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

Kids

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RELEASE DATE: July 28
RELEASE DATE: July 28

So KIDS is 20 years old – which is older than most (all?) of the actors in the movie. What I’ve discovered watching it now as an aging individual is that the older you get the more disgusting it gets. I mean, they have always been younger than me, but now they look like babies. The first shot of the movie is an endless closeup of skinny, shirtless sixteen-years-young Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick, now better known as a junkie on The Wire) awkwardly french kissing a girl who looks even younger than him (I believe he says she’s 12). I don’t think there’s any nudity in this movie, and for all the sexual discussion and activity – enough that it had to be released NC-17 – it’s actually not very graphic. But there’s a whole lot of young teens sloppily kissing, which is almost more uncomfortable. Those scenes make me feel either like an old prude or a young kid who thinks kissing is gross.

This is the rookie movie of both director Larry Clark and writer Harmony Korine, and it definitely gives you an idea of the type of filmatists they would become. You got Clark’s eye for a gritty, documentary texture and his obsession with documenting sweaty, burgeoning teenage sexuality, and you have Korine’s weirdness and disdain for traditional cinematic storytelling. One long section of the movie is just cutting between two rooms, one full of boys, one full of girls, as they talk candidly/show-offily about sex. Of course they paint very different pictures. For example, in the boy’s room they’re pretty excited about how much they know girls love to “suck dick,” while at that same moment the girls are all commiserating about how much they hate that. (read the rest of this shit…)

From Tarzana to Miracle Mile: the under-the-radar films of Steve De Jarnatt

tn_miraclemileBI’ve already reviewed MIRACLE MILE and CHERRY 2000, the two feature films directed by Steve De Jarnatt. But today both are released on fancy new Blu-Ray (and DVD) editions from Kino Lorber, with commentary tracks and other extras like you used to do when you were expected to put effort into these sort of things. MIRACLE MILE is finally in the proper aspect ratio, and has a reunion of most of the supporting cast inside Johnie’s Coffee Shop, where a pivotal chunk of the movie takes place. They have Brian Thompson, Kurt Fuller, Denise Crosby, Kelly Jo Minter, O-Lan Jones… even the damn phone booth!

Most exciting for me, I was able to see TARZANA, the never-on-video, not-even-on-Youtube black and white noir short that got De Jarnatt noticed by Hollywood. I wrote about it all in this new piece for The Scarecrow Wire, the blog of Seattle’s non-profit Scarecrow Video, so please read it. (And if you feel the urge to comment over there it will make me look good. If it’s a nice comment. Don’t write about butts or farting or anything, you guys.)

If you’re in the area, De Jarnatt will be doing a signing and Q&A as well as presenting TARZANA at Scarecrow Video this Thursday at 7 pm.

 

Waterworld

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RELEASE DATE: July 7
RELEASE DATE: July 28

Oh, WATERWORLD, how I’ve been meaning to rewatch you. Maybe I should’ve done it before FURY ROAD, though.

Let’s get the “flop” shit out of the way first. This is still most famous as a big expensive movie that pretty much just broke even. I don’t care. That’s none of my business. I’m old fashioned.

I always thought it was treated unfairly at the time. It was in the news for going over budget and the popularity pendulum was swinging back on Kevin Costner after a bunch of Oscars and hit movies. It became everybody’s target and they were excited for how terrible it was supposedly gonna be. (This article from The Independent at the time examines the reasons for the backlash against Costner.)

Here, let me check if it was nominated for Razzies. Yep, Dennis Hopper won worst supporting actor and it was nominated for worst picture, actor and director. (SHOWGIRLS was the big winner that year.) So that speaks well of the movie if those assholes were against it.

We’ve been looking at the other movies of that summer, so we can see in context that it’s somewhere in the upper range of quality for what was in theaters at the time. It’s for sure less embarrassing than BATMAN FOREVER or MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE, more impressive than CONGO, arguably better than JOHNNY MNEMONIC or JUDGE DREDD. It didn’t deserve all the hate that it got.

Unfortunately that’s not to say it’s some misunderstood gem either. (read the rest of this shit…)

You don’t like good books? Tough.

tn_goodtoughdeadlyoprahsYou guys know my friend david j. moore, right? He did those NINJA II on-set interviews for us back in 2013, and he’s the author of the awesome coffee table book World Gone Wild: A Survivor’s Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies, which I had the honor of writing the introduction to.

Well, back when he first contacted me about that he told me about this next book he was working on, and I’m not sure there will ever be another book more up my alley. THE GOOD, THE TOUGH & THE DEADLY: Action Movie Stars 1960s-Present is his upcoming opus about “every action star who’s crossed over from the world of martial arts, sports, professional wrestling, and stunt work.” We’re talking a big, beautiful 560 page hardcover book with photos and everything between over 1,000 action movies reviews, a few of them contributed by yours truly (me [Vern]), plus some by Zack Carlson and Mike McPadden. If it’s anything like World Gone Wild I’ll have an ever-growing must-see list folded up inside it as a bookmark.

But I’m more excited for david’s interviews with 70+ action stars and filmmakers. He’s mentioned to me who some of them are, and basically it’s most of the people we talk about here. Yes, big famous people, but also the lesser knowns who in my opinion are more interesting and important to hear from. david’s got encyclopedic (is it wikipedic now?) action knowledge, especially the DTV and the ’80s and ’90s sub-Van-Damme type stuff that most fascinates me. On the rare occasions when I tell him one he doesn’t know I feel like I should get a medal or something.

