I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Wild Wild West

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

Big Willie Weekend, 1999

Two summers after their hit film MEN IN BLACK, director Barry Sonnenfeld (d.p. of BLOOD SIMPLE) and star Will Smith (SUICIDE SQUAD) tried to bring a similar comedy/special-effects/adventure mix to the old west. It’s like a western in that there are cowboy hats, guns, railroads and occasional horses, but also not really because it’s about two top agents for the president going undercover and then having a big battle against a giant mechanical spider that’s on a rampage and headed for the White House. Not a type of story I’ve seen done with John Wayne or Clint or anybody.

The basis is The Wild Wild West, a western-meets-spies TV show that lasted four seasons, ending thirty years prior to the movie. It was actually cancelled not due to a lack of popularity, but controversy over violence on television, and did have two followup TV movies. But the last of those was in 1980, and nineteen years later it was at best a cult show, and not yet available on DVD. So this is another expensive blockbuster based on characters that most of its intended youthful audience had never seen, or in this case even heard of.

But they didn’t have to know it was based on anything. Waning interest in westerns may have been a bigger problem, but that could’ve been overcome by the popularity of Smith, or the fun gimmick of the gadgets and steampunk type robotics, or the energetic style and cartoonish humor of the director of the ADDAMS FAMILY movies.

But that didn’t happen. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spawn

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

WARNING: Somehow I forgot that I already wrote about SPAWN eight years ago, but now you’re in for a more detailed look.

August 1, 1997

It’s weird that one of my least favorite movies in this series so far is the one that stars Michael Jai White! Thank you Ralph Bakshi for making sure it’s not in last place.

White plays Al Simmons, an amoral elite counter-terrorism black ops super badass who gets betrayed by his boss Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen, FIRESTARTER, who took the job because his grandson told him Spawn was cool). He’s set on fire, blown up and recruited by a crude CGI giant monster devil (voice of Frank Welker) to be a soldier for Hell. Returned to earth five years later as a burnt up demon called Spawn, he lives among the homeless and learns how to use his new demon powers while pining for his wife Wanda (Theresa Randle, CB4) and plotting revenge on Wynn.

I made that sound like a story, if I do say so myself. The movie’s not as interested in that. Faithfully adapted from the top-selling comic book of some parts of the ’90s, here is a visually dark, Marilyn-Manson-on-the-soundtrack slog that makes THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS look like a masterwork of storytelling craft. And at least CITY OF ANGELS was nice to look at. Despite the participation of the great cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (DESPERADO, JACKIE BROWN, PAN’S LABYRINTH), this thing looks like shit! Rarely has there been a worse case of CGI overreach – shockingly sub-par, MORTAL KOMBAT-level monsters, fire and transformations are slapped all over it like a big-screen CD-ROM game, and even the straight-ahead action movie scene at “Military Air Base, Hong Kong” looks like a ’90s syndicated TV show where cops raid warehouses and dockyards every episode. (read the rest of this shit…)

GLOW Season 1

I don’t usually review TV, but this show is short and consistent enough to review like a movie, and long-time commenter Mr. Majestyk tried to get me to defend my love for it, and it seemed to me worthy of its own post.

GLOW is a fun new Netflix show inspired by the 1986 founding of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It’s not a historically accurate representation of people or events, and even the wrestling personas are sort of off brand or alternate dimension versions. There’s a Machu Picchu instead of Mountain Fiji, and a team called The Beatdown Bitties are similar to The Housewives. But it takes the idea of fringe Hollywood people doing a casting call for women willing to live in a house together and learn to wrestle, and makes it into ten breezy half-hour-ish episodes of dramedy. There are underdogs, friendships, creative expression and a winning let’s-put-on-a-show spirit. And the show they put on is women in crazy costumes and glitter makeup tossing each other around in a ring with pink ropes, which is better than some other types of shows that somebody might put on. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Crow: City of Angels

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

August 30, 1996

I don’t remember ever hearing anybody say nice things about THE CROW part 2, CITY OF ANGELS, so let me start out with one: this is a gorgeous looking movie. Part 1 production designer Alex McDowell (LAWNMOWER MAN, CRYING FREEMAN, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, WATCHMEN) returns, this time with cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (GUMMO, GOOD WILL HUNTING), to tweak and expand on the aggressively stylized gotholopolis look he created for Alex Proyas’ THE CROW.

