Thursday, August 30, 2012


Most people I know that have seen Bruno Dumont's sophomore feature, L'Humanite, tend to consider it a slowly-paced pretentious mess. And to be quite honest, as much as I love this movie (its actually one of my recent favorites) I can kinda understand how someone would feel that way. The pace of the film IS a bit slow at times, the mannerisms of the (non-professional) lead actor are odd and the overall vibe is a lil' off. But if you're like me and happen to enjoy L'Humanite you'll see it’s the kinda movie that'll have you talking & debating for hours (especially the final scene). On the surface L'Humanite, which has the atmosphere of Bresson, a touch of Bela Tarr, Lodge Kerrigan & Haneke mixed with an episode of Law & Order: SVU, is a noir/mystery about a lonely police officer ("Pharaon" - played by Emmanuel Schotte) investigating the brutal murder of a little girl who went missing after she was dropped off at her bus stop after school. What's strange is that outside of the opening moments of the film, the death of the little isn’t even really mentioned again for another 45 minutes (almost half way in to the story). Instead, Dumont probes in to the life of Pharaon - he seems borderline autistic, somewhat childlike (yet mature), lives with his mother after being left by his wife and daughter (their absence is a little vague and it’s not clear if they left him, died or ever existed in the first place), constantly plays the third wheel to his friends; Domino (a factory worker) and her bus driver boyfriend Joseph and randomly zones out (which in my opinion is an important element to the story that we'll get in to later). Pharaon's relationship with Domino is kinda cloudy. Even though he spies on her having sex with Joseph and clearly has some type of love for her, it’s more like he's just fascinated by Domino (and all people for that matter) than he is attracted to her. The actress who plays Domino (played by then non-professional actress: Severine Caneele) was a great choice and she did an amazing job for someone who's never acted before in her life (especially given her role has many scenes where she's completely naked having soft-core/borderline pornographic sex scenes). Unlike most first-time or non-professional actors, there’s no awkward or cringewrothy moments. She's a natural. And speaking of natural, her curvy physique is another noticeable element. Instead of a typical, skinny, long haired "traditionally attractive" leading lady, we have a curvaceous woman with thick thighs and "meat on her bones". Both Schotte and Caneele went on to win best actor & actress at Cannes in '99.
Domino's boyfriend Joseph is pretty much the opposite of Pharaon - he's handsome (Pharaon is bug-eyed and odd looking). Joseph is loud, lively and has a sense of humor (Pharaon is quiet, dry and monotone). Right off the bat the differences between Pharaon and Joseph seem to be deliberate on Dumont's part and in my opinion it also plays a major part in the story.

For a police officer Pharaon is just downright weird. He looks more like an accountant or a creepy librarian than a cop. He has absolutely NONE of the characteristics of a police officer/protagonist you'd find in a modern day noir (especially during the late 90's/early 2000's with popular noir's like Memento). And he just has this intense, slightly "off" gaze through out the whole movie. Another aspect of L'Humanite that seems deliberate is the complete absence of guns, fighting, or some kind of a climactic chase scene where we see our main character tracking down the killer. Yet strangely enough L'Humanite still has its moments of suspense. Besides being an existential character study of Pharaon, the film is more like an unconventional cop drama instead of a thriller. Had the same story landed on the lap of an American filmmaker it woulda been a more traditional cop thriller full of jump cuts and shoot outs. Pharaon's investigation techniques are odd. Like our main character in The Element Of Crime (another neo-noir about a cop who has strange methods of solving crimes) Pharaon goes above and beyond trying to simply solve the case. When he investigates the crime scene of the murdered girl he reenacts, role plays and tries to put himself inside the mind of both the murdered girl and the killer. His investigative techniques coincide with his mannerisms and the way he carries himself around other people. Pharaon is fascinated by all human beings and tries to make sense of everything. This explains why he stares so much and focuses in on little details - the scene where he stares intensely at the beads of sweat on the back of his partners neck, the scene where he stares out the window at the traffic jam in the street while he's questioning potential witnesses and the time when he spies on Domino and Joseph having sex.
With the exception of 29 Palms, which I still haven’t seen, Dumont's work seems to always focus on "humanity", human beings making some kind of a connection or trying to understand each other (I know that sounds vague). All of his films have some key moments or similar shot where we see our characters embrace one another...

Top to bottom: Hadewicjh, L'Humanite, Hors Satan , La Vie De Jesus

Pharaon confronts Jospeh at the police station                              Pharaon in handcuffs in the final scene
Like I said earlier, the final scene of L'Humanite is the most talked about moment of the movie and is up for speculation (yes, it’s one of those open endings where the viewer can come to their own conclusion). In the final scene we see Joseph (Pharaon's friend and Domino's boyfriend) in handcuffs at the police station. As it turns out, Joseph murdered the girl. This makes sense as the little girl was last seen at her bus stop and Joseph, a bus driver, turned out to be the driver on the little girl’s route that day. There's even a scene where Joseph violently explodes at a table of people sitting next to him for being too loud and the way he has sex with Domino is always angry and aggressive. I guess these moments were placed in the film to show Joseph's dark side. Seems simples enough, right? Open & shut case. BUT...Dumont tosses a monkey wrench in to the spokes and fucks with our minds in the very last shot where we now see Pharaon in handcuffs sitting by himself. Is Pharaon really the killer? Was this whole movie a daydream of a twisted murderer who was never really a police officer to begin with? He's got all the generic characteristics of a serial killer: he's a lonely, somewhat creepy individual who lives with his mom (like Norman Bates) that zones out and stares intensely at the bodies of his friends and peers. Plus, when that final moment of Pharaon sitting in handcuffs sinks in, you think back and realize her never dressed like any of the other police officers and never even had a gun. Now there's some people that think Pharaon, who as we already discussed is fascinated by humans and takes his job to another level by putting himself in the shoes of both the victim and killer when trying to solve the crime, is doing just that by putting on the handcuffs to feel what it’s like to be in the murderers position. Sounds like B.S. to some, but I’m fascinated by this scenario and kinda hope that’s what Bruno Dumont was going for as an attempt to do something different and new as opposed to just a typical plot twist of; "the good guy was really the killer all along!"
Now...I've mentioned the (sometimes) slow pace of L'Humanite more than once in this write-up but at the same time it IS part of the New French Extremity (Trouble Every Day, The Pornographer, In My Skin, Demonlover, etc). So this film is not without its scenes of raw sex scenes (between Domino & Joseph), gruesome images (the little girl's dead body) and random moments (like the scene where Pharaon interrogates the Algerian suspect) that'll keep your attention and/or make you go; "what the fuck?". I highly recommend this movie to anyone looking for something different. People with an equal love of art house cinema and Law & Order (like myself) will enjoy this movie more than the average person.

