Director: Kevin Reynolds
Writer: Pen Densham and John Watson
Cinematographer: Douglas Milsome
by Tory Maddox
The 90s deliver another film that serves as a throwback, in this case to the swashbuckler tales of Errol Flynn, relying on large practical sets complete with all the legendary characters from the original story. I haven’t seen this movie since it first came out, having long associated it with New Found Glory’s cover of “Everything I Do, I Do It For You”.
Strange to think that Robin Hood has become politicized in recent times, and that those who disagree with the philosophy are therefore taking the side of the Sheriff of Nottingham's, played in this film by the great Alan Rickman, who only accepted the role if he could have carte blanche over how he interpreted the character. As a result, we see a pretty awesome villain that’s a fairly decent follow up to Hans-boobie.
Interesting also is that Jack Shaheen, an activist who was petitioning Hollywood for more favorable representations of Arabs, approved of Morgan Freeman’s character Nadir, who portrayed him as a devout and intelligent Muslim who behaved admirably, rather than falling into the usual stereotypes.
Roger Ebert derided the film for its ceaseless violence, including the opening scene where men’s heads are getting cut off, all the way to the end in which a young boy is about to be hanged. To think that this seems completely mild by today’s standards is an understatement. I saw it as extremely cookie cutter, taking a classical Hollywood style and injecting it with a bit more rawness. I didn’t really see it as stygian so much as attempting to modernize the silver era, and providing yet another example of why the 90s should be regarded as the post-modern era, in which traditional genres were revisited and revised. I have not yet scene Ridley Scott’s version, but I’m confident that it’s probably overwrought with CGI and aims toward presenting a very ‘realistic’ rendition of Robin Hood. Perhaps if Scott chose instead to take what worked from the traditional approach and added to it, we could have gotten something worth talking about.
BELOW: Gotta miss those 80s/90s music videos accompanying tent pole films
Director: John Irvin
Writer: W.W. Vought
Cinematographer: Thomas Burstyn
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1
The next day, Earning takes the team on the patrol. They’re in a fog heavy forest, warned that they are now only a few hundred meters from the enemy. Sandy gets lost in the fog, separated from the other soldiers. Soon he sees figures emerging from the woods; the enemy. He hides and they stop near him, thinking they heard something, before wandering off. He breathes a sigh of relief. We have all had moments in our lives where we didn’t want to get caught, out of absolute fear of the consequences. Irving comes as close as anyone to capturing the fear of knowing you’re either going to jail, or more likely, getting killed.
Later, he returns and a hot meal is getting served. Experience has demonstrated that this means they’re going on the offensive the next day. The fresh recruits, including Sandy, all look around, smoking, and share a couple of laughs. It’s not a forced scene to give you a superficial taste of camaraderie. It’s a very real moment of shared fear, excitement, and humor. Statistically, one of the four is going to die. Given their lack of experience, they all seem to grasp that it’ll probably be more.
In a great shot, starting in wide, we see the troops entering the woods, the camera tilts down and we start following a foot, walking on the dead leaves. And then we see the first land mine trigger, hidden in the ground. Addd are the .88’s in the distance. Within moments, they both open up. The blood effects aren’t as terrifying as Saving Private Ryan, but they do the job. The soldiers are slaughtered and within minutes retreat back, only to be told they have to go forward. There’s no arguing. The Captains know what it means.
It’s another brilliant moment where we see how difficult the job of Captain, or any leader really is. He’s just taking orders from those who received them, to pass them down to his Sergeants, who’re equally reserved about having to pass them on. Everyone knows what it means. Except we also grasp the fear in Sgt. Earning, along with his Captain Roy Pritchett (Martin Donovan). They too will face death, except showing as much courage as they can muster. I suppose the promise Pritchett makes to Earning about getting a Section 8 Discharge was a little heavy, but it does far more good than bad. He’s told if he takes his fresh recruits behind the line to destroy the guns, he can receive the Section 8.
The next offensive is launched and they flank the .88s. Sandy and his fellow soldier (don’t know the name) both have flame flowers. When the covering fire is provided, Earning tells them to rush. Sandy does the job with terrifying energy, screaming his lungs out as he sets fire to the German soldiers. His friends attempt to run away and Earning, without hesitation, shoots the flame pack and blows him up. We’re appalled and don’t completely understand. It’s only when Sandy says if he didn’t do it they would have all died that we completely understand. Some might not have seen it this way. Some might have grasped it from the moment he killed the deserter. But there was something with Sandy describing the action; a transformation in his character that really drove the point home. Like the 25% who would die, it was another necessary casualty.
And then the tanks arrive. And just when they thought it was over, the carnage continues. In another sequence reminiscent of Paths of Glory (and in the best way possible) they wait for night to fall, cut their way through barbed wire, and attack the ,88’s from the rear. With patience and painstaking intensity, Irving shows Earning cut each of the strands of barb wire, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Eventually he succeeds and they attack a supply truck, and subsequently the tanks. They win the offensive. For now. And only Sandy survives.
When you read the history it’s even more tragic. Over 60,000 lives lost in a battle that is hardly remembered. And the one film that attempted to memorialize it has met the same fate. I’m confident that it will soon join the ranks of the films mentioned. It’s that good. It’s a treasure that was a thrill to find.
BELOW: Posting again, mostly because there isn't much else to find
Director: John Irvin
Writer: W.W. Vought
Cinematographer: Thomas Burstyn
by Jon Cvack
Tis the year of seeing movies I’ve never heard, let alone would consider tragically underrated. Very close to top of this list is When Trumpets Fade, mostly on account of I’ve never heard of this movie, nor have I ever come across it on a list of “Films You’ve Never Heard of, But Should See’ and all variations or genre-specific lists.
I actually misread the year and thought it was produced in 1988, which blew my mind given how advanced it was. It was actually produced in 1998, and thus it makes sense that with Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line’s tremendous success, along with the onslaught of additional WWII/various War films following that success, that a few gems would get lost.
Coincidentally, this film is about the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, which immediately preceded the Battle of the Bulge and thus has been often forgotten where 33,000 American troops and 28,000 German troops died. The movie actually limits its description on how tragic this war was, as after the Allied losses and minimal gains (as scene in the film), the Germans launched the Ardennes offensive, which then led to the Battle of the Bulge.
The film is very much like a feature length bonus episode of Band of Brothers meets Paths of Glory. Instead of an ant hill, they are fighting a heavily fortified line, in which the Germans have countless land mines and a load of .88’s that reigns down a thunderstorm of bombs. Allied command knew they needed to capture this to maintain the momentum of D-Day and thus sent in troops, no matter the bloodshed and severe loss of life. It’s clear that it was simply a game of odds. Someone received the command that they would lose 25% of the men in order to capture the hill. As Paths of Glory captured so perfectly, you can’t help wondering who's making the call, and whether it’s because upper command actually believe it’s the right plan, or that they are simply pushing orders to succeed at any cost, and those below them are willing to do whatever it takes. To give you context for how tragic this is, the battle lasted for five months from mid-September to mid-February and cost 33,000 American lives. The Iraq War lasted eight years and had 4,500 American casualties. What’s worse is you’ve probably never heard of the Battle of Hurtgen.
As stated in Tigerland, it’s hard to find a good realistic war film anymore. You pull up a list and you get Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, Jarhead, Black Hawk Down, Battle for Haditha, Come and See, and Restrepo (I know I’m leaving out others; especially foreign). There really aren’t that many that demonstrate the realities of war, not just the horrors, but also - as Tigerland failed to accomplish - the moments between the battles; the relationships, loneliness, and worthlessness. Up there with The Thin Red Line, director John Irvin captures the terror of oncoming death.
We follow a band of new recruits, who are in one way or another, told that they could very well die and that it's far more likely as compared to other deployments. None of the new recruits have ever faced battled. One in particular, Private Warren “Sandy” Sanderson (Zak Orth), has never even smoked. They’re taken out on a patrol, guided by a fresh Sergeant, hours previously a private, David Earning (Ron Eldard), who doesn’t want the job.
In one of the best sequences, Sandy is led up to the front line, looking up at the trees, warned that he is now at the very front of the line. Anyone who comes near him that doesn’t know the code word (not Flash to Thunder, but I forget what specifically) is to be shot dead. Within moments he sparks up a cigarette. Later, in the the middle of the night, a flare goes up. He hears gunfire, having no idea whether troops will be headed his way. The closest reinforcements he has are 30 meters to his right and left. He’s all alone. It’s brilliant and terrifying.
Stay tuned for Part 2 - coming next week!
BELOW: A brilliant sequence, focusing on the men right before they enter battle, knowing the odds
Director: Steven Zaillian
Writer: Steve Zaillian
Cinematographer: Conrad Hall
by Tory Maddox
"It's like this. A dead plaintiff is rarely worth as much as a living, severely-maimed plaintiff. However, if it's a long slow agonizing death, as opposed to a quick drowning or car wreck, the value can rise considerably. A dead adult in his 20s is generally worth less than one who is middle aged. A dead woman less than a dead man. A single adult less than one who's married. Black less than white. Poor less than rich. The perfect victim is a white male professional, 40 years old, at the height of his earning power, struck down in his prime. And the most imperfect? Well, in the calculus of personal injury law, a dead child is worth the least of all."
With such an effective intro, I came across the book at a Thrift Store recently, expecting the same exact monologue in the opening chapter. It wasn’t. I don’t recall what it was, other than boring and far less effective; a testament to Zaillian's supreme abilities. I remember a friend near guaranteeing that I'd be hooked from the first few minutes.
The story follows Jan Schlitchman (John Travolta, at the height of his resurgence) who's a personal injury attorney that’s made a killing in Boston, approached by Anne Anerson (Kathleen Quinlan) who’s recently lost her son to a mysterious illness, suspecting that the local tap water had something to do with it. It’s the second time I’ve seen the film, and given all of the news about tap water containing record high amounts of prescription medication, flammable spouts, and devastating droughts the whole story took on a new feel.
This 90s film has a powerhouse cast - William H. Macy (playing financial adviser James Gordon), Tony Shalhoub (as attorney Kevin Conway), Sydney Pollack in a brief role, playing a pompous and arrogant executive/former Harvard grad, and, of course, Robert Duvall who puts on one of his greatest performances as Defense Attorney Jerry Facher.
It’s Duvall in particular who I remember the most from the film. Rarely is such a charismatic and likable character cast into such a nasty role. Throughout the film, with the wonderfully subtle, yet thick bite of his, we’re not really sure whether Facher actually knows that his client is wrong; if he’s so confident he’s right that it doesn’t matter; or that it’s all just a game to him, where he knows all of the tricks. For instance, he says he tells his law students to never ask the question ‘why?’ unless they 100% know the answer. It’s a minor moment that speaks volumes to his character. It’s both strategic and something he’s selflessly passed onto the country’s future Ivy League lawyers that will soon command the country.
The editing of this film is equally formidable. Particularly, in one sequence where, after losing in court and having no settlement at all, Jan is hunting down the last chance he has of getting any compensation for the victims by approaching the CEO of the campaign in question - Harvard alum, A.L.. Eustis, who can’t shut up about his alma mater credentials and numerous multi-million dollar yachts. The scene is intercut with Jan’s team back at the office, in which sentences are finished by cutting between the two sequences. Not until twelve years later, when Zallian’s competitor Aaron Sorkin and The Social Network went on to win the Oscar was such a style so well executed.
What’s most interesting is that aside from the $8 million he gets from the CEO - who, while an asshole the entire time, does break down that offering anymore would essentially open the floodgates for similar litigation, whether against his company or others - there’s not really much provided of the $350 million they were attempting to provide the victims. While we're hoping and expecting it to all work out in the end, the case ends. Jan is fired from his firm and forced to start completely from scratch, until the case was revived by the EPA (allegedly playing a much larger role in the book). This is the anti-ending, shifting our expectations, and begging as to whether the studio stepped in and begged for a few title cards to help mitigate the bleakness. It’s a solid film, with great writing, a phenomenal cast, incredible story, awesome direction, and fun editing. We need more from Steve Zaillian.
BELOW: The famous intro
Director: John Harrison
Writer: Michael McDowell (Lot 249 & Lover's Vow), George A. Romero (Cat from Hell)
Cinematographer: Robert Draper
by Jon Cvack
Turns out Tales from the Darkside is unofficially Creepshow 3, though allegedly there isn’t any good evidence for that (it was only George Romero’s involvement that lent credence to this rumor). But I’ll agree, since this offers all of the fun of the original, and makes up for what was one of the worst sequels of all time that is Creepshow 2. It contains three stories with one string that runs throughout the series, involving the guy from 'Boy Meets World' being stuck in a jail cell while a woman prepares to cook him.
One of the great elements of film is discovering movies that contain big stars in some of their earliest roles. In the first story, ‘Lot 249’, based off Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story of the same name, it stars Steve Buscemi, Christian Slater, and Julian Moore, involving a archeology graduate student Bellingham (Buscemi) who purchases an old sarcophagus, containing a mummy that comes alive and starts to kill of those involved.
In the second story, ‘Cat from Hell’, there’s the guy who plays the taxi driver in Scrooged (David Johansen) who plays a hitman hired by an old wealthy recluse (WillIam Hickey). Based on a Stephen King short story, which was likely inspired by the Edgar Allen Poe’s short story 'The Black Cat', this chapter does a lovely job of taking the 40s gangster archetypes and placing them within an incredibly creative and well blocked setting where the hitman battles a murderous cat. Director John Harrison fuses old blue-toned flashbacks and then integrates them within the same shot into the present moment. I don’t really find cats even remotely scary, but the performances by Hickey and Johansen more than make up for it.
The last story is by far the best, involving a struggling artist, Preston, played by the guy from the remake of Miracle on 34th Street (James Remar), who recently lost his agent. After a long, drunken night at a bar, Preston's attacked by a gargoyle. Sparing Preston’s life, the gargoyle makes him swear he won’t mention the event to anyone. Days later, he meets a beautiful woman, Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), who helps to completely transform his life, helping make his wildest dreams come true. Eventually he has a show that catapults him to the top echelons of the New York art scene. His life looks set. Ten years later, after Carola and Preston have a few kids, Preston finally reveals the story to Carola, who turns out to have been the gargoyle. In an effects transformation that’s worthy of the whole 90 minute film, Preston is then killed.
Not until Trick ‘r Treat did the anthology film really see a successful return. What makes films like TrT, Creepshow 1 and 2, and the Tales from the Crypt movies so great is their refusal to take the material too seriously. It’s meant to be fun and silly, and if they toss some scares in there as well, then mission accomplished. It’s been a long time since we’ve received storylines like this. Nowadays, horror films take themselves all too seriously, and I don’t just mean the narrative. The lighting and camera work all operate so realistically. I long for the days when the storytellers had fun with color, set design, and camera work. Trick r’ Treat returned us to these days, allowing us to laugh and squirm; the Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) remake did the same. A few tried to follow their lead and what happened? Of course, they went straight back to the serious camp. I hope it turns around, one of these Halloweens.
BELOW: A phenomenal practical transformation from man to gargoyle, up there with - if not better than - American Werewolf in London (1981)
Director: Zhang Yimou
Writer: Ni Zhen
Cinematographer: Zhao Fei
by Jon Cvack
There was a local band in my town called Tom Sawyer, who eventually broke up and formed another group called Raise the Red Lantern. That’s about twelve years ago and I’ve been meaning to check out the film ever since.
The story is a form of chamber drama, taking place at a Chinese Palace. It opens on a shot of Songlian (Li Gong) who has decided to abandon college and become a concubine. At the palace, she learns she’s one of four mistresses, one which is the head mistress, a much older woman no longer visited by the “Master”, a middle aged woman Meishan (Saifei He) who receives the Master’s visit on occasion and is battling with her aging body and rejection, and the second mistress, Zhuoyan (Cuifen Cao), who is the same age as Songlian and thus in chronic competition. Each one that is chosen has the Red Lanterns raised in their rooms and receives some type of amazing foot massages with a device with bells on it.
The entire film highlights the power dynamics that women can have while operating within the epitome of patriarchal culture. They are all confined to the palace, and while ripe with fete, they nevertheless find the most meaning in receiving the Master’s attention than in their gorgeous living quarters. Thus, rather than fighting for their own happiness and entering into meaningful relationships, they compete with each other, exposing and developing strong resentments.
Songlian’s primary competitor at the palace is Zhuoyao, who has an beautiful, operatic singing voice that often seduces the Master. Songlian also shares a Housekeeper (Qi Zhao) that can only wish she’d receive the same benefits of a mistress. She decorates her bedroom in red lanterns, and makes voodoo dolls to try and curse the rude and demanding Songlian.
I recently watched a documentary on the Crips and Bloods, which illustrated how their rise came about after prominent Civil Rights leaders in the area were arrested or killed, creating a void in which, having no leadership, they began to create criminal organizations that sought to capitalize on the drug trade, subsequently abandoning positive progress for negative regression. Rather than continuing the fight against an oppressive system they were ostensibly forced to fight against one another by the very nature of the business.
Raise the Red Lantern portrays a similar relationship. Some might say the women chose to enter into the life, never looking into the factors that might have left few other options on the table. They fight and dispute with one another, rather than trying to combat the system that creates such high premiums for foot massages or sexual satisfaction. As Ebert points out, the palace seems to extend infinitely in all directions, creating a feel that there is no world beyond this one.
The film is shot by Zhao Fei who’s able to mute the colors in everything beyond the lanterns and the rooms the lady’s live in. As a result, we feel how superficial and significant the meaning is. Between all the stone and mortar is the little these women possess - their rooms, each other, and the lanterns, each typically expressed with vibrant blues and reds. Each woman contains a depth that is captured in color against an oppressive neutral backdrop. Each will eventually grow old, to be replaced by another, desperate for any contact whatsoever as they live out the second half of their lives. Such inevitability creates a sadness that extends throughout the film, leaving you feeling empty, appreciative of the few things that might provide life with some meaning.
BELOW: A brilliant sequence showing the labyrinthian palace, as Songlian tries to find her competition. Contrasted with the top image provides a decent taste of Zhao Fei's phenomenal photography
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Cinematographer: James Glennon
by Jon Cvack
It took me longer than it should have to get around to Citizen Ruth and I loved every single minute of it. For a directorial debut, lower budget feature this has everything you’d want from Alexander Payne. All his trademarks - great characters, subtle camera work, hilarious dialogues, and a grand commentary beneath it all.
Ruth Snoops (Laura Dern) gets in trouble for sniffing glue and is put up by a pro-life Christian activist family. However, when the Judge who sentences Laura admonishes her to get an abortion for the sake of the child and the family rushes into the rescue, Laura is then taken in by a pro-choice family. Indifferent to either persuasion, determined to keep sniffing glue and do whatever she wants, things culminate in a stand off between the pro lifers vs. pro choicers in a brilliant third act.
I know few directors who can create such well balanced satire, adding just enough substance to remain believable and sincere without offending. While the characters are larger than life collectively, individually they are incredibly unique and human. It’s Payne’s phenomenal ability to find the truth in something that seems so small and anodyne when introduced, taking a seemingly minute character or element and showing us its great depth and insight. Laura Dern puts on an amazing performance, if not one of her greatest, as someone who can snap in a flash, unleashing a barrage of obscenities. She is completely apolitical, having little patience or concern for all the bickering and politics. So long as no one tells her what to do she’s fine and will treat others with the same deference. There’s a desperation to figure things out, knowing that she’s far from perfect. I’m not sure what Ruth Snoop's future holds, and honestly, given the character's trajectory, I feel like she’ll end up dead in a few years, but at least it’d be her choice.
The casting is absolutely flawless, featuring many of Payne’s later collaborators. The Christian Right family is able to capture the suburban religious folk, with its uniform neighborhood, uninspired furnishings, and the aluminum chain linked fences separating everyone from everyone else in the blandest way possible. Their selfless concern for others and the gross hypocrisy over failing to see their own children’s problems is a fascinating subplot. They don’t notice the daughter fucking the boyfriend, or that following the words of Jesus means fighting through other’s addictions and shortcomings. They give just enough effort to feel good about themselves, and if it fails no big deal. Except their pro-life beliefs, those are unwavering. If only they gave the rest of their lives a quarter of the passion they did for pro-life activism they would be far beyond those confining suburbs.
BELOW: Even this brief 2:30 clip shows the story's multiple layers upon layers
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Charles S. Haas
Cinematography: John Hora
by Jon Cvack
There is something about 90s children’s movies that fills me with a nostalgic joy. And while this same sentiment seems to apply to any movie fan's respective decade when their love of film came of age - the time when we’re most impressionable, before we start digging into the classics, keeping up to date on the awards fair, and having Opinions - I don’t think that’s the case for 90s family films. They were objectively the greatest. Off the top of my head we have the timeless classics - Camp Nowhere, Mrs. Doubtfire, Heavyweights, Little Giants, Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield, Rookie of the Year, Hocus Pocus, The Big Green, Dunston Checks In, Richie Rich, Blank Check, with each movie I name making me think of so many others, most possessing some rendition of that classic 90s uplifting, feel good score (see composer John Debney, with his Hocus Pocus score providing a perfect example).
Still, just when I think I had seen most of the good ones, I come across Matinee, which takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis, about a kid obsessed with horror films, who teams up with a slimy B-horror producer Hitchcock-ripoff (John Goodman) who’s in town to promote his latest monster picture. It’s the type of summer movie that makes you wish you grew up in the era, when cheap monsters and practical effects were still effective. Similar to other 90s kids films, there’s highly suggestive content and realistic characters - the boys actually talk like boys; the female love interest wants to move things along quickly; and there’s a great climactic ending that’s entirely fitting for a 90s kids films.
It made me want to return to that time when having obsessions and hobbies had no bearing on what I ultimately wanted to do. I loved Star Wars because of the story and toys, not because I wanted to make movies. I loved playing with toy guns and creating stories about rogue, pulpy cops/former & future Navy Seals, not because I knew I wanted to tell stories, but because it was fun. I had no need to constantly document adventures and vacations as material to use later and instead could remain present , appreciating the girl that looked at me in ninth grade science, having difficulty making the phone call, never realizing how silly the whole situation actually was.
BELOW: The Matinee VSH trailer
Director: John McTiernan
Writer: Larry Ferguson, Donald E. Stewart
Cinematographer: Jan de Bont
by Jon Cvack
The Hunt for Red October or Crimson Tide ? It’s an ongoing debate between a friend and I. He thinks Crimson Tide is ridiculous and Hunt provides a more realistic portrayal. I kind of see his point, especially during one of the film's most ingenious scenes where the story transitions from Russian to English. I truly think it’s one of the smartest ways to immerse us into the Russian environment. Ultimately, though, the issue is that this is a Jack Ryan movie. While Crimson struggles with a great moral issue regarding whether or not to launch a nuke after receiving a possible cancellation, Hunt is about two Russian sub commanders who wish to defect and offer their cutting edge submarine technology as a bargaining chip for refuge.
It’s this submarine in particular which pulls me out of the story. It’s cutting edge, and the size of a battleship. It can turn on a dime and go completely stealth. I don’t know much about nautical engineering, but I have a feeling this is an unrealistic feat. Add Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) to the mix and you’re forced to accept that the movie is going to take creative liberties. As with the other Jack Ryan movies - which I love, except for Sum of All Fears, which I only kind of like - it tricks its audience by presenting a seemingly realistic plot which is absolutely unrealistic and riddled with tropes. There are strong military personalities and of course, no one believes Jack Ryan’s suspicions. Everyone think he’s an asshole with no combat experience, he has to prove himself, yada yada yada. The movie is good, it just didn’t have me on the edge of my seat like Crimson. Added, Sean Connery’s Scottish accent battles so hard with his Russian one that it further adds to how realistic the movie wants to be and how shorts it falls.
Beneath it all is your classic 80s American Exceptionalism viz a viz most of the war films from the decade. Connery and Sam Neil (playing the Commanding Officer Marko Ramius and Executive Officer Vasily Borodin, respectively) wish so much to evade the USSR that they risk pulling the two countries into a Nuclear War. They could have easily just made copies of the ship’s blueprints and left in a much more subtle way. But that would have been a far less interesting a story. One wants a pickup truck, the other wants freedom. American is so perfect in their minds that all illogical and irrational actions are justified in order to achieve that farfetched American Dream. Or, put differently, if Crimson Tide is ridiculous because no one would launch a nuke after receiving a possible cancelled order, then Hunt is no better because no crew would risk so much for their own selfish dreams, including the destruction of the very country they wish to join. We never learn what went wrong. We don’t hear the stories. Imagine how great a scene it would have been to watch a debate about the conditions in the USSR versus those in the West. I just watched Moscow on the Hudson. It was praised for its accuracy of Russian culture. Hearing these stories would have at least helped the case. Instead they just decide to do it after a lifetime of ambitious success, well... just because. Also, if Jack Ryan didn’t get involved there would have a Nuclear War. Seriously, think about that. That was the flip side. That’s far too much happenstance for my taste. It’s an enjoyable film. I just wish there was more substance.
BELOW: Sean and Sam speak Russian. I can't find the full clip, but once they get down below it seamlessly transitions to English. Very smart stuff.
Director: Mikael Salomon
Writer: Graham Yost
Cinematographer: Peter Menzies, Jr.
by Jon Cvack
Coming a handful of years before CGI would completely take over the blockbuster, this movie is impressive, though it does have one of the worst opening CGI shots I’ve ever seen. I can see the director demanding one of the greatest long takes ever, starting from a high God’s eye view, descending down, hovering right above the Armored Truck and following it to the bank. The fade from CGI to an actual truck is quite something.
Other than that, I can’t think of another film that I want to see the ‘making of’ so badly. The sets include a street, house, church, graveyard, and school - all flooded, with endless rain pouring down. Contrary to the opening shot it doesn’t look fake. It looks elaborate and expensive.
The story kicks off strong. Armored truck driver Uncle Charlie (Edward Asner) gets his nephew Tom (Christian Slater) a job. While transporting bank money during the flood, they’re stopped by robbers and a gunfight breaks out. Charlie dies, Tom makes off with the money and the hunt is on.
Betty White makes an awesome guest appearance. Not as a comedian but as a paranoid homeowner who refuses to leave and sets up bear traps beneath all the windows to keep looters out. It also contains one of the most incredibly tense hold-your-breath scenes involving Tom trapped in a jail cell as the prison begins to flood. Any worthwhile drowning scene is going to make you hold your breath when the head goes under. This scenes make me choke just thinking about it. Each character has personality. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman-Bad, which is always a rare treat. He’s leader of the crew including Ray (Ricky Harris) who quotes bible passages with spoken word flow, the idiotic and overly confident Kenny (Michael Goorjian), and the third leg as a chemistry teacher turned bad (Peter Murnik as Phil) whose students have taught him how to build homemade explosives. The woman, Karen (Minnie Driver), is packing up and protecting the stained glass which she designed at one of the local churches. What a smart way to shoot in a beautiful location. This movie encapsulates what any action film should contain. It transports you into another world that's both believable and terrifying, keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Of course, this could all be biased the way it is with any movie I loved growing up. For some reason the classic 90s actions films I grew up with always give me the same feelings as when I was young, immersing me within the world, where I fully believed everything I was watching. Regardless, good characters and good plot in a high intensity plot always equals greatness.
BELOW: Tom struggles to escape from his prison cell in the all time greatest hold-your-breath scenes
Thoughts on films, old and new
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