Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Nicolas Cage has been responsible for some of the best acting seen on screen over the years. Missteps in his career choices, tax issues and a few bad films though have found him making more and more movies and not all of them the best he’s had to offer. But it never stops him from working and giving each performance his all. And while some of those films may not be major box office draws they’ve provided him with some amazing performances (see MANDY). This movie just adds to that list.
In A SCORE TO SETTLE Cage plays Frank, a life time prisoner getting early release due to a medical condition that causes deep insomnia that will eventually lead to things like dementia and death. He packs up what little he has and steps out of the gate of the prison to be greeted by his son Joey (Noah Le Gros). Joey is an ex-junkie now clean with no car and no money but there to greet his dad anyway.
The two walk along until they can get a ride from someone hitchhiking. Frank ask the man to drop them by the old house where they lived and tells his son to stay there until her gets back, he just wants to take a look at the old place. The truth is that before he went to prison Frank buried a trunk in the woods behind the house and he’s gone to dig it up. Inside are a bloodied baseball bat and the money he hid there. Returning to his son he tells him things will be okay and he’s going to treat him to a time on the town.
We see in flashback 19 years earlier to what the baseball bat was all about. Frank used to work for a mobster who was questioning someone who had betrayed him. He eventually lost his temper and bashed the man’s brains in with the bat which Frank took and hid. When the police investigated the murder it led them to Frank who took the fall with the promise that the mobster would look after his son and wife. Except that at some point they reneged on the deal which is when Joey turned to drugs.
Frank and Joey check into a posh hotel, buy new suits and a brand new sports car. When Joey falls asleep Frank goes looking for the men who set him up and failed to keep their end of the bargain. First up is Q (Benjamin Bratt), his old friend and one of the few not involved with the set up. Frank gets information from him and goes looking for the next person on his list, Jimmy.
The next night Joey notices that Frank is looking at an attractive woman in the bar that the both realize is a hooker. He convinces Frank to ask Simone (Karolina Wydra) out which he does and the two connect, not just as client and call girl. He takes her on a drive to the hilltops to look at the city, learns her real name and asks her out man to woman to which she agrees. He then goes looking for Jimmy, finding him in a brothel. Before he can take him out, Jimmy escapes and Frank is beaten up in the process.
Returning to the hotel Joey asks him what’s going on. Before he can explain the call girl shows up except it’s another girl with the same name. When her pimp demands money he finds out Frank is not the usual john he would run into. As this transpires and as a bellboy in the hotel helps Frank with something he’s writing a revelation kicks in about all that has transpired that changes everything at once, a twist that most will not see coming. Whether Frank will exact his revenge or not is yet to be seen.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. Cage seems at ease with this character, not taking him too far over the top and not downplaying him to the point of boredom. Instead we find ourselves caring about Frank and his son Joey and want him to get the revenge that he deserves. The twist near the end caught me completely off guard but was so satisfying as to make the entire film worth watching to get to that point. This is one I can wholeheartedly recommend watching and one that I know I’ll revisit in the future. There is still plenty of talent left in Cage and let’s hope that he continues to get the opportunities to let others know that. Some may disrespect him for various roles he takes on but I respect him more for continuing to work in spite of his difficulties and for turning in efforts like this one.
There are a number of people involved in the movie making process who receive little or no recognition. These are the unsung heroes that make the stars look good. While the Hollywood elite take to the stage to receive awards for doing their jobs, patting each other on the back and being fawned over by the press discussing what they’re wearing and how wonderful they look, there is one group that to this day doesn’t get recognition for their achievements. Yes an Oscar may go to a seamstress, a person who gets the money to make a film or a star who looks good on screen. But the behind the scenes person who makes that star look good in any scene involving danger gets zero recognition which is sad. They’ve been there since the beginning of film and deserve better treatment. I’m speaking of the stunt person.
