Bad Ass by Craig Moss

Bad Ass by Craig Moss

Decorated Vietnam hero Frank Vega (played by Danny Trejo) returns home only to get shunned by society leaving him without a job or his high school sweetheart. It’s not until forty years later when an incident on a commuter bus (where he protects an elderly black man from a pair of skinheads) makes him a local hero where he’s suddenly celebrated once again. He’s christened as “Bad Ass”. But his good fortune suddenly turns for the worse when his best friend Klondike is murdered and the police aren’t doing anything about it. Bad Ass decides to take action.

This film is pretty conscious of it’s goals and if you are not going along with the kitsch of it, you simply will not enjoy Bad Ass. Danny Trejo is currently 68. So you are not exactly getting well-choreographed fights, and it doesn’t need it. The whole crux of how this film works is seeing dummies mess with Trejo and getting their asses kicked because he has a mean ass looking face and can beat your lunch out of you. These dummies don’t know what they’re messing with till it’s too late. I laughed throughout consistently. It’s funny to know that this story was based on a real incident.

There are a few subplots and sequences that feel inserted to prolong the length of the movie. It could have been a lot shorter. The subplot where Frank romances his neighbor Amber (played by Joyful Drake) is a bit ridiculous but I found myself going along with it. I can’t say any of this was good by any means. There seems to be no point to get mad at it. It’d be like going to The Expendables and walking out feeling mad because it was all about the action. If you’re watching this, you most likely know what you’re in for.

I cannot help but compare this to Robert Rodriguez’s Machete. I enjoyed Bad Ass for the same reason I did not enjoy Machete. One of the major problems I had with was that Machete, while appearing like a bad ass protagonist, had nothing to do in his own movie. Bad Ass as a character is much more likable, the story gives you a lot of reason to empathize and root for him. Frank Vega is actually trying most of the time to avoid a fight, but is very unfortunate because he lives in a bad neighborhood full of people who want start trouble. He beats them up  and then thanks them politely afterwards for their help with a straight face. Yes, Bad Ass has much more to do in his own movie than Machete.

Mainly, Danny Trejo is character actor with an engaging presence and it’s nice to see him play a nice guy with a huge goddamn beard. Charles S. Dutton is also hilarious as the over-the-top villain Panther, I would never have pictured him playing a role like that. See? Everybody seems to be having fun here. I do not see why I shouldn’t. A fun rental for sure.

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel by Alex Stapleton

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel by Alex Stapleton

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel covers the life story and legacy of Roger Corman, his films, his struggles and his impact on modern cinema. He’s worked with many of today’s top talents, he can make a feature film in 7 days and simply does not believe in the word “No”.

Even though I haven’t seen any of Roger Corman’s productions, how I have come to know about Roger Corman was hearing about his approach to filmmaking. The idea is you get the guy who wants to be the next Federico Fellini, give him 7 days to complete a movie with 2 chase scenes and a scene in a strip club that you will only have for a hour without going over budget. What I liked about this approach is that it cuts through all the pretentious notions that filmmakers/artists often get caught up on about expressing themselves or putting their stamp or trademark onto the film. What matters most is the film and whether the audience responds to the product. It comes down to problem solving and giving the audience what they want – entertainment. After all, the only thing a filmmaker owes an audience is to never bore them.

The behind-the-scenes stories were fascinating and insightful to Corman’s journey as a filmmaker. Particularly the story of Corman’s experience with The Intruder, a film starring a young William Shatner about race relations in the south. It was a film that Corman wanted to say something from his heart and it ended up being his first commercial failure. Corman later learned the idea of supertext and subtext from a method acting class and figured out the best way to balance putting his own message was to put it underneath the entertainment (i.e. monsters, boobies, or explosions). Other worthy mentions from the documentary was the story behind 1963 Corman film The Terror, which was a film shot on the same set and cast  as The Raven (Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff) to capitalize on the new soundstage. Much of the story was improvised, it was done by 4 different directors at different points in time and the onscreen result hardly made any sense.

What made Corman a great leader was that he would push people to do things that seemed impossible. You could see how that pressure created seeds of creativity and experience which lead to mastery and success. One example was Ron Howard not having enough extras in the racing arena for the finale of Grand Theft Auto. He pleaded to Corman asking for more extras and was rejected. From what it looks like in the Grand Theft Auto excerpts, the shots with the audience members were done with tight shots. There’s another part with Pam Grier and they mention what made her distinct from other female stars was she was not afraid to get dirty and do her own stunts. I assumed that probably lead to her breakthrough with the advent of blaxploitation. It was a very Darwinistic process that I would have personally loved to be a part of.   

It was quite something to see Jack Nicholson break down and cry talking about his friendship with Roger Corman and how Corman was the only one to hire him before mainstream success.

The documentary shows the best way to learn something is just do it, learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward. To know that Roger Corman still continues to make films in the present proves that as long as you have the will, the possibilities are infinite. A very positive message for any creative/aspiring filmmakers out there today.

(As a postscript note, the Vincent Price Edgar Allan Poe films look intriguing. They were a massive success at the time. I’m an Edgar Allan Poe fan so I’m going to check them out.)