Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Best Seller

I found Best Seller interesting for a couple of reasons but the main one is that it takes itself seriously.  The story is about a hitman (James Woods (Vampires, Once Upon a Time in America)) who wants to get revenge on his boss.  But instead of just killing him he decides to ruin his life by publishing a book about all the illegal shit that he had Woods do.  Woods doesn’t know how to write a book though so he courts Brian Dennehy (Tommy Boy, First Blood) to do it.  Dennehy is an accomplished author that just can’t seem to come up with any new stories lately so this opportunity sounds interesting.  The real dilemma here is that he’s also a cop.  So most of the movie is about Woods trying to convince Dennehy that he’s a real hitman by gathering up evidence that he used on past jobs and Dennehy biding his time to figure out a way to bust both Woods and his scumbag boss.

Now as I was watching this I couldn’t help but think that if this was made today then it would be a comedy.  I could easily picture this thing being like The Last Shot or Analyze This or some shit.  You cast two actors that look kind of silly together, place them in an absurd situation and just sit back and watch the magic happen.  Thankfully Best Seller doesn’t go this route and we get a decent crime drama.  Woods is desperate for Dennehy to believe him because he needs this book to be written if his plan is going to work.  And Dennehy realizes that he could have a “best seller” on his hands but he can’t just let this guy walk after confessing all of these crimes.  Their relationship is a complicated and depending one.  They both need each other in order to get what they want but when they do, what’s next?  They have different ideas of how they see their relationship developing.  For instance Woods gives Dennehy a watch as a gift as if they’re friends and everything’s cool but Dennehy gives it right back to him because he doesn’t want them to be pals.  It’s hard to tell if Woods genuinely wants to be friends or if he’s just putting up a false front so he can kill Dennehy later.  It’s that type of handling of the material and giving the audience something to ponder that makes this one not bad.

Unfortunately Woods isn’t over the top in this role but he’s still fun to watch nonetheless.  There are a couple of times though when he does some crazy shit like he uses a cigarette to burn the palm of his hand to show Dennehy that pain doesn’t bother him.  It’s still quality James Woods, just not Woods to the max.

Dennehy does a great job here and I could easily see him as a cop.  He has the right build and attitude.  I feel like I’m in good hands whenever he pops up in a movie.  He looks like he’s constantly thinking about what his next move is going to be and how to play his reaction to the stuff that Woods shows him.  Dennehy is such a pleasure to watch because he makes it seem so effortless.

John Flynn directed this and he’s the mastermind behind Out for Justice.  He did Lock Up too which was great but Out for Justice is a top 10 action movie (at least for me).  Best Seller isn’t an action film but Flynn has a good sense of what’s exciting and he keeps the tension pretty taught throughout this one.

I liked this movie.  I mean it’s no masterpiece but there’s enough good stuff here that certainly makes it enjoyable.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All

This Substitute is definitely the best in the series and gets the not-as-rare-as-you’d-think honor of being a sequel that’s better than the original.  Actually, come to think of it I thought The Substitute 2: School’s Out was also better than the first one.  Whatever, Treat Williams (Deep Rising) pretends to be a smug college professor because he’s returning a favor for a dead buddy of his.  But what the kids don’t know is that he’s really a smug ex-soldier of some sort (I forget specifically what) that’s there to bust a drug ring that involves the school’s football team.

The story is a great one and the football players are all juiced up all the time so there’s plenty of confrontation (including in a pizza parlor and a classroom).  Everything about this one just works real well and I highly recommend it.  The good thing is that it’s pretty self contained so don’t feel like you need to see the first two before tackling this one.  In fact I would suggest starting with this one and if you like it then move on to the others.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gunnin' for That # 1 Spot

Ok so I may have jumped the gun when I mentioned “Halloween season” in my little blurb about I Saw the Devil but I want to make it up to you by bringing up something summery.  Yea it’s another basketball movie but this time it’s a documentary.

The top eight high school basketball players in the country (USA) are brought together to play one game called the Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic (not sure why it’s called that).  I assume the purpose of this is to see how these players stack up against one another.  I mean it’s also fun for the kids and everyone else to watch because people like seeing the best of the best going head to head.  It’s why we have all-star games and home run derbies and slam dunk contests ‘n shit.  This is the first Elite 24 event and it took place in 2006 at Harlem’s Rucker Park.  This year’s Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic takes place on Saturday (8/27) with a slam dunk contest happening the day before.  Instead of Harlem though, they moved the game to Venice Beach, CA.  They started using this venue last year and I guess they stuck with California because they were tired of dealing with the potential of rain like they did in previous years (it even comes up in this film).

Anyway, we get profiles on all the players involved and eventually get to see them play the big game.  All of them end up doing very well as the score for the game winds up in the triple digits for each team.  What does this mean for their future careers?  Well they all eventually got drafted by the NBA.  So as far as I’m concerned they lived up to a damn good deal of their potential.

The problem with this film is that it’s not put together very well and that’s probably because it’s the first full length picture put together by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.  For the game portions he treated it like a music video as it felt like the game was a backdrop to the music instead of the other way around.  Yauch also uses Avid trick after Avid trick which is really distracting and took me out of the competition.  The player profile parts weren’t much better because each one was shown the same way.  Yauch interviews them and their family talking about how great a ball player they are while inserting clips of them making incredible shots during high school games.  This would’ve been perfectly fine if we saw it once, twice or maybe thrice but we have to go through this eight times.  It got very boring hearing people say the same things about different people over and over.  Surprisingly, watching these guys make really awesome shots from past games got kinda boring too.  I guess you need some of the regular game play in between to make those cool shots standout just like how you shouldn’t have 90 minutes of pure action in your action movie.  It’s those non action scenes that act like the glue to hold the whole thing together.

If you like basketball then you’ll probably enjoy this on some level but if you don’t then I don’t think this is going to be very exciting for you.  It’s certainly not the worst thing ever made but this doc probably isn’t the best that it could have been in my opinion.  Although, I really like the title.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Saw the Devil

This one comes from South Korea and boy is it up there in entertainment.  I mean there are some movies that try to be as gratuitously violent as possible like the Saw series but they don’t have any real substance to them.  I Saw the Devil makes damn good use of violence and character.  The plot is all about revenge.  A serial killer (Min-sik Choi from Oldboy) dismembered the wrong broad ‘cause now her husband is after him.  The two battle it out over a couple of days and it just keeps going from one awesome scene to the next.  And while you’re watching this it makes you wonder if the husband is really just as bad as the killer.  I feel like not all revenge films bring this question up, at least not so clearly.  Not only does this piece have some depth to it but it’s also just so much fun to watch.  This is a real kick ass movie my friends and would be perfect to jump start the Halloween season in a couple of weeks.

The scene above shows what our serial killer is capable of and also how not to treat a guy that gives you a ride.  ‘Cause what he does is just rude in my opinion.       

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Blue Chips

This one was requested and I’m happy to oblige because I do like blue chips, especially with some salsa and maybe to help scoop up a bit of chili.  You can cover them with all sorts of other food like cheese, jalapenos, olives, sour cream, etc.  A blue chip is a versatile food and was even used as a movie title.

The film it’s named after doesn’t really have anything to do with food and is instead about college basketball.  Nick Nolte (48 Hrs., Cape Fear (1991)) plays head coach Pete Bell and his character is supposed to be sorta like Bobby Knight (who actually makes an appearance as the opposing coach during the final game, and I should tell you right now that a lot of famous basketball figures make appearances throughout the movie).  He yells at the referee, pushes his players hard and even does his own version of throwing-a-chair-onto-the-court by one upping it and kicking a basketball into the stands.  He’s a tough sonuvabitch but gosh darn it he’s a good coach that never cheated.  Well that is until now.

In order to get a winning team together Pete goes around the country recruiting young players and visits Penny Hardaway (actual NBA player), Matt Nover (ended up playing ball in Europe) and Shaq (actual NBA player and actor).  Penny and Matt want something in return for playing for Bell.  Bell outright refuses at first and gets confronted by Happy played by J.T. Walsh (The Negotiator, Breakdown).  I never got a good handle on who Happy is exactly but he just appears to be some rich dude that likes to buy players for college sports teams and gamble on them guaranteeing that he’ll win.  He’s by far the best character in the film because Walsh is so good at playing an asshole, especially an angry asshole.  Happy has all the best lines and Walsh delivers them perfectly like, “my money is untraceable.  It’s been washed, scrubbed, laundered within an inch of its life” and “I screw a helluva lot better when I’m winning, don’t you?”

So after Pete gets his players he has a little buyer’s remorse because his conscience tells him that what he’s doing is illegal.  It's that whole he's-become-what-he-hates thing.  He wants to win really badly but is unsure if this is the way to do it.  At the end Pete gives a great long winded speech to his players and then to the press about life and how we treat athletes and so on.  This is way better than the speech at the end of Any Given Sunday because Nolte seems more believable as a coach than Pacino.  Of course he’s entertaining as a straight laced coach battling against several imposing forces but c’mon guys, did you think for a second that Al Pacino knew anything about football?

The director for this piece of art is William “Billy the kid” Friedkin (To Live and Die in L.A.) and he’s all about thrills and action.  But he must love college basketball because this is a different type of gig for him.  And he did a damn good job making even scouting potential players exciting.  When Pete goes to see Shaq play in some barn or warehouse or wherever the fuck he is it’s like he’s discovered Jesus himself making dunk after sweet dunk.  Friedkin’s made some real kick ass movies in the past and this is up there with his best work.  He makes basketball accessible and engrossing for those that are both not terribly interested in the sport and those that know it very well.  I think this film works for and pleases many parties.     

Now I’m gonna lay all my cards on the table and confess that I don’t know dick about college basketball…or basketball in general really.  The only sport I know anything about is baseball but as far as I could tell that’s not what this picture is really about.  And I think I should say that it would be nice to have some basic understanding of basketball to fully get this one.  For fans and non fans alike I think it’s appreciated that this movie doesn’t hold back on how it treats the sport.  It’s sort of reminds me of that Michael Crichton movie Coma where they talk in medical terms throughout the whole thing and don’t seem to worry that the audience won’t understand it.  It makes the film feel authentic and not like it was written by some screenwriter who has no knowledge of medicine.  They decided to show how doctors really talk to each other and in Blue Chips they also didn’t want to insult the audience’s intelligence and decided to show how basketball coaches really talk to their players and their colleagues.  Some might get lost in all the jargon but I find it both interesting and stimulating how professionals talk to each other and what language they use.

Many people compare this movie to The Program and I can see the similarities because both deal with corruption, flawed players and confused coaches.  But the focus in Blue Chips is more on the coach and corruption while The Program deals with the players and coming of age (I was gonna go with “finding yourself” but that phrase always sounded so bullshitty to me).  Of the two I think Blue Chips is clearly the better film here.  I found myself on the edge of my seat throughout the picture and Happy is what makes it for me.  He’s just so outright evil that I can’t help but marvel at how comfortable he is with it.  Nolte does a pretty damn good Bobby Knight impersonation and you yearn for those moments when he blows up and yells at everyone.  He also looks so pathetic when he gets sad and regretful that I wanted to pop myself into the picture and tell him that everything is gonna be alright.  To top it all off the basketball playing in here is just about the most cinematic and intense you’ll see outside of White Men Can’t Jump or Teen Wolf.  Even if you’re mildly interested in basketball or corruption movies you’ll probably enjoy this one.  It’s very re-watchable and several times I’ve found myself sitting down for a chunk of it if I see it playing on TV.  You can’t really go wrong with this one.