PUNCH DRUNKER: THE 50 GREATEST MOVIE FIGHTS OF ALL TIME (Part Four)

war-of-the-roses-kathleen-turner

20. The Outsiders

Brat Pack Porn.

 

19. The War of the Roses

Dark comedy? How about black hole comedy. That last, and final, altercation between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner is, like the ones that preceded it, at times amusing, macabre and over-the-top. But that last, final gesture? Ouch.

 

18. Enter the Dragon

Wherein Bruce Lee makes himself a legend. For all time.

 

17. The Godfather

In addition to being quite gratifying (the bullying wifebeater Carlo getting slapped around by someone his own size), it’s also a nice bit of art imitating life—which is not typical for fight scenes. When Sonny, out of breath from the beating he’s just dished out, says “You touch my sister again I’ll kill ya”, it’s not merely a statement of fact, it’s masterful acting from James Caan. A lesser thespian would have shouted the lines, unable to resist this golden opportunity to grandstand. It’s likely that Caan’s restraint is partially or entirely due to the fact that he’d witnessed—and probably delivered—ass-kickings like this in his own life and didn’t need to talk the actorly talk because everyone knew he could walk the bare-knuckled walk.

 

16. Old Boy

Wherein Dae Su (the great Choi Min-Sik) drops the hammer, pun intended, on a bunch of hoods. Improbable, over-the-top, essential.

 

15. Eastern Promises

Because you’re never more vulnerable than when you’re naked. In public. In a steam bath. Being attacked by gangsters wielding curved knives.

 

14. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indy fighting the big bald Nazi? Indy fighting a Nazi inside, on top of and underneath a moving vehicle? Yes, to both. But we all know which scene takes top billing. It is perfection, period, but knowing the story behind it makes it a million times better. Struggling with a case of dysentery, Harrison Ford squashed weeks of rehearsed sword play (the original scene was intended to be a sword vs. whip showcase) and allegedly said “Let’s just shoot the sucker.” It’s a shot still heard ‘round the world.

 

13. Goldfinger

How to choose a single selection from the embarrassment of riches that is the James Bond filmography? Not possible, but 007’s dance of death with Odd Job is as agreeable an example of the violence cut with humor and quirky cleverness that these films specialized in. Also, too: Sean Connery.

 

12. Batman

A delicious palette cleanser, we can forever appreciate the sine qua non of campy superhero fight scenes, and what better arena than Adam West’s Batman, the ultimate in caped-crusading camp. This is the all-in Battle Royale (with cheese), a brawl that involves all the assorted players, because duh. And the capper, when our hero saves the cat from drowning with the winking send-off “Bon voyage pussy!”. Holy blissful extravagance, Batman!

 

11. Roadhouse

Speaking of camp, does it get any better (e.g., worse) than Patrick Swayze? The movie is at once sui generis and meta, deeply aware—and proud—of its shamelessness. But most folks would agree, the final fight scene is a tour de force of semi-farce; it has so much homoerotic energy it almost services itself. Where in the earlier scuffles you can fear the mullets while simultaneously contemplating who is gayer: Swayze (RIP), the great Ben Gazzara (RIP!) or the dude with the pool cue. You know, the one who used to fuck guys like Dalton in prison (!!).

 

This essay originally appeared in The Weeklings on 7/29/15.

Share

Perfection Turns 41 (Revisited)

godfather2-300x165

Thanks to AMC, I’m reminded that The Godfather Part II turns 35 (edit: 41) this year. (And they should know, they show it on a bi-weekly loop.)

I’m not especially interested in adding to overwhelming opinion that decrees The Godfather series cinema’s greatest achievement. For one, is it? More importantly, who cares? The movies are indisputably great, and that should suffice. Besides, that type of coronation is usually the sole province of dorks who actually make it a point to rank artistic achievement. Like, for instance, declaring that Chinatown is the only perfect American film ever made. Regardless, while each one has its issues, taken together, The Godfather saga is tough to top. That’s good enough for me.

