There were several movies in the summer of ’91 that were major pop culture events, widely discussed, referenced, parodied. One of them, surprisingly, was a music documentary shot mostly in 16mm black and white.
Or really more of a tour documentary than a music documentary. One thing that’s unusual about MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE is that it’s entirely about its subject being a performer, a troupe leader, and a celebrity, and not at all about her music, or even the creation of her show.
The Blond Ambition World Tour was not a normal concert – it was more like an extravagant stage musical. On the four month, 57-show tour from Chiba, Japan to Nice, France, Madonna promoted her 1989 album Like a Prayer and 1990 DICK TRACY tie-in I’m Breathless, backed by seven dancers, two backup singers, an eight-piece band and a $2 million, 80 x 70 foot stage set that was hauled in 18 trucks and set up by over 100 crew members. Every song we see in the movie has its own backdrop, wardrobe (by the fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier – or, as we know him, the guy who did the costumes for THE FIFTH ELEMENT – who Madonna recruited in 1989 by sending him a nice letter) and complex choreography. When the movie begins they already seem like old pros at performing it. If there’s drama about something going wrong it’s not any of them messing up. It’s the sound system or the weather. (read the rest of this shit…)
You know me, I love these modern (like, 1990s or later) takes on old timey adventure heroes. For example I enjoyed THE SHADOW, THE PHANTOM, THE LONE RANGER and THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, all of which were considered flops. I suspect the generation that was greenlighting these kinds of pictures is gone, and the tradition will die out, but I appreciate their contributions to my entertainment.
There’s only one I can think of that was a genuine hit. THE MASK OF ZORRO opened at #1, made $250 million worldwide, even got a sequel. One of its biggest marks was making Catherine Zeta-Jones into a movie star. Obviously you and I already knew her as a villain who switches to the good guy side in THE PHANTOM, but executive producer Steven Spielberg (DEEP IMPACT) recommended her after seeing her in a Titanic mini-series. MASK OF ZORRO was the thing most people knew her from before ENTRAPMENT, THE HAUNTING, HIGH FIDELITY, TRAFFIC, CHICAGO, etc. For screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (SMALL SOLDIERS), who are credited alongside John Eskow (PINK CADILLAC, AIR AMERICA) and Randall Jahnson (DUDES, THE DOORS) it was the prototype epic-period-adventure-movie template they would use for four PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies and THE LONE RANGER.
Instead of thinking of ACTS OF VENGEANCE as the new one from DTV action master Isaac Florentine, I recommend viwing it as the new Antonio Banderas, and oh shit Isaac Florentine directed this! Held to the standards of Florentine’s amazing UNDISPUTED 2, 3 and 4, NINJA 1 and 2 or other Scott Adkins vehicles it can’t really compete. But for a non-martial artist Banderas has some good fights, and it has a nice, weird revenge story for him to sink his actor teeth into.
He plays Frank Valera, a successful defense attorney who, like all workaholic dads in movies, promises to be at his daughter (Lillian Blankenship, SECURITY)’s talent show where she’s singing a song specifically for him but he stays at work too long and gets there after it’s over and feels like a piece of shit and emotionally watches the cell phone video of her singing and tries to call to apologize to his wife (Cristina Serafini, DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE) but man did he fuck up, this guy.
(For what it’s worth, most of the delay was caused by gridlock, and he was honking his horn alot. It was mostly out of his control.) (read the rest of this shit…)
SECURITY is solid, entertaining old school action in the post-DIE HARD mold. The score by FM Le Sieur even had me thinking of the UNDER SIEGE movies during the watch-as-a-well-orchestrated-plot-by-heavily-armed-criminals-unfolds section about the ambush of a convoy of U.S. Marshals transporting an important witness for a mob trial.
