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Archive for July, 2019

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

THIS IS A FREE RANGE SPOILER REVIEW. THE SPOILERS ARE NOT KEPT IN CAGES. THEY JUST RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE, INCLUDING THE FIRST COUPLE SENTENCES. SEE THE MOVIE FIRST.

ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is an odd and beautiful movie from… Quentin Tarantino. It’s undeniably one that only he could or would make – it’s even in his now-trademark ‘wish-fulfilling rewrite of a historical atrocity’ mode – but it’s different. It’s not as mean and angry as the last three, or as carefully plotted as any of them. It’s sort of a hang out movie, a day-in-the-life of two friends, and a gentle tale of surviving a mid-life crisis, wrapped in a love letter to Los Angeles of the late ’60s, and to the then-fading leading men of the ’50s, with a chaser of gruesome violence. The fun kind, though. The cathartic kind.

Throughout his career, Tarantino has shown his affinity for cool shit like spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation movies, kung fu and crime novels. Here’s where he says “Fuck it, I also like old cowboy shows and procedurals and stuff.” When the guy who makes film exhibition and criticism a major element of his WWII epic does one that’s actually about the Hollywood film industry, obviously he’s gonna go buck wild. The amount of detail he puts into the fictional career of TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, two episodes of The New Lassie) – to the point of needing a narrator to talk us through each entry from his Rome period – reaches the level of sci-fi world building. And of course Tarantino, being Tarantino, gives us a soundtrack that drips the sixties without one whiff of Creedence, Dylan, the Doors or Hendrix. Admittedly “Mrs. Robinson” is in there somewhere, but he leans more Deep Purple, Vanilla Fudge and Paul Revere & the Raiders. One of the few I knew was the Neil Diamond song. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hellboy (2019)

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

I’m not gonna totally contradict the conventional wisdom that HELLBOY (2019) is bad. I kinda thought it was bad for a while. But then it sort of won me over. I had more fun than expected, and talking about it with other people made me realize that yeah, overall I think I liked it.

Yes, it’s sloppy and choppy and takes itself less seriously than I’d like. I wasn’t surprised to read that there were tensions with the producers and that director Neil Marshall (THE DESCENT, but also DOOMSDAY) didn’t have final cut. The many rock ‘n roll needledrops (including a Spanish version of “Rock You Like a Hurricane”) and electric guitars on the score by Benjamin Wallfisch (IT, SERENITY) make it seem like it’s making a joke out of folk tale stuff that I think would be much cooler if treated respectfully, and the combination of a lower budget and higher volume of digital FX than Guillermo Del Toro’s two movies make it look chintzy by comparison. But there are tons of cool monsters, funny lines, colorful bits of mythology, and a splattery, lowbrow rowdiness that’s pretty fun whether or not it’s in the Hellboy spirit. (read the rest of this shit…)

Crawl

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Both the weakness and the strength of CRAWL is how simple and slight it is. On one hand, I felt like it was already dissipating from my brain by the time I got home. On the other hand it’s refreshing to see something that just gets in there and gets it done and says “okay, bye.” It’s a monster movie meets disaster movie – alligators attack a house during a hurricane – but it doesn’t fuck around with any before and after or unneeded explanations.

When Haley (Kaya Scodelario, CLASH OF THE TITANS) gets out of the opening credits swimming practice, the hurricane is already approaching. When she tracks down her not-answering-his-phone dad (Barry Pepper, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA) in the crawlspace under her childhood home, he has already been bitten by a huge alligator. I think only one sentence of dialogue is spent on speculating how the gators got in there (later confirmed visually), and not one word on why they’re so big. It takes place over one day, it’s all over in 87 minutes and it concludes with a freeze frame. No wind-down, epilogue or sequel tease. That’ll do, pig. (read the rest of this shit…)

Nighthawks

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’m still working on one more piece that will cap off the Last Summer of ’80s Action series next week. But last night, while celebrating the life of Rutger Hauer and linking to my reviews of his action movie roles (BLIND FURY!), I was confused as to why I couldn’t find a review of NIGHTHAWKS. It turned out I was working on one two years ago that I never posted, so I polished it up and have it for you today. R.I.P.

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NIGHTHAWKS. A couple of tough street cops who go out at night like, uh… a couple of hawks. Or probly more like that famous Edward Hopper painting of the mostly empty diner at night. Except no diner and not always at night.

You know what, you and I together are going to have to face that I actually have no idea why it’s call NIGHTHAWKS, but the point is it’s the story of NYPD (New York Police Department) undercover dudes Deke DaSilva (Sylvester Stallone, DEATH RACE 2000) and Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams, HIT!) who, just because they’re war veterans and also familiar with where all the low lifes go around here, are recruited by ATAC (Anti-Terrorist Action Command) to stop a terrorist (Rutger Hauer, WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, in his first American film) who is in NYC (New York City) to attack the U.N. (United Nations) which in my opinion is B.S. (bullshit), you shouldn’t do something like that you jerk. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cage

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

“Wrestling? I like wrestling. But I don’t like fighting. But I like wrestling!”

Note: Box Office Mojo only lists “1988” as the release date, but IMDb says September 1, 1989. I’m going with the specific one.

The movie CAGE is alot like the character Lou Ferrigno plays in it: brain damaged, childlike, clumsy, well-meaning, and hard not to like. The opening definitely had me concerned, though. In “VIET NAM 1969,” a bunch of army dudes run around in a field screaming and firing machine guns while the keyboards of composer Michael Wetherwax (SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE) sort of imitate the RAMBO theme. B-movies about the Vietnam War don’t tend to be watchable, in my opinion, so thank God our boys get out of there quick.

Escaping in a helicopter, Billy Thomas (Ferrigno, between his last two Incredible Hulk TV movies) heroically saves his friend Scott Monroe (Reb Brown, UNCOMMON VALOR, ten years after his last Captain America TV movie) by having the strength to one-arm-dangle him under the copter even after being shot in the head with what, judging from the leak it springs in his temple, appears to be an adorably tiny bullet.

(Good makeup effect, though.)

The opening credits are a comically corny rehabilitation montage set to a ballad called “Don’t Let Go” by Jennifer Green. Without sound, Ferrigno and Brown pantomime a series of struggles and minor triumphs, from getting a medal to being frustrated with a puzzle to making it up a few steps. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Package (1989)

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

THE PACKAGE is… kind of an action movie from director Andrew Davis. After the better-than-average Chuck Norris vehicle CODE OF SILENCE (1985) and Steven Seagal’s debut ABOVE THE LAW (1988) the director put some similar elements into a thriller with Gene Hackman in the lead. Hackman had just done MISSISSIPPI BURNING (which he got Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for) but did not have any black belts in anything, so I’m not sure why he thought he should be in movies?

He plays U.S. Army Master Sergeant Johnny Gallagher, who I assume is respected for his skills, but he seems mostly just beloved for being a great guy. He’s introduced arriving for security detail at the site of U.S.-Soviet Union disarmament talks in West Berlin and walking around smiling and saying hi to everybody. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lock Up

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

It could be argued that LOCK UP isn’t quite an action movie – that it’s more of a drama with some violence and extreme villainy. And if it is action I’m not sure how it fits into the theme of this series about a shift in the genre heading into the next decade. No, it doesn’t seem like the ’90s ones with “DIE HARD on a _____” type hooks (CLIFFHANGER, DAYBREAK) or special effects and stylized settings (DEMOLITION MAN, JUDGE DREDD). But it’s also not quite the over the top feel we associate with the ’80s because of movies like RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, COBRA and, well… OVER THE TOP. It has a score by Bill Conti (fresh off of THE KARATE KID PART III) that brings ROCKY-like majesty, especially during the montage of the harrowing football game that’s intentionally more about hurting him than sport. This is Stallone in tough-but-vulnerable mode, and even has a part where he builds to a yelling, emotional speech kinda like the end of FIRST BLOOD.

