke runs throughout the movie, but just when it’s starting to feel like it has overstayed its welcome, the writers manage to make it fresh and funny again.

The Name's Goldfarb...Seymour Goldfarb...Jr.

That’s one of the great things about The Cannonball Run.  There are a lot of extended jokes that, just as they’re losing their effectiveness, manage to refresh themselves by introducing something new.  This results in a very funny, if not terribly intelligent, movie.

The performances are hilarious, but the true standout is Dom DeLouise, whose mild-mannered Prinzim finds courage by donning a cape and mask to become the crime-fighting, dog-saving Captain Chaos!  In a film filled with two-dimensional characters, Delouise’s is the most interesting.  A brief attempt is made at giving McClure a little more depth, but these efforts seem shallow and secondary to the action and comedy of the rest of the film.  In fact, throughout the course of The Cannonball Run, not one of the characters grows in any discernable way.  Although in most films it would be problematic for characters to end their journey in the same developmental state in which they began it, it’s easier to overlook in comedies than in other genres.  The Cannonball Run is no exception, and while the movie may have benefited from more fleshed-out characters, the humor provides enough entertainment value to make The Cannonball Run worth watching.

Stars: ***1/2


Best Quotes

Dr. Nikolas Van  Helsing: I’m Nikolas Van Helsing, professor of proctology and other related tendencies. A graduate of the University of Rangoon. And assorted night classes at the Knoxville Tennessee school of faith healing.

J.J. McClure: You may be a little overqualified for this job.

Victor Prinzim: J.J., there are two priests in that car. They want us to pull over.

J.J. McClure: Victor, that’s two priests driving a Ferrari. When’s the last time you saw two priests drive a Ferrari? What are they doing, taking home the bingo money?

Victor Prinzim: No, they’re doing the work of the Lord. In a Ferrari, they can just do it faster.


Recommended Viewing: Rat Race, Smokey and the Bandit 

Next Weekend

Movie #6

As a former film student, and someone with a strong interest in narrative, I really shouldn’t have enjoyed director Tony Scott’s The Hunger.  The plot is largely unintelligible, leaving out critical information and forcing the befuddled audience to interpret events as it sees fit. I vastly prefer subtlety to exposition, but The Hunger seems to favor subtlety at the cost of coherence, and this is a detriment to the film.  Still, the performances are excellent and the production design is flawless.  Also, it’s fun to watch this knowing that Scott’s next film would be Top Gun.

Miriam Blaylock is a vampire.  Her lover, John, has begun to age at a greatly accelerated rate, a side effect that all of Miriam’s victims eventually suffer from.  No amount of blood can save him.  Desperate to restore his former youth and beauty, John tries to enlist the help of Sarah Roberts, a doctor who has devoted her life to studying progeria (a disease that causes rapid aging).  Roberts initially rejects John’s plea for aid, and John continues to exist in his state of living decay, even when Miriam relegates him to a coffin in her attic.  Shortly after this, Dr. Roberts shows up at Miriam’s house, asking if she can see John.  John is beyond help at this point, but perhaps Roberts can do something for Miriam.

Surprisingly (or not), this isn't the strangest David Bowie has looked.

While this may seem fairly straightforward, it’s not presented in such a direct manner; get ready to make a lot of guesses. Flashbacks are frequent, and presented with little context.  The reason for John’s aging is never revealed.  Relationships are left undeveloped, boiling down to addictions to love and companionship rather than anything more profound. Frustrating also, is the fact that none of the questions are really answered.

The first thirty minutes, which center around John and Miriam, are definitely more effective and interesting.  Maybe it’s because it’s fascinating to watch David Bowie grow old as the eternal youth that was promised to him slips away.  Maybe it’s because the obstacle is physically present, tangible, while the latter two thirds of the film deal with more abstract issues.  Even with this great first third, the plot isn’t the reason to watch this movie.

As previously stated, the production design is absolutely amazing.  A beautiful eeriness pervades the mansion in which Miriam lives, and the enormous, dark rooms serve to accentuate the characters’ loneliness and isolation.  The shadows are starkly cast, and the general atmosphere is reminiscent of a modern-day film noir.  There were also times when I was reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the sex scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, since this is mostly what the film is known for.  Personally, I think it was unnecessary.  Yes, vampires and sex have long been associated with each other, but the whole scene felt inorganic, more of a gimmick to get people into the theaters as opposed to an occurence happening naturally within the narrative.

Despite my complaints, I’ll admit I got pretty involved in The Hunger.  It’s definitely not for everyone, and I’ll admit that once David Bowie was out of the picture, I briefly considered turning it off.  Stick with it though, if you can.   The plot won’t ever get clearer, but the art direction and the performances are worth it.

Stars:  ***


Best Quotes

Miriam Blaylock: You’ll be back. When the hunger knows no reason! And then you’ll need to feed, and you’ll need me to show you how.


Recommended Viewing:  Martin, Nosferatu (Herzog’s remake).

Saturday, May 14th

Movie #5

I Don’t Want to Escape from NY

Posted: May 7, 2011 in Action

In the mid-1970’s and early 80’s, John Carpenter was king.  Halloween, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13…critics and audiences loved his films, and for good reason; John Carpenter is (or was) one helluva director.  All of his films during the period from 1976-1988 have held up remarkably well.  That’s not to say that they’re Oscar-worthy films, but Carpenter is undoubtedly an auteur; his creative presence can be felt throughout every one of his movies, marking them indelibly as unadulterated manifestations of his visions.  And they’re an absolute blast to watch.

Escape from NY is no exception here, and although it’s not his most seminal film, it’s still a shining example of Carpenter’s talent and a terrible reminder of just how far he’s fallen with his most recent efforts.

The year is 1997.  New York City has been converted into a maximum security prison, and, like an Ikea, once one goes in, it’s nearly impossible to find a way out.  Newly-convicted ex-special forces soldier Snake Plissken is offered a deal when Air Force One is brought down over the city; find the President and his tape containing vital information on nuclear fusion, and receive a full pardon.  There’s one catch, though;  Snake only has twenty-four hours to complete his mission before the small chip in his neck explodes, severing his carotid arteries.

The plot is pretty straightforward, and though Carpenter claimed the movie was conceived in response to the Watergate Scandal (umm..what?), it’s pretty much pure escapism.  Full of solid action, one shouldn’t expect to find anything profound here.

Plissken is the quintessential anti-hero, and Kurt Russell, who at the time was trying to create a new image for himself after starring in several family-friendly comedies,  does a wonderful job with the character.  He’s reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, although, whereas Eastwood’s cowboy is played with a cool nonchalance, Russell imbues Plissken with just a little more over-the-top bravado.

Be careful! You could poke an eye out with that thing! Oh, wait...

Atmosphere has always been one Carpenter’s strong suits, and the prison island of New York doesn’t disappoint  It’s filthy, dangerous, and dark.  The once glamorous skyscrapers now stand derelict and crumbling.  Actually, that sounds a lot like parts of today’s New York.  Still, the city is wonderfully envisioned, and it makes an intimidating obstacle to Snake’s goal.

Surprisingly, I found this to be one of the least suspenseful movies in the director’s filmography.  The biggest missed opportunity involves the explosive chip inside Plissken.  The fact that Snake has effectively been sentenced to death unless he can find the President is given some intermittent attention, but the overall film lacks that necessary sense of urgency; Snake rarely checks the clock, so it’s easy to forget that he’s is on a deadline.

It’s a small complaint and one that I can mostly overlook as the rest of Escape is so entertaining, but it keeps a good movie from being a great one.  Carpenter has always had the enduring quality of being able to do far more with six million dollars (the budget of this film) than someone like, say, Michael Bay, is able to do with one hundred million.

Stars: **** (out of five)


Best Quotes:

Bob Hauk: You going to kill me now, Snake?

Snake Plissken: Not now.  I’m too tired…Maybe later.

Bob Hauk: I’m about to kick your ass out of *the world*, war hero…


Recommended Viewing:  Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing

So, I apologize for the second late post!  No excuses for that!  Tomorrow evening, I will post again!  It’s David Bowie, so expect things to get freaky-deaky.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 8th

May 8th

French director Christian Volckman’s first (and only) feature-length film Renaissance was released in 2006, hot on the heels of another highly-stylized, noir-inspired movie – Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City.  Comparisons between the two may have been inevitable, and though Sin City’s production, direction, and writing are more skillfully executed, Renaissance is deserving of (slightly) more praise than it generally receives.

Set in Paris in the year 2054, the plot begins with the kidnapping of Ilona Tasuiev, a promising young researcher at the pharmaceutical company Avalon.  The ensuing investigation, led by reticent police captain Barthélémy Karas, exposes Avalon’s darkest secret.  Now, pursued by big pharma security forces, Karas and Ilona’s sister Bislane race to find the kidnapper before it’s too late.

If the story seems a bit trite and uninspired, that’s because it is. Anyone who is even remotely interested in film will have seen these same basic plot elements in dozens of other movies, and, for the most part, Renaissance doesn’t introduce anything fresh or exciting. The movie drags for the first forty minutes while it introduces the players and sets into place plot-points for the final payoff. The characters are stereo-typical and underdeveloped; rarely do we see the characters existing outside of their primary objectives, and as a result, it’s often difficult to identify with them or invest one’s self in their plights.

Karas and Bislane are getting ready to “ani-mate.”

So far, I’ve given a less-than-swimming endorsement of film, but there’s actually a lot to appreciate in Renaissance.  Most notably, and most noticeable, is the animation.  Volckman uses rotoscoping (a technique in which a live-action film is traced, frame by frame, by animators) to great effect.  The movie is devoid of color, and this absence emphasizes the contrast between the blacks and whites. The shadows are overbearing, almost imprisoning (doesn’t the sun ever rise?); even the characters can never break entirely free from them. This is not a tourist’s Paris. It’s a bleak depiction of a once beautiful city turned into a corporate dystopia.  As gorgeous as the visual style is, it occasionally detracts from the experience.  The excessive use of shadows can be distracting (as my girlfriend noted) and the rotoscoping can’t quite capture the nuances of actors’ expressions and body language, giving even the good performances a slightly stilted feel.

The second half of the movie is an improvement over the first, as the groundwork that was laid in the lack-luster first half finally comes to fruition.  The action picks up, the relationship between Karas and Bislane is given a little more attention, and the final fifteen minutes are full of twists that mostly make up for Renaissance’s other faults.

The director and screenwriters had some good ideas, but they were simply not able to make the most of them and the result is a decent, but ultimately uneven, movie.

Stars: ***

Best Quotes:

Karas: I don’t know anything about saints, but I have an uncanny instinct for sniffing out a son of a bitch.

Muller: Without death, life is meaningless.

Recommended Viewing: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, District B13

Sunday, May 1

Movie #4

The 70s and, to a lesser extent, the 80s, are considered by many to be the Golden Age of horror films.  Jason and Michael Meyers helped to introduce “the slasher,” an ever-popular sub-genre.  Linda Blaire was possessed by Satan and projectile vomited in The Exorcist, supposedly causing audience members to faint and a nationwide decline in pea soup consumption. Jack Nicholson was busy working (not playing) himself into a murderous frenzy, and a young Tom Cruise was dancing around in his underwear.  Yes, the 70s and 80s were indeed frightening times, and that’s why I was so disappointed by Maniac Cop (1988).

The plot holds a lot of promise:  A serial killer, disguised as a police officer, has been terrorizing NYC.  The detective on the case enlists the help of the cop who hass been framed for the murders. Along with the cop’s girlfriend, they work together to catch the madman.

The idea that those who have sworn to protect may be those that should be feared the most is interesting, but director William Lustig doesn’t really explore its full potential. Not much effort is expended in trying to create an atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust within the NYPD.  There are a few attempts to show how the relationship between terrified citizens and the fuzz has deteriorated, but these are rather comical and generally ineffective.

There is a Michael Meyers-esque quality to the “Maniac Cop”.  He’s tall, imposing, and he kills with ease and the sociopathic disinterest of Halloween’s infamous killer.  His face is hidden in shadows until the final minutes, and when it is finally revealed, the make-up job makes it look like he’s just finished eating a big spaghetti dinner.  Keeping the cop’s identity hidden is undoubtedly meant to enhance the mystery, thus creating tension, but it doesn’t work.  The protagonist, Detective Frank McCrae, is certain, even from the very beginning of the movie, that the serial killer is a policeman within the force, yet he never casts his suspicions on any of his coworkers.  This gives the impression that he already knows the identity of the killer, and it detracts from the film.

Hey! Who took my napkin?!

I was excited to find out that B-movie legend Bruce Campbell has a role in the film, but the over-the-top acting style for which he is known and loved is not on display here. As a result, he’s not as much fun to watch as he is in, say, The Evil Dead films.  In fact, most of the acting in Maniac Cop is disappointingly average, not being bad enough to be funny, or good enough to be…well…good. The writing is also mediocre, typical B-movie fare, and not only in terms of dialogue.  The characters are all one-dimensional, and though hints alluding to troubled pasts are dropped, writer Larry Cohen never cares enough to delve deeper.  The cinematography is straightforward and lacking in stylistic originality; it does nothing to enhance the tone/mood/atmosphere. Another critical area where the film falls flat is the way in which characters die.  Many horror movie aficionados watch these films to see the original and brutal methods in which the killer offs his victims, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before and far better.

Maniac Cop doesn’t do anything wrong, but it certainly doesn’t achieve greatness (or even goodness).  One may argue that B-grade cult films are not artistic, that the writing does not have to be good, that the characters do not have to be developed.  This may be true, but B-movies generally exhibit at least some charm, or some originality, unintentional though it may be, and Maniac Cop does not.  It’s simply mediocre, and that’s the biggest crime of all.

Stars: *1/2

Best Quotes:

Frank McCrae: Look at the size of those hematomas! 

Frank McCrae: Whole city’s goin’ to hell. You can’t take a pee anywhere anymore.

Recommended Viewing: Halloween, The Stepfather (1987)

Saturday, April 23

Movie #3

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

“Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here.”

When a movie begins like this, the viewers should know immediately that they’re in for a treat and, like gag shop treats that look like candy but taste like fish, Director Ed Wood’s magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space, will leave a smile on your face but a bad taste in your mouth.  It’s is considered by many to be “The Worst Film Ever Made” and, after having sat through seventy-eight minutes of shoddy editing, bad acting and even worse dialogue, I’ve come to the conclusion that, despite its many, many shortcomings, Plan 9 deserves more credit than it gets.

The plot is this: A group of aliens establish a base in a Californian cemetery, fearing that the day when humanity creates the Solaranite (a bomb that literally explodes sunlight) and brings about the destruction of the universe, is drawing ever closer. Their plan? To resurrect the recently deceased and use this army of the undead to march against the living.

***Spoilers Ahead***

The plot holds elements of another Sci-Fi classic, although one of considerably more merit. The underlying message of this film, like that of The Day the Earth Stood Still, seems to be that humanity’s pursuit of power, coupled with our violent nature, will result only in our own demise. However, whereas The Day the Earth Stood Still ends with a call for peace and unity, the final act of Plan 9 has the intrepid protagonists beating the aliens senseless and lighting the UFO on fire. Not exactly what I was expecting.

Truthfully, the entire movie is a mess. Night turns to day, and then back to night, in just a few shots. Characters fall to the ground and knock over several of the cardboard tombstones. The strings on the flying saucers are clearly visible. Shots are reused in places. Footage of Bella Lugosi from a film Woods was working on with the actor before his death was used and, when new scenes needed to be filmed, Woods used an actor who bore no resemblance to Lugosi whatsoever and hid this fact by obscuring his face with a caped arm.

It's Bella Lugosi...or is it?

These problems, and the others that permeate the cult classic, are the reason that it’s developed such a devoted fan-base. It’s a movie that, like most cult films, should be enjoyed with friends. Ed Wood earnestly tried to make Plan 9 good, and though the movie lacks finesse, and Wood’s ignorance of cinematic technique shines through in almost every scene, his passion for his job is evident (I just wish I could say the same for the actors).  Plan 9 is absolutely unapologetic in its terribleness, and for a good reason; Wood still managed to accomplish quite a bit despite his lack of talent, money, and time.  Firecrackers thrown at a backdrop serve as anti-aircraft fire.  Cardboard is used in abundance.  While it’s clear that little to no attention was paid to the finer details of movie production, it’s also evident that Wood did the best he could with what he had.  This is the film’s one and only saving grace, and it has had a tremendous impact on the movie’s ability to engage audiences and keep them coming back for more.   Sometimes, it’s not so bad to be considered “The Worst Film Ever Made.”

Stars: ***1/2

Best Quotes:

Criswell: Perhaps, on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it… for they will be from outer space.

Paula Trent: …A flying saucer? You mean the kind from up there?
Jeff Trent: Yeah, either that or its counterpart.

Recommended Viewing: Ed Wood, Jailbait

Saturday, April 16th

Movie #2