Thursday, March 16, 2023

THE LADY WITHOUT CAMELIAS (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953, Italy)


Clara is a wilted flower, a fragile expression broken like soft petals that drift slowly to the ground, trampled into cold hard earth. She is betrayed be those she loves most, transformed from woman into a commodity of supple flesh, a celluloid heroine as stable as camphor and nitrate under fire. Director Michelangelo Antonioni subverts melodrama by transposing the expected with the ambiguous, creating tragedy from sentimentality.

Clara walks a thin white line in the soft rain while her identity is projected onto a silver screen, fearing audience reaction to her bit part in a spurious and forgettable production. She eavesdrops upon those leaving the theatre, defining herself by the loose talk of strangers like a smeared reflection upon a wet dirty street. An overnight success, she is soon bullied into a regrettable marriage and forced to adopt a submissive role. Her wealthy producer husband seethes with jealousy and dominates her life; as she smothers Clara struggles to breath. Soon she is in a brief encounter with a playboy but fails to recognize it as such; he spurns her even as she divorces her husband.

Antonioni transcends the Italian soap opera by placing Clara in this precarious nexus of subjective and objective identity, where love becomes a gilded cage and desire can set her free. Antonioni adds flesh and blood to the characters, people with complex reactions driven by human needs and lonely fears: the husband is controlling and often unlikable but reaches his own epiphany, a sublime understanding that eludes our heroine. After his suicide attempt, seemingly a mere theatric, he accepts their separation but doesn't harbor hatred for Clara...and he has some right to. The playboy is caricature and superficial, his intentions obvious to everyone but Clara who remains occluded, chasing a shadow or a dream. Antonioni sets this internal crisis amid the film industry where the difference between people and their reflections is vague, and Clara can only see through a lens darkly, unable to find her place. Antonioni's mise en scene often depicts Clara amid portraits of famous actresses (like Garbo or Bergman) and even one commentator spurns her performance in comparison to Dreyer’s angelic Falconetti. Clara is trapped between her desire to be an A list actress and B movie cheesecake.

Clara becomes an extra in the movie of her own life, never finding the right part to fit in. She remains trapped between reels and reality, moving at 24 frames per second.

Final Grade: (B+)

Tuesday, March 7, 2023



Claire escapes her congested life of materialism and embarks upon a great adventure from one end of the world to the other. Director Wim Wender’s ultimate travelogue mixes science fiction with a film noir detective story and adds a healthy dose of familial melodrama into this celluloid potpourri. With the world on the brink of annihilation from a rogue Indian satellite, whose radiation could contaminate the Earth if shot down by the United States, Claire begins her own nihilistic journey towards oblivion. She leaves her cheating boyfriend Eugene, a novelist whose words have become more important than living, and encounters bank robbers and a fugitive scientist named Sam Farber: a man who has stolen a device that will allow his blind mother to see once again.

Filmed in 1991 but set in the future of 1999, Wender’s set details and technological innovations are laudable with the foresight of GPS and laptop computers, digital cameras and web cams, years before their practical use. The set designs of a world gone mad with the dance of the dead, a population who thrives upon the momentary breath of life that could be extinguished any moment, of infrastructure falling into disrepair scrawled with physical graffiti, must have influenced Alfonso Cuarón’s CHILDREN OF MEN. Claire becomes enamored with Sam’s predicament and follows him while Eugene and a private detective continue to stalk them. They finally end up in the desolate Australian Outback, deep in a cavern after the nuclear fallout whose magnetic pulse could have destroyed the world. Sam is slowly going blind as he helps his mother to see, utilizing a device invented by his father: Sam is desperate for his father’s love and respect but it’s Claire who invites salvation.

Wender’s film is about the power of the individual, as she and Sam become addicted to their own electronic dreams, and yet are able to detach themselves from these currents and reach independent goals. It is also about technology and its usefulness…and destructive powers. The surreal dream imagery evokes the spirit of Edvard Munch’s works, like a silent scream of torment. Meanwhile, Eugene narrates the film in retrospect, and we finally understand that he is writing the film from a good old-fashioned typewriter during his stay in the Outback, his insights and observations revealing more about the characters than they themselves acknowledge.

The excellent cast invigorates the script with powerful performances from William Hurt, Max von Sydow, Solveig Dommartin, Sam Neil, Jeanne Moreau, and a host of others. Sometimes the dialogue is a bit stilted and languid, falling like prose upon a blank page: that is, they often speak like characters in a book…but this could be explained by the fact that the film is Eugene’s novel in progress, a story created letter by letter as it speaks with metal teeth of an anachronism, whispered through a writer’s mind. The beautiful cinematography brings this fictional future to vibrant life, and the powerful soundtrack underscores their desires that float on ethereal wings. Finally, Claire reaches for the Heavens and becomes guardian of a toxic Earth that is healing itself…much like her own damaged but fiery spirit. 

Final Grade: (B)

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

CROSSFIRE (Edward Dymtryk, 1947)


The nation’s capital becomes a battleground between the rule of law and racial intolerance, as the disease of racism threatens our very Democracy with holocaust. Director Edward Dymtryk and his DP J. Roy Hunt elevate this B-film to A+ status by deftly handling the actors, pacing, low-key lighting and compositions and tell this virulent story with brutal style and suspense. Hunt’s photography is reminiscent of the Pre-Code style with long takes and two-shot framing of dialogue. Thankfully even the use of over-the-shoulder compositions is limited allowing the story to unfold unfettered and with a gritty realism. This is a film edited by composition meaning that each shot is meticulously staged and blocked which prohibits easy post-production censorship. This film is fucking great! 

The story concerns the death of a civilian and the three soldiers who were the last to be seen with him. The opening shot reveals large shadows painting the wall with violence and two figures fleeing from the crime. Identification is impossible. When Capt. Finlay shows up, the story becomes a whodunit before switching to a psychological “whydunit” as then the final act is a conflict of probable cause. The film offers some valuable subtext regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (though the term wasn’t coined in 1947) as these soldiers are WW2 veterans attempting to adjust to civilian life after years of bloody combat. They have become ghosts shimmering in the haze of alcohol just to remain “normal”, haunting bar after bar afraid of returning to the world they knew before the war because it just doesn’t exist...if it ever existed. The comradery of the soldiers, their bond welded together by the fire of combat, is nearly unbreakable yet Finlay must pull the seams apart to solve the murder. Even the title of the film is suggestive of combat. Though never used as excuse, this post-war disillusionment possesses Mitch and is the red herring during much of the film, offering his sweating and confused psychology as potential intent for the murder. But its Monty’s casual racism dropped like surly adjectives without thought that intrigues Finley. Montgomery is an outlier, a man whose best attributes may be loyalty under fire but an egoistic bully in “real” life disliked by all. His racism isn’t hyperbole, spewing hatred and bigotry like a Sunday sermon, it’s casual like saying good morning to a smiling stranger: this makes it so much more disturbing! 

The acting is superb from the three Roberts and the angelic (the fallen kind) Gloria Graham. She inhabits her character with such earnest pathos she steals every frame she’s in. Robert Montgomery as the pipe smoking investigator, relaxed yet discouraged like a man who has seen it all and doesn’t want to see it anymore more, balances his character perfectly. Robert Mitchum and his sleepy-eyed demeanor is dour and pessimistic yet seems well adjusted. And Robert Ryan may have the most difficult role as the pejorative antagonist because if he plays it too heavy it skews the film towards parody, yet his steely gaze is like a riffle barrel and his soft voice wounds like shrapnel: he earned his Academy Award nomination! 

This is a great film about racism and its deleterious effects both physically and psychologically not only upon the individual but an entire nation. Here in Washington DC Finlay witnesses another Nuremberg Trial and sentences accordingly. 

Final Grade: (A+) 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

SON OF SAUL (Laszlo Nemes, 2015, Hungary)


"Son of Saul is a fiction in many respects, but the fiction is the truth." – Claude Lanzmann

Saul Auslander has been reduced to a drone, a Sonderkammando who has become the hand of the Nazi killing machine, bled of his empathy, compassion… and hope.  But does he still retain his humanity?

Director Laszlo Nemes has crafted a masterpiece by pulling focus so tightly that we experience almost everything solely from one limited perspective which eschews all Holocaust tropes.  Nemes and his DP Matyas Erdely set the frame limits at Academy ratio 1:37:1 and forbid any establishing shots. There are very few medium long shots and when the camera pans left or right it quickly focuses once again upon Saul’s visage. The depth of field is so limited that we never quite focus upon obviously horrific events. Nemes refuses to exploit the Holocaust: there are no lingering close-ups of piles of bodies, overt crying and wailing victims or murdered children in red jackets. All of these things (sans red jacket) exist in this film but are rendered as routine and peripheral.

Nemes like his protégé Bela Tarr utilizes extreme long takes and a roving camera often following his protagonist from behind while walking or running. Erdely masterly frames everything in close-up to medium close-up even while Saul is in motion. And the entire film is in motion as Saul constantly moves and works, unable to stop for fear of being singled out for execution. As powerful as the imagery is (even the images we tangentially perceive) it’s the sound design that is the building block of the realism. Dozens of disparate languages and dialects haunt the film often without a visual source. Or the chugging of arriving trains or the ventilation system of the crematorium as it pumps out the fatal pesticide. Neither the crack of gunfire nor the rumbles of explosions are exaggerated and even the awful scene of flamethrowers burning victims alive has a subdued brittle realism. This is an anti-Hollywood film. This is an anti-SCHINDLER’S LIST film.

The film opens out-of-focus until a character (who we learn is our protagonist) walks towards the camera and stops in close-up. Without an establishing shot it’s chaotic and confusing and difficult to tell what is happening. This becomes the structure for the entire movie. But we soon understand that Saul is shepherding a new trainload of Jews to the crematorium. As he helps these confused victims undress and neatly hang up their clothes and organize their belongings, we begin to directly experience the cruelly efficient Nazi killing apparatus: most victims believe this to be a shower and are encouraged that they will come back out to retrieve their belongings. When the crematorium door is closed and the generators thump to life we don’t hear as much as feel the bulk of the dying victims crushing one another, pushing towards the door, climbing upon each other in a gruesome frenzy to survive. We only see Saul’s blank expression as he stands by the door waiting to pull out the corpses and load them onto the elevators towards the ovens. And here is the vilest evil of the Holocaust: in making the victims complicit in their own destruction.

Nemes refuse to condemn or judge Saul or any other Sonderkammando; he is only depicting the acts. He is humanizing the Jews in these “Special Units” without making any excuse for their behavior or allowing melodrama to intrude for an emotional reconciliation. Saul remains quite impassive and difficult to read. Nemes underscores this at the very beginning of the film (even before the opening shot) when the text states that the word Sonderkammando is a German word. This divorces their title from Jewish authority: that is, they are labelled by the Nazis and have become what they have been forced to do.

The plot of the film is beside the point. Saul discovers a boy who briefly survived the Zyklon B before being murdered by Joseph Mengele (who is never explicitly named). He believes that this dead boy is his son. He is driven by the need to bury this boy with a Jewish ceremony and keep it from the ovens. We wonder if it is indeed his son as other prisoners dispute this telling Saul, he never had children. In the face of this seemingly unending tragedy, we also become curious as to why this one act is so important to him. Saul’s search for a Rabbi drives the narrative but these motivations are not the focus of the film: Nemes wants us to see how this film is about the Holocaust not what happens (because we know what happens as we know what Saul’s fate must ultimately be). Nemes creates tension about a potential revolt and the need of a smuggled package, but our expectations are once again subverted.

Saul is among a group of prisoners who escape the camp but are tracked down to a decaying barn in the middle of a forest. The group-speak promises to join the Polish Resistance and continue the fight against the Nazi tyranny but Saul is focused upon one thing: the ghostly child tentatively framed in the doorway. And in a striking departure the narrative exits Saul’s perspective, and we follow the child running through the woods until he’s grabbed by German soldiers. Pushed aside, the child runs through the thick woods as gunshots echo in the distance. Saul has met his death with a sublime smile, his humanity somehow intact.

Final Grade: (A+)

Saturday, February 4, 2023

TOKYO DRIFTER (Seijun Suzuki, 1966, Japan)


Tetsuya is a samurai hit man who values duty above all else, trying to walk the path of enlightenment through the dark night of his soul. Seijun Suzuki’s absurdist neon noir is a pantheon of trite clichés deconstructed and stripped bare, revealing a narrative element that glows like a noble gas. 

Suzuki dismantles genre expectations in the very first reel, beginning the film not in black and white (like a “serious” noir-ish melodrama) but in a blown-out monochrome, bled of all color. The anti-hero Tetsuya is introduced as a victim of a rival gang, as he seemingly allows them to pummel him into physical submission. We soon learn that loyalty kept him from fighting back, as his master Kurata attempts to go straight and place the life of crime behind them both. Of course, this becomes impossible so thus we have conflict and a plot involving a property deed worth millions and egos worth their weight in souls. 

Suzuki’s twisting plot threads weave a syncopated narrative tapestry, like a torch song missing random key notes. The use of disorienting jump cuts streamlines the anecdotal economy, disallowing extraneous character development as the viewer is expected to understand by proxy. In one scene, Suzuki instigates a daring rescue as Tetsuya saves his femme fondue from a rival gang with an adrenaline car crash…only to cut in the middle and reveal the two of them at a local arcade, with no reference to the previous action. Suzuki takes us from point A to C with few establishing shots or movement during the films 82-minute run time. 

Drenched in big neon glitter, the anti-hero traverses Tokyo’s brothels and Western style clubs with stylized transitions, set designs flooded in Day-Glo colors that seem to merge with actual location shots. This duality creates a surreal and dreamlike world for Tetsuya to wander, and the quicksilver action sequences are like James Bond on acid. Both maddeningly brilliant and beautiful. Suzuki ends the film with a betrayal leading to a white-hot oblivion though Tetsuya always remains true to the one thing that matters most. Himself. 

Final Grade: (B+) 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

TAKE AIM AT THE POLICE VAN (Seijun Suzuki, 1960, Japan)

A Corrections Officer is paroled from his job after a murderous attack, his moral compass leading him into the violent convolutions of the criminal underworld, inhabited by those who rarely deserve Justice but are often condemned by it. Seijun Suzuki populates the film with absurd and stylish characters that confound genre conventions and revel in the idiosyncrasy of his outlandish plot: he rewrites the noir formula and pours a new concoction onto the quicksilver screen, his alchemy the magic of transforming the mundane into the magnificent.

Suzuki begins the film through a sniper’s scope, foreshadowing the conflict but also breaking the fourth wall: a warning aimed directly at the audience. The clues to solve the deepening mystery (a mystery that doesn’t yet exist!) are revealed in the opening shots: a lonely lady dressed in shadows, a name exhaled onto glass, and a bubblegum chewing sniper. Suzuki deftly creates a typical escape sequence as prisoners are being transported in a van, but it soon becomes as assassination attempt…but against whom? Daijiro is a Prison Guard who treats the inmates fairly and with respect; he is the van’s driver who is suspended because he didn’t prevent two prisoners from being killed. He accepts his temporary suspension with a sense of humor, imaging it as a vacation, and never questions the decision of his superiors: how the hell was he supposed to prevent an ambush?

But he’s consumed with a sense of Justice and soon wanders the dark side of corrupt Japan, experiencing crime from the perpetrator’s perspective and being dragged into a police dragnet. Daijiro falls in love with a beautiful ’businesswoman” and potential assassin: unlike Cupid, her bow and arrow brings death. Through a series of false leads and fake deaths, fistfights and gunfights, flaming gas trucks and speeding trains, Daijiro finally sees his reflection in seedy eyes hidden by dark shades, and moral bottom line balances in the blood red.

Final Grade: (B+)

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH (Akira Kurosawa, 1946, Japan)


Yukie’s gentle hands once danced upon ivory, a brisk stroll through Mussorgsky’s Exhibition, but now she tills the fields of despair and torment. She and her two admirers, Itokawa and Noge have become a triumvirate of crushed flowers, floating upon the currents of fate...but offering no regrets for their actions. Akira Kurosawa walks the razor’s edge of political dramaturgy and stark melodrama but successfully hones his narrative point because he doesn’t judge, he is only concerned with the effect upon the naïve Yukie, daughter of Kyoto professor Yagihara who is removed from his prominent position because he opposes war.

The film begins innocently enough with a student picnic in the mountains, as Yukie flirts with both her admirers, and soon the staccato rhythm of gunfire echoes through the valley. Yukie jumps to her feet proclaiming she loves the sound of machine guns…and Kurosawa then cuts to their shocked expressions and slowly pans down to a dying soldier shivering in the tall grass. Suddenly, revolution is deadly lead and not just wooden prose. Kurosawa utilizes a magnificent five-year match cut from drunken Kyoto college students mumbling songs of protest to the same students marching as soldiers singing violent national anthems.

The film’s core is experienced through Yukie’s perceptions, a girl who has grown into a woman: she spurns Itokawa who becomes a successful Prosecutor for the State and yearns for Noge, who is in prison for his beliefs. But Yukie doesn’t hate Itokawa, she doesn’t judge him for his polemics, she loves Noge for himself: she makes no political statement and only wants to accept responsibility for her choices…because they’re hers to make. Kurosawa declares the contradictions of youth, evident in Yukie’s quicksilver moods, but she eventually must learn independence and live for herself. She marries Noge who is executed for treason, and she takes it upon herself to visit his expatriated elderly parents and fulfill her familial duties.

Kurosawa shows that there are no winners in extremist creeds for both the Japanese government and the farmers are ignorant and brutish. Yukie and her in-laws are maltreated by the locals to the point of starvation and death…but she endeavors to persevere. With their rice crop destroyed, Yukie’s bloody hands began to plant each stalk one by one, and this spiritual seed grows in her elderly father-in-law, a man who has given up on life, until her powerful spirit rekindles his pride. After the war, Noge’s actions are vindicated and he is now a hero, and Yukie visits her wealthy parents, but her calloused hands are now strangers to the piano. So, she returns to Noge’s family and lives a life of her own design…without regret. 

Final Grade: (B)

Wednesday, December 28, 2022



The King is dead. Long live the King! J. Lee Thompson casts a dark shadow upon the fourth film in the Ape franchise, an infusion of fear, paranoia, and repression where minorities, unable to access equal rights or the rule of law, stage a violent revolt and destroy the destroyers…thus ensuring their potential salvation will result in their own annihilation. 

The film’s premise is explained in the first few minutes: Armando saved the child of the time traveling hominids Zira and Cornelius, an evolved great ape that could lead his taxonomic family to enslave the human race (explained in the previous film). For the past twenty years, this ape was thought dead until an excited utterance reveals the truth: the world is inhabited by lousy human bastards! Now, apes have replaced domestic pets as objects of affection, and their superior intelligence (relative to dogs and cats), has cast them as servants and slaves. Caesar witnesses the barbaric cruelty levied against his kind and leads a bloody revolution, his crown a ring of fire, and spits his venomous curse towards all humanity for he is not born of man or woman, and he must set his kindred free. 

Once suspension of disbelief is successfully suspended (for all the apes other than Caesar are of the mundane type), the film is ripe with spoiled morality that urges violence as not only the means…but also the end. A film that refracts its time through the prism of social upheaval, echoing the screams of innocent students murdered at Kent State, or those beaten and ridiculed because of their race or religious (and non-religious) belief, capturing the frisson of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where law only existed for those with Power. 

The film in its original cut is brutal. Caesar leads in a frenzy of violence, without recourse to the Rule of Law as this is his species only hope of freedom, however temporary. The Governor is nothing more than a racist caricature, scowling his way through the film, and his assistant MacDonald, a black man, is the subdued voice of reason, a man who cannot subscribe to this wholesale slaughter. Anger breeds anger, the knife leads to the gun, the gun to bombs, until extermination rests in the hands of madmen. In this version, the Chimpanzee Lisa is unable to utter the compassionate plea for mercy, and Caesar commands his legion to batter the Governor to death. His fiery rhetoric inflames his minions and is the spark that burns away the old to make way for the New World Order. Like all Dictators, Caesar better watch his friends closely. 

Final Grade: (B)

Friday, December 23, 2022

PLANET OF THE APES (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968, USA)


The modern family of Hominidae or Great Apes consists of orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees…and humans. From the nuclear ashes of the Forbidden Zone a new higher primate evolves, ruled by a Theocratic tyranny whose absolute power is contained in the sacred scrolls of an imaginary god. This Oxymoronic society condemns Scientific Heresy with imprisonment or the death sentence, punishment passed by the supreme Lawgiver Dr. Zaius without recourse to proper Due Process or Appeal. This religious government will hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil; this is faith at the cost of reason. 

This society is doomed without the appearance of the “Anti-Ape”, a talking human named Taylor, who ignites the fires of censorship and repression. Why not use his knowledge to create new vaccines, advance medicinal science, to prolong the quality of life, to be the architect of a new age of Enlightenment? This culture is already violent and askew, their technology used for better weaponry and mastery, the gorillas like an elite Nazi SS police force, with their jackboots and Billy clubs: Dr. Zaius is the Architect of Fear, he holds power by keeping others powerless; he is the true heir of the 21st Century. Taylor represents the bottom-rung of the topsy-turvy evolutionary ladder and in this madhouse discovers the inexorable Truth, the iconic image of a twisted and misshapen Lady Liberty, shackled forever in a rocky tomb, her torch doused by the atomic apocalypse: he is home. 

We must suspend our disbelief to enter the narrative’s vortex; for example, the apes speak English, evolution from Homo Sapiens’s common ancestry would take millions of years and not the few thousand the story professes, and I can’t conceive of a scientific mission whose objective is to repopulate an alien world by sending three men and one woman. That aside, the film veers slightly towards camp with Heston’s square-jawed one-liners and classic overacting but is saved by its irreverent humor and subtext. Director Franklin Schaffner uses John Ford like vistas to shrink and dehumanize the stranded astronauts amid the bleak landscape creating a sense of physical isolation at war with their emotional claustrophobia. The first appearance of the apes on horseback, emerging from the tall cornstalks wielding rifles and nets is frightening: these images are punctuated by Jerry Goldsmith’s otherworldly music, a mixture of anxious percussion and strings, and this remains one of cinema’s most unusual scores. Taylor’s profound curse as he claws futilely at the sand is drowned out by the crashing surf and becomes a nihilistic crescendo of pathos. 

Final Grade: (A)

Friday, December 16, 2022

BRICK (Rian Johnson, 2005, USA)


Brendan’s heart sinks like a brick in the runoff from a storm drain: like the bleak river Acheron, he must cross this painful threshold and enter the underworld to discover the deadly truth. The film begins with an arm, its blue bracelets clattering softly amid the gentle current as a young man stands over the discarded blonde-haired corpse. Match Cut: the same blue bracelets upon the same girl, her life not yet expired, as we are taken backwards in time to discover the mysterious and tragic events that led to her demise.

Director Rian Johnson transposes the classic film noir conventions to a modern-day high school where the tough but emotionally gentle Brendan must solve the murder of his true love. Our pugnacious protagonist is a master of quick talk and manipulation, but only for the benefit of finding those responsible: he is the moral compass the guides the narrative true north. Though he plays the high school cliques against each other, crashing parties, cars, and faces, he never escapes unscathed. The drama is resplendent with humor, such as the eventual cooperation with aged “The Pin” (like, 27 years old) who deals drugs from his mother’s paneled basement amid the crumbling suburbs. And the mother who serves his “friends” cookies and pours milk from a chicken decanter while talking to them like children! But the tragedy is the dark undercurrent that keeps pulling us under, and Brendan never forgets that his goal is vengeance upon those who murdered his pregnant girlfriend.

Johnson utilizes Godard-like jump cuts to disorient the viewer and the soundtrack adds a transcendently hellish intrigue to the aural mix of slang and violence. Of course, the femme fatale seems to seduce Brendan but his keen observations and dogged determination, homage to Hammett’s Sam Spade, keep him from moral corruption: she may reveal the infernal secret to destroy the last vestiges of his humanity, but Brendan has the last word…and it’s as heavy as a brick, cut with savage poison.

Final Grade: (B+)

Sunday, December 4, 2022



As Jack Burton hauls ass into the dark night, the Pork Chop Express plowing through the elemental maelstrom, he must heed his own advice: never drive faster than you can see. Director John Carpenter’s Saturday morning cartoon reverberates with thunder, blinds with lightning, and soaks the narrative in a fecund downpour. This cinematic dialecticism takes our bumbling hero Jack Burton, full of John Wayne bravado and pigheaded egocentrism, into a fantastic battle that reveals a deadly schism between his American values and Chinese Mysticism: a dark world of magic that transcends the limits of his experience…but whose empirical truth can’t be denied. 

Jack and his friend Wang Chi must save two beautiful women from the nefarious clutches of an ancient spirit, a man cursed with living a ghost-life until he can discover a green-eyed woman who can tame his savage heart. The action is ripe with homage to the absurd martial arts film of the 1970s but enchantingly spiced with humor and flavored with mythology. Kurt Russell as Burton is hilariously rambunctious, rushing into situations that he can’t handle, while his sidekick Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) becomes the real action hero! Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law, a lawyer (of course) and one of the abducted women, is given a proactive role and not totally subjugated to hysterical eye candy. The set designs begin as mundane, from the interior of Jack’s Freightliner to Wang’s restaurant, but as the plot descends underground the diabolically detailed architecture embellishes the imagination: this contrast heightens the tension and builds a foundation of realism before joyously deconstructing it. John Carpenter’s synthesizer music is typical and adds little to the suspense but his pop dud at the end credits sounds like a crashed Coup de Ville: if only Ennio Morricone had scored the film! 

Not to be taken seriously, this adventurous romp through the Five Hells and back again has all its heroes a bit scathed but successful, destroying the evil Lo Pan while finding love…though Jack decides his passion for the road outweighs his lust for the Law. 

Final Grade: (B)

Friday, December 2, 2022



A frenetically puerile comic book adventure, BUCKAROO BANZAI successfully travels across the 8th dimension of serious science fiction and campy action flick. This would make a great double feature with John Carpenter’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Buckaroo is a world-renowned brain surgeon, race car driver, scientist, adventurer, and rock star…. from New Jersey. There is really a rather intelligent and often convoluted plot involving Orson Welles and the original War of the Worlds radio broadcast, Red and black Lectroids from Planet Ten, an Oscillation Overthruster, the United States Government Weapons Program, nuclear extortion, Penny Priddy (the secret twin of Buckaroo’s deceased wife), the Radar Rangers, The Rug Suckers, The Blue Blaze Irregulars, Nova Police and the Hong Kong Cavaliers. And we can’t forget Jeff Goldblum in his blazing red shirt and chaps!

B. Banzai follows in his father's tire tracks and races through solid rock and into the 8th Dimension, where volatile life exists between the vast spaces of atoms and quarks. These evil creatures from Planet 10, once justly imprisoned by their peers, now seek to steal Banzai's Oscillation Overthruster and escape to their home world to wreak havoc and imbibe of cruel cold revenge. When Buckaroo stumbles into this vast conspiracy, he must save the Earth from nuclear anarchy and Planet 10 from genocide. Or something like that.

This audacious amalgam of genre conventions is successful because it takes itself seriously and refuses to be self-referencing: there are no subtle nods or winks towards the audience to break the illusion. The actors and director play it straight with ironic humor and crosscutting suspense. The attention to set detail and characters makes this zany world seem larger than the screen; we accept that even the President is awed by this New World Man. John Lithgow’s performance as the possessed Dr. Lizardo is gleefully berserk but perfectly within character of the demented and deranged scientist. The plot develops quickly and then catapults towards the violent conclusion leaving the audience a bit dazed and breathless not sure what to expect around the next corner. The synthesizer score (and wardrobe!) adds an 80’s pop culture veneer to this madcap adventure. Unfortunately, the Buckaroo Banzai sequel was never filmed: now that’s a crime!

Final Grade: (B+)