Category Archives: Action

Treehouse of Horror Roundup 26-27

Like most other Americans, I spent the last couple of days consumed with a different sort of nightmarish joke. But life and the days of November march on, and now that it’s ten days past Halloween, we need to wrap this up.

It felt good to laugh and get one last sweet taste of Halloween for the year. I even ate some candy — gummy bears — to mark the occasion. And The Simpsons managed to let me end on happy note by providing two mostly solid episodes. I’m glad I took this ride with you all.

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Quick Comparison

Jurassic World Poster

Franchise: Jurassic Park
Years since previous installment: 14
My opinion of previous installment: Utter bullshit.
Reaction to new sequel: Mind-blowingly excited. Can! Not! Wait!

Terminator Genisys Poster

Franchise: Terminator
Years since previous installment: 6
My opinion of previous installment: Solidly entertaining.
Reaction to new sequel: Exhausted. Bored.

I  make zero sense.

On John Wick

John Wick surprised me. Not in its content. What you see in the commercials is what you get in the theater. Instead, it startled me with how much I enjoyed it.*

John Wick is what it is and nothing more, but it’s a masterful example of what it is: a straightforward action flick that would’ve starred Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal back in the day. If that interests you, then you’ve probably seen before everything John Wick has to offer. I know I’ve lost track of all those retired bad-asses drawn back into the game by the need for revenge. I’ve also seen mentor and mentee assassins, and I’ve known plenty other Russian mafiosos with callow sons. **

But despite the retro plot elements, the movie achieves its own unique, modern vibe. Had John Wick been filmed in the 80s, it would have been as loud and ugly as it was dumb and violent. Instead,  first-time director Chad Stahelski has created something a little bit dumb and entirely violent, but also smooth and stylish.

It’s frankly amazing how posh this genre has become. John Wick stops short of the Sin City-level of stylized, but it has a toe slightly over the line. So many sleek, powerful cars. So many natty suits. Keanu Reeves looks as much like a Prada model as ever. Such a civilized and urbane veneer disguising the underbelly of the beast.

A key to the movie’s success is that it’s as much about the shadowy criminal society Wick navigates as it is about Wick’s quest to kill the man who killed his dog. It’s a world where you trade one solid gold coin for each dead body you need professionally adios-ed. And that’s just one of many delightfully weird moments that transpire in a wholly matter-of-fact fashion.

Speaking of dead bodies, I admit I entered the theater with an attitude about the basic premise. To my mind, no dog – no matter how cuddly and lovable – is worth taking 60+ human lives (at least). They’re conveyed as meaningless henchmen deaths, but if we don’t care about them, why do we care about Wick exactly? He once was what they are currently, and if he can redeem himself, why can’t they? But I gradually came to understand that the puppy isn’t the point.

Yes, a puppy is clubbed to death (off-screen, with far more discretion than is afforded to several humans receiving bullets to the face). But that isn’t really why Wick goes on a killing spree. I don’t even really buy into the rationale that it’s the metaphorical meaning that Wick attaches to the puppy. I personally see this as a movie about widower working his way through the anger phase of his grief cycle in a hail of bullets. You either get on board with that or you don’t.

The well-staged fight choreography will help with that. The action looks and feels real and brutal. Elegant as it is, it also seems satisfyingly difficult. Action movies always seem to have at least one scene in which a bad-ass breaks someone’s neck with just a swift, little twist. This usually looks like it takes less effort than twisting off a bottle cap. Not here. Wick does overpower many of his enemies within seconds, but it always still manages to look like a job of work.

 

* Particularly because a convenient matinee time factored more heavily into my decision to buy a ticket than any real desire to see it.

