Saturday, July 21, 2012

DEATH GRIP: A must watch for kung-fu movie lovers!

DEATH GRIP is a great example of what talented people can do with so very little.  This is a kung-fu movie that mixes high velocity action scenes with imaginative sometimes funny character moments.  This is a character driven story.  It may not seem like much at first but give it about ten minutes.  Things just get better and better.  I think I discovered this movie on Twitch Film.  There was a clip of two guys duking it out in high speed fashion.  I was hooked.  I couldn't believe this was a low budget film.  It certainly didn't seem like it watching this fight unfold.  These guys were fast and it really looked like they were hurting each other.  I was getting worn out watching our hero go blow for blow with some guy with knives.  That's not a big deal I guess.  I get winded just sitting down and turning on the television.

The story is about Kenny (Eric Jacobus) and his brother Mark (played by Zach Galifianakis.  Nah, I'm just messin with ya.  He is actually played by a very talented Nathan Hoskins.) who get mixed up with some cult who want a silver coin that was paid to Judas for the betrayal of Christ.  Cults are always fun to punch in the face.  Mark is autistic but he is a genius with combinations and unlocking locks.  It is that gift that gets him and his brother Kenny involved with a museum heist.  The bad guys end up capturing Mark and a museum worker named Rindy played by Rebecca Ahn.  What kind of name is Rindy?  Maybe IMDB messed up the name.  Rindy?  Now Kenny has to go save them and punch the bad guys in the face very very hard.

DEATH GRIP is similar in it's story structure to more of a classic Hong Kong style martial arts film.  There is a blend of bloody serious violence, strong character drama and light hearted comedy as well as some dark comedy.  There is a mix of emotions throughout the film and that is DEATH GRIP's biggest strength.  It isn't easy doing something like that.  There is a balance that sometimes doesn't work shaking up the tone of a film to unwatchable proportions.  Eric Jacobus gets this.  He isn't making your typical martial arts film.  The elements at play go hand in hand delivering a unique and wonderful movie watching experience.  There is a lot to appreciate here.  By the end of the film you have grown to love our two heroes and ultimately its not fast fists or high kicks that save the day.  Its a brother's love.  I'm getting all teary eyed just writing that last sentence.  Another unique thing about DEATH GRIP is how the director plays with audience expectations.  Throughout the film we see Kenny kicking serious butt only to back track and show that the badassery that took place before our eyes was only happening in the character's head.  Now normally I would say not to do that but it is incorporated in such a clever way that you can help but laugh and have a good time when it happens.  At times Kenny will get punched in the face or beaten to a pulp because he was caught at the moment day dreaming when he should have been "opening a can of whoop ass."  What is going on in the movie doesn't stop just because our hero drifts off into his imagination.

The fights are phenomenal.  Eric Jacobus not only stars but also directs DEATH GRIP.  He and his Stunt People crew understand how to perfectly shoot and execute a fighting scene.  These guys have it down to a science.  There are no wires or fast edits mixed with excessive shaky cam.  We see everything in sometimes long continuous takes.  The fights are fast and they leave a lasting impact.  You can tell what is happening.  I wish I knew kung-fu.  All I know when confronted with a fight is how to hide under some coats and hope that somehow everything will work itself out okay.  One fight reminded me of the hallway fight in OLDBOY.  Kenny is fighting a bunch of guys and the fight is a little sloppy like in real life and he is beating up these cult members and they are beating him up at the same time ending with them all jumping on top of him.  If you don't like anything about this film at least you can say that the fights are awesome.  They are way better than the fights you would see in a Bourne film or any other big budgeted mainstream film. 

Movies like DEATH GRIP need to be supported.  The acting is solid with some nice performances from the villains as well as our heroes.  I would like to see Eric Jacobus in more action films.  He has a strong screen presence and he knows how to kick butt.  I hope in the future he does more films but next time the truly badass moments do not take place in the character's imagination.  He could be the next Tony Jaa if he plays his cards right.  Maybe we will see him next in THE EXPENDABLES 3.  If you want to impress your friends when throwing down knowledge of great kung-fu flicks mention DEATH GRIP.  You will be the coolest in your world of cinematic Nerdom.  Watch it with the commentary on for some good insights and funny moments between stars Eric Jacobus and Rebecca Ahn.

