KEEP BUSTIN'

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

tn_bvs(HEAVY SPOILER REVIEW)

Here’s a weird thing about gigantic blockbuster movies based on popular licensed characters: you can end up making a sequel aimed less at the fans of the first movie than at the people who saw it once and have still not stopped complaining about it. At least that’s the fool’s errand that director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer (this time rewritten by Academy Award winner Chris Terrio) chose for themselves on BATMAN von SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, which selects as its primary theme the criticisms that people had of part 1.

To this day I don’t feel like I understand the widespread outrage at MAN OF STEEL for having a comic book style battle between super beings where buildings were destroyed in the process. I still haven’t noticed this standard applied to any other movie or comic book (including the cover of the very first issue of Superman!) and I stand by everything I said in this essay about how wild misinterpretations of MAN OF STEEL have become conventional wisdom. Still, I gotta thank all of you for doing that because I suspect it inspired the most intense and cinematic section of BATMAN vehemently opposed to SUPERMAN, in which we see the Superman v Zod battle from an even more human perspective than before. Specifically, from Bruce Wayne’s point-of-view as he runs fearlessly into the destruction and tries to help.

We only see the Kryptonians in tiny glimpses, far away, high in the sky. Mostly we see raining glass and brick and glowing energy beams in their wake. They truly are gods. And now we specifically see that rubble landed on one guy and are told that a woman is missing. And Bruce Wayne doesn’t like it.

(SPOILER: Bruce Wayne is Batman.) (read the rest of this shit…)

New directorial work from Michael Jai White

Check out the trailer for the third NEVER BACK DOWN movie. The first two were about young people in an underground fighting circuit, this one follows White’s great mentor character from part 2 into what looks more like a ROCKY type sports drama. Co-star Josh Barnett is a fighter who caught my eye by being really funny in a villain role in Seagal’s ABSOLUTION. Also you can see that the MUAY THAI GIANT and haver of perfect baby brother Nathan Jones is in there, plus at  least one cool cameo given away in this trailer. Fight choreographer is Larnell Stovall (UNDISPUTED 3, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING, also part 2 of this series). I look forward to this one.

Jai alone can solve

Mermaid

tn_mermaidMERMAID is the story of a dumb but not intentionally evil super-super-rich businessman playboy named Liu Xuan (Deng Chao, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME), a sort of Pretty Decent Gatsby with lots of shiny suits, a John Waters mustache, whole teams of security guards, lackeys and sexy dancers kissing his ass at all times. He has a weakness for the ladies, giving the time of day to every female from his seductive business partner Ruolan (Zhang Yuqi, CJ7) to a youngster in a sloppy mermaid costume who gets suplexed by security after crashing his pool party to give him her phone number.

One thing he doesn’t know: the fake mermaid Shan (Lin Yun) is actually a real mermaid sent to assassinate him to avenge his sonar devices massacring and trapping a society of merpeople in the Green Gulf wildlife reserve that he recently purchased for billions of dollars. But they kinda fall for each other. It’s like THE LITTLE MERMAID if it took place in the modern day and Ariel was trying to kill Prince Eric.

It’s directed and co-written by Stephen Chow, but he’s not in it as an actor and it’s not a martial arts movie. It is, however, full of his kinetic Looney Tunes style slapstick action. Hopefully the people who have a problem with wire tricks and digital FX assists already saw SHAOLIN SOCCER and KUNG FU HUSTLE and know to stay far away from Chow. This is a movie with a skateboarding mermaid, an out of control jetpack, a half man/half octopus who’s often hanging upside down or crawling around on the ceiling, a mermaid matriarch who splashes water into animated shapes to tell stories. And of course some cartoon violence, including poisoned sea urchin throwing stars. (read the rest of this shit…)

R.I.P. Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest

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I have to say a few words about Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest (pictured center), who died last night. Rolling Stone reports that it was due to complications of diabetes, which is what you’d expect of the MC who called himself “a funky diabetic” on the classic “Oh My God” and who several years ago received a kidney transplant. It was donated by his wife, as was touchingly depicted in Michael Rapaport’s documentary Beats, Rhymes and Life.

