Monday, August 29, 2016

Temple of Doom Gun Drop

Image result for temple of doom car chase gunI just wanna take a moment to point out how genius it was to take away Indy’s gun at the start of Temple.  I don’t know whose idea it was but that was one of the best things that person ever thought up.

Let’s backup a little though.  The revolver is a staple of Indy’s repertoire.  He goes into a lot of dangerous fucking situations and he sure ain’t afraid to whip that motherfucker out and start blasting away.  The man has no qualms about shooting folks dead and Raiders sets this up thoroughly.  Jones reaches for the pistol first almost every time so it’s his primary way of getting out of serious trouble.  But in my opinion he uses it too much in the first installment.  He’s a little too trigger happy and that makes him slightly less cool.  Plus, as we know, shootouts are difficult to make interesting in an action movie.  As a general rule hand to hand and melee weapon fights are more impressive and satisfying.

Image result for raiders bar fightSo now if we jump to Temple of Doom we have the curious proposition of Indy without a gun for 95% of the film.  This notion probably went down one of two ways: either this was mandated at some point during the screenwriting process, or Spielberg/Lucas realized after reading the script that the writers forgot to have Indy use his pistol and liked the idea so they had him lose it permanently in the beginning to match all the scenes.  It’s a great way to change up how Indy fights back and escapes impossible circumstances.  Furthermore it’s completely in keeping with the character and in fact makes him more badass overall.  He can’t lean on that crutch and quickly shoot his way out anymore, he’s gotta come up with another plan.

If you asked the average Indiana Jones fan what paraphernalia you associate with the character I bet the gun wouldn’t be the first or even second thing named (It’s probably the whip and the hat).  And it’s remarkable how the revolver became more of an afterthought with the three sequels.  I mean look at Last Crusade, he barely uses it in that one.  And in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I think he only draws his piece once but never fires.  Spielberg and Lucas must’ve liked Indy gun-less because they essentially disarmed him after the first outing.

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Even though it makes sense for Jones to carry a pistol considering the places he travels to and the people he deals with, it feels like they kinda made a mistake having him rely on it so much in Raiders.  That’s why the gun drop at the very start of Temple is so illuminating.  The filmmakers continued to refine the character and are acknowledging that Indy doesn’t need the fuckin’ thing by literally throwing that aspect out the window.  He can handle shit just fine without it.

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Incidentally, I wanna revise my ranking of the four Raiders pictures.  I had stated in my Temple talkin’ that Last Crusade was my favorite, then Temple of Doom and lastly Raiders.  Well, in the more than five years since I wrote that I’ve changed.  Hey, that shit just happens in life.  What are you gonna do?  These days Temple of Doom is my favorite, Raiders is second and Last Crusade it third (Crystal Skull will likely remain at the bottom of the list if and when more Raiders get made).  How could my original favorite drop so much?  Maybe I’ll go into it one day, but for now that’s where I am.  And I know I know, I should’ve asked if you gave a shit, right?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Air Force One

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There’s a category of movies that were well liked at the time of release but in later years became an easy target of ridicule.  Batman Forever, The Rock and Top Gun are some that did really well at the box office but you wouldn’t dare be seen with them in public these days.  Air Force One belongs in there too.  You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that will openly admit to genuinely liking that film (as opposed to the ironic hipster type way).  It’s an odd path for a film to take so I decided to check out the Force again to see if it really deserves all the scorn.

And unfortunately I have to report back that this One mostly does deserve all the shit slung at it in the past ten years.  I don’t know what the rest of the world’s reasons are but here’s my takeaway.  I’m totally down with the idea of terrorists hijacking the President’s plane thereby kidnapping the President (Harrison Ford (American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and theTemple of Doom)), his wife, daughter and most of his cabinet who are all on board.  I’m down with the casting choices.  I’m down with the cinematography.  I especially like how it’s totally chaotic when the Russian bad guys first grab the guns and try to gain control of the aircraft.  It’s cool that they have to fight for it and prove their worth to the audience instead of everything going off without a hitch.  There are a number of good aspects to this picture.  I even think having a woman Vice President (Glenn Close (The Big Chill, Mary Reilly) is a nice choice, although the way they reveal her in a semi-dramatic fashion meant to make you clutch your pearls is a stupid indication of the time in which this was made.

