"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Worm on a Hook

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Monkey Man

A great thing about action movies as opposed to some of the other genres I get excited about is that they often have a chance to sneak up on me. I had no inkling of a movie called MONKEY MAN coming until the trailer dropped just a couple of months ago. And then all the sudden that morning I knew that the actor Dev Patel (THE LAST AIRBENDER, THE GREEN KNIGHT) had practiced Taekwondo since he was ten years old, had competed in national and international competitions, and grew into a passionate fan of international action cinema, so now he was not only starring in a violent martial arts revenge movie set in India, but also making it his directorial debut. And I read that Netflix produced it but Jordan Peele saw it and convinced them to sell it to Universal so it could play theaters. (Later we learned that Netflix was trying to get rid of it because it kinda seemed like it was criticizing the current right wing regime in India and might complicate their business dealings. Embarrassing for them, good for us.) (read the rest of this shit…)

The Crow: Wicked Prayer

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I don’t know why I never got around to seeing the THE CROW sequel from the director of SIX-STRING SAMURAI. Always was curious. Still took me 19 years. Lance Mungia’s THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER, just like the previous one, was meant for theaters, but I think it only played somewhere around here? Wiki(dprayer)pedia says its theatrical run was only in Seattle and only for one week, and I do remember seeing an ad for it and being confused, but I was thinking it was in Eastern Washington. Anyway, I didn’t go.

It’s the only THE CROW movie so far with a writer/director. Mungia wrote the script with THE CROW series producer Jeff Most, and then there was a rewrite by Sean Hood (HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION, CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE, Masters of Horror: Sick Girl, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE LEGEND OF HERCULES). Oddly it’s “inspired by” a circa-2000 THE CROW tie-in novel by Norman Partridge, who later wrote the book Dark Harvest that became a pretty cool movie last year. (read the rest of this shit…)

Six-String Samurai

SIX-STRING SAMURAI is an artifact from another time – the early internet days, when movie nerds like us were a fringe group beginning to ascend to power, and before people would make fake trailers and put them on Youtube. Specifically it was the fall of 1998, after a strange summer of blockbusters everybody hated (GODZILLA, LOST IN SPACE, THE AVENGERS) but also some classics (BLADE, THE MASK OF ZORRO, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, WILD THINGS, OUT OF SIGHT) — see my overview of the season here. In the middle of all that Palm Pictures released this low budget post-apocalyptic movie about a Buddy Holly lookalike battling his way through the desert to get to “Lost Vegas.” It only played 16 screens, but it lasted 15 weeks. People must’ve been watching it.

I didn’t get a chance until it came to DVD, but I’d been hearing about it for months on The Ain’t It Cool News. In researching it I found an interview with director Lance Mungia where Harry Knowles acknowledged that his “over-the-top” review had raised expectations too high and led many people to be disappointed. And that’s my memory of what the reaction was at the time. I think I liked it more than some, I thought it was pretty cool, but it didn’t change the world. (read the rest of this shit…)

El Muerto (The Dead One) (2007)

I’m going to continue with my THE CROW studies but there aren’t many actual THE CROW movies to review, so here’s a little bit of a side mission.

EL MUERTO (as it’s called on streaming, THE DEAD ONE on DVD) is a 2007 DTV movie I always assumed was a THE CROW wannabe. It stars Wilmer Valderrama (SUMMER CATCH) as Juan Diego, a guy who’s really into Day of the Dead and on the way to a Day of the Dead celebration (while wearing skull makeup and a mariachi suit decorated with little white bones) he crashes into a tree and is possessed by Aztec gods. Then when he gets to the celebration he sees a shrine to himself and realizes oh shit, I died and a year has passed and now I’ve come back with supernatural powers. Like THE CROW, except different. Adn on his favorite holiday. What the fuck. (read the rest of this shit…)

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

GODZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE is the fifth of the “Monsterverse” movies, and to me the best one. Don’t get me wrong, I kinda liked the attempt at a serious Spielbergian approach in GODZILLA, and the more fun and colorful (but weirdly nostalgic for Vietnam War imagery?) take of KONG: SKULL ISLAND, and the Hesei nightmare atmosphere of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, but my previous favorite was GODZILLA VS. KONG, because it finally went headlong into having cool giant monster fights where you’re still in awe but you get to see what’s going on.

GxK is the first one with a returning director (Adam Wingard, YOU’RE NEXT) and he’s able to hit the ground running and improve on GvK with a crazier mythology and a better-integrated human story. I had a big smile on my face pretty much the whole time, without having to say “Well, too bad they were just traveling in that tunnel for a third of the movie.” My only real complaint is that the great Brian Tyree Henry (WIDOWS) still has a dumb one-joke character to play – a Roland Emmerich type “funny conspiracy guy” updated to have a podcast and a Discord – but he not only gets some laughs but gets to be around the actual monsters this time instead of trapped in a needless b-plot. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Crow: Salvation (second review)

The producer I always associate with THE CROW is Edward R. Pressman. That’s a guy with a storied career – his name is on everything from BADLANDS to CONAN THE BARBARIAN to BAD LIEUTENANT, and he played Mr. Trend in CRIMEWAVE. He died last year but will have his credit on the upcoming THE CROW movie.

