As Simon Lam gets older, he gets better. The veteran actor has appeared in such in seminal HK action films of the 1990s as Once Upon a Time in China (opposite Jet Li) and Bullet in the Head (directed by John Woo); in the aughts, he graced audience and critical favorites Election and Ip Man.
Lee Van Cleef enjoyed a secondary career in Italy cranking out spaghetti
Westerns, with little regard to quality. However, 1972’s Grand Duel — aka The Big Showdown — is deserving of its Grand label. No wonder Quentin Tarantino borrowed its sweeping theme song by Luis Bacalov for Kill Bill; you'll recognize it in two notes.
Early in The Last Stand,
the small-town sheriff played by Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "It's my
day off. Should be a quiet weekend." That's the new way of saying, "I've
got one week to retirement," because it signals — with flashing neon
and everything — that life is going to royally upend those plans.
One of the most inconsistent franchises in movie history is the one beget by Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. How does one follow all those less-than-beloved sequels? Lionsgate's latest in the series — the seventh — has a solution: Ignore 'em.
Not long after Batman changed Hollywood in the summer of 1989,
every studio wanted to have the next comics-based blockbuster. I
remember visiting Penn Square Mall’s multiplex (as I did often back
then) and seeing a poster for Captain America. The one-sheet was comprised of little more than a close-up of Cap’s iconic shield and a promise to arrive next summer.
Nearly every scene of HBO's telefilm Game Change, I recall from
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's excellent nonfiction book of the
same thing. But the movie directed by Jay Roach (of the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents
franchises) only tells half — maybe even one-quarter — of the story,
ignoring the 2008 presidential-campaign narratives of Barack Obama,
Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for the one it finds most compelling:
that of Sarah Palin and John McCain, and not the other way around.
If Sen. McCain's choice of the largely unknown Alaska Gov. Palin as his veep choice seemed out of nowhere then, there's good reason: Because it pretty much was. McCain, here played by Ed Harris (Man on a Ledge), wanted Sen. Joe Lieberman, but was talked into someone “more transformative” by hired gun Steven Schmidt (Woody Harrelson, Rampart).
At that point, so pressed for time was the McCain campaign, Palin (Julianne Moore, Crazy, Stupid, Love) wasn't vetted properly. For example, she informed Schmidt and company of her daughter Bristol's out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but not of her husband's membership in Alaska's secessionist party. Nor the extent of her political knowledge — or lack thereof — as she doesn't know why there's a North and South Korea, what the Federal Reserve is, or who ordered the 9/11 attacks (she says Saddam Hussein).
While facts were not Palin's strong point, acting was. Once the campaign just let her be her, McCain’s journey toward the White House got back on track ... but at the expense of McCain, who no longer could control her power grab. About all he could do is say "fuck" an awful lot (in stark contrast to her one and only curse word: “flippin’”).
To that extent, Harris' McCain is pretty much a beer-drinking cartoon. That's not the actor’s fault; that's all the script gives him to do. He's a supporting player to the tug of war between Schmidt and Palin. Harrelson is strong as expected, but Moore is stronger — so much so that I literally forgot I was watching her. Naturally, she's best portraying the side of Palin we've never seen: so stressed, she's increasingly catatonic, and not from her constant consumption of Diet Dr Pepper.
While Moore proves the best choice for the role, the scenes of the behind-the-scenes reactions to Palin's speeches and debates are the definition of forced, from "She's incredible!" to "Now I know why they call her Sarah Barracuda!" Lines like those keep Game Change, premiering Saturday, at that made-for-TV level, despite that top-drawer talent. It’s good, but not transformative good. —Rod Lott