Archive for the ‘action’ Tag

The Road Warrior or Mad Max and Lord Byron Walk into a Bar…   2 comments

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“I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air”

From the poem, “Darkness” by Lord Byron (1-5).

A world war devastates the earth and reduces the people to their basest selves.  They loot and riot and kill leaving only nomadic scavengers traveling alone or in packs.  Those who thrive on chaos, have a chance.  Lord Byron’s poem speaks of darkness.  The blinding, incessant sun of Australia’s desert belies a darkness of a different sort that has descended on those left alive after the firestorm.  As the narrator says at the beginning of the film, “Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive.”

“And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d”

From the poem, “Darkness” (10-13).

In the film, civilization and order fall apart in the aftermath of war.  There are no cities.  Max (Mel Gibson) drives endlessly through the vast Australian desert searching for food, water, and gasoline.  Gas, necessary for the modern Bedouin lifestyle, now holds more value than diamonds or gold.  Without it, there’s no relief from the harsh climate.  Without fuel, to paraphrase the narrator at the start of the film, they’re nothing.  On foot, a man could fall prey to the sun, starvation, or animals, often the two-legged kind.

“the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.”

From the poem, “Darkness” (32-37).

With so many souls living only to find food and fuel, the world, in this case, the Australian bush, becomes a mechanized LORD OF THE FLIES, in which everyone else is Piggy.  What keeps THE ROAD WARRIOR from becoming a series of car crashes and bloody melees is the humanity director and co-writer George Miller allows to seep through the twisted wreckage.

THE ROAD WARRIOR has great action sequences which must have kept every Australian stunt man employed for months.  The film has convincingly evil villains who deserve their violent ends, but it’s the virtue in many of the other characters that we remember.  THE ROAD WARRIOR is not just relentless, pounding action with occasional bon mots.  All right, it is relentless, pounding action without many mots at all, bon or otherwise.  Miller doesn’t need them.  He lets us know the characters using minimal dialogue and screen time.  He even allows the bad guys to have some depth before killing them off in spectacular ways.  Because we’ve met these people, we’re drawn into their world.  Their lives matter to us.  In the midst of this chaotic, desolate scenario, we care about a feral child, a quirky pilot in need of dental work, and a fiercely loyal mongrel dog.

“The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay”

From the poem, “Darkness” (45-49).

Why do we care?  George Miller, along with fellow writers Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant, shows us little glimpses of goodness in his bleak version of the future.  He demonstrates this goodness using a musical toy and a child, an expression of horror while witnessing a senseless murder, a dog’s loyalty, and a leader who keeps his word.

Oddly, that decency in the face of tragedy brought to mind another film about desperate people on a road trip from hell.  As I watched Mohawk-sporting cretins in assless chaps run amok in the Australian desert, I thought of THE GRAPES OF WRATH.  Yes, I mean John Ford’s sweeping chronicle of the Joad family’s trek from their Oklahoma farm to the promised land of California.  The film shows a family forced to scrounge for food and a place to live surviving despite constant assaults by evil brutes and cruel circumstance.  All through their discouraging journey, Ford allows small rays of light to pierce his dark tale.  The nobility of John Carradine’s homespun preacher, Ma Joad’s treatment of starving children in the run down camp, Al’s longing for a girl, and Tom’s dance with Ma as he sings Red River Valley all prove the clan has lost everything but what makes them human.

Miller could have been reading Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness” when he wrote THE ROAD WARRIOR.  The poem’s post-apocalyptic tone fits Miller’s vision of a dark future.  He could also have been reading Steinbeck or Golding.  The point is, despite its reputation as a rollicking action film, THE ROAD WARRIOR is much more.  It’s an uplifting tale full of heroes and villains and hope and enough car wrecks to keep a claims adjuster busy for months.

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This article appeared originally in The Brattle Film Notes.  Brattle Theatre

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Jurassic Park (1993)   9 comments

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Billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) owns an island. He wants to turn the island into an amusement park so he mines amber for the dinosaur DNA found in preserved mosquitoes and uses it to make dinosaurs. Of course he does. In the hands of any other director and cast this might come off as the nineties version of Sharknado, but since Steven Spielberg, Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and JEFF GOLDBLUM direct and star, it works. Suspension of disbelief, you say? Oh yes.

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Say what again.

I believed every frame of every scene because Spielberg and company sold me. B.D. Wong plays a smug scientist in a lab coat? Check! Samuel L. Jackson sips a tasty beverage while chain-smoking and writing code? Check! Wayne Knight whines and annoys everyone while sabotaging decades of work? Newman! Check! Martin Ferrero plays a bloodsucking lawyer more interesting in the bottom line than safety or due diligence? Check! Sam Neill and Laura Dern play a couple of PhD dinosaur groupies? Check! Sam Neill and Laura Dern play a couple? Check! Jeff Goldblum plays a hip leather-clad chaos theorist? Check and mate!

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Cue: angelic music.

The coolest member of the cast, Jeff Goldblum stars as Dr. Ian Malcolm who espouses chaos theory, teases Hammond, and questions everything. He even puts the moves on Dern when Neill isn’t looking. Brought to Hammond’s island along with Neill and Dern to give the park his seal of approval and assuage investors’ fears, Goldblum’s Malcolm is funny, skeptical, and charmingly irreverent. In the words of John Hammond to Ferrero’s lawyer, “I bring scientists. You bring a rock star.” Damn straight. Malcolm is a rock star. Fashionably intellectual and fatally attractive in black leather, Malcolm makes key observations about the fault in Hammond’s logic. When told that they control dinosaur breeding in the lab, Malcolm’s not buying it. After arguing with Wong about it Malcolm says “I’m simply saying that life finds a way.” Yup.

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Oops. They bred.

Malcolm has the best lines all through the film. When Hammond asks his opinion of his scientific achievements, Malcolm says, “The lack of humility before nature is staggering.” Hammond mentions his advancements in DNA research to which Malcolm replies, “You wield it like a kid who’s found his dad’s gun.” Hammond points out that he’s created life to which Malcolm replies ”Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Brilliant. We’re supposed to care about Neill and Dern and Hammond’s grandkids played by Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello and we do, but honestly, I wanted to see dinosaurs and Dr. Malcolm. Fangirling much? You could say that, but how can you resist Goldblum, at his hottest I might add, cracking wise and asking Neill whether Dern is single. To explain his question he adds “I’m always on the lookout for the next ex-Mrs. Malcolm.” Fabulous.

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John Williams’ music adds to the mood of the film, as always, and the production values are stellar. Spielberg spared no expense in making the best ‘old rich guy wants to have the coolest theme park so he makes dinosaurs oops they’re eating a guy’ film imaginable. He picked a great crew, a great cast, and a great Michael Crichton concept. Together they made a cool film that never fails to get me hooked. And Jeff Goldblum.

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I wrote this for the Goldblumathon hosted by Barry of Cinema Catharsis fame. Thanks, Barry! Here’s his blog. http://cinematiccatharsis.blogspot.com/

I can be reached on twitter @echidnabot

Please, check out https://prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com/

Where Eagles Dare (1968): Broadsword to Danny Boy   14 comments

poster where

Chock full of action, surprising plot twists, and World War II intrigue, Where Eagles Dare ticks all the adventure film boxes while adding the element of cool spy stuff to the mix. It may seem like the standard mission flick in which the brass assembles a crack team for some essential mission, but there’s a lot more to it. Major Smith (Richard Burton) leads a handful of British troops and one American (Clint Eastwood) behind enemy lines to retrieve American General Carnaby (Robert Beatty). The Germans shoot down the general’s plane and hold him prisoner in a castle high in the Bavarian mountains. The team must hurry because the general knows the plans for the allied command’s second front and, if tortured, could spill the beans. For some films, that scenario would suffice, but for Where Eagles Dare that idea serves as a mere jumping off point for a far more complex story.
After a brief introduction to the men assigned to the mission and the officers in charge, Major Smith and company board the plane for Bavaria and the Schloss Adler. They jump at night to avoid detection and hold up in a mountain cabin. There we get a look at their objective, the Schloss Adler. Accessible only by cable car, the fortress sets the scene for our heroes’ daring rescue. The team first heads into the nearby town to establish their German military identities. After all, the Alpen Corps would hardly allow a gang of British soldiers to gain access to their remote stronghold. We meet a couple new characters here too. Mary Ure, British agent and Smith’s lover, gets a job as a maid at the castle and Ingrid Pitt, long in deep cover as a bawdy bar maid, poses as Ure’s cousin and vouches for her. On the German side, we meet Major von Hapen (Derren Nesbitt) of the Gestapo. With the introductions taken care of for the most part, the main story can begin.
I won’t give a blow by blow here because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say the story and screenplay, both written by novelist Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra), combines flag waving action, red herrings, and dry wit to make for an entertaining film. Even at two and a half hours, the time flies thanks to the performances of Burton and Eastwood and the fabulous stunts choreographed and shot by Hollywood veteran Yakima Canutt and performed by Alf Joint. Burton and Eastwood have a nice rapport and make the most of the spare dialogue.

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Burton’s weary and unflappable Smith runs the show and has seen it all. Eastwood’s Schaffer is sharp and proficient even though he’s not quite sure about this mission.

clint gun

Canutt’s fights atop cable cars make for some of the most exciting action sequences I’ve seen. Similar scenes show up later in Bond films, but even 007 doesn’t do them as well as our team. I also love the use of explosives in Where Eagles Dare. Burton and Eastwood carry backpacks full of fun little bundles of dynamite attached to timers which end up all over the place and to put it mildly, stuff blows up good. They also have cool reversible uniforms so they can blend in the snow and look like official Nazis. The plot twists keep you guessing and the film abounds with double agents and moments of suspense.

cable car

Any description of Where Eagles Dare would be remiss if it left out the dynamic score by Ron Goodwin (Murder She Said, Village of the Damned). Catchy and memorable, you’ll find yourself humming it without even thinking. Brian G. Hutton (Kelly’s Heroes, Gunfight at the OK Corral) directed Where Eagles Dare as an action film with a spy story at its center. The film succeeds as both because Hutton, MacLean, Canutt, and the stellar cast elevate this film from a shoot ‘em up bang bang to a war film with spies and brains. I recommend it highly.

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Death Proof (2007)   Leave a comment

death proof

  In Death Proof, Tarantino pays homage to exploitation films, feminist revenge flicks, 70s muscle car films, and his own works. Kurt Russell’s likable/sickening character ties two vignettes together. Each story, led by a group of strong, beautiful women starts, as many horror films do by introducing us to these women and watching them interact during a short span of time. Their dialogue, while filled with different subject matter, reminds me of the conversations in Reservoir Dogs and True Romance. Even the cadence sounds familiar. This is not a bad thing, mind you. RD and TR are gems and the dialogue in those films stands as some of the best of this era. That being said, the dialogue does not rise to the level of a Reservoir Dogs or certainly not a True Romance mostly because of the subject matter. I guess Tarantino thinks the only thing women talk about when they’re together is men and sex. If the characters had a Royale with Cheese-like conversation in Death Proof, I’d have been thrilled. As usual, QT fills the film with actors you like to see and fun cameos and there’s no shortage of lovely ladies. Of course, Tarantino makes an appearance as well. The film lasts too long though. Self-indulgent describes QT in general and it certainly applies here. One last comment: enough with the feet already.

kurt russell

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