OK, time for a quick peek behind the curtain of Fuds on Film. We have a list of potential main episode themes that will comfortably last us into our old age… OK, older age…, often selected for a particular passion for the subject (our recent Pedro Almodóvar episode or our Studio Ghibli series, for example), or because we think it’s an interesting idea (Modern Day Black and White or Bond Knock-offs). But as to why and when we do a particular theme? That’s also extremely carefully considered. By which I mean it’s mostly chance and whatever one of us happens to fancy in any given month.
And sometimes we’re so short on time and/or inspiration, or more often, due to our ridiculous aforementioned topic list, so paralysed by choice that we have no idea what to do. Such it was this month, but while we were recording our Con Air and Passenger 57 episode I noted the praise Craig in particular had for the acting ability of Wesley Snipes.
So Craig’s not here. Yeah. So you’ll have to put up with me and Scott discussing a selection of his films, but fortunately we both quite like him, too, so it should all be alright.
The 56-year old Florida man (fortunately for Snipes that’s as far as that one goes) made his big and small screen debuts in 1986, in Wildcats and Miami Vice respectively. His 1989 role as Willie Hays in Major League was the start of a string of commercially (and sometimes critically) successful roles, culminating in his (now comparatively seldom mentioned) starring role as a Marvel comic book hero, one of a number of films which leveraged Snipes black belt in karate and his training in a number of other martial arts, such as capoeira and jujutsu.
The idea of covering some of Snipes’ comeback films after his conviction and imprisonment for three tax-related misdemeanours was floated, but as the perceived wisdom seems to be “they stink” it was an idea soon defloated (that’s a word!). We’ll come to those Marvel films in our next episode, but for now we have a selection of seven films covering his 90s pomp.
This Spike Lee joint from 1991 finds us in New York’s five boroughs, with Wesley Snipes taking the role of architect and weird name haver Flipper Purify, angling for a promotion at the firm his work has made successful. He’s assigned a new temp worker, Annabella Sciorra’s Angie Tucci. He’d been angling for an African American co-worker, but this one example of his supposed under-appreciation has much wider ramifications than may be expected.
Before long he has embarked on an affair with Angie, soon to be found out by his wife, Lonette McKee’s Drew, leading to their breakup. It also causes Angie problems, both with her racist father and now ex-boyfriend, John Turturro’s Paulie. Further family drama from the Purify side of things come from Flipper’s ex-preacher father, played by Ossie Davis, and Samuel L. Jackson’s crack addicted elder brother, with everything getting rather messy over the months the film covers.
There’s a lot presented in Jungle Fever, but rather like the lives of the leads it’s messy and unfocused. It touches on racism, systemic and overtly personal, sexism, wider problems of drug addictions, wider social concerns, and just about anything that can affect any relationship. What it doesn’t do is build anything resembling of a narrative out of any of it, so while there’s nothing disagreeable here, and indeed there’s a number of fine performances (of which Snipes more than holds his own), but it does rather reduce to being a bunch of stuff that happens without much meaning. Unless, of course, you somehow haven’t already come to the conclusion that racism, drug addiction and cheating are bad things.
As we’ve discussed a few times recently I applaud the representation of these things, but I’m not 100% sure it does a lot for me. However, it’s not really for me, so perhaps my opinion on that side of things isn’t relevant.
I feel on surer ground covering some other aspects. If it wasn’t Spike Lee behind the camera there’s moments I’d call outright technically incompetent, but I think he’s proven himself enough to say instead they’re failed experiments. Like shooting a boardroom meeting early on as though it’s taking place on a roundabout, or that weird shot he’s doing when people are supposedly walking and talking, but they’re clearly being pulled along on a dolly so look like they’re floating. And the underscoring and soundtrack that stomps all over the dialogue. And that final shot, which I though had wandered in from a Mel Brooks parody.
It’s not bad, exactly, but everyone involved in front and behind the camera has done much better work.
New Jack City
While it had been a long time since I’d seen it, I always had the idea that I really liked New Jack City. Certainly, seeing it, I guess, around its VHS release so possibly not yet a teenager, it was one of the first “adult” films I saw, with its 18 certificate, its sex and drugs and violence and its gangsters. As such I was really looking forward to watching it again, hoping that it would still have the cool menace promised, then and now, by the sunglasses and beret wearing Wesley Snipes on the cover.
