Arnold Schwarzenegger versus The Devil. Just let that sink in. It had to happen at some point in the guy’s career, and I’m thankful it turned out to be Peter Hyams’ End Of Days, a slam bang action horror party of a film that is lowkey one of the best things Arnie has ever done, both in terms of production and the character he gets to play. As Jericho Cane, he’s a far cry from the competent badasses he usually plays, an alcoholic ex secret service agent dealing with the trauma of a murdered family. The last thing he needs is Satan setting up shop in Manhattan on his watch, but that’s exactly what’s in store, for every millennium or so, the red guy gets to take a vacation earth-side in a human host, and if he’s able to get laid with a carefully chosen girl, he gets to take over the world. Some dodgy theology there, but this is an Arnie flick. The human host in question happens to be slick stockbroker Gabriel Byrne, who is soon causing havoc all over the Big Apple in his search for Robin Tunney, the girl marked by a satanist cult decades before and groomed to be his concubine. Arnie’s hangdog private security tough guy and sidekick Kevin Pollak are unlikely heroes to stop the prince of evil himself, but Theron lies the fun, and Cane is actually one of his best, most unique characters to date. Throw in Rod Steiger as a priest whose middle name is exposition, Miriam Margoyles as Tunney’s sinister Aunt (also the only 5 foot tall, chubby middle aged woman to whip Arnie’s ass in a fight), Udo Kier as the freaky cult priest, CCH Pounder as a no nonsense NYPD bigshot, Mark Margolis as the melodramatic Pope in Rome and others, you’ve got one solid cast. Byrne really steals the show and is up there with my favourite cinematic incarnations of Beezle, especially in his smooth, smug and smouldering delivery of some truly patronizing, vicious dialogue to try and dispel Jericho. Arnie’s retort? “You ah ah fucking choirboy compared to me!!” Priceless. The action is big, loud and utilizes NYC to its full scope, with subway scenes, a daring helicopter chase sequence and all kinds of explosive mayhem. The horror element is spooky as all hell too, especially in the first third of the film where atmosphere mounts and dread creeps in (that weird albino dude on the train will forever haunt me), plus the score from “ echoes around like a spectre as well. Not one of Arnie’s most celebrated critically, but will always be one of my favourites.
If you ever feel the need to define ‘tonally fucked” in the cinematic dictionary (if there was such a thing), you’d find a one sheet of The January Man, a warped, malignantly silly crime/comedy/thriller… something. It dabbles in wannabe screwball farce, serial killer mystery, breezy romance, high profile police procedural and as a result of it’s genre flim-flamming, has no clue what kind of movie it wants to be, and ends up a raging, tone deaf dumpster fire. It’s so all over the place that marketing churned out a bi-polar publicity package that at times seems like it’s advertising two completely different films. I used to see it on the shelf at blockbuster leering out at me like an eerie gothic murder mystery, Kevin Kline and Alan Rickman glowering evocatively off the dark hued cover. In reality it’s something just south of Clouseau, as Kline plays a bumbling, overzealous guru detective who scarcely has time amongst the silliness to hunt down a shave or change of clothes, let alone a murderer. Rickman? His odd, awkward artist friend who vaguely helps with the case but really isn’t necessary to any of the plot threads, and certainly appears nothing like his freaky persona does on the cover, suggestive of a villain. There’s another poster floating around on IMDb that is more honest about what’s in store, Kline perched like a loon in a brightly lit doorway while love interest Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio peers adorably around his shoulder in true benign comic fashion. The film wants to be both of those aesthetics and more though, wants to have it’s cake, eat it, regurgitate it against the wall and film that, which is at times what it seems like we’re looking at. The police force brings disgraced cop Kline back on the force to catch some killer, while everyone runs about tripping over their shoelaces. Harvey Keitel is Kline’s brother, now a police commissioner, Danny Aiello the precinct captain, Susan Sarandon Kline’s estranged wife, and so on. Rod Steiger causes a hubbub as the mayor, staging a terrifying meltdown in one scene that goes on for minutes, a curiously unedited, noisy tantrum that dismantles what little credibility and structure the film had to begin with and seems out of place, even by the barebones standards set here. This is a good one to watch if you yourself are making a film and want to see an example of what not to do in terms of deciding on and cementing a certain style, instead of carelessly chucking in every haphazard element on a whim like they did here. Equivalent to a grade school theatre play.
Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks is a spectacular howling good time, a 50’s inspired gumball machine packed with schlock, satire and more star studded send ups than you can shake a stick at. It’s so silly and overstuffed that one just has to give in to it’s fisher price brand of mayhem and just watch the wanton hilarity unfold. Martians are indeed attacking, and they’re evil little rapscallions with giant brains, buggy eyes and lethal ray guns. Humanity’s best are left to fight them, and let’s just say that’s not saying much with this bunch of morons. Jack Nicholson does a double shift as both the hysterically poised, rhetoric spewing US President and a sleazeball casino tycoon. Annette Bening is his hippy dippy wife, while Rod Steiger huffs and puffs as a war mongering potato head of a general. Over in Vegas, prizefighter Jim Brown and his estranged wife (Pam Grier) fight against hordes with little help from obnoxious gambler Danny Devito. Pierce Brosnan is a bumbling tv expert who sucks on a pipe that he apparently forgot to fill or light, a subtle yet precious running joke. The only people with sense are trailer dwelling youngster Lukas Haas and Natalie Portman as the President’s daughter, and the method they finally find to destroy these nasties has to be seen to be believed. The cast seems padded simply so we can watch famous people getting dispatched by slimy aliens, and also contains Tom Jones as himself, Lisa Marie, Jack Black, Paul Winfield, Michael J. Fox, Christina Applegate, Glenn Close, Joe Don Baker, Barber Schroeder, Sylvia Sydney, Martin Short and Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on the body of a chihuahua (don’t ask). There’s little story other than Martians attack and kill shitloads of obnoxious people, but therein lies the big joke, and it’s hilarious. Aaack !
The Specialist is everything that action was about in the 90’s, and simply one of the most exhilarating Stallone flicks out there. This is the type of early career stuff he tried to infuse into his meta action extravaganza The Expendables, and while fun, those films always seemed like a mimicry of original gold like this, trying a little too hard to recreate feelings from a bygone era. This one is right up there with Nighthawks and Rambo as one of his best, despite a lukewarm reputation that has long since settled. You can’t even find a decent dvd of it, which is kind of sad. Sly plays Ray Quick, an ex explosives special ops tough guy who turned in his talents after a falling out with former livewire partner Ned Trent (a rabid James Woods) resulted in needless bloodshed. He spends his days moping around Miami until his services are once more required, by a woman in trouble. Sharon Stone is mysterious May Munro, whose entire family were slaughtered when she was but a young’n hiding in the closet. The mustache twirlers responsible are Cuban mafia don Joe Leon (Rod Steiger juggles his accent like three filing cabinets) and his brash, violent son Tomas (Eric Roberts, never scummier). They have anticipated Ray’s involvement though, and as soon as bombs start decimating their lovely beachfront nightclubs, they hire none other than (guess who) James Woods, now a berserker of a freelance mercenery, to hunt our hero down. It’s big, bold and full of explosions, machismo, gunfights and old school bad boys doing what they do best. Woods nearly walks off with the whole film in a performance so robust it almost outshines the pyrotechnics themselves. Stallone dispatches hordes of baddies using both fists and fancy C-4 gadgetry, bringing home the action bacon enough to sate the fans. Using the sweaty, neon spattered locales of Miami as a playground for these heightened characters to leer at one another and blow everything to smithereens, the filmmakers have forged what I consider to be one of the best in the genre for the decade.