King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen 2017 ****

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The late Larry Cohen’s name may not mean much to your average multiplexer, but his name is synonymous with the kind of imaginative, off-the-wall and defiantly original fare that’s worth putting money down to see. Cohen was an artist and a commercial film-maker, who write every day, played the system, and won; repeatedly, over decades. Writer/director Steve Mitchell knows that the films are all elsewhere; a few tantalising clips are all that are needed, but King Cohen is a talking heads documentary and all the better for it. And what heads! JJ Abrams throws the first ball, with a story involving Cohen, a broken down car and a mutant baby doll, and it’s clear that Abrams was severely star-struck. Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, John Landis and others play tribute, but it’s Fred Williamson that steals the show with his smoothly-delivered recollections, which don’t match up exactly with Cohen’s version of events. Even hard-core cineastes and horror fans are likely to learn something new here, about Cohen’s prolific tv work, his debut feature Bone, or his habit of shooting on the fly that led him, quite literally, to J Edgar Hoover’s door. Despite mainstream success, he remained a maverick and an underground film-maker; after years of searching I finally bought my copy of God Told Me To from a pop-up street-vendor of obscure movies in NYC’s Union Square, within sight of the Chrysler building where he used the construction scaffolding to shoot action scenes for Q-The Winged Serpent. This rapid-fire doc should encourage fans and casual viewers alike to check out the canon of this unique, idiosyncratic talent.

The Omega Man 1971 ***

omegaBack in Victorian times, there were no videos, trailers or DVD’s to remind us of great films; kids read books, and the description of The Omega Man sounded amazing to this kid. A future in which only one man survives, using unlimited weapons, any vehicle he wanted, living with extraordinary means as he battled an army of vampires for the planet’s future? It came as something of a shock to finally see Boris Sagal’s sci-fi thriller and register just how 1971 it was. The casting of Charlton Heston as Neville positioned Omega Man amongst a dystopian series that included Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, but his larger-than-life persona also engendered a certain dated political view. The term ‘white saviour’ probably wasn’t minted back then, but Heston’s love of weapons, alpha-male preening and portrayal of himself as a messianic figure sit uncomfortably with the groovy décor and Rosalind Cash’s portrayal of the last woman on earth. ‘ Are you a god?’ a child asks Neville; today’s audiences may be than less impressed, but Sagal’s film leans into such criticism. A scene where Neville sits in a cinema and watches his favourite film, Woodstock, which he sees as a comedy and enjoys in the company of his machine gun, suggests we’re meant to find his retro-conservativism amusing, but his willingness to shack up with Cash seems like racial opportunism and doesn’t strike sparks. And yet such miscalculations don’t stop The Omega Man from having a cult appeal; there’s a James Bond-ian elan about some of the short-lived bursts of action, and a haunting appeal in the narrative tropes; the deserted city, the one person who carries the plague antidote in their blood; many of the clichés of dystopian future-worlds since find an early embodiment in this reactionary, yet entertaining film.

True Romance 1992 *****

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The late Tony Scott was something of a cinematic powerhouse, whose work was consistently underrated; a note on his Wikipedia page says that after The Hunger, he stopped reading the vitriolic reviews his film inspired. Most of these critics are long gone now, but Scott’s canon endures; hits like Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State are all better than average blockbusters, but his other works are remarkable in their consistency; Revenge, The Last Boy Scout, Man on Fire or Unstoppable would be highlights in any director’s resume, whether they appeased the public or not. His best film was a flop; 1992’s True Romance gave Scott a super-hot script, and he did it proud; Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are ideal as Clarence and Alabama, young newly-weds who scram from snowy Detroit to sunny LA after he romantically murders her pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman under dreadlocks and prosthetics). All kinds of talent are shown to their best advantage here, from Bronson Pinochet’s coke-addled flunky to Brad Pitt’s avuncular stoner Floyd via James Gandolfini’s memorable thug. Scott creates the requisite tension, but also creates two vibrant, dynamic worlds for his characters to inhabit. And at the centre is one of cinema’s greatest scenes; a confrontation between Clarence’s cop father Clifford (Dennis Hopper) and mobster Cocotti (Christopher Walken). Two experienced actors with some great dialogue; Scott gets the best out of them as Cocotti’s threats raise Clifford’s awareness of his predicament. From the moment Clifford accepts his last cigarette, the dynamics of the scene change and it becomes a meditation on defiance in the face of death. Ridley Scott has given interviews regarding the family history of cancer which throw some light on his brother’s suicide; Scott’s elegiac handling of True Romance’s highpoint throws further illumination. Unfairly derided as a man who placed style over content, Tony Scott was in the deep end while most directors were just splashing in the shallows.

