Another day, another pile of trades! This time around I’ve got a very cool haunted house story starring a longtime DC scare characters, a comic adaptation of a film I haven’t seen and a trip to Mega-City Two drawn by one of my favorite artists working in comics now!
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.
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 & 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.
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!
I’m turning into an old man or rather an even older man, depending on your perspective, I guess. I used to be able to stay up all hours of the night and then get up and do what I needed to do, but since our daughter has started getting up between 6:30 and 7:00AM every morning, those are days of the past. I only say all this because it wound up taking me three or four nights to actually watch Dredd. That’s in no way a commentary on the movie itself, just my inability to stay awake past midnight most nights.
Anyway, Dredd is one of those movies that didn’t seem to have much of a PR push behind it, snuck into movie theaters and did almost no business (it only made $36 million worldwide with a $50 million budget). But, the people that did see it all seemed to love it. I’ve got to agree with the folks that dug this movie because it’s pretty fantastic and requires absolutely no knowledge of the longstanding title character whose been starring in 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine over in the UK for decades.
The basic concept here is that, basically, the entire eastern coast of the United States has morphed into one giant city called Mega-City One. It’s an overcrowded corrupt place filled with degenerates, criminals and people just trying to get by. The only ones standing between the good and the bad are the Judges, a group of law officers who not only enforce the law, but also mete out punishment according to the law. The film follows Judge Dredd (played by Star Trek‘s Karl Urban) as he trains rookie officer Cassandra Anderson (the bewitching Olivia Thirbly) who also happens to be a mutant with psychic abilities. While out on patrol they’re called to a massive building that’s essentially a project house that’s run by a drug running gangster called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Dredd and Anderson wind up getting trapped inside the building with Ma-Ma’s goons gunning for them and things play out from there.
Yes, it sounds like a futuristic version of The Raid, but stylistically, there are completely different approaches to the basic idea of fighting mobsters in a high-rise. While The Raid gets so real and intense that it’s almost disturbing, Dredd kept a kind of hyperkinetic-but-still-real tone that featured futuristic, voice-activated weaponry, a bit less hand-to-hand combat and more explosions and giant guns.
I haven’t seen any of Pete Travis’ other movies, but I thought he did a really killer job with Dredd. The movie keeps itself in a fairly limited locale that doesn’t require a gigantic budget but does that one location really, really well. You can tell from watching that this film was basically a test of concept for the viability of Judge Dredd in film. While it might not have been a financial success, I’d say it was a successful proof of concept. I really felt the intensity of Dredd as an upholder of the wall ans I thought Thirbly was just mesmerizing to watch and the world felt real and raw and like the kind of place that needs these kinds of protectors. I would love to see a more sprawling story set in this world, but that’s probably not happening any time soon. To feed the Dredd jones I now have, I’m trying to get my hands on the first volume of the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files, but the person I tried to buy it from on Amazon bailed on the transaction (I’m guessing because they realized the $14 book they were selling was much lower in cost than the $30 versions other people are trying to sell) and have since placed a bid on an ebay auction. We’ll see. There’s a lot there to get through, but it’s a journey I’m willing to take…if I can get the books relatively cheap.