Friday, July 22, 2016

Mish Mash 10 (Street Fighter (1994), The Big Chill, White Men Can't Jump, Close Range)

Street Fighter (1994)

Image result for street fighter 1994 jean claude van dammeThere are a bunch of things in this movie that we still find in big action films today.  You have the world domination premise, a large group of people being held hostage, military might and way too many characters crammed into one installment.  Even the fictional country/city setting and Bison’s superhuman powers at the end are typical of modern times.

Ok, there are key differences though like the lighter tone and overall casting choices.  This movie also has a lot of gunplay which has diminished (or morphed into laser/superpower/magic blast battles) with mainly the advent of a flood of comic book pictures.  Strange, you’d think you would want to have a lot of street fighting in, you know, your Street Fighter movie.  But the filmmakers subverted expectations by going for something different and bigger than piddly skirmishes in various locales.  That model had been done to death by that point (and extremely well too with badass shit like Lionheart and Enter the Dragon).  So I appreciate the attempt at changing it up.

Image result for street fighter 1994Screenwriter extraordinaire Steven E. de Souza (Die Hard, The Running Man, Ricochet, Commando, 48 Hrs.) clearly had aspirations of diving into the world of directing and saw this as his meal ticket.  He probably thought of this film as a way of paying his dues and getting some experience before he could sink his teeth into something meatier.  Unfortunately for de Souza the picture tanked and he only went on to direct a handful of not well known TV shit.  Street Fighter isn’t poorly directed though.  It’s the script (also written by de Souza) and the casting that are the real problems.  Too bad Steven.

Look, this isn’t a good movie really but I had a lot of fun checking it out this last time.  Everybody loves to crap on it but it’s far from the worst thing.  It doesn’t commit the high crime of being boring which goes a long way.  There’s usually something weird and/or semi-exciting happening.  It doesn’t seem careless.  It feels like they actually kinda tried and went for something. 

Anyway, in closing I argue that this picture resembles something more of the 2010’s than it does the 90’s and that was interesting to see.

The Big Chill

Image result for the big chillWritten and directed by Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi and Body Heat), this dramedy focuses on a group of college friends that reunite because one of their own committed suicide.  They’re all in their thirties now and find that life is kinda depressing.  Their college days were the best years of their lives when they lived together, ate together, slept together and got fucked up together.  It’s about discovering oneself and reconnecting with your past.  And seriously guys I don’t get why this was such a hit.

I’m pretty sure I get what the movie’s saying (your youthful vigor eventually transforms into self-absorption which perhaps allows for self-reflection) and what these characters are going through (a sort of early mid-life crisis brought on by the death of one of their friends).  But my big gripe is that the characters aren’t any different at the end than they were at the beginning.  There isn’t clear emotional growth.  One guy possibly hints that he’s gonna scale back on the drug usage and one of the women might have gotten knocked up.  Maybe.  But that’s it.

I feel kinda gypped because of how broad the entire thing is played and how we supposedly went on a rich emotional journey even though we have nothing to show for it.

Image result for the big chillBut how about that awesome soundtrack?  Ooooo, the soundtrack.  That’s the thing the film is known for, right?  Fuck the soundtrack.  A lot of the time it’s distracting and feels forced.  It’s weird, the song selection here comes across as ham fisted by obnoxiously doubling down on what the characters are feeling, but similar selections and usage done in Dirty Dancing are genius.  I think part of it is that Dirty Dancing actually goes somewhere and the songs help to convey emotional evolution.  With The Big Chill it’s a series of scenes that could be placed in just about any order so the songs only seem to reinforce insipidly happy or sad sentiments without much complexity or even context.

I dunno, I’d say give this one the chilly shoulder.

White Men Can’t Jump

Image result for white men can't jumpI genuinely can’t believe White Men Can’t Jump isn’t considered one of the best films ever made.  Every aspect is fucking phenomenal.  If you haven’t seen it it’s about two basketball hustlers (Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt) and Wesley Snipes (Passenger 57)) that cross paths and out of the games they play on each other and with each other they forge an incredible, yet fragile, relationship.  They each have their struggles outside of their passionate athleticism and equally fervent scamming (which for them is inseparably interconnected) that both round them out and ground them.  Without that the movie would be too hollow, so their lives off the court are wisely focused on for half the film.  But make no mistake, basketball is life for these guys and they’ll always keep playing, even if it means their downfall.

Image result for white men can't jumpShit, I guess white men can jump ‘cause this was written and directed by a white dude: Ron Shelton.  He wrote the really fun corrupt college basketball picture Blue Chips and directed the underrated cop drama Dark Blue.  He also did the overrated baseball chick flick Bull Durham but I won’t hold that against him.

