Tag Archives: action

Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank 2: High Voltage

If you took Grand Theft Auto, The Looney Toons, bath salts, nitroglycerin, raw adrenaline, a bucket of piss, a spoonful of vinegar and a few ounces of C4 and chucked them all in a blender, you’d have something almost as utterly fucked as Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank 2: High Voltage, a sequel that leaves the first film somewhat in the dust, and if you’ve seen their initial Crank effort, you can imagine what a sheer feat that is. Cheerfully racist, unapologetically sexist, hedonistic in heaps and fully committed to being as mean, sleazy and batshit as movies can get, it turns an action movie into something truly out there. Jason Statham is the invincible Chev Chelios, a contract killer who gets put through the wringer when pretty much the entire organized crime faction in Los Angeles decides they want him dead. In the first film it was adrenaline that kept him going and here it’s electricity. Saddled with a weird synthetic heart, he’s on a mad roadrunner odyssey to get his original ticker back from legions of gangsters who want to sell it on the black market or transplant into the body of a weird old goat of a Triad boss called Poon Dong, played by David ‘do anything for a paycheque’ Carradine. Statham is a trooper, getting every part of his body fully zapped by all kinds of dangerous objects, engaging in shameless public sex once again with his spunky girlfriend (Amy Smart), this time in the middle of a horse racetrack. Explaining the plot is pointless because things just sort of… happen, in their own madcap way and it’s really hard to keep up with the kind of deranged marathon this thing runs. A frenzied strip club owner (the late Corey Haim) a thoroughly psychotic Asian hooker (Bai Ling), Chev’s ever loyal off-the-books Doctor (Dwight Yoakam) and all manner of punks, freaks, mafiosos and maladjusted urban monsters make appearances. Clifton Collins Jr. is equal parts terrifying and hilarious as El Huron, a flamboyant Cholo boss hellbent on killing Chev, but not before a few sadistic sideshow games first. The real heroes here are Neveldine and Taylor, two hyperkinetic ringmasters who aren’t afraid to get absolutely mental in their filmmaking process, injecting every bit of madness, mayhem and debauchery they can stuff into the script. Strippers getting shot in the tits and leaking silicone everywhere, a Mexican vato slicing off parts of a Chinese rival gang member and gleefully saying “check it out.. sushi!”, a severed head kept alive in a fish tank and a Godzilla inspired animated interlude are all but a taste of the bizarre pitstops this film makes on its hyper-violent, coked out flight path towards breaking the sound barrier. It’s either your thing or it isn’t, I mean I wouldn’t show it to my grandparents, it’d be a monumental exercise in tolerance for anyone with views that verge on conservatism. But fuck if it ain’t impressive for just for how far past the stratosphere it goes though, it’s like the first Crank film fell asleep, had a fever dream about itself and then this thing was birthed from that vision out of the death of a neutron star, mid explosion. I’ll stop because I’m running out of adjectives for ‘crazy’.

-Nate Hill

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John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 expands nicely on a mythology that we caught a glimpse of from behind the shadowy curtain of assassin’s anthropology in the first film, a fantastic meld of stylish world building and hyper violent, stunts driven action that saw Keanu Reeves come blasting back onto the big screen in probably the best role so far of his career. Chapter 2 has one big challenge to face though: the first one was driven by the fact that those fuckers killed his dog, and the man’s subsequent bloodlust over it. That was the crux, the catalyst, the reason we cheered so loudly each time he maimed or mauled someone. Now, I don’t need an excuse like that to watch an antihero slaughter people, but some might, and the dog thing just propelled him forward faster and furious…er. What’s the catalyst here? Well, they destroy his house. Not quite the emotional kick in the nuts you get from seeing a beagle murdered, but it seems to be enough to light Wick’s fuse again, so there you go. He’s faced with a figure from his past here, some fruitcake of an Italian mobster (Ricardo Scamarcio) who wants him to come out of retirement and kill his powerful sister (Claudia Geroni) to ensure his seat at a revered council table of international crime figures. It’s basically John Wick’s Eurotrip, as he treks across the pond to kill more goons and thoroughly destroy more night clubs and other such convenient set pieces than you can shake a stick at, before returning back to New York for an ultra-violent third act. John Leguizamo, the always awesome Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan and David Patrick Kelly all reprise their wicked cool roles, whilst Common, Ruby Rose, Peter Serafinowicz and Franco Nero create new characters that flesh out this fascinating world of killer’s mythology even further. The film is special though for two important reunions for Reeves that give wonderful callbacks to earlier in his career: the prologue sees Wick ferociously reclaim his stolen car from Abram Tasarov (Peter Stormare) the more gregarious brother of Viggo, villain from the first film. Reeves and Stormare played Constantine and Lucifer in the underrated 2005 comic book adaptation, where they faced off with just as much menace and charisma we see in their little bit here. It’s also a reunion for Neo and Morpheus, because Laurence Fishburne shows up as the godlike Bowery King, a rooftop dwelling, pigeon keeping derelict who runs a vast crime syndicate that all disguise themselves as dishevelled hobos. It’s wonderful references like these that pack the pedigree with solid gold and moments to remember, not to mention it’s just a worthy sequel, a slam bang screamer of an action flick and a great time all round. Bring on Chapter 3, and I request an Al Pacino villain turn so we can get nostalgic for The Devil’s Advocate all over again.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Gunmen

Gunmen is one of those sleazy, inconsequential pieces of shizz you’ll find on TBS Superstation (I’m aware that channel’s shelf life expired over a decade ago) at like 2am, full of guns, tits, dust, sweat, double crossing and whatnot. It’s a fun one because sometimes I’ll bring it up in conversation and say “the one where Patrick Stewart is in a wheelchair” and people will be like “yeah, X Men”, and I’ll say “no the other one” with a straight face and watch how confused they look. Heh. It’s a Mario Van Peebles flick, an actor I could never get that excited about, but it’s also a Christopher Lambert flick too, a guy I’ve always inexplicably loved, like a scrappy lost puppy that just won’t go away. I don’t remember the plot so don’t even ask, I’ll just spark-note it in bullet points: guns. DEA. South America. Violence. Incomprehensible storyline. Shootouts. More guns. One thing that was cool was Denis Leary as a psychotic arms dealer, gunning down a ten year old girl’s parents in cold blood and than calmly reassuring her, “trust me kid, you’re better off without them.” Yeesh. He plays Armour O’Malley, lieutenant to drug baron Patrick Stewart, which leads to predictable bad blood, and so it goes. Peebles and Lambert are a DEA agent and a weirdo smuggler on the run from all the crazy dudes I just mentioned above. It’s trash though, and as I type I’m recalling a scene where Lambert is ploughing a chick in some whorehouse and she begs for more, but he sweatily laments in that horrendous accent of his, “there is no more!!”… Then two seconds later Peebles busts in and kidnaps him at gunpoint. You know your flick has abandoned plot for cheap thrills and gotten so stuck in B movie quicksand that not even AAA can snag you out when that happens. That’s about all I remember, I was way too stoned to soak in all the cheaply rendered exploitive excess when I watched it way back when, I wish you the best of luck though!!

-Nate Hill

“I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of … feel kind of invincible.” : An Interview with W.D. Richter by Kent Hill

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To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!

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And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.

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I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.

So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.

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In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.

Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.

While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.

 

KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?

WDR: First I wanted a paper route.  Then I wanted to run a circus.  Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher.  Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?”  But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there.  Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.

I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties.  In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE.  They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.

KH: How did you break in to the business?

WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent.  I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra.  That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it.  Presto!  I was a produced screenwriter.

KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula, Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?

WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential.  You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from.  That came later.

KH: You are a part of two of my favourite films of all time with Banzai and BTILC. How do you feel as an artist to be remembered for singular works rather than your entire body of creativity?

WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”.  After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.

KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’s Q & A whose guests were Weller and Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?

WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him.  As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.

KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?

WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say.  It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc.  So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig.  The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center.  The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there.  Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed.  John and Kurt settled on that themselves.

You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”

Turns out I did write it.  I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.

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KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?

WDR: Definitely.  I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.

KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.

WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience.  Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion.  Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.

KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?

WDR: The “writing” never really stopped.  I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director.  But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time.  It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.

KH: I also love Needful Things. What was it like to adapt King?

WDR: Crazy.  The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose.  My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page.  I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages.  So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact.  I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.

KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?

WDR: Write.  Write.  Write.  But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers.  Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?

KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.

WDR: Thank you, Kent. Take care.

