Friday, July 05, 2013

From Our Friend Fred Blosser


From our friend Fred Blosser

Ed, I tend to despise these lists of "100 Best Such-and-Such Movies" that the American Film Institute and the glossy magazines gin up every month or so. Invariably, they appear to have been compiled by some smart-ass 25 year old whose idea of a classic old movie is PRETTY WOMAN. Still, it's a tempting game to play, and I sometimes tend to wander over to the Dark Side myself .

Like now. I wonder what fans would nominate as the worst or most disappointing movies based on well-loved detective and mystery novels and series.

My top two choices, coincidentally, are from the same year -- 1986, that golden era of Reagan, Thatcher, and Iran-Contra:

BLUE CITY, directed by Michelle Manning (who?), from the novel by Ross Macdonald. Judd Nelson starred as Macdonald's seething protagonist, Johnny Weather. Seething ... Judd Nelson ... need I say more? I don't remember much by way of details, except that RM's dour Post-World War II setting was updated to the '80s, and Nelson ambled through the opening scene listlessly bouncing a basketball. I kept waiting in anticipation for someone to grind his smirk into the sidewalk. The IMDB says that Walter Hill produced and (with Lukas Heller, another usually reliable guy) wrote the script. And buried somewhere in the cast was the great Scott Wilson. Sad.

EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE. "Miami Vice" was big that year, so they transplanted Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder from New York to LA, the better to swipe Michael Mann's pastel color schemes and Latino vibe. Jeff Bridges did about the best he could as Scudder, I suppose, but if you're going to pluck Scudder out of Gotham, why not just give the character another name? Somewhere I read (I think in EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS) that Hal Ashby was allegedly stoned throughout the whole shoot, letting the actors "improvise" their dialogue. This meant that in most of the scenes, the dialogue mostly consisted of Bridges and the other actors yelling "F*ck you!" at each other over and over again. (I've read that the BURGLAR movie with Whoopie Goldberg was even worse, but I never had the heart to see it.)

Number three in the list, NO GOOD DEED from 2002, probably qualifies more as a disappointment than as an out and out bad movie. At least, it doesn't plumb the stygian depths of putridity that BLUE CITY and EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE did. Still, if you have a story based on Hammett ("The House on Turk Street"), Bob Rafelson as the director, and Sam Jackson, Stellen Skarsgard, Mila Jovovich, Joss Ackland, and Grace Zabriskie in the cast, you might expect something better than what Rafelson delivered. For some reason, maybe to meet his quota of cliches, the screenwriter felt compelled to give Jackson's character a "gimmick" (in the Hammett story, he was the comfortably anonymous Continental Op). And so he's a failed jazz musician who toots on a saxophone.

It would be interesting if others can make a case for merits in these three films that I failed to see ..........

Fred B.


Robert Lopresti said...

EIGHT MILLION is one of my favorite crime novels so you can imagine how I felt about the movie. My favorite scene is the confrontation between the hero and the villain (a character who did not exist in the book). As the actors improvise threats this somber, sinister music plays... Then it stops exactly as if the composer said, ah screw it. I don't blame him.

Ida said...