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The Way of the Gun is one of my favorite smaller, less heralded crime pictures, and this opening scene is a master class in getting your attention while introducing protagonists. I stumbled on it recently and thought I’d re-post or write some reviews on some of my favorite small crime flicks. The criteria necessarily rules out epics like The Godfathers, Goodfellas and Casino, or any of the Hitchcock pictures, as well as anything from Tarantino, whose first two pictures were the gold standard of crime pics. His notoriety, however, makes a recommendation of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction a waste of typeface. I want to focus on pictures that may have gone unnoticed.

With The Way of the Gun, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie assuredly expended the juice he’d earned writing The Usual Suspects to helm this noir-ish tale of a couple of fuck-ups (Benicio del Toro and Ryan Phillipe) who engineer a kidnapping with slapdash bravado and brutality. They have no idea the forces at play, and the greatest joy in the flick is their dogged aplomb as shit just gets worse and worse. These two losers are decent in the moment, but as exemplified in the movie’s best exchange, not exactly master planners:


Scenes like this one exemplify McQuarrie’s insistence on rejecting the cool in favor of the absurd. But that doesn’t mean he can’t direct an action sequence, and the final shootout is one for the ages. The film is also aided by Joe Kraemer’s moody, understated and anticipatory soundtrack (one of his firsts).

COMING UP FOR CAPSULE REVIEW OR RE-POSTING OF UPDATED REVIEWS
Layer Cake
One False Move
Hell or High Water
Point Blank
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
The Long Good Friday
To Live and Die in LA
Internal Affairs
Menace II Society
City of Industry
The General
The Limey
A History of Violence
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Eastern Promises
In Bruges
Blue Ruin
The Long Goodbye

In America (2002) directed by Jim Sheridan • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

Ireland week continues in the Filmvetter household. Tuesday was Philomena. Last night, In America. Between them, I’ve crammed enough emotion in the pit of my stomach to fashion a golf-ball-sized tumor.

At least with Philomena, there were respites, where I could alleviate my welling up with some levity between Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

Not so last night. I’ve seen many movies with incredibly poignant scenes and heartbreakingly rendered familial dynamics. There are scenes in Terms of Endearment that still create a lump in my throat. A friend, without warning, once recommended a Kevin Kline film, Life as a House, that I don’t know whether it was good or bad, but I do know it shattered me. And he knew my particular vulnerabilities. He knew I cried at Cocoon. He knew I cried harder at the Star Trek movie where Spock died, such that my wife was reduced to soothingly (no doubt, eyes rolling, as they should have been) imparting, “It’s alright. He comes back in the sequel.” But no warning was given, and Kevin Kline loses his job and gets a cancer diagnosis in the first 10 minutes, whereafter he reunites with his wayward son, and they build a house and Kline dies. Brutal. I hold the recommendation against him to this day.

I digress.

Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot) portrays an Irish family escaping a tragedy to come to New York City in 1980. The parents, Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton, each deal with the loss in their own way; he shuts it off and turns inward, she insists the tragedy in no way hurt her daughters. They land at a run-down tenement where the drug addicts inhabit the stoop and an artist neighbor (Djimon Hounsou) screams and pounds the wall, plagued by his own tragedy. Given their innocence, their assimilation is nerve-wracking (the most harrowing scene being the playing of a carnival game) and uplifting, as they integrate into a community that is alternatively welcoming and hostile. It ends as an unforgettable fable, which allows for acceptance.

It’s the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. I know I had seen it before, but I didn’t remember much of it, which seems impossible. I now assume it was so heart wrenching and piercing the first time that I probably wept uncontrollably and then did everything I could to ban it from my consciousness. Sheridan wrote it with his two daughters after his own personal tragedy, and their pain and tribute is stitched in the film’s marrow.

The performances are flawless (Morton and Hounsou were Oscar-nominated). The two girls who play the daughters (Sarah and Emma Bolger) give the most natural turns I’ve ever seen.

A gem.

The Parallax View (1974) - IMDb

A regional reporter (Warren Beatty) stumbles on not so much a plot as an institutionalized corporate conspiracy of assassination.  The closer Beatty gets to the source, the more he realizes that what he initially deemed ludicrous is in fact a chilling reality.  

Alan Pakula’s paranoid thriller was probably more relevant upon its release.  With the shooting of JFK in ’63, Malcolm X in ’65, RFK and MLK in ’68, George Wallace in ’72 (a mere 2 years before the picture’s release), political assassination was preeminent in the mind of your average filmgoer.  And no one does paranoia quite a well as Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men, Presumed Innocent). 

The picture is creepy and certainly makes the viewer feel anxious,. In particular, the movie potential assassins are required to watch in order to gauge their suitability/brainwash them is in and of itself overpowering.

But the film suffers from two significant handicaps.  First, the Beatty character is a cypher.  He is dogged and cynical, but he is invested with no backstory, motive or any other compelling feature.  Given how things turn out, this may be part of the message, but it makes for some stifled yawns as we travel his route to dawning.  Second, the plot is a mess.  Sure, I fully understand an assassination corporation maybe knocking off a true existential political threat once a decade. The Parallax Corporation, however, kills two United States senators and attempts to kill a third, in the space of three years, and even when they have done the good work of pinning it on a brainwashed loner stooge (the corporation’s m.o.), they threaten their entire operation by wiping out potential witnesses after the deed.  I’m not talking one or two witnesses.  After the film’s opening a scene (a gripping assassination on top of Seattle’s Space Needle), nine “witnesses” (it’s not clear they actually see anything) are taken out, a number extraordinary enough that Beatty is drawn in to dig deeper. In the final assassination, a sniper takes down a senator in front of an entire marching band.  That is going to be one helluva cleanup.

This is no way to run a railroad.           

Image result for the magnificent seven

My father introduced me to The Magnificent Seven when I was 7 years old.  We were channel flipping, and we sat back on his big red sectional and settled in with a bowl of candy corn and circus peanuts.  He told me the music was Elmer Bernstein doing Aaron Copland (he used to wake me and my brother up with “Fanfare for the Common Man” blasting from the hi-fi speaker set tailored made for a newly divorced man) and that the picture was based on a Japanese film. These tidbits were of no particular interest to me at the time. I was too busy trying to figure out who of the seven gunmen I wanted to grow up to be, and as the film progressed, I became increasingly alarmed at the potential demise of any or all of them. Indeed, as aptly put by one fan, “This is the sole reason we spent half of our preadolescence prancing around our houses with plastic guns, cowboy hats and an overwhelming desire to become heroes. Just like them.” 

50 years later, I have come to the somewhat disheartening realization that I grew up to be none of the characters.  Certainly not Yul Brynner, the cool as a cucumber King of Siam refashioned as a man in black.  Nor Steve McQueen, the steady, wry “talker” of the crew (I can talk, but rarely in McQueen’s pithy homilies). 

I never neared the lanky, laconic quick draw that was James Coburn, who utters the coolest line in film history

It gets no better than that, at 7 or 57.

Nor was I the brawny, decent Charles Bronson; the gold-greedy, laugh-having Brad Dexter; or the hot-headed kid who idolizes the crew (Horst Bucholz).  Now, there are times I have felt as cowardly and unsure as Robert Vaughn, but in reality, I ended up being none of those dudes. 

Half a century later, where mowing the lawn and an occasional campout are as close as I get to the frontier, I feel more like Wallach, who runs into seven hired guns who all found Jesus at the same time. Wallach can’t comprehend his bad luck. His last words, to Brynner:

“You came back for a place like this. Why? A man like you? Why?”


