Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nuggets: The Magic Blade

So this movie got us thinking about how similar westerns and kung fu movies really are.  We're sure we're not the first ones to think that... and we're sure we're not the first to refer to a kung fu movie as an "eastern"; but this movie really did follow a similar trajectory.

We can't say a whole lot without ruining some nice little twists.  However, we can talk about how badass the character Fu is.  The movie starts off with him coming after a gent named Yen Nan-fei that he had once dueled with, intent on killing him.  Before their fight can be resolved, Yen is attacked by some pretty awesome assassins.  Fu lets these assassins know that the only man that is going to be killing Yen is Fu himself.  Fu, in fact, goes so far as to journey alongside Yen to kill all the assassins out to get Yen... so that Fu can later kill Yen.  We know.  Fucking awesome.

The fighting isn't the best, but it does have its moments.  It also features some pretty offbeat weapons, which is nice.  Apart from how badass some of these characters are, the best thing in the movie are the names of the assassins; perhaps the best being Devil Grandma.

In other words, just watch it.

Nuggets: An Introduction

We can't always be pithy, witty, funny, or deep.  Sometimes a movie just is.  In those instances, where we don't have much to say about a film, we will offer up a little something-something anyways.  We call this new format "Nuggets".  You'll see a trailer and a little bit about the film.  These movies aren't necessarily true Man Movies, but they are in the wheelhouse.

Also, just because we do a "Nuggets" for a movie, it doesn't mean that there won't be a full-on review at some point in the future.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


          Heat.  Heat, Heat, Heat, Heat…  Believe it or not, folks, this movie is the reason the Man Movie Guide exists.  This movie is the quintessential example of what we mean by a Man Movie.  If you survey everyone you know that has seen Heat, a vast majority of people will tell you it was a good movie.  However, if you speak to the men that have seen it, they are likely to get a certain twinkle in their eye.  This movie touches a male nerve that most people won’t be able to explain away.  Interpreting the movie through our primer on what constitutes a Man Movie, it becomes somewhat clearer what separates this movie from countless other good heist movies.  This movie features heavy amounts of violence, manly archetypes of various stripes (on both sides of the law), loyalty, betrayal, brotherhood, honor, epic shootouts, and bank heists.
CORRECTION: Heists with cool fucking hockey masks!
          Al Pacino plays a cop who buries his emotions in his work.  His personal life collapses around him as he focuses on doing what he does, and shielding his family from the details.  His single-mindedness is pointed out in dialogue with other people and how he responds to his wife’s accusations.  Perhaps a better gauge, however, is his dialogue throughout the movie.  One of the most bizarre things about this film is that it seems as though Pacino’s Lieutenant Hanna never has a conversation with anyone but himself.  His answers to questions are nearly complete non-sequiturs, his anger is often unprovoked, his eye contact is all over the place.  At times this is unnerving and almost helps the character who seems to border on the autism spectrum, but at others it leaves us with really funny lines like, “You can get killed walking your doggie!”  Just imagine the trademark Pacino yell-y voice saying that.  The only conversation he seems to be engaged in takes place at a coffee shop across the table from his nemesis, Robert De Niro.  Whether this is intentional or not is undetermined, but it does add a gravitas to the scene beyond the mob movie fanboy ejaculation, “They’re finally in the same room together in the same movie!” that was likely a big selling point to the whole shebang.
Sometimes it feels like the only thing separating Pacino from Gary Busey is The Godfather.
          Robert De Niro plays the head of a heist crew.  His character has at least a partial resemblance to James Coburn’s character in The Magnificent Seven.  The money almost seems secondary to both the challenge and the craft to De Niro’s Neal McCauley.  As with many, many heist movies, this one focuses on the concept of ‘one last big score’.  But don’t let that deter you from the film.  If anything, it just helps to amplify the underlying philosophical premise of the movie.  You see, this film is about as fatalistic and deterministic as it gets.  Characters are constantly and repeatedly going against their own decisions, not to mention against good advice or the smart move.  Each character seems as though they’re traveling on rails towards the endgame, and what makes this movie both wonderful and tragic, is that those rails all inevitably collide in a pleasantly unpleasant way.  Thieves have to steal, cops must fight crime, psychopaths are compelled to kill, criminals are unable to leave their life behind, witnesses can’t not testify despite the implications, and relationships live on in the brutal light of infidelity and incompatibility.  Case in point, during the pivotal shared coffee between Hanna and McCauley, the following exchange happens:
          I don't know how to do anything

         (the shared confession)  ...neither do I.
          And I don't much want to.

          Neither do I.

          If you have seen this movie, and it’s been a while, you’re likely forgetting what an unbelievably ridiculous cast was involved.  Granted, not everyone was well known at the time, but De Niro’s gang also includes Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Danny Trejo.  Jon Voight is their awesomely disgusting mulleted fence and advisor.  Pacino investigates flanked by Ted “It rubs the lotion on its skin” Levine.   Natalie Portman is Pacino’s stepdaughter Ashley Judd plays Val Kilmer’s wife.  The movie also features Dennis Haysbert, Hank Azaria, Jeremy Piven, Tone Loc, and Henry Rollins.  It can be distracting, but only momentarily.
          The movie, though it belongs on the Man Movie Mount Rushmore, is far from perfect.  The non-orchestral music is particularly bad.  Much of the time the music has a seedy mid-90s aspect not unlike an episode of Red Shoe Diaries, and a scene in a hip, urban underground club features House of Pain (unlikely even in 1995).  The dialog between Waingro and his prostitute sounds like it was written by Michael Mann while he was trying to watch something on TV at the same time.  If you think we’re making a big deal about nothing, she at one point says this to Waingro, “You fly. You cool.”  Nobody says that ever.  Not ever.  She goes on to say, and we quote, “You a hot dog.  You a cowboy.  You hung like a horse and this was the monster fuck of my young life.  Now I gotta get my ass streetside.”  Really, Michael Mann?!  Really?  It also warrants mentioning that the lighting in certain scenes is completely fake to the point that it looks like actors are in front of a green screen for something as mundane as being on a balcony overlooking the city.  We’re not sure who was in charge of this, but lighting is a craft that was honed to a point so as to be innocuous in ordinary scenes in non-expressionist/surrealist films decades before Heat came out.  There are no less than three scenes that throw all conventional lighting knowledge out the window.
Unless Mac Tonight is standing right behind you, this is not how night looks.
          Flaws and all, this movie is an essential.  The first heist holds up just as intense and indispensable as when it first came out nearly 20 years ago.  The acting and the script (with the one noted exception) is phenomenal.  The movie is thrilling and suspenseful and gut-wrenching.  It also manages to accomplish what so few movies do; it humanizes both sides.  Some people grew up wanting to be the good guys, others grew up thinking being a bank robber would be awesome… but it’s safe to say that the movie makes you understand the allure and the grief of both.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Our First Blog-A-Thon

We are very excited.  Beginning next week, we will be contributing to the SCENES OF THE CRIME BLOG-A-THON.  We will be helping to create a definitive list of what crime movies are and aren't worth watching.  Expect us to shift our focus at least a little instead of mixing it up like we have been starting just after Christmas.  Please feel free to suggest movies you'd like us to take on.

Man Movie Guide

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Should Be...: Hotline Miami

Courtesy of dreamcaster

We know, right?  We are only a few chapters into this game and it was so awesome we just had to share it.  This game sports a soundtrack that at times sounds like Animal Collective, chillwave, and retro synth a la Kavinsky.

The aesthetic is an acid trip take on 80s with a mean streak of ultraviolence.  Think the movie Drive as interpreted by a mental ward for the criminally insane.

And that's why we already, only 30 minutes into the game, think it would make for an incredible movie.  You are some anonymous schlub in a letterman jacket who can sport a variety of creepy animal masks that give you different abilities.  You single-handedly take on scores of white-suited thugs in a bloodbath that requires speed, reflexes, and timing in much the same way as any number of uber difficult 8-bit games from the NES/Master System era:  One hit and you're dead.  Use a gun instead of a bat or pipe and it warns every bad guy in the area.  Knock a guy out with a punch and he'll get up and kill you with the weapon he dropped.  It's a gratifying game and it just keeps on being its awesomely, unapologetically surreal and bloody self.

Quick note to any producers or screenwriters in our readership: Jump on this shit now!  It won't cost much money to film, and it is guaranteed a cult following if you stay true to the source material.

