Reviews

'Midnight Run' Is Among the Best of the '80s Film Offerings

Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro form a dynamic comic duo in this road trip from Hell.


Midnight Run

Director: Martin Brest
Cast: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto
Distributor: Universal
Release date: 2016-08-23

Often overshadowed by other classic action comedies of the same era, such as Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys, 1988's Midnight Run is an understated, brilliant film. Director Martin Brest uses planes, trains, and automobiles to create the American road trip from Hell. The impeccable comic timing of Charles Grodin and the endless exasperation of Robert De Niro transform even the smallest scene into something special.

Bounty hunters are a curious breed. They live by a set of archaic rules that are better suited for the wild Frontier than modern society. It’s a lifestyle more than a profession, filled with unscrupulous characters living just one step removed from their outlaw quarry.

Jack Walsh (De Niro) is accustomed to outlaws. Years ago, he was the last honest cop in a Chicago precinct controlled by a mobster named Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). Set-up for a bogus crime by his corrupt colleagues, Jack put down his badge and picked up a shotgun to coral criminals as a bounty hunter. In his mind, this is the only virtuous way left to fight crime.

“I don't have to worry about anybody getting bribed or paid off because there is no ‘anybody’, there’s just me,” Jack reasons. This hard-ass mentality earns him plenty of enemies, including an estranged ex-wife and a teenaged daughter he hasn’t seen in years.

It’s ironic that Jack’s driving motivation in Midnight Run is the classic fugitive motivation; carry off one last big score and then retire to the good life. Of course, this big score is always more complicated than originally planned and usually involves untold misery. In this case, the untold misery comes in the person of a mild-mannered accountant named Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Grodin).

Jack thinks the gravy train has finally arrived when a slimy bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano) agrees to pay him $100,000 to capture Mardukas and deliver him back to Los Angeles in the next four days. Simple, right?

Not so much.

Mardukas got busted for embezzling $15 million from Jimmy Serrano and donating it to charity. Not the charitable type, Serrano dispatches two inept hitmen (Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda) to balance the books… permanently. An FBI agent named Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) is also after Mardukas, who could provide enough insider information to convict Serrano for life. Worse still, Mardukas is a mess; a bundle of nervous tics and irritating mannerisms that drive Jack absolutely insane.

Put simply, Charles Grodin owns every scene in Midnight Run with his uncanny comic timing. It’s inconceivable (now) that studio executives pushed director Brest (Beverly Hills Cop) to hire a more known commodity for the role of Mardukas. Astoundingly, Cher was an early frontrunner! In one of the Blu-ray extras, screenwriter George Gallo relates the hilarious story of his pleas to discount Cher from consideration. “Do you really want Jack telling Cher he’s going to stick her head in a toilet and make it stay there?”

The genius of Grodin’s goading is the subtlety of his jabs. Undoubtedly, Gallo’s remarkable script forms the spine of each bit, but Grodin’s keen improvisational instincts make them unforgettable. His incessant nagging of Jack to eat healthier or to leave his waiter a bigger tip (“The people rely on tips for a living!”) perfectly underscores the Mardukas character. He’s going to be your moral conscience, whether you like it or not.

Even a simple choice between coffee or tea poses a moral dilemma for Mardukas. When informed that each beverage costs 53 cents, he puzzles for an additional three seconds -- staring intently at the loose change cluttering the restaurant counter -- before deciding, “I’ll have tea.” It’s a master course in how to use silence and facial expressions to slay an audience.

De Niro is every bit Grodin’s equal. His pitch-perfect performance is a consequence of Jack’s conflicted conscience; his monetary goals are forcing him to railroad a good man. Mardukas shamelessly pokes at these insecurities and Jack is forced to respond, usually with vulgarity and threats of physical violence. An extended debate about who lied to whom first finally prompts an exhausted De Niro to concede, “I can’t even argue with you. I don't know what the f*** you're talking about.” It’s brilliant, instinctive acting that finds each performer responding in the moment with complete honesty.

The secondary cast delivers spectacularly, as well. John Ashton shines as Marvin, a sleazy bounty hunter who’s also competing to bring Mardukas back to L.A. The moral quandaries that plague Jack are anathema to the opportunistic Marvin. His byplay with Kotto’s Agent Mosely is a recurring treat. After Mosely shamelessly ‘borrows’ yet another cigarette from his personal stash, Marvin quips, “Why don’t you quit? It’d be cheaper for the both of us!” It’s this type of subtle, observational humor that makes Midnight Run such a treat to re-visit.

Brest gets the most out of his simple premise. The pacing is impeccable, with action scenes that never overstay their welcome or interrupt the flow between Grodin and De Niro. He also makes great use of location shooting to add a real sense of time and place. When De Niro jumps into a raging river, it’s a quintessential ‘80s moment; before blue screens and prima donnas became all the rage. Brest easily manages complicated set pieces, like a bus station shootout or a helicopter chase, without ever sacrificing the laughs. Mostly, he just gets out of the way so his actors and script can do the heavy lifting.

Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray Collector’s Edition release of Midnight Run makes a great introduction or a fitting re-visit to this sometimes forgotten classic. The bonus features include recent interviews with each member of the cast and a vintage ‘Making Of’ featurette. Two particular highlights are a rambling, highly personal interview with Grodin (“It’s my favorite movie.”) and some fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff from writer George Gallo. Sadly, the allusive Martin Brest is not interviewed, but these bonus features provide valuable insight into the zeitgeist of that time. You can see the fingerprints of Midnight Run all over modern action comedies, but the original is still the best.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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