Click on the poster for the theatrical trailer.
Yes, you DID read that headline correctly... Kevin Costner is the ULTIMATE Hollywood leading man. "I just want to manage the team that I want... One time..."
For far too long now, I have been on the receiving end of an incessant line of abuse when I put forward this plain and simple fact. In truth, I am sure some of you have decided that the water in the UK must be seriously polluted to cause this way of thinking and are opening another web page to look for something else to waste your time for a few minutes. But if you will bear with me, perhaps I will be able to prove to some of you that this severely underrated actor is worthy of re-appraisal and appreciation.
Why would I be writing about this now? Well it came from a quick perusal in the local DVD store. My real reason for being there was to pick up a little something for the missus (copy of Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys... Check), but who should catch my eye but the sharp-suited individual above. In that exact moment, I was filled with both joy and anger at the same time. Ivan Reitman's Draft Day was a film I had been looking forward to last year after seeing the trailer online. A good old-fashioned sports drama with my boy Costner at the helm as Sonny Weaver Jr., General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, who must tackle the demands of the fans, his boss and the players as the clock counts down the 2014 NFL Draft - possibly the most important draft day in his career. Having made a costly trade for 1st Pick, Sonny finds the professional pressures complicated even further by the recent loss of his father and the news that his colleague and secret lover, played by Jennifer Garner, is pregnant with his child (nice work, Kev!). Even that plot description should get your mouth watering - Costner back in Sports Hero mold, high-stakes boardroom drama, dealing, double-dealing, knocking up ladies and holding the careers of so many young hopefuls in his hands. Yet here it is... On a DVD shelf and not on a British cinema screen. The indignity of it all. But then again, I've been fighting Costner's corner for longer than I care to remember.. "I would die for you..."
The first time I saw the great Kevin Michael Costner on hate big screen was in a childhood classic for many of my peers... 1991's swashbuckling epic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Who was this dashing, heroic, debonair hero, shooting 2 arrows at the same time and sporting the finest mullet this side of Mel Gibson? I loved that movie - every time I hear Bryan Adams' mighty ballad I pump my fists in the air in emotional bombast. This was a Robin Hood for my generation (pity poor Patrick Bergin, whose alternative take in the same year disappeared in Kevin's wake). Yes, I get it - for a homegrown hero like Robin Hood, Kev doesn't even attempt a British accent. But then again maybe that was a good thing - Russell Crowe's Midlands-via-Adelaide accent in Ridley Scott's recent take on the historical hoodie went down as well as getting a flaming arrow in the face. And this Robin went to war with an odious S.O.W. (Son Of a Witch) that called of Christmas... AND WON! No late-in-the-show appearance from James Bond could sway my attention. Here was a fantastic hero - and soon I was discovering that this guy wasn't just great with a bow... He was classy with a six-shooter too! "I got no problem with killing, Boss. Never Have."
Costner's real break had come in the Laurence Kasden quick-draw Western homage Silverado
- the next film I saw him in. Here, among seasoned pros like Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover and Brian Dennehy, it was young Kev as the wise-ads kid with the deadly aim that stole the whole movie right from under them. Costner soon became the best Western hero since Eastwood (it is easy to see why it is his favorite genre), with epic performances in classic takes on the genre such as Kasden's Wyatt Earp
and his own passion-project masterpiece Dances With Wolves
. He also turned in excellent work in pseudo-Westerns such as crime flick The Untouchables
(watch it again - it wears the clothes of The Godfather
but has the heart of High Noon
!) and Eastwood's modern day crime thriller A Perfect World
. He has recently won acclaim and plaudits (more of that later) on the small screen in Western mini-series Hatfields & McCoys
. But my personal favorite is Costner's 2003 film Open Range
, where Costner and Robert Duvall take on Michael Gambon and his villainous ranchers in one of the greatest showdown's in Hollywood history. Costner plays a little against type here as a loner cattleman with a violent past he is trying to forget. But when push comes to shove, this guy is not someone to cross... just the way Kevin instigated the final shootout deserves some kind of bad-ass award
. The film is loaded with simmering tension that spills into gritty, blood-splattered violence - and I will always put this film forward as a prime exhibit of Costner's greatness.
Oh, and did you know he's in a country band called Kevin Costner and Modern West? You can't get more cowboy than that!
"If you build it, they will come..."
"Famous for Killing Each Other"
And then there was the sports movie - a genre of movie that usually bring out the praise and admiration that critics tend to forget with all the other genres, when looking back at Costner's career so far. Take the world-weary veteran Crash Davis in Bull Durham. A character with such easy-going charm that it was hard to fathom that this was the same guy that brought us the straight-laced Elliot Ness - the explosive heat between Kevin and Susan Sarandon was thermo-nuclear in intensity. Baseball would prove to be a familiar stomping ground for our Kev (he even owned his own team for a while) - his character in The Upside of Anger was a former pro baseball player, while For Love of the Game (a film I love to torture the wife with) saw Costner bring a poignancy and humility to his baseball lifer at the end of his career. And then there is Field of Dreams... Usually to be found on everyone's Favorite Films of All Time lists. Phil Alden Robinson's fairy tale for men never fails to bring a tear to even the most red necked of alpha males - this writer included. But it's not just baseball that Costner was a pro at - his driving range slacker in Ron Shelton's Tin Cup relied on that country-boy charisma channeled in their previous collaboration Bull Durham, winning over Rene Russo's disapproving psychiatrist as well as the stuffy green jackets at the US Open. And now Costner has added pro football to the mix with Draft Day. And just as the tag line says, the greatest victories are not always on the field.
Now I can already hear you muttering to yourselves. And yes it is quite obvious that a severe man crush is an easy diagnosis for this outpouring of Costner-love. Don't think I have turned a blind eye to the less savory of Kevin's ouvre - I am just able to seek out the good stuff from the reams of dross surrounding it. OK, so The Bodyguard may have got some attention at the box office, but it was clear that Costner and Whitney Houston had zero chemistry (though the fact that Houston's character wins the Best Actress Oscar was probably the biggest hurdle audiences had to overcome). But some of the set-pieces still hold up, with a special mention to the lakeside cabin shootout as our hero pursues a would-be assassin - the closed-eyes marksmanship in the woods is just so cool! Box office disappointment Waterworld may have just been a simple Mad Max on jetskis, but the thrills are positively buzzing - the Smokers' attack on the atoll and the ensuing tri-maran pursuits are some of the finest stunt work and action put on recent film. And then there is the bloated vanity project The Postman...
OK, that is one I can't rescue.
But regardless, I hope I have given you enough evidence for a re-evaluation of this fine actor and his body of work. When someone says Dragonfly, you say Thirteen Days... When they yell Message in a Bottle, you retort Mr. Brooks... And if they dare mention Rumor Has it..., we all scream NO WAY OUT!
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my #1 draft pick of Hollywood... And if you don't like it, well... You guys can have Dane Cook instead.
"Then it begins!"
"When I say, "Jump!", you say, "How high?" - got it? Got it?! Take it and stick it in your fucking head!"
As Vanessa Williams once sang, I've gone and saved the best for last... At least, in my opinion I have. Hans "Dolph" Lundgren is perhaps the most maligned of my Deadly 3 Killing Machines - his movies are among the worst reviewed ever and he has rarely played in the big leagues in terms of film budget and scale when compared to Van Damme and Seagal. Former sparring partner Stallone (Rocky IV) brought Dolph back in from the cold recesses of DTV film making with The Expendables movies, but by and large he has remained on the straight-to-video scene. There is a fair argument that this is partly due to a poor selection of scripts that came his way, but that would take away the joy of some of the most bonkers, all-out loony actioners that Dolph has brought to audiences - with considerable mono-syllabic style too, if I may add!
I will never forget the joys of first watching Lundgren as one of my all-time childhood gods - He-Man - in Gary Goddard's 1987 toyline adaptation Masters of the Universe. There was my cartoon hero in full flesh-and-blood glory, and Dolph was immense: 6 foot 5 inches of beautiful blond hair, greased torso and mountainous biceps (yes, serious man-crush here)! Here was a living, breathing deity in my young eyes. I had to wait a few years before I could enjoy the rest of Dolph's cinematic adventures as they would prove to be considerably higher in blood-letting and bone-snapping mayhem. But thanks to my trusted VHS player and some liberal-minded relations, I became a staunch defender in Camp Lundgren. This is a man with an IQ close to 160, won a Fulbright Scholarship to M.I.T. and holds a 3rd dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate. A former male model and bouncer who has portrayed everything from the aforementioned superhuman from Eternia, a KGB killing machine with a conscience (Red Scorpion), A Marvel vigilante (The Punisher), a re-animated Vietnam vet super-soldier (Universal Soldier, alongside Van Damme) and a maniacal street-preacher turned deranged hitman (Johnny Mnemonic). These days, he has taken on a jack-of-all-trades approach by taking on the directing, writing and producing roles with every new movie that is released. There is no doubt in my mind that Dolph Lundgren deserves a full re-appraisal of his work, particularly when his films could get onto the cinema screens - and I have selected two of my favourites that showcase the man from Stockholm at his ass-kicking best!
Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)
"Hell sucked - We are back!"
Director: Mark L. Lester
Tagline: One's a warrior... One's a wise guy... They're two L.A. cops going after a gang of drug lords. Feet First.
Plot: American cop raised in Japan Chris Kenner teams up with motormouth new partner Johnny Murata to take down the dreaded Yakuza as they plot to take control of the drugs trade. For Kenner, the battle becomes personal as he discovers the Oyabun is none other than the man who murdered his parents...
Mark L. Lester's buddy actioner is a perfect introduction into the mad world of Dolph Lundgren. Despite a poor box office showing upon release and the interference of distributors Warner Brothers to try & re-edit it to feature more of Brandon Lee, this remains a true Dolph picture - showcasing his on-screen charisma (yes, it is there people!) and physical presence to full effect while trading quips with partner Lee and trading blows with just about every Oriental actor working in Hollywood at this time. Lester's previous form (he helmed Commando with Arnie and Class of 1999 - another maligned B-movie ripe for re-appraisal) put Lundgren in trusted hands and the full force of Lundgren (and Lee) are put to satisfying bloody effect. It is no wonder the censors had a hard time with this - people are beheaded, stabbed in almost medical detail, heads are literally blown apart from shotgun blasts... This is a pretty violent movie, even by B movie standards. And then there is the gratuitous female nudity (let's face it, women are mostly objects in these movies - here we have naked girls used as tables to dine off!). But for a red-blooded hetero male, you cannot beat the sight of Tia Carrere in all her glory as she gives Dolph a good going over to the strains of the "Sex-ophone" love music - that should convince anyone who fell in love with Carrere in Wayne's World to grab a copy ASAP! "I'm gonna enjoy being dead for a while."
The sheer scale of ridiculousness is played out in full here - something that defines most of Dolph's early work. In an early scene, we see our hero avoid a speeding car heading straight at him by literally leaping over it! Oh yeah, boy! Our hero has built his own traditional Japanese home in Los Angeles, only for the scumbag Yakuza goons to burn it to the ground (do they know who they're fucking with??!). And when we get to the final titular showdown with head villain Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (one of the meanest bad guys of all time in the B movies), Dolph gets kitted out in full Samurai garb! Even Brandon Lee, despite being the son of the icon Bruce, cannot fail to be impressed by our hero - his admiration of Dolph's "meaty katana" (already mentioned in this article's introduction) is the perfect example of the homoerotic undertones that lay beneath the surface in every Hollywood buddy cop movie! The violence is savage and efficient (little slo-mo time-wasting here, thank you Mr. Van Damme!), the dialogue is snappy and preposterous (Brandon Lee steals most of the great lines in this picture - another harsh reminder of the charismatic talent that was lost to us far too soon) and Dolph displays his chiseled Swedish muscles to glorious, hard-hitting effect. I urge you to grab a copy & watch it - you will not regret it!
END CREDITS POWER BALLAD: None
(Seriously disappointing, considering that David Michael Frank's score that plays over the credits is ripe for some vocal emoting - someone get Peter Cetera on the line!)
Dark Angel / I Come in Peace (1990)
"Fuck you, Space-man!"
Director: Craig R. Baxley
Tagline: He came in search of a drug so rare it could only be found in one place... Man.
Plot: American cop Jack Caine teams up with by-the-book FBI agent Larry Smith to take down a gang of white collar drug lords, only to discover that an alien warrior has landed on Earth to harvest a drug from the brains of humans for consumption on his own planet. For Caine, the battle becomes personal when his partner is murdered...
One of my fondest memories from my childhood was catching a TV spot for Craig R. Baxley's riotous sci-fi action flick just before I went to bed for the night. The images that were conjured up were absolutely mind-blowing - a white-eyed Vigo the Carpathian look-alike shooting CDs at our man Dolph, who retaliates by firing an automatic space-gun and blowing up everything in sight! It was only 30 seconds of violent ecstasy but it lingered long in the mind for many days afterwards - I was absolutely gutted that I couldn't see it back then! In fact, I would have to wait another 20 years before the joys of Dark Angel were finally released on DVD and I grabbed a copy as soon as I could. Without hesitation, this is my all time favorite Dolph Lundgren actioner - bar none. Everything you could ever want in an action movie is here - white collar drug dealers, alien drug dealers, by-the-book partners, alien policemen, a beautiful girlfriend demanding more relationship commitment, a powered hosepipe-thing to pump heroin into homeless people and sexy female mechanics... There is something for everyone to love here! "Now THAT"S a murder weapon!"
Unlike in Showdown...
Dolph is never outshined by his co-stars here. Brian Benben's straight laced partner is just the foil for our hero's alpha male character to butt heads with, while the earth-bound villains the White Boys are just rent-a-baddies to offer mild threat to our hero. But when Matthias Hues' striking alien drug lord descends on to the scene, we truly believe that Dolph may have finally met his match. Baxley's background in stuntwork comes in very handy when it comes to the action scenes, and these are the most explosive yet in my selection. There is an explosion almost every five minutes, be it cars, gas refineries or even intergalactic space-coppers combusting. The guns don't just fire bullets, but WAVES of bullets. Our antagonist fires razor-sharp CD-looking discs at our heroes - a use of music paraphernalia that rivals Shaun of the Dead
's record throwing antics. And Dolph is thrown around the scenes like a patchwork doll by Hues - something considerably difficult to convince when our guy looms so large on screen. There is a considerable amount of humour injected into the script here, as well as a love story element with Betsy Brantley's lovelorn coroner girlfriend - all allowing Dolph to do more than just kick serious ass. But don't you think our boy has grown soft (not likely, given Betsy's smile after a night of passion with Dolph) - Dark Angel
is still a full-on all-action smackdown of the highest order. Don't believe it when the bad guy tells you, "I come in peace"... But believe Dolph when he says, "And you go in pieces, asshole!" Simply one of the very best in B-movie heaven!END CREDITS POWER BALLAD: Touch Me Tonight (Shooting Star)(No this is more like it! A power ballad that has nothing to do with the film - perfection!)
