Sunday, June 24, 2012

Largo Winch Refrigerator Hatrack

The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch - screwy name, huh? Comes from a Belgian comic book, and Largo Winch is the main character's name.

Largo (Tomer Sisley) is secretly the adopted son of Nerio Winch, the insanely wealthy head of the Hong Kong based W Group. When Nerio is assassinated, the race is on for Largo to come and assume his place at the head of the company, or for parties unknown to kill him too. The action goes from a Brazilian prison to  the Adriatic coast of Croatia to the boardrooms of Hong Kong. Largo's main sparring partner is his father's right-hand woman, played by Kirsten Scott Thomas.

I got this on recommendation from Ta-Nehisi Coates - he calls it "trashtacular" and he is right. It was somewhere between James Bond and a modern action film. In fact, it reminded me a lot of M:I II. All of the action on yachts in Hong Kong/Sydney Harbors, for ex. I understand it was supposed to recall the heyday of French action films, mostly starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Well, Tomer Sisley is no Belmondo and no Sean Connery either. He's got his own scruffy charm, sullen rebel style.

I can't say this was my favorite of the year. The details started to fade as soon as it was over. But as mindless trash, you could do a lot worse.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fair Cop

Hard to believe that we hadn't seen RoboCop - until now.

I'm sure you're all familiar with Paul Verhoeven's 1987 satirical action film. It stars Peter Weller as an ethereally handsome cop, transferred to the urban hellhole of Detroit. The Detroit police are being run by a corporation that wants to replace them with something more efficient. When Weller gets killed by a gang, they rebuild him into RoboCop! Obedient, unstoppable, and doesn't strike for better funding.

There's plenty of action, but also a lot of commentary on the morals of corporate life, almost all of it just as fresh today as it was 25 years ago - even the disco scene looked timeless. Glad we caught up with it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two by Woo

We were in the mood for something mindless, yet solid. Mission: Impossible II seemed to fit. We were very skeptical of the whole M:I movie franchise. First: Tom Cruise. Second: beloved TV series re-imagined - see The Avengers or The Saint. But we now understand that the series will give different directors a chance to try out their skills on the series with an blank slate and a decent budget. Also, Mr. Schprock told us that we would like M:I II, directed by John Woo.

And we did. The villain is a little improbable - Dougray Scott plays a rogue Mission Impossible agent impersonating Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise's character), who steals a bio-agent MacGuffin in one of those typical mid-air robberies (homage to Charlie's Angels 2?). Cruise in the meantime is doing some ridiculously cool free-climbing in Moab or somewhere (homage to Eiger Sanction?). He has to get the MacGuffin by buddying up with international jewel-thief Thandie Newton, Scott's ex-honey.

Lots of globe trotting adventure, with classic M:I rubber facemasks and Cruise hanging from the ceiling. Woo puts his own stamp on this, and not just with his slow motion doves (he loves slow-mo shots of doves flying through his action scenes). Now we're looking forward to the next 2 episodes, to see what J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird do with the franchise.

I was feeling so much regard for John Woo, I decided I'd take a chance on his American debut, Hard Target, mainly because I had listened to the Filmsack (they loved it). Bad guys Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo are running a Deadliest Game human hunt in New Orleans, and the victim is Yancy Butler's dad. When she comes to town to find out what happened, she hires rebel roughneck Jean-Claude van Damme as her guide and protector.

Now, I have nothing against van Damme, especially after seeing him in JCVD. But he isn't much of an actor, and he really doesn't sound very cajun. In fact, Wilford Brimley, playing his uncle, sounds more convincing. All in all, this looks like your basic grindhouse/direct to video actioner. BUT! Van Damme, Henriksen, Vosloo, even Wilford Brimley (looking younger than you might expect), with the final shoot-out at a warehouse of defunct Mardi Gras floats, all directed by John Woo.

The Filmsackers made a lot about how groundbreaking this movie was when it came out, introducing Hong Kong style slow-mo action to America. I don't know enough about the genre to comment (although these kids seem to think that synced sound was invented in the late 90s). This is the first film I've seen with Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo, although I recognize their names from all the B-Movie podcasts I listen to. So I guess this is my initiation. Thanks, Mr. Woo.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hits Keep Coming

Time for some musicals. Up first: Hit Parade of 1943. Susan Hayward comes to the big city to stay with her sister Eve Arden and be a songwriter. In fact, song publisher John Carroll has already decided to use one of her songs - without giving her credit. And so she plots revenge, a revenge which involves letting him romance her.

