THE ASSIGNMENT is Walter Hill’s weird new pariah of a movie, a Tale From the Crypt without a Keeper, based on a gimmick that was too challenging to execute properly, even ignoring the current touchiness of the subject matter. It’s much more interesting than good, more of a great acting challenge for Michelle Rodriguez (AVATAR) than a successful vehicle for her talents. Nice try, though.
Here’s what it’s about: ruthless hitman Frank Kitchen is just doing his thing one day, ruthless hitmanning, when he gets jumped and knocked unconscious and later he mysteriously wakes up in a hotel room with a woman’s body. Not, like, in bed with a dead woman. Like, he looks down and he has female genitalia. (read the rest of this shit…)
There are some things too powerful, too uncontrollable, too dangerous to play around with. Ancient, vanquished forces brought back to life in a world they were never meant for, doomed to fulfill prophecies of disaster. In this case, I’m talking about the 85-year-old Universal Monsters franchise properties, resurrected once more using the fearsome occult invocation “SHARED UNIVERSE REBOOT.”
Of course, most people don’t see this summer’s THE MUMMY as a remake of the 1932 film starring Boris Karloff in a fez, which is in my opinion the least memorable of the Universal Monster introductions. No, they see it as a remake of Stephen Sommers’ frantic, rhythmless action-adventure version from 1999, and they’re not really wrong. This one borrows the idea of a globetrotting adventurer hero, capable but fallible, who teams with a “funny” sidekick and a strong-willed female antiquities expert who he bickers with while exploring some tombs and accidentally unleashes an evil ancient Egyptian royal who has magic powers and a tragic backstory and at one point appears as a giant face in a sandstorm.
But it’s a contemporary version, not only because it takes place in the present day, but because by its imagery and content you can tell it was made after the J-horror wave, and the zombie wave, and James Wan, and years of conflict in Iraq, and most notably THE AVENGERS. So the mummy is pursued not only by our hero Nick Morton (Tom Cruise, THE LAST SAMURAI), but by a secret monster-studying militia called Prodigium, led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS). (read the rest of this shit…)
When we look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will turn 70 next month, we can’t help but remember the 20 year old Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger, or the thirty-something CONAN THE BARBARIAN Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he fearlessly shows an aging, sagging ass and chest getting out of the shower in his new drama AFTERMATH, my mind couldn’t help but flash to his naked arrival in THE TERMINATOR thirty-some years ago. These days he looks like a muscular old dude, but not a machine from the future’s overblown idea of the perfect human body, and there are many people who don’t want to see their action heroes face the inevitability of getting old. They shame him for not permanently retaining his own unattainable body standard. They make hacky jokes about geriatric Expendables and Terminators in nursing homes.
Fuck ’em. They’re wrong. Arnold in his late ’60s is still Ah-nold, but now with a little Charles Bronson, a little Clint Eastwood, a little former governor of California who’s paying for his mistakes but making the best of it. I like his old man action movies, especially SABOTAGE, and I hope he doesn’t give up on them. If there was a constitutional amendment that allowed him to run for president my main concern would be that we wouldn’t get any more of those. But I’m also impressed that he’s doing small dramas like AFTERMATH and MAGGIE, where he shows that yes, a guy with muscles and a thick accent can still do a very good, very emotional acting performance. (read the rest of this shit…)
BATMAN & ROBIN is 20 years cold, and CHILLED TO PERFECTION!
“There’s nobody else to blame but me. I could have said, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’ I just hope whenever I see a list of the worst movies ever made, we’re not on it. I didn’t do a good job. George did. Chris did. Uma is brilliant in it. Arnold is Arnold.” –Joel Schumacher to Variety, 2014
It was June 20, 1997, and I thought BATMAN & ROBIN was the stupidest, most tasteless, worst big budget movie ever made. After the wholesale awfulness of BATMAN FOREVER went over well with audiences willing to sanction its buffoonery, Warner Brothers allowed director Joel Schumacher to go full Schumacher for the next one. It’s the same admirable, director-friendly approach that led to Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS, and the bean counters would come to regret it once again. Schumacher’s purest artistic vision is like the aftermath of a rainbow sherbet fight in the costume storage warehouse for an ice skating troupe. He keeps the moody Elliot Goldenthal score and themes of mourning and vengeance, but buries them in a day-glo fantasia of overacting, bad puns, fetishistic rubber costumes and theme park stunt show style super hero battles. For me it became Exhibit A in any argument against the “It’s Not Supposed To Be Shakespeare/Check Your Brain At the Door” school of summer blockbuster permissiveness.
I wasn’t wrong. But twenty years later to the day, after many truly great summer movies, some of them even starring Batman, it’s easier for me to appreciate the uniqueness of BATMAN & ROBIN – the outrageously tacky designs, the subversively in-your-face homoeroticism, the laugh-out-loud ludicrousness of the plot and dialogue and settings and action, and especially the spectacle of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bulky metal costume and glittery blue makeup as Mr. Freeze, playing like a simultaneous parody of over-the-top Batman villains, blockbuster excess and his own penchant for groan-worthy one-liners. He makes more than two dozen ice or cold related cracks without losing his boyish, gap-toothed Arnold charm.
Today I am prepared to admit that I own BATMAN & ROBIN on Blu-Ray. And have watched it twice in that format. And on purpose.
It was July 19, 1996, and there were four new movies in theaters: the action movie with Laurence Fishburne, the genie movie with Shaquille O’Neal, the clone movie with Michael Keaton, and the ghost movie with Michael J. Fox. That last one did the best of the batch, but more people went to see previous releases INDEPENDENCE DAY, PHENOMENON, COURAGE UNDER FIRE and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR.
Not that surprising. Normal people didn’t know what the hell THE FRIGHTENERS was, or have any reason to give it much thought. Universal couldn’t make that big a deal about BACK TO THE FUTURE’s Marty McFly reuniting with Robert Zemeckis (as a producer) because it’s not that kind of movie. Whiz bang special effects movie, yeah, but rated-R, with some grossness and disturbing flashbacks to a realistic spree killing. Like the one we looked at last week, WOLF, there was no McDonalds tie-in (although the skeletal face imprint on the movie poster would’ve looked cool coming out of the side of those glass mugs!). (read the rest of this shit…)
Okay, this one is not a Summer Fling with a McDonalds tie-in. It’s more like a prestige horror film for grownups that didn’t make much of an impact despite its pedigree. It’s Mike Nichols (WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?) doing a serious and/or metaphorical monster movie, reuniting THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK‘s Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, both at new career heights thanks to Tim Burton BATMAN movies. The score is by Ennio Morricone – more of a minimalistic one than he usually does, and very important to the tone of the movie. The cinematographer is Giuseppe Rotunno (FELLINI SATYRICON, AMARCORD, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN).
Like one other serious grown up horror movie that I know of, WOLF opens with Jack Nicholson driving down snowy roads. But it’s night and he’s by himself and he has to stop because he hits a wolf. He experiences that common horror movie experience of “Do I have to put it out of its misery?” before a very effective “oh shit Jack don’t do that!” as he grabs the thing by the paws and tries to drag it out of the street. So anyway, yeah, he gets bit. (read the rest of this shit…)
The Flintstones are an example of a pop culture phenomenon that’s long past its relevance, but it’s so simple and recognizable that it lingers like a ghost in the public memory. Or like a fossil! As the first prime time cartoon, it originally aired between 1960 and 1966, but more than half a century later – whether because of the spin-offs and TV movies, the vitamins and cereals, or just cultural omnipresence – almost any American could identify the show on sight.
That doesn’t mean they’ve given it much thought, though, because there’s not much to chew on here. I know I watched it for some period of my life, but couldn’t point to a favorite episode, or even a specific one. There are different stories, technically, but the joke doesn’t really go beyond “what if there was a Honeymooners type family sitcom, but with cave men?,” and with the gimmick that modern lifestyles and technology (cars, drive-in theaters, kitchen appliances) exist, crudely constructed out of rocks, bones, wood, animal skins, and talking, subservient prehistoric animals. The plots reflect the same middle class concerns as a normal show would – trying to keep your job to pay for the house, trying to make your wife not mad that you spend too much time out with your buddies – but mostly it’s that one anachronistic joke of “the modern stone age family.” It’s humor with one wink and a whole lot of taken-for-granted cartoonist ingenuity. (read the rest of this shit…)
We got a few super heroes in this series, but THE METEOR MAN is the first original one. I mean “original” as in appearing here for the first time, not as in distinctive and unique. This is a comedy(ish) by Robert Townsend, so it’s basically “what if a regular guy became a super hero?,” which means intentionally generic super power/vigilante tropes, sometimes setting up jokes, but not always. In fact the opening credits have no comedy at all. It starts with Cliff Eidelman’s STAR WARS-esque scoring and a special effects sequence of a meteor exploding as the title flies at us ala SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE.
After that it pretty much looks and feels like a comedy, but it’s mostly serious in its story about a guy wanting to protect his neighborhood from a gang.
The guy is Jefferson Reed, wimpy Washington DC substitute teacher and, because this is a couple years after MO’ BETTER BLUES, member of “the baddest jazz trio in DC.” So they mention Wynton Marsalis a couple times, he has white suits, musical note pajamas and jazz memorabilia, and he tries to trade records with his neighbor Mr. Moses (James Earl Jones, BEST OF THE BEST), but we never actually see him play his bass (rip off).
Dan Aykroyd was the mastermind behind two of the most beloved comedies of the ’80s: THE BLUES BROTHERS (possibly my favorite comedy of all time) and GHOSTBUSTERS (male version), so what could be more of a no-brainer than to have him turn his most famous Saturday Night Live sketch into a movie?
Like GHOSTBUSTERS, CONEHEADS teams him with an ensemble of great comedic talents from SNL and elsewhere to build on a comedy premise about an intersection between the regular world and a fantastical one. Instead of a supernatural element it’s an extra-terrestrial one. The Coneheads are an alien couple who crash their Remulakian space cruiser outside New York and while waiting for extraction decide to live as earthlings, first in a motorhome, then in the New Jersey suburbs, raising a daughter, owning a house, golfing, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)
BLACK ROSE is a competently made, very formulaic movie about police trying to stop a serial killer who has been murdering immigrant women, leaving a black rose and a Russian-language note on each body. When the LAPD can’t seem to crack it they call in a specialist from Moscow, Vladimir Kazatov (Alexander Nevsky, MOSCOW HEAT), an ex-special forces cop getting the Chris-Tucker-in-RUSH-HOUR treatment from his bosses for his aggressive handling of a bank robbery (led by I COME IN PEACE alien Matthias Hues).
Actually, that’s one of the best parts. After strutting in with shades and no gun (electric guitars praising him on the score by Sean Murray [SCORPION]) he fails to talk them down, so he goes back outside, crashes a car through the window and shoots them all. Luckily no hostages are harmed.
In L.A. he buddies up with Detective Emily Smith (Kristanna Loken, TERMINATOR 3, MERCENARIES), and they have the usual getting-to-know-you cultural exchange. She mocks his Russian food, talks up American hamburgers, explains what a Valley Girl is, etc. Then she finds out his last partner died but he won’t talk about it but then they get close and they talk about it and they fight and make up and all that. (read the rest of this shit…)