“Very impressive. Though perhaps a bit excessive.”
–a quote from John Woo’s MANHUNT that I do not believe applies to the movie itself because the concept of excess does not exist in the Woo Zone
Welcome back to the Woo Zone, a dimension of violence and poetry, of bonding between enemies, of glorious slow motion badassness and tragic desecration of symbols of peace and redemption. When we’re not in the Zone, many of us have resigned ourselves to a world where John Woo is in the past, a face on Action Movie Mount Rushmore, but not a currently active artist. If that’s you, I am honored to bring you word of MANHUNT, Woo’s highly enjoyable new movie which has just been undeservedly sentenced to a Netflix dump in May. I saw it by buying a legitimate region A, English subtitled blu-ray from Yesasia.
The hype around this has been that it could be a return-to-form for the maestro, at last returning to contemporary-Hong-Kong-crime-action-male-bonding-with-doves after a detour into Hollywood studio movies (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, PAYCHECK) and then massive Chinese historical action (RED CLIFF). And that’s pretty much true. There are “good guys” and “bad guys” who gain respect for each other. There are a whole bunch of thrilling action sequences and guns used with artistic license. And I will definitely be telling you some things about the doves. There are some topnotch doves in this one. There’s also some dancing. Because Woo was once a dance instructor.
But Woo – despite throwing in a line of dialogue referencing the title of his breakthrough movie – doesn’t seem primarily interested in making a throwback to his own classics like THE KILLER and HARD BOILED. This is kind of his tribute to Japanese cinema. He made it to show his respect for recently deceased favorite actor Ken Takakura, who inspired Chow Yun-Fat’s style in A BETTER TOMORROW. It’s based on a book by Juko Nishimura that was made into a 1976 movie starring Takakura (not available on U.S. video – whatchya gonna do about that, Netflix?). Though some of the stars are Chinese it takes place in (and was filmed in) Osaka, Japan. (read the rest of this shit…)
An obscure kind of conspiracy: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is on a long list of the movies that I mention all the time in reviews and then when I go to add a link I realize that I’ve never officially written it up. It’s one of those classics that so much has been said about that it’s intimidating to even approach it. Seems presumptuous to think I might have something new to say about it.
It’s also a movie that I felt I had worn out at a certain point. I remember a Halloween some years back when I put it on and when it was over I felt I hadn’t gotten as much out of it as I used to, so I put it on hiatus. But now the Criterion Company has given us what could be the definitive release of the abused-by-public-domain film, which is as good an excuse as any to finally revisit the movie, discuss different aspects of it and see how its themes apply to these fucked up times we’re living in fifty years later. (read the rest of this shit…)
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is a 2017 samurai epic from director Takashi Miike. It’s his 100th film! Can you believe that shit? I haven’t gotten into his trademark pervert madman vibe in movies like ICHI THE KILLER, but nothing I’ve seen by him has been a slapdash Fred Olen Ray type affair. There is real effort and craft involved, and he’s made a few excellent samurai films. Instead of remaking an old school chanbara as with 13 ASSASSINS and HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI this one is adapting a manga that ran for about twenty years, so it’s less classically structured, more unwieldy, with supernatural elements and outrageous imagery (crazy face paint, strange weapons, goofy anime hair).
This aesthetic looks particularly cool in the stark black and white of the prologue, where we learn the bloody, convoluted origins of the titleistical immortal. As a young samurai, Manji (Takuya Kimura, Howl in HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE) was tricked into assassinating a whistleblower. He thought it would right things to kill the corrupt officials behind the scheme, but one was his little sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki, Mary in MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER)’s husband, and the grief drove her insane. (read the rest of this shit…)
In ANNIHILATION, the sophomore directorial work of Alex Garland (EX_MACHINA, also author of The Beach and screenwriter of 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, NEVER LET ME GO and DREDD), Natalie Portman (LEON THE PROFESSIONAL) takes a journey into the heart of weirdness. Her character Lena is a cell-loving ex-Army biology professor at Johns Hopkins University (also the alma mater of Gil Scott-Heron, Wes Craven and Wolf Blitzer) whose presumed-K.I.A. husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, SUCKER PUNCH, THE NATIVITY STORY) suddenly shows up alive and odd and unable to explain anything. Sort of like the also mourning Amy Adams character in the also brainy-adapted-from-an-acclaimed-novel-sci-fi-movie ARRIVAL, she’s taken to a site (Area X) where soldiers and scientists face an unexplained, unprecedented phenomenon. In this case it’s not a spaceship but a sort of slowly expanding spectral bubble they call “The Shimmer” that surrounds a chunk of land and no one who has entered it has ever come back out. Until Kane. (read the rest of this shit…)
“Are you mental, brov? She just bashed a man’s skull in. It’s a fuckin devil woman, brov! I don’t want none of it!”
You’ve seen me rave about the martial artist Amy Johnston, her movie LADY BLOODFIGHT, and her supporting role in ACCIDENT MAN. This is her other starring vehicle which
going by the order of the IMDb listings, she must’ve filmed shortly before was filmed a while after LADY BLOODFIGHT (both have a 2016 release date). There are many ways it’s not as good as the other movie, which I’ll get into, but I think I loved it almost as much. It has tons of DTV personality and probly the best showcase of Johnston’s acting skills so far.
The DVD I bought calls it FEMALE FIGHT SQUAD, but it seems to have started life as FEMALE FIGHT CLUB. I’m guessing they didn’t want people to go in expecting a FIGHT CLUB remake with Kristen Wiig as Narrator and Melissa McCarthy as Tyler Durden. They’d be disappointed.
