18 Days of Paranoia #12: Best Seller (dir by John Flynn)


The 1987 film, Best Seller, tells the story of two men, both equally capable of violence but with two very different moral codes.

Dennis Meechum (Brian Dennehy) is a cop who also writes true crime.  In the early 70s, he was the one of several cops who were attacked by a group of gunmen who were all wearing Richard Nixon masks.  Though he was shot, Meechum survived and he even managed to stab one his assailants.  15 years later, Meechum is still haunted by the incident.  Meechum is a brawler who doesn’t have much time for nonsense but he also has a strong moral code (or so he thinks).

Cleve (James Woods) talks fast and always seems like he’s a little bit nervous.  He has a quick smile and a joke for almost every occasion.  He’s also a professional assassin, a sociopath who is very interested in Dennis.  Cleve has spent the majority of his life working for a powerful businessman named David Madlock (Paul Shenar) but he’s recently been laid off.  Cleve wants revenge and he thinks that Dennis can help him get it.

Together …. THEY FIGHT CRIME!

Well, actually, they kind of do.  Madlock’s done a lot of illegal stuff and Cleve and Dennis are exposing him, his crooked corporation, and all of his powerful connections.  However, what Cleve really wants is for Dennis to write a best seller about his life.  Cleve wants Dennis to write his story and most importantly, he wants Dennis to make him the hero.  Dennis is still a cop and says that once all this is over, he’s going to have to arrest Cleve.  Of course, eventually, he discovers that Cleve was the man who shot him 15 years earlier.  At that point, Dennis says that he’s going to have to kill Cleve once all of this is over.

As a crime thriller, Best Seller hits all of the expected beats.  As soon as we find out that Dennis is a widower and that he has a teenage daughter, we know that she’s eventually going to be taken prisoner by the bad guys.  For that matter, we can also guess that there will be a few scenes where Cleve insists that Dennis is just like him.  When Cleve starts telling people that Dennis is his brother, it’s a fun scene because it’s well-acted by both Woods and Dennehy but it’s not exactly surprising.

But no matter!  Though the the overall plot may be predictable, there’s enough clever little twists and details that the film holds your interest.  For instance, there’s an extended sequence where Dennis insists that Cleve introduce him to his family.  For the next few minutes, the film stops being an action thriller and instead becomes a bit of a domestic comedy as Dennis meets Cleve’s friendly family, none of whom are aware that Cleve is a ruthless killer.  The stuff with Cleve’s family doesn’t move the plot forward but your happy it’s there because 1) James Woods gives a great performance in those scenes and 2) it suggests that the film (which was written by Larry Cohen and directed by John Flynn, who was previously responsible for the brilliant Rolling Thunder) has more on its mind than just shooting people.

The main reason why Best Seller works so well is because the two leads are perfectly cast.  Brian Dennehy was born to play tough cops while James Woods gives one of his best performances as the unstable but likable Cleve.  I’ve actually had people get made at me for saying that James Woods is a good actor, simply because they disagree with his politics.  But, when it comes to art and talent, I don’t care about anyone’s politics.  (I mean, if I only watched movies starring people whose politics where approved by Film Twitter, I would end up spending the entire pandemic watching romantic comedies starring Alec Baldwin and Rosie O’Donnell and why should I suffer like that?)  James Woods is a good actor and he’s great in Best Seller.

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed

A Real American Hero (1978, directed by Lou Antonio)


Based on the title, you might think this made-for-TV movie is about G.I. Joe but instead it’s about Buford Pusser, the club-wielding sheriff who battled bootleggers in Tennessee and who might have been murdered by them.  While he was still alive, Pusser was played by Joe Don Baker in the original Walking Tall.  After Pusser’s mysterious death, Bo Svenson took over the role for two sequels and a Walking Tall television series in 1981.  Meanwhile, in A Real American Hero, the role is played by Brian Dennehy.

Though Pusser may be played by a different actor than in the original movies, A Real American Hero finds him still dealing with same threats.  As a result of getting some bad moonshine at the Dixie Disco, two teenagers are dead and two are blind.  Buford is determined to take down the owner of the Disco, Danny Boy Mitchell (Ken Howard).  Unfortunately for Buford, Danny Boy has a mole in the sheriff’s department and always manages to clean up his club before Buford arrives.  When Buford does arrest Danny, the case is thrown out of court because Buford didn’t have probable cause or any real evidence beyond hearsay.

Buford’s solution is to start enforcing every single law on the books, even the ones that haven’t been relevant for over a century.  Buford knows that stopping Danny Boy for a misdemeanor would give him probable cause to search him for any evidence of smuggling moonshine.  For instance, Buford pulls Danny Boy over because he’s driving a vehicle but, in violation of a law written in 1908, he doesn’t have a man walking in front of the car and waving a red flag.  Another time, he gives Danny Boy a ticket because, in violation of a law from 1888, he never ties his carriage to a hitching post and a law written in 1910 legally defines all cars as being carriages.

The problem is that, if Buford only enforces the law against Danny Boy, he could be accused of police harassment.  So, everyone in the country has to be held to the same standard, which means that everyone in town is soon getting ticketed and jailed for the minor offenses as Danny Boy and his associates.  Everyone gets angry with Buford but, after Danny Boy tries to assassinate the sheriff while he’s got his kids in the car, they change their minds and support being overpoliced.

A Real American Hero was obviously an early attempt at a pilot for a Buford Pusser TV series.  Bulky Brian Dennehy is physically right for Buford but he’s never as convincing a redneck as Joe Don Baker was in the role.  Plus, it’s impossible to watch Dennehy hauling people into court for not hitching their “horseless carriages” without being reminded of Dennehy harassing Sylvester Stallone at the start of First Blood.  Despite a subplot where Pusser tries to help a former prostitute re-enter society, Buford comes across more like a jerk than a real American hero.  Meanwhile, Ken Howard does his best but Danny Boy is still just a generic television bad guy.  If he wasn’t selling moonshine in Buford’s county, he’d probably be further down south, trying to frame the Duke boys for a bank robbery.

This one is for Walking Tall completists only.

Quick Review: Ratatouille (dir. by Brad Bird)


The following is a Mini Review for Ratatouille, written on June 17, 2007,  taken word forratatouille word from my old Livejournal.

“The absolute worst thing I could ever say about Disney / Pixar’s “Ratatouille” is that I have to wait 2 whole weeks until I can see it again at the official release.”

The Movie: “Ratatouille”

Starring:
(cast list borrowed from the IMDB)
Patton Oswalt … Remy (voice)
Ian Holm … Skinner (voice)
Lou Romano … Linguini (voice)
Brian Dennehy… Django (voice)
Peter Sohn … Emile (voice)
Peter O’Toole … Anton Ego (voice)
Brad Garrett … Gusteau (voice)
Janeane Garofalo … Colette (voice)

This review may be biased, as I’m a Pixar Nut. I have no idea how they do it. Right now, they’re 8 for 8 in my opinion (or maybe 7 for 8 only because anyone who hates or doesn’t understand Nascar may have had problems relating to Cars, like myself).

This place has to be the most enjoyable and creative working establishment on the planet. The absolute worst thing I could ever say about Disney / Pixar’s “Ratatouille” is that I have to wait 2 whole weeks until I can see it again at the official release. Yesterday, Disney hosted a Special Sneak Peek around the country of the film. A one time showing that didn’t quite fill all of the seats in the theatre (and I think that’s only because not too many people were aware of it – about 20 -30 in my audience), but amused and amazed everyone who did show. We had laughter, applause and even a few happy murmurs in the audience. 🙂

Ratatouille is the story of Remy, a rat who adores food. Not just eating it, but actually creating meals with it. Walking in the footsteps of a great and renowned chef Gusteau, Remy wants to cook (with the assistance of his brother Emile), but his father feels that his place is with the rats he lives with. After finding himself in need of job, Linguini is brought on as the newest worker at the famous Gastau’s restaurant, which has seen better days. Linguini wants to fit in, but the staff have regulated him to something of a low position. Together, Remy and Linguini are able to help one another, in quite a few funny ways.

Like all of the Pixar stories before it, the themes are universal. One of Ratatouille’s themes is a “being brave enough to go after what you want most, despite the changes that may occur” and under director Brad Bird’s leadership (who also directed “The Incredibles” and my favorite Amazing Stories episode, “The Family Dog”), this comes across really well. All of the main characters are made to grow in some way (even the ones that appear to not really have a sense of direction).

The graphics (if you can even call them that) are wonderful, and Paris is rendered in a near picture perfect look. According to the film, it’s 100% animation, without any motion capturing whatsoever (which makes sense, considering that Brad Bird has gone on record as stating that animation is an art form and not a genre). The food looks great, and the a lot of the smoke effects (fire, steam, hair getting wet) have improved since The Incredibles. The sound (at least my theatre) was also very good, sounds typically jumped around the speakers for the most part.

As a kids film, Ratatouille works, but parents may want to be on the lookout. The word ‘dead’ comes up quite a bit, and if you’re one of those parents that haven’t had that talk with your kids, I’m just warning you now. There’s some animated violence throughout, but considering my movie theatre had parents that were taking their kids to see Hostel II, I don’t think it’s too bad. It’s up for the viewer to really decide.

Also note that before the movie starts, the animated short “Lifted” also appears, which was hilarious and may cause one to remember their first few driving lessons. I’ll leave it at that. ☺ “Ratatouille” is a marvelous triumph by Disney and Pixar, who always seem to remember that that the story (above all), comes first.

The film doesn’t contain any ACP’s (I call them After Credit Pieces – those little snippets of film that show up right after the credits are done – see Pirates of the Carribean (any one of them) to understand what I mean), though the credits themselves are cute, complete with a new set of Pixar Babies. Michael Giacchino was also on board with the Soundtrack, which is a mix of mostly french violin/piano pieces. Quite a jump from the Incredibles and Mission Impossible III for him, but sweet, nonetheless.

Ratatouille opens in theatres June 29.

Film Review: First Blood (dir by Ted Kotcheff)


First Blood was not what I was expecting.

From everything that I had heard and seen over the past few years, I was under the impression that this 1982 film was the ultimate in mindless action.  I figured that the film was basically just two hours of Sylvester Stallone hiding in the woods, firing a machine gun, riding a motorcycle, and eventually blowing up a small, bigoted town.  It wasn’t a film that I was in any particular hurry to experience but I knew it was one that I would have to watch eventually, if just because of how many filmmakers have cited the film as an influence.  On Sunday night, First Blood aired on the Sundance Channel and, for the first time, I watched it all the way through.  What I discovered is that there’s a lot more to First Blood than I had been led to believe.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s definitely an action film.  Stallone spends a lot of time hiding in the woods, firing a machine gun, riding a motorcycle, and blowing up a town.  Somewhat improbably, only one character actually dies over the course of the film, though quite a few end up getting maimed and wounded.  There’s even a close-up of Stallone stitching up a nasty gash on his arm, which totally made me cringe.  But, even with all the gunfire and explosions, First Blood has more on its mind than just carnage.  It’s a brooding film, one that angrily takes America to task for its treatment of its veterans and outsiders.  In its way, it’s an action film with a heart.

Sylvester Stallone plays John Rambo, a troubled drifter who is still haunted by not only his experiences in Vietnam but also by the feeling that his own country doesn’t want him around.  When Rambo, with his unkempt hair and wearing a jacket with an American flag patch prominently displayed, shows up in the town of Hope, Washington, it’s not to cause trouble.  He just wants to see an old friend, a man with whom he served.  Unfortunately, his friend has died.  The man’s bitter mother says that he got cancer from “that orange stuff they were spraying around.”  Even though the war is over, it’s still killing the only people who can possibly understand how Rambo feels about both his service and his uncertain place in American society.

As Rambo walks through the town, he’s spotted by Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy).  Rambo just wants to get a cup of coffee and relax.  Teasle, however, views Rambo as being a stranger and, therefore, a possible threat to his town.  Teasle wants Rambo to leave.  Rambo wants to know why, after everything that he’s sacrificed for his country, he’s being told that he needs to get a haircut.  From this simple conflict — a misunderstanding really, as Teasle doesn’t know that Rambo is mourning the death of his friend and instead interprets Rambo’s sullen silence as being a threat — an undeclared and unwinnable war soon breaks out.

Technically, Teasle is the film’s villain.  He’s the one who arrests Rambo for vagrancy.  It’s his abusive deputies who cause Rambo to have the flashbacks that lead to him breaking out of jail.  It’s Teasle’s arrogance that leads to him ignore the warnings of Rambo’s former commanding office, Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna).  And yet, Teasle himself is never portrayed as being an evil man.  Instead, Dennehy plays Teasle as being well-meaning but stubborn.  It’s been written that the most compelling villains are the ones who don’t realize that they’re the villain and that’s certainly true in Teasle’s case.  Teasle’s job is to protect the town and its citizens and that’s what he’s determined to do.  If his actions become extreme, it has less to do with any deliberate cruelty on his part and everything to do with the fact that, towards the end of the film, he finally figures out that he’s in way over his head.

