Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jungleground (1995)

I've been a fan of Roddy Piper ever since I saw him in They Live. If there's a former wrestler out there that has the goods to be a legitimate action star than he is probably the one. He's got a great physical presence along with some adequate charisma and the ability to deliver a good line or two. Unfortunately, hollywood never really saw it the way I do and so he's been forced to work on the outskirts trudging through some pretty awful shit that I am too lazy to look up on imdb and name for you. I did see him in Hell Comes to Frog Town which was a pretty fun post apocalyptic story about the last fertile man on earth or some shit like that. I recommend that one. And, now, I've seen his low budget actioner called Jungleground which takes elements from a picture like Surving The Game (or, The Most Dangerous Game for all you film snobs) and fuses it with the urban gangland aspects of Judgement Night and then surgically removes the entire budget. Anyway, wanted to knock off a quick review or two before I go home for the holidays so here you are. My long anticipated write up for a Roddy Piper picture that no one has heard of and that wasn't even made in the 80s even though it feels like it was.

Jungleground is the kind of picture set in an urban wasteland and likely filmed in Canada somewhere to capture an authentic look and feel of that type of society. There are basically two locations; the east side of a bridge and the west side of that same bridge. I can't remember which side "jungleground" was on but it was probably the bad side. The picture opens with a cocky little pizza delivery boy who doubles as a drug runner for his boss who I guess is named Poppa being sent deep into jungleground to make a delivery. It's his first time so Poppa sends along a hired gun but the poor boy sets off an explosion after ringing the doorbell of a broken down tenement and the hired gun is dispatched by a boy armed with an uzi on roller skates who is named gameshow and thinks he's being clever when he says "the price is your life" (I guess he is referencing "the price is right".) The explosion looked pretty cool anyway.

Roddy Piper plays a police lieutenant named Jake Cornell and he lives on the good side of the river with his artist girlfriend in their spacious loft. He spends most of his time working undercover in jungleground and his scars and traumas from everyday life are what fuels his girlfriend's art which appear to be badly rendered metal sculptures of various nightmarish things indicative of life in the jungleground or so we are told. She's pretty good at what she does though because on this night she is hosting a gala celebrating her art and also some dealer tells her so but later recants and claims it's all shit because she won't sleep with him. This dealer tries to cause a rift between the artist and Piper with a slew of umemorable insults but Piper just responds by saying "I just figure you're like a kid that hasn't been toilet trained yet. He doesn't mean to offend with the load of shit he's been saddled with." That shut the guy up real quick. His artist girlfriend is a real character though because she doesn't accuse Jake of sabotaging her career like most women would in such a picture. She loves him for standing up to the asshole and paraphrases Rachel Ticotin during a nice rooftop scene "grab me now or lose me forever."

Later, some cop named Wilson shows up at the party and it's all downhill from there. Some bad shit is going down at a jungleground bus station and Cornell is needed to oversee a deal, make sure things don't get too fucked up. His job is just to stand by and look inconspicuous (he fails miserably) while a couple of other undercovers broker the deal. I don't know man, this is fucking jungleground. A few white guys (and a lady) pretending to read the paper in the world's most dangerous bus terminal is probably going to stand out. Still, these are not the world's smartest drug dealers so things go okay until one of them decides to pinch the undercover female cop's ass and she unloads a clip into his chest. I think she was new because a seasoned undercover would probably just have laughed off such a gesture, maybe even flashed a little breast with a wink but this cop was into women's lib and shit. Her pride got them all killed except, of course, for Piper who is captured by the gang and given a chance to live. All he has to do is survive the night in jungleground long enough to make it to the other side of the river.

The movie has an interesting view on gangs. The gang is led by a scenery chewing JR Bourne as Odin. His war chief is played by Peter Williams and is named Dragon. Fuck, these guys all have names from some sort of mythology or other; Well, ok, I guess Thor was the only other one. Some other names were Posey, Diesel, and Ferret. So, there is a good old fashioned power struggle taking place between Odin and Dragon. Dragon's mission is to rid jungleground of pushers and to clean up the neighborhood. Odin says that's his mission but he rarely backs it up with action. He has a point. If these guys want to be a self respecting gang they need to bring in the money somehow. In a part of the city even the cops are afraid to enter drugs seems like the logical choice. Things get a bit skewed when Dragon's young brother (the rollerskating gameshow) is accidentaly killed when, while pursuing Piper, he skates up a ramp and into a hanging car engine that knocks him to the ground and then falls on him. Will Dragon blindly seek vengeance on Piper even though he knows it wasn't really his fault and that Piper may be the best remaining chance to clean up jungleground?

