Saturday, February 22, 2014

Esoterica V: The Randomness Strikes Back

Exactly what it says on the tin...

Let's start off with some old movie magazines from the 80's and 90's.

Ah, Cinefantastique.  The real selling point for this publication was the extra super sized behind the scenes articles which tended to always deliver.

 A little more fluffy (and by that I mean a lot), Cinescape was pretty good for previews of upcoming stuff and the occasional fun article.

The only one of the four I'm talking about today that is still in publication, this is a fantastic special effects journal that has been going strong since 1980.  I don;y think any publication current or otherwise is as detailed and in depth as this one.

 From 1978 to 1985, this scrappy little mag vied for Starlog and Cinefantastique's business with solid articles on current blockbusters.  More or less Starlog in name only, it was still a pretty nice publication.

 I've said it elsewhere, but I've always has a soft spot for 80's paperback art.

This is a pretty solid collection of four novellas Stephen King wrote using his Richard Bachman pseudonym.  The best is the last one, The Running Man which is as different from the movie as it can possibly be.  I do rather enjoy The Long Walk though.

 Not much more can be said about this one so I'll just let you stare at the fantastic cover for a few seconds.  Creepy...

One of the great 70's action films, this stars Richard Roundtree as the baddest badass private detective of them all.  Great action, good acting and a nice sense of humor make this a real knockout.

 Not quite as good is the first sequel which has a nice action climax as Shaft is pursued by a bunch of gunmen in helicopters but the rest of the film feels more like a contractual obligation than anything else.  Nice to see Julius Harris pop up though, which he did in several films in 1973.

 This one was one of those things I had to own the minute I heard it existed.  Star Trek has generally done humor about as well as a penguin flies but this book is one of the rare occasions where the comedy works perfectly.  Kirk and his crew, along with other interested parties end up on a planet with resources they need only to end up in a bizarre musical comedy show the planet has arranged to dissuade them.  It works better than it has any right too.

That should do for now.  Until post 300...

My Favorite Era: Octopussy (1983)

The 13th 007 epic is one of my favorites, even with the flaws it admittedly has.   If Thunderball was the ultimate expression of Bond in the 60's in general and Connery's in particular, Octopussy is that for the 80's (The Spy who Loved Me is this for the seventies and both are good examples of what Moore could do when everything clicked).

A big, gaudy, over the top epic, it finds Bond going after jewelry smuggler Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) and his Russian partner General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) who plans to detonate a nuclear bomb on an American military base in Germany in order to take advantage of the ensuing unilateral disarmament that would surely follow and expand the Soviet Union across Europe.  It's a goofy, utterly mad plot and it fits right in with the overall tone of the film.  Deadly serious to an extent, but also goofy as hell in the most cheerfully enthusiastic manner possible.  Let's take a closer look.
  •  Outside of the one for The Spy who Loved Me, the pre-credit scene for this movie might be my favorite of the entire Roger Moore run.  Some nice laughs and an amazing set piece with a small airplane make for a great way to begin the festivities.
  • The main title theme "All Time High" by Rita Coolidge is pretty good though it is rather odd to have an easy listening number as the title theme for a summer action movie.
  • The thing I really love about this entry is how seamlessly it combines the humorous elements with the serious spy thriller stuff.  the first third or so is fairly straight down the middle stuff along the lines of For Your Eyes Only with Bond looking into the death of 009 who we see being stalked and killed by twin knife throwers.  The stuff with Bond at the jewelry auction that follows this is just pure fun as Bond smokes out Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) as the main baddie.  Once Bond gets to India, it's a nice blend of over the top thrills and some more or less serious intrigue.
  • Good thing too as the plot is rather thin to begin with.  The jewelery smuggling aspect sort of goes by the wayside in favor of Orlov's nuclear bomb plan and while it does tie together, the string used to tie it is a bit on the frayed side.  This is a movie that gets by on charm, which fortunately it has in spades.
  • Roger Moore is solid as usual as Bond, though to be fair his stunt team deserves just as much credit.  Especially good is the backgammon sequence where Bond takes Khan for a ton of cash plus a rare antique Faberge Egg.  Moore was always at his best when being an eternal wise ass.  The movie would have been a great swan song for him.  Hell, the last shot is more or less Bond riding off into the sunset!  Granted, I do find some enjoyment in the last film he made but still.
  • Robert Brown is pretty solid as the new M, taking over for the late Bernard Lee.  He brings a sterner tone to the character.
  • Steven Berkoff's first scene is maybe the most over the top thing in the entire series.  Stalking, shouting randomly, broad gestures, it's a wonder he didn't strain something while doing this.  Making it even better is the room full of Russian military honchos rolling their eyes at him.  It's quite overdone and entertaining as hell.
  • Louis Jourdan is his usual suave self as Kamal, he just oozes menace in every single scene.  He makes a nice contrast with Berkoff's overplaying.  I get a chuckle from the fact between 1982 and 1985, Jourdan and Berkoff played villains in at least one American movie.  Jourdan appears here and in 1982's Swamp Thing and Berkoff did this before Beverly Hills Cop in 1984 band the second Rambo movie in 1985.
  • The action is typically great with the aforementioned plane sequence at the beginning, a chase through the streets of India and a real white knuckle sequence as Bond pursues Khan at the end.  In that scene, the film manages to one-up the opening by having another plane stunt sequence, only this time Bond is hanging on for dear life onto the outside of the plane!  It's quite impressive.  The action stuff on the train is also top notch.
  • Just a bout the only action beat that doesn't quite do it for me is a car chase after the train action.  I've never really dug having civilians along for the ride in a Bond film but on the bright side, it's nowhere near as annoying as it was in Moore's first two outings.
  • Maud Adams makes her second appearance in a Bond film. this time as the title character who is a jewel smuggler in league (for the most part) with Khan.  Her character is enhanced a bit with stuff from the short story Ian Fleming wrote with the film's title.  The auction stuff is also taken from Fleming.  Adams is good in the part and so is Kabir Bedi as Khan's henchman.
  •  The thing the film does really well (though it also doubles as a minor flaw) is to let the viewer settle down into the film and let it wash over them.,  I find that this is what really draws me to a Bond film: The plot is allowed to take its sweet time while Bond is just Bond.  It works here and in stuff like Goldeneye and Skyfall.  This can also be a flaw as it does have the unfortunate effect of not letting the real tension kick in until ninety minutes in.  You know, like A View to a Kill.
  • Another minor flaw or two pop up with the villains.  Orlov is fine but is given relatively little to do and in the case of Khan, he doesn't really have much of a stake in the plot.
Octopussy manages to overcome a rather shaky, though witty script simply by being entertaining as all hell.  Good performances, action, music from John Barry and direction from John Glen help make what could have been a rather middling entry one of the better ones.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Favorite Era: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

