Monday, March 26, 2012
All, right, I’m going to go all out and post all the remaining paintings at once. This is turning out really well...the pics look pretty swell all blown up when you click on them. Here goes...
Remember, in the last installment, there was a picture of a Nightmare? Well, the first picture here shows a whole mess of them. Zorachus has a huge fight with them.
The picture with the frogs riding other frogs is called, unsurprisingly, Frogriders. These guys show up right at the beginning of Killing Brother Forty, the Third and final volume of Flaming Sword.
The second and third pictures show a big pseudo-parrot named Interpreter Bird. He lives with a bunch of good Nightmare-like creatures called the Jugglers (that’s them behind him in the third painting), and he translates for them.
The fourth picture shows the trilogy’s mightiest monster, a flying napalm-dripping leviathan who’s so big you can see him from orbit. His name is The Ourak-Huroum, and if the other monsters haven’t gotten you, he probably will.
The next to last picture is of Brother Forty. He’s the angel responsible for the creation of organic life, and he stands at the threshold of the Garden with his freaky flaming blade, although he’s always present in the rest of the canyon as well. Generally, he appears to be a cranky old hermit (if there’s a movie he should be played by a Bollywood actor named Naseeruddin Shah), but he’s not even remotely human...the picture shows him just beginning to transform into something very very strange.
The final painting shows a creature who guards the southern wall of the Shuddering Mountains. He has orders to kill anyone who comes in, but will let you pass if you’re on the way out...
I’m going to paint a lot more of these things...I’ve sold all of these...I’d like to do an art book called One Hundred Monsters from the Khudah Darya. What do you think?
Friday, March 23, 2012
Okay, I just saw a midnight show of The Hunger Games. I’ll admit right up front that I never read the book; also that I came to the flick with a real axe to grind. You see, there’s this murderous Japanese movie from 2000 called Battle Royale, and when I saw the trailers from Games, I said to myself, this looks like a giant rip-off of that....and it is.
Now just because something’s a ripoff, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be bad. But doing a good ripoff of Royale would be a pretty tall order. It’s an absolutely amazing piece of work...hard to believe that something so visceral and ill-tempered was helmed by a guy in his seventies, namely, Kinji Fukasaku. The movie was so in-your-face ferocious that it never even got a US release, even on video, until now...somebody’s come up with a US version to cash in on Games, which is only Goddamn effing fair, since Games isn’t a patch on Royale. It doesn’t have any teeth, and it’s slow enough to let you think about the premise (and a lot of other stupid shit besides), whereas Royale had the sense to throw you into the horrible thick of things pretty quick.
The central conceit in both films is that kids are being forced to fight and hunt each other to the death, Most Dangerous Game style, by evil adults. In Royale, this is happening because Japan sucks in the future, and kids are getting increasingly rowdy in school, and these nasty tournaments, held on an island, are a ploy by the government to make the kiddies behave. Now, that’s just kinda wacky...I don’t know why anyone would do that. But as I said, we get to the killing right quick, and the carnage is so persuasive that you find yourself forgetting about how senseless it all is.
In Hunger Games, we’re in some sort of strange alternate future America called Panem, where a big revolt was put down, and all the various districts have to send a girl and a boy to slaughter and be slaughtered in the titular games. Why they’re called the Hunger Games, we never find out, although that sort of stuff doesn’t bother me too much...why is Straw Dogs called Straw Dogs, anyway? I am bothered by consistent vagueness and arbitrariness, however,...and this flick relies heavily on both. The future is a ridiculous mishmash of goofy costumes, hair-styles, and awful production designs, unleavened by a lot of special effects that aren’t any good. The movie really looks like ass...the photography sucks. Everything is fully lit and there’s a whole whole lot of shaky-cam, which has got to be the most tiresome cliche in cinematic history. Among other things, it makes all the shitty production design look even shittier, and it neuters the action sequences.
