ALI BOMAYE!

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…)

Broken Arrow

tn_brokenarrowwoozoneusaBROKEN ARROW is John Woo’s second American movie, and maybe his most generic. Christian Slater (HE WAS A QUIET MAN) stars as Air Force Captain Riley Hale, who’s sent on a test flight with his browbeating mentor and pal Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta, CHAINS OF GOLD) that goes awry. Their experimental bomber is carrying two nuclear warheads to find out if they can do it without being detected via radiation. The trouble is, some low rent DIE HARD sequel type villains are waiting out in the desert for Deakins to intentionally crash the plane so they can steal the missiles and make the government pay a ransom to get them back. God damn dirty bombnappers.

Hale survives the crash and encounters park ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis) and Deakins has devised various ways to slow down anybody else coming in to help, so they gotta John McClane and Zeus Carver it out. Slater and Mathis had already starred in PUMP UP THE VOLUME together. Later Mathis would be in another movie that Travolta was in, THE PUNISHER. They’re all fairly likable, but their characters are bland and lifeless compared to a Chance Boudreaux or a Castor Troy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hard Target

tn_hardtargetwoozoneusaThere was a time, I must admit, when I didn’t properly appreciate HARD TARGET. I had already been intoxicated by the unadulterated John Woo of THE KILLER, BULLET IN THE HEAD and HARD BOILED (in that order, I believe) so when I watched his 1993 Hollywood debut I could only see the compromises. American Woo was less violent, less stylish, less emotional and built around the stiff toughness of Van Damme instead of the smooth charisma of Chow Yun Fat.

But with the passage of time comes wisdom and context. From the perspective of today we can see that HARD TARGET stepped deeper into the Woo Zone than any of his subsequent American films save for FACE/OFF. More importantly, it’s clearly a masterpiece among Van Damme vehicles, themselves an enjoyable body of work that can benefit from some Woo. A pessimist sees HARD TARGET as Woo watered down with Van Damme. But I’m an optimist now so I know it’s a refreshing glass of Van Damme spiked with a shot of Woo tequila. (read the rest of this shit…)

Green Room

tn_greenroomGREEN ROOM has a pretty good spin on a classic setup: a touring punk band in a siege movie. This shitty young band called The Ain’t Rights, living out of their van and crashing with strangers, spending more on beer than on gas, going out of their way for questionable gigs in The Middle of Nowhere, Oregon, end up locked in the dressing room of a scary skinhead club because one of them walked in on a murder. The Punks Who Knew Too Much.

If there’s not already an ad that says “it’s ROMPER STOMPER meets ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13!!!” then here it is available to cut and paste, A24 Films.

I have very little experience in the world of punk rock, but from my ignorant perspective this comes off as a more authentic depiction than any of the other movies I’ve seen about it. That includes RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. And I don’t consider Cherry Bomb from HOWARD THE DUCK to be punk at all. Anyway I’ll be interested to find out if my musician friends find more fault with it than I did. To me it feels like writer/director Jeremy Saulnier might’ve come up with the idea while playing in a band like this, or if not he must’ve known people in this life. Like his first movie MURDER PARTY (a horror comedy in the world of Brooklyn hipster artists) it seems to be inspired by subcultures and people he knows from life, not movies. And like his second movie BLUE RUIN (an indie revenge drama) it goes out of its way to make violence messier, uglier and more difficult than in most movies. Like, what if it wasn’t Bruce Willis, but a regular dude like you who had to fight his way out of a corner using sharp objects he finds laying around?

But it comes a little closer than the other two movies to straight up embracing its genre. It even uses the always enjoyable action movie move of one of the band members getting referred to as “Jiujitsu” and then it turns out he really is a practicioner of said martial art. His armlocks and chokeholds come in handy. (read the rest of this shit…)

R.I.P. Prince

tn_princeCan’t believe I just wrote that subject line. I always thought Prince was an ageless immortal. I don’t know if I’ll end up writing a piece about him or not. You all know how much I love him.

It’s kind of beautiful that he died in the studio, at least. I’m glad it wasn’t in that random hospital when he made the emergency landing recently. And I’m glad I went through the trauma of worrying about him during that or I’d be blindsided today.

That guy had a talent and a drive beyond human comprehension. I don’t know what will happen with his legendary vaults of unreleased music, but even among the official releases there is more than most people can handle. So his life was a gift to us all.

I just put on Lovesexy. It’s weird, but that’s the one that really made me fall in love with Prince’s music. I mean, I enjoyed “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” and “Little Red Corvette” and everything in the ’80s. And I actually I got into Batman and Diamonds and Pearls and even the symbol album, but it was when a friend played me Lovesexy that it went from flirtation to love. These weirdly, uniquely Prince funk sounds that bleed into each other, Sheila E playing some weird super drum set, Prince singing about heaven and hell and sex and weird unexplained characters (Spooky Electric?), background voices and chants fading in and out. “And while you’re at it tell your mom about THIS!

prince (read the rest of this shit…)

Almost Human

tn_almosthumanALMOST HUMAN is a very simple low budget movie from first-time-director Joe Begos. (He has since become a second-time-director with THE MIND’S EYE, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to enthusiastic reviews, and recently got picked up for distribution.) The story begins with the protagonist Seth (Graham Skipper, TALES OF HALLOWEEN) running to his friend Mark (Josh Ethier, also the producer and sound designer and an editor on many other movies)’s house in terror from some lights he saw and can’t seem to explain. Against Seth’s pleas, Mark goes outside to investigate, and he disappears.

The majority of the movie takes place 2 years later according to the text on screen, “almost 2 years” later according to Seth. He’s a mess now, his boss at the hardware store thinking he’s on coke, Mark’s girlfriend Jen (Vanessa Leigh, veteran of around 20 obscure indie movies just in the few years before this came out) not wanting to talk to him when he shows up at her work warning that he thinks something is happening again. (read the rest of this shit…)

Monster

tn_monsterI’m about 13 years late on this one, but it turns out there’s a reason Charlize Theron got an Oscar for MONSTER. Jeez. Playing Aileen Wuornos, “the first female serial killer,” she not only transforms herself, she transforms Wuernos.

That first part got all the attention. Theron was a well known actress by that point, but in movies like 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, REINDEER GAMES and THE ITALIAN JOB her acting chops usually took back seat to her hotness. Here she wore fake teeth, bleached her eyebrows and had her skin looking freckled and rough, a pretty decent likeness of the real woman and (though it looks natural in the movie) extreme enough to get a bunch of attention. I actually think the most drastic part is the hair, though. The way the movie tells it she has the hair of a butch lesbian before she even discovers that she is one.

This is a love story. Aileen, going by Lee, decides rather than kill herself one rainy day she’ll take her last five bucks to a bar and get a beer. And this lonely young woman Selby (Christina Ricci, CASPER) approaches her, talks to her, buys her a pitcher. Aileen protests at first – “What is this, a gay place?” she had snorted to the bartender earlier – but she can’t really pass up a person being nice to her. Too rare. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Jungle Book

tn_junglebookDisney’s 1967 animated version of THE JUNGLE BOOK was pretty much a hangout movie. A bunch of animal dudes kickin it in the jungle, occasionally singing songs. Like HOUSE PARTY but with snakes and shit. The tiger Shere Khan plays the part of Full Force.

Now modern Disney and director Jon Favreau (executive producer, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) have brought in more of the world and narrative of Rudyard Kipling’s stories for an excellent live action(ish) version that captures plenty of the spirit of the old one while also being totally different. It uses versions of the original songs and even evokes Disney animation with a painted version of the castle logo, but never feels redundant. It’s like putting on glasses and seeing that version in more detail, from the visuals to the story.

I have to admit, after COWBOYS & ALIENS I kinda thought maybe we got too excited about Favreau as a director because of IRON MAN. Clearly I was wrong. This is a movie I can’t imagine many directors pulling off. Like with IRON MAN he finds a perfect balance between nerdy love for the source material and clear vision of how to tell the story in a dramatic way we haven’t quite seen on screen before.

And it can’t be easy competing with the memory of Stephen Sommers’ 1994 version.

(That might be unfair. I haven’t seen it.)

(read the rest of this shit…)

Carrie

tn_carrie13carryoncarrieLike THE RAGE, the 2013 remake of CARRIE is directed by a woman. This one comes courtesy of Kimberly Peirce of BOYS DON’T CRY and STOP-LOSS fame. The screenplay is credited to two men, Lawrence D. Cohen (GHOST STORY) and Robert Aguirre-Sacasa (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN remake). The weird thing is that Cohen wrote the DePalma version, and this is his first credit in 9 years, so I don’t know if that means they started from an old-screenplay base. It kinda seems like it. It doesn’t do its own thing as much as I’d like. It’s not DePalma, but it’s not a drastically different take either, so I’m not sure how much the female perspective was able/allowed to add in this instance.

Part of the fun of a remake or re-adaptation is seeing who they have playing the different roles. There are some familiar actors in the leads here. Chloe Grace Moretz (TODAY YOU DIE) plays Carrie, and she’s the first actual teenager to ever play the character on screen. At 15 I believe she’s actually younger than Carrie was in the book, and there’s something to be said for authentic youthfulness in this role. Julianne Moore (ASSASSINS) is Margaret White, because of course she is. It would have to be her. Judy Greer, known for thankless roles in every major movie of the last few summers, actually gets things to do in the Betty Buckley role as the sympathetic gym teacher.

I was not familiar with the young actors playing the do-gooder couple of Sue and Tommy. Sue is Gabriella Wilde, a tall blond model who was in the Paul W.S. Anderson THREE MUSKETEERS, and Tommy is boyish Ansel Elgort, a rookie actor who has since been in the DIVERGENT series of trailers that seem to come out every few months, was the boy lead in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and reportedly on the short list to play Young Han Solo in I HAVE A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS: THE ADVENTURES OF ALL NEW HAN SOLO. Both actors won me over after initial skepticism. Meanie blood-dumper Chris Hargensen is played by Portia Doubleday, who I know from looking like Amanda Sieyfried on that tv show Mr. Robot. (She was also the surrogate date in HER, and her older sister Kaitlin plays Rhonda, the only major white character on Empire.) Chris’s bad boy boyfriend Billy Nolan (Travolta’s character) is Alex Russell, who I guess was in CHRONICLE and later Angelina Jolie’s UNBROKEN. (read the rest of this shit…)