Everything from the script to the acting to the crystal clear editing to the skillful character development to the un-fucking-believable cinematography (so many beautiful slow motion shots of tight passing and gorgeous uninterrupted angles of the actors sinking shots for real), this is a masterpiece guys.  And that ain’t no hustle.

Close Range

Image result for close range 2015Another solid action picture from Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins.  This one involves Adkins crossing the border into Mexico to rescue his niece.  He kills a lot of cartel dudes in the process and they ain’t none too pleased about that.  When Adkins delivers his niece back to his sister in Arizona they have to defend themselves against not only the forthcoming Mexicans but a corrupt cop who also wants them dead.  It’s as simple as you can get.

Damn guys, if you’re looking for action that harkens back to the golden 80’s/90’s era then direct to video (DTV) is still the place to go.  I have no beef with newer theatrically released action movies but generally they have their own unique super slick style.  Close Range goes back to photographing the fights in a flatter (but not dull) manner by pulling back the camera, showing the full body in frame and allowing the actors/stunt people do their thing.  Florentine does employ some slow down and speed up but it’s minor and not done in the extreme way like you usually see it.

Image result for close range 2015The fights themselves are all exciting and Jeremy Marinas (The Expendables, TMNT (2014), Power/Rangers (that short that turned the Power Rangers into a very dark and gritty concept, even though that’s not at all what the Power Rangers are)) did a great job choreographing them.  The stunt guys really throw themselves into it and Adkins never looked better.  He even battles an SUV on foot at one point, if you’re into that kinda thing. 

I think my favorite fight though is the one Adkins has with the guy who’s attempting to avenge his brother’s death from the opening of the movie.  The poor bastard exclaims “you killed my brother!” and Adkins responds “Yea? Well I’m gonna kill you, little bitch.  Let’s go!”  It blows me away that that semi-psychotic response is uttered by the good guy!
Image result for close range 2015 truck
Florentine and Adkins have worked wonders in the past with Undisputed II and III and the Ninja movies.  This is another triumphant notch in their belts.  It’s not sophisticated in any sense of the word but that’s ok.  It’s just a damn good time.  I definitely recommend this one if you want a very solid, no frills, quick 80 minute action picture.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Knight of Cups

Image result for knight of cupsIn Terrence Malick’s latest…thing, he turns his abstract eye on Hollywood and its hollow disposition.  A man (Christian Bale (Shaft (2000)), movie producer I’m guessing, floats from one relationship to another because that’s just what he does.  What is it really all about and mean?  I haven’t a fuckin’ clue.  But that’s sorta why I like Malick’s films so much.  You get whatever you want out of them.  Wanna feel enlightened, depressed, think the characters are going on an eloquent journey, think everyone’s drifting aimlessly?  It’s all up for interpretation.  You can dig deep to figure out the meaning behind everything or you can take what’s presented on the surface (honestly this is mostly the approach I take) and still get something out of the experience either way.

What makes Malick’s pictures fascinating is that it’s a total experiment.  Every actor who’s worked with him describes the shoot like nothing they’ve ever done before.  It’s almost a workshop where the interaction itself and being “in the moment” are more important than what’s on the page.  Knight of Cups went to the extreme though because there was no script and the actors didn’t even know what the movie was about.  I mean shit, this is beyond improvisation where at least you have an idea of what you’re going for or an end goal that you need to achieve.  For this one it was totally wide open.  Really with the exception of the narration, which you could argue is superfluous, it’s essentially a wacky silent picture (however the score is gorgeous by the way).

Image result for knight of cupsIt’s amazing how coherent Malick’s movies come out in general but this one is a goddamn miracle.  His movies are ballsy as shit and it seems that his balls have only grown bigger over the years.  Each one feels like they’re getting farther and farther from any sort of narrative and simply becoming a series of images that loosely tie together.

In the past Malick has fetishized natural beauty with endless pictures of grass, beaches, mountains, trees, wind, humans, etc.  But with this one he finally comes around to man-made wonders like skyscrapers, casinos, vibrant lighting, art, fountains, mansions, etc.  And since he has such a mixture of both natural and man-made images (including many unflattering shots of human civilization like abandoned lots and gaudy malls) I don’t get the impression that he’s looking down on the man-made stuff.  There seems to be equal amazement and even respect at what we have created for ourselves to live and interact with.