The story has young Katniss(?) Evergreen (Jennifer Lawrence) taking the place of her little sister when the latter is picked out in the Hunger Games Lottery...Katniss winds up being shipped out with her male counterpart, Peeta(!) Mellark, (Josh Hutcherson), who has a secret crush on her. They come under the wing of a Hunger Games vet (Woody Harrelson), who’s been assigned to show them the ropes so that they’ll put on a better show. They get to the capitol and engage in some ridiculous training. At one point, Katniss is presented to a bunch of upper-crust assholes, whereupon she shoots the apple out of their roasted pig’s mouth. The audience seemed to think this was just great, although I found myself thinking...why would the assholes allow this chick a clear shot at them with her bow? Moreover, all the powers that be decide her behavior is really swell...puzzling.
There’s a bunch of puppy love between Katniss and Peeta which slows the film down...it seemed like it was nearly a hour and a quarter or so until we finally got the running around. And even though the film really dragged up till that point, there were a whole lot of premises which weren’t established...do the Games take place under some kind of dome? Do the bad guys hem the kids in with actual forest fires, or are the forest fires mere illusions? Can the bad guys just project matter into any point in the arena? Can they generate giant evil pitbulls out of nothing?
All the stupidity is televised, of course...which is sheerly ludicrous, about as dumb as that stuff with the cameras salted about in the jungle in Tropic Thunder. At least that was a comedy, though. In this flick we’re asked to believe that there are cameras literally everywhere (because that’s what you’d need to televise the running around), including airborne shaky cams which follow you or fly on ahead, looking back at you. There isn’t even a stab at rationalizing things. But I don’t think the braintrusts behind this mess even realized they had a problem. Some of the silliness is real James Fenimore Cooper stuff. At one point, our heroine has to climb a tree to get away from pursuers. They have bows and arrows, but they can’t shoot her for some reason. One of them tries to climb the tree and fails because he's holding a sword, although he could've just shoved the sword into his belt. The baddies fall asleep under the tree in full view of our heroine. She doesn’t try anything because she falls asleep too. When she wakes up, she still doesn’t try anything, even though the malefactors are still asleep. Then her attention is directed (by a cute little sympathetic black girl) to a giant wasp’s nest---full of genetically altered wasps--- which she somehow hasn’t noticed before. Katniss decides to drop the nest on the sleepyheads by sawing---with the serrated top of her Rambo knife---through the branch it’s hanging from. Even though she’s only about two feet from the nest, the wasps let her saw through four inches of wood. Eventually the nest drops and the wasps do a number on her foes, but you really have to wonder why they didn’t do the same to her...and so on.
The action is repeatedly interrupted by young love, and when it does happen, it’s miserably directed by Gary Ross. His sole idea about action direction seems to be shaky-cam, and he uses it much less skillfully than most guys who wallow in it. The fights are generally hard to follow, and the climactic fight is the worst. There isn’t any good violence, and the material cries out for it. Ultimately there’s some arbitrary twaddle about the guys who run the games changing the rules to let our young lovers escape, then changing them back, then changing them back again...
I did like some of the North Carolina locations, however.
Bottom line...watch Battle Royale. It’s fast and real ballsy. You’d be vastly better off with Apocalypto, too. Or this Korean flick which I just watched called War of the Arrows. There’s also too much shaky cam in it, but it’s much better employed, and the film truly rips, and there’s a ton of bitchin’ Manchu armor...
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
I hope you're enjoying these, because I'm going to pitch eleven more at you.
That first pictures shows one of those big Crocodilian Hogs, being hunted by Chiselteeth, which are pack-hunting predators who have long nasty teeth sticking straight forward from their mouths...they run at their prey real hard, drive their teeth in, then bounce back. You'll notice they have padded upper lips.
The second picture shows Tyanyo-Ne, who could be described as a subarctic ninja woman...she's buddies with Spear of Terror, and they're riding on Hero Eel, Spear's "Big Brother," a giant talking otter.
Painting number three shows the chief of the evil otters, Scorpion Head, so-called because he wears a live scorpion as a headdress.
The fourth picture shows a Nightmare. What the hell these things evolved from, I don't know. They start off small, but grow as long as they live, putting on extra arms. There are zillions of them, and they're extremely vicious.
