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Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

The Thousand Faces of Dunjia

Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

THE THOUSAND FACES OF DUNJIA is a 2017 FX-laden wuxia movie from the super team of director Yuen Woo-ping (TAI CHI MASTER, WING CHUN) and writer/producer Tsui Hark (A BETTER TOMORROW II, VAMPIRE HUNTERS), their first collaboration since 2002’s BLACK MASK 2: CITY OF MASKS (which was directed by Tsui with Yuen as martial arts director).

This is a type of modern Chinese blockbuster that seems to be very off-putting to some people because it’s absolutely slathered in digital bells and whistles: fiery bombastic credits, virtual camera pulling back from a spider’s leg to an asteroid in outer space, humans morphing into animated monsters, magic shit twirling around all over the place, clearly designed for 3D. Also it has lots of broad humor, cartoon physics, exaggerated facial expressions – the kind of stuff Stephen Chow perfected and nobody else, even these legends, can easily match.

It’s not my very favorite type of movie, but it’s something I can have fun with. The unbridled joy for putting cool and/or preposterous things on screen – fantastical shit for the sake of fantastical shit – always makes me smile, even if I can’t follow all of it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Step Up: Year of the Dance (a.k.a. Step Up China)

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

STEP UP: YEAR OF THE DANCE (a.k.a. STEP UP CHINA) is a Chinese production developed by Lionsgate as an official entry in the STEP UP franchise, though it’s not connected by any characters. It was released in China in 2019 and apparently here (digital only) in 2020, but I didn’t find out until recently. I watched the English-dubbed version that’s on Tubi because I wasn’t sure if the VOD release would be different. (That’s not the ideal way to watch it, I imagine, but I got over it.)

My podcast friend Michael Scott of Action For Everyone shares my love of the STEP UP series and the dance movie genre, and we’ve talked about doing a STEP UP episode some day. He always says that dance movies are martial arts movies, and this one really literalizes that notion. It actually starts with a fight, and has more of them later, and the central dance crew find their success by starting a fad of “kung fu street dance.” So it makes sense that YEAR OF THE DANCE is directed by the great American stunt veteran and martial artist Ron Yuan, who you’ve seen in many movies including DOUBLE DRAGON, BLOOD & BONE, THE ACCOUNTANT and THE PAPER TIGERS, and who recently directed BLADE OF THE 47 RONIN.

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Blade of the 47 Ronin

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

You know me – I’ve always been fascinated with DTV sequels. One of their endearing qualities is that their modest budgets allow for a different type of crass commercialism than regular Hollywood – they try to cash in on familiar (or even unfamiliar) titles that would never fly on the big screen. That gave us the miracle of the UNDISPUTED sequels, but mostly just stuff where it was funny that it existed – loosely connected followups or branded rehashes of CRUEL INTENTIONS, WILD THINGS, ROAD HOUSE and HOLLOW MAN, for example, many of which I reviewed for The Ain’t It Cool News at the time.

Thanks to Universal’s direct-to-video division, 1440 Entertainment, that tradition is still going strong, and arguably making a comeback. Back in the aughts they brought us SCORPION KING and DEATH RACE sequels, they revived Chucky in the great CURSE OF CHUCKY, they started making JARHEAD sequels for some reason, and brought to life such unlikely part 2s as THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2, KINDERGARTEN COP 2 and HARD TARGET 2. In 2018 they even made a DTV sequel to UNBROKEN, that war drama directed by Angelie Jolie, and in 2019 they did BACKDRAFT 2, INSIDE MAN: MOST WANTED, DOOM: ANNIHILATION and UNDERCOVER BROTHER 2. That last one I tried to watch because Michael Jai White is in it, but I gave up when his character went into a coma near the beginning. Still, I appreciate its existence because it keeps me on my toes. It reminds me that any movie, no matter how old, no matter how forgotten, no matter how how-the-fuck-would-you-make-a-sequel-to-that, could suddenly have a DTV sequel. And it would already be filmed and have cover art by the time I found out they were doing it. You gotta be aware at all times. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Woman King

Thursday, January 19th, 2023

THE WOMAN KING has an irresistible hook that made it a hit: Did you know there was an all-female military regiment in 1800s West Africa, “THE MOST EXCEPTIONAL FEMALE WARRIORS TO EVER LIVE”? Now that you do, wouldn’t you like to see them kicking ass on screen, fighting off the invading “Europeens,” with Academy Award winner Viola Davis as their badass leader?

