“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

It’s fair to say that earlier in the century The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a pop culture phenomenon. Stieg Larsson’s three novels, posthumously published starting in 2005, were worldwide hits. I enjoyed the stories through their 2009 Swedish movie adaptations (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST) which launched their star Noomi Rapace (PROMETHEUS, PASSION, DEAD MAN DOWN, THE DROP, CLOSE) into international movie stardom, and their leading man Michael Nyqvist into spending his last years playing bad guys in Hollywood movies including ABDUCTION, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL and JOHN WICK (where he delivers the best syllable: “Oh.”). David Fincher’s 2011 English language take on the first book was pretty great and even got Rooney Mara an unlikely but well-deserved Oscar nomination.

But it wasn’t a big enough hit to justify a sequel budgeted for Fincher, Mara and Daniel Craig, so after years of haggling they went with plan B: a lower budget sequel with new director and cast, based not on the next in the trilogy but a continuation written by new author David Lagercrantz. And nobody really seemed to be waiting for that.

Except me! Selling point #1: director Fede Alvarez, who really impressed me with EVIL DEAD and DON’T BREATHE. Selling point #2: less grim and rapey, more fun and actiony. You still got the trademark fucked up and fetishy shit of the snow-bitten Larssonverse, but in this one our heroine is never sexually assaulted, but does have high speed chases on multiple vehicle types. Hot move: ditching police cars by jumping your motorcycle onto a frozen lake. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hostiles

Scott Cooper is an actor-turned-writer/director who seems slightly under the radar to me. He made a splash with CRAZY HEART ten years ago, a movie that somehow seems overshadowed by Jeff Bridge’s Oscar-winning performance in it (and that I thought of a few times watching A STAR IS BORN). His followup, the gloomy crime drama OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013), teamed him with Christian Bale (POCAHONTAS) for the first time, and I have to admit that I have not seen his poorly reviewed BLACK MASS (2015). But he didn’t write that one. I only watch the ones he directs and writes, obviously.

2017’s HOSTILES (based on a manuscript written by Donald E. Stewart [JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, DEATHSPORT, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, PATRIOT GAMES, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER] in the ’80s) reteamed him with Bale for what might be categorized as a Real Serious Western – the kind where the director is hesitant to call it a western (“I don’t think in terms of genre… If anything it’s a psychological western in the vein of Anthony Mann…I don’t think it’s a western, it has more in common with Joseph Conrad or Larry McMurtry or Louis L’Amour” he told Moviemaker) and you want to grab them and tell them “all right cool it buddy, just admit you made a really good western.” (See also THE REVENANT.)

But I guess I sort of get it. A completely traditional western is not very marketable in this day and age. Most people don’t really want the genre without a little bit of a new spin on it, and HOSTILES has one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Vice

When I heard writer/director Adam McKay was doing a movie with Christian Bale (TERMINATOR SALVATION) playing Dick Cheney, I couldn’t picture what that would be, but I assumed I would love it. The former Saturday Night Live writer has much more experience in beloved Will Ferrell comedies than in Serious Important Movies, but I enjoyed THE BIG SHORT‘s novel and audacious attempt to make entertainment out of explaining the early 2000s housing bubble. Many worship ANCHORMAN or STEP BROTHERS, but for me it’s TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY that makes me laugh no matter which part I rewatch for the one-thousandth time on cable. Maybe people don’t think of it this, way, but to me it’s the best pop culture portrait of what was going on in our country during the Bush years. So I figured McKay had good instincts about this stuff. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cold Pursuit

COLD PURSUIT – which could be called HELLY HANSEN PRESENTS ‘COLD PURSUIT’ in my opinion – is an odd duck of a Liam Neeson vehicle. His character Nelson “Nels” Coxman is a man with a very particular set of skills, but they mostly involve driving a snow plow. He lives a simple life in a big house in a tiny ski resort town 3 and a quarter miles from Denver, Colorado. It’s one of those places where people have to be kinda rugged but they’re also laid back and individualistic. It’s always cold outside so they mostly just find ways to relax in their big houses. Nels’s wife Grace (Laura Dern, WILD AT HEART) smokes a joint while cooking up some meat from the reindeer that Nels and their son Kyle (Micheal Richardson, VOX LUX) hunted a while back.

Nels is a little nervous about having to make a speech after winning Citizen of the Year. Otherwise they seem to have a nice comfortable lifestyle going when all the sudden Kyle turns up dead – we know he was murdered by drug dealers, but the coroner (Jim Shield, SHANGHAI NOON, who looks like a more hard living Chris Pine) says it was a heroin overdose. Nels is so broken up he puts a shotgun in his mouth but when he’s interrupted by Kyle’s bloodied and apologetic friend Dante (Wesley MacInnes, POWER RANGERS) and learns what really happened, it’s not long before he’s sawing off said shotgun to fit in his jacket and go trying to find the people responsible. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lady of Steel

I can say I love Shaw Brothers movies, because most of the ones I’ve seen are so good. But there are so many more of them than I’ll ever see. Every once in a while I remember that and I check one out. This one is from 1970 and it stars one of the pioneering female martial arts movie stars, Cheng Pei-pei, perhaps best known for COME DRINK WITH ME.

