Friday, December 19, 2014

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

Back to my look at 70's Sean Connery, our next subject is the 1979 heist film The Great Train Robbery.  Written and directed by Michael Crichton (who also wrote the novel), it stars Sean and Donald Sutherland as two British thieves (Pierce and Agar, respectively) who plot to steal a large amount of gold taken being used to finance the Crimean War.

Based loosely on events that occurred in 1855, the film is a dryly funny caper film with a clever heist plan, engaging comic performances from Connery and Sutherland and deft direction from Crichton who keeps things moving fairly well.

The overall production is quite effective with a great period setting, a fun Jerry Goldsmith score and some good tension towards the end as Pierce climbs around the top of the train while trying to pull off the heist.

While all this is well and good, the film really soars whenever Connery and Sutherland are on screen.  Both have a fairly decent amount of comic chemistry and in the case of Connery, we find a wonderfully deft light comic role well played by an old pro.  Sutherland has one or two nice bits too, as does Lesley-Anne Down as Pierce's mistress and accomplice.

Despite some slight pacing issues, The Great Train Robbery is a fun, entertaining romp that is a fine piece of light entertainment.  The planning of the caper is laid out quite nicely and the payoff is gleefully enjoyable.  I definitely recommend you check this one out.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

Robert Rodriguez' Mariachi Trilogy wraps up with this fun, though in some ways disappointing epic that sees Antonio Banderas returning as an even more mythic version of the lead character.  This time, he's brought in by FBI agent Sands (Johnny Depp) to kill an old rival who has ties to a drug runner trying to gain control of Mexico.  As tends to be the case, things get complicated and Rodriguez leaves no stops un-pulled in this twist-laden action flick.

As one would expect, the film is full of style and good action but what really makes it fun is the cast.  Banderas is cool as usual as the hero but Depp is the real star of the show.  Sands is just hilarious, slimy and conniving but also viciously competent when it comes to killing.  It's a real enjoyable turn and I'd say it's even better than Depp's other 2003 action role in Pirates of the Caribbean.

The rest of the cast is fun too with good turns from Willem DaFoe as the drug runner Barillo (for me, it's always a good sign when the man keeps his damn clothes on as he does here); Mickey Rourke as an associate of his, Danny Trejo as a nasty piece of work named Cucuy and Ruben Blades as a retired federal officer with a grudge against Barillo.  Eva Mendes is also on hand as a treacherous cop who turns out to be Barillo's daughter as is Cheech Marin as an informant for Sands.

Really, the only huge disappointment for me with this film is the criminal lack of Salma Hayek for most of the movie.  Scheduling conflicts led to her role sadly being a cameo in flashback but she does get one or two nice moments.

This all comes together fairly well, though the plot is probably a little too intricate for its own good.  Still, Rodriguez keeps things moving and the film is over the top enough to be entertaining as hell.  It's not as good as the first two but is does offer enough bang for one's buck.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Face/Off (1997)

John Woo's career stateside was sort of mixed bag.  His debut, Hard Target, was okay and Broken Arrow is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine but his one indisputable great American action movie is Face/Off.  John Travolta is FBI agent Sean Archer, obsessed to the point of neglecting his family with taking down ruthless criminal Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) who accidentally killed his son right in front of him.

After a fantastic shootout at an airstrip, he finally nabs the villain and outs him in a coma but then has to track down a he bomb Troy has planted in Los Angeles.  Since this is an over the top action film, he takes an offer from some colleagues to go deep undercover to get info from his imprisoned brother... as Troy.  Doing do requires a face transplant and in one of the better sequences in the film, we see the procedure complete with some nice f/x work from Kevin Yagher.  This is the sort of over the top plot idea I love and here, it;s done very well.  It's silly, it's unrealistic but nevertheless is works.

Naturally, things can't go easy so Troy wakes up from his coma and naturally wants a face so he takes Archer's.  The rest of the film is a real treat as we see Travolta playing Cage and vice versa.  It's almost to the point where the great action scenes are an added bonus.  Both lead actors do a nice job of emulating each other without lapsing into a simple impression of the other.  Though it probably helps that they have similar acting styles (start with some level of realism and then add ham as needed).

The rest of the cast is pretty good too with highlights being Joan Allen as Archer's wife and Gina Gershon as Troy's girlfriend.

The action is, as one would expect from a John Woo film, top notch and full of style.  The finale is a great boat chase that looks like something out of a James Bond film and the fight at the end between Cage and Travolta is nicely brutal.  There is a little cheese, Woo does tend to go overboard with some of his stuff but honestly, that's all part of the fun.

Face/Off was the second half of a nice one-two punch for Cage in 1997 with Con Air being the first.  Both films are nice, huge hunks of ridiculous action fun and it still holds up fairly well today.  Good stuff.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Wind and the Lion (1975)

Sean Connery has always been one of my favorite actors.  Not just for James Bond (though that plays a huge part) but also for the sheer awesome randomness of his choice of roles outside the 007 films.  While the role brought him fame and fortune, it also left him feeling somewhat typecast, a trend he fought like hell to avoid until the late 80's when he morphed into more of a character actor.

In the 70's though, he was hell bent on showing he could do other things.  This led to some rather interesting choices, several of which I will be covering.  And just for the sake of clarity, sometimes interesting means exactly that.  Sometimes it means "totally insane".

Let's start with one of his better ones.

Before he gave us the fantastic Conan the Barbarian, John Milius directed this fun adventure based loosely on an actual incident that occurred in 1904.  Like Connery's other film from 1975, The Man who Would be King, The Wind and the Lion is a spirited adventure film along the lines of old fashioned Hollywood epics.

Sean plays Raisuli, a Moroccan Berber chieftain who kidnaps the Pedicaris family (Candice Bergen as the mother Eden and her two children) in order to embarrass the sitting Sultan he doesn't much care for in the hopes a civil war will erupt and dethrone the man.  President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) chooses to use the incident as a way to not only show off American military power but also bolster his reelection campaign and the end result is a nicely epic bit of adventure filmmaking with one foot dangling in reality (as in the Connery character was a real person who kidnapped someone on Teddy Roosevelt's watch) and high adventure (pretty much everything else, including the Bergen character and her kids) with some political shenanigans ensue.

For the most part, the film is an engaging, nicely paced adventure with some good work from Keith as Roosevelt (he damn near steals the whole movie), John Huston as the president's aide and of course, Connery is great.  His natural charisma and magnetic personality do wonders for the part, especially considering that at the end of the day you are watching a 6'2 Scotsman playing a Moroccan desert warrior.  He's also given some very funny bits of dialogue which he delivers with a nice enthusiasm.  Most of his post-Bond work sees him giving fairly relaxed performances, especially here.  It's fairly obvious he was glad to be done with Bond and his enthusiasm goes a long way in making the film work as well as it does.

Really, the only weak link (and even then it's not a deal breaker) is Candice Bergen.  While she is very easy on the eyes, she overplays her role just a tad more than I would prefer.  And yes, I realize that saying this about an actor in a movie with Sean Connery and Brian Keith as the most intensely macho president in American history is odd but she's not quite up to the task.  Her stuff with Connery isn't bad but it's the usual Stockholm Syndrome stuff that tends to pop up in this sort of film.

That aside, John Milius directs the whole thing with his usual boisterous, sly flair.  He gives us sweeping vistas, exciting battles and some very impressive stunts.  The film fits nicely with his ultra macho personality and apart from Conan, it's his best work.

The Wind and the Lion is a rousing, old fashioned movie (both in terms of style and politics given the director) with some good performances, a sly sense of humor and some nicely mounted action scenes.  Sean Connery is in top form, the Jerry Goldsmith score is equally good and if you like old fashioned adventure flicks, you can do a hell of a lot worse than this.  It's just good fun.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Expendables (2010) Revised Review

What better way to kick off the new version of the blog than with a redux of one of the first reviews I ever posted here.  The Expendables is an amazingly fun throwback to the glory days of action films where the macho nonsense was laid on thick, the violence was excessive to the point of hilarity and by the end pretty much anything that could be blown up real good met with that fate.

Sly plays Barney Ross, a mercenary who heads a team that includes Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) Yin Yang (Jet Li), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren).

The plot is a favorite of mine when it comes to cheesy action movies, the good guys have to overthrow a sadistic Central American dictator.  Here, the dictator, one General Garza (David Zayas) is being funded by Munroe (Eric Roberts), a former CIA operative who is assisted by Dan Paine (Stone Cold Steve Austin) and The Brit (Gary Daniels).

Ross and company are put onto the job by a shadowy man named Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) and in a wonderfully amusing scene; Ross takes the job after it’s rejected by a fellow mercenary played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Yep, the three big names from 80’s action are in one scene together and it’s great!  Hell, even with the three teaming in the sequel and the recent Escape Plan with Sly and Arnie, it's still a fun scene.

