Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Starring Robert Redford’s burly mane, Jeremiah Johnson is the story of an absolutely incredible beard and the mountain man who carries it around on his face. The beard just wants to live a quiet life, moving gently in the Rocky Mountain breeze and catching a few snowflakes, but other forces dwelling in the range cause trouble for the beard. As seasons pass in the valleys below, the beard wisens to the truths of the world and becomes a broader, more understanding beard.

Sydney Pollack directed five or six films – five including 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and six if you count 1968’s The Swimmer, which Pollack eventually took over without an actual directing credit – and plenty of TV before he got to Jeremiah Johnson in 1972. Not long before production began, it was Clint Eastwood in Johnson’s role and Sam Peckinpah set to direct him, but the pair clashed and Eastwood said “Dirty Harry sounds a lot less dangerous” (paraphrased) and Redford was cast in his place. Having worked together on This Property Is Condemned in 1966, it was Redford who secured Pollack as Peckinpah’s replacement. Contrary to what one may think when watching Redford ride around on horseback for two hours Jeremiah Johnson actually cost quite a bit of money, and it was money that the studio wasn’t prepared to give out after advancing Redford a hefty salary. Pollack mortgaged his house and financed parts of the film himself, all the while strictly adhering to the budgetary and time constraints the studio laid down.

In short, you wouldn’t blame Pollack for being a bit sour after such a stressful production. But the director cited it as a great trial-by-fire learning experience, essentially because the money he was risking was his own. It probably helped that Johnson did well and remains a bit of a mountain-man classic today.

The kernel of the film, at least for me, comes when Jeremiah sits by a freshly-killed dinner with his de facto family – a wife he was all but forced to marry and a son he was all but forced to adopt. First, the irony of a man sojourning to the Rockies to live a life of quiet solitude and ending up married with a kid is a rich one. As they sit around munching rabbit or whatever Jeremiah teaches his non-English speaking wife a new word: “Yes”. He then asks her some questions about himself, the last of which is “I am a fine figure of a man, yes?” Now, this lady has no idea what in the hell this guy is talking about. She’s goaded into answering all the same, showing off her new word “yes”. Jeremiah sits back satisfied.

A definition of manhood in any form, validity apparently notwithstanding, keeps cropping up in Jeremiah Johnson. He achieves legendary status among some of the puny town-dwellers, achieves something of a nemesis status among a tribe of Crow Indians, and achieves something that begins as pity but matures into respect with two like-minded mountain men. What of himself? Does “being a man” equal “living a full life”, or is there a gap there somewhere that leaves this manly man’s man ultimately unfulfilled?

Pollack and Redford manage to pull an extremely strong narrative out of what could easily have been a semblance of shots of Jeremiah riding a horse. The beard helps. Tragically, the beard’s career went sharply downhill following Jeremiah Johnson and was hardly ever seen in Hollywood again, sinking into a drunken oblivion and leading a shattered existence that would one day serve as the basis for Leaving Las Vegas.

Advertisements

Filth (2013)

James McAvoy is a good actor. He’s usually playing the good guy, from the excellent biopic The Last King of Scotland to the only-slightly-less-realistic (ahem) X-Men prequels, but in Filth he gets his chance to ditch the morals (who needs ’em?) and become the straight-up despicable Scotland detective Bruce Robertson. Bruce, drug-addled and sex-addicted liar extraordinaire, will do pretty much anything to get a promotion at his job. And McAvoy relishes in the ceilingless grandeur of such a character – but without him Filth isn’t much for originality.

There are two kinds of twist endings in film: those that are truly original and those that are a rehash of Fight Club. In all seriousness, the protagonist-repressing-important-plot-points “twist” is officially tired as hell, and in Filth the rote deployment in Act Three is borderline maddening. The relative believability of the effectiveness of Bruce’s manipulations throughout Filth is what makes them so revolting. Bruce starts hallucinating more and more, and this also lends an interesting angle to his uncivilized crusade – is he as smart as he thinks? Is he as smart as we think? Or has everyone been on to him the entire time? But, oh, wait, nope – the hallucinations actually mean something more, something deep, man. Bruce is deep because he has a Tyler Durden-esque trauma trigger. Get it?

