Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... THE CROSSING GUARD

Only now does it occur to me... that in Junta Juleil's proud tradition of presenting awkward dance sequences involving our favorite actors, from Ed Harris in CREEPSHOW to James Remar in RENT-A-COP to Jean-Claude Van Damme in KICKBOXER to Linda Hamilton in CHILDREN OF THE CORN to Michael Moriarty in TROLL to Lorenzo Lamas in BODY ROCK... we can now throw the hat of a new contender to the ring. May I proudly present Robin Wright in Sean Penn's THE CROSSING GUARD (in a scene that exudes 1995 from every pore):

Sunday, September 17, 2017

R.I.P., Harry Dean Stanton

It is with a heavy heart that I reflect on the death of Harry Dean Stanton. He may have been 91, but I was sure he'd never die. He seemed to remain the same age––about fifty?––from circa 1960 to 2010.  He wasn't simply one of the finest character actors to ever live, he was one of the finest actors, period. And he could do more with the briefest of appearances than some actors can achieve in an entire career. He brought a vulnerability to every role. A mystery. Not necessarily a joie de vivre, but something approaching the pure animism of existence.  Consider his "avenge me" scene in RED DAWN. Or his beaten-down hangdog delivery of "That godammed trailer's more popular that Uncle's day in a whorehouse, you see what I mean? It just means I've....more shit I gotta do now," in TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (a character he reprised to great effect in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN).

Hell, for the few minutes he's on screen, he even makes DOWN PERISCOPE and MR. NORTH watchable.

His rare appearances as a leading man (PARIS, TEXAS, REPO MAN, and presumably the forthcoming LUCKY) show us the vastness of the human soul. Hell, most of his performances show us the vastness of the human soul.

His collaborations with John Carpenter (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and CHRISTINE) are full of scuzzy Americana underbelly charm.

His work with Lynch (the aforementioned TWIN PEAKS, THE STRAIGHT STORY, INLAND EMPIRE, THE COWBOY AND THE FRENCHMAN, WILD AT HEART) is strange and sad and somehow capable of plucking at our heartstrings even when he's just muttering "gaaaad damn" or "what the heehhhl?' or yipping and yapping at hyenas on a television.

A string of charlatan, thief, outlaw and sleazy cop roles in the 60s and 70s (DILLINGER, STRAIGHT TIME, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, WISE BLOOD, PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, THE MISSOURI BREAKS, FLATBED ANNIE AND SWEETIE PIE: LADY TRUCKERS, THE FORTUNE, COCKFIGHTER) were all infused with a similar, downbeat existential energy. I swear nobody else can say "Things ain't workin' out for me today..." with such pained authenticity and hillbilly mysticism.
We were always lucky to see his musical performances too, and he worked them in whenever he could––in from "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" in STRAIGHT TIME to the eerie hymns in BIG LOVE to the sloppy drinking songs in AGAINST THE WALL to the trailer park ballad in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN.

Then there's the appearances you'd never expect––like PRETTY IN PINK, THE AVENGERS, THE ANIMAL. Shit, the man's got the saddest death scene in ALIEN. Not even the cat cares.

He was one-of-a-kind, that's all I know. And I wouldn't know how to end this any better than to leave you with a few thoughtful words from the man himself:

"I'm 87 years old...I only eat so I can smoke and stay alive. The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there's nothing. Like there was before I was born. I'm not really into religion, they're all macrocosms of the ego. When man began to think he was a separate person with a separate soul, it created a violent situation. The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness. Anybody else you've interviewed bring these things up? Hang on, I gotta take this call... Hey, brother. That's great, man. Yeah, I'm being interviewed... We're talking about nothing. I've got him well-steeped in nothing right now. He's stopped asking questions."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... GORGEOUS

Only now does it occur to me... that Jackie Chan has some opinions about Jean-Claude Van Damme.

