Tuesday, June 18, 2019

"SHAFT" (2019): MAYBE NOT A "BAAAD MUTHA ...", BUT (SHUT 'YO MOUTH!) SURPRISINGLY GOOD! - by CEJ


________________________________________________



SHAFT
Dir. by - Tim Story
Written by - Kenya Barish 
& Alex Barnow
Based Upon the character John Shaft from the novel by Ernest Tidyman  
Prod. by - Jon Davis 
Director of Photography - 
Larry Blanford
Edited by - Peter S. Elliot 
Art Direction - 
Brittany Hites, 
Jeremy Woolsey
Music by - 
Christopher Lennertz

Running Time: 111 mins.
Released: 6/14/19 (US) 
Distributed by -
Warner Bros. (US)
Netflix (International)

GullCottage rating
(*** on a scale of 1-5)

____________________



    Hmmm? I guess you can call Tim Story's SHAFT "The MOONRAKER of SHAFT films" in that ... . Well, MOONRAKER is a helluva fast and furiously fun action / adventure film. It's just not a really good "Bond film", is it? In fact forget "good", it's really not a Bond film at all. And if you can get around that, and maybe not count it / think of it as a "Bond film", it's really a damn enjoyable ride. Kinda the same here. But only "kinda" as there surprisingly are, believe it or not, more than a few nuggets here which do feel like vintage SHAFT - both the John Singleton 2000 film (which I really love big time as it exercised the perfect balance in bringing the Ernest Tidyman / Gordon Parks sensibility into the new millennium with style, social relevance and supreme bad-ass-ed-ness) and the original trio of 70s era mystery / actioners.

John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) imparts fatherly and street wisdom to
MIT / FBI analyst son JJ "John Jr." (Jessie T. Usher) 

     As such when I personally heard another SHAFT film was in the works with Sam Jackson reprising his role (and with Richard Roundtree joining the cast again) I was thrilled. When I saw the first trailer, however, which for all the world seemed to turn the character into comedy fodder, I was heartbroken ... and pissed as hell! But you can't keep a good SHAFTer down (yes, I made up that word - we'll see if it catches on, haha!), and one couldn't not see it as curiosity is the mutha of all bitches to endure. Anyway, like I said, director Tim Story's new SHAFT is a heck of a lot better (and a lot less the 48HRS. / BEVERLY HILLS COP-style comedy / actioner) than expected. And there's one thing which saves it from "lame reboot hell".


In an unintended version of THE PARENT TRAP, Maya (Regina Hall) and John (Jackson) are brought together
again when their son JJ launches a personal investigation into the suspicious death of a childhood friend. 

     It isn't that the the story is very original (because it ain't - you can see every "surprise" a mile away) or that the action is eye-dazzling (because there's really nothing new here), or that some of the humor isn't forced (because there are more than one or two scenes where it feels like the writers are trying waaay too damn hard). No, what makes this SHAFT work as a crowd pleaser is the fact that you (and yeah, I know it sounds clichéd and corny) genuinely come to love this family - three generations of Shafts (Jackson, Roundtree and Jessie Usher) with estranged mom Regina Hall trying to shield her son from her ex's "bad influence" and dangerous lifestyle.


     The official plot has Hall back in the 1990s moving herself and infant son away from baby-daddy Shaft / Jackson's dangerous world when a reprisal against him from New York drug kingpin "Gordito" Carrera (portrayed by Jim Jarmusch stalwart Isaach de Bankole') strikes too close to home. Years later 20 something year old "JJ" (John Jr. - played by Usher) - now an MIT grad genius and FBI analyst who mistakenly believes his father abandoned him and his mother - comes calling. Or more accurately he comes attempting to guilt trip dad into helping him get to the bottom of why a childhood friend - a former soldier with a connection to a veterans' drug treatment center - himself died of a highly suspicious overdose.

Isaach de Bankole' as "Gordito" Carerra
     Needless to say (and like I said, you see it coming a mile away) father and son step into a LETHAL WEAPON / FRENCH CONNECTION-like quagmire of international drug smugglers and assassins hiding behind a government shield. And (surprise, surprise!, ... well, not really) "Gordito" is the mastermind behind much of it.

     So, yeah, that's the superficial plot - and one which is very Ernest Tidyman-like. But any man, regardless of age, race, social upbringing or whatever, will recognize this story's creative raison d'état as actually being the father & son, love & hate, dialog / banter between Jackson and Usher, which is, notwithstanding the laughs, on-the money and emotionally accurate as all hell. You recognize the (I hate this damn word, but) truthiness of the back-and-forth whether you've actually had such conversations with your own father or son, or you only wish you had.  It rings as alternately heartbreakingly bitter, sweet and very often hilariously genuine in the final wash. And as such it (not unlike the dialog badminton between Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin in Martin Brest's MIDNIGHT RUN) puts this film over and makes us give a damn about what ultimately becomes of this trio. Well, ...  what becomes of this quartet.

X-MEN's Alexandria Shipp as Sasha - childhood friend and
unadmitted / unacknowledged lifelong love of JJ's life

     It's also very much reminiscent in some ways of the multi-generational ying & yang between Matthew Broderick, Sean Connery and Dustin Hoffman in Sidney Lumet's FAMILY BUSINESS - from which I honestly believe the script here co-written by Kenya Barish (creator of TV's BLACK-ISH) deliberately borrows more from than anything in Ernest Tidyman's original novels or Gordon Parks 1971 film. But it works - as stated earlier - "even though it's not really 'SHAFT'".

     There's another awesome effin' thing this film does rather subtly and intelligently (... and hilariously too!)? It's something few of the more negative reviews making the rounds have managed to notice ... or at least acknowledge ... in their narrow minded screeds as to why if the new film fails to ape the earlier ones, it's not a success.

A history of SHAFT (in film): SHAFT (1971), SHAFT'S BIG SCORE ('72),
SHAFT IN AFRICA ('73), SHAFT (2000)

     There's a wonderful recurring "undercurrent" debate as to whether Jackson's (and ultimately Roundtree's) Shafts are now embarrassing uber-macho anachronisms lost in the modern world, ... or among the last real men (of not only action, but of conscience, decisiveness and transparency) left in America after waves of sensitivity has turned most U.S. males into beings too fearful to do or say anything which may cause them to be "media shamed" ... even if what they may say or do is the right thing. In a clever way the film (at least as far as I read it) seems to come down on both sides, leaving it up to the audience to think about it but ultimately make up their own minds. I very much like that.

A history of SHAFT (in books) - among the seven SHAFT novels by Ernest Tidyman:
SHAFT HAS A BALL (1973), GOOD-BYE, MR. SHAFT ('73),
SHAFT'S CARNIVAL OF KILLERS ('74), THE LAST SHAFT ('75)

     And (of course!) there's the music ...

