Friday, February 26, 2010

CON AIR (1997) - 3/5 stars

Con Air 1
Release: 1997
Director: Simon West
Writer: Scott Rosenberg
Cast: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo
Soundtrack: Mark Mancini, Trevor Rabin
Claim to fame: Die Hard on a plane, Nicolas Cage with long hair, "Put the bunny...back in the box"
Rating: 3/5 stars

"Dear Hummingbird, break out the fine china, chill the lemonade, tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree...cause this boy's comin' home to his ladies, comin' home forever."

A man no less than James Lipton once said that Nicolas Cage owned the summers of 1996 ("The Rock") and 1997 ("Con Air," "Face/Off"). With all due respect to Mr. Lipton...he's never been more right.

Con Air 6

And so it begins

"Con Air" moves along at a breakneck speed and with a clear sense of confidence, a confidence that comes largely from the script and music. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg knew he'd happened upon a one in a million premise for an action movie, even if it's basically just "Die Hard on a plane" (which is technically what "Executive Decision" and "Air Force One" are as well, but "Con Air" blows them away). So he peppered his script with some outrageous one-liners and a bevy of memorable character parts.

Con Air 3

John Malkovich rarely needs an excuse to ham it up

The casting director filled those roles out beautifully with guys like John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo ("Machete"), M.C. Gainey (TV's "Lost"), and even a cameo by Major Briggs (Don S. Davis) from "Twin Peaks." Malkovich in particular is damn scary, looking considerably beefed up for the role. I think the guy normally weighs about 120lbs sopping wet but in "Con Air" he comes across as an able killer - a good match for Nic Cage's ex-Army Ranger.

Then you've got the soundtrack by Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin, which is this loud rock grind with soaring guitar solos and poignant acoustic arpeggios that would make even Hans Zimmer ("The Rock," "Crimson Tide") blush.

Con Air 2

So handsome, you just want to take his

Seeing as how director Simon West had little experience outside the realm of commercials and music videos (he later on to direct the "Gone in 60 Seconds" remake and, blagh, the first "Tomb Raider" movie), it's not a surprise he directs and edits the whole thing like a music video. With this music, this plot, and a surprisingly ripped Nicolas Cage leaping from explosions in slow motion, his long hair billowing in the wind - what else can you do?!

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Wait, is it just me...

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or does Nic Cage keep getting closer in these pictures?

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And despite a bloated 115 minute run time, it works. It works until we get to the tacked on fourth act, where the editing becomes increasingly frantic - perhaps from a lack of coverage? - and Simon West makes the Vegas strip look like a Joel Schumacher movie (then again, maybe it does - I've never been there).

Then again, this ridiculous sequence goes by so fast that it's difficult to say it detracts from "Con Air" all that much. I mean, "Con Air" itself is ridiculous: it's pure, unfiltered Bruckheimer cheese, scored and scripted to the hilt, with Nic Cage delivering the most bizarre psuedo-Southern accent I've heard. Just embrace it!

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"This is a wifebeater! And for me it's a symbol of my individuality, and my personal freedom."

This was Jerry Bruckheimer's first big production without his former partner Don S. Simpson, who sadly passed away in 1996. Although "Con Air" more or less follows the formula set forth by "The Rock" (Nic Cage, big explosions, exaltation of the military, and endless oneliners), its success guaranteed that the Bruckheimer hit machine would keep rolling on. Bruckheimer has maintained a successful working relationship with Mr. Cage (see: "National Treasure" series, the upcoming "Sorcerer's Apprentice"), an unlikely alliance if there ever was one, but it makes sense when you consider that Bruckheimer has given Cage the opportunity to play all sorts of different characters in the setting of big-budget studio movies.

For my money, Cage's two best performances in action flicks have been "Con Air" and "Face/Off" (the latter not a Bruckheimer flick), largely because these are the two where he really immerses himself in the role. Say what you want about his Southern-fried take on the role but Cage has definitely never played a character like this before (or since).

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John Malkovich: "Don't you ever judge me."

Most of the fun of "Con Air" is how the editing is completely in sync with the heavy rock grind of the soundtrack, creating this fist-pumping "What do you think I'm gonna do? I'm gonna save the fuckin' day" level of excitement that rarely lets up. It's a six-pack of your favorite beer in the form of a movie. The oneliners are near-constant, you've got the unlikely pairing of Nicolas Cage and John Cusack (two 80's icons in their own ways), and Bruckheimer throws a ton of money onscreen so everything blows up real good.

