Archive for the 'Action' Category

21
May
08

Death Proof (Grindhouse: Death Proof)

 Death Proof [2007]

Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s 5th major movie and is also a part of the Grindhouse collaboration.

Kurt Russell plays ‘Stuntman Mike McKay’, an ex-stuntman that now, for whatever reason, roams the streets in search of young ladies to  murder.  His weapon of choice is some Detroit muscle.

But not just any car will do. Before he puts the pedal to the metal, he must “death proof” his car. This is a old stuntman tradition, done by heavily reinforcing the fame and placing an intricate web of roll bars into the car. When he is strapped into his seat harness, he is in an almost magical way, invincible. With this in place, he can now prey on helpless women around the highways with no fear of getting injured himself.

The movie can very easily be described in halves. Most people who have seen this movie know that there is the first set of girls and the second. Each set takes up a little under an hour to wrap up and tell their part of the story.

OK, this is gonna be a long one, so you want me to start with bads or goods first? Fine, lets get it out of the way.

The bads are quite a list to say the least. WOW. Where to begin. First of all, boring. Boring, boring, boring, boring. The first 45 min of the movie is hard for ANYONE to watch and be 100% engaged into the film. Why is that? Well, because the story, for the most part, follows around 4 of the most uninteresting young women you could ever hope to not meet.

These would be girls you see that work at Mervyns and are always outside on a smoke break. The girl that gave you a quick ride home last year. Remember? When you got in her car, it smelled SO bad and was completely trashed from top to bottom. She thought after High School, she would meet a doctor and run away. But he never showed up, so they continue their vain attempt to find a decent guy using booze and cheap perfume to lure him. For some odd reason, she has multiple PETCO P.A.L.S. cards in her purse. You get the picture. I already know too much about these girls based on their lifestyle and appearance. Why would I want to know more? Well too bad. You get novels of dialogue between them. Back and forth. Talking about weed, humping guys, bars, liquor, laziness, and…………………………. under ground, rare, impossible to find, old, soul music?

Wait… what?????

My main problem with the dialogue in this movie, is that it is obviously writen by a guy. These girls talk like guys. And not just any guy. They all talk like Quentin Tarantino himself. Its shown with their quirky taste in everything from t-shirts, poems, music, and yes, movies too. You ever wonder why Big Bank Hank from the Shugarhill Gang sounds like Grand Master Caz? CAUSE GMC WROTE HIS RHYMES! The same goes for this. Its TOTALLY obvious. The first 45 minutes is almost completely unbearable and I always find myself fast-forwarding through parts.

The first half also has the ‘Grindhouse’ feel with the cheap horror music, bad editing, and damaged film. This look is one of the better parts of the first half… but for some reason… its gone in the 2nd half? Totally doesn’t fit or make sense.

Another thing about this movie is that is almost a collage of references. As if it was the art project where you cut up magazines and make a big ugly poster of all the things you like. Its no secret Tarantino is a fan of the old road movies, so you may call it a “tribute”, but it borders on the line of straight unoriginal. Its everywhere. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Convoy, Vanishing Point, Gone in 60 Seconds, Smokey and the Bandit, Gator… the list goes on! Every time I see a road movie, I see something that Tarantio took! There are so many ‘nods’ in this movie, it may as well be a giant bobble head!

Sounds pretty abysmal doesn’t it? Well, he’s not the great “QT” for nothing. He can work wonders at times… It seems he needs a big knock out to recover from this brutal beating. Can he pull it off?

Well, there is many great things about this flick as well. The 2nd half of girls have much better lines and its way easier to care and follow whats going on. Although its still obvious a geeky film buff wrote this script, based on their very niche interests. The acting is better, the lines are better, and the pace is better.

Tarantino is not of big fan of CGI (nor am I for that matter!). And this is clear as he set out to make a car movie with no computer animated driving or stunts. THANK YOU QT! Because of this film, he put plenty of old stuntmen to work. Hollywood now a days doesn’t want real action. It costs too much and takes too much time. They would rather pay some gord in his parents basement to computer animate a sequence because its faster and cheaper. The chase scenes are some of THE BEST in history in my opinion. Gets me excited every time. Hats off to QT and the stuntmen who worked very hard on this film!

