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Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Spawn

Monday, July 17th, 2017
a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

WARNING: Somehow I forgot that I already wrote about SPAWN eight years ago, but now you’re in for a more detailed look.

August 1, 1997

It’s weird that one of my least favorite movies in this series so far is the one that stars Michael Jai White! Thank you Ralph Bakshi for making sure it’s not in last place.

White plays Al Simmons, an amoral elite counter-terrorism black ops super badass who gets betrayed by his boss Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen, FIRESTARTER, who took the job because his grandson told him Spawn was cool). He’s set on fire, blown up and recruited by a crude CGI giant monster devil (voice of Frank Welker) to be a soldier for Hell. Returned to earth five years later as a burnt up demon called Spawn, he lives among the homeless and learns how to use his new demon powers while pining for his wife Wanda (Theresa Randle, CB4) and plotting revenge on Wynn.

I made that sound like a story, if I do say so myself. The movie’s not as interested in that. Faithfully adapted from the top-selling comic book of some parts of the ’90s, here is a visually dark, Marilyn-Manson-on-the-soundtrack slog that makes THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS look like a masterwork of storytelling craft. And at least CITY OF ANGELS was nice to look at. Despite the participation of the great cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (DESPERADO, JACKIE BROWN, PAN’S LABYRINTH), this thing looks like shit! Rarely has there been a worse case of CGI overreach – shockingly sub-par, MORTAL KOMBAT-level monsters, fire and transformations are slapped all over it like a big-screen CD-ROM game, and even the straight-ahead action movie scene at “Military Air Base, Hong Kong” looks like a ’90s syndicated TV show where cops raid warehouses and dockyards every episode. (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.

Action U.S.A.

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

tn_actionusa“Come on Carmen, what do you want from me? I’m just trying to do my job protecting a federal witness from being chased by a bunch of assholes who shoot at us every time I turn around!”

ACTION U.S.A. is pretty much the perfect movie title. I mean, who the fuck knows what it means, it doesn’t describe the content of the story in a traditional way, and yet it exactly describes the vibe of the movie (filmed under the title A HANDFUL OF TROUBLE, referring to some diamonds). The movie opens with a long credits scene of a Corvette with a giant engine sticking out the front, Texas license plate “SLEEK 1,” naked lady airbrushed on the hood, speeding down roads. It pulls up to a house, the driver Billy Ray (Rod Shaft) (beer in hand, gun tucked in waistband) takes his girl Carmen (Barri Murphy) inside and they start to go at it on the couch. The director credit is over a shot of the door right before it gets kicked down and two mob thugs (one lookin like Freddy Mercury) come in and drag Billy Ray to the trunk of their car. Then they take him to a helicopter and fly around dangling him by one leg. Carmen drives underneath saying “Oh my god!”

They accidentally drop him in water, he swims ashore and gets in her car for a crazy chase that involves her hanging out the door, Freddie standing up in the sunroof firing his gun, of course some workers on ladders almost getting hit, and a completely full school bus that through some act of God or careful planning has a tow truck set up as a ramp so they can jump over it. The motor home in front of the bus is not so lucky, though, and the bad guys crash through it and explode into flames of awesomeness.

That’s the beginning, and it continues like that. That’s a movie you can call ACTION U.S.A. all right. I would also accept AMERICA T.N.T. or DYNAMITE EAGLE SQUAD. (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.

Baby Driver

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

There’s this baby-faced young man who in fact goes by the handle of Baby (Ansel Elgort, who impressed me as Tommy Ross in the CARRIE remake) and he’s a whiz kid of a getaway driver for armed robberies. He loves listening to music, and uses his favorite songs to inspire and time his driving, which is spectacular. He can maneuver and slide and spin and he is living proof that not everybody followed the disclaimer at the end of TOKYO DRIFT.

(He would’ve been about twelve when it came out, and surely influenced by it during his driver’s exam.)

Some have described this is a musical, which makes some sense. At times it feels like a movie based on the current trailer fad of editing gunshots and other sound effects as percussion playing along with the music.

After they get away, when the gang meets up to split the money, they make Baby go buy the coffee. Here’s one thing they carefully edited out of the trailers: he’s a total dork. In the car, but also at home, or walking in public, he listens to his earbuds and sings along and does little dance moves and shit. The whole walk to and from the coffee shop he seems like he’s on the verge of busting into a full on SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN number. I wonder if they considered casting Moose from the STEP UP sequels in this. (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.

