I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Skyscraper

We had DIE HARD on a boat and DIE HARD in a bus and DIE HARD on a train and DIE HARD in a hockey stadium and a couple DIE HARDs in malls and DIE HARD on piano and DIE HARD still in a building but not as good with Anna Nicole Smith (called SKYSCRAPER) and now we have DIE HARD still in a building but not as good without Anna Nicole Smith (but still called SKYSCRAPER). Dwayne Therock-Johnson plays Will Sawyer, former FBI agent turned small time security consultant given the huge break of overseeing the opening of the residential upper half of a fictional 225 story world’s tallest building in Hong Kong.

“The Pearl” as it’s called due to a round structure at the top is owned by rich dude Zhao (Chin Han, THE DARK KNIGHT, GHOST IN THE SHELL), who we later find out is being shaken down by some tactical mastermind guy (Roland Moller, ATOMIC BLONDE) whose guerrillas infiltrate and set the building on fire. Will is outside of the building when it happens, but he gets blamed for it and must evade the police THE FUGITIVE style and figure out how the hell to get onto the building because his wife (Neve Campbell, WILD THINGS!) and twins (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell) are on the 96th floor. (read the rest of this shit…)

Out of Sight

June 26, 1998

OUT OF SIGHT pretty much struts onto the screen, David Holmes’ funky organ already jamming on “It’s Your Thing” as the Universal logo spins, George Clooney as Jack Foley storming out of a situation that we’ll only understand later, his frustrations underlined by freeze frames, when he spots a bank across the street. And he goes over unarmed, alone, winging it, and robs the place.

Clooney had already become a superstar on ER and proven himself big-screen-worthy in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but it was Steven Soderbergh who taught him to cut down on his trademark head-bobbing and become a real movie star. Wearing a suit I thought I heard somewhere was inspired by Cary Grant’s from NORTH BY NORTHWEST, he manages to charm his poor bank teller victim enough that when he tells her to have a nice day as he’s leaving with the money she reflexively says “You too.”

It’s a small, funny moment, but it’s also important. We have to believe this guy is so damn charismatic that the federal marshal who witnesses him digging out of Lompoc and gets thrown in the trunk of a car with him will fall for him. And Clooney pulls it off. (read the rest of this shit…)

Buffalo ’66

June 26, 1998

Look, I don’t want to brag, but in 1998 I was twenty years younger than I am now. I had the youth. The vigor. The open-mindedness and enthusiasm for things that seemed new and different. I had less of the anger toward people who get on lawns – if I had had a lawn I would’ve invited the youths to hang out on it and talk about youth stuff like did you know Lauryn Hill is doing a solo album or what is up with these Furbies or have you heard about this new WB show coming out in the fall they’re calling it “Ally McBeal in college” I don’t think I’ll watch it but it’s something I read about.

What I’m trying to do here is establish why it’s a good thing that in 1998 BUFFALO ’66 seemed like a great movie. I mean, I haven’t entirely turned my back on it. It’s still interesting. It has many positive qualities. But I definitely question it more now.

It’s easy to see what was appealing in that moment. Star/director/co-writer/composer Vincent Gallo plays Billy Brown, a just-released convict who looks like he inspired half the dudes who were in American Apparel ads (I mean, look at that striped muscle shirt). With cinematographer Lance Acord (first feature for the music video d.p.) he shoots scuzzy locations that seem like the stale refuse of the ’60s and ’70s: cracked parking lots, a bowling alley, a motel, a tiny house decorated in Buffalo Bills memorabilia. Chic, magazine ad ugly. I’m actually kind of surprised it’s not in black and white, but the muted color palette is one of its most striking features. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dr. Dolittle

June 26, 1998

DR. DOLITTLE starts the same way DIRTY WORK did: with Norm MacDonald narrating a wacky story about the main character when he was a kid. But instead of being the main character himself and talking about a dog getting violated by another dog, MacDonald turns out to be voicing a dog named Lucky who later gets violated Jeffrey Tambor. The main character is a live action human played by the voice of the dragon in MULAN, Eddie Murphy.