Okay, here are some more Flaming Sword Critters.
In places where side canyons meet the big canyon, monstrous tree-like herons take up position on either side of the tributaries and try to pick you off...that first painting shows a couple.
The second shows Spear of Terror, a talking miniature otter. There are a lot of talking otters in the book. Some are good, some are bad. Spear poisons his enemies with a powerful hallucinogen.
After hooking up with Spear, two of our protagonists are threatened by a horde of giant crocs who run on their hindlegs. In the canyon, crocodilians became the dominant reptiles, and the birdlike and mammal-like critters evolved from them.
Which brings us to the Demoniac Hog, which you see in that fourth pic. Some other good guys decide to cut across the headlands above the main canyon, and they meet this pseudo-mammalian behemoth, who’s very hard to put down.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
I was just at an Sf convention called Lunacon...sold a bunch of paintings that illustrate stuff from my unpublished novel Flaming Sword....posted the first chapter of that a while ago. Anyway, I thought you guys might like to see some of the art; over the next few days, I'm going to post eighteen or so pictures. Click on 'em, and they get much bigger.
Re the book, it's the latest installment in the Zorachus series; it involves an attempt by some really demented bad guys to invade an alternate-universe Garden of Eden and make themselves gods. The Garden in question is located in a vast canyon ringed by The Shuddering Mountains---that's them in that first picture---and the passes are guarded by some pretty freaky fauna, such as the Slotbeast, who's that fire-drooling curled-up fella in the second picture. The third painting shows an Antlerbeast, a creature who guards her young with a hutlike canopy of horns...
Monday, March 19, 2012
Hey, this is just a test...wanted to see what the blog would look like with more than one new image...The wierd picture is my visualization of The Dunwich Horror, and the girl is my model Hanna...if this works, more art soon.
Both these pictures are for sale, by the way---$250 plus shipping.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Okay, so I just got back from a midnight screening of John Carter. There was practically no one in the theater. Not a good sign, although I think it has a lot to do with the totally half-assed sleepwalking ad campaign that the numbnutses at Disney dreamed up. I never saw a trailer for the movie on TV or in the theaters. The posters were boring, downright terrible, never gave you the slightest idea that the movie's a great big creaturefest, and that there's quite a bit of good epic violence, and that there's a whole lot of dishy Lynn Collins on display. Nope, it was almost as though someone had decided they weren't going to spend any more money on the film, and they might as well just about bury it.
Well, it's going to be a real pity if the franchise dies at the gitgo. The movie's not perfect, but it's a whole lot better than any of those latter-day Star Wars abortions, or godawful crap like Transformers. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I've been lusting for a proper John Carter movie for most of my life. I grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs, used to read three Burroughs novels a day (they were short, I didn't get any sleep, and I used a flashlight under my blanket), and this flick strikes me as the first genuinely Burroughsian movie ever made. Yeah, it takes a bunch of liberties, but some of them are a good idea...most of all, it propels you into an vivid alien world cooked up by one of the master imaginations of fantasy fiction. Like L. Frank Baum, Burroughs was an idea guy par excellance, and the film really capitalizes on that. There are, of course, all sorts of idiots out there who are complaining about a lack of "freshness," but of course, Burroughs was plundered by just about everybody. Moreover, there's a bunch of stuff in the movie that you really haven't seen before. The Thark hatchlings and Woola pretty much justify the price of admission all by themselves.
The titular character, played by Taylor Kitsch, is an ex-confederate cavalryman who's war-weary but nonetheless loves to fight...yep, the characterization is rather incoherent. And we do have to wade through some lame Indian-fighting stuff before Carter finds himself in a weird cave where he's transported to Mars, the reason for his going hence rather stronger here than it was in the source material.
Once he gets to Mars, or Barsoom, as it's known to its inhabitants, things pick right up. We get a ton of splendid Utah scenery, and pretty much everything with the Tharks, giant tusky four-armed green barbarians, is very cool. Woola, the aforementioned Martian doggy, is just great. Willem Dafoe aces his voice and mo-cap duties as Tars Tarkas, the Thark chieftain. Tars is inclined to help our hero, while his evil rival, Tal Hajus, is not; the green guys have no love of the red Martian humans, but get enmeshed in their feuds when Princess Dejah Thoris, fleeing a forced marriage, is rescued in spectacular fashion by Carter, who, it turns out, can leap real high and has all sorts of super strength because Mars has weaker gravity than earth...so it goes. There is mucho running around, occasioned by the plotting of some mysterious guys called the Holy Therns, who are led by Matai Shang, chrome-domed Mark Strong. Seems the Therns have been controlling everybody's destiny throughout the solar system, it really needs to be stopped, and Carter's just the guy to do it...
As I recall, in the books, the Therns were purely Barsoomian phenomena, running a vile religious racket, but having them extending their reach to other worlds does allow for a certain tightening of the story. The very end of the film, involving a young Edgar Rice Burroughs, who's been reading his uncle John's diary, is particularly satisfying. A lot of the other writing is less good...the dialogue is standard at best, and the characterizations could be better...they are, however, much better than anything turned out by Lucas lately. Also, I must say that I didn't care for Kitsch(!). He's just sort of dull. On the other hand, Mark Strong (who seems to be in every movie coming out these days), is effective, and a strong villain is, if anything, more important than having a compelling hero. Lynn Collins is luscious and charismatic in bitching red bodypaint; Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, and James Purefoy are solid. Some of the action scenes, notably, the fight with the white apes in the arena, are excellent; one, the battle with the Warhoons, could've been absolutely classic if hadn't been intercut with a bunch of senseless flashbacks. There are a couple of expository sequences where the film just stops dead, but it gets going again.
I wouldn't bother with the 3D, if I were you...I saw it in 3D because I had to, and I didn't care for it. I think 3D is generally a bad idea, because it's unrealistic and darkens the images...it's even worse when it's applied as an afterthought, like in Clash of the Titans, or this. When I go see the movie again, in 2D tomorrow night, I expect I'll enjoy it a lot better...for one thing, it does have those amazing Mormonland locations (the Fisher Towers, Caineville Badlands, Onion Creek, Lake Powell), and they were all muddied up in the version I saw. I'm sure even Lynn Collins would look a whole lot better without 3D, and she's pretty hot as it is. As for the direction, Pixar vet Andrew Stanton is at his very best dealing with the animation, and some of that, as with Woola and the Warhoon battle, is just amazing. He's less good with the people, but what the Hell.
In short, I had a good time, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie again, and I hope we get another installment. The second Barsoom book, Gods of Mars, is maybe Burroughs's masterpiece...it's got a lot of his very best invention, the first hundred and twenty pages are a marvel of sustained action, the bad guys are horrific, and the end is a mind-blowing cliffhanger...actually, if you’ve never read the Mars books, you should just go out and get them.
It may be a long time before we see a good ERB adaptation again.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Last night I was talking to my firned Nick Prata, who was complaining that he couldn't find Part One of my Top Twenty Gangster list...well, it turned out that I wrote the damn thing, but forgot to post it, so I'm posting it now. If you want to go looking for Part Two, it's way back in the archives, October 12, 2010...the archives thing is down on the right in the sidebar, by the way. I just noticed it, duh.
Anyway, here's Part One.
Howard Hughes made some real badass movies. Hell's Angels might be ill-constructed and thoroughly obsolete in a lot of ways, but it's full of aerial-combat stuff that nobody ever saw before, and no one's seen since, a screen swarming with actual WWI fighters, which are actually crashed, after being sprayed with actual bullets...there's even a scene where Hughes seems to have talked one of his actors to take an actual bullet in the back (I presume the guy was wearing a vest). Well, the approach in Scarface was similar...Thompson submachine artistes hosing things down with real bullets, just missing the actors, splintering glass and tearing walls right the hell up. The whole thing is much more violent than other gangster films of the period, and features some pretty funky subject matter, such as incest...the movie was made (I think) in 1930, but wasn't released till '32, because of censorship issues...even so, this was pre-code, and it's pretty strong stuff. Paul Muni is sly, charismatic, and frightening as Tony Camonte, a hood loosely based on Al Capone...the supporting cast includes Ann Dvorak, George Raft (whose coin-flipping because iconic gangster behavior), and Boris Karloff. Howard Hawks was the director, and really made his mark...he's the guy who said, of Sam Peckinpah, "Hell, I can kill ten guys in the time it takes him to kill one." That mindset is very much in evidence through most of Scarface...the movie's fast, efficient, and does everything it needs to do in about ninety minutes. It only falls down at the very end...Camonte wusses out after his sister, who he's in love with, is shot by cops. In that respect, the '32 version is inferior to the Pacino Scarface. But up till then, it's all gold, with lots of real bullets doing what they really do...
2.High Sierra 1941
Humphrey Bogart had been on everybody's radar since Petrified Forest, and got a lot of gangster work with Warner Brothers, usually playing second-fiddle to Jimmy Cagney, but with High Sierra, he really came into his own, cementing his reputation with Maltese Falcon later in 1941, and ultimately, Casablanca. Sierra was co-written by John Huston, one of his drinking buddies, working from a novel by W.R. Burnett, who'd also written a lot of Scarface. Raoul Walsh, who went on to helm White Heat, which I've already cited in my villains list, was the director, and the whole thing benefited from his characteristic brisk professionalism. Add in a bunch of great California scenery along the east wall of the Sierras, and you have a big stick of cinematic dynamite.
Story is classic sympathetic badman stuff...Bogart plays Roy Earle, a Dillinger-like Indiana bankrobber (they even make him look like Dillinger) who's served his time, and heads west at the behest of "Big Mack," a gangster kingpin who's relocated in California. Mack wants Bogie to sign up for a heist in some fictitious resort that's based on Tahoe or Palm Springs or someplace. Anyway, while Bogart's setting up the robbery, he falls in love with a pretty crippled girl (Joan Leslie) who strings him along until he provides her with enough ill-gotten gains to get her an operation. When he realizes he's been had by her (she's got a slimy boyfriend who isn't a lovable criminal like Bogie), and finds out he's been slapped with the nickname "Mad Dog," (you feel genuinely bad for him) he pretty much decides he's had enough of life. Refusing to be comforted by poor Ida Lupino, who truly loves him, he heads for the hills with every cop in California on his trail, and finds himself way up in the white jagged granite, pinned against the cliffs of Mount Whitney, barking defiance and spraying typewriter slugs at the fuzz as sharpshooters close in from above and behind. By the time a bullet sends him sliding hundreds of feet to his death, you really care about the luckless doomed bastard...and Ida lupino...and even the dopey little poochie who eventually precipitates Bogie's gruesome end...
Actually, maybe not the pooch.
3.White Heat, 1949
As I said, another Raoul Walsh gangster classic.Standout performance by Jimmy Cagney, which I go on and on about in the villains' list. But what struck me the last time I saw it was the tone...we're past WW II now, the Cold War's already on, and Warner Brothers has gone from propaganda to some pretty noirish stuff. Cagney's Cody Jarrett ain't Roy Earle...he's a profoundly twisted man who loves his mom way too much, and he gives the very real sense that all the evil in the world hasn't been vanquished, even if Hitler has. In fact, the movie closes with a mushroom-cloud oiltank apocalpyse which seems to suggests where the world might be headed. Certainly the meanest gangster movie since the Muni Scarface, and it ends on a much stronger note.
4.The St. Valentine's Day Massacre 1967
Just recently they had a slew of Roger Corman movies on the pay-per-view, and I wound up watching every one. I saw most of them in the theaters when they first came out,and the rest I caught up with fairly shortly on TV; I remember seeing St. Valentine's Day massacre at the Arnold Theater in Pt. Pleasant Beach, NJ, and me and my teenage buds were just thrilled with it, afterwards putting on our dads' hats and carrying black Thompson squirtguns, and pretending to be gangsters. Later on, while my wife was going to grad school at Notre Dame, and we were getting Chicago TV, we watched the movie one Valentine's Day (they always show it on Valentine's Day in Shytown) and we decided we would eat our February 14 chocolates and watch SVDM ever afterwards...
Like most movies that Corman actually directed, it's really quite a good job, and its presentation of the massacre and the events leading up to it is pretty close to the facts, although the movie leaves you with the impression that the Northside Gang was finished when it really wasn't---they answered right back with the Northside Massacre, among other things. Jason Robards hams it up something awful as Al Capone, and doesn't look anything like him---Capone was really porky, and in his late twenties at the time. But the movie has a wonderful supporting cast including Ralph Meeker, George Segal, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson (he's such a wop bastard that he rubs garlic on his bullets!), and Dick Miller, and it zips right along. For the first fifteen minutes, it's non-stop murder and bullet-holes, including John Agar as Dion O'Banion getting popped in the head right in his flower shop! The massacre's pretty satisfactory too, and is followed by the banquet where Capone gives double-crossing Valentine gunmen Anselmi and Scalisi a baseball bat dessert.
What more could you ask?
5.Get Carter 1971
I grew up on dingy, nasty British movies about everything in life utterly sucking, and Get Carter is a frontrunner in the UK shittiness sweepstakes, as well as being one of the truly great Limey gangster movies. It's got Michael Caine (one of my favorite actors)as a venemous London hood who finds out his brother has been murdered in grey, grimy, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and decides to find out whodunnit, and settle 'em. In the process, he uncovers some awful truths that just make him meaner...and heaven help the hapless blokes who get in his way. Carter describes one of these fellows as having eyes like "piss-holes in the snow," just before he bashes the guy's brains out with the buttstock of his shotgun. The movie's vastly superior to the Sylvester Stallone remake, by the way. Directed (very effectively) by Mike Hodges, the guy who did the De Laurentiis Flash Gordon.
See Harry Brown by the way. It's somewhat like Gran Torino, but much much uglier. There will always be a shitty England, thank God!
I've made no secret of my admiration for John Milius's work, and here you have him as screenwriter and director. American International had been having quite a bit of luck with gangster flicks, some of which had been directed by vets like Roger Corman (Bloody Mama), others by newcomers like Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha). Milius was selling scripts at the time to the likes of John Huston and Sidney Pollack, so AIP decided to let him do this Dillinger movie. It features god-man Warren Oates (if you haven't seen Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, drop everything and do it this instant)as the master bank-robber, and the equally godlike Ben Johnson as his FBI nemesis Melvin Purvis. Purvis was actually a youngish guy then, not a rugged ole John Ford regular, but what the hell; Johnson lends so much gravitas and sheer awesomeness to his role that he actually manages to counterbalance Oates's work.
Story covers Dillinger's capture and imprisonment, breakout, and his formation of the "Super Gang," which includes Baby Face Nelson (Richard Dreyfuss), Pretty Boy Floyd (Steve Kanaly), Homer Van Meter (Harry Dean Stanton) and Harry Pierpont(Geoffery Lewis). Everybody's armed with wonderful guns and vintage Milius dialogue, and when the shootin' starts, it's vicious and choice. These are some of the best-staged gun-battles Hollywood's ever turned out, and as it just so happens, there's a bunch of genuine history sprinkled in, including the last words of pretty Boy Floyd. For what it's worth, the demise of Baby face Nelson is a tad toned down...you should look up the real story on the web. In short, though, Dillinger is a wild, hilarious, blood-drenched celebration of bank-robbers and the guys who kill them...forget about that solemn, mournful Johnny Depp thing. How on earth do you manage to make a boring John Dillinger movie?
7.The Long Good Friday 1980
Another top-notch English gangster movie...strikes a very different note from Get Carter. Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a London hood who's got a lot of money sunk into riverside development along the Thames...he also wants to encourage foreign investment, and to that end, he's invited a bunch of American mobsters to scope the situation out and see if they want to lay down some greenbacks. But just as he's preparing to receive the Yanks, his men start dying and his pubs start exploding. Before long, he's completely at wit's end...nobody seems to know where all this is coming from, especially since London's crime scene was well under his control,or so he thought. He pays some visits, hauls some guys in and hangs 'em from meathooks...nothing. But it turns out a creepy little lieutenant of his, who's in charge of his Belfast operations, decided to double-cross the IRA...and they assume Harold was behind it all, hence the carnage. Pretty sure the Provos won't accept his excuses no matter what, he decides to take them on, even as he's squiring the Americans around London...ultimately, he sets up a sit-down with the bog-trotters at a demolition derby, then fills 'em full of shotgun pellets...problem solved.
Or so he thinks.
The Americans don't like what they've seen...they pronounce Britain to be a Third World nation, and tell Harold that london is "fuckin Beirut." As they're heading out the door, he blusters about the Dunkirk Spirit, then shortly afterwards, gets into his limo, only to discover that his driver (and the guy on the seat next to him) have been replaced by Belfast boys. The final minute and a half, with Hoskins squirming and thinking about what he might've done different and what's going to happen to him, under the flinty gaze of a young Pierce Brosnan, is one of the most chilling sequences in film history, ever. Friday was directed by one John McKenzie who I don't know anything about...Hoskins receives tremendous support from Helen Mirren, who's as sexy as all get-out and plays his mistress, who's smarter than his character by a long shot. At any rate, it's rather a pity that they replaced Mr. Hoskins with Robert De Niro in The Untouchables...Hoskins looks a lot more like Capone, and in my opinion, would've been a shitload more believable.
8.The Godfather Saga 1981
You may have wondered where my head was at when we got through the 70's without me mentioning Godfather and Godfather 2. After all, they're most everybody's favorite gangster epics. Well, the 1981 version of the Godfather Saga is the way I prefer them...this is the edition where the two movies are combined, everything in chronological order. It's also, unlike the previous network TV version, uncensored. And even though I liked Godfather 2 better than Godfather, I could never get quite comfortable with the intercutting between the Michael Corleone 1950's stuff and the young Vito material. Yeah, I know that the two strands are supposed to comment on each other, with Vito's relatively-sympathetic exploits casting a harsh light on Michael's progressively more awful descent into evil. But it's hard to keep the first film out of your mind...and part 2, in its original form, is kinda bisected by it, even though the first movie isn't really there. It just hampers the flow.
It's all very cool looking...wonderful use of chiaroscuro. The performances are uniformly great, and it's easy to see why the films were such a springboard for Pacino, DeNiro,Caan, and Duvall (although Duvall had been doing wonderful work at least as early as To Kill a Mockingbird). I'm not the world's biggest Brando fan, but he's just what was required as the older Vito. Francis Ford Coppola's direction is masterful, Mario Puzo's screenplay from his own novel (with an assist from Coppola and an uncredited Robert Towne) is one of the best adaptations ever, and Nino Rota's score is pretty damn haunting.
I do have some gripes though. The movie's legendary violence is rather ineptly handled in spots...the makeup effects by Dick Smith are fantastic, but Coppola tried to do some very complicated stuff, couldn't figure it all out, and it shows. You'll notice that in the scene where Sonny gets riddled, you don't see many squibs going off on him...that's because, without CGI, it was damn hard to synchronize entrance and exit wounds, let alone bullet-hits where the shots went through and hit something else. They also tried the sequence with blood-pellets...I saw pictures of this...didn't work either. The synchronization in the scene with the guy in the revolving door is also terminally messed up, because they're trying to line up squibs on the victim with holes in the door, and all the effects are mis-timed. Also, in the scene where the guy and the girl are machine-gunned under the sheets, there are quite a few very gory squibs that don't have anybody's body under them.
An interesting side-note...there's this French gangster movie called Borsalino (with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon) which attempts similar very complicated stuff, particularly in a revolving-door machine-gunning, and does it very very successfully.
Yeah, yeah, I've got too much time on my hands.
But back to The Godfather...
I also think that the movies invest the gangsters with way too much sinister glamor. Yes, in the first flick, a bunch of Michael's murders are intercut with a baptism, and in the second flick, Michael murders his own brother. But you're always rooting for the Corleones, because they're just so effing cool...
