Clint Eastwood part 2

Clint Eastwood’s production company Malpaso made their first film, Hang Em High, in 1968. In 1971, Eastwood directed his first feature film, Play Misty for Me. While more famous for being an actor, he is quite an accomplished director. As of his last film, Gran Torino, Clint has directed 29 feature films and has two more, Invictus and Hereafter, in production. He has won the Oscar for Best Director twice (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) and been nominated twice more (Letters from Iwo Jima and Mystic River). That’s not a bad set of accomplishments for Rowdy Yates.

Every Which Way But Loose

1. Every Which Way But Loose (1978) – “Philo Beddoe (Clint Eastwood) is an easygoing trucker and a great fist-fighter. With two friends — Orville, who promotes prizefights for him, and Clyde, the orangutan he won on a bet — he roams the San Fernando Valley in search of cold beer, country music and the occasional punch-up. When Philo falls hard for sexy country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Sondra Locke), he sets out to win her over”

Ah James Fargo’s ode to bareknuckle boxing, honky-tonks and diners that teaches us if people call you names then it’s ok to not only inflict bodily harm but also random massive property damage. Yes the Orangutan is quite funny as is Ruth Gordon and veteran character actor Geoffrey Lewis provides good support. Blues Brothers (1980) is essentially the same movie – our heroes are roadtripping while being pursued by the police and a comical Nazi biker gang. People watchers: look for Mel Tillis and Charlie Rich playing themselves in small roles. This is a minorly amusing waste of time and was followed by a sequel, Any Which Way You Can.

City Heat

2. City Heat (1984) – “In an inspired bit of typecasting, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds star as a steely police detective and a slick private eye, respectively, in this 1984 Richard Benjamin-directed film that melds comedy and high-octane thrills. The two men are so different it’s almost inevitable that they end up working on the same case together … and, against all odds, maybe even solving it!”

Ugh yet still another buddy cop film – is there a more tired genre? This isn’t actually a bad film – Richard Roundtree is a lot of fun, Rip Torn is a villain, and Madeline Kahn a socialite in distress and there are some nice period touches. Burt Reynolds mugs his way through the film and Clint Eastwood scowls – both of which I’m sorry to say seem like lazy performances. Blake Edwards wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay (as Sam O. Brown) but left as director (Richard Benjamin replaced him) after differences with Clint. The film isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, there’s no real mystery, no memorable action setpieces (other than an utterly ridiculous garage shootout) – basically just a passable waste of an hour and a half.

The Rookie

3. The Rookie (1990) – “Veteran cop Nick Pulovski (Clint Eastwood) is used to playing musical partners; many of the partners he’s had in the past have died on the job, and often as a result of Nick’s risky tactics. But the rookie (Charlie Sheen) who’s been assigned to help Nick bust a carjacking ring is almost as hotheaded as he is … and when Nick gets kidnapped, his newbie partner is his only hope.”

Yes it’s a swing and a miss for The Rookie! Sorry I couldn’t resist but so much of this movie is utterly ridiculous. The police lieutenant is hispanic presumably to offset that many of the low-ranking villains are also hispanic. Bizarrely, Raul Julia and Sonia Braga play Germans (no I’m not kidding) for no fathomable reason. The police (a ludicrous number of them) have Raul Julia and his confederates surrounded and are mere feet from them but let them go because they have a single police officer hostage. A police officer goes on an unbelievable rampage in a rough bar (randomly shooting up the place, setting fire to the bar, killing a dog) so that he can question the bartender. Raul Julia, a car thief, has his entire building wired to self-destruct. If I were a script reader, I would have a rubber stamp marked ‘LAZY’ and I would stamp every script that had a self-destruct or where the cellphone has no bars or is out of battery (24 I’m looking at you!). The script is awful as well. The final shootouts are exciting  but then again when one of the villains has an automatic weapon of infinite firing (well almost), that helps. People watchers: Xander (24) Berkeley has a small part as Blackwell. Trivia – when one of the villains changes the TV channel momentarily, it is playing Tarantula – one of Eastwood’s first movies. Pass on this passable waste of time directed by Eastwood himself.

Unforgiven

4. Unforgiven (1992) – “Retired gunslinger William Munny (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes one last job — and even more reluctantly accepts a boastful youth (Jaimz Woolvett) as a partner. Together, they learn how easily complicated truths are distorted into simplistic myths about the Old West. Gene Hackman (who won an Oscar) and Richard Harris stand out as old foes who have an unhappy reunion. The film also earned Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (Eastwood).”

The last in a long line of Clint Eastwood westerns is not only his best but is an absolute classic. A near-complete deconstructuon of the classic mythological western, this movie doesn’t have a single virtuous character in it yet many of the characters are quite likeable. Unforgiven won four Oscars (Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman) and was nominated for Best Actor, Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Writing Original Screenplay as well. The scenery is gorgeous, the characters complex, the script literate and the editing superb. You can’t really ask for much more in a film. The only caveat is to avoid this movie if brutality disturbs you – the violence is frequent and quite realistic.

Clint Eastwood part 1

Clint Eastwood got his start in movies in Revenge of the Creature (1955) but didn’t hit it big until he played Rowdy Yates on Rawhide. This made him a TV star and he successfully made the transition to movie star with Sergio Leone’s The Man with no Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). Throughout the 60s and 70s, he was the quintessential anti-hero. Instant Netflix has a huge number of Clint Eastwood’s movies available so I’m devoting the week to him.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – “While the Civil War rages between the Union and the Confederacy, three men — a quiet loner (Clint Eastwood), a ruthless hit man and a Mexican bandit — comb the American Southwest in search of a strongbox containing $200,000 in stolen gold. In his third classic spaghetti Western with Eastwood, director Sergio Leone continues to shake up the genre with stylish photography, a hefty dose of cynicism and an instantly recognizable score”

Sergio Leone’s epic conclusion to his Man With No Name trilogy is a masterpiece. Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef all out-macho each other through the whole film. Ennio Morricone’s musical score is not only excellent, it’s iconic – I’ve even heard people use it as a ringtone. The Spanish desert locales are very impressive and the costuming, especially on the soldiers, is quite good. The three-way showdown at the end of the film is very exciting as is the Civil War bridge sequence.

Hang 'Em High

2. Hang ‘Em High (1968) – “Clint Eastwood (in all his squinty glory) survives a hanging, vowing revenge on the lynch mob that left him dangling. To carry out his oath, he returns to his former job as a lawman. Before long, Eastwood catches up with the nine men and starts dispensing his brand of justice. The film aspires to be an Americanized spaghetti Western — and succeeds”

This movie, the first from Eastwood’s Malpaso company, is a good western with a lot of good ideas but suffers from a lack of standout setpieces. If this seems like a Sergio Leone western to you, note that he was offered the director’s chair but was filming Once Upon a Time in the West at the time. While the action seems a little lackluster, the supporting cast is full of good actors – Ben Johnson, Ed Begley, Alan Hale, Jr., Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, and Pat Hingle. The film spends a lot of time dabbling in various aspects of frontier justice.

People watchers – look for Mark Lenard (Star Trek’s Sarek) as a prosecutor.

Two Mules for Sister Sara

3. Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) – “In this antic Western, Hogan (Clint Eastwood) is a mercenary who hires his gun out to the highest bidder. But he meets his match in Sister Sara (Shirley MacLaine), who’s committed to helping a group of Mexican revolutionaries battle the French. The unlikely duo team up to join the fight — and maybe earn a few centavos in the process”

Capably directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry), this western comes across as a mix between a buddy cop movie and a caper movie (assuming you can overlook the almost plagiaristic similarities to The African Queen). Top-billed Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood appear to be having fun but the entire rest of the cast seems disposable and the script isn’t deep enough for a two-person movie. For stunt-lovers, there are a couple of good fire gags at the film’s climax. I enjoyed it but it’s nothing special unless you watch The African Queen right before it in which case you’ll wince at every scene.

The Beguiled

4. The Beguiled (1971) – “An injured Civil War soldier (Clint Eastwood) takes refuge in a fancy Southern girls’ school and quickly becomes the center of attention as the girls clamor for his affections, and the headmistress (Geraldine Page) freely practices her surgical skills on him. A far cry from typical Eastwood films, this moody, atmospheric drama is a tension-filled cult favorite from director Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, Escape from Alcatraz).”

Clint Eastwood plays wonderfully against type here and Don Siegel turns a common male fantasy on its ear in this atmospheric drama. There’s a nice early bit of foreshadowing with a tethered crow, and other thematic elements with a painting, a turtle and a brief discussion of slavery. Don Siegel keeps the tension ratcheted up but has a tendency to overuse flashbacks and voiceover for inner thoughts. The ladies are uniformly excellent – Geraldine Page ( finally winning on her 8th Oscar nomination for a Trip to Bountiful), Elizabeth Hartman (Oscar nominated for A Patch of Blue), Jo Ann Harris, Darleen Carr, Mae Mercer, Pamelyn Ferdin, Melody Thomas, Peggy Drier, and Patricia Mattick. People watchers: Melody Thomas grew up to become Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki Newman of Young and the Restless). This film is a wonderful counterpart to the girl school sequence in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Joe Kidd

5. Joe Kidd (1972) – “A wealthy landowner (Robert Duvall) attempts to hire former bounty hunter Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood) and a band of killers to track down a group of armed revolutionary Mexicans (led by John Saxon’s Luis Chama) whose U.S. land claims were denied and then burned by the government. At first, Kidd turns down the offer, until Chama steals his horse and terrorizes his friends. John Sturges directs from an original screenplay by Elmore Leonard”

