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Category: Response Reviews

My comments on Peary’s reviews in Guide for the Film Fanatic (Simon & Schuster, 1986).

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

“My name’s Ferdinand.”

Synopsis:
When a French man (Jean Paul Belmondo) married to a demanding Italian wife (Graziella Galvani) runs away with his kids’ babysitter (Anna Karina), the couple take a sporadically violent road trip to find Karina’s brother Frank.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Criminal Couple on the Run
  • French Films
  • Fugitives
  • Jean-Luc Godard Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary begins his review of what he refers to as “one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most fascinating films” by providing a succinct synopsis of the storyline, which “takes twists at every turn as if the script were being revised each morning before filming.” Peary’s overview gives away numerous plot points but isn’t really a spoiler, so I’ll cite it in full here: “Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is bored with his bourgeois lifestyle. He walks out on a stuffy party and runs away with his daughter’s babysitter, Marianna (Anna Karina), his former lover.”

“The next morning, he finds a dead man in Marianne’s apartment, with scissors stuck in his back.”

“The couple flees Paris. Gangsters, led by a midget (Jimmy Karoubi), are after some money Marianne has. She accidentally destroys the money when she sets fire to the car.”

“Ferdinand and Marianne spend time in a remote cottage — but there is little romance. She gets bored and insists they go to the Riviera to see her ‘brother.’ She isn’t being honest with him.”

Peary adds that the film is “filled with allusions to artists and films, political ideas, and jabs at commercialism and contemporary mores”:

… and he asserts that “it’s good to see Belmondo back in a Godard film,” noting that “maybe this film shows, in a limited sense, what would have happened if Belmondo and Jean Seberg had stayed together longer in Breathless” (a clip from that film is even shown here).

Finally, Peary notes the “explosive ending”, argues that “technically, [the] film is excitingly audacious”, and points out a cameo by “Samuel Fuller (as himself, describing film as ‘an emotional battleground’.)”

I don’t share Peary’s enthusiasm for this movie, which I find annoying and pointless rather than fascinating; as Godard himself stated, Pierrot le Fou “is not really a film, it’s an attempt at cinema.” Sure, it’s filled with plenty of the director’s clever cinematic trickery, and the cinematography (by Raoul Coutard) is gorgeous — but we don’t care a single whit about these vapid characters or their outcomes. While it’s widely acclaimed, I consider this one must-see only for Godard completists.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Raoul Coutard’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course Godard fans will want to check it out.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

My Night at Maud’s / Ma Nuit Chez Maud (1969)

My Night at Maud’s / Ma Nuit Chez Maud (1969)

“I don’t like people with no problems.”

Synopsis:
A Catholic (Jean-Louis Trintignant) secretly infatuated with a blonde (Marie-Christine Barrault) he sees at church bumps into an old schoolmate (Antoine Vitez) and ends up spending the evening with him and a divorced doctor named Maud (Françoise Fabian).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bourgeois Society
  • Eric Rohmer Films
  • French Films
  • Religious Faith

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review of this “third of Eric Rohmer’s six ‘Moral Tales'” — though “the first to get wide-spread circulation in America” — Peary points out the theme of “chance and probability” that runs through the entire screenplay, beginning with Trintignant running “into a Marxist friend… whom he hasn’t seen in 14 years… at a restaurant neither has been to before”:

… and eventually turning to “Trintignant, who is the type of guy who is always punctual, keeps appointments, and doesn’t sway from an ordered life, impulsively approach[ing] (on the street) a beautiful blonde… he’d seen at mass,” with further character-driven coincidences ensuing.

As Peary notes, “the humor is more subtle than in other Rohmer films — in fact, one could sit through the whole film without realizing he’s been funny on occasion” given that “the characters are always so serious” (though the humor “comes from seeing such loquacious intellectuals turning out to be as silly and awkward as everyone else when it comes to sex”).

I have a different take: while re-watching this film, I never thought I was viewing a romantic (or even an intellectual) comedy, and didn’t find the characters’ sexual choices to be “silly”. Peary further asserts that the moment when “Fabian’s daughter (Marie Becker) climbs out of bed just to see the lights on the Christmas tree” is “a simple, sweet, and honest gesture that makes us see how trivial the adult discourse is”:

… but I also disagree with this latter point; the “adult discourse” (involving “ultra-sophisticated… conversations about Pascal, probability and religion”) may be occasionally abstruse, but is far from trivial (or irrelevant). While this film is most certainly not for all tastes, I think it’s one-time must-see viewing for all film fanatics, especially those interested in French cinema.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Nestor Almendros’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as an exemplar of Rohmer’s unique style.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Murmur of the Heart (1971)

Murmur of the Heart (1971)

“Everyone has to discover love for himself.”

