Killing Season

Killing season is currently available on instant Netflix.

Killing Season

 

Killing Season (2013) – Rated R

Tormented by memories of combat in the Bosnian War, American vet Benjamin Ford seeks peace of mind deep in the Appalachian Mountains. But when a Bosnian vet of the same war comes to settle a score, a new war erupts in the American wilderness.”

One Line Review: DeNiro and Travolta pontificate and fight, repeat until movie is over.

I think all that needs to be said of this film is the bit of trivia that Robert DeNiro took over his role from Nicolas Cage. Yes, Killing Season was going to be a reunion of sorts for the king of direct-to-video, Nicolas Cage and one of the few people who can overact even more, John Travolta. While they both had a grand old time in Face/Off, they have since fallen off the charts, delving into less reputable work.

John Travolta had a great leading man career with Grease, Saturday Night Fever, and Urban Cowboy. His career petered out and then he had a resurgence with Look Who’s Talking. It petered out again and then he had a fantastic comeback with Pulp Fiction. This time he capitalized on it with great roles in Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, Phenomenon, and Michael.

Unfortunately along came the debacle that was Battlefield Earth. After that Travolta began a series of really bad roles (and performances) in such turkeys as Swordfish, Domestic Disturbance, and Basic. Even reviving his Get Shorty character, Chili Palmer, proved ill-advised. Killing Season got a theatrical release but only barely. I think John Travolta is headed the Nicolas Cage route.

Robert DeNiro’s career arc is even more disheartening. He is capable of giving the most fantastic performances but only under the right directors. DeNiro had humble beginnings as part of the Roger Corman machine.

He first showed signs of promise in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. Under Scorsese, he was nominated for Best Actor for Taxi Driver, won Best Actor for Raging Bull, and was nominated again for Cape Fear.

He won Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather, Part II (Francis Ford Coppola). He was nominated for Best Actor in The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino) and again for Awakenings (Penny Marshall). Most recently he was nominated for Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell). That all sounds great right?

Sadly he often phones his more recent performances. Godsend, Wag the Dog, Analyze That, Showtime, and especially Righteous Kill are things I’d like to think he was at least a little embarrassed by.

Yes I know I’ve blathered on endlessly about these two actors instead of talking about Killing Season. Honestly, there isn’t much to say about Killing Season. Travolta overacts as usual while working on a very interesting accent. DeNiro phones his performance in. Nuff said.

While there are other actors in the movie, 90% of Killing Season is just DeNiro and Travolta chatting, trying to kill each other, chatting some more, trying to kill each other, chatting still more. They constantly place each other in ‘unnecessarily slow dipping mechanisms’.

There is no sense of suspense here and we don’t actually care about the characters. They try to make the characters clever but they aren’t. Writer Evan Dougherty obviously thinks this is far more deep than it is. Still, Killing Season is a passable waste of two hours and the scenery, particularly of Tallulah Falls, is gorgeous.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 – Do Not Get on That Train week

This is Do Not Get on That Train week. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is currently available on instant Netflix.

AVOID: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) – Rated R for graphic language and violence.

“When a group of hijackers led by criminal mastermind Ryder (John Travolta) take the passengers aboard a New York subway train hostage and demand a kings ransom, it is up to subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) to bring them down. Directed by Tony Scott (Man on Fire), this action thriller — an update of the 1974 film from Joseph Sargent — also stars James Gandolfini, John Turturro, Luis Guzmán and Michael Rispoli.”

“Life is simple now. They just have to do what I say.” – one of the few printable lines in the movie

Well I wanted to like this movie but I simply cannot. I also feel somewhat of a hypocrite for recommending a Steven Seagal film yesterday and panning a Denzel Washington film today.

Denzel Washington is a wonderful everyman. To me he represents a more recent Tom Hanks, Jimmy Stewart, or Gregory Peck (or for those of you who are color conscious a modern Sidney Poitier). He handles serious roles with dignity while managing a lighter touch on the material where it is required.

While normally playing the hero, his tour de force performance in Training Day won him his second Oscar. He had previously won a Best Supporting Actor nod for Glory as well as nominations for The Hurricane, Malcolm X, and Freedom.

Why oh why then does he keep working with director Tony Scott?

The Scott brothers are one of my cinematic love-hate relationships. Ridley Scott, in my opinion, is one of the best directors working today. He has directed four of my all-time favorite movies (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down and many other wonderful yet flawed films (The Duellists, Thelma & Louise, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Rain).

His brother Tony consistently takes good material and good actors and trashes both with his signature visual stylings. It is not that most of his films are awful – they actually are not – it is that while watching them you cannot help but think how much better the movie would be if someone else had made it.

Hysterically most of what is wrong with a Tony Scott film occurs literally within the first minute here. We approach the Columbia logo as through a tunnel and then we have a panoramic view of New York while a nice subway motif sets up the credits. Not content with that good start, Scott abandons it seconds later (seriously Scott has THE worst case of ADD of any Hollywood director) for a frenetic time-lapse montage of people swarming over the city streets with no shot lasting longer than a few seconds.

The first words heard are from a song and they are “got 99 problems but a b@tch  aint one” as we pan over Travolta with a cheesy moustache, cross earring and neck tattoo of a gun and the words “from my cold dead hands”. Is that supposed to be ironic? Apparently at that point the camera was just too steady so then we get some extra blurry and juddery camerawork, again with no shot lasting longer than a few seconds.

The F bomb – practically a Tony Scott trademark – is dropped in the song before the credits are done and still we are only in the first minute of the movie. The first line in the movie is “So” and the second line contains four F bombs. How old is Tony Scott? 12? Or did writer Brian Helgeland actually write that second line.

Please understand that I have nothing against profanity in films. South Park is one of the most profane films of all time and is absolutely hysterical. Where would John McClane (Bruce Willis) be without the ending to Yippie-Kai-yay? There are tons of places where profanity can appropriately be applied but using it because you cannot actually think of anything better to say just makes you look like an idiot.

I think it is hysterical that now that PG-13 films are allowed to throw in one non-sexual reference F-bomb that almost all of them do. Why? Because it is part of the business formula.

The 1974 original was a classic urban thriller. Walter Matthau was excellent as the beleaguered Garber and Robert Shaw was ice cool as Blue (Ryder in the remake). Blue had to deal with a worried cohort and keep a psychopathic one in check in addition to Garber. The bad guys were all color coded so that their real names were not used. Tarantino found this so cool that he borrowed it for Reservoir Dogs.

This remake jettisons the color names of course. Not only that but in the original, all of the perpetrators are disguised. None of the perpetrators in the remake are disguised

John Travolta plays Ryder, our hijacker. Unfortunately he has only one speed – full bore – so instead of a man with a plan, he just comes across as a complete psychopath. He has given so many good nuanced performances in the past but lately he has delved into the realm of self-parody.

Tony Scott also throws in two very good character actors, Luis Guzman and James Gandolfini, in pretty substantial parts. They do well though the part for Guzman is woefully underwritten. Though Guzman should not complain as the other two hijackers are complete ciphers.

At one point Garber (Denzel) says out loud to himself  “Jerry Pollard. I know Jerry Pollard. I went to Motormans school with Jerry Pollard”. Really does anyone actually talk that way? Was there no better way to convey this information?

The modern updates to the script are a mixed bag. One of the hostages having a laptop is certainly reasonable, though the way it is used becomes a bit laughable. They do have a clever stock market subplot that ultimately goes nowhere.

If you must watch this film, I highly recommend some dramamine. Scott loves to pan the camera for a few seconds and then jump to another character, pan for a few seconds and then jump back. I swear some of the later subway scenes were made for an anti-drug video.

The original script sets up a wonderful, tight ending and a great epilogue. Tony Scott and Brian Helgeland jettison this in favor of a bombastic over-the-top ending.

In the original the mayor has to make a few decisions such as approving the ransom – quite reasonable. Here the mayor actually talks to Ryder. When was the last time that you heard of a mayor being involved directly in hostage negotiations?

Scott continuously updates us on how much time is left but it quickly becomes comical, particularly as we are not advancing in time at all. I did like how one of the characters mentioned that they should have used a helicopter to deliver the money – thus sort of covering a plothole.

The part that really gets me is that every single good point in this movie (with the exception of Turturro below) was done better in the original and every change (except the stock market subplot sort of) that Scott and Helgeland made in the story made it worse.

The worst change is towards the end where Ryder does something completely and utterly nonsensical. I will not mention what it was to avoid spoilers but from that point on the movie went from being annoying to being monumentally stupid.

Avoid this movie and if you do not mind 70s films, put the original in your Netflix queue.

People Watch: John Turturro does a stellar job playing Camonetti, a hostage negotiator. He does a good job here but his performances for the Coen brothers are much better, particularly Jesus in the Big Lebowski and Bernie Bernbaum in Millers Crossing.

Battlefield Earth – Solar System week

In honor of my father-in-law, a retired professor of astronomy, this week we will spend exploring our solar system in the movies. Today we will visit our home planet Earth. Battlefield Earth is currently available on instant Netflix.

AVOID: Battlefield Earth (2000) – Rated PG-13 for adult content, adult language and violence.

“In the year 2000, an alien race known as the Psychlos devastated Earth and turned it into a wasteland. In the year 3000, the aliens — led by the horrific Terl (John Travolta) — still hold the surviving human population hostage and have forced Earthlings into slavery. But when human Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) discovers the aliens major weakness and leads the final fight for Earths survival, the parasitic Psychlos are in for a shock.”

“I am sorry – the gods took your father in the night.”

“I am sorry. I cannot take you Chrissy.”

I am so sorry if you had the misfortune of seeing this film.

First off the official title is Battlefield Earth – A Saga of the Year 3000. How positively generic. If you still did not get it then the first text onscreen is “Man is an endangered species”. The alien race are Psychlos so you know they are not good. Our hero is Jonny Goodboy Tyler. I understand that subtlety is not a strong suit for many but this is some serious overkill.

This film is sooooooo bad. I have not read the book by L. Ron Hubbard but this inane plot had to have come from somewhere so he definitely has to share the blame. Especially since they rejected the screenplay written by J.D. Shapiro as not being faithful enough to the book.

They have a deus ex machina in an alien device that teaches Jonny not only to speak Psychlo but also teaches him (and this had me laughing hysterically) Euclidian geometry (among other things). So apparently after Euclid, a Greek, developed geometry, he must have left the planet to teach the aliens geometry since they named theirs after Euclid as well.

There is another real head-scratcher as well. Perhaps it is better explained in the book but there is no indication that the alien device would teach Jonny how to read English (or that he would have time to do so after being shown a human repository of knowledge). Strangely Jonny knows that gold was stored a thousand years ago in Fort Knox.

Another character – a human savage – refers to something as “a piece of cake”. Really? Terl refers to the humans constantly as “man animals”. Do we refer to elephants as “elephant animals”?

Jonny teaches the other savages how to fly jets (I swear I am not making this up) by using a simulator from a thousand years ago (still not sure what power source it uses). Oh and he does this in a week – obviously our Air Force spends far too much on training. This is so they can properly use the 1,000 year old jets with 1,000 year old jet fuel in them.

Please note that these jets were completely ineffective in 2000 at the time of the Psychlo invasion. In fact, Terl states that humanity put up a fight for only nine minutes.

Battlefield Earth swept the Razzies in 2001. It won Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor – John Travolta, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Supporting Actress – Kelly Preston. The only reason Forest Whitaker did not win his Worst Supporting Actor nomination was that Barry Pepper won it by being even worse. The most amusing Razzie was that Battlefield Earth won Worst Couple – John Travolta and anyone sharing the screen with him.

In 2005 Battlefield Earth won a Razzie for Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years. It won again in 2010 for Worst Picture of the Decade and Worst Actor of the Decade – John Travolta. At the Razzies, Battlefield Earth was referred to as Plan 9 from L. Ron Hubbard.

