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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Cobra Kai (Season 1)

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

I don’t have the attachment many people I know have to the KARATE KID movies. But I’m kinda into their mythology, especially after my recent dip into the more over-the-top b-movie villainy of part III. So I excitedly took advantage of a free window (until September 11th) to watch the ten half-hour-ish episodes in the first season of the premium Youtube series Cobra Kai.

Even in today’s gold rush for nostalgic i.p. this seems like a too-good-to-be-true sequel scenario, especially for my interests. Ralph Macchio – now actually older than Pat Morita was in the first movie! – returns as Daniel LaRusso, but so does William Zabka as part 1 nemesis Johnny Lawrence, and even though Macchio gets top billing, Zabka is treated as the underdog hero, like Iceman Chambers in UNDISPUTED II, or like I wanted them to do with Martin Kove’s villainous sensei John Kreese after seeing him down and out in the opening scenes of KARATE KID III. Broke, washed up, divorced, drinking Coors all day, still listening to Ratt and wearing Van Halen t-shirts, Johnny attempts to re-open the Cobra Kai dojo in a strip mall next to a vape store. But he’s so bad at salesmanship he ends up having only one student, a nice kid named Miguel (Xolo Mariduena, Parenthood) who tempers some of his worst tendencies while being empowered by his macho tough love and “strike first, strike hard, no mercy” philosophy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shadow

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? SHADOW is the 2018 film by Zhang Yimou, the director best know to people like me for giving us HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. It’s his followup to THE GREAT WALL, a pretty silly but impressive international production that has a bad reputation in the U.S. for exceedingly stupid reasons (basically, a great Chinese director wanting to make a movie with Matt Damon was mischaracterized as whitewashing). SHADOW is another gorgeous and meticulous period martial arts epic. Though quieter and less action-oriented than the others I’ve listed here it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. One of those ones that crept up on me. Slowly luring me in until I’m in awe of it by the end, and love it the more I think about it. I was lucky enough to see it theatrically, but waited for its arrival on Blu-Ray and DVD this week to finish my review, so that more people would be able to check it out.

This is a movie that’s a little under two hours and builds to a large battle with some really cool weaponry gimmicks and that thing I love where they come up with a philosophy-based martial art to defeat the enemy. But that’s really the cherry on top – it’s mostly about palace shenanigans. It’s about the kingdom of Pei, who lost the city of Jingzhou to rival kingdom Yang when Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, MERMAID) lost a duel to Yang Cang (Hu Jun, RED CLIFF, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, FIRESTORM). Most of the people of Pei are still sore about it, but King Peiliang (Zheng Kai, THE GREAT WALL) is a coward and just wants to forget about Jingzhou. So he gets pissed and, to the outrage of the military, strips Ziyu of his title when he finds out he challenged Yang Cang to a rematch. (read the rest of this shit…)

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

THIS IS A FREE RANGE SPOILER REVIEW. THE SPOILERS ARE NOT KEPT IN CAGES. THEY JUST RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE, INCLUDING THE FIRST COUPLE SENTENCES. SEE THE MOVIE FIRST.

ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is an odd and beautiful movie from… Quentin Tarantino. It’s undeniably one that only he could or would make – it’s even in his now-trademark ‘wish-fulfilling rewrite of a historical atrocity’ mode – but it’s different. It’s not as mean and angry as the last three, or as carefully plotted as any of them. It’s sort of a hang out movie, a day-in-the-life of two friends, and a gentle tale of surviving a mid-life crisis, wrapped in a love letter to Los Angeles of the late ’60s, and to the then-fading leading men of the ’50s, with a chaser of gruesome violence. The fun kind, though. The cathartic kind.

Throughout his career, Tarantino has shown his affinity for cool shit like spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation movies, kung fu and crime novels. Here’s where he says “Fuck it, I also like old cowboy shows and procedurals and stuff.” When the guy who makes film exhibition and criticism a major element of his WWII epic does one that’s actually about the Hollywood film industry, obviously he’s gonna go buck wild. The amount of detail he puts into the fictional career of TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, two episodes of The New Lassie) – to the point of needing a narrator to talk us through each entry from his Rome period – reaches the level of sci-fi world building. And of course Tarantino, being Tarantino, gives us a soundtrack that drips the sixties without one whiff of Creedence, Dylan, the Doors or Hendrix. Admittedly “Mrs. Robinson” is in there somewhere, but he leans more Deep Purple, Vanilla Fudge and Paul Revere & the Raiders. One of the few I knew was the Neil Diamond song. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lock Up

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

It could be argued that LOCK UP isn’t quite an action movie – that it’s more of a drama with some violence and extreme villainy. And if it is action I’m not sure how it fits into the theme of this series about a shift in the genre heading into the next decade. No, it doesn’t seem like the ’90s ones with “DIE HARD on a _____” type hooks (CLIFFHANGER, DAYBREAK) or special effects and stylized settings (DEMOLITION MAN, JUDGE DREDD). But it’s also not quite the over the top feel we associate with the ’80s because of movies like RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, COBRA and, well… OVER THE TOP. It has a score by Bill Conti (fresh off of THE KARATE KID PART III) that brings ROCKY-like majesty, especially during the montage of the harrowing football game that’s intentionally more about hurting him than sport. This is Stallone in tough-but-vulnerable mode, and even has a part where he builds to a yelling, emotional speech kinda like the end of FIRST BLOOD.

I attribute the film’s timelessness and grit to director John Flynn, a legend to me because of THE OUTFIT and ROLLING THUNDER in the ’70s and OUT FOR JUSTICE in the ’90s. This was his followup to BEST SELLER. He didn’t generally participate in trends – he just made John Flynn movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Karate Kid Part III

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE was not the only part 3 on offer for Summer of ’89 – there was also John Avildsen’s THE KARATE KID PART III. And as Mrs. Vern pointed out to me, the series kind of follows the same pattern as Indy: there’s the popular first one, the second one goes off in a different direction (bringing him to Japan), and then the third one plays it safe by being closer to part 1, with Cobra Kai, John Kreese and the All-Valley Karate Tournament. And then of course both series also have a much later, unpopular part 4 and a pretty enjoyable remake starring Jaden Smith.

I think PART II had an okay reception, and this isn’t supposed to be an apology for it like LAST CRUSADE was for TEMPLE OF DOOM. But it’s kinda funny to me because PART II’s trailer narrator said, “No more tournaments. No more cheering crowds. This time… the combat… is real.” Of course there’s no more tournaments and crowds and shit, that wasn’t real combat at all, that was for babies, and only a complete coward would make another movie about that kind of sissy bullshit. We have moved well beyond that nonsense and fuck you if you even think for one second that– oh, what’s that? We’re doing tournaments and cheering crowds again? Oh, cool! Welcome back! (read the rest of this shit…)

A Vigilante

Thursday, July 11th, 2019

A month or two ago I saw a comedy called BOOKSMART, directed by Olivia Wilde, who I just knew as an actress from TRON: LEGACY. BOOKSMART is about two really smart, funny girls obsessed with good grades and good colleges who, on the night before graduation, try to go to a party. It’s similar to SUPERBAD in both laugh ratio and sweet emphasis on friendship, and it even stars Jonah Hill’s hilarious sister Beanie Feldstein (LADY BIRD), along with Kaitlyn Dever, who played Loretta on Justified. I really enjoyed these two characters, plus the score by Dan the Automator, and highly recommend the movie, but it’s the kind of thing I don’t really know how to write about. I don’t know how to get much mileage out of trying to explain why I think something is funny. So I just tweeted about it and left it at that, until this very paragraph.

But the same week BOOKSMART came out there was a much less jolly movie released on video starring Wilde, written and directed by first-timer Sarah Dagger-Nickson. This one is called A VIGILANTE, and she’s literally playing a vigilante. It’s an arty movie that played South by Southwest in 2018, and the title could maybe be an homage to Jacques Audiard’s A PROPHET, because that seems like sort of the category of movie they’d like to be in. But at the beginning there were logos for Emmett-Furla Productions, Saban, and Moviepass. So yeah, obviously this one I know how to write about. (read the rest of this shit…)

Raising Heroes

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

June is Pride Month, of course, and I hope it’s been a good one for anybody who it means anything to. I never really knew a way to honor the occasion before, but that’s because I hadn’t yet stumbled across this 1996 gay-themed independent drama that shows two guys with guns on the cover – in fact the tagline is “THIS TIME THE GAY GUY’S GOT THE GUN!” – and mentions John Woo on the back.

RAISING HEROES is about a couple, Josh (Troy Sostillio) and Paul (Henry White), in the midst of a custody battle. Paul’s best friend died of cancer and wanted the two to raise her young son Nicky, but the kid’s grandmother and homophobic case workers are trying to stop that from happening. Then, a few days before a crucial hearing, Josh witnesses a mobster named Victor (Edmond Sorel, also co-writer) executing a guy in a convenience store, and various gangsters spend the next few days following and trying to eliminate him. (read the rest of this shit…)

For Queen & Country

Friday, June 14th, 2019

Confession: Classifying FOR QUEEN & COUNTRY as an action film is a bit of a stretch. Yeah, it stars Denzel Washington (RICOCHET, THE EQUALIZER, THE EQUALIZER 2) as an ex-paratrooper, and he gets in some fights and there’s an explosion and some people get shot and there’s crime and the score is by Michael Kamen (DIE HARD). It’s much more of a drama that includes these elements of action and crime movies, though, than it is an action or crime movie.

But look, he has a gun on the poster. I thought it was gonna fit into this series more than it does. Let’s not worry about it.

Washington plays Reuben James, who joins the army to move beyond an aimless life as a soccer hooligan – that’s right, he’s English in this one! – then saw some shit and earned some medals as a gunner in the Falklands. Back in the old neighborhood he tries to get a job and politely decline criminal activities with old acquaintances including high roller Colin (Bruce Payne, HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME), who claims to have a legitimate offer for him, but… come on. And the people with real jobs are indifferent to him, nobody cares that he’s a veteran, racist cops harass him and call him slurs, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

We Die Young

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

WE DIE YOUNG is an odd thing: a straight-to-VOD (now on DVD) Jean-Claude Van Damme movie that has some violence and plenty of crime – it opens with a flash-forward to a car chase to assure you of this – but really is kind of an indie drama with Van Damme in supporting character actor mode. The main character is actually Lucas, played by Elijah Rodriguez, who was the kid being pressured into working for the cartel in SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO. Lucas is a similar character, perhaps crossed with Casper from SIN NOMBRE. He’s a teen without parents raising a younger brother and feeling he has no choice but to be a bicycle riding drug runner for MS-13. In this one, though, he lives in the United States, in a DC neighborhood he says is a 20 minute bike ride from the White House.

Lucas narrates at the beginning as he rides around on his bike, dropping off large quantities of drugs like it’s his paper route. He explains that he works for “the most feared badass in DC,” Rincon (David Castaneda, also in DAY OF THE SOLDADO), who’s introduced threatening some dude who his guys dragged to him in his underwear, tied behind a motorcycle. Rincon manages to be kind of handsome and charismatic despite the crap tattooed all over his face. (I guess he’s allowed to have hair and the M and S aren’t gigantic like Li’l Mago’s in SIN NOMBRE.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Sin Nombre

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

After I watched MISS BALA (2011) a friend recommended SIN NOMBRE (2009). It’s a Spanish language film but it’s the feature debut of American writer-director Cary Fukunaga, before True Detective put him on more people’s radar. I remembered the title as an acclaimed movie but I didn’t even know what it was about, so the timeliness of the subject matter was accidental. It’s about our asshole in chief’s current favorite boogey man: people trying to leave violent situations in South America for the relative safety and promise of the United States.

Sayra (Paulina Gaitan, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE) is a Honduran teenager who joins her uncle and her estranged father in an organized group traveling north together. Or a “caravan” you might call it if you wanted it to sound very foreign. (read the rest of this shit…)