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I'm watching "Firefox" for the first time since it was released in 1982. I distinctly remember the opening scene, with Clint Eastwood jogging (although, for some reason, I thought I remembered him jogging without a shirt). When I was 21 years old, I thought to myself, 'My *God*, he looks old' (he was 52). Now, my impression when I just saw that same scene was, 'My *God*, he looks young.' Unfortunately, other than seeing the movie in the theater vs. on Amazon, there's only one variable in this equation. (Actually, in a later scene, Eastwood was standing around without a shirt - he really wasn't in top shape for this film, even for a 52-year-old.) I had completely forgotten how blatantly Soviet this film was - sort of like an earlier version of "The Hunt for Red October" (1990) which I thought was just awful. However, I was studying Russian in the late 1980s, and knew enough to pick out the flaws in Red October; when I saw Firefox, Russian was like Chinese to me, so I had absolutely no idea how contrived it was. I do find it interesting just how John McCain-like Clint Eastwood's Vietnam flashback was. I also didn't realize that Firefox, like all of Malpaso's (Eastwood's Production company's) pictures since, has no opening credits after the title was displayed. One thing I'm noticing about Firefox is the incredible attention that's being paid to seemingly mundane detail (which I consider to be a huge asset; others consider it to be dull) - not a lot of action is occurring, but the Soviet atmosphere is being slowly and surely cultivated, despite the film not being shot in the Soviet Union (for Cold War reasons) - I suppose some might find the entire structure ponderous; I find it fascinating, in the way that I find Bruckner's symphonies fascinating. Just don't watch Firefox looking for an "Eastwood action movie," because you're going to spend a lot of time trying to find it. That said, Eastwood's heavily Americanized Russian accent would *never* pass muster when scrutinized by even a casual speaker, much less suspicious KGB agents screening him at a security gate - also, doesn't *anybody* around the perimeter of the ultra-secure facility know what their own pilot looks like? The special effects used for the flying scenes were known as "Reverse Bluescreen" photography, and were pioneered by John Dykstra just for this film - Dykstra was the special-effects lead for the original "Star Wars," and is almost surely a household name to anyone who cares about special effects. When the second Firefox is chasing the first, it becomes *extremely* obvious that this is a riff on Star Wars - you'll know the scene when you see it. Interestingly, not long after this, there's a scene that's a riff on, believe it or not, my favorite scene from "Wings" (1927), one pilot showing respect to the other. And after *that*, there's yet another Star War's riff - recall, "Use the force, Luke." If you want a detailed plot synopsis, there's a good one on *** SPOILER ALERT *** IMDB.
"Lenny" (1974) - Directed by Bob Fosse (Academy Award Winner for Best Director of "Caberet," Academy Award Nominee for Best Director of "All That Jazz," Academy Award Nominee for Best Original Screenplay for "All That Jazz") Produced by Marvin Worth (Co-Producer of "Malcolm X") Written by Julian Berry (Co-Writer of "The River") Featuring Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce (Academy Award Winner for Best Actor as Ted Kramer in "Kramer vs. Kramer" and as Raymond Babbitt in "Rain Man," Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor as Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate," as Enrico Salvatore "Razzo" Rizzo in "Midnight Cowboy," as Michael Dorsey in "Tootsie," and as Stanley Motts in "Wag the Dog," Thomas Babington "Babe" Levy in "Marathon Man,"), Valerie Perrine (Montana Wildhack in "Slaughterhouse-Five," Eve Teschmacher in "Superman" and "Superman II"), Jan Miner as Sally Marr (Madge the Manicurist) --- As of this writing, "Lenny" is one of 43 films to be nominated for the Academy Awards "Big 5" - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress (it didn't win any, but with "The Godfather, Part II" and "Chinatown," there was some stiff competition that year. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** One interesting thing that viewers may not notice is the scene where Bruce is talking about "stag films," and how harmless they are compared to, for example, "King of Kings." However, right after that, Bruce is driving away in a rainstorm, gets T-boned by another car, and then smashes into a ... stag. I'm not sure what this means, but it can't possibly be a coincidence. The cinematographer Bruce Surtees gets credit for this, and numerous other shots, such as Lenny and Honey glancing at each-other between the legs of other people. I found the initial threesome scene utterly fascinating - there was no dialogue, and no music; just facial expressions on top of complete silence. Yet, the eye contact "spoke" more than any words could ever say. And this is another example of Bruce using real-life situations to give him inspiration for his stand-up comedy routines (obviously, many comedians do, but it's *really* apparent in this film that Bruce positively milks his antics, extracting all he can from them). Like so many stand-up comedians, I don't find Lenny Bruce to be the least bit funny - he comes across to me as more of an Andy Kaufman: a performance artist; at least Richard Pryor made me laugh, and George Carlin, even if I wasn't always laughing, entertained me endlessly. Similarly, this film had certain things in common with "Man on the Moon," which was more depressing than funny.
The Shootist begins with a combination of montages and credits as follows: Dino De Laurentis Presents A Frankovich/Self Production The team of Mike Frankovich and William Self lasted just over a year, and produced only 2 movies, both in 1976: "The Shootist" (John Wayne's final film) and "From Noon Till Three" (with Charles Bronson). John Wayne [as J.B. Books: "The Shootist"] Lauren Bacall [as the widow Bond Rogers, The Innkeeper] "in a Siegel film" Don Siegel only worked on several major movies, and was the Director of "The Shootist" THE SHOOTIST The film starts with a montage of date-stamped shooting scenes, quickly taking you through the previous 20 years of John Wayne's life, and accompanied by brief narration: 1871 - Ron Howard narrating (amazing!) "His name was J.B. Books. He had a matching pair of "˜45s with antique ivory grips that were something to behold." 1880 - "He wasn't an outlaw. Fact is, for awhile, he was a lawman." 1885 - "Long before I met Mr. Books, he was a famous man. I guess his fame was why somebody-or-other was always after him." 1889 - "The Wild Country had taught him to survive. He lived his life, and herded by himself. 1895 - "He had a credo that went, "˜I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.'" The film then, somewhat surprisingly, switches from black-and-white to color. Co-Starring Ron Howard [as Gillom Rogers, Lauren Bacall's son] Bill McKinney [as Jay Cobb, a creamery owner (with the original food truck)] Guest-Stars James Stewart [as Dr. Hostetler, the town physician] Richard Boone [as Mike Sweeney, brother of one of Books' victims] John Carradine [as Hezekiah Beckum, the local undertaker] Scatman Crothers [as Moses, a stable keeper] Richard Lenz [as Dan Dobkins, a reporter with "The Morning Appeal"] Harry Morgan [(Colonel Potter on Mash) as Marshall Thibido, the town marshall] Sheree North [as Serepta, an old flame of Books Hugh O'Brian [as Jack Pulford, a professional gambler and marksman] Production Designer Robert Boyle Film Editor Douglas Stewart Music by Elmer Bernstein [unrelated to Leonard Bernstein, but the two were friends] Director of Photography Bruce Surtees, A.S.C. Based on the Novel by Glendon Swarthout Screenplay by Miles Hood Swarthout [son of Glendon Swarthout] and Scott Hale Produced by M.J. Frankovich and William Self Directed by Don Siegel MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE REST OF THE WRITE-UP [Plot summaries bore me to tears, and always have (unless you're cheating the night before a test in high school, reading the Cliff Notes for "Hamlet") - I figure if you're going to watch the movie, you'll do just fine learning the the plot on your own, so allow me to offer up pure commentary] The backbone of the movie now starts as Wayne rides up to a man standing on the other side of a creek. It's January 22, 1901, and the papers are reporting that Queen Victoria died. So, it's the end of the Victorian Era in the wild west of America. The opening scene establishes Wayne as a non-nonsense, "˜don't mess with me, leave me alone and I'll leave you alone' man in no uncertain terms. He then rides into Carson City, Nevada. If you don't remember what made Jimmy Stewart so popular and beloved, all you need to do is watch the brief scene in Dr. Hotstetler's office. Marshall Thibido enters Books' room, at first scared, but then irritatingly arrogant when he learns of Books' impending death. Obviously, Books is a man who is simultaneously feared, respected, and hated by many. The Marshall implied he would piss on Books' grave when he died. Gillom Rogers and Moses discovered Books' true identity from inspecting the brand on his horse - it turns out this man is a nationally famous gunman, and a celebrity. Gillom was eavesdropping, Books found out, and he yanked Gillom through a window (using an impressive, Data-like, one-armed body throw). The viewer starts to get worried when the words "Second Day," "Third Day," etc. occasionally flash up on the screen. Dr. Hotstetler told Books he only had a couple months left (he has "a cancer"), and here his days are numbered, literally. When Dan Dobkins, the mercenary reporter from the local daily newspaper, began intentionally overacting in seeking to write a series about Books, it was not difficult to know that when he left through the front door, it wouldn't be by walking. I understand this has some degree of comic relief to it (up until now, we've dealt with some pretty serious subject matter, without a whole lot of yucks), but I prefer my salve to either be subtle, or so outrageous that it causes belly laughs; this fell somewhere in-between, and didn't do much for me. The scene where Dr. Hotstetler gives Books his bottle of laudanum reminds me of how much I enjoy watching pretty much anything Jimmy Stewart does. He can be the very definition of "corny," but he plays the corn so naturally that it seems to permeate his inner fiber in real life. You know? There is something very Star Trek about this movie, and I can't quite put my finger on why. I know I've been intensely working my way through the first two Star Trek series lately, but the "feel" I get in the saloon scene (where Jack Pulford kills the man), for example, is similar to what I got in "The Royale" (The Next Generation, season 2, episode 12). There have been several moments in this film so far (and I'm only 38 minutes into it) where I've "felt" The Next Generation. Maybe it's because I've been *so* intensely involved with Star Trek that the smallest resemblance seems to scream loudly. Seeing Scatman Crothers haggling with Books over buying his horse made me realize how oddly these characters are cast. Lauren Bacall? Ron Howard? A smug-bordering-on-sadistic Harry Morgan? But it's all knit together beautifully - does anyone know who is responsible for putting together the ensemble, the producer, or the director? Amazingly John Wayne was not the first choice to play Books; Paul Newman was - it's a good thing Newman was committed to another project, because Wayne positively owned this role. The conversation Books and Gillom had about Bat Masterson was a nice touch, and really grounded the movie. This "shooting lesson" was a strong scene, and bonded the two lead characters nicely. Serepta probably reminds a lot of viewers about someone they know. There are a lot of Sereptas in this world. Picture Ron Howard and Lauren Bacall strolling to church in their Sunday finest, when Howard starts whistling Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." Bacall: "You know that kind of music gets on my nerves - especially on Sunday." Good thing you didn't make it to the 21st century, Mrs. Rogers. I'm 1:18 into a 1:37 movie, and I get a strong sense that this is going to have a "Gran Torino" finale. If that's the case, it's remarkable how much these two plots overlap. The Act that begins with "Last Day," and continues with Books looking at his own tombstone is somewhere between morbid and chilling. *Not* a Gran Torino finale! And "The Shootist" is a far superior movie, too. If anyone has seen Gran Torino and liked it, I suspect you'll love The Shootist. Thanks for the recommendation, Joe Riley.
