MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 was made at a time when the world just wasn’t ready for this particular MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. There needed to be more of a cooling off period after the first one. We needed some time to learn that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE sequels weren’t gonna be the elegant balance of smart-people thriller and blockbuster spectacle that Brian DePalma introduced in the first one, and also that John Woo was not gonna ever seem like the exact same filmatist who made THE KILLER, or HARD BOILED, or even FACE/OFF, again. Returning to it now it’s even more evident that it’s best appreciated by watching it like we watch other post-Hong-Kong Woo pictures like HARD TARGET, or his TV ones like BLACKJACK or the Once a Thief series. You just try to enjoy it as some Hollywood bullshit that he tried to add some of his particular style to. Here he treats it as an expensive studio movie love story set against a rogue agent trying to get rich off of a man-made disease and its cure.
Tom Cruise (JACK REACHER) returns as Ethan Hunt, who has graduated from IMF support man to lone wolf and is now so awesome that he spends his vacation rock climbing out in the middle of nowhere with no equipment. He doesn’t have his phone on him (it was 2000) so the agency has to send a helicopter to fire a rocket at him containing douchey sunglasses that give him his mission briefing. This is a good idea because the ol’ “this message will self destruct” means he throws a pair of sunglasses at the camera and they explode into the title, and everybody wants to see that. (read the rest of this shit…)
“It’s hard to explain. A strange series of events made him our ally.”
Akira Kurosawa probly had no idea when he made SANJURO that he was doing a sequel to one of the greatest movies in all of Badass Cinema. He just wanted to have some fun doing another small, funny samurai story with Toshiro Mifune’s character from YOJIMBO. This time the itchy wandering ronin (calling himself Sanjuro, another name made up on the fly) falls in with nine young, idealistic samurai who have discovered corruption in their clan. They want to do the right thing but they’re kinda dumb and inexperienced and he’s an incomparable swordsman and strategist, so he finds himself advising them, assigns himself to their most dangerous tasks and takes on the army and government mostly on his own. (read the rest of this shit…)
“You know the rules. No fraternizing with cyborgs.”
CYBORG 2 has a totally different feel from CYBORG. Apparently it didn’t even start out as a sequel to CYBORG, it was supposed to be something called GLASS SHADOW until they realized the only way I was gonna rent it 20+ years later would be if it was connected to an existing Jean-Claude Van Damme series. It looks more expensive than Albert Pyun’s original (though still in the low budget realm) and plays much more traditional, not an art film at all.
The disease that had ravaged the world in part 1 must’ve been cured. The ROAD WARRIOR type wasteland has become a poor man’s BLADE RUNNER dystopolis with Max Headroom type boardroom villainy. There’s way more talking and stunt doubles and things that happen. And while I took part 1’s robo-lady as a traditional cyborg – human with machine add-ons – now they’re using the C3PO definition: just a robot. We see how it works in a cool opening credits sequence of liquid flesh injected into a female casing over a robo-skeleton.
In LADY DRAGON 2, Cynthia Rothrock de-prises her role as Kathy Galagher, ex-CIA underground fighter out to avenge the death of her also-a-CIA-agent husband. This time she plays Susan “The Golden Angel” Morgan, who in the opening scene defends her professional (i.e. not underground) competitive karate title in the presence of her very much not dead yet husband and famous soccer player Sonny (George Rudy). But then later her husband gets murdered and she has to avenge it.
Meanwhile, criminal maniac Diego (Billy Drago, DELTA FORCE 2, MARTIAL LAW II) and his two flunkies (Sam FLASH GORDON Jones and Greg Stuart [QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER]) are stealing diamonds from the mafia, and then staying in the same hotel as Susan and Sonny. Somehow sensing that Sonny’s fame as an international soccer star will get him brushed through customs without much more than a glance, they stash the stolen loot in his luggage and follow him to Jakarta. But when they go to reclaim the diamonds they’re gone.
