Rating: The Good – 67.1 Genre: Thriller Duration: 128 mins Director: Roger Spottiswoode Stars: Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris
Slightly above average war-drama from Roger Spottiswoode and starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Joanna Cassidy as war correspondents who rush from one third world country to another in order to get the scoop on the latest skirmish between despot and the poor. Landing in Nicaragua in time to document the final days of the Somozoa regime, the three find themselves caught up in a love triangle, bombings, and the political machinations of spies and government officials alike. Not quite as subjective and daring a film as Missing or as cavalier a film as Salvador, Under Fire falls in between as a safer and more mainstream examination of the South American political climate of the 70’s/80’s. That said, it’s an interesting story with solid performances and some decent action thrown in to boot.
Rating: The Ugly – 66.8 Genre: Thriller Duration: 110 mins Director: Roger Spottiswoode Stars: Sidney Poitier, Tom Berenger, Kirstie Alley
The 80’s thriller was a unique animal. All soft focus, dialogue skirting the edges of cheesiness, disciplined competent action, great leading men, and pure entertainment. Deadly Pursuit (or Shoot to Kill as it was called Stateside) is case in point. Sidney Poitier stars as an FBI agent who tracks a ruthless killer to the mountains of the Canadian border where he enlists the reluctant help of mountain guide Tom Berenger whose girlfriend (Kirsty Alley) has been kidnapped by the killer. Poitier is comfortable as the cultured city man out of his element and he and Berenger play off each other to great effect. The action is exactly what you’d expect with lashings of humour thrown in but it’s that great 80’s vibe that makes the whole things so damn satisfying. Clancy Brown and Andrew Robinson are among the excellent support cast and Brown in particular puts in yet another fine display.
Rating: The Good – 65.4 Genre: Comedy Duration: 104 mins Director: Roger Spottiswoode Stars: Kurt Russell, Robin Williams, Pamela Reed
Ron Shelton and Roger Spottiswoode team up again for this quasi-quirky but fully enjoyable sports comedy. Robin Williams is a middle-aged banker whose life was ruined when he fumbled a last second catch in the most important high school football game in his town’s history. Obsessed with making amends he cajoles the town into challenging their age old rivals from the big city to a rematch with the reluctant help of Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell), the star quarterback from that team. The Best of Times is a charming little comedy tinted with just the right amount of nostalgia. Russell and Williams are great together and their respective wives are played well by Pamela Reed and Holly Palance. There’s only a few genuinely funny moments but mainly this movie is all about bringing a satisfied smile to the face. Best fun of all is the climactic game, full of all the small town idiosyncrasies you’d see in real life and with plenty of wisecracks and nifty set pieces thrown in for good measure. Writer Ron Shelton has always been a dab hand with sporting comedies and while this was one of his more modest efforts it still manages to capture all the eccentricities of our love for sports.
The 6th Day is a tidy and modest attempt to embrace the qualities of the science fiction action blockbusters of late 80’s/early 90’s. Like many of those those films, it’s set in the near future and plays on seemingly plausible but morally ambiguous advancements in contemporary biotechnology. In the case of The 6th Day, that advancement is cloning and its technical facilitation and sociocultural and moral implications are handled in a creepy yet still light-hearted manner. In this future, cloning of animals including pets (by a company called “RePet” – laughs are encouraged) has become commonplace but human cloning on the other hand has been outlawed due to some disastrous early attempts and the moral quagmire an issue like that dredges. On top of the well handled premise, The 6th Day has got the undisputed king of the 80’s sci-fi Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role and more than one Arnie at that! Throw in a top actor like Robert Duvall and give him a generous subplot through which the central themes to the film most clearly surface and one begins to wonder why this film suffered a mediocre financial and critical return.
Arnie plays a helicopter pilot who ferries rich executives and party goers back and forth from the nearby mountain ski slopes. When a rich biotech exec is assassinated on one of these trips, a series of misunderstandings results in a cloned duplicate of Arnie being let loose on the world. It might sound daft but to say any more would give away one of the more interesting aspects to the story. But fret not, because it all adds up to a relatively neat basis for some futuristic action as not before long Arnie and Arnie set about trying to figure out what’s going on and then rectifying the mistake.
The set up to The 6th Day is quite skilfully crafted by Roger Spottiswoode as he allows the central characters plenty of time to tour the audience through their futuristic world. The cloning issue is introduced humorously with the subject of “repetting” taking prominence in the early exchanges and in its own way preparing the ground for the more weighty human related questions which arise later. Thus, the character dynamics and philosophical quandaries that pop up during these early stages are playfully realised, more than likely in an attempt to balance them with the unrealistic physical action a Schwarzenegger vehicle demands. Unfortunately, it’s the action element that lets the film down as its really quite pedestrian and uninspired compared to the films that made Arnie famous. The visual effects are fine without being spectacular but like the action, they’re not really informed by the plot and premise as is the case with the best science fiction films. Arnie’s character/s are also a little undercooked and as the movie progresses the subplots tend to take over the film. Given one of them involves Duvall that’s not the worst thing but it’s just not what one would expect from this type of film.
The 6th Day is still worth a look for fans of the genre or those who like to chew on some interesting concepts while firmly remaining in popcorn mode. However, given the flatness of the action, it’s clear that this was the beginning of the soon to be Governator’s slide from all out action hero-status to something more tame. For those of us who grew up on his movies, that offers a whole other level of reflection.
Rating: The Good – 65.9 Genre: Horror Duration: 97mins Director: Roger Spottiswoode Stars: Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner
Starring in three slasher films in one year, all of which went on to become cult favourites, earned the already star of Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis, the deserved tag of “scream queen”. One was an outright classic (The Fog), the other two (Terror Train and Prom Night) were proper b-movie material but with plenty of high points and even made with touches of skill. Terror Train is certainly less cheesy than Prom Night and with Roger Spottiswoode directing it’s relatively slickly made compared to most other b-grade slashers too.
Curtis stars as one of six college kids whose New Year’s Eve party on board a party train is crashed by a fellow student left deranged by one of their previous pranks. As one of the only sober bodies on board, Ben Johnson’s seasoned old train conductor is burdened with the task of tracking down the maniac before his murderous revenge is complete. Terror Train has a nice polished feel to it. It moves smoothly through the gears building the pretext to the killings and establishing the characters reasonably well as it does so. There are some nice ideas threaded into the story like the presence of a pre-megastardom David Copperfield playing a disgruntled and sinister magician hired for the party. Better still is the party’s fancy dress theme which allows the killer to walk among his prey and also assume the identity of his most recent victims. This last device is particularly effective because the creepiness of some of the costumes adds to the killers’ overall menace.
The acting is above par for the sub-genre too with Curtis proving even more comfortable with the role than in any of the aforementioned appearances, with the exception of The Fog. Johnson is sturdy in his duties too and provides a terrific foil to the wild partying kids he’s minding. Hart Bochner (eight years before he found action cult status as Ellis) also throws in with a deliciously nasty performance as the gang’s arrogant ringleader.
Unfortunately, despite all this, Terror Train falls rather flat in the scares department. The closed atmosphere of the train is used to good effect and the set design provides many a decent setting for solid potential thrills but they just never seem to click. Perhaps the relative lack of gore is at fault but it’s probably more tied to the pacing which though nicely maintained for the majority of the film, fails to accelerate during the scarier moments. Therefore, Terror Train just misses out on classic b-movie status but due to the nice vibe it gives off, it retains a solid appeal.