bullittrating-3.5Bulliitt is a classic that everyone talks about, but not everyone has seen. Though Steve McQueen is a well-known name, fewer and fewer young people have seen his films, having only been a presence in the film industry for less than two decades before his death of lung cancer. Better known as a cowboy actor and a TV star, McQueen branched out into film and found fame in movies like The Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles, Papillion, and this movie.

One of the first real action movies, Bullitt sets up a template that was copied, watched, and revered by other moviemakers, the car chases attempted by films like Friedkin's The French Connection and To Live And Die In L.A. being pale imitations of the wild and riveting shots and structure of Bullitt's pivotal chase.

As Robert Vaughn pointed out, the plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that's not really why people watch the movie. The tale of dead witnesses, hitmen, doubles, and chases is more of a framework for McQueen's love of driving, stunts, and the action of reality, never portrayed in movie form. McQueen produced this movie as an act of love for the stylizations it features, major shifts in movie-making that are common today but before unseen, making it absolutely revolutionary for its time.

McQueen is, as ever, understated and hands off as many lines as possible to the other actors, doing all his work with facial expressions and tight glares of his bright but weathered eyes. Claiming himself to be more of a "reactor" than "actor," McQueen plays the charismatic and driven everyman cop with nothing more than a series of gestures and movements of the eyes, delivering as much meaning as many actors manage with long diatribes of scenery-chewing bullshit.

A deeply-flawed and somewhat likable individual, McQueen brings through his real love and passion in the simple and almost resigned, unemotional portrayal of a police officer doing his job.

Though this movie would go on to inspire countless other flashy 80's action films, its action and pacing are something else entirely, feeling almost slow and methodical now as it plods toward its less-than-thrilling conclusion. But one would be hard-pressed to find something shot in similarly brilliant fashion before or a decade after, except perhaps The Manchurian Candidate, whose director, John Frankenheimer, seemed to draw inspiration from Bullitt for the high-paced driving action of one of his final films, Ronin.

If the movie is remembered for nothing more than its action shots and car chases, it wouldn't be an insult to the movie's quality, as Vaughn is right in saying that its movements are nothing stellar, but it's an intriguing film and shows some of the character that drove McQueen to his now-flagging stardom.

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To Live And Die In L.A.

live_and_dierating-3.5William Petersen's breakout role came in this bleak, winding thriller about U.S. Secret Service agents tracking a murderous counterfeiter.

Directed and co-written by William Friedkin, this movie seeks to one-up The French Connection's stark characters and wild chases, going so far as to take the gruff archetype of Popeye Doyle and make him into Petersen's agent, a brutal and amoral thug, perfectly happy to do whatever it takes to reach his goals.

Stylish to the point of being sued by Michael Mann for ripping off "Miami Vice", To Live And Die In L.A. is awash in the orange tones of a smoggy L.A. sunset and pumped up by a synth-laden Wang Chung score.

Not as action-packed as one might imagine, the movie is a bleak character drama, showing early promise for Petersen's future work in Manhunter and on "C.S.I." Instead, the film concentrates its energy on the build-up of reckless vengeance and thirst to destroy Willem Dafoe's villainous counterfeiter, one of Willem's more understated pieces of acting.

In their pursuit of the man, the Secret Service agents go well past the limit, ending in murder and death, the whole film climaxing in a spurt of violence, more death, and flames. The characters are shattered and their identities become nothing more than the counterfeit bills they sought out.

Friedkin apparently likened every relationship in the movie to that fake currency and it shines through in the soulless vessels inflicting pain on each other in a way that is both intriguing and detached.

An early hybrid of the stylized art film and the standard commercial release, the pacing and plotting of the movie rides the line of being intriguing and hypnotizing in its staid plodding way. But there are merits to the cold and very matter-of-fact story that plays out in this dour film and in its act of sudden and untrumpeted bloodletting.

At very least, the movie is an intriguing time capsule to one of the more interesting moments of the 80's.

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The Departed

departedrating-4.0The Departed is not exactly deserving of all the accolades heaped upon it. I feel the same way, in general, about the direction of Martin Scorsese, though even moreso than The Departed.

The movie, for what it is, is easily the most entertaining, intelligent, and well-made movie of his career, blowing away vastly overestimated films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas along the way. This film is a simple pulpy crime staple and it feels entirely right for what it is.

There are chinks of ineptitude in the film's armor, definitely in the realm of its direction and editing, which almost seems sloppy, whatever the intended tone and vision. But these flaws do little to detract from the strong acting talent within the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio's performance was impressive and did more to change my opinion of him than anything he's ever done. Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen were, as always, excellent actors, though Mark Wahlberg really stoodout for the first time in his career as a true actor, stealing several of the film's scenes with his blunt and brutal character.