I'm trying hard to defend this one but it was really hard to get past the miniscule budget. I mean, Piper is great in this thing but no one else distinguishes themselves and quite a few should be embarrassed by their performances. I think my favorite scene involved a set of gangland twins dispatched by Odin to go to Piper's girlfriends apartment and hold her hostage until dawn at which point they will kill her I guess (or worse). These scenes contain the film's most disturbing sequences as the twins duct taped her mouth and then would torture her by duct taping her nose shut and then only ripping the tape off right before she passed out. This girl, her name was Sam, was a bit resourceful though and devised a semi-brilliant escape plan.

I forgot to mention the picture's biggest set piece involving the trial of Roddy Piper in a scene that reminded me of barter town from that Mad Max Thunderdome picture. Also, Piper is dressed in a toga and Odin addressed the masses from a balcony. It's probably the only time the picture achieved any kind of worthy atmosphere and it didn't even bother me too much that it was ripped off. Fuck, I am going back and forth on this one. This picture does some things pretty well I guess. They take the old tired "hooker with a heart of gold" cliche and, while they don't do much with it, have her take a bullet in the gut while helping Piper. She doesn't die (at least not onscreen) but Piper still leaves the poor, possibly mortally wounded, girl in the company of a bunch of construction workers and apparently these are not the ogling type but i still wonder what happened to the broad. Scene could have turned into one of those disturbing type of gang bang pornos they used to make in the 70s but luckily the director had more class than that I guess.

Also, one of the gang members is a black cowboy that brandishes a pair of six shooters. I like it when movies twist some stereotypes around like that. Unfortunately, his inclusion leads to one of Piper's worst lines when he says "hi ho silver" after dispatching him. Well fuck it, some of this picture is shit and some of it entertained. How much shit can you tolerate I guess is the question of the moment. I can tolerate a lot so there you go. The movie is full of exploding cars, gun battles, and some hand to hand combat type scenes where Piper finally gets to display the moves that originally made him famous. Piper is a brawler in this one. He gets his ass kicked at times but keeps coming back. Please, for the love of god, someone put this guy in a decent picture.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Punisher (1989)

After seeing Punisher War Zone I decided to go back and visit the one that started it all but then I learned that these films aren't really connected, there's no trilogy...each one is what they like to call in Hollywood a "reboot". I guess that's become popular these days since Hollywood is constantly fucking up our comic book movies and needing to re-do them. I've never heard the term used for any other genre. Why can't they "reboot" the Star Wars prequels or The Happening or The Hills Have Eyes sequel to the remake? Anyway, it turned out I had never seen this one which surprised me a little. I always felt the punisher was one of the more interesting comic book heroes (I think I was the only one). His is the rare case where his alter ego, Frank Castle (or is punisher the alter ego? I forget how this works), is actually dead, not in the literal sense. The moment his family was wiped out Castle ceased to exist and he became the punisher. There's no going back to Castle. His is not really a story of redemption so much as a story of vengeance that can only end when he dies. Like many heroes, the punisher works mostly at night because, I guess, that's when most criminals go to work. During the day he lurks in his subterranean lair (it's a sewer) and prays in the nude to a god that will not listen. He's not asking for forgiveness or answers or anything like that. He knows he's going to hell. I think he's just lonely.

Anyway, this punisher guy is played by Dolph Lundgren in this one, the first one. He definitely looks the part except I can't, for the life of me, figure out why they didn't give him the skull t-shirt. That was a mistake I think since it's sort of his identifiable mark. I could see a thirteen year old today coming across this picture on TBS and quickly changing the channel when he so called realizes this is one of those crummy 80s pictures that Dad likes to watch and not a comic book movie that all thirteen year old boys are required to watch. That kid would be wrong and would probably grow up to be at least a fraction worse for it. This is a much much better picture than it has any right to be.

The opening credits are usually a good place to start and these are some good ones. We're treated to comic book drawings of villains being shot off the screen as an honest to god real orchestral pulse pounding score serenades us into euphoria. The movie begins much like the 2nd reboot began; with an asshole mafioso being acquitted. He stops to talk to the press and says a line we actually believe he believes that goes like "if a man is innocent, justice prevails" and then he has this to say about the so called punisher "if he ever shows up within a thousand yards of me, he'll find out what the word punished really means." Like most mafioso douchebags, this guy is not really a man of his word and he will soon find out what the word retribution means in spectacularly brutal fashion. Of course, this is the 1980s so the violence isn't quite as over the top as War Zone but it's certainly still to be appreciated. We don't need to see organs flying out of bodies or whatever to understand the consequences of the punisher's actions.

I'm not sure why all the internet fanboys weren't up in arms when this thing came out. The 1st Punisher reboot caught a lot of flak for being set in Miami and not New York City which is apparently the only place these stories can take place. Well this fucking thing was filmed in Sydney Australia ya bunch of fuckos and I have to think that's a step below Miami. The city itself is never named but how the fuck can Punisher not even be in America? It's an abysmally awful choice by the director Mark Goldblatt and his studio New World Australia. This is such a slap in the face to all of us fucking Americans. How would you douchebags like it if we took an Australian treasure like Crocodile Dundee or something, put him in a movie and set the god damned thing in New York or Los Angeles? Christ.

Anyway, the cast in this picture is pretty impressive. I mentioned Dolph Lundgren but haven't even gotten to the real casting coup yet; Oscar winning actor Lou Mother fucking Gossett jr. Yeah, he's in this. He's Frank's old partner and current Sydney detective Jake Berkowitz. If it sounds like a white guy's name that's because it is. They replaced the white actor that was originally in the picture with a vacationing Lou Gossett who decided he needed some time away from the wife. Can't pass up a chance to grab an oscar winner, right? The name was already in the script so they kept it. He filmed his part in about ten minutes and is pretty much useless until the end and even then he's pretty fucking useless always showing up a few minutes after punisher leaves. He has one fantastic emotional scene with Punisher after Punisher has just been arrested for rescuing a bunch of mafia kids from the Yakuza (long story) where he addresses Punisher as Frank and tells him he's sick because of what he's done and what the fuck does he call 125 murders in five years to which Punisher responds "a work in progress."

I really enjoyed the performance of Jeroen Krabbe who played the mafia don as a somewhat sympathetic character who loves his son almost as much as he loves the family business. Kim Myori played the Yakuza crime boss named Lady Tanaka and was the kind of cold hearted bitch that would feed her brother a nice meal and slit his throat as soon as he was finished and, in fact, she did. Some hot blonde broad played her lieutenant the white blonde ninja or at least she did until punisher broke her neck. Punisher took a beating in this picture and I guess that makes sense because it's the first movie and he's still learning the ropes. At one point he's overwhelmed by a bunch of ninjas at an amusement park and placed on a torture device commonly referred to as the rack. We learn how far this guy is willing to go when he sees his only friend named Shakes the bum on an adjacent rack. Torture has no effect on a guy like the punisher, a guy with an incredibly high threshold for pain coupled with an absolute willingness to die. What about the torture of a close friend, a drunken bum that claims himself to be an actor, a guy that punisher plys with booze in exchange for information? Will that have an effect on the guy? Nope.

The only people that can get through to the guy are the children. Yes, punisher used to have two children of his own until they were blown up by the mob. He even has the picture and the dental records to prove it. Often he sees them reflected in the eyes of the mafia kids and then he becomes, for a brief moment anyway, a big softie. Wow, forgot a plot description so here is s a brief one for you: In five years time punisher has decimated the local mob to the point that the Yakuza can waltz in and take over. Yakuza make fun of Italian mafia and steal their children to sell into slavery. Italians try to make a deal and show up at a fancy restaurant but it's actually an ambush since apparently all the other diners (including a little old white lady) are working for Yakuza and shoot the place up which is hilarious since Lady Tanaka waltzes in and tells the few survivors about the poison they just drank. Anyway, Punisher rescues all the children except for one, you guessed it, the son of the boss. The boss and Punisher team up to rescue the boy with Punisher telling the boss "when this is over, you're dead." Can either of these two loveable outcasts be redeemed? Is punisher a man of his word? Why am I an hour and fifteen minutes into this thing with nary a naked breast in sight? I can answer the last one. Punisher has no use for women, no, just vengeance. Vengeance and children.

The Punisher Origins is an entertaining movie, a near forgotten gem from a time that time forgot, the time just before 1990. Lundgren is, like I mentioned earlier, good in the role except for his voice which at times seemed to be trying a little too hard to be menacing. English is not really his first language so maybe the guy was just trying to enunciate correctly. I tried to keep a count of dead guys but it didn't take long for me to throw up my arms and just give up. You'll probably be a bit surprised to learn that this picture is also a bit funny at times. I liked when the mob guys were on the pier waiting for a shipment to come in and one of them radioed a lookout named "red 2" and asked "what have you got" to which red 2 responded "bad kidneys...gotta take a leak." Lots of throwaway lines like that which enhanced the overall flavor of the picture and also the racist line where the one italian guy scoffs at the Yakuza 75-25 proposal and says "I'm not gonna be a salary boy to a bunch of nips". I didn't actually find that part funny at all. Racism is never funny. Well, wrapping up...what he have here is a pretty good action picture the likes of which the world has seen many times over but one that I can whole heartedly recommend. I just wish they had wrapped it up with a better fight. It's a pretty tired cliche where two guys wrestle for control of a gun, the gun goes off, and then one guy stands up and we think the guy on the ground must have been the one that was shot but no, we've been tricked, the guy that stood up was the one shot all along. Then again, I don't know if I've seen that cliche before 1989 or, more likely, I just don't remember. If this is the origin of that particular god awful cliche then I dub this the Casablanca of action pictures.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tango and Cash (1989)

One or two more of these pictures and then I swear I'm going to have to move on. Tango and Cash is a selection from the sub genre of action films known as the "buddy picture". While not quite at the level of 48 hours or Lethal Weapon this is a pretty fucking good movie, the kind that if made today would probably go DTV with a 1/4 of the budget. I recently saw Punisher: War Zone. It kicked all sorts of ass. And yet, after my viewing I couldn't help but wonder why the hollywood action picture is changing so drastically. They've always had elements of hyper-violence, but now that violence comes equipped with Saw-like gore. This absolutely is not a bad thing (unless, of course, that gore comes with Saw-like edits)....but, but, but....where have all the titties gone? They used to be a staple of this type of picture. You cannot have a scene in a titty bar (another staple of action pictures) without titties. You just can't. I think the problem is that actresses today don't have the balls that they had in the past. They want a legitimate acting career and fear showing their goods might hinder their progress. Of course, we know this to be bullshit. Tango and Cash almost fell victim to this "progress". Teri Hatcher plays an "erotic dancer" who doesn't take off her top. Thankfully, I guess they hired real strippers for the strip club scene and we got to see some of them backstage. Hatcher kept her clothes on in her dance scene though. I haven't been this appalled since Jessica Alba didn't take off her top in Sin City. Fuck man, I'd even settle for some CG titties. Anything! I guess Americans are more comfortable watching a wheelchair bound elderly mafioso having his head cut off (great moment in Punisher) then seeing something like a beautiful pair of tits. It doesn't make much sense to me. Murder and mayhem are good. Sex, the thing responsible for life and hard ons, is not. It's a bad trend and it needs to change. I think I should just add "titties" as a blog category and be done with it.

Tango and Cash is the story of two Los Angeles narcotics officers named Cash (Kurt Russell) and Tango (Sylvester Stallone). These guys couldn't be more different. Tango is the buttened down stock broker type, referred to as "Armani with a badge" while Cash is the slovenly blue jeans and a t-shirt type. He's the kind of guy that gets a tear in a shirt and laments "this shirt cost me nine bucks!" Also, they work in different precincts so it's not like these guys are even partners. What they have in common is they've been costing Jack Palance (he plays a drug lord) millions. Palance, playing a guy named Yyves Perret, is not your typical drug lord though. Instead of just having these two cops killed he concocts an elaborate scheme to have them framed for the murder of an undercover agent and sent to prison. While in prison, they'll be tortured and killed by a group of thugs led by none other than the "maniac cop" (Robert Z'Dar), he with the enormous chin. Of course, no prison can contain Stallone (see Lock Up) and Russell, we know, is pretty good at breaking in and out of them as well (Escape from New York and L.A.) so immediately we realize Palance's scheme is flawed.

This picture actually has a great line up of villains. Besides Palance and D'Zar, we've also got the likes of Brion James (Blade Runner) playing a cockneyed thug and James Hong (also Blade Runner) as, I guess, Palance's left hand man (he's not very good and as far as I could tell did nothing but suck down his camel 100s). Even Clint Howard (Blackwoods) shows up briefly as Tango's cellmate Slinky. He's named so because the guy wraps his slinky around his head while he sleeps and shoots spittle on the ceiling. We're not even going to stop here. A Frank Oz looking mother fucker shows up as a key witness against Tango and Cash, an audio expert who "authenticated" the pivotal evidence at their trial. He's played by Michael Jeter. Fuck, even Seinfeld's Mr. Lipman makes an appearence as Tango and Cash's lawyer. It's pretty much a cast for the fucking ages. Oh yeah, a non-topless Teri Hatcher (is she Stallone's girlfriend, daughter, or...gasp...sister??). And former real-life criminal turned actor playing a cop Edward Bunker is in this thing. It's a dream cast.

Back to the story, amazingly Cash and Tango were able to cut a deal of only eighteen months in a country club like prison for murdering an undercover agent. Also amazingly, Palance has enough pull (i.e. cash) to get these guys rerouted to a maximum security joint, one that he basically controls. I assumed this because on the first night in prison, Cash and Tango are dragged from their cells by their prison mates and into an underground lair where Palance happend to be waiting. Perhaps, the funniest scene (and the gayest!) of the picture, was when Tango and Cash were taking their first shower together and they couldn't help but look at each other's junk. Tango calls Cash "minnie mouse" while Cash refers to Tango as "tripod". I think I'd rather be tripod. Then Cash dropped his soap. I hope the prison systems have improved since this picture. This place is a dump. Fires everywhere, papers flying out of cells, big bucks yelling things like "Cash! I'm gonna put brown sugar in your ass." Somehow, Tango and Cash are able maintain a sense of humor despite the impending sodomy ("loved you in Conan".)

Hell, this whole picture is pretty damned amusing. When one fellow officer insults Tango by calling him "Rambo" he replies " a pussy." The action scenes are well shot as least until the final brouhaha at Palance's armored fortress. That thing was a little too nuts. There's a car chase in a parking garage that I'm still amazed by how well they pulled it off. The prison escape is a thing of beauty although highly unrealistic but, then again, who wants realism in their action pictures? This prison is one of those corrupt kinda joints where the inmates (in this case Robert D'Zar) appear to be running the place. The guards are taking naps apparently or, more likely, paid to look the other way. I did like Cash's deduction during their daring flight..."we jump to those wires and swing to the other side"...these are power lines..."as long as you're touching one wire and not touching the ground you won't fry.......right??". Fuck it, just do it man.

Their escape leads to the most titillating scene of the movie when Cash receives a massage from Teri Hatcher (ok, she's Tango's sister) and Tango barges in on them...."ok, I think it's in...oh yes, it's's in". Is she talking about his slipped disc or his member? I'll let you decide. Until you see the picture. The movie concludes with a scene filled with potential that just doesn't really live up to it. Tango and Cash are equipped with an "RV from hell" and have a demolition derby with an army of Palance's bucketloaders, big rigs, and what I'm pretty sure was Big Foot (the truck). It wrapped up too quickly for my money. I did like how Palance aped Howard Hughes and watched from his safe room filled with a vast array of televisions and piss bottles (I made that last part up). This is the last buddy cop picture worth watching in my opinion and it's a good one to go out with. Any movie that ends with a freeze frame of a high five which leads into a Bad English song is definitely worth your time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blue Thunder (1983)

There was something about Roy Scheider that was just so damned likeable. I'm not really sure if he was ever playing anyone other than Roy Scheider (well, with the exception of Marathon Man and perhaps Romeo is Bleeding). In the majority of his roles he appeared to be a real guy thrust into some pretty extraordinary situations. I think it's because he reminded me of my father. He tended to portray cops in his pictures. My dad is a small town cop. In Jaws he was the police chief of a small New England town. My dad's the police chief of a small, albeit landlocked, New England town. Obviously, that's a very base comparison. They don't really look alike but they share many of the same mannerisms. A slight grimace when they walk. Exceedingly practical in their day to day lives. Hell, I even used to picture my dad as a passenger on the "Orca" with Quint barking out orders and Hooper...uhhh...being all scientific as my dad just took it all in. An observer at first until finally the situation dictated action. Of course, I imagined this, as a kid (just to be clear), all taking place on Lake Champlain, but was a nice image. Anyway, what Scheider accomplished onscreen in his many roles was certainly no easy task. He got the audience to relate to him, to like him, to pull for him. He made it look effortless.

His work in John Badham's Blue Thunder is no different. Written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby as a loose fitting update of George Orwell's "1984" and set in the far flung future released in 1983 so I guess that makes it a little bit ahead of it's time. The big brother theme is prevalent throughout this picture as the United States government has developed a helicopter designed for keeping tabs on the general populus. Blue Thunder comes fully loaded with turbine boosters, state of the art video and audio equipment, a thermograph, infrared night vision, and the ability to go into "whisper mode". Also, a pivoting machine gun on the nose that aims wherever the pilot turns (aims) his helmet. It's a wonderful design and, go figure, was actually built for this movie. No CGI. What?

The story follows a couple of L.A. (the city is never actually named, but come on) beat cops, officers Frank Murphy and Richard Lymangood (Scheider and Daniel Stern), whose beat isn't on the ground, but in the air. The picture begins with the partners patrolling an area of the city (in a regular chopper at this point) that happens to feature a nude aerobisizer who stretches in her highrise apartment, in the nude, every night at 10:30, like clockwork. She's really the perfect specimen as noted by Lymangood; "would you look at her tan? it's so....even." Unfortunately, they're called away from their peep show for what is announced as a "rape in progress" (I imagine that's the first time that's ever been used, I mean who the fuck would call that in...wouldn't you try to stop it?). The victim, a mayor's assistant working to curb urban warfare, is shot in the ensuing melee. She eventually succumbs to her injuries in the hospital. Was this just a random act of violence?

Into the mix comes Malcolm McDowell as U.S. Colonel Cochorane. Hilariously, he does nothing to hide his prissy British accent and thus comes across as easily hate-able. He's an old war "buddy" of Murphys (as we see in various 'Nam flashbacks) and, at one point, tried to have Murphy court martialed. Cochorane arrives to show off, and deliver for a test run, a new helicopter prototype known as blue thunder. There's a great scene where Cochorane tests the thing in front of a captive audience. A fake town is set up with red dummies (bad guys) and white dummies (good guys). Cochrone takes out the red guys with "near" precision and a government flunky feels the need to toot his own horn: "One civilian dead for every ten terrorists....that's an acceptable ratio." Sheider, without missing a beat: "Unless you're one of the civilians."

Originally, Blue Thunder was going to be a Taxi Driver-like story about a pilot driven insane and terrorizing the city from above. I would have loved that picture. Still, I dug this one. A whole hell of a lot. The aerial photography in this thing is flat out amazing. How often do you see actual dog fighting between helecopters? I suppose it could be done today but it would be all CG. I loved the stunt flying in this one. The camera movements. The fact that Blue Thunder uses a move that Tom Cruise used in Top Gun, that inverted G thing or whatever, and this movie came out a few years earlier. Of course, that move is likely impossible in a helecopter but who gives a shit?

Scheider, like I said, is good in this thing. It's not a showy role by any means (his roles rarely are) but he adds just enough humor and subtlety to keep us interested. It's a small thing, but I love the way he interacts with children. There's genuine love there (and no, I'm not referring to something inappropriate you sick bastards). His character in this is a bit unbalanced (some war wounds never heal) and I liked how he brought himself back to sanity using his stop watch. It was a nice touch. McDowell is a motherfucker. Hate, hate, hate the fuck. He prepares for a little game of "follow the leader" (with him in blue thunder and Scheider and Stern in a regular copter) by unscrewing what I'm sure is a pretty important screw on Scheider's bird and then calling in their subsequent crash as he's yawning: "chopper down (yawn) somewhere in the Watts area". I also wanted to punch him viciously in the nuts everytime he said "catch you later" while pointing his finger as if it were a gun. The performance I absolutely adored in this thing was Warran Oates as Captain Jack Braddock. Oates is slowly, but surely, becoming one of my favorite actors. The guy just flat out knows how to deliver a standard line and make it something great. Like, for instance, when he tells Stern "you're supposed to be stupid son. don't abuse the privilege." Sadly, this was his final performance but I think he can be proud of his work here. What a great voice he had.

