I know you'll all think i'm totally goofy but I have to admit that I kind of like the late games. I'm up anyway and it gives me some good baseball to catch once Meg goes to bed and gives me a rare chance to listen to the game during the week, something I love doing. So, after strapping on the Sennheisers with no score in the 2nd, here comes the next batch...
Runaway Train (D. Andre Konchalovsky, 1985) - Based on an unrealized screenplay by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, this brutal yet gripping film boasts exceptional camerawork and astonishing stuntwork long before the days of CGI. It also displays one of the great eccentric (and deservedly Oscar nominated) performances of recent years, by Jon Voight. The main story concerns the escape of two convicts (Voight and Eric Roberts) from from a maximum security prison in a remote part of Alaska. Roberts, in awe of Voight's legend as a master criminal, helps with the escape and tags along as they eventually find themselves on the title vehicle. While the picture has tense action scenes as they try to stop the train and evade the equally determined warden giving chase, the film's real power lies in the heartfelt exchanges and power struggle between the men (and a woman also trapped on the train) as they find their options dwindling while the situation becomes increasingly desperate. Topping it all off, the final shot is absolutely haunting. A great film... with one caveat that deserves mentioning. There is unfortunately a subplot so terribly acted and realized that it almost seems as if there are two separate films playing simultaneously. Nonetheless, this is a strong picture that deserves viewing.
The Wages of Fear/Sorcerer (D. H.G. Clouzot/William Friedkin, 1952/1977) - In 1952, French filmmaker H.G. Clouzot spun a tale of disparate refugees mired in hopeless conditions in some God-awful shithole who find themselves offered a chance to break out and gain their freedom. The catch is that they have to transport unstable nitro-glycerin across hundreds of miles of primitive rainforest roads - in barely pieced together trucks - in order to extinguish a fire at a local refinery. If you can make it through the important first hour of set-up and characterization, you'll be picking your chair's upholstery out of your fingernails after the second - it's that intense, primarily due to the incredible direction. You'll find yourselves in disbelief when you realize when this film was made. In 1977, William Friedkin (of The French Connection and Exorcist fame) tried his hand at remaking the film as an homage to one of his primary inspirations. He adheres to the basic story (while throwing in Roy Scheider as a familiar face) while intensifying the squalor of the situation that the men find themselves in. Once the action starts, Friedkin ratchets up the tension in several excellent set-pieces. While the remake doesn't belong in the same league as the original, if you've never seen (or even heard of) the former, I think you'll agree that it's one kick-ass movie. Both highly recommended.
The Lone Wolf and Cub series (Various directors, 1972-1974) - This Japanese series of 6 films explored the adventures of a disgraced Shogunate assassin who, along with his infant son, renounces all faith and vows revenge upon those who betrayed him and murdered his wife. With the protagonist more silent and laconic than the most stoic Clint you can think of, there is more insane ass-kicking here than I can even describe. And the kid gets in on it too as his carraige is mounted with the most insidious and crazy weapons imaginable. These films, an obvious and acknowledged inspiration for Tarantino's Kill Bill films, are certainly gory and violent, yet they are also extremely well done. Fantastic camera work and editing abounds. If you like an occasional extreme swordplay film - and who doesn't - these are the graduate course.