The Flix List: 10+ year-old films that deserve a second look

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Have you ever seen a film and question why it’s not as well known or gets the respect it deserves? I consider myself a film geek and have seen several films throughout the years, while some I saw deserves all the accolades it received and many deserves to be forgotten. But I thought these films on the list deserves to be seen by more people and shouldn’t have been forgotten.

In no particular order, below are some films that I believe should be given second look:

Year of the Dragon (1985)

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After the disastrous Heaven’s Gate, it’s a miracle that Michael Cimino was able to make this film. A story about a NYC cop taking on the Triad Chinese mob has everything you need in this kind of genre, great cinematography, strong performances and enough action to satisfy the 80s action hungry audiences. It starred the young upcoming and coming actor named Mickey Rourke as the cop who’s trying to take down the mob in NYC’s Chinatown. John Lone was excellent as the ambitious mobster who’s trying to become the Godfather of Chinatown.

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The film’s not perfect but I think it’s one of the best in that decade. Even though he’s very good in the role, Rourke’s character was written as someone in his late 40s or early 50s and Rourke was only 33 at the time. So in order to make him appear older, they applied really bad makeup and dyed his hair gray; I have to admit I found it to be distracting at times while watching the film. Apparently, the leading role was offered to both Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman, but they turned it down because they didn’t want to be anywhere near Cimino.

When the film came out, the Chinese community started calling the film racist because they didn’t think it depicts Chinatown in a good light. According to Cimino, the studio folks loved the film and planned to release it in the Holiday season but with the controversy, they decided to dump it in late summer. The film is available on Amazon video and DVD, it has yet to be released on Bluray here in the States. I’m hoping Criterion will release it some day.

Dead Presidents (1995)

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The Hughes Brothers second film is maybe the most under-appreciated film of the 90s. It’s a combination of different genres, heist, action and war drama. Larenz Tate stars as a young man who served in the Vietnam War and tried to adjust to normal life after he’s back in the States. It’s one of the few films in Hollywood that addresses the issues of African Americans who has to deal with harsh reality of living in the society after the war. It’s well written, directed and the performances were great by the actors. It’s not available on Bluray yet but you can find it on DVD, please seek it out.

Scarecrow (1973)

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I can guarantee that a lot of people have never heard of this film starring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. A story about two men who’s trying to correct their lives, Hackman played an ex-con who’s trying to start a new life after being released from prison and Pacino played a sailor who’s trying to get home to see his child. It’s kind of a road movie but I thought it’s a great character study of these two men. The film was an indie produced and when it failed critically and financially, Hackman refuses to work on future indie projects; he’d only worked on studios financed films after this one. It’s one of the rare gems from the 70s and you should see it for the great performances by the two legendary actors. I think maybe the film failed is because the title suggests it’s some sort of a super natural thriller or horror. But despite its failure, both actors have said it’s one of their favorite films that they starred in.

Carlito’s Way (1993)

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Another film starring Al Pacino that I thought should’ve been well received when it came out. Pacino stars as a Puerto Rican gangster named Carlito who’s trying to go straight after being released from prison. It also stars Sean Penn as his lawyer and best friend; I think it’s Penn’s best performance. Unlike most films on the list, this one received full support from the studio and released in the prime Holidays season. But for whatever reason, it failed to click with audiences and were dismissed by most critics. Of course the film’s not perfect, I think the love story didn’t work and the lead actress Penelope Ann Miller was a miscast. According to director Brian De Palma, he auditioned several young actresses at that time and wanted to cast a then unknown actress named Sandra Bullock. But the role requires that she must be willing to do a topless scene because the character is a ballet dancer and stripper. Bullock refused to take her tops off and De Palma went with Miller since she has no problem taking her clothes off.

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It’s available on DVD and Bluray for a very cheap price, I highly recommend people to see this one ASAP. Personally, I thought it’s one of the best films of the 90s. Several years after the film came out, De Palma did an interview and said he knew the film was going to fail. He’d just made Bonfire of Vanity; one of the biggest box office bombs of the 90s and people were still hated him for it. Also, Pacino had just won an Oscar for his performance in Scent of A Woman in the previous year and many people thought he didn’t deserve it. So a lot of people were against Pacino at that time too.

Extreme Prejudice (1987)  

A modern day western that’s full of action and great performances yet somehow it failed miserably. It’s quite surprising since the film came out in the 80s and this was the kind of film that would bring in huge box office numbers in that era. My fellow FlixChatter contributor Jack gave an in depth review here so I won’t go into why you need to see this hidden gem.

Sorcerer (1977)

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After back-to-back success with The French Connection and The Exorcist, director William Friedkin was on top of the food chain in Hollywood. In what he thought was going to be another box office hit, he decided to make an adventure film set in the jungle. It’s remake of a French film called Wages of Fear and I think this one is even better than the original version. Released in the summer of 1977, the studio thought it’s going to be another hit for Friedkin but it failed and has been forgotten for years. Just a few years ago, Quentin Tarantino mentioned that it’s one of his favorite films ever and that gave the film some well deserve recognition. The film was finally available on Bluray last spring and it’s one of the best discs of a classic film. It’s available for a very cheap price, so you should buy it and see this excellent action/adventure film.

