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.

Movie A Day #333: Beyond Valkyrie: Dawn of the Fourth Reich (2016, directed by Claudio Fah)


The year is 1944 and a group of Germany officials and military officers, all of whom are secretly opposed to the Nazi regime, are plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  A group of American and British operatives, led by Captain Evan Blackburn (Sean Patrick Flannery), have been dropped behind enemy lines.  Their mission is to protect the man who has been chosen to lead Germany after Hitler’s death but, after the assassination fails, Blackburn and his men find themselves with a new mission.  Working with a group of Russian soldiers, Blackburn tries to prevent a group of Nazis from fleeing to Argentina with a cache of stolen good.

The plot of Beyond Valkyrie is rooted in fact.  In June of 1944, Hitler was nearly assassinated by a group of high-ranking Germans who hoped to replace him with a more moderate leader.  (Historically, it’s questionable whether the majority of the conspirators were truly anti-Nazi or if they just felt that Hitler was mismanaging the war.)  At the same time, as it became evident that Germany was going to lose the war, many Nazi war criminals did escape to Argentina, where the government of Juan Peron provided them with sanctuary from prosecution.  Some of the most notorious Nazis reinvented themselves as businessmen in both South America and the Middle East.  (Others, like Klaus Barbie and Reinhard Gehlen, offered their services to any government that would accept them.)

The true story is so interesting that it’s unfortunate that Beyond Valkyrie is such a bad movie.  Basically, consider it to be Inglourious Basterds with none of Tarantino’s style or Christoph Waltz’s smiling menace.  Beyond Valkyrie is a war epic on a budget, a very low budget.  Neither the weak script nor the cheap-looking CGI does much to add authenticity to the movie.  There are a few familiar faces in the cast, though none of them are onscreen for long.  Rutger Hauer provides what little dignity Beyond Valkyrie has.  Tom Sizemore looks like he’s still recovering from the weekend.  Stephen Lang picks up his paycheck.  Sean Patrick Flanery does the best he can but he’s stuck with all the worst lines.

One final note: One of the Russian soldiers, played by Andrew Byron, is actually named Tolstoy.  I waited for Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, and Dostoevsky to show up but they never came.

A Movie A Day #181: Guilty As Sin (1993, directed by Sidney Lumet)


When wealthy playboy David Greenhill (Don Johnson, doing a one-note Michael Douglas impersonation) is accused of throwing his wife out of a window, there’s only one lawyer who he wants to defend him.  Jennifer Haines (Rebecca De Mornay) may have just won a huge case but it is obvious that the only reason that David wants her on his team is because she’s sexy as Hell and David has an obsessive streak.  Still, despite the misgivings of her boyfriend (Stephen Lang) and her mentor (Jack Warden), she takes the case, convinced that she is the only attorney smart enough to be able to get David acquitted.

It becomes very obvious that David is not only probably guilty but that he might be a serial killer as well.  Not only does he start to turn up everywhere that Jennifer goes but, protected by attorney/client privilege, he starts to tell her all of his dark secrets.  Jennifer finds herself trapped into defending an obviously guilty client, one who appears to be setting her up to be his next victim.  Even when he fails to pay her for her services, the trial judge refuses to allow Jennifer to quit the case.

Back in the 90s, Guilty As Sin used to frequently show up on late night HBO and Cinemax.  I always watched because I had a crush on Rebecca De Mornay and I bet I was not alone as far as that’s concerned.  Late night cable is where Guilty As Sin belongs, which makes it strange that this weak and implausible movie was directed by Sidney Lumet.  One of the legitimately great American directors, Lumet directed several classic courtroom thrillers over the course of his career.  Guilty As Sin is not one of them.  This is probably the most impersonal film that Lumet ever made.  Other than the presence of Lumet favorite Jack Warden, there is nothing about Guilty As Sin that would lead anyone to think that it had been directed by the same man responsible for 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, or Prince of the City.

Fortunately, though Guilty As Sin was one of his Lumet’s last films as a director, it was not his final film.  Released in 2007, Lumet’s final film was a crafty thriller called Before The Devil Knows Your Dead, which showed that, at the age of 83, Lumet was still one of the greats and that Guilty As Sin was just a minor bump in an otherwise brilliant career.

Here Are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!


Here are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!  I don’t know what the cat’s yawning about; these nominations are actually an interesting mix of the usual suspects (Moonlight, Manchester, La La Land) and a few unexpected but intriguing picks (like 13th and The Witch).

THE 2016 SEATTLE FILM AWARD NOMINEES:

BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR:

BEST DIRECTOR:

  • Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  • Robert EggersThe Witch
  • Barry JenkinsMoonlight
  • Paul Verhoeven – Elle
  • Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

BEST ACTOR in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
  • Ryan GoslingLa La Land
  • Logan Lerman – Indignation
  • Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington – Fences

BEST ACTRESS in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Amy Adams – Arrival
  • Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship
  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Natalie Portman – Jackie
  • Emma StoneLa La Land

BEST ACTOR in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

BEST ACTRESS in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

  • Viola Davis – Fences
  • Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
  • Naomie HarrisMoonlight
  • Kate McKinnonGhostbusters
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST:

BEST SCREENPLAY:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

  • EllePaul Verhoeven, director
  • The HandmaidenPark Chan-wook, director
  • The InnocentsAnne Fontaine, director
  • Under The ShadowBabak Anvari, director
  • The WailingNa Hong-jin, director

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

BEST FILM EDITING:

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE (18 years of age or younger upon start of filming):

BEST VILLAIN:

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The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Don’t Breathe (dir by Fede Alvarez)


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I’m currently on vacation but don’t worry!  I would never let a little thing like taking some time off get in the way of reviewing movies here on the Shattered Lens.  (Especially not when we’re in the middle of our annual Horrorthon!)

Before we left Dallas, Jeff and I finally saw Don’t Breathe.  It’s hard for me to explain why it took me so long to see Don’t Breathe.  Ever since I first saw the trailer this summer, I had been excited about eventually getting to watch it.  When the first few positive reviews started to come in, I got even more excited.  Everything I heard about Don’t Breathe made it sound like this was a film that was specifically made for enjoyment.

But then the film was actually released and it was just so damn popular.  It was number one at the box office.  It got great word of mouth.  People on twitter wouldn’t shut up about how scary it was and how much they loved it.  While I realize that this actually says a lot more about me than it does about the state of current American cinema, there was a part of me that started to think, “How good could it be if everyone else loves it?”  Traditionally, the best horror films have always struggled to find an audience.  Whenever the majority automatically embraces any work of art, that’s usually not a good sign.

And so, I put off seeing Don’t Breathe.  I decided to wait until it was a little less popular.  I didn’t want to have to watch this film surrounded by a bunch of people who didn’t know names like Argento, Fulci, and Rollin so I waited until the showings would be a little less packed.  Finally, last Tuesday, I saw Don’t Breathe.

Seriously — what was I thinking waiting so long?

Like almost all recent independent horror films, Don’t Breathe takes place in Detroit and the first few minutes of the film are dedicated to giving us a tour of a city in decline.  As we stare at the collapsing buildings, the potholed streets, and the desolate lots of overgrown weeds, we’re forced to consider whether any cinematic horrors could possibly match the horrors of real life.

Those establishing shots of Detroit are important for another reason.  They also provide all the motivation that our three protagonists need.  All we have to do is look at the landscape and we understand why they’re so desperate to find something better in life.  (And, of course, you can’t find something better unless you have the money to look…)  Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) make their living breaking into houses and selling what they steal.  Money is their leader.  Alex’s father owns a home security company, which gives Alex access to everyone’s security code.  (Of course, Alex’s main motivation is that he’s in love with Rocky.)  As for Rocky, she’s just trying to raise enough money so that she and her younger sister can escape to California.

Money is given a tip about a blind army veteran (Stephan Lang) who apparently has $30,000 stored in his home.  (He won the money in a court settlement after his daughter was killed by a rich girl who was driving drunk.)  The veteran is the last remaining resident of an otherwise deserted neighborhood.  He spends all of his time in his large but dilapidated house, apparently living with only a viscous guard dog.  Money figures that all they have to do is drug the dog and then they can break into the house and steal everything that they need.  Money assures the hesitant Alex that it’ll be easy because the man’s blind and he really doesn’t need the cash anyway.

