Tag Archives: Don Johnson

Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man

Some action movies are so over the top they sort of become fantasy by accident, so overcharged, chromed up, packed to the brim with bar fights, motorbikes and sexy chicks that they seem to exist on a plane where only those things exist, like they sprung forth from a shared dream that Bon Jovi and Patrick Swayze from Roadhouse are having. Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man is one such movie and really deserves a legacy of more acclaim than its gotten. It’s a road movie, a biker flick, a high powered ultra violent action palooza, a buddy film and almost a satire of itself at times in its own earnestness.

It opens with Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive as Mickey Rourke’s impossibly cool Harley Davidson hops on his bike and heads up the coast to the city that raised him, intent on bringing hell with him. He reunites with his old buddy the Marlboro Man (Don Johnson) and together they set out save their pal’s bar from an aggressive Big Bank, until one wrong move starts a literal war with them and they’re forced to shoot, stab, bicker and banter their way out of close calls, near misses, hijackings and explosion after explosion. Rourke has publicly talked shit about this film and claims he only did it for the money but it’s his loss to not take credit because Harley is one of the most badass creations of his career. He’s a devil may care urban warrior with a slick outfit and even slicker one liners. Johnson goes scruffy as the sharpshooter of the pair, a rough hewn, world weary old school cowboy who can’t stand Harley’s impulsive decisions but keeps tagging along on the misadventures they cause. Tom Sizemore does his ice cool villain shtick awesomely here as Chance Wilder, the worlds most evil Banking CEO, calmly chewing scenery like a viper and deploying a bulletproof trench coat clad Daniel Baldwin to dispatch our two heroes. This thing is casted to the nines as well with supporting turns from Chelsea Field, Vanessa Williams, Giancarlo Esposito, Big John Studd, Kelly Hu and Tia Carrere as Sizemore’s slinky second in command.

They don’t really make films like this anymore, unless it’s a knowing, tongue in cheek throwback from someone who admires and misses the aesthetic. This thing is built of bourbon, beer, chrome, blood, bullets, sexy chicks, cigarettes and a whole lot of attitude, and I fucking love it to the bones. There’s countless iconic 80’s buddy pair-ups from Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy to Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and they all rock the house but I feel like Rourke and Johnson in this are not given enough love. Regardless of whether they just did it for the money or whether they got along on set (they didn’t, apparently), they have a macho chemistry and easygoing rapport that is both believable and irresistible. This one gets a bad rap and the reviews have never been kind, but fuck all that. It’s not meant to be taken so seriously and is the very definition of a fun flick, a raucous modern western full of stylized violence, barroom soundtrack picks and all round rough n’ tumble shenanigans. Good times.

-Nate Hill

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S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete

Dragged Across Concrete is exploitation auteur S. Craig Zahler’s third feature film, and so far stands as his best. I use the terms auteur and exploitation vaguely here because neither can completely encapsulate what the man is doing with his work, the flavour he strives to bring us is so specifically distilled and perfectly see-sawed a recipe that there are really no pins to drop on the cinematic landscape or existing terms for it, and he may have pioneered something new entirely. He blared onto the scene with primal horror western Bone Tomahawk and followed it up with brutal flick Brawl In Cell Block 99, but Concrete is his most deliberate, suspenseful, heavily charismatic, thoughtful and entertaining piece yet.

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are Ridgeman and Lurasetti, two sinewy older detectives prone to excessive force and bitter attitudes, until a particularly violent arrest lands them on a viral video and an unpaid suspension from their captain (Don Johnson in a delicious extended cameo). Feeling slighted by both the department and the civilians they’ve served for decades, they decide to tap into underworld contacts and win back some currency as they both have family problems that unemployment wouldn’t serve well. “We have the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation” growls Gibson through a muskrat ‘stache and eyes clouded with anger, and it’s easy to see why he’s miffed. The film is under vague fire for showing us two racist asshole antiheroes and while their actions in the opening collar sequence are extreme and not very nice, they’re not as played up, hateful or heinous as I’ve read some whiny reviews claim. These two are hard bitten jerks, but when the anvil comes down and we see the moral core of each laid bare, they are essentially decent guys who won’t stand by when real injustice rears it’s ugly head. It does too, in the form of nasty arch criminal Vogelmann (an icy, evil Thomas Kretschmann) after a tip off from an underworld contact (Udo Kier, all too briefly). They decide to try and score some mob loot just as ex con Johns (Tory Kittles) and his childhood buddy Biscuit (Michael Jai White) gang up with Vogelmann to do some criminal shit.

