Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)

Sam Peckinpah Western Movie #3

Synopsis: Vicious gun-for-hire hunts down irresponsible, murderous man-child on behalf of territorial government owned by oligarchic agri-businesses. [Um... are there any good guys in this movie?] 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “James Coburn stars as Garrett, a cold-eyed cynic to whom survival in a changing world means putting on a badge and hunting down his old friend Billy. But the Kid, portrayed with an easy charm by Kris Kristofferson, sees it differently.” 

What Did I Learn?: If a couple of outlaws (or, in this case an outlaw and an outlaw-turned-deputy-sheriff) agree to settle their differences with pistols-at-ten-paces, there’s a very good chance that one, or even both parties will renege on the arrangement. 

Really?: 1) See “What Did I Learn”? 2) I realize the cattle barons threw their weight around in 1881 New Mexico, and acted like dicks, but did ordinary people actually side with Billy the Kid  just because he was an outlaw? I mean, he wasn’t exactly Robin Hood... 3) You know... if an old buddy pleaded with me to leave the country because he would be forced to return in five days to arrest (or shoot) my ass, I think I would take him seriously and get the fuck out of Dodge.  

Rating: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (the 2-hour Director’s Cut version – not the much-shorter theatrical release that Peckinpah hated) is a cynical, but haunting and thought-provoking revisionist Western. It's hard not to feel a little depressed when you watch Slim Pickens' final scenes after getting shot. The film is certainly short on heroes, but we can sympathize with both title characters, played well by Coburn and Kristofferson (oh – and watch for Bob Dylan in a small role as Billy’s admirer/flunkey). My only real complaints are that the movie often drags, we know the ultimate fate of both men in the first few minutes, so there isn’t much suspense, and I didn’t enjoy Dylan’s musical contributions. 7/10 stars.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Sam Peckinpah Western Movie #2

Synopsis: American gunslingers have a really bad day, get drunk, and wipe out the entire Mexican army. 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Few movies have been so initially controversial and enduringly brilliant as Sam Peckinpah’s film The Wild Bunch. By today’s standards, the violence that ignited firestorms of debate in 1969 seems less shocking. By any standard, the powerful tale of hang-dog desperados bound by a code of honor rates as one of the all-time greatest Westerns, perhaps one of the greatest of all films.” 

What Did I Learn?: If your troops are unfamiliar with the workings of a heavy machine gun, you might want to read the instruction manual before you allow them to experiment with one. 

Really?: 1) So wait... Angel only agrees to help the gang steal the guns if he can swipe a case for his buddies, who are fighting against their client? Does anyone think this is arrangement is going to end well? 2) Considering nobody in the gang actually trusts Mapache, I had a bit of trouble believing they would go back to town, where they could have been overpowered and forced to return Mapache’s gold. Why not take out Thornton’s sad-sack posse, instead? 3) I could see Pike and Dutch giving their lives to avenge Angel’s death, but Lyle and Tector? Don’t these guys hate his guts? 

Rating: The Wild Bunch is the quintessential guy movie: loud, loaded with T&A, and quite violent – well, violent by 1969 benchmarks, anyway. It’s also a well-written, well-acted and incredibly compelling masterpiece that stands the test of time; we come to care about these men, even though it’s obvious they’re a bunch of cutthroats who will just as soon turn on each other as offer a helping hand. It’s too bad Peckinpah never made a prequel: I'd love to see Pike Bishop (William Holden) and Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) rob a bank together. 9/10 stars.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)

Sam Peckinpah Western Movie #1 (By the way: I’m not doing a Jason Robards film fest – he just happened to star in a couple of Sam Peckinpah Westerns, as well as Raise the Titanic

Synopsis: Grizzled old bastard survives – and thrives – in the desert by um...uh... selling a basic human right to desperate people? What a creep! 

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Sam Peckinpah’s affectionate ode to the fading Old West.” 

What Did I Learn?:  The best response to “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord” is: “Well, that’s fair enough with me... just as long as he don’t take too long and I can watch.” 

Really?: 1) It’s awfully kind of Cable to spare Bowen’s life, but did he have to essentially give him the watering hole? 2) So wait – Joshua is hiding out in Cable’s house because there’s a man outside who wants to kill him, and he hits on Cable’s girl, Hildy? It makes for a funny scene, but that seems incredibly short-sighted and dangerous. And hey – I thought he and Cable were buddies. 3) I really didn’t need to hear Jason Robards sing: “Butterfly Mornings.” 