Once Rambo has disappeared into the woods and maimed (but not killed) all of Teasle’s deputies, he only has one request and that’s to be left alone.  He simply wants to stay in the woods, hunting for food and free from a society that has nothing to offer him during peacetime.  What’s interesting is that, at the start of the film, everyone wants Rambo to just disappear.  He’s a reminder of not just the turmoil of the Vietnam era but also the fact that Vietnam was the first war that America lost.  Rambo’s presence is viewed as being like an ugly scar that you wish would just fade away.  However, once Rambo does actually vanish, people won’t stop looking for him.  As opposed to the later films in the franchise, the Rambo of First Blood doesn’t want to fight anyone.  Rambo just wants to be left alone in solitude and considering the way that he’s treated by the town of Hope, it’s hard to blame him.

And so, you end up sympathizing with this John Rambo.  Even thought he’s blowing up a town during the Christmas season and there’s a few scenes where he’s kind of scary, it’s impossible not to feel that he has a right to his anger.  You find yourself wishing that the Sheriff had just left him alone or that maybe Rambo had just taken Teasle’s earlier advice and left town.  Because, as you watch the film, you know that 1) there was no good reason why any of this had to happen and 2) things probably aren’t going to end well for either John Rambo or Will Teasle.

First Blood was based on a novel that was first published in 1972.  The film spent nearly a decade in development, as various directors, screenwriters, and actors circled around the project.  At one point, First Blood was envisioned as an anti-war film that would have been directed by Sidney Lumet and which would have featured a bearded Al Pacino lurking through the wilderness and killing not only Teasle but also several deputies and national guardsmen.  When Stallone agreed to star in the film, he also rewrote the script, transforming Rambo into a sympathetic outsider who goes out of his way not to kill anyone.  The end result was an underdog story that audiences could embrace.

Seen today, it’s interesting to see how many familiar faces pop up in First Blood.  For instance, a young and really goofy-looking David Caruso pops up and totally overacts in the role of the only sympathetic deputy.  A less sympathetic deputy is played by Chris Mulkey, who would go on to play other unsympathetic characters in a huge number of movies and TV shows.  Interestingly enough, the most sadistic of the deputies was played by Jack Starrett, who directed a several classic B-moves in the 70s.  (One of Starrett’s films was The Losers, in which a bunch of bikers were sent to Vietnam to rescue an American diplomat.)

As opposed to many of the films that it subsequently inspired, First Blood holds up surprisingly well.  It may be violent but it’s violence with a heart.

A Movie A Day #355: F.I.S.T. (1978, directed by Norman Jewison)


Sylvester Stallone is Jimmy Hoffa!

Actually, Stallone plays Johnny Kovak, a laborer who becomes a union organizer in 1939.  Working with him is his best friend, Abe Belkin (David Huffman).  In the fight for the working man, Abe refuses to compromise to either the bosses or the gangsters who want a piece of union.  Johnny is more pragmatic and willing to make deals with ruthless mobsters like Vince Doyle (Kevin Conway) and Babe Milano (Tony Lo Bianco).  Over thirty years, both Johnny and Abe marry and start families.  Both become powerful in the union.  When Johnny discovers that union official Max Graham (Peter Boyle) is embezzling funds, Johnny challenges him for the presidency.  When a powerful U.S. senator (Rod Steiger) launches an investigation into F.I.S.T. corruption, both Johnny and Abe end up marked for death.

Obviously based on the life and mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, F.I.S.T. was one of two films that Stallone made immediately after the surprise success of Rocky.  (The other was Paradise Alley.)  F.I.S.T. features Stallone in one of his most serious roles and the results are mixed.  In the film’s quieter scenes, especially during the first half, Stallone is surprisingly convincing as the idealistic and morally conflicted Kovak.  Stallone is less convincing when Kovak has to give speeches.  If F.I.S.T. were made today, Stallone could probably pull off the scenes of the aged, compromised Johnny but in 1978, he was not yet strong enough as an actor.  Far better is the rest of the cast, especially Conway, Lo Bianco, and Boyle.  If you do see F.I.S.T., keep an eye on the actor playing Johnny’s son.  Though he was credited as Cole Dammett, he grew up to be Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The box office failures of both F.I.S.T. and Paradise Alley led Stallone back to his most famous role with Rocky II.  And the rest is history.

 

Cleaning Out The DVR: A Very Merry Toy Store (dir by Paula Hart)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 193 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded A Very Merry Toy Store off of Lifetime on November 26th!)

As I watched A Very Merry Toy Store, I found myself wondering, “Could any couple possibly be more adorable than Melissa Joan Hart and Mario Lopez?”

Hart and Lopez play rival toy store owners in this movie and they are the main reason to watch.  Hart is Connie Forrester.  Lopez is Will DiNova.  At one time, their fathers owned one toy story but when a conflict led to the end of their partnership, it also led to Connie and Will growing up to be rivals.  Connie’s toy store is struggling.  Will’s toy store is thriving but he’s struggling personally as he tries to deal with a divorce.  However, Will and Connie will have to set their differences aside because Roy Barnes (Billy Gardell) has just arrived in town and he brings with him the promise of the type of big chain store that puts independent toy stores out of business!

So, obviously, the main appeal here is that Mario Lopez was A.C. Slater and Melissa Joan Hart was Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.  The film even highlights the Sabrina connection by casting Beth Broderick as Connie’s mother.  (Broderick gets a subplot of her own, a sweet love story with old pro Brian Dennehy.)  Lopez and Hart are so overwhelming likable that it’s easy to overlook the fact that nothing surprising at all happens in A Very Merry Toy Store.  Whenever they get together and smile, the blinding likability on display keeps you from worrying about things like plot holes or the fact that Roy is a bit of a cartoonish villain.  Lopez and Hart are fun to watch and you hope that their characters end up together.  If nothing else, you know they’re going to have amazingly likable children.

Speaking of Mario Lopez, does he have a picture of Dorian Gray in his attic or what?  The same day that I watched A Very Merry Toy Store, I also watched an old episode of Saved By The Bell and I was once again shocked by the fact that Lopez has apparently not aged in twenty years.  As for Melissa Joan Hart, she’s all always be Sabrina to me.  She’s also a pretty good actress with a very genuine screen presence.  This is the second time that Lopez and Hart have played a couple and hopefully, they’ll do so again next Christmas.

A Very Merry Toy Store may be a predictable holiday film but it is more than saved the charisma of its two leads.

 

A Movie A Day #96: Gladiator (1992, directed by Rowdy Herrington)


What ever happened to James Marshall?

Whenever the subject of Twin Peaks comes up, that question gets asked a lot.  Marshall played the sensitive (and oft-ridiculed) motorcycle-riding rebel James Hurley on Twin Peaks and, after the show’s cancellation, he went on to play a key supporting role in A Few Good Men.  Marshall’s role may not have been huge but he managed to hold his own against actors like Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Kevin Bacon.

And then after A Few Good Men, nothing.

Why did James Marshall disappear?

He starred in a movie called Gladiator.

No, not the Russell Crowe movie that won all the Oscars.  This Gladiator is about Tommy Riley (played by James Marshall), a teenager who moves to Chicago from Massachusetts.  As one of the only white kids in his new neighborhood, Tommy finds himself being harassed by the local gangs.  One night, he gets into a fight in a parking lot.  (Fortunately, none of the neighborhood gangs carry guns or knives.  They settle everything with fists.)  Pappy Jack (Robert Loggia) is so impressed with Tommy’s fighting skills that he recruits Tommy to fight in illegal, underground boxing matches. Normally, Tommy would say no but he needs the money to help his father (John Heard) pay off his gambling debts.

Once recruited, Tommy is trained by the wise Noah (Ossie Davis) and works for boxing promoter, Jimmy Horn.  Horn is played by all-purpose bad guy Brian Dennehy, who gives such a villainous performance that even Lance Henriksen would say, “Dude, dial it down a notch.”  Tommy befriends two other boxers, Romano (Jon Seda) and Lincoln (Cuba Gooding, Jr.).  At the time that Gladiator was filmed, Marshall was hot off of Twin Peaks and Gooding was hot off of Boyz ‘n The Hood.  Fortunately, Gooding’s role is actually pretty small so he survived Gladiator and was able to go on to win an Oscar for Jerry Maguire and play O.J. Simpson in American Crime Story.  Marshall was less lucky.

At one time, I thought that no one could be a least convincing boxer than Damon Wayans was in The Great White Hype.  Then I watched Gladiator and saw James Marshall dancing around the ring and throwing punches.  Normally, good editing can be used to disguise a lack of athletic ability but both Marshall and Gooding are so miscast as boxers that all the editing in the world can’t help.  Jon Seda, who actually was an amateur boxer before getting into acting, is more convincing in the ring but his character is so saintly that anyone watching will know better than to get too attached to him.

A still notorious flop at the box office, Gladiator was directed by Rowdy Herrington but it’s no Roadhouse.