This film has its action scenes and close encounters but what really enthralled me is the patience it takes to show us stakeouts in real time and set up incident on its own clock. The two cops post up in their car, eat snack food, nap, banter and compare world views as they simply wait for their quarry to make his move. This is the kind of character cultivation and pacing that leads to investment in the story, so that when the payoff comes we are riveted. I’ve already spoiled too much because I just saw this and want to gab about it endlessly but it’s essentially a long, measured surveillance game followed by a chase and one knockout of a confrontation scene that’s insanely suspenseful and ducks many expectations we have given what we’ve seen so far. Gibson and Vaughn are just so great here, they eat up the dialogue like fast food served with fine wine, it’s Mel’s best performance in years and he owns it. Zahler has a way of writing that is like protein for the ears, a poetically rich timbre as if every character has several thesaurus’s on hand and uses rich, offbeat dialogue to place you right in the scene. Some will inevitably find it too purple or pretentious a script, but I love the way this guy writes. Further down the cast lineup we get turns from Zahler regulars Jennifer Carpenter and Fred Melamed as well as Laurie Holden, Cardi Wong, Matthew MacCaull and others.

My only one gripe is the ongoing and blatant use of Vancouver as other cities when it’s very clearly not. It’s supposed to be Bulwark here but they’re sat up there in Don Johnson’s office on like the twentieth floor somewhere in Coal Harbour with the whole Burrard Inlet visible and it’s like… get real, it’d be nice to see things filmed where they’re set for personality instead of just lazily using my city, but oh well. Probably not a gripe for most, but having grown up here it takes me out of the story just a bit when everything under the sun is recognizable. This has to be Zahler’s most complete and streamlined creative vision so far, a nasty gutter-ball genre piece that shows life in the inner city boiling over the pot into street violence, heists gone up in flames and good intentions shot to ribbons by high powered artillery. The best film I’ve seen so far this year.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained really and truly feels like the old school exploitation epics that he was going for in everything from style, music, dialogue and especially pacing. Movies were longer back then in more ways than just length, which sounds odd so I’ll try and explain: Django has a great big laconic violent narrative that takes its time like a talkative houseguest and lingers for a while, until it seemingly ends. Then after that ending, there’s like another forty minutes of movie after, as if somehow with this one we discovered that staying past the credits magically extends the film into further, hidden acts. Seems crazy now but that’s the way some movies were back then. People have said that that feels lopsided and is a downfall for Django, but I disagree and think it gets a lot of it’s charm from that structural padding, no doubt purposeful on QT’s part. It’s also some of the most colourful, flat out ballistic and fun pieces he’s ever done. Post Kill Bill, he really delved into the past for some specific genre stabs at various key time periods, in some cases even rewriting history to meet his pulpy, shock ‘n awe oeuvre. Unchained tells the story of intense self freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx), jovially verbose bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, the soul of the picture), bratty, psychopathic plantation baron Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio refreshingly cast against type), and a whole sweaty myriad of other cowboys, slaves, businessman and opportunists in a very vivid Old West. Django and King aim to free his imprisoned wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Candieland, a hellish property ruled over by traitorous head house slave Steven (cantankerous Samuel L. Jackson) and hordes of vicious, tumbleweed thugs. To say violence ensues is a big old understatement; the blood flows like Niagara here, the heads get shot off in double digit count and bullets tear through people like they’ve got barbed wire on them. Hyper stylized, yes, but never a case of style over substance, as QT’s scripts always see to. The friendship between King and Django is allowed to percolate like their tin campfire coffee pot long before any serious chaos ensues, these two make a stalwart pair. DiCaprio is a grinning antagonist whose heinous personality is obvious in Waltz’s gradual revulsion, a setup ripe with gleeful, knee slapping suspense. Joining them is an all star supporting cast including James Remar in sly dual roles, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Miriam F. Glover, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, M.C. Gainey, Walton Goggins, Laura Cayouette, Dennis Christopher, Dana Gourrier, Franco Nero, Don Stroud, Bruce Dern, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Jonah Hill, Lee Horsley, Tom Savini, James Parks, QT himself with a horrendous Aussie accent, a Michael Parks cameo and Don Johnson as a hilarious plantation pimp called Big Daddy. The soundtrack samples everything from Rick Ross to Morricone to Johnny Cash to amp up the proceedings, and cinematography traverses rough hewn deserts, snowy peaks and buzzing bayous to provide sharp, succinct atmosphere for this extreme yarn to play out in. QT’s career comes in two halves for me: The hard boiled, present day set gangster flicks that segued into Kill Bill, still set in our times. For the second half he’s gone historical and turned up the dial on violence, characterization, action and colour, and Django can arguably be called the showcase picture in latter day Tarantino. It’s big, bold, audacious,

unapologetic and I love every second of it.

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete

Danny Trejo has been acting for so many years that he’s now a totem of the collective action crime genre, and it was only a matter of time before he got a lead role. Thanks to pulp wizard Robert Rodriguez, that lead role came along in the form of Machete, a fake trailer preceding Rodriguez’s contribution to his Grindhouse mashup with pal Quentin Tarantino that was so popular it was only a matter of time before the feature length outing arrived. Well it arrived, and despite being a bit over saturated and too homogenized for its genre inspiration (where was the nudity??), it’s actually a barrel of fun. Rodriguez seems to have attracted Hollywood stars like a magnet since day one, and this one is positively peppered with high profile talent in the kind of roles you’d think they’d never be caught dead in. Trejo is all scowls and moody machismo as Machete, an ex Federalè turned brutal mercenary who seeks vengeance against the ruthless cartel boss responsible for the murder of his family, played of all people by Steven Seagal in the funniest work he’s ever done. There’s also a rigged election subplot stateside in which corrupt, evil senator Robert Deniro schemes all kinds of nasty shit. His lieutenant is played by Jeff Fahey, who was the villain in the fake trailer and expands his sinister presence here. He’s a natural born scene stealer and his businessman/hitman Booth is an especially violent creation, but I suppose if I had Lindsay Lohan for a daughter (she makes a cameo, parodying her own hard partying image) I’d be a tad grumpy too. There’s also Jessica Alba’s Sartana, a sexy female agent who plays both sides and lets the romantic sparks simmer between her and Trejo, until the film pussies out before we get a deserved sex scene. Michelle Rodriguez is a lot of fun as Luz, a revolutionary badass who disguises her operation in a taco truck. The cast is unreal and includes Shea Wigham as Fahey’s exasperated lead assassin, Tom Savini as the world’s most elaborate contract killer, Don Johnson as a racist scumbag southern fried Sheriff and Cheech Marin as Machete’s brother, a catholic priest who isn’t afraid to use a couple holy shotguns to do do the lord’s dirty work. Robert Rodriguez really jumped onboard the grindhouse train after his joint venture with Tarantino, while QT abandoned ship. This flicks is a lot of fun and allows esteemed actors to play in the sandbox with reckless abandon, and most importantly, Danny Trejo to bask in the spotlight after toiling so hard in the supporting ranks for decades. My only complaint is that it’s a bit too tame in the sex department to count as grindhouse fare (all these hot actresses and not a single nipple flourish or bush brandish), but I suppose when Big Hollywood green-lights a gritty fake trailer, you have to somewhat tow the line, even if you are one of Hollywood’s greatest genre magicians. The sight of Trejo ripping out a dude’s intestines and using them to repel down the face of a building is definitely in the spirit of the sort of films that inspired this though. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl In Cell Block 99- Thoughts from Nate Hill


