Film Review: Vendetta (dir by Jared Cohn)

It’s a dangerous world out there, make no doubt about it.

William Duncan (Clive Standen) thought that his days of violence were behind him.  Sure, he did a tour of duty in the military.  And yes, he was trained how to kill a man.  In fact, he was trained how to kill dozens of men and he did just that as a part of his patriotic duty.  But that was the past.  Now, William lives in the suburbs of Atlanta and he’s got a pretty nice life.

Unfortunately, one day, William’s life falls apart, shortly after he picks up his 16 year-old daughter, Kat (Maddie Nichols), from softball practice.  William’s plan is to pick up his daughter, grab some food for dinner, and then head home.  Unfortunately, a gang led by Rory Fetter (Theo Rossi) has a different idea.  The time has come for Rory’s younger brother, Danny (Cabot Badsen), to be initiated into the gang.  At first, it seems like Danny doesn’t even want to join the gang but still, when he’s ordered to murder a random bystander, he does so.  That bystander happens to be Kat.

Danny’s arrested for the murder but he’s released due to the influence of his father, a powerful gangster named Donnie (Bruce Willis).  Having been failed by the legal system, William decides to put his military training to good use and get his vengeance.  At first, he’s armed with only his dead daughter’s softball bat.  Later, he joins up with an arms dealer named Dante (Thomas Jane) and the war truly begins.

It should also be noted that Dante is friends with a shady garage owner named Roach.  Roach is played by Mike Tyson.  Yes, that Mike Tyson.  Tyson doesn’t really get to do much as Roach.  His garage does serve as one of the film’s many battlegrounds but, for the most part, Tyson is something of a bystander.  It’s easy to see that the main reason he was included in the film was because it would inevitably cause at least a few potential viewers to say, “Hey, Mike Tyson’s in this!  Let’s watch!”  That said, even with his limited screen time, Mike Tyson has a surprisingly likable screen presence.  I don’t think that anyone will ever mistake Tyson for being an actor of great range but he does a good enough job here that it would be foolish for someone not to cast him in a bigger role in a future low-budget action flick.

As for Vendetta, it’s about as pulpy as pulp can get.  It’s an action/revenge flick that makes no excuse for being an action/revenge flick and, as a result, it’s difficult not to be entertained by it.  The story moves quickly, there aren’t really any slow spots, and the cast does well with their roles.  That includes Bruce Willis.  This, of course, is one of Willis’s final films.  Watching the films that were released after Willis revealed that he was retiring due to aphasia can feel a bit awkward as it’s obvious that the Willis who appeared in these films was quite a bit different from the Willis who appeared in Die Hard.  That said, Willis is effectively intimidating in Vendetta.  Even if he doesn’t display the wiseguy charm that was his trademark, Willis still has enough of his streetwise, tough guy screen presence that the viewers will be able to buy him as being a feared crime boss.

As far as 2022’s collection of Bruce Willis films go, Vendetta isn’t bad.  It’s maybe a smidgen below Gasoline Alley (which, as of this writing, is the best Willis film of 2022) but it’s a hundred times better than American Siege and A Day To Die.

The Films of 2020: Money Plane (dir by Andrew Lawrence)

Yes, that’s Kelsey Grammer holding a machine gun in the picture above.  This is a screenshot from a film called Money Plane, which is about a plane where people gamble on everything from Texas Hold ‘Em to Russian Roulette to how long it will take a man to die after being bitten by a cobra.  A group of thieves are recruited to rob the money plane.  Grammer plays the man who ordered the robbery, a total psycho who is named Darius Grouch III but who prefers to be called The Rumble.

And listen, there’s a lot of things that you can say about Money Plane.  Does the plot always make sense?  Of course not.  Heist films aren’t supposed to make much sense.  Does the film look cheap?  You bet.  This isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster.  This film is closer to be a mockbuster.  But, dammit, any movie that features Kelsey Grammer loudly announcing, “I’m the baddest motherfucker around!” in that voice of his is automatically going to be one of the best of the year.

Well, maybe not the best.  As I said, Money Plane is a low-budget action movie and, watching it, you get the feeling that the film was largely made as a lark.  It’s a silly movie but, when taken on its own very undemanding terms, it’s actually pretty fun.  Unlike a lot of action films, Money Plane has a sense of humor and one gets the feeling that the cast and crew were in on the joke.  One could imagine a director like Steven Soderbergh taking this material and ruining it by trying to pretend as if there was more going on underneath the surface of the film than there actually was.  Money Plane, on the other hand, makes no apologies and doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t.

Here’s a few things I liked about Money Plane:

1) One of the thieves was played by Katrina Norman and she got to beat up some sleazy men.  That’s always fun to watch.

