Do you guys know who Roxanne Shanté is? In the early days of hip hop, back when it was still pretty much just a New York thing, she was one of the greatest battle MCs. And she was also a 14-year old girl. Marley Marl, the producer behind Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Kool G Rap, and others, was her neighbor in the Queensbridge housing projects. The way she tells it, one day when she was going to do her laundry he yelled down to her from his window to ask if it was true she could rap, and would she come up and record some rhymes for him. When he played her the beat that had been sampled in UTFO’s hit “Roxanne Roxanne,” she says she freestyled about being the Roxanne in the song. Ten minutes later she went back to the laundry and forgot all about it until her friend called and told her it was playing on the radio. And then it became a phenomenon.
I never knew much about her or heard that story until she was on Ice-T’s podcast three years ago. I actually wonder if that interview gave writer/director Michael Larnell the idea to make a movie about her. Either way, a bunch of the details she mentioned to Ice ended up in the biopic ROXANNE ROXANNE, which played Sundance in January and was released direct to Netflix on Friday.
I think Shanté’s story is more natural for a movie than your usual superstar music biopic it was more neighborhood legend than media event. I know her voice and style and “Roxanne’s Revenge” and some of the responses it inspired from rival female MCs, like when UTFO came back with someone calling herself “The Real Roxanne” added to the payroll. But she’s not like Johnny Cash or someone where they’re wedded to depicting the creation of all the most famous songs and their climbs up the charts and a bunch of iconic moments that people would be mad if they skipped. And there’s not a bunch of footage we’ve all seen a million times and can’t help but compare it to. (read the rest of this shit…)
There have been two proud moments in my getting-close-to-20-years of writing about action movies when a truly special one appeared inconspicuously in the DTV market and I was the first person I’m aware of to point to it and say holy shit you guys, check this out. One was John Hyams’ UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION, which later gained attention from some of the more respectable critics thanks to its great and very arty followup UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING. The other is BLOOD AND BONE, directed by Ben Ramsey (LOVE AND A BULLET). I do think it has grown something of a following, but not the credit it deserves as a perfect showcase for an under-recognized star in peak form, or as a stone cold classic of its genre. Like another Michael-Jai-White-starring DTV favorite, UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING, BLOOD AND BONE isn’t even available on region A Blu-Ray. What the fuck, video industry? Too badass for hi-def?
The ten year anniversary of BLOOD AND BONE is coming up next year, so I’m giving the rights-holders and the gatekeepers a heads up. I want to see a cool, respectful collector’s edition Blu-Ray with added extras and a painted cover and shit. I want to see theatrical screenings. I am positive this will play great with audiences. Make it happen. A parade would be cool too, but that’s negotiable. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE CONTRACT is an animated tie-in to LOVE AND A BULLET. It’s easily the least essential part of the Ben Ramsey catalog, but its existence is what inspired me to revisit the other ones. I mean, people don’t usually know what I’m talking about if I mention LOVE AND A BULLET, so how is there a cartoon? I had to find out.
Well, it’s only 35 minutes long and its’ very crude, sub-television level animation. The credits say it was done by Elliott Animation, Inc., a Toronto based company founded by a former background painter from the Droids cartoon. They do all kinds of work for TV now – their main show seems to be Total Drama Island – but this was done as nine circa-early-2000s webisodes, so it’s Flash-type characters in front of pixelated backgrounds.
But it does have Treach and some of the other actors from the movie, making it seem much more legit. And it’s written by Ramsey and Kantz, so it has the same type of dialogue as the movie. In fact, the same dialogue in many cases! For some reason this is not a prequel or an additional Malik Bishop adventure, like what happens when he runs off with Mylene at the end. No, this is an abbreviated version of the same basic story told in a different, cheaper looking medium, with some of the same scenes, conversations and narration (re-recorded, I believe). (read the rest of this shit…)
LOVE AND A BULLET was one of the movies that made me believe in DTV when I reviewed it for The Ain’t It Cool News 16 years ago. I include that link only for historical purposes – it’s a poorly written review and I randomly refer to co-writer/co-director Kantz as a “clown.” I honestly didn’t mean anything by it, I just thought it was funny to have hostility toward some guy for no reason. It never occurred to me that the people I was writing about might read the reviews, and I hadn’t yet learned the lesson that shit like that can get you a wrestling challenge. Apologies to Kantz, whether or not he saw it. I have no reason to believe he is a clown.