I already covered the franchise as a whole but I thought it over and decided the second Lethal Weapon movie really deserves a highlight.  The bulk of the plot (Riggs and Murtaugh vs. racist South African drug smuggling diplomats while also trying to protect a witness) was covered in the other Lethal Weapon article so let's take a closer look at the sequel.
  • Lethal Weapon 2 was released right in the middle of the best summer season of the 80's.  1989 had a hell of a lot of great releases such as the third Indiana Jones film, Batman, Licence to Kill, just a bunch of terrific stuff.
  •  A good movie should give you an idea of what to expect within the first few minutes.  In the case of this one, it gets there in a matter of seconds with a brief but of the Looney Tunes theme and them it's right into a huge car chase.
  • For all the crap he's earned, it has to be said that Mel Gibson is pretty damn great as Riggs.  Funny, crazy and cool, he's a very good action hero.  Danny Glover as Murtaugh is the perfect compliment to him, more balanced and cautious but able to bring the badass when called for.  They make a great comedic/action duo.
  • As fun as the action stuff in the film is, the real quality comes form the scenes at the police station and the family stuff with Murtaugh.  At the end of the day, the series turned into a story about family and the chemistry with the cops, Murtaugh's family and our leads provides the film with some heart.  Also gives us a chance to catch out breath a laugh a little between berserk action scenes.
  • The villains of the film are pure 80's excess.  Not only are Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) and company evil drug dealing scumbags, they're racist South Africans with diplomatic immunity.  Granted they're not the brightest bad guys of all time (trying to surrender after shooting a cop in full view of his partner, really?) but in a movie like this you're really there just to see the bad guys get mulched so it works out in the end.
  • I also like the rather overblown touch of having the bad guys also be responsible for the death of Riggs' wife which ended up sending him over the edge before the first film began.  It's completely gratuitous but yet, it still works.  Even better is how they end up targeting the entire squad, killing pretty much every body except for our two leads.  Something like Delta Force 2 might have more in terms of excessive detail when it comes to making the bad guys as nasty as possible, but Lethal Weapon 2 does it with class.
  • And yes, I do realize I just described a Joel Silver movie as 'classy'.  I feel weird about it too.
  • Ackland is pretty good, giving his character a sort of reptilian quality and Derrick O'Connor is also solid as his henchman.  Both actors do well in making you want to see their characters get killed in the worst possible manner.
  • Joe Pesci is probably the casting highlight of the movie as Leo Getz.  A crooked accountant who just so happens to be testifying against the main villains (this is implied for the most part until the end), he is funny as hell and also adds a different dynamic to the Riggs/Murtaugh stuff as they're now bickering with a third person as opposed to just with each other.  Pesci has always been good and here is no exception.
  • I always got a chuckle from Riggs not only habitually running after speeding cars/trucks but routinely catching them!  The chase scene that comes about forty minutes in is quite a blast with a nice payoff.
  • Patsy Kensit is okay in the film, really she's just there to get naked and eventually get killed after getting close to Riggs.  Well, that and so there is at least one South African character who is not a scumbag.
  • The toilet bomb scene is great.  The chemistry between Gibson and Glover really shines in scenes like this as they can give you both sincerity and humor in the same instant.  The best part of this though is that the technique they use to survive the blast actually works!  Thank god for Mythbusters.
  • The last act is nicely done with the stuff at the stilt house and the docks.  It's a nicely over the top way to end the movie and I have to say that Rudd's death scene is one of the more gratifying bits in any action movie.
Lethal Weapon 2 is the best of the series.  Fast, funny and better than the original.  Richard Donner directs with his usual steady hand, the score from Michael Kamen is good and virtually every beat the script hits is spot on.  It's a real winner.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Favorite Era: Flash Gordon (1980)

Here it is, the greatest thing Dino DeLaurentiis ever put his name on.   Based on the classic character from serials, comics and television, this is one of the most entertaining 80's flicks and an early childhood favorite of mine.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Amusingly enough, the first choice Dino had to direct the movie was Federico Fellini.  I'd love to have seen how that would have turned out.  You think the film is wild now?
  • The plot is as basic as it gets pro footballer "Flash" Gordon (Sam Jones) ends up joining reporter Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol) on a trip to the reason the moon is moving closer to the planet.  They end up being taken to the planet Mongo where of course they run into the evil despotic ruler Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) as well as a bunch of other colorful characters.  It's pure pulpy goodness.
  • Dear lord, the theme song by Queen is still one of the greatest things I have ever heard in my life.
  • I love that one of the choices on Ming's control panel of destruction is "hot hail".  You know, because just regular hail just isn't good enough sometimes.
  • The film doesn't fart around with too much exposition, it just cuts right to the aforementioned flight.
  • Jones and Anderson have good chemistry together, making Flash and Dale instantly likable.
  • Max von Sydow does something incredible here as Ming, going the incredibly ballsy route of underplaying him.   Most actors would have hammed it up to the nth degree buy good old Max takes the alternate route and comes up with a fantastic cinematic villain.
  • While the main bad guy is busy being low key in his approach, the rest of the supporting cast dives into their roles with a remarkable relish.  First of all, Topol as Dr. Zarkov whose first scene is just hilariously over the top.  Shouting at his assistant to help while waving a gun around, the man is fantastically charismatic and entertaining.
  • The production design is simply incredible with fantastic sets, costumes, cheesily wonderful f/x.  This is basically the greatest Italian space opera ever made.
  • Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed are hammily awesome as Prince Barin (leader of Arboria) and Prince Vultan (leader of the Hawkmen) respectively.  Dalton is enjoyably cool and it is easy to see why he was chosen as James Bond eventually.  He also hams it up a bit every now and then.
  • Brian Blessed, however, is another story.  Overall he's a pretty awesome guy, he's tried to climb Mt. Everest a few times, is a fantastic classically trained actor, but his real talent is in going over the top.  I'm not talking Shatner over the top either, as much as I love Bill, he tends to come off as sort of self-consciously hammy.  Blessed is just like that naturally as an actor.  He's just doing his normal thing... And its awesome.
  • Peter Wyngarde is delightfully droll as Klytus, Ming's second in command.
  • I love that the first action scene is Flash starting up an impromptu football game to combat Ming's guards.  It's just hilariously fun.
  •  Ornella Muti is quite sexy as Ming's daughter Aura.  She also gets the most memorable line after she is captured and sent off to be tortured after helping Flash escape.  Not often you hear a line like "No, not the bore worms!" and it fits the tone of the film perfectly.
  • Topol explaining how he managed to fend off being brainwashed is a thing of beauty.  The scene where Klytus tries to brainwash him is also good.
  • My favorite thing about the movie is just how diverse the planet Mongo is.  Every place we see has a different look, culture, personality.  It's an uncommonly well thought out screenplay.
  • The pacing of the film is quite good, especially considering the 111 minute running time.
  •  The final act is just pure fun, as is the rest of the movie.  Brian Blessed really rules the roost here, hamming it up with abandon.
Flash Gordon is quite simply one of the most enjoyable films I have ever seen.   Fast, funny, irresistibly silly, it still holds up as one of the finest things to come out of the 80's.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Esoterica IV

Some random stuff to muse on.