The Entity 1982 ***

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Quite a sensation in the early 80’s, Sidney J Furie’s The Entity is a brutal account of a woman being regularly assaulted by paranormal forces, and makes a virtue of being based on true events, the well documented case of Doris Bither. Renamed Carla Moran, this woman is played with remarkable candour by Barbara Hershey in this adaptation of Frank De Felitta’s novel, with Ron Silver as the doctor she turns to for help. Furie doesn’t play the gothic card at all, with drab LA settings adding a strange verisimilitude and building to a truly weird climax where a duplicate of Moran’s house is built on a sound-stage, with the intention of freezing the demon when it appears. The special effects of the demonic attacks are still impressive, even if the whole entertainment value of the film is problematic. Of course, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino were front-row fans of the film, and it’s become a cult item since. Hershey locates a sympathetic core in Moran, and the gradual feeling that all the men in her life are in some way exploiting her is persuasive. The vestiges of an incest subplot only serve to confuse issues, but The Entity is worth a look for genre fans because of the high-seriousness and the mistrust of the male scientific figures involved. If nothing else, now almost certainly is a better time to consider The Entity’s merits than when Scottish television somehow selected this as their festive Christmas Day movie in the mid 1980’s.

https://trakt.tv/movies/the-entity-1982

Destroyer 2018 ***

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Karyn Kusama’s tough crime flick was hailed as an awards –front runner by dint of Nicole Kidman’s dramatic change of appearance for the title role of Erin Bell, an LA cop who goes deep undercover in an attempt to bust a bank-robbing gang. Awards-voters aren’t known for their appreciation of noir, and Destroyer fell by the wayside in terms of attention and box-office. Kidman, seen enjoying good health in the flashback scenes, looks haggard and exhausted in the modern-day storyline of Destroyer as she shakes-down various low-lives to get to the source of some dyed-bank notes which connect her to a disastrous heist. Toby Kebbell makes an impression as the gang’s leader Silas, and the big action scene has a real punch. The script isn’t always convincing, and the plot-holes work do against Destroyer, but as a terse thriller in the vein of Michael Mann, Destroyer has a lot to offer the discerning noir fan.

 

Busting 1974 ****

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Peter Hyams is a director with quite a body of big-budget studio work behind him, from Capricorn One to Outland; a hit tv movie sent him on a six month research spree at the LAPD and led to his writing and directing this early work, a strikingly small-scale and down-at-heel view of police-work. Elliott Gould, sporting a handlebar moustache, and Robert Blake are the cops who shake-down various low-lives on their way to confrontation with gangster Rizzi (Allen Garfield). An early scene in which the cops enjoy the beating up of men in a gay bar sets the unpleasant tone, but that scabrous honesty is what Busting is about; post MASH and throughout the 70’s, there was a general enthusiasm for depicting the moral confusion and general squalor of life, and the nihilistic workings of the police force made an ideal cross-section in films like Fuzz or The Choirboys. Hyams supercharges his story with a couple of stunning foot-chases, one leading into a brutal market gunfight, and the leads are just right for the abrasive feel. Busting was the kind of US import the BBC used to cheerfully show on a Sunday evening; in portraying life as a steaming cess-pit of prostitution, homophobia and general degradation, Busting lays the old, familiar story out before television and Starsky and Hutch in particular, could sanitize it for resale.

https://www.amazon.com/Busting-Elliott-Gould/dp/B009B52VZ2/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=busting&qid=1562403937&s=gateway&sr=8-1

The Canyons 2013 ***

If you take late period Paul Schrader, post-Affliction but pre-First Reformed, and give him an original script by Bret Easton Ellis, you’d expect some nihilistic stuff, and in The Canyons, you’d be pretty much right.  Loathed by audiences and critcs on initial release, a quiet revival on Amazon Prime should help rehabilitate the reputation of this cool, otherworldly thriller. Ellis has cultivated a specific style of expression through narration and dialogue, but he strips out the pop-culture references and has his characters express themsleves in an even more opaque way here, which creates a striking blankness ideal for privileged LA wheeler-dealer Chritian (James Deen) and his floozie wife (Lindsay Lohan). There’s an undercurrent of menace, and a disturbing lack of the kind of moral spoonfeeding that most films offer, making The Canyons somewhat experimental in outlook. Letting it all hang out, Lohan gives the film’s best performance, and mature viewers seeking a bitter shot of the darker side of Hollywood could do worse than giving The Canyons a visit.