Tuesday Wednesday, Daily Grinders! Welcome back to our weekly column on all the good, the bad, and the weird movies available for purchase in stores and online starting today yesterday. (I’m still working on wrapping this thing up in a timely fashion.) Apparently last week’s releases used up the majority of the available reservoir of awesomeness. There are still a couple really neat things out this week, but not nearly as many. Still, we’ll have some fun, as usual. So please, get to scrolling, and as always, if you feel like buying anything, you can click through the links provided!
LABOR DAY (2013)
Jason Reitman directs this story he adapted from Joyce Maynard’s novel, about a single mother (Kate Winslet) and her young son harbor a convict (Josh Brolin) who is on the run from the law. It’s a romantic drama. Now I haven’t seen this movie, so I can’t confirm or deny whether or not it’s what it very much appears to be: A prestige, action-free remake of NOWHERE TO RUN, the 1993 action flick starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Rosanna Arquette. Don’t force me to choose, because I’m going to go with the one that co-stars explosions.
GIMME SHELTER (2013)
Unfortunately opting to share a name with a much, much more famous film, this GIMME SHELTER is a smaller movie about a pregnant sixteen-year-old who runs away from an abusive mother in order to find her birth father. Not exactly an airless night at the movies. Haven’t seen it, but it has a great cast, including Rosario Dawson, who I love (how could you not?), James Earl Jones, and Ann Dowd, who was so incredible in COMPLIANCE. I also think Vanessa Hudgens is a talented actress — you might argue that SPRING BREAKERS isn’t adequate proof of such an assertion, since it was such an unusual and specific venture, but I’ve also seen her do well in movies that weren’t all worth as much effort as she put in, such as SUCKER PUNCH, THE FROZEN GROUND, and MACHETE KILLS. So you can’t count anyone out. I’m only troubled that we’re now at a point where people are casting Rosario Dawson to play Vanessa Hudgens’ mother.
THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014)
We love Renny Harlin here. Some of the films he directed are PRISON, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE, DIE HARD 2, CLIFFHANGER, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, and DEEP BLUE SEA. He makes vigorous, humorous, attractive action cinema, and he has gotten great work out of many of the most talented action cinematographers around (i.e. Oliver Wood, Alex Thomson, Guillermo Navarro). On THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, Renny has Sam McCurdy, who shot the highly entertaining CENTURION for Neil Marshall. Like CENTURION, THE LEGEND OF HERCULES is an energetic patchwork of inspirations — a little GLADIATOR here, a bunch of THUNDERDOME there, a surprising amount of ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, even a sprinkle of BATMAN by the end. The title character is played by Kellan Lutz, best known for some role in the TWILIGHT movies (I can’t help you there), who has been a substantial enough physical presence in little-known movies like ARENA and JAVA HEAT but is also kind of hilarious. He’s more Disney’s Hercules than Steve Reeves — it’s not totally clear if Kellan Lutz can even grow a beard. Like the Steve Reeves movies, though, this HERCULES is an actual B-picture in the classical sense of the term: a genre effort by a top-flight director with second-tier stars. One of them won’t be second-tier for long: I’m a big fan of Scott Adkins, the stuntman and rising action star who plays the snarling villain in this flick. He’s a lot of fun here, barking and hollering at Kellan Lutz’s Hercules while Lutz, reliably under-expressive, just kind of smirks back. More importantly, and as can be expected from a Renny Harlin film, the action scenes enliven the picture. This time out, there’s a little too much CGI and speed-ramping in the mix, but there’s still some good stuff to see, such as an epic nighttime battle in the rain. My favorite bits were Hercules’ battle with a lion the size of an elephant, and the celestial sex scene where a woman has intercourse with a god. Considering this is a PG-13, there’s actually more unusual love-making than most R-rated action movies these days. Look, I know it’s not for everyone, but I had fun with THE LEGEND OF HERCULES in the theater and you’ll probably have fun with it at home.
