film

Rapid Fire Reviews #16 A Double Feature of Heist Movies!

Hello! Its been a heck of a Summer movie season, and while I have seen a lot of movies in that time, I haven’t written about all of them just yet. The next Rapid Fire Reviews article will include some odds and ends, mostly films that I’ve accrued through secondhand shops and at least one major film that I’ve seen in theaters recently. This piece, however, will focus on two heist movies set apart by about twenty years. Both have excellent star studded casts with key players in each film’s crew that unravel the mystery behind their bosses intentions once their heists go awry. While “Ronin” and “No Sudden Move” have a lot in common, each has their own specific texture. Ronin has a more kinetic and frantic energy to its scenes, especially with its exquisitely executed car chases. Whereas “No Sudden Move” embraces more of the Noir-ish elements of its crimes, this film allows itself to marinade in slower scenes that embrace a white-knuckle sense of suspense. Both films were highly entertaining, and I strongly encourage you to give both a shot!

Ronin (1998)

Written for the screen by David Mamet, based on a story by J.D. Zeik, and directed by John Frankenheimer, “Ronin” is a phenomenal action-heist film that knows when to lean into quiet character beats and when to hit the adrenaline with high octane shootouts and car chases. I had heard this one held some of the best car chases put to film, but I had no idea how good the cast was until finally giving this one a watch. In the beginning, Sam (Robert De Niro), Vincent (Jean Reno), and Larry (Skipp Sudduth) meet Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) at a Bistro in Montmartre, Paris. Deirdre then takes the two Americans and the Frenchman to a warehouse where an Englishman, Spence (Sean Bean), and German, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), are waiting. The story really hits the ground running in this one, and from there Deirdre explains the plan for the heist. They must intercept a heavily armored convoy in Nice, France and retrieve a large metallic briefcase. Obviously, things don’t go as planned. I won’t reveal the twists and betrayals in case you, like me, haven’t seen this one until late in the game. The performances are all great, the script is attentive and intelligent with its reveals and evolutions, and the cinematography is gorgeous! I really can’t over-emphasize just how damn good the car chases are shot and executed. The stunt drivers in the film deserve all the credit in the world with their high speed urban whiplash, squealing around tight corners and through narrow roads. Its cinema perfection to me. What’s in the box that they’re all after isn’t really that important. Its important enough to motivate Irish terrorists, Russian Mafia, and a couple ex-military, some spies, and wandering Ronin to put themselves all in immediate danger to obtain, or keep others from obtaining the box- and that makes for some thoroughly entertaining cinema. Highly Recommended!

No Sudden Move (2021)

Written by Ed Solomon and directed by Steven Soderbergh, “No Sudden Move” is a suspenseful heist film set in 1954 Detroit that follows a specially selected crew of individuals to perform some corporate espionage. The information about the actual plot of the danger at hand is doled out slowly, which gives the atmosphere of the film a perilous sense of mystery. Now, I’m not sure if this was the initial return of Brendan Fraser to acting in a big star-studded film, but it was really nice to see him back and killing it with his role as Doug Jones, the recruiter for the heist. As a morally grey middle-man bruiser, Fraser was a welcome addition to the cast and story. Much like in “Ronin” with the Deirdre character, Jones meets the crew and explains the heist and what to expect. Here it’s a bit more complicated than “Ronin”, Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle), Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro), and Charley (Kieran Culkin) are sent to the house of an accountant Matt Wertz (David Harbour) to force him into a bank safe at his work to steal an important document. The plan, as it is initially set up anyway, is for Goynes and Russo to babysit the Wertz family while Charley escorts Matt to his office. To Matt’s surprise, the safe is gone and the document with it. So… this is when the film really escalates the tension, but I’ll avoid any reveals of the betrayals, twists, and evolutions of the characters as with “Ronin”. Those mentioned already are the core of the cast for the film, however, there are also a few smaller roles with some big names attached. These smaller characters are played by the likes of Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, Bill Duke, and Matt Damon. Also, I have to the take time to mention the score. Its jazzy as hell and the atmosphere really blends with the overly serious sense of inherent danger of the situation. The one thing I did not care for in the film however, was the choice of lens. The framing, blocking, and direction was all very good- but the lens blurred the edges of the frame and gave the film a dreamy aesthetic where it otherwise felt grounded and soaked in realism. That choice clashed with everything else in the film’s repertoire. Its a small nitpick in an otherwise incredibly well made film, but that being said, I highly recommend this one!

*I have been writing a few articles over at Films Fatale this summer as well! Check out these links below for more of my recent writing on movies:

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/8/13/the-suicide-squad?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/8/9/the-green-knight?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

https://www.filmsfatale.com/blog/2021/7/13/f9-the-fast-saga-or-why-you-should-watch-smarter-movies?rq=Cameron%20Geiser

film

Quarantine 2020 Catch-Up: Rapid Fire Reviews #10 Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Trilogy

A few weeks ago a film from my “Most Anticipated films of 2020” (https://spacecortezwrites.com/2020/01/05/my-10-most-anticipated-movies-of-2020/) was actually released on several streaming platforms- so it seemed like the perfect time to gather a few friends and watch it together. Instead of writing solely on Bill and Ted’s latest adventure though, I thought I’d use the opportunity to write about all three films. The first two films, somehow, accurately represent both the 1980’s and 1990’s pop culture aesthetics exquisitely. While the third film injects this most non-heinous year with a much needed dose of positivity and earnest optimism. Your enjoyment of these movies will weigh heavily on whether or not you find these two admittedly mindless fools with hearts of gold endearing or not. If you could put “Back to the Future”, “Wayne’s World” (which, I know, came after the first two movies), and Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” into a blender, the Bill and Ted movies would be the logical outcome of that combination. So, watch according to your taste. Oh, and in case it wasn’t clear, I highly recommend each of these films, hope you watch and enjoy! Party on Dudes!

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon and directed by Stephen Herek, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” is a supernatural buddy-comedy that perfectly encapsulates the time that it was released in. Rock and Roll obsessed Teenagers Bill S. Preston Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) are doing their normal routine of air guitars and running late for school one day when they lament the fact that their band, THE WYLD STALLYNS, will never be truly excellent… unless maybe they can recruit Eddie Van Halen as their lead guitarist. The two metal-heads are rudely awakened from their dreams of rock and roll superstardom when they’re told that they’re hopelessly doomed to fail their history class unless they prepare an outstanding oral presentation by the following day. Adding to their problems, Ted is handed down an ultimatum from his father that evening- if he fails History, he’ll be enlisted in an Alaskan military school! Which would destroy their band’s chance of becoming totally excellent! Enter, Rufus (George Carlin) a time traveler from seven hundred years in the future where Bill and Ted are revered for their band’s music and philosophy that united nations and helped to forge the utopia that Rufus comes from. With a time machine designed to look like a telephone booth, he shows ‘the great ones’ how to use it, and he lets them loose on ‘the circuits of time’ to learn something so they pass their History class. After accidentally snagging Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri) off the battlefield of a war in France 1805, Bill and Ted have an Eureka moment and decide to stop throughout time and bring historical figures to their presentation. So, this one’s a favorite of mine. I’ve always enjoyed the time traveling antics of these two, but upon a rewatch I was pleasantly reminded of all the great side jokes with all of the historical figures that really make the film special. For example, when Bill, Ted, and all of the Historical figures are in the San Dimas Mall, Billy ‘the kid’ (Dan Shor), Socrates (Tony Steedman), and Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis) are trying to hit on some girls at the mall and Freud’s holding a corndog that he slowly lowers as the scene goes on while he’s failing to be cool in front of the young women before Billy ‘the kid’ and Socrates call Freud a nerd and ditch him. That’s just comedy gold. The whole film is chock full of these jokes, my favorites were Napoleon being ditched at a Chuck E. Cheese style establishment where he fights small children over ice cream, and later when he finds the ‘Waterloo’ water park and becomes obsessed with water slides. Good stuff! The film ends with a fun showy presentation with all of the historical figures prominently showcased and Bill and Ted securing their future- for now!

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

Written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and directed by Peter Hewitt, “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey” is the totally tubular sequel to Excellent Adventure that creatively flips the script on it’s predecessor and goes it’s own weird way. This film opens in the future where we see Rufus teaching a history class with historical figures like Thomas Edison (Hal Landon Sr.) being brought in for a lecture. Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland), a sort of stock sci-fi villain, storms Rufus’ classroom and sends his android versions of Bill and Ted back through time stealing the telephone booth as Rufus narrowly escapes by following the booth through ‘the circuits of time’. Bill and Ted now live on their own in a small apartment and plan on attending the battle of the bands to win- even though they still can’t play their instruments that well. The princesses (who came from Medieval England in the first film) have learned to play several instruments in that time though. Both Bill and Ted feel bad that their collective lives in ‘the present’ haven’t lived up to the promises that they initially made to the princesses- thus they decide to propose and promise to make everything right. Which is about when the evil robot Bill and Ted arrive and murder the real Bill and Ted and then proceed to ruin their lives and relationships. Wow! What a twist! So then my favorite portion of the movie begins once Bill and Ted escape from Death (William Sadler) by giving him ‘a Melvin’ and trying to tell their parents that they’re dead and that evil robots have replaced them. It doesn’t go so well for them, and when they crash a séance that their stepmom Missy (Amy Stoch) is hosting- they’re whisked away to Hell where they must traverse each one’s own personal hell before they encounter Death again. The exaggerated realities in both Bill and Ted’s personal Hells snugly fit the 90’s aesthetic. Once they find Death, the only escape is by besting the Grim Reaper in a game. Playing off of “The Seventh Seal” (my review here: https://spacecortezwrites.com/2017/10/27/old-school-review-the-seventh-seal/) the film pokes fun at the classic imagery of Death playing Chess with a Knight by having Bill and Ted compete against the force of nature in board games. Battleship, Twister, and even Clue are all played until Death is so thoroughly beaten that he must admit defeat and agrees to bring them back to life- but first they ask to be brought in front of God to ask for help. When Bill and Ted wrack their brains to try and figure out how to combat robot copies of themselves, they decide that they need to find someone to build good robot versions of themselves to fight the bad ones. That someone is Station, a strange alien that is sometimes two smaller aliens, and occasionally one big combined version. “Station” also seems to be an exclamation of sorts in the future, even the evil robot Bill and Ted shout it at one point. It’s all part of the goofball charm that this movie entails. Eventually Death joins the band and they all learn how to play guitars to “win” the San Dimas Battle of the Bands which gains the duo some status as a real band! Truly excellent!

Bill and Ted Face The Music (2020)

Written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and directed by Dean Parisot, “Bill and Ted Face The Music” is the culmination of the trilogy in which Bill and Ted try to finally write and perform the song that will save the universe and unite humanity, fulfilling their destiny. Twenty-nine years later, Bill and Ted still haven’t gotten their song down, and the ounce of fame they got from the San Dimas Battle of the Bands has since waned in power. The Princesses are having doubts about their husbands ability to do the impossible and Bill and Ted are (still) having trouble separating for pretty much any reason. Both have young daughters that are about the age that they were in their first excellent adventure, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine). Both actresses are entertaining and charming in their roles as Bill and Ted impressions, and I actually mean that. They have some of the best sequences throughout the film in my opinion. So, a lot happens in this one, but the main breakdown is that the film’s structure steals (ironic huh?) from the past two films and mashes them together. Bill and Ted are brought before the council in the future once again, chaperoned by Kelly (Kristen Schaal) Rufus’ daughter. They’re told that they must write and perform the great unifying song soon or else all of reality will break. Realizing that they could never actually write the song in time, the bodacious duo decide to steal Rufus’ old telephone booth (memorialized in the future now) and go to their future selves and steal the song from themselves after they’ve already written it. So they take off to do that, while ‘the great leader’ (Holland Taylor), who is also Kelly’s Mother and Rufus’ old flame, decides that maybe if she has Bill and Ted killed- that may restore balance to the timeline. So, she sends a robot assassin after them. Kelly goes back to 2020 San Dimas to warn Bill and Ted, but instead only find their daughters there, who decide to help their dads by going throughout time and picking up historically relevant musicians. Thea and Billie then go on a time travel adventure recruiting musicians of great skill and fame like Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Daniel Dorr), Ling Lun (Sharon Gee), Kid Cudi (played by himself) and Grom (Patty Anne Miller), a Caveman drummer. However, the robot assassin accidentally confronts the daughters once they’ve gathered all of these legendary musicians- and accidentally kills them all. Which sends them all to Hell. Meanwhile, Bill and Ted have been constantly traveling to further and further versions of themselves that keep deteriorating, which at one point the ‘failure versions’ of them try to trick the real Bill and Ted into thinking that they did indeed write the song in time- but it was just a new Dave Grohl song. This was an excellent return to form and I highly appreciated this film, ESPECIALLY this year of all years. I needed this one, and I hope if you catch it, you too enjoy the return of Bill and Ted, THE WYLD STALLYNS!

*Below I’ve linked two videos from Red Letter Media’s Youtube Channel in which they discuss the Bill and Ted movies; Enjoy!

*Also below these two videos, I’ve linked a third YouTube video on Bill and Ted from Wisecrack, titled “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: Is it deep, or dumb?” Enjoy!