Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Men of Honor (Billy Sunday Bar Speech)

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Men of Honor is a forgotten gem about Carl Brashear who was not only the first African American Navy Master Diver but also the first African American Navy Master Diver with one leg!  He lost his left leg in an accident in the middle of his career but recovered and continued to dive and rose to the level of Master Diver.

Of course when Brashear was coming up in the late 40’s and 50’s he had to deal with racism and bigotry at every turn.  This film chronicles all the terrible shit he had to endure and his glorious triumph over all those assholes and institutions to achieve his dream of diving for the US Navy.

Image result for men of honor 2000Cuba Gooding Jr. (Chill Factor) does a pretty good job in the lead role turning on that irresistible charm or intense scowl when needed.  But Robert De Niro (The Fan) as Brashear’s diving instructor/eventual friend Master Chief Billy Sunday steals the show.  This guy didn’t exist in real life but these types of inspirational movies always have a character like that (Mickey from Rocky, Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back, John James Urgayle from G.I. Jane, etc.) and this is one of the greats in my opinion.  As per usual he’s one tough bastard who’s seen it all and pushes his recruits hard as hell to whip them into shape.  He even tells his men “I am God!”  And goddammit, he’s the very best teacher in his field.

But the real reason I wanted to bring this underappreciated movie up is the speech Sunday gives in a bar to Brashear about the time he and his men were trapped in a sunken ship during WWII.  I couldn’t find a clip of it so here’s the transcription (I know there’s no substitute for De Niro’s badass performance but this shit reads well anyway):

Sunday: You see this pipe?  General MacArthur himself smoked this pipe.  I served with him in Leyte Gulf.  Biggest naval battle in history.  Kamikaze ripped into this escort carrier, name of Saint Lo.  She went down on a shallow reef trapping me and six boys in the fire room.  Only one way out.

Brashear: Flood the compartment and swim up.

Sunday: Five decks, cookie. Five fuckin' decks. Locked bulk heads, dead bodies everywhere - you got to have your balls screwed on tight for that swim.  We still had intercom. Old MacArthur himself came over that squawk box, "Sunday, you cocky son of a bitch I bet you can't hold your breath for four minutes and swim out of there."  Know what I said back?  "No Mac I can't, but I'll bet you your cob pipe I can hold it for five, 'cause that's what it's gonna take, motherfucker."  There's six men still breathin' today, 'cause I led 'em out of that fire room.  And now just 'cause you pulled little Isert's white little fuckin' ass out of some row boat sunk in a mud puddle, you think you're better than me?  Well, let's just see.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mish Mash 13 (Faceless Holes, Crossdressing Commander Krill, Useless Margo, Faceless Henchmen)

Faceless Holes

Image result for the man without a face 1993 mel gibsonDoes anyone know why in The Man Without a Face Mel Gibson makes Nick Stahl (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) dig square and triangular holes as part of the tutoring?  I mean I know Gibson’s trying to teach about calculating volumes ‘n shit but the holes don’t come back around later like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid showing Daniel he had been learning martial arts all along with the various assigned chores.  There isn’t a lightbulb moment where Stahl realizes the digging and filling in of the holes was actually time well spent because he learned a lesson.  We don’t even know if he correctly dug them to Gibson’s requested specifications.  So this kinda just comes off like child manual labor to me.

Crossdressing Commander Krill

Image result for commander krill under siegeCommander Krill (Gary Busey) definitely did not need to dress up as a woman during the captain’s party in Under Siege.  He wasn’t trying to go incognito and sneak past people or fool folks into thinking it wasn’t him.  By the time he gets to the captain’s quarters his wig is off so the silly time is over quickly.  It wasn’t misdirection either because we don’t see anyone smuggle anything past the officers at the party.  And if you say Krill needed the wig to conceal the gun he used to kill the captain with I don’t buy it.  He could’ve put anything over the gun to hide it like a jacket or a hat.  Did Krill dress up for shock value to temporarily distract the captain before murdering him?  That also doesn’t make sense because Krill doesn’t shoot the captain immediately.  He takes the time to deliver one last line before the assassination.  Plus it isn’t setup that the captain is always armed and ready for an attack.  So then what was the point of Krill cross dressing?  If you take it out of the movie nothing changes.  I guess it was purely to have some fun with the audience?

