Archive for February, 2013

The Golden Child – Michael Ritchie – 1986

Posted in 80's with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by bookofdread

Image

 

Michael Ritchie was a brilliant director, helming such classics as Wildcats and Bad News Bears and the Chevy Chase Fletch films, but I honestly feel, all hyperbole aside his most entertaining film is The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy. Here, genre material gets the kind of treatment you almost never see. The director is twenty years into his career and can handle all of the demands of a large studio production. He knows how to cut the film into what works, and isn’t precious about the process. Better still, we get Eddie Murphy, a star at the peak of his career, who re-writes his lines on set and elevates the material. He can do that. He’s also the producer.

All this lightning in a bottle wouldn’t be so amazing, except we are making a film about a kid being kidnapped by a demonic cult, trying to feed him blood, bone-daggers, snake-women, hellish communion and a freaking giant demon terrorizing Eddie Murphy. Usually this type of fare is relegated to either young blood filmmakers or very low budgets for older ones. But here is a film with a great package all the way around that just happens to be a production about all the things I find awesome.

Back-story is everything, and this film has a pretty simple yet great one. This cult needs to kill this kid in order to unleash hell on Earth. A woman has come to the city of Angels to find a finder of lost children to help them save the golden child.

Eddie Murphy gives a humanistic and hilarious performance a Chandler Jarrell, a, well, finder of lost children. The beautiful Charlotte Lewis plays Kee Nang, the woman sent to help him on his quest. After being harangued on the basketball court, Jarell tells the woman to “stop smoking scrolls” and declines her offer. But he soon finds that the case he is on and the disappearance of the Golden Child are connected.

Murphy makes this character so funny, usually what we get in these types of films are funny little professors or scientists, here we have a cocky, funny tough guy, who we love to root for. A particular favorite scene of mine is where Murphy leaps into a family’s backyard in order to sneak up on a gang house. The family is barbecuing and is disturbed by having a black man brandishing a pistol leap into their yard. Murphy looks at the woman and says: “I just want some chips. That’s all I want. Is some chips.” The grill begins to smoke. “Turn that shit over man, it’s burning turn it over!” And he’s gone. Brilliant.

Later after meeting the oracle flown in from Tibet to help them Murphy asks Kee Nang what that old broad’s deal is. Kee Nang replies, “One of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.” Murphy gives the driest reply possible. “That happen a lot where you’re from?”

Unlike most dour and dark films about demonology or black magic this film is light and fun!

There aren’t many shades of grey or degrees of varying morality. Mostly, good is good and bad is bad. The man and woman fall in love and save the day. But we are treated to incredible effects work and design. The work here by ILM is top-notch stuff, the kind of special effects that actually felt “special”. There’s one weird moment where the villain transforms from a rat in the alley to his human form that is super-impressive.

The story is both very classical and of it’s moment. In many ways I regard it as a sister film to Big Trouble In Little China which was released the same year.  Both films starred Victor Wong and James Hong in large supporting roles, and both films feature that dynamic of being a supernatural Chinese influenced adventure! In fact, John Carpenter turned down directing this film to make that one!

Here’s a huge thing. The second act where they go to Tibet? They could have not done that. They could have done it cheaper and had more detecting and that would have been boring. It is the fact that they go to and from Tibet in the film that makes it an adventure and not just a supernatural detective film.

Victor Wong is really quite great in this film, though not quite as good as he could be in the hands of John Carpenter. His gross eccentricities and solemn piety create a contradiction that any actor would call subtle work. He is funny and off-putting, inviting, yet, crude. I just wanted to note him and his small contribution.

The kid who plays the Golden Child is fine, but the role really doesn’t require much. I suppose the kid looks holy, but maybe they hired him for his ability to make an inanimate Pepsi can tap dance to “Putting On The Ritz”. This scene was really a favorite of mine as a child. It’s really amazing all the technique that went into this film. It wasn’t always necessary to do things the way that they did, but you can feel the love in every ounce of the film.

Sardo Numspa as portrayed by Charles Dance had me convinced at a very young age that we could shave this guy’s head and have the Lex Luthor we have always needed in a film. Dance is chilling and he’s the one guy who’s playing the film as though this were a Stuart Gordon film. The melodrama and menace is turned all the way up and the scene with him and Eddie Murphy in the airport is like watching a scenery chewing master class. You can’t take your eyes of either one of these guys!

