Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Job Interviews: The Right Answer for the "Worst Trait" Question

I always thought this was obvious, so hopefully you're not surprised either.  However, over the years many of you have proven me wrong on this one.  The bottom line is this: don't really dish out something negative when a potential employer asks you what your "Worst Trait" is or any question along those lines.  This, like many questions posed during a job interview, is a perfect situation for a timely lie.  There is no need for full disclosure and I've watched many of you crash and burn at this stage of the game. 

Seriously, here are some answers I've heard during interviews I have conducted:

"I'm always late."

"I lack confidence."

"I like to play on the internet too much."

"I have lots of personal problems."

"I'm not that good at whatever the job is."

I'm being 100% sincere about this.  The "I'm always late" dude was a good guy who I wanted to see interview well.  Also, he may have had a problem with tardiness, but it wasn't that bad.  Geez.  Anyway, I repeat: don't really come clean on this score.  It's self-defeating.  You have to list a negative that is actually a positive. 

Examples include:

"I can be too passionate about my work.  It's like I don't even want to leave until the job is finished."

"I can be a bit of a perfectionist.  Trying to live up to my own expectations can be daunting, but that's how I motivate." 

"I'm very competitive.  I'll be friendly with my co-workers, but my focus will be on doing my job well.  (pause) I really work hard to be the best at whatever it is I'm doing." 

They may call your bluff and try to cajole you into slipping up:

"Well, that's not so bad.  Why don't you give me something that is really a problem for you?"

The game hasn't changed.  Play the same hand again.  Use another negative that is actually a positive.  Whatever happens, you won't say something like "I have lots of personal problems" and lose the job. 

Happy hunting, good people.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Cult Classics from Dimension X: Sorcerer (1977)

 Sorcerer is a riveting picture that was widely panned by critics and audiences alike, yet it has a cult following and noted director William Friedkin considers it to be his best offering.  Roy Scheider gives perhaps his most gripping performance in the lead role, playing one of four heroes who are clearly anything but.  The story revolves around these four men, refugees in a woeful South American town gripped by poverty and threatened by revolution.  This hellhole is tailor-made for our protagonists, four hard men who have fled the homes and lives they knew and now find themselves mired in squalor and a daily struggle for survival.  A chance at redemption—or escape at the very least—comes in the form of a raging fire that must be extinguished.  The solution: blowing it out with a batch of unstable nitroglycerine that must be ferried 218 miles through wretched jungle terrain populated by bandits and cruel twists of fate.  The problem: this stuff is so unstable that a good jolt could trigger a hellish explosion, making the task of loading it into a couple of trucks and delivering it little more than a full-on suicide mission. 

The film opens with four prologues that introduce us to our four protagonists and take us across the globe.  Originally, the plan was to do a single prologue introducing us to Scheider’s Jackie Conlon.  Jackie is a petty crook who has to flee New Jersey after crashing the getaway car following a robbery at a church with mob ties.  In the end, Friedkin decided to give each of the leads his own prologue.  Thus, we begin in Mexico, where an assassin named Nilo (Franciso Rabal) performs a mundane assassination.  This is followed by our introduction to Kassem (Amidou), a terrorist who is a part of trio who detonate an explosion in Jerusalem.  In a subsequent attack by the military, one member of the group is killed and another is captured, but Kassem manages to get away.  Thirdly, we journey to France where we meet Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer), a banker accused of fraud.  He convinces his partner to try and get his wealthy and powerful father to bail them out.  His partner does try, but his father rebuffs them.  Victor convinces his partner to try again and goes out to dinner with his wife.  Unfortunately, his partner is rebuffed once more and subsequently kills himself, forcing Victor to flee both his home and his wife.  Finally, the series of prologues concludes with Scanlon and his Irish gang’s ill-conceived robbery and bungled escape back in the states.
Roy Scheider gives one of his finest performances in Sorcerer.
 At this point, the film shifts to a remote village in South America.  Here Scanlon and the others assume false identities and toil away in poverty, earning precious little and looking for some way out.  Then comes the fire and a desperate job for desperate men.  There are tests to identify the best candidates and four men are chosen.  Each of our leads aside from Nilo makes the cut.  Next the men set about crafting their vehicles from scrap parts from vehicles left in the jungle during a war.  All this happens while Nilo looks on, scheming.  Though little is made of it, the trucks have unique designs and each has a name.  One is “Lazlo” and the other is (drum roll) “Sorcerer.”  When the trucks are set to depart, Marquez, a friend of Kassem’s and the fourth driver, fails to show.  Kassem discovers that Marquez has been murdered and the identity of his killer is no mystery, but at this point the men have no choice but to allow Nilo to take the dead man’s place in their unlikely crew.  That’s when the journey begins, and that’s when a picture that has been incredibly compelling yet rather deliberate really takes off.
This is Nilo.  Note: You cannot trust Nilo.
The trip is packed with danger and intrigue.  There are two trucks and two teams of two men.  Kassem despises Nilo, but that’s okay because he’s partnered with Victor.  Jackie doesn’t really like Nilo either, but surprisingly they become closer as the film progresses.  In truth, none of these men are all that fond of one another initially, but their circumstances force them to work together and ultimately they become a cohesive unit, albeit a cohesive unit where each men is aware that his share will increase if any of his peers perish along the way.  They must battle the terrain, the weather, and the violent rebels who roam the countryside.   Most strikingly, they must cross a decrepit wooden suspension bridge in a raging monsoon.  That sequence is beyond spectacular, and it should be.  It cost millions to shoot and took months to complete. The end result is spellbinding and you will never see anything like it in any other motion picture.  Friedkin earned the nickname “Hurricane Bill” while shooting the sequence, requiring helicopters to fly overhead and instructing his crew to blast the set with fire hoses.  One watches the scene in disbelief, wondering how in the hell the trucks could possibly hope to make it across that pitiful bridge.  In truth, during filming they put the trucks in the water numerous times trying to make it across.  Add the weather effects that Friedkin achieved and the Tangerine Dream score and it’s hard to adequately describe this portion of the movie, which is truly masterful from start to finish.