The Vanishing (original 1988 version)

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If this Danish film came out in our current time of online social media sharing, I believe it would’ve been much more well known and many people would consider it one of the best thrillers ever made. But it came out in the late 80s, several years before the internet and it’s sort of been forgotten since then. This is one of the few films that I would consider a masterpiece. The story about a couple who decided to take a road trip, while stopping to get food at a local gas station somewhere in the French country side, the girlfriend was abducted. For three years, the boyfriend is obsessed with finding out what happened to her. Unlike most suspense thriller, this film didn’t rely on violence or cheap scares to keep the audience engage, with the exception of a small fight scene, there were no violence depicted in the film.

The film’s brilliantly written and directed by the late George Sluizer and beautifully shot. You need to know as little as possible if you’ve never seen it. But be prepare for a gut punch of an ending that will likely haunts you for a long time. Unfortunately, Sluizer got talked into directing a remake for American audiences a few years later and it’s inferior to his original version in so many ways. Avoid the remake at all cost.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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For a long time this film was considered the black sheep of the Bond franchise. Many of the Bond film fans called it the worst in the series but then a few years ago, Christopher Nolan said it’s his favorite Bond film and since then, it has gotten more attention and now some say it’s one of the best Bond films ever made. It’s not widely known but Sean Connery said that he regret not coming back to reprise his role as 007, because he thought the script for this film was great.

I’ve gotten into some heated discussion with some people about how this is great Bond picture and that it’s the only film in the series that’s faithful to the original Fleming’s source novel. This was before Nolan said it’s his favorite Bond film, of course those people have switched gear and said it’s a great Bond film. Now I understand why the film didn’t click with audiences when it first came out, a new actor is playing 007 and it’s quite dark in tone comparing to the previous Bond films at the time. Of course the shocking ending probably turned off a lot of Bond fanatics and paved way for the Roger Moore’s silly Bond pictures throughout the 70s and most of the 80s.

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But I thought what made the film great was that the filmmakers decided to make Bond more of a human rather than some sort of superhero. For example, a scene in which Blofeld’s henchmen were chasing Bond and he realized he might not get away and they showed fear in his face. That’s never been done in any of the Bond films and we didn’t see fear in Bond’s face again until Casino Royale where he’s being tortured. Then there’s Diana Rigg as the cool Bond girl, I would’ve liked to see more of her in the film but she’s definitely one of the best Bond girls in the franchise. Of course she’s one of the few women whom Bond did fall in love with and he finally married her.

The film was such a big box office failure that the producers considered hiring an American actor to play 007 in the next one. They thought this one failed because it’s too European and that American audiences didn’t “get” it.

Judgment Night (1993)

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The early 90s were full of cheesy action pictures and when I saw a trailer for this film, I thought it’s just another silly action thriller that would be forgotten once it hits local movie theaters. Sure enough that’s what happened, it barely made a dent at the box office but when I saw it on home video, I thought it’s great. The premise of the film is pretty simple; a group of friends are attending a box match somewhere in downtown Chicago. On the way there, they got stuck in traffic and decided to take an alternate route through a rough neighborhood. Unfortunately for them once they’re in the hood, they got lost and witnessed a murder by a ruthless drug dealer and his men. With no weapons to defend themselves, they have to use their wits to survive the night.

What I really like about this film is that they cast actors who actually look like regular people. Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff and Jeremy Piven aren’t the kind of actors you think of in an action picture. But here they fit what the story requires, regular guys with no special skills trying to stay alive. Denis Learly, who at the time is better known for his comedic role, plays the main villain here. He totally surprised me and I thought he’s excellent as the relentless killer who won’t stop until his pray are all dead.

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

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Almost ten years since the release of this film and it’s pretty much forgotten by many people. But to me it’s one of the best westerns ever made and should be in discussion as one of the best in that decade. Since the film wasn’t an action picture, the studio didn’t know how to promote it and pretty much just released it with little marketing. Now 2007 was a very good year for films, it came out around the same time as the other two more memorable films, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Even though Brad Pitt played the title role, he’s pretty much a supporting actor. The film belongs to Casey Affleck who I thought was excellent and should’ve won the Oscar for his performance. It’s beautifully shot by the great Roger Deakins and the soundtrack is one of my favorites ever. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this film’s soundtrack. If you’ve never seen it, I would highly recommend you see it.

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So those are some older films I thought deserves to be seen my more people. Did you see any of them and do you agree with me?

Musings on Quentin Tarantino’s 12 Favorite Films

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Earlier this month, Sight and Sound magazine asked many of the well-known filmmakers today to list their favorite films, you can see the list here.

QT_cameraFor this article, I would like to just focus on Quentin Tarantino‘s favorite films. If you read most of my articles on this site (i.e. ranking favorite Tarantino’s films) then you know that I’m a big fan of QT. Sure I thought Django Unchained was quite disappointing but it’s still better than most films I saw in 2012. If not for Tarantino, I may not have seen some of the classics from the 60s and 70s. Because of his recommendation, I discovered the films of the great late director Sam Peckinpah and some of the lesser known spaghetti western and action films from said decades.

