Tag Archives: action

John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior

There’s always those films whose reputation is more widely known than themselves, where the stormy production or behind the scenes drama caused such a ruckus and eclipsed the final product, creating negative buzz whether or not the film is good. John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior is one of those, I haven’t read up exactly on what went wrong but I’ve always felt the film that was born out of whatever trouble there was is an excellent one.

Antonio Banderas stars as an unconventional version of the badass hero we’re used to, one who starts off as anything but that and has to earn his way to glory. He plays a Persian poet sometime around 900AD, a man who is sent away for macking on the sultan’s wife and captured by a roving band of Vikings. They are amassing an army of elite specialist warriors to bring back home in the north in order to defeat a near indestructible menace that is moving in on their land. Banderas finds himself caught up in the war, alone with the tribe and forced grab a sword, find his courage and take a few swings at this fearsome enemy. The plot is fairly simple stuff but it’s atmosphere and character development that win the day here, as well as epic production design. Banderas starts off as basically a pampered court jester who the Norsemen mock and ridicule, until he learns their ways and a bond of brotherhood forms, an arc from both parties that is handled with dignity and heart. The enemy they fight are an unseen horror who burn, kill and eat everything in their path, there’s a sense of genuine fear and threat when they show up and the battles are staged with smoke, mist and fire for ultimate atmospheric effect. A highlight is when they raid underground caverns used to hide out in via ships and you really get a sense of setting as well as budget on display. Banderas is supported by various people including Vladimir Kulich as the heroic Buliwyf, Diane Venora, Tony Curran, Richard Bremmer, Sven Wollter and a very brief Omar Sharif.

People can talk shit about this one all they want but I really feel like they’re thinking of the troubled production instead of the film itself and need to get their heads out of the sand, and refocus their gaze. This may be a fairly scrappy flick but it’s simply not a bad film. Banderas is a solid lead, there’s a tactile sense of wonder to the settings, both southern and northern and McTiernan mounts the sieges, battles, massacres and poetic revelry assuredly. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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Damien Lee’s Sacrifice

An attempt was made with Damien Lee’s Sacrifice, but the efforts result in a weird, tonally bonkers slog through low rent noir that has you wondering what just happened. It’s one in a long series of Cuba Gooding Jr. cheapies and although definitely not the worst (Hardwired with him and Val Kilmer proudly holds that title) it falls short of being something coherent or memorable.

Gooding plays a tough but damaged undercover Narc in Toronto’s criminal netherworld, a good man with a dark past who seems to attract danger and bad luck. When a young defector (Devon Bostick) of the city’s nastiest heroin smuggling rig leaves his five year old sister in his care while he tries to put things right with dangerous employers, Gooding’s reflexes and morality are put to the test, and old memories of his own wife and kid are dredged up. Christian Slater plays a priest buddy, one of those men of the cloth who isn’t above picking up heavy artillery and capping a few bad guys when needs must, which is about all the actor gets to do here, but it’s a good scene worth sticking it through some muck for. Kim Coates eases into well travelled villain waters as the kingpin of the drug ring, who has a curiously well developed romantic subplot with the madam of a whorehouse (Laura Daans) he owns. Coates and Daans show up together markedly often if you follow such patterns (nerd alert on my part) and the two have chemistry but their scenes here, although good, are out of place and seem to be blueprints for a sequel to another Damien Lee film they both starred in, which I’ll get to in my next review.

Lee does mostly indie dramas and low key art house stuff, sensibilities which show up here in abundance. But when you’re hired to direct a cop/crime flick with Cuba Gooding Jr and Slater it may be pertinent to stick to well worn tropes and an appropriate tone, the dramatic aspects sort of slow the whole thing down and make it feel weirdly paced. Still, the performances are there, the story is clear and it’s entertaining enough. Oh, and it’s nice to see a film that’s not only shot but *legit set* in a Canadian city for once.

