"I must have missed 60 Minutes. What are you saying?"

Rocky

tn_rockyI bet ROCKY is one of these movies that’s become so famous, so iconic – it won best picture, it made a stairway famous, it inspired a statue, it has five sequels, now a spin-off, and catchy theme music that everyone knows, that’s used in a million parodies – that some of the young people figure they can already imagine what it is, they don’t bother to see it. In fact, maybe my bet should be with them over the outcome of the big fight at the end.

It opens with a small fight. “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) vs. Spider Rico (Pedro Lovell) inside a small church. They beat the pulp out of each other and then they’re laying in back, they get paid about sixty bucks between them, and are told the doctor will be there in about 20 minutes. And they’re not mad about it. That’s their life.

This is part of what makes the character of Rocky so appealing. He lives in a slum in a small apartment with taped up windows, he doesn’t own a car, his three best friends seem to be an asshole named Paulie (Burt Young, THE KILLER ELITE) and his two turtles Cuff and Link, who he bought while hitting on Paulie’s painfully-shy sister Adrian (Talia Shire, RAD), who works at a pet shop. He has to work as a collector for Mr. Gazzo (Joe MANIAC Spinell) but he’s not good at it because he feels sorry for the people. The gym owner Mick (Burgess Meredith, G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE) won’t talk to him and kicked him out of his locker to make room for a fighter he thinks might have a future. Rocky’s life is pretty shitty, but he rarely complains or mopes about it. He talks positively (if self-deprecatingly) and makes up terrible jokes to tell Adrian, to try to get her to say words to him. The people in his life, such as Adrian’s boss Gloria (Jane Marla Robbins, THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON) seem about 25% charmed by him and 75% annoyed. But that doesn’t stop him from talking their ears off, showing them wallet-sized clippings from his matches and telling them they shoulda seen it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Taking Lives

tn_takinglivesI don’t watch these twisty suspense thrillers too often, but they can be fun. I honestly don’t know what drew me to TAKING LIVES right now, but the only thing I knew about it other than that it stars BY THE SEA director Angelina Jolie is a really absurd thing that happens at the end that somebody told me about back when it came out. That turns out to be the best part of the movie, but I guess it’s okay I had it spoiled 11 years ago because otherwise I don’t think I would’ve watched it. There is no scenario where I see this fresh. It’s kind of like how I saw both SEVEN POUNDS and ORPHAN only because their plot twists sounded funny. Not that this is as good as those, but I enjoyed it okay.

Extra-hot-late-twenties Jolie plays Agent Illeanna Scott, an FBI profiler who has come to Canada to help Hugo Leclair (Tchéky Karyo), her mentor from Quantico, catch a serial killer. You know the drill: she’s totally brilliant, she has odd habits (like she lays inside a grave to get closer to the crime), she looks at gory photos while eating, she comes up with theories based on tiny details and everybody looks at her in either awe or fear. Olivier Martinez (BEFORE NIGHT FALLS) plays a cop who doesn’t trust or respect her, and he gets to be the bearer of that cliche that if you say something insulting in front of someone in another language thinking they don’t understand it then for sure they will play along and later say something to you in that language to reveal that they are fluent and then you will be embarrassed and not know what to say. (read the rest of this shit…)

Purple Rain

tn_purplerainbtisl“Ladies and gentlemen… The Revolution!”

Those are the first words spoken in PURPLE RAIN, and that dude knew what he was talking about. The 1984 rock ‘n roll landmark opens with a bravura 8-minute sequence in which Prince and the Revolution – playing a band called The Revolution led by a musical genius named The Kid – perform “Let’s Go Crazy” at the 1st Avenue & 7th Street Exit. That’s a legendary Minneapolis club that still exists but of course is most famous as the place where Prince got his start. This scene, and this whole movie for that matter, are amazing because they capture Prince at the very height of his genius and his cool, playing what is now known as one of the greatest albums ever, full of classic hit after classic hit… but he’s playing the underdog. At the time it was just “the PURPLE RAIN soundtrack,” released a month before the movie. He’s peak-Prince and yet in this story he’s not blowing away stadiums of religiously devoted fans, as he’d do in real life from that year to today. Instead he’s just one of the acts playing a medium sized club, and not even the favorite of club owner Billy Sparks. Billy says the Kid’s not bringing ’em in like he used to. He’s thinking of dumping him.

(Are you a fucking idiot? Are you hearing this song that he’s playing? What the fuck are you thinking?)

