Antoine Fuqua’s The Replacement Killers is one of the most stylish and visually synergistic action flicks ever made. It’s like John Woo meets John Wick, and seriously has some cool to it. Chow Yun Fat, that effortless, laid back badass, plays lethal hitman John Lee, who suffers a crisis of conscience at the worst professional crossroads. When Detective Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker adds to the noirish feel) kills the son of powerful Chinese crime boss Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang), he and his family are marked for death by the syndicate. Lee is employed to take out his young son, but holds back in the last moment, making a split second decision to defy Wei, take a rogue’s path and create a huge problem for everyone involved. Now, Wei has replacement killer after not only Lee, but Zedkov again and anyone unlucky enough to get in the way. Lee teams up with sexy identity forger Meg Coburn (love me some Mira Sorvino) and the two evade bullets, bombs and multiple murderous assassins all in the highest of style. Chow is the perfect action hero, with a mournful like ability and stoic streak that’s never too serious and always punctuated by his baleful sense of humour. Plus the guy can make bloody magic with two handguns in a career of epic stunt work that is almost as big a feat as that of the characters he plays. Sorvino also has a downbeat energy, adorable self deprecation and tough chick sarcasm that she masquerades with to hide the bruised girl beneath. They are a wonderful team, and I like that the film never outright forced any romance, but rather let the performances subtly suggest it via the absence in the script. Rooker holds up his end with endearing toughness, especially when forced to work alongside Lee and Meg to save their asses, a perfect character arc that he really sells.Jurgen Prochnow is deadly and devilish as Michael Kogan, the only German mercenary I know of that works for a Chinese crime syndicate lol. Danny Trejo and Til Schweiger are hilariously over the top as two silent monster assassins, leather clad death angels hired by Wei to hunt our heroes. The action really steps it up into comic book mode when they show up. Keep any eye out for Frank Medrano, Patrick Kilpatrick and a young Clifton Collins Jr as a street vato named ‘Loco’. Epic cast, unmatched visual style, an action gold mine.
Ah yes, the 90’s version of Judge Dredd, featuring a hopped up Sylvester Stallone as the titular comic book lawman. There is so much hate floating around for this flick that I feel like radios have picked up some of it right out of the air. There used to be a lot more loathing, but then the 2013 version graced our presence, and it was so good, so true to the source material and such a kick ass flick that the collective bad taste left the fan’s mouths, leaving this version somewhat forgotten and to many people, for good reason. But.. but… bear with me for just a moment, readers, and I’ll tell you why it’s not as bad as it’s utterly poopy reputation. Yes it’s silly, overblown, altogether ridiculous and Stallone takes off his helmet to yell about the law a lot. Basically pretty far from the source material and weird enough to raise eyebrows in many others, and prompt the torch and pitchfork routine from fans of the comic series. But it’s also a huge absurdist sci fi spectacle that will blow up your screen with its massive cast, opulent and decadent special effects and thundering, often incomprehensible plot. It’s in most ways the exact opposite of the 2013 version, all the fat that was trimmed off of that sleek, streamlined vehicle is left to dangle here, resulting in a chaotic mess that looks like a highway pileup between Blade Runner, Aliens and some Roger Corman abomination. But.. is it terribly unwatchable? Not in the least, or at least not to me. Like the highway pileup, it’s so off the rails that we can’t help but gawk in awe, and if we’re not some comic book fan who is already spiritually offended to the core by it, even enjoy that madness and lack of any rhyme or reason in it. Stallone uses his bulk to inhabit the character, and infuses a level of stagnant processed cheese to his dialogue that would be distracting if it weren’t for the electric blue contact lenses he sports the whole time, which look like traffic lights designed by Aqua Man. He’s embroiled in one convoluted mess of a plotline involving a former sibling (a hammy Armand Assante with the same weird eyes). Joan Chen and Diane Lane fill out the chick department, the former being some kind of cohort to Assante, and the latter a fellow judge alongside Dredd. Dredd has two superiors, the noble and righteous “” (Max Von Sydow in the closest thing he’ll ever make to a B-movie), and the treacherous Griffin (a seething, unbridled Jurgen Prochnow). The cast is stacked from top to bottom, including a rowdy turn from James Remar who sets the tone early on as a rebellious warlord who is set straight by Dredd. Rob Schneider has an odd habit of following Stallone around in films where his presence is wholly not needed (see Demolition Man as well), playing a weaselly little criminal who pops up whenever we’re off marveling at some other silly character, plot turn or risible costume choice. Scott Wilson also has an unbilled bit as Pa Angel, a desert dwelling cannibal patriarch, and when one views his scenery chomping cameo, although no doubt awesome, it’s easy to see why he had his name removed from the credits. The whole thing is a delightful disaster that shouldn’t prompt reactions of hate, at least from the more rational minded crowd. Yeah its not the best, or even all that good, but it’s worth a look just for the sake of morbid curiosity, and to see an entire filmmaking, acting and special effects team strive way too hard and throw everything into the mix, forgetting that less is more as they pull the ripcord of excess. Sure I’m generous, but I’d rather be puzzled and amused rather than bitter and cynical when a lot of work still went into this and me as an average joe has no right to bring down artists when my greatest life accomplishments so far are riding a bike with no hands while I have a beer in one and check my phone in the other. Such silliness is what we find in this movie, and I gotta say I was tickled by it.
