24 HOUR MOVIE MARATHON

john cribbs & christopher funderburg

 

 

As we mentioned last week, on Saturday June 18th, the Jacob Burns Film Center held a 24 hour movie marathon in honor of its 10th Anniversary. Christopher Funderburg programmed the majority of the marathon for the JBFC and Pink Smoke head writer John Cribbs sat through alm,ost the whole thing alongside him. What follows is their account of the proceedings.

[Here's how it worked: attendees were not told the line-up in advance. At the alloted start-times, the audience was given the choice between two or three movies. In addition to picking the movies, Funderburg was in charge of delivering all but a handful of those pitches.]

 

    PRE-SHOW

john:

I didn't sleep much before the 24 Hour Marathon started - I was too excited. Nothing gets me more jazzed than the idea of seeing great movies with a good audience, and I figured a group of people willing to come to the Jacob Burns at 11 at night with the intention of staying there until at least 3 or 5 in the morning had to be as passionate about seeing great movies as myself. I was curious to see what kind of reaction the lineup would get. I already knew the whole schedule since I helped work on the stupid clues, so I couldn't help but wonder what an appreciative crowd high off the sweeping Garbocious hijinx of Ninotchka would think when told the next thing on the screen would be Steven Seagal throwing a pimp through a windshield.

Overall, I thought it went over better than expected. A lot of people were at the theater when we arrived and the population never seem to dwindle to just a handful. There were very few technical problems considering how much work the techs were responsible for. If anything like this were attempted again, I think rehearsing the time between movies and programming of the shorts shown during the interim would be areas for improvement. But considering this was a highly experimental maiden voyage, I thought it was handled exceptionally well... there was a big audience, everybody seemed to be having fun, and I got to see some great goddamn movies. Even sitting through the five I'd already seen several times (three of them in theaters) was an enhanced experience thanks to the excitement of being part of the marathon.

 

     11:00 P.M.

john:

TABLOID
errol morris, 2010.
(passed over GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.)

Some gentlemen might prefer Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but ever since the preview popped up on the internet I've been dying to see Errol Morris' new film again. Since seeing it at last year's Toronto Film Festival I've been on a huge Errol Morris kick, rewatching Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time, Fast Cheap and Out of Control, episodes of First Person, and Mr. Death on Netflix Instant Play (three times - it rivals Tabloid as his best movie.) Accessing those films again, in such close succession, made me appreciate how Morris isn't trying to prove anything in his films. He's exploring for sure, and piecing things together through his projects, but he's never forcing the audience to any given conclusion. He doesn't need to prove that Randall Adams is innocent, or that Fred Leuchter Jr. is full of shit...these things are obvious. What he's interested in is understanding the subjects of his movies and why they believe the things they do. With that understanding, it's more clear than ever that Morris has no interest in discovering the "real" Joyce McKinney, or finding out what really happened when she flew overseas to kidnap her Mormon boyfriend. He just wants to give people the stage to introduce as many of their invented realities as they can in an hour and a half. And here, he arguably succeeds more than ever before.

I was glad to see how much the audience enjoyed it. Not surprised - it's a very entertaining movie - but happy that everyone seemed to be with it from beginning to end. There were a lot of things I'd forgotten about, like how beautiful and sad the videos Joyce took at her father's home as she's slowly withdrawing into seclusion and paranoia are. The shots of nothing, her tranquil narration, the sound of a dog somewhere in the distance, then the shot of the silent dog Joyce accuses of making all the noise... was it him or not?? "This is my father, trying to take a nap." This isn't just a perfect segue into the more serious part of the film dealing with her mauling, it's really an amazing section on its own. When I think of these home-made videos of middle-aged Joyce compared to the "fairy tale" bookends of the movie, it's such a stark contrasting of two different realities, coming from the same person, it makes me want to laugh and cry.

 

christopher:

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
howard hawks, 1953.
(passed over TABLOID.)