Synopsis:
In 1950s France, a teenager (Benoît Ferreux) with rowdy older brothers (Fabien Ferreux and Marc Winocourt) experiences a heart murmur while struggling to relate to his gynecologist father (Daniel Gélin) and developing a growing crush on his sexually promiscuous mother (Léa Massari).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • French Films
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • Louis Malle Films
  • Virginity

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “rude comedy” (I’m not so sure it’s a comedy) by Louis Malle about “incestuous feelings between [a] sexually curious 14-year-old… and his beautiful, sensuous Italian mother” is primarily concerned with “drawing a scathing portrait of the French bourgeoisie.” He argues that “in Malle’s customary uncontroversial way,” the “comedy [sic] advances [the] novel idea that the best way to show rejection of [the] bourgeoisie’s shackles is to break its sexual rules.” Maybe so — but there isn’t anything inherently amusing about this tale of sexual exploration and complicated mother-child dynamics.

While this film has quite a few fans who appreciate the “natural,” non-sensationalized way in which Ferreux and Massari grow increasingly affectionate with one another, I’ll admit I’m not among its admirers. Its best moments show the authenticity (based in large part on Malle’s own childhood) of Ferreux attempting to learn from a kind-hearted prostitute (Gila von Weitershausen) his brothers have taken him to:

… and navigating adolescent passes at girls once he’s at a sanitorium for his heart condition. Otherwise, frankly, the film feels manipulative; knowing the film’s taboo topic makes one simply wait with unease to see how it plays out.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Benoît Ferreux as Laurent

Must See?
No, though of course Malle fans will want to check it out.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Point Blank (1967)

Point Blank (1967)

“Wherever you go, trouble finds you out.”

Synopsis:
During a heist at Alcatraz, a thief (Lee Marvin) is shot and left for dead by his partner (John Vernon) and wife (Sharon Acker) — but he survives and seeks vengeance on them, demanding the money he is owed from a criminal organization and receiving help from both a mysterious man (Keenan Wynn) and his wife’s sister (Angie Dickinson).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Angie Dickinson Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • John Boorman Films
  • Keenan Wynn Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Revenge

Response to Peary’s Review:
Since first reading it years ago, I’ve never forgotten the opening line to Peary’s review of this stylish revenge-flick, based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake: “With ice water in his veins, Lee Marvin goes after his ex-partner.”

Indeed, Marvin stays uncannily calm, cool, and collected as he carries out his deliberate quest to first annihilate the seemingly untouchable Vernon, and then collect the money he is owed, going as high up as he needs to on the organizational food chain.

Peary writes that director “John Boorman’s cult film boasts interesting characters, choice locales (around L.A., at Alcatraz prison), and virtuoso camera and editing techniques.”

He adds that “the extremely violent action sequences are particularly well handled” and “the film’s audacious style and unusual dialogue have made it extremely popular in Europe.”

He points out that Marvin — fresh off of his Oscar win for Cat Ballou (1965) and filming in The Dirty Dozen (1967) — “has one of his best roles” playing “his scariest character since he played villains”; as described in TCM’s article, “Lee Marvin moves with the precision of a machine, cold, calculating, relentless; he could be the predecessor to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s annihilating cyborg in The Terminator (1984).”

It’s impossible to imagine this film without Marvin, whose central performance is — well, dead-on. He is a freaking Terminator, but can one blame him given all he’s been through? His single-minded violence stands in interesting contrast with smarmy Vernon, who menaces beautiful Dickinson:

… but not for long. Meanwhile, the movie is filled with jarring action sequences, memorable imagery, and creative use of location shooting throughout California.


This flick remains well worth a look, and has held up well.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Lee Marvin as Walker
  • John Vernon as Reese
  • Angie Dickinson as Chris
  • Exciting action sequences
  • Philip Lathrop’s cinematography
  • Excellent use of authentic locales

Must See?
Yes, as a stylish thriller.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Major Dundee (1965)

Major Dundee (1965)

“How can we catch the wind — or destroy an enemy we never see?”

