Category Archives: Movies

The 100 Best Film Noirs…

…at least according to the writers at pastemagazine.com:

The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time

One can certainly quibble with this movie or that and its place on the list… as well as films that maybe should have been on the list but weren’t… but I found the list pretty solid.

Incredibly, I’ve seen some 65 films on this list, though I would quickly add that there are several of them, perhaps over 10 or so, that I saw a very long time ago and do not remember all that much about them.

Still, it’s a solid list and if you’re interested in watching some good film noir, check out some of what’s offered there.

I was thinking of films that should have been on the list or perhaps fall just shy of being on it and I immediately thought of two films that are associated with director/writer Walter Hill.

Specifically:

Hickey and Boggs (1972). Walter Hill’s first screenwriting credit is a film that features Robert Culp (in his only theatrical direction) and Bill Cosby (I know this might be a deal-breaker for many) as two very much down on their luck private detectives in a then modern L.A. I felt the two, who reunited for the first time since their TV show I, Spy, display a great, natural banter and the mystery is solid and twisting. Cosby is actually quite good in a serious role as is Culp, whose sexuality is hinted as being quite fluid yet the character is not treated in any campy or silly way. Quite ahead of its time!

The Driver (1978). Walter Hill both directed and wrote this screenplay to this wonderful noir cat-and-mouse film which focuses on a getaway driver (Ryan O’Neal) and the police officer (a wonderfully unhinged Bruce Dern) who chases after him. Reportedly Walter Hill wanted Steve McQueen to play the titular Driver and its a damn shame he didn’t get him as I truly believe had McQueen taken the role it would have been considered his last great movie before his passing only two years after the movie’s release. As it is, Ryan O’Neal is only “OK” in the titular role.

If I think of any others, I’ll add them here!

Fuzz (1972) a (wildly) belated review

I saw the movie Fuzz only once before, a very, very long time ago and, once again, today (free time and all…!).

I saw the whole thing before. I had to have, because I recalled elements of the film from the beginning, middle, and end. Thing is, I couldn’t recall the movie’s plot too well and though I recognized this scene or that scene, the movie as a whole was rather “new” to me.

At least with regards to the story told.

Based on the Ed McBain (ie Evan Hunter) 87th Precinct novels, Fuzz has a screenplay by Mr. Hunter along with a pretty impressive cast for the time.

Playing Detective Steve Carolla is Burt Reynolds, in the movie he did quite literally right before he hit the stratosphere with Deliverance (also 1972). We’ve also got Rachel Welch as Detective Eileen McHenry, Tom Skerritt as Detective Burt King, and Jack Weston as Detective Meyer Meyer.

As the big bad, “The Deaf Man”, we’ve got none other than Yul Brynner as the mastermind extortionist/killer/blackmailer whose set his criminal sights on getting a fat payoff by scaring the city’s big politicians into giving him lots of money for not killing them.

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

As should be pretty clear from the trailer, the film is often played for laughs, presenting us with a police department which is barely functional as such, with a host of screw-ups and oddballs that in many ways seem patterned after the same oddballs and screwups we saw two years before in the movie version of M.A.S.H. Its worth noting that movie featured one Tom Skerritt in it as well.

The laughs, alas, are often forced, as in the case of Corolla and Meyers inexplicably dressing as nuns while engaged in a stake off in a park (yeah, a set of nuns that look suspiciously like two men in a park will gather no attention whatsoever, amiright?!). Worse, after that part is over, they keep the costumes on for the interrogation of the suspect once they’re back at the station! I guess they had no change of clothing?

I can’t help but think the director thought it hysterical to have Burt Reynolds dressed up as a nun and therefore kept the joke going for longer than it probably should have.

There are no less than five stories -probably more if I were to dissect things more fully- going on. The biggest involves the “Deaf Man”, and for the most part the others wind up folding into each other by the movies climax.

Well, most of them.

The story involving Rachel Welch’s McHenry winds up being something of a strange one. She’s new to the station and was brought in to serve as bait to catch a rapist. In the meantime, she has to put up with boorish, sexist attitudes of others (I must say, seeing this sort of stuff today is rather uncomfortable) while trying to do her job. Eventually she’s romanced by Skerritt’s Detective King but her story winds up concluding well before the film’s actual conclusion.