Errol Morris' Tabloid is indisputably a masterpiece of cinematic virtuosity and an instant classic, but since I've already seen it several times, I decided to kick things off with an iconic Howard Hawks comedy I had never seen (not even once.) I tend to think of Hawks as mainly of director of tense, terse, testosterone-y, tough guy flicks like Rio Bravo, The Big Sleep, Scarface, Red River and Sergeant York and not really suited to comedy, but I'm obviously stupid: he's just as famous for lovable screwball comedies like His Girl Friday, I Was a Male War Bride and 20th Century. So, it's my own fault I was so surprised by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hawks' deftness with the comedic material. Screened from a ruthlessly brilliant digitally restored 35mm print, this story of two girls from Little Rock who use their four greatest assets (six assets, if we count their asses - and I really think we should) to get ahead in life is the greatest candy-colored smutty/goofy Frank Tashlin-esque musical extravaganza that Frank Tashlin never made. Seriously, this film is the lost cousin of The Girl Can't Help It! and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? not just in aesthetic, but in that it piles double entendre on top of double entedre while following cartoonishly voluptuous leading-ladies who play dim bulb bad-girl sexpots who aren't nearly as dim or bad as they initially appear.

Hawks works wonders with his two leads, Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, actresses notorious for their limited abilities. Neither can dance all that well, they're both nothing special as thespians and it seems like their singing voices are dubbed (Russell's is for sure) but Hawks ruthlessly and effeciently exploits the fact both were born to be movie stars, dammit. Seriously, they're both delightful (in the words of Henry Spofford III, they "possess an animal magnetism") as a bubbly diamond obessed bimbo and her smart-mouthed best friend who resents the fact that rich men think she's for sale. It's the story of best friends, one searching for her ideal man (a rich daimond mine proprietor, hopefully) and the other who pursues men for a pure, wholesome love of fucking. Russell must get half a dozen smutty one-liners that boil down to "I'd fuck every good-looking guy in this room, all at once if need be." Monroe displays an ostensibly more mercenary sexuality, but really both women talk a big game when romance is actually the starting point for their desire and their difference of disposition has to do more with which add-on's they prefer (Monroe: money; Russell: looks). Their romantic exploits are at their root exactly that: romantic. They think with their hearts, the bulges in men's pants are secondary be they cases with diamond rings or... packs of gum.

Russell's extended Monroe impression at the climax of the film is priceless. This movie is worth your time.

 

     1:00 A.M.

christopher:

POINT BLANK
fred cavaye, 2011.
(passed over RESURRECT DEAD.)

Another French thriller that seems to think a long, not very interesting foot-chase is an awesome idea for a central action set-piece. I'm sure John will say something similar, but I feel like every genre movie from France these days is either a really repulsive horror movie (L'Intrus, Matyrs, High Tension) or thriller where a dude spends a lot of time running around (Tell No One, Point Blank.) At least the foot-chases in the B-13 movies are awesome - but a word of advice to all you Frenchies out there: if your star isn't a famous parkour-ist but is instead just some doughy middle-aged guy with a lot of stubble and a lose-fitting sweater, don't base your big exciting chase scene around him running up stairs... and then back down stairs... and then down an escalator... and through light traffic. This movie wasn't bad per se, in fact, it was probably the right kind of mindless, fast-paced entertainment to be seeing at 1:00 in the morning; it was just nothing memorable. You know who the bad guys are the moment they come on screen. You know the one guy isn't going to turn out to be a "real" bad guy and that he was framed and will help our hero. You know THE CONSPIRACY GOES ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP!!!! and that nothing too terrible is going to happen to anybody of consequence, especially not the pregnant wife. It has some cute scenes, like when the pursuing villians stumble upon an armored car money pick-up and the security guards think they are being robbed. It's fine, just paint by numbers. Also, for the record, the "person unexpectedly hit by a car" bit has to be retired at this point. CGI has made it too easy to pull this move, so it's in every goddamned movie these days: the audience is distracted by something, maybe it's men with guns pursuing our hero or maybe it's just a normal conversation or maybe it's just the quietness of the scene... and then BAM! a car or truck comes flying in from offscreen and hammers somebody. Enough with it. I rate this film 3 stubbly French guys who drink wine out of 7.

All of the women in this movie suffer from a terrible case of Frenchmouth. Seriously, it's like having a half dozen Charlotte Gainsbourgs running around in this thing.