Rating: Sam Peckinpah apparently felt The Ballad of Cable Hogue was his best film, and even better than his much-more-famous Wild Bunch. It’s a good movie – Robards is wonderful as the title character, and David Warner does a memorable turn as a lusty (and not terribly trust-worthy) preacher, but it tends to drag in places, especially near the end. The Ballad of Cable Hogue is also very different from The Wild Bunch in the sense that there isn’t a lot of action, and things occasionally get psychedelic and weird. 8/10 stars.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Raise the Titanic (1980)

Not Quite a 1970s Disaster Movie... 

Synopsis: America needs an important rare mineral. The US military’s top minds respond by... um... undoing a James Cameron movie?!?

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “An all-star cast embarks on a tension-filled expedition to locate the infamous luxury liner and the destructive secret it holds.” 

What Did I Learn?: “Dirk Pitt” sounds like the name of a pirate. 

Really?: 1) So, what’s the point of the love triangle between Dana (Anne Archer), Dirk (Richard Jordan) and Gene (David Selby)? She’s barely in this movie, and nothing ever gets resolved. 2) If this “Byzanium” stuff is even more powerful than plutonium, why doesn’t anyone ever wear a hazmat suit whenever they think they’re getting close to the stuff? 3) Funny how so much of this movie takes place under the Atlantic Ocean, yet we never see a fish, or any aquatic plants. 4) Why do the Soviets leak everything to the press? If they want to steal the Byzanium on the high seas, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep everything quiet? 

Rating: I wanted to like Raise the Titanic more than I did. Based on a Clive Cussler novel, the film is imaginative, ambitious, even spectacular in places, and it boasts an interesting cast, including a memorable cameo appearance by Alec Guiness as a survivor of the ill-fated ship. Unfortunately, Raise the Titanic was incompetently directed – it often gets bogged down in superfluous sub-plots and back-stories, and every scene seems to take a loooooooooong time. I cannot recommend this movie. 5/10 stars. 

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Probably not – but take a drink every time Jason Robards seems grumpy.

The Swarm (1980)

1970s Disaster Movie #4

Synopsis: Michael Caine will do anything for a paycheque, example #92

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Monsters by the millions – and they’re all for real! They’re coming. There’s no place to hide. All you can do is run for your life... and watch as a living wave of destruction overwhelms everything in its path.” 

What Did I Learn?: Bees are nothing but trouble, and need to be wiped off the face of the planet! Oh, wait... 

You Might Like This Movie If: You figure than anything dealing with killer bees from the late 1970s has to be a 156-minute long version of this. [Sorry folks, I couldn't find any classic SNL skits on youtube]

Really?: 1) Can a swarm of bees actually invade a building when the doors and windows are shut, let alone an ICBM station? 2) Come to think of it, isn’t it lucky that ICBM station has a science lab our heroes can use to attack the bee threat? 3) So... what’s the deal with the extra-lethal bee sting that comes into effect just after the victim appears to recover? Why the hallucinations, and why does Crane (Caine) know about them? Why does Major Baker worry about Crane uncovering what he called “our work”? I have to wonder if some backstory (i.e. the US government secretly bred Africanized bees as a potential weapon before they escaped) was cut from the final script. 4) Dead children... yeah, that’s just what I wanted to see. Oh, and I guess that whole love triangle between Clarence (Fred MacMurray) Maureen (Olivia de Havilland) and what’s-his-name didn’t mean shit in the end. 5) I don’t think very many elderly scientists would willingly inject themselves with extra-lethal bee venom just to test an experimental antidote. 

Rating:  The Swarm might be the nadir of Michael Caine’s movie career, and I can only speculate that Henry Fonda also signed on for a big paycheque. The Swarm combines all of the elements of an Irwin Allen disaster film: terrible dialogue, a highly contrived and difficult-to-believe storyline, and bargain-basement special effects, but it’s not a particularly fun movie, either – small children die, and the audience feels somewhat cheated after investing emotional capital into the lives of the townspeople (I won’t give away any spoilers). 2/10 stars. 

Would It Work For a Bad Movie Night?: Yes - take a drink every time Michael Caine yells at some military dick.