El Dorado, and six more movies

Deep Red (1975)

If you know the name Dario Argento, that's probably all you need to know, to know you gotta see this.

He made very violent, garish horror movies, including the classic Susperia, which I've seen several times. It's fair to say these are slasher movies, and I hate slasher movies, but Argento made them into art like nobody else has, so when the mood hits me, Argento can slash away and I'll be there.

Deep Red opens at a sparsely-attended conference on the supernatural, where some bozo is saying it's scientifically proven that animals communicate by telepathy. (Pssst — that's not true.) Then Helga, one of the paranormals on stage, gets a telepathic whammy from someone in the crowd: "I can feel death in this room," says Helga. "I feel a presence, a twisted mind, sending thoughts — perverted, murderous thoughts!"

The Neverending
Film Festival

And with that, you can say goodbye to Helga. She's not in the movie much longer.

Put aside your silly science, turn up the volume real loud, turn the lights down low, and enjoy Deep Red. It's funnier than Susperia, and not so feverishly pitched, but equally bloody. Between the murders it has comical cops, recurring sight gags, a little girl who's dangerous instead of endangered, and even a sweet romance.

That's all just to fool you, though. It's going to be gruesome, especially the ending, and then the after-ending.

"This time you're safe. I'll kill you anyway, sooner or later."

It's in Italian, with a score by the hard-hitting electric band, Goblin, the same group that scored Susperia. Whoever typed the subtitles must've really dug the music, because the band is subtitled, too, with lines like "Music with an insistent baseline," "Syncopated blues beat," "Electronic chirruping over the bass and drums," and "Final musical flourish."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

El Dorado (1966)
and Rio Bravo (1959)

John Wayne's best friend is a drunken lawman who needs to sober up in a hurry, because small-town wild-west trouble's brewing.

      "I'm lookin' at a tin star, with a drunk pinned on it."

That's the plot of both these movies, and both movies are good, but watching them as a double feature there's a definite sense of deja vu. Despite the very similar elements, though — both movies directed by Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne, and with screenplays by Leigh Brackett — neither is really a remake of the other. El Dorado is based on a novel by Harry Brown, and Rio Bravo comes from a short story by someone else.

I enjoyed both movies, but El Dorado is the one I'll watch again.

In both movies, of course, John Wayne is John Wayne. He always played a straight-shooter, both figuratively and literally, and never much 'stretched himself' as an actor, but take any complaints elsewhere, pardner. Al Capone didn't dance, Hank Aaron didn't roller-skate, and John Wayne didn't wander far from what he did — and why should he? He did it better than anyone else. 

Dean Martin plays the drunk lawman in Rio Bravo, and Robert Mitchum is the drunk lawman in El Dorado. Martin playing a drunk isn't really acting, though — you expect Martin to be a drunk, and he probably showed up drunk when they were filming the movie. Mitchum is much better, more interesting both liquored up and sober.

Rio Bravo has Ricky Nelson in a dull, one-note performance as 'Colorado', an earnest but barely post-adolescent gunslinger extraordinaire — and of course, he sings. El Dorado has James Caan in what's basically the same role, as 'Mississippi', but Caan doesn't sing, and has thespian abilities Nelson couldn't imagine, so it's another major improvement.

In Rio Bravo, Angie Dickinson plays a mysterious woman who's staying at the hotel in town, but I never understood what her character was about, or why she was inexplicably attracted to the much older Wayne. El Dorado improves on Dickinson with Charlene Holt in a similar role, plus the marvelous Michelle Carey as a red hot tomboy gunslingerette.  

Rio Bravo is good, but El Dorado is great. It's an immensely likable old-fashioned story, with clever dialogue, gorgeous photography, interesting characters, and of course, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum.

Strip away the guns and horses, and it's an honest and excellent rumination about friendship and doing the right thing.

Verdict: BIG YES for El Dorado, YES for Rio Bravo.

♦ ♦ ♦

Point Break (1991)

        "I gotta be fucking crazy..."

        "But are you crazy enough?"

Keaunu Reeves plays a hot shot FBI agent, by the unlikely name of Johnny Utah. Gary Busey is a wisecracking veteran special agent assigned to be Utah's partner, with both of them working in a huge FBI office dedicated entirely to tracking and catching bank robbers. The robbers are a gang of four, all wearing Presidential face masks, led by Patrick Swayze (Ronald Reagan). When they're not committing felonies, they surf and talk zen.

Point Break is a classic, but it's ridiculous, with screaming cops, kissy-kissy, skydiving, and a plot that climaxes with a surf showdown. Absolutely it's ridiculous, but did I mention? It's a classic. If you've never seen it, you've been deprived and you oughta see it soon.

"This was never about the money! This was about us against the system — the system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something. We are here to show those guys that are inching their way on the freeways in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive. "

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Steel Dawn (1987) 

The opening credits begin by announcing that this is "a Lance Hool film," and after mentioning Patrick Swayze and Anthony Zerbe and a few others, it says, "and introducing Brett Hool as Jux." Smells like nepotism to me.

Swayze defeats at least a dozen sand people in the first scene, and after that the mysterious sand people are never seen again. He stands on his head a lot, and goes to work on a farm, where there's a pretty farmer lady so you know they'll be canoodling soon. Then several hardy ruffians try to make trouble, but Swayze quickly and single-handedly defeats them. Then Swayze and the blonde begin their scheduled canoodling, Swayze gets a little bit mystic, and the climax is an extended knife-fight that's fairly slick.

Characters roll around in several cleverly-designed vehicles that look like nothing out of Detroit, and they're cool, but the movie is not about post-apocalyptic cars. It's only about macho and honor and standing on your head.

You've seen better action movies, and worse. This one's right in the middle.

The title is not explained, or if it is I missed it.

Oh, and "introducing Brett Hool as Jux"? Turns out Jux is a little kid, bland blond and boring. Any photogenic child actor from a corn flakes commercial could've played him better than the director's son.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

Warm Bodies (2013)

Because a thumb drive can only hold so many pirated movies, I now have two thumb drives full of films to eventually watch. To keep them organized, one drive is marked "good movies" and the other is marked "shitty movies," based on my expectations. This allows me to quickly pick a flick, based on my mood and expectations, so I'm not watching something artsy when I wanted fartsy, or vice versa.

All I knew about Warm Bodies is that it's a zombie flick, and with all due respect to the myriad imitators of George Romero, zombie flicks get default-sorted to my "shitty movies" thumb drive. 

Just this once, that was a mistake.

Warm Bodies is actually an appealing and sometimes quite funny romantic comedy, about a zombie who's almost self-aware, and has a crush on a cute zombie-hunter. He remembers almost nothing of being alive, only that his name started with R.

"I'm not proud of this. In fact, I'd appreciate it if you might look away for a moment here. I don't like hurting people, but this is the new world now. The new hunger is a very powerful thing."

Often in movies, you can detect "based on a novel" even if you've skipped the credits, because there's more depth and IQ to the story and characters. Warm Bodies is based on a novel by Isaac Marion, which I sadly haven't read but will.

Nicholas Hoult plays the lead zombie. His dialogue isn't much more than grunts, but he's quite good, and most of the comedy comes from his narration of a confused internal monologue.

The female lead (Teresa Palmer) doesn't get to do much acting. Mostly she just poses pretty for the camera, but she's good at it, and when the script gives her something more to do than look at 'R' and say, "What are you?" she can act.

Curiously, John Malkovich can't, or chooses not to. He plays the President of whatever's left of the United States, which ain't much, and his performance is oddly muted, almost zombielike.

"There's a lot of ways to get to know a person. Eating her dead boyfriend's brains is one of the more unorthodox methods, but..."

So what we have here is a better-than-average rom-com wrapped in a better-than-average zombie movie. It's clever and creative, and it makes at least one long-needed improvement to zombie lore: When they're hungry and smell a living person who might be lunch, these zombies can run. After decades of movie zombies just lurching around, almost stumbling, it's goosebumpy to see zombies sprint.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

The Wrestler (2008)

Gotta confess that even before hitting 'play', I had my doubts about this movie, because big-time wrestling has never appealed to me. Even when I was a kid, it just looked silly.

It stars Mickey Rourke, so just from his age that means it'll be a movie about an old, washed-up wrestler, and it would take serious moviemaking brilliance to make me give a damn about a washed-up wrestler. It's written by Robert Siegel (Big Fan), though, and directed by Darren Aronofsky, who's made a long list of movies I've heard are good but never seen, and it features Marisa Tomei, who's always good.

So I watched The Wrestler, and it's much, much more interesting than watching big-time wrestling. The athletics are well-staged, and the back-stage wrestling stuff seems realistic, too. Rourke is believable. Tomei gets yet another thankless role as the romantic interest, and of course she's great.

This movie is absolutely not bad, maybe it's even good, but — it's about a washed-up wrestler. Who cares?

The Wrestler delivers what its title promises, nothing more, nothing less. I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie that was more exactly what I thought it would be.

Verdict: MAYBE.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. Doug,

    Thanks for reviewing El Dorado and Rio Bravo. As you might remember, El Dorado is in my top 50 movies of all time. The vast majority of critics, including the boys from Chicago review Rio Bravo as the better movie by about a half star. I've always thought they were dead wrong.

    The combination of Robert Mitchum and Jimmy Caan, two of Hollywood's best (and underappreciated) actors, make El Dorado the better film. The only weak point in El Dorado is the female lead, but she's not in very many scenes.


    Gaily bedight,
    A gallant knight,
    In sunshine and in shadow,
    Had journeyed long,
    Singing a song,
    In search of Eldorado.

    But he grew old—
    This knight so bold—
    And o’er his heart a shadow—
    Fell as he found
    No spot of ground
    That looked like Eldorado.

    And, as his strength
    Failed him at length,
    He met a pilgrim shadow—
    ‘Shadow,’ said he,
    ‘Where can it be—
    This land of Eldorado?’

    ‘Over the Mountains
    Of the Moon,
    Down the Valley of the Shadow,
    Ride, boldly ride,’
    The shade replied,—
    ‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

    Caan does a nice job weaving the poem into the storyline. Hell, he does a nice job throughout the film. Except for the female lead, the entire supporting cast manages to carry Wayne, and for at least one film, he seems to be an actual actor.

    Thanks again. I recommend this film without reservation.


    1. You're the compadre who recommended that Duke double feature, so thanks for that. I see no plausible argument to favor Rio Bravo over El Dorado, though apparently everyone but you and me does.


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