2) The great Thomas Jane had a small but key role as the best friend of the main thief (who was played by former wrestler Adam Copeland).

3) I couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that the famous Money Plane was just an ordinary airplane, as opposed to some sort of gigantic floating fortress.

4) I also found myself strangely amused by the fact that the inside of the plane appeared to be significantly bigger than the outside.

5) When it was announced that the next game would be “Texas Hold ‘Em,” a dude wearing a cowboy hat stood up and was like, “This is my game!”

6) Jackson Pollock and several other painters are referred to as being “a bunch of bitches,” which amused me as an art history major.

7) Adam Copeland’s ex-wife is played Denise Richards, who once again proves that she’s a better actress than she’s frequently given credit for.

8) And, of once again, how can you not love a film that has Kesley Grammer cursing up a storm and running around with a machine gun?

I recommend Money Plane.  It’s enjoyably silly.


Music Video of the Day: Try by Michael Penn (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)

I was going to do one of the videos that Paul Thomas Anderson directed for Haim today but I changed my mind at the last minute.  That’s nothing against Haim or the video.  Haim’s great and their videos — particularly the ones directed by Anderson — are frequently brilliant.  It’s just, for whatever reason, I knew that today was not the day to write about their video for The Steps.  That day will come soon.

Instead, I wrote about the video for Michael Penn’s Try.

Try was the very first music video to be directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  He directed it while he was editing Boogie Nights.  Michael Penn, of course, did the score for both Boogie Nights and Anderson’s earlier Hard Eight.  He can also be spotted in Boogie Nights, playing Nick in the recording studio and incredulously reacting to the efforts of Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothschild to record their own album.

When watching this video, pay attention to the blonde gentleman wearing the Planet of the Apes t-shirt.  He shows up twice and, at one point, holds the microphone into which Penn is singing.  If he looks familiar, that’s because he’s actor Philip Seymour Hoffman!  When I first saw the video, I honestly didn’t recognize him.  I just thought he was some random crew person who got the job because he could run fast enough to keep up with Penn.  Of course, once I learned that Hoffman was in the video and I rewatched it, I immediately spotted him.  I think it says something about what a good actor Hoffman was that, even in something like this, he could be so convincing that, despite being one of the most recognizable actors in the world, he still became somewhat anonymous.  He disappeared into the role.

Thomas Jane and Melora Waters (who played Todd and Jessie St. Vincent in Boogie Nights) are also in this video, standing at the end of a a long line of exhausted dancers.  (This was meant to be a reference to the film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)  There’s one other Boogie Nights reference, which is kind of interesting considering the fact that he and Anderson supposedly didn’t get along during filming.  Keep an eye out for door with a purple 9 on it.  That’s a reference to Burt Reynolds, who wore the number 9 when he played college football.


Horror Film Review: Buffy the Vampire (dir by Fran Rubel Kuzui)

Watching this movie was such a strange experience.

Now, of course, I say that as someone who grew up watching and loving the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Back when Buffy was on TV, I was always aware that the character had first been introduced in a movie but every thing I read about Buffy said that the movie wasn’t worth watching.  It was a part of the official Buffy mythology that Joss Whedon was so unhappy with what was done to his original script that he pretty much ignored the film when he created the show.

So, yes, the 1992 movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed how Buffy first learned that she was a slayer, how she fought a bunch of vampires in Los Angeles, and how her first watcher met his end.  But still, Joss Whedon was always quick to say that the film should not be considered canonical.  Whenever anyone on the TV show mentioned anything from Buffy’s past, they were referencing Joss Whedon’s original script as opposed to the film that was eventually adapted from that script.  (For instance, on the tv series, everyone knew that Buffy’s previous school burned down.  That was from Whedon’s script.  However, 20th Century Fox balked at making a film about a cheerleader who burns down her school so, at the end of the film version, the school is still standing and romance is in the air.)  In short, the film existed but it really didn’t matter.  In fact, to be honest, it almost felt like watching the movie would somehow be a betrayal of everything that made the televisions series special.

Myself, I didn’t bother to watch the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer until several years after the television series was canceled and, as I said at the start of the review, it was a strange experience.  The movie is full of hints of what would make the television series so memorable but none of them are really explored.  Yes, Buffy (played here by Kristy Swanson) has to balance being a teenager with being a vampire slayer but, in the film, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to do.  Buffy is just as happy to be a vampire slayer as she is to be a cheerleader.  In fact, one of the strange things about the film is just how quickly and easily Buffy accepts the idea that there are vampires feeding on her classmates and that it’s her duty to destroy them.  Buffy’s watcher is played by Donald Sutherland and the main vampire is played by Rutger Hauer, two veteran actors who could have played these roles in their sleep and who appear to do so for much of the film.  As for Buffy’s love interest, he’s a sensitive rebel named Oliver Pike (Luke Perry).  On the one hand, it’s fun to see the reversal of traditional gender roles, with Oliver frequently helpless and needing to be saved by Buffy.  On the other hand, Perry and Swanson have next to no chemistry so it’s a bit difficult to really get wrapped up in their relationship.

