Forgotten Gems: Tequila Sunrise (***1/2) is a Recurring Dream

Tequila Sunrise (1988)

Tequila Sunrise – 1988

Written and Directed by Robert Towne
Starring  Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell, Raúl Juliá, J.T. Walsh

What most people remember about Tequila Sunrise is that the film is slick beyond imagining. Kurt Russell is literally playing the big screen version of Pat Riley, then coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. As Russell put it: “Riley’s look was right for this film because he was arrogantly confident but not offensive.”

In the midst of the exquisitely ornate look through the lens of Conrad Hall, Robert Towne makes an attempt  at telling a story in a fashion rarely used since. That style is a noir based on the two friends on the opposite side of the law while simultaneously competing for the affections of a dame. Two of the three leads (Gibson, Pfeiffer) were the biggest stars of the era. One can only guess, then, that the odd man out has to be the one that looks the coolest.

While in the midst of all of the glamour, the performance that steals the show is that of Raúl Juliá as Carlos, the primary target of the investigation of drug trafficking. That he is the lead investigator for the Mexican government would normally be a tough sell for anyone who wasn’t an entertainer of his caliber.

He charges through the film with a presence of one who truly lives in the moment. He knows the dangers that surrounds and he laughs (and sings) in its face. He captures every scene that he is in with a gravitas that none of the bigger names of the time had harnessed by that time.

This is not to say that the other actors don’t have much going on. Gibson Mac is all conflicted charm. The master of staccato gibberish gets to tell us that he is all but cornered into his role as drug dealer. He has many responsibilities, and even took the rap for his friend, leading him to spend years in the Mexican prison. Now he has a child that depends on him as well as his debt to Carlos. When he falls for Jo Ann (Pfeiffer) his die is cast and his guard is let down.

Nick (Russell) has been a guardian angel of sorts, picking his spots and making sure Mac is not there when the whip comes down. His efforts to use Jo Ann as an information source backfire as he starts to fall for her. Russell lays the ground work for the type of character he’s played many time since. He’s good to the right bad guys and bad to the right good guys. He talks tough and can take a shot of truth over the bow.

Jo Ann has enough of a backbone, she too can dish it when it’s necessary. Pfeiffer gives it her best, but her job is to be the dame. She has to be conflicted for (too short) a time, then get her life threatened a time or two and then wait for the explosions to end. The Bechdel test came into popular culture just three years earlier, so it’s no surprise this film fails it in spades. For what it’s worth, she makes a great silhouette of a character.

Towne is on form here as director, even if he succumbs to formula from the writing perspective. The film doesn’t really suffer, though, for the performances of the actors. The highly underrated Walsh does his usual yeoman’s work here as the butt of everybody’s scorn until it comes time to have the weight of all wrath fall on him.

As a fan of Russell, Walsh and Juliá, this film has plenty going for it beyond Hall. It’s debatable that people these days understand the gravitas of Gibson and Pfeiffer from this film alone. That’s okay though. The Oscar nominated cinematography by Hall is worth the price of admission, too. Most people don’t live on the beautiful California coast of the late 1980’s. It doesn’t get old from my seat here in the rains of November.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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Hacksaw Ridge (*****) So many ways to serve

hacksaw-ridge

Hacksaw Ridge – 2016

Director Mel Gibson
Screenplay by Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan
Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn

There are very few war films I have seen that are this violent: the opening of Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. If ever one wanted to show the horror and glory in war, Mel Gibson has done it. In telling the story of Desmond Doss, a 7th Day Adventist who served with distinction in the Second World War, we see a glorious example of serving God and man without short shifting either.

Gibson’s style is at once simple and grand, gentle and wretched. I can’t recall the last time I saw such straightforward characterizations. The men on the screen are at once distinct and of their time.They border on parody when we first meet them, until one realizes that Americans in World War II has considerably less comfortable cynicism than we enjoy today.

Then there is Doss, who would seem peculiar at any time in history. He’s enthusiastic, optimistic and dedicated to honoring God and his country at once. These things converge for him in  a way different from most. He wants to serve America by being a medic, but does not want to learn how to fire a weapon. The logic is sound even if religion were not involved. Why would a medic want to see anyone hurt?

Garfield is excellent at capturing the depth of a man who seems at peace with the fact that most of the world does not understand his perspective. He’s not an asshole about it either. If they ask, he explains it in simple terms because he thinks quite literally. He is no fool, but his enthusiasm reminds of one who is unencumbered by the rationalizations most people put for their version of understanding the Bible.

