Saturday, October 19, 2013

Walken in SCOTLAND, PA

If perhaps it seems like I haven't posted anything for a long time, that is because I've moved.

I've got my own place now.

Sorry it's taken so long to provide a signpost.

There's a lot more Walken-content to be found in my new home.

Here is where I can be found:

So come by and visit. Once you've arrived, make sure you 'follow' me, to ensure you know about a new post when I make one.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Last Embrace (1979)

Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: David Shaber
Genre: Spy Thriller
Duration: One Hour, 42 minutes
Other Actors: Roy Scheider, Janet Margolin, John Glover, Sam Udell
Similar Films: Notorious, Marathon Man, Three Days of the Condor
Movie in a Sentence: Harry Hannan (Scheider) was a top-notch American spy until he got his wife killed by accident, which brought on a nervous breakdown, but now he's out of the hospital and someone's trying to kill him and they're sending him death threats in ancient Aramaic, and his only friends are a cute graduate student (Margolin) who moved into his apartment while he was away, her college Professor boyfriend (Glover), and a mysterious old man (Udell) who is a member of a secret Jewish organization, but can he be trusted, can she be trusted...
Can ANYONE be trusted?

Scheider about to give the ol' knife-hand to a quivering Patinkin

MPAA Rating: This movie got an 'R' rating, and I'd have to agree. There's some profane language, a barrage of not-very-bloody violence, and a handful of nipple-shots, but really, the scene where Margolin has sex with a guy in a bathtub, pushes him under the soapy water and doesn't stop riding him until his death-twitches are over, that probably has to push it past a PG-13, right? It's so hard to tell these days.
FUN FACT: Margolin, Glover and Walken were in ANNIE HALL together, though they didn't share a scene. Glover was Annie's boyfriend (the one that wanted to die getting ripped apart by animals), and Margolin was one of Woody's girlfriends, the one that wanted him to join the party when all he wanted to do was watch the basketball game on tv!
My Score: I'll give it a 7 out of 10. Nothing about this film is amazing, but it does alright. It could have been sharper, tighter, better. But it's entertaining, and nothing about it angers me, so yeah, good story, if not a little silly, while taking itself very seriously.
Available to Own: Only on VHS! This is yet another of Walken's films that still hasn't made the leap to DVD. If you're curious, I'm keeping track of these as-yet-un-DVDed films through the tag 'VHS only'. I believe there will be about a half dozen of them all-told.

FUN FACT: Walken works with director Jonathan Demme again in 1982 in the short-film 'WHO AM I THIS TIME?' based on a Kurt Vonnegut short-story. A little something that any Walken-ite should definitely check out!

Should You Watch This? Yes, though I have trouble getting excited about it. It's right on the line between 'ooh and ehh.' You should watch it, but walk, don't run towards it. Lower your expectations and it'll be fine.
Walken Content: A single, isolated, two-minute scene. Just a wee little bit o' the Walken.  He plays Eckart, Harry's condescending boss at the Agency. Though it's short, it is a good little scene. Eckart chides Harry for demanding his job back after three months of "vacation". Walken wears these over-sized plastic-framed rounded rectangular '80s glasses in the beginning of the scene. And he sports a thin cop-moustache, looking a lot like he did almost 20 years later in NICK OF TIME (a fantastic film btw, but I'll get to that one later). Unfortunately, that is the last we see of Walken in this film.

Walken in The Last Embrace

Walken Quote: Let me set it up. Okay, so like I said, Harry Hannan goes in to see his old boss about getting some work. Harry keeps trying to smooth over the messy details of his last departure: why he left, how long he's been gone, etc. Finally, Walken can't take anymore of this:

            "Hannon, you had a breakdown. You were in a sanitarium.
                  It wasn't a leave [of absence] it was a breakdown. Why do you
                  force me say these things? Do you honestly think we'd send one
                  of our people up to a railroad station in Connecticut just to push
                  you under a train?"

Then he does this great thing: Walken flares his eyes at him, and then asks, "Okay?" in this I'm-cutting-the-malarkey kind of way. It's subtle, the eye thing, but it adds a nice touch of humanity to their encounter.

General:  This film seems like it wants to be Hitchcock, but it ends up looking more like De Palma trying to be Hitchcock. That is a distinction that doesn't kill it as a good film, it just helps to illustrate why it isn't a great film. I don't hate De Palma's films. He has his moments. I love 'Scarface' (the soundtrack is lame though) and of course 'The Untouchables', and I actually liked 'The Bonfire of the Vanities' even though that seems to be an unpopular opinion. But he's just so mainstream and, I don't know...flashy? Chintzy? Gaudy? None of those are the right word, but you get the idea. And not that I'm a huge fan of Hitchcock either btw. I think 'The Birds' (among others) is highly overrated. Whatever. I digress. It's a bit derivative is all.

But don't let me discourage you. There are a good number of scenes worthy of watching this for. There is a fun quick scene where someone chases Scheider through a park while a chill-looking dude kicks back on a park bench and plays some chase music on his ukulele.
George Hillman ukes it up
There is another scene where Scheider thinks someone is trying to push him under a train, so he almost drives his knife-hand through the jugular of Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), but he is stopped in time by the dad from Alf (Max Wright). Fun stuff.

There is another scene where the bad-guy cowboy from the 'Blues Brothers' movie (Charles Napier) attacks Scheider up in the belltower. Death by bells!!! 'Nuff said.

And then we have Margolin. The female lead. I don't want to ruin any surprises talking about what happens with her, so I'll just say that, like this film, Margolin has her moments where she shines, but she also falls flat at times as well. So. Just saying.

Despite some fun tangents, The Last Embrace mainly takes itself quite seriously, to its own detriment. It gets melodramatic at times, and never recognizes its own absurdity. For example, I thought it was funny that Scheider, the super-capable secret agent, spends the entire film garbed in a very dapper, very conspicuous all-white suit. Quite the urban chameleon, this guy. In fact, he can't enter a room without screaming at someone, manhandling a stranger, crying, or spilling hydrochloric acid on himself.

Excessive tanning may induce paranoia

Oh, and did I mention Scheider is friggin' crazy in this. He's intense all the time and he flips out at the slightest thing. He runs around looking funny, attacking anyone who looks at him funny. And also he's, well... He's a bit of a dick. Really. He's mean to everyone, including his "love" interest, which makes it a little hard to connect to him on an emotional or sympathetic level.

Overall, I think this can be a fun film experience, as long as you don't take it as seriously as they want you to. Twists and turns and colorful characters, oh my! I wouldn't have minded more Walken, big surprise, but the little that was there was solid. Enjoy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Director: Michael Cimino
Writers: Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn, Louis Garfinkle, Quinn K. Redeker
Genre: War Drama
Duration: 3 hours, 2 minutes
Other Actors: Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep, John Savage, John Cazale
MPAA Rating: This film is rated 'R' for Really-graphic-violence. F-bombs and shi-nanigans abound as well, but who gives a rat's abs about swears when the things you're seeing on the screen are so very disturbing. Enjoy!
My Score: 8 out of 10
Available to Own: DVD and Blu-Ray

Russian Footsie?

Movie in a Sentence: The Vietnam conflict affects the lives of a small tight-knit group of young Pennsylvania steel-workers, focusing mainly on the friendship of Michael (Deniro), Stevie (Savage), and Nick (Walken) as they survive the horrors of POW torture, and struggle with returning to the small-town lives they had before the war.  
Should You Watch This? Yes. This is a heavy, bloody, emotional film. Admittedly, it is over-long, and it does take a while to build up steam, but... wait a minute, what do you mean you haven't seen this?! Just watch it already. Really.
Walken Content: 65%.
Walken Quote: I wanted to find one isolated line from Walken that could stand on its own, but nothing seemed like a good fit. So I decided to go with a quiet conversation that Nick (Walken) and Mike (Deniro) share near the beginning, before their upcoming hunting trip and, of course, the war.

       Michael: I'll tell you one thing, if I found out my life had to end up
                        in the mountains I'd be alright, but it has to be in your
       Nick: What? One Shot?
       Michael: Two is pussy.
       Nick: I don't think about one shot anymore, Mike.
       Michael: You have to think about one shot. On shot is what it's all
                        about. The deer has to be taken with one shot. I try to tell
                        people that; they don't listen. Do you ever think about
       Nick: Yeah. I don't know. I guess I'm thinking about the deer - going to
                    'Nam. I like the trees, y'know? I like the way the trees are, on
                    the mountain, all different. The way the trees are. (beat) I sound
                    like some asshole, right?

This intimate exchange happens in the few minutes they have away from their loud and overtly boisterous gang of friends."One shot" refers to taking a deer down with only one shot, which is more than just macho posturing. Mike's insistence on one-shot reveals his respect for the animal he kills by inflicting a minimum of pain. There are all kinds of parallels you can draw between his "one-shot" philosophy and his impact on the rest of the film.

Nick doesn't care about any of that though. He likes the trees! We see a glimpse of the sensitive guy that Walken plays, the nature-lover that is irrevocably damaged by the horrors of war.

Pensive Walken
GENERAL: The Deer Hunter is a powerful film. There are numerous iconic moments of genius, like De Niro holding a bullet up to the Stanley-the-whiner and saying, "This is this. This isn't something else. This is this." and the multiple nerve-wracking scenes involving Russian Roulette, and De Niro making a bargain with the deer. This film is beautifully shot, painstakingly textured, and most of the performances are grounded in deliciously gritty realism.

On the other hand, it needs to be edited better. I know, I know: it won an oscar specifically for editing. I don't care. It's about an hour too long, and a lot of that hour is made up of tediously long shots of the local boys working at the steel mill, endless wedding celebration, and many shots that just plain went on too long. It adds up. And it slows it down. Sure, I get it. That's his style. The pace is deliberate. He's showing the community, establishing the norm, their jobs, before taking them to Nam and traumatizing them. I get it. I'm just impatient. And I think there is room in that film for a compromise, something closer to two and a half hours.

The awards and attention that Walken got for this film catapulted him into the realm of superstardom. The year was 1978. He won his first and only Oscar for his role in this film. Up until this moment, he was still unsure of his permanence as a film actor. Can you imagine, young Walken doubting himself, his powers, his place? But that little golden trophy meant steady work for decades to come. It was confirmation of the highest sort.

Mr. Walken had indeed arrived.

Walken in The Deer Hunter

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shoot the Sun Down (1978)

Director: David Leeds
Writer: David Leeds and Richard Rothstein
Genre: Western
Duration: One hour, thirty-three minutes
MPAA Rating: Someone gave this movie a PG. But I gotta say this is kind of a dark film for just PG. This is no children/family movie. The language is 'salty'. Margot Kidder competes in a one-woman wet t-shirt contest. And the violence is not muted, cartooney or distanced at all. It's right up in your face, close, jarring and bloody. Also, the main bad guy in this is the charming sociopath mercenary-type, a smiling bastard killing multitudes for profit and a giggle. I would feel more than justified in raising that rating to at least a PG-13.
 Available to Own: Only on VHS. Yup. Outrage. Scandal. I repeat: NOT released on dvd yet. Maybe it'll skip the dvd and jump straight to blu-ray. I'm not saying it's a perfect movie, but since when was that the criteria? C'mon Hollywood, get it digitalized. It's got stars. Thrills. Sex and violence. It's got a friggin' knife-throwing-cowboy Walken in it for crissakes! Put it on DVD. Just do it.

 Other Actors: Margot Kidder, Geoffrey Lewis, Bo Brundin

Lewis, in High Plains Drifter

FUN FACT: You may recognize Geoffrey Lewis from a plethora of other Westerns, as Eastwood's friend in a bunch of his later non-cowboy films, or more recently as one of the victims in Rob Zombie's THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, but what you may not know is that he is Juliette Lewis's father!

Similar Films: Stage Coach, Treasure of Sierra Madre, 3:10 to Yuma, The Dollars Trilogy

Movie In a Sentence: Mr. Rainbow (Walken) is a knife-throwing cowboy-type, wandering around Mexico in 1836 when he becomes intrigued by the plight of a young English lady (Kidder) who, unfortunately, is the indentured slave of an erstwhile navy captain (Brundin) who is now consumed with finding the buried treasure of Montezuma, an act which arouses the interest of the local filthy scoundrel (Lewis) who will stop at nothing to get the gold for himself.

Should You Watch It: Yes. It isn't a perfect film, I know, but (1) Lewis is suuuuuuch a bastard here, ya gotta see it. (2) Margot Kidder was adorable back then. For more convincing, please refer to the gratuitous bath scene. And the clincher (3) Walken is an unstoppable bad-ass. He survives getting tied to the desert floor and attacked by vultures. He brings a knife to a gunfight and wins. And he steals Superman's soon-to-be girlfriend. Boo-ya.

She doesn't believe you for a second. C'mon, don't kid a Kidder.
FUN FACT: Both stars of this film, Walken and Kidder, made their (arguably) biggest movies immediately after this one, Walken of course in The Deer Hunter, and Kidder as Lois Lane in Superman.                   

My Score: 8 out of 10. Geez, ehh I don't know, maybe '8' is too high. The editing is choppy. It's reeeeeeeally slow in parts. I'd be hard-pressed to say it's a "great" movie... But no, enough equivocating! It is good enough. I will stick with the ocho. And eight is great.

Walken thru the desert like the man with no name

Walken Content: High. 80%, an hour, whatever. He's in it. He's all over it. He is the romantic lead and it suits him quite nicely. His character is this great, laconic, troubled, cowboy, loner, anti-hero. He has his own code that he lives by, loves by -- and kills by!

Walken Quote: This is how he haggles a deal with the bad-guy when a four-foot solid-gold wagon wheel is on the line:

      " It's two against one. A three-day ride to Santa Fe. Under those
      circumstances you're dead. I'll even the odds for a quarter-share
      of the wheel."    ~  Rainbow

Walken doesn't need guns, he shoots the sun down with his steely-eyed stare.

FUN FACT: Originally, Walken was supposed to wear a pair of "colored" sunglasses (his character's name is Mr. Rainbow), but the director took one look at Walken in the glasses and said, "Forget it. They just looked weird, not cool or believable at all." But he still kept the name!

GENERAL: This film is an obscure little gem that's been all but swallowed by time. Practically no one's even heard of it, never mind seen it. And that's a shame. This is the kind of movie that doesn't get made anymore. The drawn out, quiet stretches of time that are punctuated with quick, savage bursts of violence.

Actually, no. I exaggerated. They do get made, but just not very often and they tend to fly under the main-stream radar. Two recent examples are Takashi Miike's 13 ASSASSINS and Nicolas Winding Refn's VALHALLA RISING, both are amazing films that share a common pace and tone with this one. Come to think of it, THE AMERICAN fits the bill too. So okay, they're out there, you just have to find them.

All of these films somehow manage to be both brutal and contemplative. Whether about samurai, vikings, contemporary hit-men or knife-throwing cowboys, at heart these are the patient stories of quiet men who possess quick bloody hands and are driven by a peculiar sense of honor that won't let them walk away from the fight.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Roseland (1977)

Director: James Ivory
Writer: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Duration: 1 hour 44 minutes
Availability: DVD
Genre: Drama
Nipples or Swears?: Nope, not a one; as PG as a lie to Mom
Actors: Geraldine Chaplin, Lou Jacobi, Teresa Wright
Similar Films: It's like one of those "mosaic" films that show a bunch of seemingly-unconnected dramatic situations and by the end you see how they're all connected into a bigger story, like MAGNOLIA, BABEL, NASHVILLE or AMORES PERROS. So it's like that, only in ROSELAND, the stories don't interweave and nothing exciting really happens.
Movie in a Sentence: It's three vignettes: The Waltz, The Hustle, and the Peabody, all about dancing, finding a partner, losing them, getting old, the fear of death, and somehow carrying on, all set in the Roseland Ballroom in New York City.
Should You Watch?: You could watch the Walken one, The Hustle, if you want. It wouldn't kill you, much. It's about fifty minutes long and it is fun to see him as a cocky young ballroom-dancing gigolo. The other stories in it aren't so much bad as they are slooow. And depressing. There are some charming moments, but, ugh! There's only so much lonely old people slow dancing to Lawrence Welk I can take.
Score: 6 out of 10. This film is mostly bad theater. Over-acted dramatic scenes that have no real payoff.
Walken Content: Of the fifty, count on a solid thirty minutes of Walken-ness. He is the lead in the second of the three stories. He dances a bit, but not as much as I expected, and even then, he never "hustles". So if you're looking for a young Walken doing some kind of Travolta/Saturday-Night-Fever-thing, then think again. This isn't that kind of movie. Now, if you really want to see Walken dance well, watch PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, where he has a small role playing a smooth-talking, tap-dancing pimp, out to recruit Bernadette Peters.
    In Roseland, he mostly does the waltz with a parade of catty, tacky-dressed, unattractive women. That is his function. He is Russell, a young former-dance-prodigy-turned-gigolo, torn between his attraction to the new girl, and the financial security of his aging, dying sugar-mama.

Russell, of the Hustle

Walken Quote: Here's a bit o' Walken puttin' the moves on a new Lady-friend. She's about to leave. He stops her. Him: I was looking forward to another dance. Her: Oh well I'm sure there are plenty of ladies who would be very happy to dance with you. Him: (without hesitation) They're not you, are they?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Annie Hall (1977)

Director: Woody Allen
Writers: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Duration: 93 mins
Available: on DVD
Genre: Cynical Romantic Comedy
Rated: PG
Actors: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Carol Kane, Shelley Duvall, Janet Margolin
Comparable Films: (500) Days of Summer, High Fidelity, London, Up In the Air
Movie in a Sentence: A neurotic comic analyzes his past relationship with a free-spirited woman, and by extension examines his life in general.
Should You Watch: Yes. You should. That's it. Just watch it.
RATING: I'll go 9 out of 10. It's quotable, wry, and annually rewatchable.
Walken Content: A mere minute and a half. But wowzers, what a memorable scene. Word on the street is that Walken got his role in The Deer Hunter because of this little monologue.
 FUN FACT: His scene was originally cut from the movie for "pacing"

Walken Quote:  "Can I confess something? I tell you this because as an artist I think you will understand. Sometimes when I'm driving on the road at night, I see two headlights coming toward me. Fast, I have the sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly head on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion. The sound of shattering glass. The flames rising out of the flowing gasoline."     ~ Duane Hall

General Thoughts: Classic Woody Allen. One of his best, surely. He's sarcastic, yet still tender. Self-deprecating but narcissistic. Such deliciously human contradictions for a misanthrope to embody. And the film is introspective but it never gets stagnant, it's always moving. That is why he can get away with moping around the whole time. This is such a high energy movie - even if it is mostly people talking.

There's always movement and conflict. Whether it's an invasion of spiders, the last-ditch escape attempt of lobsters, Annie driving insanely fast in traffic, or the cacophony that is Woody's childhood family, the audience is always being taken somewhere, so I never get impatient with all of the tangents and digressions that Woody goes off upon.

And then he's interviewing random people on the street and getting painfully honest responses. Suddenly he's been cartoon-ized and he's having a lover's spat with Snow White's Evil Stepmother. Always moving, always surprising.

From what I gather, this film is a bit biographical, both for him, and Diane Keaton (who played Annie). Supposedly, Diane's real name is Diane Hall and her nickname used to be Annie. Huh! Isn't that's funny! Also, her and Carol Kane (Alison Porchnik) have been friends since they were young. So. There's that.

Listen. Everyone knows this is a great film. I'm not saying anything new here. And Walken is perfection in it. Quiet, intense, barely contained, bat-shit-crazy perfection. Walken was given a tiny throwaway role, the crazy-brother-of, and he nailed it so hard that people are still talking about it thirty years later. Cheers.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Sentinel (1977)

Directed: Michael Winner
Written: Jeffrey Konvitz
Duration: 92 mins.
Rated: R. For sex and violence. I don't think anyone swears in it, but there is a plethora of bloody, gory scenes and a healthy number of nipples.
Available to Own: on DVD
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Actors: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Jeff Goldblum, Eli Wallach
Comparable Films: The Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby
Movie in a Sentence: The Gates of Hell is in an apartment in Brooklyn, and the Catholic Church wants a bored fashion model to be the next sentry, so they move her in and let the demons and ghosts convince her.
Should You Watch? Eh. Not seriously, no. It is unintentionally funny, though.
RATING: I'll go 7 out of 10, and I'm being generous because I like Burgess Meredith in this.
Walken Content: He's got maybe three minutes and most of those he's just listening to someone else. Move along, no Walken for you here.
Walken Quote: Nothing worth repeating.

An ancient, blind, albino, Catholic priest (John Carradine) stands silent guard at the The Gates of Hell, which just so happens to be located in an apartment building in Brooklyn. It's a nice place, really. Good neighborhood, close to the market, tastefully decorated. Too bad it's haunted by the ghosts of dead murderers, criminals and (gasp!) LESBIANS!! Yes, that's right: evil, monstrous, lust-filled lesbians.

Ahh! Oh, sorry, I thought you were Lesbians. Ahh!

Scary, right? This movie demonizes (literally! DEMONIZES!!) lesbians, and does it in this kind of offhand, casual manner, like 'Hello! Meet the Axe Murderer, Satan, and the Lesbians. Nice to meet you all.'   ... Well, it got a chuckle from me. And that's about the most response this late 70's horror film brought out of me, a chuckle. Sure, it was good in the way adequately "bad" movies are good: quotably awful lines, quirky characters, bits of 70s culture, and a parade of nudity, although it's not always a good parade if you know what I mean. It was interesting to see all the actors I recognize from other films, like the nefarious Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride, Clark Griswald's wife in the National Lampoon's Various Vacations, and Mickey, Rocky's cantankerous curmudgeonous trainer/manager. There are more, but why ruin it.

the creepy kind of nice
 But is that enough? Odd characters? Stilted lines? Nipples?

Perhaps if Walken had more screen-time I would be forgiving of the rest of it. Perhaps. But he doesn't. And I'm not.

Chris plays Detective Rizzo, a name we would not know if it didn't say so in the closing credits. Eli Wallach is the lead detective here, and Rizzo is just his shadow. Walken gets to bounce a few expository lines off of him, but nothing of substance occurs, nothing of notable charm. He wears a tie, he says a few words, and then he disappears, hardly a character at all.

Someone threw away a perfectly good Walken.

Rizzo, allegedly

I was going to talk about the horrible acting of the star, the vacuous Cristina Raines, and maybe segue that into an observation about the film's paternal and condescending attitude towards women, and its laughably Catholic outlook on sexuality, and possibly explore how those things undermine the attempt at scaring its audience.

I was going to, but the severe lack of Walken in this film has sapped my will to continue. You could watch this for Burgess Meredith's performance as the super nice but increasingly creepy eccentric neighbor. You could watch this for the brief scene where a mute, spandexed Beverly D'Angelo rubs one out to breathless climax in front of a shocked and flustered stranger. Pervert. You could be a Jeff Goldblum fan looking for his brief and bland role as a photographer. You could even watch this for Eli Wallach's Columbo-esque performance as the kooky but sharp detective trying to piece it all together before its too late. Or for the slimy skeazy sleaze that Chris Serandon slides upon so well.

Iocane powder! I'd bet my life on it!

There are other reasons, surely, but none of these 'parts' are quite compelling enough to warrant sitting through the 'whole' of this awkward mess. Watch it on fast-forward. Get medicated and/or drunk. Maybe keep a book nearby to read during the slow/dumb/confusing parts.

But don't bother if you are just looking for some more Walken. You'll just be disappointed.