Imagine how excited we were when we realised that the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto would be screening some of Russell’s finest hours which you can read all about below.
I don’t think I ever got to se Big Trouble in Little China or Escape from New York on the big screen but now’s my chance.
Sadly I missed The Thing but I already have the Blu-ray so that’s not a big deal.
Big Trouble in Little China
Saturday June 20th 2015
While Russell and director John Carpenter had gone to the dark side with their previous collaborations Escape from New York and The Thing, they took a turn for the seriously silly with this chop-socky fantasy adventure. Russell plays big-rig driver Jack Burton, a hilariously inept blowhard of an anti-hero who is plunged into supernatural weirdness when his buddy’s fiancée is kidnapped by Lo Pan (James Hong), a wicked sorcerer who dwells in a labyrinthine lair beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown. With the aid of a klutzy lawyer (Canada’s own Kim Cattrall) and a local magician (the great Victor Wong), Jack sets out to rescue the girl before Lo Pan uses her magical green eyes to endow himself with immense power. Carpenter’s most quotable film by a mile, Big Trouble is blessed with a manic, unpredictable energy that has made it an enormous cult favourite.
Escape from New York
Saturday June 27th 2015
With the backing of his buddy John Carpenter, Russell made an ambitious bid to leave behind his Disneyfied screen image with this post-apocalyptic action thriller, and the result was one of the most iconic films in both men’s careers. In the far-future year of 1997, Manhattan has been transformed into an isolated, fortified prison complex where the inmates run wild. When Air Force One crashes within the prison city and the US President (Donald Pleasance) falls into the hands of the self-proclaimed “Duke of New York” (Isaac Hayes), the government recruits hard-bitten, one-eyed mercenary Snake Plissken (Russell) to retrieve the POTUS intact. Fitted out with an eye patch, a cigar, and a John Wayne-by-way-of-Lee Marvin snarl, Russell more than sells his tough-guy makeover, and his take on Snake (a role once intended for Charles Bronson!) helped Escape rapidly enter the pantheon of modern sci-fi masterpieces.
Saturday July 4th
Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn) is a fabulously wealthy hausfrau who, like many fabulously wealthy people, believes her fabulous wealth gives her license to treat all those around her horribly — including, on this particular day, blue-collar carpenter Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell — and yes, that’s really the character’s name), whom she stiffs for $600 on a renovation job. But when Joanna is stricken with amnesia after falling overboard on a sailing trip, Dean hits upon a not-at-all complicated revenge scheme: rechristen Joanna as “Annie,” convince her and the hospital staff that the two of them are married, and have the one-time queen bee cook and clean up after him and his four motherless sons in their ramshackle man-cave. Shenanigans duly follow in this cheerful, immensely likeable comedy that reunited real-life couple Russell and Hawn after their first co-starring venture in Jonathan Demme’s Swing Shift.
Saturday July 11th
After breaking into the mainstream with Overboard Russell became a sought-after commodity for A-list projects, and his growing star power was proven when he was cast alongside Mel Gibson and Michelle Pfeiffer in this intricate neo-noir thriller. Russell plays Nick Frescia, a slick L.A. cop whose oldest and best bud Dale “Mac” McKussic (Mel Gibson) just happens to be a big-time drug dealer attempting to go straight. The two pals are set on a collision course when one of Mac’s old confederates puts pressure on him to broker a major narcotics shipment, and things get even more complicated when both men become entranced by a beautiful restaurateur (Pfeiffer). Written and directed by Chinatown scripter Robert Towne, the sexy and stylish Tequila Sunrise allowed Russell to show that he could go toe-to-toe with the biggest stars of the day.
Tango & Cash
Saturday July 18th
Russell entered blockbuster territory (in budget, if not box office) for the first time with this seriously overpriced buddy-cop action-comedy, in which he shared the spotlight with another star who was not used to sharing: Sylvester Stallone. Attempting to showcase his “lighter” side, Sly plays dapper, uptight cop Ray Tango, who reluctantly teams with slovenly, laid-back fellow detective Gabriel Cash (Russell) when both are framed for murder by their mutual enemy, wealthy French drug kingpin Yves Perret (Jack Palance — who, of course, just oozes Frenchness). A considerable mess behind the scenes — there are rumours that Stallone inserted a clause in his contract stating that he would be allowed to throw more onscreen punches than Russell, thus affirming himself as the true leading man — Tango & Cash was only a moderate hit on its initial release, but has since become a cult classic on video.
Saturday July 25th
Riding a string of mid-level hits, Russell confirmed his A-list status when he landed the lead in Ron Howard’s mega-budget, visually spectacular action drama. Russell and William Baldwin star as the McCaffrey brothers, who carry on their family’s firefighting tradition in the Chicago Fire Department. Battling blazes and each other, the brothers have to put their sibling rivalry on hold when they become embroiled in a mysterious series of arsons. Standing tall in a starry cast that also includes Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca De Mornay, Russell perfectly suits the part of the hard-charging “Bull” McCaffrey, and the film’s smash success cemented his blue-collar hero persona in the public imagination — a persona that the ever-flexible actor then immediately countered by playing a wussy yuppie forced to man up, in the urban paranoia thriller Unlawful Entry.
Saturday August 1st
It’s alpha-male heaven in this enormously entertaining version of the O.K. Corral saga. In addition to Russell, rocking a serious ‘stache as frontier marshal Wyatt Earp, the cast also features Val Kilmer (a standout as the tubercular Doc Holliday), Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Thomas Haden Church, Michael Rooker, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, Jason Priestley (?), and — giving the proceedings their old-school macho blessings — Charlton Heston (in a bit part) and Robert Mitchum (as the narrator). The weathered tale of retired lawman Earp forced to strap on his six-shooters and take on the brutal Clanton gang is given plenty of juice in this high-powered retelling by director George P. Cosmatos (he of Rambo: First Blood Part II and the immortal Cobra). With Russell manfully leading the way, Tombstone is one of the last, glorious gasps of unashamedly masculine, late-eighties/early-nineties action filmmaking.
Saturday August 15th
Russell has to go from mild-mannered to macho in this high-action, high-altitude thriller, playing an intelligence analyst who is forced to accompany a Special Forces squad on an almost ridiculously perilous mission: secretly transferring from an experimental military aircraft to a Boeing 747 in mid-air in order to wipe out the terrorists who have taken the airliner hostage. Probably the best of the initial run of Die Hard clones (depending on your feelings for Passenger 57), Executive Decision gets good mileage out of the contrast between two very different types of heroes: Russell as the civilian desk jockey jumping planes while wearing black tie, and — in the final days of his legitimate big-screen stardom — Steven frickin’ Seagal, as the super-tough squad leader who (SPOILER) makes a genuinely surprising exit from the proceedings.
Saturday August 22nd
While driving cross-country to their new life in California, Jeff Taylor (Kurt Russell) and his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) have their car break down in the middle of the desert. Accepting a ride from a friendly trucker (J.T. Walsh), Amy heads to a nearby diner to call for help while Jeff stays with the car. After several hours, the bewildered and worried Jeff makes his way to the diner on foot, and finds that no one has seen Amy at all — and things only get more terrifying from there … Fiendishly clever and almost unbearably tense, Breakdown was one of the best thrillers of the nineties, its waking-nightmare scenario made all the more credible thanks to Russell’s grounded, Everyman appeal.
Saturday August 29th
Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse, the two-part exploitation epic the director made with his buddy Robert Rodriguez, Death Proof is both a loving tribute to its star — Kurt Russell, outfitted in shades, stubble and silver jacket as “Stuntman Mike” — and a slyly subversive undercutting of the old-school masculinity his screen image represents. Moving from chatfest to cranked-up revenge epic, Death Proof revolves around two groups of young women who have separate but equally fateful encounters with Russell’s charismatic (if plainly over-the-hill) former stunt driver, whose tricked-out car is “death proof” for him but deadly to everyone else. Culminating in a fantastic high-speed chase that features fearless stuntwoman Zoë Bell clinging to the hood of a hurtling Dodge Challenger, Tarantino’s throwback to the high-octane, low-budget car-chase flicks of the 1970s reinvigorated Russell’s pop-cultural currency, and the director and star have re-teamed for the upcoming The Hateful Eight.
Saturday September 5th
Russell provides the brawn to a pre-puffy James Spader’s brains in this big-budget sci-fi epic. Nerdy Egyptologist Dr. Daniel Jackson (Spader) is recruited to interpret the hieroglyphs on a mysterious, ring-shaped structure currently housed on a US Air Force base. Cracking the unfamiliar code, Jackson discovers that the artifact is a “stargate,” a portal to worlds far distant from Earth. Travelling through the gate, Jackson, super-butch Marine colonel O’Neil (who else?) and O’Neil’s gung-ho platoon find themselves on a deadly planet inhabited by a powerful alien civilization whose members bear an uncanny resemblance to the ancient Egyptian gods, and who soon prove to be anything but friendly. Independence Day director Roland Emmerich made his commercial breakthrough with this pulpy popcorn-cruncher, and what it lacks in subtlety (or sense) it more than makes up for in spectacle.
If you’re a Toronto native then head on over to the TIFF website and book your tickets.