Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

2015 Summer Movies #7

Posted by Gerald on August 2, 2015

Summer Movie #61 – Tears of the Sun (Antoine Fuqua, 2003) I was in a mood, so I watched this again.  No new reactions, except that a competent filmmaker can manipulate your feelings, but a great filmmaker does so without letting you know it is happening.  Fuqua is competent.

Summer Movie #62 – The Wild Geese (Andrew McLaglen, 1978): Again, I was in a mood, so I watched this again.  No new thoughts at all.  See my review from last summer.

Summer Movie #63 – Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick, 2006): And the mood to watch action films set in Africa continued, so I did.  I like this movie, but again had no new insights about it since my last review.

Summer Movie #64 – Mission: Impossible (Brian DePalma, 1996): DePalma has made a number of memorable movies, but this is the only one I really enjoy watching and re-watching.  I think the whole modern spy action movie genre (Bourne, etc…) was started with this movie.  Of the various films in this franchise, it is my favorite because it is the closest in feel to the TV series.  There are big action sequences, but it is mostly a caper film.  I’m even willing to forgive them for making Jim Phelps into a bad guy, mostly.

Summer Movie #65 – Mission: Impossible 2 (John Woo, 2000): I just rewatched this for the first time since seeing it in the theater and my opinion remains unchanged.  It doesn’t work.  I love John Woo’s movies, overall – but not this one.  The story is basically fine.  The acting is competent, although both Ving Rhames and Bendan Gleeson are completely wasted, and this goes double for Anthony Hopkins, who might as well have not appeared onscreen at all.  I’ve got to lay this one at the feet of the director.  His style didn’t fit the story.  The over-the-top action he is so well-known for seemed cartoonish here (and not in the good way).  Also, the last scene, with Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton wandering off into an Australian street fair to have a romantic getaway felt completely false.  It was too happy.  It was as if David Lynch had used his ending for “Blue Velvet” without layering in any of the dark and fake hints (that mechanical bird is still one of my favorite things ever).  Yes, I’d rather talk about that movie than this one, but this was the one I watched.

Summer Movie #66 – Conan the Barbarian (John Milius, 1982): One of the surprising things about the Netflix series Sense8 is that it has an ongoing set of references to 1980s action films.  Having watched the first season of that, I felt a need to watch some, and started here.  Why does this movie work?  The story is a set of cliches, the acting rarely rises above the competent and often doesn’t reach that mark – although Mako is fun and his narration really sets the tone, James Earl Jones is quite good, and William Smith is always interesting even if he is only onscreen for a few minutes.  Also, Max von Sydow just can’t help but be good, and he seems to really enjoy doing these cheesy genre roles.  I think some things make this into a film worth watching.  First, Milius just knows how to pace an action film and brings that gift here.  The cinematography is quite striking. Finally Basil Poledouris created a beautiful score that fits the visual style and the story well.  I do love this movie, even with its flaws.

Summer Movie #67 – The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984): Many people rightly discuss Cameron in terms of his use of special effects, but I think that does him a disservice.  This guy is not Michael Bay.  Bay builds movies to support special effects, Cameron uses special effects to support his stories.  I think this is clear in this movie.  While it has some effects, what he does very well here is create tense scenes.  Most of the film is in tight shots and close quarters, it makes you feel tense and claustrophobic.  Then when he opens things up, it is a relief.  He also shows he understands pacing here – how long to keep the tension building and when it needs to break.  I’m not saying he is Hitchcock, I’m just saying he deserves more credit than he often gets.  Finally, I like villain Arnold Terminator much better than hero Arnold Terminator.

Summer Movie #68 – The Running Man (Paul Michael Glaser, 1987): How perfect is the cheese of this movie?  It is all of the 1980s in one spot.  Harold Faltermeyer (“Beverly Hills Cop”, “Top Gun”) did the score.  The closing song is sung by John Parr who sang the theme song from “St. Elmo’s Fire”.  You’ve got Arnie, you’ve got Maria Conchita Alonzo, you’ve got Yaphet Kotto, you’ve got cameos by Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa.  Finally, you have Richard Dawson playing the evil version of himself from “Family Feud” while surrounded by the Solid Gold dancers.  All of this against a backdrop of neon dystopia in a screenplay based on a story by Stephen King… and the movie is directed by Starsky of “Starsky and Hutch”!  Yes, it sucks (except for Dawson, who is brilliant) but who cares?

Summer Movie #69 – Bloodsport (Newt Arnold, 1988): Golan/Globus, Canon Films, Jean-Claude Van Damme. – you pretty much have the whole movie there.  This is pure popcorn trash.  You’ve got the young “American” (this is one of several Van Damme films where they do some creative screenwriting to explain why this dud with the Belgian accent is actually American) who grew up being taught by a Japanese master of ninjitsu and then goes to fight in a big martial arts deal to honor him – based on “true events” in the life of the film’s fight coordinator, Frank Dux (you get over two minutes to read about him just before the final credits roll).  This has every cliche in the book – the buddy (Donald Gibb – “Ogre” from Revenge of the Nerds and from about a thousand other movies – this guy has worked), the hot blonde reporter (Leah Ayres), the bad guy who the hero has to beat because he hurt the buddy and is all evil and stuff (Bolo Yeung), the training montages, the moment of crisis, etc…  The film has somewhat pedestrian fight scenes that really just exist to showcase individual moves, usually shown in slow-motion (here Van Damme does a combo ending in a helicopter kick, etc…) much like the “story” of this movie only exists to showcase the fights – like the “story” in a porn film exists just to organize the sex.  The only really good things about this are the location – Hong Kong just always looks good on film – and that it gave a minor role to Forest Whitaker, who is not interesting at all here but it gave him a paycheck so he could eventually go on to do good movies.  If you can appreciate the athleticism of the fight scenes, the ineffable je ne sais quoi of Jean-Claude Van Damme, or the almost textbook exercise of genre this movie represents, watch it – otherwise avoid.

Summer Movie #70 – Von Ryan’s Express (Mark Robson, 1965): Robert E. Lee is widely, and probably falsely, quoted as having said “It is good that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.”  (there are several variants – see “falsely”).  Whatever the provenance, that quote sums up many major studio war films in the 1960s.  They are structured and shot like classic action-adventure movies (a hero, a sidekick, a villain, exciting stunts, etc…) but also contain darker moments influenced by the growth of the more anti-war war films that began to appear (again) in the 1950s.  This is a classic that falls perfectly into that sort of movie.  It is exciting and fun, but also has moments of darkness – especially the ending.  Mark Robson directed other films of this sort, as well as “Peyton Place” and, two years after this “Valley of the Dolls”.  The performances by Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard make up most of the film.  Wolfgang Preiss appears as the major personal antagonist – I think there was a law that he had to play a German officer in every big budget WWII film between 1960 and 1960.  Jerry Goldsmith contributed another of his great movie scores.  This film also featured a young James Brolin in one of his first credited film roles.  I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never seen this before, but I’m glad I finally did.  BTW – MST3K is wrong in quoting Trevor Howard’s line – it wasn’t “Run, Von Ryan!” it was “Come on, Von Ryan!”  You’re welcome.

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