KONG presents SKULL ISLAND is a goofy, pulpy monster movie that doesn’t live up to the hallowed cinematic legacy of KING KONG, but hey, it works as a more exploitative sequel. I think my expectations for this were more inflated than most because of how much I dug director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first movie, THE KINGS OF SUMMER. That was an original comedy with wise, relatable insights into humanity, masculinity and growing up. I don’t think there’s any reason why a punching gorilla monster movie can’t have that kind of substance behind it too, but to me this feels less human and more like the work of one of these distanced, pop culture loving whippersnappers.
In an unusual but arguably tasteless move, Vogt-Roberts set the movie at the end of the Vietnam War, an international disaster that he treats like a cool movie reference. The talk about senseless loss of human lives feels less impassioned and emphasized than the orange APOCALYPSE NOW sunsets and helicopters and the soundtrack that largely comes straight off of the Songs That Movies Use As Shorthand For the Vietnam Era, Volume I 2-CD set.
But to be fair, “Down On the Street” by the Stooges and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath are two heavily-featured songs that wouldn’t be on the Robert Zemeckis version of this. And believe it or not alot of it was filmed on location in the actual country of Vietnam, unlike any Vietnam War movie I know of. Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong (3oo, SUPER 8)’s bright orange, yellow and red skies make it stand out visually from any other giant monster movie. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE WAILING is a long, moody, unpredictable South Korean film about a terrible evil coming to a small fishing town in the mountains. The plot is fairly simple, there’s not that much to it, but I like how it takes you very gradually from naturalism to a bit of craziness.
It’s one of those openings that made me immediately think this might be a great movie even before anything actually happened. It just has this potent transporting quality as it depicts this hapless cop Jong-goo get up early to investigate a crime scene. Rain is coming down hard, you can hear it in every direction. He’s still trying to wake up, and he’s not in any hurry. And then he gets there and all the officers are sheltered under their tent-like rain coats, walking through and cataloging the aftermath of a horrific murder, and unlike the usual depiction of seen-it-all cops barely phased by dead bodies (while one minor character kneels down and pukes to show that this is an extra bad one) we see Jong-goo’s terrified expressions as he witnesses the increasingly bizarre circumstances of the deaths.
This is our hero. Not some badass. Just a guy. And it endears us to him so that we’ll relate all through the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)
“You obviously do not know who you are fucking with!”
On one hand, it’s hard to believe that BLADE II was fifteen damn years ago. I mean – I reviewed it when it came out. And I’d already been around for a few years. Am I really that old? On the other hand, an awful lot has changed since the movie came out.
Let’s start with Wesley Snipes (“Blade”). He made a part 3, had a falling out with the writer, they made a Blade TV show without him, he got relegated to DTV, got busted for tax evasion, did time, got out, now is sort of back and still the Man and hopefully will achieve more greatness. Guillermo del Toro (director) became better known and beloved for his specific visual style and obsessions, was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for PAN’S LABYRINTH, continued to alternate between Spanish language art films and Hollywood productions, but never did a for-hire gig again, unless you count THE HOBBIT, which he toiled on for a few years before quitting. David S. Goyer (writer) directed part 3, co-wrote Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy and went on to mastermind the DC movie universe, as if trying to earn the extreme hatred many comic fans had long held for him for some reason. Donnie Yen (martial arts choreographer, “Snowman”) had a huge career resurgence at home in Hong Kong, particularly with the IP MAN series, and recently finally had success in English language movies playing the best characters in ROGUE ONE and xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Norman Reedus (“Scud”) also became a geek icon by playing Daryl on The Walking Dead, as did Ron Perlman (“Reinhardt”) by reteaming with del Toro to play Hellboy in two live action films and two animated (plus starring in many seasons of Sons of Anarchy). Luke Goss (“Jared Nomak”) was a former pop star from the boy band Bros who had been in a few movies. This breakthrough role led to playing the elf equivalent of Nomak in del Toro’s HELLBOY 2 and eventually being a frequent face of DTV, including starring as Frankenstein in DEATH RACE 2 and 3. Matt Schulze (“Chupa”) – okay, he didn’t become a big thing, but to me he’s an icon because he’s the villain in Seagal’s OUT OF REACH and Vince in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and FAST FIVE.
Maybe more notably than any of this, the techniques del Toro pioneered to combine live action stunts with animated doubles for super-powered fights and camera moves evolved into the modern style of comic book action (and blockbusters in general). His smart ways of adding digital effects to practical ones have also been influential. Getting a genuine visionary to do the sequel to a movie like BLADE is one of those things you always wish for as a movie fan but shouldn’t hold your breath for. This time you could’ve, though. It happened. (read the rest of this shit…)
Most of the great zombie movies are not as much about zombies as about people and what they do when they band together and try to survive. This is the case with TRAIN TO BUSAN, last year’s South Korean smash hit about the passengers on a train during a sudden ghoulification outbreak.
It centers on this dude Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo, THE SUSPECT) who is kinda like John McClane in that he’s fucked things up with his family because of his work and you kinda feel sorry for him and know he wants to fix things even though to be honest he shoulda known better. But he’s unlike McClane in that he’s a handsome well-dressed fund manager guy. Totally different color of collar. Come to think of it he literally had a white collar because I noticed the tall collar on his shirt looked cool.