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Monday, August 27, 2012


I know this is the third movie in a row but all of the recent Lars Von Trier press (the nazi comment at Cannes, beef with Drive director and fellow Dane; Nicolas Winding Refn, Shia Lebouf apparently having unsimulated sex in his upcoming film) just so happens to coincide with the phase I'm in at the moment. Between my write-up of Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now and The Cinema Of Lars Von Trier, I think its time we actually get in to this movie and how its grown on me in the last two years. Not to say I disliked the movie when I first saw it or anything but I was more caught up in how disoriented and fucked up it left me feeling that I didn't really pay attention to the acting, imagery and possible messages behind the movie. Trust me, even a movie fanatic like myself rolls my eyes when I hear people talk about how moved or affected they were from a movie or a particular scene (just sounds like they're exaggerating). But Antichrist did kinda mess with me - from demonic talking foxes to the flashback scene when Charlotte Gainsbourg notices sounds coming from the baby monitor yet does nothing to prevent her son's death. Like many other Von Trier films (Europa, The Idiots, Manderlay, etc) Antichrist was also shrouded in controversy before it even reached the general public. To this day I think people are STILL too caught up in scenes of penises ejaculating blood to realize that this is a really good film with great imagery and acting (especially from Gainsbourg). Lets also not forget that Lars was able to keep our attention for two hours with a cast made up of only two people. Not since What Happened Was has there been such an entertaining movie with only two actors. Gainsbourg's performance is both awesome and kinda tough to watch at times. She really goes all out in her performance from masturbating completely naked in the middle of the woods with her legs spread wide open to her ability to display grief & sadness.

As I pointed out in my School Of Tarkovsky series, Antichrist is one of the best dedications to the filmmaking style of Andrei Tarkovsky since Carlos Reygadas' Japon (Von Trier even dedicated Antichrist to him)...

Solaris (1972)                                                                             Antichrist (2009)
Antichrist isn't exactly a horror movie yet strangely enough its more "scary" than any recent actual horror movie I've seen in years. Besides Tarkovsky, Von Trier draws elements from classic horror films like The Exorcist and The Shining with quick flashes of demonic & horrific images across the screen (for years I've been saying more modern horror films could use more elements like this)...

Top: Images from The Exorcist, Bottom: Images from Antichrist (shout out to Matt Reddick for the two print screens)

Von Trier also subtly distorts the visuals from time to time with a kind of water drop effect on the screen. Additionally, Antichrist draws some similarities to films like Eraserhead & Lost Highway (Lynch) as well as Irreversible & Enter The Void (Noe) with its disorienting, droning & base-heavy soundtrack that just adds an extra level of eeriness (see video clips at the end of the blog)

So lets do a quick tally: unexpected flashes of demonic faces on a distorted screen combined with droning audio, evil talking animals, penises ejaculating blood and an amazingly intense performance (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

 It’s hard for me to actually rate this movie with something like a 4 outta 5 stars or a "good" or "bad". Antichrist feels more like an “experience” than just a movie. I don’t mean to sound so dramatic but that’s the best I can do when someone asks if this movie is good or not. In the film Willem Dafoe ("Him") and Charlotte Gainsbourg ("Her") play a married couple trying to get past the loss their son (he fell out of window). Things get complicated when Dafoe’s character tries to play double duty as the supportive husband AND psychiatrist to his wife who seems to be taking the loss much harder than him. So they go off to their cabin in the woods for some progressive new-age psychotherapy. But as the story unfolds Dafoe starts to discover some disturbing things about his wife and what she’s been up to behind his back. As it turns out she was getting in to the world of witchcraft (when she was supposed to be working on her masters). The longer they stay at the cabin, more and more strange occurrence happen - Talking animals, vicious hail storms and Gainsbourg's behavior becomes more and more violent to the point where she's practically possessed. These days people tend to site recent films like Blue Valentine or A Separation as an example of why marriage and relationships can be tough. But in my opinion Antichrist kinda takes the cake as far as stories about a marriage or relationships put to the ultimate test. What the hell was Lars trying to say with Antichrist? To this day I’m still not exactly sure but part of me thinks he might be trying to say something dark & disturbing about women as a whole. I know I may be reaching and some of you may not feel the same way but the final scene where we see Willem Dafoe walking through a sea of ghostly women on their way to the cabin along with the very powerful flashback scene where its implied that Gainsbourg could have done something to prevent the death of her son kinda gave me this strange feeling that Von Trier has a bone to pick with women or he doesn't trust them (and lets not forget the scene where Charlotte Gainsbourg takes a pair of scissors to her genitals). I'd love for any women that've seen Antichrist to chime in on my lil' theory. This movie will do nothing to shake the misogynist label that many people have tagged Von Trier with. Damn near all his films show a female character either; murdered, beaten, raped or all 3 (although in this movie its Willem Dafoe that gets this treatment minus the murder part).
Now there's a lot more to Antichrist than the possible implication that Lars has issues with women (which is a theory that I could be WAY off on). Antichrist is also about depression and how it can be crippling, especially when dealing with the loss of a child (in the first have of the film Gainsbourg pretty much blames herself for her sons death). Anyone who knows anything about Von Trier knows about his battles with depression, phobias and anxiety (something Gainsbourg's character battles with in the film). So while on one hand Gainsbourg's character could be seen as "evil", on the other hand Gainsbourg's character could be an extension of Von Trier himself. Religion also played a heavy part in Von Trier's upbringing (he was raised Jewish but eventually converted to Catholicism). Besides the obvious the title, Antichrist (along with many of his other films like Breaking The Waves) is filled with a ton of religious guilt and symbolism.
I recommend that this not be the last thing you watch before you go to sleep. It’s a good idea to have a “happy” movie on deck right after you’re finished watching this.

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Friday, August 24, 2012


Dogville never stood a chance. Lars Von Trier, a director who's mouth gets him in to more trouble than Spike Lee's, essentially made Dogville (as well as its sequel; Manderlay) as a response to people who criticized the ending of Dancer In The Dark. Critics, movie-goers and even other filmmakers thought Lars Von Trier was too critical and unfair in his judgment of America (a country he's never stepped foot in) and he had no right to portray the American judicial system the way he did in the courtroom scene in Dancer In The Dark. The Lars Von Trier/Dogville naysayers DO kinda have a point. It’s hard to listen to someone be SO critical of a country they've never been too but at the same time America is the kinda country where you don’t necessarily need to physically be there to see how screwed up it can be. In response to Dancer In The Dark's critics, Von Trier pretty much just went; "Oh Yeah?! How 'bout I make another movie that’s even more critical of America?" And he did in the form of Dogville - A comment on the immigration system in the United States. According to Von Trier the film was about the messed up immigration system in his home country of Denmark. But anyone who's seen Dogville and knows anything about the immigration system in America as well as Lars Von Trier's history with American critics, he clearly made Dogville about...America. So Dogville was doomed from the start. Not only was it directed by a filmmaker that a lot of people don’t really care for on a personal level, it was also filmed on a giant stage-like set (almost like a play). So not only was the film prejudged before it was released but it also didn’t look like you're traditional movie. It’s like Lars was just trying to make things difficult for himself. Upon its initial release most critics ranging from Ebert to Rex Reed had declared the movie as everything from "bad" to "awful". But I honestly think Dogville is a great film and had the same EXACT movie been directed by anyone NOT Lars Von Trier it woulda got more praise. In my opinion Dogville's biggest (and really only) flaw was its leading lady (Nicole Kidman). I know its cliché to bash an A-list actress who’s essentially working out of her comfort zone (aka working with an "art house" director like Lars Von Trier) but she didn’t deliver. Her performance was a little too weak and "airy" (if that makes any sense) when it should have been a little stronger (she was great in some scenes but overall it was a letdown). Personally, I think an actress like Naomi Watts or even Jennifer Jason Leigh woulda done a better job. But still, the role of Grace must've been very tough to do as it involved many scenes of rape and she also had to act with a big chain tied around her neck in the last 45 minutes of the movie. But as a lot of us know, most people consider Dogville's biggest flaw the its theater-like setting. When this came out some people didn't know what to think of it...