The merits of director Simon West's filmography are certainly debatable but with "Con Air" he did the right thing by not thinking too hard. Set up the camera, set off an explosion, and let Nicolas Cage leap right at the camera in a dirty wifebeater. CUT!

Con Air 4

If it feels this good, it can't be wrong

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ONG BAK 2: THE BEGINNING (2008) - 4/5 stars

Ong Bak 1
Release: 2008
Director: Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai
Writer: Ek Iemchuen, Nonthakorn Thaweesuk, Tony Jaa, Panna Rittikrai
Cast: Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Nirut Sirichanya, Santisuk Promsiri
Soundtrack: Terdsak Janpan
Claim to fame: The latest martial arts masterpiece from international superstar Tony Jaa, and a very troubled production
Rating: 4/5 stars

Put yourself in Tony Jaa's shoes for a minute. With just two movies under his belt, he's become an international superstar - loved by millions of fans around the world and hailed as the next Jackie Chan AND Jet Li. The level of his stuntwork and fight choreography is literally unrivaled in the world at the moment. After the insane action spectacle of "The Protector" (US title), Jaa had the unenviable task of trying to top himself at his own game. That kind of pressure is bound to get to anybody, and during the filming of "Ong Bak 2," Jaa had something of a meltdown and disappeared into the Thai jungle for a month to do some soul-searching.

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Tony Jaa trains tirelessly with his stunt team to get each punch and kick just right for the cameras

Of course, you can't just walk off the set of a movie that you're the director and star of, not to mention one that a studio has already poured a ton of money into. The studio balked at the thought of losing their investment on "Ong Bak 2" and, perhaps wisely, brought in Tony Jaa's mentor and friend, Panna Rittikrai, to try and piece together what footage was already shot and come up with a genuine movie.

I explain all this because "Ong Bak 2" ends with a big fat "TO BE CONTINUED…" and since I didn't know that the first time I watched it, I was left disappointed. But once I put things in perspective and empathized with Tony Jaa (not hard to do cause I love the man), I was able to watch "Ong Bak 2" again and appreciate it for what it is - basically one part of a larger movie that's been cut in half due to budget concerns and Tony Jaa's mental health.

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Right away you can tell the production values are much more lavish

than Tony Jaa's previous movies

"Ong Bak 2" is a prequel to the first "Ong Bak," but it requires no knowledge of that movie. Contrary to Jaa's previous films, this movie takes place in the distant past. Whereas "Ong Bak" and "The Protector" were modern updates on the urban, stunt-filled action flicks that Jackie Chan made his bread & butter during the 80's ("Police Story," "Rumble in the Bronx"), "Ong Bak 2" harkens back to the days of the Shaw Brothers and the "5 Deadly Venoms."

Jaa doesn't leap off any tall buildings or anything like that, but he does get to show off various fighting techniques, such as Drunken Boxing (in an homage to Jackie Chan's "The Drunken Master"), and a mastery of several different weapons, including a sword and nunchucks.

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Expect to see Tony Jaa put the hurt down in several different ways

The film is set in a time of great strife for Thailand, when warlords were looking to carve up as much territory as possible, not caring what innocent people got in their way. Tony Jaa plays a boy-prince who tried to escape the conflict but instead was forced to train in the martial arts in order to get revenge for the murder of his parents. The story is told through frequent flashbacks, with a child actor who looks very much like Tony Jaa. The flashbacks come seemingly at random and some viewers might find the storytelling to be disjointed.

Overall it's a simple but effective story that's been told before, but don't be surprised if it doesn't exactly gel until you get in a second viewing. Keep in mind that there was footage shot for "Ong Bak 2" that we won't even see until "Ong Bak 3," so characters appear at random, seem important, and then disappear, leaving the viewer to scratch their head "Huh?" I'm sure all will be explained in the sequel.

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Is there any way I can get abs like this without working out everyday?

No? Hrrm. Oh well.

Sure, that might sound like a cop-out. But let's put it this way. You watch a Fred Astaire movie to see Fred Astaire dance. You watch a Tony Jaa movie to see Tony Jaa's incredible physical prowess and unrivaled fight choreography. On that front, "Ong Bak 2" delivers in spades. The movie is 90 minutes that fly right by and feature plenty of excellent fight scenes.