Now some of this is kind of hard to understand. Carroll's character is a lousy songwriter, a cad and a cheat. But Hayward never lowers the boom, because she soon realizes that she's in love with the lug. Now personally, I can't see it. But exchange the genders. Suppose Carroll was the innocent songwriter and Hayward was the beautiful swindler. Can't you see him going along with the gag, if it got him close to the honey? Well, why shouldn't Hayward play the same game?

Carroll does have a nice singing voice, but most of the songs are pretty forgettable. However, we do get a number by Count Basie and Dorothy Dandridge - unfortunately, it is "The Harlem Sandman", not a classic. There is a nice dance number by Pops and Louie, hoofers in the Nicholas Brothers style.

Also Gail Patrick plays another singer Carroll is stringing along. Poor Gail, never gets the guy. Of course, neither does Eve Arden.

This is a Republic picture, a few steps above Poverty Row, but not quite an A picture. Fun though.

Next, Hot Rhythm (1944) from Monogram, probably a step down from Republic. Also, it was directed by William "One Shot" Beaudine. Netflix has decided that I love everything he's done, so they just keep serving it up, and I keep falling for it.

However, this one is a bit of a surprise. It had a budget - sets are dressed in deco splendor, there are extras, orchestras for the musical numbers, and so forth. It features Robert Lowery and Sidney Miller as a couple of songwriters - no big coincidence, everybody is a songwriter in these musicals. They latch onto new-comer Dona Drake as their key to success, and no wonder. She looks great, Lauren Bacall with a touch of Judy Garland.

They work for music publisher Tim Ryan (who also wrote the show). He has a new secretary, played by his real-life wife Irene Ryan. That's right, Irene "Granny Clampett" Ryan, looking like an ingenue of 40 years. She does a great Gracie Allen style dingbat role, and even sings a few songs. She and her husband were billed as just Tim and Irene, and I guess they were a well-known team, if not exactly famous.

So, two lesser known B-musicals, both worth watching, if only for Count Basie and Irene Ryan. Good enough for me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Conan the Reboot

I don't really get why they thought they had to remake Conan the Barbarian. My guess is that they wanted to do sword and sorcery but couldn't sell it unless it was based on a proven premise. If they had used an unknown story, or remade Quest of the Delta Knights, then nobody would have cared. But they had to mess with Conan.

It starts, as usual, with young Conan among his people, the Cimmerians, a simple warlike tribe. The best part, his dad, the chief, is Ron Perlman. But that ends soon, when the evil Stephen Lang and his spooky daughter Rose MacGowan come and destroy everyone but Conan. By the way, I changed my mind. MacGowan, with an eccentric hairdo, hairline tattoos, and witchy, witchy ways, is the best part.

Lang is looking for the piece of the magic thingy that the Cimmerians held sacred. With this thingy, he can rule (dare he say it?) THE WORLD! Except he needs the blood of a particular virgin, boring Rachel Nichols. Who Conan will have to save or at least help her stop being a virgin.

The whole thing is spectacularly generic. And it would have been a fine generic sword and sorcery epic - if the hero had been called King Krom or Hagar the Horrible. But don't try to pass this off as Conan.

In conclusion, Joseph Momoa, who plays Conan, has weird eyebrows.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Together Again

Executioners is Johnny To's sequel to The Heroic Trio - at least in the sense that Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung play the same roles. Other than that, totally different movie.

The first one was a classic three fighting women kung fu movie, taking place more or less in present-day Hong Kong (with superheroes, demons, etc). This one starts where the last one left off. Then, in the first minute, there is a nuclear war that leaves the whole world desperate for clean water. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Anita Mui, widowed in the first film, is retired from superheroing, holed up in her old mansion with her daughter. Michelle Yeoh is an ascetic aid worker, helping the refugees. Maggie Cheung is a bad-ass leathergirl water pirate outlaw. And so it goes.

The villains are a water industrialist, hideously deformed by radiation, corrupt government officials, a white-robed mystic who is their dupe. The feel is grimy, downbeat and post-apocalyptic. The fights are just as fantastic.

So, if you liked The Heroic Trio, here's more the same, and something completely different.