What happened to John Travolta? He made a fabulous career comeback in 1994 with Pulp Fiction. He had some great roles right after that in Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, Phenomenon and Michael. He did an excellent nuanced Clinton impersonation in Primary Colors (1998).

Then Travolta went kablooey. He was abominable here, awful in Swordfish, dreadful in Domestic Disturbance, and cringe-worthy in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. He even revisited (poorly) his character of Chili Palmer from Get Shorty in the sequel Be Cool.

I think I could write an entire week on just the different facets of this awful movie. AVOID at all costs!

People Watch: Kelly Preston, wife of John Travolta and fellow Scientologist, has a brief but painfully funny role as Chirk.

Broken Arrow – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is Weapons of Mass Destruction week. Broken Arrow is currently available on instant Netflix.

Broken Arrow

WATCH: Broken Arrow (1996) – Rated R.

“When rogue stealth-fighter pilot Vic Deakins (John Travolta) deliberately drops off the radar while on maneuvers, the Air Force ends up with two stolen nuclear warheads — and his co-pilot, Riley Hale (Christian Slater), is the only hope for getting them back. Traversing the deserted canyons of Utah, Hale teams with park ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis) to put Deakins back in his box. But can they pull it off?”

“I dont know what is scarier, losing nuclear weapons, or that it happens so often there is a term for it.”

“You assured me everything would go smoothly.” – “I assure you – everything is going smoothly.”

“Would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?”

First, I have to admit that I love director John Woo. His Hong Kong films were great. The Killers, Hard-Boiled and A Better Tomorrow are all classics and gave a much needed shot of adrenaline to the action genre.

John Woo was not the first filmmaker to feature a two-gun hero but he was definitely the one who popularized it. Many of his action signatures like that one have been endlessly copied by Hollywood.

Unfortunately when John Woo came to the U.S., he hit a triple wall. None of his American movies have matched the dark poetry of The Killer or the adrenaline rush of Hard-Boiled.

Star interference hurt him twice. For his first American feature he was given the notoriously difficult Jean Claude Van Damme as his star. Worse, Mission Impossible II was a Tom Cruise film. When Tom Cruise is in a film, he has the power to film and edit to feature himself (not the film) to best advantage.

MPAA interference meant that his ballets of violence had to be severely toned down. The worst damage however was that John Woo was used to a great deal of autonomy and that did not sit well with the studios. He also liked operatic endings which do not go over well with American audiences.

Broken Arrow, while not one of his Hong Kong classics, is a quite entertaining film. There are several signature Woo Mexican standoffs here as well as a dual gun-wielding hero.

The action setpieces are great. A mine shootout is a particular standout as is the train assault.

Woo has a wonderful time with transportation themes in this film. With helicopters alone, we have helicopter vs. person on foot, Helicopter vs. jeep, and helicopter vs. train. The film starts with a stealth flight and later features jeep chases, boats, and even a train.

One of the nice things about the film is the give and take. Sometimes our villain outsmarts the hero, sometimes the hero outsmarts the villain. As with most Woo films, the hero and the villain have a close personal relationship.

John Travolta has a ball here. His brand of broad stroke acting wonderfully fits the villain for this film. His performances around this time (Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty) are marvelous but sadly they have devolved into self-parody (Battlefield Earth, Swordfish). John Travolta chews up the scenery here and the film is almost worth watching for his performance alone.

Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis play our heroes. They handle their roles capably but do not appear to be having nearly as much fun as Travolta. Football player Howie Long plays the evil sidekick. He does not have much to do but look imposing but he seems to enjoy himself.

I recommend this as a  Watch for an admittedly hammy yet quite enjoyable performance by Travolta and for some wild action scenes. Keep in mind while watching that this is indeed watered-down Woo.

People Watch: Look for veteran character actor Kurtwood (Robocop, That 70s Show) Smith as the Secretary of Defense. After a disappointing last decade, John Woo returned to China to film Red Cliff, an adaptation of the classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is supposed to feature some amazing battle sequences.