“Folks here, they don’t make no never mind who you are or what you done.”
The first shot in Guillermo Del Toro’s Depression-era noir movie NIGHTMARE ALLEY is of Bradley Cooper dragging a wrapped-up corpse into frame. It reminded me of the teaser trailer for THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 (2007). That was not a good movie, but it was a great teaser, so when a best picture nominee reminds me of it, that’s pretty impressive. If BELFAST or THE POWER OF THE DOG started out like the legendary Lady in the Lake teaser for LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III they would move up a notch for me, personally.
Cooper’s character Stan is inside a small house in disrepair, and he drops the body into a hole in the floorboards, puts on his coat and hat, takes a moment to contemplate and light a cigarette, sets the place on fire and leaves. If anybody walked into the movie exactly two minutes and saw him on a bus out of town they probly spent a good chunk of the movie thinking he was a good ol’ salt of the earth everyman trying to survive day-to-day through hard, humble work. The rest of us had to watch him very unsettled, wondering what he’s up to, questioning the sincerity of everything he says or does. ‘Cause you can never fully trust a corpse dragger. (read the rest of this shit…)
As someone who finally got into Paul Wesley Snipes Anderson’s RESIDENT EVIL series pretty close to when it was finally wrapping up, I was thrilled to hear that the director and his wife/star Milla Jovovich (HELLBOY, not the Ron Perlman one) had purchased the film rights to a fresh new video game franchise copyright property trademark. Without any judgment on (or implied knowledge of) the respective video games, I feel that there is potential for a series called MONSTER HUNTER about monsters and hunters who hunt monsters to be better than one about zombies and umbrellas or whatever. And I loved that one!
So I had planned to see this Toho co-production based on the works of Capcom in the biggest, if emptiest theater in Seattle, until shit (the pandemic) happened and that was not possible for me. But as soon as they made it available for digital “purchase” I paid the four-or-five-dollars-more-than-the-movie-ticket-would’ve-cost and now that file access is MINE.
It begins in a world of fantasy. Pirate ships are sailing through sand. Ron Perlman (HELLBOY, the Ron Perlman one) is there. Tony Jaa (KILL ZONE 2) is there. Monsters attack. Tony gets knocked off the boat. It is sand, so he doesn’t drown, but he’s left behind.
Then we switch to a different desert, the type in our world, in our time. It even has latitude and longitude listed on screen. I think they might mention directions and clicks at some point if you want to check your map and follow along at home. (read the rest of this shit…)
“We live in a vertical world. If you can’t trust the elevators, what the fuck can you trust?”
After I got aboard the Dick Maas freight train (or elevator, I guess) I decided I shouldn’t skip his English-language remake of THE LIFT. I guess Artisan released it on DVD as THE SHAFT (with a terrible cover), but Blue Underground went back to the original title of DOWN. (And included 151 minutes of behind the scenes footage!? That’s what it says. I didn’t watch it.) One of those stock photo places has a poster from some territory using the DOWN title and it’s ugly but has the excellent tagline “You May Want to Take the Stairs…”
This is part of that strange phenomenon of overseas films remade for American/western audiences by the original director – see also THE VANISHING, NIGHTWATCH, FUNNY GAMES, 13 TZAMETI – but those are usually new directors who caught the eye of Hollywood and were seduced into some shenanigans. “Yeah, it’s great, we loved it, but make it in English now.” This is different because it’s a minor cult movie from 18 full years earlier. In an interview with Rumsey Taylor Maas said that he’d had offers for an American remake since the original movie came out, but was occupied with other projects. But by the ’90s when they were still asking, “Somehow I began taking to the idea… Elevators are a crucial part of American life, so why didn’t it become a subject for one of your big blockbusters? I tried to help you by doing it myself.” (read the rest of this shit…)
“You obviously do not know who you are fucking with!”
On one hand, it’s hard to believe that BLADE II was fifteen damn years ago. I mean – I reviewed it when it came out. And I’d already been around for a few years. Am I really that old? On the other hand, an awful lot has changed since the movie came out.
Let’s start with Wesley Snipes (“Blade”). He made a part 3, had a falling out with the writer, they made a Blade TV show without him, he got relegated to DTV, got busted for tax evasion, did time, got out, now is sort of back and still the Man and hopefully will achieve more greatness. Guillermo del Toro (director) became better known and beloved for his specific visual style and obsessions, was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for PAN’S LABYRINTH, continued to alternate between Spanish language art films and Hollywood productions, but never did a for-hire gig again, unless you count THE HOBBIT, which he toiled on for a few years before quitting. David S. Goyer (writer) directed part 3, co-wrote Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy and went on to mastermind the DC movie universe, as if trying to earn the extreme hatred many comic fans had long held for him for some reason. Donnie Yen (martial arts choreographer, “Snowman”) had a huge career resurgence at home in Hong Kong, particularly with the IP MAN series, and recently finally had success in English language movies playing the best characters in ROGUE ONE and xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Norman Reedus (“Scud”) also became a geek icon by playing Daryl on The Walking Dead, as did Ron Perlman (“Reinhardt”) by reteaming with del Toro to play Hellboy in two live action films and two animated (plus starring in many seasons of Sons of Anarchy). Luke Goss (“Jared Nomak”) was a former pop star from the boy band Bros who had been in a few movies. This breakthrough role led to playing the elf equivalent of Nomak in del Toro’s HELLBOY 2 and eventually being a frequent face of DTV, including starring as Frankenstein in DEATH RACE 2 and 3. Matt Schulze (“Chupa”) – okay, he didn’t become a big thing, but to me he’s an icon because he’s the villain in Seagal’s OUT OF REACH and Vince in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and FAST FIVE.
Maybe more notably than any of this, the techniques del Toro pioneered to combine live action stunts with animated doubles for super-powered fights and camera moves evolved into the modern style of comic book action (and blockbusters in general). His smart ways of adding digital effects to practical ones have also been influential. Getting a genuine visionary to do the sequel to a movie like BLADE is one of those things you always wish for as a movie fan but shouldn’t hold your breath for. This time you could’ve, though. It happened. (read the rest of this shit…)
SKIN TRADE (actually written as SKINTRADE on screen) is the long-awaited passion project of Dolph Lundgren, who produced and wrote the screenplay with Gabriel Dowrick (an editor and sometimes director) and Steven Elder (an actor who was in GALLOWWALKERS). Over the years Dolph had sometimes planned to direct it himself, sometimes not to act in it, at one point possibly to have Steven Seagal co-star. Eventually he handed over the reins to Ekachai Uekrongtham, director of BEAUTIFUL BOXER and PLEASURE FACTORY, which is about the sex industry in Singapore. To Dolph SKIN TRADE is an attempt to raise awareness about the problem of sex trafficking. For me it is an achievement in having a movie that stars Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White.
Dolph plays Nick Cassidy, an NYPD detective who gets himself into trouble by gunning down Serbian gangster Dragovic (Ron Perlman, sort of reprising his character from POLICE ACADEMY: MISSION TO MOSCOW)’s prettiest son two seconds after he yells “I will prove to you… I AM MY FATHER’S SON!”
Just another day on the job, you would think, but next thing you know some dudes fire an RPG into Nick’s living room window and he wakes up in the hospital with the side of his face melted and no wife or daughter in his burned down house.
Meanwhile Tony Jaa plays Tony, an undercover cop on a crusade against Dragovic’s sex slavery ring in Cambodia and Thailand. We first meet him wearing a nice suit and being threatened at gunpoint to have sex with a young kidnapped child. He fakes like he’s gonna do it but instead he pulls out his belt to use as a weapon to beat up every sorry sex slaving piece of garbage in the room and dangle their cowering leader (Gigi Velicitat, ELEPHANT WHITE, THE MARINE 2, STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI) off the side of the building until he tells them where their next shipment of human cargo is headed. And then he drops him anyway. The guy probly shouldn’t have offered him that freebie on sex slaves in my opinion. That was his mistake. (read the rest of this shit…)
This is not just the latest Dolph Lundgren picture, this is the passion project he’s been trying to make for years. He co-wrote the screenplay (IMDb says John Hyams did a rewrite), and originally planned to direct, but instead gave it to Ekachai Uekrongtham, who is best known for BEAUTIFUL BOXER.