Reading up on the film, I found that Rachel Welch refused to do any scenes with Burt Reynolds. The two co-starred in 100 Rifles in 1969 and, apparently, she developed a dislike of Mr. Reynolds. There is a grand total of one scene where the two characters are in the same vicinity/room, but they never exchange dialogue and I wonder if the actors were even there filming at the same time (I don’t believe they’re ever in the same frame together, though I could be wrong).

Even worse, Ms. Welch’s role is so minor -she reportedly worked a grand total of 9 days on this film, which amounts to an extended cameo- that it could have been cut from the film without really affecting the main story. In fact, if she had been cut from the film it might have helped to focus more on the “Deaf Man” and what he was up to. Regardless, her story within the film abruptly ends when (MINOR SPOILERS) she captures, singlehandedly, the rapist and that’s pretty much that. She’s not involved in the movie’s main climax at all and essentially disappears while the movie still has some 15 or so minutes left!

Still, when viewed as an artifact from another era, Fuzz does offer some interesting oddities.

It’s rather refreshing the way they attempted, for example, to show that a station filled with “professionals” whose job it is to capture criminals succeed in spite of everything they do. The movie’s message is humorously cynical: Sometimes its just dumb luck that allows you to succeed rather than brains or dedication.

Fuzz isn’t a great film nor do I feel it will be rediscovered at some future point as a lost classic, but it is competently done with good acting by the principles and enough stuff happening to keep your interest, even if when all is said and done it might not amount to all that much.

Recommended for fans of 1970’s era crime dramas and fans of either Burt Reynolds, Rachel Welch, or Yul Brynner.

Others, beware!

Clive Cussler (1931-2020)

On Thursday, February 27th news came out that author Clive Cussler had passed away at the age of 88. Here’s a link to an obituary written by Michael Carlson presented on theguardian.com:

Clive Cussler obituary

In many ways, Mr. Cussler is responsible for the author I am today, even if I haven’t read a single one of his books since probably the very late 1980’s or early 1990’s.

His first four released novels featured intrepid hero Dirk Pitt and were, in order: The Mediterranean Caper (1973), Iceberg (1975), Raise The Titanic! (1976), and Vixen 03 (1979). He wrote one novel, Pacific Vortex, before these others but it wasn’t formally released until 1983.

But for me, the novel Vixen 03 did things to me.

For one, this was the first “adult” book I ever read cover to cover, and very likely in 1979/80. I still carry a tattered, beat up copy of it:

It isn’t the actual copy of the book I had way back then (I suspect not, anyway), but it is exactly the same print/year as the one I originally had and read.

So delighted was I by the book that I had to get my hands on the other Clive Cussler novels which, at that time, were limited to the three others I wrote about up above.

I thought all of them were quite good, but it was Raise The Titanic! that seemed to really make Mr. Cussler a star. In fact, in 1980 a movie version of Raise The Titanic! was released. The movie wasn’t all that good, taking away most of the suspenseful subplots involving the Soviets racing to raise the Titanic on their own…

The movie’s making and eventual release seemed to sour Mr. Cussler on Hollywood adaptations of his works and it wasn’t until twenty two years later that another movie adaptation of his novels, the 2005 Matthew McConaughey starring film Sahara, was released…

This film also didn’t sit well with Mr. Cussler and all kinds of lawsuits followed because he claimed the studios were holding back on profits.

Regardless, Mr. Cussler became something of a regular on the Best Seller lists, churning out novel after novel after novel, though in more recent years he always seemed to have a co-writer, which to me indicated maybe the co-author did more of the actual grunt work in creating the work.

Getting back to my original point, I loved the first four Dirk Pitt novels. They excited and inspired me to pursue my own literary pursuits.

However, something happened after those first four books were released: He released more books and I began to realize he was essentially writing the same novel over and over again.

Vixen 03 was followed in 1981 with Night Probe!, then Deep Six (1984), Cyclops (1986), and Treasure (1988). Treasure would be the very last Clive Cussler novel I’d read (he has 25 Dirk Pitt adventures listed over on Wikepedia, along with a voluminous amount of other series).

