On The Reel: Can’t Get Enough Kurt Russell

Mr. Nobody’s career goes far beyond ‘Fast and Furious’

The era of “peak TV” also means an abundance of entertainment, and some of it right at our fingertips. You don’t have time to go through it all with your job, kids, video games, and maybe even your gambling addiction. If only there was some cocky little sh*t willing to comb through it all…well you’re in luck because here I am. Every week, On The Reel will give you something to watch in theaters, a couple shows or movies to stream, and maybe even a hidden gem or two.

I’m cheating this week. No, not on anyone or anything in particular, but taking a bit of a shortcut with the column. There’s nothing being released this week the size of The Fate of the Furious and on the real — *rimshot* — this is the calm before the storm known as May when the summer movie season really kicks off with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which will be such a fun thing to talk about as the first is one of my favorite comic book flicks of all time and just thinking about it puts a smile on my face.

With that in mind, I’d like to focus on the newest addition to the Furious crew, Kurt Russell. To new jacks, he’s Mr. Nobody, the shadowy government guy giving Dom and crew their missions while providing insightful commentary on the proceedings. But for film geeks and older heads, Russell is the man. Since the 1970s, this former Disney kid has done all there is to do in Hollywood while giving every kid ever forced into an audition by their tyrannical parents something to live up to.

Unfortunately, streaming, while great, still doesn’t provide each and every flick in the known universe. A lot of that has to do with generations of people doing their best Lionel Hutz impression and making sure the rights to those movies stay locked away like Suge Knight.

But fear not, true believer. There’s still great Kurt Russell out there for anyone looking and I’m going to make your search a tad easier.

“Get A New President”

Possibly the role Russell is most famous for, 1981’s Escape from New York is damn near perfect. Russell stars as Snake Plisken, the man who would go on to inspire Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid and dozens of imitators. Director John Carpenter’s post apocalyptic flick imagines a future where crime has gotten so far out of control, the island of Manhattan is now a prison for the worst of the worst, which possibly includes turnstile jumpers and jaywalkers. It’s an actual police state, where law and order are no longer matters for the government to concern themselves with since the cops have got it “all under control.” And guess who’s plane just so happened to get shot down while flying over New York City? Don’t actually guess, I’ll tell you: The President of The United States. The police tell Snake if he goes in to get the President, they’ll pardon all of crimes rather than “kick his ass out of the world.” That’s the basic setup for the 90 min. movie and it’s all the info you need going in.

But in case you’re still not convinced, Isaac Hayes plays the bad guy, being the perfect guy to antagonize our lead anti-hero. The flick is also a response to the politics of the time, specifically to the Watergate scandal and its reverberations during the following years. Even though it was 1981, Carpenter was still angry about it and dejected at how corrupt and careless the country had become. With current headlines seemingly being ripped right out of the ’60s and ’70s, Escape from New York sadly remains as relevant today as it did almost 40 years ago. All that aside, Russell is just cool as Snake Plisken, doing his best Clint Eastwood and turning it up to 10. Every line is effortless, every pistol draw is smooth, and even when injured, he’s still the guy you want to be.

Also, a remake has been in the works for years. And I’m not exaggerating. They’ve been talking about remaking this flick since at least 2005 and it was recently announced John Carpenter fanboy, Robert Rodriguez, would direct. Tough shoes to fill but if anyone can pull it off, it’d be the guy who gave us Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Planet Terror.

“I’m A Reasonable Guy. But I’ve Experienced Some Very Unreasonable Things”

Five years after they escaped from New York, Carpenter and Russell ventured into San Francisco’s Little China to make one of the oddest and most unique big budget studio films in history. Big Trouble in Little China is beautifully constructed from a writing standpoint and its a director and actor combo operating on an Illmatic-like level. It’s got Kung-Fu, mysticism, an awesome score (as per usual with any Carpenter flick), beautiful sets — including one with a mall elevator for some reason — , and Russell channeling John Wayne to be Jack Burton. It’s also got this:

In fact, what’s most brazen about this 1986 gem is Burton isn’t the main character at all. He’s the sidekick to the much cooler, more competent, and highly skilled Wang Chi, played by Dennis Dun. It’s his story and Burton is just tagging along because Wang’s his friend…and Wang owes him money. It didn’t do well at the theaters upon release and was one of the experiences that soured Carpenter and Russell on working within the studio system, but its more than recouped the initial investment all these years later and has rightfully earned its spot as one of the best fantasy flicks of all time and a high note in Russell’s career.

Much like Escape from New York, this too is on gigantic remake wheel Hollywood spins every now and then. This one is being spearheaded by Russell’s The Fate of the Furious co-star, The Rock. No word on whether Rocky picked Russell’s brain while on the set or whether Carpenter will be involved in any way.

“This Is Why Frontier Life Is So Difficult. Not Because Of The Indians Or The Elements But Because Of The Idiots”

Bone Tomahawk is the newest entry on the list and despite not being a John Carpenter flick, it’s the most bloody and gnarly of the bunch. This Horror Western finds Russell’s Sheriff Franklin Hunt dealing with cannibals, which is way above his pay grade. The less said about the movie the better because it takes several twists and turns that should be surprises, but trust me, this isn’t for the faint of heart. Writer/Director S. Craig Zahler injects the kind of suspense and gore that makes you turn away from the screen and even then there’s no escaping it because your imagination does the rest of the work for him. Russell is, as usual, great, giving a performance the complete opposite of the one he gave in another Western that same year, The Hateful Eight. He’s sympathetic, heroic, honorable, and just a good dude.

While I wish there was something deeper to latch onto or some possibly pretentious but insightful commentary on the frontier life and the ills of taking land from people and hoping they just go along peacefully, this isn’t that type of flick. Come for the Russell, stay for the gore and great acting.

Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China can be found on Netflix, while Bone Tomahawk is currently streaming on Amazon.

Marcus Benjamin is a danger to the public, an alum of American University, St. John’s University, a screenwriter, and has an intense relationship with words. Witness his tomfoolery on Twitter, @AbstractPo3tic.

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