A Movie A Day #246: Bloodsport (1988, directed by Newt Arnold)


Bloodsport is one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s earliest films and it is Damme good!

Forgive the terrible opening line but that is how they actually used to advertise Jean-Claude Van Damme films.  Everything was either Damme exciting or Damme amazing or Damme spectacular.  Though it was made by Cannon and had a much lower budget than the films Van Damme made during his 90s heyday, Bloodsport is still a Damme quintessential Van Damme movie.

Bloodsport claims that the story it tells is true.  Frank Dux (Van Damme) is a U.S. Army captain who goes AWOL so he can compete in Kumite, an illegal martial arts tournament that is held in Hong Kong.  Kumite is the only martial arts tournament where it is legal to kill your opponent.  Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) became champion by killing anyone who lasts more than a minute with him.  At first, no one believes that an American like Frank Dux has a chance of winning the Kumite.  What they do not know is that Frank was trained by the legendary Senzo Tanaka.  Frank is not just competing for personal glory.  He is also competing in honor of Tanaka’s dead son.

Bloodsport is both Van Damme and Cannon Films at their best.  Shot on location in Hong Kong, Bloodsport not only features Van Damme doing his thing but also gives him a memorable sidekick, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb), who talks like a professional wrestler and gets all of the best lines.  When Ray and Frank first meet, they bond over a video game that appears to be an extremely early version of Street Fighter.  Also keep an eye out for Forest Whitaker (!), playing one of the CID officers who is assigned to track down Frank and arrest him for desertion.

Like any good Van Damme film, Bloodsport lives and dies on the strength of its fights and it does not skimp on the blood, the chokeholds, or the high kicks.  Bolo Yeung is a great opponent for Van Damme but everyone know better than to try to beat Jean-Claude Van Damme.  When it comes to fighting Van Damme, Duke put it best:

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Playing Catch-Up: Arrival (dir by Denis Villeneuve)


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I cannot begin to express how happy I was when I learned that the Directors Guild of America had nominated Denis Villeneuve for his work on Arrival.

Arrival was one of the best films of 2016.  In fact, I would argue that it’s one of the best science fiction films that I’ve ever seen.  There were a lot of reasons for that, of course.  There was the brilliant script by Eric Heisserer.  There was the starring performance of Amy Adams, who is one of the best actresses working today.  There was a surprise and thought-provoking twist, one that forced you to reconsider everything that you previously believed.  There were so many reasons why Arrival was a great film but, ultimately, it call came down to Denis Villeneuve.

Working with material that would have led most directors down the road to bombast, Villeneuve instead took a deliberately low-key approach.  Whereas most directors would have encouraged their cast to play up the drama, Villeneuve encourages his actors to take a more inward and cerebral approach to the material.  Arrival is a rarity — a film about smart people in which the people actually seem to be smart.  For once, we don’t need expositionary characters to pop up and tell us that Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are brilliant.  Instead, we simply believe they are from what we see on the screen.  Much like last year’s Sicario, Arrival proves that Villeneuve is a visionary director.

Arrival is a hard film to describe, not because it’s overly complicated but because there’s a huge twist that I really can’t reveal.  Before the twist, Arrival is simply a well-directed sci-fi film.  After the twist, it is something all together different, an intense meditation on faith, love, language, and destiny.  Since I’m reviewing the film late, chances are that you already know about the twist but I’m still not going to spoil it.

What I can tell you is that Arrival opens with the arrival of twelve spaceships, all of which land at different places across the world.  The Chinese have a spaceship.  The British have a spaceship.  I imagine that the Canadians have a spaceship, because who wouldn’t want to hang out with the Canadians?  And, of course, the Americans have a spaceship.  The aliens are inside the spaceships.  They’re octopus-like creatures, ones that almost look as if they could have come from one of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories.  The aliens may appear to be fearsome but they actually seem to be rather benevolent.  No one’s quite sure because the aliens communicate through a complex series of symbols and nobody can understand what those symbols mean.

Louise Banks is a linguist.  Ian Donnelly is a physicist.  The Americans bring both in to help translate the symbols.  Of course, the rest of the world has their own linguists and physicists working to translate the symbols and, humans being humans, it often seems that the Americans and the Chinese are less concerned with translating what the aliens are saying and more concerned with being the first to understand.  While Louise works, she continues to be haunted by dreams and visions of her daughter’s death from cancer.

And that’s really all I can tell you without spoiling the film and potentially making myself cry.  But I will say that if you haven’t seen Arrival, you must go out and see it now.  It’s one of the most thought-provoking and emotionally wrenching films of the past year.

Add to that, it’s probably going to be nominated for best picture.  It’s been overshadowed a bit by all the attention paid to La La Land, Moonlight, and Manchester By The Sea.  But Arrival is just as good a film as any of them.  In fact, in the future, we’ll probably look at Arrival and say that it was better than all of them.

 

 

No Ewoks, No Jar Jar: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, directed by Gareth Edwards)


rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

The evil Galactic Empire spent what had to be billions of Imperial credits to build the greatest weapon in the universe.  It was known as the Death Star and it housed a laser so powerful that it could blow up a planet with just one shot.  And yet, for all the effort and all the years that were spent building it, the Death Star had one glaring vulnerability, an exposed exhaust valve that the Rebel Alliance twice used to the destroy it.

For years, fanboys debated why the Empire would go to the trouble to build a super weapon with such an obvious design flaw.  I have to admit that I was often one of them.  No one else seemed to care but, to us, this was a huge deal.  If the Empire could figure out how to blow up a planet with one super laser, why couldn’t they figure out how to protect that one valve?

Now, thanks to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we have an answer.  We not only know why that valve was there but we also know what was meant in New Hope when the rebel general said that the plans to the Death Star had been stolen at great cost.

Rogue One is a fan’s dream, one that answers questions while expanding on the Star Wars mythology.  Unlike the previous prequels, it adds to the story without cheapening the original films.  In fact, of all the Star Wars films, Rogue One is the first to make the Death Star into a believable weapon of mass destruction.  When it appears over one planet, it blots out the sun.  When it blows up a rebel base, we see the destruction from inside the base instead of observing it from the safety of Death Star.  Director Gareth Evans does for the Death Star what he previously did for Godzilla.

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Unfortunately, like Godzilla, the action and the special effects in Rogue One are usually more interesting than any of the film’s characters.  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, and Riz Ahmed are all good actors but they’re all playing underwritten parts.  No one steps up like Harrison Ford did in the original trilogy.  Commander Kennec, played by Ben Mendelsohn, has a little more depth than the typical Imperial villain but, for better or worse, the film’s most memorable performances come from a CGI Peter Cushing and James Earl Jones providing the voice of Darth Vader.

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Despite the underwritten characters, Rogue One is still the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back, a return to the grittiness, the thrilling action, and the awe of discovering new worlds that distinguished the first two movies.  For once, a Star Wars film seems to have more on its mind than just selling toys.  Though we already know what is ultimately going to happen to the Death Star at the end of New Hope, Rogue One is a frequently downbeat film.  There are no Ewoks and, to great relief and rejoicing, Jar Jar is never seen.  The closest that Rogue One gets to comic relief is Alan Tudyk providing the voice of a cynical robot.  The emphasis is on the horrors of war and even the rebels are troubled by some of the things that they have done.  For once, the Rebel Alliance actually feels like a rebellion and the evil of the Empire feels real instead of cartoonish.

Rogue One is projected to be the first of many “Star Wars stories,” stand-alone film that will expand the universe and hopefully clarify some of the points that were left unclear by the original trilogy.  I think it’s going to be very successful very Disney.  I’m just dreading the inevitable Jar Jar origin story.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Official Trailer Finally Arrives


Rogue One

The Rogue One official trailer finally came out after weeks of fans waiting for it since last month’s Star Wars celebration over in London.

At first, people thought the trailer would be released during the celebration, but that didn’t come to pass. Then San Diego Comic-Con came and went and still no official trailer. We already seen the teaser, the sizzle reel from London celebration and even a tv spot that aired in the last week or so. Yet, there was still no full trailer. Fans were waiting with extreme patience.

Once news came down that the first official trailer will show during the Olympics the guessing game began on which day it will be. When it was confirmed that it was to be tonight people worldwide began to wait for the trailer to premiere. And waited during each Olympic event. And waited some more. I, myself, decided I needed a nap and left orders to be awoken when it finally did show.

Well, it did show just an hour into my nap and despite being groggy from being woken up that first image of the desert planet with Forest Whitaker and Felicity Jones conversing got my full attention. The wait was long, but it was well worth it and now the wait for the film’s premiere begins.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a December 16, 2016 release date.

Rogue One Wakes Up the Internet with Its First Trailer


Rogue One

The world has been dying to see the first teaser trailer for the next Star Wars. The most recent one came out at the end of last year and already people wondering why this next one hasn’t already come out.

Well, it will come out this December when the public is flush with money to spend on the holidays (though we all know it’s probably to buy Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tickets as holiday gifts for themselves).

This teaser trailer shows us stuff that happened between Episode 3 and Episode 4. It also focuses on a new hero character which has raised the ire of the most vocal minority (very tiny) of the Star Wars fandom. We’re introduced to Jyn Erso played by English-actress Felicity Jones who we learn is not just a criminal of sorts, but one ready with a smartass quip.

Star Wars has another woman in the lead role! First it was Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Then just the last couple weeks, one of the few redeeming things about Batman v. Superman was the appearance of Wonder Woman. We can’t forget how last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road was being called Mad Max Furiosa Road.

The MRA mouthbreaters and Mary Sue labelers have had it up to their neckbeards of having their beloved franchises being invaded by the opposite sex. They’re already calling for boycotts and petitions to get Rogue One from being released as is. They want their fictional heroes to return to the good ol’ days of privileged, white men who rescued and kissed damsels (even if they to be their sister) in distress.

Their shouts and cries of impotent rage has been drowned out by the massive majority of even more vocal supporters of another female heroine in a fictional universe which dares to posit that dangerous question: can women be heroes? It looks like after Rey and now, with this upcoming film’s Jyn Erso the answer may be a collective and very loud “Yes, Yes, Yes.”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a December 16, 2016 release date or be on hold indefinitely if the MRA neckbeard mouthbreaters get their court injuction to delay its release.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Quickie Reviews: The Big Game, The Connection, Graduation Day, McFarland USA, Taken 3, and War Room


Here are 6 more reviews of 6 other films that I watched this year.  Why six?  Because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers, that’s why.

The Big Game (dir by Jalmari Helander)

In The Big Game, Samuel L. Jackson plays the President of the United States and you would think that fact alone would make this film an instant classic.  Unfortunately, this film never really takes advantage of the inherent coolness of Samuel L. Jackson playing the leader of the free world.  When Air Force One is sabotaged and crashes in the wilderness of Finland, President Jackson has to rely on a young hunter (Onni Tommila) from a group of CIA agents disguised as terrorists.  Tommila does a pretty good job and the scenery looks great but at no point does Samuel L. Jackson says, “Check out this executive action, motherfucker,” and that’s a huge missed opportunity.  As for the rest of the film, it takes itself a bit too seriously and if you can’t figure out the big twist from the minute the movie starts, you obviously haven’t seen enough movies.

The Connection (dir by Cedric Jiminez)

Taking place over the 1970s, the French crime thriller tells the largely true story of the efforts of a French judge (played by Jean Dujardin) to take down a ruthless gangster (Gilles Lellouche) who is the head of one of the biggest drug cartels in the world.  The Connection run for a bit too long but, ultimately, it’s a stylish thriller that does a very good job of creating a world where literally no one can be trusted.  Dujardin, best known here in the States for his Oscar-winning role in The Artist, does a great job playing an honest man who is nearly driven to the point of insanity by the corruption all around him.

Graduation Day (dir by Chris Stokes)

Hey, it’s another found footage horror film!  Bleh!  Now, I should admit that this horror film — which is NOT a remake of that classic 1980s slasher — does have a fairly clever twist towards the end, that goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the inconsistencies that, up until that point, had pretty much dominated the film.  But, even with that in mind and admitting that Unfriended and Devil’s Due worked wonders with the concept, it’s still hard to feel any enthusiasm about yet another found footage horror film.

McFarland USA (dir by Niki Caro)

McFarland USA is an extremely predictable but likable movie.  Kevin Costner plays a former football coach who, while teaching at a mostly Latino high school, organizes a cross country team that goes on to win the state championship.  It’s based on a true story and, at the end of the film, all of the real people appear alongside the actors who played them.  There’s nothing about this film that will surprise you but it’s still fairly well-done.  Even Kevin Costner, who usually gets on my last nerve, gives a good performance.

Taken 3 (dir by Olivier Megaton)

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is back and he’s killing even more people!  Fortunately, they’re all bad people but you really do have to wonder what type of dreams Bryan has whenever he goes to sleep.  In Taken 3, Bryan’s wife (Famke Janssen) has been murdered and Bryan has been framed.  He has to solve the case and kill the bad guys while staying one step ahead of the police (represented by a bored-looking Forest Whitaker).  Neeson does all of his usual Taken stuff — the intense phone conversation, the steely glare, and all the rest — but at this point, it has literally been parodied to death.  If you’re into watching Liam Neeson kill ugly people, Taken 3 will provide you with adequate entertainment but, for the most part, it’s but a shadow of the first Taken.

War Room (dir by Alex Kendrick)

I saw the War Room in Oklahoma.  It was being shown as part of a double feature with The Martian, of all things!  Anyway, this film is about an upper middle class family that hits rock bottom but they’re saved by the power of prayer!  Lots and lots of prayer!  Seriously, this film almost qualifies as “prayer porn.”  Anyway, the film was badly acted, badly written, incredibly heavy-handed, and ran on way too long but, on the plus side, it did eventually end.

Here Are The NAACP Imagine Award Nominations!


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Awards season continues!  The 2015 NAACP Image Award nominations were announced earlier today and here they are!

Outstanding Motion Picture

“Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
“Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
• “Dope” (Open Road Films)
“Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture

* Abraham Attah – “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
* Chiwetel Ejiofor – “Secret in Their Eyes” (STX Entertainment)
* Michael B. Jordan – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
* Michael Ealy – “The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)
* Will Smith – “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture

• Lauren ‘Keke’ Palmer – “Brotherly Love” (Flavor Unit)
• Sanaa Lathan – “The Perfect Guy” (Screen Gems)
• Teyonah Parris – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
• Viola Davis – “Lila and Eve” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
• Zoe Saldana – “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

• Chiwetel Ejiofor – “The Martian” (20th Century Fox)
• Corey Hawkins – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
• Forest Whitaker – “Southpaw” (The Weinstein Company)
• Idris Elba – “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• O’Shea Jackson, Jr. – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

* Angela Bassett – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
* Gugu Mbatha-Raw – “Concussion” (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
* Jennifer Hudson – “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
* Phylicia Rashad – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)
* Tessa Thompson – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture

• “Beasts of No Nation” (Netflix)
• “Brotherly Love” (Flavor Unit)
• “Chi-Raq” (Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)
• “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)
• “Secret in Their Eyes” (STX Entertainment)

Outstanding Documentary – (Film)

* “Amy” (A24)
* “Dreamcatcher” (Rise Films, Green Acres Films & Vixen Films in association with Impact Partners and Artemis Rising Foundation)
* “In My Fathers House” (Break Thru Films)
* “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (PBS Distribution/Firelight Films)
* “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (A Radical Media Production in Association with Moxie Firecracker for Netflix)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film)

* Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
* Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois, Grant Thompson – “McFarland USA” (Walt Disney Pictures)
* Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley – “Inside Out” (Disney/Pixar)
* Rick Famuyiwa – “Dope” (Open Road Films)
* Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer Pictures)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture – (Film)

• Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (Fox Searchlight Pictures / Rhode Island Ave)
• Charles Stone, III – “Lila and Eve” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
• F. Gary Gray – “Straight Outta Compton” (Universal Pictures)
• Rick Famuyiwa – “Dope” (Open Road Films)
• Ryan Coogler – “Creed” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)