Buy it here, folks. 


Friday, July 20, 2012


So the Punisher wakes up in the back of his van from a nightmare of his family being murdered.  The event still haunts him.  He gets out and goes to the laundry mat while hoods doing "hood rat things with their friends" show up and start harassing some hookers.  The leader of this gang takes one to a back alley and rapes her.  Her screams can be heard but the Punisher ignores them and goes about his business.  Then some kid shows up and the gang starts harassing him and begins to beat him up.  Punisher ignores this and goes to a convenient store where he meets Ron Pearlman in a wheelchair.  They have a discussion about bad things going on around them.  We learn that the Punisher isn't the Punisher anymore he has quit the Punishing business.  "Six months sober," he says.  But unable to stand it anymore the Punisher becomes the Punisher once again by buying a bottle of Wild Turkey Whiskey.  Then he heads out to the street where he proceeds to beat to death all the punks with his newly purchased alcohol beverage.  The Punisher is back!  Sort of....

Did I like it?  Yes and no.  I like Thomas Jane but to me Ray Stevenson is THE PUNISHER.  Thomas Jane looks like Thomas Jane.  Ray isn't as big of a star so he better fits the role.  It is easier to imagine a "no name" rather than a big star.  Stardom has a tendency to overshadow the character making the film more about the actor.  See every Tom Cruise movie ever made for example.  DIRTY LAUNDRY asks and answers rather nicely the question "What is the difference between punishment and justice?"  I won't spoil that part of the film.  There is some depth to this short.  The movie starts off slow and I began to lose interest immediately but I stuck with it for the uber-violent finale.  The violence is bloody and excessive which is a good thing.  That is what we want to see.  Bones are broke with ease protruding from the skin.  Brains are blown again the wall in C.G.I. fashion but it still good.  Overall a nice ending.

But the whole film feels awkward like Thomas Janes' THE PUNISHER.  I just don't see Jane as THE PUNISHER.  There is too much talk and I don't believe that the Punisher would be retired.  Does this short take place six months after the movie where he said he would spend his life punishing the wicked?  Or has he been killing for awhile and just decided to quit?  Why?  It is kind of hard for me to accept that the Punisher would allow a woman to be raped and do nothing about it.  I don't think he would stand back for two seconds while some kid was about to get wasted either.  I don't care if he is retired.  There is one bad part during the fight where the lead hoodie has a gun on the Punisher and the kid jumps on his leg saving the Punisher from certain death.  The Punisher was saved by some brat?  That doesn't sound like the Punisher I know.  I don't know.  This whole short film feels like a step back in the wrong direction.

I think it is kind of cool that Thomas Jane has put so much effort into generating interest in a new Punisher film. (Starring him of course)  Problem is I want another Ray Stevenson Punisher.  I get sick and tired of people saying they haven't made a Punisher film that has gotten it right.  That is a bunch of bull.  WAR ZONE did it right.  It did it perfectly.  If you can't see that then you don't know the Punisher.

I will admit that while I admire Jane for going out of his way to try and make another Punisher film happen I do get a weird creepy vibe from this whole production.  It reminds me of Sean Young when she wanted to be Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS.  She showed up on a talk show dressed like Catwoman and played in character.  I heard she showed up to parties that Tim Burton was attending dressed like the Cat trying to get his attention.  Weird.  I am not going to say that Thomas Jane is that weird but I can't help but think of Sean Young when I watch this short.  DIRTY LAUNDRY is a good effort and a nice companion to Thomas Janes' heavily flawed Punisher film.  I just hope beyond reason that this ignites interest in another Ray Stevenson Punisher film.  Hopefully we get the same director from WAR ZONE too.  Not bloody likely but a nerd can dream, can't he?

BTW I do understand that by over analyzing a fan short film that I have to turn in my "Not A Virgin Anymore" card rendering me back down to "I'm A Virgin" status.  Whoops.  It was totally worth it......I think.


THE DARK KNIGHT RISES underwhelms......

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES aims to be RETURN OF THE KING with its grand scale visuals and big battle in the streets with an army of cops charging an army of crooks.   The story heads to an epic conclusion for the Batman.  Things are going to end either good or badly.  But ultimately it slips a bit with its story execution and surprisingly lackluster direction.  I expected a near perfect film with the mistakes from the past  ironed out.  But, no.  There actually seems to be even more.  DKR isn't a bad movie.  It isn't a major disappointment.  But it could have been so much better.  It's strange to see such a big movie with great talent behind and in front of the camera flounder and mostly miss the emotional beats of the film.  This one mostly misses the mark.  Mostly.

