"I got news for 'em. There's gonna be hell to pay. 'Cause I ain't daddy's little boy no more."

The Indian in the Cupboard



It sounds like a pun to say THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD feels small, because you see, it’s about a tiny little man who lives in a regular sized kid’s bedroom. But it also is a movie that feels small, in a good way. Based on the 1980 children’s novel by Lynne Reid Banks, it’s the story of a kid named Omri (Hal Scardino, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER) who discovers that he has one of those magic cupboards that turns miniature toys into living beings. The first one he does is a model Indian, who becomes an Iroquois warrior named Little Bear (Litefoot, MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION). So Omri keeps li’l Little Bear in his bedroom, protects him, gives him materials to build a longhouse with (after he rejects a plastic teepee, having no idea what a teepee is).

So it’s a movie full of what must’ve been really difficult special effects, with many scenes of Litefoot on giant sets composited with Scardino on regular sets, but it’s all about smallness, a world inside this kid’s bedroom (or, in one scene, insides his fannypack). There is no bombast at all. It’s just a sweet, simple movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory – celebrating 20 years of nobody beating him in the kitchen

tn_us2us2-20I know the internet reminds us that every day is the 20th anniversary of something or other, and that’s not always a good thing. There is too much nostalgia, and too many factoids. We need to learn how to live in the present, otherwise what the hell anniversary are we gonna celebrate 20 years from today? But today, my friends, is an important one: July 14th, 1995 was the day the world was gifted UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY.

I think you know how I feel about this movie. It stands as one of Seagal’s best big studio movies, one of the great sequels in the history of action, and one of the best DIE HARD rip offs. It’s a cool, accessible Seagal with a great supporting cast (especially the villains) doing enjoyable special-effects-based spectacle action while also spreading the gospel of choking and wrist-snapping. I’m not sure I can write a new review of it, since of course I wrote a whole chapter about it for my book Seagalogy: The Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and talked a little more about it in my Cinefamily Journal last year. So instead, to honor the occasion, let’s take a look at some of the key players and consider how much they’ve accomplished in the two decades since. (read the rest of this shit…)

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai

tn_ouatisAs much as beautiful action sequences are one of the great joys of life, the story really is the important part, it turns out. It can be formulaic and unoriginal – no problem, that can even be a plus sometimes – but it has to be a good engine for the fights and chases, giving us characters with motivations and making us want to see something happen, even something as simple as “I hope he kills that motherfucker” (or “I can’t wait ’til he fights that little guy!” as the guy next to me at THE RAID said). Most of the better Asian martial arts movies are especially story-driven I think, because of their themes of brotherhood, honor, tradition vs. innovation, etc.

So this is unusual but here’s one I’m recommending mostly just for the action. It’s the reverse of so many modern American action movies where I liked it despite the action being weak. I liked it even though I didn’t care much about what was happening until like halfway through.

I mean, there are elements I love here. The hero Ma Yongzhen (Philip Ng, DRAGON SQUAD) has a right fist so powerful his mom made him wear her jade bracelet to remind him not to use it. Donnie Yen’s wife tied a string around his wrist for the same reason in KUNG FU KILLER, but this is a more severe punishment because it’s pretty girly looking. His fist is often shot to look giant, and then we see that gaudy-looking bracelet with a metal charm on it that spins and hums with movement. So every time we see it we remember his vow of punchlessness. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ash vs Evil Dead trailer

Man, of all the crazy crossovers, who would ever think we’d see Ash get to fight Evil Dead? Holy shit, who is gonna win!?

I think this looks really good. EVIL DEAD meets old man action. Of course it looks like all jokes, more like ARMY OF DARKNESS than my preferred EVIL DEAD 1-2 tone, but that’s what you gotta do with modern Bruce Campbell, I think. It’s got a good look to it, though. Nice modern take on the style of the movies. (No cinematographer listed on IMDb.)

For those who haven’t heard, this is a TV series with half hour episodes. That’s unusual for a horror show of course, but I like it. It suggests it will be fast-paced, no dragging it out to fill the hour like on some shows. The pilot is directed by Sam Raimi, and other directors aren’t listed on IMDb, but I’m pretty sure there are some. The music is by the movie’s composer, Joseph LoDuca. At least one episode is edited by the film’s Academy Award winning (for THE HURT LOCKER) editor, Bob Murawski.

