"I'll just get my gear."

Don’t Panic

DON’T PANIC, a.k.a. EL SECRETO DE LA OUIJA, is a 1988 English-language Mexican horror film that seems designed to crossover to American audiences, with its lead character Michael (Jon Michael Bischof, who directed a movie called RATAS NOCTURNAS three years later) a blond, curly haired kid who explains in narration that his family moved from Beverly Hills to Mexico City, a situation he considers “the pits.”

By the time of his 17th birthday, though, Michael already has enough friends for a party. His best pal Tony pushes him to play with a Ouija board even though he’s scared of it because of a previous incident involving an entity named “Virgil” who Michael believes is the devil. He keeps saying “I have to go home” to get out of it, which confused me because I was pretty sure this was his home, a theory confirmed by his mom (Helena Rojo, AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD) coming out and making everybody leave. (read the rest of this shit…)

Oscar Best Picture Nominee Round-up 2021

Well, it’s that time of year again. The end of April, that fabled time when the Oscars were 2 1/2 months ago unless there was a pandemic. Okay, obviously the big event this week is MORTAL KOMBAT coming out on Friday. But I’m still gonna enjoy watching the Oscars on Sunday.

As is my tradition, I made sure to watch all of the best picture nominees. Due to the pandemic I had seen fewer of them than usual when the nominations were announced, but it was easier to catch up since they could all be streamed. That was nice, though I will always treasure the time I had to take a ferry to the only theater in my area still playing HACKSAW RIDGE.

I had intended to do full reviews of more of these, but you know how it is – I decided to write about Godzilla movies and BLOODSPORT sequels and shit instead. It happens. So here are links to the ones I’ve reviewed and some thoughts on the ones I haven’t. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sound of Metal

SOUND OF METAL is not what I pictured at all. It’s about this guy Ruben (Riz Ahmed, VENOM) who’s a heavy metal* drummer, and then he loses his hearing. That’s the part I did know. The poster and the trailer and everything all focus on him shirtless on stage banging away on those things, and especially since it was nominated for best picture I had to figure it was about him struggling and overcoming and finding some thrillingly dramatic way to keep playing. I’ve heard of deaf people who play music based on vibrations, so I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s loud music, after all.

*pretty sure there’s a more accurate name for what their group Blackgammon plays, but fuck if I know what it is. Maybe sludge metal?

That’s not what this is at all. In the beginning he’s on tour with his group Blackgammon, which is just him and bleached-eyebrow singer girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke, READY PLAYER ONE). They live in an RV (a little nicer than NOMADLAND) so they’ll just play a show at some small place, try to sell some records and merch, then move along to the next town and find the next place.

The hearing loss seems pretty out of the blue. His ears just start ringing before a show. Then it sounds like he’s underwater. He just kinda pretends it’s nothing and hopes it will pass. Doesn’t even tell Lou. During the show he just goes for it, and Lou is looking at him like something’s wrong, so we wonder how far off he is. Suddenly he loses it, gets up and runs out the fire exit. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bloodsport III

Way back in 2013 I reviewed BLOODSPORT II: THE NEXT KUMITE starring Daniel Bernhardt. But I reviewed it as part of this tournament gimmick I was doing called The Super-Kumite, and the movie lost its round to BLOODFIGHT, so I never followed up with BLOODSPORTs III and IV like I normally would. Until now!

Unlike me, the filmmakers didn’t waste time. Part III (no subtitle) came out in 1996, the same year as part II. Bernhardt (or, as we call him this week, Bob Odenkirk’s fight trainer/co-fight-coordinator/“Bus Goon” on NOBODY) returns as Alex Cardo, the guy who won the sub-titular “NEXT KUMITE” after Van Damme’s Frank Dux in the original.

One odd continuity with part II is that it has a wraparound where the movie is a story being told to a kid. In part II it was Master Sun (James Wong) telling kids in his martial arts class how Alex became a good person. This time it’s Alex telling his ten year old son Jason (David Schatz, AMBROSE BIERCE: CIVIL WAR STORIES) a story about his life “living in the far east as a very successful gambler.” He notices Jason upset late at night, finds out he got suspended from school for beating up three eighth grade bullies, and decides to take him for a camping trip. So Alex figures it’s time to tell his son – who has been training in martial arts – that he was the Kumite champion (“Cool!”) and then about something that happened while he was “living in the far east as a very successful gambler.” It’s pretty cool, because most fathers, when their son gets into trouble at school, aren’t able to whip out a “the time I tried to avenge a murder” story. (read the rest of this shit…)

