Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Fast X

Wednesday, May 24th, 2023

Hard to believe, but I’ve been watching these FAST & FURIOUS movies for more than 20 years now. The first two on video, the rest highly anticipated theatrical events. At first they were these goofy lowbrow trendsploitation movies I got a kick out of, but I had to defend their right to exist from the Ain’t It Cool talkbackers. With FAST FIVE they became a hugely popular action saga that even mainstream critics respected for a couple years. The series definitely peaked during that period, and I don’t expect them to ever get that perfect balance back, but they still have their own delightful brand of preposterous action excess mixed with macho grease monkey soap opera that brings me great joy, and there’s no other movie series past or present that offers anything quite like it. So they’re back to being this dumb thing I enjoy while my Twitter feed is full of posts much like the talkbacks from back in the aughts. Why do they still make these, who are these for, Vin Diesel has an ego. Same old shit as time marches on a quarter mile at a time.

FAST X (which we all seem to have agreed to pronounce the same way we pronounce JASON X) doesn’t have as much to live up to as F9 did two years ago. It’s not my return to theaters after Covid-19 vaccination, and it’s not the series’ best director Justin Lin finally returning to the fold. In fact, it’s his departure – somehow Diesel (allegedly) managed to be such a pain in the ass that Lin quit as director. They’d managed four full movies together, but only a week filming this one. (read the rest of this shit…)

In the Line of Duty III

Tuesday, May 16th, 2023

I was very excited to buy the beautiful new IN THE LINE OF DUTY I-IV blu-ray box set from 88 Films. If you’re not familiar with the series, they are contemporary 1980s Hong Kong movies about female police officers. They call the subgenre “Girls with Guns,” but I like that they’re about the kind of police work that involves high flying martial arts and stunts more than shooting.

IN THE LINE OF DUTY is not as much a series as a brand name – none of them are connected. I had actually only seen two of them – the absolute classic YES, MADAM!, which was the breakthrough movie for both Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock, and ROYAL WARRIORS, starring Yeoh (as a different character) with Hiroyuki Sanada. Now I’m happy to see and review for you the first of the other two included in the set. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blue Thunder

Thursday, May 11th, 2023

This year for my traditional summer movie retrospective I’ve decided to look back at the summer movie season of 1983. If you know your basic math, you can figure out that this is the, what, 40th anniversary of that summer? Sounds right. I was in the single digits at the time and from what I can remember only saw two of these in the theater that summer. So as always it will be fun to watch them in order of release and try to get a picture of what that time was like from an adult perspective.

I don’t really have a thesis for this one other than it had alot to live up to. The summer before saw the release of hits like CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ANNIE, ROCKY III, POLTERGEIST, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, plus two flops that are now beloved classics (BLADE RUNNER and THE THING) and some other interesting stuff like THE SECRET OF NIMH and TRON. It’s widely considered the greatest summer movie season of all time, a claim I’m not inclined to argue against. So good luck trying to follow that, 1983. I’m sure you know what you’re doing.

They also all knew they were coming out against RETURN OF THE JEDI. That was the guaranteed biggest movie of the summer, and some of the others seem to have wanted to ride that wave. We’ll see if they can stay afloat. Anyway, that’s why I’m calling this series…


(Note: yes I did the research and I know that “love” in Ewokese is actually “nuv,” while “nub” is just half of the phrase for “freedom,” but I thought this would make people laugh more because they just know the song is called “Yub Nub.” Apologies to the Ewok community, who I have nothing but the deepest respect for.)

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May 13, 1983 saw the release of a pretty crazy take on the police thriller: BLUE THUNDER, from director John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, DRACULA), working from a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon (DARK STAR, ALIEN, DEAD & BURIED, HEAVY METAL) & his first-timer writing partner Don Jakoby. It’s one of those movies that says, “Hey guys, check out this special police unit, it’s pretty interesting.” And the unit is the people who fly the police helicopters. Since I was a kid at the time I can only assume it did for police helicopters what SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER did for disco. I don’t know if some of it is based on research or if it’s complete horse shit, but in this they go around fingering people on the streets as drug dealers and rapists and shit, spot abandoned cars and report them, even do detective work in the sky. They don’t just look for and shine the spotlight on the guy making a run for it (although they do that too). (read the rest of this shit…)

As Good As Dead

Tuesday, May 9th, 2023

AS GOOD AS DEAD is a 2022 straight-to-VOD Michael Jai White vehicle that I caught up with when it came to DVD back in March, but I was deep into Ronny Yu studies so I held off on telling you guys about it. Sorry about that.

