"I'll just get my gear."

Archive for September, 2018

Shot

Friday, September 28th, 2018

SHOT is a movie that’s not necessarily thrilling from start to finish, but that is a unique specimen and time capsule that I’m happy we, as a civilization, maintain a record of. Somehow the canister-diggers at Vinegar Syndrome got their dusty fingers on a 16mm crime epic made by film students in Champaign, Illinois circa 1973, and now all the sudden it’s on Blu-Ray with a newly restored 2k transfer. The movie is appealing not only for exhibiting the fashion and music of its era, but for having an impressive amount of production value considering its origins. Reportedly they raised a $15,000 budget with campus film screenings, but I imagine it was more a matter of string-pulling that accounts for some of this. They have an abundance of helicopter footage, a small plane, multiple police cars, many guns, and a couple car crashes. It’s no FRENCH CONNECTION (a cited inspiration), but picture yourself, like, 22 years old trying to figure out how to get access to that stuff.

The key to watchability is a solid cast of non-professional actors. Vinegar Syndrome’s promo materials call the movie “regional filmmaking” (and also “a low-key piece of regional New American Cinema”) which is a good description, but might sound like something more laughable and homemade than this. The natural performances I think graduate it to legit indie film. It’s much more professional than so many regional horror movies that I’ve seen, and that’s kind of an interesting part of it, I think. If it was after HALLOWEEN they’d be making a horror movie. If it was after RESERVOIR DOGS they’d be making a crime movie. I guess after DIRTY HARRY they wanted to make cop movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Predator

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

I didn’t get to see THE PREDATOR until after the world had already estimated its coordinates somewhere in the hostile territory between disappointment and disaster. Maybe that prepared me for the sloppy last stretch (it seems like some connective tissue must’ve been lost in editing or reshoots) and a thudding comedy riff or two involving a character with Tourette’s. And I guess a couple subpar quasi-science discussions, sometimes involving “the spectrum.” Also, is it just me or are these people weirdly unsurprised to see aliens?

But everything else in the movie tears its gear off and covers itself in mud to prove it’s a true warrior of entertainment. This is a funnier Predator movie, one full of joyful, gory mayhem, clever dialogue and inventive action beats. Let me give you an example from the opening. Decorated army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, JANE GOT A GUN) witnesses the crash of a Predator ship and pulls an extra-terrestrial helmet and gauntlet out of the wreckage before catching a glimpse of the camouflaged alien pilot (6’9 1/2″ parkour artist Brian A. Prince) stringing up another soldier. Panicked, McKenna accidentally fires the wrist weapon, slicing his friend’s corpse in half and dumping intestines and blood onto the cloaked Predator, revealing its location and appearance.

I mean, you love that, right? I love that. We all, in my opinion, love that. That’s what movies are for right there. (read the rest of this shit…)

Death Kiss

Monday, September 24th, 2018

The success of DEATH WISH launched a million sleazy urban vigilante revenge pictures, but it took 44 years – one for each millimeter in a Magnum – for us to get one starring an uncanny Charles Bronson lookalike. In the tradition of THE MAN WITH HUMPHREY BOGART’S FACE, BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA, THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE, the entire genre of Bruceploitation, Dolly the Sheep and Madame Tussaud’s comes DEATH KISS starring Robert Kovacs, a.k.a. Robert Bronzi. He doesn’t have a death wish, he is the kiss of death, you see. They explain that.

I believe this is a sincere tribute and/or a weird novelty, not a cash grab, because it’s not like there’s gonna be big money in tricking somebody into thinking there’s another old Bronson movie they never heard of, or that Bronson is alive and looking the same age as he was in DEATH WISH four decades ago. There’s no explanation, he just appears there with his messy hair and trademark mustache, wearing his Paul Kersey trenchcoat and tie, a mysterious stranger showing up where he’s not supposed to, putting bullets into child traffickers and their clients, or unsolicited cash into the mailbox of a troubled single mother (Eva Hamilton, OUIJA HOUSE) who has no idea who he is.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Summer of ’98: The Thrilling Conclusion

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

Usually my idea of a good movie summer is one with a bunch of really high quality big budget action/sci-fi type movies. Popular entertainment that we can get excited about and enjoy together and talk about as a collective cultural experience – summer blockbusters, popcorn movies, the sons of JAWS. For example a famously great movie summer was 1982, which gave us CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ROCKY III, POLTERGEIST, STAR TREK II, E.T., BLADE RUNNER and THE THING, among others. Or what about 1990, which gave us TOTAL RECALL, DICK TRACY, GREMLINS 2, DIE HARD 2, DARKMAN and THE WITCHES. There have been some good ones before.

