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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

You Got Served: Beat the World

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

“You know dancing is our only way out.”

I was under the misimpression that YOU GOT SERVED was a big franchise like STEP UP. Unfortunately it turns out YOU GOT SERVED: TAKE IT TO THE STREETS (2004) is just an hour-long instructional dance video, and YOU GOT SERVED: BEAT THE WORLD (2011) is really an unrelated Canadian dance movie that they rebranded as a YOU GOT SERVED here in the states. (Elsewhere you might find it as BEAT THE WORLD or THIS IS BEAT.) So we don’t get to find out what happens after they shoot the Li’l Kim video.

Think of how many unlikely phenomenons could’ve been cut down with an unrelated part 2! This could have easily been the fate of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, UNDISPUTED and so many others.

The good news is that this one is honestly more fun than YOU GOT SERVED. I knew that would be the case when it opened with a parkour chase across the rooftops. It seems very intense but turns out to be a demonstration. “You know we’re gonna be the first crew to bring free running to hip hop.” Yuson (Tyrone Brown, BEWARE THE GONZO) has recruited Justin (Chase Armitage, DEATH RACE 2), a freerunner from London, to help his crew, Fusion, create a unique routine for the impending Beat the World international dance competition.

(read the rest of this shit…)

You Got Served

Monday, November 16th, 2020

YOU GOT SERVED (2004) is a formula melodrama about a subculture of fiercely competitive dance crews in L.A. At night they have showdowns in what looks like a boxing gym, taking turns doing routines, the victor decided by the crowds who fill the place to the brim and cheer so loud it sounds like a stadium. In the opening scene sometimes they jump and when they land their feet seem to cause the earth to shake, as if they are Titans. But mostly the movie tries to seem down to earth.

It centers on Elgin (Marques Houston, BEBE’S KIDS, HOUSE PARTY 3) and his best friend David (Omar “Omarion” Grandberry, WRONG SIDE OF TOWN). They and their friends are incredible dancers but sadly they talk about it more as a “way out” than an art or a passion or something they were born to do, even though it must be all of those things. In the opening battle the prize is $600, but I counted at least eight people they have to split it between. I’m sure battling is way better than working an 8 hour shift, but I don’t think you could win enough of these to pay the rent. So David and Elgin reluctantly supplement it by doing deliveries for a drug dealer named Emerald (Michael “Bear” Taliferro, HALF PAST DEAD; later directed STEPPIN’: THE MOVIE). (read the rest of this shit…)

Fall Guy: The John Stewart Story

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020

A few years ago I reviewed ACTION U.S.A., an indie action movie from 1989, filmed in Waco, Texas. It was the directorial debut of stuntman John Stewart, a veteran of FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, THE HIDDEN and PHANTASM II. It was clearly designed as a showcase for stunts – all kinds of hanging off of moving cars and helicopters, falling off of buildings, cars crashing and exploding, a guy’s motorcycle catching on fire and falling off a bridge. Tons of fun.

At the time it only existed as a super rare VHS tape, but beginning this week Alamo On Demand are playing a new 4K restoration in drive-ins and virtual cinemas (tickets here), which I imagine (hope) means there will be a blu-ray too at some point. Here’s the trailer Alamo made for it:

Stewart directed three more movies in the early ‘90s (CLICK: THE CALENDAR GIRL KILLER, CARTEL and HIDDEN OBSESSION) before doing 14 episodes in the first two seasons of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. He continued to work in stunts (including as stunt coordinator for LEPRECHAUN 3 and CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC’S RETURN) but didn’t direct another feature until 2007, when he made FALL GUY: THE JOHN STEWART STORY. Yes, an autobiopic. He’s played by Jason David Frank, the Green/White Power Ranger. (read the rest of this shit…)

Top of the Heap

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Christopher St. John was a stage actor and member of the Actor’s Studio who had been in FOR LOVE OF IVY and HOT PANTS HOLIDAY and then was up for the title role in SHAFT. He didn’t get it, obviously – instead he played the supporting role of the militant Ben Buford. But that was enough to inspire him to invest his money in this independent starring/writing/directing/producing vehicle with ads billing him as “Christopher St. John, whom you last saw in SHAFT.”

Because of that connection, and because it’s a 1972 movie dealing with the Black experience, with some guns and a soundtrack by J.J. Johnson, it is sometimes lumped in with Blaxploitation. It’s not that at all. Frankly I prefer movies where the exploitable elements are more prominent, but that’s obviously not what St. John was interested in, and that should be acknowledged. This is an arty, experimental and political work that reminds me much more of Jules Dassin’s UP TIGHT (co-written by Ruby Dee), Melvin Van Peebles’ SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG and Bill Gunn’s GANJA & HESS than SHAFT or SUPER FLY. It’s more about an impressionistic depiction of societal sickness than, you know, traditional entertainment. For what that’s worth. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fast Color

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

FAST COLOR is a really well made little movie I watched on Hulu. I didn’t really know what it was about, but remembered that when it came out last year there were people lamenting that it didn’t get enough attention. They called it a super hero origin story and felt that should’ve made it more marketable.

That description isn’t totally inaccurate, but sells it a little short, I think. It’s about a woman with some telekinetic type powers, but she doesn’t wear a costume, fight crime, fight super villains, or use her powers for heroism at all. She even explicitly says “We’re not super heroes,” and doesn’t seem to later change her mind about that. The story reminds me much more of FIRESTARTER than any comic book movie. Regular person made into a fugitive by being born with unusual gifts, running through small towns to avoid being a guinea pig for some secret government project. (read the rest of this shit…)

Little Woods

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

LITTLE WOODS is the debut of writer/director Nia DaCosta, who followed it with the upcoming CANDYMAN (2020), sequel to CANDYMAN (1992). I’m not sure how much they’ll have in common, because this one’s not horror, and it takes place in a rural area, but it’s very good, and raises my expectations for the other one even higher.

Tessa Thompson (CREED) is great as Ollie (short for Oleander), who lives in her late mother’s busted up house in North Dakota and is almost done with her probation. While mom was sick she would go into Canada to get medicine for her, but she also had a whole pill-selling enterprise going, and she got caught at the border.

Now she does stuff like go out to construction sites and sell coffee and sandwiches out of the back of her pickup. People still ask her for Oxy and she explains she doesn’t do that anymore. Everybody still likes her. The local opiate pusher Bill (Luke Kirby, HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION) thinks that makes her a good saleswoman and tries to get her to work for him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Da 5 Bloods

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

DA 5 BLOODS is Spike Lee’s new Vietnam War joint that happened to be produced by Netflix, so when our current global nightmare thwarted theatrical release they didn’t have to delay it, they just put it right onto their service, making it one of Pandemic Summer’s biggest blockbusters in my opinion. For now this is our James Bond and our Top Gun (I won’t say Wonder Woman, because it’s very male oriented).

Like so many of Lee’s movies, it finds interesting ways to visually connect history to the present. Think of DO THE RIGHT THING’s showcasing of the photos and quotes of Dr. King and Malcolm, MALCOLM X’s coda of real people (including a newly freed Nelson Mandela) saying “I am Malcolm X!,” or BLACKKKLANSMAN’s montage with the murder of Heather Heyer, the real David Duke and the president’s other Very Fine People in Charlottesville. Following in that tradition, DA 5 BLOODS opens with historical footage and photos establishing Those Uncertain Times of the Vietnam era.

Muhammad Ali explains his refusal to kill people who haven’t done anything to him on behalf of people who have. To the tune of “Inner City Blues,” we see black soldiers in Vietnam, whitey on “Da Moon,” Black Panthers, Malcolm, Martin, Kwame Ture, Angela Davis. We alternate between brutality in Vietnam and at home: burning monks, the Kent State shootings, the street execution from that famous photo, police clubbing protesters at the DNC, the children burned with napalm. When the war ends and this volley of fast-speed documentary turmoil subsides, the frame stretches and contracts to widescreen, and Saigon dissolves to modern tourism-friendly Ho Chi Minh City, where four of our titular quintet meet up in a hotel lobby, hugging and hand shaking, sipping the first of many fruity umbrella cocktails, in a present that will repeatedly bleed into the past. (read the rest of this shit…)

Capone

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

“You know, this is what happens when people spend too much time in Florida.”

