A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

tn_agwhaanA GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is being called “the first Iranian vampire spaghetti western,” but only the “vampire” part is strictly accurate. For one thing, it doesn’t have much in common with spaghetti westerns other than the setting of a barren, quiet town and a scene with some obvious Morricone-inspired music. As for the other part, it is true that the characters are all Iranian and the dialogue is in Persian, and it takes place in Iran. It’s interesting because it looks very different from how you expect the landscape of Iran to look, it will really change your idea of what that place is like. In my opinion that’s because it was filmed outside of Bakersfield, California, where Iranian-American writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour grew up.

So I think technically it’s an American movie made in America by Americans for American audiences, but obviously what I have described here is an uncommon cross-cultural mix, which does give the movie a certain flavor. And it needs that flavor, ’cause there’s not that much soup here.

The title refers to “The Girl” (Sheila Vand), a quiet, lonely young vampire woman who from some angles looks strikingly like Winona Ryder. She wears a striped shirt and a black veil, which cuts quite an image in the film’s nice black and white cinematographism by Lyle Vincent (Sesame Street: Elmo Visits the Doctor) as she spookily skulks in the shadows and follows people or just stands there watching them like a creep or a Michael Meyers or an it follows. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Man With the Iron Fists 2

tn_mwtif2My friends, I don’t know about you, but I count myself lucky to live in a world where one of my favorite hip hop producers, the RZA, not only got to write, direct and star in a legit kung fu movie, but got to do a DTV sequel directed by one of the leaders of the form (Roel Reiné, THE MARINE 2, DEATH RACE 23, SCORPION KING 3, 12 ROUNDS 2: RELOADED). If I somehow slipped and fell into an alternate dimension that’s okay. I’m not going back.

Filmed in Thailand with about a third of the first film’s budget, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2 is much more normal and low key than the first one, I want to warn you of that up front. There are fewer colorful gimmicks, no crazy Russell Crowe performance, comparably grounded (both literally and figuratively) martial arts, and no mention of the cliffhanger from the director’s cut where I think he had to team up with the X-Blade to save his wife that got snatched by the Falcon Clan and put in a big nest on top of a mountain or something like that. But for me it’s still a very enjoyable sequel because it maintains the most important ingredient: the complete sincerity of the RZA. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fortress

tn_fortressFORTRESS is one of those rare b-movie (or B+ movie?) gems that you come across every once in a while that has everything: good cast, great gimmicks, unexpected emotion and substance, cyborgs. It’s a 1993 sci-fi action movie, but clearly without a summer blockbuster budget, so it feels somewhere between Paul Verhoeven and ROBOT JOX. And that makes sense, because it’s the same director. Man, why did I never see this before? Didn’t I know it was a Christopher Lambert movie directed by Stuart Gordon? Don’t I believe in the auteur theory?

Lambert plays Brennick, an ex-soldier (“the most decorated captain of the Black Berets, yet you quit in disgrace…”) busted with his pregnant wife Karen (Loryn Locklin) trying to sneak out of the country because it’s illegal to give birth twice. They both end up at the Fortress, a giant underground, privately owned prison. The convicts become property of the Men-Tel Corporation and used for prison labor. Their job: to keep building further into the ground, making more room for more convicts to build even further. That’s my favorite concept in the movie because it so deviously illustrates the problem of the prison industrial complex. Zed-10, the computer program that runs the place (voice of the director’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon), keeps saying the Men-Tel slogan “Crime does not pay.” But of course for them it does. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Babadook

tn_babadookBABADOOK, BABADOOK, BABADOOK. Man, that’s all anybody talks about ever since this movie played the A, B or C Film Festival last year. At first I just ignored it, ’cause I thought it was some Howard Stern thing. But when I found out it was an Australian horror movie I knew that aligned with my interests.

It’s immediately captivating. It has a stylish look, kinetic editing and interesting faces on its two primary characters, the lonely widow Amelia (Essie Davis, who of course played Maggie in both MATRIX sequels [okay honestly I don’t remember who that character is]) and her weird little son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who’s about 7 years-old but is introduced testing powerful catapults and dart guns and talking about bashing a monster’s head in with a rock.

There’s some Sam Raimi-esque flourishes here and there, and it’s easy to picture a cutesy horror comedy where the kid goes Ash, saves Mom from a monster with home-made weapons and traps, furrows his brow and says some one-liner, charming the socks off the midnight film festival crowds and twentysomething writers for movie websights. And I would’ve been okay with that if it was done well, but I like that writer/director Jennifer Kent (you know, “Lab Lady” from BABE: PIG IN THE CITY) chose a less obvious path. (read the rest of this shit…)

So long, Justified

tn_justifiedThere are many great shows that have transcended or elevated the television artform, that have been compared favorably to cinema or to great novels. Some of them I’ve seen, some I’ll catch up with some day. But Justified was my kind of show. It was full of badass bravado, dry humor, a love of language and personality. Like the Elmore Leonard books that inspired it it was accessible and unpretentious, but also smart and original. I like to think it could be enjoyed by snooty book lovers as much as by people who liked Walker, Texas Ranger.

