A Movie A Day #224: Armed and Dangerous (1986, directed by Mark L. Lester)


John Candy and Eugene Levy make a great team in the underrated comedy, Armed and Dangerous.

John Candy plays Frank Dooley, a member of the LAPD.  One of the first scenes of the movie is Frank climbing up a tree to save a little boy’s kitten and then getting stuck in the tree himself.  When Frank discovers two corrupt detectives stealing televisions, Frank is framed for the theft and kicked off the force.

Eugene Levy plays Norman Kane, a lawyer whose latest client is a Charles Manson-style cult leader who has a swastika carved into his head.  After being repeatedly threatened with murder, Norman asks for a sidebar and requests that the judge sentence his client to life in prison.  The judge agrees on the condition that Norman, whom he describes as being “the worst attorney to ever appear before me,” find a new line of work.

Frank and Norman end up taking a one day training course to act as security guards and are assigned to work together by their tough by sympathetic supervisor (Meg Ryan!).  Assigned to guard a pharmaceutical warehouse, Frank and Norman stumble across a robbery.  The robbery leads them to corruption inside their own union and, before you can say 80s cop movie, Frank and Norman are ignoring the orders of their supervisors and investigating a crime that nobody wants solved.

Armed and Dangerous was one of the many comedy/cop hybrid films of the 1980s.  Like Beverly Hills Cop, it features Jonathan Banks as a bad guy.  Like the recruits in Police Academy, all of Frank and Norman’s fellow security guards are societal misfits who are distinguished by one or two eccentricities.  There is nothing ground-breaking about Armed and Dangerous but Mark Lester did a good job directing the movie and the team of Candy and Levy (who has previously worked together on SCTV) made me laugh more than a few times.

Armed and Dangerous was originally written to be a vehicle for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.  It’s easy to imagine Belushi and Aykroyd in the lead roles but I think the movie actually works better with Candy and Levy, whose comedic style was similar to but far less aggressive than that of Belushi and Aykroyd.  One of the reasons that Armed and Dangerous works is because John Candy and Eugene Levy seem like the two last people to ever find themselves in a shootout or a car chase.  With Belushi and Aykroyd, it would have been expected.  After all, everyone’s seen The Blues Brothers.

 

A Movie A Day #164: Split Decisions (1988, directed by David Drury)


Craig Sheffer seeks symbolic revenge and Gene Hackman picks up a paycheck in Split Decisions!

Ray McGuinn (Jeff Fahey) is a contender.  Ever since he let his father’s gym and signed with a sleazy boxing promoter, Ray has been waiting for his title shot.  His father, an ex-boxer turned trainer named Dan (Gene Hackman), has never forgiven Ray for leaving him.  Meanwhile, his younger brother — an amateur boxer and Olympic aspirant named Eddie (Craig Sheffer) — worships Ray and is overjoyed when Ray returns to the old neighborhood to fight “The Snake” Pedroza (Eddie Velez).  But then Ray is told that if he doesn’t throw the fight, he’ll never get a shot at a title bout.  When Ray refuses, The Snake and a group of thugs are sent to change his mind and Ray gets tossed out of a window.

Eddie is determined to avenge his brother’s death.  Does he do it by turning vigilante and tracking down the men who murdered his brother?  No, he turns pro and takes his brother’s place in the boxing ring!  Dan reluctantly trains him and Eddie enters the ring, looking for symbolic justice.  Symbolic justice just doesn’t have the same impact as Charles Bronson-style justice.

The idea of a barely known amateur turning professional and getting a chance to fight a contender feels just as implausible here as it did in Creed.  The difference is that Creed was a great movie so it did not matter if it was implausible.  To put it gently, Split Decisions is no Creed.  The boxing scenes are uninspired and even the training montage feels tired.  Look at Craig Sheffer run down the street while generic 80s music plays in the background.  Watch him spar in the ring.  Listen to Gene Hackman shout, “You’re dragging your ass out there!”  In the late 80s, Gene Hackman could have played a role like Dan in his sleep and he proves it by doing so here.  Underweight pretty boy Craig Sheffer is actually less convincing as a boxer than Damon Wayans was in The Great White Hype.

Split Decisions is another boxing movie that should have taken Duke’s advice.

A Movie A Day #104: True Blood (1989, directed by Richard Kerr)


Ten years after being wrongly accused of murdering a cop, Raymond Trueblood (Jeff Fahey) returns to the old neighborhood.  Ray has just finished a stint with the Marines and he is no longer the irresponsible hoodlum that he once was.  He wants to rescue his younger brother, Donny (Chad Lowe), from making the same mistakes that he made.  But Donny now hates Ray and is running with Ray’s former friend, Spider Masters (Billy Drago).  Spider is also responsible for framing Ray for killing the cop.  When he is not trying to save his brother, Ray falls in love with Jennifer Scott (Sherilyn Fenn), a tough waitress who is soon being menaced by Spider.