The town of Dogville...
But in my opinion this was just Lars trying to strip things down and go "minimal" instead of using a ton of money on sets to recreate the 1930's. Dogville was Lars Von Trier's first time working with more "known"/"Hollywood" names like Kidman, James Caan, Ben Gazzara and Lauren Bacall (alongside his regular cast of regulars like Udo Kier and Stellan Saarsgard). Outside of Dogville's handheld cinematography, the look of the movie is pretty different from anything else in Lars' filmography. But Dogville still features many key Von Trier elements from it being told in chapters to his signature shots...

Lars Von Trier signature aerial shot. Clockwise - Melancholia (2011), The Element Of Crime (1984), Dogville (2003), Medea (1988)

Dogville is the story of "Grace" (Kidman) - the strong yet vulnerable daughter of a gangster/kingpin (Caan) who's had enough of her father's criminal life and decides to run away to live somewhere else. She ends up taking refuge in the town of Dogville: a small backwoods podunk town in anywhere USA. When the town discovers her they're reluctant to take her in due to the baggage and trouble she may bring with her (her father's henchmen as well as the police are both looking for her). But thanks to one of the townspeople: "Tom" (played by Paul Bettany) he convinces the people of Dogville to take Grace in as one of their own (they supply her with a home, job and even work out a system to hide her from the police whenever they come around looking for her). Grace and Tom even fall in love at one point. At first the people of Dogville seem nice but once they discover there's a reward for turning Grace in to the authorities they're dark side comes out and they slowly exploit her (without actually calling it exploiting, of course) in exchange for them not turning her in for the reward money (the men in the town use her for sex, she gets paid less money for her work around town, and everyone just starts to treat her like shit). Eventually Grace's father comes to her "rescue" in what’s probably one of Von Trier's greatest endings. As I stated in the pink smoke's 100 greatest cinematic deaths, by the end of the movie you grow to absolutely hate the people of Dogville. The final 10-15 minutes are just amazing. And say what you want about Lars but the conversation between Grace and her Father on the subject of arrogance is one of the best moments on film from the last decade and it’s also the last memorable thing James Caan has done. This scene really sums up a big part of what Dogville is about, and its a great scene that shows off Grace's character...

Besides James Caan's short appearance at the end, Paul Bettany ("Tom") gives the standout performance in my opinion. The character of Tom is the epitome of a snake. He's a sneaky, weak, manipulative person. By the start of the film he comes off as a trustworthy person, but by the end you're kinda glad he got what came to him. Standout scenes (besides the finale) include "Vera" (played by Patricia Clarkson) getting what she thinks is revenge on Grace as well as the spanking scene. You honestly don’t have to be a Lars Von Trier fan to enjoy Dogville. If you have the ability to disassociate Lars' presence from the film you'll see it’s great and really underrated.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Trust me, this film won't be worth a moment's reflection. It's a comedy, and harmless as such. No preaching or swaying of opinion. Just a cozy time - Lars Von Trier's opening narration

Before the credits rolled on Lars Von Trier's office comedy; The Boss Of It All, I kinda wrote it off as silly - A struggling theater actor is hired to pretend to be the CEO of a struggling IT company that’s about to be secretly bought out. I REALLY wanted to like this but I just couldn't. Then a few months later I actually bought the DVD knowing how disappointed I was when I first saw it but I thought it might grow on me (and with all due respect, my movie collection is very director-oriented and I like to buy complete filmographies of directors I like. so gimme a break). didn’t. I actually ended up liking it even less. But in the last year or so it’s finally grown on me. The thing is, I was expecting something BIG. My favorite aspect about Lars Von Trier's cinema is what seems to piss most people off - he's a provocateur, a button pusher and somewhat of a prankster (something I've said before on here). This might be the one Von Trier film that wasn’t heavy and/or depressing (Melancholia & Breaking The Waves), didn’t have some kinda unexpected or fucked up ending (Dancer In The Dark & The Idiots), unsettling moments that either annoyed me or stayed with me long after the movie was over (Antichrist & Manderlay) or feel like a big inside joke (Epidemic). Putting aside the method Von Trier used to shoot this (automated cameras that moved on their own at random) The Boss Of It All is a pretty straight forward comedy. When it comes to Lars I usually brace myself for something fucked up or heavy. It’s like I had my guard up while watching The Boss Of It All and by the time it was over I was like; " that it?" So I guess the only person I have to blame for the films letdown is myself for expecting something I shouldn’t have in the first place. Additionally, when you look at the film that came before (Manderlay) and after (Antichrist), The Boss Of It All was like a little break for Lars. This comedy was sandwiched between two of Von Trier's heaviest and most controversial films. While Manderlay pissed off both black people AND white people, Antichrist made some movie goers feel violated to the point where Lars was practically getting in to arguments with film critics at press conferences.
Four years after the films release, The Boss Of It All has become one of those movies where you go "oh yeah, Lars Von Trier DID direct that, didn’t he?"

In The Boss Of It All we follow "Ravn" - An employee at a Danish IT firm. To his co-workers he's just a dopey sap who takes orders from the mysterious company CEO that no one has ever met (supposedly this absentee CEO lives in America and only corresponds with Ravn). But In reality Ravn is actually the CEO of the company and everyone’s boss yet no one knows. He's too much of a wimp to give orders to people directly and doesn’t want the pressure of being "the big boss" so he made up the fictitious CEO that lives overseas as a way to run the company without being seen as the authority figure. But now that he's about to sell the company (behind his co-workers backs) this mysterious CEO has to make a physical appearance in order to sign some documents (the Iceland-based company that’s purchasing the IT firm is very demanding and will only deal with the CEO in person). Ravn now realizes he's in too deep and in order to keep his lie going he hires a pretentious, struggling stage actor ("Kristoffer" - played by Jens Albinus from Von Trier's 90's comedy; The Idiots) to pretend to be the CEO. Naturally things get outta hand, word gets out that the company is being sold and Kristoffer (who knows nothing about IT) starts to take his pretend role a little too seriously. By the end of the film we're left with an abrupt ending that'll have you scratching your head like; “huh?” But whether you like Von Trier or not there's quite a few scenes in this movie that are really funny (dry, but still funny)

The Danish Humor I've been exposed to on film so far (Italian For Beginners, Mifune, The Idiots, etc) is interesting. It’s not exactly "dark". Its just...different. It’s a mixture of wacky scenarios revolving around typically unfunny things like suicide, depression (Italian For Beginners), the loss of a child (The Idiots), religion (Adams Apple & Italian For Beginners), mental & physical disabilities (Mifune & The Idiots). The Boss Of It All is no exception. Even Danish films that are technically dramas about incest (The Celebration) have quite a few funny moments.
At first glance The Boss Of It All stands out the most among all of Von Trier's work but the more you watch it the more you see that it has elements of Dogma (no score, natural lighting, low budget), features some of his regular actors (Jean Marc Barr and Jens Albinus) and Von Trier's cameo at the beginning and end of the film are reminiscent of his appearances in Kingdom. If you can get past the fact that this is just a silly office comedy Von Trier probably made as a form of light entertainment for himself to mentally prepare for Antichrist, you'll enjoy this (its like Lars knew the next few years of his life would be consumed with heavy cinema in the form of Antichrist and Melancholia so he wanted to make a quick silly movie before he got depressed again). But if you're expecting something groundbreaking and thought provoking you're only setting yourself up for disappointment. If you're a fan of Tristram Shandy, The Office and dry humor, there's an even greater chance you'll enjoy this.

