Thursday, April 2, 2015
We'll begin with the film that kicked off the real trend of good Leonard adaptations. Before 1995,there were a few good ones but for the most part, his work had been relegated to one-off TV movies. In 1995, however, he blasted back to prominence with this genuinely funny, entertaining comedy.
Get Shorty stars John Travolta as Chili Palmer, a loan shark who is in the middle of a petty feud with Ray Barboni (Dennis Farina) who he ends up working for. Palmer tracks the owner of a dry cleaners who owes some money to Vegas and while he's there, he's also sent to get some money out of a B-movie producer in Hollywood. Being a movie buff, Chili becomes enamored with the film business and the ensuing comedy is both a sly satire of the business and a perfect adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel.
Travolta is top notch here, right in the middle of his 1994 comeback, cool and funny but also sort of tough which is perfect for the character. Hackman is equally funny as the sort of dumb, utterly full of crap film producer and Rene Russo is fun as Karen, an actress Chili falls for. The rest of the cast is fun too. Dennis Farina is quite funny as Barboni, as is Delroy Lindo as a thug looking to get into the film, business as well and Danny DeVito is great as an utterly ridiculous actor. You can tell he, along with everybody else in the movie (there are so many good character actors in this thing that to name them all would stretch this review to an unreasonable length) is having a blast.
Barry Sonnenfeld does a fine job directing things and as noted, the cast is great but what really sells the film is the script. Scott Frank stays true to the original novel, using the dialogue and letting it have that little flair Leonard always puts into his work. It's just plain fun and one of the best Leonard adaptations out there.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
The second trailer is a visual gag involving a new gimmicks called Blind-O-Vision and the theater gags continue throughout the movie as well. The plot is as bare bones as it can get (and in this case that's a major plus) as a typical New York family called the Van Waspishes decides they've had it with the big city and decide to live in the woods. The usual stuff one would expect occurs with wild animals, the aforementioned David Strathairn as a friendly Indian, tons of gags that come at you a mile a minute and just an overall sense of gleeful silliness.
Charles Kaufman, brother of Troma head Lloyd wrote and directed this one and he has a nice deft touch here, firing the gags at the viewer as fast as possible so that they hit, you either laugh or don't and then there's another gag up for consideration. It's not quite as smooth as the more notable spoofs I mentioned earlier and pretty crass in parts, but it's still pretty damn hysterical in places. If you can find it, give it a look. It's well worth your time.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Joe Lara plays our hero, Austin, your standard wasteland warrior who ends up protecting Mary (Nicole Hansen) from unstoppable cyborg John Ryan (not the Cannon regular known for hamming it up with relish, this is a British guy who sort of looks like him). Their goal is to get her unborn fetus in a jar (No, I'm not making this up! Stop looking at me like that!) to a ship bound for Europe where the after affects of World War III are slightly less crappy and really, that's about as much plot as there is. There's a damn good reason this is a double feature post.
The bulk of the movie is given to non stop action scenes where the android fires off hundreds of rounds of ammo from his huge machine gun (where he gets all that extra ammo is a mystery that is not delved into) and the bad movie fan in me really wishes I would have seen this in the theater just so I could say I did. I kind of feel the same way about that awful second Universal Soldier film from 1999.
We get tons of gun battles that are just as repetitious as those in the above mentioned Universal Soldier: The Return; radioactive cannibals, Joe Lara at his most blandly heroic, an odd twist where it turns out Lara is also a cyborg, this is one of those films you watch with a pizza and beer and forget as soon as you're done watching it. While it's stupid fun (they don't release crap like this in theaters anymore), one does get the sense that at this point Cannon had just thrown up their collective hands and said "Okay, just end us! We're ready to die!" It's middle of the road crap with not much in the way of good acting or humor, but not in an entirely horrible way.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Enter the Dragon is his crowning achievement. A briskly paced, fantastically entertaining blend of spy caper and martial arts revenge film, it pits Bruce against an evil martial arts master named Han (Shih Kien)who holds a deadly tournament on his private island. Bruce must go there, not only to extract a British undercover agent but also to get revenge as one of his henchmen (Bob Wall) is responsible for the death of his sister. Needless to say, our hero has all the motivation he needs to tear every bad guy on that island a new orifice before the film is even twenty minutes old.
While the cast is good, everybody watching this film is here for the action. This is one of those rare occasions where every single bit of action from, the demonstration fights to the huge epics (as in Bruce going through guards like they're made of paper) is top notch.