All of that aside, what gets to me is the excessive dick sucking of the U.S. and the presidency.  It’s truly kinda disturbing how much the filmmakers marvel American resolve, willingness to overcome and, above all, how strong our leaders are.  I mean the President is an all out action hero here.  He’s John fuckin’ McClane with the sneaking around, tricky maneuvers and brawling.  The leader of the free world murders four people in this movie (and one unconfirmed kill) which is kinda nuts if you think about it.  The filmmakers had a fantasy that the Prez could go mano a mano with Russian terrorists and fight ‘em all off almost single handedly, and they made it a reality.

Image result for air force one 1997Also, pretty much all of the dialogue is terrible.  But the infamous “get off my plane!” line is so fucking lame I can’t be mad at it.  A final one liner that weak is kinda precious.

But here’s the thing for me.  This was just one in a slew of Die Hard rip offs that came out post ‘88.  It isn’t one of the better ones like SuddenDeath or Under Siege, but the concept is a great one and I appreciate the absurd level they take it to here.

Moreover I’m into the flood of 90’s pictures that used the American political system as a backdrop for a thriller/action film: Murder at 1600, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Enemy of the State, In the Line of Fire, Absolute Power, etc.  Plus there were the dramedies: Dave, The American President, Bulworth, Wag the Dog, etc.  Not that all of these are good but I like the ideas they present.  And almost every one of them had something in common which was that America could survive any goddamn premise Hollywood could throw at it.  The country and the political system prevailed to stand above all others.

It’s a fascinating era for this specific type of film because of how na├»ve and mindlessly steadfast they all are.  After 9/11, the never ending wars in the Middle East and the rise of the internet where people could dive as deep as they wanted into any political subject, you don’t see such rosy images of the U.S. being presented on screen anymore.  Hollywood does what they’ve always done by trying to keep up with the times and giving a more complicated perspective on political matters.  But in the 90’s the good ol’ USA was number one, always.  You could find a murdered gal in the white house bathroom, the President could suffer a stroke and a lookalike could do a better job than the real deal, Russia could be trying to get one up on us for the millionth time but we saw through all of these scenarios.  Hell, the President’s plane could be stolen in mid-air by some assholes but by the time the dust settles it’s guaranteed that America will come out on top.

Image result for air force one 1997Anyone who grew up after the 90’s and watches these movies must think we all had our heads up our asses.  The thing is they wouldn’t be wrong.  On film we kinda really were living in a fantasy world when it came to American politics.  That’s why it’s hard for me to hate Air Force One.  It’s an artifact of its time that gives you an interesting glimpse into the mindset of the 1997 American movie going public.

With all of that said I do not recommend this picture.  It’s actually pretty entertaining with the tension kept sky high most of the time (man, I have been on a roll lately with these very shitty puns) and it hits all the notes you expect from a big summer popcorn blockbuster.  But it’s also nothing you haven’t seen before nor does it improve upon anything in the past.  It’s a fairly dumb film.

I’d say check out Passenger57 if you’re looking for a Die Hard knock off that takes place on a plane and/or Executive Decision, which in addition to being Die Hard-esque on a plane also has a strong political angle.  It isn’t great but it’s better than Air Force One.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Quest

Image result for the quest 1996For Jean-Claude Van Damme’s directorial debut he decided to go back to where he started, the tournament fighting subgenre (or Kumite subgenre).  You know, where dudes from all over go toe to toe in (usually) some sort of grand competition.  Van Damme had done three previous to this so he must’ve figured he would be starting with a leg up (get it? (‘cause he kicks people a lot)).  And I have to say that I quite enjoyed his rookie dive.

For starters it’s ambitious as fuck.  Instead of setting the movie in modern times like everyone else Van Damme went for a period piece by rolling the clock back to 1925.  Think about all the extra effort you have to go through to make that work.  You need period clothing, set design, haircuts, weapons, vehicles, signage and a million other things.  It would’ve been so much easier to set it in 1996 and save all that time and money.  I can only guess Van Damme is either a big old fashioned adventure stories fan with scruffy fellas globetrotting and running into fanciful characters and situations, or he really thought the 20’s backdrop would elevate the material.  Both are plausible and actually the earlier time period is a little cool.  I guess I’m just a sucker.

Another ambitious undertaking are all the locations required for the story.  You start out with a montage of different fighters from around the world receiving invitations to the tournament, which by itself is more than you would expect from this type of film.  Then there’s Van Damme’s character, Chris Dubois, who starts out in NYC, stows away on a ship for a while, winds up in Thailand and travels across Asia to the secret location of the contest.  Again, that’s a ton of extra effort to go through for a picture with a simple and often seen concept.  But maybe that’s just it.  Since the public is very familiar with this plot by now why not try to spice it up?

Image result for the quest 1996The fighting is pretty good but nothing spectacular.  There isn’t a standout moment among any of the action sequences and that does hurt the film.  Van Damme and his crew didn’t come up with any gimmicks as clever as the shit in his preceding works, like the partially filled pool fight in Lionheart or fists covered in smashed glass in Kickboxer.  What they tried to do here is give each of the fighters a unique style based on their country of origin.  The Brazilian guy does a lot of flips and doesn’t stop moving, the French guy only uses his fists, the Japanese guy is a sumo wrestler and etc.  While it might seem like a fun idea on paper it doesn’t come together in the final product.  Except for the last fight all of the matchups in the tournament are over quickly.  The last half hour of the movie is almost entirely brawling which is kinda cool, but with so many short battles I had a hard time getting into any particular one and didn’t find myself caring about the non-Van Damme guys.  It ended up being a blur of alright fight sequences.  Even the final showdown isn’t anything to write home about.

With that being said the entire film is fairly well done.  You get the sense that Van Damme really cares about the movie and is trying hard to craft something fun and exciting.  There are a lot of nice touches like showcasing so many different fighting styles, going for some cinematic angles and wider shots, the production design is very nice, and Van Damme constantly changes his look throughout with medium hair, buzzed cut, beard, clean shaven, clown makeup, scars, etc.  I think it’s hard to miss that a bunch of pretty thoughtful work went into this.

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Doesn't it look like these stills are from four different movies?
There are some questionable choices like Roger Moore (Fire, Ice & Dynamite, A View to a Kill) who’s fun ‘n all but man, he’s a total cheeseball.  There’s an intro with Van Damme as an old man who beats up some assholes that attempt to rob the bar he’s in.  After he takes care of them the old man proceeds to tell the bartender the story of the movie.  It wasn’t necessary at all and it’s amazing that trouble finds this guy no matter where he goes or how old he gets.  All of the characters have little to no depth and are stereotyped to hell like the brassy dame reporter from NYC, the wise guy mobsters, the Irish cops, all of the participants in the tournament and so on.  The worst offense might be having a fighter from the country of Africa.  I mean they couldn’t come up with the name of an African country, any fucking African country?  That’s kinda bad.

(You could also say that James Remar (48 Hrs., The Phantom) is a bad choice because he’s such a goddamn goofy actor, especially in this, but I love the sonuvabitch.  I don’t know what it is about him but I love to watch him work.  Keep on chugging Jimmy, you’re the man.)

Image result for the quest 1996 james remarThis is definitely the worst of Van Damme’s Kumite pictures (1. Lionheart 2. Bloodsport 3. Kickboxer 4. The Quest).  There’s certainly a B movie quality to the whole thing (high B movie though, maybe light A) which brings it down a notch or two.  Sets feel very much like sets, the personalities are caricatures, the acting is hammy and a weak score helps to drive that point home. 

But overall I had a good time watching this again.  Van Damme put forth a strong effort and that shines through.  He seemed to take the idea of going on a quest for supreme victory in the fighting world to heart by whisking away the audience to exotic locales and exposing them to many different characters.  Interestingly the film works better as an adventure movie than a Kumite movie in my opinion.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend The Quest (bland title by the way), only if you want to check out what a Van Damme directed movie is like (better than you’d think, very competent but nothing special).