Wednesday, March 30, 2016


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Tigerland was the last stop before Vietnam.  It was the training ground at Ft. Polk, Louisiana that mimicked the conditions of the country and the war as best it could to get soldiers prepared for what they would be living with during the next year or more.  This was a real place and it sounds scary as hell.  I mean the only thing it was missing were actual tigers that could claw your goddamn face off.

The movie Tigerland uses its namesake for the finale but there’s so much more that happens in the build up to that last obstacle before they ship you off into the abyss.  To guide us through the experience we’ve got Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell (The New World, Saving Mr. Banks)).  He’s a smart mouthed troublemaker that rebels at every turn.  No matter what his commanders say or have him do he finds a way to make light of the situation, do something completely different than what he’s supposed to or flat out protest.  He’s vehemently against the war and harming others in general.  He only wants to have a good time all the time.  This, of course, means that he’s been in training camp way longer than normal so he knows the ropes very well.  Bozz uses his knowledge to help get his fellow grunts out of the army through loopholes so they can go on to live much longer lives without all the trauma (hopefully).

Now I’ll be the first to admit that Colin Farrell isn’t a great actor.  He pretty much plays himself here with a pitiful Texan accent that only materializes maybe every ten lines.  During almost all of the heavy dramatic scenes you can see him trying real hard but that’s just it, it looks too much like he’s trying.  Although, I do appreciate that he doesn’t pull a Leonardo DiCaprio and simply yell and attempt to substitute rage for any emotion that he’s supposed to be feeling (for the most part anyway).  But you know what?  I like to watch the man work.  I don’t know what it is but I don’t mind him at all.  He’s like Michael Douglas or Samuel L Jackson where they don’t do characters exactly.  They do themselves but it’s fantastic almost no matter what.  Farrell isn’t the caliber of those two but generally that’s how I feel about him.  And this could be the best I’ve ever seen him.

Image result for tigerland 2000Joel Schumacher (Falling Down, Twelve) directed and he did a really good job.  He shot this in grainy 16mm and that along with the journalistic camera work makes this one gritty fuckin’ film to watch.  It looks great and might be the best aspect of the movie overall.  But also Schumacher crafts the characters and their struggles well by continually showing us how each person responds to one stressful situation after another.  Everything is a test, there’s practically no breathing room and Schumacher’s right in everyone’s face to capture it all.

Appropriately the Tigerland ending is the best part of the film.  You’ve spent ample time with these characters and the environment in which they struggle to adapt so you truly feel for these guys when you realize they had it (sorta) easy up to this point.  First thing the drill instructor does when the troops arrive is catch everyone off guard by firing his gun in the air and telling them to hit the ground.  He wants to see how fast they can move when the shit hits the fan in the blink of an eye.  Then he has them march for days with only one hour of sleep per day and so on.  You get the point, these instructors bring the war to the recruits.

Image result for tigerland 2000The other major character that we get to know is Jim (Matthew Davis (Legally Blonde)).  We’re supposed to be experiencing these events through his eyes but there are a couple of times when the camera goes beyond what Jim sees and knows (an oversight on the filmmakers’ part I guess).  Unlike Bozz he enlisted because he had to know what war was like.  He mentions that he’s not sure if he’s even for the war but he’s soul searching.  Well Jim eventually realizes that this shit ain’t for folks with that line of thinking.  Boot camp is brutal and the tactics and views that he becomes exposed to slowly turn him more towards Bozz’s anti-war stance. 

But it’s Tigerland that breaks Jim.  He’d been able to endure the previous training without a ton of problems but when it’s show time he can’t hack it.  The merciless routine and exercises drain all life from him physically and mentally.  And the journey of this particular character is what makes the movie as strong as it is.  It’s not really about Bozz.  It’s about Jim.

Image result for tigerland 2000Sure the film may be kinda corny at times, too idealistic in its beliefs that everything will ultimately turn out alright, and Bozz may be too simplistic of a character with seemingly no motivation for helping out the young recruits at every turn, and the cinematography might be very of its time (late 90’s), but goddammit this thing has heart.  It’s an intimate little piece that’s all about the characters and how they cope.  It’s very book-ish feeling (which is odd because it’s not based on a book) and I’m not sure if I can describe what I mean by that.  Maybe it’s that the story is so small and the way everything develops it feels like it wasn’t envisioned for the big screen but for a more scrutinizing-ly personal way to be digested.

This isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.  Full Metal Jacket, Heartbreak Ridge and G.I.Jane are just a few that also show how grueling boot camp can be.  But Tigerland is a damn good one.  In fact it’s right up there among my favorite Vietnam pictures with Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Eastern Condors (could be number one) and…I guess PlatoonMissing in Action would be on there but technically that takes place after the war.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Musketeer

Image result for the musketeer 2001I remember seeing an interview one time many years ago with director/cinematographer Peter Hyams where he was talking about what got him excited to make The Musketeer.  He said he saw Chinese acrobats (I can’t remember if it was in person or on TV) flying all around doing stunning athletic work and it clicked for him that this is how you do a Musketeers movie.  This was just what the doctor ordered to spruce up the old tale that the audience has seen many times before.

