Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Fool's Views (3/16 – 3/22)

Feeling a little lost in the woods? Join the club.

Greetings, my friends,

Well, not a lot to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s a bit of a zoo out there, so this might be a good time to step into the Wayback machine and revisit the cinematic climate of Dr. AC’s office three weeks ago, just as the COVID-19 crisis starting hitting Chicago. We got the word to shelter-in-place, and we took Gov. Pritzker (who’s been doing a damn fine job, I gotta say, along with Mayor Lightfoot) at his word and stayed home as best we could. I ventured out at one point to donate blood/platelets when I heard that there was an understandable shortage due to a drop in donors, and we went to the grocery store a couple times, but that was about it.

As I’m sure many of you experienced for yourselves, there was a sense of stunned shock and disbelief and “what are we supposed to do?” in the air, so I immediately dove into my coping device of choice: watching as many movies as possible. (In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a one-week report as opposed to a bi-monthly!) As luck would have it, I had a pile of Bronson all ready to go, and Shout! Factory TV and my new four-pack of Coen Brothers movies took care of the rest quite nicely. And you’re not mistaken, there wasn’t much in the way of horror Views – the real world seemed scary enough.

I didn’t ONLY watch movies during the first week of the crisis. But I’m not gonna lie, I watched a mess of them. Try not to judge too harshly.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



The Witch (2015) d. Eggers, Robert (USA) (4th viewing)



Cockfighter (1974) d. Hellman, Monte (USA) (1st viewing)

Curious but involving character study of a guy (Warren Oates) who takes a vow of silence until he wins the World Cockfighting Championship (as in roosters fighting each other to the death, you sicko. Get your mind out of the gutter.) Animals were definitely harmed during the making of this movie, but that’s not the only thing that makes it an unequivocal product of the ’70s. I don’t know that I need another film like this, but they definitely don’t make them like this anymore.

Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce (2019) d. Knowles-Carter, Beyonce (USA) (1st viewing)

A behind-the-scenes look at the pop icon’s headline-making 2018 Coachella concert, from design meetings and choreography consultations to The Big Event Itself. There’s no denying the vision and skill on display here, and it’s fascinating how Beyonce manages to be an openly sexual being without feeling like she is catering to the male gaze.


Macon County Line (1974) d. Compton, Richard (USA) (1st viewing)

I had long confused these two slices of “hixploitation,” not being sure which one was the “must-see” of the genre. As it turns out, both of them are much better than they have any right to be, but Macon is the film I had read about. Based on the poster art, one imagines it to be a predictable tale of some redneck lawman taking a dislike to the teenagers rolling into his territory and needlessly harassing them. I mean, we’ve seen that film a dozen times over, so it made sense that this might be the archetype. But as it turns out, it’s a far more complex and intriguing narrative than anyone could imagine, with real-life siblings Alan and Jesse Vint playing brothers from Chicago out for a final road trip spree before the younger one goes off to basic training. While not bad boys, they’re not innocent either (occasionally dining and dashing without paying the bill).

On the other side of the fence, we have our deputy sheriff (Beverly Hillbillies star Max Baer, Jr., who also produced and co-wrote the script with Compton), who is undeniably racist and a gun-loving bully, but he also is portrayed as a loving father and husband whose beliefs about the world have been shaped by his small-town/small-mind environment. The plot is strong, with several unexpected curve balls that almost nudge it into horror territory, and the performances (including legendary character actors Geoffrey Lewis and James Gammon, and a very young Leif Garrett) are excellent across the board. For many years, it was one of the most financially successful independent films of all time, a huge hit on the drive-in circuit, and it still holds up today. Well worth checking out.

Jackson County Jail (1976) d. Miller, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

While a little less nuanced and more straight-up exploitation, this is another strong piece of indie cinema, benefiting greatly from its two lead performances, veteran Yvette Mimieux and newcomer Tommy Lee Jones. The former plays a California businesswoman who decides to return to New York after her relationship falls apart, driving cross-country, while the latter plays a career convict picked up for yet another in a series of petty crimes. Fate brings them together in the titular locale, and the two become unlikely allies in a race against time and the local badges. Gritty and cynical in the vein of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, it’s a well-executed “chase” movie that unfortunately hinges on a very graphic rape scene, so brace yourself.

