Friday, March 03, 2006

The Warriors

Directed by: Walter Hill
Rotten Tomatoes: 92% - Fresh
Roger Ebert: 2 Stars

There is a sort of other-worldly vibe that pervades The Warriors. I guess the movie is supposed to be set at the time of its release (1979), but it feels post-apocalyptic and unreal. While this may sound like a hindrance, it is in fact the movie's greatest strength.

The plot is bare-bones simple. The Warriors, a gang based in Coney Island, are falsely accused of assassinating the head of The Riffs, the largest and most powerful of New York street gangs, at a sort of peace conference in the Bronx. They must get back to their home turf, lest they be "japped" or "wasted." To stop them, The Riffs send a wire out over local radio to all street gangs, and the chase is on.

Part of the feeling that doomsday has passed comes from those other gangs. There are hundreds of them, each with their own distinct uniforms. One, the Baseball Furies, wears Yankees style pinstripes, wields heavy wooden bats, and sports various shades of full-facial costume makeup, stuff no real street gang would wear. Another gang chases The Warriors around in a black school bus, a-la Mad Max.

The space these gangs inhabit is not the New York most of us know. There seem to be no skyscrapers in the city, just trashed-lined streets and subway trains covered from head-to-toe in graffiti.

All of this would add up to total nonsense if Hill didn't shoot it properly. Lucky for us then this is a director with an eye. It almost feels as though the city is watching the proceedings, like the camera represents the eye of New York. The violence is highly stylized, all slow motion shots and bloodless beatings. The directing makes us forget the story is patentently ludicrous.

While the acting is terrible (it is a B-list cult classic, after all) that is not enough to bring this movie down. It might not be art, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

The Filmgeek's Grade: B

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Some Like It Hot

Directed by: Billy Wilder
Rotten Tomatoes: 96% - Fresh
Roger Ebert: N/A, Reviewed as a Classic

There was never anyone sexier than Marilyn Monroe. Women wanted to be her, and men wanted to be with her. As opposed to today, when there is a huge sector of men who want to be her too.

Lame attempt at humor aside though, Some Like It Hot is a giant of comedic cinema. Borne of a near-perfect script from the late Billy Wilder, this is a movie with more than just cross-dressing on the brain.

But I digress.

The film follows two out of work musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis), and Jerry (Jack Lemmon, one of the funniest actors to ever live). These two goofballs are accidental witnesses to a mob hit in Chicago during the waning years of the roaring '2o's. They can't get out of town without disguises, and as luck would have it an all girl band is looking for exactly their respective instruments. The two take on new female personas (Joe becomes "Josephine" and Jerry becomes "Daphne") and hit the road, on the train to Florida.

The bulk of the movie takes place there, and various highjinks ensue. A rich old lecher (Joe E. Brown) takes a liking to Daphne, and pursues "her". Joe dresses like a millionaire (a different costume from the drag, mind you) and proceeds to woo Sugar (Monroe), the most beautiful member of the band. She sings and plays eukalale.

There was nothing new about cross-dressing on film in 1959, so this movie doesn't survive because of it's premise. Guys dressed like girls are funny (see Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sorority Boys, no wait, don't see Sorority Boys) but a good script gets extra laughs. This flick has a script and then some. One thing Wilder always delivered was dialogue so fast you could hardly keep up with it. It's refreshing in this day and age of the low lowbrow comedy to see something that has a low subject but such a high level of execution.

A must for any film lover.

The Filmgeek's Grade: A

The Dead Zone

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% - Fresh
Roger Ebert: 3 1/2 Stars

I love David Cronenberg. I think he is one of the most underratted, underseen and underappreciated of all the autuer directors. So far as I have seen, he's never made a bad movie.

This one comes close.

The Dead Zone, based on the novel by Stephen King, is not a bad movie. It is, in fact, completely watchable. But being watchable and being good are not the same thing.

The movie stars Christopher Walken as Johhny Smith. When we meet him he is a happy guy, he has a beautiful fiance ( Brooke Adams) and a decent job as a high school English teacher. Then he get's in a car accident with a big rig and falls into a coma for five years.

When he wakes up he finds his girl has married, he's lost his job, and he can see the future. This second sight flares up at unexpected times, mostly through contact with the subject who's future is being read.

Here Cronenberg scores big. The vision sequences are done extremely well. Sometime's Johnny is present in them, as in the first one where he sees a nurses house on fire. Johnny is still bedridden at that point, and during the vision we see him lying in bed in a burning house, the bed actually on fire. It is a powerful image.

Johnny doesn't like his new powers and sequesters himself, tutoring children to get by. Eventually he shakes the hand of a megalomaniacal politician (a smarmy Martin Sheen) and sees the end of the world. Johnny takes it on himself to assasinate the man before he can launch the nukes.

While the premise is great and Walken's performance is as usual great and off-kilter, this movie is hampered by it's source material. The book never truly concentrates on one plotline, and neither does this movie. First it's a serial murderer. Then it's a disater at a hockey practice. Then the politician. While Cronenberg does deliver some brilliantly creepy moments (the best being a ritualistic suicide involving a pair of scissors) the film lacks cohesiveness.

All told, there are much, much worse ways to waste an afternoon, but this is not the best way either.

The Filmgeek's Grade: C+

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