I’m sure many of you remember this film, but many of you weren’t born before 1986. So, here’s my recommendation. Get together with your goofiest friend, get some junk food and beer and enjoy one the great paperback movies. *

 

 

*Paperback movies  – Movies that are under two hours, and contain pulpy content such as is found in dime store fictions, or weird magazines.

 

Advertisements

Time Masters – Rene Laloux – 1982

Posted in 80's with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2013 by bookofdread

Image

 

1982’s Time Masters marked the collaboration of two artistic giants, Jean Giraud and Rene Laloux. Giraud had been lauded for his work in Heavy Metal and his design work in Alien, and Laloux had made what is considered a masterpiece of science fiction, Fantastic Planet. Together these gentlemen, (along with novelist Stefan Wul who also wrote the novel Fantastic Planet was based on), would craft a stellar science-fiction children’s tale that is both thoughtful and heart warming. It is also crazy weird and tons of fun!

The film begins with a child stranded on a hostile planet with nothing left to his aid but a communicator. This radio allows him contact to his father’s friend Jaffar, many galaxies away. Piel, the child, does not understand how this contact works but the people on Jaffar’s ship are challenged with helping a kid survive on a hostile planet from a trillion miles away.

The planet Piel lands on is amazingly designed. The swaying and swooping plants are colorful and otherworldly. His alien experience is ours and the originality of the designs begs for our response to such an environment. Worse/better, our proxy on this other world is an innocent child, so our investment level is high. We worry about his welfare on this dangerous planet. The planet is called Perdide, or Perdition.

Jaffar must stop on the way and wait for some planetary alignment before he can continue after Piel. On the planet he stops lives an old man with vast personal knowledge of Perdide. This Old Man offers to help the folks find the boy.

Jaffar is on his ship with his lady friend, the old man, and a stowaway prince who ripped off his kingdom and paid Jaffar for a ticket to anywhere.  Also, there are these amazing characters that are gnomes, little robot looking fairies that fly around and get drunk on the emotions of others. I love the idea of super-empath gnomes and these guys are beautifully articulate and provide much of the comic relief in a Guildenstern and Rosencrantz sort of way.

A word about the planet Jaffar stops on. It’s practically Naboo from the Star Wars new trilogy. The designs here, the waterfront temple stuff, it is all here. Even the watercraft is the same. I’m just saying, Giraud does great work here that GL ripped off.

Back on the ship, the old man has taken up the mic and his helping Piel through the woods. He directs him to drink some mildly sedative berry juice and plays him a banjo song! The design of this scene is cool as well, as the old man sits on a glass floor with fish swimming around underneath while he picks and grins. As Jaffar presses him about the safety of the berry juice the old man tells him, “Believe me, I know from experience!”

Piel meets a funny creature and yells into its butt. The Suessian centaur picks up Piel and puts it astride it and they march through the forest. But before long Piel and his new friend are separated. He is alone again when the shitty prince begins to guide him to the lake and tell him to swim to the middle of the lake in an attempt to drown the kid. I guess this dickhole thinks that if the kid is dead they won’t go to Perdide anymore, but Jaffar catches him and throws his ass in the brig. Then after a long argument about the nature of values and concepts the gnomes decide to release the doomed prince to the one of the weirdest planets ever.  Gamma 10.

See, the gnomes shot Ol’ Princey down to Gamma 10 sure that he would be destroyed by the incredible psychic presence they felt and defined as “Pure Thought”. Only Jaffar thought the Prince was escaping so he chased after him like a fool. The subtext here is rich and I believe it to read that self-righteous actions lead to dangerous grounds of ideology. The inhabitants of Gamma 10 are faceless white Angels who preach unity and sameness. They take capture Jaffar and the prince and take them inside a crazy hive temple thing to feed them to a blob of protoplasm, that “thought” the gnomes were so fearful of.

The prince sacrifices himself and the gnomes help Jaffar escape. It is interesting that the film redeems the evil prince and even promotes self-sacrifice, two notions associated with Christianity, however he uses them as a mode of battle against same-thinking or autonomy. I like to think of Time Masters as the anti-Avatar. Allow me to elaborate.

In Avatar, those cat-giants plug their braids into the ground and animals creating a seamless organic network. Cameron creates an organic analog for what is technological autonomy. Social Networking becomes the hive mind, and Avatar cleverly disguises that “plug-me-in” mentality as something organic. On Gamma 10, once the prince defeats the blob of pure thought, all of those plugged in revert from blank faced angels into a host of alien and human individuals. One film represents a value of individuality over a vacuous host, and another preaches unity and oneness in a glamorous and sexy way.

Overtly satirical aside aside, the plot returns to our lost little boy, Piel. Piel is confronted by a legion of hornet creatures larger than a man. They attack and sting him.

Meanwhile the most stunning revelation of all has come. The old man has died as they arrive at the planet where they are to rescue Piel. The Time Masters purchased the planet. Their unique ability allows them to throw planets back in time and have them be developed and habitable for when they move in. Just as Piel would be killed a man rescues him. He lives a full life and has become the Old Man! The Old Man is Piel! No wonder he could help the kid with such personal knowledge of Perdide! It was he, talking to himself!

I’m not sure about the science of the movie, but the heart is more than in the right place. Great characters, great locations and design and a great adventure make up what I consider Rene Laloux’s masterpiece. Great for kids from 8 to 80!

Violent City – Sergio Sollima – 1970

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2013 by bookofdread

Image

 

Sergio Sollima’s Violent City is likely the very best “bitch done me wrong” tale ever told. The opening credits remind me of the middle sequence of Death Proof where Mike is photographing the girls. Sollima uses almost the same technique, only with each still of Bronson and Ireland the frame goes to a solid color, (Blue, Yellow), and he throws a credit up on it. It’s cracking cool and revs you up for the first scene. The film begins with an astonishing car chase, and at the end Bronson realizes his lady has it out for him as he witnesses her get into a car and leave after he’s been shot.

Well, you can’t really kill Bronson. Not and have a movie too. So Bronson has to “get his lady back”, in perhaps every interpretation of the phrase. The film’s attitude is stark and Bronson isn’t holding back at all. His character is a cold killer, none of the warmth of Paul Kersey to be found. We are given virtually nothing about his life prior other than the fact that he was a paid killer.

What’s strange is how throughout the film Bronson tinkers with the idea that somehow this bitch is worth a damn. This bitch that tried to have him killed. Worth a damn? She plays him all over again just like Telly Savalas said she would. If I have a beef with this film at all it’s that I spend too much of the run time telling Charles Bronson that this gal is no good for him. But you know what? Those two play those tender scenes so believably, (because they are clearly in love), that when the story dictates she betray him it cuts deep.

Telly Savalas looks like he shot maybe three days on this movie, and if I’m not mistaken he has one Tarantinian flashback scene where Jill Ireland’s lawyer introduces them and two scenes in his office. He makes the most of his time, and his mob boss functions mostly as an example of just how big a fish this bitch can fry. She plays Bronson against the man again and he helps her kill him.

Jill Ireland is good, but not really as two faced as this character should be. She plays the role a bit skinkily but she seems too put off by her own evil to really be this woman. I imagine what Michelle Pfiffer or Jessica Lange would have done with the role and get chills. But, this woman is actually Bronson’s wife in real life. This adds a super freaky “Eyes Wide Shut” element to the film. By confronting this fictional confrontation of character involving duplicity and greed, perhaps Ireland and Bronson became closer! In what other movie does a husband get to shoot his real life wife?

The finale of Violent City is outstanding. Ireland and her shitbag lawyer ascend a building on a street-view elevator. Perched across the roof is Bronson with a rifle. He shoots and the lawyer falls with a ping. Ireland, terrified looks to the roofs across the street and understands. She mouths, “Don’t make me suffer.” He doesn’t. He shoots her in the head. As he stands a cop on the roof tells him to freeze. Bronson tells the kid to shoot or be shot. Bronson dies, a victim of his life of violence. So it goes in Violent City.

The music by Ennio Morricone is stellar and Tarantino sampled several tracks from the score for “Django Unchained”. But greater still is the lack of music in the final scene. The final moments play out in complete silence, the only sound the “ping!” of a bullet slicing through a glass elevator.

Is the film sexist? Lord yes. But to be fair, there is no moral compass in Violent City; all of the characters are victims of their own evil acts. The values present here are only the fleeting dreams of killers and con-men who cannot escape the trappings of the world around them. Notions of love and trust are a nice thought but blood rules the streets in Violent City and every one must give their share. 

%d bloggers like this: