ALI BOMAYE!

The 400 Blows

tn_400blowsTHE 400 BLOWS is the story of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), 12-year-old terror of Paris. Francois Truffaut, having been a writer and editor at Cahiers du Cinema and notorious for harshly lashing out at a perceived mediocrity in French film of the time, made his feature directing debut turning childhood memories into cinema. So… the critic has become the critiqued! Actually, that worked pretty well for him. THE 400 BLOWS launched a legendary directing career, won him best director at Cannes, and has been cited as a favorite movie by no less than Akira Kurosawa. People seemed to like it.

Antoine is a kid who gets into some trouble. In fact, the title is from a French idiom that basically means “to raise hell.” So this could be called RAISING HELL. The second Doinel film, ANTOINE ET COLETTE, translates to TOUGHER THAN LEATHER in my opinion. Anyway, Antoine may 400 blow and raise hell and bring da ruckus, but he’s not a Bad Seed or a Problem Child. We can see that he’s not any worse than the other kids most of the time. His buddy Rene (Patrick Auffay) does all the same things Antoine does, for example they steal and smoke Rene’s dad’s cigars together. But Antoine seems to usually be the one that gets caught or blamed. When all the kids are passing around a pin-up in class, of course it has to be Antoine that’s holding it when the teacher (Guy Decomble, BOB LE FLAMBEUR) turns around.

The teacher obviously doesn’t like him. He thinks he’s bad, so he treats him as bad. How’s Antoine ever supposed to do better when he’s walking around with a target on his head? Of course he fulfills the prophecy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Well wishes to Darwyn Cooke

parker1I would like to send out some positive energy to the great artist Darwyn Cooke, who is apparently very ill. Sadly his wife announced today that he is “now receiving palliative care following a bout with aggressive cancer.”

You comic book fans must know Cooke for a million things, but of course I know him as the man who since 2009 has been doing comics adaptations of my favorite book series, the Parker novels by Richard Stark. Although of course the change in medium requires a simplification merely by removing most of the words, Cooke (who received the blessings and input of Donald Westlake when he started the project) has been astonishingly faithful to the material. I love his clean, cartoony style, his bold use of shadows, his retro two-tone coloring and his appreciation for the graphic and architectural styles of the 1960s world he sets the books in. The man knows how to draw a good diner sign, and seems to have a catalog of the different types of faces you don’t see anymore.

I also think I must have similar tastes in Parker books to Cooke, because I love the choices he’s made of which ones to adapt. He started of course with The Hunter (the first one, and basis of POINT BLANK and PAYBACK). Then he skipped to The Outfit, possibly my favorite of the series, but he also included a prologue that’s a little mini-version of book two, The Man With the Getaway Face, so that he could include the fun fact that Parker got plastic surgery to hide his identity after The Hunter. And that way Cooke could completely change his character design after his first book.

Then Cooke went for my other possible favorite entry in the series, The Score, the one where they take down an entire mining town. I implore you to read the original novel, an epic heist story, but it’s also really cool to see Cooke’s visual translation, which is heavy on blueprints and diagrams.

Finally he did Slayground, which is one of my least favorite books in the series, but also the most ripe for this type of reinterpretation. The book has a great premise – Parker hiding in a closed amusement park being hunted while trying to recover a stash of money – but plays more like a recipe for what would be a cool action movie than a successful story in the Parker tradition. Therefore I really enjoyed experiencing it in a visual medium. (The movie starring Peter Coyote doesn’t count, because it barely has anything to do with the main part of the book.)

Finding artwork for this post led me to the fact that there are some hardcover editions of the original novels illustrated with Cooke paintings (that’s what the ad at the upper right of this post is for). I must’ve heard about that but forgot all about it. That erases any minor misgivings I had about people maybe using the comics as replacements for the great novels. I should pick those up.

Anyway, I’m very sorry to hear about Cooke and my thoughts are with him and his family. Thanks for all the beautiful pictures bud, you really know your lines and shapes.

parker2

Captain America: Civil War

tn_cap3You guys know how these super heroes are. Good guys turning bad, bad guys turning good, Hawkeye getting mind-controlled by a magic crystal, alternate dimensions, recastings, reboots, team-ups, betrayals, fake deaths. It’s no surprise they can’t all get along. I mean, it was hard for Nick Fury to convince them to be The Avengers in the first place – in fact a guy had to die and then he had to cover up that he actually didn’t die (see tv show) to inspire them to even stay together in the first place. So it’s a miracle they went this long without a breakup. The Pharcyde only got through two albums. N.W.A only did one before Cube left.