One more thing. The Godfather Part Two may not be perfect, but it does have what is quite possibly the best scene in movie history. The final scene is a sort of alpha and omega for film, maybe even Art. How does it do this? Simple, it’s perfect. It not only manages to connect all the threads of almost six hours (and two generations) of Mafia melodrama, it is also elegaic in almost operatic fashion: instead of being an overture, it is a coda. It doesn’t project the future (if so, it might have foreseen that the ill-begotten Godfather Part Three should have been aborted, like Kay and Michael’s third child), it retreats into the past, something Michael will be spending a great deal of time doing from here on out. It’s a complete triumph of writing, acting and direction. What’s remarkable is how Francis Ford Coppola made the most with what he had (or more importantly, how–as often seems to be the case with incredible art–circumstances conspired to impel brilliance). To wit, the famously impossible Marlon Brando petulantly refused to appear for one day of filming, so Coppola had to rework the scene without him. Ironically, it is considerably better for his absence. That is not a slight on The Don; his presence pervades the scene: he is spoken about, he is at the height of his powers at this moment and his influence over each character and all of the events is palpable (indeed, in one wonderful moment, the dimwitted Fredo–poor Fredo–cuts the Japanese some slack for Pearl Harbor by noting “they didn’t know it was Pop’s birthday”). Vito looms large enough, any interaction with his sons would have sucked up the air in the room and left little space for the import of what unfolds. In the entire arc of the story writ small, each character succinctly expresses their unique M.O., or hints at strengths or flaws we have already seen (Sonny’s temper, Fredo’s aforementioned simplicity, Michael’s considerable–and underestimated–resolve, Tom’s quiet sagacity) as well as the tragic twists we know will unravel (Carlo and Connie, Tessio).

The scene could only come at the end, but it encapsulates everything that happened (even before the primary action of the first film) and it colors how we know the rest of Michael’s life will be: alone, full of resentment, regrets and memories. In less than five minutes, it is at once amusing and moving, it summarizes and portends. It is one of the extraordinarily rare artistic achievements that might be called, without hyperbole, miraculous.

Share

Love Is Old, Love Is New: Another Appreciation of ‘Abbey Road’ (Revisited, “New Shit” Edition)

ar

“New shit,” as the Dude said, “has come to light.”

I was unaware of this, but have now seen the light. Let it shine until tomorrow. Let it be.

I don’t even have a question, but here is the answer:

Whenever I listen to Abbey Road, I find myself feeling grateful that the collective world of musicians did not, upon hearing it for the first time, throw up their hands and get day jobs. Why bother? they did not ask, allowing us to remain thankful for everything that keeps filling our ears, all these years later. But what must it have sounded like, to mortals simply trying to occupy the same planet, when this one originally dropped?

Abbey Road is not Revolver, or Sgt. Pepper or even The White Album;it is merely The Beatles’ best album. Ironically, it’s not a perfect album (if such a thing could even be said to exist — a fun debate for another time, although the dicey proposition has been discussed in brief here); like I said, it’s not Revolver. It does what the rarest of artistic creations can do: it is more than that. How, for instance, could any album containing “Octopus’s Garden” possibly, under any circumstances be appraised as perfect? (Well, for starters, two words: “Yellow Submarine”, also, of course, sung by our beloved Ringo.) The point is, an album with such an overabundance of riches (Question: is such a thing possible? Answer: yes) does not only compensate for the sore spots, it overwhelms them with its sheer force of being. You could drop a teardrop in a river and nobody will taste the salt.

And, for the record, I not only unashamedly endorse the much-despised “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, I relish it (It’s a sing-along song about a serial killer for Christ’s sake; could anyone pull this off with such aplomb? And if Paul was a tad too sentimental and sappy at times, it helped cut the self-righteous solipsism that Lennon was more than a little guilty of, albeit often in the service of stunning art; consider some of the best and worst tracks from The White Album for examples of each). So suck on this, haters:

Of course, even this album is not without controversy. Even within the band, Lennon (who, let’s not kid ourselves, had a more than moderate envy of Macca’s prodigious and, circa 1969, unfathomable compositional facility) could scarcely stomach the second side (the extended “suite” which certain fans –like this one– consider a towering achievement in any music, ever). It’s hard to quibble with Lennon’s work on “Come Together” and the hopped-up anguish of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, which bookend the first side(and it’s worth noting the latter features astounding bass lines throughout courtesy of The Walrus).

