Archive for the Spirit of the 70s Category

VANISHING POINT

Posted in 2010, Action Movies, Cars!, Classic Films, Spirit of the 70s, Zen with tags , , , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by knifefighter

(Seeing FASTER last week got me thinking about other cool movies where cars were prevalent. One of the best was VANISHING POINT. Here’s a short review I did a few years back ~ LLS)

VANISHING POINT (1971)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

In DEATH PROOF, Quentin Tarantino’s half of the double-feature movie GRINDHOUSE (2007), some of the characters talk about how the 1971 movie VANISHING POINT was one of the best car movies ever. So I figured if Tarantino likes it that much, I should check it out.

I was never much into car movies in the 70s. I remember seeing a few good ones like DIRTY MARY & CRAZY LARRY (1974) at the drive-in as a kid (man, do I miss drive-ins). But for the most part, when I thought of car movies back then, what came to mind were flicks like SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977) and shows like THE DUKES OF HAZARD (1979 – 1985) both of which I hated.

But there is a whole genre of films about cars that are very cool. From Monte Hellman’s TWO LANE BLACKTOP (1971) to the classic car chase in THE FRENCH CONNECTION (also 1971 – what a great year for cars in movies!), there have been some really great ones.

VANISHING POINT is one of the best. The plot is pretty simple. Barry Newman plays a mysterious guy named Kowalski (we never learn his first name). He was a solider in Vietnam. He was a cop. And then he just dropped out of society. All Kowalski seems to care about is racing. He races motorcyles, he races cars. His drug of choice, not surprisingly, is speed (both the pills and the forward momentum).

Kowalski drives a white Dodge Challenger (yep, just like the one they take for a “test drive” in GRINDHOUSE) from Denver to San Francisco. He has three days to get there, but he decides to do it in 14 hours. Unfortunately, the cops decide to throw a monkey wrench in his plans and chase him. They’re wasting their time, though, because he won’t stop and he won’t pull over. So they increase the number of cop cars. And a high speed chase turns into a statement about one man’s freedom to drive on the open road.

Kowalski meets some people along the way including an old prospector type who gathers rattlesnakes (Dean Jagger) and some hippies who help him out of a bind (one of them is a blonde chick who rides around naked on a motorcyle, played by Gilda Texter). And there’s also Cleavon Little as Super Soul, a blind DJ who plays some great soul tunes and also, ironically enough, who acts as Kowalski’s eyes as he listens to the police scanner and gives Kowalski tips on the radio about how to avoid them.

This movie has a real ’70s vibe to it (which makes sense, considering when it was made), and a minimalistic existential/zen tone. In other words, it’s my kinda movie. And if it sounds like something you’d dig, then you’d best check it out.

© Copyright 2007 by L.L. Soares

Advertisements

FASTER

Posted in 2010, Action Movies, Crime Films, LL Soares Reviews, Spirit of the 70s, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2010 by knifefighter

FASTER
Review by L.L. Soares

Who knew I’d ever actually want to see a movie starring The Rock? I mean this is the former wrestler whose career choices have been pretty dismal since he decided to pursue acting.  Whether its throwaway stuff like THE SCORPION KING (2002) and GET SMART (2008) or family-safe pabulum like THE TOOTH FAIRY (2010) and THE GAME PLAN (2007), he hasn’t really lived up to his potential. Until now. I’m finally a Rock fan. Maybe I should be calling him Dwayne Johnson. He doesn’t go by “The Rock” anymore, does he?

When I saw the trailer for FASTER, I knew I had to check it out. Why? Because it instantly reminded me of 1970s revenge dramas like DEATH WISH (1974) and WALKING TALL (1973), edgy 70s flicks where merciless men got revenge for grievous wrongs. (Which is funny, because Dwayne starred in a lackluster WALKING TALL remake in 2004, too, but it didn’t have the kick this one does.)

So I went to see FASTER, totally expecting to be disappointed by the actual movie itself. The trailer had to be a fluke, right?  And something even weirder happened.

I had one helluva time with this movie!

The plot is incredibly simple. It begins with our man Dwayne (his character in this movie is simply known as “Driver”) getting out of prison after a 10-year stretch. Nobody is waiting for him outside the gates, so he just starts running—anything to get him away from that place—and ends up in a junkyard miles away where a 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS—which is a character in the movie all by itself—has been left for him and is waiting under a tarp. He grabs the keys, hops in, and the movie begins for real. He has a list and some photographs. He needs to find the people on the list and kill them. There’s a purity to this movie’s single-mindedness.

Why does he want to kill them? Ten years ago, he was the driver for his brother, as part of a crew robbing a bank. They got away with it, but some rival gang showed up at his brother’s house, intent on stealing their haul. When they don’t give it up, Dwayne’s brother gets killed and he gets shot in the head for his troubles. But he lives!

He lives long enough to do a stretch in the big house. But once he’s out, it’s payback time!

Who else is involved? Besides, Dwayne and his vendetta, we’ve got two cops who have a hard-on to bring him to justice. One is simply called “Cop” in the credits (Billy Bob Thornton) and he’s a piece of work. A sleazy, unkempt drug addicted little guy with nine days to go before he retires, and one last chance to vindicate himself as a human being by helping to solve this case. His reluctant partner, Detective Cicero (the excellent Carla Gugino in one of the few roles in this movie that have an actual name), wants nothing to do with Billy Bob, but he’s been assigned to help her by the boss, so she deals with it.

There’s also a hit man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen as a character simply called “Killer”) who has been hired by the mysterious person behind the double-cross ten years ago that got Dwayne’s brother killed. Killer is an overachiever who kills people just to show he can. He’s a yuppie who has succeeded at everything he does, from making a killing in the financial realm to overcoming polio as a kid to recreate himself as a perfect physical specimen. There is nothing this guy can’t do. Then he’s hired to kill our Mr. Johnson, and he becomes obsessed with finishing a job that continually eludes him.

So that’s it. Dwayne ratchets up the kills, as the cops and the hit man are on his trail trying to stop him. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t try to hide. That he’s all over the news. That wherever he goes, people should recognize him. Nobody stops him. Even when he goes into businesses and shoots employees in their cubicles. He’s a killing machine. He’s a great white shark on two legs. He keeps moving forward until someone can stop his trajectory.

There’s one scene involving a conversation about forgiveness (I won’t say more than that) that threatened to derail this movie and ruin it for me, but it’s not a big enough flaw to scratch the paint too much.

But aside from that one misstep, which was meant to humanize Mr. Rock, in a movie where he really doesn’t need humanizing, this flick is pretty much flawless. Like a cross between DEATH WISH and VANISHING POINT (1971)— that car alone screams 1970s and it earns its keep throughout—as Johnson drives from one victim to another, intent on righting wrongs and splattering as much brain matter as he can.

The utter coolness of this movie even goes down to the soundtrack. It’s by Clint Mansell, from one of my favorite bands from the late 80s-early 90s, Pop Will Eat Itself.  He’s since gone on to a solid career as the composer of soundtracks, mostly with Darren Aronofsky (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) and 2006’s THE FOUNTAIN to name just two). There are also some very cool song choices, especially “Short Change Hero,” a neo-soul powerhouse tune by the band The Heavy that plays over the ending credits.

Like I said before, I always thought Dwayne Johnson had charisma, but he has made some awful choices for movie roles. FASTER finally justifies his career change. And everyone else involved turns in solid performances, too, from the various sleazebags Johnson hunts down, to Billy Bob (I’ve been a fan of this guy since the first time I saw him, in SLING BLADE) to Gugino and Jackson-Cohen.

It’s rated R for violence and language. But the film does have a bit of puritanical streak running through it, however narrow. There’s no nudity, and even in a scene that takes place at a strip club, the ladies keep their underwear on.

Existential in tone. Pure adrenaline in pacing. Merciless in execution. FASTER is a blast from a sawed off shotgun compared to the other films in Johnson’s filmography.

I give it three and a half knives.

-the end-

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares