Archive for the ‘Movies (L)’ Category

Like everyone else who writes about films, I’m working on a year-end top-ten movies-of-2014 list. Here are some short pieces I wrote throughout the year about some of the contenders:

For starters, if you have any problem looking at Tom Hardy’s face for an hour and a half, look elsewhere for your filmed entertainment. I don’t have that particular problem but there are several actors I’d prefer not to stare at for so long (I’ll not name them here) — point is, everybody’s got their something. For me, I’d happily argue that this is the movie where Tom Hardy establishes he’s the real deal, particularly if you haven’t yet seen his transformative work in BRONSON. There are more great screen performers than we like to think, but there are not so many performers who can hold down a screen on their own.

Writer-director Steven Knight, who wrote the must-sees DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and EASTERN PROMISES, has constructed an actor’s vehicle (sorry for the pun) of the rare sort where the audience is looking at little else besides the actor’s face for the entire running time. There are cutaways, in passing, to the road outside the car, but for the most part the camera is situated inside the car with its driver, a man named Ivan Locke.

Unlike most men who movies are about, Locke is an ordinary man, a person you could meet, not much of a fictionalization. He seems to be well-off, and is clearly highly competent, and until the events of this film, considered by everyone to be professionally dependable, and technically he does look like a movie star who is dressing down, but other than that, this is a recognizably human character. The story concerns Locke’s drive to be present at the birth of a child who is the product of an affair, a one-time slip in the life of an otherwise reliable family man — or so it may seem. Character will out.

Steven Knight cleverly chooses for Locke the profession of construction planner; as he drives across England at night he’s determinedly making calls to ensure the flawless coordination of a career-dependent concrete pour first thing in the morning. This is a terrific metaphor, foundations. Locke is a loving father to his two sons but now he’s having a third, and he refuses to be absent for this son the way his father was absent on him. So you could say Locke is skipping out on a building foundation in order to be present for the foundation for a life. Or you could more cynically interpret these events to be the unraveling of an orderly life — the highly respected and successful professional working father, in a race to ignore his own pained origins, ended up making a misstep which undid the entire social construction of ‘Ivan Locke’, from the foundation on up. In an otherwise flawless effort to avoid being like his father, a single mistake laid bare and undid the entire enterprise.

But the overall feeling of LOCKE the movie isn’t one of negativity;  in fact by the time Locke utters the instant-classic line  “Two words I learned tonight – Fuck Chicago” this audience member was punching the air in exhilaration. It’s interesting how that happens, since unlike the many reviewers whose pull-quotes are being used to sell LOCKE as a suspense thriller, I spent most of the film in a twilight state. The expertly delivered elements of the film — Knight’s suave high-wire of a script, Hardy’s largely-motionless, emotionally-moderate, sonorous, intentionally calming performance; the masterfully-timed, nearly-invisible editing by Justine Wright; the almost-undetectable-feeling score by Dickon Hinchliffe; the collusion of Knight’s direction and Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography and the somber sound design and even the essence of Locke’s car itself — all of these have a tangible effect, making the car a contained environment, just short of a hyperbaric chamber, putting the focus exclusively on the conversations Locke must have with his wife and his sons and his mistress and his assistant and his superior and his various business connections and so on.

Rarely has a film about a night drive felt this much like a night drive. So while the premise — Tom Hardy is the only actor on screen for the entire show! — is really an incredibly-stagy, conspicuously anti-cinematic visual risk of the sort Hitchcock liked to dare himself with (a la LIFEBOAT or ROPE), the overwhelming impression LOCKE leaves is one of verisimilitude and empathy. The film feels realer than just about any other I’ve seen anywhere in 2014. Like life itself, there’s nothing easy about that.

Locke (Blu-ray), temporary cover art

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Lady In The Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan, the kinda-sorta auteurist filmmaker who rocketed to above-the-title fame with a couple movies only to struggle critically over the tail end of the past decade, has a new movie coming out this summer.  It’s called AFTER EARTH and it stars Will Smith, one of the last dependable movie stars, and his son Jaden.  The movie is a sci-fi epic about a father and son who return to Earth in the deep future, long after the planet has been abandoned by humanity.  I included AFTER EARTH on my list of 2013’s potentially strangest movies, which is totally a dick move on my part.  I mean, how much have I done with MY life to be sitting here taking cheap shots?  At least this guy is out there making movies, and making them with some of the world’s hugest stars.  In my heart, I’m really not a so-called hater.