Tony Jaa's drunken brawl in a crowded slave market is a real standout, as is the ending fight that seems to go on and on…and on and on…in the best way possible, with dozens of guys dressed as ninjas throwing themselves at Tony Jaa, only to be utterly decimated by his flying knees and elbows.

Ong Bak 2

Even drunk off his ass, Tony Jaa can still kick yours

Further proving that other countries are superior to Hollywood, "Ong Bak 2" features a ton of cool scenes with animals, like a killer crocodile that tries to chomp down on young Tony Jaa and the stampede of elephants that Tony Jaa tames by literally *running on top of their backs*. Later on Tony incorporates an elephant into a fight scene by jumping off its tusks to knee some fool in the face. Where else are you going to see stuff like that?

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Tony Jaa - terrific fighter AND king of the beasts!

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You will believe a man can an elephant's tusk and knee you in the face

Fortunately for us fans, "Ong Bak 2" was a smash success in Thailand, if not in America, so production started right away on "Ong Bak 3." It will be released in Thailand in April 2010. Hopefully that means we'll see (region free, English-subbed, please?) DVDs of the film available online by the end of the summer.

Panna Rittikrai has promised we'll find out who the mysterious crow-fighter is, why Tony Jaa is glimpsed with a beard at the end of the movie, what the film's connections to the original "Ong Bak" are, AND whether or not Jaa's character will finally get revenge for the deaths of his family. Until then we've got this kinda finished, kinda not, movie called "Ong Bak 2." But with action sequences this kinetic and this plentiful, it's hard to complain.

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Tony - keep doing what you're doing! We love you, man!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

OUTLAND (1981) - 3/5 stars

Outland 1
Director: Peter Hyams
Writer: Peter Hyams
Cast: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James Sikking, Kika Markham, Clarke Peters, Steve Berkoff
Soundtrack: Jerry Goldsmith
Claim to fame: Sean spaaaaace
Rating: 3/5 stars

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to The Connery Factor. You may already be familiar with it: it's the cinematic law that states that the presence of Sir Sean Connery will make any movie good, or at least watchable. It's in full effect here with "Outland" (see also: "The Rock"). The only movie it didn't work on was "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" but that flick was so bad it basically forced Connery to retire from acting, so that kinda nulls it out.

Outland 3

Don't #$&% with Connery...especially in zero gravity

Anyway, back to "Outland": some men are so manly that you can take them on land (train sequence in "From Russia With Love"), sea (underwater battle in "Thunderball"), air (the zeppelin ride in "The Last Crusade"), or the farthest reaches of space and they're still bad-ass no matter what their surroundings. Sean Connery is one such man and he's what prevents "Outland" from being just another typical movie for director Peter Hyams.

The film fits rather comfortably in Hyams' ouevre, falling somewhere between the serious-minded science fiction of "2010: The Year We Make Contact" (1984) and the b-movie pleasures of "Time Cop" (1994). Hyams wrote the screenplay himself and while he doesn't exactly have an ear for dialogue, the script is functional. There's even a kitchen fight (with Connery's head perilously close to a bubbling fryer) that recalls a similar fight in Hyams' other Van Damme vehicle, "Sudden Death."

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Millions of women left disappointed that Sean Connery

isn't an item on the menu at McDonalds

Now the opening credits of "Outland" had me worried that this was going to a pretentious "Alien" ripoff - Hyams even roped in Jerry Goldsmith to do the score - but the movie is more of a space Western or "Alien" minus the actual aliens. This smashed my expectations of a film about Sean Connery policing the Mos Eisley cantina from "Star Wars" (which I would still love to see).

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"Outland" actually has some nice looking model work, especially for 1981

But "Outland" succeeds as a classic tale of good vs. indifference. Connery's character is a no-nonsense, genuinely good man who has the occasional bouts of self-doubt but just wants to see that the right thing is done. He's the new marshall on a mining facility full of people who will gladly accept payouts from greedy managers or turn the other way while Connery is shivved in the back. After Connery's wife and child leave him, he's left alone on the station with no one to trust but a tough-skinned female doctor. The two of them discover a plot to smuggle llegal drugs onto the station.

