8 posts categorized "Cult Film"

February 18, 2013


The WarriorsWalter Hill’s vibrant 1979 adaptation of Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel — based loosely on an ancient Greek story called “Anabasis” — is a classic cinematic record of New York City circa 1979. It arrived during the era when Mayor Ed Koch declared a political war on unions and minorities.

The film’s hip nighttime opening sequence compares Coney Island’s landmark neon-lit Wonder Wheel to the lights of an approaching graffiti-covered subway train. Clips of expositional dialogue by the Coney Island gang named in the film’s title are intercut with a front-car-view of a subway train penetrating its stations. Excitement builds under pulsing music orchestrated to allow for the intermittent segments of conversation. Brilliant. Other gangs of uniquely uniformed urban soldiers arrive at subway locations to travel to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where a public assembly of unarmed gang delegates from New York’s boroughs gathers for a midnight conference.


Cyrus (Roger Hill), “the president of the biggest gang in the city” — the Riffs — speaks to the crowded congregation of young thugs. On the underground stage of political theater, Cyrus calls for a truce between all of New York City’s gangs. Cyrus proposes consolidating New York’s 60,000 gang members into one unified gang capable of ruling a city overseen by a mere 20,000 police officers. As in American politics, unifiers are not really desired. The truce is cut short by a gang agitator’s pistol when Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus dead before framing a member of the Warriors as the shooter.

Dressed in their burgundy American-Indian-styled pleather vests, the Warriors become an easily recognizable target for every other gang in New York, cops included. An African-American female radio DJ (Lynne Thigpen) announces a hit on the Warriors, as demanded by the leader of the Riffs. The filmmaker only shows the DJ’s lips in relation to the microphone. Style and tone blend into actionable energy.


Picking up on the wake of S. E. Hinton’s idealized fantasy novel of ‘60s-era American gang culture (“The Outsiders”), “The Warriors” takes a less censored stance in equating the ostensibly heroic Warriors gang with their weakest links. When Swan (Michael Beck) steps up to lead his team back to “Coney” as “War Chief,” Ajax (James Remar) takes umbrage. The gang splits up. Easily distracted by the promise of sexual conquest, Ajax learns the hard way how not to treat a lady seated on a park bench when he tries to rape an undercover cop. The Warriors’ herd gets thinned. New York City police contribute to the gang’s lessening number when a cop shoves a Warrior onto the subway tracks in the path of an oncoming train.

Gritty and peppered with the us-against-them lingo of the era, “The Warriors” is a cult movie that pushes its cartoonish elements into a desperate realm where fantasy melts away in a wash of brutal reality.


Rated R. 93 mins.

5 Stars

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February 10, 2013


The Good, the Bad and the UglyThe closing chapter of Sergio Leone’s iconic Spaghetti Western trilogy — following “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) and “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) — is an operatic cinematic hymn to the hypocrisies of war and the schemes of opportunist outlaws on a quest for personal riches. Clint Eastwood’s “man-with-no-name” character “Blondie” isn’t exactly a model of ethical behavior, even if the “Good” appellation in the film’s title applies to him.

The “Bad” refers to Lee Van Cleef’s ruthless gunslinger Sentenza, whose search for a cache of stolen Confederate gold coincides with that of Blondie and the “Ugly” one of the bunch, Eli Wallach’s Mexican character Tuco. Most noteworthy is Leone’s shift away from an emphasis on Eastwood’s thematic standard-bearer in the previous two films to Tuco, an immigrant with an instinct for survival equal to his capacity for humor and greed. With a hefty bounty on his head, Tuco is an unlikely protagonist. His business deal with Blondie involves Eastwood’s sharpshooter gunman splitting the hangman’s rope around Tuco’s neck to free him after receiving the reward for turning Tuco in. Blondie rescues Tuco at the last possible second, and the men escape to pull the same trick in another town. Still, there is no love lost between the men despite their mutually beneficial financial arrangement.


A son of Italian cinema parents — has father was director Roberto Roberti, and his mother was the silent film actress Edvige Valcarenghi — Sergio Leone had the good fortune of working as an assistant to Vittorio de Sica on “The Bicycle Thief” for his first job. That Leone went to school with his trusted composer Ennio Morricone only adds to the rich pedigree of cinema language from which Leone sprung .


Leone’s liberal use of widescreen shots in conjunction with extreme close-ups gives the movie an epic quality matched in scope by a skeletal narrative structure that breathes with a poker-faced mood, tone, and personality. Leone uses Ennio Morricone’s brilliant musical score to paint large swaths of aural colors across the screen as if it were a three-dimensional canvas brimming with thematic counterpoint. The filmmaker’s use of stark visual compositions contributes to the story’s surreal landscape where violence is a consequence of the region’s dichotomy between abject poverty and outrageous wealth being spent by the North in conducting the Civil War — an economic power-grab sold to the public, most recently by Steven Spielberg, as a humanitarian battle of moral superiority.


Rated R. 161 mins. (A+) 

5 Stars

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May 13, 2012


Dark-shadowsTim Burton’s tantalizingly delightful reduction of ABC television’s gothic daily soap opera (1966-1971) makes the most of its vampiric leading man Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp). If a couple of supporting characters —such as Barnabas’s love interest Victoria Winters/Josette DuPres— get shuffled away to back burners, there’s hardly opportunity to hold a grudge amid the compact storytelling.

Bolstered by an energetic cast that includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, and a scene-chewing Chloe Grace Moretz, “Dark Shadows” plays to its depiction of early ‘70s America without slipping into camp. A cherry-picked soundtrack of era-appropriate music ranging from Iggy Pop to The Carpenters to Alice Cooper adds ironic lilt to the pokerfaced humor on hand. Danny Elfman’s evocative score hits all the right notes in setting a darker tone for the spunky melodrama.

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As the backstory goes, the Liverpool-born Barnabas Collins helped with his father’s successful fishing business from the cavernous comfort in Collinwood Mansion in the coastal Maine town of Collinsport in the mid to late 1700s. A miscalculated dalliance with a jealous Wiccan house servant named Angelique Bouchard (played with delicious poise by Eva Green) cost Barnabas the lives of his parents, and that of his true love Josette DuPres. The spurned Angelique turned Barnabas into a vampire before siccing the angry locals on him. His fate was to be buried alive.

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Nearly 200 years later, construction workers dig up our displaced vampire hero across from a McDonald’s parking lot. He responds by killing them. Well, Barnabas Collins is a bloodthirsty vampire after all. Barnabas’s unwelcome resurrection corresponds with the arrival at Collinwood Mansion of Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote)—the spitting image of Josette DuPres—who responds to an ad for a nanny to the household’s youngest member David (Gulliver McGrath)—son to Jonny Lee Miller’s unfit father figure Roger Collins. Barnabas reclaims his rightful place as the household patriarch in the face of Angelique’s place as a permanent rival to the family fishing business, which hangs on by the barest of threads. The only slightly ruffled vampire quickly goes into action to restore the family fortune even as family secrets spring to the surface like so many blades of grass on a golf course.

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Depp’s Barnabas Collins gets ample opportunity to put the bite on his share of necks. Since working together on seven previous films director Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have developed a sharpness of communication that translates easily to the audience. “Dark Shadows” is a lot more fun than any of the “Twilight” movies combined. The movie sustains a unique tone of gleeful gothic fun. To that end, it achieves its clever goals quite nicely.

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Rated PG-13. 113 mins.

3 Stars

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