Down From the Shelf ~ The Goonies

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In order to save their home from foreclosure, a group of misfits set out to find a pirate’s ancient treasure.

Stars: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Martha Plimpton, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen, Kerri Green, Ke Huy Quan, Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano

Director: Richard Donner

Rated: PG

Running Length: 114 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I was still a tad too young to catch The Goonies during its first run in theaters during the summer of 1985 but boy do I wish I had.  Though I’ve seen it countless times since then on television, at sleepovers, and at any number of midnight screenings I would have loved to have been there on its June opening weekend.

Released in that magical early to mid-‘80s time when Steven Spielberg had his hand in everything, The Goonies is, like 1982’s Poltergeist, one of the few films that Spielberg either wrote or provided the storyline for and its themes of friendship, family, and love of home is classic Spielberg.  Focusing on a group of friends that hunt for a fabled pirate’s treasure as a way to help their families fight off land hungry developers, it may be turning 30 years old in 2015 but it’s held up remarkably well.

That’s partly due to the fact that the film isn’t a splashy effects driven kind of summer fare that were starting to become de rigueur in the ‘80s.  It’s filled with mostly practical effects as the gang of Goonies outwit escaped gangsters (the marvelously droll trio of Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, and Joe Pantoliano) and maneuver past a series of dangerous booby traps as they track down the hidden fortune.  Because it’s so centered on the friends themselves and not popular culture of the day, it works as both a time capsule of teen-friendly entertainment and a timeless exercise in big thinking adventure.

There’s a lot of ground to cover in two hours and watching it again recently I marveled at how fast it gets going.  Director Richard Donner (Ladyhawke) had a lot of plot points and characters to juggle and he manages (with the help of Chris Columbus’s slick script) to give each actor their own time to shine.  It helps that the young cast is quite engaging, and it was no shocker that most went on to successful careers as adults.  Sean Astin (Rudy) makes for a splendid every-boy kinda lead, young enough to not be a hormonal threat to tween girls and old enough for boys his same age to want to be like him.  Future Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice) is his understanding older brother while Corey Feldman, Ke Huy Quan, and Jeff Cohen are his partners in goofball crime.  Martha Plimpton and Kerri Green prove themselves to be more than the token sassy girl/pretty girl (respectively) because Columbus treats them as equals to the boys.

If I’m being honest the movie starts to lose steam in the last fifteen minutes, right when it starts to really count.  I’ve been known to watch the first 90 minutes before either conking out or switching to a different channel because the dénouement and wrap-up have always felt like a let-down after all that had come before it.  Even so, the film is downright hilarious at times (mostly thanks to Cohen’s uproarious performance as a roly-poly mini used car salesman of a character) and still sucks me in to the Goonies adventure of a lifetime almost from the get-go.

Rumors abound that a long-awaited sequel (or stage musical!) are in the planning stages and I’d like to respectfully request that neither come to fruition.  I don’t think the film needed a sequel in the first place and if a second installment was ever in the works that should have been taken care of in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s.  And a musical?  Yeesh…though a Ballad of One-Eyed Willie might become the new Defying Gravity if they play their cards right…

Movie Review ~ The Iceman

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The true story of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious contract killer and family man. When finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters have any clue about his real profession.

Stars: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, Danny Abeckaser, Stephen Dorff, James Franco

Director: Ariel Vroman

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: While everyone is all abuzz about the Scorsese-lite 70’s crime drama American Hustle, there was another true crime film released in 2013 that featured another impressive cast list decked out in period attire – and for my money it winds up dancing circles around the overlong Hustle.

Michael Shannon (Man of Steel) leads the parade of familiar faces masquerading behind wigs and porn ‘staches as Richard Kuklinski, a New Jersey family man that leads a double life as a hardened contract killer.  The film follows Kuklinski over three decades as he marries his sweetheart (Winona Ryder, Frankenweenie, Homefront), gets wrapped up in shady dealings with Ray Liotta (The Place Beyond the Pines), and offs a formidable amount of character actors.  Kuklinski treated his work like any other 9 to 5 job; he shows up for an assignment, dispatches an unlucky soul, and makes it back in time to have dinner in suburbia with his wife and two daughters.

Eventually given the name The Iceman because of his habit of freezing his victims for later disposal, he also earns the moniker for his unwavering dedication to his role.  You see, this work puts food on the table and clothes on the backs of his family so anyone getting in the way of that can’t be let off with merely a warning.  The film doesn’t glorify the violence enacted by Kuklinski but doesn’t shy away from showing the bullets to the head.

When your lead is someone we’re not supposed to feel sympathy for, casting is everything.  You need an actor that can play a duality that makes you understand his rationale for his proceedings while condemning it at the same time.  Shannon is the perfect fit for this type of role and the actor becomes one with the character in frightening ways.

He’s matched well by the ageless Ryder, slowly advancing her comeback after taking a few years away from the lights of Hollywood.  Her Jersey housewife is no Carmela Soprano; she’s clueless to her husband’s second life but also isn’t naïve enough to think that their quaint life is the picture of perfection.  Her concerns are more about her marriage and family than anything her husband has going on the side.

