Hey, I’ve been watching more recent movies, too (and by “recent” I mean those released since the day I was born), so let’s check those out!
One More Train to Rob (1971). This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not great either, mainly because George Peppard, God bless ‘im, is kind of miscast as the lead. Peppard was always kind of a lightweight (in his most famous role, Audrey Hepburn ate him alive), and this role calls for a more menacing charm than he can pull off. The charming part is fine, as he’s an outlaw – but the “good” kind – who gets betrayed by his partner while he’s in prison. The partner, played by Dean Wormer, arranged for a woman Peppard was banging to claim she was pregnant, which leads to Peppard trying to get away from her brothers (played by NFLer Merlin Olsen and his actual brother) and hitting a cop, so he goes to jail. Dean Wormer then takes the money they just stole from a train, hooks up with Peppard’s occasional lover (played by Diana Muldaur), and heads to northern California, where he sets himself up as a legitimate businessman. When Peppard gets out, he wants his money, but Dean Wormer isn’t interested in giving him the money back, so Peppard teams up with a group of Chinese laborers that Wormer has screwed out of some money and they decide they’re going to steal all their money back. Peppard needs a slightly harder edge, because while the movie is not a super-serious drama, it’s more dramatic than Peppard thinks it is, so it’s like he’s in the wrong movie. Soon-Tek Oh (who is, needless to say, not Chinese) is very good in a small role, and his love interest, France Nuyen (also, um, not Chinese) does a good job, too. Dean Wormer is always interesting, and Muldaur (who is probably most famous for falling down an elevator shaft on L.A. Law) is very easy on the eyes and is also quite good as a woman who thinks she knows what’s going on and isn’t very happy to find out what’s actually going on, but Peppard kind of stands out like a sore thumb. He’s certainly not terrible, just wrong for the part. I suppose we have to give the movie kudos for its depiction of the Chinese, who are actual human beings and not stereotypes, and it’s a decent enough adventure, so I probably shouldn’t be so hard on Colonel Smith. It just seems like it’s too slight a movie, and I blame Hannibal!
$ (1971). Warren Beatty stars as a security consultant who decides to rob the bank he’s consulting for, and he comes up with a pretty keen scheme. He gets Goldie Hawn, who’s a call girl, to open a safety deposit box in the bank, and then he contrives to get himself locked in the vault due to an emergency that he concocts. Then he transfers stuff from several boxes into Hawn’s, and then she just comes later and cleans out her box. Hawn knows several sketchy characters who keep their ill-gotten gains in the bank, so they won’t complain because they don’t want the cops poking around. Of course, that also means they won’t have any compunctions about killing Beatty and Hawn if they find out what happened! The movie is set in Hamburg, for some reason, and it allows Gert Fröbe to show up as the somewhat hapless bank manager. Beatty and Hawn are fine, having fun with the script, which is always somewhat light-hearted despite the few murders that get committed. Some of the bad guys, naturally, find out about them, and the latter part of the movie is a really long chase scene that somehow ends up in the mountains (Hamburg is not really that near to mountains that get snow). It’s a pretty decent film, although it does run a bit long and the tone is a bit odd. Hawn apparently doesn’t like it, but what the heck does she know?
Skyjacked (1972). After the success of Airport, there were a lot of movies about airplanes in distress, and this is one of them. Chuck Heston is the pilot of a plane that gets … SKYJACKED!!!! by a mysterious bomber whose identity remains a secret for a while, and the cast is a pretty good one: Yvette Mimieux is the head flight attendant with whom Heston once had an affair and who is now dating the co-pilot (not a lot of options when you only work with a few other people, I guess!); Leslie Uggams is another flight attendant; Susan Dey is making her movie debut as a hot hippie chick; Mariette Hartley shows up as a pregnant lady who probably shouldn’t be flying this close to giving birth (naturally, she gives birth on the plane); baby-faced James Brolin (who was already 31 but looks younger) is a soldier who bonds with his neighbor, jazz cellist Roosevelt Grier (yes, jazz cellist); and Walter Pidgeon is a senator who needs to get to Washington. John Hillerman (Higgins!) has a short cameo as a air traffic controller, while Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo!) is the dude in Alaska who talks Heston down when he has to refuel (on his way to Moscow, where the bomber thinks they’ll be welcomed). It’s all very dramatic and somewhat goofy – Heston and Mimieux have flashbacks to their affair at really weird and inappropriate times – but the cast does a good job, and it’s fairly tense, even the dumb ending (the bomber didn’t really think things through too well). It’s a fun 1970s disaster movie, in other words. Those are always interesting!
The Poseidon Adventure (1972). I had never seen this, so I figured it was a good movie to check out, and it was. It’s a nifty disaster movie of the 1970s template, and while it has some problems, it’s still very entertaining. I don’t get why Hackman had to die, but such is life. Irwin Allen assembled a pretty good cast and let them do their thing. That means Hackman yelling almost all the time (even when he’s not angry); Borgnine yelling almost all the time (even when he’s not angry); Red Buttons creeping on Carol Lynley, who was 23 years younger than he; Pamela Sue Martin crushing on Hackman, who was 23 years older than she; Shelley Winters and Grandpa Joe Bucket talking about how wonderful it will be to relocate. To Israel. In 1972; Leslie Nielsen providing a template for himself to parody for the rest of his career; Roddy McDowall not being a big enough star to last very long; the obnoxious little kid somehow not getting smacked at least once every few minutes; Hackman telling Martin and Stella Stevens to take their gowns off when they climb the Christmas tree simply so they can flash their legs (that’s not the reason; ostensibly it was so they could climb better, but Winters wears her gown and she clambers up the tree like a monkey); instant karma killing the purser and the passengers left behind in the dining room … phew, there’s just so much, and it’s all quite fun. It’s trash, but back in the Seventies they took their trash seriously, damn it!
Chinatown (1974). This is, of course, almost a perfect movie, but some things have always bugged me. When Nicholson finds out what’s going on with Dunaway and Huston, why does he leave Dunaway? He knows Noah Cross is pure evil and will do almost anything to get his way, yet he doesn’t make sure she gets to Mexico before going to confront him. And why does he confront him anyway? At an isolated location with only one piece of evidence? He has to know Cross will bring muscle, yet he’s completely unprepared for it. He can prove that the irrigation scheme is a scam, he can prove that Cross is using the names of senior citizens to buy up the land, and the farmers in the valley don’t seem like they would be easily bought off by Cross, as they’re just that ornery. Yet he goes to Cross with a pair of glasses, and that’s it? Then, Dunaway has Huston right in front of him and she can’t hit him with a better shot? Come on, Faye! Finally, why do the cops shoot at Dunaway? She doesn’t have anywhere to go, really, and she’s driving a big-ass car that probably doesn’t go too fast, so they could chase her. I know she just shot Cross, but it just seems excessive, as he’s not actually dead. I know that Polanski wanted her to die because of Sharon Tate, but it could have been a bit more believable. Still, what a fucking great movie. Watch it again if you don’t believe me!
The Fortune (1975). Mike Nichols directs this misfire, in which Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson move to Los Angeles with Stockard Channing in the 1920s. Beatty is married at the beginning, but he can’t get a divorce yet and he can’t transport an unmarried woman across state lines due to the Mann Act, so he cooks up a scheme with Nicholson by which Nicholson will marry Channing and Beatty will pose as her brother. Yeah, nothing good can come of that. Channing is the daughter of a rich dude, and soon enough she’s in line to inherit his fortune. Nicholson, naturally, starts wanting to do more than pose as her husband, and he and Beatty start not getting along, until they both realize that they can kill Channing and split the inheritance that Nicholson will get, as her husband. Their attempts are hilariously terrible, as you might expect from this, as it’s a comedy. You’d think this would be great, given the cast, but it’s really not. Beatty is just a jerk, Nicholson seems to be trying to play someone really dumb but just comes off as psychotic, and Channing really is too stupid to live. The movie is uncomfortably misogynistic even for 1975, although it does seem that Nichols is trying to mock the misogyny, he just doesn’t do a terribly good job of it. It’s always interesting seeing big stars in their more minor movies, but it would be nice if this one was actually good. Oh well.
Coma (1978). I hate movies where characters are supposed to be smart but do stupid things. Geneviève Bujold finds out that someone at the hospital where she works is killing patients and harvesting their healthy organs, and she finds out that her lover, played by Michael Douglas, may be in on it, so what does she do? She goes to the head of the hospital, Richard Widmark, to expose the truth!!!!! Don’t you think, Ms. Bujold, that maybe Widmark is really a bad guy? I mean, how could the people doing this scheme get away with it if he weren’t in on it? She has some proof, so go to the cops or the press! Sheesh. Anyway, this is a pretty good thriller, although today people would complain about Bujold’s lack of agency at the end (and they’d be right; the climax of the movie is a bit weird). But it’s a good, plausible plot, and the cast is good – Douglas is always smarmy, so you can believe he’s gaslighting Bujold; Rip Torn is creepy as one of the surgeons, and Lance LeGault is always kind of weird, so that works. One victim is Lois Chiles, probably most famous for playing Holly Goodhead in Moonraker, and another is poor handsome Tom Selleck. Meanwhile, Woody Boyd’s father-in-law shows up, and this is also Ed Harris’s movie debut, so good for him!
Dressed to Kill (1980). I had never seen this, so I figured I’d give it a look. I guess it was controversial at the time because people said it was misogynistic and transphobic (although I’m not sure if that was a word back then), but it really doesn’t seem that bad to me. Nancy Allen, for instance, is clearly the hero of the story, and Keith Gordon is clearly her sidekick. Michael Caine is a fascinating character, but he’s not the hero of the movie. Dennis Franz is a jerk, but he’s supposed to be. Given the time, De Palma is surprisingly nuanced in the way he treats transgender issues, and even if he indulges in some stereotypes about transgender people, he also makes it clear that this is a specific instance and is not how all transgender people are, which might be a bit weak to some but is far better than what we get from most filmmakers and writers of the time. So it’s not as enlightened as you might want, but it’s also not as bad as people claimed. It’s a good, creepy thriller, although it’s kind of hard to have sympathy for Angie Dickinson, who’s kind of just begging to be killed. Gordon is always creepy (he can’t help it!), so the fact that his character is a bit creepy works, and Allen is superb (and gorgeous, of course). I love watching De Palma’s movies simply for the craft involved – he’s one of the few directors who ever uses deep focus, which I adore, and I don’t know why more directors don’t go with it. There’s a terrific shot in this movie of Allen sitting in the police station in the deep background while Caine and Franz talk in the foreground, and it works because Allen is in focus. Deep focus, directors – it’s not just for Citizen Kane!
Ready or Not (2019). This is the kind of movie I wish would get made more often – it’s an original story, there’s not really a possibility of a sequel, it doesn’t have a ridiculously bloated budget so it didn’t have to do gangbusters at the box office, it doesn’t have big stars but just solid actors, and it hums along at 90 minutes. It’s funny, it’s ridiculously violent and gory, and it gets the job done, if the job is to entertain for an hour and a half. Samara Weaving marries Mark O’Brien, one of the scions of a super-rich family that makes board games, among other things. Before that happens, we already know something is weird about the family from a opening vignette when O’Brien was a kid. The night after the wedding, O’Brien tells her she has to play a game with the family, and while most are harmless, the one she picks (it’s on a card that she doesn’t see beforehand) is Hide and Seek, meaning the family has until dawn to hunt and kill her. We find out why, but we kind of already know, as it’s not hard to figure out. O’Brien doesn’t want to play, but he’s kind of forced into it. As he’s helping Weaving, people start dying, some in somewhat hilarious ways. The only problem I had with Weaving trying to escape is that she has multiple opportunities to get weapons, but she passes them up. Come on! Anyway, Adam Brody plays O’Brien’s dissolute brother, Andie MacDowell is on hand as the matriarch, Henry Czerny is the dad, who’s becoming increasingly unhinged as the night goes on, Nicky Guadagni is O’Brien’s wacky and evil aunt, Melanie Scrofano is O’Brien’s coked-up sister, and Kristian Bruun (who’s always effortlessly hilarious) and Elyse Levesque are the husband and wife of Scrofano and Brody, respectively. There’s not a lot else to say – this is an incredibly streamlined movie, and while the few twists aren’t that surprising, they do add a bit of juice to everything. It’s not a great movie, but it’s very fun.
F9: The Fast Saga (2021). Is … that really what this movie is called? Gawd, that’s dumb. Oh well. 2021, y’all! As you might know, I love this big dumb franchise, and so does my daughter, so we try to see each movie in the theater together, and we did so last week. It had been some time since I’d seen a movie in the theater, and man, I love doing it. We don’t do it too often because it’s ridiculously expensive and we’re old and tired, but I still love it. We saw this at 10 o’clock in the morning, and there were perhaps eight people total in the theater, so it was awesome. And most of the trailers were terrible, but holy shit does The Green Knight look amazing. Anyway, this movie is trash, but it’s wildly entertaining trash, so that’s cool. It’s fun to see it in the theater, where the immensity of the spectacle can just wash over you. The franchise hasn’t recovered from Paul Walker’s death, not only because his relationship with Vin Diesel was the heart of the series but because he’s a better actor than Diesel (not the hugest accomplishment, but it’s something), so he added a good touch of gravitas to it all. In my personal opinion, the franchise never recovered from bringing Michelle Rodriguez back, because for some reason Rodriguez bugs the hell out of me. Both of Diesel’s other intermittent love interests, Gal Gadot and Elsa Pataky, are much better than Rodriguez, but she’s still there, unfortunately. The other problem is the villain, because the series has struggled with villains for the most part. Charlize Theron is back, and she might be a good villain, but she’s not in the movie enough (although she’ll probably be back to being the big bad next time). Jon Cena is the main villain, but it’s clear he’s just there to get redemption, so we’re just waiting for that. Thue Ersted Rasmussen is the real main villain, but his character is a big void, so he’s not very good. The movie is too long – it’s about 2 hours 20 minutes – and a lot of the flashback to the death of the Toretto patriarch and the fallout from that (which led to Dom and Jakob not speaking to each other and explains why we’ve never heard of Jon Cena before) could easily be cut. And the second retcon of Han’s death strains credulity, but like the best comic book hand-waving, it doesn’t matter because Sung Kang is back and he’s the coolest character in the franchise. All of that doesn’t matter, because this is big and loud and dumb and it looks great. Helen Mirren is hilarious in her very brief screen time, Lucas Black is there for a bit, Bow Wow looks like someone woke him up and dragged him off the couch a minute before the cameras started rolling, Nathalie Emmanuel remains as scorching as the surface of the sun, Tyrese Gibson is looking a bit chonky, and it’s all very goofy. The set pieces are terrific, from the car chase through the jungle, across a mine field, and across a bridge that disintegrates as cars are driving across them to the race through the streets of Tbilisi while the good guys destroy the bad guys’ cars with the most ridiculous magnets ever constructed (the funniest line in the entire franchise comes in this one, when Ludacris says that as long as they obey the laws of physics they’ll be fine, because when have they ever done that?). There’s a Cardi B cameo that you will not see coming and makes no sense, but who the hell cares? It’s a shit-ton of fun, but I’m also glad that they’re wrapping up the series (two more movies to go!) because everyone is getting a bit long in the teeth – Diesel turns 54 next week, Rodriguez turns 43 this week, Gibson will be 43 this year, Ludacris is already 43, Kang turned 49 this year, and Brewster turned 41 this year (Emmanuel is only 32, but she joined the main cast a bit late) – and it’s hard to see them doing this much longer (even Tom Cruise, who sold his soul to the Scientology aliens, isn’t all that convincing in Mission Impossible movies these days). But I’ll be there for them anyway!!!!!
Remember: movies are better than real life, so stop living yours and start watching!