Alley Cat

tn_alleycat“It was this old guy with a gun, and some broad.”

ALLEY CAT is a shoddy but sometimes fun version of the urban vigilante thriller as well as the female assault-victim revenge story, the types of copycat movies made in the wake of DEATH WISH and MS. 45. Billie (Karin Mani, whose character was killed in the beginning of the similarly themed AVENGING ANGEL) is an adult woman in Los Angeles who studies karate, lives with her grandparents and as far as we know has no job. In the opening scene a neighbor calls to tell her someone’s stealing the tires off her car. She throws some clothes on, goes out there and tells the two thugs* crouched down by her car that “Okay guys, that’s enough.”

Of course, criminals in a 1984 action movie are not going to have a good grasp of gender equality, so one of them says “Hey bitch, didn’t your daddy ever teach you nothin? Never bother a man when he’s workin?”

*I know these days “thug” is racist code for the n-word, but I am old fashioned and using it to describe white guys who steal tires

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Foxcatcher

tn_foxcatcherFOXCATCHER is an eerie examination of a true story about two brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz, who won gold medals in wrestling at the 1984 Olympics and a couple years later went to live on the Pennsylvania estate of a rich guy named John E. du Pont. The guy said he was a patriot and wrestling fan and wanted to help America win again. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but you immediately get the sense – in part from the foreboding grey skies and long, dry stretches with little dialogue and no music – that it’s gonna be something bad. I felt pretty confident this would end in some sort of fucked up tragedy and not with a Survivor song playing over a freeze frame on a joyful Channing Tatum (who plays Mark) being lifted by a congratulatory crowd of sports enthusiasts.

Steve Carrell plays du Pont and he makes him very odd. He leans his head back and leaves his mouth slightly open, like he’s watching you and is perpetually about to offer an observation. He wears a comically large fake nose and a nerdily tight Team Foxcatcher sweatshirt or windbreaker. Occasionally he has lines absurd enough to be in a Will Ferrell movie: “Don’t call me Mr. du Pont. My friends call me Golden Eagle, or just Eagle.” But whatever comedy may be inherent in the role, he’s intentionally un-milking it. This is his Serious Role, his Playing Against Type, his Robin Williams in ONE HOUR PHOTO. I mean, I’m sure it’s funnier than that magician movie he did, but it’s his most dramatic, not-going-for-laughs movie, and he’s successful at being creepy in it.
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Promising trailer: EVERLY

Looks like Salma Hayek doesn’t even have to go outside to be John Wick, the whole colorful hit-person community just shows up at her doorstep. The director on this one is Joe Lynch, who’s a friend of the internet whose WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END I only half liked, and whose last movie was the taken-away-from-him-and-disowned KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM. But I think this looks and sounds fun, and it apparently went over well at Fantastic Fest. IMDb doesn’t list who did the fights, but stunt coordinator Akihiro Noguchi is a long time Power Rangers stunt guy who choreographed COLD HARVEST and NINJA for Isaac Florentine.

It hits VOD January 23rd and theatrical (i.e. just the Sundance theater where I saw FALCON RISING) February 27th.

h/t to Badass Digest

Happy Christmassing

tn_christmas-8diagram

I just want to wish everybody a safe and happy Christmas, or eating of Chinese food, or watching of THE INTERVIEW at an independent theater, or driving a city bus, or other. I really want to thank everybody for all the support and fun this year, I really appreciate it. I guess it’s not New Year’s yet, I can get mushy then, huh? I’ll be back next week with some new reviews. Go watch a Johnny Cash Christmas special.

p.s. Special thanks to Jan Elvsén for sending me a Christmas CD he made. It has everybody from Diana Ross to Shonen Knife on it.

Don’t Open Till Christmas

tn_dontopenIn Victorian England there was a tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. This is what gave us A Christmas Carol, of course, but is it a dead tradition otherwise? Well, I don’t know. There are an awful lot of Christmas-themed horror movies. There’s enough of ‘em out there that I still haven’t seen nearly all of them. Maybe that’s what the ghost stories turned into over the years.