     We get the expected contemporary R&B and Hip Hop songs (and updated and remixed versions of classics) along with a score by BAD MOMS, RIDE ALONG, HORRIBLE BOSSES composer Christopher Lennertz which integrates Issac Hayes' iconic "Theme From SHAFT". I mean, how can we not, right? It would be musical sacrilege to leave it out. But (for me at least) Lennertz's score ends up being more functional than creatively memorable, in contrast to say ID4, CASINO ROYALE, BABY BOY composer David Arnold's score to John Singleton's 2000 SHAFT.


     It almost feels as though Lennertz was given the edict to "give us a score which does this and this and this, and nothing more or less", and he gave it to the producers / film makers, whereas (again, as it seems to me at least) Arnold's score didn't just obligatorily infuse the "SHAFT rift" whenever Jackson kicked someone's ass up and down the street. In fact Arnold's musical take felt less like a "SHAFT score" in particular, and more like an Issac Hayes, Johnny Pate, Dave Grusin, Herbie Hancock 70s era score in general done up with contemporary orchestra and production techniques. And in so doing it brought SHAFT perfectly into the high tech 2000s, but ironically did so while remaining faithful to the same smooth retro groove of the original films.

     Arnold's score holds more of a creatively loving "neo 70s" vibe (sounding like SHAFT, THREE TOUGH GUYS, TRUCK TURNER and David Arnold all at once - and film music aficionados will recall he did a similar "groove type thang" with Singleton's FOUR BROTHERS as well!), while Lennertz's feels a little more like "a good modern impersonation of a SHAFT score". Not bad at all, mind you. But just as with a Bond score, "not bad" isn't usually good enough as the music is such an integral part of what makes a genre-unto-itself like SHAFT,  Bond, STAR TREK, STAR WARS or ROCKY work.

A history of SHAFT (in comic books) by David F. Walker & Bilquis Evely - debuted Dec. 2014.

     All in all ...

     While I'm not a fan of the more forced comedic elements in this installment (though the ones which do work are priceless! - and Samuel L. Jackson has never in his career been more simultaneously cool and hilarious in verbally dishing them out), it is director Tim Story's primary strength as a "family film" maker which brings this chapter across the finish line with it's franchise honor intact. Now, that's not "family film" as in a "for all ages" one. Hardly here! SHAFT is deservedly "R" rated. But in some respects even that at times seems forced - with characters slinging "F" bombs around when they're really not necessary. And don't get me wrong, I'm no prude. I love a good expletive-laden cop flick. But as that's not really what this film has on it's mind, the at times over-the-top verbiage does occasionally start to border on needlessly insecure overkill. Uh, uh ...

Director Tim Story (L) on set with Jessie T. Usher

     Take a look at many of director Story's other films and you'll see what I mean about how their primary strengths (as well as his as a film maker) are when he puts under the microscope the various dynamics of family - functional and dysfunctional, blood-related or surrogate. And take another look at BARBERSHOP and those two underrated FANTASIC FOUR films of his - the ones with a pre-CAPTAIN AMERICA Chris Evans as Johnny Storm / The Human Torch - for proof.

     In that regard there's a quote I've always found accurate as all get-out - "There's no such thing as 'dysfunctional' family; for better and for worse there's just 'family'". And it is this sneaky / sly and (dare I say in regards to a SHAFT film?!) old-fashioned sensibility running quietly through it's central nervous system which in the end makes this, ehhh ... reboot? ... sequel? ... rift? ... on the original(s) surprisingly enjoyable.



     "Shut 'yo mouth!" We can dig it! ;)



                                                                                                                     CEJ

________________________________________________

Vaulted Treasures is part of The GullCottage / Sandlot - a film blog, 
cinema magazine, growing reference library and online network 
"Celebrating The Art of Cinema, ... And Cinema As Art"

Explore The GullCottage / Sandlot @

Thursday, April 4, 2019

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM FOOLHARDY: VOL 1 -THE $1 STORE LITERARY SOCIETY - by CEJ

"One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps dead for
1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time"
- Carl Sagan

________________________________________________

VAULTED TREASURES: MOVIES (and this time books) YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT,
YOU FORGOT, ... OR YOU FORGOT TO LOVE MORE THE FIRST TIME AROUND!


     No secret, and sure as hell "no shame in our game", as to how I feel about the Best Buy / Wal-Mart / Rite Aid movie cheapie bin. It's a vaulted freakin' treasure trove which in a recent MOVIE SNEAK PODCAST episode we also referred to as a "cinematic well of the souls". One of the few remaining places where, since the local video store went the way of the Dodo, for less than the price of a hot dog at the movies a dyed-in-the-wool film fan can not only expose themselves to an "off the beaten track" film (or two) you won't even find on Netflix, Epix or Amazon Prime, but you can just own the damn thing too, and not ever have to worry again about it being deleted next month from a streamer's queue because they've reached the summit of their bandwidth or their contract with a particular studio goes kaput!

     Sadly for many of us the old-school book shop has in recent years faced a similar E.L.E.-like cultural demise. But if there's a "Cheapie Bin" version of a treasure trove of "off the beaten track" books one can delve into these days on a budget it's surely your local lowly Dollar Store.

"Books are a uniquely portable magic" - Stephen King /
THE NEVERENDING STORY by Michael Ende
(book 1983 / film 1984)

     Don't laugh! Over the years while picking up a few extra wine glasses for a party, gift wrap, glowing eyes for a Halloween display, pen lights or any of a dozen other things, I've come across more than a few damn good novels - hard covers, trades and paperbacks - for one slim buck which I later saw selling online or on a Barnes & Noble clearance table for $5 - $10.

     I grew up in libraries, book stores, flea markets and Friends Of The Free Library annexes. And to me there's nothing like "taking a flyer" on something you've maybe never heard of ... but it just sounds so damned fascinating. I'm all for streaming and eBooks and what have you. But there's nothing like browsing. And, uh, uh, sorry, "browsing" online isn't the same as taking the time to physically thumb through pages and volumes.

     There's a chill Zen magic in just sitting there, unbeholden to the clock (and that's what a damn good book blurb will do for 'ya), reading flaps or rear covers and deciding that "Ah, what the hell!" for a dollar you can afford to take the risk. In fact you'd be stupid not to. Think of it as a more mircocosmic (and much safer) version of skydiving, bungee jumping or leaping off a cliff into the waves.


"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture; just get people to stop reading them" - Ray Bradbury /
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak (book 2005 / film 2013)

     Reminds me too of working in a video store back in the 80s / 90s and doing "Bad Movie Night" - where we'd try to find what had to be the worst film ever made. But, no b.s., I swear 7 times outta 10 instead of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000-ing the evening's choice to dusty death, I and others ended up discovering something we'd love for the rest of our lives.


     The Paperback Exchange at the Willingboro Public Library, and the book shop at the no-longer-in-existence Pennsauken Mart were manna from lit heaven while growing up. Both where in South Jersey, though I'm sure you had your version of each as well. For example at the Mart you could pick up four or five paperbacks for a buck because they tore the covers off of  'em. Remember that? Anyway, nowadays at least once every month (and usually more often during the summer, go figure) I'll pick up a handful of books from the 'ol Dollar Store. I did so the other day, and the most recent haul consisted of ...


