Let me start off by saying I had high hopes for this one in two opposite directions. Either it could have been a great Die Hard on a plane style action/thriller, or it could have been a really great So Bad, It's Good romp with an over the top Ray Liotta being Ray Liotta. I'm sad to say that it kind of sort of falls in line between the two, never going far enough on either side
First off, if you love crazy Ray Liotta, then this movie is for you. Here he is an unhinged beast and literally the only thing that makes the film worth watching. While it's actually not bad, and quite good in some areas, you can't help but feel that it could have been a pretty great Bad Movie Night classic if they had just decided to dive head-on into cheese. Seriously, had they given it just a little bit more oomph in the cheese department, this would have been a certified Bad Movie Night classic! No doubt. But what we ultimately have here is a film that kind of teeters on that very special type of film, but never far enough. It's a competently made film, with some surprisingly impressive effects work and decent cast that easily could have made it an enjoyable 90's action/thriller, but what we're left with is a film that doesn't know whether to be a good action/thriller, or an unintentionally hilarious, but highly enjoyable cheese-fest.
For his part, Liotta is a blast to watch. In the first act, he plays calm, cool and even a bit charismatic, making you believe he's not such a bad guy after all. But it doesn't take long for his true colors to shine, and boy does he let loose in easily his most "Nic Cage-y" performance. It's easy to see he's having a blast here, and it's kind of scary how intense and good he is here in the role. Lauren Holly does a fine job as the protagonist, a stewardess who must outwit Liotta's serial killer character as well as try to land the plane solo. But I think the real standout here, or rather the most likable, is Ben Cross as a pilot who guides Holly's character over the radio on how to fly and land the plane safely. He's actually a very good and likable actor, and outside of his notable role in Dark Shadows, never really hit it big the way he should have.
Turbulence is an easy time-waster, and I can guarantee you that you won't be disappointed. While it never quite goes as far as it could, it's a hoot to see simply for Ray Liotta giving his most over the top performance to date.
The Cult Corner: Armed and Dangerous (1986)
Harold Ramis, Mark L. Lester, John Candy and Eugene Levy Create Comedy Gold
It's hard to believe that it's been decades since I've last seen this. And I don't remember too much about it really, other than the main cast and the sequence where they dress up in drag and bondage inside of an adult video store. But it's been a film I've had an itch to revisit for a while now, but never found the opportunity. That is until Crackle threw it on their streaming site for the month of July. So let's dig in.
After a former lawyer (Eugene Levy) and a former cop (John Candy) take jobs as security guards, they uncover a corrupt union that includes ripping off their own companies, taking bribes, and even murder. When their concerns are met with dismissive attitudes, they decide to blow the corruption wide open.
After finally revisiting it, I was struck by a number of things I found surprising. First, that it's a helluva lot funnier than I remember, and secondly, there's a lot more action than I was expecting. Let's start with the comedy. I was totally unaware that Harold Ramis had anything to do with this, but it shows that he has a story and screenplay credit, along with mega producer Brian Grazer, James Keach and Pj Torokvei (Real Genius, Back to School). I mean, all that talent just involved within the writing of this classic is impressive, and it's all translated brilliantly onto the screen because I laughed the entire time, from it's hilarious opening to it's action-packed climax. Yes indeed, Armed and Dangerous is a comedy gem that had me cracking up the entire time.
One of the things that surprised me was that this is directed by action maestro Mark L. Lester, a year after the Arnold classic Commando. So it sounds strange that after delivering arguably one of his best, most loved films in the action genre that he would dive into a comedy. But hey, Walter Hill did it roughly around the same time too with Brewster's Millions back in 1985 after a string of action classics that included 48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire. But what I found more surprising is how good he is at it here. I mean, the movie never skips a beat and it's genuinely hilarious for all the right reasons, so it's a surprising to me that he never did anymore comedies after this. At least none that I'm aware of since most of his films after this went straight to home video. Add to that the fact that he didn't direct a film for 4 more years until 1990's excellent cult classic Class of 1999, a sequel to his own breakout hit Class of 1984. He would then deliver a film of near legendary status the following year in 1991 with the Dolph Lundgren/Brandon Lee action classic Showdown in Little Tokyo. Anyway, I'm veering off course here.
John Candy was on such a winning streak here. Coming off of comedy classics such as Splash, Summer Rental and Volunteers, he would follow this up with his cameo in the genius musical adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors and then Spaceballs and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Eugene Levy, who costarred with Candy in Splash, was an SCTV regular who primarily stuck to television work before and after this for the most part. But overall A&D is filled to the brim with such an impressive cast that it's hard to know where to begin. We have the adorable Meg Ryan (Innerspace) of course, and then there's Kenneth McMillan (Dune) who plays her father, but we also have a who's who of character actors all making notable and memorable appearances throughout such as the legendary Brion James (Blade Runner) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) as two of the heavy-handed union reps, Robert Loggia (Innocent Blood), Larry Hankin, Steve Railsback and Tiny Liston, Jr. just to name a few. This cast was incredibly entertaining all around.
Having an expert action director comes in handy quite often in here because A&D has a surprisingly large amount of action sequences. While most of it is played for laughs, it doesn't take away from the fact that the action is seriously badass in here. That last third act though is damn impressive with some killer action and stuntwork for sure.
Armed and Dangerous exceeded my expectations at every turn. It's hilarious, fun, and carries a large amount of action to satisfy any action fan. John Candy and Eugene Levy are in top form and honestly, make a great team. While they costarred together in a number of things before this, I'm surprised it didn't continue considering this is easily their best collaboration.
You can currently watch it for FREE on Crackle.com, or rent it for a few bucks on Amazon. There's a 2011 Blu Ray you can pick up for roughly $10, and the DVD for even cheaper.