At the time Ain’t It Cool had run a bunch of my reviews of movies I’d seen at SIFF, and a few at preview screenings, plus these DTV or DTVish ones I’d gotten VHS screeners of:
THE BIG HIT is a 1998 action-comedy with enough good qualities that I have a soft spot for it. Alot of the humor is too broad for me, but that’s okay. I saw it when it was in theaters, and returning to it 20 years later it’s interesting as a time capsule, a Polaroid of a specific moment in movie and pop culture history. It was a time when:
-New Kid On the Block brother, laughing stock rapper and underwear model Mark Wahlberg was suddenly a cool actor after having starred in BOOGIE NIGHTS the year before. This was his first movie released post-Dirk Diggler, but it had been shelved since 1996. At the time, most people still derisively called him Marky Mark. It’s so early in his career that he has a song on the end credits (“Don’t Sleep”).
-Hong Kong cinema had invaded Hollywood. John Woo had already done HARD TARGET,BROKEN ARROW and the Once a Thief tv show, Ringo Lam had done MAXIMUM RISK, Tsui Hark had done DOUBLE TEAM. Chow Yun Fat had starred in THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS, and Jet Li would soon be the villain in LETHAL WEAPON 4. So here we have Kirk Wong (director of CRIME STORY starring Jackie Chan) bringing a little bit of Hong Kong flair to the action in THE BIG HIT. Wahlberg practices on a kung fu dummy, and in his hidden weapons cache we see enough bladed weapons to stock a Shaw Brothers movie (plus a three-section-staff ala8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER).
“Very impressive. Though perhaps a bit excessive.”
–a quote from John Woo’s MANHUNT that I do not believe applies to the movie itself because the concept of excess does not exist in the Woo Zone
Welcome back to the Woo Zone, a dimension of violence and poetry, of bonding between enemies, of glorious slow motion badassness and tragic desecration of symbols of peace and redemption. When we’re not in the Zone, many of us have resigned ourselves to a world where John Woo is in the past, a face on Action Movie Mount Rushmore, but not a currently active artist. If that’s you, I am honored to bring you word of MANHUNT, Woo’s highly enjoyable new movie which has just been undeservedly sentenced to a Netflix dump in May. I saw it by buying a legitimate region A, English subtitled blu-ray from Yesasia.
The hype around this has been that it could be a return-to-form for the maestro, at last returning to contemporary-Hong-Kong-crime-action-male-bonding-with-doves after a detour into Hollywood studio movies (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, PAYCHECK) and then massive Chinese historical action (RED CLIFF). And that’s pretty much true. There are “good guys” and “bad guys” who gain respect for each other. There are a whole bunch of thrilling action sequences and guns used with artistic license. And I will definitely be telling you some things about the doves. There are some topnotch doves in this one. There’s also some dancing. Because Woo was once a dance instructor.
But Woo – despite throwing in a line of dialogue referencing the title of his breakthrough movie – doesn’t seem primarily interested in making a throwback to his own classics like THE KILLER and HARD BOILED. This is kind of his tribute to Japanese cinema. He made it to show his respect for recently deceased favorite actor Ken Takakura, who inspired Chow Yun-Fat’s style in A BETTER TOMORROW. It’s based on a book by Juko Nishimura that was made into a 1976 movie starring Takakura (not available on U.S. video – whatchya gonna do about that, Netflix?). Though some of the stars are Chinese it takes place in (and was filmed in) Osaka, Japan. (read the rest of this shit…)
An obscure kind of conspiracy: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is on a long list of the movies that I mention all the time in reviews and then when I go to add a link I realize that I’ve never officially written it up. It’s one of those classics that so much has been said about that it’s intimidating to even approach it. Seems presumptuous to think I might have something new to say about it.