If you don’t know the film, the plot is simple.  Six professional gunmen and one wannabe sign up for a pittance to protect a poor Mexican town that is being repeatedly ransacked and worse by a band of thugs led by Wallach.  It is the best of 60s Hollywood.  Strong characters, tight dialogue, solid action, sweeping cinematography, a rousing score, liberal sentiments (“You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground”) presented in conservative reality (“We deal in lead, friend”), and, to boot, a girl and a boy fall in love

Two asides.  First, one has to hand it to director John Sturges for dexterous casting.  A Russian Brynner plays a Cajun, and proud sons of Berlin (Bucholz) and Red Hook (Wallach) play Mexicans. Ah. Simpler times.

Second, they loosely re-made this picture and the result was a filmic carbuncle.

On Hulu and sporadically, everything else.

Let us stipulate at the outset that pre-CGI disaster movies sit in the softest spot in my heart. When I was a kid, you couldn’t keep me away from them.  The first movie I saw without a parent was The Poseidon Adventure (’72) at The Avalon on Connecticut Avenue. My mom had a small gift shop appended to that theater, so they let me and a friend come in to see whatever we wanted. In that dark movie house, sitting with Jimmy Sullivan, jujifruits in hand, I was IN that dank, doomed ship and with that besieged group led by another cool priest (Gene Hackman, though he never rivaled Jason Miller in The Exorcist).  With poor Roddy McDowell and his shattered and bloody kneecap and Stella Stevens, Ernie Borgnine’s tough talking, busty wife, who had the moxie to tell the heavier Shelly Winters that, um, no, she’s going into the tube first:  “I’m going next. So if ole’ fat ass gets stuck, I won’t get stuck behind her.”  I’m 9 years old.  That was something.  Throw in pre-Nancy Drew (Pamela Sue Martin).  

I was lost to it all.

I inhaled everything that came next.  Earthquake (’74) (in Sensurround!)  Oh my God, Charlton Heston, don’t you dare give up Genevieve Bujold to jump in the sewers and save a doomed Ava Gardner! 

All the Airports (’70, ’75, ’77, and ’79).  I loved George Kennedy and later, when I saw him in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, I was shocked that such a gruff teddy bear could play such an awful villain. 

You can throw in The Hindenburg (’75) as well, though I kind of knew how that was going to end.       

I even went to the theater to see The Swarm (’78). Killer bees are, apparently, an ever-present threat to nuclear reactors. 

Then there were the disasters created by bad men (not just the poor salesman who blew up the airliner in Airport because he needed to leave his wife an insurance payoff).

Juggernaut (’74) – an ocean liner is rigged to blow (red wire or green wire!!!) and the bomb squad, led by Richard Harris, has to be dropped on the ship in rough seas to defuse the bomb. I’m still haunted by the scene of a member of the bomb squad missing the ship and just being . . . . left.  Liners cannot turn around.

Black Sunday (’77) – a blimp threatens The Super Bowl, helmed by the deadly serious Robert Shaw and an intriguing Marthe Keller (first German I ever had a crush on)

Rollercoaster (’77) – Tim Bottoms blowing up my favorite rides, including King’s Dominion’s The Rebel Yell (since re-christened The Rebel Scum)

Okay, that’s a long preamble.  The Towering Inferno has it all. Let me count the ways.

1)  Stars.  Yuge stars!  Bigly stars!  McQueen. Newman. Dunaway. Holden. Come on.

2)  OJ Simpson as a good guy.  He knows the security is for shit.  He lets McQueen know the place is a tinderbox, and then he saves a deaf woman.  And a cat.

3)  Shocking deaths.  They kill Robert Wagner and all he did was sleep with his secretary in the upper offices after foolishly having the phones cut off for privacy (by the way, I think his secretary is 10 years older than Wagner, which is pretty advanced).  Jennifer Jones seems as safe as any character can be, and then, boom, she just falls out of elevator and they bounce her off the structure.  My Lord, the genial bartender who was later a regular on Barney Miller, he gets crushed.

4) Moments of great bravery. By the innocent and even those a little bit responsible.  Guess what?  In 1974, it was still women and children first.  Even Richard Chamberlain, Holden’s shit-bird son-in-law who took kickbacks on the crappy wiring and dysfunctional sprinkler system, waited to try and jump the escape line after the women and children were evacuated. Holden ain’t clean, but he rises to the occasion announcing, much like a ship captain, that he will go down with the skyscraper.  Robert Vaughan is a United States senator and he buys it trying to keep Chamberlain from jumping the line.   And Wagner’s attempt to save his secretary is akin to a singular Charge of the Light Brigade.

6)  It works. At its’ silliest (you only learn about the million gallons of water on the top of the building in the last 20 minutes), it is always watchable.     

7) Professional camaraderie.  Steve McQueen’s number two in the San Francisco police department in Bullitt was his number two in the San Francisco fire department.  

On HBO Max.

Twilight (1998 film) - Wikipedia
Still of The Night: Amazon.fr: Meryl Streep, Roy Scheider, Jessica Tandy,  Joe Grifasi, Sara Botsford, Richmond Hoxie, Rikke Borge, Josef Sommer,  Irving Metzman, Larry Joshua, Randy Jurgenson, Robert Benton, Meryl Streep,  Roy

Robert Benton was no slouch (Kramer v. Kramer, Places in the Heart). Indeed, he wrote and directed one of my favorite films (Nobody’s Fool), and I could watch Paul Newman sell Tang. Throw in Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman and James Garner (and super young Reese Witherspoon and Liev Schreiber) in a noir-ish tale of an old Hollywood murder and it seems can’t miss. But miss Twilight does. Sarandon is too young for the role of the former grand dame and the love story between her and Newman is unconvincing. Worse, the mystery is just not that intriguing. Still, the picture has Newman, who is wry and world-weary in that Newman way. Hackman is fantastic, as always, and Garner is just the right mix of folksy and sinister.

As for Still of the Night, it alternates between psychological thriller and moody, smoldering romance. It is terrible at both and badly cast as well. Roy Scheider is best caustic and as a man of action, a terrible choice for a quiet, introverted psychologist. Meryl Streep as a breathy young ingenue wrapped up in a murder is all wrong. She’s many things, almost all good, but carnal and smoldering ain’t in her bag of tricks. Her performance nears a Saturday Night Live character.

The film is drab and clunky. It has aspirations to be Hitchcockian, but it lacks all of the care.  The romance is preposterous, and the score is sickly sweet. And as a whodunit, the killer can really only be one person.

Both on Amazon Prime.

My Favourite Christmas Movie - Home Alone

John Hughes produced and wrote this Christmas classic about a kid accidentally left “home alone” for the holiday. Hughes pushes the syrup, but this picture has more of Looney Tunes-Meets-Tarantino vibe.  What little Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) does to burglars Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci is waayyyyyyy beyond enhanced interrogation.  I had to leave the room more than once, such was the barbarity, but I did see Kevin shoot them point blank with a pellet gun (balls and forehead), burn their heads and hands, smash their faces with full swinging paint buckets and a hot iron, cut a rope line so they crashed into brick, and ice the stairs and litter the floor with tiny cars (resulting in perhaps permanent spinal injury to both men). He also placed sharp objects under the windows, and even a nail, which went through Stern’s foot.  I think variations of tar-and-feathering occur as well, and the kid even uses a live tarantula to terrorize the duo. 

Now, I’m generally a “stand your ground” guy; if you stick your fingers inside the facemask, you get bit.  But this is just too much.

When the mayhem is not in session, the movie is a little ho-hum.  Kevin is not that cute, his family are a coterie of monsters (except for his Dad, John Heard, Gonzaga alum and fittingly nonplussed by the abandonment of his child), and as with almost all John Hughes films, almost every adult is a moron or a cretin.              

The Top Five Nicolas Cage Yelling Scenes in Movies

I had never seen this movie in its entirety, only clips (“MY HAND!!!!” and “Snap out of it”) or a few scenes.  It’s a charming film, made more so by funny and smart performances all around.  Every character, save for John (scene stealer) Mahoney, is an old country-linked Italian in 1980s Brooklyn, so I expected broadly comic, and there are some such scenes.  But for the most part, the film eschews “Mama Mia!” and instead, provides opportunity for Cher, Nicholas Cage (his weird instincts and passion are transfixing), Danny Aiello, Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, William Hickey and others for a little introspection, some intelligent mugging, some surprising underplaying, and some truly tender moments. 

