Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Posts tagged “Roger Ebert

The Warriors – Roger Ebert Review

“The Warriors” is a real peculiarity, a movie about street gang warfare, written and directed as an exercise in mannerism. There’s hardly a moment when we believe that the movie’s gangs are real or that their members are real people or that they inhabit a real city.

That’s where the peculiarity comes in: I don’t think we’re supposed to. No matter what impression the ads give, this isn’t even remotely intended as an action film. It’s a set piece. It’s a ballet of stylized male violence.

Walter Hill, the director and co-writer, specializes in fables like this. His first two films were “Hard Times” and “The Driver,” and they were both at arm’s length from realism. Hill likes characters that take on a legendary, mythic stature, and then he likes to run them through situations that look like urban tableaux.

“Hard times,” a good and interesting film, starred Charles Bronson as a professional street fist-fighter who went up against opponents with all the dimension of a James Bond villain. “The Driver” didn’t even have names for its characters; they were described by their functions, and they behaved toward each other in strangely formal, rehearsed, unspontaneous ways.

“The Warriors” takes that style to such an extreme that almost all life and juice are drained from it; there’s great vitality and energy (and choreography and stunt coordination) in the many violent scenes of gang fights and run-ins with the cops. But when the characters talk, they seem to be inhabiting a tale rehearsed many times before.

One example: Three members of a street gang are lined up in a row. The camera regards the first one. He speaks. The camera pans to the second, and he speaks. The camera pans to the third. He speaks. Because the movement of the camera dictates the order and timing of the speeches, there can be no illusion that the characters are talking as their words occur to them.

This same kind of stiff stylization dominates the film. The street gangs take stances toward each other as if they were figures in a medieval print. The deployment of the police and gang forces is plainly impossible on any realistic level; people move into their symbolic places with such perfectly timed choreography that they must be telepathic. And the chase scenes are plainly impossible, as in one extended shot showing the Warriors outrunning a rival gang’s school bus.

All of this is no doubt Walter Hill’s intention. I suppose he has, an artistic vision he’s working toward in this film, and in his work. He chooses to meticulously ban human spontaneity from his films; he allows only a handful of shallow women characters into his stories; he reduces male conduct to ritualized violence. And in “The Warriors” he chooses, with a few exceptions, to cast against type: Only three or four of the movie’s characters look and sound like plausible street-gang members. The rest look and sound like male models for the currently fashionable advertising photography combining high fashion and rough trade.

All very well, I suppose, except that Paramount chooses to advertise the movie as a violent action picture — and action audiences, I suspect, will find it either incomprehensible or laughable. Walter Hill has a considerable visual skill, and he knows what he’s doing in “The Warriors” and does it well. But is this style suited to this material? And does Hill have other notes to play? All three of his films have shown a certain skittishness in the face of human juices and the unrehearsed flow of life. And so his street gangs, and his movies, walk lockstep through sterile streets.


Growing Up With I Spit On Your Grave

Day of the Woman a.k.a. I Spit On Your Grave was inspired by Meir Zarchi’s experience with a victim of rape. After stumbling upon a teenage girl in a park in the aftermath of a violent assault, Zarchi began to imagine how a woman in this situation might fantasize about revenge. Moreover, he wanted to depict to the audience the real horrors of rape.

I Spit On Your Grave follows Jennifer Hills, (played by Keaton), a magazine writer from New York City, as she retires to a secluded cabin in the woods to write her first novel. While there she is brutally assaulted, raped and left for dead. But Jennifer is alive. Emotionally destroyed, she no longer writes her novel; instead she finds herself choreographing a horrific revenge scheme to inflict punishment on her assailants.

Upon its theatrical release in 1980, the movie was described by the late prominent film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert as “Easily the most offensive film” they had ever seen, yet hailed by others as a cinematic masterpiece. The debate continued as the movie was pulled from theaters in the United States, then branded a “video nasty” in the United Kingdom and placed on the Director of Public Prosecutions’ list of prosecutable films. Still, 36 years later the film continues to attract both praise and negative criticism and has even spawned a remake in 2010 and sequel in 2013.

Now in production, the I Spit On Your Grave 1978 Documentary will reveal some insight into the madness and the man behind it all. Created by Terry Zarchi (son of Meir Zarchi, who also played a small role in the film), this project will deliver both a personal and informative view that only someone who grew up with this movie can provide.

36 years after the making of the controversial 1978 cult classic I Spit On Your Grave, actress Camille Keaton will appear on screen with director Meir Zarchi in an upcoming documentary, “Growing up with I Spit On Your Grave has inspired me to tell the story behind the story.” said Zarchi. “This is perhaps the most misunderstood film of all time and Camille Keaton’s involvement will shed some light on the many questions still surrounding the film.”


Martin Scorsese – Part 3 (Mid 80’s – Early 90’s)

Scorsese’s next project was his fifth collaboration with Robert De Niro, ‘The King of Comedy’ (1983). A satire on the world of media and celebrity, it was an obvious departure from the more emotionally committed films he had become associated with. Visually, it was far less kinetic than the style Scorsese had developed up until this point, often using a static camera and long takes.
The expressionism of his recent work here gave way to moments of almost total surrealism. It still bore many of Scorsese’s trademarks, however, such as its focus on a troubled loner who ironically becomes famous through a criminal act (murder and kidnapping, respectively). The King of Comedy failed at the box office, but has become increasingly well regarded by critics in the years since its release. Also, Scorsese apparently believes that this is the best performance De Niro ever gave for him.

In 1983 Scorsese began work on a long-cherished personal project, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, based on the 1951 (English translation 1960) novel written by Nikos Kazantzakis. The project collapsed under pressure from outraged Christian groups.

After the difficulties he experienced with Last Temptation, Scorsese again saw his career at a critical point, as he described in the documentary Filming for Your Life: Making ‘After Hours’ (2004). He saw that in the increasingly commercial world of 1980s Hollywood, the highly stylized and personal 1970s films he and others had built their careers on would not continue to enjoy the same status.
With After Hours (1985) he made an aesthetic shift back to a pared-down, almost “underground” film-making style – his way of staying viable. Filmed on an extremely low budget, on location, and at night in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, the film is a black comedy about one increasingly misfortunate night for a mild New York word processor (Griffin Dunne) and featured cameos by Teri Garr and Cheech & Chong. A bit of a stylistic anomaly for Scorsese, After Hours fits in well with popular low-budget “cult” films of the 1980s, e.g. Jonathan Demme’s ‘Something Wild’ and Alex Cox’s ‘Repo Man’.

As well as the 1987 Michael Jackson music video “Bad”, in 1986 Scorsese made The Color of Money, a sequel to the much admired Robert Rossen film ‘The Hustler’ (1961) with Paul Newman reprising his role of Fast Eddie Felson and Tom Cruise. Although typically visually assured, The Color of Money was the director’s first foray into mainstream commercial film-making. It won actor Paul Newman a belated Oscar and gave Scorsese the clout to finally secure backing for a project that had been a long time goal for him: The Last Temptation of Christ.

Like the novel, the Paul Schrader scripted film depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. Even prior to its release the film caused a massive furore, worldwide protests against its perceived blasphemy effectively turning a low budget independent movie into a media sensation. The main source of the controversy centered on the final passages of the film which depicted Christ marrying and raising a family with Mary Magdalene in a Satan-induced hallucination while on the cross.

Looking past the controversy, The Last Temptation of Christ gained critical acclaim and remains an important work in Scorsese’s canon: an explicit attempt to wrestle with the spirituality which had under-pinned his filmsup until that point. Scorsese received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and Hershey’s performance as Mary Magdalene earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

Along with directors Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola, in 1989 Scorsese provided one of three segments in the portmanteau film ‘New York Stories’, called “Life Lessons”. That was a stepping stone to one of his greatest achievements.

Gangster epic Goodfellas (1990) was a return to form for Scorsese and his most confident and fully realized film since Raging Bull. De Niro and Joe Pesci in Goodfellas offered a virtuoso display of the director’s bravura cinematic technique and re-established, enhanced, and consolidated his reputation. After the film was released, critic Roger Ebert, a friend and supporter of Scorsese, named Goodfellas “the best mob movie ever” and is ranked #1 on Roger’s movie list for 1990, the film is widely considered one of the director’s greatest achievements.

However, Goodfellas also signified an important shift in tone in the director’s work, inaugurating an era in his career which was technically accomplished but some have argued emotionally detached. Despite this, many view Goodfellas as a Scorsese archetype – the apogee of his cinematic technique. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, Scorsese earned his third nomination for Goodfellas but again lost to a first-time director, Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves). Joe Pesci earned the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Goodfellas. Scorsese and the film won over a numerous of different awards, including five BAFTA Awards, a Silver Lion from Venice.


Buster Keaton

Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966) was an American comic actor, filmmaker, producer and writer. He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname “The Great Stone Face”.

Keaton was recognized as the seventh-greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Keaton the 21st-greatest male star of all time. Critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton’s “extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, [when] he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies.” Orson Welles stated that Keaton’s ‘The General’ is the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made. A 2002 worldwide poll by Sight & Sound ranked Keaton’s The General as the 15th best film of all time. Three other Keaton films received votes in the magazine’s survey: ‘Our Hospitality’, ‘Sherlock Jr., and ‘The Navigator’.

His father Joe Keaton owned a traveling show with Harry Houdini, the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company, which performed on stage and sold patent medicine on the side. At the age of three, Keaton began performing with his parents in The Three Keatons. The young Keaton would goad his father by disobeying him, and the elder Keaton would respond by throwing him against the scenery, into the orchestra pit, or even into the audience.  He was eventually billed as “The Little Boy Who Can’t Be Damaged,” with the overall act being advertised as “‘The Roughest Act That Was Ever in the History of the Stage.” Keaton claimed he was having so much fun that he would sometimes begin laughing as his father threw him across the stage. Noticing that this drew fewer laughs from the audience, he adopted his famous deadpan expression whenever he was working.

In February 1917, Keaton met Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle at the Talmadge Studios in New York City, where Arbuckle was under contract. During his first meeting with Arbuckle, he asked to borrow one of the cameras to get a feel for how it worked. He took the camera back to his hotel room, dismantled and reassembled it. With this rough understanding of the mechanics of the moving pictures, he returned the next day, camera in hand, asking for work. He was hired as a co-star and gag man, making his first appearance in ‘The Butcher Boy’.

In 1920, ‘The Saphead’ was released, in which Keaton had his first starring role in a full-length feature. After Keaton’s successful work with Arbuckle, Schenck gave him his own production unit, Buster Keaton Comedies. He made a series of two-reel comedies, including ‘One Week’ (1920), ‘The Playhouse’ (1921), ‘Cops’ (1922), and ‘The Electric House’ (1922). Based on the success of these shorts, Keaton moved to full-length features. Keaton used various writers, but the most ingenious gags were often conceived by Keaton himself. Comedy director Leo McCarey, recalling the freewheeling days of making slapstick comedies, said, “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!” The more adventurous ideas called for dangerous stunts, also performed by Keaton at great physical risk. During the railroad water-tank scene in Sherlock Jr., Keaton broke his neck when he fell against a railroad track, but did not realize it until years afterward. A scene from ‘Steamboat Bill Jr.’ required Keaton to run into the shot and stand still on a particular spot. Then, the facade of a two-story building toppled forward on top of Keaton. Keaton’s character emerged unscathed, thanks to a single open window which passed directly over him. The stunt required precision, because the prop house weighed two tons, and the window only offered a few inches of space around Keaton’s body. The sequence became one of the iconic images of Keaton’s career.

Aside from Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), Keaton’s most enduring feature-length films include ‘Our Hospitality’ (1923), ‘The Navigator’ (1924), ‘Sherlock Jr.’ (1924), ‘Seven Chances’ (1925), ‘The Cameraman’ (1928), and most famously, ‘The General’ (1927). The General, set during the American Civil War, combined physical comedy with Keaton’s love of trains, including an epic locomotive chase. Though it would come to be regarded as Keaton’s proudest achievement, the film received mixed reviews at the time. It was too dramatic for some filmgoers expecting a lightweight comedy, and reviewers questioned Keaton’s judgment in making a comedic film about the Civil War, even while noting it had a “few laughs”. The fact that the heroes of the story were from the Confederate side may have also contributed to the film’s unpopularity.

It was an expensive misfire, and Keaton was never entrusted with total control over his films again. His distributor, United Artists, insisted on a production manager who monitored expenses and interfered with certain story elements. Keaton endured this treatment for two more feature films, and then exchanged his independent setup for employment at Hollywood’s biggest studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Keaton’s loss of independence as a filmmaker coincided with the coming of sound films (although he was interested in making the transition) and mounting personal problems, and his career in the early sound era was hurt as a result.