** My first recorded sighting: 1997 in The Saint.

 

 

Tidbits

In no coherent order…

I took a trip to Savannah, an incredibly cinematic location as evidenced by the number movies that have been filmed there. I had originally intended to write a rather ambitious piece about the various movies set in Savannah, but I don’t know if that will ever actually happen. I’m such a deadbeat blogger. However, I still managed to earn a handful of film buff points on my vacation. I visited a beautifully restored, 1920s-era movie house, the Lucas Theatre. In the midst of a Mel Brooks festival, I finally saw Blazing Saddles for the first time. Young Frankenstein is probably still my favorite, but I like Blazing Saddles a lot more than I thought I would. Madeline Kahn is the bomb and always will be.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful on Showtime. I really love premium cable television series because they frequently cater to my minimal attention span with super-short seasons. Even I can commit to eight episodes. Penny Dreadful is wonderfully atmospheric and features some top-shelf performances, particularly by Eva Green. I’m not obsessed with it or anything, but I do find it entertaining enough to keep watching. The finale airs tonight, and if they don’t completely drop the ball, I expect to tune in for its second season. But I do wonder if it can maintain its grip on its audience after the novelty wears off. In the meantime, I’ve also been quite enjoying the episode recaps on The Mary Sue.

The “found-footage” trope continues to pursue its doctrine of manifest destiny. Now the darkness is creeping even into kids’ movies. Good luck with that, parents. Hope you remember to take an air sickness bag.

I really looked forward to Edge of Tomorrow, but it wound up a mixed bag. Most of it I did enjoy. It delivered fairly on the trailer, but the ending wussed out harder than Tom Cruise does at the beginning. It reminded me heavily of the way Source Code (a movie I also mostly admired) went for the super-happy-joy-joy ending when going out on a bittersweet note might have served the material better.

Does anyone else remember a shitty early 90s comedy called My Boyfriend’s Back? As it turns out, it was simply ahead of its time. The trailer for Life After Beth proves that.

 

On Elysium

Neill Blomkamp makes ugly movies set in ugly worlds filled with awful people. He presents ham-fisted sci-fi morality plays about hapless protagonists. He always includes at least one utterly nasty scene with someone vomiting*, and he employs an epileptic camera to boot. These are not all automatically negatives, but I must admit I find nothing about this combination of artistic trademarks particularly entertaining. I did enjoy Elysium quite a bit better than District 9, but that really isn’t saying much considering that I straight-up hated District 9.

Like, can I actually shoot at this?

Like, can I actually shoot at this?

Elysium’s blessing and curse is that Blomkamp downshifts slightly on the bile. He still skewers humanity with all the subtlety of a Tyler Perry joint, but there are occasional moments where you invest in some characters. However, he seems confused about exactly how to graft some hopefulness onto his “people suck” schtick, and so the overall narrative winds up somewhat incoherent. But at least I can understand what’s happening in the action sequences despite the shaky cam. They’re all actually really well-staged.

Judging from interviews with Matt Damon about his Bourne movies, the actor clearly finds grim, blank action roles like this one interesting. Elysium’s Max De Costa is beaten down by life, but remains determined to keep going. And I have no complaints about Damon’s performance as Max; he is solidly effective in the role. At the same time, I can’t help but think that they should have cast a Latino actor. It certainly would’ve added some extra oomph to the immigration parable with a non-white hero. Plus, almost all of the secondary Earth-bound characters were cast as people of color.

I tried to go back to the coverage from Elysium’s release to see if there was any mention of originally considering anyone other than Damon, and all I found out was that Blomkamp originally considered both Eminem and another, lesser-known white rapper for role. Ultimately, Damon was cast just for his higher profile and his nice-guy accessibility. That strikes me as weird because I would’ve guessed that the character was originally written as Latino and then changed to accommodate Damon. Seems like a missed opportunity.

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Recap: Summer 2013 Roundup

Even though I was too busy the last couple months moving and working and traveling and whatever else to broadcast my reactions on the Interwebs, I still wasn’t too busy to make it to the movie theater. I’m very rarely too busy for that. So here is a quick run-down of the new releases I’ve seen recently, along with the 30-second version of my verdicts on them. I do feel wistful that I’m not taking more time to engage in meaningful conversation about some of these titles – particularly Man of Steel. My complex emotions about just that one could probably fill an entire book. But realistically, more movies get released each and every weekend, I’ve started watching a new-to-me show (more on this later), and this fall television season just might see a genuine attempt by me to watch a current show or two for the first time in a very long while. So this is all you get.

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Missing women

A couple days ago NPR’s pop culture blog, Monkey See, published a sort of half-developed think piece/rant about the options available this weekend for someone who wants to see a movie prominently featuring female character(s). Spoiler alert! There aren’t many.

I get that the intent of the article was to point out the issue and raise a question that may not be answerable right now or possibly at all. But even so, it was dissatisfying for me. Mainly because I feel like Linda Holmes does have a valid concern. She’s on to something important, but by tossing it out there rather superficially, it provides an opportunity for dismissive types to jump in and slam the door shut on the conversation. As evidenced by some of the comments NPR readers left.

I think an easy criticism to which the piece leaves itself open is the lack of acknowledgement that it’s summer. The movie-going year is segmented into distinct seasons. Mid-June finds us solidly entrenched in the blockbuster season, and that’s when the boys come out to play. When it’s time to trot out the autumnal Oscar bait, I doubt the situation will be as grim as the one Holmes paints for this weekend. *

But really it isn’t just a summer-only problem. As the New York Times reported earlier this month:

A recently published study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism showed that the percentage of female characters with a speaking part in the nation’s top movies each year reached its lowest point in the past five years in 2012, at 28 percent.

There are probably a lot of different forces at play in creating this phenomenon, but that article and several others bemoaning the end of the “movie star” concept as we know it might hold the key for unlocking at least one facet of the explanation. In a world where (for various complicated market reasons) bankable stars no longer fill theaters by their names alone, studios rely more heavily on franchise concepts to sell tickets. As the Atlantic Wire article linked above notes:

Small movies soldier on and enormous ones flourish, but everything in the middle begins to evaporate.

And my theory is that the middle is where chick flicks have historically thrived.

However, it must be said, that the single most unavoidably ubiquitous ad campaign for any movie right now is for The Heat, a gal-pal cop comedy with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Somebody somewhere is obviously expecting to make scads of money on this movie with a pair of female leads. Which should fill me hope, right? Except The Heat looks painfully awful.

Which brings up another topic that requires discussing, even if it makes me feel dirty to bring it up. And that’s the matter of quality. Why are women’s movies getting stupider? Why are they getting progressively more unpleasant all the freaking time? In her article, Holmes trumpets the success of Bridesmaids. I haven’t seen it (and I actually do try really hard not to have opinions about movies I haven’t seen, but it’s difficult because my natural inclination is to have an opinion about everything). So let’s just charitably say that nothing I’ve seen or heard about it has given me any reason to think it would be up my alley at all. I passed on it mainly because the appeal of Kristen Wiig has always been largely lost on me, but should I feel guilty about that? If the movies Hollywood condescends to make about women fail, then when will they ever spend money to make the movies I want to see? Sigh. I’m still not plunking hard-earned dollars down for The Heat, but it’s food for thought.

There’s a lot going on when we discuss where all the ladies have gone. Market forces, cultural drivers, and so on. I guess I don’t want to slam the NPR blog, so much as I just want to take a time out to acknowledge the soupy complexity of the issue and get the ball rolling towards a more comprehensive discussion. So what do you all think?

 

 

* I admit this also leads to an equally easy counterargument. Why are the summer tent poles always male-centric? Beyond the occasional Angelina Jolie title, where are the female actioners? Personally I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to see a Wonder Woman movie (for whatever reason, I’ve never latched onto her as a character), but I find the length of time the project has languished in development hell equal parts fascinating and appalling.

Iron Man 3, finally!

No one who isn’t me cares that I procrastinated on this, but I still feel bad about waiting so long. Mainly because I missed the opportunity to join the conversation as it was happening just because I psyched myself out over my imagined need to come up with something completely fascinating to say about it. Lesson learned:  advertise sparingly. If I don’t promise to write about something, then I won’t feel bad if I decide to skip it.

Image from IMDb.com

Image from IMDb.com

So, IM3. It is completely the Iron Man I would expect from Shane Black. It has his schtick all over it.

  1. It takes place at Christmas
  2. It upends classic film tropes, including…
  3. Unconventional voice-over narration and…
  4. Hilarious one-liners from…
  5. A protagonist exorcising inner demons…
  6. As a noir-ish mystery unfolds

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Good Morning, Mark Ruffalo

I woke up early for some Sunday morning cinema and experienced two let-downs.

  1. AMC raised pre-noon ticket prices to $7.00 (Bastards.)
  2. Despite the assemblage of an undeniably kick-ass cast, Now You See Me failed to rock my world
Images in this post from IMDb

Images in this post from IMDb

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