"I'll just get my gear."

The Marksman

THE MARKSMAN is one of this year’s Liam Neeson (THE DEAD POOL) Old Man Action movies. It came out on disc a month or two ago and had played in theaters in January, wherever it is that those were open at that time. It’s one of the rare theatrical releases if this era that did not get delayed by the pandemic – in fact they pushed it up one week. Had things been normal I definitely would’ve seen it at an early afternoon showing at Pacific Place with four or five other loners in the theater and I would’ve been satisfied as I walked out after the credits ended and the young man with the garbage can at the door told me to have a good day as I emerged from the quiet auditorium to the cheesy narrator promoting the A-List on recordings in the lobby.

(Sorry – I wrote this review before I’d been back to theaters, must’ve been getting nostalgic.)

Neeson plays a very fictionalized version of Jim Henson called Jim Hanson. He’s a Vietnam vet who lives right next to the Mexican border and has recently run out of money because of his late wife’s cancer treatments. Aside from one drunken scene where he does a really good low grumbly voice, it’s the standard Neeson accent, but he’s so All-American he literally has an American flag draped over his shoulder when a guy from the bank (Alex Knight, Narcos: Mexico) shows up to tell him his ranch might be taken from him. I like the little bit that Jim tells him he spread his wife’s ashes on the hill over there and the guy says “I’m sorry for your loss.” Trying to seem humane without even following what he’s talking about.

Jim is the kind of guy who has a walkie-talkie to call in what he calls “I.A.s” crossing his property. But at least he’s the kind who will bring water and call for a medic for one who gets left behind. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rogue Hostage

Like many people of an older persuasion, my first impression of Tyrese Gibson was twenty years ago when he starred in John Singleton’s BABY BOY. At the time it had a mixed reception, but I thought it was a good companion piece/followup to BOYZ N THE HOOD, and this R&B singer or whatever he was, he was good in it. (For a long time I thought he had started as a model, but now I’m thinking I had him mixed up with Tyson Beckford?) It has some laughs in it, but it’s a dramatic role. He goes through quite a bit.

To Gibson’s great fortune, it was Singleton who was directing the first sequel to THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS when Vin Diesel decided he didn’t want to do it and a new co-lead was needed. So he swooped in to play Roman Pearce, childhood friend of Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) who blames him for his prison bid for car theft but reluctantly accepts an undercover job with him to gain his freedom (an obvious rewrite of where Dominic Toretto would’ve ended up if he’d been in the movie). The two characters do some bickering, but at that time Roman was a serious action guy, a type Gibson would also play in WAIST DEEP, some TRANSFORMERSes, DEATH RACE and LEGION. He collaborated with Singleton again on FOUR BROTHERS and with pre-TOKYO DRIFT Justin Lin on ANNAPOLIS but was not one of the FAST crew invited back for part 4.

Eight years after 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, when Roman finally returned in FAST FIVE, Diesel was back in the central role, so Tyrese got to riff and be silly. Other than saying grace in FURIOUS 6 and monologuing about sacrifice (while flying a space hooptie) in F9, he has mainly remained comic relief for four subsequent FASTs. (read the rest of this shit…)

Unlucky Stars

UNLUCKY STARS (2015) is a no-budget indie action movie in this pretty new and rare category of fan-made action movies. That’s kind of selling it short, because these are legit, accomplished stuntmen, martial artists and choreographers, and it’s designed mainly to showcase their work. But they’re also all about throwing in little movie homages and cameos in a way more common to no-budget horror. Like they have a detective agency called Golden Harvest Private Investigations (with the Golden Harvest logo and everything), Simon Rhee has a cameo and is apparently meant to be his BEST OF THE BEST character Dae Han, J.J. “UNDISPUTED II” Perry shows up, there’s a running gag about a reality show for action stars in rehab (and apparently Amy Johnston is on it at some point? I didn’t spot her), and the ending seems to set the heroes up to live the plot of WHEELS ON MEALS.