Throughout the song, director Albert Magnoli (STREET KNIGHT) and his co-editor Ken Robinson rhythmically cut in other elements to set the scene: face-painted clubgoers licking each other, chief rival Morris Day preparing to come in and play after him, rolling in with a long coat and driver/assistant Jerome. But this is the only time in the movie where we’ll see Morris’s humble home life. He gets ready in a small, cluttered apartment. Later he brags about a brass waterbed. He’s fronting. The movie is full of little sad details like this, because these are all the people “gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Bridge of Spies

tn_bridgeofspiesIt’s like a whole bridge full of spies. Or at least, there are a couple spies on this bridge. It’s the climax of the story, two countries meeting up one cold night to trade prisoners. I guess that’s where the title comes from.

Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, who is not a spy. He’s just a lawyer who, through luck, foresight and principles, ends up rescuing a downed American spy pilot in this true Cold War story.

When we first meet him Donovan seems far from an American hero. He’s an insurance company lawyer in a bar having an argument where he’s comparing motorcyclists run over by a truck to bowling pins. But when the Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance, BLITZ) is captured, somebody (Alan Alda) decides to give Donovan the shit job of defending him. What nobody expects is that he will take the job seriously.

They tell him he should defend Abel to show that America believes in giving everybody a fair trial. But of course none of these people want to actually give him a fair trial. They’re angry and confused when Donovan tries to, like, do his job. But his attitude is that if we’re gonna brag about what we stand for then we should put in the work to actually stand for that.

I gotta be honest, if I didn’t know this was a Steven Spielberg movie I would never have seen it. The trailers and the poster really make it look like a chore. You can picture the righteous speeches and triumphant music as a Regular Man stands up for noble ideals in court rooms and wintery period settings. And don’t get me wrong, this is a movie for grown ups. It is a 2 hour, 21 minutes drama starring Tom Hanks about the Cold War and the idea of America. That is true. But it’s way more fun than the trailers make it out to be. It’s not that dry, and it’s got plenty of laughs. It’s entertaining. It’s Spielberg. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Peanuts Movie

tn_peanutsTHE PEANUTS MOVIE is a 95% respectful and pure tribute to the American institution that is the comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz and its animated adaptations by director Bill Melendez (especially 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas and 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). With surprisingly little compromise or update it brings all the characters back to the screen in recognizable form. It doesn’t add new characters or celebrity voices or make them talk like smartass sitcom shitheads, or try to make some kind of meta commentary about what Peanuts represents, or give some origin story about how Charlie Brown got his dog or the first time he tried to kick a football, or some joke pointing out that it’s weird that he seems to only have one hair on the front of his head and two on the back… basically, it doesn’t do any of the one hundred dumbass things that you can guarantee almost any asshole who would make this movie would think was a good idea. Luckily, those assholes were busy trying to ruin The Muppets or something when this was made. (read the rest of this shit…)

Beatdown

tn_beatdownBEATDOWN is yet another movie to add to my list of formulaic underground fighting movies that I found pretty enjoyable. It’s produced by the company Tapout, and to be honest I don’t 100% know what Tapout is, but this definitely seems like a movie aimed at the people who wear their t-shirts. It’s about small town working class folks who drive gigantic pickup trucks and only care about cage fighting. They all have some sort of tragic past involving a dead and/or abusive parent, which they talk alot about. The soundtrack is all a type of rock music that makes me cringe with embarrassment, but I can acknowledge that it might sound good to the target audience. It’s a little weird though when a singer is wailing and grunting about “a wildfire in the streets” over a scene that takes place in a barn.

It’s the story of Brandon, a young underground fighter whose brother gets murdered and gangsters tell him he has a week to fulfill a $60,000 debt. There’s no way he can do that so he decides to get away from it all. He gets on his motorcycle, participates in a driving montage, and ends up at his dad (Danny Trejo)’s trailer in some hick town outside of Austin.

I’ve been systematically going through every movie of this type even if I know nothing about them or their stars. It took a bit before I realized that Brandon was played by Rudy Youngblood, the star of APOCALYPTO. Did you know he got an action vehicle after that? I like that. (read the rest of this shit…)

Top Gun

tn_topgunI’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve watched the whole TOP GUN since the ’80s. But I wasn’t too surprised to watch it and see the primordial matter that eventually crawled out and grew into the works of Michael Bay. It’s a mix of gorgeous sunsets, heat trails, fetishized military hardware, bosses played by grizzled character actors (Michael Ironside, Tom Skerritt, the principal guy from BACK TO THE FUTURE), sweaty foreheads, sunglasses, electric guitars, crisp uniforms, the glorification of glistening bodies (in this case mostly male, and good at volleyball), and profoundly unprofessional hot shot yahoos who are supposed to represent the best of the American best.

One difference: less spectacle. This is an impressively small story. For all its bluster this isn’t RED DAWN positing a communist invasion of America. This is about a guy involved in two small international incidents, basically just encounters between jets from opposing armies (nationality unspecified, but you fuckin know it’s Ivan Drago under that helmet). And though it has a reputation as a Navy recruiting film, since it famously worked as one, it’s not politically propagandistic. There’s nothing to make these “Bogies” evil. They’re just part of a system, people doing their job. They see American fighters where they’re not supposed to be, so they try to scare them off. The reverse of what happened in the opening. (read the rest of this shit…)

Magic Mike XXL

tn_mmxxlMAGIC MIKE XXL is a movie about a group of musclebound dudes going on a road trip together to enter a big competition. Along the way they pick up girls, get drunk, get high, meet new friends, reunite with old ones, repair old wounds, learn lessons, fall in love, get laid, confess vulnerabilities, get in a wreck, go to a hospital, all the things you would expect. And yet it feels one-of-a-kind in its attitude.

Like the first MAGIC MIKE this stars and was produced by Channing Tatum, inspired by his past as a “male entertainer,” or stripper, and written by his friend Reid Carolin. People don’t seem to remember this, but Tatum was kind of the co-lead of that first movie, trying to get out of the game while showing the ropes to The Kid (Alex Pettyfur), who ends up becoming a drug addict, turning the fun times into a cautionary bummer. I liked the movie but the sequel is significantly better for ditching The Kid and focusing on Mike taking a vacation from his designer furniture company to get in a food truck with the boys and take One Last Ride to Myrtle Beach.

The team is no longer led by Matthew McConaughey as Dallas. That sounded like a problem when the news first got out, but it’s actually an asset. With his character no longer there to absorb all your attention the movie gives way more shine to the other dancers, especially Joe Manganiello (SABOTAGE) as the towering, abrasive but large-hearted doofus Big Dick Richie, and Matt Bomer as the eyebrow plucking pretty boy Ken, who reveals a funny New Agey side. Like all of their eccentricities they tease him about it but also accept it. True friendship. (read the rest of this shit…)

Angel Town

tn_angeltown“Jacques, as long as I’ve known you you’ve been in deep shit. I expect this.”

Even though I have this weird feeling that French kickboxing champion turned VHS-era action icon Olivier Gruner doesn’t like me, I’m open to watching his movies. I actually didn’t realize while watching it that ANGEL TOWN was his debut, but it makes sense. This is his L.A. gang movie, which came out after COLORS but before BOYZ N THE HOOD or MENACE II SOCIETY (or New York movies like NEW JACK CITY and JUICE). And I’m not saying it’s as good as any of those, but it’s a fun b-action take on the subject, and it makes a decent argument for why Gruner should be in movies.

He plays Jacques, a Frenchman renting a room in a gang neighborhood while attending graduate school in East L.A. He ends up there because he gets into town late and all the student housing is filled up, but also we learn he was born in a French ghetto and lived in one in Hong Kong too. It’s not relevant, but I want to mention why he’s late to school: when he was about to leave he went to visit his father’s grave and then his girlfriend showed up distraught that he was leaving and she took off her fur coat and she was naked so he fucked her right there on his father’s grave. And that must’ve taken a couple days, I don’t know. (read the rest of this shit…)

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later

tn_H20Earlier this month when I reviewed HALLOWEEN II I wrote that it was “easily one of the best or the best HALLOWEEN sequel they made.” I was being a little cagey, saving it for today to reveal my opinion that the actual best sequel is 1998’s HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER. First I watched it again and verified that the verdict still stands now that we’re only a couple years away from being able to make HALLOWEEN H20-20: HALLOWEEN H20 TWENTY YEARS LATER. Also this time I learned that it plays even better when watched immediately after II.

It seems designed for that, because it begins with “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes, the same thing that played as Laurie rode off in the ambulance at the end of II. Unlike the other sequels it leaves Loomis dead after blowing himself up with Michael (Donald Pleasance had passed away by this point anyway). But Laurie isn’t the only major character to survive II: there was also Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), Loomis’s nurse colleague. That’s who Michael comes after first.

Marion’s still working as a nurse, and still chain smoking. She comes home to her house in a different Illinois suburb besides Haddonfield and finds it broken into. The police take their sweet time coming, but two neighbor boys (one played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, SHADOWBOXER, KILLSHOT, LINCOLN) keep her company while she waits. I like that because in HALLOWEEN Laurie tried to run to a neighbor’s house for help and they turned off the lights and wouldn’t answer the door. Marion does have helpful neighbors, but things don’t turn out any better.

Of course this is the opening kill scene, but it’s also a strategic move by Michael, who ransacks Marion’s office, searches her files and leaves an empty one labeled “Laurie Strode,” signaling that he’s figured out the whereabouts of his sister (a triumphantly returning Jamie Lee Curtis), last survivor of the Halloween Murders. She’s in California, working as headmistress at a boarding school attended by her 17 year old son John (introducing Josh Hartnett) under the assumed name Kari Tate. (read the rest of this shit…)