A few weeks ago at the Seattle International Film Festival I saw THE BODYGUARD, or MY BELOVED BODYGUARD as it’s currently listed on IMDb. It’s the new Sammo Hung vehicle, and his first time directing since ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA AND AMERICA in 1997. That’s a long fucking time! I didn’t realize it had been that long, but it was still thrilling to see the credit “Director and Action Director: Sammo Hung” not only splashed across a big screen, but in front of a sold out crowd. Unfortunately I can’t say the movie fulfilled the promise of those words.
Hung plays Ding, who we hear through both expository dialogue and seemingly-third-person narration was an elite agent in the Hong Kong equivalent of the Secret Service. He recently witnessed a gang murder and might’ve put a major gang figure away, but in the lineup he couldn’t remember him because “We think he has dementia.” (I feel like there might’ve been a more dramatic way to reveal that information than to just have a cop say it in the opening scene.)
There’s a little Clint Eastwood in the movie’s quiet, gentle portrait of Ding’s lonely life fending off advances from his landlord (Qinqin Li) and mourning his relationship with his daughter, who won’t speak to him because he lost her daughter (to a child murderer?) when he was supposed to be watching her. It’s never fully explained, but seems doubly tragic because we can assume his condition played a part in what happened, but his daughter seems to blame it on him just being a piece of shit.
(read the rest of this shit…)
As a guy specializing in writing about action movies, sometimes I worry I’m documenting an ancient art form. I romanticize a time when action movies were a rite of passage, a father-son bonding tradition and a major passion for many young people, especially males, but it seems like the youth of today aren’t necessarily interested in this shit. And if they don’t grow up on it then they’re never gonna have that moment when they get a little older and become aware of the other powerful strains of it from around the world.
That makes me sad because whatever they’re watching instead cannot possibly match the rush of joy I got when I saw my first John Woo movie – which was THE KILLER – or each time I revisit his classics now. At the time there was nothing else like it. Somehow that seems even more true today.
The things that are greatest about THE KILLER might be the things that would seem silliest to younger people: the unabashed style and the the unbridled, unironic emotion. I remember people who came up a few years after the era when Hong Kong action cinema was the coolest thing going – people who are old and decrepit now – who would make jokes about John Woo’s doves. “Ha ha, two pistols, and some doves, am I right? Ha ha, I know about a trademark, I have defeated him.”
Well, THE KILLER is gonna be way too much for anybody like that. And maybe I gotta face that they just don’t deserve THE KILLER. The cards are laid on the table in the opening, when Chow Yun-Fat as Ah Jong (or “Jeff Chow,” according to the credits) meets with his Triad manager Fung Sei (Paul Chu Kong) in an empty church at night. That happens in all action movies, but this church is lit with what must be a thousand candles, and there are doves and pigeons flying around, landing on the cross. (read the rest of this shit…)
You know what they say about people who work in movies as some job other than director: they really want to direct. It happens to actors, it happens to writers, it happens to Mel Gibson’s hairdresser who directed PAPARAZZI. It also happens to special effects makeup artists. Tom Savini directed the quite good NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake. Stan Winston directed PUMPKINHEAD and A GNOME NAMED GNORM and Michael Jackson’s GHOSTS. John Carl Buechler directed TROLL and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII and a bunch of other stuff. Kevin Yagher (partially) directed HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE. Of all these, the weirdest is the one that Tom Burman did, MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS.
Maybe Burman isn’t as well known as some of those other guys. In recent years his work has been on hospital-set TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Chicago Hope, Nip/Tuck. Good work if you can get it. But he’s been in the business since the ’70s, creating the titular heads of THE THING WITH TWO HEADS, doing makeup for FROGS, THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF, THE FOOD OF THE GODS, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and the Wookiees in The Star Wars Holiday Special. His work spans from classic gore moments (MY BLOODY VALENTINE, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, HALLOWEEN III) to werewolves (TEEN WOLF) to fantasy (SCROOGED) to action movies (DIE HARD 2, THE LAST ACTION HERO, CON AIR). He worked on Sloth in THE GOONIES, the monster in HOWARD THE DUCK and the Supreme Leader in CAPTAIN EO.
But in the late ’80s he decided to make his own movie to exercise and showcase the skills of The Burman Studios, the company he ran with his sons Barney and Rob. I remember it was on the cover of Fangoria under the title LIFE ON THE EDGE, and that might be the only reason I was aware of it. (read the rest of this shit…)
UPDATE: King Newbs kindly transcribed this for me. Scroll to the end if you need a readable version.
(read the rest of this shit…)
6/22 UPDATE: I am hearing that unfortunately Craig Baxley and Cynthia Rothrock will not be able to attend. However Don “The Dragon” Wilson will.
If you haven’t heard yet, I (Vern) am emerging from my spiderhole again for my second ever public appearance, a book signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank at 2 pm on Sunday, June 26th. This time it’s not all about me (or Seagal) though, I’m there to support my friend david j. moore and his gigantic new action movie compendium THE GOOD THE TOUGH & THE DEADLY: Action Movies & Stars 1960s – Present, which I made a very small and humble contribution to.
But that’s not all! I am told there will be a whole bunch of icons from the type of b-action movies we love in attendance as well. Like david’s post-apocalyptic movie book WORLD GONE WILD, this one has over 1,000 capsule reviews (five by me, I believe, which is how I got into this mess) and david’s interviews with a who’s who of action stars, directors, writers, stuntmen, etc. Some of them will be there with us to sign the book.
INCLUDING MR. CRAIG R. BAXLEY, DIRECTOR OF SOME OF MY VERY FAVORITE MOVIES.
Here’s the full list via david: (read the rest of this shit…)
a.k.a. “The VVitch: A New England Folk Tale,” as it said on the actual movie
Our beliefs on horror movies are very dear and personal to us. We were indoctrinated into them as children, performing rituals both in groups and in private. Though horror fans often think of themselves as one big group, different factions draw from different traditions. Some are strictly isolationist, while many draw from the Italians, or the Japanese, or even the French. Some have an Amish-like devotion to a specific bygone era, for example the Orthodox ’80s Slashists not only refuse to acknowledge the reformations of the SCREAM era, they don’t even believe in Blu-Ray.
There are many dogmas to adhere to or ignore. Some oppose jump scares, others welcome them to the flock. Many exalt franchise horror, but some consider sequeling a sin. Most oppose new remakes, but who doesn’t at least like THE THING? There is a wide spectrum, from those who seek the gore and transgression of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and GUINEA PIG to those who believe the best scares are always left to the imagination (of the viewer, not the filmmaker). In the middle are many who spent a few years fretting about “torture porn” and its hold on the genre. Or PG-13 teen horror. Or studio horror with big name actors. Or whatever.
Since the ’80s, horror has been both a highly specialized world for fangorian aficionados and a go-to market for squeezing quick bucks out of undiscerning young people. Therefore it should be no surprise that movies like THE WITCH that take a mood-heavy, narrative-light arthouse type of approach can be praised to the sky by critics and horror media, then called “the worst movie ever” by normal people who expect something different when they go to a horror movie. That they will get mad at the people who said it was good, and accuse them of thinking they’re stupid, which will then make them think they’re stupid. Lots of finger pointing. We could be moving toward burning and drowning. (read the rest of this shit…)
The opening of WARCRAFT seems promising. A booted foot steps over a skull. The camera arcs up dramatically to show an elaborately armored warrior picking up a shield and sword, stepping into a clearing for a duel. And then we see the guy he’s fighting. He is an orc. That means he’s a motion capture or animated type monster character who is like 8 or 9 feet tall with saber teeth, giant muscles, fists as big as your head, fingers that even seem too big for him, even though he’s a giant. A voice is narrating about the war between the humans and the orcs, but it’s a deep, distorted voice, because it’s not the human talking to us, it’s the orc.
In the next scene, the orc is laying next to his very pregnant wife, talking about their plans, what they will name the baby. She teases him about him having a big head. They laugh at each other. This is a fantasy adventure movie and minutes in we have a monster couple being intimate and loving! It’s like CLASH OF THE TITANS meets the end of FARGO when Marge and Norm are in bed talking about the painting he’s doing for the stamp.
This is why I came to this. A fantasy movie but from a monster perspective. This is beautiful! So as the metal letters of the logo float at me in 3D I am as excited as the nerds who cheered when the trailers started and one guy yelled “FOR THE HORDE!,” and went on to surprise me by gasping and clapping for the I-thought-unimpressive ASSASSIN’S CREED trailer.
Then the next scene is about some humans, standard issue guys in armor standing in castles talking about shit, and they are not as interesting as those orcs. But it continues to be about them for a while. And a while longer. And eventually you realize that the movie is gonna mostly about them. It’s like one of those movies about the civil rights movement or apartheid or something but they have a white guy as the main character. They don’t think non-orc audiences can relate to an orc protagonist. (read the rest of this shit…)
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI is Michael Bay’s movie about the deadly September 11th, 2012 attacks on the American consulate and CIA outpost in Benghazi, Libya. That sounds like a terrible joke – one of Hollywood’s most bombastic, least thoughtful directors tackling a recent (and highly politicized) tragedy. And I’m not totally sure whether he’s thinking of this more like a cool action movie or his version of a BLACK HAWK DOWN/ZERO DARK THIRTY. (I’d guess the second one.) But I have to say he did a better job than I thought he would.
John Krasinski (JARHEAD) plays Jack Silva, a former Navy SEAL hired to help out a small group of special ops guys working at a secret CIA base in Benghazi to snatch up grenade launchers and other weapons floating toward the black market after the fall of Gaddafi. Five weeks after he gets there the consulate about a mile away is attacked by a mob of militants, and Jack and friends want to help. And sort of feel like they have to, because there’s no one else to do it.
The appeal to Bay, and of the movie, is the portrayal of these soldiers, their professionalism and heroism, their drive to use their unique skills in a hugely uphill battle, even when they’re (according to the movie) told to stay out of it. From THE ROCK to the TRANSFORMERSes, Bay has always had a fascination with these types of elite soldiers. He’s good at casting big, manly looking dudes and having them throw out the lingo and sling the hardware around and seem like they’ve been doing the job forever. Krasinski is buffed up (he has one scene to really showcase his six pack) and everybody has a shaggy beard and a sweaty forehead, of course. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE GIFT is a domestic stalker thriller that seems very familiar from the outset. Happy successful white couple Simon (Jason Bateman, SMOKIN’ ACES) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall, THE TOWN) buy a beautiful new house in a lovely new suburb. Simon has a promising job and possible Big Promotion. They’re trying to have a baby. They quickly make new friends at work and in the neighborhood and have those sophisticated adult dinner parties with the wine and what not that I have seen in movies but am not invited to. They have a dog.
And at the store they run into a guy Simon knew way back in high school. Joel Edgerton (WARRIOR) plays Gordon Moseley, a.k.a. Gordo, a.k.a. Gordo the Weirdo. Simon says he barely knew him, but the guy seems nice enough and anxious to welcome them to town (even if it’s weird that he shows up at their house with too many gifts) and they invite him over for dinner. And he keeps wanting to be their best friend. It’s awkward, but harmless. OR IS IT?
(Harmless I mean. There is no question that it’s awkward.) (read the rest of this shit…)