Monday, October 24, 2011

Great Cinematic Stand-Offs

There's nothing like a good stand-off, the anticipation and build up of two people about to square off and settle a score. Pacquiao VS Mayweather is what everyone wants to see and the high hopes for that continue. However, pondering about the magnitude of this bout I began to reminisce about great stand-off scenes within cinema, a predicament where two or more characters go head to head via fists, weapons or even words. I decided that I will list off a few scenes that contain some of cinema's greatest stand-offs. So here are a few just off the top of the noggin in no particular order:

1) They Live (Carpenter. 1988)

Roddy Piper and Keith David square off in Carpenter's cult classic in a long-blown brawl. Pro wrestler Piper wanted it to play out like real fights, which are clumsy and slow. Nothing fancy, just two friends going at it in a back alley. Even when Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to parody it in their "cripple fight" they couldn't deny its greatness and literally did it shot for shot.

2) Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994)

This is one of my favourite scenes of all time and there is nothing spectacular about it, these two guys don't even come to blows, but the tension between Butch (Willis) and Vega (Travolta) is mouth-watering. We are introduced to a conversation between Mr. Wallace (Ving Rhames) and Butch accompanied by Al Green's Let's Stay Together, which creates such a relaxing and mellow atmosphere within the red-lit bar. Soon after Butch walks over to the bar where Vega is. Vega confronts Butch by staring at him, when Butch inquires he is given some calm and collected attitude from Vega, which seems to come out of nowhere. 

Butch's look of confusion when Vega leaves the bar is priceless and we are unsure as to why Vega defies him, but what we do know is that we want to see these two guys go at it. Later on we witness Butch shoot Vega because of a pop-tart jumping out of the toaster. The tension between the two creates such anticipation for a fight and the fact that it never comes is delightfully frustrating.

3) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, 1966)

This is a high leap from the previous two. Not only is the stand-off in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly arguably the most epic of all time, but it is possibly one of the most epic sequences ever printed on celluloid. Sergio Leone's last installment of the Dollars Trilogy is the definitive spaghetti western and it bigger than life in scope. The movie is almost three hours long in which after the Civil War battles, imprisonment and betrayal we are left with three men face to face in a Mexican Stand-Off. 

For two and a half hours before we reach this point we witness the endurance of the three main character's on such a large scale-Eastwood's persecution by Tuco (Eli Wallach) in the desert, Tuco's viscous beating from the order of Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), and Angel Eyes' ruthlessness in order to garner the buried treasure. Not to mention the landscape of the American Civil War-thousands of families torn apart, friends fighting friends. Basically up until the Mexican Stand-Off, the film is already bigger than life. Leone set himself a difficult challenge in topping what went before, a challenge that only him and Ennio Morricone could take on. The collaboration of these two is one of the most essential in film history, maybe even more important that Hitchcock and Herrmann or Scorsese and De Niro. Without Morricone's overwhelming score Leone would have never been able to achieve the absolute epic stand-off. The marriage of music and images in this scene portrays the definitive stand-off in the most ultimate way.

4) Dawn of the Dead (Romero, 1978)

The final scene in Romero's Dawn of the Dead seemed like it was going to take the same route it did in his predecessor Night of the Living Dead ten years earlier. However, the despair and bleak conclusion was countered in the last moment as Peter (Ken Foree) chose to fight for his life rather than suicide. He swarmed through a sea of zombies with army music in the background. This time round our hero survives and does it in the most ridiculous way possible. A John Wayne homage if there ever was one.

5) The Killer (Woo, 1989)

Before John Woo brought his style of extravagant cinematic action to Hollywood, and before Wu Tang's Raekwon sampled the dubbed voiceover's of The Killer for his 1995 Only Built for Cuban Linx, Hong Kong was the home of these ferociously action packed films. I guess there is no real suspense or tension to build up the shoot outs, but the actual gun fights themselves are just so fucking entertaining. Its like kung fu with bullets, you forget to breathe during these sequences and John Woo does it best here.

6) The Deerhunter (Cimino, 1978)

Probably the most intense scene in the history of cinema, one of those moments when you are watching a movie, get completely caught up in it and try to comprehend how you would act in such a situation. You are on the edge of your seat for this one and if not then you have the attention span of a fucking hyena on ketamine. True the movie is long and slow, but its a film about little personal moments rather than a big statement on the Vietnam War. All these little moment add up to this huge occasion: captured by Vietnamese and forced to play Russian Roulette against the people you care for the most. 

The way Michael Cimino captures the realism and emotion of this predicament, along with the excellent performances of De Niro, Walken, Savage, not to mention the Cambodian he used that actually despised Americans is something of a miracle. No music either, the only soundtrack to this is a repetition of slaps and maos! You don't blink throughout that roulette sequence until they escape and you couldn't be more ecstatic and proud that they actually made it out. You will never forget the word MAO!!!

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