* THE JANUS AFFAIR - Never heard of this one before, but it seemed like a blast so I snagged it. Later looked it up and discovered it's the first entry in a series of cyberpunk-ish novels called THE MINISTRY OF PECULIAR OCCURENCES by New Zealand author Phiippa Ballantine. Sort of a Victorian era X-FILES it reminds me of Gavin Scott's early 1990s gem of a TV series THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE. Sounds like a good time.

* THE PRINCE OF VENICE BEACH (never heard of it before either) is a 2014 "Y.A." novel by Blake Nelson. From what I understand it features sort of a male Nancy Drew type - a So Cal teen beach bum who becomes a local sleuth and ends up smack dab in the middle of the most Rubik's Cube-like of Raymond Chandler mysteries. Coolness!



* THE DEVIL'S TRAIL (2002) by Robert J. Conley. Another new title and author never before on my radar. But there's nothing like a good pulpy western fast read. And this 'un (sorry, couldn't help it!) at 250 pages looks like such a fun ride. It's about the "world's scrawniest gunslinger" who became an outlaw at 13 when he shot the man who shot his beloved dog, "Farty". Then after adventures on both sides of the law he ends up part of a posse out to collect the bounty on a legendary criminal. In the process he becomes a legend himself and, from what I gather, goes on to star in a few more novels.



* LAST PLANE TO HEAVEN (2014) is a collection of short stories by sci fi author Jay Lake. And what more can you add to that. In the words of the late great Stan Lee ... "'Nuff said!".

* ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (2011) is a collection of shorts by E.L. Doctorow.  And I'm seriously looking forward to this as I grew up a big time fan of Doctorow. Yeah, I'm old enough to have been around when both BILLY BATHGATE and even RAGTIME were first published. Check out their publication dates and do the math, and that's how old I am. Yeah, man, pass the AARP card and that container of Icy Hot; take it easy on the salt, ... and oh, you kids get off my damn lawn too while you're at it. Haha! Nah, seriously me and Doctorow go waaay back.


* THE NICE GUYS (2016). I love a good novelization as, if you get the perfect writer with their own literary history and voice, they'll bring a damned great vibe and / or spin to a screenplay-to-book-adaptation distinct from that of the film. Great examples include Orson Scott Card's novelization of James Cameron's THE ABYSS and pretty much anything by Alan Dean Foster (ALIEN, STARMAN, OUTLAND, CLASH OF THE TITANS).

     While I enjoy the early Shane Black scripted films such as LETHAL WEAPON and THE LAST BOY SCOUT, I absolutely love his seriously pulp inspired later day ones - which he also directed - like KISS KISS BANG BANG and THE NICE GUYS. They've got that patented Black attitude, but also a "dark maturity" which only comes with age. You can't fake that. While the earlier ones had say a smart-assed sense of humor woven into the characters, narrative and dialog, the more recent ones have a sly and cynical wit burned into their DNA which I find infinitely more interesting. Think the younger bad-asses of Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION as opposed to the more autumnal nature of JACKIE BROWN's older, more jaded, cynical (and yes, more human and humane) main characters. Anyway, ...

     Charles Ardai's a fascinating fellow in and of himself. And some might know / remember his name from various stories published in both the ELLERY QUEEN and ALFRED HITCHCOCK mystery magazines. But he's also the guy behind the "Hard Case Crime" imprint. Begun in 2004 it's a line of old-school 1930s / 40s era pulp-style novels - some of them reprints of classics and others new material by known authors imitatively writing in the old-school idiom. To date the hands-down most popular "Hard Cases" have been Stephen King's JOYLAND (2013) and THE COLORADO KID (2005) - the later of which was loosely adapted into the SyFy series HAVEN.

     As Shane Black is sooo in love with old-school Southern California-style pulp fiction, I'm looking forward to what Ardai brings to his THE NICE GUYS script while adapting it into straight hard boiled detective prose.

"We are of the opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from
the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read"
- Jules Verne

* BONUS * And oh, yeah, to date my two most prized "Dollar Store" Holy Grails ...


* ZORRO AND THE DRAGON RIDERS (1999 / by David Bergantino) Ultra bad-ass-ed-ness here as a wealthy landowner with political ambitions gets fed up with Zorro fighting for the people and giving the peasants hope. So, he hires from Japan four Ronin samurai warriors to track down and kill the masked avenger. They set a trap for Zorro (who is actually wealthy Bruce Wayne-like Don Diego de la Vega behind the mask) by burning and looting various poor villages - knowing that he'll show up to defend the citizenry. That aforementioned bad-ass-ed-ness (swordplay and all) then ensues.

* THE DIARY OF JACK THE RIPPER (1993 / Shirley Harrison - editor) Up until stumbling across this one about ten years ago, the scariest / creepiest books I'd ever read in my entire life were Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry's HELTER SKELTER, William Peter Blatty's THE EXORCIST, and Whitley Strieber's COMMUNION. Hey, say what you will about Strieber and whether or not you think his story of alien abduction is horse pucky or not. His book is terrifyingly well written. And if it doesn't give you nightmares then you just ain't human. Anyway ...

     As said those three were the scariest books I'd ever read until THE DIARY OF JACK THE RIPPER. History considers "Jack" the first modern serial killer in that he frequently contacted the local press about his crimes. And years later a diary by him was found and "authenticated". "Authenticated" is in parentheses because the genuineness of the manuscript - purportedly by James Maybrick, a London textile merchant - remains debatable.


     One third of the book is the diary itself. One third is a provenance by various experts / historians proving the validity of the journal. And one third is a debunking by just as many experts and historians who feel the journal is magnificently realized bullsh*t. Whether it's genuine or not, it's a damn fascinating and genuinely unnerving read. Pissed off that I loaned out my Dollar Store copy to a friend and never got it back. So, I had to re-purchase it via Amazon for a bit more. Oh, well. What're you gonna do, right?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

     At any rate considering I've run out of shelf space because of volumes by Clive Cussler, Amy Tan, Nicholas Sparks, Tom Wolfe and others, as well as a truckload of authors you've probably never heard of  ... And, oh, did you know that along those lines, in addition to a TITAN A.E. novelization there was a series of three prequel novels - each centered around the three main characters from Don Bluth's animated film? How awesome is that!? But that's something I never knew until finding one of them at a Dollar Store a few years back. Anyway, with all of that in mind ...

     I've no qualms in calling the local lowly Dollar Store a buried "Well Of The Souls" treasure for great (often underappreciated) literature.

     Set aside a few preconceived notions and dive in for yourself. You may be surprised at what awaits at the bottom of that chamber. As 'ol Sallah once said to Indy ...

     "You go first". 

"Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere" - Mary Schmich

                                                                                                                   CEJ

________________________________________________

Vaulted Treasures is part of The GullCottage / Sandlot - a film blog, 
cinema magazine, growing reference library and online network 
"Celebrating The Art of Cinema, ... And Cinema As Art"

Explore The GullCottage / Sandlot @

Saturday, March 23, 2019

THE STORIES OF "US" (2019): BRUCE LEE MEETS "THE TWILIGHT ZONE" IN JORDAN PEELE'S TERROR TRIP THROUGH GENRE HISTORY - by CEJ



________________________________________________



US
Dir. and Written by - Jordan Peele 
Prod. by - Jason Blum, 
Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele
Director of Photography - 
Mike Gioulakis
Edited by - 
Nicholas Monsour 
Production Design -
Ruth De Jong

Run Time: 116 mins.
Release: 
3/8/19 (SXSW) 
3/22/19 (US)
Universal Pictures 
Monkeypaw Prods.

GullCottage rating
(***** on a scale of 1-5)

___________________


     In the 1973 adventure classic ENTER THE DRAGON, as the sampan filled with the world’s greatest martial artists chugs towards the tournament on Han’s private island, self-inflated bad-ass Parsons (portrayed by Australian Shotokan black belt legend Peter Archer) flexes and shows off a few fight moves in front of Lee (Bruce Lee) in an attempt to goad Lee’s ego into “throwing down” right then and there on the deck of the craft in order to find out “straight-up and right now” who’s the more bad-assed. Then, in what remains ironically one of the most famous scenes in all of action movie history, Lee explains to Parsons “The Art of Fighting Without Fighting”.


     He convinces Parsons that fistifcuffing on the deck of the ship perhaps isn’t the best thing to do. So, he suggest they take a small lifeboat-like dingy to the shore of a nearby island. Parsons agrees and steps down into the dingy, then Lee untethers the craft from the ship, watches Parsons float away into the distance, then goes about his earlier business. Hence “The Art of Fighting Without Fighting” is when one puts his or her ego in check long enough to realize that it isn't  always the most obvious first reaction action which is the most effective. The last time we used that analogy for a film was when describing Robert Zemeckis’ brilliant 2000 mystery-cum-ghost story WHAT LIES BENEATH to a friend as “The Art of Doing Hitchcock Without Doing Hitchcock”.


     In that film by putting the “I know my Hitchcock as much as anyone else, and I’ll prove it” part of his ego in check, and by not doing the “Brian DePalma thing” of specifically patterning shots after frames from earlier Hitch thrillers, but rather taking the soul of Hitchcock and “implanting” it within an entirely new 21st century filmic body, Zemeckis’ WHAT LIES BENEATH ironically became the most faithful Hitchcock homage in years. Now, whew!, all of that to explain how in similar fashion Jordan Peele, after the stunning success of his 2017 horror / satire GET OUT, had a lot to prove on his sophomore outing. But instead of succumbing to the ever-so-tempting “Look, Ma, I’m directing!” instinct, with the gleefully creepy US he puts his ego on hold, crafts a multi-layered chiller diller, and gives us one of the best “evil doppelgänger” yarns ever in the history of a genre visited before by the likes of Harlan Ellison, Rod Serling and other such titans of weird fiction.

     Sorry for the few run-on sentences there. But at the same time not so sorry as this one's got us stoked because quite simply you can’t be a hack and keep company with folks like Ellison and Serling. And while not trying to compete with or imitate any such literary or filmic icon, Peele ironically - not unlike Lee and Zemeckis - more than holds his own with them, and at times (forgive the sacrilege) might even excel past them with a clever piece of cinema grimoire both familiar and startlingly unique for the era in which, and for which, it was created.


     US doesn’t seek to invent a new genre. Nor does it seek to ape one down to the letter either. Rather it sets out to re-introduce a classic (if more obscure) sub-genre to a younger audience in modern fashion - thus turning said younger audience into fans of the original material, … which it’s kinda like and not like at the same time. You follow? Yeah, we know it's a little weird sounding. But it makes sense. In fact in that regard US the film is in some respects a lot like the doppelgängers who show up to torment their physically (and quite possibly psychologically) twin family.

      This is a no spoilers review, so we won’t allude to anything you haven’t already surmised from the trailers, clips, TV spots or cast interviews on various talk shows. US opens in 1986 where, after wandering away from her family during a beach trip to Santa Cruz, 10 yr. old Adelaide Thomas finds her way into a carnival’s hall of mirrors, and is traumatized by meeting a horrific exact living double of herself. Unable to verbalize the terror, she, not unlike an assault victim, silently carries the trauma into adulthood - where her present day self is portrayed by 12 YEARS A SLAVE and BLACK PANTHER‘s Lupita Nyong‘o.


     Adelaide has managed to keep her psychological / emotional demons at bay and away from her family for her entire adult life. That is until during a new trip to the same beachside community the unspeakable springs to life four times more terrifying than before as not only her evil double returns as an adult, but so do those of her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex) - all of them for some unknown reason violently intent on taking the places of the real family. And from this point the TWILIGHT ZONE-ish version of the $54,000 DOLLAR QUESTION becomes  “Are the evil doppelgängers of supernatural origin, strange clone-like physical origin, are they from another parallel dimension, or (like something out of a Shirley Jackson novel) a product of one or more of the family members’ inner psyches projecting themselves into our reality in corporeal form?”.


     US interestingly answers that question for the audience halfway through the film then makes an intriguing - if not entirely successful - course change into becoming another kind of film during it’s second half which raises an entirely new set of questions for the audience to brain tease it's way through. As for that second half we say “If not entirely successful” because (for our money anyway) in such a horror thriller very often less is much more as the questions and freakish answers which each individual audience member comes up with in the cinema of their own minds is usually infinitely more fascinating and terrifying than anything a filmmaker can explain or physically show. This isn’t always a bad thing. Think of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS - where the first half is a straight up horror film, and the second half becomes an adventure story, and both work like gangbusters.

DUEL (1971)

     But also consider Steven Spielberg’s earlier 1971 tv movie DUEL - released outside the U.S. as a feature film where in some versions you actually see a driver’s hands, feet, etc. in the cab of the marauding 18 wheeler hell-bent on turning motorist Dennis Weaver into canned road kill. This as opposed to the original tv version where we never saw inside the cab, and never knew if there was a madman behind the wheel or if the vehicle was powered by some supernatural Theodore Sturgeon or Stephen King-like entity possessing it and turning it into a killing machine on wheels. By the way, Spielberg has gone on the record stating that he himself prefers the version of DUEL where you don't see inside the cab.

     Peele’s explanation for what's going on (well, kind of a partial explanation, anyway) is freakishly intriguing to be sure, but it’s nowhere near as fever dream scary as when we have no idea - or even a guess - whatsoever, and we as an audience are hopelessly trapped in what Rod Serling’s opening TWILIGHT ZONE narration famously described as that land of the imagination “between light and shadow”, “between science and superstition” and “between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge”. That’s a damned scary place, but an intellectually fascinating one at the same time. And writer / director Peele seldom misses a beat in wringing every single drop of sweat from our pores, and keeping every single electro pop of brain energy a’burnin’ in our noggins as we try to figure out this wild cinematic world he’s plopped us smack dab down into the middle of. It's helluva fun ride.


