Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
Lethal Weapon Bore
The longest of the sequels (and in the series, for that matter) is a labored mess of a log-jam of characters and uninvolving plot. To go from drug-runners to gun-runners in the first three films but now dump Chinese immigrants on us is more than a step-down. My theory is that it was more an excuse to go easy on the audience activity-wise so they could allow for the attention to all the new stars.
To start, Rock is shoehorned into the proceedings to rant his way through an endless mire of blathering scenes that seem inspired by a stand-up act. It's as if Donner or the producers said, "Hey, just riff on cell phones and racism. You're funny!" Then you have Li, who utters maybe ten words and smiles creepily in between looking like a martial-arts video game sprite. Pesci is back to bark his way through F-bombs and excessive intrusion; Russo has maybe three scenes, already discarded for The New Kids.
As far as our heroes, Gibson and Glover, they can't even manage to get into "carried on their charms" mode. It's highly apparent both seem to be too tired to participate. The line about "Too old for this sh**" is not just being spoken by Riggs and Murtaugh, it seems to be coming more from Gibson and Glover. Gibson, once so adept at ad-libbing, can only manage a few of his signature Riggs-isms to dig on others; Glover sticks to his usual perplexed screeches of "Riggs!! Riggs!!"
Of course, these films have always been primarily built around its action montages, but they don't even get that right (for the most part) this go-round. Forty-five minutes between action scenes? No, no, no. After a cartoonishly inexplicable one centered around a flame-spraying wackjob, far too much rambling set-up goes on before Gibson finally breaks into a chase of a potential bad dude. They finally manage an impressive stunt featuring a mobile home roaring down a freeway, but when the lives of the characters have become so drab, it's hard to care.
I must mention the one moment where they accurately reached back to the feel of the earlier films. Without going into huge spoiler territory, I'll just say it involves the guys familiar "We go on three" mantra toward the end of the movie. It almost brought tears because it both provided a valid emotional moment, and one of familiarity from the prior entries dealing with a partnership. But it's far too little to give this installment a pass.
The end credits sequence is a sweet "fourth-wall" breaking to give not just the cast, but the producers (and even the casting director!) some screen time, in obvious anticipation that Riggs and Murtaugh have really turned in their badges for good.
Hate to start a review backward, but I must mention my absolute love of Big Trouble in Little China. Coming from W.D. Richter and hearing of his association with Buck Bonzai, I finally made time to check this one out and see what all the cult fuss was.
So if I like BTILC, I can totally understand a rabid fans loyalty to an overlooked classic. Hence, I won't trash on the Buck Bonzai people who adore this, because it had completely the opposite impression on me. A directionless mash-up of chaotic scenes (mostly chase) that involve a multi-faceted nuerosurgeon, a race of reptilian space crusaders, a troubled woman, and a mad scientist. There's lots of action, and pretty pictures to look at, but most of its ambitions lie in intentionally being incoherent. Like, "Hey, this is kind of oddball, maybe the audience will take it for what it is."
Now, many have. Buck Bonzai is an eccentric mess of indiscriminate themes and antics involving part space opera and half governmental schtick. But its focus changes too often for the goal to be taken seriously. Though I will agree with the diehards that the end credits sequence is one of the most catchy in film history.
odds in favor of Marty fans....
"Goodfellas" takes Vegas sees Scorsese's usual players meandering their way through the expected labyrinth that is Lost Wages, Nevada. The mob portion is kept very brief near the front end, with DeNiro then heading West to man a mob-run casino. There's your basic dealings with skimming, teamsters, the feds, cheats, and whatnot. Pesci is then thrown into the mix as an enforcer to keep everybody who threatens DeNiro, in line. For good measure Stone arrives as an all-flash bimbette who placates well-to-do men with her wiles.
My main problem with the film lied mostly in the Scorsese going shockingly against type. First, we have one of the most passive DeNiro performances of his Marty career, as a (Jewish??) guy I kept screaming at to take some freaking action. He allows those who pose a threat to his world to just walk all over him at an alarmingly high rate. Namely, Stone, whom he inexplicably has some undying love for, despite her personality not going beyond a hot blonde of opportunity. That he could be so incessantly forgiving, made me nuts. I kept praying for the explosive Bobby D. we all know and love to show up, but he never arrived.