John Dolittle is a medical doctor with a gorgeous wife named Lisa (Kristen Wilson, who played Robin Givens in TYSON) and cute daughters Maya (Kyla Pratt, LOVE & BASKETBALL) and Charisse (Raven-Symone of later-Cosby-Show fame) and he’s kind of a self-absorbed dick who’s in such denial about having been able to talk to animals when he was a kid that he refuses to even learn what type of animal his daughter’s guinea pig is. It says right there in the title that he’s a doctor, but they still give him the standard issue Workaholic Dad Neglects His Family storyline. His office is working on a Big Merger that would make him rich, and his partner Dr. Weller (Oliver Platt, EXECUTIVE DECISION, also in BULWORTH that summer) is always hassling him because they have to impress Mr. Calloway (Peter Boyle, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, had been in SPECIES II in April) into signing The Big Contract after The Big Presentation. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tomb Raider

I think this new TOMB RAIDER is kinda good. You probly shouldn’t listen to me because I also kinda liked the new THE MUMMY, and this doesn’t have the benefit of cool monsters.

It’s very much the opposite of what I liked about the previous movies based on this same video game series. I watched LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER and LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE each ten years after they came out, and very much enjoyed Angeline Jolie’s shamelessly larger-than-life super heroine who parachutes into people’s Jeeps while talking to them on the phone, punches and hitches rides on sharks to escape flooded ruins, rides motorcycles on the Great Wall of China, etc. She has the talents and wits and acrobatic wire-fu skills to easily come out on top in any impossible situation, and that’s why it’s fun.

So I was skeptical when I saw that the new one was going for a “realistic” approach (partly based on a newer version of the video game). Doesn’t sound as fun to me. And Alicia Vikander, as much as I liked her in EX_MACHINA and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., looked silly to me in the trailers, leaping off crumbling cliffs, getting tossed around and scraped up and still John McClaning her way out of the rubble. She seemed too small and skinny and delicate for that to be believable. So when word on the movie was dire I gave up most of the hope that had been instilled in me by my admiration for director Roar Uthaug’s slasher movie COLD PREY and especially his viking-ish chase movie ESCAPE. (Once again, I highly recommend that movie.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Henry Fool

June 19,1998

Here’s another last minute addition to the ’98 series in acknowledgment of the summer’s abundance of significant indie movies. I suddenly realized that HENRY FOOL being a Cannes-Film-Festival-best-screenplay-award-winning film from lauded (once lauded?) auteur Hal Hartley meant it fit right in with the other stuff I was writing about, and shouldn’t be skipped. All I really know about Hartley is my vague memories of liking THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH, TRUST and SIMPLE MEN when I saw them almost 30 years ago. I never saw this one until now, but I’ve read that it is his biggest box office success.

That’s surprising. HENRY FOOL is a very dry, often ponderous two hour seventeen minute sort-of-comedy that takes its sweet time getting to what it seems to be about before abruptly switching to something else for the last part. It’s raw, seems to be intentionally lacking in style or energy, at times slightly amateurish, even feeling in moments like a parody of indie movie pretension. Its two leads are an obnoxious prick with a sort of reverse charisma and a passive, inscrutable peon who barely talks, except to occasionally parrot some dumb bullshit that the other guy said that he should know better than to believe.

I kind of liked it though. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mulan

June 19, 1998

MULAN is the Disney animated feature of summer ’98. It’s another Broadway-style musical loosely based on an old tale, in this case the legend of Chinese warrior Hua Mulan, as described in The Ballad of Mulan. Fa Mulan – voiced by Ming-Na Wen (STREET FIGHTER), singing voice Lea Salonga (NINJA KIDS) – is a young woman in Han dynasty China in the midst of training to be a great warrior. Oh, whoops, that’s a typo – in the midst of training to be a great wife. She gets all painted up and tries to walk in confining clothes and know all the etiquette for tea drinking and what not. But she’s not up to it, even has to write notes on her hand before a test, and completely fucks it up.

Luckily there is another option. The Huns are invading and every family must provide a man or boy to fight in the army. The only male in her family is her dad Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh, STEELE JUSTICE, DEATH WISH 4), a war vet who is all for going again but he’s an old man who can barely walk and she’s sure he’s gonna get fuckin killed in like two seconds so at night she steals his armor and conscription notice and runs off to pretend to be a dude and fight in the army on his behalf.

Which she’s actually worse at than being feminine. There’s lots of, you know, humor about how she says something in a normal voice and then says “er, I mean” and repeats it in a not even remotely convincing fake-masculine voice. She starts to pick up other things like to spit and do gross things to be accepted as a man. It’s like JUST ONE OF THE GUYS I guess but when they see her boobs it’s off screen. (read the rest of this shit…)

The X-Files

June 19, 1998

(or is it THE X FILES?)