I love this VHS cover design Paramount used for their 75th anniversary.  They put out a bunch of catalog titles with this design such as Beverly Hills Cop, the first three Star Trek films and Billy Crystal's first HBO special.

On a related note, the third Trek outing is my second favorite of the entire series.  A solid blend of humor, drama and action.  God, what a good movie!

The popularity of Star Wars coincided with a boom in the comic book industry.  Marvel had the rights to the franchise and after the first six issues which encapsulated the plot of the first film, they proceeded to continue the series until 1986.
I like this cover, it practically begs to be turned into one of those "How many mistakes can you find" brain teasers that popped up in Sunday comics.

 Good adaptation, I like how they more or less gave Yoda an unkempt skullet.

 Another solid adaptation.

This is a pretty fun Australian martial arts flick from director Brian Trenchard-Smith.  The plot is fairly standard: martial arts guy goes on a mission of revenge but the action scenes are very well done.

Book/record and book/tape combos are a thing you don't see anymore.  Essentially scaled down, kid-friendly versions of popular movies, I had a bunch of these.  Here are a few, more will follow in future posts.

The one for Return of the Jedi amuses me simply because they either slowed down the audio on Frank Oz's Yoda line readings, or had some dude re-do it who hadn't gotten  enough sleep the previous night.

I think the next two were adapted from the Marvel Star Wars comics.

This is a really, really good vampire flick from 1970.  Set in the then-present day, it has a wonderfully droll performance from Robert Quarry as the evil Count Yorga, some lashings of gore and nudity and a nice shock ending.  Definitely worth checking out.

It just blows my mind that not only is there a novelization for a movie that has a plot that can maybe take four paragraphs to get through, but it's also supposed to be pretty decent.

That's all for tonight.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Favorite Era: Cobra (1986)

It seems almost too good to be true but there was a time when Sylvester Stallone and Cannon Films made movies together.  Sure, it was only for two films but both Over the Top and our subject today are bad movie classics.  Cobra is, for all intents and purposes, a Dirty Harry film only with Sylvester Stallone in the lead.  It takes the main character and renames him, makes things a little less gritty than the Eastwood films tend to be, but in terms of story structure it is Dirty Harry to its very core.

Really, the main difference is that the Eastwood films seemed to take the political implications of the main character a little less seriously than this one which is... Well, it's a Stallone movie so you know that while his character may be silly and he has a good sense of humor about things, he does take his films very seriously.  In the case of this movie, as with the Rambo films, it's best to just ignore the politics and enjoy the ride whereas with the Dirty Harry films, I always got the sense that Eastwood and company weren't taking that aspect of it all that seriously.

Sly plays Marion Cobretti, known as Cobra, an elite LAPD officer who has to protect a gorgeous model (Stallone's then-wife Brigitte Nielsen) from a cult of psychos led by The Night Slasher (Brian Thompson).  Much action, gratuitous property destruction and silliness ensue.  Let's take a closer look.
  • The script was what Beverly Hills Cop was initially going to be like with Sly in the role but he ended up leaving the project and I have to say, the world of film is far better off for it.  Eddie Murphy got a comedy classic... And so did Sly.  His script is very careful to include every single action movie cliche in the book.
  • It begins with Sly croaking out a list of crime stats as a gun is drawn from its holster, aimed and fired right at the screen.  Not often you see a movie more or less dare the critics to write that the film was as much fun as getting shot in the face.
  • The credits play out over a blood red horizon as a biker rides towards the camera.  We also get intermittent shots of The Night Slasher and his gang just standing in a warehouse clanging axes together in rhythm.  It's like the worst heavy metal video you have ever seen which is appropriate since later in the film we will see a really bad pop video.
  • Our intro to Cobra gets off to the standard start as a wild-eyed psycho walks into a grocery store, clearly comes off as more unstable than the San Andreas Fault, and then proceeds to shoot up some produce.  Yep, the guy we will find out is a member of a psycho nihilistic cult bent on bringing about a new world through wanton violence decides to make his first kill the fresh produce aisle.  To be fair, he does kill a few people but that's not his first target.
  • Cobra gets the usual impossibly cool intro as he drives to the scene in a classic car, decked out in leather and denim with a pair of mirrored sunglasses.  And yet, Stallone seems to think the audience will take the movie seriously.
  • Once Cobra gets into the market it's a blazing fury of product placement as Cobra plays mind games with the nut before getting the drop on him and shooting him.  The product placement is really brutally obvious though (much like the movie), Coors and Pepsi practically permeate the scene.
  • The trio of fellow officers we see is truly something to behold.  first off is the great Art LaFleur as Cobra's boss.  He's solid as usual though underused.  Still puts in good work, as does Reni Santoni as Cobra's partner Gonzales.
  • Not so solid is Andrew Robinson as Monte, the obligatory disagreeable prick (though to be honest, he does have some good points) who clashes with Cobra.  Robinson is a good actor but there are times when he comes across as just plain unstable.  Not the most believable police officer I have ever seen.  He's not even a red herring or anything, though there is a cop in league with the villains.  He's just disagreeable just for the sake of being a prick.
  • The biggest sign Stallone wanted this to be like a Dirty Harry movie: getting Santoni and Robinson cast, both of whom were in the first Dirty Harry movie.
  • Cobra at home is amusing as we see that he keeps his gun cleaning kit in a carton of eggs in the fridge; uses a pair of scissors to cut a piece of cold pizza for himself and generally has zero social skills.  Not sure how the hell Stallone thought this would be seen as anything but parody but that's Sly for you.
  • I love that this film takes place during the Christmas season.  Lot of that going around in the 80's as far as action films go.  Guess it's supposed to be "ironic".
  • Brian Thompson is pretty decent as The Night Slasher.  he's big and imposing, though his ultimate plan seems somewhat vague.  Not really sure how he figures on winning but then again, he is a psycho.
  • Brigitte Nielsen is... Well, she's tall.  That's about all she has going for her really as she can't act worth a damn.  She doesn't have a lot of chemistry with Stallone during their scenes either, which may explain why the marriage didn't last.
  • Her second scene after she witnesses Thompson and his crew at work is the main thing that dates the movie the most... Well, besides Stallone's cliche ridden script.  More or less a montage of Cobra and Gonzales asking random folks about the killings going on intercut with shots of Nielsen's character Ingrid doing a photo shoot in all sorts of glam makeup with robots while a bad rock song plays.  Sub in a Phil Collins tune and you have a really messed up episode of Miami Vice.
  • Not sure why whenever Cobra posits that there is more than one killer at work, everybody looks at him like he has a second head growing out of his shoulder.  It's a reasonable guess since the murders don't follow a set pattern, it just gives Andrew Robinson something to yell about.  It's sort of like on Different Strokes whenever somebody's eyes would glaze over because apparently the notion of adoption is a foreign one to them.
  • Midway through, we get a really fun car chase as Cobra speeds Ingrid away the hospital after she's nearly been killed.  Stallone used his own car for this movie (stunt cars were used for the stuff that voids the warranty of course) and in general, the scene is a nice bit of over the top action.
  • After the chase, Cobra and Gonzales take Ingrid upstate and of course, the bad guys follow.
  • The romantic stuff with Cobra and Ingrid doesn't work.  Not sure why films keep casting genuine couples as cinematic couples, it almost never works out.
  • The climactic shootout/truck chase is pretty good but the highlight is the showdown with Cobra and The Night Slasher.,  Since this is a cheesy 80's action film, it takes place in a factory.  Sly has some good lines and the fight with Thompson is pretty damn good.  It's a fine way to end the film.
  • Not so fine is the god awful song that plays over the end credits.  Just cheese at its worst.
Cobra is pure 80's cheese at its cheesiest.  A cliche ridden script, bad dialogue and acting and mindless violence.  It's quite a thing to watch, provided you have a sense of humor and don't take things too seriously.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)

The third Die Hard film is both better than the second and in a way, worse.  This time out, John McClane is back on his home turf of New York, nursing a hangover when he has to stop a mad bomber with a personal grudge against our hero.  He ends up teaming with a Harlem shopkeeper played by Samuel L. Jackson and a cat and mouse chase through New York ensues.

Die Hard With a Vengeance is a fun, balls to the wall action movie that was initially intended to be a third Lethal Weapon film.  This can still be seen in the buddy film byplay between Willis and Jackson.  They have good chemistry, though the racial angle that comes up here and there feels shoehorned in.  That aside, Willis and Jackson are entertaining as always.

The other big role is Jeremy Irons as Simon Gruber, brother of the late Hans Gruber from the first film.  He's not quite as iconic a villain as the one that Alan Rickman created but he still delivers a solid bit of villainy.  Cool, calculating and always in control, Irons underplays nicely and ends up being quite excellent.

The action is also pretty decent with a good car chase, some nice stunt work throughout and of course, the requisite huge explosions.  The only downer is the last action beat in Canada where John tracks Simon after he makes his escape.  It was changed from a darker ending and while it's nicely spectacular, the change in location doesn't exactly work.

The main problem the film has is also one of the things that makes it stand out.  The wide open location sort of takes away from the claustrophobia that the first film excelled at and the second film managed to get, even with the larger location.    Another issue is the lack of any real high stakes for McClane.  His marriage has fallen apart and really, outside of a fellow cop getting killed there isn't anything genuinely personal for his side of the equation. The film is also fairly predictable which is to be expected with the third film in a franchise.

Die Hard With a Vengeance is a solid, fun action movie that looks even better now given the last two entries in the series.  It's got good performances, decent action and some nice bits of humor.  It's basic, but sometimes that's all you really need.

My Favorite Era: The Thing (1982)

While John Carpenter has made a lot of great movies, probably his best is his 1982 remake of Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World.  Leaning closer to the source novel "Who Goes There?", Carpenter crafted a tense, gory, masterful piece of film making that still holds up today as one of the finest horror films ever made.  Great cast, great f/x, great everything.

The plot is more or less the same with an American research base in the Arctic falling prey to a mysterious alien threat.,  Rather than a six-foot-eight carrot played by James Arness, here the threat is a shape shifting creature that can mimic anybody perfectly.   It's a wonderful plot device as Carpenter is able to generate tremendous amounts of suspense simply by not letting on who is really human and who is the alien until it's too late.  At that point, he lets Rob Bottin off his meds and the f/x blow your mind.

Bottin's f/x are simply amazing and still hold up today.  He gives us slimy creatures, whipping tentacles and fused together monstrosities that are utterly, repulsively horrifying.  Stan "Winston also chips in with an f/x sequence revolving around the base's dogs that is just awesome.  It's not often that the f/x work in a 32 year old movie hold up this well.  It certainly helps that the film was made right in the middle of the boom in practical makeup f/x and managed to snag not one but two of the best in the business.

The cast is also uniformly excellent with Kurt Russell standing out, naturally with his huge beard and cowboy hat.  Mix in a distinctly laconic attitude and you get one of his best roles.  MacReady is one of his great acting creations.  The rest of the cast is solid too with Richard Dysart's doctor and Keith David making a good impression.  Wilford Brimley is also fun in his role.

The other star of the film is the camera work from Dean Cundey.  Always one of the best in his field, he makes the camera pov shots almost a character in themselves.  Carpenter always excels at long tracking shots and he uses them here to spectacular effect.  There is one shot with the infected dog that starts the whole mess that is just great.

The Thing is Carpenter's crowning cinematic achievement.  Tense, well acted, well shot with a nicely sparse score from Ennio Morricone and scary as hell, it is possibly the best remake of all time to say nothing of one of the best horror films ever made.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Favorite Era: Licence to Kill (1989)

