Archive for John Milius

Hamburger Hill

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-05-06-00h52m06s24

When I first began to read film reviews regularly, back in the eighties (gasp), a puzzlement was the high regard that (male) British critics had for figures like Clint Eastwood, John Milius and Walter Hill. A puzzlement because (a) the films didn’t seem to me to be that good and (b) the macho, what we would now call libertarian ethos (Hill & Milius I think called themselves right-wing anarchists) seemed like it would probably contrast fairly strongly with the politics and personalities of newsprint critics writing for The Guardian or The Independent or even The Sunday Times.

Allowing for simple variations in taste and that maybe I was just missing something, there could wel be a sort of nostalgia for the man’s-man drectors of the forties and fifties, who made some really excellent films, on which those critics were weaned. So maybe, if you’re starved on Ford and Hawks in the current releases, you would be more inclined to embrace Milius and Hill as the best available substitutes. But if the films are RED DAWN and EXTREME PREJUDICE, isn’t it a rather unsatisfying feast?

But having recently been blown away by DILLINGER, I get a better sense of the redeeming qualities of these gruff, cigar-chomping sociopath types. And Hill’s HARD TIMES, though not in the same league, is not bad. Handsome damn film, in fact.

vlcsnap-2014-05-06-00h51m23s132

Maybe there’s a weakness in the ending – basically bare-knuckle fighter Charles Bronson never loses a fight in the whole movie, which does eat away at the sense of jeopardy. Still, I felt undeniable tension at times. Maybe it’s not a question of jeopardy, so much as a feeling that if the good guys win, it neutralizes the title and robs the film of a sense of purpose. The all-round happy ending says “Everything’s fine!” in a way that bothers me. It ain’t CHINATOWN.

vlcsnap-2014-05-06-00h51m16s56

Still, the Coburn/Bronson voluble/taciturn double act is fine, and Strother Martin as “Poe” — supposedly a relative and certainly a fellow spirit of the famed writer — is a joy. Maybe Coburn is too cool to convince as, basically, a loser, with great dreams but a weakness for cards. Coburn is always effective on screen but not always complex — Peckinpah could muster some confusion and inner conflict, but I didn’t buy him as self-destructive here, except for plot reasons.

But I was impressed by how Melvillian it all was – Bronson in his hideous apartment with his stray cat – it’s clear that Melville was inspired heavily by THIS GUN FOR HIRE in which Alan Ladd gives milk to a cat, leading to Alain Delon’s canary in LE SAMOURAI. I wondered if Hill & co were also thinking of the milk & kitten motif in Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD, and given that James Coburn’s character here is called Weed, I think they probably were. What a complex interlacing of influences is at work!

vlcsnap-2014-05-06-00h50m44s226

LOVE Bronson’s apartment.

Public Anomie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h04m23s165

“You’ve got to have a good beginning,” Roger Corman told Scorsese as he prepared to shoot BOXCAR BERTHA, “because the audience wants to know what it’s about, and you’ve got to have a good ending, because they want to know how it all turned out. Nothing in between really matters.”

Scorsese would later call this, “The best sense I ever heard in pictures,” but at that time he was only able to fulfil the latter half of the success formula. BB opens with a really pathetic biplane crash (obviously an AIP feature could afford to crash a plane for real, so Scorsese cuts to horrified onlookers – he would make up for this in THE AVIATOR), but it ends with a cattle car crucifixion and a really dynamic shotgun massacre which has clearly been storyboarded and then executed faithfully – the wildest shot is the trackback POV of a guy who’s just been blasted off his feet by the shotgun. Compared to the bloodbath that climaxes TAXI DRIVER, it’s very cartoony, but effective. (And during the shoot, Barbara Hershey gave him a copy of Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.)

Scorsese’s struggle to maintain quality in his low-budget period romp is interesting to bear in mind when watching DILLINGER, which proved to be the best John Milius film I’ve ever seen. It never feels like they didn’t have enough time or money to do what they wanted to do, there are spectacular sequences (gun battles to beat HEAT) and beautiful shots, and not a bad performance in it – a considerable feet for a movie with scores of speaking parts, an inexperienced director, and a limited budget.

The very first shot (top) made Fiona cheer, and packs in more excitement and movie-star charisma than the whole ninety hours of Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES – and it’s all done with Warren Oates’ expressive kisser and impactful comicbook composition. The Oates countenance: a kind of tapioca mudslide, like the bags under his eyes decided to strike out and form a face of their own. Everything is yielding to gravity, as if only loosely fastened to the crumbly skull beneath, and yet there’s a contradictory sense of hardness and permanence that stops you from thinking he’s about to disintegrate and pool on the floor this instant. The impression is of a real tough guy who can kill everyone in the joint between cigar puffs, but who carries his own eventual dissolution wrapped up inside that bullish carcass.vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h04m44s149

Milius/Oates’ Dillinger is amoral, charming and forceful, just as he should be. I did feel the lack of a real love story — what’s missing is an intro scene to the relationship with Billie Frechette (Michelle Philips — the plain one from the Mamas and the Papas — who has a great rake-thin 1930s shape and a great 1970s slouch) — Milius admitted not being too great at writing women, I believe. Here the couple just slap each other and he tears her dress off, and it’s rather hard to read this as the beginning of a great love story or anything other than plain brutality. As with most Milius films, there’s greater interest in bromance.

vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h07m56s250

The real passion is between Dillinger and Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson), the G-man who was sworn to smoke a cigar over his bullet-ridden corpse. The balance between twin protagonists — a device Milius tried again in THE WIND AND THE LION — works well here because it helps stop the story being purely a glorification of Dillinger. Despite the horror of the shoot-outs, JM probably IS in love with his outlaw protag (going on his form elsewhere) but we get to opt out if we want. It’s necessary, I think, to like Conan, but it’s not necessary to like Dillinger — you can get away with just finding him interesting, a compelling problem for society to solve.

In one nice, mythic scene, Melvin Purvis fails to impress a small boy at a shoeshine, demonstrating that being a G-man is nowhere near as cool (or lucrative) as being an outlaw. Especially if the outlaw is called Dillinger and the G-man is called Melvin Purves. This isn’t enough to motivate the man’s later suicide, but it’s one note of unease more than Michael Mann thought to supply — in his movie, it’s a complete mystery why he chose to disclose this fact about Purves (a very minor nonentity in his film).

vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h09m47s73

Bonus Richard Dreyfuss, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis (that moustache actually normalizes his weird Hanna-Barbera head!), Cloris Leachman.

Kurosawa influence (see also CONAN) very much in view — Johnson walks into a house where a bandit is staked out, we hear screams and shots, and the bloodied perp staggers out and dies — NOT in slomo, however. Milius evidently felt there was a limit to what he could steal. That’s what makes him different from his hero, I guess.

vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h05m55s69

By Crom

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2014 by dcairns

conan

Caught the end of John Milius’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN on TV last night, a movie I saw when it came out. If my arithmetic is correct, it was an AA certificate and I was slightly too young. Saw it with my dad. I’ve seen bits of this movie on TV over the years but not the ending, because I usually decided it wasn’t good enough to watch. I still think that’s true, probably. (I’ve seen practically nothing of CONAN THE DESTROYER but am actually interested because it’s Fleischer.)

It would be ludicrous to say Schwartzenegger ever became an actor, but seeing him in this and RED SONJA (Fleischer again, and a favourite line reading from Ahnuldt, the casual, friendly “Yer sister’s dying,”) it’s striking how he just couldn’t do it at all to begin with: couldn’t say a line, couldn’t react, couldn’t move, couldn’t stand still.

Even accepting that, the film has problems — Milius’s Nazi fetish is apparent in the Riefenstahl firelight parade at the end, on a Fritz Lang set. Oliver Stone’s script was rewritten to heck by Milius, which is perhaps why, having offended Cubans (SCARFACE), Chinese-Americans (THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON) and Turks (MIDNIGHT EXPRESS), Stone’s barbarian epic wasn’t picketed by Cimmerians. But Milius has a problem of his own, and once you recognize it, everything he’s trying to do collapses like a camel — Milius is corny.

Compare his APOCALYPSE NOW script with what was filmed — Brando’s windy improvs are vastly superior to what was scripted, long, hawkish monologues that have the feel of being typed with Milius’s free hand while his other was busy down below. Incredibly, Milius practically steals Coppola’s ending, which Coppola stole from Jack Hill (spoiler alert) — Conan kills the evil ruler, the followers bow down to him, and the temple is set ablaze (as in some versions of APOC).

There’s also THIS —

conanthebarbarian8

Still, Milius’s film has a distinct personality — fascistic, bellicose, thuggish in its humour and humourless in its heart — which can’t be said for most modern fantasy films. And the modern guys haven’t looked at Kurosawa enough. Milius certainly has, and in addition is nutty enough to think he can actually BE Kurosawa. And why muck about with THE HIDDEN FORTRESS when you can muck about with THE SEVEN SAMURAI?

What I wish I could talk about is the reason the Ritz in Madrid to this day won’t allow filmmakers to check in. It has to do with Milius, and it’s a good story, but it’s gossip and I can’t prove it and it might be actionable. I find it quite believable though. Anyone else heard this one? I can only imagine the reason it doesn’t appear in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is that Milius was Biskind’s top informant and got an easy ride…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 519 other followers