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Wednesday, Apr 15, 2015
Not every filmmaker gets a chance to make their career as a director. Here are ten individuals who tried, and then never sat behind the lens again.

It remains one of the well worn clichés in the film business: ask a writer or actor what they want to do, and if they don’t answer “be a rock star”, they invariably say “direct”. Yep, the seat behind the camera, the voice of implied reason during what is often the cinematic equivalent of herding cats, seems to be what every non-director in Hollywood (and elsewhere) wants.


In some ways, it makes sense. There’s no better way to get your vision of a script or a character across to the audience then handling the interpretation yourself. There’s also the concept of power for the often powerless. For many first timers, the rewards can be astonishing. Such familiar names as Ron Howard, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and Robert Redford have turned their time behind the scenes into pure Oscar gold.


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Tuesday, Apr 14, 2015
David Lynch is one of the most beloved directors in the world. He's also an expert at letting his fanbase down.

It’s becoming a bit of a joke. The man hasn’t made a legitimate mainstream movie since 2001 (2006 if you count the digital experiment INLAND EMPIRE) and yet he remains one of the most highly regarded and beloved auteurs in all of film. His past efforts include masterworks such as Mulholland Dr., Lost Highway, Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, and Eraserhead, and even his lesser efforts (Dune, The Straight Story, to some extent) radiate an artistic immediacy that is hard to shake.


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Monday, Apr 13, 2015
by Steve Leftridge and Steve Pick
There's what's right, and there's what's right, and never the twain shall meet. Double Take tries to meet in the middle of Raising Arizona, which was released this week 28 years ago.

With so much comical choreography, camera hijinks, and gut-busting violence, it’s easy to see Raising Arizona as a live-action cartoon.


Steve Pick: We turn our attention now to Raising Arizona, the second film from the oddball ouevre of Joel and Ethan Coen. This one came out in 1987, a time when I wasn’t paying close attention to the movie world. I do know that by the beginning of the ‘90s, Raising Arizona was considered a comedy classic by a lot of the people I hung with, even though none of them had ever asked me to go see it with them. I caught bits here and there on TV over the years, but this was my first complete immersion into this tale of true love, the ways in which Huggies make changing diapers easier than changing one’s character, and the unbearable lightness of babies. It’s a black comedy, with almost as many homages to cartoons as would be seen in the partially animated Who Framed Roger Rabbit? only a year later. It continued the phenomenal rise to stardom of Nicholas Cage, back in the days when he was a lot skinnier, and a lot less imposing on screen. It introduced many people to Holly Hunter and gave John Goodman plenty of scenery to chew. Steve, what’s your history with this film and/or its directors and actors? How do you place it in the ranking of Coen Brothers movies?


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Friday, Apr 10, 2015
Milestone Cinematheque lives up to its name with a jaw-droppingly sharp restoration of Shirley Clarke's The Connection.

This film version of Jack Gelber’s one-room, real-time play The Connection takes place in a Greenwich Village loft that, although grungy and low-down, now presents every speck of dirt and every cockroach with a clarity probably unseen since 1961, if then. As a time capsule alone, the film’s historical and stylistic perspective is fascinating.


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Thursday, Apr 9, 2015
This late '60s flick is the curtain call for the Searchers actor Jeffrey Hunter.

More than a decade before he took on the lead role in the forgotten spaghetti western Find A Place To Die (1968), Jeffrey Hunter played John Wayne’s sidekick in The Searchers (1956), arguably the best of America’s traditional westerns. Although Hunter had already appeared in a dozen films, it was his critically praised performance in this John Ford masterpiece that brought his classic good looks and powerful screen presence to the masses, and establishing him as one of Hollywood’s most promising young actors, one bound for stardom. 


Hunter followed The Searchers with prominent roles in two more Ford films, The Last Hurrah (1958) and Sergeant Rutledge (1960), before he reached his career’s premature climax as Jesus Christ in King of Kings (1961). He did, in the following year, put on a great though brief performance in the classic war epic The Longest Day (1962), but his name was buried under the bigger names in the cast like Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Rod Steiger, and again John Wayne.


