Sunday, June 5, 2011

Summer Movie Series: Lethal Weapon 4

This is part of a summer series I'm writing. It's the season when blockbusters reign supreme at the box office, but most of them I have no interest in actually seeing. So, I'm going back and watching some great titles on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Back in the Summer of 1998, there was one movie I cared about seeing: Lethal Weapon 4. I remember getting off work at the mall where I worked, driving across the parking lot to the movie theater, and catching a late show on opening night. I guess because I was young, about to graduate high school, and having so much fun, I look back on the late 90s very fondly. And in the 90s, big budget, over-the-top action flicks reigned supreme. As a teen-age male, I ate them up. My favorite was the Lethal Weapon series. They were funny, had likable characters, and some great action scenes, but without being brutally violent.
As the decade that was the 90s came to a close, films like Lethal Weapon 4 were a dying breed. Action movies are still around, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, but now they are all about CGI and superheroes or old 1980s properties. Lethal Weapon 4 was a great way to close out the decade and end an era of action blockbusters. In fact, the movie almost seems like an afterthought. It’s a good, fun one, but an afterthought none the less.
By 1998 the series had essentially gone from action movies with some comedy thrown in to comedies with some action. The characters were the main point of the movie, and plot had become secondary. The fourth one involves some nasty Chinese smugglers and human trafficking. The villains are as bad as expected, but the movie belongs to Riggs and Murdoch. There are some great action pieces throughout the film, and it’s never boring.
As I watch it now, though, no longer coming from the perspective of an eighteen year old, but rather a thirty year old with a fully shaped world view, I see some “propaganda” thrown in the film. It’s not surprising, since Richard Donner, the film’s director, is a well-known liberal.  In this one an anti-gun message is clearly woven throughout, complete with some anti-NRA posters clearly displayed in the film’s fictional police station. Maybe that is true to Los Angeles, but in Oklahoma most officers I know are in the NRA. But, the political message, while there, doesn’t overshadow the film’s fun. If you can just take it for what it is, more ignorant liberal drivel, ignore it, and enjoy the movie, it’s no big deal.
As with the other films in the series there is quite a bit of profanity, but maybe not as much as the earlier ones. The violence is ever present, but not as brutal many modern day films.
The best action scene, in my opinion, is the car chase and trailer fight on the L.A. freeway. It’s fun to watch this and remember how the late 90s were. In this movie, cellphones are huge, and they gripe several times about how expensive it is to make a call on one. The cars (I’m looking the Pontiac Grand-Am’s way on this one) bring back memories as well. Overall, this is a fun way to close out the series, and remember when Hollywood could make a movie without using CGI.  I’m guessing soon someone will get the brilliant idea to reboot the Lethal Weapon franchise and ruin it. At least we’ll always have the originals to go back and enjoy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

     The Western Heritage Awards will be held next weekend (April 16) in my hometown of Oklahoma City, at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center (known locally as the Cowboy Hall of Fame). Ed Harris, who has starred in several Westerns, will be on hand as one of the evening’s hosts. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d post a review of his film Appaloosa. On a scale of five stars, I gave the movie four. See below for my thoughts on the great film.
 The town of Appaloosa is in need of some serious taming, as arrogant rancher Randall Bragg seems to just do as he pleases. So, the town fathers call in Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch to take care of business, as the town’s new marshals. What starts as a standard western movie premise quickly changes as the arrival of a new woman puts a different dynamic on the situation. 
  Alright, so even the plot of a tough lawman caught between duty and the woman he loves has been done before, but not quite like this. What makes Appaloosa unique is the morals (or lack of) and character of Mrs. French, and how the tough lawman responds to her.
  Appaloosa is a traditional western, with not much revisionism thrown in (and that’s a good thing). Save for a few moments of harsh profanity and one brief scene of partial nudity, this movie could have been made forty years ago. It’s not overly violent, and doesn’t dwell on the gunfights. Instead, this is a character driven western that takes its time, and ends up being one darn good movie.
    Ed Harris stars in this film that he also directed. He looks at home in a western, and portrays Marshal Cole with just the right touch. Viggo Mortensen, who portrays Hitch, looks even more natural, as if he is some sort of Frederick Remington painting come to life. Renee Zellweger is obnoxious as the shady Mrs. French, but I believe this to be some of the best acting in the film! The character is supposed to be obnoxious. She’s like one of those villains in some of the old, great westerns: you just can’t stand her! Jeremy Irons does surprisingly well as a wealthy, yet villainous rancher. Mr. Irons is a top notch actor, but on the surface the classically trained Englishman seems like an odd choice to portray an American frontiersman. Still, he pulls it off in a very convincing fashion. And, although he’s only in it for a few moments, Lance Henriksen almost steals the show as gunfighter Ring Shelton. The relationship between Shelton and Cole is very interesting, as it is clear both respect each other’s ability but viewers know an inevitable showdown is looming.
 Fans of modern movies might not find much to like in Appaloosa. While never boring, in my opinion, the film is not action packed. It is a throwback to an older generation, when Hollywood didn’t rely on CGI and over the top violence. The first time I watched this movie, I admit, I didn’t care for it too much. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. As an avid western fan, I see the few that make their way to the movie theatres with excitement. I think I had built the movie up too much, and it just didn’t live up to the hype I had created. It came not long after the action packed remake of 3:10 to Yuma, and compared to that movie, Appaloosa came across as a bit slow. However, after watching this movie a second time, I appreciated more what Mr. Harris was doing. There are a couple of scenes of good cowboy style shooting. But, again, the action does not take center state. This is a movie making a statement about friendship and loyalty. The second time I watched it, I got it, and I loved it. With wonderful cinematography (and I can’t stress that enough!), great characters, and some truly funny moments, Appaloosa is one fans of classic westerns should enjoy.
    Rating: Appaloosa is rated “R” for a few instances of rough language, adult themes, one brief scene of partial nudity, and a bit of violence. The violence is not frequent, but we do see some blood and the affects of a few close range gunshots. Not recommended for children or younger teens.
    Note: Appaloosa is based on a novel by the late Robert B. Parker, and the film follows the book very closely. If you like the characters of Cole and Hitch, there are three sequels in the literary cannon. Let’s hope they get filmed as well!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Random Thoughts On A Few Upcoming Movies

Alright, I have some random thoughts on a couple of upcoming films. Since my random and possibly incoherent thoughts are not long enough to stand alone as separate blog posts, I’ve lumped ‘em all together for a Friday blog post round-up extravaganza.

Much has been written about Hollywood’s obsession with remakes. Some of them turn out pretty good (3:10 to Yuma) and some (most) don’t work out so well. But, of all the movies to remake, do we really need an updated Arthur? Since, for some reason Russell Brand seems to be the current “it” boy when it comes to “comedy,” I guess it was inevitable. The film is getting awful reviews. Now, I have to admit I’ve never seen a (live action) film Brand has made, but he seems to always play the same character. He’s a one note guy, and I’m guessing his star will fade fairly quickly. After all, the obnoxious, depraved role he plays in just about everything is only humorous for a few minutes…alright; it’s not really ever funny. But, my guess is audiences will soon tire of it.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about hoping quality faith based movies would be made. While Soul Surfer isn’t the comedy I was requesting in my blog, it does look to be a decent movie with a great message. And the best part: it does not feature Gary Busey fighting the Anti-Christ! Come to think of it, I think it’s actually a Christian film not about the End Times. I hope it does great at the box office, and I wish all the best to those who made this picture. Betahny Hamilton, the girl the film is based on, seems like a great kid. God bless her for spreading the Word and being a great role model.

After forty plus years of trying to bring Atlas Shrugged to the big screen, it’s finally arriving next week. First of all, let me say I’m all for a movie with a conservative message. The liberals throw in their leftist world view all the time, so I say all is fair in ideological cinema. But, I probably won’t see Atlas. I hope it does great at the box office, but I just don’t have an interest in the project. I’m not a huge Ayn Rand fan, even though my politics lean pretty dang libertarian (however Rand was off on some pretty big stuff!). But, the plot just doesn’t look that fascinating to me. And the book it’s based on is so long, it will take three movies just to tell the story. I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is them leaving me hanging with part one, and then not producing the other two films! If this thing bombs at the box office, it will be a death sentence for the other two projects. And yes, I realize the irony that I would maybe watch it later if all three get made and the story comes to a conclusion, but my lack of seeing it in the theater may prevent that from happening. I always thought Atlas Shrugged veered into the science fiction and speculative fiction genres, but the previews seem to make the film look like a straight forward movie about warring corporations. And something about trains. I’m not sure. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s an engrossing story, but it just doesn’t have me interested as of now. It does look to be well made. But, the source material itself is not an easy sell, and not because of the political overtones which many Americans agree with. The story seems to be a vehicle to expound philosophy, and appears to be “heavy.” When my wife and I go to the movies for date night, I don’t want philosophy or politics (right or left). I want a good movie. We want to be entertained. I just don’t get that vibe from Altus Shrugged.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Day Lincoln Was Shot

The cable station TNT put out some great original movies during the mid-to-late 90s, and even into the early 2000s. Why they’ve stopped making feature films, I don’t know. However, through the years some of these pictures have been released on DVD. I’m still waiting on The Avenging Angel, starring Tom Berenger. But, one of the movies I’ve been waiting to see on DVD is finally coming! At least, I think it is. Movies Unlimited now has a page for the 1998 film The Day Lincoln Was Shot. According the site, the movie will be released on May 13 of this year. That is all the information I can seem to find at the moment (even Amazon doesn’t have a listing as of today). It makes sense that this movie would be released as Robert Redford’s The Conspirator will hit theaters this month (on the 146th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination). Redford’s film actually looks to be pretty good based upon the previews. We don’t see too many quality historical pictures these days, so I welcome those that come along. Let’s just hope it sticks to the facts and doesn’t slide in some political opining in the background! And, here’s hoping Movies Unlimited is correct, and TNT’s very good film will finally get the home video release it deserves.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Couple of New Westerns Worth Mentioning...

Wyatt Earp is riding to a movie theater near you once again! Yes, that’s right…it’s been fifteen plus years since we’ve had an Earp movie (two of ‘em actually: Tombstone and Wyatt Earp). However, I am happy to report the famed lawman will once again be entertaining us. I don’t have many details now, but here’s what I know:

An independent film entitled The First Ride of Wyatt Earp is currently in production. Interestingly enough, Val Kilmer is most likely playing an aged Earp, recounting his first ride as part of a posse tracking the murderer of Dora Hand (the posse included Bat Masterson and several other well known figures. The true story is chronicled in the excellent book Thunder Over the Prairie.)

Warner Brothers (who brought us 1994’s Wyatt Earp) is developing an old fashioned sounding tale called Wild Guns. This movie will chronicle an event that did not actually happen (in fact it has no historical basis) but sounds very entertaining. In the picture, Earp and Holliday reunite to rescue the kidnapped daughter of Sitting Bull. Doesn’t that sound like something right out of those old 40s westerns that threw in the names of real figures but placed them in completely trumped up settings? I’m fine with that, for the sole purpose of entertainment.

I will bring more as I learn it. Things might be looking up for western fans, and fans of the West’s most famed lawman.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Western Movie News Round Up

I love westerns. Always have. I guess it’s because I have fond memories of being with my Grandpa while he watched John Wayne classics, or because I was exposed to reruns of Rawhide every afternoon after kindergarten (we didn’t have cable, and had five channels-it was Rowdy Yates versus soap operas, so you can guess which one won). Anyway, I search the internet constantly looking for a lead on any new westerns being made. It’s rare I find anything. For some reason, the once great genre has fallen out of favor. So, I have taken it upon myself, as a service to humanity, to regularly report any news I find on upcoming westerns. So, check back often as I’ll update the blog anytime I get good news.

There are a couple of westerns in the works. The most promising, in my opinion, is a retelling of the classic television series The Big Valley. The film is being distributed by 20th Century Fox. It was due to be released this spring, but a recent message on their Facebook page stated filming is on hiatus until May, and the film should be finished this fall. However, another source reported the filming will resume in August. Either way, it will most likely be 2012 before we see the film. I cannot get word on if it will have a theatrical run, or will be direct to DVD. Jessica Lange will be playing the matriarch Victoria Barkley. The film also has some veteran actors like Bruce Dern, and even Lee Majors will have a small role in the film. I hope they make it a bit edgier than the show, throwing in a few more gunfights. The series was essentially a soap opera set in the old west, but maybe the movie will be updated a bit. Let’s hope they don’t update it, however, by adding offensive content. Time will tell. It will be good to see ol’ Bruce Dern back in the saddle again.

The biggest western news to come across the web recently is the fact that Quentin Tarantino is making a western. The majority of folks talking about this seem to think it will be the greatest movie ever made. There is a lot of excitement over this project. I guess I’m in the minority. I’m worried Tarantino will add an excessive level of foul language and over the top violence, as he seems to do in every movie he’s ever made. Tarantino has made no secret that he’s a fan of spaghetti westerns (I am not, for the most part) so I’m sure the film will pay homage to that genre. We’ll see how this one plays out, but I’m not holding my breath. If you would like to know more about this project, click here to read a story published this morning.

The excellent 2010 film, True Grit, finally has a Blu-ray/DVD release date! It will be hitting stores on June 7, 2011. I’m not sure why it’s taking so long for the movie to hit the home video market, but it’s well worth the wait.

That’s all the western news I have for now. Hopefully I’ll here soon of a new project in the works, and will be able to report .

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Some Quick Reflections On Christian Cinema

Mollywood exists. I know, you’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s out there. Mollywood is the term for Latter-day Saint cinema (stemming from the phrase “Molly Mormon). In recent years, a generation of Mormon filmmakers has risen up. Some of the movies are great (Singles Ward) and some are not so great (I won’t name names). But, it is safe to say that LDS films have come a long way! Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about their evangelical counterparts.

Before I go any farther, let me say that I am not LDS. I have LDS friends, and lived in Utah for a time, so I’m very familiar with Mormon culture. I am an evangelical. And yes, I’m going to pick on Christian filmmakers a bit, but not for the same reasons all those secular critics do. You see, for years I’ve hoped there would come a day when Christian filmmakers came forward and made quality films. It’s starting to happen, but we still have a long way to go!

Used to, every film produced by evangelicals was about the Rapture! Sometimes they even starred celebrities who were a bit past their prime (I’m looking in your direction, Gary Busey). But it seems every Christian movie maker believed a story wasn’t worth telling unless it presented dispensationalist eschatology with poor special effects. Recently, though, a new breed of films has made their way to the forefront. The folks at Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia have turned out some really decent movies with great messages! However, I’m still not satisfied. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Sherwood movies are great. But, they are essentially hour and a half long sermon illustrations. That is to say, they are pushing a message. That’s not bad. I agree with the messages they push. But sometimes, I don’t want to hear preaching. I want to be entertained. And guess what: there’s nothing wrong with that. Message movies and sheer entertainment movies each have their place.

So, back to LDS cinema. Some Mormon movies are “preachy.” Some are just a good time! We need evangelicals who will realize that it’s alright to make a movie just because it’s funny and not because it teaches a moral. I don’t really care for the drama genre. I’d like to see a good comedy that is clean, and that portrays the lead characters as Christians. I would really relate to that sort of movie. Or, perhaps even an action movie or police film where the detectives are decent, Bible believing people. Basically, evangelical filmmakers could learn a lot from the folks over in Utah. I guarantee that if a funny, quality picture came out tailored for Christians it would do great business at the box office! So, I hope wannabe Christian filmmakers out there will read this and be encouraged to stick with it. Let’s get involved in the film industry and redeem our culture. And in the mean time, go watch Singles Ward or The R.M. and see how a faith based movie can be done right.