The stunt people have their own awards and perhaps it is just my particular beef with the Academy for not recognizing them but isn’t it time? There have been legendary names in the profession, in large part because of their association with various stars, but the backbone of the stunt persons world are those that are well known but not give the recognition they deserve. One such stunt man among them is Gary Kent.
Kent has written about his life as a stunt man in his autobiography SHADOWS AND LIGHT: JOURNEYS WITH OUTLAWS IN REVOLUTIONARY HOLLYWOOD. It covers his time as a young man who went to Hollywood, found work in low budget films as both an actor and stunt man and in the process made lifelong friends and a living doing what he loved. I’ve recommended the book in the past and now I have something else concerning Kent I’d like to recommend as well, a film about his life called DANGER GOD.
The movie takes the elements of a documentary we’ve become used to and combines them to tell us the story of Kent’s life from the time he got to Hollywood forward. Starting with his appearing with several friends that he’s made coming with him at a signing for his book in Austin, we get a glimpse of the life of someone many of us have seen in film yet might not recall. Some but not all. As legions of fans begin to look back at those classic B-movies from the past or as they develop new fans that create a cult following around certain films, the names involved become icons. Kent is one of those.
The film uses interview footage of Kent today along with various news and talk show appearances to tell his story. Combining those with clips of his films that show him on screen and in trailers we get to know the man as well as we can in the short time allotted. Arriving in 1959 he began working as a stunt man and learned how to do that the hard way. Why so? As he says in the film he had no knowledge of wearing padding, digging holes to fall into or other methods stunt men used. He learned though.
The directors he’s worked with were at the beginning of their careers then but they remembered him later when they moved on. Richard Rush, Al Adamson, Monte Hellman, Ray Dennis Steckler, Peter Bogdanovich and Brian DePalma are just a few. And the movies and series he had a part in are numerous as well. Shows like THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., GREEN HORNET and DANIEL BOONE featured Kent doing stunt work. Movies like THE SHOOTING, RIDE THE WHIRLWIND, HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS, COLOR OF NIGHT and more had him doing stunts or supervising the stunt teams. But he was in front of the camera as well as an actor in movies like SAVAGE SEVEN, SATAN’S SADISTS, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN and more.
In the film during an introduction it’s noted that many of his roles listed at IMDB note performances as ranch hand, thug leader, gas tank worker and items like that. The thing is they were roles, it was work and paid the bills. Not only that they allowed him to make friends and become part of a legendary group that were among the best and toughest stunt men to find their way on film. Those friends can be seen with him here in this film. Not many can say they made friendships that lasted that long in Hollywood. And on top of that this group helped each other, something else that’s rare these days.
The film also covers some of the behind the scenes part of Kent’s life as well. The loves he made and lost, the children he’s had and the loss of the love of his life. The all-around tough guy on film on film has a softer side that most aren’t privy to. It’s on display here but in a way that shows his courage, his affection and not in a maudlin style. It’s reality in the true essence of the word and that makes him even more of a man anyone would be glad to know.
You also learn of brushes with infamy that Kent’s path came across. One location where movies shot westerns called the Spahn Ranch might sound familiar. It’s where Charles Manson and his “family” hung out and Kent met the group. Other tales of some of the odder side of Hollywood are included here as well. To say that he had an interesting life is an understatement. The cover for the disc notes that he was the inspiration behind Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD but Kent will be the first to tell you he was only one of many the movie took inspiration from.
What I walked away from after watching this film was an increased respect for those in the low budget film making world as well as the stuntmen involved in all pictures. As I said at the beginning they are the unsung heroes in the world of film, unrecognized and deserving of a gratitude they rarely receive. And while the movies Kent has worked on were not the ultra-budget movies we’ve seen on screen he has provided so many of us with fond memories of movies that we enjoyed while at drive-ins across the country of horror host shows we grew up with.