At one point there were rumors that Seagal was going to co-star with Lundgren. Instead we ended up with the more acrobatic all-star team-up of Dolph and Tony Jaa (in his first English role). As you can see, Michael Jai White is also there in a supporting role, along with Peter Weller and Ron Perlman as the skin trader. According to IMDb we should also look out for Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Conan Stevens. The second unit director/action and stunt choreographer is Dian Hristov was Dolph’s stunt double in THE EXPENDABLES 3 and ONE IN THE CHAMBER. He’s also been Seagal’s double through most of the DTV era.
DISCLAIMER (skip if you don’t give a shit): I haven’t reviewed Guillermo Del Toro’s movies since 2004, when Drew McWeeny got him to write a blurb for a book I self-published (later used by Titan on my other books). I never met or e-mailed the guy but it was a harsh, self-imposed rule to avoid any perception of being easier on his movies because of that connection, or worse, actually doing that. But I decided I want to write about PACIFIC RIM anyway. Maybe it was just a 9 year rule.
Since I haven’t reviewed them all here’s where I stand on Del Toro: been a fan since MIMIC. BLADE 2 is my favorite, followed by the three Spanish language movies in reverse chronological order. I enjoy the HELLBOYs but don’t love ’em. The second one frustrated me because it has many flashes of brilliance but doesn’t all come together for me. I like the movies he produces, also.
When BAD ASS came out in the summer I took a look at it and considered it, because it’s that rare Danny Trejo starring role we’ve always wished for. But the title and the tagline “They messed with the wrong senior citizen” made me think it was another one of these post-GRINDHOUSE neo-Troma type tongue in cheek movies that I’m not really interested in. And then I looked up director/co-writer Craig Moss and learned that the rest of his filmography is:
1. SAVING RYAN’S PRIVATES (not a porno, but way worse – a parody)
2. THE 41-YEAR OLD VIRGIN WHO KNOCKED UP SARAH MARSHALL AND FELT SUPERBAD ABOUT IT (a parody of comedies?) and
3. BREAKING WIND (TWILIGHT parody with farting).
This was before his next movie was listed, it’s gonna be 30 NIGHTS OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY WITH THE DEVIL INSIDE THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. So not only did I put BAD ASS back on the shelf, but would’ve reconsidered everything I believed about civil liberties if given an opportunity to deport Craig Moss just for making up those titles. And what, I’m supposed to believe this guy has no friends or family who could intervene and tell him to have some fucking dignity as a human being and stop making those? Come on, people. You’re just as culpable in this SARAH MARSHAL IS SUPERBAD fiasco as he is. If you see something, say something. What did you know and when did you know it. All that is necessary for the release of BREAKING WIND is that good men do nothing.
David 8’s basketball practice in PROMETHEUS got me thinking about Ripley 8’s b-ball skills in ALIEN RESURRECTION, so much so that I decided to make it the topic of my Badass Cinema 101 column for CLiNT Magazine. Ask for it by name at your favorite newsstand or magazinier.
Well, I had to re-watch the basketball scene for research, but I decided instead of just watching the scene I wanted to sit and watch the whole movie again. I’ve always liked this one and thought it got a bad rap. It lacks the seriousness and groundbreakingness of ALIEN and ALIENS, but in its own way it’s a highly entertaining sci-fi popcorn movie with great characters, great set-pieces, original ideas, cool monsters and lots of weird shit that only this particular director would’ve done. That last one I’m afraid is probly one of the reasons it’s so hated. Alot of people don’t like seeing things they didn’t already plan to see. (read the rest of this shit…)
After Steve Guttenberg floated away from the series in a hot air balloon they still made three more POLICE ACADEMYs without him. I think it would’ve been cool if every once in a while they cut to him still in the balloon looking down and smiling, like “Oh, you rascals, you sure know how to prank Captain Harris!” But I guess he was above that. Or maybe just Sharon Stone wouldn’t do it. (read the rest of this shit…)
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