Also, Kurt Russell does a great job of the “Cowardly Lion” like killer. He plays a washed up has-been stuntman that thinks hes still slick. Even though no one has heard of the TV shows or movies he as worked on. He really thinks he is impressing these girls with his credentials and his John Wayne impression! That may work on girls in the 70’s, but not now! What a great out of touch creep he plays. It was said by Kurt that the character was actually based on a stuntman he grew up around.

Every car is hand picked to be a killer! You get a Nova, a Charger, a Mustang, and a Challenger. Great picks and nice variety. The abrupt ending is fantastic, and very ‘Grindhouse’ / B-movie feel. I couldn’t have ended it better!

Well, when its all said and done, this movie drains the life out of you, then pumps it back in. It would easily gain a 5 star rating if they had just been more careful what they put in. But instead you get a 0 star that works its way back up to 3 star.

So, if I confused you, 3 star. You will love and appreciate the best stunt driving in history. The story may make you laugh in the end. And Kurt Russells performance is perfect. But the first half of the movie will drain and drag you down, leaving you to fast forward the first parts over and over.

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07
May
08

Youth of the Beast (野獣の青春 or Yajū no seishun)

Youth of the Beast [1963]

Youth of the Beast is one of Seijun Suzuki’s best known films. This film was made 4 years before his departure from Nikkatsu Studios in Japan.

Joji “Jo” Mizuno (Joe Shishido) is the new tough guy in town. For now, he may join a yakuza or two, but only if it helps him on his quest for vengeance. He seeks justice for the death of an old friend, and he wont stop until everyone involved has paid their price!

Well, I cant say TOO much about what goes on in this movie, for fear of giving too many plot twists away. But even if you knew the entire story, you would be surprised at how great it was.

I bought this not knowing anything about it. I liked the cover on the DVD, I knew it was part of the Criterion Collection, and I saw through Amazon that it had no real negative rankings. Boy was I in for a treat! Right in the first 5 minutes, the movie leaps out of the screen and you are suddenly in for a ride.

Joe Shishido does a wonderful job playing the tough guy. And I’m sure his overtly large cheeks helped out quite a bit. Lots of style and charisma. Its also very easy for him to fly off the handle and loose control. Very very well played. All the characters did a good job acting. I cant think of one bad performance in the entire movie, even if I tried.

A twist ending can make you remember a film long after you have seen it. This movie has its share of twists, and the final characters demise is unforgettable. The action scenes were terrific for a “old Japanese movie”. The parking lots, office buildings, fields, and even dining rooms were transformed from average to full out thrilling locations!

Although not as “artisically liberal’ as some other Seijun Suzuki flicks, (Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill) you are still treated to some eye poping colors and visuals that Suzuki is ever so famous for.

If it sounds like I am going to give this movie 5 stars, you are correct. 5 stars. You need to watch this movie. You need to own your own copy to show to others. I have not shown it to anyone yet that hasn’t absolutely fallen in love with it.

03
May
08

Escape from New York

Escape from New York [1981]

In 1981, John Carpenter gave us Snake Plisskin in the form of Escape from New York.

A look into the future takes us to 1997. New York, over time, has been turned into a giant prison to house the nations criminals. A wall of stone and water has been built, and there is no way out. Within New York, you still have your freedom, however it does not mean much when surrounded by dangerous criminals and no laws to protect you. When Air Force One is hijacked, they crash the plane in New York, leaving the president of the United States left to fend for himself amongst lawless criminals.

Soon, the president is captured for ransom. The head police commissioner known as Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) decides to give new inmate Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell) a shot at wiping the slate clean….. if he can rescue the president in 24 hours. Snake is ex-special forces and knows his way in and out of tight spots. After fitting him with some gear and a virus that will kill him if he fails or tries to flee, he begins his run through this terrible city.

