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.

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, 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.

So You Don’t Overlook It: My Review of “On Deadly Ground,” Starring Steven Seagal

I’ve been in the habit of sharing reviews through my blogging, so I wanted to double back and share this little gem that I watched for RetroPerspective, where we’re walking through 1994 one week at a time, sharing re/viewings of films on the 25th anniversary of their release.

There have been a lot of clunkers so far, but few as memorable as Deadfall and On Deadly Ground. Since I already shared my review of Deadfall, here’s the one for On Deadly Ground…a movie which seems to have singularly wrecked Steven Seagal’s career while somehow leaving Michael Caine (!) untouched.

Steven Seagal in On Deadly Ground a movie called On Deadly Ground starring Steven Seagal.
This…this is about as emotionally deep as we get in this movie.

My Review of On Deadly Ground, Starring Steven Seagal

This is a singularly baffling action movie. It’s out of place and time, sure of what it wants to be, but unable to achieve even a fraction of it. There’s not even a sense of fun about the action, which can and should be the saving grace of something that seems like it was created from a discarded draft of Commando. (That’s a so-bad-it’s-still-bad-but-fine-let’s-watch-it Schwarzenegger movie if you’re not familiar.)

You could argue that in the hands of a more experienced director, this may have been something worthy of its goal: an action movie with an important message of environmental stewardship. You’d be lying to yourself, though, because there’s roughly enough material here for an episode of Walker: Texas Ranger. The dialogue is on par with Tommy Wiseau’s efforts in The Room or Neil Breen in…anything Neil Breen has written.

Seagal seems to have given only one direction throughout the filmmaking process: more cartoonish. I’d almost feel bad for Michael Caine, but he’s had a storied career and I’m sure he’s been in movies equally bad to this one I’ve mercifully avoided.

I’ll also say that this is a movie with an unhealthy fascination with testicles. There are so many nut shots in the first reel that it gets old, and then when the old man is killed with death-by-pipecutter-to-the-balls, it’s a crescendo moment of male genital torture. Not to be outdone, Seagal then has his character beset upon by dogs who target…go on, you know where.

What’s the craziest moment? It’s hard to choose. Our selections include:

  • Seagal traveling through the spirit world is in contention.
  • An environmentally-concerned super soldier who stockpiled tons of C4 causing more environmental damage in one night than even the most irresponsible company does in six months.
  • A monologue at the end of the movie that feels like the screen equivalent of John Galt’s verbose musings.
  • A helicopter searching the Alaskan mountains for someone who possibly was thrown from an explosion at sea level.
  • Seagal’s entire performance.

I could go on, but it almost feels mean at this point. I know that everyone who works on a film wants to do their best. The actors and actresses show up and want to have something that reaches an audience and resonates with critics, that can act as a calling card for future roles.

Traditionally I give movies half a star if only for the fact that they were made and released. A lot of hard work goes into getting something out into the multiplexes.

I struggle to think of a reason to give this even half a star, still. But I will because some of the moments are so bat guano nuts I did get a laugh. And seeing a young…well, you have to watch to see who has a bit part, or listen to RetroPerspective to find out who it is.

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.

A Reminder for You to Rent and Watch “Deadfall” Starring Nicolas Cage

Before I started my 2019 blogging streak, I was still actively writing reviews for movies I’ve been watching this year. As of the publication of this entry I’m on track to watch about 190 or more movies in 2019. That’s higher than normal, trust me.

In some ways, I feel like I’m making up a lot of ground. In other ways, I feel like I’ve got to slow down. There have been some real stinkers in the mix.

No small part of that is my commitment to the insanely ambitious podcast project I’m on for The Nerd Party, a show called RetroPerspective that I cohost with my friend @mumbles3k. I’m pretty sure he asked me to accompany him on the journey because I’m the only one of his friends who’s [crazy? ambitious?] enough to go through a week-by-week rewatch of movies from 1994. That’s right, we’re crawling through 1994, one week at a time.

The majority of it has been painful. Some (very) small part of it has been sublime.

And one movie in particular has stayed with me above all the others. A movie that is fascinatingly bad. I think of it as such an absolute train wreck that it must be seen to be believed. Think of The Room, or even a Neil Breen movie, but with an A-List cast of Oscar-caliber actors.

Be sure that you rent it on iTunes, as Amazon Prime’s got some questionable pan-and-scan bologna. If you’re going to suffer, suffer in the proper aspect ratio.

Nicolas Cage as Eddie in Deadfall which is a movie called Deadfall starring Nicolas Cage as Eddie in Deadfall. This was all done on purpose. Deadfall. SEO. Deadfall.
This is one of the less crazy moments, believe it or not.

My Review of Deadfall, Starring Nicolas Cage

This is one of the most bafflingly awful movies I’ve seen. Absolutely everything with it is an incoherent mess, from the screen to the bizarre choices in performance and editing. An ending that’s supposed to be a shocking reveal is, at best, nonsense.

Nicolas Cage is so completely off the rails as to wonder if he received any direction at all during filming, or was even aware that the footage was going to be shown to anyone. The trailer that emphasizes his insane choices doesn’t do it justice. Witnessing it in its entirety is the only thing that could.

Usually I don’t pick on the set decoration or budget for a movie, but this entire production looks like it was lit in a hurry on the worst soundstages available. Not one location felt authentic. As the movie progressed, it looked like someone behind the scenes was cutting that budget as they saw the rushes and realized what a mess they were funding.

This isn’t even a case of being disappointed because there was a Coppola behind the camera. This is disappointing that anyone was behind the camera at all. I suppose I’d be proud that someone was willing to take the blame for what the audience endured.

The cast is undoubtedly, on the whole, the result of a truckload of favors and family loyalty. The rest were likely bedazzled by the idea of working with a member of the Coppola family. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to appear in the film. Micky Dolenz from The Monkees is in here, alongside Michael Biehn, Peter Fonda, Talia Shire, and Angus Scrimm, the beloved “Tall Man” from Phantasm. Screen legend James Coburn is in here. Charlie Sheen is in here.

I can’t help but think of how many talented people miss opportunities in show business just so someone with connections can get a shot. It’s understandable – I’d want to give my kid as many opportunities as well – but it’s a shame.

In case you’re wondering, I watched this out of morbid curiosity for “RetroPerspective” on The Nerd Party. Subscribe so you can hear me and my cohost compare and contrast our reactions to it.

I’m in a generous mood, so I’m going to give it half a star simply because Nicolas Cage acting nuts is captivating, no matter how bad the production may be.