"I got news for 'em. There's gonna be hell to pay. 'Cause I ain't daddy's little boy no more."

Bruce Lee’s 75th

tn_bruceleebruceleeiconI should be back on Monday with my review of CREED, but I didn’t want today to pass without acknowledging what would’ve been Bruce Lee’s 75th birthday. Among his many contributions, consider that pretty much anyone who starred in a martial arts movie in the past, say, 35 years got started after seeing a Bruce Lee movie. So if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have nearly as many reviews on here.

It seems to me there are alot of people who know of Bruce Lee but haven’t actually sat down and watched his whole movies, and I think they could benefit from them. The bad news is he didn’t live long enough to make very many true starring vehicles, the good news is that makes it easy to catch up with. It’s not like getting into Sun Ra or Frank Zappa or something. I’ve even considered making an instructional pamphlet about it called SO YOU HAVEN’T SEEN A BRUCE LEE MOVIE…

In lieu of that, let me share the links to my reviews of Bruce’s movies, in case you haven’t read them.

THE BIG BOSS, a.k.a. FISTS OF FURY, is the first real Bruce Lee vehicle, and an early example of some of my favorite badass cinema techniques.

FIST OF FURY, a.k.a. THE CHINESE CONNECTION, is his only historical period piece type deal. It has many great and iconic scenes, though does suffer from some serious nationalism. (It has also been remade, including by Jet Li as FIST OF LEGEND.)

ENTER THE DRAGON I bet you’ve heard of. Great movie.

WAY OF THE DRAGON, a.k.a. RETURN OF THE DRAGON is my personal favorite Bruce Lee movie, the only one he directed, and the one where he kicks Chuck Norris’s ass in a textbook-great martial arts duel.

GAME OF DEATH has the iconic fight against Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the yellow and black jumpsuit, but it’s actually a horrible exploitation of Lee’s death and unfinished work-in-progress. You can watch it or not, but be sure not to miss BRUCE LEE: A WARRIOR’S JOURNEY, the documentary that explains the movie he was really trying to make and then reconstructs all of the scenes he shot (the best fights he ever did). There’s also a GAME OF DEATH II which is less morbid and more fun than the first one, but only has a little bit of obviously recycled Bruce footage. It’s mainly about his character’s brother.

Bonus points: MARLOWE, the ’60s take on the Raymond Chandler character starring James Garner has a couple great scenes with Bruce as the villain’s henchman.

Assault On Precinct 13

tn_assaultonprecinct13“Hey, this is regular vanilla. I wanted vanilla twist.”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I sincerely thought CREED was coming out last Friday and wanted the ROCKY reviews to run right into my review of that. But now I ran out of ROCKYs and I don’t want to leave you guys with nothing new to read on the day before Thanksgiving. So here’s one that has a minor connection to the ROCKY series that will come up later. This movie is based on westerns, and the characters who represent the cowboys and the Indians don’t even come close to eating sweet potatoes together, but I still think this is a good one for Thanksgiving. This year (as in many years) we’ve lost some really extraordinary people who inspired and entertained me over the years. That really reminds me not to take for granted the directors and movies I love, for example John Carpenter and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Thank you, people who make great movies, and thank you all for being here with me to share in their celebration.

Of all the John Carpenter movies that are like westerns, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is the most like a western. You’ve got a lieutenant (Austin Stoker, BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, MACH 2) who’s like a sheriff, holed up in an about-to-be-shut-down police station that’s like a jailhouse. You’ve got a prisoner transfer and a siege where the lieutenant and a notorious killer (Darwin Joston, THE FOG, ERASERHEAD) have to work together, and they sort of become friends. The hostile territory is a ghetto, Anderson, California, and the Indians are a WARRIORS-like multi-ethnic gang. They even do a bloodletting ritual before the siege.