Timothy Dalton's second, and sadly last outing as James Bond is a bit of a departure for the series as they tried going a somewhat darker route than they had before.  This time, 007 is going rogue after his friend Felix Leiter is maimed by a shark on orders from drug kingpin Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi).  He teams with a former CIA pilot and the resulting film is a blend of traditional Bond and some of the stuff that was coming out around the time.  Still trying to stick to the formula while also trying to be a little different, the end result is an uneven, yet mostly entertaining revenge thriller.  Let's take a closer look.
  • The film came out in the jam-packed summer of 1989 where it was soundly stomped by the likes of Lethal Weapon 2 and Batman.  Hell, I think even Star Trek V did better.  It's a shame, really, as while the film does have flaws it deserved better than it got.
  • Part of the problem was the rather crummy ad campaign.  The trailers were alright and the teaser poster was nice but the final poster looked bland and unfinished.
  • Dig the Michael Kamen score, especially his take on the gunbarrel logo music.  If nothing else, it gives the film a slightly different vibe at the start.
  • The pre-title scene is pretty damn great with a nice intro to all the primary players and a spectacular bit of stunt work as Bond snags Sanchez's plane as he tries to escape American airspace.
  • Robert Davi has always been a reliable cinematic villain but here he truly outdoes himself.  His first scene has him casually ordering his henchmen to cut out the heart of the guy his girlfriend Lupe (Talisa Soto) has run off with and proceeds to beat her with a whip made from the tail of a stingray.  Probably a good thing we start him off like this since he also proves to be one of the more charismatic Bond villains in the series.  I especially like how at the end of the day, money just doesn't matter all that much to the guy.  Loyalty does.  It's a real treat for action movie fans.  Now if only we could get Lance Henriksen as a Bond villain...
  • On a lighter note, I get a chuckle out of David Hedison as Felix here.  Not only is he the first actor to play Leiter twice (Jeffrey Wright would do this with the first two Daniel Craig films), but he also looks oddly like Regis Philbin from certain angles.  And as luck would have it, director John Glen and his crew manage to find every single one of them.
  • Gladys Knight delivers a nice main title tune.
  • Just a great assortment of character actors in this film: Everett McGill as a traitorous DEA guy; Frank McCrae as Sharkey, a friend of Bond and Leiter who of course ends up dead, Cary Tagawa as a Hong Kong narcotics officer working undercover to nail Sanchez who runs afoul of Bond and his roaring rampage of revenge and noted crap actor Christopher Neame appears as an MI6 agent sent to bring Bond back after he has gone rogue.  He fails.
  • The stuff with the wedding party is pretty good, though the longer it goes the more you just know something bad is going to happen.
  • The scene with Sanchez being loaded into the transport van features one of my favorite bits of unintentional humor in the series.  As our villain is being loaded up, naturally a flock of reporters are doing their thing,.  One guy off screen asks, and I swear I am not making this up, "Are you really Colombian?"  Now this is funny on two levels.  First off, he's actually from the fictional country of Isthmus (because using Val Verde would have pissed off Joel Silver) but more than that, I can totally see some dipshit reporter throwing that question out for real.  It's a small thing but it still kills me every time I hear it.
  • As good as Davi is, his henchmen are equally solid.  Benicio del Toro is quite creepy if somewhat underused as Dario, the main guy and Anthony Zerbe is decent as Krest, the man running Sanchez's drug smuggling operation in Florida.  Don Stroud and Anthony Starke are also pretty acceptable as Sanchez's chief of security and financial adviser respectively.
  • I find it ironic that the other Bond film Hedison was in was Live and Let Die in which the opportunity to feed a character to a shark was brutally wasted.  He's back here and indeed, this time the shark gets to eat.  He still lives somehow, God knows how.  Maybe it's due to hanging out with Bond.  Maybe 007's resiliency is contagious.
  • In the DVD cut I used for this, there is a little more gore here and there.  We see Leiter lose his leg, there is a nicely gruesome exploding head later on and Sanchez's death is a little more protracted.
  • Dalton does quite well as Bond here, showing a little more desperation and rage than normal.  He walks a fine line here as while he needs to be sort off balance as far as the character goes, he can't let it get to a point where it stops being James Bond.  Apart from a few bits here and there, he pulls it off just fine.  Damn shame this was his last outins as the character.
  • This is one of the problems the film has.  It wants to be something a little harder but it also wants to still be the comfort food it has been since the seventies.
  • A prime example of this is having Q show up about an hour in and stick around till the end.  For the most part, the film does a good job of cutting Bond off from his usual resources.  Granted he does give Bond a signature gun that only he can use but it really doesn't factor in much.
  • Having Q around doesn't cripple the film but is does make things a little more comfortable than they need to be.  This is 007 on the rampage, more or less disavowed.  If you're going for something edgy, tossing in something comforting and familiar sort of defeats the purpose.
  • The sequence with Bond sneaking onto Krest's boat, getting Lupe on his side (not that hard, really) and ends up disrupting a drug smuggling deal by stealing the money Krest is supposed to get for his boss is one of the best action beats in the film.  Well-scored, nicely shot and wonderfully staged.  It's a real knockout which is good since apart from a few things here and there it's all the real action we will get for a while.
  • Carey Lowell is fairly good as Pam, the main Bond Girl.  She's tough and the film is wise not to overplay it like Die Another Day did.  There is one moment that doesn't work at all though.  Late in the film, Lupe goes to tell Pam and Q that Bond needs help.  This is after she and Bond have slept together and Pam gets jealous.  It's an oddly out of character moment and really should have been cut.
  • The bar fight that occurs after she and Bond meet is good though.
  • A good portion of the second hour is given to Bond setting Sanchez up by getting close to him and making him turn on his own men.  This works best in the case of Krest who Bond  implicates in the loss of the money Bond stole.  It's a nicely crafty bit of work on Bond's part and it results in the aforementioned exploding head.
  • Making it even better is that you can totally see how Sanchez could be convinced of this.  Krest's guys are, to be blunt, morons.  Contrasty that with the usual bunch who Sanchez employs who come off as professionally competent, if not exactly rocket scientists.  It works.
  •  The stuff with Cary Tagawa and his partners is okay, though it does sort of feel like the filmmakers realized it had been a while since there had been an action scene.  It does manage to get Bond to focus a little bit and go about destroying Sanchez using the man himself.
  • Wayne Newton as a phony televangelist type is an interesting, though at the end of the day unnecessary bit of casting.  Really, the only reason he's there is so his temple can serve as the obligatory huge set that gets blown to hell at the end of the movie.  See what I mean by the film wanting to have its cake and eat it too?
  • This is really the big problem the film has as its desire to be both conventional and unconventional result in a bit of tonal dissonance that does detract from the overall enjoyment of the film.  It's fine when it tries to be a gritty, smash mouth revenge movie but it also keeps going back to the Bond formula.  It's rather frustrating since the unconventional approach works nicely and would be improved on when Daniel Craig took the role.
  •  As much of a disappointment as it is when the film goes back to the formula, I do have to say few things make me smile in a movie quite like Bond suddenly springing into action to kick off the last round of action in whatever entry in the series I'm watching.  The stuff in the huge base is okay but the real highlight is the tanker truck chase that ends the movie.  It's a wonderfully done bit of action that pays off quite nicely with a fiery death for Sanchez.
The 16th Bond film is an uneven, yet adequately entertaining action movie.  Dalton and the rest of the cast do fine and the action is good but the script is wishy-washy and at times, the film seems to want to be two things at once.  It's not the best in the series, but it's far from the worst.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Favorite Era: In the Line of Fire (1993)

I had a hell of a time deciding which Eastwood film to cover for this series.  He made lots of films between 1975 and 1994 but to be honest, not too many of them are ones about which I have a hell of a lot to say. Coming hot on the heels of his Oscar winning triumph with Unforgiven (unless I'm mistaken, I did a victory lap around the living room when that happened), Clint was back with a new thriller.  In the Line of Fire stars Clint as Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, a cranky veteran agent haunted by his failure to save JFK in Dallas.