Bring a strong stomach with you to S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl In Cell Block 99, a casually vicious ode to 1970’s exploitation that pulls no punches, kicks, backhands or wet-crunchy head stomps that will make your balls retreat up in those nether regions. Zahler is also responsible for 2015’s incredible horror western Bone Tomahawk, which set him on the messianic path to bring hard hitting genre cinema back to the forefront of our awareness. He’s proved here that he plans to make that his long-game plan, with an utterly unapologetic, icily paced prison flick that ramps up into levels of violence that shake and stun. Vince Vaughn, that neurotic, rotund teddy bear, sheds his image as well as his shirt to ruthlessly pummel anyone that gets in the way of his quest to save pregnant wife Jennifer Carpenter after a drug deal gone bad, an area of employment he only entered to provide for those he loved. Stuck inside a minimum security prison, he’s visited by a deliberately sinister old gentleman (Udo Kier, whose very presence solidifies the film’s perpetual eccentricity) who uses the man’s captive wife as leverage, and orders him to get himself transferred to a hellhole of a facility run by a nasty warden (Don Johnson, sadism incarnate). There’s he’s forced to fight tooth, nail and skull to stay alive, and fight he does. It all sounds rather lively, doesn’t it? Not so much. Zahler is fascinated by subverting stereotypes and upturning genre expectations, going ballistic here with the film’s patient, slow-cooker pacing. There’s a Tarantino vibe to the wait vs. payoff in terms of violence especially in the last side of the third act, but it’s much more perverse and played up, and if the carnage in Tomahawk made you queasy, you’ll go full chunder with what Vaughn inflicts on his fellow jailbirds here, and shudder at Kier’s casually evil approach to his job. Zahler has given the ol’ German another chomp at the bit in terms of roles, as he hasn’t done much in years, but he’ll turn up again next year in the director’s ‘Dragged Across Concrete’, which headlines Vaughn and Mal Gibson, so there’s that to wet your panties over. Like Tarantino, Rob Zombie and others, Zahler like ms to handpick actors from bygone eras and showcase them in his roster, a quality I love in a filmmaker and one that shows they’ve done their research. Vaughn is an absolute demon here, a man with a specific, patriotic code of ethics and honour, but also not one to shy away from getting his hands dirty. Don Johnson is riding the wave of a magnificent comeback, his characters here has a southern prince exterior, with evil positively oozing from beneath. This was not the film I expected, not should it have been. It’s unique, purposefully dodging expectations, and hits home with the crippling impact of Vaughn terrifying fists. An unconventional winner.

-Nate Hill 

John Frankenheimer’s Dead Bang


John Frankenheimer’s Dead Bang makes no apologies for the straight up, down n’ dirty, violently obnoxious ninety minutes of rural crime mayhem it throws at you, containing no lofty subtext, tongue in cheek send ups or heady plot twists, purely and simply Don Johnson wiping out a gang of backwoods white supremacists and pissing off every superior officer along the way. A cop film to it’s roots, it’s a refreshing little diversion for Frankenheimer, who is known for taking on genre outings with ambitious undertones. Johnson is a flippant big city cop sent to the sticks to smoke out some neo-nazi assholes who are running guns, killing folks and all that fun stuff. He’s paired with a hysterically fussy FBI handler (William Forsythe, cast against type and loving it), and at odds with the psychotic ringleader of this gang (real life drill instructor Frank Military, also a solid actor), who proves to be quite a fly in the ointment. The action is rough and tumble and thoroughly R-rated, the villains are formidably nasty and Johnson’s cheeky super cop is wearily exasperated most of the time, out for the count but just gripping the edge as he hunts these yokels and deals with red tape including a department appointed shrink (Bob Balaban) who he hilariously mocks for looking like the Monopoly Guy in the film’s funniest bit, a riotous interlude. There’s scattershot work from Penelope Ann Miller, Mickey Jones, Michael Jeter, Tate Donovan and Garwin Sanford as well. Not a well known effort from firebrand Frankenheimer (I’ve heard some unbelievable stories from this set) but a really enjoyable shoot em up that deserves a far better rep. 

-Nate Hill

MACHETE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

danny-trejo-as-machete

When he made his half of the Grindhouse double bill (2007), Robert Rodriguez also put together a trailer for a film he would like to see. And so, Machete (2010) was born – a Mexploitation action film about an ex-federale who is set-up, double-crossed and left for dead. However, the origins for this project go back even further to 1995 when Rodriguez made Desperado, the second film in his El Mariachi trilogy. It would be the first time (but certainly not the last) he worked with veteran character actor and professional badass Danny Trejo. He’s someone you’ve probably not heard of but have definitely seen. If you need a tough-looking tattooed henchman, he’s your man. While working on Desperado, Rodriguez envisioned Trejo starring in a series of action films as Machete but at that time the director did not have the clout to get someone to bankroll a Latino action film that didn’t feature someone with movie star looks like Antonio Banderas.