This is another very good Clint Eastwood western set a bit after the standard western period (automatic pistol, telescopic rifle sights, etc.). One of my favorite character actors John Saxon plays a central figure Luis Chama but actually has little to do aside from a memorably misogynistic quote – “I don’t keep you to think. I keep you for cold nights and days when there’s nothing to do.” Clint Eastwood is a much more human hero in this film – drunk, hot-headed, poaching on Indian land, and quite capable of poor decision-making but still a crack shot with a rifle than he is in his typical westerns. The story by novelist Elmore Leonard is exciting and fast-paced. The cinematography by Bruce Surtees shows the high mountains off to beautiful effect. Robert Duvall has a fun and riveting time as Frank Harlan, our chief villain.

People watchers keep an eye out for Dick Van Patten in a brief role as a hotel manager. All in all this is a very good though not classic western.

Stephen King

I think the most wonderful thing Stephen King has done is to help make horror mainstream. If you are caught reading Edgar Allan Poe, people think ‘school assignment’. If you are caught reading H.P. Lovecraft, people think ‘geek’. If you are caught reading Stephen King, people wonder why you still read in this day and age but at least they don’t wonder about what you are reading.

Stephen King’s biggest strength has always been characterization – his plots are not dissimilar from those of other horror writers but his books feel real because the characters feel real. There are currently 5 Stephen King films available on Instant Netflix.

Carrie

1. Carrie (1976) – “Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is an ostracized girl saddled with a strict mother. But the teen has the ability to move objects with her mind, and when the high school “in crowd” torments her with a sick joke at the prom, she lashes out with devastating, deadly power. Director Brian De Palma deftly transfers Stephen King’s first novel to the screen”

Stephen King and Brian De Palma, both on the rise prior to this film, take off like a rocket after it’s release. This adaptation is excellent, Sissy Spacek is heartbreakingly vulnerable as a young girl abused both by her mother and by her peers. Brian De Palma’s use of splitscreen is wonderful, particularly during the climactic prom sequence. John Travolta has a wonderful time playing a slimeball.

*Minor Spoiler* – the fake ending has since become a (severely overused) staple of horror movies.

Cat's Eye

2. Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (1985) – “Three shocking Stephen King short stories are linked by a stray cat that roams from one tale to the next. First, Dick (James Woods) is trying to quit smoking by any means necessary — even joining a shady self-help organization. Next, Johnny (Robert Hays) is an adulterous man forced by the wronged husband to circle a building’s hazardous ledge. Last, Amanda (Drew Barrymore) is threatened by an evil gnome who throws suspicion on the family cat”

Stephen King adaptations are almost always hit or miss. Surprise! This one is a miss. It isn’t bad – just overwhelmingly meh. The writing, directing, acting, and editing are all highly pedestrian – it’s hard not to get the impression that this was a paint-by-numbers made-for-TV movie.

Misery

3. Misery (1990) – “Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) rescues her idol, romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan), after he crashes his car during a fierce blizzard. But when she finds out he plans to kill off the heroine in his next volume, Annie morphs from nurturing caregiver to sadistic jailer. In this tightly wound, suspenseful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Bates earns her Best Actress Oscar as a woman come undone in a claustrophobia-inducing house of horrors”

One of Stephen King’s most personal books is superbly adapted by writer William Goldman and director Rob Reiner. James Caan does a really nice job as the suffering writer but you won’t be able to keep your eyes off Kathy Bates’ amazing performance. This film also contains one of the most excruciating scenes ever – I dare you to see it for the first time and not wince or flinch.

People watch: look for the radiant Lauren Bacall in a small role.

The Shawshank Redemption

4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – “Framed in the 1940s for the double murder of his wife and her lover, upstanding banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) begins a new life at the Shawshank prison, where he puts his accounting skills to work for an amoral warden (Bob Gunton). During his long stretch in prison, Dufresne comes to be admired by the other inmates — including an older prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman) — for his integrity and unquenchable sense of hope”

This is another wonderful Stephen King adaptation, this time directed by Frank Darabont who would go on to direct two more excellent King adaptations, The Green Mile and The Mist. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give excellent performances and Darabont’s attention to period detail is wonderful. Clancy Brown and William Sadler provide nice backup but look for a scene-stealing James Whitmore as a long-time inmate.

Hearts in Atlantis

5. Hearts in Atlantis (2001) – “An elderly man (Anthony Hopkins) with bad eyesight and a gift for second sight moves into a widower’s home as a boarder and befriends the woman’s young son (Anton Yelchin), who reads to the aging visionary and learns of his mysterious power — and the danger he’s trying to escape. Set in the 1960s, this coming-of-age drama based on a short story by Stephen King came on the heels of the successful adaptation of King’s The Green Mile”

William Goldman again writes an excellent screenplay from a Stephen King story. This film is a charming story of Bobby’s coming of age as he comes to know the mysterious boarder. Anthony Hopkins provides his usual excellent performance and the young Bobby Garfield is played well by Anton Yelchin who recently gave a hilarious performance as Chekov in the new Star Trek movie. Look for a pre-Firefly Alan Tudyk in a small role. This movie is very enjoyable but not a classic.