I think the fact that I've barely touched on the plot is an indication of how good this picture is. Let's just say that a certain murder touched on earlier ties in with a certain British windbag and a certain blue thunder helicopter program. The movie has several tense moments including a prolonged aerial battle between blue thunder (piloted by Scheider) and a couple of horrendously inaccurate F-16s. Out of all the other helecopter movies/tv shows of the early 80s (including "Airwolf" and "blue thunder" the series) this is, by far, the tops.

We're winding down our 80s action month and a half or whatever. I've got a couple more reviews in the pipeline. Fuck, why have I been focusing on the good action shit? Haven't even touched on Schwarzenegger or Stallone yet (though I did watch Cobra but, while I liked it, I just couldn't motivate myself to write about it). I'm also planning on attempting some sort of "ten best" and "five worst" lists for 2008 but that's going to be a fucking chore. You know it's been a terrible year at the movies when the latest Bond film, Quantum of Soul-less or whatever, could possibly make both lists. Fuck, I can't wait for 2009.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Osterman Weekend (1983)

The Osterman Weekend is an interesting picture nearly ruined by an incomprehensible screenplay. Sam Peckinpah's final gasp before years of drug and alcohol abuse would claim him less than a year later. I find it interesting that Peckinpah was trying to re-establish himself in the film community with this picture since he must have known the end was so close. This one feels more like a gun-for-hire job with the usual Peckinpah flourishes appearing all too infrequently. It's based on a Robert Ludlam novel by the same name and, according to most accounts, Peckinpah had no love for the source material. He simply wanted to make a picture that the masses would see so he could make some cash and get back to making pictures that interested him. And then he died.

So, his heart wasn't really in this thing but, regardless, it's still pretty damned enjoyable even if I couldn't understand what the hell was going on at times. The film opens with a grainy video of a couple making love. I became worried that the entire picture would be filmed this poorly as there was no immediate indication that what we were seeing was a video within a movie. The man (John Hurt) leaves (bare assed) to go to the bathroom and a couple of men walk in and murder the woman in typically covert fashion (as it turns out, she's his wife). Turns out the video is being watched by William Danforth (Burt Lancaster), the head of the CIA. He ordered the hit on Hurt's wife. Strangely, he doesn't even remember why. Ironically, despite the most high tech video surveillance equipment (I think they used beta!) at their disposal, the CIA is fucking blind and Danforth is another case of the blind leading the, um, blind. Hurt, CIA operative Lawrence Fassett, is called into Danforth's office where he reveals the existence of a group known as "Omega". Some sort of soviet spy network. He presents a plan that entails "turning" these spies instead of simply eliminating them. He is, apparently, unaware of Danforth's participation in his wife's murder. He believes "Omega" to be responsible.

I'll be honest here, I cheated a bit with that previous paragraph. Some of those plot details arrived courtesy of wikipedia. The rest will be all me. This is a fucking needlessly convoluted mess. If it wasn't for the performances and the action and the constant titties on screen I probably would have turned it off. Anyway, Rutger Hauer (yes, him again!) also stars as John Tanner, the host of a television show called "Face to Face" where he allows guests, usually of a political nature, to come on and be ambushed by his anything goes line of questioning. Once a year, Tanner hosts what have come to be known as "Ostermans" (named after college buddy Bernard Osterman) at his isolated country home. Bernard Osterman, a marvelous performance by Craig T. Nelson, is a film producer. Also in attendance will be plastic surgeon Richard Tremayne (Dennis Hopper) and dog hating doucher Joseph Cardone (Chris Sarandon). Also, their horny wives. Tanner is married to Meg Foster, her with the frighteningly strange pale eyes, and she's as hot as she'll ever be in this thing. Something about a broad with a bow and arrow. Tanner also has a young son and a dog.

