Monday, 23 March 2009

12 Rounds (2009)

12 Rounds is basically a throwback to your mad bomber movie that was all the rage back in the 1990s. It’s what would happen if Blown Away kidnapped Speed and only Die Hard With A Vengeance could save the day. The only thing that places this in 2009 is the continued trend of Hollywood studios and their directors to indulge in that hyper-style, over-done editing and camera tricks (basically what Oliver Stone did in Natural Born Killers but without the social commentary), which is usually the trademark of the headache inducing efforts of Tony Scott and not Renny Harlin who is at the helm here (he of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) 12 Rounds is also another vehicle for WCW star John Cena who looks like Matt Damon if he was bolted by Gamma Rays. I mean this guy is huge; his neck looks as thick as an oil-rigger’s thigh. The most fascinating stuff in the film is watching this guy handle a phone or hold a gun in his massive paws; he looks like he crush them into dust at any second if he exerted any pressure. Cena plays a New Orleans cop who has unbelievably attractive wife, played by some slinky blonde model, with whom he has quaint fights about finding his badge that was left on the “thingy” (a shelf). He cruises the streets in a squad car with his partner a black guy who is stereotypically hypersexual and stumbles into an FBI hunt for an Irish bomber for hire named Miles Jackson played by The Wire’s Senator Carcetti. While the FBI drop the ball in their surveillance, Cena through his intuitive powers spots the bad guy with his own sexy wife, played by some slinky brunette model, and winds up pursuing their speeding car ON FOOT because he’s John freaking Cena and he doesn’t need a car to chase bad guys; he is a car! He ends up throwing a boat in front of their car, but when he draws down on the two criminals with a gun, a truck accidentally flattens the sexy wife of the bomber. Miles Jackson glowers and says to Cena, “I’ll remember you!”

One year later and Cena wakes up a Detective and finds his wife on his case about the plumbing and wouldn’t you know it he gets a call from Miles Jackson who says it’s their “anniversary” and that he wants to pay back Cena for taking away his wife. Then his car explodes and then his house explodes, which sets up a precedent that the movie sticks to of having an explosion every twenty minutes. Before you know it, Miles Jackson talks about how this is all a “game” and that they have “12 rounds”, which basically amounts to him telling Cena to drive like hell across New Orleans and stop another explosion from happening. The “12 rounds” concept is shoe-horned in there as if to touch upon Cena’s background as a wrestler without there being any reason for it in the film (I know there’s a scene where Miles interrupts a chess game and predicts each player’s move in that way that shows us he’s a bloody genius, but it’s not enough to explain all this “onto the next clue” and “game over” business that seems more the handiwork of a Batman villain than an Irish terrorist). In terms of the action stakes, there’s some good stuff here including Cena commandeering a souped up 1970s sports car to race a ferry, Cena launching from the top of a building with a hose just like in Die Hard, and Cena escaping out of an elevator that crashes into the ground, taking a fat security guard named Willie plummeting to his death. This last stunt is kinda funny because we only meet Willie five minutes before he dies (though he does mention he has a “wife and kids” if we want to feel sorry for him) and it carries the underlying lesson that if he wasn’t so fat and was instead buff like John Cena he’d be alive today (Cena should show this clip at schools if he ever gets involved in a Schwarzenegger style initiative to get kids fit). Anyway the best sequence is when Cena tries to stop an out of control tram from crashing into a nice street festival by planting his car in front of it, jumping out to help the driver stop the tram (that doesn’t work), jumping on top to separate the electrical wires (that doesn’t work), jumping back into the car in front of the tram, telling his FBI off-sider “that didn’t work” and then finally jumping out of the car as he drives it into the city’s electricity generator. There is some hilarious ADR business with dubbed generic lines from the tram driver telling Cena “I can’t steer” and “This thing is out of control!”

Now Cena excels with regards to the physical stuff, running around and shouting generic action dialogue like “If you hurt my wife, I will hunt you down and kill you!” or “You lose!” Y’know, stuff that’s par for the course for a wrestler in the ring. However, when he is called to do emotional stuff or just generally conversational exchanges, his eyes are like that of an obedient canine awaiting treats in between takes (I cannot claim credit for this description; my friend Mitch read this line in a review of 12 Rounds somewhere). I think he needs a wacky black comedian buddy for his next film, like JD from Scrubs if he’s available, to rub off some personality onto his hulking mass. Cena impressed me in his first, The Marine, which was awesomely bullshit and came out straight to DVD in Australia. 12 Rounds doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Marine but it’s still entertaining to the degree if you find intermittent explosions and implausible action sequences entertaining. I have hope for Cena though; he and Jason Statham represent our hope for the action movie hero in our contemporary period.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Bloodsport (1988)

Bloodsport is a late-1980s martial arts flick produced by Cannon films as a vehicle for the talents of Jean Claude Van Damme, his first lead role, and it’s basically the umpteenth remake of Enter The Dragon. The soundtrack is traditional "Oriental" wind chime music intermixed with 1980s Phil Collins styled drums. Fight fans should know the drill: there’s a secretive competition to which fighters of all styles and nationalities are invited to, which inevitably boils down to our virtuous hero, competing for reasons of honour and respect, and the monstrous villain who strikes his opponents down with sadistic glee. The location this time around is Hong Kong where there is a hidden underground fighting pit where the fighters and gamblers assemble, “a no-man’s land in the middle of a tourist’s paradise” as one character helpfully explains. The tournament is Kumite, which is a full contact physical fighting challenge where only the best compete and there can only be one winner. The losers usually leave the arena dead, paralysed or struck in the face so hard they spit out copious amounts of blood accentuated in slow-motion close-up. “That’s why they call this thing bloodsport, kid!” is one line of dialogue we hear that subtly explains the idea behind the title to the audience in case they were confused that this was a Merchant-Ivory film and not a violent martial arts flick.

Jean Claude Van Damme is our hero, Frank Dux. Now before you mispronounce it as “duck”, be forewarned, it’s Dux as in Dukes as in “Put up your dukes!”, you follow me? He’s a soldier in the United States Army who goes AWOL in order to pay his respect to his mentor and trainer, Tanaka (played by Lao Che from Temple Of Doom), a tough but kindly martial arts expert who caught Frank Dux as a young kid breaking into his abode and attempting to steal his samurai sword (the flashback sequences that take up the first fifteen minutes are pretty great as the kid they pick to play the young Van Damme has an atrocious Belgian accent that makes him sound like a retard). Tanaka teaches Van Damme all sorts of helpful stuff like catching gold fishes with his hand with lightning fast super speed, serving tea to his Japanese faux-family with a blindfold on, and having his hands and feet tied to ropes, stringing him up like he was drawn and quartered. Of course, Van Damme beats this obstacle with his super-power of doing the splits, no problem. For the record, Van Damme does the splits about seven times over the course of Bloodsport both as an act of meditation and as an act of defiance. Jackson (Donald Gibb), the burly, hairy American fighter who becomes Van Damme’s buddy and the movie’s comic relief interrupts Van Damme in his hotel room while he does the splits, no problem, and has to comment, with a beer in his hand, “That hurts me just looking at it.” You said it, chief.

Anyway, skip to Hong Kong and the Kumite where Van Damme is to honour Tanaka who is now confined to a bed as he is old and sickly. But the fight organisers don’t believe that Van Damme is a student of Tanaka because Van Damme is a round-eye and they ask him to hit a pile of bricks but only break the bottom one, which Van Damme does in a glorious low-angle slow-motion shot that has his eyes wide and his mouth open mewling like a cat in that convention of all kung fu movies that Bruce Lee patented. Speaking of Bruce Lee, Bolo Yeung, the mountain of flesh that starred in Enter The Dragon is the villain here, Chong Li, a sadistic son of a bitch who is said to have never lost and killed a guy in the last Kumite, which has set a negative precedent for the guy since he can’t seem to leave a fight without breaking a limb in half or snapping a neck sickeningly. Once Chong Li puts Van Damme’s buddy, Jackson, the bruiser with the Harley Davidson head-band into the hospital in critical condition, the stage is set for a slow-motion high-kick climax where both Van Damme and Bolo Yeung wear short-shorts.

What else do we have here? You’ve got an awesome montage of all the fighting at the Kumite that is scored to the fantastic song ‘Fight To Survive’ performed by Stan Bush, king of the 1980s movie montage songs, which is thankfully repeated over the closing credits. You have Forrest Whitaker and another older white dude playing government agents assigned to bring Frank Dux back to the military in a number of scenes that basically pad out the movie to feature film length, the worst of which is a hokey chase sequence through picture postcard locations of Hong Kong with Van Damme in a yellow jacket cheerily leading them on a merry chase until the two agents fall into the water. You’ve got a love interest American female reporter with big blonde hair and the facial features of a second-rate cheerleader who wants to find out about this Kumite tournament but ends up falling in love with none other than Frank Dux. This leads to a bullshit highpoint where they go out to a candlelight dinner and cut to the next morning, the female is in bed, her body covered by a blanket. She turns and looks to see, as the audience does, a glistening butt shot of Van Damme as he puts on some tight red underpants (something for the ladies, no doubt). You’ve got Van Damme doing the splits, no problem, in slow motion for one contestant he faces and then punching up into the dude’s groin. You’ve got Van Damme screaming “Noooooooooooo!” when his best buddy is creamed by Chong Li and then a trademark Rocky IV montage where he rides a subway train in a moment of melancholy, flash-backing to scenes that happened ten minutes beforehand, and being haunted by the maniacal visage of Chong Li in reflective surfaces. You’ve got the gruelling climactic fight where Chong Li cheats like the scoundrel that he is and temporarily blinds Van Damme with some hidden dust, but thankfully Van Damme had all that blind fighting training even though it takes him ten minutes of eye-popping screaming to remember this fact. And then you’ve got the freeze frame last scene where title cards pop up telling us that this was based on the true story of the real Frank Dux, a retired kumite champion, whose record-breaking stats are helpfully given to us as well.

Bloodsport is very generic as far as martial arts movies go, but it’s a well-made bullshit action flick and a well-oiled Van Damme sticks mostly to doing the splits, no problem, and high kicks to the rib-cage of dozens of stunt people. But if you just want the fight scenes with Stan Bush warbling over the time, trust in YouTube to provide:

Friday, 13 March 2009

Road House (1989)

Note: I'll be uploading some old Bullshit Movie reviews on this here blog for the sake of completion as well as reminding you all about some Bullshit Classics.

If there's one cinematic cliche I'm crazy about, it is the bar brawl! A fight breaks out between two people in a bar in a movie and somehow that encourages all the other people around them to stop what they're doing and beat each other up as bottles and chairs go flying around the place! Now you're lucky if a movie contains ONE bar brawl, but how about a far-out flick that is FULL OF THEM! I give you Road House, the classic motion picture dedicated to the art of the bar-brawl and the science of the bouncer.

Patrick Swayze plays Dalton, the best 'cooler' in the bar business. Now a 'cooler' is a guy who runs the bouncers in a bar and basically keeps things orderly between the meat-head patrons. He's contacted by a well-meaning bar-owner, played by Kevin Tighe, who describes his place, The Double Deuce, as "the kind of place where they mop up eyeballs off the floor after closing." Now Dalton is quite a character, envisionaged in this film as a modern day Jesus. He knows that his powers are best used where they are most needed, so he hightails his cushy job, gives his car to a homeless bum (thankfully, he had his other car, a BMW, in storage) and drives out to meet his awaited destiny at The Double Deuce. Road House pre-empts the rise of Steven Seagal by a couple of years by offering a hero that is a combination of Eastern Philosophy and Western Kicking-Ass Know-How. We are informed that Swayze has a PhD in Philosophy (When asked what type of philosophy, he responds, "Man's search for faith. That sort of shit."). He practices a morning routine of Tai Chi where he is shirt-less and greased up, making his body glisten in the sunlight. He never uses his lethal powers until he is pushed to, and in a similar fashion to the trademark Seagal characterisation, he is whispered about constantly -- "Hey, who is this guy?, "Hey, this guy is good!", "I heard he ripped a guy's throat out!" and the best one, "Story is, if you fuck with him, he'll seal your fate!" And he embodies what a man was, or should have been, in 1989 - a white Judo-styled shirt (who needs buttons?), tight-ass jeans and a raging blow-dried mullet. The man also has demons, haunted by a past where he killed a guy, and troubled in the present, as his attempts to clean up the Double Deuce are met with resistance by the town bad guy, gangster Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), who runs the town with the mayor and the sheriff in his pocket blah blah.

Produced by action movie master Joel Silver, Road House delivers everything a 17 year old male ever wanted in a movie: ass-kicking, table-splitting, throat-ripping, shotgun-clacking, monster truck demolition derby, flying exploding cars, a striptease by a blonde with big boobs, a fat guy in a CAT trucker's cap getting punched in his overhanging gut, a blues bar band fronted by a blind guy, and balls-to-the-walls-and-every-inch-of-the-blood-stained-floors action! It has also has a few things for the ladies - y'know, the bits where the movie drags - taken to this flick by their drop-kick boyfriends: their favourite Dirty Dancer getting up out of bed nude with a trademark Richard Gere butt-shot, a romantic interest with a Doctor played by the tall, leggy, blonde Kelly Lynch, who falls for Dalton after stitching a knife wound and hearing his profound thoughts like "pain don't hurt" and "nobody wins a fight". Of course, out on the town, Kelly Lynch lets down her hair and takes off her glasses (she's not just brains, but a bimbo with brains!) and succumbs to the Swayze on the second date where discussion over her uncle turns into an air-borne penetration in the course of two minutes! And there's something also for the more sexually-confused male members of the audience when all the beef-cake shots of Swayze climax in a mud-slopping, fist fight between him and the main bad guy henchman, Jimmy, who seeths threateningly to Swayze, "I used to fuck guys like you in prison!" Did I say this movie was awesome? No? This movie is awesome. And I haven't even discussed the highlight of Sam Elliott playing Swayze's mentor/buddy who helps him stomp bad guys, looking like he's been sleeping in a ditch for three days and uttering in his gravelly cowboy voice great lines like, "I'll get all the sleep I need when I'm dead."

Road House, the last of the drive-in, mullets and muscles, T & A action flicks of the 1980s, and yet the beginning of the genre's interest in being quasi-philosophical and profound. And when was the last time you saw a film directed by a guy named Rowdy Herrington?

DALTON: [Patrick Swayze]: "All you have to do is follow three simple rules. One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nice."

Point Break (1991)

Note: sometimes on Bullshit Movies we also use the word “bullshit” as a positive attribute. Like the slang way you might say a film is "so bullshit" as a way of describing how awesome it is.

Let’s just say it right now: Point Break is a modern classic. Like Top Gun, it was a hit at the cinemas upon release but its status as a piece of film has increased over time, and also like Top Gun, it can be appreciated both ironically and sincerely by jocks and cineastes alike. I’ve seen quotes from the film scribbled on the insides of cafe toilet walls (“Lawyers don’t surf” and “Back off, Warchild. Seriously” could be seen in the male toilets at Cafe 130s in Leederville) and it’s been referenced openly in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and subtly in David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express (there is a Pointe Break retirement home in the film). During the week, my ladyfriend Danica brought up her favourite moment in the film: the scene where Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, plays a drug dealer surfer who accidently gets his foot blown off in an FBI raid on his gang’s home and the resulting sweaty close-up of him screaming, which we agreed was pretty hilarious. Friends and acquaintances in high school would quote heavily from the film such as the scene where Warchild’s gang has ex-footballer turned FBI agent turned undercover surfer Keanu Reeves is surrounded on the beach and Keanu is playing it cool, saying “this is the part where you locals gang up on a yuppie wannabe like me” and we cut to Kiedis sing-scatting the line, “But that would be just a waste of time!” My friend Greg used to do a great impression of that moment. And then other kids on the schoolyard would speak emphatically about how awesome the scene was during the FBI raid where Keanu is attacked by a blonde naked surfer chick who was taking a shower when the door is kicked in and is thereby naked throughout the whole sequence. And then you have my sister Sarah who announced while I began to re-watch Point Break on DVD that “it’s the hottest that Keanu has ever looked in a movie,” which she said as the opening credits began with a rain-slicked Keanu firing a shotgun at paper targets while the director Kathryn Bigelow intercuts sun-lit, wave-heavy, slow-motion surfing footage, a winning combination that Sergei Eisenstein must have only dreamed about when theorising about the concept of montage back in the former Soviet Union.

For those who haven’t seen Point Break, it basically concerns a fresh-faced “blue-flamer” FBI agent from Quantico named Johnny Utah (Reeves) who is transferred to the L.A. division and partnered up with Pappas (Gary Busey), a pot-bellied wild card who has a theory that a quartet of successful bank-robbers called “The Ex-Presidents” who wear rubber masks of Presidents (Nixon, Reagan, Johnson, Carter) during their heists are actually surfers. Or as he helpfully says in the scene that was used in the trailers a lot, “The Ex-Presidents are SURFERS!” So Johnny Utah begins to surf and brings his surfboard into the squadroom which pisses off their angry chief John C. McGinley playing a variation of the role he would perfect in Scrubs.

“Have you boys achieved anything today?” McGinley yells.
“I caught my first tube... sir,” says Keanu.

What is fantastic about the film is the combination of elements. Keanu was working his way to leading man status at the time and still using his Bill & Ted “dude” voice, which is oddly compelling, particularly in comically dramatic scenes like where he starts yelling at Pappas to get him mad and motivated. You’ve got Busey in fine form, playing the wigged out comic relief doomed partner (much like the Jeff Daniels part in the later Keanu action flick, Speed), and he still sticks to the script and hadn’t turned into a parody of himself just yet. Then you have the bad guy, Bodhi, a character essayed by Patrick Swayze with beach blonde Kurt Cobain look and utilising the Warrior Poet ambience he brought to the movie Roadhouse. Yes, as Keanu becomes embroiled in the world of surfing, learning what the little dude who sold him a board said, which was that “surfing is the source, it’ll change your life”, he learns that the new buddies he plays beach football with and has wild parties with tin drum fires on the beach are actually a threat to the public (similar to what happens in The Lost Boys but with vampires instead of surfers). While there is a female love interest provided by Lori Petty (who I am still unsure about as actress, mainly because she played one of the most annoying characters ever in A League Of Their Own), the main romantic tension comes from the push-and-pull of Keanu falling under Swayze’s spell, attempting to resist his philosophical pursuit of “The Ride” and his “100% Pure Adrenaline” lifestyle. From The Book of Bodhi: “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you live.” Once both their ulterior identities are revealed to each other, the movie commences a cat and mouse game of mind-fucking that involves jumping out of a plane without knowing if your parachute is properly packed or robbing a bank without a mask.

Kathryn Bigelow directed Point Break after the success of her rad low-budget contemporary vampire western flick, Near Dark. She began an association with James Cameron, which also led to a marriage that didn’t last, who produced Point Break (and also apparently rewrote the script) and her next film, Strange Days. She brings a great, advertising-influenced visual eye to the film including the impressive car-chase foot-chase sequence in the middle of the film, which kind of rips off Raising Arizona while providing a great visual metaphor for the law’s impotence and love’s frustration when Johnny Utah fires off his gun into the air as he can’t bring himself to kill the masked Bodhi. It’s the early 1990s as well so all the surfers look like they are caught between looking like extras in a Guns N Roses music video and preparing to audition for the arrival of Grunge. However, nothing can compare to the enigmatic showdown at the end where Hollywood places one Australian actor (Peter Phelps) in what looks like a Canadian location and a sign that says, “Bells Beach” to convince us that the film is happening in Australia, even though the cops at the end sound like New Zealanders on helium. Still, gotta love that “Fifty Year Storm” and Keanu telling Swayze “You gotta go down. It’s gotta be this way” while Swayze says stuff like “You can’t keep me locked up in a cage!” It’s a brilliantly goofy ending that updates the High Noon convention of throwing one’s badge away with an existential image of the sublime as Swayze hits the mammoth waves that he has been waiting his whole life to ride.

However, if you were worried that Hollywood might mess up a good thing with an unnecessary remake of Point Break, not to worry, they’ve gone old-school and decided upon an unnecessary sequel: Point Break Indo, which is to be directed by Speed’s Jan De Bont and that won’t feature Swayze or Reeves or even a tanned Tom Sizemore complaining about his shit surfer hairstyle. I think with that film we might be using "bullshit" in the negative sense...