If I remember correctly, Tarantino tends to put out his best of list yearly but I think this list is his top favorite films of all time. I was surprised to see a couple of films on his favorite list, but before we get on that, here are twelve of his picks:

  1. Apocalypse Now (1976) – Francis Ford Coppola
  2. The Bad News Bears (1976) – Michael Ritchie
  3. Carrie (1976) – Brian De Palma
  4. Dazed and Confused (1993) – Richard Linklater
  5. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) – Sergio Leone
  6. The Great Escape (1963) – John Sturges
  7. His Girl Friday (1939) – Howard Hawks
  8. Jaws (1975) – Steven Spielberg
  9. Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) – Roger Vadium
  10. Rolling Thunder (1977) – John Flynn
  11. Sorcerer (1977) – William Friedkin
  12. Taxi Driver (1976) – Martin Scorsese

Out of the 12 films on the list there, the one I’ve never seen or heard of before is His Girl Friday. Otherwise I’ve seen all of them and four are on my all favorite list films: Apocalypse Now, Rolling Thunder, Sorcerer and Taxi Driver.

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A couple of films that surprised me to see on his list are The Bad News Bears and Dazed and Confused; for the kind of films that he tends to make, I wouldn’t think he’d include a comedies on his list. Over all it’s a good mix of genre and it’s great seeing what kind of films he truly enjoy.

As mentioned earlier, the four films on his list that are also on my list, two of them are well known and highly regarded as some of greatest films ever made, Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver. No doubt those two were excellent films and deserves all the praises from critics and fans alike. Now other two films were not as well known, Rolling Thunder and Sorcerer, both also came out in the late 70s but they didn’t garner any critical or box office success. I think these two films deserve to be seen by more people and if you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend you seek them out. Particularly Sorcerer which was a remake of a French film from 1953, Wages of Fear. To be honest with you, I prefer Sorcerer over Wages of Fear. It was well directed by the then hot director William Friedkin, who’d just made two very successful films, The Exorcist and The French Connection. I think the film failed because I believe audiences were expecting to see some sort of supernatural thriller not an action thriller about men versus nature.

Rolling Thunder on the other hand, was a gritty shoot’em up revenge action thriller, a genre that was quite popular at the time. For anyone who’ve never seen either of these films, the good news is that both are coming out on Blu-ray real soon. Friedkin has tweeted that he has raised enough money to do a digital restoration on Sorcerer so it can be release on Bluray.

I can’t wait to see it on HD and in widescreen!
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– Post by Ted S.
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So what’s your opinion on Tarantino’s favorite films? Have you seen some or all of them? If so, share your opinion on the comments section.

Classic Flix Review: To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Greetings, all and sundry! I am going to take a step sideways and count some coup. Regarding a few recent minor victories involving films that come very close to or exceed ‘Required Viewing’ status. I’m thrilled that my recent labor of love entailing ‘The French Connection’ tempted Ruth and others to enjoy its gritty suspenseful wonders. So, I am going to push my luck and proffer a similar, later work by William Friedkin. Very strong in the ‘Partner film’ vein I’d touched on in ‘The French Connection‘. With a change of locales, crime and really, not a whole heck of a  lot more. Allow me to introduce::

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Our story begins with a Presidential visit to the City of Angels and a huge motorcade of long black limousines rolling up on a huge, palatial, opulent hotel. In and amongst the countless guys with suits, bulges on their hips and under their armpits is anonymous Secret Service Agent Richard Chance. Magnificently played by William Petersen in his first major role before Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Petersen’s Chance plays close to the edge and earns himself a transfer after he helps foil a terrorist plot to blow up an unseen President Reagan during a fundraising speech.

Cut to a deserted highway heading east to the sunny deserts of Las Vegas and about ten of the finest minutes devoted to the meticulous nuts and bolts dirty work of forging one twenty dollar bill into tens of thousands. From the cutting and substitution of the serial number. To the proper mixing of inks and pigments. Setting the rollers on a massive multiple press. Photographing the bill for the press and setting it as the plate. Then watching a young, hungry, pre-Platoon Willem Dafoe, finally throw the switch and make magic happen!

Dafoe portrays Eric Masters. Artist, con man, counterfeiter extraordinaire. With equal measures of socio and psychopath blended in to make him even more interesting. Masters fronts a few Art Houses and runs a sizable string of inner city and urban clients to spread his bills around. Bills that look so good that they are hard to trace and thus, have his fingerprints and handiwork all over them.

Bills that inevitably come under the scrutiny of the Secret Service Counterfeit Division. Agent Chance and his soon to be retired partner, Michael Greene. Who really wants to bust Masters before pulling the pin. Chance, who now faces his inner fears by Bungee Jumping bridges, wants Greene to be patient. Greene thinks otherwise. Finds Masters’ Vegas workshop and is ambushed by a 12 gauge shotgun for his efforts.

Of course, every cop and Fed from miles around converges on the site. Chance finds Greene’s body in a dumpster. Plus a handful of poker chips in one of several clothes dryers used to age newly printed bills. Now, Chance has a singular mission. One that takes precedence over such paltry things as rules and regulations. Worse yet, Chance is saddled with a relatively new, bright and shiny, by the book, untainted partner, John Vukovich. Given low key, yet impeccable life by John Pankow in very likely his best work in film.

To say that these two dislike each other would be understatement. Vukovich is career oriented. While Chance wants a steaming hot cup of Payback. Regardless of the cost. Warrants are sought on somewhat shaky ground for wiretaps and camera surveillance on Masters’  and others’ upscale digs. While Masters connects with his urban clients who want more of his product and are unwilling to pay for the last batch. Battle lines are being drawn as Chance and Vukovich get a lead on one of Masters’ mules and take him down after a brisk foot chase that ends in an LAX men’s room.