So, basically Fassett and Danforth approach Tanner and convince him (with video evidence) that his three college buddies are spying for the soviets as part of "Omega". Tanner, while leaning far to the left, is stringently loyal to his country. The plan is for Fassett to rig Tanner's home with hidden cameras and spy on them for the weekend. Tanner, without much prodding relents, but on one condition: That Danforth will appear on his show. Meanwhile, Tanner's friends hold secret meetings where it's clear they are up to something. It's not made clear exactly what that something is. One thing is made clear. They're not sure they can trust their "friend" John Tanner. It's going to be an uncomfortable weekend.

So many questions, so few sensical answers. First, just what the fuck is "Omega"? I'm still not really sure. Second, what is Fassett's motive? That one I finally figured out but it took some heavy lifting. What I loved about the film were the performances. John Hurt is great as Fassett, a shadowy man who spends most of the film appearing on the TV. He's rigged up every television in Tanner's home to run on a closed circuit and at one point communicates with Tanner on the TV in the kitchen while his guests are enjoying drinks in the other room. The guests suddenly appear and Fassett atempt's to disconnect the feed are hilariously fruitless so he's forced to give the weather forecast as Tanner is engaged in conversation. If you actually listen to what he's saying (he repeats himself a few times) it's clear he's got no idea what he's doing. This is probably one of the better performances Craig T. Nelson has given. He's introduced in a funny scene where he is getting his ass handed to him by his sensei. The sensei turns off the lights to "even things a bit". The audience hears typical fight sounds and when the lights come on the sensei has been destroyed in a non-lethal, almost friendly, manner ("I feel like that was better").

You know a movie is doing something right (or, is it wrong) when Dennis Hopper gives the film's most muted performance. He barely registers here and is, often, dominated (in several ways) by the performance of Helen Shaver, as his drunken, coked up wife. Chris Sarandon is clearly the baddest seed of the group. Upset by losing a game of water polo he kicks Tanner's dog and then threatens his wife with a gun after the tension reaches it's breaking point. Lancaster is pretty good too though his role can barely be called a glorified cameo. Hauer is fine as well although he's in the obligatory everyman part. "Everyman" as in it could have been played by any man.

The building tension, the breasts (ass too), the performances all help to sell this thing even as the faltering story tries to return it. However, this is Peckinpah and even disinterested, drunk out of his mind he still knows how to give us the action. Typical Peckinpah the action scenes are shot in a slightly disorienting slow motion as if the gods themselves were watching the event's unfold with their hands on the remote control. Kind of like me when I get to the nudie parts these deities prefer to break down the action and see how it unfolds. They can see breasts anytime they want after all they created the damned things. The assault on Tanner's house by CIA agents (?) is a master stroke. Osterman (whose side is he on?) kills one agent with his bare hands and spends most of the rest of the movie slow-mo diving out of the way of gunfire. Why are the agents suddenly descending upon the house with orders like "terminate" and "eliminate"? Where did Sarandon, Hopper and their wives get that motor home (did I take a bathroom break here?) so they could try to make their getaway. Thankfully, the motor home is also rigged with video cameras (and explosives) so Tanner can watch while Fassett delivers the picture's best line: "Think of them as fleas on a dog hit by a car driven by a drunken teenager whose girlfriend just gave him the clap. It will put things into perspective."

Fassett may or may not be evil (likely just driven crazy by grief). Osterman may or may not be evil. I'm pretty sure Danforth is evil (head of CIA after all). Meg Foster looks evil but I'm pretty sure she's ok. Chris Sarandon is a son of a bitch but I'm not sure that makes him evil. Fuck, and Hopper seems like a decent enough guy who just happened to marry a rotten money grubbing bitch. The critics, at the time and probably still to this day, were harsh with this one. The studio butchered it. A director's cut was released in 1988 but not sure if it had the official Peckinpah stamp of approval since he'd been dead for four years. Anway, I was never bored and mostly entertained. Out of all the Peckinpah films that I've seen this is the worst and that's still a fucking ringing endorsement because the worst of Peckinpah is better that most of the bullshit that Hollywood shits out these days. Damn, I just wish I could have better described the plot or even understood what, and more importantly why, things were happening. Maybe I'll watch it in slow-mo next time.