Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Golgo 13 (1977)

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

tn_golgo13GOLGO 13 from 1977 – sometimes subtitled ASSIGNMENT KOWLOON, but not to be confused with ASSIGNMENT MIAMI BEACH – is the second adaptation of a popular Japanese comic book. Sonny Chiba plays an infamous assassin known as Golgo 13. But fuck the code name, his real name, or at least the alias he’s living under, is “Duke Togo.” I mean why would you even want people to call you Golgo 13 if you’re normally called Duke Togo? Just stick with the one awesome name, in my opinion. Don’t hog ‘em.

This is a great role for Chiba because he’s just full of larger than life swagger. He wears flashy suits and sunglasses, he has boxes of weapons delivered to him at his hotel, he satisfies women, he’s the very best at killing people and outsmarting everybody. He’s Shaft times James Bond but sort of the bad guy, which makes him kind of cooler than either one. And director Yukio Noda (BRONSON LEE, CHAMPION) shamelessly drapes it in the stylistic cliches of the time. A good thing.

An opening about Hong Kong police responding to a murder moves to a small boat off Miami where a white man named Rocky Brown is expecting to meet the legendary assassin Golgo 13. He’s worried because he doesn’t see any boats around, when suddenly Golgo climbs right out of the water onto the boat with scuba gear. Two other white men watch on a telescope from a hotel balcony, discussing who he is, explaining him to us. Suddenly Golgo pulls out a rifle – is he gonna betray this guy that wants to hire him? No, he fires at the hotel, taking out both of the exposition guys. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Midnight Meat Train

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

tn_mmt“Please, step away from the meat.”

Before THE HANGOVER made him a marquee name, and before he was nominated for Oscars three years in a row, Bradley Cooper was the star of THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008). Sure, he’d already been in WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and WEDDING CRASHERS and some TV shows, like he was on Alias and he played “Jack Bourdain” in Darren Star’s short-lived TV version of Kitchen Confidential. But come on. Obviously nobody cares about that shit and I’m embarrassed that I just typed it. He was, and is, the star of THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN.

Loosely based on a Clive Barker short story, this is a tale of city life. It’s about fears of late night public transit, of deserted subway platforms and cars, and our curiosity about the other odd people who are out late. The model in the fur coat, the teens selling candy bars at 2 am, most of all the dour, weathered bruiser in the suit and tie (Vinnie Jones, GARFIELD: A TAIL OF TWO KITTIES), always hunched over clutching his bag and looking miserable.

Leon (Bradley Cooper, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) sees the guy and becomes obsessed with him. He follows him GHOST WORLD style, researches him, photographs him, dreams about him. Leon helps a lady escape from rapists, she goes missing that night, and he decides the man with the bag is involved. The more he investigates the creepier and crazier the whole thing seems. And he has a dream where he sees his own head on the guy’s body and it slits his throat and he sees his face reflected in the puddle of blood. You know, that old dream. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Sniper

Monday, January 26th, 2015

tn_americansniperAMERICAN SNIPER is a pretty good movie. I wouldn’t rank it too high in the pantheon of Clint Eastwood directorial works, and it’s definitely not one of the all time great war movies, or even the best movie about the Iraq war. It has some overlap with THE HURT LOCKER without being as effective, in my opinion, either as a thriller or as a character study. And obviously we gotta deduct points for it not being a story about a very old sniper played by Clint. But it’s a very good performance by Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN), it looks into an interesting world (that of the Navy SEAL sniper), it has several tense battle sequences, and it speaks about the experiences of soldiers with some of the quiet simplicity and understatedness I appreciate in an Eastwood picture. That last part is causing a problem.

In many ways it feels different from the rest of Clint’s filmography, but it returns him to one of his favorite themes: the man who has lived a life of violence having a hard time doing something else. Instead of an old outlaw it’s “most lethal sniper in U.S. military history” Chris Kyle (played by Cooper with some extra muscle, facial scruff and Texan drawl), who goes through four tours of duty in Iraq, more than his share, but every time he tries to live a peaceful life with his family he starts itching to be back in combat. It also reminds me a little bit of Clint’s movie J. EDGAR, another biopic of an extreme character that refuses to condemn him. It just presents him, tries to give him a fair shake, shows him as a human, for better or worse.