He gets a shot at redemption thirty years later when deranged former CIA killer Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) threatens the current president, specifically contacting Frank and more or less daring him to stop his assassination attempt.

Frank is more than up to the challenge (it is Clint after all) but to his credit, Eastwood does show his age in places.  It's a great, white-knuckle thriller from director Wolfgang Petersen with a top notch cast, good script, a typically great score from Ennio Morricone and some classic Eastwood moments.  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, I absolutely love the teaser trailer for the movie.  Ominous, intriguing and finally triumphant as Clint is seen slamming a phone down, grabbing a gun and growling a line at the camera.  A really great action film trailer should, ideally, get you to stand up and cheer when it's done.  This one does.
  • The film starts off with a classic Eastwood scenario: Frank is breaking in a new partner (played by Dylan McDermott, the only time I've ever really liked him in a film or TV show) and he ends up shooting a few bad guys.  In the case of this film, he's busting a counterfeit money operation run by character actor Tobin Bell.  Funnily enough, Bell was a bad guy in another summer 1993 release, The tom Cruise flick The Firm.  Shame he wasn't the one-armed man in The Fugitive, he could have had a trifecta!
  • The supporting cast is quite good.  Malkovich is a great villain, Rene Russo is fun as Lily, Frank's field chief and eventual love interest and Fred Dalton Thompson and John Mahoney have some good moments as the jerky White House Chief of Staff and Frank's boss respectively.
  • The film plays around with revealing Malkovich quite nicely.  He's usually in some sort of disguise and most of his scenes with Frank are done over the phone.  This was really the heyday of the reliable "Good guy and bad guy taunt each other over the phone/radio" trope.
  • As good as Malkovich is (he didn't get an Oscar nomination for nothing), the real standout is Eastwood himself.  He does all the usual tough guy stuff you expect from him but we also get to see him be a little more human than usual.  He's haunted by the past which Clint ably underplays and at one point he gets a nicely emotional speech as he recounts what happened in 1963.  It's a really, really good performance from the man.
  • The majority of the film is a nicely low key, yet still thrilling cat and mouse game between Frank and Leary.  The phone calls are well played and Malkovich actually underplays for the most part until the last one where he begins to lose it.  The finale in the elevator after Frank takes a bullet for the president is also good.
  • There are probably two or three too many scenes of Frank being doubted by various characters but honestly, that has always been par for the course when it comes to Eastwood films and at least he usually comes up with one or two funny lines.
In the Line of Fire was one of many great releases in the summer of 1993.  It's an expertly crafted, wonderfully pout together meat and potatoes thriller with some really good performances, nice bits of action here and there and just an overall high level of quality in every aspect.  It's one of Clint's best.

My Favorite Era: Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke (1978)

Cheech and Chong were one of the more popular comedy teams of the 70's.  With humor that was a blend of music, drug humor and just plain goofiness, they cultivated a loyal cult following in the early part of the decade and by the end, were ready to hit the big screen.

Up in Smoke is essentially plotless for the most part with the two guys hooking up after Chong leaves home and for the most part, they just drive around in Cheech's low rider, getting high and chatting.  Eventually they end up smuggling a van made entirely of pot across the Mexican border and participate in a punk rock contest which they win.  During this, they are relentlessly pursued by Sgt. Stedenko, a very straight-laced anti drug police officer well played by Stacy Keach.

That's pretty much the entire movie and it's a testament to the abilities of the leads and the supporting cast that they make it as funny as it is.  Cheech Marin is always funny and here, his horny stoned guy routine is just funny as hell.  Tommy Chong is good too, making his eternal stoner quite likable due to being just goofy as hell.  Keach is hilarious, as are the guys playing his fellow officers and Tom Skerritt has a funny role as Cheech's cousin who went nuts in Vietnam and sells pot.

Cheech and Chong made several more movies after this but none really hit the highs (no pun intended) of this one.  The characters are likable and funny, the many bizarre predicaments they get into are generally pretty well staged and the natural chemistry they had as a stage act translates quite well to film.  It's not a perfect movie, but it's a damn funny, low admittedly lowbrow one, regardless of your stance on drugs.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987)

The late 80's were an endearingly goofy time for the horror genre.  Most of the big franchises were either chugging along (Nightmare on Elm Street) or beginning to lag a bit (Halloween and Friday the 13th) and gradually, there came to be an influx of direct to video releases.  An offshoot of this was the Heavy Metal horror boom in the latter part of the decade that saw stuff like Trick or Treat and Black Roses getting released... Sometimes to theaters.

One of the worst (in the best way possible) was our subject today, a remarkably cheap and cheesy Canadian horror flick called Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare.  The story, what little there is of it, involves a cheesy hair metal band called The Tritonz that goes out to a secluded house in the middle of nowhere in Toronto to work on new material.  Turns out the house is haunted by demons and one by one they are picked off until a rather incredible twist ending where it turns out... Well, to reveal it this early in the review would be unconscionable.

The film was directed by John Fasano and written by the star, rock musician Jon Mikl Thor.  The team would also gift us with the MST3K target Zombie Nightmare, which is equally cheesy as hell.  Together, they make an endearingly cheap, amazingly cheesy movie that pretty much is, to me at least, the ultimate expression of late 80's crappy low budget horror.

The acting is bad, the characters are folks you really want to see get killed, the f/x are cheap (some of the demons are just finger puppets) and the ending has to be seen to be believed.  It turns out that not only is all the stuff in the house the work the devil, but the front man for the group (played by the hugely muscular writer and star), John Triton is actually the archangel Triton sent to lure Satan out of hiding and the entire band and crew was all an illusion.  The finale is really something to behold as a loud hair metal anthem plays while Triton "fights" a rigid Devil puppet while somebody off screen throws starfish at him.

Yes, that really happens and no, I am not on drugs.

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is the sort of fun, cheesy piece of garbage you would rent on a Friday night and get drunk while watching with your buddies.  Is it good?  Hell no!  But it is fun for all the wrong reasons.  Bad acting, a bizarre twist ending, cheap f/x... If you dig 80's crap, this is one you should seek out.

Friday, February 7, 2014

My Favorite Era: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

The second Conan movie holds a special place in my heart as it's one of the first films I ever got hooked on.  I must have seen this at least ten times when I was a kid.  It's a hell of a lot lighter, cheesier and funny than the original.

The story in a nutshell is this: Conan is enlisted by the evil Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas) to help her niece Jehnna (Olivia D'Abo) retrieve a jewel that will awaken an ancient god called Dagoth in return for bringing his love Valeria (killed in the last film) back to life.  She sends along her personal guard, Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain) to kill Conan so her niece can be sacrificed and they pick up a few more companions along the way.  It's comic book silliness in the best way.