I have to agree with the conventional wisdom that A Tribe Called Quest is one of the best rap groups ever. There was a time in the ’90s when I started to resent them as the group that every white non-rap fan would say they liked, along with Beastie Boys. But eventually I had to admit to myself that those guys were right. I liked their first album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, which they made when they were teenagers and wearing to wear goofy costumes. The album holds up due to songs like “Bonita Applebum” and “Can I Kick It?” But it’s their second album, The Low End Theory, that makes them all-timers.

I still kinda remember the feeling of hearing it for the first time. It seemed so weird and stripped down compared to the complex samplescapes that I loved at the time. The sampling of some jazz basslines and horn riffs seemed very distinct and novel at the time, but the drums seemed so simple and raw. And that’s what still stands out to me today. As much as I love their voices and words, I am hypnotized by the drum. (read the rest of this shit…)

Beyond the Ring

tn_beyondtheringBEYOND THE RING is an amateurish underground fighting drama allegedly based on a true story and starring the Brazilian Taekwondo Grandmaster Andre Lima as himself. Depending on what parts of it are true it’s a deeply personal story and/or a weird vanity project.

In the movie Andre is a Taekwondo instructor (at one of his actual L.A. area schools it looks like), a widower and single father of teenage son Joseph (Joseph Nerlinger) and pre-teen daughter Jessica (Aycka Lima). He stopped competitive fighting after his wife’s death and gets real stubborn when his brother-in-law Patrick (Martin the bad guy in KARATE KID Kove) comes around trying to make sure he’s taking care of the family well and what not.

The hook is that one day Andre finds out his daughter has a brain tumor, and his insurance doesn’t cover her surgery, so he ends up taking an underground fight against a guy called Zulu (Justice Smith, BLOOD AND BONE, THOR) to try to raise the money. My assumption was that real life Lima really had a sick daughter and maybe did some kind of tournament fighting to pay for the surgery, not an illegal thing like this, but I’ve found some biographies of him online and none of them mention his family life at all. I guess this is one of those unverifiable martial arts tall tales, like how BLOODSPORT is supposed to be based on a real guy called Frank Dux who claims to have taken part in a real Kumite. But if the guy’s daughter (who I believe is playing herself in the movie?) didn’t really get sick that would be an unethical truth-stretching in my opinion. (read the rest of this shit…)

Steve Jobs

tn_stevejobsLooking back through my notebook I discovered that I wrote most of a review of STEVE JOBS back when it was in theaters, but I never typed it up. I guess since it wasn’t nominated for best picture I didn’t catch that when I was doing all the pre-Oscars reviews. But I think it’s a movie worthy of more attention than it got, and it’s available on video and I use a Mac so it seems only fair to finish it.

Steve Jobs was a genius and also an asshole. That’s kinda the basics of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, and many of his other screenplays, and therefore I have to guess something he can relate to. Like his other computer history piece THE SOCIAL NETWORK I think this one leans in the direction of genius not justifying assholishness, but it seems to be a question he struggles with.

I’m a little – not alot – familiar with the playwright turned TV mastermind’s work. I know people who adore his shows Sports Night and The West Wing, and some who are masochistically fascinated with The Newsroom.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Let’s Get Bizzee

tn_letsgetbizzeeLET’S GET BIZZEE is a 1993 indie movie starring Doug E. Fresh, famed rapper, beatboxer and chief executive officer of The Get Fresh Crew. That’s right, it’s a Doug E. Fresh vehicle. Do you remember something like that ever existing? I don’t. But it does, preserved forever on VHS.

After seeing it, though, I understand why nobody ever talks about it. It has the dramatic quality of some crappy comedy like DISORDERLIES or something, but there aren’t many jokes in it, and zero that are funny. I think it might be intended as a serious drama about local politics.

Fresh – who now goes as D. Edward Fresh (I totally made that up) – plays Sam Baker, a kid who has just graduated high school. His mom says he needs a job and his ex-girlfriend says she needs $2,000 or she’s gonna tell his mom he has a baby. Meanwhile, the womanizing, limo-riding assemblyman Dillon (Anthony Chisholm, UP TIGHT, 13, CHI-RAQ) has made a deal to allow the projects to be destroyed and turned into condominiums. Sam is against it and does a little rap about it in the park, which leads to him hanging with a few local activist types and starting a petition against it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Beyond Fear

tn_beyondfearBEYOND FEAR is a 1993 joint from martial artist and ex-pro-wrestler turned low budget action star/writer/producer Mimi Lesseos, the one she did before Richard Elfman’s STREETS OF RAGE. This one is different because it really reminds me of some of the one-off, never-on-DVD slasher movies I watch every October. Lesseos plays Tipper Taylor, a former competitive fighter working as a wilderness guide, driving a vanload of feathered-haired tourists out to a motel somewhere and then leading them on a hike and camping trip. Her partner Sammy is played by Verrel Reed, whose only other movie role is as her mentor Vern in PUSHED TO THE LIMIT. I really like the chemistry these two have, they seem to genuinely like each other. According to my research Reed has been a meditation teacher since the ’70s, so my guess is he really is a mentor to Lesseos and that’s why she put him in her movies.

The weirdest characterization is of the unhappily married Vince (Robert Axelrod, THE BLOB; voice of Lord Zedd in MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS; Italian Restaurant Bartender, DEATH WISH 4) and Betina (Lisa Marie Hayes, PERSONAL VENDETTA). Vince is a dipshit who’s excited about using his new camcorder to tape every god damn thing that ever happens, and also an asshole who fat-shames Bettina in front of everyone. But it’s unclear how sympathetic the movie is toward her, because she cartoonishly eats junk food when she’s upset, and is a bummer because she complains about him watching violent TV and has curlers in her hair at night (that used to be the symbol for a sexless, disappointing wife).

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We find out that Betina won the lottery and therefore controls the money, but surprisingly the angle is not that he married her for the money. It’s that she needs to stop being uptight and share the money to save the marriage.

The thing that most reminds me of a bad slasher movie (but also an ’80s comedy) is the inciting incident: Vince is walking around outside the hotel at night smiling and videotaping everybody, and he sees through a window that two burly guys (one with headband) are about to double team a prostitute in lingerie. Of course he walks right up to the window and excitedly tapes them. And of course they stand in plain view a few feet away from him and don’t notice him until after one of them gets mad at the prostitute for making them take turns and hits her and accidentally kills her.

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The next poor decision that Vince makes is to not tell anyone he has proof of a murder and just go on the trip the next day. Of course the two guys come after them to try to get the tape back, and everyone in the group is in danger without knowing it.

The first fight of the movie is actually before all this when Tipper is driving to work. She sees two guys fighting on the side of the road and pulls over to break it up. The guy with a broken bottle will not stop beating on the other guy and she ends up having to fight him.

When she’s done she goes over to a couple who stood and watched the whole thing and says to the man, “Thanks! You were a whole heck of alot of help!” I kinda like that she singles out the man. She knows she can’t expect every woman to be The Magnificent Mimi.

I’m a fan of this type of unrelated skill-establishing preamble fight. Usually they take place in a mini-mart or liquor store that’s being robbed. I like that in this one she could’ve just kept driving, she actually had to make the choice to stop and get involved, and even then was planning to stop a fight, not finish one.

mp_beyondfearThe second fight is when the headband guy ambushes them on the trail and grabs Vince’s camcorder. Thinking he’s just a thief, Tipper beats his ass and chases him off and he jumps into the window of a moving car.

That guy is going above and beyond as a friend, trying to get this tape back. He actually knows his buddy was out of line in beating up that prostitute. He calls it “meanness, man. Plain and simple meanness” and says “You got no sense of right, man. None at all.”

Acknowledging the reality that this female tour guide is too much for them to handle, they decide to sit back and wait for Vince to be separated from the others. This allows for there to be a long section of the movie just about the characters sitting around having conversations about their lives and finding themselves and shit. We learn about Sammy quitting some other life and starting over as a nature dude, because of the inspiration of Tipper’s dad. And Tipper’s guilt over what happened in her last fight. This guy Jon (Mitch Gibney) gets slapped by his new wife Lisa (Regina Hong) for confessing a bachelor party threesome, and then Sammy and Tipper give each of them separate pep talks. The movie seems to be serious about characterization.

Despite all he’s been through, Vince finds time to horrify his wife with a Little Rascals style prank of lowering a toy spider in front of her with a fishing line. Tipper catches him giggling with pride and threatens to beat his ass in, but his wife never figures it out and thinks it was a real spider.

