The Heat -2013-

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Directed by Paul Feig. 117 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Seen at Arclight Hollywood)

It’s a bad sign when your buddy cop comedy borrows heavily from Another 48 HRS. Not the original, mind you, but rather the abysmal 1990 follow-up. The Heat has some clever quips here and there, but it brings nothing new to its formula. The only reason I can imagine to see it is if you’re desperate for a film that passes the Bechdel Test.

While I enjoyed Bridesmaids (due mostly to great script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) I now suspect that Paul Feig is a closet misogynist. Why else would he make such a dull film penned by a woman (Parks and Rec writer Kaite Dippold) and starring women on the A-list (Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy)? It’s clearly to perpetuate the tired Hitchensian stereotype that women aren’t funny.

I understand that Hollywood is still a white old boy’s club, and I suppose it’s admirable to switch it up in major motion pictures. Still, if you want to further the station of women in show business, it would help if the projects weren’t so lame. A movie has to be good on its own merits – you shouldn’t settle for crap based on demography alone.

Don’t see Soul Plane or Madea Goes to Jail – see Do the Right Thing. See Barbershop. See Devil in a Blue Dress. See Pariah (seriously, see Pariah).

Don’t see The Heat. See The Kids are Alright. See I Shot Andy Warhol (or anything by Mary Harron). See Clueless. See pretty much anything by Nicole Holofcener. See Near Dark (not because it’s woman centric, but because it’s fucking amazing).

Never settle, yo.

– Aside: I fear that Melissa McCarthy is the victim of “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Make no mistake; she’s a very talented actor. She’s no game-changer, though. I have a hunch that the media treats her like one for the same reason that they lauded Susan Boyle; many people, sadly, are absolutely shocked when they see an overweight person do something well.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-07-08)

Undisputed -2002-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 90 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 Well, I’ve finally made my way through the Hillmography (no, I don’t plan on watching the episodes he directed for Tales from the Crypt). The whole experience has been quite the roller coaster ride with plenty of peaks (The Warriors, 48 Hrs, Streets of Fire, Trespass) and plunges (Southern Comfort, Brewster’s Millions, Red Heat, Supernova).

Since I saw Bullet to the Head out of Hillmographical order, the last of his films to land at my feet is Undisputed. The gritty slugfest took me back to a simpler time when Ving Rhames wasn’t fat and Wesley Snipes only acted like he was in prison. Most importantly, it is a fun if imperfect B-movie that is old-school Hill through and through.

The simple satisfaction that comes with watching tough dudes beat the stuffing out of each other is just as pure as when Hill first sat in the director’s chair for Hard Times. The film takes place almost entirely in a prison run by various gangs and at times feels like the type of self-contained dystopian universe that was New York City in The Warriors. Just as the Warriors’ odyssey to Coney was traced on crossfaded maps of the subway system, Undisputed sets up location changes tracing along images of the prison’s schematics.

As with many other Hillms, the cast is one of its highlights. Rhames’ bravado as the world heavyweight boxing champ is great, and Wes Studi is hilariously clichéd as the wise Native American convict who shows him the ropes once he’s on the inside. Snipes is the less angry of the two boxers, and the Badlands-esque tropical music that plays in his presence suggests that his mind is off in some other, more peaceful place. Add to that line-up a grungy Peter Falk as a Jewish mobster / boxing historian and Michael fuckin’ Rooker as the prison’s head guard, and I was ear-to-ear smiles.

The movie is not without its shortcomings. The order of scenes (especially the ones dealing with subplots) seem arbitrary at times, and the “flash of white” wipes between scenes was a little too iMovie for my taste. Still, a Hill fan will be pleased as punch with “Undisputed.” And yes, I deserve to go to Hell for my pun in the previous sentence.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-02-20)

Supernova -2000-

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Directed by Walter Hill (credited as Thomas Lee). 90 mins.

 Worth my time? Aw, Hell Naw! (Watched on DVD)

 Wow, nothing – not even Walter Hill’s disowning of this film – could have prepared me for how much of a mess it turned out to be. Supernova makes Brewster’s Millions look like Hill’s passion project. I don’t think I’ve seen a sci-fi film with a less interested director since Martin Campbell did Green Lantern.

 If you’ve seen any film set in space since the release of Alien in 1979, you’ve already seen a better version of Supernova. The helpful yet overly literal AI system, the hyperspace sleep, the silly robot, the distress signal that is clearly nothing but bad news – the gang’s all here. Christ, there’s even a character who watches old cartoons to examine them as historical artifacts.

 James Spader and Angela Bassett as so much better than this material that I had sympathy pains while watching them. Robert Forster is no stranger to trash like this, but it’s still sad to see him fall into this sorta thing so soon after his Jackie Brown redemption. The saddest part of the whole film is knowing that it had a budget of at least $90 million. If I were Senator Elizabeth Warren, I would screen this film for Congress as evidence of a massive market failure.

Next up in the Hillmography: Undisputed.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-02-18)

Last Man Standing -1996-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 101 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 Aside from committing the sin of literally spoiling the ending in the title, Last Man Standing was pretty damn fun. While I have yet to see Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (the film of which LMS is credited as a remake), this stands as a solid portion of the Hillmography.

 Many critics panned Last Man Standing at the time of its release, dismissing it as depressing and joyless. Granted, it ain’t exactly Miracle in Milan, but I’m not sure what the critics are whining about. The humor is black, but it’s certainly there. Think Miller’s Crossing if it were directed by Robert Rodriguez, and you’ll have a general idea of the film’s tone. The action is Peckinpah-level brutal, and the locales are bone dry, just the way I like ‘em.

 Willis is passable as the film’s mysterious antihero, but the main attraction are the supporting players. Bruce Dern is haggard per usual as the town sheriff, and David Patrick Kelly is great as the short-fused Irish kingpin with a temper right up there with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. As another surprising bonus, a super-young Leslie Mann appears as a “woman of ill repute.” And just like in her Apatow films, she never shuts up!

 The star of the show may very well be Christopher Walken as Hickey, the borderline-psychotic mob enforcer. Hill is smart and treats Walken like thespian wasabi, making sure not to overuse him. His character doesn’t even show up until the film’s second half, and he’s a man of few words whenever he’s onscreen. I love it when reeling in screen-hogging actors pays off (kinda like De Niro in Jackie Brown).

 – More Ry Cooder, yay!

Next up in the Hillmography: Supernova.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-02-18)

Wild Bill -1995-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 98 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 After stumbling with Geronimo, the Hillmography stabilizes itself with a story of the original “loose-cannon cop.” Hill sets Wild Bill apart from his other Westerns (and most of the genre as a whole) by presenting a portrait of a man painted with dreams, anecdotes, and memories. This method of storytelling has a high risk potential since it omits a spinal narrative arc on which to hinge its scenes. And while The film doesn’t reach the heights of Schrader’s ephemeral Mishima, it avoids the meandering pitfalls of W. or, heaven forbid, The Iron Lady. Solid piece o’ work overall.

 The ace up Wild Bill’s sleeve (playing card reference huzzah!) is its stellar cast. Jeff Bridges is great in the lead, and actors from throughout the Hillmography – Bruce Dern, Diane Lane, James Remar, and Ellen Barkin, just to name a few – are on glorious display. Even Keith Carradine shows up, albeit for a single scene, but he steals the show as outlaw-showman Buffalo Bill. David Arquette turns in a surprisingly good performance as Jack McCall, delivering a dramatic presence for which a million Scream sequels and 1-800-CALL-ATT commercials could not prepare me.

 – Young David Arquette bears an uncanny resemblance to Ryan Gosling.

– If anybody understands that the Old West was filthy as Hell, it’s Walter Hil. Deadwood creator David Milch should write him a thank-you note.

Next up in the Hillmography: Last Man Standing.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-02-17)

Geronimo: An American Legend -1993-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 115 mins.

 Worth my time? No. (Watched on DVD)

 I wouldn’t call Geronimo a bad film as much as it is an unsuccessful one. This story of the tail-end of America’s “Cowboys & Indians” era can’t find its footing on which to deliver a story which had so much potential.

 Wes Studi (who has a bigger monopoly on Native American characters in Hollywood than Morgan Freeman has on narration) delivers a fine performance as the titular hero, but there isn’t much to him apart from his noble resilience in the face of impossible odds. Such an angle could certainly be a great launch point for a film, but there isn’t enough Geronimo screen time to see it through. Desperately Seeking Geronimo would have been a more accurate title.

 Now that I’m thinking more on the subject, I’m beginning to doubt that this film even has a protagonist. Matt Damon’s character narrates the film, but he plays next to no active role in the story. Jason Patric Second Lieutenant’s reciprocal respect for Geronimo makes for some interesting exchanges, but he’s not a go-getter with a character arc. He’s more of an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill, as Kurtz might say.

 To be sure, it’s a joy to watch genre veterans Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall in their respective roles, but they’re just supporting roles. Film cannot live on star-power alone.

 Geronimo succeeds more in the realm of aesthetics than narrative. Hill carries on the same gritty, naturalistic style that he displayed back in The Long Riders (aside from Geronimo’s occasional, borderline-condescending magic premonitions). Cinematographer Llyod Ahern captures plenty of stunningly lit scenery and landscapes. And, as usual, good ol’ Ry Cooder provides another great score.

 Still, there’s no need to rush out and rent Geronimo. Just walk into any middle school American history class, and there’s a good chance they’ll be watching it as part of their unit on the late Nineteenth Century. Actually, you’ll probably want to get a visitor pass before waltzing into the school. Priorities, people.

Next up in the Hillmography: Wild Bill.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-02-10)

Trespass -1992-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 101 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 Not to be confused with the 2011 Joel Schumacher film of the same title, which you should avoid like a plague wearing Ed Hardy.

 I guess you can’t keep Walter Hill down. After the lame Another 48 Hrs. comes this tight neo-noir that mixes John Carpenter (especially Assault on Precinct 13) with John Singleton. As soon as I saw in the credits that Ry Cooder was back in the mix, my spirits were lifted. Plus, the soundtrack features Sir Mix-a-lot and Gang Starr, so that’s a nice bonus.

 The unity of time and place throughout most of the film adds an extra degree of immediacy and claustrophobia to the already-high tension. The performances range from good to great, and I loved watching tried-and-true character actors descend into a bottomless pit of greed and panic. Bill Paxton is top-notch as usual (One False Move, A Simple Plan, and this would be a killer triple feature). It’s especially nice to see William Sadler in the spotlight since he’s usually relegated to scrappy Shawshank Redemption-style supporting roles.

 The Ices (Both T and Cube) are the perfect adversaries for Paxton and Sadler. One could argue that the way the film portrays its urban drug distribution syndicate – as composed of intelligent, business-savvy people and developing their characters through phone calls and video recordings – paved the way for gritty TV shows such as The Wire. You heard it here first, everyone!

 – It’s sort of a mindblinder that Robert Zemeckis wrote a screenplay this grim.

Next up in the Hillmography: Geronimo: An American Legend.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-02-09)

Another 48 Hrs. -1990-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 95 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Watched on DVD)

Well, the fun of the 48 Hrs. series sure fizzled fast. After basically inventing the buddy-cop movie back in ’82, this second installment can’t even reach the highs Lethal Weapon, Tango & Cash, and the countless copycats that it spawned. Hell, even Red Heat was more fun to watch than Another 48 Hrs.

 The chemistry between Cates & Hammond just ain’t the same in this one. In the original 48 Hrs., there was always a light-hearted with beneath even their most heated bickering. This time around, they ­­– and everyone else in the cast – just seem sorta pissed. The only moments of levity come in the form of references to the first film, which only made me wish I were watching that one instead. The film lost me once Murphy started singing “Roxanne” again, and it pounded an extra nail in its own coffin for every joke about Murphy stealing Nolte’s lighter.

 Of course, the film’s main offense is being boring as a Beach House album. I was shocked at how little plot was included in the first 85 minutes. The climax definitely has that “OhFuckWeGottaWrapThisUp” feel to it. Plus, the reveal of the criminal master mind is one of the most unsatisfying twists I’ve seen since the original Saw.

 – Why is this Another 48 Hrs.? The plot could have taken place over any period of time.

Next up in the Hillmography: Trespass.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-02-09)

Johnny Handsome -1989-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 94 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

After two strikes, the Hillmography gets back in the swing of things with a revenge tale that’s like John Dahl with a dash of The Elephant Man. I like pretty much everything that stars Mickey Rourke, especially from back when he needed prosthetics to look ugly – zing!

After the great opening sequences, I was afraid that this film was going to dip into Oscar-bait territory. The inclusion of Forest Whitaker as a brilliant, compassionate reconstructive surgeon just begs Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Luckily, the film never forgets its roots as a gritty crime caper.

I just gobbled up Johnny Handsome’s cast with a spoon. In addition to Rourke, you got a couple of psychotic con-artists played by the wiry Lance Henriksen and the smoldering Ellen Barkin. Plus, you get a decent (not heaping helping) of Morgan Freeman back when he wasn’t a parody of himself. Yes, dear readers, there was such a time not too long ago…

Neo-noir fans will get a big kick outta Johnny Handsome, as will fans of old-timey pulp-comics (I’m a fan of both, so I was quite the happy camper). The story of Johnny using his new face and identity to exact revenge would fit perfectly in an edition of “EC Crime SuspenStories.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the character served as an inspiration for Dwight McCarthy in the Sin City graphic novels.

PS: Welcome back, Cooder.

Next up in the Hillmography: Another 48 Hrs.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-02-06)

Extreme Prejudice -1987-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 105 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Watched on DVD)

I was excited about this installment of the Hillmography ­– aside from having Nick Nolte back in the lead, you got Powers Boote, Rip Torn, William Forsythe, and Michael Mawfukkin’ Ironside in a modern-day Western. What’s not to like?

As it would happen, there’s plenty not to like. Extreme Prejudice tries and fails at the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach to action. The film is bloated with at least three plotlines that could feature as the main storyline for a separate movie. You got Nolte’s Texas Ranger trying to take down his old friend-turned-druglord Boothe. You got Boothe trying to win back the heart of Nolte’s ladyfriend (she has a name, but seeing as this is a Walter Hill film, she may as well not have one). On top of that, you have Ironside’s crack squadron of special ops doing their own thing with double, triple, and quadruple crosses.

Basically, the film feels like The Wild Bunch, The Deer Hunter, and The A-Team rolled into one. If that doesn’t sound like a fun time, you’d be right. I guess you can’t win ‘em all, Walter.

– A highlight: The film’s final shootout would have made Peckinpah proud, had he been alive to see it.

– Why didn’t Ry Cooder do the music for this? Jerry Goldsmith’s score sounds tinny and cheapens the whole package.

Next up in the Hillmography: Red Heat.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-02-04)