It’s also a movie that I felt I had worn out at a certain point. I remember a Halloween some years back when I put it on and when it was over I felt I hadn’t gotten as much out of it as I used to, so I put it on hiatus. But now the Criterion Company has given us what could be the definitive release of the abused-by-public-domain film, which is as good an excuse as any to finally revisit the movie, discuss different aspects of it and see how its themes apply to these fucked up times we’re living in fifty years later. (read the rest of this shit…)
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is a 2017 samurai epic from director Takashi Miike. It’s his 100th film! Can you believe that shit? I haven’t gotten into his trademark pervert madman vibe in movies like ICHI THE KILLER, but nothing I’ve seen by him has been a slapdash Fred Olen Ray type affair. There is real effort and craft involved, and he’s made a few excellent samurai films. Instead of remaking an old school chanbara as with 13 ASSASSINS and HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI this one is adapting a manga that ran for about twenty years, so it’s less classically structured, more unwieldy, with supernatural elements and outrageous imagery (crazy face paint, strange weapons, goofy anime hair).
This aesthetic looks particularly cool in the stark black and white of the prologue, where we learn the bloody, convoluted origins of the titleistical immortal. As a young samurai, Manji (Takuya Kimura, Howl in HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE) was tricked into assassinating a whistleblower. He thought it would right things to kill the corrupt officials behind the scheme, but one was his little sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki, Mary in MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER)’s husband, and the grief drove her insane. (read the rest of this shit…)
In ANNIHILATION, the sophomore directorial work of Alex Garland (EX_MACHINA, also author of The Beach and screenwriter of 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, NEVER LET ME GO and DREDD), Natalie Portman (LEON THE PROFESSIONAL) takes a journey into the heart of weirdness. Her character Lena is a cell-loving ex-Army biology professor at Johns Hopkins University (also the alma mater of Gil Scott-Heron, Wes Craven and Wolf Blitzer) whose presumed-K.I.A. husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, SUCKER PUNCH, THE NATIVITY STORY) suddenly shows up alive and odd and unable to explain anything. Sort of like the also mourning Amy Adams character in the also brainy-adapted-from-an-acclaimed-novel-sci-fi-movie ARRIVAL, she’s taken to a site (Area X) where soldiers and scientists face an unexplained, unprecedented phenomenon. In this case it’s not a spaceship but a sort of slowly expanding spectral bubble they call “The Shimmer” that surrounds a chunk of land and no one who has entered it has ever come back out. Until Kane. (read the rest of this shit…)
“Are you mental, brov? She just bashed a man’s skull in. It’s a fuckin devil woman, brov! I don’t want none of it!”
You’ve seen me rave about the martial artist Amy Johnston, her movie LADY BLOODFIGHT, and her supporting role in ACCIDENT MAN. This is her other starring vehicle which going by the order of the IMDb listings, she must’ve filmed shortly before was filmed a while after LADY BLOODFIGHT (both have a 2016 release date). There are many ways it’s not as good as the other movie, which I’ll get into, but I think I loved it almost as much. It has tons of DTV personality and probly the best showcase of Johnston’s acting skills so far.
The DVD I bought calls it FEMALE FIGHT SQUAD, but it seems to have started life as FEMALE FIGHT CLUB. I’m guessing they didn’t want people to go in expecting a FIGHT CLUB remake with Kristen Wiig as Narrator and Melissa McCarthy as Tyler Durden. They’d be disappointed.
The director is Miguel Ferrer (no relation), who has otherwise just done a bunch of shorts. He co-wrote it with Anastazja Davis (DISCONNECTED).
Johnston plays Becca, who’s hit a rough stretch of road. On one hand her dad is Dolph Lundgren – that’s awesome. On the other hand he’s in prison for killing some dudes. We know she’s tough because of a flash-forward to “the final round of the bi-annual free-fighting championships,” where she’s introduced as “a myth, an urban legend, right here before your very own eyes: Bex ‘The Beast’ Holt!” But also we know she’s sweet, because she works at a dog shelter, saving money for her dream of moving to Africa and working for some kind of wildlife preserve there (see: theory of badass juxtaposition). (read the rest of this shit…)