I know I keep coming back to this but watching the movie version of Buffy is a strange experience.  It’s not bad but it’s just not Buffy.  It’s like some sort of weird, mirror universe version of Buffy, where Buffy starts her slaying career as a senior in high school and she never really has to deal with being an outcast or anything like that.  (One gets the feeling that the movie’s Buffy wouldn’t have much to do with the Scooby Gang.  Nor would she have ever have fallen for Angel.)  Kristy Swanson gives a good performance as the film version of Buffy, though the character is not allowed to display any of the nuance or the quick wit that made the television version a role model for us all.  Again it’s not that Buffy the movie is terrible or anything like that.  It’s just not our Buffy!

The Predator (Final Trailer)

The Predator

The teaser trailer for this Shane Black production didn’t wow me, at all. Then the first trailer came out and a red band one at that. That one was an upgrade but I was still on the fence. They’ve released more teasers, international trailers and tv spot and, once again, I was still not fully sold on the film.

Today 20th Century Fox drops the final trailer for The Predator just two weeks from it’s release date of September 14. This just days after the studio confirmed that the film will be a very hard R-rating raised my interest level.

It is this final trailer (again another red band trailer) is what finally sold me on this film as a must-see. We still know only bits and pieces of what the film will be about but the trademark Shane Black quips and smartass attitude shows up much more clearly with this last trailer.

I actually enjoyed the last Predator film and I hope this one continues the trend and just entertains it’s audience.

Film Review: Deep Blue Sea (1999, dir by Renny Harlin)

Since I’m going to be watching Deep Blue Sea 2 on the SyFy network later tonight, I figured that I should rewatch the first Deep Blue Sea beforehand.

This 1999 shark attack film takes place on a laboratory that’s floating out in the middle of the ocean.  It’s the weekend so the majority of the people who work at the lab are gone.  Only a skeleton crew, made up of recognizable actors, remains.  There’s Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) and Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard), two brilliant scientists.  (Susan is passionate and committed.  Jim is drunk and cynical.)  There’s a marine biologist named Jan (Jacqueline McKenzie), who is such a positive presence that, from the minute she first shows up, you know that there’s no way she’s going to be alive at the end of the movie.  Tom (Michael Rapaport) is an engineer.  Brenda (Aida Turturro) is in charge of communicating with the outside world.  Preacher (LL Cool J) is a chef who acts a lot like LL Cool J.  And then there’s Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), the shark wrangler with a past.  Carter is obviously going to be our hero because, with a name like Carter Blake, there’s no way that he couldn’t be.

Finally, there’s Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson).  Russell is the businessman who has been funding all of the research at the lab.  Even though he doesn’t quite understand what Susan and Jim are doing, he’s been very generous.  However, after a shark escapes and nearly eats four generic teens, Russell decides that he better find out what exactly is being done with his money.

Jim and Susan are trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s.  Susan says that, if their experiments are successful, one pill will be able to reverse the disease.  They’ve been running tests on sharks and … well, let’s just say that Susan and Jim haven’t exactly been honest or ethical about their experiments.  (Movie scientists always cut corners, don’t they?)  Basically, they’ve been genetically engineering the sharks to increase the size of their brain.

The end result?


To paraphrase the film’s poster, these sharks are big, fast, smart, and mean!  And needless to say, they’re sick of being held captive.  Soon, the lab is besieged by angry sharks and no one is safe!

That includes Samuel L. Jackson.  Deep Blue Sea is best known for the scene where Samuel L. Jackson gives a rousing speech, in which he exhorts everyone to keep fighting and not give up, right before a shark jumps out of the water and eats him.  It’s a great scene, one that makes brilliant use of Samuel L. Jackson.  I mean, let’s be honest.  You don’t expect Samuel L. Jackson to get eaten by a shark and, as soon as he’s gone, you look at the survivors and you think to yourself, “So, now you’re depending on LL Cool J and Thomas Jane to save you?  Y’all are so screwed…”

And yet, it’s also significant that the only scene from Deep Blue Sea that people really remember is that shark eating Samuel L. Jackson.  With the exception of the one moment, Deep Blue Sea is an incredibly predictable movie.  From the minute you see that Jim is played by Stellan Skarsgard, you know that he’s doing something wrong with the sharks.  The dialogue is often cringe-worthy and the characters are all thinly drawn.  The sharks are occasionally impressive but the movie doesn’t really do enough with the idea of them of being super smart.  Was I hoping for scenes of the sharks talking to each other?  I guess I was.

