November 25th, 2008

PRETTY BABY (1978) **

Brooke Shields stars as Violet, the twelve year old daughter of a prostitute (Susan Sarandon) who spends all of her childhood in a gloomy New Orleans brothel.  One of her mother’s regular customers is a weirdo shutterbug (Keith Carradine) that gets his jollies by photographing prostitutes and he eventually forms a bond with Violet.  When her mother abandons her to marry a rich businessman, Violet then marries the weirdo photog who now likes to take creepy borderline kiddie porn Old Time Photos of her.  In the end, her mother comes back and steals Violet away and breaks the pervert’s heart.


Pretty Baby must have been really shocking in it’s day and while the scenes of a naked twelve year old Brooke Shields laying around being photographed IS kinda creepy, the movie on the whole is mostly boring.  I understand that the flick is essentially one of those slice-of-life character-study deals, but the flick was just too slow moving for me and ultimately it felt pretty pointless (unless the point was solely to show off Shield’s underage frame).


Director Louis Malle captures the time and place of the ragtime era of New Orleans rather well and the film is at least gorgeous to look at.  Too bad the film is brimming with thoroughly unlikable characters (with the exception of Violet, of course).  I know Malle is European and all, and he was trying to be provocative and stuff, but the scenes of Brooke naked are just straight up creepy as is the scenes where she gets auctioned off to the highest bidder, who gets to deflower her. 


Susan Sarandon also shows off her rack and boy, does she have some nice ones.  So nice that you almost wish she’d show them off in every movie.  I know that gravity has probably gotten a hold of them puppies by now, but still.  Malle must have been equally impressed with her hangers because he also put her in his next flick, Atlantic City.


Clint Eastwood returns as The Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s dynamic sequel to A Fistful of Dollars.  This time he’s a bounty hunter who teams up with a rival named Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) to catch a despicable criminal named Indio (Gian Maria Volonte).  The Man with No Name infiltrates Indio’s gang and helps them rob a few banks to up the reward money while Mortimer watches his back from the outside.  Naturally it ends in a violent shootout.


Whereas the first film was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, this one is wholly original and frees Leone up to do whatever the Hell he wants, which is a good thing.  Although I prefer the original to For A Few Dollars More, this one is bigger and bolder than its predecessor and is equally as fun.  The opening scenes where Van Cleef and Eastwood collect various bounties on an assortment of greasy villains are awesome.  Leone takes his time to establish the two characters and their ingenuity and cold-bloodedness help to endear them to the audience.  The shootouts are all over the top, violent, and drawn out (the climatic showdown in particular), but in a good way.  This way you get to savor every melodramatic eye squint, every little bead of sweat, and every note of Ennio Morricone’s wonderful score.  The film’s most memorable set piece comes when Eastwood and Van Cleef show off their stuff by shooting each other’s hats.


Eastwood is yet again magnificent in the role of The Man with No Name.  You just can’t say enough good things about the man, especially in the Dollars movies.  The welcome addition of Van Cleef to the series adds another layer to the film.  Even though Van Cleef is almost solely out for revenge, he gives his character a measure of dignity and pathos and he’s particularly good in his scenes with Eastwood.  As the villain Indio, Gian Maria Volonte also delivers more depth than you would expect and the way that he plays his music box during each shootout is quite unnerving.  The supporting performances are also memorable with special mention going to Klaus Kinski as the hunchback, Joseph Eggar as the train hating prospector, and Luigi (Twitch of the Death Nerve) Pistilli, as Indio’s second in command.    


Leone would up the ante yet again the following year with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.


According to The Video Vacuum, For a Few Dollars More is the best movie of 1965, sitting on top of such classics as Faster, Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill! and The Sons of Katie Elder.


AKA:  A Few Dollars More.  AKA:  For Some Dollars More.


Sergio Leone’s Dollar trilogy concludes in smashing fashion with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  This time out, The Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) makes an uneasy alliance with the disgusting bandito Tuco (Eli Wallach) to find a cache of gold during the Civil War.  Another greedy bastard named Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) also wants to get his hands on the loot, which leads to a big showdown between the three men.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is Leone’s masterpiece.  It’s a gigantic, sprawling epic that never fails to entertain.  Like The Godfather, it’s one of those movies that if you catch on TV, you just have to watch it all the way through, no matter when you start watching it. 


The film is enormous in scope and despite its steep running time (almost three hours); it’ll still hold your attention all the way through.  There are subplots within subplots and they almost feel like mini-movies in and of themselves.  Like the opening scenes where Van Cleef guns down two men or the scenes where Eastwood saves Wallach’s neck from the hangman’s noose or the action packed war sequences.  All of these scenes play out perfectly by themselves and fit very nicely into the grand scale of the movie.


This flick also cemented Leone’s ever growing mastery behind the camera as well.  Sure, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More were spectacular entertainments, but The Good, the Bad and the Ugly shows Leone at the top of his game.  While we all know the man can do suspenseful shootouts that feature hundreds of close-ups of people’s eyes like it’s nobody’s business, Leone also handles the smaller scenes in the film with equal panache.  As great as all the shootouts are, I think my favorite part of the flick was when The Man with No Name and Tuco are disguised in the grey uniforms of the Confederate Army.  They flag down a troop of Yankees whom they believe are also Confederate soldiers, but mistake their dusty blue fatigues for the grey uniform of the Rebels.  It’s a small scene really, but I always dug the Hell out of it.


The performances are simply awesome.  As Tuco “The Ugly”, Wallach makes for a suitably slimy scumbag, but somehow still manages to make you like him, despite his backstabbing nature.  In the role of “The Bad”, Van Cleef (playing a different role here than he did in For a Few Dollars More) is cold and calculating and is the ideal villain.  Really though, the flick belongs to Eastwood.  He delivers another incredible performance as The Man with No Name (okay, he’s really had a name in all of these flicks:  Joe in Fistful, Monco in More, and Blondie in this one; it’s just a lot cooler to call him The Man with No Name) and kicks major ass.  (Even though he doesn’t exactly earn his title of “The Good” since he leaves Tuco in the desert to die.)


If Eastwood’s performance is the heart of the movie, Ennio Morricone’s score is its soul.  With his work on the Dollars films, Morricone without a doubt crafted some of the finest tunes ever heard by human ears.  I defy you not to run around hollering “AAA AAAA AAAAAH... WAA WAA WAAAAH” after you watch this flick. 


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of the finest westerns ever made and is Number one with a bullet on the Video Vacuum’s Top Ten for the year of 1966.


AKA:  The Magnificent Rogues.