Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 12: Last Man Standing

James Proclaims (6)

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1996’s Last Man Standing is one of those movies that, on paper, looks like it should be an absolute winner. Bruce Willis plays the nameless hero/antihero who goes, for the sake of convenience, by the name of John Smith. Christopher Walken is suitably unsettling as Hickey, the only credible threat to Smith’s supremacy with a firearm. The rest of the cast is decent. The film looks stylish, shot in mood enhancing sepia tones and the film draws on strong source material – being a remake of the much-lauded Japanese movie Yojimbo, which also served as the inspiration for A Fistful of Dollars.

This particular take on the theme of the nameless stranger who takes on all comers, also takes an interesting deviation from the classic western it could have been, instead moving the action to the prohibition era. It’s still set in a ‘one-horse town’ but the bad-guys are booze running gangsters. It’s an interesting take on the theme, and again, on paper, a gangster/Western mash-up sounds quite promising in a leave-your-brain-at-the-door kind of way.

So it should be pretty good right? Bruce Willis in his heyday, taking on Christopher Walken in a shoot-em-up sounds like a lot of fun. Sure, it’s not going to win any awards, but for just over a hundred minutes it should be guaranteed entertainment.

And that’s the problem with Last Man Standing. It isn’t much fun. It’s a bit boring really. For a movie that comes in well under two hours, it feels a lot longer.

It’s not really a bad film, there’s nothing wrong with any of the performances, it looks pretty good and the movie pretty much delivers the story you’d be expecting from the outset. There are no surprises, no clever twists, and that’s all fine because surely no-one is watching this movie other than as pure mindless escapism. But, sadly, there really isn’t much of that on offer either.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 11: The Silence Of The Lambs

James Proclaims (6)

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Hannibal Lecter is arguably one of the most iconic screen characters of all time. There have been multiple incarnations of Thomas Harris’ man-eating serial killer over the years, both in movies and through a more recent TV series. The most notorious portrayal is without doubt that of Anthony Hopkins, and of his three outings, the definitive performance is his work in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Which is fortunate for me, as that remains the only Hannibal Lecter film I’ve ever seen.

This is in part due to a general indifference I have towards the genre. I don’t mind a good psychological thriller, but given a choice of watching that or a lower quality action flick starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, well, sometimes you just need to switch your brain off. But a good film is a good film and there’s no denying that The Silence of the Lambs is a very good film. It’s possibly an additional reason that I’ve never really bothered to watch another Hannibal Lecter outing – the 1991 movie is so astoundingly excellent that even if all the other incarnations are good, they still can’t possibly live up to the standards set by Jonathan Demme’s directorial masterpiece.

Winning multiple Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, alongside an Oscar apiece for leading actors Hopkins and the equally brilliant Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs absolutely transcends any notion of genre and instead is the kind of movie for which there are insufficient superlatives to describe it’s virtuosity.

Hopkins rightly picked up the plaudits for his chilling portrayal as Lecter, but it’s actually Foster who does most of the heavy lifting and her performance as Clarice Starling is really what holds the movie together – she doesn’t get to have as much fun as Hopkins does, but it’s hard to imagine how the movie could work with anyone else in the lead role.

I first watched The Silence of the Lambs shortly after its release, some time in the early nineties. I was probably a bit too young to appreciate all of its merits at the time, though there was more than enough gore to keep the attention of a prepubescent teenager. On re-watching it in recent weeks though, it still seems to be more than a cut above Hollywood’s usual offerings. Given the darkness of the subject matter, and the occasionally visceral nature of some of the scenes, it doesn’t make for easy viewing and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it has more than stood the test of time. It’s abundantly clear why there will almost certainly be many more incarnations of everyone’s favourite cannibal for years to come, though it remains improbable that any will ever quite match this cinematic tour de force.

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 11: The Specialist

James Proclaims (6)

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I saw 1994’s The Specialist in the cinema when it came out. Until recently that was the only time I’d ever seen it, so I imagine that even as a teenager I didn’t think much of it. Many years on, and when I saw it was freely available on one of the web based content providers I subscribe to, I thought I’d give it another shot. And that’s 105 minutes of my life I won’t be getting back anytime soon. Dubbed an ‘action thriller’, it’s not remotely thrilling and, while there is some action, there’s not a whole lot of it. What there is a lot of is brooding and staring and deep contemplative thought, although quite what the characters are actually thinking about is difficult to establish. There is also a lot of is really bad dialogue. Justifiably nominated for a host of Razzies at the time, age hasn’t been kind and it might possibly be even harder to watch now than it was then. I’m not even sure it could be considered as being ‘so bad it’s good’ – it takes itself far too seriously for that.

Directed by Luis Llosa, a man who is probably best known for 1997’s Anaconda, which probably tells you all you need to know about his credentials, the film stars Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Eric Roberts, and Rod Steiger, all of whom are better than this and none of whom manage to bring an ounce of credibility to the movie.

Stallone plays Ray Quick, a man who seems to have some kind of a moral code, but who literally blows people up for a living, and he’s probably the most plausible character in the film. Stone does do her best with the revenge-seeking May Munro, but honestly has nothing at all to work with. Woods, as villain, Ned Trent has some moments which are almost engaging and probably has the most potential to be interesting, but, actually, when he meets his entirely predictable end, it’s hard to care very much at all.

Truthfully, I didn’t hate The Specialist, it wasn’t anywhere near intriguing enough to provoke such a vitriolic reaction. What it provoked instead was a complete sense of indifference.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 10: Romancing The Stone

James Proclaims (6)

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1984’s Romancing The Stone is perhaps as rare an entity as the eponymous gemstone around which much of the movie is centred. Very much a film of its time in some respects (soundtrack being the most obvious), it’s timeless in others, combining a classic adventure story with many of the elements that form the basis of a good rom-com. The action is non-stop, there are some pretty cool stunts on display and a genuine sense of jeopardy throughout. At the same time it manages to be genuinely funny – a young Danny Devito probably deserves the most plaudits for the comedy within the film but there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments when he is nowhere to be seen. The romance too, is definitely a central theme – protagonist and romance novelist Jane Wilder (Kathleen Turner) seems to find herself living out the plot of one of her own novels, as she forms an unlikely relationship with the seemingly unscrupulous but dashing Jack Colton (Michael Douglas). One of Robert Zemeckis’ earliest directorial outings, Romancing The Stone was a fair indication of the success he would go on to have, indeed his next project was a little known movie called Back to The Future. Unfortunately Zemeckis did not direct the sequel, and The Jewel Of the Nile (which admittedly is still a movie I’m reasonably fond of) was nowhere near as good and effectively killed what could have been a promising franchise.

Turner, Douglas and DeVito all do what they do very well in Romancing The Stone, and to be fair, none of them can be blamed for the inferior sequel.

But it’s a shame that the follow-up couldn’t live up to the original, because there really isn’t much out there that compares to it – a movie which attempts to combine a range of apparently conflicting genres and actually has the audacity to succeed. A rare thing indeed.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 9: Basic Instinct

James Proclaims (6)

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As a teenager there was really only one reason that I, or any of my friends, bothered to watch 1992’s Basic Instinct. In much the same way as you might have raised an eyebrow had anyone claimed that they read Playboy for the articles (obviously before the internet removed the necessity for such lies – I presume anyone who still buys Playboy today might genuinely be doing so for the articles), you would certainly have had good reason to have been sceptical if any of my peers had made the claim that they watched Basic Instinct for the gripping storyline.

Indeed, such was the notoriety of the movie that when it made its UK bow on terrestrial TV, I videotaped it for a friend. The reason for this was that he really wanted to see it, for reasons that I believe were less than noble, and was too embarrassed to record it himself in case he got caught by his parents. I’m not sure why I was any less concerned at being caught by my parents, but I think, at the time, I reasoned that I had plausible deniability, because I wasn’t actually recording it for myself. Quite why I thought this was any line of defence is anyone’s guess, but I did record it and handed the tape over to my friend without actually watching it. So I hadn’t really ever seen the movie until recently. I mean not all of it anyway…

Technically, then, this is not a ‘film I watched when I was younger’ which has been the qualifying factor for the films I’ve been reviewing in recent weeks. But it is a film that had a role in my youth nonetheless, albeit, on reflection, not my finest hour.

When I saw that it was being shown again on terrestrial TV, I thought it only right that, now I’m a grown-up and my hormones are largely under control, I should watch it, and judge it on its merits as a film.

So I did just that. It is, admittedly, hard to ignore the ‘naughty bits’ because there are so many of them. As per last week’s movie of choice, Total Recall, the director for Basic Instinct was one Paul Verhoeven and he really doesn’t do subtle. Rather than Total Recall’s extreme violence (although Basic Instinct does certainly have a number of scenes of graphic violence), there are instead a lot of sexually explicit scenes.

But sometimes the actors do have their clothes on, and if you don’t fast forward through those scenes, it turns out they are just as pivotal to the plot as the ones where everyone is naked.

