Jupiter Ascending

tn_jupiterascendingFirst of all, I’d like to thank the Wachowskis for their unprecedented run of crazy, idiosyncratic big budget studio genre movies, and wish them luck in whatever their new vocation is.

I love the Wachowskis without reservation. BOUND is alot of fun and THE MATRIX is a brilliant sci-fi action classic and then everything they’ve made since then has been messier and crazier. But for them to make sane movies would be a waste of their talent. They can keep pushing the envelopes of special effects technology and storytelling technique as long as they also keep challenging the limits of what a studio can sink hundreds of millions of dollars into. And while I understand some of the disappointment in the MATRIX sequels, I also think that most of it comes from people wanting them to just do the same exact shit again. To me those movies are brimming with excitement about which unexpected turn they can make while also continuing to top themselves in action spectacle.

And then they got to make SPEED RACER. And they must’ve suspected that wasn’t gonna light the world on fire. They are heroes.

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy their new sci-fi-fantasy joint JUPITER ASCENDING like I did the MATRIXes or SPEED RACER, and didn’t intellectually admire it as much as CLOUD ATLAS. It has way less ambition than that one and a little more boredom. I can respect that it’s something that nobody else would ever make, or want to make, or want to have made. It’s ballsy in how shamelessly corny it is. But it’s a shame that their worst one by far will be their last. (I’m assuming. After this many big budget flops in a row you gotta figure they’ll be washing dishes at Warner Brothers until they’ve worked off their debt.) (read the rest of this shit…)

You are now about to witness red band street knowledge

In case anybody else has been anxiously awaiting a trailer for this like I have:

(don’t worry about the gentle black and white intro, it goes into the actual movie footage eventually)

I don’t know what to think, but so far it looks like something I will enjoy whether or not it’s a good movie.

Wild Card

tn_wildcard“I can take care of things. That’s all you need to know.”

In WILD CARD, Jason Statham plays Nick Wild (seriously), a legendary special ops badass who now works as an all purpose “security consultant” for hire. That’s not going well for him, though. He shares his office with a lawyer (Jason Alexander from THE BURNING) on the strip mall outskirts of Vegas, most of his friends seem to be prostitutes, hotel maids, gangsters or casino employees, and he gets such glamourous gigs as getting fake beat up by Vinnie from Doogie Howser to impress a Sofia Vergara. It’s hard to bask in your own greatness when you’re such a fucking loser. So in that sense this is less like THE TRANSPORTER and more like REDEMPTION (where he starts out as a homeless crackhead).

He gets a couple “Just how badass is he?” speeches, but one of them is by himself, and ends with “And I lie alot.” As cool as this guy is – his name is Nick Wild, for God’s sake! – everybody knows he’s a fuckup, and this is underlined by casual comments about the mediocre value of his life. When a friend wants him to get involved in something dangerous and he asks “What if they kill me?” she says “I’ll be miserable for days.” Not years, not months, days. Later a gangster wants to hear his side of the story before killing him just because if he was innocent of what he was accused of “I would feel dreadful.”

If some of this sounds familiar that’s because it’s a remake of HEAT. Not the one by Michael Mann, the 1986 one with Burt Reynolds and based on the book by William Goldman. It counts as a remake though because they re-used Goldman’s old script with just a few tweaks, like Van Sant did with PSYCHO. (In fact, Anne Heche is even in this. But not Vince Vaughn) They changed his name from Nick Escalante and added references to his Britishness. He says “mum” in one part. And I noticed big changes in the action parts (I missed a trick Burt did to light a guy on fire, and a scene where he torments a guy in the dark). But mostly, from what I could remember, it’s scene-for-scene the same. (read the rest of this shit…)

R.I.P. Don Covay

tn_doncovayOne of my favorite singers, Don Covay, has passed away at the age of 76. I expect many or most of you never heard of him, so I want to share a couple of his songs with you and I think you’ll love him too. He was a great solo artist, but was more successful as a songwriter for other people. His best known composition was probly “Chain of Fools,” performed by Aretha Franklin. Have Mercy! the Songs of Don Covayis a whole compilation of songs he wrote, as performed by Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Little Richard, Wanda Jackson, Ben E. King… I mean, he got around.

I buy alot of random funk and soul compilation CDs to try to discover things I wouldn’t know about otherwise, and it was on one called Breaks Sessions that I first learned about Don Covay. It’s a nice 2-disc collection of songs that were sampled in hip hop, such as “Nautilus” by Bob James (sampled by Ghostface in “Daytona 500,” among many others) or “Tribute to Obabi” by The Last Poets (which you’d know as “Excursions” by A Tribe Called Quest). Some of the songs you find on these things are by more obscure artists than those guys, though, ones I never heard of, often without any other recordings to their name. Still, if I like the one song I look them up and in the case of Don Covay it turned out there was a motherlode of other great stuff. (read the rest of this shit…)

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.
(read the rest of this shit…)

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…)