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Dirty Cop Movies by Mike Baron

DIRTY COPS

While there are dirty cops in many movies, the dirty cop movie is a genre unto itself. James Ellroy is something of a dirty cop factory, having written L.A. Confidential and the screenplay to Dark Blue, starring Kurt Russell and Ving Rhames, and Rampart, starring Woody Harrelson. In both Confidential and Dark Blue, dirty cops are laws unto themselves, using their authority to punish the wicked regardless of the law, and to enrich themselves. In Ellroy’s world, the dirty cop is the norm. Even his good cops take corruption as a given. As always, it’s a matter of degree.

Both Bad Lieutenants, the former starring Harvey Kietel, and the latter Nicolas Cage, are withering trips through hell that end in cracked redemption.

Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day is among the finest dirty cop movies, featuring a swaggering Denzel Washington that is beyond corrupt. Fuqua and Washington teamed again on the excellent The Equalizer, which could not exist without dirty cops.

Among the lesser known dirty cop movies is Boaz Yakin’s Safe, Jason Statham’s best film, which features Statham as a cashiered, corrupt cop on his last legs who finds meaning in saving the life a Chinese girl savant whom Chinese gangsters use as a numbers cruncher. Safe is also notable for James Hong’s sleaziest performance. The climax involves Statham teaming up with his dirty cop buddies to take down both the Chinese and Russian mobs.

James Mangold’s Cop Land posits a Jersey town consisting almost exclusively of corrupt cops whose efforts to hide their crimes brings local sheriff Sly Stallone in conflict with lifetime corrupt cop player Harvey Keitel.

These are just off the top of my head. You may have others.

Fight Scenes by Mike Baron

FIGHT SCENES

Fight scenes are important. They are the raison d’etre of the martial arts film. Prior to the kung fu invasion, the John Wayne-style slugfest was a Western staple. A John Wayne fight involves the leisurely cocking of Wayne’s humongous fist followed by an enormous round house punch that sends the recipient ass-over-teakettle, knocking down chairs and smashing tables.

Real fight scenes are messy, incoherent affairs that usually end with the protagonists rolling on the ground. John Huston understood this. The barroom brawl in Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of the most realistic fight scenes ever filmed. When Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt confront crooked jobber Barton MacLane, MacLane lulls them into a false sense of security before sucker-clobbering Holt with a liquor bottle. It’s a knock-down, drag-out fight with the protagonists rolling on the floor.

Audiences crave action, not necessarily verisimilitude. Thus, when the kung fu invasion began with Five Fingers of Death, the American audience was gobsmacked by the elegant fight choreography. It may not have been realistic but it was certainly entertaining. When Bruce Lee hit a few years later, the audience instinctively sensed that this was the real deal and a thousand dojos bloomed. Bruce Lee’s fighting technique looked brutally realistic and elegant. Of course Bruce tailored his fights for the camera and would not have used such showy techniques in real life, but people have used them, to good effect.

Steven Seagal has also developed a unique cinematic style based on aikido. A Seagal fight looks brutal, elegant, and realistic. Before Seagal became a star, he served as fight choreographer on John Frankenheimer’s overlooked masterpiece, The Challenge, starring Scott Glenn and Toshiro Mifune. The Challenge has finally been issued on DVD.

There have always been martial arts films, including a long tradition of Japanese samurai movies going back to the twenties. James Cagney was a black belt in judo which he showcases in Blood on the Sun, perhaps the first American martial arts film. But film being film, fights appeared that are impossible in real life. Look at the Matrix. Kung fu films split between the realistic fighting of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, and fanciful “wire fu,” in which the actors hang from wires to give the illusion of flight. Nothing wrong with it. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an excellent example.

Jackie Chan developed his own style using found objects and slapstick humor. His fights are the result of hours of preparation and endless rehearsal. Don’t try this at home, folks! Of course you can always pick up a chair and brain your opponent.