Synopsis:
Near the end of the Civil War, a Union cavalry leader (Charlton Heston) recruits a former-friend-turned-Confederate (Richard Harris) — as well as other prisoners-of-war, scoundrels, and a small group of Black soldiers — to help him fight a battle across the Mexican border against the Apache Indians.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cavalry
  • Charlton Heston Films
  • Civil War
  • Mexico
  • Misfits
  • Native Americans
  • Richard Harris Films
  • Rivalry
  • Sam Peckinpah Films
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, while this “okay Sam Peckinpah epic western” — made in between Ride the High Country (1962) and The Wild Bunch (1969) — “contains several sweeping battle scenes,” the “emphasis is more on Bligh-Christian infighting between strict military man Charlton Heston and the more humane Richard Harris”, as well as “the tormented Heston’s personal journey” and “how Dundee’s troop, comprised of diverse elements, comes to represent imperialistic, impure, but somehow noble America.”

He points out (and many agree) that the “picture is confusing and boring at times,” though “it’s hard to judge because Columbia Studios broke the contract with Peckinpah and edited [the] film itself.” (See DVD Savant’s extensive overview of the film’s production, release, and re-release history if you’d like to read more.) He notes that because “Peckinpah wasn’t allowed to film several pivotal scenes that would have added more than an hour to the already lengthy running time” (the truth is more complicated than this), he “disowned this film” — and “some will recognize The Wild Bunch as his partial remake.” Meanwhile, Peary argues that “Heston’s cold, deeply flawed character is far too complex for the actor to play,” thus making it “hard for us to figure out what is going on in his head at any given time,” but he does make note of the “excellent cast” overall.

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s assessment of this disappointing western, which contains a reasonably interesting and coherent first hour, only to go flying off into frustratingly opaque directions for the remainder of its running time. The female characters — primarily Senta Berger as a German-born beauty who falls for Heston — are nothing more than romantic bait for the men:

… and the Apaches (perhaps predictably) are almost completely dehumanized. While this film has cult fans who consider it a guilty favorite, I can’t recommend it as must-see.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Sam Leavitt’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course it’s worth a one-time look simply for its historical significance, and Peckinpah fans will consider it must-see.

Links:

Dirty Dozen, The (1967)

Dirty Dozen, The (1967)

“Look, they may not look pretty — but any one of mine is worth ten of yours.”

Synopsis:
As punishment, an army major (Lee Marvin) during World War II is tasked by his superior (Ernest Borgnine) with the job of training and overseeing a dozen prisoners — including surly Franco (John Cassavetes), sociopathic Magott (Telly Savalas), simple-minded Pinkley (Donald Sutherland), African-American Jefferson (Jim Brown), and German-speaking Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) — to carry out a critical suicide mission at a Nazi-filled chateau in France.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Charles Bronson Films
  • Donald Sutherland Films
  • Ernest Borgnine Films
  • George Kennedy Films
  • John Cassavetes Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Misfits
  • Prisoners
  • Ralph Meeker Films
  • Richard Jaeckel Films
  • Robert Aldrich Films
  • Robert Ryan Films
  • Soldiers
  • Telly Savalas Films
  • World War Two

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Robert Aldrich’s much-copied war film… was a box office smash despite the moviegoers’ growing aversion to the genre in light of Vietnam,” largely “because it managed to stage exciting, brutal war sequences while simultaneously celebrating misfits, putting down authority figures and the military, and showing war to be a madman’s game that can only be fought down and dirty.”

He describes it as a three-part film in which the first third has Marvin whipping “twelve murderers and rapists” “into shape and making them into a team by developing their mutual hatred for him”:

… the second third showing “Marvin proving to the other officers (Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Webber) that his unwashed ‘dirty dozen’ are a crack outfit,” and the final third comprised of “the mission itself.”

Peary points out that “the large doses of humor present in the earlier parts of the film are replaced by strong action and bloody killings,” with our side presented as shockingly vicious…

SPOILER ALERT

… as when the soldiers “pour grenades and petrol into an underground chamber where the German officers and their women are trapped and then set a fire that wipes them all out.”

Peary writes that the “film is solidly directed and has a strange appeal,” with perhaps “the oddest aspect… that these criminals are redeemed when they commit acts that are far more repugnant than the ones for which they were arrested.” Of special note is a stand-out performance by pugnacious Cassavetes, who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination:

… and perfect casting of Savalas as a bigot you instantly know you can’t trust.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine direction and cinematography
  • Exciting action sequences

Must See?
Yes, as a classic of the genre.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

Links:

Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max (1979)

“They say people don’t believe in heroes anymore.”