Of course, it doesn’t quite work out like that.  The three of them get into the house pretty easily but getting out proves to be much more difficult.  And when the man wakes up and hears his house being broken into, he turns out to be far more formidable and much more dangerous than any of them thought.

About halfway through Don’t Breathe, there’s a big twist that I didn’t care much for.  As played by Stephen Lang, the blind man was already intimidating enough without turning him into a Saw-style super villain.  But, even with that in mind, Don’t Breathe works.  It’s a relentless and well-directed thrill ride, with the camera freely roaming through that deserted house and the cast all giving good and believable performances.

Ultimately, the film is dominated by Stephen Lang.  Lang is one of those good actors who never seems to get the roles that he deserves.  (He was in Avatar but, in that film, he was 1) saddled with a bad accent, 2) had to recite some of the most melodramatic dialogue ever written, and 3) was stuck playing a character who was so thinly drawn that it’s a stretch to say he was even one-dimensional.)  When you first see the man, your natural instinct is to feel sorry for him.  He’s blind, he’s got a tragic backstory, and now he’s got three people trying to rob him.  That’s why it’s such a shock when you first discover just how dangerous and evil he actually is.  Lang transforms the man into one of the most memorable monsters of this very monstrous year.

So, if you haven’t seen Don’t Breathe, go see it.  Don’t let the fact that its popular scare you off.

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Please Remember To Breathe While Watching The Trailer For Don’t Breath…


When I first read that Don’t Breathe caused quite a stir at SXSW earlier this year, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical.  Trust me for I am from Texas and I have spent a lot of time in Austin and I know of what I speak: it’s not that hard to create a stir in Austin.  In fact, the main appeal of Austin is that practically everything leads to a stir.

But then I watched the trailer and wow, is it intense!  The film tells the story of three teenagers who make the mistake of attempting to rob a blind man.  The blind man is played by Stephen Lang and, considering that his character was one of the worst things about Avatar, it’s kind of nice to see that Lang may have finally gotten a role worthy of his menacing talent.

Here’s the trailer:

Film Review: In the Blood (dir by John Stockwell)


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Do you remember Haywire?

Haywire was an action film that came out in 2011.  It briefly got a lot of attention because it starred MMA fighter Gina Carano in her feature film debut and it was directed by Steven Soderbergh.  I have to admit that I didn’t care much for Haywire.  Some of that is because Gina Carano herself didn’t seem to be a very good actress but my main issue with the film was with Steven Soderbergh.  Don’t get me wrong — I know that Soderbergh can be a genius.  However, he’s also a remarkably pretentious filmmaker.  Sometimes that pretension works, like with The Girlfriend Experience.  But, in the case of Haywire, all the pretension served to do was to make a thin story even more annoying.

John Stockwell, on the other hand, is a director who is the very opposite of pretentious.  Whereas Soderbergh often makes genre films that try too hard to be art, Stockwell makes genre films that are so unapologetic about being genre that they often become art despite themselves.  Stockwell may never be as acclaimed as Soderbergh but, on the whole, he’s a much more consistent filmmaker.

Take In The Blood for instance.  In the Blood came out earlier this year, got thoroughly mediocre reviews, and disappeared from theaters pretty quickly.  When I watched it last night, I had very low expectations.

But you know what?

In the Blood isn’t bad.

In fact, it’s a perfectly entertaining and, ultimately, rather empowering film.

In In The Blood, Gina Carano plays Ava.  Ava, we quickly learn, has led a difficult life.  Raised in extreme poverty by a father who taught her early how to fight and how to defend herself, Ava is a former drug addict.  When she goes to rehab, she meets and falls in love with fellow addict Derek (Cam Gigandet).  Once they’re both clean, Ava and Derek marry despite the concerns of Derek’s wealthy father (Treat Williams).