So: ditch the stupid ending and the would-be aha! moments, and Filth is pretty great in a disgusting sort of way. It’s essentially Wolf of Wall Street for McAvoy, a time to go absolutely bonkers and meanwhile find some sort of way to make Bruce somewhat likable, even if it’s just a few percent out of the larger character pie. He does just that, and perhaps it’s the fact that Bruce has some sort of a mission (to get the promotion) that it’s not hard to go along with him on the disgusting rollercoaster of drinking and smoking and sexing and snorting and sexing some more. He has a goal and a lack of morality means he can achieve the goal in any possible way, and it’s fun to watch the dominoes fall uselessly before him.

But the mission seemingly dries up as the all-hallowed twist approaches, and eventually the promotion is given away and Bruce is just doing insane shit because he can. The hope may have been that the twist would carry the momentum through to the end after the aforementioned mission is moot. It doesn’t. McAvoy is likable as Bruce because he goes all the way for the character and he’s good at what he does; the insistence on writing something deeper into his character that manifests itself as a freakin’ hallucination very nearly undoes all of his hard work, and very nearly forces him to stand in line with every other protagonist with the exact same affliction rather than standing out from the crowd.

Filth is worth it for the lead performance alone, and really the final letdown is only so disappointing because McAvoy is so spectacular. Guys like Jamie Bell are in there, too, but are pushed aside. It’s The McAvoy Show. More films would probably benefit from being The McAvoy Show.

Walker (1987)

William Walker was a freewheeling filibuster of a distinct class. Alex Cox’s biopic Walker – branded A TRUE STORY at the outset – features Ed Harris in the title role of the American adventurer whose ideals and morals become muddled. Journeying to Nicaragua in the 1850s, Walker and his band have democracy as their glorious intention. What happens, of course, is something else entirely, and Walker comes to resemble more of a tyrant than anything else.

First, though – wait, was that a helicopter? And a computer? Isn’t this 1850? It becomes increasingly clear throughout Walker that Cox has little regard for historical accuracy, and blatant anachronisms like Walker on the cover of Time and Newsweek pop up all over the place. Cox’s sense of humor is very often visual, as seen again and again in the visual gags running through his first feature Repo Man, and in Walker the intentional inaccuracies certainly do provide laughs. But they have a point, too, and that’s to draw a parallel between Walker’s crazed methods in Nicaragua in the 1850s and American efforts in Latin and South America in the late 1980s.

Whether you enjoy this political narrative bent or not is probably dependent on your own political views. Walker didn’t fare well at the box office upon release in 1987, and Cox never returned to studio filmmaking again. While it doesn’t necessarily come across as heavy-handed, the comparison and damnation of American foreign policy is poured on pretty thick.

Rudy Wurlitzer writes William Walker beautifully, though, and the contrast from Walker to each man in Walker’s miscreant band of somehow-loyal followers is also well done. Straight off the bat the gang – for they certainly could be called no more than a gang – are shown to be unable to even comprehend Walker’s orders that violence should stop and common laws of hygiene be adhered to. “What’s hygiene?” one man asks just before the gang erupt into a murdering spree in the middle of a village. There’s some of the Glanton Gang from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian in here, making Ed Harris’s Walker the indomitable Judge Holden, the terrifying hawker of war and death.

Soon, though the men latch onto Walker’s lofty ideals more as an excuse for violence than anything else, the “true north” of Walker’s vision begins to stray. “Some of the men are confused as to just what it is we’re fighting for,” one man confides in him. “I know and they know that the liberals are our friends and the conservatives are our enemies…but to tell you the truth, sir, I can’t tell them apart. They all seem the same to me.”

“That is no concern of yours, nor of the men,” Walker advises. “All you have to remember is that our cause is a righteous one.” Later, Walker dictates to another man trodding in his footsteps that the ends justify the means. The man tiptoes after Walker as the landscape around them seems drier and drier. “What are the ends?” he asks, to which Walker immediately replies, “I can’t remember.”

