I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Remember the Time

Today is Michael Jackson’s birthday. On this day in 2009 I wrote about Martin Scorsese’s “Bad” video, and in 2016 I wrote about John Landis’s “Black or White.” I like the idea of making it a tradition, so this year I’m taking a look at “Remember the Time,” directed by John Singleton (SHAFT [2000]) and produced by Reid Shane (production manager, BIG BAD MAMA II) of Propaganda Films.

“Remember the Time” was filmed in January of 1992 and simultaneously debuted at 8:25 pm February 2nd on MTV, BET and Fox, another major television event for MJ. It was the second single from the album Dangerous, so it was the followup to “Black or White.” I suspect it’s intentional that the 9-minute short film and/or video links to the last one through the use of cats. Remember, when last we saw Michael he had morphed into a panther and exited the soundstage. This video begins and ends with a cat, though not one that appears to represent Michael. Just a feline associate, I presume. (read the rest of this shit…)

Battleship

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

May 18, 2012

Let’s say you are a pretty decent commercial Hollywood filmmaker and you have accepted the conventional wisdom that you are now living in a “brand” and “i.p.” culture, a world where studios only want to make – and people only want to see – movies based on famous titles of TV shows and comic books and things that they remember from before. And let’s say that the toy company Hasbro has stumbled into running a movie production company after Michael Bay turned their Transformers toys into a gigantic movie franchise. And that now they are convinced they can do the same thing with the classic board game Battleship.

Well, that actually happened one time to Peter Berg (THE RUNDOWN), who had not directed a movie for a couple years after his not-brand-based Summer Fling HANCOCK floundered in 2008, and his response was “Why not?” Or maybe “I guess?” or perhaps “Okay. Fine.” Since the game is very simple, with no story or characters and I’d say less than five identifiable characteristics that would need to be used in an adaptation, he and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber (RED 1 and 2) could just use it as a fake name to slap onto an expensive wannabe blockbuster than any sane person would know was gonna be broadly rejected only because of the board game name that they didn’t need to put on it. But that’s life.

(“The Game of Life” by the way is also owned by Hasbro.) (read the rest of this shit…)

The Last Airbender

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

It was kinda risky to do a whole series of unpopular or forgotten summer movies, because I could very well have been forcing myself to watch an all star lineup of all the suckiest failures from across a couple decades. A dirty dozen of squirming and boredom. Luckily, many of the movies I chose have been better than their reputations, or even misunderstood gems, and when they’re not it’s still kind of nice, because I’m seeing them from a better position than the people who saw them their respective summers. I don’t go in with high expectations. I don’t hope for the next great summer movie. Just maybe something that’s more interesting than people said at the time.

In this case I also knew not to hope for an M. Night Shyamalan comeback after THE VILLAGE, LADY IN THE WATER and THE HAPPENING, or a good live action version of the popular cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I haven’t seen anyway. Knowing nothing about the cartoon I was able to appreciate the cool concepts they borrowed from it without knowing they apparently did it all wrong. So I have a higher chance of being pleasantly surprised and a lower chance of feeling like I didn’t get my money’s worth. (read the rest of this shit…)

Logan Lucky

The prodigal son has returned. Four years ago, Steven Soderbergh (OUT OF SIGHT) had gotten burnt out on directing and decided to retire. After the 2013 doubleheader of SIDE EFFECTS and BEHIND THE CANDELABRA he hung it all up, and in the interim he’s done nothing but kick back, lay low, recharge his batteries, start his own brand of Bolivian muscat brandy called Singani 63, do an edit of HER for Spike Jonze, create his own alternate cuts of PSYCHO, HEAVEN’S GATE, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and 2001: A SPACY ODYSSEY for fun, shoot and edit MAGIC MIKE XXL, direct, produce, shoot and edit 20 one-hour episodes of The Knick, and relax. And now, finally, he’s back to work!