Cleopatra Jones

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

CLEOPATRA JONES is a blaxploitation movie that goes above and beyond the call of duty. It has all the funk, swagger and aspirational badassness that you hope for in the genre, but even more heightened. That’s both literal and figurative; Warner Brothers’ answer to American International’s success with Pam Grier vehicles was to hire the regal 6′ 2″ model Tamara Dobson, teach her some martial arts and have her play an unfuckwithable special agent.

I didn’t notice them specifying which agency she works for, her ID literally just says “SPECIAL AGENT,” with a presidential seal. And we can’t say “secret agent” either because, like James Bond, most people know who she is, and she sure as shit doesn’t try to keep a low profile. Her fashion is flagrantly eye catching and she drives a badass Corvette with mag wheels that says her name on the plates and sometimes spews fire out of the back.

To my knowledge CLEOPATRA JONES is the only blaxploitation movie where the first shot is of a camel. Cleo helicopters into a base in Turkey. She steps out in a fur-lined, hooded cape and walks through rows of leaders gathered to give her a queen’s welcome. She flew in to personally give the order to drop bombs on a poppy field. “That’s right, baby. $30 million worth of shit that ain’t goin into some kid’s veins. Burn it.” (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 Assignment

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

THE ASSIGNMENT is Walter Hill’s weird new pariah of a movie, a Tale From the Crypt without a Keeper, based on a gimmick that was too challenging to execute properly, even ignoring the current touchiness of the subject matter. It’s much more interesting than good, more of a great acting challenge for Michelle Rodriguez (AVATAR) than a successful vehicle for her talents. Nice try, though.

Here’s what it’s about: ruthless hitman Frank Kitchen is just doing his thing one day, ruthless hitmanning, when he gets jumped and knocked unconscious and later he mysteriously wakes up in a hotel room with a woman’s body. Not, like, in bed with a dead woman. Like, he looks down and he has female genitalia. (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 Mummy (2017)

Monday, June 26th, 2017

There are some things too powerful, too uncontrollable, too dangerous to play around with. Ancient, vanquished forces brought back to life in a world they were never meant for, doomed to fulfill prophecies of disaster. In this case, I’m talking about the 85-year-old Universal Monsters franchise properties, resurrected once more using the fearsome occult invocation “SHARED UNIVERSE REBOOT.”

Of course, most people don’t see this summer’s THE MUMMY as a remake of the 1932 film starring Boris Karloff in a fez, which is in my opinion the least memorable of the Universal Monster introductions. No, they see it as a remake of Stephen Sommers’ frantic, rhythmless action-adventure version from 1999, and they’re not really wrong. This one borrows the idea of a globetrotting adventurer hero, capable but fallible, who teams with a “funny” sidekick and a strong-willed female antiquities expert who he bickers with while exploring some tombs and accidentally unleashes an evil ancient Egyptian royal who has magic powers and a tragic backstory and at one point appears as a giant face in a sandstorm.

But it’s a contemporary version, not only because it takes place in the present day, but because by its imagery and content you can tell it was made after the J-horror wave, and the zombie wave, and James Wan, and years of conflict in Iraq, and most notably THE AVENGERS. So the mummy is pursued not only by our hero Nick Morton (Tom Cruise, THE LAST SAMURAI), but by a secret monster-studying militia called Prodigium, led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS). (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.

Black Rose

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

BLACK ROSE is a competently made, very formulaic movie about police trying to stop a serial killer who has been murdering immigrant women, leaving a black rose and a Russian-language note on each body. When the LAPD can’t seem to crack it they call in a specialist from Moscow, Vladimir Kazatov (Alexander Nevsky, MOSCOW HEAT), an ex-special forces cop getting the Chris-Tucker-in-RUSH-HOUR treatment from his bosses for his aggressive handling of a bank robbery (led by I COME IN PEACE alien Matthias Hues).

Actually, that’s one of the best parts. After strutting in with shades and no gun (electric guitars praising him on the score by Sean Murray [SCORPION]) he fails to talk them down, so he goes back outside, crashes a car through the window and shoots them all. Luckily no hostages are harmed.

