Day: March 14, 2011

Quigley Down Under

MGM
1990

Directed by Simon Wincer

Produced by Stanley O’Toole and Alexandra Rose

Written by John Hill

Original Music by Basil Poledouris

I think it’s really a damn shame that Tom Selleck never became as big a movie star as I think he solidly deserved to be. He got jerked out of playing Indiana Jones and despite whatever you may have heard from that friend of yours who knows all about movies or that other friend who claims he knows the “real story” Tom Selleck was the first choice of both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones.

Tom Selleck has had a solid movie career, though and he did some really good stuff that I liked a lot. He got to do a couple of 1930’s adventure films such as “Lassiter” with Jane Seymour in which he played a cat burglar operating in London just before WWII and “High Road To China” where he played a boozy barnstorming pilot helping Bess Armstrong find her father who’s been kidnapped by a Chinese warlord. He also did more than his share of westerns and if your cable/satellite provider carries TNT then you know what I’m talking about. During the 90’s it seemed like every other week there was a new western starring Tom Selleck featured on that station. But he did one major feature western that has gone seriously unnoticed: QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER.

Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) is a cowboy/sharpshooter from America who travels to Australia with his trusty weapon: a modified 1847 Sharps Buffalo Rifle with which he can hit a man from 1200 yards away. That may not sound impressive but as a way of reference let’s put it this way: the modern football field is 100 yards long. You do the math. Quigley’s been hired by a wealthy and powerful landowner, Elliot Marston (Alan Rickman) for a job. He doesn’t say what the job is but he’ll pay Quigley 50 dollars in gold just to make the three-month trip to his ranch just to hear him out. Quigley finds Marston to be a refined gentleman obsessed with The American West. He even has a matched pair of Navy Colts that he’s become expert at using. Marston is also a sadistic racist who wants Quigley to use his sharpshooting skills to help in cutting down the Outback aborigines. Quigley’s response to this job offer is to kick Marston’s ass.

He would have been much better off just saying no and going on back home. He’s beaten half to death, taken out to the unforgiving Australia desert and dumped along with Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo) a woman Quigley has befriended. For some reason Crazy Cora thinks that Quigley is her husband Roy and part of the fun of the movie is that we’re never sure exactly how crazy Crazy Cora really is as even Quigley says to her at one point: “The scary thing is that from time to time you actually make sense.” Quigley and Cora are rescued by aborigines and that sets up the second half of the movie as Quigley goes after Marston and in the process becomes a legend among the aborigines known as ‘The Spirit Warrior’. He also learns the tragic history of Crazy Cora and why she became crazy.

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is rarely mentioned when even western fans get together and I don’t know why. It’s got Tom Selleck who is one of the few modern actors who actually looks as if he belongs in The Old West. He’s a worthy successor to Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, both of who would have slid into this role like you slide into your favorite jeans. He’s tough when he has to be in his scenes with Alan Rickman and tender in his scenes with Laura San Giacomo. Selleck has studied his westerns and he knows that in a role like this less is more. He says only what he has to say and no more. It’s a great old school performance.

Laura San Giacomo is totally terrific. She has to carry the load of being the only comic relief in the movie and she does it by creating a character that has us constantly wondering: “is she really crazy or just playing crazy?” Even covered in dirt she’s mad sexy and she has two really great scenes: one where she softly tells Quigley what happened to make her crazy and the other is where she spends a horrifying night defending an aborigine baby from a pack of dingos.

Alan Rickman is wonderful as Elliot Marston and if you expect to see him playing Hans Gruber In A Western, think again. Rickman’s too damn good for that. Marston’s a separate bad guy and he and Quigley make for wonderfully matched opponents. It helps that Rickman and Selleck look as if they’re having just as much fun going up against each other as Rickman and Willis did.

What else can I mention? Oh, yes…the simply magnificent score by Basil Poledouris. If you don’t know the work of this master then shame on you. And for QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER he composed one the most heroic, rousing scores I’ve ever heard for a movie. The location work is beautiful and really gives you a sense of how big Australia is. There’s a scene where Quigley has been already traveling four days to get to Marston’s and asks one of Marston’s men when will they get to his ranch and the man responds: “You’ve been on it for two days.” The look on Quigley’s face says it all. I would have liked to see more of the aborigine way of life but hey, the small bits we do see where they teach Quigley how to find water in the desert and how he teaches them how to lasso are fun and even charming.

So should you see QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER? I give thee a resounding “YES”. If you’re a fan of Tom Selleck in particular or westerns in general then you really ought to do yourself a favor and see this one. It’s got a solid story, some terrific action sequences and strong acting. QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is a movie that belongs in the library of every movie fan.

PG-13
119 minutes

Angel Heart

1987

Carolco Entertainment/TriStar

Directed by Alan Parker
Produced by Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar
Screenplay by Alan Parker
Based on the novel “Falling Angel” by William Hjortsberg

Now here’s a movie that got into my head the very first time I saw it and squirmed around in there for a few days and made a nice little bloody nest where it stayed festering and feeding on my subconscious.  ANGEL HEART remains one of my personal favorites because it is photographed so well, the performances are all outstanding and it combines the private eye and supernatural genres flawlessly. It’s a hell of a movie and given the subject matter, I mean that quite literally.

Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a private detective operating in 1955 New York. And he’s definitely not Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. When we first see him he looks like he’s barely recovered from a three-day binge. He’s contacted by a lawyer named Winesap (“Law & Order” regular Dann Florek) who represents a strange foreign gentleman named Louis Cyphre who wants Harry to find out if a moderately famous 1940′s crooner named Johnny Favorite is still alive. When asked why, Cyphre simply states that Johnny Favorite owes him collateral for “certain services”. Harry thinks it stinks like a houseguest who won’t leave, but hey, Cyphre’s $5,000 check is good and Harry takes the case.

Turns out that Johnny Favorite was drafted into the army and returned home from the war with his handsome face all blown to raw hamburger.  After plastic surgery that changed his features completely, he simply upped and disappeared from the hospital. But after Harry does some checking and finds that the doctor who did the plastic surgery on Johnny Favorite falsified the records…well, he starts taking a genuine interest in this case. Maybe he’s at last gotten hold of that one big case every private eye dreams of solving.

He would have been better off sticking to his divorce cases. Very shortly, Harry is up to his unwashed neck in a mystery that he rapidly realizes may cost more than his life to solve. The trail of the singer Johnny Favorite is a blood-soaked one that leads from a really strange church in Harlem to the voodoo haunted bayous of New Orleans.  It soon occurs to Harry as he continues on his quest that the solution to the mystery may be more frightening than the mystery itself. But by that time his curiosity and suspicions about the origins and true identity of the elusive Johnny Favorite has possessed him to the point that he now absolutely has to know the truth, despite the fact that Johnny Favorite himself appears to be gruesomely killing every and any one who shows the least curiosity about finding him…

ANGEL HEART has so much to recommend it; I hardly know where to begin. The performances are absolutely first rate. Mickey Rourke may have given the best performance of his career in this movie and I think his “I know who I am!” scene near the end is one of his finest. Robert DeNiro is not only sinister but also quite humorous in his role. Look closely at him in this movie because there are not only visual clues to his true identity but he also looks quite a lot like Martin Scorsese did at the time this movie was being filmed (which I didn’t notice myself until reading Roger Ebert’s review of this movie) and given what we find out about Louis Cyphre, it may give you a chuckle.

If you recall anything about ANGEL HEART it’s probably because of two scenes Lisa Bonet has in this movie. The first is a voodoo ritual scene and the second is a sex scene with her and Mickey Rourke. I’m not going to spoil either of these scenes for you in describing them save to say that I admire Lisa Bonet for taking such acting risks in scenes that could not have been easy to shoot but they do indeed contribute to the story and are not added for shock. And what makes it even more amazing that Lisa Bonet filmed this movie while on hiatus from “The Cosby Show” where she was playing one of the sweetly wholesome Huxtable kids. I can imagine the discussions that took place on the “Cosby Show” set after ANGEL HEART hit the screens.

There is a lot in ANGEL HEART that is not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. Most people say ‘horror movie’ and they think of the “Friday The 13th” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” When I say ‘horror movie’ I’m talking about a movie like ANGEL HEART or “Night Of The Hunter” where the story and characters are presented with an intelligence and internal logic that before you know it, halfway through the movie you’re totally sucked in and forget you’re watching a movie.

The bottom line is this: if you have seen ANGEL HEART then you’re probably nodding your head in agreement while you’re reading this. If you haven’t seen ANGEL HEART then I recommend that you Netflix it at your earliest opportunity.  Get yourself the movie goodies of your choice. Put the DVD in your player and turn off the lights. And then prepare yourself for a really wonderful example of what I mean when I say ‘horror movie’.

113 min.
Rated R
for graphic violence, adult language and graphic sex. The sex scene between Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet has become infamous for it’s startling imagery while the voodoo ritual scene may make those of more conservative religious beliefs and practices uncomfortable so don’t say I didn’t you. And folks, please put your kids to bed before you and your sweetheart watch this one, okay? Thank you and enjoy.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

1985

Orion Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton

Produced by Larry Spiegel and Dick Clark

Screenplay by Christopher Wood

Based on “The Destroyer” created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the 1970’s there was a tremendous revival of pulp adventure heroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  And as a result the paperback racks in bookstores were stuffed with novels reprinting the adventures of such classic characters like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan The Barbarian, G-8 And His Battle Aces and The Spider.  They were helped along by breathtakingly beautiful covers done by legends of the art world such as James Bama, Jim Steranko and Frank Frazetta. And they sold like crack.  And it was like crack to the imagination of a high school student named Derrick Ferguson who spent his entire allowance on buying them and who spent his weekends devouring them voraciously and it was these pulps that shaped my writing ambitions and my style.

Publishers who saw this trend for pulp adventure jumped on the bandwagon and soon there was a whole army of modern day characters inspired by the pulps with their own series fighting for space on the racks with their forefathers.  Some of them were pretty poor, to be honest.  Some like Mack Bolan, The Executioner still survive to this day.  One of my favorites was The Inquisitor,  a hitman that worked for The Vatican.  He had to fast three days for every man he killed while on assignment and his confession was only heard by The Pope himself.  But the guy who really stood out and gained a rabid fan following that exists to this day is Remo Williams, The Master Of Sinanju who is the hero of “The Destroyer” series of novels which still enjoys life in paperbacks and was featured in the movie REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS which in the opinion of your humble reviewer is one of the unsung classics of pulp adventure movies.

A New York cop (Fred Ward) is catching a coffee break under The Brooklyn Bridge when he stumbles on what appears to be a random mugging.  He takes out the three muggers all by himself and while he’s calling for backup in his patrol car, it’s shoved into the East River and he’s presumed killed.  He wakes up in a hospital where he’s told by the sharply dressed Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston) that he’s been handpicked to be the enforcement arm of a secret organization called CURE.  “Why CURE?” The cop asks.  Cleary answers; “because this country has a disease and we’re the cure.  You’re going to be the Thirteenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Away With It.” Which I think should be the motto of just about every pulp hero.

MacCleary gives him his new name: Remo Williams and takes him to meet the head of the organization, one Harold Smith, who works in a dark sub-basement of The World Bank.  Smith tells him that CURE has only four members: MacCleary, Smith, Remo and the man who will train Remo: Chiun (Joel Grey) The current Master Of Sinanju, an ancient Korean who will teach Remo the art of Sinanju, which is the martial art from which all other martial arts such as karate, kung fu and ninjitsu was derived. CURE is an organization that is only known to The President of the United States and answers only to him.

Chiun is takes Remo under his wing as his student and informs him that The House of Sinanju has a long history of ‘perfect assassinations’.  As Chiun tells Remo in a scene that is hysterical to watch and listen to courtesy of Joel Grey’s utter seriousness and Fred Ward’s increasing disbelief, assassination is the highest form of public service.  The House of Sinanju is responsible for the deaths of such notable historical figures as Alexander The Great, Napoleon and Robin Hood.  All perfect assassinations carried out with such skill and grace that they appeared to be accidents or natural deaths.  Chiun begins training Remo for his job while Smith lines up his first job: an industrialist named George Grove (Charles Cioffi) who has been bilking the United States Army out of billions with a weapons systems called The Harp that doesn’t work.  Grove’s theft has come to attention of Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) who is making trouble for Grove and she’s targeted to be killed.  Smith assigns Remo Williams to protect Major Fleming and expose Grove’s evildoing.

REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES isn’t a movie that comes up very often when people discuss superhero or pulp inspired movies but it’s a movie that I highly recommend you seek out and watch.  Mainly for the performances of the always likeable and watchable Fred Ward (who would have been the perfect Rocky Davis if a ‘Challengers Of The Unknown’ movie had ever been made) and Joel Grey as Chiun.  Their relationship in the movie is what really sells this movie as it progresses from one of active hatred to respect and love to the point where Chiun calls Remo his son and Remo calls Chiun ‘Little Father” The training scenes are a lot of fun, especially the one where Chiun seeks to conquer Remo’s fear of heights by having him stand on the top of a moving car of Coney Island’s world famous Wonder Wheel while dodging the other moving cars.  The scene is helped tremendously by the fact that it’s obviously Fred Ward doing his stunts and it’s nail-bitingly suspenseful as well as hilarious, once again courtesy of Joel Grey’s comments.

In fact, Joel Grey effortlessly steals the movie as Chiun.  He creates a wonderfully eccentric character that is as wise and as badass as Master Yoda.  But a whole lot funnier.  Chiun is capable of taking out an army of fully armed men barehanded but he’s also addicted to soap operas which he considers to be the highest artistic achievement of American culture.  One of the best scenes in the movie is when he is forced to tell Remo that if Remo fails in his assignment to take out Grove that Chiun will have to kill Remo.  The scene is done with a degree of feeling and sheer acting power that lifts it out of what could have been a run of the mill action movie and approaches real heart.  It’s a terrific scene.  It’s also helped by the music which is done by Craig Safan and it is absolutely one the best music soundtracks ever done for a movie.  The theme music is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

The only let down of the movie is the bad guy.  Charles Cioffi’s George Grove really isn’t much of a villain and he’s not much of a threat.  The fact that he’s stealing billions of money from the US Government reduces Remo to not much more than a high level collection agent and Grove’s crew of henchmen aren’t on the level of James Bond style enforcers such as Oddjob or Jaws which is what the movie really needs to give Remo a real threat.  But the performances are what really sell this movie, especially those of a pre ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Kate Mulgrew, Fred Ward and Joel Grey.  Joel Grey won two awards for his role in this movie:  One from The Golden Globes and one from The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films and he deserved them both.

So should you see REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS?  You get an enthusiastic Hell Yes from me.  It’s a lost classic that needs to be seen by lovers of the pulps.  It’s modern day pulp all the way and it’s done with style, class and a love of the genre.  It should be seen just for the terrific performances of Fred Ward and Joel Grey is nothing else.  It’s a great Saturday afternoon movie.  Enjoy with my blessings.

121 minutes

Rated PG-13