Most folks don't much care for it but I love every cheesy moment of it.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Once again, Arnold is back with Dino DeLaurentiis producing.  They would work together two more times after this: Red Sonja in 1985 (with Arnold in a supporting role) and Raw Deal in 1986.
  • Another great main title theme from Basil Poledouris.
  • Great cheesy 80's cast with Arnold (natch), Grace Jones in her film debut (next year she'd be menacing 007), Sarah Douglas as our main baddie (great in Superman II as well), Wilt Chamberlain does well enough as the obligatory huge henchman and Mako is fun as always as the wizard Akiro.  About the only weak link is Tracey Walter as the comic sidekick, though to be honest he's no worse than the average version of this character.
  • Arnold is considerably more muscular in this one, I guess they wanted him to look more like a comic book character.  They succeeded.
  • One of the main knocks on the film is that they toned down the violence but to be honest, it;s just as bloody as the other film.  Hell, it got a PG rating for crying out loud!  Heads are lopped off, when folks get hit with a sword they explode with gushes of blood, I like to think that the PG-13 rating would have come about even without Gremlins and the second Indiana Jones film coming out the same summer as this.
  • To be fair, it was cut from an R but still, it's pretty damn bloody.
  • It's been said before and it will be said again... But Wilt Chamberlain being assigned to guard a young woman's virginity?  That joke just writes itself!
  • Grace Jones hams it up rather nicely as Zula, the thief who tags along with Conan and company.  She makes quite an impression.
  • Not so great is Olivia D'Abo.  It was her first film, yeah, but the character is a bit on the annoying side.
  • My favorite section of the film is the gang trying to steal the jewel from a wizard played by former wrestler Pat Roach.  Roach played a few bad guys in the first two Indiana Jones films and he's pretty fun here.
  • The bit where he turns into some sort of ape-lizard thing to fight Conan is great.  One of my favorite things from the film as a kid and I still enjoy it today.  It's not the most convincing effect of all time but it still looks cool.
  • Another great bit is Conan's fight with one of Taramis' guards, played by perennial punching bag Sven-Ole Thorsen.  There's a nice bit of sword swinging from Arnold that's just there for show, but still cool.
  • To be honest, from that fight to the start of the climax it's a bit too pacy but there are still some amusing bits.  Arnold playing drunk is always fun... Actually that's about it but still!
  • After they get the horn to reawaken Dagoth (why the hell would anybody think waking up an ancient god is a good thing?), Bombaata quickly shows his true colors and makes off with Jehnna.  There's a nice fight with some bad guys and the climax is suitably entertaining.
  • Once Dagoth is awakened, he is played by another wrestler, the legendary Andre the Giant.  The suit used for the monster is pretty cool and it gets great coverage.  The fight with Conan is pretty neat too.  How can you not dig a fight that sees Arnold Schwarzenegger essentially beat the crap out of a Lovecraftian god?
 The second Conan movie is a step down from the first but it is still a fun, entertaining romp.  Good cast, decent pace and some nice, though cheesy f/x.  It's not great or anything, but it's still damn fun.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Favorite Era: Demolition Man (1993)

1993 was a very good one for Sylvester Stallone as he started it off with the summer release of Cliffhanger and ended it with Demolition Man in October.  Demolition Man is a cheerfully violent, funny action/sci-fi movie about John Spartan (Sly) a tough cop in futuristic 1996 who is hell bent on taking down master criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes).

Things go badly and he ends up being pout into a cryo-prison along with Phoenix where they stay until the year 2032 when Phoenix gets loose and Spartan is thawed out so he can deal with the villain.  That's only scratching the surface, however as the future is hilariously lame, Spartan must deal with overly enthusiastic partner Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) and of course, there is a very good reason Phoenix was able to escape from prison.

Just about everything in this movie works on some level or another.   Stallone and Snipes are solid as hero and villain respectively; Bullock is cute as always and the rest of the supporting cast is good with Nigel Hawthorne standing out as Cocteau, the man behind the 2032 Los Angeles, now christened San Angeles with a uber-politically correct bent.  Naturally, he's a bad guy (though really more misguided) who has thawed out Phoenix so he can eliminate a group of dissenters.

Really, the only weak link is Denis Leary as Edgar Friendly, a revel who just wants to be able to enjoy himself.  Leary pretty much just has his comedy routine as dialogue and while he's a very funny guy, he doesn't exactly have a hell of a lot to do.

The world of 2032 is the source of much of the film's humor as Taco Bell is the only restaurant around; swearing is monitored by machines that issue fines and everything has been sanitized to the point where even the police are about as useful as a broken rubber and as dull as a beige room.

Once our ambulatory ice cubes are thawed, the film slams headlong into a series of great action set pieces and funny bits as Spartan tries to adjust to his new surroundings.  It's mostly shootouts but in pretty much every single one, Stallone and Snipes are throwing lines at each other which makes things a little more entertaining.  Especially good is the huge finale between Spartan and Phoenix in the cryo-prison.

Demolition Man is one of the better Joel Silver productions of the 90's with a clever, funny script, some good action and a nicely over the top turn from Snipes.  It's sort of dumb in places and to be honest, the future of 2032 can get a little grating at times but it all comes together to make a fun, escapist action movie.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Favorite Era: Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987)

By 1987, Eddie Murphy was the king of comedy.  With all the success he was having, he decided to go back to his standup roots with Raw, his first standup concert since 1983's classic DeliriousRaw is just that, 90 minutes of just blistering profanity as Murphy tackles fame, women and childhood.

Murphy starts off strongly with impressions of Bill Cosby calling to chastise him for his act which he follows up with an impression of call he made to Richard Pryor afterwards.  He continues the Pryor stuff while talking about his comedic influences and it has to be said, the first twenty minutes or so are pure gold.

The middle section is given over to women and relationships and it is here where the act falters a little.  The material is fine and the delivery is good but the overall effect is not quite as funny as it should be.  The rest of the show is better though as Murphy goes into some stuff on Italian-Americans who go to see Rocky and go nuts, finishing up with some funny stuff on his childhood.

From the huge burger his mom makes him to a nice callback to the previous show where he impersonates his drunken father, the last third of the show is damn funny.  The film a whole isn't as good as Delirious (though it's sort of like comparing Casino to Goodfellas to be fair) but it's got plenty of laughs and is a fine example of Murphy at the peak of his comedic powers.

My Favorite Era: Speed (1994)

If Con Air is one of the more over the top Die Hard scenarios, Speed might just be one of the more subdued.  Oh, it's gleefully silly and over the top in places but for the most part, it's a more than reasonable premise.  Keanu Reeves plays ace LAPD cop Jack Traven who ends up having to stop mad bomber Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) from blowing up a bus.  This is standard enough but the genius is in the details.  The bus is rigged to arm once it reaches 50 mph.  Once it gets past 50 it can't drop below that or it will explode.  It's a wonderfully simple, yet utterly diabolical plan and I have to say that this is the rare action movie that has a very well thought out and constructed screenplay.

