Revisiting “Blown Away,” Starring Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones

As I continue to trod through 1994 for RetroPerspective on The Nerd Party, we’re getting to the thick of the summer season. Naturally we’re hitting on the films that either went on to be big hits (Speed), or were supposed to be prestige pictures but “underperformed” (Wyatt Earp).

That brings us to this review of Blown Away. I remember liking Blown Away when I saw it years ago. I didn’t expect much, and it seemed to over-deliver.

What a difference 25 years makes! It’s not as good as I remember, and in fact isn’t all that good on the whole.

Read on!

Tommy Lee Jones in Blown Away which is a movie called Blown Away featuring Tommy Lee Jones in a movie called Blown Away which is in Boston, as Blown Away Doesn't Occur in Cocoa Beach.
Questionable Accents and Bad Decisions Abound.

My Review of Blown Away, Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Jeff Bridges

This is a mediocre movie that keeps you hooked with the promise of being better through the entire runtime. That’s at least partly due to the terrific cast that Hopkins has in front of the camera.

There’s a tantalizing hint of “the next moment” being when the movie will elevate to the next level. This allure goes through the entire experience, to the point where one climactic scene captures that fire right near the end. By then, though, you realize it’s the outlier, and it rolls into a dissatisfying coda.

Like so many films of the early to mid 1990s, the Irish terrorist/insurgent/liberator plot line is equally indulgent and absolving of those who had noble ideals but didn’t want to cause real harm. Like those others, it also  never truly explains to the audience why “The Cause” was justified enough to reach outright bombing on the streets. It’s just presumed everyone understands.

There are a few moments that ring hollow and carry the faint scent of reshoots. (I write this without knowing if there were.) The lighting keys on certain “outdoor” scenes is off enough to be discordant with other outdoor scenes, and the content of them seems expressly to hit the accelerator on character and story development. It may be that the script was just in need of a little more polish, but if I were a betting man I’d say they were inserts.

The oddest thing is how claustrophobic this movie is, even when set outdoors. It’s photographed as if it’s afraid to show anything at the edges or communicate an actual sense of scale.

The characters also make a few moves later in the film that are clearly designed just to get them into a specific spot to raise tension. There seems to be a natural ending as well, along with one that feels as if it’s just to get us to a specific farewell shot.

I was very much enamored with this movie when I saw it for the first time years ago. On this rewatch for RetroPerspective, though, it felt more like a missed opportunity than promise delivered.

Revisiting Wyatt Earp, the 1994 Epic Starring Kevin Costner and Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

As I continue to stroll through 1994 for RetroPerspective on The Nerd Party, we hit the week I’d both been anticipating and dreading. The week that saw the release of Disney®©™’s classic animated feature The Lion King (the original one), and…Wyatt Earp, the second take on the legendary law dog six months after the supremely satisfying Tombstone.

Building Anticipation

A script co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, famous for Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Big Chill (admission: I still haven’t seen it as of this writing), the clever Western Silverado (also starring Costner), and The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, secured my anticipation. As a nerd and burgeoning film obsessive I felt an obligation to see this movie.

It promised a more sober look at this legendary figure. From the previews, you could tell it was going to be an epic undertaking, informed by sober analysis of the truth behind the myth. This was going to be the mature answer to Tombstone‘s thrilling embrace – and tacit endorsement – of the legendary interpretation of Earp’s life. Tombstone was focused on one period, and the people close to Earp; Wyatt Earp was to be a biographer’s reliable accounting of history.

You could, of course, debate the artistic merit of it being “reliable” when we have documentaries aplenty. You could also debate that with so much apocryphal retelling and Earp’s own supposed self-promotion, accuracy is in the eye of the beholder.

This was the early 1990s though, and the shift in philosophy from romanticizing the Old West, or past in general, to re-examining it through modern sensibilities and judgments was finding fresh footing. In a sense, this philosophical shift is pointedly illuminated by the contrasts between Wyatt Earp and Tombstone.

The Nature of the Discussion

Is it inevitable to discuss Wyatt Earp without mentioning Tombstone? Yes it is.

Costner was originally involved with Tombstone. They battled each other for production services and resources. They filmed close to each other. Costner tried to use his pull to kill Tombstone in any way he could. They were nemesis productions from the start.

They look at the same historical figure and time period. I loved Tombstone, and its embrace of the mythical telling of Earp. It’s terrific.

Did I love Wyatt Earp? Read below. And listen to RetroPerspective for a fun story about one of my viewings of it…and also to find out why my cohost is a monster who doesn’t like The Lion King.

Wyatt Earp Tombstone Cowboy
This is his expression even in the emotional scenes.

My Review of Wyatt Earp from Letterboxd:

This is a stunningly boring film.

Wyatt Earp suffers from a total lack of narrative discipline, and a tendency to meander through events. It’s not even accidentally exciting during the scenes that rely most on adrenaline.

Costner’s Earp is devoid of charm, charisma, and energy. His performance is so deadpan as to suggest the legendary lawman was a part-time narcoleptic. There is an abscence of chemistry between him and his costars that damages the film beyond reclamation.

The overstuffed script would only have worked with the electric aura generated by actors finding those invisible rhythms that thrill an audience. The result is an antiseptic take on a passionate time.

The other performances are fine, but there’s not much for anyone to do except get bogged down in a self-indulgent biopic that mistakes running time for epic scale. It’s kind of mind-boggling to behold the talent onscreen and behind the camera that can’t breathe life into an inherently interesting tale.

I Finally Saw Beverly Hills Cop III and Here’s the Review

As usual, this is one of those reviews that appeared first on Letterboxd.

Once again for RetroPerspective over on TheNerdParty.com, I come upon a film from 1994 that gave me a chance to correct an historical oversight. Why did I miss Beverly Hills Cop III at the time? Aside from critical fizzle, I hadn’t liked Beverly Hills Cop II, and so like any healthy adult I didn’t see the next one.

I held out hope that I’d have the opportunity to buck the conventional wisdom and find a film that had been unfairly maligned. I was ready to let Axel Foley back into my life and find something that, at the very least, was “so bad it’s good.”

Instead, I encountered Beverly Hills Cop III.

Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III which is a Beverly Hills Cop movie called Beverly Hills Cop III featuring Eddie Murphy but not Craigula.
Eddie Murphy looks just as baffled as the audience.

This movie is terrible. In the litany of 1994 “terrible” movies that I’ve encountered, it’s terrible in a very special way. It’s so bad as to make you *feel bad* for the talented people involved. Unlike Deadfall, this is something where you can’t even come up with a legitimate reason for why things wouldn’t come together.

John Landis was a proven director. Eddie Murphy, though fading by this point, was a major star. Steven deSouza is a successful screenwriter. Everything should have worked. It doesn’t, though. It’s like a band of talented musicians who just can’t get in rhythm together and become a nightmarish supergroup like Hollywood Vampires.

You want this movie to succeed in some way. You see people trying to make something worthwhile. But there is a magnificent lifelessness to the scenes, all the way from how they’re lit to how they’re performed. This is people going through the motions, collecting a check and hoping that someone else will provide whatever’s missing.

The resultant movie is a listless half-narrative that even botches its fan service and callbacks to the first film. This is a movie in desperate need of an identity, without any idea how to build one. It’s constructed as an action film, executed without a sense of urgency or peril. It’s got elements of a comedy film, without the timing or goodwill to execute the comedy for a laugh.

I can say that, for all the great films that came out that year, 1994 had more than enough of its share of stinkers. Beverly Hills Cop III stands out among them because it had the money and the talent to be something great, and instead is the cinematic equivalent of a well-polished turd. Is it as bad as On Deadly Ground? No, it is not. But On Deadly Ground is so insanely bad as to be a modern marvel. Beverly Hills Cop III is terrible in a boring way.

I’ll go ahead and spoil the one truly worthwhile moment in the movie for you. Go look up “George Lucas Cameo Beverly Hills Cop III” and enjoy the only point where there seemed to be any real energy onscreen. Which, given Lucas’ reputation for maintaining a lowly-expressive demeanor, is ironic as all get-out.

Save yourself the precious time and money to see this. It’s not worth it.

It Took Me 25 Years, But I Watched “With Honors”

You know the drill. This was a review I wrote originally on Letterboxd, one of the few social media networks that I don’t consider brain poison (yet). I’m sharing it here because I’m compulsive and there’s a lot of momentum with this blog posting streak, and I’m not tired of it (yet).

With Honors is a movie released in 1994 which is a 1994 movie called With Honors starring Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser in a movie called With Honors Hi Craigula
So zany!

The kesseljunkie Review of With Honors (1994)

This is another film that I’ve watched for RetroPerspective over on The Nerd Party podcast network. We’re marching through 1994, and by golly, this movie came out then.

The premise of the movie is anodyne; a homeless guy living in the basement of a Harvard library gets possession of a thesis paper that a student happens to drop down a grate with a perfectly-placed pratfall. You roll with it.

Naturally, they have to come to terms where the homeless guy holds his thesis hostage in exchange for basic living comforts. Along the way, he naturally spreads the wisdom earned from a hard life to leads our protagonist to question whether graduating with honors is all that important.

Never mind he’s graduating from Harvard. It’s most important to him to graduate with honors.

This is one of the most challenging parts with the movie. It’s not that his graduation or livelihood are ever actually in peril. It’s just that he won’t have that extra feather for his cap. It seems such a marvelously whiny place to put your protagonist.

One interesting side note is how optimistic he is about the impact of technology on the trajectory of the fundamentals of US government. He’s also marvelously wrong about another thing, but then that’s just me getting on my soapbox.

I also realized that With Honors, released during the same Gen X existential crisis wave that birthed “Reality Bites” and “Threesome,” is part of a cultural tectonic shift in how movies treated college as a whole. I’m sure plenty of other people have written about this, but maybe I’ll write more about it on my blog at a later time. Or talk about it on a podcast. Who knows?

What I do know is that this movie comes apart in the back half. The setup is expected-but-clean, and the conclusion never gels. It’s also too heavy for its own good, while still delivering a happy-go-lucky bland band of kids ready to go out in the world and do bland things.

The entire cast feels like they’re struggling to give the movie as much impact as they can, but are constrained by the material itself. It plateaus early and treads water until the end. As a result, the emotional “punch” is more of a “tap.” Madonna’s song on the end credits has more pathos, by comparison.

Oddly enough, I had a much better experience with another college movie released the same week, PCU…but that’s a story for another time.

While I had a passing interest in this movie in 1994, 25 years goes by in a flash. What can you do? Fortunately RetroPerspective gave me the opportunity to revisit and finally see what I’d been missing. It wasn’t much, but it wasn’t terrible.

With Honors is a movie released in 1994 which is a 1994 movie called With Honors starring Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser in a movie called With Honors Hi Craigula
Before Patrick Dempsey’s hair mocked us all, we mocked Patrick Dempsey’s hair.

My Review of “Surviving the Game”

Recently I revisited Surviving the Game, released in 1994. This is one of those schlock movies you don’t necessarily relish revisiting, because your memory tells you what a schlock movie it is.

I guess it’s a function of age, but…well, I invited you to read my review. For deeper thoughts on Surviving the Game and other gems from 1994, check out for RetroPerspective over on The Nerd Party.

Ruger Hauer in Surviving the Game which is a movie starring Rutger Hauer, who's in Surviving the Game. Also other people, like Ice-T, who's not in this picture but who is in Surviving the Game with Rutger Hauer, who's still not as terrifying as Craigula.
“Listen to RetroPerspective on The Nerd Party if you want to live a lovely, full life.”

My Review of Surviving the Game Starring Rutger Hauer, Ice-T, Charles S. Dutton, Gary Busey, John C. McGinley, and F. Murray Abraham

If I’m honest, I’m being generous with this review. I know this.

I have distinct memories of this being a so-bad-its-good movie. The truth of it is that it’s a mediocre-but-boy-do-I-love-it inheritor of the gems of exploitation film. I had a great time watching it, despite the haphazard ending and visual gumbo that is the opening sequence.

Somehow, the flaws in this movie make it more endearing. The ending is tacked on in the most accelerated fashion imaginable, but it works because material like this demands an ending that gives forced closure. You don’t go to a movie called “Surviving the Game” expecting a nuanced, emotional ending that speaks to the human condition. When things like that happen, it’s positively sublime.

When it doesn’t, it’s the psychological equivalent of a fast food meal. I know I shouldn’t like it, I know I shouldn’t be satisfied, but I am. Oh, how I am.

There are some magnificently over-the-top performances in this, but the true champion in that category is Gary Busey. The camera actually goes slightly out-of-focus while he’s telling his chilling childhood story. You don’t care. It’s spellbinding because you believe this is Gary Busey telling you a true story, not creating a character moment.

Speaking of Busey, the cast in this is insane. It’s insane that these actors agreed to it, and it’s insane the pedigree of the actors. It even features Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham. “Antonio Salieri” from “Amadeus” is in a schlocky horror-cum-action movie where a Wall Street dad drags his son, without any prior warning, to the woods in order to hunt a human being.

Honestly, I could be talking myself into an even higher rating, but I need to calm myself and remember that this is a movie that completely wastes the potential of its suspense to devolve into a bizarre riff on Deliverance-meets-First Blood.

Like its 1970s forebears, its appetite for impact is so strong that it loses focus of itself. That’s at least half the fun. I concede it’s not great, it’s at best good, but I can’t help loving it. I can’t help it.

So I recommend this movie with a full heart, aware of your possible disdain when you watch it on my recommendation. But I’m honest with you that you’ll enjoy it more than you want, aware that this is speaking to that inner adolescent inside you.

I watched this for RetroPerspective over on The Nerd Party, where we’re revisiting each week in 1994 by viewing selected releases from that week 25 years ago. Sometimes you just draw the short straw, and sometimes you’re just…Surviving the Game.

Gary Busey as Doc in Surviving the Game, which is a movie called Surviving the Game starring Gary Busey as Doc, who's played by Gary Busey but isn't half as frightening as Craigula.
Honestly, this monologue ranks with Walken’s in Pulp Fiction. That’s right, I said it!