Tag Archives: Victor Argo

Martin Scorsese’s BOXCAR BERTHA

BOXCAR BERTHA is not only an aesthetic precursor to Martin Scorsese’s seminal picture, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST but also a thematic one. It is equal parts a love story between the lead, Barbara Hershey, and man, David Carradine but also Scorsese’s most Americana film that encompasses the life of the 1930s through craps games, bank robberies, and our heroes riding the rails.

The film is very low budget and not as polished as those of us who have followed Scorsese’s career are used to. It’s rough and hard, playing less like a Scorsese picture and more like a less tuned version of BADLANDS or some early Malick movie that time forgot; yet the film plays more like an exploitation than something whimsical.

Boxcar Bertha

In typical Scorsese fashion, he has his core ensemble of actors who would again appear in later works, Hershey, Carradine, Barry Primus, Harry Northrup, and Victor Argo. And naturally, the film features a cameo by Scorsese himself. Bernie Casey is also featured in an excellent turn, who brutishly rounds out the gang.

In the film’s less than ninety minute runtime, a lot of ground gets covered, and the plot devices and the pacing is slightly out of sync but works towards the film’s advantage. Through it’s exploration of sex and violence, this was the first “studio” film where Scorsese honed his skills as one of cinema’s most important auteurs.

Hershey gives a marvelous performance as a young woman who accidentally gets ensnared in a fight between the railroad and its workers, becoming the eye of Carradine’s storm. Big Bill Shelley is his name, and busting up the railroad is his game. Carradine is such a magnificent bastard in the film, and wonderfully chews each scene he is in. John Carradine, his father, gets a very fun, albeit, brief role as the railroad tycoon determined to bring Big Bill Shelley down. And of course, Scorsese gives us one scene between the two.

Boxcar Bertha Carradine Hershey

It is not Scorsese’s most important film, nor by any means is the film a masterwork. It plays like a thesis film he’s making as so he can graduate and blossom into the filmmaker he is known for today. It is sexy and dangerous, it is rough around the edges, and has such a grandiose ending; one that is one so striking and powerful, both thematically and practically made, that any serious viewer of film cannot help but absolutely admire how audacious it is.

BOXCAR BERTHA is available on blu ray from Twilight Time and to stream on Amazon Prime.

Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York

Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York might simultaneously be Christopher Walken’s scariest, most intense and also withdrawn and detached performance, so idiosyncratically does he a draw his portrait of Frank White, a dangerous career criminal fresh out of the pen with high ambitions on ruling the NYC urban jungle, take no prisoners. It’s one of the moodiest, most dour crime films set in the big apple, but it finds a dark heart of bloody poetry, frighteningly funny menace and an ultimate resolution that has you undecided on whether crime really does pay. Walken’s Frank is a strange man, surprisingly introverted for a guy who commands an army and takes on rival gangsters for the control of city blocks, but it’s in the quiet, dangerous charm that he finds his effectiveness, and as crazy as he still is here, it’s a fascinating far cry from some of his more manic, well over the top turns. There’s three would-be hero cops out to get him by any means they can, cocky hotshot David Caruso (before his talents fell from grace with god awful CSI Miami), Ferrara veteran Victor Argo and a coked up Wesley Snipes. They go so far over the line trying to nail him that the only thing separating them from the crime element is a badge, which seems to amuse Frank as he eludes them at every turn. Walken’s merry band of assholes is an armada of gangbangers and drug chemists which include the likes of Steve Buscemi, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Calderon, Roger Smith and a fearsome Laurence Fishburne as his first mate, young and rambunctious before his acting style gelled into something decidedly more cucumber cool (hello Morpheus). The violence and threat thereof is palpable, as Ferrara whips up a frenzy of boiling conflict that makes the epicentre of Hell’s Kitchen feel like the eye of a very angry hurricane, while still keeping the mood to a laid back thrum, it’s stylistic and tonal bliss the whole way through. Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli shoots the city with an oblong, lived in, hazed out and very un-cinematic feel, throwing us right into the dirty digs with this troupe of miscreants and crooked cops, while composer Joe Delia makes gloomy, haunted work out of the score, especially in Frank’s darkly poetic final scene. As for Walken, the man is a dynamo and this may be his best work to date. He makes Frank a harrowing demon with humanity that catches you off guard when it breaches the surface of his opaque, unreadable persona, a suave, psychotic spectre of the NYC streets who won’t go out unless it’s with a bang, and won’t ever back down on his way there.

A crime classic.

-Nate Hill

Lulu On The Bridge: A Review by Nate Hill

image

Lulu On The Bridge is an odd one, and that’s a compliment. It subtly strains at the constrictions of genre until you realize just how unique it has gotten right under your nose. I’ve always thought of it as the Abel Ferrara fiom that he never made. Harvey Keitel delivers a home run of a lead performance as Izzy Maurer, a renowned jazz musician who loses his ability to play after he is shot by a lunatic gunman (Kevin Corrigan) while he is performing his music in a cafe. He sinks into a deep depression following the incident, and then something curious happens. One day he finds a mysterious stone, with a phone number attached to it and some seemingly mysterious qualities which alter the psyche, mood and perception of anyone in its vicinity. The phone number leads him to Celia Burns (the ever excellent and under estimated Mira Sorvino), an aspiring actress who’s fallen just south of the success line, and has a taste for Izzy’s music. The two seem destined to meet and as you might guess, begin a passionate love affair that begins to get a bit obsessive, with strong hints directed towards the stone that seems to govern will and volition. Their romance is hot, heavy and volatile, threatened when a mysterious man named Dr. Can Horn (a classy but dangerous Willem Dafoe) separately kidnaps them in attempt to retrieve the stone. The script deliberately shades over its true intentions until the very last minute, stopping to pick many dialogue and thematic flowers along the way, as well as leave a few red herrings behind. Gina Gershon is great as Izzy’s ex wife, and the monumantal supporting cast also includes Richard Edson, the great Victor Argo, Harold Perrineau, Mandy Patinkin, Vanessa Redgrave and a brief Lou Reed who is pricelessly credited as ‘Not Lou Reed’. If you snag a dvd you can also see deleted scenes work from Stockard Channing, Jared Harris, Josef Sommer and Giancarlo Esposito. The film attempts music, mystery, doomed love, urban mysticism, thriller and drama elements. I’m happy to report that it succeeds at all of them, a gem not unlike the mcguffin stone within the plot, and a haunting little modern fairy tale. Check it out.