This remake of Howard Hawks’s Ball of Fire is very scripty – so much screenwriting that there’s no room for anything else. Maybe a powerful performance could break through the scriptiness, but Virginia Mayo (ah, who?) is no Stanwyck, and Danny Kaye (I can never remember who he is exactly, and think of him as “Fake Donald O’Connor”) is no Gary Cooper (and I don’t even like Gary Cooper), so we’re boned. Mayo and her gangster boyfriend “Tony Crow” get in some real good slang, at least, while Kaye avoids Mayo because of her distracting body and the demoralizing effect of her presence, and hides out with his music scholar buddies, none of whom are Cuddles Sakall (but one of whom is Benny Goodman). Popular musicians Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong look on as Kaye finally gets the girl, and picking up the second half of this movie a day later, we forgot why we’d ever started it, until we saw the Hawks name again – he remade his own pretty-good movie as a pretty-bad movie in the same decade.
Nice to see this at the Landmark before it disappeared onto the small screen (bragging). Quiet movie – there are long stretches with low conversations and no background music. I don’t want to say it’s too quiet, but its epic length and contemplative air didn’t resonate as much with me as others – I didn’t feel a great sadness that the hit man’s family wouldn’t talk to him and he ended up friendless, puttering around a retirement home and choosing his own casket. Still, from scene to scene, undeniably a heck of a movie. Scorsese with his Gangs of New York screenwriter. Starring all the actors I recognize, plus a few I almost do (The Captain from USS Callister as Hoffa’s foster son).
It’s nearing the end of the year, so time to catch up on all the best films of 2019 that we’ve missed so far, but sometimes on a Friday night after a long week you just want to watch Liam Neeson take bloody revenge after a member of his family gets taken.
In the beginning, Liam is being honored at a nice dinner for driving the snowplow in a Denver suburb, his loving wife Laura Dern in attendance, but meanwhile their son is killed by some drug dudes who probably meant to kill his coworker instead, and Neeson finds the first guy he suspects to be involved (Michael Eklund, a Canadian who recently played Eadweard Muybridge), beats him until he gives up the name of the next guy up the ladder (Bradley Stryker of an upcoming Kevin Costner movie), and so on.
Love to see Major Rawls of The Wire tell his rookie partner Emmy Rossum (Shameless) about the importance of balanced community policing. The Major’s Wire costar Herc is bodyguard to the big bad Viking (Tom Bateman, star of a Jekyll & Hyde series), who is trying to figure out who’s killing his men, takes out a hitman called Eskimo and Neeson’s brother (William Forsythe, who plays J. Edgar Hoover on TV), then accidentally goes to war with his Indian rivals led by White Bull (Tom Jackson, a Shining Time Station regular), which significantly ups the body count.
Herc and Viking:
It’s not a good movie for wives! Neeson’s wife Laura Dern leaves early and never returns, Viking’s wife is fighting for custody of their kid, and Neeson’s brother’s wife spits on her husband’s grave. The kid survives, as does Neeson and White Bull, and the movie ends on a typically black-comic note, accidentally running over a lost parasailing Indian with a snowblower, before cutting to the credits listing actors “in order of disappearance”. That was the English title of Molland’s own 2014 film starring Stellan Skarsgård, which he’s remaking here. IMDB says this will be Neeson’s final action movie role, also says he has three action movies in development.
The Brother and his wife:
Katie Rife in AV Club:
The film, first and foremost, is rolling its eyes at swaggering machismo, giggling at the hyper-masculine phallic symbol literally plowing its way across the screen with man’s man Neeson behind the wheel … The female characters in the film are uniformly fed up and uninterested in whatever dick-measuring contest these men have gotten themselves into this time. Cold Pursuit knows that killing a man with a snow plow is a ridiculous macho fantasy, and it’s going to give it to you anyway — but not without a wink and a smile.
Japanese gang-war rap musical, opens with an epic long take, then blonde gang boss Mera (Ryôhei Suzuki of Kurosawa’s Seventh Code) explains the local gangs and neighborhoods to a noob cop he has stripped and threatened with a knife, and we already know what the movie is like: it’s gross and loud and sexist, and kinda fun as hell.