Just as Lennon possibly edges out his mate, song for song, on Revolver and The White Album, Mac is the prime mover on Abbey Road (as he was on Sgt. Pepper). One somewhat overlooked track that continues to intrigue me (aside from the obvious fact that it rules) is “Oh! Darling”. Lennon allegedly was salty that Mac opted to sing lead vocals on this one, since the style of the song was, ostensibly, more suited to Lennon’s skill-set. Well….Paul could scream with the best of them, and while I would love to hear a version of this song with Lennon taking a crack at lead vocals, I think this remains one of Mac’s enduring performances (the entire tune is a tour de force). And, not to mince words, I don’t think even Lennon could have pulled off the last line (I’ll never dooooooooo you no haaarm!!) as indelibly as his partner in crime did.

Oh, you want more?

So why, in the midst of discussing one of the great albums, am I falling into the trap of even entertaining the whole Lennon/McCartney thing?

Well…with the (unimaginable) prospect of Lennon’s death approaching its 30th anniversary (seriously, how is this possible?), get ready for some overly earnest, over-the-top and mostly well-intended attempts to elevate him even higher (is that possible?) into the artistic and human pantheon. I will mostly welcome such endeavors, but some of us will be obliged to inject some perspective on the whole JOHN WAS THE BEATLES! hysteria.

I had a bit to say about this last year, on the occasion of anniversary #29:

I couldn’t deny that this phenomenon was not in play while The Beatles were still a working band, but there is no question that Lennon’s posthumous lionization seemed to separate fans into facile camps of “Lennon people” versus “McCartney people”. You know the drill: if you like “Hey Jude” and “Penny Lane” you are a PM person; if you prefer “I Am The Walrus” and “Come Together” you are a JL person (if you prefer “Revolution 9″ you are a weird person…just kidding –sort of). The implication, of course, is that Lennon was the more seriousBeatle, the more witty and acerbic and, therefore, worthwhile Beatle. This whole formula is idiotic, insulting and should really be retired as soon as possible. (Put another way, if you have ever said anything along the lines of “Lennon was the only Beatle that mattered” then you are a poser and quite possibly a hipster, neither of which are anything to be proud of.)

To me, real Beatles fans have always looked at that question the way they would if asked who their favorite parent was. Do you have to decide? And why should you? The bottom line is: as claustrophobic as it got in the Beatles universe post-Ono, it is understandable that Genius of that magnitude would eventually bristle at the compromises required to keep the machine running. Not to mention, quiet genius #3, the increasingly confident George Harrison, resented having his artistic wings clipped and understandably bristled as his (increasingly superb) songs got left on the cutting room floor.

It didn’t need to end; it had to end. How could they keep going; they kept going.

Of course, as the ‘70s showed, (not unlike Cream before them, or Pink Floyd after them) no one amongst the Fab Four came close to making music on their own equal to the work they did together. (The people who think Imagine and Plastic Ono Band are superior to any proper Beatles albums, aside from outing themselves as “John people” — not that there’s anything wrong with that — are arguably not true Beatles fanatics. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that).

In short and in sum: John needed Paul, and Paul needed John. It’s as simple as that, and I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument to the contrary — and I say that as someone who accepts the fact that the break-up was probably inevitable, in the grand scheme of things. Mourning what could or should have been seems churlish, like wishing Shakespeare had lived a bit longer and written another half-dozen plays. With an embarrassment of riches like this, it’s insane to quibble (and, in a confession that marks me, for better or worse, as a Beatles fanatic, I find much to enjoy in all of the solo albums: as always, Ringo is best in small doses and each other member indulges a tad too much in their obsessions for my liking. In closing, they needed each other, perhaps more than they ever realized).

This band is like the mafia was to Michael Corleone; every time I think I’ve said all I can (should) say, they pull me back in. And if I’m going to be pulled back, I’d better Get Back.

More (too much more?) on The Beatles, here and here.

To be continued, I’m sure…

Share

Love Is Old, Love Is New: Another Appreciation of ‘Abbey Road’

I don’t even have a question, but here is the answer:

 

Whenever I listen to Abbey Road, I find myself feeling grateful that the collective world of musicians did not, upon hearing it for the first time, throw up their hands and get day jobs. Why bother? they did not ask, allowing us to remain thankful for everything that keeps filling our ears, all these years later. But what must it have sounded like, to mortals simply trying to occupy the same planet, when this one originally dropped?