Bad Movie Night: Malibu Express (1985)
Excessive Nudity, Juvenile Script, and Mediocre Action. What More Could You Ask For?
As much as I love bad movies, I have to admit that I haven't really dug into legendary B-Movie filmmaker Andy Sidaris' filmography all that much. I think up until this point, I've only ever seen the excellent Seven (1979) and the Bad Movie Night masterpiece Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987). Before this, he hadn't directed a film since Seven in '79, taking a 6 year break from filmmaking. But after this film, he pretty much made and released a film a year all the way through 1993's Fit to Kill. It seems that beginning with this film, he found his little niche, or stride, and just kept belting them out left and right. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on your taste in bad films, but one thing's for certain, his films are definitely entertaining.
Malibu Express tells the tale of a smooth talking Texas private eye named Cody Abilene. I mention that he's from Texas because they throw that in your face as often as possible. In fact, his characterization of a Texan is so over the top that it actually falls into a caricature territory. I'm from Texas, I would know. He's hired to infiltrate a rich and powerful family to see which one of them has been leaking high tech secrets to the Russians.
Really, that's the bones of the story. Much like Sidaris' previous film Seven, it gets way too complicated and convoluted for it's own good, when really all we want to see is a bunch of random nudity and poorly executed action. Oh, and plenty of unintentional hilarity. Thankfully this film possesses all of those things so the over-complicated plot doesn't take away from your enjoyment too much. I think it started to sink in with Sidaris because ultimately, the main character, Cody Abilene, has to narrate the film to tell us what's going on.
I should point out that Malibu Express is strange. There are so many odd things that happen that don't make a lick of sense, but surely adds to the films overall appeal. There are too many to make an actual list, but believe me you'll be scratching your head a whole lot during the film. At it's heart, it looks and feels like a film written by a horny 13 year old boy. I'm not even joking. The dialogue is so juvenile and unintentionally hilarious that you just have to assume that Andy Sidaris must have written this film when he was a preteen. But again, that only adds to the film's appeal. On the downside though, this is sadly not Sidaris firing on all cylinders. Whereas I just love his more stricter and professional tone in Seven, and his more polished work in Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Malibu Express seems to be a decline in quality all around, from the direction, certainly the writing, editing and acting. I should also point out that while there are plenty of moments that take place elsewhere, most of the film takes place within a house, coming off as sort of a "Clue"-style thriller as he tries to figure out who's killing who.
As per usual, Sidaris shows up in a cameo as an RV tourist but he's so annoyingly over the top it's cringe-inducing to watch. It's also surprising to learn this was released in 1985, when it looks and feels more like a film shot and released in the mid 70's. There's also an ongoing gag about a hillbilly family of 3 who keep trying to challenge Cody to a car race throughout the film. I mean, these scenes are awful and such an unpleasant chore to sit through. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just once or twice, but they keep showing up over and over and it got old really fast.
While the cast is a collection of non-actors, most likely Playboy models, there are a few bright spots, like the legendary Sybil Danning, who always brings a breath of fresh air every time she shows up on screen. Also, you'll get a kick out of a pre-Police Academy 2's Lt. Mauser showing up here as a thug.
While I wouldn't say it reaches the level of some of Andy's best known and loved films, its certainly got enough going for it to make it enjoyable for any Bad Movie Night. I actually had this in my collection for years as part of that cheap 12-Movie set "Girls, Guns & G-Strings: The Andy Sidaris Collection", but never got around to watching it. When Mill Creek recently began releasing his classics on Blu Ray, I couldn't pass up the very low price of $8 for this, which you can still do on Amazon for that price I believe.
Documentary Spotlight: Life After Flash
It Took Long Enough, But We Finally Have a Documentary on Flash Gordon The Movie And It's Awesome
First of all, I had no idea this documentary even existed until it hit Amazon Prime as short while ago, because I can guarantee you that if I had been made aware of it earlier, I would have been more than happy to contribute to it's crowd-sourced funding, which is how it got made. But sadly I wasn't even aware of it until now. Anywho, when it popped up while browsing Amazon recently, I immediately added it to my list and finally got to watch it this past weekend.
If you've ever wanted a behind-the-scenes making-of documentary (which we've surprisingly never gotten yet) on the legendary Cult Classic Flash Gordon, then this documentary is for you. If you ever wanted to see a documentary about Sam Jones, his life before, during and after Flash Gordon, then this documentary is for you. In reality, it's like 2 different docs in one, and though some people online have been complaining about the fact that it did not know what kind of documentary it was trying to be, I actually love that about this. I love that it's both of those things and honestly, myself, or anybody for that matter, is in no position to bitch about that because as far as I know, this is the only documentary to truly dig deep into all things regarding that Flash Gordon film.
I think one of the most fascinating, and certainly most entertaining, things I discovered in this was all the details I was not aware of until now. Like just exactly why Sam Jones never got bigger than his role as Flash, and why he never got another big gig afterwards. Or that his voice was dubbed in the film. I literally had no idea. But there are so many things I was not aware of about this movie, a movie that I absolutely adore. So learning all of these behind the scenes aspects on one of my favorite films was such a treat, and I hope it will be for you too.
Here you get a ton of brand new interviews with virtually everyone involved in the production of that first film, from actors, to the team behind the camera, and right down to Brian May of Queen, talking about his experience doing the now legendary soundtrack to that iconic film. He even digs into who exactly who contributed to each song and what parts of those songs. I'm telling you, this is a wealth of information regarding all things Flash Gordon The Movie and if you've ever been a fan, this is something you need to watch. And lucky for you, it's now available for free on Amazon Prime right now.
The Cult Corner: L.A. Story (1991)
A Tour De Force of Hilarious Brilliance Pouring Out of Every Pore
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
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
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.
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