Five Easy Pieces

Movies I Own – Action/Thriller (In progress)

Seven – Except for “Pulp Fiction”, it may have influenced more films in the 90’s with its style, atmosphere and gruesome factor. Brad Pitt can act; Morgan Freeman is understated (as usual) and damn good (as usual); Kevin Spacey is just plain nuts. It’s brutal, dreary and horrific; and it doesn’t back down from one of the bleakest endings in film history. Can you tell I really like this one? Memento – This one took the murder mystery, slapped it across the face and turned it upside down. By showing us the ending first and telling the rest of the story in reverse [and stripping the protagonist of his short-term memory], director/writer Christopher Nolan made the set-up the payoff, and it’s a good one. Pulp Fiction – A lot has been said about this flick, praising it for its original premise, warped narrative, career-defining ensemble roles, catchy soundtrack and verbal ping-pong chock full of too many hip and profane references to number. It’s also been trashed by some for the same reasons. I prefer the praise. Before Pulp, there was Reservoir Dogs – there may not be a more intense 99 minutes out there. Tarantino weaves another fractured narrative, this time about a jewel heist gone terribly wrong, showing us the ensemble cast in two parallels – getting together for the crime and fracturing apart after it. Outstanding performances, writing and staging make this one a pleasure to sit through (if you don’t mind the brutal and violent reality of the criminal element on display). True Romance – more Tarantino! He only wrote this one but no one remembers the director (Tony Scott). This is pure Tarantino – ensemble cast, brutal violence, snappy writing & rapid-fire delivery, a level of intensity that keeps your adrenaline pumping, a love of karate films. For all its memorable moments and characters, there is no topping the 13 or so minutes of Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken getting to know each other in the trailer. If you’ve seen it, you are smiling right now (really smiling); if you haven’t, get the damn movie – now! Jackie Brown – very underrated Tarantino. It’s not as bombastic as Pulp Fiction but has a great ensemble (again) and bops along nicely to more good tunes. I don’t own the Kill Bill films but liked those a lot as well. I’ll add them someday. Donnie Darko – not much action in this one, but it is definitely a thriller. What I like to call a “mindfuck” – trippy and humorous but with an underlying evil that slowly reveals itself. You’ll be going back after to watch the ending again. The Matrix – it’s a shame this couldn’t have been left alone. The original is just that – original, and very entertaining. Good sci-fi premise and cutting-edge effects made it a fun ride and Keanu Reeves being onscreen tolerable. Too bad the Wachowski Brothers felt the need to continue the story when they ended the first film in a perfectly acceptable way. Buuut…$$ talks. If you want another taste of the W brothers, please skip the two Matrix sequels [I tried to watch the first one and turned it off it was so mind-numbingly boring and tedious] and get Bound, a trashy and fun lesbian love story/murder & mob thriller. Joe Pantolini is perfectly sleazy in it as the hood being double-crossed by his girlfriend (and her girlfriend); and Gina Gershon ain’t so bad either!

Gladiator – great action, great acting and great direction. Joaquin Phoenix is outstanding. The Dead Zone – always one of my favorite Stephen King books, this is a well done creepy flick. Christopher Walken plays the lead who wakes from a coma after 7 years and is plagued by visions of past, present and future events. His struggle to avoid all three is tragic and heroic at the same time. Terminator 2: Judgement Day – The governator is back and it’s a wild ride. Over-the-top action and effects make this one fly by and end all too soon. I don’t own the first one but I should. I have seen the third one, actually liked it and would recommend it as well. Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Richard Dreyfuss is very good as the bewildered witness to alien contact. It seems a bit dated now and somewhat silly but Spielberg still did a great job conveying the awesome experiences, as well as the silly and sad family dynamics of Dreyfuss and Teri Garr [he has a knack for that, also done well in E.T.]. The Abyss – this is an all-timer for me. James Cameron’s massive underwater sci-fi action film is another film that entertains me the whole way through. The loose interaction of the ensemble, the wonder of the fantastic encounters and the excellent action scenes are all complemented nicely by the suffocating intensity created by the setting (miles below the ocean surface) and the tremendous odds the crew is up against. No specifics here, you gotta watch it. *And be sure to get the director’s cut – it may be close to 3 hours long but this version really does make a difference in your final summation of the film.* The Road Warrior – fun fun fun. It blew my mind last Sunday to see director George Miller accepting the Best Animated Film Oscar for his cuddly penguin flick “Happy Feet”. In my mind, he will always be the mastermind behind the violence and mayhem in this classic. Miller transplanted the Old West setting to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Australia, where the good guys still wear white, the bad guys still wear black leather chaps [don’t count on the pants beneath them though!], gold is now gasoline and Shane’s name has been changed to Max. Another exercise in brutality – the last 1/2 hour is orchestrated madness at its finest.

The “Diehard” trilogy – Yes, they got worse as they went but the sequels are still pretty fun to watch. As far as action goes, the three combined are tough to top. The original “Die Hard” is a roller coaster ride of stunts, smirks and clever manipulation by both protagonist and antagonist. The second one is all Bruce Willis; and the third is a somewhat awkward buddy flick for Willis and Sam Jackson that stretched implausibility and cartoonishness until they were busting at the seems. The “X-Men” trilogy – I’m a bit of a sucker for good comic book adaptations. These are pretty darn good. The first is a bit choppy but very effective in introducing the team and has pretty good action. The second is the best, with Brian Cox as the sadistic military man out to snuff the mutants. The Last Stand is packed with more action, effects and mayhem – and it pays for it. not as good as the first two but a suitable enough finish to the cycle. The Lord of the Rings trilogy – These are amazing. I ignored the Fellowship of the Ring when it was released in December 2001 because we had had our first child 3 weeks prior and I never read the books growing up so I had no burning desire to check it out. I watched it on DVD the following August. And then watched it again the next night with my wife. And then we both devoured the entire 1100 page trilogy simultaneously; we were not about to wait for the next two movies over the next 18 months to find out what happened! The Two Towers is the best of the three, with the epic battle of Helm’s Deep serving as a movie in itself. The Return of the King was excellent as well, though received unfair derision for the “multiple” endings (although it did feel excessive sitting in the theater). For a pure cinematic experience of the highest quality, there may no better than sitting through the entire 11+ hours of the special edition DVDs. The same can’t be said for the Godfather trilogy – that’s because of the, all together now, dismal third chapter. Al Pacino’s parody of a performance; Diane Keaton’s apparent boredom; the “who gives a *” storyline; the unanimously scathing dismissal of Sofia Coppola’ attempt at acting. It just sucks, and that’s too bad because The Godfather and Part II are so good. The first is the best, thanks to James Caan, Al Pacino, the demoralization of Michael Corleone and the finale, splicing a baptism and a bloodbath – symbolic of Michael’s complete conversion and acceptance of his new persona and position. The final shot of his office door being closed by one his right-hand men in the face of Michael’s wife is powerful and devastating. The second is a bit of a downer but just as moving. Michael continues to be hollowed out emotionally. His saga is paralleled by Robert DeNiro’s Oscar-winning performance as Vito Corleone (before he was Marlon Brando in Part I). That is the better half of the film, following Vito from immigration through petty crime and eventually to staking his claim. Bonus: John Cazale gives a gut-wrenching performance as the sad sack brother Fredo. [Trivia for you: Cazale died young of bone cancer, having only made 5 films which were all Best Picture nominees – “Godfather I & II”, “The Conversation”, Dog Day Afternoon” & “The Deer Hunter”. Both “Godfathers” and “Deer Hunter” won the award.]  The last of the trilogies I own is the Indiana Jones trilogy.  I remember watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time in the front of the theater in Perrysburg, OH, mesmerized and giddy.  An all-timer.  Great action, music, good vs. evil (Nazis are always good villians), humor, thrills, effects – top notch entertainment.  Temple of Doom was a good ride as well, a little darker and creepier, but that follows suit if you look at “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Two Towers”.  However, those two are my favorites of their respective trilogies and Raiders is still the best in this bunch.  The Last Crusade was mediocre, I still am annoyed by the Sean Connery factor – seemed more of a gimmick than a constructive addition to the mystic of the series.  As with Die Hard, I’m not really sure if a 4th installment is necessary but we’re getting one anyway.  *That’s the action trilogies I own – and the glaring omission is obvious, no Star Wars [the real ones, not the computer generated crap Lucas forced on the masses the last several years.  “Phantom Menace” was bearable because the concept was cool and I love Liam Neeson; but I turned “Attack of the Clones” off twice, just unwatchable.]

Spiderman & Spiderman 2 – both excellent in their translation to the screen and for pure entertainment value.  Good action and effects but both spend an extraordinary amount of time developing the characters.  #3 looks incredible; I know trailers can be misleading but  this one is balls-out fun to watch.  Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – this was one I expected to scoff at and say “bah.”  I bought it the day after I watched it.  Grandiose, swashbuckling fun and Johnny Depp is everything they said he was.  His entrance alone will leave you laughing.  Geoffrey Rush does a diabolical turn as the zombie captain of the cursed pirates.  It’s too bad the second one was such a bloated and tiresome mess.  But that ending cliffhanger insured another $400+ million this summer for Disney.  God knows they need it, right?  Jaws – This ranks alongside “Shawshank” as the most abused film by cable television.  But it still is a great ride – I will always stop changing channels and put the remote down when I come across it.  It’s instinct.  It’s funny, unnerving and keeps you engrossed throughout.  The Fly – this remake by David Cronenberg is really a reimagining.  Jeff Goldblum doesn’t switch body parts with a fly as in the original, he becomes the fly.  It’s gruesome and harrowing, yet touching.  Unfortunately, I heard on the radio this morning that they are looking to remake this version and Nicolas Cage wants the part.  Oh brother…why?

Blade Runner – an all-timer.  Few films have transported the viewer to another time and place as well as Ridley Scott’s bleak sci-fi vision of Los Angeles 2019.  Harrison Ford is a gruff bounty hunter of sorts, recruited to track down and “retire” six replicants loose in L.A.  The final showdown vs. Rutger Hauer’s demon/angel Roy Batty is a pleasure to watch.  The mood is gloomy and drenched in interminable rain, further enhanced by the mesmerizing soundtrack.  I can’t say it enough – an all-timer.  Sticking with Ridley Scott, there’s Alien, the first of the series.  Even today, the frights and shocks in this film are just as effective.  There have been countless imitations but none have diminished the raw energy and dread generated by this film.  It’s doom and gloom as the crew is picked off one by one, leaving Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley to out-duel and out-smart the meanest bad-ass alien out there.  Great suspense throughout without too much gore or huge action scenes.  That’s what James Cameron packed into Aliens, a contender for best sequel ever made.  An alien doesn’t show up for about 65 minutes – though it feels like 20.  After that it is calculated mayhem for the next 90 minutes as Ripley and a band of gung-ho marines battle a colony of aliens infesting a colony outpost in space.  Big fun, and a great battle at the end between Ripley and the “queen”.  [Forget the third and fourth attempts to revive the franchise.]

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – classic buddy flick, western, comedy at times.  Newman and Redford are perfect together, their easy going on-screen relationship is a joy to watch.  The jump off the rock is still one of my favorite scenes of all time.  Run Lola Run – I can’t say much about this one other than it’s a German high-octane, techno music-driven thrill.  Lola gets a phone call from her boyfriend: he’s lost 100,000 marks and has to meet the psycho he owes it to in 20 minutes.  That 20 minute time frame is shown happening three different ways and they all involve a lot of running because some punk stole Lola’s scooter that morning.  RLR is the screen definition of adrenaline rush.  Highly recommend it, you’ll want to watch it right after it ends.

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