I came to it as an enjoyer of Leonard. I remember hearing there was gonna be another show based on one of his characters, starring Timothy Olyphant, and I was curious to check it out in case it might be decent. Then I happened to see an extended preview, a clip of the scene from the pilot where Raylan meets Dewey Crowe and bangs his head against a steering wheel. And I thought oh shit, this actually looks seriously good. I’m gonna have to make an effort to actually watch a TV show from the beginning. And come to think of it I watched the entire series as it aired each week, that’s pretty rare for me.

Leonard has not had a good track record on television. I don’t mean in quality of adaptation, but in survival. There was that show of Maximum Bob with Beau Bridges. It got good reviews and was cancelled before I ever caught an episode. Years later there was Karen Sisco. I thought, now how do you make a TV version of a character that was so perfectly portrayed by Jennifer Lopez in the best Elmore Leonard adaptation ever? And then Carla Gugino came and changed my idea of who that character is. And that one I did manage to watch most of the episodes but again, cancelled before the season even finished. And neither show has ever been released on the home video.

So it’s surprising and great that not only was Justified so good, but it had the chance to last for six seasons, continue to grow in popularity, and go out on a high note. And on purpose – I’m sure FX would’ve let them make two or three or four more seasons if they’d wanted to. (read the rest of this shit…)

Martial Law

tn_martiallawI gotta admit, I didn’t know what Chad McQueen looked like, or that he starred in this, so I thought “Who the fuck is this?” when he showed up undercover as a pizza delivery man to defuse a hostage situation at Crown Diamonds. Those dumb fucks shoulda known the cops wouldn’t allow a real Domino’s dude to walk in there. Even in Seattle, where we’ll have a $15 minimum wage in a couple years, it wouldn’t be worth it, and this is Los Angeles circa 1990. (The 25th anniversary is on the 16th of next month, so get the balloons ready.) Also, fuck these guys for not insisting on giving him a huge tip when they believed he was a legit employee. Not cool at all, gunmen.

Anyway, he’s really a cop, so he karates them. He’s playing Detective Sean Thompson, nicknamed Martial Law. It took me a while to catch on that it’s because he’s a lawman who does martial arts. We learn that after his dad died in 1983 he took off to Hong Kong for a few years “to prove how tough I was.” He regrets it because he left his younger brother Michael (Andy McCutcheon) behind and now the kid wears a leather jacket, has two DUIs, crashed their mom’s car and steals sports cars. (read the rest of this shit…)

Accidental Love

tn_accidentallove“Have you ever been to a military-media moonbase event before?”

I don’t know if you guys remember this, but a long time ago David O. Russell was supposed to be doing a new comedy called NAILED, about Jessica Biel getting a nail stuck in her head. This was about seven years ago actually, so at the time Russell was coming off of I HEART HUCKABEES, which I really liked, but it didn’t seem like he was on the verge of becoming one of the big directors. I’m talking five years before he directed Jennifer Lawrence in an Oscar winning performance, when she was still playing the daughter on The Bill Engvall Show. That’s how long ago this was.

He was filming and everything but he kept having disasters with the financiers going bankrupt, not having enough money to pay the cast and crew, who repeatedly walked off. Eventually it got so bad Russell decided he had no choice but to close up shop with a day or two of filming left. He just gave up and took his first for-hire directing gig, subbing for Darren Aranofsky as a favor to Mark Wahlberg… but then that was THE FIGHTER, and all the sudden he had an Oscar nomination for best director, and then he did SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and AMERICAN HUSTLE so he had three of those nominations and all the sudden he’s more known as that guy with the glasses at the Oscars than that mean guy who yelled at Lily Tomlin. Things are so good for him now he probly sometimes forgets that he wasted years of his life almost making NAILED.

But now all the sudden there’s this movie called ACCIDENTAL LOVE that’s on V.O.D. and will be on actual video soon. It’s written and directed by one Stephen Greene and it happens to have the exact same cast and premise as NAILED. You may be thinking “Stephen Greene, you hustlin sonofabitch, how the fuck did you achieve what three time Academy Award nominee for best director David O. Russell could not?” Actually my immediate assumption was that some guy named Stephen Greene did that last bit of shooting, slapped the thing together and credited himself as the director. But it turns out there is no Stephen Greene, he’s like Keyser Soze. They let Russell use a pseudonym for this release, which from what I hear takes some doing.

Ha. Both the director and the movie itself wanted to use pseudonyms. (read the rest of this shit…)

Critters

tn_crittersRecently I watched WARLOCK for the first time, and that was surprisingly good shit, so I figured maybe I should watch some other VHS era franchise-launcher with a two syllable title that I’d never bothered with for some reason. You know, like CRITTERS or something like that.

This one seems like a moosh-up of GREMLINS (mischievous, laughing small monsters portrayed by puppets infest a place and eat people, sometimes in comical ways), E.T. in: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (Dee Wallace Stone as mother of adolescent, bike-riding, alien-discovering protagonist) and I COME IN PEACE (weirdo long-haired humanoid space bounty hunters with powerful guns clandestinely hunt dangerous alien presence on Earth).

The title-istical Critters (called Crites by the non-Earthlings) are kind of like Tribbles with teeth, or evil Popples. They’re furry round guys with stubby limbs who can roll up into balls and tumble like tumbleweeds, but they have long, needle-like teeth and also a row of poisonous projectile quills they use to put the kid’s older sister into a catatonic state and drag her back to their ship. I’m not clear on what they plan to do with her there, but let me just say that I don’t trust those little perverts. And I was gonna say “as far as I can throw ’em” but actually I feel like I could throw them pretty far. They are one of the most throwable villains of all major horror movies, in my opinion. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shredder Orpheus

tn_shredderorpheus“Listen Boo Boo, you’re lucky you made it back the first time. If you want to join the pantheon of dead skate rock guitar heroes that’s your choice.”

SHREDDER ORPHEUS is a weird D.I.Y. type of movie made in the late ’80s in Seattle by people involved in the underground rock and art scenes of the time. It’s post-apocalyptic or futuristic or something, but more Max Headroom than MAD MAX. The story is based on the myth of Orpheus, played by director Robert McGinley as a skateboarder and lead singer/guitarist of a band called The Shredders. Instead of an Underworld there’s a sinister quasi-religious TV Channel called EBN (Euthanasia Broadcast Network) that hypnotizes the people. Just the normal people, maybe: the one person we see watching TV is the one civilian we see, the one non-punk or music scene type of guy that doesn’t work for the network. And the people who do work for the network look like they might as well be in bands because they’re all wearing white makeup and shit like ghouls. Most of their programming seems to be weirdos chanting slogans like “The Ministry of Sombulance – praise the ray!”

The EBN creeps kidnap Orpheus’s girlfriend Eurydice (Megan Murphy, DEADBEAT AT DAWN) after seeing her dancing (mostly just spinning and waving her arms a little, to be honest) at the Shredders show at the Thrash Bin Club. They decide she’s the key to co-opting the music counterculture for their purposes. “If we’re going to get beyond the corporate crust and expand our viewing addicts,” explains one of the executives, “we’ve got to reach out and put our finger on the main vein of the youth market. We need the heartbeat of America.” But if they kidnap this one dancer and base a show around her he says they can “play in Peoria.” (read the rest of this shit…)

It Follows

tn_itfollowsIT FOLLOWS seems to be the horror hit of the season, rightfully praised for its clever premise, excellent cast and effective indie drama type naturalism. As usual I don’t think it’s as bone-chillingly spookerific or as powerfully groundbreaking as the “I don’t normally like horror movies but this is the greatest horror movie of all time” crowd, but that’s okay. They picked a pretty good one to flip out over. And maybe my respect for it will go up if somebody can convince me that it’s as about something as it seems like it might be.

If you haven’t heard, the college age kids of IT FOLLOWS are experiencing a sexually transmitted haunting. You get it on with the wrong person, next thing you know you start seeing… something following you all the time. Sometimes it looks like a creepy stranger. Sometimes, from the looks of it, murder victims (previously followed people?). But sometimes it’s just some dude standing on the roof with his dick out. And then sometimes it’s your mom. It’s fucked up.

Wait a minute, what if they saw it and they thought it really was their mom? “Hey Mom, what are you doing out here? Did you get my text about the student lo–”

Our lead victim here is Jay, played by Maika Monroe, who was so good as the daughter in THE GUEST. She’s been seeing what seems like a nice enough boy (he takes her on a date to see CHARADE at an old timey movie house, at least) but after some of the old fashioned car sex he, uh, chloroforms her and ties her to a wheelchair and explains the rules to her. It follows, and you gotta run. You don’t want that thing to touch you. Or to jump your bones literally and/or figuratively, ’cause that’ll kill you. (read the rest of this shit…)