Then you have Pesci, basically aping his own "Goodfellas" character, as a leprechaun-esque tough guy whose main fear-striking device is drop F-bombs at top volume. Or kicking the sheeyit out of guys as long as he (Pesci) has others there to watch his back. At least his character takes an unexpected turn that we're told is a huge no-no in the mob culture.
People have always been vastly divided on Stone; some hated her, some were surprised and vaunted high praise. I was pretty much on the fence with her, as her two-note (sexy or drunk) offering had your standard indifference to it.
James Woods is wasted (and realizing who his co-stars were, seemed to go into Pesci mode for the one scene he was allotted), Rickles and Smothers are thrown in for some Vegas flair, with your usual assembly line of reliable Scorsese Italianos rounding out the supporting roles.
Then there's Scorsese himself as they guy at the helm. I've never really been a fan of forced or tortuous violence in a film (the Freddys and Jasons were always quick about it), but where was it here??? Where's the Marty Scorsese of old who covered his filmstock in off-putting gore? The fact that he (finally) shoehorns in some toward the last reel was a real let-down.
The film hardly drags, and the narration was an acceptable technique, but in the end I couldn't have cared less whatever happened to any of these people. Unlike "Goodfellas," where, though the main characters were "villians," I felt so awash in their journey by film's end, that you feel you've really been taken to another place by the actors. Casino, not in the slightest.
At the very least Joe Bob Briggs had more than one scene. Because the drive-in will never dah!
True Grit (2010)
Not as gloriously wonderful as some are saying. Not as gloriously awful as others have concluded. Just sort of comes on the screen, meanders like a cowpoke for two hours, and heads off back to the barn.
I won't involve the original (never saw it) or the Coen Brothers side of things (not a real fan). This'll be more stand alone than anything else. The umpteenth telling of an "I'm lookin' for the guy who shot my Pa" kinda deal, with a young girl the as the protagonist this time. She seeks out one-eyed, two-fist drinkin' Jeff Bridges to act as her trail boss on the road to her daddy's killer. Matt Damon intrudes as another interested party, and these three head out onto the frontier.
The trio seek shelter, bicker, split up, save each other at the last second from the baddies (repeatedly). Ya know, your basic Western stuff. Fans keep pointing to that that was how this genre was normally constructed in the ol' days, but does that mean we're gonna go for it just one more go 'round? Much too tired a concept to really have any impact in these modern times.
The cinematography is fair, the score is fair, performances as well. Bridges I got used to after about 45 minutes, though his put-on scratchy drawl was so forced, that I felt like I was watching Jeff Bridges, not a separate entity in Marshall Cogburn. Damon came off the most tolerable, not trying to do too much, which could've been his approach considering his limited role in this whole deal.
But much has to be said about Hallie Steinfeld, who is receiving a great deal of break-out credit here. Yes, she's polished, yes, she's extremely skilled. But too much so. Her auto-pilot readings of massively complicated passages caused her to come off completely unrealistic as a 14-year-old girl (yes, I know she's really 14). And because of her lack of hesitation or a moment's thought to her words, she tended to slur a lot of her speech. Too mechanical.
A supporting nod must go out to Barry Pepper as Ned Pepper (you're a Pepper, he's a Pepper...), totally unrecognizable but delightfully engaging as a late-arriving villain. I thought I was watching John Glover (a hundred points if you remember that name) the entire time. The thrashed face, narrow eyes, and Oscar worthy orthodontia.
Josh Brolin? He pops in for a poorly telegraphed cameo as the dolt marauder in question. Some have argued that he's the typical depiction of an unrestrained, simpleton thug. But when you've built up this girl's dangerous quarry for nearly two hours, we want a real presence as the pay-off. Not what Brolin ends up being assigned as.
By credits roll, a real sense of insignifigance swept over me. The film presents its dilemma, follows through on it, and fades away. Never was I bored (even with Coen's penchant for overwrought nonsense) or not intrigued by the next act, but it had no lasting effect when it was all over. Only in the last fifteen minutes did things get the least bit tense or exciting.
No, I wasn't expecting more (again, Coens are not my thing) or less (it's another remake), just something with a bit more kick, substance. They approached it, but didn't quite cross that prairie into greatness.
Ride with caution, buckaroos.
One Night Only (1986)
thank the lawd they stoppped there....
Skinemax-type cable staple of the late 80s, this Canadian shot flesh fest is appallingly unwatchable 25 years later. Found it on the back end of another tape recently, and decided to revisit. Loaded with flat-chested remedial actresses, cartoonish "chase-and-bop" style gags...and incest??? The two leads are boy and girl cousins who have an odd reunification after years apart. Some sort of unresolved crush goes on between them, springboarded by a near kiss at her apartment. But that ain't the half of it.
This kissing cousin is a working girl waitress at a mom-n-pop slop house who overhears of a local hockey team's upcoming stag party. Most would shrug it off and clock out. Not this chick. She luckily resides with some fellow unscrupulous bimbos who hit the phones to round up all their female friends so they may commandeer said stag party and collect the $5-grand price tag!! Ah, those moralistic 80s.
Utter vacancy ensues, as scores of people run through hallways, faint, giggle, jiggle (their pathetic A-cup breasts), and cavort about in Movie Land as only these events could provide. Don't forget the jealous boy cousin trying to thwart the girl's carnal actions in a poor attempt at romance(???) amid all the chaos. Oh, and one rather large tidbit: despite an 80 minute runtime, at least thirty of those minutes are made up of musical montages. No lie. Thirty minutes. To some poor-man's Pointer Sisters gal group.
Actually had a promising beginning, ala Hot Dog in terms of a small-town sports comedy set-up, and Zann has a cute appeal as sort of trashier Meg Ryan, but this whole thing is far beneath any of its late-night nudie rivals of the time.
Urban Cowboy (1980)
I'm sure this film is gospel to several East Texans, but for us city folk, it's just a wholly meandering slog of a movie. I sort of liked how a studio took a chance to show how "the other half lives," complete with country-western bars, trailer life, cheatin', beatin', and cussin'. But as a feature-length film, it was just one, giant void. For these people's lives to revolve around such trivial, blank issues was too much to take. The mechanical bull loses its charm after the third go 'round, and to find out that they were going to use it for the finale's plot device?? Boy, this really is small town life.
Though chronically dull, it at least tackles the elements of domestic violence --- from both the villain's *and* the hero's perspectives. The cast was fine, nothing' wrong with them. Their material was just vacant. And the time line is an utter mess for all this crap to have transpired (dated a week, married a week, cheating within a week! Please). The only thing remotely valuable to come from this film was the beautiful Boz Skaggs ballad, "Love Look What You've Done To Me." There's a mess a' other country hits, as well, that at least help keep uninterested viewers awake. As far as the flick, I found *one* original moment, and that didn't happen until the last reel, involving Glenn and a gun.
Again, if you grew up around this lifestyle, you might feel it speak to you more. But 'round these parts, this pretty much need to be takin' out back and shot.
Midnight Express (1978)
not for the tourism board...
The film that launched a thousand "turkish prison" jokes into the 1980s, this sees young American smuggler Davis tossed into a cruel foreign jail. Attempting to bring a bunch of dope stateside, he's busted at the airport, which begins a hellish five year ordeal.
Being a big "pacing" hound, I usually enjoy films that quickly get into their plots. But somehow, here, it hurt the film for the most part. We know nothing about Davis, and when he's subjected to vicious conditions in the prison, there isn't a lot of sympathy. If he, perhaps, was a smuggler driven by some sort of debt that his life depended on, then I may have felt more. But at the heart of things, he is a criminal, and has only himself to blame for any time he must serve.
