joe-up: day six

day six kicks off with the bleak, post-apocalyptic drawing room drama from richard stanley, hardware (1990).

i kid, a little. the movie opens to find a mysterious masked stranger sifting the sands of a wasteland for scrap to sell. he turns up a mechanized skull and other pieces of a robot and cashes them in. dylan mcdermott (not dermot mulroney) buys a handful of the pieces to take to his girlfriend, an artist who might find them useful. unbeknownst to everyone, these are far more than a conversation piece. they are the remnants of a m.a.r.k.-13 droid, a killing machine that can reassemble itself from whatever machinery it has handy and is intent on a little population control. as the handful of characters navigate their way through life, love and perversion in an ugly, violent future made of cast-off motherboards and memory chips, the droid gradually becomes more powerful and homicidal until the final act implodes in a hodepodge of two other, far superior final acts - the terminator (1984) and rear window (1954), with a touch of the shower scene from psycho (1960) for good measure - as the robot repeatedly tries to dispatch our heroine. it's an ill-conceived, but surprisingly technically well-executed, mishmash. it has too much ponderous dialogue, it revels in dimestore nihilism and silly religious imagery that is meant to be shocking but isn't and features a "killer robot" that somehow can't seal the deal with a target that never even manages to get out of her apartment. what it does have in its favor is an ingenuity of design that gets far more out of that one-room set than you would imagine and robot effects that are impressive on what had to be a very limited budget. i remember this being rather controversial at the time of its original release, having to be trimmed to avoid the dreaded x rating. watching it now, i can't see what they objected to so strenuously, unless the mpaa has strict rules about too much misdirected adolescent anger. as it is, if you were a college freshman in 1990, you came from a small town where you were the only one who knew who the revolting cocks were and you sat in your room and consoled yourself with the notion that one day all these sheep would pay, then this would have been your holy grail. these days, it's just one more for the scrap heap.

next up, actual wit! thank heavens for stanley donen's bedazzled (1967).

dudley moore plays stanley, unlucky in life and love, obsessed with the waitress he works with but unable to muster the courage to do anything about it, depressed to the point of suicide. along comes peter cook, my favorite screen devil of all time, to offer him a faustian deal he can't refuse - seven wishes to capture the heart of the girl of his dreams in exchange for his piddling mortal soul. if it's not working out to stanley's satisfaction he just has to make with the old bronx cheer and he can go back to square one and try the next wish. as you might suspect, old scratch has a way of finding the meaning in each wish that stanley never intended. soon, his wishes are running out and he is no closer to finding true love than when he started. having reached his quota of souls, the devil lets stanley off the hook, only to find he needs him more than stanley needs his diabolical assistance. stanley ends up with his self-respect and the eternal struggle between good and evil goes on, as funny as ever. this was a real high point of the week for me. peter cook is one of the sharpest, funniest men i have ever had the pleasure of watching and his chemistry with dudley moore is so perfect it's like they could do this in their sleep. cook's ear for satire was among the best of his generation and he delivers it all with impeccable timing and a bonhomie that belies the savagery of his wit. the wish vignettes are the weak point of the film, if there is one, because too often moore is left to carry the scene on his own. fortunately cook shows up in a number of them and when he isn't busy cannily deceiving stanley, he is engaging in all sorts of other constant minor mischief. there's not a second he is on screen that is not entertaining. i can't help but delight in his delight at being evil.

that glint in his eye is just right and there's always some little touch that you don't expect that only makes it funnier. him throwing his hat as well in that clip, for instance, and that tone is set from the very beginning. when stanley demands proof of his powers, asking him to manifest a popsicle for him, the devil takes him downstairs, gets on a bus, rides across town and buys him one. ta-da! hardly a bum note in the whole thing. donen keeps it appropriately breezy and the script is incisive and full of mildly blasphemous, completely hilarious bits. in the end, though, it really is all about the chemistry here. if you want to see a whip-smart comedy duo operating at the height of their powers, look no further. oh, and avoid the craptacular remake with brendan fraser from 2000 at all costs. it doesn't even deserve to be associated with this.

finally, we go from witty to gritty with barry shear's across 110th street (1972).

yaphet kotto and anthony quinn play a pair of police detectives who are investigating a botched rip-off of a mob bank that ended up with seven people dead. the three small-timers that perpetrated the crime have gone to ground in harlem and the mob is kicking over every stone until they can flush them out. it's a race between the gangsters and the police to put an end to the episode in the manner that serves each best. this tense, brutal film works hard to transcend its miscategorization as standard blaxploitation fare. it is as incendiary a portrayal of racial divisions - within criminal sub-strata, in the police's treatment of the community they serve and in society at large - as any major studio film from the period that i can remember having seen, leaving characters not only in conflict with each other, but with themselves for being silent partners in their own collateral degradation. anthony quinn, as the old-guard racist captain who has lived to see himself become obsolete, occasionally lays it on with a trowel, as he is wont to do, but a tightly coiled, by-the-book yaphet kotto and powerfully sympathetic stick-up artist paul benjamin easily make up the difference. no other city is ever going to topple early seventies new york as the acme of pitiless urban squalor and you couldn't find a more ideal backdrop to tell a story like this. everywhere you look in this film you find someone who is just not quite making it. someone's hungry, someone's broke, rancor and mistrust are the best you can hope for from the person who is your partner, the person you have to do business with. it's a grim scene and there are no happy endings and it's shot in such a perfectly oppressive, claustrophobic manner that you are never unaware of the pressure, tense at best, suffocating at worst, but never, ever free. it's a top notch crime thriller with a pair of outstanding performances, bold in its depiction of the inescapable climate of violence motivated by hatred as much as business and more grit than you can wash off. don't let people sell it short because of a genre tag.

our finale tomorrow finds us spending some quality time with an old favorite as we coast home.

let's hope his heist goes better than this last one.

No comments:

Post a Comment