Sometimes you’re watching a movie and you’re not really getting anything out of it, but you power through it just so you can say you watched some weird thing that nobody ever heard of. Or at least that’s what I do sometimes. Maybe that explains some things.
The culprit this time was BILLY BOY, a 1978 low rent South African boxing drama. I watched it because I’m on a long term quest to go alphabetically through every movie in this section at Scarecrow Video that’s English language martial arts movies like BLOODSPORT and ENTER THE NINJA and stuff like that. If you are familiar with alphabetical order at all you can see I have a long way to go. I’m still on the first shelf. Anyway, I suspect this one was put in there by mistake but I didn’t want to skip it because what if it was some amazing undiscovered treasure?
Duane Bobick stars as amateur boxer Billy Boy Lamont. His father (Willie van Rensburg, also the screenwriter) is a former fighter who is suddenly paralyzed, and Billy Boy can’t find any work to pay for his treatments, so he says he has to fight. Of course his mom (Trix Pienaar, THE COLOR OF FREEDOM) is against it (like Phylicia Rashad in CREED) and also he somehow knows that he’ll get a bunch of money for it. (read the rest of this shit…)
SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES (or KILL ZONE 2 in the U.S.) is not truly a sequel to SPL/KILL ZONE, the great 2005 martial arts/police thriller that Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and director Wilson Yip did together before the IP MAN movies. Instead it’s an even better movie with Tony Jaa (THE PROTECTOR), Louis Koo (DRUG WAR) as the villain and Zhang Jin (THE GRANDMASTER) as the main henchman. Wu Jing (WOLF WARRIOR) and Simon Yam (MAN OF TAI CHI) both return in lead roles, but not as the same characters from the first one.
Director Cheang Pou-soi (DOG BITE DOG, MOTORWAY, THE MONKEY KING) and action director Li Chung-chi (team leader of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team who also choreographed GEN-X COPS 2, VENGEANCE and IP MAN: FINAL FIGHT) have come up with some next level shit that’s pretty much everything I could hope for in a serious Hong Kong action movie: an intense, involving story with a strong, dramatic tone, building carefully to powerful explosions of violence including large scale shootouts and vehicle mayhem but primarily martial arts with a wide variety of styles that express things about the characters and situations. (read the rest of this shit…)
Not long ago I wrote about director Jamaa Fanaka’s last film, STREET WARS (1992), and before that his first one, WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES, aka SOUL VENGEANCE (1975). You could sum him up as a director of idiosyncratic blaxploitation, but he wasn’t some cynical Hollywood guy going where the money was. He really was a young filmmaker with a voice. He managed to do three feature films while he was still in film school: BROTHER CHARLES, EMMA MAE (1976) and the one he’s best known for, PENITENTIARY (1979).
This is a movie about a guy who gets screwed over by the racist system, goes to prison and makes his way by boxing. We’re talking eight years after SHAFT, seven years after SUPER FLY, three years after ROCKY.
Our hero is Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy, HAMMER, LONE WOLF MCQUADE), who we first see as a homeless man sleeping in a little tent near a highway. He’s woken up by white dudes off-roading on motorcycles. Hitchhiking, he gets picked up by Linda (Hazel Spear, DISCO GODFATHER), a dream girl with a flower in her hair, driving a cool van. She explains that most people wouldn’t pick up hitchhikers on this highway because there are both men’s and women’s prisons nearby. (read the rest of this shit…)
Thanks to the encouragement of Clubside Chris and several of the regular commenters I’ve decided to try Patreon. (CLICK HERE FOR MY PAGE THERE.) If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a crowdfunding platform kinda like Kickstarter except instead of supporting a specific project (like a statue of Robocop, a short film about Robocop, or an epic poem about Robocop) you’re supporting the output of an artist or writer or podcaster or whatever. So you can set it to donate a couple bucks monthly and if enough people do it it adds up to bill-paying money. It’s like in Great Expectations, he has that mysterious benefactor helping him to become a gentleman, but instead of doing it because I helped you get your shackles off when you were escaping prison you do it because I recommended a good Scott Adkins movie to your or something. (SPOILERS for Great Expectations.) (read the rest of this shit…)
Before there was such a thing as Marvel Comics movies, there was BLADE.
