Everybody Must Get Stalloned: Judge Dredd (1993), Tango & Cash (1989) and Over The Top (1987)

stallone four film favorite I don’t know about you guys, but as I get older, I find myself more likely to go back and watch a movie that I had a good time with over one that I actual revere. For instance, I absolutely adore The Usual Suspects and Reservoir Dogs. I discovered both movies in high school and they each changed my brain when it came to how you could tell a story and how film can work in different ways. And yet, I haven’t watched either film in several years. Instead, I seem to spend my time watching and craving more disposable, less “good” offerings like this 4 Film Favorites: Sylvester Stallone DVD 4-pack I recently picked up. I think a big reason for that is that I don’t always want to get too emotionally invested or have my brain messed with. I usually just want to sit down, have fun and maybe get some work or writing done in the process. Yes, that makes me a lazy film fan, but that’s how it is for me these days.

With that in mind, I’ve burned through three of the four movies in this set. As it happens, it’s the three I’ve seen before: Tango & Cash, Demolition Man and Over The Top. I’ve never watched The Specialist, but hope to give it it’s own review  later this week or next, it depends on my work schedule and, more importantly, when and if my kid naps.  But I figured it would be fun to lay down a few thoughts on these movies.

demolition man poster I actually thought I wrote about Demolition Man here on the blog before. I want to say I watched it around the same time I first saw Judge Dredd. Both movies have sci-fi settings, militaristic uniforms, Stallone teaming up with a bad ass leading lady and, inexplicably, appearances by Rob Schneider. Don’t be scared away, though, Schneider’s actually more restrained than I’ve ever seen him before. Wesley Snipes, however is not, but more on that in a minute.

In this one, Stallone plays a cop in the future, 1996 to be exact. The film came out in 1993 when LA was in a shambles and gang violence was a huge source of worry both in real life and on the big screen. Stallone’s John Spartan is a cop with the nickname Demolition Man because he goes into crazy situations and gets the bad guy, but leaves a swathe of destruction in his wake. In the beginning of the movie, he’s going after Snipes’ Simon Phoenix, a major gang kingpin who is never not wearing something silly. Phoenix sets Spartan up and the two wind up getting frozen which is what they do with criminals instead of sending them to jail.

Inexplicably, Phoenix wakes up in the future and starts running amok. It helps that this is a future where everything dangerous, from gasoline to sex, has been outlawed. Hell, they even outlawed swearing to the point where you get fined if you let loose a curse word in a public place. It’s a surprisingly dense and weird world. Taco Bell won the franchise wars, so now every restaurant is a TB, of course. Since Phoenix is basically running ripshot over the police force, they thaw Spartan out and he goes about his business, kicking ass and taking names.

One of the nice things about this four movie set is that it gives you a really good representation of Stallone’s career. In Demolition Man, he’s the stoic warrior, a guy who just wants to get in there, kick ass, punish the bad guy and save the innocents. That’s not a particularly complicated persona to take on, but it is always convincing when he does it. Meanwhile, his co-stars do an admirable job in their own roles. Sandra Bullock plays the 90s-obsessed, action-desiring cop that Stallone winds up partnered with. Benjamin Bratt is the by-the-book lame-o cop. Dennis Leary’s the freedom-loving underground rebel. Nigel Hawthorne’s the evil billionaire pulling more strings than I can keep up with. Also, for what it’s worth, I completely agree with the idea presented in the episode of How Did This Get Made covering this movie that Bullock is actually Stallone’s daughter, which adds a lot of weird layers to the proceedings.

And then you have Snipes. Man, this guy’s not a great actor. I realized this while watching Drop Zone recently. He’s just super-wooden and, even when he’s playing an over-the-top psychopath, he never really feels convincing. He always seems like a guy trying to act like another guy, but never really nailing it. “This is how a crazy guy would be right? Right? Okay, I’ll go with it.” He doesn’t really detract from the movie because it comes off as somewhat farcical all around, but I think the movie would have been a bit more grounded with a better bad guy.

tango and cash Tango & Cash is always a surprise to me. It’s a movie I think I heard more about growing up and later on into my 20s than I actually ever saw. In my mind it holds a place in the pantheon of awesome action movies, but the last few times I watched it, it left me shaking my head a bit.

Like I said the last time I watched and reviewed this movie, the sheer number of puns and one-liners spit out by stars Stallone and Kurt Russell are head-spinning. These guys throw them out like a madman has a gun aimed at them off screen and will shoot them if they don’t make like a Borscht Belt comedian getting heckled. It can be too much at times, especially when the tension is supposed to be high and these two chuckleheads can’t stop cracking wise.

Said tension comes when two of the most famous cops around get framed for killing a guy by Jack Palance. They’re introduced, each have a drug bust, meet one other, get framed, go through a trial, go to jail, fight a small army of criminals and break out of prison in the film’s first half hour or so. From there they try to figure out who framed them, Russell falls for Stallone’s sister Teri Hatcher (an exotic dancer who incorporates drums into her act!) and then they go up against Palance and his goons in an epic, end-of-movie siege. It’s a lot for a 90 minute movie, you guys.

It’s really too bad that the producers wanted a funnier movie instead of a more straightforward buddy action movie starring Stallone and Russell. The problem here unfortunately lies on Stallone’s shoulders. He’s just not great at playing this character, a slick, rich hotshot who fires off jokes in the face of danger. He’s great at parts of all those things, but putting them all together into one role didn’t really work out too well. Actually, I think there’s plenty of raw material on the screen to cut into a more serious film (serious, but still fun). You could easily make this thing at least 20% cooler just by using the mute button. Still, the end of this movie is rad — even if it does involve an LAPD-sanctioned weapons lab complete with a tour that would make James Bond pop his cork prematurely — and is worth all the craziness presented up front.

over the top poster While I tend to place Tango & Cash on a higher plane in my mind, I also find myself looking down on Over The Top a bit, but it’s actually a pretty great movie. Turns out I wrote about this one on the blog already too, but wanted to say a few more things. Yes, this is “the arm wrestling movie” which sounds silly, but it’s actually a well balanced, well acted movie about a man trying to reunite with his son at the behest of his terminally ill ex wife. That right there sounds like something out of an Oscar picture, but this one also happens to have a semi-truck driving Sylvester Stallone in the lead role as Lincoln Hawk, an evil Robert Loggia and the world arm wrestling championship in Las Vegas. Oh, and a kid somehow escaping from a mansion, stealing a car, getting on an airplane and getting into said arm wrestling championship.

So, it’s not the most grounded movie in the world, but this is Stallone at his best. He’s a simple guy with simple motives just trying to make things right. At times he reminded me of his performance in First Blood, where he’s just a guy trying to walk through town and find a friend who gets pushed too far by people who don’t understand him. He’s not the overly slick guy in Tango & Cash or the on-the-surface lawman of Demolition Man, he’s a real guy — a dad –earnestly trying his best.

I realized something while watching this movie, it’s actually a lot closer to the movies I used to watch as a kid than the action movies I gravitated to as I got older. When you think about it, there’s a lot of the same elements in The Wizard as in Over The Top. You’ve got a father and son making their way across part of the country, experiencing obstacles to their relationship and even a big competition in Vegas at the end.  Heck, there’s even a scene in Over The Top where you can see all kinds of Nintendo logos on some video game cabinets in a diner. Synergy! There’s also very little physical violence in the movie if memory serves. Sure, Stallone drives his truck through Loggia’s front door and he arm wrestles a small army of giant, sweaty biceps with bodies attached to them, but this isn’t your usual slug or bulletfest, which actually makes it a pretty good Stallone movie to watch with your kids. Who woulda thought?!

Even though I had a few complaints about each of these movies, I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed myself while giving them another watch. I’m glad I got my hands on that DVD set because, even though they’re not the high quality Blu-ray I prefer these days, they are presented in an affordable manner that allows me to revisit these flicks any time I want. As an added bonus, there’s actually a commentary track on the Demolition Man disc that I’ve got to listen to!

Random Double Feature: Enemy Mine (1985) & Rising Son (2006)

I spend most of my days now sitting on my couch with my laptop in front of me and the TV on. I’m usually catching up on the crappy TV shows I missed throughout the week or watching movies I’ve decided to randomly watch. Today is one of those movie days as nothing was on TV this morning. I started off with the sci-fi flick Enemy Mine which I knew nothing about aside from the fact that Dennis Quaid was in it. I figured it would be a big crazy sci-fi movie on a fairly low budget. And it was, it just wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be in the specifics.

In the future, humans are trying to explore the galaxy, but they run into an alien race called Dracs. There’s fighting and all that. Quaid gets shipwrecked on a planet with a Drac and no one else. They start off as enemies, but eventually become friends and learn each others’ languages and culture. I’ll give a SPOILER WARNING now in case you don’t want things ruined for you. Eventually, the Drac (played by Louis Gossett Jr.) tells Quaid he’s with child (they spontaneously become pregnant, but carry their children like a mammal). After giving birth, the Drac dies and Quaid takes care of the little guy only for some scavengers to come, nearly kill him and take the baby Drac away to work in their mines. Once he gets better, Quaid goes and gets his adopted nephew back.

I give the writers and director Wolfgang Petersen tons of credit for going all over the place with this story. It could have been just a man vs. alien story or a man learning to get along with an alien story, but they got the extra few miles with the kid and the relationship and Quaid’s eventual revenge on the scavengers. There’s even a scene at the end with Quaid being honored by the Dracs on their homeworld. I like how, at the end of the movie, it’s not like everything between the two races has been solved and put aside just because two people got to know each other, but it does offer hope that maybe if he can tell his people about the Dracs, they can work something out. I also really liked the sets of the alien world. They didn’t go the Star Wars route and just choose one season/type of climate and just stick to that. It’s a very rich environment that’s fun to watch. Good stuff, highly recommended!

I’ve been on a mini-skateboard movie kick lately. Well, if a “kick” can be described as watching three movies on a subject in 8 months. Anyway, it started off with Lords of Dogtown and then I watched the documentary that was based on called Dogtown And Z-Boys, which I really should have posted about. And now, I just got done with Rising Son: The Legends Of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi, which focused on one skateboarded. Rising Son is the perfect compliment to Dogtown And Z-Boys because Hosoi started skating with those dudes when he was just a kid, but eventually he became one of the greatest skaters in the game only to fall from site thanks to a drug addiction and eventual time in jail. It even has a few of the original Z-Boys in the form of Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Shogo Kubo which was pretty rad. The doc also has some big time skaters like Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist and a slew of others talking about how influential Hosoi was. Heck, even skateboarder-turned-actor Jason Lee and David Arquette are interviewed (though I think Arquette’s only on screen once). There’s even a contestant from Launch My Line, Louanna Rawls (Lou’s daughter), interviewed because she used to date Hosoi.

So, why is this dude such a big deal? Well, when he was coming up he just started doing all these sick tricks that no one else was doing and really brought skateboarding back into the mainstream after it died off with the Z-Boys crew a few years earlier. He had a swagger that made him a rock star and the talent to back it all up. To be honest, I had never heard of the dude, but then again, I don’t really know much about the history of skateboarding, just what I’ve been learning in these movies. I found the film really fascinating though and it does have something of a happy ending as Hosoi got out of jail, off drugs and is now going around talking to people about his experiences with drugs, skating and God.

One thing I’ve discovered after watching so many documentaries on Netflix is how freaking interesting life can be. On the surface, this story is just another story about a kid who made it big and then crashed, but the interest, along with the devil, is in the details. I think I’d like to try my hand at making a documentary about something, I just need to figure out what it is. Any thoughts?

Ele-Mental: A Fifth Element Review

2008-05-19
8:15:14 pm

A few weeks ago, I brought home a stack of movies from Wizard’s DVD closet. I was just looking for flicks that I hadn’t seen before and one of them was The Fifth Element, a movie I distinctly remember being interested in when it came out (I was 14 of the time), but just never saw for whatever reason. When I brought it home, my wife Emily seemed pretty excited, she remembered watching and liking (not loving) it. Well, the weather was pretty crummy on Sunday, so we stayed in and watched:

The Fifth Element (1997)

Written and Directed by Luc Besson

Starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker and Luke Perry

Going in, I knew very little about The Fifth Element, so here’s the deal for those of you who haven’t seen it: there’s these lumbering mechanical armadillo turkey aliens called the Mondoshawan who kept stones representing the four elements (wind, earth, fire, water) on earth that are part of a super-weapon. An ancient line of priests kept the secrets of the stones for the day when this big crazy planet of death (called the Great Evil) would come. In 1914, they come back to Earth and take the stones back with them. 300 years in the future, the Great Evil is alive and kicking and the priest wants to get his hands on the stones. Too bad these shape-shifing aliens called the Mangalores blast the Mondoshawan ship carrying the stones out of the sky (well, space). To figure out what happened with the stones, some scientists clone the last surviving Mondoshawan hand from the ship into a woman, called Leeloo (Milla).

Okay, so those are the basics. Getting back to the beginning of the movie for a moment, I really like the design of the Mondoshawan. Personally, I’ve never seen an alien race that looks like this, so props to the design department for creating these guys. Speaking of the design details, fun note to comic fans, French artists Moebius and Jean-Claude Mézières had a hand in the overall design for The Fifth Element. Anyway, the Mondoshawan show up in 1914 to the shock of Luke Perry, playing an artist/assistant to an archaeologist. I never watched 90210 back when it was on (seriously, I’d tell you if I did), but I did find him very charming and convincing in a roll that I wish had somehow carried over into the future sequences (especially if he could have replaced the ridiculously annoying Chris Tucker character Ruby Rhod, but more on him later).

So the aliens come, grab their toys and leave a key with the secret priests, then head into space and we head 300 years to the future where we meet Korben Dallas (Willis) who has an apartment that would make Tim “The Toolman” Taylor proud. I’d like to see such space-saving furniture and appliances in the near future. Willis basically plays the same character he played for most of the ’90s: tough, rough around the edges, but, in the end, a good man. And I don’t mean that as a dig. I’ve got no problem with a guy doing what he does best, few people could pull it off like Willis. That being said, I’m glad to see him spreading out in the past decade.

Anyway, Dallas is a a former military man who now works as a cabby with plenty of points on his license. While we get introduced to Korben, the aforementioned Mondoshawan ship crashes and the scientist explains that their DNA is so highly complex and perfect, that a whole Mondoshawan can be cloned from a hand. They put the hand in a cool, tube-looking machine that, a few moments later, produces Milla in an awkward looking suit of white bandages. They go on about how she’s perfect, but I’m not as much of a Milla fan as, say, Diggnation’s Kevin Rose (my fellow podcast fans know what I’m talking about). So, Milla, who we eventually finds out is called Leeloo (and is also the fifth element), escapes from her creators, wrecking shop on a bunch of cops (who look like they borrowed their fashion sense from Judge Dredd and Flavor Flav) and leaping to her possible death.

Luckily for her, the future has flying cars (which, again, look awesome) and good dudes like Korben Dallas driving flying cabs because she smashes right through his roof, landing in the backseat. Korben contemplates turning her over, even letting the police connect their cars with a wire before rethinking things and speeding off in one of the coolest flying car chase scenes I’ve seen. We get our best look at the future society in these scenes, including the proliferation of McDonald’s (but, really, who’s shocked by this?) and a filthy underground that resembles many other future-based movies both before and after.

Leeloo eventually guides Dallas to Father Vito Cornelius (Holm), the current priest keeping the secrets of the Mondoshawan, who recognizes Leeloo because of her element tattoo (which must be part of her DNA I guess, like her crazy orange hair). Cornelius kicks Dallas out, who returns home to find out he got fired from his cab-driving job.

Meanwhile, the big bad guy, Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (who sports a pretty annoying accent and haircut, but still makes a creepy villain) (Oldman) meets up with the Mangalores, offering them some pretty rad guns that shoot bullets, fire, ice, etc. in exchange for the case holding the four stones. Did I mention that if a bad guy assembles the stones around himself in the pyramid on Earth, he’ll get all kinds of powers? Okay, consider it mentioned. Zorg gets pretty peeved when it turns out that case they got from the crash is actually empty, a fact that Leeloo, whose back with the priest still, knows. Turns out they’re on a pleasure cruiser (in space) called Fhloston Paradise. Zorg blows up a number of the Mangalores before leaving.

The government (remember, Dallas used to be in some kind of military), rigs a contest that he wins to send him to Fhloston Paradise. I forget how they find out about it, but when they do, Zorg’s bug (an actual remote-controlled bug with a camera in the president’s command center) tips Zorg off. The Mangalores are also on the trail, using a mistaken identity, thinking it’s Dallas. There’s a somewhat confusing scene in which the military comes to tell Dallas about their plan, then Leeloo and the priest show up and finally the police. Korben hides the three military people in his refrigerator which sinks into the floor to reveal a shower. He then hides Leeloo in the shower and the priest on his hide-a-bed by the time the cops show up. Somehow they get mistaken that a neighbor is Dallas (I’m not really sure how this worked). Besson played this gag really well, using the apartment he already set up in a great, claustrophobic way that actually had me worried they he’d get caught and relived when he didn’t.

Cornelius grabs Dallas’ winning tickets to Fhloston Paradise and makes off with Leeloo, something that Dallas shortly realizes and heads to the spaceport, just barely making it in time to replace the priest’s assistant on the trip. Cornelius finds out about this and sneaks his way onto the spaceship. Oh, also, this is where the movie takes it’s (in my opinion) biggest misstep by introducing Ruby Rhod in the flesh.

I’m not really sure what his character’s supposed to be. He’s some kind of superstar radio DJ, but his continued stuttering and way-too-fast-and-high-pitched dialog drove me crazy. I was hoping the whole time he was on screen that a stray bullet would end my misery. Jar Jar Binks didn’t bother me this much. Seriously. I almost turned it off 10 minutes into his first real appearance, but I was intrigued enough to stick with it.

Now that all the players are on a pretty dangerous locale (the equivalent of a cruise ship floating through space) the action really starts to ramp up. Even while a tentacled blue alien called Diva sings in some pretty crazy tones. Leeloo rumbles with some of the Mangalores in the Diva’s room (she’s the one that has the stones on the ship, I shoulda mentioned that before), the Mangalores don’t like what’s going on, so they abandon their “covert” plan and just decide to take over the whole ship. One of them even kills the Diva, who explains to Dallas that the stones are inside her. We then get treated to a pretty gross, but cool scene of Dallas pulling the stones out of the hole in her torso. You know what would have made it cooler? No Ruby, who spends the rest of the movie being annoying right next to our hero. Jerk. I’d like to think that the Bruce Willis of Lucky Number Slevin or Sin City would just plug him, call it collateral damage and continue saving the universe.

Zorg’s also sneaking around. He gets his hands on the case that he thinks has the stones, seemingly kills Leeloo and then sets the ship to explode before taking off.

Zorg realizes he doesn’t have the stones so he returns to the ship, stopping his own destruct countdown, but Korben and crew are already on the run. Too bad for Zorg that a dying Mandalore sets off his own bomb that destroys the mostly-evacuated pleasure cruiser.

An interesting thing about The Fifth Element is that the bad guys don’t seem to know who Korben Dallas is (even though it turns out that he worked for Zorg’s company as a cab driver). It’s not like the Mangalores care who he is when they first get on the ship (only once he starts blasting the crap out of them while leaping through the air, does he become an annoyance), even though he’s in direct opposition to them. Also, he never meets Zorg in the film once, even though they’re supposedly the opposite numbers in the flick. It’s an element that I like which sets this movie apart from a lot of others which seem to think that the good guy and the bad guy HAVE to face off at some point, regardless of how cliched it might seem.

What we do get to see is a race-the-clock situation in which Korben, Leeloo (she’s beat up pretty bad, but not dead), Cornelius and Ruby (for some reason) race to the pyramid on Earth and try to figure out how to use the stones and Leeloo (she’s the fifth element by the way) to stop the Great Evil, which is racing towards Earth to destroy it. Due to some dumb luck (and sighing), the men figure out how to activate the four stones and Dallas figures out how to activate Leeloo (the fifth element appears to be love). Upon kissing, the stones shoot beams into her and she shoots a beam out at the Great Evil which explodes.

We end with the president showing up at the science lab that created Leeloo to congratulate the pair, but they’re having sex in the regeneration tube. Nice, Korben. I like the James Bond-like ending.

A few other thoughts. A friend told me he didn’t think the movie takes itself seriously as a sci-fi movie, but I don’ think that’s the case. To me, all the performances seem sincere, even the cursedly annoying Ruby. It does have a bit of a cartoony feel to it, especially with Willis in the lead, but it’s a fun kind of cartoon, one that I would gladly watch Saturday mornings. No, it’s definitely not Star Wars, but I don’t want another Star Wars, I’ve already got a bunch of those.

In the end, I’m glad I watched The Fifth Element, it proved an entertaining ride that was able to keep my waning attention. It was fun and like Em, I liked it, though I didn’t love it. I don’t think 14-year-old me would have felt cheated if I laid down money for this back ’97.