(note: Some people call it X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE, but I think “fight the future” is just the tag line, like “DIE HARDER.”)

Oh shit, man. The ’90s. The X-Files sure was a bigger deal in the ’90s, wasn’t it? And in some ways this movie spin-off of the show is the most era-representative of the ones I’ve watched in this series so far. Not in style, or in any kind of fun, nostalgic way – it doesn’t feel very dated – but just in its view of the world. It spoke to a type of pre-millennium paranoia that has uncool associations today, but at the time was fresh and edgy and hip.

See, the internet was pretty new, so it wasn’t common to know about every strange belief or kooky fringe group. If you wanted to find out about some weird creature somebody claimed to spot you had to read outdated cryptozoology books at the library. If you wanted to know about UFO cults you had to know their address and send them a self addressed stamped envelope and read their newsletter. I don’t know why, but that’s what I did at a certain age. One time I even went to a UFO cult’s presentation on a college campus. All I really remember was a woman with a shaved head who seemed very sincere about all this. A few years later when the mass suicide happened I dug out a handout I’d saved, and though it didn’t say “Heaven’s Gate” on it anywhere it described the same theology, following the teachings of someone called “The Two” or “Ti and Do.” And I always wondered if that lady got out in time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ocean’s 8

Before seing INCREDIBLES 2 and JURASSIC’S 5 I wanted to catch up with OCEAN’S 8. It’s that all star ensemble heist movie that came out in theaters a month ago. I know whatever conversation there was has already died off, but I wanted to see it.

Debbie Ocean, who kind of looks like Michael Jackson and is played by Sandra Bullock (SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL), gets out on parole with nothing but forty-some dollars, a glittery party dress and a master plan for stealing millions of dollars worth of jewelry. So she’s in good spirits. Plying her trade of theft and scams she gets herself a fancy hotel room and amenities (the fancy lady’s version of Porter building himself back up from nothing at the beginning of PAYBACK) and then goes to find her old partner Lou (Cate Blanchett, HANNA). Lou claims to have not known she was in prison, just thought she changed her number, and she says it so dryly I didn’t know at first if she was joking. I like these two.

Much like OCEAN’S ELEVEN, we get to meet the Mission: Impossible team of heisters in their regular lives as the two go around recruiting them. They rescue jewelry expert Amita (Mindy Kaling, A WRINKLE IN TIME) from working for her mom and Tammy (Sarah Paulson, THE SPIRIT) from suburban boredom. They hire hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna, BRING IT ON: ALL OR NOTHING) and three-card-monty hustler/pickpocket Constance (Awkwafina, CRAZY RICH ASIANS). Most crucially they trick movie star and soon-to-be Met Gala host Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway, HOODWINKED!) into hiring past-her-prime former fashion design legend Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter, PLANET OF THE APES) who they’ve gotten in on a scheme to get Kluger to wear a ridiculously valuable Cartier necklace that would otherwise be in a vault. (read the rest of this shit…)

Escape Plan 2: Hades

When I heard they were making an ESCAPE PLAN 2 I couldn’t believe it. If you read my review of the first one you can see that right at the beginning I worried it might be “the last gasp for straight ahead R-rated theatrically released movies from the ’80s action icons.” I was a major proponent of the Old Man Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies and disappointed that they kept flopping. I even saw MAGGIE in a theater somehow (there were three other people there, if I remember right) and I suspect I’ve recommended BULLET TO THE HEAD to more people than any other human being. I liked that one better, but that’s okay – ESCAPE PLAN was a solid genre piece with standard Stallone and Schwarzenegger getting to be funny and some goofiness and weirdness for flavoring. Not the best or worst thing either of these icons have done. A pretty good one. I want to keep seeing old fashioned action star vehicles like that, but these days the world is treating them like VHS. Or maybe Betamax. Or America Online CD-ROMs.

So I was grateful for whatever miracle of international co-financing gave us the possibility of an ESCAPE PLAN franchise. And okay, so it’s too bad Arnold isn’t in this one, but Dave Bautista (WRONG SIDE OF TOWN)? I’ll take Dave Bautista. And then wait a minute, they’re not releasing it in theaters? I guess I could understand it. Still could be good.

But pretty recently I saw another trailer and I noticed wait a minute, this is kind of weird, they say STALLONE and they say BAUTISTA but it kind of looks like it’s mostly about this character played by a Chinese actor whose name they don’t even say. (read the rest of this shit…)