With most of Clint’s directing-not-acting movies these days (JERSEY BOYS, HEREAFTER, CHANGELING, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, etc.) it’s the same routine: a bunch of people say they suck, I see them and like them, but don’t really know many people who bothered to see them, and the world moves on. Even when he does what seems like a crowd-pleasing awards-bait type movie, like INVICTUS, the academies and what not don’t give much of a shit, and Clint doesn’t care that they don’t. Why would he? Who needs another trophy when you wake up every morning and you’re still Clint fucking Eastwood?

But AMERICAN SNIPER is different. It was nominated for 6 Oscars including best picture, and when it went into wide release last weekend it immediately became a smash hit, the biggest opening of Clint’s career. Also, it’s one of those movies that not only sells tickets, but that people apparently like. It has an A+ Cinemascore and an 89% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (His previous three movies as director rated 65%, 45% and 38%). (read the rest of this shit…)

Drive Hard

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

tn_drivehardDRIVE HARD joins DEATH RACE and GETAWAY in the new action subgenre of “former car racing superstar is forced to drive for bad people.” In this one the driver in question is Peter Roberts (Tom Jane, STANDER), a flaky doofus who left racing to get married and raise a daughter in Australia, but now is running out of money and having trouble paying the mortgage, let alone achieving his dream of opening a racing school. Instead he has a driver’s ed school.

Then one day mysterious troublemaker Simon Keller (John Cusack from THE PAPERBOY), a grown man who seems to already know how to drive, takes a lesson from him. After an uncomfortably horrible drive and awkward coffee break in which the stranger admits to being a fan and knowing all about his career, he convinces Peter to drive him to the bank. So he can get some cash to pay for the lesson, he says. But then he comes out holding a brief case and exchanging gunfire with security guards.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Warlock

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

tn_warlockWARLOCK is a fun, simple movie about a warlock (Julian Sands) who, as he’s about to be inquisitioned to death in 1691, does a magic spell that transports him to 20th century Los Angeles. A storm accurately referred to as “The Devil’s Wind” literally blows him through the window into the home of Kassandra (Lori Singer) and her roommate. Naturally they figure he’s a drunk and let him spend the night. Talk about a racial double standard! If it was a black guy who flew through their window they’d be going for guns. And that wouldn’t have helped here but it would’ve been the right idea at least. Next thing you know the warlock is cutting out the roommate’s tongue and devouring his life essence.

Suddenly a dude wearing furs (Richard E. Grant) is in the house too. Kassandra screams, tries to get away, he punches her, she punches back. He’s talking nonsense, wants to know if the warlock bled in the house. She cuts open her vacuum bag to give him the glass shards for the window, then tries to get away. (read the rest of this shit…)

Goodbye to Language 3D

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

tn_goodbyetolanguageI can’t fake it, I don’t know enough about Jean-Luc Godard. I liked BREATHLESS. I kinda hated MADE IN U.S.A., but I have a Richard Stark bias.

I should see more of them, the earlier ones at least. I know his current reputation as a cantankerous anti-Hollywood zealot, so I knew I was on dangerous ground buying tickets to his divisive new one. It won a jury prize at Cannes and more recently was chosen as Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics, but it was obvious from what little I’d read that it was not gonna be for everybody, or even mostbody. What attracted me, and the only thing I really knew about, honestly, was that it’s in 3D, and some have praised it for using 3D in innovative new ways. So as one of the last surviving 3D proponents it seemed like an event worthy of my time.

And it was, but uh… shit. What can you say?
(read the rest of this shit…)

When We Were Kings

Monday, January 19th, 2015

tn_wwwkIf you were going to build the prototype for the ultimate man, wouldn’t it pretty much be 1974 Muhammad Ali? He’s a badass, a fighter with style. I don’t even really like boxing that much but I love to watch him dance around, swinging his fists so fast. Even Bruce Lee liked to watch him.

He’s handsome in a manly way. He’s charming, eloquent, and funny as hell. His humor is mostly based around making preposterous boasts… but it’s not some Danny McBride overconfidence thing, because he usually delivers. In this movie there’s an interview where he goes into detail about high speed photography and how one of his punches was proven to take only four one hundredths of a second, like a blink or a camera flash, and all this is setup for him to claim “Now, the minute I hit Sonny Liston, all of those people blinked at that moment, that’s why they didn’t see the punch.” A tall tale, but based on a true, provable incident.

Of equal importance, Ali has integrity of the Stickin It To The Man variety. He didn’t believe in the war so he refused to sign up for selective service, knowing it would endanger his career, reputation and freedom, and he held his head high the whole time. And he was outspoken about racism too. And he was right. (read the rest of this shit…)

A Huey P. Newton Story

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

tn_hueypnewtonPANTHER reminded me of one of the few Spike Lee movies I hadn’t seen, the 2001 made-for-cable A HUEY P. NEWTON STORY. When it comes to the Spike Lee Jointography there are three categories. There’s the main ones you think about – DO THE RIGHT THING, MALCOLM X, all the way through his recent OLDBOY remake. And sprinkled in between are the documentaries, often made for cable. They’re less widely seen, of course, but really good, movies like FOUR LITTLE GIRLS and WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE. But even rarer than that there’s the performance films. I gotta admit I haven’t gotten to most of these. PASSING STRANGE was one, that’s a Broadway musical. I did see ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY. That was pretty good.

A HUEY P. NEWTON STORY, A SPIKE LEE JOINT is a filmed version of a one-man show that Roger Guenveur Smith did starting in 1996 at the New York theater where Hair started.

I don’t know if you know who Smith is. He’s gotta be best known for playing Smiley in DO THE RIGHT THING, so I’m sure people walk up to him on the street every day and say “M-M-M-Martin. M-M-M-Malcolm.” He’s actually been in several Spike Lee movies, he was on Oz I guess, he was one of the stars of Steven Soderbergh’s improvised lobbyist drama K-Street on HBO. But also he was the bad guy in Seagal’s MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE.

He’s an actor I’ve always liked, but I could understand if you didn’t. He has a very theatrical style. He’s a character actor but he likes to show off. He always carries around a little stick of scenery in his pocket to chew on. MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE is an example of him getting a little loosey goosey with the accents. (read the rest of this shit…)

Panther

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

tn_pantherPANTHER, directed by Mario Van Peebles, written by his dad Melvin Van Peebles based on his own novel, shows the formation and rise and dissolution of the Black Panther Party For Self Defense. That last part of the name is usually left off, which makes sense because it sounds a little awkward. But if they left it on it would make it a little harder to pretend they’re the Kill Whitey Committee.

This is a ’60s period piece made 20 years ago and never even released on DVD in the U.S. as far as I can tell, but it’s timely and provocative because it’s about a community that gets fed up with the shit end of the stick and tries to figure out a better way to deal with it. It opens with a boy riding his bike, taking in the sights of his Oakland neighborhood. He and an older man both watch in delight as a bus blasts by a dressed up lady at a bus stop, blowing her skirt up like Marilyn Monroe. They love that they get to see her garters, and don’t seem to notice that some racist bus driver didn’t stop to pick her up. The innocence of childhood. Nostalgic first person narration is telling us this is where it all started, so it’s a bit of a shock when that kids gets nailed by a car.

He’s not the narrator as a child, it turns out. He’s the dead kid who convinced everybody that they could no longer take “No, you don’t need a stop light at that intersection” for an answer. (read the rest of this shit…)

Selma

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

tn_selmaSELMA is a story about the influential social justice warrior Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not a biopic, but a movie focused on one specific campaign, a march through Alabama to demand a law to protect voting rights. The importance of this legislation is illustrated by an old black woman who, though clearly exhausted from her shift at a nursing home, and intimidated by the experience of her previous attempts, tries to register to vote. The white clerk says she’s “stirring up trouble,” threatens to tell her boss about it, and gives her an impossible local government pop quiz before gleefully rejecting her. That the lady is played by Oprah Winfrey, who more than a few people wish would run for president, adds a little meta-weight.

At one point SELMA was gonna be directed by Oprah’s friend Lee Daniels, whose combination of talent and insane tastelessness could’ve been a problem for this story. But I think he was responsible for the brilliant stroke of casting David Oyelowo (the snobby reporter Yardley in THE PAPERBOY, the militant son in LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER) as King. Daniels was also gonna have Robert De Niro, Hugh Jackman, Cedric the Entertainer, Lenny Kravitz and Liam Neeson in the cast. I imagine Neeson would’ve been the voice on the phone harassing Coretta Scott King (played in the actual movie by Carmen Ejogo, who also played King in BOYCOTT, and other characters in ALEX CROSS and THE PURGE: ANARCHY).

Oyelowo (who had also worked with director Ava DuVernay in MIDDLE OF NOWHERE) somehow fattened his face to create a surprisingly good likeness. I’m told he just gained weight, it’s not makeup, but how the fuck do they do that? It’s not like his body is real fat, how did they know he’d gain the weight there? Do they have physical trainers that can focus your diet and workout that specifically? Do they use computers? (read the rest of this shit…)