The mule, John Turturro. Rarely better. Knows to keep his mouth shut. To a point. He tells Chance a little of this and a little of that and is put in General Population for his efforts. Only to have to sit through a later tête-à-tête with Masters to assess what damage was done. Masters returns to his urban client and fronts half of a large chunk of money for the client to arrange to have the mule shanked while awaiting arraignment. That attempt fails and Masters returns and wants his money back. NOW! The client doesn’t have it. Masters kills the client and two lieutenants with a silenced pistol. Cleans up. Then gathers up his loot.

Cut to the house under surveillance. Where Masters bisexual girlfriend, Bianca. Smoderingly played by Debra Feuer, lies in wait. Not for Masters, but slimy, deal making L.A. distributor and money launderer, Max Waxman. Who tried to set Masters up and has welched on more than one deal. Masters find them in a compromising position. Takes whatever clean money Waxman has and dispatches him with the same silenced pistol. Then burns what’s left of the old funny money before starting anew.

In the interim, Chance hatches a plot, whose initial gossipy kernel is supplied by his parolee, informant girlfriend. Ruth. Flawlessly, scuzzily played by Darlanne Fleugel. Chance wants to make a buy from Masters, but the Federal coffers for such a deal are far short. Enter the gossip. A diamond buyer is coming to L.A. with a briefcase full of money for a handful of uncut rocks. The buy is to take place under an overpass of the Freeway. All Chance and Vukovich have to do is steal the briefcase. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, evidently. The deal is real, but the buyer is an FBI agent going after the forerunners of Blood Diamonds. The buyer arrives. Chance and Vukovich jack him up and get the case. Just as an FBI sniper fires too late and takes out the undercover agent. A gun fight ensues that turns into a superb, spine chilling, seat jumping chase as Chance and Vukovich take their car against traffic. Over hill and through the market and truck farm district to the viaducts last seen and well utilized in the movie, Them!. Before eluding their pursuers and finding a no questions asked Auto Body shop for a new rear window and windshield.

Shaken, stirred, but not rattled, Chance and Vukovich set up their meet at the L.A. Athletic Club. Masters is leery of Chance and Vukovich’s lack of tans and their story of fronting for a Palm Springs bank, but he is intrigued. Buy in money, to the tune of a cool million is mentioned and agreed to by the Feds without batting an eyes as another meet is set up.

I will leave it right here due to the Prime Directive regarding spoilers

Now, what Makes This Film Good?

Friedkin again catching the lightning experienced in The French Connection. Again working with a young and relatively unknown cast eager to work with a proven director. Using some of the same tricks learned long ago and applying them to sections of  L.A. that few people know and even fewer see. Presenting a gritty, grimy facade that masks the sleazy world of unmentioned, greedy and bent lawyers and judges. Who supply the undertone and a lot of the motivation of those doing dirty deeds and the lawmen who pursue them.

Do NOT let the Wang Chung soundtrack upset or put you off. The music is exactly of its time. And works exceedingly well in keeping the suspense at just the right tone as Chance leads his wide eyed partner, Vukovich deep into the slimy underbelly of the beast. Where suspicion is second nature and paranoia is plane fare.

Cinematography by Robby Muller is first rate. Showing the pervasive smog of the cityscape in many scenes. Ornery, obstinate and rarely anxious to move. Setting the down pressured tone that things are very different on the West Coast. Then shifting to crystal clarity for indoor scenes. Not showing many shadows, but when they do show up. They are there for tension heightening reasons. Editing by M. Scott Smith is also superb. Especially in the chase scene that leaves very little on the Cutting Room Floor.

Kudos to Lilly Kilvert’s Production Design and getting abandoned buildings to look like Federal office spaces. Also Set Design and Decoration handled by Buddy Cone and Cricket Rowland. For making the outbacks of Vegas and beaches and businesses outside Venice look so formidable and forgotten!

What Makes This Film Great?

William Petersen just beginning to show off his chops in an extremely meaty role that has been visited many times before in countless films. While following William Petievich’s twisting, turning, never arrow straight novel and screenplay with William Friedkin’s help. Petersen’s Rick Chance is no angel. Though he may have been before the Presidential visit that put him in charge of tracking down one particular counterfeiter. Given personal Carte Blanche, Chance is willing to bend and sometimes break the rules. Even if it sends his partner screaming to find a lawyer to protect his career. Petersen’s Chance seems made for his regulation breaking jeans, T Shirt, boots and leather jacket. Opposite Vukovich’s buttoned down collar, tie and  two and three piece suits.

John Pankow owns his role as John Vukovich. A brand new FNG who is willing to follow his partner. Even after the wheels come off with the disastrous diamond deal. Letting his eyes and body language do the talking on his personal sojourn through the seven circles of Hell. To rise like the Phoenix on the other side. A truly great role very masterfully imagined and delivered!

The unnamed ladies and gentlemen in attendance. From Dean Stockwell’s superbly slimy lawyer, Bob Grimes. Who revels in playing both sides in the never ending game. While not being averse to taking a bribe as well as a retainer. To Steve James as Masters’ urban connection, Jeff Rice. All muscle and bad attitude. It’s a treat to watch him trying to get over and intimidate Masters. As well as Robert Downey Sr., who makes the absolute most of his brief time on screen as a judge who tolerates Chance. While wanting nothing more than to crush him.

