No Country for Old Men: John G. Avildsen’s SAVE THE TIGER

John G. Avildsen has always been a champion of the underdog and his film SAVE THE TIGER is no exception; it is a beautiful tragedy of a man who has pushed himself mentally and physically past the point of no return and he’s fighting with all his might to claw back for a second chance. But does he deserve it; should he deserve it? He’s cheated, cooked the books, in arson negotiations – all to survive.

Jack Lemmon, in his Oscar winning performance, has never been better. He truly is heartbreaking as Harry Stoner. He navigates the waters of his hollow and inflated garment business, setting up buyers with kinky hookers, meeting with a mobster to burn his building down, and suffering from PTSD from his tour in Italy during WWII. Harry does all this, so he can survive one more year, because he is sure his business will recover – but what gain and what loss? Harry is positioning himself to enter into a never ending cycle of hustle where there isn’t a clear goal set before him – or at least one that is tangible.

Lemmon is not Jack Lemmon in this film. While his affability is certainly played on, Harry Stoner is a broken man with absolutely nothing left. His time in the sun is limited, and he knows it. Lemmon is on fire in this film, he chews up the dialogue, he briskly breezes by the camera; he is always on the move. He is looking down the barrel of his own extinction; there’s no stopping his character’s trajectory.

Steven Shagan pens a deeply layered and fertile script. It’s a construction of who Harry is as a man, while simultaneously deconstructing what it is to be a man. The dialogue written, particularly for Harry, is so stoic and to the point, he almost belongs in a hard noir genre picture, or at the very least a Michael Mann neo noir. The film is dark, perverse, and heartbreaking – yet rays of hope shine through the bleak world Avildsen creates.

There’s a kinship between SAVE THE TIGER and Avildsen’s seminal picture, JOE. While he had marked his career as the king of the underdogs, what’s more striking is a subsection of being the champion of the ones going extinct, the forgotten man. Harry Stoner’s world has rapidly evolved to him being phased out. The world doesn’t care about him, his patriotic sacrifices, or his struggles; yet all he ever wanted was a second chance.

Film Review: Derek Wayne Johnson’s 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic

40 YEARS OF ROCKY: THE BIRTH OF A CLASSIC — Epic Documentary ...

Filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson delivers a beautiful tribute to cinema’s most beloved underdog movie.

What more can be said about Sylvester Stallone’s most seminal film and character, Rocky? Well – a lot. Filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson, the man behind John G. Avildsen King of the Underdogs and Stallone: Frank, That Is has crafted a beautiful showboat of a film that solidifies Rocky’s place alongside Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and James Bond as being not just an important part of modern cinema, but more-so showcasing how Rocky has become a significant part of American culture, conveying how an underdog was able to make the greatest underdog story of all time.

The film, with its very lean runtime of just 30 minutes, is patched together with home movies, behind the scenes footage and rehearsal footage shot by John G. Avildsen, as well as on-set footage that was found in the basement of Troma Entertainment by Rocky’s production manager Lloyd Kaufman almost 40 years after it was shot. Most of this footage has been seen on DVD and Blu-Ray special features, but Johnson’s new documentary includes some snippets of never before seen home movies from Avildsen’s personal collection. Along with Stallone’s steadfast narration, the viewer is able to take a closer look behind the making of one of the greatest films of all time. It is a thrilling experience, watching unseen footage, along with hearing a very intimate recount from Stallone, who is unseen, just heard as the 8mm film flickers across the screen.

Johnson, who didn’t just direct but also produced, assembles a very poignant and remarkably touching tribute to the film, allowing the audience a glimmer inside the intimate home movies of Avildsen, who was able to capture the vulnerabilities of Stallone and company through fantastic behind the scenes footage. Greg Sims, Johnson’s musical partner, was able to produce a remarkable score that finds its own voice to guide the audience through the picture, without retreading Bill Conti or any of the popular music featured in the franchise.

Rocky is just one of those films that has grown a legacy onto itself – everyone knows who Rocky is, yet not many know the pain and triumph it took to get the film made, or how the film had revolutionized filmmaking by the invention of the Steadicam by Garrett Brown that has since become a mainstay in filmmaking.  Derek Wayne Johnson outdoes himself with this film and has become an artist who, with each new film, grows as a filmmaker, creating an objective view of whatever subject undercard matter he chooses to tackle, yet allows the audience a very intimate look into the world of film, and in particular those who sacrificed everything to tell their stories the way they needed to tell them. If 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic tells us anything, it is that Rocky isn’t just a film or a character Sylvester Stallone wrote and played, Rocky has become a part of American culture – world culture; and that we all have a Rocky inside of us, and between Stallone’s words and Avildsen’s footage, what Derek Wayne Johnson is telling us is to embrace that part of ourselves, and champion our own underdog.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic is available for preorder on Amazon and iTunes.

Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES

 

70s cinema was at its absolute best when it birthed softly nihilistic, introspective films where the protagonist lived within moral ambiguity and hard shades of grey – wherein this picture, Gene Hackman gives his finest, most low-key performance as a former football player turned private investigator who takes on a case of a missing girl that lands him in Florida from LA, and uncovers a well-layered and richly defined plot of smuggling, lies, and deception all the while discovering who he really is, as well as the world around him.

With a taut script from Alan Sharp, a groovy score by Michael Small, director Arthur Penn crafts a remarkably quiet film; which plays more like a documentary where the camera just follows Hackman through his journey, all scenes from the film are of Hackman’s point of view, and there are not any overt, showy set-pieces or flash edits, popular music; the film just lives.

