"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jai White’

Dragged Across Concrete

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

This is my piece about being torn between loving S. Craig Zahler’s movies and being grossed out by the worldview they seem to represent. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I’ve been waiting for DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE with a new emotion I call antici-dread. On one hand, it’s writer-director Zahler’s followup to BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, maybe my favorite movie of 2017. On the other hand, it’s his ode to racist cops and I’m starting to worry that my love for Zahler’s right-up-my-alley tone and filmatism has made me too quick to brush off questions about his fascination with casual racism and anti-heroes brutalizing minorities to protect the white women.

I really like BONE TOMAHAWK and BRAWL, and I’m not entirely convinced by some of the interpretations of them I’ve heard. But I got nervous when producer Dallas Sonnier (who has also done very good work, from managing Stone Cold Steve Austin to resurrecting Fangoria) did a press tour about his company Cinestate’s “populist” movies – code for “quiet 2+ hour slow burn niche art movies with occasional bursts of extreme gore” – saying they appeal to a “neglected audience” in “the age of Trump.” Asked about BRAWL receiving “4 out of 5 swastikas” from a white supremacist reviewer, Sonnier was only quoted with a less than forceful, “The reactions that come from them, we can’t control.”

I sure hope it’s all a big wacky misunderstanding, but to me it seems suspiciously like a “very fine people on both sides” marketing strategy. Then Zahler rebooted PUPPET MASTER to be about funny puppet hate crimes, and off-handedly referred to GET OUT as “manure” with no explanation in his Fangoria column, and at some point you gotta acknowledge a pattern even if it’s gonna fuck with your enjoyment of singular, committed, badass crime stories. (read the rest of this shit…)

Triple Threat

Friday, March 15th, 2019

TRIPLE THREAT is the long-awaited international co-production that teams Tony Jaa (ONG BAK, THE PROTECTOR, KILL ZONE 2), Iko Uwais (THE RAID, HEADSHOT, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US) and Tiger Chen (MAN OF TAI CHI, KUNG FU TRAVELER). That in itself is an event, but wait until I tell you who plays the villains. Directed by Jesse V. Johnson (THE BUTCHER, SAVAGE DOG), it’s not an envelope-pusher like some of the modern classics each of those three have under their belts, but it’s a solid action romp with tons of clearly shot fighting, taking advantage of all the possible match-ups and varying martial arts styles.

Jaa is first billed and shown first, but Uwais is the protagonist and the one with the best hair*. Jaa and Chen play mercenaries duped into a “humanitarian mission” that’s actually an attack on a village in which Uwais’ character’s (very briefly glimpsed) wife and friends are killed. Seeking revenge, he tracks the two to their day jobs as underground fighters… and gets beat up. But they recognize him from the village, explain themselves and become his on again, off again allies as he uses them to try to lure out the criminal syndicate responsible. Meanwhile those two try not to be killed by the gang for knowing too much, as well as to protect a Chinese heiress (Celina Jade, LEGENDARY ASSASSIN, SKIN TRADE, WOLF WARRIOR 2) they discover is being targeted by them. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Hard Way

Monday, March 11th, 2019

THE HARD WAY starring Michael Jai White is not a remake of THE HARD WAY starring Michael J. Fox. It’s a totally different story and he’s co-starring with Luke Goss and Randy Couture in a picture that as far as I can tell has gone straight to Netflix (no disc release). I gotta be honest, I had low expectations, because I first heard of it in an awkwardly worded tweet from co-writer Thomas J. Churchill (LAZARUS: APOCALYPSE), illustrated with key art that looks like the cover for a self-published Christian thriller novel. The director and co-writer is Keoni Waxman, who has churned out more Seagal movies than anyone else (THE KEEPER, A DANGEROUS MAN, MAXIMUM CONVICTION, FORCE OF EXECUTION, A GOOD MAN, ABSOLUTION, END OF A GUN, CARTELS, CONTRACT TO KILL and eight episodes of True Justice). He also did the Stone Cold Steve Austin movie HUNT TO KILL. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Loose Canon: Blood and Bone

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018
Every now and then I write a more-in-depth-than-usual study of a movie I consider important and influential in the evolution of Badass Cinema, or in this case one that I simply think is great. It’s a movie I believe most fans of the genre would love and all should see and have an opinion on. I call this series THE LOOSE CANON.

The Loose Canon: BLOOD AND BONE (2009)

There have been two proud moments in my getting-close-to-20-years of writing about action movies when a truly special one appeared inconspicuously in the DTV market and I was the first person I’m aware of to point to it and say holy shit you guys, check this out. One was John Hyams’ UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION, which later gained attention from some of the more respectable critics thanks to its great and very arty followup UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING. The other is BLOOD AND BONE, directed by Ben Ramsey (LOVE AND A BULLET). I do think it has grown something of a following, but not the credit it deserves as a perfect showcase for an under-recognized star in peak form, or as a stone cold classic of its genre. Like another Michael-Jai-White-starring DTV favorite, UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING, BLOOD AND BONE isn’t even available on region A Blu-Ray. What the fuck, video industry? Too badass for hi-def?