For their honeymoon, Derek and Ava go to the type of Caribbean island where bad things always happen in movies like In The Blood.  They meet Manny (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who agrees to be their guide on the island.  One night, Manny takes them out to a club where Ava ends up getting into a huge fight with literally everyone on the dance floor, including a local gangster played by Danny Trejo.  The next morning, Manny takes them zip lining but Derek ends up plunging from the zip line and crashing down to the ground below.  He’s rushed to the hospital where he promptly vanishes.

Despite being ordered to return to America by police chief Luis Guzman, Ava is determined to figure out what has happened to her husband and she’s willing to beat up the entire island to do it…

Obviously inspired (much like almost every other low-budget action film released over the past few years) by Taken, In The Blood is a familiar but enjoyable burst of pulp fiction.  As opposed to Soderbergh’s approach to Haywire, Stockwell doesn’t worry about trying to disguise the genre roots of In The Blood.  Instead, he simply tells the story and he tells it well.  In The Blood is a film that’s full of beautiful island scenery, villainous character actors, and enjoyable melodramatic dialogue.  The pace never falters and the action is exciting.  In a few years, the club fight scene will be remembered as a classic of action cinema.

And best of all, Gina Carano kicks ass!  In The Blood gives her a chance to show what she can actually do when she has a director who is willing to get out of her way.  As opposed to Haywire, where she often seemed to get lost amongst all of Soderbergh’s showy techniques, Gina Carano gives a confident and determined performance in In The Blood.  After having to sit through countless action films where every female character is either a victim or a pawn, there is something so wonderful about seeing a movie where a woman gets to do something more than whimper and beg.  Regardless of how predictable the film’s plot may be, the fact that it’s a woman — as opposed to a man — who is getting to kick ass (and look good while doing it!) serves to make In The Blood something of a minor masterpiece of the pulp imagination.

If nothing else, In The Blood shows that sometimes it’s best to keep things simple.

Scenes I Love: Tombstone


Tombstone

Weekend was busy, but still found time to catch a few favorite flicks on TV. One of these happened to be the classic early 90’s western Tombstone starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. I already profiled my favorite scene from this film awhile back, but as I watched the film again I realized there was another sequence that totally made the film for me.

So, the latest “Scenes I Love’ once again comes from Tombstone and it does a great job in showing the darker and vengeful side of Wyatt Earp as played by Kurt Russell. The first scene I loved about this film was more about the cool, calm and badass Wyatt Earp who can spot a bullshitter, blowhard, coward from a miles away. This scene shows Earp in his scary, God’s Wrath mode as he begins his vendetta ride against the Clantons and the Cowboys.

Just love the look of fire and brimstone from Russell’s eyes as he confronts a cowed Ike Clanton and lets him know what he has planned for his clan and group. Better yet, in addition to Kilmer’s Doc Holliday, we also see a younger Michael Rooker aka Merle Dixon. He plays one of the members in Earp’s posse.

Review: Conan the Barbarian (dir. by Marcus Nispel)


In 1982 the duo of John Milius (director) and Arnold Schwarzenneger (actor) brought to the big-screen the first film adaptation of the classic, pulp character of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard. The Milius-Schwarzenneger Conan the Barbarian was an instant hit and classic. It also made Schwarzenneger into an A-list superstar who would rule the 80’s and 90’s. This film was followed up by a lesser quality, though fun in its own way, sequel in 1984 with Conan the Destroyer. Milius saw this franchise as a trilogy with the third and final film to be called Conan the Conqueror. But a sort of blacklisting of Milius as a filmmaker and Schwarzenneger moving onto other projects killed the planned third film. The start of the new millenium saw an interest in restarting the third film, but after countless delays and changes in filmmakers and stars the project was once again shelved.

In 2010, the franchise which launched an Austrian-bodybuilder into superstardom was finally greenlit, but this time around it would be a reboot of the series with the film hewing coser to Robert E. Howard’s creation and world-building than the Milius version of 1982. To bring Conan the Cimmerian to life would be Hawaiian-Irish Jason Momoa (of Stargate Atlantis and Game of Thrones fame) with German-filmmaker Marcus Nispel taking on the directing reins. The film’s trio of writers (Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood) would literally take the world of the Hyborian Age which Howard had meticulously created for his Conan character and use that as the basis for this reboot.