Or maybe SILENT NIGHT, DEADY NIGHT just reminded everybody that killer Santas are a fun idea. I don’t know. Anyway, this year I chose to watch a British one I didn’t know much about, DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, released on DVD by the Mondo Macabro label (who usually put out things much crazier and more exotic than this).

This was made at the same time as SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (they both came out in winter of 1984), but it’s the reverse of a killer Santa movie. This is about a guy who goes around killing Santas! He’s unseen, face off camera, like a killer in a giallo. But in the American slasher tradition he’s a puritanical executioner. The Santas he kills are all doing something he apparently disapproves of: having sex, being drunk, going to see a stripper, throwing an awesome disco costume party, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

Top Five

tn_topfiveI usually have a hard time writing about comedies, but TOP FIVE is a moment worth commemorating: the point when Chris Rock finally became the filmmaker he always seemed like he wanted to be.

Not that he really needed that. The man has come a long way since having to play Luther Campbell on Saturday Night Live because he’s the only black guy. He’s reached the heights of standup, done some smart television, hosted the Oscars, produced GOOD HAIR and POOTIE TANG*, and yes, been funny in movies. But to me it seemed like his movies were always compromised in some way. Can you point to the one (or more) great Chris Rock vehicle? CB4 maybe?

I remember when he directed HEAD OF STATE I had high hopes. That’s about all I remember. Well, the one thing that made an impression was that it had narration sung by Nate Dogg.

TOP FIVE finally feels like that pure personal expression he’s been on the verge of. Not because he plays a comedian trying to be taken more seriously, but because his talents and passions are all over this. It’s a conversation movie. His character, comedian-turned-movie-star-tired-of-comedy Andre Allen, is being profiled by New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) on the eve of his movie about the Haitian Revolution and his Bravo-sponsored wedding to a reality show star (Gabrielle Union). (read the rest of this shit…)

Cyborg

tn_cyborgYears ago when I saw a little movie called DOUBLE TEAM I remember coming out of the theater and running into an acquaintance, a friend of a friend named Corey who was waiting for the next show. We got to talking about Van Damme, and it was kind of shameful how many of them he mentioned that I hadn’t seen. So this guy decides right then and there that we’re gonna meet once a week in a neutral location and we’re gonna watch a Van Damme movie. And I don’t remember how long we did that but it was probly a month or two of important learning. You know, it’s the same as with KICKBOXER or BLOODSPORT, you try to find a mentor or a buddy to take you under his wing, and that’s how you get your start. So shout out to Corey. And I hope I’m doing my part to pass on these lessons to the next generation.

Anyway, that was the last time I saw CYBORG. On a screen bigger than I’ve ever owned, but full frame VHS, and when I was younger and dumber in my ongoing journey to filmatistic enlightenment. Here’s all I remember: Van Damme doing the splits between two walls, a guy with sunglasses grunting, being bored.

Okay, I wasn’t that far off, this is sitll a bit of a chore for me to get through, but I repsect it more at this stage in my evolution. CYBORG is from the Cannon Group, it’s directed by our friend Albert Pyun, it doesn’t really have any concepts that separate it much from other post-apocalypse movies (with a little BLADE RUNNER and TERMINATOR influence thrown in the mix), but the thing I didn’t get back then is that it’s a fuckin art movie. The plot is minimalistic, there’s very little dialogue, lots of wind and dreamy slow motion. Van Damme plays a mysterious figure apparently called “Gibson Rickenbacker,” a so-called “slinger” or bounty hunter helping a woman named Pearl (Dayle Haddon, NORTH DALLAS FORTY) who has the cure for a deadly plague to travel through the wasteland to Atlanta. And she’s part robot, by the way. (read the rest of this shit…)

Comin’ at Ya!

tn_cominatyaSometimes something you never thought would happen happens, and you can hardly believe it. For example when they finally freed Mandela, or a couple days ago when Obama announced he was normalizing relations with Cuba, or in this case when they re-released the legendary 1981 3D movie COMIN’ AT YA! in modern digitally projected 3D.