 

john:

POINT BLANK
fred cavaye, 2011.
(passed over RESURRECT DEAD.)

At first I thought I was going to be the only one watching this movie: Brian Ackerman's introduction was basically "This is a French thriller I've never seen," after which he flew into a super-enthusiastic description of Resurrect Dead, the film playing next door. Not surprisingly, most of the audience jumped ship to the other movie, a documentary about some mysterious graffiti down in South America [Huh - that's not what it is about! I hate to say it, but Brian botched almost every intro he did. He didn't even mention Three Outlaw Samurai isn't on vhs or dvd! - christopher], but a few people returned to view this potboiler about a framed safecracker, a nurse's assistant whose pregnant wife is kidnapped, a murdered politician and a squad of corrupt cops behind the whole thing. The main focus is on the nurse's assistant, keeping with the director's theme of the common man drawn into a world of intruige and violence (his previous effort, Anything for Her, had a school teacher unwittingly forced to decide HOW FAR HE'LL GO to save his family.) Some of the actors were from Tell No One, which is appropriate since this shares with that flick a mid-movie showstopper of an extended chase: was Point Break just released in France a few years ago?

Overall the movie was fine. Enjoyable. Less so the more you learned about the whole conspiracy. Personally I liked the end, as the noose is tightening on the corrupt cops - one of them walks in and sees the plan literally coming apart before his eyes, but still has this frantic look on his face that says "Now how am I going to explain the presence of the pregnant woman we intended to secretly kill and fake her suicide because she knows we're all murderous corrupt cops, who is now going into labor in the middle of the police station in front of all these witnesses? Should... should I just shoot her?" There's also a funny sequence where the safecracker convinces all his underworld peeps to simultaneously commit crimes so he can sneak past the over-worked officers and steal an incriminating video from the police station: the moment all the video monitors start showing shit going down all over town is pretty hilarious. Then there's a funny bit in the station where he's trying to break into the head cop's safe using top safecracking gear, but ends up just waiting for the frantic dude to open it himself, after which he takes it from him at gunpoint.

 

     2:55 A.M.

christopher:

FROM BEYOND 
stuart gordon, 1986.
(passed over HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADEVERTISING and FOR ALL MANKIND.)

Jeez'um pete, this has been one of my favorite horror films since forever. It was one of the final films I added to the marathon and I can't imagine the texture of the evening without it. It's a cult classic, but a strange under-rated one.The story of an BDSM-loving scientist who creates a Resonator that allows us to see the crazy trans-dimensional creatures swimming in the air around us at all times and then promptly gets his head bitten off by one, Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator follow-up tops his cult classic in every category: general weirdness, inventive gore, Jeffery Combs-osity, Barbara Crampton hotness, cinematic panache, utter mind-melting depraved ingenuity, total insanity. It's a film that (not always deftly skirts) the line between goofy and horrifying, but fortunately Gordon is a guy with a great sense of humor, so the more unstable elements of the film actually end up working in the film's favor overall. If the movie were inherently humorless and dour, the shakier moments would be a diaster. Combs is just fucking amazing as a scientist pushed well beyond the boundaries of sanity and every time you think the movie is going to hit a conceptual wall, it pushes beyond it, into a world even more strange than you can possibly imagine. It has to rank somewhere near the top of any list of Greatest Cult Horror films and I sometimes forget that it doesn't have the same notoriety as other genre classics like Gordon's own Re-Animator or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Basket Case. It's 100% on the level with those films, though - but somehow more unstable and choatic, somehow something more than all but the most brain-melting of cult movies. You need to see this film before you can even begin to feel qualified to judge exploitation and horror-cinema. You think you've seen an ambitiously weird, stunningly well-made, ruthlessly original horror movie? You better have found something that surpasses trans-dimension Resonators, decapitated S&M freak doctors reborn as possessing spirits that unlock the sexual appetites of well-meaning psychiatrists, insatiable hungers for medical waste, Ken Foree in a red thong and vomitous phantasmagoric creature effects rivaled only by only a half-dozen films in the history of movies. Find me a movie that emanates into reality from beyond all that. Then we can talk.

