Friday, December 26, 2014

Esoterica IX: Random Randomness Presented Randomly

Some assorted tidbits for your post-holiday enjoyment.

Enjoyable TV movie that saw the return of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno version of The Incredible Hulk to the small screen.  Dr. Banner is back, looking as always for a cure to his rather impressive anger management issues and he ends up teaming with fellow hero Thor to beat up some baddies led by b-movie staples Tim Thomerson and Charles Napier.  It's a little flat (as tends to be the case when you try to do a superhero thing on a TV movie budget) but the stuff with Hulk and Thor is amusing enough to warrant a viewing.

Probably the first really huge major event series for Marvel Comics, this takes a bunch of superheros (Spiderman, The Fantastic Four and a bunch of X-Men and Avengers) and pits them against a bunch of villains on an alien planet.  Great artwork, some cool action and a pretty neat story make Secret Wars an easy pick-up for Marvel fans and fans of epic storytelling in general.

There have been a lot of good Star Wars games but against all odds, this one has ended up being my favorite.  Combining the simple childhood joy of LEGO and the great fun of the original Star Wars trilogy, this is a great looking game with a nice sense of humor, fun action and great controls.  It's just plain fun and really, when you sit down to a video game that's really all you want.  Isn't it?

This Wes Craven-directed sequel is actually quite terrible (a series of flashbacks to the first film are fine but even the dog that survived gets one. WTH?) but for some ungodly reason, I find it entertaining.  A team of young dirt bike riders end up in the desert this time and are menaced by a shockingly still alive Michael Berryman (his character apparently can shake off a snake bite and fall from a cliff which is impressive, I will admit) and the gigantic mutant brother of the main bad guy from the first film who is called only The Reaper.  Craven directs things well enough but his heart isn't in it and it shows.  The climax is rather nice in a 80's "let's just blow stuff up" sort of way and the Final Girl being blind is also an interesting touch.  Still, The Hills Have Eyes Part II is pretty damn bad.

Next up, before we move on to our main course, I'd like to share two rather cheesily wonderful VHS sleeves I came across.

Now granted, Godzilla vs. Megalon is pretty cheesy by itself but this cover makes it even more so.  I especially like that Megalon is ten times more flexible in the front cover than he is in the movie itself.

This one though takes the cake.  Not often you see purported word killer Ghidrah looking that goofy (at least not before getting his contractual curb-stomping from Godzilla at the end of whatever movie he flies into) and I also love the "For kids only" stamp on the front.

And now we finish one of my favorite Stephen King offerings.

The comic book version of Creepshow is a beautifully drawn piece of work that lovingly recreates the movie in comic form.  Stephen King's stories are interpreted fantastically by Berni Wrightson and you can tell just how much both author and artist love the old EC Comics.  Creepshow is one of my favorite horror films and this adaptation is one of my favorite comic books.

Until next time...

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.

About Me

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