Recently, events converged to remind me there was a (sort of) remake of John Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 back in 2005. Well, really what happened was that movie PLANE came out – the Gerard Butler one with the plane – and that’s from the same director, Jean-François Richet. He did a couple gritty French crime movies in the ‘90s and then his phone rang and Hollywood said, “Hello, this is Hollywood, would you be interested in remaking ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, or as you call it in France, ASSAUT?” I imagine he very thoughtfully said “Oui” and then hung up.
According to his commentary track they didn’t have the script yet when they hired him. He chose James DeMonaco to write it because he’d just seen THE NEGOTIATOR, a movie this does seem kinda similar to. DeMonaco had also written a film for Francis Ford Coppola*. (read the rest of this shit…)
When I first heard that the trusted manufacturers of sturdy action cinema at 87North Productions were making a Santa Claus movie, I misunderstood. I pictured sort of a BAD SANTA meets DIE HARD – a serious action movie where it’s some deadbeat mall Santa who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and has to save the day, hopefully using a velvet sack’s worth of seasonally themed methods.
So when I realized that the Santa Claus played by David Harbour (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) in VIOLENT NIGHT is the actual Santa Claus, having his Christmas Eve deliveries interrupted by hostage takers and using “Christmas magic” to fight back, I was disappointed at first. Sounded corny, I thought.
I was wrong. I want to apologize to Santa. VIOLENT NIGHT is an admirable and solid take on a type of movie I treasure: the genre mash-up that knows it’s ludicrous to combine these particular types of movies but moves forward trying to deliver on both genres as well as the unique opportunities offered by their combination. So it has the trappings of a DIE HARD/UNDER SIEGE scenario (ruthless mastermind, elite mercenary force, carefully planned heist, hero mixed up in it by mistake, shocking deaths of innocent people, bad guys picked off one-by-one with stolen or improvised weapons) but also a heartwarming holiday tale (little girl wavering in her belief in Santa, family having trouble getting along, lessons about selflessness). It’s a comedy, but not a spoof. It tries to deliver faithfully on the mission of each genre. (read the rest of this shit…)
It’s weird that one of my least favorite movies in this series so far is the one that stars Michael Jai White! Thank you Ralph Bakshi for making sure it’s not in last place.
White plays Al Simmons, an amoral elite counter-terrorism black ops super badass who gets betrayed by his boss Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen, FIRESTARTER, who took the job because his grandson told him Spawn was cool). He’s set on fire, blown up and recruited by a crude CGI giant monster devil (voice of Frank Welker) to be a soldier for Hell. Returned to earth five years later as a burnt up demon called Spawn, he lives among the homeless and learns how to use his new demon powers while pining for his wife Wanda (Theresa Randle, CB4) and plotting revenge on Wynn.
I made that sound like a story, if I do say so myself. The movie’s not as interested in that. Faithfully adapted from the top-selling comic book of some parts of the ’90s, here is a visually dark, Marilyn-Manson-on-the-soundtrack slog that makes THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS look like a masterwork of storytelling craft. And at least CITY OF ANGELS was nice to look at. Despite the participation of the great cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (DESPERADO, JACKIE BROWN, PAN’S LABYRINTH), this thing looks like shit! Rarely has there been a worse case of CGI overreach – shockingly sub-par, MORTAL KOMBAT-level monsters, fire and transformations are slapped all over it like a big-screen CD-ROM game, and even the straight-ahead action movie scene at “Military Air Base, Hong Kong” looks like a ’90s syndicated TV show where cops raid warehouses and dockyards every episode. (read the rest of this shit…)
“Are you tellin us that you’re gonna arrest a guy for bein a plumber? Get outta here!”
May 28, 1993
Okay, look. I’m not claiming to know a better way to make a live action movie based on a video game about an Italian plumber eating mushrooms, punching bricks and murdering hundreds and hundreds of turtles but also collecting coins while trying to rescue a princess. And seeing how directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel reimagine the world of the famous Nintendo game as a dystopic Manhattan in an alternate dimension where people evolved out of dinosaurs is the closest thing to fun this movie has to offer.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is the solid sequel we always hoped (in fact assumed) it would be. The first film – already a certified modern action classic – had a perfect combination of elegant high concept (legendary assassin comes out of retirement to avenge some dipshits who killed his dog) and interesting world (a society of killers with their own rules, services and even currency). Rehashing the former would make for diminishing returns, so returning screenwriter Derek Kolstad (ONE IN THE CHAMBER, THE PACKAGE) digs deeper into the latter, showing us more about the operations and codes of the Continental Hotel and its affiliates as Wick is forced to repay a debt, getting himself into more and more trouble and testing the limits of his unkillableness.