But the scary thing about these gangsters is they don’t talk, and they keep coming. We mostly see them in the distance, at night, scurrying behind trees for cover. Then we see their hands reaching through the windows, or their bullets hitting windows, walls, cops. It’s such a good approach because there are so many ways these types of characters could’ve been silly. If the guy who looks like Che were talking to the cops he would probly use dated slang, have some corny line delivery, make us laugh. It would be fun to watch, but he’d be less menacing. As a silent force he’s much more effective. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rocky Balboa

tn_rockybalboaI already reviewed ROCKY BALBOA when it came out, but it’s such a great movie I wanted to checked in on it again.

It’s hard to believe this humble character drama is Stallone’s directorial followup to the rock n roll tall tale ROCKY IV. The style, the content, the tone, even the character are from different planets. This one has zero (0) Survivor songs in it and it reminds me less of ROCKY IV than of later Clint Eastwood directorial works: quiet, mournful, wintery colors, gentle piano scoring, character driven, raw. And the trashy people who give Rocky a bunch of shit at a bar could be family members from MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

This is a more pure ROCKY I throwback than ROCKY V was because Rocky’s life is simple, humble and gentle again. He’s not poor – he owns a restaurant called Adrian’s – but that’s not exactly high roller shit. He actually runs the place, seems to be there every day to greet customers, does the hiring and shops for some of the ingredients himself. It’s small, and Paulie makes fun of his “Italian food made by Mexicans.”

That Adrian has died since part V is crucial. Even in V, when Rocky lost “everything,” he didn’t lose Adrian. Rocky is alone again, but seems to take it in stride, because he’s Rocky. Although the beginning is specifically about marking the anniversary of Adrian’s death by visiting important places like the ruins of the skating rink where they had their first date, I get the feeling that the shot of him sitting contently at her grave in a folding chair is a pretty regular occurrence. And I love that Paulie lingers uncomfortably on the perimeter just like he did in II when she was in the hospital. He’s very aware that he’s an asshole and doesn’t deserve to be near her as much as Rocky does. He’s tormented by how he treated her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rocky V

tn_rockyvI think ROCKY V is the least enjoyable of the ROCKY pictures, but I admire its intentions. This is actually my first time watching it, and maybe it plays better when you watch them all close together. I know it was poorly received when it came out, and I’m sure some people were confused that it wasn’t more of the mountain-conquering commie-smasher Rocky had turned into when we last saw him five years earlier. But like I said, the ROCKY series evolves with the times. Allow me to submit to you an acknowledgment that appears on the end credits:

“We wish to express our gratitude to the Soviet government for granting us the use of their Aeroflot jet.”

With Reagan and the Cold War in the rear-view mirror and Survivor on indefinite hiatus, Stallone decided to shed some of the ’80s-style excess of the last two sequels. The world had changed again. People didn’t even care about Rambo anymore. Stallone’s last movie had been TANGO & CASH, which did okay, but was a troubled production and got poor reviews. He was obviously itching to try something different, because he followed ROCKY V with OSCAR and STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT. But first he felt it was time to put the tiger jacket in the closet and bring back the underdog. This was his first attempt, before ROCKY BALBOA, to go back to Rocky’s roots as well as to deal with his advancing age. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rocky IV

tn_rockyiv“Yo, can you turn your robot down?”

Which is stranger: that a legit, best-picture winning sports drama like ROCKY would eventually have a part IV that was this ridiculous, or that such a part IV could still stand apart from the series as a classic of a totally different kind? IV goes all in on the Reagan-and-MTV glitz of part III, crafting a preposterous Cold War face-off with so many song montages in the second half it almost qualifies as a rock musical. In fact, the whole sound of the movie is different because I-III composer Bill Conti and his inspirational brass section are replaced with a cool synth score by Vince DiCola (TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE) that was “one of the first to exploit the Fairlight CMI and Synclavier II computers’ sequencing capabilities” according to DiCola’s websight. I guess that’s fitting for the ROCKY where the first new scene is about Rocky giving Paulie a robot for his birthday. The robot will occasionally pop up to force Apollo or Rocky’s driver to barely suppress a “these crazy white people” look, or to be used as a boombox. So if you were hoping III was a fluke, and that this one will be gritty again, I got bad news.

