IN HELL is a 2003 DTV JCVD joint. At the time it was the best 2000s Nu Image/Millennium filmed-in-Bulgaria DTV movie with an action icon getting locked up in a Russian prison, meeting a guy in a wheelchair who shows him the ropes, being mistreated and strung up outside in the cold, and becoming the champion of their fighting circuit. (Then UNDISPUTED II came out.) It’s Van Damme’s last film with director Ringo Lam (CITY ON FIRE, FULL CONTACT), following MAXIMUM RISK and REPLICANT. I like that some of the Hong Kong visual style and emotional sincerity come through, even though I could use fewer scenes where he rolls around in bed remembering flashes of his wife’s murder. (read the rest of this shit…)
Archive for January, 2020
FORD v FERRARI: VROOM OF JUSTICE is a perfectly enjoyable, kind of square and obvious, know-it-all-car-guy underdog racing picture. It has been widely described as a “dad movie,” and sure enough a one-day awards season engagement drew a different crowd than I usually see at the Cinerama, with a higher contingent of gray-haired men. Everyone applauded and cackled at the sticking of it to the man, and in recognition of all the lines from the trailer. A good time was had by all.
It’s the story of Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon, TITAN A.E.), one of the only Americans to ever win the 24-hour-Le-Mans, now retired from driving due to a heart condition, making his living building and selling cars and sponsoring a racing team. Then one day he’s approached by Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, THE ACCOUNTANT), who has convinced Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts, who also played the grouchy boss in LITTLE WOMEN and maybe other best picture nominees) that the way to make his grandpa’s car company into Not Your Grandpa’s Car Company is to build a car that beats Ferrari in Le Mans. It’s a tall order, but Shelby agrees to give it a shot and recruits his friend Ken Miles (Christian Bale, POCAHONTAS), a “difficult” automotive genius, to help develop and drive the car. (read the rest of this shit…)
Everybody has that list of the movies they know they should’ve seen but just haven’t yet for some reason. For me right now it includes BARRY LYNDON, THE DEER HUNTER, the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series, KUNDUN, MASTER AND COMMANDER, THE INSIDER, and others. But it no longer includes TAMMY AND THE T-REX. Progress.
TAMMY is a movie from 1994 that I was vaguely aware of as a cheesy family comedy only released on VHS. I definitely confused it with THEODORE REX at times, but I knew it had young Denise Richards (her first starring role) and Paul Walker (his third movie, after MONSTER IN THE CLOSET and PROGRAMMED TO KILL) and was supposed to be pretty crazy. Then last year there was an important new development in film scholarship: somebody discovered a print of a “gory cut” of TAMMY. Turns out before it was released straight to video it was edited down from a very R-rated horror comedy (both terms used loosely). So it played Fantastic Fest and Vinegar Syndrome released a beautiful Blu-Ray special edition and now it’s playing on Shudder. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’ve never been a war movie guy. I’m not actively against them like when I was young and rebellious and thought they were propaganda, but I don’t seek them out. Of course there are some great ones, but I wasn’t in the market for Sam Mendes, director of AMERICAN BEAUTY and AMERICAN LONE WOLF AND CUB (and producer of Shrek: The Musical) doing his take on DUNKIRK. So when I saw the trailers for 1917 I wasn’t buying.
That is, not until they started playing little featurettes showing off that Roger Deakins (THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, JARHEAD, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE ETC. ETC., PRISONERS, BLADE RUNNER 2049) is the cinematographer and he did it all in connected long takes. Okay, that I’ll watch. I’m into shit like that.
I thought it was funny that in the interview Mendes says that when they looked at the script they realized that was the way to tell the story – as if there was some way to have written the script not planning that. What are you, a pro-wrestler, you gotta tell obvious lies to make the story sound better? Be honest with me Mendes. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE is an odd little indie comedy about karate. I wondered if it would be too similar to THE FOOT FIST WAY, the early Danny McBride movie that jibed so well with my sense of humor that when I first rented it I watched it two times in a row. Come to think of it, this movie’s sensei (Alessandro Nivola, AMERICAN HUSTLE) has a philosophy of punching like a kick and kicking like a punch, whatever that means, and that could be called a “foot fist way.” But this is a very different movie. The humor is very dry, the dialogue seems precise as opposed to improvised, and the protagonist is a timid nerd who transforms rather than a blowhard who is just a total asshole from the beginning.
The timid nerd is Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg, CURSED), an awkward accountant for an unnamed company. The bros in the break room don’t appreciate him trying to join their conversations, his best friend is his dachshund, and he gets stomped by random motorcyclists while trying to buy dog food. I love the slightly surreal touches that convey his loneliness: the news report that describes him as “a 35 year old dog owner,” the robotic answering machine voice that says “you have only 1 message.” (Though not obviously tied to a specific time period, it’s one with audio cassettes, fat-ass analog TVs and large camcorders with carrying bags.) (read the rest of this shit…)
THE BOUNCER, a.k.a. LUKAS, is a quite good 2018 JCVD movie that in the right mood might be very good. Or in another mood it might be boring as shit. It’s the rare JCVD movie with an 80% critics / 49% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. (BLOODSPORT is 39% / 74%.) So it’s not his usual approach.
