Judgment Night

tn_judgmentnightI’m interested in this idea of The Place White People Can’t Go. According to pop culture and middle class conventional wisdom there are large swaths of every major city that are like the wild west or a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The second a woman steps off the wrong subway or a man’s car breaks down on the wrong block, homeless men in ragged coats turn their heads from the flaming oil barrels where they warm their hands, and seedy criminals step out of the shadows of the garbage-strewn, rat-infested alleys to attempt a gang rape or mugging before this shaky-handed outsider gets a chance to unfold his or her map.

Admittedly many of these swarmers are white too, so maybe it’s really The Place Suburbanites Can’t Go. But it seems like a specifically white paranoia, perpetrated on white movie characters. It’s perpetuated in movies I like, such as the DEATH WISH series, as well as many an ’80s comedy. More recently it made an appearance in TRAINING DAY when walking through the barrio nearly got Ethan Hawke’s “shit pushed in.”

This is not entirely made up. Of course there are high crime areas (in Seattle it’s called “my bus stop”) and desperate, troubled people everywhere, and we’ve all heard stories, some of which are true. But I really think the whole thing is blown out of proportion in a way that appeals to our worst instincts and makes problems worse. In most cases I believe a white man can go anywhere and get a funny look at worst. If you mind your own business most people will leave you alone. Going into “a bad neighborhood” is not really like being a piece of meat in a tiger pit. You’ll probly be okay. (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman Forever

tn_batmanforever

RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: June 16

“Those who cannot remember [BATMAN FOREVER] are condemned to repeat it.” –George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905

You guys wanna see a hit summer blockbuster that was well received at the time, but has since been disavowed like a discredited ideology? The summer of 1995 gives you BATMAN FOREVER.

Just six years earlier Tim Burton had smashed open the zeitgeist with BATMAN, which had been used as somewhat of a reference point for would-be blockbusters since, clearly influencing at least the scoring and marketing of DICK TRACY, DARKMAN, THE ROCKETEER and THE SHADOW, for example. But Burton’s second one, BATMAN RETURNS (1992) was weirder, more personal, and therefore less enthusiastically received by the public. That made the studio weary about plans for a Burton-directed part 3, and they parted ways. Burton is credited as an executive producer on FOREVER, but apparently his only role was to give the new director his blessing and meet with screenwriters Lee & Janet Scott Batchler once to discuss the importance of duality in Batman characters.

Joel Schumacher was a weird but not controversial choice for a replacement. People remembered THE LOST BOYS, FALLING DOWN and maybe FLATLINERS as good movies. And he did THE CLIENT – you know, those John Grisham court room thrillers were a big deal in the ’90s, for some reason. I wonder what happened to that whole genre. Anyway, a 1993 Entertainment Weekly article said “Hiring Schumacher to direct the summer-of-’95 release is seen by insiders as an attempt by Warner Bros. to get the Batman movies back on track” because “Warner doesn’t want a repeat of the macabre 1992 sequel, BATMAN RETURNS, which frightened small children and angered many parents.” It goes on to quote an anonymous “source close to the project” as saying they didn’t want Burton to direct because “he’s too dark and odd for them.”

Yeah, because Schumacher made a real normal movie. No oddness to see here. Just a couple of bros in shiny plastic muscles driving a car up the side of a building. Don’t worry about it, fellas. (read the rest of this shit…)

Jurassic World

tn_jurassicworldLet’s face it, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD means this is an all time great movie summer. Whatever else comes out, who gives a shit. Irrelevant. It could be nothing but THE COBBLER coming out every week until September and it would still be one for the record books. Therefore it seems weird to be praising a more normal, not world-shattering part 4 movie in this same summer, but I’m an honest man so I have to do it. JURASSIC WORLD is a solid, fun sequel and although I’m not sure I liked it quite as much as I liked LOST WORLD when I first saw that, I think this is the best of the sequels.

But Vern, you’re saying, THE LOST WORLD sucks. Hold onto your buts. I admit that my tastes in Jurassic Parks are different from most people around here. So I’m sure you will disagree with me that this is clearly, by far, for sure without even a remote question the best of the non-Spielberg-directed JP joints on every possible level forever and always amen may the force be with you and I hope they burn in hay-ell.