Oh, and also two of the main characters are supposed to be fringe action stars. Jose Montesinos (director of 5 HEADED SHARK ATTACK) plays Tomas De La Cruz, “Peru’s biggest action star,” who has a $15,000 gambling debt and is trying to do another movie to get it. Sari Sabella (NIGHTMARE WEDDING) plays Sameer Yousef, a Jordanian martial artist who gets fired from his first American movie and sinks into his obsessive De La Cruz fandom. (read the rest of this shit…)

Candyman (2021)

CANDYMAN (2021) is the first sequel in 22 years to CANDYMAN (1992), my pick for the best horror movie of the ‘90s. Though I don’t think this one’s nearly as good as Bernard Rose’s original, it’s much more worthy of the mantle than the previous sequels, Bill Condon’s New Orleans-set CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (1995) and (it goes without saying) Turi Meyer’s horrendous DTV CANDYMAN 3: DAY OF THE DEAD (1999). It’s nice that various trends have aligned to allow revisiting the subject decades later, minus any mercenary needs to strike while the iron is hot, and with the now-gentrified Chicago neighborhood where the first film took place providing a new angle from which to explore its still-relevant race and class themes. That seems to be the main point of interest for director Nia DaCosta (who did the excellent 2018 drama-with-some-crime LITTLE WOODS) and her producer/co-writers Jordan Peele (GET OUT, US) and Win Rosenfeld (executive producer of BLACKkKLANSMAN).

When the movie starts, the Universal logo comes on, so that globe spins around, and the letters come out, and then you realize they’re backwards. For half a second I thought something was wrong with the projection, but of course it’s referencing the importance of mirrors in the CANDYMAN films (where the titular restless spirit is summoned by chanting his name, like Bloody Mary). A couple of production company logos proceed to play backwards as well, so by the time the film proper started I had to look around until I spotted some numbers on a building and could finally be sure the movie was playing properly. Beginning the movie already off balance. Nice touch. (read the rest of this shit…)

Summer of 1991 closing remarks

Thank you for joining me and/or being patient with me during these last few months of S91: JUDGMENT SUMMER, my look back at most of the summer movie releases of 30 years ago. (If you actually didn’t join me, you can scroll down and click on the links to all the reviews). According to my calculations I reviewed 46 movies for this series, not including the non-1991 ones (like the part 1s for some of these part 2s). And now here are my judgments.

By the end, you noticed, I was calling it “Sarah Connor Summer.” There’s never gonna be an over-arching theme to an entire release schedule, but it really is cool how much of a “let’s give women a little bit more to do in movies” movement took place in those months. By that I mostly mean that

1) THELMA & LOUISE and its fantasy of regular women going ballistic against the daily transgressions of sexism really became a cultural phenomenon

2) TERMINATOR 2’s fierce, muscular (but also emotionally complex) version of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor created a new ideal for women in action movies

and

3) Kathryn Bigelow directed the other best action movie of the summer, both dissecting and glorying in masculine themes from her unique perspective, which she can do if she damn well pleases. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barton Fink

“He’s poor, this wrestler! He’s had struggle!”


It used to be that August was a time for studios to release a bunch of movies they thought were bad or didn’t have high expectations for. You know, they release ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and T2 early in the summer, hoping young people and families will go repeatedly throughout the summer. Once it gets closer to school starting up again there’s less chance for that, so that’s why in the year in question we were seeing weird rooster cartoons and weird dog cartoons and weird dog live action movies and weird Mickey Rourke movies.

Many things in the world of pop culture were shifting that month. While on the Lollapalooza tour, long-time goth fixtures Siouxsie and the Banshees actually actually made it onto the Billboard charts for “Kiss Them For Me.” (By the next summer they’d have a song in a Batman movie.) Pearl Jam released their first album. LaKeith Stanfield was born. But also Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” love theme from ROBIN HOOD was still the #1 song!

This particular August ended with kind of a whimper – CHILD’S PLAY 3 (still the weakest Chucky movie four sequels later) was released on the 30th. But I thought I should end this review series on the August 21, 1991 release that happens to be one of the weirdest but also best regarded movies of the season. If I had to compare it to another ’91 movie I’d have to say it reminds me most of THE DARK BACKWARD, of all things. Well, and I case some fire stunts reminded me of BACKDRAFT. But those are stretches. This one stands alone. (read the rest of this shit…)

True Identity

August 23, 1991

As we’ve discussed earlier in this series, the summer of ’91 was pivotal for the emerging Black film movement of the era. BOYZ N THE HOOD was the seismic event, but we also had Bill Duke directing his first theatrical feature, a new one from Spike Lee, and a heavily hyped drama made by a 19-year-old director in a Brooklyn housing project with some credit cards. So it’s only fitting that one of the last movies of the summer was a studio film from the Black director of an acclaimed indie.

Charles Lane had written, directed, and starred in a 1989 film called SIDEWALK STORIES, about a homeless artist in Greenwich Village who takes care of a little girl (played by his daughter) after her father is murdered. Partly an homage to Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID, it’s silent except for the last scene. Roger Ebert loved it, it was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for best director, first feature and male lead, and according to Wikipedia it won the audience prize at Cannes, though I haven’t been able to verify this. The point is, it was respected.

So here we are three years later and Lane is directing a major Touchstone Pictures comedy with the very mainstream premise “What if a Black guy had to pretend to be a white guy?” It stars the British comedian Lenny Henry (BERNARD AND THE GENIE) and is written by Andy Breckman, a (white) Late Night With David Letterman and SNL writer who had scripted MOVING, ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS and HOT TO TROT. (read the rest of this shit…)

Body Count (1995)

I have been wanting to see BODY COUNT for years. Not Ice-T’s band (I saw them on the Lollapalooza tour in 1991) or Ice-T’s 1997 film (which I reviewed last Christmas) but the 1995 movie starring Brigitte Nielsen. Or so I thought based on the cover. And when I realized Sonny Chiba was also in it I finally pulled the trigger. R.I.P. to the legend.

This is an American movie, of course, and obviously not up to par with the movies that made us love Chiba. It’s one of those B- movies where everything is cheap and trashy, the music (credited to Don Peake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES and Knight Rider fame) alternates between repetitive synth bullshit and inappropriate bombast, and the main cop characters are dreadfully boring but every once in a while there’s a car flip or a high fall stunt, and each of the male leads does at least one gratuitous somersault and hangs off of a moving vehicle. Also Chiba’s character causes a school bus to flip and then two other vehicles crash into it and blow up. So I didn’t feel my time was entirely wasted.

(Stunt coordinator/second unit director: BJ Davis [AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION, ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION]. Fight coordinator: Ed Anders [stunts: NINJA III: THE DOMINATION]). (read the rest of this shit…)

Showdown in Little Tokyo

“Y’know – this is a weird part of town.”

August 23, 1991

SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO is a movie I have long enjoyed (here is a pretty dumb review of it I wrote 13 years ago). It’s a buddy cop movie starring Dolph Lundgren (between COVER UP and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER) and Brandon Lee (between LASER MISSION and RAPID FIRE), so any possible deficiencies are easily overcome by their great charisma and the unrepeatable novelty of their team-up. Watching it in the context of these other ’91 movies it does seem slightly primitive; it’s a Warner Bros. movie, but the budget was $8 million, which is less than DOUBLE IMPACT – or even non-action stuff like DEAD AGAIN, THE COMMITMENTS, BINGO, RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON and LIFE STINKS – let alone the new state-of-the-art represented by POINT BREAK and TERMINATOR 2. Fortunately it’s in the capable exploitation hands of director Mark L. Lester (STEEL ARENA, CLASS OF 1984, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO, CLASS OF 1999), so it has heavy doses of The Good Shit. He always gives you something extra.

Just as MYSTERY DATE has its two leads getting into trouble with gangs in Chinatown, this is about two guys fighting a Yakuza drug ring in L.A.’s Japanese district. In this case that’s in their job description as members of the LAPD Asian Crime Taskforce. Dolph’s Sergeant Chris Kenner gets the kind of introduction all his characters deserve: he single-handedly raids an illegal fighting circuit by climbing through a skylight, swinging into the ring on a rope and saying, “Haven’t I told you this is illegal, and it pisses me off?” Then he’s announced as the new challenger and has to fight the guys in the ring. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mystery Date / Pure Luck

August 16,1991

The only thing I remembered about MYSTERY DATE was that Gwar was in it. It’s a once-crazy-night movie where this kid Tom (Ethan Hawke, EXPLORERS) nervously takes out his crush Geena (Teri Polo, BORN TO RIDE) and tries to impress her, and they end up at a place called Club Voltaire during a Gwar show. We briefly get to see them roaring and thrashing and performing a cartoonish decapitation – pretty great choice for the “band that would seem intimidating to these people” scene. (In Keanu’s THE NIGHT BEFORE it was Parliament-Funkadelic.)

What I did not remember is that Tom finds a dead body in his trunk, accidentally kills a cop, and gets in a war with the Chinatown mafia. I thought it was gonna be a normal horny romantic comedy type deal.

Tom is a shy recent high school graduate. Since he looks like Ethan Hawke they don’t try to pass him off as a total nerd – he wears a Los Lobos t-shirt and has posters of The Stranglers, The The, Elvis Costello, UB40, and that Lynda Barry “Poodle with a Mohawk” cartoon, all suggesting he’s, like, a guy who listens to college radio or whatever. But he doesn’t make it clear what other passions he may have, save for this “mystery girl” next door (I think she’s housesitting?) who he spies on through a telescope (unethical). He lives in the shadow of his brother Craig (Brian McNamara, SHORT CIRCUIT), who’s at law school, and his parents’ dog, who they’ve taken out of town for a dog show. (read the rest of this shit…)