The trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune Part Two was just released. We’re seeing some new faces in Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan, Austin Butler as Feyd, Lea Seydoux as Lady Margot and Christopher Walken as the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. I like Javier Bardem’s Stilgar telling Paul to “Keep things simple.” here. So far, it’s looking good!
In the year 1973, Bobby McBain (Christopher Walken) was an American POW, fighting for his life in a North Vietnamese prison camp that was run by a general so evil that he wore a necklace of human ears. Luckily, on the last day of the war, McBain was rescued by Roberto Santos (Chick Vennerra). When Bobby asked how he could ever repay Santos, Santos gave him half of a hundred dollar bill and told him that someday, Santos would give him the other half. McBain swears that he will be ready when the day comes to get the other half. I guess he’s like Caine in Kung Fu, waiting for the chance to snatch the pebble from his master’s hand.
15 years later, McBain is a welder in New York. One day, while sitting in a bar, he watches as Santos is executed on live television after a failed attempt to overthrow the dictator of Colombia. Shortly afterwards, McBain is approached by Santos’s sister (Maria Conchita Alonzo), who asks McBain to help her finish Santos’s revolution. McBain tells her a long story about attending Woodstock and then reunites with his Vietnam War buddies, Frank (Michael Ironside!), Eastland (Steve James), Dr. Dalton (Jay Patterson), and Gil (Thomas G. Waites). After killing a bunch of drug dealers, stealing their money, and harassing Luis Guzman, the gang heads for Colombia.
I wonder how many people have watched this movie over the years with the expectation that it would be a live action version of the famous Rainier Wolfcastle film that was featured in several episodes of The Simpsons. Unfortunately, this movie has nothing to do with the Simpsons version of McBain. (Sorry, no “Bye, book.”) Instead, it’s just another strange and overlong action film from director James Glickenhaus. The film mixes scene of total carnage with dialogue that often seems to be going off on a totally unrelated tangent, like McBain’s musings about what Woodstock ultimately stood for. Walken doesn’t seem to be acting as much as he’s parodying his own eccentric image. Walken takes all of his usual quirks and trademark vocal tics and turns them up to 11 for this movie.
Even though the movie is twenty minutes too long, it still feels like scenes are missing. Alonzo leaves Colombia on a mule and then is suddenly in New York. (The mule is nowhere to be seen.) We don’t actually see Walken recruiting the majority of his team. Instead, they just show up in his house. Once the action moves to Colombia, it turns out that overthrowing the government is much simpler than it looks. While the rebels lay down their lives while attacking the palace, McBain and his crew pretty much stroll through the movie without receiving even a scratch. Maybe welders should be put in charge of all of America’s foreign policy adventures. It couldn’t hurt.
With its hole-filled plot and confusingly edited combat scenes, McBain isn’t great but 80s action enthusiasts should enjoy seeing Michael Ironside and Steve James doing their thing. Others will want to see it just for Christopher Walken’s characteristically odd performance. He may not be Rainier Wolfcastle but, for this movie, Christopher Walken is McBain.
Christopher Walken vs. Zach Braff? Gee, who’s going to win that fight?
Actually, we’ll never know because, in this upcoming film Percy vs Goliath, Walken and Braff are actually allies. Walken plays an aging farmer who gets sued by a gigantic corporation and who appeals the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Braff plays his attorney. Christina Ricci plays an environmental activist. This is based on a true story and it sounds like the type of film that’s usually promoted for the Oscars. That said, that April 30th release date indicates that this is not being set up as an Oscar film.
Myself, I’m just interested in seeing Christopher Walken in a lead role for once. As of late, he’s mostly done quirky supporting turns. I’m also glad to see Christina Ricci in another movie because she doesn’t really seem to get as much work as her talent warrants. As for Zach Braff …. to be honest, I actually thought he was Ray Romano when the trailer began. That said, I will let you in on a little secret. I actually kind of liked Garden State.
Today, we wish a happy birthday to the one and only Christopher Walken! And what better way to do that than with a little song and dance?
Walken only has one big scene in the 1981 film, Pennies From Heaven, but it’s a showstopper. In this satirical and downbeat musical, he plays Tom, a stylish pimp who seduces a school teacher named Eileen (Bernadette Peters) by singing, tap dancing, and stripping on a bar. Director Herbert Ross did five takes of the scene and, each time, Walken performed the entire dance without stopping once. This is a scene that, in my opinion, shows that Christopher Walken is more than just a character actor with a unique way of speaking. At his best, he’s a force of nature.