Useless Margo

Image result for big trouble in little china margoAlong the same lines as the previous section in Big Trouble in Little China Margo (Kate Burton (127 Hours)) is a completely unnecessary character.  She doesn’t help in any way by possessing unique knowledge, fighting off bad guys or doing any other goddamn thing at any goddamn time.  At some point the filmmakers must’ve realized this plus the fact that they already had two damsels in distress (Miao Yin and Gracie Law) because they sideline her ass for the third act.  I can’t believe it took me this long to see how much of a useless character she is.  If you took her out nothing would change.

Faceless Henchmen

Image result for stormtrooper shotFaceless henchmen have always been around.  You can go back to the stormtroopers in Star Wars or the king’s forces in The Adventures of Robin Hood to find a boatload of baddies being killed like it’s the easiest thing in the world.  They’re setup for us to believe that their lives aren’t worth a damn, or that they’re not even real people.

Things changed in the 80’s and 90’s though where we actually got to know our main villain’s henchmen.  Maybe we couldn’t tell you all their names but we would recognize their faces and they may have even had a few lines of dialogue.  Think back to Die Hard, Out for Justice and Robocop, we know these henchmen.  Of course not every movie made during that time was like that.  Commando, The Matrix, Cobra and True Lies all feature faceless henchmen, generic men that only show up on screen to get mowed down in an instant.

My recent viewings of Logan and John Wick: Chapter 2 got me thinking about the whole faceless henchmen thing because both have them.  And I realized I generally prefer to get acquainted with a bad guy’s crew.  It might seem insignificant but that extra touch can go a long way.  It should get you more invested in the story and characters which is nice.  So I say give these henchmen faces and personalities.  They’re out there dying for us.  It’s the least we can do.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Astronaut's Wife

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The Astronaut’s Wife is a movie that could’ve only been made at a specific time.  That’s probably because it’s a mashup of two other movies that could’ve only been made at a specific time, Species and The Devil’s Advocate.  The common denominator?  They’re sexy thrillers.  In the late 90’s sexy thrillers took their last breath as viable box office material and were very quickly outcast into mid-level B movie territory.  So towards the end of the run there were a few weird spin-offs in a curious attempt to keep this beloved (by some) subgenre alive.

But before we get to Wife let’s take a look at the plots to its direct antecedents:

Species is about an alien grown in a lab that escapes.  She must procreate in order to make more aliens so her race can take over the earth.  The sexy part is the alien is maliciously driven to have sex and the thrilling part is there’s a posse out to stop her. (By the way I kinda like the sequel better)

The Devil’s Advocate involves a relatively small town Florida lawyer who accepts a job offer from a big time NYC firm.  He eventually comes to realize that his boss is Satan who’s been grooming him to be his second in command in Hell.  The sexy part is Lucifer uses sex a lot to seduce the young lawyer and the thrilling part is the Devil is your fucking villain who our protagonist must confront.

Now The Astronaut’s Wife deals with despicable pirate, er I mean astronaut, Spencer (Johnny Depp (Platoon)), who goes into space only to be body snatched by an alien.  Everyone knows something happened up there because there was radio silence for two minutes but neither Spencer nor his colleague, who was with him, will talk about it.  When Spencer gets back home to Florida he decides to take a big exec job in NYC so he and his wife Jill (Charlize Theron (Men of Honor)) move there.  Jill notices her husband has sex differently than before, he’s more aggressive and she becomes pregnant with twins.  Later she’s visited by a disgraced NASA guy who tells her that Spencer isn’t her husband anymore and the babies she’s carrying are potentially dangerous.  Jill must decide what to do about the twins and her husband.