     The TWILIGHT ZONE analogy is entirely apropos as, not only will Peele’s new re-imagining of Serling’s venerable series begin its run on CBS’ All Access steaming service in a few weeks. But because Peele has also acknowledged how the original 1960 TZ episode “Mirror Image” (written by Serling, directed by John Brahm, and starring Vera Miles - the one where she encounters an exact double of herself in a bus station) was the primary inspiration for his film just as another TZ episode, Richard Matheson’s “Little Girl Lost”, was the creative first spark which brought Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST into existence.

     The great thing about US and POLTERGEIST, however - in keeping with the Bruce Lee “Fighting Without Fighting” edict, is that they don’t redo the original stories and try to pretend they’re new - y’know, in the way that INTO THE STORM pretended it wasn’t a carbon copy of TWISTER, SELF-LESS acted like it wasn’t John Frankenheimer’s SECONDS with a new coat of paint, or INTO THE BLUE (Xeroxing THE DEEP), PROUD MARY (a connect-the-dots retread of Cassavetes’ GLORIA) and numerous other films of late have been “trying to smoke it passed audiences“. Uh, uh! Hell, US refreshingly isn’t even beholden to the (admittedly entertaining) Quentin Tarantino / Brian DePalma “food processor” brand of cinema either.

     Y'know, that thing where a number of scenes are reproduced from classic films (sometimes even down to costumes, camera angles and music) yet strung together into an entirely new film. Along those lines take a look and take note of DePalma’s “Odessa Steps” sequence as realized in THE UNTOUCHABLES, Uma Thurman’s yellow Bruce Lee GAME OF DEATH jumpsuit in KILL BILL, as well as the angle and editing of KILL BILL’s hospital sequence (lifted from Frankenheimer’s BLACK SUNDAY), the design of it’s “House Of Blue Leaves” battle climax setting (lifted from Sydney Pollack’s THE YAKUZA), and the very “slave to bounty hunter to vengeful hero” plot of 2012’s DJANGO UNCHAINED - a stringing together of the plots of the three 70s era Fred Williamson revisionist westerns THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY (‘72), THE SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY (‘73) and BOSS NIGGER (‘75). For as much as we love DJANGO UNCHAINED, the fact is it's very much a combined "Reader's Digest" version of those three films with a hip 21st century attitude.


     Make no mistake, US is definitely a genre fanboy’s thematic Cuisinart version of a wet dream.  But it’s not a retread. And that’s a super-important and very noticeable difference. More like in the same way in which Peele’s earlier GET OUT was a modern day DNA transplant of THE STEPFORD WIVES, so is US the latest entry in the sci-fi / horror sub-genre of the age old evil doppelgänger yarn. And if it’s true that the most reworked story in cinema history is Dickens’ OLIVER TWIST - redressed and revisited as EMPIRE OF THE SUN, THE COLOR PURPLE, CLOCKERS, AN AMERICAN TAIL and more over the last century of film, then surely the doppelgänger tale, perhaps second only to the "paradox of time" story, is among the most revisited in the sci fi / horror realm.

Fetching the Fetch: "How They Met Themselves" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti -
watercolor version, c. 1860-64

     In addition to TZ’s “Mirror Image” some of the most popular and surely memorable incarnations of the doppelgänger sub-genre include the original STAR TREK series’ “Mirror, Mirror” (the one with the evil Kirk and Spock with the goatee - remember that one?), one of the best of Irwin Allen’s original LOST IN SPACE episodes - 1967’s “The Anti-Matter Man” (where a rift in the timespace continuum causes an evil Robinson family and robot to slide through and battle the good ones), and one of the most gripping episodes of 80s era television period - genre or not: the 1985 debut episode of the revamped TWILIGHT ZONE series, “Shatterday”, based on a story by Harlan Ellison, starring Bruce Willis, and directed by Wes Craven.

(Top to bottom) HOW THEY MET THEMSELVES
THE TWILIGHT ZONE - "Mirror Image" (orig. airdate 2/26/60),
LOST IN SPACE - "The Anti-Matter Man" (orig. airdate 12/27/67),
STAR TREK - "Mirror, Mirror" (orig. airdate 10/6/67)

     All of those stories - each damned clever and witty in their own right - aren’t rips of one another, but rather like the OLIVER TWIST reworkings are all to greater or lesser degree based upon the original Irish folk legends of the Fetch more than anything else. So, yes, Peele’s film does doff its cap to what came before. And, hell yes!, in parts it feels like a deliberate “Cinematic Easter Egg Hunt to End All Easter Egg Hunts”. For example in the very first scene / opening shot we notice four VHS video tapes strategically placed alongside an 80s era television set - three store bought tapes and one home recorded one. And if you’re familiar with the plots of the movies on the three store bought tapes it’ll give you a little heads-up as to some of US’s upcoming narrative elements.



     If you’re also familiar with other 70s era films (those of Peele’s formative inspirational years) like the NIGHT STALKER tv movie sequel THE NIGHT STRANGLER, THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD, DON’T LOOK NOW and Philip Kaufman’s remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, then there are additional specific scenes in Peele's film which will surely make you grin with a sense of “insider joke” familiarity every bit as much as they made us grin like big goofballs. So, yeah, Peele’s film is a horror film with something in it for everyone, especially the genre fan. But once again it acknowledges a love of these films - functions as a living stroll down horror memory lane (if you will) - without blatantly ripping off what it sees on the side of the road and trying to pass it off as it’s own. It acknowledges what came before but says, “Let’s take the DNA of that and not create a clone, but an entirely new being with it’s own voice and personality (it’s own soul if you will), but which very much remembers where it‘s DNA came from”. And, oh yeah, on the “horror” subject …

Rolling Stone - February, 2019

     No "if"s, "and"s or "but"s, US is a bonafied horror film. In a January 2019 interview with Rolling Stone’s Peter Hiatt, writer / director Peele flat out acknowledged that after the “Is it a horror film or a thriller?” (as if one film can’t be both) “genre confusion” of GET OUT, what he wanted to do next was a no-holds-barred, flat out “’spill your soda’ scary” (his words, not our’s) horror tale. And that’s what we get.

     US isn’t a perfect film. As mentioned earlier we found the first half more terrifyingly gripping than the second half (which is suspenseful). And even during that first half many of the scenes for our money run on a few extra beats too long. It’s as if Peele is so in love with the cleverness of his material in each scene he can’t bear to cut or lose any of it even for the sake of dramatic pacing. And as such there are a few lags in that first half because of it. At its best US plays like the crème of those lean and mean “one stab” / single-premise-with-multiple-permutations-and-possible-outcomes 70s era tv movies like THE NIGHT STALKER, BAD RONALD, DUEL, SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, THE NORLISS TAPES and THE HORROR AT 37,000 FEET. And when you think about it part of what made those films so to-this-day memorable (and still scary) was their brevity.


     US is great running at just under two hours. And it would have been even better had it come in closer to 95 or 100 minutes. Even those other 70s theatrical films like PETER PROUD and DON’T LOOK NOW - in which US is in obvious and understandable head-over-heels love - clock in at a shorter running time than Peele‘s. And part of their success is in how they don’t allow their premises to overstay their welcome. They dramatically know how to (as we used to say back in the day) “hit it then git it”. And US comes precariously close to forgetting that.  As for the execution of it's other craftsman-like details, Peele's rollercoaster is a cinema textbook masterpiece.

     The score by classical and contemporary composer & teacher Michael Abels is a freakish work of mad genius. It’s amalgam of chanting OMEN-like chorus, Afro-Cuban percussion and orchestra manages to simmer on the back burner of the audiences' memory long after exiting the theater. And the film's visual execution, concocted by Peele and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (IT FOLLOWS, SPLIT, GLASS), is eerily unnerving and endearingly playful at the same time.


     The opening sequences in 1986 are filmed in almost CHARLIE BROWN / E.T.  childhood-point-of-view fashion with the camera seldom rising above the height level of young Adelaide, and the adults mostly seen from the waist down until leaning over into the frame to converse with our young protagonist. It's both cute and creepy at the same time. Then later there’s (quite cleverly) hardly a scene where the members of the cast are filmed in the center of the frame in classic fashion. The most prominent “center of the frame” traditional visual moment is during the scene we see in the various trailers and tv spots - when the “alternate family” first appears at the end of the driveway dressed in red coveralls and holding hands.

(L to R) Composer Michael Abels and
Dir. of Photography Mike Gioulakis
     Once the “alternate family” suddenly splits off in all directions like a macabre flock of birds breaking formation, all hell breaks loose both narratively and visually with characters both good and bad moving off to the left, right or bottom of the frame and throwing the visual balance slightly off this way and that. It’s barely noticeable consciously. But not unlike how in the old BATMAN tv series, whenever we were in the villains’ lair and the camera was always tilted, it here sends off a subconscious sonar “ping” to the audience that something’s not quite right.

     In light of all of this, and especially after the film’s final reveal, we admit the stuff about the running time and scenes in the first half being a bit too long emerge as minor quibbles in what is hands down one of the best modern day horror films to come along in years.

     As popular and well made as are the more recent slate of cinematic terror trips (films like INSIDIOUS, THE CONJURING, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, ANNABELLE, THE UNBORN, THE NUN, etc.), we’ve just never been as taken by them the way many others are because to us too many of them rely upon CGI trickery to create their nightmarish imagery. For us, in the same way in which watching actual stunt personnel doing actual feats of derring do as opposed to their obvious CGI counterparts doing the same, so do we believe that the film audience not only sees but feels the difference deep in their gut when freakish fever dream imagery is realized mostly in camera. There's a sense of unexplainable creepiness and dread in subconsciously knowing that actual physical reality is somehow being twisted right before our eyes. And this is part of the reason why films such as THE EXORCIST, the original THE OMEN and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, and even many of Universal's horror hits of the early 1900s like DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN still somehow remain timeless today. It's not just nostalgia. They've somehow managed to bottle psychological lightning and preserve it via the physical cinematic arts. Peele's film does the same. 


     It's easy to forget how small scale some of the creepier TWILIGHT ZONE, OUTER LIMITS and NIGHT GALLERY episodes were. Most of them took place on maybe three sets at most, featured but a handful of actors (usually no more than four or five main speaking roles), and were shot with only one or two cameras usually locked into place, or at best on short-tracked dollies. But the ideas were so big the eye forgot to notice the lack of extravagances and uber technical razzle dazzle. The story, characters and director’s sense of style are what were king. And there was a Bruce Lee-like confidence in that alone for the film and filmmaker to feel secure in not having to ape or imitate what came before, or to slam the audience up against the wall in the cinematic / sensory equivalent of a gang rape in order to provoke an emotional response.

At the US South by Southwest Festival premiere: (L to R) Writer / Director Jordan Peele and cast -
Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Tim Heidecker, Elisabeth Moss

     While among the best of modern day horror, Jordan Peele’s US is at the same time a throwback to the days when “the idea” ruled. And in our present era where every other week rolls out yet another zombie or vampire tv series or flick - such to the point that many start to look and feel the same - it’s refreshing to see a genuinely creative and lovingly nostalgic spin on an age-old genre without resorting to simply ripping off what came before and claiming it as "the new cinematic thang". While faced with an impressive and daunting history of similarly themed films and series created by some of the legends of the genre, with US Jordan Peele has staked his own worthy claim as artist provocateur par excellence in “the Art of Terrifying An Audience With An Evil Doppelgänger Tale … Without Doing The Stereotypical Evil Doppelgänger tale”.

     We think Bruce Lee would approve.  ;)


                                                                                                                CEJ

________________________________________________

Vaulted Treasures is part of The GullCottage / Sandlot - a film blog, 
cinema magazine, growing reference library and online network 
"Celebrating The Art of Cinema, ... And Cinema As Art"

Explore The GullCottage / Sandlot @

Saturday, December 1, 2018

PETER YATES' "ROBBERY" ('67) - WHAT "HEAT" & "MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE" WANNA BE WHEN THEY GROW UP - by CEJ


________________________________________________

VAULTED TREASURES: MOVIES YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT, YOU FORGOT, 
... OR YOU FORGOT TO LOVE MORE THE FIRST TIME AROUND!


Dir.  by - Peter Yates
Written by - Peter Yates, Edward Boyd, George Markstein, Gerald Wilson
From  - "The Robber's Tale" 
by Peta Fordham
Prod. by - Stanley Baker, 
Michael Deeley
Music by - Johnny Keating
Director of Photography - 
Douglas Slocombe
Edited by - Reginald Beck 
Art Direction - 
Micheal Seymour

Running Time: 110 mins.
Release: 9/21/67 (UK) 
9/27/67 (US)
Embassy Pictures (UK)
Paramount Pictures (US)

GullCottage rating
(***** on a scale of 1-5)
___________________


     Streaming is wonderful, but many cinematic gems (for various reasons) have yet to make the leap to NetFlix, Hulu, Blu-ray or even DVD. In fact some have never been released in ANY home video format. And for this reason we saved our old school VHS tapes / players and DVD burner; and love to return "to the vaults" to relive old faves.

     Today it's commonplace (and common sense) for actors to start their own production companies in order to find good material from which they themselves can at times snatch a decent character role, and at other times maybe not appear in but from which they can take a measure of creative satisfaction by shepherding to the screen a "pet project" they just have to get before an audience. James Garner's Cherokee Productions gave birth to TV's iconic THE ROCKFORD FILES and films such as GRAND PRIX and SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF. Clint Eastwood's Malpaso gave the world DIRTY HARRY, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and more. Sean Connery founded Fountainbridge, Will Smith - Overbrook, Tom Cruise - CW and so on.

Directed by Peter Yates, ROBBERY is a speculative take
on the infamous "British Royal Mail Train Robbery" of Aug. 3rd, 1963

     But to date one of the most impressive was also one of the earliest - formed by Welsh actor / producer Stanley Baker in the 1960s. One of British film history's most recognizable faces (we promise you've seen him time and again - he having starred in over 70 films including THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, ZULU, HELL DRIVERS, SODOM AND GOMORRAH and more), one of his most iconic films as actor and producer also happens to be one of the greatest crime thrillers ever made. Surprisingly still all but unknown in the U.S. (and we hope to help remedy that situation), it's cinematic DNA - along with it's director's signature style - directly lead to the creation of the classic American Steve McQueen police thriller BULLITT, the intricate 1972 heist comedy THE HOT ROCK with Robert Redford and George Segal, and (while we've never heard or read anything "official" along these lines) we've always found it all but obvious that it was a primary influence on Michael Mann's highly regarded 1989 TV movie L.A. TAKEDOWN and it's even more highly regarded 1995 kinda sorta remake / expansion film HEAT. Yeah, that's a helluva filmic pedigree. And it belongs to Peter Yates' 1967 burnished gem of a caper yarn ROBBERY.

Stanley Baker (far right) leads the crew both as "Clifton" -
the team's criminal mastermind - and as one of the film's primary producers.

     Britain's legendary "Great Train Robbery" (not to be confused with the events of the Michael Crichton Victorian era novel / film) took place in the early morning hours of Aug. 3rd, 1963 on the Bridego Railway Bridge near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire. It was there that a gang of 15 men (none of them carrying firearms) pulled off the complex and momentous task of tampering with the line's railway signals, thus secluding a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London, and robbing it of £2.6 million (£48 million in today's currency / $75.5 million in today's U.S. dollars). While most of the gang was eventually found and arrested, the bulk of the stolen money was never recovered.

(pub. 1965)

     Over the next 50+ years almost 20 books would be published on the Great Train Robbery, each offering varying accounts and theories as to who was the true mastermind behind the heist, and whether or not he (or she) was ever captured. The first two - published shortly after the actual incident, and while investigations, searches and trials were still being conducted, were 1964's "The Great Train Robbery" written by Scotland Yard investigator John Gosling - it telling the story from the police perspective; and 1965's "The Robber's Tale". Penned by Peta Fordham, the wife of one of the barristers representing gang member Ronnie Biggs (who was convicted but escaped prison after having served 15 months), "Robber's Tale" proudly brandished the subtitle "The Real Story Behind The Great Train Robbery". But most felt it was a hastily written and exploitative documentation containing numerous unverified innuendos, and which contained no more "inside" information about the robbery and subsequent trial than was already available to the general public via reams of press coverage.

     The future producer of classic American films such as THE DEER HUNTER and BLADE RUNNER, in the 1960s Michael Deeley was best known in his native England as the man behind numerous British TV series as well as 1965's award winning comedy film adaptation of the popular stage play THE KNACK ... AND HOW TO GET IT. After securing the rights to Fordham's book he brought it to director Peter Yates, who at the time only had two previous feature film credits to his name and had primarily been known as a TV director on series such as THE SAINT.

Dir. Peter Yates (circa early 1960s)

     After their project was turned down by Woodfall Productions (the company co-founded by James Bond producer Harry Saltzman), Deeley and Yates brought it to actor Stanley Baker, who as star and producer of the hit film ZULU (1964) had established a good working relationship with that film's financial backer - legendary British film mogul Joseph E. Levine. Levine agreed to bankroll ROBBERY and the project was a go.

     As those "varying accounts and theories" surrounding the events of the robbery were still being debated as Deely, Yates and Baker embarked on the creation of their film (hell, the James Bond film THUNDERBALL would even jokingly imply that super-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld's organization SPECTRE was actually the brains behind it), they decided to make no pretense at attempting to adhere to "hard and fast documentation"; this in the event that years (or even months) later newly discovered evidence or testimony would discredit and / or seriously date their feature. As such ROBBERY's screenplay (co-written by Yates, Edward Boyd and George Markstein) would make the gang members a fictitious amalgam of the actual crew. And all of the events leading up to the 25 minute robbery itself - in the film painstakingly, realistically (and oh soooo stylishly) recreated from the court testimonies of the perpetrators - would be speculative fiction.

Producer Michael Deeley (top left) on THE ITALIAN JOB (1969)

     To give the film more appeal in the U.S. an American character was written into the original script as the actual mastermind behind the heist. Legendary gangster actor George Raft originally signed on, but had to back out when England's Home Office refused him entry to the country because of his real life mob associations. Three days of footage was actually later shot aboard Joseph E. Levine's yacht on Long Island (U.S.A) with American actor Jason Robards (ONCE UPON THE TIME IN THE WEST, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN) as the "brains behind the caper". But it was later decided not to use the scenes and keep the operation an all British affair.

     As such the final cast included Stanley Baker as gang leader / mastermind Paul Clifton, James Booth (ZULU) as Inspector Langdon, Joanna Pettet (who'd co-starred in the 1967 James Bond spoof vers. of CASINO ROYALE) as Clifton's wife, Kate; and as various gang members - Frank Finlay (THE LONGEST DAY, THE THREE MUSKETEERS), Barry Foster (BATTLE OF BRITAIN, FRENZY), Clinton Grey, George Sewell and other recognizable character actor favorites from the UK's stage and screen world.


     Whether thrillers, comedies or searing dramas, the films of one of our all time favorite film makers, the late director Peter Yates (1929 - 2011), were known for their gritty representation of character as well as swift pace. THE HOT ROCK, FOR PETE'S SAKE, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, THE DEEP, the hybrid action-comedy-drama MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED, along with BREAKING AWAY, KRULL, THE DRESSER, ELENI, SUSPECT and THE HOUSE ON CARROLL STREET all garnered Yates worldwide critical acclaim. But, as is often the case with most departed film makers, that world would remember Yates for one work in particular - in this case his 1968 American directorial debut BULLITT.

BULLITT (1968)

     In a Jan. 11th, 2011 New York Times obituary written about Yates, Bruce Weber stated, "Mr. Yates’s reputation probably rests most securely on BULLITT – and indeed, on one particular scene, an extended car chase that instantly became a classic". But what most (in our opinion heart-achingly) fail(ed) to recognize and cite among Yates' list of genuinely impressive cinematic accomplishments is that BULLITT was deliberately patterned after the super-cool look (in costumes and sharp cinematographic angles), tone & feel (in terse, near pulp-like dialog and jazz-influenced score), and even in it's hair raising car chase sequence very much after ROBBERY.

(Clockwise from top) Dir. Yates with Steve McQueen on BULLITT ('68),
with Barbra Streisand on FOR PETE'S SAKE ('74), with Alex Rocco on
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE ('73), and with Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset & Robert Shaw on THE DEEP ('77)

     The first 15 minutes of ROBBERY - a considerable chunk of screen time for a film running 110 mins. - opens with a bang. A mini-movie in and of itself, and every bit as hair-raisingly exciting as a 007 movie pre-credit sequence, we the audience are thrown headlong into the third act of the latest in a string of capers designed to raise capital for the gang's "ultimate crime" - the titular later-to-come Royal Mail train heist. Using anesthetic gas Clifton's second-in-command, Frank (portrayed by Barry Foster), and a handful of others knock out a diamond courier, then, after hustling him into the back of an ambulance to cut the jewel-laden briefcase from his wrist, are spotted by police. A chase then ensues through London's crowded streets.


     Resorting to their "Plan B" escape alternative, at every couple of street corners - as their getaway car screeches around the bend, another gang member leaps near-Kamikaze-like from the vehicle, and violently rolls to a stop off-road or under a parked truck to then elude the police on foot. Perhaps surpassing the later chases of BULLITT, THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE SEVEN UPS (those three films produced by American filmmaker Philip D'Antoni), in retrospect - especially if you watch the films after viewing ROBBERY - it is painfully cinematically obvious that all of those now-classic aforementioned tire-and-asphalt-burners were to greater or lesser degree patterned after the opening minutes of ROBBERY - it's chase still one of the most mind-bogglingly shot (as in the audience wondering "Jeez! Was anyone killed while filming this?") in action movie history.


     By the way, no! No one was killed during the realization of ROBBERY's hair-raising introduction. But, as with Yates very next film, BULLITT, the cinematic pace and intensity is ratcheted up exponentially by grade "A" contributions from a sterling technical crew - in this case including the down-and-dirty-realistic cinematography of Douglas Slocombe (THE LION IN WINTER, ROLLERBALL, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) and revolutionary editing of Reginald Beck (MODESTY BLAISE, THE ASSASSINATION OF TROTSY). So enraptured with ROBBERY's execution (in particular it's slick "60s era GQ" visual style and opening chase sequence), it was Steve McQueen himself who lobbied Warner Bros. to hire it's director, Yates, to helm his next film - the now classic BULLITT.


     Winning a Best Screenplay award from the Writer's Guild of Britain, ROBBERY was a commercial success everywhere in the world but the U.S, where Yates says it was poorly promoted. In the wake of the film's global critical acclaim, Yates' career wasn't the only one which blossomed. Having joined as producing partners on ROBBERY, Stanley Baker and Micheal Deely founded Oakhurst Productions. Then, eventually joined by Barry Spikings, the trio would go on to form the Great Western company, which would eventually take over the legendary British Lion studios and release classics such as DON'T LOOK NOW, THE WICKER MAN, CONDUCT UNBECOMING and the 1976 David Bowie / Nicholas Roeg sci-fier THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH.

A thematic precursor to James Caan's "Frank" in Michael Mann's THIEF ('81) and
Robert DeNiro's "McCauley" in HEAT ('95), Baker's "Clifton" attempts to balance his secret
criminal life with the domestic one he shares with his beloved "Kate" (Joanna Pettet)

     A near life-long heavy smoker, Baker was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1976, then passed away later that same year at the age of 48. His legacy as both actor and independent producer continues to influence the course of modern film. And a major shifting point in that career was the success of  ROBBERY - it ironically still little known to most film fans in America.


     Amazingly, although we considered ourselves huge life-long fans of director Yates (hell, two of our all time fave films period are his EDDIE COYLE and THE DEEP), even we had never heard of ROBBERY until one Saturday afternoon in the early 1990s. Those over 30 may recall that, as DVD's began taking over the marketplace from video cassettes, there was a sudden surge in the liquidation of VHS tapes everywhere from large scale rental chains to the local neighborhood Mom & Pop video emporium on the corner. And if we recall correctly we picked up ROBBERY the same day we also snagged Nicholas Meyer's little known COMPANY BUSINESS (with Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov) and Fred Schepisi's underrated THE RUSSIA HOUSE (starring Sean Connery & Michelle Pfeiffer) - all three for under ten bucks. Ahhh, those were the days!


     Rushing the loot home and popping ROBBERY into the 'ol Panasonic tape player first we were immediately blown away. Within the first 10 minutes one couldn't help but immediately recognize - from Johnny Keating's super cool, brass-laden, big band jazz score, to the film's air-tight technical execution, especially in that insane opening London car chase -  BULLITT's genetic indebtedness to the cine-genome of ROBBERY. Needless to say because of this we in subsequent years were consistently stunned when the film, which was finally beginning to build a wee bit of a steady cult reputation in the U.S. via VHS and cable TV screenings, never received a stateside DVD release. That is until kinda / sorta 2008.


     In 2008 Studio Canal officially released ROBBERY as a Pan & Scan, "Region 2" (not playable on players in the U.S. and Canada) DVD in England. And there were (and still are) also a few sites of dubious legality which claimed to offer "Region Free" versions of the film as a "per order" DVD-R. But as stated in other "Vaulted Treasure" postings we can't really speak positively or negatively as to the quality of such "independently produced" discs, or even whether or not they will play on all machines. There was, however, some good (as well as, we guess, bad) news for Blu-ray aficionados in 2015.


   
     The good news was that the Network label released a stunning new transfer of ROBBERY scanned to 2K resolution from the original 35mm negative, and restored it in it's correct theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The Blu contained a newly recorded interview with Michael Deeley as well as "WAITING FOR THE SIGNAL" - an all new documentary on the making of ROBBERY. It also included archival Behind The Scenes material, and an episode of TV's CINEMA series featuring a sit-down with the late Stanley Baker. The only rub (the bad news part) was that the Blu (just like the previous DVD) was only available as a "Region 2" disc. Those who still have VHS players can find video tape copies of the film on Amazon.com (U.S.) running from $8.00 used to $120.00 new. And, for those interested in burning a personal copy from TV, up till as recently as four years ago the film was still sporadically showing up on SHOWTIME and a few other commercial-free cable movie networks. It is to date, however, still not yet available for streaming anywhere in the U.S.

(L to R) 1987 Charter VHS, 2008 StudioCanal DVD, 2015 Network Blu-ray

     Regardless of whichever medium you choose to seek out and experience this lightning-fast (and yes, we're going to use that phrase one last time) "super-cool" masterclass in bad-assed action / suspense cinema, we most heartily urge that you to do so. THE ITALIAN JOB, the OCEANS 11 remakes, and even the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films? Over the years we've come to the conclusion that each of them in their youth, ... all they ever really wanted to do was be ROBBERY when they grew up. Give a look-see at this one, and we think you'll agree.


                                                                                                               CEJ

________________________________________________

Vaulted Treasures is part of The GullCottage / Sandlot - a film blog, 
cinema magazine, growing reference library and online network 
"Celebrating The Art of Cinema, ... And Cinema As Art"

Explore The GullCottage / Sandlot @