The Dirk Pitt novels which came after Raise the Titanic!, including Vixen 03, seemed to have the same general plot: We start in the past with some kind of historical event (the sinking of the Titanic, the crash landing of the Vixen 03, the derailing of the train in Night Probe), then fast forward to the “near future” (Mr. Cussler’s books were light science fiction, usually taking place a decade or so after the date of each novel’s release), and Dirk Pitt and company are in a race against time and some very nasty bad guys to get whatever cargo was in the lost vessel we witnessed sink/crash/etc. in the opening act.

To me, the repetition became too much and I left the books, never to return. Many years later my wife, at my recommendation, read Vixen 03 and was turned off by the way Mr. Cussler wrote the character of Dirk Pitt. She said he was what people nowadays view as a “Mary Sue”, only in this case Dirk Pitt was a male “Mary Sue”: A character who can do no wrong and is rough and tumble and gets all the pretty ladies while always being right about everything.

I can’t help but feel Mr. Cussler viewed Dirk Pitt as his alter-ego as he too was involved in similar underwater activities before hitting it big as a novelist. Frankly, I find it amusing even if it is all rather silly.

But Clive Cussler was certainly not the first -or last- author to repeat stories over and over again, but he was the first in my case where I realized this is what was being done.

Thus, Mr. Cussler did two very important things for me as I was growing up and thinking of writing myself: 1) He inspired me to write as well as I felt he did (I may have to go back to those original four novels and see if they still “read” as good as my very young mind felt they were!) and, equally importantly, 2) He made me realize that as a writer I didn’t want to became a repetitious storyteller as I felt he became.

For this is the secret to becoming a writer, whether good, bad, or otherwise: You read others’ stories and analyze what works and -sometimes even more importantly- what doesn’t and you make novels/stories that follow the good while avoiding what you view as the “bad”.

Mr. Cussler taught me, through his writing, the importance of creating exciting stories but also taught me it can go bad if you decide to repeat yourself. Sure, he made a ton of money off his books, and there is a lot to be said about that, but he lost me as a reader and I didn’t want to create works that featured the very same elements time after time.

In the end, though, its sad to read of Mr. Cussler’s passing and one day I hope my novels are even a tenth as popular as his were.

Rest in peace, big guy.

Even if your later works didn’t appeal to me, those first four books have a special place in my head… and heart.

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018) a (Mildly) Belated Review

Have to say, I wasn’t particularly interested in catching this film. I suppose there was nothing outwardly wrong with the concept: Two rather ditzy American women, Audrey (Mila Kunis) and her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) become involved in Audrey’s ex-boyfriend’s affairs… completely against their wishes.

See, the boyfriend is -I’ll give you no more than three guesses here- a spy.

Not only that, he hid some kinda McGuffin in Audrey’s place and the girls have to get themselves to Europe to deliver the item while avoiding assassins, other agents, and double-agents.

Again, it certainly could have been a decent film, but I was not terribly impressed by the trailers…

When your film is supposed to be a comedy and you mostly see mayhem and stunts/explosions/shootings, one can’t help but wonder if maybe the humorous elements weren’t all that strong, no?

Regardless, I had a few spare minutes and the wife and I were watching anything in particular and the film was on the DVR, yadda yadda, so we put it on and…

…it wasn’t quite as bad as I feared it would be.

Having said that, I can’t say it was terrific either.

Mila Kunis does well as the semi-depressed Audrey, the woman whose boyfriend, she comes to find, is a spy. He’s dumped her (hence the movie’s cryptic title), and with her 30th birthday, is pretty much falling into a funk. Enter her friend Morgan, who is determined to get her friend out of her sadness.

I usually love Kate McKinnon’s antics. She’s a terrific comedian and often plays these types of “wacky” characters quite well. However, this time around she wasn’t given quite as much good material to work with as I was hoping. While she does have some very funny scenes, my disappointment in how her character was ultimately handled is best described by the movie’s climax, where the writer really strains any adequate justification for her character being on a trapeze (!) in a Cirque Du Solei situation.

I mean, that should have been funny but given the film’s penchant for showing some very brutal -and sometimes quite bloody- deaths, it felt too much to have her quite literally going out on such a limb, regardless of how “wacky” she is.

Having said all that (redux), the film was not that bad.

The plot might have been by the numbers but it moved along nicely and while ultimately Ms. McKinnon may not have been used to her full potential she was used well enough and, along with Ms. Kunis’ “straight (wo)man”, made for an engaging fish out of water team.

Further, Sam Heughan proved interesting in the role of Sebastian, a MI-6 agent who may -or may not- have the girls’ interests at heart.

