Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Genesis: Sum of the Parts (2014)

Tell me why, Genesis.

Tell me why the documentaries I've watched about your band's history are tantalizing, and frustrating, at the same time.

Sum of the Parts [Blu-ray] proclaims it's the first to tell the progressive rock band's history from start to finish.

Well, no.

Genesis - The Genesis Songbook, from 2001, did much the same. That doc also included the band's last album, Calling All Stations, the 1998 release featuring Ray Wilson on vocals after Phil Collins departed the group two years earlier. Here, that disc isn't mentioned at all. Why? Not even with the bonus interviews? Do Banks and Rutherford regret not trying again with Wilson? There are some good cuts on that disc, including the title track, Congo and Shipwrecked.

The Genesis Songbook offered contemporary performances of Afterglow, Follow You, Follow Me and and a partial version of No Son of Mine with Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Collins. Plus, Steve Hackett played his beautiful Horizons. What a treat!

Here, the members of the band's classic lineup, the above four with Peter Gabriel, just talk. Collins sings a bit during an interview. That's it. There's snippets of concert footage, but no full cuts. Disappointing. Why not a song from each era as bonus content - the Gabriel era, Collins era with Hackett, Collins and Wilson?

Review on American Amazon site makes a very good point. Solo albums by Banks, which did little commercially, get covered, but not Hackett's material. Hackett has released a steady stream of discs since he left the band. He's still recording and touring.

Even with those complaints, Genesis: Sum of the Parts is good viewing. Diehard fans should be able to pick up some new details about the band. I know I did.

It's interesting to see some of the conflicts between these great musicians. They include Hackett starting to set aside material for a solo career when he could see his role in the band diminishing, Banks acknowledging he made noise to ensure his songs made it on albums (he doesn't seem sorry about his actions, suggesting perhaps listeners can be grateful about what they do hear on those albums leading up to Hackett's departure).

There's also some very funny lines from the band.

For example:

Rutherford on playing the double neck guitar: "It was bloody heavy."

It's also odd that the five members weren't quizzed on a possible reunion. The word was Gabriel wasn't interested in 2007 when Banks, Collins and Rutherford played Europe and North America in 2007. Only Collins gets asked about the prospect and his answer comes in the bonus interviews. There's some long silences and Collins appears a little uncomfortable. But, sorry Genesis fans, he's not interested. Collins wants to spend time with his two young sons instead. He also notes he can't play drums as well as he could because of a health issue. "I don't know if I'm interested enough," he said. "It's not on my agenda."

Need a contemporary Genesis fix? I recommend picking up Steve Hackett: Live at the Royal Albert Hall . It's a wonderful nod to his time with the band.

Genesis, what a great band. But I wish fans could see one documentary that would really, really pack a punch.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Director John Eddington also helmed Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here.

Phil Collins fans, rejoice. The Genesis frontman announced in late 2015 that he is coming out of retirement. Deluxe editions of some of his albums, including his Face Value (Deluxe Edition)(2CD) debut, are coming out in 2016.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)


What should be an edge-of-your-seat story isn't in K-19: The Widowmaker.

The 2002 thriller from director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) is "inspired by actual events." What a story to draw from. Russia's first nuclear submarine is riddled with problems in 1961, including a reactor that fails and potentially threatens all the crew if not the world if it explodes.

Instead, we get a feature that feels like a lot of others. Young sailor looks at a photograph of his girlfriend. He must be doomed to die. Check.

Previous submarine captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) gets bumped because he became angry when a test run of the ship's missile launching capabilities fails because of shoddy workmanship. Crew considers him to still be the skipper. Check.

New captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) makes no friends with his demanding style. "Much is expected of us. We will not fail," he vows. Vostrikov takes the sub, and his men, to the brink. Will he be turfed? Check.

Oh, can't forget the mournful singing when something bad happens, particularly sailors tapped to fix the nuclear reactor wearing inadequate protection.

The confrontation between crew and skipper, when it finally comes, feels Grade A phony.

There's the occasional standout moment. The sub's crew playing soccer on the ocean's ice is one. A laundry line hanging from the sub is another.

For sub thrillers, I'll stick with Wolfgang Petersen's das boot.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Several cast members (Sam Spruell, Christian Camargo, Sam Redford) from K-19: The Widowmaker
reunited with Bigelow for the much-better The Hurt Locker.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Absence of Malice (1981)

The Miami Herald wants a reporter this clueless as an editor?

That's about the biggest laugh I've had watching a film since that idiot Jar Jar Binks was made a diplomat in the dreadful Star Wars reboot.

Said reporter, Megan (Sally Field), doesn't have the brains to write for a big city paper. She also has no empathy for the persons she interviews for a story. Oh, and sleeping with the person she's writing stories on? Unbelievable. Said scribe should be punted out the door for all these breaches of duty.

Films dealing with reporters, especially print, always interest this film fan because I write for a daily newspaper.

A union boss is missing and there's no leads. Prosecutor Elliot Rosen (Bob Balaban) is desperate for some type of thread leading to who's responsible.

He finds a mark - Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman), a legitimate businessman who has family ties to organized crime. When reporter Megan drops by, he conveniently leaves a file pointing to Gallagher on his desk, then excuses himself shortly after Megan drops by for comment.

Why isn't Megan's editor McAdam (Josef Summer) asking more questions about the source of the story. Gallagher has no criminal record, except for slugging a federal agent at a family member's funeral. Most would cut hims some slack for prying eyes at such a time.

Gallagher's life is turned upside down when the story makes print. His workers are suspicious, then walk off the job at the suggestion he had something to do with the labour leader's disappearance. Here's where Absence of Malice works - showing how the innocent are affected when a newspaper messes up.

Gallagher's friend, Teresa (Melinda Dillon), can offer an alibi clearing him of any wrong-doing. But she's reluctant to go public with her support because she was doing, with Michael's help, something the Catholic Church has a major problem with. She works at a Catholic school. But Megan brushes aside those concerns with a chipper, 'hey it's 1981 now' attitude - completely out-of-touch with how this woman's life will be damaged by the revelation becoming public. Teresa doesn't agree with Megan's take on the situation. She doesn't to be named, but Megan proceeds.

This leads to another very hard-to-swallow aspect of this story. There's no romantic chemistry between Megan and McAdam, yet they end up bunking down even after he understandably freaks out for what her story did to Teresa's life.

Best part of this film is when Department of Justice rep Wells (Wilford Brimley) shows up. He's cheesed off at the stories he's reading - wondering what prompted the probe into Gallagher's life and what the prosecutor and district attorney are up to. Brimley is only on the screen for only about 15 minutes, but what a scene with his folksy, but tough manner. Great stuff!

Dillon shines in her supporting role. This is a woman who has issues. She earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, as did Newman and Kurt Luedtke for best screenplay.

About that editing job - McAdam suggests - even with all Megan's mistakes on this major story, that she make the move from reporter to the desk. What? And get sued on a regular basis?

Newman made this film between Fort Apache The Bronx and The Verdict. Make The Verdict your viewing priority. It's a powerful work and one of his finest performances.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Luedtke wrote scripts for three films Sydney Pollack directed - Out of Africa, Random Hearts and Absence of Malice.

Wilford Brimley, still alive at 80, made his debut in True Grit.

Bob Balaban went on to appear in several films with the This is Spinal Tap gang including Waiting for Guffman and A Mighty Wind.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Passenger 57 (1992)

Sorry, Harrison Ford, I'm going with Wesley Snipes.

When I reviewed Air Force One two weeks ago, I mentioned I ordered Passenger 57. I was curious to see what film about one man taking on bad guys on a jet would prove more entertaining.

Wesley, I'm with you.


Could running length be a factor? Passenger 57 wraps up in less than 90 minutes. Air Force One runs about two hours.

Air Force One included a subplot involving the American vice-president and efforts by at least one member of her cabinet to have the president declared incapacitated. I found Glenn Close weak in her role and the political hijinks tiresome.

With Passenger 57, the subplot isn't nearly as involved. Airline security expert John Cutter (Wesley Snipes) is hired by an airline to offer security tips. Company boss Stuart Ramsey (Bruce Greenwood) and Cutter's buddy, Sly Delvecchio (Tom Sizemore), who lobbied for him to get the job, have a very simple Plan A and B depending how Cutter makes out when the plane he's a passenger on gets hijacked. See next paragraph. Scheming subplot advantage, Passenger 57.

Gary Oldman was a good villain in Air Force One, except for when he started screaming. Maybe that was to suggest he was a little mentally unbalanced. I found it annoying. But Bruce Payne, as terrorist Charles Rane, rocks. This guy doesn't raise his voice at all. He keeps calm and has deadly intent. Advantage Payne in the villain department.

Hey, with all the special effects in movies, it's fun to see Cutter often resort to his hands and feet to dispatch Payne's punks. Snipes, in real life, is a trained martial artist. There's still, just like Air Force One, too many guns firing on an airplane however many thousands of feet in the air without any shell damage, but that's the movies. Wesley Snipes, your use of martial arts is a hit. Bam!

Harrison Ford, as the American president, gets to tell Oldham to "get off my plane." But where's the rest of the wisecracks. Cutter gets in some good digs against Delvecchio, Payne and Chief Biggs (Ernie Lively) when the jet touches down in a small town. "My instincts are to wax your ass all over this floor," Cutter suggests to Payne at one point. Smart, and funny, line advantage to Snipes. Almost forgot, there's a funny reference to then talk show host Arsenio Hall here too.

I also found the villain's buddies to be more threatening in Passenger 57. That's with the exception of Elizabeth Hurley. How her Sabrina Ritchie gets mixed up with Payne is a big question that's never explained. There's one scene with her leg stretched out. A little eye candy? But the rest of Payne's crew, including Forget (Michael House), mean business. I'd be more scared to be on a plane in Passenger 57 than Air Force One.

There's not much chance for romance in Air Force One. While Ford is trying to take back his plane, his wife and daughter are being held hostage. But Cutter gets the chance to rub stewardess Marti Slayton (Alex Datcher) the wrong way in a pre-highjacking encounter, before showing her what a top dog he really is when the going gets tough. Alex, you're a fine looking woman and there's some nice chemistry between you and Wesley. Passenger 57 wins in the romance department.

Passenger 57, made five years before Air Force One, is a better film. What do you think?

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Bruce Greenwood is a Canadian talent. His television debut was on CBC's long-running The Beachcombers. Cool. He was also President John F. Kennedy in the very fine Thirteen Days. That film is also on order and will be reviewed on this site.

I wonder if Bruce Payne was a snooty Englishman in Oxford Blues, the Rob Lowe feature I saw back in high school.