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).
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.
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.
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.