Quite the contrary in this case, in fact.  I think there’s a particular angst for movie lovers when we start following a talented filmmaker who then makes a severe right turn down the off-roads of unfulfilled or squandered promise.  It happened to me with Kevin Smith, for example, a witty, bold, and perceptive writer who I always hoped would take an interest in learning what to do with a camera, but it turned out he’d rather pursue other interests besides visual storytelling.  By contrast, Shyamalan never had a problem being cinematic, but he certainly grew overly enamored of certain tics that precluded concise and coherent films.  I would have liked to remain a fan, but at a certain point I had to decide that I didn’t want to follow these guys up their own asses.

So here’s a chronicle of me falling in love with another man’s talent, and then rapidly falling out of it.  I wrote most of this piece back in 2008 but unfortunately my mind hasn’t much changed since then.

NOTE: This will not include anything Shyamalan did before THE SIXTH SENSE, because I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I’m most interested in the Shyamalan of self-created myth & legend, the Shyamalan we have come to know in the past decade, the one who – like a young Bruce Wayne in his study who looked up at a bat and gained an instant career direction – looked up at the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster in his office and asked himself why he wasn’t making those kind of movies. That is the filmography I will be talking about here.

I also won’t be talking about anything after THE HAPPENING, for reasons that may soon enough become apparent.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – This one came out of nowhere in the summer of 1999 and blew most people’s minds.  It was a ghost story with the emphasis on story.  The dramatic twist near the end actually deepens the experience, and it doesn’t hurt that it makes you want to re-watch the movie with the twist now in mind.  This is an extremely solid movie about faith and the after-life and how those intersect and overlap. Is it maybe even good enough to one day sit on a shelf alongside another one of the director’s inspirations, THE EXORCIST? That may be going a little far. But it does serve as an answer to the most vehement haters, the ones who, burned by his later films, have rechristened him F. Night Shyamalan:

Anybody wondering why they still allow this guy to make movies should re-watch THE SIXTH SENSE. It was a massive financial success achieved with an actually good movie. The people who make the decisions are no doubt optimistic that one day, this guy will do that again. (So am I, for the record.)

But the movie itself does indeed hold up to revisiting. To prospective screenwriters like myself, I also recommend reading it in script form, if you can track that down, because it’s still just as affecting on the page. This movie is so solid that it has a good performance by Donnie Wahlberg.  That’s directing, son.

The truth is that Shyamalan’s filmmaking talent is very real. Every movie he has made since THE SIXTH SENSE has contained varying degrees of that copious cinematic talent. Key word: “varying.” It’s why his filmography is so frustrating. He wouldn’t be so widely discussed if he wasn’t so capable.

UNBREAKABLE (2000)

UNBREAKABLE (2000) – I loved this one when it was first released. Saw it twice theatrically and a couple more times on DVD. So I hope that earns me enough leeway to suggest that it does not really hold up viscerally eight years later. It’s slow as a turtle attempting to moonwalk. Okay, hang on–

Here’s a rule: You can’t make a movie that’s more boring than real life. You just can’t. It’s why — to take a random and unrelated example — BROKEN FLOWERS was so disappointing to me. No matter how much Bill Murray you pour into a movie, you can’t slow a story down so much that you leave out the space for narrative.

Anyway, that’s why Shyamalan’s “deliberate” pacing falls so often flat. It also plays into the cardinal mistake Shyamalan likes to make of turning lighthearted subject matter — in this case superheroes — into a somber and ponderous suite of melancholy. It’s true that comic books themselves have been doing this for years, and now comic book movies are doing it too, so Shyamalan can’t be entirely faulted there.  In a way, he was ahead of the curve.

On an intellectual level, UNBREAKABLE still works. It’s an interesting approach to the standard superhero/supervillain origin story. I just don’t want to rewatch it ever again. Unless…

You know what would solve all its problems? If the once-rumored sequel were to actually happen. Because as it stands now, UNBREAKABLE feels like the longest first act ever.  I would definitely be curious as to what happens in the second UNBREAKABLE movie if it ever happened, especially since the second act is traditionally where the majority of the actual story takes place.  UNBREAKABLE doesn’t add up to much without its MR. GLASS STRIKES BACK.

Signs (2002)

SIGNS (2002) – Forget the fact that it’s kind of impossible to look at Mel Gibson anymore without off-the-screen baggage.  He’s fine in the movie, really.  It’s the movie itself that’s the problem.  This is where the storytelling problems infecting Shyamalan’s arsenal start to rear up violently. Shyamalan’s technical skill is still crazy-impressive – every scene where those aliens appear (or don’t) is freaky and great.

It’s the other stuff that just plain doesn’t add up in a coherent way — first and foremost that ending — and there’s been enough cyber-ink spilled on the subject for me to not bother to add to it. But the movie still made tons of money, and enough people still inexplicably say they like it, which is no doubt precisely how the first out-and-out blunder came to pass.

The Village (2004)

THE VILLAGE (2004) – Or as I call it affectionately: Cinematic blue-balls.