I'd never seen the full movie of "Dirty Harry"; only a few clips from it, e.g., "Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" This line happens very early in the film, and serves two purposes: as character development of the protagonist, Harry Callahan, and as a memorable clip for posterity (*) - so if you watch it, you won't have spoiled a thing. It's also somewhat clumsily acted, and isn't representative of Eastwood in this film - he otherwise does a fine job. Somehow, he manages to inject a boyish smile into the gravest of situations here: A couple other notes: It isn't like there was anything at stake here - even if the bad guy had reached the gun, he wasn't going to get a shot off, and he certainly wasn't going anywhere. This is a great example of a scene contrived to become a classic - think of "I'll have what she's having" in "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993) - probably the all-time greatest one-liner in movie history (which, by the way, took place at Katz's Delicatessen (which just made me think ofMark Kuller, God rest his soul)). Also, this is an unfortunate time in our lives to be glorifying such a scene, but I can assure people who haven't seen the film that Harry Callahan - icy-cold bad-ass though he might have been - was a good guy through-and-through, and someone all viewers would want to pull for. This was a very good police thriller, with a certified looney-tunes villain very well played by Andy Robinson (as an aside, it isn't often a movie of this popularity doesn't even have two actors that most people could name, although the Mayor of San Francisco is played by none other than Dean Wormer himself, John Vernon). Clint Eastwood was (and still is) a damned handsome man. This movie also goes a level deeper than just being a cops-and-robbers crime film. Roger Ebert has a *great* line about the movie - one which you really can't argue against: "I think films are more often a mirror of society than an agent of change, and that when we blame the movies for the evils around us we are getting things backward. "Dirty Harry" is very effective at the level of a thriller. At another level, it uses the most potent star presence in American movies -- Clint Eastwood -- to lay things on the line. If there aren't mentalities like Dirty Harry's at loose in the land, then the movie is irrelevant. If there are, we should not blame the bearer of the bad news." "Dirty Harry" was both directed and produced by Don Siegel, which would be more than enough for an entire career, but he also worked on four other Clint Eastwood films, as well as the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"(1956), "The Shootist" (1976), and many others. On a personal note, Siegel directed two episodes of "The Twilight Zone: "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross" and "Uncle Simon" - I love the fact that, with a little time and effort, Hollywood is closing in on itself, and I'm starting to recognize heretofore obscure names and other things: I guess that, like with anything else in life, a little perseverance eventually pays off. By today's standards, "Dirty Harry" is easy-going violence, with much of it implied (the young boy, for example, who got half of his face blown off). For those who don't know, The Zodiac Killer, who was the inspiration for Scorpio - the antagonist in Dirty Harry - was very much of a real person, although the movie itself is entirely fictional. If this is one of those movies you've always intended to watch, but have never gotten around to doing so, I decided to watch it on a whim last night, finishing it today, and I'm glad I did - it was $3.99 (HD on Amazon Prime) and 102 minutes, both well-spent. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** When they hauled the teenage girl out of the hole, I was wondering how on earth there was 40 minutes left in the movie; the decision to let Scorpio go seems implausible, so at that moment, the movie lost credibility with me (could they not have done a handwriting comparison with the first note that Scorpio wrote? Oops!) However, it's interesting how closely that scene is related to the Ticking Time Bomb Scenario and Alan "The Needle" Dershowitz as pertaining to this one particular issue. In this regard alone, Dirty Harry is an important film that's ahead of its time, although I have no idea whether it was the first movie to directly address this scenario (I'm sure there were variations on this theme that occurred before 1971). Miranda v. Arizona was tried five years before, in 1966, and was surely an inspiration for this. The school bus scene was extremely powerful. I can't imagine what the driver must have been feeling, driving along while the children are singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" - the contrast was painful to watch. But flying away with the kids as hostages? Come on, that's ridiculous. Still, this whole sequence was brutal - however, when Callahan jumps on the bus, the movie turns into something resembling "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). (*) Oh, by the way, there may have been a third purpose as well.