Agatha Christie takes a trip to the Pacific Northwest in The Last Stop, a chilly little indie B movie in which we have the pleasure of watching Adam Beach and Rose McGowan try to smoke out a killer amidst a group of people stranded in a remote motel during a blinding snowstorm. A welcome setup for intrigue indeed, if you’re into cozying up to these actors for a tense little 90 minute guessing game packed with just the right amounts of cheesiness and tension. Beach plays a local Sheriff who is stuck at the establishment while its Proprietor (the great Jurgen Prochnow, refreshingly cast against type) struggles with a guest overload as the storm gathers steam. Beach’s old flame (the ever alluring McGowan) has resurfaced in his life with little explanation. There’s also an obnoxious hustler (Callum Keith Rennie) a sleazy would be cowboy (Winston Reckert) and other disconcerting weirdos lurking about. Some are red herrings, some simply filler for the narrative, and all are entertaining, whether intentionally or not. The plot meanders in snowy, typically nonsensical b-movie form until it pulls itself together for a very grounded finale that seems misplaced given what came before, but welcome all the same. McGowan could dub a Korean pop song and still be riveting, and it kills me she isn’t in more stuff, but she’s made it clear that acting was never her first love. Nevertheless she’s great as both the most mysterious and fascinating character. Shades of The Hateful Eight, Eye See You with Stallone, and many a snowbound mystery. Fun stuff.
Sinners And Saints is a very adeptly made New Orleans set cop thriller that pays homage to tough archetypes of yore such as Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry and Bad Boys. It’s far more serious and sinewy than those movies though, sucking the humour off its own bones and leaving a grim tale of one man ditching the force and going rogue in an attempt to hunt down some extremely bad people. Johnny Strong, a formidable, mscular guy, plays Detective Sean Riley, trying to sort through the post-Katrina chaos of the city whilst internally dealing with the loss of his wife and infant son. Strong is known for The Fast And The Furious as well as Black Hawk Down, quickly making it his calling card to play tough outsiders who get shit done with a fiery knack for not always playing by the rules. As it turns out, New Orleans is rife with psychopathic criminals up to no good, starting with evil mercenary Raymond Crowe (a badass, hateable Costas Mandylor), leading a crew of paramilitary scumbags into some very nefarious deeds. Riley discovers that his old army buddy Colin (the blonde half of the Boondock Saints, Sean Patrick Flanery, getting some nice, quiet moments of introspect before the firefights) is involved somehow, spurring him further into action. His commanding officer Trahan (Tom Berenger, stoically reminiscing about the youthful days in which he headlined flicks like these), worries that the path he’s headed down is too dark and similar to the men he is hunting. He’s paired with an unseasoned rookie (Kevin Philips), and an inevitable bond is forged in between and during bouts of gunfire. The action is wickedly staged, rising above the ineptitude that usually brands direct to video efforts like this. No, these filmmakers know exactly what they are doing and how to raise a pulse, demonstrating care and passion in creating their battle scenes. The cast is stacked high as can be as well. A boisterous Kim Coates has a fleeting scene to kick off the film. Resident baddie Jurgen Prochnow shows up a few times as malicious arch villain Mr. Rhykin, pulling strings which we are never fully privy to (I’ve heard rumblings about a sequel, hopefully with answers regarding his character). The other Mandylor brother Louis plays a bleach blond Australian mercenary and is beyond priceless. UFC legend Bas Rutten plays Dekker, a frightengingly nasty dude who proves a tough obstacle for Riley. Rapper Method Man even rears his head as a bad tempered, disfigured street thug who has his part to play in the whole cluster fuck. I watch countless direct to video action flicks that try their absolute adorable best to emulate the films they admire, often very lazily and without adding any new flavors. Can’t say that about this one. It fires up such a wicked, visceral punch while maintaining it’s own solid gold originality that it can scarcely even be called a B movie save for the fact that it wasn’t released theatrically. It’s pure, first class action, and demands a watch from anyone who says they’re a completist of the genre, before that claim can be validated.