There’s nothing wrong with the original premise – colonial village is surrounded on all sides by a thick forest and maintaining an uneasy truce with the horrible monsters who live there – in fact that’s a great goddamn premise! And the way those red-cloaked spiny creatures are set up is chilling. Even knowing how things turned out, I still get chills thinking of their first couple appearances in the movie, and trust me, I don’t scare easy at movies. The first half of THE VILLAGE does the tough part and brings the fear.

So why completely subvert it for a corny twist ending? I’ll tell you how I figured out the twist after the first five minutes of the movie: “Okay, colonial village, bunch of musty old white people, how are they going to work in a role for the director, a modern-sounding East Indian guy, AHA! – it’s actually set in the present day!” And sure enough, there he was, and so it was. Sorry to ruin the movie, but you’d be a lot happier if you turned it off at the hour-mark anyway.

Lady in the Water (2006)

LADY IN THE WATER (2006) – Even worse, somehow.  Massive folly. Near-unbelievable, but I didn’t see it alone, so I know for a fact it really happened.

Reading Shyamalan print interviews is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m just fascinated by how someone so smart and talented can so often be so misguided. I may risk sounding like an asshole to say so, but I truly find it illuminating. For a while there, Shyamalan was fond of defending his work by questioning why so many people criticize him and not his movies. Seems to me that one way to avoid that is to take a break from casting yourself in your movies. Right? Kind of hard to separate the two when, in this case, you’re playing the pivotal role of the man who will write the book that will change the world, even though it will mean he will die a martyr. And you can’t be so naive as to think that notebook-toting, detail-oriented professional film critics won’t pick up on the fact that the only character to meet a gruesome death, in an entire movie about the act of storytelling itself, is the cranky film critic.

The same way that you can’t complain about the way that people are always trying to figure out the twist endings of your movies when you keep putting twist endings in your movies. Right?

I particularly liked how the title character spent very close to the entire running time curled up in the shower. That was exciting.

And Paul Giamatti had the speech impediment coming and going, and that Latino dude with the fucked-up arm… (Now I’m getting confused again.) The wolf made of grass was pretty cool though. (Was I high?)  Wikipedia tells me there was in fact a grass-wolf. It was called a “scrunt,” which really isn’t a great word to have in what was intended as a children’s movie.

The Happening (2008)

THE HAPPENING (2008) – Okay. Okay.

It’s starting to become apparent that the director may no longer be interested in suspenseful stories about the supernatural, and has in fact now evolved into the maker of really, really weird comedies.

If you go into THE HAPPENING in this spirit, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a creepy edge-of-the-seater, you surely will. Without giving anything important away (I want to leave the half-hearted yet still insane ultimate revelation to the bravest among you), here are some reasons why I enjoyed THE HAPPENING:

  • “Filbert.”  Let me explain: The main characters are fleeing Philadelphia on a railroad train, which inexplicably stops. Someone ducks their head away from the window, and the name of the town in which they are now stranded is revealed: Filbert. FILBERT! Duh-duh-duhhhhh! No, God, please, no, not…      Filbert! Filbert! Dooooom! I don’t even care whether or not I’m the only one who laughed at that, because it’s still funny to me. Fucking Filbert, man.
  • I was NOT, however, the only one who laughed when the construction workers started walking off the building. Everyone in my theater laughed at that.  It’s mostly because the plummeting crazies are played by dummies. And if we learned anything from The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, it’s that dummies are the greatest of all comedy props.
  • I don’t know who in all of Hollywood I would cast as a science teacher and a math teacher, respectively, but Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are not they. Likable and down-to-earth actors both, but far better casting for, say, the cranky gym coach and the wisecracking AV teacher. They do their best, but the dialogue they are given does them no favors.
  • I swear a couple times Shyamalan cuts away from the action to a reaction shot of Zooey Deschanel and it looks like she’s trying to suppress a crack-up. Shyamalan may not have noticed, but I’m sure I did.
  • Intentional laughs are in the movie for sure, to the point where it’s almost confusing when it happens – stay tuned for the scene where Wahlberg tries to relate on a personal level to a plastic plant. Expertly written and played, and I’m not being sarcastic at all.
  • Far and away Shyamalan’s best and most hilarious cameo in all of his movies to date happens in THE HAPPENING. If you end up going, please stay for the credits to see what role he played. It’s just got to be a joke. But one of those jokes that only the one making it gets; you know that kind.
  • The Lion Scene! Oh man, the lion scene. The lion scene is a horror-comedy classic of which an EVIL DEAD 2-era Sam Raimi would be chainsaw-wieldingly envious. Soon to be a YouTube staple, guaranteed.

