Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lionheart Setup

When I re-upped on this the other day it made me realize how goddamn fucking huge and ridiculous the setup is.  Lyon (Van Damme) has to break out of the French Foreign Legion in northern Africa (Djibouti to be specific), travel across a desert by jeep and eventually foot, stowaway on a ship, when he gets to the edge of Manhattan he jumps out and swims the last bit to actually reach land, he enters and wins several underground fights so he can get some money and finally fly to LA to see his sister-in-law and niece.  It takes him a full thirty minutes of running time to make it to his ultimate destination.

I mean look at the shit the filmmakers felt they had to go through to explain why our main character is French (or Belgian).  If he were American there wouldn’t be any of this.  He would just have to break out of some army base near or in California and then do underground fighting to help support his sister-in-law and niece.

You should check out Lionheart not only for the setup that goes the extra mile but also because it’s one of Van Damme’s best and it’s also one of the best tournament fighting movies.  I love the different locations they use for each fight and there’s some heavy drama during the last brawl with more than just money on the line.  See it. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mish Mash 7 (Enemy, Nomads, Ministry of Vengeance, Ferris Bueller Fight Club Theory)

Denis Valle’s Prisoners was one of my favorite (or maybe my favorite) movie that came out last year.  He managed to pull off what so many other filmmakers futilely attempt, a classic whodunit thriller with excellent build up and an ending that actually didn’t make me slap my forehead.  While that picture was straight forward Enemy is pretty abstract, at least in concept.  I mean what’s with the spiders?  Or anything for that matter?

The plot sounds interesting on paper, a mild mannered guy (Jake Gyllenhaal (Bubble Boy)) sees his perfect double in a movie and decides to track him down, but the execution is languid.  Everything takes a long time to happen and then when the two finally meet it’s very anticlimactic.   

I feel like there might not be anything to this one, that it might be weird for weird’s sake.  I dunno.  I don’t get it.


This was John McTiernan’s first film and boy is it not very good.  I’ve been on somewhat of a McTiernan kick and had to check out his first effort.  The story of a haunted anthropologist (Pierce Brosnon (The Lawnmower Man)) and doctor (Lesley-Ann Down (Death Wish V: The Face of Death)) didn’t sound that appealing to me but the completest in me had to give it a look. 

The whole thing can probably best be summed up as “why?” because I asked myself that an awful lot during and after the movie.  Why is the anthropologist French?  Why do the nomads target the anthropologist?  Why does the doctor get infected with the anthropologist’s spirit and not the anthropologist’s wife?  Why is the doctor and her side of the story in this movie at all?  And there are a million more.

The thing is all of these questions have to do with the script and not really anything else.  And that’s why this movie being sorta bad stings a little extra, because McTirenan wrote the damn thing.  Wisely he never wrote anything else.

It’s kinda strange that this is what got him the Predator gig.  Nomads is shot fairly well and has a quick moving plot but doesn’t hint at how masterful of a filmmaker he would become.  Yet, someone saw something in it and in John boy.  I sure am glad. 

Ministry of Vengeance

Man is this movie full of surprises.  Just look at the supporting cast: Ned Beatty (The Unholy), James Tolkan (Principal Strickland from Back to the Future), George Kennedy (Creepshow 2), Yaphet Kotto (The Running Man) and Apollonia (Prince protégé).  Jeez Louise.  They’re all fun to watch too, especially Tolkan as the tough as nails drill sergeant/mentor.  He’s right at home in this type of role.

As for the rest of it, it was alright.  Usually with these low budget 80’s B action films they’re either very entertaining or very boring.  There isn’t much that lands in the middle.  A lot of A pictures are just ok because there’s some competency involved but not all of the pieces come together.  With B movies either its unintentionally funny or actually well done.  Ministry of Vengeance is a rare B middle grounder though.  It’s all put together just fine and the pacing is quite good, but a bunch of the acting and some of the plot elements aren’t great.

I still liked it though.  It makes sense surprisingly.  A priest really is out to serve up some vengeance to the terrorist that murdered his wife and daughter.  He’s a Vietnam vet, so that explains how he knows how to use a gun and his connection to friends that help him along the way.  He’s also conflicted about his faith which is a very important aspect to have here because it makes the lead a stronger and deeper character.

This one isn’t anything special but I had fun. 

On a side note this was a long time coming.  Many many years ago (over ten at this point) my buds and I picked up a VHS copy of Ministry of Vengeance because it looked like it would be a good time.  We never saw it, but at least I finished what we (never actually) started back then.  

Ferris Bueller Fight Club Theory

A friend told me this theory floating around on the internet about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  The idea is that Cameron and Ferris are the same person.  Ferris is the alter ego of Cameron like how Tyler Durden is Ed Norton’s (we never learn his character’s name) alternate personality in Fight Club.  Cameron becomes everything he isn’t though Ferris, outgoing, clever, brash, confident, etc.

It’s a very interesting way to look at the characters and the film as a whole.  I don’t buy it personally though and don’t believe for a second that this was John Hughes’ intention.  The more you think about it the more the theory falls apart.  One of the biggest problem is that Sloane addresses both Cameron and Ferris separately throughout the movie.  But even if she’s in Cameron’s head too there’s Ed Rooney and the entire school believing that Ferris is a real person with a sister and parents and a house and all that.

So this one doesn’t really hold water.  It’s a fun thing to think about though.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Panic in Needle Park

Bobby (Al Pacino (The Devil’s Advocate)) is a heroin addict with no prospects, a kind of annoying personality and not a possession in the world besides the clothes on his back.  Yet, Helen (Kitty Winn (The Exorcist)) falls head over heels in love with him.  She finds him and his lifestyle fascinating and eventually becomes a heroin junkie herself.  This is a tragic and fucking awesome movie guys.

If you’re looking for a hardcore heroin film then this is for you.  There’s a lot of shooting up, coming down from a high, trying to score shit, finding ways to get money and everything else that comes with the territory.  The entire time you’re slightly on edge because either someone’s so fucked up that they can barely sit up or there isn’t enough money or dope to go around.

Pacino is great as the lowlife Bobby.  He steals TVs, rips off local stores and treats Helen like shit.  It’s Bobby first all the time.  Pacino is known for playing bossy, confident loudmouths but he can also play a dimwitted, directionless loudmouth.  He plays a similar character in Dog Day Afternoon which is one of his best performances.  So it’s no surprise that this is too.  At first you want to know what it’s like to be part of his world but after a while you realize that there isn’t a lot of mystery and there certainly isn’t any glamour.  Helen finds that out when she has to support her own habit and gets slapped around and yelled at by Bobby.  That last part nobody really wants to see but of course you take him back so you can find out where the addiction takes this couple next.  This is classic abusive relationship behavior and Pacino plays his part pretty perfectly.

Winn also does a bang up job.  We see the movie through Helen’s eyes so we start out curious, then interested, and finally totally hooked just like her.  I don’t exactly know what she sees in Bobby though.  He does irritating shit like hiding behind things and surprising her but that isn’t charming if you ask me.  I think it’s the bad boy thing.  You know, how almost every chick falls for the bad boy and thinks she can change him?  Well this is that, except I don’t think Helen wants to change Bobby.  She likes him the way he is.  Well, except for when he calls her a whore.  It didn’t look like she was into that.

I guess the strange thing is we’re supposed to identify with Helen and always be on her side.  She seems wholesome and innocent even though we don’t know much about her before she meets Bobby.  One of the few things we do know is that she’s from Indiana which reinforces the naïve innocent notion.  We’re introduced to her while she’s having some sort of medical issue.  We’re never told what exactly and I’m not even sure what to infer.  Whatever, what I’m trying to say is I was constantly asking myself throughout the picture, “what the fuck are you doing?”  Again, we know very little about her background but she seems too sweet to get involved with a guy hooked on heroin and then heroin itself.  Maybe that’s the point.  You never truly know with people and even though they seem alright on the outside they may be a mess on the inside.  And going on a drug fueled journey with a character like this works very well.  I was always sympathetic towards her and wanted to see if she would get her shit together and quit.  It kept me invested all the way.

I mean when Helen started to pour the raw heroin out into a bottle cap for the first time or started to turn tricks and bang dudes to get drug money or the scenes where she’s completely stung out, when she takes Bobby back, when she gets busted…they all broke my goddamn fuckin’ heart man.  Yes, this film is all about Helen.  Nothing will work unless you care about her and want to see her get better.

The only character I didn’t care for was the young hot shot cop (Alan Vint (Badlands)).  He’s so stiff and monotone which makes him standout horribly.  Everyone is giving such great performances and then every once in a while this bland dude steps into the scene.  I wonder if that was on purpose for contrast.  In any case he’s just about the only thing I didn’t like about this movie.

Production-wise the whole thing is shot very well.  It’s done almost in a documentary style but it still feels cinematic.  I never forgot I was watching some movie but I believed everything I saw could and has happened.  Everything’s very clear and there isn’t a lot of bullshitting around.  The filmmakers know you want to see the seedy underbelly of New York City and they give it to you in full effect.  Also, if you don’t like shots of needles going into people’s arms then you might want to steer clear of this one.

Actually, that brings up a question I have in case any of you out there know.  Did they get folks to shoot heroin for real on camera?  I ask because it sure as hell looks like they did, at least in one scene.  That’s pretty hardcore fellas.  I know it may not sound like a big deal today with so many drug realty shows and movies made about drugs since this came out but still, seeing that shit is gruesome and awful.  ‘Cause you know the people you’re watching have real problems beyond the movie.  Their lives are run by sticking that needle in themselves and they’ll do anything to do it.

Anyway, one of the coolest aspects of this picture is that there’s no music.  It’s one of those things where I didn’t notice until I thought back on it.  It’s a cool choice because it emphasizes the idea that you’re seeing a slice of someone’s life.

The ending is something I wish I could talk about but, of course, I won’t spoil it for you.  I thought I knew where it was all heading having seen a bunch of drug films before but they got me this time.  It isn’t anything big, I don’t want to build your hopes up too much, but it’s smart and entirely fitting.  Good work.

So to wrap this sucker up, this is one of the best movies about drugs and addiction I’ve ever seen.  It’s honest and feels real.  The filmmakers give it to you straight about how it can go if you put your life into heroin.  Sure not every addict will have this particular experience but the never ending search for money and a high does ring true.  I loved the characters too.  Bobby and Helen are like Sid and Nancy where they feed off of each other but also destroy each other.  They’re in love (more Helen than Bobby) which is sweet but they’re enablers for one another so they really shouldn’t be together.

I highly recommend checking out this love story.  It’ll make you feel good…that you saw a very well made film anyway.

Friday, July 4, 2014