Hudson Hawk

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1991

Silver Pictures/Tri-Star Pictures

Directed by Michael Lehmann

Produced by Joel Silver

Screenplay by Steven E. de Souza/Daniel Walters

Story by Bruce Willis/Robert Kraft

There are those that will insist that HUDSON HAWK is a failure, a flop and a misguided project doomed from the outset to failure. I strongly disagree. It is a movie that along with “Big Trouble In Little China” “The Last Dragon” “The Assassination Bureau” “Sunset” “The Man With The Iron Fists” “Action Jackson” “Shoot ‘Em Up” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” is a movie that nobody knew what to make of it because they couldn’t figure out what genre it was. Was it a caper movie? Yes. Was it a spy thriller? Yes. Was it a comedy? Yes. Was it action-adventure? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Whatever you want to throw in. HUDSON HAWK was all of those and more because like those other movies I named and much more besides it defined being put in a genre because the story took whatever it needed from whatever genre it wanted to, mixed in wonderful characters and then it hit the ground running at top speed and never stopped until the end credits. Long before the term was coined and before I even knew what it was, when I saw HUDSON HAWK in the theater back in 1991 I knew I was watching a New Pulp movie.

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Eddie Hawkins aka The Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) is the world’s greatest cat burglar. That’s why on his first day out of prison after doing a dime, he’s blackmailed by his parole office and the Mario Brothers (not the ones you’re thinking of. These guys run a Mafia family). Along with his partner Tommy “Five-Tone” Messina (Danny Aiello) he pulls off the theft of the last commissioned work done by none other than Leonardo DaVinci, their individual tasks synchronized to the both of them singing “Swinging On A Star” at the exact same time. Yes, yes, I know how it sounds but if you’ve seen the movie I’m willing to bet that you’re grinning right now. Because the scene is impractical, silly, goofy and yet, you’re singing right along with Eddie and Tommy. Me, I admire a movie for having the audacity to even pull off such a notion. And what the hell, it’s downright FUN to watch.

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What gets Eddie interested in what is going on is that when he turns over the item he’s stolen to the Mario Brothers and their employer Alfred (Donald Burton) there’s an object inside which is desired by Alfred’s employers: Darwin and Minerva Mayweather (Richard E. Gant and Sandra Bernhard) who in a masterful comic performance always keep us an audience off guard as to what the hell these two whackos are going to do next. The object is also desired by CIA Director George Kaplan (James Coburn) and his ‘MTVIA’ Agents, all of whom are named after candy bars: Almond Joy (Lorraine Toussaint) Kit Kat (David Caruso) Snickers (Don Harvey) and Butterfinger (Andrew Bryniarsky) as well as by Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell) who is a top operative for the Vatican’s own counter-espionage agency. Eddie is astounded to discover that the object was fabricated by none other than Leonardo DaVinci (Stefano Molinari who gets the best visual gag in the movie which also involves The Mona Lisa)

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The Mayweathers need Eddie to steal various DaVinci relics that will place in their possession the components of La Macchina dell’Oro. The last and greatest of DaVinci’s inventions. One that can turn lead into gold. The Mayweathers were supposed to be working with The Vatican and The CIA in this but oh those crazy kids decided to just go rogue and grab everything for themselves as they intend to use the power of La Macchina dell’Oro to control the world gold market. Hilarity ensues. As well as a lot of action and for me, at least, a fun movie.

My own personal theory as to why this movie wasn’t the hit it deserved to be back in 1991was that the year before, “Die Hard 2” completely blew all expectations to smithereens and made more money than the original. So people most likely went to the theater looking for something similar and simply didn’t know what to make of this goofy, pulp-inspired adventure. Moviegoers wanted to see more of John McClane or a character like him and just couldn’t get into this more laid back, less intense Bruce Willis who actually goes through most of the movie smiling and looking as if he’s having a great time.

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And for me, that’s one of the major pluses of HUDSON HAWK: everybody looks as if their having nothing but fun making this movie. David Caruso in particular stands out for me as he steals every scene he’s in without saying a word. Kit Kat communicates solely with business cards and by his wardrobe/costume in whatever scene he’s in. The chemistry between Willis and Aiello feels real and I could easily have seem them continue to play Eddie and Tommy in a Crosby/Hope style in future films. I love that is not only James Coburn in this movie but that sound effects and phone ringtones from his Derek Flint movies are used as well. “Bunny! Ball Ball!” The lush sets and gorgeous locations.

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Understand me, my intention is not to change your mind about HUDSON HAWK or indeed, any movie I review. It’s just for me to give you my insight as to why I like and/or love a particular movie and maybe intrigue and/or interest you enough to maybe want to see it for the first time or revisit it. HUDSON HAWK is one of those movies that everybody seems to either love or hate. You can put me firmly on the side of those who love it.

100 Minutes

Rated R

Kong: Skull Island

GONCUks

2017

Legendary Pictures/Tencent Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Produced by Thomas Tull/Jon Jashni/Mary Parent/Alex Garcia

Screenplay by Dan Gilroy/Max Borenstein/Derek Connolly

Story by John Gatins

Based on “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

I’ll say this for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: It wastes no time in getting down to business. The movie knows good and damn well we’ve come to see King Kong and we do see him in all his towering glory in the first few minutes. But that’s only because we won’t see him again for a while because we’ve got to get the introductions of the human characters and necessary plot exposition out of the way. But that’s okay because thanks to the talented cast and energetic direction, you won’t be bored, trust me.

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Although KONG: SKULL ISLAND is designated as being a sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” it starts off with newsreel footage that reminded me more of the beginning of the infamous 1998 “Godzilla.” And that’s not the only thing it’ll remind you of as you watch it. Pay attention and you’ll see numerous shout-outs, call-backs and homages to the 1933, 1976 and 2005 versions of “King Kong” because this is a reboot of the character and you need to take it on that basis because there’s no explanation of how Kong survived falling off the Empire State Building or how he got back to Skull Island. To steal from Marvel Comics, consider this to be Ultimate King Kong, combining elements from all the previous versions of Kong to create something new and surprisingly fresh.

It’s 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a secret government organization named Monarch that investigates monstrous creatures that used to roam the Earth and Randa believes they still exist but hide in remote places like Skull Island. He secures a military escort to take him and a scientific expedition to Skull Island to prove his theory. The military escort is a wildass helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard jumps at the chance for the mission to snap him out of his depression about America pulling out of the Vietnam War.

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Also along for the trip is former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and award winning photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen) who has suspicions that the so-called scientific expedition is merely a cover for some sort of illegal and unethical secret military operation and she intends to uncover it. She uncovers something but it sure as hell wasn’t she thought it would be.

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Skull Island makes The Land That Time Forgot look like Coney Island. In the words of Seth McFarlane ; “everything that is not you wants to kill you.” Although not as totally and utterly frightening as Peter Jackson’s Skull Island (which gave me bad dreams for two or three nights after I saw his “King Kong”) there’s still enough beasties on this Skull Island to make our desperate band of heroes realize that they have absolutely no business being here. After a devastating battle with Kong that is apocalyptic in it’s savage carnage, our heroes are separated into two groups. They have to make their way to the north end of the island in two days where they hope to be picked up by pre-arranged transport. Of, course, the trick is to stay alive until then.

Did I say apocalyptic? I did. And I did not use that word by accident because much of KONG: SKULL ISLAND is going to remind you of “Apocalypse Now” believe it or not. John C. Reilly shows up as a character that owes much to Dennis Hopper’s crazed photographer from that movie and like Hopper, Reilly’s character lives with a tribe that worships Kong much in the same way that Hopper’s tribe worshipped Colonel Kurtz.

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The cast is first rate with John C. Reilly easily walking off with the movie’s MVP award. I wouldn’t dream of telling you the background of his character as it’s one of the most fun elements of the movie, which has all the excitement, feel, style and downright snap, crackle and pop of classic 1930’s and 1940s adventure movies. Samuel L. Jackson surprised me in this one and for an actor whose career I’ve been following as long as I’ve been following his, that’s not easy to do. Jackson manages to get in some social commentary about the military view of The Vietnam War without being heavy-handed or slowing down the plot the least little bit. John Goodman looks and sounds better here than he has in quite a while and appears to be having a ball. His first line in his very first scene got a big laugh from the audience I saw the movie with as he obviously means for it to have a double meaning as he looks directly at us and does everything except wink to make sure we get the joke.

Corey Hawkins I know from “Straight Outta Compton” and “24: Legacy” and he shows a definite gift for disappearing into different characters as there’s nothing of his other roles in this one. As for Tom Hiddleston…if the guy ever decides to go for being a straight-up action hero I would say that based on this movie, he can pull it off with no problem. If some smart studio ever gets their act together and makes a decent Modesty Blaise movie he’d be a perfect Willie Garvin.

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As for the star of the show himself, Kong is portrayed as what he should be, frighteningly majestic with a air of savage, yet sad nobility. I always like it when Kong is hinted at being more than just an animal and we get that here. Although this Kong doesn’t have a fight here that I would say tops the one in Peter Jackson’s where his Kong took on three T-Rexs, his final showdown with the gruesome Alpha Skullcrawler is deliriously satisfying in it’s sheer destructive spectacle.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND on a day where it was cold and snowing like mad but for 118 minutes inside the theater I felt like it was summertime. Because that’s exactly what KONG: SKULL ISLAND is: a fun, goofy, pulp-inspired summer blockbuster that’s not afraid to be what it is; an adventure ride designed to do nothing but thrill and entertain and it does that the full 100%. Go see and enjoy.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

PG-13

118

And P.S…DO NOT LEAVE WHILE THE END CREDITS ARE ROLLING. Just like the Marvel movies there’s a scene after the credits are done that promises more to come.

 

 

Shoot ‘Em Up

2007

New Line Cinema

Written and Directed by Michael Davis

Produced by Susan Montford and Don Murphy

I’m going to give you the best recommendation I can give you for SHOOT ‘EM UP and it comes from my wife Patricia.  We went to see this movie and I was fully prepared for her to hate it.  86 minutes later the credits are rolling and I asked her what she thought of it.

“I loved it.” Says she, taking me totally by surprise and yet again reminding me that I should never be so arrogant as to presume to predict what a woman will think.

“What did you like about it?” I ask.

Patricia smiles at me and says quite seriously: “I like a movie that gives you exactly what the title says it will give you.”

And she’s right on the money: SHOOT ‘EM UP is exactly that and nothing more: a series of gloriously over the top, spectacularly inventive and violent shootouts that is hung on a plot so bizarre and outrageous that it leaves you with only two options: sit back and have a good time or just eject the DVD and watch  another movie.  Really.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is just that kind of movie.  It makes no apologies for what it is.  You either just have to go along or go home.

Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) is sitting on a bench waiting for a bus, eating raw carrots when a bleeding pregnant woman runs past him.  Five seconds later a bunch of guys with guns in a car screech past him, waving guns out of the windows and following the pregnant woman.  On an impulse, Mr. Smith follows and in a devastating gun battle wipes out the guys in the car and delivers the baby, severing the umbilical cord by firing a bullet through it.  The mother catches a round through the forehead and Mr. Smith goes on the run with the child.  He’s being pursued by Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) a former FBI forensic profiler gone bad who now leads a team of badass gunslingers whose only job is to recover the child Mr. Smith is now caring for.

Mr. Smith enlists the aid of Donna Quintano (Monica Belluci) a prostitute whose specialty really comes in handy: you see, she fulfills men who have breast feeding fantasies.  So Mr. Smith offers her $5000 dollars to breast feed the baby while he goes about the business of annihilating the army of killers Mr. Hertz sends after him and maybe while he’s doing that he can find out why everybody seems intent on killing this baby.

If I told you that Mr. Smith eventually learns that the baby is tied into a dying Presidential candidate whose life can be saved only by the bone marrow of infants and his campaign is being bankrolled by a arms merchant you’d call me crazy. But it is what it is.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is the kind of movie that John Woo used to make before Hollywood wrecked him.  It’s a ‘movie’ movie if you know what I mean.  It makes no pretensions at being realistic.  It throws the most improbable characters, situations and plot twists at you and you either say; “What the hell, I’m having fun” or you say ‘Screw it.”  You kinda get what writer/director Michael Davis is going for in the first confrontation between Mr. Smith and Mr. Hertz when they’re pointing guns at each other while Mr. Smith, who is chewing a carrot says; “What’s up, Doc?” and Mr. Hertz responds with: “You wascilly wabbit, you” Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti are playing live action versions of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd who are really trying to kill each other with no bullshit.

Clive Owen is one of my favorite actors and he is obviously having a fun time playing the stone-faced hero who can escape from any situation and who handles a pair of 9mm Berettas almost as good as Chow Yun Fat.  He and Monica Belluci make a great team as the dysfunctional surrogate parents of the child that they have inherited and there is something honestly redeeming about the way they determine to protect this child.  Paul Giamatti is the one actor who is having the best time in this movie.  It’s so unlike anything he’s ever played before and you can see it in his eyes how much he’s enjoying himself.  And yeah, Giamatti makes for one great bad guy.

And how about those gunfights?  Take it from me: every single gunfight in SHOOT ‘EM UP is good enough that any other director would have ended his movie with any of them.  But here, they come one right after another.  Just when I thought the one I just saw was so outrageous that it couldn’t be topped here comes another one that  not only thrilled me with the sheer energy and audacity of the choreography but made me giggle like a schoolgirl as well. The daddy of ‘em all has to be the gunfight that takes place between Mr. Smith and a dozen assassins who have all jumped out of a plane and are plummeting to the ground while blasting away at each other. It’s a sequence that absolutely has to be seen to be believed.

So should you see SHOOT ‘EM UP?  If you’re an action movie junkie like me, you probably already have.  SHOOT ‘EM UP doesn’t have a single realistic moment in the movie.  But I enjoyed the hell out of the fact that the actors and filmmakers were willing to throw everything out the window and just have a good time telling a really out there story and do it with incredible action and their collective tongues firmly in their cheeks.  SHOOT ‘EM UP gives you exactly what the title says it’ll give you and if you expect any more than that then you paid your money for the wrong movie.

86 minutes

Rated R for graphic violence and language.  And I mean it.  There’s an extraordinary amount of violence here as well as a pretty graphic torture scene near the end.  And don’t even get me started on the scene where Clive Owen and Monica Belluci are having sex and he has to fight off half a dozen guys trying to kill them and continue having sex with her. They tried to copy this scene in “Drive Angry” but trust me, SHOOT ‘EM UP does it way better.

The Fifth Element

Columbia Pictures

1997

Directed and Written by Luc Besson

Produced by Patrice Ledoux

Is there any doubt that whenever a list of the coolest guys on the planet is compiled, Bruce Willis is somewhere on it?  Right from when he made his big splash on the TV series ‘Moonlighting’ and then hit box office gold with “Die Hard” and it’s sequels, Bruce Willis has been not only one of our most likeable and favorite action heroes he also just comes across a really cool guy.  Bruce Willis has never appeared remote or distant to us.  He’s approachable.  One gets the impression that if you met Bruce Willis on the street and asked him if he wanted to go get a beer he’d say; “sure” and you’d spend the night with him kicking the willy bobo.  Maybe that’s the real charm of his appeal: Bruce acts and feels like one of us: a regular guy who made good and lucked into a brilliant Hollywood career but never forgot his New Jersey roots.  I like him and I like most of his movies.  And one of his best movies is the science fantasy action/satire/romp THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a cab driver living and working in 23erd Century New York where vehicles fly along skyways.  He’s a retired Federation Special Forces major who’s just trying to keep his head down and live as quiet a life as possible.  And he’s been doing that until a beautiful red-haired woman named Leeloo (Mila Jovavich) literally drops out of the sky into his cab.

Leeloo is “the perfect being” who has been genetically created to save the human race from a Great Evil that has taken the form of a living planet and is heading straight at Earth.  The only way to stop this Great Evil is to find four stones that embody the characteristics of the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  When combined they will give their power to The Fifth Element which is The Perfect Being and give this entity the power to destroy The Great Evil.  However the problem is to find the four stones.  Especially since they’re being hunted by kazillionaire industrialist/munitions dealer Zorg (Gary Oldman) who has allied himself with The Mangalores, a reptilian warrior race that is hilariously bent on destruction at all costs.  Zorg is an agent of The Great Evil and he’s just as single-minded to find the stones as is Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) who is the latest in a long line of human priests who have served another alien race, The Mondoshawan who have been the keepers of the stones for millennia.  Korben is recruited by his old boss General Munro (Brion James) on orders of The President (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) to secure the stones.  This means that Korben has to agree to a rigged contest to meet his contact: the blue skinned alien opera diva Plavalagunan (Maiwenn Le Besco) who is appearing on the pleasure starliner ‘Fholston Paradise’.  But the Mangalores find out about the meet and they have their own plans for the stones…as does Zorg…

Korben has to secure the stones from The Diva Plavalagunan, save the starliner when The Mangalores hijack it in true ‘Die Hard’ fashion, do an interstellar radio show with the bizarre Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) and after all that still figure out a way to save the world from The Great Evil.

I love THE FIFTH ELEMENT to death for a number of reasons.  First off, it’s one of the most original and imaginative fictional worlds I’ve ever seen on screen.  There’s an entire universe here that is a visual treat.  The production design of the movie was created by French comic artists/creators Jean Giraud who is more popularly known as ‘Moebius’ and Jean-Claude Mezieries.  The costumes were created by a French fashion designer: Jean-Paul Gaultier.  All of which contributes to the unique look of the movie.  THE FIFTH ELEMENT looks like no other science fiction film you’ve seen.  Unless you’re a fan of the American magazine “Heavy Metal” which in itself reprinted stories from the French magazine “Metal Hurlant” which was a graphic magazine of science fiction and fantasy stories.   There was a “Heavy Metal” movie made in 1981 and a respectable argument could be made that THE FIFTH ELEMENT could be considered as an unofficial remake of the ‘Harry Canyon’ segment of that anthology movie as it has a lot of similarities.   All of which sums up like this: THE FIFTH ELEMENT has a unique flavor to its look, tone and style that is quite refreshingly different from conventional science fiction movies.

Second, I love the humor in this movie.  Most science fiction movies are so deadly serious it’s fun to see one that doesn’t take itself so seriously.  The group that eventually gets together to say the world is so goofy that you figure the world might be better off if they failed.  But they come together as a team in a way I found really charming and surprising. And even the soundtrack is different.  It’s got a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor, especially during a crazy ass car chase where Korben is outrunning the cops.  A car chase with flying cars, remember.  It’s as wild as it sounds.

Third, the performances.  Bruce Willis does something really surprising in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  He doesn’t play ‘John McClane In Space’ as I think a lot of people expected him to do.  Korben Dallas is a totally different character and some of the best scenes in the movie is how Korben Dallas reacts to the events he’s involved in.  Bruce Willis knows the effectiveness of how a single look can enhance a scene and he does it to great advantage in this movie.   This was Mila Jovavich’s first big role and she does a great job conveying the charm and grace of a “Perfect Being” (whatever that is).  She’s got a lot of terrific scenes with Ian Holm as his character is the only one who can understand her “perfect language”

And now we come to Chris Tucker.  Sigh.  I really don’t understand my brother.  I’ve seen him in interviews and in the remarkable PBS series “African American Lives” and he talks and behaves nothing like the way he does he does in those horribly embarrassing “Rush Hour” movies.  However, I have to say that I can accept his wildly over-the-top performance in THE FIFTH ELEMENT because that’s the nature of the movie.   It’s that kind of movie where you either have to go along with what’s on the screen or not.

I do have to say that as much as I enjoyed Gary Oldman’s hilariously bizarre performance as the intergalactic industrialist/arms dealer Zorg I have no idea why or how he came to be working for The Great Evil or what he hoped to gain from that arraignment.  I mean, The Great Evil is coming to destroy all life on Earth, right?  So wouldn’t that mean Zorg as well?  And for that matter The Great Evil is never really explained.  Why does it want to wipe out Humanity?  Why do The Mondoshawan care so much about why Humanity survives?  Why do they establish a sect of human worshippers on Earth?

Even after all the questions and doubts I still say watch THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  Chances are you’ve seen it already.  Good for you.  It’s not only a great Bruce Willis movie it’s a great fun movie as well.  It’s got terrific visuals, outstanding productions values and special effects that hold up amazingly well 18 years later.  Enjoy.

Rated: PG-13

126 minutes

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

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1985

Orion Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton

Produced by Larry Spiegel and Dick Clark

Screenplay by Christopher Wood

Based on “The Destroyer” created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the 1970’s there was a tremendous revival of pulp adventure heroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  And as a result the paperback racks in bookstores were stuffed with novels reprinting the adventures of such classic characters like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan The Barbarian, G-8 And His Battle Aces and The Spider.  They were helped along by breathtakingly beautiful covers done by legends of the art world such as James Bama, Jim Steranko and Frank Frazetta. And they sold like crack.  And it was like crack to the imagination of a high school student named Derrick Ferguson who spent his entire allowance on buying them and who spent his weekends devouring them voraciously and it was these pulps that shaped my writing ambitions and my style.

Publishers who saw this trend for pulp adventure jumped on the bandwagon and soon there was a whole army of modern day characters inspired by the pulps with their own series fighting for space on the racks with their forefathers.  Some of them were pretty poor, to be honest.  Some like Mack Bolan, The Executioner still survive to this day.  One of my favorites was The Inquisitor,  a hitman that worked for The Vatican.  He had to fast three days for every man he killed while on assignment and his confession was only heard by The Pope himself.  But the guy who really stood out and gained a rabid fan following that exists to this day is Remo Williams, The Master Of Sinanju who is the hero of “The Destroyer” series of novels which still enjoys life in paperbacks and was featured in the movie REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS which in the opinion of your humble reviewer is one of the unsung classics of pulp adventure movies.

A New York cop (Fred Ward) is catching a coffee break under The Brooklyn Bridge when he stumbles on what appears to be a random mugging.  He takes out the three muggers all by himself and while he’s calling for backup in his patrol car, it’s shoved into the East River and he’s presumed killed.  He wakes up in a hospital where he’s told by the sharply dressed Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston) that he’s been handpicked to be the enforcement arm of a secret organization called CURE.  “Why CURE?” The cop asks.  Cleary answers; “because this country has a disease and we’re the cure.  You’re going to be the Thirteenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Away With It.” Which I think should be the motto of just about every pulp hero.

MacCleary gives him his new name: Remo Williams and takes him to meet the head of the organization, one Harold Smith, who works in a dark sub-basement of The World Bank.  Smith tells him that CURE has only four members: MacCleary, Smith, Remo and the man who will train Remo: Chiun (Joel Grey) The current Master Of Sinanju, an ancient Korean who will teach Remo the art of Sinanju, which is the martial art from which all other martial arts such as karate, kung fu and ninjitsu was derived. CURE is an organization that is only known to The President of the United States and answers only to him.

Chiun is takes Remo under his wing as his student and informs him that The House of Sinanju has a long history of ‘perfect assassinations’.  As Chiun tells Remo in a scene that is hysterical to watch and listen to courtesy of Joel Grey’s utter seriousness and Fred Ward’s increasing disbelief, assassination is the highest form of public service.  The House of Sinanju is responsible for the deaths of such notable historical figures as Alexander The Great, Napoleon and Robin Hood.  All perfect assassinations carried out with such skill and grace that they appeared to be accidents or natural deaths.  Chiun begins training Remo for his job while Smith lines up his first job: an industrialist named George Grove (Charles Cioffi) who has been bilking the United States Army out of billions with a weapons systems called The Harp that doesn’t work.  Grove’s theft has come to attention of Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) who is making trouble for Grove and she’s targeted to be killed.  Smith assigns Remo Williams to protect Major Fleming and expose Grove’s evildoing.

REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES isn’t a movie that comes up very often when people discuss superhero or pulp inspired movies but it’s a movie that I highly recommend you seek out and watch.  Mainly for the performances of the always likeable and watchable Fred Ward (who would have been the perfect Rocky Davis if a ‘Challengers Of The Unknown’ movie had ever been made) and Joel Grey as Chiun.  Their relationship in the movie is what really sells this movie as it progresses from one of active hatred to respect and love to the point where Chiun calls Remo his son and Remo calls Chiun ‘Little Father” The training scenes are a lot of fun, especially the one where Chiun seeks to conquer Remo’s fear of heights by having him stand on the top of a moving car of Coney Island’s world famous Wonder Wheel while dodging the other moving cars.  The scene is helped tremendously by the fact that it’s obviously Fred Ward doing his stunts and it’s nail-bitingly suspenseful as well as hilarious, once again courtesy of Joel Grey’s comments.

In fact, Joel Grey effortlessly steals the movie as Chiun.  He creates a wonderfully eccentric character that is as wise and as badass as Master Yoda.  But a whole lot funnier.  Chiun is capable of taking out an army of fully armed men barehanded but he’s also addicted to soap operas which he considers to be the highest artistic achievement of American culture.  One of the best scenes in the movie is when he is forced to tell Remo that if Remo fails in his assignment to take out Grove that Chiun will have to kill Remo.  The scene is done with a degree of feeling and sheer acting power that lifts it out of what could have been a run of the mill action movie and approaches real heart.  It’s a terrific scene.  It’s also helped by the music which is done by Craig Safan and it is absolutely one the best music soundtracks ever done for a movie.  The theme music is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

The only let down of the movie is the bad guy.  Charles Cioffi’s George Grove really isn’t much of a villain and he’s not much of a threat.  The fact that he’s stealing billions of money from the US Government reduces Remo to not much more than a high level collection agent and Grove’s crew of henchmen aren’t on the level of James Bond style enforcers such as Oddjob or Jaws which is what the movie really needs to give Remo a real threat.  But the performances are what really sell this movie, especially those of a pre ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Kate Mulgrew, Fred Ward and Joel Grey.  Joel Grey won two awards for his role in this movie:  One from The Golden Globes and one from The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films and he deserved them both.

So should you see REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS?  You get an enthusiastic Hell Yes from me.  It’s a lost classic that needs to be seen by lovers of the pulps.  It’s modern day pulp all the way and it’s done with style, class and a love of the genre.  It should be seen just for the terrific performances of Fred Ward and Joel Grey is nothing else.  It’s a great Saturday afternoon movie.  Enjoy with my blessings.

121 minutes

Rated PG-13

Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow

2004
Paramount

Produced by Jon Avnet
Written And Directed by Kerry Conran

In doing my research prior to writing this review I discovered that Kerry Conran originally wanted to do this movie with unknown actors and break it up into ‘chapters’ and present it as if it were a lost serial from the 1930’s that had recently been discovered. I would really have liked to see that version of SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW since I think he could have pulled it off. As anybody who’s read my work knows, I’m a full out geek when it comes to the blood and thunder pulps of the 1930’s and 1940’s and Saturday morning serials and 90% of my work is written in the tradition of the pulps. As I watched SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW I realized that I had a spiritual brother in Kerry Conran. I don’t often recommend that people see a movie just for the way it looks but SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is one of those movies. It’s an out-of-body experience that truly takes you into another world and despite what I think are some flaws that prevent it from being quite as good as such great pulp inspired films such as The Indiana Jones movies “The Rocketeer” “The Phantom” and “Buckaroo Banzai” it’s an astounding adventure movie that proves what I’ve been saying for years: pulp action adventure is alive and well and if presented in the right way, people will eat it up.

The look of the movie is achieved through the means of almost total CGI. Except for the actors, their costumes and some of the sets, nearly everything else is a digital creation and the results are simply astounding in evoking a 1939 that only existed in the pages of pulp magazines and serials and could only be realized now. There’s a certain irony in the fact that the best way to visualize a world of the past is by means of a futuristic technology but it works. Boy, does it ever work.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW takes place in an alternate Earth where the Second World War has apparently never happened. We can tell that right from the beautiful opening sequence where The Hindenburg III docks at The Empire State Building. That huge tower on the top was designed exactly for that purpose in our reality but after it was built it was discovered that the high winds would make dirigibles move around too much and make it impossible for passengers to disembark. But in this world they’ve obviously overcome that problem. Aboard The Hindenburg is Dr. Vargas (Julian Curry) who is on the run from sinister forces who have been kidnapping the world’s leading scientists and he’s next on the list.

He’s come to New York to warn his colleague, Dr. Jennings (Trevor Baxter) who in turn contacts the crack reporter of The New York Chronicle, the wonderfully named Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and informs her that he was once a member of a mysterious group known as Unit 11 who worked for a Doctor Totenkopf (Sir Laurence Oliver in archival footage) on projects that were “too horrible to speak of” It’s during their meeting that New York is attacked by an army of giant flying robots that proceed to steal the city’s generators. There’s only one chance for the city to survive and the call goes out for Joe Sullivan aka Sky Captain (Jude Law) to come and save the day in his customized, pimped-out P-40 Warhawk which he does in a breathtaking sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Turns out that Sky Captain is the only hope to find out where these giant robots are coming from and why they’re attacking cities all over the entire world for their generators. Sky Captain is ably backed up by his own private army and his faithful sidekick, Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) who judging from his speech patterns and technological genius must be an ancestor of Stark Trek’s Mr. Spock. Polly insists on going along the adventure and it turns out that she and Sky Captain had a wild romance in the past that resulted in her sabotaging his beloved plane.   That led to him being held in a prison for six months so there’s a certain amount of friction there that leads to some entertaining banter between the two as they go off on a world-wide quest for Tontenkopf’s secret base to stop his mad schemes. They’re followed by The Mysterious Woman (Bai Ling) who is Totenkopf’s enforcer and seeks to stop them. Along the way Sky Captain and Polly get the help of Franky (Angelina Jolie) the eye patch wearing commander of a fleet of aerial aircraft carriers and they assault Dr. Totenkopf’s island fortress in a last ditch effort to save the world.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is a great movie for those of us who love the pulps and those of us who have no idea of what the pulps were and want to know. Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie do an absolutely bang-up job in their roles and considering they were working on sets where they had to imagine what they were seeing, they do a great job. I really liked Angelina Jolie’s work in this movie and I bet if you ask her she’d admit that she’s a fan of Jim Steranko’s “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” since her role is practically a 1930’s female version of that character. There’s a fantastic scene where she and her squadron of ace pilots dive into the ocean and we see that their planes can also become submarine fighters that had me jumping up and hollaring like a maniac. And I won’t even tell you the scene that happens after that when she has to take out a giant robotic crab monster protecting Totenkopf’s island.

But SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW does have some major flaws. First is that even though Sky Captain is the hero he never has a real enemy to face off with. Dr. Totenkopf is played by Sir Laurence Oliver who died before the movie was made and so only appears either in footage that has been CGI’ed. And The Mysterious Woman looks as if she might be a formidable enemy but she and Sky Captain never have a real emotional or physical conflict. Near the end of the movie, The Mysterious Woman and Sky Captain square off in a battle that looks as if we’re going to get some real ass-kicking action but it doesn’t happen. It’s resolved in a manner that had me saying; “That’s IT?!”

Another thing that had me puzzling over is that early in the movie it’s said that the nations of the world have to rely on Sky Captain and his private army to find Totenkopf since their armies are engaged in other conflicts. Well, if in this world there’s no World War II then what conflict is going on that would prevent the world powers from sending their armies after Totenkopf? And I also didn’t like how near the end where Sky Captain and Polly have been busting their asses to save Dex for nearly 30 minutes of the movie’s running time Dex shows up to save them and he explains how he escaped in an unconvincing offhanded manner.

And the movie doesn’t have the headlong adrenaline rush of the Indiana Jones movies or “The Rocketeer” or “The Phantom”. It’s a good movie, don’t get me wrong but I have the feeling that the director is more in love with getting the look and feel of the movie right more than the action elements.  But when we do get action, it’s worth the wait. You just can’t beat the scene in New York with Sky Captain fighting the robots and that simply incredible underwater scene with the amphibious planes. Stuff like that is what a pulp fan like me lives for and I certainly got it. But there’s a curious lack of headlong action that doesn’t carry you along in a rush that I attribute to the director. Kerry Conran is good, yeah, but he’s not a major action direction who could have torn up the screen with material like this.

The performances in the movie are also worth mentioning. SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW was part of the Jude Law Film Festival of 2004 where it seemed as if every other movie that hit the screens that year starred Jude Law. He’s really good in this one as he plays it absolutely straight. His daredevil pilot Joe Sullivan would have been right at home in a Howard Hawkes movie like “Only Angels Have Wings” and I loved how during the underwater fight scene Angelina Jolie grins like a kid on Christmas while wearing a helmet I’m positive was inspired by Wally Wood.

So should you see SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW? Without a doubt. It’s an excellent movie simply on a technical level in that it brings to life a world of pure pulp adventure. I would advise you to see The Indiana Jones movies or “The Rocketeer” or “The Phantom” if you want to know what the action and energy of the pulps and Saturday Morning serials felt like but see SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW if you want to know what the pulps and Saturday morning serials looked like.

106 minutes
Rated PG