"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Motorway

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Cheang Pou-soi has been directing movies since 1999, but I never knew about him until 2015 when I was blown away by KILL ZONE 2 (SPL II). MOTORWAY is from 2012, and it’s a much simpler film – shorter, less complicated, less thematically heavy, and it works really well that way. Maybe some of this simplicity comes out of the type of action. Martial arts scenes like KILL ZONE 2’s require increasing complexity – for example the knockout prison riot scene – but this is a car chase movie. At its heart it’s about two drivers. One guy in a car driving very fast after another guy in a car. Literally straight forward.

It’s a serious movie, but it’s got a nice tinge of absurdity to it. Its law enforcement protagonists are not cool homicide detectives or badass SWAT dudes, they’re part of an elite squad of, uh, traffic cops. I guess they’re there for their high level driving skills, but their regular job is camping out with the speed gun, pulling people over, wearing dorky windbreakers and reflective vests, the kind of thing most action movie cops only have to do in a funny montage after they get in trouble. Cheung (Shawn Yue, LEGEND OF THE FIST, THE GUILLOTINES) takes the job seriously and is annoyed that his older partner Lo (Anthony Wong, HARD BOILED, GEN-X COPS 2, EXILED, THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, IP MAN: FINAL FIGHT) seems to not give a fuck. (Having him browse literature about an upcoming retirement seminar is a good spin on the ol’ two-weeks-from-retirement cliche). (read the rest of this shit…)

Cage II

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

One of many underground fighting movies I took a look at in my action movies of summer ’89 retrospective was CAGE, a cheapie starring Lou Ferrigno and Reb Brown as Billy and Scott, two Vietnam buddies forced into a cage fighting circuit. It was enjoyable for its cast, its warm-hearted tribute to friendship, and even its naive-feeling sincerity about the uncomfortable premise that Billy acts like a child because of a brain injury. And I got even more entertainment reading about director Lang Elliott’s later business ventures, including taking over a smoothie chain in a failed attempt to produce a Dorf feature film and build a theme park.

In 1994 Elliott returned with a sequel, so far his final directorial work. CAGE II (subtitled THE ARENA OF DEATH on the VHS packaging) reintroduces Billy and Scott while they’re out grocery shopping. Their negotiations about whether or not Billy is allowed to buy a blue soft drink are intercut with ominous shots of a gang of long haired bad guys in sunglasses and black trenchcoats walking toward the store. And it lays it on thick how much innocence this evil is about to collide with. Billy and Scott smile at a little boy. Two women invite Scott to a party. Before that, while they’re giving him the eye, two smiling children skip by, holding hands! (read the rest of this shit…)

Red Scorpion 2

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

Having wrapped up my series on the action movies of summer ’89, I’ve been enjoying the freedom to dart around to different topics that catch my interest. But I realize there’s a little bit of unfinished business to get out of the way. There were two movies I reviewed in The Last Summer of ’80s Action that spawned not-even-on-DVD-in-the-U.S. sequels five years later. There’s nothing hugely special about either of these part 2s, but you know how I am. I had to see them. And the one that follows series-opener RED SCORPION seems like a good epilogue or postscript, because it really signals a change in world politics.

Remember how RED SCORPION part 1 was produced with the cooperation of the racist regime in South Africa? The sequel is having none of that. In fact it explicitly casts racists as the bad guys. GOP lobbyists Jack and Robert Abramoff are still credited as executive producers, but the movie strays far from their original mission of making conservative arguments in genre movies. The villains are even described in expository dialogue as “ultra right wing.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Shadow

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? SHADOW is the 2018 film by Zhang Yimou, the director best know to people like me for giving us HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. It’s his followup to THE GREAT WALL, a pretty silly but impressive international production that has a bad reputation in the U.S. for exceedingly stupid reasons (basically, a great Chinese director wanting to make a movie with Matt Damon was mischaracterized as whitewashing). SHADOW is another gorgeous and meticulous period martial arts epic. Though quieter and less action-oriented than the others I’ve listed here it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. One of those ones that crept up on me. Slowly luring me in until I’m in awe of it by the end, and love it the more I think about it. I was lucky enough to see it theatrically, but waited for its arrival on Blu-Ray and DVD this week to finish my review, so that more people would be able to check it out.

This is a movie that’s a little under two hours and builds to a large battle with some really cool weaponry gimmicks and that thing I love where they come up with a philosophy-based martial art to defeat the enemy. But that’s really the cherry on top – it’s mostly about palace shenanigans. It’s about the kingdom of Pei, who lost the city of Jingzhou to rival kingdom Yang when Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, MERMAID) lost a duel to Yang Cang (Hu Jun, RED CLIFF, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, FIRESTORM). Most of the people of Pei are still sore about it, but King Peiliang (Zheng Kai, THE GREAT WALL) is a coward and just wants to forget about Jingzhou. So he gets pissed and, to the outrage of the military, strips Ziyu of his title when he finds out he challenged Yang Cang to a rematch. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kickboxer (and the conclusion of The Last Summer of ’80s Action)

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

As with LETHAL WEAPON 2 and ROAD HOUSE, KICKBOXER is a classic that I’ve already reviewed, and I stand by what I wrote about it the first time. But I thought it might be worth revisiting 11 years later, after also writing about its sequels, remake and remake sequel, and in the context of these other ’89 movies. It hit some European countries in April and August of that year, and the U.S. on September 8th, making it a good closer to THE LAST SUMMER OF ’80S ACTION.

Earlier in the series we had fighting circuit movies from an old Disney live action director (FIST FIGHTER), the World Wrestling Federation (NO HOLDS BARRED), and a guy that did Dorf movies (CAGE). Not surprisingly it was Cannon Films that gave us the season’s slickest version of the form, building off the success of BLOODSPORT (1988) for an in my opinion even better vehicle for shiny new splits-doer Jean-Claude Van Damme. I mean that literally, by the way – in the climax the camera really focuses on the reflectiveness of his muscles as an illustration of how ready he is to triumph. (read the rest of this shit…)

Thunderground

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

I thought I had only one more movie to cover in The Last Summer of ’80s Action, but then I realized I’d forgotten about THUNDERGROUND. Like one of the first movies in the series, FIST FIGHTER, this is a WWF-wrestler-featuring bare knuckle brawler movie that I never heard of until david j. moore told me about it a while back and I ordered a VHS copy. It’s pretty much straight to video, but IMDb claims it got a release in Minnesota on September 1, 1989. Good enough excuse to squeeze yet another underground fighting movie in here.

It opens in “HOBO JUNCTION, TENNESSEE, 1989,” where a crowd of hobos gather around a campfire and a kid named Casey, who rips them off in Three-Card Monty (a strange game – the only winning move is not to play). Casey’s hat makes this look so Depression Era I honestly rewound to make sure I read that year right. Yep, it says ’89 all right, but it’s obviously inspired by period pieces. It’s about people who ride the rails and pull petty hustles just to get a little bit of money to get to the next town. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw

Monday, August 5th, 2019

I’ve been enjoying all of the THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies since the early 2000s, so even though part four, FAST & FURIOUS, does not rank high in the series for me, when it decides to present a separate movie about characters introduced in parts 5 and 6, respectively, it gets my attention. And also I like ampersands. For these reasons, FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS HOBBS & SHAW was one of my most anticipated movies of the summer.

Of course, you gotta have realistic expectations when it comes to presentations. There’s a pretty big difference between, say, DJANGO UNCHAINED, A FILM BY QUENTIN TARANTINO and QUENTIN TARANTINO PRESENTS MY NAME IS MODESTY. I definitely don’t think this spinoff is as good as the FAST series proper, but there’s a part where a helicopter is hooked onto a truck that’s chained to a line of several hot rods and they’re all raised off the ground driving on two wheels along a cliff. So I enjoyed it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hellboy (2019)

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

I’m not gonna totally contradict the conventional wisdom that HELLBOY (2019) is bad. I kinda thought it was bad for a while. But then it sort of won me over. I had more fun than expected, and talking about it with other people made me realize that yeah, overall I think I liked it.

Yes, it’s sloppy and choppy and takes itself less seriously than I’d like. I wasn’t surprised to read that there were tensions with the producers and that director Neil Marshall (THE DESCENT, but also DOOMSDAY) didn’t have final cut. The many rock ‘n roll needledrops (including a Spanish version of “Rock You Like a Hurricane”) and electric guitars on the score by Benjamin Wallfisch (IT, SERENITY) make it seem like it’s making a joke out of folk tale stuff that I think would be much cooler if treated respectfully, and the combination of a lower budget and higher volume of digital FX than Guillermo Del Toro’s two movies make it look chintzy by comparison. But there are tons of cool monsters, funny lines, colorful bits of mythology, and a splattery, lowbrow rowdiness that’s pretty fun whether or not it’s in the Hellboy spirit. (read the rest of this shit…)

Nighthawks

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’m still working on one more piece that will cap off the Last Summer of ’80s Action series next week. But last night, while celebrating the life of Rutger Hauer and linking to my reviews of his action movie roles (BLIND FURY!), I was confused as to why I couldn’t find a review of NIGHTHAWKS. It turned out I was working on one two years ago that I never posted, so I polished it up and have it for you today. R.I.P.

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NIGHTHAWKS. A couple of tough street cops who go out at night like, uh… a couple of hawks. Or probly more like that famous Edward Hopper painting of the mostly empty diner at night. Except no diner and not always at night.

You know what, you and I together are going to have to face that I actually have no idea why it’s call NIGHTHAWKS, but the point is it’s the story of NYPD (New York Police Department) undercover dudes Deke DaSilva (Sylvester Stallone, DEATH RACE 2000) and Matthew Fox (Billy Dee Williams, HIT!) who, just because they’re war veterans and also familiar with where all the low lifes go around here, are recruited by ATAC (Anti-Terrorist Action Command) to stop a terrorist (Rutger Hauer, WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE, in his first American film) who is in NYC (New York City) to attack the U.N. (United Nations) which in my opinion is B.S. (bullshit), you shouldn’t do something like that you jerk. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cage

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

“Wrestling? I like wrestling. But I don’t like fighting. But I like wrestling!”

Note: Box Office Mojo only lists “1988” as the release date, but IMDb says September 1, 1989. I’m going with the specific one.

The movie CAGE is alot like the character Lou Ferrigno plays in it: brain damaged, childlike, clumsy, well-meaning, and hard not to like. The opening definitely had me concerned, though. In “VIET NAM 1969,” a bunch of army dudes run around in a field screaming and firing machine guns while the keyboards of composer Michael Wetherwax (SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE) sort of imitate the RAMBO theme. B-movies about the Vietnam War don’t tend to be watchable, in my opinion, so thank God our boys get out of there quick.

Escaping in a helicopter, Billy Thomas (Ferrigno, between his last two Incredible Hulk TV movies) heroically saves his friend Scott Monroe (Reb Brown, UNCOMMON VALOR, ten years after his last Captain America TV movie) by having the strength to one-arm-dangle him under the copter even after being shot in the head with what, judging from the leak it springs in his temple, appears to be an adorably tiny bullet.

(Good makeup effect, though.)

The opening credits are a comically corny rehabilitation montage set to a ballad called “Don’t Let Go” by Jennifer Green. Without sound, Ferrigno and Brown pantomime a series of struggles and minor triumphs, from getting a medal to being frustrated with a puzzle to making it up a few steps. (read the rest of this shit…)