The movie kicks off with a nice action scene with the team taking down some pirates that ends with Jensen being kicked out of the group for being an unstable nut job.  Other action highlights include a hilariously over the top scene Stallone and Statham in a plane that sees Statham getting into a gun turret mounted on the nose of the plane and the wonderfully excessive climax that has enough gunfire, flames, blood and carnage for two movies.  How can you not love a movie that ends with a huge bomb (as in the type usually dropped from planes) is thrown (Terry Crews may actually be from Krypton) at an escaping helicopter and shot at in order to create a massive explosion?

We also get some fun hand-to hand stuff during the climax as Statham and Li fight The Brit (the double team move they use to kill the guy is great); a nicely brutal punch-up between Stallone and Stone Cold and another good one with Austin and Randy Couture that ends rather badly for The Texas Rattlesnake.

There are simply not enough words to describe how much I love this movie.  The performances are great across the board (Eric Roberts is especially good as his usual slimy villain) and I should give a special mention to Mickey Rourke at this point.  He has a supporting role as a former member of Stallone’s team and serves as the team’s weapons supplier.  In a rather neat, inspired moment, he is given time to reminisce about a mission he was on that stuck with him.  It’s a wonderfully done moment that is great because it is so out of place.  Sure, Stallone tries to tie it in with his character’s psychology but come on... You come to a movie like this for loads of action, not psychological complexity.

Plus, it sort of fits with old school Stallone as he usually tries to put stuff like this in most of his scripts, usually to mixed results.

About the only real gripe I have is the rather dodgy CGI used in place of blood squibs and the editing is a little too frenetic considering the era the movie is trying to replicate.  Great flick though and Rourke is great in his scenes.  I highly recommend this movie for anyone who either was around for this type of movie when it was the norm or wants to know just how great action movies used to be.  Watching this in the theater was like going back in time and the sequels are even better... Well, the second one is at any rate.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Site Update

Checking in real quick to make a few annoucements.

1.  As of now, the site will now be called "Ed's Blasts From the Past".  The web address will remain the same.

2.  Relating to that, the posts with the "blasts from the past" tag will be adjusted over time.  I will also be updating certain older reviews (as in the ones I feel stink like death).

Stay tuned for those as well as new content (though with the holidays, they might be a little scarce)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Fifth Element (1997)

The Fifth Element is a gorgeous looking, fast paced, exciting adventure marred only by one really bad casting decision.  Directed by French action specialist Luc Besson, it stars Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas, a cab driver in the year 2263 who must help a strange but powerful young woman (cloned from a alien being who can harness the forces of the four basic elements to form a fifth) stop an ancient evil that appears every 5000 years and tries to destroy the world.

The story is pure escapism, laid out with a light and humorous touch that throws in some rather nice emotional bits while still maintaining that fun tone that makes the film worthwhile.  From the prologue in 1914 Egypt (complete with cool aliens) to the effects laden finale, the film moves at a breathless pace.  There is an immense amount of exposition we have to absorb but, as with Big Trouble in Little China, it is delivered in a fast and fairly funny manner that lets you get all the really important stuff.  If you miss a detail and you dug the film, that is what repeat viewings are for.  If not, well, it's sort of a moot point then.

The cast acquits itself quite nicely with Willis turning in a lighter version of his usual hard ass routine; Milla Jovovich is good and actually quite effective as the genetically engineered young woman who is the only one who can stop the evil and Gary Oldman hams it up to no end as the bad guy, complete with out of place Southern drawl.  Ian Holm is also fun as the priest who has the job of delivering the bulk of the exposition.  The cheesy movie fan in me also loves having Brion James and Tiny Lister in the same movie.

Really the only casting issue is Chris Tucker as a radio host who tags along with the heroes.  Tucker is just grating here, doing a shrill motormouth routine that honestly makes one long for the subtle humor of Jar-Jar Binks.  He's not an entirely bad performer and I've seen him be good in other things (his shtick in Jackie Brown later in the year works just fine) but he just drags every scene he's in down just a little.

That aside, the film is pretty damn great both visually and in terms of overall entertainment.  Besson creates a fantastically rich future world, sort of a lighter and happier Blade Runner with tons of detail (it's a wonder what modern filmmaking techniques can bring... or 1997 techniques in this case) and a nicely unique but familiar look that is pretty damn appealing.  Action is good too, as are the creature designs.  It's not anything really deep (and honestly, 127 minutes might be a tad longer than it needed to be) but it sure as hell gets the job done.

Apart from the one casting snafu, The Fifth Element is a visually rich, very entertaining bit of popcorn filmmaking with some well placed notes about humanity (it is, after all, a science fiction piece) and a fun cast.  It's not perfect (some feel it's a modern classic though I wouldn't go that far) but it's certainly a fine way to spend two hours.

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.