Sunday, January 10, 2021

Fool's View (12/21 – 12/31) (Part 2 of 2)

"Yeah, baby, that's the finish line!! Punch it!!!"

And we’re back!

I devoted the final week of 2020 wrapping up the triple projects of Charles Bronson, Quentin Tarantino, and Joel and Ethan Coen, a decidedly eclectic bunch of titles within their own lane and as a whole.

I had only previously dabbled in Bronson’s work, having seen his ensemble efforts (Dirty Dozen, Magnificent Seven, Great Escape) and the occasional starring role, usually out of interest in the director (Hard Times, Once Upon a Time in the West) or pop culture significance (Death Wish). But a viewing of Mr. Majestyk earlier this year piqued my interest and I concluded that an actor who regularly cranked out a movie (and often two) every year, usually with his name above the title, probably deserved a little of my attention. Besides, I find myself fascinated these days by movie stars who had thriving careers despite critics endlessly declaring that they can’t act.

Having seen Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in January for awards season, it seemed like a fine time to revisit QT’s career in reverse order, since the femalien had not yet seen them all and I hadn’t seen them in a while. It’s been an interesting, rewarding, and occasionally confounding journey.

The Brothers C. Project was born of a comfort food triple-feature at the beginning of pandemic and just kept going. 18 flicks later, I’m happy to report that they haven’t lost their touch nor their way. While they share a predilection for homage with their younger cinematic comrade, it never feels quite as shamelessly derivative or “look at me” clever, which I appreciate.

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



Assassination (1987) d. Hunt, Peter R. (USA) (1st viewing)

What should have been a straightforward thrill ride given its premise – a newly elected President’s First Lady is targeted by unknown killers – is sluggish and formulaic. Husband-and-wife team Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland play at getting on each other’s nerves, he being the secret service agent hired to protect her, she the free-thinking woman of the future who doesn’t take orders from anyone. Unfortunately, Hunt can’t seem to orchestrate any tension or enjoyable action sequences. The best thing about the whole affair is fresh-faced Jan Gan Boyd who inspires a twinkle in an otherwise bored-looking Bronson. Considering the last time Charlie and Peter hung out together, 1981’s enjoyable Death Hunt, one can be forgiven for having raised expectations.

Chino (1973) d. Sturges, John (Italy/France/Spain) (1st viewing)

Charlie stars as a “half-breed” rancher who wrangles with the local land baron (Marcel Bozzuffi), romances the bad ’un’s sister (Jill Ireland), and takes a cute orphan (Vincent Van Patten) under his wing, all while trying to make his way in the Wild West. Re-teaming with his Magnificent Seven/Great Escape director – although there are rumors that much of the film was actually shot by Duilio Coletti – everything clicks along nicely if predictably until the final reel when Sturges delivers the anticlimax to end all anticlimaxes. It’s no wonder the film has slipped into the public domain.

From Noon Till Three (1976) d. Gilroy, Frank (USA) (1st viewing)

Note: If you’re doing a Bronson marathon, a Jill Ireland film festival is included in the bargain. While I can now speak from experience that Mrs. Bronson was no great shakes as an actress, this is probably her finest onscreen hour, playing a lonely and melodramatic widow who offers shelter to a would-be bank robber for three fateful hours, then pens a bestseller about their romance that captures the imagination of the public. Trouble is, when her brief paramour returns to claim his beloved, she doesn’t recognize the genuine article, preferring her fictional creation. Bronson demonstrates his oft-ignored skills as a light comedian (see also Breakout) in this welcome departure from his taciturn playbook. Quirky and unpredictable and well worth your time.

Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989) d. Thompson, J. Lee (USA) (2nd viewing)

The story of Bronson’s cop on the trail of a child-prostitution ring is given a twist by splitting time following a Japanese businessman with pedophilic tendencies whose daughter is kidnapped by a ruthless pimp, but the results are more muddled than intriguing. Terrific, extended, jaw-dropping climax set at a harbor loading dock, and the scene where Charlie makes the pimp swallow his own Rolex is pretty awesome. Thompson’s final film.

Lola (aka Twinky aka London Affair) (1970) d. Donner, Richard (UK/Italy) (1st viewing)

Bizarro comedy about an American writer of pornographic novels (Bronson) who ends up in a romantic relationship with a schoolgirl (Susan George), gets deported, takes the girl with him, marries her, discovers that she’s more mature than he is (though 90 times more obnoxious because, well, she’s a teenager), and eventually loses her when she decides to go back home. Yes, this is supposed to be a comedy. Yes, Charles Bronson is playing an author of erotica. Yes, this is the same Richard Donner who directed The Omen and the Lethal Weapon franchise. Yes, this was George’s breakout role, appearing in Die Screaming Marianne for Pete Walker, Fright for Peter Collinson, and Straw Dogs for Sam Peckinpah the following year. No, I can’t say I recommend it except as the curiosity item that it is.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) d. Leone, Sergio (Italy) (4th viewing)

Leone’s undisputed masterpiece, topping his Dollars trilogy in scope and ambition, and utilizing his lead actors brilliantly against type. Though Bronson would later become famous for his minimalist approach, he actually outdoes Eastwood as a virtual force of Nature, that famously tanned and wrinkled face making him one with the rugged and untamed landscape. Henry Fonda is stunning as the blue-eyed Angel of Death named Frank, ruthlessly gunning down frontier families while spitting chaw out the side of his sneering mouth, while erudite Broadway star Jason Robards grizzles it up admirably as the bandit Cheyenne. At the center of it all is the breathtaking Claudia Cardinale, a former prostitute out to join her new husband at the burgeoning rail stop of Sweetwater who attracts the attention of the three men and in different ways for all.

Ennio Morricone’s score (complete with musical motifs for all the main characters) soaks deeply into the gorgeous visuals from the celebrated lens of Tonio Delli Colli (everything from The Gospel According to St. Matthew to Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom to Life is Beautiful, with nary an Oscar nod), with Leone stretching scenes and shots out to unimaginable lengths. The opening rail station sequence, featuring Jack Elam, Woody Strode, and, um, that other guy may never be topped.

The Sea Wolf (1993) d. Anderson, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

You’ve got Charles Bronson (still as tough-as-nails at 72) as Jack London’s legendary sea captain Wolf Larsen, Christopher Reeve as effete shipwreck victim-turned-cabin boy Humphrey “Hump” Van Weyden, former Beastmaster Marc Singer as noble mutineer Mr. Johnson, The Legend of Hell House’s resident intellect Clive Revill unrecognizable as the sleazy slopmaster Cookie Mugridge, Catherine Mary Stewart as Flaxen Brewster, the thief with a heart of gold and the locks to match, and everyone’s favorite heavy Garry Chalk (The Fly II) playing the resident onboard thug. A solid adventure yarn well told by Michael Anderson, the guy who gave us lofty fare such as Around the World in 80 Days and Logan’s Run alongside schlock like Orca and Doc Savage: Man of Bronze.

Someone Behind the Door (1971) d. Gessner, Nicolas (France/UK) (1st viewing)

Perhaps taking a cue from Anthony Shaffer’s Broadway hit Sleuth, this twisty thriller sees vengeful psychotherapist Anthony Perkins taking an amnesiac Charles Bronson back to his home, hoping to coerce the memory-free mug to murder, first telling him that the shrink’s lovely bride (Jill Ireland) is married to Bronson, and then telling him that she is having an affair (which she is, hence the desire to have her rubbed out). Not entirely successful, but certainly an interesting departure for all involved.

The White Buffalo (1977) d. Thompson, J. Lee (USA) (2nd viewing) 



Reservoir Dogs (1992) d. Tarantino, Quentin (USA) (7th viewing)

It’s hard to be as excited about QT’s debut as I was when I first encountered it at a late-night screening at Chicago’s Three Penny Cinema in 1992, only because it’s now common knowledge that he copped almost the entire plot from Ringo Lam’s City on Fire. That said, the boy put his own dang spin on it, didn’t he? That dialogue. That casting. Those black suits. That soundtrack. That flashback structure. Plus, he had editor Sally Menke keeping him out of his own way, delivering it all in a lean and mean 99 min.