Here’s the main lesson that I’ve learned from watching the 1977 horror film, The Sentinel:
Even in the 1970s, the life of a model was not an easy one.
Take Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) for instance. She should have everything but instead, she’s a neurotic mess. Haunted by a traumatic childhood, she has attempted to commit suicide twice and everyone is always worried that she’s on the verge of having a breakdown. As a model, she’s forced to deal with a bunch of phonies. One of the phonies is played by Jeff Goldblum. Because he’s Goldblum, you suspect that he has to have something up his sleeve but then it turns out that he doesn’t. I get that Jeff Goldblum probably wasn’t a well-known actor when he appeared in The Sentinel but still, it’s incredibly distracting when he suddenly shows up and then doesn’t really do anything.
Alison has a fiancée. His name is Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) and I figured out that he had to be up to no good as soon as he appeared. For one thing, he has a pornstache. For another thing, he’s played by Chris Sarandon, an actor who is best known for playing the vampire in the original Fright Night and Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride. Not surprisingly, it turns out that Michael’s previous wife died under mysterious circumstances. NYPD Detective Rizzo (Christopher Walken) suspects that Michael may have killed her.
(That’s right. Christopher Walken is in this movie but, much like Jeff Goldblum, he doesn’t get to do anything interesting. How can a movie feature two of the quirkiest actors ever and then refuse to give them a chance to act quirky?)
Maybe Alison’s life will improve now that she has a new apartment. It’s a really nice place and her real estate agent is played by Ava Gardner. Alison wants to live on her own for a while. She loves Michael but she needs to find herself. Plus, it doesn’t help that Michael has a pornstache and may have killed his wife…
Unfortunately, as soon as Alison moves in, she starts having weird dreams and visions and all the usual stuff that always happens in movies like this. She also discovers that she has a lot of eccentric neighbors, all of whom are played by semi-familiar character actors. For instance, eccentric old Charles (Burgess Meredith) is always inviting her to wild parties. Her other two neighbors (played by Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo) are lesbians, which the film presents as being the height of shocking decadence. At first, Alison likes her neighbors but they make so much noise! Eventually, she complains to Ava Gardner. Ava replies that Alison only has one neighbor and that neighbor is neither Burgess Meredith nor a lesbian.
Instead, he’s a blind priest who spends all day sitting at a window. He’s played by John Carradine, who apparently had a few hours to kill in 1977.
But it doesn’t stop there! This movie is full of actors who will be familiar to anyone who enjoys watching TCM. Along with those already mentioned, we also get cameos from Martin Balsam, Jose Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Eli Wallach, Richard Dreyfuss, and Tom Berenger. There are 11 Oscar nominees wasted in this stupid film. (Though, in all fairness, Christopher Walken’s nomination came after The Sentinel.)
Personally, The Sentinel bugged me because it’s yet another horror movie that exploits Catholic iconography while totally misstating church dogma. However, the main problem with The Sentinel is that it’s just so incredibly boring. I own it on DVD because I went through a period where I basically bought every horror film that could I find. I’ve watched The Sentinel a handful of times and somehow, I always manage to forget just how mind-numbingly dull this movie really is. There’s a few scary images but mostly, it’s just Burgess Meredith acting eccentric and Chris Sarandon looking mildly annoyed. If you’ve ever seen Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, or The Omen, you’ll figure out immediately what’s going on but The Sentinel still insists on dragging it all out. Watching this movie is about as exciting as watching an Amish blacksmith shoe a horse.
There’s a lot of good actors in the film but it’s obvious that most of them just needed to pick up a paycheck. I’ve read a lot of criticism of Cristina Raines’s lead performance but I actually think she does a pretty good job. It’s not her acting that’s at fault. It’s the film’s stupid script and lackluster direction.
I Shot Andy Warhol was not the only 1996 film to feature Andy Warhol as a character. He was also a prominent supporting character in Basquiat. In this film, he’s played by David Bowie and Bowie gives a far different performance than Jared Harris did in I Shot Andy Warhol. Whereas Harris played Andy as a detached voyeur, Bowie’s performance is far more sympathetic. (Of course, it should be noted that Harris and Bowie were playing Andy Warhol at very different points in the artist’s life. Harris played the younger, pre-shooting Warhol. Bowie played the older, post-shooting Warhol.)
