The Cult Corner: L.A. Story (1991)

A Tour De Force of Hilarious Brilliance Pouring Out of Every Pore

by robotGEEK

Wow. Just.....wow. Those were my exact words immediately following the "experience" that is L.A. Story, a film written by the brilliant Steve Martin and directed by Mick Jackson (Volcano, Threads, The Bodyguard). When this was first released way back in 1991, I remember it well, but also remember ignoring it because it looked like a romantic comedy. And at its core, it is. But it's also so much more, which I'll get into shortly. But at the time I was all about horror and action and while I enjoyed Steve Martin comedies up until that point like Three Amigos!, Roxanne, and his brilliant role in Little Shop of Horrors, I avoided this one. Boy what a mistake that was.

L.A. Story, at it's core, is a romantic comedy. But it's so much more than that. It's an over-the-top surreal look at what life was like in L.A. in the late 80's and early 90's, and that in itself is worthy of it's own subject matter. But here, Martin brilliantly blends this with a story about a newly single local weather man who meets the love of his life (Victoria Tennant) through a chance encounter, while also newly dating a much younger free-spirited woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) as a way to move on from his recent breakup, but also because, as he puts it, he's a man. So you're getting so much in such a short amount of time and personally, I found it exhaustingly brilliant. Every single second is ripe with clever visual references that add layers of genius to an already hilarious, touching and romantic script.

I think part of the reason that maybe I, and countless others, probably avoided this was because it was marketed as a pretty basic rom/com, but it's so much more than that, which is something that the trailers never touched on. Probably because it's so unique and they were attempting to market it to the most broad audience possible (I can only imagine what people thought when they did go see it at the theater and instead were treated to a surreal look into life in L.A. via 1991). But in the marketing, they left out some of the most important elements of L.A. Story that make it so unique and just completely special and unforgettable. It's whimsical, magical, surreal, clever and most importantly, it's hilarious from start to finish. And not just with it's broad comedy, but in it's visual ques embedded throughout the entire film, which I found flat out brilliant. You really have to pay attention to so much of what's going on in the background or right in front of you.

 I've always loved Mick Jackson as a director and I think choosing him, an outsider since he's from England, to direct a film about L.A. was an inspired move. He adds so much to the film that I think nobody else would have been able to, and certainly more than anyone who's actually from Los Angeles, CA. I've always felt him to be an underrated filmmaker, even though he's made memorable films like the dark, bleak and unforgettable cult classic Threads (1984), the better-than-it-should-have-been disaster film Volcano (1997), and the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner thriller The Bodyguard (1992), he is rarely ever mentioned by name or reputation, and it's a shame because he's a damn fine filmmaker, and I can easily throw this in with his best.

L.A. Story is not for everyone, and I can see how some might be turned off by it's more surreal qualities, but I find them all quite whimsical and magical in nature, and I hope you do too. Above all else though, it's quite hilarious and inventive with everyone turning in great performances, Jackson's impeccable direction and the film keeping an even tone throughout, never swaying too far into serious territory. It's always funny and it's always entertaining.


90's Thriller Throwback: Unlawful Entry (1992)

A Perfect Thriller in Every Sense of the Word

by robotGEEK

Unlawful Entry is the perfect example of why I love 90's thrillers the way I do. Released in 1992, it deliveries everything you could possibly want in a solid thriller, only it does it in such a perfectly structured way that I couldn't possibly think of a single thing to complain about.

After a scary break-in by an intruder who puts a knife to Karen's (Madeleine Stowe) throat, she and her husband (Kurt Russell) befriend the police officer who responds to their call. Soon officer Pete Davis (Ray Liotta) begins helping out a little too much and it soon becomes clear that not only is he unstable, but he has his sights set on Karen.

By offering up just the right amount of tension, suspense and thrills, together with some impressive editing and superb direction by Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused), Unlawful Entry succeeds in a way that so many other thrillers fail. Let's not forget, the early 90's were ripe with suspense/thrillers, so there was no shortage of them during this time. Not only does it give you a compelling story, but it creates a situation that could very easily happen to any of us, and gets you to wonder just how exactly would you react under the same circumstances.

If there was anything I took away from this film, it's that Madeleine Stowe is a goddess. Sure the film is just fantastic, but if you've never seen Tony Scott's Revenge (1990), and needed a reason to fall in love with her, then this film will do it. My gawd what a sight she is in here, and she should be, because she's the catalyst for everything that follows in the film.

And then there's Ray Liotta. By now he's known more for his intensity than anything. I mean, it's crazy (and scary) how intimidating he can be with something as simple as a Chantix commercial. But I swear, he could reach through the tv screen and literally kill you with his gaze, and that's what makes him so fun as a villain. Sure he's proven himself a great, and incredibly hard-working actor in everything from action classics, dramas, thrillers, comedies and family films, but he'll most certainly be most remembered as being so great as a villain and nobody does crazy like he does here.

I had picked up an old VHS tape of this years ago and it sat on my shelf for so long I had just forgotten about it. I did the smart thing and finally moved it over to my "watch pile" next to my tv so that I would remember to throw it on someday. Now that I finally have, I can kick myself for waiting so long because this was just such an absolute treat from beginning to end and I think it's time I add this to the collection upgraded. No Blu Ray that I know of, so it will have to be DVD for the time being.


The Cult Corner: Quick Change (1990)

Bill Murray's Directorial Debut is a Forgotten Gem, Cult Classic & 90's Oddity of the Best Kind

by robotGEEK   

Here's another forgotten film I finally checked off my list. Quick Change is a comedy (and I use that genre title loosely) about a trio of bank robbers who attempt to flee the city after their crime, but are beset by a number of circumstances that take them on an odyssey through the streets of New York as they try to reach the airport.

Released in 1990, this would be Bill Murray's one and only directing effort. Some quick digging on the internet reveals that this was a passion project for Murray, and as such, he became both producer and co-director so he could have more creative control, the only time he's ever done either for a feature film. This was made and released when Murray was in a high point in his career, having just released the highly successful Ghostbusters II the previous year, and Scrooged before that, and following this up with classics such as What About Bob?, Groundhog Day, Ed Wood and Kingpin. So it's safe to say he had a remarkable amount of creative freedom to do whatever he wanted, and for better or for worse, the result is Quick Change.

While I enjoyed this quite a bit, I didn't love it like I hoped to. And after re-watching the trailer, I remember why I avoided it all these years until now. It just looks like a terribly unfunny comedy, and that's sort of what it is. But it's also a film that falls into a very niche genre of comedies that are few and far between; comedies that are not actually funny and often times offbeat, bizarre, dark and surreal like Something Wild, After Hours, Into the Night and Joe Versus the Volcano. While this one doesn't quite reach the level of those films, it gets pretty close. The little bit of humor this does have comes from Randy Quaid's childlike character, but for the most part it carries a strictly dry humor, which actually works really well here. I just feel if they had tried to make it a little darker and more weird, it could easily be a great cult classic. As it is, it's really good, but not one I see myself revisiting anytime soon.

Murray and co-writer Howard Franklin share directing credit on this and so it's hard to tell who to give credit to, but for the most part, it's a nice looking film. Nothing fancy or stylish, but it's clear they knew what they were doing in framing up their shots, with a few images really standing out, especially in the first act when dealing with the bank heist.

To Murray's credit, he plays the part flawlessly in easily one of his most subdued performances as a man who's trying to keep it together, despite a neverending series of obstacles that create chaos and tension on their journey out of the city. He never once tries to be funny, which today isn't all that surprising after fantastic performances in films like The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers. But there was a time when he attempted to do "serious" way back in 1984 with The Razor's Edge that didn't go over so well. While I wouldn't call his performance in here dramatic, it's serious enough in tone that it could almost pass for dramatic. Still, there's just something "different" about him here, and I struggle to put my finger on it. Whatever it is, it works, and it almost makes me wish he directed more, because that could be part of why he's so effortlessly good in this.

Murray's co-director and co-writer is Howard Franklin, who delivered some solid dramatic screenplays with In The Name of the Rose and Someone to Watch Over Me before this, but mostly stuck to comedy after as both writer and director with The Public Eye and Larger Than Life. Of all the films under his belt as director, I would say this is probably his best effort.

Quick Change is a noble effort, and a really good film, just barely teetering on the verge of being great. That in itself is an accomplishment, and worth your time checking out. If anything, it's worth seeking out just to see the one and only film Bill Murray has ever directed, because it's quite an impressive debut if you ask me. It hasn't yet received a snazzy Blu Ray release, so your best bet is grabbing the DVD, which you can do cheaply.