Recently I watched WARLOCK for the first time, and that was surprisingly good shit, so I figured maybe I should watch some other VHS era franchise-launcher with a two syllable title that I’d never bothered with for some reason. You know, like CRITTERS or something like that.
This one seems like a moosh-up of GREMLINS (mischievous, laughing small monsters portrayed by puppets infest a place and eat people, sometimes in comical ways), E.T. in: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (Dee Wallace Stone as mother of adolescent, bike-riding, alien-discovering protagonist) and I COME IN PEACE (weirdo long-haired humanoid space bounty hunters with powerful guns clandestinely hunt dangerous alien presence on Earth).
The title-istical Critters (called Crites by the non-Earthlings) are kind of like Tribbles with teeth, or evil Popples. They’re furry round guys with stubby limbs who can roll up into balls and tumble like tumbleweeds, but they have long, needle-like teeth and also a row of poisonous projectile quills they use to put the kid’s older sister into a catatonic state and drag her back to their ship. I’m not clear on what they plan to do with her there, but let me just say that I don’t trust those little perverts. And I was gonna say “as far as I can throw ’em” but actually I feel like I could throw them pretty far. They are one of the most throwable villains of all major horror movies, in my opinion. (read the rest of this shit…)
“Listen Boo Boo, you’re lucky you made it back the first time. If you want to join the pantheon of dead skate rock guitar heroes that’s your choice.”
SHREDDER ORPHEUS is a weird D.I.Y. type of movie made in the late ’80s in Seattle by people involved in the underground rock and art scenes of the time. It’s post-apocalyptic or futuristic or something, but more Max Headroom than MAD MAX. The story is based on the myth of Orpheus, played by director Robert McGinley as a skateboarder and lead singer/guitarist of a band called The Shredders. Instead of an Underworld there’s a sinister quasi-religious TV Channel called EBN (Euthanasia Broadcast Network) that hypnotizes the people. Just the normal people, maybe: the one person we see watching TV is the one civilian we see, the one non-punk or music scene type of guy that doesn’t work for the network. And the people who do work for the network look like they might as well be in bands because they’re all wearing white makeup and shit like ghouls. Most of their programming seems to be weirdos chanting slogans like “The Ministry of Sombulance – praise the ray!”
The EBN creeps kidnap Orpheus’s girlfriend Eurydice (Megan Murphy, DEADBEAT AT DAWN) after seeing her dancing (mostly just spinning and waving her arms a little, to be honest) at the Shredders show at the Thrash Bin Club. They decide she’s the key to co-opting the music counterculture for their purposes. “If we’re going to get beyond the corporate crust and expand our viewing addicts,” explains one of the executives, “we’ve got to reach out and put our finger on the main vein of the youth market. We need the heartbeat of America.” But if they kidnap this one dancer and base a show around her he says they can “play in Peoria.” (read the rest of this shit…)
IT FOLLOWS seems to be the horror hit of the season, rightfully praised for its clever premise, excellent cast and effective indie drama type naturalism. As usual I don’t think it’s as bone-chillingly spookerific or as powerfully groundbreaking as the “I don’t normally like horror movies but this is the greatest horror movie of all time” crowd, but that’s okay. They picked a pretty good one to flip out over. And maybe my respect for it will go up if somebody can convince me that it’s as about something as it seems like it might be.
If you haven’t heard, the college age kids of IT FOLLOWS are experiencing a sexually transmitted haunting. You get it on with the wrong person, next thing you know you start seeing… something following you all the time. Sometimes it looks like a creepy stranger. Sometimes, from the looks of it, murder victims (previously followed people?). But sometimes it’s just some dude standing on the roof with his dick out. And then sometimes it’s your mom. It’s fucked up.
Wait a minute, what if they saw it and they thought it really was their mom? “Hey Mom, what are you doing out here? Did you get my text about the student lo–”
Our lead victim here is Jay, played by Maika Monroe, who was so good as the daughter in THE GUEST. She’s been seeing what seems like a nice enough boy (he takes her on a date to see CHARADE at an old timey movie house, at least) but after some of the old fashioned car sex he, uh, chloroforms her and ties her to a wheelchair and explains the rules to her. It follows, and you gotta run. You don’t want that thing to touch you. Or to jump your bones literally and/or figuratively, ’cause that’ll kill you. (read the rest of this shit…)
Note: as usual, I recommend reading this only after you’ve seen the movie.