That said, as I watched Deep Blue Sea, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten just how likable and efficient the movie was.  Director Renny Harlin doesn’t waste any time trying to convince us that we’re watching anything more than just a slightly silly shark movie.  Wisely, Harlin unapologetically embraces Deep Blue Sea’s B-movie roots and, with the help of a game cast, the end result is a film that is enjoyably unpretentious and straight forward.  Samuel L. Jackson was not devoured in vain.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #93: Boogie Nights (dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Boogie_nights_ver1The 1997 film Boogie Nights (which, amazingly enough, was not nominated for best picture) is a bit of an overwhelming film to review.  It’s a great film and, if you’re reading this review, you’ve probably seen Boogie Nights and you probably already know that it’s a great film.  And if you haven’t seen Boogie Nights, you really should because it’s a great film.  So, this review, in short, amounts to: Great film.

Boogie Nights takes place in the late 70s and the early 80s.  Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a high school dropout who works as a busboy, lives with his parents, and has a really big cock.  (Indeed, one of the film’s most famous lines is, “This is a giant cock.”)  When we first meet Eddie, he’s likable and cute in a dumb sort of way.  Then he meets adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and becomes a star.  At first, everything is great.  Eddie changes his name to Dirk Diggler and no longer has to deal with his abusive mother (a chilling Joanna Gleason).  Jack and Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) become his new parents.  He gets a cool older brother in the form of actor Reed Rothschild (John C. Reilly, totally nailing the “People tell me that I look like Han Solo,” line).  He makes friends with other adult film actors, like the desperately unhip Buck (Don Cheadle), the free-spirited (and secretly very angry) Rollergirl (Heather Graham), and the poignantly insecure Jessie St. Vincent (Melora Walters).  He gets new admirers, like Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  He also gets addicted to cocaine.  And while Dirk falls from stardom, the adult film industry is taken over by gangsters like Floyd Gondolli (Philip Baker Hall) and self-styled artists like Jack Horner find themselves pushed to the side.

And you may have noticed that I mentioned a lot of actors in the paragraph above.  That’s because Boogie Nights is a true ensemble piece.  It’s full of great performances and memorable characters.  Along with everyone that I mentioned above, the cast also includes William H. Macy as cinematographer “Little Bill” Daggett.  From the minutes we first meet Little Bill, we get the feeling that he might be a little bit too uptight for pornography.  Maybe that’s because his wife — played by the inspiring sex positive feminist and veteran adult film star Nina Hartley — is constantly and publicly cheating on him.  Macy and Hartley do not have as much screen time as the rest of the cast but, ultimately, their characters are two of the most important in the film.

And then there’s Robert Ridgely, who is marvelously sleazy as the paternal but ultimately icky Col. James.  When we first meet the Colonel, he’s almost a humorous character.  But then, suddenly, there’s one chilling scene where he opens up to Jack Horner and we are forced to reconsider everything that we had previously assumed about both the Colonel and his business.

And how can we forget Luis Guzman, as a club owner who desperately wants to appear in one of Jack’s films?  Or Ricky Jay as a plain-spoken cameraman?  Or how about Thomas Jane, playing one of those tightly wound characters who you know is going to be trouble as soon as you see him?  And finally, nobody who has seen Boogie Nights will ever forget Alfred Molina, singing along to Sister Christian and running down the street, clad only in black bikini briefs and firing a shotgun.

But it’s not just the actors who make Boogie Nights a great film.  This was Paul Thomas Anderson’s second film and, under his direction, we feel as if we’ve been thrown straight into Dirk’s exciting and ultimately dangerous world.  When the film begins, the camera almost seems to glide, capturing the excitement of having everything that you could possibly want.  But, as things go downhill for Dirk, the camerawork gets more jittery and nervous.   A sequence where Anderson cuts back and forth between Jack trying to shoot a movie on video (as opposed to his beloved film) and Dirk nearly being beaten to death in a parking lot remains one of the best sequences that Anderson has ever directed.

And then there’s the music!  Oh my God!  The music!

And the dancing!

And the singing!

I’ll be the first admit that I have no idea whether or not Boogie Nights is a realistic portrait of the adult film industry in the 70s and 80s.  But ultimately, Boogie Nights is not about porn.  It’s about a group of outsiders who form their own little family.  At the end of the film, you’re happy that they all found each other.  You know that Dirk will probably continue to have problems in the future but you’re happy for him because, no matter what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future, you know that he’s found a family that will always love him.

