Monday, April 28, 2008

Daredevil

I have never walked out of a movie in my life (and I saw the first two Resident Evil movies in the theater—during the second installment, I didn’t care that the one other person in the theater with me answered his phone and had a protracted conversation thirty minutes in). In fact, the first time I saw Black Cauldron in the theater in 1985, I intentionally pissed my pants so I didn’t have to miss a second of the movie by going to the bathroom. I made the right decision. So, not only have I never walked out of a movie before, it takes significantly more than a painfully full bladder to get me out of a movie theater.

That said, within minutes of 2003 shitfest, Daredevil, I stood up and had to be restrained from leaving. Sure, it has the usual reasons to walk out (or never see it in the first place), Ben Affleck and his she-male bride are chief amongst these. Though they did do me the courtesy of getting hitched, so when I ultimately blow them up with an RPG, I will likely be able to get both with one shot. If anyone knows the trials and tribulations of procuring decent weaponry in this day and age, it is the Afflecks. So thoughtful, it will almost be a shame to blast them into oblivion.

The fact that they bastardized one of my precious childhood memories, is another reason to avoid this pile. No beef with Michael Clark Duncan, but he’s no Kingpin. Colin Ferrell plays Bullseye like a reject from the opening act on a Limp Bizkit tour. And seriously, director, Mark Steven Johnson, might just be the devil (I don’t even recognize Elektra as a movie). Every one who had anything to do with this movie in any capacity, made my list of people that I will fight within my lifetime.

Despite certain comic nerd leanings, I’m usually pretty flexible on movie adaptations. In most cases you’re dealing with decades of accumulated story lines, multiple origin stories, and dozens of different writers. No one movie is going to encapsulate every aspect, nor will any single film please every last rabid fanboy. I accept that. As long as they get the character even remotely right, I’m usually game (the Hulk and the Fantastic Four movies are a different thing entirely).

The reason I attempted to walk out of Daredevil is simple. Within minutes of the opening credits, they completely betray who Matt Murdock/Daredevil is. Daredevil is the ultimate straight shooter, letter of the law guy (his civilian alter ego is a fucking blind lawyer for God’s sake). No matter how fucked up and corrupt, Daredevil believes in the system, in due process, in the law. He abhors the violence he has to employ, and on numerous occasions, has stopped more death-friendly vigilantes, like the Punisher, from doing harm. One of the first things we see in this fucking movie is Daredevil standing idly by while a subway runs down a criminal, something he would never do. No matter how worthless and vile someone is, he would put himself at risk in order to save a life.

That made me angry. I let out an audible, “What the fuck was that?” But I did not try to leave.

The very basis of who the character of Matt Murdock and Daredevil is, is inherent in how he was blinded. As a child, Matt Murdock sees a forklift (occasionally a truck, depending on you’re origin story of choice) carrying 50 gallon drums of toxic waste, bearing down on a blind man. With no regard for his own safety, young Mathew shoves the blind man out of the way. For his efforts he is rewarded with a full frontal blast of said toxic waste, which not only blinds him, but heightens his remaining senses, thus giving him the ability to ‘see without seeing.’

Daredevil gains his abilities through a selfless act. That one moment defines who he is, and who he will become. In the movie, the first thing they so is fuck that up. Angsty teen, Matt Murdock is running away from an argument with his father, runs out of a blind alley, causes a forklift carrying toxic waste to swerve to avoid grinding him into the pavement, and low and behold, he gets a splash across the eyes.

Instead of getting his powers through an act of good, he gets them because he’s a fucking dipshit, who didn’t bother look both ways before crossing the street. That pretty much sets the tone for the remainder of the movie.

That’s where I stood to abandon the theater.

Mind you, I first saw this movie on a date. I was being treated to a film adaptation of my all-time favorite comic book superhero, by my longtime partner, on opening night, which just so happened to be February 14th. Valentine’s Day. You can imagine how my attempt to flee went over. In retrospect, that pretty much set the tone for the remainder of that relationship.

Tango & Cash: A Violent Work of Art

Rambo and Snake Plissken play the title roles of Detective Ray Tango and Gabriel Cash. Tango is a slick dressing, glasses wearing, badass cop hell bent on getting his man at any cost. He’s sophisticated, well muscled, and makes a shit ton of money playing the stock market. He’s in the cop game for good old American action. We see him stand in the middle of a highway and face down a tanker truck full of blow in the movies opening scene. Sorry boys, no white Christmas this year.

Cash is another wisecracking rogue cop from the Central division. Shit is real down there. Where Tango’s station has palm trees and sunshine, Central has grey and hobos. Cash is a schlub who wears t-shirts, boots that shoot bullets out of the sole, and is not too proud to steal a slice of pizza from some dude walking by.

The two rival cops have made careers out of ruining the business of shadowy arms dealer, Yves Perret (Jack Palance in prime over the top madman glory), a man obsessed with watching his precious pet rats in a maze (you know a man in a nice suit playing with vermin can’t be all there). They’ve cost him millions, and of course, simply putting a bullet in their respective brain pans wouldn’t give him the satisfaction a megalomaniacal international criminal demands from his vengeance. No, they will not be made martyrs. With the help of an army of corrupt FBI agents (seriously, fuck those guys) and his trusty right-hand man, Requin (the late, great, Brion James, with a wee little pony tail and a rough ass British accent—“’e’s thuh guvnah”) set out our boys up but good.

The duo winds up in a prison that resembles the medieval fortress of some sadistic warlord. “They don’t put cops in general population.” Oh, let me tell you something, Tango. If you have the money, they’ll stick cops wherever you damn well please. Everyone is corrupt, our boys get pummeled, electrocuted, and generally FUBAR in a number of ways. Their only chance is a risky escape in the middle of an electrical storm that entails leaping from the top of a building, grabbing a power line, and using their belts to slide over the prison walls. Then all that remains is to clear their names, rescue the girl, and take down the bad guy. Nothing these he-man, super-cops can’t handle.

This is the all-star cast of all-star casts. Not only to we have Rocky Balboa and Jack Burton themselves doing battle with the powerful duo of Palance and James, but we got Teri Hatcher as Tango’s stripper sister who has a crush on Cash, James Hong as Quan, and Michael J. Pollard as Cash’s mildly retarded gadget crafting buddy (who do you think came up with those gun-boots?). Clint Howard pops up, Eddie Bunker shows his grizzled mug, and Billy Blanks even makes an uncredited appearance as a prison thug.

You know why I love this movie? I love this movie because in the climactic scene, they’re not afraid to have a bullet proof SUV with a 20-mil cannon on the side, tearing through a giant dirt maze while blowing the living shit out of everything, and being pursued, not only by multiple monster trucks (Gravedigger style, not just the jacked-up, redneck variety), but industrial grade earth-moving equipment. That, my friend, is balls.

In my opinion, this may have been the last hurrah of late 80’s, smart-ass, odd-couple, buddy-cop movies. They have a wisecrack for every occasion, aren’t afraid to beat information out of some sleaze-ball, and play by their own rules. There are not one, but two instances where a hand grenade is stuffed down the front of a pair of pants. Today, some grubby little Michael Bay knock-off would sink his eager little claws into this and we would wind up with a lot of seizure inducing cuts, or it would be relegated to the straight-to-video market and no one would take is seriously except yours truly and a half-dozen other like-minded people in the world. It would be tossed aside and forgotten before the next remake of a classic movie even gets the green light.

The era of seeing this brand of action on the big screen is long gone and regrettably lamented by few.

In the 70’s, Roger Corman had hungry young directors cutting their teeth on b-grade action movies for the drive-in circuit. I would like the DTV market to become the twenty-first century equivalent, where you go to pay your dues and hone your chops, but instead it is peopled largely by hacks and film-school rejects. There are a few bright spots, a slight glimmer of hope. Action luminaries like Seagal, Van Damme, and Snipes (sorry about that whole prison thing, Simon Phoenix), work exclusively in the genre, but the quality is hit and miss. To find the gems, you have to wade through the crap.