So if you’re looking for scary, this is not your territory. Watch the news instead. But if you’re a certain kind of moviegoer in a certain kind of mood, grab a couple like-minded buddies and Mystery-Science-Theater away.

Now, I skipped Shyamalan’s 2010 movie, THE LAST AIRBENDER, because I didn’t think my brain could handle all the fart jokes I was destined to make about that title.  By every last account (except probably Shyamalan’s), I made the correct decision.  But I’m curious about AFTER EARTH.  Did the nasty thrashing he got over his last couple flicks make Shyamalan reconsider some of his more over-used quirks?  Does the presence of Will Smith, one of the most infallible choosers of successful projects of the last decade-and-a-half, suggest that Shammy has reclaimed his earlier mojo?  The AFTER EARTH trailer does not look overtly comical.  It’s somewhat well paced, and more importantly, it has hordes of monkeys in it.  That’s not any guarantee I’ll be able to stay away.

@jonnyabomb

MANKEY

DAILY GRINDHOUSE BANNER

Daily Grindhouse would be pretty much my favorite website even if I weren’t writing for them, but since I am, here’s a collection of all my work so far.  It’s some of my very best stuff. Enjoy!

25TH HOUR (2002) 48 HRS. (1982) 52 PICK-UP (1986) 88  THE ACT OF KILLING (2013) ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) Alex Cross (2012) ALIEN (1979) ALIEN ZONE (1978) ALPHABET CITY (1984) american sniper  AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) ANACONDA (1997) ANTS (1977) The Apple (1980) ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) ARTISTS & MODELS (1955) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) BADLANDS (1973) BAIT (2012) A Band Called Death (2013) BASKET CASE (1982)  BATMAN (1989) BATTLE ROYALE (2000) The Baytown Outlaws (2013). Beetlejuice (1988) BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2013) BEST WORST MOVIE (2009)The Big Lebowski (1998) Big Trouble In Little China (1986) BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) BLACK DEATH (2011) THE BLOB (1988) BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) The Brides Of Dracula (1960) brothers-2009 BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965) untitled CARRIE (1976) CB4 THE MOVIE (1993) CEMETERY MAN (1994) Charley Varrick (1973) CHEAP THRILLS (2013) CHOPPING MALL (1986) class-of-1984-poster The Colony (2013) COMPLIANCE (2012) CON AIR (1997) Conquest (1983) THE CONTRACTOR (2013) Creature (2011) CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) CRIME WAVE (1954) THE CROW (1994) DARKMAN (1990) DEAD & BURIED (1981) DEADLY FRIEND (1986) deranged-1974-movie-review-jpeg-35312 THE DESCENT (2005) THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1976) dillinger-1973 DIRTY HARRY (1971) Django (1966) Django Unchained (2012).  DOG SOLDIERSDOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) DRACULA (1931) Dredd (2012) DRIVE (2011) Drive Angry (2011) End of Watch (2012) EQUINOX (1970) Escape From New York (1981) Evil Dead (2013) THE EXORCIST (1973) Eyes Without A Face (1960) FACE-OFF (1997) Fast Five A tumblr_n2u9s565B11rscnczo1_500 Fist Of Legend (1994) FRANKENSTEIN (1931) GANJA & HESS (1973) the-gauntlet-1977 Get Carter (1971) ghostbusters GHOSTBUSTERS 2 (1989) ghosthouse 1988 GI Joe Retaliation (2013) THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) GOD TOLD ME TO (1976) GONE GIRL (2014) THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) The Great Silence (1968) Gremlins 2 - The New Batch (1990) The Grey (2012) Halloween (1978) Hannie Caulder (1971) Hardbodies (1984) Hardware (1990).. Henry (1990) High Crime (1973)  THE HILLS RUN RED (1966) . IMG_8699 THE HIT (1984)Hit Man (1972) hobo with a shotgun HOMEFRONT (2013) The Horror Of Dracula (1958) the host - no words HOUSE (HAUSU) (1977) The Iceman (2013) The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (2009) IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) THE INNOCENTS (1961) THE INSIDER (1999) The Invisible Man (1933) Iron-Man-3-2013 I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) Island-of-Lost-Souls-19331 Jackie Brown (1997) jaws jennifers body  JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) The Keep (1983) KILLER JOE (2011) The Killers (1966) Killing Them Softly (2012) The-King-of-Comedy-1983 LADY IN CEMENT (1968) LADY TERMINATOR (1989) THE LAST CIRCUS (2010) BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON (1985) Lawless (2012) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) the-leopard-man-movie-poster-1943-1020199765 Leprechaun (1993) A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (1997) LINK (1986) Liz & Dick (TV, 2012) Lockout (2012) The Lords of Salem (2013) Lost Highway THE MAGIC BLADE (1976) MAN OF STEEL (2013) THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997) The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) Maniac Cop (1988) THE MANITOU (1978) MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976) men-in-war-1957 MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977) MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D (2009) My_Darling_Clementine_1946 NakedSpur-1953-MGM-one navajo-joe-1966 NEAR DARK (1987) NEON MANIACS (1986) night of the comet NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986) THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) Night of the Living Dead (1968) NOSFERATU (1922) NOTORIOUS (2009) OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983) ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) OUT OF THE PAST (1947) PACIFIC RIM (2013) pet-sematary-1989 Phenomena (1985) POOTIE TANG (2001) POSSESSION (1981) PREDATOR (1987) Premium Rush (2012) PRIVATE SCHOOL (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) Pursued (1947) q-the-winged-serpent-movie-poster-1983-1020195479 quick-change-poster BERANDAL (2014) RAVENOUS (1999) RAW FORCE (1982) Raw Meat (1972) RE-ANIMATOR (1985) Rear Window (1954) RED RIVER (1948) RED ROCK WEST (1992) Relentless (1989) RIDDICK (2013) tumblr_njo3upN5tn1sy67obo1_540 the road  ROBOCOP (1987) ROBOCOP (2014) SCANNERS  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) SCROOGED (1988) Shaft (1971) Sheba, Baby (1975) SHOCK WAVES (1977) shogun_assassin SORCERER (1977) source-code Spring Breakers (2013) SQUIRM (1976) STARSHIP-TROOPERS-1997 story of ricky  STREET TRASH (1987) Streets-Of-Fire-1984 THE STUNT MAN (1980) SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) Super (2011) SUSPIRIA (1977) switchblade_sisters_poster_02 (1) TAXI DRIVER (1976) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) THE THING (1982) THIS IS THE END (2013) thriller TORQUE (2004) touch of evil The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) TREMORS (1990) TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) THE UNKNOWN (1927) Under The Dome VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988) VERTIGO-1958-649x1024 Vigilante (1983) vigilante force THE VISITOR (1979) WHICH WAY IS UP (1977) WHITE HUNTER  WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL THE WICKER MAN (1973) winters-bone WITCHBOARD (1986) worlds-greatest-dad-2009 ZODIAC (2007) ZOMBI 2 (1979) ZOMBIELAND (2009)