This time it looks more real, and has a yellow tint on its foggy (maybe it’s smoggy?), trash-strewn streets, representing the heat of Los Angeles, I hope, and not the piss that it clearly smells of. I don’t know my skylines, so I’m not sure I would’ve understood that they changed the location from Detroit without the subtitle or the cool shot where a row of palm trees burst into flame one-by-one as the crow (the bird that seems to be responsible for resurrecting murder victims, not the vengeful harlequin ghost he enables) flies past them. There’s a great tracking shot of the bird flying over the (model) city, and a profile shot of the ghost speeding on his motorcycle, his feathered friend right in front of him. The movie definitely achieves on levels of technical craftsmanship. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I liked the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies (1, 3) and I liked the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that I saw, but this new SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is the first one to convince me that hey, I like Spider-Man. This is easily my favorite version.

Continuing the story of Peter Parker (Tom Holland, phone voice of Tom Hardy’s son in LOCKE) shortly after he got to fight with the Avengers in CAPTAIN AMERICA V. THE CIVIL WAR, this is an upbeat, funny slice of life in a previously unseen part of the Marvel Universe: the high schools.

Thanks to being discovered by Tony Stark (Saturday Night Live Season 11 cast member Robert Downey Jr.), Peter is now armed with a high tech costume and the prestige of being able to talk about “the Stark Internship,” but he’s still a dork. He gets made fun of even within his Academic Decathlon team (thanks alot Flash Thompson [Tony Revolori, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL]), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) talks to him about Legos in front of cheerleaders, and he annoys the shit out of his Avengers pointman Happy (Jon Favreau, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET), who doesn’t return his way-too-many calls and texts about wanting a new mission. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cop Car

After seeing SPIDERMAN’S HOMECOMING I wanted to link to my review from director Jon Watts’ great 2015 movie COP CAR, but for the life of me I couldn’t find one. I swore I remembered writing about it, though, so I searched through old notebooks and sure enough I found the handwritten review that I apparently did between THE LAST CIRCUS and CHEERLEADER CAMP. I must’ve been saving it for after Halloween and then forgot about it. So consider this a previously unreleased review from the vault.

COP CAR is an original, expertly crafted thriller that had me from the very start. Which, come to think of it, is a kid saying “Weiner.” Two young boys (James Freedson-Jackson [Jessica Jones] and Hays Wellford [INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE]) have apparently run away from their home in a small farming community in Colorado. They’re walking across a field, playing with sticks, talking about the type of shit that little boys think they know everything about: barb wire fences, snakes, arrowheads. It’s the rare case of movie kids who seem like documentary subjects. They’re not too precocious or romanticized, they’re just dumb boys, like some of us used to be. Not comically dumb, just regular dumb. They do dumb boy stuff. Nobody knows why.

And suddenly they come across something weird – the titleistical vehicle, parked in the middle of nowhere. They react in various stupid ways: paranoid that it’s looking for them. Throwing a rock as a distraction. Daring each other to touch it. Getting inside and pretending to be in a high speed chase.

Then they find the keys. (read the rest of this shit…)

New Thrillist piece: 15 Great American Action Movies

Here’s a new piece I wrote for Thrillist’s “America Week.” It had to be slightly sensationalized by calling it “the” 15 great American action movies “that everybody should see,” but please know this is not my idea of the 15 best American action movies ever made. Instead I tried to choose, from among my favorite American action movies, representations of different parts of America. It’s a portrait of America through the medium of action movie list.

In fact I specifically requested to not have a “THE” in the title so that I could include a certain movie set in Alaska without getting drawn and quartered in the comments for calling it one of the best. Oh well. I regret nothing!

CLICK HERE FOR THE PIECE

 

The Shadow

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

(NOTE: I’ve decided to go back to cover two Summer Flings that I regret having skipped.)

July 1, 1994

Look, I can’t say for sure what audiences were yearning for in the summer of ’94, but it might have been a cartoon about lions and it might not have been a super hero movie set in the 1930s, based on a character from serialized radio dramas. Here is yet another entry in my beloved genre of old-timey-super-hero-movie-that-totally-failed-at-the-box-office-but-I-thought-it-was-pretty-good. I suppose THE SHADOW seemed like a more sensible bet than some of them, because it was at least a character with vague name recognition and noir influences like BATMAN (in fact some believe the first Batman story was a rip-off of a Shadow story called “Partners of Peril”).

At first glance The Shadow (Alec Baldwin, THE GETAWAY) does seem like kind of a Batman-esque character. He’s a rich handsome guy named Lamont Cranston who lives a secret life, going out at night as a scary figure, fighting criminals. He doesn’t have a cape, but a black cloak that serves the same purpose, plus a hat and a mask over the mouth and two guns. And hidden in an alley is the entrance to his Batcave-like secret base. (read the rest of this shit…)

Action U.S.A.

tn_actionusa“Come on Carmen, what do you want from me? I’m just trying to do my job protecting a federal witness from being chased by a bunch of assholes who shoot at us every time I turn around!”

ACTION U.S.A. is pretty much the perfect movie title. I mean, who the fuck knows what it means, it doesn’t describe the content of the story in a traditional way, and yet it exactly describes the vibe of the movie (filmed under the title A HANDFUL OF TROUBLE, referring to some diamonds). The movie opens with a long credits scene of a Corvette with a giant engine sticking out the front, Texas license plate “SLEEK 1,” naked lady airbrushed on the hood, speeding down roads. It pulls up to a house, the driver Billy Ray (Rod Shaft) (beer in hand, gun tucked in waistband) takes his girl Carmen (Barri Murphy) inside and they start to go at it on the couch. The director credit is over a shot of the door right before it gets kicked down and two mob thugs (one lookin like Freddy Mercury) come in and drag Billy Ray to the trunk of their car. Then they take him to a helicopter and fly around dangling him by one leg. Carmen drives underneath saying “Oh my god!”

They accidentally drop him in water, he swims ashore and gets in her car for a crazy chase that involves her hanging out the door, Freddie standing up in the sunroof firing his gun, of course some workers on ladders almost getting hit, and a completely full school bus that through some act of God or careful planning has a tow truck set up as a ramp so they can jump over it. The motor home in front of the bus is not so lucky, though, and the bad guys crash through it and explode into flames of awesomeness.

That’s the beginning, and it continues like that. That’s a movie you can call ACTION U.S.A. all right. I would also accept AMERICA T.N.T. or DYNAMITE EAGLE SQUAD. (read the rest of this shit…)

Baby Driver

There’s this baby-faced young man who in fact goes by the handle of Baby (Ansel Elgort, who impressed me as Tommy Ross in the CARRIE remake) and he’s a whiz kid of a getaway driver for armed robberies. He loves listening to music, and uses his favorite songs to inspire and time his driving, which is spectacular. He can maneuver and slide and spin and he is living proof that not everybody followed the disclaimer at the end of TOKYO DRIFT.

(He would’ve been about twelve when it came out, and surely influenced by it during his driver’s exam.)

Some have described this is a musical, which makes some sense. At times it feels like a movie based on the current trailer fad of editing gunshots and other sound effects as percussion playing along with the music.

After they get away, when the gang meets up to split the money, they make Baby go buy the coffee. Here’s one thing they carefully edited out of the trailers: he’s a total dork. In the car, but also at home, or walking in public, he listens to his earbuds and sings along and does little dance moves and shit. The whole walk to and from the coffee shop he seems like he’s on the verge of busting into a full on SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN number. I wonder if they considered casting Moose from the STEP UP sequels in this. (read the rest of this shit…)