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Monday, August 20, 2012


I seriously don't care if the Expendables sequel is now out in theaters, thus making the "Countdown" part of the title to this blog entry pointless. We've got more epicness in store (and to be honest, I didn't even see Expendables 2 this past weekend. I saw Beasts Of The Southern Wild). In this next Expendables entry John Cribbs (the other half of the Pink Smoke) breaks down a movie that's very near & dear to my heart: I COME IN PEACE - Another underrated Dolph Lundgren film that for some strange reason hasn't really stood the test of time. As I stated in The Punisher intro, John is the only other person worthy enough to write about something Dolph Lundgren-related besides Doug Frye & myself.


In his first major role, Dolph Lundgren played Ivan Drago, the genetically-perfected personification of American xenophobia. At the time of its release, the Reagan administration was in full swing and people in the states were nervous about what schemes those nefarious Russkies might be cooking up. Since they never sent the bombs over, suspicions instead turned to the superhuman athletes they sent to the Olympics. Tensions were so highly raised between countries that the U.S. boycott of the Moscow-hosted 1980 games seemed as much a protest against the Soviet Union's sturdily-built champions as it was the war in Afghanistan (the Russians responded in kind by snubbing the 1984 games in Los Angeles.) By creating Drago, Sly Stallone seemed to be putting on screen what many a Soviet-mistrusting Yank suspected: Russian athletes were, in fact, lab-grown killing machines specifically bred to infiltrate our shores and conditioned to murder our most charming celebrity boxers, forcing James Brown to flush anything he had on him and "split" before the cops arrived on the scene. Drago embodied every negative stereotype against foreigners: he's cold, rude, remorseless, homicidal, unpatriotic and, most alarmingly, blonde - truly a menacing Red Grant for the 80's. His naturally hard expression and impenetrable Riefenstahlan exterior stereotyped Dolph (in reality, a Swede) as specifically "non-American" and he played a Russian in three of his first four movies. Even in his non-Russian debut he played an Eternian, once again the fish-out-of-water foreigner, albeit the more polished, polite and social He-Man: he may have been the hero, but he still had to figure out such radical American concepts as fried chicken and clothes.

So when the great Craig R. Baxley was tasked with Americanizing the Siberan Express, he did three things: he darkened Dolph's hair, let him live indoors (as the Punisher he had to hang around naked in the sewer) and gave him an even more imposing foreign adversary in the form of an 8-foot albino alien drug dealer who lands in Houston (of course) and embarks on a human killing spree. At first this big bad mother from another planet seems like an avenging dark angel, eviscerating a group of yuppie gangsters who just wasted Dolph's partner, but it turns out the alien just needs to steal heroin from these guys so he can inject it into his victims, thus producing an explosion of endorphins which he then depletes with a nasty looking endorphin extractor. As it so happens endorphins are premium product in whatever galaxy he comes from and his mission, if successful, will result in wave after wave of similarly unstoppable extraterrestrial lowlifes coming to Earth to cheaply harvest those sweet sweet peptides once the word's out on "the street." I guess they'll all have to luck out and score a giant batch of heroin upon their arrival like ol' Talec (the alien's name according to the credits, never mentioned onscreen*) or target tread mills around the globe to take advantage of exercise nuts excreting endorphins during a runner's high.

Aliens have always been the ultimate cinematic corruptors from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Jack Sholder's The Hidden (which would make a great double feature with ICIP), and Talec is the Earth tourist from hell. He only knows two things: destruction on an apocalyptic scale, and the ironic catchphrase "I come in peace," his standard greeting to those he's about to relieve of their precious endorphins. Talec's use of this false assurance, stemming from a pop cultural staple emblematic of American optimism for a future of universal peace and unity, is thankfully never explained by any of the characters or, god forbid, a terrible scene where after Talec's just landed and happens to glance at a TV playing some old sci fi B-movie and picks up the phrase from the film's alien visitor. His only other line, in the last scene, is "I win!" which he states very clearly and in the proper context, so he must understand enough English to know what he's saying. He couldn't say "I come in peace" to catch people off-guard: more often than not he says it after he's already subdued his victim, or as he's sucking him dry. No, the implication seems to be that a shifty, colorless, leather-clad foreigner will come bearing glad tidings and offers of peace and then it's all killer flying discs and non-consensual lumbar punctures, his subversive adapting of the term "I come in peace" a perversion of one of our most iconic commodities like an 8-foot albino KAWS painting. The pattern of Talec's killings is seemingly random: at first it seems like he's going after anyone with a gun Predator-style, but soon his list of endorphin suppliers vary in age, race and sex as if the very concept of multiple cultures in a single country is a detestable tenet that should be eradicated - all for the sake of drug trafficking, itself an import from areas outside the U.S. (and now from beyond the stars.) This cosmic dilla has to be dealt with and sent home - in pieces!

So Dolph gets cowboy'd up as a cop named Caine and rises up to exact some biblical vengeance on this intergalactic Goliath. It does have to be pointed out that his revenge is somewhat misguided, since Talec didn't technically kill his partner, who - despite holding an MBA from the University of Suck My Dick - isn't smart enough to realize when his cover's been blown and gets executed by a drug gang while Dolph's busy thwarting an unrelated violent crime happening at the same time (you know how Houston is.) I'd say Dolph, who no doubt identified with the role of the invading foreigner he would have been playing not a year or two earlier, made a subconscious decision to go after the alien to assuage the guilt over not being there for his partner, but Caine is so clearly into himself - and with good cause. He's not a greasy, unshaven shell of his former self like Sly in Cobra, Eastwood in The Gauntlet or Rourke in any movie of his from the last 20 years: he's impeccably clean and put-together, a trend Dolph would continue in Showdown in Little Tokyo that would go on to inspire good grooming and presentable hygiene in modern action stars like the typically dapper Statham (and this was coming off The Punisher, in which you could practically smell the sewer coming off Dolph from the screen.) Still, his new partner, FBI agent Brian Benben, criticizes Dolph's "particular look," which is no more than a suede jacket over a black dress shirt (occasionally unbuttoned) with an Elvis cut. All part of Dolph's new American image, complete with a spacious and clean bachelor pad that causes Benben to retract his earlier comment with an apologetic "I guess I figured you wrong." It's a great character moment for both of them, because it establishes that Dolph, although he may be distrustful of authority and just might play by his own rules more often than the rules of others, has his shit together while Benben is a superficial consumer who judges people by their wine collection. Later on, he hogs a confiscated alien gun like it's his new Christmas toy nobody else is allowed to play with.