Connery decides to put a stop to things, despite the fact that everyone onboard basically tells him to his face that's he gonna wind up dead for putting his nose where it doesn't belong. The fact that Connery can't simply allow himself to be bribed like everyone else - the notion that he is the one good man on an entire space station of lowlifes - is what really makes "Outland" a compelling watch.

Outland 2

In his Bond movies, Connery always had a quip after he killed someone.

In "Outland," he just blows you away with a shotgun blast and calls it a day.

The production design shares some of the spotlight with Connery; although the film lacks the strong artistic direction of films like "Alien" or "Blade Runner," the sets have the benefit of looking functional and authentic. The barracks in particular are an impressive array of white chainlink fences, uncomfortable-looking cots, and guard rails, through which an exhilarating chase sequence occurs.

Sadly, just when the plot was ramping up I kinda lost interest. Probably because the film turned into Connery in a spacesuit, floating through the void of space, trying to get the drop (literally) on some thugs, and it honestly seemed a little...silly?

Outland 5

Connery dares a facehugger to try and leap onto his helmet. He dares it!

Regardless, you're left with a terse, well-acted (excellent character performances from Peter Boyle and Frances Sternhagen) sci-fi action movie. It's clearly modeled after "High Noon" but there are enough new touches, like a futuristic drug that literally makes you work until you die and some impressive model work on the mining facility, that make it stand on its own. Netflix says the movie is nearly 120 minutes but it didn't feel that long at all. Must be the Connery Factor...

Outland 8

Nothing like a sweaty game of racquetball for Sean Connery

after killing a bunch of no-good perps

Monday, February 22, 2010

SCANNERS (1981) - 5/5 stars

Scanners 1
Release: 1981
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Cast: Stephen Lack, Michael Ironside, Patrick McGoohan, Jennifer O'Neil, Lawrence Dane, Robert A. Silverman
Soundtrack: Howard Shore
Claim to fame: "The movie where that guy's head completely explodes!"
Rating: 5/5 stars

"Scanners" is one of those movies you can watch every few years and it just gets better and better. Way before there was ever a X-Men movie or "The Matrix," this was the premiere science fiction film about two opposing factions with incredible mutant powers, pitted against each other with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. You've even got Patrick McGoohan (of the legendary TV series "The Prisoner") in the Professor X role!

Scanners 4

Just another day at the office for Michael Ironside

David Cronenberg followed up his more sexual, provocative works like "Shivers" and "Rapid" with this sleek thriller that started what was arguably his best decade - the 80's. Cronenberg was able to balance more commercial vehicles like "Dead Zone" and "The Fly" with two of his most shocking and intimate works: "Dead Ringers" and "Videodrome." Caught somewhere between those two modes of filmmaking, "Scanners" mesmerizes with its portrayal of a near-future run by impersonal corporations and shady pharmaceutical companies.

Scanners 9

You might want to think twice about using crystal meth as a weight loss tool

The locations are split between the coldness of austere office buildings and chemical laboratories; and more open, human spaces like a crowded mall or an art gallery. The entire production has this stark, clinical feel to it, the kind that can only come from an 80's Cronenberg film. It's easy to forget how violent "Scanners" is but here in 2010, the blood and viscera still shocks: heads explode, veins pop, humans are immolated by sheer psychic force. The year "Scanners" was made the general public had no idea what an "internet" was, yet protagonist Cameron Vale hacks into a computer system - using his mind! - over a telephone line.

Scanners 5

The sets in "Scanners" are truly mesmerizing

Main actor Stephen Lack is unfairly criticized in many of the reviews at Netflix. You have to realize that his character is supposed to be somewhat blank and child-like; after years of having other people's voices trapped in his head, he's literally thinking for himself for the very first time. A good performance in a genre movie like this is one that carries you through the strange happenings of the story and never once takes you out of the movie; Stephen Lack accomplishes that. I'm sure he acted exactly as he was directed and I doubt Cronenberg would have worked with him again in "Dead Ringers" if he didn't agree.

Of course, Michael Ironside truly dominates this film - this is perhaps his best role as a villain and Ironside clearly relishes the chance to be a terrifying heavy. And I'd be amiss if I didn't mention Howard Shore's magnificent score, which presents an unholy matrimony between 80's synthesizers and a traditional orchestra.