I can’t lie. Half of my interest in CAPONE was a curiosity about the legend of its writer/director/editor Josh Trank. If you know who that is, you probly know him for a meteoric rise and fall. The success of one found footage movie (CHRONICLE) led to coveted studio gigs – a giant super hero movie and a Star Wars spin-off. But FANTASTIC FOUR was drastically changed from his cut, he quit the Boba Fett movie before they could fire him, there was a weird story in the Hollywood Reporter about his dogs wrecking a house he rented, and he made the career-sabotaging faux pas of disavowing FANTASTIC FOUR on Twitter just before it was released to terrible reviews and box office.

Seemed like a cautionary tale, and I can’t deny a morbid fascination with it. I didn’t love CHRONICLE, save for its cleverness about fitting good camera moves into found footage, so I wondered how these powerful Hollywood people got, and then lost, so much faith in the guy. But when I saw FANTASTIC FOUR I actually found alot to like about it, especially in the discovering-their-powers scenes that I described at the time as “more inspired by THE FLY than SPIDER-MAN.” And I realized that he hadn’t come completely out of nowhere – he edited and co-produced BIG FAN, a dark comedy/drama I liked.

Five years after his fall into the Great Pit of Carkoon, Trank has resurfaced with a self-generated, independent project, not inspired by “geek properties,” but by one of those historical deep cut kind of stories some people get hooked on. CAPONE is about Al Capone not in his gang years, but the last year of his life, released from prison to live in a mansion in Florida as his mental and physical capacity deteriorate from syphilis and strokes. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barry Lyndon

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

BARRY LYNDON is not the type of movie people recommend to me all the time, but it is the kind of movie that most people who have spent as long as me trying to be up on the good movies have, like, bothered to see at some point. Because it is widely known that that Stanley Kubrick usually did a pretty good job of the movies. Yet I managed to go several decades not seeing it. I guess there’s no way to be suspenseful about this – you’ve probly done the math and figured out that since this is a review of BARRY LYNDON by me that means I’ve finally seen BARRY LYNDON. An exciting day. I get to go over to the Homicide: Life On the Street dry-erase board and change the letters from red to black.

Ryan O’Neal (THE DRIVER) stars as Redmond Barry, horny Irish ne’er-do-well who has to leave home and have adventures because he thinks he killed an English officer in a duel. I’m not clear how old he’s supposed to be in the early scenes, but it’s funny that they keep referring to mid-‘30s, manlier-than-everyone-around-him O’Neal as a “boy.” Maybe they should’ve made him sit in oversized furniture like Martin Short in CLIFFORD.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Edmond

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

When we lost the great Stuart Gordon recently, I realized there were a few of his films I still hadn’t seen. It’s kind of nice, actually, to still have something left to discover. There’s a particular one that happens in space that involves truckers that I honestly have wanted to see since before it even came out, and somehow never have. It’ll be a few weeks before I can finally change that, because I decided to order a UK Blu-Ray instead of pay Amazon to stream it in standard def. But I wanted to watch this one first anyway – the one based on the David Mamet play.

Gordon and Mamet, if you don’t know, go way back. Long before RE-ANIMATOR, Gordon was doing envelope-pushing theater work in Chicago. He directed, at his Organic Theater Company, the production of Sexual Perversity in Chicago credited with establishing Mamet as a playwright, although there was an earlier one starring William H. Macy, who also stars in this movie.

Here he plays Edmond Burke, a dude who works for some kind of financial firm called Stearns & Harrington. He’s apparently had a bad day (his meeting on Monday got pushed back to 1:15 – WHAT IN THE LIVING GOD DAMN FUCK!?) when he heads home and, on a whim, stops to get a tarot reading. She tells him “You don’t belong here.” (read the rest of this shit…)