The Films of 2020: John Henry (dir by Will Forbes)


John Henry tells the story of a man named …. well, John Henry.  He’s played by Terry Crews and he lives in South Los Angeles with his father, BJ Henry (Ken Foree).  BJ may have to carry an oxygen tank around with him but he still has enough strength to shout, “My dick is legendary,” so good for him.

(Actually, it may sound like I’m being snarky and, to a certain extent, I am.  But having Ken Foree play Terry Crews’s father is actually a brilliant piece of casting.)

John Henry used to be into the gang lifestyle but now he’s gone straight.  We see flashbacks to his former life and how he used to hang out with his cousin, Hell (Ludacris).  When John accidentally shot Hell in the face, he decided to retire from crime and he also swore off carrying a gun.  Hell, on the other hand, just got a fancy gold-plated jaw.  Years later, Hell is a crime lord and John Henry is wandering around with sledgehammer.

When a Honduran refugee named Berta (Jamila Velazquez) show up at John Henry’s house, on the run from Hell’s crew, BJ’s reaction is to kick her out.  But John Henry, being the gentle giant with a sledgehammer, allows her to stay.  When Hell and his crew show up, it leads to violence, death, and …. well, that’s pretty much it.

John Henry is an odd film.  The tone is literally all over the place as the film swerves from being a comic book film to a serious drama to a comedy to a Spaghetti western.  It takes a lot of skill to take that many different tonal shifts and turn them into a coherent movie and unfortunately, that really doesn’t happen with John Henry.  The minute you start to get used to the idea of the film being an over-the-top comic book film, it suddenly tries to be a meditation on violence and guilt.  As soon as you’re getting used to the idea of it being a drama, Ludacris shows up with a huge hunk of medal on his face.  It’s hard to keep track of what exactly the film is saying because the film itself doesn’t seem to know.  I guess that could be forgiven if the film’s action managed to maintain a steady pace but instead, this felt like one of the longest 91-minute films that I’ve ever watched.

However, as our longtime readers should know by now, I’m not a fan of excessive negativity so let’s take a few moments to discuss what did work.  I already mentioned the casting of Terry Crews and Ken Foree.  They’re fun to watch together.  Ludacris’s gold-plated jaw is an amusing detail and it’s unfortunate that the film didn’t have more similarly odd details like that.  I also liked the opening credits, which basically told the film’s story in a comic book form.  The credits were fun and they hinted at what this film could have been if it had been better-paced and had fully embraced its camp potential.

John Henry played in some theaters before the pandemic outbreak.  It later found a home on Netflix and it’s in the process of developing a bit of a cult reputation.  Reportedly, there will be a sequel so I guess it’s not time to take John Henry to the graveyard just yet.

“Going All Kanye On You”: New Year’s Eve (dir by Garry Marshall)


“New Year’s Eve is the worst, people who don’t drink or party all year suddenly going all Kanye on you.”

That line was delivered by Ashton Kutcher in the 2011 film, New Year’s Eve.  Seven years ago, when the film was first released, I thought it was an awkward line, partially because Ashton Kutcher sounded like he was drowning in self-loathing when he said it and partially because the sudden reference to Kanye West felt like something that would be considered clever by 60-something screenwriter who had just spent a few hours scanning twitter to see “what the kids are into nowadays.”

(Of course, hearing the line in 2018 was an even stranger experience.  People who don’t drink or party all year suddenly going all Kanye on you?  So, they’re putting on red MAGA caps and spending New Year’s Eve tweeting about prison reform?  True, that’s the way a lot of people celebrated in my part of the world but I’m not sure how exactly that would play out in Times Square.)

In New Year’s Eve, Kutcher plays a character named Randy.  Randy is a comic book artist, which means that he’s snarky and cynical and doesn’t really see the point of celebrating anything.  Fortunately, he gets trapped in an elevator with Elise (Lea Michele) and, with her help, he comes to learn that New Year’s Eve is not the worst.  Instead, it’s the most important holiday ever created and, if you don’t think so, you’re worse than the devil.