Scanners 6

Way too many people at Netflix are making cracks about Stephen Lack

"lacking" in the acting department. No - he's a good actor!

Due to some bizarre regulations regarding government funding at the time, "Scanners" had to go into production before the script was even completed. Reportedly Cronenberg would work on the screenplay between 4am and 8am and the film crew was actually scouting for locations *during shooting*. Surprisingly, this almost improvised style of filmmaking didn't really hamper the movie itself and any disjointedness actually fits "Scanners'" overall tone.

The only thing that stopped me was how one minute Patrick McGoohan would describe Scanners as "freaks of nature" or "genetic abominations" right to Stephen Lack's face, and the next he'd talk about how they had the potential to usher in a new age of human enlightenment. Gee, that's helpful: expect the mutant anomalies to pull humanity out of the mess they're in at at the same time you're openly prejudiced against them!

Scanners 8

A whole hell of a lot of people spontaneously combust in this movie

A script this economical arguably wouldn't be filmed today: "Scanners" tells the viewer only the bare minimum of what they need to know and even leaves much of that up to interpretation. Exposition is invariably delivered from unreliable characters, whether it's Patrick McGoohan's shady mentor with a dark past or Michael Ironside. Ironside reveals all by the end of the movie - but how much can we trust this guy? He's the main villain and he literally drilled a hole through his forehead to "let the people out" of his skull!

I love how much of the plot is shrouded in doubt. It lets the viewer decide for themselves what's going on and it mirrors the life of a Scanner, always on the run and questioning their allegiances at every turn. Really, "Scanners" is just such a classic for anybody who cares about genre movies and now that it's available on Instant there's no reason not to revisit it.

Scanners 2

Did you really think I could talk about "Scanners" without posting this picture?

Friday, February 19, 2010

TANGO & CASH (1989) - 4/5 stars

Tango & Cash 1
Release: 1989
Director: Andre Konchalovsky
Writer: Randy Feldman
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Teri Hatcher, Brion James, James Hong, Robert Z'Dar
Soundtrack: Harold Faltermeyer
Claim to fame: Four words - Stallone, Russell, shower scene.
Rating: 4/5 stars

Sylvester Stallone's acting in "Tango & Cash" is a lot like the movie itself: it goes so far beyond the stratosphere of bad that it comes out the other side, into something approximating genius. First of all, this flick's title, cover art, and premise would lead you to believe it's based on some cheesy 70's or 80's cop show - not to mention the intensely catchy, ready for primetime main theme. Guess what? IT'S NOT. Huh?!

Let's analyze the plot: Stallone and Kurt Russell play two LA cops who are different as night and day but are forced to get along if they want to catch the bad guys. Wait a minute. Other than the fact that Stallone dresses like a Wall Street hotshot and Russell dresses like a gym rat - these guys are exactly the same. They're both MAVERICK COPS who PLAY BY THEIR OWN RULES. Take notes because is the kind of thinking that has Hollywood in such a rut to this day.

tango & Cash 15

Two good cops...with bad attitudes. Is there enough room in LA for the both of them?

The movie would arguably have been much more compelling if Stallone had, say, embodied a more level-headed, by-the-book, more liberal (if you will) kind of cop, while Russell was the Bronson-esque enforcer of justice who did whatever it takes to get the criminals behind bars. It could have been like a microcosm of the 80's itself, with two wildly different views on law enforcement playing out in a big-budget action spectacle. But no. Considering that Stallone and Russell have both starred in movies that could be construed as wildly fascist ("Cobra" and "Dark Blue" respectively), I suppose that was out of the question the moment they signed on the picture. Okay, so they both gotta be hotshots. We get it.

tango & Cash 2

Would you even trust these guys to valet your car?

I think it's been scientifically proven that "Tango & Cash" has more one-liners per minute than any other movie ever written. Thankfully they're either at least mildly chuckle-worthy or they're so damn awful you just have to groan (at the same time you laugh inside). Russell's rapid fire delivery is particularly impressive and he tends to carry the movie's slower scenes based on his natural, smart-alecky charisma. This is Jack Burton we're talking about, after all.

