"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Bullet Train

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022

David Leitch’s BULLET TRAIN has plenty going for it. It has a strong ensemble of actors playing colorful characters, like a quippy modernized Murder on the Orient Express, except in this one everybody’s trying to murder each other and/or escape, it’s not so much of a whodunit. It’s a fun idea, it looks good, the action scenes are really well executed, with the actors really putting in the work, as we’ve come to expect from 87North (formerly 87Eleven) productions.

But to me the movie is a disappointment. For the last year or two I knew it was the big 87North movie with the crazy-good cast headed up by Brad Pitt fighting each other on a train, and I just took it for granted it was gonna be top of the line. On the surface it is – it’s colorful, has a sense of style, and mostly avoids that everything-is-green-screen feeling of so many modern movies. It even has a good soundtrack of (until Rare Earth on the end credits) non-obvious songs, from Shuggie Otis to Pussy Riot to a really strong use of “Holding Out For a Hero.” Strong because it’s not the original Bonnie Tyler version from FOOTLOOSE, but a Japanese cover made by Miki Asakura in 1984 as the theme for a show called School Wars (now remixed with some MORTAL KOMBAT-y dance music flourishes). (read the rest of this shit…)

Prey

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022

This is one of those times in the world of so-called franchise filmmaking when things somehow go surprisingly right. The PREDATOR series didn’t seem necessarily alive – PREDATORS had come 20 years after PREDATOR 2 and didn’t really catch on, THE PREDATOR came 8 years after that, was fucked over by the studio, only to flop and be hated by many, loved by few, if any. (Personally I enjoyed it for what it was, but I can’t deny it’s a mess.)

That was four years ago now, and since then there was little reason to believe anybody was trying to make another one. Little did we know that a little action movie that director Dan Trachtenberg (10 CLOVERFIELD LANE) filmed in the wilderness of Alberta, Canada under the code name SKULLS was actually a new PREDATOR movie. Later they announced it would go straight to Hulu (or Disney+ in some countries), reportedly due to some bullshit politics about the streaming rights for Fox theatrical releases going to HBO Max first. The fuckers. I’m jealous of the lucky sonofabitches who got to see it at film festivals and special screenings, where apparently it went over well. But even going straight to streaming might be kind of a lucky break culturally. Now everybody is talking about how much they like it, including people who probly wouldn’t have gone out to see it immediately, and we don’t have to read those articles about the movie that’s been really well received but is underperforming. (Because what is “performing” in streaming? Nobody knows. Maybe there isn’t such a thing.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Carter

Friday, August 5th, 2022

CARTER is a new South Korean action spectacular just released on Netflix today. It’s a real runaway roller coaster, bowling ball rolling down a steep hill, adrenaline jolt type of movie, so in that spirit I’m gonna try to plow through a review and get it up real fast, like in the old days.

I’m not always on top of the South Korean cinema, but this one is from director Jung Byung-gil, whose THE VILLAINESS (2017) ranks high for me in the list of the best action movies in the last decade. CARTER is in some ways not as good, but it’s even more action-packed and technically awe-inspiring, so I absolutely recommend it.*

*To most people. Some restrictions apply, see later in review for details, ask your doctor if CARTER is right for you.

Joo Won (FATAL INTUITION) stars as Carter Lee, a guy who wakes up face down in a hotel room surrounded by gun-pointing CIA agents. He has a freshly stitched-up, cross-shaped wound on the back of his head, and there’s a trail of blood leading from under the covers across the floor. He doesn’t remember who he is or what the fuck is going on, but the agents show a video of him holding one Dr. Jung Byung-ho (Jung Jae-young, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) hostage and saying to come get him in that hotel room. (read the rest of this shit…)

Universal Soldier (30th Anniversary defrost)

Friday, July 29th, 2022

“Who the hell are these guys?”


When UNIVERSAL SOLDIER arrived on screens on July 10, 1992, it launched Jean-Claude Van Damme to a new level of movie stardom. DOUBLE IMPACT, with its wide release, increased budget and improved acting performance had been a big reach into the mainstream for the star of Cannon fighting tournament movies, but it just wasn’t the big crossover hit he needed. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER was.

Part of the appeal was that it pitted JCVD for the first time against fellow action icon Dolph Lundgren (in his followup to SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO). They tried to play up some sort of rivalry between the actors, even staging an argument and shoving match on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Produced by Carolco (FIRST BLOOD, TOTAL RECALL, THE PUNISHER, T2), distributed by TriStar Pictures, and featuring the sort of badass metallic title font one should expect from those origins, it was a $95 million hit in theaters, proving that these guys were more than just the stars of videos you rented to watch with your buddies.