The Substitute

1996‘s The Substitute thought of arming schoolteachers with guns a few decades before the thought crossed Trump’s mind, thank you very much, and in movie-land at least it was somewhat successful. Of course, Tom Berenger is the teacher in question here, and he also happens to be a highly trained mercenary who’s just trying to protect his teacher girlfriend (Heat’s Diane Venora) from a raging band of psychotic cholo gangbangers led by Marc Anthony, of all people. It’s a silly premise given all the cheesy bells and whistles the 90’s had to offer, and could almost be considered a cult classic these days. Berenger’s Shale leads a colourful team of badasses including Raymond ‘Tuco’ Cruz (wearing a manbun before it was cool), Richard Brooks, Luis Guzman and volatile William Forsythe, back from a botched mission in Cuba and ready for the next one in urban high school territory. A few forged papers later, he’s a legitimized teacher who steps in for Venora and discreetly investigates who’s responsible for viciously attacking her and running drugs through the school. Not so discreet is the multitude of high powered shootouts that he finds himself in, eventually backed up by his men. I know this is an action film but so frequent are the bullet ridden dust ups that they kind of drown out some of the attempted social satire in deafening commotion. I enjoyed Ernie Hudson’s high school principal who moonlights as a nasty arch villain running the drug syndicate (of course it’s the principal) and Glenn Plummer’s heroic but short lived teacher who’s on Shale’s side of the moral compass. Marc Anthony has always been an incredible actor (see Man On Fire and Bringing Out The Dead) whose talents behind the camera exceed those in the recording studio, and he makes a wicked little street-shit scumbag here. A little less gunplay and a bit more pithy dialogue and tongue in cheek locking horns would have suited this one. Otherwise, it’s a neat little picture. I can’t speak for the sequels that find Treat Williams stepping in for Berenger, but who knows. Oh wow, I just googled it and there’s *three* more sequels with Williams. Not since Michael Gross in Tremors has an actor hijacked a franchise out of the original star’s hands.

-Nate Hill

THE ‘SHOWDOWN’ TRIPLE FEATURE by Kent Hill

This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .

Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.

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These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly,  died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.

The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.

For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky (The man on the rise), Matthias Hues (The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman (the veteran screenwriter).

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Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.

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Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

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Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.

 

 

 

Lee Tamahori’s Die Another Day

People rag on Lee Tamahori’s 007 effort Die Another Day quite a bit, but.. I really dig it. Look, the James Bond films were always meant to have a silly flair and air of camp to them, dating back to the original 1960’s spy romps with Connery and stretching forth to the cheesy 90’s entries starring Pierce Brosnan, who for my money is the second best Bond, following Daniel Craig’s gritty metamorphosis. Brosnan’s stint as Bond is the most whacked out the franchise has ever gotten, and this one is arguably the craziest of the four, but it’s a way unfairly panned. It’s got gadgets, exotic settings, two sexy Bond babes, a hilariously over the top bad guy, and enough cartoonish action scenes to fuel two movies. What more do you want? Well, obviously people wanted a more grounded, realistic take or the Craig films would never have been green-lit, but that’s besides the point. Every incarnation of 007, from the silliest to the most down to earth, has the right to frolic in a franchise with enough wiggle room for over two dozen entries, so let them have their fun. Brosnan has some picturesque arctic adventures here, and I love when Bond gets to go play in the snow. There’s a North Korean radical (Rick Yune) with a meteor shower of real diamonds embedded in his face, so how’s that for a villain. Halle Berry smokes it up as one of the hottest Bond vixens to date, Jinx Johnson, the image of her emerging from the water in a bikini now burned into the minds and bedsheets of countless viewers who saw this before the dawn of internet porn and broke the rewind button on their remote. Rosamund Pike is the other, an ice queen named Miranda Frost, whose surname accents her initial attitude towards 007 nicely. Judi Dench and John Cleese return as M and Q, at the height of their dry and droll mannerisms. There’s a cool new character played by Michael Madsen too, some CIA bigwig called Damian Falco, who I imagine we would have seen a lot more of had the Brosnan universe continued, which sadly was not to be. Anywho, the reason I picked this one to review today is because it was the most ridiculed 007 film I could think of in the canon, an area that always fascinates me in any franchise. Sure, it’s a laugh in places and so far over the top it soars above the satellite used by the villain to threaten the planet below. But people should really take a step back and examine the art their bandwagon jeers are pointed at, and look for the positives. Visually, this is probably one of, if not the most good looking 007 film ever, thanks to the sweeping Icelandic locations captured by cinematographer David Tattersall. The sight of Brosnan wind surfing down the face of a glacier that’s being melted by a giant space laser beam from aforementioned satellite is inspired, and taken to a whole new level because the guy does all that *in his fucking tuxedo*. Re-read the previous sentence and try and tell me that’s not one of the coolest Bond scenarios you’ve ever pictured. It looks even better in film than it does on paper, too. Give this one another shot, because it’s not even close to being the weakest of the bunch, and I try and discourage such witch hunts in any franchise to begin with. The films are all there to enjoy, so why not leave the negativity fuelled nitpicking stowed in your suitcase and do just that. Die Another Day is a blast.

-Nate Hill