In MARTIAL LAW II: UNDERCOVER, our hero Sean “Martial Law” Thompson from the movie MARTIAL LAW has gone so far undercover that he doesn’t even look like Chad McQueen anymore, he looks like Jeff Wincott (MISSION OF JUSTICE). But he’s still with his cop girlfriend Billie Blake (Cynthia Rothrock) and he still opens the movie by stopping some bad guys while in disguise. Last time he was a pizza delivery guy stopping a hostage situation during a jewelry store robbery, this time he pretends to be a confused homeless guy and interrupts some bikers making an arms deal.
In case you forgot, he’s called Martial Law because he is a lawman who does martial arts. In fact he does so many martial arts that this time he gets a credits sequence where he’s silhouetted doing katas in front of flags while smooth jazz plays. He just made detective, but he gets transferred to another city to start a martial arts training program for the police there. He and Billie have the kind of relationship where that’s okay, you can just move away and it’ll be okay, no discussion necessary. (read the rest of this shit…)
The first DELTA FORCE movie, directed by Menahem Golan, seemed like it was trying to be a prestige Chuck Norris movie. You got Lee Marvin, Bo Svenson, Robert Forster and Steve James in the cast, but also Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, George Kennedy, Susan Strasberg and Shelley Winters. There’s a long section in the middle that has no Chuck Norris at all and is based on a real life hijacking incident.
But DELTA FORCE 2 (arguably subtitled THE COLOMBIAN CONNECTION) is directed by Chuck’s brother Aaron and it’s pretty straightforward about just being about Chuck’s character Colonel Scott McCoy going around being more awesome than everybody else. He’s introduced having dinner with his friend Major Bobby Chavez (Paul Perri, MANHUNTER) when three punk rockers cause a scene elsewhere in the restaurant, so he excuses himself to go beat them up. He says he likes the food and slams a guy’s face into a plate of rice in a possible homage to a way better part 2, A BETTER TOMORROW 2.
The villain is the straight up blatantly evil South American drug lord Ramon Cota (Billy Drago). We know he doesn’t have a human soul because he goes to visit the coca fields where poor villagers are forced to work and he immediately gets angry that one of them (Begonya Plaza, HEAT, ‘R XMAS) is tending to her baby instead of the plants. He has his men take away the baby and stabs the father right in front of her.
Damn, I never see these things coming. I sat down tonight to work on some writing and stumbled across the news that a favorite director has passed away today.
Before he directed the dirty, disgusting LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, Wes Craven was a college professor, and I’ve alway thought that made sense. To listen to him in interviews and commentaries he always seemed like the most thoughtful and literary-minded of the horror directors. He was interested in primal fears and ancient myths and where those intersect with modern lives. By directing SCREAM (from the screenplay by Kevin Williamson) he accidentally kicked off the meta era of horror, but I always felt he’d gotten there earlier in his own WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, where he made the played-out no-longer-scary-ness of his own creation, Freddy Krueger, part of the mythology. In that one the ELM STREET movies were just that – movies – but they were also an important tool of humanity because they could keep at bay the primordial force that inspired the character. The real Freddy.
Think about this. In 1972 Craven directed LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which helped kick off the slasher cycle of horror. In 1984 he directed A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, which started the supernatural slasher movies, and the ’80s era of slasher movie icons. Basically, Freddy became the Hulk Hogan of horror. (Even down to the racism, ’cause he said something pretty foul in FREDDY VS. JASON.) And think of what the Elm Street series meant for special effects makeup, with all those gooey, one-upping dream sequences they came up with each time. That’s why I was always a Freddy guy. I was into all that latex and crazy transformations and shit. (read the rest of this shit…)
According to Wikipedia, August and September are considered “dump months,” “when there are lowered commercial and critical expectations for most new releases.” And it has long been conventional wisdom that August is a crappy month for movies, when all the worst summer shit gets squirted out so the studios can be rid of it.
“For moviegoers, August also represents the nadir of Hollywood’s output each year,” writes Chris Hicks of Deseret News, summing up the belief of everybody else and everybody else’s uncle. Back in 2008, Vulture even did a study called “The August Movie: A Theory of Awfulness” which calculated that “the studios have put out 169 lousy movies in the past fifteen Augusts, and merely 26 halfway-decent ones.”
