KEEP BUSTIN'

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…)

Legend (the one about the Krays)

tn_legend15I always have hope for Brian Helgeland movies. It doesn’t matter how many times I don’t like his latest as much as I like PAYBACK, I keep having expectations. He also wrote A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, ASSASSINS and BLOOD WORK and won that Oscar for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, but PAYBACK is the Platonic ideal I keep coming back to.

Fairly or not, I associate Helgeland with that Richard Stark feel, that clean, precise storytelling, writing with a badass swagger, no need for fancypants show off business. His new one LEGEND is about London gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray (see THE KRAYS review from yesterday) in the early ’60s. Being based on real crimes stretched across a couple years doesn’t lend itself to that type of tight plotting, it’s more of a character study and relationship drama. But it is a little bit like PAYBACK (theatrical cut) in tone. It follows a charismatic criminal anti-hero who is funny, badass, and a terrible person. It’s darkly humorous, and violent, and set to alot of good soulful music (Booker T and the MGs, The Meters, Young-Holt Unlimited).

I guess it would be accurate to say it’s kinda Guy-Ritchie-esque, but I liked it more than some of those. It’s Guy-Ritchie-esque only in a good way.

Like Peter Medak’s take on the story, THE KRAYS, this one is told in first-person narration by a woman. But this time it’s not their mother, it’s Reggie’s poor wife Francis (Emily Browning from SUCKER PUNCH). The story focuses on Reggie and his relationship with Francis, with the crazier brother Ron as sort of a side character and threatening presence who’s always out there and liable to start trouble. Like if Jaws was your twin brother. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Krays

tn_kraysRonnie and Reggie Kray were identical twin gangsters who ran London’s East End in the ’50s and ’60s. They owned night clubs (part of the movie SPARROWS CAN’T SING with Roy Kinnear was filmed in one of their clubs) and hung out with celebrities including Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. Ronnie was gay, and was involved in a political scandal, allegedly having sex with and supplying men for the conservative politician Lord Boothby. The brothers were crazy and vicious and in ’69 got twin life sentences for different murders.

I’m not sure when they did all those weird stop motion films with the creepy dolls and shit.

THE KRAYS is a 1990 movie about the Krays, directed by Peter Medak (THE RULING CLASS, SPECIES II) and written by Philip Ridley (writer/director of THE REFLECTING SKIN and THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON). I guess that combination is why it’s not a traditional gangster movie. It gives the twins a creepy DEAD RINGERS kinda vibe and spends less time than you’d think on their criminal activities.

In fact, the first 20 minutes is about their childhood. We see their traumatic experiences during the war, and how much time they spent surrounded by women while the men were off fighting. They were protected by their mother Violet (Billie Whitelaw, TWISTED NERVE, THE OMEN, SLAYGROUND) and spoiled by their Aunt Rose (Susan Fleetwood, CLASH OF THE TITANS). (read the rest of this shit…)

Redeemer

tn_redeemerIn REDEEMER, Marko Zaror plays The Redeemer, a mysterious, drifting avenger with a thing for Catholicism. He used to be a cartel hitman, now he’s fulfilling a big time penance. He’s got a full back tattoo of the crucifixion, carries a portable altar and various idols and penants of the saints, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wears socks sewn out of a corner of the Shroud of Turin. For 95% of the movie he keeps the hood of either his sweatshirt or his jacket up. It’s not raining, so I think it’s to make him look like a monk. And every day he kneels and does a prayer ritual. The weird part of it is when he rubs a bullet with a scorpion painted on it against his forehead, then plays Russian roulette. Kind of a quirky thing to do every single day, right? I guess maybe that’s a thing though. I wouldn’t know, I was raised Presbyterian.

Anyway this individual The Redeemer is wandering through Chile on foot when he comes across some jerks beating up a fisherman. He watches for a while before he saves the guy. He’s real good with guns, but he’s Marko Zaror, so he’s also got some incredible kicks and punches. By rescuing the guy and taking shelter in the nearby home of a single mother they all end up involved in the man’s troubles: he found a bunch of money in his fishing net, he took it, it turned out to belong to gangsters, they are not real understanding about it. So The Redeemer and friends hide in a cave while he broods and prays and doesn’t talk and makes plans to clear all this up.

Plan A: Get the gangsters to promise no harm in exchange for their money back.

Plan B: Kill them all and use the money for the mom’s kid’s operation. (read the rest of this shit…)

London Has Fallen

tn_londonhasfallenLONDON HAS FALLEN is the sequel to 2013’s OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, that one where Gerard Butler (GODS OF EGYPT) plays Secret Service agent Mike Banning, protecting President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, I FRANKENSTEIN) when the White House is attacked. It is not to be confused with WHITE HOUSE DOWN, the one where it’s Channing Tatum protecting Jamie Foxx.

Who am I fooling though? I get them confused so much I sincerely mixed up the titles when I wrote the first draft of this review in my notebook, and when I fixed it I started to type OLYMPUS DOWN. I was thinking I’d found the Tatum one to be the more passable 2013 half-assed excuse for a DIE HARD rip-off, but then I went to the tape. My review of that one is a little harsher, and ends by saying “If you see only one UNDER SIEGE IN THE WHITE HOUSE movie this year, see… ah, who gives a shit? Nobody will remember either of these movies a year from now. Of the two I think I preferred OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. I forget why though. Something about Melissa Leo?”

In my day a movie had to excite somebody’s imagination to get a sequel. Now it just hast to be the one of two similar bad movies that gets more money because it came out first. (read the rest of this shit…)