Archive for James Caan

Blood Capsule Review

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2020 by dcairns

When THE KILLER ELITE started, immediately after the snazzy and even witty title sequence by Burke Mattson, I thought for a while I wouldn’t even make it through the thing. James Caan and Robert Duvall’s early scenes have an improv, overlapping quality, not in itself a terrible thing, but they seem awfully self-satisfied about how wackily naturalistic they’re being (they seem high, in fact), plus Peckinpah’s shooting and Tony de Zarraga and Monte Hellman’s cutting seem designed to keep us at a distance from the characters, everything is far away and fragmented, and the characters we’re evidently meant to warm to just seem obnoxious.

Gradually bits of the film start to feel like they’ve received the attentions of a screenwriter or three, Peckinpah seems to get his heart started, and some trace of sympathy for Caan is generated. He has to get shot multiple times for this to happen, which may give you a sense of what a jerk he is to begin with.The montage-like sequences showing his surgery and physiotherapy after having elbow and knee shattered by bullets are really good — barely any dialogue, the mumbly throwaway improv style starts to work, and it’s nice to see Peckinpah applying his fragmented style to something other than killing.

Gig Young looks drunk, and probably was.

When, surprisingly late in the action, Caan gets a Dangerous Mission, he brings in a couple of buddies, and the acting side of the film becomes a lot more engaging, because his team is Burt Young — a weird actor, pop-eyed and bulbous, who always seems completely real even though it’s doubtful any of us has ever seen anything like him in reality — and Bo Hopkins, a Peckinpah favourite, playing “the patron saint of manic-depressives,” a self-medicating maverick killer inexplicably entrusted by Caan with key duties.  Since the third act moral message of THE WILD BUNCH is “You never leave a man behind” it always struck me as odd that in the first act, the Bunch leaves Bo Hopkins as Crazy Lee behind, guarding the hostages, without a backward glance. Maybe it’s a deliberate attempt to undercut the mythologising, or maybe Walon Green forgot. It is also strange that my dear mother finds Hopkins so adorable and hilarious in his one sequence of that film, as he forces the hostages to sing “Shall We Gather at the River.” But then, Richard Widmark is her favourite actor.

Funny bit, when Caan is looking for some way of taking out a nosy cop, and asks what kind of kit Hopkins has. He’s told plastique, pistols, garrotting wire. “No, no, non-lethal.”

“Everything’s lethal,” shrugs Hopkins. The feeling is that this man could kill you with a wafer biscuit or a pair of pop socks.

It’s a trashy film with a few grace notes — an anti-CIA post-Watergate thriller could be, as Burt Y says, “Nice and necessary,” but not when it’s an overblown bloodbath celebrating hand-to-hand mayhem. Even Hellman’s fancy cutting can’t make the tubby Burt hurling ninjas off a battleship look convincing. Don Siegel’s memoir describes the creation of DIRTY HARRY’s final draft: they spread all the previous drafts over the office floor and picked the bits they all liked. TKE feels exactly like that, but you have to factor in egotistic actors making up their own lines, and the director being an alcoholic and cocaine fiend, and the extreme likelihood of clashes with the producers playing a part in the “process.” Plus maybe Heller’s experimental approach to the mountains of footage, which gives us the best moments, doesn’t lean towards cohesion. I swear one scene fades out with Caan trying out different line readings.

Whoever cut the trailer thinks that Mako is a girl.THE KILLER ELITE stars Sonny Corleone; Tom Hagen; Dr. Jeremy Stone; Crazy Lee; Admiral Yamamoto; Bed Bug Eddie; Quill; Marc Antony; Jimmy Chan; and SuperSoul.

The Sunday Intertitle: Brown is the New Black

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by dcairns

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The brown intertitles are one of the many reasons to be skeptical of Mel Brooks’ SILENT MOVIE, his least-seen movie from his seventies run of hits. There’s a lack of panache in the film-making (signature shot — zoom in, a bit too fast, on somebody, panning as they cross the cheap, barren set) and even a basic lack of care (establishing shot on New York is a photograph with a large smudge on it — I was waiting, and waiting, for a gag revealing it to be just a photo, but no — this movie was too cheap to buy a stock shot cityscape of Manhattan; shot of studio commissary sign, zooms out, briefly catches some extras standing in the middle of the steps, before an offscreen A.D. presumably yells “Action Two!” and they start moving…).

Some of the jokes don’t work, and some are the wrong jokes, and some aren’t even jokes at all — a man walks out of an acupuncturist’s with big needles in his back. And? It’s funny because it’s true?

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And the cast — Mel Brooks is a very enthusiastic performer (he grins a lot), and can sometimes magic laughs up out of sheer exertion of that enthusiasm. But he’s not a visual comic. Marty Feldman is funny looking, alright, but his Harpo Marx lechery here comes off a bit creepy. And Dom De Luise is basically used for fat man jokes.

