Mistrial (1996, directed by Heywood Gould)


When a NYPD cop and her partner are murdered, overworked and stressed-out Detective Steve Donohue (Bill Pullman) follows a trail of circumstantial evidence that leads him to the door of the cop’s ex-husband, a community activist named Eddie Rios (Jon Seda).  Donohue’s attempt to arrest Rios goes terribly wrong and results in a shootout that leaves Rios’s second wife and bother dead before the handcuffs are eventually slapped on his wrists.

Rios may be the one on trial but Donohue is now the one facing judgment.  With protesters lined up outside the courthouse and the city’s mayor (James Rebhorn) more interested in his own reelection than in the pursuit of justice, Donohue knows that the only way he’ll be vindicated is if Eddie Rios is convicted.  Unfortunately, that’s not what happens.  Rios’s sleazy attorney (played by Josef Sommer) gets most of the evidence tossed out of court on a technicality and it appears that Rios is going to walk free.  That’s when Donohue decides to take the court itself hostage, pulls out a gun, and demands that Rios immediately be put on trial for a second time, with the jury hearing all of the evidence that was originally thrown out of court.

Mistrial is an example of the good-cop-pushed-over-the-edge genre.  Up until a few years ago, this was a very popular genre.  Today, of course, it feels tone deaf and it’s a lot more difficult to sympathize with a cop, even a fictional one, complaining about being restricted by the constitution.  The main problem with Mistrial is that it’s established early on that Eddie Ramos is guilty so there’s no real tension as to whether Donohue is doing the right thing by demanding a second trial.  If there had been some ambiguity about whether or not Ramos was the murderer that Donohue claims he is, it would have made the film much more interesting and less predictable.  The other problem is that Bill Pullman is just too naturally earnest and clean-cut to be convincing as an overworked cop who has been pushed into doing something crazy.  Remembering back to the 90s, I think someone like Gary Sinise or William L. Petersen could have pulled off the role but Pullman’s just not right for it.

Robert Loggia has a few good moments as Pullman’s sympathetic captain.  This was the 2nd time that Pullman and Loggia co-starred together.  The first time was in Independence Day.  The 3rd time would be in Lost Highway, a film that’s as different from Mistrial as day is from night.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #19: Scarface (dir by Brian DePalma)


“Hello to my little friend!”

Hi, little friend….

BOOM!

The 1983 film, Scarface, is a misunderstood film.  As we all know, it’s the story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who comes to Miami from Cuba along with his friend, Manny (Steven Bauer).  In return for murdering a former member of Castro’s government, Tony is given a job working for Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia).  When it becomes obvious that Tony is becoming too ambitious and might become a threat to him, Frank attempts to have Tony killed.  However, the assassination attempt fails, Tony murders Frank, and then Tony becomes Miami’s richest and most powerful crime lord.  Soon, Tony is burying his face in a mountain of cocaine while making deals with a sleazy Bolivian drug lord named Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar).  Tony also marries Frank’s mistress, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfieffer), though it’s obvious from the start the the only person that Tony truly loves is his sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).  Anyway, it all eventually leads to a lot of violence and a lot of death.  Even F. Murray Abraham ends up getting tossed out of a helicopter, which is unfortunate since his character was a lot of fun.

Scarface is a famous film, largely because of Oliver Stone’s quotable dialogue and the no holds barred direction of Brian DePalma.  However, I think that people get so caught up on the fact that this is a classic gangster film that they miss the fact that Scarface is also an extremely dark comedy.  It satirizes the excess of the 80s.  Once Tony reaches the top of the underworld, he becomes a parody of the nouveau riche.  He moves into a gigantic house and proceeds to decorate it in the most tasteless way possible and there’s something oddly charming about this crude, not particularly bright man getting excited over the fact that he can finally afford to buy a tiger.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a scene where Tony rants while lounging in an indoor hot tub while Elvira languidly snorts cocaine and complains about the crudeness of his language and, at that moment, Scarface becomes a bit of a domestic comedy.  Tony’s reached the top of his profession, just to discover that it takes more than a live-in tiger and a wardrobe of wide lapeled suits to achieve true happiness.  So, he ends up sitting glumly in his office with a mountain of cocaine rising up in front of him.  “The world is yours” may be Tony’s motto but it turns out that the world is extremely tacky.  For all of his attempts to recreate himself as a wealthy and sophisticated man, Tony is still just a barely literate criminal with a nasty scar and a sour disposition.  The only thing he’s gotten for all of his ruthless ambition is an order of ennui with a cocaine appetizer.

I’ve always found Brian DePalma to be an uneven director.  He has a very distinct style and sometimes that style is perfectly suited to the story that he’s telling (i.e., Carrie) and sometimes, all of that style just seems to get in the way (i.e. The Fury).  Scarface, however, is the ideal story for DePalma’s over-the-top aesthetic.  DePalma’s style may be excessive but Scarface is a film about excess so it’s a perfect fit.  For that matter, you could say the same thing about Oliver Stone’s screenplay.  Stone has since stated that he was using almost as much cocaine as Tony Montana while he wrote the script.  The end result of the combination of Stone’s script, DePalma’s hyperactive direction, Pacino’s overpowering lead performance, and Giorgio Moroder’s propulsive score is a film that feels as if every minute is fueled by cocaine.  It’s not just a film that’s about drugs.  It’s also a film that feels like a drug.

Scarface is a big movie.  It runs nearly three hours, following Tony from his arrival in the United States to his final moments in his mansion, taking hundreds of bullets while grandly announcing that he’s still standing.  (Even after all of the bad things that Tony has done — poor Manny! — it’s impossible not to admire his refusal to go down.)  It’s also a difficult movie to review, largely because almost everyone’s seen it and already has an opinion.  Personally, I think the film gets off to a strong start.  I think the scenes of Tony ruthlessly taking control of Frank’s empire are perfectly handled and I love the scenes where Pacino and Steven Bauer just bounce dialogue off of each other.  They’re like a comedy team who commits murder on the side.  I also loved the “Take it to the limit” montage, which belongs in the 80s Cinema Hall of Fame.  At the same time, I think the final third of the movie drags a bit and that Tony’s sudden crisis of conscience when he sees that a man that he’s supposed to murder has a family feels a bit forced.  It also bothers me that Elvira just vanishes from the film.  At the very least, the audience deserved more of an explanation as to where she disappeared to.

But no matter!  Flaws and all, Scarface is a violent satire that holds up surprisingly well.  Al Pacino’s unhinged performance as Tony Montana is rightly considered to be iconic.  Pacino’s gives such a powerhouse performance that it’s easy to forget that the rest of the cast is pretty impressive as well.  I particularly liked the wonderfully sleazy work of F. Murray Abraham and Paul Shenar.  That said, my favorite character in the film remains Elvira, if just because her clothes were to die for and she just seemed so incredibly bored with all of the violent men in her life.  She goes from being bored with Frank to being bored with Tony and how can you not admire someone who, even when surrounded by all Scarface’s excess, just refuse to care?

Scarface is an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface (1932)
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.
  18. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Favorite Son (1988, directed by Jeff Bleckner)


During a reception on the steps of U.S. Capitol, an assassin kills Contra leader Col. Martinez (Geno Silva) and seriously wounds Sen. Terry Fallon (Harry Hamlin), an up-and-coming politician from Texas.  An eager media catapults Fallon to national stardom and the beleagued President (James Whitmore), who is facing a tough reelection bid, is pressured to replace the current vice president (Mitchell Ryan) with Fallon.

The FBI only assigns two of their agents to investigate the assassination, a sure sign that someone wants the investigation to just go away.  Nick Mancuso (Robert Loggia) is a crusty, hard-drinking veteran agent whose career is nearly at an end.  David Ross (Lance Guest) is his young and idealistic partner.  When Mancuso and Ross discover that Martinez was injected with the HIV virus just two days before the assassination, it becomes obvious that there is a bigger conspiracy afoot.  It all links back to Sally Crain (Linda Kozlowski), who is Fallon’s legislative aide and also his lover.  (Fallon has a wife but she’s locked away in a hospital.)  Sally has an interest in bondage, as Ross soon finds out.

Favorite Son was originally aired as a 3-night, 4 and a half-hour miniseries.  It was later reedited and, with a running time of less than two hours, released theatrically overseas as Target: Favorite Son.  As a miniseries, Favorite Son is an exciting conspiracy-themed film that is full of scheming, plotting, interesting performances, and pungent dialogue.  Target: Favorite Son, on the other hand, is disjointed and, unless you know the original’s plot, almost impossible to follow.  If you’re going to watch Favorite Son, make sure you see the original miniseries.  My mom taped it off of NBC when it originally aired.  That was the only way that I was able to originally see the film the way that it meant to be seen.  The entire miniseries has also been uploaded, in three parts, to YouTube.

