Monday, January 26, 2015

#DoubleFeature - Jingle All the Way/Daylight

Here's two "Christmas" films from 1996!

Sorry for the delay, I originally meant to have these reviews up for this Xmas... and then I kinda forgot...

It's a competition between SLY and SCHWARZIE in these following reviews:

Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were both at the peak of their career. The manliest of men in their cult definitive action movie classics!

At one point it almost seemed whenever a good Schwarzie was out, a Stallone one was never that far around the corner, and vice-versa.

Both action superstars seemed to be in continuous competition and try to one-up the other in their action scene.

Which probably culminated with the epic simultaneous releases of Demolition Man & Last Action Hero. Both films containing several allusion to both stars' career. It's kinda surprising to notice we had to wait over two decades, in 2013, to finally get both actors in the same motion picture, Escape Plan.

Today let's dig into two films released just around Christmas 1996.

The only actual Xmas-themed film of the two was Schwarzenegger's Jingle All the Way, a family comedy directed by Brian Levant and released in late November actually. While the only of the two actually released on Christmas eve being Stallone's Daylight, a disaster film (!!) directed by Rob Cohen (xXx).

Movie: Jingle All the Way
Directed by Brian Levant 
Release date 1996
Genre Christmas/Comedy/Family film
Country USA

A Christmas family film unlike any other! Jingle All the Way is a 1996 comedy directed by Brian Levant, better known for his writing on The Jeffersons, Happy Days or also Mork & Mindy. Levant is a family film director who made several classics as well as some lesser appreciated titles over the years. But his best work is often considered to be the original 1992 Beethoven and the live action film of The Flintstones.

The lead roles are played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and the stand-up comedian Sinbad. This marked Schwarzenegger's fourth comedy at the time, following the pretty successful Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990) and Junior (1994). He was mostly know for his ultra-violent action films, and this was slowly changing his image in the eyes of the audiences. While I don't really find Arnie to be that a funny actor, I gotta say I always considered him a pretty hilarious man, he can make slapstick work thanks to his serious appearance, whenever you see him screaming in terror! Sinbad on the other hand is a comedian and used to the genre, so he ended up improvising most of his lines and forcing Schwarzie to improvise some of his own material as well. Fun note, Sinbad's role was originally set for Joe Pesci!

The film also stars with the alway fantastic Phil Hartman (sadly in his last role prior to his death, despite some later post post-humous releases), Rita Wilson, James Belushi and Robert Conrad. And let's not forget Jake Lloyd who is pretty decent here, in the little we see of him, only three years away from the role that would make him known (and hated) for most audience in The Phantom Menace.

The story is about this workaholic dad that has to run all over around town looking for this "Turbo-Man" action figure for his son and goes on a last minute Christmas shopping... and how he somehow gets into this strange competition with this local postal worker...

The story follows this father, Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) a big salesman that seems to never have any time for his wife Liz or his 9 year-old son Jamie. And it doesn't help how he always end up in comparison to this next door just-divorced dad Ted who's always trying to show off for the neighborhood. Howard just missed Jamie's karate graduation. There's only one way he can get his son to forgive him... if anything he has to be able to make it up for Jamie by getting him his most wanted Christmas present. Jamie wants this Turbo-Man action figure, a toy based on this big cheesy live action super hero show all kids in town seem in love with. But the thing is... they're sold out through the entire city!

It only gets worse since Howard waited for Christmas Eve just around the corner. He goes on a shopping spree in a search for the damned toy, and he meets this postal worker dad Myron Larabee (Sinbad). Soon both rivals enter in a strange competition for the hard-to-find toy. But all toys are sold out. The employees even mock Howard... since he's still Arnold Schwarzenegger, let's not forget it, he starts punching people left and right. And Howard runs into trouble with this old cop on his last days of work a few times, Officer Alexander Hummell. And it's only the first of the several times they will encounter during the film.  

Howard hears about this secret "Santa" warehouse where these toy makers are trying to meet the high demands of these toys during the holidays... He tries to buy a Turbo-Man from this sketchy Santa (James Belushi!!) but it turns out they're actually running a counterfeit ring! Suddenly a brawl breaks out amongst the Santas, and that's when a police raid happens!! Howard quickly grabs a toy Cop badge and pretends to be an undercover police officer to escape the premise. Howard finds Myron again and both talk about fulfilling promises made to children or they could seriously end up with an awful life (really, movie??)... That's when they heard about this competition on the radio, a DJ's offering Turbo-Man toys! Both make a run for the radio station, but it turns out it was only a gift certificate to redeem for a Turbo-Man figurine... Myron pretends to have a mail bomb in his possession while Howard runs away... And it turns out he had been actually running with a real bomb this whole time! 

Aaand that's about the moment this film simply take a turn for a more cartoonier direction. Once it has this "jumping the shark" moment, the film become goes into a sillier Home Alone direction until it actually becomes the cartoon Jamie was watching at the beginning. Howard first tries to break into his neighbor's home to steal his son's Turbo-Man figure... and breaks most of the place and puts Ted's house on fire! He's even attack by a real reindeer!

Later Howard heads for the huge town parade taking place that same day, for at least be with his family despite all his failuers. Ted tries seducing Liz, who finally turns him down for good. Howard gets mistaken for a stuntman actor and gets mixed with the preparation... they dress him as a "real Turbo Man!". It's perfect, he can chose the a kid in the audience to offer him a limited Turbo-Man doll!... But not before Myron jumps into the scene, dressed as Turbo-Man's arch-nemesis Dementor!!

Jingle All the Way is actually a pretty fun silly attempt at satire. Mocking the way toys can get on such high demands around this time of the year. The idea of the film comes from writer Randy Kornfield who wrote the original screenplay, inspired by the way his son used to ask him to get these Power Ranger figurines on Christmas. The actual real story that inspired this tale was how hard it proved to look for a Buzz Lightyear action figure showed him all these places people try to get limited toys from! 

It's a fun dark satire of Christmas. Some people often complained how it was not cynical enough or either too much cynical for a Christmas family film. The film has actually a pretty solid first act, it has a great solid buildup in the beginning. A light commentary on how materialist things get arund the holidays. But then it slowly gets into this scifi cartoon-ysh final act, despite the more realistic setting at the beginning of the film.

It's funnily mocking with how toys sell-out on Christmas in real life. Playing with these cheesy commercial stuff kids love (giving a particular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers vibe).

All Santas in this film are corrupt, people and store employees are not trying to please anyone they just want our money. Even our main kid Jamie doesn't wish Santa for his Christmas gifts, or even for his dad to at least be able to stay at home, instead he just recites the entire toy commercial word for word! 

It's a fun satire of the commercialization of Christmas. It gets a bit dark at some points (before the cheesy finale), when we get to see the underbelly of Christmas and these people dressed as Santas (led by a brilliant Belushi) selling stolen goods and cheap knockoffs. And we even got a brilliant final scene (what about Liz' gift?).

In a blatant "missing the point" move from 20th Century Fox, they ended up actually producing a few limited Turbo-Man action figure replicas (which from my last glimpse on ebay go out for pretty expensive high prices to this day!!). The director wasn't in favor of blatantly giving up on commercialism revolving around this movie, but at least they were produced to a much lesser extend to those Space Jam figurines, the other big blockbuster of the year at the same time.

Finally the music is pretty fun, in a family film-oriented kind of way. There are some more fun dynamic pieces and the rest is pretty much the usual cheesy Christmas stuff. It was composed by David Newman.

Overall: On one hand it's a pretty funny entertaining family film, but it also received a lot of criticism time for good reasons. The film received much negative reception, nevertheless it ended up makine a pretty huge success as well. I think it's a pretty funny look at the commercialism of Christmas, without forcing a point or critic on its audience. It's just having fun with it.

It gets pretty cheesy past the scene with the kung fu Santas, despite starting pretty grounded as a relatively "normal" comedy at first. The finale is just cheesy and over-the-top.

I actually kind of like how Jamie doesn't wish Santa will fulfill his dream, he clearly knows his parents will get him his toy. It's kinda nice how the film avoids this usual movie cliché  ("wishing for a Christmas miracle" and all that). The film also offered us some of Schwarzie's most memorable lines and hilarious one-liners, almost mocking most of the dialogues from his past action blockbuster films.

It's good mindless fun, Recommended around Christmas year every year (along Die Hard!).

As cheesy as it is, and how silly the end of the film end up like, it's a really fun entertaining and dynamic over-the-top Christmas movie! And it even has the time to play with the sad dark truth Christmas has become.

Strangely a sequel was announced not long ago... and it was quickly put up and released shortly afterward as an unnoticed straight-to-DVD film. Released in 2014, Jingle All the Way 2 is another one of those cheap recent WWE Studios production. The "sequel" was directed by Alex Zamm. It basically follows an identical plot to the original film (yeah, it's one of "those" direct-to-video sequels...), it features none of the original cast and instead stars Larry the Cable Guy and Santino Marella.

I give it:
2 / 3 Films!

Movie: Daylight 
Directed by Rob Cohen 
Release date 1996
Genre Thriller/Disaster film 
Country USA

Released on December 26 (what a random date for a film like this..), Daylight is a 1996  disaster/thriller film from director, producer, and screenwriter Rob Cohen, best know nowadays for his work on The Fast and the Furious (2001), xXx (2002) and the titular Rammstein music video for the film xXx, "Feuer frei!" (2002), but also the cult classic Dragonheart back in the day (anyone remember that fun cheesy fantasy film??).

Besides Sylvester Stallone, Daylight also stars Amy Brenneman, a younger-ysh Viggo Mortensen (woah! almost didn't recognize him when I watched it back), Dan Hedaya, Stan Shaw, Karen Young and a young but already cute Danielle Harris of Halloween fame. Stallone's real life son Sage Stallone also appears in the film as one unrelated kid on his way to the juvenile prison.

The story can be summarized in one line: Disaster in a New York tunnel!

Our story takes place in the Big Apple! That day, some shady company seems to be moving some toxic waste barrels through trucks to dispose of that illegally. The truck heads toward the tunnel connecting Manhattan and New Jersey (the Holland Tunnel, which for some reason is only referred to as the "tunnel" through the film for some reason..).

We get a look into the lives of several characters heading over there. There's this struggling theater writer, Maddy Thompson, who is tired of life in New York. She's sick of her job, her ex-boyfriend just moved on and she doesn't exactly live in the best street in New York... There's also this bunch of kids heading for juvy for petty crimes. There's this "All-American" family on vacation. An elderly couple (because, why not while we're at it?) And we also meet this big corporate extreme sports nut, Roy Nord who's just coming back from a meeting for some new product. At the same time some criminals that have just stolen a car escape into the tunnel, racing with the NYPD after them. The thieves are forced to cross into the traffic, when they accidentally smash into the trucks mentioned earlier, losing control, killing them and causing this huge explosion... The chain reaction ends up blocking the entire tunnel, which caves in immediately. The entrance is now blocked and a fire's about to blow off.

All these commuters in the middle of the tunnel are stuck with no means to escape. At the entrance of the tunnel there's this former Emergency Medical Services worker, Kit Latura (Stallone), now just a cab driver these days. He just witnessed the accident and races in to help as many people as he can (in way that reminded me of this recent great underrated game Day of Disaster if you ask me..). Since he believes the people in charge that are making the decisions are moving way too slow and ignoring some potential risks regarding the people stuck in the tunnel, he decides to get involved. They try to keep him out, but nobody can put a stop to Kit Latura once he has an idea in mind. He's finally able to volunteer for one quick run through the tunnel. But the administrators are considered the collapse safe enough to begin work on the excavations. Since the tunnel's sealed off, the way is through the ventilation system. But since they're running on automatic, Latura has to jump through these giant fans down the tunnel shaft.

Once there, Sly Latura locates the group of survivors that got trapped mid-way through under the Hudson River, the water's already running in. Our intrepid adventurer Roy Nord ignores his warning and goes up a small passage.. which come down immediately. This NYC cop, George, was the one that kept everyone safe so far. George and Latura both argue regarding what to do next. Nobody wants to listen to Stallone. George ends up stuck and crushed under this huge truck, they're able to free him thanks to our hero, but he has a broken neck. (Aww, poor George. He was genuinely the nicest character of the cast..) They have to move above the water level, Latura can't stop the water, only slow it down. 

They get to the Manhattan side before everything collapses, they're forced to leave George behind.. Along the way they lose some more people. After swimming underwater, the elderly couple loses their dog which they considered like a son (since their actual son died, no less!). They have to get to the daylight! The elderly survivor woman refuses to go on without her dog.. She dies of hypothermia shortly.. Only for the rest of the survivors to find the dog is actually still alive! Talk about bad timing.. This movie gets pretty dark despite the overall action film vibe. 

Latura is able to get most of the remaining group through a manhole behind some underground corridor.. .but he gets trapped himself behind! Maddy stays with him. The survivors throw 'em a flashlight. Our heroes decide to try something crazy enough it might just work. They swim back to the other end of the tunnel, now that it's all submerged. Latura uses some explosives, which collapse the entire roof... and hope for the best... 

They wake up at surface of the Manhattan river... 

Alright. So the dialogue's kinda overblown and cheesy at times. Most dialogues consisting of characters pointing out how things are about to kill them. People dying left and right from fire, electrocution, drowning and hypothermia. Saying "I don't know" constantly. Viggo even dies after Kit Latura warns him he shouldn't do what he's about to do. 

So much water...

Daylight has a pretty fun survivalist tone, thanks to the great special effects that really sell the situation. 

The effects are really at the center of the film, they're really impressive and making the film remind me of the earlier similar Stallone classic Cliffhanger in a way.

The film also features a pretty diverse cast for the time.

It's pretty fast paced. It all begins as early as the first 115-minute mark. 

I just love how Latura/Stallone breaks out near the end and starts randomly yelling at the tunnel itself.

The only strange bit is how someone like our character Latura ended up driving taxi cabs for a living when you think about it... 

All in all it's a pretty good and fun thriller that didn't really age that much actually.

The pretty fun score was composed by Randy Edelman, and it kind of falls in between his comedy cues from movies like The Mask (which really don't match the action on screen a few times) and your usual big action popcorn blockbuster from the time.

Overall: While the film was received by mostly pretty bad reception at the time, some critics have really had overblown reactions I think. It might be nothing new, I agree, but it's a fun disaster/thriller.

It's actually a pretty fun disaster film with some pretty impressive and realistic special effects, specially for the 1990s, without as much CGi to help clean things up. Most of the scenes had to be completely executed on set. At least the film won a Golden Reel Award for sound editing, which it totally deserves - the experience sounds great, chilling.

Daylight is a pretty fun non-stop thrill ride, from start to finish. Sly plays pretty much every single character he ever played here. It's easily one of Stallone's most fun films, nothing deep or that complicated, Well Recommended a look. With great special effects and a simple enough script that just works.

I just think they should have at least tried to save George..

The film's also known for the way they tried hiding some Christian allegory in it for some reason (although was it really needed in a disaster film?). Stallone's character plays kind of a Christ figure that is forced to descend into hell to save others, and comes back humble by his journey. He even gets buried and resurrected in a way. Let's not even forget the random Chapel scene which provides the only way out there through Christ statue. Why's there even a Chapel down there, I have no idea, but it's better to not think about it too much...

I give it:
2 / 3 Films!

And that is it for today's DoubleFeature!

These films sort of marked the turning point for our action movie stars, when both Arnold and Stallone's status began to diminish and their mere presence couldn't simply bring in the same kind of numbers at box office...

A fun action comedy film for the whole family, and a much more serious action disaster film.

While this time both films have absolutely nothing similar, they can still be considered fun mindless mid-90s action flicks. It's just that their popularity as action movie star started decreasing as years came by.

But both are still fun to enjoy, despite marking signs of changing times, the downfall of the genre.

Watched back to back, they make for a perfect movie night-double feature!

That's all for this time's DoubleFeature!

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