OUR VINYL WEIGHS A TON: THIS IS STONES THROW RECORDS (2013)
Run by the DJ and producer known as Peanut Butter Wolf, Stones Throw is an independent hip-hop label which has released records from some of the most talented musicians the genre has seen over the last twenty years. Madvillainy, the collaboration album between MF DOOM and the producer Madlib, was one of the label’s major successes, as was J Dilla’s Donuts two years later. Donuts is one of the most influential and artistically important hip-hop records of the past decade, and a personal favorite. J Dilla, born James Yancey, was an underground hero whose beats were prized by connoisseurs. I imagine that’s what Questlove and Common (and probably Kanye) will talk a lot about on this documentary, as personal friends and fans of the late producer, who unfortunately passed away far too young, three days after Donuts was released. Stones Throw re-issued Donuts last year (buy it!), and if only for that they have given the world plenty. Factor in albums and singles by artists such as Flying Lotus, Aloe Blacc, Quasimoto, Mayer Hawthorne, Breakestra, Talib Kweli, Seu Jorge, and Guilty Simpson, and you have more than enough to talk about — and listen to — for two hours.
DEVIL’S DUE (2014)
From what I gather, this is some blend of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST. It’s a found-footage movie. None of that sounds particularly enticing to me — too much margin for error. DEVIL’S DUE is far more famous for its promotional clip featuring an animatronic baby terrorizing unsuspecting civilians. Great. If YouTube numbers impressed me, maybe I’d give a shit about Justin Bieber too. When a trailer looks that unpleasant, I guess it’s better to go with a prank that has almost nothing to do with the movie in order to lure people. The Shyamalan-esque twist, of course, is that DEVIL’S DUE would have been a hit if you could charge theater prices for YouTube page views. I’m being a jerk. This just isn’t my thing. This and Meryl Streep movies.
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (2013)
This is a much more irresistible marketing hook — a guerrilla filmmaking gambit conducted entirely at Walt Disney World without permits. Shot in black-and-white, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW details one terrible day in the life of a family man whose sanity begins to fracture, though some of his hallucinations seem to have a disturbing basis in reality. My respected colleague here at Daily Grindhouse was disappointed by the movie, but I’m still curious enough to see for myself. Those last eight are famous last words that I have used many times over. I die a lot.
GAMERA: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION, VOLUMES 1 & 2
Jesus Christ, who could need this much Gamera? Don’t get me wrong, Gamera is a gargantuan radioactive fire-breathing turtle and I love him, but seriously, there are only so many hours in a life. It’s enough to keep up with Godzilla and all his pals without having to keep track of the off-brand model. Coca-Cola has damaged my dental structure enough without adding Pepsi to my diet. But if you want it, here it is, eight films over two volumes. Gamera will be back in THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S.
THE DEMONS (1973)
Anybody with more experience with the films of Jess Franco able to tell me if there is any way on earth this movie could be remotely as metal as that cover art is?
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (2010)
An invitation from a friend led me to a screening of SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO when it played in 2012 at New York’s Japan Society. It was interesting for several reasons, foremost being I don’t often get the chance to come at a fandom from the perspective of a total outsider. Favoring vigilante thrillers and monster movies, I’m a clueless outsider to very many modern pop culture phenomena — Twilight, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Star Trek, My Little Pony, ad infinitum — but at least I have varying degrees of awareness of the properties. When it comes to anime, I know virtually nothing. I did not have any familiarity whatsoever with the animated Space Battleship Yamato series from the 1970s, nor have I seen any of the animated features or revivals. I’d never heard of it, period. Ugly American, maybe. Because even a cursory internet search reveals that this series was a centerpiece of its genre, and in fact the live-action SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO movie was a sizable hit overseas. I imagine for that audience it’s something like the Marvel movies are over here. And it’s just as entertaining! This is grand-scale Hollywood-style mainstream filmmaking. Sometimes it resembles STARSHIP TROOPERS more than a more straight-faced example, but to me that’s a virtue not a demerit. This SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO movie takes place in outer space, where humanity has sought refuge after Earth has been rendered unlivable from an attack by the warlike aliens called the Gamilas. The titular battleship represents a last-ditch effort to find technology that can make Earth livable again. The newest recruit is an upstart who has had a chip on his shoulder ever since his hero brother died in battle against the Gamilas (very PACIFIC RIM). He has friction with the ship’s captain, who, true to the original cartoon and somewhat hilariously to these Western eyes, constantly wears a ship captain’s hat, as if the Yamato were the Love Boat. Concurrent with PACIFIC RIM, the protagonist even has a love interest with the surname Mori, a fierce pilot played by an actress named Meisa Kuroki. She has kind of a Japanese Olivia Wilde thing going on, which is something to see. SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO is fun to watch even if, like me, you have absolutely no foreknowledge of the property. The truth is, you’ve probably seen plenty of movies like it already. It’s not as deliriously enjoyable as a movie like THE AVENGERS, but I could still name plenty of American sci-fi action movies it’s got beat. [Names have been removed to protect the guilty.]
** PICK OF THE WEEK **
THE WIND AND THE LION (1975)
Netflix recently put up the John Milius tribute documentary, called MILIUS, strangely enough, and it’s an excellent primer in case you are a deprived person who is unfamiliar with the works of this uniquely American character. The documentary features testimonials from almost everybody who’s mattered in movies over the last thirty years: Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, George Lucas, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, and Charlie Sheen, to name a few. Milius has been a minor fascination of mine for several years (I explained why here), mostly because anyone who calls himself a “Zen anarchist” is someone I’m going to hear out. A central figure in the film-school generation of the 1970s, Milius contributed scripts and ideas to films as important as JAWS and APOCALYPSE NOW, and his filmography as a director is one of the most excellently weird you’ll find: DILLINGER, THE WIND AND THE LION, BIG WEDNESDAY, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and RED DAWN, to name a selected few. A period crime film, a historical epic, a surfing picture, a comic-book fantasy, and a teen survivalist action film — all of those disparate ideas from the same guy. I could be remembering wrong, but I think it’s Randall Kleiser, a contemporary of Milius who is best known for directing GREASE, who says in the documentary that THE WIND AND THE LION is the most purely ‘John Milius’ out of all of them. Milius is enamored of military history, imperialism, and American adventuring. He worshiped Theodore Roosevelt, who is in fact a character in THE WIND AND THE LION. Sean Connery plays a Moroccan freedom fighter — a bit of casting not quite as strange as THE CONQUEROR casting John Wayne as Genghis Khan, another historical inspiration for Milius — who steals away an American woman (Candace Bergen) and her two children which eventually results in Roosevelt sending a squadron of soldiers to rescue them. It’s intriguing that the star role, the most charismatic figure, is the story’s antagonist. He’s not really a villain, and eventually Roosevelt comes to see him as kind of a kindred spirit. Part of that is due to the character being directly based on an actual person, Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni. Milius did plenty of research, a passion of his, and set out to replicate the historical epics of the past — LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is an obvious point of reference. I would have assumed THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING was also an influence, particularly because its director, John Huston, appears in THE WIND AND THE LION, but both films were released in the same year. That’s either confluence or a clue to there being more of a story to investigate. I’d better make like Milius and research it further. Anyway, most film enthusiasts of my generation came to Milius through his more florid films like CONAN or RED DAWN. THE WIND AND THE LION is sort of advanced-Milius-studies, despite having been made earlier than those two films. It hasn’t always been easy to see lately, but Warner Archives has generously made it available, so this is a prime opportunity.
IL SORPASSO (1962)
Here we come to the Italian comedy genre, with which I am generally unfamiliar. I could talk to you about Italian Westerns and Italian crime films and Italian horror movies all day, but when it comes to the comedies, well, that’s why we’re so lucky to have the Criterion Collection. IL SORPASSO is one of the reputed highlights of the movement known as commedia all’italiana, which supposedly began with 1958’s BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET. Now that one I actually have seen! Directed by Mario Monicelli and co-written by the screenwriting duo Age & Scarpelli (who contributed to THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY), BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET is a comedic heist film which features Claudia Cardinale in a supporting role, and now you have a major clue as to why I’ve seen it. IL SORPASSO‘s director and co-writer, Dino Risi, was one of the more prolific comedy directors of the era. It’s an odd-couple road comedy starring the excellently named Vittorio Gassman (BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (THE GREAT SILENCE), with a score by the late Riz Ortolani. By all accounts it’s a bold, tone-hopping classic and now, thanks to Criterion, you can watch it in the comfort of your own home!