There’s one more element I really loved about the film and, alas, they showed entirely too little of her: Gillian Anderson (that’s right, Scully from X-Files, among many other things!) was delightful in her three or so scenes as Wendy, the head of MI-6 (or whatever agency is after what the girls have). Gillian Anderson does so much with so little screen time and I truly didn’t think she had it in her to do deadpan comedy like she did!

In sum and after weighing the positives and negatives, I offer a mild recommendation to The Spy Who Dumped Me. Yeah, there are better comedies out there and, yeah, they maybe could have done better with Kate McKinnon, but in the end the film was far from a bust and did have several very funny scenes.

You could do far worse on a slow, rainy day.

Birds Of Prey (2020), A (Almost) Right On Time Review!

Release a couple of weeks ago and, sadly, underperforming at the box office, Birds of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (the full title of the work, though it is my understanding Warners has decided to cut it down) features -you wouldn’t guess it in a million years- the further adventures of one Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, doing essentially a Looney Tunes-esq character).

First seen in the abysmally written, yet oddly decent -if only for the strong cast/acting- Suicide Squad (2016), Harley is this time around done with her boyfriend, the Joker, and we see what happens next.

It ain’t pretty, at least as far as Harley is concerned!

For the underworld has given Harley pleeeennnntty of space to do her wacky stuff because of her association with the Joker, who is feared throughout Gotham’s criminal underworld.

But when word gets out she is no longer tied to him, the restraints are off and Harley has to deal with plenty of aggravated criminals who want their piece of flesh.

The movie is presented mostly through Harley’s viewpoint, and as such we get a non-linear story, showing elements from the past, then future, then coming back to the past, building up a story that, incredibly, maintains its coherence through the ending.

As a writer myself, color me very impressed!

Yes, the storytelling is messy. Yes, it is at times very much non-linear. But that totally makes sense given the story is mostly told through a near-crazy character’s point of view.

And best of all, it does come together by the end and that is quite a writing feat, whether one comes away liking the story or not.

I happened to like the story, as well.

During the course of the film, we meet up with several other comic book characters. On the “bad guy” side we have Ewan McGregor’s charming -and unhinged- Roman Sionis, aka The Black Mask. His right hand man is the fearsome -and murderous- Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). Early in the film Harley gets in their way and, once untethered from the Joker, is forced to do their bidding… or else.

On the “good guy” (though that term is relative!) side we have a quartet of characters, young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), police detective Rene Montoya (Rosie Perez), Helena Bertinelli/The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Dinah Lance/The Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell).

The latter three characters wind up being the “Birds of Prey” of the title, and the movie serves as essentially an “origin” story for them as well as a story that documents Harley Quinn’s “emancipation” from the Joker while finding her path in the mean streets of Gotham City.

The film was at times very funny and it was interesting to see how the various characters interacted and, eventually, were forced to get together to take on both Sionis and Zsasz.

The movie’s standouts, other than Margot Robbie as Harley, are McGregor’s Sionis and Winstead’s sullen Huntress. But, truthfully, just about everyone carried their weight and the film proved to be a very pleasant surprise.

So if you’ve decided not to see the film because you’re all Jokered out (I think the movie may be underperforming because it did come out so soon after the release and success of the Joker film) and feel this movie is more of the same, it isn’t.

The Joker appears for only a few seconds at the very beginning of the film and only in an animated form. His shadow may linger over the initial proceedings, but this is all about the gals, and they’re a hoot to watch.

Recommended.

Kirk Douglas and Robert Conrad

Over the past weekend news came that legendary actor Kirk Douglas had passed away at the age of (believe it or not) 103.

Image result for kirk douglas out of the past

One of his first great roles was that of Whit in the incredible and classic 1947 film noir Out of the Past. According to IMdb, the role was his third in a movie. The above photograph shows Douglas with the movie’s protagonist, Robert Mitchum (for whom this was also quite the star making role).

Kirk Douglas would go on to make a tremendous amount of really good -and some not so good, but them’s the breaks- films. Some of my favorites, and films I highly recommend you seek out if you haven’t already, include Ace in the Hole (1951) Detective Story (1951), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)…

Damn that film is great!

Lust for Life (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Paths of Glory (1957, probably the film that first made people take note of young director Stanley Kubrick), Spartacus (1960, the second and last Kubrick/Douglas team up), Lonely Are The Brave (1962, the film Douglas felt was his best work), Seven Days In May (1964, one of several features Douglas made with Burt Lancaster -which includes Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and, IMHO, one of the best), The War Wagon (1967, a personal favorite, a mostly comedic “heist” film set in the wild west and featuring another star Douglas made a couple of films with, John Wayne), The Fury (1978, a fascinating if not quite great Brian DePalma directed film that recalls his previous Carrie adaptation), The Villain (1979, a comedy featuring… Arnold Schwarzenegger?!)…

Essentially, its a live action version of the Road Runner cartoons

Saturn 3 (1980, a not all together successful film yet the visuals are fascinating and the story quite gory for its time), and The Final Countdown (1980, a fascinating time travel story)…

These are just some of the many films Mr. Douglas was in that are worth your time, IMHO, and don’t include such works as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which he bought the rights to and wanted to make a film version of (starring himself in the titular role). Eventually, Mr. Douglas would give the rights to his son Michael Douglas, who would make the film with Jack Nicholson and the rest is history.

So he’s made a ton of great works but there is some controversy regarding Mr. Douglas. There is the accusation -and its nothing more than that- that he had an inappropriate encounter (and that’s putting it very mildly) with an underage Natalie Wood. At this point in time it is an allegation and nothing more and should be treated as such.

However, in his first novel, The Ragman’s Son, Mr. Douglas isn’t terribly shy about writing about his sexual encounters with many, many, many women. While I don’t believe I’m a prude, the book struck me, especially as he recounted his sexual conquests, too boastful. And it occurred to me that some of the women he mentioned in the book maybe didn’t want this splattered for everyone to read. It left me with something of a bad taste in my mouth.

As the saying goes, love the art but not the artist and it was after reading that book that I realized maybe it was better to not know so much about an artist whose work I enjoyed so tremendously.

By the way, of the “golden age” big name actors out there, I believe there is only one left alive: Olivia De Havilland. Like Mr. Douglas, she too was born in 1916 which also makes her 103.

Soon after news of Mr. Douglas’ passing, we heard that actor Robert Conrad had also passed away.

Image result for robert conrad wild wild west

Mr. Conrad, perhaps best known for his role of Jim West in the terrific The Wild, Wild West (1965-69) TV show which was subsequently made into a disastrous feature film with Will Smith in the title role, was known primarily for his TV roles.

He first became well known for the TV series 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye before The Wild, Wild West. In many ways his look back then reminded me of a far more buff version of James Dean. Robert Conrad was an exercise nut and his physique showed it…

Image result for robert conrad wild wild west
I swear, it’s like looking in a mirror (*cough*)

He would go on to play guest starring roles in plenty of TV shows afterwards, from Mission: Impossible to Columbo to Mannix before once again hitting upon a popular TV show in the form of Black Sheep Squadron (1976-78).

He was also quite good in the role of Pasquinel in one of the first big “mini-series” made for TV, Centennial.

Robert Conrad would return to playing Jim West in two made for TV movies, The Wild, Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild, Wild West (1980). Alas, both films IMHO weren’t all that good, going for camp and goofiness and squandering the opportunity to see some genuine heroic goodness…

What also hindered the movies, IMHO, was the fact that while only some 10 years had passed since the last episode of the original Wild, Wild West, both Robert Conrad and Ross Martin (who would pass away in 1981 and shortly after the second and last film was made) looked rather old to be doing the stunt work the show was so famous for in their prime.

Mr. Conrad would play in many other roles through 2002 and I found him quite funny parodying his “tough guy” image in battery commercials…

…as well as in the role of the gung-ho to go to war General Wombat in the Sean Connery film Wrong is Right (1982) and the super-no-nonsense police officer in the 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Jingle All The Way.

Robert Conrad, like Kirk Douglas, appeared to have his quirks. His appearance as the Team Captain on the otherwise fluffy Battle of the Network Stars (1976) revealed his competitive nature in these silly games was… out there. Further, I recall seeing interviews conducted with him where he seemed incredibly, perhaps over-the-top intense.

Maybe they caught him on bad days?

Regardless, Mr. Conrad passed away at the ripe old age of 84 and lived, I imagine like Mr. Douglas, a very full and successful life.