Alas, music videos are the new training ground. Quick cuts, slow-motion, and wires have replaced action sequences, blocking, and stunt work. We are destined to inhabit a future of CG heavy, holiday-weekend release, block-buster fodder, while true action toils below the surface. I’m glad Charles Bronson didn’t have to live to see this.

At least we still have Asia for action and horror (though anything decent will invariably be remade and dumbed down for our bland Western palate). And as long as Tony Jaa keeps kicking out the jams, there may still be hope.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Monster Squad

Some people have told me that Monster Squad doesn’t hold up over the years. Those people are what I like to call, wrong.

Yeah, it’s campy, but it was campy in 1987 when I was ten. You know what else it was in 1987 that it still is today? A lot of fun.

Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, House, Robocop 3, prolonged obscurity) takes a bunch of kids, the bad guys from classic horror, some Stan Winston monster effects, and the resulting mash-up is a blast.

Dracula is back and plotting to take over the world. And who can stop him? A wily band of pre-teen misfits known as The Monster Squad, that’s who, fuck-o, and don’t you forget it. They may not have pubes, but they certainly have nards enough to man up and go toe-to-toe with Vlad, Wolf-Man, the Mummy, and the rest of his fiendish crew.

Dracula is a tool, Frankenstein’s monster is misunderstood, the Mummy is just a skull wrapped in toilet paper, and Wolf-Man just wants to be free from his curse so he doesn’t hurt anyone. “Scary German Guy (Leonardo Cimino) is bitchin’.” Not to mention a pie obsessed, concentration camp survivor (which Cimino is in real life—this is one of two on-screen instances where he flashes his real-life tattoo). You know he’s not going to puss out when it comes to facing some evil douche in a cape.

It was a kinder gentler time, where a young girl could befriend a giant monster constructed out of reanimated body parts, where you could make silver bullets in shop class during one of the prime preparing-to-fight-evil montages of the day. Gotcha and T&C Surf Designs gear abound. Have you ever seen garlic pizza used as a weapon with such prowess? Thought not.

Admit it, when you were a kid you wanted their fort, you wanted your friends hot sister, you wanted to fight monsters and save the day when no adults believed you. You, like them, just wanted to be important. Your parents were getting divorced, too, and you wanted something huge and earth shaking that would make them forget about fighting all the time and stay together forever. You had a friend named “Fat Kid,” there was a house in your neighborhood where no one trick or treated on Halloween, and you were a potty mouthed little shit, just like them.

Yeah, there are some questions. How did Van Helsing’s diary and a magic amulet wind up in small town middle-America in the hands of twelve-year old with a “Stephen King Rules” shirt? Where did Dracula get that bitchin’ hearse? Why is the Creature from the Black Lagoon so damn easy to kill? Who the fuck cares? The movie is less than eighty minutes long. You don’t have anything better to do for eighty minutes. You know you don’t.

“It was boss. I saw Dracula and kicked Wolf-Man in the nards.” That pretty much sums it up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Bittersweet Life

Korea doesn’t fuck around. And they prove it with this existential look at the Korean mob in A Bittersweet Life.

Lee Byung-hun plays Kim Sun-woo. He is a handsome young man. Thin and unassuming, he resembles as Korean Conan O’Brien, if Conan O’Brien wasn’t eight feet tall. He also happens to be the baddest kid on the block. We get a glimpse of just how badass this guy is right out of the gate. Some local thugs, up to no good, have overstayed their welcome at the luxury hotel/club/brothel/HQ for all manner of nefarious dealings where Sun-woo is an ‘enforcer.’ He is summoned to take care of the problem. Calmly walking through the hotel, even the straight employees react to him with fear and reverence. He then proceeds to take down a roomful of mob heavies without so much as ruining the crease of his suit.

He is quiet, respectful, loyal to his ‘family,’ and most importantly, he takes care of business.

Trouble arises when President Kang (Kim Young-cheol) asks a personal favor of Sun-woo. He wants his trusted soldier to keep an eye on his nubile, twenty-something girlfriend, Hee-soo (Shin Min-ah). See, the boss suspects she’s fucking around on him behind his back. Sun-woo is supposed to watch her, and if she is in fact two timing, he is to do what he does best, TCOB.

