Tusk

tn_tuskI don’t know how it happened but somehow I became the guy that’s more lenient on Kevin Smith movies than everybody else. Back in his hey day when he was a Miramax family member, an indie movement poster boy, a voice of a generation, a director of a movie in the Criterion Collection, a critical darling praised for his dialogue, I used to think he sucked. Here’s an overly harsh one I wrote back when people still seemed to like him (I advised readers not to make eye contact with people who recommend it to them). So I’m as confused as anybody that now that he’s widely hated and semi-retired I keep having an  “actually it’s not that bad” reaction to his “flicks,” as he calls them. COP OUT at least had a couple laughs, and his first horror movie, RED STATE, I actually thought was kinda good and now, I’ll be damned, I kinda liked TUSK too. What the hell?

TUSK is less consistent than RED STATE but a little more inspired in its absurdity. It continues the technique of coasting on an excellent performance by Michael Parks as a sadistic weirdo. This time he plays a retired Canadian proud of his life of rugged adventure and deranged, it turns out, by a long period of being stranded after a shipwreck. What’s that mean, that he had to go cannibal to survive, something like that? No, not quite. It means he got messed up by being isolated with only a walrus as his friend. He called him Mr. Tusk, according to his JAWS style monologue about the incident. And now he’s undergoing unusual measures to get that relationship back. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ahlaam

tn_ahlaamI’ve spent a good portion of the last two weeks thinking, reading, writing and debating about Clint Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER. It’s an interesting movie that has spurred alot of debate from different points-of-view. But the important perspective that isn’t in the movie or in the conversation as far as I’ve been able to see is that of the Iraqi people. Clint followed his WWII movie FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS with the way better companion piece LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, from the perspective of doomed Japanese soldiers. I wish he could do that for the Iraq War too.

It’s too bad, I thought, that there’s not much of a film industry in Iraq, because that would be a great way for us to see the war and its effects through their eyes. Well, it turns out that a couple such movies do exist. One of them is AHLAAM (2004), based on a true story about the people in a psychiatric hospital in Baghdad during the 2003 “shock and awe” bombing a few days before the fall of Saddam Hussein.
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Blackhat

tn_blackhatI didn’t think it would happen in this generation, but they’ve produced a manly movie star. They had to borrow him from Australia, of course, but so what? Arnold and Van Damme and Mel Gibson and a bunch of those guys were imports too.

Chris Hemsworth has the kind of rugged persona and charisma that makes a man feel inadequate – he’s 2014’s People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive, and last week’s Man Who Makes Me Feel Like I Better Do More Push-ups – but you respect him for it, you don’t resent him. I don’t know if he’ll maintain all the muscles when he stops being an Avenger, but I bet he’ll stay pleasantly macho. He’ll slick back his hair and look good in an undershirt and sunglasses and he’ll put his protective arms around tiny women but also respect their intelligence.

It’s nice that one of the few manly marquee names of the modern age has now had the chance to become Mannly. In Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT Hemsworth plays Mann’s idea of a being more godly than Thor. He’s a convict who splits his time between reading Focault paperbacks and doing handstand pushups. He’s done time both for assault and for hacking. He knows how to use guns and build makeshift armor and beat up multiple attackers using restaurant furniture, but also how to write computer programs. He’s hypersmart enough to glance at a screen full of code and instantly identify clues to its purpose and author, but also worldly enough to travel through multiple Asian countries and break into places looking for a mystery man. He can be counted on to sit with a laptop or phone and breach a highly secure database, but also can wing a plan to explode a truck on the roof of a building as a distraction to sneak in and physically steal a hard drive. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pound of Flesh teaser

It sounds like this trailer is not officially complete or something like that, but it looks great. I knew this was the title of an upcoming Van Damme picture but did not realize it represented such an excellent variation on the you took my daughter/son/elephant type premise. Also it looks like a high level of fighting for modern JCVD and his first use of the splits in a long time.

You may also notice that the late Darren Shahlavi is in there. I’m not sure if he’s playing a bad guy or the bad guy. IMDb lists him second so I bet it is one of the leads and not a henchman.

The director is Ernie Barbarash, whose last movie was the enjoyable FALCON RISING with Michael Jai White. With Van Damme he has done ASSASSINATION GAMES and 6 BULLETS. Fight choreographer John Salvitti is a long time Donnie Yen collaborator going back to IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4 and up to last year’s KUNG FU JUNGLE. He even helped out on BLADE II.

UPDATE: The original trailer I posted was taken down by the producers. I’ve replaced it with the newly released official trailer, which doesn’t make it that clear that it’s about him trying to get his stolen kidney back, and doesn’t have the impressive splits-related money shot that was in the other one (even though it ends with the same scene). Seems like a weird marketing choice to me to try to stop anybody from seeing the trailer that makes it look good, but this will all be moot once we get to see the movie.

Golgo 13 (1977)

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

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

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

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.
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Warlock

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

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?
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