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Parent Issue
Month
January
Year
1994
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1992. Directed by Renny Hariin. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Janine Turner, Michael Rooker, Ralph Waite. TristarColumbia Home Video. 113 mms.] T here's not much question but someday film historians are going to be as perplex ed about the spate of tough-guy "coincidence" films released in the 1990s as they are today about the 1970s "disaster" film genre. You remember the type - buildings, ships.or airplanes that could crash, collapse, or sink, invariably did, and the disaster managed to throw a disparate number of characters into mortal danger. Between "Earthquake," "Airport," 'The Poseidon Adventure," "Meteor," and even 'The Killer Bees," movie-goers were reviewing their insurance policies as often as they were scanning the amusements page of their local daily newspaper - sometimes simultaneously. Our analog today is the "coincidence" film. These movies, in contrast to the disaster genre, go something like this: First there's a terrible accident where the hero involves himself in mortal danger through a chain of circumstances that is statistically impossible; and then by the equally remotest chain of coincidences, he manages to single-handedly save the day (as well as bond with a good-looking supporting actress)againstacadreofhighlytrainedtechnofreak muscle-bound mercenaries of equal opportunity ilk. "Cliffhanger" is one such outlandish coincidence afteranother. Yet given the stalwart - if also vaguely stolid - presence of Sylvester Stallone, it moves to the head of the class of this rather dubious formula. In this particular go-round, Stallone's a talented mountain climberwhose troubled past just happens to make him the only last action hero available to rescue what is mistakenly taken to be a group of air-wrecked survivors stranded somewhere up in the Rocky Mountains. Naturally, we've already been told that these stranded survivors are actuaily an international cartel of highly trained techno-freak musclebound mercenaries bent upon robbing the U.S. Treasury of three caches of valuable dollar bilis; and we've additionally been told that Sly's first reaction to their distress signal will be to sulk rather than use his oft-mentioned mountainclimbing prowess (his talent seems to be the only thing everyone talks about in the movie). But, hey, a man's got to do what he's got to do. Besides, what do you expect? After all, it's a coincidence... If, however, we've seen this picture before - between, for i n s t an c e , Bruce Willis' explodingskysc rap e r s , W e s I e y S n i p e ' s crowded airplane, and Steven Segal's combattrained Navy coo ke ry - why bother now? When in doubt look around the edges of the picture frame. "Cliffhanger" has some of the most fantastic landscape captured on celluloid in recent y ears. With the Italian Alps ably subbing for the western mountain states, there's a tremendous natural grandeur to the cinematography that is abetted by some nifty action sequences. Try matching Mother Nature at her finest against an airplane rest room or swabby's deck - it's no contest. Next, while waiting for the next totally unbelievable plot device to propel our reluctant hero into yet another near-superhuman exercise, there's enough technical expertise to rev-up our conceptual motors. In fact, there's enough excitement in the sheer audacity of "Cliffhanger's" special effects to make up for the plot's patent absurdity. Stallone's in good form, although he hardly passes for eithera mountain climberor an actor. Michael Rooks is still building his resume while awaiting the film that is going to lift him beyond quirky supporting status. Janine Turner totes her now patented "Northern Exposure" spunkiness to the proceedings. And John Lithgow makes the most of the opportunity to play a standard-casting nasty Mcf ilthy who would plug his Mom for an extra nickel. Still, if there's a melancholy note to the proceedings, it's watching Ralph Waite soak up some loose change of his own in a minor role that is easily the most accomplished performance among the cast. Crafting a characterout of thematic cardboard, Waite's talent wipes everybody else off the screen with the wrinkle of his fuzzy eyebrows. The fact s that "Cliffhanger" is a fun watch. But an imaginative producer would have cast Waite in Stallone's role with Stallone in Lithgow's - and this would be a real cliffhanger. Alas, Hollywood wouldn't touch this casting with a ten-foot ski pole. Instead we're left with a fabulous travelogue where acting gets left behind in the snow and nitroglycerine. LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA [1989. Directed by Aki Kaurismaki. Cast: Matti Pellonpaá, Kari Váánánen, and The Leningrad Cowboys. Engüsh and Finnish with English subtitles. Orion ClassicsO rion Video. 80 mins.] MiL n imaginative amalgamation of Jerzy SkolimowskiVMoonlighting," Rob Reiner" s 'This is Spinal Tap," and Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train," Aki Kaurismaki's send-up on fame, money, and music, "Leningrad Cowboys go America," occupies its own irrepressibly strange melodie universe. The is the story of eight rural Finnish musici ans; theirjoyfully manipulative road manager, Vladimir; and the dutiful village diot, Igor, who tracks them half-wayaroundtheworidsolelytobetheiradoring roadie. The Leningrad C'boys fly into mid-winter New York City from the frozen tundra of Northern Europe aiming straight at our red, white, and blue heart with a cock-eyed liveliness that festoons itself somewhere between the ribs and the funny-bone. Zig-zagging across the United States with a keen eye towards the little details which most of us take for granted, nothing is too out of the ordinary to keep Kaurismaki's bandwagon perpetually offbalance. So even though we barely get to know enough about these guys to leam their individual personalities - and all eight musicians are billed n the film generically as "Leningrad Cowboys" - they're a self-supporting, uncomplaining unit. But what kind of hope can you hold out for a group of knuckle-heads who masquerade as a rock band in order to make their mark on the American bar scène? Well, surprisingly, quite a lot. With a soundtrack that ranges from a kicking-out-thejams "Bom to be Wild" and an almost rockabilly "That's All Right Mama," to the swinging "Sákkwarven Polkka" and that immortal standard "Kuka Mita Háh," the Leningrad Cowboys trace a traveling band's hilarious tale of woe from New York City through the Plaza Lounge in Del Rio by .way of Earl's Bar in New Orieans. How can one possibly dislike a band that dutifully ferries its dead bass player in an unwieldy casket strapped to the hood of its touring Caddy? A band that joyfully mangles rock'n'roll nightly in the smallest dives between JFK International and the Gulf of Mexico? A band which stages a proletarian uprising against their unscrupulous manager on the evidence of a carload of empty beer cans? Thus even as the delightf ully maievolent Vladimir constantly gives them the drift, the Cowboys nearty always manage to even the score. You've got to admire the forti tude of an octet of post-modem road warnors who feature a swinging tuba and boss accordion among their star attractions. And just in case you haven't heard them on the radio lately, their ever-resourceful manager has got an answer for that one, too: "We've been touring Norway for the last couple of years." "Steel Wheels" and "Rolling Thunder Revue" ain't got nothing on these Leningrad C'boys. . .born to be wild, indeed! RATING KEY ft Acting H Cinematography Direction E Editing a Narrative Sound Special Effects When a symbol appears following a title, t implies that the corresponding category s a strength of the movie.

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