It really seems like Tipper is mainly there as a bodyguard. She’s supposedly telling them how to climb and stuff, but I’m not convinced they really need to hold onto ropes and get instructions to climb over the small rocks and minor ledges we see them on.

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Eventually the hooker murderers sneak up and hit Sammy over the head and then attack again. One of the guys does an excellent move where he grabs Lisa by the arm and starts spinning her around in circles before tossing her just barely over the edge of the cliff to hang there holding onto a root for a while before being rescued by the whole crew working together with safety ropes on. Tipper is actually very unlike herself in this scene, yelling “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!” in a panic the whole time. All of the tourists handle this part way better than she does.

The climax is a long fight that just happens in a little camping site type area next to a couple parked vehicles. It’s pretty much like a movie somebody filmed in their backyard or a neighborhood park, but the length of the fight and the combination of wrestling and martial arts moves reminded me of the legendary THEY LIVE alley fight, which is a big compliment. Mimi gets really into beating this guy down.

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When it’s all over they’re all exhausted and for some reason huddling under the truck and laughing. So it seems sincere about wanting to be about these people bonding together in nature. And now that they were there when Tipper thwarted an attack by a dude with a headband maybe they will go beyond fear and be able to improve their marriages and stuff.

The director is Robert Lyons, a veteran character actor who was in DEATH WISH II and AVENGING ANGEL (plus around 100 other credits), but this is only the second of three movies he directed – the other two not on video and with no ratings on IMDb. Lyons wrote the movie with Lesseos and cinematographer Bodo Holst (who also shot Lesseo’s PUSHED TO THE LIMIT and PERSONAL VENDETTA).

C.H.U.D.

tn_chudI’ve never had HBO or Showtime, including in the ’80s, so I only know C.H.U.D. as a reference. But we still have a video store here in Seattle and I was looking at the box one day and these glowing-eyed cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers looked pretty cool so I figured it was time I learned what all this is about.

If you never saw it either I’ll tell you what I have learned. It’s about a rash of disappearances among “undergrounders,” the homeless who find shelter in the underground tunnels of New York City, like in that documentary DARK DAYS. (This would be cooler if it had a DJ Shadow score, but the one it has by David A. Hughes is pretty good.) The authorities don’t really care until it starts happening to people who live at surface level in a higher class. There’s a nicely shot title sequence with a cool keyboard theme playing as a monster arm reaches out of a steaming manhole to snatch a woman out walking her little dog. It’s a powerfully simple opening that really sets the scene for a fun, energetic movie that doesn’t quite materialize. (read the rest of this shit…)

10 Cloverfield Lane

tn_10cloverfieldlaneA couple weeks ago I reviewed that movie ROOM and even though it was a world class best picture nominee type of movie I said it should have DTV sequels like the similarly locationally limited indie CUBE did about a decade back. It could just be another story about another room that people are stuck in. Well, little did I know that they’d do something like that but it would be released theatrically and it would be a J.J. Abrams (JOY RIDE) production, not called ROOM2 or ROOM: REDEMPTION but 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

That title may make you think it’s gonna feature Cloverfield, the popular lasagna swilling, Monday-hating, Nermal, Odie and Jon abusing asshole giant monster character from Matt Reeves’s Abrams production CLOVERFIELD, but it’s not. It’s also not done in found footage style, instead it’s modeled after the look of a professional movie. It would’ve been cool if there was a part where T.J. Miller runs by with a camcorder, but I think the title is just a coincidence. It’s kinda like how Rob Cohen directed DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, DRAGONHEART and THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, but those aren’t necessarily a trilogy in my opinion.

So no, this one is more like ROOM, but with a different lady in a different room with a different skylight and a different idea about the world outside. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER) plays Michelle, who in a silent prologue is seen abandoning her husband or fiancee (we never see him, but his telephone voice is Bradley Cooper [THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN]). Then she gets in a car accident out in the boonies and wakes up in a strange room with an I.V. drip and a leg brace. This doesn’t look like a hospital though, mainly because she’s on a mattress on the floor, and the door is like a vault, and also she’s shackled to a pipe, and she doesn’t even have a call button in case she needs a nurse to help her go to the bathroom. (read the rest of this shit…)