"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

Message from the King

MESSAGE FROM THE KING is Chadwick Boseman’s 2016 (pre-BLACK PANTHER) action(ish) vehicle, released straight to Netflix. I always meant to watch it – I’m sorry it took me a tragedy to get to it. It’s pretty good.

It follows the classic noir tradition of the outsider who comes into town because a loved one went missing or died, starts asking around, spying on people, finds out what happened, and goes after the people responsible. I tend to like that story format – in fact, I kind of played off of it in my book Niketown, now that I think about it.

The specific version of this type of story that MESSAGE FROM THE KING reminds me of most is THE LIMEY. That’s both a compliment (I love THE LIMEY and movies like it) and bad news (unsurprisingly it’s not as good as THE LIMEY), but I couldn’t avoid the comparison. Instead of British he’s South African, instead of a daughter it’s his sister, and instead of her being involved with an older music producer it’s an older movie producer. But it’s a similar thing of a guy from another culture going around to rich people parties, barging into front businesses, angering macho thugs who don’t know who he is and underestimate him, playing dumb but exploding into a few sudden bursts of brutal violence. (read the rest of this shit…)

Profiles in Badass #2: Michael Jai White

Hello! I’m periodically rolling out these Profiles in Badass columns from earlier this year that I’m sure many of you didn’t see in their original presentation behind a pay (and arguably ethics) wall on Rebeller. They’re written for a more general audience than outlawvern.com, so they might be pretty basic to some of you, but I think I did a good job putting a finger on the greatness of my various subjects.

For this one it’s important to know that Rebeller was owned by Cinestate, producers of Dragged Across Concrete, and I knew they’d want me to mention MJW’s part in that movie. But I have, you know, complicated feelings about it. They swore they wanted a diversity of viewpoints, and I figured this was a good opportunity to test their sincerity, so I didn’t hold back. To their credit I got no complaints, and the editor later mentioned that he liked me “trolling” them like that when I was arguing with him about something else. Anyway, I’m proud of this one.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Summer of 1985 wrapup

As September 1985 began, summer movies were still in the public consciousness. Turn on the radio and you were likely to hear Pat Benetar’s “Invincible (Theme From The Legend of Billie Jean)” (#12 on the Biilboard charts), Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” (#4), John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” (#2) or Huey Lewis and the News’s “The Power of Love” (#1). August 30th had seen the release of AMERICAN NINJA, a culturally important b-movie and perfect bookend to a season that had started with GYMKATA. Unfortunately I really can’t get away with doing another review of it, because I’ve already done it twice; for my definitive take, read this review of THE 400 BLOWS and click through as I alternate between the five Antoine Doinels and the five AMERICAN NINJAs (a series I retroactively call The 400 Death Blows).

After AMERICAN NINJA, the summer movie season disappeared into the fall like a ninja into a puff of smoke. I know technically I could keep going until September 22nd, but I’m gonna guess nobody’s waiting for me to review PLENTY or SMOOTH TALK. So it’s time for a wrapup. (read the rest of this shit…)

Godzilla 1985

August 23, 1985

“Godzilla. I was hoping I’d never hear that name again.”

Near the conclusion of the Summer of 1985 – a movie season that attempted to bring back James Bond, the Vietnam War, pirates, Dorothy Gale, Clint Eastwood westerns, Mad Max, Walt Disney animation, the Griswolds, Dr. Frankenstein and two different types of Living Dead – America welcomed back a very large visitor from overseas. Godzilla had not had a movie since THE TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA in 1975, so this is about the same as the gap between REVENGE OF THE SITH and THE FORCE AWAKENS, and it was a similar case of a younger generation being entrusted with reinventing and continuing an iconic series for modern audiences. Original producer/creator Tomoyuki Tanaka was still in charge, but director Koji Hashimoto (SAYONARA JUPITER) and writer Shuichi Nagahara (STRAY CAT ROCK: DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS) were both teenagers when the first film came out. (Hashimoto got his start as an assistant director on Toho movies in the ‘60s, including GODZILLA sequels).

This one ignores all the previous sequels. There’s no Mothra, no Minya, no Monster Island, only the events of 1954’s GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, so in that sense it’s less FORCE AWAKENS and more David Gordon Green’s HALLOWEEN. It was made for the 30th anniversary, so think about the films of 1990. In terms of time, if not cultural relevance, it’s like if this summer had a big new event sequel to TREMORS or DARKMAN, I guess? Or, to put it another way – GODZILLA 1985 is five years older today than the original GODZILLA was at the time. Shit. (read the rest of this shit…)

R.I.P. Chadwick Boseman

God damn, another incredible bummer. An incomparable actor who only a few years ago exploded into a pop culture phenomenon… it never would’ve occurred to me that he wouldn’t get a chance to cash in on it. He apparently had an idea, though, quietly fighting cancer for four years, filming movies in between chemo and surgeries.

Of course most know him as King T’Challa, an iconic role in a groundbreaking film that will now take on a different resonance. I was so excited when he got that role because I had seen him in GET ON UP – a movie that I was convinced could not work. And somehow it did. And this actor who I’d never paid attention to before, never heard much about, who was not even a dancer, and had a body type completely unlike that bizarre alien of a man that was the Godfather of Soul… somehow he turned himself into JB in so many ways. The look, the voice, the swagger, the performances, playing him young and old, charismatic and terrifying. Just an astonishing performance.

One thing I appreciated about his performance as Black Panther is that he took it so seriously he invented the Wakandan accent, studying what an African accent could sound like without colonial influence. (The studio had just wanted him to do English.) In interviews he seemed incredibly thoughtful and thorough, and it showed through in his movies.

Obviously I thought we would get more of him as T’Challa, but also I was looking forward to more of him with his own accent. The real Chadwick Boseman seemed to be the most compelling one, and I wish we’d gotten to see more of him. But I’m thankful for what we got.

R.I.P.

 

 

The Protector (35th anniversary revisit)

August 23, 1985

Here we are again. THE PROTECTOR – Jackie Chan’s widely panned second attempt at an English-language starring vehicle. I reviewed it in 2011 and my opinion hasn’t changed much, but as one of the very few straight ahead action movies of Summer of 1985, it seems important to address in this series. Action-wise, the summer was all about RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II. Otherwise you just had the two westerns, PALE RIDER and SILVERADO, and three cop movies – CODE OF SILENCE, YEAR OF THE DRAGON, and this. YEAR OF THE DRAGON is less actiony and has so much more production value it doesn’t seem like a fair comparison, so the one to really hold it next to is CODE OF SILENCE.

And yeah, it makes sense. Chuck Norris and Jackie were both martial arts stars – in fact, guys who had early roles in Bruce Lee movies – who were now expanding their portfolios in the medium of post-DIRTY HARRY American cop movies. CODE is set in director Andrew Davis’s textured and gritty Chicago, but director James Glickenhaus begins THE PROTECTOR in a preposterously exaggerated b-movie vision of the South Bronx where crime is so bad it has literally become a post-apocalypse movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Teen Wolf

August 23, 1985

TEEN WOLF is another Summer of 1985 movie that I already reviewed but wanted to revisit. Now I feel like an asshole that I didn’t find time to do the same for the much better movie LIFEFORCE, but life isn’t fair, is it? I thought it might be interesting to look at TEEN WOLF in the context of the other teen-oriented movies of the time, including the other one with Michael J. Fox. I saw both BACK TO THE FUTURE and this one at the time (one drive-in, one indoors, I believe) but I did not remember that they came out only a few months apart.