I attribute the film’s timelessness and grit to director John Flynn, a legend to me because of THE OUTFIT and ROLLING THUNDER in the ’70s and OUT FOR JUSTICE in the ’90s. This was his followup to BEST SELLER. He didn’t generally participate in trends – he just made John Flynn movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

Licence to Kill

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

One summer of ’89 joint that seems older than most of the others is Timothy Dalton 007 movie #2 of 2, LICENCE TO KILL. It’s got a definite ’80s action influence in that James Bond is supposed to turn in his proverbial badge and actual gun (he keeps the gun though) and goes rogue to get revenge on a Colombian drug lord named Sanchez (Robert Davi, CITY HEAT, RAW DEAL, ACTION JACKSON, DIE HARD), who has invented a novel way to smuggle cocaine (mixed with gasoline). And the theme by Gladys Knight and end credits song by Patti Labelle could probly slip onto a BEVERLY HILLS COP soundtrack without causing a scene. It’s also pretty violent, and was seen as a darker interpretation of Bond, which to some was upsetting and to some others was more in keeping with the books by Ian Fleming. But in most ways it’s old timey James Bond shit with elaborate stunt sequences, gadgets that make computery sounds (what good did it do him to disguise the explosives as toothpaste and cigarettes, by the way?) and multiple gorgeous women who throw themselves at Bond for no reason. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lethal Weapon 2

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

I already wrote about LETHAL WEAPON 2 along with the rest of the LETHAL WEAPON series back in 2014. I’m still happy with that review. It covers much of what’s relevant about the movie, and even features a scan from my beloved Summer 1989 Warner Brothers Catalog (as seen in the BATMAN review). But I didn’t think I should skip over the movie in this series because it’s such a crucial piece of what I’m talking about here. So the earlier review still stands, but here’s a partially overlapping supplemental look at LETHAL WEAPON 2 focusing on its place in the action movies of summer ’89.

LETHAL WEAPON (1987) was of course a quintessential ’80s action movie, the Platonic ideal of a buddy cop picture, and one of the originators of the idea of Mel Gibson and producer Joel Silver (ROAD HOUSE) as action kings. But part 2 is more my idea of what “a LETHAL WEAPON movie” is like because it invented how to sequelize that movie and make it about the continuing adventures of that now-established friendship. It takes what was already seen as heightened and makes it bigger, sexier, funnier, lethal-er (apparently it’s the biggest body count in the series at 33), creating a template (and new character in Leo Getz, played by Joe Pesci a year before GOODFELLAS) that would be used for two more sequels in the ’90s. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Karate Kid Part III

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE was not the only part 3 on offer for Summer of ’89 – there was also John Avildsen’s THE KARATE KID PART III. And as Mrs. Vern pointed out to me, the series kind of follows the same pattern as Indy: there’s the popular first one, the second one goes off in a different direction (bringing him to Japan), and then the third one plays it safe by being closer to part 1, with Cobra Kai, John Kreese and the All-Valley Karate Tournament. And then of course both series also have a much later, unpopular part 4 and a pretty enjoyable remake starring Jaden Smith.

I think PART II had an okay reception, and this isn’t supposed to be an apology for it like LAST CRUSADE was for TEMPLE OF DOOM. But it’s kinda funny to me because PART II’s trailer narrator said, “No more tournaments. No more cheering crowds. This time… the combat… is real.” Of course there’s no more tournaments and crowds and shit, that wasn’t real combat at all, that was for babies, and only a complete coward would make another movie about that kind of sissy bullshit. We have moved well beyond that nonsense and fuck you if you even think for one second that– oh, what’s that? We’re doing tournaments and cheering crowds again? Oh, cool! Welcome back! (read the rest of this shit…)