Friday Fisticuffs: Wild Card (2015)

It’s been way too long since I’ve watched a new Jason Statham movie. While flipping through some of the movies on Epix On Demand, I saw Wild Card and decided to remedy that! This one’s directed by Simon West who also did The Mechanic with Statham as well as Expendables 2. The script comes from the legend William Goldman who had written the original book as well as the previous film incarnation, the 1986 film Heat starring Burt Reynolds. If that’s not enough to get you to watch a revenge film, I don’t know what is. Continue reading Friday Fisticuffs: Wild Card (2015)

NYC & LA Movie Marathon: 7 Movies From Both Cities

I watch a LOT of movies. More so than usual since I’m unemployed/work from home. Netflix really has become my closest friend which is both sad and technologically impressive. Anyway, I like to watch movies or shows while I work on freelance, which means I’m not always giving them 100% of my attention, but enough to do a series of mini-reviews. I’ve been trying to figure out some thematic similarities between the movies I’ve been watching (like the otherwise unrelated Dr. Horrible and Angel of Death from the other day). It wasn’t until I was watching Last Action Hero today which takes place in both New York City and Los Angeles that I realized that a big chunk of the movies I’ve watched recently are set in one or the other. So, what the hell? Even though they’re mostly unrelated, here’s a look at seven movies I’ve watched in the last few weeks set in these places. Hit the jump for the incredibly entertaining reviews.

First up, New York, both because it’s a place I’m semi-familiar with and it contains the movie I watched first.

F/X (1986)
As long time United Monkees know, I watched F/X 2 a little over a year ago and had a great time with it. It was a fun little action movie that didn’t seem to take itself too seriously and had fun with the concept. The original is a bit more straightforward and intense that I was expecting, with Cocktail’s Bryan Brown taking on an assignment from the government to make it look like a mobster (Jerry Orbach) gets killed so he can testify. Turns out he gets double crossed and things go downhill from there. Brian Dennehy still stars as the one guy trying to help Brown’s character and the two team-up to take out the bad guys and win the day, using plenty of Brown’s special effects tricks. It’s a cool movie, but definitely not as fun as the sequel.

Not only do Righteous Kill and F/X share a common setting in the form of NYC, but they also share something in the form of awesome actor Brian Dennehy. In this case he plays lieutenant to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. This review absolutely contains SPOILERS, so if you don’t want the movie ruined, skip to The Muppets Take Manhattan. Anyway, the whole plot of this movie revolves around De Niro’s seeming confession to being this killer of guys who fall through the cracks of the criminal justice system. We even have video footage of him confessing. But, it turns out that the video is Pacino making him read his (Pacino’s) diary. See, throughout the movie, they’re only referred to by their nicknames, so when De Niro reads a real name, we don’t actually know who it is. I found the twist to be a fairly interesting one that would probably make sense on further viewings (less High Tension and more Usual Suspects). Personally I liked watching these two veterans working together in a fairly tight script that brings in the talents of 50 Cent, Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg and Carla Gugino. Definitely worth the NetBox watch in my opinion.

I must admit, I’m not a huge Muppets fan. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I just don’t have the history with them that a lot of people my age seem to. My only childhood memory of them is from Muppet Babies. After that? The video they did with Weezer. So, it was kind of on a whim that I watched The Muppets Take Manhattan on NetBox and I had a great time with it. The story follows Kermit and the Muppet gang who are fresh out of college (seems like that would make a great movie premise itself) and taking their show to New York to get it on Broadway. After several failed attempts to get the show made, Kermit kind of blows up at his friends who all decide he would be better off if they told him they got other jobs and moved away. This leaves Kermit in NYC, working in a diner and still trying to get the show made. He, of course, succeeds eventually, only to get in an accident that leaves him with amnesia and taking a job as an ad exec, Mad Men-style. I had a ridiculous amount of fun watching this flick and trying to figure out if I’d ever been to the parts of the city Kermit was walking around (I’m guessing so, though the place has changed quite a bit in 25 years). I also really enjoyed the flashback that spawned Muppet Babies. It made a lot of things make sense. Now, I’ve got to check out the rest of the movies.

Holy crap, I loved this movie. I just watched it today (well, yesterday at this point in the early morning) and had so much fun with it. See, it’s a fictionalized history of Def Jam records back in the 80s, but starring a ton of their artists like Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, Rick Rubin, Sheila E., the Beastie Boys and New Edition among others. I only really started exploring hip hop within the last five or six years, but that exploration has heavily included Run-DMC and the Beasties. I also had a couple Fat Boys tapes back when I was a kid (I’m guessing around the time they got huge, musically speaking, because I vaguely recognized a track or two in the movie from those tapes). That combined with my fairly recent viewing of VH1’s 2009 Hip Hop Honors which focused on Def Jam really made this movie interesting for me. There’s a lot going on in a fairly limited amount of time, but I feel like the director did a good job of balancing the main storyline of Run-DMC thinking of jumping form the Krush Groove label and the B-story of the Fat Boys trying to make it big. If you’re interested in early hip hop at all, this is a must-watch flick. I was also surprised to find out that director Michael Shultz also directed past UM reviewed movie Car Wash and a few movies I didn’t get around to reviewing like the epic Last Dragon (SO awesome) and Cooley High (surprisingly depressing).

New York To LA and Back

The movie that inspired this entire entry starts off with a kid in NYC who loves Arnold Schwarzenegger movies getting sucked into movie-LA and eventually bringing the fictional Jack Slater back into the real world. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I really loved this movie. I remember watching it with my grandparents back around the time it came out on video and thinking it was kind of dumb. But, see, now I’ve seen most of the movies it tries to spoof and had a much better time with it (I’m guessing my grandparents also thought it was dumb, but I bet they never said anything). The kid calls out all kinds of late-80s, early-90s action movie cliches, trying to convince Slater that he’s living in a movie. What I like is that all aspects of the story are interesting and I guess the credit for that goes to world renowned scriptwriter William Goldman (whose book of scripts including Butch & Sundance, Misery, Marathon Man & The Princess Bride is sitting mostly unread on my shelf) who came in and did a rewrite after Arnold insisted on it. Credit should also be given to Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan who did a great job of mixing the comic and action elements. Sure, the kid’s acting can be a bit thin at times and maybe over-the-top, but I think it works, especially (maybe only) if you’re a fan of these kinds of movies. Oh, it also features a cartoon cat voiced by Danny Devito, how can you go wrong?!

Now On To LA

After watching several movies about cops getting new partners (Dragnet, The Rookie, Lethal Weapon (the latter two soon to be reviewed on their own), it’s funny how similar they end up. This one has dandy Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee teaming up to take down crime in LA’s Little Tokyo. Soon enough, something minor leads them to something huge and our heroes have to put a stop to it. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this one, but I still enjoyed the weird aesthetic of it. See, Lundgren loves Asian culture, while Lee only knows martial arts because his mom made him take lessons and otherwise doesn’t care. When I was a kid I always got this one confused with Big Trouble In Little China. That doesn’t really mean anything, I guess. On another note, Wayne’s World’s Tia Carrere also stars in this movie. On another nother note, the director Mark L. Lester also directed the more-fun Class of 1999 and Commando.

Hey, guess what? I’ve had a surprising amount of luck watching movies lately. Case in point? Alien Nation. I added a few sci-fi movies including this one a while ago and decided to give this one a shot. I remember seeing the TV series randomly syndicated when I was a kid watching late-night TV but had never seen the movie, which stars James Caan and Chicago Hope’s Mandy Patinkin. Kind of like V, Alien Nation is based around an alien race that is welcomed to earth and begins to be integrated into society, though basic stereotypes still exist. These aliens were bread to be slaves though. Like with Showdown, this movies focuses on cop Caan being saddled with Newcomer (that’s what they call the aliens) Patinkin. As the two learn about each other, they find out about a much bigger plot to addict the Newcomers to drugs and have to put a stop to it. I really liked James Caan in this flick. I guess I haven’t seen him in too many things, but I liked his every man approach. I haven’t seen a ton of his movies, but this made me want to do so. It also made me add the TV series to my Netflix queue, though I was it was on instant watch. I don’t have incredibly high hopes because it got canceled after one season, but it did spawn a number of TV movies. Anyone familiar with them?

So, that ends my cinematic tour of NYC and LA, though I’m sure I’ll see another movie or two set in one of those places before the end of the week. I’ve enjoyed my brief stay and wish I would have taken more pictures, but what are you gonna do?

Halloween Scene/Book Vs. Movie: The Stepford Wives (1975)

2:36:09 pm

Sometime this year I picked up a copy of The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin at the fantastic Building 19 (one of the best things about New England, as I’ve talked about before). I’m a slow reader but the book was pretty short, so it didn’t take me too long to get through it. And it was a good read. I was impressed with how much Levin was able to fit into (I think) less than 120 pages. Not really knowing more than the basic “something’s weird about the women of Stepford, they’re TOO good at being house wives” idea, I was pleasantly surprised as I read through and found a building sense of dread as Joanna loses friends and a little bit of her mind as all the women around her either are or are turned into the “perfect housewife.”