Kurt Russell part 2

In 1979, Kurt Russell starred as the titular character in John Carpenter’s Elvis TV adaptation. This actor/director collaboration led to a long string of my favorite films – Escape From New York, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China (as well as the funny-but-no-classic Escape From L.A.). If you are new to commentary tracks on films, I highly suggest starting with those films – the Carpenter/Russell commentaries are informative yet laid back and entertaining. Kurt Russell has had a number of other good roles such as Wyatt Earp in Tombstone and Colonel O’Neil in Stargate but the A-list has always seemed just out of reach. Most recently Kurt Russell is an absolute hoot as Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino’s Deathproof (Grindhouse).

Tequila Sunrise

1. Tequila Sunrise (1988) – “Veteran screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown, Swing Shift) wrote and directed this complex thriller with a superb cast. When two unlikely friends, Lt. Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell) and drug dealer Dale McKussic (Mel Gibson), fall for restaurant owner Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfeiffer), the pressure proves too much for the precarious friendship. Conrad Hall garnered an Oscar nod for his cinematography”

This is an excellent slow burn movie – action junkies need not apply. Conrad Hall was nominated for Best Cinematography but the question is whether it was for the fabulous shots of the beach, surf, and interiors – many bathed in a golden amber light or whether it was for the fabulous shots of the gorgeous cast. Seriously you could just turn off the sound and watch the three beautiful leads wander through beautiful scenery. Michelle Pfeiffer is well-dressed and gorgeous as always and the camera lingers long and often on her as it does on a brilliantined, dimpled Kurt Russell and a well-coiffed and often shirtless Mel Gibson. The dialogue is crisp and believable and the actors do a good job including Raul Julia and J.T. Walsh as backup.

Tango & Cash

2. Tango & Cash (1989) – “Director Andrei Konchalovsky takes the buddy-cop premise to great lengths in this tense, graphic look at two narcs in the Los Angeles Police Department who couldn’t have more different personal habits. The trouble is, Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Gabe Cash (Kurt Russell) are framed and wind up in prison, where they’re tortured by the thugs of the drug lord who put them there. But look out — they’re sure to escape and exact revenge.”

Well I guess you can’t win them all. This film has generic film scripting 101 written all over it. Let’s see – 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon made a ton of money – let’s make another buddy cop movie where we have completely mismatched characters and give them a common enemy. So Eddie Murphy was in prison in 48 Hours, I’ve got it – let’s send our cops to prison! The script is poorly written, the prison is unbelievably ineptly run (apparently dozens of inmates and several visitors ??!? can gather in the laundry room of a maximum security prison without guards being present), the villains are very generic and of course would always rather torture our heroes than kill them. The script is so unbelievably lazy that they stick in a “Q”-type character who makes cool gadgets and cars with guns. Since the heroes have a car with guns, the bad guys all have trucks with machine guns on them – at least those that don’t have rocket launchers on them. Seriously I could write pages on how stupidly this movie is plotted. I’m not making this up – the head criminal’s compund has a self-destruct device! When the heroes make important individual drug busts, the headlines state ‘Tango this’ and ‘Cash that’ as though they are the only police on the force (and as if a drug bust would ever be listed in a paper that way). Avoid this movie unless you are a glutton for punishment. Jack Palance does have fun as the villain (what else is new?) and if you have to watch, look for Clint Howard in a small part as Slinky.

Swing Shift

3. Swing Shift (1984) – “During World War II, a young woman (Goldie Hawn) takes a Rosie the Riveter-type job on a home-front factory assembly line while her husband is away defending democracy. Directed by Jonathan Demme, this is the comedy that began Kurt Russell and Hawn’s longtime real-life relationship. The all-star cast lineup includes Charles Napier, Christine Lahti, Ed Harris, Fred Ward, Holly Hunter and Lisa Pelikan”

Kurt Russell falls in love with Goldie Hawn here and they live happily ever after – no not in the movie, in real life!  Russell had appeared with Hawn once before in The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968 – Hawn plays “Giggly Girl”) but here is where they started their relationship. While this is a good period drama, it is very slow moving and it is most certainly not a comedy as Netflix describes it (though it is light in tone). Christine Lahti was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this. Look for Goldie Hawn’s mother Laura as Ethel. Due to the pace, I’d only recommend it for those with an interest in the period (Jonathan Demme’s details are wonderful) or big fans of Goldie and Kurt.

Kurt Russell part 1

Kurt Russell started with Walt Disney in 1960 and achieved his greatest childhood fame as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), a character he revisited in Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972) and The Strongest Man in the World (1975). Upon reaching adulthood, Kurt played minor league baseball until returning to Hollywood in the 1980s. Sadly due to having a number of unsuccessful films as well as never having a runaway blockbuster, Kurt never quite made the A-list. Instant Netflix has six of his films so I’ll cover 3 today and 3 on Wednesday.

Soldier

1. Soldier (1998) – “Director Paul W.S. Anderson’s trippy, futuristic sci-fi film follows a cadre of men, born and bred to be shock troops in battle, who are made obsolete by a new race of genetically engineered soldier. Sgt. Todd (Kurt Russell) is one of the rejects left for dead on a junkyard planet. There, he slowly rediscovers his humanity while helping a community of human castaways battle the new breed of soldier threatening to wipe them out” – Paul W. S. Anderson makes some great popcorn films – films you watch and enjoy while watching them but realize afterwards what flaws they had. Kurt Russell capably carries the film in spite of having almost no dialogue – Gary Busey, Jason Scott Lee, Jason Isaacs, Connie Nielson and Sean Pertwee perform ably but none of them really stand out. The film is a lot of fun but afterwards you realize the “new and improved” soldiers were deeply stupid and showed little to no tactical or strategic knowledge – something you think you might want in genetically-engineered soldiers.

Executive Decision

2. Executive Decision (1996) – “When terrorists hijack a 747 and turn it into a nerve-gas bomb aimed at Washington, D.C., commandos (including Steven Seagal and John Leguizamo) use an experimental plane to board the jetliner — in flight! When things go wrong, think-tank desk-jockey David Grant (Kurt Russell) assumes command, knowing that if he falls short, Washington will become a ghost town — the hard way. Executive Decision is a rarity: a brainy blockbuster” – This is an excellent Clancy-esque thriller. One of my favorite things about this thriller is that Kurt Russell isn’t the be-all end-all solution to every problem the terrorists present – able help is provided by Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, John Leguizamo, and Joe Morton. Although his is a supporting role, this is my favorite Steven Seagal film.

People watchers look for Marla Maples Trump as Flight Attendant Nancy.

Backdraft

3. Backdraft (1991) – “A blast of flames can take a life … and hide a secret. Fireman brothers William Baldwin and Kurt Russell battle each other over past slights while trying to stop an arsonist from torching Chicago as part of a diabolical agenda. Co-starring Robert De Niro, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Donald Sutherland, director Ron Howard’s epic tale will thrill you with incredible effects” – Ron Howard’s love letter to firemen is second only to his love letter to the space program (Apollo 13). This covers the whole fireman milieu – brave firefighters, firefighters too in love with their jobs, firefighters too in love with fire, arsonists, arson investigators and most importantly lots and lots of FIRE! The movie is worth recommending on the strength of the fire effects alone not to mention the wonderful cast. In addition to the actors mentioned above, Backdraft also features Scott Glenn and Rebecca De Mornay. The movie is by no means perfect – scripting and plotting could both have used some work and William Baldwin isn’t bad but doesn’t shine either but still highly recommended.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger aka The Governator was the king of 80’s action movies (also one of my mother-in-law’s favorite stars). He started off in movies with Hercules in New York (aka Hercules Goes Bananas – 1970) but made his first big impression with Pumping Iron (1977), a documentary on bodybuilding. His physique was ideal for portraying Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian (1982) and again in Conan the Destroyer (1984). Arnold has four movies available on Instant Netflix (one of which I covered under my Batman post).

The Terminator

1. The Terminator (1984) – “In the post-apocalyptic future, reigning tyrannical supercomputers teleport a cyborg assassin known as the “Terminator” (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to 1984 to snuff Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose unborn son is destined to lead insurgents against 21st century mechanical hegemony. Meanwhile, the human-resistance movement dispatches a lone warrior (Michael Biehn) to safeguard Sarah. Can he stop the virtually indestructible killing machine?”

This is an absolute masterpiece from director James Cameron. The character of the Terminator is ideal for Arnold’s build, accent and somewhat wooden delivery. Look for Cameron regulars Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton (“What is wrong with this picture?”) in small roles.

Last Action Hero

2. Last Action Hero (1993) – “A magic movie ticket gains a young fan (Austin O’Brien) unprecedented access to his favorite action hero (Arnold Schwarzenegger) when he’s sucked out of his seat and onto the big screen. But things really blow up when a notorious movie villain uses the ticket to break into the real world. The all-star supporting cast includes Anthony Quinn, Art Carney, F. Murray Abraham, Mercedes Ruehl, Ian McKellen, Joan Plowright and Tina Turner”

I’m not sure what went wrong here. This should have been a slam-dunk – John McTiernan of Die Hard, Predator, and The Hunt for Red October fame directs from a good story concept. Arnold has good backup from F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Quinn, and Charles Dance though I enjoy Tom Noonan’s performance the most. Much of the movie is fun, there are some hilarious gags but it never quite gels for me – good but flawed. This was my eldest daughter’s favorite movie growing up.