Apparently not involved in that new one was the guy who brought the project to Pressman in the first place, Jeff Most. According to a 2005 interview with Clint Morris at Moviehole, it all started when the young producer was looking for a comic book artist to do illustrations of a John Shirley script he was trying to get made. Someone told him to look at James O’Barr’s recently published The Crow and he was so impressed he reversed his plans and had Shirley write a script based on the comic. But getting someone to finance an R-rated comic book movie was difficult. He says 51 people said no before Pressman said yes. (read the rest of this shit…)

Downtime (1997)

DOWNTIME is a 1997 British film set in a dilapidated apartment building. I feel like somebody might’ve recommended it to me here years ago, but maybe it’s just in my head because the cover says “MOVE OVER BRUCE WILLIS, A BRITISH ACTION MOVIE TO DIE FOR.” I didn’t really think of it as an action movie, but the DIE HARD connection is obvious: it’s mostly set in one building, and much of it involves elevator-related danger, including climbing up onto the top of the elevator, climbing around inside the shaft, and the elevator falling and exploding. And it’s got a good look to it, with the camera moving around confidently (courtesy of ENEMY MINE and FIREBIRDS d.p. Tony Imi), so maybe there’s some McT influence in there.

But what makes it interesting to me is how much it still feels like something different. While DIE HARD is a pure action movie strengthened by the relationship drama in the middle of it, this feels like it’s a relationship drama that sometimes gets interrupted by some DIE HARD stuff, and keeps trying to brush it off and stay on track. Obviously straight ahead action is my preference, but I appreciate the originality of this approach, and it kept surprising me which directions it went. (read the rest of this shit…)

Lost Phoenix

Fairly often I get emails from people who made low budget movies, sometimes they seem to be familiar with me, sometimes they don’t, but they’re trying to do the very hard work of getting people to notice their needle out there in the haystack of what’s available. I sincerely wish every one of them well, but I don’t take very many of them up on it. My fear is that 99.9% of the time it’s not gonna be some hidden gem, or even some crazy failure, it’s just gonna be okay for what it is. And I know I’ll feel bad for them and want to say nice things, but what good does it do them for a niche critic like me to be nice about their movie being okay? I don’t know.

But this particular one, LOST PHOENIX, I decided to watch. After a long time. I was kind of slow about it. But writer/director James Couche (who is also editor and fight choreographer) had a good pitch for it: it’s his micro budget take on “90s mid-budget action movies with shades of inspiration from Hong Kong thrillers.” He also mentioned EL MARIACHI as an inspiration, production-wise. But it takes place in September 2020, and was shot from October 2020 through October 2022 in Richmond, Virginia. I know there are a ton of COVID horror movies shot out in the woods somewhere while people were bored, but this is the first time I heard of an action one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Catch the Fair One

I guess I would classify CATCH THE FAIR ONE (2021) as a thriller more than an action movie, but it’s a certified badass thriller. It’s the first acting role for Kali Reis, the former world champion boxer who recently starred with Jodie Foster in True Detective: Night Country (her reward for this, I believe). Reis also co-wrote the movie with director Josef Kubota Wladyka.

Reis plays Kaylee “K.O.” Uppashaw, a former pro boxer whose younger sister Weeta (Mainaku Borrero) went missing two years ago. Kaylee doesn’t fight anymore, she’s living at a women’s shelter trying to stay off drugs and working as a waitress. But she’s also in her BATMAN BEGINS stage of building up to find her sister. Her friend Brick (fellow pro boxer Shelly Vincent), who reminds me of Joe Pesci (in a good way), not only helps her train to wrestle and fight men much larger then her, but finds a recruiter (Isabelle Chester, THE FALLING WORLD) willing to take a bribe to bring her in with a “new batch” of workers for the traffickers she believes have Weeta. (read the rest of this shit…)

Moon Garden

MOON GARDEN (2022) is a strange little fantasy film from writer/director (and also editor, and sound designer, and production designer, and art director, and visual effects artist, and colorist, and animator) Ryan Stevens Harris. Oscilloscope Laboratories gave it an arthouse theatrical run, and recently put it on blu-ray and DVD, and it’s also on Shudder at the moment, though I wouldn’t really think of it as a horror movie.

I realize I’ve written more than one review lately that starts out by saying how simple the concept is, but that seems silly now because this is a simple one. A little girl named Emma (Haven Lee Harris, seven year old daughter of the director) falls down some stairs, goes into a coma, finds herself in a creepy dream world where she can kind of hear things from reality, and sometimes goes into her memories, as she tries to wake up. There’s a little more to it that I will go into in a minute, but mostly it’s not about talking, she doesn’t seem to have much scripted dialogue, the sound effects are more important than most of the words that are spoken. It’s mostly a series of strange experiences, encounters and images, an Alice in Wonderland/RETURN TO OZ type of story, but very DIY, and stylistically and tonally reminiscent of the works of Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay. It also made me think of Phil Tippet’s MAD GOD, though Harris said he hadn’t seen that yet when he was promoting this. And I suppose there’s a trace of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD in there.
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