The ladies deserve equal billing. Debra Feuer mystifies from the moment she appears on screen. Though not fully realized until well into the film. Her Bianca can read men as easily as others glance at coins and count change. She is made for Masters. Offering insights that to her are obvious and several moves into the future of the game. Darlanne Fluegel’s Ruth is perfect as a fidgety, scared, two time loser, parolee and Chance’s personal snitch. Too clever for her own good. While hoping her nightmare will end someday. Also turning in a silent, sensual performance is Jane Leeves. In her first credited role as Bianca’s girlfriend, Serena. Long before her role as Daphne in Frasier.

The Film’s Mystique:

Once Friedkin has bought the novel’s rights. The US Secret Service got involved far beyond the technical advice offered by retired agent Petievich. Invited to watch the rushes and first cuts, the Service nearly went ballistic. And not in a good way! While watching Dafoe go through the too detailed and not for general consumption steps in making large numbers of counterfeit bills. I’m still trying to figure out how much was left on the Editor’s floor and probably burned later.

That aside. The film rings remarkably true. The dialogue snaps without a large amount of profanity. Most everything the cast touches looks used and comfortable. Even Masters’ leather and chrome flat appears inviting without a shred of pretense. The film is also notable for the unexpected and often invited ‘Murphy’s Law’ that upsets even the most meticulous plan. Especially after Masters cleans up and takes out Max Waxman and even more so in the botched diamond buy, shakedown, rolling shoot out and car chase.

Not surprisingly, To Live and Die in L.A. won awards for Best Vehicular Stunt and Most Spectacular Sequence in 1986.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


What do you think of To Live and Die in L.A.? Do share ’em in the comments.

Classic Flix Review: The French Connection (1971)

Greetings all and sundry! I am going to take a well deserved respite from Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck and take a few moments to wax poetic and nostalgic about a film that solidly grabbed my attention more than forty years ago. One that firmly anchored the concept of the ‘Partner Film’. Which is very different than a ‘Cop’ or ‘Buddy’ film. The basis for a delightfully suspenseful Procedural. Which also that puts front and center, superb on location shooting in and around Manhattan and its seven boroughs. To these ends, allow me to introduce or re-introduce you to:

The French Connection (1971)

A film that begins not in the city that never sleeps, but in the narrow, rain damped side streets of Marseilles and its many cubby hole hostels and boarding houses. We see a man amble down a cobbled sidewalk to enter a hostel. Check his mail and enter his room. Where someone in the shadows shoots him and walks off with a hunk of his target’s bagged Baguette.

Cut to the snowy, cold, pre Christmas streets of New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant. Where a team of undercover Narcotics cops; Gene Hackman’s ‘Popeye’ Doyle in Santa Claus mufti and Roy Scheider’s ‘Cloudy’ Russo, in dock worker drag watch a buy for heroin happen. Cloudy announces himself. The junkie runs and Popeye gives chase across streets and through alleys. To catch the buyer and shake him down hard after Cloudy has his coat and arm slashed by the junkie’s switch blade. Questions precede ignorance. The junk is booked as evidence and another drug arrest is made by the team that leads all boroughs in arrests, but very few convictions.

Paperwork follows. Also a talking to by Captain Simonson. Well played by Eddie Egan, the hero of Robin Moore’s original book. Who wants Popeye and Cloudy to bring in something that could go before a Grand Jury and get convictions. To that end Popeye and Cloudy decide to do some after hour bar-hopping. That leads to them spotting a relatively small time local thief sharing drinks with three of the biggest drug connections through the boroughs. Curious and curiouser, Popeye and Cloudy tail the local hood, Sal Boca, hungrily played by a loud and boorish Tony Lo Bianco. He and his wife, Angie run a Brooklyn luncheonette and really have no business rubbing elbows with such heavy hitters.

More information is needed. So Popeye and Cloudy show in great detail the proper way to take down an after hours Brooklyn bar. The undercover cop they seek is taken aside and relays that a large shipment of heroin is due in and a lot of people are going to get well. Warrants for wiretaps are sought. Popeye and Cloudy stake out Sal and Angie’s luncheonette and shake down their snitches for more to go on. While at a Staten Island junkyard cars are being auctioned. And a big, black Lincoln is bought by one of Sal’s cousins. Then sent off to Marseilles.

Enter Charnier. The smooth, suave, sophisticated Puppet Master and Mastermind who loads said Lincoln with sixty kilos of 89% pure heroin. To be trans-shipped to New York under the protective entourage of a french celebrity whose gambling markers Charnier has bought up. A pretty slick operation that starts to show signs of cracking as wire taps bring in the Feds. Who want nothing to do with Doyle or Russo as stake outs continue and a test is made of the incoming product. Sal’s higher ups are leery and want to take their time. Sal pushes on as Charnier and his crew arrive in Manhattan. Jacking up the overall pressure to get things done by about five fold. First Cloudy, then Popeye notice Charnier’s new face and start nosing around in earnest. Watching their new prey enjoy a sumptuous meal while Popeye noshes on pizza and lousy coffee in sub zero temperatures.