It also hit on one of the themes that I personally find to be the scariest in fiction/life, which is the main person telling the truth, but no one believes them (as I mentioned in the my riveting review of Dying to Belong). You really get a sense of that as Joanna’s liberated female friends start joining the clean house club.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve read the book, I’ll talk more about the movie which watched yesterday, though the movie follows along pretty closely. In the movie version, which was written by the insanely brilliant screenwriter William Goldman, Joanna and her family move from New York City to Stepford, CT. Everything’s fine at first, though you start to see some cracks in Joanna’s relationship with her husband. It seems like he’s been making a lot of big decisions without really consulting with her, like moving and joining up with a men only men’s club in Stepford. As she meets the other women of Stepford, Joanna comes to realize that they’re all the poster children for good housekeeping, worried more about the appearance of their homes and children than any real social issues. This doesn’t sit well with Joanna or her new friend Bobbie who also recently moved to Stepford. Both women try to find other like-minded women in town, but come up short with one exception, Charmaine (played by Ginger from Gilligan’s Island!). As time goes on, Charmaine goes from free wheeling to kitchen cleaning, which completely freaks Bobby out. Both Bobbie and Joanna try to get their husbands to move out of Stepford because they’re genuinely scared about what’s going to happen. Then Bobbie “goes away for the weekend” with her husband and comes back Stepford-ized. Now Joanna’s really freaked out. She goes to an out-of-town shrink who tells her to go home, get her kids and get the hell out of Stepford. When Joanna does, she’s met with hostility and her kids are missing. From there she’s making a mad dash around town to find her kids, but comes face to face with the real reason why the women of Stepford seem so perfect. SPOILER, they’re robots.

It’s actually cooler than that might sound. The set-up is that a bunch of the men in the men’s club are genius scientist type guys. One is an animatronics expert from Disney World, one’s a famous artist, one studies voices and tricks the women into recording a list of words for his “private study.” There’s also a number of companies like General Electric and other computer companies. It’s actually kind of a brilliant plot element, as dreamed up by Levin in the book and put on screen by Goldman. The men even go so far as to steal Joanna’s dog and keeping it in their clubhouse (a huge old mansion), presumably to get the dog to become familiar with the Joanna-bot. There’s some really great touches in there that you can thank both Levin and Goldman for.

I can’t remember the exact ending of the book, but in the movie SPOILER Joanna comes face to face with her robot replacement and the robot (presumably) kills her. The robot then takes her place and you end on the bleakest shot of beautiful women walking around the supermarket you’ll ever see. It’s just so hopeless, which is the real gut punch for me. There’s also such a sense of betrayal that feel towards Joanna’s husband. He seems like an okay dude in the beginning, but then he signs up with these dudes who want to kill his wife and replace her with “the perfect wife.” Jeez, man, you’ve gotta be stone cold to do something like that. The whole point, from the men’s perspective, is that you work hard, you might as well have the perfect woman who will have awesome sex with you, clean up after you and never give you any problems. Or have independent thought. I think it’s a cool commentary on the time that it was written but can still be read and watched with an eye towards today.

The movie was longer than I expected, almost two hours, but it does a great job of doing the slow build. I can see how it might be boring for some people, but, even though I hadn’t seen it before, I knew what to look for because I had read the book (like when the men are meeting at Joanna’s house and one of them draws her, the drawing is like the kiss of death, once you’ve got it and have finished the word recordings after living there for four months, your donezo). So it was kind of like I had seen the movie. All the major beats are still there. I think the main differences are the seasons, I remember there being snow in the book, but it’s rain in the movie. And like I said, I can’t remember the specifics of the book’s ending, though Joanna does end up getting replaced.

The big question for me is, what do they do with the original wife. Do they get flat out killed? Do their memories get erased? These dudes are basically mad scientists who run a small town, so they’ve got a good amount of options. I’d also like to see someone like Dirty Harry roll into town and offer up some justice. Maybe I’ll start writing my script treatment…

Oh, one last thing, I forgot to mention initially. According to IMDB Goldman’s original intent for the movie adaptation would be that all the women would be walking around looking like Playboy Playmates, wearing short shorts and what not. So how did the movie end up feature what look like Southern belles in big floppy hats and long dresses? Well one of the producers agreed to finance the film only if his wife could get a role in it. And, while she was pretty, she wasn’t the type that Hef would put on the cover of his mag, so they had to switch the WHOLE look that they were going for because this woman looked homely. I know they just remade this move with Nicole Kidman a few years ago (haven’t seen it), but I’d like to see a remake that’s more of a period piece, set in the 70s with this look. Mostly because 70s Playmates were super hot! Who’s with me?!