20-years have passed and director Danny Boyle decided that the time was right to return to the story that put him on the map and he chose to ignore Welsh's literary sequel. Instead he has created a new story that takes fragments from the book and splices them with an all new - alternative - direction for the characters. Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie (Franco) are back and it's an interesting reunion.
Once I overcame the incredible sense of joy from seeing these characters again I remembered to take stock of the moment and considered whether or not it was a reunion worth having... it was. T2: TRAINSPOTTING is an accomplished and worthy epilogue that avoids mimicry and declares itself to be a legitimate companion with its own worth.
Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh 20-years after the events of the first film and faces up to the friends he stole £12,000 from. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) is a professional blackmailer and Begbie has escaped from prison – blinded with rage, while Spud (Ewan Bremner) has been tragically stuck in the same vicious cycle of addiction for two decades. Renton looks the pillar of health while the other three have become the victims of time, ravaged from the years of living rough. And so begins a new story that sees them hatching up new schemes with hopes of living large.
The first striking quality about T2: TRAINSPOTTING is the pace. Where the first film was a highly energised experiment in debauchery this new instalment is a much slower ride. Just as the characters have matured, so to has the filmmaking. Employing new – yet equally kinetic – methods of the craft, Danny Boyle has created a sequel that looks back on the previous experience with a nostalgic affection. He places less-than-subtle cues throughout the film that reflect the past events and he teases us with tiny moments of replication, which he retracts in a cheeky tease.
The character developments are tangible and Boyle has put them at the precise place in life where we might have expected them to be. All of the leads step back into character with ease, as though it were yesterday they last wore their shoes. McGregor's Renton might be a new man but his traits and mannerisms are just as we remember. Meanwhile Sick Boy and Spud are exactly the same. They're stuck in the same shit-hole and are incapable of escape. Miller and Bremner embody these characters with a sincerity and earnestness that was absent last time. Bremner's performance is particularly powerful and provides the film an emotional anchor. And then – of course – there's Begbie (now referred to as Franco). Robert Carlyle not only recaptures the insanity of his character but also turns him into absolutely psychopathic lunatic. There are moments where it feels as though he's pushing the vulgarity too far, and yet it feels comfortably placed at the same time. Other side-characters also return such as Kelly MacDonald and Shirley Henderson, although their presence does feel like an cheap piece of tokenism.
Boyle's soundtrack is another standout quality and he has, again, refused to recycle the same formula. It's a new soundtrack with a new style and gone are the 90's pop hits. The energy of the former soundscape has been retained in a new and modern string of songs which suit the new tone, while flecks of familiar riffs are strewn throughout to remind us of a time gone by.
Suffice to say, nostalgia is the key to T2: TRAINSPOTTING's success. Whether or not the new tones and rhythms of the film will sit well with people is another story. Some will embrace the sentiment and appreciate the film's reluctance to rehash old tropes, while others will be disappointed that it strolls it's way to the finish line. Either way, it is a divisive piece of filmmaking that holds its own.
Forget about Keanu Reeves... there's a new guy on the scene! At least that's what the studio was counting on the audience to think. How desperate they were, and naïve to think that it was Sandra Bullock who made the first movie bankable. Her presence in this ludicrous sequel makes it astronomically far fetched, even more so than it's flimsy premise. In turning down SPEED 2 Keanu Reeves went on to become one of Hollywood's most enduring action stars while Jason Patric – in accepting the role - endured a lacklustre career playing second fiddle in forgettable films and mediocre DTV titles. As for Sandra Bullock... it was sheer luck that she prevailed to the heights of Hollywood, because she is fucking atrocious in this stupid sequel.
The first movie was described as “Die Hard on a bus”, and I can imagine the creatives behind SPEED 2 brainstorming the new synopsis in a half-witted think-tank. In my mind some smartass jested “Die Hard on a boat!” only to have the execs declare “Brilliant! We already have an abandoned script for Die Hard 3, lets use that." (true). I guess they forgot about the Steven Seagal movie UNDER SEIGE, which had already exploited that idea. Needless to say there isn't a shred of originality in SPEED 2, and the entire movie relies on cliché, plagiarism and audience gullibility.