The story involves Batman fighting to save Gotham from Bane and his devoted mercenaries.  There are good character moments throughout the film that keep DKR from crashing and burning into Van Helsing craptacularness territory.  Gordon is really good dealing with the conflict of having to praise Harvey Dent the guy who almost killed his son just to give Gotham their hero.  It's a small part of the story but it adds significant weight to a way over the top exaggerated plot.  Anne Hathaway as Catwoman was surprisingly great and one of the best additions to this Batman Trilogy.  Her scenes stand out from all the rest and I kind of wish she was in the previous instalments of this franchise.  She makes everything better and it is kind of cool watching her fight side by side with Batman.  Bane is a large scary beast.  He presents Batman with his most menacing foe ever.  Joesph Gordon Levitt is always good in everything he does.  This movie is no exception.  I like Christian Bale as Batman and he has some good drama with Michael Caine.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES takes some good character risks and breaks the mold for how a Batman movie should end.  There is a lot to like.  But there is a lot to dislike too.  Alot!

First Batman's voice still sucks.  That hasn't changed and neither has his lisp.  Instead of saying "citizen" he says "citi-shin".  Yikes.  Bane's voice kind of suckolas too.  He sounds like Sean Connery.  I swear if Sean Connery was possessed by the Devil it would sound like Bane.  It's kind of off putting and it makes it hard to tell what he is saying most of the time.  Its almost comical and out of place.  I noticed in THE DARK KNIGHT that there were times that it was hard to hear what everyone was saying.  It would be small moments but they happened every now and then.  In THE DARK KNIGHT RISES that happens in almost every scene especially if Bane is present.  For the most part those kind of flaws don't really bother me.  It is easy for me to forgive.  You have to be very forgiving if you are a horror fan.  My biggest problem with this movie is how tepid and mediocre almost every scene is.  There are not too many memorable scenes in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  The fights between Bane and Batman are unimpressive.  None of the punches seem to have any impact on the audience.  Watch THE RAID.  Every punch, kick and slam is so visually compelling that you can almost feel the impact.  That is not the case in DKR.  But its not just those fight scenes.  Catwoman kicks some butt too big time but the choreography is slow despite her being so quick.  No one seems to get hurt.  Yeah, the bad guys fall down and don't get back up but you never feel like they just got their butts kicked.  Oh, well at least you can tell what is going on.  Gone are the days of the BATMAN BEGINS shaky blurry whooshy cam.

From the very beginning of the film where Bane appears on a plane faking the death of a doctor and killing a bunch of C.I.A. guys to about half way through the film there is this unshakable blandness to everything that is happening on screen.  Only on occasion do you feel emotionally tied to what is going on.  The thrills never thrill.  The fights never impress.  Things do get better despite the strange plot of Bane taking over the city trapping Gotham's police force underground for three months.  I like the way the movie ends.  I know the nerdo's out there will be pissed with that and some of the representations of the comic book villains.  Come on, guys.  A movie is limited with a run time.  It can't spend years and years establishing long story arches and character motivations like comic books can with unlimited issues that never fully end their stories.

It took awhile but I did end up enjoying THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  It has strange problems but it does get better.  I would have like to see more Batman in this Batman movie.  He doesn't use enough gadgets and he barely does his whole detective thing.  He does fly around in a U.F.O. which is pretty cool but it kind of reminds me of a flying Transformer or something.  The ending is good I just wish the rest of the movie matched it's level of awesomeness.  Maybe if I watch it a second time I will like it more.  But I doubt it.


Sunday, July 15, 2012


THE FP is a fun romp set in the near future where street gangs fight for "street cred" by versing each other in DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION.  This is a comedy that takes the silly premise and plays it straight face.  Its dry humor that is electrified by insane energetic performances and wildly creative (or not so depending on your definition of "creative") verbal slams.  This is a genuinely funny movie.  By the end I was left speechless.  I am still unable to convey the words of how awesome this movie is.  THE FP deceived me with the DANCE DANCE into thinking this was going to be an ultra modern hip film for the young kiddies of today.  But no, this film is for the old bastards such as myself who love retro eighties films and hate the youth of today.Verbally intense THE FP never slows down.  I don't remember a part where I suddenly lost interest and started thinking about all the people I hate wishing upon a star that something bad would happen to them.  Thanks, THE FP for keeping me out of hell a little bit longer.

Btro is the leader of the 248s.  He starts the movie by manning up and versing the leader of the 245s, L Dubba E in a game of DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION.  That is how you throw down and gain street cred in the near future of Frazier Park.  (That is what "FP" stands for.  I just found that out by reading the back of the Blu-Ray)  There to cheer him on is his close as a brother friend, Jtro. Suddenly during the epic battle of extreme feet prancing Btro up and dies losing the match and crushing the 248's respect, you know what I am sayin?  Devastated Jtro leaves the 248 and vows never to DANCE DANCE ever again.

1 year later.........

Talked into quitting his tree cutting down job by his old friend KCDC, Jtro returns to the FP.  With the help of a mysterious trainer whose name I don't recall nor feel the need to look him up on the IMDB trains to take down the potty mouthed L Dubba E who now controls all the booze in town.  Nobody gets drunk unless they go through the 245s.  And you know what that means.  NO DUCKS!!!  I'm serious.  That is what this movie is about.  Ultimately it is about returning ducks to the FP.  Awww, you just have to watch the bloody movie to know what I am talking about.  And that is exactly what you are going to do.  I just know it.  Watching this movie will make you the hella-coolest.  It didn't work for me but I just know it will work for you.

THE FP has the look and feeling of an old eighties movie lost to time and space.  Even though the setting is in the near future everything looks more like what somebody from the eighties would have imagined the future.  The only thing that looks remotely futuristic is the DANCE DANCE game and that doesn't look futuristic to us.  But it would if all you knew was SUPER MARIO BROS. and DUCK HUNT.  I know alot of people think of the score as John Carpenter-esque and they are right but honestly the synthonic (that is a word I just made up) mood music echoes more of some kind of Italian post-apocalyptic ROAD WARRIOR knock-off from the early eighties.  You know what I mean?  Some kind of bizarre hybrid of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and MAD MAX but with a taking motorcycle being driven by a rough looking Robert Ginty with Donald Pleasance running around being all bad and having a large dump truck called KILLDOZER trying to kill everybody.  That is the kind of movie the music of THE FP reminds me of.  Watch MST3K, folks to get my weird movie references. 

A good sense of imagination is what this movie brings to the streets, Yo.  At one point Jtro is to verse some Russian wangsta on DANCE DANCE but our hero's drink has been spiked with drugs.  Next thing you know Jtro is running from a bunch of freak zombies through the trailer park.  Then just as he is being mauled he wakes up from his drug induced nightmare and finds himself competing against the Russian on DANCE DANCE in mid dance.  It is a pretty energizing scene giving you the idea that anything can happen in this movie.  You get a sense that this is a larger movie that belongs in the theaters rather than straight to DVD.  Who cares if most of the characters are white trailer kids talking like they are a bunch of "gangstas" high on Japanese Manga.

The people who made THE FP are resourceful artisans of the craft of schlocky film.  These guys know what they are doing and can do a lot with very little.  They could probably make any kind of film they want and it would be successful with what it is trying to do.  There is a really well filmed fight at the end of the movie outside a gas station.  The camera moved and shook but didn't blur and hide the fight.  Instead they somehow managed to increase the excitement of the brawl happening before our eyes.  That's a hard thing to do.  Usually modern directors of big budget films shake and swoosh the camera about unsure of how to film their action scenes decreasing the impact of the event.  An exciting film THE FP is and I look forward to THE FP 2: ELECTRIC BTRO-GALOO.  I'm sure that is what they would call it.  Anyhoo I am off to practice my dance moves just in case a holographic TuPac magically appears in my living room and "throws down" a challenge for "street cred" on DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION.  It could happen.  We are after all living in the future now, right?  I really need to get one of those belts that light up your name on the large buckle.  Now that is what I call class.


P.S.  The Academy Award for Awesomeness should go to both Lee Valmassey and Art Hsu for their hyper energetic character portrayals of L Dubba E and KCDC.  They were most enjoyable.