All Eyez on…

Rather bored with what is on Netflix, I decided to go to the local cinema and check out two films with interesting subject matter. The first film, “Beatriz at Dinner,” stars Salma Hayek and John Lithgow and is a dark satire about how two strangers from wildly different ethnic and economic backgrounds end up meeting and clashing at a fancy, uncomfortable dinner at a mansion. Hayek plays a hard-working Mexican lady having a very bad day, and Lithgow plays a Donald Trump-like real estate mogul. Both actors bring shadings to their characters so that they are more complex than you might expect. Hayek subtly suggests that her character may be TOO good for this world, and Lithgow’s character, though clueless and boorish, makes a real attempt to connect with and understand her. This is a strange film and at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but after about half an hour of reflection I figured out that I really liked it. It’s short, unpredictable, and has real sting. I’ll not soon forget it.

“All Eyez on Me” is the new Tupac biopic, and it’s interesting though uneven. It covers, though it rarely reflects on, the tragic life of Tupac Kapur, mentioning his family connections to the Black Panthers, his success as Hamlet in school, his struggling but sincere mother, his trouble with the law, his friendship with Jada Pinkett Smith, his tumultuous tenure at Death Row Records, and his tragic and mysterious death. This is way too much for a 140-minute film to cover,, and as a result parts of it come off better than others. I did appreciate, however, the demystification of the gangster lifestyle. The last third of the movie is a trip through Hell, and the filmmakers deserve credit for depicting it frankly. Overall, however, this film is not good enough to recommend. Although a good attempt has been made, the film just doesn’t work. Very few characters are portrayed in-depth, and as a result the film becomes confusing. The actor playing Tupac is OK but not great. Still, if the subject matter interests you, you might want to check it out.

In conclusion, although I only liked one of these two indie films, they are both a nice break from summer Hollywood fluff. I hope interesting indie films continue to get wide releases because they can be worthwhile. “The Beguiled” is an another example that I will review soon.

Cult Classic : Barbarians

If you enjoy bad but fun sword and sorcery B-films, then Cannon Films’ 1987 romp “Barbarians” is for you. In it, two twin barbarians (played by the Razzie-nominated David and Peter Paul) who have been manipulated to kill each other instead face off against the great Richard Lynch. This film, which is from the director of “Cannibal Holocaust,” features good production values and music by Pino Donaggio. More importantly, it appears to have inspired the “Golden Axe” video game series, with many scenes resembling the games and the twin brothers frequently wielding axes. The “Barbarian Brothers” can’t act but are really something,This movie can be found on a double bill DVD with Lee Majors and Cornel Wilde in “The Norseman.” Good times!

Alien : Covenant (8 out of 10)

OK, first thing out of the way: I liked “Prometheus.” It wasn’t scary enough, but it had great acting and asked interesting questions. Some of those questions get answered in “Alien: Covenant,” a sequel to “Prometheus” and a prequel to “Alien.” I think it’s best to see this new film knowing as little as possible, but I will tell you that Michael Fassbender is awesome playing two different androids, David and Walter. This new film has much more space action, quality kills, and real scares than any entry since the underrated “Alien 3.” It’s also a lot of fun. The music, cinematography, and special effects are spectacular. All of the acting is good. The movie makes you want to re-watch the old films. It’s a terrific date movie and a great entertainment. Can’t wait until the next one!

Alien 3 : Underrated

“Alien: Covenant” inspired me to re-watch the third and fourth “Alien” films. “Alien Resurrection,” the fourth one, did nothing for me but I really love “Alien 3.” As a stand-alone film, it is one of the most frightening and despairing films I have ever seen. The first film by the great director David Fincher (“Seven,” “Fight Club”), it finds Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crashed into a prison planet, with her friends Newt and Hicks (from “Aliens”) dead. There was an egg on her ship, and now the Alien is haunting the prison planet. Can she stop the alien and save humanity? Is this the bleakest film ever made? I’d vote for the most underrated.

The script’s decision to make vile prisoners protagonists caused much audience derision, but it makes for a fascinating film. Also interesting is the film’s cinematography and production design, which create images that will singe their way into your brain. The music by Elliot Goldenthal is highly memorable and marked his big break as a composer of blockbusters. Finally, Groin Hall of Famer Charles Dance gives a great performance as Clemons, as does Charles S. Dutton as the most complex of the convicts. Whether you’re watching the Theatrical Cut or the extended, more coherent 2003 Assembly Cut, “Alien 3” is a powerful, ambitious film that is far better than it is given credit for. David Fincher, take another look at your film: it’s great! (He disowned it.) Much better than “Gone Girl”!