HALLUCINATION STRIP (1975)
HALLUCINATION STRIP is a poliziotteschi film newly released by Raro Video, who have been doing a bang-up job making available great films like Fernando Di Leo’s crime films, for example. Poliziotteschi films were the Italian crime movies of the 1960s and the 1970s that I alluded to earlier. No, I can’t tell you about generally bloodless art films like IL SORPASSO but I have seen plenty of the cop films of the time, which, like the “spaghetti” Westerns were often more graphic than their American counterparts, and starred real-deal tough guys like Charles Bronson, Franco Nero, Henry Silva, and Oliver Reed. This one, however, is notable for starring young Bud Cort, the lovable scamp from HAROLD & MAUDE! It’s his follow-up movie to that one, in fact. HALLUCINATION STRIP is the one and only film from its director and co-writer, Lucio Marcaccini, and if you watch the trailer, you’ll see why the word “hallucination” and the word “strip” constitute the title. Looks amazing. You’ve got a review of this one coming up on Daily Grindhouse very soon, so keep an eye out. But if there are women and children around, please put the eye back in. Come on, it’s just good manners.
SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982)
Aw, hell. I’m not the guy you call on for any serious conversation about a Meryl Streep movie. I’d happily write about the 1970s thrillers of SOPHIE’S CHOICE director Alan J. Pakula (i.e. KLUTE, THE PARALLAX VIEW, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN), and the cinematography of Nestor Almendros on DAYS OF HEAVEN, or even the scores of Marvin Hamlisch. But like I said earlier, Meryl Streep just ain’t my thing. I guess it’s best I turned down that staff position at MerylStreep.com in favor of taking on this column, where I can quickly move along to the next zombie movie…
DEAD SHADOWS (2012)
DEAD SHADOWS is a French apocalyptic thriller with monsters and zombies. As you can see from the cover art, the zombies go to look at the Eiffel Tower so this yelling guy has to stop them. Yeah, I’m vamping. Here’s the actual, official synopsis: “A young man’s parents were murdered on the same day the Halley comet was visible from Earth. Eleven years later, a new comet lights up the sky, but as the night goes on, people begins to transform into horrible creatures.” Here’s the official Daily Grindhouse review!
LOCKER 13 (2013)
An anthology thriller chock full of faces you’d recognize from TV and movies, including Ricky Schroder (NYPD Blue), Jon Gries (Lost), Rick Hoffman (Suits), Tatyana Ali (The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air), David Huddleston (THE BIG LEBOWSKI), Curtis Armstrong, Krista Allen, and the great Jon Polito. I grabbed this summary off IMDb: “Skip, the nighttime janitor in an Old West theme park, delves into the mysteries surrounding an old locker. His sage supervisor recounts chilling tales that underscore the importance of making the right choice. The recollection includes an aging boxer who is given an opportunity to become a real killing machine, a young man seeking membership in a secret society who experiences an initiation with deadly consequences, a would be suicide shaken to his core by a menacing member of a very special club, and a hit man for hire playing a devious cat and mouse game with three women who have a score to settle. The stories suddenly come into play when Skip makes an unsettling discovery and faces a life-or-death decision of his own.” Sounds intriguing enough. Now here’s the official Daily Grindhouse review!
BAD COUNTRY (2013)
Bad country? What, like Taylor Swift? The original title of BAD COUNTRY was WHISKEY BAY, which to me is cooler-sounding, but even still that’s a pretty sweet cast right there. Willem Dafoe alone makes a movie worth looking at, and this has a different setting than most recent crime movies do, being set in 1980s Baton Rouge. Dafoe plays a cop, while Matt Dillon plays the con he recruits to help him take down a white supremacist crimelord played by Tom Berenger. That shit is pretty fucking ‘eighties right there. Whether that turns out to be a good or a bad thing, I do not yet know.
8-FILM ACTION COLLECTION
TUNNEL VISION / CROSSHAIRS / BURNING DAYLIGHT / FORMOSA BETRAYED /
ROAD OF NO RETURN / GUNSHY / BRAILLE / NOBODY
It is a notable achievement when anyone can find eight action movies in a row which I have never even heard of, so let us note it here. Somebody somewhere won a bet against some pretty steep odds.
So that’s it for April! Next week brings an onslaught of old favorites, many on Blu-Ray for the first time. Oh, and it’s good we got Gamera out of the way, because Godzilla’s coming.
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