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Sharp’s screenplay, coupled with Penn’s vision and the actors performing his written words, is perfect. There are so many memorable lines of dialogue that have staying power, so much of the characters are revealed through the brief, yet potent, exchanges. This truly is a masterclass in writing.

A lot can be said for Hackman, being one of the longstanding true craftsmen of his profession; being one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen. In this picture, he is noticeably muted and brings a striking weariness to the role, he is not the self-righteous and volatile Hackman, he is just here to observe, and internalize his emotions. He gives a remarkably raw performance that is more about self-discovery than anything.

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Harris Yulin, Jennifer Warren, Edwards Binns, Kenneth Mars, Janet Ward, John Crawford, Susan Clark, James Woods, and Melanie Griffith round up the supporting cast, and Hackman plays off of each one magnificently. The characters in the film are very real, as are their homes, places of work and so on. There is a deep-seated reality to the film, where it doesn’t take place in the movie world, it takes place in reality.

The film’s narrative is remarkable, not only with the overall detective storyline, but also with how defined Hackman’s character and life is; and how his two worlds begin to blend together; where he is just not solving the case, but also solving who he is as well.

Night Moves Gene Hackman

NIGHT MOVES is a film that came out at the right time, the mid-70s, while everything was in flux, and people were just trying to understand how to be in the world. In actuality, the film is timeless with its themes, making an excellent time capsule of a picture that came from an era of film, that is so universally well regarded. 70s cinema might just be the best decade of American cinema, and NIGHT MOVES is one of the best films to come from that time and place.

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John Huston’s THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING

John Huston’s THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING is a cinematic feat. It’s a remarkable fable, tracking two adventures who trek deep into a dangerous land with the design of ruling a region where white men have not set foot since Alexander the Great. The film encompasses engrossing performances, a tremendous score, a taut script, and awe inspiring photography all engineered and guided by Huston, one of cinemas filmmaking titans.

Sean Connery and Michael Caine headline the film as a pair of former British soldiers whose exploratory ambitions are offset by their primal brutality yet softened by their chemistry and wry offbeat humor. Christopher Plummer is the narrative anchor of the film, he acts as the narrator as well as the audience to Caine retelling his adventure with Connery. The two of them are a remarkable pair in the film, they bring their pre-existing screen personas and mesh them together and fuse a relationship that grows and blossoms throughout the film, until they reach their breaking point and bid one another an emotional farewell.

The picture is more than just an exhilarating adventure, it morphs into a cautionary tale of demigods and false prophets; the dark desire of man to transcend into a God. Caine and Connery propel the film forward, their performances are as raw as they are touching. Yet what truly makes this film remarkable is that it exists in a period of film where epics were truly epic. It’s shot on tangible locations, it is populated with indigenous people playing indigenous people; an air of authenticity is created and immediately accepted by the audience.

The craftsmanship of the film cannot be understated. The practicality is wonderful, from the sets to the costumes and beyond. The locations are as exotic as they are ominous; spanning sandy dunes and tribal villages to the vast snowy mountains, to their endgame – a civilization untouched by the outside world for centuries, a beautifully dilapidated holy site filled with treasure and dangerous mystique.

While the story is fun and entertaining, it cascades into a heartbreaking and bittersweet ending as the rise and fall of the pair’s conquest quickly erodes into a breathtaking climax where ramifications of greed and lust for power comes full circle and the characters are dealt with not just appropriately but poetically as well. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING is that underappreciated Hollywood epic that somehow found a way during the counterculture and rage against the machine films of the 70s.

ALAN J. PAKULA’S THE PARALLAX VIEW — A REIVEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View is one of the best paranoid thrillers from the 70’s, taking its ambitious and chillingly layered narrative concoctions and making them just believable enough. I’ve watched this film countless times, and each time I revisit, I find a new detail that had previously been left undiscovered, and it’s clear that the film served as a major inspiration for future efforts like Peter Hyams’ The Star Chamber, David Fincher’s The Game, and Rob Bowman’s The X-Files: Fight the Future, to name only three. It seems insane to think that this film hasn’t been given the unnecessary remake that Hollywood seems to love to throw out, and my hope is that people are smart enough to leave this one alone. I’m sure some savvy filmmakers could craft a solid updating, but there’s something so incredibly 70’s about this film, from Warren Beatty’s look and attitude, to the cryptic plotting, to the downbeat finale. Gordon Willis shot the ever living hell out of this film, the diabolical screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr. (with uncredited rewrites by Robert Towne) never lets anyone off the hook, and the beyond creepy musical score by Michael Small immediately sets a nervous, anxious tone that Pakula maintains for the entire duration. Effective supporting performances by Hume Cronyn, William Daniels, Paula Prentiss, Earl Hindman, William Joyce, Walter McGinn and Kelly Thorsden are on display, while Beatty anchors the film with class and the perfect amount of cockiness and uncertainty. And then there’s the ruthless finale, which feels both earned and inevitable, with the closing moments ranking as some of the iciest in cinema history. The Criterion Collection would be wise to put out a Pakula box set, as Klute, All the President’s Men, The Parallax View, and Sophie’s Choice are all worthy of that swanky stamp of approval, while it’s interesting to note that Pakula also crafted a bunch of dependable, thoughtful studio thrillers like Consenting Adults, Presumed Innocent, and The Devil’s Own; I need to finally catch up with Rollover, Comes A Horseman, and Starting Over. I’ll always be enamored with The Parallax View and with how Pakula and his team effortlessly pulled off all of the ingredients in this truly sketchy piece of work.

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