Friday, 2 March 2012

HIT THE ROAD

Yes, the Road Movie – the cinematic mirror to our unfulfilled dreams of freedom. On these roads, repressed suburban types make unlikely pairings with devil-may-care anti-heroes who live for the vicarious thrills of life on the blacktop, that shimmering halfway ribbon that is neither here nor ever entirely there... so buckle up, light one up (not forgetting to throw the lighter out of the window) flip your shades on with a nonchalant air and fire up the V-8... lets roll...

VANISHING POINT
Barry Newman is Kowalski – ex Police Vietnam vet. Delivering a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum to 'frisco, Kowalski bets he can make it by Saturday – and its Friday in Denver...
What ensues is a true classic – the increasingly wired Kowalski (with chemical help) is against the clock and the law, with a motley array of allies such as the blind dj Super Soul (Cleavon Little in an iconic role), a naked girl and her boyfriend, a biker called Angel. Without giving the ending away, this is a benchmark road movie – a real trip. Look out for Dean Jagger's hoary desert-dweller, also Charlotte Rampling as the Hitchhiker.

THE BLUES BROTHERS
Well, you knew it was coming – the Saturday Night Live pairing of Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi led, inevitably to the big screen with the 1980 film. Jake and Elwood Blues (Belushi is Jake) grew up in an orphanage which needs $5,000 tax money to remain open. Tasked by Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman) to raise the money, they set out to re-unite their old band – the Blues Brothers. Along the way, they are chased by nazis, a country and western band and Carrie Fisher – playing Jake's jilted love, who comes after the pair with an arsenal of military-style weaponry.

With the help of a dazzling array of blues musicians (Not to mention appearances by Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles) including the legendary Cab Calloway, the concert the brothers stage is a smash – leaving only a race to the Cook County assessor's office (Manned by one Steven Speilberg in a cameo) to seal the deal and save the day.
Well, if there's a more entertaining movie – I've yet to see it; pure class all the way.

MAD MAX aka THE ROAD WARRIOR
Mel Gibson is Max Rockatansky, a cop with the Main Force Patrol (MFP) in a future-Australia where society has broken down and only the extreme use of force by the remaining 'Bronze' (The nickname for the Police from their shields) keeps a lid on things – in the towns at any rate. A biker gang, led by the brutal-but-bright Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne in a strong role) is spreading terror along the towns and outposts along the highway. After their friend, the Nightrider is killed in a chase involving the MFP, the gang wreaks bloody havoc. Max's colleague, bike cop Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) and Max's expectant wife is run down by the gang – and revenge comes in the form of a V-8 Interceptor – an instantly recognisable car (A Ford Falcon with a Concorde Body Kit and a prop 'blower' or Supercharger). In this matt black death machine, Max earns the nickname of the title – with some of the best stuntwork ever seen on the big screen.
Irritatingly, the film was released with an American overdub, but thankfully the original sound was restored – Mel Gibson's own voice proving a much better bet.

UP IN SMOKE
Comedy duo Cheech and Chong made their feature film debut with this old favourite in 1978. Tommy Chong is Anthony Stoner, who has to get a job or face Military School – Pedro De Pacas (Cheech Marin) picks Stoner up hitchiking, they smoke a joint and get busted. Luckily, the case falls apart when the Judge is found to have booze in his water and they head off to Pedro's cousin's place to score some grass. The place gets raided, cousin Strawberry (Tom Skerritt) is paranoid, convinced the cops are actually VietCong. Deported to Mexico, Stoner and De Pacas end up driving back to the States in a van made entirely of compressed Marijuana – pursued by Cop Stacey Keach (Irony!) and enter a Battle of the Bands...

Its all been copied, but this is a gem, an echo of the days when paranoia about drugs actually came from those smoking them – not the media/stuck-for-inspiration politicians.
Anybody got a roach?*

*Smoking is bad – drugs are bad. Especially ones the Governments don't tax.

SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
I know – it's getting heavy, but who says Road movies have to be insightful journeys of the mind offering a metaphor-driven mirror to the psyche? (No, I'm not sure where that was going either) . Well, I like hokey – and no-one does schmaltz like Burt Reynolds. Bo Darville – nick-name the Bandit and friend Cledus (the Snowman) Snow (Jerry Reed – who sang the title song East Bound and Down) are hired by the Enus Brothers to haul a truckload of Coors beer from Texas to Georgia. If they can deliver in 28 hours, $80,000 awaits. Standing in their way is Sheriff Buford.T.Justice, none other than Jackie Gleason, with his idiot son Junior (Mike Henry in comedic support). In a Black Trans-Am Firebird, the Bandit runs 'interference', helping confuse and confound the law as trucker Snowman hauls the load in a big-rig.

Well – if you haven't seen this... where have you been?. Real-life love interest Sally Field played an unsurprisingly believable romantic role. The film was the brainchild of legendary stuntman/co-ordinator Hal Needham – about whom a whole blog could be written. His Directorial debut came despite initial studio misgivings when his friend Reynolds put his name to the project. See the film Hooper for another helping of both...

TWO LANE BLACKTOP
Monte Hellman's 1971 film stars James Taylor, Dennis Wilson (from the Beach Boys no less), Warren Oates and Laurie Bird.
Drifting from town to town in their 1955 Chevrolet, Taylor and Wilson take on all comers in street races. Driving along Route 66, they meet hitch-hiker Bird, before being challenged to a race to Washington DC by Oates, driving a 1970 Pontiac GTO.
It's a bit of a tough one to summarize, this – best to just watch the film unfold and, ultimately, burn itself out...
This, perhaps more than most of my other choices is a true Road movie – it's a cult classic to boot, so perhaps interpretation of it would be pretentious and gilding the lilly.

ELECTRA-GLIDE IN BLUE
Just to be different – here's one I haven't seen. Yes – new, on this blog only-the pre-reviewed movie!*. O.K., when researching the genre, I kept finding references to this film, so it seemed a shame to leave it out... (*I'm not being lazy, honestly – trust me, it's going to be the latest thing in audience-participation.)

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
By now, loyal Blogites should be painfully aware that anything gets into these posts if it tickles me – and anything involving the late John Candy gets me smiling like a Stepford Wife at the January Sales.
You've seen this one every Christmas/Bank Holiday (Trans-US-lation; Holidays and Thanksgiving) for decades now, so I'll leave this one as a given.

APOCALYPSE NOW
(Go with it) I know; what Road?, well, with a liberal amount of artistic licence, you could see this as a Road Movie – the river, the journey along it, going to darker and darker places both physically and spiritually, until there is nothing left, but the memory of a man and the burn-out sent to extinguish him...
(Francis Ford Coppola pic provided 'cos I think its cool...)

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