The movie is one night likely to be found at the local Redbox or at any of the few remaining rental stores out there. That’s sad because this is a movie that should be seen. Odds are it will be overlooked when it comes time for award shows as well in the documentary category. Those awards tend to be fueled with causes and commentary, ignoring movies like this that provide us that backstage look at film making. So don’t sit around waiting for those shows to hail this film or for it to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Seek it out. Rent it on streaming services like amazon Prime. No matter what, give it a watch and learn about a man you know but might not recall by name. My guess is you’ll suddenly be saying “Hey, I remember that guy” and enjoying the film on its own merits.
Well Go needs to be saluted for bringing some of the best action films being made to the world. While many are unexposed to the films being made in China, Well Go has attempted to make them as easily accessible as any other foreign film. The result is being able to watch some of the most creative film being made, some of the funniest comedies and some of the best action films around. KUNG FU LEAGUE is a perfect combination of humor and action and needs to be seen.
Directed by Jeffrey Lau who was responsible for the amazing film KUNG FU HUSTLE, he once again combines those two genres perfectly here. The story revolves around Fei Ying Xiong (Ashin), who watches the woman of his dreams Bao'er (Madina Memet) every day at the office without proclaiming his love for her. Drawing comics including the 4 masters of kung fu coming to his aid he’s about to give her the comic as well as a love letter to her when they bump into one another and the pages go flying everywhere. Before he can give her the letter the president of the company they both work for Zhang Peng (Steven Zhang). It seems that Zhang has had his eye on Bao’er as well.
While on his way home, soaked in a downpour that pops up, Xiong screams at the sky. It’s his birthday and everything is going wrong. His wish for his birthday is that the 4 heroes he adores come to his aid and help him find a solution.
The film cuts to the past, in particular the home of Master Wong Fei-Hung (Wenzhou Zhao) where his betrothed is praying for guidance since she has been with him for years waiting for marriage but has met another man she’d rather be with. Before we can learn who this man is or how the situation will be dealt with, Wong is whisked away to the present where he meets two more displaced men, Huo Yuan Jia (Andy On) and his student Chen Zhen aka Bruce Lee (Kwok-Kwan Chan).
Landing in the middle of a movie set the trio are pursued by the director of the film shooting in hopes of getting them to sign on to his next film. While they escape they come across another displaced person in the form of famed martial artist Ip Man (Yu-Hang To). As they discuss their situation we learn that Jia is the man Wong’s betrothed was speaking of and some of the humor comes in the form of Jia and Zhen making sure that Wong doesn’t find out.
The four men realize that something has brought them here but they still don’t know what. When they finally meet up with Xiong he’s thrilled to see them there to aid him and his birthday wish coming true. But how can they help him? It becomes apparent when they all see a special martial arts battle is being held in a nearby stadium and sponsored by Peng. Xiong is supposed to meet Bao’er there but Pend has something he uses as leverage to keep him from telling her how he feels.
Now the 4 heroes of the past must not only help Xiong discover the true hero in himself, they must help him rise to the occasion to fight for what he believes in. Another twists finds the 4 heroes fighting for their own lives against an enemy none of them saw coming. Can Xiong be helped? Can the 4 heroes return to their own times? And will love conquer all?
The path to finding out the answers to all of these questions is filled with plenty of non-stop action and laughs. Like his previous KUNG FU HUSTLE Lau shows an adeptness for combining skilled camera work and storytelling to move things forward and have you laughing at the same time. The interaction between characters lends itself to most of the humor and the high-wire work and martial arts skills of all on board make it a movie that entertains from start to finish.
Is the end result as good as KUNG FU HUSTLE? Perhaps not quite as good but that film would be hard to match. Taken on its own terms this movie was a ton of fun to watch and enjoy. Where some performances are lost in translation that’s not the case here as all the actors play their roles perfectly. That they can do so and make themselves believable while subtitles let you know what they’re saying is a testament to their abilities.
I had a lot of fun watching this movie, finding myself laughing out loud on occasion. That doesn’t happen nearly enough these days. I enjoyed it from start to finish and know I’ll be popping this disc in again in the future and will enjoy it all over again. Perhaps as a good double feature night with KUNG FU HUSTLE. Make a point of adding it to your collection as well.