Rodriguez never forgot about his pet project and over the years cast Trejo in several of his films. Even though the Grindhouse films were a commercial failure, audiences loved the faux trailer for Machete. Rodriguez managed to convince a Hollywood studio to finance it with a modest budget and used his connections to assemble an impressive cast that included the likes of Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, and “introducing” Don Johnson. However, what worked as a movie trailer be too much of a good thing as a feature film?

The prologue sets up everything we need to know about Machete (Trejo) – he’s a badass Mexican federale set-up by his corrupt superior and left for dead by local druglord Torrez (Seagal). It also sets just the right tone as we see Machete hacking and slashing his way through a house of bad guys with bloody abandon. Meanwhile, in the United States, a corrupt, ultra-conservative Texan senator named John McLaughlin (De Niro), campaigns on a platform of preventing illegal immigrants from crossing the border. He even employs a border vigilante group, led by the brutal Von Jackson (Johnson), to enforce his policies.

Sartana Rivera (Alba) is an upstanding Immigrations enforcement officer investigating the problem through legal channels and ends up crossing paths with Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a no-nonsense taco stand operator who moonlights as a revolutionary operating an underground railroad of sorts for her Mexican brothers and sisters. Machete, now a day laborer (or, at least that’s his cover), is hired by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), a local businessman, to kill the Senator for $150,000. Machete is set up, shot and forced to go into hiding. With the help of Rivera and Luz, he plots revenge on the men that betrayed him.

It’s awesome to see Danny Trejo finally get to carry a film for once and play a character that doesn’t get killed off. He brings his customary intensity as the strong, silent man of action and in many respects the film is Rodriguez’s present to the actor as he has him take down tons of bad guys, look cool doing it, and hook up with many of the film’s lovely ladies, including Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan! Robert De Niro is a lot of fun to watch playing a John McCain meets George W. Bush-esque xenophobic politician. It’s also great to see Steven Seagal as a powerful criminal and Machete’s arch-nemesis, not to mention appearing in a mainstream film that didn’t go straight-to-home video.

Michelle Rodriguez adds another tough chick role to her resume as she portrays the female Mexican equivalent of Che Guevara but with a dash of Snake Plissken. Another fun bit of casting is Lindsay Lohan playing the messed up celebutante child of Booth. She and Rodriguez have some fun riffing on her public persona and kudos to the director for not bowing to peer and public pressure about her party girl reputation and showing that regardless, she still has the acting chops. Rodriguez regulars Tom Savini and Cheech Marin show up in memorable bit parts as a deadly assassin and Machete’s ex-federale now-priest brother.

It’s no secret that Rodriguez is a filmmaker that wears his influences on his sleeve. For example, Desperado was an homage to the Hong Kong action films of John Woo and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Planet Terror (2007) evoked the films of John Carpenter and George Romero. Growing up in the 1980s, Machete is Rodriguez’s love letter to the films produced by Cannon Films during that decade. They were responsible for cranking out an endless stream of generic action films starring the likes of Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff. In these films, the action stars were often a one-man army capable of wiping out the fighting force of a small country seemingly single-handedly. The same goes for Machete who is an unstoppable killing machine bent on revenge.

Machete is full of outrageous, over-the-top violence and inventively staged action sequences, like one scene where Machete bungee-jumps from one floor of a hospital to another with the aid of an evil henchman’s large intestine. In this respect, the film has the same gonzo, go-for-broke action that Rodriguez orchestrated in the underrated Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). Living up to his namesake, Machete finds all sorts of ways to kill the bad guys with a vast assortment of sharp weapons. Machete is a lot of fun and never outstays its welcome as Rodriguez knows how to keep things moving so that things never get boring.

michelle-rodriguez-as-luzMachete not only features all kinds of wild action sequences but also has something on its mind, commenting on the rampant immigration problems that continue to plague the states along the United States/Mexico border. Along the way, Rodriguez plays up and makes fun of Latino stereotypes (they are all day laborers and love tricked out cars) only to twist them into a rallying cry, a call for revolution that takes full bloom by the film’s exciting conclusion in a way that has to be seen to be believed. Best of all, Rodriguez has created yet another awesome Latino action hero. Forget Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables (2010), Machete is the real deal and a no-holds-barred love letter to ‘80s action films. As great as it was to see many of the beloved action stars from the ‘80s and 1990s, I felt that Stallone’s film never went far enough. Rodriguez’s film doesn’t have that problem as it gleefully goes all the way with its cartoonish violence.