It’s tradition to replay part of the fight from the end of the previous movie. This one not only reminds us of the fight with Clubber Lang, but also the private, no witnesses rematch between Apollo and Rocky. Of course it was ambiguous like the Toretto-O’Connor rematch, or King Kong vs. Godzilla or Freddy vs. Jason, it froze just as they were swinging at each other. But now for the sequel they’re replaying it, so we must be about to finally find out who– ah, never mind. Freeze frame again. I’m not sure why they had to replay that.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Rocky III

tn_rockyiiiSome important and possibly relevant events happened in the world during the three years between ROCKY II and ROCKY III. Disco records were blown up at baseball games, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were released, some motherfucker shot J.R. and the U.S. boycotted the Olympics in Moscow. Minutes after Ronald Reagan (THE KILLERS) was sworn into office the Iran hostages were totally coincidentally released, and the next day the first DeLorean DMC-12 was built. Later MTV went on the air. All the sudden it was 1982.

Movies had been changing too. ROCKY was the biggest movie of ’76, but of course ’77 brought us STAR WARS, and since then we’d also had THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. It would be quite some time before another drama was the #1 movie of a year (not until RAIN MAN in 1989 I believe).

The ROCKY series evolves with the times, and the transition to the ’80s is a drastic one. After the traditional Bill Conti fanfare (title scrolling over championship belt) and end-of-the-last-one recap we get a moment of contemplation and then… jugga jugga jugga jugga BRRRMMMMP!…BRRMMP BRRMMP BRRMMP! electric guitars and fireworks. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor is as purely, un-self-consciously motivational-speakerish as “Gonna Fly Now,” and even more audaciously grooving and tackily emblematic of its era. The song is so ridiculous it’s kind of a betrayal of the dirty, street level reality of the series so far, but it’s dead perfect for this slick new ROCKY of the aerobics-and-American-flags Reagan years. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rocky II

tn_rockyiiAfter the success of ROCKY, screenwriter Sylvester Stallone became writer-director Sylvester Stallone with the period wrestling movie PARADISE ALLEY. And then after that practice run he was ready to direct the rematch.

ROCKY II starts right before where ROCKY left off, with about 5 minutes of Balboa vs. Creed. In other words “the end of ROCKY.” This type of recap used to be done in many sequels and never is now. You have to remember, there was no home video at that time. It seemed important to remind people what happened because the last movie was 3 years ago and people haven’t necessarily been able to see it since then.

So the first new footage is right where ROCKY left off, right after the fight, and we can compare and contrast it to the first movie’s scene after Rocky beat Spider Rico in the church. Instead of our hero and his opponent laying bloodied in a small back room waiting for the doctor to show up later, they are both rushed to the hospital in ambulances, and are welcomed there by crowds of fans and press. And instead of the two fighters being like friendly co-workers in-this-shit-together, Apollo starts barking in front of the cameras about a rematch and calling Rocky a punk. This confuses Rocky because, as we were reminded by the archival footage, the very first thing Apollo said after winning the fight was “No rematch.” He was very clear about it. They both agreed. (read the rest of this shit…)


tn_rockyI bet ROCKY is one of these movies that’s become so famous, so iconic – it won best picture, it made a stairway famous, it inspired a statue, it has five sequels, now a spin-off, and catchy theme music that everyone knows, that’s used in a million parodies – that some of the young people figure they can already imagine what it is, they don’t bother to see it. In fact, maybe my bet should be with them over the outcome of the big fight at the end.

It opens with a small fight. “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) vs. Spider Rico (Pedro Lovell) inside a small church. They beat the pulp out of each other and then they’re laying in back, they get paid about sixty bucks between them, and are told the doctor will be there in about 20 minutes. And they’re not mad about it. That’s their life.