This is a very limited release I’m afraid, I doubt it’ll come to too many of your cities, if any, and I know most of you are like me and don’t have a 3D TV if it ever comes to that. But if you like seeing things poke out of a screen then definitely check and see if it’s possible to catch this one. It’s a treasure.

The title COMIN’ AT YA! is not a lie. Especially the exclamation point. The stereoscopic mission statement of this movie is in extreme opposition to the modern conventional wisdom that it’s bad for 3D to have gimmicks and things reaching out at you. The philosophy here is to stick knives in both eyes of the modern limp 3D and then pull them out and then jab them in and repeat and repeat and repeat. To date I think my favorite 3D experiences have been FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D and the three Robert Zemeckis mocap movies. Even compared to those, this is by far the 3Dest movie I’ve ever seen.
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Hatchet III

tn_hatchet3Ever since I was a little kid (give or take decades) I’ve always wanted to like the HATCHET movies. They talk a good game about bringing back “old school horror,” they’re throwbacks to the ’80s slashers I’m in love with, they have Kane Hodder as a deformed hillbilly swamp maniac and some funny gore ideas. I also kinda liked writer/director Adam Green’s other movie FROZEN, which of course is sweeping the nation and capturing the hearts of little princesses of all ages who want to see a thriller about people stuck on a ski lift.

On paper HATCHET and HATCHET II are right up my alley, but in practice they took a different street. They’re not comedies, but I found them too self-conscious, too jokey, not atmospheric enough, not structured correctly to be an effective slasher story. I remember the first one as a bunch of actors walking around in a big group on a small, fake-looking swamp set pretending to be lost. I just couldn’t get into it.

So I’m proud to announce that I finally pulled it off. I really liked a HATCHET movie! Part III specifically. Maybe we can credit new director BJ McDonell (promoted from steadicam operator on the first two in the series), but to be fair I-II director Green did write this and was very hands-on as a producer from what I’ve read. Maybe practice makes perfect. After 10,000 hours of making HATCHET movies you get really good at it, like Malcolm McDowell says. (read the rest of this shit…)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

tn_tmnt14TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014) is director Jonathan Liebesman (BATTLE LOS ANGELES, WRATH OF THE TITANS, TEXAS CHAINSAW BEGINNINGS: THE FINDING OF THE SAW) and the Platinum Dunes company’s modernized retelling of the classic tale of Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello, the humanoid turtle monsters who are discovered by a human reporter living in a giant underground sewer home and are trained in ninjitsu by a talking rat so they enjoy pizza but at night they sneak out to fight crime and there’s this Japanese guy with armour who wants to kill them because–

You know what, on second thought this is not a story, this is a half-assed explanation for a joke title some guys came up with in the ’80s that, through some bizarre series of mishaps and coincidences, accidentally became a multi-million dollar pop culture/merchandising juggernaut. Nobody knows why or ever will. It was even on Unsolved Mysteries.

Seriously, I saw part of a documentary on these turtles, and it explained how the hugely popular cartoon show was built around the toys they wanted to sell. The people who made the cartoon seemed totally surprised and confused that it was something that people liked so much. It’s funny to see them try to explain in retrospect that historic moment when a voice actor said “Cowabunga!” and they decided to use it. It seems like they figure it must’ve been brilliant, but I don’t think they get it any more than I do.

This new version is pretty much a simplified rehash of the previous movie version, from what I can remember. You still got TV reporter April O’Neil (like the porn star), now played by Megan Fox, and she discovers that “a vigilante” stopped an attempted chemical robbery by “The Foot Clan,” who are masked paramilitary guys now instead of ninjas, except for Shredder and a couple other people at the top. Here’s the thing though: she keeps trying to take pictures and video on her phone. That’s why they had to do a remake. THIS IS HOW WE LIVE TODAY. (read the rest of this shit…)