Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Television Review: THE PARK IS MINE! (1986, Steven Hilliard Stern)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tommy Lee Jones, Yaphet Kotto (FREDDY'S DEAD, ALIEN, BONE), Peter Dvorsky (VIDEODROME), Helen Shaver (THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR), Carl Marotte (MY BLOODY VALENTINE), Lawrence Dane (DOUBLE JEOPARDY, BEAR ISLAND), and a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream (RISKY BUSINESS, FIRESTARTER, SORCERER, THIEF, THE KEEP).
Tag-lines: "For 72 hours, Central's Park's about to become...Private Property."
Best one-liners: "Those sick sons-of-bitches! They're sending in the Viet Cong to get me!

Holy shit! I didn't know they made TV movies this good ever, much less in 1986! Now, right off the bat, THE PARK IS MINE! gets your attention. It's title isn't even much of a title. It's not even a request. It's a demand.

Now as far as angry 'Nam vet movies, go there are only two categories, and the categories are these: "Totally awesome" (EYE OF THE TIGER, CUTTER'S WAY, FIRST BLOOD) and "Fleshburn" (FLESHBURN). THE PARK IS MINE! falls squarely into the "Totally awesome" category, and for several key reasons. Here are the top ten:

#1. No need for a set-up.

A lesser movie would have taken the premise- "Nam vet takes control of Central Park for 72 hours in order to protest Nam vet treatment" and wasted like 45 minutes with Tommy Lee Jones thinking about doing it, putting his laborious plans into motion, deciding whether or not he should really go through with it, etc. THE PARK IS MINE! is having none of that. Right off the bat- WHAM- we start off with a suicide in a mental hospital. Then- WHAM- Tommy Lee Jones is reading the suicide note of his incarcerated Nam vet buddy- who had a plan to take over Central Park, but knew he couldn't go through with it. He's planted the real bombs, the fake bombs, the booby traps, the barbed wire, the AK-47s- everything Tommy needs- already. So Tommy Lee Jones just has to read the note, take like 5-10 minutes to decide whether or not to do it, and then we're underway, cause everything's immaculately planned.

The only drawback to this is perhaps that we missed out on a kick-ass montage sequence set to some rockin' 80's tunes of Tommy Lee Jones planting all this stuff, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make in the name of fast-paced narrative flow.

#2. Tangerine Dream.

Tangerine Dream turns in one of their all-time best scores here. Gently pulsating Euro-rhythms? Check. A hazy, dreamlike atmosphere? Check. Evocative 80's metropolitan sounds? Check. An ever-so-gradual build in intensity that perfectly compliments the suspense? Check, check, and double-check. The soundtrack is perfect. And this is a TV movie. Stick that in your craw.

#3. Yaphet Kotto.

He's been eaten by the Alien. He's beaten the shit out Freddy Kruger with a ball bat. He's dropped grenades from a cropduster while blasting James Brown in order to help out Gary Busey. He's run alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger on futuristic gladiatorial TV. He's played Othello. He's worked with Paul Schrader, Larry Cohen, and Rod Serling. He's played a Bond villain. He's even been on MURDER, SHE WROTE. And, you know what? You probably don't even know who he is, you sorry sonofabitch. Well, maybe you do. I'm sorry I called you a sonofabitch.

Well, regardless, Kotto here is the classic beleaguered cop who begrudingly begins to respect/earn the respect of the supposed madman he's supposed to be shutting down. Kinda like Tommy Lee Jones in THE FUGITIVE, Vincent Gardenia in DEATH WISH, or Robert Ryan in THE WILD BUNCH. Cliched as it is, I've always like that kind of plot development, and here is no exception. Plus, Yaphet Kotto is a serious badass.

#4. Classic anti-'THE MAN' sentiment.

Even though Tommy Lee Jones hasn't hurt anyone, they say "We got caught with our pants down, and my ass gets cold in the breeze." That's right. A bunch of stuffed-shirt pencil-necked bastards who've never had their buddies ripped apart by shrapnel before their eyes wanna tell Tommy Lee Jones to go fuck himself. They're gonna lie to him, try and snipe him when he's talkin' to his wife, make under-the-table deals, distort the facts, and be all-around goddamned piss-heads.

At their fore is Canadian Peter Dvorsky (Harlan from VIDEODROME) as "Dix," perhaps the greatest frustratingly realistic "evil nerd" character actor ever.

#5. Tommy Lee Jones harshly intoning, "Get nekkid."

#6. Tommy Lee Jones' actual demands.

He's not in it for revenge, or money, or terror, or political demands. He just wants everyone to take a moment to think about their lives. Yeah, that's right. "There's a lotta people like me in this city. Who don't feel any control over their lives." He's making radio broadcasts about his philosophies, and listing crimes and injustices that have been swept under the collective carpet. "Think about how you treat people, and how you want to be treated."

He's like the Gandhi of action heroes.

#7. "I'm from Queens, and, eh... I'm all for de guy."

#8. A televised interview with an old lady who's just like the smarmy old lady in THE RUNNING MAN, and this a year before THE RUNNING MAN.

#9. THE PARK IS MINE! T-shirts.

Yeah, and I totally want one.

#10. Mercenaries?!

Mercenaries, the most vile outsourcing of all. Yeah, when it all comes down to brass tacks, the corrupt officials of the city would rather send in ex-Viet Cong and Eurotrash mercenaries to eliminate Tommy Lee Jones, rather than let him peacefully retain control of the Park for his last 24 hours.

Damn! Lemme know how that works out for you, mercenaries. This really pushes the film past that final, wonderful point of ridiculousness. It's the point where you check the video box again to make sure it wasn't made by Italians. Then there's a moment of pride when you realize that North Americans, too, are sometimes capable of spit-take inducing, unhinged cinematic madness. And it's this final element is what truly cements the film's status as a classic. A perfect movie. Basically, the only thing missing is Donald Pleasence. Donald Pleasence would be so 'at home' in this movie, that words can't even explain it. But that's forgivable, cause it's possible he was too busy appearing in every single other 80's movie.

Five, glorious, shining stars.

-Sean Gill


skeelo said...

i'm a big tommy lee jones fan, and you sir just made my day, now i gotta find this

Sean Gill said...

Look no further- a kind soul has posted it on youtube in eleven parts, starting here:


Anonymous said...

Hey man - your reviews at Netflix are an endless source of joy and entertainment to me. I'm a fellow review poster, and lately I've come to notice that a day or two after I post a review, I immediately have a listing of "0 out of 3 people found this helpful."

This keeps happening for about the past 15-20 reviews I've posted. It makes me feel like I've been specifically targeted by a few people, for no apparent reason. It's made my reviewer rank slip from around 231 to 291 this past week.

Now I don't really care about having a high rank but you can understand how frustrating it is for people to keep attacking you out of some misplaced grudge rather than the quality of your writing.

Have you ever encountered anything like this? I'm not really sure what to do.

Thanks, man, and keep posting your reviews...it's rare I read anything that's side-splitting and insightful at the same time, but you manage.

Sean Gill said...

Thanks for the kind words, man, that means a lot. I encounter the 'not helpful' bombing from time to time, and generally I think it can be traced to my (not even usually outright trashing, but) accurate criticisms of films that these people love, or my love for films that they hate, or whatever. I guess they have no sense of humor, because sometimes then, it would seem, they'll bomb your other reviews out of spite. There's a lot of negative energy out there. I guess there's nothing you can do, except keep writing reviews. If you give me your netflix reviewer name, I'd be happy to give you a boost in the votes to combat those d-bags!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! My reviewer name on there is HKFanatic. I've been a member since 2004, nearing about 300 reviews.

I've had a few contrary opinions on a few films, so I guess they're coming back to haunt me. Sometimes I feel like I may come across as too ornery, but I suppose that all goes back to the internet being nearly incapable of conveying sarcasm or good-natured-ness.

What I appreciate is how you have reviews that make me laugh throughout, usually the Italian flicks like "Spasmo," but then you go and write something like your heartfelt commentary on "Raging Bull." Well played.

Sean Gill said...

Wow, man, you're not kidding! It looks like 5 or 6 assholes really have it out for you, but I don't know why; your reviews are very well-thought-out and enjoyable, from your defenses of Lovecraft's writing in light of bad film adaptations to your appreciations of Shane Black screenplays. I tried to give you a bit of a vote boost, hope that helps.

HKFanatic said...

Thanks a lot for your help! Yeah, I just noticed it's actually gotten worse in the past day or so. I went from having 3 people targeting me to nearly 6 or more now. It doesn't make a lot of sense but I suppose that's the risk you take when you rate someone's favorite movie 2/5 stars? Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if people who tend to watch a lot of gay/lesbian-themed films get targeted as well, which I've rented plenty of, like one of my favorites, "Mysterious Skin."

There's no accounting for some people's irrationality, especially on the internet. I really do appreciate your encouragement, though. I suppose you're right, the only thing to do is to keep writing reviews. I know you've given detailed write-ups to films I would have never had a clue about otherwise ("Spasmo" being one), so I only hope I can do the same for others.

Keep writing!

Anonymous said...

I saw this on tv when it was new and it made such a lasting impression that I have been trying to find a copy for years I finally found one and now can introduce this forgotten gem to a whole new generation.