The plot is simple enough: one cop goes undercover and another appeases his surrogate mobster father by selling out his brethren. The cat and mouse hunt continues to the bloody climax and everyone should leave satisfied if they aren't some Pollyanna who wasn't expecting a high body count. Intrigue and undercover shenanigans are wedged in between plot points. Looking back on it, the amount of plot contained in the movie is far exceeded by the run time, but it doesn't feel exceptionally overinflated.

Though the movie feels a bit long in the first two thirds, the last third of the movie is high-paced and severely pleasing, hit every mark fairly well, even if the direction is nothing interesting. But it more than makes up for it with a bloodthirsty detached eye and gallons of blood, especially in its end, which will shock, dismay, or please everyone in the audience.

Definitely not deserving of all its awards, the movie is definitely an exciting and enjoyable film and one would be stupid to avoid it, but it isn't the end-all, be-all of the movie industry (though I will argue that Scorsese can't do any better).

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airplanerating-4.5"Airplane!?" you'll wonder. "That old movie?"

Yes. That old movie.

Sure, it's an old chestnut. But is it any good?

It's been many years since I used to watch it on a near-weekly basis on my local UHF station's "Saturday Movie Matinee" and I wasn't sure how viewing it again on DVD would improve or degrade my opinion of a childhood favorite, losing out in later years to a fondness for the Zucker/Abrahams collaborations Top Secret! and Kentucky Fried Movie.

Strangely, there's something more enjoyable about Airplane! now, though it's hard to gauge the merit of the comedy after so many viewings over the years. But it's a much more solid film now than it was in my youth and its history is even more interesting.

What started out as Kentucky Fried Airplane, a script written in the mid-70's to mock a late night movie the comedy trio had seen by the name of Zero Hour, a 1957 "thriller" that shocked them with its stupidity, took nearly a decade to get made and ended up as a comedic remake of the original, going so far as to option the rights to the original film and use specific lines from it to comedic effect. This follow-up to Kentucky Fried Movie came to be known as their masterpiece, but it was nearly never made, amidst studios' unwillingness to make the film, almost turning it into a proto-Amazon Women On The Moon, until it changed into what seemed to be a clever parody of the 1970's air disaster movies that had been so popular, instead of a parody of a 50's film.

The features on the latest DVD iteration pump up the rewatchability, but the movie doesn't require it. It's still just as fun and most of the silly jokes subside to allow viewers to respect the layers of surreal and witty comedy that slipped past us when we were young.

Gone seem to be the days when viewers could enjoy a smart, if a bit silly, comedy such as this. Now we're buried in the stupidity that the Scary Movie series has wrought on the cinematic landscape, though, at least, Airplane!'s David Zucker was brought in to helm parts 3 and 4, easily the best of the series.

But now we're left awash in the purile idiocy of a world of Date Movie and Epic Movie clones, retarded stepchildren of the Z/A/Z vision. Very few, if any, come close and most are nothing more than juvenile and scatalogical, perversity replaced with gross-out humor.

Sure, I sound old saying "things were better back in my day," but, Jesus Christ, things were better. And they rarely got better than Zucker, Abrahams & Zucker at their peak.

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The Wrong Guy

wrong_guyrating-4.0A severly underrated and virtually unknown film, The Wrong Guy is written by and stars Dave Foley of The Kids In The Hall. He transfers the sensibility of his sketch comedy, a straightforward and earnest seriousness that is totally surreal and idiotic in its own way.

Foley plays Nelson Hibbard, an intensely stupid vice president of a large Cleveland corporation who finds his boss' dead body and realizes that everyone believes he's the killer, making a "Fugitive"-like run until he can prove his innocence. The thing is, the murder was caught on security camera, so no one is actually looking for Nelson.

As he makes his run for Mexico and freedom, Nelson keeps crossing paths with the actual killer, a hired assassin played by Colm Feore, who is, in turn, being chased by a police detective, played beautifully by co-writer David Anthony Higgins, who has no interest in actually catching anyone.

Nelson runs and meets a girl in the country (Jennifer Tilly) and goes to work for her father (Joe Flaherty) before he's caught by the killer, who takes him and his lady as hostages.

It's a silly and simple movie, but it's incredibly funny with a variety of odd little jokes and excellent performances and cameos by as many people as possible.

The fact that it never got more notice is a damned shame, because this fun little film is probably the best piece of film work to ever come out of "Kids In The Hall". Though it won't necessarily have people rolling in the proverbial aisles, it's definitely very funny and has some truly great, classic lines. Only a soulless asshole doesn't find comedy in this.

If ever given the opportunity to catch this, be sure you do. It's well worth it.

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