Davis carries the film well enough, but it was the people that surrounded him, that added more character. Quaid's rambling crusader, and the perpetually stoned-out Hurt, make for more interesting personality studies. All the business involving Davis' father and lawyer and courts, etc, just had an absent tone to them. Throw in your obligatory band of ruthless prison guards, and everything is sort of unoriginally standard.
Another glaring frustration is the lack of subtitles. At the front, it was mostly effective, as we feel what Davis' feels when hearing a bunch of incomprehensible jargon barked out in ominous tones. But once Davis learns the language (and can communicate with it rather effectively, as seen later), we needed to be privy to what was being discussed. Otherwise, it's just more blather.
As far as the close goes, it was entirely too rushed and inadequate. After all that build (to a confrontation you knew would come), things sort of jump to a conclusion that isn't really finished. And the homecoming wrap-up involving black and white photos was a very peculiar choice. And I'm sure a vast majority will disagree with me, but Davis almost suffers too little. Sure, there's beatings and mental decomposition, but most of Davis stay is clouded by attempts at escape and legal boloney (punctuated by the embarrassingly rambled courtroom tirade).
In all, the film can still shock with its more seedy sexual subject matter and third-world environment, but the sum total isn't equal to as good a film as it could have been.
Don't Go to Sleep (1982)
don't expect too much...
Aaron Spelling, wanting to cash in on the slasher craze of the 80s, developed this passable little thriller concerning a family moving into a new home following the death of their eldest daughter. The surviving younger sister begins experiencing visitations from the dead one, and various tragedies occur around the house. Is it a creepy entity at work, or someone else?
Most of the people that know this film (myself included) are going on their memories of it as children. Unfortunately, this muddles a modern day reception of it, as for the first time in 20 years, I viewed it last night. After a frustratingly redundant opening (girl screams in the night, annoyed dad comes running in), it finally drags into the plot. You really realize how underdeveloped the story is and how much more effective it could've been if put into better hands.
OK, SPOILER TIME...
More pressing issues arise, such as: is it really the dead sister, or a hallucination causing the younger sister to act out? If not, why is the dead sister --- who is seen in flashback teasing the living one --- so hell-bent on being "together" with her? What is her motivation for killing off the whole family? What's with the foreboding house address including "666" when it's never fully utilized? Is the final shot really the dead kid, or another delusion of the schizo daughter's imagination? The unanswered questions make for a great deal of aggrevation.
The cast works well, but what would you expect from Weaver and Harper? Though Weaver's mixture of the boozin'/grieving/giggling father is a bit uneven, and Harper pretty much takes a backseat to the kids. Especially Ignico, who basically has to carry the whole thing. Her scenes with the pyschologist have a pleasant humor, as she smart-mouths her way through them.
In the end, this is nothing more than a batch of bizarre, bloodless scenes trying to carry a ghostly throwback-type spook show. Pieces of it work at times, but on the whole, it's lacking. And the shock ending (complete with freeze frame on "Executive Producer Aaron Spelling") was a little too easy, though the back lighting made for a good final jolt.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Audience vs. Audience
Perhaps I saw this too late. 30 years too late. I kinda, sorta experienced this in a way, being a child of a 70s divorce. But as a kid, I hardly understood it. Hearing my mom lambast my dad for 30 years since has shed enough light on it, but as a film, I dunno.
The success of this film ($98 million dollar box-office in 1979!!) and the all the major awards is gobbled up, were definitely a sign of its time. A hot-button issue in the late 70s, of Disco Dads ditching their families for a little extended adolescence on the tiled squares. The only nuance here is that the roles are reversed, and it's dad who's left holding the kid. The wife portrayed here is not a partier, but does go the "I need to find myself" route and disappears for a year.
This was my first problem with the film: Streep is barely in it. She bolts for nearly the first hour of the film, not allowing for the title to live up to itself until it's much too late. What follows is a series of vignettes of Hoffman adjusting to the single-dad routine, and the expected chaos it brings. Work-wise, dating-wise, it's all effected. It's during these sequences that Hoffman probably didn't care that Streep was absent, because he's given a tour-de-force playground to carry the film with. Not sure if it was Oscar-worthy, but definitely your typical Hoffman likability.
Streep, on the other hand, doesn't work here. When finally glimpsed, she's staring like a stalker through a restaurant window, and of course, shows up later demanding the kid back. Her lawyer's slimeball tactics make her come off worse because we don't really know what *she* was doing in her year away. Which is another direction the film desperately needed to go into. If you want to contrast the breakdown of family and marriage, we need to see a cause, how both parents cope apart, and finally a resolution, to garner a full understanding of both sides. All we know is that Streep went West and got a therapist. Woooooah.
As far as Henry is concerned, he wasn't staggering, but he delivered. Again, just like his mother, there are moments where we can't stand him, and he loses our sympathy. Fortunately, by the end of the film, he's come to his father's side and we pull for them as a unit, not just for Hoffman. In typical Hollywood fashion, they go for his waterworks to bleed ours, and it'll be effective for some. It didn't get to me, but that might be a testament to director Benton, for not overdoing it. Just the right note was hit with the kid's weepy reactions.
Major demerits for the film's editing, which was often choppy and ill-timed. The fall off the jungle gym and the peeing bits were sloppily constructed. And lest I forget the lack of a musical score. They use the same Italian restaurant cue like three times! And it's massively inappropriate for a film of this nature. You feel like you should ready yourself for some flamenco dancers to enter the frame. Plus the infamous JoBeth Williams moment seemed like a forced laugh that just looked eye-buggingly awkward. Tack on an abrupt ending...the film has its flaws.
I think the biggest would be the story's effectiveness. Even placing myself in a 1979 time-frame didn't help, as this didn't have enough punch for a feature film. Hoffman works, cooks, chats, walks the kid to school, gets a lawyer, on and on. It's all too brisk. Performances save it, yes, from being totally dismissed, but undoubtedly is a film that wouldn't have the same impact today.
St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
tepid flame, at best....
Sudsy, coming-of-adulthood flick that follows seven friends post-college graduation. Real Life trials are supposed to be the driving force behind the story, but these seven don't exactly dive right in. Their "problems" consist of work, relationship, crush, and despising of modern society, among other things.
Now any of those things can be turned into a pot-boiler, as could be found on any prime-time television show of the 80s. But this film format doesn't really come off, and leaves you underwhelmed. Here's the cast's problems: Moore compromises herself at work, Estevez lusts for an older woman, Winningham is being forced into a marriage, Sheedy and Nelson rough it playing house, Lowe drifts and plays sax, and McCarthy is the cynical, observation-spouting one. And nothing they are involved in has any punch to it.
Sure, there's some sleep-arounds, cocaine problems, and near-death on a fire escape, but no sense of real urgency among any of the characters. The most inept of the story lines belongs to Estevez, who after not seeing a former classmate for years, essentially begins stalking her. And MacDowell's flattered(!!) reactions to this are senselessly implausible (I kept waiting for him to wake up during the "dip kiss" moment).
Lowe wails on his sax, bemoans his ex and kid, and seems obsessed with Winningham's virginity status. Nelson thinks he can only sexually commit with marriage, Moore bangs her boss when her payday advance runs out, on and on. My patience was wearing thin for some cataclysmic moment that would bring down the house, but it never arrived. The characters left the film the same way they came in with me: bores.
The most glaring thing I have to get back to is the lack of urgency mentioned. Moore locked inside the apartment, Lowe accosting Moore in the jeep, Nelson's indignant reactions toward the end. There was never that WOW moment that shatters friendships and elevates films like this. For whatever reason, Schumacher often goes for a completely out-of-place laugh, then a simple tie-up later on. The sight of Sheedy walking arm-and-arm with her prospective beaus, and the awkward love scene toward the last five minutes makes one queasy. Not to mention one of the most forced, moronic last lines in filmdom.
The success of this film back in the day was obviously driven by the attraction of the cast. And they are lookers. Well, Winningham somehow ended up in there, but six outta seven ain't bad. But probably the most enduring element of this "classic," is the striking, powerful score by David Foster. Which gave birth to one of the most lasting love themes ever written.
So, that's something.