RED ROCK WEST is one of my favorite neo-noirs, an ingeniously concocted tale with a simple, appealing hero who makes one wrong choice that snags him and he has to spend the rest of the movie trying to crawl his way out of an ever-tightening trap. He’s driving through the town of Red Rock, Wyoming when it goes down, so every time he gets out and then something else goes wrong we share his dismay at passing that god damn “Welcome to Red Rock” sign once more.
Well before all the thrilling twists and tense (but down to earth) set pieces, director John Dahl (THE LAST SEDUCTION, ROUNDERS, JOY RIDE) wins me over with an A+ overture of visual storytelling that establishes Michael (Nic Cage)’s hard times and integrity. We meet him waking up in his car on the side of a farm road, shaving, smelling the shirt he takes out of the trunk to make sure it’s not too bad, looking in the window reflection as he tucks it in, preparing to try to make a good impression. We also see his USMC tattoo, even before he starts doing shirtless one-arm push-ups. This will be relevant.
He’s broke and having trouble finding a job and has a bum knee brought back as a souvenir from Lebanon but he’s an honest man, not looking for any shortcuts. Not until he stops at a bar and his timing and Texas plates cause the owner, Wayne (the great J.T. Walsh, BREAKDOWN, EXECUTIVE DECISION) to mistake him for “Lyle from Dallas” who was supposed to be here last week for a job. Michael plays along, which seems like a promising trick for the few minutes before he realizes the job is to murder Wayne’s wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle, POLTERGEIST III). So it’s neither a line of work he’s interested in or the type where you can just put in your two weeks notice and be on your way. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a very good new British horror movie and at this point I would like to offer the “Trust in Vern” review opt-out option. If you are willing to just take my word for it that this is good and check it out without knowing anything about it you’ll be able to enjoy the mysterious opening the way I did. Then you can come back and read this. But if you need more information first, keep reading. I’ll try not to spoil everything.
This is the story of Melanie (rookie Sennia Nanua), a young lady around 12 years old who lives locked up in a concrete cell in an underground military base. In the morning when soldiers come in pointing guns at her she dutifully gets into her wheelchair to be strapped in and wheeled into a room full of other kids also strapped into wheelchairs. It’s a classroom, and Melanie would be the kid who always has her hand up first, but they have their hands bound when they don’t have a writing assignment.
The soldiers call these kids “creepy little fuckers” and aren’t supposed to talk to them. Melanie’s favorite teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED) seems to be in trouble for being too sympathetic toward them. What the hell is going on here? Why are they so afraid of these children? (read the rest of this shit…)
A BOY AND HIS DOG is a strange, scrappy post-apocalypse tale directed by character actor L.Q. Jones (HANG ‘EM HIGH, LONE WOLF MCQUADE), based on a 1969 novella by Harlan Ellison. Don Johnson (COLD IN JULY) is the boy, Vic; a dog is the dog, Blood. Blood talks but his mouth doesn’t move, we just hear his tired, tinny voice, so at first I thought he had a machine attached that broadcast his thoughts. But actually they communicate telepathically, so that when other people are around he Vic seems like a crazy person talking to his dog. Blood reminds me of Teddy in A.I., but meaner and more cynical. And they do a good job of matching up the dog footage to imply attitude and emotion in his body language that probly isn’t really there.
It’s a dangerous world, and they’re constantly on the run. Blood’s job is to sniff for approaching enemies. Vic’s is apparently to find a woman to rape. He has a hard time getting up the nerve to go through with it, though, and Blood nags him about it. I thought the worst thing about dogs was that they eat cat poop out of the litter box and then jump up in your lap and lick your face and try to pass that off as affection. It turns out it goes deeper. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’m happy to see that some of the films produced by WWE Films still fulfill the original promise of that prestigious banner: traditional low budget action vehicles for pro-wrestlers. For a while they were doing normal movies that didn’t take advantage of their stable of larger-than-life muscle dudes. So how the hell am I supposed to learn who the different wrestlers are? Watch wrestling?
This one taught me who Dolph Ziggler is. I’d heard the name and I always assumed he would be a tall Ivan Drago knockoff, but it turns out he’s just a longhair dude of standard WWE height and build. Here he ties his hair back to play Ray Thompson, Seattle undercover narcotics cop who is totally in trouble for how edgy and not by the book he is. For example he fake kills his asshole partner Kendricks (Josh Blacker, DRIVEN TO KILL, ELYSIUM) during a bust by shooting him in the vest. He saves his partner’s life and gets 200 guns off the streets, and it’s possible that this level of law enforcement awesomeness is actually just acting out due to the tragic death of his son. At least, that’s what we suspect when his wife finds him drinking a beer and reading bedtime stories in their son’s completely-untouched bedroom. (read the rest of this shit…)
Disney’s new live-action rendition of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a tale as old as time, a collection of songs as old as 1991, plus new ones created in 1993 for the Broadway musical. Unlike Jon Favreau’s excellent computer-animation-that-seems-like-live-action remake THE JUNGLE BOOK, which melded beloved elements of the 1967 animated classic with more serious drama from Rudyard Kipling’s book, this is a very faithful, at times scene-for-scene re-enactment of the 1991 best picture nominated hit. But that’s the idea: it’s the movie version of the stage version of the animated version of the traditional fairy tale. Director Bill Condon (CANDYMAN 2: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH) and adapters Stephen Chbosky (RENT) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (HERCULES with The Rock) seem to look at it much more as a restaging than a reinterpretation. (read the rest of this shit…)
Do you ever wonder what happened to The Kid (Prince, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON) after PURPLE RAIN? (SPOILERS FOR PURPLE RAIN.) His dad had hit his mom and shot himself. Wendy and Lisa had been mad at him for being a dick, and Apollonia had left him for being abusive and a dick. Club owner Billy had thought his music was too self-indulgent and wasn’t bringing ’em in anymore. But then he came out and performed “Purple Rain” for the first time and… I mean, it was “Purple Rain.” It was beautiful and it was sort of an apology to everybody and they were all moved and blown away, even Morris Day. And The Kid seemed to make up with Apollonia and his dad was still alive in the hospital and did everything turn out okay for everybody, is what I’m asking?
