So once again we have survived.

Sniper: Special Ops

tn_sniperspecialopsRemember the opening/teaser trailer scene of AMERICAN SNIPER, where Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) and his partner are on a rooftop somewhere in Generic Dusty Middle East, watching a woman through a sniper scope, not sure if she has a bomb or is just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they’re agonizing over whether or not to shoot her? Steven Seagal’s latest as of last Tuesday (but since surpassed by a new VOD one on Friday) opens the same way, except there’s no agonizing, they just know he’s a bad guy and they shoot him.

Seagal plays Jake Chandler, the eye in the sky for a group of special ops soldiers on a mission to save a Congressman abducted by an evil Taliban leader. They get attacked, leaving Seagal and an injured soldier behind, but then they help a local woman who turns out to be the Taliban guy’s daughter-in-law. Also there’s a whole thing with an embedded reporter (Charlene Amoia, AMERICAN REUNION) who they kind of condescend to because she’s a civilian and a woman, but she steps up and impresses them. They have some shootouts and a tense hostage exchange and what not. All very small scale, maybe one CGI explosion, but at least the gun flashes are real.

Despite the title, this is not related to the SNIPER series, nor is it very much about snipers, and despite Seagal being the only person Photoshopped onto the cover he’s not the main character at all. That would be Sergeant Mosby (Tim Abell, MERCENARIES, SPECIAL FORCES), a likably gruff lug who reminded me of Kevin Nash mixed with Ron Eldard on Justified. The story mostly centers on him, and he’s the one that makes the decisions and talks with the lady and stuff. (read the rest of this shit…)

Missing in Action

tn_miaI don’t know about you guys, but I’m still not a member of the Chuck Norris Fan Club. (Unless somebody got me a membership as a prank, but as far as I know that’s not true.) But I decided to watch his first movie with Cannon (a relationship that also produced a prequel, a sequel, a DELTA FORCE, a second DELTA FORCE, a job for his son on a third DELTA FORCE, and by far his most entertaining starring vehicle I’ve seen, INVASION U.S.A.). This one also has a political message based on a right wing pet cause, but it can’t quite match the outlandish cartoonishness of INVASION, and it’s much more emotionally manipulative. But I kinda enjoyed it.

The great music by Jay Chattaway (MANIAC, Star Trek: The Next Generation) gets your American flag erect during the Vietnam War opening where Braddock and his men patriotically terrorize some guerrillas until he decides to dive onto an enemy (and the camera) holding two grenades, only to wake up from a dream in the present. (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Cobra

tn_blackcobraBLACK COBRA was another one of my blind rentals, and I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise gem, but it’s definitely more interesting than I bargained for. The last thing I rented without knowing anything about it was BILLY BOY, which turned out to be a shitty South African movie about white people, filmed during apartheid, so it’s a cool coincidence that this is a competent (if sorta home made) one with a black South African hero after apartheid. And the first fight scene is against a group of white South Africans trying to treat him like it’s the old days.

T.J. Storm sounds like the name of a fictional action hero that a kid in a movie idolizes, but that’s the handle of the martial arts champ and stuntman who plays Sizwe Biko, a guy who “won a couple of titles” and whose father is a jailed hero of the South African revolution. (Whether or not they’re related to Steven Biko is never mentioned.) His father wouldn’t confess his crimes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so he was never let out, and now they’re conspiring to kill him in prison. Sizwe learns that he could get him out by bribing a certain judge, so he digs up the family’s secret diamond stash and takes them to L.A. to fence.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Windtalkers (second review)

tn_windtalkerswoozoneusaBWINDTALKERS is an American John Woo picture that I kinda hated at the time. I can prove it: here’s my review. But I watched it again and although I don’t really disagree with anything I said in that review, now I think it’s okay. Maybe this is because I watched the director’s cut, which is longer and more violent, like a real John Woo movie. Maybe it’s because I came to it with different hopes and expectations, having already not liked it. Or maybe it’s because I’ve grown and changed as a person and movie watcher since the last time. I suspect it’s a combination of all three.

This is Woo’s WWII movie, which makes sense because it’s about male bonding through violence, but also the evil of endless violence, and also a pretty invisible minority (the Navajo) reaching across cultural lines to achieve a common goal, much like Woo making movies in Hollywood. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blackjack (second review)

tn_blackjack“Okay, I understand that, but Jack you need to realize that your sunglasses are the only protection you have from all the white out there.”

woozoneusaBIt wasn’t part of the original plan, but as I was re-watching the American John Woo movies I realized I had to revisit this 1998 USA Networks TV movie (and unfulfilled backdoor pilot), even though I did an okay job reviewing it long ago. I’ve recently had good luck recommending it to a couple people who never heard of it, but I hadn’t seen it myself in 11 years. Fortunately this thing (shot right after FACE/OFF) holds up as an absurd and entertaining Dolph Lundgren vehicle that transcends its cheapo format.

Dolph plays Jack Devlin, a world class bodyguard who seems to work out of Reno. In the opening he agrees to a favor for an old friend who owns a casino and needs him to protect his little girl Casey (Padraigin Murphy) from the mob. She calls him “Uncle Jack,” which I took literally this time, but my research tells me that they’re not actually related.

It goes down kind like in TAKEN, where the kids get to Europe and are immediately kidnapped. Here gunmen arrive about 30 seconds after Jack walks into the house with Casey. He’s checking the rooms upstairs when they come in. (read the rest of this shit…)

Vern’s Book Pile

tn_bookpile1I don’t know about you guys, but I have kind of a hard time keeping up with all the books. I love them but I put so many of my spare minutes into watching and writing about movies (and checking Twitter, sadly) that I end up with stacks of beautiful tomes sitting around only partially read. That’s fine, that’s life, you can’t do everything. But these piles of people’s passions weigh down my soul with guilt because I know I meant to plug some of them.

As somebody who writes books about movies myself I know this is not exactly a path to riches, so I respect anyone who goes through with it. You gotta really have a passion for the subject to get it done, and there are not enough authors doing that for the kind of movies we love around here. I’m never gonna become a book reviewer, but I do want to showcase some of the ones I have here because in my opinion people are less likely to buy your book if they don’t know it exists. The chances of them accidentally ordering it are pretty slim, I have found. Most people would have to buy your book on purpose.

So I’m about to notify you of some things that exist, and I apologize to a couple of these authors for not doing so earlier. (read the rest of this shit…)

Broken Arrow

tn_brokenarrowwoozoneusaBROKEN ARROW is John Woo’s second American movie, and maybe his most generic. Christian Slater (HE WAS A QUIET MAN) stars as Air Force Captain Riley Hale, who’s sent on a test flight with his browbeating mentor and pal Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta, CHAINS OF GOLD) that goes awry. Their experimental bomber is carrying two nuclear warheads to find out if they can do it without being detected via radiation. The trouble is, some low rent DIE HARD sequel type villains are waiting out in the desert for Deakins to intentionally crash the plane so they can steal the missiles and make the government pay a ransom to get them back. God damn dirty bombnappers.

Hale survives the crash and encounters park ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis) and Deakins has devised various ways to slow down anybody else coming in to help, so they gotta John McClane and Zeus Carver it out. Slater and Mathis had already starred in PUMP UP THE VOLUME together. Later Mathis would be in another movie that Travolta was in, THE PUNISHER. They’re all fairly likable, but their characters are bland and lifeless compared to a Chance Boudreaux or a Castor Troy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hard Target

tn_hardtargetwoozoneusaThere was a time, I must admit, when I didn’t properly appreciate HARD TARGET. I had already been intoxicated by the unadulterated John Woo of THE KILLER, BULLET IN THE HEAD and HARD BOILED (in that order, I believe) so when I watched his 1993 Hollywood debut I could only see the compromises. American Woo was less violent, less stylish, less emotional and built around the stiff toughness of Van Damme instead of the smooth charisma of Chow Yun Fat.

But with the passage of time comes wisdom and context. From the perspective of today we can see that HARD TARGET stepped deeper into the Woo Zone than any of his subsequent American films save for FACE/OFF. More importantly, it’s clearly a masterpiece among Van Damme vehicles, themselves an enjoyable body of work that can benefit from some Woo. A pessimist sees HARD TARGET as Woo watered down with Van Damme. But I’m an optimist now so I know it’s a refreshing glass of Van Damme spiked with a shot of Woo tequila. (read the rest of this shit…)

Green Room

tn_greenroomGREEN ROOM has a pretty good spin on a classic setup: a touring punk band in a siege movie. This shitty young band called The Ain’t Rights, living out of their van and crashing with strangers, spending more on beer than on gas, going out of their way for questionable gigs in The Middle of Nowhere, Oregon, end up locked in the dressing room of a scary skinhead club because one of them walked in on a murder. The Punks Who Knew Too Much.

If there’s not already an ad that says “it’s ROMPER STOMPER meets ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13!!!” then here it is available to cut and paste, A24 Films.

I have very little experience in the world of punk rock, but from my ignorant perspective this comes off as a more authentic depiction than any of the other movies I’ve seen about it. That includes RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. And I don’t consider Cherry Bomb from HOWARD THE DUCK to be punk at all. Anyway I’ll be interested to find out if my musician friends find more fault with it than I did. To me it feels like writer/director Jeremy Saulnier might’ve come up with the idea while playing in a band like this, or if not he must’ve known people in this life. Like his first movie MURDER PARTY (a horror comedy in the world of Brooklyn hipster artists) it seems to be inspired by subcultures and people he knows from life, not movies. And like his second movie BLUE RUIN (an indie revenge drama) it goes out of its way to make violence messier, uglier and more difficult than in most movies. Like, what if it wasn’t Bruce Willis, but a regular dude like you who had to fight his way out of a corner using sharp objects he finds laying around?

But it comes a little closer than the other two movies to straight up embracing its genre. It even uses the always enjoyable action movie move of one of the band members getting referred to as “Jiujitsu” and then it turns out he really is a practicioner of said martial art. His armlocks and chokeholds come in handy. (read the rest of this shit…)

R.I.P. Prince

tn_princeCan’t believe I just wrote that subject line. I always thought Prince was an ageless immortal. I don’t know if I’ll end up writing a piece about him or not. You all know how much I love him.

It’s kind of beautiful that he died in the studio, at least. I’m glad it wasn’t in that random hospital when he made the emergency landing recently. And I’m glad I went through the trauma of worrying about him during that or I’d be blindsided today.

That guy had a talent and a drive beyond human comprehension. I don’t know what will happen with his legendary vaults of unreleased music, but even among the official releases there is more than most people can handle. So his life was a gift to us all.

I just put on Lovesexy. It’s weird, but that’s the one that really made me fall in love with Prince’s music. I mean, I enjoyed “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” and “Little Red Corvette” and everything in the ’80s. And I actually I got into Batman and Diamonds and Pearls and even the symbol album, but it was when a friend played me Lovesexy that it went from flirtation to love. These weirdly, uniquely Prince funk sounds that bleed into each other, Sheila E playing some weird super drum set, Prince singing about heaven and hell and sex and weird unexplained characters (Spooky Electric?), background voices and chants fading in and out. “And while you’re at it tell your mom about THIS!

prince (read the rest of this shit…)