Since when did sound logic make anyone popular? Doss suffers immeasurably through boot camp, but he always keeps moving forward. This punishment is endorsed by his Sergeant Howell (Vaughn) and his Captain Glover (Worthington). While not inherently cruel men, they see it as a matter of life and death for the other men that someone on their side won’t pick up a gun to defend them. They don’t see defense in any other capacity or possibility. So myopic is our own perspective at times.

Gibson doesn’t handle the process of mind expansion with any amount of hugging and learning moments. There will be plenty of men who die not knowing the true value of having a peaceful warrior on their side. There are even some who marvel while he is helping them that Doss would also take the time to help injured enemy combatants. He see’s life as life. They see some as right and some as wrong. It’s a worthy achievement that in a story celebrating this man’s achievements Gibson is wise enough to show that some of them will not ever be valued by the people with whom Doss served.

Back to the violence. There are at least two ways to see a war film. Philosophically and realistically. Sometimes one way informs the other. Only by seeing how brutal and horrific the circumstances were can we understand the true bravery of all soldiers. We also are served as a warning to those who think War is something done “over there” with no consequence to most people. It’s one thing to understand war in an intellectual way. It’s another when you experience viscerally at the base level.

The detail that Gibson puts into the battle scenes is legendary. This is above the level even of Braveheart. The strange thing is, for all of the meticulous attention paid to every action above the ridge, the wig applied to Doss’ girl back home (Palmer) is laughably bad.It seems such an easy thing to get right comparatively.

That’s a small quibble though. This is a great film, if you can stomach something as graphic as The Passion of the Christ. It’s done in an equally sacred manner, if you value life. To see lives so easily lost, you will be more heartened to find a man running all through the night, praying for the strength to save “just one more.”

(***** out of *****)

Mad Max: Fury Road (****): Same glorious road, different driver

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Poster-Posse

Director George Miller
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Zoë Kravitz
Written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

The critical love bestowed upon George Miller’s Mad Max series has always been somewhat puzzling. His style is visually remarkable and has improved each time out. Beautiful, frantic and grotesque at once, no one has ever come close to duplicating him. The thing is, story-wise, he’s now made the same movie three times in a row. There is often some deeper meaning ascribed to the film, sometimes deserved, sometimes a stretch. Ultimately, the story is about how Max and a few stragglers survive and a lot of bad guys don’t.

The film starts with Max (Hardy) getting chased down by another group of terrorizers. They bring down his car, pick him up, inscribe some vitals on his back via tattoo, then, after a brief attempt to escape, use him as a “blood bag” due to his type-O universal blood type.

Elsewhere in the group, Imperator Furiosa (Theron), is readying a big rig for a trip to the nearby gas depot. Only she really is plotting her escape with The Five Wives of the leader Immortan Joe. Once Joe discovers that Furiosa is driving off route, he rallies the troops to chase her down.

Among the troops is the War Boy Nux (Hoult) who is ill and is connected to Max for his blood. Off he goes with Max prominently displayed in the front of his car to join the pursuit. If everyone had been caught in the first big chase, the movie would have been pretty short. Needless to say, Max ends up on the side of the pursued and they get some distance, but not much, from their pursuer.

All of this is caught within the framework of some of the most gorgeous imagery ever presented in a desert action film. And yes, I am including Lawrence of Arabia in this group. There is an abundance and depth to the color, explosions, slashes and even the sounds within the chase presented in the film. The variety of nut jobs pursuing is quite impressive as well. This time, though, there is more to one of them than drug fueled rage. Hoult’s character receives an act of grace from one of the wives and is converted to the cause. It’s a quick turnaround for a guy who was getting a transfusion and following it up with spray paint to the face. Very little of the Mad Max series is done with a long build up, though.madmax-guitarist

One of the most brilliantly insane images of the film has to be the vehicle consisting of rows of drums on one side and then the other with a Pete Townshend-worthy stacks of speakers behind a masked man in red playing a double necked guitar with an extra spout for a flamethrower. Yes. It’s just that. It’s the best thing since Tim Cappello grunted his way through the sax solos in Tina Turner’s videos for the last movie.


Sax guyIt’s when we reach this point that we realize the George Miller Mad Max experience is not necessarily for telling stories with a moral. Sure, we are all against humans being held in bondage, female and male. We don’t like terror in any way shape or form. Monsters are created in these films as a backdrop for the rest of these wild events to occur. The one film in which compassion tipped the scales, Beyond Thunderdome, is the one for which fans have the least affection. More compassion is represented by those tilting head looks where people are learning, and learning just slows everything down. Not that it’s ever a mis-step to inject some of the better qualities of humanity in the midst of the carnage. Thunderdome is still my favorite due to the time Miller took to show how stories are passed from generation to generation. Miller had a connection with Gibson that made compassion amidst chaos a believable concept.

This aspect has translated successfully into the capable hands of Tom Hardy. His Max fits comfortably along side Gibson. He shows the fevered want to survive at almost any cost. He also can re-evaluate on the fly with the same perplexed look that his predecessor had mastered. There never has been much more to Max than this in any of the films, aside from the original that showed him to be the father and husband that we see flashbacks of now. I thought that his kid was a boy originally, but now flashbacks keep harkening back to a little girl, but he is tortured either way. There is something to the fact that their collective character is so limited, but it fits so well in the environment, fans of the series will find little about which to complain.

Theron’s character, even more than Hardy’s, is limited in scope. She seeks redemption for these beautiful women being held as breeders against their will. Theron committed, letting her delicate visage appear more beaten and gaunt than ever as she personifies the rage of the violated.

Immortan / Toecutter...the same actor, but the same guy?
Immortan / Toecutter…the same actor, but the same guy?

As Immortan Joe, Keays-Bearne makes his first appearance in the series since his performance as Toecutter in the original. Toecutter is presumably killed in the first movie, but Immortan Joe is so disfigured in Fury Road, one can’t help but wonder if the casting means Joe and Toecutter are the same. He’s much less a cook and more menacing this time around, as much for the mystery surrounding his character as anything.

The five wives have a presence that stands out in the film. That we are able to distinguish one from another five times over is in itself a feat of no small proportion. Curiously, there were also many other, larger and older women left in equally destitute conditions, but apparently there is no room for them in the escape semi. None of this is the fault of the women they do show heroically, but if anyone is looking to make this story some sort of equal rights statement, they ought to have sympathy for the “milkers” too.

The product of Fury Road is polished, for something presenting such a ragged cross-section of the dregs of the post-apocalyptic world. All of the folks involved in the chase, aside from Hardy and Theron, look like they spent a lot of time getting their makeup right. Such is the case when one is making pop art, however. This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation. It’s enjoyable all the same.

Of the films, this is the one I enjoyed more than any, outside of Thunderdome. For a series that is such complete and all out high-octane, they keep going down the same road over and over. Unlike George Romero’s zombie films, or Scorsese’s real crime repeats, the craft is getting more refined with each trip. And unlike Spielberg tinkering with E.T. or Lucas messing around with the original Star Wars movies, these films feel more organic, instead of messed with. It’s like a painting that grows in one’s esteem as it ages. Don’t be fooled, though. This painting is closer to Dogs Playing Poker than it is to The Last Supper.

(**** out of *****)

The Expendables 3 (***1/2) – Holy crap! It’s not bad!

expendables_3

The Expendables 3 – 2014

Director Patrick Hughes
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone

The first two episodes of this series went down the toilet bowl. The first was a decent attempt at creating a story with some bad dialogue and some (mainly Rourke’s) good. The second one was so horrible, I thought it was a vengeful stab at the Amurica (read: Michael Bay fans). There were no plans to even watch this film. Until I stared at the cover and I saw Harrison Ford. Then Mel Gibson – playing the bad guy, no less. I had to see if, at the very least, their moments were worth watching, like Rourke’s had been.

What I discovered was a genuine surprise. There is an actual competent story here, and it’s executed with some skill. The acting, on the whole, is the best of the series, with the standouts being the aforementioned Ford, Gibson and Kelsey Grammer as well. The new team is actually fun to watch, too, especially Lutz and Powell.

The actual intent of the series has always been presented as a bunch of action legends having some fun on the screen. That is all well and good, but Burt Reynolds and his friends were having some fun on the Cannonball Run films and Sandler and his pals too, in the Grown Ups series. Those movies suck because no one really gives a crap about a story or even competent camera work. Stallone’s first two Expendables were the same kinds of crapfests. It’s one thing to make a movie that’s really a paid vacation for your cast and crew. It’s another thing to make that vacation an agonizing labor for your audience.

The basic premise is the main team, (meaning the one with guys over 40, including Statham, Lundgren and Snipes) has a bad outing, almost getting Crews killed. Stallone’s Barney decides after all of these dangerous missions, this one, where he goes up against his old Expendables partner Conrad Stonebanks (played up by a scenery chewing Gibson) is too dangerous for his buddies, so he puts them on the shelf. Then he goes to visit Grammer to recruit a new team, because…inexperience helps?

The new team actually captures Gibson, but before one can say “tracking device” the tables have turned. Barney escapes, shoots a few bad guys with his tiny gun, and then he begins the process of preparing to save the new guys, when lo and behold, the old team shows up to help bail him out. Dumb as it seems, Hughes direction is so crisp the movie actually works.

The action scenes are almost entirely thought out with a thread of logic to them. There are several Gimli / Legolas back and forths that are well done and add personality to all the fighting. Seeing Lutz on a motorbike taking on tanks works better than you’d imagine.

It also helps that the dialogue is not terrible, for once. Or maybe it is, but Grammer, Ford, Gibson and even Banderas have such personal cache, it feels smoother. Stallone doesn’t even bug me, and we get not one, but two “Choppa” references out of Schwarzeneggar.  Even one complete “Get to the choppa!” What took them so long?

As for the film being PG-13, it’s done well enough that it doesn’t even matter. Sure, no trip wire decapitating for all the guys on top of the train at first, but I’d rather have dialogue approaching reality than more blood.

If you don’t like action, don’t see this. It won’t change your mind on the genre. If you have, like me, been generally disappointed with the first two films in the series, but like many of the actors contained herein, give this one a shot. I think you’ll like it.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Forgotten Gems: Once We Were Kings…The Lethal Weapon Series

LethalWeaponBR

Lethal Weapon Collection – 1987, 1989, 1992, 1998

Director Richard Donner

Starring

Martin Riggs Mel Gibson
Roger Murtaugh Danny Glover
Leo Getz Joe Pesci (2-4)
Lorna Cole Rene Russo (3-4)
Lee Butters Chris Rock (4)
Trish Murtaugh Darlene Love
Rianne Murtaugh Traci Wolfe
Nick Murtaugh Damon Hines
Carrie Murtaugh Ebonie Smith
Captain Ed Murphy Steve Kahan
Dr. Stephanie Woods Mary Ellen Trainor

Screenplay 

Shane Black(1,2), Robert Mark Kamen(3) Jonathan Lemkin (4)
Jeffrey Boam (2,3), Alfred Gough & Miles Millar (4)
Warren Murphy (2), Channing Gibson (4)

After O.J. Simpson was convicted found responsible for 2 murders, I have never been able to stomach watching the wonderful trio of Naked Gun comedies.  After doing considerably less harm to the world (more to himself than anyone) Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon films have kind of faded into the background too.  This is a shame and somewhat a loss for people who love movies.

Many have forgotten the first Lethal Weapon movie, not just Die Hard, that forever changed the action film genre.  There had been great films action films before, even buddy cop films, if you ever considered Hackman and Scheider buddies.  The difference in the case of Lethal Weapon is that it took a race role reversal to the cop partnership.

In this story, Danny Glover is the old, wise pro, who is on the verge of age 50.  It’s his character that is the traditional “wife with kids” guy.  This aspect is put into full effect, too, through the development of the series.  The younger, deliberately reckless partner is Gibson.  He’s almost equally experienced as Gibson, given that both served in Vietnam.  His edge is due to the wife that he lost prior to the events of the film.  Through their shared experiences, they find the bad guys and a true, believable friendship in one another.

The formula worked well for the first film, but the best thing about Lethal Weapon is that it never was just the same movie, time after time.  New elements were added, new angles explored, and no one was safe, even if ultimately the main cast survived each film.  New characters, played by Pesci, Russo and Black, added something to the story beyond the gimmick factor.  Much of this was due to writing, and much more, good acting.  The bad guys were never as intriguing as they could have been and the action could sometimes be absurd.  The directing style, music and structure of the films remained smartly stylish and cool.

What follows is kind of love letter to a movie series that made me a fan of movies.  Everyone should own this series, even the weaker later films.  This is a great director at his peak and two movie stars who never would shine brighter.

Lethal Weapon
Lethal_Weapon_Murtaugh_Family
Year 1987
Story
One of Roger’s old army buddies (Tom Atkins) gets caught up in a heroin dealing front and his daughter is killed.  Roger has a new partner, Martin Riggs seems like a burden until they get on the trail of the dealers.
Main Bad Guy Mitchell Ryan was good, but really the most conventional type of 70’s/ 80’s bad guy.  He adds nothing but stern talking kind of Ward Cleaver effect.
Main Henchman Gary Busey on the verge of his crazy downward spiral.  He’s good at everything, but there is no way he would have lasted 2 seconds in hand to hand combat.
Best Sequence
The escape from torture with by electrocution by Endo, played by the inimitable Al Leong.  The fact that this comes after a botched attempt to rescue Riggs daughter heightens the tension and the feeling of relief.
Worst Sequence
The fight on the lawn.  Its got too much water and Gary Busey.  They took the tine to clear the house but seemingly left the two cops out front clueless that Mr. Joshua was coming over to kill.  Then they drive those cops’ own car into Murtaugh’s house?  No way.
Best Line
Murtaugh: You ever met anybody you didn’t kill?  Riggs: Well I haven’t killed you yet.
2nd Best Line
Riggs: I ran into some of those Shadow Company pussies in Saigon in ’69.
Worst Line
There’s no more heroes left in the world.
Memorable Song
Jingle Bell Rock
Review/ Rating  
Many iconic moments and Shane Black’s incredible screenwriting  offer a contrast to the gritty realism and sadness that permeates the atmosphere.  The dialogue is funny, but brutally real as it needs to be.  Every time one views Riggs put the gun in his mouth, contrasting with Murtaugh daring him out a short time later, it seems like he really might pull the trigger this time.  Seeing Riggs interact with Murtaughs family and coming over for dinner, bad roast and all, there is a warmth and kindness that could be done in throwaway style.  To everyone’s credit, it all feels real.

The action scenes in the first film pale a little after Gibson breaks everyone free, but I am not sure if that is due to the sheer number of old-timey stock bad guys that just over do it.  Being cast opposite the intense Gibson and Glover just may do this.  If the bad guy had been someone besides Mitchell Ryan, the film could have benefit, but who knows if the producers knew what they had here.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Lethal Weapon 2
Year 1989FF-Lethal-Weapon-Toilet
Story
Apartheid is bad is kind of what I have always gotten out of this script, although, tying general dealing of contraband to “diplomatic immunity” serves as reason enough to do away with the gaggle of South Africans in the story.  Murtaugh and Riggs are set to work protection duty on a money launderer (Pesci) who gives them way more than they thought they were getting.  Riggs gets involved with an administrative assistant and discovers these guys have intersected with him before.  
Main Bad Guy Joss Ackland as Arjen Rudd has as much menace as Palpatine, even if he does not appear to have the strength to walk the length of a shipping boat.
Main Henchman Derrick O’Connor as Pieter Vorstedt is creepily effective.  If he doesn’t look the part, he redefines what the part should look like.  He doesn’t talk much, but he is effective and lupine.
Best Sequence
The movie is filled with them, but all things being equal, the film’s opening chase is frenetic, funny and it sets the pace for the rest of the story.
2nd Best Sequence The toilet.  Enough said.
Worst Sequence
Dropping off Ms. Hagen-Daas at her apartment alone after the big firefight on the beach?  Really?  Tied with leaving Leo Getz alone in the car outside your house which has been attacked twice already?  Really?  Really?
Best Line 
Arjen Rudd: Diplomatic immunity!
Roger Murtaugh [shoots Arjen in the head]: It’s just been revoked!
2nd Best Line
Riggs: We’re back, we’re bad, you’re black, I’m mad.
Worst Line
Pick any line that the shrink says or is spoken to her.
Memorable Song
Cheer Down by George Harrison.  One of his greatest songs and totally appropriate given what they went through.
Review/ Rating
Head and shoulders above the rest of them and one of the few sequels that exceeds the original.  More camaraderie, more slick rough language, more brutality.  And Leo Getz (Pesci).  Anyone else that would have played him would not amount to half of the character Pesci injects.  He takes a beating from literally every character and he still comes out on top.  He helps to make the film as funny as it is brutal.  The movie has no lulls and works the ending into a frenzy where both leads are crucial.  This film must be seen.

(***** out of *****)

Lethal Weapon 3
LethalWeapon3_scene_02
Year 1992
Story
Riggs and Murtaugh are busted down to beat cops for about one scene.  This is long enough for them to stumble into an internal affairs issue.  Fortunately this involves Lorna Cole, who immediately strikes up an adversarial relationship with Riggs.  Murtaugh gets caught up in the troubles of his son’s friends, who happened to be packing heat lifted from the police.  All roads lead to one source.
Main Bad Guy AWOL Cop Stuart Wilson as Jack Travis is brutal and ruthless.  There is still something missing.  It could be that is all he is.
Main Henchman Not really any.  Maybe that Dan Fogelberg looking guy with the glasses, beard and mustache.
Best Sequence
Seeing Lorna Cole kick ass is invigorating.  Pick any one of her fights and I am in.
2nd Best Sequence
The shaving scene with Murtaugh and his son is one of the most beautiful moments in the series.
Worst Sequence
The bomb in the car, complete with a cat jumping on the car from absolutely nowhere.  There is absolutely no reason for them to do it other than to have an opening scene with lots of chaos and destruction.
2nd Worst Sequence
So many bad ones, but I will go with the Dog Biscuits.
Best Line
Riggs: Where’d you learn to fight like that?  Cole: Catholic School.
Worst Line
Any time Dr. Woods is involved, groans ensue.
2nd Worst Line
Riggs [spitting out gas]: Exxon.  Cheap political throwaway line that no one hears, except the audience.
Memorable Song
Sting and Clapton: It’s Probably Me, and BoyzIIMen: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.
Review/ Rating A thoroughly average film that is leveraged by the performance of Russo as Lorna Cole.  She lights up the screen and gives Riggs the perfect foil.  The best moments in the movie are those with her in them.  Pesci gives a little of the light that he provided in the last film, but it doesn’t help that his part was written in late in development.  The action is ridiculous, existing only to give sound and fury.  Very few lines are that funny or have much in the way of resonance.  The argument with Riggs and a drunk Murtaugh is the only thing that rises to their earlier level.  There is some other good stuff here, and it’s so good to see the family expand to include Leo and Lorna.

(*** out of *****)

Lethal Weapon 4
Year 1998
Story
Immigrant slavery.  Riggs, Leo and Murtaugh stumble across an immigrant slavery ring and Roger decides to step in a little too deep, finding something he identifies with historically.  Riggs and Cole are expecting a child, but have not pondered marriage.  Murtaugh’s oldest Reeann has married a cop and is expecting, but neither can tell Roger.   All of this ties back to making counterfeit money and shipping it back to China.
Main Bad Guy Uncle Benny (Kim Chan) he’s a staple in the movie biz as either the wise old friend of the good guy or the head bad guy.  He gives a stereotypical performance, old “Horrywoo” style, to make up for the borders that they are crossing with the other Chinese characters in the movie.  If you laugh, you are racist.
Main Henchman Wa Sing Ku played by Jet Li is one of the most devastating bad guys in the series.  He is seriously too much for any of them to take on.  They paid the actor as much respect as one could while still keeping the belt with the champs at the top of the bill.
Best Sequence
The fight inside the house after the family is taken.  Lorna can still kick ass, even when in late stage pregnancy.  Jet Li waits like a cat and strikes, disarming everyone.  He even knocks Lorna out without harming the child.


Worst Sequence
So many bad scenes, too many to mention more than the car chase where Roger jumps a car literally into a multi-story building and then drives through the building and…jumps back onto the freeway.  It feels like they just stopped trying.
Best Line
Leo: What is that smell?  Old Lady: I was on my way to the toilet when she (Lorna) grabbed me.
Worst Line
Anything between Riggs and Uncle Benny.
2nd Worst Line

Memorable Song
None.  But they had plenty of that delicious Sanborn saxophone and Clapton guitar.
Review/ Rating
For a series that concentrated on being real in language and action, they really fall of the rails here.  For some damn reason, no one can tell Roger that his near 30-year-old daughter is married to Butters (Rock).  Then no one can tell Riggs that Murtaugh’s wife is a famous smut author.  Riggs and Lorna are pregnant, but have yet to consider marriage.  Even when they bring it up, they act like they don’t know how to talk about it.  Stupid plot contrivances.  Then we have the mish mash with the Chinese.  Are they the butt of jokes, or worthy of our sympathy?  The action is as insipid as it was in the last film, with the nod to Riggs admitting to getting older, just like Murtaugh.

Still by this point, the cast is so comfortable in their roles, it is hard not to root for them and just sit back and enjoy the whole mess.  They had the same characters for each part through all four films, even the kids!  The show moved from noir to a rated R family comedy.  It’s a mess, just like Leo’s character, but you miss them if they are not there.  For this reason, its hard not to like this one better than the one that precedes it.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Machete Kills (*): Garbage in…garbage out

machete-kills-Trejo_Face_

Machete Kills – 2013

Director Robert Rodriguez
Starring Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Walt Goggins, William Sadler, Demián Bichir, Mel Gibson
Screenplay Kyle Ward

“I have high hopes for you, Mr. Machete.  Higher than you can mentally ascend to.”

Ah, Machete.  Ah, humanity.

The first thing we see in Machete Kills is a trailer indicating that there is indeed a third film, this time in space.  It’s kind of like saying there is something to look forward too.  I remember when I used to look forward to Robert Rodriguez films.  Indeed, even after the only good film he made in a decade was Sin City, I still breathed a sigh of relief when I found he was in charge of Predators.  The accidental success that was the first Machete feature promised a decent series, if they could get past the weak liberal political stands in the first film.  In Machete Kills, the hope in Rodriguez’ career is almost completely sunsetted.

Taking the joke first film just about a mile too far in the wrong direction, Rodriguez has presented himself as a director with almost no talent for storytelling or visual flair.  If the general goal of making a second film of a trilogy is to create a stir for  a third, then everyone fails completely here.  There is no reason to see any more of these passionless in jokes.  We get it.  Machete don’t text, until he does.  Machete never gets whipped, until the right woman or three comes along.  And Machete never dies.  Even when  he painfully lopes away from a massive hail of gunfire, A-Team style.

What worked in the first attempt just flounders here.  Actors do their best to act like they are not acting.  It’s really easy for most to do, except Gibson.  He does a good job until the moment he starts speaking to his fellow space travellers.  For some reason, Rodriguez did not find room for Lohan’s “character” in this film.  If that is what you can call her prominent display of t&a.

This film is no better than any of the myriad straight to video releases that Trejo ha endured like the burden of his life.  It’s tough to imagine the blessing that has been his career.  He’s been down a long hard road.  This really is just gravy for him.  I only wish it were good gravy once in a while.

(* out of *****)

Get the Gringo is an excellent film featuring an excellent filmmaker

Get the Gringo – 2012

Director Adrian Grunberg
Starring Mel Gibson, Kevin Hernandez, Delores Heridia, Peter Stormare, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Dean Norris, Bob Gunton, Peter Gerety
Screenplay Stacie Perskie, Grunberg and Gibson

For those of you who think the events of his life have rendered Mel Gibson’s career dead should think again.  Get the Gringo is a continuance of the excellent work he has done since his career has gone into the toilet of liberal shame.  As fractured as his demons has rendered his existence, in front of the camera he is aces.

Starting off in a high-speed chase along the U.S. / Mexico border, he makes it, but not before being rendered unconscious and having his accomplice succumb to injuries received in their recent heist.  The Mexican border agents barter with their U.S. counterparts and are about to hand him over when they discover the considerable amount of cash he is carrying with him.  Next thing you know, he is processed through the Mexican  detention system and assigned to one of the strangest prisons I have observed, El Pueblito.

As soon as Gibson, known simply as Driver, gets into the prison, he finds his balance and quickly finds the means to keep himself somewhat anonymous and quite well off.  The presentation of how he gets to this point is as entertaining as any sequence in the film, and that is saying something.  The trick to this prison is that, not only does it include prisoners, but some of their relatives, and this includes children.  Weapons are readily accessible, if you know where to look, as is just about every other vice that one could need.

In this environment, Driver comes across a 10-year-old boy and his mother.  Their story, involving the most powerful occupants of the prison, is key to the film.  While he is tracking the border agents who ripped him off to get his money back, Driver is drawn quite gradually into their plight.

The relationship Gibson establishes with the boy (Hernandez, in a strong performance) is a convincing one.  Driver is not awash with sentiment, and he ascertains early on that the kid is thriving in a harsh environment.  He needs to know what the kid knows.  It evolves at such a pace as to avoid the pitfalls that occur in lesser films.

The adults that swirl around him are all after the money, and they offer less a sense of menace than they do one of opportunity for Driver.  Gibson’s character is able to visualize more scenarios than the rest of them combined.  His brain is throughoughly outside the box the rest of his competitors think his body is trapped within.

It’s tough to pull off a story when one adult is so far ahead of the others in a convincing way.  Usually this renders the rest of the cast looking like a collection of idiots.  The way the story creators pull this off must be seen to be believed.  That Gibson, co-writer Perskie and co-writer and director Grunberg manage to keep the rest of the characters from seeming too much like extra’s in a Dirty Harry film is a minor accomplishment.

For those of you shocked into a new reality by Gibson’s film turn in 1999’s Payback, you will find this film a spiritual ancestor to that one.  He’s evolved as an actor, since that film, believe it or not.  In the world of film, Gibson is a survivor.  He may well be here long after we are all gone.

The Beaver shows that nobody wants to be alone

The Beaver – 2011

Directed by Jodie Foster

Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence

Written by Kyle Killen

I have never pretended to understand depression.  Not many people lately have tried to understand Mel Gibson.  I have been quite interested in understanding him since his groundbreaking directorial début so many years ago in Braveheart.  The Passion of  the Christ followed, and began an unjust assault on his character.  Many mocked him when he took the spike  for his only scene in The Passion… and drove in the first spike.  In the years that followed, he proved his critics right.  Well, not exactly.  Really he just got old, desperate and succumbed to the demons of alcoholism.  He understood all to well why his hands were the ones that crucified The Lord.  What most of us get to do in private, became a spectacle of epic proportions.  The phone calls to the mother of his youngest child were astoundingly horrific and worthy of the shame brought upon himself, even if they were revealed in suspicious circumstances.  Still, a lot of us have not bothered to follow Christ’s wisdom and threw the first of a many stones from the safety of their own shadows.

Jodie Foster was not one of them.  In the midst of making this movie, with Mel, may have had limited opportunity to distance himself from her troubled employee/co-worker, but she did not even flinch. She knew that he was her mess, and her friend.  This movie is a fine testament to this chaos, and the perfect demonstration of the mess we make of our lives, for whatever reason.

The irony of The Beaver is that it was actually made before Mel’s most famous blowout.  One would have a hard time believing this as you watch Mel literally fall apart on the screen.  Starting out with Mel performing a decent Cockney accent, we find that the state of the family is one of disrepair.  Walter Black (Gibson) after years of battling depression, leaves the home of his wife (Foster) and children, Porter (Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart).  His first night away, he buys a large amount of booze, finds a Beaver hand puppet in a garbage and, at his hotel,  he attempts to commit suicide.  Failing that, he wakes up from his blackout and finds the puppet already in conversation with him.  From here, he makes a deal with the puppet, as an extension of himself and with The Beaver in the lead, heads back to the world.

His wife, Meredith, is happy to see that he and The Beaver had made a connection with Henry, reluctantly allows him back.  Porter, who is experiencing an identity crisis himself, is battling with the list of similarities he shares with his father.  He does not want him back.  Porter’s performance at school as one who writes papers for and in the voice of others leads him to the attention of Norah, who hires him to write her valedictorian speech.  We can see where this leads a thousand miles away.

Harder to figure is the direction that Walter is heading.  In one of the best performances of his career, Gibson portrays Black as someone who is at a loss to describe what he is experiencing to anyone else, including a kind and understanding wife who would do just about anything to better understand him.  Preceding Walter into the abyss was his father, who died in an accident a few years earlier.  It is implied that he, too, may have committed suicide.  The cycle of his father, to Walter, to Porter is almost too much to overcome.  The Beaver brings some success to Walter in his professional life, with his wife and with his youngest son, whom he had ignored before.  Soon enough, the act wears thin for his wife and for Walter himself.  What happens next must be experienced, as one would be shorted by any written description.

The thing about The Beaver, is that it does not profess to give any answers.  Nothing is neat and clean.  Loss must be experienced, before anything can be gained.  Towards the last quarter of the film, I recall thinking that the movie reminded me of the Saul Bellow short play, The Wrecker.  In it, a husband and wife find the life in their marriage by destroying the house it grew stale in.  It was a pat answer for a complex issue.  If this movie had gone that route, I would have been disappointed.  Foster the director follows the instincts of her writer and allows no quarter to Walter Black.  His issue is one of an intractable malaise and something shocking is needed to shake him from it.  The performances all around in this film are exceptional.  Great performances that deserve special mention are. once more, Gibson’s subtle, exaggerated and overly nuanced performance and the wonderful Foster, who exudes motherly concern and the desires of a wife seeking a real and elusive love.  Yelchin and Lawrence are good, despite being caught in the most predictable plot in the script.

We are allowed some time to see things work themselves out.  Do they really?  All I can say is that there are smiles in the end.  Smiles, like happiness, can be fleeting.  Even fleeting moments can help break the unrelentingly morose nature of depression.

(**** out *****)