Back in 2009 when White made the stone cold classic BLOOD & BONE we wondered why he wasn’t getting theatrical releases, but what was considered low budget then seems like sheer extravagance compared to many of the independent action movies today. I’d love to see White making a couple mid-sized action vehicles a year like Jason Statham used to do, but instead he’s gotta cut in a couple scenes of Mickey Rourke or Tom Berenger just to shoot something small out in the desert. Despite this injustice, AS GOOD AS DEAD is a great time because it’s written by the person who best knows how to showcase Michael Jai White – the same man who wrote and directed NEVER BACK DOWN: NO SURRENDER – Michael Jai White. So it’s a solid traditional action structure where he gets to glory in his own badassness, have some good fights, some inventive moves, and get a few laughs. Honestly it has most of what I hope for in a movie like this except for a strong visual style or atmosphere.

White plays Bryant, a gruff American loner who moved just over the Mexican border to escape some mysterious past. He lives alone in a trailer on a humble patch of land, works as a surveyor, comes home and practices fighting on a wooden post with tires attached. When he does that he notices a young man named Oscar (Luca Oriel, Shameless) watching from a hill and shadowing his moves. Later, while having lunch in town, he notices the same kid hiding behind a car to avoid some gangsters in a lowrider, and feels sympathy for him. (read the rest of this shit…)


Monday, May 8th, 2023

SISU is a simple, gory, cannonball blast of an action movie about what happens when a platoon of Nazis fuck with the wrong god damn Laplander in the waining days of WWII. It’s the new one from RARE EXPORTS writer/director Jalmari Helander, and it’s only his third movie. The second was BIG GAME (2014), which apparently I didn’t review for some reason, but it was a pretty enjoyable English language debut, kind of a DIE HARD type scenario where Air Force One is shot down over the wilderness of Finland and a 13-year old kid on a deer hunt as a rite of passage ends up protecting the president (Samuel L. Jackson) with his bow and arrows.

In SISU it’s an old man, and he’s protecting his gold. Jorma Tommila (also in RARE EXPORTS and BIG GAME) stars as Aatami Korpi, a grizzled and stoic loner living alone with his dog and horse in the Laplands, panning for gold. One day he finds a large deposit of it, spends the day digging it out, and heads off with a bag full of nuggets. But then he runs into these Nazis. (read the rest of this shit…)

Saving General Yang

Thursday, May 4th, 2023

It wasn’t until 2013, a full seven years after directing FEARLESS (and four years after not directing BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE), that Ronny Yu released another film. In interviews he credited the hiatus to only being offered horror scripts in the U.S. “I don’t want to do this kind of thing anymore,” he said. Instead he wanted to “learn more about my Chinese roots.”

Written by Yu with Edmond Wong (DRAGON TIGER GATE, IP MAN 1-4, MASTER Z) and Scarlett Liu Shi-Jia, SAVING GENERAL YANG is based on The Generals of the Yang Family, a famous set of stories about a real military family that lived early in the Song Dynasty. (I didn’t figure this out while watching, but EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER comes from the same story, as do THE 14 AMAZONS and several other films.)

Adam Cheng (SHAOLIN AND WU TANG, ZU WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, SEVEN WARRIORS) plays the titular General, and this is the story of his seven sons (deliberately cast with hearthrob actors, many of them pop stars) coming to rescue him during a battle. But in the opening scene he’s at home, about to whip Sixth Brother Yanzhao (Wu Chun, 14 BLADES) and Seventh Brother Yansi (Fu Xinbo of the boy band BoBo) for “breaking Family Law.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023

While Ronny Yu was promoting FEARLESS, he talked up his next movie: a live action adaptation of the 2000 anime BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE. So, a Hong Kong director in Hollywood remaking a Japanese movie originally made mostly in English because many of the characters were American. When Yu mentioned it while talking to Martial Arts Entertainment the interviewer asked if it was “sort of a wuxia movie.”

“Maybe. Sort of. You’re right!” Yu said. “It’s sort of cross-cultural, because the whole thing takes place in a U.S. Army base in Japan. Yeah. It’s like a cross-cultural wuxia.”

Alas, it was not to be… exactly. Instead of Yu it was made by French director Chris Nahon, known for helming one of Jet Li’s English language films, KISS OF THE DRAGON (2001). Yu was credited as a producer, but I’ve found no evidence of him staying on during filming in, say, a George Lucas or Steven Spielberg capacity. I suspect he left but got the credit because he’d done so much of the pre-production that Nahon built off of. Yu is not mentioned or shown in a 20 minute making-of featurette on the DVD and blu-ray, but I think it’s reasonable to assume Nahon kept a decent amount of what he put into place, since the sole credited writer Chris Chow and the cinematographer Hang-Sang Poon are both holdovers from FEARLESS. Yu was also still reported as director when Korean actress Jun Ji-hyun, credited as Gianna, was cast as the main character, Saya. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fearless (2006)

Monday, May 1st, 2023

“First level is the physical contact. Use your physical skill against your enemy. That’s most action films doing this kind of genre. The second level is use your knowledge, languages, strategy, everything you could before physical contact to stop your enemy. Third, use your honor, belief, your love, show to your enemy. Turn your enemy into your friend. I tried to share those three levels in the movie.” —Jet Li on FEARLESS

After the success of FREDDY VS. JASON, it seemed like Yu might continue his relationship with New Line Cinema, making the sort of slick studio b-movies both parties were pretty good at in those days. As I mentioned in my review of THE 51ST STATE, Samuel L. Jackson tried to reteam with the director for the company’s weirdly anticipated goof SNAKES ON A PLANE. But Yu believed Jackson’s star power would outshine the snakes, so he wanted his character to be swallowed by a python in the middle of the movie.

“Now the audience is intrigued. Now everyone on the plane will group together and kill the snakes,” he later told Blackfilm. “That’s the way I thought it would be interesting. Of course, they said ‘Take a walk!’”

So walk he did – all the way to Shanghai, China. And there he met up with Jet Li, a fellow Hong Kong cinema export who’d made even more of a go of it in Hollywood than Yu had. Since the handover Li had been the villain in LETHAL WEAPON 4 and then starred in the English language films ROMEO MUST DIE, KISS OF THE DRAGON, THE ONE, CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE and UNLEASHED. (He had also made 2002’s HERO in China, so this was not his official return to Asia like it was for Yu.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Freddy vs. Jason

Wednesday, April 26th, 2023

Now we come not to the end of this Ronny Yu series, or to its peak, but at least to a watershed moment. If you read this whole series, or at least the BRIDE OF CHUCKY review, you don’t need to ask the question “how the hell does the guy who made THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR end up making FREDDY VS. JASON?”

But at the risk of reptitition, let’s run through it again real quick. For starters, Yu had been making horror movies for 20 years (THE TRAIL, THE OCCUPANT, MUMMY DEAREST, BLESS THIS HOUSE), so that part wasn’t out of the blue. Then in the ‘90s two things happened: the new wave of Hong Kong cinema became popular around the world, and many Hong Kong filmmakers began to worry about what would happen to artistic freedom once colonial rule ended in 1997. That combination of circumstances led filmmakers like John Woo, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark, as well actors like Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, to start finding opportunities in Hollywood. (read the rest of this shit…)

The 51st State (a.k.a. Formula 51)

Tuesday, April 25th, 2023

“THE 51ST STATE is very dear to me, because it was the first time in Hollywood that I didn’t have to deal with dolls.” –Ronny Yu, 2004

Three years after the unlikely career milestone of BRIDE OF CHUCKY, Ronny Yu made easily the weakest of his English-language films – a UK-Canada co-production called THE 51ST STATE, but we call it FORMULA 51 here so people don’t think it refers to DC statehood. (Actually I’m not totally clear what it does refer to. But the number 51 is in the name of a super-drug that’s central to the plot.)

Under any name it’s a thoroughly 2001 film, with wall-to-wall dated music (score by somebody called Headrillaz), annoying whooshes and flash cuts, character names and descriptions written on screen as they’re introduced, a long scene at a rave type dance club, and two stars – Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Carlyle – who had ridden the ‘90s indie wave to the specific level of commercial viability where they could be cast in stuff like this. It’s one of a handful of movies, along with THE NEGOTIATOR and SHAFT, that could arguably be considered a straight up Samuel L. Jackson vehicle. But even though it starts and ends with him he’s kind of a mysterious, unexplained character, while co-star Carlyle gets to have the love story and sex scene.

Jackson plays Elmo McElroy, a pharmacological genius who is pulled over with a joint immediately after graduating in ’71 (Jackson gets to dress up like a hippie with an afro and Hendrix headband) and banned from legitimate practice. So 30 years later instead of making legal medicines he’s creating candy-colored designer drugs for a disfigured crime lord called The Lizard (Meat Loaf, BLACK DOG), who refers to himself in the third person and has meetings at a table shaped like a coffin.

That’s appropriate because Elmo has decided to sell his powerful new drug formula or state or whatever to someone else and set his lab to blow up. In easily the most Ronny Yu touch in the movie, the explosion causes The Lizard to fall through the floor into a pile of dolls. Yes, their faces do look kinda like Good Guy dolls, but even if he hadn’t made BRIDE OF CHUCKY I think this would be a pretty Ronny Yu image.

Unfortunately, despite being shot by the great Hong Kong cinematographer Hang-Sang Poon (PEKING OPERA BLUES, A CHINESE GHOST STORY, ONCE A THIEF, THE HEROIC TRIO, WONDER SEVEN, KUNG FU HUSTLE, IP MAN 2) with some energetic spinning around and shit, it’s one of Yu’s only kinda ugly looking movies. One of the few moments that looks classically Hong Kong is the slo-mo billowing white dress of a blond assassin climbing the rope of a bell tower to snipe somebody at the beginning.

I was surprised when this lithe, ruthless killer-for-hire named Dakota showed her face long enough for me to realize she was Emily Mortimer (LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST, LOVELY AND AMAZING) – not an actress I knew ever played a sexy assassin or any type of action-oriented character. Later we get to see her (supposedly) do a few high kicks, hang off a building, etc. The Lizard survives the blast and sends her to kill Elmo, following him all the way to Liverpool to do it. Then right as she’s about to shoot him The Lizard decides instead she should protect Elmo and kill everyone around him. So she massacres everybody at a meeting with him.

Well, everybody except for his contact in town, a fixer named Felix DeSouza (Carlyle), who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. I guess it’s supposed to be a buddy movie where these two very charismatic actors from different cultures are stuck together, they drive around, get shot at, jump a car off a dock onto a garbage barge, hit some golf balls, and try to find a chemist to make Elmo’s drug (the first guy was killed in a misunderstanding over the meaning of “take care of him” – presumably a PULP FICTION nod).

Unfortunately most of their antics are underwhelming. Although screenwriter Stel Pavlou is British it seems like pretty obvious stereotypical stuff an American could make up, like Elmo doesn’t like the food here and asks what bollocks means and everybody calls each other twat and Felix goes into a pub and insults fans of his soccer team’s rival. I do like that Felix takes the job in exchange for tickets to a sold out Liverpool vs. Manchester United match and is constantly concerned about missing it. The climax ends up taking place in a private booth at the stadium (stock footage and green screen only, I’m afraid) after Elmo insists on meeting at a public place. “No abandoned warehouses or rave clubs,” he says, which I take as “none of the boring places normally used for the finales of non-huge-budget movies like this one.”

But as I mentioned there is a big scene at a rave club before that, where shitty music plays and Elmo yells a big speech about a “revolution” and throws pills into the crowd and women sexily feed them to each other on the dance floor. Meanwhile, Felix and Dakota make up and Elmo smiles, seeing them kiss from across the club. Shortly thereafter they roll around in a bath tub, in their underwear, at his mom’s house, after being specifically told “no shagging up there.” Kind of a creative sex scene but it ends goofily with a closeup of a froggy bath toy squeaking as it gets knocked around by their thrusting pelvises.

The wacky mom character (Anna Keaveney, ALI G INDAHOUSE, VERA DRAKE) is never gonna be as funny as it’s supposed to be, but I did laugh at her phrase, “Well shit in a bag and punch it!”

Rhys Ifans (who had just starred in Michel Gondry’s HUMAN NATURE) plays an over-the-top drug dealer villain with spiky hair who does wacky things like tear open his fur coat to reveal a bra and call Elmo “chemical brother” not once but twice, like he’s real proud of coming up with it. He also provides weapons for Dakota from a bar where the entire counter is covered in guns. There’s still liquor, though. I don’t know why she doesn’t order a rum and coke or something while browsing. Seems like that’s the idea of the place.

Another villain is the Nazi skinhead Blowfish (Stephen Walters, MEAN MACHINE) who tries to force Elmo to make the drug in “his lab,” which is a broken-into animal testing facility. There’s a monkey in a cage doing back flips in the background.

