All posts by Mark Frost

‘North Dallas Forty’ (Ted Kotcheff, 1979)

Pain. That’s what sport is to me. Both physical and mental.

This side of the sport has been well documented on film, from Rocky, to Rocky II, to the Mighty ducks 3. And what does sport mean to me second to that? I’m not telling. But third? Well, it’s the routine of it – the washing your kit, the travel to the game, putting the kit on, taping your shin pads up. When I get ready for a match in the changing room, I am always reminded of the opening titles of the the Burt Reynolds vehicle “Hooper” – it turns the act of pulling on your kit into an operatic ritual. ‘North Dallas Forty” is the equivalent of the taking off of kit after a game. The aches, the pains, the groans. It’s the most realistic sports film I’ve seen.

On the week I watched this, I had just played my first game of football in months (after proclaiming retirement). It took me 4 days to be able to walk properly. When you get into your thirties, sport just don’t seem worth it anymore. You hurt – at the time, and for days afterwards. You find yourself facing opponents half your age and twice your speed. “North Dallas Forty” feels like the story of that sentiment – men carrying on in a pursuit that has got away from them, but not knowing how to say ‘enough is enough’.

Yes, it also about money – Nolte’s character Phil Elliot naturally worries about what he will do when the time comes to retire. But above that, is the rising fear that a time will come when he can’t be part of the game. That a time will come when you don’t suffer the rituals, you no longer feel your racking heartbeat as you go out on the field, balancing on a knife edge between inadequacy and that perfect moment when you pull of the catch/kick/throw/goal that may win the game – a split second of chance that fuels the willpower to smell the soggy post-game kit, accept a week of pain, accept the risk of failure you can’t hide from.
That’s the reason I keep coming back. The hope I will regain the level of talent I had 10 years ago – but it’s a pipe dream. My body can no longer match up.
I expect the money keeps these players coming back long after they should have called it a day – I won’t have that problem – I’m no pro. ‘Slap Shot’ (my favourite sports film) is a great example of this – slipping down the leagues so you keep getting a pay check, the drudgery of sport as a career. But some can’t do that – they only understand being the best.

North Dallas Forty contains a lot of men behaving terribly – destroying their body with legal & illegal drugs, partying too hard, burning the candle at both ends – but it’s all about pride. Never letting the other guy get the better of him playing or partying. We can all understand that. And these men fight for their space on the field, in bars, boardrooms and the bedroom (I think Jackie Collins broke into my computer and wrote that last sentence).

Speaking of pride, a friend of mine was telling me his brother (let’s call him ‘Dave’ as that is his name) never says no to a bet. In a pub recently a chap bet him he could send him across the room with a trademark Bruce Lee “One-inch punch”. Never one to back down from a challenge, Dave accepted. Bruce Li duly charged his body up with ancient power and twatted Dave across the room, sliding along the floor. Now, the indignity of losing the bet doesn’t end there – a little person (the artists formerly known as midgets) leapt upon his chest straddling him – and proceeded to suck Dave’s contact lens right out of his eye.
It turns a little hazy after that (I’m quite sure the red mist descended by that point), but it seems the small eye licker made his getaway. On receipt of this tale, I was naturally sceptical, so I texted Dave myself asking what happened after the punch, and he replied “Little bastid sucked my contact lens out!”.
I don’t know about you, but I’m never going to write ‘bastard’ the same way again. That’s the gift that life can give you sometimes. Thanks God or equivalent.

I just worry that the real Bruce Lee may have had the same sidekick back in the 70’s. Who’s to say that off-camera, Chuck Norris wasn’t getting the beard sucked clean off his face? I actually believe that the Chuck Norris masterpiece “Code Of Silence” was about the network of poor individuals who are made to suffer in silence after such an encounter. But I’m almost definitely wrong.

Slap Shot perfectly captured the camaraderie of a team between games. The touring, the changing rooms – some of my best stories come from nights out after games, and the carnage on tour (I once watched a drunken teammate forget he was in a rickshaw and calmly try to walk off down the street at 30mph plus. His body tumbling into the night was the last we saw of him until breakfast). North Dallas Forty on the other hand excels at displaying the egos at work in a team, and the massaging and tip-toing that needs to be performed to keep the team on the rails. It’s based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Peter Gent, one-time wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys. The insight into a professional team is clearly genuine, and the film’s strongest suit. All the more impressive is that it’s yet another film covered on this blog directed by Ted Kotcheff. The ‘Weekend At Bernies” and “First Blood” director skips between genres with ease. It’s a great shame he fell off the radar in the 90’s.

