"I'll just get my gear."

Archive for January, 2021

Batman: Soul of the Dragon

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

I don’t normally review Batman cartoons (I think the only time I have before is the Suicide Squad one, ASSAULT ON ARKHAM), but I think you will agree that this one falls into my jurisdiction. In fact, it’s so weirdly specific to my particular areas of interest that during the ‘70s-inspired opening credits montage with funky theme song, after seeing the names Mark Dacascos and Michael Jai White, Mrs. Vern turned to me in disbelief and said, “Did they make this only for you?

Yeah, actually, it seems they did, so thanks, guys!

No joke, this is an animated movie set in the 1970s, based in the DC Comics universe but taking most of its template from kung fu movies. Its spy movie opening and funky, wah-wah heavy score are clearly homaging ENTER THE DRAGON, and there’s definitely some Jim Kelly/Blaxploitation influence in there, but its flashback structure mostly splits between an old school kung fu training movie and a getting-the-band-back-together type story. Two of my favorite plot structures in one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Invincible Dragon

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

I love being able to tip off my readers to a high quality, newish martial arts movie they might not have seen or heard of. Especially one that feels like an instant classic to me, like when I saw SPL 2/KILL ZONE 2 in 2015, and I just knew I had to do what I could to get the word out that it was something special.

But that’s not exactly what we’ve gathered for today. This is a different thread that I’ve been following since KILL ZONE 2. One of the highlights of that movie was Jin Zhang, now known here as Max Zhang, who played the lead henchman – a dapper, suit-wearing psycho with kicks like scalpels. He had such an entirely different vibe as the broody handsome rival in IP MAN 3 that I didn’t even notice it was the same actor. So now I pay more attention to him. His most recent release INVINCIBLE DRAGON (original title: 九龍不敗 [KOWLOON UNBEATEN]) is not in the same ballpark as his very good starring vehicle MASTER Z: THE IP MAN LEGACY (2018), and it’s sloppier and stupider than THE BRINK (2017). But I enjoyed the hell out of it because it has some of that precious Hong Kong action craftsmanship and production value, infused with the “are you kidding me right now?” lunacy of a really off-the-rails DTV movie, while managing to showcase some of the qualities that make Zhang stand out from other action stars. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rogue

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

You know I go into pretty much any movie hoping it will be good, but I admit I was surprised by the straight up legit-ness of this movie where Megan Fox plays an ex-special-ops badass who gets stranded in an area where a lion keeps eating people. Fox is good in it, the characters in it are fun and have a good chemistry, it’s well made, it genuinely works. I had hopes, but not necessarily expectations. I’m happy to report that this is a good one.

(As is my policy these days, I will note that it’s another movie reveling in the power of modern military gear, and it’s mostly white heroes rescuing white people from Jihadist rebels in Africa. But, you know, accepting that we still make movies like that, it’s an entertaining and distinct one.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Samurai Marathon

Monday, January 25th, 2021

There’s something about samurai movies that I find really comforting and grounding. People walking around slowly, just trying to enjoy some baths or poetry or something, but their codes and their swords come into conflict. I don’t know, there are different reasons why different ones appeal to me so much, but seeing a good one is always invigorating, so I figured it would be good to see one early in this new year to get things started on the right foot.

I chose SAMURAI MARATHON, officially a 2019 release, though it came to VOD and disc during quarantine time in 2020. It’s a Japanese language film, based on a Japanese novel (The Marathon Samurai: Five Tales of Japan’s First Marathon by Akihiro Dobashi), with a screenplay co-written by Hiroshi Saito (SAMURAI FICTION) and Kikumi Yamagishi (HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI), but it’s directed and co-written by Mr. Bernard Rose of London, England. Obviously a samurai movie by the director of CANDYMAN is gonna catch my eye. And I’m sure glad it did because, my friends, I loved this movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

“In the second film the wardrobe people wanted to go glamorous. And they wanted to make Los Angeles look beautiful – that’s why all the colors are bright and friendly. Los Angeles is not like that – they made BREAKIN’ 2 as some kind of a WIZARD OF OZ of dance. And you know what? For a kid that never had anything, not even the money in the family to go to Disneyland – suddenly people were screaming, and cheering, dancing and being happy on the screen. That’s the fantasy. Maybe Los Angeles will never be that way, but Los Angeles was beautiful for one day when people watched BREAKIN’ 2. I think that’s nice.” -Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers to Marco Siedelmann in the book Stories From the Trenches: Adventures in Making High Octane Hollywood Movies With Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg

BREAKIN’ was a huge hit for Cannon. It opened at #1 even though it was going head-to-head with Universal’s SIXTEEN CANDLES, and on almost 200 fewer screens. It ended up making $38 million, which was more than twice BEAT STREET’s total, and put it at #17 in the 1984 box office rankings, above such films as BACHELOR PARTY, RED DAWN, THE TERMINATOR and Cannon’s own MISSING IN ACTION. And if you scan down that list, way down to #102, you’ll find BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.

That sounds more disastrous than it is, because only its first ten days of release were in 1984; its eventual total would’ve put it around #59. More notable than the sequel’s lower box office take is the fact that they got it into theaters less than 8 months later. But it wasn’t just a continuation – they put together a new team of filmmakers, headed by director Sam Firstenberg, who had just directed Dickey in NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (also released in ’84!), and they gave it a goofier, less reality-bound tone and style with more neon and rainbow colors in the clothes and graffiti. (read the rest of this shit…)

Breakin’

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

I’ve written about a bunch of these corny 21st century dance movies, and I always seem to be comparing them to the BREAKIN’ movies, but I’ve never actually reviewed the BREAKIN’ movies. That ends now. I’m reviewing the BREAKIN’ movies. The world could use more focus on the BREAKIN’ movies right now.

In a certain way, BREAKIN’ changed the whole world for me. I’m pretty sure it was BREAKIN’ and/or the cultural conversation around BREAKIN’ that first opened my eyes to this movement of music, art and dancing that older, cooler kids in far away New York had been building for several years. If you weren’t alive then I’m not sure you can imagine what a phenomenon it was. I remember a music teacher giving us diagrams of moves, trying to teach us (what she said was) the moonwalk, talking about Michael Jackson being inspired by breakdancers and breakdancers being inspired by James Brown. It was the music part of hip hop culture that would become important to me, and (as I said in my review of the companion movie RAPPIN’), at that time I don’t think I even knew the word “rap.” I called it “breakdancing music.” (And, though I kind of like this soundtrack, I don’t associate it much with the type of rap I soon fell in love with.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Train to Busan Presents Peninsula

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021

TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS PENINSULA is, of course, director Yeon Sang-ho’s sequel to his excellent zombie hit TRAIN TO BUSAN (itself a live action sequel to his less-widely-known animated movie SEOUL STATION). Although PENINSULA is officially a TRAIN TO BUSAN presentation according to the American title, these are sequels in sort of the George Romero tradition: same world, different sets of characters. Different things that happen to people in South Korea trying to survive a fast-zombie outbreak. So, although I recommend all of them, you could watch them in any order.

This one starts maybe a little bit after the other two movies. Jung-Seok (Gang Dong-won, ILLANG: THE WOLF BRIGADE) uses his station as a captain in the Marines to get his sister and her family a spot on an evacuation ship. But of course a guy on the boat starts twitching weird and next thing you know there’s running and screaming and biting. This is just a pre-credits sequence but, like TRAIN TO BUSAN, it captures a deep sense of loss as Jung-Seok and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon, THE WAILING) see their loved ones turn into monsters. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Musketeer

Monday, January 18th, 2021

I have very little familiarity with Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, or even any of its many famous film adaptations. I think I mainly know the characters from the cartoons on The Banana Splits. So this review is not coming from the perspective of a true Muskie or Musketmaniac. Instead, I come to THE MUSKETEER (2001) as a fan of two movements in ‘90s/2000s cinema that improbably collided in this movie. Those movements are:

1) The Old Timey Adventure movie – contemporary filmmaking based on old (arguably even obsolete) characters, attempting to evoke a nostalgic movie serial type tone

see also: THE MASK OF ZORRO, THE PHANTOM, THE LONE RANGER

2) Hong Kong Outreach Cinema – that wave of films where geniuses of Hong Kong action cinema were recruited to spruce up Hollywood movies

see also: THE BIG HIT, LETHAL WEAPON 4, THE MATRIX, INVINCIBLE, BRIDE OF CHUCKY (read the rest of this shit…)

StreetDance 2

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

“I’m just thinking. What if people don’t get it? I mean our Street-Latin fusion. Dancing with just us is one thing, but, a street dance battle, I just don’t…”

Recently I reviewed STREETDANCE 3D (2010), an enjoyable street-dancers-team-up-with-a-ballet-class movie that I saw as the U.K.’s answer to STEP UP. It didn’t go on to have as many sequels as STEP UP, but it did have one, in 2012, so it was my duty to check it out.

The sequel also reminds me of the STEP UP movies, and that’s a compliment. It sort of follows the first one in the way that STEP UP 3(D) follows STEP UP 2 THE STREETS: it introduces new male and female leads, but also elevates a younger, charmingly geeky supporting character to a more central role. Or if you prefer action movie comparisons, it’s kinda like NEVER BACK DOWN 2, which promoted Evan Peters’ character Max from nerdy underground fight fan to hotshot promoter. (read the rest of this shit…)

Becky

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

BECKY (2020) is a pretty quick and simple thriller with a promising hook: neo-Nazi escaped convicts invade a vacation home looking for a valuable item, and it’s up to a 13-year old girl to improvise enough weapons to seriously fuck them up. Gritty HOME ALONE, I guess. It somewhat delivers on the premise, mostly in the area of (as the rating says) “grisly images and strong bloody violence.”

Becky (Lulu Wilson, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL) is an extremely pouty youngster who is not on good speaking terms with her dad (Joel McHale, DELIVER US FROM EVIL, MORTAL KOMBAT LEGENDS: SCORPION’S REVENGE) as they drive to the lakeside cabin together. We learn that she’s having trouble dealing with the death of her mother a year ago; conveniently the “nostalgically watching old home movies to mourn a deceased family member” storytelling device can now be done with handheld electronics. (read the rest of this shit…)