Image result for knight of cupsOn paper the idea for this picture sounds like it shouldn’t work at all but for me it mostly does.  I liked it better than To the Wonder and The Tree of Life (the outer space shit notwithstanding (I can’t fuckin’ wait for The Voyage of Time which is supposed to be 90 mins of just that)).  This is a different beast than those two though.  I think the narrative is more open to interpretation and there’s pretty much no skeletal structure for “scenes” to hang on.  Plus this is one of the most visually stunning films I’ve ever seen and that plays a more important role here because the storytelling is more optical than in previous works.

Image result for knight of cups las vegasMalick’s style of filmmaking is gonna rub a lot, and I mean a helluva lot, of people the wrong way.  I totally get that.  This is not for everyone.  Actually I don’t know who this is supposed to be for.  It truly feels like Malick makes these movies for himself alone and if someone else happens to dig it then it’s a happy accident.  It’s so weird because he’s like a mythical figure in the film world, like he doesn’t even exist.  You never see him, you never hear from him.  He just makes these pieces and moves on to the next project, never paying any mind.

But folks out there astonishingly keep giving him money to make his pictures and huge actors clamor to work with him.  It’s pretty damn strange how high profile his shit is considering how abstruse it is.  I know I’m not alone in appreciating the man’s work but it’s very surprising how not alone I am.

Alright, I’ll make a deal with you Terry, if you keep making ‘em I’ll keep watching ‘em.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Jaws 2

Image result for jaws 2
The internet seems to love to shit on Jaws 3 and 4 (The Revenge) and I don’t really disagree that they’re terrible films.  But Jaws 2 is always skipped over for some reason.  Why?  Why don’t you get senselessly angry and shit on Jaws 2 webernet?  Not good enough for ya?  Fine.  I guess I’ll have to do it.

But before we dive in (ouch, that was a bad one) let’s talk about the original a little.  Back when I started this here blob thingy a Jaws piece was one of the first things I did.  Honestly it’s not my best effort but I did hit most of the points I wanted to.  Re-watching it again however brought something new to light that I’d like to bring up.

The New Englanders (or “islanders” as they’re called) are kinda portrayed as morons.  First the mayor wants to keep the beaches open and gets his crew to back him on the bogus boating accident theory.  I understand he wants tourists to vacation there so the town can survive but he doesn’t want to take any precautions in case Brody is right about a shark.  The mayor bullies Brody to get his way.  Then after the Kintner boy is gobbled up (that’s two victims total) the townspeople are upset that the beaches will be closed.  Turns out only to be for twenty four hours but still, these folks look callous in the wake of recent events.  When a large shark is caught after the $3,000 reward is posted the mayor won’t listen to the shark expert, Hooper, to perform an autopsy to confirm that it’s the killer they’ve been looking for (and it’s not).  If this wasn’t bad enough look at the three guys who finally take Jaws down.  It’s Brody, a transplanted NYC cop, Quint, an Englishman, and well, ok we never find out where Hooper is from.  But still Brody is the one that throws the oxygen tank into Jaws’ mouth and also shoots it to blow that beast to smithereens.  Really the islanders are relegated to background characters, idiots and lunch.

Image result for jaws meetingTo add even further insult to New Englanders no islander has the trademark Bostonian accent.  Instead they all speak with a New York inflection for some reason.

Alright with that out of the way let’s check out that sequel.  Oh the goddamn inevitable sequel.

For number two here the filmmakers treated the material much more like a slasher picture.  This is kinda interesting because this came out the same year as Halloween (1978) which is commonly agreed to have started the subgenre proper (you had precursors like Psycho, Black Christmas and a bunch of Italian horror but everyone and their mother wanted to make a Halloween knock off after it grossed big bucks).  The focus is switched from adults to teens, Brody’s son in particular.  The promiscuous kiddies drink, disobey their parents and at least hint at having sex, which cannot go unpunished so they become the main targets.

Plot-wise you got a lot of the same shit.  There’s a new shark in town (not Jaws, that was the first one; I refuse to call this one Jaws so instead I’m going to use: the shark) and he’s itching to try out the local cuisine.  Brody knows immediately they’ve got another situation on their hands but of course no one believes him, or wants to believe him.  In fact they sack his ass because he’s ranting and raving like a lunatic.  Brody and the shark eventually have a showdown and the shark dies.  The end.

This time the townspeople have every right not to believe Brody when he lays the shark shit on them again.  He doesn’t have any solid proof or witnesses that he can produce.  It’s supposed to seem sad when Brody loses his job but it’s weird that he still works in Amity as the chief of police in the first place.  After the horrific events of the first film you know that had to have turned into one awkward ass town to stay in.  Everyone giving you weird looks and murmuring behind your back about that one summer (remember, no one who lives in Amity actually saw the shit that went down in the last half hour of the first movie; it must’ve sounded like an absurdly exaggerated account when Brody and Hooper laid it all out).  I don’t blame the townspeople for what they do to Brody in part 2 but fuck ‘em, he’ll do better somewhere near less water.

Probably the strangest thing in the movie is when Body places cyanide on the tips of his bullets and then melts wax over the poison to encase it.  This is fairly early on in the picture after the shark eats a water skier and the lady driving the boat.  What makes this attack so funny is the shark is thrusting and jumping at the boat at full force like in the finale of the first installment which looks ridiculous.  There’s no build up to it.  The filmmakers wanted to hit you hard towards the beginning and leave themselves no place to go.  Anyway the broad in the motorboat panics and grabs a canister of gasoline to presumably throw at the shark but ends up clumsily soaking herself.  She then proceeds to shoot a fucking flare gun in the boat causing everything to go on fire (shark included) and the entire boat blows up (shark’s ok though).  So there’s no evidence of a shark attack left behind, just an exploded boat.  For this Brody must lace his bullets with cyanide.  You could say he gets a little paranoid.

Even Brody knows that infamous unmissable yellow barrel 
from the first installment doesn’t make sense being there
There are a lot of callbacks to the original like the surprise reveal of a corpse in the water, “wanna fool around?”, one of Quint’s yellow barrels is a planter outside the Brodys’ home, young girl gets googly eyed boy to come to the beach, Brody gets drunk, a false alarm where everyone evacuates the water in a frenzy, Brody brings on an expert to help him understand what’s going on (although this character only lasts one scene), the Orca makes a cameo and etc.    

One of the biggest problems is the pacing.  It starts off fine but then there’s a forty five minute stretch without a shark attack (not counting the false alarm).  And at that point there’s only a partial attack where it’s unclear if the victim got bit at all.  When he’s brought out of the water (still alive by the way) then we can see that he’s bleeding but the scene wasn’t done properly to convey that this guy got hurt.  So really it’s fifty minutes until the shark starts murdering folks again.  And the pace suddenly kicks up during the last half hour when the shark goes after people left and right.  It’s too uneven and the long shark-less part in the middle leaves you scratching your head.

Michael, Brody’s son, is another mystery.  He was supposed to have been traumatized from seeing a man eaten alive by a 25 foot shark and barely dodging the same fate himself in the first film.  But here all he wants to do is go sailing and hang out at the beach as if nothing had happened.  You’re saying he got over that unforgettable episode?  Sure it’s possible but that’s a hard severed leg to swallow my friends.  To see the Brody boys so antsy to get in the water doesn’t add up for me.  But then again nothing adds up.

I mean this is just dumb.  It’s a dumb fuckin’ movie.  You know how McClane says “how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice” in Die Hard 2Jaws 2 takes that one step further by having the same shit happen to the same guy in the same location twice.  What is it about Amity that attracts vicious mammoth goddamn sharks?  At this point it really kind of is supernatural like how Freddy always preys on kids on Elm Street or Michael Myers always goes after teens in Haddonfield.  Great white sharks are always in Amity, that’s just the way it is.

The only angle that’s kinda cool is Brody going legitimately crazy.  But they play it cheesy where he turns out to be the sole person right about a killer shark on the loose.  They could’ve gone in a very different direction with a film about Brody not being able to cope with his job, life and the ocean at large.  No actual shark, only a haunted past and a fraught present.  But who the fuck is going to wanna see that shit?  I’m not saying they should’ve done that but it would’ve been way more fascinating than a half assed slasher picture.

Image result for jaws 2Even the ending with the shark taking down a fucking helicopter is so stupid and makes the animal look too smart.  Like when the teenagers are forced to cobble together their sailboats after the shark destroys most of their crafts it feels like the fuckin’ thing plotted it all out.  But it didn’t look too damn smart when it bit into that electrical cable frying it to kingdom come with smoke pouring out of its eye sockets.  It’s a spectacularly silly demise that admittedly I did enjoy a little.

And that one attack where the beauty queen’s boyfriend gets dragged towards their boat slamming right into it is a well done scene.  It has a grittiness to it that the rest of the movie lacks. 

Ok and the John Williams score is good too.  It’s certainly not as memorable as the original but there are nice moments and they make use of the iconic theme.  Hey, even a half-baked John Williams score is still pretty great.

So there you have it internet, Jaws 2.  I remember it not being very good when I first saw it a very long time ago but this is worse than I remembered.  It’s so thoughtless.  Look guys, there’s Jaws and then fuck everything else.