My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on three films directed by John Flynn.
Rolling Thunder (1977)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Movies hit differently depending on when they’re watched and this one hit me hard on this viewing, especially the first thirty minutes. The scene where William Devane’s wife reveals her devastating secret after he’s returned from the POW camp is hard to watch in the best of ways. If you want a lesson in film acting, study Devane’s performance here as he does practically nothing with his face but communicates so much pain. It’s all internal and though I can barely relate to the situation in a literal way, the scene connected and moved me beyond expectation.
Most of its first act is flawless, all the way through the iconic violent scene. But when Devane leaves the hospital, director John Flynn takes Rolling Thunder in a far-fetched direction. The foray into Mexico and subplot with the patrolman don’t work well for me, saved only by some true moments between the leading man and Linda Haynes. For the second third of the film, Flynn, who I love for his gritty realism, drifts off into grindhouse exploitation territory, almost as if he could predict the influence he’d have on Quentin Tarantino.
The Taxi Driver-style ending, one of the times when Paul Schrader shines through most, is a return to form mostly because of the scene that precedes it: another brilliantly staged sequence when Devane fetches Tommy Lee Jones for the assignment at a family dinner. In many ways, the final shot echoes The Outfit and I wonder if the ending would have been stronger if it was a little more bleak. Is there really any kind of life for these men out there?
Watched on Tubi
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
John Flynn’s movies have a tough quality, a no-nonsense grittiness that makes them stand out even in their era and certainly nowadays when such qualities in cinema are nearly extinct. Nails isn’t a great film but regardless of its flaws, it’s a refreshing reminder of the kind of movies that used to be made and that Flynn excelled at making them.
As a sort of “Bad Lieutenant“, Dennis Hopper delivers one of his finest performances. And I’m not talking about the more outlandish scenes: Hopper chasing a perp buck-naked through his neighborhood or the many moments of shouting obscenities. I’m referencing times when he’s showing crying in the bathtub after some of the steamiest sex ever put on screen with Anne Archer or when he talks about trying to make things work with her at the funeral for his cop friend or when he pleads with another Mexican detective for help solving his case. Hopper is shockingly vulnerable in the role, baring it all emotionally (and physically). Regardless of his character’s antics, the actor shows us a deep, complicated policeman whose purpose in life is poetically explained by the wife of his Hispanic partner: that we need people like Harry Niles, in all their violent insanity, to keep us safe from the truly evil side of the world.
Regardless of the flaws in Flynn’s film, such as a second half that gets way too far fetched, it’s a breath of fresh air in a landscape of cinema that has no guts anymore.
Watched on rarefilmm.com
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
I was drawn to Brainscan not for the genre interest but the director, John Flynn, whose work I’ve enjoyed (The Outfit especially). I was surprised to find a good horror concept and an engaging start but the film starts to lose its way as it goes along.
Flynn commented that the Trickster character was the reason he did the film, feeling the antagonist was the strongest element of his movie. I disagree. For this viewer, the Trickster was the weak link. The quirky Beetlejuice-like character distracted from the narrative instead of enforcing it. The story would have been stronger keeping this clownish psycho limited to a few TV appearances but a quarter in, his presence begins to dominate the film.
Still, it’s a solid horror effort with a good Edward Furlong performance (however much of a pain in the ass he was to work with according to Flynn) and a fine Frank Langella (though I wish there were more of him).
Watched on Tubi.