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Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Criminal

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

tn_criminalCRIMINAL is way too generic a title for this distinctive Kevin Costner action thriller, another enjoyable under-the-radar, higher-minded-than-advertised b-movie to put on the shelf next to 3 DAYS TO KILL. Costner would be the criminal of the title, a gruff, uneducated death row inmate with the strong action movie name of Jericho Stewart. He’s said to have some kind of condition that leaves him no capacity for empathy, like that creepy kid in MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT, so he experiences what the internet calls “the feels” for the first time when he’s the subject of an experimental surgery that implants another man’s memories into his brain.

I couldn’t help but think of FACE/OFF. Not that it has any of John Woo’s heightened filmatism or outlandish action – the tone, grounded world and love of intelligence agency war rooms are closer to a BOURNE movie – but that’s the only other movie I can think of that uses a sci-fi gimmick in a non-futuristic world and then puts an emphasis on exploring its emotional consequences.

The story starts with Bill Pope, not the cinematographer of THE MATRIX, but a CIA agent on the run in London, played by an uncredited Ryan Reynolds (BLADE TRINITY). He’s in the middle of a mission gone south – something about Spanish anarchists and a hacker and a buy, and people chasing him around town trying to trap him. When he ends up dead, CIA director Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman sporting another action movie name that’s not messing around) is desperate to find out what Pope was working on, because he was the only one getting close to a hacker (blackhat?) who may be able to remotely control military weapons. So Wells – actually, can I call him Quaker? – Quaker turns to this guy Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones, UNDER SIEGE) who has been developing this memory-implanting theory for years. (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.

Tarzan and the Lost City

Monday, July 25th, 2016

summer2016originstn_tarzanBefore there was THE LEGEND OF TARZAN there were over 200 other Tarzan movies, and before those there were 26 books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and books by other people, and radio plays and cartoons and records and cereals and pajamas. But for the purposes of Summer 2016: Origins I wanted to watch the previous live action Tarzan, the Tarzan movie of the ’90s, TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY (1998) starring Casper Van Dien (followup to his debut STARSHIP TROOPERS).

It turns out some of the things I liked about LEGEND’s approach had already been done in this one. LOST CITY begins with Tarzan already a lord and having to return to the jungle and his old ways to help somebody. It also has a respect for the native African characters, showing them as his close friends who he comes to help. And it has bad guys who are arrogant European assholes plundering Africa (although they’re just stealing diamonds, not abusing workers/enslaving people like in LEGEND). They start by stealing from graves, which does not go over well with the locals. (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.

SAN DIEGO EXCLUSIVE: Top Dog

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

sdcc tn_topdogIn the K-9 review I mentioned that it competed with TURNER & HOOCH for King of the Human/Dog Buddy Cop Movies. But TURNER & HOOCH takes place in the fictional northern California town of Cypress Beach, so who gives a shit? Nobody.

For the true San Diego/cop/dog experience outside of K-9 you gotta got to 1995’s TOP DOG, where Chuck Norris plays Lieutenant Jake Wilder, a San Diego police detective actually assigned a dog named Reno as his partner. I don’t know if this is K-9 fan fiction and the SDPD is supposed to be building off of the precedent of Jerry Lee, or if K-9 exists as a movie within this universe and it inspired them to do this for PR purposes. But the point is this is in the top two San Diego dog cop comedies of the 20th century. Just my two cents.

The filmatists seem to aim for the same basic approach as K-9 – jokes peppered through a serious action movie. The villains are white supremacists shown making hateful speeches (though thankfully light on racial slurs), they are mostly not played as bumbling buffoons. But there’s cheesy, happy music by George S. Clinton (MORTAL KOMBAT), the jokes are broader than K-9, the action is cornier and the look is shoddy. On the positive side there are more explosions, kicks and jumping stunts. All these things can be explained by who the director is: Chuck’s brother Aaron Norris (DELTA FORCE II). (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.

SAN DIEGO EXCLUSIVE: K-9

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

tn_k-9sdccK-9 is a weird type of action-comedy that only existed in the ’80s. James Belushi plays own-rules-playing San Diego narcotics detective Mike Dooley, who sneakily borrows a K-9 patrol dog off the books for an unauthorized raid, and then treats the dog as his partner, talking to him as if he’s a human in a regular non-dog-related cop movie. And the dog, Jerry Lee (introducing Jerry Lee as himself according to the credits, which is a lie because the dog was named Rando and got totally fucked over because dogs aren’t SAG), will sometimes make human gestures like covering his face with his paws in embarrassment or making a little arf sound that resembles a human sigh.