Before we move on, let me just say that they call it soccer throughout the movie, they don’t say football, so I don’t have to say it either. Those are the rules. I also say shit instead of shite. It’s how I was raised. (read the rest of this shit…)
In MARTIAL LAW II: UNDERCOVER, our hero Sean “Martial Law” Thompson from the movie MARTIAL LAW has gone so far undercover that he doesn’t even look like Chad McQueen anymore, he looks like Jeff Wincott (MISSION OF JUSTICE). But he’s still with his cop girlfriend Billie Blake (Cynthia Rothrock) and he still opens the movie by stopping some bad guys while in disguise. Last time he was a pizza delivery guy stopping a hostage situation during a jewelry store robbery, this time he pretends to be a confused homeless guy and interrupts some bikers making an arms deal.
In case you forgot, he’s called Martial Law because he is a lawman who does martial arts. In fact he does so many martial arts that this time he gets a credits sequence where he’s silhouetted doing katas in front of flags while smooth jazz plays. He just made detective, but he gets transferred to another city to start a martial arts training program for the police there. He and Billie have the kind of relationship where that’s okay, you can just move away and it’ll be okay, no discussion necessary. (read the rest of this shit…)
The first DELTA FORCE movie, directed by Menahem Golan, seemed like it was trying to be a prestige Chuck Norris movie. You got Lee Marvin, Bo Svenson, Robert Forster and Steve James in the cast, but also Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, George Kennedy, Susan Strasberg and Shelley Winters. There’s a long section in the middle that has no Chuck Norris at all and is based on a real life hijacking incident.
But DELTA FORCE 2 (arguably subtitled THE COLOMBIAN CONNECTION) is directed by Chuck’s brother Aaron and it’s pretty straightforward about just being about Chuck’s character Colonel Scott McCoy going around being more awesome than everybody else. He’s introduced having dinner with his friend Major Bobby Chavez (Paul Perri, MANHUNTER) when three punk rockers cause a scene elsewhere in the restaurant, so he excuses himself to go beat them up. He says he likes the food and slams a guy’s face into a plate of rice in a possible homage to a way better part 2, A BETTER TOMORROW 2.
The villain is the straight up blatantly evil South American drug lord Ramon Cota (Billy Drago). We know he doesn’t have a human soul because he goes to visit the coca fields where poor villagers are forced to work and he immediately gets angry that one of them (Begonya Plaza, HEAT, ‘R XMAS) is tending to her baby instead of the plants. He has his men take away the baby and stabs the father right in front of her.
Damn, I never see these things coming. I sat down tonight to work on some writing and stumbled across the news that a favorite director has passed away today.
Before he directed the dirty, disgusting LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, Wes Craven was a college professor, and I’ve alway thought that made sense. To listen to him in interviews and commentaries he always seemed like the most thoughtful and literary-minded of the horror directors. He was interested in primal fears and ancient myths and where those intersect with modern lives. By directing SCREAM (from the screenplay by Kevin Williamson) he accidentally kicked off the meta era of horror, but I always felt he’d gotten there earlier in his own WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, where he made the played-out no-longer-scary-ness of his own creation, Freddy Krueger, part of the mythology. In that one the ELM STREET movies were just that – movies – but they were also an important tool of humanity because they could keep at bay the primordial force that inspired the character. The real Freddy.
Think about this. In 1972 Craven directed LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which helped kick off the slasher cycle of horror. In 1984 he directed A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, which started the supernatural slasher movies, and the ’80s era of slasher movie icons. Basically, Freddy became the Hulk Hogan of horror. (Even down to the racism, ’cause he said something pretty foul in FREDDY VS. JASON.) And think of what the Elm Street series meant for special effects makeup, with all those gooey, one-upping dream sequences they came up with each time. That’s why I was always a Freddy guy. I was into all that latex and crazy transformations and shit. (read the rest of this shit…)
According to Wikipedia, August and September are considered “dump months,” “when there are lowered commercial and critical expectations for most new releases.” And it has long been conventional wisdom that August is a crappy month for movies, when all the worst summer shit gets squirted out so the studios can be rid of it.