I guess that makes BEHIND THE CANDELABRA his Black Album and LOGAN LUCKY his Kingdom Come. But fortunately without a duet with Coldplay at the end.

If it was anybody besides Soderbergh it would seem weird that it was this one that pulled him back in – arguably as close to hack-work as he’s ever done. It’s sort of a redo of his three OCEAN’S movies but with hick characters and locations. But even a weak Soderbergh movie has always been worth seeing, and one of his talents is finding the compelling in the routine. It’s a bouncy, far-fetched caper story, but he seems completely invested in the lead character and the time he spends with his precocious little daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, DOLLY PARTON’S COAT OF MANY COLORS), and gives those scenes weight that really anchors the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Detroit

You guys, it’s seeming more and more like Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award winning director of THE HURT LOCKER, has permanently replaced Kathryn Bigelow, awesome director of POINT BREAK and BLUE STEEL. That’s okay, they’re both very good at what they do. DETROIT follows ZERO DARK THIRTY as another heavily researched, based-on-actual-events issue movie with writer Mark Boal (IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH). This time they step away from the “War on Terror” to look at an even more intractable American quagmire: the war that members of law enforcement have on African American citizens, and the way the system harbors maniacs and racists who abuse their power.

The subject is the Algiers Motel Incident, a particularly gruesome chapter of the 1967 Detroit riots when police officers and National Guardsmen detained a group of young, mostly African American people, beat and tormented them, (SPOILERS if you don’t know about the true story) murdered three of them and were not punished for it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Battle For Terra

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

May 1, 2009

BATTLE FOR TERRA is a computer animated sci-fi fantasy that opened wide with almost no advertising or awareness. I thought it was the big expensive one that was an infamous flop, but it turns out I was confusing it with DELGO, which was released the year before, but not in the summer, so I don’t have to watch it. This one was actually a low budget independent production, but it did open wide and did not seem to capture the public consciousness, so I’ll go ahead and call it a Summer Fling in the tradition of TITAN A.E.

In the opening scene I was unsure I’d be able to make it through this one, because the alien race at the center of the story, the Terrians, look like this:

I pictured people working hard on this movie for months or years and then being crushed when they realized what it was gonna look like, but maybe I’m just picky about alien designs. Boxofficeflops.com says they spent just below $20 million on this (less than a third of the first SHREK’s budget), but Wikipedia says $4 million. If it’s the latter that’s insane because PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 cost $5 million and it’s a fuckin found footage video that doesn’t have an all star cast like this does! However much they had, it’s obviously not gonna have Pixar-level textures, but it doesn’t take more money to have better designs. For my money the worst decision made in this production was “Yes, I am okay with this being what the main character looks like.”

So thank God the story is pretty good. It starts in this world of Terra, a peaceful society of floating pea-pod E.T.s who fly around in wind-powered vehicles in harmony with flying whales. With better visual craftsmanship I think this would feel kinda like THE DARK CRYSTAL, though some things seem a little too close to modern human life (they have school and the teacher takes attendance and they have dinner at the dinner table and if they get in trouble they get sent to their room). (read the rest of this shit…)

American Angels: Baptism of Blood

It’s kind of funny that I finally watched Mimi Lesseo’s first movie AMERICAN ANGELS: BAPTISM OF BLOOD shortly after that GLOW show, because it has many parallels. A group of newbies try out for an all-female weekly wrestling show, have friendships and grudges, one falls for the sleazy but nice guy that runs it, the women live together, learn how to take falls, have training montages, a rivalry develops, they have the big match and bond through wrestling.

A couple big differences:

1) “American Angels” is not a startup, but an already established and successful promotion

2) Wrestling is treated (at least sometimes) as real fighting. It’s weird

3) It’s genuine exploitation with raw acting and laughably gratuitous T&A business

A group of women (three of them introduced with documentary style text) audition for the famous American Angels wrestling outfit. Lisa from Bakersfield (Jan Sebastian, GATORBAIT II: CAJUN JUSTICE) is a stripper who, as part of her show, will wrestle a man from the audience (after being rubbed in whip cream). For some reason her boss believes in her talents enough to get his old friend American Angels promoter/commentator Dazzling Dave (Tray Loren, ROCKTOBER BLOOD, also GATORBAIT II) to come watch, and he witnesses her punching the volunteer in the dick for pulling her bra off during the match. (read the rest of this shit…)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

July 11, 2003

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is a cool fucking premise: a sort of Victorian era Justice League made of literary characters with unique talents or abilities. In this world, the famous stories of English literature (plus Mark Twain) really happened, and the Queen puts together a super-team to try to stop an attack on Venice. So James Bond’s M (Richard Roxburgh, VAN HELSING, STEALTH) recruits the adventurer hunter Alan Quatermain (Sean Connery, FIRST KNIGHT), Dracula’s Mina Harker (Peta Wilson, SUPERMAN RETURNS), the Invisible Man (but actually not the same H.G. Wells one, for legal reasons)(Tony Curran, Priest from BLADE II), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng, BRUISER), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend, director of BATTLE IN SEATTLE) and Captain Nemo (veteran Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah).

Sort of like MYSTERY MEN, this is based on a comic that’s a riff on the super hero team stories, but made when X-MEN was the only straight up movie version of that sort of thing. The comic, written by Alan Moore, is apparently very different, thicker in obscure literary allusions and lighter in summer movie type spectacle (sword fights, shoot outs, flying CGI machinery, explosions). The adaptation is credited to another comic book writer, James Robinson, who wrote alot of Superman. His previous screenwriting work was CYBER BANDITS, COMIC BOOK VILLAINS and a swing and a miss in the long line of writers trying to figure out how to do FREDDY VS. JASON. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wolf Warrior II

(also being called WOLF WARRIORS II)

Some time in the last year or two I saw WOLF WARRIOR, the 2015 sophomore directing vehicle of martial arts star Wu Jing (KILL ZONE 1 and 2, FATAL CONTACT), but I barely remember it. Scott Adkins was the mercenary villain, and I remember it was cool to see him play a bad guy in a Hong Kong movie again, and that their fights were pretty good. But otherwise the movie made such little impression that I didn’t even feel like I had enough thoughts about it to write a review.

But now there’s a WOLF WARRIOR II and it’s such a big deal in China that it has already beaten THE MERMAID‘s record as their highest grossing film ever. And rather than making us wait for it to come over here later, they have it playing at the AMC theater downtown. Meanwhile, some people on Twitter were talking it up, and promised me that they enjoyed it without having seen the first one, so I decided to give it a shot. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dunkirk

Git ‘r dun, kirk! Well dun, kirk. Done ‘n dunk, kirk. What have you dun, kirk!? You know you dun kirked up, don’t you? You know that, right?

DUNKIRK is Mr. Christopher Nolan’s WWII (World War 2) movie, a sweeping epic in visual terms but kind of an intimate story; a historic event depicted through the perspectives of three groups of lightly developed characters. I saw it in Imax, and I’d guess 98% of the movie fills the entire gigantic screen from top to bottom. They cropped it briefly inside a small boat (probly didn’t want gigantic closeups) but otherwise your field of vision is filled with sky, sand, water, helmets, bodies, smoke. And Hans Zimmer’s stress-inducing score frequently mimics a ticking stopwatch as we watch these thousands of British soldiers trapped on a beach in France waiting to see whether they’re gonna be miraculously rescued or bombed to shit.

Nolan gotta be Nolan, so he gave a simple story a uniquely tricky structure. He intercuts between the soldiers on the beach, some citizens in a small boat and a few pilots in the sky, but titles tell us that their stories encompass one week, one day and one hour, respectively. You never feel like you’re skipping around in time, but it’s an illusion, a timeline repeatedly expanding and contracting until it gets to the end. (read the rest of this shit…)