This getting older thing is kind of a bummer. The other day I was bemoaning how old I’m getting and noted that I’m already 42 stinking years of age. My wife kindly reminded me that I’m actually 43. I’m now on blood-pressure meds, I wear reading glasses, and I’ve got to watch my cholesterol. I used to be a night owl. I’d stay up to all hours of the night and still be able to get up for work and get things done. For the last few years, I’ve been able to stay up until midnight but after that, I turn into a comatose pumpkin. This week I’ve not even been able to make it that late. By the time the clock strikes 11, my incessant yawning forces me to trudge up the stairs and into bed. This evening while watching Doctor Who my daughter tapped my leg and told me I’d fallen asleep, and that was a sin (in my defense it was a Colin Baker story).
I might be getting old, and I might need my sleep, but darn it, there is too much I have to do to go to bed early. How am I ever gonna watch all those “inappropriate for my eight-year-old” movies and series after she goes to bed if I go to bed at the same time? This is a problem I am going to have to think upon. Until then, here’s five cool things I did manage to watch without her.
For the last movie he ever made, director Howard Hawks once again teamed up with John Wayne in a film that bears a surprising resemblance to another Hawks/Wayne film, Rio Bravo (they also made El Dorado together which has basically the same plot, but I haven’t seen that one). They were each written by Leigh Brackett and feature Wayne’s character forced to defend himself and his compatriots against an army of villains in the town jail.
Here, Wayne plays Col. Cord McNally, a Union officer assigned to protect a train full of gold on its way to help win the war. The train is ingeniously hijacked by Capt. Pierre Cordona, Sgt. Tuscarora Phillips, and their band of Confederate soldiers. I won’t spoil the set-piece but it’s brilliantly staged by Hawks and a whole lot of fun to watch.
While chasing after the gang, McNally is captured by the Rebel soldiers but is treated fairly by them and he, in turn, treats them well when the tables are turned. After the war, McNally seeks the two officers out because he is sure that there must have been an inside man who told the Rebels how to steal his gold and figures they might be willing to tell on the traitor. The three of them eventually track down the traitor which eventually leads them to the showdown at the jail. Along the way, they pick up the usual love interest, and the usual drunk played for comic relief. It isn’t nearly as good as Rio Bravo but it will do in a pinch.
It is a curious film not only because it was the last one Hawks ever made, or that its’ basically a remake of a remake of a previous Hawks film but that it was made in 1970. Westerns were very much on the way out by then (this was a year after The Wild Bunch turned the genre on its head). Rio Lobo doesn’t try to do anything new. It doesn’t have to as Hawks and Wayne basically invented many of the genre’s archetypes, but it’s fascinating to see them making this swan song at a time when so much of the culture had changed.
John Carpenter’s Vampires
That John Carpenter is a great director there is no doubt. That he’s also had some major misfires in his career is equally true. The ’90s were not particularly kind to the man behind such classics as The Thing, The Fog and Christine. Vampires isn’t an argument against that statement, but it has its charms. After the disaster that was Escape From L.A., Carpenter seriously considered retiring from filmmaking but this script landed at his feet and the idea of making a Howard Hawks-style western with vampires sounded like too much fun.
The story revolves around a group of killers hired by the Vatican to wipe out vampires hiding out in the western part of the United States. They are led by a clearly-having-fun James Woods and ultimately run into the original vampire (created by the Catholic church after a botched exorcism) who seeks a magic statue that will allow him to live in sunlight. The story is big-time dumb, and Carpenter is a long way from his glory days, but it’s still pretty entertaining and worth a watch.
Deadwood: The Movie
Deadwood falls easily into my top-five television series of all time. It was beautifully written and acted, full of great comedy, deep tragedy, and had something real to say about society. That it ended after only three seasons is a great tragedy in its own right. From nearly the moment HBO cancelled it, there were rumors of a movie being made to tie up loose ends but it never seemed to happen. It got to the point where most of the cast were denying all rumors about it ever happening.
Then it happened.
Pretty much everyone of the exceedingly large cast came back and David Milch (show creator, head writer, gambling addict and Alzheimer’s sufferer) put it all together. It isn’t perfect, but it is glorious. Ten years have passed in show time, everyone has gotten older, the camp has become a real town, old grudges are rekindled, but mostly, things have settled down as they often do with time.