1998 wasn’t really one of those good ones. Two of the big event movies, GODZILLA and LOST IN SPACE, were widely hated garbage. Another one, ARMAGEDDON, is highly influential garbage. Its rival space debris epic, DEEP IMPACT, is kinda dull. Most people despised THE AVENGERS. Even in the animation category it’s a shitty summer, with Disney’s mediocre MULAN and Warner Brothers’ embarrassingly bad QUEST FOR CAMELOT.

I think the best traditional summer movie of the year is MASK OF ZORRO, a hit at the time that’s not discussed much anymore. In the R-rated world the best and most influential was obviously BLADE, a surprise smash released in the supposed dumping ground of August. I also think LETHAL WEAPON 4 is a pretty impressive if messy and offensive action sequel. But that’s about it for those types of movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

54

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

I’m a little behind schedule but ladies and gentleman, welcome to the final review in the Summer of ’98 series.

August 28, 1998

54 is the second of summer ’98’s competing disco movies. I’m not sure if it’s the DEEP IMPACT or the ARMAGEDDON, but it’s the not as good and not as well reviewed one. Like LAST DAYS OF DISCO it’s about a particular New York City disco in the later years, and there are conflicts between the management and staff that end with the place being raided by the IRS. But this one is in no way about yuppies, it’s based on the history of a real place, the main characters are all employees of the club, and there’s much more emphasis on the disco as a sanctuary for outcasts and misfits, so it would seem to have the potential to be BEAT STREET to LAST DAYS’s BREAKIN’.

But only the potential. Nobody seemed to take it that way.

Shane (Ryan Phillippe, SETUP) is a macho goon from New Jersey whose dreaming eyes gaze across the water to New York City like Luke Skywalker looking to the stars. He’s drawn to Studio 54 by newspaper columns about the celebrities who go there, so he perms his hair and drags his meathead buddies (including Mark Ruffalo, THE DENTIST) there with visions of Olivia Newton-John dancing in their heads, but only Shane (minus shirt) gets past the openly looks-based velvet rope elimination process.

For a second Shane seems like a Tony Manero, but he doesn’t give a shit about dancing (as in LAST DAYS, dancing is an oddly small part of the disco story). There’s a dramatic closeup of his foot hesitating to take its first step on the dance floor, but then he just goes into the crowd and yahoos for the band like he’s cheering on a football game. The looks he gets cause him to observe his surrounding and copy the other people’s moves. Then he quickly gets a job as a shirtless bus boy and doesn’t have to dance anymore. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mandy

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

MANDY is a deranged bad trip of a movie from director Panos Cosmatos (BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW). It features a high grade mega-acting performance from Nicolas Cage (FIREBIRDS), and Cosmatos is the rare director to cinematically keep pace with Cage’s style rather than try to balance it out. He and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb (KING COBRA) peel off the skin of reality and find the painted covers of obscure fantasy novels and death metal albums beneath.

Cage plays Red Miller, a lumberjack who lives in a cabin in the Shadow Mountains circa 1983 with his fantasy illustrator girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough, OBLIVION). One day they get kidnapped by a demonic biker gang and psychotic Christian cult led by hippie folk singer Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK), who strings Red up with barb wire and (SPOILER) burns Mandy alive, leaving her to crumble into ashes in his hands.