Abbey Road is not Revolver, or Sgt. Pepper or even The White Album; it is merely The Beatles’ best album. Ironically, it’s not a perfect album (if such a thing could even be said to exist — a fun debate for another time, although the dicey proposition has been discussed in brief here); like I said, it’s not Revolver. It does what the rarest of artistic creations can do: it is more than that. How, for instance, could any album containing “Octopus’s Garden” possibly, under any circumstances be appraised as perfect? (Well, for starters, two words: “Yellow Submarine”, also, of course, sung by our beloved Ringo.) The point is, an album with such an overabundance of riches (Question: is such a thing possible? Answer: yes) does not only compensate for the sore spots, it overwhelms them with its sheer force of being. You could drop a teardrop in a river and nobody will taste the salt.

And, for the record, I not only unashamedly endorse the much-despised “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, I relish it (It’s a sing-along song about a serial killer for Christ’s sake; could anyone pull this off with such aplomb? And if Paul was a tad too sentimental and sappy at times, it helped cut the self-righteous solipsism that Lennon was more than a little guilty of, albeit often in the service of stunning art; consider some of the best and worst tracks from The White Album for examples of each). So suck on this, haters:

Of course, even this album is not without controversy. Even within the band, Lennon (who, let’s not kid ourselves, had a more than moderate envy of Macca’s prodigious and, circa 1969, unfathomable compositional facility) could scarcely stomach the second side (the extended “suite” which certain fans –like this one– consider a towering achievement in any music, ever). It’s hard to quibble with Lennon’s work on “Come Together” and the hopped-up anguish of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, which bookend the first side(and it’s worth noting the latter features astounding bass lines throughout courtesy of The Walrus).

Just as Lennon possibly edges out his mate, song for song, on Revolver and The White Album, Mac is the prime mover on Abbey Road (as he was on Sgt. Pepper). One somewhat overlooked track that continues to intrigue me (aside from the obvious fact that it rules) is “Oh! Darling”. Lennon allegedly was salty that Mac opted to sing lead vocals on this one, since the style of the song was, ostensibly, more suited to Lennon’s skill-set. Well….Paul could scream with the best of them, and while I would love to hear a version of this song with Lennon taking a crack at lead vocals, I think this remains one of Mac’s enduring performances (the entire tune is a tour de force). And, not to mince words, I don’t think even Lennon could have pulled off the last line (I’ll never dooooooooo you no haaarm!!) as indelibly as his partner in crime did.

So why, in the midst of discussing one of the great albums, am I falling into the trap of even entertaining the whole Lennon/McCartney thing?

Well…with the (unimaginable) prospect of Lennon’s death approaching its 30th anniversary (seriously, how is this possible?), get ready for some overly earnest, over-the-top and mostly well-intended attempts to elevate him even higher (is that possible?) into the artistic and human pantheon. I will mostly welcome such endeavors, but some of us will be obliged to inject some perspective on the whole JOHN WAS THE BEATLES! hysteria.

I had a bit to say about this last year, on the occasion of anniversary #29:

I couldn’t deny that this phenomenon was not in play while The Beatles were still a working band, but there is no question that Lennon’s posthumous lionization seemed to separate fans into facile camps of “Lennon people” versus “McCartney people”. You know the drill: if you like “Hey Jude” and “Penny Lane” you are a PM person; if you prefer “I Am The Walrus” and “Come Together” you are a JL person (if you prefer “Revolution 9″ you are a weird person…just kidding –sort of). The implication, of course, is that Lennon was the more serious Beatle, the more witty and acerbic and, therefore, worthwhile Beatle. This whole formula is idiotic, insulting and should really be retired as soon as possible. (Put another way, if you have ever said anything along the lines of “Lennon was the only Beatle that mattered” then you are a poser and quite possibly a hipster, neither of which are anything to be proud of.)

To me, real Beatles fans have always looked at that question the way they would if asked who their favorite parent was. Do you have to decide? And why should you? The bottom line is: as claustrophobic as it got in the Beatles universe post-Ono, it is understandable that Genius of that magnitude would eventually bristle at the compromises required to keep the machine running. Not to mention, quiet genius #3, the increasingly confident George Harrison, resented having his artistic wings clipped and understandably bristled as his (increasingly superb) songs got left on the cutting room floor.