In what is technically CAPTAIN AMERICA 3, but almost seems like THE AVENGERS 3, the government tries to get the Avengers to agree to being controlled by the U.N. That actually seems better than the original formation under S.H.I.E.L.D., a privacy-invading ultra-spy agency that turned out to be controlled by evil space-Nazis or whatever. But after three years of the Avengers as an indie locally-owned Mom & Pop super-team, Captain Steve R. America (Chris Evans,  STREET KINGS, SNOWPIERCER) – who, to his credit, was never comfortable with S.H.I.E.L.D. – is not about to sell out. He doesn’t want to risk being sent somewhere he doesn’t belong, or not being allowed to go somewhere that he does.

But Tony “the Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr., NATURAL BORN KILLERS, 1985-1986 season SNL cast member) and some of the others think it’s a good idea. At the actual signing ceremony there’s a bombing that kills the King of Wakanda (John Kani, THE WILD GEESE), and security photos pin it on Steve’s war buddy Bucky T. Wintersoldier (Sebastian Stan, THE COVENANT, RICKI AND THE FLASH), who fell off a bridge in part 1 but in part 2 turned out to be alive and had been frozen and had a robot arm and was brainwashed and was a super assassin and evil but maybe he’s still Bucky inside but now he’s on the run (long story). The police and the Avengers are after him to kill him but Steve believes he can be rehabilitated and wants to bring him in alive. So it turns into a ghost protocol with Steve and an all star team of sympathizers going underground, and the two sides get into some scraps. (read the rest of this shit…)

Code of Honor

tn_codeofhonorIf you are absolutely dead set on seeing no more or less than 1 (one) of the 2 (two) Steven Seagal films that came out last week, and you can’t be talked out of it, I highly recommend CODE OF HONOR for your specific circumstances only. Here, my friends, is a movie where Seagal seems almost like a co-lead. Where he sort of fights a guy once or twice. Where he stands up and/or walks in many of his scenes. This is the hardest he’s worked on film all week!

On the other hand, it’s sort of a distressing sign that he came out with two movies within a few days of each other where his main activity is using a sniper rifle. He even uses the phrase “watch your six” again. You can tell he’s into that, because it was part of the tag line for SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS. Playing a sniper is a distressingly convenient way for him to do action scenes without having to do any choreography, martial arts moves, or acting with other actors. Also sometimes he’s sitting down in a chair. This could be a big problem. If he’s a sniper in his next movie it will be a bad, bad sign.

This sniper obsession is a period within his current Goatee Era. These days his characters always look the same, with too much shit on. The goatee, the tinted glasses, a bulky coat, a scarf, a backwards hat, and now he’s big on ear protection like he’s at the gun range. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sniper: Special Ops

tn_sniperspecialopsRemember the opening/teaser trailer scene of AMERICAN SNIPER, where Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) and his partner are on a rooftop somewhere in Generic Dusty Middle East, watching a woman through a sniper scope, not sure if she has a bomb or is just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they’re agonizing over whether or not to shoot her? Steven Seagal’s latest as of last Tuesday (but since surpassed by a new VOD one on Friday) opens the same way, except there’s no agonizing, they just know he’s a bad guy and they shoot him.

Seagal plays Jake Chandler, the eye in the sky for a group of special ops soldiers on a mission to save a Congressman abducted by an evil Taliban leader. They get attacked, leaving Seagal and an injured soldier behind, but then they help a local woman who turns out to be the Taliban guy’s daughter-in-law. Also there’s a whole thing with an embedded reporter (Charlene Amoia, AMERICAN REUNION) who they kind of condescend to because she’s a civilian and a woman, but she steps up and impresses them. They have some shootouts and a tense hostage exchange and what not. All very small scale, maybe one CGI explosion, but at least the gun flashes are real.

Despite the title, this is not related to the SNIPER series, nor is it very much about snipers, and despite Seagal being the only person Photoshopped onto the cover he’s not the main character at all. That would be Sergeant Mosby (Tim Abell, MERCENARIES, SPECIAL FORCES), a likably gruff lug who reminded me of Kevin Nash mixed with Ron Eldard on Justified. The story mostly centers on him, and he’s the one that makes the decisions and talks with the lady and stuff. (read the rest of this shit…)

Missing in Action

tn_miaI don’t know about you guys, but I’m still not a member of the Chuck Norris Fan Club. (Unless somebody got me a membership as a prank, but as far as I know that’s not true.) But I decided to watch his first movie with Cannon (a relationship that also produced a prequel, a sequel, a DELTA FORCE, a second DELTA FORCE, a job for his son on a third DELTA FORCE, and by far his most entertaining starring vehicle I’ve seen, INVASION U.S.A.). This one also has a political message based on a right wing pet cause, but it can’t quite match the outlandish cartoonishness of INVASION, and it’s much more emotionally manipulative. But I kinda enjoyed it.

The great music by Jay Chattaway (MANIAC, Star Trek: The Next Generation) gets your American flag erect during the Vietnam War opening where Braddock and his men patriotically terrorize some guerrillas until he decides to dive onto an enemy (and the camera) holding two grenades, only to wake up from a dream in the present. (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Cobra

tn_blackcobraBLACK COBRA was another one of my blind rentals, and I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise gem, but it’s definitely more interesting than I bargained for. The last thing I rented without knowing anything about it was BILLY BOY, which turned out to be a shitty South African movie about white people, filmed during apartheid, so it’s a cool coincidence that this is a competent (if sorta home made) one with a black South African hero after apartheid. And the first fight scene is against a group of white South Africans trying to treat him like it’s the old days.

T.J. Storm sounds like the name of a fictional action hero that a kid in a movie idolizes, but that’s the handle of the martial arts champ and stuntman who plays Sizwe Biko, a guy who “won a couple of titles” and whose father is a jailed hero of the South African revolution. (Whether or not they’re related to Steven Biko is never mentioned.) His father wouldn’t confess his crimes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so he was never let out, and now they’re conspiring to kill him in prison. Sizwe learns that he could get him out by bribing a certain judge, so he digs up the family’s secret diamond stash and takes them to L.A. to fence.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Windtalkers (second review)

tn_windtalkerswoozoneusaBWINDTALKERS is an American John Woo picture that I kinda hated at the time. I can prove it: here’s my review. But I watched it again and although I don’t really disagree with anything I said in that review, now I think it’s okay. Maybe this is because I watched the director’s cut, which is longer and more violent, like a real John Woo movie. Maybe it’s because I came to it with different hopes and expectations, having already not liked it. Or maybe it’s because I’ve grown and changed as a person and movie watcher since the last time. I suspect it’s a combination of all three.

This is Woo’s WWII movie, which makes sense because it’s about male bonding through violence, but also the evil of endless violence, and also a pretty invisible minority (the Navajo) reaching across cultural lines to achieve a common goal, much like Woo making movies in Hollywood. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blackjack (second review)

tn_blackjack“Okay, I understand that, but Jack you need to realize that your sunglasses are the only protection you have from all the white out there.”

woozoneusaBIt wasn’t part of the original plan, but as I was re-watching the American John Woo movies I realized I had to revisit this 1998 USA Networks TV movie (and unfulfilled backdoor pilot), even though I did an okay job reviewing it long ago. I’ve recently had good luck recommending it to a couple people who never heard of it, but I hadn’t seen it myself in 11 years. Fortunately this thing (shot right after FACE/OFF) holds up as an absurd and entertaining Dolph Lundgren vehicle that transcends its cheapo format.

Dolph plays Jack Devlin, a world class bodyguard who seems to work out of Reno. In the opening he agrees to a favor for an old friend who owns a casino and needs him to protect his little girl Casey (Padraigin Murphy) from the mob. She calls him “Uncle Jack,” which I took literally this time, but my research tells me that they’re not actually related.

It goes down kind like in TAKEN, where the kids get to Europe and are immediately kidnapped. Here gunmen arrive about 30 seconds after Jack walks into the house with Casey. He’s checking the rooms upstairs when they come in. (read the rest of this shit…)

Vern’s Book Pile

tn_bookpile1I don’t know about you guys, but I have kind of a hard time keeping up with all the books. I love them but I put so many of my spare minutes into watching and writing about movies (and checking Twitter, sadly) that I end up with stacks of beautiful tomes sitting around only partially read. That’s fine, that’s life, you can’t do everything. But these piles of people’s passions weigh down my soul with guilt because I know I meant to plug some of them.

As somebody who writes books about movies myself I know this is not exactly a path to riches, so I respect anyone who goes through with it. You gotta really have a passion for the subject to get it done, and there are not enough authors doing that for the kind of movies we love around here. I’m never gonna become a book reviewer, but I do want to showcase some of the ones I have here because in my opinion people are less likely to buy your book if they don’t know it exists. The chances of them accidentally ordering it are pretty slim, I have found. Most people would have to buy your book on purpose.

So I’m about to notify you of some things that exist, and I apologize to a couple of these authors for not doing so earlier. (read the rest of this shit…)