Is it a good candidate for the 24 hour film session? Possibly not – it’s very well know so highly likely to have been seen previously by most attendees. But I’m never one to turn away a 1970’s American film, so it may just slip in during the day stretch.
Give it a look, even if you’re not a sports fan. The sport is the vehicle here, friendship and morals the centre.

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‘Defiance’ (John Flynn, 1980)

Fans of the Sergio Leone epic Spaghetti Western “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” will immediately recognise the following quote:
“There are two kind of people in this world my friend – those who like Blue Thunder, and those who like Airwolf”.

Growing up, I was an Airwolf child through and through. I used to run around the playground blowing cold breath out in front of me pretending I was Airwolf banking through the clouds at high speed.

I’ll begrudgingly concede that Blue Thunder was ok, but Airwolf had my vote (why was it called Airwolf and not ‘Airshark’? – the machine looks just like a shark from below). In fact, I don’t think I could knowingly have sexual relations with anyone who preferred Blue Thunder over Airwolf. (This is not an open invitation for Blue Thunder fans reading this to slip me a Rohypnol).

jmv_batThe success was in no small part to Jan Michael Vincent. Stringfellow Hawke was damn near the coolest man alive. I distinctly remember squinting my eyes to emulate his expression when conversing with my fellow prisoners at school.

As I grew older I checked out more of his back catalogue before his decent into alcoholism robbed him (and us) of a further career. His collaborations with Charles Bronson and Burt Reynolds are the standouts (and worth film session entries) – ‘The Mechanic’ and “Hooper’ respectively. ‘Big Wednesday’ deserves a mention for being both a superb film and a great performance.

Jan Michael Vincent had entered the Vigilante sub-genre before, with ‘Vigilante Force’ in 1976 – but he went back for more in 1980 with “Defiance”. It’s the story of a merchant seaman (you can tell he is a sailor because he has an anchor-shaped hatstand and paints pictures of boats), named Tommy Gamble, who is suspended from duty and must wait ashore until he gets permission to go back to sea. A local bartender gives him details of a cheap rental building in New York he can rest up in until he gets his call. Once in the neighbourhood, he quickly realises the locals are living under the control of a gang called the “Souls”, ruling the neighbourhood through fear.

Tommy is just trying to keep his head low and not get involved, but the gang have infiltrated daily life in the community and prove unavoidable.

churchWhist watching the film, I was reminded strongly of “Death Wish 3” – another ‘community under attack’ vigilante film. It comes close in terms of the cartoonish nature of it – the gang are helpfully made up of a Benetton-advert cast of races and creeds – the main bad guy dresses like Zorro, and they all seem to live in a big dirty commune (as with Death Wish 3’s gang). There seems to be about 20+ members – and they are not messing about: they gladly stab and shoot people when they feel like it, but their ambitions are a little low – at one point the whole gang descends on a Church hall Bingo session to steal the takings. You’ve got over 20 members with guns and getaway cars, and you decide to rob Bingo in probably the poorest neighbourhood in New York? You need a new leader. Preferably one who doesn’t wear frilly billowing red shirts and 1920’s villain make-up.

Under better leadership, I think a few of the gang would be feeling the heat come appraisal time – at a pivotal stage in the film, they break into Jan Michael Vincent’s apartment to wreak havoc while he is out. Well, I thought that was the plan – but as the door breaks inwards and gang members stream in – the only slightly criminal activity I witnessed was one flamboyant individual grabbing a sofa cushion and running into the other room with it, whilst his nearest compatriot skipped in behind him spraying shaving cream onto the carpet and a little bit of the living room wall. I couldn’t see what the others were doing, but I expect it was something equally heinous like switching dry roasted for salty in Jan’s nut stash.

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They do manage to get it together for long enough to beat the crap out Tommy in a subway toilet., in revenge for cutting one of their numbers’ ponytail off (since when has that been a bad thing? Even Michael Bolton eventually came round). They leave him for dead, not before stealing the watercolour paint set he had just purchased. Inexplicably, they leave the selection of acrylics on the ground, choosing one painting medium over another in the heat of battle. I just can’t understand the criminal mind sometimes.

The most interesting part of the film for me is the realisation that Jan Michael Vincent’s character ‘Tommy’ is a bit of an arsehole. Not in any kind of overt way, just that he really doesn’t give a toss about anyone. On his first day in the flat, his attractive female neighbour invites herself in for a chat (walks straight in off the fire escape despite the pair never meeting). As she recounts her life story, Tommy quietly goes into his bedroom and shuts the door. It’s quite a surprising moment. All Tommy wants is to get back on a ship and get off land. The vigilante always tends to keep his head down at first, but the difference here is he just doesn’t give two shits about anyone or their stories. Maybe this is the most realistic portrayal of the ‘everyman’ yet – as I can understand that point of view easily. If you had written this article, I wouldn’t be reading it, you can be sure of that. I’m an everyman.

His obsession with landing a new boat makes for a few surprising moments that may stir you from a 3am film session slumber – mostly due to Jan Michael Vincent’s inability to pronounce ‘ship’ properly. So you’ll regularly witness pedestrian dialogue scenes punctuated suddenly with such exclamations as “I need a shit Marsha”, “I’m waiting for a shit” and “I’m leaving, I gotta shit”. (If you can put 2 and 2 together I’ve just dropped a spoiler on you).

I’ll do you a favour and let you know right now that Jan Michael Vincent is not playing the Ambassador to Peurto Rico. The next door neighbour kid calls him ‘Ambassador’ all the time, as Vincent claimed to hold that role when quizzed why he was repeating lines of Spanish. I was lucky enough to catch this fact. Sleepy watchers may miss it and think the film is more “Coming To America” then “Death Wish”.

One mystery I can’t help you with is who this kid belongs to. He hangs around with an old Italian ex-boxer  (played by Luca Brassi from ‘The Godfather’)- slightly slow presumably due to his former career. My eyes narrowed during a scene when the boxer is lying in bed listening to a fight on the wireless, the camera pulls back to reveal the child sitting next to him on the bed in his underpants. Hmmm. Luca Brassi sleeps with the fishes, and underage street urchins too it seems.

The music is foul. It’s soft-rocking disco tracks – which almost reach Frank Stallone-levels of awfulness. I don’t want to comment further on this. I feel dirty.

It’s not a bad film, it just feels very forced. The neighbourhood doesn’t seem particularly marooned like the one in Death Wish 3 does – it’s in the heart of the city where the police just wouldn’t put up with that shit. The story is incredibly predictable, offering no surprises. And the only co-star of interest is Danny Aiello. And I’m stretching a bit saying he is ‘of interest’. The director is John Flynn, who has quite a few decent films under his belt – “The Outfit”, “Rolling Thunder”, “Out for Justice”. He shows little of the class on show in “Rolling Thunder” here.

Worth a watch, but put it a little further down your list than the likes of “Walking Tall” and “Vigilante”.

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“Uncommon Valor” (Ted Kotcheff, 1983)

Fans of early-eighties “bring the POWs back from Vietnam” type-films are very well served – in the space of three years, a trio of near-identical films were produced. “Uncommon Valor” (1983), “Missing In Action” (1984) and “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (1985).

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Uncommon Valor is the first, but most definitely the least of this series. Having never seen it, I was intrigued by the promise of a performer of Gene Hackman’s standing appearing in a knee-jerk right-wing fantasy, the likes of which sprung up repeatedly during the 80’s (It’s no surprise to see gun-nut and famous right-winger John Millius’ receive a producer credit). Hackman seems to have a wild hair in his bum about this kind of film – he’s made variations of it two more times – “Bat 21” (1988), “Behind Enemy Lines” (2001).

But ultimately it comes across no better than a cheap Canon knock-off. The locations are quite dull – the way they are captured is incredibly bland, and technically it is very shoddy in places. All of the Bangkok-set scenes seem to use very poorly implemented looping. Examples abound of forced editing decisions to fill gaps that remind the viewer of 80’s TV – where footage was repeated, slowed down and reversed, to fill gaps, or hide jarring shot clashes. Hackman looks thoroughly bored, and is certainly wasted. He only gets to show emotion once in the film, the rest of the time he is like a apathetic version of Lee Marvin in “The Dirty Dozen“.

Plus points? The supporting cast is quite spicy – Fred Ward, Tim Thomerson, Patrick Swayze, Randall Tex-Cobb; and Robert Stack in an enticing denim onesie. These are the ragtag team of Vietnam Vets brought together by Hackman to rescue his POW son who’s been MIA for ten years. They gel wonderfully in a shower scene (stay with me) where Tim Thomerson decides they should all dance together in various states of undress. Verdict? Thomerson dances like he is repeatedly killing the same ant – stepping back periodically to check out it’s guts, and Ward probably hasn’t seen a nightclub in his life (or much sun, he’s lily-white compared to the others).
swayzeOne marvellous scene has Swayze witnessing just a bit too much pointless death and destruction for his liking, rushing out of his sniper spot waving his gun around screaming “I’m gonna kill all you motherfuckers!”, before abruptly stopping on the spot and firing a thousand rounds into a nearby bush. It’s quite an existential moment – the character coming to the correct conclusion that some higher power is ultimately to blame, so why not take it out on His plants. The same theme Terrence Malick was reaching for with “The Thin Red Line” but fell short.

The soundtrack is by James Horner – which means you’re either going to get one of two scores – “Conan The Barbarian” or “Predator“. This time it’s “Predator” (Although I noticed a variation on the famous countdown theme from the ‘nuke from orbit’ scene in “Aliens“.)

So why would we want to put this in our film session line up? Well, Fred Ward and Tim Thomerson are reason enough. But the real beacon that drew us  was the director Ted Kotcheff. Famous for making “First Blood“, he went on to make one of the most oft-repeated fixtures of the 24 hour film session – “Weekend At Bernies“.

If you can only choose one ‘Bring those POWs back’ film today, then go for “Missing In Action“. It’s more fun, and has more elements of exploitation that this kind of film benefits from. Hackman really did make any old shit in the 80’s didn’t he?

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Raymond Elseviers

His Bullitt poster is one of my all-time favourites.

Nearly all of this Belgian artist’s film poster work is presented here.

http://pinterest.com/illgal/the-art-of-ray-raymond-elseviers-all-his-belgian-m/

Well worth a look.

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Busting (Peter Hyams, 1974)

Fans of ‘Freebie And The Bean’ would do well to check out 1974’s “Busting”, with Elliot Gould and Robert Blake.

Directed by cinema’s ultimate ‘Metteur en Scene’ – Peter Hyams – it’s a bleak buddy-cop movie set in the seedy streets of Los Angeles.

Have to report that it was an engrossing watch, with an unpredictable script. One of those films you feel like you are peering in on, rather than it being made for your benefit. The stand-out reason for watching is it’s unrelenting pessimism.

Nothing eerily prescient in Blake’s performance that would foreshadow the details of his later murder conviction. Although he does have an unlit cigarette on his lip throughout this film, so if he committed his heinous crime with an unlit cigarette on his lip (I can’t be bothered to look into this), then it is eerily prescient.

Genre fans will note the appearance of Antonio Fargas and Sid Haig in a couple of scenes.

 

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Fighting Back (1982)

We love a vigilante film, so the promise of prime-era Tom Skerritt as an everyday man standing up for his community was too good to pass up.
In short, it’s pretty good, but very unfocused.

Just like Death Wish, he spends most of his time beating on black people – but unlike Death Wish, it doesn’t try to justify this with hazy misquoted crime figures based on race – it introduces a character (played by Yaphet Kotto) who flat out proves the lead is a racist in a marvellous scene putting Skerritt’s character on the spot, testing his natural insticts.
Nothing is done with this, and Kotto is slightly wasted – but it doesn’t feel cheap; you suddenly question Skerritt’s motives, and feel uneasy for the rest of the movie.
More cartoon like than the superior Death Wish, but a few shades less crass than Death Wish II. Highlights include an old lady getting her finger cut off with a garden pruner for her wedding ring, some misjudged funky chase music that comes from nowhere at thewrongmoments, and Tom Skerritt’s laughable New Yoik accent: “HEY, I’M FOCKING TOM SKERRITT OVER HERE-YA”.