9. Scarface 1983
I much prefer Brian DePalma's gangster movies to his Hitchcockian stuff, and this is my favorite DePalma, although Carlito's Way comes in a close second. This movie is kind of the anti-Godfather. Just look at the differences in the visual style. No shadows here, as I believe DePalma pointed out. Everything is brightly lit, and the color scheme is all hot tropical hues and pastels. Also, the movie isn't somber. It may be nasty, but it isn't somber. It's loud, crazy and funny. It got a lot of bad reviews from critics who just didn't seem to get the vibe...it's a black comedy, even though the color black isn't in much evidence. Yeah, there's some serious stuff, but I was laughing my ass off a lot of the time. If you watch the scene where Manolo sticks his tongue out at the bikini babe, or the Octavio scene, or the "hey meng, you gotta a job" scene, or the Pelican scene, and you don't laugh, there's something wrong with you.
Movie's a remake of the Howard Hawks flick, but it doesn't really have anything to do with Al Capone. The pace is much slower than in the original...it sure isn't crisp. But you spend a lot of time with the characters, and you know what, the characters are better. Pacino's Tony Montana is much more fleshed out than Muni's Camonte, and he goes out in a technicolor blaze of gangster glory that makes the end of the first movie seem really wimpy. Moreover, the De Palma version boasts a very scary new character, the Bolivian druglord Sosa (Paul Shenar), who's much higher up in the food chain than Tony and nearly made my villains list...just didn't have enough screen-time. Both the female leads, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, are luscious, and Geiorgio Moroder's score is fabulously trashy...I particularly like "Take it to the Limit," the song that's on over the money-counting scene.
Love that damn counting machine!
10. A Better Tomorrow 1986
My favorite John Woo movie is A Bullet in the Head, which seems to have started out as a kind of a prequel to A Better Tomorrow; but even though Bullet's got gangsters, it turns into something rather more like a war movie. On the other hand, ABT is the grandaddy of all the ultraviolent Hong Kong gun flicks, the slaughterfest that put Woo and Chow Yun Fat on the map. Produced by Tsui Hark, it took HK by storm, featuring Chow as "Mark," a gangster who lights his cigarettes with hundred-dollar counterfeit notes...he wears a long trench-coat, and in 1986, every Hong Kong guy and his uncle had to had to have a "Mark Coat." I think it would be fair to say that Woo established his trademark style with ABT; it's an amalgam of Peckinpah, Walter Hill, and Jean-Pierre Melville...several of the gunfights, notably the "flower-pot" sequence, are absolute classics.
Story involves double-crossing and mucho gunplay in the funny-money trade. Mark and his friend Ho (the great Ti Lung) work with Shing (Waise Lee), somehow not noticing what a scumbag he is...matters are complicated by the fact that Ho's brother Kit is a cop who doesn't know his sib is a wiseguy. Shing sets up a deal in Taiwan and sells Ho out...Ho winds up in prison...he comes out to find that Mark, who's crippled now, has lost a lot of face, and its working as a mere gofer-gimp for Shing, who's taken over the gang and humiliates him constantly. As should come as no surprise, Mark and Ho team back up to bring Shing down; Kit, whose reputation has been ruined by his relationship with Ho, decides to redeem the family honor by going after Shing too. It all gets resolved with a whole lot of splattery wonderful slo-motion violence down by the waterfront.
Waterfronts really need to be banned.
As I said, the movie was wildly successful, and spawned two follow-ups, three if you want to count Bullet in the head. A Better Tomorrow Two was a profoundly unnecessary and ridiculous sequel in which Mark, who was killed in the first film, is replaced by his twin brother, who's given to tonguelashing gwai-los with bizarre rants about the spiritual importance of rice...the climax is pretty cool, though, one of Woo's best action sequences...it's on a TV in the background in True Romance. Better Tomorrow III was a prequel directed by Tsui Hark, takes place in Vietnam, and stars Chow Yun-Fat and Anita Mui; it seems to have been Hark's version of the material that wound up in Bullet, and while it's better than ABT 2, it's kinda dull.