Monthly Archives: August 2012

Taxi Driver (1976) – thoughts of JMD

I’m slowly working my way through IMDb’s Top 250 films and most recent on my list was Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). After watching Taxi Driver I am torn in two minds, I have just watched a brilliant film, yet somehow I am still disappointed. At number 42 in IMDb’s Top 250 I had high expectations, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese and a famous scene with a mirror.

DeNiro’s portrayal of ‘Nam vet Travis Bickle’s descent into madness is mesmerising and I know I’m probably a latecomer in really appreciating his acting ability. Bickle is a lonely, socially inept man craving a greater purpose with no concept of how to achieve it. He distracts himself from insomnia by volunteering to drive his taxi “anytime, anywhere”, something shunned by most other drivers. The film follows Bickle’s search for purpose through Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and her political campaigning. Bickle finds further purpose after a chance encounter with twelve-year-old street worker Iris (Jodie Foster). Bickle takes it upon himself to save Iris from her way of life, whether or not she wants saving.

In the last few weeks I have watched Clockwork Orange, Trainspotting and Seven, which perhaps explains my lack of shock at the violence on display in Taxi Driver. However even thirty-six years later I am still shocked by Jodie Foster’s performance. Given she was only thirteen at the time of filming it is all the more impressive how she steals the screen whenever she is on it, and seems completely unfazed by the adultness of her role.

I had one major gripe with the film which once I noticed it really bugged me the whole way through. The soundtrack. For a film that is so brilliant in so many respects it annoyed me at how poor the soundtrack was. The theme score is completely unfitting with the film’s tone and would sit much more at home had it been used in Top Gun or alike.

Critiques aside, it is because of films like this I decided to watch all of IMDb’s Top 250. The film is iconic, the script is excellent and the acting is flawless. Although the film is unlikely to enter my personal top 10 there is no doubt it will only be a short amount of time before I am putting it in my DVD player for a second watch.

JMD Rating: 8.1/10

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The Funhouse (1981)

Synopsis:

A group of teenagers visit a carnival and think it will be fun to hide inside the funhouse overnight. They soon come to regret their collective decision when they are privy to a brutal killing and are hunted down by the deformed murderer…..

Review:

Tobe Hooper’s opening sequence, of a masked young boy tormenting his older sister as she showers, is a well-done and stylistic homage to genre stalwarts “Halloween” (1978) and “Psycho” (1960). From here on in, “The Funhouse” (1981) becomes a notable genre entry in its own right.

The first half of the movie plays out as a kind of coming-of-age piece; that is, until a horrific murder is witnessed. The second snares our teenage protagonists inside the funhouse with a hideous monster hell-bent on silencing them forever.

It’s surely Hooper’s sleazy atmospherics and grim attention to detail that sets this movie apart. Whether it’s the putrid saliva oozing from our killer’s malformed mouth or the wretched collection of undesirables inhabiting the fairground arena, the gritty realism put in front of us is something to behold.

The production design is top-notch with the funhouse itself being a synthetic hive of mechanical monsters and pyrotechnic ghouls.  Although the entire movie was shot in surround sound, the effect is used in the funhouse alone. What we are then left with is a heightened attack on the audience’s already-swollen senses whenever we enter the trappings that entomb our pithy teenage ensemble.

For Hooper fans, Kevin Conway’s multiple roles as facially-similar carnival workers adds a sense of incest along the ‘deranged family’ theme which runs through so much of the director’s work. William Finley’s boozy magician and Sylvia Miles’s ill-fated fortune teller add further colour; not that it is required.  It’s painfully clear that the interesting cast members are those on the ‘carnival-side’ and although our heroine is both likeable and believable, her friends are nothing more than moving targets for Hooper’s slasher revolver.

My favourite scene involves our panicked lead-girl spying her parents outside of the funhouse; but unfortunately, the relentless sound of the air-conditioning fan prevents her pitiful screams from reaching their worried ears in the cool night air….

Overall, this is a well-executed horror film with an ethereal authenticity you can just about taste. It also has a fabulous title sequence. Highly recommended.

Hotdog rating: 8.5/10

quirky 80s slasher The Slayer (1982) trailer

Guys, this was one film which scared the pants off me many years ago.

Ride The High Country (1962)

Synopsis:

‘Steven Judd’ (Joel McCrea) is a tired ex-lawman who takes a job with a Bank transporting gold from a local  mine. ‘Judd’ enlists the help of his old friend, and one-time partner, ‘Gil Westrum’ (Randolph Scott). However, ‘Gil Westrum’ has other ideas for what to do with the gold once it’s  been collected…..Furthermore, their paths cross with the head-strong daughter (Mariette Hartley) of a religious-farmer on the way; and she is due to to marry into a grotesque family of miners.

Review:

In his first feature-film, Peckinpah merges elements of the traditional western with the revisionist themes which would later distinguish him as a director.