Well, as far as what happened with Apollonia and The Revolution and some of the other stuff, you’re gonna have to go to the Expanded Universe novels I guess. But to see where The Kid was at in 1990 you gotta watch the last feature film Prince ever made (this time as writer/director/composer/star), GRAFFITI BRIDGE. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’m real late to the dinner party (get it, because this is a movie about a dinner party), but THE INVITATION is a potent suspense thriller well-deserving of its reputation from film festivals and indie circuit release from Drafthouse Films. It’s tense and uncomfortable and it’s best not to know what sort of bad thing it’s leading up to, but don’t worry. You can sense its presence from early on.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green, who I did not recognize as the whiny boyfriend I hated so much in PROMETHEUS) and Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi, MILES AHEAD) are a couple invited to this other couple’s house out in the Hollywood Hills. It’s an awkward reunion for a close circle of friends who haven’t seen or heard from these party-givers in two years. There’s love and laughing and joking, but also weirdness with Eden (Tammy Blanchard, BLUE JASMINE)’s extra long hug of Will. And it starts to come out that not only are they exes, but their marriage ended because of a tragedy. They had a son who died in an accident right here at this house. (read the rest of this shit…)
Here we are, number eight in the impossible series. The one that started as cheesy car exploitation with surprising heart, and evolved into… the FAST AND THE FURIOUS series. The one that, I am happy to say, is still the longest running movie series that I like every installment of. (Second place is still DEATH WISH. I am now aware that RESIDENT EVIL comes close, but I don’t like the first one.)
That is not to say that it can sustain forever. But only because fossil fuels will eventually run out. Inevitably, there has been a slight downward arc in quality since the untoppable back-to-back peaking of FAST FIVE and FURIOUS 6, but part FATE is still an immensely entertaining chapter in the ongoing soap opera about friends who have been repeatedly swallowed and coughed up by the impossible, and filmmakers who have not yet run out of ways to go bigger and more ridiculous than last time. (Hint: car playing chicken with nuclear submarine.)
Ah, who am I fooling, there is no room for hints in this review. This is gonna be straight up SPOILERs throughout. I’ll write it so it makes sense to those who will foolishly avoid the movie and just read this, but my recommendation is obviously to go see the movie first. I will not be pussyfooting around about surprises. We’re gonna want to discuss them. (read the rest of this shit…)
I promise that tomorrow I’ll post my take on that one new movie, the most important movie of all time since Thursday. (It will be a spoiler-filled review so we can discuss all the business.) But today please allow me to shine the spotlight on this piece I did for the websight Thrillist about the best action movies of the modern age.
At first they approached me to do the greatest shootout scenes of all time. I felt unqualified and suggested this instead. During my research I found that at least a couple other major outlets have done a version of this subject and their choices have some overlap with mine, but I believe I discuss them in more depth than most people do. The assignment was a so-called listicle that is genuine analysis, not just clickbait.
If you’ve been a regular here for a while you won’t be surprised by most of my choices, but I really did put alot of work into it including rewatching some of the contenders and catching up on some things I had missed. I tried to make sure each entry addresses both the quality of the action and something more substantive about what makes the story or characters great.
My longer first draft said in the intro, “I know how this works. I fully expect you to scoff at some of my choices, snubs, and unscientific rankings. That is your duty as a free-thinking, list-reading movie lover.” So I encourge you to do that here. I have a hunch about certain exclusions that will be controversial, so I’m especially interested in what you guys would include on your lists that didn’t make mine.
Here’s the link:
Sometimes there’s a monumentally shitty day, both on a personal and on an international level, so you get a glass of whiskey and watch the new Shout Factory Blu-Ray of a John Stamos movie that friends have been recommending to you on VHS for years. In my case, this time, NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE (1986) did not cut all the way through my fog of negativity. I’m not sure if that means I just wasn’t in the right place emotionally to fully enjoy an amazing movie or if it kinda drags in the middle so it’s not quite as good as it sounds on paper. Won’t really matter, though, because once I describe it to you you would be stupid not to see it. I mean let’s be serious here.
It starts on top of a dam, where Gene Simmons, dressed as a woman, gives a big THE WARRIORS style speech to a gang of DRAGNET: THE MOVIE style punks. He dreams of poisoning the water supply and I guess he doesn’t have time to take over state government and defund the infrastructure in poor and minority areas like how it’s done now. But he almost had some kind of computer disk that was gonna allow him to do the poisoning through the dam or something (I never quite followed this part). So he has abducted some lady who knows where the disk is and he tortures her with one long fingernail while the gang chants “THE FINGER! THE FINGER! THE FINGER!”
(read the rest of this shit…)