My dad could beat up your dad with one dagger stabbed into his skull.

It starts with an origin story. Some guys transporting silver taels get ambushed at an inn. The main guy is so badass that he keeps fighting even though he has daggers sticking out of his back and forehead. He dies, but his young daughter Fang Ying Qi is carried into the woods where she’s found and adopted by a kung fu master named Xuan Zhen (Ku Wen-Chung, a prolific actor and director since the ’40s). In her first appearance after the opening credits, the master has been enjoying his tea, when suddenly Cheng Pei-pei as grown up Ying Qi drops in from above the frame – I think she’s been hanging out in the trees.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Peppermint

Well damn, I had been hyped to see PEPPERMINT in theaters but I lost the urgency after everyone told me it was bad, and it left before I got to it. Turns out it’s the type of shit I like. Shoulda trusted my gut.

Admittedly it is guilty of that troublingly prevalent action movie problem of our era: vicious Mexican gang/cartel bad guys at a time when the ruling party in this country wants us to be having nightmares about that shit to justify their cruel, racist policies and moneymaking scams (see also SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO). As if left over from another time, the movie casts John Ortiz (CARLITO’S WAY, NARC, MIAMI VICE, AMERICAN GANGSTER, FAST & FURIOUS, FURIOUS 6) as the lead investigator, the one Latin good guy that’s supposed to offset the stereotype. To be fair, they also have the cartel conspiring with local cops, judges and lawyers, so Corruption In The System is as guilty as The Other.

Anyway if you can stomach that then the only other action movie sins are the type that I just laugh at and enjoy, like the ludicrous TV coverage of our anti-hero’s rampage (details later). I think the best way to explain the appeal of this movie is to say that I have enjoyed all of the PUNISHER movies, including this one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Destroyer (2018)

DESTROYER is the latest from director Karyn Kusama (THE INVITATION). It’s a dark, character-driven crime thriller starring Nicole Kidman (BATMAN FOREVER) as Erin Bell, an extra-crispy-burnt-out LAPD detective breaking all the rules to chase a bank robber (Toby Kebbell, FANTASTIC FOUR). It’s personal to her because years ago she went undercover in his gang and her partner/lover (Sebastian Stan, THE COVENANT) was killed. But she’s a total fuckin mess and she seems to be acting on her own and keeps ignoring her partner (Shamier Anderson)’s voicemails asking where the fuck she is.

So no, turns out it’s not a remake of the 1988 slasher movie starring Lyle Alzado, and it’s not based on a novel either. Writers Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi (CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL, THE TUXEDO, AEON FLUX, CLASH OF THE TITANS, R.I.P.D., RIDE ALONG, THE INVITATION), adapted it from the 1976 Kiss album of the same name featuring “Detroit Rock City” [citation needed]. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Favourite

THE FAVOURITE is the best picture nominated latest from director Yorgos Lanthimos, who I know from THE LOBSTER. I’m behind on this guy because I still haven’t even seen DOGTOOTH, let alone THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, but I get the feeling this is the least weird of his movies. It’s also the only one he doesn’t have a writing credit on, instead using a script by newcomer Deborah Davis (her first produced screenplay, even though she wrote the first draft 20 years ago!) and Australian TV writer Tony McNamara. It’s a historical costume drama about palace intrigue, nothing conceptually crazy going on here, but it has a distinctive off-kilter feel and biting humor not always beholden to things people would’ve said at the time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw trailer

Gotta love a title with a presenter and two ampersands. Remember, this is from David Leitch, co-director of JOHN WICK, director of ATOMIC BLONDE and DEADPOOL 2, stunt double of Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves. I still hope they make up some preposterous backstory where Shaw didn’t actually kill Han, but was forced to fake-kill him for Charlize Theron or some shit, so we don’t have to feel guilty for liking him. (That might have to be in FURI9US.)

The Commuter

Liam Neeson is… The Commuter, starring in his self-titled, totally solid addition to the catalog of Neeson vehicles directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (UNKNOWN, NON-STOP, RUN ALL NIGHT). Written by previously unknown Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi, this is a gimmicky suspense thriller taking place almost entirely in the limited location of a New York City commuter train, but it manages to also mix in a couple of impressive action exclamation points, not to mention the director’s endlessly playful computer-assisted camera show-offery.

The Commuter is Michael McCauley, an ex-cop who is suddenly fired from his current job at an insurance company, and then finds himself under siege in dark territory on the ride home. It’s the train he’s been riding for ten years, and most of the passengers know him by name, make small talk with him and ask about his wife (Elizabeth McGovern, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, CLASH OF THE TITANS) and kid (Dean-Charles Chapman, Game of Thrones). The usual sameness of his mornings is cleverly illustrated in an opening scene that shows him getting up, having breakfast, talking to the family and getting dropped off at the train, jaggedly cutting between seasons, emotions and conversations to show the passage of time without interrupting the flow of the daily routine. (read the rest of this shit…)