Make Daily Grindhouse your daily destination for genre movie news, reviews, and interviews — there’s a ton of truly great content over there, beyond just the parts with my name on ’em.

And follow me on Twitter for updates!: @jonnyabomb

 

Lindsay Lohan almost ran me over once.  It’s not my greatest Hollywood anecdote, but it happened.  At the time, I was working as a production assistant on the set of a TV show in Los Angeles.  My job was to corral all the background extras for the scene into a break area in an alleyway behind this jewelry store where we were shooting.  It was a wide alley, leading out to the street — big enough for cars to drive through though narrow enough that they’d need to do so cautiously.  I stepped out in the alley to address the group, back to the street.

Suddenly, a car sped right past my left shoulder, not more than six inches from me, fast enough to be dangerous but slow enough for me to spin around and spot the familiar face in the drivers’ seat.  It was like that scene in JAWS where Brody is shoveling chum and grumbling to Quint and while his back is turned, the great white zooms right past him – only instead of a shark it was the cute redhead from MEAN GIRLS.

 

I should say “allegedly” regarding all of the above, since there were no cameras recording the incident.  Easily deniable.  As it happened, I doubt she even noticed.  So you’re free to doubt me.  But please know that character assassination is not my thing.  That’s not the goal.  Near-accidents happen.  No big deal to me, really.  I don’t hold any personal grudges against Ms. Lohan.  I’ve been almost-killed by all sorts of people, many of whom are my greatest friends. 

I only brought this up in the interest of full disclosure, because I wrote about Lindsay Lohan and the Lifetime TV movie LIZ & DICK for Daily Grindhouse and my unvarnished opinion may read to some like an act of vengeance. I can only hope that you take my word for it when I say that it was done entirely without malice.

Well, not entirely.  I mean, I hated the movie.  But I gave it my best shot.  And I don’t hate anyone who made it.  I just wish they wouldn’t have. 

Click on the picture or on this link for >>>LIZ & DICK<<< !!!

Go here for me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

R.I.P. Leo O’Brien.  He played “Richie Green” in THE LAST DRAGON, maybe the best character in the movie.  Definitely the one with all the best lines.