How the hell do you follow a movie with a classic freeway cars vs. tank battle and a legendary 27.86 mile cars vs. planes gun/grappling hook/wrestling fight? Well, we already had a good idea from the trailers: with cars that skydive and jump from skyscraper to skyscraper and with Jason Statham. The day after my first viewing I feel like FURIOUS SEVEN is probly not as good as FAST FIVE or FURIOUS 6, but it’s in the same range at least, which is a feat. And due to real life this silly fictional world turns very emotional at the end. I suspect that despite all the effort put into automotive insanity this will primarily be remembered as the one that says goodbye to Paul Walker.
It’s a blessing because really, when has a tragically passed-on star been able to have such a meta farewell in a movie? The character of Brian O’Conner gets to drive off into the sunset and the public gets to share in the send off as a narrating Vin Diesel/Dominic Torretto pay tribute simultaneously in and out of character. Heath Ledger might’ve had a better last big performance, but he was left hanging on the side of a building.
(It’s a little unclear what it means on the movie level, though. Are Brian and Mia and the kids driving off to be far away from Dom so they can be sure to stay out of trouble? Or is Dom just not planning to visit his own sister, best friend, niece and nephew if he’s not shooting guns anymore? Maybe he’s just assuming that now that he’s a dad Brian’s not gonna hang out anymore?) (read the rest of this shit…)
Paul Walker won us over while starring in his six great FAST AND FURIOUS movies, so it’s a wonder he had time to do much in between. As you saw with yesterday’s JOY RIDE review I wanted to take the occasion of our saying goodbye to Brian O’Conner to pay tribute to his work again. The trouble is I’ve already reviewed most of his starring vehicles: RUNNING SCARED, EIGHT BELOW, every FAST AND FURIOUS movie… buddy, I saw BRICK MANSIONS in the theater, that’s the type of individual you are dealing with here. Luckily I remembered there was this one based on the book The Death and Life of Bobby Z by Don Winslow, the author of SAVAGES.
BOBBY Z (released in some countries as KILL BOBBY Z or LET’S KILL BOBBY Z) is no SAVAGES, that’s for sure, but it has alot of the same elements: legendary surfer turned ultra-rich California marijuana magnate, Iraq vet turned violent criminal, crooked DEA agents, ruthless Mexican cartels, genius businessman friend turned unlikely kingpin, women scheming while taken for granted as sex objects by the empire. Walker plays the vet, Tim Kearney, a crazy long hair kicked out of the Marines for beating up an Iraqi general and turned into a lifer for three dumb strikes. Now he’s facing certain death from the Aryan Brotherhood for killing a fellow con named Mad Dog (UFC legend Chuck Liddell).
DEA Agent Tad Gruzsa (Laurence Morpheus Fishburne) offers him a crazy, convoluted deal: he looks kinda like this marijuana kingpin named Bobby Z, who cartel leader Don Huertero (Joaquim “Evil Phil Hartman” de Almeida, FAST FIVE) wants in trade for Gruzsa’s kidnapped partner. He says they don’t know the real Bobby Z is dead so if Kearney pretends to be him and successfully makes the trade the DEA will just let him go and he can try to escape from a deadly cartel or whatever but not have to go back to prison. I mean, it’s kind of the honor system I guess. If he wants to go back to prison that’s cool. (read the rest of this shit…)
That’s funny, back in 2001 Paul Walker seemed like a pretty boy teen star, a jock from VARSITY BLUES, so even though I always kinda liked him (and defended him from the savage hatred of the Ain’t It Cool talkbacks) he was probly the reason I didn’t take JOY RIDE entirely seriously, didn’t give it proper credit as a really solid thriller. I would’ve told you the movie was good, but I would’ve thrown a “ha ha, it’s actually” on front of that. Now I’m not as self conscious, and now Walker is the specific reason I’m giving it a long overdue re-watch. With his last movie coming out on Friday I thought it would be a good time to take a look at a few of his other roles in tribute.
See, he was a pretty boy, and he never did turn into an actor of great range. But here, in the same year he graduated to cop roles in THE FAST AND FURIOUS (which he probly got because Rob Cohen had directed him in THE SKULLS, and which came out about 3 months before this), he could also still play a youth. He turns his air of nice guy innocence toward a leading man role, which in this case is mostly about fear and problem-solving. How do we get the fuck out of here? How do we get this guy to leave us alone? Problems like that.