The ten year anniversary of BLOOD AND BONE is coming up next year, so I’m giving the rights-holders and the gatekeepers a heads up. I want to see a cool, respectful collector’s edition Blu-Ray with added extras and a painted cover and shit. I want to see theatrical screenings. I am positive this will play great with audiences. Make it happen. A parade would be cool too, but that’s negotiable. (read the rest of this shit…)

Accident Man

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

For those who came in late… The English actor and martial artist Scott Adkins is the reigning champ of low budget action. After catching our eye as the villain-turned-anti-hero Boyka in three UNDISPUTED sequels (2, 3, 4), as well as starring in two NINJA movies (1, 2) and the incredible UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING, he was clearly the era’s strongest answer to the iconic action stars of the ’90s like Jean-Claude Van Damme – who he co-starred with in THE SHEPHERD: BORDER PATROL, ASSASSINATION GAMES and EXPENDABLES 2. The latter was one of the many times we got hyped up for impending mainstream recognition only to find him playing Knife Guy Who Has Short Fight With Jason Statham. For years people hoped he’d be cast as Iron Fist or somebody in the Marvel Universe, until finally he was in DOCTOR STRANGE – and got beat up by a magic cape.

Little did we know that there was a comic book he’d been wanting to make into a movie since the age of 15, and this didn’t require a big special effects budget or a subduing of his talents. ACCIDENT MAN – starring, produced and co-written by Adkins – is an action-packed, darkly humorous hitman saga based on stories that appeared in the British comics anthology Toxic! in 1991, written by Pat Mills (Judge Dredd, etc.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (revisited)

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Nine years ago when I caught up to UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING I declared it the first DTV sequel better than its theatrical predecessor, and I finally understood the internet love for its star Michael Jai White, who I’d previously thought of as the guy from SPAWN. But I still didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I do now. Yesterday’s pleasant surprise has become today’s under-recognized genre classic.

Since then we’ve seen White star in more vehicles worthy of his talents (BLOOD & BONE and BLACK DYNAMITE being standouts), we’ve seen choreographer J.J. “Loco” Perry further make his mark with HAYWIRE before moving up to giant movies like FATE OF THE FURIOUS, and we’ve seen villain Scott Adkins grow into a martial arts icon in his own right, often working with this same great director, Isaac Florentine (NINJA, NINJA II: SHADOW OF A TEAR, CLOSE RANGE).

But even looking back, UNDISPUTED II is not a stepping stone to greatness. It’s an example of it.

(read the rest of this shit…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Skin Trade

Monday, April 27th, 2015

tn_skintradeSKIN TRADE (actually written as SKINTRADE on screen) is the long-awaited passion project of Dolph Lundgren, who produced and wrote the screenplay with Gabriel Dowrick (an editor and sometimes director) and Steven Elder (an actor who was in GALLOWWALKERS). Over the years Dolph had sometimes planned to direct it himself, sometimes not to act in it, at one point possibly to have Steven Seagal co-star. Eventually he handed over the reins to Ekachai Uekrongtham, director of BEAUTIFUL BOXER and PLEASURE FACTORY, which is about the sex industry in Singapore. To Dolph SKIN TRADE is an attempt to raise awareness about the problem of sex trafficking. For me it is an achievement in having a movie that stars Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White.

Dolph plays Nick Cassidy, an NYPD detective who gets himself into trouble by gunning down Serbian gangster Dragovic (Ron Perlman, sort of reprising his character from POLICE ACADEMY: MISSION TO MOSCOW)’s prettiest son two seconds after he yells “I will prove to you… I AM MY FATHER’S SON!”

Just another day on the job, you would think, but next thing you know some dudes fire an RPG into Nick’s living room window and he wakes up in the hospital with the side of his face melted and no wife or daughter in his burned down house.

Meanwhile Tony Jaa plays Tony, an undercover cop on a crusade against Dragovic’s sex slavery ring in Cambodia and Thailand. We first meet him wearing a nice suit and being threatened at gunpoint to have sex with a young kidnapped child. He fakes like he’s gonna do it but instead he pulls out his belt to use as a weapon to beat up every sorry sex slaving piece of garbage in the room and dangle their cowering leader (Gigi Velicitat, ELEPHANT WHITE, THE MARINE 2, STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI) off the side of the building until he tells them where their next shipment of human cargo is headed. And then he drops him anyway. The guy probly shouldn’t have offered him that freebie on sex slaves in my opinion. That was his mistake. (read the rest of this shit…)