But to me The Musketeer feels more like an attempt to Matrix up the well known characters and story in order to tap into that movie’s enormous success.  You know, to bring it into the next millennium.  Let’s have D’Artagnon (Justin Chambers (Grey’s Anatomy)) pull martial arts type moves and toss the stiff European swordplay aside for a looser Chinese influenced style with lots of flips and shit.  It sounds intriguing and possibly absurdly entertaining to go with such a different action motif than what the time period calls for (the 1620’s).  I wouldn’t discount the idea right off the bat because hey, you never know.  But unfortunately this is one dumb fuckin’ movie.

Image result for the musketeer 2001One of the worst things is that nobody looks like they’re enjoying themselves.  They all give the vibe that it’s a chore to get through every scene.   The only one that seems to be having any fun is Tim Roth (Hoodlum, Selma) who plays the villain.  But he, along with all the other characters, have absolutely no depth and are simplified to the point of being caricatures.  Take Roth’s character for example, he dresses in all black, has a black eye patch and when asked to scale back on the murdering he responds “what if I absolutely must kill someone?”  There’s nothing there but an unmotivated maniac.  Even Chambers as the lead who does seem to be trying still comes off way too stiff (is it just me or does he have a little Brian Thompson (Cobra, Lionheart) thing going on).

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And as for the action, well, it’s definitely not as cool as it potentially sounds on paper.  There are really two big sequences that bookend the movie that go all out with the martial arts-ish direction.  The first is a brawl in a tavern and is probably my favorite part of the picture.  D’Artagnon takes on four guys at once and zips around with the agility of a cat and the speed of Jackie Chan.  He does all sorts of crazy shit during the fight like fencing while balancing on a wine barrel and flipping up into the rafters.  The finale involves going head to head with the villain in a gigantic room filled with really long huge ladders.  They sword fight while jumping from ladder to ladder and teetering on them like a Cirque du Soleil routine.  This sequence isn’t quite as fun as the tavern one but it’s certainly more ambitious and outrageous.

Image result for the musketeer 2001Aside from the two scenes I mentioned above the rest of the action is pretty standard fare (ok there is that one part where D’Artagnon fights with a makeshift rope dart) and that’s very disappointing.  To make matters worse the editing during almost every sequence is kinda messy and confusing.  The filmmakers had this idea (whether genuine or just as a way to cash in on the Matrix craze) to incorporate a very traditional story with a very different style but only went part way with it.  They tried to compromise by leaving half the action in a more American style and it doesn’t work.  They should’ve gone all out.  

The stunt choreographer is Xin Xin Xiong and he was Jet Li’s stunt double so you know he’s got a ton of knowledge and some excellent training.  And I think he does as good a job as you can with this bizarre order that got called in.  I feel like what we get is only a brief taste of what Xiong could’ve done if he was allowed to run totally free.

Peter Hyams is an underrated director in my opinion but unfortunately this is not one of his better efforts.  SuddenDeath is still his best (written by Gene Quintano who also did The Musketeer) but even his earlier ones like Capricorn One and The Star Chamber are really fuckin’ cool.  I would suggest checking one of those out instead.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


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Ok, so say you just robbed a diamond store and made off with millions worth of the stuff, would you feel like it wasn’t enough?  Like there was a void in your soul?  And the only way to fill that void was to steal a priceless Native American spear in the middle of your getaway and kill some poor guy who objected?  I suppose that’s what any of us would do in that situation, right?  But if you think about it isn’t that a bit much?  I mean do you really need the spear?  Do you really need to kill a dude for taking a step forward and essentially saying “are you fucking serious?”?  If you take a step back I think you’ll see that ripping off a diamond shop and murdering an entirely different individual during that phase for only glancing at you is probably enough shitty things to have accomplished in an afternoon.  But then again I could be wrong.

And so we have Renegades.  Buster McHenry (Kiefer Sutherland (Dark City, The Vanishing)) is a Philly cop that plays by his own rules.  For one thing he wears a mustache (which doesn’t look very cool or make Sutherland look older) and for another he has a problem telling people he’s a cop.  So when he gets in sticky situations, like neutralizing a hostage situation by pretending to be a drunk that can’t find his car therefore taking down the bad guy by surprise and getting promptly arrested, he would rather spend the night in the drunk tank and have everyone find out about him on their own than speak up.  It’s actually pretty bizarre how much he doesn’t want people to know he’s a cop.  I really don’t get this.  He’s got such a huge chip on his shoulder in part because his old man got busted for being a dirty cop but the other part of it is, uh, youthful rebellion?  I dunno.  Oh, and he dresses in jeans and a leather jacket.  Classic.

McHenry (the Buster part of his name is kinda bad, especially compared to his counterpart but I’ll get to that) works undercover.  He’s infiltrated a gang that wants to snatch diamonds while also trying to smoke out a dirty cop in his ranks.  When he goes to a meeting with the bad guys they alter their deal and want him to come along on the heist.  McHenry has no choice, it’s either blow them off and get killed or get in the car and try to navigate the situation in a desperate attempt to find an exit.

This is a fantastic setup.  One of my favorite things in any movie is when an undercover cop has to do something terribly illegal or he’ll be killed on the spot.  Whatever it is: taking drugs, robbing a bank, murdering someone, it’s always incredibly tense.  And this picture fucking delivers.  Not only does McHenry and co nab the diamonds but the main villain, Marino (Rob Knepper (Transporter 3, Hitman)), pinches a Native American spear, kills several people and they go on a terrific car chase with the cops.  The real kicker is McHenry amazingly survives all this shit only to get shot in the back by Marino.  Holy shit man, the entire sequence is about fourteen fucking minutes long and it’s really great.  It’s like the filmmakers were having so much fun they just wanted to keep it going and going.  This part is almost a mini film by itself.

As a result (or consequence really) of killing the guy who dared to say “no!” during the spear stealing, you now have Hank Storm (Lou Diamond Phillips (Che, Disorganized Crime)) out for your ass.  It was his brother that got gunned down in cold blooded murder so he wants revenge.  I guess you could say a storm is coming (I don’t regret that sentence).

Hank Storm is a much better name than Buster McHenry.  I can’t believe the filmmakers didn’t reevaluate Buster.  I know it doesn’t really matter that much but it kinda bugs me.  They knew how to do a cool and ridiculous sounding name so why not go two for two?  

Anyway, like McHenry Storm is a renegade, I guess.  He knows how to kick ass, track folks and always keep a cool head when things get rough.  Like as soon as his brother dies Storm wastes no time and takes some guy’s sports car to join in the chase.  The two leads are both men of action that don’t think too much about what they’re doing and just fucking do it.

Storm thinks McHenry was part of Marino’s crew so they reluctantly form an uneasy alliance to go after Marino and his posse.  So there’s a lot of butting heads as per usual.  Their clashes range from fun (they take the time to duke it out on a rooftop while trying to escape the cops) to pointless padding out of the film (McHenry tries to ditch Storm over and over again which gets annoying and doesn’t progress the story).  When they do click it feels more like they gave up and simply put up with each other which I like.  They definitely respect one another by the end but it’s interesting to see these two play off each other in an untrusting and almost awkward way.

Sutherland is giving it his all in this.  It looks like he’s genuinely terrified during the car chase with his voice getting very hoarse while pleading with the bad guys to not kill him.  And after he gets shot he really looks like he might not make it because he’s breathing so heavily and he gets so limp, pale and sweaty.  He can mostly pull off the tough guy act but pairing him up with someone who’s just as, if not more, capable brings the character down to earth a little.  That was smart.

Phillips is unexpectedly good as a bad ass.  He’s lanky but manages to be stoic which goes a long way.  He looks like a guy that couldn’t do much but when it’s time for action he can handle it no problem.  McHenry is more of the talker and Storm is more of the doer.  I’ve always liked Phillips for his subtle charm and he works it effectively in this one.

Director Jack Sholder did A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (aka the gay Freddy movie (Sholder claims to have not picked up on the homoerotic subtext during filming which is slightly hard to believe but not inconceivable I suppose)) and the really fun Terminator-esque The Hidden.  He does a good straightforward job here with clear exciting action and a bunch of drama to keep you invested.

I saw this many years ago and it didn’t leave much of an impression.  Well I’m glad to say that this is much better than I remembered.  It’s pretty gritty with some well executed action and an engaging enough story.  Sutherland and Phillips do a good job and look like they’re into the material.  The villain, although cast well, is pure evil with no redeeming qualities however.  It’s a shame they didn’t give him a personality.  But the dirty cop is surprisingly more fleshed out than you would think.  He actually struggles with his inner demons and feels conflicted about the illegal shit he’s doing.

Overall I liked this one quite a bit.  There’s not only hardened cop shit but also spiritual Native American shit which you don’t see enough of in movies (especially action).  Alright, the stealing of the spear (again, which Marino had no prior plans of taking, he did it on a whim, an impulse lift) has absolutely nothing to do with anything.  Marino could’ve just shot Storm’s brother who was in his way during the escape and that would’ve been enough.  But the spear makes me like the movie that much more.  Sure, why not throw it in there?  Have the bad guy be more bad and give Storm even more motivation to kill Marino.  Whatever, I’ll roll with it.

This one is getting fairly deep in terms of action pictures but you know I love that shit, and you should too.  So check it out.

(I seriously have no idea what the deal is with the trailer below, especially the music choice.  The movie is not nearly as lighthearted as they would have you believe.)

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