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

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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…)

Johnny Mnemonic

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RELEASE DATE: May 26
RELEASE DATE: May 26

When we talk about JOHNNY MNEMONIC now it’s usually with a smirk. Rapid advances in the technology that it speculated about have made some of its vision of 2021 goofily dated. Star Keanu Reeves (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) was still solidifying as an action star and brought a funny surfer dude lilt to his slick underworld messenger character Johnny. And even at the time it was considered a failed moviefication of William Gibson’s “cyberpunk” style of sci-fi, which had a strong reputation as a cool, edgy type of literature as opposed to the old timey painted cover fantasies of previous eras. But they turned it into what was seen as some cheesy Hollywood bullshit.

Since the mid ’80s, tales have been told of the brave souls trying to adapt Gibson’s debut novel Neuromancer into a major motion picture (directors attached have included Chuck Russell, Chris Cunningham, Joseph Kahn and Vincenzo Natali). But this short story adaptation, directed by installation artist/occasional music video director Robert Longo and written by Gibson himself, beat it to the screen by 20 years and counting. They just had to replace the mirror-eyed “razor girl” character Molly Millions in the story with the regular-eyed Jane, because Molly was tied up with the rights for Neuromancer, since she’s in that too.

Gibson and Longo originally set out to make a $1.5 million black and white sci-fi noir, but couldn’t get the funding, so they agreed to a $20 million version with TriStar Pictures, whose other productions that year were THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, HIDEAWAY, 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP, JURY DUTY, MAGIC IN THE WATER, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, NEVER TALK TO STRANGERS and JUMANJI. As artistic types and Hollywood rookies they may have been out of their depth trying to make a summer blockbuster with the star of SPEED, and Longo didn’t get his cut anyway. It turned out undeniably messy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Casper

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RELEASE DATE: May 26
RELEASE DATE: May 26

I got a feeling a couple of you probly grew up liking 1995’s CASPER, the big Universal movie adaptation of the famous friendly ghost of comics and cartoons, and you’re gonna tell me it’s pretty good. But if so I will disagree. In my opinion it’s not cuttin it.

Why would I expect otherwise? Well, #1, as a positive individual I believe in the possibility of great art coming from anywhere. #2, as a striver for excellence I expect all artists to take a shot at said greatness. #3, This was produced by Steve Spielberg, with what at the time were groundbreaking effects by Industrial Light and/or Magic. Remember, this was only two years into the modern age of digital effects started by JURASSIC PARK. Computer generated imageries were still novel and scarce. This was the first movie to have an all c.g. main character. Of course, he’s deliberately cartoony, and transparent to boot, so it wasn’t gonna blow people away with its realism. But this was about half a year before TOY STORY came out, so I’m pretty sure it was the most computer animation that had been seen in one movie up to that point. So it was new.

An older generation than you CASPERheads now talks with deep nostalgia about “Amblin movies” as this beautiful type of family-friendly movies from the ’80s. They’re specifically talking about E.T., GREMLINS, GOONIES and BACK TO THE FUTURE, I believe. And then you can pad it out with HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS and *batteries not included I guess. I doubt they mean the serious Amblin productions like THE COLOR PURPLE, CAPE FEAR, SCHINDLER’S LIST or THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (read the rest of this shit…)

Braveheart

1995
RELEASE DATE: May 24

tn_braveheartBRAVEHEART is an important motion picture. It won 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, it transformed Mel Gibson from the star of the MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON movies to a respected director, and it became a point of pride for people of Scottish descent all around the world, or at least in the U.S., I don’t know. So I figured there was only one way to properly celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film’s release: get around to watching it for the first time. See what the deal is.

Mel Gibson (the star of the MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON movies) plays William Wallace, a rugged young goofball and champion rock thrower returning to his village after years of absence after the war deaths of his father and brother. He gets home just in time to witness the English declaring prima nocta, best known as that thing that Tony Stark jokes about in THE AVENGERS 2, but it means the royalty are allowed to rape your wife. Even back then it was not considered cool at all.

But William goes about life as normal and he falls in love with a gal named Murron (Catherine McCormack, THE WEIGHT OF WATER, 28 WEEKS LATER) and he marries her in secret (Anakin style) so as not to attract wife-raping royal scum. But some asshole comes and kills his wife so he gets revenge and then becomes a revolutionary and leads a ragtag army of guerrillas and kills like seven thousand people and spends most of the movie covered in war paint and/or blood. But he’s still pretty charming for the most part and has a good sense of humor including mooning, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

Righteous Fury: In Praise of Peaceful Notions In Violent Movies

tn_furyroadbVTILIIlogoa Vern Tells It Like It Is Adventure

WARNING: This essay is made up entirely of spoilers

Of the long list of things that are great about MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, one item that’s been getting alot of attention is its strong pro-woman vibe. People love its large cast of badass female characters and themes of escaping sex slavery, overthrowing a tyrannical patriarchy, etc. Surprised to see a movie with so much asskicking but also so many great female characters and themes, many have called it a “feminist action film.”

FURY ROAD is about as close to universally beloved as new movies come, but the stronger the praise the sweeter the temptation to backlash. A week in and we’ve already reached the “you guys said this movie is the ultimate feminist manifesto that will uplift women and change the world forever but I saw it and it’s some movie about cars and trucks driving around in the desert and exploding” stage. And of course there’s room in the world for anti-FURY ROAD sentiments, no need to shut down naysayers. But I’ve been looking for an excuse to write more about this movie, so thanks, I’ll take it!

The most annoyingly contrarian review I’ve seen passed around is “Actually, Mad Max: Fury Road Isn’t That Feminist; And It Isn’t That Good, Either” by Eileen Jones, a college professor and author of a book called Filmsuck, about how films suck. Some of her reasons why it’s not that feminist: the Wives are played by models, Charlize Theron has a “soft, tiny-nosed, blonde prettiness,” the consultant Eve Ensler couldn’t possibly know what it’s like to be Bosnian or Afghani. I was confused by her complaints of the “gorgeous color, red rock and rich umber sand against heartening blue sky,” which she feels is an example of “the scourge of color grading that’s afflicting so many action films.” I’m gonna have to get some action movie recommendations from her I guess because I haven’t seen enough of these Technicolor ones she’s so tired of. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mission: Impossible

tn_m-iI don’t know about you guys, but I have found that it’s weird watching Brian DePalma’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE for the first time since the 1990s. Tom Cruise sure doesn’t look 52 now, but he does look a little younger here than he does now. I kinda forgot he used to be like this. More fidgety and cocky, kinda smarmy, playing it really different from in the other movies, because he’s newer. His Ethan Hunt is not the leader, he’s the apprentice of the original TV series hero Jim Phelps (now played by John Voight), forced to strike out on his own, without his mentor or his team, for the first time. Yeah, he seems much younger.

Holy shit, this movie is 19 years old. That’s almost 20 years old. Which is alot of years in my opinion. And alot has changed. I forgot how different this series got over time.

I think MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is unique among the summer blockbusters. It has a bunch of the usual qualities: it’s a big movie star vehicle, based on an existing “property,” climaxes in a noisy special effects-laden action spectacle, did end up becoming a franchise that’s still going today. At the same time it is a Brian DePalma movie, it doesn’t feel like he had to compromise anything. He got to take his style and his interests and experiment with them on a little larger canvas than usual. His gimmicky suspense sequences, twists and tricks are right at home with characters who elaborately deceive for a living. His POV shots put you right into the action when you enter a party as Hunt in disguise, but also they show up in the form of cameras actually worn by the agents to keep tabs on each other and, in one case, to mislead each other. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mad Max: Fury Road

tn_furyroadSPOILER WARNING. I mean, I can’t stop you from reading this, but I’m not being careful about spoilers because for crying out loud see this movie IMMEDIATELY. Quit your job if necessary.

Usually if you’re still watching a movie for the first time, it’s kinda premature to start thinking “this is a masterpiece.” Not so with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. It’s part 4 in an old series, but it truly feels like an entirely new type of movie. It is thrilling, explosive, inventive action at its most pure and relentless, yet it manages to weave a moving and powerful story around and within and through the hundreds of spectacular stunts. As he has in each successive MAD MAX movie, director George Miller re-invents his post-poxyclipstic world with even more ornate detail and flair than before, unfolding a fantasy world as teeming with weird characters and happenings as the whole HOBBIT trilogy without ever dumping a bunch of exposition on us. He explains what we need to know economically, mostly visually, and leaves the rest for us to daydream about.

This is a movie that will transform people’s brains. It just might be the most elaborate action movie ever made, both in the complexity of the stunt sequences and in the meticulous design of the people and things in it. Now the cars aren’t just cool and beat up, they’re built from unlikely combinations of multiple vehicles piled on top of each other, covered in spikes, flame throwers, animal skulls and creepy doll heads, with weapons hidden inside and out and half naked goons climbing all over them firing guns and throwing spears and bombs. Steering wheels are removable, heavily decorated and carry some sort of religious significance. One character pulls his off and holds it aloft during a chase to show that he’s ready to die. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Road Warrior (accidental second review)

Note: Like most people of the planet Earth, I re-watched the whole MAD MAX trilogy during this last week of a decade of waiting for FURY ROAD. And I knew I’d never done a write-up of MAD MAX before, so I did one. I followed that up by writing about ROAD WARRIOR. And then I realized that I already wrote a review of it 8 years ago. And sometimes that’s fine because I think my old review is sucky and I can do better now, but actually I kinda like that review, I made some good points, and I called Wez’s bitch his “desert life partner,” which was pretty good.

But let’s be honest, we’re not gonna think about a god damn thing besides Mad Max between now and 7 pm tonight and whenever we see the new one, so what the hell. Here is my alternate dimension review of THE ROAD WARRIOR where I still love it in the same way but say it in different words.

* * *

tn_roadwarriorYeah, I always liked MAD MAX, but THE ROAD WARRIOR (or MAD MAX 2 as most of the world calls it) is more my speed. Get it? Speed. ‘Cause that’s one of the things George Miller knows how to capture on screen. Even the mythically narrated opening montage establishing Max (née Rockatansky) as a legendary hero seems to be moving fast, then the screen opens up wide, we pull out of the blower on Max’s car and the movie just launches us down the highway. The insane car stunts of the first one are multiplied, now we have even more cars flyiing through the air, rolling, flipping, smashing through each other, dragging broken pieces (or people) behind them, scraping across the pavement, spraying sparks, shooting pieces of rusty debris in all directions.

Wherever Max was before, where there were bars and homes and children and stuff, he ditched that fuckin place and now he scours “the wasteland” with all the other thirsty leather-clad psychos. And I kinda doubt the Halls of Justice are still standing anyway, it seems like shit has gotten worse in general, and we know from the montage that some forgotten factions of humans went to war and dropped the bomb on each other (in old black and white stock footage). Whatever the current socio-political situation is, we know that guys like Max travel the desert roads looking for crashed cars, or causing crashed cars, and trying to steal any leaking or unused gas, or “juice.” It’s a snake eating its tail, really. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mad Max

tn_madmaxMAD MAX is a unique specimen even compared to the other MAD MAX movies. Every time I revisit it if it’s been several years I think Oh yeah, I forgot it was like this. Max Rockatansky – who has a last name, you notice – is not a nameless drifter or a mythical hero yet, he’s maybe a supercop at best. At worst he’s just a dude. He can laugh and go on picnics and has a wife and kid. He does wear a cool leather jacket and sunglasses, but this seems to be the police uniform in this near future. The other patrolmen wear it too, they just don’t look as good in it.

It is not post-apocalyptic (or post-poxy-clipsic?). I guess we could say it’s antebellum. The sign is crooked at the Halls of Justice and the highways are dominated by giggling, sweaty, gibberish-ranting lunatics like The Nightrider (Vince Gil, the Australian actor, not the American country singer) and The Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne, also in FURY ROAD). They’re like DEATH WISH creeps on wheels, hateful, punkish bullies who live to scare and violate random innocents on or along the roads.

The other police can’t keep up with the cop-killing Nightrider. It’s Max, sitting patiently on the side of the road ahead, who comes in for the close. Since the Rider and his girlfriend end up in a fatal, explosive crash, the Toecutter blames Max and comes after him for revenge. So, if you thought Nightrider was a real charmer and wondered who else he was close with, Toecutter is the answer. (read the rest of this shit…)