Eraser

3. Eraser (1996) – “U.S. Marshall John Kruger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) erases the identities of people enrolled in the Witness Protection Program. His current assignment is to protect Lee Cullen (Vanessa L. Williams), who’s uncovered evidence that the weapons manufacturer she works for has been selling to terrorist groups. When Kruger discovers that there’s a corrupt agent (James Caan) within the program, he must guard his own life while trying to protect Lee’s”

Arnold is in fine heroic form here and in James Cameron’s hands, the action set-pieces (a fight in and out of an airplane, a shootout at the New York Zoo) would have made for a classic movie but Chuck Russell doesn’t quite have the right touch. James Cromwell and James Coburn have brief roles but it’s nice to see both of them in anything really and there is a great bulletproof glass gag. The railguns used throughout the movie are quite silly – second only to Runaway’s slow-moving bullets as the most useless movie uberweapon in history.

Batman & Robin

4. Batman & Robin (1997) – “Along with crime-fighting partner Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and new recruit Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), Batman (George Clooney) battles the dual threat of frosty genius Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and homicidal horticulturalist Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). Freeze plans to put Gotham City on ice, while Ivy tries to drive a wedge between the dynamic duo. With winking jokes and powerhouse action, Batman & Robin makes a great franchise finale “

Where The Dark Knight represents the zenith of Batman movies, Batman & Robin marks its nadir. Arnold and Uma overact worse than the villains on the old Batman TV series (and that series had Vincent Price, Frank Gorshin and Cesar Romero), they gave Batman a nipple suit, noted thespian Alicia Silverstone gets a B&D outfit, and so on. It seems clear that what Joel Schumacher wanted was a big budget Adam West Batman. It’s a shocking waste of money but it is pretty with lots of explosions and shiny things.

Star Trek

Star Trek the original series season 1 is currently available on Instant Netflix. These are the remastered high-definition episodes. While they are not as good as the Blu-Ray discs, the visuals are astounding if what you are used to is either memories of the old series or the Columbia House VHS/DVD transfer. The audio has been given a huge boost as well. Season two is my favorite as it contains most of my favorite episodes – hopefully Netflix will release this on Instant at some point. On the other hand if Netflix releases too much Star Trek on Instant then I’ll never get any work done. There are many excellent episodes in Season 1 – here are a few of my favorites:

Star Trek Season 1

1. Space Seed – “In this prequel to the film Star Trek II, the Enterprise encounters a group of brutal superhumans led by Khan Noonien Singh. Khan battles Kirk for control of the ship and turns a trusted crew member against Starfleet. Ricardo Montalban guest stars”

Ricardo Montalban’s florid style of acting goes well with the arrogance of Khan’s character. Interesting goof is that Chekov recognizes Khan’s ship, The Botany Bay in the movie Star Trek II even though Chekov doesn’t appear in Star Trek TOS until the second season. An old Starlog cartoon pokes fun at this by showing Khan and Chekov meeting in the Enterprise bathroom.

2. Balance of Terror – “The Enterprise pursues a Romulan warbird after it destroys several Federation outposts. The physical similarities between Vulcans and Romulans spark bigotry against Spock by a racist human member of the Enterprise crew. Mark Lenard guest stars”

My favorite episode of Season 1, this one plays out almost exactly like a WW2 submarine movie. Very tense episode and our first look at the Romulans. Mark Lenard is excellent as the Romulan commander but it is a bit disconcerting when we see him later as Sarek.

3. The Galileo Seven – “Spock, Bones, Scotty and several crew members crash-land a shuttlecraft on a planet where they’re attacked by deadly giants. In a race against time, Spock risks his and the lives of the other survivors for a slim and dangerous chance at a rescue”

This episode really gives Leonard Nimoy a chance to shine. Another very tense exciting episode, this is another retelling of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo.

4. Arena – “Aliens abduct Kirk and a Gorn, a large, violent, lizardlike humanoid. For a chance to save the lives of their crews, the aliens order Kirk and the Gorn to fight to the death. But Kirk won’t agree to being some alien bullies’ space gladiator”

William Shatner’s turn to shine as Kirk goes mano a Gorn while the rest of the crew spectate. The one problem with the high definition transfers is that it’s hard not to laugh when they cut from Shatner to a very obvious stunt double. On the other hand, the Gorn does appear to do all of his own stunts.

5. The Devil in the Dark – “When a bizarre monster kills several men at a mining colony, Kirk and Spock beam down to investigate. Through a Vulcan mind-meld, Spock learns the creature is intelligent and has a valid motive for its murderous actions against the miners.”