It was, in fact, a time of total and complete Foxamania sweeping the nation. He wasn’t a movie star yet, having only done MIDNIGHT MADNESS and CLASS OF 1984, but was in his third season playing young Republican Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. He was on a break from filming the show so Meredith Baxter Birney could give birth, and got the job to replace Eric Stoltz on BACK TO THE FUTURE during TEEN WOLF. So he was filming this during the day and BACK TO THE FUTURE at night. Meanwhile, The Cosby Show had started and brought way more viewers to the show playing after it. So basically this is Fox at the precise moment he was exploding from child actor to superstar, and at the exact same age as when we saw him as Marty McFly. On the same day, basically. (read the rest of this shit…)

Better Off Dead

August 23, 1985

The success of movies like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and SIXTEEN CANDLES kicked off a wave of teen films in the ‘80s, but the ones that came out in the Summer of ’85 were not typical of the genre. Most of the season’s movies about high school kids involved some sort of fantastical element (BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE HEAVENLY KID, WEIRD SCIENCE, MY SCIENCE PROJECT – and I guess the younger GOONIES and EXPLORERS count too). The most straight ahead, down to earth teen movies were THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN and REAL GENIUS, neither of which were exactly standard issue.

And BETTER OFF DEAD is an even odder one. It has a pretty normal premise (high school kid gets depressed when his girlfriend dumps him for the captain of the ski team, thinks he can get her back by defeating said captain in a ski race), but it’s filtered through the distinct humor of first time writer/director Savage Steve Holland. Though I don’t personally hold it in nearly the same reverence, I think it has a little bit in common with PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, in that it’s a comedy with its own distinct tone and deadpan presentation of absurdity brought to us by a rookie whose ignorance about how to make a normal movie works as a strength. On a more superficial level, it uses little bits of animation (including stop motion), and jokingly applies thriller film techniques to silly things (for example, using horror movie synths and atmosphere whenever the paperboy shows up looking for his $2). Burton and Holland are also the same age, both went to CalArts, and both worked as animators before becoming live action directors (in Holland’s case creating the famous “Whammy” animations for the game show Press Your Luck). (read the rest of this shit…)

The Return of the Living Dead (35th anniversary revisit)

August 16, 1985

THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is a movie that I already reviewed thoroughly for Halloween 2015, but it’s such a classic I felt it would be wrong to exclude from this retrospective. So feel free to click on that link for a straightforward piece about some of the reasons I love the movie, but this one will zero in on a few aspects I feel are interesting in context with other movies we’ve discussed from the Summer of 1985 movie season.

As a horror-comedy that’s more of a real horror movie than a parody, RETURN arguably has a kinship with FRIGHT NIGHT. But obviously its closest comparison is its brother from another producer, George Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD. Earlier in the summer I wrote about some of the ways DAY fit the specific moment of 1985. RETURN does it in a totally different way. Romero’s takes a grey, grim approach to railing against the Reagan era, while RETURN writer-director Dan O’Bannon does the EC Comics and punk rock version. Like so many of the movies we’ve been looking at, it’s a very soundtrack-oriented movie, embracing music of the time. But it’s not Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper or even Oingo Boingo – it’s punk rock bands like T.S.O.L., The Cramps, The Damned and The Flesh Eaters. (read the rest of this shit…)

Year of the Dragon

August 16, 1985

This may be surprising, but YEAR OF THE DRAGON is one of the Summer of 1985 movies that I hadn’t seen before. So today I have officially entered the post-having-seen-YEAR-OF-THE-DRAGON section of my life. For those of you who are still in the first section, let me explain: this is the Triads-in-New-York’s-Chinatown movie directed by Michael Cimino as his followup to the financial disaster of HEAVEN’S GATE, and he wrote it with Oliver Stone. So it’s quite a movie. Aggressively stylish, go-for-broke filmmaking, astonishing production design and camerawork, epic in scope and detail, clearly heavily researched, also completely macho and full of shit, easy to see as racist and misogynistic, or at least very sympathetic toward a protagonist who is, and who by the way is played by weird, handsome, hungry Mickey Rourke, with all that that entails. So it’s hard to quantify YEAR OF THE DRAGON in the standard “good” or “bad” type terms most people insist on. I’m pretty sure I would run from it if I saw it on the street, but also I think it’s pulsing with entertaining pulp and cinematic greatness. (read the rest of this shit…)