I already reviewed this one back in 2008, and it’s a pretty good review, so check it out. But I figured it was worth another look in the context of ’92. It’s an interesting study in summer releases because it’s in that sweet spot between a b-movie and a blockbuster. It was Van Damme’s most expensive movie to that point, but that still meant only 2/3 the budget of LETHAL WEAPON 3, and less than half of BATMAN RETURNS or ALIEN 3. Director Roland Emmerich did not yet have a track record of making blockbusters – this was his second English language movie first Hollywood movie, and follow up to MOON 44 (1990) starring Michael Pare. The success of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER would get Emmerich in the door to do STARGATE which would hook him up to do INDEPENDENCE DAY, which would apparently give him a life long pass to make gigantic, very stupid movies that everybody complains about and swears are worse than the earlier one they like. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Gray Man

Wednesday, July 27th, 2022

THE GRAY MAN is the new Netflix movie that they put so much into they’re actually doing promotion for it. Showed it to critics a week early, had the directors do interviews and stuff, as if they want people to know it’s there and maybe watch it. Almost like they’re in the movie business. Crazy.

It stars Ryan Gosling (ONLY GOD FORGIVES) as “Six,” a guy who was doing time for murder until a spook named Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton, ON DEADLY GROUND) got him released in exchange for dedicating his life to being a secret government assassin, or “Sierra.” One day on a mission in Bangkok he takes out a target (Callan Mulvey, BEYOND SKYLINE) who, before dying, gives him an encrypted drive he says has the dirt on Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page, MORTAL ENGINES), his new boss at the CIA who pushed Fitzroy out. When Carmichael acts suspicious about it on the phone Six decides to mail the drive to a retired handler he trusts (Alfre Woodard, CROOKLYN) and go on the run. (read the rest of this shit…)

Death Ring

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

It was the fourth week of June, 1992. BATMAN RETURNS was ruling the roost. It wasn’t the unbridled Batmania of ’89, but it was the biggest movie of the year. On Tuesday the 23rd a couple notable-to-me albums came out. Eric B and Rakim released their fourth and final album, Don’t Sweat the Technique. It included a song about the Gulf War (“Casualties of War”) and the classic “Know the Ledge” (originally on the JUICE soundtrack).

At the time I was also into Deee-Lite, who released their less popular second album Infinity Within. I’ve never been an electronic dance music guy, but the presence of Bootsy lured me into the first album (in fact, seeing them live was the first time I saw Bootsy live), and then I stuck with them. I had not listened to this album in years, but I enjoyed putting it on to get into the 1992 spirit. It’s very of-its-time in that it blends genres and features guest appearances by Arrested Development, Jamal-ski and Michael Franti (then in Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, later Spearhead). I think it holds up as a good album and some of my favorites are the four shamelessly corny P.S.A. type songs: “Vote, Baby, Vote,” “I Had a Dream I Was Falling through a Hole in the Ozone Layer,” “Fuddy Duddy Judge” and “Rubber Lover.” (Why is there politics in my dance music what happened to just dancing without having to care about anything I’m calling the cops)

And then on Wednesday the 24th on the new release shelf of your local video store you may have found the DTV action movie DEATH RING. Its contribution to weirdness in the year of our lord 1992 is that it’s the movie that says “NORRIS, DRAGO, McQUEEN, SWAYZE” on the cover and yes, the Drago is Billy Drago, but the others are Mike Norris (son of Chuck), Chad McQueen (son of Steve) and Don Swayze (younger brother of Patrick). (read the rest of this shit…)

Memory

Thursday, July 7th, 2022

MEMORY is not the best movie we will see from star Liam Neeson or director Martin Campbell (DEFENSELESS, GOLDENEYE, THE MASK OF ZORRO, CASINO ROYALE, THE FOREIGNER), but I think it’s an interesting one. It’s a grim thriller about a contract killer who realizes he’s starting to get dementia and tries to go after some bad people before his mind is gone. That’s pretty similar to the premise of Paul Schrader’s disowned (but I kind of liked it) 2014 film DYING OF THE LIGHT, but it’s actually a remake of the 2003 Belgian film DE ZAAK ALZHEIMER (THE ALZHEIMER CASE), itself based on a 1985 novel by Jef Geeraerts.

It starts with Alex Lewis (Neeson, KRULL) on the job. He enters a hospital in scrubs and we know he’s not a regular nurse by his complete non-reaction to some asshole nearly running him over in the parking garage. It turns out that’s his target, some jerk visiting his mother. We see just enough of of the guy to imagine he might deserve this fate, but also enough of his mother’s terror behind her oxygen mask to think “Man, that’s fucked up.”

As Alex is making his escape he reaches for the keys behind the mirror, and takes a bit to remember they’re in his pocket. Not a big deal, except if you’re a total pro and never make mistakes like that. Can’t make mistakes like that. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Princess

Wednesday, July 6th, 2022

THE PRINCESS is a new straight-to-Hulu movie with a simple concept. At its center is a Disney-type story of a medieval princess who wants to find her own destiny and not be forced to marry somebody for political reasons, but it’s done as a violent martial arts movie with a DIE HARD type premise. The Princess (Joey King, WHITE HOUSE DOWN) wakes up, having been drugged, in a Rapunzel type tower. She doesn’t have long hair, but she does know how to fight, so she battles to the death with the guys guarding her and sneaks around the castle picking off enemies McClane/Ryback style while plotting how to save her family, who she sees threatened at swordpoint in the plaza below.

In flashbacks we learn that due to a lack of male heirs The King (Ed Stoppard, JUDY) was gonna let this motherfucker Julius (Dominic Cooper, WARCRAFT) marry the young princess. She almost went through with it “for the good of the kingdom” or whatever, but backed out at the last minute, and now this hostage situation is how Julius plans to change her mind. Great guy. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Mummy (1999)

Thursday, June 16th, 2022

I have a well-earned reputation for being easy on movies. My friends will see some highly anticipated movie at a critic’s screening and be grumbling about how much they hated it, and then they’ll turn to me and say, “You’ll probly like it though.” My list of movies everybody says sucks that I enjoy is way longer than most people’s. My wife seems to think I’m some kind of bad movie Jesus being kind to the cinematic lepers. Especially with new releases people often accuse me of having low or no standards.

But there are a handful of popular blockbusters from the ‘90s that I hated at the time and have not turned around on. Most of them were big hits, then fell out of favor for years so I could breathe a sigh of relief, but then when the people who were kids when they came out grew nostalgic suddenly they were claimed as classics again. Of those, Stephen Sommers’ THE MUMMY is the one I get the most shit about any time I mention it. It comes up on Twitter every once in a while and I get a wave of people not believing their eyes. It doesn’t compute for them that someone doesn’t think that movie is one of the greats. More than once I’ve made the mistake of trying to go a little Rowdy Roddy Piper and lean into shit talking about it. People start to seem genuinely mad, so sometimes I back down and admit that I haven’t seen it since opening day and even though I think Sommers has continued to be a director of lunkheaded, formless movies with terrible visual design and seemingly unfinished digital effects despite enormous budgets, I did get a kick out of all that in VAN HELSING and G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA. So maybe I could soften to him.

Now I have a new problem, though. I finally did it. I went and watched the movie again, in the modern year of 2022. I tried to like it. I might be able to say there’s more of it I like than the other ‘90s blockbusters I hate. But I can’t say I turned around on it. So welcome, Mummy fans, to the latest annoying chapter of what I suppose I should start calling Vern Never Learns.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Lethal Weapon 3 (30th anniversary revisit)

Friday, June 10th, 2022

At first I wasn’t sure I needed to revisit LETHAL WEAPON 3 for this series, because I already wrote a perfectly good review of it (and the other three) back in 2014. But it’s clearly the kick off to the real deal summer movie season of ’92 if you look at the box office charts for its opening weekend, May 15, 1992. It took #1 of course, but everything else on the charts had been out fora while: BASIC INSTINCT in its ninth week, BEETHOVEN in its seventh week, WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP in its eighth week, THE PLAYER in its sixth week, WAYNE’S WORLD in its fourteenth week, etc.

More importantly, I decided it was necessary for comparison. There will be three other big tentpole type sequels this summer, one of them being PATRIOT GAMES (which I’ve also reviewed, but probly won’t revisit) and the other two being, you know… weird. In contrast, this one wants to be exactly what you would imagine a third LETHAL WEAPON to be, no real surprises. As Desson Howe wrote in his review in the Washington Post, “If there’s an original moment in this movie, producer Joel Silver and director Richard Donner sincerely apologize… essentially, they guarantee you the same product you consumed twice before.” (read the rest of this shit…)