While the fight with the guards is a marvel of cinematic violence (one of the unfortunate baddies is a young Jackie Chan) to such a degree that even the bad guy comments on how awesome it is, I think my favorite bit of business is the absolute trashing Lee gives Bob Wall. Wall's character is, as noted above, responsible the the death of Lee's sister and I think he gets in maybe half a hit while being completely stomped (literally at the end) by our hero. The difference between this and the typical Steven Seagal fight scene is that you actually like Lee which helps a lot when he only gets a few scratches on him during the final fight with Han.
That end fight is pretty cool too with a mirror maze sequence and some nice direction from Robert Clouse who does a fine job with the rest of the film. Enter the Dragon is a seminal achievement in action cinema. It's fast, funny and has some of the best action scenes caught on film. You gotta love it.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
The plot is a bit too muddled and predictable for its own good with Moore possessing sensitive information on a disk; Bain trying to kill her and Rath trying to keep her alive which would be fine if the film had a better sense of pace. For some reason, the film matches Rath's general mood: sort of mopey with occasional bursts of energy that last for a brief period and then are just gone. There are some endearingly dumb bits like Bain surviving being blasted out of a window by an explosion that end up being muted because the movie stubbornly tries to be a serious thriller.
Rath's contractor betrays him and hires Bain to kill him and Electra and it turns out said contractor is a Russian friend who Rath thought he had killed fifteen years previous. The reveal isn't really too much of a shock and fails to make much of an impact since the actor really only has about two or three minutes to make an impression. The fact that this thread is wrapped up rather quickly, after which Rath kills Bain and goes off with Electra in the span of about five minutes doesn't speak too well for the quality of the film either.
The action is okay and Stallone and Banderas have some amusing moments but what really kills the film is Richard Donner's direction. The guy is usually pretty good (the first Superman film and the Lethal Weapon films are all varying degrees of good action movies) but for some reason he just doesn't bring his A game to this one. Here though, we get an extended forty minute sequence at the end as Rath waits to transfer some money he and Electra will use to disappear while being stalked by Bain. It's not terrible but when the weather in the locale is doing more to set up the tension than the actual film (three sweaty actors with Stallone probably being on a high protein diet, the lunch breaks must have stunk like hell) something has gone wrong.
It's a shame because Banderas is quite good and while he's not the best dramatic actor, Stallone doesn't embarrass himself. Julianne Moore is... Well, she's cute. That's about it, really. Her character exists in the time and space of the film and is just sort of there.
Assassins came right in the middle of Stallone's comeback on the heels of Cliffhanger and Demolition Man in 1993. He followed it up with the enjoyably awful The Specialist, Judge Dredd and this film. Honestly, I'm not really shocked he faded out again after 1997 and Cop Land (though that film is actually quite good). As for this film, it's a perfectly average action movie that is fine as background noise but not a really good thriller.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
The Curse is an interesting idea poorly executed. The family is, to be perfectly blunt, a bunch of unlikable redneck assholes with the father and older son Cyrus coming off the worst. I'm sure there have been more unlikable redneck characters in film but these two are right up there.
Claude Akins is actually pretty good as the strict, religious father but the kid playing Cyrus makes him such a drooling buffoon (I'm too polite to just up and call him a retard) that even the sight of him simply watching a football game on TV is more shudder-inducing than any of the horror stuff that comes in the second half of the film. To be fair. it is rather fun seeing him nearly get trampled by one of their horses as it goes insane.
The rest of the family is okay with Wil Wheaton actually coming off rather well as the kid desperately trying to save his family. The mother and daughter are okay too, though really all they get to do is gradually decay into a low rent Evil Dead demon and get pecked by pissed off chickens respectively. John Schneider is also okay as a local state official who tries to help. The poorly written script, however, does not help. Characters are thrown in and dropped with no explanation, the house collapses on itself at the end for no apparent reason and the family, as I said, generates about as little sympathy as possible.
The idea is that something in the meteorite gets into the eater and crops, making the family go nuts but two fifths of the family are already unlikable to the point where you just want to see them get an axe in the head before the damn space rock even touches down. It's sort of hard to feel much in the way of horror at seeing a family slowly torn apart by madness from outer space when you realize that the space rock actually makes them slightly less unpleasant simply because they're not reciting bad dialogue.
Production wise, the film is quite meh. Actor David Keith (forever cursed to be confused with actor Keith David) does an acceptable job directing things and the special effects range from cheesily acceptable to not quite so cheesily acceptable but the score is really what shoots the overall mood of the film to hell. Generally, it's sort of hard to pull off a slow build with tension permeating every scene when you get the feeling the composer did most of his work sitting lazily on his porch, twanging his guitar casually on a hot summer afternoon. There are some music beats with the meteorite that are okay but for the most part... No. Just no.
The Curse is not an especially good movie. There are some cheesy moments of fun here and there but it says something quite bad that the three in-name-only sequels that came out afterwards are more or less better.