Following his debut here (and after knocking out Deathsport for Roger Corman), screenwriter Donald Stewart went on to much bigger and better things. After winning an Oscar for 1982’s Missing, he was tapped to deliver the adaptations for Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger. Not too shabby, Don. Meanwhile, director Miller helmed the Chuck Norris vehicle Silent Rage before disappearing into the made-for-TV movie machine.


Blood Simple (1984) d. Coen, Joel (USA) (4th viewing)

Fargo (1996) d. Coen, Joel (USA) (6th viewing)

Raising Arizona (1987) d. Coen, Joel (USA) (9th viewing)

During the first full week of stay-at-home self-isolating (and having just watched all the special features on Criterion’s new release of Blood Simple), it seemed like the perfect time to break out our newly acquired four-pack of early Coen Bros. flicks. I’m still blown away by how solid and assured they were right out of the gate with Blood Simple, but then they just kept climbing with Raising Arizona (probably in my top 10 films, if I had such a thing) and then Miller’s Crossing (which we had revisited a couple years back, still so frickin’ brilliant). For whatever reason, the distributors decided to toss in Fargo as the fourth offering (instead of Barton Fink or Hudsucker Proxy) to round out the deal. No real complaints, since Fargo is amazing, but I’m definitely interested in taking another look at BF and HP as it’s been a while for both. I’m happy to say I knew the Coens were the real deal from the get-go, and I’m glad Hollywood (and the general public) caught on as well.


Breakheart Pass (1975) d. Gries, Tom (USA) (1st viewing)

A great little Western/whodunit set on a locomotive heading toward a settlement afflicted with malaria, with Bronson as a silver-tongued outlaw facing off against authority figures Ben Johnson, Ed Lauter, and Richard Crenna. Fantastic action sequences, including a fist fight atop the snow-covered train, and a slippery little script by Alistair McLean, based on his own novel.

Breakout (1975) d. Gries, Tom (USA) (1st viewing)

This rollicking action flick is probably the favorite surprise to come out of this Bronson deep dive. Charlie shows off his considerable light comedy chops as glib airplane pilot Nick Colton who’s not above the occasional con job or rubber check. After her husband (Robert Duvall) is railroaded into a Mexican prison by his duplicitous grandfather (John Huston), Jill Ireland’s society girl hires Nick to organize a jailbreak. With the help of his morally questionable crew (Sheree North, Randy Quaid, Alan Vint), Nick comes up with any number of schemes that don’t quite manage the job, although we never lose faith that he’ll pull it off in the end.

It’s a rare joy watching Bronson wheedle and connive, especially when it’s clear that his character doesn’t have the slightest idea of how this is going to work. Even though the film was a tremendous success, we never got to see this side of him again, and I’m not sure why more people aren’t talking about this flick today. Make sure you stick around for the airplane runway finale. WHOA NEVER SEEN THAT BEFORE.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994) d. Goldstein, Allan A. (USA) (1st viewing)

Sigh. It probably goes without saying, but it’s a little depressing to watch 72-year-old Bronson still picking up the pistol and the paycheck, especially with the hindsight that this was to be his final theatrically released feature. The bad guys (Michael Parks, Robert Joy, Chuck Shamata, Kevin Lloyd) are clearly having a good time being despicable and as such, there is some dubious pleasure in watching the old guy take ’em out one by one, but it’s essentially a mean-spirited body-count movie, complete with creative kills like poisoned canoli, exploding soccer balls, and conveniently located vats of acid.

Farewell, Friend (1968) d. Herman, Jean (France/Italy) (1st viewing)

According to Michael R. Pitts, author of Charles Bronson: The 95 Films and the 156 Television Appearances (McFarland, 1999), “If any one feature film can be pinpointed as the launching pad for Charles Bronson’s international stardom, it is Adieu l’Ami. […] Alain Delon, who was next only to perennial favorite Jean Gabin in French film popularity, personally recommended Bronson for the co-starring role after seeing his performance in Machine-Gun Kelly.”

The story sees two French soldiers returning from their tour of duty in the Algerian war, with Delon’s character agreeing to help a beautiful lady (Olga Georges-Picot) break into the vault at her corporate office to return some stolen treasury bonds before anyone notices them missing. Bronson catches wind of the scheme, weaseling his way into the office just before the doors are locked for Christmas holiday, and the rest of the film follows the uneasy alliance between the two would-be crooks, one hoping to loot the place and the other hoping to get in and out unnoticed. It’s slick, it’s clever, and the two stars brilliantly play off each other, giving and taking with expert timing and cool. (Delon and Bronson would re-team for Terence Young’s Samurai/Western mash-up Red Sun three years later, with Bronson taking top billing this time.)

The Magnificent Seven (1960) d. Sturges, John (USA) (4th viewing)

Adapting Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai as a Western might have seemed like an odd choice, unless one considers the fact that Kurosawa was essentially adapting a Western to the samurai setting in the first place! Here, we have a fantastic cast with Yul Brynner (in the Takashi Shimura role), Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and newcomer Horst Bucholz (in the Toshiro Mifune part). Eli Wallach steals every scene with his over-the-top villainy, a terrific counterpoint to the ultra-cool vibe laid down by everyone else (except Bucholz, who comes off as naive and uncool, which was the intention but it has to have been a tough horse to ride).

The Mechanic (1972) d. Winner, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

Professional hitman Bronson takes on an amoral apprentice in Jan-Michael Vincent, only to learn that the young pup has been assigned to kill him. Plenty of twists and turns, with solid espionage and double-crosses seasoning the steak.

The Indian Runner (1991) d. Penn, Sean (USA) (1st viewing)

One year after Bronson’s beloved wife Jill Ireland passed away, he was offered the role of a grieving widower in Penn’s feature directing debut. Not only did he accept the part, he even shaved off his trademark mustache at Penn’s request and garnered some of his best critical notices in two decades. The film itself, inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s song “Highway Patrolman,” is an unpleasant character study of two brothers, one good (David Morse) one bad (Viggo Mortensen), and… that’s about it. we spend a lot of time watching people talking in circles trying to figure them out, and we never really learn what makes either of them tick. Thanks, Sean, I guess.

The Stone Killer (1973) d. Winner, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

New York police detective (guess who) shoots an underage suspect in self defense, creating a public outcry that gets him shipped to the west coast to assist the LAPD. (Is that really how things work?) Right around the same time, mafioso Martin Balsam is arranging a “birthday party” to murder the five heads of the various crime families as payback for a similar hit made 40 years earlier. As you might guess, these two hotheads are on a collision course and a lot of blood is going to be shed along the way. The confusing script, adapted from John Gardner’s novel A Complete State of Death, is enlivened by solid action stunt work (the motorcycle/car chase is pretty great) and a good supporting cast that includes a very young John Ritter as an incompetent police rookie.

2020 Totals to Date: 103 films, 80 first time views, 29 horror, 2 cinema



  1. Wonderful reads here, AC. Interesting Bronson picks (an actor I haven't really been encouraged to check more of; although that might have more to do with the type of films he's usually associated with). This being said, I did join your Bronson-watch with Violent City (1970) last month. Have you ever seen this one? Jill Ireland is in it as well and I had no idea those two were married (back then already). Thanks for this insightful tidbit of trivia.

    Reading about Macon County Line (1974) I instantly had to think about Shallow Grave (1984). If you haven't seen or heard of the latter, I can certainly recommend giving it a watch. If you read the (IMDb) plot synopsis, it my appear similar in story (teens getting into trouble with the very wrong type of small town lawman) and shallowness (pardon the pun), but just like MCL it's actually better than you'd expect (both script and actual film).

    1. Thanks for the recommendation for Violent City! I have not seen it yet, and while it was already on my radar, I've now bumped it up a notch.

      I've also not seen the Shallow Grave to which you were referring. (And yes, I got your note that it is time-stamped 1987, not 1984) At first I thought you were talking about the 1994 Danny Boyle flick, but now I see they are two different movies altogether. And judging by the fact that only 287 have rated it on IMDb, it sounds like it's relatively obscure - hopefully I can track it down!