The game is afoot as Charnier leaves and Popeye and Cloudy try to give chase as ‘The Frog’ slips away on a subway car under Grand Central Station. But not before Popeye and Charnier get a good long look at each other. Pressure builds up as the Frog’s celebrity flunky starts to get cold feet. A contract is put out on Doyle and is not quite carried out the next day by one of Charnier’s henchmen. Who misses with a scoped rifle from just over 100 yards and starts what is considered to be the second greatest chase in cinematic history. With a commandeered Pontiac LeMans versus a speeding elevated train. And ends with the shooter being back shot on the train’s stairs by Popeye before he passes out.

What to do? What to do? Popeye, Cloudy and the Feds stake out Charnier’s Lincoln and scoop it up as it is about to be stripped on a Bed~Stuy side street. The Lincoln is impounded and stripped from bumper to bumper. Invoices are checked and weights compared and the Lincoln is heavier than it should be by over 150 pounds. The extra weight is found in its rocker panels below the sedan’s door. The car is quickly reassembled and fluids topped off before being returned to Charnier and company.’

The final act begins with Charnier and his minions traveling to Sal’s cousin’s junk yard. Where the deal is completed. Money is exchanged for heroin and all is well with the world. Until the Frog and company leave and run into a road block led by a waving Popeye. Who follows the Lincoln as it is funneled back to the yard surrounded by hidden cops and anxious Feds.

I’ll leave the story right here. So as not to tip my hand too much and violate Spoiler Territory.

Now, what Makes This Film Good?

William Friedkin at the controls of an at its time, history making and record breaking story focused in and all around Manhattan and filmed during one of coldest, most miserable winters on record. Which only adds to the atmosphere and slowly building tension and suspense as a less than fabulous looking city plays a supporting character. Backing up a cast of relative unknowns who were given large, meaty parts and pursued them with gusto and confidence.

Especially Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider who were allowed to hang out with Eddie Egan and his partner, Sonny Grosso to learns the ins and outs of police work. Taking down bars and criminals and understanding the bond between two people who may not like, but understand and will back each other up. Watching them on the screen is what makes the film more than the sum of its parts.

The same can be said of the ensemble of bad guys and girls. Tony Lo Bianco rocks out loud as the small timer with enormous dreams beyond his reach. Urged on somewhat annoyingly by Arlene Farber as Sal’s wife, Angie. And Sal’s faceless fat, quiet and content higher ups in organized crime. The tension between them is palpable. While Fernando Rey’s smugly arrogant and elegant Charnier moves blissfully along. Until things start going from annoying to bad to very near fatal.

Kudos to Owen Roizman for finding countless corners, both busy and deserted, alley ways and abandoned sites of construction and destruction that add authenticity to a time of the city’s faded splendor. Also camera man Enrique Bravo for coming up with a new and unique use of a wheelchair to use in place of a rolling dolly shot early on when the Christmas junkie is taken down.

Editing is superb throughout. Handled by Gerald B. Greenberg who took the extra time to cut the snippets of the elevated train chase and Hackman in pursuit to a heart stopping fare thee well. As is the bass and cello heavy soundtrack masterfully handled by Don Ellis.

What Makes This Film Great?

Friedkin, Hackman and Scheider swinging for the fences and connecting. The latter, completely comfortable in their own skins portraying cops with no outside friends or social lives. Following leads that appear thin at first, yet slowly bearing fruit later on. Working from a screenplay from Ernest Tidyman after Shaft and before Report To The Commissioner that rings true. Especially between Popeye, Cloudy and the Feds. And when Scheider takes his time to un-cuff Hackman’s ankle from the head board of an abandoned one night stand before  another day of work.

Bill Hickman has not gotten enough love for his hair raising chase with the elevated train. Even if it was done after weeks of timing a string of stop lights in Bensonhurst and having police with sirens chasing him. A flawless piece of action that still stands the test of time and comes in just under his stunt driven chase in Bullitt.

The Film’s Mystique:

Friedkin working with a relatively small budget and spending it well and frugally. Rejecting original ideas of using Paul Newman or Jackie Gleason for the lead. Which would have wreaked havoc financially and opting for young and hungry talent. Hackman wisely jumped on the role after Peter Boyle, much to later chagrin, turned it down.

The French Connection was nominated to the National Film Registry in 1971 and accepted in 2005.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


What do you think of The French Connection? Do share ’em in the comments.

Weekend Viewing Roundup – a mixed bag of 3 genres & 1 addictive TV series

Happy Monday everyone!

Did you have a great weekend? It was a good one for me as well as bittersweet as one of my good friends is going back to our home country for a year for personal reasons, so we had a farewell dinner on Saturday night. I skipped the cinema again and opted for home-cinema viewing and also working on my Avengers assignment for my pal Terrence of The Focused Filmographer as part of the countdown for the movie. The posts will be revealed next week, though I’m so jealous that folks in Europe will see this first as it opens about a week before we get to see it here in the US!

My blog friend Jaina was fortunate enough to be at the London premiere last Thursday when ALL of the cast members were there, right around the corner of her office!! She took a bunch of photos of the event which you can check out on her blog. She was kind enough to let me use one of them as you can see above. Oh man, I’m so jealous yet happy that she got to be a part of such a fun event!

Well, as part of the Avengers countdown, I re-watched the first Iron Man movie and it’s still as entertaining as ever. Can’t believe that it’s been four years ago since that one came out and now we’ve got Tony Stark as part of the assembly of superheroes on a mission. It’s amazing how the Stark Industries is so key in the whole Avengers universe which of course began with Tony’s dad Howard with Steve Rogers’ transformation into Captain America in the 40s.