This is part of what makes the character of Rocky so appealing. He lives in a slum in a small apartment with taped up windows, he doesn’t own a car, his three best friends seem to be an asshole named Paulie (Burt Young, THE KILLER ELITE) and his two turtles Cuff and Link, who he bought while hitting on Paulie’s painfully-shy sister Adrian (Talia Shire, RAD), who works at a pet shop. He has to work as a collector for Mr. Gazzo (Joe MANIAC Spinell) but he’s not good at it because he feels sorry for the people. The gym owner Mick (Burgess Meredith, G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE) won’t talk to him and kicked him out of his locker to make room for a fighter he thinks might have a future. Rocky’s life is pretty shitty, but he rarely complains or mopes about it. He talks positively (if self-deprecatingly) and makes up terrible jokes to tell Adrian, to try to get her to say words to him. The people in his life, such as Adrian’s boss Gloria (Jane Marla Robbins, THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON) seem about 25% charmed by him and 75% annoyed. But that doesn’t stop him from talking their ears off, showing them wallet-sized clippings from his matches and telling them they shoulda seen it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Taking Lives

tn_takinglivesI don’t watch these twisty suspense thrillers too often, but they can be fun. I honestly don’t know what drew me to TAKING LIVES right now, but the only thing I knew about it other than that it stars BY THE SEA director Angelina Jolie is a really absurd thing that happens at the end that somebody told me about back when it came out. That turns out to be the best part of the movie, but I guess it’s okay I had it spoiled 11 years ago because otherwise I don’t think I would’ve watched it. There is no scenario where I see this fresh. It’s kind of like how I saw both SEVEN POUNDS and ORPHAN only because their plot twists sounded funny. Not that this is as good as those, but I enjoyed it okay.

Extra-hot-late-twenties Jolie plays Agent Illeanna Scott, an FBI profiler who has come to Canada to help Hugo Leclair (Tchéky Karyo), her mentor from Quantico, catch a serial killer. You know the drill: she’s totally brilliant, she has odd habits (like she lays inside a grave to get closer to the crime), she looks at gory photos while eating, she comes up with theories based on tiny details and everybody looks at her in either awe or fear. Olivier Martinez (BEFORE NIGHT FALLS) plays a cop who doesn’t trust or respect her, and he gets to be the bearer of that cliche that if you say something insulting in front of someone in another language thinking they don’t understand it then for sure they will play along and later say something to you in that language to reveal that they are fluent and then you will be embarrassed and not know what to say. (read the rest of this shit…)

Purple Rain

tn_purplerainbtisl“Ladies and gentlemen… The Revolution!”

Those are the first words spoken in PURPLE RAIN, and that dude knew what he was talking about. The 1984 rock ‘n roll landmark opens with a bravura 8-minute sequence in which Prince and the Revolution – playing a band called The Revolution led by a musical genius named The Kid – perform “Let’s Go Crazy” at the 1st Avenue & 7th Street Exit. That’s a legendary Minneapolis club that still exists but of course is most famous as the place where Prince got his start. This scene, and this whole movie for that matter, are amazing because they capture Prince at the very height of his genius and his cool, playing what is now known as one of the greatest albums ever, full of classic hit after classic hit… but he’s playing the underdog. At the time it was just “the PURPLE RAIN soundtrack,” released a month before the movie. He’s peak-Prince and yet in this story he’s not blowing away stadiums of religiously devoted fans, as he’d do in real life from that year to today. Instead he’s just one of the acts playing a medium sized club, and not even the favorite of club owner Billy Sparks. Billy says the Kid’s not bringing ’em in like he used to. He’s thinking of dumping him.

(Are you a fucking idiot? Are you hearing this song that he’s playing? What the fuck are you thinking?)

Throughout the song, director Albert Magnoli (STREET KNIGHT) and his co-editor Ken Robinson rhythmically cut in other elements to set the scene: face-painted clubgoers licking each other, chief rival Morris Day preparing to come in and play after him, rolling in with a long coat and driver/assistant Jerome. But this is the only time in the movie where we’ll see Morris’s humble home life. He gets ready in a small, cluttered apartment. Later he brags about a brass waterbed. He’s fronting. The movie is full of little sad details like this, because these are all the people “gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” (read the rest of this shit…)