Conan the Barbarian begins with a surprising introductory narration of the world of the Hyborian Age by none other than Morgan Freeman. This narration was one clue that while this film wouldn’t and shouldn’t be seen as thought-provoking and award-season fare it looks to try anything and everything to make it fun and relevant. The film succeeds in this respect in its own way. As we see Conan come into the world as a baby born of battle in the most literal way. It’s not often we see on the big-screen a pregnant mother delivering her child by way of battlefield C-section. From this moment forward this film will wallow in the bloody carnage and machismo-fueled world of Robert E. Howard to the nth degree.

The film’s Conan as played by Leo Howard as the younger version then to Jason Momoa as the adult version looks to be different than the Schwarzenneger one. While Momoa was still quite the physical specimen on the screen he also exuded a sense of fluid, athleticism like that of a sleek jungle cat whereas Arnold’s Conan was more of the big cat of the savannah. The stand out performance in the film comes from both Leo Howard (quite ferocious as the young Conan) and Momoa. The film lives or dies on whether we believe these two actors as the characters they inhabit. Not once during the near 2-hour running time do we not believe these two as Conan.

Conan the Barbarian as a film does have several weaknesses which could derail it for me. For one, the story itself is quite cliched as we see the typical hero’s journey coinciding with the goal of saving the world from an almost cartoonish villain (Stephen Lang clearly having fun as the warlord Khalar Zym) with an equally cartoonish sidekick (Rose McGowan who seemed out of place as Zym’s witch-daughter Marique). The story’s plot seems more geared like a video game where each sequence was there to put Conan in the best way possible to do what he does best and that’s kill enemies by the score and do it with bloody panache.

While the film will definitely not score very well with many people I think they will do so as they compare it to the original Milius film. I think the mistake they also will use as an excuse to not like the film is that it’s dumb and loud. I, for one, thought I would feel the same, but as I watched the film I acknowledged those very same criticisms, saw the flaws, but in the end I still enjoyed the film for what it was: an almost gleeful, throwback to the 80’s sword-and-sorcery exploitation film that tried to cash in on the success of the original Conan the Barbarian.

Nispel’s film may not stand the test of time as the original, but in the end he made a film that actually stayed true to the pulpy origins of the character (Robert E. Howard was never known as a subtle writer and this film reveled in his blunt-way of writing). This Conan the Barbarian was several steps above the usual sword-and-sorcery stuff which the SyFy Channel seems to churn out by the dozen each year and it’s steps below that of the original. What it does share with the 1982 film is a sense of fun even if it’s at the expense of story and character and at times I’m fine with that. Not everything has to be Inception or Pride and Prejudice.

Trailer: Conan the Barbarian


1982 saw the release of one of the most iconic fantasy films ever with the John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenneger collaboration, Conan the Barbarian. There was a follow-up sequel that wasn’t as great as the first, but still did well enough that down the year there was talk of a third film to finish off the Schwarzenneger Conan trilogy. It never happened as the project continued to be shelved year after year until even Arnold himself backed out and thought a third film was never in the cards.

This trailer suggests otherwise though it’s more of a reboot to the Conan film franchise and sticks much closer to the character and world created by it’s creator Robert E. Howard. This film is directed by German filmmaker Marcus Nispel whose body of work tends to be in the genre arena like the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the Viking-Indians mashup story, Pathfinder. There’s also to be a new Conan in the form of Jason Momoa (who played the character of Ronan in the long-running scifi tv series, Stargate Atlantis) who is currently gaining some fans outside of his Stargate work due to his casting as the mighty Khal Drogo in HBO’s critically-acclaimed and very popular fantasy series, Game of Thrones.

This Conan the Barbarian remake looks to return the character to it’s Age of Hyboria roots. The trailer gives ample evidence of the film using much of the fantasy world Robert E. Howard created with long-lost civilizations, evil warlords, sorcery and, of course, fantastic monsters. While the trailer doesn’t show just how well Jason Momoa acts as the character Conan it does show that he fits the role the way Howard originally wrote him. While still having a muscled physique this Conan also is more agile and lithe than the Schwarzenneger iteration.

Conan the Barbarian is set for an August 19, 2011 release on both 2D and 3D screens.