Now, part of my goal this year is to catch up on some classic movies that’ve long eluded me for whatever reason. One of those movies are The French Connection, prompted by a review that my good friend Jack Deth gave me last week. I’ll publish that review at a later date, but let me just say that it’s one heck of an excellent thriller. It’s gritty, chock-full of suspense cop thriller by William Friedkin. Two of the major reasons I’m curious to see this movie is Gene Hackman’s performance, and that famous car chase that wasn’t really a car chase as the driver was chasing an elevated subway train above him. This film did NOT disappoint on both counts! People always remember the car chase and rightly so, but I think the foot chase scenes of Hackman & Fernando Rey through NYC streets and subways are just as thrilling!

I’m glad I finally got to see the film, it’s definitely a great thriller with great performances by Hackman and Roy Schneider, a sharp script, and great editing. That iconic car chase scene is really icing on the cake, I could see how it has inspired a bunch of other urban car chases in movies. Fogs is right in selecting it as one of those Movies Everyone Should See.


Another film I saw this weekend is a 1994 CBS miniseries Scarlett, which is a follow-up to the epic civil war saga Gone with the Wind where Scarlett is determined to win back Rhett. So did Rhett really mean it when he said “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn?”

Well, when Rhett is played by none other than Timothy Dalton, I certainly have to find that out. Interesting that both Scarlett and Rhett are played by Brits this time, Joanne Whalley is from Manchester and Dalton of course is Welsh, but I think both did a decent job with their Southern accent, though Dalton’s inimitable Welsh brogue did slip out every once in a while 🙂 I have only finished Disc 1 but I enjoyed it so far, especially with Sean Bean appearing later on. I’m loving the Bond connection here, one Bond actor and Bond villain together in a movie, the 007-fangirl in me is loving this!


Oh and I finally finished the first season of BBC’s Sherlock… and it ended with a titillating cliffhanger!! Darn, I wish season 2 is available on Netflix already. The wait until May is going to be torture!


Well, that’s my summary of my weekend roundup. What did YOU see this weekend?

The Flix List: Past and present directors who could/should still make great films

By Ted Saydalavong


I’ve written two articles for this site about Hollywood directors, both the hacks and the great ones. So this post completes my directors trilogy posts 🙂 This time I’d like to focus on the past directors who have passed away and some who are still with us but hasn’t done anything significant in a long time.

In no particular order, here are the directors:

David Lean

Lean was known for his epic films such as The Bridge of River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. All three films were huge hits, after Doctor Zhivago he decided to make Ryan’s Daughter, it was a critical and commercial failure and because of its failure Lean didn’t make another film for over ten years. His last film was A Passage to India which came out 14 years after Ryan’s Daughter.  Before his death in 1991, he was trying to get another epic picture off the ground, Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. Steven Spielberg, a huge fan of Lean, came on board as a producer but left the project because of disagreement over the script. Eventually Lean was able to secure a huge budget from Warner Bros., $45mil was gigantic back in the 80s and the film was green lit. But he passed away six weeks before principle photography, he had throat cancer. I wonder if we’ll ever see Nostromo on the big screen, I would love it if someone like Spielberg or Nolan takes over the project. I think Nolan can definitely do it since the book was quite dark and epic in scale.

I don’t know if Lean would have successes if he was still alive and working in Hollywood today. I think he’ll have trouble finding money for the type of films that he’d made. As we all know big budgeted films today are mostly comic book based, remakes and sequels. Also, most audience nowadays has sorter attention span so I don’t think they’ll like Lean’s films at all. Unless he decides to include lots of explosions and machine guns in them, then maybe people will pay to see his films. My guess is Lean will probably never stoop that low just to please the audience.

Stanley Kubrick

Here’s a director who was known for being a perfectionist and sort of a madman. Many actors/actresses who’ve worked with him said, it was quite an experience working with him but they’ll never want to be in his film again because he drove them crazy with his long shoots and countless takes on each scene.

His most well-known film was probably 2001: A Space Odyssey and it’s my favorite film of his. George Lucas even copied the look and feel of 2001 for his Star Wars films, if you don’t believe me watch the space sequences in 2001 and then watch Star Wars, they look identical and 2001 came out 9 years before Star Wars. Kubrick was also known for bickering with his cinematographers, for example during the shoot of Barry Landon, he wanted to use natural lighting for the whole film but his cinematographer told him that’s impossible and I believed Kubrick fired him and hired a new one. Eventually he compromised and did use artificial lighting for many scenes. Also, during the shoot of A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick didn’t like the script so he decided to shoot the film from the pages of the novel. It drove his cinematographer crazy because he didn’t know how to set up the cameras correctly and it took hours just to shoot one scene.

The last film he did was Eyes Wide Shut, which took over two years to complete. Before his death, he was getting ready to shoot another potential sci-fi classic, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Of course we all know, Spielberg decided to make that movie to honor his friend. I could only imagine what the film would’ve been like had Kubrick directed it, he said he didn’t want to use a child actor for the lead role, so my assumption would be that he’d probably use CGI for the boy character. From what I remember reading, Kubrick wanted to make a dark and gritty world for A.I. as opposed to Spielberg’s light and fantasy version.

Kubrick would have no problem making films if he was still alive today, he’s highly respected in the film industry and any big name actors would kill just to work with him, they’ll regret it afterwards but at least they can say they’ve been in a Stanley Kubrick film.

