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  1. "Straw Dogs" is a divisive film that, well, stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George (it's unlikely that you can name a second film that Susan George was in), but regarding the film, *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** suffice it to say that Director Sam Peckinpah's nickname was "Bloody Sam." A very typical early-70s filming of a gorgeous, cinematic, English landscape, the inevitable denouement being something you can see coming, but not necessarily something you want to see happening. Note Peckinpah's rapid-fire cuts coming into being once the cat is found. *** END SPOILERS *** "Straw Dogs" was remade in 2011. PS - I'm pretty sure that John Niles (Peter Arne) was the inspiration for Anton Chigurh. Also, the red nose during the break-in is *exactly* like the false nose during the break-in during "A Clockwork Orange."
  2. I remember watching "The Mechanic" (1972) with my dad when I was a child. I'm in yet another "Jack Reacher" mood, but don't want to completely waste my time - I remembered enjoying this as a child, and it's in a similar genre (sort of), so why not relive my childhood, and watch something with some historical merit? Besides, it features bad-ass Charles Bronson as an assassin - what more could you want in a mindless action film? Note also that producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler would go on to produce "Raging Bull" eight years later. What a difference a superstar director (Martin Scorsese) makes! "The Mechanic" is noteworthy in that it has *no* dialogue of any kind for the first sixteen minutes (I knew this going into the film). This was particularly interesting to me because at around the two-minute point, a single, dissonant, ominous-sounding, organ chord starts to build up, Bolero-style, and you wonder how it could possibly go on for another 13 minutes - mercifully, there's a lull in the tension, and it dies down. One thing this sixteen minutes of no dialogue does is allow for a leisurely presentation of the opening credits, which you don't mind, because there is action taking place on the screen. The first shot of Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) in his own environment shows that he is a man of taste - while alone in his thoughtfully furnished abode, he turns on a beautiful, overture-like piece on a cassette recorder - probably a slow movement from a symphony - highlighted by angelic-sounding violins, and (this is the advantage of having a food and wine critic do your film reviews, because I suspect I'm the first person in history to mention this) is drinking a bottle of Cheval Blanc, and given the age of the film, and Cheval Blanc's vintage track-record in the 60s, my guess would be that it's a '64 - he didn't decant it, so it couldn't be too old - but he needs a better claret glass than he has. This type of juxtaposition with the gritty and the urbane is exactly why "Road House" is a guilty pleasure of mine, and why I occasionally enjoy films like The Mechanic. How's this for a blast-from-the-past and product placement? The Mechanic is an interesting take on the classic tale of The Great Master taking on an apprentice, with some natural talent, under his wing. Early in the movie, you may recognize Keenan Wynn, who starred in "The Man in the Funny Suit" (he was the son of Ed Wynn), and thus, once again, so many things trace back to Rod Serling. Keenan Wynn played Harry McKenna, whose son, Steve McKenna, was played by the rising (and since hard-fallen) star Jan-Michael Vincent, who is The Mechanic's apprentice. This is sort of like an amoral version of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." *** SPOILER ALERT *** Given that they only touched on Bishop's character development (albeit clearly showing he's depressed, anxious, and lonely), I'm not convinced that a man of his skill-set - which is nearly superhuman - would so willingly take on an apprentice without testing him "to the max" first - and by "to the max," I mean, having him kill someone and putting his (McKenna's) entire life in Bishop's hands - Bishop never tested him like that, and it's simply not plausible that he would have taken McKenna on so willingly without having done so first, not when he's playing at this level. (I should add that I'm only an hour into the film, and have forty minutes left, so he may have something else up his sleeve, but Bishop essentially showed his hand to a virtual unknown, without asking anything in return first). Someone *this* good, with this much invested into his lifestyle (and I mean, Bishop was the *ultimate* assassin), would never take that risk without having something heavy and lethal to hang over McKenna's head - just in case. Well, there are less than twenty minutes left in the movie, and it's been obvious for awhile that the entire paragraph above was justified, but naive. I am very curious to see how this is going to play out, and wondering how Bishop is keeping his sanity. You'll know what I mean when you see the film (they recently arrived in Italy). Funny, I just rewatched "The Departed," and there is some overlapping thematic material in these two movies (as in, "rats like cheese"). Who's going to crack first, I wonder - the underlying tension introduced in the past 10-20 minutes is now permanent until something happens. All I know is this: Any film that makes you worry about the fate of a cold-blooded killer can't be all bad, but I'm nearly 100% confident that Bishop is going to be okay, and I'll tell you why when I finish the film - the answer was right before my eyes about forty-five minutes ago. The movie is over, and I was wrong. I thought *sure* the karate match between the old master and the young, cocky kid who broke the rules (about an hour into the movie) was a direct parallel to what would happen at the end. It wasn't, and I'm shocked that Bishop would put himself in the position he did, regardless of what eventually happened to McKenna. This movie "broke the rules" of drama by not letting me take advantage of the foreshadowing I saw, but I guess everyone got their comeuppance in the end, so it's dramatically complete, and really - where was Bishop going to go? For that matter, where was McKenna going to go? His snuffing of Bishop was *not* sanctioned by Bishop's employers (even though the film could have made that more clear), and they were angry about Bishop taking him on as an apprentice. It's still not clear to me why Bishop would unilaterally take on a partner without even asking his mysterious, shady, yet clearly *very* powerful bosses - he was only asking for trouble, and sure enough, he got it. I also remember the last scene of the movie very well, although I didn't remember it was from this film (I last saw this with my dad when I was eleven). It is just not reconcilable that Bishop would do this to himself, and that's the one fatal flaw in The Mechanic - he was too smart, with too much to lose, to let himself slip up like this, especially when he knew it was coming. Yes, he essentially "insured" his life, but to what end? Thus, The Mechanic just isn't a great film - it's a good action flick, with slightly insufficient character development, and inadequate justification of the choices Bishop made - it's worth watching as long as you know you're not seeing anything profound, but it just doesn't make enough sense for any intelligent person to buy into. And there you have the opinion of DonRocks.
  3. I first heard about "Johnny Got His Gun" when I was in college, when a friend told me it was about the most depressing movie he'd ever seen. I've heard it come up several times since then, all with pretty much the same synopsis: 'About as depressing as a film can be.' This comment inspired me to finally watch it, and you can tell from the first ten minutes of the film, that it's not going to be something that makes you want to go out and party when it's over. The opening credits alone signify war in its strongest possible connotations; then, the first few minutes reveal that what you're about to see is as grim as it gets. And, unfortunately, it appears that it's going to be a very well-made film, too (poorly made films are easier to laugh at, dismiss, and forget). My advice ten minutes into the movie: Don't start watching this unless you're glad you endured "Shoah," and thought "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" was a great film (which I did). This is not going to be an easy two hours. The juxtaposition between Joe's thoughts and dreams (in color) and his harsh reality (in black-and-white) are incredibly effective, and the dream scenes are long enough where you become absorbed in them, and then - *Bang!* - back to reality. Even though I'm only a few minutes into this film, I have a general idea of what it's about, and I'm almost dreading it while at the same time feeling a sort of "need" to watch it. It is noteworthy how much Donald Sutherland looks like the European perspective of Jesus Christ - there may be some sort of connection here (I've just been introduced to him for the first time, at the card game). So far, there is a pervasive feeling of "gentleness" to this movie - Joe's comments to himself, for example, are spoken in soft, gentle tones, and even when he gets angry (e.g., when he realizes they're removing staples from up around his shoulder area), he's still a gentle person. This community is not for the discussion of religion, unless it's in proper context, and when discussing a film, it's fair game. Christianity here (I'm 33 minutes into the film) is being strongly portrayed both as an asset and a liability - who would deny these poor people hope of ultimate salvation, which is the only possible reason for them to keep going? And yet, the tale of tying up the group of Native American hunters with rocks around their feet and drowning them in the lake was undoubtedly done "in the name of Christian principles." Sutherland was indeed portrayed as a Christ figure, and I can see that motif developing as the film progresses - I have a pretty good feeling that Christianity won't be looking terribly good as the film ends, but let's wait and see - there's a very "small," humanistic aspect to this movie that I think is going to trump any sort of grandiose, anti-religious message, which would just be too lazy and unoriginal to force us to choke down. All this said, there is a reversal-of-roles between what Joe's mother was feeding him ("God is the only reality; everything else is just a dream") and his eventual state, which is the exact opposite of what he was taught - regardless of how this plays out, there's little doubt that Christianity is a leitmotif in this movie. My impression, 33 minutes in, is that I absolutely love this movie. Also, that I'm glad I didn't see it when I first heard about it thirty years ago because I didn't have the wisdom to process it. (Note: I just sneak-peaked to see if Roger Ebert gave this movie his highest possible rating, which I figured he did ... and he did. I didn't read what he wrote (yet); just looked at the rating.) At one moment, Joe is panicking because he's in-between a dream- and a reality-state and says, 'Oh, Jesus Christ, how can I even tell there's a difference?" And then the camera immediately cuts to Donald Sutherland. I watched the final hour of this movie without wanting to come over here and type anything. It is anti-war propaganda, sure, but it is so masterfully done that it is an art form of the highest order. Even though it's a simple premise, this is a multi-layered, complex, film that requires the viewer to come to terms with some very difficult questions. It is at once, the most basic of human dramas, but also a political indictment every bit as powerful as "Dr. Strangelove." I was wrong about one thing, however - it's not *as* depressing as I thought, as it is, in some perverse way, a celebration of human life, and I left the movie feeling that one day, soon, Johnny would not only get his gun, but Joe would also get his wish. It also bears mentioning that there's virtually no gore or violence. This is not a partisan film in any way (anti-war, yes), and it is a must see. In a strange way, Joe reminded me of Hal at the end of "2001," the difference being that Hal was completely helpless against being turned off; Joe was completely helpless against remaining on. "Johnny Got His Gun" is available to watch for free on Veoh, and the quality is very good, although the time it takes to rewind scenes is unacceptable.
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