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Posts Tagged ‘J.T. Walsh’

True Identity

Monday, August 30th, 2021

August 23, 1991

As we’ve discussed earlier in this series, the summer of ’91 was pivotal for the emerging Black film movement of the era. BOYZ N THE HOOD was the seismic event, but we also had Bill Duke directing his first theatrical feature, a new one from Spike Lee, and a heavily hyped drama made by a 19-year-old director in a Brooklyn housing project with some credit cards. So it’s only fitting that one of the last movies of the summer was a studio film from the Black director of an acclaimed indie.

Charles Lane had written, directed, and starred in a 1989 film called SIDEWALK STORIES, about a homeless artist in Greenwich Village who takes care of a little girl (played by his daughter) after her father is murdered. Partly an homage to Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID, it’s silent except for the last scene. Roger Ebert loved it, it was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for best director, first feature and male lead, and according to Wikipedia it won the audience prize at Cannes, though I haven’t been able to verify this. The point is, it was respected.

So here we are three years later and Lane is directing a major Touchstone Pictures comedy with the very mainstream premise “What if a Black guy had to pretend to be a white guy?” It stars the British comedian Lenny Henry (BERNARD AND THE GENIE) and is written by Andy Breckman, a (white) Late Night With David Letterman and SNL writer who had scripted MOVING, ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS and HOT TO TROT. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dead Again / Defenseless

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

August 23, 1991 saw the release of two American suspense thrillers by notable overseas directors. Best reviewed, highest grossing and first alphabetically was Kenneth Branagh’s DEAD AGAIN, starring Kenneth Branagh and his then-wife Emma Thompson, written by Scott Frank (PLAIN CLOTHES).

Under the opening credits are an old timey montage of 1940s newspaper headlines detailing the story of a singer named Margaret Strauss (Thompson), who was stabbed to death with scissors, and then her husband Roman “The Maestro” Strauss (Branagh) was convicted of murdering her. The opening is done in black and white, with The Maestro getting a weird haircut and posing with evil smiles in the shadows as he tells reporter Gray Baker (Andy Garcia in his followup to THE GODFATHER PART III) that he loves his wife. When Baker asks if he killed her, he leans over and whispers to him and you’re supposed to wonder what he said I guess. But, like, what would he say? Definitely no? Arguably yes?

Anyway the main story is 40 years later when private detective Mike Church (also Branagh), who specializes in finding lost heirs and speaks in a shifting series of dorky American accents that I don’t think is intended to be funny, reluctantly agrees to do a favor for a priest he knows (Richard Easton, YOUNG WARRIORS). A mysterious amnesiac woman who does not speak (Thompson again) showed up at the orphanage where he grew up, and he agrees to drop her off at the hospital, but when he sees all the scary mentally ill people she’d be with he feels bad and lets her sleep at his apartment. No, he doesn’t do anything untoward, but yes, he quickly falls in love with her and acts like a weirdo. (read the rest of this shit…)

Backdraft

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021

May 24, 1991

This may surprise you, but I had never seen BACKDRAFT until now. It’s often mentioned as the Ron Howard movie people like, or a good Kurt Russell movie or ‘90s thriller, or a movie with amazing pyrotechnic effects, and I knew I’d heard people speak of it fondly. I asked on Twitter and received many emphatic confirmations that people consider it a classic, some having even reaffirmed their love semi-recently in a theatrical screening.

So I hope you won’t all feel direspected when I tell you I thought this movie was pretty fuckin ridiculous! Maybe that’s part of what you like about it? It’s also true that the fire stuff is impressive, and of course Russell is good in it, and his character is pretty interesting because he’s about 85% total asshole and 15% guy you root for, which is not the obvious choice. Also, it’s fair to say that there aren’t very many movies specifically about firefighters; usually the macho ball-busting sweaty working class bros who go to the pub together to be rowdy and are in dutch with the old lady because of the job in movies are cops. Also, I can’t fault people for loving the type of corny old-fashioned weepy-eyed hand-over-your-heart astronaut movie type salute it gives to the heroism of firefighters. I think these are all legitimate reasons to like the movie, I’m not questioning that. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Negotiator

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

July 29, 1998

THE NEGOTIATOR is a monument to that too-brief window of time when there were big budget Samuel L. Jackson vehicles. He’d been acclaimed in supporting roles including JUNGLE FEVER, then said that line in JURASSIC PARK, then became a superstar with PULP FICTION. I always thought it was unfair that Travolta was nominated for best actor and Jackson for supporting, but that’s mostly where he stayed. He was still kind of a sidekick in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE or THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT or a scene-stealer in JACKIE BROWN. And technically even this one is a two-hander with another star, but it starts on Jackson and keeps the two separated for most of the movie so I’d put it in a rare Samuel-L.-Jackson-vehicle category along with SHAFT, THE 51st STATE and SNAKES ON A PLANE.

Also going on in the late ’90s: Kevin Spacey. Like Jackson, he was a veteran character actor who suddenly caught the world’s eye with an indelible performance in a breakout indie crime drama. And he actually won his Oscar. After SE7EN and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL he was one of the most respected dramatic actors in Hollywood.