Snipes plays Nino Brown, who, along with his brother Gee Money (Allen Payne), gets in on the ground floor of the crack epidemic, and creates a massive drug empire in Harlem, working out of an apartment building they control like a military establishment.
Undercover police officers Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) and Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson), of the maverick, don’t get along with each other sort, naturally, are tasked to go undercover into Nino’s organisation and obtain the evidence needed to bring him down.
Movies have moved on since 1991, and I, particularly, have moved on since then. New Jack City has not: it’s so of its time that it’s painful: a time capsule that oozes late 80s/early 90s from its every pour; a Blaxploitation film brought to you by MTV.
You can see a lot of what the director was aiming for, though, and it was certainly trendsetting, casting rappers and having a full hip hop and R&B soundtrack. However, Van Peebles’ attempts to create the Scarface for black America might have been more successful if it hadn’t tried so hard to reference Scarface. If what he was aiming for, though, was bringing the Blaxploitation films that his father, Melvin, was known for up to date, then he was quite successful, broadening the characters a little and making a noticeably slicker final product, which no doubt contributed to its success commercially and critically at the time.
Where it is saved, and I anticipate this being a recurring theme as we go along today, is in Snipes’ performance. He’s not the most physically imposing person, standing at only around 5´9”, but his performances always belie that, and as Nino Brown he’s magnetic, absolutely delivering on the menace promised by the poster. The scenes with Nino and his brother Gee Money are particularly engaging, and Allen Payne also acquits himself well: it’s actually surprising to see that his film career is so scant.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag: the late Bill Nunn is fine, but his turn as Duh Duh Duh Man (the actual credit) is no Radio Raheem, and while I think Chris Rock does a fine job as the unfortunate Pookie, the truth is that Chris Rock, no matter the role, always seems to be Chris Rock. Judd Nelson is, frankly, shit, and Ice-T tends that way, and relies too heavily on Brad Pitt-style hand movements, though to be fair he has his moments.
As for the plot, it’s unremarkable but entertaining enough, though Pookie’s plight might have been milked for a little more tension. The police investigation is perhaps the least compelling part, especially compared to the likes of Deep Cover, which came out the next year. That film shares a number of similarities with NJC, and while its villain can’t hope to compare to Snipes, the undercover cop thing is handled vastly better.
In truth, though, I think New Jack City doesn’t contain any huge faults (though the out of nowhere, ludicrously coincidental, revelation about the fate of a character’s parent can, as they say, do one); it just suffers now from feeling tired and clichéd when it felt much fresher at the time. Still, I continue to find it enjoyable enough to recommend if you feel like watching some more Wesley Snipes.
White Men Can’t Jump
We move to the other side of the US of A, with Snipes playing Sidney Deane, who is about to be hustled in a game of street basketball by Woody Harrelson’s Billy Hoyle, whose talents are often underestimated because he is white. Here is the real racism, people, as some youtube dipshits would tell you. Some of whom were probably standing for UKIP in the EU elections.
Billy’s trying to make enough money to get him and his girlfriend, Rosie Perez’s Gloria, out of debt from the mob over Billy’s gambling debt, the two living on the run, Gloria boning up on general knowledge for her highly anticipated appearance on Jeopardy that’s surely just around the corner. And also being an alcoholic for one scene and then having that plot strand never mentioned again, which is odd while it occurs to me.
Anyway, Sidney tracks down Billy, first with a proposal of a hustling partnership then, after some double-crossing unpleasantness, to go on to win a tidy sum of money in a tournament to get Billy out of hock, and Sidney and his family out of the rough neighbourhood they still find themselves in. Sounds like a plan, if Billy can keep his propensity for gambling under control.
Spoilers – he cannot.
I’m not going to claim that White Men Can’t Jump has ever been a firm favourite of mine, but I liked it when I first saw it, like, twenty-odd years ago, and I’m gratified to find I like it just as much now. I think, based on some pretty shaky memories, admittedly. The Snipes – Harrelson double act shows a lot of charisma, and the script has some pretty funny lines being thrown out more or less non stop, which is what you want in a comedy. The basketball action is well handled, and the relationships all feel believable enough.
A really enjoyable film, and I think one of the most easily likeable films in the Snipes Cinematic Universe. Why wouldn’t you watch this?
One of the earliest films I can remember going to the cinema to see with Craig and/or Scott was 1993’s Demolition Man, a film which seemed to have a strong impact on us, as exchanges of “mellow salutations, Craig Eastman” and “have a peachy day, Scott Morris” and the like persisted for quite some time (and, actually, haven’t 100% ceased to this day). (Another early film was Chain Reaction, so sadly not all of those experiences were quite so fun.)
It’s reasonable to say, then, that I rather enjoyed Demolition Man at the time, but in retrospect that may be because my thinking brain hadn’t grown in yet. However, so many of my issues with the film are caused by one fatal flaw, and fixing that would resolve so much. But we’ll get to that.
The feature film debut of Italian video artist Marco Brambilla and, apparently ripped off from a novel by Hungarian writer István Nemere (whose work, crucially, does NOT contain this film’s fatal flaw), Demolition Man came towards the end of the big man, big action period typified by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Brutal, old-school warrior-style, Los Angeles cop John Spartan (do you see what they did there?), played by Stallone, is known as the Demolition Man for the destruction he causes while hunting down criminals. The destruction caused when he finally brings Wesley Snipes’ urban terrorist Simon Phoenix (who will rises from the ashes – do you see what they did there?) to ground largely comes in the form of multiple dead hostages, deaths laid at Spartan’s feet which sees him condemned to the same cryogenic prison as Phoenix.
Hop forward to 2032 where Phoenix is unthawed for a parole hearing, escapes, and causes all kinds of mayhem, unhindered by a police force of bumbling idiots and braindead simpletons who, apparently, are actually able to dress themselves in the morning but since we never see it I remain unconvinced. Having absolutely no idea what to do about Phoenix or, probably, even slightly too loud music, the feckless San Angeles Police Department arrange for the thawing of an officer from Phoenix’s own time: John Spartan.
In this brave new world Spartan is greeted by Sandra Bullock’s Lieutenant Lenina Huxley (do you see what they did there?), and dropped into a society where, despite the fun made at his expense due to his lack of knowledge of current bathroom habits, he’s seemingly the only thinking adult.
While wrecking a decent portion of the city with his Neanderthal ways in pursuit of Phoenix, Spartan uncovers the dirty truth hiding just beneath the squeaky clean veneer of future Murica. There are also car chases, gun battles, hand-to-hand fighting and suchlike. Stallone’s the hero.
The best thing about the film, by far, is Wesley Snipes. Dressed, for some reason, like a sociopathic children’s TV presenter in orange t-shirt and dungarees, he is clearly having a blast. He takes the film exactly as seriously as it deserves to be, without ever winking about it, and takes us along for the ride. He even gets one of the more memorable movie deaths, even if I’m not entirely clear on what the wee blue ball actually is.
Stallone, as I’ve said before, isn’t so hot at the old acting, but he does have charisma, and while he seems out of his depth in the more gruff and serious moments, in the lighter, goofier, novel-way-to-fix-the-lack-of-toilet-paper-problem moments he’s really fun. Likewise Sandra Bullock, who in this period (Speed would arrive the next year) wasn’t perhaps being stretched as a thespian but was likeable and fun, and plays Huxley with the earnestness the role needs. (This, of course, in comparison to nowadays, when she’s miserable and barely tolerable.) Hell, even Rob Schneider’s presence isn’t as objectionable as you’d expect.
So all of that seems reasonably positive, you might think. So what’s the problem? Well, there are two. Firstly there’s the tone or, rather, tones. At times the film seems to be trying to present the dystopian future of shiny societal bliss with a rotten core (like that film with Pete Postlethwaite in the space condom: Aeon Flux?), and at other times it wants to be Idiocracy. Either is fine, but the two do not sit well together.
But the key problem, the issue that undercuts EVERYTHING, is the timescale. Setting things in the future always has the potential to age a film and probably seem particularly short-sighted: 1982’s Blade Runner and 1984’s The Terminator had futures that were set in, respectively, 2019 and 2029. They may seem to have comically missed the mark viewing them today, but it’s not hard to imagine a through line from our present to a time when their futures aren’t so far-fetched, and possibly not even on a huge timescale. Crucially, the people still seem recognisable.
