Cold Steel

January 30, 2013

coldsteelCold Steel is a throwaway action flick, given some weight by the presence of a few good actors. Almost every idea in the film comes off as half-baked, and even the action sequences are strange.

The opening sequence promises a little something. We watch as two cops grab a container marked for the bomb squad, throw it in their car, and race across town through a series of stunts. They end by racing into a bar, where they have just won a speed contest for a Christmas party; there was no bomb involved at all.

Pretty good chase, and a pretty good twist. But this leads nowhere, like almost everything else in the movie.

One of the cops is a hothead (Brad Davis, from Midnight Express) whose father is murdered in a robbery of his jewelry store. This prompts the required scene in which a superior demands the wronged cop’s badge and gun, saying that he is “too close to the case.” Naturally, there’s no doubt Davis will continue to pursue the killers on his own.

Davis’s life is soothed by the presence of a woman he picks up in a bar one night. She’s played by Sharon Stone, an attractive actress who always seems to make terrible movies (she was the female lead in those excruciating Richard Chamberlain King Solomon’s Mines films).

Davis is being stalked by a bad guy (Jonathan Banks)—”They call me Iceman,” he says—and a stooge (Adam Ant) who are completing a bizarre revenge. Very bizarre, in fact; when the reason is revealed in a flashback near the film’s end, the incident that prompts this revenge is so lame it renders Banks’s ferocity unbelievable.

But then the movie has lots of problems, and loose ends. What to make of the implied relationship between Davis and a barmaid, or even the supposed recklessness of Davis’s lifestyle? None of this goes anywhere.

When the film, directed by Dorothy Ann Puzo, tries to be different, the consequences are mixed. A big car chase ends up in an auto speedway, where the incredible stunts are laughable. And when a dope dealer who operates a pet store is done in by a villain who shoves a poisonous fish in his mouth, it’s unintentional humor time, as is the other fish-feeding scene, when the supposedly hard-living, hard-loving Davis plies his new girlfriend with sushi. These really must be the ’80s.

First published in the Herald, December 15, 1987

Nope—this one doesn’t ring the vaguest bell. But I saw it, and there it is. IMDb reports that this movie was AFI-funded and the only directing credit in film for Director Puzo, who is, yes, the daughter of Mario Puzo.

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Querelle

April 22, 2011

Veronika Voss is as appropriate a final film as one could hope for from the late R.W. Fassbinder. It carries a sense of decisiveness about it, a summing-up quality just right for a last statement; it also contains spooky connections to Fassbinder’s real-life demise, since Veronika Voss is a cinematic illusionist who becomes dependent on drugs, as did, tragically, the director. Everything seems elegiac: the exquisite black-and-white photography, the somber tone of the performances, the bleak absence of hope. The clarity, the restraint, the sadness with which Fassbinder presents the story contribute to the sense of desperate finality; and his own brief physical presence in an early scene (peering over the heroine’s shoulder in a moviehouse) certainly seems, in retrospect, like a calculated farewell to the cinema, and to life.

Leave it to Fassbinder—he would go and make one more movie before he ran out of breath last year, and make it as inappropriate a final statement as Veronika Voss is a fitting one. Querelle is a gaudy adaptation of Genet, with a flaming yellow-orange color scheme and determinedly artificial sets; it has the physical appearance of one of the Arthur Freed-Gene Kelly sailor-on-leave musicals as directed by Vincente Minnelli on hallucinogens.

It’s anchors aweigh as Fassbinder brings the psychosexual tensions of the seaside town into seething life, and puts his odd international cast through close encounters of every kind. Brad Davis’s Querelle (and this problematic actor is much better than his on-set interviews in Wizard of Babylon lead one to expect) is the object of lust from every angle; Jeanne Moreau sings in the bar central to the action; Franco Nero smolders as the ship’s captain who must have Querelle. Much of this remains on a fairly enigmatic level, as least on one viewing, even with the guiding intertitles that flash up every so often. Most of it is rapturously heightened, with Fassbinder stubbornly caring about the goings-on in the tacky costumes and loud lighting. Some of it is superb. Maybe Querelle is the appropriate parting shot from Fassbinder after all: Fassbinder seemed to want nothing so much as to disturb us; in his films, when people start feeling comfortable, they start to fade away. Querelle may make you feel many things, but comfortable isn’t one of them. Querelle rocks the boat.

First published in The Informer, May 1983

A zany movie. Can’t imagine watching it again, but I said that about Satan’s Brew too, and darned if it didn’t look better on a second viewing. Maybe Querelle was a new direction for Fassbinder, maybe it was just one of those throwaways he would undertake in the midst of his three-or-four-movies-per-year pace and signifies nothing beyond that. (Except: Each man kills the thing he loves, la-di-da.) In any case, it was rendered with absolute confidence, like every other movie he made.