Tag Archives: Charles Durning

The Final Countdown (1980)


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Rating: The Good – 69.5
Genre: Science Fiction, War
Duration: 103 mins
Director: Don Taylor
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katharine Ross

Cracking sci-fi thriller starring Kirk Douglas as the captain of a 1980’s aircraft carrier which gets pulled into a vortex during routine manoeuvres off Hawaii and gets sent back to December 6th 1941. The premise is compelling to say the least and it’s tapped for all its worth as the crew of the massively advanced ship weigh the moral and philosophical implications of intervening in the Japanese sneak attack which is about to be launched against Pearl Harbor. The film is set up wonderfully with plenty of time dedicated to substantially introducing the various characters and establishing their various political and moral positions and whatever relationships which will become relevant later on. The scenario is made more interesting with the inclusion of Martin Sheen as a civilian consultant who provides an unpredictable counterpoint to the hardened military personnel.

As two of the most professional actors to ever grace the screen Douglas and Sheen are great either on their own or together and they each bring an abundance of personality to the film. Katherine Ross and the always excellent Charles Durning offer equally interesting points of view as 1941 civilians (Durning playing a wily old senator) rescued by the aircraft carrier after the Japanese attacked their boat. Director Don Taylor is to be commended for his handling of the large scale logistics which include shooting everything from live action fighter jets, helicopters, the carrier itself, to the infamous Japanese “zeros”. The various action sequences are elegantly shot and edited and would rival any dedicated war film from the time. Furthermore, Taylor shows real panache in how he shoots the time-travelling sequence and imbues the moment with a real sense of primordial menace. This is particularly important because if captured in the wrong manner, the tenuousness of the story’s premise could be exposed (for example, just imagine how a “Time Tunnel” like shot of the carrier spinning two-dimensionally into the past could’ve undermined its credibility).

It all builds up to a fitting climax and there’s even time to tie some mind bending logical time-loops into the story in the vein of the best time-travel movies. The Final Countdown is exactly what a war/time travel sci-fi should be. It’s entertaining and reasonably stimulating and it really should’ve been remembered better.

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Jerry and Tom (1998)

    The Good – 68.6

Genre: Crime, Black Comedy
Duration: 107 mins
Director: Saul Rubinek
Stars: Joe Mantegna, Sam Rockwell, William H Macy

Jerry and Tom is a sharp black comedy starring Joe Mantegna and Sam Rockwell as a hit man and his protege. In his first outing as director, Saul Rubinek proves a deft touch behind the camera as the story casually spans the ten year relationship between the two eponymous characters. Rubinek stays faithful to Rick Cleveland’s stage-play by situating most of the action in small unassuming interiors. Within this more personal environment, Rubinek achieves a nice balance between the humour and the tension which ultimately gives the film a real edginess. Mantegna is superb as the increasingly disillusioned Tom and Rockwell again shows his depth as he quite expertly captures Jerry’s sad and creepy transformation from a young naive man to a cold-blooded killer. There’s an interesting dynamic between the two characters, the likes of which is not often seen and it makes for some curiously compelling drama. Furthermore, a host of great cameo appearances from the likes of William H Macy, Charles Durning, and Ted Danson help to provide this drama with an especially solid basis of acting talent. There are a couple of more contrived moments which can happen when work is translated from stage to screen and Rockwell’s descent is perhaps too sharply realised. But it generates some dark tension and that is largely what everyone was aiming for here. You won’t revisit this one too often but you will go back once in a blue moon. Intriguing.

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Cat Chaser (1989) 3/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 75.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 90 mins
Director: Abel Ferrara
Stars: Peter Weller, Kelly McGillis, Charles Durning

Elmore Leonard adaptations are rare enough to come by so they’re worth investigating when you do. Cat Chaser flew so far under the radar that it barely counts as a footnote in either his, its star Peter Weller, or its director Abel Ferrara’s careers but nonetheless it’s an intensely curious and really quite engaging thriller. Weller stars as George Moran, a Miami hotel owner and former marine who is drawn into a dangerous love affair with the wife of a deposed general from the Dominican Republic, the same place he and his “Cat Chaser” platoon fought in during the US invasion. The affair coincides with the arrival of a number of eccentric yet in their own way threatening individuals and an intriguing game of cat and mouse develops.

Cat Chaser begins with a giddy momentum as Reni Santoni narrates us into a dreamy world of lust and danger. Santoni captures the tone of Leonard’s words intuitively to such an extent that we’ve rarely had a more appropriate entry into one of his stories. Being a Leonard adaptation, it’s not long before we encounter an array of tricksy characters who each add an unsettling air to the tidy premises of Moran’s hotel. Like the narration, the dialogue is darkly but playfully pitched and it’s only sharpened by the edgy characterisations and indeed its delivery. Frederic Forrest prods and nudges the plot forward in a fun manner as the slimy P.I. who shows up out of the blue with sketchy agendas and a general air of sordidness. Kelly McGillis shines in the role of Moran’s love interest and embellishes Ferrera’s soft film noir themes as a Femme Fatale with a twist. Best of all these support players is undoubtedly Charles Durning as the General’s treacherous and vicious bag-man. A cross between Eli Wallach’s Tuco and the Penguin, Durning’s sneering and manipulative killer moves through the film like a dark cloud and if this film was remembered better, he would surely have gone down as one of the great villains. So good is he that it’s a testament to Weller’s evergreen presence and charm that he doesn’t let Durning steal the film from under him. On the contrary, Weller is terrific as the one straight and unflappable shooter in the story allowing everyone else to play off him to the betterment of their characters while maintaining the integrity of his. Ferrara wonderfully captures the feel and mood of Miami during the 1980’s with a varied palette of light colours. It’s no Miami Vice pastiche as everything is toned down to believable levels but it does draw the audience willingly into a relatively dark story, a seduction which parallels much of the central drama. Of course, this is helped substantially by Chick Corea’s breezy and sultry score.

For all these strengths, one might wonder why Cat Chaser failed to gain mainstream recognition. Well there are some problems. Ferarra has all but disowned the film for the re-cuts that were ordered in post production and the film does show signs of conflicting interests. The early stages seem to build around a plot that abruptly ends towards the end of the first act. Sure, it guided Moran into the affair with the general’s wife but the lack of resolution or even continuation of what was clearly just a subplot is strange and off-putting. Furthermore, the film seems to lose momentum when the main plot ratchets up in complexity which is the worst time for that to happen. But still, there remains something uniquely compelling about this film. Like Reni Santoni’s narration, the film just has an abundance of personality thanks to those rich characters, that razor sharp dialogue, the wonderful performances, and Ferrara’s composed touch. It’s not one of the great thrillers but it is one of the more underrated thrillers and for that reason, we should all do our bit to raise awareness of it.

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