Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Action/Adventure - Everett Jones ""

Friday, September 5, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Everett Jones

Everett covers nonfiction books as an editor at Publishers Weekly and on his own time writes about movies at pleasestoprewind.blogspot.com/.
He's also on Letterboxd here:
http://letterboxd.com/everettjones/
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Figures in a Landscape (1969)
A 1970 effort, equal parts cerebral and action-packed, from the acclaimed Joseph Losey, co-starring and written by no less than “Quint from Jaws” (Robert Shaw)-I’m not sure why this movie isn’t better known and liked. Not to mention a pre-Clockwork Orange Malcolm McDowell; he and Shaw play escaped POWs in an intentionally generic conflict, in an unnamed country (clearly international coproduction location du jour Spain). Manacled together and hunted by helicopters whirring impersonally ahead, the pair play out what is essentially a cross between The Prisoner and The Defiant Ones, with macho Shaw and puckish McDowell sparking some great chemistry together, of the interpersonal tension variety. The serious-minded Losey (whose attempts to go commercial more typically produced wacky fiascos likeBoom! and Modesty Blaise) here offers up some quite thrilling, genuinely hairy-looking helicopter-vs.-man action footage. Shaw’s script gets a tad pretentious toward the end, but that doesn’t hurt this much in “pure cinema” terms-it’s a beautifully streamlined piece of widescreen moviemaking.


Money Movers (1978)
Speaking of serious-minded directors…Bruce Beresford is best-known for the likes of Breaker Morant,Tender Mercies, and Driving Miss Daisy. In the late ‘70s, however, the Australian-born director was in a dry spell between desirable assignments, and, owing one movie for a multipicture deal, ended up making this grungy little number. A caper movie somewhat unusually focused on the armored car company, rather than the cops or thieves, it looks like gritty AIP drive-in fare, especially when the overpacked squib packs start exploding. But it plays out like a boozy Down Under take on one of Jean-Pierre Melville’s plottier movies (like Le Doulos or Le Circle Rouge), with an increasingly intricate, at times near-incomprehensible storyline, and a sly sense of humor-like some other Australian directors, Beresford seems simultaneously delighted, horrified and tickled by his country’s ultra-masculine, blokey culture.

The Heroin Busters (1977)
An entertainingly sleazy example of Italy’s polizia genre starring the rugged Fabio Testi and the always-welcome David Hemmings. It has stylish cinematography, more polished than is typical for this genre, and one of prog rock band Goblin’s few film scores not for Dario Argento or for a horror movie. What truly sets this movie apart, though, is its unexpectedly spectacular closing setpiece. Moving from a construction site, to an uncompleted length of subway track, to a set of ruins, and finally to the air, it’s an extended multipart chase of the kind that’s become punishingly common in Hollywood tentpoles. But in the context of a low-budget Italian ‘70s film, it’s pretty astounding, with the added bonus of being free of today’s over-insistent scoring and unconvincing CGI, instead offering a very authentic-looking series of stunts.

The War Lord (1965)
Like this site’s proprietor, I’m a pretty big Charlton Heston fan. The man had-in addition to movie-star-worthy looks and charisma-a kind of earnest quality that seemed to lend conviction to every project he involved himself with, whether silly (The Naked Jungle,Secret of the Incas) or serious. This is definitely in the latter camp, an unusually-well, serious-attempt from Hollywood to depict the Middle Ages. Heston’s title character isn’t a knight in shining armor, nor a Ernest Borgnine-in-The Vikings-style barbarian, but a hard-nosed colonial administrator, appointed by the Norman nobleman he serves to take possession of a stone tower and the pagan Saxon villagers who live in the marshlands around it-less King Arthur than Paul Bremer. The impartial depiction of Christianity’s conflict with paganism, particularly, gives this movie an adult feel compared to the pious epics that came before it. This movie’s director, Franklin J. Schaffner, is relatively unknown despite being responsible for Planet of the Apesand Patton, but his atmospheric work here, and on the political drama The Best Man, suggests a real talent. And the battle scenes are great-since the story is limited in scope, Schaffner could (I’d guess) fill out the fairly small number of combatants onscreen entirely with stuntmen fully capable of playing medieval warriors, rather than the usual crowds of under-motivated, wristwatch-wearing extras.

The Nest (2003)
This 2003 film was, I suppose, fairly successful-it did get its director, after all, a Bruce Willis movie. Still, I still feel it’s less talked about than it deserves. Conspicuously inspired by John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13-the plot has a French SWAT-style police unit coming under ambush while transporting a Balkan crime lord, and holing up in a warehouse. It has a taut, tight quality that won big audiences for The Raid and Attack the Block more recently, being just about the exact opposite of blockbuster moviemaking’s lazy bombast. The Nest’s not so obviously retro, but I think it might be the best-made, paying proper tribute to the time when Walter Hill was at his peak and James Cameron was making The Terminator, not Avatar. And it’s a siege movie, which, when done well, is hard to resist.

That Man from Rio (1964)
This 1964 French film, recently restored by the Cohen Film Collection for its first-ever Region 1 Blu-ray/DVD release, playing like nothing less than the missing link between Tintin and the Indiana Jones movies. Actually, director Philippe de Broca captures the clean, simple quality of Herge’s comics rather more closely than Spielberg was able to in his (still very good) Tintin extravaganza. De Broca doesn’t evoke old movie serials as well as Spielberg, though, since his tone swerves all over the map, from too-silly-silliness to off-putting nastiness. This is still an enormously entertainingly movie, though, which, when I saw it at Film Forum, went down with the audience just as well as I imagine it would’ve in the 1960s. Jean-Paul Belmondo makes for a splendid hero, spry, tireless, and not too bright. If you’ve ever seen his early ‘70s vehicle Le Casse (The Burglars), this is more of the same, jaw-dropping, does-his-own-stunts same. It’s also worth seeing as one of the too few films made by Francoise Dorleac, Catherine Deneueve’s older sister, during her brief life.





1 comment:

david hartzog said...

Fine post. The War Lord and That Man From Rio are particularly excellent flicks. I own Spanish and Japanese dvds, glad to see one coming in BD, hope for the other.