Double Bill #06: Angel Heart & The Devil’s Advocate

What these two movies have in common is quite a lot actually. Most importantly, they have the world’s heavyweight champions in acting – Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – playing Satan, The Dark Prince, Beelzebub, or in the case of Angel Heart Louis Cyphre (as in ‘Lucifer’). Both movies are based on novels (by William Hjortsberg and Andrew Neiderman respectively) and both involve a handsome lead (Mickey Rourke and Keanu Reeves) and equally handsome female co-star (Lisa Bonet and Charlize Theron). And in both cases, the couple falls prey to the evil machinations of the Dark One, because the man sold his soul to the devil. Both movies also involve seductive, violent and frightening sex scenes. So far what they have in common, because the movies are very different beasts. Angel Heart is a slow, dark and moody film, a psychological horror that takes place in the voodoo and jazz scene of New Orleans, and has a few shocking moments of bloody death in store. The Devil’s Advocate, which was made ten years later in 1997, is big time Hollywood entertainment with terrific production design and the corporate world of New York as its main setting. The way Satan is portrayed is quite different as well. De Niro plays him small; he’s only in a few scenes, working on collecting a debt (singer Johnny Favorite sold his soul to him to become famous and then he disappeared). Pacino, as always, is the definite lead of the film, and goes all the way in his fierce and memorable performance. Final coincidental connection; the movie’s directors – Alan Parker and Taylor Hackford – made a few iconic hits in the eighties and nineties, but both disappeared from mainstream Hollywood cinema in the zeroes. Both Angel Heart and The Devil’s Advocate are definitely amongst the finest films they made.

Dungeon Classics #30: The Wild Bunch

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

The Wild Bunch (1969, USA)

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan
Running Time: 145 mins.

Pike Bishop (William Holden) is an aging outlaw who runs a gang called the Wild Bunch in the new American West of 1913, a time of trains and automobiles in which they no longer seem to fit. They get ambushed during their latest score and flee to Mexico, while being hunted by bounty hunters led by one of their former gang members (Robert Ryan). Once in Mexico, they agree to rob a train and steal weapons for a corrupt general after which Pike plans to retire. But if you think the Wild Bunch will disappear quietly into the night, you’re in for a very noisy surprise! The Wild Bunch was controversial at the time for the graphic violence on display and immoral characters in the lead. This was new indeed and clearly an inspiration for filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino. The movie looks and feels very gritty and raw, and the bloody bullet festival in slow motion at the end is a masterful sequence: one of the all-time greatest scenes in cinema history! Fun trivia: actor Robert Ryan was constantly whining to director Peckinpah that he wanted first billing. The director punished him by listing him third on several horses’ asses.

Dungeon Classics #29: The Getaway

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

The Getaway (1972, USA)

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Cast: Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Sally Struthers, Al Lettieri
Running Time: 101 mins.

Seventies classic with a terrific Steve McQueen as bank robber Carter ‘Doc’ McCoy who goes on the run with his wife (Ali MacGraw) after a job went awry. Both the police and criminals are on their tail. What makes this movie work is that it is in fact a love story. McCoy was in jail for five years and his wife had to have sex with a parole board member to get him out. This man – Beynon – was also the one who ordered the bank job and assigned two amateurs to Doc’s team. They are the ones who screwed it up and one of them (Rudy played by The Godfather villain Al Lettieri) is now after them. McCoy can’t forgive his wife for what she did, despite her good intentions, and this psychological drama makes the movie rise above the routine lovers on the run story. Director Peckinpah’s trademark slow motion violence is on display during the finale in a memorable sequence in a hotel.

Dungeon Classics #28: Dead Man

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

Dead Man (1995, USA, Germany, Japan)

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Crispin Glover
Running Time: 121 mins.

A meek accountant called William Blake (Johnny Depp) travels through the old West. His destination is a place called Machine where he is supposedly hired for a job. But is this journey real, or is it a metaphorical journey undertaken by a dead man? He is in hell, a fellow passenger assures him. Things don’t get better when he arrives in Machine. There is no job for him, and he is soon forced to kill a man in self defense, which leads to him becoming a wanted man. He is then taken on a journey to nowhere by an Indian called nobody who believes he is the poet William Blake. Underway, he meets a long list of stupid white men to kill, played by well known actors/artists, including Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, Iggy Pop and Alfred Molina. Dead Man is a so-called acid western, a subgenre of the western that ‘subverts many of the conventions of earlier Westerns to conjure up a crazed version of autodestructive white America at its most solipsistic, hankering after its own lost origins’ (Wikipedia). It is another mesmerizing piece of art by writer-director Jim Jarmusch. The beautiful black and white imagery, accompanied by a moody electrical guitar score composed and performed by Neil Young, serves to create a truly unique atmosphere. Dead Man is best described as film as poetry. The images are the words and – like the poetry of William Blake – powerful words they are.