I don’t do irony well.  I tend to take the movies I like in the spirit they were intended.  If a movie feels genuine to me, then my affection for it is genuine.  THE LAST DRAGON is a kid’s movie, but one of the few I will still watch from time to time because it’s guaranteed to lift my mood.  If I’m being completely honest, I love this movie way more than I love most conventionally accepted “classic films.”  Given the choice, I’d opt without hesitation to watch this movie over CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA, and even THE GODFATHER. There, it’s out.  I said it.

I accept that no one will ever let me call this a good movie, but the rest of the world is going to have to accept my insistence that this is a one-of-a- kind genre occurrence, and for that alone it deserves respect.  There aren’t two like it.  As the story of young Leroy “Bruce Leroy” Green (Taimak) and his mission to defend popular VJ Laura Charles (Vanity) against evil arcade owner Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) and local bully The Shogun Of Harlem (Julius J. Carry III), THE LAST DRAGON stands alone in its genre — it’s the first, last, and only Motown-kung fu-action-romantic-comedy musical.  There’s so much genuine goodness about THE LAST DRAGON.  It encourages the mild-mannered to stand up for themselves.  It teaches kids about Eastern philosophy.  It teaches kids about Bruce Lee.  It gave early-career employment to legendary character-actors Mike Starr, Chazz Palminteri, and William H. Macy.  It has music from Willie Hutch, Stevie Wonder, and Vanity.  It has a kid (Leo O’Brien) who’s been tied up by bad guys escaping capture by break-dancing out of the ropes.

This movie is a positive force for the universe.  I watch it and I smile.  It’s one of my few nostalgic indulgences – but it’s still fun to watch as an adult.  I fear the potential remake, despite the involvement of Sam Jackson and the RZA and despite the personal assurance I’ve received from Taimak himself (!).  THE LAST DRAGON was lightning in a bottle, and let’s face it, it’s not actually possible to catch lightning in a bottle… unless a genuine miracle is involved.

This post originally appeared on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.  Give ’em a visit!

Follow Taimak on Twitter:  @iamtaimak

 

Ever look back at old haircuts from the 1980s and wonder how anybody could have left the barbershop with a straight face?  That’s the way I look at LINK, and the idea that it was ever sold as a horror film.  LINK is a fun movie to watch, but not on its own terms.  It’s a movie that asks an audience to be afraid of chimpanzees.  That’s a lot to ask of an audience.  In real life, chimpanzees are like bears:  They’re terrifyingly dangerous, but they look cute, hence all the “accidents” you occasionally read about in the news.  But in movies, chimpanzees have historically been treated as friends, sidekicks, or punchlines.  You’d be better served making a horror movie about Chewbacca or C3PO.  (I have a feeling these words will come back to haunt me one day soon.)

Let’s begin our visit with Link at the plot-recap gazebo:  The movie opens on a rooftop, where something inhuman and murderous, something we don’t see, is hiding out in the shadows, pigeon bones strewn around nearby.  Right after that mood-setting opening title sequence, we move directly into the main premise, which is this: 

The eternally-lovely Elisabeth Shue, fresh off THE KARATE KID, plays an American college student living abroad in England (where the movie was made), who is hired by an eccentric professor (SUPERMAN 2’s Terence Stamp, who is also eternally-lovely) to help his lab for the summer.  The lab is located a small summer home, which is situated on a cliff high above the coast, with a seaside view, and it’s there that the professor studies the behavioral patterns of a group of super-smart chimpanzees.  The smartest of the bunch is a fellow named Link, who wears butler clothes and roams about the house freely.

There’s something I haven’t told you. 

LINK is about chimpanzees, this much is true.  But the title character is actually played by an orangutan.  His naturally orange fur has been dyed black, or, as it turned out, a sickly shade of brown.  I get it, it’s a safety issue, chimpanzees are dickheads, one of ’em bit off poor Jennifer Connelly’s finger during the making of PHENOMENA (true story), but still:  We’ve all seen PLANET OF THE APES.  We know the difference.  Don’t give us Dr. Zauis and then tell us he’s the lady one who kept calling Charlton Heston “Bright Eyes.”  It’s insulting to everyone involved.

Meanwhile, back in the movie, Professor Stamp has abruptly disappeared halfway through the story.  Elisabeth Shue gets increasingly suspicious and tries to find out where he went, while trying to run his lab in his absence.  Link and the others may or may not be able to help or hinder her efforts.

That’s it.  That’s the story.  In as many words, I’m telling you that Link is a movie where, for a significant amount of its running time, the only living beings onscreen are Elisabeth Shue and a small group of super-smart chimpanzees (orangutans).  If you’re even remotely like me, there can’t be any more encouraging cinematic prospect on paper.  In 2012, Elisabeth Shue is still incredibly cute (and definitely deserves to be a much bigger star), but Link has her at 23.   And I can’t pretend to get all sophisticated about it – for me, that’s kinda enough.  Show me apes in suits and a pretty girl and I will have to strain to complain. 