David Lynch’s big screen prequel/sequel to his television phenomenon Twin Peaks departs from the shows light, kooky and benignly eccentric sensibilities. It starts at the more surreal, dark atmosphere which sometimes materialized in the show, especially in the last episode, and plunges headlong down a rabbit hole of sex, murder, mysteries, federal agents, parallel universes, psychological torment, otherworldly spirits, supernatural phenomena, incest, more cups of coffee (Im not even kidding, there’s a scene where a stressed out looking Harry Dean Stanton makes a ‘cup of good morning America’), and above all, Laura Palmer. The beautiful, mysterious homecoming queen we only saw as a corpse in the series comes to wild, screaming life in this film, and what a performance from the gifted Sheryl Lee. She perfectly captures the menace, hurt, confusion, hope, torment and wild desperation of Laura, in a towering, stunning performance. Ray Wise is equally magnificent as Leland Palmer. Angelo Badalamenti switches up the tone as well, letting the beautiful Laura theme and the classic Twin Peaks tones only play in limited, selective fashion. His theme for the film is a powerfully dark, otherworldly melody which lulls you right into the film’s deep velvet grasp and haunts you in ways you can’t describe. The angel of the Roadhouse, Julee Cruise, gets another tune to croon as well, and it might just be my favourite of the bunch. Laura tearfully looks on as Cruise intones ‘Questions In A World Of Blue’, a transfixing lament that seems to be meant for her alone. Lynch is a true master of the subtle touch, and you’d have to read many an online forum as well as watch the film and the show several times to pick up on all the hidden implications and shrouded ideas that aren’t readily presented to you in a traditional narrative. That inaccessibility and refusal to play by the rules by serving things straight up is difficult for many people to get their heads around. To me though it’s such a fascinating way to tell a story. He doesn’t necessarily leave everything open to interpretation, he just hides the answers in a bewitching blanket of surreality, subtlety and dream logic, challenging the viewer to think using the unconscious mind and intuition to feel your way through the story, as opposed to tallying up facts and plot turns to analytically arrive at your cinematic destination. Perhaps this is why he meticulously oversees many of the DVD releases for his films, leaving out scene selections and unnecessary bells and whistles. The story matters most to him, in singular, unbroken form, a segment of his soul encapsulated on film in one cohesive effort, like a dream caught unawares by the lens. Fire Walk With Me was unfairly bashed, booed and downright critically clobbered for its stark and outright changes from the shows lighter tones, as well as its leaving out of some of the more popular characters that fans loved. Although this is jarring, I feel like Lynch has distilled all the elements in the show that mattered the most to him, and woven a gorgeous, seductive tapestry of pure Twin Peaks ‘feel’ and spectacle, as a loving gift to the fans who truly get it and are open to the wilder ideas explored briefly in the show. The film expands greatly on the ominous Black Lodge, and it’s dwelling spirits, including the strange Tremonds, the one armed Mike, and the little red suited Man From Another Place. The killer demon Bob is very prevalent in this film, and if you thought he was scary in the show, well.. His scenes in this are downright soul shatteringly. Moira Kelly makes a softer, doe eyed version of Donna Hayward, which I quite liked. Miguel Ferrer returns as the cynical wise-ass Albert, Lynch as the hard of hearing FBI boss Gordon Cole, as well as Heather Graham, Grace Zabriskie, Eric DaRe, Madchen Amick, Peggy Lipton, etc. Newcomers to the Twin Peaks mythology are great as well, including Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland as more FBI agents investigating the case of Teresa Banks in Deer Meadow, Jurgen Prochnow as a trapped soul in the spirit world, and a confused looking David Bowie as an agent who has been mired in the time bending fog of the spirit world long enough to render him brain fried. It’s a love letter to the fans, really, but one that doesn’t compromise an inch and is every ounce a Lynch picture, capturing the director at his most creative adventurous. He strives to plumb the depths of human behaviour and the forces beyond our perceptions which govern and influence from other planes. Seeing these tricky themes explored so rawly in a film based upon a TV show that had heavy roots soap opera and an often lighthearted tone only garnished with the disturbing elements in the film can be hard to swallow, which is no doubt the reason for the sour reception upon release. The film has stood the test of time and aged wonderfully though, seen by many grateful, loving fans as a dark dream straight from the heart, and a perfect film. If one is willing to accept the changes in tone and ambiguous, challenging nature of Lynch’s storytelling (which I love!) then Fire Walk With Me is a sumptuous, gorgeous looking, vital piece of the Twin Peaks world, and in my mind Lynch’s masterpiece.
Buckle up and watch built badass Carl Weathers head down under to take on vicious Australian criminals in Hurricane Smith, a blast of saxophone laced, trashy 80’s cheese that hits every beloved cliche in perfect chiming key. Weathers is an valued staple to the action genre, a memorable part of Predator and of course his thundering turn as Apollo Creed in the Rocky films. Along with his obvious commanding physicality, he has a likeability that lends itself nicely when it comes to playing heroes out for retribution. His character got the nickname Hurricane after he pulled a friend out of a falling building during the titular meterological event, cementing him as a tough guy worthy of carrying a ninety minute action flick on his shoulders. Hurricane is off to Australia, in search of his sister who has recently gone missing. He stumbles right into the midst of a hornet’s nest of a criminal organization, led by Charlie O Dowd (Jurgen Prochnow), a stunningly evil pimp and drug runner. Prochnow loves to paint his villains in broad, garish strokes and he downright outdoes himself here, careening through a performance of wanton carnage and positively dripping malice. Hurricane is a massive thorn in his side, dismantling his operation in every attempt to learn what happened to his sister. He gets romantically involved with a kindly hooker (Cassandra Delany) leading to the obligatory 80’s slow dance sex scene that everyone waits for in these type of flicks. There’s bullets, car chases, an action scene on a helicopter and all kinds of trademark B movie lunacy. Weathers makes a damn good hero. Prochnow is one hell of a wicked villain. Fun stuff.