Anyway he’s got a bunch of shit going on at work but he reluctantly agrees to bring his young daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) on the train to Busan to see her mother, because it’s her birthday and she kept threatening to go by herself and then he really blew it when trying to buy her a good present. (read the rest of this shit…)
Michael Mann feature #4 is MANHUNTER. Instead of a moody portrait of a thief like in THIEF he does one of a profiler trying to identify a serial killer. This is of course Mann’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, the pre-SILENCE OF THE LAMBS story of a guy chasing a killer called “The Tooth Fairy” after having caught Hannibal Lecktor (that’s how they spell it when he’s played by Brian Cox). William Petersen (THE SKULLS) plays Will Graham, who FBI agent Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina, CODE OF SILENCE) nudges into the investigation by showing him some crime scene photos and making him feel bad. That was a pretty shitty thing to do because Will is just starting to get his life back together after getting inside the mind of Lecktor also got him inside the rooms of a mental hospital.
Detective Jenny “Silk” Sleighton, the famous character created by Claudine St. James, is back three years later, keeping the streets of Honolulu safe once again. Except this time they don’t credit Claudine St. James, supporting my theory that there is no such person as Claudine St. James and they just put that credit on the first one to make the character seem extra pulpy. (And it worked.)
This time Silk is played by Penthouse Pet Monique Gabrielle (CHAINED HEAT, EMMANUELLE 5, DEATHSTALKER II). She really doesn’t seem like the same character without Cec Verrell’s quirky fashion and bad girl vibe, but Gabrielle’s version is very likable in a different way. She sounds a little too nice to pull off some of the tough talk, but she’s good at making the facial expressions while ducking in and out of corners to fire/dodge bullets.
She has a much older partner/best friend named Chris Meadows (Bon Vibar, CAGED HEAT II: STRIPPED OF FREEDOM) who is celebrating his impending retirement, and you know what that means. The funny thing is he’s killed because of an old Yakuza debt, so the retirement is really unrelated, it still would’ve happened if he’d left the danger behind years ago. (read the rest of this shit…)
BLACKBELT II: FATAL FORCE is pretty different from part 1. It has the same producers (Roger Corman and Cirio H. Santiago), and continues the tradition of listing championship titles on the credits, but it doesn’t have the same characters or any story connection or seem like the same type of movie or same level of quality. Also, according to IMDb, it came out three years before part 1. Huh.
This one starts during the Vietnam War, with a very serious narrator telling us stats about the war and MIAs over generic jungle battle scenes. After a bunch of machine gun fire and explosions the American helicopters take off, leaving three soldiers behind.
Now in LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA some beat cops stumble across a night time warehouse arms deal and it turns into a big shootout. It took me almost 10 minutes into the movie to figure which one was gonna be the main character (because nobody seems like an obvious blackbelt) but it’s a cop with the enviable name Brad Spyder (“Blake Bahner – W.K.F. World Kickboxing Champion”) who chases one of the escaping criminals to the top of a building and has a long fight with him, but is horrified when he accidentally kicks him off the roof. He yells “NO!” and catches his hand, but then drops him. The guy’s dad is mad so he shoots Spyder’s partner Lee Stokes (Ronald William Lawrence. (read the rest of this shit…)
“Look Silk, I know it’s gonna be hard to recognize these cold cuts, but that’s your scag dealer, minus one ear.”
Oh Silk, you’re one of the good ones. Maybe America’s relationship with law enforcement wouldn’t be so complicated if more of them were like you, with your sense of honor and style. In Cirio Santiago’s 1986 police story, Cec Verrell (HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN) stars as Jenny “Silk” Sleighton, a Honolulu police detective with commanding style and a worshipful theme song.
“She ain’t the usual cop that hangs around,” the song informs us. “Don’t you push your luck too far / Silk’s gonna get you no matter where you are / You’ll never get away / from Silk! /yowww!/ [guitar solo]”
She says they call her Silk “because I’m so fuckin smoooothhh.” The movie itself does not go down as smoothly as its lead character, or its theme song, or its badass movie poster that inspired me to rent it. But of the things in life that I regret, watching this is low on the list. (read the rest of this shit…)
In my experience, a good Don “The Dragon” Wilson vehicle is one where he goes routinely through standard action formulas, provides his kicking expertise and likable personality, and the filmatists throw on just enough flair to make it stand out from the pack a little. In this one that flair comes in the form of the weirdo villain played by Matthias Hues, the 6′ 5″ German-born martial artist best known as the evil alien in Craig Baxley’s I COME IN PEACE.
Hues plays John Sweet, who when we first see him is about to have a romantic encounter with a woman (Mia Ruiz, WILD AT HEART) in a hotel. He seems like he’s leaving to get a bottle of champagne or something, and she hums to herself and strips while she waits. But he knocks on the door of a nearby room where some criminals are meeting, and he kills them all with his bare hands.
Then he goes back to the room like nothing happened. I thought he was a rival gangster or vigilante but then he murders this poor woman (who turns out to be a prostitute, despite her enthusiasm) and cuts off her ring finger.
We meet our hero Jack Dillon (Don “The Dragon” Wilson) as the opposite of a guy killing a prostitute: he’s a guy beating up a pimp. “The broken nose is for the girl. The vasectomy’s free.” And he brings one of the pimp’s stable back to her mother. Dillon is not for-hire, though. He refuses payment because “I don’t charge to take out the garbage.” Or, I assume, to unload the dishwasher. (read the rest of this shit…)
I mean honestly, I didn’t need any more information after the fight at the beginning. But yes, this is from the co-director of JOHN WICK. It’s based on a graphic novel, adapted by Kurt Johnstad, who I think did a good job on the 300 movies. And kudos for noting Charlize’s Academy Award after showing her kick a dude down some stairs. I got high hopes.