Hopefully, the original miniseries will get an official release someday because it’s pretty damn entertaining.  Harry Hamlin isn’t really dynamic enough for the role of Fallon but otherwise, the movie is perfectly cast.  Robert Loggia is so perfect for the role of Nick Mancuso that it almost seems as if the character was written for him.  (Loggia did later star in a one-season drama called Mancuso, FBI.)  Linda Kozlowski seems to be destined to be forever known as Crocodile Dundee’s wife but her performance as Sally shows that she was a better actress than she was given credit for.  The supporting cast also features good performances from Jason Alexander, Ronny Cox, Tony Goldwyn, John Mahoney, Kenneth McMillian, Richard Bradford, and Jon Cypher.

Favorite Son may be over 30 years old but it’s still relevant today.  In the third part, John Mahoney gives a speech about how American voters are often willfully ignorant when it comes to what’s going on behind the scenes in Washington and it’s a killer moment.  Melodramatic as Favorite Son may be, with its portrayal of political chicanery and an exploitative national media, it’s still got something to say that’s worth hearing.

 

Film Review: The Greatest Story Ever Told (dir by George Stevens)


The 1965 biblical epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told, tells the story of the life of Jesus, from the Nativity to the Ascension.  It’s probably the most complete telling of the story that you’ll ever find.  It’s hard to think of a single details that’s left out and, as a result, the film has a four hour running time.  Whether you’re a believer or not, that’s a really long time to watch a reverent film that doesn’t even feature the campy excesses of something like The Ten Commandments.

(There’s actually several different version of The Greatest Story Ever Told floating around.  There’s a version that’s a little over two hours.  There’s a version that’s close to four hours.  Reportedly, the uncut version of the film ran for four hour and 20 minutes.)

Max von Sydow plays Jesus.  On the one hand, that seems like that should work because Max von Sydow was a great actor who gave off an otherworldly air.  On the other hand, it totally doesn’t work because von Sydow gives an oddly detached performance.  The Greatest Story Ever Told was von Sydow’s first American film and, at no point, does he seem particularly happy about being involved with it.  von Sydow is a very cerebral and rather reserved Jesus, one who makes his points without a hint of passion or charisma.  When he’s being friendly, he offers up a half-smile.  When he has to rebuke his disciples for their doubt, he sounds more annoyed than anything else.  He’s Jesus if Jesus was a community college philosophy professor.

The rest of the huge cast is populated with familiar faces.  The Greatest Story Ever Told takes the all-star approach to heart and, as a result, even the minor roles are played by actors who will be familiar to anyone who has spent more than a few hours watching TCM.  Many of them are on screen for only a few seconds, which makes their presence all the more distracting.  Sidney Poitier shows up as Simon of Cyrene.  Pat Boone is an angel.  Roddy McDowall is Matthew and Sal Mineo is Uriah and John Wayne shows up as a centurion and delivers his one line in his trademark drawl.

A few of the actors do manage to stand out and make a good impression.  Telly Savalas is a credible Pilate, playing him as being neither smug nor overly sympathetic but instead as a bureaucrat who can’t understand why he’s being forced to deal with all of this.  Charlton Heston has just the right intensity for the role of John the Baptist while Jose Ferrer is properly sleazy as Herod.  In the role Judas, David McCallum looks at the world through suspicious eyes and does little to disguise his irritation with the rest of the world.  The Greatest Story Ever Told does not sentimentalize Judas or his role in Jesus’s arrest.  For the most part, he’s just a jerk.  Finally, it’s not exactly surprising when Donald Pleasence shows up as Satan but Pleasence still gives a properly evil performance, giving all of his lines a mocking and often sarcastic bite.

The Greatest Story Ever Told was directed by George Stevens, a legitimately great director who struggles to maintain any sort of narrative momentum in this film.  Watching The Greatest Story Ever Told, it occurred to me that the best biblical films are the ones like Ben-Hur and The Robe, which both largely keep Jesus off-screen and instead focus on how his life and teachings and the reports of his resurrection effected other people.  Stevens approaches the film’s subject with such reverence that the film becomes boring and that’s something that should never happen when you’re making a film set in Judea during the Roman era.