It’s odd that they waited 22 years to do this premise. In retrospect it seems like parts 2 and 3 were treading water trying to figure out what the hell to do in the wreckage of the actual Jurassic Park, the aftermath of the failed pre-opening in part 1. This time it’s a natural extension of that first concept. What would it be like if they actually got their shit together and opened the park, and made it work for a while and become a popular vacation destination before nature finds a way to fuck it up? Isn’t it time we actually saw Ian Malcolm’s prediction of the Pirates of the Caribbean eating the tourists? (read the rest of this shit…)

Deliver Us From Evil

"You! Guy possessed by a demon! You're comin with me, pal!"
“You! Guy possessed by a demon! You’re comin with me, pal!”

DELIVER US FROM EVIL takes place in a horror movie Bronx. It’s all gloomy cinematography of wet streets at night, filthy, decrepit apartments, an ancient Latin invocation carved into walls or flesh. A malevolent demon monster or whatever is spookifying the place, so wherever our hero goes the power cuts out or the light bulbs burn out or they flicker like a strobelight (sometimes for an entire knife fight scene).

Also I think the filmatists are trying to play off of our primal fear of animals, so the Iraq War prologue features tarantulas, a snake and a bat. Another early scene involves a zoo with the animals loose (and lights out, of course) and the heroes get chased by a bunch of lions. Later a major piece of evidence is a security camera tape of a dude talking to a lion. And you got your usual cat scares like in all movies and also a crucified kitten and if you saw the trailer you’ll remember the scene of the hero’s daughter in bed at night getting spooked by her weird hooting owl doll. Sadly that James-Wan-esque scene climaxes with a jack-in-the-box with blood on its face. The ol’ evil clown standby. Boo.

still_deliverusfromevil
“At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi.”

Patrolling this world we have macho NYPD Sergeant Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana). He was raised Catholic, sure, but doesn’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo, etc. He’s renowned by his colleagues for catching a child killer with the first draft name “Marvin the Molester” and punching his face to death. He works too much his wife is pregnant she never sees him when he is home it’s like he’s not even there she never knows if she’s gonna get that call in the middle of the night he missed his daughter’s birthday she cried herself to sleep, all that. But somehow every case he gets connects to this weird supernatural thing with a mysterious guy who walks around acting scary with his Darth Maul hoodie up at all times even though he’s never in the numerous scenes where it’s pouring rain.

Sarchie also has a wiseass partner with seven deadly sins themed tattoos who carries two big knives that he uses to fight suspects instead of guns which in my opinion is not regulation. He’s played by Joel McHale from Community and the local Seattle sketch show that Bill Nye the Science Guy started on, Almost Live!. I know from an interview with director/co-writer Scott Derrickson that McHale has been his best friend for years and supposedly this character is more like the real him than anything he’s ever played. Apparently he really is obsessed with knives and maybe even wears a backwards baseball hat and sleeveless shirts all the time. Still, I had a hard time accepting the funny asshole guy from TV as this David Ayer type character, even when he tried to do an accent.

But he does wear an Alice in Chains t-shirt out of hometown pride so that’s good I think. (read the rest of this shit…)

Forty Guns

tn_fortygunsIn the great opening scene of Sam Fuller’s FORTY GUNS, three brothers are coming down the trail on a wagon and collide head on with a menacing army of gunmen on horses, marching two by two in a long column, all following a woman on a white stallion (a “High ridin’ woman with a whip,” according to a song we hear later). They have no choice but to stop and just sit there watching, somewhat amused as their horses freak out. The camera follows the woman and her army and the title comes onscreen. Those must be the forty guns.