He’s still trying to retire. The movie has a sense of humor about it without undermining his sincerity. Moments after he finishes cementing his weapons back into the basement floor the doorbell rings and you think “Jesus, what now?” Well, it’s Italian gangster Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio, THE BEST OF YOUTH), who helped him escape the business and now is cashing in his favor to drag him back in. Wick would have to get into the Vatican to assassinate Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST). Throughout the movie Wick finds himself backed into corners and all he can do is keep killing his way out of them. And the more killing the more corners. (read the rest of this shit…)
AMERICAN ULTRA is an action… I want to say comedy?… about what would happen if a totally unlikable stoner who works at a Cash ‘n Carry turned out to unknowingly be a brainwashed government super killer who has been missing and the CIA tries to take him out so he finds himself killing a bunch of dudes in self defense and doesn’t know why. THE BOURNE IDENTITY meets some dude you know’s unproductive early 20s.
But it’s not jokey like a Cheech and Chong picture or THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Mike, the horrible loser protagonist, is played by Jesse Eisenberg (CURSED) with his usual cold distance, minus the intelligence. He’s not the funny or huggable type of stoner either, he’s just the kind that you’re supposed to like because he has a dream of creating a generic “underground comic” about a monkey (it could be this generation’s MONKEYBONE in my opinion) and mumbles quasi-deep philosophical bullshit comparing his life to that of a tree. In narration he humblebrags about being “a fucked up couple” with his long-suffering, oh-that-poor-woman, someone-really-needs-to-have-an-intervention-with-her-about-that-terrible-boyfriend-that-is-sucking-away-her-life-essence-every-second-of-the-day girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart, JUMPER). But, sorry bud, these two aren’t even Sid and Nancy, they’re just a guy who disappoints his girlfriend by saying they’re going to Hawaii and then instead having a panic attack and bringing her home to make her an omelette and then burning it. (read the rest of this shit…)
I never figured Keanu Reeves would become an action hall-of-famer, but here we are. Of course he stars in the great POINT BREAK, but we can’t lie, we all kinda chuckle at his FBI surfer dude Johnny Utah in that. And then he was good in SPEED, but would that be enough? If that was enough Matt Damon would be an action legend. Of course, playing Neo in THE MATRIX trilogy sealed the deal, Reeves learned to do all that kung fu and that hadn’t really been done by a normal actor like that before and those movies and those fights hold up today. Still, it seemed like an anomaly in his career. He would always be Neo to the world but that would be it for Action Keanu, right?
Nope. Because he directed last year’s martial arts gem MAN OF TAI CHI and played the villain, creating and performing some more classic fight scenes. When I saw that I realized it was time to acknowledge his greatness. 47 RONIN put a little bit of a damper on that though because it was so boring I never even wrote a review. If I had it would’ve said “Some of the monsters are cool” and that’s about it.
But after JOHN WICK, Reeves’s strong connection to Badass Cinema cannot be denied. This is a fun, violent, straight-ahead revenge action movie. Reeves did not direct it, but his stunt double from the MATRIX movies, Chad Stahelski, did*. So it’s probly a style of directing too dangerous for Reeves to perform. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’m a lightweight when it comes to reading Cormac McCarthy books. I read No Country For Old Men, loved it, then loved the movie version. I was deeply moved by The Road, the movie was decent. Before those I tried to read All the Pretty Horses, but I think it was too dense for my brain at the time, I didn’t get very far. I haven’t tried Blood Meridian yet, I know that’s the one everybody recommends.
But from my limited experience THE COUNSELOR, the Ridley Scott movie made from McCarthy’s first original screenplay, is sure recognizable as his work. It’s a crime story full of colorful characters and the occasional brutal violence, but it’s not interested in a straightforward approach to storytelling. I mean, it’s never as aggressively untraditional as that one really abrupt thing that happens toward the end of No Country (I had to flip back a few pages after that one ’cause I thought I missed something), but it takes it’s sweet ass time getting to a point where you even know what it’s about on the surface. (read the rest of this shit…)
REVENGE is a 1990 film directed by the late Tony Scott. REVENGE is called REVENGE because it’s based on a novella called Revenge (by Jim Harrison) and because both are partly about revenge. But don’t let the stripped down title lead you to expect a pure revenge tale. Or at least not one that’s in a hurry to get to the revenge part. (read the rest of this shit…)
In my review of BLACK DYNAMITE I talked about how happy I was for its star, Michael Jai White, and I mentioned that one of the obstacles he overcame was that his first big starring role after TYSON was “one of the worst comic book movies ever.” (Weirdly he’s also in DARK KNIGHT, one of the best comic book movies ever.)
“One of the worst comic book movies ever” is a serious accusation, though. This is a lenient genre that allowed the creation of BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN AND ROBIN, FANTASTIC FOUR, DAREDEVIL, GHOST RIDER, etc. I mean there’s some good ones and there are just some shockingly horrible ones, that’s the type of deal we got here, the Two Face coin could land on either side.
Since I threw it out there I figured it was only fair that I go back and force myself to watch SPAWN again to make sure it really was the unmitigated crap I remembered it as. Turns out I remembered right, there was no mitigation at all. (read the rest of this shit…)
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