LINK was directed by Richard Franklin, who was a protégée of Alfred Hitchcock, to the point that Franklin directed PSYCHO 2.  (The Squeakquel!)  It was written by Everett De Roche, who also wrote 1981’s ROAD GAMES for Franklin.  These are not untalented men, not by a long shot, but this is not their best work.   LINK has a bizarre, unnatural rhythm that seems to be primarily due to some ill-considered pacing, but it could also have a lot to do with the fact that it’s a would-be suspenseful movie that relies heavily on animal actors.  That means that a human character will speak a line of dialogue, and then have to wait for the trained orang’s reaction.  That all happens in real time on film.

LINK also has a weirdly jaunty score, for a movie that intends to make chimpanzees (orangutans) in dinner jackets appear ominous.  The orchestral music undercuts most of the movie’s attempts at suspense.  I was surprised to see that the legendary Jerry Goldsmith supplied the music – you’d think that the guy who scored ALIEN, THE OMEN, POLTERGEIST, and even GREMLINS could have come up with some spookier tunage, but then again it must have been a tough assignment from the outset.

Lest I start sounding too critical, there are other things you need to know.  There is a scene where a perverted chimp (orangutan) stares at Elisabeth Shue as she prepares to take a bath.  There is a climactic exploding cigar scene.  I’m pretty sure that there are a couple scenes where little people in ape costumes double for the ape actors.  These are all moments that make me glad that I witnessed this movie.

A year later, Hollywood provided an answer to LINK with PROJECT X, where the chimpanzees were heroes, instead of creeps.  According to Wikipedia, however, PROJECT X was besieged by claims of animal cruelty.  LINK wasn’t, so that’s another chalk mark in its favor.  It’s got a growing cult following too, although there’s no re-release or remake in the works, as far as I can tell.  That might be for the best, really.  Like I said at the outset, for a horror movie it’s one bad haircut.  Then again, the hi-top fade is returning, and the mullet never left, so never say never.

Find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find.  But I could be wrong.  (See?)  It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating:  Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is.  I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience.  I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly.  Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself.  I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face.  On top of all of that, I grew up with movies.  I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more.  It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind.  I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice.  It’s certainly harder to be funny that way.  And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

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If the new sci-fi horror flick Legion is to be believed, God is a woman.  We get a brief glimpse into Heaven late in the film, and it looks like a Calvin Klein perfume ad, complete with blue-eyed, white-winged angel men who speak in soft British accents.  Not only is that the kind of scene She seems to be into, but God is also as prone to decisions based on rash emotional reactions as any mortal woman can be, only to [spoiler alert!] ultimately change her mind and be willing to make up after the outburst.
See, Legion is about God losing faith in humanity, and sending an army of angels to wipe us off the face of the planet.  You wouldn’t think God could be so flighty as to make such a momentous decision and then take it back, but this isn’t a movie for the literal-minded.  The guy sitting behind me leaned over to his companion and whispered, “God wouldn’t do that,” and I guess he’d know, so if you’re super-religious you may want to skip this movie.  It’s not based in reality.

What it is largely based on, instead, is other movies.  In particular, Legion writer/director Scott Stewart should look out for James Cameron, because they’re both out on the promotional trail right now and Legion borrows very heavily from the Terminator movies (among many, many others).  Dude, if Cameron finds you, you better hope he’s flattered.  When renegade angel Michael touches down in an alleyway, it’s not wrong to expect that he’s a T-800 or T-1000.  He’s not though, as we learn when he hacks off his wings.  (Think those might have come in handy later on, bud?)  Michael is not played by John Travolta, as fans of garbage ‘90s comedies might fairly expect – instead, he’s played by Paul Bettany, who’s always reminded me of Neil Patrick Harris if he loved girls more than showtunes, or the guy from Coldplay if if he loved girls more than showtunes (ha ha!).  Bettany is by far the best thing about the movie; he’s a convincingly unsentimental and competent action lead.

Legion also sports a fairly impressive supporting cast, all of them saddled with thankless roles that are thoroughly standard for the many genres that Legion encapsulates – horror, action, disaster movie, etc.  There’s the spiritually adrift young waitress whose pregnancy may be the key to the whole future of humankind (played by Adrianne Palicki with an accent that disappears during her first scene and only occasionally returns.)  There’s the meek young mechanic (Lucas Black) who loves her without getting any return on that investment, who unsurprisingly will be called on to prove himself before story’s end.  That character’s name is Jeep, which sounds like something Sarah Palin would come up with.  But no, Jeep’s dad is none other than Dennis Quaid, who’s way too good to have to be playing this many stereotypes at the same time – he’s a grouchy diner owner who’s developed a problem with booze after a ruined relationship and a troubled business.  He’s lost his faith: can he regain it in time?  Can I write movie tag lines?