First off, GORGEOUS is a one of Jackie's lesser-known ventures, and for good reason. When a movie, A. stars Jackie Chan and Tony Leung and B., is written, choreographed, and produced by Jackie Chan––a viewer might assume they were in the proximity of greatness. However, this particular film was made near the apex of Jackie's international stardom (in 1999, fresh off of '98's RUSH HOUR), and I believe he was in the, shall we say––"George Lucas/PHANTOM MENACE phase" of his creative output, in that no one was willing say "no" to his more questionable ideas. Consequently, what we have here is a part children's movie/part romantic comedy that is––for the most part––about CGI dolphins, fashion, recycling, a semi-creepy April/September romance, and questionable gay stereotypes.

One of the CGI dolphins in question.

Tony Leung is doing his best, it's true.

In that description, I've probably made it seem a little more fun than it actually is, but rest assured that for the majority of its runtime, GORGEOUS is dull and uncomfortable. [For context, my favorite '90s Jackie Chan films are RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER, and SUPERCOP. I have genuine love for WHO AM I?, SUPERCOP 2, CRIME STORY, and TWIN DRAGONS. And despite everything, I do enjoy RUSH HOUR.]

In any event, I come to you today, not to rip on Jackie Chan (whose filmography has brought me endless joy) but to interpret two glorious action sequences which appear in the latter half of the film.

First, I'll set the scene. Within the film, Jackie Chan plays a recycled paper magnate named "Jackie Chan," who is pursuing a young lady half his age (Qi Shu of THE TRANSPORTER)

which leads to many groan-inducing romantic scenarios, but it does inspire a few genuine laughs, like when a man follows Qi around with an electric fan to give her perpetually wind-blown hair:

and when Jackie is overwhelmed by the size of his snifter glass:

This is a highlight.

In any event, Jackie's also been navigating a volatile friendship with his childhood best bud, who is now a gangster. Because Jackie keeps getting the best of him (and humiliating his hired thugs), the gangster decides to import some outside talent from Europe:

When the fighter arrives, he's played by a Jackie Chan-ensemble stuntman named Bradley James Allan, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jean-Claude Van Damme, in appearance, physique, and fighting style:

(not to be confused with Daniel Bernhardt, the original Jean-Faux Van Damme)

As if this were not immediately obvious, the gangster quickly cracks a JCVD-reference about his new Euro muscle:

I'm surprised they didn't say he was a master at "bloodsport."
And they proceed to make fun of him for being short

and I was certain that Jackie had included him to send him to some ignominious fate and thus get in some gentle JCVD ribbing, á la the Schwarzenegger vs. Stallone "feud"...but then it's Jean-Faux Van Damme II who defeats Jackie in their boxing/kickboxing duel. The entire exchange is very good-natured––more Roddy Piper vs. Keith David in THEY LIVE than JCVD vs. Bolo Yeung in BLOODSPORT, for instance.

This leads to a training montage and a subsequent rematch at Jackie's recycled paper factory. This is when Bradley James Allan truly gets his chance to shine. In a movie that is largely devoted to dolphin fondling, clichéd jokes, and first dates, this final action setpiece is a mini-masterpiece of kinetic martial arts insanity. The speed at which Jackie and Bradley ply their craft is jaw-dropping––and the stylistic similarities to JCVD action scenes are plain:

Jackie puts his own spin on it, however, and by the end the duel has evolved into a ballroom dance-fight with balletic lifts and other slapstick absurdities:

Whereupon they proceed to punch and kick each other silly until they go cross-eyed in a tableau even Jerry Lewis might deem unsubtle:

but they depart as friends.

Much like, apparently, in real life:

 And here I had no idea. While I've since learned that they've both appeared in KUNG FU PANDA sequels, here's hoping that one day they actually make a movie together...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

R.I.P., Tobe Hooper

It saddens me to report the death of Tobe Hooper, legendary filmmaker, aficionado of the American underbelly, and modern horror pioneer. His films are near and dear to my heart. Non-horror fans might assume his work is simply gruesome and shock-laden (though, surely, it is often that!), and miss out on the weirdo profundity he mines from the most outrageous scenarios––the chaotic gaze of a caged chicken amid a bone-art gallery in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, the Reagan-era culture wars playing out amid the complex marriage at the center of POLTERGEIST, the obsessive sexual psychodrama between Caroline Williams and Leatherface in CHAINSAW PART 2, or the search for atomic-era familial identity in SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION... when the man was "on," he was on.