Admittedly this is a Nu-Image production and it doesn’t feel as big and cinematic as those ’90s studio action classics. The supporting cast on the good guy side have a bit of a TV feel, and the shopping mall that it takes place in has got to be some set they keep in a Bulgarian studio to use in various movies. The stores and merchandise are blandly generic – there’s a store called “Gift Shop”! – so it never has that feeling of being filmed in a real location, though the layout works well for action staging.
Everything else is refreshingly on-point. Antonio Banderas stars as discharged Marine Captain Eddie Deacon, temporarily separated from his wife and daughter to deal with psychological issues, struggling to find work, having to beg for a special favor from an agency worker just to be set up with a minimum wage job doing security at a mall. Of course he starts the same night and in the same area as the attack on the US Marshals (actually their uniforms say “USA Marshals,” which is weird) and the witness the attackers are after, a little girl named Jamie (Katherine Mary de la Rocha), escapes to the mall. So Eddie has to play ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 with a crew of young doofuses on his team. (read the rest of this shit…)
DESPERADO is my favorite Robert Rodriguez movie. People will always say the scrappy, home-made, subtitled EL MARIACHI is better, and a strong argument could be made for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, with its Tarantino script and movie-star-making performance by George Clooney. But to me DESPERADO is his purest expression, the full enthusiasm of a young, hungry Hollywood rookie high on spaghetti westerns, John Woo and what his new friend QT was up to, fired into a full-blooded action movie uniquely based in Mexican culture.
The Tarantino influence shows in the talky opening with Steve Buscemi as the Mariachi’s hype man/street team, loudly telling tall tales about him in a bar, and in the scene where Tarantino himself plays a criminal telling a long-winded joke about peeing. But otherwise this has an identity very different from the wave of ’90s crime films, one that’s more visual and musical. He uses lots of slo-mo and dissolve edits working in tandem with a driving Latin rock score by Los Lobos. This is just one example of how the fresh Hollywood hotshot used his newfound resources while insisting on doing it his way. Another is the casting of the leads. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE 13TH WARRIOR sounds like a pretty badass thing to be, but let’s be clear: Ahmed ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas) is number thirteen out of thirteen. In other words, the last guy to be picked.
Well, I guess it’s not exactly a nerd-in-gym-class scenario, they do want him. He’s drafted against his wishes. But not like he’s some John McClane type reluctant hero. He doesn’t want to go because he’s unqualified. He’s not a warrior, he’s an Arab poet who got too flirty with some caliph’s girl or something so they made him an ambassador and sent him packing, the poet equivalent of the alternate ending of TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. where he gets transferred to Alaska. Ahmad ends up hanging out with these “Northmen,” or vikings. Their king has just died and gone to Valhalla to kick it V.I.P. (vikings in paradise) style, but Ahmed is taken in by the heir apparent Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich), shown some of their ways and pushed into service with this dirty baker’s dozen on a mission to protect a village that’s been attacked by monsters that come from the fog, ravage villages and tear off people’s heads. And they take the heads with them when they leave. Choppers keepers. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE EXPENDABLES 3 is another Expendables movie, like any other. It’s got a cast that indicates it should be the ultimate action movie, but ends up being penultimate at best. It’s a weird mix of satisfying appearance of favorite faces and tropes and disappointing execution of these elements. I call that feeling satisppointment, or expendablation. Just like the others I enjoyed it, but with a nagging feeling that this should be something actually great.
But the first stretch had me thinking it might blow the other ones out of the water. It opens mid-mission as our old Expendapals Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) are in a chopper chasing after a Russian prison transfer train to bust out an original team member who’s been locked up for 8 years. That prisoner is none other than Wesley The Daywalker Snipes as “Doctor Death,” and it’s an excellent welcome home party for the man. He’s got a crazy beard and hair and a spaced out look in his eye, and instead of going with the rescue party he runs across the train, does a slide and a bunch of acrobatics, kills a bunch of his captors and causes the train to crash into the bastard in charge. (read the rest of this shit…)
There are lots of funny things in MACHETE KILLS. For a while it coasts on enjoyably stupid jokes, like the ridiculous trailer for part 3 of the series that it opens with. Early on it has a little faux-serious melodrama, playing it almost straight when a clash with rogue soldiers, a Mexican drug cartel and an army in lucha libre masks leads to the death of Machete (Danny Trejo, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN, MARKED FOR DEATH)’s partner. I like the setup, with a redneck Arizona sheriff (William Sadler, DIE HARD 2) failing to hang Machete before he gets called in by the president (Charlie Sheen, NAVY SEALS, credited as Carlos Estevez) who offers him citizenship in exchange for doing a dangerous mission. I thought the joke of casting him was to have a guy as crazy as Sheen as the president, like wasn’t Mickey Rourke the president in MASKED AND ANONYMOUS? It honestly didn’t occur to me until seeing him on a White House set that his dad played the president in The West Wing (not to mention playing Kennedy). Anyway, the best part is the idea that this unsavory slasher/wife-and-daughter-fucker/assassin gets to sit in the White House and hear his offer.
Trejo’s face is even more rugged than ever, if possible, and he doesn’t have to joke around. He’s fun to watch just being that same character, but now equipped with various high-tech variations on machetes to chop people up with. Robert Rodriguez (credited as sole director this time, and also with his name above the title, but only a co-story credit) once again fills the movie with a huge, unlikely cast, mostly playing colorful gimmicky characters: Mel Gibson (PAPARAZZI) as a weapon inventor/space cultist planning to blow up the world, Demian Bichir (2012 best actor nominee for A BETTER LIFE) as a revolutionary/terrorist/something, Amber Heard (DRIVE ANGRY) as a government agent undercover as a beauty queen, Walton Goggins/Cuba Gooding Jr./Lady Gaga/Antonio Banderas all playing the same assassin called El Camaleon, Vanessa Hudgens (SPRING BREAKERS) as a girl that’s in one part, Sofia Vergara allowing Salma Hayek some dignity by stepping in to play the deadly Madam character with army of killer prostitutes (see also Lucy Liu in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, Zoe Bell in BAYTOWN OUTLAWS, etc.) (read the rest of this shit…)
So nice they named it twice for some reason? I actually was always curious to see what this BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER movie was all about, so those of you who voted it up in the SUGGESTIONS gave me that nudge I’ve been needing for years.
Antonio Banderas plays Jeremiah Ecks, an ex-FBI agent who went deep undercover and faked his death but also thought his wife was dead but she wasn’t but now he’s retired but they come to him and say his wife is actually alive and he should help them go after this kidnapper Sever (Lucy Liu) because she knows where his wife is. She took the son of innocent Talisa Soto (MORTAL KOMBAT) and rich asshole Gregg Henry (PAYBACK) and she keeps him in a big metal cage in a Batcave type underground lair but she seems to like him because she brings him cafeteria lunch trays loaded with good food like home made macaroni and cheese, Jello and Ding-Dongs, and he says “Thank you” politely. (read the rest of this shit…)
Steven Soderbergh’s take on an action/spy thriller – built around “The Face of Women’s MMA” Gina Carano after he saw her on Strikeforce while flipping channels around – lives up to my high expectations. It’s written by Lem Dobbs and it’s like the kid sister of THE LIMEY, mixing the style of that Soderbergh classic with kind of a more upbeat ex-Marine-badass-operative-betrayed-and-on-the-run type of story. It has THE LIMEY’s sense of quiet, deliberate pace and dread and also its dry you-just-fucked-with-the-wrong-person type of humor. Of course, professional fighter Carano has different strengths as a performer than Terence Stamp does, so her movie has less emotion and more punching, kicking, choking, armbars, heads broken through furniture, foot chases, etc. Gina’s not gonna mourn the loss of the daughter she never knew, and Terence isn’t gonna climb up onto a roof. In my opinion. And it’s great to have both of them. (read the rest of this shit…)
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