There’s also the God-fearing dishwasher who recognizes the spiritual implications of what’s happened right away – and says he knew it was coming!  If that wasn’t standard enough, this guy even has a hook where his left arm should be.  Did you guess that he’s a black guy?  Of course he is!  Welcome to the Cliché Diner, hope you survive the visit!  This character is played by Charles S. Dutton, another strong actor who I would have thought was beyond roles like this, but I guess since he’s done it a hundred times now, there’s no one better qualified to play them.  Also, because a movie with this much going on can’t have just one black guy to kill off before all the other white characters (spoiler!), Tyrese Gibson is in the movie too.  He plays a mysterious young brother who is involved in a custody battle and who keeps a gun on him at all times.  In a stroke of inspiration, this character is from Vegas, not South Central.  See, don’t think you can predict this movie.

Finally, there’s an uptight family of white people who are stranded at Quaid’s diner in the middle of nowhere because something went wrong with their Mercedes.  These people are played by Jon Tenney (a well-known stage actor who I didn’t even realize was in this movie until I checked IMDB just now to write this article), Kate Walsh (that great-looking red-headed broad from Grey’s Anatomy who I would have thought was too big a TV star to have such a waste of a role in a genre movie), and some girl named Willa Holland as their teenage daughter.  Don’t worry about that character; the screenwriters didn’t.  (It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie character written out of a movie off-screen.)

On the side of the bad guys, there’s Kevin Durand, a great character actor (from Lost, among other things), who is thoroughly wasted as the “evil” angel leading the extermination effort.  Durand deserves better roles, although at least here all he has to deal with are giant wings and a fruity accent – at least they didn’t stick him in an unconvincing fat suit like that abominable Wolverine movie did.  There’s also Doug Jones (Abe Sapien!) as an evil ice cream man, whose evil power is to make his jaw get really, really low, like Jim Carrey in The Mask.  Look out!  It’s Giantjaw!  Don’t let him…. breathe on you, I guess.  (There’s not much to be afraid of here, there’s not a single supernatural heaven-sent villain in this flick who can’t be easily mowed down with tons of bullets.)  There’s also that potty-mouthed old lady from the trailers.  She’s probably the most fun part of the movie, and definitely the first and last point where you feel like the main characters are in danger from anything other than their own clumsiness and stupidity.

Legion plays pretty much how you’d expect, right down to the letter.  The best part is the way that the bad guys attack the diner where the good guys are holed up, and then after being shot at for a while, retreat so that the good guys have enough time to talk amongst themselves.  I’m glad I don’t play drinking games, because if I had to drink every time one character solemnly recounts their backstory to another in over-dramatic exposition… well then I’d be Dennis Quaid’s character.  (Maybe that’s what Quaid was doing on set to keep it fun!)  My single favorite getting-to-know-you moment belongs to Tyrese and it begins like so:  “When I was a shorty…”

I’m hitting Legion pretty hard with the sarcasm hammer, but I actually had a great time watching it.  With a packed theater, it was not at all a waste of time.  The crowd I was with hollered at all the expected moments and at a lot more of the unexpected ones.  It’s always fun when an audience takes a movie in the spirit it deserves, and just goes with it.  (Except for the aforementioned guy who thought the Lord was acting out of character.)  Nobody expected this to be a serious drama with important ideas, nobody expected artistry or poetry, and nobody expected it to even be as good as the movies it awkwardly imitates (Terminator, Terminator 2, Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight).  When faced with such mediocrity, you can either whoop it up or get pissed off, and that second option is better left to JC.  That’s James Cameron, not… you know.

Or maybe I’m just in a good mood because Taimak was in the theater with us at my screening.  You know, Taimak = the man who played Leroy Green, a.k.a. Bruce Leroy, in Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.  If you’ve been paying occasional attention to anything I’ve said ever, you may have picked up on my overwhelming love for The Last Dragon.  It’s no lost classic but it’s an energetic, entirely unpretentious movie with a good heart and a better soundtrack.  When Legion got too formulaic and predictable to bear, I had a great time trying to imagine what thoughts were running through Taimak’s head as he watched the same movie.  Was he, too, comparing it to the anything-goes bizarre excellence of The Last Dragon?  Was he, too, imagining how he would play the Bettany role, or even imagining how the movie would be improved by the literal return of Bruce Leroy?  (It sure couldn’t have hurt!)  Was he, too, wondering how Bruce Leroy would fare in battle against the armies of Heaven?

A far, far better movie Legion could have been were it to have answered any of those questions.  For me, anyway.

Get right with me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb