Saturday, October 18, 2008

No. 45 - Seniors

Dennis Quaid stars in this wonderful sex comedy from 1978. Um, I haven't actually seen this film, but I have seen the trailer. The trailer is great. It shows college students plotting to blow up their school, and also pimping out sorority girls for a humble recompense. It was one of those Animal House knockoffs, although it came out a month after Animal House, so this is a case of synchronicity. In the trailer, there is a voice over by an academic type, a professor with a German accent -- I guess the German accent connotes academe. As the camera ogles co-eds with flexible morals, the professorial voice over asks (rhetorically), "Vould you like to graduate from zis?"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

No. 44 - Paper Moon & Other Bogdanovich classics

TCM showed Paper Moon recently. I hadn't seen it in maybe 20 years, and it held up wonderfully. Ryan O'Neal plays a charming con artist who sells bibles to recently widowed women, and brings Tatum O'Neal along for the ride to teach her the ropes. It was Tatum O'Neal's first film, and she steals the film as a ten-year-old moppet who is not as innocent as she first appears. Tatum won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her very first role, then went on to co-star in the very 70's sports classic, The Bad News Bears.

Director Peter Bogdanovich shot Paper Moon in black and white, which effectively evokes the 30's setting.

I also watched Targets on TCM. Targets isn't a 70's a film (it came out in 1968), but it certainly exerted a strong influence on some 70's films, most notably Taxi Driver. It tells the all-too-familiar story of the clean-cut, All-American kid who hoards weapons like Travis Bickle before he goes on a murderous rampage. Working with a tight Roger Corman budget, Bogdanovich delivers a lean, fast-paced thriller.

I feel that Daisy Miller, Bogdanovich's 1974 adaptation of the Henry James novella, was unfairly maligned by critics.

By the way, the best audio commentary I've ever heard is Bogdanovich's commentary for the Citizen Kane DVD.

Monday, November 26, 2007

No. 43 - California Split

George Segal is Bill, an anal retentive, overly cautious magazine writer who has recently separated from his wife due to a gambling addiction. Elliott Gould is Charlie, a happy-go-lucky cardsharp who lives with two call girls. Bill and Charlie happen to occupy the same table at a Los Angeles poker club, and a brief but intense friendship begins. They win big at the track, blow it all at the poker tables, then split for Reno, where they pool their respective savings for a climactic high-stakes poker game. In the end, winning big turns out to be an empty experience.

Robert Altman's California Split expertly captures both the euphoria and the seediness of the professional gambler's lifestyle. Altman was known to gamble in his free time, and he understands the rush of taking crazy risks.

Altman refuses to ratchet up the tension in a conventional way. He simply kicks back and observes with an air of detachment and an eye for atmosphere and characterization. He is the master of the telling detail that is plucked out of a densely layered mise en scene. He also lets Segal and Gould fully explore their respective characters. Altman has always favored the details of characterization over the demands of dramaturgy. Even so, by the time the final poker match rolls around, we are drawn into the story and we feel the tension, the elation and the let-down of risking it all, playing and winning.

Fun fact: Steven Spielberg was attached to this film, before Altman came on board. Also, Jeff Goldblum made his film debut here (Goldblum is one of many noteworthy actors who were discovered by Altman).

The final poker match was filmed at the Mapes Hotel in my home town of Reno. The Mapes was imploded in 2000, so it's nice to see it captured on film.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

No. 42 - Cannonball

A year after his cult classic Death Race 2000, director Paul Bartel returned to the highway with his 1976 car-chase epic Cannonball. Once again, David Carradine returns to the driver's seat, and he's competing in a California to New York cross-country race. Carradine plays "Cannonball" Buckman, a fast driver who needs to win the prize money to get his brother out of hock with mobsters.

Bill McKinney, the hillbilly rapist in Deliverance, is Cade Redman, Carradine's venal arch-rival. Other racers are portrayed by Robert Carradine, Bartel veteran Mary Woronov, Gerritt Graham and Dick Miller. Martin Scorsese and Sylvester Stallone appear in a scene together playing goombah flunkies.

Cannonball was written by Don Simpson, who later attained fame co-producing Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop with Jerry Bruckheimer. Five years later, The Cannonball Run would use a very similar concept in depicting a coast-to-coast race. Another cross-country race film, The Gumball Rally, was released the same summer as Cannonball.

Sylvester Stallone sidebar: Stallone graduated from thug roles in Prisoner of Second Avenue, Farewell My Lovely and Bananas to become a huge star with Rocky, then he wrote, directed and starred in 1978's Paradise Alley, a movie about wrestlers in which Stallone warbled the theme song "Too Close To Paradise" over the opening credits (a song which he also wrote).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No. 41 - Bad Sequels

The 70's saw its share of sequels. After The Godfather Part II won the Best Picture Oscar, sequels were no longer considered disreputable. The floodgates were opened, and the deluge has yet to subside.

Here are some of the more noteworthy sequels:

The Trial of Billy Jack: Remember the famous book 50 Worst Films of All Time? This film made the list. Tom Laughlin also wrote, produced, directed and starred in Billy Jack Goes to Washington, which barely got released. Other Laughlin productions included The Master Gunfighter, in which Laughlin attempted to play a taciturn Eastwood type of anti-hero, with dismal results. Worst of all was Train Ride to Hollywood, one of the unfunniest comedies of the decade.

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure: Michael Caine began his habit of doing five movies a year just for the paycheck with this Irwin Allen disaster flick, a needless sequel to the classic Poseidon Adventure. Caine had previously starred in Allen's 1978 killer bee movie, The Swarm. He would go on to appear in one of the sequels to Jaws, and eventually won two Oscars. This was Sally Field's first movie after her Oscar-winning turn in Norma Rae.

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days: The characters were killed in the first one, and Redford and Newman were unavailable, so Fox invented the prequel with this Richard Lester film. William Kaat and Tom Berenger fill in for Newman and Redford. Years later, George Lucas took the prequel concept and gave us Episode I, featuring Jar Jar Binks.

Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat: Ralph Bakshi's lack of involvement in this sequel to Fritz the Cat didn't keep AIP from releasing it to drive-ins back in 1974.

Walking Tall Trilogy: The first Walking Tall was a crudely effective redneck classic. Joe Don Baker was great as tough Sheriff Buford Pusser. Then, the inevitable Part Two: Walking Tall was released, with Bo Svenson replacing Joe Don Baker. Pusser's demise at the end of the second film didn't prevent the production of a third installment, Final Chapter: Walking Tall. Then came the remake, Nine Lives of Buford.