Narratively it’s a pretty straight forward crime drama or noir type deal – club bouncer with mysterious past gets into trouble through no fault of his own and is forced to inform on his shady new boss, putting himself and his daughter in increasing amounts of danger, caught between two sides he can’t trust. But tonally it kind of reminds me of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION – a very grim and serious march into doom fueled by Van Damme’s ragged features and hard-earned non-verbal acting skills.
Don’t take that as a comparison in quality. REGENERATION is a masterpiece, I don’t think THE BOUNCER is. Nor does it have the same dosage or strength of action. There’s some vehicle and guns stuff that is REGENERATIONesque, but the occasional fights are raw and unexaggerated, more interested in brutal reality than cinematic flair. More RUST AND BONE than BLOOD AND BONE. Do not expect him to do the splits, do expect him to get knocked over and his face bloodied and he’s too winded to get up but maybe he’ll be able to roll over and shoot at somebody or crawl on top of them and punch their face in. Dour though it may be, I got a thrill out of seeing this broken-but-still-going type of Van Damme character in a movie that feels more artful and legit than the lower rent DTV stuff he sometimes ends up in. (read the rest of this shit…)
When the trailers for UNDERWATER surfaced (get it, surfaced) it seemed kinda out of nowhere. Never heard this was coming, and it looks like underwater ALIEN (AQUALIEN?), it has long-since-cancelled T.J. Miller in it, maybe it’s been sitting on the shelf forever, and that’s why it’s coming out in January? Then people started seeing it and saying it was crazy and fun, or actually good, so I made the effort to see it.
Well, don’t get your hopes up. It’s fine. I enjoyed it. But we didn’t get to see it with low expectations. I don’t know where the craziness reports come from – I can’t think of what would be surprising in it, unless you don’t know Kristen Stewart (CATCH THAT KID) is a good actress.
She’s the main attraction playing Norah, a mechanical engineer on an underwater station deep in the Mariana Trench. She happens to be awake and brushing her teeth the morning that her section of the station gets breached. As she runs from the flooding she tries to wake the others, but only a dude she barely knows named Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie, Grandmaster Flash on The Get Down) makes it safely into the other chamber where she opens a panel and rewires it to close a door right before some others make it. (read the rest of this shit…)
UNCUT GEMS is the latest and highest profile movie from writer/director brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. I recently caught up with their previous movie GOOD TIME and I loved it, so I would’ve been excited for this even without the hype.
It’s the story of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler, CONEHEADS), a New York jeweler who specializes in making ridiculous necklaces for rich musicians and athletes. His claim to fame is a blinged out Furby medallion he once made for some rapper to wear in a video. His shop is a tiny room behind a security door and he depends on people with connections like affiliate Demany (LaKeith Stanfield, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB) and employee/mistress Julia (Julia Fox) to hook him up with VIP clients. Julia is using her hotness and her side career as a photographer to hook that singer The Weeknd, and Demany brings in Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett. (read the rest of this shit…)
Little women, walking down the street. Little women, bonding with their sisters but also struggling to establish their individual identities in order to find a path in life that brings them happiness
In her joyous new version of LITTLE WOMEN, writer/director Greta Gerwig (LADYBUGS) cleverly acknowledges that the book by Louisa May Alcott may be more appealing to (or more understood by) women than men. When freelance writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan, HANNA) sends stories about her and her sisters to her publisher (Tracy Letts, U.S. MARSHALS) he snidely dismisses them… until his daughters find the manuscript and freak out like it’s a new Twilight. The scene is inspired by reality: Alcott and her publisher didn’t really believe in her work-in-progress until the publisher’s niece read it and loved it.
What I’m saying is not that I, as a male individual, don’t get the appeal of this movie. I loved it. But Little Women is a “girl story” I never knew to open myself up to. I had never read or seen it, not even when it had Winona Ryder in it. I only did it this time because I loved Gerwig’s first film as a director, LADY BIRD (she didn’t direct LADYBUGS, I don’t know why I said that a paragraph ago, but it seemed amusing at the time). (read the rest of this shit…)
SWEETHEART is a simple little horror movie from second-time writer/director J.D. Dillard (SLEIGHT). It only has a couple characters, most of the time only two, and only one of those is human. Jenn (Kiersey Clemons, DOPE) wakes up face down on an island shore, life vest on, having survived some unspecified boat disaster. A friend or acquaintance of some kind, Brad (Benedict Samuel, the Mad Hatter on Gotham), has washed up too, but he’s impaled on some kind of shell, and he doesn’t last long.
So it’s a castaway movie. Jenn immediately proves to be very resourceful, smashing through a coconut with a sharp rock to get water. She finds her luggage, and manages to be well dressed in beach attire throughout the movie. She also finds luggage from someone else who’s been on the island, but maybe a long time ago. Long enough to have a Gameboy.
For a bit it seems like some puzzle-oriented video game like Myst, because she’s looking at objects and photos, piecing together a bit of a backstory for characters we never even see. There’s a journal, but it got wet enough that all the ink smeared away. (read the rest of this shit…)