Azumi

tn_azumiBTISLPoor Azumi (Aya Ueto) is one of the best young swordswomen you ever did see, but it’s because she’s lived such a fucked up life. In the opening scene we see how she ended up like she did. When she was a little girl the Master (Yoshio Harada, THE HUNTED) was leading some young boys on a trail and came across her kneeling over her dead mother. He took the orphan girl with them to their isolated mountain area where he raised them to be elite sword fighters on a covert mission from Lord Tokugawa’s priest.

I mean really he saved her life, and their whole clan of nine boys and her are like a family, brothers and sisters who have fun fighting and training and joking around with each other. And they love their master and trust in him enough to believe that this thing he’s been preparing them for their whole lives is a righteous thing. They are tasked with assassinating the ambitious warlords who want to take over the country, whose selfish actions would otherwise keep the country in civil war forever. They will take life to prevent endless war. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Drop

tn_dropThere’s something I love about a movie where English Tom Hardy, Swedish Noomi Rapace and Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts play Brooklyn neighborhood folks. It’s this international cast, directed by Michaël R. Roskam (who previously did the “Best Foreign Language Film” Academy Award nominee BULLHEAD starring Schoenaerts) but there’s still a theme of characters having to correct each other’s ignorant statements about nationalities and languages: no, those gangsters aren’t from Russia, they’re from Chechnya. And you call them Chechens, not “Chechnyans.” And the language they speak in Brazil is called Portueguese, not Brazilian.

Rapace actually doesn’t put alot of effort into hiding her real accent, but Hardy, being Tom Hardy, throws himself into the task head long, especially in his occasional voiceover narration. He loves to mumble and slur, and to be funny-dumb, but also intelligent-inarticulate. As good as he is at playing eloquent snobs I suspect he has way more fun playing louts like this. (read the rest of this shit…)

High Noon

tn_highnoonI’m still lacking in my knowledge of westerns. I know some of the bigger spaghetti westerns and some of the modern ones, but not many of the original ones those are playing off of. And I know every once in a while I oughta school myself on the basics and the classics so here I am watching 1952’s HIGH NOON directed by Frederick Zinnemann.

This is the story of a pretty bad wedding day. Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is marrying Amy (Grace Kelly) who, let’s face it, is WAAAAAYYY out of his league (and less than half his age). But this is the movies so somehow he ties the knot and he’s gonna retire and be a househusband or something, but about one minute after he literally hangs up his star he gets handed a telegram saying that his murderous nemesis Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) has been pardoned (for what, THE SPIRIT?) and what’s more word is three of Miller’s thugs (including Lee Van Cleef, the first face you see in the movie, and not a welcoming one) are waiting at the train station for him to arrive in town at noon. (read the rest of this shit…)

Predestination

tn_predestinationPREDESTINATION is the latest in the line of Ethan Hawke genre movies I am as of this moment dubbing “Hawkesploitation.” These movies are not always good, but they usually have at least a few interesting ideas and they always benefit from his efforts. He doesn’t phone it in. Here he brings his likability and goodwill from BOYHOOD to an attempt at movie-fying a weird Robert A. Heinlein short story called “All You Zombies.” The writer-directors are Michael and Peter Spierig, the Australian twin brothers who previously directed Hawke in the unheralded gem DAYBREAKERS. So I was excited to see this, knowing nothing else about it.

Turns out it’s a Timecop story. Hawke plays some kind of agent for some kind of agency who’s traveling through time (using a device disguised as a violin case) trying to stop a bomber responsible for attacks more deadly than 9-11. They don’t specify that, but they say how many people died, and that this guy is the only one to evade them. So we can assume 9-11 has already been erased.

But this Timecop gets blown up and his face gets burned off and when he’s healed up enough for his next mission he’s pretending he’s a bartender in 1975. (read the rest of this shit…)

A thread for Oscaring

honorblade

For those who it’s not against their religion, here’s where we can discuss the Oscar business. Sorry for the crappy photoshop work, but it’s the idea that counts. Here are a few thoughts before this year’s awards.

(read the rest of this shit…)

The Killer Elite

tn_thekillereliteTHE KILLER ELITE is Sam Peckinpah’s don’t-be-naive-these-covert-ops-are-happening-all-the-time thriller kinda like MUNICH. It starts with straight up perfection: a title card explaining that “This film is a work of fiction. There is no company called Communications Integrity NOR ComTeg and the thought that the C.I.A. might employ such an organization for any purpose is, of course, preposterous.”

James Caan and Robert Duvall star as Locken and Hansen, two hard-drinking, lady-loving partners who claim to have never heard of the C.I.A. even though we just saw them bomb a building. They’ve spent enough time together that they’re always singing made up songs and saying stupid jokes that seem like you had to be there. But they’re obviously having fun.

When they go to a safe house, Locken goes to take a shower and Hansen turns traitor, killing the defector they’re supposed to be protecting and then trying to cripple his partner. When he’s standing there naked with a gun pointed at him Locken doesn’t even get scared because he can only comprehend it as a joke. He really thought he knew that guy, now he’s shooting him in the shower? He never took him for a shower-shooter.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Dying of the Light

tn_dyingofthelightDYING OF THE LIGHT is yet another troubled Paul Schrader production. The story is: it was a Schrader script that Nicolas Winding Refn almost directed with Harrison Ford and Channing Tatum as the leads, but Ford and Refn disagreed on the ending (guess who wanted a happy one?) so I guess Ford went and did COWBOYS & ALIENS and Refn did DRIVE. Then Refn became executive producer for Schrader directing it himself with the, uh, less-assured-of-a-theatrical-release team of Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin. Then after it was filmed the other producers shut out Schrader and did their own edit and scoring, so Schrader, Refn, Cage and Yelchin effectively disowned it by wearing t-shirts with the “non-disparagement” clause of their contracts that prevents them from complaining about the movie. Also cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth (2nd Unit DP of SHADOW MAN, ATTACK FORCE, FLIGHT OF FURY, AGAINST THE DARK and A GOOD MAN) wrote a righteous guest column in Variety about the producers recoloring the whole thing against his will and ruining what he and Schrader were trying to do.

We’ll get into that stuff later, but first let’s consider the Damaged Goods Cut on its own merits. It’s a flawed movie but more watchable and original than other recent basically-DTV Cage vehicles. Cage plays Evan Lake, a decorated CIA field operative who 22 years ago was tortured and had his ear mutilated by a young track-suit-wearing terrorist named Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim from the Johan Falk series). Lake refused to give up any information and was about to be executed when commandos stormed in and saved him. Now he’s kind of like their mascot. They have him give the tough guy speech to the fresh-faced new recruits, but he’s a depressed desk jockey who isn’t taken very seriously by the agency or allowed in the field. A big part of his day is trying to control or hide his shaky hand. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tampopo

tn_tampopoRemember when I wrote about the Japanese remake of UNFORGIVEN and THE LAST SAMURAI and I was talking about how great Ken Watanabe is and how I wanted to see him in more things? Well here’s a movie as far back as 1985 where he plays Gun, a stranger who drifts into town and helps out by… well, to be honest he helps a lady improve her noodle restaurant.

And actually he’s not the main guy, he’s the younger sidekick to a truck driver named Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki). He doesn’t have that much to do. But in the opening he’s reading a book about the author eating with an old man who “has studied noodles for 40 years.” The scene illustrates a long, OCD process of eating soup with steps including skimming the surface with the chopsticks “to show it affection,” moving the pork slices and dipping them into the right side for later, and then eventually picking them up and tapping them on the edge of the bowl to drain them, even apologizing to the pork. It’s ritualistic, fetishistic, doesn’t make alot of sense, but it introduces the movie’s worshipful attitude toward food. And toward whatever you choose to value during your days on earth.

As the protagonist pointed out in my book Niketown, food is something you eat and then later you shit it out. But TAMPOPO argues for getting the most out of these basic things. Executing them at the highest possible level, showing them respect, enjoying them. If we could appreciate anything as much as this old man does his bowl of soup we would be living a great life. (read the rest of this shit…)

Posse

tn_posse“You talkin bout a black KKK raid on a white town? That’s crazy!”

Recently I wrote about the Mario Van Peebles movie PANTHER, and talked a little bit about that time in the ’90s after Spike Lee hit it big and other black directors were starting to get a shot. At the same time hip hop had bled into pop music, and therefore rappers were starting to appear in movies. In the few preceding years the most respected rappers had been political or pseudo-political. Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions struck revolutionary poses, and even the so-called gangsta rappers like N.W.A. and Ice-T considered themselves rebels against the establishment (mainly the police, then the politicians above them). There had been a high commodity put on “dropping science” or “reality” and/or “positivity,” consciousness was encouraged, people had temporarily traded their gold chains for Africa medallions, were interested in reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and knowing the names of the Black Panther founders and shit like that. For a time it was at least as important to act smart and enlightened as it was to be tough. And that’s why Van Peebles was able to make PANTHER and before that, in 1993, POSSE.

About six months before POSSE was released, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic came out, and it was so undeniably good that, you know, that was the end of that. But before Van Peebles knew that visions of blunts would be bouncing on hydraulics in our heads he made a western for the Knowledge Reigns Supreme era.

There’s a couple reasons why this fits into the trend. One of them is that about a quarter of the cowboys in the old west were black. TV and movies make it seem like it was a hundred white guys for every Cowboy Curtis or Lord Bowler, and Van Peebles wanted to correct that. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wild at Heart

tn_wildatheartSailor Ripley is the character who was born for Nicolas Cage to play. He’s the ultimate bad boy who you wouldn’t bring home to your parents, an old timey hoodlum ex-con, self-conscious about his rebellious image, and obsessed with Elvis, who he calls “E” for short. He talks like him, combs his hair kind of like him, sings his love songs only at important romantic milestones. He and his young girlfriend Lula (Laura Dern) love to dance together, and at one point they pull their Thunderbird convertible to the side of the highway, play heavy metal and dance, which to him mostly means jumping around doing karate kicks and punches. They don’t have to discuss that they’re going to do this, so you gotta assume it’s one of their regular activities.

Sailor wears a snakeskin jacket, which he proudly says on more than one occasion “represents a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” He’s a self-professed “robber and a manslaughterer” and hasn’t “had any parental guidance.” He started smoking when he was “about four,” and cigarette brand loyalty seem to be one tradition he and Lula inherit from their parents. He knows many unsavory characters from his time as an underworld driver, including Lula’s mother Marietta Fortune (Dern’s real life mother Diane Ladd), who is so serious about keeping Sailor away from her daughter that she takes a hit out on him. She’s also so wicked that she frequently goes on cackling jags and is several times depicted as the WIZARD OF OZ witch, flying on a broom or watching them in a crystal ball. (read the rest of this shit…)