The director is Miguel Ferrer (no relation), who has otherwise just done a bunch of shorts. He co-wrote it with Anastazja Davis (DISCONNECTED).
Johnston plays Becca, who’s hit a rough stretch of road. On one hand her dad is Dolph Lundgren – that’s awesome. On the other hand he’s in prison for killing some dudes. We know she’s tough because of a flash-forward to “the final round of the bi-annual free-fighting championships,” where she’s introduced as “a myth, an urban legend, right here before your very own eyes: Bex ‘The Beast’ Holt!” But also we know she’s sweet, because she works at a dog shelter, saving money for her dream of moving to Africa and working for some kind of wildlife preserve there (see: theory of badass juxtaposition). (read the rest of this shit…)
DEADLY WEAPON is another randomly-stumbled-across VHS rental. This one got my attention with a faded lenticular cover and warranted further investigation when I saw that it was written and directed by Michael Miner, the less-discussed co-writer of ROBOCOP, and stars a bonafide Dream Warrior, Rodney Eastman, aka Joey from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 and 4.
Caveat: It’s produced by Charles Band.
The opening text of this 1989 low budget teen angst sci-fi tale explains that it takes place “in the mind of a fifteen year old boy.” I guess that explains its cartoonishly broad idea of how people and relationships work. Eastman plays Zeke, a lonely teen who narrates in the third person, referring to himself as “The Visitor” because he’s “a visitor from another galaxy.” (Not really. That’s his fantasy.) He lives in dusty King Bee, Arizona (Population 4,852) with an abusive alcoholic stepfather and is anxious to grow up and move out, so he says he “watched the skies waiting for a sign, some signal that everything was gonna be alright.” (read the rest of this shit…)
One thing the DEATH WISH remake has in common with the original: it feels kinda disreputable. I went to it knowing it had gotten poor reviews, that it had been delayed, that the trailers had been scoffed at by anybody I ever heard talk about it. People have looked down on Roth’s movies since HOSTEL, and they’ve given up on Bruce Willis ever giving a shit anymore, and they assume any remake is a cynical i.p. cash-grab, even if it’s DEATH WISH and it’s been in development for years and years and Stallone almost did it and Joe Carnahan almost did it and etc. Most of all, they don’t want to see a movie right now that seems like it might glorify a white guy shooting minorities, or support the moronic Trumpian worldview of “good guys with guns” who can save the day by executing the “animals” who they just know are scurrying all around in the “hellholes.”
I was not immune to most of these concerns. But also I came to it as someone who enjoys the Charles-Bronson-starring DEATH WISHes 1, II, 3, 4: THE CRACKDOWN and V: THE FACE OF DEATH all in different ways, and has read both Death Wish by Brian Garfield and its sequel Death Sentence, and championed the movie (sort of) adapted from that book, and also read Bronson’s Loose!, the great DEATH WISH series making-of book by Paul Talbot, and have an interest in many rip-off vigilante and revenge movies. And also I have opinions about all of Roth’s films and about violence and politics in genre movies and in real life and I love Bruce Willis and want to see him restored to full Bruce powers. So I went in complicated. (read the rest of this shit…)
I spent years trying to be mysterious and ambiguous in an age when everyone was anxious to expose their every pore and playlist online. It was mostly fun and mostly worked well to build an aura around me or something. It was a philosophy, but also a gimmick and a crutch. So I’m glad a few years ago I got an offer I couldn’t turn down that involved appearing in public. It was fun and flattering and inspired me to believe more in what I could accomplish. It changed my mind.
But I’m also conscious that it might be horrible for a long time reader to see or hear me and think “that’s not who I pictured writing all that.” It’s gotta be disorienting. So you don’t have to listen to me on this podcast if you don’t want to. I’m not gonna make you. But it’s there. You have the option.
I will have a review of the new DEATH WISH for you soon, but here you can hear me talk through it with John and Chris on the Pink Smoke podcast a few hours after I saw the movie on Saturday. I think I stepped on the intro and fumbled a few questions but I probly did okay ’cause these two carried me with their great knowledge and insights about the films discussed.
Thank you, Pink Smoke, I had a great time.
LISTEN TO IT HERE (IF YOU CHOOSE)
Oh, by the way, this is HEAVY SPOILERS, we did not hold anything back
The Oscars are coming up Sunday. Yes, I know it doesn’t matter who wins, but I enjoy watching the awards and I think they’re a good reflection of the aspirations and values of the people in this business we follow because we love (some of) what they create.
For a few years now I’ve made it a tradition to watch all of the nominated best pictures. This year, mostly by accident, I also saw all of the best actor and best actress nominees, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. So I wanted to put together links to the ones I reviewed and thoughts on the ones that I didn’t. (read the rest of this shit…)
Of all the stories we tell over and over, “coming of age” might be the most universal. I don’t care who you are, as long as you live to be a certain age, at some point you’re gonna come of some of that age. And when you see some fictional (or, let’s be honest, usually semi-autobiographical) character’s age coming of you can compare and contrast to your experiences. You see echoes of your own life, revive emotions that were so potent at the time, now faded, learn about other people who had it different. So I have not specifically experienced being a girl in a private school in Sacramento in the oughts, and I definitely have no personal understanding of how it feels to be someone who could identify a song as Dave Mathews and have an emotional response to it that involves embarrassment, nostalgia and personal meaning*, but I can also see those things on screen and have them feel familiar and real and relatable.
(*I did see him in public one time and I could tell he was famous by the women who started gathering around him but I had to ask somebody else who he was) (read the rest of this shit…)