Randolph Scott’s turn as the double-crossing ‘Gil Westrum’ is so persuasively authentic that after watching his performance, Scott retired from the screen altogether; citing the fact that he could do no better.

Next to Scott, Joel McCrea is the ex-lawman carrying a face ruggedly etched with a thousand stories. It’s McCrea’s almost incredulous likeability which draws you into this picture and holds you for the duration. What is endearing about this film is the way the West has changed around these two friends and what these changing circumstances will drive them to do….If you are familiar with Peckinpah’s movies, you’ll be pleased to see his distrust of modernity in the Old West coming through energetically. It’s the industrialisation of the Old West which has left Scott and McCrea chasing fortunes and fulfilment respectively.

The supporting cast is faithful and noted character actor R G Armstrong’s appearance as a bible-thumping widow is a great touch. Warren Oates, too, pops up as the crazed brother of the miner Mariette Hartley marries. Look out for Edgar Buchanan as the mining town’s drunk Judge, who only stays sober long-enough to inform his ramshackle congregation that “people change…” . Of course, this is exactly what McCrea’s character fears has happened to his old friend ‘Gil’….

The film is masterfully scripted and contains pieces of non-conversational dialogue which today’s audiences may find clunky; but actually you’d do well to try and see past this apparent shortcoming. Such scripted lines are an integral way for Peckinpah’s tale to unfold before our eyes and it’s the war of words between Scott and McCrea that gives the film a hypnotic feel. This feel is aided by some of the lushest cinematography you’re likely to see.

If you’re expecting excessive violence from Peckinpah, then you’ll be disappointed. This is no blood-soaked horse opera in the vein of ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969).  Despite these aesthetic differences, the closing sequence and final shoot-out is clearly a blue-print for the epic finale in Peckinpah’s 1969 classic.

My favourite part of this movie is the final shot of McCrea’s death throes and his breathless last words – “I don’t want them to see this…I think I’ll go it alone”.

A delectable cowboy movie which differentiates itself through two simple but heroic aspects of movie-making – damn-good acting and exemplary storytelling.

hotdog rating: 9/10

Deadgirl (2008)

Synopsis:

Two high-school students stumble across a woman chained to a bed in the basement of an abandoned mental hospital. The thing is, this woman cannot die, and the two diverge on what to do next. One decides to use her as a vehicle for his darkest desires whilst the other sinks into a state of depression at his best-friend’s behaviour. Events soon get out of control…..

Review:

An unusually direct movie based on a disquieting premise, Deadgirl (2008) still manages to be reflectively entertaining.

The horror here is not to do with a pitifully undead girl in the basement; it’s rather based on the sickest places that the pursuit of carnal and unchecked fantasies can take you. Be warned, the lengths the boys are willing to go in order to fulfil their sexual urges are hard to watch. We have rape, sodomy, fellatio, mutilation and more; all applied to an undead corpse harnessed to a filthy mattress in the belly of an old asylum.

The acting in the film is occasionally questionable but this is more noticeable in the bit-part roles than from our lead characters, who all do quite well. In particular, our two male leads are entirely convincing and frighteningly realistic. Noah Segan as the visceral ‘JT’ gives a special and quite unforgettable performance.

I liked the soundtrack, even if it is too heavy on the ‘teen-angst’ sort of music, but the script isn’t great and we aren’t treated to much of a backstory behind anyone really.

If you are looking for comparisons, the movie has the feel and atmosphere of early Wes Craven efforts such as The Last House on the Left (1972).

Just to add, you’ll see the final twist coming about 30 mins early, but what is shocking isn’t this plot development itself but the inevitability of it.

In summary, Deadgirl (2008) certainly isn’t a movie for everyone. Although I am somewhat weary of admitting it and despite the repugnant subject matter, this is a thought-provoking, brutal and meritorious genre film experience.

hotdog rating: 7/10

On Vertigo (1958)

This week, the BFI’s Sight and Sound poll awarded Vertigo (1958) the title of best film ever made. I just wanted to put my thoughts out there on this.

Vertigo (1958) is probably Hitchcock’s most personal film. The film is about deep-seated obsession, the art of voyeurism and the danger of unrequited love. We gather that Hitchcock battled these emotions all his life.

James Stewart and Kim Novak are convincing in their leads, but Hitchcock fails to ignite any empathy from the viewer for our film’s protagonists. In essence, Vertigo (1958) is a ‘cold’, slow-paced movie which is most interesting for its technical achievements (the so-called ‘dolly’ zoom for example) and some daring cinematography.

Compared to Hitchcock’s other masterpieces, Vertigo (1958) fares a little poorly. It lacks the athletic dynamism of North by Northwest (1959); the sordid atmosphere of Psycho (1960) and the ornate set-pieces of Strangers on a Train (1951).  All in all, the great director’s most private film is also one of his least-entertaining….