Fortunately, Hillary Swank is present to make sure that we all get the point.  Swank plays Claire Morgan, who is in charge of making sure that the ball drops at exactly the right moment at Times Square and who gets a monologue where she explains that the purpose of the ball is to make you think about both the past and the future.  As she explains it, the world comes together one night a year, all so everyone can watch that ball drop.  Apparently, if the ball doesn’t drop, the new year doesn’t actually start and everyone is trapped in a timeless limbo, kind of like Iron Man at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.

Of course, there’s more going on in New Year’s Eve than just Randy taking Kanye’s name in vain and Claire refusing the accept that Times Square is not the center of the universe.  There’s also an old man (Robert De Niro) who wants to time his death so he passes right at the start of the new year.  Sarah Jessica Parker plays the mother of frustrated teenager Abigail Breslin and gets to make a “girls gone wild” joke.  (A Kanye reference and a girls gone wild joke in the same film?  It’s like a pop culture tsunami!)  Michelle Pfeiffer tries to accomplish all of her new year’s resolutions with the help of Zac Efron.  Halle Berry worries about her husband (Common) , who is serving overseas.  Josh Duhamel searches for a woman who once told him that his heart was more important than his business.  Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel compete with Til Schweiger and Sarah Paulson to see who can be the family of the first child born in the new year.  Jon Bon Jovi thinks about the woman that he nearly married and Katherine Heigl wonders if she’s ever going to have a career again.  In other words, New Year’s Eve is an ensemble piece, one in which a bunch of slumming Oscar winners and overachieving TV actors step into small roles.  It leads to some odd pairings.  De Niro, for instance, shares scenes with Alyssa Milano while Sofia Vergara and Ludacris are both relegated to playing sidekicks.  Michael Bloomberg, New York’s then-mayor and general threat to civil liberties everywhere, also shows up, playing himself with the type of smarminess that already has many people dreading the prospect of his 2020 presidential campaign.  This is one of those films where everyone has a familiar face but no one makes much of an impression.

New Year’s Eve was directed by the late Garry Marshall and it’s the second film in his so-called holiday trilogy, sitting right between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  By most accounts, Garry Marshall was a nice guy and popular in the industry, which perhaps explains why so many familiar faces were willing to sign up to appear in New Year’s Eve.  Though the film is ruthlessly mediocre, it’s actually the best of the holiday trilogy.  For all the schmaltz and forced sentiment, one gets the feeling that the film actually is sincere in its belief in the importance of that ball dropping in Times Square.

I remember that, when New Year’s Eve was first released, a lot of people joked that Marshall was going to make an ensemble romantic comedy about every single holiday, all with the hope that at least one of them would eventually become a television perennial in the style of It’s A Wonderful Life or The Ten Commandments.  Interestingly, that’s exactly what happened with New Year’s Eve.  Yesterday, E! aired New Year’s Eve three times, back-to-back!  For better or worse, this film is probably going to outlive us all, ensuring that, in the far future, viewers will spend New Year’s Eve asking themselves, “What’s a kanye?”

Film Review: Furious 7 (dir by James Wan)


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Regardless of what you may think about the rest of Furious 7, the final ten minutes will make you cry.  They made me cry and, before I saw Furious 7, I wasn’t even really a fan of the franchise.  It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Furious 7 ends with a tribute to both the character Brian O’Connor and the actor who played him, Paul Walker.  While Dominic Toretto (played, of course, by Vin Diesel) says goodbye to Brian, we see a montage of clips of Brian throughout the previous Fast and Furious Films and it’s so poignant to see how Paul Walker transformed over the course of the series, going from being a somewhat bland teen heart throb to becoming a genuinely charismatic leading man.  Watching the montage, you can see that Paul Walker was still growing as an actor and you’re reminded of just what a shock it was when we first heard the news of his death in 2013.