So again, the political aspect will either heighten your appreciation of Walker or it very well may sour it, depending on whether you find Cox to be earnest or overbearing in the depth of his unsubtle satire. I submit that the character of William Walker alone, shorn of all the directorial “slight of hand” on Cox’s part, is one that can’t be ignored.  “Clearly,” as another character remarks, “this is no ordinary asshole.”

Youth Without Youth (2007)

Imagine Christopher Nolan or Baz Luhrmann or Roland Emmerich or any other director unwilling to retreat from the staid comfort of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, and imagine they break their mold for a moment and make a tiny, heartfelt, indie-feel flick with no explosions or battles or tidal waves. Good. Now imagine they do that a second time, and a third, and imagine they do it so many more times that that becomes their new thing, and a return to blockbusters would seem odd. Basically, that’s what Francis Ford Coppola did.

This is by no means a bad thing! Interesting, though, that the guy behind The Godfather and Apocalypse Now would eventually be making movies so subtle that you missed their release entirely. Youth Without Youth is one of those, or at least it was for me, despite an interesting premise and noticeable names beside the Starring and Directed By credits. The film came and went without much hubbub.

Tim Roth plays Dominic, an aging Romanian linguist who has spent his entire life pursuing the origin of all language and “the origin of human consciousness”, denoted at one point in the film as the all-enviable “inarticulate moment”. Despairing at the inevitable failure of his quest, Dominic means to commit suicide when he is suddenly struck by lightning. As his wounds heal Dominic finds that he has grown inexplicably younger, and as World War II dawns it seems Dominic has an opportunity to relive his life and complete his goal.

Sounds ambitious, no? But didn’t we just get through establishing this as a small, blip-like effort from an otherwise giant of Hollywood? Is it big or is it small? We must decide quickly.

We really mustn’t though, or we can’t, or couldn’t if we wanted to. Youth Without Youth is a highly strange movie, not one that entirely makes sense, not one that’s even entirely likable on first pass. It is, however, uniquely both a grand-scale global epic and an intimate and thought-provoking character study. On the one hand Youth Without Youth spans a century and captures much of the fear and frustration holding Europe hostage before and during and after the war; it’s been reported that Coppola filmed over 170 hours of footage for the film, ultimately distilled into a mere 2. For those absent mathematical inclinations, that’s 168 hours of film gone straight to the landfill. That’s massive.

On the other hand, the entire film really is just one guy. There are other characters, yes, but Tim Roth carries Youth Without Youth on his back. I wasn’t paying attention to whether he appeared in every single frame of the film, by my recollection is that he very nearly did. Regardless, through the frequent use of mirrors and actual walking talking doppelgängers, there are plenty of frames in which Tim Roth appears twice or three times. The film should more than satisfy any obsessive Tim Roth stalkers, at least until Coppola gets around to Youth Without Youth 2: The Other 168 Hours.

Thankfully Roth really is a great actor, and not one who gets as many starring roles as he should. Enigmatic doesn’t begin to describe his Dominic, and in the end he’s the only thing that makes Youth Without Youth work. You could easily write this film off as pretentious crap, but that kind of thing doesn’t really concern me. It’s interesting enough to watch Coppola craft something in this way on a decidedly smaller stage than anything he made in his Godfather heyday, and ruminations on “what it all meant” are like a bonus round. If a glimpse into a what a truly honest filmmaker looks like is what makes you sit down to Youth Without Youth, then I’d say that’s good enough for now. At least until Youth Without 2th.

The Getaway (1972)

There is a scene in The Getaway where Steve McQueen’s Doc and Ali MacGraw’s Carol evade a roaming cop car by diving into a dumpster. The pair end up swimming in trash for a lot longer than they’d probably expected, but it’s the few shots leading up to this sequence that are the most interesting. As the cop car slowly turns the corner and begins the prowl down the thin alleyway, Doc moves furtively up to the corner and braces himself against the brick wall, gun drawn. This is Steve McQueen, major action star of the era, it’s Frank Bullitt and Thomas Crown and The Freakin’ Cincinnati Kid for chrissake – but when Doc sidles up to the corner of that alley, the guy playing him ceases to be so endearing as he usually is; those cops coming down the alley are about to die, and Doc’s going to kill them.