Like Crime Zone, True Blood is typical of the type of B-movies that Sherilyn Fenn was stuck in before being cast as Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks.  It’s a nothing part but Fenn is authentic and sincere in the part and, as usual, Fenn’s performance is one of the best things about the movie.

Overall, True Blood is predictable but it is still better than the typical late 80s B-movie.  Chad Lowe is never believable as a member of a street gang but Jeff Fahey does a good Clint Eastwood impersonation as Ray and Billy Drago is, as always, a great villain.  Fans of Dawn of the Dead will want to keep an eye out for Ken Foree as one of the detectives investigating Ray.

A Movie A Day #30: Prince of the City (1981, directed by Sidney Lumet)


220px-prince_of_the_city_foldedIn 1970s New York City, Danny Ciello (Treat Williams) is a self-described “prince of the city.”  A narcotics detective, Ciello is the youngest member of the Special Investigations Unit.  Because of their constant success, the SIU is given wide latitude by their superiors at the police department.  The SIU puts mobsters and drug dealers behind bars.  They get results.  If they sometimes cut corners or skim a little money for themselves, who cares?

It turns out that a lot of people care.  When a federal prosecutor, Rick Cappalino (Norman Parker), first approaches Ciello and asks him if he knows anything about police corruption, Ciello refuses to speak to him.  As Ciello puts it, “I sleep with my wife but I live with my partners.”  But Ciello already has doubts.  His drug addict brother calls him out on his hypocrisy. Ciello spends one harrowing night with one of his informants, a pathetic addict who Ciello keeps supplied with heroin in return for information.  Ciello finally agrees to help the investigation but with one condition: he will not testify against anyone in the SIU.  Before accepting Ciello’s help, Cappalino asks him one question.  Has Ciello ever done anything illegal while a cop?  Ciello says that he has only broken the law three times and each time, it was a minor infraction.

For the next two years, Ciello wears a wire nearly every day and helps to build cases against other cops, some of which are more corrupt than others.  It turns out that being an informant is not as easy as it looks.  Along with getting burned by malfunctioning wires and having to deal with incompetent backup, Ciello struggles with his own guilt.  When Cappalino is assigned to another case, Ciello finds himself working with two prosecutors (Bob Balaban and James Tolkan) who are less sympathetic to him and his desire to protect the SIU.  When evidence comes to light that Ciello may have lied about the extent of his own corruption, Ciello may become the investigation’s newest target.

prince-of-the-city

Prince of the City is one of the best of Sidney Lumet’s many films but it is not as well-known as 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Serpico, The Verdict, or even The Wiz.  Why is it such an underrated film?  As good as it is, Prince of the City is not always an easy movie to watch.  It’s nearly three hours long and almost every minute is spent with Danny Ciello, who is not always likable and often seems to be on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.  Treat Williams gives an intense and powerful performance but he is such a raw nerve that sometimes it is a relief when Lumet cuts away to Jerry Orbach (as one of Ciello’s partners) telling off a district attorney or to a meeting where a group of prosecutors debate where a group of prosecutors debate whether or not to charge Ciello with perjury.

Prince of the City may be about the police but there’s very little of the typical cop movie clichés.  The most exciting scenes in the movie are the ones, like that scene with all the prosecutors arguing, where the characters debate what “corruption” actually means.  Throughout Prince of the City, Lumet contrasts the moral ambiguity of otherwise effective cops with the self-righteous certitude of the federal prosecutors.  Unlike Lumet’s other films about police corruption (Serpico, Q&A), Prince of the City doesn’t come down firmly on either side.

(Though the names have been changed, Prince of the City was based on a true story.  Ciello’s biggest ally among the investigators, Rick Cappalino, was based on a young federal prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani.)

Prince of the City is dominated by Treat Williams but the entire cast is full of great New York character actors.  It would not surprise me if Jerry Orbach’s performance here was in the back of someone’s mind when he was cast as Law & Order‘s Lenny Briscoe.  Keep an eye out for familiar actors like Lance Henriksen, Lane Smith, Lee Richardson, Carmine Caridi, and Cynthia Nixon, all appearing in small roles.

Prince of the City is a very long movie but it needs to be.  Much as David Simon would later do with The Wire, Lumet uses this police story as a way to present a sprawling portrait of New York City.  In fact, if Prince of the City were made today, it probably would be a David Simon-penned miniseries for HBO.

image-w1280

Horror Trailer: Bone Tomahawk


Bone Tomahawk

We never have enough horror set in the Old West. It’s a setting that should be rife with infinite possibilities for some very scary storytelling.