Popping up in smaller roles are Chris Evans (Marvel’s The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Robert Davi (Licence to Kill), James Franco (This is the End, Lovelace), Stephen Dorff, and David Schwimmer.  All are solid performers that serve their purpose in giving Shannon room to breathe life into a villainous anti-hero in director Ariel Vroman’s hard-boiled drama.

While the film is set over a large time period, it wouldn’t be that hard to imagine the events taking place in the present.  Vroman gives his film a timeless feel, which winds up adding to its authenticity.  The production design is handled with a lighter touch than most period films so rather than pounding our eardrums with endless tunes of the era or dressing our actors in excessively retro costumes there are hints here and there about where we are in history.

While audiences and googly-eyed critics may be doing the Hustle at your local cinema, fire up The Iceman (available on Netflix) and watch how to make a solid character study that’s more about performance than production.

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The Silver Bullet ~ The Expendables 3

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Synopsis: The third installment of the action-adventure franchise that follows the exploits of Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, and their associates.

Release Date: August 14, 2014

Thoughts: I can’t tell you how nice it is to actually see a true teaser trailer pop up.  As I’ve lamented recently (check here for an example), the art of the teaser trailer appears to be totally lost with most previews clocking in at a spoiler heavy 2:30.  So it’s nice to see the latest entry in the profitable The Expendables franchise giving audiences a whet whistle before the final hours of 2013 tick away.  Though it’s not releasing until halfway through 2014, this is a nice way to announce the return of a series of films that have worked almost in spite of their BDL (big, dumb, loud) origins.  And you have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2); he sure knows how to rally the troops to get a cast that continues to makes 80’s/early 90’s action movie nerds salivate.  The Expendables 3 features a huge roster of stars: Stallone, Jason Statham (Homefront), Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas (Haywire), Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford (Working Girl), Kellan Lutz (The Legend of Hercules), Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) and Kelsey Grammer

 

In Praise of Teasers ~ Showgirls (1995)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately.  It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Showgirls (1995)

Anyone remember the half hour show Coming Attractions in the early days of the E! Network?  Well I do and I remember seeing this teaser trailer on it and pretty much knew my life would never be the same.  Making some bold promises and ending with a small hint of why the film would be receiving the naughty NC-17 rating, all signs pointed to Showgirls being another adults-only hit for Basic Instinct collaborators director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.

Though it’s now a certified camp classic, when it was released in September of 1995 (the same weekend as Seven, by the way) Showgirls was critically reviled with many of the key players raked over the coals.  All these years later I especially feel bad for its star Elizabeth Berkley who suffered the worst backlash…but I still find the movie deliriously watchable in all its fully embraced sordid glory.  And hey…Gina Gershon’s performance alone is indicative of how to rise above it all.

Miss the other teasers reviewed this week?

Check out my look at Alien, Misery, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula!

Bond-ed for Life ~ Licence to Kill

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond leaves Her Majesty’s Secret Service to stop an evil drug lord and avenge his best friend, Felix Leiter.

Stars: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Zerbe, David Hedison

Director: John Glen

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Though The Living Daylights introduced us to a strong new James Bond, it was a fairly generic entry in the long-running franchise.  Coming in as a second choice, Dalton was working with a script that was intended for Pierce Brosnan so did the best he could.  When it was time to re-up for another Bond, Dalton was met with a script that dug deeper into the personal affairs of 007 and provided the actor material that pushed the character further than ever before.

The first Bond film to be rated PG-13, Licence to Kill earns the rating with gritty violence that hadn’t been seen before in the franchise.  Finding Bond on a mission of vengeance against the drug kingpin that brought death and destruction to a colleague, the movie has a different look and feel than the previous entries in the series.  As the times have changed, so have the tastes of the audiences and the producers have wisely fashioned Licence To Kill around interesting character development and some of the best action sequences of the series.

Along with the strong work from Dalton, Davi is one of the baddest of bad men that Bond has encountered.  Quietly evil, Davi never loses control over the situation which makes his character subtly menacing even though he appears benign.  Among his henchman is a young Del Toro and the future Oscar winner should give you the creeps in his unhinged performance.

However, it’s the Bond girls that once again come up short.  Soto has to do double work as Davi’s abused girlfriend and a secret confidant to Bond…she balances it nicely until she falls into the same trap many of these ladies have.  Once she sleeps with Bond it’s like a switch is flipped and she loses all sense of confidence and independence.  When she tearfully (and not very convincingly) confesses “I love James SO much” it seems to come from a love struck teenager rather than an otherwise fiery female.

Lowell fares worse in a part that’s both underwritten and underperformed.  Again, though she starts out as taking no crap from 007, she inexplicably falls into bed with him and then latches on like a weepy schoolgirl.  I know these roles are designed to fall on the stereotypical side, but it does get a bit exhausting with the umpteenth iteration of the same romantic plot point.

There are some really impressive stunts captured in the film, most notably an extended chase sequence that takes 007 from an underwater battle to a tense fight in midair.  Gladys Knight lends her strong vocals to one of the less memorable title tunes set to another so-so credit sequence designed by Maurice Binder.

I’m not sure if director Glen knew this was to be his last Bond film but he really ups the ante here with a film that has a wonderful pace and some fine performances.  Though it ended up being the lowest grossing Bond film, Licence to Kill should be considered one of the better overall adventures.