Well, what can I say? Many people look up to this movie as a classic cult film. Many have been raised on Snake Plisskin, and its easy to see that he was the inspiration for ‘Snake’ in the video game series ‘Metal Gear’. Anytime you take in a ‘cult’ movie, or ‘B’ movie, you have to be prepared for it to suck. Because sometimes, the reason it is popular is because people like to sit back and laugh at its ridiculousness. Like the 80s classics ‘Voyage of the Rock Aliens’ or ‘Ice Pirates’. Other times, they are ‘cult’ or ‘B’ because you were expecting so little, and it actually paid off larger than you thought.

For me, I came in with an open mind (this was my first time viewing this movie). I was ready for the movie to suck so I can laugh, or for it to surprise me with good things. It did neither. Nothing stood out in this movie. There was no part where I said “Wow! That’s cool!”. I never laughed out loud. It was simply just a ho-hum story. No action stood out. Acting was reminiscent of a TV movie on the W.B. And on the flip side, nothing was spun off as over the top for me to laugh at.

It wasn’t a worthless piece of garbage. It has screen legends Lee Van Cleef and Ernest Borgnine. They are always welcome. The whole 80s visuals and sound effects were super high-tech. There are quite a few twists at the end as well. It was appreciated. Not to mention the clout that comes with viewing a ‘classic’ you can now talk about with friends, coworkers, associates, etc.

Man, I know I’m gonna get in trouble for this with most my friends. Maybe you will give me hell in the comments, but I gotta be honest. 2 stars. You can watch it once. I’m not gonna give it 1 star and say avoid it like the plague. But its just not something I see wanting to own. I’m gonna trade in my copy on my days off as a matter of fact.

03
May
08

The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon [1985]

The Last Dragon stars Taimak as ‘Leroy Green’ AKA ‘Bruce Leroy’. Leroy is a devout kung fu practitioner that idolizes Bruce Lee. He is so in touch with eastern philosophy and arts, he is often uncomfortable in his Harlem setting.

He continues to follow his own path, no matter who makes fun of him or teases him. Soon, by chance, he falls in love with a Video DJ ‘Laura Charles’ played by Vanity. Laura has a popular TV show showcasing video talent for the masses. An evil and corrupt talent agent tries to kidnap Laura to force her to play his lousy acts. Leroy must come to the rescue and all the while battle thugs and other martial artists including ‘Sho Nuff‘ the shogun of Harlem played by Julius Carry. Leroy is also guided by a quest for personal enlightenment… a quest to attain ‘The Glow’.

Berry Gordy produced this little golden gem. As a matter of fact, the technical name is ‘Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon’. It was also used as a vehicle to boost carriers of several Motown artists. Motown was virtually on the brink of extinction in the mid 80s, and a movie would be a great way to make some sweet profits. Did I mention Berry Gordy produced this?!?! There are many shameless Motown plugs. Full songs are displayed with no apology, and even music videos have their own awkward sections that seem to force their way into this movie. Oh yeah! BERRY GORDY produced this!

Taimak is a fighter first, and he had to learn acting on the set while in between scenes. He doesn’t do a bad job, but it helps that the person he is playing is choppy, robotic, and out of touch. Vanity has a little song and dance number. Although I’m sure she is very attractive by 80s standards, her singing made me want to pull a cleaning string in one ear and out the other. And her tacky dancing made me want to turn off the movie.

Another thing that really got me worked up is the generalizing of Asian culture. Is it Japanese? Is it Chinese? NO! Its oriental dummy! He learns kung fu, a Chinese art, from a clearly Japanese teacher. Sho Nuff, a Chinese kung fu master is the Shogun of Harlem. A Shogun is Japanese. Leroy often dresses as a ninja, a Japanese style stealth fighter. Then he dresses like a Chinese rice farmer, but calls his parents mama-san and papa-san. San being the equivalent of Mr. or Mrs. in Japanese. Had they done just a slight bit of research, they could have avoided offending many cultures.

But wait… isn’t that kinda what the great US of A is all about? I mean, we are such a melting pot, its our job to generalize to a degree. Many out there agree that they would rather have Pizza Hut or Domino’s twice a week than Italian style pizza. Lots of Americans prefer teriyaki chicken to some of the other off the wall Japanese dishes. Just like Buddhism, we love to take what we feel are the best of each culture and assimilate it into our own.

Despite all the little nasty things I have to say about this movie. Its still has an undeniable charm. The comedy is over the top on purpose, the action is actually pretty dang good. Its filled with 80s cliches, and the style is awesome. Like a super cute kid that broke your expensive flashlight on accident, you cant stay mad at it. This movie had a lot of heart, a overall good message, and it was thoroughly entertaining.

So, even though we can be overly critical at times, the big question is, did I have fun? Yes, yes I did. And most all will too. 3 stars.

03
May
08

Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown [1997]

Pam Grier stars as ‘Jackie Brown’ in Quentin Tarantino’s film adaptation of the now famous novel ‘Rum Punch’.

The film has an all-star cast including not only Pam Grier, but Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton, and Bridget Fonda as well.

Jackie works as a flight attendant for a small Mexican airline. However, the pay is minimal, so she is involved in bringing illegal money into the country for a ruthless, low-life weapons dealer, Ordell Robbie (Jackson). As the police begin to crack down on Ordell, they take various people into custody, including Jackie Brown. Fearing his employees may snitch, Ordell begins to find ways to ‘silence’ them.

Max Cherry (Robert Forster) a bail bondsmen, comes to Jackie’s rescue and begins to fall deeply for her. Together the two plan an elaborate scheme to get Ordell’s cash money, ditch the cops, and leave their dead end lives behind. This proves difficult as the police are watching their every move. Not only that, but Ordell has his own movers and shakers including Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) and Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) to put the squeeze on them.

I find this movie to be one of the most solid movies available. The script is tight, the acting is the best around, and the story telling is fantastic! They really found a diamond in the rough with Pam Grier. Other than her skin color, you would never guess she got her start in Blaxploitation films. She carries herself with such a presence, you would swear she studied at Juilliard. Not only that, she look amazing for 48 (at the time of the films release). Another star that shines perhaps more than it was intended to, was Robert Forster as Max. Forster does a terrific job as a gentle, reliable, and tough when necessary aging man. His performance is defiantly reminiscent of the leading roles in classic western movies. And when this old ‘square’ white guy falls in love with a slick sista, he preforms it innocently and makes it more than realistic.

On the villain side, Samuel L. Jackson does a terrific job in what I think is one of his best roles ever. He perfectly walks the fine line between too cool for school and paranoid. If you had your own personal Samuel L. Jackson, you could throw out your microwave, because his stone cold gazes would heat your food up in a jiffy. As usual, you can count on Bobby De Niro to bring his A game. People thinking acting dumb is easy. I find it to be one of the most challenging roles an actor can take on. Like Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land, Robert De Niro plays it second nature. Trust me, its much harder than it looks. Both together seem harmless, but the danger is real when you cross them.

The story is awesome, and much like Scorsese’s Casino or Goodfellas, you are taken for a ride by the seat of your pants, with every factor explained to you in detail. The only thing I could find wrong with this movie, was Jackie gets off the hook a little too easy, and Ordell’s last scene has no real satisfaction.

But overall, it was so well done, it effortlessly deserves 4 stars. Its very close to a 5 star, but I just don’t see it as a movie you would love to show off to all your friends when they come over. It being over 2 and 1/2 hours makes it hard to pop in over and over.

03
May
08

Mean Streets

Mean Streets [1973]

Martin Scorsese takes us on a honest and turbulent journey through Little Italy. This is done in the eyes of Charlie (Harvey Keitel). Charlie is always searching for something with a deeper meaning. Wether its the local mafia, church, or his friendships, he strives for a greater connection. Unfortunately, for Charlie, all seems to be against each other. Within the mafia he wants to move up. Within the church, he seeks true salvation. And within his friendships, he feels the need to protect and look out for those less fortunate than him.