He actually doesn’t kill them, of course, and we’re treated to the dumpster sequence instead. Point is that Doc’s moral compass is way (way) off from the kinds of characters you usually see McQueen portraying, and the prospect of shooting cops dead is a decidedly likely prospect throughout the course of The Getaway. Sam Peckinpah plays with this beautifully, and it’s possible that his second collaboration with McQueen (following the much more lighthearted Junior Bonner) was designed specifically to explore the questionable morality of the central character. It’s also something that Peckinpah would continue to explore in his 1974 film Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

It’s more jarring here, through McQueen’s Doc. Freshly released from prison, Doc takes Carol along on a heist as the getaway driver. The heist goes bad and team member Rudy (played brilliantly by Al Lettieri) attempts to kill Doc and take the money for himself. A narrow escape only paves the way for a multifaceted chase, with Doc and Carol, Rudy, the police, and other forces vying for the stolen cash. All the motivation Doc has is to survive, to not go back to prison, and to keep the money for himself; the first two motivations are understandable, but it’s the third that receives most of the focus here. Doc really wants that money, and he’ll beat up and shoot people to make sure he gets it.

Rudy’s character, I think, effectively makes Doc’s character tolerable, meaning we’d be a hell of a lot less likely to root for Doc if we weren’t also rooting against Rudy. The two men being opposed from the very start is what provides us a clear good guy/bad guy pairing, or at least pushes that idea a little more into the light. One of the best Rudy scenes sees him riding in the back of a car driven by a man he has taken hostage. The man’s simpleton wife inexplicably sides with Rudy during this entire encounter, and as the trio barrel down the highway Rudy and his new girl munch happily on sticky ribs. A rib fight ensues, meaning Rudy and the girl gleefully whip ribs and fries at each other and at the despairing hostage. Barbecue sauce coats the inside of the car. Suddenly, Rudy shrieks “I don’t like this game no more!“, and the trio go immediately back to silence. There’s something weird and off-putting about this scene, very nearly bordering on disturbing, because Rudy’s mental state is shown to be completely unhinged by something as absurd as a rib fight.

That said, Doc isn’t a portrait of mental health either. His prison stint has had a clear effect on him, evident when he states it out loud – “It does something to you…It does something to you” – and again when he snaps at his own girl Carol. He strikes her for a simple misstep, and one could argue that his turnaround is as sudden and therefore even as repulsive as Rudy’s. But we’ve seen Doc in prison at the beginning of the film, we’ve seen the mindless way that days bleed into one another and time slips into nothing, we’ve seen years of days in a few short minutes. Rudy doesn’t have such a backstory, so his character traits are unexplainable, unreasonable, alien and terrifying. Doc may very well exhibit the same traits, but the reason we aren’t scared of him isn’t just because he’s the protagonist or just because he’s Steve McQueen. Doc’s pain is the cause of his ruthlessness, and in this way out of the entire Peckinpah oeuvre The Getaway is probably matched only by Straw Dogs in terms of depth of character.

Lucy (2014)

Lucy is a pretty ambitious girl. Granted, her ambition only comes after massive quantities of a powerful superdrug allow her the use of previously uncharted regions of her brain, which in turn morphs her not only into the smartest kid in school but into the most powerful being in the history of the universe. Her quest to use 100% of her brain’s capacity and thus unlock the secrets of life sends her on a mission around the globe – and beyond.

So that’s the plot of Lucy, but don’t worry if it’s still a little unclear – Morgan Freeman is here to explain everything with some hand-holding exposition throughout the first acts of the movie. Still iffy? Never fear. A feature-length biology lesson ensues, emphasis heavy on the first part of “science-fiction” while largely disregarding the second part.

I’ll say that Lucy is a hell of a lot better than the trailers make it look. There’s a good filmmaker somewhere inside Luc Besson and Lucy is a more grounded, “realistic” kind of sci-fi flick than the gonzo Fifth Element, which of course isn’t saying very much about realism. The believability factor hovers around 5% when Lucy herself crosses 20% brain capacity, but someone in the peanut gallery at the Morgan Freeman lecture already said that we’re just simply hypothesizing here, so roll with it. The hypothesizing has fun parts, and Besson has a nearly-sure hand for long and exciting stretches.

