Buchanan Rides Alone (1958)

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Tom Buchanan (Randolph Scott) is a mercenary returning from Mexico to West Texas intending to start up a ranch of his own. He stops in a community run by a family called Agry – they own everything. When a young Mexican (Manuel Rojas) kills one of them in revenge for raping his sister the brothers wreak their own revenge while Buchanan winds up killing the villain and helping the young man whose wallet has been emptied and his life spared. Then the three Agry brothers cross and double cross each other by alternately threatening to hang and ransom him for their own ends.  Buchanan attempts to manipulate the situation … This is the fourth Scott collaboration with Budd Boetticher and the second written by Charles Lang (adapted from a novel The Name’s Buchanan by Jonas Ward). It’s perhaps not as iconic as the first two in the cycle, which were written by Burt Kennedy, and it stands out for its drama taking place in a settlement, but it has many of the tropes and shares some of the settings in the series (typically, Lone Pine and its environs). This skirts the edges of comedy – maybe even satire! – as it grapples with the western form. Scott is good in this wittier than usual entry. Beautifully shot by Lucien Ballard, a regular part of the team.

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The Last Detail (1973)

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I am the motherfucking shore patrol! Jack Nicholson was one of the biggest stars of the 70s after Easy Rider and this adaptation of Darryl Ponicsan’s terrific novel is one of the key buddy movies of the period. Nicholson plays Billy ‘Badass’ Buddusky, Signalman First Class who’s awaiting orders at Norfolk naval base with Richard ‘Mule’ Mulhall (Otis Young) when they are directed to escort young Seaman Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to prison in Maine in the depths of winter.  He tried to steal $40 from a charity collection box – and the problem is it’s a favourite of his commanding officer’s wife so he’s got eight years for his efforts.  They set out on a Bon Voyage tour of the north east, getting into all sorts of scrapes and seeing the virginal Larry’s miserable home in Philadelphia en route.  Screenwriter Robert Towne, working for the first (but not the last) time with director Hal Ashby radically altered Ponicsan’s Camus-loving protagonist with his beyond-beautiful wife and recast him as a more ultimately compromised man, adding him to the gallery of unformed underachievers that populates his screenplays:  J.J. Gittes in Chinatown, George Roundy in Shampoo, Mac in Tequila Sunrise.  All of these men are compromised in their need for the means to survive. Of these characters, it could be said that Buddusky (certainly in Towne’s interpretation of the original character as conceived by Ponicsan) is actually the least tragic (he does not succumb to the fate administered in Ponicsan’s novel, thereby rendering the title meaningless!), the most pragmatic – and the most well-adjusted. Towne’s interpretation of Buddusky aligns him in the vanguard of New Hollywood in its politicised, anti-authoritarian heyday.  While his work on the film was undoubtedly influenced by his producer (Gerald Ayres) and director (particularly, it seems, by Ashby), he wrote it with Nicholson in mind and it copperfastened his position as upcoming screenwriter in the early Seventies.  Nicholson’s casting also helped get the film made – the original draft screenplay had ‘342 fucks.’ (There were 65 in the final release.) However Towne had also envisioned the film being cast with Rupert Crosse who died before it got the greenlight so the spotlight of the film now shifted more completely to Nicholson, and the script’s emphasis was therefore changed: Nicholson simply did not have the same kind of relationship with Otis Young, Crosse’s replacement. It was now truly a star vehicle. Meadows was played by Texan newcomer Randy Quaid, who towered over Nicholson, lending even more comedy to the situation. (John Travolta made it to the last two but it was Quaid’s height which lent his character even more poignancy.) It took Nicholson’s winning the Best Actor award at Cannes to get Columbia to finally release the film which was a long time in the editing room. Nicholson still regards it as his best role – Chinatown notwithstanding! Ribald, profane, oddly touching and screamingly funny, this is a tonally perfect comic drama and one you won’t forget in a hurry. For more on it and the significance of Nicholson’s work with his greatest collaborator, screenwriter Robert Towne, you can read my book ChinaTowne:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/ChinaTowne-Elaine-Lennon-ebook/dp/B01KCL3YXQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489670058&sr=8-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

Midnight Run (1988)

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Robert De Niro is the taciturn bounty hunter called in on one last job by Joe Pantoliano, to bring in an accountant for the mob (Charles Grodin) who’s stolen millions of his employer’s money and given it to charity in a fit of pique on finding out they guy’s true identity. His faked fear of flying means a cross-country journey from NYC to LA – with the FBI, the mob and rival bounty hunter John Ashton on their tails. This handcuffed odd couple are like chalk and cheese, the phobic money man and the smartass no-nonsense ex-cop in this near-definitive buddy movie: their byplay is priceless, with both De Niro and Grodin turning in brilliant performances. This action comedy written by George Gallo is one of the great screenplays of the Eighties. Directed with verve by Martin Brest in what is his best film to date. Simply sublime.

Stakeout (1987)

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On a day on which the death of another Eighties icon has been announced, this time the gifted George Michael, it seemed appropriate to roll out a movie rather typical of the era. It starts with a violent prison incident when crazed murderer Richard ‘Stick’ Montgomery (Aidan Quinn) makes good his escape. Meanwhile, horndog cop buddies Chris (Richard Dreyfuss) and Bill (Emilio Estevez) get put on a stakeout of his ex Maria’s house for bad behaviour. Jim Kouf’s screenplay identifies the men pretty well as a bereft lovelorn middle ager and a besotted younger man, a relationship that offsets the violence that opens the story.and – inevitably – closes it. In between are office politics, slapstick, and a growing romance between Chris and the object of Stick’s affections, the beyond-beautiful Madeleine Stowe. A good mix of comedy, suspense, action and romance, well managed by director John Badham.

How To Be Single (2016)

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What is marriage? No more spontaneous sex, no more travelling alone, no more being able to buy stuff without asking permission. That’s not my opinion (well….) that’s the bartender Tom (Anders Hom) with the hard-on who has no-strings sex with Alice (Dakota Johnson) when she takes a break from her long-term boyfriend – and then discovers he’s got a new girlfriend and she’s really single. (Tom probably knows because he cheated when he was married to Anne Hathaway in The Intern.)  This comedy about bedhopping in NYC is adapted by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox,  from Liz Tuccillo’s novel of the same name. And if you recognise her moniker then you’ve obviously seen it on the writing credits of Sex and the City and you might even have read He’s Just Not That Into You, which she c0-wrote. This isn’t so much Alice Through the Looking Glass as Alice Through the Bottom of a Glass After One Way Too Many because she parties like it’s 1999 with the hardest partyer in town, fellow paralegal Robin (Rebel Wilson), a crazy ass wild girl who sleeps around, drugs, dances and has the best hangover cure I’ve ever seen. Johnson is effectively straight man to comic tornado Wilson and her strangeness is squared against the likeable Aussie who (obv) has all the best lines, delivered in her familiar deadpan style. I can’t work out if Johnson is very authentic with great technique or a non-actress with no technique whatsoever. She bears no discernible resemblance to either of her superfamous parents, or her grandmother, for that matter. Alice is rooming with her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) a lonely OB/GYN who’s delivered 3,000 babies plus their mothers’ waste products and doesn’t EVER want to be pregnant or have a baby – until she does, and opts for a sperm donor and IVF. She starts to date Ken (Jake Lacy) the new receptionist at Alice’s office because now she’s pregnant she’s horny but he might be okay because he was the good guy in Christmas With the Coopers. She just doesn’t want him to know she’s with child. Back at the bar, Tom is happy to help out Lucy (Alison Brie) who meets a series of useless men online and he pretends to be her boyfriend when a hen party of women she knows arrives and he saves her from yet another embarrassing encounter. Hey, he’s here to help. And have no-strings sex. This apparently feminist take on romcom wanders mildly around the usual tropes with somewhat atypical outcomes and its worth really resides in that female buddy pairing at its heart – with Brie and Mann (sounds like a cheese company) bringing up the rear. Much of it is about those age-old issues of compatibility, f**k buddies, friendship and sheer convenience over romance. There are some good seemingly throwaway truisms about your drink number (it’s a thing) and which holiday is the best to split up on. After an abortive relationship with property developer Damon Wayans who doesn’t want his kid to know her actual mother has died (tricky), Alison thinks her ex wants to get back with her, but Robin acccuses her of drowning in dicksand and sleeping with, you know, whoever happens along and says Alice doesn’t know who she really is. Their bust-up and the terms on which they get back together are the centre of the story which cuts through the sentiment with a narration telling us what being single is really being about – knowing how to like being alone. Aw, heck it’s Christmas. See it. With about 8 of your favourite bottles of beer. And without the local bartender. Let’s party! Directed by Christian Ditter.

The War Wagon (1967)

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Burt Kennedy is a fairly unusual figure in western movie history – a gifted screenwriter who became a very interesting filmmaker specialising in humorous genre workouts, brilliant at managing and sustaining a mocking tone and creating quite original roles for women.  He didn’t exactly turn western tropes inside out but he was very good at playing with characters and situations in tongue-in-cheek fashion to subtly question their generic arrangement. Clair Huffaker adapted his novel Badman for this parodic outing. John Wayne produced it through his own company, Batjac, and rumours persist that he didn’t much like the end result. He teams up with Kirk Douglas, former gun for hire to villain Bruce Cabot, who ensured Wayne was put in prison for 3 years and took his land which has been a literal goldmine. Wayne wants to carry out a heist on the titular wagon of gold which is armed with a Gatling gun so he assembles a motley crew and intends an explosive takeover. Naturally, there are complications. The fun en route includes a great barroom brawl involving wisecracking cardshark Indian, Howard Keel; and there’s a nice turn from Joanna Barnes (almost the wicked stepmom in The Parent Trap) as poker dealer Lola.  Wayne and Douglas make a good, edgy buddy team and there’s always a fear that they’ll wind up killing each other as they trade taunts about guns and gals. They had previously starred together in Cast a Giant Shadow and In Harm’s Way. Some reference guides list Robert Walker in the talented ensemble but as he’d been killed by his psychiatrist 15 years earlier, it’s actually his lookalike son, Robert Walker Jr.  Good,laid back, funny actioner.

After the Sunset (2004)

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An enormously charming cast makes this action comedy caper a wholly enjoyable affair. Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are the diamond thieves tempted by One Last Job on an island paradise prior to their wedding and retirement, though he keeps delaying writing his vows. Woody Harrelson is the FBI agent determined to catch them because they’ve foiled him before. Don Cheadle is the local crime bigwig who spots an opportunity to steal the third of the Napoleon Diamonds on a cruise ship stopping in the vicinity and Brosnan has to face him down – he stole the first two. It becomes a buddy movie and the sight of Brosnan and Harrelson spooning is really something. Naomie Harris pops up with the local police to add to the Bondian references. If you’re going to do this kinda thing, do it on a tropical island with performers who have charisma to burn. There’s a great ending, BTW. Brett Ratner returned to this sub-genre with Tower Heist and they’re probably the only two of his films to feature anything resembling real people, relatively speaking. Screenplay by Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg.

Viva Maria! (1965)

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Never did terrorists look lovelier than here, in Louis Malle’s subversive take on the buddy movie with Brigitte Bardot an IRA activist teaming up in Mexico with vaudeville performer Jeanne Moreau and getting more popular as they incorporate stripping into their musical act. They fall for the revolutionary leader Flores (George Hamilton) and join him and his comrades in trying to overthrow the regime of El Dictador (Jose Angel Espinoza). When Flores is shot Maria 1 (JM) agrees to fulfill his deathbed desire and the Marias organise a peasant army …  Malle instructed writer Jean-Claude Carriere to incorporate the tropes of the action adventure and westerns like Vera Cruz, just with female protaganists and financing was finalised only with Moreau’s participation. The two ladies got on very well together during a 16 week shoot on location and this was a huge hit in its day.  Hamilton is excellent as their male foil leading Malle to wonder why he didn’t act more. The cinematography by the great Henri Decae is sublime and Georges Delerue supplies a suitably gorgeous score. The laughs never quit!

War Dogs (2016)

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Comic auteur Todd (Hangover) Phillips doing a serious analysis of arms dealing in the Iraq conflict? Well … not so much. Arms and the Dudes was a Rolling Stone story about two supposedly clueless twentysomethings out of Miami who vacuumed up the crumbs of the US Army’s defence contracts and made a mint until their attempts to cover up ammo from China (literally – by rebagging them) caught them out when their Albanian contractor called the State Dept after their infighting left him without a payroll. Miles Teller is David, a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend under pressure to earn more money than his private massages yield. Jonah Hill is his old friend and aspiring wheeler-dealer Efraim who needs help exploiting a gap in the defence market by the expedient of watching an Army provisions website. The story is set up like a comedy but with Scarface references (it’s the poster over Efraim’s desk and his drug intake is Montana-prodigious). There is a very funny sequence when they have to go to the Triangle of Death in Iraq to get their first delivery to its intended destination. This is expertly done with the amount of threat, humour and action you know Phillips delivers well. When they want to land a life-changing contract they head to Vegas (where else would arms dealers meet?) and encounter a very familiar figure (I was surprised, not having read any spoiler reviews) who can give them everything they need but he’s on a watchlist and they have to go to Albania to carry it through. The story is fatally wounded by David’s narration which is done as a serious commentary instead of a self-deprecating series of enlightening witticisms. (Teller was presumably cast to appeal to the youth market. Bad move. He’s about as funny as a funeral and his naif act is not a patch on Ray Liotta in Goodfellas.) His girlfriend is a wuss. The baby sentimentalises things too. So although this is a satisfying exercise in many ways we needed more fun, less moralising: when Efraim fires a machinegun in Albania like a gangster, that’s the real deal. And with this much money around and Efraim involved, you know there’s a stitch up on the cards. Jonah Hill is really good.  If this had had the courage of its convictions and weaponised the facts, it might have been great.

Internal Affairs (1990)

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All cops are crooked. As in life, so in movies. And low-ranked Dennis Peck (Richard Gere) is bad like Supercop. His coke-addled colleague Van Stretch (William Baldwin) is at his mercy so when overly keen IA Dept newbie Raymond Avilla (Andy Garcia) arrives to investigate Stretch, an old Police Academy friend, Peck senses the walls closing in around his corrupt real estate/murder empire which has made him ridiculously wealthy for a street cop but he knows what buttons to push: mainly sexual. This is a guy who does everything to excess:  three ex-wives, eight children and one on the way with his current one (Annabella Sciorra). Avilla’s Achilles Heel is gorgeous wife museum curator Kathleen (Nancy Travis). Peck has Stretch murdered and turns his attentions to Avilla and Avilla starts to resemble him. This is an excellent study in evil by screenwriter Henry Bean. Director Mike Figgis handles the explicit violence and shocking sex with incredible fluency and the great photography of Los Angeles is courtesy of Chinatown‘s John A.Alonzo. None of it would work however unless the characters convinced and they are brilliantly drawn in an ensemble portrait of LAPD, the gift that just keeps giving.Gere’s work here  is superlative and transcends most of his other work. Garcia’s phased changes as Avilla pushes him to the edge is notable. Laurie Metcalf is his IA partner, and she’s just one of the fabulous women here, and the only one not to truly succumb to Peck’s dubiously priapic charms principally because she’s Lesbian and he wants to kill her. This is really tough stuff and worth revisiting. While the film was in post, Gere had dinner one evening with Figgis. The next day a story about his supposedly simultaneous visit to the ER surfaced in Hollywood and has never entirely left him. Something about a gerbil. It was courtesy of Sylvester Stallone’s agent. Some urban legends you just don’t want, eh?