Hee-soo is a sexy cellist with ridiculously cute, elf-like ears, who is in fact fucking around behind the old man’s back. Sun-woo discovers this, but after following her for a couple days, he’s smitten, and in a rare moment of conscience, he decides to neither kill the young lovers, nor inform his boss.

That’s when shit really starts to go downhill for our boy Sun-woo. There is some double dealing, betrayals of trust, he gets sold out by a joker named Moon-suk (Kim Roi-ha), and winds up on the wrong end of being buried alive.

Do you want to know just how badass my good friend Kim Sun-woo is? At this point in the film we’ve already seen him run a car full of jokers off the road in the middle of a freeway bridge, kick the living shit out of the lot of them, then throw the keys into the water. That’s pretty harsh, that guy probably had his house keys on that ring. He better hope his girlfriend still has that spare he left at her place, if not, he’s screwed.

Sun-woo is the kind of guy who will hit another dude with a lamp if he needs to. But he’ll probably feel bad and buy you a new lamp afterwards.

That’s tough, but now watch him, with a mangled left hand, dig his way out of a grave in the middle of a rainstorm. Captured again by his tormenters, Sun-woo then stabs Moon-suk in the face with a cell phone battery, and what follows is one of the best fight scenes in recent cinema. The weapon du jour? Flaming boards. And yes, some of the aforementioned flaming boards do have nails in them. I’ll leave the rest to your more than capable imaginations.

From here on out, A Bittersweet Life becomes a good old fashioned revenge story. “Reasons don’t matter anymore.” Sun-woo wants answers, and the only place he will find them is in vengeance.

There is action in this movie, but not action in the Bay/Bruckheimer kind of way. There are actual action sequences. Choreographed action, not just quick cuts, explosions in every frame, and slo-mo dives with a pistol in each hand.

The plot is deliberate and smooth. Director Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters) uses a lot of long takes that encompass the lingering shadows and modern architecture available in Seoul. The primary score is a haunting (yes, I said haunting—the girl is a freaking cellist, of course it’s haunting) mix of a lone piano overlaid by a mournful arrangement of strings. Brutal violence lurks just below this subdued, placid surface, and is all the more jarring when it erupts. Like I said, Sun-woo is the type of dude who will hit another dude with a lamp when the situation dicates.

A Bittersweet Life has one of the grimmest endings since The Great Silence (with a name like A Bittersweet Life you weren’t exactly expecting sunshine and lollipops, were you?). There is too much pride involved, everyone knows they are moving towards their ultimate destruction, but at the same time, they are all aware they have no other choice. They know no other way.

In the end, as he sits bleeding out on the stairs, the only conclusion Sun-woo can come to is “this is too harsh.” He has seen a vision of happiness, a life with Hee-soo, a possibility he knows can never happen.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah Marshall makes me hate that “Veronica Mars” girl a little bit less. Not because she’s great or hot or talented (she is in fact none of the above). But I now hate her a little bit less just for being involved in this movie in any way.

Jason Segel, my second favorite “Freaks and Geeks” alum, wrote and stars in this bawdy, hilarious romantic comedy produced by Judd Apatow. Now, I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy, and if you’re a fan of Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40 Year Old Virgin, and the like, you’ve probably already seen this. Good. This shit is funny. You should see it again just to encourage these guys to keep making movies. This movie even made me like Mila Kunis a little bit, and that is something to be proud of.

Segel plays Peter Bretter, a hapless TV composer who somehow wound up dating sexy cop drama star, Sarah Marshall, played by Veronica Mars (and no, I will not be learning or using her real name—I said I hate her less than I used to, but that doesn’t mean my hate has dwindled to the point where I will learn the actual name her parents gave her). She dumps him in one of the funniest break up scenes I’ve ever seen. How can you dump a naked crying man? That’s just cold blooded. Of course there is another guy. Things happen, and Peter, drunk, despondent, and lonely, winds up at the same Hawaiian resort as his ex and her new beau. He cries a lot and drinks a lot of tropical drinks, then falls for the free-spirited hotel clerk played by Kunis.

The story isn’t really important here. You’ve seen a romantic comedy before; you know exactly what is going to happen. He falls for a new girl, the old girl wants him back, things get fucked up with the new girl, everything works out in the end. Only this time the end involves a puppet musical based on the story of Dracula. Yep.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall isn’t as free and loose as some of the movies this crew of fellows has made. There isn’t as much obvious improvisation as, say, Knocked Up. It is more structured, and the story is tighter, but it still has as many, if not more, fall down funny moments as any of the other movies you have in your collection. And the amount of dick shown on screen is pretty impressive. Seriously, I feel like I could be best man at the wedding for Jason Segel’s wang.

The supporting cast is spot on, including Russell Brand as a slimy, long-haired British rock star, and Judd Apatow regulars Jonah Hill as a doting groupie, Bill Hader as Peter’s straight laced step-brother, and Paul Rudd as a stoned surf instructor. Also, keep an eye out for Branscombe Richmond, a.k.a. Bobby Sixkiller of “Renegade” fame.

Juno

I finally got around to watching this years cuddly indie darling Juno. You already know what it’s about, so I won’t bore you with the details. Yeah, it was cute, and I admit there are some moments where I laughed out loud, and I do love Michael Cera, possibly the most adorably awkward human being alive. This is the kind of movie my ex, KG, would be all about for a few months, until the charm wore off and the next super-cutesy, touchy-feely lil’ flick with an annoyingly perky soundtrack came out to obsess over. It tries way too hard to be quirky and mostly just succeeds in being annoying. I imagine there are a lot of funky secretaries who quote this movie and think they’re hip and edgy.

Cera plays his usual disaffected and uncomfortable teen, a role I’m sure he’ll be playing well into his thirties, a role I’m sure I will continue to enjoy. This time, however, he runs cross-country and inhales box after box of orange Tic Tacs.

The other high point for me is Jason Bateman. I continue to be stoked that he has a post “Hogan Family” career. He plays a skeevy, thirty-something sellout who is married to man-faced Jennifer Garner, the worst actress in generations. They want to adopt the titular character’s unborn baby. He writes commercial jingles, clings to the time in ’93 when his tight band opened for the Melvins, and desperately dreams of regaining some sort of rock stardom, or at least a little bit of legitimacy in his own eyes. Bateman is wonderful as a dick who wants to bang a pregnant teen. I thoroughly enjoyed his subtle creepiness.

Oh yeah, the script was written by an ex-stripper, whoop-dee-doo.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wild Zero

I first encountered Wild Zero, this rock’n’roll zombie escapade, at a midnight showing for the Seattle International Film Festival. The Egyptian had to delay the start by twenty minutes to accommodate the expansive restroom lines. I went based on love shared for both the undead and Guitar Wolf, the raucous Japanese trio who are the ostensible stars of the film. I was immediately infatuated, though for years I had to sate my lust with an inferior bootleg VHS copy. Synapse Films finally grew a pair and the movie got an official DVD release. I rented it from Scarecrow, watched it three times in a day and a half, and bought a copy of my very own when I returned the rental.

All you really need to know about this movie is encapsulated within the drinking game on the DVD. Yes it has a built in drinking game. When you are supposed to drink the silhouette of a mug appears in the upper right hand corner. You drink when one or more of the following things happen: when someone drinks, when someone combs their hair, when fire shoots out of anything, when someone says rock’n’roll, when anything explodes and when a zombie’s head pops. All of these things happen. All of these things happen a lot. From personal experience, don’t play it with hard alcohol, I will not end well.

And remember, Ace, “love has no borders, nationalities or genders.” Words to live by.

Heston RIP

Being a proud life-long lefty wing-nut, but also an equally committed devotee of the Cinema of the Badass, I am understandably torn by the death of Charlton Heston last week on April 5th. He opposed abortion, I try to keep abortion awesome. He opposed gun control (despite issuing a statement that supported it in 1968 after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated), I don’t. There was precious little middle ground between our political beliefs, but that aside, films like Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Soylent Green and Almost an Angel impacted my life far more deeply than I care to admit.

Well, my friend, my enemy, my Moses, it will now be a little easier to pry that rifle from your cold, dead hands. Good bye, Heston, sweet, sweet Heston.