In L.A. he buddies up with Detective Emily Smith (Kristanna Loken, TERMINATOR 3, MERCENARIES), and they have the usual getting-to-know-you cultural exchange. She mocks his Russian food, talks up American hamburgers, explains what a Valley Girl is, etc. Then she finds out his last partner died but he won’t talk about it but then they get close and they talk about it and they fight and make up and all that. (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.

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

Thursday, June 1st, 2017
a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

August 23, 1991

Dump all the macho pop culture of the ’80s – movies, TV shows, music videos, beer and cigarette ads, wrestling – into a strainer, shake it around, and the chunks you got left are HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, a buddy-action movie that plays at first like a satire of, but then maybe a tribute to, our basest ideals of masculinity.

It starts with a disclaimer that no, this is not affiliated with the two products it’s named after. The title characters are not supposed to be advertising mascots come to life, some weird meta thing like FOODFIGHT!. It’s tempting to think so, though, when you see them sitting on billboards, Harley (Mickey Rourke, DOUBLE TEAM) always wearing his patch-covered motorcycle jacket, Marlboro (Don Johnson, DEAD BANG) his cowboy gear, cigarette dangling from his lip (though he supposedly quit).

It’s more like it takes place in a pure world of action movie tropes. In the first 10 minutes there’s both an interrupted convenience store robbery and a bar brawl. (Marlboro, being a cowboy, has a disagreement with some Native Americans at the pool table.) They drive motorcycles and leave women naked in hotel beds without saying goodbye. They start in Amarillo and Colorado is mentioned but for the most part their whole world seems to be Las Vegas, L.A. and the dusty desert roads (and train tracks) between them. (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 Rocketeer

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017
a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

June 19, 1991

THE ROCKETEER has all the right ingredients for an aw schucks old timey circa-1938 super hero yarn. The hero, Cliff (Billy Campbell, FAT KID RULES THE WORLD), is a pilot for air shows – small time enough to be an underdog, but cool enough to strut around in his brown leather pilot’s jacket and clock a guy when necessary.

The setting is Los Angeles, so his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly, CREEPERS, LABYRINTH) is an aspiring ingenue, the villain is suave, swashbuckling “#3 box office star” Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton, BRENDA STARR), and the experimental technology they’re fighting over was originated by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn, THE STEPFATHER). Also involved are mobsters (because Sinclair hired them), Nazis (because he is one), G-men (led by Ed Lauter, DEATH WISH 3, THE ARTIST) and a giant named Lothar (former Austrian basketball pro Tiny Ron Taylor [ROAD HOUSE, SASQUATCH MOUNTAIN] made up by Rick Baker to look like Rondo Hatton).

The random way Cliff becomes a jet-packing hero is pretty cool. During a test flight of the craft he and his mechanic/mentor Peevy (Alan Arkin, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN) have been working on for years, he flies over a chase between the mobsters and the FBI. The mobsters think he’s with the feds and turn their tommy guns on him! Some kind of mixup causes the gangsters to get away without the jetpack they stole from Howard Hughes, but Cliff accidentally finds where they stashed it. (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.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Monday, May 29th, 2017

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is not your father’s King Arthur. Nor is it your John Boorman’s King Arthur, your Broadway’s King Arthur, your Disney’s King Arthur, your Jerry Zucker’s King Arthur or your Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur. It’s not even your 300‘s King Arthur, even though it opens with two armored, King Kong sized war elephants laying siege to Camelot. One of them swings a wrecking ball from his trunk, the other has a pyramid on his back. It spews flames like some kind of crude engine and contains the evil Mage King Mordred (Rob Knighton). That is until King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana in another Oh cool, it’s Eric Bana / Oh wait, he’s only gonna be in the beginning part, isn’t he? role) jumps aboard and introduces the inside of the sorcerer’s neck to Excalibur.

Yeah, there’s more crazy fantasy where that came from, or at least a couple more giant versions of animals (snake, bat), but mostly this stays true to the description Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. Like he did with Sherlock Holmes, he recasts Arthur (Charlie Hunnam, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) as a streetwise brawler. He was sent away (like Superman) but in a boat (like Willow) to avoid being killed by his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law, eXistenZ), but also he witnesses his father being murdered (like Batman) and then grew up in a brothel (like Richard Pryor). In adulthood, we first meet him having just avenged some vikings who (at the very least) beat up one of the ladies. I’d like to think he’s just a loyal family member and not their pimp.  (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.