So once again we have survived.

Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Seven Samurai

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

tn_sevensamuraiThere are some movies that everybody knows are great and you’d be a fool to deny it. One such movie involves a group of cooperating samurai numbering seven. This is their review.

1954 was a pretty good year for film. Many of the films that were popular in the U.S. are still watched and discussed today: REAR WINDOW, WHITE CHRISTMAS, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, CARMEN JONES. The best picture/director/actor/supporting actress winner was ON THE WATERFRONT, a movie that turned out to be, you know, fairly influential for actors. In Japan, meanwhile, the two biggest hits were WHAT IS YOUR NAME?: PART 3 and CHUSHINGURA: HANA NO MAKI, YUKI NO MAKI. I don’t think those ever made it to video over here, and little information exists about them in my usual reference sources. The first one appears to be a romance sequel and the latter sounds like it would have something to do with the 47 RONIN story.

In third place at the Japanese box office that year, though, was Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI. It was his fifteenth movie, but his first samurai movie. Would you believe it made more money than the original GODZILLA, which also came out that year? Doesn’t matter now. Both have persevered. And SEVEN SAMURAI is a movie justifiably worshiped by snooty film buffs (and in the Criterion Collection) while still being hugely influential in all the lower-brow genres I love: martial arts, westerns and straight up action.

People always complain about long movies, but here’s a nearly 3 1/2 hour one (the longest of Kurosawa’s career) that’s never a chore to watch. It’s a great story, simple and elegant, but it takes the time to let us get to know its characters, and to give us that feeling of waiting. Some day after the barley is harvested bandits will attack the village. We want that day to come and be over with but we also want all the time we can to get ready.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I’m proud to be the latest one to remind you that you need to see this movie. You need to. Everybody else, you know the story, but let’s go over it in case it’s been a while. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Hard Target 2

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

tn_hardtarget2It’s weird that they would make a HARD TARGET 2, huh? I mean, it’s a DTV sequel, and the kind that doesn’t have any of the same actors or characters, just the title and the premise. But the part that surprises me is that it means the Master Control computer and its algorithms have figured out that we love HARD TARGET, that it’s a title that means something to us. I hope HARD BOILED isn’t next. Maybe STONE COLD would be okay though if they did it right.

Anyway, they went ahead and made it, so I’m glad they got a solid group of people working on it. The director (and also director of photography) is Roel Reine, helmer of such enjoyable DTV part 2s as DEATH RACE, THE MARINE and THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, and he filmed it in Thailand, where he has alot of experience. The script is credited to the relatively unknown Matthew Harvey & Dominic Morgan (FUTURESHOCK: COMET, one episode of Taggart), but a press release also named George Huang, the director of SWIMMING WITH SHARKS. (Not a shark movie. Ask somebody who was into film in the ’90s.)

In the lead is our greatest modern action star, Scott Adkins. He does not sport a mullet or Cajun accent, and he’s not playing Chance “My Mama Took One” Boudreaux or his son Fingers Crossed Boudreaux or anything like that. He’s Wes “The Jailor” Baylor, rising MMA star exiled to an underground fighting circuit in Thailand after accidentally killing his best friend in the ring. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

I Am Wrath

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

tn_iamwrathJohn Travolta was the villain in my favorite PUNISHER movie, and in the DTV movie I AM WRATH he kind of gets to be the Punisher. Or at least another government trained killer turned black-clad vigilante hunting down the gangsters who murdered his wife (Rebecca De Mornay, how did they get you in this?).

Actually it starts out more like DEATH WISH or DEATH SENTENCE. Travolta’s character Stanley is a seemingly normal guy, apparently he sells cars (although we only hear about this), his wife is picking him up at the airport and they get jumped by muggers in the parking garage who stab her to death. The police are no help, and let the killer go free even after Stanley identifies him in a lineup. What the fuck?

But 22 minutes in we get the JOHN WICK twist. Stanley smashes through a wall in his house and pulls out a suitcase full of guns, cash and passports – the ol’ emergency preparedness kit. Turns out he was a scary black ops dude who retired for his wife. No wife, no way to stop him from killing again. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Kickboxer: Vengeance

Monday, September 5th, 2016

tn_kickboxervengeanceIn this age of reboots one thing I didn’t see coming was a respectful attempt to resurrect the magic of KICKBOXER. Produced by Cannon when Jean-Claude Van Damme was still a new star, the original is a seminal film in the foundation of the western-star martial arts movie. Part of the beauty of the era it helped ignite was its disposability; there was such a hunger for this stuff on VHS that they kept churning out KICKBOXERs and BLOODSPORTs and BLOODFISTs with whatever Next Jean-Claude Van Damme they could get. And the combination of these basic story formulas and the appeal of seeing thick-accented martial artists try to act cool between flying kicks made for many enjoyable evenings for people all around the world.

Things have changed. Far fewer straight up action movies are made than in the ’80s and ’90s, and viewing them is not as common of a ritual for young people growing up. The fringe market of DTV has mostly shifted to VOD, a riskier business model since people actually have to watch the movies for them to make money. So, weirdly, this new KICKBOXER (released to VOD on Friday) was made with care, in hopes of people liking it. You can tell they’re genuinely trying to recapture what was fun about those movies, but in a modern context – by which I only mean it has nice digital cinematography of sunny Thailand and many of the opponents are played by famous UFC fighters. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Blood Father

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

tn_bloodfatherBLOOD FATHER is the kind of simple story that I like. Ex-con, now-sober John Link (Mel Gibson, GET THE GRINGO) tries to help his long-missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty, THE KINGS OF SUMMER) get away from a cartel that wants her dead. To do it he has to violate his parole, go into bars, talk to bad people from his past (people he did time for who are still free, people he did time with who are still locked up), and of course kill some people. He’s reluctant – in fact he’s pissed about it – and his sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy) is freaking out. But by diving back into this darkness (while trying to keep the guns and the meth out of Lydia’s purse) maybe he can find some kind of redemption. He can see that her life is a huge mess, and he knows where she got that from.

This is a badass tough guy movie, but the action (blunt, old fashioned) is pretty slim. Doesn’t matter, it’s a character movie. Gibson, with beard and craggy face, looks cooler and scarier than ever, and at one point he has an explosion of anger that recalls both his mad, lethal history of craziness on screen and its less fun counterpart in real life. But mostly he’s that grumpy dude who’s actually a sweetheart. Crotchety about the AA shit, but genuine about staying clean. Living in a much worse trailer than Riggs, but seems to be an active member of his trailer park community, not some loner. Pissing off his ex-wife, but mostly by not letting go of his obsessive search for their runaway daughter. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

The Mechanic: Resurrection

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

tn_mechanicrJason Statham returns as Arthur Bishop, his character from the 2011 Simon West film THE MECHANIC. He is not the type of mechanic who might help out his driving characters in THE TRANSPORTER, THE ITALIAN JOB, DEATH RACE and FURIOUS 7. He’s the type that is a euphemism for an assassin-for-hire, as seen in the original THE MECHANIC starring Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent.

Having faked his death at the end of the first one, we find Bishop living an appealing lifestyle in Rio de Janeiro. (Do the people of Rio ever get tired of Hollywood helicopters swooping around that Jesus statue?) He’s now known as Otto Santos and he lives on a nice houseboat where he sits and enjoys his espresso and reconstituted vinyl collection.

But one day a woman comes up to him, knows who he is, says her employer wants him to kill three people. Arthur “Otto ‘The Mechanic’ Santos” Bishop is no chump, though, so he fights her and her henchmen, escapes in spectacular (though blatantly green-screeny) fashion, and gets ready for a fight. There’s almost a running joke about how many stashes he has around. When he self destructs his boat he goes right to a shipping container with guns and passports. When he resurfaces at his old hut on a picturesque beach in Thailand there’s another stash under the floorboards. I bet if you dropped him off at any random spot in the North Pole it would turn out he hid some guns under the ice there years ago. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Enemies Closer

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

tn_enemiescloserAs of today, ENEMIES CLOSER (2013) is the most recent movie directed by Peter Hyams, and his third collaboration with Jean-Claude Van Damme (after TIMECOP and SUDDEN DEATH). Part of the After Dark Action series (which also included EL GRINGO and DRAGON EYES), it’s a lower budget take on a DIE HARD type of movie. Or I guess a SUDDEN DEATH type of movie. But this time the John McClane/Darren McCord is Tom Everett Scott (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS) and Van Damme gets to play the Hans Grueber/Joshua Foss.

Scott plays Henry, an ex-Navy SEAL trying to figure out his post-war life while working as the ranger of a state park that’s an isolated island with only one other person, an old man, living on it. This is a recipe for having to fight with a couple of bears over pic-a-nic baskets, but he lucks out and all he has to deal with is being in the way when a small plane smuggling “a load of some very naughty shit” crashes in the water nearby and a ruthless gang of killers come looking for it. I mean, it’s a pain in the ass, but it’s more within his skill set. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson (pilot)

Friday, August 19th, 2016

tn_jcvjJEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON is a new 30 minute comedy pilot starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. You can watch it for free on Amazon – if it gets picked up as a series (if you like it, please fill out their feedback form and let them know) it will be available on Amazon Prime. Yeah, I don’t have that either, and I just looked it up and maybe they don’t put these shows (their most popular one is Transparent) on disc like Netflix does. But it is my solemn vow that if they make this into a full show and refused to put it in a useful format I will still pay to download it or go over to a friend’s house or whatever it is us old men are supposed to do now to watch these computer streams that they have now instead of real tv shows and movies.