This is a road movie stalker like DUEL, ROAD GAMES or THE HITCHER, but for the SCREAM floating-head-poster era. Walker plays Lewis, a hopelessly smitten college kid driving cross country to get home during a break. Along the way he will pick up his high school friend/long distance crush Venna (THE WICKER MAN‘s Leelee Sobieski). But then he gets word that his fuckup older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn, A PERFECT GETAWAY) is in jail and nobody else feels sorry enough for him to get him out, so Lewis goes 500 miles out of his way to post bail. Don’t ever do that, the movie will soon teach us. (read the rest of this shit…)
BETTER LUCK TOMORROW was not Justin Lin’s rookie film (that would be SHOPPING FOR FANGS, co-directed with Quentin Lee), but it was his buzzed-about Sundance film that got picked up by MTV Films and must’ve got him alot of meetings and what not. Next thing you know he’s directing Jordana Brewster in ANNAPOLIS and then what the hell, give him that third FAST AND THE FURIOUS movie, see what he can do with that, and then FAST 4, 5 and 6 and the world was changed forever and he almost did a TERMINATOR and a BOURNE and he’s actually doing a STAR TREK right now.
That trajectory started with this somewhat controversial teen crime movie. Narrated GOODFELLAS style, it’s the story of Ben Manibag (Parry Shen of the HATCHET trilogy), a Chinese-American student in a California suburb driven to succeed in school and get into a good college, but who also finds the time for decreasingly petty crimes with his friends. He’s employee of the month at the hot dog joint where he works, he practices free throws every day to get on the JV basketball team and vocabulary words to get perfect SAT scores, works as a Spanish translator at a medical clinic, organizes a litter pick-up crew for the local beach and is American history expert for his Academic Decathlon team. But also he pulls a fake return scam at the electronics store, TPs houses and starts selling seat cheats, then drugs, then starts carrying a gun. (read the rest of this shit…)
PITCH BLACK put Vin Diesel on the radar, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS put him above the title. But it was his work as an independent filmmaker that got him into Hollywood in the first place. His short film MULTI-FACIAL (1995) shows what must’ve been his frustrations with auditioning for acting gigs. Like HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE‘s Bobby Taylor his character is an actor who keeps running into a brick wall in auditions, and the bricks are molded from the limited imaginations of casting directors chained to racial stereotypes and cliches.
But the Diesel version is a little different because he’s coming at it specifically from a mixed-race perspective. His character in the movie tries to pitch people’s inability to distinguish his race as an advantage, leaving his options open for playing many different ethnicities. It’s a strong point that doubles as an acting reel and calling card, but sometimes it’s embarrassing. The Al Pacino imitation I can let slide, but the freestyle rap is not cutting it in my opinion. Stick to breakdancing, Vin.
In doing this series on debut indie features it seemed like I oughta do CLERKS. I remember it being pretty funny. It was never an important movie to me, but it was for alot of people, and seems like a notable step in the evolution of low budget movies turned pop culture phenomenons, for better or worse.
Most of the directors I’m doing in this series went on to become important or great. Here’s the rare indie smash where the director didn’t fizzle out or get much better. I’ve sort of stood up for some of the recent widely panned Kevin Smith films (like TUSK and even COP OUT), but there is no part of me that believes he’ll ever have anything near a DO THE RIGHT THING or an OUT OF SIGHT or even a SCHOOL OF ROCK under his belt. He does not strike me as a born filmatist at all, as he’d probly be the first, second and third to tell you on six different podcasts.
But back in 1994 – the same great film year that gave us PULP FICTION, HOOP DREAMS and ON DEADLY GROUND – he did have a head on collision with the ol’ zeitgeist. He said he was inspired by SLACKER (the zine-like credits also namecheck Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley and Spike Lee). CLERKS has a similar day-in-the-life, people-just-talking approach, but it’s much more scripted than Linklater’s, and it’s kind of the other side of the coin. It’s not the people who have the luxury of fucking around all day with no responsibilities. This is the people who do it while chained to meaningless, low-paying jobs. (read the rest of this shit…)
SLACKER is a landmark independent film of the ’90s, and I thought it was Richard Linklater’s first feature until I rented the blu-ray and saw that one of the extras was a feature length Super-8 movie he did in 1988 called IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO LEARN TO PLOW BY READING BOOKS. But I turned it off before the first shot ended and I don’t think it ever got released before so it doesn’t count in my opinion.
When SLACKER came out at the beginning of the ’90s it was unlike anything I’d seen before. You know how people who don’t know much about movies will say that a movie where they didn’t like the plot “has no plot”? This one actually for real has no plot, it’s just a camera floating through Austin watching people talk. Then somebody will leave the conversation or someone else will walk by and the camera will go with them and watch something else.
Some of the conversations are very one-sided. The two conspiracy nuts (one JFK specific, one all over the map from early moon landing to mind control) seem particularly Aspergersy. It’s funny to watch two guys walking along a sidewalk or riding in a cab for several minutes and one of them is doing a monologue and the other one never says a damn word. They’re all stone-faced non-actors so they don’t always convey whether they’re being very open-minded and actually listening, or if they’re just politely waiting for it to stop. (read the rest of this shit…)