Mera ambushes his hated rivals, the peaceful gang Musashino led by Kai, and kills a guy, and his body is wheeled back home with a new girl in tow (Nana Seino). Meanwhile, Mera ally Lord Buppa (played by a pop-eyed Riki Takeuchi, a classic Miike star I haven’t seen since Battle Royale 2) is sent two elite fighters by the High Priest to recover HP’s missing daughter Erika (the new girl, obvs), and previously unknown gang the Waru is activated.
A holographic message from the wise High Priest:
Kai bands together all the Tokyo tribes, including the Gira Gira Girls and Neri Muthafuckaz and probably a couple more, to fight this new threat. It all looks impressively choreographed and real, neon lights and stunt fights, then a super-fake CG tank comes along and blows it. Still, for a full two hours of rap mayhem, this doesn’t lose steam. I’d been avoiding Sion Sono since Noriko’s Dinner Table, but this and Why Don’t You Play In Hell were fun, so maybe I should watch his four-hour masterpiece Love Exposure sometime.
Visually and performatively stylized melodrama, slangy and retro and dreamily lit, like a much better Grease, or a nonmusical West Side Story. Rusty James (Matt Dillon in his third S.E. Hinton movie in a row) mopes around with his tough friend Smokey (Nicolas Cage, his second year in the movies) and his nerdy David Cronenberg-looking friend Steve (Vincent Spano of City of Hope) and Nice Guy Eddie, speaking wistfully about Rusty’s long-missing older brother, local-legend gangster The Motorcycle Boy. Rusty James has a hot girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) who’s into him, but he cheats and disappears and flakes around. Rusty James is trying to keep alive the gang wars he barely remembers from his brother’s day, and just as he’s losing a fight, The Motorcycle Boy dramatically reappears. This is the earliest I’ve seen Mickey Rourke, four years before Angel Heart, doing his gentle/tough handsome-zen thing – everyone in town agrees he’s crazy, but we don’t see him acting crazy, except maybe when he liberates every animal in the pet store.
It’s clear from the tone of the thing that somebody is doomed – probably Rourke (and yup, sure enough). The cops aren’t happy to see him back, but a heroin-addict substitute teacher starts hanging around, and old rivalries start simmering. It’s kind of a hangout movie where not much happens, but it feels tense most of the time. Dillon’s character is kind of an idiot, and his idol brother’s return blows up his worldview that things were better in the tough old days. In the end Rourke has died, Cage has stolen the girl and said he’d take over the gang if there even was a gang, Rusty James rides his brother’s motorcycle to the ocean, and it sounds like Wall of Voodoo over the credits but I guess it was that guy from The Police.
I keep meaning to watch the four hours of extras on the Criterion disc, but haven’t found the time. The Outsiders was also a Coppola-shot S.E. Hinton-written gang movie made the same year, and I should have double-featured these. The cast in this film is impressive – the brothers’ shitty alcoholic dad is Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne is a gang go-between, Tom Waits a bartender. William Smith, who starred in the real David Cronenberg’s Fast Company, is the mustache cop who uses inappropriate force to kill Rourke after the pet store incident.
Rumble brothers with grudge cop:
“We’re realists while they’re fantasists!”
“Realism will lose!”
I always watch the wrong Sion Sono movies. I heard either Love Exposure or Guilty of Romance was good, so somehow I got the idea to watch this instead – and I hated it, so now my chance of ever watching those others is lower.
Okay, I didn’t hate it. You can’t hate a movie where a group of young, failed filmmakers called the Fuck Bombers end up choreographing an actual gang war, and where stuff like this happens:
But it feels like Sono has cult-ready ideas, good-enough execution, and little sense of timing. Endless hours of build-up, and everything gets repeated to death by the time the end finally comes. Maybe it feels different at a midnight screening with a giddy audience, and at least it’s an improvement on Noriko’s Dinner Table (which I just realized has similar plot points to Alps).