Stallone…man, I love Stallone but his character in this flick is something else. He plays the most stuck up, prissy, Wall Street Journal-reading cop you could ever imagine. This is the kind of guy who holds his tea cup with his pinky finger sticking straight at you. And he's constantly got some asinine quip to deliver, in that stuck up, self-righteous "I went to Yale and you didn't" kind of tone. It's through the sheer force of Stallone's likable screen presence that this character is even watchable because, on paper, he reads like a total prick.

tango & Cash 5

Try not to giggle every time someone calls Stallone "Mr. Tango"

At one point Stallone's superior questions why Stallone stays on the job when he clearly has enough money to retire. Stallone claims it's all about the action. Thus begins this cringe-inducing exchange:

CAPTAIN SCHROEDER: If you really want to stare death in the eye, you shoulda gotten married.

TANGO: [laughs] Is that a proposal?

It's moments like these that you have to have the right technique. I usually brace my arms out in front of me, fists clenched, and employ yoga-like breathing techniques. That way you're taking the corny lines right into your body and dissipating them throughout your system so you can fully process them and move on. Trust me, it's a life saver.

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"Hey...we're still straight, right?"

Jack Palance is the villain. 1989 was a banner year for Mr. Palance. He played an evil gangster in both "Tango & Cash" and Tim Burton's "Batman." Although "Batman" went on to gross far more money than "Tango," Palance definitely has the better role in this one. He really seems to relish the chance to play a ridiculous , cartoon-y villain. Whenever he appears, he's either sitting in a leather chair, smoking a cigar or he's surrounded by a ton of billowing steam. And he spends the entire movie smacking his lips at every line, as though there's some lingering hickory smoke bar-b-q sauce he's trying to get at. I guess the scenery of "Tango & Cash" must just taste that good.

tango & cash 6

Jack Palance - he never met a movie set he couldn't chew

Palance's go-to guy in this movie is the always-recognizable Brion James. If you've seen a movie, chances are Brion James was in it. No, seriously - he's been in everything: "48 Hours," "Blade Runner," "Silverado," "Red Heat," "The Quick and the Dead," "The Fifth Element." I could go on. Unfortunately, Brion had the bright idea to put on a fake cockney accent for this role and Stallone liked it so much that he rewrote the script and gave Brion a bigger part. So he's in a lot of the movie, with that terrible accent, but at least Stallone has a lot of fun mocking Brion's ponytail.

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Brion James argues with Stallone about who has the worst vocal affectation in the movie

And I would be amiss if I did not mention Robert Z'Dar's role in this movie. You might be asking yourself: Robert who? But Robert Z'Dar has the distinction of appearing in not one but two Mystery Science Theater 300 movies (the classic "Future War" and "Soul Taker"), though he doesn't have many lines in either. He also brought the titular role to life in "Maniac Cop," but Z'Dar was buried under a lot of make-up there.

What's great about "Tango & Cash" is that Z'Dar plays one of the main henchman and has a decent amount of lines. He even gets to tell Stallone he's gonna cut him a new asshole! That, uh, doesn't go over so well for Z'Dar, though. He delivers the line "Out on the streets, this cop and his pig friends/broke my leg, my ribs, and my jaw" like it's some kind of pirate-y, sing-song lyric. And he has the distinction of being the one baddie that Stallone and Russell both punch at the same time.

tango & cash 9

Robert Z'Dar's character is aptly named "The Face" - no joke!

"Tango & Cash" gets even more interesting when you read about how troubled its filming was. See, nobody was happy with the script - but then went ahead and started making the movie anyway. Then Patrick Swayze dropped out of the picture. Yup, that's right, Patrick Swayze was originally cast in the Kurt Russell role. He decided to do "Road House" instead, I kid you not. Which is really for the better - I think Russell is more suited to this kind of role and since Swayze went on to do "Road House" we got two awesomely bad 80's movies for the price of one (and our souls).

Tango & Cash 18

Don't worry, Kurt. Deep down we know you're irreplaceable

And get this: the director Andre Konchalovsky was fired with only a few weeks left in shooting. The reason? He wanted to make the movie more REALISTIC. This went against the will of producer Jon Peters, who is notoriously responsible for the giant mechanical spider in "Wild Wild West" and telling Kevin Smith to throw polar bears in his aborted "Superman" script. Peters wanted this film to be as cartoony and over the top as possible - and it shows.