The problems are probably inherent to the story, then. For instance: how can the stakes go higher as the movie progresses if Lucy has more and more control of her world? Okay, she’s dying at an accelerated rate, and okay, there’s a policeman along for the ride in order to highlight the fact that there is danger here. But a mid-film car chase (which happens to be pretty thrilling and inventive as far as car chases go) still lacks a major something in the believability department. There is no chance that Lucy will lose control of the car, and thus instead of engaging in the chase and flinching every time the car veers narrowly we’re really just waiting for the chase to end.

We also don’t see enough (or any at all) of the actual Lucy, i.e. the pre-superhuman person, i.e. the character that we could actually feel for. Zombie computer-brain Lucy, we got. Johansson pretty much nails the role, but it would have been nice to have something a little more relatable to latch on to at the very beginning of the film.

And what else is there to say? The stakes, again, are basement-low by the ersatz climax of Lucy. Choi Min-sik, South Korean actor known primarily for Oldboy, is in the villain role here and is his usual spellbinding self – but unless you’re a massive fan of his (like I am) or a Luc Besson completist (those exist?) or a bored teen looking for a Transcendence-level sci-fi flick, Lucy just doesn’t have a whole lot else to say. That may be a bit harsh, but given the galaxy-sized ambition of both Lucy the film and of Lucy herself, there’s certainly a whole lot of territory left to conquer.

Sid and Nancy (1986)

There’s a whole lot of Sid and Nancy that’s impossibly dark and depressing. The Sex Pistols bassist and his volatile girlfriend were not ones to live slow and boring, preferring hard drugs and long nights and loud music. The love was intense and it was brief, flaring exponentially like one of those dying superstars, forced to quit after burning too bright for too many hours. The end isn’t pretty, and it’s the only end that such a relationship could come to.

Alex Cox made Sid and Nancy almost immediately after his debut feature Repo Man, but there’s a clear jump in maturity from one film to the next. Sure, actors like Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb help; Webb is unfathomably childish, as the character should be, and Oldman is just amazing as the pencil-thin Sid Vicious. But Cox is the real star here, as he manages to make an extremely affecting portrait of two lovers out of the all-too-recent shards of their former lives.

The Sex Pistols disbanded after their US tour, leaving Sid and Nancy to fend for themselves and scrape by on Sid’s solo act. They are both extremely unhealthy, both in body and in mind, and the drugs they love begin to take hold of their affairs more and more. They stay in their room more and more, until the final scenes which are set entirely in the bedroom. Neither Sid nor Nancy seem able to leave that room, and it’s Nancy who never does. Her death – though surrounded by mystery in the actual news media – is an accident at the hands of strung-out Sid himself. Nancy’s life in the film up until this point is pathetic and difficult to watch, but her pitiful fate is quite nearly sickening.

Somehow, though, despite long stretches of despair and horrific moments like the death of Nancy, Sid and Nancy captures something else that the punk movement managed to as well. The Sex Pistols and their fans are hard-living, hard-drinking, leather-jacketed hoodlums who swear at their grandmothers and kick people in the face at their shows with boots on – but they have a good-natured humor about them at times, rolling around in the rain and parading down the street in their underwear. Alex Cox nails this humor, and amidst the deep dark of the majority of the film an important light peeks through again and again.

A smash cut of Sid walking into one pub and suddenly staggering out of another is a great example, as it gives a snapshot of his life in a half-second switch of the camera. Another sequence later shows Sid onstage singing to a crowd of well-dressed elderly white people who seem to love the metal-clad Sid Vicious – until he pulls out a pistol and murders everyone in the auditorium. Is this a dream? Is this some kind of vision Sid has of himself or of his place in society, a la Bronson or Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll? Whatever it is, it’s gleeful and jarring alongside the bedridden scenes that make up most of Sid and Nancy.

The best of these moments both come in New York City. The first is when Sid and Nancy happen across a kid being bullied and Sid tells the bullies off. “Who the hell do you think you are?” they sneer. “Sid Vicious,” Sid says, and the kids immediately scatter as if the name belonged to a Clint Eastwood drifter of the Old West. The second comes at the very end, when Sid walks past three kids dancing to hip hop. They tell him to dance with them, he says he ain’t gonna dance around with no kids – but he does. Nancy is passed but he hasn’t forgotten her, as if he ever could, and somehow all of this boils down to Sid Vicious dancing with a few kids in the middle of nowhere. This is the spirit that Cox injects into the bleakness of Sid and Nancy, and it’s what makes the film so effective in the end.

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

There’s no doubt that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most gifted American actors of our generation. The Oscar winner for Capote was equally at home playing lovable rogues and despicable villains, taking increasingly challenging roles as his career went on. One of his final complete roles was that of Günther Bachmann in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, and Hoffman is his usual dedicated self as the Hamburg-based anti-terrorism agent.

Unfortunately A Most Wanted Man is a colossally slow and unexciting film, for the most part. Hoffman is superbly sluggish as the unhappy and overworked Bachmann; Grigori Dobrygin is likewise effective, if a bit underwritten, in the part of the illegal migrant Issa Karpov; Willem Dafoe seems present simply to be a famous face; and Rachel McAdams, beautiful though she is, remains utterly unconvincing as a foreigner. The plot of the film revolves around Bachmann’s maneuvering of the players involved in the appearance of the young Karpov in Hamburg, as Bachmann’s colleagues suspect him to be a credible threat to national security.

The film starts on a promising note. The first shot is nearly brilliant, telling a simple story without giving away any details at all. Again, Hoffman is thoroughly great – one reviewer noted a resemblance between Bachmann and a hungover panda, a sentiment which could not be more on the mark. There is a long shot midway through the film of Bachmann walking from a helicopter pad into a building, and the effort the guy takes just to keep his pants from falling down tells so much about his character. He can’t manage to keep himself dressed, and yet he’s pretty damn good at protecting his city from terrorists.

So the fault I find with A Most Wanted Man isn’t at all with Hoffman. He’s expected to do what Daniel Day-Lewis did for Lincoln, another long politically-driven film devoid of anything remotely resembling an action sequence. The problem is that Anton Corbijn is a far cry from Steven Spielberg, and A Most Wanted Man really drags for long stretches at a time. The opening scenes are set to quick string riffs you’d find in a Bourne movie, and the stage is set for that spy action chase scene…which never happens. I’m all for a movie that can carry itself without a fight scene, but the pace has to support such a thing by finding “action” elsewhere.

The film also falls to multiple spy-movie cliches, including the obligatory “Do you ever ask yourself why it is we do what we do?” question posed by the main character. Do you ever ask yourself why every spy movie feels the need to delve into this life-from-the-shadows routine? The reply, which could have turned the cliche on its head, ends up being even more of a cliche: “To make the world a safer place. Isn’t that enough?” The characters then repeat this near the climax of the film, because, you know, someone thought that was poignant.

Ultimately, in spite of a fantastic turn from the indomitable Hoffman, the sense of urgency just isn’t present in A Most Wanted Man. Perhaps if the film had been titled A Somewhat Wanted Man or You Should Really Only See This for Philip Seymour Hoffman, at least there’d be some truth in advertising to fall back on.

Straw Dogs (1971)

A quick visit to good ol’ Wikipedia will let you know that Straw Dogs came out the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and Dirty Harry, all of which were considered by the general public to be excessively violent films. Those other films undoubtedly have some rough sequences (especially the slap-happy home invasion of A Clockwork Orange), but Straw Dogs probably takes the cake for the most disturbing usage of violence in any movie of that era. Though Peckinpah had endured harsh criticisms for his portrayals of violence in his earlier films (especially The Wild Bunch), Straw Dogs would reach new heights (or new lows, depending on who you ask) with regards to what can and cannot be shown in a mainstream feature film.

Dustin Hoffman’s David and Susan George’s Amy have just started a quiet stint in the English countryside, during which David plans to finally get some work done and Amy plans to nag David and putter around looking for the cat. A few of the locals throw long and blatant gazes toward the leggy Amy, much to the subdued frustration of David. Eventually, the locals begin to test their limits toward the young couple – and eventually the gazing becomes staring, the staring becomes touching, the touching becomes harassment and the harassment becomes outright violence.