For me the answers to those questions were no, I don’t think I did, and yes, of course I would. I meant to see it in theaters, but I missed it. Reviews were mostly positive, but I remember them seeming a little subdued. Maybe I misread them, or maybe they wanted it to seem more like a Very Important awards season type movie to really get behind it. I think it has plenty of substance to it, but director Gina Prince-Bythewood (THE OLD GUARD) doesn’t treat that like the main attraction, and she shouldn’t have to. There’s a precedent for crowd-pleasing historical action dramas winning best picture, but BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR could pass for highfalutin without having to address any issues, you know? They just had to make a rousing speech about bravery and killing a motherfucker, nobody expected them to say something deep about the world’s problems. (read the rest of this shit…)

Plane

Wednesday, January 18th, 2023

PLANE is the new Gerard Butler movie that had the brilliant idea of using a title so goofy that everybody talked about it and it seemed to end up with more awareness than his last three movies combined. Butler (GODS OF EGYPT) plays Brodie Torrance, an airline pilot who’s sent through a storm, his plane gets struck by lightning and loses its power, but he makes a daring emergency landing on an island near the Philippines. Just like SULLY or FLIGHT! Except then it turns into a survival movie (it’s very hot with no air conditioning on the plane, their phones don’t work [but they still make videos for social media], they have no radio to contact anyone) and also this is some kind of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK type island where there are no ordinary people, only heavily armed terrorist/druglord/warlord/kidnapper militias, who soon arrive to take them hostage.

A movie like this needs some background and set up to get you interested, and PLANE does okay at that. It’s New Year’s Eve, that’s why there aren’t many people on the flight. Brodie is a single father planning to meet up with his daughter (Haleigh Hekking) after the flight. He seems nice, co-pilot Dele (Yoson An, MORTAL ENGINES) is honored to be working with him, and he makes a friendly little let’s-go-get-‘em speech to the flight crew before they begin boarding. One unusual thing about the flight is that prisoner Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CARTER) is being transported by mountie Officer Knight (Otis Winston, “Street Man,” VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE). He sits in the back and they try to keep everyone from making eye contact. (read the rest of this shit…)

My Name Is Vendetta

Wednesday, January 11th, 2023

There I was the other night with both physical and mental lists of all the recent movies I want to catch up on, scrolling through them on the various streaming services, failing to decide which one to watch first. So then I clicked on one I never heard of before called MY NAME IS VENDETTA (2022). Very productive.

It’s a pretty good one, though. Straight forward meat and potatoes crime thriller hailing from Italy. The director is Cosimo Gomez, a veteran production designer and art director (including for a bunch of Roberto Benigni movies) on his third outing as director (following the comedies UGLY NASTY PEOPLE and IO E SPOTTY). This one’s not funny at all, it’s a very straight-faced and to-the-point father-daughter revenge thriller very much like something Liam Neeson would do. And the same jacket he would wear. The guy even has a deep voice kinda like Neeson, though his scowl is more Benicio Del Toro. (read the rest of this shit…)

Athena

Tuesday, January 10th, 2023

ATHENA is an astonishing piece of filmmaking. I have no idea how they did it. I have one (1) huge issue with it, which prevents it from being one of my top movies of last year, but it’s a big ass spoiler that I will deal with separately at the end of this review. And you may disagree with me, so don’t worry about that for now. What’s important is that this is a thrilling cinematic experience and about as epic as a movie could feel while clocking in at less than 100 minutes. And it’s on Netflix – it’s one of the ones that actually wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t funded it – so it’s a very accessible way to get knocked flat on your ass by a concussion grenade of impeccable spectacle.

For those who haven’t heard of it, ATHENA is an intense French action-thriller about a battle between riot cops and the predominantly French-Algerian residents of a housing project (in a Parisian banlieue, you know, like the parkour movie) after the death of a 13 year old kid named Idir. Idir’s oldest brother Abdel (Dali Benssalah, NO TIME TO DIE) is a straight-laced soldier who exits police headquarters and announces to the press that they’ve promised to investigate which officers were responsible for his brother’s death. He asks that the people of the Athena project please stay calm and peaceful. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Big 4

Thursday, January 5th, 2023

THE BIG 4 is the new one from Indonesian writer-director Timo Tjahjanto, who gave us THE NIGHT COMES FOR US, easily one of the best action movies of recent years. He’s said that this one is a comedy he made when Netflix Indonesia asked for something more family friendly, so I thought I needed to keep my hopes in check. But a few minutes in it’s clear that some silly humor isn’t gonna get in the way of the gory headshots, stabbings, and bone-cracking martial arts duels you expect in a Tjahjanto joint. It’s an action comedy in the traditional sense of an actual action movie that also has some laughs, not in the sense of a comedy that half-assedly employs genre cliches as set up for riffing. The characters here happen to be goofballs, but that’s overshadowed by the legitimacy of the action the movie delivers.

The first Tjahjanto movie I saw was HEADSHOT (2016), where a group of orphans were trained from birth to fight and kill. Same thing here, except they become good guys, not evil bastards. They’re vigilantes who go after horrible people. But it’s a messed up thing to do, it’s a dark and dangerous world to live in, and there’s tragedy and emotion just like in the non-comedies. It’s just in a context where it leaves you smiling at the end. A wholesome smile, not an evil one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Avatar: The Way of Water

Friday, December 16th, 2022

If we hadn’t seen it coming for so many years, AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER would be a cinematic miracle. There has definitely not been a blockbuster movie with this level of mindblowing spectacle, visual beauty and action chops since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, and before that since the first AVATAR.

I’ve rewatched AVATAR several times since it came out, and it’s always as good, usually better than the last time. Watching it again this week was no exception, and it really struck me that holy shit, these “game changer” visual effects from 2009 have influenced everybody, but not one movie has matched them. (Probly closest would be Peter Jackson’s largely forgotten HOBBIT trilogy.) I don’t want to get into an attack on modern blockbusters, many of which I enjoy, but it’s a simple statement of fact that the similarly-greenscreen-and-performance-capture based visuals in the very expensive Marvel movies that are trailered before THE WAY OF WATER and coming out next year look crude and primitive next to what was achieved thirteen years ago in AVATAR. And now along comes the sequel that blows AVATAR out of the water (by putting it into the water). (read the rest of this shit…)

Raven Hawk

Thursday, December 15th, 2022

TAPE RAIDER ALBERT PYUN TRIBUTE PART 3: RAVEN HAWK

RAVEN HAWK is yet another Albert Pyun movie only released on VHS in the States. The only one of this review trilogy to not include any cyborgs. According to IMDb, it was #3 of five Pyun releases in 1996 (the others being ADRENALIN: FEAR THE RUSH, NEMESIS 3: TIME LAPSE, OMEGA DOOM and NEMESIS 4: DEATH ANGEL), but was filmed in 1993. It was meant for theatrical, but ended up premiering on HBO. Written by Kevin Elders (writer of IRON EAGLE, director of SIMON SEZ, therefore a legend), it’s a very basic but pretty appealing revenge movie. It follows in the tradition of the THUNDER WARRIOR trilogy (itself inspired by the success of the BILLY JACK series) in trying to mine the thrill of a Native American hero standing up to racist white bullies and land stealers. But what makes it stand out is that the hero is played by bodybuilding champion Rachel McLish, who was in PUMPING IRON II: THE WOMEN and then stole the show in ACES: IRON EAGLE III.

In the prologue, Senator Stansfield (John de Lancie, Days of Our Lives, Star Trek: The Next Generation) – who’s on the phone talking in an evil voice while a naked lady lounges by the fire nearby – pressures his stooge Thorne (William Atherton, DIE HARD) to finish “negotiations” with the tribal council to approve a land deal to build a nuclear power plant. (In a dark touch, he says if they don’t do it now the Department of Transportation will build a freeway there. Either way, the Natives are fucked.) (read the rest of this shit…)