Nighthawks (1981, Bruce Malmuth)

Catherine Mary Stewart’s British? She’s in Nighthawks for a second and she looked familiar but I don’t keep track of her filmography, so I didn’t find out until the end credits. (Actually, she’s Canadian, which is closer than I thought). Besides that trivia tidbit–if it even qualifies as a tidbit–the most amusing thing about Nighthawks is the name of the good guy’s anti-terrorism task force (A.T.A.C., get it?). They wear navy blue jumpsuits and have caps. Their headquarters is a huge garage. Maybe a warehouse.

Nighthawks is amusing in its stupidity, but only to a certain point. The film doesn’t seem to appreciate its awfulness. It’s ludicrously written, at least with Stallone and Billy Dee Williams as the cops. The Rutger Hauer scenes are a little bit better (most of the film is all Hauer, which is fine). When Nigel Davenport shows up at the beginning, I remember hoping he would only be in it for a cameo, but then he comes back in and is terrible for more. Oh, and Joe Spinell is terrible. I almost forgot about him.

Besides the script, which is incompetent, the film’s director, Bruce Malmuth, is bad in the most uninteresting ways. He can’t create a mood, can’t direct actors, can’t compose shots. Stallone’s got a few good scenes, actually, but the stuff between him and Williams range in quality. A few times, you can see Stallone trying to get more screen time and it doesn’t really work for the characters, who are apparently friends (though it’s hard to know; Nighthawks doesn’t have much in the way of backstory–it’s all exposition getting toward the final scene). When it finally does get to be Stallone’s turn, when he really does have to do really well… he fails, but it’s not like it was going to turn Nighthawks around. It was going to be terrible–the scene itself terrible too–no matter what.

I can’t forget to say something about the extraordinary score–Keith Emerson doesn’t get how to score a movie. Whatsoever. Nighthawks probably wouldn’t have been any better with a real score, but at least it wouldn’t induce laughter….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bruce Malmuth; screenplay by David Shaber, based on a story by Shaber and Paul Sylbert; director of photography, James A. Contner; edited by Stanford C. Allen and Christopher Holmes; music by Keith Emerson; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Herb Nanas and Martin Poll; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Det. Sgt. Deke DaSilva), Billy Dee Williams (Det. Sgt. Matthew Fox), Lindsay Wagner (Irene), Persis Khambatta (Shakka Holland), Nigel Davenport (Peter Hartman), Rutger Hauer (Wulfgar), Hilary Thompson (Pam) and Joe Spinell (Lt. Munafo).


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Home for the Holidays (1995, Jodie Foster)

For the first thirty or so minutes, Home for the Holidays is exactly the film its trailer presented. It’s a genial family comedy with a recognizable cast, a mix of standard casting choices like Charles Durning (Dad), semi-standards like Anne Bancroft (Mom), and unknown ones like Geraldine Chaplin (crazy aunt). Even when Robert Downey Jr. (gay brother) shows up, it’s still a recognizable comedy. We’re following Holly Hunter around on her unpleasant due to familial eccentricities Thanksgiving. Then David Strathairn shows up for a one-scene cameo and Home for the Holidays becomes something else entirely. The scene’s affecting in a significant way and, here’s another aspect of the film, Jodie Foster knows it. I’m not sure there’s ever been such a polished sophomore directorial effort than this one. Foster shoots that scene with Strathairn different and she has to shoot it different, because it is different. Then I realized, Foster changes her approach all throughout Holidays, totally in tune with the content. Flipping past the film over the length, so long as one kept forgetting Holly Hunter, a person could think it was a different film. It’s a very particular film.

I’d seen it once before, about eight years ago, at the height of my institutionalized film snobbery (working with a bunch of film school students and graduates at a snobby video store), recommended by someone who didn’t buy into the snobbery–actually, I don’t think she recommended it, just mentioned it–and I thought it was a great film. I probably even thought it was great for the same reasons I do now, which–given the time lapse–is a little surprising (but also agreeable, since I was a little afraid during the opening twenty it’d be decent but unspectacular). But I’d forgotten it, so I was with Foster through the film–when she introduced section cards, I was a little weary, but by the third, she turns them into prompts for the viewer to think about the film he or she is watching.

