Archive for the ‘Criminally Overlooked’ Category

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Criminally Overlooked: “Last Man Standing”

January 23, 2016

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New Line Cinemas might have been forgiven for thinking they had a sure-fire hit—or at least a modest box office winner—with Last Man Standing. After all, here was a bang-bang-shoot-‘em-up action film headlined by a still-hot Bruce Willis just two years after the monster success of Pulp Fiction, and directed by action-film maestro Water Hill. Unfortunately, Last Man Standing sunk like a Russian submarine at the box office when it opened in 1996, and while Bruce Willis’s reputation emerged unscathed (as it would continue to for the next fifteen of mostly terrible films), it hastened Walter Hill’s descent into Hollywood obsolescence. Twenty years later it’s worth taking a second look.
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Criminally Overlooked: “Blackhat”

January 7, 2016

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As an avowed fan of Michael Mann, release of his 2015 film Blackhat was a somewhat bittersweet affair. Mann isn’t a prolific filmmaker, so any new film he makes is cause for excitement. But Blackhat was preceded by bad buzz, and its January release date wasn’t exactly a blinding display of confidence on the part of the producers and distributors. Unsurprisingly, the movie slipped into and out of theaters as stealthily as one of Mann’s protagonists robs a bank, only with a lot less to show for it in the end. And that’s too bad because while Blackhat might be minor-Mann and content to mostly recycle tropes better deployed in earlier films, it’s still a solid, if unremarkable, thriller.

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Arliss Howard also pwns! “Plain Clothes”

October 14, 2015

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This is the latest in my “pwns!” series in which I extol the virtues of under-recognized or under-appreciated actors. Previous installments covered Stephen McHattie and Bob Hoskins.

And now for a different Seattle cop story…

I suppose I’ve been seeing Arliss Howard in stuff for decades, but I never really noticed him until his amazing turn as the ice-blooded former spook Kale Ingram in the late, lamented Rubicon. With his laid-back style and flatter-than-the-topography-of-Illinois Midwestern accent, Howard manages to simultaneously anchor and enliven any scene he’s in. So when I discovered he starred in a little-seen 1987 comedy about a detective that goes undercover in a suburban high school, well, I don’t know what deity I need to make a pagan offering to, but this goat’s sure not gonna sacrifice itself.

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Criminally Overlooked: “47 Ronin”

December 29, 2013

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Wait, what is this? An entry in the “Criminally Overlooked” category that’s not only still in theaters, but has only been released this week? What madness is this, you’d be forgiven for asking. Now, I want you to be calm and stay with me here. Doubtless, you’re probably feeling some anxiety and confusion, but before you go breaking open the emergency stockpile of assault rifles you started hoarding when it was clear Obama was going to win the election, be assured I have a good reason for this. By all accounts, 47 Ronin has not only lost the holiday weekend, but has left the field, gone home and is now drinking cheap beer and weeping. How bad is it? Well, a 175 million dollar movie has barely grossed 10 mil at the time of this writing. And that’s really too bad, since 47 Ronin is actually a nice little ($175,000,000) adventure movie. Hey, and Keanu Reeves isn’t even in it that much. Yay!
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Criminally Overlooked: “The Last Stand”

September 23, 2013

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In hindsight it’s not hard to understand why The Last Stand tanked early in 2013. Headlined by Arnold Schwarzenegger—who is heavily played up in the trailers—it was a part of the failed “1980s action-star renaissance” Hollywood producers seemed to be trying to will into existence out of whole cloth. This mini-trend included The Expendables 2 and Sylvester Stallone’s Bullet to the Head (which had the added nostalgia bonus of being directed by ‘80s action mainstay Walter Hill). All these films pretty much crashed and burned at the box office (domestically, anyway–Expendables did well enough overseas to justify a third installment), and that’s too bad in the case of The Last Stand, because it’s a light, fun action movie that steadfastly refuses to take itself seriously.
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Criminally Overlooked: “To Live and Die in L.A.”

March 17, 2010

The poster for To Live and Die in L.A. boasts “The director of the French Connection is back on the streets.” It’s a line that could set movie fans’ heart’s a-flutter. After all, Connection, beyond being possibly the best cops and robbers movie ever made (at least at the time), was also one of the seminal films of the 1970’s. And that’s probably part of the reason why TLaDiLA got plowed under at the box-office. Despite a plotline that seems to have been lifted from any number of Miami Vice episodes, and an edgy rock soundtrack, TLaDiLA is really a ‘70s movie in ‘80s movie clothing. Director William Friedkin turned his considerable talents and low-exposition/high-character-sketching style on a movie produced at the midpoint of a decade dedicated to movies that were bigger, dumber, and flashier. Never mind the fact that he produced something like a modern noir masterpiece. A few months earlier, Rambo: First Blood Part II had debuted. In its wake would follow Cobra, Commando, Action Jackson, and eventually Lethal Weapon. Audiences wanted explosions and not having to think. The movie never had a chance. But as you can probably imagine, I come here not to bury TLaDiLA, but to praise it as a movie which deserves better than it got.

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Criminally Overlooked: “Spartan”

March 7, 2010

A couple of things work against David Mamet’s little-seen 2004 thriller Spartan, but the major one is getting people interested in a movie that stars Val Kilmer. Yes, that Val Kilmer. Of course, nobody has a problem with him exchanging sexually-charged banter with Tom Cruise in Top Gun, but outside the bathhouses and locker rooms of the US Navy, Kilmer’s had a decidedly checkered career. And by checkered I mean he’s done some bad movies and he’s done some atrocious movies. He also gained a reputation for being a Nobel-Award caliber asshole on set, and transformed from cruelly-handsome to Orky the land whale. But I urge you to put that aside—or at least remember this is also the guy who played Jim Morrison in The Doors–when considering Spartan, a nifty, suspenseful thriller whose prescience has only grown since it was released.
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