So once again we have survived.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

It’s weird how long I’ve been anticipating xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. I didn’t actually like the first one very much other than the lovably ridiculous first chunk before the actual mission starts. The second one starring Ice Cube is a fairly enjoyable B movie, but doesn’t live up to part 1 director Rob Cohen’s talk before he and Diesel left. He really sparked my imagination in the interview where he said one of the scripts he was developing “takes place in Washington DC, where, I think, our most colorful character will go up against all the grey men. I can see him mountain-biking on the top of the Capitol Dome, where in a domestic context, as opposed to an exotic context, he gets to shake up old George Bush and all that he represents.”

Nevertheless, ever since Diesel announced his intention to star in a xXx part 3 ten years ago (!) I’ve been anxiously awaiting it. And that optimism, though unearned, wasn’t wrong. RETURN OF XANDER CAGE (no “THE” for some reason) is just the stupid movie I always wanted out of this series. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Shallows

With the inauguration about to happen I think alot of us kinda feel like we’re all alone, torn open, bleeding and floating on a dead whale, unable to get to shore because a shark the size of a fuckin bus wants to eat us and will not leave us be. So I thought you know what, what if there was a movie about somebody else in that situation, maybe if it had a positive outcome it would be a good inspirational tool for all of us as citizens of the United States and the world who hope to somehow survive the coming shit show of dangerous ignorance and blatant, barely-even-trying-to-fuckin-hide-it-at-all corruption.

The title THE SHALLOWS is not about the new management, it’s just referring to an area of not-that-deep water that is the setting for a pleasingly simple 80-minute romp from Jaume Collet-Serra, director of HOUSE OF WAX, GOAL II, ORPHAN and three Liam Neeson vehicles (UNKNOWN, NON-STOP and RUN ALL NIGHT). Liam must’ve been busy doing SILENCE or something, so Collet-Serra went off and made this adaptation of Blake Lively’s one woman off Broadway show about a surfer trapped on a rock after a shark attack.

I lied. It is not based on a one woman show. But it is almost entirely balanced on Lively’s shoulders. She plays Nancy, who is always on screen and usually alone. Supporting characters who she’d also play in the stage version are:

1. Little boy seen on beach in prologue

2. Guy who gives her ride to beach

3. Her friend who was supposed to be with her, portrayed through text messages (read the rest of this shit…)

Fist 2 Fist

Writer/director/actor/martial artist Jino Kang’s first film BLADE WARRIOR had a bit of an EL MARIACHI passionate-no-budget-debut energy to it. It was shot over a few years and bridged the independent film world’s switch from film to digital. (I like the grainy film look better, but of course we’re not gonna see much of that anymore.)

His second film FIST 2 FIST (the distributor changed it from his preferred title HAND 2 HAND, which was meant to have a double meaning) was released a decade later, in 2011. It looks a little more slick and professional and normal, but he still feels like an underdog filmmaker, and with age he’s become an even more interesting leading man.

There’s little flash or ego to Kang’s persona playing Ken, a former criminal turned martial arts instructor for at risk youth. He’s the serious, responsible, grownup badass, the positive role model of asskicking. (read the rest of this shit…)

Monster Trucks

MONSTER TRUCKS is literally about monster trucks. This is a movie about an oil company drilling through a pocket of water deep beneath the earth, accidentally releasing a huge, squid-like creature who crawls into a junkyard and hides inside the chassis of a teen’s crappy pickup truck. Soon the teen discovers that the creature can wrap its tentacles around the axels and spin them, basically acting as its engine. Also it eats oil and it can not only drive and steer the truck but jump and bounce and climb up walls and shit.

