Category Archives: Pop!

Review: The Producers

screen-shot-2014-02-03-at-5-04-54-pmMel Brooks turned a gloriously-still-kicking 90 years old this week, and as a happy birthday I’m sure he’ll never read, a review of his debut feature length film. 

With Mel Brooks’ directorial debut The Producers (naturally, the writer-by-day writes as well), his most hostile, and therefore best, gesture is to perforate and embrace the Borscht Belt fascination with the essential and unerring failure of life itself. Its mantra being the incompatibility of the self with any semblance of success, the film’s bent is that even in attempting to fail, the only possible outcome for the universe to right itself is for you to inadvertently succeed. And, naturally, fail at your goal of failing. It’s high-concept-y, but more or less to The Producers’ benefit, Brooks plays it all low-brow, helping the film’s philosophical scripture feel more  carnal and low-to-the-ground than presumptuous and high-minded. Continue reading

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Pop!: The Dirty Dozen

the-dirty-dozenA pair of reviews from a series last year I never got around to publishing…

The Dirty Dozen, a war film perched on the cusp of the New Hollywood and preluding the obstreperous cynicism of the 1970s, feels like a new breed of war film more akin to the nasty, capricious revisionist Westerns waiting in the wings of the late ’60s. The film, directed by low-flying Hollywood stalwart Robert Aldrich, insulates itself from the stodgy, antiquated chamber-bound quality of most anti-war films by inducing a feral fit that, in the final third, explodes into an outright anxiety attack. Although military cruelty is on the mind, The Dirty Dozen is hardly a courtroom drama; befitting its brusque title, it’s a grubby grotto of unmanaged anger that sands itself down sometimes not to detach itself but to express the dehumanized, dispassionate nature of war altogether. Casting Lee Marvin in the role of a military commander tasked with training a motley crew of reprobates and military prisoners to dismantle and destroy a Nazi high command party on the eve of the D-Day invasion, Robert Aldrich’s film casts a ghostly pallor over the so-called last moral war by threatening it with its own essential amorality. Continue reading

Pop!: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

ohmssA pair of reviews from a series last year I never got around to publishing…

Conventional wisdom places On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on a precipice of dueling expectations, both opinions belying the central duality of the film in question. On one hand, the supposed “first non-Connery” Bond picture is usually seen, not mendaciously I might add, as wanting for a little of Connery’s ice-cold charisma, like a film in search of a proper leading man. Not an inadequate statement on some fronts – the film’s copious one-liners really buckle without Connery’s silently menacing implications that they were naught but the last vestiges of brutal humor in a man devoid of humanity. As a counterbalance, we have the much-touted saving grace of the film: its thoroughgoing evolution of the Bond formula into the unsuspecting realm of character drama in the form of a new, brooding Bond and his burgeoning romantic relationship with Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg). Continue reading

Pop!: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

It does not take a historian to note how malnourished and jagged the late 1960s were in American society, or to point out the cataclysm that was the destruction of a nation whose identity had for centuries been predicated on turning the other cheek and smoothing over tension with a facade of nationalist fervor and small-town boot-strap pulling. Things erupted in the late ’60s, the nation fell apart, and film went with it, using that dislocation and terror to create a new breed of films that felt bruised and alienated and hurting from that social apprehension down to their very bones.
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Pop!: Planet of the Apes

Right from the beginning, Planet of the Apes settles itself on a nexus between tactile action and implacable inaction. The prologue, set on a spaceship as astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) throws his throaty baritone into a mission log, establishes the very 2001: A Space Odyssey sub-Kubrickian cosmic chill of the material. Taylor, along with Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton), are on an amorphous vision of an intentionally nebulous, even pointless nature; what matters is not where they are going or why, but the existential frostiness of the pallid white of the ship’s interior and the very present deadened quality in Heston’s worrisome but unconcerned voice.
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Pop!: Point Blank

Reviewing the quintessential Euro-cool movie of the 1960s gave me the idea to add on a little bonus review of perhaps the most European of the “cool American” films of the decade, a truly great work of experimental pop from the master of not deciding whether his film would be amazing or awful, John Boorman…

It is easy to reduce John Boorman’s Point Blank to its functional qualities. A man (Lee Marvin) is double-crossed by his partner-in-crime, left for dead, returns, and seeks vengeance on those who did him wrong. But it is the John Boorman secret that, generally, the quality of his films – and as we all know, a John Boorman joint is the definition of fulfilling a quality, be it positive or negative – was determined by his ability to strip his works down to their bare essentials. Generally, the more mired in screenplay complication and their own self-serving jargon-esque philosophical mumbo-jumbo, the more we arrive at trash like Zardoz and The Exorcist II: The Heretic. The more the screenplay was nothing more than a functional idea for Boorman to engage in pure, unmitigated craft, the better the film. And Boorman the startling, sleek, stripped-barren craft-person is one of the great modes of any filmmaker in cinema history. He lost his way time and time again, but he was always there with another genuinely great classic waiting under his belt. He just had to keep John Boorman the writer in line so that John Boorman the director could have a day at the races.
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Pop!: Le Samourai

First, a pre-review: An inherent bias precedes the Pop! feature here, a bias toward American film. There are a variety of reasons for this. The first, honestly, is that part and parcel with the feature is the idea that American pop was a curious beast during this particular decade, and that the evolutions in pop filmmaking are perhaps the only meaningful ones found in that decade of American film. Drama was a wasteland, and the Europeans and the Japanese were doing wonders with experimental cinema during the decade. As for the Americans, absurdism and non-narrative surrealism, and the larger experimentation with film form and storytelling that permeated from those world trends, were diluted into popular genre cinema for playful mass entertainment (mass entertainment being what America does best, after all).
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