A long and complicated scene in which Amy is raped provided much of the fuel for the fire of controversy that ignited immediately upon release of Straw Dogs. There are actually two rapes back-to-back by two of the vicious locals, the first of whom is a man Amy knows and used to date. There is a sickening ambiguity to this first sequence in which Amy, initially resistant, seems to fight the event off less and less as it progresses. The promiscuity of her character throughout the film was also harshly criticized, which somehow morphed into a criticism of Peckinpah’s depiction of women in all of his films.

Regardless, it’s the second rape that many perceived to be the excessively brutal one. Amy very clearly resists and despises the occurrence, and while the second happening isn’t actually as graphic as the first Amy’s reaction is what makes the sequence so completely disturbing. This scene was immediately cut by studios prior to the film’s release and the uncut version was slapped with an X rating.

The paradox here lies in there fact that cutting the second sequence left that ambiguity of the first to sit and fester, with many audiences believing through the end of the movie that Amy had ultimately allowed the horrible event to occur. Studio muddling is a characteristic of nearly every Sam Peckinpah film, and fairly noticeable in his films from Major Dundee onwards. The reworking of Straw Dogs provided the ultimate irony not only by confusing audiences with last-minute editing, but by effectively highlighting the most disturbing portion of the film in an effort to lighten things up.

Still, whatever form you find Straw Dogs in will mark an important turning point in Peckinpah’s career. Violence on the Western front is one thing – Westerns by their nature are violent, set in seemingly lawless lands, populated by drifters with no names or backstories or ties to society. Peckinpah essentially takes these traits and plops them into a town in England to watch what happens. The local brutes – especially those played by Del Henney and Peter Vaughan – capture that Western-bandit quality of general disregard for societal structure and general desire for personal satisfaction no matter the cost.

Straw Dogs isn’t a Western. The ultimate message, though – or one interpretation of the film – may be that the setting matters little, the players involved matter little, the circumstances surrounding these particular players in this particular place matter little. Peckinpah’s mankind is prone to violence, will grow to wrest a violent tendency from the most unassuming of men, and Straw Dogs depicts this unpopular but unwavering philosophy in an important way.

Torremolinos 73 (2003)

When flailing door-to-door encyclopedia salesman Alfredo learns his position is being terminated, he and his wife Carmen are willing to do pretty much anything to keep their meager income from petering out completely. Carmen wants desperately to have a baby and Alfredo basically just wants to keep his wife (and his landlady) happy. The solution? Take up an offer to produce “educational” tapes detailing the reproductive habits of Spanish couples.

Needless to say, hilarity ensues. Thankfully, the hilarity of Torremolinos 73 isn’t your run-of-the-mill oh-no-someone-found-our-sex-tape shenanigans. The romps that the couple film become increasingly elaborate, the landlady is paid but mortified, Carmen becomes a sex symbol throughout Scandinavia – and Alfredo? Alfredo becomes infatuated with cinema. He’s filming his incredibly beautiful sexy wife in every skimpy uniform imaginable and it’s the filming aspect of it that fascinates him.

Javier Cámara and Candela Peña are fantastic as the two leads, which aren’t overly complex characters but are still more layered than any to be found in a typical American comedy. The 1973 setting of the film also gives Torremolinos 73 some unexpected flair. All in all, the overall aesthetic and comedic arc of the movie are quite obviously more important to director Pablo Berger than the quick (and often cheap) laughs.

The funniest parts stem from Alfredo’s fascination with Ingmar Bergman as his own cinematic techniques become increasingly mature. Picture a softcore porno flick filmed with as much care as The Seventh Seal – complete with a young Mads Mikkelsen in the black-garbed role of Death himself – and you’ll have an idea of what Alfredo’s directorial debut looks like.

Torremolinos 73 is small and simple and enjoyable, outlandish enough in the premise alone without ever needing to rise to the absurd heights it easily could. As stated elsewhere, the Netflix offerings for modern foreign films can be hit-or-miss; while Torremolinos 73 isn’t breaking any new ground or even good for a true bust-up laugh, it’ll definitely put a smile on your face.