Synopsis:
After his involvement in a high-speed crash that kills motorcycle gang member Nightrider (Vincent Neil), a policeman (Mel Gibson) in a dystopian Australian landscape battles gang leader Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), ramping up his vengeance when his partner The Goose (Steve Bisley) is killed and the lives of his wife (Joanne Samuel) and child are threatened.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Australian Films
  • Dystopia
  • Gangs
  • Motorcyclists
  • Revenge

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “first entry in the fascinating, excitingly original, extremely successful futuristic action series starring Mel Gibson and directed by George Miller” was “inspired by [Miller’s] work in the casualty ward of a hospital, Australia’s car culture during the sixties, and petrol rationing in Australia in the seventies, which caused a surprising amount of violence.” He notes that “the first part of the film, which is dominated by The Goose, is shot like a motorcycle-gang picture”:

… while “the rest of the film is alternately a bike picture, a horror film, and another in the long line of fascist-heroes-on-a-revenge-spree films.” He points out that throughout the film, “Miller exhibits a striking visual style,” with “his use of a fender-level camera, sweeping pans, breakneck-speed tracking shots, and ‘shock’ editing correspond[ing] perfectly to the powerful images he shoots — specifically the speeding cars and cycles.”

Peary argues that “while you’ll like Max [Gibson] and Jessie [Samuel], a terrific married couple”:

… “and cocky, highstrung Jim Goose, this film is less interesting as a story about ‘people’ than as a marriage between the filmmaker’s machines (his camera, his editing tools) and the motor-powered machines that he films.” Indeed, he asserts that “Miller’s cynical, depressing film is about dehumanization resulting from an apocalypse,” with the film’s sequel — The Road Warrior (1981) — presenting a more optimistic view of humanity.

Peary discusses Mad Max at greater length in his first Cult Movies book, where his analysis centers on the film’s emergence as “the first and only [at the time] film of a genre that surely could be explored and exploited” — that is, “violent, futuristic car-motorcycle films full of spectacular chases and crashes,” in which “stuntmen are the stars”. (Sure enough, sequels emerged in 1981 and 1985, and then another much later in 2015.) He writes that “while the cult fascination for Mad Max has a lot to do with its apartness from other contemporary films, there is much in it that suggests certain familiar influences on Miller.” For instance, “one film that may have caught his eye is A Boy and His Dog (1975),” given that it’s “set in a post-apocalyptic age.”

(However, it should be pointed out that Miller has admitted that “it was not the intention when the script was written, to set it in a post-apocalyptic world”; rather, “this was done because they didn’t have the money for extras and properly maintained buildings,” and “in order to cover for this production value limitation, the title card was added to the beginning, explaining the story was set after a world war.”)

Meanwhile, “AIP’s biker films of the sixties likely had an impact on Miller as the cyclists’ menacing demeanor and slovenly appearance recalls the Hell’s Angels types of the AIP drive-in pix” — though “the scene in which the cyclists ride into a small town to spread terror among the townspeople, and line up their motorcycles as if they were a paramilitary outfit, is more reminiscent of The Wild One (1954), the original [motorcycle] gang picture.”

Peary points out that “the cyclists also have kinship with the futuristic gang in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971),” given that “not only do both groups speak a similar descriptive language,” but “they also vent their hostilities, boredom, and disrespect for law and order through sadistic rapes and thrill killings.”

He adds that the fact that “the cyclists and the main police force are distinguished from one another more by dress than by morality reminds [him] less of other cop-versus-gang films than it does of Quadrophenia (1979),” a film about the “often violent sixties rivalry between the Mods and the Rockers.” Finally, Peary points out that “the red-streaked hair of Nightrider’s girlfriend”:

… “and Bubba’s short-cropped hair” show “that Miller has [also] incorporated punk into his pop art.”

Peary elaborates on the film’s status as an “atmospheric horror film” by noting that “when Max approaches the Goose in the hospital bed and his partner’s burned-black hand falls out from beneath the sheets,” it “resembles a monster’s claw”:

… and although “Jessie’s confrontation with the cyclists while getting ice cream is typical gang picture fare,” when “she later discovers the severed hand of one of the bikers attached to her car, we are once more in the horror picture domain.”

These “elements take over completely” later in the film, once Max and Jessie are away at her aunt’s country home and the film becomes singularly focused on vengeance. While this action-packed, fight-filled movie will primarily appeal to those interested in hardcore car-chase flicks, it does hold interest and value as a crucial title in Australia’s burgeoning film industry, and for providing Gibson with his debut role.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Shakespearean-trained Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter
  • David Eggby’s cinematography
  • Fine stunt work

Must See?
Yes, for its cult status.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Terminator, The (1984)

Terminator, The (1984)

“Come with me if you want to live.”

Synopsis:
A soldier (Michael Biehn) from the post-apocalyptic future travels back in time to protect a young woman (Linda Hamilton) from a cyborg assassin known as the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Androids and Clones
  • Assassination
  • Revolutionaries
  • Science Fiction
  • Single Mothers
  • Strong Females
  • Time Travel

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary’s review of “this modestly budgeted sci-fi thriller” — which “deservedly became a box-office smash, cult favorite, and a cause celebre of critics” — is excerpted from his longer essay in Cult Movies 3, which I’ll cite from here. He writes that “if Risky Business gave the sex/youth film a much-needed dose of class in 1983, then The Terminator did the same for the science fiction film in 1984, proving [that] talent, intelligence, and originality can make a positive difference in even the most formula-restricted genres.”

He asserts that “it’s easy to see why The Terminator became a sensation,” given that “the direction of James Cameron, a Roger Corman alumnus, is assured, immensely imaginative, and often dazzling,” while the script “not only is loaded with wit, clever touches, and jolts by the second but also injects bright, interesting ideas into the tired time-traveler-tries-to-alter-history premise.” He adds that “the noirish cinematography by Adam Greenberg, rapid-fire editing by Mark Goldblatt…, and special effects work” by Stan Winston, Doug Beswick, and Pete Kleinow “are genuinely impressive.”

Finally, he notes that “the casting couldn’t have been better, with the likable Linda Hamilton” — a “spunky, unintimidating actress who is sexiest in jeans and sneakers” — as “the heroine”:

… “one-time villain Michael Biehn as the hero, and always-the-hero Schwarzenegger as the villain.” He points out that Schwarzenegger “unexpectedly became a villain for the ages, a nightmare incarnate” who, “like Yul Brynner’s evil cowboy robot in Westworld (1973),” is “without fear, without feelings… is nearly indestructible, and, unlike Brynner, is so big and muscular that it could destroy everyone in its path even it if were human.” As a bonus, he “has been programmed with a perverse sense of humor… which is part of the reason Schwarzenegger seems to enjoy playing the part.”

Peary discusses how this film was critically lauded as “the most exciting science fiction film since The Road Warrior (1981),” adding that “comparisons to George Miller’s cult favorite make sense because it, too, has bone-crushing violence, spectacular action sequences, riveting car chases…, unrelenting suspense, abundant black humor…, a bleak vision of a post-apocalyptic future,” and “bizarre time frames.” He writes that while “Cameron doesn’t move his camera as much as Miller,” he “also keeps things from dragging by having his characters in constant motion” — and “here, too, there is a marriage between the filmmaker’s gadgets and the gadgets/machines (especially vehicles) that dominate the screen,” with Cameron keeping “tension high by smartly complementing his dramatic visuals with jarring sounds: engines revving, tires screeching, cars crashing, metal smashing into concrete, explosions, glass shattering, guns firing, sirens blaring, music blasting (in the Tech Noir disco), dogs barking, objects being crushed, [and] people screaming.”

Furthering his comparison between this and The Road Warrior, Peary writes that “both films venture into myth and into religion, offering a Christ figure… who becomes a rebel leader.” In The Terminator, Sarah (Hamilton) “represents the Virgin Mary,” who “will give birth to John Connor (a Jesus Christ figure we only hear about), who will become savior of the people on earth,” with Reese (Biehn) representing “the messenger angel Gabriel who told the Virgin Mary she would become pregnant.”

Because Peary’s major film books were written primarily in the 1980s, he naturally juxtaposes them with the politics of the day; in this case, he notes that while “it can be argued that The Terminator is another Reagan-era anti-abortion film in which a single woman wisely decides to have her baby rather than terminate her pregnancy,” he believes Cameron and co-screenwriter/producer Gale Anne Hurd “think of Sarah as an independent, leftist woman of the sixties and seventies, an era when unmarried women who gave birth to and raised their children stood in defiance of the pro-nuclear-family political right.” (Of course, Peary’s comments from 1988 map perfectly onto our current contentious era as well.)

Peary points out that “Reese, played by the slight-of-build, weak-voiced Biehn, bucks the trends of eighties’ macho heroes,” thus making him “an interesting adversary to Schwarzenegger’s huge Terminator because he is obviously human.”