That makes me gullible. Very gullible... because I really like SPEED 2. There, I said it. I like SPEED 2. It's true. The problem with the movie is that it's SPEED 2. The studio would have been smarter to have made it a stand-alone action flick with no reliance on past glory. Sure it would have attracted criticism and comparisons, but having it stand alone would have removed much of its absurdness.
Bullock's character goes on a cruise ship vacation in the Caribbean with her new boyfriend (another special ops cop) only to find themselves at the mercy of a crazed madman who takes the ship hostage and threatens to blow the whole damn thing up. We've seen it all before, but what makes SPEED 2 appealing (at least to me) is its fanciful nature and its strange ensemble of players.
Willem Dafoe steps into Dennis Hopper's shoes as the crazed bad guy with his finger on the trigger. Dafoe's casting is a real head-scratcher and his calibre of talent is miles beyond this sort of fluff. But then again, he is only human after all and the allure of a hefty pay check would have been too good to refuse. At the very least he brings credibility to the proceedings, which is invaluable when you consider the pitiful assortment of support actors. They include Colleen Camp, Victoria Jackson, Tim Conway and Glenn Plummer... YES, Glenn Plummer from the first SPEED... as in that black guy whose car is destroyed on the freeway. He returns to have the exact same thing happen again (how clever). There are also a few respectable figures scattered about, such as Tamuera Morrison and Bo Stevenson, but their placement amongst the rabble is strange and pointless.
Wow, I really am heaping the shit on SPEED 2 rather thickly... best I mention why I like it. Despite Sandra Bullock's atrocious performance and regardless of the script being a patchwork of countless other films, the movie is balls-to-the-wall fun. It's dumb and it's action-packed. Renowned action practitioner Jan de Bont returns to this sequel and turns the dials up to eleven. The stupidity of the movie wasn't lost on him and so he chose to make it as brazen as possible. The scene that perhaps reflects his intentions best is when the ship runs aground in the final act. Not content to simply crash the cruise-liner into the sore, de Bont went nuts and drove in to a crowded marina... and then into all of the shops.... and then into the surrounding village... and then into the jungle.... and further still. The fucking thing just keeps going and going. It is hilarious and it is AWESOME!!!
SPEED 2 is twenty-years old and it remains one of the most highly ridiculed movies of all time. It was such a colossal failure that it reserves a pathetic 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it killed any chance of an ongoing franchise. But my God... if it isn't a shitload of fun.
Those who are plucky enough to watch the film will find themselves at the mercy of a keen and audacious political thriller that plays heavily on the drama. It tells the story of a successful Washington lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), who risks her reputation and career by taking on the country’s most powerful political group, the American gun lobby. She is an unscrupulous woman, with no regard for ethical lines, who lives for the challenge and stops at nothing to win.
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The film has several names depending on the territory. Some people know it as FLYING KILLERS while others know it as THE SPAWINING but we'll just consider it to be PIRANHA 2. Made in 1981 the film shifts its attention to a beach-front community in the Caribbean and tries a lot harder to replicate the tone of JAWS. With Lance Henriksen playing the local sheriff, in a role that obviously imitates Roy Scheider's Brody character, the overall story-arch and darker tone goes for the horror rather than pitching for laughs, although it is still very tongue in cheek (it has to be).
Being a tacky B-movie many would argue that playing it straight was the film's undoing and while there is no question that the film is hugely flawed, I also think that it's massively underrated. People at the time misunderstood it and critics took it far too seriously. As if the original film wasn't comical enough to prepare folk for the sequel it would seem that even the concept of flying fish launching airborne attacks on beach-goers wasn't enough to calm people's reactions. The opening scene is hilarious as we follow two divers swimming amongst a ship wreck. The woman takes off all of her clothes, pulls out a knife and cuts the guy's speedo's off. Their raunchy and gratuitous fuck-session is rudely interrupted by a frenzied school of killer piranhas. The film suddenly cuts to a very cool Hitchcockian credit sequence and the mood of the movie is well established.
Anyone reading this should have a mind for B-movies and would probably know that PIRANAH 2 is credited as James Cameron's first feature film. Obviously embarrassed by the movie, he continues to deny it as his debut and remains adamant that TERMINATOR is his first film. His reasoning for disowning PIRANHA 2 is that he was fired after only a week's worth of shooting and was replaced. His story is widely disputed and most agree that he did, in fact, complete the shoot but was denied any involvement in the editing process. A famous Hollywood legend has it that he snuck into the edit room and re-cut the film, only to be caught and the film then re-cut back to it's previous form. It's difficult to get a clear story of the production and with his embarrassment of it, the production history is rich with tall-tales and contradictions. Nevertheless James Cameron did co-write the script (using a pseudonym), he did work on the visual FX and he did shoot the film. Whether or not he was present for other aspects is irrelevant and his involvement was enough to warrant the director's credit. Cameron continues to be quizzed about PIRANHA 2 and years of prodding have forced him to concede some liability. He famously joked that “I believe that The Spawning was the finest flying piranha movie ever made”.
Technically the film is good. Considering its genre, budget and era it holds up surprisingly well thanks to Cameron's competent direction. Most of the shots are framed well and the underwater sequences are top notch (foreshadowing his fascination with underwater filmmaking). Where the film flounders (sorry, I had to) is in it's editing. The story is stretched out beyond what is necessary and too many scenes overstay their welcome. Most of the action scenes are chopped up as to conceal the hokey effects, and consequently the narrative is stifled. But heck, its so much damn fun regardless.
PIRANHA 2 might not live up to Joe Dante's original film but it does have its own charm and it dared to be more outrageous than it's predecessor. 30+ years on and people still watch it with a cultish enthusiasm and it continues to hold its place as a trashy b-movie classic. A worthy Number Two!
Originally written for Optic Intake Magazine.
BARRY is the first of what I assume will be numerous attempts to put his life on the big screen, and the fact that it is a modest and humble film makes it a worthy precedent. The story focuses on Obama's arrival in New York at the age of 20 and follows his journey of self-discovery. From his first night on the street to his college experience and his identity struggles, it is an ernest story that choses its moments carefully and presents an overall portrait of the man, as opposed to an in-depth examination... wisely so.
Set in the early 1980's the film boasts a drab urban-flavoured production design that recalls the work of John Singleton (Higher Learning) and Spike Lee (Clockers), as well as successors such as Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and Alexandre Moors (Blue Caprice). If you're familiar with their work – particularly the aforementioned titles – then you will have a good understanding of how BARRY is presented. Its textures are monotoned with a neutral colour palate helping to solidify the film's multi-racial themes and the social disparity.
It goes without saying that a successful bio-pic requires a competent actor and Devon Terrell's lead performance in the film is a testament to the casting department. In addition to baring a striking resemblance to Barrack Obama, he also executes the mannerisms and speech patterns perfectly and proves himself to be an exceptional actor. It's amazing to think that this is his first film, and that he barely has any prior credits to his name. His turn in BARRY should earn him a career in front of the camera and I look forward to watching him flex his talent further. The support cast includes Ashely Judd as Obama's mother and Jenna Elfman as a friendly, albeit ignorant, socialite. Their appearances amount to little more than glorified cameos and while they do both deliver good performances, their calibre does feel like draw-card casting. The stand-out support comes from three young actors; Anna Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) as Obama's college girlfriend, Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) as an aspiring graduate student, and Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood) as one of his earliest friends and roommates. Collectively their characters help Obama to find his moral fibre and play crucial roles in setting him on his historical course.
BARRY is not a groundbreaking film by any means, and it travels a safe road. It never aims for grandeur and invests all of its energy into exploring Obama's personality. It refuses to take a political stance and sits comfortably on the fence, being careful not to sway one way or the other. And by taking a non-biased approach director Vikram Gandhi has been able to present a compelling drama that relies on the strength of its performers and the smarts of its writer Adam Mansbach.
BARRY is a Netflix exclusive and represents another laudable in-house production from them, and therefore having their service is likely to be your only means of seeing the film for some time. While the pros & cons of Netflix's dominance is a debate unto itself I would suggest that their ongoing steady stream of branded content makes it a valuable asset to have at the touch of your remote control.
The film tells the twisted story of Jeremy, a man on the run who seeks refuge on a remote island following the murder of his sister. With blood on his own hands he finds himself hunted by a crooked cop who also happens to be the killer's father. In a desperate bid to disappear Jeremy holds up on a property where he befriends the landowner and his daughter-in-law.
It's a migraine-inducing storyline that fails to resonate in print, yet succeeds triumphantly on screen, and if that synopsis is lost on you then rest assured that BURNS POINT offers a story that flows fluidly while being packed with the sort of complexity that good film-noirs are made of. There are plot devices scattered throughout that provide various degrees of character development and make it very hard to describe without giving too much away.
It comes as no surprise that such a humble film as this would boast so much grandeur when you discover that its makers come from a television background. Writer/Producer Chris Blackburn comes to the project from a 20-year career in TV and has produced programs such as Big Brother, The Gruen Transfer and My Kitchen Rules, while his son – director – Tim Blackburn is a television editor in Canada. It would seem that their media experience has given them an edge that few other first time feature-filmmakers would have, and as a result they have hand-crafted an intelligent thriller that recalls the work of John Sayles (Limbo, Lone Star) and Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return, Laviathan).
The first striking quality of BURNS POINT is its cinematography. With a nicely framed opening wide shot cinematographer Kent Marcus reassures the viewer that they're in capable hands, and from that moment the film plays out in a beautifully stylised way, with as much attention given to the landscape as is given to the characters. The camera captures the unfolding drama in a dignified manner and resists the temptation to exploit the cliched shaky-cam style. We watch the events unfold through a series of controlled panning shots, arial perspectives and anchored observation. All of which is accompanied by an effectively understated score that provides the type of mood you might expect from a Coen Brothers film. And the editing... it's tight. Tim Blackburn has applied his craft brilliantly and knows precisely how much to reveal, and how much to conceal. Given his capacity as a TV editor, this is perhaps the film's biggest strength.
The cast is comprised of seasoned television actors including Ron Kelly (Sea Patrol, Voyage of the Dawn Trader), Francesca Bianchi (House Husbands) and John Rado (Silent Witness, Borgias). They all give strong turns and understand the confines of the production... that is to say that they keep their performances suitably low-key, in line with the overall ambience of the film, and allow their lead actor Andrew Lowe (in his feature film debut) to shine. He carries the film confidently and gives the story much of its integrity.
BURNS POINT is a well made dramatic thriller that offers a unique setting to a classic genre, and it has come at a time when other similarly-styled Aussie films have failed (ah-hem Goldstone.. ah-hem The Daughter). It is a viscerally appealing film that will hopefully mark the beginning of a long and audacious career for Tim Blackburn.
Along with contemporaries like Jim Mickle and Adam Wingard, his films have progressively become more refined, with escalating budgets and a greater understanding of film form, and his career has gone from strength to strength (due in part to his friendship with Eli Roth) with his films becoming more and more successful.
It's a shame then that while his subversive genre films received all the critic plaudits they've never really broken through to the mainstream zeitgeist. IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE had the makings of being the first film in his oeuvre that could bridge the gap between cult-fav to bonafide hit. It ticks all the boxes; star power in Ethan Hawke and John Travolta, a modest budget and a genre that is enjoying a mini-revival at the moment, but it fumbled at the US box-office recouping a meagre $60,000 back on its budget and thus securing its direct-to-DVD status here in Australia.
Many a great film have flopped during their theatrical run only to be rediscovered on home-entertainment, so does IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE demand a viewing on your widescreen television? Yes. And no.
It's plot owes an incalculable debt to Chad Stahelski's uber-stylised hitman John Wick, in fact, in their barest form the films are essentially the same; someone kills Ethan Hawke's dog, Ethan Hawke kills everyone. While Wick's world was built around secret societies and an invisible culture hidden just behind the world we recognise, IN A VALLEY... already has its world established in a dusty Wild West frontier. In fact, IN A VALLEY... owes a debt to a great deal that came before it.
Right from its opening credits the film wears its influence on its sleeve. Like a hyperbolic rendition of any spaghetti western you care to think of, Jeff Grace's Leone-lite effort trots onto the screen like a soundtrack by a composer who heard the score of THE GREAT SILENCE once and tried to replicate it. As if that wasn't enough it even plays over a poor-man's Iginio Lardani animation.
Beyond being John Wick 1.5, the plot is like a mash of hard-boiled noir and western. Imagine Oliver Stone's U-TURN with Kevin Costner's OPEN RANGE thrown in for good measure and you're three quarters of the way to West's first step outside the horror genre.
Perhaps that's why IN THE VALLEY... flopped upon its release; it doesn't really push the boundaries of a genre that needs another good shove. While Tarantino is doing his best with the form, West is simply relying on tropes and has arrived too soon after THE HATEFUL EIGHT, BONE TOMAHAWK and Keanu's ice-cold killer to leave a mark of impact.
It's not all a disappointment though. If there's one thing West is a master of it's coiling the tension springs of the plot. Like his previous efforts IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE starts slow, taking its time to sew the seeds of character, teasing the audience with the expectation of violence and not delivering it, forcefully tuning the scenario into a powder-keg of expectation that lets rip in the most spectacular way in its final act.
The best thing that happened to the film was the casting. Hawke's cowboy, Paul, is a man who can't escape his violent nature, even when he's trying to be an average everyman. He's a man of compassion with the fire war in his soul that he's trying to extinguish. It's the kind of thing Hawke can do in his sleep, even when he's talking to a dog to reveal exposition that other actors would fumble.
Travolta's Marshal, the one-legged lawman of Denton, shows up for a brief spell and has his fair share of dialogue to chew, giving us one of his most fun and complex performances since Chili Palmer strutted his stuff on Hollywood Boulevard. He's a good man, put in a bad situation thanks to a loved one and is forced to respond in a way he disagrees with.
It's not a complete disaster then - West needed his film to move beyond pastiche in order to be fully successful but as it stands it's just a collection of well executed cliches that benefits from half-decent performances and a great pace.
Fun, for sure, but far from West's best work and further from essential viewing.
With the original storyline all tied up the question on the studio's mind was “how do we continue?”. I'm sure they didn't care HOW, so long as it DID. And with the original Fugitive creator Roy Huggins in the writer's chair – alongside John Pogue (The Skulls, Ghost Ship) – the credibility factor was established from the outset. Harrison Ford's Richard Kimble character was no longer a viable avenue and so the natural progression was to focus on Sam Gerrard... and that makes sense. Being a US Marshal who's the best-of-the-best the options were limitless. Given that his character made a living chasing bad guys, the writers had the freedom to go in any direction they saw fit... it's just unfortunate that they chose the safer route by basically rehashing the entire original film.
US MARSHALS is a cracking thriller and while it may have tanked at the box office, and been a slightly lesser film than its predecessor, it holds up well as a stand-alone movie and doesn't deserve the ridicule that's endured for almost 20-years (holy shit... 20-years. I'm getting old).
Sam Gerrard finds himself on a prisoner-transport plane that crash lands after one of the prisoners attempts to kill a fellow inmate. All men are accounted for, minus one (sound familiar?), and so begins another extensive man hunt. Tommy Lee Jones breaks into his steely Award-winning persona and takes command of the situation with a massive dose of de ja-vu. A perimeter is set as Gerrard and his team head out into the bayous of Southern Illinois in search of the new fugitive, Mark Roberts (Wesley Snipes). Joining the crew is an agent from the Diplomatic Security Service (Robert Downey Jr) who steps off with the wrong foot and is at odds with Gerrard's methods.
Once you accept that US MARSHALS is a carbon-copy of THE FUGITIVE and accept it for what it's worth then you will enjoy the film a lot more than audiences did back in 1998. Jone's steps back into Gerrard's shoes with ease and is given the entire film to flex his muscles. With his character now the central protagonist the story takes on a new dimension with a greater focus on the character and a stronger emphasis on the action. The storyline is a lot more complex (perhaps for it's own good) and the fugitive’s backstory is well distanced from Kimble's story in the original. At 133-minutes the duration is the same (slightly too long in this case) and the flow of the narrative is fluid. Watching Jone's take charge is a wonderful thing and the tragedy – in my mind – is that this never became a bigger franchise.
The possibility for an ongoing franchise was huge, and the character of Gerrard (and his team) deserved a few more adventures. Tommy Lee Jones went on to star in William Friedkin's RAMBO-esque thriller THE HUNTED and took on a role that was practically identical to Gerrard, proving that there was life in the old boy yet.... and again in THE MISSING. At 70-years of age there isn't a hope in hell that he'll ever take on the role again, and so obsessive film nerds like me will just have to dream of what could have been (imagine if he'd gone after a serial killer... that would have been unreal).
When it comes to underrated and undervalued sequels, US MARSHALS is one of them. It stands alone as an action-packed thriller and also serves as a perfectly adequate character progression. It doesn't take anything away from THE FUGITIVE, and it successfully creates an avenue for further stories... that will sadly never happen.
SILENCE has been a passion project for Scorsese for almost 30-years and it's production has been in a perpetual state of “on/off” for most of that time. With over a decade worth re-writes he and co-writer Jay Cocks finally settled on a script that they felt did justice to the iconic Japanese novel, and with an ambitious production he set about making one of his most expressive and provocative film in years.
Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play two Jesuit priests in the 16th century who travel to Japan to find their former mentor (played by Liam Neeson) who has disappeared and is rumoured to have renounced God. Upon arrival they encounter a small community of Japanese Christians who live in secrecy. With a band of Shogun Samurai on their trail seeking to expunge Christianity from Japan, the priests along with the community journey to an island where more God-fearing people live in hiding. The faithful regard the Priests arrival with awe and devotion, clutching to every word they say and desperately seeking direction. When the Shogunate arrive they are forced to renounce their faith, after which they may walk free, otherwise suffer a torturous death. From there the story shifts to Nagasaki where the focus zeros in on Garfield's character, following his trials and tribulations in a country where his own faith if outlawed.
Scorsese was all prepared for SILENCE by not only developing it for 3-decades but by also having directed two thematically-related films. His controversial 1988 film THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST was religiously divisive and afforded him the precedent for tackling religiously-weighted material, while his 1997 film KUNDUN proved his capability in dealing with traditional cultural aesthetics. Both of those films also played on my mind throughout the film, as well as Roland Joffe's incredible 1986 film THE MISSION (also featuring Liam Neeson). And when you add the Kurosawa reference, the result – in my mind – is a heavily influenced period drama that benefits from its predecessors while presenting a thoroughly absorbing narrative.
The production design of the film is incredible and celebrated cinematographer Rodgigo Preieto has captured the landscape and environment brilliantly. From sweeping wide shots to invasive chose ups, his style is always profound. He puts beauty into every shot, even while the film's most abhorrent situations are unfolding. Who would have thought that watching men slowly drown to death could be so exhilarating (it's the stuff good cinema is made of)? The cast is also great with
Adam Driver giving an adequate performance that is hugely overshadowed by Andrew Garfield's exceptional lead performance. He occupies 99% of the screen-time and holds the viewer's attention through it all. His turn as the priest with unshakeable faith is fantastic, and there's no doubt in my mind that he is becoming one of the foremost actors of his generation... Liam Neeson is also good, although his role is little more than an extended cameo and he basically plays to type. The Japanese cast are phenomenal and give the film its added layer of authenticity and conviction.
The problem with SILENCE is it's duration. At 161-minutes it outstays its welcome by at least 40-minutes, and a tighter running time would have been to its advantage. With the story being rather simplistic and straight forward, there is no reason for it to be as long as it is. That's not to say that it's a boring film - to the contrary - but it would have been even more engaging at a more modest length.
I guess with Scorsese having this film in his life for 30-years there was an inevitable self-indulgence at play, and perhaps he felt obligated to adapt at much of the original novel as possible. There is so much magnificence to what he has created that sacrificing some of it may have been impossible for him to do... who knows? Regardless of this one obvious failing, the film is nevertheless a cinematic experience that deserves to be seen on the big screen. If you're a cinefile and share my love for the films of Kurosawa, then you will definitely take away a lot more than other people.
More importantly, SILENCE is a welcome reminder that good cinema isn't all about big explosions and super heroes. It is a throwback to a time when films like this outnumbered the tosh, and dominated the market. It's a standard that Hollywood desperately needs to strive for more often.
Coming full circle the film completes his 'Generational Trilogy' which began with his seminal film THE BIG CHILL, followed by GRAND CANYON and it sees Kasdan returning to what he does best, which is bringing a large ensemble cast together and exploring the character dynamics. Where THE BIG CHILL had a group of old friends reuniting for the funeral of a friend, this new film has an extended family coming together in search of a lost dog, who went missing in the mountains following one of their daughter's wedding. It is a simple yet engaging premise that relies on the viewer's love of dogs to initially connect with the characters, after which point the plot takes a back-seat as Kasdan explores the various relationships.
DARLING COMPANION is the second film that Lawrence Kasdan has co-written with his wife – the first being GRAND CANYON (see it) – and it has a sincere quality about it that suggests that they have put a lot more heart into this than usual. It's not a groundbreaking film by any means, nor is it worthy of any accolades, but it feels personal and provides an absorbing and enjoyable way to pass the time. With such a strong cast of players on board, who all give wonderful performances, it's a film that's impossible to dislike.
The cast is lead by Diane Keaton and Kasdan's reliable go-to-guy Kevin Kline. They play a middle-aged couple who have fallen out of sync with each other and don't know how to realign. Both are reliable players who know precisely what to do with the material. Their chemistry is strong and they give two heartwarming and very amusing performances. The rest of the cast is made up of Dianne Wiest, Marc Duplass, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepherd and Elizabeth Moss. It's an incredible cast and they all share an affable cohesion that makes the simplistic plot quite charming and somewhat enchanting.
Sadly given that DARLING COMPANION was made in 2012 it most certainly missed its mark. As mentioned, the film got past me and obviously failed to gain much (if any) traction upon release. It is Kasdan's lowest performing film to date and rates poorly amongst most critics. The cinematic climate has changed and audience behaviour isn't what it used to be, and films like this rarely achieve theatrical release... Now that the video rental market all but dead titles like this rely on a physical purchase, if not a position on a streaming platform. The cast may be composed of Oscar winning talent, but they are mostly aged and past their prime, and their calibre just isn't strong enough to market the film on anymore. It's tragic!
And so, heck, if a little bit of praise from a humble writer like myself can bring DARLING COMPANION to a few more people, then good. It deserves to be seen. If you enjoyed films like HATCHI and MARLEY & ME then you will find an instant connection here. And if you love ensembled character-driven drama like Kasdan's other aforementioned films then you will no doubt find yourself caught up in the shifting dynamics.... it's such a nice darn film.
Director John G Avildsen and writer Robert Mark Kamen returned with a smart story that not only continued the character journey but also managed to flip the focal point on its head. Where the first movie's focus was on Daniel, the second one put Miyagi in the spotlight, and the result is a more mature and drama-orientated story that explores themes of culture, tradition and lost love. The Okinawa setting lends the series an authentic quality and makes it a much more cinematic movie-going experience. The new focus and exploration of Miyagi's backstory makes it an emotionally charged narrative that gives credence to the drama and puts the action on the back burner.
THE KARATE KID PART II was an even bigger box office hit than the original due to audience's thirst for more, however it's critical reception was much less enthusiastic. The lack of action is the likely factor for its lacklustre response, which is a damn shame when the story and overall aesthetic holds far more charm. Thankfully the sentiment has improved over the years and the fondness for the movie has grown. It has become something of a nostalgic memory and in today's age of mindless replicant sequels it's nice to reflect on a time when more originality was put into crafting a sequel.
CADDYSHACK 2 was made 8 years after the first film, which is a length of time that outlasts the audience's appetite for more. The first film was a box office hit and remains one of the greatest comedies of all time, and it was a success that the studio was desperate to recreate. They had previously attempted to capture the same lightning in the bottle by reassembling the CADDYSHACK cast and creatives for the 1986 movie CLUB PARADISE. It was a catastrophic failure but they remained determine to hit it the spot. And so for this hugely misjudged sequel they blackmailed writer Harold Raimis into returning with the threat of the series being sullied by another writer. He reluctantly agreed to return with hopes of keeping the franchise credible (a decision he famously regretted).
In assembling the cast the only two original players who agreed to return were Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase... only that Dangerfield changed his mind and dropped out, while Chase found himself contractually committed. With his character being the only crossover the producers sought to bring compatible names to the project, and which included Dan Aykroyd, Randy Quaid, Jackie Mason, Robert Stack and Paul Bartel (an impressive cast in itself).
CADDYSHACK 2 recycles the original formula, almost verbatim, and follows an identical structure with the characters being exact reflections of the past. Jackie Mason's eccentric millionaire character replaces Rodney Dangerfield's, while Dan Aykroyd's militant saboteur stands in for Bill Murray's groundskeeper. Jonathan Silverman does his best Michael O'Keefe and Robert Stack channels his inner Ted Knight. My favourite aspect of the recreation is the tournament finale, where the country-club golf course has been substituted with a gigantic crazy-golf course. TOTAL LUNACY!
Director Alan Arkush is a familiar name with a forgettable resume. His best film is ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and his worst is HEARTBEEPS (which means CADDYSHACK 2 isn't his low point), and what he managed to do very well was recapture the production value and overall look of the original. You could line the two movies up side-by-side and they would appear to be cut from the same cloth. There is no denying that it is a hodgepodge of pointlessness with zero originality... but it's ridiculously fun nonetheless. I enjoy the gags. I enjoy the performances. I enjoy the frivolity. And I enjoy the absolute absurdity.
It is a sequel that has suffered 30 years of ridicule and has no chance of general appreciation. It will never earn nostalgic forgiveness and it will forever be pissed upon. I think that's a damn shame... and I will watch it every year as a protest to that attitude. Fuck the naysayers and climb aboard the fun-train. Feel no shame for loving CADDYSHACK 2.... stand beside me and say it out loud. THE SHACK IS BACK!!! THE SHACK IS BACK!!!!!!!
Maintaining the themes of the original film (and it's original comic book) CITY OF ANGELS chronicles the resurrection and retribution of its protagonist Ashe, who follows the guidance of a crow to exact a violent revenge against an occult gang who brutally murder him and his 8-year old son after they they witness the murder of a drug dealer.
Pope and Goyer made a conscious effort not to replicate the original film by changing it's atmosphere and texture. The blackness and gothic production design of the first film has been replaced by a washed-out saturation of colours and a dingy punk setting. There is also a hazy filter that smothers the screen, giving the world that's depicted a strange and surreal quality.
Vincent Perez steps into the lead role and offers a strong performance that never replicates Lee's persona and gives the character a different level of anguish. He suits the leathers and make-up and commands the screen. The supporting cast includes Mia Kirshner, Thomas Jane and Iggy Pop, who are all good. African American actor Richard Brooks takes on the lead-villain role, which presents a strong contrast to Michael Wincott's previous turn, and he gives a chilling - albeit lethargic – performance as the sadistic killer.
Pope's background as a music video director (most of The Cure's vids) made him an ideal candidate for helming this sequel, and his visceral stamp is undeniable... CITY OF ANGELS is, indeed, a very different film. I have never understood the film's ridicule and having watched it again recently I think that it stands up really well. The production value is sensational and the soundtrack (featuring White Zombie, Filter, PJ Harvey and Tricky) is fantastic. Combine these qualities with a well written script and an ensemble of competent performances and we're presented with a film that should hold a much stronger cult status than it does.
If it's been years since you watched THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS then I recommend revisiting it again soon. If you can ignore the original film and cut this sequel some slack then you might discover that it's actually a kick-ass action thriller with a hell of a lot of style.