Hot on the heels of James Cameron’s TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY came the other most important action movie of summer ’91, Kathryn Bigelow’s POINT BREAK. Cameron was famously married to Bigelow at the time, and is credited as executive producer, and the film has parallels to his in its technical perfection and intensity of action. The pair had reworked an original script called JOHNNY UTAH by W. Peter Iliff (PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS), co-story credit to Rick King (director of PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS), with Cameron doing a last minute pass to improve the action scenes before immediately shifting to T2. “She basically is 100% responsible for the final film from that point on,” Cameron reportedly said at a convention in ’91. And clearly it’s Bigelow’s combination of impeccable craft and counterintuitive artistic choices that made POINT BREAK a hit, then a cult favorite, then an enduring classic.
The choice that seemed crazy at the time, and prophetic now, was her insistence on casting Keanu Reeves as the college football legend turned overachieving FBI rookie Johnny Utah. By all accounts Bigelow had to fight for Reeves, because producers wanted someone else. That’s understandable – he’d been in the dark indie thriller RIVER’S EDGE and the period piece DANGEROUS LIAISONS, but was best known to the world as Ted from BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, with whom he inescapably shared a lovable stoner airhead sounding voice. On the other hand, when the movie was almost made by Ridley Scott a few years earlier he’d had Matthew Broderick in the role. You’re telling me that made more sense!? (read the rest of this shit…)
Nearly 30 years after GET CARTER and its American cousin HIT MAN there was another version of the movie and/or its source novel, Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis. It starred Sylvester Stallone and was almost universally hated. Unsurprisingly it doesn’t fare well if hung up on a wall next to the 1971 version, but I find it at least interesting as an exercise in adaptation and an oddity in the Stallone filmography. And maybe I’m a little easier on it because it takes place in Seattle, with some of it actually filmed here.
In the mid ’90s, the ground was shifting under everyone’s feet. Hair metal bands felt displaced by Nirvana, MC Hammer decided he had to sign to Death Row Records, and the action heroes of the ‘80s were starting to see the writing on the wall. So by the end of the decade the once dominant Stallone was trying to find his place in a new world. JUDGE DREDD (1995) had been a notorious flop, and ASSASSINS (1995) and DAYLIGHT (1996) were poorly received. He couldn’t get Tarantino to cast him as Max Cherry in JACKIE BROWN. Though COP LAND (1997) had been one of Stallone’s best performances, it didn’t seem to bring him the critical credibility he was looking for, and his followup, the thriller D-TOX, was sitting on a shelf (it would be barely released in 2002 under the title EYE SEE YOU). Stallone been pigeonholed by his massive success as a larger than life action god, and many critics were more interested in rooting for his failure than seeing him evolve, or even return to his roots. (read the rest of this shit…)
It could be argued that LOCK UP isn’t quite an action movie – that it’s more of a drama with some violence and extreme villainy. And if it is action I’m not sure how it fits into the theme of this series about a shift in the genre heading into the next decade. No, it doesn’t seem like the ’90s ones with “DIE HARD on a _____” type hooks (CLIFFHANGER, DAYBREAK) or special effects and stylized settings (DEMOLITION MAN, JUDGE DREDD). But it’s also not quite the over the top feel we associate with the ’80s because of movies like RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, COBRA and, well… OVER THE TOP. It has a score by Bill Conti (fresh off of THE KARATE KID PART III) that brings ROCKY-like majesty, especially during the montage of the harrowing football game that’s intentionally more about hurting him than sport. This is Stallone in tough-but-vulnerable mode, and even has a part where he builds to a yelling, emotional speech kinda like the end of FIRST BLOOD.
I attribute the film’s timelessness and grit to director John Flynn, a legend to me because of THE OUTFIT and ROLLING THUNDER in the ’70s and OUT FOR JUSTICE in the ’90s. This was his followup to BEST SELLER. He didn’t generally participate in trends – he just made John Flynn movies. (read the rest of this shit…)
Dump all the macho pop culture of the ’80s – movies, TV shows, music videos, beer and cigarette ads, wrestling – into a strainer, shake it around, and the chunks you got left are HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, a buddy-action movie that plays at first like a satire of, but then maybe a tribute to, our basest ideals of masculinity.
It starts with a disclaimer that no, this is not affiliated with the two products it’s named after. The title characters are not supposed to be advertising mascots come to life, some weird meta thing like FOODFIGHT!. It’s tempting to think so, though, when you see them sitting on billboards, Harley (Mickey Rourke, DOUBLE TEAM) always wearing his patch-covered motorcycle jacket, Marlboro (Don Johnson, DEAD BANG) his cowboy gear, cigarette dangling from his lip (though he supposedly quit).
It’s more like it takes place in a pure world of action movie tropes. In the first 10 minutes there’s both an interrupted convenience store robbery and a bar brawl. (Marlboro, being a cowboy, has a disagreement with some Native Americans at the pool table.) They drive motorcycles and leave women naked in hotel beds without saying goodbye. They start in Amarillo and Colorado is mentioned but for the most part their whole world seems to be Las Vegas, L.A. and the dusty desert roads (and train tracks) between them. (read the rest of this shit…)
It looks like I’m continuing my informal and logo-free History of Black Film series a little bit into March. It could be argued that this is because I got side-tracked writing about ROBOCOP and then went out of town and got snowed in there and got behind schedule on my reviews. But in my opinion I’m really doing it in protest of the injustice of Black History Month being slotted in the shortest month.
I also want to admit that at the beginning I said I was gonna be exploring obscure black action stars, then instead I’ve been looking at lesser known black directors, not really the same thing at all. That’s not because the whole thing was poorly planned and thought out on my part, it’s because you gotta be fluid about these things and follow your creative instincts.
DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS is another one where a black director adapts one installment in a mystery series by a black writer. Not that that’s a big category, I’m just saying that’s a parallel to COTTON COMES TO HARLEM. The director is Carl Franklin (ONE FALSE MOVE), the author is Walter Mosley and the mystery-solver is Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, later a private eye but as of this story an a WWII vet laid off from an airplane factory having a hard time getting work until a white P.I. played by Tom Sizemore (SPOILER: I don’t know if you should trust this guy) pays him to look for a white woman (Jennifer Beals) who hangs out in black underground clubs that a white man (but not white woman) would have trouble slipping into without causing a problem. (read the rest of this shit…)
I have to thank you guys, because I only watched this because it was rated #1 in the suggestions, and I figured I owed it to everybody to do something with those. This is the third time I’ve seen PASSENGER 57, but the first time I properly appreciated it. I always saw it as a pretty eventless poor man’s DIE HARD with one great line for the trailer, but now I can respect it as a solid, no-frills tribute to the abilities of Wesley Snipes. I mean, it’s no BLADE obviously, but it’s better than ART OF WAR 1-2.
First we meet our poor man’s Hans Grueber, though: Bruce Payne as the infamous airplane bomber Charles “Rane of Terror” Rane. He’s escaped capture by repeatedly getting plastic surgery, just like Parker between his first two books, or Michael Knight’s evil cousin Garth. When we first meet Rane he’s about to do go under the knife, and for security reasons he insists on no anesthetic. (Let me tell you man, that’s no way to live.) But then he realizes the FBI is on to him, so he makes a run for it and fails. (read the rest of this shit…)
TRUE ROMANCE is an entertaining, uniquely textured crime movie, a celebration of youthful love, kitsch, Asian exploitation cinema, and great character actors. At the time it seemed like a new feel, especially coming from Tony Scott. Now it’s more notable as a record of young, undisciplined Quentin Tarantino manning the word processor. (Roger Avary was hired to restructure the original non-linear story and write an ending where the hero doesn’t die – yeah, that sounds like young QT all right.) (read the rest of this shit…)
Years ago I saw NATURAL BORN KILLERS, and I hated it. But that was years ago. Like Woody Harrelson says in the opening scene about the last time he ate key lime pie, I was a different person then. I’ve mellowed over the years. I’m more open to crazy shit and mega-acting. I’m not as strident about certain things. I’m ready to appreciate it as a weird crime movie, maybe, even if it still comes off as a ridiculously heavy-handed message movie about the most obvious fucking message in the world (have you noticed how the media exploits violence?). So let’s give it the same respect we give the pie. Let’s give it its day in court.
Of course, I got no clue why somebody would be skeptical about key lime pie. Maybe that’s the best clue into Mickey Knox’s derangement. Quentin Tarantino sure liked writing about pie when he was young. He wrote the original script this was based on but would only accept a “story by” credit after it was heavily re-written by Oliver Stone, Stone’s buddy Richard Rutowski and David PERMANENT MIDNIGHT Veloz. (read the rest of this shit…)
No joke, I never saw SAVING PRIVATE RYAN before. I’ve never been big on war movies and I think back when it was a recent movie I was real cynical and suspicious of any type of flagwaving. I thought movies like this were just brainwashing kids to join up in case they needed to blow up Iraq again.
But that’s stupid. This one’s about “the good war” and still makes it look like something to avoid at all costs. The famous Omaha Beach invasion sequence near the beginning is a total bloodbath, soldiers pouring off the boats into waves of machine gun bullets. They might as well just be jumping from a diving board directly into a giant fan, it seems like. (read the rest of this shit…)
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD is Martin Scorsese at his most nightmarish and hallucinogenic, a movie almost entirely in helicopters-overhead-paranoid-end-of-GOODFELLAS mode. That’s ’cause it’s about night shift EMT workers, which I think we can safely assume is probly a pretty stressful job. The movie is written by Paul Schrader based on one of those “this job is fucked and we’re all on drugs” type exposes, like Kitchen Confidential was for chefs.
Man of the hour Nic Cage plays Frank Pierce, who doesn’t get enough sleep and thinks he sees the ghosts of everyone he’s failed to save. He has a hard time feeling like a hero since most of the calls he gets are DOA or false alarms. He’s always doing CPR on dead babies or begging the hellishly overcrowded hospital to take in a vegetable. He’s so tired of bum-out cardiac arrests (“COME ON, PEOPLE!” he scolds) that he’s happy dealing with the notoriously foul-smelling drunk Mr. O, who calls in every time he’s wasted. The one time Frank does succeed in resuscitating a guy he feels guilty about it and imagines the man telling him to let him die. (read the rest of this shit…)
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