Which makes sense since the movie takes place during the holiday season, as aggressively established in the opening scene where a guy listening to Christmas music in his car gets angry when the cd skips, skids into a Christmas tree lot, then exits the vehicle and angrily pronounces "Merry fucking christmas!" to himself. The Christmas music continues throughout the film and one victim is shown watching It's a Wonderful Life on tv while drinking egg nog, but none of this yuletide joy seems at all relevant to the plot itself. So why set it at Christmas, besides the obvious parallels between the visiting alien and notorious endorpin pusher Santa Claus? Because of Die Hard of course! Die Hard had set the bar for all action movies of the late 80's and throughout the 90's, so if a movie wasn't about a bedraggled law enforcement agent standing up to a team of terrorists in a set location or moving vehicle, it had to tap into that DH formula some other way. In its defense however, the action in I Come in Peace - like Action Jackson and Stone Cold before it - is just as impressively directed as anything in the Die Hard films and other more respectable Hollywood fare. Baxley's Holy Trilogy is a milestone in the guiltlessly pleasurable Guns, Girls** and Explosions brand of excessive action cinema because Baxley is so game to go beyond the top. For example, the opening crime is a bunch of guys disguising themselves as cops and heisting drugs from the evidence room (a cool idea!) who, after walking out of the station scot-free, blow up the entire building as "a little insurance." And these aren't even the main villains - that would be the giant alien with a weapon that can be best described as an "explosion gun." Literally, every time he fires the area turns into a raging inferno of detonations. The violent urban environment, where two crimes are going down simultaneously in any given part of town, is ideal for this destructive space invader, and it's notable that Baxley's movie pre-dated Predator 2 by a couple months, making it the original excessive contemporary action movie/sci fi hybrid (Baxley directed second unit on the original Predator.) It's also worth mentioning that, although ICIP came out Terminator, it was ahead of T2 and the overall feel of the movie and beats of the action scenes seem to anticipate where Cameron would take his series into the new decade.

Of course Dolph's memorable response to Talec's title catchphrase, a quip made after he escapes being brain-raped by the heroin-dispensing space tube, is a celebrated classic that the trailer couldn't help but ruin for everybody. Even folks who've never had the fortune of seeing the movie know the "you go in pieces, asshole" line, but those who've missed out have never heard Dolph's equally terrific, climactic slam "Fuck you, spaceman!" The snappy one-liners aren't the only cliché the movie manages to make its own: the straight-laced partner scheme also works a lot better than it should. Benben is a weenie, but he's not always wrong: sometimes Dolph's beloved instincts aren't appropriate to the current situation and more formal procedures are in fact called for. He's obnoxious, but he could be worse - he at least listens to maxims for the Caine Manual such as "Never trust nobody" without correcting Dolph's grammar. And his reactions to these colossal spacemen with sour cream for blood who spontaneously combust when they die are never less than priceless. I used to think Benben made some kind of deal with Satan to pull the stunning Madeleine Stowe, but this movie convinced me that there may have been some amount of charm utilized in his conquest. He and Dolph have great chemistry, with nice back-and-forths like "I'm a team player!" "Well your team sucks." Benben's no Danny Glover, but he's a step above an intelligent German Shepherd or sass-talkin' dinosaur. By the time we cut to the freeze frame and Shooting Star's "Touch Me Tonight" seals the union of these two mismatched alien-besting buddy cops for eternity, Benben has learned to be a little looser and Dolph has become a certified defender of America and the entire goddamn planet.

* Michael J Pollard also plays a character named Boner - can't remember if they call him that in the movie or not.

** Actually the girl in ICIP isn't too hot and feels a bit arbitrary to the goings-on. She's played by Betsy Brantley, Jessica Rabbit's body double and the former Mrs. Steven Soderbergh. She does have a good line aimed at Dolph's unreliable boyfriend of a cop: "This time when you had me wondering if you were dead or alive, I was kind of rooting for dead." Ouch! Wonder if she ever used that one on Soderbergh?

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Friday, August 17, 2012


Up to this moment I didn't think myself & Paul Cooney agreed on ANYTHING movie-related which is funny because I honestly thought we'd hit it off once we finally met. But ever since I met him it seems like all we do is disagree on everything from Miami Vice & Ghost Dog to Jason Statham & Ryan Gosling. Actually I think the only thing we have in common with each other is our love for Akinyele. But not anymore. As it turns out we both share the same love for the classic Carl Weathers film; Action Jackson. I know Carl Weathers isn't part of the Expendables team but with films like THIS, Predator and Rocky 1-4 under his belt, it goes without saying that he's an Expendables alum.


Detroit! City of not so broad shoulders, the Paris of Nowhere, the mistake that's not necessarily on a lake, long derided as a burnt out hellhole...but when it comes to cinema, when it comes to a places in which to make motion pictures-it is the pinnacle, the apex, the Dolph Lundgren of metropoli! What is my proof? Who the fuck are you to ask! But if you must know, I submit to you the twin pieces of perfection that are Robocop and Action Jackson. Based on those two titans of film alone it seems impossible for a movie made in Motown to be anything less than stupendous! In fact, Hollyweird would be well served doing shot for shot remakes of every classic ever made, but this time setting them in Detroit. Think about it! Do you think E.T. would have even wanted to go back to his crummy planet if he and Henry Thomas had been bicycling around the Motor City instead of nowhere USA? And I dare say those poor unfortunate Hebrews in Schindler's List would have stood a better chance of surviving had they been on Robocop's beat. No way that paragon of justice would have allowed a bummer like the Holocaust to go on for years unchecked!

I digress. The 80s! They were a simpler time were they not? Aids was fresh and exciting, Ron was drooling over Nancy, the Transformers were but cartoons and entirely LaBoeuf free. America wasn't perfect mind you, Duran Duran was running rampant, George Michael was setting ladies up for a devastating let down, and Patrick Dempsey was playing nerds and shitting on houses instead of being his McDreamiest. But at least we had Action Jackson!

Unlike me, director Craig R Baxley wastes no time with nonsense and gets right to the good stuff in the first minute: grenades, gunplay and violence against women . That trio might spoil your average Dora the Explorer episode but it's precisely what the discerning moviegoer during the "Me decade" was looking for. A bunch of long haired killers blast some suit wearing d-bag out a high rise window, turning him into a human fireball that falls 50 stories before crashing through a restaurant and landing, seared and ready to serve, amidst a crowd of screaming diners. Their meals may have been ruined but my appetite has been whetted -for more action! It's no surprise that Baxley went on to direct Stone Cold, clearly he's a true master of his craft.

Mac and cheese this movie is dynamite! As I'm recovering from that hot hot beginning the flick hits me with the opening theme, the Pointer Sisters, "He Turned Me Out". Girl power!

Biff from Back to the Future shows up as a cop with an exasperated black partner in what is clearly the inspiration for Lethal Weapon. Why didn't Biff get the role that later went to Mel Gibson? Racism, pure and simple.

Holy crap! Joel Silver produced this? The man responsible for Commando has another masterpiece on his resume. Somebody get my chisel! Teddy Roosevelt's coming down and Herr Silver is going up on Mt. Rushmore! (Hmmm I'm not sure I can fit that face in just one slot...I may have to bump Jefferson too)

Back to the movie...some innuendo passing as exposition reveals that Action Jackson was born after his mother was "molested by Bigfoot." A slanderous assertion against Bigfoot for sure, but entirely believable. It's not quite as menacing as being the bastard son of a thousand maniacs but close enough! They also speculate that he was created by NASA, which is federal funding we can all get behind. Am I right? I don't pay taxes, but if I did, I would write my congressman and tell that bureaucrat to funnel my fundage straight to the Jason Bourne/Action Jackson super soldier programs.

Finally Carl Weathers himself appears onscreen, in all his glistening glory, mustache in bloom and its power surpassed only by the mountains majesty that are his pecs! I'll let everyone pause and contemplate the absolute bullshit that was Rocky II. There is no way a pint sized ally of the Taliban like Sly Stallone could ever beat Apollo Creed!

Bill Duke, clearly jealous of Weathers' magnificence, bellows as the stupid chief who wants Jackson to play by the rules, even if it compromises results! Whatever chief! A whole bunch of exposition happens and we learn that in addition to having gone to Harvard Law and being well on his way to becoming president, Jax was demoted from Lieutenant to Sergeant after he busted the pervert son of auto titan and all around dick Craig T. Nelson.

Well done screenwriter...I already hated Nelson on account of his eyebrows, but now you tell me he's spawning rapists? I double dog hate him!

Duke delays the death dealing by ordering Jackson to behave himself at a fancypants shindig set up to honor Nelson as Man of the Year or some shit. Jackson keeps it cool at first, but then heats it up by flirting with a not yet decrepit Sharon Stone, who happens to be married to Craig T. Oooo! Hot grits on the stove- things are sizzling now! When Jackson makes a crack to Craig T. about his son being anally violated in prison he officially becomes the life of the party. Well done Weathers!

After the festivities we see someone harpooned and a boat explodes. This movie has it all! And what a cast...the amazing assemblage of talent grows even more spectacular when the limo driver from Die Hard makes an appearance, playing a character named Clovis. Clovis! How ridiculous is that? Hello what's this? Action Jackson's first name is Jericho! Wow. I'm tempted to change my pet turtle's name to either Clovis or Jericho...Clovico?

A debate for cineastes the world over is ignited when we see a commercial for Dellaplane auto company's Halley-the hot, hotter, hottest car on the market! Is it better than Robocop's 5000 Sux? Test drive alert!

OMG! Vanity! America's sweetheart finally graces the screen with her unique brand of smoldering slutitude. Caramba! She's not singing Nasty Girl, but she is wearing a purple dress which must have been an ode to Prince, and her nipples are protruding which surely is an ode to awesome. She slinks over to a seated Craig T. after finishing her tune and says, "I expected a standing ovation."

T rejoins, "You're getting one." Zing scwhing! Houston, we have a boner!

T and Vanity split the club and she whines about wanting some heroin and a record deal. When he asks for two reasons why he should help her she pulls down her dress and exposes her boobies. What a compelling argument! Dress open and case closed! She lays back on the bed and Nelson whips it out...a jewel case containing a "girl's best friend"- sweet heroin! Vanity has never looked happier. Thankfully Baxley has enough sense as a director to cut away from the scene after the injection. (not that kind of injection you perverts). T pushes the needle in but we are spared her further degradation and are left to imagine that hateful man defiling her cocoa loveliness. I always close my eyes at this scene just in case a director's cut exists that shows Craig T. actually touching her. Omg, I can't believe it, the 'star' of Coach with Vanity?? Stop, drop and roll! My eyes are on fire!

If I may digress for a moment I'd like to note that among the great tragedies of the 20th century: genocide, World War I, Cop Rock, etc. the worst of all was Vanity discovering Jesus and becoming a born again virgin. What madness is this? Why would the Cleopatra of ho's throw away her genius for smut and abandon her unparallelled sleazy allure? It's like if Bach abandoned the harpsichord so he could play the spoons full time. Will their ever be another Vanity? I doubt it. And thus we can concede the 21st century's race to debasement to the Chinese, who have absolutely no qualms about using sex appeal and have never even heard of Jesus. What an amazing advantage.

Where was I? Ooo Craig T. vents his rage through some martial arts as one of the hoods from Die Hard looks on! Why is T. so angry? He drives a sweet car, lives in a mansion, rails Sharon Stone and molests Vanity on the side. Look on the bright side little camper! You got a lot going for you! What's the lesson boys and girls? Crime pays.

Speaking of crimes, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the rare mistep from auteur extraordinaire Craig R Baxley. Though he graces the audience with a gratuitous shot of Sharon Stone's boobs as she relaxes in the sauna, he lets her don a towel, whereas a true master like Verhoeven insisted she go the extra mile, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

After her shower she joins Jackson for drinks in the afternoon. (alcoholics?) Their daytime dalliance is interrupted when a rather clumsy attempt is made on Jackson's life via a side swipe by a runaway taxi. WTF! We saw three elaborate hits earlier featuring rappelling, grenade launching, harpoon attacks and suitcase bombs fastened to wrists with handcuffs, all to kill out-of-shape middle-aged white guys, but when it comes time to put bad-ass personified Action Jackson out of commission the plan is to hit the gas and try and clip him as he crosses the street? Do you really think your fender has a chance against his thunder thighs? Wait a I going to do it? Yes, I'm calling bullshit. Bullshit has been called!

Jackson dodges the taxi like it was the limp wristed punch thrown by that mumbling idiot Rocky, and then shows off his high school track skills by chasing down the speeding cab on foot! Totally amazeballs. If twitter had been around that would have trended for sure. #blackmancatchescab

Back to Vanity! She sings another terrible song but makes up for it by wearing a sheer dress and I enjoy her breasts. While I'm ruminating on her beauty Sharon Stone pokes her little nose into Craig T's bizness, upsetting him to the extent that he gives her the kiss of death, all literal like, bellowing a psychotic, "I LOVE YOU!" as he sucks her face and pumps a bullet through her chest. Boom! Not even Billy Baldwin can save you now Sharon!

In an scene that is even more shocking and harrowing, Jackson bursts into Vanity's dressing room unannounced and discovers her...fully dressed! Oh the disappointment! A golden opportunity to showcase more of her lovely tawny body is missed, and my sadness is overwhelming. Happily things perk up when she shoots up and Jax quips, "You wouldn't by any chance be diabetic?"

No chance! Oh Vanity, you sure play a strung out sexpot well. I wonder where she studied acting.

Jackson and Vanity take a drive through beautiful downtown Detroit. As I admire her cleavage she opines on life, "Honey, romance is where you find it, and I find it wherever and whenever I can." Take that Buddha! You've just been rendered irrelevant you chubby fuck!

Jax wants to squirrel dear Vanity away before Nelson can kill her so he takes her to a really sleazy hotel that is perfect for her. The manager is the dude from Weird Science who said "in the family jewels?" and he chortles while watching Dino bite Fred Flintstone. Vanity mistakes him for Jou Louis and thereby works her way further into my heart.

Once ensconced in the room Jax wants to have a serious talk, but all Vanity wants to do is fuck. He gets all serious about her heroin use and asks, "Why do you do it?"

"What else is there?" Mmm existentialist philosophy emanating from that lustful little frame! You got me convinced Vanity! What else is there indeed? Somebody pass me a needle!

She's had enough of the jibber jabber and finally puts the question we've all be waiting for to Jackson, "One more chance, wanna fuck?"

Incredibly, he has morals or something and turns her down. The next morning she ponders the reasons why he didn't ravage her in all her trashy glory, "Fine looking woman like me and you don't even touch me all night? You either gotta be queer or a cop."

Why not both? Is Action Jackson America's first queer supercop? Stay tuned!

When he tells her, "Dellaplane owns you", she counters with, "He rents me." (Hmm can we get a price check on that?)

Moving along! Once again Jackson finds himself in a bar in the middle of the afternoon and I'm becoming convinced he has a drinking problem. The bartender is one of the henchmen from Commando, the dude Arnold kills on the plane and then quips to the stewardess that he's "dead tired". Lol! Arnold!

Jackson is shown some testicles in a mason jar and in moments we find our hero at the mercy of a crew of cuthroats, (cutscrots?), who say stuff like, "Take a Tom Slick like you and have a blanket party."

I have no idea what that means but it reminds me of my days as a boy scout, memories I long to block out out despite the entreaties of my therapist to share. I don't like blankets!! Leave me alone!!

Holy shit it's Branscombe Richmond! He's about to cut Jackson up til Vanity smolders her way through some improv and saves the day. What a team!

In a bizarre diversion, Jackson winds up at the salon of some chick named Dee, who's trademark is using words with D in them. It's as awesome as it sounds and not the least bit irritating or ridiculous. She even says "defenestration", (foreshadow alert), and refers to Jackson as "indefatigable".

Suddenly I have visions of Jackson teaming up with Horatio Hornblower and tussling with Napoleon mano a mano. Mismatch! That portly little Corsican wouldn't stand a chance!

Whoa! A more fearsome adversary than Napoleon appears, Billy Bear from 48 Hours and Predator in a silver Detroit Lions jacket, and he's pushing smack on Vanity! Weathers to the rescue. After a brawl highlighted by Billy Bear's psychotic grin and propensity for foul language, Jackson quits playing games and defenestrates him! (The window budget on this movie must have been astronomical.)

Let's skip ahead to Vanity's cleavage cause it is probably the most compelling character in the picture. What are its hopes? Joys? Dreams? Does it recoil in horror at the thought of Vince Neil?

Jackson has a plan to end T's shenanigans once and for all, and it naturally involves using Vanity's copious sex appeal as bait. She slinks into a dive bar and passes two burnt out barfly wastrels on the way to her mark- generic business looking dude. He turns from his whiskey to ogle her, and after drinking her in asks, "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"

After absorbing his leer she rejoins, "I'm not that nice."

AWESOME! Omg...when Steve Jobs reanimates himself and frees Walt Disney from his frozen death chamber, and the two of them work in concert to make the tv in which the viewer can actually meld with the screen and join in on the action, this is the first scene I will meld with! "I'm not that nice"! That's when I appear, with cash in my pocket and malice in my briefs, ready to see just how "not nice" Vanity is! Hurry up and get alive again Jobs! The I-meld. (TM) Make it happen! I want to defile Vanity in a bar full of skels!

While I'm dreaming of Vanity things are starting to look bleak for our man Jackson. Nelson captures him, chains him up, (shirtless of course), and then plays the Bond villain role to a Craig T. (LOL!), revealing all his plans, including confessing to a slew of murders and murders to be. (This in full view of his many many henchmen as well...ummm I don't want to tell a murderous power hungry egomaniac how to do his job but you might want to keep a few secrets! Those henchmen are loyal now but everybody has their price. That reminds me, have we gotten word on what Vanity's price is? Should I get a Kickstarter fund going for that?)

Our hero is helpless as Craig T. taunts him, revealing himself to be a world class meanie and racist in addition to being an all around bad guy. Jackson stays calm cool and collected as T recounts his many misdeeds, until Nelson suddenly ups the evil ante and says that he's going to kill Vanity, but not before he "fucks her one last time." Noooooooooooooooooooo! It's one thing to scheme, and plot, and murder a bunch of less tawny and beautiful nobodies, but to make this threat is going too far! Jackson finally abandons his cavalier air and reacts with fury, jerking his chains...(hmmm he really did. He jerked his chains. I suppose there's another way to phrase that but in any case they were fastened pretty well I guess and he couldn't get out...)

Anyhoo, after instructing his boys to kill Jackson, Craig T. leaves. Haha! T leaves! Why doesn't he stick around for another, oh, 3 minutes and see his nemesis killed? Ummm, he's busy? Evil doesn't take an hour off!

Of course his bungling henchmen botch Jackson's murder and he is freed, with some rather inexplicable help from Vanity's rotund bodyguard. Where the fuck did he come from? In another odd moment, Jackson then shows up at Nelson's murder party without a disguise. Isn't he worried Nelson and his henchmen are going to recognize him? Why did he bring the old guy and the bellhop? Who the fuck is taking care of the hotel guests??

While I'm contemplating these ridiculous things Jackson proceeds to kill a sniper by pulling on some lights...wft? He yanked on some lights? This movie may be running out of steam. Hello what's this? Vanity cries for help! Go Jackson go! He hops in a Dellaplane Hottest and drives it right up a fucking staircase! Amazeballs! He continues his in house vehicular rampage and speeds through the doors to Nelson's bedroom, smashing them open and charging inside! (Good thing Vanity wasn't near the door).

Jackson spies Nelson, who is inexplicably still hellbent on killing Vanity instead of rushing to his waiting chopper and escaping. The game is up Craig T! You should have split, but it's too late now fuckface! Cornered and desperate, T. takes Vanity as a hostage... but wait! He abandons his plan and releases her, challenging Jackson to a one on one, hand to hand fight to the finish instead! What an honorable move! He just won my respect.

Our hero hesitates, suspecting some sort of trap, and Vanity urges him to shoot the now unarmed Craig T. (Not nice Vanity! Oh wait, she plainly stated earlier that she was, in fact, "not that nice". Way to stay in character Vanity!)

They fight, some more glass is broken, Vanity decides not to get involved and leaves her vagina's future in the hands of fate...when fate intervenes and Nelson's guts are splattered all over his wall! It's a happy ending and I'm all ready to break out the marshmallows and the weenies to celebrate when hello what's this? Weathers has been shot too! Ahhh not to worry, much like Dolph in Showdown in Little Tokyo, bullets are no match for pecs of steel and the wound requires zero medical attention. Like none at all. I mean neither he nor Vanity even looks at it closely. There is scarcely a drop of blood is what I'm trying to say!

Bill Duke inexplicably shows up even though the 911 call couldn't have happened more then 2 minutes ago, but before he can answer for that mystery he changes the subject by promoting Jackson on the spot! Take that Axel Foley! You've just been usurped as the Motor City's premier supercop! Go back to discussing cheese plates with Bronson Pinchot you poseur!

Vanity adds to the festive mood by proudly stating that she has kicked heroin cold turkey... in just under a day! Hooray! She then offers her body up to Jackson on the spot in lieu of Thanksgiving dinner and he sensibly accepts. Bon appetit!

Has there ever been a greater triumph? Our man Jackson saves the day and basks in the glow of the always scintillating and never wholesome Vanity. Revel in it mon ami! Live each day contented, knowing that you starred in what's easily the best darn police picture this side of Robocop. I like it!

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Now that Van Damme is in the Expendables that makes Steven Seagal the #1 missing link in the ensemble cast. To emphasize how much his presence is missing from the Expendables, Matt Reddick is back with a Seagal double feature.


Out For Justice                                                                                  Marked For Death
Cheers, welcome to my first Steven Seagal movie! Seriously, I never saw one. I chose this at random. I did finish it but it seemed to slow to a crawl. I never really got into this and I started to drift off and wonder how such a simple movie can become a bad one. The plot was stretched out way to long. It basically comes down to a 90 minute chase scene. Revenge for adultery, really? It does have a few interesting elements, such as Dominic Chianese (aka “Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano”) and Jerry “don’t-bullshit-him!” Orbach. Gina Gershon gets a shout-out here as well. Seagal has an obvious weakness with acting, so I am confused as to why he decided to do an Eye-talian meathead. No offense to Italian-Americans, but is there anything easier to mock than a mobster/wiseguy? Youfuckinkiddinme?! To make it worse, he has WAY too much dialogue. It takes away from the urgency. William Forsythe, a personal favorite, was hard to watch. He just can’t pull off a mobster, especially one who is a psychotic crackhead. His fight last way longer than it should. I really just shook my head at how sloppy a movie can become. Most of the fight scenes had too many close-ups and it made the action look slower.

Bummer: 1.5/5

Marked for Death is a much more balanced and effective film that works well within its genre limitations. Or you could say it kicks ass with the other yet-to-be-nicknamed style of action movies from the 90s. It’s excellently paced with solid direction and editing. The opening scene (featuring Danny Trejo with a face still rough but not scarred yet) sets the tone of the film: gunfire, chases and karate. Half naked women and a pretty decent soundtrack also compliment the movie and present it as a snapshot of the times. It may be anecdotal, but I seem to remember seeing more porn stars in cameos back around this time (a tradition that I insist must be continued). I also remember enjoying soundtracks to movies I never saw or even heard of, featuring all different styles (such as Heaven’s Prisoners, Escape from L.A., Fresh (IIRC not one song was played in the movie!)). I haven’t really followed current music, so this could still be going on. An OST that features Mellow Man Ace, Tone Loc, Shabba Ranks, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff (performing as well) is outstanding. As for porn stars, I spotted Teri Weigel coking around with an arms dealer then scampering as the fighting breaks out (is there any other way for a porn star to exit?)To review the narrative, glossing over some details is acceptable. It doesn’t slow the story down too much by not explaining how the heroes transport heavy firearms into Jamaica or what was going on with a trap the villains set up. The latter scene involves Seagal being stopped by a road construction crew. Apparently they knew he would be pissed and go around, right into the waiting arms of a garbage truck and a frontloader! It still turns into a mildly suspenseful scene. Stupid movies become bad ones when they slow down. I barely had to check my watch to get a sense of where the movie was going, which is another strong point. There are a couple great car chase scenes as well, with a Ram Charger facing off against a BMW. I feel I have to bring up Seagal’s acting since it seems to be a criticism from most people. He was almost a total blank but I barely noticed his efforts. I’m not sure whether that’s good or not. I have to admit to being distracted by his face, since it looks like it was drawn by a MAD magazine artist. The standard requirement of one-liners was filled and there was only one WTF: “You can’t shoot me, I’m a made man!/ Only god made man.” There are no other Christian religious references, thankfully. That does lead me to another theme of the movie- ethnic exoticism. Santeria and Jamaican voodoo are featured heavily but only briefly described. I was worried at first that it would turn into a tour of those Others and exploit their culture. It seemed more an embellishment of the gang. As an option to show some balance, there is an undercover Jamaican cop who joins with them and an interesting introduction to downtown Kingston. Shot on location, it shows the two black characters investigating the gang leader’s location. There is also a news reporter and a disclaimer at the end explaining that gangs only make up about 1% of the Jamaican population, as a way of apologizing.

Overall, 3/5 but a great choice for action movie buffs.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012


Doug Frye, who's podcast you all should get familiar with, is one of only two people I consider worthy enough to write about something that has to do with Dolph Lundgren (John Cribbs, who's Expendables write-up should be coming eventually, is the other person). And given Doug's comic book knowledge it only makes him even MORE qualified to write about The Punisher - a lost gem from the late 80's that was ahead of it's time long before this explosion of so-called gritty/realistic comic book-based movies like; Batman Begins, Sin City or the recent Spiderman reboot.


Forget about the U.S. entering World War II being the only reason you aren’t speaking German right now—Dolph Lundgren is the reason you aren’t speaking Japanese right now. Beginning in 1989’s The Punisher, Lundgren entered a ten year war with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. He added the late Brandon Lee to his strike force in 1991’s Showdown in Little Tokyo, then came back to finish them in 1999’s Bridge of Dragons. I haven’t seen it, but I feel justified including it because it co-stars 1987-2002’s go-to Asian criminal mastermind, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who I assume is reprising his role from Showdown. I did minimal research to come up with this theory, but I feel confident in its eternal truth. It’s my feeling that Lundgren’s intensity of focus on defeating his enemy led to the oversight of a number of details that would have rounded out The Punisher into a masterpiece. This film is probably the first and only case of a comic book movie starring someone overqualified for the job. Dolph Lundgren is a super-rich karate champion and scientist: that’s not the Punisher—that’s Batman, which I am not entirely convinced that Lundgren is not. Just seeing his picture on the mantle scared a gang of criminals away from his home after they had broken in (Google it). Come to think of it, the way to strike fear into the heart of crime is to disguise yourself as Dolph-Lundgren-Man.

The main problem with the movie is its ludicrous cheapness. It’s so cheap that the costume department couldn’t even go to the Hot Topic in the mall to get a T-shirt with the Punisher’s signature skull logo. There were plenty of them available in 1989, even in Dolph Lundgren’s size. The casting seemed concerned more with its budget than its talent, too. The Mafia bosses were a collection of guys who should have played low-level goons at best. Jeroene Krabbe, who you might remember better as the goofy general villain from Timothy Dalton’s first doomed foray into the Bond franchise, The Living Daylights, just doesn’t work as a major villain. Especially when dressed in a freshly acid-washed denim jacket, his clothing of choice when going on a rescue mission.

Then, of course, there is the script.

Too many people know that the Punisher exists and too many people talk about it. The opening is a news broadcast about his exploits. This is one of the places where Punisher: War Zone went right, making Frank Castle the mysterious slasher in its horror film. Lou Gossett, Jr., sometimes dressed in Warren Beatty’s lemon yellow Dick Tracy trench coat, gets too much story for the lead character’s former partner, Jake, and Jake’s new partner exists to jam exposition in with both ham-fists. Frank has an alcoholic informant, a disgraced actor named Shakes (get it?), whom he leads around by the nose with a bottle of whisky. The Punisher is captured not once, not twice, but three times through the course of the film. He does very little of the killing that watch a Punisher movie for. His toughest opponent is the Yakuza’s female, white super-ninja (because every Asian criminal organization keeps a white super-ninja around for good measure)...

The script has too many Schwarzeneggeresque one-liners for a character as harsh and stoic as Frank Castle. I wondered if it wasn’t written with Arnold in mind by the end, though he probably would have turned it down for its lack of super-heroics. And he would have done so rightly.

For all of its flaws, though, the central plotline of the film is genius: Frank Castle hates the Mafia for gunning down his wife and kids, the Yakuza kidnap the Mafia’s children to gain influence in New York’s crime scene, and the Punisher puts his hatred of the Mafia aside to save children. It’s perfectly effective and allows Castle to become something greater than a murderer of murderers, a problem with writing his character. He rarely has anything at stake—he just kills and kills and kills. He doesn’t even really care if he lives or dies since he’s only living to kill. Suddenly, there is precious life to lose. This isn’t really explored deeply enough in the script, giving too much time to tertiary characters, and Castle’s got no real internal struggle with the decision to help the Mafia thanks to someone close to him being held until he agrees to join them. It’s too easy and robs the character of pathos.

I really dug this film as a teenager, but it just doesn’t hold up today. The Punisher could have been a much more complex film about the toll one pays when dedicating oneself to vengeance, or it could have been a The Outlaw Josey Wales­-styled story of an unstoppable killing machine of a man tearing his way across New York’s criminal underground, but instead it was neither. Largely, Frank Castle is borne on the tides of criminals, held and directed at their whims, and it between those times, he kills some people. Not enough people to be interesting, nor enough interesting people to make up for the lack of body count. The Punisher of this film lives in a Hogan’s Alley of pop-up criminals waiting to be gunned down, and adding some Japanese ones doesn’t make it better, just superficially more exotic. I just wish that Dolph Lundgren had added story editor to his long list of talents when this movie was made. Then we would have seen something.

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