-Nate Hill

The Running Man

The Running Man is some silly ass shit, but it’s done with so much adorable enthusiasm, blinding 80’s neon and deafening ultra violence that it kinda wins you over. Plus it has one humdinger of a villain who, lets face it, gives the film most of its personality. Based on a Stephen King novel (albeit under his sheepish Bachman pseudonym), this takes place in one of those austere, glumly lit fascist hellscapes where there’s rubble everywhere, helicopters relentlessly thrum overhead and humanity has devolved to its worst. This is set in the year 2019 and although they undershot the level of depravity they imagined we’d sink to at this point, they sure as fuck weren’t far off the mark. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, a military man who is framed for heinous war crimes and forced to compete in the world’s most popular game show, a sadistic tournament called The Running Man where convicts are hunted down on live television by paid pro wrestler looking freak shows. This is all masterminded by an egotistical sociopath called Killian, played by real life former game show host Richard Dawson in what has to be one of the most inspired pieces of casting out there. It’s fun watching Ahnuld and slightly less athletic pal Yaphet Kotto get saddled with hilarious spandex onesies and shunted down a luge course from hell where they’re faced with such looming monsters as Subzero, Buzzsaw and Dynamo, who Arnie naturally begins dispatching in clever, gruesome ways followed by those obligatory one liners. It’s not a thoughtful film and the dystopian nightmare it establishes at the outset is never established on nor explored, mostly we just get sound, fury, profanity and extreme carnage as the game plays out about as loudly as any could get. The production design is so 80’s you could stick it in a time capsule, from dancing chicks with perms to synth music to Jesse Ventura himself in full roid-rage mode. Dawson is the soul of it all though and it wouldn’t be the same film without him, he steals the show as the ultimate evil ringmaster and has charisma that makes you laugh and want to knock his teeth down his throat in the same instance. Not the best of 80’s Arnie, but a fun, hectic ride through futuristic sci-fi.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof

Death Proof is regarded as the weakest link in Quentin Tarantino’s work, but in a career so consistently awesome does that really matter much? It might be weirdly paced and the inherent schlock in trying to recreate the Grindhouse aesthetic makes it hard to take seriously but it’s still a sterling flick in my book and one fucking wild ride at the movies.

I wasn’t around for the Grindhouse era but it seems to me like Quentin and Robert Rodriguez only partially aped the vibe and sort of trail blazed through their own stuff instead of sticking strictly to routine like, say, Hobo With A Shotgun did. It’s a good thing too, because you wouldn’t want two creative wellsprings like these filmmakers limited to doing something that’s cheap to its bones and has little innovation. As such (with QT’s half of the double bill anyways) we get something that’s a healthy compromise of balls out Mad Max style vehicular bedlam and leisurely paced, character heavy interludes of dialogue, which is of course his trademark. There are an absolute ton of characters here, but naturally the one that showboats across centre stage is Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike, a charming but sadistic serial killer who mows down and decimates innocent women in his souped up Dodge Charger. That of course fills up the back half of the film, while initially we are treated to a solid chunk that sees different groups of girls bicker, banter, discourse on everything from John Hughes’ films to the benefits and drawbacks of being a semi-famous radio DJ and generally have a good time. Usually when you think of showcase Tarantino dialogue and characters this film wouldn’t enter the running, and I’m not sure why, he writes some of the most wonderful parts here and these gals positively act the pants off of them to the point that when the highway mayhem kicks in, you’re almost disappointed that the round table discussions and quirky friendships are done with. Russell is absolute perfection and seems born to play this peculiar villain. He’s so charming that bad vibes aren’t even perceived, and even later when he gets downright psychotic there’s this fourth wall breaking sheepishness that gets chuckles instead of screams, especially in the end when he turns into a big baby. My favourite of the gals has to be Vanessa Ferlito as sultry Arlene, Rosario Dawson as tomboyish Abernathy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as sensitive Lee and Sydney Tamiia Poitier as aforementioned DJ Jungle Julia. Others are fantastic too including Jordan Ladd, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thomas, Marcy Harriell, Helen Kim, Tina Rodriguez and Rose McGowan as angelic Pam, who squares off against Mike in both the funniest and scariest sequence of the film. Watch for cameos from several of the Inglorious Basterds as well as a brief turn from Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks).