So THE NEGOTIATOR had a pretty catchy thriller hook (hostage negotiator gets framed by crooked cops, takes hostages in a desperate ploy to find out the truth and prove his innocence), but it was definitely that heavyweight actor showdown that lured us in. Two enormously respected actors, also known for hip movies, actoring the shit off each other in a studio thriller. That had appeal back then. (read the rest of this shit…)

Gang in Blue

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

GANG IN BLUE is a made-for-Showtime Melvin & Mario Van Peebles father-son directorial collabo from 1996. Mario plays Rhoades, a righteous cop surrounded by corrupt racists in a secret cop gang called The Phantoms. Please think of these “Phantoms” as dudes in white ghost hoods, not purple tights and skull rings. Their only uniform, though, is their regular police one or their tattoos or their softball jerseys and jackets, ’cause their softball team is also called The Phantoms. There must be some naive soul on the force who sees the tattoos and thinks “Geez, those guys are really into softball.”

Rhoades talks about hiring diversity and minority policing of minority neighborhoods while his co-workers are talking about “ching-chong” and “homeboys” and “ooga booga” and “the jungle” and calling people “animals” like Trump always does. His presence fucks everything up when they go to shake down an illegal casino. Despite all the anti-racism talk the only Asian we see after these stereotypical gangsters is a thickly accented officer at headquarters who’s kind of a doofus. (read the rest of this shit…)

Red Rock West

Monday, May 1st, 2017

RED ROCK WEST is one of my favorite neo-noirs, an ingeniously concocted tale with a simple, appealing hero who makes one wrong choice that snags him and he has to spend the rest of the movie trying to crawl his way out of an ever-tightening trap. He’s driving through the town of Red Rock, Wyoming when it goes down, so every time he gets out and then something else goes wrong we share his dismay at passing that god damn “Welcome to Red Rock” sign once more.

Well before all the thrilling twists and tense (but down to earth) set pieces, director John Dahl (THE LAST SEDUCTION, ROUNDERS, JOY RIDE) wins me over with an A+ overture of visual storytelling that establishes Michael (Nic Cage)’s hard times and integrity. We meet him waking up in his car on the side of a farm road, shaving, smelling the shirt he takes out of the trunk to make sure it’s not too bad, looking in the window reflection as he tucks it in, preparing to try to make a good impression. We also see his USMC tattoo, even before he starts doing shirtless one-arm push-ups. This will be relevant.

He’s broke and having trouble finding a job and has a bum knee brought back as a souvenir from Lebanon but he’s an honest man, not looking for any shortcuts. Not until he stops at a bar and his timing and Texas plates cause the owner, Wayne (the great J.T. Walsh, BREAKDOWN, EXECUTIVE DECISION) to mistake him for “Lyle from Dallas” who was supposed to be here last week for a job. Michael plays along, which seems like a promising trick for the few minutes before he realizes the job is to murder Wayne’s wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle, POLTERGEIST III). So it’s neither a line of work he’s interested in or the type where you can just put in your two weeks notice and be on your way. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tequila Sunrise

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

tn_tequilasunriseex3-gibsonIn the opening of TEQUILA SUNRISE, Mel Gibson as “Mac” McKussic comes to a motel with a guy and a briefcase full of coke for one of those business transactions that guys with briefcases full of coke have at hotels. One of the guys who comes to meet him is Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell), talking cocky, hair all slicked back. Mac immediately knows that Nick is a cop so he talks his way out of the room and makes a run for it, doing a parkour-like swing from a balconly, nimbly hopping fences, ducking under a freeway overpass, trudging through water, dodging police searchlights. (read the rest of this shit…)

Breakdown

Friday, April 30th, 2010

tn_breakdownBREAKDOWN is a highway suspense thriller starring Kurt Russell. He’s got his wife asleep in their fancy new truck, going on a trip, he takes his eyes off the road onto his coffee thermos for a second, almost nails some gentlemen of the rednecked community who back out into the road in front of him. When he stops at a gas station those guys show up and start puffing their chests out, commenting on his truck. So it’s got that class tension, that tourist guilt that I always dig in a horror or suspense type picture.

That’s good, but on the other hand I definitely prefer Russell as the sardonic working class type. I’m not so sure about him driving a fancy truck like in this one or wearing a tuxedo like in EXECUTIVE DECISION. I still like him on the right side of the tracks (he was still Elvis, after all), but not as much. (read the rest of this shit…)

House of Games

Monday, January 1st, 2001

Well this is one of those pictures you would call a hitchcockian type thriller, and yes that is named after Alfred Hitchcock. But one difference is that this is NOT directed by Hitchcock, it is the director debut of Mr. David Mamet.

In the opening scenes the acting is kind of stiff and everything is kind of dull and I was thinking of watching something else. But as soon as the story kicks in you see that that is to illustrate that this lady psychologist who is the main character, her life has grown banal and she is in need of adventure. Her everyday job scenes are almost draining they are so dull while the rest of the movie is full of suspense. One of her patients tells her what does she know, she hasn’t experienced anything. And through his gambling problem she goes and decides to thrust herself into some real experiences. She goes to a small bar called “house of games” (get it, that is also the title of the movie, house of games) where she meets a gambler named Joe Montegna. I mean that is the actor’s name anyway. (read the rest of this shit…)