Image result for the astronaut's wifeSo you can see where Species and The Devil’s Advocate intersect with an alien trying to impregnate a human to trigger world domination and a supernatural force coercing a human to do evil things.  All three movies are played totally straight too with the filmmakers giving their best shots at winning over the audience with their ideas.  And it’s worth noting that The Astronaut’s Wife did come out after both Species and The Devil’s Advocate and that in Advocate Charlize Theron amazingly plays the protagonist’s wife as well.

As for Wife itself there isn’t a whole lot to say.  Thrills are a bit light until the third act when Jill starts to completely accept that Spencer is an alien now.  Before that the wheels tend to spin with Jill having trouble acclimating to life in the big city and worrying about relapsing into depression which she was hospitalized for in the past.  What’s maybe kinda strange is Spencer doesn’t act creepy or give himself away at all until much later in the film.  Sure he’s more serious than we saw him during the scene and a half pre-alien takeover but for the first two thirds he’s attentive to his wife and caring about the twins on the way.  It’s only after the NASA guy exposes him that he starts to turn sinister.  So if it weren’t for that the alien’s entire operation would’ve gone off without a hitch.

Theron gives it her all in this which is awesome to watch.  She throws herself into all of the suspicious notions, heart crushing discoveries and dismal realizations she comes up against.  One scene in particular where she’s holding pills in her hand that will kill the twins inside her and has to decide if she wants to go through with it is some of her best work.  She’s shaking and sobbing and completely distraught.  The scene is powerful because she’s pretty sure but not 100% sure that her babies are aliens.  So if she takes the pills she could be preventing an alien invasion or she could be murdering her own children.  It’s heavy shit.

Image result for the astronaut's wifeAnd the big sex scene where Spencer lays his seed is done in a cool way.  Jill and Spencer are at a gala at a museum (I think) and they go off around a corner to do the dirty.  Jill wants to know what happened in space during the radio blackout and Spencer starts to tell her.  As he describes the event (using some awful hack dialogue) he keeps checking her pulse and he kisses her and caresses her and then they go at it.  What’s impressive is it’s all one long shot zooming in and following Spencer’s hand around Jill’s body and changing angles and finally turning ninety degrees to make it look like they’re lying on a bed.  Nice work from Allen Daviau who shot ET, The Color Purple, Congo and was second unit on Temple of Doom.

This was the only thing aside from a short that Rand Ravich ever directed.  He also wrote this, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (it’s been too long since I’ve seen it to comment) and created, produced and wrote some TV.  With Wife he does a solid job and even manages to piece together a few standout scenes like the ones I mentioned above.  He also goes for an extremely ballsy ending which I gotta respect the man for.  Sorry but you’re gonna have to watch the movie to find out (or you could just look it up on the webbernet, but what’s the fun in that?)

Ravich may not have had a second chance at a Hollywood picture because this bombed big time.  It didn’t even come close to making its money back.  I wouldn’t say that’s unfair because overall this isn’t something very original or accomplished on a technical level or plain good exactly.  But with other films at the time faring better (like Species and Advocate) it should’ve at least broke even.  It may not be as good as either of the two movies it imitates but it’s enjoyable enough.  And if you’re into sexy thrillers but looking for a new twist then I’d recommend it.

One thing that’s really annoying though is the incredibly bland title.  It was totally a placeholder until Ravich could come up with something better.  I kinda can’t believe the movie got released that way.  Oh well.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chill Factor

Image result for chill factor 1999 cubaRemember Speed?  You know, the movie about a bus that can’t drop below 50 mph or it’ll blow up.  Well apply thermodynamics to that concept, invert it and you got Chill Factor.  It’s about two down-on-their-luck Joes (Skeet Ulrich (Chilly Dogs) and Cuba Gooding Jr (Snow Dogs)) who need to keep a chemical weapon cold enough so its temperature doesn’t go above 50 degrees Fahrenheit or it’ll explode catastrophically.  Jeez talk about a blatant rip off.  I mean come on guys, you couldn’t even change the temperature number to something other than 50?

