Tag Archives: John Flynn

John Flynn’s Lock Up

John Flynn’s Lock Up is a great early Sylvester Stallone prison flick, back in the late 80’s heyday of the action genre where envelopes were pushed, no punches were pulled and rough, brutal scripts were green-lit on the daily. Stallone plays Frank Leone, a genuinely likeable guy who has a few weeks left on a sentence that resulted from a trumped up charge to begin with, and he’s ready to get out. Donald Sutherland’s Drumgool, the new warden, has other plans though, as the two of them have a rocky past and he has nothing but contempt for Frank. This spurs an onslaught of ruthless, bloody prison violence, yard fights, shankings, betrayal and riots as sneering sociopath Sutherland does his best to ensure that Stallone never again breathes free air. The film is so charged up and cold blooded it’s almost comical at times, but always enjoyable and hard hitting. Director Flynn is responsible for stuff like the Steven Seagal bone cruncher Out For Justice and notorious 70’s exploitation flick Rolling Thunder, so grit and machismo are par for the course and then some. Sutherland just goes above and beyond as Drumgool, it’s one of the great under-sung villain performances in the genre, the guy is fucking evil personified and the legendary actor eats up every frame of screentime, demolishing scene partners left and right with that leering glare and slate granite drawl. John Amos scores as the incredibly stoic captain of the guard, there’s great work from Sonny Landham, Darlene Fluegel, Frank McRae, Larry Romano, Danny Trejo and a stunning film debut by Tom Sizemore, already a scene stealer as a fast talking con who plays sidekick to Stallone. You won’t often hear this mentioned in the prison flick round table discussion but it’s really one of the best out there, rough and ready to brawl, with a galvanized steel veneer over the fight sequences, hard bitten performances, nice moments of fleeting humour and no shortage of breathless, pulverizing violence.

-Nate Hill

BEST SELLER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Best Seller (1987) is an example of an odd convergence of talent with a screenplay penned by B-movie schlockmeister Larry (It’s Alive) Cohen, directed by journeyman crime film director John (Rolling Thunder) Flynn, and starring A-list talent like James Woods and Brian Dennehy. The key to enjoying this film is if you can swallow Cohen’s pulpy B-movie nonsense: a slick, corporate hitman convinces a hard-boiled police detective, and sometimes author, to write his memoirs. Once you get past this rather odd premise, Best Seller is quite enjoyable to watch, especially the interplay between the two lead actors who do their best to sell the film’s set-up.

Flynn’s no-nonsense, self-assured direction quickly establishes itself in the film’s prologue set in Los Angeles circa 1972 with an ill-fated bank heist. There are some nice touches in this sequence, like the lone bum sleeping on the steps of the building that is about to be robbed, and all of the crooks wearing Richard Nixon masks (anticipating the Ex-Presidents in Point Break). A cop named Dennis Meechum (Brian Dennehy) barely survives the heist (although, a couple of his fellow officers aren’t so lucky) and goes on to write a best-selling book about the incident.

Fifteen years later, Meechum has graduated to undercover work, despite being a high-profile author in his spare time (?!), busting bad guys. During one case he’s almost killed if not for the last minute intervention by an enigmatic stranger. We are given a little insight into this cop. He’s a widower raising a teenage daughter (Allison Balson), facing lots of unpaid bills, and has missed the last four deadlines on his latest book. He’s not quite the burn-out cop that Nick Nolte was known for playing in the 1980s but he’s stuck in a rut.

Meechum finally meets the mystery man known as Cleve (James Woods) who proceeds to pitch an idea for a new book about his life and the dirty work he did for tycoon David Madlock (David Shenar) and his company Kappa International. During one of their meetings, Cleve lays it all out for a skeptical Meechum: “Corporations deal in two things, period: assets and liabilities. I removed the liabilities and I provided some assets.” It turns out that Cleve was in on the bank heist back in ’72 and helped Madlock get his start. However, he’s had a falling out with the businessman and wants to expose his corrupt enterprise with Meechum’s help. And so, Cleve and Meechum form an uneasy partnership that is volatile at best as the hitman attempts to back-up his wild claims to the understandably wary cop.

James Woods had quite a run in the ‘80s with intense performances in films like Salvador (1986), Cop (1987) and True Believer (1989). He’s in fine form here as an ultra-confident killer. His best moments are when he tries to convince Brian Dennehy’s cop of some of the people he murdered for Kappa International. Woods brings his customary intensity to these scenes and a certain reptilian charm as a corporate assassin. Cleve really isn’t a nice guy – in fact’s he’s an arrogant prick – but Woods manages to get us to like him anyways because the actor is so charismatic in his own right.

Woods plays well off of Dennehy’s variation of the cop he portrayed in F/X (1986). He’s not as rumpled and still has his issues but there’s the same sharp intellect. Meechum plans to string Cleve along until he gives him enough evidence to bust him and get some much deserved payback for the ’72 bank job. While Woods is all wiry intensity, Dennehy is a solid, imposing figure with his stocky figure. Most of the film’s best scenes involve watching these two top notch actors bounce off each other.

This is evident in a scene where Cleve tries to pick up a woman at a bar and gets into it with her date only for the guy to be put in his place by Meechum. Just one look by Dennehy makes the man back down. I know I wouldn’t want to mess with someone like Dennehy. Cleve demonstrates his considerable willpower (and threshold for pain) and, in doing so, reveals a part of his past that sets off Meechum. The tension between the two characters in this scene is tangible and ups the ante in their relationship.

Cleve’s crusade against his former corporate handlers is Larry Cohen’s blatant attack on corporate greed so prevalent in the “Greed is good” decade. Cohen wrote the screenplay, reportedly based loosely on Los Angeles cop Joseph Wambaugh, who tried to remain on the police force after several of his novels became best-sellers, in 1981 for Columbia Pictures but it was stuck in development hell due to a change in management. Orion Pictures eventually picked it up. Flynn rewrote Cohen’s script but was unable to get credit because he failed to prove to the Writers Guild of America that he had written 51% of it. The film was originally called Hard Cover but was changed to Best Seller in post-production as the former title didn’t test well with preview audiences. At the time of the film’s release, Cohen said, “I think the idea of being a killer for a major corporation was a little bizarre seven years ago. But time has caught up with the story when we’re reading all these stories about corruption in big business and corruption in Wall Street and the craziness in Washington.” Cleve’s ruthless tactics for Kappa International are meant to show just how far corporations are willing to go to exert their influence and power. It is this commentary that elevates Best Seller above your typical crime thriller – that, and the performances of Woods and Dennehy.

Best Seller
was backed by Orion, an independent studio that pushed through all sorts of fascinating cinematic gems in the ‘80s, from efforts by auteurs like Woody Allen, to genre fare like RoboCop (1987). None of the major studios would’ve touched pulpy material like this and it’s a shame because a film like this has become scarce in the 2000s. The film does a good job delivering the requisite genre conventions under John Flynn’s workman-like direction and the television cop show production values only add to the tawdry B-movie vibe. Best Seller is certainly no masterpiece but it is a solid piece of entertainment and one of those underappreciated gems from the ‘80s waiting to be rediscovered.