Happy Michael Jackson’s birthday, everybody! What did you get me? I got you this thorough illustrated analysis of the “Black or White” video from the album Dangerous!
The “Black or White” music video is the sort of weird, messy, well-meaning, overreaching, and fun piece of mainstream art that only the lightning rod known as Michael Jackson could’ve attracted. It was directed by John Landis (who had already done “Thriller,” of course) and shot by Mac Ahlberg (TRANCERS, GHOULIES, RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, STRIKING DISTANCE). Like “Thriller” it was a short film (11 minutes in its longest version), and its first broadcast (November 14th, 1991 simultaneously on MTV, VH1, BET and Fox) was a heavily hyped event. It was a Thursday night, playing right after The Simpsons on Fox (specifically, the soapbox derby episode “Saturdays of Thunder”), and receiving that network’s highest ever ratings at that time.
It had celebrity cameos (including The Simpsons), groundbreaking special effects, meta elements, and (still puzzling to this day) controversy that caused (or was the excuse for) the best part to be removed for subsequent broadcasts. While Michael sang and danced and visually symbolized in earnest about the lack of racial barriers in eligibility to be his “baby” or his “brother,” it became common to joke about not being able to tell if he was black or white due to his vitiligo-lightened skin. Most of the world could accept that “it don’t matter if you’re black or white” in theory, but that was not gonna stop them from making judgments about Michael’s racial identity.
Like the feature length MOONWALKER, this mini-movie is a jumbled mix-tape of stylistically clashing segments. For convenience I will break it down into four main sections. (read the rest of this shit…)
When I first heard about PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES – the book where Seth Grahame-Smith inserted the undead into Jane Austen’s original text – it sounded like a clever public domain art project, something I could respect without wanting to actually read it. When I heard that they were making it into a movie it sounded like kind of a bad idea, but since David O. Russell was doing it I thought maybe it would be interesting. By the time Russell left and it was finally made by 17 AGAIN director Burr Steers I had written it off.
But then I saw the trailer, where the absurd premise was done with a straight face, and that was all I needed to get on board. I should’ve known better, too, because this is actually a repeat of what happened with Grahame-Smith’s second book, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. The wackiness of the title made me groan, but then I enjoyed the deadpan movie version. To this day it makes me smile to think that that actor had to master both delivering the Gettysburg Address and spinning an ax.
So I should learn to trust this Grahame-Smith guy. He also wrote Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS, which I enjoyed. But more importantly he has a corner on this rare, ballsy type of movie: lavish, earnest productions of intentionally ridiculous historical drama/horror-action combos. Steers has the unlikely discipline to treat Austen’s story of courtship among the rich with utter respect even though he’s moved it to a post-zombie apocalypse London surrounded by a moat and wall and at war with the undead hordes. I actually found myself invested in Austen’s original love story regardless of any zombie business. (read the rest of this shit…)
As of today, ENEMIES CLOSER (2013) is the most recent movie directed by Peter Hyams, and his third collaboration with Jean-Claude Van Damme (after TIMECOP and SUDDEN DEATH). Part of the After Dark Action series (which also included EL GRINGO and DRAGON EYES), it’s a lower budget take on a DIE HARD type of movie. Or I guess a SUDDEN DEATH type of movie. But this time the John McClane/Darren McCord is Tom Everett Scott (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS) and Van Damme gets to play the Hans Grueber/Joshua Foss.
Scott plays Henry, an ex-Navy SEAL trying to figure out his post-war life while working as the ranger of a state park that’s an isolated island with only one other person, an old man, living on it. This is a recipe for having to fight with a couple of bears over pic-a-nic baskets, but he lucks out and all he has to deal with is being in the way when a small plane smuggling “a load of some very naughty shit” crashes in the water nearby and a ruthless gang of killers come looking for it. I mean, it’s a pain in the ass, but it’s more within his skill set. (read the rest of this shit…)
MILES AHEAD is the directorial debut of Don Cheadle, and he stars in it as Miles Davis. I think it didn’t get much attention for the same reason it’s good: it’s a small, odd movie, not fulfilling most expectations of a musician biopic. I’m not sure if it even is a musician biopic. Maybe it’s a little of that mixed with Miles’ guest appearance on Miami Vice. It’s a small time crime story where the lead happens to be Miles Davis and the McMuffin is a reel-to-reel of the only recording session he’s done in years. He wants it for himself but Columbia Records has contractual claim to it, so people are trying to get it.
The story takes place over just a couple of days, with the device of Ewan McGregor as totally fictional Rolling Stone writer Dave Braden barging his way into the “black Howard Hughes” life of Miles, promising to write his “comeback story!” At first Miles gives him many variations of “fuck off, white boy,” but eventually the two are hanging out together. Making this odd couple happen requires deceit and cocaine and puts the reporter in the middle of many tense situations involving guns and/or a fierce insistence on artistic purity. (read the rest of this shit…)
Man, can you guys believe they made that cheesy 3D remake of BEN-HUR? From the director of WANTED, of all people? Imagine the nerve of thinking they have to cgi up a Hollywood classic like BEN-HUR. Is nothing sacred? BEN-HUR won 11 Oscars including best picture. Normally we say the Oscars are bullshit but let’s forget about that because in this one specific case they are totally proof that this movie is untouchable. It just really disappoints me that they can’t leave well enough alone.
Admittedly I have never seen the original BEN-HUR, which is a one-reel silent film from 1907. Nor have I seen the first remake, another silent from 1925. And until now I had not seen the famous 1959 version by William Wyler. Okay, the truth is I’m excited to see the new one and I didn’t want to be some asshole who went to see it but hadn’t seen the old one. So I am thankful for this new remake, even if it ends up being boring, because it made me watch the most famous old remake. Turns out it’s legendary for a reason. (read the rest of this shit…)
JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON is a new 30 minute comedy pilot starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. You can watch it for free on Amazon – if it gets picked up as a series (if you like it, please fill out their feedback form and let them know) it will be available on Amazon Prime. Yeah, I don’t have that either, and I just looked it up and maybe they don’t put these shows (their most popular one is Transparent) on disc like Netflix does. But it is my solemn vow that if they make this into a full show and refused to put it in a useful format I will still pay to download it or go over to a friend’s house or whatever it is us old men are supposed to do now to watch these computer streams that they have now instead of real tv shows and movies.
If you’re like me – and I know you are – you take this shit seriously, and therefore are skeptical when you hear “Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself in a comedy called JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON.” It sounds like it could be some How Did This Get Made? type shit – smug, smarmy, snark making fun of the movies we love for being old and absurd and joyful and awesome. I picture some kind of meta-action movie parody by people who only know action movies from other parodies of action movies, like how that movie THE FINAL GIRL is to slasher movies. Something for people who read BLOODSPORT as below them because in fact it is beyond them.
That’s not what this is! I’m so happy to say that this is a really smart and well-made pilot by people who understand and take full advantage of Van Damme’s acting strengths. It uses his persona and body of work for absurdity, but not, in my opinion, in a mocking way. In fact, the episode’s most despicable douchebag – a vaping, hipster movie director – proves his utter cluelessness by telling Jean-Claude that “that ’80s style of fighting, the style that you’re known for, with the kicking and the spinning, and the splits with the guys coming at you one at a time… it’s not realistic. And we all know that now. You know?” This is not a show for people who agree with that guy. It’s for people who know that guy deserves a spin kick to the giant scarf area. (read the rest of this shit…)
“When I was a kid our neighborhood was our universe. A universe of friendship and laughter. But something changed along the way. Gang violence took the place of family values.”
There’s a certain type of movie I like where an accomplished martial artist thinks it would be fun to star in a movie, and they put together a low budget production based around their school. An example would be Andre Lima’s “true story” BEYOND THE RING. It’s all based in cliches, and doesn’t quite have what you would call a visual style, but it has a certain amateur charm.
BLADE WARRIOR is another such movie, but it’s infused with a more impressive kind of DEADBEAT AT DAWN type energy, where they don’t really know what they’re doing but they’re dying to make a cool movie any way they can. It’s obvious that they’ve got friends and relatives, or maybe community theater people at best, in the cast, and storage rooms made up to look like a police station and stuff like that. And they’re not always convincing as a guy who wears a trenchcoat or talks like a tough guy. But it has enough of a home-made feel that some of the small things they pull off – like having legit martial artistry – seem really impressive.
Writer/director/producer Jino Kang plays Jack Lee, a cop who also practices Hapkido and runs his dad’s mini-mart. In the opening scene he combines all three by fighting and arresting a colorful gang of thugs who come in looking for protection money. (read the rest of this shit…)
TRIPLE 9 – being from John Hillcoat, the director of THE PROPOSITION, THE ROAD and LAWLESS – is a cops ‘n robbers movie where the dirty details of the setting, the eccentric character and actor moments, and the suffocating cloud of near-hopelessness in mood and content are given a little more energy than narrative. Even so, it is fairly effective as a heist/suspense thriller and is handily pushed over the finish line by its A+ cast who all came excited to play in this heightened world of crooked Atlanta cops and mercenaries forced by Russian-Jewish gangsters to try to steal from the Department of Homeland Security. The specifics are all odd enough to make police corruption stories seem fresh.
The movie opens with a carload of sweaty, dangerous men discussing and then launching into a credits-sequence daylight bank robbery. It’s only after their messy escape (which includes a van driving fast through traffic while filled with red dye pack smoke and machine guns fired on gridlocked civilians) that we see the badges come out and realize that most of these guys are cops. (Others, we hear later, are “special ops guys” turned private security contractors.) They actually change out of their stained clothes and go straight to work. That’s a long day! I bet they smell pretty ripe, too. (read the rest of this shit…)
The Matt Damon BOURNE IDENTITY was not your father’s spy movie. But maybe the three hour 1988 TV mini-series with Richard Chamberlain is. I don’t know – am I your father? I thought it was pretty good.
Like the later one (and the Robert Ludlum book, I’m guessing) it opens on a boat, where Chamberlain (KING SOLOMON’S MINES) gets shot and falls overboard. He sinks to the bottom but manages to wake up and swim to the surface, later washing ashore in a small village in France.
You know how they do those experiments sometimes where they have somebody lay on the street and pretend to be unconscious, and supposedly everybody walks past them and doesn’t try to make sure they’re okay? Not true of this crab:
He’s like, “Hey mister, are you okay?” but he doesn’t answer. Eventually two unknown human individuals carry him and dump him on the doorstep of Washburn, a lovable doctor-who-lost-his-license-due-to-alcoholism played by Denholm Elliott. He unlicensed-doctors him back to health. (read the rest of this shit…)