Sam Peckinpah

Peckinpah was known for the innovative and explicit depiction of action and violence, as well as his revisionist approach to the western genre. Also, he’s known for filming slow motion in action scenes, John Woo and Zack Snyder are still trying to master his techniques in their films. In fact, John Woo admitted that he’s a huge fan of Peckinpah and always tried to emulate Peckinpah’s style on his own films.

Peckinpah became famous after the release of his western epic The Wild Bunch; the film got an X rating back in 1969 because of its violence. After the film’s success, Peckinpah got the nickname “Bloody Sam”. He pretty much started the trend in Hollywood where graphic violence became acceptable in big production films. After The Wild Bunch came out in 1969, the movies of the 70s included lots of graphic violence scenes; these include The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver and many more.

Peckinpah was also known for his combative personality; he refused to edit his films after shown them to studio executives, so the producers had to edit the films when he refused to be involved in the process. Some even called him a misogynist, which explains why famous actresses at the time never appeared in any of his films. Later in his career, he was offered a chance to direct some of the big films from the 70s; these include King Kong and Superman: The Movie, but he turned them all down because he didn’t want to deal with big studio politics. Apparently when he came in the interview for the Superman gig, he brought a pistol with him. He did so much cocaine and drank a lot of alcohol that he became so paranoid and some said it was hard being around him. His hard living style finally caught up with him and he died in 1984 of heart failure. He was only 59 years old.

I believe if Peckinpah was alive today he would be very successful because of independent studios that are available to filmmakers. He won’t have to deal with big studio executives and he can make his films the way he wants and still can find huge audience. You could say Quentin Tarantino is the new Peckinpah because his films are violent and strange, and of course Tarantino is a huge fan of Peckinpah. Also, all of Tarantino’s films were financed by The Weinstein Bros. studios, which it’s still considered an independent studio.

Note: I would like to mention a couple of directors whose work I’ve never seen but they’re well respected in the film industry, John Ford and Akira Kurosawa.

If you’re a fan of either of them, do you think they’ll be successful if they’re still alive and working in Hollywood today?


Now, here are some directors who are still with us, but haven’t done anything significant for a long time:

Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola was responsible for a few well known films of the 70s, The Godfather 1 & 2, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation. But after the release of Apocalypse Now, he pretty much lost his mojo when it comes to making successful films. In 1984, he made The Cotton Club, one of the biggest box office misfires of that decade. The film’s budget was around $60mil, that kind of number was unheard of back in those days. The rest of his films in the 80s were met with so-so reviews and box office numbers. So finally in 1990, he made The Godfather Part 3, mostly because his production company was going bankrupt and fans really wanted to see another chapter of the Corleone family. Unfortunately the film wasn’t as successful as the first two and to this day, many people still considered it the ‘black sheep’ of the trilogy.

In 1992, he made Dracula and it did pretty well at the box office and people thought maybe Coppola is back. But as it turned out, Dracula was his only big hit of that decade. He was pretty much gone unknown in the 2000s, even though he released a couple of movies, none of them made any noise with either the critics or audience.

I still believe Coppola could make a big comeback, he just needs the right script and get a good leading man to star in the film. For years he said he’s been working on a script of a sci-fi epic drama called Magalopolis, apparently he gave the script to Russell Crowe to read and Crowe loved it and agreed to star in it. The story is about NYC set 300 years in the future and it involves corrupt government in that future society. But unfortunately Coppola said he need about $200mil to make the movie and with his track record, he believe no studio in Hollywood will give him that kind of cash. So in early 2000s, he put the script on hold. I hope he decides to go back and work on it, that script could be his big comeback. Of course the hard part for him is to find investors who’ll fork over $200mil so he could shoot the picture.

William Friedkin

Here’s another guy who has a couple of big hit films back in the 1970s; The Exorcist and The French Connection were pretty big in those days. Just like Coppola, he sort of lost his touch of making successful films after the 70s. He actually made a very good film in 1985 that I recently discovered, To Live and Die in L.A. I knew about it for years never really wanted to see it, so finally I bought the Blu-ray version and watched it. I was surprised how good the film was; if you haven’t seen it, give it a rent. In the 90s and 2000s, he made a few films but they weren’t big hits.

I don’t know if Friedkin can make a comeback since there are so many great filmmakers out there today and he seems to be just another average director trying to make it day by day. I can only wish him the very best because I believe he’s very talented.

Richard Donner

The man who made the first and still the best Superman film and The Omen in the 70s. Then in the 80s and 90s, he made a few hits like the Lethal Weapon films and The Goonies. Just like Coppola and Friedkin, he somehow lost that touch of making a successful film the last few years. The last film I saw that he directed was 16 Blocks and it was awful. Apparently they’re remaking Lethal Weapon, will he be involved? I don’t know but I won’t be surprised if he is because he needs a hit.

I doubt that Donner could make a big comeback as a director, seems to me he just lost interest in directing films. He produced a lot of films, so maybe he prefers doing that instead of directing. Rumors been going around that he actually directed the last half of X-Men Origins: Wolverine because the original director walked off the set. I don’t know if that’s true or not, it’s Hollywood so anything’s possible.


Well those are my list of past and present directors who should or could make some successful films in today’s market. Do you have your own list? If so, feel free to name them.