As I mentioned at the start of this appreciation, Boogie Nights was not nominated for best picture.  Titanic was named the best picture of 1997.  As I’ve said before, I loved Titanic when I was 12.  But, nearly 18 years later, Boogie Nights is definitely the better picture.

It has stood the test of time.


Quickie Review: Stander (dir. by Bronwen Hughes)

Stander was a very good film about the real-life exploits of Andre Stander, Lee McCall and Allan Heyl who were known collectively as The Stander Gang. The Stander Gang was well-known for their daring and reckless bank robberies in their homeland of South Africa. The film stars Thomas Jane (The Punisher, The Mist) as the title character with Dexter Fletcher (Band of Brothers and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and David Patrick O’Hara (Braveheart, Doomsday) rounding out the rest of the Stander Gang.

The film starts off introducing Andre Stander as a highly decorated member of the South African Police Force in the late 1970’s and the beginning of the anti-apartheid movement. It shows Andre Stander’s growing disgust and disenchantment in his government’s racist apartheid policies and his own role in enforcing it. After a violent and brutal break-up of an anti-apartheid protest gathering where Stander kills a protestor, the film begins to move into meat of the story. Stander’s disenchantment with the government causes him to commit bank robberis in audacious fashion as a way to rebel and defy the very state he has sworn to protect and serve.

The scenes where Stander commits these bank robberies were shot well and showed just how daring Andre Stander really was in his exploits. There’s even a sequence where he returns to the scene of his most recent crime to investigate the robbery. A robbery he just committed just hours before during his lunchtime. These scenes and the later ones when he’s joined by two other bank robbers shows Tom Jane at his finest. I think many would be hard-pressed not to think Jane’s performance as a South African, accent and all, wasn’t authentic. His charisma ruled throughout the film and was mostly evident through the many bank robbing sequences. He truly gave Andre Stander the air of a Robin Hood character who, despite his criminal acts, became a sort of folk antihero.

The second half of the film details the exploits of Stander after his incarceration for his bank robberies while a captain of the South African Police Force. It’s here that we meet the rest of Stander’s Gang as he recruits fellow inmate and outlaws Lee McCall and Allan Heyl. Even the way Stander engineers his escape from the work-prison he has been sent to shows his daring in thumbing his nose at the state and the police he used to be a part of. Dexter Fletcher was very good as the twitchy and less stable Lee McCall whose nerves begin to fray the bolder and bolder the gangs bank robberies become. David Patrick O’Hara was also good as the very professional bank robber Allan Heyl. Heyl didn’t have the charisma that Stander had, but he was the rock which kept the robberies from spiraling out of their control. It was great to see O’Hara in another strong role. Some might recognize him as the scene-stealing Stephen, the Irish rebel who joins William Wallace’s fight against the English during Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

The rest of the film was pretty much one bank robbery after the other with the Stander Gang always one step ahead of the police task force put together to capture them. In a twist of fate, the task force was headed by Stander’s former friend in the police force Cor Van Deverter whose intimate knowledge of Stander’s tactics and thought-processes helps in slowly closing the noose around the gang. There’s abit of a repetition in the robberies and the getaways, but they serve an important purpose of slowly building up the Stander Gang’s folk hero status amongst the population. It also showed the effect it had on some of the members of the gang. As popular and infamous the gang had become they were still outlaws who knew that sooner or later their luck would run out and they’d either be put back into prison or killed outright. For some it was the latter and for others the former.

Throughout the film, one could sense that some of the motivations behind Andre Stander’s actions as a bank robber was to assuage his guilt over the sanctioned acts of brutality he had to perform to protect the apartheid government of his nation. The film and the story being told was almost a full-length film of Stander’s attempt to make up for his past transgressions. And what better way to do this than use the system of the state against itself. He himself points out that a white man could get away with anything when most of the policemen in the city were called away to deal with an emergency regarding the black majority population. Stander realizes this to be true and his second career as a bank robber was born. The film only hints at him being a very good policeman, but the majority of the film shows just how much better he was as a criminal.

The film was expertly directed by Bronwen Hughes and as said earlier had strong performances from all the main leads in the film. The story rarely slowed down to the point that the story lost its direction. Every scene always led to the next part of the story being told until the very bitter end. Stander was a very good film anchored by a fine performance from Thomas Jane. The film showed a brief glimpse into South Africa’s apartheid past and how one individual’s decision to defy the state led to a brief, but daring life of a modern-day Robin Hood.