Nobody

Yes, it’s true – the makers of JOHN WICK have turned Bob Odenkirk (DR. DOLITTLE 2) into an action star. NOBODY (now on VOD) comes from WICK screenwriter Derek Kolstad (ONE IN THE CHAMBER, THE PACKAGE) and is produced by WICK co-director David Leitch, and it has many obvious similarities to JOHN WICK. The premise is a variation on a retired super-killer in a “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back!” situation. It mines the same entertaining territory of depraved Russian gangsters having the shock of their lives when they discover that somebody they assumed was just a random regular person is in fact a preposterously elite warrior who’s about to fuck up their whole existence. The dry, dark humor and gory, painful, expertly choreographed violence are certainly in the same ball park.

So if anybody has a bad thing to say about this movie that might not make me spit out my drink it would be “it was too much like JOHN WICK.” But I don’t agree that it’s a problem at all, because its strongest similarity is that it was another trailer that seemed to come somewhat out of the blue and made me say “Holy shit, where have you been all my life?,” and then when the actual movie came out it was simultaneously exactly as promised and so much more than anticipated. I don’t hesitate in saying that NOBODY is a new classic. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins

I know Rurouni Kenshin was a ‘90s anime series (sometimes called Samurai X) based on a manga and all that. I don’t usually pay much attention to that sort of thing, but also I knew there was a series of live action movies starting in 2012 with this one, RUROUNI KENSHIN I: ORIGINS. And I’ve been hearing for a long time that it has some really good sword fighting in it, so I’ve been meaning to see it.

But man, if I knew what it was about, I wouldn’t have waited so long! It’s true that it has some good sword fighting and other fun samurai shit in it, but also this is that most rare and beautiful type of action movie: the type that fits lots of fun action into a story that preaches against violence. It shows that nothing could be more badass than a guy who can kill a whole mob of people on his own but chooses to prove it to them while not doing it.

To put it another way, the hero Kenshin (Takeru Satoh, SAMURAI MARATHON) was such a scary motherfucker killing people for the government in his teens that everybody knew him as “Battosai the Killsword,” but now he’s so against killing that he travels around with a sword that is only sharpened on the back side of the blade.

So yeah, don’t worry, he’ll still be sword fighting. He’ll just be whapping them instead of slashing them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hard Rain

HARD RAIN is a very enjoyable ‘90s studio action movie (with a side order of disaster) that it turns out I must never have seen. I thought I had, but I would’ve remembered how good it is!

It starts, like many good films, by pulling out of the Paramount logo and using the logo’s mountain as part of its scenery. I was thinking it would be cool if it continued to be in the background of shots throughout the movie, but no dice.

Anyway, a very cool shot that I think combines live action, digital and miniature models establishes the geography of the small town of Huntingburg, Indiana, where the Sheriff (Randy Quaid, VEGAS VACATION) is trying to evacuate the locals as the titular aggressive precipitation causes flooding that will soon be worsened by trouble with levees and dams.

Meanwhile this dude Tom (Christian Slater, THE WIZARD) and his uncle Charlie (Edward Asner, voice of Jabba the Hutt, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – The Original Radio Drama) are working their shitty job driving an armored car, and they get stuck on a flooded road, unable to move further. Suddenly they’re blinded by floodlights and some guys pretend they’re going to help, but of course they really intend to rob the car. Uncle Charlie is mistakenly shot to death in the hubbub and Charlie runs away with the money. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mothra vs. Godzilla

Godzilla picture #3, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, was such a hit in 1963 that Toho realized their boy really should have an ongoing series where he battles other behemoths, so director Ishiro Honda, composer Akira Ifukube and effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya (plus Haruo Nakajima redonning the Godzilla suit) immediately got to work on the next one.

Getting the rights to another studio’s characters every time wasn’t gonna be sustainable (too bad – GODZILLA VS. CAT PEOPLE would’ve been cool), so this time they decided to pit the big guy against Mothra, the giant moth goddess from Honda’s own 1961 film. I’ve always associated Mothra with Godzilla, so it’s interesting to realize that they weren’t originally intended to cross paths or exist in the same world. In a way, MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA is like if M. Night Shyamalan had made SPLIT unconnected to UNBREAKABLE and then decided to combine them in GLASS. Or if James Cameron made AVATAR VS. THE ABYSS.

Another thing it’s easy to forget is that there was an entire decade where Godzilla was always the bad guy. Here he’s in his fourth movie and the guy is just a total dick still. Only in movie #2 could you argue he was kind of good, because the other guy was so aggressive. Otherwise he’s just causing problems for everybody. For this one he doesn’t show up until a half hour in (such a diva) so Mothra gets top billing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Modern Vampires

Back in the late ’90s, being a superfan of the SHRUNKEN HEADS mythos, I was excited for a new Richard Elfman/Matthew Bright joint called MODERN VAMPIRES. I found it disappointing at the time – decadent L.A. vampires are not nearly as weird as flying severed head super heroes, so it didn’t make much of an impression. But since I revisited FORBIDDEN ZONE and SHRUNKEN HEADS in close succession this week I decided to also do this one. Now that it’s old I think it plays a little better as a b-movie piss take on the vampire movies that were being made at the time.

Or is that even what it is? When MODERN VAMPIRES went straight to video in the U.S. it was October of ’99 and the cover had a design style and not-screen-accurate fashion flagrantly copying BLADE, but it had actually premiered before both BLADE and John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had already reclaimed bloodsuckers from Anne Rice, though, so I suppose that’s what they’re playing off of, if anything. Or maybe it’s just West Coast elite NEAR DARK. (read the rest of this shit…)

R.I.P. DMX


Man do I hate starting out sentences this way, but rest in peace to DMX, rap icon who wielded the most unwieldy mix of bravado, raw intensity, heart-on-his-sleeve vulnerability and demonic horror in some great and idiosyncratic music. He seemed to appear to us already on top, shocking the world with a completely new sound and cadence. The growls, the chants, the gothic organs, the kids chanting about DMX like he’s Freddy, the catchy anthems that still get our hearts pumping today. But underneath it a sense of sincere anguish and struggle.

In his almost 25 years of music and public life he seemed to always be running from demons, on the brink of possible disaster, yet it feels impossible that they finally caught up with him. From the beginning he talked about pain and fear, he covered himself in blood on an album cover, talked about Hell, gave literal voice to his darkest thoughts, prayed to (and conversed with) God, read sad poems. But he was also known for having fun – praising his friends, driving around on four-wheelers doing wheelies and donuts (a trademark!), boasting, being funny.

And of course he had an action movie period! He just happened to be on the top at the right time to intersect with Joel Silver’s action-star-with-rappers-and-R&B-singers period. So he co-starred with Jet Li and Steven Seagal in roles where he just seemed like DMX, even if his character was, like, a hacktivist. I love that kinda shit – his screen presence was more exciting to me than good acting would’ve been – but he showed much more potential in BELLY, the one movie directed by music video legend Hype Williams. Not everything about the movie works, but it looks absolutely incredible, makes numerous interesting artistic choices and really does harness that raw DMX charisma in a powerful way.

I was so hyped for NEVER DIE ALONE, where he was the lead and stretching himself more, adapting a book by Donald Goins. It didn’t turn out to be what I hoped for at the time, and everyone else seemed to ignore it (though I have since seen it discovered and enjoyed by a few people). Like for most movie star type performers there was kind of a decline in quality, and he was content to just show up in random DTV movies on occasion, more cashing in on his name and face than finding good roles. And that’s fine. I can respect that. His heart was on the mic. Why not also play “Davie” in FAST AND FIERCE: DEATH RACE? I’m sure it was fun.

It was long known that he struggled with addiction and mental health issues that got him into reckless and inexplicable misadventures, but in recent years he appeared to have settled down a little. It seemed like the guy who on his first album said, “And I fear that what I’m saying, won’t be heard until I’m gone / But it’s all good, ’cause I really didn’t expect to live long” was aging into an old legend. Last year I watched him on that Verzuz with Snoop Dogg and it was electric to see the two of them celebrating each others’ life’s work, gushing over each other, dancing around like total dorks.

It made me so happy to watch them like that I actually tried to take some live screengrabs to capture the vibe:

DMX had a belly like a retiree and seemed so humble and flattered, being self-deprecating, almost bashful about the compliments. I hope he was able to enjoy it and really understand how much the world loved him.

Here are my old reviews of some of his movies. They’re not my best or most respectful work. I’ve been thinking about revisiting the Jet Li American period, so maybe I’ll do them more justice next time.

ROMEO MUST DIE
BELLY
NEVER DIE ALONE
CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE
LORDS OF THE STREET