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‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ At 25: Geena Davis Was The Matt Damon Of Her Time

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‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ At 25: Geena Davis Was The Matt Damon Of Her Time

For a ten year period from the late ’80s to somewhere in the ’90s, Geena Davis followed a peculiar arc. Incredible in David Cronenberg’s The Fly, not the least for the chemistry of a real-life romance with Jeff Goldblum that flamed out after a passionate conflagration, she found herself a curious kind of star. Too pretty to be the nerd, too nerdy to be an idol, she was a kind of dreamgirl for the very smart and the kind of lonesome. She anchored pop-cultural touchstones like Thelma & Louise where she introduced the world to the particular pleasures of objectifying an on-the-cusp Brad Pitt; and A League of Their Own which has in the decades since accumulated almost as many laurels as a feminist rallying point. My fondest impressions of her, though, are from The Fly (of course), but also her turn as suburban ghost Barbara in Beetlejuice and odd, unconventional Muriel in Lawrence Kasdan’s underseen The Accidental Tourist where Davis matched up perfectly with the similarly unconventional William Hurt. It’s those seemingly disparate qualities of capable athlete and lovable dork that people like Zooey Deschanel would later parlay into careers. In details of her personal life that found currency during this same period, I find evidence of both of those things in Davis’ foray into Olympic archery, and simultaneous-in-my-memory revelation that the Boston University grad was a member of Mensa. Though there are obvious explanations for Davis’ elevation as a feminist icon (and let’s not forget Earth Girls are Easy), I think often of her, some would call it bizarre, two-film run with then-husband Renny Harlin where she made a play for action hero before settling in to play mom roles in animated mouse movies.

Cutthroat Island landed first, earning immediate scorn as arguably the worst film of 1995 and a financial boondoggle to boot. In it, she plays the dread pirate Morgan who, in the first ten minutes of the film, makes two dick jokes and skins her father’s head for the treasure map tattooed there. It has its pleasures, in other words. There’s a lovely stunt where Davis herself seems to time a fall from a window into the shotgun seat of a racing carriage, but the picture is vile and loud, obnoxiously over-written, has numerous monkey reaction shots, and fails I think to capture the thing about Davis that is the most arresting: that is, her ability to play characters that are in the process of discovering something about themselves. Davis is like Matt Damon in that way: they are too smart to be likable unless what we’re watching is a process of them figuring out just how special they actually are. I don’t think it’s a mistake that career highlights for both involve characters who are special agents with amnesia, fishes literally pulled from the water and into normal, domestic situations before circumstance calls them to action. Harlin, I don’t think, entirely understood what it is about Davis that made her a star, not entirely, but he got a lot closer the second time out with the exuberantly bonkers The Long Kiss Goodnight. Perhaps unfortunately for The Long Kiss Goodnight, it landed just one year after Cutthroat Island

The-Long-Kiss-Goodnight
Photo: Everett Collection

Working from a script by Shane Black, The Long Kiss Goodnight was dismissed at the time as just another loud, obnoxious, ultra-violent piffle that further degraded Davis’ momentum and was popularly speculated to have been at least part of the reason Davis and Harlin ended their marriage soon after. Stripped of its tabloid interest, The Long Kiss Goodnight is exactly the kind of movie that filmmakers have been chasing recently, in this newly diverse-aspiring climate: the unapologetic action movie heroine grounding a potential franchise. This is the movie I think of when I watch things now like Atomic Blonde, movies that know the notes but, without the particular, difficult-to-replicate complexities that Davis brings to the party, don’t quite hear the music. In this, Davis plays Charly Baltimore, a government-bred assassin who’s lost her memory and so begun a new life as a housewife. Her past catches up with her, of course, and as pieces of her old skills start returning, she partners with good samaritan Mitch Henessey (Samuel L. Jackson) to protect her new family and, why not, save the world from evil in the process. I love this movie – I love in particular the scenes where Charly plays the wife because there is something always fascinating about someone like Geena Davis in a role that is so completely familiar. She makes a comfortable thing uncomfortable with the volume of combustible potential energy she brings to it. A sequence where, while cooking dinner, she discovers she has unearthly knife skills (“Maybe I was a chef!”) is absolutely a delight for how Davis plays it as not a superhero origin story, but a woman coming into power. 

“Geena Davis is like Matt Damon: they are both too smart to be likable unless what we’re watching is a process of them figuring out just how special they actually are.”

Beyond Black’s typically-snappy and world weary banter, that’s what sings about The Long Kiss Goodnight 25 years after its initial release — seeing Davis’ joy as not just the best wife and schoolteacher there ever has been, but eventually, the best killer the world has ever seen. I recall vividly the Siskel & Ebert pan where they talked derisively about the physics of outrunning a fireball, missing entirely that Davis when she’s on fire with the right material to suit her many facets. The film is trenchant in its pessimism about government agencies with the baddies actually being the CIA in the process of planting a false-flag operation in order to better persecute Muslims at home and abroad. I don’t think I understood exactly how opportunistic our government was, nor how easily our racism is weaponized against the minority bogey-du-jour, when I first saw this film. Its nihilism struck me back then as unsettling and The Long Kiss Goodnight was easier to dismiss as a particularly bleak fantasy. Watching it now, after everything we’ve been through the last quarter century, it’s maybe not nihilistic enough?

What’s constant, though, is how effortlessly Davis moves back and forth from warmth and nurturing, to calculating and deadly. There’s something archetypal about Davis — towering over most of her co-stars, gangly in one moment and lissome in the next, as at home in a leather trench coat as she is in a gingham dress. She is the very image of unpinnable and as a being of complete liminal possibility, she becomes like Hitchcock’s Roger Thornhill; Cary Grant in a light blue suit who is everything to everyone but truly knowable only by the person he chooses.

The action in The Long Kiss Goodnight remains memorable. Harlin, of all the things he is and is not, is a master of muscular motion. During this his period of greatest production, he began the decade crashing an passenger deck full of people in Die Hard 2 and ended it with a super-smart shark interrupting Samuel Jackson mid-diatribe. In between, the better-than-it-should-be Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cliffhanger (and Stallone was floated as one possible star of The Long Kiss Goodnight should Davis not work out) and a game adaptation of Daniel Waters’ The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. But for me, he’s the director of these two attempts to find a franchise for Geena Davis who has been good in everything she’s been in, but has never had her unique skill set entirely honored by any single project. The Long Kiss Goodnight came the closest and its influence on filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Doug Liman, even Chad Stahelski’s John Wick epic, continue to cast long shadows. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself. It’s brutally violent and surprisingly tender; hilarious and somber; absurd and all too familiar.  It’s all the contradictions inherent in Davis, too, this complicated star for a complicated decade whose greatest gift of polar ambiguity might be coming into focus only now, when we’re similarly fractured and looking for a way all those pieces fit into one possible whole.

Walter Chaw is the Senior Film Critic for filmfreakcentral.net. His book on the films of Walter Hill, with introduction by James Ellroy, is due in 2021. His monograph for the 1988 film MIRACLE MILE is available now.

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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