By this point, Hunter had found a constant companion in alcohol. With his opportunities beginning to narrow, he went all-in as the title character in the television series, Temple Houston (1963-1964), but the show was canceled after its twenty-sixth week. Perhaps in a moment of desperation, he then agreed to play Captain Christopher Pike in the very first pilot episode of Star Trek (1964). It was a role that could have brought Hunter the fame he once seemed destined for, but when NBC requested him to continue the character he refused. He said he wanted to focus on making movies.


The bigwigs of Hollywood, however, had become weary of him and his hard-drinking reputation, and it wasn’t long until the only work he could find was on B-movies filmed in Mexico, Hong Kong, or Italy. It was while filming the Italian movie, Viva America (1969), that an on-set explosion gone wrong left the troubled actor with a troubling concussion. He supposedly went into shock on the plane ride back to America; after being inspected and released by doctors, he fell down a set of stairs at his home in California and cracked his skull. Brain surgery was unsuccessful, and Hunter died in 1969 at the age of 42. 


Because he starred in it just a year before his tragic and mysterious death, Find A Place To Die is, for fans of Hunter, a must-see spaghetti western. The character he plays, Joe Collins, is an ex-confederate, booze-soaked, gringo gun-runner who is, like the title says, trying to find a place to die. Although the character doesn’t have much depth, Hunter does an excellent job of channeling his own off-screen persona through him. With his blank stares, his deep voice, and is hopeless outlook, Hunter perfectly portrays a down-and-out man who, in the end, finds that he has a consciousness in spite of all the evils flourishing around and within him.


We are first introduced to this character of Collins in a makeshift saloon built among the eroding stones of an ancient Mexican building. He sits there drinking his sorrows away as the stunningly beautiful Juanita (played by Daniela Giordano, who had been elected Miss Italy two years earlier) sings the film’s theme song. It’s a great song, and the sight of the drunken Collins watching Juanita’s smooth brown skin glisten with sweat among the shadowy ruins of the set creates a moody scene that is truly memorable. 


But the leading lady isn’t Giordano; it’s the French actress Pascale Petit. She plays Lisa Martin, the wife of an American geologist (Piero Lulli) who struck gold in the Mexican mountains. To open Find A Place To Die, director Giuliano Carnimeo shows the couple resisting an ambush by El Chato (Mario Dardanelli) and his gang. They manage to kill most of the bandits by throwing sticks of dynamite at them, but the explosions cause an avalanche, and a pile of boulders pin Lisa’s husband to the ground. She has no choice but to go look for help, and it is the saloon in which Collins is drinking that she finds first.


Collins agrees to help but since Chato and much of his gang are still in the mountains, he recruits a group of mismatched Mexicans for the task. These men include Reverend Riley (Adolfo Lastretti) who shoots vultures because they are “messengers of death”, a half-bit pimp named Paco (Reza Fazeli) who seems to be in love with his only whore, a dim-witted brute named Gomez (Giaanni Pallavicino) who looses his mind when watching Lisa skinny-dip in a pond, and the triple-crossing Fernando (Nello Pazzafini) who acts as an informer to Chato before overthrowing him and leading his gang against Collins. But Fernando isn’t alone in his desire for the gold. As Collins tells Lisa, “These men are here for only two reasons: her and the gold.”


It’s a good story with a lot of interesting characters. The action is solid and well-dispersed. The lush setting is unique for the genre. Hunter is perfect in his imperfect role. The generous screentime given to the Italian beauties, Giordano and Petit, creates a sense of eroticism that is much appreciated. But there’s not enough in Find A Place To Die to push it pass the standard spaghetti western. The characters, including Collins and the sexy seductresses, aren’t developed enough, and as a result the action, and often the acting, comes off as nothing more than fun and games. We don’t care enough about the characters, and there’s not enough at stake. For fans of Jeffery Hunter, however, it is a must-see curtain call.


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