Archive for May, 2008

Wow, so you guys were ready for some more Van Dammage, eh?

I’m using Netflix’s summary here, because they do a better job than I can:

When kickboxing champ Eric Sloane is crippled in the ring by the evil Tong Po, Eric’s younger brother, Kurt (Jean Claude Van Damme), seeks vengeance. But if he’s to vanquish Po, Kurt must first learn a martial art known as Muay Thai, so he seeks out the expertise of fight guru Xian Chow. Thanks to Chow’s unconventional training methods, Kurt becomes an expert kickboxer. But is “the muscles from Brussels” good enough to defeat Tong Po?

I’m beginning to notice some remarkably consistent motifs among Van Damme movies; or at least, among Kickboxer and Bloodsport. It seems to be a requirement that you have a few things mixed in. Bad ’80’s synth music for the soundtrack is absolutely necessary. The “kumite” song has nothing on Kickboxer‘s soundtrack, which I’m convinced Matt Stone and Trey Parker must’ve listened to on repeat to write the songs for Team America: World Police. Seriously, if you’re watching, put the subtitles on so you can get the full brunt of the lyrics. It’s chock full of stuff like, “Time to be the best, oooh yeahhhhh” and so on and so forth. Everytime I hear the soundtrack to a typical Van Damme movie, I imagine some guy with a mullet rockin’ out hardcore on key-tar.

Secondly, it’s like Van Damme has it written into his contract that he must face some sort of psychotic Asian bad guy who’s morally bankrupt. Chong Lee and Tong Po aren’t that far off of each other. In Kickboxer, it’s JCVD’s brother that gets mangled, but in Bloodsport, it’s his devoted and dumb friend. Huh.

Training montages are definitely a requirement as is the idea of the old, snarky Asian fight master. Then you’ve gotta have the girl who always knows what’s best for Van Damme and for everyone else and has an opinion on everything.

Really, Kickboxer and Bloodsport are practically interchangeable. I guess Kickboxer’s the lesser of the two in my opinion, simply because the “kumite” song overrides everything for me, but there you go.

What I don’t get is how the dialogue in Van Damme movies could get any worse. I mean, we’ve all established that there are tree stumps and telephone poles that have more charisma and acting talent than Jean-Claude Van Damme, but seriously, that scriptwriting isn’t giving Jean-Claude Van-Wooden anything to work with in the slightest. Part of you really can’t blame poor old Jean-Claude because he’s as earnest as can be to win you over, but ends up being endearing in an over the top, comical fashion.

Oh, the bug eyes, the random “Hooahhhs”, the unnecessary emotional scenes in your movies, how they make me love you, Jean-Claude Van Damme.

But the dialogue is so terrible, so godawful, that you want to hurt yourself to make it stop. Lines like, “I’m the best there is, little brother, stop worrying!” delivered by a beefy dude that has no place pretending to be an actor, let alone JCVD’s “older brother” make you want to eat broken glass. (Also, note to that actor: Your jeri-curl is not helping matters either. Ick, a thousand times over.)

But in the end…isn’t that why we love these movies? They’re so bad they’re good? It seems to be a running theme here on 1,416 and Counting but I can’t help but love these crazy, goofy-bad movies.

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Ah, yes, G.I. Joe.  If you’re in my age range, the animated series (one of many, I understand?) was a staple in your cartoon diet, along with X-Men, if you had ANY sense at all as an 8 year old kid.

I never watched that much G.I. Joe; I tended to gravitate much more towards the X-Men animated series..es…but I do have to say, once I heard they were making G.I. Joe into a movie, I was stoked.

I know I don’t do a lot of new, upcoming movies here.   I tend to be a boring old stick in the mud who prefers to watch crap movies from Netflix.    Hey, I still haven’t seen Iron Man and I’ve been talking that movie up for ages.   It’s just so much work to go to the theaters these days, and it involves real people sitting with you.   Ick, right?

I figured G.I. Joe can go one of two ways – the hideous, awful, crackalicious Street Fighter route, or the Iron Man/X-Men route, if we’re discussing comic book/video game adaptations.

