You guys, it’s seeming more and more like Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award winning director of THE HURT LOCKER, has permanently replaced Kathryn Bigelow, awesome director of POINT BREAK and BLUE STEEL. That’s okay, they’re both very good at what they do. DETROIT follows ZERO DARK THIRTY as another heavily researched, based-on-actual-events issue movie with writer Mark Boal (IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH). This time they step away from the “War on Terror” to look at an even more intractable American quagmire: the war that members of law enforcement have on African American citizens, and the way the system harbors maniacs and racists who abuse their power.
The subject is the Algiers Motel Incident, a particularly gruesome chapter of the 1967 Detroit riots when police officers and National Guardsmen detained a group of young, mostly African American people, beat and tormented them, (SPOILERS if you don’t know about the true story) murdered three of them and were not punished for it. (read the rest of this shit…)
BATTLE FOR TERRA is a computer animated sci-fi fantasy that opened wide with almost no advertising or awareness. I thought it was the big expensive one that was an infamous flop, but it turns out I was confusing it with DELGO, which was released the year before, but not in the summer, so I don’t have to watch it. This one was actually a low budget independent production, but it did open wide and did not seem to capture the public consciousness, so I’ll go ahead and call it a Summer Fling in the tradition of TITAN A.E.
In the opening scene I was unsure I’d be able to make it through this one, because the alien race at the center of the story, the Terrians, look like this:
I pictured people working hard on this movie for months or years and then being crushed when they realized what it was gonna look like, but maybe I’m just picky about alien designs. Boxofficeflops.com says they spent just below $20 million on this (less than a third of the first SHREK’s budget), but Wikipedia says $4 million. If it’s the latter that’s insane because PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 cost $5 million and it’s a fuckin found footage video that doesn’t have an all star cast like this does! However much they had, it’s obviously not gonna have Pixar-level textures, but it doesn’t take more money to have better designs. For my money the worst decision made in this production was “Yes, I am okay with this being what the main character looks like.”
So thank God the story is pretty good. It starts in this world of Terra, a peaceful society of floating pea-pod E.T.s who fly around in wind-powered vehicles in harmony with flying whales. With better visual craftsmanship I think this would feel kinda like THE DARK CRYSTAL, though some things seem a little too close to modern human life (they have school and the teacher takes attendance and they have dinner at the dinner table and if they get in trouble they get sent to their room). (read the rest of this shit…)
It’s kind of funny that I finally watched Mimi Lesseo’s first movie AMERICAN ANGELS: BAPTISM OF BLOOD shortly after that GLOW show, because it has many parallels. A group of newbies try out for an all-female weekly wrestling show, have friendships and grudges, one falls for the sleazy but nice guy that runs it, the women live together, learn how to take falls, have training montages, a rivalry develops, they have the big match and bond through wrestling.
A couple big differences:
1) “American Angels” is not a startup, but an already established and successful promotion
2) Wrestling is treated (at least sometimes) as real fighting. It’s weird
3) It’s genuine exploitation with raw acting and laughably gratuitous T&A business
A group of women (three of them introduced with documentary style text) audition for the famous American Angels wrestling outfit. Lisa from Bakersfield (Jan Sebastian, GATORBAIT II: CAJUN JUSTICE) is a stripper who, as part of her show, will wrestle a man from the audience (after being rubbed in whip cream). For some reason her boss believes in her talents enough to get his old friend American Angels promoter/commentator Dazzling Dave (Tray Loren, ROCKTOBER BLOOD, also GATORBAIT II) to come watch, and he witnesses her punching the volunteer in the dick for pulling her bra off during the match. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is a cool fucking premise: a sort of Victorian era Justice League made of literary characters with unique talents or abilities. In this world, the famous stories of English literature (plus Mark Twain) really happened, and the Queen puts together a super-team to try to stop an attack on Venice. So James Bond’s M (Richard Roxburgh, VAN HELSING, STEALTH) recruits the adventurer hunter Alan Quatermain (Sean Connery, FIRST KNIGHT), Dracula’s Mina Harker (Peta Wilson, SUPERMAN RETURNS), the Invisible Man (but actually not the same H.G. Wells one, for legal reasons)(Tony Curran, Priest from BLADE II), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng, BRUISER), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend, director of BATTLE IN SEATTLE) and Captain Nemo (veteran Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah).
Sort of like MYSTERY MEN, this is based on a comic that’s a riff on the super hero team stories, but made when X-MEN was the only straight up movie version of that sort of thing. The comic, written by Alan Moore, is apparently very different, thicker in obscure literary allusions and lighter in summer movie type spectacle (sword fights, shoot outs, flying CGI machinery, explosions). The adaptation is credited to another comic book writer, James Robinson, who wrote alot of Superman. His previous screenwriting work was CYBER BANDITS, COMIC BOOK VILLAINS and a swing and a miss in the long line of writers trying to figure out how to do FREDDY VS. JASON. (read the rest of this shit…)
Some time in the last year or two I saw WOLF WARRIOR, the 2015 sophomore directing vehicle of martial arts star Wu Jing (KILL ZONE 1 and 2, FATAL CONTACT), but I barely remember it. Scott Adkins was the mercenary villain, and I remember it was cool to see him play a bad guy in a Hong Kong movie again, and that their fights were pretty good. But otherwise the movie made such little impression that I didn’t even feel like I had enough thoughts about it to write a review.
But now there’s a WOLF WARRIOR II and it’s such a big deal in China that it has already beaten THE MERMAID‘s record as their highest grossing film ever. And rather than making us wait for it to come over here later, they have it playing at the AMC theater downtown. Meanwhile, some people on Twitter were talking it up, and promised me that they enjoyed it without having seen the first one, so I decided to give it a shot. (read the rest of this shit…)
Git ‘r dun, kirk! Well dun, kirk. Done ‘n dunk, kirk. What have you dun, kirk!? You know you dun kirked up, don’t you? You know that, right?