Dr. Strange

tn_drstrangecomicsconworldexclusiveEXCLUSIVE: Vern’s review of Marvel’s first ever supernatural movie, DR. STRANGE


(p.s. the 1978 tv movie)

DR. STRANGE is the story of a supernatural battle going on in New York. The world you live in is a sugar-coated topping, etc. Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten from ORCA and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS) is a mustachioed lady’s man doctor at a psychiatric hospital who goes about his normal hospital business for half of the movie before meeting an old sorcerer dude (John Mills, GANDHI) who tells him that he has known since Stephen was a kid that he had a talent for magical voodoo type business shooting beams and saying magic words and flying in space and all that type of shit that you would have to do if you chose that sort of alternative lifestyle which so far he has not because he’s a normal person, he doesn’t believe in that shit or ever heard of it. Also Stephen’s dad knew it and that’s why the tacky ring he wears that his dad gave him matches the “ancient symbol of light” on the old man’s attic window, apparently. (read the rest of this shit…)


tn_absolutiona.k.a. Mercenary: Absolution

ABSOLUTION is the latest from Steven Seagal, and his first to go straight to VOD before going to video this week. I guess it also played a couple theaters, although I have not heard any reports of anyone seeing it in one. I think this is more a sign of changing markets than of this particular movie’s quality. It’s not markedly different or better than his other recent works.

In ABSOLUTION Seagal faces a villain known only as “The Boss,” but I don’t think it’s supposed to be Bruce Springsteen. Either that, or there’s alot I didn’t know about Bruce Springsteen. Vinnie Jones (SUBMERGED, GUTSHOT STRAIGHT) draws upon his experience in BRADLEY COOPER’S MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN to play this tweed-wearing kingpin who works out of a professorial type office with globes and bookshelves and stuff, but his hobby is video taping himself in a fetish mask torturing and murdering prostitutes in a kitchen in the back of his 24-hour dance spot Club One.

Two things happen here. First, John (Seagal) and his life-debt partner of three years Chi (Byron Mann, BELLY OF THE BEAST, A DANGEROUS MAN, True Justice) have done a murder-for-hire on a  whore-loving, coke-snorting gangster called “The Afghani,” (a very good douchebag performance by Sergiu Costache, who’s actually Romanian) and are killing time before extraction by having some Johnnie Walker at the Danube Blues Club. Second, one of The Boss’s victims (Nadia, played by Adina Stetcu) escapes him, runs through the Club One dance floor, onto the streets, into the Danube, and literally into John’s lap, begging for help as The Boss’s underlings try to drag her away. (read the rest of this shit…)

First Knight



FIRST KNIGHT is a movie I never would’ve watched without an excuse like this series, but it’s not bad. Directed by AIRPLANE!’s Jerry Zucker (his followup to NAKED GUN 2 1/2, but not his first serious movie, having already done GHOST), it’s basically a love triangle between King Arthur (Sean Connery), Sir Lancelot (Richard Gere) and Guinevere (Julia Ormond). Connery and Gere play two different types of handsome while Ormond makes the movie with a more human, layered portrayal.

The story begins with Lancelot, a dreamy, long-haired drifter going from town to town showing off in sword-fighting demos. His path happens to cross young Queen Guinevere’s when her caravan is ambushed on the way to Camelot to marry King Arthur. So he rescues her.

Before he disappears he plants a kiss on her, and she’s got that BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY look of suppressed lust on her face, but she tells him to cool it, she’s engaged. And when she gets to Camelot we see that she’s not just being chaste, she really does love Arthur. Yeah, it’s an arranged marriage, and he’s old enough to be her ancestor, but in his defense he does give her a sincere opportunity to back out, pledging to defend her kingdom of Lyonnesse regardless of marital arrangements. You want him to be a sleazy old bastard so you can root for her to kick him to the medieval equivalent of a curb, but he keeps being a gentleman, god damn it. She tells him she’s not gonna back out, she really wants to marry him, and she seems to know what she’s doing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Battle Beyond the Stars

tn_battlebeyondFuck a star war – what about a battle beyond the stars? I know a battle is smaller than a war, it is only one of the units that makes up a part of a war, but maybe that’s better. More intimate. More focused. And then it’s beyond the stars instead of within them, as a mere star war is. Beyond is better. This battle has transcended the fucking stars.