“For moviegoers, August also represents the nadir of Hollywood’s output each year,” writes Chris Hicks of Deseret News, summing up the belief of everybody else and everybody else’s uncle. Back in 2008, Vulture even did a study called “The August Movie: A Theory of Awfulness” which calculated that “the studios have put out 169 lousy movies in the past fifteen Augusts, and merely 26 halfway-decent ones.”
Release patterns have been changing in the years since, and few will deny the success and quality of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, or that it’s starting to become part of the Oscar season (best picture winners and contenders including ARGO, BIRDMAN, 12 YEARS A SLAVE and GRAVITY have come out in August). Last year Josh Rottenberg of the L.A. Times wondered “Is August no longer filled with Hollywood’s dog days?”
But I’m here to tell you that August was always a month full of promise. Sure, pre-GUARDIANS a studio wasn’t about to release a potential blockbuster smash at the end of the summer. But it’s a good spot for things that are a little more interesting, that they think might have potential but are maybe not for mainstream people. In fact, that’s my favorite type of movie. If you look at that Vulture study you can see that it’s based on an elitist mindset that dismisses movies on the basis of being lowbrow genre movies, even if they’re high watermarks for us. Their alleged 169 “lousy” movies included action pictures we love like HARD TARGET, DESPERADO and BLADE. And even a best picture nominee and universally beloved classic like BABE is only allowed to be “halfway-decent.” (read the rest of this shit…)
There’s a precedent for people who star in low budget movies just to help a buddy out but then keep acting and end up with big careers almost by accident. Bruce Campbell in THE EVIL DEAD, for example. Or Owen and Luke Wilson in BOTTLE ROCKET. You could even say Sharlto Copley, a filmmaker who Neil Blomkamp wanted to put in DISTRICT 9, and the next thing you know he’s a member of the A-Team!
So it’s not surprising that Robert Rodriguez’s buddy and co-producer Carlos Gallardo’s starring role in EL MARIACHI wasn’t his last. Sure, he was replaced by Antonio Banderas in the sequel (and knocked down to a smaller role), but in 1998 he got to play another title character in the mostly-English-language Mexican production BRAVO. This time he’s not a regular guy, he’s “best of the best” Mexican Secret Service agent Carlos Bravo, who’s secretly in love with the president’s daughter. (Don’t worry, she’s an adult.) Rather than guitar he plays pretty violin music for her (badass juxtaposition).
But when the daughter is spotted sneaking out of Bravo’s room he gets fired. Luckily he has his leather jacket there and his hog parked at the front door, so he’s able to drive off into a new life. (read the rest of this shit…)
DESPERADO is my favorite Robert Rodriguez movie. People will always say the scrappy, home-made, subtitled EL MARIACHI is better, and a strong argument could be made for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, with its Tarantino script and movie-star-making performance by George Clooney. But to me DESPERADO is his purest expression, the full enthusiasm of a young, hungry Hollywood rookie high on spaghetti westerns, John Woo and what his new friend QT was up to, fired into a full-blooded action movie uniquely based in Mexican culture.
The Tarantino influence shows in the talky opening with Steve Buscemi as the Mariachi’s hype man/street team, loudly telling tall tales about him in a bar, and in the scene where Tarantino himself plays a criminal telling a long-winded joke about peeing. But otherwise this has an identity very different from the wave of ’90s crime films, one that’s more visual and musical. He uses lots of slo-mo and dissolve edits working in tandem with a driving Latin rock score by Los Lobos. This is just one example of how the fresh Hollywood hotshot used his newfound resources while insisting on doing it his way. Another is the casting of the leads. (read the rest of this shit…)