HELL IS FOR HEROES is a tight little black and white Don Siegel war movie that I watched because of that Village Voice piece I just did about the McQueen/Marvin/Bronson/Brown film series it’s playing in later this week. To tell you the truth I don’t watch too many war movies, and I don’t really have a desire to get more into them, but I liked this one.
It’s about a platoon of American soldiers in Montigny, France, 1944. They’ve been hanging out in this “rest area near the Siegfried Line,” waiting to go home. You got your eccentric goofballs: Corby (Bobby Darin) is a talker and hustler who carries around a bunch of junk and prides himself on being able to get people whatever they need. He’ll tell you all about it. Henshaw (James Coburn, HARD TIMES, DEADFALL, ERASER) is some kind of mechanical genius. He seems to keep his mind occupied by puzzling over how machines work. In the opening he has a car dismantled and Sergeant Pike (Fess Parker, THEM!) asks what was wrong with it. “Oh, I don’t know,” Henshaw says, seeming to have not considered that question. Also there’s Homer (Nick Adams, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD), a young Polish guy who clings on to the soldiers, runs errands for them and dearly wishes to join them in hopes that he can go back to the States with them.
Into this hangout movie is transferred Reese, played by Steve McFuckingQueen. Pike knows him and trusts him as a soldier, but he’s trouble. He walks in with his rucksack and an air of superiority, finds his corner and minds his own business until he sneaks off to get a late night drink even though it’s strictly forbidden. (read the rest of this shit…)
If you’re in New York, the Quad (I say as if I know what that is) is running a great film series from today through April 12th, called “Action Figures: Prime Cuts From McQueen, Marvin, Bronson, and Brown.” I know this because the good people at the Village Voice thought of me to do the write-up on it. I must be doing something right in life, huh?
Unfortunately DEATH HUNT got cut from the lineup, so I had to lose a paragraph about Bronson getting into a bunch of shit to save a dog as an example of badass juxtaposition. But you can add that one in if you’re playing along at home.
I’m not sure if SUTURE (1993) counts as a neo-noir, but it seems a little related to other ’90s indie crime movies like RED ROCK WEST and THE UNDERNEATH and stuff. The plot definitely seems like something out of an old crime novel. Clay (Dennis Haysbert, NAVY SEALS, ABSOLUTE POWER, The Unit, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR) is a guy from rural California who has come to visit his half brother Vincent (Michael Harris, ZAPPED AGAIN!, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III, MR. STITCH) in Phoenix. They’d never met until recently, at their father’s funeral, when they were surprised to find out how uncannily they resemble each other.
Vincent is very rich, lives in a fancy modern house with art and slicks his hair back and generally reminds you of AMERICAN PSYCHO. Clay keeps worrying that Vincent will think he wants money from him, which he doesn’t. In fact, it’s Vincent who wants something from Clay, and it’s much more than money. He gets Clay to put on his clothes and drive his car and then blows him up, to fake his own death. Terrible hospitality from this fuckin guy, jesus christ.
Clay survives, though. His face is messed up and he doesn’t remember who he is, but everybody assumes he’s Vincent and tells him about “his” life, including that he’s a suspect in his father’s death. (read the rest of this shit…)
Well my friends, I’ve made another weird VHS discovery. You know how I am. I rent odd little movies I never heard of that seem to have never made it to DVD. And in an attempt to legitimize this activity I now have a name and logo for such reviews. I considered VH-EXCAVATOR, but I decided TAPE RAIDER worked a little better and sounded more like an exciting adventure. Picture me as The Phantom going into that museum and stealing back the artifacts for his buddies, but instead of an artifact it’s a movie and I’m making sure you know about it. Whether you like it or not.
This one is called URBAN JUNGLE and was released by Xenon, so it has a trailer for THE LEGEND OF DOLEMITE at the beginning. It might be from 1989 or 1994, depending on which IMDb entry you trust (it seems to have two). I first found it under the title URBAN JUNGLE HARLEM (1994), and I looked up the director and was searching for a copy of his other movie HOMEBOYZ II: CRACK CITY (1989) until I watched a trailer for it which proved it was the same movie. Some of the weird things about that are
1) None of the people on the cover are in this movie or look like anybody in this movie
2) I never noticed any crack
3) I can’t find any evidence of a HOMEBOYZ I.
URBAN JUNGLE is the story of David (Brian Paul Stuart, BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE), a young man living in Harlem, working as a photographer “for the revolution” and also doing some unspecified job for a crime boss named Enrico (Blas Hernandez). Maybe they do sell crack, but I never saw any. Enrico works out of a dilapidated old church and has an unfuckwithable Native American enforcer in a bolo tie (didn’t catch the character’s name). (read the rest of this shit…)
Let’s say hypothetically you have a fondness for Burt Reynolds (HOOPER, CITY HEAT, regular HEAT, MALONE, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER II and III) but you find it depressing that circumstances have conspired to make his filmography this century include films like A MAGIC CHRISTMAS (as the voice of “Buster the Dog”), NOT ANOTHER NOT ANOTHER MOVIE, DELGO and Uwe Bolle’s IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE. Well, then THE LAST MOVIE STAR is for you. Writer-director Adam Rifkin (THE DARK BACKWARD, PSYCHO COP RETURNS, THE CHASE, DETROIT ROCK CITY, writer of MOUSEHUNT and SMALL SOLDIERS) devised the movie as a love letter to Burt’s career and a chance to show that he’s a legit actor. He wrote it for him and told him he would only make it with him. I think he hoped it could be a career reviver or re-contextualizer like LOST IN TRANSLATION or something.
I guess it’s too late for that, because it’s out on video today and you probly never heard of it. But it kinda fits the subject matter to be a shabby little obscurity getting by on alot of heart. See, Burt plays 80 year old former six-years-in-a-row box office champ Vic Edwards. He still has money and a nice house, but he lives alone, hobbles around like he’s someone who won’t be walking for long, and people barely look at him anymore. He’s like a super hero who’s lost his powers. He can’t get what he wants by strutting around and smiling at women. He’s much more likely to creep them out than impress them.
The movie opens with a real clip of handsome, charming young Burt on TV telling a funny story, casually taking in the adulation of the audience, then smash cuts to Vic skinny and wrinkled and having to put his dog to sleep. (read the rest of this shit…)
Do you guys know who Roxanne Shanté is? In the early days of hip hop, back when it was still pretty much just a New York thing, she was one of the greatest battle MCs. And she was also a 14-year old girl. Marley Marl, the producer behind Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Kool G Rap, and others, was her neighbor in the Queensbridge housing projects. The way she tells it, one day when she was going to do her laundry he yelled down to her from his window to ask if it was true she could rap, and would she come up and record some rhymes for him. When he played her the beat that had been sampled in UTFO’s hit “Roxanne Roxanne,” she says she freestyled about being the Roxanne in the song. Ten minutes later she went back to the laundry and forgot all about it until her friend called and told her it was playing on the radio. And then it became a phenomenon.
I never knew much about her or heard that story until she was on Ice-T’s podcast three years ago. I actually wonder if that interview gave writer/director Michael Larnell the idea to make a movie about her. Either way, a bunch of the details she mentioned to Ice ended up in the biopic ROXANNE ROXANNE, which played Sundance in January and was released direct to Netflix on Friday.
I think Shanté’s story is more natural for a movie than your usual superstar music biopic it was more neighborhood legend than media event. I know her voice and style and “Roxanne’s Revenge” and some of the responses it inspired from rival female MCs, like when UTFO came back with someone calling herself “The Real Roxanne” added to the payroll. But she’s not like Johnny Cash or someone where they’re wedded to depicting the creation of all the most famous songs and their climbs up the charts and a bunch of iconic moments that people would be mad if they skipped. And there’s not a bunch of footage we’ve all seen a million times and can’t help but compare it to. (read the rest of this shit…)
There have been two proud moments in my getting-close-to-20-years of writing about action movies when a truly special one appeared inconspicuously in the DTV market and I was the first person I’m aware of to point to it and say holy shit you guys, check this out. One was John Hyams’ UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION, which later gained attention from some of the more respectable critics thanks to its great and very arty followup UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING. The other is BLOOD AND BONE, directed by Ben Ramsey (LOVE AND A BULLET). I do think it has grown something of a following, but not the credit it deserves as a perfect showcase for an under-recognized star in peak form, or as a stone cold classic of its genre. Like another Michael-Jai-White-starring DTV favorite, UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING, BLOOD AND BONE isn’t even available on region A Blu-Ray. What the fuck, video industry? Too badass for hi-def?
The ten year anniversary of BLOOD AND BONE is coming up next year, so I’m giving the rights-holders and the gatekeepers a heads up. I want to see a cool, respectful collector’s edition Blu-Ray with added extras and a painted cover and shit. I want to see theatrical screenings. I am positive this will play great with audiences. Make it happen. A parade would be cool too, but that’s negotiable. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE CONTRACT is an animated tie-in to LOVE AND A BULLET. It’s easily the least essential part of the Ben Ramsey catalog, but its existence is what inspired me to revisit the other ones. I mean, people don’t usually know what I’m talking about if I mention LOVE AND A BULLET, so how is there a cartoon? I had to find out.
Well, it’s only 35 minutes long and its’ very crude, sub-television level animation. The credits say it was done by Elliott Animation, Inc., a Toronto based company founded by a former background painter from the Droids cartoon. They do all kinds of work for TV now – their main show seems to be Total Drama Island – but this was done as nine circa-early-2000s webisodes, so it’s Flash-type characters in front of pixelated backgrounds.
But it does have Treach and some of the other actors from the movie, making it seem much more legit. And it’s written by Ramsey and Kantz, so it has the same type of dialogue as the movie. In fact, the same dialogue in many cases! For some reason this is not a prequel or an additional Malik Bishop adventure, like what happens when he runs off with Mylene at the end. No, this is an abbreviated version of the same basic story told in a different, cheaper looking medium, with some of the same scenes, conversations and narration (re-recorded, I believe). (read the rest of this shit…)
LOVE AND A BULLET was one of the movies that made me believe in DTV when I reviewed it for The Ain’t It Cool News 16 years ago. I include that link only for historical purposes – it’s a poorly written review and I randomly refer to co-writer/co-director Kantz as a “clown.” I honestly didn’t mean anything by it, I just thought it was funny to have hostility toward some guy for no reason. It never occurred to me that the people I was writing about might read the reviews, and I hadn’t yet learned the lesson that shit like that can get you a wrestling challenge. Apologies to Kantz, whether or not he saw it. I have no reason to believe he is a clown.
At the time Ain’t It Cool had run a bunch of my reviews of movies I’d seen at SIFF, and a few at preview screenings, plus these DTV or DTVish ones I’d gotten VHS screeners of:
THE BIG HIT is a 1998 action-comedy with enough good qualities that I have a soft spot for it. Alot of the humor is too broad for me, but that’s okay. I saw it when it was in theaters, and returning to it 20 years later it’s interesting as a time capsule, a Polaroid of a specific moment in movie and pop culture history. It was a time when:
-New Kid On the Block brother, laughing stock rapper and underwear model Mark Wahlberg was suddenly a cool actor after having starred in BOOGIE NIGHTS the year before. This was his first movie released post-Dirk Diggler, but it had been shelved since 1996. At the time, most people still derisively called him Marky Mark. It’s so early in his career that he has a song on the end credits (“Don’t Sleep”).
-Hong Kong cinema had invaded Hollywood. John Woo had already done HARD TARGET,BROKEN ARROW and the Once a Thief tv show, Ringo Lam had done MAXIMUM RISK, Tsui Hark had done DOUBLE TEAM. Chow Yun Fat had starred in THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS, and Jet Li would soon be the villain in LETHAL WEAPON 4. So here we have Kirk Wong (director of CRIME STORY starring Jackie Chan) bringing a little bit of Hong Kong flair to the action in THE BIG HIT. Wahlberg practices on a kung fu dummy, and in his hidden weapons cache we see enough bladed weapons to stock a Shaw Brothers movie (plus a three-section-staff ala8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER).