Rating: The Good – 66.8 Genre: Action Duration: 114 mins Director: John Milius Stars: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson
John Milius’ uneven film has been criticised for being jingoistic and yes, there are some grounds for such criticism. There are also some spectaular leaps of logic and Harry Dean Stanton screams “Avenge me boys” without even a hint of humour. However, for the most part Red Dawn is actually a well orchestrated and even epic depiction of a fictitious invasion of the 1980’s United States by communist forces. Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen play two brothers who take to the mountains and form a rag-tag resistance behind enemy lines. It shouldn’t work but somehow this becomes an entertaining and sometimes touching examination of how life could’ve changed in such circumstances. Swayze and Sheen are charismatic in the lead roles and are supported by a number of young and, at the time, promising actors one of whom being Swayze’s future Dirty Dancing co-star Jennifer Grey. Milius’ and Kevin Reynolds’ screenplay can get clunky in parts but holds up for the majority of the film and there are some decent action scenes throughout.
Rating: The Good – 81.1 Genre: Mystery Duration: 112 mins Director: Richard Kelly Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell
Writer/director Richard Kelly’s sci-fi mystery is easily one of the most affecting and originally conceived science fiction movies to address the issue of time. It follows (literally) the troubled yet highly intelligent young Donnie Darko (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) through a period of time when his strange visions and conversations with what seem to be an 6-foot imaginary rabbit have alarmed his parents and seen him sent to therapy. As the visions continue however, Donnie begins to see a pattern that ties into events which are occurring in the real world and ultimately leads him to a key choice that will define his future.
Donnie Darko is a superb film that effortlessly balances the more weighty conceptual content with a cheeky wit and dark humor. There are some delightful exchanges between the various characters which make the whole experience a treat to the ears. But of course, there is much more going on beneath the surface and Kelly switches tone almost instantaneously at times but also seamlessly. The film is coloured with an intense but appropriate film-making style and there are some truly beautiful moments of cinematic self-reference that feed perfectly into Darko’s story such as the sequence in the theatre where images from The Evil Dead bleed into the narrative. The twist is not so much a twist as it is a methodical unveiling which requires the audience to step up and see it (it won’t come to more passive audiences).
Gyllenhaal is extraordinary in a title role that required a lot from its actor and there are a host of other top actors rounding out the supporting cast. The film’s soundtrack gives the proceedings a nice era-specific bedding and the politics of that era become an interesting and informative backdrop to the turmoil (both inner and outer) which is defining the various characters’ lives.
Rating: The Good – 64.3 Genre:Drama, Crime Duration: 91 mins Director: Francis Ford Coppola Stars: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise
Francis Ford Coppola’s uneven adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders features a host of household names albeit before they hit their prime. Matt Dillon, Estevez, Swayze, Lowe, Macchio, Howell, and Cruise play the “Greasers” from the wrong side of the tracks who are locked in class warfare with the wealthier more privileged “Socs”. The intentions were right and there are some nice glimpses of the great Coppola (check out those Godfather-like close-ups of Estevez’ feet changing direction and pace to indicate danger) but they are all too fleeting as this film runs away from him and its two main leads (Howell and Macchio) towards the end of second act. Worth sticking with it for the great rumble scene at the end though.
Rating: The Good – 87.5 Genre: Action, Crime Duration: 122 mins Director: Kathryn Bigelow Stars: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey
One of the most underrated action movies of the 90’s and one of the very best action films of any era, Point Break is a white-knuckle action showcase from the first scene to the last. Keanu Reeves (in one of his best roles to date) plays the FBI agent Johnny Utah who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang of surfing bank robbers while Patrick Swayze (in arguably his finest performance) plays the magnetic Bodhi whose addiction to life on the edge is as compelling to those around him as it is dangerous. Gary Busey (who himself starred in that other great surfing movie Big Wednesday) steals every scene as Utah’s grizzly partner and a host of “beach-rat” twenty-somethings contribute strongly in making this one of the most sardonically charming casts of its decade. The chemistry between all concerned is fantastic and it’s back-dropped with a rip-roaring soundtrack which is excellently counter-weighted by Mark Isham’s serene score. W. Peter Ilif’s dialogue is a big block of surfer cheese but stuffed with razor blades and when the latter combine with that soundtrack, the movie threatens to become one of the coolest sounding action film ever.
The action is what most people remember Point Break fondly for but the manner in which both Utah and Bodhi are intertwined in both personality and spirit is what really grounds the film. It actually provides the basis for a surprisingly mature examination of the adrenaline-junkie profile as Iliff ties both characters’ motivations to broader questions of meaning and belonging (fret not:- it really is done well!). This is most cleverly realised in the cover identity Utah creates for himself which ultimately becomes a roadmap for the remainder of his career and we are led to infer, his life. All this adds a touch of class to the story but it’s also done subtly enough that the movie never veers towards a drama and away from the steel-toned action film that it most certainly is.
Long before The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow proved she had the chops for action. But that wasn’t in this film. That was in the earlier Near Dark. In Point Break, she proved she was nothing short of an action auteur. From the manner in which she uses the hand-held camera to her judgement in how to get the best out of Donald Peterman’s stunning cinematography and Howard Smith’s intense editing, Point Break is the reason why so many critics made fools of themselves when they announced The Hurt Locker is long-awaited proof that women can direct action movies. High points include the first bank robbery which became the template for all later bank robbery scenes (even masterpieces such as Heat took their cues from it), the sky-diving scenes which have yet to be outdone to this day (even by dedicated sky-diving films), a ferociously shot FBI raid on the house of the rival surfing gang, and best of all that scintillating foot-chase which goes down as one of the most realistic chase scenes in screen history. “Little hand says it’s time to rock & roll!”
Rating: The Good – 85.7 Genre: Action Duration: 114mins Director: Rowdy Herrington Stars: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliott
“Always be nice, be very nice. Until it’s time not to be nice.” One of the all time great action films, Road House is the coming together of a razor sharp script, an outstanding central performance, perfectly orchestrated fight scenes, a rip-roaring soundtrack, and some of the best tongue-in-cheek villainy in screen history (“Prepare to die”, “You are such an asshole”). Add a tantalising supporting cast into the mix (best of all being Sam Elliot’s “Wade Garrett”) and you’re talking an epic action feature matched by few other films.
The story focuses on the number one “cooler” in the business (Patrick Swayze’s “Dalton”), a philosophical, tai-chi practicing bouncer who is brought in to the rowdy “Double Deuce” to clean it up. Things come to a head when the owner of the bar is targeted by the nasty Ben Gazzara (in blistering form) and his hoard of henchmen who come equipped with dagger boots and a Monster truck.
One suspects this film never got the acclaim it deserves because those who deride it don’t realise the bad guys are supposed to be caricatures, while most who champion it think of it as a so-bad-it’s-good type movie. But one could argue that both are wrong. At the heart of this movie, it’s as if there are two different scripts closely layered, one one top of the other. The bad guys’ lines are a festival of overt cliche while the good guys’ lines are as fresh, original, and cool as anything even Tarantino has since dished up. That’s right, Road House may just have been an early taste of the self-referential cinema that was to define the 90′s.
Swayze epitomises this interesting brand of cool and, more than anything, the pace of the film is set by his understated performance. He doesn’t say much but when he does speak it’s a treat to listen to, not only because of the subtle sharpness to his lines but because of his slick delivery. With every nod, salute, and half smile Swayze sinks the hook in deeper and by the time he starts kicking ass he’s firmly got a grip of you.
On the issue of ass-kicking, western film makers never properly understood why eastern actors look so good in martial arts films but essentially it’s down to their Chinese opera training which involves a lot of co-ordinated dancing. Therefore, being a dancer himself, Swayze always looked great while fighting and his natural feel for movement makes the fight scenes in this film (just as they were in Point Break) magnificent. They’re also great fun as director Rowdy Herrington makes the most of the sh!t-kicker bar setting so that the bottles, glasses, chairs, and tables are flying back and forth to the terrific music of the Jeff Healy Band in the background. Michael Kamen’s score is also scintillating but largely because it reminds us of that other seminal action film Die Hard, which Kamen worked on that same year. In fact it’s identical in parts. Given the hidden class of Road House, it’s more than appropriate that this more obscure movie has such a tangible link to what is most likely the greatest action film of them all. Appropriate because it’s only about two places behind it in the rankings.