Technically it wasn’t the first Marvel movie. It was the fourth. But nobody would’ve expected Marvel Comics to take over the movie business the way they have now. There had been the infamous flop HOWARD THE DUCK in 1986, and a few low rent b-action movies: THE PUNISHER starring Dolph Lundgren in 1989, then Albert Pyun’s DTV movie of CAPTAIN AMERICA in 1990. A Roger Corman production of FANTASTIC FOUR had been made in 1994 merely to extend the movie rights to the characters; it was never released, and the negatives have since been destroyed. I still kinda like THE PUNISHER, but until BLADE came along in 1998 none of these really connected with audiences, and there was no reason to think they would. James Cameron and Golan & Globus had an equal amount of success in trying to make a Spider-man movie, and Marvel had gone bankrupt.
Let’s be honest, most of us never heard of a Blade before the movie. He came from the ’70s series Tomb of Dracula, part of a team of Dracula-hunters made up of descendants of Mina Harker, Abraham Van Helsing and Dracula himself. He wore a red leather jacket and green pants and spoke what creator Marv Wolfman later admitted was “cliche ‘Marvel Black’ dialogue.” But screenwriter David S. Goyer was a fan of the character when New Line Cinema, inspired by the success of FRIDAY, wanted to do a black super hero movie.
At the time it was easier to compare to other vampire movies. Anne Rice style romantic bloodsuckers had dominated the image of the subgenre since at least the movie version of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE in 1994, and BLADE was part of a pushback that included FROM DUSK TILL DAWN two years before and John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES two months after, all reminding audiences how much fun these creatures could be as vicious monsters that need to be exterminated. Each has their own version of the rules and their own leather-clad hunters with weapons made from silver, garlic, holy water or wood, but only BLADE (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then two seasons in) treated it as an opportunity for martial arts. (read the rest of this shit…)
I got a good laugh when I went to see THE LAST WITCH HUNTER and they showed a trailer for the POINT BREAK remake. They’d been advertising it for a while, but this audience clearly didn’t know about it since they gasped and groaned in disapproval when the title came up. They knew that this was going too far to remake POINT BREAK, even though they didn’t know that a trailer about some guys robbing a bank wearing president masks and then an FBI agent who’s a surfer has a theory that the robberies are being done by extreme athletes and he goes undercover in the group but he gets too close to the guru-like leader whose name is Bodhi means this is a remake of POINT BREAK. They didn’t recognize it until the title.
But they’re kinda right. POINT BREAK cannot be duplicated. It can be ripped off and turned into a great series of movies about globetrotting street racer super-thieves, sure. But it has a unique power that’s a combination of a great/goofy premise, a script with a ton of funny dialogue, excellent sequences directed by the great Kathryn Bigelow at the top of her action game, incredible skydiving stunts and photography, a maybe-not-knowingly-funny performance by Keanu Reeves as surfer dude cop Johnny Utah, and most of all a towering performance of charisma and sincerity by Patrick Swayze, who (like Vin Diesel in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, actually) seems to truly, deeply believe the philosophy his character spews. (read the rest of this shit…)
AMERICAN ULTRA is an action… I want to say comedy?… about what would happen if a totally unlikable stoner who works at a Cash ‘n Carry turned out to unknowingly be a brainwashed government super killer who has been missing and the CIA tries to take him out so he finds himself killing a bunch of dudes in self defense and doesn’t know why. THE BOURNE IDENTITY meets some dude you know’s unproductive early 20s.