The best jokes tend to conceptual jokes, deploying words, as when Brooks cusses out Feldman for his ungentlemanly approach to a beautiful woman, clearly using strong epithets, and the intertitle bowdlerizes it (“You bad boy!”). It’s a silent movie whose heart is real gift is for verbal humour.

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It’s a huge relief when Burt Reynolds shows up. Yes. Because Burt, it turns out, has a gigantic flair for slapstick and silent playing (strong hints of this in his work for Bogdanovich), and he has a comic character to play that’s fully worked out — a self-parody that destroys the dignity of the Burt Reynolds brand so conclusively that your respect for him actually goes up. In his short bit, he plays an inventive series of variations on the theme of self-love, and there’s an endearingly stupid gag with a steamroller.

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The other guest stars are mostly very good too, which is a relief since Harold Gould and Sid Caesar are compelled to overact uncomfortably. Bernadette Peters is a great cartoon character with a kind of silent movie look, but there’s no writing to help her get a character going. (I had forgotten Barry Levinson was a writer on this — I guess that kind of explains TOYS, which would otherwise be an entirely mysterious anomaly in his career).

A lot of the best jokes involve signs — I could certainly do a “Things I Read Off the Screen in SILENT MOVIE” post. If your best jokes involve signs, perhaps you are not the right people to make a silent comedy.

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Marcel Marceau bit is pretty great. It doesn’t require the audience to love mime. Again, the movie breaks character in order to do a spoken word joke, but it’s a good one.

The movie is oddly likable, even though you cringe as much as you laugh. A minute or so of three men in suits of armour trying and failing to join Liza Minnelli at a refectory table is enough to redeem any number of failed jokes involving carousel horses shitting wooden blocks.

Bad End

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2015 by dcairns

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Ahah! The Forgotten is postponed to next week, it seems, due to the extensive Berlin coverage at The Notebook. Meanwhile…

Finally watched EL DORADO, which a lot of people portray as being a thoroughly inferior copy of Howard Hawks’ earlier Wayne western, RIO BRAVO (they share a writer, Leigh Brackett, but she kept warning Hawks that he was repeating himself — he didn’t care). I found it very enjoyable. Wayne is Wayne, a little older (visibly struggling to mount his horse, but bizarrely elegant crossing a room and kicking an opponent); Mitchum is Mitchum, which ought to make him a worthy substitute for Dean Martin, but the role is less well-crafted; James Caan is a huge improvement on Ricky Nelson. Arthur Hunnicutt subs for Walter Brennan, as he often did, most skillfully. Angie Dickinson is replaced by a couple of women characters who don’t get much to do — westerns didn’t seem to allow Hawks to push his heroines as far into one-of-the-boys territory as he could manage in other genres, although I bet h could have had fun with a JOHNNY GUITAR scenario if anyone had encouraged him. A LOT of fun.

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“How will you get down?” Wayne is asked, when the injured gunfighter proposes riding into battle against impossible odds on a cart. “That’s easy, I’ll fall down.”

We also get strong support from Ed Asner, R.G. Armstrong and Christopher George, who could have had a very good career if confined to bad guys. He’s really not appealing as a hero, though it probably doesn’t help that the two leading man roles I’ve seen him in are THE DELTA FACTOR, a horrible Mickey Spillane thing that nearly did for director Tay Garnett, and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. Here, he’s an amoral professional, not viciously evil but willing to do anything for a buck: Wayne’s character treats him with wary respect (which is to say he kills him as soon as he gets a chance).

The very end is somewhat muffed, though, with the expected romance shoved offscreen and the laid-back conversational coda between Wayne and Mitchum ineffectually stretched across two scenes. They’re both nice scenes, but they’re kind of the same. Makes me wonder if Hawks were ever good at endings? He didn’t care about PLOT, famously. I slightly cringe at HIS GIRL FRIDAY’s fade-out (don’t want it to end on Rosalind Russell crying) though I love the rest of it as much as you’re supposed to, maybe more; RED RIVER, by the very nature of its story, has to cop out at the end to avoid becoming a tragedy; I can’t actually remember the ending of THE BIG SLEEP, though I expect it’s a clinch or at least a sly look between the leads — as Manny Farber points out, that movie creates so much goodwill in its first four sequences that it can coast along for the rest of its runtime without worrying about producing anything specially memorable.

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So, a question for everyone: what are the classic movies you love which don’t quite work right at the end? And not for reasons of studio interference, but because the writers/directors got it wrong. I’ll kick things off with this one and MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. When it played on TV, its screenwriter, Sidney Buchman, would switch it off before the failed suicide bid Capra added for extra weep value. I think he’d have been far better having Jimmy Stewart wake up and learn he’s won — we may be able to figure out for ourselves that would happen, but wouldn’t it be more emotional to SEE it? Still find it extraordinary that the film ends with the hero unconscious.

Let’s hear from you!