Robert Clouse, who directed Enter the Dragon, got the job largely because of his work on Darker Than Amber, based on John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novel. When  Terry (William Smith) attacks Travis (Rod Taylor,) the fight is spontaneous. Clouse told the actors to make it brutal, and he filmed it. It is among the most realistic fights on film.

The audience does not want to see extreme close-ups of a hand hitting a jaw. Not in movies, not in comics. The audience wants to see the action unfold in a dynamic and realistic manner. The story-teller must hold his camera steady and let the figures move

The Films of William Peter Blatty by Mike Baron

THE FILMS OF WILLIAM PETER BLATTY

Blatty wrote The Exorcist, which remains the greatest horror film of all time. The Exorcist lays its chilly finger on our spines by successfully conjuring belief in supernatural evil. All good supernatural horror films do this, including The Haunting, The Orphanage, and Sinister. There are hundreds of failures such as The Gate or Drag Me To Hell.

The Exorcist was such a hit, Warner Brothers sought to cash in with the vomitous Exorcist II, about which less said the better. Blatty insisted on writing and directing Exorcist III, based on his novel Legion. Exorcist III  finds DC Detective Kinderman (George C. Scott replacing Lee J. Cobb) investigating a series of grisly murders that bear the hallmark of the Gemini Killer, who died fifteen years ago (when The Exorcist took place.)

This is a genuinely creepy film with a few hair-raising minutes, that successfully recreates the atmosphere of the original. Blatty knows how to raise a hackle, and his team of players is superb. Brad Dourif executes a monologue in his padded cell that is both funny and terrifying. Dourif should have got an Oscar nod. Jason Miller returns as the tormented Father Karras, but you have to see the film to understand.

Years later, Warner’s went rooting about in their midden heap and produced two sequels, Renny Harlin’s ridiculous Exorcist: The Beginning, and Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Eh! Who needs them?

The Ninth Configuration is based on Blatty’s “Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane,” and concerns a group of disturbed veterans sequestered in a Gothic castle deep in the Oregon woods. “In an experimental government center for troubled Vietnam veterans, the inmates run the asylum. One works on an adaptation of Shakespeare…for dogs. Another fancies himself a caped superhero. Still others masquerade as frogmen, nurses, nuns, pirates, doctors. Yet the psychiatrist in charge eyes all with a stoic reserve. Maybe too stoic: there’s a mystery here. And its final resolution is like a thunderclap”

One of the reasons I like it is because it most closely resembles a Badger movie (about which more anon.) Blatty’s stock group, including Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Scott Wilson, Moses Gunn and Robert Loggia, are mesmerizing. Stacey Keach plays the new CO who threatens to explode. My friends, although I hesitate to shove my secret love into the spotlight, there it is.

Static Acting written by Mike Baron

STATIC ACTING

 

I dig Jason Statham. I’ve seen most of his movies and consider him to be one of the foremost action actors working today. But Statham has a speech impediment. Or maybe it’s an acting impediment. No matter who he plays he makes no attempt to alter his accent. In Boaz Yakin’s Safe, one of his best movies, he plays an American cop with a Brit accent. The less said about the execrable Parker, based on Richard Stark’s novel, the better. Except he plays this thoroughly American character with a Brit accent. In Sylvester Stallone’s adaptation of Chuck Logan’s Home Front, he plays an American agent with a Brit accent.

Now I see the trailers for his new movie Spy in which he plays an American agent. With a British accent.

We watched Nashville for two seasons before learning that Sam Palladio, who plays Gunnar, and Clare Bowen who plays Scarlett are both English. You would swear they’re from Tennessee. I watched The Americans for three seasons before learning that Matthew Rhys, who plays a Russian agent with a perfect American accent is English. If you did not know who Daniel Day-Lewis was you’d swear that was Lincoln himself up on the screen.

Not Jason Statham. Like John Wayne, he only plays himself. But with less range.