The five…best Bruce Willis performances

April 22, 2007

CATEGORY – THE FIVE

I told you this would be random. But, with Perfect Stranger (unfortunately) being released and Die Hard 4 set for this summer, let’s take a look back at the five best performances by everyone’s favorite bald-headed action star, pre- and post-hair.

5. “The Fifth Element”

A weird, wild sci-fi pic, with Willis in full-on cool, wisecracking mode, playing an ex-commando cabbie destined with saving the world by protecting beautiful Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) from a whole ton of snarling aliens and evil businessman Zorg (Gary Oldman). It’s wacky, colorful, and utterly unforgettable, one of the most imaginative films of the nineties.

AMAZON

4. “The Sixth Sense”

The big rebound film after a series of flops in the mid-nineties. By now, it’s become a cultural icon–”dead people” and the like–but it’s worth it to re-examine M. Night Shamalyan’s smart, chilling film to see just how good a movie it was, and how great Willis, playing a tormented shrink trying to save troubled kid Cole (Hayley Joel Osment), is in it. His shocking revelation at the end (if you don’t know what it is by now, crawl out of whatever cave you’re in and rent it) is portrayed beautifully by Bruce.

AMAZON

3. “Die Hard”

The original, and still one of the best. Willis’ John McClane is a NYC cop, ready to try and patch up a failing marriage with his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) by heading out to L.A., at Christmas, for a big holiday dinner at her corporate skyscraper. Surprise–Eurotrash baddie Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) decides to crash the party by capturing his wife and dozens of others and raiding the place for hundreds of thousands in bearer bonds, with only lone wolf McClane to stand in his way. A fantastic, trend-setting action film that proves once and for all the only cure for marital blues is a tense hostage situation.

AMAZON

2. “Die Hard With a Vengeance”

McClane is back, and just as big a smartass in this third installment of the “Die Hard” series, directed again by John McTiernan. This time, he’s led on a high-octane, enormously fun and bloody trek through New York City by Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons), brother of his nemesis from the first film. What elevates this film above the rest is the hysterical racial banter between McClane and sidekick Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson); the two enjoy some of the best chemistry this side of Tracy and Hepburn.

AMAZON

1. “Pulp Fiction”

He’s only in for about a third of the movie, and Travolta and Jackson got all the accolades–but it’s Willis who captures the film. It’s Willis who is put in the most precarious position–captured and hog-tied in a basement, menaced by two rapists after double-crossing a brutal L.A. mobster (Ving Rhames) and heading back into Dodge to retrieve his father’s through-hell-and-back watch (youtube “Walken” and “watch” to hear the story behind it). And it’s Willis who captures the film’s best scene, a glorious browse through the different weapons of the pawn shop as he ventures back to save his former enemy. In this, the greatest of all American films released in the last decade, it’s Willis who comes away as the biggest star of them all.

AMAZON

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“Starship Troopers”

April 22, 2007

CATEGORY: REVIEWS – NEW AND NOTABLE

The Movie: “Starship Troopers” IMDB

Release Year: 1997 – Directed by: Paul Verhoven – Starring: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards

The Entertainment Weekly review for Paul Verhoven’s Starship Troopers contained one of the most hysterically accurate descriptions of a film I’ve ever heard: “Starship Troopers,” they said, “is exactly what Star Wars would have been if Germany had won World War Two.”

I never forgot that, mostly because I thought of how damn right they were after I snuck into the old Hoyts Cinemas in Enfield, Connecticut to see this movie. Deep and surprisingly layered, Starship Troopers is blatant, brilliant satire–in addition to being one of the most entertaining and fun sci-fi action movies since Aliens.

Verhoven, an excellent filmmaker (Robocop) smeared by a few flops (Showgirls, namely) has made his Godfather here. Casting aside most of the gritty, grunt-on-the-ground vision put forth by Robert Heinlein in his classic book (highly recommended, too) Verhoven reaches back into his childhood memories of his native German-occupied Holland during World War Two to spin the sci-fi fable into a scathing attack on war itself, the military, fascism and propaganda–an interesting companion piece to Heinlein’s book, keeping only a few characters and the basic strings of the plot.

It’s still set in the future, though–in a sunny worldwide utopia where humans must join in the global army to receive “citizenship” and government messages and news are brought across on televised 40′s-esque newsreels. A whole bunch of pretty teenagers are graduating high school and heading off to training–led by Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), who is also caught between a love triangle with pilot Carmen (Denise Richards) and infantryman Dizzy (Dina Meyer).

The basic training is brutal and funny–one DI tosses a knife through a recruit’s hand to prove a point, a recruit gets his head splattered with a live round after an accident. But before long, a whole race of slimy, cricket-esque alien bugs smash Buenos Aires with an asteroid, killing Rico’s parents and giving him a whole ‘nother level of hate for the creepy crawlers.

Blow, zam, pow, the kiddies are off to go fight, first on the species’ homeworld, then on a secession of planets with bigger, creepier buggies, all punctuated with the hilarious, ever-present propaganda reels giving updates of the situation. It’s a complete parody of fascism, absolutely dead-on, with just the right elements and mentality of Nazi-era Germany bleeding through the faces of the young soldiers before and after they get chomped on and shiskabobed by the creatures.

Verhoven does an interesting thing with the casting, populating the youthful group with a bunch of picture-perfect teen-drama castoffs–with very little acting talent–and a few of his dependable veterans (the always great Michael Ironside shows up as Rico’s teacher, and later, his sergeant, and veteran character actor has a funny part as a cowardly general). The kids look pretty, but they couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag–they’re all better suited as abused co-eds or smarmy jocks on a Lifetime Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?-level TV movie. It’s obviously intentional–the director is sending up the Adonis-esque men and babes of action films of yesteryear, while keeping the crusty-old-guy on board.

And what a rush–what an exciting, gooey, gory action film. There’s a whole ton of rounds expelled on several different planets, a bunch of flashy space scenes, and some of the best, crispest CGI and special effects ever captured on film. It’s a rush, The Longest Day or Platoon set in space, with the mad little crickets taking the place of Nazis or Vietnamese. One sequence, with just a little platoon against a whole planet of the critters, is unbelievable–the best elements of the Western and the War Flick, a couple hundred years in the future.

But at its pulpy core, there’s a strong, smart message about the evils of military society and fascism, never more present than at the climax–where the goose-stepping outfit worn by intelligence officer (played by Doogie Howser refugee Neil Patrick Harris) Carl has to be seen to believed. To view this movie on just a superficial, action-junkie level would make it just a tremendously entertaining film; to go even deeper, you’d get one of the best moviegoing experiences of the decade.

RATING: 9.5/10

THE DVD: Whoa, loaded. A bunch of featurettes, storyboards, art galleries, and a couple of really good commentaries by Verhoven and cast. Excellent. 

BUY IT! AMAZON

RATING 9.5/10

Movie Quote of the Day: “Uh, no I’m afraid not. But you have me at a loss. You know my name but
who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child?
Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo?
Marshall Dillon? “

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The five…best baseball movies

April 15, 2007

CATEGORY – THE FIVE

It’s baseball season! Come in, enjoy..the five best baseball movies of all time. Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd…

5. “Pride of the Yankees”

It may be the Yankees (ugh) but it’s a damn good movie. A classic, touching tale, powered by Gary Cooper’s affecting performance as Lou Gehrig, the famous “Iron Horse” first baseman for the Bronx Bombers who was felled by ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”). If you don’t cry during the recreation of “Today…I consider myself…”, you may not be human.

BUY IT! AMAZON

4. “Bull Durham”

A fine, funny picture, Bull Durham captures the comical side of baseball better than any other baseball film ever. It’s a light-hearted love triangle between beautiful Durham Bull groupie Annie (Susan Sarandon) aging veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) and fireballing rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). It never takes itself too seriously, and captures the mundane and funny minutiae of minor-league baseball perfectly. One problem: Robbins, while funny as LaLoosh, is no pitcher–his delivery brings to mind a chicken having a seizure.

AMAZON

3. “Major League”

The funniest baseball movie ever, focusing on the tribulations of the lowly Cleveland Indians (back when they were the Clippers of MLB) as they come together to win a pennant. Standing out? Flamethrower and Buddy Holly-glasses-wearer Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), future President Palmer Dennis Haysbert as voodoo-loving, “no-hit-curveball” slugger Pedro Cerrano and hysterical broadcaster Bob Uecker (juuuuuusttt a bit outside…).

AMAZON

2. “Field of Dreams”

*Sniff* Again, if you don’t tear up watching this incredible 1989 film, you’re probably not human. Kevin Costner plays a mild Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella, who follows a mysterious voice out in his cornfields that tells him to plow over his crop to make room for a baseball diamond. The construction of the diamond brings out, amongst others, the ghost of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (Ray Liotta) and prompts a road trip involving a famous writer (James Earl Jones) an aging doctor (Burt Lancaster) and a reconnection to Ray’s long-lost father. A great, touching film.

AMAZON

1. “The Natural”

Da-dah, da-da-da-duh. Da-Da, DA-DA-DA-DUH. Go ahead, stand on a baseball diamond and try not to picture yourself slamming a ball off the light tower as that amazing score plays.

This truly is the best baseball film of all time, a rousing and deeply moving adaptation of Bernard Malmud’s novel. A pitching phenom, Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), shot by an insane stalker as he heads for baseball stardom, comes back years later to the struggling New York Knights as a powerful slugger–caught in the struggle between the malicious Knights owner (Robert Prosky) and gruff manager Pops (future Oatmeal / diabetes pitchman Wilford Brimley). There’s even a lyrical tug-of-war for Hobbs’  heart–between socialite Memo (Kim Basinger) and childhood love Iris (Glenn Close).

There’s a lot going on here, and it’s a deep, smart story–with an amazing, stand-up-and-cheer climax (much more uplifting than the book’s ending). The best baseball, and one of the best sports movies, ever.

AMAZON

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“True Romance”

April 15, 2007

CATEGORY – NEW AND NOTABLE

The Movie: “True Romance” IMDB

Release Year: 1993- Directed by: Tony Scott – Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette

Akiro Kurosawa once directed a movie called “Yume”–Dreams–which was a collected scrapbook of the Japanese master’s thoughts and images, in celluloid form. True Romance is Quentin Tarantino’s own Yume–a collection of adolescent fantasies, gunplay, profanity, sex and violence that gets to the very heart of his own pulpy sensibilities. Like all his other works, it doesn’t fail to entertain, and is more human that most, with a strangely touching and affecting love story at its heart.

Clarence (Christian Slater) is practically Tarantino’s alter-ego–a shy guy from Detroit, working at a comic-book store and spending the rest of his time at Sonny Chiba-filmfests in a run-down movie theater. He’s in the middle of one of those marathons when beautiful hooker Alabama (Patricia Arquette) nudges her way into his life, hired by Clarence’s boss to give him a good time.

Somehow, they fall in love–her being won over by his gentle manner and encyclopedic knowledge of Elvis movies.

It’s never that simple, though. Alabama’s pimp (a wonderfully drugged-out Gary Oldman) refuses to let her get bought out by Clarence–so the young man promptly blows him away and amscrays with a suitcase full of the dead man’s cocaine. The two cut a boneheaded plan to head off to California to sell the coke with the help of their inept actor buddy (Michael Rapaport).

Before they can get away, though, there’s a ton of other factors to deal with. There’s a visit to Clarence’s alcoholic father (Dennis Hopper) who is promptly interrogated by creepy mafioso Vincenzo, searching for the missing coke (Christopher Walken, stealing the movie, once again) in one of the movie’s best scenes. There’s the acting buddy’s lower-level movie management associate (Bronson Pinchot) working to sell the coke to a movie mogul (Saul Rubinek). And there’s the cops (Michael Penn, Tom Sizemore) and brutal mafia hit man (James Gandolfini), all chasing Clarence, Alabama and the nose candy.

Oh, and did I mention the ghost of Elvis (Val Kilmer) advising Clarence at every turn?

The movie isn’t that deep, but it never fails to entertain, and the awesome ensemble cast spouting Tarantino’s profane, funny screenplay makes it crisp and moving. Tony Scott (Crimson Tide) has a high-energy style that works well for the movie, and he wisely keeps the focus on Clarence and Alabama, spinning a nice little love story that is quite endearing.

See? For all the bullets and broads in Tarantino’s films, maybe he’s a romantic at heart.

RATING: 9.0/10

THE DVD: Loaded, as Tarantino’s films always are. A few deleted scenes, good director’s commentary, some scene-specific commentary by Kilmer, Rapaport, Hopper and Brad Pitt, commentaries by Tony Scott, Arquette and Slater, and Tarantino, and a bunch of extra featurettes. One of the mediums best releases.

BUY IT! AMAZON

RATING 10/10

Movie Quote of the Day: “You like baseball? We need lights for the parks, so kids can play at
night. So they can play baseball. So they don’t become burros para los
malones. Everyone likes baseball. Everyone likes parks.
.”

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DVD Preview — April

April 11, 2007

Spring is here! Well, you wouldn’t think it, here in Boston, where we are getting–oh, great–four inches of snow tomorrow. Yippie. Well, we have DVDs to keep us entertained, right! Here’s the best new releases for April:

1. The Last King of Scotland — I just talked about Forest Whitaker’s awesome performance in Season Five of The Shield; now, see the movie he won that little golden guy for. Whitaker tears into the role of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, seen through the eyes of a young doctor shanghaied into his service (James MacAvoy). A fearsome, powerful role for one of film’s most underrated actors. April 17th – AMAZON

2. The Queen – Speaking of Oscars. Helen Mirren (still, absolutely beautiful) took home her little golden guy for her own interpretation of a real-life leader–though not a cannibal, like the aforementioned Amin. Mirren is excellent as Queen Elizabeth in this drama depicting life around Buckingham Palace in the days following Princess Diana’s death in Paris. Nuanced and intelligent, The Queen has a great cast (particularly Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and James Cromwell as Elizabeth’s husband) but Mirren, rightly, dominates the film. April 24th – AMAZON

3. Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show — Thank god, it’s finally coming out on DVD. Underexposed through its entire brilliant run on HBO, Garry Shandling’s hilarious inside-look at the life of a late night TV host (Shandling, as Sanders) remains one of the best shows to ever grace the airwaves. There may never be a funnier supporting character ever than Jeffrey Tambor’s brooding, abused hangdog of a sidekick, Hank, matched at every turn by Sanders’ cutthroat boss Artie. Look out for Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe on 24) in a regular role. April 24th – AMAZON


Some quick DVD recommendations…

April 11, 2007

Hello all, how’s everyone out there in DVD land?

Anyhoo, it’s April, and there’s been a bunch of good DVDs put out on there. Here’s the ones you should invest in:

1. Children of Men — Next to The Departed, the best movie of 2006. An amazing, beautifully-directed road trip through hell on earth. In a future where the human race has mysteriously become infertile, scruffy bureaucrat Theo Faron (Clive Owen) shepherds a miraculously-pregnant young girl through the nightmarish, war-torn streets and country of an Orwellian England. Michael Caine has a delicious, scene-stealing part as a pot-smoking professor. The DVD has a couple good featurettes and commentary by an entertaining professor. AMAZON

2. Blood Diamond – Previously reviewed. Leonardo DiCaprio’s ferocious performance as a Rhodesian mercenary powers this above-average thriller. DiCaprio’s Danny Archer helps Djimion Honsou’s mild-mannered fisherman Solomon Vandy search for his kidnapped son, in return for the location of a enormous, rare pink diamond hid by Vandy–as forces from all sides converge on both of them. A solid thriller with an important message. DiCaprio and Honsou both gathered Oscar nominations. The special edition DVD has a couple featurettes and commentary by director Edward Zwick. AMAZON
3.  The Shield: Season Six — If you haven’t caught up with this intense, incredible series, now’s the time to get into it. Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey is the most corrupt, violent, amoral and brutal cop television’s ever seen–and you’ve got to try your hardest not to root for him (a little) as he scams, kills and survives on the bullet-laden streets of L.A. with his fellow “Strike Team” members (David Rees Snell, Walton Goggins, Kenny Johnson). This season sees the introduction of Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker to the cast as an IA detective determined to bring him down, only adding to a stellar group of supporting actors. There’s commentary and deleted scenes on most episodes. AMAZON


“Major League” — Baseball week!

April 8, 2007

CATEGORY – NEW AND NOTABLE

The Movie: “Major League” IMDB

Release Year: 1989 – Directed by: David S. Ward – Starring: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger

Sure, The Natural and Field of Dreams are better movies, but I double-dog-dare you to find a more quotable baseball movie than Major League–the funniest baseball film ever made (yes, including you, Bull Durham) and one of the most enjoyable sports comedies ever.

It’s wonderful, as the winter melts away (although not this year, apparently) to pop in the Major League DVD with a group of baseball fans. Part of the appeal, I guess, lies in some of its nostalgia–it comes from a time when Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Corbin Bernsen could be considered the leads, and Wesley Snipes is supporting; it comes from a time when the Cleveland Indians were putrid, before the days of Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Robbie Alomar and a whole bunch of World-Series disasters; and it comes from a time before Dennis Haysbert played President Palmer on 24, providing Bauer-o-philes (like me) of five seasons worth of “Jobu” jokes before his unfortunate sniper-bullet necking last season.

Mostly, though, it’s just a damn funny movie, owing to its wonderful collection of characters. Leading off, there’s the moribund Cleveland Indians new owner–an ex-stripper and gold-digger who has inherited the team from her corpse of a husband, hellbent on moving the awful team out of Ohio and to St. Petersburg once the team plays bad enough. There’s the gruff AAA manger (James Gammon) she hires to let the team lose, a former tire-salesman not above urinating on a player’s contract once he refuses to take infield practice.

Oh, and we can’t forget the players, lead by aging catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) a veteran on his last legs still pursuing his ex-girlfriend (Rene Russo). Across the diamond, there’s fleet-footed center fielder Willie “Mays” Hayes (Wesley Snipes) who invites himself to spring training and wins an outfield job in his pajamas and prima donna third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), the disruptive player who had his contract yellowed.

Batting cleanup we have voodoo-worshipping Pedro Cerrano (Haysbert) who prays to a wooden idol named Jobu, clashes with Christian pitcher Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) and thinks his bats are afraid of curveballs. The real star, though, is Rick Vaughan (Charlie Sheen), a flame-throwing pitcher late of the “California Penal” league nicknamed “Wild Thing” for his 96-MPH heater and propensity for beanballs and brawls.

It’s a real motley crew, and their escapades on and off the field as the team starts to gel and challenge for the pennant are pure, hilarious fun. Bob Uecker, the long-time Brewers play-by-play man, has a great role as the team’s Jack-swilling announcer, providing a ton of great lines (go ahead, try playing ball with college students and see who doesn’t break out his “Juuuuuuuustttt a bit outside”).

Here’s the bottom line with this film, and baseball movies in general. If you’re looking cry, try Field of Dreams. If you’re looking to be inspired, try The Natural. If you’re just looking to laugh, grab Major League. Better yet, put all three in some rain-out day and just give yourself to the majesty of America’s pastime.

RATING: 9.0/10

THE DVD: The “Wild Thing” edition beefs up the original release, tossing in a director’s commentary, a few making-of featurettes (including a look at Bob Uecker’s fledgling career and interviews with current Cleveland Indians) and an alternate ending. Solid, and worth your $.

BUY IT! AMAZON

RATING 9.0/10

Movie Quote of the Day: “.”

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