One thing that’s hard to buy is that villains keep accepting pills or drinks from Elmo. The skinheads end up rolling on the ground shitting themselves with fart sound effects, obviously a low point. It’s funnier when he makes The Lizard explode. The camera zooms through his mouth into his CG stomach and then he pops and paints every wall in the room red.

If there’s something good about the movie (which is not a position I’m prepared to argue) it’s getting to see Jackson have fun playing a character that does some of his trademarks while also being kind of a weirdo. He yells at various people, he says “motherfucker,” he does the crazy eyes, he struts around with long braids or an afro and absolutely does not give a fuck. Also he wears a kilt and carries golf clubs with him throughout most of the movie. He does use the clubs to hit golf balls a few times but, more memorably, he beats up the skinheads with them.

The kilt is another thing I got the feeling was supposed to be much funnier than it was. But it’s kind of amusing that Dakota tries to peer under it when he falls asleep on the plane. You don’t see that every day. There’s a bizarre part where an asshole cop (Sean Pertwee, SOLDIER, EQUILIBRIUM) looks at the kilt and for some reason starts to ask if he has a big dick and it seems like he starts to get a huge boner but it turns out to be Dakota’s hand reaching through with a gun.

At the end there’s text saying “Nobody knows what happened to McElroy… or why he wore a kilt.” But then it actually is kind of explained in a mid-credits scene: the name McElroy comes from the slavemaster of his ancestors, and he’s somehow able to claim the McElroy castle, land and butler. Then he takes off his clothes (discarding the adopted Scottish heritage, maybe?) and a Samuel L. Jackson butt double walks toward the castle, the end.

According to the production notes, Jackson was attached to the script for five years, and suggested hiring Yu. “I’m a huge Hong Kong film fan and had watched a lot of Ronny’s stuff. He has this great sense of humor and great sense of style in terms of action. You can see from his previous films, that this is the perfect action comedy for him and he was born to do it”.

I don’t agree that it’s perfect for him. The one Ronny Yu theme here is internationalism – once again we have a character who travels between countries and cultures. But it has little or no sincere emotion, and it seems like it’s kinda trying to be Guy Ritchie-esque, which isn’t a great fit for him. I don’t know if it was forced on him or if he just doesn’t know how to do this kind of thing, but the music is so cheesy – House of Pain’s “Shamrocks and Shenanigans,” Run-DMC but a later song that’s trying to be kinda country, an end credits song by Headrillaz that keeps saying “Everything good is bad / Everything bad is good,” a theory not really supported by the text.

(To be fair there are some classics, like “I Don’t Know Why” by O.V. Wright, that work better.)

The official websight for screenwriter Pavlou says that he “wrote and co-produced the cult classic movie THE 51ST STATE starring Samuel L. Jackson while working at a liquor store.” The production notes say he thought of the idea while in college and based the characters on himself and his friends. He saw it as being about the slave trade, with Elmo emancipating himself from The Lizard’s servitude.

Pavlou also published his first novel Decipher in the same year – it’s about Atlantis and nano-tech, and led to him producing and hosting a documentary show about searching for Atlantis. He later wrote the adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama that David Fincher and Morgan Freeman tried to make for a while. That would’ve been an interesting leap in his filmography if that had happened.

Jackson later read in the trades that Ronny Yu was directing a movie called SNAKES ON A PLANE for New Line Cinema. Having enjoyed working with Yu, Jackson called him up to ask about it and ended up signing on to star without even reading the script. Yu eventually left the project and was replaced by stuntman-turned-FINAL-DESTINATION-2-director David R. Ellis, whose movie seemed to disappoint most people who were anticipating it based on the title/premise. I always felt Yu would’ve done something much more interesting with it, though I can only speculate. Yu told a websight called The Slug that his disagreement with New Line had been over wanting to make “something a little bit different, unpredictable” by killing Jackson’s character off early “so people hate those snakes.” I don’t know if he was aware that Jackson had already had a run in like that with enhanced sharks.

THE 51ST STATE/FORMULA 51 was a strange hiccup in the English language section of Yu’s career, not a very worthy followup to BRIDE OF CHUCKY. But that’s okay – he was about to have a run in with one of the few icons of American horror more universal than Chucky. Well, actually, two of them.

Tomorrow: Ronny vs. Freddy vs. Jason