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…)
About 12 miles and 48 years from ONCE UPON A TIME …IN HOLLYWOOD lies ONCE UPON A TIME IN VENICE. In this 2017 DTV joint, Bruce Willis is the center of a sunny, quirky, comedic crime tale ensemble. Though the story is narrated by his dorky new assistant John (Thomas Middleditch, THE KINGS OF SUMMER), it revolves around Bruce’s low-life private eye Steve Ford. As you do in these movies, a pan through his office shows us some of his history through the medium of props. For example, some photos and a surfboard tell us he’s a surfer. There’s one touch that made me laugh, but maybe wasn’t supposed to: we learn he’s a disgraced ex-cop from an article that calls him “disgraced” in the headline. Why would he frame that and put it on his wall? It’s not even an important piece of exposition.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have the movie that the director of THE FIFTH ELEMENT makes eight years after he sees AVATAR. One of the first scenes in Luc Besson’s VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, the one right after the title, brings us to the island paradise planet of Mul, where elongated, glittery-skinned beauties with star-shaped irises fill their giant shell backpacks with pearls, and they feed one to a little pangolin-like creature who puffs up and starts pooping duplicate pearls from under his scales that drop into a hole as an offering to the planet, but suddenly the skies are darkened by an apocalyptic event and the destruction of the planet wakes up our hero Valerian (Dane DeHaan, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES) while he’s napping on a beach chair somewhere. And at some point in the middle of that you realize that this is by far the most French-comic-book movie ever made.
And it continues like that, a two hour, 17 minute non-stop kaleidoscope-fantasia-carnival-parade of colorful creatures and planets and space ships and gimmicks inspired by the comics series Valérian and Laureline (1967-2010). The titleistical City of a Thousand Planets (Alpha for short) is a gigantic space station that started out by uniting representatives of every country on Earth, but kept expanding to encompass alien cultures. And since much of the movie takes place on this multi-species megalopolis, this intergalactic Epcot Center, it’s like a marathon of STAR WARS cantina scene after STAR WARS cantina scene. (read the rest of this shit…)
The Flintstones are an example of a pop culture phenomenon that’s long past its relevance, but it’s so simple and recognizable that it lingers like a ghost in the public memory. Or like a fossil! As the first prime time cartoon, it originally aired between 1960 and 1966, but more than half a century later – whether because of the spin-offs and TV movies, the vitamins and cereals, or just cultural omnipresence – almost any American could identify the show on sight.
That doesn’t mean they’ve given it much thought, though, because there’s not much to chew on here. I know I watched it for some period of my life, but couldn’t point to a favorite episode, or even a specific one. There are different stories, technically, but the joke doesn’t really go beyond “what if there was a Honeymooners type family sitcom, but with cave men?,” and with the gimmick that modern lifestyles and technology (cars, drive-in theaters, kitchen appliances) exist, crudely constructed out of rocks, bones, wood, animal skins, and talking, subservient prehistoric animals. The plots reflect the same middle class concerns as a normal show would – trying to keep your job to pay for the house, trying to make your wife not mad that you spend too much time out with your buddies – but mostly it’s that one anachronistic joke of “the modern stone age family.” It’s humor with one wink and a whole lot of taken-for-granted cartoonist ingenuity. (read the rest of this shit…)
KONG presents SKULL ISLAND is a goofy, pulpy monster movie that doesn’t live up to the hallowed cinematic legacy of KING KONG, but hey, it works as a more exploitative sequel. I think my expectations for this were more inflated than most because of how much I dug director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first movie, THE KINGS OF SUMMER. That was an original comedy with wise, relatable insights into humanity, masculinity and growing up. I don’t think there’s any reason why a punching gorilla monster movie can’t have that kind of substance behind it too, but to me this feels less human and more like the work of one of these distanced, pop culture loving whippersnappers.
In an unusual but arguably tasteless move, Vogt-Roberts set the movie at the end of the Vietnam War, an international disaster that he treats like a cool movie reference. The talk about senseless loss of human lives feels less impassioned and emphasized than the orange APOCALYPSE NOW sunsets and helicopters and the soundtrack that largely comes straight off of the Songs That Movies Use As Shorthand For the Vietnam Era, Volume I 2-CD set.
But to be fair, “Down On the Street” by the Stooges and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath are two heavily-featured songs that wouldn’t be on the Robert Zemeckis version of this. And believe it or not alot of it was filmed on location in the actual country of Vietnam, unlike any Vietnam War movie I know of. Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong (3oo, SUPER 8)’s bright orange, yellow and red skies make it stand out visually from any other giant monster movie. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’ve never had HBO or Showtime, including in the ’80s, so I only know C.H.U.D. as a reference. But we still have a video store here in Seattle and I was looking at the box one day and these glowing-eyed cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers looked pretty cool so I figured it was time I learned what all this is about.
If you never saw it either I’ll tell you what I have learned. It’s about a rash of disappearances among “undergrounders,” the homeless who find shelter in the underground tunnels of New York City, like in that documentary DARK DAYS. (This would be cooler if it had a DJ Shadow score, but the one it has by David A. Hughes is pretty good.) The authorities don’t really care until it starts happening to people who live at surface level in a higher class. There’s a nicely shot title sequence with a cool keyboard theme playing as a monster arm reaches out of a steaming manhole to snatch a woman out walking her little dog. It’s a powerfully simple opening that really sets the scene for a fun, energetic movie that doesn’t quite materialize. (read the rest of this shit…)
A couple weeks ago I reviewed that movie ROOM and even though it was a world class best picture nominee type of movie I said it should have DTV sequels like the similarly locationally limited indie CUBE did about a decade back. It could just be another story about another room that people are stuck in. Well, little did I know that they’d do something like that but it would be released theatrically and it would be a J.J. Abrams (JOY RIDE) production, not called ROOM2 or ROOM: REDEMPTION but 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.
That title may make you think it’s gonna feature Cloverfield, the popular lasagna swilling, Monday-hating, Nermal, Odie and Jon abusing asshole giant monster character from Matt Reeves’s Abrams production CLOVERFIELD, but it’s not. It’s also not done in found footage style, instead it’s modeled after the look of a professional movie. It would’ve been cool if there was a part where T.J. Miller runs by with a camcorder, but I think the title is just a coincidence. It’s kinda like how Rob Cohen directed DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, DRAGONHEART and THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, but those aren’t necessarily a trilogy in my opinion.
So no, this one is more like ROOM, but with a different lady in a different room with a different skylight and a different idea about the world outside. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER) plays Michelle, who in a silent prologue is seen abandoning her husband or fiancee (we never see him, but his telephone voice is Bradley Cooper [THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN]). Then she gets in a car accident out in the boonies and wakes up in a strange room with an I.V. drip and a leg brace. This doesn’t look like a hospital though, mainly because she’s on a mattress on the floor, and the door is like a vault, and also she’s shackled to a pipe, and she doesn’t even have a call button in case she needs a nurse to help her go to the bathroom. (read the rest of this shit…)
For God’s sake don’t take this as high praise, but TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION is the most legitimate movie in the TRANSFORMABLES saga so far. Not too legit to quit while they’re ahead, but competent in ways the others weren’t, and overall much less annoying. The downside: less crazy. Michael Bay has earned an expectation of escalating preposterousness and headscratching whatthefuck moments in each chapter, but this time he verges on tasteful, at least by the standards of his filmography. Only mild racism, no leg humping, only one scene with a hero threatening an old lady with a baseball bat. Robot hyenas with fur and a trigger happy fat Transformer with the voice of John Goodman seem kinda tame after the robot baby factory on the moon, Robot Heaven and peeing and farting robots of previous chapters. And we’ve gotten acclimated to the robot beards. He’s gotta go further than this if he wants to shock us.
And guess how he did it? I cannot fucking believe I’m typing this, but Michael Bay – the George Washington of the cinematic movement that forced me to invent the Action Comprehensibility Ratings system – has made a movie with genuine action clarity.
These days it’s pretty common for people to say that SPEED RACER is an overlooked gem – or even a masterpiece – that was misunderstood at the time. So give credit to your old Uncle Vern for praising it from day 1. I didn’t misunderstand that shit! I understood the hell out of it. I am a real good understander in my opinion. Not to brag.
But this is the second time I’ve watched it and actually I liked it alot more this time. I didn’t have as many reservations about the aggressively shiny and video gamey pixelscapes it takes place in. It’s still not my favorite look, but my brain has adjusted. I don’t know, maybe the rainbow colored kaleidoscope spinning around the studio logos at the beginning hypnotizes you when you see it on Blu-Ray. It starts to look amazing.
What really impressed me is the next level filmatism within that artifical world. The camera (or “camera”) soars through, over and around these space age racers as they zoom, drift, bounce and fly through loopty-loops, giant pinball machines and monster-faced ice caves, and despite all the speed and freneticism I think this mayhem is really easy to follow. (Judging from my original review maybe the smaller screen helps.) Characters’ heads constantly float away, wiping into the next scene, a more evolved version of Ang Lee’s best moves in HULK and, now that I think about it, one of a long list of ways that this movie must’ve influenced the shit out of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. There are fight scenes, Speed and Racer X vs. practicioners of nonjitsu, and you get a glimpse of the MATRIX era Wachowskis. Then it bounces into a more candy colored, silly-anime type of style with abstract backgrounds and even more exaggerated physics. (read the rest of this shit…)
I wish FLIGHT was called BAD PILOT and marketed as an outrageous comedy. It kinda follows the BAD SANTA and BAD TEACHER model by showing this guy (Denzel Washington, RICOCHET) who is in this occupation (commercial airline pilot) and ruffles alot of feathers with his irresponsible drinking and drugs and being an asshole. In fact, he ingests almost a BAD LIEUTENANT worthy amount of intoxicants. And like Bad Santa, who liked to buttfuck plus-sized ladies in the dressing rooms, or Bad Teacher, who seduced Justin Timberlake into a wild dry-sex romp, this guy is fuckin around, but just with a super hot flight attendant (Nadine Velazquez, BLAST) who gets listed first in “in order of appearance” credits because one of her breasts is the first thing we see in the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)
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