The film consists mostly of two things: girls hanging around in apartments, cars and bars talking and beautiful old muscle cars playing havoc along the interstate. When you have Quentin at the helm providing pages of wonderful dialogue and overseeing practical effects based car chases, it makes for something endlessly fun. I saw this as a double bill alongside Rodriguez’s sometimes fun, often lame Planet Terror and viewed together is enough content to melt both brain and eyeballs, especially when you consider that they each have generous runtimes. This is the better of the two films and I think they should be viewed separately as their own entity. Not the weakest thing Quentin has done (Hateful Eight bears that crown for me) and so much more fun than people remember or give it credit for.

-Nate Hill

John Badham’s Nick Of Time

What if someone kidnapped one of your loved ones and informed you that if you don’t assassinate a politician within ninety minutes, they’d kill them? Johnny Depp finds out exactly how a situation like that would play out in John Badham’s Nick Of Time, a stylish real time thriller with fantastic performances and a high powered premise that is milked yet never overdrawn.

Depp plays what might be his most down to earth, Everyman role here as an a humdrum accountant travelling by train with his six year old daughter (Courtney Chase), until he’s targeted by a mysterious pair of shady characters pretending to be cops, and then his nightmare begins. Christopher Walken is a force of evil nature as Smith, a menacing assassin who snatches up Depp’s daughter, puts a gun in his hand and tells him to go shoot a visiting Governor (Marsha Mason) before she’s to speak at an evening rally. Why? Because a patsy was needed and he looked like the poorest sap getting off that train, apparently.

Because the film is set in real time and doesn’t hop around to a zillion different plot threads like 24 does, we get to see the big moments and the small, the suspenseful hills and the mundane valleys in between them as Depp either tries to make harebrained escaped in order to save his daughter and avoid killing someone, and when he simply catches his breath for a moment or grabs some downtime. He’s good in the role and we’ll likely never see him in something as middle of the road as this again in terms of what he’s casted in, which is mostly garish theatrical gimmicks these days. He plays it somewhat Hitchcock and it works well that way, especially with the opening credits that seem directly lifted from one of his films. Walken is adorned in a porn moustache and slick suit, doing that thing only he can do where he’s somehow terrifying and hilarious all in the same note, it’s one of his hallmark 90’s baddie turns and I love it. Roma Maffia is slightly goofy as his second in command, and there’s work from Peter Strauss, Gloria Ruben, Yul Vasquez, Bill Smitrovitch, G.W. Spradlin and scene stealer Charles S. Dutton as a verbose shoeshine dude who helps Depp out in a tight spot. It ain’t a be all end all thriller or anything super amazing but it fires up a good time for ninety minutes, plus Depp and Walken are pretty much watchable in anything. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man

Some action movies are so over the top they sort of become fantasy by accident, so overcharged, chromed up, packed to the brim with bar fights, motorbikes and sexy chicks that they seem to exist on a plane where only those things exist, like they sprung forth from a shared dream that Bon Jovi and Patrick Swayze from Roadhouse are having. Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man is one such movie and really deserves a legacy of more acclaim than its gotten. It’s a road movie, a biker flick, a high powered ultra violent action palooza, a buddy film and almost a satire of itself at times in its own earnestness.

