Here we are, number eight in the impossible series. The one that started as cheesy car exploitation with surprising heart, and evolved into… the FAST AND THE FURIOUS series. The one that, I am happy to say, is still the longest running movie series that I like every installment of. (Second place is still DEATH WISH. I am now aware that RESIDENT EVIL comes close, but I don’t like the first one.)
That is not to say that it can sustain forever. But only because fossil fuels will eventually run out. Inevitably, there has been a slight downward arc in quality since the untoppable back-to-back peaking of FAST FIVE and FURIOUS 6, but part FATE is still an immensely entertaining chapter in the ongoing soap opera about friends who have been repeatedly swallowed and coughed up by the impossible, and filmmakers who have not yet run out of ways to go bigger and more ridiculous than last time. (Hint: car playing chicken with nuclear submarine.)
Ah, who am I fooling, there is no room for hints in this review. This is gonna be straight up SPOILERs throughout. I’ll write it so it makes sense to those who will foolishly avoid the movie and just read this, but my recommendation is obviously to go see the movie first. I will not be pussyfooting around about surprises. We’re gonna want to discuss them. (read the rest of this shit…)
I promise that tomorrow I’ll post my take on that one new movie, the most important movie of all time since Thursday. (It will be a spoiler-filled review so we can discuss all the business.) But today please allow me to shine the spotlight on this piece I did for the websight Thrillist about the best action movies of the modern age.
At first they approached me to do the greatest shootout scenes of all time. I felt unqualified and suggested this instead. During my research I found that at least a couple other major outlets have done a version of this subject and their choices have some overlap with mine, but I believe I discuss them in more depth than most people do. The assignment was a so-called listicle that is genuine analysis, not just clickbait.
If you’ve been a regular here for a while you won’t be surprised by most of my choices, but I really did put alot of work into it including rewatching some of the contenders and catching up on some things I had missed. I tried to make sure each entry addresses both the quality of the action and something more substantive about what makes the story or characters great.
My longer first draft said in the intro, “I know how this works. I fully expect you to scoff at some of my choices, snubs, and unscientific rankings. That is your duty as a free-thinking, list-reading movie lover.” So I encourge you to do that here. I have a hunch about certain exclusions that will be controversial, so I’m especially interested in what you guys would include on your lists that didn’t make mine.
Here’s the link:
Sometimes there’s a monumentally shitty day, both on a personal and on an international level, so you get a glass of whiskey and watch the new Shout Factory Blu-Ray of a John Stamos movie that friends have been recommending to you on VHS for years. In my case, this time, NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE (1986) did not cut all the way through my fog of negativity. I’m not sure if that means I just wasn’t in the right place emotionally to fully enjoy an amazing movie or if it kinda drags in the middle so it’s not quite as good as it sounds on paper. Won’t really matter, though, because once I describe it to you you would be stupid not to see it. I mean let’s be serious here.
It starts on top of a dam, where Gene Simmons, dressed as a woman, gives a big THE WARRIORS style speech to a gang of DRAGNET: THE MOVIE style punks. He dreams of poisoning the water supply and I guess he doesn’t have time to take over state government and defund the infrastructure in poor and minority areas like how it’s done now. But he almost had some kind of computer disk that was gonna allow him to do the poisoning through the dam or something (I never quite followed this part). So he has abducted some lady who knows where the disk is and he tortures her with one long fingernail while the gang chants “THE FINGER! THE FINGER! THE FINGER!”
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THE CHASER opens with an escort getting in a car with a john. We don’t see what happens after that, just that she doesn’t come back. Many days pass – we know this from the amount of parking tickets attached to the car when Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok, THE YELLOW SEA) finds it abandoned on a winding road in the Mongkol District.
“You bitch,” he says. “If I find you, you’re dead.” And it cuts to the title. THE CHASER.
So this guy is The Chaser. Cool, I thought. This tough-as-nails detective is on the trail of a serial killer, and he’s not messing around!
Ha ha. Not quite. Come to find out he’s a pimp. It’s her he’s threatening to kill. A bunch of his employees have gone missing, and he thinks they’re running out on him. He sees it as a personnel problem. Not to be preachy but in my opinion pimping is not a respectable line of work, and he performs this immoral vocation in the style of a heartless corporate boss, or an Ebenezer Scrooge.
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As you may know, I don’t watch or understand any wrestling from the past two to three decades, but I retain a fascination and nostalgia from the stuff I did watch in the ’80s. One of the iconic villains of that era was The Iron Sheik, a cartoonish embodiment (along with his fur-hat-wearing Soviet tag team partner Nikolai Volkoff) of America’s most absurd fears of scary foreigners. Looking back it seems like a put-on, a parody, an Andy Kaufman style evisceration of the stereotypes you’d have to be a dummy to believe in, the communists and Middle Easterners who come in and tell us we are weak Americans and then demand that we be respectful as they (gasp) make us sit through their national anthems. And then are outraged when we boo.
It was also a time when some people, due to economic anxiety or whatever, didn’t understand that these were fictional characters. Many Americans presumably believed that the Iron Sheik was real, that this Persian man was behaving this way not because he was an entertainer, but because those guys really hate America, you know? And in the copious vintage footage included in this very enjoyable 2014 documentary by director Igal Hecht we see the red-faced fury of some of these fans. In interviews we hear about the danger of the Sheik’s “heat” from the crowd, people showing up with guns and shit. Every great heel tells a story like this (the wrestling villain’s humblebrag), but I bet the Middle Eastern angle means he had to be even more careful than Roddy Piper did. (read the rest of this shit…)
BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS is really not fair to the assassins – it’s all about how great and selfless the bodyguards are. I thought I should give that warning to the more sensitive members of the assassin community. I still thought it was good though.
This 2009 film from director Teddy Chan (KUNG FU KILLER) is another one in that IP MAN vein of an Important Historical Drama infused with exaggerated martial arts greatness. I so wish our Oscar bait movies had kung fu in them. Think how much better IMITATION GAME would be!
In 1906, the pro-democracy activist Dr. Sun Wen (Zhang Hanyu, SPECIAL ID, THE GREAT WALL) is about to meet in British-ruled Hong Kong with regional leaders to plan a revolution, but the Chinese government is trying to assassinate him. So this is about the brave rebels who volunteer to escort him to the meeting. (read the rest of this shit…)
As I’ve mentioned once or twice, CANDYMAN might be my favorite horror movie of the 1990s. And I remember director Bernard Rose’s PAPERHOUSE being very good too when I watched it in the 1980s. But most of his movies have not been horror. Didn’t seem to be his thing. So I was intrigued when I found out that all the sudden in 2015 he did a new version of FRANKENSTEIN.
This is a modernized take on Mary Shelley’s story. The monster is not some stitched together green guy, he’s just a regular full grown man (Xavier Samuel, THE LOVED ONES, FURY) suddenly born in a secret lab through unexplained genetical engineering type methods. Victor Frankenstein (Danny Huston, THE WARRIOR’S WAY, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, BIRTH) is there, but it’s his wife Elizabeth (Carrie-Anne Moss from the fucking MATRIX!) doing the important work now: cuddling him, shushing him, feeding him with an eyedropper. (read the rest of this shit…)
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN is maybe the only retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story I’ve seen where the monster is not very important. Played by Spencer Wilding (Darth Vader from ROGUE ONE), he’s just the mindless special effect that they fight at the climax. So it’s kind of more about Dr. Frankenstein (James Mcavoy, WANTED), except the main character is Igor (Daniel Radcliffe, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA), who is not so much his assistant as his brilliant partner who has more sense than he does and backs out right before they make that monster.
It starts with Igor as a nameless, hunchbacked, clown-makeup-wearing freak in a circus. For some reason he doubles as the medic, and because he also passionately reads medical books in his spare time, he is a brilliant, ahead of his time medical genius. No big deal. This comes in handy when the acrobat he has a crush on (Jessica Brown Findlay, WINTER’S TALE) falls. Frankenstein, being in the audience, comes to help, but is sure there’s nothing they can do for her – until the hunchback proves otherwise.
Impressed, Frankenstein comes back and frees the hunchback from his cage, and there is a hip Guy Ritchie style slow-mo wacky action scene where Victor does a little bit of parkour and a knifethrower accidentally kills another circus guy in the mayhem. Victor gives Igor his name, hides him out in his apartment and gets him to help with his experiments. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is on their trail for supposedly murdering the knife victim. (read the rest of this shit…)
I, FRANKENSTEIN picks up where Mary Shelley left off, with the the doctor (Aden Young, SNIPER) dying in the Arctic trying to kill the creature (Aaron Eckhart, PAYCHECK). Then it skips ahead to the current day, and there is much evidence* to support that if Shelley had lived 163 years longer she would’ve continued the story in the same way: with “the modern Prometheus” as an immortal who wears cool fingerless gloves and a hoodie under a jacket and is good at fighting and has two magic batons because he’s at the center of an ancient war between demons and gargoyles. *
It takes place in the great city of Greenscreensboro, where it’s always night and swarms of CGI flying guys sweep down and fight mobs of fast running demons – basically just dudes with monster heads who wear leather jackets and do martial arts (fight coordinator: Ray Anthony, SON OF THE MASK). I think this is supposed to be a “the world you live in is just a sugar-coated topping” type secret war situation, but there seem to be almost no regular people in the city to ever witness anything, or to wonder why there’s a gargantuan cathedral with a non-Christian symbol on top towering over the city with guys dressed like extras from 300 constantly going in and out. (read the rest of this shit…)
MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN is director Kenneth Branagh’s attempt to redo the story as a romantic period melodrama. You still got your mad science lab, but also wigs and corsets and all that shit. Branagh himself plays Victor Frankenstein, and this is in the era when men in historical dramas had to have long Fabio hair. He cast himself as the doctor who creates his monster while shirtless, running around pulling heavy levers to show off his glistening muscles.
Branagh playing a beareded, wet-behind-the-ears college student while in his mid-thirties somehow reminds me of Chris Elliot in CABIN BOY. He’s a fancy lad who interrupts a medical lecture to argue with the professor about mixing medicine and philosophy. The teacher is outraged and the filmatism implies that he’s stickin it to the man, but personally – I don’ t know about you guys – I don’t take medical advice from Victor Frankenstein. (read the rest of this shit…)