Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 6: Double Impact

James Proclaims (6)

 

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Last week I wrote about 1992’s Under Siege, a film in which Steven Seagal solved the problem of being a mediocre (at best) actor by surrounding himself with much better actors thus producing a film that is really quite good (for a mindless nineties action flick).

A year earlier, Jean-Claude Van Damme opted for a different strategy and instead decided to elevate his own credentials by appearing in a movie in which everyone else was a much worse actor, and casting himself in not one, but two leading roles. It sort of works in that he is pretty much the best thing about the movie (twice over) but that doesn’t necessarily mean that either of his performances is particularly good and the notion of Van Damme playing twin brothers, separated at birth, only to be reunited years later to avenge their parents’ death is exactly as mad as it sounds.

On any objective level, 1991’s Double Impact is not a good film, but when I saw it was available on a popular internet subscription service my curiosity was piqued – because I did remember rather enjoying it in my youth. And truthfully, the combination of nostalgia and the ‘so-bad-it’s-actually-good’ nature of the movie did result in 107 minutes of me being vaguely entertained.

Van Damme almost convinces as two distinct characters, although we do have to get past the bizarre notion that, although each ‘twin’ has experienced very different upbringings, one growing up in an orphanage in Hong Kong, the other raised by his deceased parents’ American bodyguard, they both somehow wind up being experts in martial arts and, more bizarrely, with identical French accents (well Belgian accents if we’re honest but the film would have us believe that they are French). This strange coincidence is explained by the fact that the Hong Kong orphan is brought up by French nuns and the other child is brought up by his American guardian in France. Logically neither of these facts would necessarily result in quite such a pronounced accent as Van Damme’s but I do admire the effort to add some credibility to an otherwise implausible plot.

Really though, there isn’t much plot to speak of, and action is the main selling point of this movie. And double the Van Dammes means double the action.

Except it doesn’t because there really is only so much action that can be crammed into the running time.

In reality, the novelty of two Van Dammes wears off after a while and this is really just another ‘by the numbers’ second-rate nineties action flick. In Bolo Yeung and Corrina Everson are two performers who might have made great Bond baddies, but there’s nothing much else on offer.

Probably only worth watching for reasons of nostalgia, if you watched it back in the nineties, and even then with the expectation that it won’t be as good as you remembered it being.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 5: Under Siege

James Proclaims (6)

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1992’s Under Siege is that rarest of things, a good Steven Seagal movie. It’s oft described as being ‘Die Hard on a boat’ and that’s not an entirely unfair description.

Except it’s not as good as Die Hard.

Mostly because it has Steven Seagal in the lead role rather than Bruce Willis.

Furthermore, while Seagal’s character, Casey Ryback, shares a similar fate to Willis’ John McClane insofar as he is unexpectedly caught up in a situation where only he can defeat a load of bad guys who have taken everyone else hostage, he does seem to be slightly more equipped to cope with the situation being an ex-navy seal (who for fairly spurious reasons now works as a chef) rather than an off duty New York cop.

Indeed he dispatches henchmen with consummate ease for the most part and there seems little doubt that he will, eventually, save the day.

The action sequences are fine, but the story is predictable and formulaic, and Seagal does very little to enhance the movie. It’s probably his finest on screen performance and he’s basically OK at best.

What does raise Under Siege above the realms of bog-standard Die Hard rip-off is the performance of the villains. And that is villains plural. If you can’t have Alan Rickman playing the antagonist then Tommy-Lee Jones is not a bad substitute. But good as he is, the plaudits really go to Gary Busey  whose manic performance as the sociopathic Krill means he steals just about every scene he’s in.

Under Siege is not likely to change your life if you’ve never seen it, but as nineties action movies go, it’s worth a watch.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 2: Speed

James Proclaims (6)

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1994’s Speed is often referred to as Die Hard on a Bus. Which is a little unfair. While many action flicks owe much to the mighty Die Hard I’m not sure Speed really does.

Unlike John McClane, Speed’s protagonist, Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves), spends very little of the movie fighting and killing bad guys. Indeed he only dispatches one bad guy. Because there is only the one.

And (this is hopefully not too much of a spoiler, although if it is then you really only have yourself to blame – you have had well over twenty years to watch the thing) he doesn’t see off that bad guy until the end of the film.

Instead, Traven spends most of the running time trying to foil the evil machinations of the aforementioned bad guy, machinations which mostly consist of trying to blow things up, mainly a bus, but also an elevator and an underground train.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of action, it’s just more ‘a bus travelling at high speed through places where it shouldn’t be travelling at high speed’ action, rather than ‘lots of shooting of terrorists’ action.

Directed by Jan de Bont (who went on to direct…er…nothing else good), Speed is aptly named. Admittedly the bus, which is the scene for much of the action, rarely travels much above 50mph, which is no doubt fast for a bus, particularly through heavy traffic, but not really all that fast in the greater scheme of things. The narrative, however, travels along at a breakneck pace.

The bad guy in question is Howard Payne (played ably by Dennis Hopper) and he’s as mad as a box of frogs. But, as we’re reminded multiple times during the movie, crazy doesn’t mean stupid. Indeed he is very much one step ahead of the authorities and the intrigue comes in part from Traven’s efforts to match wits with Payne. Mostly, though, it comes from a bus going too quickly.

Hopper and Reeves both perform admirably but arguably the standout performer is Sandra Bullock as Annie, the plucky student who ends up quite literally in the driving seat. This was very much a star-making turn for Bullock and deservedly so.

The plot of Speed defies credibility at times (quite a lot of times actually) and the dialogue is as hackneyed and clichéd as many a bog-standard action flick but Speed is definitely a notch above others of the genre. The pace is relentless and there isn’t time to dwell on the bits that don’t make sense.

Far better to suspend all disbelief and just enjoy the ride.

Because it is indeed quite a ride.

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 1: Demolition Man

James Proclaims (6)

After spending most of December writing reviews of Christmas(ish) films, I’ve decided that I should make the reviewing of movies a more regular feature on James Proclaims.

After all, there are films out there that don’t include even the vaguest of references to Christmas and they shouldn’t be precluded from featuring on this blog just because of one, admittedly careless, oversight.

However, I don’t really get much chance to go to the cinema these days, and when I do I find it a profoundly irritating and overpriced affair. I’d be ok with the cost of a ticket if it meant I got the whole screen to myself, but apparently other people are still permitted to come into the room. Given that most things are available to watch at home within a matter of months of their big screen run, and given that television sets are now quite big screens in their own right, I find the cost of the cinema utterly perplexing.

Obviously I still go for things like Star Wars, but mostly to stop people from ruining it for me. Which, to be fair, the latest installment almost did on its own. Although I did still quite like it I think. I’m not sure. I’ll need to see it another ten times before I’m absolutely certain.

Anyway, with my cinema aversion firmly established, it seems unlikely you’ll gain any insights into the latest releases here.

But I do have a fairly substantial collection of DVDs and currently subscribe to two different web-based providers of visual media.

So I can totally review old films.

Which is probably the most useful thing anyone ever did on any blog ever.

So, I shall be doing just that.

Be warned, however, that not everything in my DVD collection is of the highest quality, but they all have a special place in my heart.

So, without further ado, let us begin our cinematic odyssey.

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And what better place to start than 1993’s Demolition Man?

Probably quite few places actually.

Still Demolition Man is the film I’ve chosen to kick this all off with, because few films represent my cinematic choices as a teenager better than this one.

Unlike today, going to the cinema was one of my favourite activities when I was younger. Or more precisely when I was too young to pretend to be old enough to drink in the local hostelries (at least those prepared to turn a blind eye to underage alcohol consumption). It was more affordable for my younger self to access the big screen than it is for my current self. Although I only had pocket money to survive on, I also had no mortgage or bills to pay. Plus I was young enough to qualify for a discount on the entry fee but old enough to pretend that I was actually of a sufficient age see to certain films, despite often being a full year younger than the advertised age-restriction at the time of release. The same thrill I would later experience ordering low quality lager in disreputable public houses was definitely a factor in my willingness to flout British Film Board Certification guidelines and restrictions.

Often I’d just go and see whatever was on – there didn’t need to be a specific movie out to entice me to make the journey into the centre of Cardiff. It was a Saturday afternoon ritual for me and my friends. Meet up in the morning, jump on a train, wander round the shops for a bit, possibly purchase a CD and/or item of clothing from Top Man. Next we’d hit a fast food establishment and finally see whatever film was the least unappealing in the multiplex before heading home on the 17:21 train

But Demolition Man was different. This was a film we all wanted to see.

It was practically event cinema for a teenage boy that year.

Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes on the same screen?

How awesome is that?

Throw in a young Sandra Bullock who was more than easy on the eyes of a hormonal teenager and you had the recipe for cinematic gold.

But, I like to believe that my cinematic tastes have evolved over the years, so it was with some trepidation that I revisited the movie this week.

But actually Demolition Man is quite good. It’s not, you understand, a ‘must see’ movie. If you haven’t ever had the pleasure then you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’re not missing out on one of cinema’s hidden treasures.

But, as a way to pass a couple of hours, it more than suffices.

It is, for the most part, a fairly generic action movie not untypical of the early nineties.

But Stallone, Snipes and Bullock are all competent performers and make the most of the material they are given to work with. Throw in Dennis Leary and  Nigel Hawthorne and the cast is certainly not the worst ensemble that ever spent time together on screen.

Essentially Stallone and Snipes play a nineties cop (John Spartan) and villain (Simon Phoenix) respectively from (the then slightly futuristic) year of 1996, who end up being cryogenically frozen (for reasons that are ridiculous but relatively coherent within the narrative) and waking up in 2032 where the peace-loving citizens are unable to deal with a criminal of Phoenix’s brutality. Apparently only Spartan can stop him.

I wouldn’t go so far as to claim there is much in the way of originality on offer, but at least there aren’t the kind of gaping plot holes that are more than commonplace for this kind of fare. Certainly within the film’s own, admittedly skewed logic, the story does make sense.

The dialogue is often clunky and there are plenty of the ‘witty one-liners’ that seemed to be the staple of action movies of the era. Most of them are harmless enough, although one does stand out as particularly strange. Spartan is in the process of beating up a man that turns out not even to be a bad guy and offers these words of wisdom shortly before pummelling him into submission:

“You’re going to regret this the rest of your life, both seconds of it!”

It’s problematic in that the ensuing fight takes longer than two seconds and the recipient of Spartan’s wrath doesn’t actually die. Also, as previously mentioned, he isn’t even a bad guy. So death threats seem a little out of place.

Where the movie really differs from others in the genre is in its humour. It is quite funny. Not pant-wettingly hilarious, but this is not a movie that takes itself too seriously. Some of the futuristic fads are so ridiculous as to be entirely plausible and the joke about the three seashells substituting for toilet paper still raises a smile.

Throw in some genuinely excellent action sequences, and Snipes playing the bad guy with a gleeful insanity that elevates him head and shoulders above many a nineties-era villain and Demolition Man is a far better movie than it really has any right to be.