Pulp Fiction (1994) d. Tarantino, Quentin (USA) (6th viewing)

This is how we spend New Year’s Eve around here, slamming adrenaline shots into gangster’s overdosing wife’s hearts, handing out rectal watches, and getting medieval on hillbilly boys with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. Buh-bye, 2020.

Jackie Brown (1997) d. Tarantino, Quentin (USA) (3rd viewing)

With Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch as its solid base, this is possibly the most straightforward and mature of Tarantino’s efforts, but you can already tell he’s starting to lose sight of a crisp clean narrative. (Did this need to be 2.5 hours? Answer: No.) That said, much like the majority of his features, it fares better on repeat viewings, once you know the level of indulgent excess you’re getting into and, as usual, he’s assembled a lovely cast (led by a never-better Pam Grier, using her seasoned, saucy, sexy presence to its finest) to spout his ever-quotable dialogue.

Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) d. Tarantino, Quentin (USA) (4th viewing)

I think it’s worth pointing out that KB came out the same year as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, officially making it the year of Too Much of a Good Thing. It’s all such quality material… and there’s just so much of it. On the one hand, I love it for all that’s in there. On the other, two hours have gone by and she’s only knocked off two names from her Death List Five????? I mean, COME ON.

Kill Bill Vol 2 (2004) d. Tarantino, Quentin (USA) (3rd viewing)

Annnnnnnnnd then we get tooooooooooooooooooo the one with Daaaaaaaaaavid Carradine and. Michael (pause pause pause) Madsen. stretchhhhhhhhhhhing out. Every. Bit of. Their. Dialogue. Also, um, did anyone else notice that Elle Driver ain’t dead? She and her seeing-eye dog are comin’ for you, Beatrix Kiddo. That said, there should have been a special award for Michael Parks’ magical cameo (having already played a completely different character in KB1) as Esteban Vihaio. He’s so good, it’s criminal (as in he literally stole the part from Ricardo Montalban when the latter was not able to attend a table read).

Death Proof (2007) d. Tarantino, Quentin (USA) (3rd viewing)

OH, MAN. Here we go. Quentin, I know you wanted to make a car chase movie, which is all good and fine. It’s just unfortunate you made one that has to be watched with the sound off because your dialogue Sucks The High Hard One. Also, where is the logic of stunt car driver Kim (Tracie Thoms) barreling down the road at 90 mph with Zoe Bell on the hood while being menaced by Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike? Why not, oh, start slowing down when he passes so that Zoe could, I don’t know, GET OFF THE HOOD OF THE CAR. Oh, and don’t EVEN get me started on the fact that these three “empowered” women leave their companion (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) behind in a cheerleader outfit to be certainly harassed and potentially raped as way of collateral for taking their precious 1970 Vanishing Point Challenger for a spin.

God, I hate this movie. Hate it. Hated it when it was preceded by Robert Rodriguez’s vastly superior Planet Terror (as part of Grindhouse), and hate it even more in its bloated solo presentation (which blows the best joke in the whole movie by replacing the “Reel Missing” edit with a full lap-dance sequence. Yes, I’m actually complaining about having to watch a lap dance featuring Vanessa Ferlito. What the hell?)


The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (2nd viewing)

The conceit of riffing on various Western tropes has been done before with a comic bent (My Name is Nobody, Blazing Saddles, Support Your Local Sheriff), but this is the first time I’ve seen it done a) in an anthology format and b) with a relatively straight face. Six tales of the untamed prairie are submitted for your approval, all but one concluding with a dark twist and a wry smile. Bloody and quirky and, frankly, a little on the long side. (Personally, I would have left the final stagecoach story on the cutting room floor.)

Burn After Reading (2008) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (2nd viewing)

Leave it to the Coens to follow their dark and somber Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men with a zany comic farce set in the world of politics, packed with Oscar winners, winners-to-be, and nominees galore. Somewhat dismissed upon release, it’s aged quite well over the past dozen years and might represent the boys’ best out-and-out comedy since The Big Lebowski.

Hail Caesar! (2016) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (2nd viewing)

While there’s no denying the affection shown toward Classic Hollywood by the sibling duo, showcasing everything from Esther Williams-type water ballet extravaganzas to shoot-em-up singin’ cowboy Westerns to cast-of-thousands Biblical epics, the weakness lies in the underlying narrative following a kidnapped movie star (George Clooney) and the blackmailed production chief (Josh Brolin) attempting to get him back before a pair of rival gossip columnists (Cate Blanchett, playing twins) get wind of the story. What should have been a wonderful breakneck caper turns muddy in between the glorious production numbers. Everyone seems to be having a grand time, which helps, especially Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-esque song-and-dance man.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (2nd viewing)

This tale of an abrasive folk musician (Oscar Isaac) in pre-Dylan 60s Manhattan goes down a little easier the second time around, once you get used to the idea that our titular jerktagonist is not going to win any popularity awards and is not looking for redemption (or your sympathy). He just wants to sing his songs, avoid responsibility, and safely return his neighbor’s cat, not necessarily in that order. Fun seeing Adam Driver pop up in the middle of Justin Timberlake’s recording session. Considering he’s a bona fide star now, I’m surprised at how many movies I had seen him in (J. Edgar, Lincoln, Midnight Special) before he finally registered with me as Kylo Ren (and I still don’t understand how he landed that gig).

Miller’s Crossing (1990) d. Coen, Joel (USA) (7th viewing)

“If I'd known we were gonna cast our feelings into words, I'd have memorized the Song of Solomon.” After Blood Simple and Raising Arizona, this was the film that declared loud and clear that the Boys from Minnesota could pretty much do anything. With Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography (his last before settling into the director’s chair himself) giving every gorgeous piece of production design an extra push and a dream cast rat-a-tat-tatting the ingeniously crafted patter, all in service of a plot that dazzles with its complexity and pretzel logic. (The Coens were famously so stymied that they penned an entire other movie, Barton Fink, about a scribbler struggling with writer’s block, before completing this one.)

With a Prohibition-era gang war between the Irish (led by Albert Finney’s dapper Leo) and the Italians (shoulda-been nominated Jon Polito as motormouth hothead Johnny Caspar) as the backdrop, we watch Gabriel Byrne’s implacable Tom Reagan navigate the tempestuous waters of sex and loyalty and keeping track of his fedora. Endlessly quotable and peerlessly performed, with Carter Burwell’s achingly beautiful theme music lifting it to the cinematic heavens. I’m a fan.

No Country for Old Men (2007) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (3rd viewing)

The Coens had been doing it right for so long, I guess it was only a matter of time before the Academy saw fit to hand them a Best Picture Oscar. I guess I’m just surprised that this ended up being the one. There’s no faulting the performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson and especially Best Supporting Actor winner Javier Bardem (as potentially supernatural psychopath Anton Chigurh), which are all supremely crafted and nuanced. Yet despite the gunplay and implied (and occasionally explicit) violence, the whole affair feels dry as a bone and lonesome as the hound dog chewing on it. Frequent Coen collaborators Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell deliver in the sight and sound departments, and the third-act twist is kind of astounding in its intentional deprivation of any kind of communal catharsis. It’s a motion picture experience that will leave you scratching your head and fingering the hole in your heart that wasn’t there when you first sat down.

2020 Totals: 434 films, 260 first time views, 148 horror, 2 cinema


  1. Impressive, how you manage to proceed wading through Bronson's filmography. That said, Someone Behind The Door is still on my to-see list too, as the plot and cast already peaked my interest some years ago. And I'll admit, The White Buffalo had me curious to see Carlo Rambaldi's creation of the titular beastie. Hadn't even heard of this one yet (or his involvement with it).

    Have some catching up with the Coens to do as well. True Grit (2010) is the most recent one I've seen of theirs (and liked). Of what came before, The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty and Miller's Crossing are the ones I haven't seen yet (but having the latter readily available).

  2. I liked both of those efforts, as they each showed Charlie off in a different light. He wasn't always just the hardass with a gun, even though that's how he'll always be remembered by the general public.

    Ladykillers was the lone Coen Bros. movie I hadn't seen before this year, and it was actually not the train wreck I imagined it would be. (Although the 1955 original with Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, and Peter Sellers is markedly better.) Intolerable Cruelty is quite fun, and Miller's Crossing has one of my favorite screenplays of all time, with some amazing lines of dialogue. My college roommate and I used to quote it to each other all the time.