It’s humor that often seems more for kids than adults, yet every single other aspect of the movie – the car chases, the bar fight, the shootouts, the angry chief, the arrogant, swimming-pool-lounging drug lord villain (Kevin Tighe, ROAD HOUSE), the relationship problems caused by his occupation, the dramatic score, etc. – is 100% standard issue PG-13 (when that was edgy) action movie. And I don’t mean as a parody, mimicking the style to get laughs from absurdity. They’re just making a movie how movies were made back then. It wasn’t weird at the time. (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 Legend of Tarzan

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

tn_legendoftarzanI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: THANK YOU studios for continuing to make these expensive old-timey adventure character movies even though they are always financially disastrous. I for one appreciate the gesture!

Of this type of movie, Gore Verbinski’s THE LONE RANGER is far and away the most entertaining and masterful. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is closer to the level of the last major Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation, Andrew Stanton’s JOHN CARTER. It’s a little slicker than that one, but also a little more normal since it takes place on Earth with Earth type animals. Yet it’s not what I expected at all. It knows that you already know the basics about Tarzan, so it tries to walk that delicate line of giving you a different spin without sacrificing the classic Tarzan shit you expect. It also tries to capture some of the feel of stories written a hundred years ago while looking at matters of race, gender and culture with today’s eyes. And it does these things fairly successfully.

In the opening we meet Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, THE GREEN HORNET), a cruel Belgian mercenary searching for the fabled diamonds of Opar, and Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou, AMISTAD, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE), a menacing cheetah-masked Chief willing to trade the diamonds for the capture of his greatest enemy, name-withheld-but-cut-to-the-title-THE-LEGEND-OF-TARZAN®. (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.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

tn_tmnt2summer2016originsTEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE finds the four rubber turtle people (now with different voices, but I only noticed because Corey Feldman was missing) and their master Splinter the rat co-habitating with locally famous human TV reporter April O’Neil (now played by Paige Turco [THE STEPFATHER, The 100] instead of Judith Hoag). They make a mess of her apartment, order stacks of pizza all day and hang up a swimsuit babe poster. They’re still trying to keep their existence a secret from other humans, but in the opening a young pizza boy named Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr.) witnesses them stopping a robbery, and helps them using his own martial arts skills.

It seems like a pizza deliverer would be the most desirable possible friend for these turtles, because you see they love pizza is one of the main things we have learned about these characters through years of development in many different mediums, from years of comic books, several different animated series, one live action series, one animated movie, two live action(ish) movie franchises and a live tour. Still, they brush him off and return to Splinter-prescribed secrecy until Keno spots them in the apartment while delivering more pizzas. Splinter gives him some fighting and meditation training but tells him to stay out of their fight against Shredder. Keno completely ignores this, and there are no negative consequences. You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, rat. Who oozed and made you talk, anyway? (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.

Never Back Down: No Surrender

Monday, July 4th, 2016

tn_nbd3The world needs the NEVER BACK DOWN series. Why? Because we don’t have a currently running NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER series, or a BLOODSPORT series, or a BLOODFIST series. We will soon have more KICKBOXER, but that’s not enough.

If I had to guess I’d say your average citizen on or off the street doesn’t know what the fuck a NEVER BACK DOWN is, so I’m gonna explain it to everybody now. Part 1 was a slick theatrical release, a dumb movie with the admirably ridiculous premise of combining a teen romance type of story with an underground fighting tournament. They’re supposed to be these legendary illegal pitfighters but also they go to the same high school. The hero was Tom Cruise lookalike Sean Faris (STASH HOUSE), the villain was Cam Gigandet (IN THE BLOOD), the mentor was Academy Award nominee Djimon Honsou (ELEPHANT WHITE). Afterwards they all went their separate ways: director Jeff Wadlow went on to do KICK-ASS 2, comic relief nerd Evan Peters went on to become Quicksilver in the X-MEN pictures, love interest Amber Heard went on to become Amber Heard. And that could’ve been the end of never backing down. (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 Bodyguard

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
tn_bodyguardA few weeks ago at the Seattle International Film Festival I saw THE BODYGUARD, or MY BELOVED BODYGUARD as it’s currently listed on IMDb. It’s the new Sammo Hung vehicle, and his first time directing since ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA AND AMERICA in 1997. That’s a long fucking time! I didn’t realize it had been that long, but it was still thrilling to see the credit “Director and Action Director: Sammo Hung” not only splashed across a big screen, but in front of a sold out crowd. Unfortunately I can’t say the movie fulfilled the promise of those words.

