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

Jean-Claude Van Johnson (pilot)

tn_jcvjJEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON is a new 30 minute comedy pilot starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. You can watch it for free on Amazon – if it gets picked up as a series (if you like it, please fill out their feedback form and let them know) it will be available on Amazon Prime. Yeah, I don’t have that either, and I just looked it up and maybe they don’t put these shows (their most popular one is Transparent) on disc like Netflix does. But it is my solemn vow that if they make this into a full show and refused to put it in a useful format I will still pay to download it or go over to a friend’s house or whatever it is us old men are supposed to do now to watch these computer streams that they have now instead of real tv shows and movies.

If you’re like me – and I know you are – you take this shit seriously, and therefore are skeptical when you hear “Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself in a comedy called JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON.” It sounds like it could be some How Did This Get Made? type shit – smug, smarmy, snark making fun of the movies we love for being old and absurd and joyful and awesome. I picture some kind of meta-action movie parody by people who only know action movies from other parodies of action movies, like how that movie THE FINAL GIRL is to slasher movies. Something for people who read BLOODSPORT as below them because in fact it is beyond them.

That’s not what this is! I’m so happy to say that this is a really smart and well-made pilot by people who understand and take full advantage of Van Damme’s acting strengths. It uses his persona and body of work for absurdity, but not, in my opinion, in a mocking way. In fact, the episode’s most despicable douchebag – a vaping, hipster movie director – proves his utter cluelessness by telling Jean-Claude that “that ’80s style of fighting, the style that you’re known for, with the kicking and the spinning, and the splits with the guys coming at you one at a time… it’s not realistic. And we all know that now. You know?” This is not a show for people who agree with that guy. It’s for people who know that guy deserves a spin kick to the giant scarf area. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blade Warrior

tn_bladewarrior“When I was a kid our neighborhood was our universe. A universe of friendship and laughter. But something changed along the way. Gang violence took the place of family values.”

There’s a certain type of movie I like where an accomplished martial artist thinks it would be fun to star in a movie, and they put together a low budget production based around their school. An example would be Andre Lima’s “true story” BEYOND THE RING. It’s all based in cliches, and doesn’t quite have what you would call a visual style, but it has a certain amateur charm.

BLADE WARRIOR is another such movie, but it’s infused with a more impressive kind of DEADBEAT AT DAWN type energy, where they don’t really know what they’re doing but they’re dying to make a cool movie any way they can. It’s obvious that they’ve got friends and relatives, or maybe community theater people at best, in the cast, and storage rooms made up to look like a police station and stuff like that. And they’re not always convincing as a guy who wears a trenchcoat or talks like a tough guy. But it has enough of a home-made feel that some of the small things they pull off – like having legit martial artistry – seem really impressive.

Writer/director/producer Jino Kang plays Jack Lee, a cop who also practices Hapkido and runs his dad’s mini-mart. In the opening scene he combines all three by fighting and arresting a colorful gang of thugs who come in looking for protection money. (read the rest of this shit…)

Triple 9

tn_triple9TRIPLE 9 – being from John Hillcoat, the director of THE PROPOSITION, THE ROAD and LAWLESS – is a cops ‘n robbers movie where the dirty details of the setting, the eccentric character and actor moments, and the suffocating cloud of near-hopelessness in mood and content are given a little more energy than narrative. Even so, it is fairly effective as a heist/suspense thriller and is handily pushed over the finish line by its A+ cast who all came excited to play in this heightened world of crooked Atlanta cops and mercenaries forced by Russian-Jewish gangsters to try to steal from the Department of Homeland Security. The specifics are all odd enough to make police corruption stories seem fresh.