And, of course, we’re very aware that, as Dominic is saying goodbye to Brian and we’re saying goodbye to the actor who played him, Vin Diesel is saying goodbye to his friend.  That Diesel and Walker were friends on-screen and off is no secret.  In fact, that friendship has always been one of the big appeals of the Fast and Furious franchise.  The films are about a group of people (mostly men) who care about each other and who aren’t ashamed to admit it.  When Dominic delivers the film’s final monologue, it’s really all about Vin saying goodbye to Paul.  By the time the words “For Paul” appeared on the screen, there was not a dry eye in the theater.

The death of Paul Walker adds an undeniable poignancy to Furious 7 and it’s sometimes hard to separate the real-life tragedy from what we’re watching on screen.  But here’s the thing — Furious 7 works as both a heartfelt tribute to Paul Walker and as a wonderfully over-the-top and fun action movie.  Furious 7 is a burst of pure adrenaline and style that epitomizes everything that you could possibly want out of an action movie.

Jason Statham plays Deckard Shaw, a former government assassin who has a personal vendetta against Dom, Brian, and practically everyone else who has ever been a Fast and Furious movie.  Statham isn’t in a lot of scenes but whenever he shows up, he kicks ass and watching Furious 7 was probably the first time that I’ve ever truly understood Statham’s appeal.  How impressive is Jason Statham in this film?  He puts Dwayne Johnson in the hospital, that’s how impressive he is.  And what’s amazing is that after watching their fight scene, you totally believe that Jason Statham could put Dwayne Johnson in the hospital.

Another government agent, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, having a great time), offers to help Dom take out Deckard but first, Dom and his crew have to do a favor for Mr. Nobody.  They have to rescue a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) from an African warlord (Djimon Honsou) who is obviously based on Joseph Kony.  That hacker knows about the location of a device that will allow the government to track down Deckard but the device has already been sold to a billionaire who lives in Abu Dhabi….

Ultimately, the exact specifics and logic of it all doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Chris Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, and Dwayne Johnson are all back and they’re all a lot of fun to watch.  What matters is that the cars look good and the stunt work is just as amazing as you were hoping.  What matters is that the film features things that you never thought you’d see — like cars parachuting down to a mountain road and jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper.

This is an exciting film.  It’s a fun film.  It’s an entertaining film.  It’s a stylish film.  And, ultimately, it’s a film that will make you cry.

What more can you ask for?

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Trailer: Furious 7 (Extended)


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We saw the Super Bowl trailer of Furious 7 (formerly known as Fast & Furious 7). Well, here’s the extended version of it with more Jason Statham mayhem added to the mix. We also get The Rock get beatdown by Statham. Then again we’re all pretty much aware that Statham probably is the only person can put a beatdown on the Rock.

It looks like the summer blockbuster season starting out earlier and earlier with each passing year. Furious 7 is set for an April 3, 2015 release date.

Trailer: Furious 7 (Teaser)


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To much fanfare we finally have the teaser trailer to the latest adventures of Dominic Toretto and his band of misfit drivers.

Now officially titled as Furious 7, the latest film in the franchise goes further away from it’s street racing roots and into the spy thriller and superhero genres it drifted into with Fast Five. Even the title alone sounds like a superhero team straight out of Marvel Comics. It’s almost as if I expect to see Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Daredevil and Elektra plus three other furious heroes fighting the good fight.

The teaser pretty much teases the sort of over-the-top, physics-defying action scenes we’ve come to expect from this franchise. It’s almost as if with each new film they up the ante as to how much universal laws Dom and his crew will break in order to entertain it’s massive fan audience.

Furious 7 is set to ride and die this April 3, 2015.

Embracing the Melodrama #53: Crash (dir by Paul Haggis)


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For the past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, some of the most and least memorable melodramas ever filmed.   We started way back in 1916 and now, after 52 reviews, we’ve finally reached the year 2004.  And that can only mean that it is time to review the worst film to ever win an Oscar for best picture of the year.  I am, of course, talking about Crash.