Hung plays Ding, who we hear through both expository dialogue and seemingly-third-person narration was an elite agent in the Hong Kong equivalent of the Secret Service. He recently witnessed a gang murder and might’ve put a major gang figure away, but in the lineup he couldn’t remember him because “We think he has dementia.” (I feel like there might’ve been a more dramatic way to reveal that information than to just have a cop say it in the opening scene.)

There’s a little Clint Eastwood in the movie’s quiet, gentle portrait of Ding’s lonely life fending off advances from his landlord (Qinqin Li) and mourning his relationship with his daughter, who won’t speak to him because he lost her daughter (to a child murderer?) when he was supposed to be watching her. It’s never fully explained, but seems doubly tragic because we can assume his condition played a part in what happened, but his daughter seems to blame it on him just being a piece of shit.

(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 Killer

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

tn_thekillerwoozoneAs a guy specializing in writing about action movies, sometimes I worry I’m documenting an ancient art form. I romanticize a time when action movies were a rite of passage, a father-son bonding tradition and a major passion for many young people, especially males, but it seems like the youth of today aren’t necessarily interested in this shit. And if they don’t grow up on it then they’re never gonna have that moment when they get a little older and become aware of the other powerful strains of it from around the world.

That makes me sad because whatever they’re watching instead cannot possibly match the rush of joy I got when I saw my first John Woo movie – which was THE KILLER – or each time I revisit his classics now. At the time there was nothing else like it. Somehow that seems even more true today.

The things that are greatest about THE KILLER might be the things that would seem silliest to younger people: the unabashed style and the the unbridled, unironic emotion. I remember people who came up a few years after the era when Hong Kong action cinema was the coolest thing going – people who are old and decrepit now – who would make jokes about John Woo’s doves. “Ha ha, two pistols, and some doves, am I right? Ha ha, I know about a trademark, I have defeated him.”

Well, THE KILLER is gonna be way too much for anybody like that. And maybe I gotta face that they just don’t deserve THE KILLER. The cards are laid on the table in the opening, when Chow Yun-Fat as Ah Jong (or “Jeff Chow,” according to the credits) meets with his Triad manager Fung Sei (Paul Chu Kong) in an empty church at night. That happens in all action movies, but this church is lit with what must be a thousand candles, and there are doves and pigeons flying around, landing on the cross. (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.

American Ninja 5 (and Antoine v. Ninja conclusion)

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

tn_an5AMERICAN NINJA 5 is the explosive finale to the AMERICAN NINJA saga, by which I mean it’s an unrelated movie starring David Bradley that they retitled. At least that’s my assumption since he’s named Joe in this one instead of Sean. I could easily accept this character as Sean Davidson, who he played in parts 3 and 4, but they call him the other name so they must not have had that in mind while filming. He also opens the movie training with Tadashi “Bronson Lee” Yamashita, who played the Black Star Ninja in part 1, but this time Yamashita is credited as playing himself.

And I guess they must’ve decided that the title was misleading enough that they didn’t have to have a totally unrelated subtitle like all the other sequels. Something like AMERICAN NINJA 5: GAUNTLET OF FIRE or AMERICAN NINJA 5: IRON CLAW JUSTICE.

By the time this came out in 1993, ninjas were a subject of parody and kiddie fare. In the same year, the older brother of AMERICAN NINJA 5’s young star starred in SURF NINJAS with Rob Schneider and Leslie Nielsen. So this is a PG-13, sometimes jokey movie. Bradley has to take care of his master’s grand-nephew Hiro (introducing Lee Reyes). Also, his master, Master Tetsu, is played by Pat Morita, four years after THE KARATE KID III and the KARATE KID cartoon, one year before THE NEXT KARATE KID. Not very Cannonical. But it does have many elements of an AMERICAN NINJA movie: a scheming evil scientist, an army of multi-colored ninjas with one more visually distinguished lead ninja (with a snake-themed name, even), a kidnapping, sneaking into a foreign land, sneaking into a compound, getting jailed, doing a ninja hand signal meditation thing, child ninjitsu training montage, suppressed memories of childhood ninjitsu training. (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.