It didn’t need to end; it had to end. How could they keep going; they kept going.

Of course, as the ‘70s showed, (not unlike Cream before them, or Pink Floyd after them) no one amongst the Fab Four came close to making music on their own equal to the work they did together. (The people who think Imagine and Plastic Ono Band are superior to any proper Beatles albums, aside from outing themselves as “John people” — not that there’s anything wrong with that — are arguably not true Beatles fanatics. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that).

In short and in sum: John needed Paul, and Paul needed John. It’s as simple as that, and I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument to the contrary — and I say that as someone who accepts the fact that the break-up was probably inevitable, in the grand scheme of things. Mourning what could or should have been seems churlish, like wishing Shakespeare had lived a bit longer and written another half-dozen plays. With an embarrassment of riches like this, it’s insane to quibble (and, in a confession that marks me, for better or worse, as a Beatles fanatic, I find much to enjoy in all of the solo albums: as always, Ringo is best in small doses and each other member indulges a tad too much in their obsessions for my liking. In closing, they needed each other, perhaps more than they ever realized).

This band is like the mafia was to Michael Corleone; every time I think I’ve said all I can (should) say, they pull me back in. And if I’m going to be pulled back, I’d better Get Back.

More (too much more?) on The Beatles, here and here.

To be continued, I’m sure…

Share

Perfection Turns 35

Thanks to AMC, I’m reminded that The Godfather Part II turns 35 this year. (And they should know, they show it on a bi-weekly loop.)

I’m not especially interested in adding to overwhelming opinion that decrees The Godfather series cinema’s greatest achievement. For one, is it? More importantly, who cares? The movies are indisputably great, and that should suffice. Besides, that type of coronation is usually the sole province of dorks who actually make it a point to rank artistic achievement. Like, for instance, declaring that Chinatown is the only perfect American film ever made. Regardless, while each one has its issues, taken together, The Godfather saga is tough to top. That’s good enough for me.

One more thing. The Godfather Part Two may not be perfect, but it does have what is quite possibly the best scene in movie history. The final scene is a sort of alpha and omega for film, maybe even Art. How does it do this? Simple, it’s perfect. It not only manages to connect all the threads of almost six hours (and two generations) of Mafia melodrama, it is also elegaic in almost operatic fashion: instead of being an overture, it is a coda. It doesn’t project the future (if so, it might have foreseen that the ill-begotten Godfather Part Three should have been aborted, like Kay and Michael’s third child), it retreats into the past, something Michael will be spending a great deal of time doing from here on out. It’s a complete triumph of writing, acting and direction. What’s remarkable is how Francis Ford Coppola made the most with what he had (or more importantly, how–as often seems to be the case with incredible art–circumstances conspired to impel brilliance). To wit, the famously impossible Marlon Brando petulantly refused to appear for one day of filming, so Coppola had to rework the scene without him. Ironically, it is considerably better for his absence. That is not a slight on The Don; his presence pervades the scene: he is spoken about, he is at the height of his powers at this moment and his influence over each character and all of the events is palpable (indeed, in one wonderful moment, the dimwitted Fredo–poor Fredo–cuts the Japanese some slack for Pearl Harbor by noting “they didn’t know it was Pop’s birthday”). Vito looms large enough, any interaction with his sons would have sucked up the air in the room and left little space for the import of what unfolds. In the entire arc of the story writ small, each character succinctly expresses their unique M.O., or hints at strengths or flaws we have already seen (Sonny’s temper, Fredo’s aforementioned simplicity, Michael’s considerable–and underestimated–resolve, Tom’s quiet sagacity) as well as the tragic twists we know will unravel (Carlo and Connie, Tessio).

The scene could only come at the end, but it encapsulates everything that happened (even before the primary action of the first film) and it colors how we know the rest of Michael’s life will be: alone, full of resentment, regrets and memories. In less than five minutes, it is at once amusing and moving, it summarizes and portends. It is one of the extraordinarily rare artistic achievements that might be called, without hyperbole, miraculous.

Share