While the passing of both of these actors, given their advance age, was expected, it is nonetheless a sad occasion.

At least their wonderful works will live forever.

Rest in Peace, big guys. You gave me plenty of pleasure throughout your lives.

Tag (2018) a (moderately) belated review

What a strange, strange movie this is.

Released in 2018, Tag is a generally (I’ll explain in a moment) lighthearted comedy involving a group of grown up childhood friends who engage in a silly game of tag each year. The last one that’s “it” when the game officially ends is, not the loser (as one character notes), but not the winner either. Here’s the trailer:

The movie’s very large, intriguing cast includes Ed Helms as Hogan Malloy, the man who instigates this year’s game. Jon Hamm is Bob Callahan, a successful businessman who is the first to get “tagged” while in a meeting with Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) who works for the Wall Street Journal and takes an interest in this yearly event.

In quick succession we meet Malloy’s wacky wife Anna (Isla Fisher, a hilarious standout in this crowded field), his stoner friend Randy (Jake Johnson), and their African American friend Reggie (Lil Rel Howery).

Unlike other years, this year’s game of tag is focused on finally tagging Jerry (Jeremy Renner) the final member of their gang and the most elusive of the friends. He has not been tagged in some 30 years (if I remember correctly) and is a virtual escape artist when it comes to the game.

Despite years of futility, Hogan is convinced this year they can finally tag Jerry because this year, their prey is locked down: He is about to be married and his location is restricted due to this.

After a first futile attempt to tag their friend, ground rules are laid out: The friends can tag Jerry but not during the wedding or formal rehearsal.

Let the games begin!

As I said, Tag is, for the most part, a goofy and at times very funny comedy. However, there is a darker edge to it and I can’t help but wonder if maybe the script was originally much, much darker than what we see on screen.

Based on some of the happenings which occur later in the film, I can’t help but wonder if the original script started very light-hearted and then gradually took a deeper, darker turn until reaching its finale, which was heart-felt and nice, given some of the revelations.

I’ll spoil no more!

In the end, Tag was a pleasant, if not terribly memorable, film. There wasn’t anything to totally turn me off about the film or anything so stupid that it made me want to get up and leave. Having said that, neither was there anything that screamed “classic” to me. Tag is a good, if not “great” comedy and I suspect anyone who takes the time to watch it won’t feel they have wasted their time, if not much more than that.

I know, I know, a very mild recommendation coming from me but there you have it.

Tag is what it is and you could do much worse than check it out on a rainy day.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) a (Mildly) belated review

When I was flying back home a few weeks ago there were two films that I wanted to see in flight. One of them was Ad Astra, which in the end I managed to see (you can read the review here) and the other was John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (let’s refer to it as JW3 from here on, OK?).

The reason I chose Ad Astra over JW3 was because I was down on the whole John Wick franchise. While I mostly enjoyed the first film (read my review of it here) I didn’t care for John Wick 2 at all (here’s the review for that film).

In fact, despite the near constant action and fighting and gunplay, I found John Wick 2 a complete bore, a film with precious little plot spread out into far too many repetitious action sequences.

However, the fact of the matter was that audiences and critics really seemed to like the film. Based on the aggregate reviews over on rottentomatoes.com, the film scored in the high 80% range for both, a very good score, and the film was a success.

Inevitably, JW3 was on its way and released.

With great trepidation, I watched the film this evening (imagine that, seeing not one but two films in one afternoon!) and, despite my worry that I’d not like the film, I found JW3 a BIG improvement over the second film.

Don’t get me wrong: JW3 is guilty of some of the same problems found in JW2. There is perhaps too little actual plot spread out over the film’s 2 plus hour runtime. This is again made up for with plenty of action sequences which, thankfully, are a little more interesting this time around versus in the second film.

JW3 opens seconds after the end of JW2. In that film, (MILD SPOILERS!) Wick find himself hunted by all the assassins for a very high price, and he schemes to get out of New York and see someone high enough on the assassin board (so to speak) food chain to offer remorse and hopefully forgiveness for the transgressions that got him in trouble in the first place.

Meanwhile, the people who helped him out in JW2 are in hot water themselves for helping him out.

So we effectively have parallel plots going on here, the doings in New York and afterwards with Wick and the trouble his allies get into and the blood payment they are forced to make to set things right.

Wick eventually seeks the help of Sofia (Halle Berry) and I thought bringing in a tough as nails female killer was another good step but I have to admit, her role turned out to be pretty small and ended rather abruptly. Of course, she will likely return in the next one, so at least there’s that.

I also liked the way the film ended. It managed to conclude the main story line yet also offer audiences something of a cliffhanger.

What I didn’t like was that in each film John Wick is becoming more and more of a Superman, and the very ending of JW3, unless I’m missing something, shows him surviving something no human being could.

Still, I repeat what I said: I liked JW3 more than JW2. Hell, I think its almost on the level with the original film, which is still the best of the lot, and that’s saying quite a bit.

Recommended!

Dragnet (1987) a Very (Just the Fact, Ma’am) Belated Review

Wow. 1987, eh?

That’s when the Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks starring parody remake of Dragnet, the famous no-nonsense police procedural which started as a radio show before becoming very famous as a TV show was released.

Thirty three years ago?!?

Yikes!

That, my friends, was the first, and only, time I ever saw the film. It was a date, you see, well before I met my future wife, and it went no-where. The date, that is.

But at least I remembered having fun with the film!

I hadn’t seen it since then and, frankly, hadn’t given it all that much thought.

Today, the movie was on one of the various cable channels and I caught it from almost the very beginning (I might have missed the first two or three minutes, nothing terribly big) and without the pressure of a date (which, I repeat, went absolutely nowhere), I was able to sit back and enjoy the film for what it was.

And it was a freaking hoot.

Here’s the trailer:

Dragnet was one of, if not THE first “parody” remake of a TV show. In more recent years we’ve seen parody remakes of Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels (the version with Barrymore/Diaz/Lui was pretty much parody… don’t know about the more recent one), and, for a while, there was talk about a Jim Carrey comedic version of The Six Million Dollar Man (obviously, it never came to be).

Dragnet originally featured the deadpan acting and narration of Jack Webb. Here’s a sampling of that…

Yeah, it could be a little… much.

But considering Dragnet first appeared in the 1950’s and continued through to the early 1970’s, I suppose one can excuse its super starched collar presentation.

By the time the film version was being made, it was ripe for parody and getting Dan Aykroyd to mimic Jack Webb’s ultra-seriousness (he also co-wrote the movie’s script) as “Joe Friday”, the grandson (or was it son?) of the original Joe Friday was a stroke of genius.

So too was getting Tom Hanks to play his much more loosey goosey new partner, Pep Streebeck. For almost the entire film we witness their interaction and, I have to say, it was almost always very funny.

Back in 1987 Tom Hanks was known primarily for his comedic talents, and he plunged headlong into the role along with Aykroyd to deliver a wonderful send-up on the whole bickering partners cliche.

The plot is delightfully silly, involving Pagan worshipers, a mayoral race, a porn publisher (Dabney Coleman in a humorous send up of Hugh Hefner), and a religious moral majority type (Christopher Plummer, positively oozing serpentine cool).

These various characters have plenty of story between them, double dealings and betrayals, while Friday and Streebeck try to bring the various wrong-doers in.

The movie at times reminded me of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films and, while not quite as good as the best of them, Dragnet nonetheless managed to keep my attention and make me laugh many times throughout.

It’s always curious how some films are well remembered while others fade from the public consciousness. I suppose Dragnet isn’t one of the best remembered Dan Aykroyd or Tom Hanks films. One could even say it is mostly forgotten today. It’s quite a shame because the film is delightfully daffy and well worth checking out.

And remember kids: Thank God it’s Friday!

Recommended.

Workaholics and Charles Bronson…

Does the term “workaholic” apply to you?

Sometimes I think it applies to me. Other times, I feel I don’t do enough work and waste too much time.

Perhaps I’m too hard on myself.

The other day, over on Reddit, the topic of Charles Bronson’s 1974 film Mr. Majestyk came up. Adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel (many of his novels were adapted to the screen, including Hombre, 52 Pick Up, Jackie Brown, etc. etc.), the movie’s story is intriguing: Bronson is Vince Majestyk, a melon farmer (!) who runs up against the mob and a fierce hitman, all while trying to keep his crop going.

It’s an oddball yet very fun film, and the topic of 1970’s era Bronson films perked my interest. He’s one of those actors that was around a very, very long time but didn’t achieve true leading man stardom until he was at least a decade after beginning his career.