Even more awesome picture!
Tough talk: "This is for my wife... Fuck you and die!"
Who would win in a fight between Van Damme and Seagal? Just one of those typical playground scenarios that gave us kids an insight to our tastes and choices of movies. Like the whole Sly vs. Arnie debate (for the record, I was on Arnie's side back in the day), many vocally aggressive arguments for and against each cinematic killing machine were fought, without ever offering a definite solution to the question posed. Yet for all of JCVD's spectacular high kicks and Bruce Lee-type overt facial contortions, I always fell onto the side of Steven Seagal. The economy of movement and speed offered up by being a 7th degree black belt in Aikido never failed to convince me that in a true mano-e-mano dust-up, Seagal could put Van Damme to the floor with little effort on his part.
Well, at least before he got fat anyway...
OK that was a cheap shot, but it is a fairly common statement among action aficionados that Seagal's waistline expanded as his movie budgets go smaller. He certainly hasn't lost any of his direct approach to martial arts action, but perhaps physically he hasn't aged quite as well as Van Damme or Lundgren and his DTV actioners are weaker than before. No matter, because we are still left with a wealth of 80s and 90s action classics that offer up solid proof that when it came to slick and spare hard-hitting mayhem, no-one could beat the whispering fists and constant on-screen invulnerability of Steven Frederic Seagal - the Clint Eastwood of martial arts cinema.
The two films I chose to comment on for this article are not even my favourite of Segal's movies (I hold a very special place in my heart for the Under Siege movies), but these are two of the best examples of Seagal's filmic style before he got the chance to play on a naval battleship. It must not be forgotten that until he got too big for his own boots with the environmental actioner On Deadly Ground (from where his star began to wane), every one of Seagal's movies turned a substantial profit - distributors Warner Brothers played it very smart when they unleashed this lethal force onto our screens!
Nico/Above The Law (1988)
"You guys think you're above the law... Well you ain't above mine."
Director: Andrew Davis
Tagline: "He's a cop who believes that no-one is above the law..."
Plot: Italian American former CIA agent turned cop (with strong links to the Mafia) investigates drugs, corruption and illeagal arms trading on the mean streets of Chicago, using lethal Aikido skills learned as a young man in Japan...
Steven Seagal exploded onto the big screen in spectacular fashion with Nico (or Above The Law as it was called elsewhere) and brought a whole new dimension to martial arts cinema. It is an impressive debut, especially since Segal has not even featured in another movie prior to this. He even gets a story credit here - the man certainly went for gold here. Seagal is Nico Toscani (the first of many fantastic character names!) who chooses to fight political and governmental greed and corruption by largely breaking faces and kicking ass with deadly aikido acumen. Toscani's back story even mirrors Seagal's to a degree, with the use of photos from his youth as a young student in Japan. This is a truly audacious introduction to both the man and his artistry, which is deployed in regular fashion in the seedy bars and parking lots of downtown Chicago. The brutal speed of his moves and the ease at which the dumb evil scumbags were taken down made for a refreshing alternative to the high-kicking slo-mo antics of his contemporaries. But Toscani is also a family man too - with a new wife and baby son in the picture. What's this? A caring, family-orientated lethal killing machine?! I'm sold! "Swallow your pride... Choke on it if you have to."
Seagal is also surround by some solid professionals in both cast and crew. The film was helmed by veteran B-picture director Andrew Davis (who would re-team with Seagal to even greater effect in Under Siege), who shoots the action sequences with simple framing and a lovely refrain on hyper-edited jump-cutting - Davis knew all too well that Seagal's technique needed no embellishing. In the cast, Henry Silva adds another straight-from Hell asshole villain to his collection, while Sharon Stone is the lucky gal who gets to play our hero's lady. True, she and token female cop partner Pam Grier have little to do except be the eye-candy to all this testosterone, but hey! We paid to see a man throw a guy into a wall without even flinching - and we get that and then some! Story-wise, Nico has considerable amount of plot details - more than you would usually expect from this type of action film. it won't win any awards for originality - far, far from it - but it was clear to all that with Nico, action cinema had found a new hero... And with an introduction like this, we were rubbing our hands with glee at what lay around the corner.
END CREDITS POWER BALLAD: None - a poor show indeed.
(Somebody get Peter Cetera on the line!)
Out For Justice (1991)
"Yeah, but Richie ain't here! Know why? 'Cause he's a chicken-shit fuckin' pussy asshole!"
Director: John Flynn
Tagline: "He's a cop. It's a dirty job... But somebody's got to take out the garbage."
Plot: Italian-American cop (with strong links to the Mafia) investigates murder, corruption and animal cruelty on the mean streets of New York, using lethal Aikido skills that were probably learned as a young man in Japan...
Even by his own standards, Out For Justice is excessive in its brutality - verbal and physical. Steven Seagal's mullet from Nico has evolved into a slick 90s pony tail, and like Sampson his lethal hands have gotten more deadly! As the exotically-named Detective Gino Felino (sounds like an ice-cream), Seagal metes out bloody-fisted justice as he investigates the brutal shooting of his partner - right in front of his wife and kids. Said psycho is William Forsythe, a regular on the B movie nut-job circuits. Forsythe's Richie Maldano is one of his mega-scumbags, but being a fat, drugged up dickless wonder he is way out of his depth when it comes to Gino Ginelli - sorry, Gino Felino. Segal is on indestructible mode here - in one classic sequence, Gino enters an establishment belonging to Richie's brother Vinnie (Italian-American families in the movies have limited imaginations when naming their children), and proceeds to interrogate everyone in the bar - mostly with his fists and occasionally using a billiard cue and a cue ball/napkin cosh. The combination of martial arts brutality and the mere stupidity of the stooges he throws around (don't they know who they are messing with?!) makes for one of Seagal's best moments on the big screen. "Vinnie! How you doin'?"
Director John Flynn may not have the panache of Davis with Nico
, but he sure has an eye for brutality and lingers long on the gory results of Gino's interrogations. But like Davis before him, he lets Seagal be his own man - leaving the shots un-interrupted as every arm-twist and every neck-break hits the pain target with viscious efficiency. Once again, the action is mainly confined to seedy bars, even seedier strip joints the grimy streets of Brooklyn. OK, so most of the non-violent moments involve Seagal walking around simply asking where Ritchie is - the only noticeable change of delivery is in the location. And the violent scenes are like pretty much all of Seagal's scenes to date (this was the last of his urban actioners before the sea-bound antics of Under Siege
let Segal really fly). But the unusual screen charisma is on full display here - the line delivery is truly unique to Seagal and makes every word have a deeper meaning (!!!) than they would have with any other actor. The cast includes solid character actors such as Jerry Orbach, Juliana Margolies and Gina Gershon (as well as soft-core goddesses Julie Strain and Shannon Whirry), the plot takes a couple of nice little turns as Gino punches and judo-throws his way to the truth and our hero even manages to save his marriage and re-unite his family through righteous killing and excessive use of force... Add in the rose-tinted stories about the homeland and a cute puppy and you have the hallmarks of a true Seagal classic... Just be sure not to throw your unwanted dog out the car window, as Gino might just throw you through the tarmac!END CREDITS POWER BALLAD: Don't Stand In My Way (Gregg Allman)(Seagal makes up for no power ballad in Nico by co-writing and co-producing this country-rock masterpiece - what a guy!)
Tough Talk: "Now take your pig-stick and your boyfriend - and find a bus to catch."
Jean-Claude Van Damme was the first guy to introduce me to the glorious world of martial arts action movies. Sure, I would go on to watch some of the masters at work, indulging in the likes of Eastern megastars Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Sammo Hung and Yuen Bio. But it was a late night screening of Van Damme's 1989 smack-classic Kickboxer to get my high-kicking, judo throwing addiction of to a hard-hitting start. This guy was incredible when I was 12 and fitted right into my burgeoning love of action movies. Heavy European accent? Check. Weak line delivery? Check. Muscled up to the wazoo? Check! The hard hitting training sequences (wait till I got to Jackie Chan!), the patented splits move, the flying roundhouse kick with a contorted look of pained aggression! I loved every sweat-beaded minute!
Van Damme was probably the biggest star of the Deadly 3 on my list. He got to play with some pretty hefty budgets in the mid-90s, with the likes of Timecop, Sudden Death and Street Fighter (let's forget about that one!). But the two movies I have chosen showcase the two different types of action movie that Van Damme specialized in at the early parts of his career - the martial arts contest movie and the gun-toting action movie (with a bit of martial arts thrown in). Just watching them again has got my childhood memories racing back to me... Once I managed to stop laughing so hard!
"Aren't you a little old to be playing videogames?"
Director: Newt Arnold
Tagline: The true story of an American Ninja
Plot: American (with a Belgian accent) goes AWOL from the Army and travels to Hong Kong, to compete in the Kumite - a secret underground martial arts contest where fighters from all countries with all styles duke it out to be the ultimate warrior. American wishes to honor his Japanese father (!!!) and become the 1st Westerner to reign supreme!
How have I never seen this one all the way through before? I had seen bits and bobs when it was broadcast on the box, but the DVD has been sitting in my collection, lying dormant, waiting for its time to strike... And what a movie it is! Everything you could love about Van Damme is laid out in all its glory here. Frank Dux is the first in a long line of foreign-accented American heroes that JCVD would portray throughout his career. But here we have him in one of his earliest leading roles - still a little green, and with his boyish good looks at their prettiest. Anyone who says the man cannot act... Well, they may be right, but there is no arguing that he has certainly improved to some degree at least. But despite this, there is never any doubt about Van Damme's star power here - especially when he makes his physical presence felt with tendon-stretching training montages and brick breaking martial arts skills that defy the laws of physics! Kumite! Kumite!
Van Damme has it all in this movie. He beds the hot journalist (wasn't she Marcia Brady??) within minutes of meeting her - a token JCVD butt shot for the ladies. He leads the pursuing FBI agents (wow, that's Forest Whittaker!) on a Benny Hill-style foot chase to a cheesy 80s power ballad. He befriends a dumb-ass brawler who is put in hospital by the Big Bad of the film (he even gives him a kiss to help him feel better!) before taking on the aforementioned Big Bad in the final fight to end them all! I was crying with laughter all the way through the movie. Van Damme's wide-eyed hero makes for a likeable hero, but you can only be as good as your baddie - and here we have the great Bolo Yeung dusting off against our champion ("You break my record... Now I break you, like I break your friend!"). The cheating scumbag uses every trick he can to gain the upper hand - even throw pixie dust or some shit our hero's eyes. But Van Damme doesn't need sight - he has trained all his other senses to near-superhero level. And now he will bring on the PAIN!
Of all of Van Damme's martial arts contest movies, this really takes the biscuit. Sure, Kickboxer
has the infamous Glass-and-Nails glove fight, but this is way more fun that that! And here we see the physical skills and abilities of Van Damme in full force... All of which promised that some fabulous movies were about to head our way!
END CREDITS POWER BALLAD: Fight to Survive (Stan Bush)
Double Impact (1991)
"Maybe I'm drunk - tomorrow I'll be sober... BUT YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A FAGGOT!"
Director: Sheldon Lettich
Tagline: One packs a punch... One packs a piece... Together they deliver!
Plot: Separated at birth after the death of their British parents, one grows up in LA (with a Belgian accent) while the other grows up in Hong Kong (with a Belgian accent). They meet, fight, fall out and then join up to take down the awful Triad gangsters and corporate traitors to avenge their folks & get back their tunnel-building legacy!
So I follow up Bloodsport with a different kettle of fish from Van Damme. Here is a good example of the type of action movie that all of the Deadly 3 would produce - only JCVD really did the whole martial arts contest thing. But here we have a straight up actioner with a wonderful added bonus... TWO VAN DAMMES FOR THE PRICE OF ONE! This was a real VHS favorite in our household (well, at least for me!) and I would always put this forward as an introduction to Van Damme to my Muscles From Brussels virgin mates. Double Impact is the first of many collaborations with Sheldon Lettich, but for my money this is still the best. You gotta love JCVD for trying the dual role thing here - his limited acting range means the only real difference between the twin heroes Chad and Alex is that one wears black silk underwear and the other slicks back his hair with motor oil (or some other tough guy hair product). But hey! We are not here to criticize our man's acting chops... We just wanna see him kicking chops - repeatedly. And we get that & then some, thanks to one brother's penchant for punches and the other's predilection for firearms. "Didn't I beat you last time?"
This movie is just awesome! Some of the editing choices are really dodgy and they make for excellent entertainment. I mean, nearly every action sequence is shot in slow motion... Completely! That is fine when you are John Woo, but when you are Sheldon Lettich it means your movie is probably 15 minutes longer than it needs to be thanks to all the slo-mo... Although watching Van Damme smash a glass of cognac with his hands in slow motion does make him ten times more manly! There is also one of the GREATEST sex scenes in the movies of all time, with Van Damme and pneumatic love interest Alonna Shaw gyrating in exquisite blue-lit soft focus (this is a fantasy sex scene, naturally) to jungle drum music on a boat - JCVD grunts and moans like a constipated hippo as he thrusts in SLOW MOTION and she just breathes heavily in his direction. Poetry - pure poetry in motion.
Anyway, back to the action - and time to talk about the Big Bads. In Double Impact
we have villains coming out of our ears here. We have our main baddies in Griffith the treacherous financier that took out the hit on our heroes' beloved parents and Zhang the Triad mobster who buys bootleg cognac off Alex and carries a blade in his walking stick (that old chestnut!). Philip Chan makes a welcome return after a bit part in Bloodsport here, but he isn't the only one to return from the previous film... Yep, Bolo Yeung is back baby! Here he has a beautiful scar and a single blue eye contact to really Bond-villain him up, and if anything he has gotten even bigger! There is a fabulous dust-up between Bolo (or Moon, as he is so lamely called here) and Chad - mostly featuring Bolo trying to crush Chad with an oil drum and Chad returning the favour with some non-stop roundhouse kicks! Then there is the guy who only knows how to do a roundhouse kick - but he always wears spurs, making his heels true instruments of death!
But the real baddie highlight for me was Cory Everson as Kara, Griffith's muscular lesbian bodyguard. In truth I have never had a thing for muscle women but Cory could have smacked me down any day! Dressed in tight bondage leather and sporting dark red hair, this villainous bitch has the nerve to touch up our hero's girl and then offer her body to her in return! I was so jealous when I was 13! And don't get me started on the bit where she wraps her legs around Van Damme's head in a choke hold - that would be a real way to die like a man!Double Impact
was a significant success for Van Damme (he is even credited as co-screenwriter!) and his budgets only got bigger throughout the 90s. But I never forgot this movie and it remained a repeat performer on our TV for many years afterwards!
END CREDITS POWER BALLAD: Feel the Impact (Gen)
"Kenner, just in case we get killed, I wanted to tell you - you have the biggest dick I've ever seen on a man."
"Thanks. I don't know what to say."
Brandon Lee chooses a great moment to voice his admiration for Dolph Lundgren's natural assets - just as the Yakuza are about to launch a full scale assault on their hideout in Showdown in Little Tokyo.
Yes - this exchange happens right before a major gunfight. And what a great exchange it is... A perfect blend of homoerotic undertone, blatant lead actor ego-boosting and total irrelevance to the plot or action.
Welcome to the world of the B-grade action superstars!
Thanks to the valiant efforts of big hitters like Stallone and Schwarzenegger in The Expendables films, we have seen the big screen return of Lundgren, Van Damme, Snipes, Norris - some of the most notorious secondary action stars of the 80s and 90s. But back in their testosterone-induced Alpha male heyday, while Sly and Arnie were gunning down swathes of Soviet army scum and intergalactic human-hunters in droves, these were the "Other Guys"; the lower budget action heroes that mainly focused on taking on drug dealers, foreign gangsters and corrupt cops. The violence was at times more brutal and bone-crunching, and martial arts were always the main weapons of choice.
In one way I always felt sorry for them. These guys rarely had the budgets or the (try not to laugh) writing to fully support their endeavors in the quest for Box Office domination. The standards set by the Big Two left a high watermark in audience expectation that these boys would struggle to match. But what they may lack in scale, they more than made up for with fury ... These boys didn't need anti-tank missiles and four-way rocket launchers - they had their fists! These guys could take out the entire Mafia with just one roundhouse kick! Danny Glover would have to register them ALL as lethal weapons!
And I could not think of a better way to spend this wet and miserable Bank Holiday than by indulging in my favourite 3 Killing Machines - Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren. I have picked two movies from each of these demi-gods of kill - two movies that I believe reflect the very best of their low-grade genius and charisma. These will never be on anyone's Must See movie list, but to ignore them would be to miss out on something special.
It is a real shame that these boys have been largely consigned to the small screen. Yes, The Expendables may have given these DTV superstars a trip back to the big screen, but they are largely just extended cameos. And yes, their movies are poor in terms of writing, character development and structure - sticking to pre-conscribed motives and methods. But they are GLORIOUSLY bad movies, with no hint of irony or wit and yet they can be the funniest things you will ever see! So I suggest you grab your nearest four-pack of beer, send the lady off to the mall and I invite you to re-assess your prejudices and give these boys another shake of the action stick!
First up, we have Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg. He is the Muscles From Brussels himself...
JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME.
"Hey dude - This is no cartoon!"
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Well imagine my surprise when box office headlines from the last weekend
screamed about the success of Platinum Dunes' recent blockbuster revamp Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
broke records to be a financial success and the production company hurriedly releasing statements about a sequel already being in the works... It is so difficult to put irony into text, but please believe me - it is there. As usual, the internet became awash with blue language and violent threats (it always amazes me how tough people become when they think they are cloaked in anonymity, thanks to the Web) - aimed primarily at brain-free film juggernaut Michael "The Bayhem" Bay. Not since the days of Ed Wood has so much vitriol been spouted in the direction of one film maker.
Now before I go any further, I must make a statement for any defense I must put forward letter on.
I am in no way a Bayhem fan or supporter in any respect... I do not share his views, politically, ethically - whatever. So please do not hold it against me when I say this:-
IT IS ALL YOUR OWN FAULT.Now before you all reach for the keyboards and re-direct that Bay-hate towards me, please let me explain. I am sure that not EVERYONE is responsible for what I'm about to discuss. And yet I strongly suspect that the majority will realize that they are guilty of aiding Mr. Bay in his quest for your hard-earned pennies. Many movie-goers in the present day seem to attend screenings of all the big blockbusters from Hollywood with the intense suspicion that they will dislike the film they are about to spend a fair chunk of cash on. It can't have escaped anyone when people talk about going to see "Marvel DC Comic Adaptation IV: The Scraping of the Barrel" and exclaim to their friends that, "It's probably gonna be crap!" This is completely baffling to me... Why would you go pay a ridiculous amount of money on a cinema ticket and a stupid amount of popcorn, candy and fizzy pop if you are not going to be entertained?The only answer that I can fathom is that people LOVE going to see movies they will hate! Now this sounds awfully self-defeating, but it would explain so much. If there is one thing the Internet has taught us, it is that people love to throw their two cents into the ring about anything and everything. I mean, even I am guilty of this - how could my blog even exist if that was not the case?! With the ease that blogs and comment pages are set up these days, we see an explosion of opinions and arguments everywhere we look. So it is hardly a stretch of the imagination to suggest that an inflated sense of self-importance and vanity is easily filtered into pop culture and music, with film and TV producers feeding that demand with glee. Film making is a business as well as an art (perhaps it is more business than art, but that is another argument entirely!). The world is still recovering from a catastrophic financial downturn and so savvy film producers have taken properties already out in the zeitgeist and remade or "re-imagined" old movies, comics, whatever - happy in the knowledge that they are in a "Win-Win" situation... The lovers will come to see the film and love it, the haters will come to the film so they can hate it. This cannot be an alien concept (especially if someone like Megan Fox understands this)? And can you imagine what will happen if a sequel is put out? Think of the money that can be made!The funniest thing about this situation is that the viewers have the power to make or break these films more than ever! If all those Michael Bay haters had just left TMNT alone and seen something else, the threat of a sequel would have become laughably small! But this is Michael Bay's true gift - he knows that no matter what he does, people will come see his movies regardless. Not one of his films have lost money - that is a cold, hard fact. So when people lament about how they cannot believe that Bay keeps getting movies madden, perhaps a little inward attention would give you the reasons as to why.
It really isn't too difficult. I remember the discussions that came around when José Padilha's remake of Robocop
came around earlier this year. People were coming up to me and telling me it is gonna be garbage but they would still go see this. When I was asked if I had seen it, I stated that I had not. This was something of a surprise to people, as they knew how much I love the movies and they couldn't grasp why I was so un-interested. And yet my response was easily explained - for me, a remake of Paul Verhoeven's 80's classic cannot offer anything that I cannot get from the peerless original. I believed it to be a pointless exercise and I still stand by that. To this day I have still not seen it, and so I cannot say whether the remake is any good or not. But thanks to the relatively weak showing the film had at the cinemas (it made a little money, but not nearly as much as people had expected), a sequel would appear unlikely.
You see how you can stop all this? If all the haters just temper their curiosity and stay in for a change, perhaps we could all be spared the travesty of so many producers running slipshod over some of our personal favorites? It certainly is food for thought, at the very least.
It is certainly something I will be thinking about when I go see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Bayhem Redux
(Please don't hate me - I enjoyed the 1990 original movie as a kid, but it was hardly a classic, so I wanna see what Bay's boys have done... And I reckon I'm gonna enjoy it!)
"DIck, I'm VERY disappointed..."
"Well, I'm afraid you've caught me with more than my hands up."
James Bond (Sean Connery)
"No way!" ... "It can't be!" ... "How did they get that?" ... Nobody does it better...
It was one of those wonderful moments of pure, unadulterated genius in entertainment. I was merely one of 27 million other viewers in the UK watching as Danny Boyle's opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics played out live across the globe. And within the first 25 minutes, as five iron Olympic rings are forged in the arena and Kenneth Brannagh's Brunel delivered Capitan's "Be not afeared" speech to the masses, that huge wave of skepticism that had swept the nation leading up to the event had been brushed aside with aplomb. But what happened next just took my (and everyone around me) breath away...
007 himself, as played by Daniel Craig, and HRH Queen Elizabeth II, as played by HERSELF, parachuted into the Olympic Stadium... Wow!
Danny Boyle and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce had fully captured the audience's attention with one of this decade's biggest pop-culture talking points. But what grabbed me the most was this sense of re-appraisal for Daniel Craig's Bond and how he fits in the 007 canon, for here was a character trait on clear display to millions that many critics have noted as AWOL in recent films... self-reverential humor.
Sinclair McKay's recent article for The Telegraph The man with the Midas touch...
discusses the recent comments from former 007 alumnus John Cleese, where the one-time 'Q' decried the loss of his role in the films as the film makers wished to pursue a more action-orientated and gritty style. McKay argues that Cleese may be correct in his criticism. Pointing to the heavy influence of the Asian film markets as a factor, McKay analyzes the more raw, violent and cynical ingredients that are at the core of the Craig incarnation. The perceived demand for more bloodletting and bone-crunching from both Asian and American teenagers leaves viewers with a 007 that may be more human and vulnerable, but more dour and solemn than perhaps he should be. McKay's article mourns the loss of those knowing asides and double-entendre that oozed with charismatic charm from the great Sean Connery and Roger Moore in the Bonds of the 60s and 70s. And while he does acknowledge the increasing lapses in broad Carry On buffoonery towards the end of their tenures, he believes that the humor was key to the character's being - a wink to the ridiculousness of British pomposity in these post-colonial times.
Is he right? Are we taking this all far too seriously? This is a topic that I approach with great ambivalence, as I am a true Bond-phile. It was a Bank Holiday broadcast (A bit of a tradition here in the UK) of Goldfinger
that got me dreaming of a life in movies. Connery was so debonair and suave, dressed impeccably as he defeated the most evil villains on the planet - and all whilst driving the most beautiful cars in the world and making love to the most beautiful women around. But that was then and this is now... Is that Bond even relevant any more? Commentators have pointed to the source material - Ian Fleming's spy novels - as evidence both for and against the argument for self-effacing humor. McKay is right on the money when he points out that despite the seriousness and sincerity that Fleming weaved into his adventure stories, there is no doubt that he also imbued them with larger-than-life bad guys, women with adult-rated names and death-defying situations that tested a viewer's suspension of disbelief. The books have their tongues wedged permanently into their cheeks.
But McKay is not always right, and he certainly can't have it all his own way. When his discussion moves to the subject of film ratings, McKay states that the Bond films of the past were never rated above Parental Guidance (PG). Yes, Roger and Sean used quips and puns to soften the horrors of man-monsters like Oddjob and Jaws, as well as the act of killing and aggression, but those violent actions that McKay lamented about the recent Bond films were all present and correct in Connery and Moore's interpretations. In Dr. No, Connery shoots an unarmed man repeatedly in cold blood. In For Your Eyes Only Moore callously sends another unarmed henchman over a cliff in a car with a merciless kick as it lays perched on the edge. And these are just two moments of extreme violence which may not be as bloodthirsty in portrayal, but is still as cold-blooded as it can get. Yes the humor is deployed to diffuse the nasty tone but this man, for want of a better description, is a licensed killer - someone who has authority to kill with extreme prejudice. And no amount of quipping can cancel that out completely. This is the end...
McKay surprisingly makes no mention of Timothy Dalton's interpretation of the character in his article. Seen by some at the time as a disappointing Bond, Dalton's back-to-basics approach after the high-camp of the latter Moore films is heralded by many hardcore Bond fans as the best version of the British spy. And yet there is no escaping the fact that in terms of box office, The Living Daylights and License To Kill were disappointments. Some have argued that Dalton's ruthless efficiency was ahead of his time (considering how Bond is today, Dalton may have been more successful now), while others contest that Bond was far too serious and that audiences craved that light-relief that the humor brought. McKay's viewpoint seems aligned with the latter case and I find it strange that there is no mention of that in his article. The answer to its absence could lie in the evidence that is found in the Pierce Brosnan range of movies. Now Bosnian was superb as Bond, and he brought an emotional side to the character - yes, James Bond does have feelings! But when you look at his films, particularly his swansong Die Another Day, the humor has not aged well, with some of the lines barely a single entendre, let alone a double-entendre.
McKay has also omitted one of the most influential factors to the change in the Bond character and it is a real-life event that changed so much. 9/11 will remain one of the defining moments in human history. The sheer volume of tragedy and destruction that occurred changed attitudes and feelings about the world of cloak and dagger forever... And this cannot be ignored. Perhaps the days of a man mercilessly dispatching a hood could not be dismissed with any pithy comeback or retort. Dial down the gags, bring on the real. Many people (including Cleese himself) noted the recent rise of another spy on the big screen - Jason Bourne. The cynical and dour approach to espionage caught the public's imagination, where the villains were not always on the outside and were certainly not megalomaniacs living in huge underwater bases. The success of the Bourne franchise could not be ignored and the Bond franchise followed suit with re-launched with 2006's Casino Royale
- a straight, hard-edged and (for the large part) faithful adaptation of the book that started them all. McKay tries to use the key torture scene of LeChifre's bashing of Bond's genitals with a carpet beater as evidence for his case, but on the flip side the fact that this is straight out of the novel undermines him. The darkness was always there, Sinclair - how can you say that the films are too much when the proof is there for all to read?
Nonetheless McKay is right when he identifies the problems with Cleese's argument, however small those references are made. The most recent Bond film Skyfall
had a distinct and overt Britishness in design, and there is more than a nod to the 007 of old (bring on that DB9!). Recent announcements that long-time Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had been brought back from the cold and are taking a pass at John Logan's script for Bond 24
. While there has been no official word as to the reasons for their recent recruitment, the fact that shooting may now start later than had been anticipated points to the need to re-shape the script. It must also be noted that while Purvis and Wade have worked on all the Daniel Craig films, their biggest contribution to the franchise remains the latter Brosnan movies - and especially Die Another Day
. It would seem that humor seems to be the agenda for the writers as they come back on the grid. Perhaps that moment when Bond escorted the Queen by helicopter to the Olympic Games showed the producers that maybe it is time to let Bond have a little fun again. Is this the best way to take the franchise? Is it time Bond started quipping again? Only time will tell...
Just leave the invisible car, Madonna and the "thrusting" gags in the past...
A recent article published in The Guardian happened to catch my eye - it was entitled "Cult films: just bad movies in a good disguise?"
Now that is a headline that turns my head immediately; even more so when the picture below is a screen shot from 1986's John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China
. OK, an intriguing title for an article AND some talk about John Carpenter's East-meets-West genre mash-up? I'm hooked! What a shame then that my heart sank upon reading the sub-heading:
The 'Cult Classic' label can mean many things: from an underappreciated gem to an out-and-out stinker with sentimental value attached. But Big Trouble in Little China just sucks.
Ouch... "May the wings of liberty never lose a feather."
There is no denying it - this stung me. Big Trouble in Little China is, without hesitation, my favorite John Carpenter movie of all time. I'm not saying it is the best by any means, as it would be difficult to put BTiLC up against The Thing or Halloween. Nonetheless this remains my favorite movie that he has produced, so it will come as no surprise that I am about to put forward my case for the defense of this funny and subversive movie - as well as possibly enlightening a few on some of its more subtle pleasures.
The article's writer, Joe Queenan, is actually one of my favorite writers for The Guardian. And this piece is a great example of his work, with some excellent insight in the world of the cult movie and the inexplicable love these films create amongst their audiences. But time and again, he sticks the knife into BTiLC - occasionally twisting it a little to keep the wound from sealing. First of all, he decides to attack the movie's star, Kurt Russell. Talk about going for the kill!
"... he can't act, he walks and runs in an odd, lumbering way and he always sports the worst hair of the era that he happens to be living through. "
Yes, Mr Queenan is talking about the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated Kurt Russell! Now I know many will instantly leap to Russell's defense, citing Snake Plissken, Elvis and MacCready as roles that only he can play (the recent rumors of an Escape From New York reboot shows how vocal people are about it). But I put forward the very performance that is most under scrutiny here as the best example of Russell's skill as an actor - a Hollywood star cleverly subverting his own macho image. For those who have not seen BTiLC, (get a copy NOW!) skip to the next section as there may be spoilers here... But Russell's performance as Jack Burton is a brilliantly realized take on the American hero. Apart from a couple of key moments in the film, Burton is for all intent and purpose the idiotic sidekick. Dennis Dun's Wang Chi takes the lead in nearly all the major action sequences, but it is the blustering, philosophy-spouting American who is portrayed (mostly by himself, but also by everyone else!) as the main hero in spite of the evidence. On the DVD commentary, both Russell and Carpenter stress that this was by design, too. Russell is knowingly critiquing and mocking his macho background for laughs - and it works brilliantly. I would also be so bold as to suggest that Carpenter is taking a rather playful swing at American foreign policy here - all big guns and bravado, careening all over the place but managing to get the job done in the end and still getting painted as the hero! Jack Burton is one of Kurt Russell's finest creations BECAUSE he is self-deluded, dumb and rather useless in a fight (just like so many of us, including myself). "He says it's The Storms... The Three Storms..."
Oh, and by the way - Jean Claude Van Damme EASILY sports worse hair than Kurt Russell any day (I love Van Damme too, but that is another story).
One of the key factors for this response to Mr Qeenan's article is that there is no real reason stated for his dislike for BTiLC... He merely says that it sucks. Understandably there is little room for one film in a piece that covers cult movies as a genre of its own, so it seems fair to go back and look at how critics initially responded to the movie in order to grasp why some people dislike it so much. And yet the reviews are less sniff about the film than one might remember. In fact, many noted the conscious self-mockery that Carpenter and Russell are exuding on the screen - sending up every Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu cliché around. But Mr Queenan is certainly not alone when it comes to missing the gag, as even the late great Roger Ebert criticized the film for focusing too much on spectacle and effects than on character and story (doesn't this sound familiar when talking about big budget movies?). And in all fairness to them, they are not wrong sometimes. Even though I love BTiLC, there is definitely a lack of palpable danger to our adventurers - it all seems more of a fun rollercoaster than a nail-biting thrill ride (something Carpenter and Russell discuss on the commentary). There are a few gags that are really weak, even by my standards, and there are far too many secondary characters that seem to be there just to fill the screen space. Is it too much to ask, Thunder? Kill him, for me!"
However there is one key issue that critics like Mssrs Queenan and Ebert seem to miss - and that is regarding the American take on the martial arts film. Do not get me wrong, I am in now way claiming that BTiLC is even on the same planet as the great kung-Fu movies like Fist of Fury, Drunken Master or Once Upon a Time in China. But Carpenter was heavily influenced by the likes of the Shaw Brothers and Lo Wei, with the biggest influence on BTiLC being Tsui Hark's 1983 fantasy Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain - from its flying martial arts (to be made widely popular by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to its mystical warriors shooting lightening and thunderbolts at each other. For example Carpenter states that they didn't have the budget for complex wire work, hence the use of trampolines to show his characters flying through the air in mid-fight (for me, of the most endearing qualities of the movie). It is this love for, not disdain for, martial arts movies that is reflected for many on the screen and ramps up the enjoyment levels to the max.
My particular favorite topic that Mr Queenan picks up on is the unusual mindset that cult audiences have. He discusses the strong sense of both pride and privacy towards their cult movies. They wish for more people to appreciate these "masterpieces" as much as they do, but in private they don't want too many to love them, for fear of ruining their appeal:
"Cult films are like Brooklyn: things were great until the investment bankers found out."
He argues that perhaps that these cult film fans know that if too many people do actually watch their favorite movies, their point of view will be invalidated by a reapeat of history. For many of these films, they were box office disasters and that it was VHS/DVD that sacked them and elevated them to exalted status. What if these films really are that bad? And it is very easy to agree with him. But for me, I want as many people to see BTiLC as possible. I do not care whether people like it or hate it, but I will feel immense pride if I have allowed just one more person to take this "masterpiece" and keep it in their heart as I do. I am not afraid of people who dislike this movie, Mr Queenan... I simply ask for others to give it a chance.
So in conclusion, Joe Queenan makes a fine article on what constitutes a cult movie. He is, however, completely wrong about Kurt Russell and Big Trouble in Little China. Russell was and will always be one of my favorite Hollywood stars, who is criminally underused in current times. His on screen charisma and personable charm easily outweighs the plastic, dull crop of current crop of young leading men on the big screen. And BTiLC s one of the most entertaining and godamn fun movies to come out of the 80s. Maybe the studio suits had no idea how to sell the movie to its audiences (the opening scene was shot after principle photography in order to make Jack Burton more heroic than in the initial cut), maybe the cast and crew were having too much fun in production - but I would argue that each and every ounce of enjoyment is up there on screen for audiences to lap up with glee. And what would ol' Jack Burton in the Pork Chop Express say to Mr Queenan? He'd look him squarely in the eye and say:
"GIVE ME YOUR BEST SHOT, PAL... I CAN TAKE IT!"
"It's all in the reflexes..."
Robert William Hoskins
It has been a little over a week since the United Kingdom lost one of its finest screen actors and for me - a personal fan of so much of his work - it feels like cinema is all the poorer for it. Hoskins typifies everything that we should celebrate when looking for a role model in the film community. Born into an honest working class family, leaving school with just one O - Level (that is the school certification system that preceded the GCSE, for all us young-ins) and having worked as a lorry driver, a book-keeper and a porter... Hoskins is a self-made star. Having trod the boards and broken through in 1978 in Dennis Potter's phenomenal TV hit Pennies From Heaven (no room for Steve Martin here), it was in 1980, at the ripe age of 37, that he truly hit the big cinematic jackpot.
It has taken me a bit of time to reflect on an actor that I respected and admired from the seats of my local multiplex. His work ethic and bonhomie are characteristics that I strive for myself and it had always been a dream to write a role for him - a dream that must now wait until the next life. But as a tribute, I have selected my personal three favorite performances from the "five-foot-six and cubic" cinema icon. Many of you will agree, others may say my choices are obvious... But there is no denying that the man's back-catalogue of work provides much wealth for discussion. And so in the order of the films' release, here are my Top 3 Bob Hoskins roles:-
"It's Good Friday. Have a Bloody Mary." Harold Shand (The Long Good Friday)
Harold Shand, the bullet-headed gangland boss of The Long Good Friday, was the big screen breakthrough role for Hoskins. As Harold's Docklands business deal with some big American types starts going South, Hoskins blends anger, fear and desperation as he violently goes after anyone who is threatening his interests. John Mackenzie's powerful British gangster film was a natural fit for an actor of power, charisma and skill such as Hoskins, and he acts everyone off the screen - even the fabulous Helen Mirren as his main squeeze. Whether stringing up local gang rivals on meat hooks for questioning, or bottling underlings in fits of rage, Hoskins shows a masterclass of screen acting (the final sequence features a devastating single shot on Harold as his undoing is complete, with Hoskins expressing every internal emotion without uttering a single word) - subtle yet explosive and totally captivating whenever on screen. This was a signal of what was to come from this fine actor.
"Told ya I was cheap, didn't I?" George (Mona Lisa)
George, the good-hearted but naïve ex-con of Mona Lisa is in my humble opinion Hoskins' finest performance on screen. Neil Jordan's romantic thriller is more often than not criminally underrated when compared to the explosive punches of The Long Good Friday, but I have always found it the more satisfying film. And it is very clear just how much Hoskins has evolved his craft since 1980 with a performance of incredible warmth and compassion, blended with that fiery violence that bubbles beneath his skin. Given a low rung job as a chauffeur to spiky call girl Simone (a fabulous debut from Cathy Tyson), George comes to fall for his charge and delves into London's seedy Soho underbelly in a quest to find Simone's young charge. It could have been easy to slip back into Harold Shand mode, but Hoskins finds a vein of vulnerability in the hard outer shell of George, presenting the audience with a man who is just trying to get by in a dark and dangerous world that he never really belonged to. Hoskins received his only Oscar nomination for his performance (losing to Paul Newman for The Color of Money) - a criminal offence in my opinion. Thankfully, BAFTA, Cannes and the Golden Globes are among the host of awards that Hoskins won for the role - and act as a damning example of how the Academy Awards can get it so, so wrong.
"She's married to Roger Rabbit?!" Eddie Valiant (Who Framed Roger Rabbit)
Eddie Valiant, the cynical private eye in Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the role that cemented Hoskins as a bone fide box office star. Opening up a whole new generation to his talents, Hoskins manages to hold his own against his animated co-stars and keeps the audiences rooted to his cause as he investigates the murder of Toontown's beloved owner, player by Stubby Kaye - possibly at the hands of Toontown's own Roger Rabbit. Hoskins gets a chance to display his comedy skills to great effect this time round - a face-off against the villainous weasels near the end involves some masterly slapstick pratfalls that Charlie Chaplin would have been proud of. However he would later state how it was difficult to shake off the methods he utilized when "interacting" with the Toon characters that would be added in in post-production - he had observed his 3-year old daughter playing with imaginary friends for inspiration, but suffered from hallucinations for several months after production. However the cinema going public adored him for it - and showcased yet another excellent cinematic role for Hoskins.
There are so many performances that can be singled out for praise - the inner-city boxing club proprietor Alan Darcy in Shane Meadows' touching drama TwentyFourSeven, the disturbed catering manager Joe Hilditch in AtomEgoyan's haunting Felicia's Journey, Captain Hook's trusty batman Smee in Steven Spielberg's family adventure Hook (a role he would return to on TV in Neverland) - hey, some would even mention the BT adverts that featured Bob telling us that, "It's good to talk". But for me, it was these three iconic roles that established the multi-faceted qualities that Bob Hoskins possessed. Despite his announcement that he was retiring in 2012 due to early signs of Parkinson's, it was pneumonia that was to rob the film-going world of this great actor. RIP Bob - you will be missed.
Bob Hoskins (Oct. 26, 1942 - Apr. 29, 2014)
Never ask them about their business...
One of the most memorable moments of my 3 year married life ( so far!) arrived a few months back when my lovely wife Amy turned to me and said, "I have never seen The Godfather". Now to many this would seem shocking enough, considering (I hope) that most of the people that read my humble website posts would consider Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 gangster epic to be one of, if not the finest film ever made. And yet, what made that night even more incredible was that my wife and I were enjoying some early evening drinks with our good friend Tim… A man who subsequently informed me that he had never seen The Godfather either! Now my wife not seeing it I understand - she is a musical theatre darling. But this cinematic sucker punch left me astounded (even if it really shouldn't - Tim had only seen Brian De Palma's Scarface in the past year or so). And so it was agreed then and there that a Corleone evening was called for - a chance to enlighten these poor souls on the glorious merits of this "most perfect" film. Savoring the fine atmosphere... Magnifico!
Thanks to modern hectic lifestyles and globetrotting work commitments (sadly, not mine) it had been very difficult to organize a night when we were all free. Yet after three months, we finally managed to arrive together for this wonderful moment - last night at 6:30pm. Not only were we about to take in this masterpiece of celluloid, but I was also preparing some of the finest pizzas that Messrs. Mark and Spencer could provide (sadly, no cannoli) and Tim opened up a lovely bottle of Prosecco for the occasion… This was going to be great.
As Coppola's filmic expertise played on Tim's very large plasma screen, the reactions to the action were fantastic. Marlon Brando's unforgettable portrayal of Vito went down a treat with the virgins, all the classic moments were met with gasps of shock and excitement (the toll booth scene was particularly impactful) and the fact that the pair didn't initially recognize Al Pacino in perhaps his finest role as Michael was great! 164 fabulous minutes later, as Nino Rota's marvelous score plays out over the end credits, they give me their verdicts. Do YOU renounce Satan in this modern age?
"Some of the finest acting ever put to film…"
"Pacino was incredible…"
(Some things are universal! But then…)
"I couldn't tell who was who - too many names…"
"The final third of the movie dragged a bit…"
"Some of that looked so Seventies…"
(I guess you cannot please everybody!)
All in all, The Godfather has won over two new fans. Perhaps they are not quite as enamored with the film as I am, but there is no denying that in an age of frantic over-editing, incomprehensible shaky-cam cinematography and mahogany-levels of bad Tween-acting, a film in possession of innovative montage, crisp photography and sublime performances will always stand the test of time - let all future generations agree.