Release patterns have been changing in the years since, and few will deny the success and quality of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, or that it’s starting to become part of the Oscar season (best picture winners and contenders including ARGO, BIRDMAN, 12 YEARS A SLAVE and GRAVITY have come out in August). Last year Josh Rottenberg of the L.A. Times wondered “Is August no longer filled with Hollywood’s dog days?”
But I’m here to tell you that August was always a month full of promise. Sure, pre-GUARDIANS a studio wasn’t about to release a potential blockbuster smash at the end of the summer. But it’s a good spot for things that are a little more interesting, that they think might have potential but are maybe not for mainstream people. In fact, that’s my favorite type of movie. If you look at that Vulture study you can see that it’s based on an elitist mindset that dismisses movies on the basis of being lowbrow genre movies, even if they’re high watermarks for us. Their alleged 169 “lousy” movies included action pictures we love like HARD TARGET, DESPERADO and BLADE. And even a best picture nominee and universally beloved classic like BABE is only allowed to be “halfway-decent.” (read the rest of this shit…)
There’s a precedent for people who star in low budget movies just to help a buddy out but then keep acting and end up with big careers almost by accident. Bruce Campbell in THE EVIL DEAD, for example. Or Owen and Luke Wilson in BOTTLE ROCKET. You could even say Sharlto Copley, a filmmaker who Neil Blomkamp wanted to put in DISTRICT 9, and the next thing you know he’s a member of the A-Team!
So it’s not surprising that Robert Rodriguez’s buddy and co-producer Carlos Gallardo’s starring role in EL MARIACHI wasn’t his last. Sure, he was replaced by Antonio Banderas in the sequel (and knocked down to a smaller role), but in 1998 he got to play another title character in the mostly-English-language Mexican production BRAVO. This time he’s not a regular guy, he’s “best of the best” Mexican Secret Service agent Carlos Bravo, who’s secretly in love with the president’s daughter. (Don’t worry, she’s an adult.) Rather than guitar he plays pretty violin music for her (badass juxtaposition).
But when the daughter is spotted sneaking out of Bravo’s room he gets fired. Luckily he has his leather jacket there and his hog parked at the front door, so he’s able to drive off into a new life. (read the rest of this shit…)
DESPERADO is my favorite Robert Rodriguez movie. People will always say the scrappy, home-made, subtitled EL MARIACHI is better, and a strong argument could be made for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, with its Tarantino script and movie-star-making performance by George Clooney. But to me DESPERADO is his purest expression, the full enthusiasm of a young, hungry Hollywood rookie high on spaghetti westerns, John Woo and what his new friend QT was up to, fired into a full-blooded action movie uniquely based in Mexican culture.
The Tarantino influence shows in the talky opening with Steve Buscemi as the Mariachi’s hype man/street team, loudly telling tall tales about him in a bar, and in the scene where Tarantino himself plays a criminal telling a long-winded joke about peeing. But otherwise this has an identity very different from the wave of ’90s crime films, one that’s more visual and musical. He uses lots of slo-mo and dissolve edits working in tandem with a driving Latin rock score by Los Lobos. This is just one example of how the fresh Hollywood hotshot used his newfound resources while insisting on doing it his way. Another is the casting of the leads. (read the rest of this shit…)
When Robert Rodriguez made EL MARIACHI in 1992 he was just some regular 23-year-old dude from Texas. He didn’t think he was ready to make a grab for his Hollywood dreams yet. He had no idea he would catch the attention of the Weinsteins, ride the wave of mainstream indie movies of the ’90s and eventually have his own cable channel and a mini-studio where he makes wide release movies without having to get out of bed.
Though most anyone would consider EL MARIACHI superior to most or all of Rodriguez’s modern output, at the time he didn’t even consider it a real movie. He only set out to make the first in a trilogy of practice movies to get him ready to make his first for real one. His original plan was to sell it to the Mexican DTV action market to get enough to make the next one. It wasn’t a cynical Asylum-type “this crap should be good enough for them” attitude, though, it was more like youthful bluster. I can’t compete with JURASSIC PARK, but I can compete with these movies. I can do better!
He came to L.A. to sell it to a Spanish-language video company, but they took too long sealing the deal and meanwhile he got signed to a major talent agency who sent it around to real studios and got him a deal at Columbia. His hope was to get a real budget to do a remake. When he realized they wanted to release it pretty much as-is he tried to stop them, thinking it would kill his career before it started. (read the rest of this shit…)
CUB is a tight little Belgian horror picture about a troop of cub scouts on a camping trip who run into some shit. It’s not as grim and messed up as that might sound – it’s not, like, a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie with little kids as the victims – but don’t get too comfortable, either. It’s a fun time for a while. It might not stay that way.
There are alot of characters here, established economically. The main kid is Sam, lookin like River Phoenix in STAND BY ME. He’s a perpetual underdog who keeps getting Charlie Browned. He seems to have some problems at home, but scoutmasters Kris and Baloo don’t cut him much slack. Kris maybe has some sympathy for his life as a foster child and some implied secret about his past, but Baloo clearly hates him and blatantly picks on him. He’s always looking for infractions that will allow him to give Sam boot camp style punishments, even siccing his dog on him while he’s running laps. And the other kids either don’t like Sam or are easily swayed by Baloo’s cruelty, so they enjoy watching him suffer and give him shit too. Kris is the boss and if he comes across Baloo over-punishing him he’ll stop it, but otherwise he’s too ineffectual to do shit about it. (read the rest of this shit…)
MENACE II SOCIETY is generally considered the best and most hardcore of the ’90s “hood movies.” BOYZ N THE HOOD (released almost 2 years earlier) was already controversial and blamed for violence near theaters despite its unmistakable Increase the Peace preachiness. Now here comes this lower budget movie with more violence, more anti-social behavior, more expectation of the audience to know right from wrong, and no Huxtable sweaters, football or Stanley Clarke fusion to help the medicine go down. The “nice kid” in this one is a drug dealer who, when he gets a call from a girl telling him she’s pregnant with his baby, says “Look, I ain’t got time for this. Peace.”
It’s narrated by that kid from Watts, Caine (Tyrin Turner, PANTHER), telling the story of his summer after graduating from high school. It starts with him and his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate, WAIST DEEP) going into a mini-mart for 40s and getting into an argument with the Asian couple who run it (June Kyoto Lu [who was in CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER!] and Toshi Toda [LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA]). Caine and O-Dog are being jerks, opening the bottles before paying for them, even though they’re under 21 and oughta be grateful that these people are gonna sell it to them in the first place. Caine is kinda laughing it off but then fuckin O-Dog decides to shoot and kill the couple. He takes the security tape and spends the summer showing it to all his buddies like it’s a funny Jackass video or something.
This shows you the relationship between these two. Caine knows it’s stupid to be showing it to people, and he complains about it every time, but he never makes him stop. (read the rest of this shit…)
Of course I had to re-watch BOYZ N THE HOOD as part of the N.W.A celebration. Not only is it named after an Eazy-E song, but it’s the actorial debut of Ice Cube, and still, in my opinion, one of his best performances. (No offense, GHOSTS OF MARS.)
The lead, though, is future DTV master (and Oscar winner, but who cares?) Cuba Gooding Jr. as Tre Styles, a teen in South Central L.A. circa 1991. He lives with his dad Furious (Larry Fishburne, DEATH WISH II), a firebrand mortgage broker who works hard to instill discipline and responsibility in his son, and whose fierce attention to politics gets him called “Malcolm Farrakhan.” In one scene he drives Tre and his friend out to Compton to give them a big speech about gentrification and the importance of black-owned businesses. They’re impressed, but mostly just scared to be in that neighborhood. They’re happy to get back in the car and drive straight outta Compton.
Tre’s friends don’t have fathers, and most of them spend more time sitting on the porch drinking 40s than he does. One of them, Dooky, is always sucking on a pacifier. Apparently that’s because the actor, Dedrick D. Gobert, did that to stop smoking, but it definitely comes across as a symbol of men who never get around to grow into adults, or never get a chance to. These guys live something closer to the lifestyle described in the Eazy-E song than Tre does, but with less shooting and drug money and no hitting women as far as we see. (read the rest of this shit…)