So once again we have survived.

Hard Target 2

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…)

I Am Wrath

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…)

Kickboxer: Vengeance

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…)

Blood Father

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…)

Don’t Breathe

tn_dontbreatheDON’T BREATHE is the new film by EVIL DEAD remake director Fede Alvarez, and the most up-my-alley new horror movie I’ve seen in at least a couple years. Once it really got going I found myself alternating between wincing and having a big smile that I couldn’t get off my face. It’s produced by Sam Raimi, and I daresay it is almost a non-supernatural spookablast. I’m not gonna say it’s as good as DRAG ME TO HELL, but that might be the last time I had this much fun watching a horror movie in a theater.

Now, keep in mind, I also liked EVIL DEAD. I had a great experience with some friends who all got a big kick out of its eviscerating-all-previous-standards-of-what-can-be-done-in-an-R-rated-movie audacity. Then almost everybody else I knew, both in life and in the comments here, seemed genuinely offended that I found any redeeming quality of any kind in that movie. It might be the most backlash I ever got for a positive review.

But I think this is different! It’s dark, and it definitely Goes Too Far at one point, but I think it’s more of a crowdpleaser. I think some of you guys will love it? (read the rest of this shit…)

The Mechanic: Resurrection

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…)

Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”

tn_borwHappy Michael Jackson’s birthday, everybody! What did you get me? I got you this thorough illustrated analysis of the “Black or White” video from the album Dangerous!

The “Black or White” music video is the sort of weird, messy, well-meaning, overreaching, and fun piece of mainstream art that only the lightning rod known as Michael Jackson could’ve attracted. It was directed by John Landis (who had already done “Thriller,” of course) and shot by Mac Ahlberg (TRANCERS, GHOULIES, RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, STRIKING DISTANCE). Like “Thriller” it was a short film (11 minutes in its longest version), and its first broadcast (November 14th, 1991 simultaneously on MTV, VH1, BET and Fox) was a heavily hyped event. It was a Thursday night, playing right after The Simpsons on Fox (specifically, the soapbox derby episode “Saturdays of Thunder”), and receiving that network’s highest ever ratings at that time.

It had celebrity cameos (including The Simpsons), groundbreaking special effects, meta elements, and (still puzzling to this day) controversy that caused (or was the excuse for) the best part to be removed for subsequent broadcasts. While Michael sang and danced and visually symbolized in earnest about the lack of racial barriers in eligibility to be his “baby” or his “brother,” it became common to joke about not being able to tell if he was black or white due to his vitiligo-lightened skin. Most of the world could accept that “it don’t matter if you’re black or white” in theory, but that was not gonna stop them from making judgments about Michael’s racial identity.

Like the feature length MOONWALKER, this mini-movie is a jumbled mix-tape of stylistically clashing segments. For convenience I will break it down into four main sections. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pride + Prejudice + Zombies

tn_ppzWhen I first heard about PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES – the book where Seth Grahame-Smith inserted the undead into Jane Austen’s original text – it sounded like a clever public domain art project, something I could respect without wanting to actually read it. When I heard that they were making it into a movie it sounded like kind of a bad idea, but since David O. Russell was doing it I thought maybe it would be interesting. By the time Russell left and it was finally made by 17 AGAIN director Burr Steers I had written it off.

But then I saw the trailer, where the absurd premise was done with a straight face, and that was all I needed to get on board. I should’ve known better, too, because this is actually a repeat of what happened with Grahame-Smith’s second book, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. The wackiness of the title made me groan, but then I enjoyed the deadpan movie version. To this day it makes me smile to think that that actor had to master both delivering the Gettysburg Address and spinning an ax.

So I should learn to trust this Grahame-Smith guy. He also wrote Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS, which I enjoyed. But more importantly he has a corner on this rare, ballsy type of movie: lavish, earnest productions of intentionally ridiculous historical drama/horror-action combos. Steers has the unlikely discipline to treat Austen’s story of courtship among the rich with utter respect even though he’s moved it to a post-zombie apocalypse London surrounded by a moat and wall and at war with the undead hordes. I actually found myself invested in Austen’s original love story regardless of any zombie business. (read the rest of this shit…)

Enemies Closer

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…)

Miles Ahead

tn_milesaheadad_milesMILES AHEAD is the directorial debut of Don Cheadle, and he stars in it as Miles Davis. I think it didn’t get much attention for the same reason it’s good: it’s a small, odd movie, not fulfilling most expectations of a musician biopic. I’m not sure if it even is a musician biopic. Maybe it’s a little of that mixed with Miles’ guest appearance on Miami Vice. It’s a small time crime story where the lead happens to be Miles Davis and the McMuffin is a reel-to-reel of the only recording session he’s done in years. He wants it for himself but Columbia Records has contractual claim to it, so people are trying to get it.

The story takes place over just a couple of days, with the device of Ewan McGregor as totally fictional Rolling Stone writer Dave Braden barging his way into the “black Howard Hughes” life of Miles, promising to write his “comeback story!” At first Miles gives him many variations of “fuck off, white boy,” but eventually the two are hanging out together. Making this odd couple happen requires deceit and cocaine and puts the reporter in the middle of many tense situations involving guns and/or a fierce insistence on artistic purity. (read the rest of this shit…)