He adds that “we admire his bravery and identify with his underdog status,” yet “refreshingly we aren’t in awe of him because he isn’t as formidable as a Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, or Arnold Schwarzenegger superhero” — and “unlike many male heroes, he isn’t so initially protective that he keeps the female in a helpless mode,” instead encouraging her “to attempt brave acts (she has no choice).”

When writing about the film’s “anti-technology stance,” Peary notes that “the villain of the piece is the ultimate machine of the future” — and to that end Cameron “bombards us with images of contemporary machines to emphasize our growing dependency on technology: a garbage truck, a coin-operated telescope, cars, traffic lights, parking meters, an escalator, a moped, a time clock, sophisticated guns, telephones, televisions, a crane, a tractor, a radio, a headset, an answering machine, microphones, a TV camera, an electric clock, strobe lights, a disco’s music system, a refrigerator, a police intercom, a beeper, a video recorder, a generator, a pickup truck, a Coke machine, a motorcycle, neon signs, an oil truck, a computer, a hydraulic press, an ambulance, a jeep, gas tanks, a tape recorder.” !!!!

It’s a bit quaint reflecting on a list like this, given how inextricably machines and AI now inhabit every facet of our existence, but I’ve quoted it in full here simply to point out how much we do take such things for granted as an inevitable part of everyday life.

While I’m not an action film fan per se, I can appreciate the significant art and craft at work here, in Cameron’s first major film as a director (and of course, he went on to make numerous other blockbuster hits and become a huge name in Hollywood). All film fanatics should check out this iconic cult flick, and will likely want to see at least the first sequel as well.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Solid performances by the leads
  • Adam Greenberg’s cinematography
  • Impressive low-budget sets and special effects
  • Brad Fiedel’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult and popular favorite.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner (1982)

“You think I’m a replicant, don’t you?”

Synopsis:
In a dystopian future Los Angeles, a retired bounty hunter (Harrison Ford) is sent by his former boss (Edward James Olmos) to hunt down four escaped “replicants” (androids) — Leon (Brion James), Batty (Rutger Hauer), Pris (Daryl Hannah), and Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) — who are attempting to find their maker (Joe Turkel) in order to extend their limited lifespan; meanwhile, Deckard (Ford) meets and falls in love with Turkel’s beautiful young secretary (Sean Young), who is unaware that she, too, is an android.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Androids and Clones
  • Bounty Hunters
  • Dystopia
  • Harrison Ford Films
  • Los Angeles
  • Ridley Scott Films
  • Science Fiction

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “although Ridley Scott’s ambitious, loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” — about a detective in a near-future dystopia “who tracks down [rogue] replicants (sophisticated androids)” — “didn’t do well when first released, it has since emerged as a cult favorite, a midnight-movie staple, and perhaps the first ‘thinking person’s SF film’ since 2001.” It has maintained its cult status over the many years since GFTFF was published, and — as all its fans know — has a complex and interesting history of being recut and re-released several times; much more about all of this can be learned by reading Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, browsing the internet, and/or watching the 3.5 hour-long documentary Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner (2007).

Peary points out that while the film “has several exciting scenes,” including “Ford chasing replicant Joanna Cassidy through the streets”:

… “being surprised by acrobatic replicant Daryl Hannah”:

… and “battling replicant leader Rutger Hauer on a building ledge”:

… “it’s very deliberately paced and characterized by an overwhelming sense of melancholy.” He adds that while the “slow pacing [is] initially off-putting… the film improves immensely on second viewing because you know what to expect and can concentrate on the many exceptional aspects of the picture.” Interestingly, a number of other reviewers have taken this same stance, admitting to not enjoying or understanding this title upon their first viewing, and only gradually growing to appreciate it (with some still considering it too slow and/or inscrutable in many places).

Peary asserts that “foremost, no picture since Metropolis has presented such a compelling vision of the future,” which I would agree with (though CGI has changed that landscape — so to speak — quite a bit since the 1980s). He notes that “conceptual artist Syd Mead and designer Laurence G. Paull created a crowded, hazy city full of huge, deserted, or retro-fitted buildings (they called the style ‘retro-deco’) where acid rain falls constantly, electric advertising covers the sides of buildings, and police spinners fly about.”

In his Cult Movies 3 essay on the film, Peary goes into even more detail about the film’s design, noting that “mammoth, pyramid-shaped buildings dominate the skyline” and “industrial tubing and pipe fixtures are in plain sight;” “bright strobe lights repeatedly shine through windows; [and] a mass of humanity — Asians comprise a large percentage of the population — marches impersonally through the always-dark streets”, while “faceless bike riders whiz by [and] bands of scavengers emerge from the shadows.”

Meanwhile, “rich [white] people live far above in high rises, with security systems fit for fortresses”:

… and “those people who walk on the foul streets… [are] literally of the ‘low-life’ variety.” What’s “so frightening about what we see in the picture — the environment, the technology, the clothes and makeup, genetically produced human and animal duplicates — is that it seems to be a logical future for us.” He adds that “in this cautionary tale, we are presented with much from our own present and past to remind us that what we see is the end result of our unfortunate progression.”

(By the way, we’ve reached and passed the film’s fictional setting of 2019; how are we doing?)

When I first saw this film many years ago, I reacted with (and was overwhelmed by) a healthy dose of despair that our potential future world could look and function like this. On subsequent viewings, I was able to more easily give myself over to the film’s gorgeous production design and “take delight in the marvelous cast — what faces and bodies! — and their fascinating characters.”

In addition to the extras looking “like they come from countless eras, from every possible country,” the team of androids is uniquely diverse, with “Zhora look[ing] ready for an S&M party,” “Pris look[ing] like a cross between a New Wave punk and a hooker on New York’s 8th Avenue,” and Rachel sporting a “stunning black suit, with each stripe consisting of a separate piece of silk, and with the wide shoulders and trim waist… appropriate for heroines of forties film noir.” She’s a gorgeous sight to behold, with “her hair tied back, dark brows and eyeshadow, watery eyes, red lips, perfect skin, and swirling cigarette smoke serving as a veil”; she is indeed “like those mysterious movie heroines who… were either completely honest and loyal or ‘inhuman,’ with blood that ran ice cold.”

Meanwhile, “Deckard may have a futuristic job — blade runner — but he is the classic disillusioned, morally ambivalent detective hero, complete with hard-boiled narration” (thankfully removed from later releases). Peary spends additional time in his Cult Movies essay discussing the controversy over how “human” the androids are, asserting his view that “it was by intention that the replicants were more human than Deckard,” and that it’s “through his interactions with the super-sophisticated, lifelike replicants during the course of the film that he regains his emotions.”

[Speaking of Deckard’s “humanness,” director Scott pissed off plenty of viewers by making claims about his status which many feel are unwarranted and illogical. Feel free to enter that foray at your own peril.]

Peary points out, too, that “Blade Runner deals with the arrogance of the rich, who would literally trash their home world, turn it into a barely habitable ghetto, and simply fly away to the off-colony suburbs and leave their mess for the poor.” (Sound like anything certain folks may be doing currently???) He adds, “like those who settled earth’s New World [sic] in the seventeenth century, they expect slave labor,” a “gap filled by replicants… who are considered less valuable than animals, have no legal rights… and are not built to last.” As he writes, “Man is so arrogant that he would create these genetically human androids, give them more intelligence and athletic proficiency than humans and the ability to develop the exact emotions of man, yet still consider himself superior to them.”

Sigh.

Finally, Peary reminds us that despite its status as a “heavy metal comic strip,” some of “the best scenes in Blade Runner are… slow and overwhelmingly sad: In Deckard’s apartment, teary-eyed Rachael, having learned her own photos are counterfeit, looks at Deckard’s collection and wonders if they’re real”:

… and “she sees if she can really play the piano… or if she previously played only in false memories.”

He writes that “these scenes create instant nostalgia,” and represent “how important… memories (even fake ones) [are] and how vacant [our] lives [are] without them.” Interestingly, Peary doesn’t comment on the romance between Deckard and Rachael, which some argue feels perfunctory and devoid of chemistry, but is distressing to me given how casually Deckard bullies her into lovemaking.

With all of this said, there’s one more highly significant element of the movie to point out: Vangelis’s incomparable score. It really is difficult to imagine the film without it. A combination of elements — ranging from the score to the cinematography and production design to the unsettling storyline — make this a cult classic worth visiting at least once, and probably more often.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the entire cast — especially Rutger Hauer as Batty
  • Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography
  • Incredible production design and special effects


  • Vangelis’s haunting score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult and genuine sci-fi classic. Nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Genuine Classic

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Performance (1970)

Performance (1970)

“You couldn’t find a better little hidey hole.”