It opens with Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive as Mickey Rourke’s impossibly cool Harley Davidson hops on his bike and heads up the coast to the city that raised him, intent on bringing hell with him. He reunites with his old buddy the Marlboro Man (Don Johnson) and together they set out save their pal’s bar from an aggressive Big Bank, until one wrong move starts a literal war with them and they’re forced to shoot, stab, bicker and banter their way out of close calls, near misses, hijackings and explosion after explosion. Rourke has publicly talked shit about this film and claims he only did it for the money but it’s his loss to not take credit because Harley is one of the most badass creations of his career. He’s a devil may care urban warrior with a slick outfit and even slicker one liners. Johnson goes scruffy as the sharpshooter of the pair, a rough hewn, world weary old school cowboy who can’t stand Harley’s impulsive decisions but keeps tagging along on the misadventures they cause. Tom Sizemore does his ice cool villain shtick awesomely here as Chance Wilder, the worlds most evil Banking CEO, calmly chewing scenery like a viper and deploying a bulletproof trench coat clad Daniel Baldwin to dispatch our two heroes. This thing is casted to the nines as well with supporting turns from Chelsea Field, Vanessa Williams, Giancarlo Esposito, Big John Studd, Kelly Hu and Tia Carrere as Sizemore’s slinky second in command.

They don’t really make films like this anymore, unless it’s a knowing, tongue in cheek throwback from someone who admires and misses the aesthetic. This thing is built of bourbon, beer, chrome, blood, bullets, sexy chicks, cigarettes and a whole lot of attitude, and I fucking love it to the bones. There’s countless iconic 80’s buddy pair-ups from Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy to Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and they all rock the house but I feel like Rourke and Johnson in this are not given enough love. Regardless of whether they just did it for the money or whether they got along on set (they didn’t, apparently), they have a macho chemistry and easygoing rapport that is both believable and irresistible. This one gets a bad rap and the reviews have never been kind, but fuck all that. It’s not meant to be taken so seriously and is the very definition of a fun flick, a raucous modern western full of stylized violence, barroom soundtrack picks and all round rough n’ tumble shenanigans. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes

It takes less than 88 Minutes into Jon Avnet’s aptly titled Al Pacino thriller vehicle to realize you’ve kind of waded into a mess, but the viciously bad reputation this one has is kind of overblown, at least for me. Yes it’s a big implausible house of mirrors but instead of mirrors there’s cliches and WTF plot turns, there’s absolutely way too many characters running about and the pace is all across the board, but I enjoyed it anyways, in a fun TV movie kind of way.

Pacino and his pacemaker play Jack Gramm, an FBI profiling guru who is forced to marathon run around Seattle (naturally Vancouver, cue eye roll) overturning stones, under which there may be murder suspects. There’s a nasty serial killer (the always awesome Neal McDonough) who is sitting on death row, days away from execution. He proclaims himself innocent and whaddya know, an hour or so after that some incredibly convenient copycat murders start happening, giving him the seeds of reprieve. It’s up to ol’ Al, his tough guy Bureau boss (William Forsythe, again always an awesome familiar face to see) and others to smoke out this co-conspiracy… or something like that.

Pacino is still trying to do the ladies man shtick here with a shock of grey hair and a leather coat hide, but if you ask me it never really worked for him anyways, at least not in the traditional sense. Take Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate for example, where he naturally plays The Devil. There’s a scary, untrustworthy glint in this actor’s eye that makes him most at home in arch villain and sort of renegade roles, but when he tries to play the straight arrow type thing, it feels off. He’s serviceable here though, doing a lot of running, shouting and gun waving and mugging for the camera like a curb-side mine. McDonough does most of his mugging from behind a newsroom camera as some network does a special on his last few days and he barks thinly veiled threats to the masses. Forsythe does his stalwart G-Man thing and the rest of the roster is actually pretty impressive and includes Benjamin Mackenzie, Amy Brenneman, Stephen Moyer, Alicia Witt, the great Deborah Kara Unger and eternally babyfaced Leelee Sobieski as one of Pacino’s students who, inexplicably, has the hots for him.

Speaking of all things inexplicable, the plot traffics in them like currency and by the end we wonder just how long the writers can manipulate these chess piece suspects around the board before we begin to call bullshit on this bonkers narrative. All silliness aside though I had fun with this one, it’s like Agatha Christie by way of Criminal Minds with so much extra gobbledygook thrown at the wall that I couldn’t help have fun despite not following the plot at any given minute. Give it a go on beer night.

-Nate Hill