The movie opens with a carload of sweaty, dangerous men discussing and then launching into a credits-sequence daylight bank robbery. It’s only after their messy escape (which includes a van driving fast through traffic while filled with red dye pack smoke and machine guns fired on gridlocked civilians) that we see the badges come out and realize that most of these guys are cops. (Others, we hear later, are “special ops guys” turned private security contractors.) They actually change out of their stained clothes and go straight to work. That’s a long day! I bet they smell pretty ripe, too. (read the rest of this shit…)

Jason Bourne

tn_jasonbourneJASON BOURNE opens with clips from the original Doug Liman/Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon BOURNE trilogy of 2002-2007. Those movies came to reinvent the spy thriller for a new age, even influencing the subsequent 007 movies and unfortunately inspiring an age of impressionistic action sequences. But the last time Damon played the character was almost a decade ago.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM doesn’t seem like very long ago to me, but think about how much has changed in our world. When it came out Obama was still a senator, Heath Ledger and Paul Walker were still alive, Margot Robbie was 17 years old, only serious fantasy nerds had ever heard of Game of Thrones, movies were projected from 35 mm prints, there was growing excitement about a comeback for 3D, and Vin Diesel had not yet returned to starring in the FAST AND FURIOUS series. Along with FASTs 4-7, action movies we’ve had in the interim include the entire IP MAN series, the entire EXPENDABLES series, THE RAID 1 and 2, JACK REACHER, the John Hyams UNIVERSAL SOLDIER movies, JOHN WICK and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. So one could argue that the genre has changed.

And when JASON BOURNE cuts from blue-tinted, baby-faced everyman flashback Damon to the 2016 model – chiseled features, convincing grimace, gray hairs, a wider color palette – it’s a thrilling leap. He just looks so much cooler now. Having done, you know, whatever the stuff was in the other movies, Bourne is now living the way of the dragon, bare knuckle brawling for cash in Greece. That tells us he’ll probly never stop killing, because he’s clearly some kind of genius who could change his name and get all kinds of high paying jobs, and still he chooses to be a human cockfighter. I wish he lived in a Buddhist temple to complete the RAMBO III homage. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Bourne Identity

tn_bourneidentitysummer2016originsThe Matt Damon BOURNE IDENTITY was not your father’s spy movie. But maybe the three hour 1988 TV mini-series with Richard Chamberlain is. I don’t know – am I your father? I thought it was pretty good.

Like the later one (and the Robert Ludlum book, I’m guessing) it opens on a boat, where Chamberlain (KING SOLOMON’S MINES) gets shot and falls overboard. He sinks to the bottom but manages to wake up and swim to the surface, later washing ashore in a small village in France.

You know how they do those experiments sometimes where they have somebody lay on the street and pretend to be unconscious, and supposedly everybody walks past them and doesn’t try to make sure they’re okay? Not true of this crab:

still_bourneidentity

He’s like, “Hey mister, are you okay?” but he doesn’t answer. Eventually two unknown human individuals carry him and dump him on the doorstep of Washburn, a lovable doctor-who-lost-his-license-due-to-alcoholism played by Denholm Elliott. He unlicensed-doctors him back to health. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fantastic Four

tn_fantastic4What you gotta do with some of these movies, you gotta wait a year, so it’s after it already came out and the director publicly disowned it and it flopped and everyone said it was a piece of shit and dissected how the studio reshoots ruined or failed to save it. That’s what I did and then FANTASTIC FOUR didn’t seem as bad. I’d go so far as to say I kind of enjoyed watching it.

The opening threatens to be GREEN LANTERN, with its kid versions of two of the four. But it’s okay, it just establishes that Reed Richards (Miles Teller, FOOTLOOSE) is a genius inventor prodigy and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, SNOWPIERCER) is his working class buddy who helps. When their high school science project actually warps matter to another dimension, Reed gets a scholarship to The Baxter Institute, where Sue Storm (Kate Mara, TRANSSIBERIAN) and her dad Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, THE MACHINIST) plus grouchy ex-student Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) are working on a similar project. With Baxter’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan, CREED) taking Ben’s assistant role, they build a dimensional portal to be used by NASA.

That’s when they make a poor decision: they get drunk and call Ben and try the thing out themselves. (Not “The Thing.” The dimensional portal thing.) That’s pretty original, actually. I believe Ultron is the only other comic book movie character with a scientists-had-a-few-too-many-beers origin. (read the rest of this shit…)

Jarhead 3: The Siege

tn_jarhead3Maybe you didn’t know this, but there are straight-to-video sequels to JARHEAD, the 2005 Sam Mendes war film based on the memoir by Anthony Swofford. They’re not about Swofford, or other real people. They’re just unrelated fictional stories about Marines in the Middle East. Part 2 I’m afraid was too generic for me to finish, but part 3 has Scott Adkins in it and is directed by William Kaufman, whose HIT LIST is a good high concept DTV Cuba Gooding Jr. thriller and even had some unexpected War On Terror commentary, making him an interesting choice for this.

Well, I’m not sure “interesting” is a word I’d use to describe JARHEAD 3, but it’s not bad. Charlie Weber (CRUEL INTENTIONS 3, VAMPIRES SUCK) plays Albright, a pretty new but promising young Marine assigned to defend a U.S. Embassy. Adkins plays his Gunnery Sergeant Raines, who the men think of as a Buddha of the Marines. We only know this because PR department interviewer Blake (Dante Basco, who I know as one of the stars of FUNK BLAST, a movie ride that once existed at Seattle’s EMP, and you know as Rufio from HOOK, and we all know as Pinball from BLOOD AND BONE) says so. I wish there was more in the movie to back it up. (read the rest of this shit…)

Suicide Squad

tn_suicidesquadFor many years, Warner Brothers had pretty good luck making Batman and Superman movies. With SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE they pretty much invented the comic book movie. With BATMAN they reinvigorated it. Sure, there were those Joel Schumacher movies that put the whole venture in peril, but then they took the genre to the next level when they let Christopher Nolan start over and do his very successful and influential trilogy. They’ve had more hits than misses, I think.

But now the rival Marvel Comics company has their whole interconnected movie universe thing, and everybody’s gonna be jealous of their neighbor’s sports car, I guess, so WB is trying to do one of those for DC Comics. So far this has caused excitement followed by disappointment.

But the upside is that because they’re desperate to show off all these characters they own they went for the cool idea of SUICIDE SQUAD, a comic where a bunch of the villains from other comics are taken out of prison and forced on dangerous missions for the government, DIRTY DOZEN or Snake Plissken style. Popular bad guy characters are able to be enjoyed as anti-heroes, and get some amount of redemption for that time when they tried to rob a bank but the Flash caught them or whatever. The movie version is written and directed by David Ayer. That’s the guy who used to be known for writing TRAINING DAY, but more recently he’s come into his own as a writer/director with END OF WATCH, SABOTAGE and FURY. He can also brag that he has a writing credit on THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman: Assault On Arkham

tn_batmanaoasummer2016originsBATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is one in a long series of DTV animated movies based on the super hero works of the DC Comics company (#20 out of 26 so far, according to Wikipedia). This is a particularly too-PG-13-for-kids one (a sex scene, exploding heads, a few naughty words, bullets going into a decapitated body, unceremonious deaths of characters your kid may love if he or she is weirdly knowledgeable of third-string DC villains), and although it’s marketed as a tie-in to the Batman Arkham City video games it’s actually a Suicide Squad cartoon with Batman as a supporting character.

We all know the concept of Suicide Squad now, thanks to this summer’s live action version. It’s a DIRTY DOZEN type team but instead of army troublemakers the members are the enemies of various super heroes. This version starts when shady government official Amanda Waller (CCH Pounder, FACE/OFF) oversees her SWAT team getting The Riddler (Matthew Gray Gubler, EXCISION) snatched out from under them by the fucking Batman (Kevin Conroy, YOGA HOSERS). They want Riddler for some secret black ops something or other, but Batman gets him into the regular legal system, locked up in Arkham Asylum. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Trust

tn_thetrustI think I speak for most of us when I say that we love Nic Cage and also that we don’t necessarily trust Nic Cage when he appears in a new VOD/extremely limited release movie. He ends up in a bunch of pretty mediocre thrillers, you don’t always know if he’s gonna add some spice with his mega powers or play it straight, and even if it’s an interesting movie in its own right it might end up being kind of a mess like Paul Schrader’s disowned THE DYING OF THE LIGHT did. Or at least that’s the fear.

Luckily I thought I remembered somebody saying this one was pretty good, so I gave it a shot, and it was the right choice.

Most of Cage’s movies are pretty serious, even if he’s funny in them. THE TRUST has an actual sense of humor. It opens with another character, Waters (Elijah Wood, GRAND PIANO), laying in bed, staring blankly. Then we see that a blond hooker is riding him. He’s not into it. He’s staring at a mole under her breast. Afterwards he’s leaving cash on the bedside table and we see him consider taking back one of the tens. But then he gives it to her. So he’s not too bad. (read the rest of this shit…)