"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Worm on a Hook

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Challengers

The trailer for Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS looked kinda like a 2020s version of a WILD THINGS or CRUEL INTENTIONS type movie, and not just because it hyped up a naughty threesome scene. It looked like a similar type of straight faced but knowing erotic thriller soap opera about rich women who delight in using their sexual power to manipulate men. And it kind of is that, but also it’s way more of a sports movie than I expected. It just sees the world of tennis being a little like those movies.

It’s sort of a love triangle, more of a tennis triangle. It’s the non-linear story of the events leading up to the 2019 Phil’s Tire Town Challenger in New Rochelle, New York, in which legendary-great-trying-to-get-his-groove-back Art Donaldson (Mike Faist, PINBALL: THE MAN WHO SAVED THE GAME) faces debit-card-declined-at-the-hotel-so-he-slept-in-his-car nobody Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS).

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Maverick

May 20, 1994

You know what – I had never seen MAVERICK until now. But look at these credits, man. Directed by Richard Donner (between LETHAL WEAPON 3 and ASSASSINS), written by William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, HEAT [1986]), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond (MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, HEAVEN’S GATE, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK), edited by Stuard Baird (DIE HARD 2, THE LAST BOYSCOUT) and Michael Kelly (CRIMEWAVE, BLACK EAGLE), production design by Thomas E. Sanders (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA). Also I immediately wondered “why does this sound exactly like TOY STORY?” and realized that the score was by Randy Newman.

I would not say MAVERICK comes anywhere close to living up to the sum of its parts. But it’s fine. Pretty good for a while. The opening kinda reminded me of another ‘90s western-ish blockbuster sort of based on old TV shows, MASK OF ZORRO, and from me that’s a big compliment. Our hero Bret Maverick is introduced in the midst of a squabble, some guy named Angel (Alfred Molina, also in CABIN BOY, WHITE FANG 2: MYTH OF THE WHITE WOLF and REQUIEM APACHE that year) and his thugs leaving him on his horse in the middle of the desert, hands tied behind his back, noose around his neck, snake dumped in front of the horse to inspire movement.

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Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

“Better no cowgirls at all than cowgirls compromised.”

Richard Donner’s MAVERICK was obviously the big western type movie of May 20th, 1994. I didn’t see it. I did see the goofy indie cowgirl comedy that flopped and got terrible reviews. Gus Van Sant’s EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES, from the novel by Tom Robbins (who narrates the movie), was considered a huge debacle at the time. I remembered very little except that I kind of liked it. Thirty years later it wasn’t really what I remembered, but I found it actually pretty delightful.

It stars Uma Thurman very close to PULP FICTION, which came out in the Fall. It’s one of her early lead roles, and she actually gets the rare “IN” credit:

UMA THURMAN
IN
EVEN COWGIRLS
GET THE BLUES

As you can see the title fills up the screen, so going by my TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. rule you know this is gonna be a good one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

I am a human, but I love those apes and that planet they got. I really have enjoyed the entire PLANET OF THE APES series except for the Tim Burton one. Even that has amazing Rick Baker makeup and a beautifully goofy ending (that everyone else hates). But the original and all its ‘70s sequels are fun in different ways, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES reinvented it surprisingly well, then DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES pushed this incarnation into full on greatness.

This new one KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES builds off of the previous trilogy, but somebody could start here if they wanted to. I was surprised by the prologue, showing the funeral for central character Caesar (with a cameo by Maurice!). But it tells you all you need to know: that a virus made apes smarter, killed most of the humans, and Caesar was the first leader of the apes, but now he’s dead. This story takes place “many generations later,” when apes have established different settlements with their own cultures and Caesar is revered as “the first elder.” (read the rest of this shit…)

The Crow (30th anniversary revisit)

On May 13, 1994, Johnny Carson was on Late Show with David Letterman, his final televised appearance. Times were rolling on, guards were changing. That same day Miramax, an indie studio recently purchased by Disney, had their biggest opening ever with a bitter R-rated comic book adaptation. While boomers were preparing to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, here was a movie with a soundtrack full of Lollapalooza bands, their names underlined on the poster, above a 1-900 number you could call “for music CD preview.” That particular demographic hadn’t really been cinematically catered to so directly, and they showed up, as did others. It was even well reviewed by critics, who were unlikely to be comic book nerds or Nine Inch Nails fans in those days.

Now THE CROW is 30 years old, further in our past than Woodstock was at the time. Jesus christ, man. I wrote a review of it 15 years ago. Time flies when you’re getting old, I guess. In 1994 this movie seemed amazing and important – it not only felt so new in its style, but was part of a collective mourning and/or discovery of this exciting actor who had lost his life making a movie about losing his life. Maybe I was falling for the ads asking us to “EXPERIENCE THE MOVIE EVENT OF THE YEAR” and “Take the journey. Experience the phenomenon.” But I went solemnly into a dark theater, the movie washed over me, I could just feel it more than think about it. Watching it now it’s more a movie I find interesting than a movie I can love. But I don’t mind that it’s style over substance. That’s why it works. Evocative imagery and effusive, unexamined emotion – that’s what goth is about, as far as I can understand. That’s what being a teenager is about. I used to be one of those. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Last Stop in Yuma County

THE LAST STOP IN YUMA COUNTY is a new indie crime movie from rookie writer/director Francis Galluppi. I’d seen some good reviews, the trailer looked intriguing and I read that Sam Raimi saw it and hired Galluppi for an EVIL DEAD movie. The coveted Necronominod. So it seemed like a good thing to check out as soon as it hit VOD last week.

It’s a single location movie, and the location is a diner out in the middle of nowhere, Arizona on a sunny day in the unspecified past, probly early ‘80s. A traveling cutlery salesman (Jim Cummings, THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW) pulls up at the gas station next door, the owner Vernon (Faizon Love, BEBE’S KIDS, who’s very good in this) explains that they’re all out of gas, but the fuel truck is supposed to arrive soon. Also there’s not another gas station for 100 miles, but you’re welcome to wait at the diner next door. (read the rest of this shit…)

Crooklyn

MALCOLM X (1992) was a big fucking deal for Spike Lee. A big budget period historical drama, an epic really, that he had to fight to get hired on, and to finance, and to get permission to shoot in Mecca. And got recently freed Nelson Mandela to make a cameo in! It worked, and it was a phenomenon. So how the hell do you follow that up? He chose to make his most autobiographical film, though actually it’s more about his younger sister Joie, who gets a story credit and wrote the screenplay with Spike and their brother Cinqué.

So on May 13th, 1994, three days after Mandela was inaugurated as the first president of free South Africa, CROOKLYN came out, did pretty good, came in third after THE CROW and WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN. Probly felt a little anticlimactic for Spike. But it’s a great movie.

Lee still had editor Barry Alexander Brown, production designer Wynn Thomas, and costume designer Ruth E. Carter, so there’s a continuity with his earlier movies. But Ernest Dickerson, the director of photography for everything since his student film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, had retired from cinematography to direct JUICE and SURVIVING THE GAME. Those were big shoes to fill. So Lee hooked up with Arthur Jafa, a Howard-educated video artist who had been married to Julie Dash and was d.p. for her DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Fall Guy

I first heard of David Leitch as one of “the JOHN WICK GUYS” – the two MATRIX RELOADED stuntmen who directed JOHN WICK and changed action cinema. Chad Stahelski was the one credited, and has continued helming that visionary series, while Leitch launched a more normal directing career – half projects from their production company 87North (formerly 87Eleven), half for-hire type gigs. I love his neon-drenched spy movie ATOMIC BLONDE, and his other films (DEADPOOL 2, HOBBS & SHAW, BULLET TRAIN) all have good action, some style, and some other things I like about them, but their increasingly scattershot humor has kept me from fully embracing them. So I’m glad that with THE FALL GUY, a loose redo of the ‘80s TV show premise, he’s found his perfect subject.

The story is light and breezy, and everyone gets to be funny, but the humor leans mostly on one easygoing star persona – Ryan Gosling (director of LOST RIVER) as stuntman Colt Seavers – rather than having every character constantly compete for attention with wacky riffs. And best of all, obviously, it’s a love letter to the stunt profession, so there’s a very specific expertise and passion that makes Leitch more qualified than anyone else to tell this story. He even has a songwriting credit on an end credits “there should be an Oscar for stunts” song! (read the rest of this shit…)

Dream Lover

May 6, 1994

The erotic thriller DREAM LOVER is so far the only movie directed by Nicholas Kazan, a writer who’s an Oscar nominee for REVERSAL OF FORTUNE and on my shit list for MOBSTERS. James Spader (SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE) stars as Ray Reardon, successful architect, charmer, admitted bad husband, but supposed to be well-meaning and sweet. At his divorce hearing he fires his lawyer and lets his now-ex Martha (Kathleen York, unaired DARKMAN tv pilot) have everything. Sitting in the courthouse afterwards they look like they’re on a first date that’s going really well. They talk about how much they still love each other but she can’t stay with him because he hit her. Which seems more than fair to me! He tries to downgrade it to a slap or accidental bump and justify it as a response to her cheating on him, and this does not offend her. She puts her head on his shoulder and tearfully promises that the woman he finds who’s right for him will be “the luckiest woman alive.”

He’s got this buddy at work named Norman, played by Larry Miller (SUBURBAN COMMANDO) in the classic Dennis Miller/Denis Leary/Kevin Pollack type role of the comedian playing a horny best friend who’s sexist in a supposedly lovable way. Norman invites Ray to a gallery show to try to set him up with a woman (Blair Tefkin, V, FRIGHT NIGHT PART II), and while trying to escape her he spills wine on Lena Mathers (Mädchen Amick, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, SLEEPWALKERS) and she chews him out. (read the rest of this shit…)

3 Ninjas Kick Back

It’s tempting to say that 3 NINJAS KICK BACK is the bottom of the barrel for a kids movie, mainly because of the amount of farting that happens in a particular scene. But I checked my review of the first 3 NINJAS and I called it “some real bottom of the barrel dreck, almost as bad as any off brand DTV throwaway kiddy garbage you’ll ever encounter,” so that one might’ve been worse. The best thing I can say about this first released 3 NINJAS sequel is that in the tradition of THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II and THE KARATE KID PART II they go to Japan for part of it. That takes some effort.

I say “first released” because they actually made 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP in the same year as the first movie but they had some kind of distribution problem and didn’t release it until 1995. Can you imagine? A whole two years where 3 NINJAS KNUCKLE UP was a lost film. That’s why part 2 recasts two of the kids but part 3 returns to the original line up at their original age. (read the rest of this shit…)