The storyline is all kinds of ridiculous, and most of the characters are entirely hard to feel any sympathy for, but Michael Douglas does play Michael Douglas as well in this movie as he plays Michael Douglas in all of his other movies and Sharon Stone plays as good a narcissistic psychopath as any I’ve seen.

Nonetheless, it’s all fairly derivative stuff. Verhoeven definitely knew how to get bums on seats, and frankly, without the movie’s overt sexuality and controversy, I doubt Basic Instinct would have left much of an impression on anyone based solely on it’s plot, but, judged purely on said plot, I have definitely seen worse movies.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 8: Total Recall

James Proclaims (6)

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Like 1982’s Blade Runner, 1990’s Total Recall is based on a story by acclaimed science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. However, a dystopian futuristic setting, and similar source material is probably the only common ground the two movies share, as the intellectual and philosophical weight of the former is largely jettisoned in the latter for a more violent, action-packed romp. This is, after all, a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven and it plays to the relative strengths of both. Which is not to say that there isn’t an element of the intellectual within the story – it is conceptually quite intriguing and there is an underlying satire to the movie – but if your expectation of a Schwarzenegger movie is that he’ll run around beating people up and shooting people then you won’t go far wrong with Total Recall. Equally if you think of Verhoeven movies as often being exceptionally violent and gratuitous, then this certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Indeed, the violence is often extreme and probably not necessary, as the movie would have plenty to offer without all the blood and guts. It’s not fair to compare it to Blade Runner, most sci fi films come up short in that regard, but Total Recall is far from the worst Philip K. Dick adaptation out there.

Schwarzenegger demonstrates that, if no-one could ever accuse him of being the finest actor of his generation, he absolutely knows what he is good at and he does it particularly well in this movie. So well, in fact, that I was actually able to suspend my disbelief that a man with such a strong Austrian accent could possibly be called Douglas Quaid. Which, as it turns out, I didn’t need to because apparently he’s actually called Carl Hauser, which totally works as an Austrian person’s name. Although it does beg the question why, when deciding upon an assumed identity, he would ever have thought that Douglas Quaid would work.

It’s a minor gripe in truth and does nothing to detract from the enjoyment of the movie. If you can stomach excessive violence, albeit within the context of nineties visual effects, then Total Recall is definitely worth revisiting.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 7: Pretty Woman

James Proclaims (6)

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1990’s Pretty Woman might seem an odd film for me to enjoy given the genre of film that I’ve tended write about in recent weeks. But if the nineties action movie was generally the staple of my teenage movie diet, I did occasionally sample other delights and I did really like Pretty Woman when it came out.

That said, my reasons for rewatching it recently were more as a direct result of revisiting a small screen classic of the era. Mrs Proclaims and I spent much of 2017 watching the entire nine seasons of Seinfeld, which, with the exception of Jerry’s hairstyle in the earlier seasons, has stood the test of time rather well (perhaps better than some of the subsequent sitcoms it clearly inspired). As much as Seinfeld is an ensemble piece, and all four leads contribute to it, both Mrs Proclaims and I are in agreement that George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, is the standout character.

Which reminded me that the only other thing I’d ever seen Jason Alexander in was Pretty Woman. Plus Mrs Proclaims hadn’t ever seen Pretty Woman before, which seemed like an oversight because it is totally the kind of film she would like.

So, when it was broadcast on terrestrial TV recently,  we felt obliged to watch it.

And I have to say it was every bit as good as I remembered it being.

There are some troubling elements to overcome, it is essentially a film about an unscrupulous businessman paying for the services of a sex worker and that doesn’t necessarily seem like the basis for a romantic comedy. And the briefest of internet research indicates that it was intended to be a much darker film at the outset but was reimagined as the Pygmalianesque tale that it ultimately became. Obviously, in order to appreciate the sanitized feel-good movie that it definitely is, you do need to turn of your inner cynic and just go with the flow. But once disbelief is fully suspended, it really is hard to find much to not like about the movie. The afore-mentioned Jason Alexander is excellent as the loathsome lawyer Stuckey, Hector Elizondo is charming as the sympathetic hotel manager Barney and Laura San Giocomo is suitably kooky as Kit ‘the best friend’. As for the two leads, Richard Gere is perfectly adequate as Edward, the ruthless businessman who ultimately re-thinks his life for the better, but this movie belongs to Julia Roberts, who charms from the moment she arrives on screen and renders the character of Vivian entirely sympathetic.

As previously mentioned, there isn’t much about the plot that is plausible, and even the darker elements that remain in the script seem to be momentary blips that are easily overcome rather than the horrific life-changing and traumatic events that they would actually be in real life, but it doesn’t matter. The movie is a fairy-tale at heart, in spite of the adult themes, and is best enjoyed as pure escapism.

Pretty Woman set the standard for the nineties romcom, a standard few others measure up to. Whereas I’ll more than happily sit through a nineties action movie of dubious quality, I’d struggle to get all the way through a bad romcom, so the fact that I’ve seen Pretty Woman multiple times is probably the highest endorsement that I can give it.

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 4: Gremlins 2 – The New Batch

James Proclaims (6)

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No-one could accuse the 1984 comedy horror movie Gremlins  of taking itself too seriously. But as tongue-in-cheek as the original Gremlins is, the 1990 sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch is absolutely bonkers. Anarchic and completely irreverent, at the time of its release I was absolutely convinced it was superior to its predecessor.  I was, however, a stupid child and nearly always thought that sequels were better. These days I realise that is rarely the case and sequels that are superior to their forerunners are far from the norm.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch is not at all better than Gremlins, but in many ways a comparison is pointless because they are very different films. Admittedly they are different films that both have scary mischief-making monsters in them but the second Gremlins movie is madder than it’s eponymous antagonists.

The fourth wall takes such a battering throughout the shambles of a narrative that it’s often hard to work out what is actually happening within the story.

Not that it matters, because what Gremlins 2 might lack in terms of a coherent plot, it more than makes up for in its chaotic sense of fun. If the first film struck a balance between horror and comedy, then the emphasis of the sequel is entirely comedic.

Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates reprise their roles as Billy and Kate from the first movie and perform as admirably as ever, and the addition of John Glover as eccentric mogul Daniel Clamp is inspired. Christopher Lee is also a welcome addition as the unsettling Dr Catheter.

As with the first movie though, it’s still the Gremlins themselves that are the stars of the show – in particular the genetically altered ‘Brain Gremlin’, whose musical turn at the movie’s climax still makes me laugh.

However, whereas the original Gremlins has stood the test of time quite well, the satire of the sequel feels a little dated in 2018.

I loved Gremlins 2 so much when it came out that I can still find much to enjoy about it today, but I’m not sure I’d feel the same way if I didn’t have that nostalgic bias and was viewing it for the first time.

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 3: The Fugitive

James Proclaims (6)

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It’s a valid criticism of modern cinema that much of the current output comes in the form of sequels (and indeed prequels), or remakes/reboots of movies that already exist. Or multiple adaptations of the same novels. Or big screen reimaginings of much-loved TV series. The resurgence of the small screen, thanks in part to online platforms, has also seen a trend in the opposite direction – TV series are now being made that are re-imaginings of much-loved movies. There is, apparently, a dearth of new ideas. Or more likely there is a dearth of new ideas that anyone is prepared to take a financial risk on.

Then again, if it’s become more prolific in recent times, it’s clearly a practice that has been around for a while.

A lot of films I saw in my youth were big screen adaptations of older TV shows and, to be fair, done in the right way, the results can be some pretty decent movies.

1993’s The Fugitive is one such example.

Based on a 1960s TV series of the same name (that I have, admittedly never seen – although it was apparently pretty good) The Fugitive tells the tale of Dr Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) a man wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. Through a road traffic accident (that is admittedly quite convenient but fairly important to the narrative) he manages to escape the bus that is transporting him to death row. Once free he has to juggle the seemingly impossible task of proving his innocence while at the same time not getting caught. Pursuing him with a dogged determination is Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones – winning a whole raft of awards for his performance), a man who is rather less concerned with whether or not Kimble is guilty than with the fact that Kimble’s continuing freedom wounds his professional pride.

The plot holds few surprises, we know Kimble is innocent, we assume correctly that he’ll prove that innocence and the bad guy, when he is finally revealed, is pretty much the most obvious candidate. Were he wearing a T-shirt from the outset with the logo “I’m the bad guy” emblazoned across it, the revelation of his villainous status would hardly be any less of a bombshell.

It’s not the outcome that thrills but rather the journey it takes to get there. The pace and tension within the film is relentless. If there are plot holes and clichés running throughout the narrative it’s pretty hard to care. Add to the mix strong performances from both Ford and Jones and The Fugitive is a thriller that actually manages to thrill.

Whether it’s especially faithful to its source material seems irrelevant when the resulting movie is this good.

It’s a shame that can’t always be said of remakes, reboots and adaptations.