If you’re like me – and I know you are – you take this shit seriously, and therefore are skeptical when you hear “Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself in a comedy called JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON.” It sounds like it could be some How Did This Get Made? type shit – smug, smarmy, snark making fun of the movies we love for being old and absurd and joyful and awesome. I picture some kind of meta-action movie parody by people who only know action movies from other parodies of action movies, like how that movie THE FINAL GIRL is to slasher movies. Something for people who read BLOODSPORT as below them because in fact it is beyond them.

That’s not what this is! I’m so happy to say that this is a really smart and well-made pilot by people who understand and take full advantage of Van Damme’s acting strengths. It uses his persona and body of work for absurdity, but not, in my opinion, in a mocking way. In fact, the episode’s most despicable douchebag – a vaping, hipster movie director – proves his utter cluelessness by telling Jean-Claude that “that ’80s style of fighting, the style that you’re known for, with the kicking and the spinning, and the splits with the guys coming at you one at a time… it’s not realistic. And we all know that now. You know?” This is not a show for people who agree with that guy. It’s for people who know that guy deserves a spin kick to the giant scarf area. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Blade Warrior

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

tn_bladewarrior“When I was a kid our neighborhood was our universe. A universe of friendship and laughter. But something changed along the way. Gang violence took the place of family values.”

There’s a certain type of movie I like where an accomplished martial artist thinks it would be fun to star in a movie, and they put together a low budget production based around their school. An example would be Andre Lima’s “true story” BEYOND THE RING. It’s all based in cliches, and doesn’t quite have what you would call a visual style, but it has a certain amateur charm.

BLADE WARRIOR is another such movie, but it’s infused with a more impressive kind of DEADBEAT AT DAWN type energy, where they don’t really know what they’re doing but they’re dying to make a cool movie any way they can. It’s obvious that they’ve got friends and relatives, or maybe community theater people at best, in the cast, and storage rooms made up to look like a police station and stuff like that. And they’re not always convincing as a guy who wears a trenchcoat or talks like a tough guy. But it has enough of a home-made feel that some of the small things they pull off – like having legit martial artistry – seem really impressive.

Writer/director/producer Jino Kang plays Jack Lee, a cop who also practices Hapkido and runs his dad’s mini-mart. In the opening scene he combines all three by fighting and arresting a colorful gang of thugs who come in looking for protection money. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Jason Bourne

Monday, August 15th, 2016

tn_jasonbourneJASON BOURNE opens with clips from the original Doug Liman/Paul Greengrass/Matt Damon BOURNE trilogy of 2002-2007. Those movies came to reinvent the spy thriller for a new age, even influencing the subsequent 007 movies and unfortunately inspiring an age of impressionistic action sequences. But the last time Damon played the character was almost a decade ago.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM doesn’t seem like very long ago to me, but think about how much has changed in our world. When it came out Obama was still a senator, Heath Ledger and Paul Walker were still alive, Margot Robbie was 17 years old, only serious fantasy nerds had ever heard of Game of Thrones, movies were projected from 35 mm prints, there was growing excitement about a comeback for 3D, and Vin Diesel had not yet returned to starring in the FAST AND FURIOUS series. Along with FASTs 4-7, action movies we’ve had in the interim include the entire IP MAN series, the entire EXPENDABLES series, THE RAID 1 and 2, JACK REACHER, the John Hyams UNIVERSAL SOLDIER movies, JOHN WICK and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. So one could argue that the genre has changed.

And when JASON BOURNE cuts from blue-tinted, baby-faced everyman flashback Damon to the 2016 model – chiseled features, convincing grimace, gray hairs, a wider color palette – it’s a thrilling leap. He just looks so much cooler now. Having done, you know, whatever the stuff was in the other movies, Bourne is now living the way of the dragon, bare knuckle brawling for cash in Greece. That tells us he’ll probly never stop killing, because he’s clearly some kind of genius who could change his name and get all kinds of high paying jobs, and still he chooses to be a human cockfighter. I wish he lived in a Buddhist temple to complete the RAMBO III homage. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.