P.S. There is a link below if you'd like to buy this bad boy.  We recommend you do so immediately.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


          Probably one of the most interesting things about Skyfall is that, in its 23rd volume (24 if you count the original Casino Royale), the James Bond series has finally succumbed to an overarching theme in action movies (particularly sequels) from the last six or so years.  The protagonist not only has to battle against a mastermind foe and his scores of henchman, but also aging and obsolescence; mirroring the same fear that this kind of movie’s once-core baby boomer demographic is grappling with of late.  The hero is a creaking shell of his former self, held together with gobs of spit and disdain for the establishment.  Gone is the somewhat more youthful tallyho mentality, and in its stead we find a “gotta die sometime…” philosophy.  Couple that with an acute techno-fear, and we begin to see a pattern emerge.  The most egregious example of this is Live Free or Die Hard; but it can also be found to a lesser extent in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (a work of utter blasphemy), The Dark Knight Rises, The Expendables, and Red to name a few.  The biggest difference between Skyfall taking the plunge and the others is because there were functional reasons for each above and beyond just the plotline.  For some movies, it’s a function of the franchise star himself getting too old to do it and must therefore pass on the mantle in order for the franchise to live on.  In others, it’s because the director and/or star is bowing out of the series, and it allows a more poignant and understandable exit for the whole series as we know it.  And for yet still others, the entire premise surrounds the notion of persons too old or too forgotten to be taken seriously enough.  The thing about James Bond is that the precedent has been set up where a young-ish actor can take over at any point in the series.  It’s possible that Daniel Craig is signed on for ‘x’ number of sequels, but given the history of Connery and Roger Moore, there was no real impetus for explaining away Craig’s craggy and rugged middle-aged appearance.
Murtaugh and Bond: "Too old for this shit"
          And going back to the mention of techno-fear, Skyfall falls prey to a movie cliché as old as personal computers in movies themselves.  The writer (and by extension, the director) view computers and computing language as magic; where symbols, pictures, animation, and other nonsense take the place of actual hacking, programming, and even the foundations of an operating system.  This reviewer isn’t sure if it is that the people creating the movie are tech-retarded, or if they just think the moviegoing public is too daft to take cues from the dialog about what’s happening on a screen.  Frankly, this reviewer finds it demeaning in a way that few other tropes in movies can be.  If you’ve seen Hackers and its Technicolor nightmare depiction of what hacking is and does, you then understand the complete break from reality that happens on computer monitors in Skyfall.
Computers... as seen through the eyes of Hollywood
          One last strange move by this film, and the reviewer should note, SPOILERS are in yon paragraph… this movie makes a lot of unnecessary moves to sew up canon.  A longtime debate amongst Bond movie fans was whether or not each actor portraying James Bond was in fact portraying the same person.  That is to say that there is a theory floating around that the name ‘James Bond’ is a code name just as ‘007’ is… and that Connery, Moore, Craig, etc. are actually playing different men who all happen to be code name ‘James Bond’.  Skyfall diminishes that theory (but doesn’t entirely extinguish it); we know that Daniel Craig’s real name is James Bond.  What we don’t know, technically, is if the other actors assume that mantle or they are playing the same guy.
          But enough of complaints and theory.  Let’s take a look at what actually qualifies Skyfall as a Man Movie.  The fact that this is a James Bond movie automatically confers Honorary Man Movie status.  Some of the Bond movies are pretty horrible.  Some of the pretty horrible Bond movies are pretty damn entertaining; but that doesn’t give all of them an automatic MMG pass.  This one, however, had all the markings of a good action movie on top of the Bond brand and mystique.
Also part of the Bond brand and mystique
          The action sequences in this movie are pretty unrestrained.  The chases have a floaty feel to them that diminish their impact, but the fights and the destruction have a visceral feel to them that more than makes up for everything else.
          Javier Bardem got this reviewer thinking that he should legitimately contend for all the major acting awards as a Bond villain (unprecedented, but warranted).  He managed to encompass everything the character was about:  devious and a slave to obsession, unbalanced and a badass.
          Overall, this title is a very solid movie.  It continues the trend of lacking the hi-tech trappings of previous Bond titles; instead focusing on Bond as an operative more than a novelty-wielding dandy.  Overlooking the play-it-again themes and events of the film, we are presented here with a refined take on the super spy film… directed finally by someone with a gorgeous and artistic eye and sense of pacing.