Saturday, July 13, 2013

Feeling the Heat with "L.A. Takedown"

It’s 1989. George H.W. Bush is in the White House, Don Johnson stars in John Frankenheimer’s explosive crime thriller DEAD BANG, and seatbelts have curiously installed in movie theaters worldwide, for STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER. Meanwhile, in the world of television, Anthony Yerkovich’s Miami Vice, the NBC series that director Michael Mann helped to launch, is in its fifth season. By this time Mann had long since moved away from executive producer duties (handing them to future Law and Order overlord Dick Wolf) and had come and gone from Crime Story (another executive producer credit), a short lived but extremely well done period piece cop series. The time had come for Michael Mann to fully create a project that was his own. So he wrote and directed a 90 minute-ish TV movie- L.A. TAKEDOWN – that was hoped to spring forth into a full television series. That never happened, so now we have a strange, truncated alternate universe version of 1995’s HEAT (which he also wrote and directed), that is very different, while at the same time very similar.

 "Hey, Bar, get a load of this new Star Trek 5! Can we get them to install some seatbelts in the presidential screening roo--HUWWAAARUGGHLLGHH!"

Everyone has seen HEAT so there’s no use rehashing the plot of this cops vs. crooks epic. HEAT clocks in at around 3 hours (around there. I haven’t watched it in a while). L.A. Takedown is 90 minutes, so some plots you might remember from HEAT are nowhere to be seen here. I could go down a list of differences between the two stories, but I don't have the time. The most interesting thing in L.A. Takedown to me, was the cinematography. I loved COLLATERAL, especially that digital video look Mann went with. Officially his first attempt at shooting digital started with ROBBERY HOMICIDE DIVISION, another short lived but extraordinary cop show that aired in 2002. L.A. Takedown, obviously, is not shot in digital, but has the same feel of realism that RHD and COLLATERAL share. So you can see the seeds of COLLATERAL in the cinematography of L.A TAKEDOWN. 

Also very interesting are the casting choices. If you’ve already seen HEAT this will be a shock to your system. HEAT has a far better cast than L.A. Takedown, obviously, since you get big name tinsel town heavy hitters like Pacino and Deniro. In L.A. Takedown, the role of Vincent Hanna (played by Pacino in HEAT) is assumed by Scott Plank, a boring, bland actor who resembles a SERIOUS ADAM SANDLER. Plank previously appeared on both Miami Vice and Crime Story, so maybe Mann thought this young actor had the chops to head up a TV movie. He doesn’t. Patrick McClaren, the head of the robbery ring, so exquisitely played by DeNiro (under the name Neil McCauley), is portrayed by Alex McArthur. He does a lot better in his performance, he’s just as believable as DeNiro is, I thought. He previously appeared as the murderer in William Friedkin’s RAMPAGE, I thought he was great there too.

The supporting cast of L.A. Takedown is filled with familiar faces. Michael Rooker shows up, as do Daniel Baldwin and PREDATOR’S Richard “Poncho” Chaves. They’re all part of Vincent Hanna’s team of detectives. Takedown is almost a 1989 who’s who. Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Xander Berkeley, and even JUAN FERNANDEZ, that latin actor who eats a rolex watch in KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS appears. He would go on to be a suicide bomber in EXECUTIVE DECISION (“Listen to the sound of AL-TAR!” BOOM!). 

The short running time on LA Takedown hurts things a bit. A story like this needs a lot more breathing room, which I think Mann excelled at for HEAT. Maybe someone who saw Takedown first would disagree but the subplots from HEAT that are missing here are sorely missed. For what it is, however, L.A. Takedown was overall a lot of fun, particularly 

The original ending, in which the story ends in the posh hotel that sleazy Waingro is hiding out at. Hanna karate kicks Waingro out the window of a highrise. He plummets to the pavement just like Hans Gruber! A rare CANNON FILMS moment for Michael Mann!

The biggest complaint I have is the music in this movie. Shame on Michael Mann frankly for letting it be like this. In Miami Vice, Mann helped to pioneer including cutting edge music in the episodes. Mann knows the value of having a effective score. Just watch his 1982 film THE KEEP for proof.  L.A. Takedown is full of overly peppy, generic shredding rock guitars. It sounds like a commercial for a pool supply store, bringing to mind laughing children jumping up and down in an inflatable pool. Completely inappropriate score for L.A. Takedown. Other than that, it’s a solid TV movie, shot with an eye that is ahead of its time, and well worth tracking down if you like HEAT. It’s not even on DVD in the U.S. Is Mann embarrassed by it for some reason?  If I were a director, I might feel reluctant to release this, when I’ve already made an improved version of it with HEAT. This is very much a prototype version of HEAT that is rough around the edges in most areas. Nevertheless, I would love to get both this, and his earlier movie THE KEEP on at least DVD, blu-ray would be preferable.  Track this movie down and feel the HEAT from the very beginning!

 "They're gonna need seatbelts in the living room this August I tell you whut!" - Michael Mann
L to R: Daniel Baldwin, Michael Rooker, Michael Mann, Adam Sandler

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

THE NAKED VCR - From the files of Autism Squad!

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but I haven’t been to any movies lately. I still want to see White House Down, and Pacific Rim is coming up soon. However I still have a lot of tapes to show you, from my various thrifting adventures. I have quite a backlog, so I thought I’d just show a few at a time.  

Nothing in this assortment is particularly rare but I am very happy to have them regardless. The first is CBS FOX’s ALIENS, the original home video release from 1987. I was lucky enough to find a copy a few days before I found this one, so I am sending the spare to my fellow tape collector and ALIENS superfan Mike Flynn of NEON NOIRE. Nothing else needs to be said about ALIENS. It’s a classic, no matter what format you watch it in. I have the tape, dvd, blu ray, etc. I even have some of the poorly written novels and just about every one of Dark Horse’s comics. 

Next is the CBS FOX release of plain ol’ ALIEN. I THINK this is the original VHS release but not 100 percent sure. It’s from 1984. Perhaps a diligent reader can write in and let me know.  Like ALIENS, nothing needs to be said about this movie. One of the greatest sci-fi/horror movies ever made, brilliantly written and directed. On a side note, I think of the big studios, the CBS FOX label is my all time favorite. It’s something about that cool white colored font against the gray background. They look really cool when there’s  a lot of them together.

Now, we move on to something I’ve been on the hunt for, for my friend John at JOHNNY’S DRIVE-IN. Its one of the special SCREAM releases, with Neve Campbell on the front. In addition to the basic home video release, they put out three special covers- one with Neve Campbell, one with Courtney Cox, and the last one with Drew Barrymore. I’m sure they’d look great side by side on a shelf or something. As to what I think about the movie, I couldn’t really say. I’ve only seen SCREAM a couple times on tape, like in 2000. So this isn’t a horror movie that is really on my radar. I didn’t see any of the sequels, all I remember is VALUED, CHERISHED actors Matthew (Wing Commander) Lillard and Jamie (Son of the Mask) Kennedy hamming it up.  The tape is in nice condition and it will go to a good home.

Here we come to a really cool tape, it’s the HBO/CANNON VIDEO release of THE TERMINATOR. This is one of the original home video releases. The very first was from THORN-EMI and it has pretty much the same cover and back design as this. It has a cool pull quote from the Washington Post, and it’s in good condition so I’m glad to have it. The first Terminator has always been my favorite of all four. When I’m watching this movie, it makes me wish that all four movies were cheaper, and smaller scale like the original… it’s almost like a slasher. They could have done 9 or 10 of these, like Friday the 13th! T2 is a great movie, but once we get to T3 and TERMINATOR SALVATION, and garbage like Arnold wearing star-shaped Elton John sunglasses, who cares? Hollywood no care about quality anymore!

Also there's a HBO Home Video release of PLATOON. They were the very first ones to bring the movie to home audiences and I’m very excited to have it as part of my collection. Very, very classy packaging. Shiny gold lettering brings to mind the rich fatcats behind the scenes in Washington who sent all the boys to die.  The iconic poster art of Willem Dafoe reaching for Oscar gold also appeared on the front of the NES game. The later Vestron release is basically the same, sans the shiny lettering. Nothing much to say about this movie other than its one of my favorite war movies, up there with APOCALYPSE NOW and THE LONGEST DAY.

Last but certainly not least, Bruce Willis as Bill Capa explodes out of the boudoir and into your living room with the steamy director’s cut of Richard (Freebie & The Bean) Rush’s COLOR OF NIGHT. Now this is not a rare, original tape but it is a movie I love. If you haven’t seen this movie, (which critics have hailed as one of Bruno’s all time worst) you have to check it out. One of the steamiest sex scenes ever reveals Bruno’s little nakatomi tower, Ruben Blades is on hand as a shrill latin stereotype, and Scott Bakula appears early on as Capa’s colleague and friend. Bakula and Willis have surprisingly good chemistry in their scenes together. They should have paired Willis with Bakula in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD. Maybe I would have cared. For now though, their scenes together portray a believably strong friendship that is cruelly shattered when a mysterious killer leaps through a pane of glass and stabs a screaming Bakula a dozen times. It’s a cheeseball, overwritten movie but it’s a lot of fun, with a stellar supporting cast including Brad Dourif, Lance Henriksen, Kevin J. O’Connor and more. Just give it a try, you’ll have a fun time.

That’s all I have for now, but I’ll be back soon with some more goodies.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Diamonds are a moviegoer's best friend

 Michael Keaton’s back, terrorizing a blind Afghanistan vet who is hiding a fortune in diamonds! Joseph Ruben's back too, director of genuine kickass 90s thriller SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY. In that movie, Patrick Bergin sleazily laps up water from a fountain with all the gusto of a man eating a woman’s sacred flower. Ruben offers up his latest blooming flower with Penthouse North. It’s a movie that is in danger of never being released. I guess it was supposed to be in theaters. It never showed up. Then it was supposed to come out on dvd in April. It never did. No release date is known, and little information can be found on the movie online. And now, thankfully myself and my two compatriots, Erix Antoine and Mike Flynn, have come into contact with a copy of the movie through sharp vigilance, which we’ve been anticipating for months, fans as we are of silver screen thrillers.

This movie operates in the finest tradition of 90s thrillers that I love, like SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, PACIFIC HEIGHTS (also starring Keaton), CONSENTING ADULTS, and UNLAWFUL ENTRY. The thrills are often a little timeworn, but always effective, and the suspense is strong.  Keaton plays ROBERT SHAYE, a criminal who with his sidekick, a bland white 30 something male, storm PENTHOUSE NORTH, searching for the diamonds belonging to blind war veteran Michelle Monaghan. Monaghan plays a great blind person, very convincing performance, and she effectively conveys her character’s fear. She also has superhuman strength, hitting a thug with a table leg and sending him flying across a room. 

Ruben directs with real flair. I was leery about this movie, thinking it was going to be standard direct to video trash, done with zero style. Boy was I wrong. Ruben’s a real talent, bringing all his big screen know-how to this small screen flick. Keaton is repellent, very unpredictable- like Heath Ledger’s dark performance in T H E D A R K K N I G H T. I couldn’t tell really, but I hope his balding head in this is just a good makeup job and not real. Really ugly. Keaton resembles a peeled potato.

So very solid, well done thrills climax in the end, where someone is thrown off the roof of Penthouse North. And this was the event of the movie, this is the greatest death scene I’ve seen so far this year. Very brutal, hits the pavement and goes splat.  A CROWD PLEASING DEATH! Loved the movie, and it gives me confidence to know there’s still people out there, like Joseph Ruben, who still have the brains and the guts to make a great 90s-style thriller.

" Geez, I just don't know. When that, frankly, very realistic looking CGI dummy hit the pavement and just made such an awful mess, I had to look away Rog. Marginal thumbs down for me, thought it had a good performance from Keaton"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

World War Z-grade filmmaking

"Hey ya'll its me Brad Pitt, that biggest, brightest star in Hollywood! Much more fresh and talented faces have arrived on the scene since I debuted, but I keep getting work somehow! And I'm invitin ya'll to come out and see World War Z at your local theater this friday! Does anybody really care about me anymore? I've grown my hair out long, I hope the stupid American public mistakes me for that Thor guy by now, honestly."

Summer 2013 continues with what must truly be the all-time STINKER of the season, high minded asshole MARC FORSTER’s WORLD WAR Z, a sanitized, PG-13 zombie “epic” where Brad Pitt is racing against the clock, trying to discover the origin of the deadly virus. Time is of the essence in this quest, which is a strange coincidence. Time was of the essence to me, watching this movie – I was constantly checking my watch! What a PIECE OF SHIT.

 Chris Hemsworth as Gerry Lane, World War Z (2013, Dir. M. Forster)
Marc Forster should not be working in Hollywood. He should be making McDonald’s commercials or something. He already made one of the worst James Bond movies- QUANTUM OF SOLACE is up there with OCTOPUSSY and LICENCE TO KILL as the worst of the 007 series. Together with the complete BOOB who is his editor, he cobbled together an incomprehensible, confusingly cut movie which leaves you bewildered as to what is going on. He brings that same commitment to chaos here in WWZ. One moment Brad is running down the street, with his average white family in tow. Then he is suddenly in an RV driving down the road! His editing is so frenetic and choppy that during big, powerful moments, we're only giving split second glances of the actor's faces. Marc Forster- the director that won't allow his actors to act.

GERRY LANE travels from exotic locale to exotic locale, searching for the truth behind this zombie plague. He arrives, asks some questions of the local bigwigs, then zombies attack and he escapes, and moves on to the next country. This happens about 4 to 6 times so it gets very repetitive. Now as everyone knows, this is a PG-13 KIND, CHRISTIAN ZOMBIE MOVIE. There is NO disemboweling, blood, guts, swearing, or sex scenes. Just some scenes of peril. So this is OK to bring your family to see, and I have cleared it with my council which includes Pat Robertson and Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. I knew that this was a Kind Christian Movie going in. The problem however is that nothing in the film has any impact! Its like an episode of G.I. Joe where you see lasers flying all over and blowing up tanks and airplanes but the Cobra troops are always seen ejecting and parachuting to safety. This obviously was not a problem to the drooling masses of ZOMBIE SUPERFANS who will gobble up anything- who are the real zombies here? While waiting in line to buy my ticket, this old woman asked this tattooed CREATURE ahead of me, "What's World War Z?" And this dummy answered "World War Z. Zombies hehehe yeahhhh!"

Director MARC FORSTER is an asshole. Anyone who hires composer MARCO BELTRAMI is not a real filmmaker. This dope cannot be an actual human being. I think MARCO BELTRAMI is the clever name someone gave to an iMac somewhere in the bowels of Hollywood. This is one of the blandest composers working today, and he is probably the most prolific, robotically cranking out one forgettable score after another. Hey, Hollywood guess what? Music is a very important part of films, and if you can't understand that... YOU'RE NOT A GOOD FILMMAKER! So stop hiring this son of a bitch.


 Pretentious self-important director Marc Forster, a blight on film making.