One of those brothers on the wagon is Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan), “a legal killer for hire” working for the Attorney General’s office. The other two brothers are his second gun Wes (Gene Barry, WAR OF THE WORLDS), and their little brother Chico (Robert Dix), who wants to help too but Griff won’t let him. I’m not sure why he brought him. Was he supposed to be babysitting? (read the rest of this shit…)

Congo

tn_congo

RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: June 9

Here’s a funny thing that was different back in 1995: Bruce Campbell was so worshipped as a cult star that the idea of him being in a blockbuster movie was thrilling to people. He had done the EVIL DEAD trilogy and the MANIAC COP pictures and did a couple seasons of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. but that didn’t really catch on in the mainstream. And he seemed like their secret but somehow they wanted everybody to know. He made it to the semi-big-ish time with little cameos in DARKMAN and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, but people still wanted him to star in some big movie and be the next, I don’t know, Kurt Russell or somebody.

And then he was in the trailer for this new Michael Crichton movie CONGO. Had the misguided dreams of horror nerds come true at last? Would they be able to finally share their hero not just with the Johnny-come-latelies who saw ARMY OF DARKNESS before the other ones, but with the whole world?

Well, the fact that the camera zoomed in on his screaming face during the trailer seemed to indicate that he wasn’t gonna make it to the end. Still, word of disappointment spread fast when people saw the movie and discovered that he bites it in the opening scene. The whole movie is about a rescue mission to come find him, even though we got a pretty idea they’re gonna be rescuing a dead body. (They do manage to find John Hawkes still alive, but catatonic, and then he freaks out and dies.) Anyway, I mention this movie to people 20 years later, that’s still the first thing that comes up. The wound has not healed. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

tn_lostworldMan, this review has been in development almost as long as JURASSIC WORLD. After I typed this up I found an old version I wrote in a notebook a couple years ago, when I had mentioned liking THE LOST WORLD and readers wanted me to defend my position. I went in and stole a few phrases out of it, like I found them encased in amber.

I always thought THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK was a solid part 2 to a very enjoyable part 1. Maybe it helps that I didn’t consider the first one to be such a classic at the time. I loved it as a fun execution of a cool gimmick, but I was comparing it to JAWS and that’s a way to make it seem kinda dumb. Over the years, as it’s continued to hold up and be better than many similar movies that have come after, I respect it more. Even still, I enjoy watching part 2 and I think it’s miles better than Part three-claw-scratches. Much of the world disagrees with me, though, so here is my brilliant Perry Mason style defense. Or something.

This is the only non-INDIANA-JONES sequel that Mr. Spielberg has directed, and it opens with pure Spielberg filmatism. Ominously crashing waves intimidate the frame as a rich British couple, their young daughter (holy shit, I never realized that was 10,000 BC‘s Camilla Belle, in her movie before Seagal’s THE PATRIOT) and a pack of yacht crewmen stop for an impromptu picnic on the shore of an unsettled island. It must be nice to be rich, be able to do anything you want. But next time don’t do it on the island that Jurassic Park used to breed their dinosaurs. When Mom worries about the girl running off to play, an obvious concern would be the violent tides, but of course the real threat comes from within the island. She meets a tiny, quick-moving lizard. “What are you, a bird or something?” It’s a cute little thing, and she feeds it a piece of meat from her sandwich. But then all the sudden there are more of them, and they want some too. And next thing you know there’s a swarm, and they’re jumping onto her like piranhas on a cow, and she’s screaming…

Later in the movie Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm makes fun of the new characters being in awe of the dinosaurs. “Oh, yeah. Ooh, ahh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and, um, screaming.” But this scene zooms in on Mom’s face as she screams in terror… which dissolves into Malcolm on the subway yawning. I guess Sam Neill and Laura Dern probly turned the movie down, but it was a smart idea to turn the cynical wisecracker and chief-worrier into the lead. He wears a cool guy leather jacket, gets recognized on the subway, gets to tell off the new InGen head for covering up what happened, and Jurassic Park founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) when he tells him that dinosaurs have survived on one of the islands and become their own eco-system. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tomorrowland

tn_tomorrowlandWalt Disney himself is never seen or mentioned in TOMORROWLAND, but it’s a fantasy adventure based on his belief in the future as a place of infinite promise and wonder and shit. It’s a story about kids finding a secret hidden city founded by great visionaries of the past (Edison, Verne [not me, the other one], Tesla, the guy that invented the Etch-a-sketch I think) as a hope for a better world. It’s all glorious curvy buildings, flying monorails, friendly robots and floating swimming pools.

One kid named Frank (Thomas Robinson as the kid version of George Clooney) goes there to try out his home-made jetpack. Another named Casey (Britt Robertson, SCREAM 4) is intrigued by their space program. The crew she sees going on a spaceship are young enough to be dropped off by their parents. At least half of them are women and I think only one white kid. The movie’s dedication to diversity and internationalism seems very of-the-moment, but it also relates to one of Tomorrowland’s secret entrances: inside the original 1964 World’s Fair version of It’s a Small World. Wait a minute, It’s a Small World is in Fantasyland, not Tomorrowland. Get your fuckin geography straight, Hollywood. (read the rest of this shit…)

Waist Deep

tn_waistdeepBefore Tyrese found a comfortable place as a supporting player in the FAST AND FURIOUS and TRANSFORMERSES pictures he was just another model and R&B singer trying to prove himself as an actor. I remember liking him in John Singleton’s BABY BOY, which at least at the time (2001) I thought was an underrated companion piece to BOYZ N THE HOOD. In 2003 Singleton had him as the Vin Diesel replacement in 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, in 2007 he did TRANSFORMERS, and so far he’s done a total of five sequels to those two movies.

So WAIST DEEP (2006) is kind of an anomaly in the middle there because it’s pretty much the only straight up Tyrese vehicle, with elements of 2 FAST but a seriousness level leaning a little more toward BABY BOY. Like in both movies he plays a struggling Los Angeles native, like in 2 FAST he’s an ex-con and he’s trying to make a new life. His name is Otis or O2, he’s a single father out on parole and his car gets jacked with his son (H. Hunter Hall, BLACK NATIVITY) in the back seat. You’d think the thieves would want to dump the kid off immediately, but instead they bring him to Big Meat (The Game), psychotic kingpin of “the notorious gang The Outlaw Syndicate” who incorrectly believes O2 still has the money from the robbery he went down for, and demands it as ransom. Or at least that’s what his shitty brother Lucky (Larenz Tate, CRASH) claims, but it kinda seemed like he might’ve been using the situation to pay off his own debts. I’m not sure. (read the rest of this shit…)

Die Hard With a Vengeance

tn_dhwav

RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: May 19

“But I thought this was a currency exchange!”

In kicking off my summer of 1995 retrospective I made the grave error of skipping a May 19th release that very likely is the movie of that summer, one that is widely loved (especially around here) but sometimes forgotten in the lists of great films of the ’90s. Of course I don’t have to remind you guys about DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, you know about it. But I neglected to remember that my reviews of the original DIE HARD trilogy were written 15 years ago when I was taking the first steps on my journey to cinematic enlightenment. In other words I was kind of a dummy. So I owe it to myself and to society to try again.

The main thing that makes WITH A VENGEANCE stand out from the other DIE HARD sequels is the strong filmatism of director John McTiernan at his peak. The opening two minutes is a perfect sample, like when the one guy in the coke deal lets the other guy dip his finger in and taste the product. We see the Brooklyn Bridge on a summer day. Then the words “DIE HARD” whoosh onto the screen. This is DIE HARD but it’s a new location, new time of year, new time of day. Then the words fly away and are replaced by a much larger” WITH A VENGEANCE,” slamming across the screen, then shooting right at us. This is a sequel that’s aware of the power of it’s title, so it’s unashamed to smash it into our eyes with a sound effect, to cockily fill the whole screen with it.

Then we get a beautiful montage of New York City set to “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful. The sun glimmering on reflective buildings. Sidewalks filled with people walking to work. Cars and buses and delivery trucks. These look like real commuters. Documentary footage. An accurate representation of regular people starting their day. A nice day, too. But abruptly, mid-lyric, a department store explodes, sending clouds of dust and wreckage into the street, flipping over cars and trucks parked in front. (read the rest of this shit…)