His very first role was in a 1949 TV show and he bounced between TV and movies for a while, mostly in relatively smaller roles. In 1960 he joined the all-star cast of The Magnificent Seven and that may well have been his first breakout role. He would go on to star with another all-star cast in The Great Escape in 1963. Between that time he was in plenty more TV roles.

It wasn’t until the very late 1960’s that Charles Bronson became a legitimate leading man in theatrical movies and left co-starring TV show roles behind (he would appear in a few TV movies, though), and from that point and through the 1970’s he was on a tear, appearing in an incredible amount of movies.

Anyway, for the hell of it, I wrote the following (I have made some minor edits/additions) in response to the Mr. Majestyk recommendation:

******

While going down the Charles Bronson 1970’s movie era rabbit hole, I recommend you check out these films as well. I’m not giving you all the films Bronson was in in the 70’s, and arguably the most famous isĀ Death Wish, but I chose not to include it as I wanted to recommend films that might not be so well known:

Red Sun (1971) Bronson stars with Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, Capuccine, and (reads notes) Toshiro Mifune?! in an oddball western involving a samurai sword.

Chato’s Land (1972) Bronson stars as Chato, a half-Indian who in the movie’s opening minutes is goaded by a racist Sheriff into drawing and killing the man, which sets off a long manhunt to capture him. Bronson barely speaks in what is mostly a symbolic role, but the film wonderfully presents the whole “a few rotten apples” concept regarding the posse sent after him and, despite the film’s age, can be viewed as interesting symbolism with today’s politics. (I recently reviewed the film here)

The Mechanic (1972) Most may remember the remake and sequel with Jason Statham. Terrible films, IMHO, compared to the original which features Bronson as a experienced hitman who takes on a hotshot newcomer, played by Jan Michael Vincent, and plenty of games are soon afoot. Features a spectacular (IMHO!) ending. (I wrote about that film here, in the entry regarding the passing of Jan Michael Vincent)

Hard Times (1975) Bronson and James Coburn are illegal boxer and his “promoter”. Wonderful early script/direction by the great Walter Hill (The Warriors48 Hours, etc.).

Breakheart Pass (1975) a favorite of mine and based on a novel by Alistair Maclean. Bronson gets involved in a train ride with various shady characters and murder. In some respects, it plays out sorta/kinda like Murder on the Orient Express in the Wild West!

The White Buffalo (1977) Perhaps the most bizarre film on this list features Bronson as Wild Bill Hickok who meets up with Crazy Horse and they go hunting for the mythical beast. Part Jaws in the Wild West (!!!) part head trip, I nonetheless find the film a fascinating and unique work. (I reviewed that film here)

Telefon (1977) I conclude this list with this Don (Dirty Harry, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers) Siegel directed film. Bronson plays a Russian agent tasked to stop a rogue Russian scientist who intends to awaken sleeper agents within our country. The sleeper agents, once awoken, will carry out murders and cause considerable destruction. A great thriller, IMHO!

*******

Charles Bronson starred in an incredible 24 films between 1970 and 1979. If you do the math, it meant each year you could expect to see a whopping 2.4 new Charles Bronson films!

Think about that!

Compare that to some of the bigger stars today. Regardless of what you think of him, Tom Cruise is an incredibly prolific actor and regularly appears/stars in films (very rarely -such as his appearance in Tropic Thunder– is he in a more minor role in any film).

Here’s his stats:

From 1981 (his first role) to 1989 Tom Cruise was in 12 movies. The early ones were co-starring/more minor roles.

From 1990 to 1999 Tom Cruise was in 10 movies, one a year.

From 2000 to 2009, he was in 11 movies.

From 2010 to the present, add another 11 movies.

Currently, he has 5 projects in various stages of production.

Regardless, one of the more prolific modern actors has managed less than half the number of films Mr. Bronson did in the 1970’s.

I know an argument can be made that many of Mr. Bronson’s films of that time were relatively low budget affairs that didn’t require the huge effects of modern films. They were likely made and released very quickly.

And yet…

You have to give it to Mr. Bronson. I grant you the last decade or so of his work following the 1970’s involved many, many cheesy and/or poorly written material.

But the man worked.

And how.

I suppose in conclusion, one could say that compared to Charles Bronson during the 1970’s, we’re all slackers!