Here’s a story I may or may not have told before. It takes place on February 28, 2001. A few minutes before 11 am there was a 6.8 earthquake epicentered in the southern Puget Sound. I was at work and I saw some shelves wobble and a few things fall down, but nothing serious. Downtown there was some damage – some vehicles got crushed by falling bricks, and I remember a couple clubs where bands used to play in Pioneer Square (OK Hotel and Fenix Underground) were wrecked enough they went out of business. I called my roommate at home to make sure none of my stuff broke, and he made fun of me.
After work I went to Pacific Place to see this movie MONKEYBONE. All the advertising looked cheesy, but I was hoping it might be interesting because it was from Henry Selick, the director of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Unfortunately the advertising was pretty accurate. I remember a couple times during the movie something playing on a bordering screen made a loud rumble that vibrated the whole row I was sitting in. I thought about the three escalators I took up through the mall to get to the theater, and the fourth escalator inside the theater that goes up to the floor where this one was showing, and I thought, “That’s an aftershock, and the building is gonna collapse, and I’m gonna die watching fucking MONKEYBONE.” (read the rest of this shit…)
On May 1, 1992, Fine Line Features released Jim Jarmusch’s NIGHT ON EARTH on a mere 40 screens. By comparison, LEAVING NORMAL was released to 362 screens on the same day, and nobody ever heard of that one. But this was a well marketed limited release – I knew NIGHT ON EARTH existed, and in fact went to see it on one of those 40 screens, specifically the one that was upstairs at Seattle’s Harvard Exit Theatre (1968-2015).
This is Jarmusch’s fifth film. It’s possible I’d seen STRANGER THAN PARADISE and DOWN BY LAW already, but I suspect I rented them after seeing this. (I know I’d never heard of PERMANENT VACATION and saw MYSTERY TRAIN later.) So I may not have realized that by his standards it was kind of commercial: in Winona Ryder (who had BEETLEJUICE, HEATHERS and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS under her belt and was about to do BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) he had his biggest movie star to date, and despite its simplicity it sure seems to have a bigger budget than his previous films, since it’s filmed on location in four different countries. (read the rest of this shit…)
This year THE HOST and SNOWPIERCER director Bong Joon-ho made a truly one-of-a-kind movie. OKJA is a sweet girl-and-her-creature tale like MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO after it has been swallowed by a vicious satire of corporate greed and man’s treatment of animals. It’s produced by Netflix with an international cast, many of them speaking English, but its wild shifts in tone make it feel safely within the tradition of South Korean cinema.
It already seems bug-nuts from the opening, when aggressively-faux-enlightened Mirando Corporation CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, CONSTANTINE) gives her colorful presentation about the “discovery” of the allegedly miraculously eco-friendly “superpig” species and their plan to give them to farmers in 26 cities around the world to raise for ten years using their local traditions and then to crown one as the best.
The decade passes, and young Mija (Ahn Seo-Hyun, the daughter in THE YELLOW SEA) lives an idyllic life in some mountains in Korea helping her grandfather (Byun Hee-bong, MEMORIES OF MURDER) take care of their superpig Okja. She’s bigger than a hippo – looks like a giant Eeyore – but limber enough to leap around like Ang Lee’s Hulk. Mija plays with her and rolls around on top of her belly and climbs inside her mouth to brush her teeth for her. (read the rest of this shit…)
Dump all the macho pop culture of the ’80s – movies, TV shows, music videos, beer and cigarette ads, wrestling – into a strainer, shake it around, and the chunks you got left are HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, a buddy-action movie that plays at first like a satire of, but then maybe a tribute to, our basest ideals of masculinity.
It starts with a disclaimer that no, this is not affiliated with the two products it’s named after. The title characters are not supposed to be advertising mascots come to life, some weird meta thing like FOODFIGHT!. It’s tempting to think so, though, when you see them sitting on billboards, Harley (Mickey Rourke, DOUBLE TEAM) always wearing his patch-covered motorcycle jacket, Marlboro (Don Johnson, DEAD BANG) his cowboy gear, cigarette dangling from his lip (though he supposedly quit).
It’s more like it takes place in a pure world of action movie tropes. In the first 10 minutes there’s both an interrupted convenience store robbery and a bar brawl. (Marlboro, being a cowboy, has a disagreement with some Native Americans at the pool table.) They drive motorcycles and leave women naked in hotel beds without saying goodbye. They start in Amarillo and Colorado is mentioned but for the most part their whole world seems to be Las Vegas, L.A. and the dusty desert roads (and train tracks) between them. (read the rest of this shit…)
After DO THE RIGHT THING made Spike Lee into a major cultural force, he set his sights on a few subjects he thought were important. Before he made his MALCOLM X movie with Denzel, and before he didn’t make his Jackie Robinson movie with Denzel, he tackled a broader topic: a jazz movie with Denzel.
It was a subject near and dear to Lee’s heart. His father Bill Lee was a jazz bassist and composer for his first four films (this being the last), and he’d befriended Branford Marsalis on DO THE RIGHT THING, so The Branford Marsalis Quartet (plus Terence Blanchard on trumpet) plays the music here. I seem to remember Lee being publicly hostile toward Bertrand Tavernier’s ROUND MIDNIGHT and Clint Eastwood’s BIRD for focusing too much on drug addiction, a complaint possibly aggravated by his annoyance at reporters asking him why DO THE RIGHT THING didn’t deal with drug addiction.
Can you imagine? “Wes Anderson, don’t you have a responsibility to your community to show that rich people use coke?” “Makers of SWEET HOME ALABAMA, where is the meth?” Fuck you. Just for the sake of my blood pressure I’m gonna assume every reporter who asked that has since sent Spike flowers and a card with a long, heartfelt, handwritten letter of apology.
Surprisingly, Lee’s jazz movie just replaces heroin with other vices. Washington’s quintet-leading trumpeter Bleek Gilliam is some kind of womanizer who tries to have two girlfriends at the same time, med student Indigo Downes (Joie Lee) and aspiring singer Clarke Betancourt (Cynda Williams in her first role). His childhood friend/terrible manager Giant (Spike himself) has a dangerous addiction to sports gambling and is in debt to his bookie (Ruben Blades, SECUESTRO EXPRESS, COLOR OF NIGHT). But these troubles are kind of woven into a casual and down to earth story about Bleek’s fairly minor struggles doing shows at the Beneath the Underdog jazz club, during a slow-brewing musical and love rivalry with his saxophone player Shadow Henderson (Wesley God Damn Snipes, BLADE). (read the rest of this shit…)
BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is one in a long series of DTV animated movies based on the super hero works of the DC Comics company (#20 out of 26 so far, according to Wikipedia). This is a particularly too-PG-13-for-kids one (a sex scene, exploding heads, a few naughty words, bullets going into a decapitated body, unceremonious deaths of characters your kid may love if he or she is weirdly knowledgeable of third-string DC villains), and although it’s marketed as a tie-in to the Batman Arkham City video games it’s actually a Suicide Squad cartoon with Batman as a supporting character.
We all know the concept of Suicide Squad now, thanks to this summer’s live action version. It’s a DIRTY DOZEN type team but instead of army troublemakers the members are the enemies of various super heroes. This version starts when shady government official Amanda Waller (CCH Pounder, FACE/OFF) oversees her SWAT team getting The Riddler (Matthew Gray Gubler, EXCISION) snatched out from under them by the fucking Batman (Kevin Conroy, YOGA HOSERS). They want Riddler for some secret black ops something or other, but Batman gets him into the regular legal system, locked up in Arkham Asylum. (read the rest of this shit…)
Do you guys know about these “Usual Suspects”? They’re this group of criminals who get rounded up one day for a line up for some crime none of them had anything to do with, and it pisses them off so much that they decide to pool their resources for a job that will get them some diamonds and humiliate the police by exposing their corruption. As a bonus it will also allow them to terrorize an uptight Paul Bartel and blow up his car. But when they go to fence the jewels they realize they’ve been pulled into this whole other thing with an infamous boogie man super-criminal who now says they owe him and have to do a job for him or their loved ones will be assaulted and killed. Or at least that’s what this lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite, INCEPTION) tells them. Or at least that’s the story that Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, MOON, The Equalizer) tells Customs Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri, BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON) when he wants to know what led up to the burning ship full of dead bodies discovered last night.
Yeah, actually this movie is pretty complicated, and that’s just the basics there. There’s also the whole thing about a Hungarian burn victim survivor of the boat fire and the FBI agent (Giancarlo Esposito, DO THE RIGHT THING, The Equalizer) bringing in a translator and sketch artist before surgery to try to get him to tell what he knows about the mysterious Keyser Soze and trying to get the information to Agent Kujan in time and etc. (read the rest of this shit…)
SCHOOL DAZE is Spike Lee’s sophomore jointational work, and was never one of my favorites from him. But man, looking back at it now I love its youthful exuberance. Here’s 30 year old Spike having access to the studio’s resources for the first time – he goes from a few actors in apartments in black and white to a huge cast on a college campus. He even has a full-on song and dance number. It’s the first example of what I think is one of his weaknesses: his overreach in tackling too many things at once, creating an unfocused and overstuffed narrative. But in this context that’s kinda charming. He’s really goin for it.
Since DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOLM X were Lee’s most culturally recognized movies, certain white people pigeonholed him as a guy who only makes movies about white people being racist. Of course that’s not even a complete description of the content of those two movies, let alone applicable to most of his filmography. And joint #2, just like joint #1, I’m pretty sure doesn’t show a single white person in it. (read the rest of this shit…)
FRESH (1994) is a real underseen gem of the 1990s, a low budget crime drama about a 12 year old drug courier (Sean Nelson). His aunt calls him Michael, everybody else calls him Fresh. It opens with him going to an apartment where a lady tries to talk up her daughter Marisol to him like she wants to hook them up because she thinks he’s such a smart kid. It seems like he could be there for innocent kid business like meeting a friend to walk to school or getting paid for his paper route, but you quickly realize he’s picking up a brick of heroin and she’s trying to rip him off. He’s smarter than she assumes and he doesn’t take any of her shit, and this is the key to the character throughout the whole movie.
Geez, I shouldn’t have put off seeing this movie so long considering it really is my beat. This is kind of a miracle actually. This is the rare DTV movie that could’ve passed for a low budget theatrical movie. The only thing really holding it back is being a prequel with a different star from the original, which is a real good reason not to release it in theaters. Going straight to video lowers the expectations and makes it only half count as a sequel or prequel, which gives it a better shot at working. And for me it did. Even if you don’t go for it I think you will be awed by its competence. This is definitely a landmark in DTV sequelization.
I love the original CARLITO’S WAY, but I haven’t seen it in years, so that probaly helps. I never knew this but DePalma’s movie was based on the second book in a series. The book was called After Hours, but they didn’t want it confused with the Scorsese movie of the same name so they called it CARLITO’S WAY, after the first book in the series. RISE TO POWER is actually adapted from the book Carlito’s Way, according to legend. (I haven’t read the books so who knows.) (read the rest of this shit…)
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