The film is expertly directed by cinematographer Jan de Bont who made his debut here and he not only keeps the tension going for pretty much the whole film, but he also gets good performances from Reeves and Hopper as well as Sandra Bullock as Annie, an innocent bystander who ends up having to drive the bus after the driver is shot.  Jeff Daniels and Joe Morton also lend solid support in their roles as Jacks partner and commanding officer respectively.

The film uses the three act structure in a quite clever manner, giving us three different scenarios.  First act has an elevator rigged to blow which introduces us to Jack and Payne.  Act two is the bus stuff and the last part of third act has Payne trying to get away on the subway.  Everything flows together seamlessly for the most part (this isn't the sort of movie where it pays to over think things) and as I said, the tension is kept steady throughout.

Speed was one of the surprise hits of the summer of 1994.  Keanu Reeves makes for a solid action hero (the trick is to make his character stoic, then he can act just fine), Dennis Hopper is great as always and Sandra Bullock is simply irresistible.  The stunt work is great too with some real heart stopping bits like the bus leaping a gap in a freeway.  All in all, Speed is one of the best action films of the 90's.  Fast, funny and impeccably put together.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Con Air (1997)

The summer of 1997 was a good one for me.  I was getting set for college, life was good and there was an abundance of great/cheesy action movies to see in theaters.  Our subject today is one I saw not just once, but twice... Because I have good taste.

Con Air is essentially another riff on Die Hard only with the volume and adrenaline level jacked up to insane levels as a parolee on his way to see his wife and daughter has to save the day after the transport plane he is on is hijacked by the most violent criminals in history.  Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Nicolas Cage (plus virtually every other popular character actor from the mid to late 90's), it is a hilariously over the top, delirious joy ride that straddles the line between just plain bad and so bad it's simply awesome.  We'll be going a little more in depth here, so let's take a closer look.  And buckle up.
  • We get a good idea of what we're in for right off the bat with Trevor Rabin's... Interesting score.  Most of it sounds like a blend of synth riffs, electric guitar and just a touch of what it must sound like when a guy in a suit of armor begins to chafe.  Add the Trisha Yearwood song to that and you can make an easy case for me being a complete dumbass for buying the soundtrack when it came out.
  • In the first few minutes, we are introduced to our gallant hero for the evening.  Cameron Poe (Cage) is an Army Ranger who has just finished up his tour and is coming home to his pregnant wife.  Cage's voice really has to be heard to be believed.  I've heard actual folks from the South talk and none of them ever sounded like Cage does here.  Granted, I have never gotten hammered with someone from that region so it is entirely possible Nic did his research over a bottle of Wild  Turkey with some friends.
  • This is also the role that sealed Cage's fate as an action hero.  Sure, he did The Rock before this but the double whammy of Con Air and Face/Off, released within a few weeks of each other no less, guaranteed he would get many more action roles.  I actually have to give him credit though, winning an Oscar and upon essentially being given carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wanted, deciding "I want to be an action hero!"  I gotta give the guy credit for that.
  • The way Poe ends up prison is just hilariously stupid.  Not the bar fight where he accidentally kills a guy, no.  I'm talking the aftermath where an open and shut self-defense case gets shot to hell by some bad advice from a lawyer and maybe the stupidest judge in film history.  The end result is a 7-10 year sentence and we have our setup, folks!
  • The opening credits are a enjoyably maudlin affair as Poe gets and sends letters to his daughter while bulking up and letting his hair grow out.  Fun fact: when you let Nicolas Cage grow his hair out and stop shaving for a week while putting him in the gym, the end result is a jacked-up, southern-fried Jesus.  It's a little weird to see, really.  Funny as hell, though.
  • The film has a few things working in its favor:  First off is the hilariously great cast.  Cage is fun as usual.  Besides looking and sounding hilarious, he does well enough in the action scenes though it is rather odd to see essentially Jesus beating the crap out of cons and running from explosions.  And by odd, I mean awesome.  Best of all is Poe stalking down the plane towards the cockpit, tossing cons around like he's The Hulk and shrugging off a bullet wound like its nothing.
  • John Malkovich is pretty solid as main villain Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom.  Really more of a comic book villain than actually scary (in fact, most of the main baddies have cheesy nicknames and over the top backstories), Malkovich hams it up quite nicely.
  • The rest of the villains are fairly solid with Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi standing out.  Buscemi in particular is entertaining as he is supposed to be one of the most deranged serial killers of all time... Which he pulls off by underplaying it.  It's pretty good, actually and if this wasn't a big, stupid, cheesy action movie he'd be right at home in a thriller, probably chasing Ashley Judd given the time in which the film was made.
  • On a side note, is there any film with Ashley Judd in it released between 1997 and 2002 where she's not being menaced in some way?  My guess would be it's a short list.
  • On the side of right and virtue, we have John Cusack in full-on "I'm doing this big action movie to finance a smaller project" mode as a U.S. Marshal and Colm Meaney as a jerky DEA agent who has a guy on the inside.  Naturally, said inside man ends up being exposed and killed and Meaney gets all gung-ho about killing the entire plane, non-deranged psychos included.  Both are solid and Cusack in particular is quite funny.  Rachel Ticotin is also on hand as a prison guard who Danny Trejo's deranged rapist character has eyes on.
  • The other thing the film has going for it is just how brutally cliched is is.  Yes, that is a positive since it pretty much lets the story tell itself while the cast has a good time.  We get everything but the kitchen sink with the standard best friend of the hero whose life is in danger; the pretty guard who needs to be saved, the usual sort of byplay between the good guys and bad guys in any respectable Die Hard situation and of course, the slick stylized action one expects from a movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.  Simon West also does pretty well for himself here, making his directorial debut.  He's do even better work in The Expendables 2.  In fact his work here is one of the things that made me positive about that project.
  •  The film is also smart enough to keep things light for the most part, never letting things get too dark.  It really is a comic book action movie in the best way.
  • Action is pretty standard with the usual fist fights, shootouts and over the top stunts.  Best of all is the plane crash landing on the Las Vegas Strip.  It's a nicely overblown sequence, though it probably should have ended the film.  The last little action scene where Poe and Larkin go after Cyrus and two other cons is okay with a nicely overdone death for Cyrus.  First he's handcuffed to a fire truck ladder... Then the truck crashes through a glass walkway, sending Cyrus over a long drop into an industrial area where he lands on a conveyor belt.  Then a pneumatic pounder.
Con Air takes the standard 80's action movie and gives it a nice 90's polish.  It's loud, stupid and cheesy but damn it's a fun ride.

About Me

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