Lead gangster is Jun Kunimura, who I just saw playing the devil, probably, in The Wailing. His daughter, a former advertisement star and the rainbow swordsman above, is Fumi Nikaidou (Lesson of Evil). Rival leader Ikegami is Shinichi Tsutsumi of One Missed Call. Hirata (Shin Godzilla star Hiroki Hasegawa) is the lead Fuck Bomber, and his Bruce Lee-prototype star is Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi, star of Versus).
C. Marsh in Cinema Scope:
When Hirata dreams of filmmaking, he dreams of the practice’s classical conception, romanticized with the rigor of a hardcore purist: he envisions rack lighting, metres-long camera dollies on steel rails, a trained crew of hundreds, and, above all else, the sprocketed hum of rolling celluloid. In the end that’s what he gets, and it costs him everything. Sono seems sympathetic to the sentiment – he relishes the physicality of the traditional film equipment as much as Hirata does – but he ultimately undermines it. The form itself is a joke. The movie was shot digitally, on Red Epic: and though his characters would be doubtless loathe to admit it, the results look more than fine.
I watched this a couple weeks after Office, not knowing they were Johnnie To’s companion pieces on the 2008 financial crisis. This one presents the corrupt business world more harshly – no lavish sets and musical numbers, just greed, theft, disappointment, ruin and murder.
Connie meets Teresa:
An intertwining-destinies movie following a few character threads. Inspector Cheung (Breaking News star Richie Ren) is on the sidelines of the other stories while his girlfriend Connie is buying an apartment. Teresa is a banker who sells high-risk investments to confused old ladies, ends up with a pile of undeposited money when her loanshark client Yuen is murdered in the parking deck. And Panther (Ching Wan Lau, the Mad Detective) works for broke gangsters, runs around collecting money to bail out a buddy until he finds stock trader Lung who has an idea for fast cash. The real estate thing held little drama, the banking part hinged on some mild deceit (the old lady heard the phrase “high risk” a hundred times so you can’t entirely blame the banker) and coincidence, but Panther was fun – I’d watch a sequel that just followed him around some more.
“I’m the (k)night rider. The toe cutter, he knows who I am!”
I was immediately impressed with the character names, but also confused by the movie. Max is a cop, and yes his police station looks awfully run down, but it’s not some Tom Petty wasteland future – it’s all pretty much how I assume Australia looked in 1979. So maybe the apocalypse happens before part two, and that’s when Max becomes Mad. He gets pretty close to Mad in this one – give an awesomely dangerous guy a “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” montage showing how much he loves his precious family, and guess what’s gonna happen to that family – but I wouldn’t call his murder-revenge spree against the biker gang that killed his family and his partner and broke his arm a permanent madness.
“Any longer out on that road and I’m one of them – a terminal crazy”
Other Weirdness: the big cartoon music during tense scenes. And Max locks a dude to a bomb, suggests he sever a limb to get free – an influence on SAW? Pretty straightforward, sharp-looking movie. And hey, the baddies only run down Max’s wife and kid – nobody gets tortured or raped, making this one of the more palatable 1970’s revenge movies.
We all know Mel Gibson went on to star in The Beaver and Machete Kills, but who was everyone else? Max’s wife Jessie was in early Nicole Kidman film Nightmaster. Max’s even-madder partner Goose does a lotta TV, was recently in The Great Gatsby. Max’s boss “Fifi” was once in movies called Stone and Stoner in the same year. Lead baddie Toecutter played lead baddie Immortan Joe in Mad Max 4. Shot by David Eggby (not Dave Eggers) who later shot a couple of Riddick movies.
The most awesome/unevenly ambitious Spike Lee movie since She Hate Me. I knew in advance that Teyonah Parris (Coco in Dear White People) has a plan to deny her man (Nick Cannon) sex until he stops fighting with a rival gang led by Wesley Snipes, but didn’t know she gathers a legion of women who commandeer an army base. The social issues within a heightened, unrealistic comedic production (rhyming dialogue, dance scenes, narrator Sam Jackson) make for a great combo.
Cowriter Kevin Willmott was here last week but I didn’t go see him since my parents were in town.