Hard Times

Ins and outs of a boxing promoter on the skids.

A masterpiece from first to last, not so spare that Variety could not come a cropper, “the cast can’t beat the script.”

Performances on this order are not to be had, not elsewhere.

Roger Ebert earns his pay and his Pulitzer with a good review.

Coburn and Bronson put their feet up on a French Quarter terrace in a fine shot. Strother Martin goes to town as Poe, half Jackie Gleason, half William Conrad, part Tennessee Williams. Jill Ireland is perfect, as always.

Jewison’s The Cincinnati Kid is cited in location shots. The great variant is Fargo’s Every Which Way But Loose. Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde is a period model.



Brewster’s Millions

This is a part previously essayed by Dennis O’Keefe, Jack Buchanan, Fatty Arbuckle, et al. Hill keeps solidly ahead of himself and takes solid swings that connect every time. The meticulous construction of the central gag keeps him at maximum concentration, and all the performances benefit from this. The depth of the casting is shown by having Reni Santoni do a turn as a sportscaster. Stephen Collins, remarkably, demonstrates a finished command of comedy.  Hill loads himself further with a careful study of Thirties films. This pays him back with a sterling wipe in the exhibition game sequence, and generally shows an erudition put to use at the service of filmmaking. So a variety of actors are available for ricocheting comedy, and spectacular gags like the interior decorator’s “Postmodern fantasy” and the millionaire’s political campaign are effortlessly presented.

There are particular references to Meet John Doe and Citizen Kane that are equally effortless. Several elements were fully developed in Mel Brooks’ Life Stinks.


Extreme Prejudice

It opens with an A-Team of soldiers listed as dead, they enter into a Mexican standoff on the border and liquidate a drug-kingpin’s assets in a mêlée derived from The Wild Bunch, and in the midst of this the kingpin and a Texas Ranger (boyhood friends) prepare to fight a back-to-back-ten-paces-turn-and-fire duel over a muchacha.

The Team create an explosive diversion and wear security-officer uniforms to rob a U.S. bank of drug loot used for, among other things, supporting the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Afterward, south of the border, they raid a stronghold for the account books. A moment of indecision spells disaster, the Team’s intentions are not so clear, they die amid the kingpin’s hirelings.

The duel does not come off as planned, either, it’s a face-to-face showdown at last. One of the gang picks up the fallen leader’s white hat and puts it on, he was a madman anyway, now business can be more rational. Ranger and girl depart.


Red Heat

Hill’s technique is certainly able to channel the extremely volatile material safely, with its seamless close editing, but much of it is detonated as humor en route, and he secures it for good measure in deft quotes from The French Connection and Bullitt, the last a double portion.


An American Legend

The title and tinting create an unreal view (the latter approaching at places a Curtis orotone). The structure is decided at once with Geronimo advancing toward the camera as he sits astride the white horse of Guitry’s Napoléon (repeated for effect). The elaborate apparatus of style and technique is eventually made up of small increments delineating this ambiguity clearly. The several viewpoints are all defined cogently, and form a perspective extending to Geronimo’s departure by train (the iron horse).

In this, the five main performances are precise. Wes Studi is the fighting man’s icon, Gene Hackman leads a cavalry charge, Robert Duvall is a frontier scout, Jason Patric a proper soldier and Indian expert, Matt Damon a graduate from the Point.

The battle scenes are an adjustment from Welles (Chimes at Midnight) with a long lens for close work. The reviewers all complained, each and every one of them, all are answered in minute detail by myriad nuances that are in some cases nothing more than the adjustment of a hat.


Wild Bill

The foundation of the character is laid out of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and the rest out of perhaps Barry Lyndon. Wild Bill Hickok is a man among varmints, and set upon by a boy.

The difficult style is perhaps explained by this, as an answer to and explanation of television amateurism as we now know it. The film works backward in a sense, saving the real character of Hickok to emerge from all the dross out of cantankerousness, as it would appear.


Last Man Standing

Two bootlegging outfits dominate Jericho in west Texas, a stranger rides in and cleans up the town.

The superficial structure is from Kurosawa and Leone, The Dwarfs by Harold Pinter is much more in view as the topicality of this or that version is whittled down to essences.



This provisional cut of an unfinished film is a perfectly-made satire of the postmodernism tackily applied to Roddenberry’s Star Trek in seemingly endless clones.

Coppola has exercised considerably more detachment than in his edit of Ritchie’s The Fantasticks. Hill’s genius is always evident, no matter how far-reaching and subtle, but there is no way to presently gauge the scope of the finished work.

Aside from the general satire (a thoroughly probing and vigorous affair), or rather formulating a counterpoint to its miserable verisimilitude, is a panoply of visual understanding dealt from Journey to the Seventh Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars (the remotely-operated robot, out of Spaceballs by way of Sleeper), Forbidden Planet, Alien and so forth. Spader’s impersonation of Captain Kirk is veiled and useful, Bassett leads a troupe acting à la mode.



The heavyweight champ goes behind bars on a rape conviction and meets the prison champ in a bout at 40-1 odds with London Prize Fight Rules and a parole in the offing.

Flash-style in the opening is a general satire of the milieu that’s winnowed out to clear characters and a fair fight that leaves the prison champ undefeated and his opponent in Vegas with a half-a-billion purse, an undisputed title and one off-the-record loss.

The fight is minutely filmed in tracking shots along the bars of a caged ring topped with barbed-wire, prisoners line every shot. A fast ninety minutes in all telegraphs the condensation of an image provided by Peter Falk as a mobster on the inside with a crazy wish to see his appreciation of a skilled boxer triumph over toughness of hands. Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes delineate the fighters according to the stratagem of the film, big guy and little guy down to cases, the recognition of character and something beyond that, pugilism.