DUNKIRK is Mr. Christopher Nolan’s WWII (World War 2) movie, a sweeping epic in visual terms but kind of an intimate story; a historic event depicted through the perspectives of three groups of lightly developed characters. I saw it in Imax, and I’d guess 98% of the movie fills the entire gigantic screen from top to bottom. They cropped it briefly inside a small boat (probly didn’t want gigantic closeups) but otherwise your field of vision is filled with sky, sand, water, helmets, bodies, smoke. And Hans Zimmer’s stress-inducing score frequently mimics a ticking stopwatch as we watch these thousands of British soldiers trapped on a beach in France waiting to see whether they’re gonna be miraculously rescued or bombed to shit.
Nolan gotta be Nolan, so he gave a simple story a uniquely tricky structure. He intercuts between the soldiers on the beach, some citizens in a small boat and a few pilots in the sky, but titles tell us that their stories encompass one week, one day and one hour, respectively. You never feel like you’re skipping around in time, but it’s an illusion, a timeline repeatedly expanding and contracting until it gets to the end. (read the rest of this shit…)
When BATMAN & ROBIN was flung onto 2,934 screens in the summer of ’97, the legend of Joel Schumacher, dependable Hollywood journeyman, blew up like a glitter bomb. The director’s next Batman movie was was cancelled because the studio wanted to go in a different direction – the direction of as-far-away-from-Joel-Schumacher-as-possible. Apparently recognizing his diminished status in the blockbuster arena, Schumacher reinvented himself as an oddball, directing the fucked up 8MM (1999) with Nic Cage, FLAWLESS (1999) with Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman (which he also wrote), and TIGERLAND (2000), an acclaimed $10 million Vietnam film that’s Colin Farrell’s American debut. The first one was mostly reviled, but the other two caused some critics to offer cautious respect.
So why not dip his toe in again with an action-comedy star vehicle interracial buddy movie type thing? One that would team him with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has also made some shameful movies, but seemed to always get away with it? (read the rest of this shit…)
These next two Summer Flings will not be wannabe tentpole Happy Meal type movies with action figures, but adult-aimed studio action thrillers that arrived with a thud. SWORDFISH was heavily hyped as the movie where Halle Berry (THE CALL), not long before winning her Oscar for MONSTER’S BALL, appeared topless. But the star is her fellow X-Man Hugh Jackman (THE MISERABLES), suddenly a leading man after the world fell in love with his Wolverine in 2000. He plays Stanley Jobson, legendary hacker who is no longer allowed to touch a computer or visit his daughter Holly (Camryn Grimes, MAGIC MIKE). He’s leaner than we’re used to him now, with an earring and spiky, slightly frosted hair, like an early Tom Jane character. Unlike in REAL STEEL, where he reluctantly formed a relationship with his estranged son, this guy will do anything to get his kid back.
Though an ex-con, Stanley is 100% good guy. We find out, of course, that his big crime was a hacktivism/whistleblower type thing where he planted a virus in an intrusive FBI spying program. (In my opinion Julian Assange and Edward Snowden both fantasize about being Stanley Jobson and this movie is their SCARFACE.) He’s trying to be a good boy now, and is introduced wearing only a towel and hitting golf balls off of his trailer in an oil field in Midland, Texas. A mysterious stranger named Ginger (Berry) shows up knowing everything about him and sexily harasses him into flying to L.A. to meet her boss, Gabriel Shear (John Travolta, BROKEN ARROW). (read the rest of this shit…)
SAVAGE DOG is an impressively weird new Scott Adkins joint written and directed by Jesse V. Johnson, the veteran stuntman and director of PIT FIGHTER, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS 2, THE BUTCHER, THE PACKAGE and the upcoming TRIPLE THREAT and ACCIDENT MAN. This one is a period piece, taking place in Indochina circa 1959, portrayed as sort of a CASABLANCA-esque scoundrel zone, or “a melting pot of post-war villainy,” as the titles put it. And some of this villainy will piss off Adkins, setting off a straight up bloodbath.
Adkins plays Martin Tillman, who enters the film in mythical fashion, climbing out of a muddy grave during a lightning storm as narration from the great Keith David (THEY LIVE) promises us a story about the time he “faced down an army and spilled a river of blood.” David will show up on camera later as a bar owner named Valentine, but since the man has more narrating credits to his name than Morgan Freeman they must’ve followed the Morgan Freeman rule with him: if he’s in your movie, get him to narrate. (read the rest of this shit…)
SHIN GODZILLA – or NEW GODZILLA, or TRUE GODZILLA, or GOD GOZILLA – is the new Japanese Godzilla movie, a regular rubber suit one even though it’s from acclaimed anime director Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) (co-director Shinji Higuchi has worked on anime and live action and live action anime and did effects for the GAMERA trilogy). They’d stopped making Godzilla movies in Japan, I guess, but the recent American one by Gareth Edwards got them itching to start over again. So this is yet another do-over where they discover the King of the Monsters for the first time and he doesn’t have another monster to fight. He just has Tokyo.
There is plenty of computer animation, but also alot of the old rubber suit, animatronics and miniature models, sometimes deliberately, nostalgically old school. When Godzilla first emerges he’s in a comically fucked up form with crazy googly eyes, little nubs instead of arms and a chest that expands and contracts like an accordion. He evolves through several stages throughout the movie, so by the end he’s absorbing power and firing energy beams out of his spines like a laser show. And according to my research he is the tallest Godzilla ever, and the one with the longest, weirdest and most fucked up tail. But his eyes never quite stop looking like a turkey’s. (read the rest of this shit…)