Demolition Man begins its descent into future dystopia a scant three years after its production date, and the main bulk of the film takes place less than forty years hence, a time in which all crime has been eradicated, all memory has been eradicated, apparently all thinking has been eradicated and THE ENTIRETY OF HUMAN CIVILISATION HAS BECOME UNRECOGNISABLE! It’s not just preposterous, it’s stupid and offensive.
A woman in a restaurant (a Taco Bell, the only extant restaurant, though famously Pizza Hut in Europe) treats John Spartan like he were Brendan Fraser’s California Man come to dinner. Shut the hell up, lady, he’s about the age of your dad! Bob Gunton’s witless, hapless police chief is another example, not being enormously younger than Spartan, and there’s even still an officer on the force WHO SERVED WITH SPARTAN IN THE NINETIES! Compounding this are several snippets littered throughout the film that suggest the current “blissful” state of affairs can’t be much older than 15 or 20 years, at a stretch.
As such, it causes the film to fail utterly because nothing any character does or says carries any weight or truthfulness, nor the society in which it’s set. What’s worse is that it’s unnecessary: while it’d still suffer from being too Idiocracy and not enough Brave New World, nothing that happens requires it being set in 2032, and the tiniest of changes in the script to have Spartan awoken a couple of hundred years later would solve almost everything.
Naturally none of this is stuff my then fourteen year old brain considered, and my vastly superior current brain still did find some enjoyment rewatching this, but I could never recommend it now.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
Slight change of pace for Snipes here, as he takes the sequinned mantle of Noxeema Jackson, a New York drag queen, who, alongside Patrick Swayze’s Vida Boheme win the Drag Queen of the Year heats and a flight out to Hollywood to compete for the national title. However, they take an interest in upset youngster Chi Chi Rodriguez, played by John Luguizamo, and they resolve to take Chi Chi along and train her in the arts of being fabulous.
But their travel allowance won’t stretch for an extra plane ticket, so they purchase a “vintage” Cadillac and set off for a cross country drive, hampered by some hassle from Chris Penn’s Sheriff Dollard somewhere in less tolerant middle America. After some tumult caused by fending off his attempted rape, they knock him unconscious and flee, thinking him dead. They don’t have much time to process their situation before their car breaks down, stranding them in the small town of Snydersville until a replacement part can be ordered.
They settle in for the weekend, making friends and dealing with enemies in their fierce style, while Dollard tries to track them down.
It’s difficult to get too worked up about To Wong Foo, in either direction. There’s certainly things I could sit here and get upset about on a narrative level, even for something with no greater aims than a roustabout comedy. It’s all frightfully superficial, and while it’s touching on societies attitudes to those different from the majority it’s not exactly doing much with that. Also apparently I’m supposed to believe that this entire town don’t recognise a drag act when they see it?
Anyway, none of that is troublesome enough to get really upset about, and the central trio provide more than enough charm to push though to make this a watchable enough film. In one of those occasional film making coincidences, this was made and released around the same time as the similarly structured Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and I think time has been kinder to that.
Perhaps a little disappointing, this – its heart is in the right place, and for the theme of this podcast I absolutely can’t fault Snipes’ performance, but it’s just a little too flyaway to recommend.
The Fan, then, or a platonic Fatal Attraction with baseball. Naturally that’s rather flippant, but it might be enough to quickly give you a flavour of Tony Scott’s 1996 thriller.
Robert De Niro’s Gil Renard is a diehard San Francisco Giants fan, a knife salesman, and a lousy father. After abandoning his primary school-aged son at Candlestick Park to rush to a career-crucial sales meeting, which he misses, Gil in short order loses his job, his son and his mind.
Kept from his son by a restraining order, he turns his attentions instead to the Giants’ new star signing, Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), and begins to stalk him. Sports fans being particular fannies about superstition, Gil attributes his favourite player’s current hitting slump to Rayburn’s rivalry with his fellow player Juan Primo (Benicio Del Toro), in particular the fact that Primo has Rayburn’s preferred shirt number.
Gil confronts Primo in a hotel steam room, and when he refuses to give up the number, Gil kills him. To death. A fickle Candlestick Park crowd boos Rayburn in the aftermath of his teammate’s death, but when he starts hitting again he’s suddenly their favourite son again. Only Gil is displeased as he thinks it’s due to him, and maybe a little gratitude wouldn’t go amiss.
Spending a lot of time near Rayburn’s beachfront house, Gil is present when the baseball player’s son gets into trouble in the ocean and rescues him. This affords him an entrance into Rayburn’s house, where Gil gets super creepy, and would undoubtedly have boiled a bunny had there been one to hand. Dissatisfied that he’s still not getting the thanks he believes he deserves, Gil snatches Bobby’s son and holds him hostage, demanding that the slugger hit a homerun for him in that night’s game.
Having stipulated (because he’s crazy, but unfortunately not stupid) that he’ll kill his son if the pitcher serves him up an easy ball, the scene is set for a tense finale in which Rayburn must hit a homerun or hope the police find his son before the end of the game, which could come sooner than desired thanks to a torrential rainstorm.
The Fan is, unmistakeably, a Tony Scott film, though, since it isn’t as stylistically wearying or cut anywhere near as frenetically as some of his work that’s not an instant warning sign. In fact The Fan is a serviceable enough thriller, though not one I’d advise making extraordinary efforts to see. However, should you come across it some rainy afternoon then it could entertain you.
It’s not one of De Niro’s best performances, but it’s fortunately a far cry from the “usually bloody awful” performances that have been his stock in trade post Godsend and Hide and Seek, and the air of menace that he so often exudes is of key importance here. This is perhaps one of the less compelling Snipes performances in this batch, largely because his role is much more reactionary than in many of the other films, as well as being only the co-star but, as you’d expect, he’s at least solid, and the anguish, frustration and fear evident in his face and eyes in the film’s denouement are very believable.
The Fan’s biggest failing is that it doesn’t really go anywhere we’ve not been before, nor take any interestingly different routes to get there. There are certainly tense moments but we know pretty much where we’re heading from the off, and Phoef Sutton’s script, based on a novel by Peter Abrahams, spends little time examining Gil and how he reached this point, and its exploration and critique of the capriciousness of fandom is only of the broadest and most obvious kind. Again, though, it’s passable enough and I don’t regret my time with it, I’d just have liked a bit more meat. Kinda like ballpark hotdogs, really.
One Night Stand
To be honest I don’t think I’d even heard of One Night Stand before this round of Snipe-chat, which is perhaps a little odd given that it’s Mike Figgis’ follow up to the very successful Leaving Las Vegas, which I was very impressed with back in the day. This sees Snipes as Max Carlyle, a successful commercial director, seemingly happily married to Ming-Na’s Mimi.
He’s rather pointlessly narrating this directly to us when he meets up with estranged former best friend, Robert Downey Jnr’s Charlie, who has found out he has HIV. On the return trip home, he crosses paths with Nastassja Kinski’s Karen, and impulsively sleep together. However, this one night stand boom title drop has wider impact over the coming year, as fate, or narrative convenience, throws them together time and time again, particularly after the reveal that Karen is Charlie’s brother’s wife – said brother being played by Kyle MacLachlan.
We have, to a degree, come full circle, at least in terms of criticism of these films. Just like Jungle Fever it has a soundtrack that stomps all over the dialogue, and like Jungle Fever, it’s throwing a lot of stuff on race relations, romantic relationships, commitment, fidelity on the table, and inviting you to make your own narrative out of it, as it’s certainly not going to bother. However, it’s much, much worse than Jungle Fever, which at least felt that it had a direction it wanted to go in.
One Night Stand just wanders aimlessly in a circle for an hour and a half and then stops, wasting some half decent turns from all involved in the service of, well, I’m not sure what. It’s commercial failure was richly deserved, and I’m not sure I’ve got all that much to say about the actual film.
The production of it, though… oh boy. Apparently Joe Eszterhas gets paid two and a half million dollars for a four page outline, which becomes a script Figgis more or less entirely ignores and half improvises? This sort of decision could only be made by execs on the same level of drugs that Downey Jnr was on during filming, immediately after checking himself into rehab on finishing as, well, he was about as close to death as his character here was. What a clustercuddle, To be honest I’m surprised it’s not worse.
It is, however, bad, and should be ignored.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues discussed today, please hit us up on Twitter (@fudsonfilm), on Facebook (facebook.com/fudsonfilm), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to receive our podcast on a regular basis, please add our feed to your podcasting software of choice, or subscribe on iTunes. If you could see your way clear to leaving a review on iTunes, we’d be eternally grateful, but we won’t blame you if you don’t. We’ll be back with you soon with something fresh, but until then, take care of yourself, and each other.