"Tango & Cash" feels like one of those rare movies that was shot in sequence because, I swear, as the movie goes on it increasingly detaches itself from reality. What starts as your standard buddy cop flick ends with Kurt Russell and Stallone stopping by the LAPD's "Q branch" for some exploding gun boots and the Punisher's battle van. They then proceed to drive straight into the heart of the villain's impregnable fortress and cause all sorts of pyrotechnic mayhem. It's sort of like the neanderthal-American version of a James Bond movie.

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The Punisher's battle van, as seen in the Spider-Man animated series

I mean, there's a shot of Kurt Russell leaping through a black void in a wet tank top, arms outstretched, gritting a leather belt in his teeth. A few minutes later Stallone is shown in the same kind of shot. If that's not *Expressionism*, I don't know what it is.

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The "body sweat" quiotent in this movie is abnormally high

For the sake of action junkies just looking for a little bit of an 80's guilty pleasure, "Tango & Cash" delivers some impressive stuntwork. This movie is in love with people falling from great heights and, more or less, landing on their feet. The entire ending sequence is devoted to monster truck-style mayhem, with huge trucks blown up by missiles and bulldozers threatening to crush our heroes. Speaking of mayhem, you've also got Teri Hatcher performing some kind of dance routine to the classic synth-pop group Yazoo, wearing the most atrocious silver costume you can imagine.

tango & cash 3

Teri Hatcher lays an egg onstage

Later on, she has to smuggle Kurt Russell out of her dance club - while he's dressed in drag.

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Kurt Russell - yeah, that's Kurt - in drag

Yeah, this movie defines the term "guilty pleasure" - and I'm not gonna even TALK about the dual ass shots that Stallone and Russell get…in the same frame…as they walk to a prison shower. Nuh uh. NOT gonna go there, my friends.

tango & cash 4

"Hey, you know, when we stand real still like this, we kinda look like a Gap ad."

POSTNOTE: I just gotta get this out in the open. Growing up, my childhood friend's dad looked just like Stallone in "Tango & Cash." He was a lawyer so he always had the suits on, and in my hazy recollection he had the same Tango-style giant glasses. Granted, he was more of a skinny guy so he didn't have the muscles or the thick neck like Sly but other than that - spitting image, I swear. As a kid, I couldn't walk by the VHS cover of "Tango & Cash" at the video store without thinking: hey, that's my friend's dad!

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My friend's dad

POST-POSTNOTE: Don't be surprised or alarmed if, upon viewing "Tango & Cash," you have a dream or two in which you're wearing a shirt that's completely cut off at the shoulders like Cash does early in the film. Trust me: it's totally normal, totally healthy.

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You know you want this shirt now

And now...some of my


TANGO: Rambo? Rambo's a pussy.

CASH: When this is over, remind to rip Jimbo there's tongue out.

TANGO: With a tow truck.

CASH: I don't know about you but I've got an aversion to being F.U.B.A.R.

TANGO: What's F.U.B.A.R.?

CASH: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

CASH: You want my vote for the psycho hall of fame, asshole? You got it!

CASH: You wanna cut my throat, go ahead. You wanna cut my fuckin' head off and use it for a fuckin' basketball? You can *bowl* with the motherfucker for all I care! Just don't let HIM do it! I don't wanna get killed by this limey, immigrant JERKOFF! I wanna get killed by an AMERICAN jerkoff!

CASH: Well, if it isn't Armani with a badge.

TANGO: When this is over, we'll have to pay Jabba the Hutt here a visit.

CASH: I'll bring a chainsaw.

TANGO: I'll bring the beer.

TANGO: Shame, shame. Don't you know that ponytails are out this year?

TANGO: You really look like shit in a ponytail, you know that?

TANGO: It wouldn't be a party without Mr. Potato Head!

TANGO: Yes, yes! I loved you in Conan the Barbarian!

TANGO: Either this clock's counting backwards or somebody just activated a bomb.

CASH: Yeah, I wonder who!

CASH: You are one mistrustful, maladjusted human-fucking-being, you know that?

TANGO: And I love you too.

TANGO: What is THAT?