In a lot of ways, the movie feels more like a coda to the series rather than a thing unto itself. I can’t imagine anyone watching the movie that hasn’t seen the series and feeling anything other than confusion. But as that, it is a profane marvel. Since the third season always felt unfinished, The Movie completes it in a rather satisfying way.
A middle-aged man who has all the outward trappings of success – a good job, a nice house, a loving wife and a grown child – finds that he is unhappy. He is estranged from his daughter, he no longer loves his wife, and money has not given him fulfillment. When he is contacted by an old friend whom he thought to be dead, he is given a second change at life. The friend turns him onto the Company, an organization dedicated to giving people a new life, literally. They fake your death, give you extensive plastic surgery and a new identity, then set you up in a new home where you can live whatever life you want. This man does this, yet soon finds himself once again unfulfilled. When he approaches the Company for another do-over, he gets more than he bargained for.
That’s an intriguing idea that unfortunately doesn’t get explored nearly as well as you want it to. John Frankenheimer is more concerned with dazzling visuals and creating suspense then exploring those themes. The visuals are fantastic – he moves the camera in wonderful ways including strapping a camera to the actors to dizzying effect. That the man is played by Rock Hudson (a closeted gay man) gives the film’s themes an added layer. It’s played like a thriller and it’s full of claustrophobic settings and suspenseful scenes. For the first 20 minutes or so, I had no idea what was going on, whether the Company was helpful or menacing, which gives the whole thing an edge. It fizzles a bit in the middle with an overlong scene where Hudson hangs out with a bunch of hippies, but it builds to a trippy ending that’s worth sitting through the boring bits for.
The Dead Don’t Die
Jim Jarmusch is a fascinating director. He’s like the hip god uncle of independent cinema. He makes small, quirky films that are hailed by critics and beloved by a small cult following. He’s able to get a-list actors to work for less money in movies that won’t be seen by their usual cineplex crowd.
I’ve seen about half his filmography and while I’ve enjoyed them all, I wouldn’t count myself as the sort of fan who holds their breath until the next Jim Jarmusch film comes out.
When the trailer for The Dead Don’t Die came out on April 1st, my Twitter feed blew up with excitement. I was excited also. This was a zombie comedy by Jarmusch starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, and others. It looked wonderful. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was going to receive the widest release of any Jarmusch film. How cool.
But then the early reviews came in. Those that saw it at Cannes were none too impressed. It wasn’t terrible, they seemed to say, but neither was it very good. “Disappointed” was the word. My excitement died.
The film finally had its wide release and the reviews were more positive. It almost as if the expectations were too high at Cannes causing a let-down effect but that then led to more positive reviews later on.
All of that and I can finally say I liked it a lot. It is not the film one would expect from the trailer, but it is exactly what one should expect from a zombie comedy directed by Jim Jarmusch. It is slow, sometimes thoughtful, and delightfully wry (a critic I follow says it should have been called The Walking Deadpan).
It has a few things to say about our culture, political and otherwise (Steve Buscemi’s character wears a Make America White Again cap), and it has a long nihilistic streak (it ultimately seems to say humans are screwed no matter what) but mostly it is a meaningful, slowly paced, dryly humorous romp.
Friday the 13th
I came of age in the 1980s which was the perfect time to be a horror fan. Horror was everywhere. Slasher movies were all the craze and with the advent of the VCR, lots of movies were bypassing the big screen alltogether, opting for the cheaper method of going straight to video. Horror has always been an easy sell in cheap markets and fans of the genre will watch just about anything as longs as their is plenty of blood and guts. The two biggest horror franchises when I was growing up were the Friday the 13th films and the Nightmare on Elm Street series. I loved them both and I have distinct memories of talking endlessly with my junior high classmates as to which Freddie and Jason movies we’d seen.
Today is Friday the 13th and so there has been lots of fun chatter on Twitter about the series. Everybody is ranking the films in various ways and Gamespot has written a fun little article rating them by how many kills Jason scored per film. Check it out and have a happy Friday the 13th.