Wasteland B Movie Classics

Picked up the Roger Corman double feature of “Deathsport” and “Battletruck” this week. “Deathsport” is a follow-up of sorts to “Death Race 2000” starring David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, and Richard Lynch. It’s about a deadly futuristic sport involving flaming motorcycles, lasers, and much mayhem. The film doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s a lot of fun and is from the director of “Rock and Roll High School” and “Caddyshack 2.” The director contributes an hilarious audio commentary.

“Battletruck,” also known as “Warlords of the 21st Century,” is a “Mad Max” type film starring Michael Beck from “The Warriors” about a lawless, oil-deprived future in which the Battletruck, possibly the coolest vehicle I’ve ever seen, reigns supreme. This flick has very little plot but is very well made from a director who went on to make “Black Moon Rising” with Tommy Lee Jones, which is also about a vehicle.

There’s not too much to say about these two films except that they’re good B-pictures. Claudia Jennings gets naked in “Deathsport” and David Carradine kicks ass. Richard Lynch is always the best villain, I want to own the “Battletruck,” and live in New Zealand, where that film was shot. This two-pack is available on DVD for around $10 and is a good deal.

Sci-Fi Roundup

This movie is not the Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence jail comedy. Its about a crew fighting a killer amoeba. Although the overall quality of films the last five or ten years has spiked downward, sci-fi has spiked upward in quality with some wonderful films that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. The current film “Life,” for example, is a very interesting “Alien” knockoff about what would happen if we discovered alien life on Mars. The answer: nothing good. We think we’re getting “E.T.” and instead we’re getting something worse than The Thing. This film has interesting characters, some believable science, and is a tremendously inspired production. The director uses long, painstakingly crafted sequences to draw us in and (hopefully) make us forget we’re watching a movie. The performances of Jake Gylllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds draw us in, and, although the film is similar to “Alien,” it scares us.

The new film “Phoenix Forgotten,” produced by Ridley Scott, is a found-footage film in the style of “The Blair Witch Project” about the Phoenix Lights UFO incident from 1997. A group of teens witness the event and decide to investigate further and film what they find. Bad idea. It turns out that the incident is much more sinister in nature than they thought. Will they survive? Maybe not, but their quest proves somewhat compelling as all of us are curious about UFO’s. The film is well-made, acted, and scored and delivers some terror on a low budget. It’s not great, but you could do worse.

Logan’s Fun

*Trailer was too ISIS-y for me. I dissent. 3 Year old girls should not be encouraged to leap around with metal claws, slicing necks. Nor can they physically do so. To think they could is too much of a stretch. – Deplorable Steve

Ok, so the third and final “Wolverine” movie, and how does it stack up?  Well, it’s a damn sight better than “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The Wolverine,” not to mention the atrocious “X-Men Apocalypse.”  The best thing about it is how it takes place in a plausible future world where the last surviving X-men are struggling to take it day by day.  Logan and Professor X, played very well by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, are off the grid and disinterested in the world until Xavier senses a young girl mutant who may be key to mankind’s and mutant-kind’s survival.  They also discover an organization that has used mutant experimentation for extremely nefarious ends, and only they (or really only Logan) can prevent a catastrophe.

Let me be clear about something: this is the greatest Wolverine movie of all time.  Jackman gives a persistently top-drawer performance as the burned-out but not yet down for the count Logan.  We feel his pain and his sadness at the way the world has turned out.  He and Stewart have great chemistry and seem more Shakespearian than Marvel-ian.  I also liked how the film combines elements of futurism, neo noir-ism, and especially the western, with “Shane” being explicitly referenced.  There is no CGI in this film, and it resembles “Unforgiven” more than it does the Marvel canon.

 These attributes, along with a clever gimmick that I won’t reveal involving the villain’s experiments, are enough to make Logan a good film.  But it misses greatness because it spends too much time pleasing the fans.  We don’t need the decapitations and heavy gore because they don’t further the story and remind us that it’s just a movie.  And we REALLY don’t need the teaser for a new “Deadpool” film before this one starts which made me think I’d paid to see the wrong movie.  The movie is also too long at 2 hours and 21 minutes. All in all, though, “Logan” is worth the admission price, as it gives us a better Wolverine story than we’ve seen before, as well as approximating a real movie rather than comic book crap.  I’d say if this looks like your kind of thing, go for it; it’s smart enough and done with gusto. -CoolAC
 

Empathy and Greed

Two of the most interesting films of the last 5 years were barely released and were met with polarized responses. These films, “Cosmopolis” by David Cronenberg and “Diana” with Naomi Watts as the princess, offer very different portraits of wealth and capitalism.

 

“Cosmopolis,” a 2012 film which stars Robert Pattinson in a tour-de-force performance as a young billionaire, is about the greedy excesses of the very wealthy, which is contrasted with the 99% desire to acquire some of that wealth while castigating him for his greed. The film follows Pattinson’s journey across New York City in his gigantic limo as he travels to the poor section of town to get a haircut. While in his limo, he has sex with several women, conducts business transactions, and gets his daily prostate exam. He also visits his wife, played by Sarah Gadon, who is even creepier and more disconnected from reality than he is.

 

Over the course of the film, Pattinson tries to connect with people and fails miserably. Eventually, Paul Giamatti turns up as the man who wants to kill Pattinson. Rather than a life-and-death struggle, though, the last scene plays like a love scene. The 99% (represented by Giamatti) meets the 1% and all hell breaks loose. Cronenberg has made a dark comedy about extreme wealth and about how the rich are disconnected with reality. The future depicted in the film (and the book by Don DeLillo) has come to pass, with a rich business man running the country and mass protests everywhere. The film repeatedly refers to the rat being used as a unit of currency, and that may indeed be where we are headed. “Cosmopolis” is one of the best films you’ve never heard of a dystopian black comedy about how society reveres and at the same time tries to destroy the wealthy; it’s a masterful film about greed.

“Diana,” a 2013 drama/romance that is also pretty obscure, paints an entirely different picture of the wealthy. Rather than equating them with rats, the film shows Princess Diana (played by Naomi Watts) and her lover Hasnat Khan (played by Naveen Andrews) try to use their wealth for good. Diana, for example, visits sick children in hospitals and (successfully) crusades against the use of land mines, while Hasnat is determined to keep working as a surgeon even though marrying Diana would make him famous and set for life. Ultimately, the couple is too empathetic; a little bit of selfishness might have saved their relationship. The film is interesting to watch and very sad because it shows how the paparazzi and the fame that Diana had to deal with ended up killing her. While she succeeded in using her wealth for good, her wealth still ended up killing her.

So basically, these two tragedies of the extremely rich both show how money is not, in fact, the most desirable commodity. Whether wealth is used with greed (“Cosmopolis”) or with empathy (as in “Diana”) it will kill you in the end. Although these two films were not big critical or box-office successes, they are a must-see for students of capitalism and lovers of intelligent films. – A.C.

Plan 9 From Underworld

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The “Underworld” series is really something. It has great action and special FX and terrible scripts. The new installment, “Underworld: Blood Wars,” finds the heroine played by Kate Beckinsale once again in the middle of the war between vampires and Lycans, or werewolves. Her character is really hot and apparently cannot be killed and is a Death Dealer. Charles Dance (from “The Golden Child” and “Alien 3”) is also in the movie as the heroine’s (I think)grandfather, and he hams it up in fine Christopher Lee fashion. He’s a great actor and has helped save many a genre film. However, most of the acting and literally the entire script is bad. All this business about Lycans and Death Dealers is beyond me to explain, but what’s good about this movie and the series is the action and set design. I did feel like I was in another world, albeit a world without character development.

To say this film is ridiculous is a grave understatement; there is so much sneering and so many double-crosses that the film becomes a parody of itself. Beckinsale doesn’t act; she just poses. Many of the actors appear to be posing for a Calvin Klein commercial, in fact. And yet despite all this, I LIKED this flick. It’s like a Hammer film crossed with Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” on crack. It aims for a sort of “Empire Strikes Back” kind of feeling, and it doesn’t totally fail. It earns its R rating with massive bloodshed and lots of sexual innuendo. And it doesn’t seem TOO much like a video game. The series also beat “Twilight” and “The Daybreakers” to the screen, so it was passably original. If the scripts had ever been any good, this could’ve been the greatest horror series ever. As it is, it is one of my leading guilty pleasure. You have to put your brain on hold, but if you do, “Underworld: Blood Wars” is good fun. I would compare it to the 90s sci-fi epic “Waterworld” in that regard.

Nocturnal Animals is Whack

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I attempted to watch “Nocturnal Animals” the other day.  I did not find it dull, but it was a real nasty turn-off of a movie.  It starts with fat, sultry chicks giving you the eye while dancing naked in slow motion. Yes it really does. Next follows a self-absorbed woman artist in a bad relationship who receives a manuscript for a novel dedicated to her from her even more self-absorbed ex-husband called “Nocturnal Animals.”  The novel follows a suburban family off the road by some redneck psychos, and the mother and daughter end up naked and dead.  This was followed by a dinner scene between our two self-absorbed artists in which they bash Republicans.  At this point, Deplorable Steve and I walked out.

     First of all, why this POS getting good reviews while the terrific “Allied” is getting panned?  “Allied” has characters we like and admire; this film has naked singing fat chicks layered over the opening credits.  Lots of directors imitate David Lynch, but Tom Ford forgets that Lynch’s films are beautiful and fun.  All “Nocturnal Animals” accomplishes is depressing the audience and making us regret listening to the critics.
-CoolAC