Shockingly enough, I read quite a few “industry” blogs – Cinematical, Ain’t It Cool News, etc. — on a regular basis and I began to hear whispers of good things.   Geek favorite Ray Park was going to be in it.   Dennis freakin’ Quaid got cast much to my delight, because who can pull off cheesy dialogue in such an overly serious manner than Quaid?   Let’s not kid ourselves, Dennis Quaid was probably cleaning the bathtubs and gutters at his house when the producers called, because honestly, what has Dennis Quaid been doing with his career recently other than letting it rot?

Yeah, I thought so.

And then today, I clicked on a glorious link at Cinematical and it showed me this…

That is Christopher Eccleston.   That guy excels at playing nasty, mean men and not just because he’s English, either.   (Bad guy in Hollywood is English, nine times out of ten, right?)   You may remember him from Heroes (whatevs) or my personal favorite, Gone In Sixty Seconds – that is, the remake.   Don’t snigger at me from your computer because I consider you informed that yes, I am addicted to disgusting Nic Cage action films and one of the reasons I own that movie is because of Eccleston.   Dude. Is. Awesome.

(Oh yeah, and he played Doctor Who or something, I don’t know.)

If you want to see the rest of the photos of the cast, click here for the redirect to Cinematical.

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Oh, goodness. It’s actually titled Shaolin Temple Against Lama, but Netflix lists it as the title above.

Once upon a time, I dated a guy who for Valentine’s Day gave me the best present of all: a pre-planned marathon of kung-fu movies and Chinese food for Valentine’s Day. (It should tell you a lot right there what my idea of a good Valentine’s Day is, huh?) One of the movies we watched was a movie I’ve been trying to track down – Shaolin Versus Lama – but to no avail. It was awesome and amazingly good-bad, so in desperation and sifting through 8,000 “Shaolin” titles on Netflix, I randomly selected this one hoping it would live up to the brilliance of the movie I had originally watched.

No, this one was better. Better, I say!

Does the plot matter? Absolutely not. Like all kung-fu movies from the late ’60’s or so to the late ’70’s, it’s got three very important features: lots of fights, supremely bad dubbing and horrible camera work. This one, however, is way over the top.

I don’t claim to be a connoisseur of bad kung fu movies, so I can’t really relate this on a scale to you how awesomely cracktastic this movie really is, but let’s just say…it’s hilarious. Roaringly, outstandingly hilarious.

First of all, no one in this movie gets through three minutes of it without some super huge fight breaking out — which, while entertaining, is pretty exhausting. The dubbing is the pinnacle of bad in the best possible way. It really is every kung fu dubbing cliche you’ve ever heard. The costumes and actors, though, have to be seen to be believed. Let’s all stop for a moment and thank the heavens that God made screencapping software:

This is our main character and no, his name is not important. What is important is that he looks like the love child of David Bowie and the Yellow Power Ranger.

Do you SEE WHAT I MEAN? If you’re wearing more makeup than Boy George, you have a problem, my friend.

This is the main bad guy, who I think made his outfit from a Simplicity Sewing book of patterns.


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Ah, a good old fashioned Russian whodunit gangster drama. I mean..whaaaat?

Plato is an upwardly mobile kinda guy in the “new Russia” – that is, a Russia with capitalism introduced, a Russia that is trying desperately to shed the deeply ingrained Soviet ways. Plato’s a smart dude, so he’s ahead of the curve, and when Gorbachev rises to power, he sees his opportunity. Banding together with some friends, he begins to piece together one of the most enormous Russian capitalist enterprises of his day, while trampling on the little people who helped him get there. And then one depressingly dank day, Plato’s car is hit with anti-tank missiles (yes, anti-tank missiles) and the man worth $5 billion is claimed to have been assassinated.

Tycoon’s nothing essentially new. The story’s told from an FSB officer investigating the case to figure out who killed Plato starting the day of his murder. He begins to interview friends and loved ones of the man in question and starts to piece together a measure of the man that Plato was through his interviews. The viewer’s treated to flashbacks of Plato’s ascension to power over the years and the eventual crash-and-burn that follows.

I’d kind of liken Tycoon to an odd Russian mix of a whodunit meets elements of Citizen Kane. Supposedly based on a true story, Tycoon’s main character shares a lot of similarities to Charles Foster Kane, but the story’s essentially the basic “whodunit” of the murder of Plato.

It’s a smartly done film, but definitely not for everyone. It wore on me after a little while; I had to pause it, take a break and come back to it in order to finish it. It’s interesting to watch as a film from another country, mainly because it doesn’t delve into anything involving social, political or economic issues as far as the times go and strictly deals with Plato’s story. It’s strength is there, and while it’s far from being unique or original, the setting and the time in which it’s placed lends it something to let it stand apart from many other films that have tried as hard but failed.

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Okay, Spike Lee. I concede; you win. I’ve just been beaten over the head with your movie and I’m waving the white flag.

Made in 1989, Do The Right Thing depicts a neighborhood in Brooklyn teetering on the edge of full-scale violence during the hottest day of the summer. Mookie, played by Spike Lee, is the main character who is torn between the African-American residents of the neighborhood and the Italian family he works for at Sal’s Pizzeria. The heat wave only exacerbates the long-running, deep seated racial tensions in the neighborhood as well as the area’s distrust of the police. As Mookie goes on about his business on the hottest day of the year, the neighborhood will bend and break, and Mookie’s forced into making a choice and making up his mind about where he stands. The movie, overall, is about violence – is it acceptable or unacceptable? Lee’s answer seems to be that when justified, when humans are pushed to their breaking point, violence is kinda okay. I don’t think I really agree with that, but it doesn’t necessarily detract from the film for me. I get what Lee’s reaching for here, even if I have some philosophical quibbles with it.

Look, I liked Do The Right Thing. Do I like everything about it? Far from it. But Lee does several things well that are difficult, in my humble opinion, to actually pull off. For starters, he manages to encapsulate an entire neighborhood with characters that are far from fleshed out into a nice little microcosm that you begin to understand. It’s hard to capture a vibrant, breathing little society and then make the viewer feel that they begin to understand the inner workings and nuances of the block, but Spike Lee does it.

Then there’s the brilliant pattern of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” laid over every so often. It’s the perfect song for the movie and Lee utilizes it in a smart fashion; by having it pumped out of one guy’s boombox as he strolls the streets.

Sam Jackson is ninety kinds of awesome as the local DJ and when you’ve got actors like Ossie Davis, John Turturro, Ruby Dee, and Danny Aiello chewing scenery right and left, it’s not hard to get a nice, gritty feel to your movie and your characters.

What don’t I like? Lee’s got an odd set of emotions here, where it felt like he’s partly preaching, partly full of contempt for the viewer and party trying to make you understand the bigger picture. It’s a weird thing to have thrown at you from the screen. I don’t claim to be a movie “expert”, just a girl who really loves movies and has seen quite a few of them, but I really don’t get the minutes-long credits in the beginning with Rosie Perez spastically dancing all over the place. What the heck is that? Lee alternates shots of her in spandex garb and boxing gear. Am I dumb? Do I not get it? Was it an excuse to say, “Rosie Perez in spandex, let’s make that happen?” I have no clue.

More than anything, what I appreciate about Do The Right Thing is that it got some discussion going at the time it was released; some of that discussion bordered on absurd and grotesque (would Do The Right Thing incite viewers to riot? Give me a break) and some of it was pretty thought-provoking stuff. Moreover, you can still find a lot to make you question and squirm in your seat a bit almost 20 years later, which means Spike Lee is still doing his job.

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So the four movies selected by you fine people are:

  • Touchez Pas Au Grisbi
  • Kickboxer
  • Trading Places
  • Rio Bravo

Thanks to everyone who voted! I know I’m a bit behind on the reviews, but I plan to catch up this evening.

Edited to Add: I’ve been way behind on updating the LAMB blogroll, so there’s some new stuff in the sidebar.  Also, I added Kevin Lehane’s blog to the normal blogroll, who commented here and has a fairly rockin’ blog.

Alright, y’all, there you go.  Now back to screencapping Shaolin Temple Against Lama…

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I know some of you LAMBs out there read this blog so I humbly throw myself upon your mercies and ask that you submit to the LAMB Chops feature.   What do you have to do?   Not much — all you have to do is e-mail me a post from your blog or another LAMB blog from the week of April 27 to May 3 that you want to see recognized!   That’s it!   That’s all!

I ask because I see a lot of people out there who are LAMBs who deserve to be recognized for crazy-good work, and I don’t want to freakily submit 3 posts a week under something that Fletch over at the LAMB has kindly let me manage.  That’s just despotic!

You can e-mail me directly at texasmoviequeen@gmail.com.   New LAMB Chops go up every Wednesday, so I’m looking forward to seeing some really good stuff!

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