And then, when the film gets to the actual Thanksgiving dinner–Geraldine Chaplin has her big scene and it changes Home for the Holidays again… Foster uses the same style–presenting the viewer (and the characters) with something they expect to be amusing, but then changing the viewer’s perspective of the film and the characters’ perspective of themselves. Then, pretty soon after dinner’s over, Dylan McDermott takes over. I’ve seen McDermott in very little and Holidays is early in his high profile career buildup, but Foster gets an amazing performance out of him. Unbelievable, really–his character is impossible, but Foster and McDermott pull it off. I’m not sure how much W.D. Richter’s script contributed, because there’s one scene where it really looks like they (Hunter, McDermott and Foster) played a scene different from the way it’d be written. But, whatever… Foster has a lot of odd homages in here, to films a family comedy probably shouldn’t reference (I can’t remember because I didn’t make any notes, but along the lines of Welles and Ford–with some Woody Allen). The McDermott stuff plays like a Howard Hawks comedy, only there’s no space for the viewer to acclimate, so he or she just gets caught up in it. And once it’s going, it’s fantastic stuff.

Watching the clock as it got near the end, I kept wondering how Foster was going to wrap it all up. Her choice is amazing; predictable, but amazing. She conducts her characters out of a genial comedy and into something else. It’s something a little new even. While some of it is familiar territory, her nurturing of the characters really pays off at the end.

It’s a wonderful film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jodie Foster; written by W.D. Richter, based on a short story by Chris Radant; director of photography, Lajos Koltai; edited by Lynzee Klingman; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Peggy Rajski and Foster; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Holly Hunter (Claudia Larson), Robert Downey Jr. (Tommy Larson), Anne Bancroft (Adele Larson), Charles Durning (Henry Larson), Dylan McDermott (Leo Fish), Geraldine Chaplin (Aunt Glady), Steve Guttenberg (Walter Wedman), Cynthia Stevenson (Joanne Wedman), Claire Danes (Kitt) and David Strathairn (Russell Terziak).


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The Silent Partner (1978, Daryl Duke)

The Silent Partner starts a little bit better than it turns out in the end, from a filmmaking standpoint. The sound design is so phenomenal in the build-up, I actually made note of it. I usually don’t make notes unless it’s something terrible and I want to make sure to bring it up. I fully expected to keep making that sort of note during the film, but I didn’t. I’m not sure, had Silent Partner kept that meticulous approach, if it would be a better movie, but I would have had a lot more notes.

It’s a weird film for a few reasons. Most visibly because it’s a Canadian film with an American screenwriter (Curtis Hanson), an American lead (Elliott Gould), an English romantic interest (Susannah York), but Canadian bad guys, Christopher Plummer and Céline Lomez. There’s an odd feel to the film, which is nice, especially since Gould’s an exceptionally strange protagonist. Most of the characters are established as being lousy people. Plummer’s bad guy is a complete psychopath, shown with a pervasive violence throughout–and he needs to be, just because Gould’s not exactly sympathetic. Sure, York makes fun of him and his boss is a complete worm, but there’s very little redeeming about Gould. But he’s human and he appeals to the viewer on that level. The Silent Partner very quickly (and masterfully, in that fantastic opening) makes the viewer complicit in, essentially, being a criminal. It does a great job of it, but then the film gradually changes.

Halfway through, Hanson’s script fast forwards a couple weeks or a month, something indeterminate but not too long. It pulls off the transition well and gives the film a fresh start, even bringing in Lomez as the deceptive, but still appealing, second romantic interest. This reset button’s particularly interesting because the film–after spending ten minutes setting up the new situation–returns to the existing conflict with York. In the second half of the film, York really becomes essential–mirroring Lomez’s importance too. Hanson’s script presents all of its principle characters as unhappy people who desperately need a drastic change, investing the viewer with concern–not so much for Gould, because he’s so abrasive–but for the female characters.

Gould’s good in the film, steady and sure, but maybe a little uncomfortable playing such an impenetrable character. He has a couple scenes displaying great weakness and without them, the film wouldn’t work. As his nemesis, Christopher Plummer’s terrifying. The way the film sets him up, wearing some black mesh wifebeater, he just oozes violent creepiness. Again, if he weren’t so dangerous–and there is something about Captain Von Trapp being a sadistic monster–the viewer might not feel for Gould.