In the end, only one man will survive this horrific journey, and I use the term horrific for a reason.  Sorcerer isn’t really a horror movie, it’s clearly a thriller, and yet the strange title isn’t the only thing that about this one that might be more at home in a horror movie.  The grueling odyssey and the endless trials the four men face along the way bring with them an ominous tone.  Additionally, some of the scenes of the trucks plowing through the treacherous jungle and the moments of swift and destructive violence that punctuate their voyage are positively monstrous.  Finally, Friedkin elected to close the picture out with a somewhat ambiguous ending that I think is clearly a downer.  There’s some room for hope in that we don’t actually see the ultimate conclusion of the piece, but good old Hurricane Bill painted enough of the picture to allow his audience to easily fill in the blank.

To tie this off, I want to note that Sorcerer is most certainly the work of a master, and it may represent his finest hour.  I would also argue that it stands as Roy Scheider’s best performance, and I say that as a big fan of his work.  Truthfully, everyone plays their role well, and Scheider, Cremer, Rabal, and Amidou are all given much to do.  The script is lean and mean, and whenever it isn’t necessary dialogue is absent from the proceedings, but that doesn’t take away from the depth and the power of the picture.  If you have never seen Sorcerer and you’re reading my work with Cult Classics from Dimension X, you must check this one out.  Friedkin is an amazing director, and this is a true gem.  

Author’s Note:
I can’t stress this enough: the bridge sequence must be seen to be believed.  Seriously.  It is clearly one of the most dramatic scenes ever captured on film, and it looks positively incredible.  It is totally mesmerizing, and it may stand as perhaps the finest example that though modern effects and the marvels they allow our filmmakers to create for our enjoyment are truly spectacular, it’s impossible to top reality when it comes to delivering the goods.  Is the picture truly Friedkin’s masterpiece?  As a devotee of both The Exorcist and To Live and Die in L.A., as well as a fan of The French Connection, I’m not sure that I can fully agree with the director on that point.  However, if we’re talking scenes, the bridge sequence is surely his best setpiece, and I can’t think of many epic scenes that can stand alongside it without suffering by comparison.  The closing reel of The Road Warrior is equally impressive and that’s yet another testament to doing it the old and crazy way: doing it for real.
Oh, and one other thing: the new Blu-Ray transfer is a wonderful achievement.  The picture looks positively sublime, therefore there has never been a better time to sit down and enjoy Sorcerer.

Sorcerer Trivia

A French version of the source novel bearing the book’s translated title, The Wages of Fear, was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and is widely regarded as a true classic.  It isn’t surprising that many who treasure that picture were exceptionally hard on Sorcerer.  Wages of Fear, released in 1953, is a fantastic movie and was the fourth highest-grossing picture released that year.  Having said that, I prefer Sorcerer. 

Friedkin wanted McQueen and a number of other A-listers to take the lead, but he was spurned several times.  McQueen was intrigued, but demanded a part for Ali McGraw.  In the end, Friedkin went with Scheider (who he had previously directed in The French Connection), a decision he came to regret.  Friedkin has expressed that while Roy did a good job, he wasn’t a big enough star to drive the picture.  Like many, I couldn’t disagree more—Roy may not have been a true A-Lister in Hollywood terms, but he was a highly capable leading man and he nailed the part.  I can’t picture anyone else in Jackie Scanlon’s shoes and the movie surely benefits from his presence. 

Tangerine Dream provided their highly-regarded score for the film without ever seeing the picture.  They were given a copy of the script and composed the score based on it. 

Many who cherish the film as much as I do feel that the movie’s failure to inspire critics or the mainstream public could be tied to the fact that it was released only a week after a movie called Star Wars hit the scene.  Sorcerer is gritty, grim, and explores some seriously dark territory, making it pretty much the anti-Star Wars in terms of tone and effect.  Others tie the picture’s failure to the odd title.  In my opinion, both of those camps make points that are hard to argue against.

About the name: Friedkin has said that he chose the title as sort of a nod to his previous film, The Exorcist.  He has also stated that in addition to the fact that one of the two trucks in the movie is labeled “Sorcerer,” he also felt that the title alluded to some dark “Sorcerer of Fate” who was making life miserable for our would-be heroes.

 Some viewers have made a pretty good case for the movie serving as a metaphor for a stint in purgatory for our four main characters followed by a woeful trip to hell, complete with a crossing of the River Styx and hellfire. 

There’s a scene in the Paris prologue where Victor’s wife is telling him about a bit in a memoir she is reading.  The book is a about a retired French Foreign Legion officer and the passage in question concerns a situation where he must decide whether or not to kill a civilian.  Victor asks if the officer pulled the trigger and his wife answers that he did.  Thus, Victor reasons that he was “just another soldier,” but his wife disagrees.  Friedkin says that her response, “No one is just anything,” is the central theme of the picture.

. . .

If you liked this, feel free to share your thoughts on Sorcerer or suggest future selections for Cult Classics from Dimension X.  Also, scope this one out: Cult Classics from Dimension X: Vice Squad (1982)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Top 5 Beastie Boys Tracks

I've been on a Beastie Boys kick this week, and as a lifelong fan (true story: I liked Paul's Boutique when it dropped--even though many had to warm up to it) I figured I should do a Top 5 to determine which of their songs I like the most.  As with any of these rankings, this is a subjective endeavor, and while I try to lend the overall impact of the subject material some credence in my decision-making, at the end of the day I tend to rock with the stuff I enjoy the most.

Top 5 Beastie Boys Tracks

#5 - Sabotage
Honestly, every song I chose for this Top 5 comes complete with an awesome video.  I'm putting this song at #5, but the video would be #1 if I was doing that list.  Great song, immaculate video.  Still, I'm not putting the song here simply because it was a quality track with a massive video, I think it belongs on this list, and some may even feel that it should rank higher.

#4 - Hey Ladies
Catchy, funny, and very near and dear to my heart, "Hey Ladies" is my favorite song on Paul's Boutique, and I'm pretty sure that Paul's Boutique is my favorite Beastie Boys album.  I know many of you hated it at first, but that album is dope. 

#3 - Intergalactic
Yes, it gets bonus points for the video.  Yes, it's totally awesome.  Yes, the Beastie Boys probably had way too much fun with their art at times, but I don't fault them.  Sometimes I had too much fun with their art as well. 

#2 - Fight for Your Right
This is where it all began for me, and maybe it would be the top song on this list for many.  I saw this video and I was hooked, and somehow I convinced my parents to get the album for me.  I must have been pretty persuasive back then too.  Anyway, this is still a raucous ode to having a good time without asking for permission, and it still rocks.

#1 - So What'cha Want
This is the only one I didn't have to puzzle over.  I'm a huge fan of the band, I've liked every album they've put out, and I dig most of their songs, but this is the one for me.

. . .

Well, what did I get right?  

Where did I go astray?  

I'm beating myself up because none of the instrumentals or punk tracks made the cut, and I also felt that "Pass the Mic" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" probably deserved to be on the list. These guys have a killer catalog and this wasn't easy. 

Anyway, I would love to hear from you guys.  What does your Top 5 Beastie Boys Tracks look like?  Remember, sharing is caring.  Unless it's herpes.  Keep that shit to yourself. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Love Boxing, Hate the Clinch

Seriously, do you know why they call it a clinch?  Because everyone would hate it as much as I do if they went ahead called it what it is: a hug.  It's a hug.  When you wrap your arms around someone, pull them close and give them a little squeeze, it's a hug.  In other words, in boxing, when the other dude is positively whipping your ass, just give him a hug.  The ref will make him stop pummeling you.  He'll get physically involved, separating the two of you.  "All right," the ref will say, "Stop hitting him, for Christ's sake.  He gave you a hug.  Now fight!"

Friday, May 2, 2014

Killshot Revisited

The first time I watched Killshot a while back, I thought it was pretty good.  Of course, it couldn't touch Elmore's writing, but isn't that always the case?  Well, unless Raylan Givens is involved, but I digress.  So, I watched Killshot again the other night and I'm elevating it to really good.  It was fast-paced, fun, and full of thrills, but it avoided becoming sensational or unbelievable in the way the action was presented.

Mickey Rourke was great as Blackbird even if he doesn't seem like a great choice to play an indian, and both Diane Lane and Thomas Jane were solid.  However, the real star here was JGL, who completely disappeared in the part of Richie Nix, a thoroughly unlikable low-rent hood with big dreams, a bigger mouth, and a very small brain.  He was awesome, and he gave the flick a lot of life. 

So, yeah, if you didn't catch Killshot when it hit the shelves (it was in limbo for a while before being released to little fanfare, so you may not have heard about it until now) or if you found it rather lukewarm on the first pass, give Killshot a chance.  Or a second play.  You know what I'm saying. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Top 5 Songs by The Doors

Talk about a tough one.  What a band!  What a catalog!  So many great albums loaded with classic tunes, and so many of these tracks are so very near and dear to my heart.  I puzzled over this a lot, and it's still so easy to second-guess my choices.  Before I drop my list, let's talk a bit about The Doors and I. 

When it comes to art, I got a head-start.  Let me rephrase that, my dad gave me a head-start when it comes to art--music, movies, and books in particular.  These are things that happened in my life:

-I read my dad's copy of Christine by Stephen King when I was 8.

-When I was 10 or 11, I was getting ready to rent My Pet Monster or something like that.  "You should try this instead," dad said, handing me Phantasm

-Also at 11, dad gave me a double-cassette (That's right, double-cassette!  That's how we rolled once upon a when) greatest hits set of The Doors.

When it comes to that last one, well, honestly I was a bit perplexed.  I didn't know who The Doors were.  It wasn't one of the things I had asked for.  I remember looking at the picture on the front and expecting something like The Monkees at worst and maybe Aerosmith or The Rolling Stones at best.  I was into Van Halen and The Beastie Boys, and it didn't seem like a fit.

And then there came The Doors.  I'm not sure that I listened to anything else that summer.  I was totally lost in the music, totally riveted by what I heard, and there followed a lifelong love of that seminal band's unique and daring approach.  At some point thereafter, dad and I watched Apocalypse Now, and it was pretty damn cool to see a legendary band's music married to such a legendary picture to magnificent effect.

Also, I feel the need to talk about the talent involved.  This was one hell of a group.  Jim and his theatrics seem to get the lion's share of the credit.  His ability and his creativity were more integral to the group's success.  Additionally, the entire band was very talented.  If one wants to make a case for either Ray or Robby being more essential to The Doors than Jim, I'm not going to object.  Ray is actually my favorite contributor, but those three guys were all totally amazing.  It's not just that they were gifted either, they were passionate about sharing those gifts.  Densmore was also a quality percussionist and songwriter, and I'm certainly not trying to insult his contributions even if I have him a rung below his peers. 

So, yeah, . . . I had a tough time with this one.  Here's what I have:

Top 5 Songs by The Doors

#5 - Five to One

This one is so intense and so powerful that it almost feels like metal.  Morrison is so on, and the whole thing smokes from start to finish.

#4 - Hello, I Love You

Are there people who don't song along when they hear this one?

#3 - Riders on the Storm

Creepy, masterful, and so incredibly vivid.  Some songs really paint a picture--this one paints a lot of them.  This is a great example of the special kind of magic that The Doors possessed.  I just don't see how anyone else could have put together something like this.

#2 - Roadhouse Blues

Rowdy and fun, this is one of my personal favorites.  This one puts a smile on my face and showcases the blues sensibilities that gave the music such an edge at times.  Of all my choices, I feel that this one is the one I'm probably placing too high on my list, but I try to be honest with my decisions.  This is where I feel this track belongs.

#1 - The End

I'm tempted to wonder how much of an influence the movie had on my love for this one, but I have to remind myself that even before dad and I watched Apocalypse Now this was my favorite track.  Why wouldn't it be?  It's positively haunting, it's equally mesmerizing, and it has such an impact on the listener.  I could be wrong, but I feel like this is the most obvious choice on the list, and I'm not going to argue the point.

. . .

Seriously, what do you think? 

Is The End an easy choice in the top slot? 

Did I go too far with my love for Roadhouse Blues? 

How did so many great songs wind up on the shelf--what about Light My Fire or L.A. Woman?  There are others, many others.  

Did I disrespect John Densmore?

I would love to hear your take on The Doors and my Top 5.  Social commentary and questions regarding my father and his parenting choices are equally helpful; the healing process is going smoothly, but talking things out never hurts.