True Romance 1992 *****

true

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.

Sextette 1978 ***

Someone, somewhere at Amazon Prime, with over a century of cinematic history to choose from, is coming up with Sextette as their new release on their streaming service. With Disney, Apple and Warners all launching their own platforms, it’s pretty odd that this legendary 1978 clunker should be the plastic jewel in Amazon’s Fall 2019 line-up. Sextette had been a stage vehicle for Mae West from 1961, and it’s clear that the most, or only remarkable thing about it was the star. A film version was announced in 1970, but by the time it got in front of the camera in 1978, West was in her eighties and somewhat less that the sin-sational broad promised on the posters. West certainly had presence, but she moves like a parking hovercraft and delivers her lines as if she’s never formed a sentence before, a phenomena that has inspired a number of urban legends. But there’s many a film in which an aged male actor froths over young women, so Sextette’s notion of having West meet six of her previous young husbands while staying at a London hotel isn’t necessarily awful. But Sextette is awful, and the contents read like a crime sheet. How about Mae West and Timothy Dalton performing Love Will Keep Us Together? Or West directing a flirtatious performance of Happy Birthday Sweet Twenty-One to the entire US Athletics team? Tony Curtis as a diplomat called Sexy Alexi? How about random cameos from Dom Deluise, Ringo Starr, Walter Pigeon, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper and George Raft? Perhaps to compensate for the star’s immobility, all concerned give inhibited performances that must now be the subject of some regret. Hughes’s shambolic film switches gears with ease, balancing casual racism with tremendous homophobia while the cast pick their way through such mind-numbing innuendos as ‘Have you seen Big Ben? / I hardly know the man!’ Sextette is a car-crash of a film that has to be seen to be believed, filmed in a process which should be called Awful-o-Vision which makes everything look like its filmed through a screen door. After ninety minutes, you’ll feel like you’ve been trapped in Mae West’s boudoir with an assortment of 70’s glitterati; not pleasant, but an experience that you’ll never forget. Like the Mae-Goes-Disco version of Baby Face that climaxes the film, it burns it way into your consciousness, leaving you changed inside forever.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key 1972 ****

Your-Vice_Anita

Also known as Gently Before She Dies, or Eye of the Black Cat aka Excite Me!, Sergio Martino’s giallo is an original and untypical affair that lifts elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Black Cat, but also has a unique angle of its own. A Cat Called Satan would be an accurate title, since a moggy with that name as a pivotal role here; genre favourites Edwige Fenech and Luigi Pistilli star here; he’s Oliviero, an author who hasn’t written a word for years and makes money by selling off the antique furniture in his country pile with his wife Irina (Anita Strinberg) who he likes to humiliate at their regular orgies. After one of his students his murdered, and then his maid, Oliviero becomes an obvious suspect, but is he gas-lighting his wife or vice versa? His niece Floriana (Fenech) picks an odd time for a social visit, and it proves the catalyst for all manner of sexual and violent behaviour, with Satan included in the domino effect of killings, mutilations and seductions. Cream seems to be a theme, and choice cream-related dialogue includes ‘Hey, hot potato, got any cream in your tricycle? ‘ and ‘Satan’s favourite meal is snake-eyes and cream!’; this is a wonderfully lurid, pervy and overheated melodrama that’s constantly surprising. The magic of streaming is that films like this used to be incredibly hard to find and see, often in poor condition. That a potentially huge audience can see this, at the cost of a couple of free subscriptions, promises that such outré fare might just make a mainstream impact again, for the first time since it was made. Viewed on the Arrow Video Channel.

White Dog 1981 ***

white dog

A late entry in Samuel Fuller’s resume, White Dog is a film about racism that doesn’t shirk tricky issues; questions of nature versus nurture are raised and not easily dismissed. Based on a book by Romain Gray, a French writer who once challenged Clint Eastwood to a duel (Eastwood declined), this project was adapted by Fuller and Curtis Hanson with fairly explosive results. White Dog is the story of a black dog trainer Keys (Paul Winfield) who tries to retrain a stray dog that has been trained to attack black people. Whether it’s possible for the animal to overcome it’s racially-based training or not, Fuller advances a strong metaphor for the dog representing racial hatred, and Keys obsessively trying to break down ingrained programming. For various reasons, White Dog was barely seen on release, and a welcome return on streaming should allow cineastes the chance to enjoy the photography of Bruce Surtees and the score by Ennio Morricone. White Dog has begun to amass some critical momentum as an controversial and original take on a hot subject, and hopefully it’s availability on streaming for the price of a cup of coffee may lead it to the audience it deserved but didn’t get back in 1981. Kirsty McNichol and Burl Ives provide strong support.

Road House 1989 ***

Road House 1

Joel Silver could certainly package an action movie in the 80’s and 90’s. Whatever audience feelings might have been about Patrick Swayze’s believability as a super-tough bouncer, the diminutive star manages to cut the mustard as Dalton, a man who has a talent for ripping throats out with his bare hands. Dalton moves from NYC to Jasper, Mississippi to keep the locals in line at the Double Deuce, an odd rough-and-tumble drinking den that’s more brightly lit than an airport lounge, where the baby-faced Jeff Healey appears to permanently playing his guitar on-stage and Kathleen Wilhoite, Luke’s sister in Gilmore Girls, hangs out at the bar. Dalton’s presence annoys sleaze-ball local boss Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), who has the locals contributing a good ten per cent of their income to his slush fund, which he seems to spend on idiotic henchmen and a lair of giant stuffed animals and polar bears. Such ostentatious living is alien to the humble Dalton, who prefers to live in a shack without electricity that he hires from a local Santa. Dalton and Wesley are on a collision course, and if that’s not enough to hang a redneck movie on, Sam Elliott turns up as bouncer’s bouncer Wade Garrett and there’s even a gratuitous ‘intimidation by monster truck’ set piece involving smashing up a car dealership. While no masterpiece, Road House just about gets the job done with hiss-able villains and knockabout camaraderie from the leads. The romantic subplot is a bit of a pain, but Road House has a far more accomplished cast than a Patrick Swayze punch-up flick requires, and it’s a guilty pleasure for when a serious film is just too much trouble. When you’re director is called Rowdy Herrington, you probably know what you’re getting.

Theatre of Blood 1973 ****

theatre

Everyone’s a critic, or at least, that’s how it seems to veteran actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) in Douglas Hickox’s celebrated slice of Grand Guiginol. Lionheart is angry at the kind of reviews he gets, and decides to take revenge on the Theatre Critics Guild with the aid of his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), who seemingly disguises herself as Jeff Lynne from the Electric Light Orchestra to do his bidding. The critics themselves are a wonderfully cast bunch, all destined to be offed in a bloody fashion determined by the works of Shakespeare. Dennis Price, Arthur Lowe, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Harry Andrews and Ian Hendry are amongst the victims, and there’s also time for such diversions as a sword-fight on trampolines. The neat idea is something of a precursor of both Paddington 2 and Se7en, although David Fincher probably wouldn’t have much time for a comic detective duo of Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes. Michael J Lewis contributes beautiful, lush music that underscores the melancholy of the conceit; Theatre of Blood is a fun romp that proves that black comedy can work with the right, light touch.

The Osterman Weekend 1989 ****

rutger

It must be something of a surprise to those who knew the late actor Rutger Hauer to read obituaries like this (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-49098435) which show almost no knowledge of the man or his films. Hauer came to prominence as a cinema actor of phenomenal power, working on a series of collaborations with Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven such as Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange, both of which are covered elsewhere in this blog. His celebrated turn in The Legend of the Holy Drinker is probably his most mature work, but the stardom that he gained from villianous turns opposite Sylvester Stallone in Nighthawks or in The Hitcher made him a bankable enough name to get him a role in Sam Peckinpah’s final film The Osterman Weekend. Adapted from Robert  “Bourne Identity” Ludlum’s book, it’s a Big Brother-type story of various espionage agents holed up in a remote house where micro-surveillance systems have been employed. Hauer plays tv journalist John Tanner, who is being manipulated at arms length by CIA chief Maxwell Danforth. It’s one of Hauer’s most substantial roles, with an ahead-of-its-time conceit and great support from John Hurt, Dennis Hopper and Craig T Nelson. The script is a little muddled, with writer Alan Sharp amongst those fighting Peckinpah’s famed desire for self-sabotage. That none of the above films get even a single mention in the above obituary suggests that Peckinpah’s pessimism was justified ; The Osterman Weekend nails the idea of media manipulation, and its concerns are still relevant today.

https://www.amazon.com/Osterman-Weekend-Rutger-Hauer/dp/B00AQ1N4KQ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=osterman+weekend&qid=1563992971&s=gateway&sr=8-1