I saw The Silent Partner for the first time about ten years ago and it’s finally come out on DVD, a decent release from Lionsgate (of all people). I have the feeling it’ll be even better the next time I see it. There’s something really great about York’s performance and I don’t think I appreciated it enough this time through.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Daryl Duke; screenplay by Curtis Hanson, based on a novel by Anders Bodelson; director of photography, Billy Williams; edited by George Appleby; music by Oscar Peterson; production designer, Trevor Williams; produced by Joel B. Michaels and Stephen Young; released by EMC Film Corporation.

Starring Elliott Gould (Miles Culien), Susannah York (Julie Carver), Christopher Plummer (Harry Reikle), Céline Lomez (Elaine), Michael Kirby (Packard), Ken Pogue (Detective), John Candy (Simonson), Gell Dehms (Louise), Michael Donaghue (Berg), Jack Duffy (Fogelman) and Nancy Simmonds (Girl in sauna).


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Versus (2000, Kitamura Ryuhei), the ultimate version

I’m worried I’m tired. The last time I watched Versus, I gave it one. This time I give it three. There’s a slight difference in the version I watched–this time I watched the “Ultimate Version,” which has about the same running time, but ten minutes of reshot scenes. I guess there were some music changes, which might have to do with the incredible quality bump. It’s such a fantastic experience–Kitamura’s direction is beautiful, the editing–between circling shots and tightly cut fight scenes–wonderful stuff. Versus is a boring kung fu zombie movie, absolutely in love with what the camera can do. As far as self-indulgent projects go, it’s near the best.

For the first hour and change, there’s almost no story beyond the chase through the woods, the zombies, and the little suggestions there’s something else going on. During that hour, Matsuda Kenji rules the movie. He’s broad and funny and easily the film’s most interesting character. The hero, played by Sakaguchi Tak, is reserved, not allowed to show any feeling during the first three quarters of the film. Still, the scenes with him and the girl–Misaka Chieko, who’s good–do work; the rest of the time he’s usually killing zombies, so it’s fine.

Then Sakaki Hideo shows up, as the bad guy, and the film changes completely. Matsuda becomes a liability, an enormous mistake on Kitamura’s part, turning an amusing character into an annoying one, so annoying you feel bad you liked him in the first place. The pace speeds up, the story actually comes into existence–it’s kind of like Highlander, only with a damsel in distress (wait, Highlander had a damsel in distress… a reincarnated damsel in distress). Kitamura runs three story-lines through Versus the whole time, switching when Sakaki appears, letting him take over Matsuda’s story. There’s also the comedic story-line, which follows funny stuff more than a specific character. The comedic stuff, which leaves the main story after the first half hour, is a nice breather. There’s some really good stuff there.

But the second half of Versus is really all about Sakaki. Even when he’s doing something stupid, he’s great. His scene with Misaka, where they talk about being reincarnated or immortal or something, absolutely great. It doesn’t dwell on setting up the goofy story, which the zombies help, but only so much… Maybe all the references (like the Robocop one) distracted me and it bothered me less. I don’t know.

I do know the last fight scene is succulent, self-indulgent and a joy. It’s a long and boring fight scene, beautifully directed. Some of Versus‘s strengths lie in not being able to figure out how Kitamura can make it work the way he does. Some stuff–guys running through the forest–it works for everyone, but his approach to action scenes in this film, no one else ever does anything like he does.

I might just be tired though.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; written by Kitamura and Yamaguchi Yudai; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; music by Morino Nobuhiko; produced by Nishimura Hideo; released by napalm FiLMS.

Starring Sakaguchi Tak (Prisoner KSC2-303), Sakaki Hideo (The Man), Misaka Chieko (The Girl), Matsuda Kenji (Yakuza Leader with butterfly knife), Arai Yuichiro (Motorcycle-riding yakuza with revolver), Matsumoto Minoru (Crazy yakuza with amulet), Ohba Kazuhito (Yakuza with glasses), Katayama Takehiro (Red-haired assassin), Yoshihara Ayumi (Long-haired female assassin), Masumoto Shoichiro (One-handed cop), Kamiaka Toshiro (Samurai warrior), Tanikado Yukihito (Cop with Barrett), Asai Hoshimi (Short-haired female assassin), Watabe Ryosuke (Yakuza zombie in alligator-skin coat) and Komiya Motonari (Other prisoner).


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