 

john:

FROM BEYOND 
stuart gordon, 1986.
(passed over HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADEVERTISING and FOR ALL MANKIND.)

Of all the screenings, this one had the audience I was most curious about. Would it be mostly horror geeks who were familiar with the movie, or at least with Stuart Gordon/Re-Animator? Older couples unaware of what they were getting themselves into who'd be exiting the theater after the pre-credits sequence? Or a bunch of kids who would provide an obnoxious ironic laugh track? Turns out it was a satisfying combination of all three, with some unexpected surprises: the geeks kept the know-it-all banter to a respectful minimum, the conservative couples really managed to hang in there (I think there was only one actual walk out, and they could have just been tired or inspired by the movie to rush home and build their own Resonator) and while the youngsters did laugh, what started out as "this is some goofy shit" goofawing quickly blended with that of approval at the film's intentional gags*, to the point where all the reactions seemed genuine. It was a great experience, and what more can be said except that Jeffrey Combs' larger than life performance is even more rapturous on the big screen and Barbara Crampton looks even more sensational in her S & M outfit.

So there was never a question I was going to see this one, although I felt bad for How to Get Ahead in Advertising: a film with a title that has no chance of enticing anybody who's never heard of it. And you can't spoil it by giving away that it's a movie about a talking boil slowly taking over Richard Grant's body. You just can't.

If the 'Burns does end up doing something like this again, I think they should NOT announce the titles and let audiences walk into the movies blind.

* Although the weirdest laugh came at the sight of Ken Foree's Bubba wearing a football jersey. That's it, just him hanging around in a jersey. I guess it's kinda funny for some reason? Oh also the one thing that bothered me for the first time was the performance of the guy playing the cop - people laughing at his acting made me realize it was the only B-grade aspect of the movie to really stick out, and helped me appreciate the absolute straight villain performance of Carolyn Purdy-Gordon even more. P.S. I just looked him up and it turns out Ted "Dr. Pretorius" Sorel died last year - that's too bad. He's great in the movie.

 

     5:00 A.M.

john:

ESSENE 
frederick wiseman, 1972.
(passed over PLAY DIRTY.)

An early black & white Fred Wiseman film with long takes of people talking, no music, and a perpetual, almost lulling ambient camera noise in the background of every shot? Ideal viewing for 5:00 in the morning! But whatever, this film is so fucking great. There was no way I was going to pass it up, even if Play Dirty was the sure bet to rock me back into consciousness. This is an important film about religion that belongs next to films by Bergman and Dreyer. Wiseman sets his eye on a Benedictine monastery, but it's surprisingly not just a bunch of dour monks chanting as they march in bowed penitence. Mostly it's a bunch of real sensitive young guys who seem like they've been hurt in the real world and have escaped into this monastery to get their life together. On the one hand, they come off kind of pathetic and make the order seem a little embarrassing, like lost souls who join up with hare krishnas at the airport, and you get the sense that the older monks aren't entirely comfortable with the amount of hippy-dippy brotherly support that breaks out at some of the group sessions. But at the same time the amount of compassion they offer each other makes religion seem like a genuinely healthy and healing thing. The weird thing is how their long parables, recited like passages from the bible, come to reveal things about themselves - when one of the monks goes into a long story, spoken in a solemn "sermon voice" and clearly made up as the guy's talking, about a man exposed to a reckless, immoral society of rampant sinners (i.e. late 60's/early 70's America) he seems to just be ranting in order to deal with his own issues. But it doesn't seem any less genuine than an older monk giving an actual sermon who keeps pronouncing the word "ego" as "eggo" (which, 6:30 in the morning, made me so fucking hungry for some waffles.) I'm sure there's some brilliant Wiseman ideas about the individual vs the institution and how this relates to personal faith vs socialized religion, but honestly I just need to see this wonderful movie again before going too heavily into that sort of interpretation... I didn't fall asleep, but I can't deny that I was in and out of certain parts of the film, especially since it was in Theater 3 with its cozy, velvet-y chairs.

 

christopher:

PLAY DIRTY 
andre de toth, 1969.
(passed over ESSENE.)

I figured if there were any slot in the program that I could program from a purely selfish point of view, it was the 5:00 a.m. slot. I assumed most people would have gone home to sleep or would be falling asleep in the theater, so I could show whatever the hell I wanted without having to take too much into consideration the feelings of the audience. Essene is a rarely screened documentary from one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of le cinema and Play Dirty is a Dirty Dozen rip-off starring Michael Caine that there was no excuse to show beyond the fact that I really, really love it. I did the Wiseman movie because I knew that we'd almost never have a chance to screen it and I could justify offering up its quiet, slow-moving charms as a great movie to sleep through. Play Dirty was theoretically the loud, raucous action movie to keep you awake, but truthfully I knew that Play Dirty was a methodical, unpleasant "rag-tag squad on a suicide mission" flick that spent a big chunk of its running time detailing the crew's efforts to move three jeeps up a steep hill and that the action came in brief, brutal bursts that emphasized the dirty, grimy, heartless nature of combat. The film is a dark comedy about how little anything in an individual soldier's life matters, how the brass will sacrifice their pawns for no reason other than to make themselves look good, how the chain of command is an illusion, how soldiers are sent chasing mirages in the desert and die like pigs at the guns of slack-jawed grunts who fail to see their surrender flags. I suppose those ideas are war film cliches and maybe what makes the film most original is its willingness to ask if its repulsively amoral character are survivors because they have cashed in their moral chips, if their existence is only possible because they have drained it of moral meaning. It's a cruel joke of a movie with some absolutely stunning location footage that emphasizes the jagged rocks and torrents of sand that soldiers endured in the North African campaign during WWII (although, I should mention, the film was shot in Southern Spain.) The print we screenrd was old and red to the point of being colorless. It worked for the movie, which emphasized the bloodless, windswept expanses of nothing through which our heroes inched step by painful step. When Michael Caine and his crew finally seem on the verge of becoming heroes, the film pulls back once again and offers up one of the most gleefully dark endings I have ever seen. It ends on a wonderful, awful punch-line of a scene. I'm not sure what the audience made of it, but I'm happy to have had the opportunity to inflict it on them.

 

     7:05 A.M.

christopher:

NINOTCHKA 
ernst lubitsch, 1939.
(passed over BLADE RUNNER and THE EMPEROR'S NAKED ARMY MARCHES ON.)

When John and I met up to have dinner just before the marathon began, we had a conversation about Ernst Lubitsch (all of the classic Hollywood directors, he's my least favorite) and why I don't particularly enjoy his work when I like so many of his contemporaries like Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey and Preston Sturges. I had recently seen Shop Around the Corner and felt like it didn't hold up at all - and I considered it to be Lubitsch's best behind Ninotchka. John warned me that I might be in for some trouble with Ninotchka: he also had recently re-watched Shop and Ninotchka and felt like the latter was a steep grade below the former. And I'm sorry to report he's correct. Ninotchka is a lumpy mess of a film that moves in halting rhythms and never seems to find any flow to its narrative. It felt like 45 minutes before the titular humorless Russian played by Greta Garbo was even introduced and the preceeding antics of three Soviet officials are just hopelessly unfunny and frequently irritating. As Ninotchka's improbable love interest, Melvyn Douglas thoroughly proves he's deserving of his stature as a second tier movie star, plus it seems like he's playing a Frenchman? Without a French accent? And is clearly not in any way shape or form French? It's the type of film that is absolutely deadly in a marathon format: the awkward, lumbering pace makes any already long-ish film (110 m.) feel interminable. There are four or five seperate chunks to the story, the film lurches from one narrative epoch to the next and the individual sections themselves lack urgency or focus. Plenty of the one-liners are great and scene where Douglas' character attempts to get Ninotchka to laugh justifies its fame, but the whole is weirdly flat. Garbo was never a hugely compelling movie star, just a striking screen presence who was formidably cold and elusive; Lubitsch and screenwriter Billy Wilder came up with a clever framework in which to deal with her limitations, but all of the scenes of her getting moon-eyed and romantic are hokey to the extreme. The fact of the matter is Garbo and Douglas simply isn't a pairing on the level of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn or Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, it's just not. And there's no touch which Lubitsch can put on his actors to make them better they are. The film isn't bad, of course, it's just not on the level with The Awful Turth, The Lady Eve, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, Holiday or any of the other towering classics of the genre. Expecting it to be on that level will only disappoint you. It certainly disappointed me.

It was, however, preceded by the endlessly charming Warner Bros. short, I Like to Singa, about an adorable little owl (Owl Jolson) who wants to become a singer. The song will now be stuck in my head for the next four years. "I like to singa/I like to swinga/I like the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a." And his cute little dance rules.

 

john:

BLADE RUNNER
ridley scott, 1982.
(passed over NINOTCHKA and THE EMPEROR'S NAKED ARMY MARCHES ON.)

Three films I've seen more than once apiece. And I'd seen Ninotchka recently and didn't like it as remembered. The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On seemed like too much of a downer, and not really a good "big screen" choice. So I went with Blade Runner. I was a bit disappointed that we weren't watching a print of the original, unicorn-less, theatrical release of with the funny Harrison Ford voiceover, but I have to say the projected Blu-Ray of the "Final Director's Cut" or whatever this version is called looked absolutely astonishing. I just wanted to study every single detail of the production design and visual effects. I was so sure this would put me to sleep - which would have been fine, since I've seen it plenty - but I stuck with the movie the whole time. I even enjoyed the connection between this film's subplot and and one from Tabloid: a sleazy investigator uses his female subject's pet to track her down (a dog in Tabloid, a snake in Blade Runner.)

Sitting in the smaller Theater 3 during Essene with a handful of people (and assuming most of the crowd was in the much louder Michael Caine Dirty Dozen-ripoff next door), I didn't realize that the crowd had somewhat dwindled by this point. Chris asked if I wanted to hit Dunkin Donuts, I replied "I want to make sure to get a seat for Blade Runner," and he said "I don't think that will be a problem." Sure enough, Theater 1 (the bigger one) was not nearly as packed as I expected. So 5am to about 11am was the downtime of the series; it picked up right around lunch.

Here are my thoughts on the movie this time around: I'm willing to accept that Deckard must be a Replicant, mainly because he is a terrible Blade Runner. Seriously, he only "retires" two of the five rogue robots, both of them girls, one he shoots in the back as she's running away. Three of the four "bad guys" have the drop on him and could easily kill him were it not for the interference of a third party and Rutger Hauer's decision to show Deckard the mercy he would not have extended to him. But what I found most unsettling in the film this time around was Deckard's relationship with Sean Young's Rachel, a confused young lady who's just been informed that she's a goddamn robot, that her childhood memories are complete bullshit, and gotten fired from her cushy corporate job for no reason. She is completely right to hate Deckard yet she ends up saving his life, then offering herself to him in his apartment, where he orders her to unwillingly repeat "Kiss me" and "I want you" before he bangs her. When we next see her, he asks her "You trust me?" to which she responds "I trust you." Then he asks "You love me?" and she says "I love you." And that's it, that's the last we hear from her character. In a world where sex bots have been established, this is a little uncomfortable: has she been psychologically relegated to a sex slave by Deckard? Is this really the hero of the movie? Indiana Jones wouldn't do anything that sordid, and he owns a whip.

If I were a trim fellow, I'd dress like Edward James Olmos' character every day of my life.

 

     9:15 A.M.

christopher:

OUT FOR JUSTICE
john flynn, 1991.
(passed over BIGGER THAN LIFE and LOVE CRIME.)

When I was doing my pre-film pitches and trying to convince folks that they really, truly should give this one a chance, I focused on the fact that director John Flynn is a legitimate exploitation hero, having directed the Paul Schrader-scripted Rolling Thunder (the film after which Quentin Taratino named his distribution company) and the Robert Duvall-led Parker-adaptation The Outfit. Both are unassailable classics - to me, The Outfit bests even John Boorman's Point Blank as the definitive take on Richard Starke's iconic character and Rolling Thunder rules by any standard. And I could get the audiences into it... up until I mentioned Steven Seagal. In my third and final intro, I just left Seagal out of the pitch and decided that I could live with any ill-will I might generate by tricking people into seeing Seagal's best film. Here's the thing, though: Out for Justice is every bit as good as The Outfit or Rolling Thunder and is really the clinching piece in Flynn's claim to greatness. It's a legitimately brutal revenge flick that rides roughshod over even the most cynical snickering audiences: about half the people came into the screening ready to giggle at Seagal (and his early leather-vest with no undershirt and beret combo certainly gave them a prime opportunity), but after WIlliam Forsythe as the repulsive psychopath Richie pumps several rounds point blank into an innocent motorist's skull, all the laughing was over. This is a film with a genuinely disturbing, ugly, unpredictable villian and a brutish, stalking bully of a hero. The action scenes are classic, not just two early brawls that show off Seagal's wrist-snapping skills, but also a car chase through a bumpy Brooklyn street that feels like the cars are rocketing down a roller-coaster and the upsettingly violent shoot-out at the climax of the movie that sees a man's leg blown off at the knee by a shotgun. The first fist-fight, where Seagal is jumped in a deli, is so good I wished I could yell at the projectionists to stop the and rewind the film to show it again immediately. Seagal deflects his opponents' attacks against themselves, causing meat-cleaver wielding assailants to slice through their own thighs and chop their buddy's hands in half. You can't laugh at these action scenes: they're too brutal, too exciting, too good. They're everything exploitation cinema should be. That goes for the film on the whole: sure, Seagal affects an embarrassing Noo-Yorka accent, wears a beret/vest combo and runs like a girl, but you won't be laughing by the time he's strutting around Richie's brother's bar, knocking people's teeth out with a cue-ball, shattering kneecaps and demanding to know "why Richie did Bobby Lupo?!"

Also, maybe it didn't need saying, but Seagal is such a unique action star. You can't see it on the dvd, but when he sees his partner's dead body at the beginning of the film, he wipes away a single tear. Jonathan Demme mentioned to me that one of the things CBS cut from his upcoming pilot was an instance of the male lead crying because seeing strong men cry makes audiences really, really uncomfortable. Can you imagine anyone but Seagal inserting such a minor, almost throw-away moment as single, uncommented upon tear into a grim action movie?

 

john:

LOVE CRIME
alain corneau, 2010.
(passed over BIGGER THAN LIFE and OUT FOR JUSTICE.)

I hated to betray Seagal, but I missed Love Crime in Toronto and have wanted to catch it ever since (also I just watched Bigger Than Life on dvd last week in order to pull a clue for the marathon, which ultimately wasn't used.) Although I may never get a second chance to witness "Sticks" having his twirling pool cues taken away and used against him by Brooklyn's favorite son Gino Felino on the big screen, I liked Love Crime a lot. It's right up my alley: a funny, genuinely surprising (if a bit predictable), even playfully sexy French thriller. One stretch of the movie in particular (which I won't spoil for those who haven't seen it) was lots of fun to sit through. I don't know if it would hold up on second viewing, but it definitely made me want to see all the earlier Alain Corneau films Chris keeps telling me are good.

Ludivine Sagnier plays a variation of the in-over-her-head, swimming-with-sharks naive twentysomething she portrayed in Chabrol's A Girl Cut in Half (with a dash of ChloŽ Sevigny's character from Demonlover; appropriate, since I sometimes think of Sagnier as France's ChloŽ Sevigny, albeit much better looking and less willing to suck off Vincent Gallo.) I think the goal of every gorgeous young French actress like Sagnier should be to play two-piece wearing nymphettes wandering around beaches and swimming pools in the movies of up-and-coming international hotshot directors while you're young, then start working with classy, established filmmakers playing OCD-racked nervous wrecks in big mousy glasses and giant sweaters as you get older (the basic Catherine Deneuve carer model.) She's never not fun to watch in this movie (and her English is so cute!), and Kristin Scott Thomas is tolerable enough as her manipulative boss. I kept trying to remember the opening scene of the movie, and when I did I thought "Oh yeah...in retrospect, that didn't seem like the right way to open the movie. Just started things off on a weird note. Then again, it did get a few important details out of the way quickly I guess. Still, maybe it could have opened better."

 

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