Synopsis:
A gangster (James Fox) on the run from his boss (Johnny Shannon) seeks refuge in a boarding room inhabited by a former rock star named Turner (Mick Jagger) and his two female companions — Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michele Breton) — and quickly becomes caught up in their counterculture lifestyle.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Counterculture
  • Fugitives
  • Gangsters
  • Gender Bending
  • James Fox Films
  • Nicolas Roeg Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is not at all a fan of this directorial debut by Nicolas Roeg (with screenwriter and co-director Donald Cammell), noting that “from the first frame, one feels [they] are resting their dirtiest fingers at the backs of our throats,” bombarding “us with brutal images — a forced head-shaving that’s like an amputation” (I see it as more of a humiliating and ritualized rape):

… “a whipping, a beating, a bullet entering a skull — [all of which] seem designed to make us nauseous.” He argues that while “their film may be a personally successful rendering of a personal vision… it’s no labor of love” but rather “an arrogant, needless slap at our viewing sensibilities” and “an odious, amoral work,” with “its oozing decadence… as manifest behind the camera as it is on the screen.”

He describes the essence of the film as “Jagger becom[ing] fascinated with [Fox], want[ing] to get into his brain to see what makes him tick and perhaps to be a gangster like him”:

… and “the four [central] characters start to blend together [and] become interchangeable.”

He asserts that “the ‘straight’ Fox adapts to a house of love and perversion by uncovering and activating previously latent aspects of his personality and discovering his true self (for example, he has homosexual tendencies” — but I don’t agree with this analysis. Instead, it makes more sense to me that “savage Fox and Jagger are” (in this admittedly wild-ride, perspective-bending adventure) able to merge together because, according to the filmmakers, everyone is part violent and part gentle, part male and part female, part ‘normal’ and part ‘perverted’, part of each other.”

Peary points out that “as in other Roeg films, there are trick shots, wild cross-cutting, quick transitions, sexual activity… and a strong emphasis on color”:

… but meanwhile, he also notes that “every image causes [him] to recall a familiar odor.”

Peary elaborates upon his negative take on the film in his Cult Movies essay, asserting that Jagger never clicked well with the movie camera because “he is withdrawn, awkward, [and] restricted so much that he sings his only song while behind a desk.” (But he gets up and walks around while singing!)

Peary is more a fan of Fox’s performance, noting that he “exhibits a kind of Michael Caine blue-collar toughness” early on, “but later, when he reaches Turner’s town house, he looks stranded among amateurs.” He adds, “It’s one thing to have pros Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles emasculate Fox in The Servant (1963), but he is too strong to succumb to neophytes Jagger and Pallenberg.” Again, I disagree; neither is a neophyte, and Pallenberg actually has a pretty strong acting presence (she had been in several films before this).

Here is my overall take on Performance: it’s extremely brutal and hard-to-watch during its first half hour, as we see a violence-filled Cockney gangster scenario playing out in no-holds-barred fashion. It’s rough, and not helped by the fact that Fox comes across in the opening scenes as a narcissistic sociopath (perfectly suited as a “murderous London protection-racket hood”) without much hope of redemption.

However, things shift once Fox goes undercover and is clever enough (or so he thinks) to take advantage of an opportunity to go where surely no one will be looking for him. As Peary notes, “in the films of Roeg it is essential for man to adapt to new environments,” and that’s exactly what Fox does — except, he no longer has the upper hand. Jagger actually doesn’t want him to stay there, and Fox is forced to plead his case, eventually admitting his real intention of simply hiding out for the night.

From there, what happens in Jagger’s house is — perhaps appropriately — beyond comprehension; and once hallucinogenic mushrooms are introduced and fed to Fox, the transformations begin in earnest. Fox is no longer in control, no longer a threat in terms of violence — which allowed me, personally, to finally relax into the storyline with curiosity.

The screenplay intersperses enough brief scenes of Fox reconnecting with people from his previous life as he finalizes his getaway plans that we don’t feel we’ve been irretrievably immersed in a surreal fantasy; this is still reality, and we wonder how things will play out for him. (And given that his bosses are even more vicious than he is, he’s almost semi-sympathetic.) The final moments of the film are indeed challenging to parse, but that was apparently precisely the goal of its makers. While this is not a movie I plan to return to (I’ve now seen it twice, and I think that’s enough), I can see how and why it developed a cult following when it did.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • James Fox as Chas
  • Fine supporting performances across the cast

  • Atmospheric cinematography, direction, and sets

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links: