Joy Ride

tn_joyrideThat’s funny, back in 2001 Paul Walker seemed like a pretty boy teen star, a jock from VARSITY BLUES, so even though I always kinda liked him (and defended him from the savage hatred of the Ain’t It Cool talkbacks) he was probly the reason I didn’t take JOY RIDE entirely seriously, didn’t give it proper credit as a really solid thriller. I would’ve told you the movie was good, but I would’ve thrown a “ha ha, it’s actually” on front of that. Now I’m not as self conscious, and now Walker is the specific reason I’m giving it a long overdue re-watch. With his last movie coming out on Friday I thought it would be a good time to take a look at a few of his other roles in tribute.

See, he was a pretty boy, and he never did turn into an actor of great range. But here, in the same year he graduated to cop roles in THE FAST AND FURIOUS (which he probly got because Rob Cohen had directed him in THE SKULLS, and which came out about 3 months before this), he could also still play a youth. He turns his air of nice guy innocence toward a leading man role, which in this case is mostly about fear and problem-solving. How do we get the fuck out of here? How do we get this guy to leave us alone? Problems like that.

This is a road movie stalker like DUEL, ROAD GAMES or THE HITCHER, but for the SCREAM floating-head-poster era. Walker plays Lewis, a hopelessly smitten college kid driving cross country to get home during a break. Along the way he will pick up his high school friend/long distance crush Venna (THE WICKER MAN‘s Leelee Sobieski). But then he gets word that his fuckup older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn, A PERFECT GETAWAY) is in jail and nobody else feels sorry enough for him to get him out, so Lewis goes 500 miles out of his way to post bail. Don’t ever do that, the movie will soon teach us. (read the rest of this shit…)

Better Luck Tomorrow

tn_bltaka FAST AND FURIOUS ORIGINS: HAN

BETTER LUCK TOMORROW was not Justin Lin’s rookie film (that would be SHOPPING FOR FANGS, co-directed with Quentin Lee), but it was his buzzed-about Sundance film that got picked up by MTV Films and must’ve got him alot of meetings and what not. Next thing you know he’s directing Jordana Brewster in ANNAPOLIS and then what the hell, give him that third FAST AND THE FURIOUS movie, see what he can do with that, and then FAST 4, 5 and 6 and the world was changed forever and he almost did a TERMINATOR and a BOURNE and he’s actually doing a STAR TREK right now.

That trajectory started with this somewhat controversial teen crime movie. Narrated GOODFELLAS style, it’s the story of Ben Manibag (Parry Shen of the HATCHET trilogy), a Chinese-American student in a California suburb driven to succeed in school and get into a good college, but who also finds the time for decreasingly petty crimes with his friends. He’s employee of the month at the hot dog joint where he works, he practices free throws every day to get on the JV basketball team and vocabulary words to get perfect SAT scores, works as a Spanish translator at a medical clinic, organizes a litter pick-up crew for the local beach and is American history expert for his Academic Decathlon team. But also he pulls a fake return scam at the electronics store, TPs houses and starts selling seat cheats, then drugs, then starts carrying a gun. (read the rest of this shit…)

Strays

tn_straysrookies-indiePITCH BLACK put Vin Diesel on the radar, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS put him above the title. But it was his work as an independent filmmaker that got him into Hollywood in the first place. His short film MULTI-FACIAL (1995) shows what must’ve been his frustrations with auditioning for acting gigs. Like HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE‘s Bobby Taylor his character is an actor who keeps running into a brick wall in auditions, and the bricks are molded from the limited imaginations of casting directors chained to racial stereotypes and cliches.

But the Diesel version is a little different because he’s coming at it specifically from a mixed-race perspective. His character in the movie tries to pitch people’s inability to distinguish his race as an advantage, leaving his options open for playing many different ethnicities. It’s a strong point that doubles as an acting reel and calling card, but sometimes it’s embarrassing. The Al Pacino imitation I can let slide, but the freestyle rap is not cutting it in my opinion. Stick to breakdancing, Vin.

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Clerks

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rookies-indieIn doing this series on debut indie features it seemed like I oughta do CLERKS. I remember it being pretty funny. It was never an important movie to me, but it was for alot of people, and seems like a notable step in the evolution of low budget movies turned pop culture phenomenons, for better or worse.

Most of the directors I’m doing in this series went on to become important or great. Here’s the rare indie smash where the director didn’t fizzle out or get much better. I’ve sort of stood up for some of the recent widely panned Kevin Smith films (like TUSK and even COP OUT), but there is no part of me that believes he’ll ever have anything near a DO THE RIGHT THING or an OUT OF SIGHT or even a SCHOOL OF ROCK under his belt. He does not strike me as a born filmatist at all, as he’d probly be the first, second and third to tell you on six different podcasts.

But back in 1994 – the same great film year that gave us PULP FICTION, HOOP DREAMS and ON DEADLY GROUND – he did have a head on collision with the ol’ zeitgeist. He said he was inspired by SLACKER (the zine-like credits also namecheck Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley and Spike Lee). CLERKS has a similar day-in-the-life, people-just-talking approach, but it’s much more scripted than Linklater’s, and it’s kind of the other side of the coin. It’s not the people who have the luxury of fucking around all day with no responsibilities. This is the people who do it while chained to meaningless, low-paying jobs.
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Slacker

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*first released feature

*first released feature  *first 35mm feature

SLACKER is a landmark independent film of the ’90s, and I thought it was Richard Linklater’s first feature until I rented the blu-ray and saw that one of the extras was a feature length Super-8 movie he did in 1988 called IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO LEARN TO PLOW BY READING BOOKS. But I turned it off before the first shot ended and I don’t think it ever got released before so it doesn’t count in my opinion.

When SLACKER came out at the beginning of the ’90s it was unlike anything I’d seen before. You know how people who don’t know much about movies will say that a movie where they didn’t like the plot “has no plot”? This one actually for real has no plot, it’s just a camera floating through Austin watching people talk. Then somebody will leave the conversation or someone else will walk by and the camera will go with them and watch something else.

Some of the conversations are very one-sided. The two conspiracy nuts (one JFK specific, one all over the map from early moon landing to mind control) seem particularly Aspergersy. It’s funny to watch two guys walking along a sidewalk or riding in a cab for several minutes and one of them is doing a monologue and the other one never says a damn word. They’re all stone-faced non-actors so they don’t always convey whether they’re being very open-minded and actually listening, or if they’re just politely waiting for it to stop. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

tn_sexliesrookies-indieSEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE is a very divisive movie among copy editors who argue bitterly about its use of the Oxford comma in the title. The rest of us agree it’s a solid debut for writer-director Steve Soderbergh.

It’s a story with basically four characters. We’ve got Ann (GROUNDHOG DAY‘s Andie MacDowell), a somewhat troubled stay-at-home wife who opens the movie talking to her therapist (okay, I didn’t count him in the four) about her worries, about her husband not touching her, and about her belief that sex is overrated, not that big a deal.

Then we’ve got her husband John (STEP UP REVOLUTION‘s Peter Gallagher), a pure ’80s character because he’s a lawyer who wears suspenders and “just made junior partner” and he’s real proud of himself and a total douche.

And we’ve got Ann’s younger sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), who is much wilder than Ann and sort of rebels against her and also is fucking John.

Lastly we have Graham (CRASH‘s James Spader), an old friend of John’s who he hasn’t seen in nine years but he’s back in town and John is letting him stay at the house briefly while he tries to find an apartment. Graham is the individualistic non-conformist cowboy drifter loner artistic beatnik rebel who sweeps through their square lives and changes everything forever. And he does it merely by being a pervert who can’t get a hard-on and owns a Hi-8 camera. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hollywood Shuffle

tn_hollywoodshufflerookies-indieHOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE is the definition of a D.I.Y. movie. Comedian Robert Townsend got tired of fighting for the shitty roles that Hollywood had available to him as a black man, so he ran up his credit cards to produce and direct his own movie, casting himself as Bobby Taylor, an actor not quite yet tired of fighting for the shitty roles that Hollywood has available to him as a black man. But it’s also a sketch movie in kind of the way UHF was later. The main story tangents into parody TV shows and fantasy sequences and stuff where he gets to play different roles.

Bobby is auditioning for what seems at first like a bit part as a mugger or something, but I guess it’s supposed to be the title role in a movie called JIVE TIME JIMMY’S REVENGE. He earnestly practices his improperly ebonic dialogue with his little brother Stevie (Craigus R. Johnson), doing some kind of cartoonish pimp voice and strut that only get worse in front of the white casting directors, cast and filmmakers.

He just goes along with the bullshit like people in the real world do. He treats the #1 sitcom star – who wears a funny bat-shaped hat and mugs up a storm while being swatted at by white people – as a V.I.P. Even in a daydream about being personally boycotted by the NAACP for playing Jive Time Jimmy he’s asked if he makes “those faces” (minstrel show type mugging) in bed, and he answers innocently, “Uh, sometimes.” It works as satire because he doesn’t know any better.  (read the rest of this shit…)

Tony Jaa Tony Jaa Tony Jaa

You guys remember when Tony Jaa couldn’t even finish ONG BAK 2, and then he disappeared into the jungle for a while, and then later he quit the film industry and became a monk? Well, he changed his mind. We got him in a small role in FURIOUS 7 next week, and then we got the sequel to SPL (or KILL ZONE as the Weinsteins call it) to look forward to:

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She’s Gotta Have It

tn_shesgottahaveitrookies-indie“A nice lady doesn’t go humping from bed to bed.”

I think the last time I saw SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT might’ve been in a theater in 1989. I remember when DO THE RIGHT THING came out one of the theaters here did a double feature of this and SCHOOL DAZE. So I was just learning who Spike Lee was and what he was all about.

All this time later it’s kinda crazy to go back to his DIY jointational debut. It’s the work of a young man trying to prove himself, show his style and stretch his budget while also saying something about relationships between men and women. As much as you can anyway when you’re 28 years old.

It’s in black and white. He plays one of the main characters. His sister Joie is in it (which is her doing him a favor, because she gives the most natural performance in the movie). His dad Bill did the score. It’s not about race, and I don’t think there are even any white people in it. And though you could say it started the black film movement that ended up being mostly about gangs and crime (BOYZ N THE HOOD, MENACE II SOCIETY, STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN) it has no guns or fights in it. (The end credits also boast that there were no drugs or jheri curls in the movie.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Mercenaries

tn_mercenariesThere are innumerable dreams to which humanity aspires: feeding the hungry, building racial harmony, inventing comfortable shoes that also look cool, ending war, etc. Of these goals, the one we’ve come closest to achieving is “a female EXPENDABLES.” But it takes small steps to make big ones.

This was a concept that guys like us were already discussing and backseat casting before the movie news told us it was really in the works. In fact there are two such movies still in development. There’s the one from the producers of the male EXPENDABLES. It was announced before Rowdy Ronda Rousey was in part 3, so I don’t know if they plan to spin off from her character or not. From the sound of it it might not be worthy of a woman that tough. They’re calling it “EXPENDABELLES” and it’s from the director and the writers of LEGALLY BLOND. It was reported that they were trying to get Naomi Watts, Kate Beckinsale, Marcia Gay Harden, Li Bingbing and Mila Kunis. Sigourney Weaver turned it down. I’m gonna go ahead and write this one off.

The other one is from Adi Shankar, the face-paint wearing producer of DREDD and those “bootleg universe” shorts like Joseph Kahn’s POWER/RANGERS. This one reportedly stars Gina Carano (HAYWIRE, FURIOUS 6), Katee Sackhoff (RIDDICK) and maybe Sharni Vinson (YOU’RE NEXT, STEP UP 3), which is a promising start.

But leave it to Asylum, the studio that brought us SHARKNADO and I AM OMEGA, to have theirs already done and released before the other two even settle their casting. Admittedly this DTV female mercenary squad is light on marquee names, but it’s a good team. They have Zoë Bell (DEATH PROOF, THE BAYTOWN OUTLAWS, GAME OF DEATH), Kristanna Loken (TERMINATOR 3, S.W.A.T.: FIREFIGHT), Vivica A. Fox (KILL BILL, THE HARD CORPS, BLAST, SET IT OFF), and, uh, Nicole Bilderback (CLUELESS, BRING IT ON). (read the rest of this shit…)