Then again, it’s not just Andy Warhol who is portrayed more positively in Basquiat than in I Shot Andy Warhol. The entire New York art scene is portrayed far more positively in Basquiat. Whereas I Shot Andy Warhol was a film about an outsider who was destined to forever remain an outsider, Basquiat is a film about an outsider who becomes an insider. On top of that, Basquiat was directed by a fellow insider, painter Julian Schnabel.
The film itself is a biopic of Jean-Michel Basquiat (very well played by Jeffrey Wright), the graffiti artist who, in the 1980s, briefly became one of the superstars of the New York art scene. However, it’s less of a conventional biopic and more of a meditation on what it means to be an artist. Throughout the film, Basquiat looks up to the New York skyline and sees a surfer riding a wave across the sky. The image itself is never explicitly explained. We never learn why, specifically, Basquiat visualizes a surfer. But then again, that’s what makes the surfer a perfect symbol of Basquiat’s artistic sensibility and talent. It’s a reminder that, while we can appreciate an artist’s work, only the artist can truly understand what that work is saying. All attempts to try to explain or categorize art are as pointless as trying to understand why that surfer is in the sky. Ultimately, the why is not as important as the simple fact that the surfer is there.
The film follows Basquiat as he goes from living on the streets to being a protegé of Andy Warhol’s and, until he overdosed on heroin, one of the shining lights of the New York art scene. Along the way, Basquiat struggles to maintain a balance between art and the business. In one of the key scenes of the film, an empty-headed suburbanite (Tatum O’Neal) looks at Basquiat’s work and whines that there’s too much green. She just can’t handle all of that green.
Basquiat’s friendship with Andy Warhol provides this film with a heart. When Bowie first appears — having lunch with a German art dealer played by Dennis Hopper — one’s natural instinct is to assume that Bowie as Warhol is stunt casting. However, Bowie quickly proves that instinct to be wrong. As opposed to many of the actors who have played Andy Warhol over the years, Bowie gives an actual performance. Instead of resorting to caricature, Bowie plays Warhol as being mildly bemused by both his fame and the world in general.
Basquiat also develops a close friendship with another artist. Gary Oldman may be playing a character named Albert Milo but it’s obvious from the moment that he first appears that he’s playing the film’s director, Julian Schnabel. If there was any doubt, Schnabel’s studio stands in for Milo’s studio. When Milo shows off his work, he’s showing off Schnabel’s work. When Albert Milo introduced Basquiat to his parents, the nice old couple is played by Julian Schnabel’s actual parents. It’s perhaps not surprising that Albert Milo is presented as being one of the most important and popular artists in New York City. In a film full of bitchy characters, Albert Milo is unique in that literally everyone likes and respects him. And yet Gary Oldman gives such a good and heartfelt performance that you can’t hold it against the character that he happens to be perfect. There’s a small but touching scene in which Albert Milo and his daughter share a dance in front of one of Schnabel’s gigantic canvases. Of course, Milo’s daughter is played by Julian Schnabel’s daughter.
The entire cast is full of familiar actors. Willem DaFoe appears as a sculptor. Christopher Walken plays a hilariously vapid interviewer. Courtney Love plays a groupie. Benicio Del Toro plays Basquiat’s best friend. Parker Posey shows up as gallery owner Mary Boone. Michael Wincott plays Rene Ricard, the somewhat infamous art critic who was among the first to celebrate the work of both Basquiat and Schnabel. For once, the use of familiar actors does not sabotage the effectiveness of the film. If anything, it helps to explain why Basquiat was so determined to make it. There’s a magical scene where a then-unknown Basquiat peeks through a gallery window and sees Andy Warhol, Albert Milo, and Bruno Bischofberger. However, the film’s audience sees David Bowie, Gary Oldman, and Dennis Hopper. What both Basquiat and the audience have in common is that they’re both seeing bigger-than-life stars.
Basquiat is an often magical and poignant film and I absolutely love it.
Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) is a professional mercenary who is hired, by a British businessman, to overthrow the government of Zangaro. Though Zangaro is currently ruled by a ruthless dictator, Shannon’s employers want to replace him with someone even worse, all so they can get their hands on the country’s platinum mines. After Shannon is captured and tortured by the government, he wants nothing else to do with Zangaro. Instead, he wants to return to New York and propose to his ex-wife (JoBeth Williams). But, when she turns down his proposal, Shannon and his mercenary army return to Zangaro.
Before winning an Oscar for The Deer Hunter and becoming one of our most popular character actors, Christopher Walken was a finalist for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars. If not for George Lucas’s decision to hire Harrison Ford to read lines for the actors at the auditions, Christopher Walken’s career could have developed far differently. The Dogs of War, which was Walken’s first big film after the high of The Deer Hunter and the low of Heaven’s Gate, features Walken playing a character who has much in common with George Lucas’s original conception of Han Solo, an amoral mercenary who will work for anyone who pays him. Walken is almost too good as Jamie, playing the part as being so aloof and ruthless that it is sometimes hard to feel any sympathy for him at all. If he had taken that approach to playing Han Solo, audiences would have really been shocked when Han returned to attack the Death Star. They would probably be worried that he had returned because the Empire offered him a thousand credits to kill Luke.
The Dogs of War has an intriguing premise but it’s a very slow movie that gets caught up in all the minutia that goes into staging a coup. It’s exciting when Walken and his mercenaries finally attack the dictator’s compound but it takes forever to get there. The book, by Frederick Forsyth, is a well-written page turner but the film adaptation largely falls flat.
You take a risk when you review a Woody Allen film, even an acknowledged, Best Picture-winning classic like 1977’s Annie Hall. Do you address the accusations that have been made about him? Do you ignore them and hope that they won’t be the Elephant in the Room, stomping through your review? Do you try to justify reviewing (or, in some cases, even watching) Allen’s film? Or do you just let the work speak for itself?
I love Annie Hall. Quite frankly, I like a lot of Woody Allen’s films, even though I understand why his work is an acquired taste for quite a few other people. I’ll address the elephant in the room in a paragraph or two but you know what? I watched Annie Hall last night and I want to mention a few reasons why I enjoy this film.
First off, Annie Hall features one of Christopher Walken’s first (and best) performances. He only has a few lines but he makes quite an impression. He plays Duane, the brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). When Annie’s boyfriend, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), is visiting the Hall family, Duane invites Alvy into his bedroom and tells him that, whenever he’s driving, he fantasizes about intentionally swerving into incoming traffoc. In the very next scene, Duane is driving an oblivious Annie and a terrified Alvy to the airport. It’s a wonderfully funny moment. (If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that Annie’s apartment is full of pictures of Duane and his thousand yard stare.)
Secondly, this film also features an early role for Jeff Goldblum. He only has one line — “I forgot my mantra” but my God, he does amazing things with that line.
Third, when Alvy and his agent, Rob (Tony Roberts), are driving through Los Angeles, they pass a theater. According to the marquee, the theater is showing House of Exorcism, a Mario Bava film. That’s right: Italian horror in a Woody Allen film. How glorious is that?
Fourth, Annie Hall is an extremely dated film. It was made in 1977 and, as to be expected about a film directed and written by a stand up comedian, it’s full of references that were probably hilariously on target then but rather obscure now. As well, like almost all Woody Allen films, it’s a very New York film. Alvy is an intellectual, left-wing Jew who suspects that everyone he sees is an anti-Semite and who is dating an aspiring actress and singer who hails from middle America. (During the scene where Alvy meets her family, he immediately pegs Grammy Hall as a “classic Jew hater.”) The film is very much told from Alvy’s point of view, which means jokes about New York periodicals and a flashback to an Adlai Stevenson rally. That being said, I’m a Texas girl who was born long after Annie Hall was first released and I still enjoy the film because it’s a film that captures some universal truths about human relationships.
The first time I watched Annie Hall, I was 17 and I saw a lot of myself in Annie. While I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing some of her outfits, I knew what it was like to be insecure. I knew what it was like to be nervous. I know what it was like to worry about being smart enough. And, like Annie, I eventually learned that independence was the key to happiness. Annie Hall has stood the test of time because both Annie and Alvy are relatable while still remaining wonderfully unique and neurotic individuals.
(If ever a film has been a ode to the joy of being neurotic, it’s Annie Hall.)
Fifth, I love the scene where Alvy asks a random couple of the street how they make their relationship work. “I’m totally shallow and have no original thoughts,” the woman replies. “And I’m the exact same way,” her husband cheerfully adds.
Sixth, I’m going to assume that Paul Simon was primarily playing himself.
Seventh, there are just so many great scenes. Like when Alvy deals with a rude cop by ripping up his license. And then, there’s that lobster scene. And that moment when Alvy comes over to Annie’s apartment to kill a “spider the size of a buick.” (Judging by the number of times Alvy has to hit the spider with that tennis racket, I assume buick’s are pretty big.) There’s the two scenes of Annie singing, one when she’s still insecure and can’t compete with the sound of plates smashing around here and the other when she’s developed the confidence to dominate and control both the stage and the audience. There’s the scenes where Alvy breaks the fourth wall and get advise from random people on the streets of New York. And what about when Annie starts laughing while telling the horrible story of how her uncle died at the post office? Or what about when Alvy tries to avoid having sex with his first wife by discussing the JFK assassination? Or when we literally see Annie mentally check out of making love to Alvy? Or how about the split-screen therapy sessions? Or the sudden moment when Annie and Alvy become cartoon characters? Or the scene with the pretentious blowhard at the movies?
(As a Southern girl, I have to admit that it’s always strange to me to hear Alvy and Annie talking about “waiting on line” at the movies. Down here, we say “in line,” which makes a lot more sense. Since a line is just a crowd of people standing in a certain order, saying that you’re “on line,” is the same as saying your standing on someone’s head. You get in a crowd, not on them. Whenever I hear someone from up north talking about “waiting on line,” I assume they must be bidding for something on Ebay.)
I like Annie Hall and I always will. As for the accusations against Woody Allen, they don’t keep me from enjoying his better films because:
I’ve always been a big believer that art can and should be judged separately from the artist.
Having read what both sides have said about Woody Allen and the accusations that have been made against him, I don’t think he did it.
Obviously, some are going to disagree with me on both those points. So be it. Everyone has to make their own choice. For me, though, what’s important is that Annie Hall is a film that I’ve loved since the first time I saw it and I’ll continue to love it.
As you may know, if you’re one of our longtime readers, I only watch the Super Bowl for one reason. Right now, I know that at least three TSL contributors are happy because the Patriots won. And I know that at least one is upset that the Falcons lost. But me — all I care about are the commercials.
What were the commercials like this year? They weren’t terrible. As tends to happen with Super Bowl commercials, quite a few of them tried way too hard. A lot of people are going to go crazy praising the more political of the commercials. A few commercials attempted to comment on everything that’s going on in this country right now. That’s their right but I always find it amusing when big, faceless corporations spend millions on commercials bragging about how progressive they supposedly are.
That said, it was fairly easy for me to pick my six favorite commercials this year. It was also pretty easy for me to pick my least favorite commercial. Seriously, Febreze, what the Hell?
Here’s my top six. I’m not saying that these commercials would convince me to buy or do anything. But they did amuse me and that’s the important thing!
6) Yellow Tail Wine
I hardly ever drink so I don’t have any idea whether Yellow Tail is a good wine or not. To be honest, I really don’t care. Nothing bores me more than when people start getting all technical and in-depth about wine. The important thing is that the kangaroo is cute.
In fact, he’s almost as cute as the beaver in this 2008 commercial from Australia.
“I know, you’re trending.” This made me laugh out loud.
Christopher Walken and Justin Timberlake need to do more commercials together.
Speaking of pairings that unexpectedly work, I hope that Gal Gadot and Jason Statham will return for this commercial’s sequel.
Finally, for my top two spots, I have to admit that I’ve gone back and forth as to which one of these commercials should come in first and which should come in second. I was even tempted to declare a tie but, in the end, one commercial managed to cling to the top spot.
First, here’s the runner-up:
This commercial didn’t get much attention in the days leading up to the game. It probably didn’t cost a lot to make. It wasn’t trendy. It wasn’t flashy. It most definitely wasn’t political. But, by highlighting the absurdity of Super Bowl commercials, it nearly won the night. (Plus, it features Adam Driver and who doesn’t love that?)
And finally, my pick for the best commercial of Super Bowl LI…