But he escapes and gathers some weapons and comes back and fucking fucks shit up. And that’s enough to hang a movie on in my opinion but explaining the premise does not remotely describe the movie, which seems from frame one to be drugged out of its mind and/or existing on a different astral plane. I bet when they try to play BORN LOSERS on Civic TV, this is how it broadcasts – a psychedelic fever dream revenge nightmare. (read the rest of this shit…)

Final Score

Monday, September 17th, 2018

If VOD is where we must go to see rugged heroes run through solidly entertaining classical action formulas then I guess that’s what we’ll do. In FINAL SCORE, Dave Bautista (WRONG SIDE OF TOWN) proves that he can handily carry a wholly unoriginal vehicle that knows how to properly operate the machinery of the DIE-HARD-on-a-____ template. To be more specific, this time it’s the SUDDEN DEATH template – DIE-HARD-in-a-hockey-arena-but-in-a-soccer-stadium.

Bautista plays American ex-Marine Michael Knox, who comes to London to bring his teenage “niece” – actually the daughter of a war buddy whose death he blames himself for – to the soccer match. (Yes, he keeps not calling it football, but don’t worry, there’s a part where a guy gets punched out for that very offense.) Unfortunately Uncle Mike and Danni (Lara Peake, HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES)’s outing coincides with a plot by separatists from the ex-Soviet nation of Sukovia (on the eastern border of Sokovia, I believe) trying to find a former rebel leader in hiding and then blow up the stadium. (read the rest of this shit…)

Notes on E.T. after seeing it in 70mm

Friday, September 14th, 2018

We all live on the planet Earth, we all know Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL is a great fucking movie. I don’t have to tell you that. I was gonna point you to what I wrote about it in 2002 in case I did, but it turns out that was mostly a collection of jokes about walkie talkies and the dog shitting all over the place if he had run all the way into the space ship. So maybe try googling “is e.t. good” or something. I don’t know. You can figure it out.

Like anybody I’ve loved that pudgy little rascal since he first introduced himself to us in 1982, but I’ve managed to be pretty disciplined about waiting years between viewings so I don’t wear it out. I think last time was when it came out on Blu-Ray (six years ago), with at most one DVD viewing between that and when the special edition played in theaters (sixteen years ago).

But on Tuesday I saw it in the 70mm Film Festival that the Cinerama has here in Seattle every year, and I wanted to share a few new thoughts. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dead Man On Campus

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

August 21, 1998

is when BLADE came out and changed both cinema and humanity forever. But I already wrote the definitive review of that so here I am reviewing DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS.

It turns out maybe the comedies that come out in August are not essential to a summer movie retrospective. That’s a lesson I’m learning. I actually saw DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS at the time, but I realize now that I was conflating my memory of it with IDLE HANDS. I knew it was a different movie, but I thought it was another supernatural teen horror comedy. It was about half an hour in before I realized oh shit, he’s not gonna turn into a zombie. This is that movie where they find out their college has an obscure rule that if your roommate commits suicide then they have to give you straight As (just go with it) so they try to find an unstable roommate and push him to the brink. The kind of movie that should just have a disclaimer and a 1-800 number running across the screen throughout like a watermark on a critic’s screener. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Avengers

Monday, September 10th, 2018

August 14, 1998

THE AVENGERS was a widely hated bomb and at the time I thought it wasn’t so bad. I kind of liked it. As is my way. Now, with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight, and not hurt by having preceded it with LOST IN SPACE, GODZILLA and ARMAGEDDON, I stand firmly by it not being that bad and me kind of liking it.

I must note as a disclaimer that I still haven’t watched the at-that-time-twenty-some-year-old British TV show it’s based on. I’m sure there are plenty of legit reasons for Avengers fans and our English friends to hate it that I don’t know about. But I like that it’s a quirky would-be blockbuster with weird gimmicks and humor, and unlike the ugly-as-shit LOST IN SPACE and GODZILLA it has dated well visually – the ’60s-inspired designs look as good or better now than they did in ’98. Also helpful in the timelessness department: the end credits have a James-Bond-theme-worthy song called “Storm” by Grace Jones. (I was gonna say it was 100% ska free, but the soundtrack listing notes a song by Suggs, lead singer of Madness, so I may be forgetting something.)

And it’s a fuckin action adventure starring Ralph Fiennes, cashing in on SCHINDLER’S LIST, I guess. You don’t see that every day. I guess maybe you could count STRANGE DAYS. (read the rest of this shit…)