I do have to admit that, despite all of my criticism of the film, I do actually kind of like The Greatest Story Ever Told.  It’s just such a big production that it’s hard not to be a little awed by it all.  That huge cast may be distracting but it’s still a little bit fun to sit there and go, “There’s Shelley Winters!  There’s John Wayne!  There’s Robert Blake and Martin Landau!”  That said, as far as biblical films are concerned, you’re still better off sticking with Jesus Christ Superstar.

Love On The Shattered Lens: An Officer and a Gentleman (dir by Taylor Hackford)


Almost everyone knows that one scene from the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman.  You can probably guess which scene it is that I’m talking about.  It’s been parodied and imitated in so many other shows and movies that it’s one of those pop cultural moments that everyone has “seen” even they haven’t actually watched it.  It’s the scene where….

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

What?

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

I know, Mayo, I’m getting to that!  Let me tell everyone about the iconic factory scene first, okay?

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

Uhmmm …. right.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, it’s the scene where Debra Winger is working in a factory and a youngish Richard Gere suddenly shows up and he’s wearing a white uniform and he picks her up and carries her out of the factory while all of her coworkers cheer.  Meanwhile, that Up Where We Belong song starts to play on the soundtrack.  Even though, up until recently, I had never actually sat down and watched An Officer and a Gentleman, I certainly knew that scene.

Last Friday, I noticed that I had An Officer and a Gentleman saved on the DVR and I thought to myself, “Well, I might as well go ahead and watch it and find out what else happens in the movie.”  Add to that, I only had three hours of recording space left on the DVR so I figured I could watch the movie and then delete it and free up some space….

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

Goddammit, Mayo, be quiet!  I’m getting to it!

Anyway, I watched the film and I discovered that it’s actually about a lot more than just Richard Gere getting Debra Winger fired from her job at the factory.  It’s also about how Zack Mayo (the character played by Richard Gere) hopes to make something of himself by graduating from Aviation Officer Candidate School so that he can become not only a Navy pilot but also an officer and a gentleman.  His father (Robert Loggia) is an alcoholic, his mother committed suicide when Mayo was a child and Mayo …. well, I’ll let him tell you himself.

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

That’s right.  Mayo has not got anywhere else to go.

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

Ain’t is not a word, Mayo.

As you may have already guessed, we know that Mayo doesn’t have anywhere else to go because there’s a scene where he continually yells, “I ain’t got nowhere else to go!” over and over again.  He yells it after being forced to do a thousand push-ups and sit-ups by his drill sergeant, Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.)  Foley thinks that Mayo doesn’t have the right attitude to be either an officer or a gentleman.  Mayo is determined to prove him wrong.

I AIN’T GOT–

Oh give it a rest, Mayo!

Debra Winger plays Paula.  Paula is a townie.  She lives in a dilapidated house with her parents.  Her friend, Lynette (Lisa Blount), dreams of marrying a Naval officer and getting to travel the world.  Lynette gets involved with Mayo’s friend, Sid Worley (David Keith).  Foley warns both Sid and Mayo to stay away from the townie girls because they’re not to be trusted.  That turns out to be true in Lynette’s case but Paula’s love provides Mayo with the strength that he needs to believe in something more than just himself.

I AIN’T–

Yes, you do have some place to go, Mayo!  That’s the point of the whole goddamn movie!

Anyway, watching An Officer and a Gentleman, I was kind of surprised to discover that it’s actually two movies in one.  It’s a traditional army training film, one in which Richard Gere is whipped into shape by a tough drill sergeant.  It’s also a film about life in an economically depressed small town, where the only hope of escape comes from marrying the right aviation officer candidate.  As a military film it’s predictable if occasionally effective.  As a film about small town life, it’s surprisingly poignant.  An Officer And A Gentleman doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to depicting just how little life in the town has to offer to people like Paula and Lynette.  They have spent their entire lives being told they can either work in a factory for minimum wage and get drunk on the weekend or they can land a man who will hopefully take them away from all that and give them something more to look forward to than cirrhosis of the liver.  Lynette has accepted that as being her only option.  While Paula dreams of escape, she dreams of escaping on her terms.  She may fall in love with Mayo but she’s not going to pretend to be someone that she’s not just to keep him around.

Though he’s evolved into a good character actor, Richard Gere was remarkably blank-faced when he was younger and his performance as Mayo alternates between being bland and shrill.  However, Debra Winger brings a welcome edge to her role.  She plays Paula as someone who knows she’s stuck in a dead end existence.  She’s not happy about it but, at the same time, she’s not going to surrender her principles in order to escape.  She holds onto her ideals, even though she appears to be stuck in a crappy situation and that’s something that Mayo learns from her.  In the end, Paula saves Mayo just as surely as the Navy does.  And, just as Paula saves Mayo, Winger saves the movie.

I AIN’T GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!

Oh, shut the Hell up, Mayo.  Go pick up Paula and carry her off to a better life….

White Mile (1994, Directed by Robert Butler)


In this HBO movie, Alan Alda plays the biggest asshole in the world.

Alda is cast as Dan Cutler, an ad exec who books a corporate retreat to Canada’s White Mile.  He tells the nine men who accompany him, some of whom are clients and some of whom work for him, that it’s going to be a weekend of fishing and male bonding.  What he doesn’t reveal is that the trip is also going to require whitewater rafting.  Despite the fact that the majority of the men are out-of-shape and hardly any of them have any rafting experience, Dan insists that they all take part.  When their guide says that they’re going to need to take two boats, Dan refuses.  He wants everyone in one boat, the better so they can all work together to prove their manhood by conquering the river.

The trip starts out well but, when the raft hits a rock and turns over, five of the men end up dead.  Despite injuring his leg, Dan survives and, when he returns to work, he’s hailed as a hero.  However, one of the widows of the men who didn’t survive is now suing the company.  While Dan tries to cover his own ass, one of the survivors — Jack Robbins (Peter Gallagher) — is faced with a dilemma of his own.  As one of the few people who knows that Dan demanded that the guide only use one boat, will Jack testify to the truth at the trial or will he follow Dan’s orders and keep quiet about what really happened?

Based on a true story, White Mile features some brief but exciting (and harrowing) rafting scenes but the film is less about what happened in the wilderness and instead about what’s happening behind the closed doors of corporate America.  White Mile does a good job of taking Alda’s sensitive male persona and pushing it through the looking glass.  As played by Alda, Dan is the type of tyrannical boss who we’ve all had to deal with.  His friendly smile barely disguises a bullying streak.  Even after the accident leaves five of his colleagues dead, Dan is still convinced that the trip was a good idea and that everyone was having the best day of their lives until they hit that rock.  When the river guide initially finds Dan stranded on a rock, Dan makes a show of telling the guide to come back for him later and to find the others.  When Dan later comes across one of the dead men, he says, “He must have had a bad heart,” as he grasps at any way to avoid taking responsibility.  Though White Mile is dominated by Alda’s villainy, it also features good performances from Gallagher, Robert Loggia, Bruce Altman, and Jack Gilipin.  When Gilpin demands to know if anyone at the ad agency has shown any true remorse for what happened, he is speaking for the entire audience.

White Mile was an early HBO film and, because it was released before HBO became known for its original programming, it’s often unfairly overlooked.  When it was released on DVD, it was advertised as being an action-adventure film, which it definitely is not.  Instead, it’s a look at the type of head games that far too often act as a substitute for responsible and ethical management in corporate America.  It’s a good movie and you’ll never look at Alan Alda the same way again.

Horror Film Review: Psycho II (dir by Richard Franklin)


Norman Bates is back!

No, I don’t mean Freddie Highmore from Bates Motel or Vince Vaughn from the odd Psycho remake that I keep seeing on Showtime.  No, I’m talking about the original Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins!

First released in 1983, Psycho II is a direct sequel to the classic shocker from Alfred Hitchcock.  The film opens with a replay of the original film’s famous shower scene and then immediately jumps forward 22 years.  Having been found not guilty by reason of insanity, Norman Bates has been in a mental institution ever since he was arrested for the murders of Marion Crane and Milton Arborgast.  However, Norman’s psychiatrist, Dr. Raymond (Robert Loggia, who was considered for the role of Sam Loomis in the original film), now feels that Norman has been cured and is no longer a danger to himself or others.  A judge agrees.  Marion Crane’s sister, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles, reprising her role from the original) does not.  She presents the judge with a petition demanding that Norman not be released.  When the judge ignores her, Lila yells that Norman will murder again!

Now free, Norman returns to the Bates Motel and discovers that it’s now being run by the sleazy Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz).  When Norman finds various party favors in the motel rooms and asks Warren what they are, Warren laughs and says, “They’re drugs, Norman.”  Norman’s not too happy about that.  As Dr. Raymond tells him, the world has changed considerably over the past two decades.

However, Norman has other issues to deal with.  For the most part, most of the people in town are not happy that their most famous resident has returned.  Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) gets Norman a job at a local diner because, in her words, she believes in forgiveness and second chances.  Norman gets to know the new waitress, Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) and, when Mary tells him that she’s had a fight with her boyfriend, he invites her to stay at the hotel until she can get things together.

From the minute that he returns home, Norman is struggling to keep it together.  When he first reenters his former house, he hears his mother’s voice but he tells himself that she’s not really there.  But if his mother isn’t there, then who keeps calling him on the phone and yelling at him about the state of the motel?  Who keeps taunting him about his awkward (yet rather sweet) relationship with Mary?  And when two teenagers are attacked after breaking into the house, who else could it possibly be but Norman’s mother?

I was really surprised by Psycho II, which turned out to be a really entertaining little movie, an effective thriller with a healthy dash of dark humor.  It’s a very plot-heavy film, with almost every scene introducing a new twist to the story.  With the exception of the sleazy Warren Toomey, no one in this film turns out to be who you initially expected them to be, including Norman.  Meg Tilly does a good job in the somewhat oddly written role of Mary Samuels and even manages to make an awkward line like “Norman, you’re as mad as a hatter” sound natural.  Not surprisingly, the film is dominated by Perkins’s performance as Norman Bates and what a great performance it is.  The best moments are the ones where Norman awkwardly tries to fit back in with society, nervously laughing at his own jokes and struggling to maintain eye contact with whoever he’s talking to.  You really can’t help but feel sorry for him, especially as the film progresses.

Wisely, Psycho II set out to establish it own identity as a film, as opposed to just trying to duplicate the shocks of Psycho.  (There is a shower scene that’s filmed similarly to the one from the first scene, with a key difference that I won’t spoil.)  It’s what a sequel should be, not a remake but a continuation of the original’s story.  This is definitely a film that’s far better than you may expect.

 

A Movie A Day #338: Raid on Entebbe (1977, directed by Irvin Kershner)


On June 27th, 1976, four terrorists hijacked an Air France flight and diverted it to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  With the blessing of dictator Idi Amin and with the help of a deployment of Ugandan soldiers, the terrorists held all of the Israeli passengers hostage while allowing the non-Jewish passengers to leave.  The terrorists issued the usual set of demands.  The Israelis responded with Operation Thunderbolt, a daring July 4th raid on the airport that led to death of all the terrorists and the rescue of the hostages.  Three hostages were killed in the firefight and a fourth — Dora Bloch — was subsequently murdered in a Ugandan hospital by Idi Amin’s secret police.  Only one commando — Yonatan Netanyahu — was lost during the raid.  His younger brother, Benjamin, would later become Prime Minister of Israel.

Raid on Entebbe, a docudrama about the operation, was originally produced for NBC though it subsequently received an overseas theatrical release as well.  It’s an exciting tribute to the bravery of both the hostages and the commandos who rescued them.  Director Irvin Kershner directs in a documentary fashion and gets good performances from a cast full of familiar faces.  Charles Bronson, James Woods, Peter Finch, Martin Balsam, Stephen Macht, Horst Buchholz, Sylvia Sidney, Allan Arbus, Jack Warden, John Saxon, and Robert Loggia show up as politicians, commandos, terrorists, and hostages and all of them bring a sense of reality and humanity to their roles.

The film’s best performance comes from Yaphet Kotto, who plays Idi Amin as a strutting buffoon, quick to smile but always watching out for himself.  In the film, Amin often pays unannounced visits to the airport, where he lies and tells the hostages that he is doing his best to broker an agreement between the terrorists and Israel.  The hostages are forced to applaud Amin’s empty promises and Amin soaks it all up with a huge grin on his face.  Forest Whitaker may have won the Oscar for Last King of Scotland but, for me, Yaphet Kotto will always be the definitive Idi Amin.

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 #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.