"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

The Art of Self-Defense

THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE is an odd little indie comedy about karate. I wondered if it would be too similar to THE FOOT FIST WAY, the early Danny McBride movie that jibed so well with my sense of humor that when I first rented it I watched it two times in a row. Come to think of it, this movie’s sensei (Alessandro Nivola, AMERICAN HUSTLE) has a philosophy of punching like a kick and kicking like a punch, whatever that means, and that could be called a “foot fist way.” But this is a very different movie. The humor is very dry, the dialogue seems precise as opposed to improvised, and the protagonist is a timid nerd who transforms rather than a blowhard who is just a total asshole from the beginning.

The timid nerd is Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg, CURSED), an awkward accountant for an unnamed company. The bros in the break room don’t appreciate him trying to join their conversations, his best friend is his dachshund, and he gets stomped by random motorcyclists while trying to buy dog food. I love the slightly surreal touches that convey his loneliness: the news report that describes him as “a 35 year old dog owner,” the robotic answering machine voice that says “you have only 1 message.” (Though not obviously tied to a specific time period, it’s one with audio cassettes, fat-ass analog TVs and large camcorders with carrying bags.) (read the rest of this shit…)

The Bouncer

a.k.a. Lukas

THE BOUNCER, a.k.a. LUKAS, is a quite good 2018 JCVD movie that in the right mood might be very good. Or in another mood it might be boring as shit. It’s the rare JCVD movie with an 80% critics / 49% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. (BLOODSPORT is 39% / 74%.) So it’s not his usual approach.

Narratively it’s a pretty straight forward crime drama or noir type deal – club bouncer with mysterious past gets into trouble through no fault of his own and is forced to inform on his shady new boss, putting himself and his daughter in increasing amounts of danger, caught between two sides he can’t trust. But tonally it kind of reminds me of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION – a very grim and serious march into doom fueled by Van Damme’s ragged features and hard-earned non-verbal acting skills.

Don’t take that as a comparison in quality. REGENERATION is a masterpiece, I don’t think THE BOUNCER is. Nor does it have the same dosage or strength of action. There’s some vehicle and guns stuff that is REGENERATIONesque, but the occasional fights are raw and unexaggerated, more interested in brutal reality than cinematic flair. More RUST AND BONE than BLOOD AND BONE. Do not expect him to do the splits, do expect him to get knocked over and his face bloodied and he’s too winded to get up but maybe he’ll be able to roll over and shoot at somebody or crawl on top of them and punch their face in. Dour though it may be, I got a thrill out of seeing this broken-but-still-going type of Van Damme character in a movie that feels more artful and legit than the lower rent DTV stuff he sometimes ends up in. (read the rest of this shit…)

Underwater

When the trailers for UNDERWATER surfaced (get it, surfaced) it seemed kinda out of nowhere. Never heard this was coming, and it looks like underwater ALIEN (AQUALIEN?), it has long-since-cancelled T.J. Miller in it, maybe it’s been sitting on the shelf forever, and that’s why it’s coming out in January? Then people started seeing it and saying it was crazy and fun, or actually good, so I made the effort to see it.

Well, don’t get your hopes up. It’s fine. I enjoyed it. But we didn’t get to see it with low expectations. I don’t know where the craziness reports come from – I can’t think of what would be surprising in it, unless you don’t know Kristen Stewart (CATCH THAT KID) is a good actress.

She’s the main attraction playing Norah, a mechanical engineer on an underwater station deep in the Mariana Trench. She happens to be awake and brushing her teeth the morning that her section of the station gets breached. As she runs from the flooding she tries to wake the others, but only a dude she barely knows named Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie, Grandmaster Flash on The Get Down) makes it safely into the other chamber where she opens a panel and rewires it to close a door right before some others make it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Uncut Gems

UNCUT GEMS is the latest and highest profile movie from writer/director brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. I recently caught up with their previous movie GOOD TIME and I loved it, so I would’ve been excited for this even without the hype.

It’s the story of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler, CONEHEADS), a New York jeweler who specializes in making ridiculous necklaces for rich musicians and athletes. His claim to fame is a blinged out Furby medallion he once made for some rapper to wear in a video. His shop is a tiny room behind a security door and he depends on people with connections like affiliate Demany (LaKeith Stanfield, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB) and employee/mistress Julia (Julia Fox) to hook him up with VIP clients. Julia is using her hotness and her side career as a photographer to hook that singer The Weeknd, and Demany brings in Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett. (read the rest of this shit…)

Little Women

Little women, walking down the street. Little women, bonding with their sisters but also struggling to establish their individual identities in order to find a path in life that brings them happiness

In her joyous new version of LITTLE WOMEN, writer/director Greta Gerwig (LADYBUGS) cleverly acknowledges that the book by Louisa May Alcott may be more appealing to (or more understood by) women than men. When freelance writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan, HANNA) sends stories about her and her sisters to her publisher (Tracy Letts, U.S. MARSHALS) he snidely dismisses them… until his daughters find the manuscript and freak out like it’s a new Twilight. The scene is inspired by reality: Alcott and her publisher didn’t really believe in her work-in-progress until the publisher’s niece read it and loved it.

What I’m saying is not that I, as a male individual, don’t get the appeal of this movie. I loved it. But Little Women is a “girl story” I never knew to open myself up to. I had never read or seen it, not even when it had Winona Ryder in it. I only did it this time because I loved Gerwig’s first film as a director, LADY BIRD (she didn’t direct LADYBUGS, I don’t know why I said that a paragraph ago, but it seemed amusing at the time). (read the rest of this shit…)

Sweetheart

SWEETHEART is a simple little horror movie from second-time writer/director J.D. Dillard (SLEIGHT). It only has a couple characters, most of the time only two, and only one of those is human. Jenn (Kiersey Clemons, DOPE) wakes up face down on an island shore, life vest on, having survived some unspecified boat disaster. A friend or acquaintance of some kind, Brad (Benedict Samuel, the Mad Hatter on Gotham), has washed up too, but he’s impaled on some kind of shell, and he doesn’t last long.

So it’s a castaway movie. Jenn immediately proves to be very resourceful, smashing through a coconut with a sharp rock to get water. She finds her luggage, and manages to be well dressed in beach attire throughout the movie. She also finds luggage from someone else who’s been on the island, but maybe a long time ago. Long enough to have a Gameboy.

For a bit it seems like some puzzle-oriented video game like Myst, because she’s looking at objects and photos, piecing together a bit of a backstory for characters we never even see. There’s a journal, but it got wet enough that all the ink smeared away. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Curse of the Cat People

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE is a cool and unusual sequel because it is a direct followup to CAT PEOPLE with the same characters, and it references the events of the first movie, but it’s an entirely different premise. It came out in 1944, two years later, but theoretically takes place in the then-future because Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice (Jane Randolph), his assistant who he conveniently left his now dead wife Irena (Simone Simon) for when he thought her cat person beliefs were psychological problems, have had enough time to get married and have a little blond six-year old named Amy (Ann Carter, I MARRIED A WITCH). After failing so spectacularly with his first wife, he uses her tragic ending as justification to continue the exact same oblivious behavior with his daughter, worrying about her being too imaginative and accusing her of “lies” when she tells him strange things like that she heard a voice speaking to her. Once again, the girl he doesn’t believe is 100% correct, and shutting her down makes everything worse. That’s the curse of the cat people.

In his defense, some of this is probly hard to deal with. Little Amy has a potentially traumatic fiasco where nobody shows up for her birthday party and dad figures out that when she went to deliver the invitations she put them in a fuckin tree hole instead of a mailbox, believing that would work. And then not only does she have a childless birthday, but the next day the kids at school believe they weren’t invited and are mean to her. I’m not sure how you deal with something like that as a parent. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cat People (1942)

Well, this isn’t news to the world, but I can now personally confirm that Jacques Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE (1942) is a simple, moody little black and white horror classic. It has a strange mythology (woman believes she’s descended from a tribe that turned into panthers when jealous or horny), but any monster business is late and brief and primarily implied by shadows (and a little bit of animation). Mostly this is a movie about men and women and their relationships.

Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER) is the one possibly belonging to the titular race. She’s an immigrant from Serbia and a fashion illustrator. In her spare time she likes to go to the Central Park Zoo to paint the animals. One day she’s tossing one of her sketches in the trash and misses. Oliver Reed (not the actor [THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM] but a fictional character played by Kent Smith [BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON]) is the dipshit standing near the garbage who gives her shit about it. He strikes up a conversation, they have tea, next thing you know they’re married. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cats

Sorry, everybody. CATS was my idea. It was already a record-breaking Broadway musical slated for cinematic adaptation from LES MISERABLES director Tom Hooper, but I was the one who suggested they ditch the traditional makeup and do the cats as hideous mocap animal-human hybrids on oversized sets. In my defense I was picturing more of a RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES type of design where the faces have cat-like structure to them. I didn’t know it was gonna be human faces on furry Barbie doll bodies, which is a different type of creepy than I imagined.

I feel bad that this whole fiasco has caused all kinds of speculation about Hooper being a bad director. I personally didn’t much care for his best picture winning THE KING’S SPEECH, especially after it dissipated from the public consciousness before I could make THE KING’S PEACH to kick off a prestige version of Asylum mockbusters. But I truly was won over by THE MISERABLES. I’m not a fan of the Broadway aesthetic at all, not even Rappin’ Hamilton, and I saw that movie reluctantly for best picture nominee completist purposes only, so I was shocked when I totally loved it. Some of that is due to good choices on Hooper’s part, such as insisting on recording all the singing live and doing Anne Hathaway’s emotional song in one shot in closeup in a coffin, but also I was unfamiliar with it, I was experiencing that story for the first time, and it’s a good one. Way to go, Victor Hugo. You nailed that one. Les congratz. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Mercenary

THE MERCENARY is what they’re calling the new one from director Jesse V. Johnson, though it’s just MERCENARY on screen, and was developed under the less generic (if goofy) title LEGION MAXX. Johnson, of course, has been on a hot streak for several years, with movies including ACCIDENT MAN, THE DEBT COLLECTOR and AVENGEMENT. This is his first in a while to not have Scott Adkins in it – instead it’s a vehicle for his lesser known but even-longer-time collaborator, Dominiquie Vandenberg. The Belgian martial artist met Johnson working on MORTAL KOMBAT, and starred in his first shorts Death Row the Tournament and The Doorman, then his first features THE HONORABLE and PIT FIGHTER, and has since shown up in ALIEN AGENT, THE HITMEN DIARIES: CHARLIE VALENTINE, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS 2, THE BUTCHER and TRIPLE THREAT. He can also be seen in Yuen Woo-Ping’s TRUE LEGEND, but maybe his greatest claim to fame is training Leonardo DiCaprio for knife-fighting in GANGS OF NEW YORK and then becoming fight coordinator and appearing as a gang member. (read the rest of this shit…)