CASH: That, is an RV from hell. Care to join me?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

DEATH WISH 3 (1985) - 5/5 stars

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Release: 1985
Director: Michael Winner
Writer: Michael Edmonds
Cast: Charles Bronson, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam, Gavan O'Herlihy
Soundtrack: Jimmy Page
Claim to fame: over-the-top Golan Globus action spectacle with Charles Bronson at dead center, taking on the worst scum New York City has ever seen
Rating: 5/5 stars

"Death Wish 3" accomplishes more in its first twenty minutes than most movies do in their entirety. The opening credits play as Bronson rides a bus back to the city that never sleeps, to music that is credited to Jimmy Page but sounds more like 80's funk crossed with a jazz fusion band. This perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Right away you know you're in good hands.

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A humble beginning for a most over-the-top movie

Once Bronson is relocated to the heart of East New York, this guitar effect is introduced to the soundtrack that seems like something Page would actually write. It's a riff that brings to mind some unknown creature howling in the night and it's used to punctuate sentences in the most awesome way. Bronson goes to a used car lot to pick up some "bait" to lure out a local gang. The salesman seems doubtful. "And how do you plan to pay for this-" "Cash." BRANGGGGGG.

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Fist raised - now you know it's the 80's

In "Death Wish 3," we're introduced to a neighborhood so over-ridden with depraved street gangs that it makes the Gotham City in "Batman '89" look like a nice place to live. If any real city were this devastated by crime, the government would recommend clearing out the few honest citizens (basically just children and the elderly) and nuking what was left. These gangs may resemble the cartoony punks from "The Warriors" but they're some of the sickest creeps you can imagine, from slitting an old lady's throat to raping women in broad daylight. Fortunately, Bronson is prepared to do something about it.

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The main bad guy - don't ask me how but he manages to be as mean as he is ugly

Don't get the wrong idea - Bronson is a simple kind of guy. He likes chicken, ice cream, and stuffed cabbage. He enjoys good conversation with old friends, reminiscing about the war, and the love of an honest woman. But if push comes to shove, he will shove back. And believe me: you don't want to get shoved by Bronson.

'Cause chances are he'll shove your head straight through prison bars. Or shoot you point blank range with a concealed weapon, hit you over the head with a crow bar, blast you away with the kind of bullets that are usually reserved for big game hunts, mow you down with a war-era gatling gun, or reduce you to a few flaming chunks of flesh with a missile launcher. Yeah, Bronson accomplishes all of that - and more - during the course of this movie.

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Rest assured, Bronson's gun will leave a crater in some gang member's back

Bronson is the definition of "speak softly and carry a big stick" and "Death Wish 3" is the definition of cheesy 80's action flick. This movie is legendary for a reason. It's filled with genuinely shocking violence, face-palm inducing lines (like the police chief that keeps calling Bronson "dude"), Bronson's unique charm, and it ends with a wholesale riot in the middle of the ghetto. Cops, biker gangs, street punks, and Bronson engage in the urban war to end all urban wars. It's worth any price of admission to watch it all go down.

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A true friend is one who will feed ammo into your massive war-era machine gun

At this point you might be thinking to yourself: "wait a minute, I thought 'Death Wish' was a serious treatise on urban vigilantism." And you'd be right. But bear in mind: the first "Death Wish" came out in 1974. Part three came out in 1985. One crucial historic event occurred during that span of time. The rise of movie production time Golan-Globus. Golan Globus were single-handedly responsible for some of the most over the top flicks of the 70's and 80's, from Chuck Norris' "Delta Force" series to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2."

The duo were truly a match made in heaven with Bronson. Here you had a soft spoken but steely-eyed action hero with decades of experience in the business, who had already made a name for himself as an ass-kicker in movies like "The Mechanic" and "Mr. Majestyk." What Golan Globus did was pair Bronson up with decent-sized budgets and some truly off-the-wall scripts that fled from any facsimile of reality.

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"You are Bronson"?! If only!

"Death Wish 3" is the first movie where they really perfected that magical elixir of hardcore violence, cheesy one-liners, unintentional comedy, and pyrotechnics. Oh, and don't forget the misogyny. At this point Charles Bronson's character seems caught in some kind of karmic wheel of fate. Anybody he loves or cares about is destined to either die or be beaten within an inch of their life. How many times can a guy lose the woman he loves? Bronson is almost a Greek myth here, like Prometheus who was forced to have his innards eaten by a bird every day. The only way Bronson can find any kind of solace is to dish out punishment to the gangs and hoods that are just asking for it.

And in the case of "Death Wish 3," it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

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The Italian poster for "Death Wish 3" is a work of art