Friday, April 21, 2023

Notes on Film: Back in the Habit

 by Anthony King

Celebrating 41 years.

I write this column on the day before it comes out, so when you'll be reading this I'll be 14,966 days old. As I presently write these words, though, I'm celebrating my 41st birthday. As I do every year on my birthday, I look lovingly at the past and bask in gratitude for the privileges I've been afforded, and, frankly, the miracle that I've survived this long. None of that has anything to do with movies, though, and you don't want to read my reminiscence. So here's what I've been watching after being on a week-long, self-imposed movie hiatus.
Last week I programmed a dad movie birthday marathon for myself. Unfortunately, our busy lives don't really allow for a full-day movie marathon. I'm lucky enough, though, to have done a mini version of a dad movie marathon last weekend. I figured the first movie I'd watch after a weeklong hiatus had to be a banger, and the only way for it to hit as hard as possible was for this movie to star Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman and take place on a submarine. I hadn't seen Tony Scott's Crimson Tide (1995) since it came out, and boy was this the movie to get me back in the groove. On the off chance you haven't seen it, Crimson Tide is about the crew of the USS Alabama led by Captain Ramsey (Hackman) and his Executive Officer, Hunter (Washington). The Cold War cauldron has once again been stirred and Russia and the United States are at a standoff with their respective fingers hovering above the nuclear missile launch buttons. Ramsey seems to be a trigger happy military man ready to blow the enemy to oblivion, while his right hand man, Hunter, is of the opposite mind. A mutiny takes place (several times, actually) and it's a race against time to repair communications in order to decipher a message whether to launch missiles or not. Like any Tony Scott film, Crimson Tide is full of eye-popping colors, intense performances, and tension that could cause a weaker man's heart to explode. While the feelings of everyone aboard the sub are palpable, those feelings are something I'm willing to bask in for as long as possible. Imagine being hundreds of meters underwater with the likes of Matt Craven, George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, and Danny Nucci. The flip-flop in command is exactly what I would expect with these people. This is the type of movie that makes you want to climb to your roof and shout to the world, “I LOVE MOVIES!”
Unbeknownst to me that Adam and Patrick were also watching Bobby Z films, I followed Crimson Tide with the Robert Zemeckis classic comedy Used Cars (1980). This was one of the movies my friend Matt had taped off HBO back in the early '90s and we would watch constantly (along with Porky's [1981], Stripes [1981], and Revenge of the Nerds [1984]). Even though I'd seen it probably 20 times back then, I didn't remember anything about Used Cars. That is until Jeff (Gerrit Graham) is filming a commercial where he's shooting windshields with a shotgun. “Yessir... Now wait just a goddamn minute. What the hell is this? Is this a 1977 Mercedes SL for $24,000? That tooooo fuckin' high!” And then it all came screaming back to me. Kurt Russell and Graham work at a used car lot across the street from their competitor played by Jack Warden. Russell and Graham go to great, violent, and hysterical lengths to hide the fact their owner has died, which would result in the takeover of their lot. This is one of those movies full of endless quotes that will live in your head for eternity, even if you think you don't remember them. By the end of the movie I was saying lines of dialogue as they were being spoken by the characters, and I hadn't seen this movie in 30 years.
After laughing my butt off for two hours with Used Cars I took a hard left back to 1953 for John Farrow's Hondo. This was recommended to me by Daniel Epler a couple years ago when we did a podcast on Budd Boetticher's The Tall T (1957). I'm always down for a John Wayne movie because, so far in every Wayne picture I've seen, I've gotten a good story, compelling characters, and picturesque scenery. Hondo Lane (Wayne) is a legendary Army scout who, at the opening of the film, comes into the homestead of Angie (Geraldine Page) and her son. Smack dab in the middle of Apache territory, Angie claims her husband should be back shortly and that Hondo shouldn't worry about her because she has a fine relationship with the tribe. Being a scout, knowing the ways of the natives, and being formerly married to an Apache woman, Hondo tries to keep things smooth between the cavalry and the Apaches. There has been a peace treaty in place for a while, but the army is encroaching on the Apache territory, heightening tensions between the two factions. Knowing trouble is a'brewing, Hondo insists on protecting Angie and the boy, but the leader of the Apaches, Vittorio (Michael Pate), doesn't like that there's a new man in the picture. While I enjoyed Hondo, it ranks at the bottom of the dozen-or-so Waynes I've seen (Rio Bravo [1959], The Searchers [1956], and True Grit [1969] hold the top three). But, as always, you know pretty much what you're gonna get with a John Wayne movie, and Hondo delivers what you want.
I capped off my mini dad movie marathon with Walter Hill's Bullet to the Head (2012). While I enjoyed it, it's kind of hard to watch a movie like Bullet after seeing how great Hill could be with movies like The Driver (1978), The Warriors (1979), Southern Comfort (1981), 48 Hrs. (1982), and Extreme Prejudice (1987), or basically everything from the '70s and '80s Hill directed. Bullet stars Sylvester Stallone as Jimmy Bonomo, a New Orleans-based hitman whose partner was killed, and now he's out for revenge. Sung Kang plays Det. Taylor Kwon, a cop from Washington D.C. who's investigating the murder of a key witness in a case he'd been working on. Jason Momoa is the killer the unlikely pair are after. Sly is doing what he does best – beating the shit out of people and mumbling – and that's always welcome in my movies. I remember seeing Kang for the first time in Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) and loving him. And then his turn as Han in the Fast & Furious movies was just more proof of how cool he is. But I gotta be honest: he is NOT good in Bullet. His performance felt very stiff, like he (the actor) was intimidated by Sly (can't say I blame him for that, though). And then Hill's direction, as proven in other recent films, seems very sloppy and disconnected. It was hard to put my finger on it, but something just felt “off” with this movie. That said, I still very much enjoyed Bullet to the Head because I love everyone involved (including Christian Slater, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Sarah Shahi).

Everything else I watched was either for podcast reasons or will be written about in future articles. But I'm thrilled to be alive for my 41st year, watching movies, and writing about what I love. Here's to another trip around the sun, and here's to more movie love for movie lovers!

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