Hit & Run was a huge blast, and the key ingredient that makes it work so well is the real life couple dynamic of Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell, who keep the relationship banter fresh, realistic and adorable. This is a passion project for Shepherd, he writes, directs and stars in the kind of scrappy, bawdy highway car chase crime caper that feels cut from the same cloth as stuff like Vanishing Point, Smokey & The Bandit, Cannonball Run and old McQueen/Reynolds muscle car fluff. They also pulled it off on a budget of two million and most of that went to securing music rights, so what we have onscreen is a barebones, character driven, practical effects based screwball action comedy that just hits the spot. Shepherd is Charles Bronson, (picked for the famous British delinquent inmate, not the tough guy movie star) his chosen name in the witness protection program after testifying against his former bank robbing crew whom he was getaway driver for. When his wife gets a hotshot job in LA he’s forced to rear his head, her asshole ex boyfriend (Lex Luthor from Smallville) stalks them along the highway, they’re also pursued by his clumsy dipshit federal marshal case worker (Tom Arnold) and soon his old partner (Bradley Cooper) catches wind and it’s all one ridiculously cluttered, madcap extended chase sequence that’s is somehow totally nuts yet follows a cohesive plot in the same breath. Dax and Kristen anchor it, you can tell they are together in real life because sparks literally fly in any dialogue scene scripted or improvised, and there’s a ton of the latter speckled throughout the film. Tom Arnold does his wacky klutz routine, sometimes to effect and sometimes seeming just like a prop that trips over other props. Bradley Cooper steals the fucking show with greasy dreadlocks, a volatile bitch of a girlfriend (Joy Bryant) and enough homicidal attitude to spare, whether violently berating a guy twice his size for buying cheap dog food or lamenting the fact that he got ‘butt fucked’ in jail, after which Dax and Kristen have a guessing marathon as to the ethnicity of his rapist in the films funniest sequence. There’s colourful supporting work from Kristen Chenowith, David Koechner, Ryan Hansen, Beau Bridges and a couple juicy last minute cameos from big names I won’t spoil. This is easy breezy R rated comedy fun at its best with a fast, loose and organic feel, it barrels by briskly, brings tons of laughs and even gets a few quick sweet moments in too. Good stuff.
There’s nothing quite like the sight of Will Smith armed with a high powered rifle, dog at his side, left completely and utterly alone in a deserted metropolis to scavenge, wander and roar down an empty main drag in abandoned super cars. This is an applicable film right now because that’s kind of how I’ve felt being downtown at work these days, minus the dog and super cars. Smith is Robert Neville, the last man alive on Manhattan Island, or so he thinks. By day he wanders around, searches for food and keeps himself occupied, by night he barricades himself inside a modest fortress while the rest of NYC comes crawling out, now turned into savage marauding zombies by a mysterious virus. Robert tried his best to contact anyone who might be out there by radio and tirelessly works in his lab searching for a cure. This is a strange rhythm that continues for the first half of the film or so until the inevitable progression of a Hollywood narrative interrupts it. I kind of have a love hate relationship with this film, in the sense that I love it for some aspects but not so much others. The first portion of the film is one of the most effective uses of immersive atmosphere and drawing the viewer in I’ve ever seen. Seeing this in iMax back in the day I really felt like I was there with Robert, felt that isolation, despair, restlessness end even blessed solitude at certain moments. It’s a sensational way to open your story, but then as soon as other human characters are added later on, the vacuum like aura is yanked away and it becomes kind of… I dunno, routine. You’ve gotta be a pretty special post apocalyptic film to trick your audience into not only believing the premise but imagining themselves in it, and at the outset they more than succeed. It’s just later on the illusion foibles and loses us a bit. That and the dodgy CGI used on the zombies who are scary no doubt but still a bit rough in the FX department, but hey this was 2007 and Weta was busy working on King Kong so what can you do. I nitpick here and that shouldn’t suggest I don’t love this film, because I do. I just believe a piece that leaps out of the gate so effectively, so convincingly should keep up that lightning in a bottle magic for the whole duration, but that’s just me. It does have one of the single most heartbreaking scenes cinema has to offer, acted flawlessly enough by Smith to leave any badass viewer bawling. Anyone reading this who’s seen the film will know. Oh, and there’s also a weird Batman Vs. Superman poster in Times Square, I’m not sure what the deal is with that but it seems odd for 2007 considering that film wasn’t even made until 2015, no? Maybe there’s some cool time travel trivia to the making of this one.
Alright, it’s 90’s cheesy Scott Glenn shit-kicker action time. The Last Marshal is low budget cheese of the highest order, a broad, violent and deliriously politically incorrect story of Texas lawman Cole McLeary (Glenn), a racist, homophobic, asshole, dickhead old school cowboy who travels to Miami pursuing two vicious killers (Vincent Castellanous and Raymond Cruz) who shot up a church in his town. His brittle persona clashes hilariously with the uber-liberal culture climate of Miami and he makes friction for himself pretty much anywhere he goes as he works with a local unit to take down a strange German drug kingpin played by the great William Forsythe, who clearly has no idea what a German accent sounds like but I love the big guy so much I didn’t care. This one gets points for having Glenn’s character be a complete insensitive douche who never changed his ways or accounts for his atrocious behaviour, there are several key scenes of character development that give him a turnaround and make him a really likeable guy under all that gruff. Just stick with it past the first scene of the film where he manages to heinously insult both Mexicans and Natives in one breath, it’s a startling first impression, but he softens up as the film goes. In terms of action it’s pretty cool, some neat fights, gun battles and a cool boat chase. It’s essentially action background noise, a cool trophy to put on the DVD shelf for Scott Glenn completists, as it’s pretty tough to get your hands on a copy.
It’s crazy times we’re living in because of this Coronavirus, and I hope everyone out there is staying safe, taking necessary precautions and keeping a level head about the pandemic. I also hope you all are finding time amidst the chaos to take care of yourselves, have a beer, cuddle your pets, chill with loved ones and do things that make you happy. I myself am continuing the blogging train to stay sane and this week it’s time to take a look at my top ten favourite films about viruses, yay! Not to be deliberately morbid but it does seem appropriate given our situation and there are some really excellent films out there that deal with outbreaks, from procedural dramas to schlocky horror to fascinating science fiction. Enjoy my picks!
10. Robert Kurtzman’s The Rage
I had to include at least one low budget gore fest on this list because it’s an incredibly formative arena in the genre for me. Legendary FX guru Kurtzman makes hilariously scrappy work in telling of a batshit insane evil Russian scientist (the great Andrew Divoff having a blast) who releases a horrific rage virus into human tests subjects. When they get loose and vultures feed on them the vultures go ape shit and become nasty mutants that go after everyone and it’s all a deliriously violent bit of B horror mayhem. Can’t go wrong with mutant vulture puppets done with knowingly crude effects and a whole lot of choppy editing commotion.
9. Breck Eisner’s The Crazies
This one is interesting because the deadly virus isn’t your typical flesh eating zombie kind but rather infects the population of a small county with mental instability and eventual madness. There’s something so unnerving about the afflicted’s behaviour here and the incredibly suspenseful efforts of one sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) to keep the insanity under control.
8. Neil Marshall’s Doomsday
It’s unfair to call this film simply a virus themed horror flick, as there’s just so much going on. It’s part Escape From New York, part Tomb Raider, part Mad Max like several films collided into each other at top speed and yes, there’s a nasty killer virus here too that wiped out most of Britain’s population. Malcolm McDowell’s scientist turned medieval despot puts it best when he observes: “A virus doesn’t choose a time or place. It doesn’t hate or even care. It just happens.” Astute analysis of such an event.
7. Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever
The gross-out factor is to the extreme and the dark humour dial turned up to the max in this ooey gooey tale about a group of vacationing friends who encounter a horrendous flesh eating virus at their rural getaway. Man there are some wince-out-loud moments here, just watch what it does to a girl shaving her legs, as well as the shocked reaction of one dude who goes to finger bang his girl and comes up with a handful of… well, her I guess. Also that running joke regarding the redneck convenience store owner and the rifle above his counter? Fucking top tier comedy gold right there. Avoid the remake, Roth’s original vision is the real deal.
6. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later
I’m trying not to make this list too zombie-centric because it somehow feels like cheating but one slot gets designated and it has to be these two superb films. There’s a ferocity, an overwhelming intensity to those infected by this virus that makes both films feel thrillingly alive, dangerously immediate and gives them a cutthroat edge. Oh and I guess I cheated already anyways by putting two films in one spot but I’m one of the rare people who finds Weeks just as amazing as Days so they get to share the pedestal. Robert Carlyle going full Jack Torrence on bath salts man, can’t beat that aesthetic.
5. The Farrelly Brothers’ Osmosis Jones
This is such an underrated flick and if I ever do a top ten list on films that combine live action with animation it’ll make that cut too. Bill Murray is a slobbish zookeeper who contracts a wicked nasty virus played by… Laurence Fishburne lol. Half the film takes place inside his body where a rogue cop white blood cell (Chris Rock) races to stop the fiendish strain before it gets to all the major organs and it’s game over. The animation is slick, uniquely styled and the film just hums along with cool ideas, colourful imagery and terrific voiceover work.
4. Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil
This film has quite the virus, it doesn’t just stop short of turning people into zombies but mutates than into all kinds of giant horrific monsters for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to fight. I think these films are great, particularly this super stylish, sexy first entry that’s got enough blood, psychotic Dobermans, gunfire and security system gadgetry to bring the house down.
3. Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak
While this one does take the big budget Hollywood approach to the virus motif, it’s still a smart, scary and incredibly suspenseful piece, and holy damn the virus here is one monster. “It’s the scariest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen” says Dustin Hoffman’s virologist guru, and he’s not fucking kidding. It has a kill timetable of 24 hours, which are almost insurmountable odds but these people try their best and provide one hell of an engaging film.
2. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion
This one, while still a Hollywood release, takes the clinical and detached route. Despite being heavily casted with big time A list talent the real star of the show here is the virus itself and it’s ruthless journey from Hong Kong to the states and beyond. Soderbergh employs crisp, precise editing and a sonic jolt of a score from Cliff Martinez to keep this thing moving along at the same scary pace as the pandemic it chronicles.
1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys
This one made the top spot on my time travel movie list too and does the same here, it’s just an all timer for me. We don’t even really see the virus here that wiped out most of humanity or it’s effects, most of the film takes place either just before or long after it’s released. But we get a sense of it, in the desolate snowy streets Bruce Willis walks through in a Mr. Freeze looking quarantine suit, filled with spectral roaming animals turned loose from a zoo. We feel the maniacal nature of the insane doomsday prophet (David Morse) who released it too.
I was honestly expecting a lot more from Spenser Confidential considering the creative forces of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, like come on dudes. It’s an update of an old PI tv show which I’ve never seen so all I have to go on is what they’ve done here, which is honestly not much more than a predictable, humdrum B movie that just happens to have A list talent on-board kicking back and not trying too hard. Wahlberg is disgraced Boston cop Spenser, incarcerated for kicking the shit out of his scumbag superior officer (Michael Gaston, the dude who shoots dogs in The Leftovers lol). Upon release he hooks up with his former friend and mentor (a nicely crotchety Alan Arkin), who is now also friend and mentor to an aspiring boxer (Winston Duke) and they all live together as roomies in one of those classic flat roofed, 3 story Southie housey things, how cute. Pretty soon Spenser is back to his corruption busting ways, sniffing out a hidden conspiracy involving his slimy former partner (Bokeem Woodbine, who I always love to see in anything), a pathetic fat-ass thug called ‘Tracksuit’ (James Dumont) and shady real estate development deals. Spenser also has a girlfriend (Iliza Schlesinger) who is one of those foul mouthed ‘BAW-STAHN’ skanks and I guess she’s meant to be charming but comes across as just fucking obnoxious. Oh yeah and that weirdo Post Malone is in it too, and isn’t half bad as a nasty Aryan Brother nazi boss, anyone out there who dislikes this dude will get a nice kick out of seeing Wahlberg not only one punch him but blackmail later by threatening to run a train on his wife. It’s a bit frustrating because all this really should have been something fun with the talent attached, like it’s a great idea for a story. Unfortunately the execution comes across as cheap, lethargic and boring. The fights are decently staged but don’t pack the bloody punch that the R rating should warrant, the profane Boston banter comes nowhere close to being a snappy and comedic as it should and it all feels lazy, tired and cheap. If you want a much better crime buddy comedy thing starring Wahlberg check out 2 Guns with him and Denzel Washington because that one really slaps. There is one scene here that does in fact slap, when Spenser drives a jet black 18 wheeler semi right through a convoy of Cherokee jeeps at full throttle, it’s a fun moment and briefly raises a pulse, but unfortunately it’s the only ten second interlude that does so in an otherwise meh film. Big meh.
Burt Reynolds did a lot of, shall we say, odd films throughout his career but the weirdest by far has to be Big City Blues, and the experience of sitting though it is akin to dunking your head in a bucket of piss and raw concrete. Ugly, murky, choppily edited, clumsily acted and shot through with more lens grain than aforementioned concrete bucket, this is the definition of leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Burt and character actor William Forsythe are Connor and Hudson, two mafia hitman in some shit-hole urban nightmare of a city. They find themselves in various jumbled misadventures presented in ramshackle vignette style, including their boss potentially betraying them, freaky underground sadists, a devil worshipping cult, psychotic doctors, duplicitous transvestites and a strange hooker (Georgina Cates) who believes her doppelgänger is somewhere out there in the city and won’t stop obsessing over the notion. Giancarlo and Balthazar Getty also show up here and there but don’t really have much to add. Reynolds gives one weird performance here, shambling about like a hungover Bassett hound and mumbling like he’s already ten drinks into hair of the dog, he seems listless, hilariously disinterested and looks like he just wants to collect his paycheque and go for day pints in a brighter, less depressing city than this (it was filmed in Miami, but you’d never guess and no other film out there has managed to make that colourful hub look as drab and run down as here). Forsythe has a bit more edge to his work and at least tries, but he’s always game no matter the material, even so he can’t save this thing from rolling into the gutter. There’s just too much bloody, gross shock value stuff that seems to have come out of left field in the script and I couldn’t tell if the psycho aspect was disturbing in itself or because it seemed to have ran in from another film and rudely hijacked this one. It also really tries to do the episodic Sin City/Pulp Fiction shtick where stories overlap, intertwine and wrap around each other seamlessly but it fails there too and these random, unpleasant and boring encounters just trip all over each other like they’re as many drinks in as Burt. This is the first film he made after his legendary turn in Boogie Nights and I wonder why, you’d think he’d have gone for something with a little more pedigree. More like Big City Poos.
So they chose a dark haired, American Keanu Reeves to play John Constantine instead of some sassy blonde British Sting doppelgänger, big whoop. I mean if that really cheeses you off as a fan of the comics to the point where you can’t enjoy this wonderful film then fair enough. This iteration of Constantine makes its decided departure from source material and opts to give us a gorgeous dark LA Noir fantasy full of striking imagery, genuinely frightening set pieces, intense character work from a host of cool actors and a slick, oily visual feel that accentuates the supernatural tone beautifully. Keanu is basically an icon of cool, between The Matrix and recently introducing John Wick to the world this guy is kind of a cultural talisman of epic genre films and for me this stands with the best. Constantine is an exorcist, detective, damned soul, chain smoker, extreme ghostbuster and all around cynical badass, here solving a mystery with biblical implications relating to an LAPD officer (Rachel Weisz), her ill fated clairvoyant twin sister (also Weisz) and a fearsome series of events that could spell the end of the world. John has allies in snarky cab driver Chaz (Shia Leboeuf in his ‘back in the day’ phase), mysterious club magnate and sorcerer Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), eccentric entomologist Beeman (Max Baker), hard drinking clergyman Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) and demonic concubine Ellie (Michelle Monaghan). He’s up against some gnarly foes of this world and others including nasty hellhound Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale channelling Harvey Dent), a possessed Mexican immigrant (Jesse Ramirez), the treacherous Angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton in mercurial androgynous mode) and big baddie Lucifer himself played by a kooky, darkly dapper Peter Stormare in what has to be one of the coolest and most captivating portrayals of the devil cinema has to offer. Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, The Hunger Games) has big budget, flashy effects sensibilities and while there is a fair amount of visual sizzle and large scale spectacle here the tone is often one of suffocating darkness, unseen dread creeping down narrow hallways stifling both light and space, eerie close quarters settings and a claustrophobic aesthetic that refracts the hellish elements of this story into the forefront brilliantly. John’s trip to hell with assistance from a cat is one stunner of a sequence, as is his explosively violent, gory n’ gooey showdown with Balthazar and an opening exorcism that launches a full length mirror, demon trapped inside, onto an LA street in broad daylight. His flippant confrontation with Stormare’s Satan has to be my favourite scene though, it’s such a classy, stylish, well acted and creepy-funny bit that caps off this story not with a huge bombastic action sequence but rather a clipped, ironic and altogether biting exchange of dialogue between these two great actors, who would go on to have another priceless little Easter egg scene together in John Wick 2. So say what you will about this film and I hear ya with legitimate grievances regarding fealty to the comics but that don’t bother me, I love this dark, unique, creepy, baroque jewel of a film too much. Great stuff.