The picture feels almost like a long-running and beloved stage play.  I guess that makes sense, given it was written my renowned playwright John Patrick Shanley (“Doubt”).  Shanley snatched the Oscar for best original screenplay, and while I would have gone with Broadcast News, I’m okay with it. 

At 102 minutes, the film is also a shining exemplar of economy.  I laughed, I cried, and I didn’t need to go to the bathroom. 

Currently on Showtime.    

What a strange find on Amazon Prime. A 1970s black comedy with John Huston playing the Joseph Kennedy character and Jeff Bridges playing Bobby, if Bobby was sweet tempered and had no political ambitions after the death of his brother. Of course, this is not the Kennedys, but the Kegans, and little brother Bridges is swept up into a re-investigation of his half brother’s assassination after a lone gunman has been fingered by the equivalent of the Warren Commission. In essence, Bridges goes on a dangerous wild goose chase (egged on by his father, who hopes this will propel the son into heroism and political fortune) to find the real powers behind the killing, after a second shooter confesses.

The film is absurdist, and doesn’t really work as either a comedy or a thriller. But uneven as it is, you have to be somewhat in awe of its ambition. The rumor is that the Kennedy family was none too pleased with the feature back when it had the power to squelch it, but the film is so uneven, it likely didn’t need any opposition from the dynasty. Bridges is winning, and Huston is a gas as the corrupt, sybarite of a patriarch, and the whole thing is best when it is trippy.  Worth the time.  

We have started a new tradition at home when all four of us are present. One of us gets to pick the movie and the other three have no veto power. I was first up and showed this gem, primarily to discomfort my wife and daughter, but also because Sean Connery had just passed and the movie always had a soft spot in my heart. In the first minutes, Connery did not disappoint: he pulled off a woman’s bikini top and strangled her with it until she gave up information on how to find his nemesis Blofeld. He also popped another woman in the mouth. Not to get too far off track, but while I can see that James Bond is certainly no paragon of modernity, the fact that he smacks women around for information always struck me as one of his more proto-feminist qualities. He does not discriminate.  Blofeld first. Chivalry second.

I loved this movie when I was a kid because when my brother and I went to Puerto Rico, and we started to fight with each other, my abuela took him for the day, and my abeulo took me. I am certain that I got the better of the deal, because I had lunch at a restaurant in San Juan where my hamburger was brought to me on an electric train. Then we went to see a double feature: this second run flick was the opener to the first run feature about a killer octopus, Tenacles. We drank up Bond and left during the fish movie. 

My love for the film grew a little more because I married a doppelgänger to Jill St. John. Of course, one would never marry a woman based on the firm imprint of a beautiful Bond girl during adolescence. But it doesn’t hurt. 

To the film. It’s pretty awful. You can see that this entry of the series was the one most heavily relied upon by Mike Myers in his Austin Powers send ups. Bond is dead-to-rights on four separate occasions, and on each, rather than shoot him dead, the villains consign him to some elaborate end which he foils. 

Worse, contrary to almost every other Bond film, the picture is ugly. The closest we get to an exotic locale is Amsterdam, where we see a dead body pulled out of one of the canals. Other than that, it’s gruesome 1970 Las Vegas, a desert, some kind of hidden missile base, and a finale on a grubby oil rig. The interior decoration seems to be Playboy-meets-The Poconos. When your most picturesque locale in a Bond film is the 1979 Circus Circus casino, oof. 

The movie also makes absolutely no sense and attempts to rely on the comic to the exclusion of any intelligible plot.  Sometimes, it borders on an episode of The Monkees. Almost every other movie in the early series entries are better.  A dog, but near and dear to my heart.