Tag Archives: Sorcerer

Frantic (1988)

Frantic (1988)Frantic is such the quintessential Roman Polanski movie that you’ll swear you’ve seen it before. As with Repulsion, Cul-De-Sac, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and What? before it, Frantic subsists entirely on a sense of dread that grows steadily following an initial oddity. The tagline is “Danger. Desire. Desperation”, which could easily be the tagline for a sizable cross-section of Polanski’s filmography. That said, only one of those three words — “Desperation” — actually feels accurate within the context of the movie, and even the title Frantic is a bit misleading. This isn’t the only kind of film Polanski is capable of, but the series that do fit the mold are less frantic and more foreboding, less manic and more pulsating, less overtly dangerous and more subtly sinister.

And a lot of them concern an American Abroad, a topic which for some reason seems to lend itself particularly well to the horror genre. Films like Jeopardy, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Hysteria derive a palpable sense of dread from the American Abroad in much the same way; the films based on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books and tense thrillers like Straw Dogs and Sorcerer benefit from the same fish-out-of-water vibe, too, while others like The Yakuza use the trope even more explicitly. Of course the whole American Abroad thing is also a hallmark of shitty potboilers like Deception or the slightly-better Lizzie McGuire Movie. Did you know there’s a movie called Shaft in Africa? There’s a movie called Shaft in Africa.

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Jailbreakers (1994)

You know Frank Miller, right? The comic book guy. No, you’re thinking of Alan Moore. Yeah, that’s right, the 300 guy. He’s done other stuff, though, far better stuff, like Sin City and Ronin and a fantastic run on Daredevil. He did the Daredevil book Born Again and the Batman books The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, all of which might legally be deemed works of genius. For a while he was one of the masters. Then, as so often happens with young artists who garner those labels — “genius” and “master” — Miller produced a string of decidedly less-than-masterful works that included the lukewarm Returns sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again and another Batman book called All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder; the latter is largely derided for the portrayal of Batman as a psychotic child-abuser, which is a new one. There are a few more stinkers, but they all get the pass in comparison to Miller’s latest book (ahem, “book”): Holy Terror. This is a story (ahem, “story”) so undercooked that it makes one wonder if Miller forgot to turn the oven on altogether. It’s somehow impossibly offensive and impossibly dull at the same time. Holy Terror is without a doubt Frank Miller’s most abominable creation, and unfortunately that’s saying something.

William Friedkin isn’t exactly the Frank Miller of film, but if he was, Jailbreakers would be his Holy Terror. The fact is that the Frank Miller of film is Frank Miller himself, who helmed his Sin City in 2005 and followed it with the increasingly awful The Spirit and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. But Friedkin, for a time, had a career in cinema that seemed to be following the hugely disappointing formula that Miller’s laid in comics. For an exhaustive breakdown of the early struggle, the well-earned rise, the questionable fall, the lull, and the eventual redemption of the director known as William Friedkin, I highly recommend this piece by Dissolve‘s Noel Murray. In fact, Dissolve‘s entire Career View column is highly recommended. In fact, Dissolve‘s entire catalog is highly recommended.

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The Insider (1999)

A smash cut can be a beautiful thing. It can also be a broadly-defined thing, somewhat unfortunately, which means I have to reel you into a conversation about Michael Mann’s The Insider by providing a narrowed definition of smash cut. Excited yet? The added problem, of course, is that one of you damn dear readers will no doubt have the time to point out precisely where I’m mistaken in my definition, holding my hand and stating that, no, that’s not a smash cut, that’s a match cut, and that one over there is a jump cut, and over there is…my, oh my! Is that a Dutch angle shot in its natural habitat?

Anyway, the thing I’m thinking of might not even qualify as a smash cut, but for now that descriptor will have to suffice. Mann loves an extreme close-up, especially in his earlier works like Heat (I’m thinking of that early bouncing shot of Val Kilmer), and in his follow-up The Insider we probably get closer to the facial pores of Russell Crowe and Al Pacino than we’ve ever been before. But there are a few close-ups not of faces but of objects, inserted for a second or a half-second right smack in the middle of a scene, and those cuts are what I’m talking about. They smash to the forefront when you’d least expect them, these otherwise uninteresting objects. Why does Mann shove these in so boldly, and how does he get it to work so damn well?

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Rampage (1987)

Did you finish listening to Serial yet? No? If not, never fear — as beautifully maniacal as it would be to just insert Serial spoilers into random film reviews, there is in fact a higher purpose to my evoking the super-popular This American Life spinoff podcast. That purpose is twofold, and the first is to highly recommend Wesley Morris’s piece “Wrestling With the Truth: The True Crime of Foxcatcher and Serial” over at Grantland. Morris is about as good as it gets these days in film criticism. Also, here is our own, lesser review of Foxcatcher from the New York Film Festival.

The second purpose in bringing up Serial is to talk about movies like William Friedkin’s Rampage. There are a thousand movies like this. There’s a twisted, blood-drinking serial killer named Charles Reece on the loose at Christmas who breaks into people’s homes and kills entire families. He’s caught, eventually, and put on trial to receive the death penalty. The prosecutor, played by Michael Biehn, is a man of high morals. His fight to convict the killer is a fairly personal one, because flashes of his own wife and son keep cropping up in his mind every time he reviews the case at hand. If this sounds a lot like Manhunter, well, that’s because it’s a lot like Manhunter.

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Cross of Iron (1977)

If there’s one film in the late career of Sam Peckinpah that stands out among the rest, it’s Cross of Iron. By 1977, Peckinpah was still regarded relatively highly within the American film industry despite the fact that his last few films – Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and The Killer Elite – performed atrociously at the box office. While most Peckinpah purists regard Alfredo Garcia as a violent and uncompromising classic, there’s little doubt that The Killer Elite is one of the weak points in the director’s career. Cross of Iron would be followed by Convoy and Peckinpah’s final film, The Osterman Weekend, but the former of the three is the only one that truly taps into the brutal verve that made the director so sought-after in the first place.

Interestingly – though perhaps not so surprisingly – Peckinpah supposedly turned down offers to direct the King Kong remake (with Jeff Bridges) and the first Superman film, opting for Cross of Iron instead. Hindsight is 20/20, sure, and odds are you’ve heard of King Kong and Superman while the “heroes” of Cross of Iron are difficult to name even after you’ve just watched the film – but one gets the sense that Peckinpah wouldn’t care about that, and would’ve picked Cross of Iron all over again if he were given the choice today. It was the quality of the story that mattered most to Peckinpah, and while King Kong and Superman endure to this day for a variety of reasons it can probably be argued that the strength of their scripts is pretty far down on that list.

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Sorcerer (1977)

William Friedkin’s Sorcerer had the unfortunate timing in 1977 of being released concurrently with a movie called Star Wars, which people ended up liking a little bit. Friedkin was hot after releasing The French Connection and The Exorcist earlier in the decade, but Sorcerer ultimately failed at the box office and slipped into relative obscurity in favor of his other movies. This is a shame, because Sorcerer is a monster of a film.

Based on The Wages of Fear, the first third of the film essentially amounts to four separate prologues for four separate characters from Veracruz, Jerusalem, Paris, and New Jersey (one of these things is not like the other). Roy Scheider cashes in on the success of Jaws two years earlier as lead man in Sorcerer (the New Jersey one), but the time spent with each of the characters is intimate and highly involved; the Walon Green script, too, is like a tough steak that tastes good but has to be chewed and wrestled with. It’s difficult to tell throughout this opening act where Sorcerer might turn next.

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