Enter Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). Johnny Boy is a character most of us in life have known. And if you don’t recognize him, you probably are like him. Johnny Boy is irresponsible, free-spirited, and self destructive. The kind of guy that you swore said he would give you gas money, and when you reach empty, he suddenly doesn’t know what you are talking about. But he can be fun to be around, and his life is in worse shape than yours, so you constantly forgive him, smile, and move on.

Charlie feels the need to help out, protect, and even clean up Johnny Boy’s messes. But even Charlie seems to know that by patronizing him, he will only prolong the inevitable. As magnetic as Johnny Boy is, and as minor as his misdeeds may be, every one knows the wild roller coaster will eventually have to come to an end.

This movie really spoke to me on many levels. The character of Charlie is one I can relate to. He seeks true salvation rather than the cliche religious lip service some churches give out. He is mentally trapped between his lover, his friend, his salvation, and his job. None of them want to cut him some slack for the other. Keitel plays the role effortlessly, proving he can be a power house, or a quiet storm. De Niro, however, steals the show. Its no wonder he won Best Supporting Actor from The National Society of Film Critics. He plays perfectly this irresponsible ADDish looser with a perfect balance between rowdy and just plain insane.

Scorsese is a master of putting together small, almost insignificant scenes to achieve an over all theme, mood, or style. This is observed when Charlie often tries to touch fire, or when Charlie decides to get with a black chick, then changes his mind. Things like these seem meaningless at the time, but little did you know, it was painting a grand picture for you to step back and really think about when looking at it. And when you do step back and look at it, the picture is amazing.

With great direction, classic Scorsese style soundtrack, powerful acting, subtle yet strong story, and engaging theme, this flick will stick with you long after you view it.

Mean Streets gets 4 stars. It is a very well deserved classic. Its not gonna totally rock your cinema world, but if you get the chance to see it, you will most defiantly want to take up the opportunity. You WILL NOT be sorry!

01
May
08

Race with the Devil

Race with the Devil [1975]

Wow, you know, the title says it all. Roger (Peter Fonda) and Frank (Warren Oates) decide to take their wives and vacation in Frank’s new RV. While camping out for a night, Frank and Roger wander in the brush and see what appears to be a ‘wild orgy’ in the distance. Giggling and taking turns with the binoculars, their tomfoolery turns to horror as they realize they are actually watching a satanic cult preform a human sacrifice.

As their wives yell for them to come back to the RV, the satanic cult realizes they have been watched. The rest of the movie, they are chased from highway to highway, town to town, trying to escape the murderous cult.

Race with the Devil has a campy appeal that is sure to thrill those knowing what they are in store for. Low budget, strange premise, and a knack for cheap thrills make this a classic ‘B’ movie.

The action and stunts in this movie stone cold awesome! Also, the acting isn’t half bad. All the players here are seasoned pros. Even the bit parts. Where the movie falls short, would be in the middle. Like having the best looking car in the world, with a mediocre engine option.

The middle is riddled with ‘suspense’ that really doesn’t captivate the mind much. For instance, they receive a satanic note with half written in code. After going to the library to search for a meaning to the symbols, they never really get it figured out. They also play off strangers quite a bit. Everyone is a suspect, so I guess they felt the need to do suspicious staring contests over and over.

But you know what? That first class action and premise I was talking about makes up for quite a bit! Even with its slow parts, there was no bad pacing whatsoever. It moved along like melted butter on hot corn-on-the-cob! Before I wrap this up, let give a common warning for 60s and 70s movies. If you plan on watching this movie, DO NOT SEE THE TRAILER. It shows you all the best parts. However, if you don’t want to watch the movie, and want a general idea, watch the trailer as it really is a super compact version of the full feature!

Race with the Devil gets 3 stars. But before viewing, make sure you are in the total mood for this type of flick to get the full effect.




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