Crash is an ensemble piece that follows a multi-racial cast of characters as they deal with issues of race, crime, and — well, that’s about it.  In Crash, everyone’s life revolves around race and crime.  Well, I take that back,  There is at least one character whose life revolves around being a good maid to the white woman who employs her.  But otherwise, it’s all about race and crime.  The film is set in Los Angeles which, from what I’ve read, is actually a pretty big city but you really wouldn’t know that from watching Crash.  All of the characters in Crash are constantly and randomly running into each other.  I think director/screenwriter Paul Haggis is trying to make a statement about the power that coincidence plays in the world but, often times, it just feels like lazy plotting.

Anyway, here are the characters who are meant to bring Los Angeles to vivid cinematic life:

Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock play rich white people Rick and Jean Cabot.  Rick Cabot has just been elected District Attorney of Los Angeles County.  (Because when I think of a successful urban politician, I automatically think of Brendan Fraser…)  Jean is his materialistic wife.  At the start of the film, they’re carjacked by two young black men, which leads to Jean suspecting that every non-white she sees is secretly a gang member.  Later, Jean falls down a flight of stairs but she’s helped by her maid, who happens to be — surprise, surprise — not white!  Apparently, this teaches Jean an important lesson about tolerance.  The message, I guess, is that white people can be redeemed by interacting with their minority servants.

And then there’s Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton) who are upper class and black.  Cameron directs sitcoms for a living and, at work, he has to deal with Fred (Tony Danza) constantly double guessing him and demanding that he reshoot scenes.  One night, as they leave an awards ceremony, Cameron and Christine are pulled over by two white cops — the racist Ryan (Matt Dillon) and his idealistic partner Hansen (Ryan Phillippe).  Ryan proceeds to molest Christine while giving her a pat down.  The next day, Christine is involved in a car accident on the freeway and is pulled from the burning car by none other than Officer Ryan.  The point here, I suppose, is that the same pervert who finger rapes you one night is just as likely to be the same guy who comes across your overturned car on the freeway.  For that scene alone, Crash deserves the title of worst best picture winner ever.

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But that’s not all!

There’s also Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle), who has been assigned to investigate a police corruption case that would not be out of place in an episode of … well, just insert your own generic cop show title here.  Graham also visits his mentally unstable mother who demands that Graham find his younger brother.  Now, of course, as soon as we hear this, we know that Graham’s brother is going to have to turn out to be one of the other characters in the film.  Since there are only three other black males in this film (and since Cameron appears to be the same age as Graham), it’s not difficult to figure out who it’s going to be.

It’s either going to be Anthony (Ludacris) or Peter (Larenz Tate), who also happen to be the same two men who carjacked the Cabots’ car at the start of the film.  Larenz Tate probably gives the best performance in this whole sorry mess of a film, even if his role is ultimately a thankless one.

There’s also a locksmith named Daniel (Michael Pena), who finds himself being stalked by an angry Middle Eastern man.  Daniel’s story contains a hint of magic realism, presumably because Paul Haggis was reading something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez while writing the script.

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You can fault Crash for many things but you also can’t deny that it’s far more ambitious than the typical bad film.  In the space of 112 minutes, Paul Haggis attempts to say everything that needs to be said about race and class in America.  Unfortunately, while watching the film, it quickly becomes obvious that Haggis really doesn’t know much about race and class in America.  Hence, the film becomes a collection of scenes that think they mean something while actually meaning nothing.  Crash is less about race in America and more about how other movies have traditionally portrayed race in America.  Unfortunately, director Haggis does not have the self-awareness to truly bring the subtext of screenwriter Haggis’s script to life.

The main theme of Crash seems to be that everyone has a good side and a bad side and that you can the hero of one story while being the villain of another.  That’s not a bad theme, it’s just an incredibly mundane one.  The film illustrates this theme by continually having a character say something racially offensive just to then have him do something heroic in the very next scene.  As a result, the characters don’t come across as being so much complex as just incredibly inconsistent.  Crash is never as deep as it thinks it is.