When we do get Old West horror they tend to be direct-to-video and low-budget affairs. Now don’t get me wrong low-budget horror sometimes are some of the most effective. The closer it gets to it’s grindhouse roots the better. Then again some do end up being a pile of turds that end up getting relegated in the dollar bin at supermarkets.

My hope is that the latest Old West horror starring Kurt Russell will be the former and not the latter.

Bone Tomahawk made it’s premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest and from all intents and purpose had a very positive reception to it’s genre mash-up of cowboys vs cannibals. Now what better way to follow-up The Green Inferno but with another cannibal fare set in the dusty plains and canyons of the Old West.

Back to School #37: Back to the Future (dir by Robert Zemeckis)


back-to-the-future

Well, this is certainly intimidating.

Earlier today, I was sitting at my day job and I happened to glance down at my to-do list to see what I was scheduled to review next in my Back To School series and there, listed at #37, was a somewhat popular film from 1985.  The name of the film was Back To The Future and…

Oh, you’ve heard of it?  And you already know what the movie’s about because literally everyone on the planet has either seen Back to The Future or knows someone who has seen Back To The Future and loves it so much that they can tell you every little detail about the adventures of Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and that time-traveling DeLorean?

Well, just be quiet and bear with me.  I always like to give a plot synposis in my reviews.  For one thing, it’s a good way to let you know who plays who in the film.

mcfly

So, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is, despite his somewhat embarrassing last name, a perfectly normal American teenager.  He lives in a nice, small town.  He has a pretty girlfriend (Claudia Wells).  He likes to ride his skateboard.  He likes to play guitar (though he’s deemed to be “too loud” by at least one of his teachers).  The high school’s principal (James Tolkan) often gives him a hard time for being late but other than that, Marty seems to be a pretty regular guy…

Except his family has some major issues.  His mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson) is an alcoholic who won’t stop talking about how she first met her husband George (Crispin Glover) after her father hit him with his car. George, meanwhile, is a total wimp who is continually bullied by his boss, Biff (Thomas F. Wilson).  Marty’s older siblings (Marc McClure and Wendie Jo Sperber) are both living directionless lives and Marty has every reason to fear that he might end up following them.

49663309_michaeljfox1

Fortunately, Marty has a best friend named Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who has built a time machine inside of a luxury vehicle.  Late one night, Doc recruits Marty to help him test out the machine but what Doc didn’t mention is that in order to power his time machine, he had still plutonium from a group of terrorists.  Those terrorists show up and kill Doc.  Marty flees in the car and soon finds himself trapped in 1955.

Marty manages to track down the younger version of Doc Brown and the two of them start trying to work out how to get Marty back to the future.  (We have a title!)  Marty, of course, wants to warn Doc about what’s going to happen in 1985 but Doc insists that Marty tell him nothing about the future.  Doc also tells Marty that he has to be very careful, while in the past, not to change the future.

McFly!

Too late!  Marty has already met teenage Lorraine.  See, Marty happened to spot George up in a tree, peeping on Lorraine as she undressed.  (“He’s a pervert!” Marty exclaims.)  When George falls out of the tree and lands in the street, Marty pushes him out of the way of an approaching car.  Marty gets hit by the car, which is being driven by his own grandfather.  So now, Marty has essentially prevented his parents from meeting and, as a result, the McFly children are slowly fading from existence.

So, before Marty can go back to 1985, he has to get George and Lorraine back together.  The main problem, of course, is that Lorraine now has a crush on her own son…

michael-j-fox-back-to-the-future-screenshot

Wow, that’s a lot of plot there.  There’s a lot going on in Back to the Future and there are times when it almost feels like a dozen different films in one.  It’s a science fiction film, with Doc and Marty spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make a time machine work with 1955 technology and weather.  It’s an action film, with Marty fleeing terrorists in 1985 and Biff in 1955.  It’s a romance, with the always endearingly weird Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson making for an odd but cute couple.  (Thought it’s wrong on so many levels, Thompson and Fox also have a lot of chemistry and are cute together, as long as you ignore the fact that they are playing mother and son!)  It’s a frequently hilarious comedy, with the entire cast giving heartfelt performances.  It’s an anthropological study, comparing the 50s and the 80s.  It’s a satirical look at how teenager’s tend to view their parents, with Marty discovering that everything that he’s assumed at his mom was basically incorrect.  And finally, it’s a surprisingly subversive film, with Marty and Lorraine’s 1955 relationship constantly running the risk of turning into an Oedipal nightmare.

And yet the entire film flows together so perfectly that you’re never aware of just how busy it all really is.  Between director Robert Zemeckis’s sure-handed direction, the clever script by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and a uniformly excellent cast, Back to the Future is one of those films that verges on being flawless.

And, for that reason, it can be very intimidating to review.

I just don’t know how I’m going to do it…

550w_movies_dsma_back_to_the_future_03