The Devil in the Dark takes a classic monster scenario and turns it into a morality tale (something Star Trek has always been good at). This episode also features one of Bones’ classic “I’m a doctor not a…” comments.

Darren McGavin

Darren McGavin was one of my favorite character actors especially in his big starring role as Carl Kolchak. He was also a great narrator – he did a number of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books on tape. His gravelly voice was wonderful for those long car rides. In addition to the below Instant Netflix, Darren McGavin also appears in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents season 1 (1955), one episode of Magnum P.I. season 2 (1981) and one episode of Murder She Wrote season 8 (1991).

Kolchak the Night Stalker

1. Kolchak the Night Stalker (1974) – “Independent News Service reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) investigates the supernatural in this 1970s series. Kolchak has his work cut out for him as he tracks down Jack the Ripper, aliens, zombies, werewolves, vengeful spooks, Satanic dogs and a boogeyman from the Louisiana bogs. Guest stars include Richard Kiel, Phil Silvers, Keenan Wynn, Jamie Farr, Bernie Kopell, Tom Skerritt, Scatman Crothers, Dick Van Patten and Erik Estrada”

This was my favorite TV series growing up and I find it to be great campy fun now. The monsters are laughable and the plots are half-baked but Darren McGavin is simply delightful as Kolchak. This does not include the 2 TV movies that preceded the series – The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler (both of which are more serious than the series). I loved the series so much that one evening as a child I cut short trick or treating to watch Kolchak. While this is Darren McGavin’s signature role, most people nowadays remember him for…

A Christmas Story

2. A Christmas Story (1983) – “Humorist Jean Shepard’s nostalgic view of Christmastime in Indiana during the 1940s is a holiday classic. Nine-year-old Ralphie desperately wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas and wages an all-out campaign to convince his reluctant parents (Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon) that the toy is safe. Meanwhile, as Ralphie prepares for the big day, his brother has a strange relationship with food, and his dad fights the never-ending furnace battle”

I generally try to avoid this film 364 days of the year as every year I look forward to one of the Turner stations playing “24 hours of A Christmas Story”. I’ll have that on in the background all day. This film is an absolute classic. If you haven’t seen it yet – why haven’t you?

The Natural

3. The Natural (1984) – “A bat made from a tree struck by lightning and a passion for baseball define Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford). But when he’s shot and severely wounded, his career gets cut short. Years later, Hobbs tries out for a struggling team. He steps to the plate and knocks the ball out of the park in this mythic film that’s as epic as America’s national pastime”

I don’t care for sports so I really don’t care for sports movies. Having written that, this is the best baseball movie I’ve ever seen. It is not really a Darren McGavin film – he’s only in a tiny portion of the movie but this a truly poetic film.

Batman

My best friend Pat died on September 11th so every year at this time I celebrate his life by taking the day off and watching a marathon of superhero movies (his favorite genre). I also eat pizza as my father-in-law’s pizza (Best. Pizza. Ever.) was the last real food Pat could eat and he always looked forward to it. I wash it down with his favorite beverage (WARNING: Product Placement ahead), a cool IBC Root Beer – if you haven’t had IBC, you haven’t tried real root beer. I’ve already had one IBC and watched Batman Begins. Up next is The Dark Knight followed by The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Watchmen. Since I’m on Batman at the moment, Netflix has several Batman films available for instant play.

Batman & Robin

1. Batman & Robin (1997) – “Along with crime-fighting partner Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and new recruit Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), Batman (George Clooney) battles the dual threat of frosty genius Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and homicidal horticulturalist Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). Freeze plans to put Gotham City on ice, while Ivy tries to drive a wedge between the dynamic duo. With winking jokes and powerhouse action, Batman & Robin makes a great franchise finale”

Where The Dark Knight represents the zenith of Batman movies, Batman & Robin marks its nadir. Arnold and Uma overact worse than the villains on the old Batman TV series (and that series had Vincent Price, Frank Gorshin and Cesar Romero), they gave Batman a nipple suit, noted thespian Alicia Silverstone gets a B&D outfit, and so on. It seems clear that what Joel Schumacher wanted was a big budget Adam West Batman. It’s a shocking waste of money but it is pretty with lots of explosions and shiny things.

Batman - Mask of the Phantasm

2. Batman – Mask of the Phantasm (1993) – “This animated adventure of the well-known crime-fighter is better than any of the big-screen live-action adaptations. Philanthropist Bruce Wayne is torn when a former flame returns to Gotham City. At the same time, the Phantasm, a “hero” who’s killing Gotham’s gangsters, confronts Wayne’s alter ego, Batman. Taut writing and incredible animation make this superhero flick one to rent”

I took my girls to see this at the theater when it came out and was surprised at the quality. This represents the best of the Kevin Conroy animated series – the story is quite good, Kevin Conroy is great as the voice of Batman and Mark Hamill is a fabulous Joker. If you watch one of the instant Batmans, this is definitely the one.

Batman & Mr. Freeze - Subzero

3. Batman & Mr. Freeze – Subzero (1998) – “This breathtaking animated adventure explodes into action when surprisingly sympathetic super-criminal Mr. Freeze concocts a plot to save his cryogenically preserved and terminally ill wife — by kidnapping Batgirl, who’s the only match for his wife’s blood type. Racing against the clock, Batman and Robin must face off against the frigid fiend and rescue Batgirl in the iciest showdown of the century”

This is an enjoyable animated tale though not as good as Mask of the Phantasm. The script is good, Kevin Conroy does his usual great job, and the portrayal of Mr. Freeze is thankfully light-years from Arnold’s in Batman & Robin.

Batman Beyond - Return of the Joker

4. Batman Beyond – Return of the Joker (2000) – “New Batman Terry McGinnis fights a gang called the Jokerz and confronts Bruce Wayne’s archnemesis, the Joker, long thought dead after a battle with the original Batman. To defeat the clown prince of crime, the new caped crusader must reopen a chapter in the original Batman’s career — the story of the night he fought the Joker for the final time”

Much as I like Batman, I never really got into Batman Beyond. This one wasn’t bad so much as meh although it does have the excellent Kevin Conroy and the equally excellent Mark Hamill as the Joker. Not my cup of tea but I’m sure if you like Batman Beyond, you’ll like this.

Batman vs. Dracula

5. Batman vs. Dracula (2005) – “It’s good bat vs. bad bat in this thrilling feature starring that mysterious superhero Batman. Dracula is stalking the citizens of Gotham City, and it’s up to Batman to stop him from turning everyone in town into a bloodthirsty creature of the night. As if that’s not enough for the Caped Crusader, those evil villains Joker and Penguin are also on the loose. Extras include a featurette about the legend of Dracula and more”

This cheapie appears to have been dumped to market to cash in on Batman Begins. Kevin Michael Richardson is no Mark Hamill, Rino Romano is no Kevin Conroy, really just don’t bother unless you are a die-hard Batman fan. The best thing I can say about it is that isn’t awful on an operatic scale the way Batman & Robin is.

 

The Coen Brothers

The Coen brothers create some wonderfully whimsical films. Jen enjoys their comedies most (especially The Big Lebowski) but I’m fond of their more ‘serious’ films. They came out of the gate with a wonderful twist on modern noir in Blood Simple and won well-deserved Oscars with Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Currently three of their films are available on instant play.

Miller's Crossing

1. Miller’s Crossing (1990) – “Trusted adviser to 1920s Irish crime boss Lee O’Bannon, Tom Reagan’s loyalty is tested when he takes up with O’Bannon’s gal pal, Verna Bernbaum. Meanwhile, rivals Johnny Caspar and Eddie Dane threaten O’Bannon’s racket. Gabriel Byrne, John Turturro, Albert Finney, Steve Buscemi, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman and Marcia Gay Harden star in this marvelously crafted, unnerving crime-era epic helmed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.”

This is my favorite Coen Brothers movie though Fargo and No Country for Old Men are clearly better films. I think it’s the homage to the old Warner Bros. gangster films while still having quite a few clever twists and turns. Gabriel Byrne gives a nice, laidback performance but the outstanding supporting cast takes the cake. It is hard to say whose performance is best – Steve Buscemi has only a few moments but is outstanding, John Turturro is incredibly slimy, Jon Polito is wonderfully volatile, and Albert Finney gives a nicely nuanced performance as a mob boss in over his head. Very highly recommended – just don’t get me started on the hat.

Barton Fink

2. Barton Fink (1991) – “Idealistic playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro) believes writing should reveal the hopes, dreams and tragedies of the common man. When Hollywood taps him to write a movie, Fink develops severe writer’s block and soon falls victim to a strange sequence of events. Unable to combine his deep-seated ethics with Tinseltown’s frivolity, the disillusioned and desperate Fink winds up involved in a murder investigation in this Oscar-nominated dramedy”

Absolutely bizarre, surreal perhaps even semi-autobiographical story is a little difficult to get into but worth the effort as events spiral out of control. John Goodman is quite good – his second best performance next to Matinee and look for a pre-Monk Tony Shalhoub and Steve Buscemi in good supporting roles.

The Hudsucker Proxy

3. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) – “The Coen brothers deliver a screwball comedy gem about mail clerk Norville Barnes, (Tim Robbins) who falls into good — or bad? — luck when he becomes the CEO of a successful business. The evil Sidney J. Mussberger (Paul Newman) chooses Barnes so he and the other board directors can make a fortune on the falling stock price. Meanwhile, reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) befriends Norville in hopes of landing a big scoop”

A good screwball comedy that really only suffers from being not as good as the Coen Brothers other films. Funny but not particularly memorable in spite of good performances by Paul Newman and Tim Robbins.