The Hard Way (1991, directed by John Badham)


Lt. John Moss (James Woods) is a cop with a problem.  A serial killer who calls himself the Party Crasher (Stephen Lang) is killing people all across New York and he has decided that he will be coming for Moss next.  However, Moss’s captain (Delroy Lindo) says that Moss is off of the Party Crasher case and, instead, he’s supposed to babysit a big time movie star named Nick Lang (Michael J. Fox)!

Nick is famous for playing “Smoking” Joe Gunn in a series of Indiana Jones-style action films.  However, Nick wants to be taken seriously.  He wants to play Hamlet, just like his rival Mel Gibson!  (That Hard Way came out a year after Mel Gibson played the melancholy Dame in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.)  Nick thinks that if he can land the lead role in a hard-boiled detective film, it will give him a chance to show that he actually can act.  To prepare for his audition, he’s asked to spend some time following Moss on the job.  Mayor David Dinkins, always eager to improve New York’s reputation, agrees.  (David Dinkins does not actually appear in The Hard Way, though his name is often mentioned with a derision that will be familiar to anyone who spent any time in New York in the 90s.)  Of course, Moss isn’t going to stop investigating the Party Crasher murders and, of course, Nick isn’t going to follow Moss’s orders to just stay in his apartment and not get in his way.

The Hard Way is a predictable mix of action and comedy but it’s also entertaining in its own sloppy way.  Director John Badham brings the same grit that he brought to his other action films but he also proves himself to have a deft comedic touch.  Most of the laughs come from the contrast between James Woods playing one of his typically hyperactive, edgy roles and Michael J. Fox doing an extended and surprisingly convincing impersonation of Tom Cruise.  Woods and Fox prove to be an unexpectedly effective comedic team.  One of the best running jokes in the film is Woods’s exasperation as he discovers that everyone, from his girlfriend (Annabella Sciorra) to his no-nonsense boss, are huge fans of Nick Lang.  Even with a serial killer running loose in the city, Moss’s captain is more concerned with getting Nick’s autograph.

Woods and Fox are the main attractions here but Stephen Lang is a good, unhinged villain and Annabella Sciorra brings some verve to her underwritten role as Moss’s girlfriend.  Viewers will also want to keep an eye out for familiar faces like Penny Marshall as Nick’s agent, a very young Christina Ricci as Sciorra’s daughter, and Luis Guzman as Moss’s partner.

With its references to David Dinkins, Mel Gibson’s superstardom, and Premiere Magazine, its LL Cool J-filled soundtrack, and a plot that was obviously influenced by Lethal Weapon, The Hard Way is very much a period piece but it’s an entertaining one.

A Movie A Day #109: Where’s Marlowe? (1999, directed by Daniel Pyne)


Two documentarians (Mos Def and John Livingston) decided to make a film about two real-life private detectives, Joe Boone (Miguel Ferrer) and Kevin Murphy (John Slattery).  At first, Boone is skeptical of the two filmmakers.  He watched their last documentary, a three-hour epic about New York’s water supply, and was disappointed by the lack of sex.  However, as the two filmmakers follow him around, he warms up to them and they discover that the tough and sarcastic Boone is actually a soft-hearted idealist who can barely pay the bills.  When Boone discovers that Murphy is sleeping with the wife of one of their clients, their partnership dissolves.  It looks like Boone is going to have to shut down his agency, unless the two filmmakers can help him solve his latest case.

Where’s Marlowe? starts out strong by focusing on Miguel Ferrer’s performance as Joe Boone.  Ferrer did not get to play many leading roles but he was perfectly cast as Joe Boone.  He is completely believable as an old-fashioned private investigator struggling to survive in the modern world.  During the movie’s less interesting second half, the attention shifts to the filmmakers trying to help Boone.  Mos Def and John Livingston are good in their roles but the film’s focus should have stayed on Ferrer.  Unfortunately, the main mystery is never as interesting as Miguel Ferrer’s solid lead performance.

Where’s Marlowe? started out as a pilot and it is easy to see where it would have gone if it had become a television series.  For all of its flaws, it is worth it just to see Miguel Ferrer in a rare leading role.

For Your Consideration #5: Begin Again (dir by John Carney)


Begin_Again_film_poster_2014

Continuing my look at ten films that deserve just as much awards consideration as Birdman, Selma, and The Theory of Everything, we now turn our attention to Begin Again.  Begin Again came out this summer and did pretty well both with audiences and critics.  While everyone seems to agree that Begin Again will probably get at least a nomination for Best Original Song, I think that it’s actually worthy of even more consideration.

Begin Again is the latest film from John Carney, who previously directed one of my favorite films of all time, Once.  Admittedly, Begin Again is nowhere near as good as Once but it’s still a charming film when taken on its own terms.

Mark Ruffalo plays Dan Mulligan, a record label executive who, at the start of the film, has definitely seen better days.  His marriage is collapsing, he’s struggling to connect with his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld),  and he’s just recently been fired from the company that he helped to found.  After a day of binge drinking, Dan finds himself in a bar where he hears Gretta James (Keira Knightley) sing a song.

Dan is immediately taken with Gretta’s music but she has issues of her own.  She had just broken up with her boyfriend and songwriting partner, Dave (Adam Levine, in his film acting debut). Though initially reluctant, Gretta eventually allows Dan to attempt to sign her to his former label.  However, Dan’s former partner (played by Mos Def) refuses to sign her which leads to Dan and Gretta independently producing an album together, with the gimmick that the album will be recorded at various public locations across New York.

There’s really not that much plot to Begin Again but that’s actually a huge part of the film’s appeal.  The film rejects melodrama and easy sentimentality and instead, it focuses on the characters.  (That said, Begin Again is definitely a sentimental movie but it’s sentimental in the best possible way.)  The movie is about how two different people come together and, for their own individual reasons, create something special.  Ruffalo and Knightley have a lot of chemistry, Levine is hilariously dorky, and Mos Def is entertaining as the epitome of everything that’s wrong with the music industry.  Best of all, Begin Again — much like Once before it — perfectly captures the thrill of artistic collaboration.  The scenes of Knightley and Ruffalo recording their album are exuberant celebrations of everything that’s wonderful about performance and expression.

And, of course, the music is great!

 

Song of the Day: I Against I (by Massive Attack feat. Mos Def)


Here I sit in my room watching on Encore HD a running of Guillermo Del Toro’s sequel to Blade. As awesome as this film was it was the soundtrack to Blade II that continues to impress. It’s from this soundtrack that I picked the latest “Song of the Day”. That choice happens to be the collaboration between electronica/trip-hop duo Massive Attack with hip-hop artist Mos Def.

“I Against I” is the latest song of the day and I consider the best song in the Blade II soundtrack which was all about electronica artists and band collaborating with hip-hop artists. This song occurs early in the film where Blade and his crew joined by a vampire kill-team called the Bloodpack does their slo-mo march towardsa a vampire underground club. It’s a scene that needs to be seen to be appreciated. The massive and clear bass beat by Massive Attack lends itself well to Mos Def’s smooth lyrical flow even as electronic melodies and beats accompanies the rest.

This song could be listened to in it’s instrumental version and it would sound very good. Mos Def could rap it’s lyrics accapella style and he would also sound good, but it’s when the two combines that the song becomes great. It’s one of a few reasons why I consider Blade II the best in the trilogy and why I continue to watch it whenever it comes on cable.

I Against I

I-ya,
I against I,
Flesh of my flesh,
And mind of my mind,
Two of a kind but one won’t survive,
My images reflect in the enemies eye,
And his images reflect in mine the same time,

I-ya, I-ya,
I against I,
Flesh of my flesh,
And mind of my mind,
Two of a kind but one won’t survive,

Right here is where the end gon’ start at,
Conflict, contact ‘n’ combat,
Fighters stand where the land is marked at,
Settle the dispute about who the livest,
3 word answer,
Whoever survive this,
Only one of us can ride forever,
So you and I cant ride together,
Can’t live or cant die together,
All we can do is collide together,
So I skillfully apply the pressure,
Won’t stop until I’m forever… One!

A door step where death never come,
Spread across time til my time never done,
And I’m never done,
Walk tall, why ever run?
When they move if I ever come?
Bad man never fret the war, tell’em come
General we have the stock, the mad fire burn

I-ya,
I against I,
Flesh of my flesh,
And mind of my mind,
Two of a kind but one won’t survive,
My images reflect in the enemies eye,
And his images reflect in mine the same time,

I-ya, I-ya,
I against I,
Flesh of my flesh,
And mind of my mind,
Two of a kind but one won’t survive,
Survive (x16)

Reign supreme in your U-N-I,
V-E-R-S-E with the sharpness,
Narrow row building no space for partners,
No space for drivers, no space for walkers,
No space regardless,
Your on my path then get off it,
Hardheaded and unresponsive,
Get they lives put on target with harshness,
Come with the canons sparkin’ they darken,
Who am i? One man squadron,
Ma stir the fire this time that’d snatch your tomorrow,
The thousand yard spear that’ll pierce through your armor,
You can get it on right now if you want to,
But when ya front 9 get marched through,
I warned you,
You know who forever belong to,

I-ya, I-ya
I against I,
Flesh of my flesh,
And mind of my mind,
Two of a kind but one won’t survive,
My images reflect in the enemies eye,
And his images reflect in mine the same time,

I-ya, I-ya,
I against I,
Flesh of my flesh,
And mind of my mind,
Two of a kind but one won’t survive,
My images reflect in the enemies eye,
And his images reflect in mine, survive
Survive (x16)