My absolute favorite is (perhaps obviously) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, which reinvented the genre and has never been truly equalled; a strange slice of morbid life recorded with Herzogian pragmatism and Rohmer-esque passivity.

POLTERGEIST, his big-budget collaboration with Steven Spielberg, is a deeply nuanced and well-acted piece of work, especially considering that it's sort of the ultimate corporate/Hollywood haunted-house flick.

LIFEFORCE, the first of his three Cannon Films, throws everything but the kitchen sink into a sci-fi/horror hybrid and is an extremely ambitious mashup of ALIEN, SUPERMAN II, and NOSFERATU, with a lot more naked space vampire.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 makes no (futile) attempts to duplicate the uniqueness of the original, and chooses to adapt the narrative with a bold, Gran Guignol, '80s rockabilly palette (and essentially launches the filmmaking career of Rob Zombie).

'SALEM'S LOT adapts Stephen King for the small-screen and despite some general shortcomings, possesses some truly haunting imagery, brilliant performances, and a sure-handed sense of visual flair.

His segment of John Carpenter's BODY BAGS finally brings together the majestic combination of Twiggy, Mark Hamill, baseball, and body horror. (And an acting cameo!)

Then there's SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, which gifts us with one of Brad Dourif's more volatile performances; EATEN ALIVE, a Southern grotesque with a killer croc and Robert Englund; and THE FUNHOUSE, a visually innovative carny-slasher. Hell, the man even directed the bizarre, post-apocalyptic music video for Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself."

R.I.P., Tobe. Here's to you, and the work you left behind.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Film Review: CYBER BANDITS (1995, Erik Fleming)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Martin Kemp (WAXWORK II, THE KRAYS, of "Spandau Ballet" fame), Alexandra Paul (CHRISTINE, BAYWATCH), Adam Ant (of "Adam and the Ants," NOMADS, JUBILEE), Grace Jones (A VIEW TO A KILL, CONAN THE DESTROYER), Henry Gibson (NASHVILLE, THE 'BURBS, THE BLUES BROTHERS), James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, BLADE RUNNER), Nils Allen Stewart (BLOODSPORT 2, FIREPOWER), Robert Hays (AIRPLANE!, CAT'S EYE, TV's STARMAN). Written by James Dale Robinson (THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) and James Goldman (William Goldman's brother, the playwright who wrote THE LION IN WINTER, FOLLIES, and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS––here he is credited as "Winston Beard").
Tag-line: "Welcome to cyberspace. Where danger is a virtual reality."
Best one-liner: "Strap him down, boys!" (said by Grace Jones)

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"What are we watching tonight?"
–"Tonight, we're going to catch a glimpse the future."
"Oh yeah?"
–"Well, take a peek, kiddo––if you can handle it. It's called CYBER BANDITS:"

Cool Cyber Dudes

Life-Size Cyber Strippers

Pocket-Size Cyber Strippers

Read-only Optical Memory

 "The future kinda looks like 1995."
–"The hell it does!"
"Is that a CD-ROM?"
–"Maybe. But what if in the future they have experimental hard drives that hold millions of terabytes of data and they happen to look like CD-ROMs?"
"Oookay. If it's gonna be watered-down cyberpunk, can we just watch BRAINSCAN instead?"
–"No. Trust me, you're gonna like CYBER BANDITS. For starters, its cast is comprised almost entirely of famous musicians and John Carpenter actors."
"Hmm. Go on."
–"Almost everyone in this film has razor-sharp cheekbones and ice-blue eyes, and it's all accompanied by aggressive house music and fusion jazz noodling. Look at this, it's just three, nearly identical, cheek-bony men staring at each other's cheekbones. It's like being held captive in a hall-of-mirrors at a German discotheque."