But it’s not jokey like a Cheech and Chong picture or THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Mike, the horrible loser protagonist, is played by Jesse Eisenberg (CURSED) with his usual cold distance, minus the intelligence. He’s not the funny or huggable type of stoner either, he’s just the kind that you’re supposed to like because he has a dream of creating a generic “underground comic” about a monkey (it could be this generation’s MONKEYBONE in my opinion) and mumbles quasi-deep philosophical bullshit comparing his life to that of a tree. In narration he humblebrags about being “a fucked up couple” with his long-suffering, oh-that-poor-woman, someone-really-needs-to-have-an-intervention-with-her-about-that-terrible-boyfriend-that-is-sucking-away-her-life-essence-every-second-of-the-day girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart, JUMPER). But, sorry bud, these two aren’t even Sid and Nancy, they’re just a guy who disappoints his girlfriend by saying they’re going to Hawaii and then instead having a panic attack and bringing her home to make her an omelette and then burning it. (read the rest of this shit…)
Here’s a weird thing about gigantic blockbuster movies based on popular licensed characters: you can end up making a sequel aimed less at the fans of the first movie than at the people who saw it once and have still not stopped complaining about it. At least that’s the fool’s errand that director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer (this time rewritten by Academy Award winner Chris Terrio) chose for themselves on BATMAN von SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, which selects as its primary theme the criticisms that people had of part 1.
To this day I don’t feel like I understand the widespread outrage at MAN OF STEEL for having a comic book style battle between super beings where buildings were destroyed in the process. I still haven’t noticed this standard applied to any other movie or comic book (including the cover of the very first issue of Superman!) and I stand by everything I said in this essay about how wild misinterpretations of MAN OF STEEL have become conventional wisdom. Still, I gotta thank all of you for doing that because I suspect it inspired the most intense and cinematic section of BATMAN vehemently opposed to SUPERMAN, in which we see the Superman v Zod battle from an even more human perspective than before. Specifically, from Bruce Wayne’s point-of-view as he runs fearlessly into the destruction and tries to help.
We only see the Kryptonians in tiny glimpses, far away, high in the sky. Mostly we see raining glass and brick and glowing energy beams in their wake. They truly are gods. And now we specifically see that rubble landed on one guy and are told that a woman is missing. And Bruce Wayne doesn’t like it.
Check out the trailer for the third NEVER BACK DOWN movie. The first two were about young people in an underground fighting circuit, this one follows White’s great mentor character from part 2 into what looks more like a ROCKY type sports drama. Co-star Josh Barnett is a fighter who caught my eye by being really funny in a villain role in Seagal’s ABSOLUTION. Also you can see that the MUAY THAI GIANT and haver of perfect baby brother Nathan Jones is in there, plus at least one cool cameo given away in this trailer. Fight choreographer is Larnell Stovall (UNDISPUTED 3, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING, also part 2 of this series). I look forward to this one.
MERMAID is the story of a dumb but not intentionally evil super-super-rich businessman playboy named Liu Xuan (Deng Chao, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME), a sort of Pretty Decent Gatsby with lots of shiny suits, a John Waters mustache, whole teams of security guards, lackeys and sexy dancers kissing his ass at all times. He has a weakness for the ladies, giving the time of day to every female from his seductive business partner Ruolan (Zhang Yuqi, CJ7) to a youngster in a sloppy mermaid costume who gets suplexed by security after crashing his pool party to give him her phone number.
One thing he doesn’t know: the fake mermaid Shan (Lin Yun) is actually a real mermaid sent to assassinate him to avenge his sonar devices massacring and trapping a society of merpeople in the Green Gulf wildlife reserve that he recently purchased for billions of dollars. But they kinda fall for each other. It’s like THE LITTLE MERMAID if it took place in the modern day and Ariel was trying to kill Prince Eric.
It’s directed and co-written by Stephen Chow, but he’s not in it as an actor and it’s not a martial arts movie. It is, however, full of his kinetic Looney Tunes style slapstick action. Hopefully the people who have a problem with wire tricks and digital FX assists already saw SHAOLIN SOCCER and KUNG FU HUSTLE and know to stay far away from Chow. This is a movie with a skateboarding mermaid, an out of control jetpack, a half man/half octopus who’s often hanging upside down or crawling around on the ceiling, a mermaid matriarch who splashes water into animated shapes to tell stories. And of course some cartoon violence, including poisoned sea urchin throwing stars. (read the rest of this shit…)