And by the way, you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can assume this one really gets it because it knew it was important to have helicopters and ninjas in the background.

The book will be available December 28th, but you can pre-order it right now. What, are you gonna decide between now and then that this is not a book for you? I doubt that very much.

Thief

tn_thiefTHIEF is a pure dose of most of what I love about Michael Mann. It’s moody, atmospheric and macho as hell. It matter-of-factly drops us into a gritty underworld, makes us feel like we’re witnessing the real deal, and puts us on the side of a guy who has no business being the good guy except that he lives by more of a code than the other guys do. Not even really a code of honor, just a self-serving code of independence, but one that we can loosely apply to more ethical aspects of our own lives.

By today’s standards it’s an arty movie, full of long, quiet scenes, not a bunch of noises to tell you it’s exciting. It opens with a 10 minute heist sequence where everything goes right. No one gives chase or almost sees them. They’re just very professional about it and perform their jobs well. And it doesn’t need tension. It’s fascinating without it.

It’s a movie that’s low on exposition, high on uncomfortable moments where we aren’t expected to agree with the protagonist (like the aggressive way he courts Jessie [Tuesday Weld], and then the heartless way he cuts her off, treating her as a property that’s been tying him down). But also it has plenty of moments of badassness, not shirking its duty to deliver on the genre goods. Its closest modern equivalent is DRIVE, which at times plays as an homage or ripoff of THIEF. But that’s a character, believe it or not, with more heart. (read the rest of this shit…)

Clueless

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RELEASE DATE: July 7
RELEASE DATE: July 19

I wasn’t intending to include CLUELESS in my Summer of ’95 retrospective, since I mainly like to look at “blockbuster” type movies. And I feel very familiar with it. I saw it a long time ago and then I’ll watch parts of it on cable now and then. But I think Mr. Majestyk or somebody said he was hoping I would do it and you know I’m like a DJ, I try to read the audience and move the crowd and what not.

And man, when you sit down and watch it from beginning to end for the first time in a while, CLUELESS really holds up. It’s a funny, unique movie, one that’s simultaneously very ’90s in attitude, music and cultural references, and timeless because of its stylishly heightened (I hope) depiction of the world of Los Angeles rich kids. And you know what, nothing against James Acheson, who won a costume design Oscar for RESTORATION that year, but do you think he ever sent flowers to Mona May, who did this shit? I mean come on. It’s brilliant. Apparently she got her start working with Julie Brown on MTV (not Downtown, the funny one who plays the gym teacher here).

Alicia Silverstone plays Cher, the spoiled daughter of an angry widower lawyer (Dan Hedaya, ALIEN RESURRECTION). She and Stacey Dash as her best friend Dionne (they were “both named after famous singers of the past who now do infomercials”) in some ways fit the stereotype of Beverly Hills teen girls: they obsess over expensive name brand clothes and their own popularity, they think less about school and their futures than about boys and parties (though they don’t seem very interested in drinking and look down on anything more than occasional drug use). They are superficial, but they’re generally well-meaning, nice people. Then one day, inspired by ex stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd, GEN-X COPS 2: METAL MAYHEM)’s comment about Marky Mark* attending a tree-planting ceremony, Cher decides to try using her popularity for good.

*This was before FEAR, let alone BOOGIE NIGHTS, so nobody called him Mark Wahlberg, not even his parents. (read the rest of this shit…)

Gen-X Cops 2: Metal Mayhem

tn_gycANT-MAN comes out today, with Paul Rudd (HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS) playing a Marvel super hero. He’s not a traditional square-jawed action guy, but a handsome dude who got his start playing pretty boy boyfriends (ROMEO + JULIET) isn’t a completely outside-the-box choice for such a character. Sure, he’s turned out to be best at comedy, but ANT-MAN seems to be a super hero story with a few more laffs than usual, so it makes sense. I’ve read that Rudd had to get in shape for the movie, but they didn’t make him turn into He-Man like Chrises Pratt, Evans and Hemsworth.

And I think I know why he got away with that. Paul Rudd happens to hold an Action Movie Legitimacy Card that none of those other Avengers do – one he shares with Chuck Norris, Scott Adkins, Steven Seagal, Darren Shahlavi, UFC’s Don “The Predator” Frye and Nathan “Rictus Erectus” Jones – he was the white dude in an Asian action picture. The film in question is the year 2000 sequel GEN-X COPS 2: METAL MAYHEM, which is the version I watched, though it’s available in a different cut with the Cantonese parts dubbed into English, under the title JACKIE CHAN PRESENTS GEN-Y COPS.

(Note: Jackie actually had nothing to do with the movie, it’s sort of like a QUENTIN TARANTINO PRESENTS HERO type situation. Man, I wish I could present movies. VERN PRESENTS BEST OF THE BEST 2, etc.)

I haven’t seen part 1 (from 1999), but it must be about these two somewhat comical undercover cops Match (Stephen Fung, THE AVENGING FIST, TAI CHI HERO) and Alien (Sam Lee, MAN OF TAI CHI), who are introduced driving a Ferrari that Match bought with money from founding a successful websight. They are supposed to be very modern and computer savvy, so Alien keeps talking about ICQ. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Indian in the Cupboard

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RELEASE DATE: July 7
RELEASE DATE: July 14

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…)