"Okay. Is that, um, Adam Ant?"
"Does this movie have a plot?"
"Of course it does. So there's an evil millionaire, played by Robert Hays (who played STARMAN on TV, albeit not directed by John Carpenter), who is financing a device capable of erasing your mind and trapping you in your own catatonic body in a mental hell of your own making. Essentially, it's a jumbo-sized and more malicious version of the neuralyzer from MEN IN BLACK.

He's got Joe Dante and Robert Altman-standby Henry Gibson as his top scientist on the project, too."

"So it's more of a 'Henry Gibson picture' than a 'William Gibson picture,' eh?"
–"Oh, stop. Though, I must give a special shout-out to Gibson, who simpers and leers his way through the picture with sinister refinement, like he's a 1990s Claude Rains."

Hand over the CD-ROMs if you know what's good for you

 "I do appreciate a solid Henry Gibson performance."
–"Me too, brother. Anyway, our hero is Martin Kemp (the bassist from Spandau Ballet), who's, um, a sailor on the evil millionaire's yacht."

"I feel like this character should be played by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Or at least Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt."
–"Oh, hush. So, after a torrid affair with the millionaire's girlfriend (Alexandra Paul, from John Carpenter's CHRISTINE),

Pictured: a torrid affair from the future, and not, in fact, a torrid affair from 1995.

and against the advice of his buddy, rocker Adam Ant,

You'll note that those are the Frank Lloyd Wright tiles from BLADE RUNNER in the background!

the sailor and the girlfriend decide to steal the plans to the millionaire's neural-cyber-weapon-thing and have them laser-tattooed on Kemp's back with a bunch of little 1's and 0's. (The original title of this picture was A SAILOR'S TATTOO.)

Incidentally, this is the first (but far from the last) time Martin Kemp will be strapped down to various surfaces throughout this movie.

Also, it's worth mentioning that the man doing the tattooing is James Hong (from John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA)

Note his excellent fake mustache.

who, pre-tattoo, offers them a masked, flamboyant Chinese opera performance.

He was clearly having so much fun with it, that they bring him back for a post-credits scene where he performs even more Chinese opera. Take that, Marvel movies!"
"I must say, as far as MacGuffins go, a coded tattoo is not the worst idea."
–"Of course it isn't!  Didn't I tell you who wrote this thing?"
–"Two men. One is the guy who adapted THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN..."
–"...and the other is the playwright who wrote THE LION IN WINTER."
"Er, what?"
–"Who incidentally is William Goldman's brother, James. However, he chose to be credited as 'Winston Beard.' Also, don't be so hard on THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN."
"I'll be as hard on it as I want. Think about it: Sean Connery had such a bad experience working on it that he retired from acting. Therefore, if not for GENTLEMEN, we may have had Connery in INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL which fundamentally would have altered its fabric, which means it might not have had Tarzan vine-swinging and CG aliens. The pity is that we'll never know."
–"Okay, that's enough out of you. I'm about to get to the best part: the millionaire has a foil––a woman who leads a rag-tag band of cyber-resistance fighters and plans to bring him down for good: ladies and gentlemen, may I present... Grace muthahfuckin' Jones."

"That's a lot of crazy-eye."
–"It's one of her specialties, as you well know. You can also see her in Christopher Lee's Cher wig from THE WICKER MAN,

shouting things like "Strap him down, boys," feeding her pet mouse to her pet snake (with an extra side of crazy-eye),

setting up a nice cyber-office on the beach (uh... what?)

and wearing really outré outfits that I guess are supposed to be camouflage,

but read more as "Cousin It at Milan fashion week."

SURPRISE––Grace Jones!

"I'm intrigued."
–"It's a lot better than it should be. I mean, Grace Jones alone––despite less than 20 minutes of screen-time––is essentially worth the price of admission. It's like a low-rent BLADE RUNNER/NEUROMANCER with big ideas, game actors, silly costumes, and an A-list soundtrack featuring songs like 'Sploosh' by Ozric Tentacles."
"Wow. I kinda miss the '90s."
–"I think you mean, 'the future'... don't you?"