Film Review: The French Connection (1971)

Also known as: Doyle, Popeye (fake working titles)
Release Date: October 7th, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Ernest Tidyman
Based on: The French Connection by Robin Moore
Music by: Don Ellis
Cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi

Schine-Moore Productions, Philip D’Antoni Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“All right, Popeye’s here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!” – Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle

The French Connection was a surprise hit in 1971 and it even won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. Do I think that it was that good? Not really, but I still like the movie quite a bit.

It’s probably most famous for having one of the greatest chase scenes of all-time and I’ll certainly give it that. Watching it now, the iconic chase was better than anything you might see in modern films and frankly, I’d probably still consider it one of the best. Bullitt still takes the cake for me, though.

The reason why that sequence is so great is the energy and the realism of it. It was crafted in a time when everything on the screen had to be real. From chasing the bad guy on foot, to racing in a car to catch him after his escape via subway to finally putting a bullet in the villain’s back, it’s an intense masterpiece. Plus, the road they filmed the car scenes on wasn’t officially cleared and some of the close calls caught on film were very real. You’d never get away with that today.

It’s also hard not to love Gene Hackman in this. It’s essentially the most Gene Hackman movie of all-time, as he just controls every scene and showcases why he is simply a f’n legend. I also love the hell out of Roy Scheider in this but when don’t I? Both these men are pretty incredible and they certainly put everything they had into these roles.

The film was directed by William Friedkin, who probably deserves some notoriety for that, as over time, he’s most thought of as the director of The Exorcist. Additionally, Friedkin directed Sorcerer, which also features Roy Scheider and is grossly underappreciated these days.

All in all, this was a realistic, gritty crime thriller that was based on a true story and didn’t shy away from the harsh realities of its subject matter. It’s well acted, well directed, has big, iconic moments that are timeless and it still packs a wallop.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other ’70s crime pictures.

Film Review: Marathon Man (1976)

Release Date: October 6th, 1976 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: Marathon Man by William Goldman
Music by: Michael Small
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller, Richard Bright

Robert Evans Company, Beckerman Productions, Paramount Pictures, 125 Minutes

Review:

“The gun had blanks, the knife, a retractable blade. Hardly original, but effective enough. I think you’ll agree. I’m told you are a graduate student. Brilliant, yes? You are an historian, and I am part of history. I should have thought you would have found me interesting. Frankly, I am disappointed in your silence.” – Christian Szell

The thought of seeing Dustin Hoffman act opposite of Laurence Olivier is an intriguing one and well, it was really cool seeing them both in this, as it felt like a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation of great actors to the next.

Add in Roy Scheider, one of my all-time favorite manly men actors, and this thing has a pretty f’n solid trio of premier acting talent!

This was also directed by John Schlesinger, who already pulled a legendary performance out of Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy.

Overall, this was a really good motion picture, even though I had a few issues with it. None of them really break the movie for me, though.

The acting in this was incredible but that should probably go without saying but I was pretty impressed by the lesser known talents, as well.

This was also a really good looking picture that did a superb job of capturing an authentic feeling 1970s New York City onscreen. I especially loved the street scene with the Nazi trying to evade the people who recognize him, as well as the long sequence that saw Dustin Hoffman run through the streets at night, trying to evade capture.

My one big issue with the film comes down to the pacing. It felt a bit disjointed and off in some parts. There’d be stretches of the film that seemed to move along at a good speed and then there’d be these pockets where things seemed to slow to a crawl.

I also felt like there were a lot of things in this movie that just felt like plot convenience. For instance, the Nazi asshole being recognized by nearly every Jew he came across in New York City seemed a bit farfetched. And none of that really went anywhere, other than having the Nazi kill an old guy in the middle of the day while running from an old lady shouting from across the street. He gets away, unscathed in a taxicab.

But, as I said, the flaws weren’t so bad that they wrecked the film. However, they did get in the way of making this a great one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s crime thrillers.

Film Review: The Punisher (2004)

Release Date: April 12th, 2004 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh, Michael France
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Carlo Siliotto
Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Scheider, Laura Harring, Ben Foster, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, John Pinette, Samantha Mathis, Eddie Jemison, Kevin Nash

Valhalla Motion Pictures, Marvel Enterprises, Lions Gate Films, 124 Minutes, 140 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“Vaya con Dios, Castle. Go with God.” – Candelaria, “God’s gonna sit this one out.” – Frank Castle

Holy shit! This film aged remarkably well!

It’s been well over a decade since I had last seen it but watching it now, reminded me as to why it is the best live-action version of The Punisher that we have ever gotten.

More than anything, the film’s greatness is due to just how good Thomas Jane was as Frank Castle. The dude was damn dedicated to the role and made this a better film than it really had any right to be. Especially, in an era where most comic book movies were still kind of shitty.

I might not have realized it in 2004 but this exceeds the well-received X-Men films of the time and it is also much better than the Daredevil movie that came out a year before it.

Back in the day, I thought that setting it in Tampa was a weird decision but now having a better understanding of budgets in regards to shooting locations, I get it. Re-experiencing it now, though, I really dig the location, as it gives it a completely different vibe from the other live-action Punisher things that came later, as well as other comic book films that generally take place in New York City or some other massive metropolis. Also, being that I have lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida my entire life, it somehow feels like my Marvel Comics movie.

This film, regardless of it being based on a comic book or not, is just a balls to the wall, badass action flick in the same vein as the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films. While it’s a wee bit toned down from those gritty ’70s crime flicks, it still doesn’t pull its punches and I was actually kind of shocked by some of the stuff they did in the film that I guess I had forgotten.

It gets really dark and it actually has some pretty gory and gruesome moments. But at the same time, it has more heart and charm that those ’70s classics I just mentioned in how there are good people that come into Castle’s life and try to give him back some of his humanity after the mass execution of his entire family.

It wasn’t just Jane that was great in this, it was the entire cast, top-to-bottom, including some of the people that had fairly small roles like a few of the gangsters and especially Mark Collie, who played Harry Heck, in one of the best sequences that has ever existed in a comic book movie.

Man, I forgot how great the Harry Heck character was and I kind of wish he would’ve been a much bigger part of the story. Maybe he could come back in a sequel but then again, I doubt one will ever get made, as The Punisher has already been rebooted multiple times. Also, Heck’s death seemed pretty much confirmed by how he got taken out.

Getting to the story, I really like how Castle played John Travolta’s Howard Saint and tricked him into murdering his best friend and his beloved wife by cleverly convincing him, over time and by planting seeds, that they were having an affair. This was brilliant and it couldn’t have happened to a worse trio of people, as all of them were directly responsible for the execution of Castle’s family.

This version of The Punisher was as close to perfect as a studio could get. I know that the film wasn’t a massive hit, initially, but it did build up a solid fanbase over the years. The fact that a sequel never actually materialized was rather baffling.

Although, a fan film, also starring Jane as Frank Castle, was released in 2012. After revisiting this, I now have to fire that one up too and review it.

2004’s The Punisher is spectacular from beginning to end. It’s aged so much better than the other comic book movies from the early ’00s and it deserves to be displayed on a pedestal for all to admire.

Dear Disney and Tom Jane,

Please give us this Frank Castle again.

That is all.

Sincerely,

-Talking Pulp

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s unofficial short film sequel, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, as well as the other Punisher films and television series.

That superb Harry Heck sequence:

Film Review: 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

Also known as: 2010 (original title), 2010: Odyssey Two (original script title)
Release Date: December 7th, 1984
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Written by: Peter Hyams
Based on: 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain (voice), Madolyn Smith, Dana Elcar, Elya Baskin

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 116 Minutes

Review:

“[message relayed from monolith] All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.” – HAL-9000

Since I did 2001: A Space Odyssey as my 2001st film review, I figured that I’d also revisit 2010: The Year We Make Contact for my 2010th. Both are great films: the first being an absolute masterpiece and this one being one of the best science fiction films of its decade, as well as one of my favorite of all-time.

Unfortunately, 2010 gets compared to 2001, which really isn’t fair, as there was no way that this movie was going to live up to the hype that a 2001 sequel would’ve gotten, even back in the early ’80s. As its own film, though, it’s exceptional even if it wasn’t necessary.

Now there were four Odyssey books written by Arthur C. Clarke, two at the time of this film’s release, so I don’t see why further movies couldn’t have been made, as the story already existed and for fans of the novels, this was probably something they wanted to see. Hell, I’m still hoping that someone eventually adapts 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. Tom Hanks was going to do them about twenty years ago and there were rumors that Syfy was going to take a crack at it as well but neither of those really materialized.

From what I remember from the novel, this is a pretty good adaptation that takes some liberties but tells the gist of the story. It also changes the location of the monolith from being near Saturn to being near Jupiter for some reason. But I also kind of see this as existing in its own continuity, as it’s really hard to envision what could’ve even come after the 2001 movie despite this story trying to follow it up. As far as it being a movie sequel to the first book, as it is written, it works. The Kubrick 2001 film was much more mystical and fantastical than the book and it left a lot open for interpretation where the novel was more clear cut and explained things better.

Like the books, this film tries to define the strange things that are happening within the plot, unlike it’s cinematic predecessor. In fact, this film starts with an opening recap of the first movie with actual explanations of plot details to try and ground the story and set certain events in stone. I actually really like that, as it immediately shows that this movie is indeed different in its style and how it is going to present its fantastical journey.

Additionally, I really liked the casting of Roy Scheider as Heywood Floyd, as he felt like a better version of the character than what we got in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Granted, he was more of a minor character in the first film and we needed someone with more presence and gravitas, as he becomes the main character in this story.

Scheider was a great choice, though, as he had just come off of the first two Jaws movies and was one of the top actors of his era. He had a certain panache and a good level of manliness but also came across as a smart guy that would think before reacting and usually had a clear head and felt like a natural leader.

The rest of the cast is also good with Helen Mirren, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, the return of Keir Dullea as Bowman and the rest of the Russian crew. I especially liked Elya Baskin as Brailovsky, as his chemistry with Lithgow’s Curnow was superb. Some of you may know Baskin from his role as Peter Parker’s landlord in Spider-Man 2 and 3.

I also love that the story is anti-Cold War, as it forces the Americans and Russian astronauts and scientists to work together, despite their countries being on the cusp of war. In fact, the countries do go to war while the crew is on their mission and what they may return home to is a somber, dark cloud over the rest of the story. Late into the story, the crews are forced to separate by the orders of their feuding governments but in spite of this, the two crews still end up working together to complete the mission and attempt to solve the universe’s greatest mystery.

Some people have said that the ending was underwhelming but I don’t think that’s true at all. It kind of felt like the ending to a really good classic Star Trek episode where the crew must solve a cosmic mystery. The reward for doing so is actually quite profound, as it forever changes the solar system and man’s place in it.

The movie also has incredible special effects and I especially liked how well they did in recreating the Discovery. It really pulls you back into the iconic ship and it just adds an extra level of legitimacy to this film, marrying it to the original one, aesthetically. Having the same voice for HAL-9000 was also a nice touch, as the character wouldn’t have been the same with someone else doing the performance.

Ultimately, this isn’t on the level of 2001: A Space Odyssey but what is in the science fiction genre? As it’s own motion picture, it’s cool, imaginative and it expands upon the greater work before it while also entertaining and boasting some solid acting performances across the board.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Odyssey series of books by Arthur C. Clarke.

 

Vids I Dig 427: The Critical Drinker: The Drinker Recommends… ‘Jaws’

From The Critical Drinker’s YouTube description: For this episode of Drinker Recommends, we’re going back 45 years to the small island of Amity, to explore the movie that made everyone afraid to go in the water…

Film Review: Sorcerer (1977)

Also known as: The Wages of Fear (alternative title)
Release Date: June 24th, 1977
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Walon Green
Based on: Le Salaire de la peur by Georges Arnaud
Music by: Tangerine Dream
Cast: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Ramon Bieri, Karl John, Joe Spinell

Film Properties International N.V., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes, 92 Minutes (international cut)

Review:

“He robbed my church, shot my brother. I don’t care where he is or what it costs. I want his ass.” – Carlo Ricci

Sorcerer is a really interesting movie that follows a group of criminals on the run, strangers to one another, who have to transport gallons of volatile nitroglycerin 200 miles through a South American jungle. Along the way, they have to deal with many threats that make their highly explosive cargo, a death trap that must be protected.

My only real problem with the film is that the mission doesn’t start until you’re about halfway through the picture. That’s fine and the first act is very good but there’s this bit between the multiple prologues and the mission that drags for quite awhile. Once the mission starts, however, things pick back up.

Overall, this is pretty well acted and I thought Roy Scheider did exceptionally well in this and it might be my favorite role of his outside of his two Jaws movies and 2010. The rest of the cast is also good and you even get a small Joe Spinell cameo thrown in.

The story is pretty engaging and this would’ve probably been an incredible film if it didn’t have the pacing issues with the second act. I felt like the actual adventure across the jungle should’ve been a larger part of the story and there is so much more that could’ve been done with that.

Granted, this is also based off of a French novel, so maybe the source material was written the same way, only showcasing the adventure for the second half of the whole story.

That being said, there is also a 92 minute cut of this film and I wonder if that one actually flows better and cuts out some of the duller moments while putting more emphasis on the journey itself.

In the end, I like this movie quite a bit. It definitely needed to pick things up a bit and could’ve used some extra sizzle but it was a worthwhile experience, capped off with a really cool second half.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s adventure and crime pictures.

Film Review: Jaws 2 (1978)

Release Date: June 16th, 1978
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Written by: Carl Gottlieb, Howard Sackler
Based on: characters by Peter Benchley
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Universal Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“But I’m telling you, and I’m telling everybody at this table that that’s a shark! And I know what a shark looks like, because I’ve seen one up close. And you’d better do something about this one, because I don’t intend to go through that hell again!” – Martin Brody

Jaws 2 has its fans and its detractors. I’m more in the fan camp, as I think it is a pretty good sequel, all things considered. Besides, it is nowhere near as bad as the two Jaws films that followed.

For a sequel that lost its original (and legendary) director, two of its lead actors and the benefit of using mystery over a full reveal of the monster, Jaws 2 does pretty good with the pieces of the puzzle it still has.

Roy Scheider is back, as is Lorraine Gary, who plays his wife. Additionally, Murray Hamilton returns as the sleazy town mayor, who apparently learned nothing from his greedy follies in the first Jaws picture.

This chapter in the franchise is much more action heavy. You see the actual shark more often, which is fine. After the big reveal in the first movie, there isn’t much reason to hide him in this one, as the building of suspense in Spielberg’s “less is more” technique wouldn’t work a second time around and in the first movie it was employed to hide the fact that the shark robot never worked properly.

While Jaws 2 is not the near perfect masterpiece of its predecessor, it is a worthy sequel in that it builds off of the first film. It gives you more time with the Brody family and gets more personal than the original movie. The fact that Capt. Brody’s children are in direct danger, makes the tension and the finale work quite well.

Also, the finale has Schneider’s most bad ass moment in his long career. The scene where he finishes off the shark by feeding it an electrical cable is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen a manly man do on film and it tops the killing of the shark from the first movie, even if me saying that pisses some people off.

Jaws 2 is not a perfect picture but it is still a fairly strong outing and a good companion piece to the original. Granted, everything in the franchise just goes off the rails after this.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Jaws (1975)

Release Date: June 20th, 1975
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Based on: Jaws by Peter Benchley
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Zanuck/Brown Productions, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” – Quint

Jaws is considered to be one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. It’s usually found in top ten lists and a lot of people I have met throughout my life call it their favorite movie. While it’s not my favorite film nor my favorite Spielberg picture, it holds a special place in my heart.

I wasn’t born when this came out so I never got the big screen experience until this past weekend. However, when I was a kid, it’s VHS box art haunted me in the aisles of every single mom and pop video shop. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I had the balls to watch it. Well, that and the fact that I did it on a dare from my older cousin.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t scared of the film once I saw it. I know that a lot of people were but I was more interested in dangerous wildlife and developed an obsession with sharks and other deadly sea creatures. I also grew up on the Gulf of Mexico and saw sharks all the time, whether at the beach or in my uncle’s boat.

Jaws did spark my interest and love in these type of films. A love that would continue and be further cultivated throughout the 1980s, as Jaws really gave birth to a genre of knockoffs that still exist today. Hell, as I saw this in the theater, right across the hall was 47 Meters Down, another shark attack movie.

Steven Spielberg truly made a masterpiece with Jaws and it would be his first of several. This is the film that put him on the map and led to a series of fantastic and imaginative pictures that he still directs and produces today.

Jaws had a myriad of serious issues during its production but Spielberg still churned out a near perfect picture. The robot shark never really worked right but the film utilized the “less is more” technique in regards to seeing the aquatic beast. Had there been more shark, this film might not have worked as well and thus, not launched Spielberg into the heights he reached. Maybe the production problems were a blessing of sorts. In any event, a lot of unforeseen good came out of those problems.

The film is accented by stellar acting from just about everyone in the cast. Roy Scheider is perfect in just about everything but this is his most famous and iconic role for good reason. Richard Dreyfuss is spectacular and this role led to a lot of great things for the now legendary actor. It is Robert Shaw, however, that really steals the show. Being cast mostly as villainous heavies, earlier in his career, Shaw carved out his own niche later in life and the character of Quint is not only his most famous but one of the most famous in movie history. There are very few characters that could even come close to Quint’s coolness and toughness.

While the film has a few spots with strange editing or strange shot framing, I can’t nitpick about those things, because the positives about Jaws are why it is a classic motion picture that will be cherished till the end of time or until human beings evolve some higher form of consciousness.

Despite those issues, the picture is generally well shot and the cinematography is absolutely awesome. In fact, a lot of the techniques that are employed in this film were “borrowed” by directors and cinematographers for years. In fact, they’re still common techniques used today. The use of shadows, silhouettes, the underwater work, all have been “borrowed” to death. Realistically, it just goes to show how much of an impact Jaws had on the future of filmmaking.

Few movies leave a lasting impression as strong as that of Jaws. There are dozens of motion pictures that have won Picture of the Year at the Oscars that most people wouldn’t even know today. But there is hardly anyone that doesn’t know Jaws.

Rating: 10/10