Rapid Response: Bullitt

“Bullitt” has not fully achieved the iconic status of some of its other ’60s cop movie peers.

Despite “Bullitt” being one of the definitive ’60s cop movies and being hailed as the starting point for all modern car chases, Peter Yates’s film lacks many of the in-movie charm and out-of-movie extras that would make it iconic.

No sequels, no catch phrases, no spin-offs or copycats, not even a classic villain. It does have the green Mustang, which Ford released as a special edition model in 2008 to commemorate the film. But for all “Bullitt’s” original critical accolade and box office success in 1968, perhaps the film has simply not aged well.

That’s not to call it bad, but it’s approach does not even begin to embellish the more cathartic pleasures of the action genre. Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt is one of the era’s flatter male leads. He lacks a backstory, an attitude and even much dialogue, regardless of McQueen’s steely glances and reserved delivery. We realize how quiet he really is when he finally does have an “outburst” near the end of the film. He does have a girlfriend in the lovely Jacqueline Bisset, but her appearances seem superfluous.

I see “Bullitt” not as a gung-ho cop mystery with a salty Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, nor as a gritty, hard-nosed thriller like “The French Connection” (which in my view tops “Bullitt’s car chase), but as a strict procedural designed to show a cop immersed in the job, one whose tragedy is that he has no outside life. Continue reading “Rapid Response: Bullitt”

Jack Reacher

Twists and meaningless McGuffins galore, “Jack Reacher” requires a patience that this pulpy movie doesn’t fully earn.

Look, I get that killing is bad no matter how you go about doing it, but Jack Reacher is a plain thug. Only firing a gun if he’s within point blank range, Reacher prefers to beat the pulp out of lesser opponents, finally getting in a few brutal finishing moves to the crotch, by breaking legs or wrists or finally stomping someone’s face in.

He makes for a disturbingly cold action hero, and the movie that shares his name, “Jack Reacher,” feels much the same.

Blending TV crime procedural talking points with hyper violent vigilante excitement, “Jack Reacher” explores the investigation of a man who went on a sharpshooter killing spree, murdering five random and innocent people, only to frame the attack on an Iraq War veteran discharged for a similar attack. Just before he’s beaten and goes into a coma, he asks for Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), his former military detective, to come and help him.

Based on Lee Child’s series of novels, “Jack Reacher” has a distinctly literary quality for an action film. It’s labored with a heavy backstory and conspiracy nuance, but all of it in arguably the wrong places. We learn an awful lot about the supposed murderer, the female lawyer, investigator and love interest (Rosamund Pike) and her relationship with her father (Richard Jenkins) and the bizarre mastermind without even much of a reason to be in the movie (Werner Herzog being absolutely sinister and iconic while barely lifting an eyebrow), but very little about the mysterious Jack Reacher. Continue reading “Jack Reacher”

Rapid Response: The Godfather

Of course I could’ve written a full Classics piece on “The Godfather.” I could write a book on “The Godfather.”

Except I can’t write a book on “The Godfather.” There’s too much I simply do not know, too many people who have seen the film more than I have and will serve as a better expert on one of the greatest films ever made. There are non-film critics who are more familiar with “The Godfather” than I am.

And yet it is impossible not to be familiar with Francis Ford Coppola’s film. No film this critically acclaimed (it sits at #2 on the AFI Top 100 and #4 on the Sight and Sound poll) is also this widely popular and beloved (it also sits at #2 on the IMDB Top 250). I had watched the film mere months ago, and there was not a moment of the sprawling three hour epic, not even just the iconic deaths and dramatic scenes that have been copied to death, that I could not visualize. Continue reading “Rapid Response: The Godfather”

Rapid Response: Tender Mercies

If a movie is good enough, you can enjoy any music in it. I’m not a country music fan, but I’ve been an admirer of the filmmaking, performances and sheer charisma on stage in movies like “Walk the Line,” “Crazy Heart” and now “Tender Mercies.” It’s also hard to deny Robert Duvall’s sheer acting presence in any film he’s in, and this is the one he won his Oscar for, despite being one of the most understated performances of his career.

It’s about a former country music star, Mac Sledge, who lost his fame, fortune and family to the bottle and will now try to make a comeback in a way other than just with his music. It did remind me a lot of “Crazy Heart,” as did Duvall’s character in comparison to Jeff Bridges’ (ironically, Bridges won his Oscar for that role as well), but “Tender Mercies” is in many ways better than it. Rather than show Mac’s plummet, we meet Mac at his low point and see him rise from there, and we also don’t know anything about his past, least of all as a country singer. Instead, the movie floors us with his history all at once when a journalist outs his presence in this small Texas town to the world.

There are no cornball scenes of him falling back on alcohol or montages of him writing music again. It doesn’t even devote too much attention to his marriage to Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), but that’s because there’s more to this character than just his surface level problems. Continue reading “Rapid Response: Tender Mercies”

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Martin Sheen said about “Apocalypse Now” that if he knew then all that he would have to deal with over the agonizing 16 month shoot, one that sent him through the Philippine jungle and back and gave him a heart attack along the way, he would have never agreed to it. Today, he has no regrets, because I would imagine that not he, nor any critic on Earth, would think about Sheen having a heart attack while watching this masterpiece of cinema.

Francis Ford Coppola’s film is easily the best of the Vietnam War movies, and in my book one of the best of all time. To watch “Apocalypse Now” is to become immersed and dragged deeper into the horror that is war all while remaining distant, confused and utterly hopeless at the idea of ever fully understanding violence. Continue reading “Apocalypse Now (1979)”