But really at its heart this is a Shane Black knock off more than anything.  You have a white guy (Skeet) and a black guy (Cuba) teaming up reluctantly to stop the bad guy, lots of jokes and shenanigans between the two leads stemming from the fact that they’re stuck in a shitty situation together, a high tension concept involving selling weapons on the black market and a weak main villain.  What’s missing is this doesn’t take place during Christmas or in California (Montana is the setting here which is different), the mains aren’t cops or private investigators and the plot isn’t so jammed full of ideas that it has trouble getting all of them out.  But overall the filmmakers did a pretty damn good job capturing the Shane Black vibe so at least on that level: mission accomplished.

And because the movie actually builds a solid foundation for itself the rest becomes easy to digest.  At every turn I kept being surprised at how much fun this little piece was.  And it does feel a little like Speed because Skeet and Cuba not only need to keep the weapon on ice but they also need to get to a certain military base where they can drop the thing off.  So the constant threat and constant mobility really keep shit moving along.  Oh and a lunatic colonel (Peter Firth (Lifeforce)) and his team are after the weapon so there’s that too.

One thing though is the action isn’t as smooth as if a veteran crew were handling this (more on that in a minute).  Some of the deaths are particularly nasty like Skeet and a henchman are fighting on top of a moving truck and the henchman isn’t paying attention so he bashes his head against a jutted out rock formation.  Or another bad guy rappels down in front of the same truck firing away hoping he’ll kill Skeet and Cuba.  Only our heroes don’t swerve out of the way.  Instead this bastard’s plan goes completely sideways and he gets smashed to shit like a piƱata.  It’s true these are inelegant deaths (as opposed to a cleaner gunshot to the chest or similar) but it’s that they hit hard with the way they’re shot and edited.

Image result for chill factor 1999 skeet ulrichAfter surviving each death defying encounter Skeet and Cuba belt out a “woooo!” or an “alright!” and that gets very annoying.  The filmmakers must’ve thought “this is totally what the audience will be thinking or doing out loud themselves so let’s give it to ‘em”.  That was a mistake.  Once is fine but every time is way too much.  I know our guys are glad to still be alive but they kinda come off like they’re almost happy about killing all of these people.  Almost.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful poetic justice end that comes to the main villain.  Spoilers.  Ok well right before that Skeet has to take care of the last henchman (henchwoman actually) and she’s got a gun on him and says “don’t worry I’m a professional, this won’t hurt a bit”.  Skeet’s reply is “well I’m an amateur and this is gonna hurt like hell!”  He then kicks her in the groin and knees her in the face.  Fuckin’ A man.  I feel like this line has to have been used before but I can’t think of any other movie where I’ve heard it.  I definitely would’ve remembered that because it’s so damn great.  Anyway Skeet and the mad colonel have their final fight, it looks like the colonel has the upper hand and then Cuba comes up from behind and stabs the colonel in the chest with the digital thermometer that they’ve been using to track the temperature of the weapon with.  It’s so perfect and matter-of-fact-ly executed yet at the same time it never occurred to me that’s what’s going to happen.  Really nice job movie.  But of course the colonel survives this because we need the fatal blow to come from the weapon he wanted so badly and pursued our protagonists all throughout the movie for.  The sonuvabitch gets incinerated in a blaze of, well, maybe not glory but extremely toxic flesh melting chemicals.  What a way to end this sucker huh?

Image result for chill factor 1999This was the only thing Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda ever wrote.  Cheda produced a small handful of movies but that’s it.  This is also the only thing Hugh Johnson ever directed.  He was Ridley Scott’s cinematographer on White Squall and G.I. Jane and second unit director on 1492: Conquest of Paradise.  That’s mostly it though.  Skeet too was a strange choice as he wasn’t an action movie guy or had played the lead in anything.  Cuba had more of a resume with starring in Boyz n the Hood and winning a fucking Oscar for Jerry Maguire.  Even still he wasn’t thought of as a leading man.  Most of these folks didn’t have a ton of experience and this was a major Hollywood action picture.  Well I’m glad they rolled the dice on them.

Honestly I was dreading going into this revisit (I’m one of the few that saw this in theaters in ‘99) but the stars kind of aligned and this was such a fun time.  These relatively low budget A pictures are underdogs I can root for, sorta like John Wick: Chapter 2 and how much I loved that.  They need to go out there and prove they can play with the big boys and Chill Factor comes real close.  There are undeniably elements of B movie schlock (the plot for instance) but there’s enough other good stuff that it makes the cheaper parts seem charming.  This picture can chill with me any day.  Give it a whirl.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Real McCoy

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Always enjoyed this caper movie from ’93.  Maybe the best thing is the strong female lead in Karen McCoy (Kim Basinger (Batman)) who’s fresh out of prison on parole for robbing banks.  This super rich prick Jack Schmidt (Terence Stamp (Bliss)) (you know the type who has pet tigers, that sorta thing) fucked her over by tipping off the cops.  It’s not totally clear but I think she wasn’t gonna cut him in on the deal and he got pissed.  But hang on ‘cause it gets worse.  Immediately after McCoy gets paroled Schmidt blackmails her into taking another bank job by kidnapping her son.  Man, what a fucking scumbag.

Now even though McCoy is in a sticky situation she doesn’t take shit from anybody.  Like when Schmidt sends one of his henchmen to lean on Karen to accept the heist offer she knees him in the nuts not once, not twice but three goddamn times!  She also throws his gun away and calls him an asshole.  In another scene she ends up punching her ex-husband right in the kisser knocking him on his ass.  Shit, this lady is not to be messed with.

All the men in this film hit on McCoy too adding such a creepy layer.  And I do mean all the men, even some random dude on a train.  They grossly compliment her by saying how she kept her figure while on the inside.  The love interest, J.T. (Val Kilmer (Heat)), is the only guy who doesn’t come off like such a piece of shit.  But of course he can’t resist hitting on her too.

Image result for the real mccoy 1993The picture not only deals with a woman trying to deflect constant advances from unsavory men but they show how hard it is to get back on your feet after a stretch in prison too.  No one wants to hire McCoy because she’s a felon and the instinct is she can’t be trusted.  In fact the only way she gets a job is by lying on her application.  But then of course she gets caught and loses it.

McCoy can’t win wherever she goes, whoever she turns to.  She just wants to be with her little boy and that’s taken from her as well.  Her ex won’t let her see him and the lawyer’s cold advice is to give up and start another family.  Then the little guy gets kidnapped and held hostage.  So when McCoy’s forced back into bank robbing it truly becomes her only option.  The filmmakers do a good job making you feel really bad for her so you’re with her all the way.

The heist itself is fun and the stakes are there due to proper build up of McCoy and her situation.  They go in at night so no one has to get hurt and it takes them hours and hours to crack the vault.  And the bit about purposely tripping the alarm over and over so the police don’t even care anymore is clever.

Image result for the real mccoy 1993And I know this has been percolating in your mind since the first paragraph, yes, someone does get mauled by a fucking tiger in this piece.

Russell Mulcahy directs and he’s done some cool work that’s had varying degrees of success.  Highlander and The Shadow are probably his most well known pictures.  He also did a lot of music videos before that.  But then there’s 1991’s Ricochet, a weird action thriller which instead of doing a straight review of I decided to make a laundry list of strange shit that’s in there.  I cautiously recommend it.  Mulcahy seemed promising but after The Shadow did only ok he went more into TV.

The Real McCoy does something special though.  Female leads in heist movies are virtually nonexistent so to actually get one and for her to be so badass is fucking fantastic.  She makes her own way in the world.  I guess you could say she’s the genuine article.  (Go ahead and boo, no regrets)