Brute Force (Dassin, 1947)

Brute Force is a hard as nails prison film from Noir master Jules Dassin, oozing with the pain and suffering of the inmates (Burt Lancaster and co.) who’re often mentally and physically stymied by the iron fist of a manipulative lead guard (Hume Cronyn in a masterful performance). Dassin uses flashbacks to explain the “why’s” behind each player’s imprisonment, giving them depth while also showing their complex road to hell. It’s the system and bureaucracy which come under fire – startling examples within the mise-en-scene include six men cramped in a cell, deathly work conditions, and terrible food. Brute Force savagely condemns the entire operation, everyone on down from the weak warden, to the tyrannical yet not evil guards, to the desperate convicts, but with a sense of good intentions lingering in the fog. Through the countless shots of shadows drifting off the prison bars, one can glean a sense of horror from the inaction and misunderstanding involved, and in turn the tension of dangerous men rising toward meltdown.

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First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982)

A classic character in a great origin story with ample subtext concerning post-Vietnam America. Rambo’s literally thrust into another guerilla war on his own turf, but the film does not entirely let him off the hook, nor his military liaison played by Richard Crenna. The situation more so than the people is cause for concern, and after all the destruction and hurt in First Blood, it’s unclear whether anyone has learned from the experience. Too bad the sequels have been dumbed down for the war hungry public.

A Perfect World (Eastwood, 1993)

A movie of great, heart, honesty, and emotion which gets me everytime. Costner’s never been better and Clint shows once again what great storytellers can produce when given the right ingredients. Most of all though, I admire John Lee Hancock’s wonderfully paced screenplay, giving a standard chase/road movie a rhythm all it’s own, masterfully mixing humor with moments of beautiful human connection even when the real world brutally infringes on the proceedings. A Perfect World transcends genre and becomes a haunting reminder to the impact parents have on their children and the way these negative chains can disintegrate through unexpected growth and love.

The Driller Killer (Ferrara, 1979)

My Abel Ferrara film festival continues. It’s become clear to me Ferrara’s both obsessed with and consumed by oppressed rage, and the driving force it has on violence and sex. The Driller Killer, an early example of this bloody Ferrara motif, tells of a struggling artist who goes insane and kills countless people with a power drill. Could the film be a comment on pretentious NYC’s artists’ uncaring attitude toward the lower class (he kills mostly homeless people at random) or just a campy shlock horror film? The Driller Killer is a bit of both, but the film definitely shows early glimpses of Ferrara’s plight with artistic impotence and the anger which stems as a result. Plus, it has an excellent final sequence that uses darkness in brilliant and horrifying ways.

Dangerous Game (Ferrara, 1993)

In Dangerous Game, Abel Ferrara crafts a relentless train wreck of colliding personalities posing as artists. Eddie Israel (Harvey Kietel) starts production on is latest movie entitled Mother of Mirrors, a verbose morality tale about a modern couple taking out their rage on each other. Eddie manipulates the epic ego’s of his two lead actors (Madonna and James Russo) in the name of art, using them like pawns without regard. But he’s no better than they are. The director acts exactly like his spoiled talent, cheating, drinking, and talking like a true fake. Ferrara combines faux on-set documentary footage of the production with 35mm film in order to disorient the difference between reality and fiction. Normally, such a ploy would seem overly simplistic, but Ferrara combines long takes and rigid close-ups to establish an intimacy with the anger and insecurities of his volatile characters. Basically each major character can’t understand why everyone doesn’t bow down to their talents, and it’s these hilariously ripe persona’s which hold interest until the final, disturbingly fake (or is it?) moment of violence.

New Rose Hotel (Ferrara, 1998)

Besides displaying a sexy Asia Argento countless times, the film is a lifeless modern day corporate espionage art film. If that doesn’t sell you then nothing will. Abel Ferrara remains an oddity to me. While a true independent autuer, at times he pointlessly revels in his own dark and mysterious ideologies. In New Rose Hotel, this style becomes absurd, breaking down into slow motion eroticism and obscure moral conundrums.

Body Snatchers (Ferrara, 1993)

Both Don Siegel’s iconic original and Philip Kaufman’s sleek 1970’s remake succeed as haunting tales of slow conformity through a the less-is-more philosophy. Each of those films linger with the respective protagonists as their way of life rots away from the inside. Abel Ferrara utilizes a more genre specific approach, and his third incarnation of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers feels somewhat tired and obvious as a result. This time the story deals with an Army base in the South post Operation Desert Storm and the chemical/biological weapons influence on the invading aliens. Body Snatchers works during it’s slow, intimately scary buildup of creeping pods invading nostrils and mouths, deflating humanity with short bursts of suction. But the film falters as it dives into overblown George Romero territory for the explosive climax. Ferrara rightfully considers modern influences on the timeless material, such as military oppression, the deconstruction of the family unit, and government ignorance, however, through a series of repetitive action scenes the film becomes more convincing as a B-horror film than any political commentary, becoming overwhelmed by the slime on it’s mind.