Tag Archives: Kurt Russell

The Mean Season (1985, Phillip Borsos)

Somewhere in the second act of The Mean Season, the film just starts slipping and it never corrects. The opening titles, set against stormy Miami weather and a vicious (though not graphic) murder, establish the film’s momentum. Everything moves fast, whether it’s establishing unsatisfied reporter Kurt Russell and his newsroom sidekicks, his girlfriend Mariel Hemingway, even when the serial killer starts calling Russell–director Borsos and screenwriter Leon Piedmont keep things moving. Frank Tidy’s photography, the Florida locations, and Lalo Schifrin’s gentle but intense score help a lot.

There’s also Andy Garcia and Richard Bradford as the cops investigating the case. Garcia likes Russell, Bradford doesn’t. Like almost everything else in the movie, Borsos seems to think implying character motivation is the same as having character motivation. But Borsos and Piedmont aren’t particularly good at subtlety and Borsos isn’t great at directing his actors. He apparently gets Bradford’s world-weary, slightly fascist cop is the best character in the picture, since Bradford’s the only actor who gets any material to chew on. Though maybe it’s Bradford stepping up and chewing on his otherwise pointless role.

Getting a little ahead of myself–the salad days of Mean Season are the first half. The newspaper stuff is interesting, Borsos is good at the investigation, Russell and Hemingway are appealing. Then the movie gets into this whole juxtaposition of Russell’s media ambitions and the killer’s media ambitions and the stumbling starts. Russell and Hemingway try, but neither brings much weight to their roles. Once Borsos is done doing jump scares involving them, he and then Piedmont have nothing more for Hemingway. She’s just around to argue with Russell. Then Russell apologizes and scene.

There’s no character development, particularly for Russell. Piedmont’s script relies on thriller more than drama. Borsos’s direction eventually veers to action, which is a big mistake because he’s exceptionally inept at it. The second half of the film, as Russell finds himself in danger and not just from manipulative jump scares, is ragged and somewhat unpleasant. Russell burns through the charm and likability he’s built up and Borsos isn’t there with anything else for him. He ends the picture a husk.

Mean Season also skips the opportunity to look at the reporter becoming news, even though there are occasional details suggesting someone thought it might be a good idea to focus on that angle.

Hemingway gets a lot of help from Schifrin’s score. It’s problematic–she’s the damsel so she needs good damsel music–but also effective. And she’s trying. And her character does try to talk some sense, building up her likability. So she’s slight, but gets a pass.

Russell’s pass is a little different, almost more of an incomplete. It’s not his fault though. It’d be hard to make the last third silliness of Mean Season work. The film’s desperately in need of a better resolution to the mystery of the serial killer. Borsos overestimates where’s gotten the film in terms of suspension of disbelief as well as general interest.

The supporting cast is solid. Besides the awesome Bradford performance, Garcia is fine with little to do as a too young police lieutenant. Richard Masur, Joe Pantoliano, and Rose Portillo all ably staff the newsroom scenes. They eventually disappear from the A plot, reduced to background as Piedmont’s script loses focus. At least Borsos kept them around.

Richard Jordan and William Smith are good as witnesses who prove essential to the case. Borsos fails Jordan after a while, but he’s still got some fine moments.

The Mean Season wraps up with an unsatisfying, hurried, manipulative conclusion. By the end, the whole movie is on Hemingway, Russell, Schifrin, Tidy, and Florida’s collective shoulders. They manage to keep it afloat, but only just.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Borsos; screenplay by Leon Piedmont, based on a novel by John Katzenbach; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Duwayne Dunham; music by Lalo Schifrin; production designer, Philip M. Jeffries; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Malcolm Anderson), Mariel Hemingway (Christine Connelly), Andy Garcia (Ray Martinez), Richard Bradford (Phil Wilson), Richard Masur (Bill Nolan), Joe Pantoliano (Andy Porter), Rose Portillo (Kathy Vasquez), William Smith (Albert O’Shaughnessy), and Richard Jordan (Mike Hilson).


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The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray)

What is the Fate of the Furious? It’s unclear screenwriter Chris Morgan knows–it comes up in the script a little–but it’s a needless portent. The Fate is the cast sitting around listening to Vin Diesel talk about family after they’ve gone through high action and zero character development. Just because they’re all millionaires after one of the sequels doesn’t mean they can’t still have some good old-fashioned wholesome (and no longer goofily ironic) backyard cookout complete with grace. Because Diesel’s just got to get the positive religiosity into Fate of the Furious.

Which really should’ve been called F8 of the Furious or something. Because a movie where two guys flying around with jetpacks not raising any eyebrows needs a much more entertaining title. Fate of the Furious sounds serious and severe, things Fate gives up on relativity early on. The PG–13 rating might have something to do with it. It’s a little toothless.

So after a misfiring first act, which has Diesel going bad because Charlize Theron is blackmailing him, Fate gets a lot better. While Diesel is running Theron’s super villain errands–she’s a super hacker who lives off the grid because she has a private stealth jet–the Furious regulars get a chance to bond. And it works out. Though not as well as when the Rock buddies up with previous entry villain Jason Statham. Lots of likable trash talk. Fate might be the best Dwayne Johnson performance I’ve seen–apparently he just needs a subplot. And Johnson’s subplot in Fate is one of the film’s handful of laugh out loud funny moments. The character stuff is about the only thing director Gray doesn’t have to reign in, so he indulges the actors to good effect.

Even Michelle Rodriguez; she starts the movie terrible and ends up being not annoying. But maybe she gets some sympathy because even if Diesel has his reasons for betraying the team, Morgan’s script gives him a lot of other really awful gestures towards Rodriguez separate from the A plot. In way too many ways, the film picks on Rodriguez. Not for comic relief, just a dramatic drain. Though without taking any responsibility for it; Gray’s busy and Morgan doesn’t care.

After a couple awkward action sequences–one at night, one apparently an attempt at doing more CGI cars than, you know, Pixar’s Cars–Gray gets a better tone. The action gets immediately better once Diesel’s plot has its reveals, which Diesel already knew about just not the audience; it’s just Morgan trying to get drama out of deception. Because once it becomes clear Theron is just a lame Bond villain, Fate becomes a somewhat exaggerated, often comedic Bond movie. Or at least it has the set pieces of a Bond movie, only with the Furious crew running through it. And Gray does a lot better with actors than with CG.

Though Gray doesn’t seem to give the actors much direction, because someone should’ve begged Theron to show some enthusiasm for the role. She sleepwalks through the villain part, embracingly the ludicrous nature of the film instead of immersing herself. And whoever though the dreadlocks were a good idea was wrong. All of her hi-tech gang looks like mid-nineties Eurotrash villains.

So she’s awful, but she’s not really important. Diesel ends up taking the villain slot of the narrative and he’s fine in it. Since he’s constantly deceiving the audience and his costars, he doesn’t really have much to do. Just look sad, stoic, bored. It’s more bravado than performance. And thanks to Gray, it’s effective bravado. Gray might not be able to make those Theron scenes work, but he and editors Christian Wagner and Paul Rubell definitely know how to cut for sympathy.

Statham’s good. He’s fun. Rock’s fine. He’s fun too. Ludacris has his moments but his character’s weak. Same goes for Tyrese Gibson but more so; he’s initially exceptionally annoying, then Scott Eastwood starts hanging out and they bicker. It forces them to have personality, something Eastwood probably wouldn’t have otherwise. He’s Kurt Russell’s sidekick. Kurt Russell is playing a slightly less absurd than an “All My Children” super spy.

Nathalie Emmanuel seems like she should be in a much better movie. Her part’s thin–though everyone’s part is pretty thin–but she manages to make her absurd scenes and silly dialogue seem, if not believable, at least worth suspending disbelief over.

One thing about Fate is it’s real dumb as far as action set piece believability goes. Morgan comes up with this risible technology reasonings and then the special effects crew takes over. And Gray coordinates it all very well. He manages it all very well. The most impressive thing about Fate is how successful it works out given its craven lack of ambition.

And the two minutes of a foul-mouthed (well, for PG–13) and uncredited Helen Mirren help a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by F. Gary Gray; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Vin Diesel, Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dom), Charlize Theron (Cipher), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Deckard), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Celestino Cornielle (Raldo), and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


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Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter)

Although Big Trouble in Little China takes place in modern day San Francisco and has a whole bunch of awesome special effects, it’s really just John Carpenter doing another Western. This time he’s doing a light comedy Western and he’s got the perfect script for it. W.D. Richter (credited with an adaptation no less) has some great rapid fire expository dialogue. Practically everything Kim Cattrall says in the film until halfway through is exposition, but Cattrall and Carpenter sell it.

It works because Carpenter’s already established Big Trouble’s tone with star Kurt Russell. Russell’s doing a John Wayne impression, but John Wayne as a goofball who can’t figure anything out. He ends up playing sidekick to Dennis Dun. Carpenter, Russell and Richter take every opportunity to use the character for laughs. But Russell’s able to play the obnoxiousness as likability. It makes for a constantly entertaining film.

There’s also the James Hong situation. Hong plays the villain, both as a seven-foot tall sorcerer and as a wizened old man. Even though the villain’s obviously dangerous–something the film establishes right off–most of his scenes are played for outlandish humor. Carpenter’s big on getting physical humor out of his cast. Cattrall’s especially good in those scenes.

The film’s got excellent production values–particularly the editing. Dean Cundey’s photography is nice, but the fight scene editing is just phenomenal. Also essential is the frantic and playful score from Carpenter, in association with Alan Howarth.

Trouble’s a lot of fun.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by W.D. Richter, based on a story by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Steve Mirkovich, Mark Warner and Edward A. Warschilka; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Kurt Russell (Jack Burton), Kim Cattrall (Gracie Law), Dennis Dun (Wang Chi), James Hong (David Lo Pan), Victor Wong (Egg Shen), Kate Burton (Margo), Donald Li (Eddie Lee), Carter Wong (Thunder), Peter Kwong (Rain), James Pax (Lightning), Suzee Pai (Miao Yin), Chao Li Chi (Uncle Chu), Jeff Imada (Needles), Rummel Mor (Joe Lucky) and Craig Ng (One Ear).


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Escape from L.A. (1996, John Carpenter)

Escape from L.A. is an action movie without any real action until the final set piece. And that final set piece is excellent–lots of hang gliders and practical effects. But the rest of the action? It’s terrible CG. Instead of imagining real set pieces, director Carpenter (and co-writers Kurt Russell and Debra Hill) fall back on digital effects.

As a result, there’s almost nothing distinctive about L.A. Until the finish, anyway. The last ten minutes or so are really good.

The film has a number of big problems, but the primary ones are the setup and the geography. As a delayed sequel to Escape from New York, L.A. is a disaster. The opening establishes almost the exact same situation as the first film, which seems unlikely but also reeks of a lack of imagination.

Then there’s the geography. The film’s setting is so big and so varied, it’s hard to imagine Russell’s anti-hero having any trouble escaping from it. So the script has to confine him with a rapidly decreasing countdown.

There aren’t any good supporting characters–though a lot of the supporting performances are good–because L.A. never takes time to enjoy itself. It feels like a chore for the filmmakers.

The best supporting turns are from Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Valeria Golino, Stacy Keach and Georges Corraface. Corraface and Golino are shockingly good; Fonda has lots of fun.

Also unimaginative is Lawrence G. Paull’s production design.

L.A. is a pointless, disappointing but vaguely inoffensive trip.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell, based on characters created by Carpenter and Nick Castle; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Edward A. Warschilka; music by Shirley Walker and Carpenter; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Hill and Russell; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Stacy Keach (Cmdr. Malloy), Steve Buscemi (Map to the Stars Eddie), Valeria Golino (Taslima), Peter Fonda (Pipeline), Pam Grier (Hershe Las Palmas), Michelle Forbes (Brazen), Georges Corraface (Cuervo Jones), Bruce Campbell (The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills), A.J. Langer (Utopia), Leland Orser (Test Tube) and Cliff Robertson (The President).


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