Reportedly, Crash was inspired by Paul Haggis’s own experience of getting carjacked.  Haggis has said that being a victim of crime led to some intense soul searching on his part.  Hopefully, Haggis got something better than just Crash out of the whole experience.

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Review: Gamer (dir. by Neveldine/Taylor)


No one will ever mistake the writer-director duo of Neveldine/Taylor (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) as the next Coen Brothers, but they definitely have made their mark in creating entertaining films which some have called exploitative, pandering to the lowest common denominator and exercises in excess. Maybe these critics are right, but they also seem to view the films by these two filmmakers through the narrow-minded lens of their elistist and so-called cineaste sensibilities. They won’t be the next Coen Brothers but they’re way ahead of other so-called filmmaker duos such as The Spierig Brothers (Undead and the pretentious and awful Daybreakers) or The Strause Brothers (AvP: Requiem and the awful Skyline). They came onto the scene with their cult classic action thrillers Crank and it’s sequel, Crank: High Voltage.

Their third film took the gaming influences so inherent in their first two films (which for all intents and purpose were video games that happened to be film) and went the next step. Gamer is all about a near-future world where two games with on-line social media foundations have become the rage of the entertainment world. One is a game called “Society” that looks to be the nightmare evolution of privacy advocates everywhere to the on-line virtual world Second Life and The Sims. It is the other game in this film which makes up the foundation of the film’s plot. “Slayers” takes the ultra-popular multiplayer on-line experiences of games such as Call of Duty and HALO to the next level by allowing gamers to actually control real people (inmates sentenced to death) to act as their avatars in a real-life battlefield arena with real weapons and real deaths.

These games which have become the obsession of hundreds of millions of people worldwide are the brainchild of the film’s antagonist. Michael C. Hall plays the creator of these games and his performance looks to combine the sociopathic charm of his Dexter character with that of Steve Jobs is the latter was openly honest about his douchebag tendencies. Playing his opposite is the character of Kable who happens to be the reigning champion of the game Slayers and who knows a secret that could tear down the billion-dollar empire created by Castle. Gerard Butler plays the desperate but very capable inmate Kable who just wants to survive past the final match and earn his freedom thus return to his wife and young daughter on the outside.

Gamer posits the question of how far are we willing to go to experience realism in our games and entertainment. With the game Society people pay to be able to control other people in a social setting (albeit in a controlled area). These so-called avatars will do anything and everything their real-life controllers tell them to do. In the film these avatars get paid to become virtual slaves and with most people signing up for the job being the socially desperate. Their situation is not so dissimilar from the condemned inmates who populate the game Slayers. The film hits the audience with a sledgehammer that these virtual entertainments have become popular worldwide because people have stopped looking at these “volunteers” as real people. Morality has been replaced by the need for instant gratification by way of these virtual on-line systems.

The film doesn’t make any apologies for the heavyhanded delivery of it’s message and also doesn’t skimp on the entertainment side of the equation. Neveldine/Taylor have shown that they have a certain flair for creating visual chaos and action on the screen. Their unique visual style does look like something out of a video game especially those from hyperrealistic shooters such as Call of Duty and its ilk. The filmmakers have always accomplished the high-quality visual look of their films despite the low to modest budget given to them by the studios they’re working for. Gamer is no exception and the film benefits from the decision by these two filmmakers to continue working with the Red One digital cameras thus allowing them to add in the visual effects right into the shot scenes the very same day of shooting.

It’s this very style of hi-tech guerrilla filmmaking which makes Neveldine/Taylor this current era’s Cormans. Unlike most low-budget filmmakers they don’t use the size of their budget to dictate how their films turn out visually, aurally and narratively. The first two this film succeeds in ways that makes an audience think the film was higher budgeted than it really was. The third would depend on the viewer whether the film succeeds or not. For those who seem intent on viewing every film as if they were made to be worthy of high awards and accolades would probably dismiss and hate this piece of exploitation cinema. Gamer succeeds in a narrative sense because it delivers on the promise of telling a story about a world where free will has been seconded to control in the need of a population in search of a the next virtual playground. It’s a heady premise that has been explored in past films such as the Matrix Trilogy and another film similar to this one which came out weeks later in Surrogates.

Gamer doesn’t have the philosophical and existential sermoning in combination with futuristic action sequences as the Wachowski Brothers’ trilogy, but it does have the same visceral action DNa as those three films and also more entertaining than the Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates. This film will appeal to the very people who it condemns as sheep to the rising tide of on-line control in entertainment, but then that’s what all exploitation films tend to do best. Cater to the very people it uses as examples of what’s wrong in society and build an entertaining film around them and what they represent.

The film’s cast revolves around Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall and the roles they play. Whether its Amber Valletta playing Kable’s desperate wife who has sold herself to become a controllable avatar in Society to try and earn enough to get her young daughter back or to Logan Lerman playing the role of Simon the gamer who controls Kable during the Slayer matches. They all do enough with their roles to keep their characters from becoming less than one-notes. Again, for some having a film with characters that are quite basic and one-note might make for a bad film, but when put into context of the story being told they’re quite good and needed to become motivators for Butler’s character.

In the end, Neveldine/Taylor have made a modern day exploitation and grindhouse film in Gamer without having to resort to the visual tricks used in the Rodriguez/Tarantino grindhouse homage film Grindhouse. A film doesn’t need to have film scratches, overexposed film stock, scratchy audio track or missing film reels to be grindhouse. It just have to espouse the very nature of the films which made up the kind of films which became prime example of grindhouse/exploitation cinema. Gamer won’t win any awards, but I suspect that more people who saw it were entertained by it’s blatant, in-your-face entertainment than would normally admit to it. It’s a film that has cult status and guilty pleasure written all over it.

Plus, this film is definitely worth at least a curiosity viewing if just to see the musical number performed by Michael C. Hall at the climactic sequence near the end of the film. I don’t think any film has ever combined gratuitous violence, musical dance numbers using bloodied death row inmates and Michael C. Hall singing Frank Sinatra’s “Ive Got You Under My Skin“. That sequence alone is worth a rental or Netflix Instant streaming.

Fast Five (Super Bowl TV Spot)


I know that the Fast and Furious franchise has been milked for as long as decent, but this latest tv spot for the fifth film in the series has made me rethink about not seeing it when it first comes out.

It looks to be concentrating more now on the action and less on how cool the cars are though from the looks of it they’re still driving around i some cool ass cars. Plus, this fifth one has the Rock back. I don’t mean Dwayne Johnson, but the Rock. Ever since he dropped the Rock moniker he had relagated himself to family-friendly films. He was truly cool on-screen when he was just the Rock.

Fast Five comes out this April 29, 2011.

Fast Five (Official Trailer)


Like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise this Vin Diesel racing franchise has been milked liked it has never been milked before. While it hasn’t reached the level of the Saw series this action-racing film series is definitely getting up there.

What started as Hollywood’s look and attempt to show underground street racing has become a joke amongst those who actually race for real. There’s a term for people who began to trick out their rides with elaborate color schemes, flames shooting out of exhaust pipes, body kits that changed the looks of the car right down to computerized control panels. Those people were going “fast and furious” and that wasn’t a compliment.

Real racers try to lighten a car and add horsepower instead of adding so much crap the way the people in the films do. They got the right cars to use whether it’s the so called “ricers” like Nissan Skyline to Subara Imprezas to Honda Civics or American classic muscle cars like the Dodge Charger R/T to Plymouth GTO’s. Everything else in terms of racing in this series are laughable, but entertaining and to Hollywood that is all that matters.

The last film in the series, Fast and Furious, has begun to move the franchise away from underground racing and into the realm of an action-thriller except with people racing cars. I’m fine with that and this latest entry in the franchise looks to move it even further from it’s roots. Plus, it has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson playing another role to move him away from his Disney-fied roles of the past five years.

From the look of the trailer I think I will enjoy this flick. It’s not trying to reinvent anything plus it has Gal Gadot in it and that to me spells win.