Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Insomniac Theater

Watched To Live and Die in L.A. tonight, a super cool, mid-80s movie about counterfeiting and mirabile dictu it hit me that the movie is 22 years old (and, truth be told, it's sagging a bit). The director was old master William Friedkin, who's still alive today and making bad movies (this one was one of the last good ones) and whose highlights include The French Connection, The Exorcist, Sorcerer, and Rules of Engagement (maybe). He also made two early movies exploring, or exploiting, homosexuality--The Boys in the Band and Cruising. Hmmm?

This was back when lead bad guy Willem Dafoe was not yet thirty and looked pretty good rather than the outre thing he has going now. And portly 50 plus William L. Peterson, of popular TV show CSI, was thin and bad and oh so cocky at age 31. I liked Peterson's character a lot when I first saw this film. Now I just think he's a total asshole. He's secret service, who saves Reagan from a Muslim suicide bomber (funny we never heard about that) but then ends up back on the streets as a grunt agent out to nail Dafoe for killing Peterson's partner. Kind of trite plot now that I really think about it. But the movie has lots of surprises and since I'm a fan of Wang Chung (everybody blow chunks tonight), the music is delightful. More on that later.

The lead women are Dafoe's dancing, ambi-sexual squeeze played by cute, but never quite made it, Debra Feuer, who seems to have packed it in mid-90s, at least that was the date of her last movie, and Peterson's snitch bitch, whom he rapes repeatedly, played by rail thin Darlanne Fluegel, who made her last straight to video movie in 1996. The shelf life of starlets is hardly longer than NFL quarterbacks, is it?

Other guys in it are the replacement partner, one would think miscast in John Pankow (the friend Ira on TV series Mad About You) and unlucky bad guy John Turturro, who might have peaked as a lead actor in 1991, but is a solid character actor now. Former child star Dean Stockwell, pre-Cylon, plays a crooked lawyer (is there any other kind on film?), well, as usual; Robert Downy, Jr.'s dad is a bumbling agent in charge, and the guy I liked most (apparently for his authenticity) is former LA cop, Jack Hoar, who plays a very dangerous bodyguard to Dafoe.

Diomedes commented back in the 80s that this movie had the most kicks to the groin ever. He may still be right. It also was the first, at least as I recall, to have the fleeing car going the wrong way on the freeway, which adds a little stomach tightening to the chase scenes. The entire Hooker family was employed for the driving stunts in this film.

The FBI can't hit squat with an AR-15 (although in the agent's defense, you usually do overshoot when aiming down). Little friendly fire action as well. The FBI does not come off well here. Both Secret Service agents carry Smith & Wesson roundy rounders, probably in .357. Dafoe has a suppressed automatic I could not identify (it was not on screen long enough) but the top gun is the shotgun Jack the bodyguard uses to kill two secret service agents. SPOILER alert--he takes out Peterson with a realistic head shot and it's such a shock to lose the lead well before the movie ends. I say bravo to Friedkin for that--hardly Hollywood formula.

There was a sort of symbiotic relationship between composer Bernard Herrmann and director Alfred Hitchcock. In the driving scenes, before Janet Leigh gets to the Bates motel, in Psycho, there is almost an unbearable tension which comes completely from Herrmann's music. Watch it with the sound off and nothing emotional is going on at all. There is a kind of that feeling in this movie, especially when the agents are ripping off an Asian to get the front money for the counterfeit buy. The beat and bass lines are straightforward, but complex enough to seem to accelerate and the music revs you up for the action to follow. The movie opens with the song To Live and Die in L.A. (Listen) and closes with Wait (Listen), two of Wang Chung's best, and tasty bits of other songs appear here and there during the film.

It's no longer super cool, but it's not dreck either. You could waste time watching TV and not have nearly as much fun as this.

"...a crooked lawyer (is there any other kind on film?)...."

Sure, there's the cigar-chomping tool of oppressors and the implausibly valiant crusader for truth. Now you don't get much of the intrepid preparer of wills and partnership agreements, it's true, but workaday auto mechanics are a bit thin on the ground, too.

I understand your point to be that lawyers are treated unfairly in movies. To which I will reply that offhand I can't think of any profession that is usually treated fairly. The regular sort of lawyer, or doctor, or soldier, or politician (or writer) isn't really worth crafting myths about.

And yes, that was probably too much of a response for your minor point, but the issue is bigger than a single, throwaway line.
Well stated, per ususal. It was a bit of a whine on my part.
Oh man, astrophysicists are always given a hall pass in every movie I've seen.

Except for the mad scientist types of course.
There's a lot of great honest lawyers in the movies:

Atticus Finch-
To Kill a Mockingbird

Abe Lincoln- Young Mr Lincoln

Paul Biegler- Anatomy of a Murder

Lt. Barney Greenwald- The Caine Mutiny

Ed Masry - Erin Brockovich

Clarence Darrow- Inherit the Wind

Vincent LaGuardia Gambini - My Cousin Vinny

Colonel Dax - Paths of Glory

Alan Isaacman - The People vs. Larry Flynt

Andrew Beckett
Joe Miller - Philadelphia

Sir Wilfrid Robarts- Witness for the Prosecution

To name just a few.
Well said all. It was a bit of a whine. Damned, smug astrophysicists, I wish Hollywoood would tell the truth about them.
Legal Eagles
Anatomy of a Murder
Enchanted April
Lord Jim
Miracle on 34th Street
Lord Jim?
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