Friday, July 30, 2010

A Prophet (Un prophète)

Jacques Audiard’s 2009 prison crime drama “A Prophet” (“Un prophète”) was nominated for and won an absurd amount of awards, including the prizes at Cannes, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and the Cèsar Awards, among numerous others, and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. It was tapped for awards across the board, from acting and directing, to writing and cinematography.

Normally that amount of glowing praise raises some red flags for me since my tastes and opinions run somewhat askew to that of the critical mainstream. (I still think of Steven Seagal as a viable film star, that’s where I’m coming from.) However, in this case the admiration and worship are warranted. Not to sound like a jackass who thinks his opinion is important, but “A Prophet” is easily one of the best movies of 2009.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blood and Bone

Michael Jai White has been in some decent movies, like “Exit Wounds” and “Undisputed II”. He’s played Mike Tyson, was in the second “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, and even has a credit from “Saved By the Bell” on his resume, and I mean the real “Saved By the Bell”, none of this “New Class” or “College Years” nonsense. “Black Dynamite” is even pretty awesome, and he was in “The Dark Knight”. My point is that White’s career has been interesting to say the least. For a minute he looked poised to become the next big action star. That never quite panned out, but he’s managed to carve out a nice niche in the direct to video market.

While White has appeared in a wide range of films, his action movies are his bread and butter. And “Blood and Bone” might be the best of the bunch.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Operation: Endgame

The first thing you are likely to notice about Fouad Mikati’s “Operation: Endgame” is that the cast is a bit nuts. Rob Corddry, Ellen Barkin, Ving Rhames, and Zach Galifianakis are the big guns, but it also involves Jeffrey Tambor, Maggie Q, Odette Yustman, Brandon T. Jackson, Emilie De Ravin, Bob Odenkirk, and Adam Scott. That’s quite a list, especially for a first time director. But when the writer has the last name Levinson, and the producers list “Donnie Darko” and “Capote” on their resumes, I guess your project gains some additional clout in the casting department.

The only name listed above the title that I don’t at least recognize to some degree is Joe Anderson. Apparently he was in the remake of “The Crazies” and “The Ruins”, among other things. Here he plays the Fool, the closest thing “Endgame” has to a protagonist, and it is the first day at his new job. Starting a new job is stressful under the best of circumstances, but when your new job is at the Factory, a super-secret cadre of elite international spies headquartered in a bunker deep beneath Los Angeles and unacknowledged by the government, the normal anxiety gets ratcheted up a few notches.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I’ve been waiting for an appropriate sequel to “Predator” since I saw it in the theater in 1987 when I was ten years old. “Predator 2” was good, but not great (there are legitimate claims that this movie isn’t very good, but I enjoy it). A few years ago, I got excited for “Alien Vs. Predator” only to be horribly disappointed. A few years after that I got excited for “Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem” (they said they wanted to make people forget that the first “AVP” ever happened, a sentiment that I can get behind), and again, I was my enthusiasm was tragically betrayed.

After “AVP:R” crushed my spirits, and on Christmas day no less, I gave up hope of living to witness a decent “Predator” sequel. My wounds still fresh, I’ve been reasonably skeptical as news of “Predators” has trickled in. Sure, I like Robert Rodriguez, and even in his less awesome movies the action is still high quality. This sounded favorable. But Rodriguez wasn’t directing, Nimrod Antal was at the helm, and in my world, this fellow is still an unknown quantity. This gave me pause. I like Adrian Brody, but I’m not sure of his ability as an action star. Laurence Fishburne can go either way. With Danny Trejo you know what you’re going to get, he’ll be badass, but he’s also been good in some horrible crap bombs.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The A-Team (2010)

I really have to stop letting myself read other reviews and press releases and all of that nonsense ahead of time when it concerns a movie that I do actually want to see. I know better, I really do, but that doesn’t seem to stop me. A couple of times recently this practice has led me to hold off on seeing movies that I wound up enjoying. It happened with “Kick-Ass”, and it happened again with “The A-Team”.

I was as torn as everyone else when it was announced that everyone’s favorite, resourceful military fugitives from the 1980s were going to get their very own big-budget, live-action, summer-blockbuster release. Everything I sincerely loved as a child has been rehashed and remade, and generally fucked up, like “Transformers”. The only thing I have fond childhood memories of that is left for the Hollywood recycling machine to redo is “Magnum P.I.” (Though due to the present financial woes over at MGM, the “Red Dawn” remake may not happen, and the proposed Voltron” movie is presently dead, so I got a reprieve on those fronts. There is an impending live-action adaptation of “Battleship Yamamoto”—aka “Star Blazers” for us Yanks—but that’s a Japanese production, and the trailer looks awesome.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams

“2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams” is an interesting artifact. It is the sequel “2001 Maniacs”, a remake of “2000 Maniacs”, the spattery 1964 Herschell Gordon Lewis movie (which was inspired by “Brigadoon”, a musical), but is also based on a comic that appeared in the interim between the remake and the sequel. That was a mouthful.

Writer/Director Tim Sullivan and company return to Pleasant Valley, Georgia, home of the eponymous Maniacs. It isn’t entirely clear, but I think they are the ghosts (or perhaps zombies, that is hinted at as well) of the Southerners who were slaughtered there by renegade Union soldiers during the Civil War and have come back in order to exact revenge by killing one Northerner for each dead Confederate, of which there were 2001. They are also cannibals, so that is going on as well.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tales From the Dead

“Tales From the Dead” has the unusual distinction of being a J-horror movie shot entirely in Los Angeles with local talent. It is an anthology of four ghost stories along the lines of “The Twilight Zone” and “Tales From the Crypt”, though the stories themselves bear the most striking resemblance to those that appear in “Tales From the Darkside”.

I’m a fan of horror anthology shows, but there are some common pitfalls that entrap even the best of them. Chief among these is the length. Many of them only have 30-minute episodes, a feature that makes it difficult to set up everything necessary to make a story successful. Weekly shows have the benefit continuity, of being able to build things up over time and establish the story for the episode this week on the back of work that has already been done. The foundation is already in place. However, anthology shows have to start from scratch with each new episode, establishing setting, characters, conflict, tension, etc., which, in half an hour, can be problematic. Some pull it off, but others do not, a lot depends on the writing. (See the third season of “Tales From the Darkside” as an example where there are more misses than hits.)