Admittedly, it doesn’t seem like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS takes place further away from here than any of the STAR WARSes. In fact, it is for sure closer, because people have heard of the planet Earth, and one guy is from there. His name is Cowboy, but not the pioneering rapper from the Furious Five who coined the term “hip hop.” He’s actually George Peppard a couple years before The A-Team and he wears a cowboy hat, plaid shirt and insulated silver space pants. He always shows off that he likes westerns and exotic Earth liquor. Obviously he’s the Han Solo character, and he’s entertaining, but most of his scenes are alone in his ship, so there’s a Chewbacca-sized hole next to him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie



MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE is easily the crappiest movie in my Summer of ’95 retrospective so far. Maybe less offensive than BATMAN FOREVER, since it doesn’t seem to be made by professionals who should know any better, but it’s really something. I know it’s an extension of a cheesy kids TV show made up partly of stock footage from Japanese shows, but it’s amazing that a soundtrack album and a little bad CGI was enough to get this into theaters alongside real movies. APOLLO 13 and

JUDGE DREDD came out the same day. Watching it 20 years later POWER RANGERS does not seem like it belongs in the company of either, and the dark, low quality transfer on the DVD isn’t helping things. It didn’t get completely killed at the box office, though. That weekend it came in below APOLLO 13, POCAHONTAS and BATMAN FOREVER, but above JUDGE DREDD.

Like APOLLO 13 this is the story of an elite team of squares chosen to put on uniforms and helmets and fly into space. The Power Rangers are five teenagers chosen by a giant face in a glass tube named Zordon (Nicholas Bell, DARK CITY) to “transform into a superhuman fighting force” and defend the Australian-looking city of Angel Grove, California. That means morphing into masked and color-coded martial arts super heroes and piloting robotic dinosaurs called Zords that combine into a bigger, humanoid robot called Megazord to fight giant monsters. In their spare time the Power Rangers like to skydive, rollerblade and act as role models to local children who don’t know they’re the Power Rangers because it’s a secret identity, although that is never relevant to the story. As far as we see, none of them have parents, schools, jobs, homes or alone time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Terminator Genisys [sic]

tn_terminatorgNote: if you know nothing about this movie, this review has lots of spoilers. However, every major twist is given away in the advertising, one of them even on the poster.

There’s a cool, clever idea near the beginning of TERMINATOR GENISYS. We start out in the post-Judgment Day future, where the resistance leader John Connor (now played by Jason Clarke of ZERO DARK THIRTY) is about to destroy Skynet and its army of machines. But Skynet has just sent a T-800 (played by a body double with a digital-young-Arnold-Schwarzenegger head) back to 1984 to kill his mother Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones, not to be confused with Lena Headey from Game of Thrones, who played her on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) before she conceives him. So John sends his best soldier (and secret father) Kyle Reese (now played by Jai Courtney from JACK REACHER and who would have been in the fifth DIE HARD if they had made one but there is not one in my opinion) back in time to protect Sarah. You know, the plot of THE TERMINATOR.

And then it goes and re-creates a few scenes we recognize from the first movie: the man in the garbage truck seeing the Terminator arrive naked in a ball of lightning, the homeless man in the alley seeing Kyle, the Terminator approaching three punk rockers (none of them Bill Paxton) and demanding their clothes. Except then, all the sudden, there’s another, older Arnold Schwarzenegger there, attacking the young one, with the help of Sarah. And we learn that this is a different timeline, not the one from THE TERMINATOR that we and Reese expected. This older Arnold is a Terminator who was sent back to when Sarah was 9 to protect her and raise her. So she’s not a clueless waitress who he has to convince, she already knows about the future and her son and how to shoot guns and everything. (read the rest of this shit…)