So this teen, Tripp (Lucas Till, aka Havok in X-MEN and TV’s new MacGyver), names the monster “Creech” and drives around in him like extreme E.T. But he has to hide him from a private security team led by cruel Burke (Holt McCallany, CREEPSHOW 2, TYSON, BULLET TO THE HEAD, BLACKHAT, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK) and, like Free Willy or the T-800 or somebody, get him back home. He does it with the help of his squeaky-voiced biology tutor Meredith (I had no idea that was Jane Levy, star of EVIL DEAD and DON’T BREATHE) and a conscience-stricken scientist from the oil company (Thomas Lennon, HERBIE FULLY LOADED). (read the rest of this shit…)

Get On the Bus

Well, I’m skipping ahead in the Spike Lee chronology I’ve been ever-so-slowly crawling my way through, but I thought a movie about a march on Washington would be a good thing to revisit on the Martin Luther King Day starting the week that, as far as we know, will end with the inauguration of the first American president to be 2 degrees of separation from Steven Seagal (they have a mutual friend, a Russian guy named Vladimir something) and subsequent protest march.

GET ON THE BUS is a road trip movie, but it could almost be a play, because the vast majority of it is about conversations taking place inside a charter bus. Around fifteen African American men, most of them meeting for the first time, are headed from a church parking lot in South Central Los Angeles to the Million Man March in Washington DC. If you’re too young to remember, that was the October 16, 1995 gathering of black men organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Late Phases

a.k.a. LATE PHASES: NIGHT OF THE LONE WOLF

I know this has been said before, but LATE PHASES is kinda like GRAN TORINO with werewolves. By that I don’t mean there’s an old guy who’s racist against werewolves but befriends a young werewolf neighbor, although that would also be cool. What I mean is he’s a grouchy old war vet who is not so happy where age is leading him, has trouble getting along with his kid and is cynical about everything and gets to know the local pastor even though he doesn’t like religion. With werewolves.

He’s a ‘Nam vet instead of Korea, and he came back blind. His name is Ambrose McKinley, and he’s played by my new favorite actor Nick Damici (MULBERRY STREET, STAKE LAND I & II, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, COLD IN JULY), looking kind of like Fred Ward and talking kind of like DeNiro. His son (Ethan Embry, CHEAP THRILLS) and more patient daughter-in-law (Erin Cummings, BITCH SLAP) help move him into a duplex in the retirement community of Crescent Bay. That very night a fuckin werewolf busts in and mauls his next door neighbor (Karen Lynn Gorney, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) and his guide dog Shadow. The police just tell him it’s from living near the woods, wild animals kill people all the time, be sure to keep your doors locked.

“Thanks for the peace of mind,” he deadpans. (read the rest of this shit…)

Full Eclipse

For those of us disappointed that MOONLIGHT, although very good, was not about werewolves, here is a pretty okay wolfman movie to dig up. (You know, like a dog would dig up a bone or something.) It stars Mario Van Peebles, it’s directed by Anthony Hickox right after WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON, and it’s written by Richard Christian Matheson (THREE O’CLOCK HIGH) & Michael Reaves (Super Friends).

I like that it combines werewolves with a straight up cop movie. It’s hard to classify as horror exactly, because the lycanthropy is treated more like super powers than monsters. In fact, they have Wolverine style claws and Magneto type helmets. But they are werewolves in a legit action movie complete with cliches about cops and their partners and one of them saying “I’m too old for this” and everything.

Even better, this came out the year America stole John Woo, and the style seems pretty influenced by him. Lots of leaping through the air to fire guns, slow motion, intense, lingering closeups. For the opening set piece Hickox revisits his HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH idea of terror in a dance club full of big spooky body part sculptures, but with bullets and debris and people flying everywhere, usually with LAPD detective Max Dire (Van Peebles) dropping from above or jumping in the air or laying on the floor while shooting two guns. (read the rest of this shit…)

Moonlight

I seem to remember hearing somebody say that criticism was dead, but MOONLIGHT is a real good movie I definitely wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing if critics weren’t doing flips over it. It’s an indie movie about growing up gay, black and poor around drug dealers in Liberty City, Florida, but it’s not the bummer that might sound like. I think that’s important to say right now: the people talking about crying during this, I’m not 100% sure which part they’re talking about, but it’s not some BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN type tragedy movie. Unless this is like CLUE and they released it with different endings. But as far as I know they didn’t do that.

The structure is basically three vignettes or chapters about this character Chiron as a young kid (Alex Hibbert), a high school kid (Ashton Sanders, “Kid,” STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) and a grown man (Trevante Rhodes, OPEN WINDOWS). During these times he struggles with his masculinity, trying to understand his attraction to men in a community that considers that soft and highly values the perception of toughness. His friend Kevin jumps him on the field supposedly to prove to the others that he’s capable of fighting back. They wrestle on the field, an indistinct mix of physical struggle and boys touching each other. I’m not sure either of them knows which it is. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hidden Figures

HIDDEN FIGURES is an obvious, inoffensive, feel-good-movie with a noble purpose we haven’t seen before: honoring three African-American women whose mathematical genius helped NASA put people into space. Even today, women in scientific and mathematical fields are not given their just due. But these three were helping win the space race when they weren’t even allowed to use the same drinking fountain as their co-workers.

I don’t know if in real life these three drove to work together, but they did work together, and from what I’ve read the movie sounds fairly accurate. Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson, SMOKIN’ ACES) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, MOONLIGHT) work as “Colored Computers” in a segregated department run by Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, HALLOWEEN II). This is back when NASA was about to get their first giant room-filling IBM, so “computer” actually means a human being who calculates math. I never knew that. If a computer played chess was it called a video game?

Then Katherine gets an incredible assignment: working in the office calculating the trajectories and entry points for the first American manned space flights. Okay, I don’t know exactly what that means, to be honest, but it involves filling up chalkboards with a bunch of numbers and letters and lines and shit. Actually, it mostly involves this prick Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons from the fucking Big Bang Theory show) giving her snobby, suspicious looks and tossing giant piles of paper on her desk to go over the calculations that have already been gone over. And with a bunch of shit crossed out because he thinks it’s dangerous for her to know too much. (read the rest of this shit…)

Alien Nation

A premise like ALIEN NATION’s is as rare a mineral as unobtainium. It alchemically melds two seemingly unmixable genres (’80s cop thriller and sci-fi alien movie) in a way that organically lends itself to social commentary within pop entertainment. I wouldn’t say ALIEN NATION succeeds wildly in those goals, but it gets the job done and just the conception of it is so beautiful it can get away with coasting.

At its heart it’s a standard-issue interracial buddy cop movie. Like Dirty Harry and a million other movie cops, Detective Matthew Sykes (James Caan)’s partner dies, and he tries to solve the case with a new partner who happens to be from a different culture, and has a very different personality and approach to law enforcement. Like Tyne Daly in THE ENFORCER, Detective Francisco (Mandy Patinkin, DICK TRACY) is part of an advancement program to promote diversity, and is receiving rejection and resentment from the usual self-centered-backwards-afraid-of-change-knuckledragging-anti-progress assholes. Sykes isn’t any more enlightened than his bros, but he knows Francisco is on a case that might be related to the guys who killed his partner.

So Sykes says culturally insensitive things, insults his partner, makes a fool of himself, but starts to learn, they get to know each other, they bond with each other, he changes his perspective, starts to stand up against racism from the other cops, all while they go after the killers.

But Francisco is different from other cops who are different, because he’s not just a different race or gender from Sykes, he’s from a different planet. He’s a Newcomer, an alien. Three years ago they arrived in “an intergalactic slave ship,” but they’re genetically engineered to be highly intelligent and adaptable, so they’ve already integrated into human society much more than the ones in DISTRICT 9 did. They have large, bald heads with distinctive spots on their skin, but they’re humanoid so they just wear suits and ties and sunglasses and shit like anybody else, and they take on human names and jobs and try to fit in like any immigrant in America. (read the rest of this shit…)