The Liam Neeson ice road trucking movie might not top any 2021 charts (including mine) and is admittedly an outlandishly hectic thriller but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy every tension soaked, amped up minute of it. Neeson plays a down on his luck trucker with a special needs brother (Marcus Thomas) who is recruited by a powerful trucking boss (Laurence Fishburne) for a near suicide mission: deliver excavation parts to a remote Winnipeg mining quarry where a handful of workers have been trapped underground following a tunnel collapse. This involves navigating miles of ruthless ice road terrain with giant 18-wheel semis and someone who is trying to sabotage their mission with brutal corporate espionage at the behest of the corrupt mining company underboss (Matt McCoy). The stakes are high, the ice is thin and the sensationalism runs thick with this one; it’s not just a trucking survival thriller although those elements are handled well, it also incorporates elements of classic Neeson action fare too as their crew does battle with an almost invincible company assassin (Benjamin Walker) trying to bring them down. Neeson is reliably gritty and even displays some vulnerability while Fishburne, although sadly underused, goes by the porn-star name of ‘Jim Goldenrod’ here which alone hilariously makes up for his lack of screen time. Others make nice impressions including Amber Midthunder as a badass indigenous trucking prodigy who moonlights as a fierce activist and the always awesome Holt McCallany as the foreman of the trapped workers. The film is hectic as all hell, over-plotted and packed with incident, in addition to the hair raising ice trucking episodes we also get gunplay, snowmobile chases, surprisingly effective dramatic heft, hand to hand combat, a dynamite fuelled avalanche and the film even somehow finds time to throw in some social commentary on veterans with PTSD, the opioid crisis and stolen native land. It’s a LOT, but it somehow kind of works in a big jumble of plot, action and incident that while definitely too cluttered, could never be accused of not being anything but 100% ambitious from stem to stern.
Just Cause, a sweaty 90’s Sean Connery potboiler, is one of those films that could have had its ducks in a line to be somewhat believable and entertaining but the script is a weird one and the execution of said script.. well to say it goes off the rails would be putting it mildly. Connery plays a hotshot professor who was once a legendary lawyer, lured back into the muck of the legal system by an elderly woman (the great Ruby Dee) whose son (Blair Underwood) has been sitting on death row for eight years for the rape and murder of a little girl. She’s convinced he’s innocent, and begs him to investigate the case, and so he journeys to the sweaty Florida Everglades to nose around. Laurence Fishburne plays the dodgy local sheriff who put the boy away on a brutally coerced confession and doesn’t take kindly to anyone trying to dig old secrets up or overturn convictions. Soon information turns up related to another inmate on the row, a serial murderer played by Ed Harris in such a try-hard, faux intense, maniacally cartoonish performance you have to feel for the guy. Here’s the thing: this film doesn’t work for two glaring reasons. Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with a humdinger of a twist ending, but you have to be honest with your audience and play at their level, not deliberately hide shit, manipulate and mislead us into thinking one thing, then just do a fucking unabashed 180 degree turn and expect us to accept it. The twist is ludicrous, especially when you look back at the editing, composition and overall thrust of the first half of the film. Secondly, the film builds a careful series of events to mount tension and at the last minute decides it wants to be an action movie, throws all story and credibility to the dogs and blares rudely on for an obnoxious, balls out, car chase ridden finale it it doesn’t earn, need or warrant in any way. Connery is kind of bland here, just a stalwart archetype following the breadcrumb trail dutifully. A supporting cast of very talented folks like Chris Sarandon, Kate Capshaw, Ned Beatty, Chris Murray, Kevin McCarthy, Hope Lange and an unrecognizable Scarlett Johannsson are all squandered in underwritten bit parts. Fishburne is the only one who makes a valid and lasting impression, doing his best with the writing as he always does and putting menace, mirth and actual gravitas into his work. Don’t know what else to say, this thing just sucked.
Los Angeles and New York City get a sordid, hard boiled pair of rogue cop stories in True Crime: Streets Of LA and True Crime: NYC, two badass, star studded, knockout crime games that demonstrate these days how they really don’t make em’ like they used to. I’d review these two separately but they’re a pretty intrinsic pair that feel like sibling stories despite being made and released two years apart.
In Streets Of LA you play as volatile renegade LAPD detective Nick Kang (Russell Wong having an utter blast with the dialogue) who is suspended from the force under shady circumstances and goes severely rogue with an unofficial vigilante unit to stop a corrupt plot against the city perpetrated by Russian mob, triads and others. This ones cool because it’s a choose your own adventure game where the outcome and chain of events is different depending on what choices you make Nick pick. There’s endless shootouts, brutal chase sequences across the LA highway overpass and vicious hand to hand combat too. Christopher Walken narrates the whole thing in Greek chorus mode as wisened ex-cop George and voiceovers are also provided by Ron Perlman as a Russian hood, Mako and James Hong as Triad bosses, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez, CCH Pounder and Gary Oldman as a both a dodgy federal agent and a psycho Russian boss.
Over in New York City you’re Detective Marcus Reed (Avery Kidd Waddell), an ex gangster who chose the law over the ways of his crime kingpin father Isiah (Laurence Fishburne basically reprises his kingpin role from Assault On Precinct 13) and is mentored on the streets by tough veteran Sergeant Terence Higgins (Mickey Rourke) until he’s murdered under mysterious circumstances. Marcus now has to shoot his way past criminals and cops alike as he smokes out a deep web of corruption and avenges those he lost while leaving a path of bodies behind him. There’s work from Esai Morales as his precinct captain, Traci Lords, Lester ‘Beetlejuice’ Green and more. Walken is in this again in full bonkers mode as a Fed who can’t stop getting sidetracked by anecdotal monologues about his life long enough to brief Marcus and provides much comic relief.
These two games have a terrifically gritty late 90’s street feel, the actors add a lot, the gameplay is violent and profane to the maximum and while LA is bright, energetic and hyperactive, NYC is dark, austere and bleak and they feel like two sides of the same unlawful coin. Great stuff.
It’s crazy times we’re living in because of this Coronavirus, and I hope everyone out there is staying safe, taking necessary precautions and keeping a level head about the pandemic. I also hope you all are finding time amidst the chaos to take care of yourselves, have a beer, cuddle your pets, chill with loved ones and do things that make you happy. I myself am continuing the blogging train to stay sane and this week it’s time to take a look at my top ten favourite films about viruses, yay! Not to be deliberately morbid but it does seem appropriate given our situation and there are some really excellent films out there that deal with outbreaks, from procedural dramas to schlocky horror to fascinating science fiction. Enjoy my picks!
10. Robert Kurtzman’s The Rage
I had to include at least one low budget gore fest on this list because it’s an incredibly formative arena in the genre for me. Legendary FX guru Kurtzman makes hilariously scrappy work in telling of a batshit insane evil Russian scientist (the great Andrew Divoff having a blast) who releases a horrific rage virus into human tests subjects. When they get loose and vultures feed on them the vultures go ape shit and become nasty mutants that go after everyone and it’s all a deliriously violent bit of B horror mayhem. Can’t go wrong with mutant vulture puppets done with knowingly crude effects and a whole lot of choppy editing commotion.
9. Breck Eisner’s The Crazies
This one is interesting because the deadly virus isn’t your typical flesh eating zombie kind but rather infects the population of a small county with mental instability and eventual madness. There’s something so unnerving about the afflicted’s behaviour here and the incredibly suspenseful efforts of one sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) to keep the insanity under control.
8. Neil Marshall’s Doomsday
It’s unfair to call this film simply a virus themed horror flick, as there’s just so much going on. It’s part Escape From New York, part Tomb Raider, part Mad Max like several films collided into each other at top speed and yes, there’s a nasty killer virus here too that wiped out most of Britain’s population. Malcolm McDowell’s scientist turned medieval despot puts it best when he observes: “A virus doesn’t choose a time or place. It doesn’t hate or even care. It just happens.” Astute analysis of such an event.
7. Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever
The gross-out factor is to the extreme and the dark humour dial turned up to the max in this ooey gooey tale about a group of vacationing friends who encounter a horrendous flesh eating virus at their rural getaway. Man there are some wince-out-loud moments here, just watch what it does to a girl shaving her legs, as well as the shocked reaction of one dude who goes to finger bang his girl and comes up with a handful of… well, her I guess. Also that running joke regarding the redneck convenience store owner and the rifle above his counter? Fucking top tier comedy gold right there. Avoid the remake, Roth’s original vision is the real deal.
6. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later
I’m trying not to make this list too zombie-centric because it somehow feels like cheating but one slot gets designated and it has to be these two superb films. There’s a ferocity, an overwhelming intensity to those infected by this virus that makes both films feel thrillingly alive, dangerously immediate and gives them a cutthroat edge. Oh and I guess I cheated already anyways by putting two films in one spot but I’m one of the rare people who finds Weeks just as amazing as Days so they get to share the pedestal. Robert Carlyle going full Jack Torrence on bath salts man, can’t beat that aesthetic.
5. The Farrelly Brothers’ Osmosis Jones
This is such an underrated flick and if I ever do a top ten list on films that combine live action with animation it’ll make that cut too. Bill Murray is a slobbish zookeeper who contracts a wicked nasty virus played by… Laurence Fishburne lol. Half the film takes place inside his body where a rogue cop white blood cell (Chris Rock) races to stop the fiendish strain before it gets to all the major organs and it’s game over. The animation is slick, uniquely styled and the film just hums along with cool ideas, colourful imagery and terrific voiceover work.
4. Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil
This film has quite the virus, it doesn’t just stop short of turning people into zombies but mutates than into all kinds of giant horrific monsters for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to fight. I think these films are great, particularly this super stylish, sexy first entry that’s got enough blood, psychotic Dobermans, gunfire and security system gadgetry to bring the house down.
3. Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak
While this one does take the big budget Hollywood approach to the virus motif, it’s still a smart, scary and incredibly suspenseful piece, and holy damn the virus here is one monster. “It’s the scariest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen” says Dustin Hoffman’s virologist guru, and he’s not fucking kidding. It has a kill timetable of 24 hours, which are almost insurmountable odds but these people try their best and provide one hell of an engaging film.
2. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion
This one, while still a Hollywood release, takes the clinical and detached route. Despite being heavily casted with big time A list talent the real star of the show here is the virus itself and it’s ruthless journey from Hong Kong to the states and beyond. Soderbergh employs crisp, precise editing and a sonic jolt of a score from Cliff Martinez to keep this thing moving along at the same scary pace as the pandemic it chronicles.
1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys
This one made the top spot on my time travel movie list too and does the same here, it’s just an all timer for me. We don’t even really see the virus here that wiped out most of humanity or it’s effects, most of the film takes place either just before or long after it’s released. But we get a sense of it, in the desolate snowy streets Bruce Willis walks through in a Mr. Freeze looking quarantine suit, filled with spectral roaming animals turned loose from a zoo. We feel the maniacal nature of the insane doomsday prophet (David Morse) who released it too.
Talk about laidback and low key. I knew by the trailers that Clint Eastwood’s The Mule wasn’t going to be an outright thriller or anything intense despite the subject matter but I really appreciated how wistful, elegiac and at ease with itself this film was. Eastwood is knocking at 90’s door and is still spry as a sprite, once again taking both acting and directing duties in the story of Earl Stone, an elderly horticulturalist turned drug mule for the Mexican cartel. Earl is an egocentric social butterfly who could never seem to find time for his family or put them before his needs. His wife (Dianne Wiest) resents him, his daughter (Alison Eastwood) full on abhors him for missing her wedding. Only his granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga keeps getting more fantastic with each new role) holds out hope and still welcomes him with open arms. He’s all but broke when his garden centre is foreclosed upon, until a chance meeting puts him in touch with underworld operatives and before he knows it he’s ferrying lump sums of narcotics across the states for very dangerous people. This character fascinated me because even when he gets this extremely lucrative opportunity that allows him to partly buy his way back into his family’s life, he doesn’t understand or ignores the fact that if they knew where he got all this money from he’d be more in the doghouse with them than when he started off. This is essentially a story about a guy who never took responsibility, who never took life seriously enough to have a proper legacy until he gets an eleventh hour chance to do so. There’s a workaholic DEA agent played excellently by Bradley Cooper and they share a few chance encounters that capture the essence of this story nicely. They’re two men on opposite ends of the law and very different places in their life who are nonetheless able to share a few moments, enlighten each other’s perspectives and be all the wiser because of it. I loved this story because it ably showed how even in one’s twilight years when one is *still* making mistakes, it’s not too late to reconcile or turn it all around. Great film.
Russell Mulcahy’s period stabilization, tour de force of film-making sees its time-honored source material come alive on the big screen…just as it exists on the panels on which it was born. Mulcahy’s Shadow predates the meticulous period recreations and universe building of the modern era with its use of substance, flair, atmosphere and gorgeous little winks to the audience – or as it is more commonly known – fan service…
What makes a comic book film truly saw, is the fact that they shepherded by master visualists, such as my honored guest. Russell’s fluid use of camera, lighting and mood-enhancing trip the light fantastic; working like the perfect partner in a duet with a phenomenal cast lead by Alec ‘in all his glory’ Baldwin, the breathlessly breathtaking Penelope Ann Miller and the most delightfully awesome assortment of some the finest character-actors ever to grace the silver screen such as, James Hong, Sir Ian McKellen and the sweetest transvestite of them all…the grand Tim Curry…
The sun is shining and the days are getting sweatier (here in the great southern land, at least), but we pause and are luxuriously seduced away on the musical carpet of Jerry Goldsmith, into a fantasy panel on a comic page crafted out of artistry and light. What evil lurks in the heart of men, come find out with your mate, my mate, our mate and legendary director Russell Mulcahy….
Among all the razzle dazzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my favourite series going right now has to be Ant Man. There’s something so relatable about the underdog superhero who’s just a regular guy with a criminal record and a daughter to raise and isn’t some alien from way out there or a snarky billionaire. I love all the quantum realm elements, the trippy SciFi surrealism reminds me of 80’s stuff like Joe Dante or Spielberg and the large/small scale action sequences are hilarious, played up even more in Ant Man & The Wasp, a sequel that blasts further into new ideas, develops the characters more and has a lot more fun than the already brilliant first outing, or at least I did anyways. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is under house arrest for two years after an unauthorized trip to Germany, which provides both obstacles and a running joke when Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need him to wear the Ant Man suit once again and help them find Pym’s missing wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who got herself stuck in the Quantum Realm decades before. Pretty much everyone is back for the ride again, including Scott’s merry band of thieves (TI, Michael Pena and David Dastmalchian), his ex wife (Judy Greer) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale) as well as others. I loved this film because nowhere in it is there a sense of menace or an edge, usually something I embrace in superhero movies, but I was looking for something light, feel-good and benign. Even the antagonists are on the easygoing side; Laurence Fishburne is a salty old colleague of Pym’s, Walton Goggins plays his black market tech dealer with that frivolous southern charm and even Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who’s in a perpetual state of (wait for it) ‘molecular disequilibrium’, is just a damaged girl trying to make things right. We won’t speak of the jarring mid credits sequence that now has me demanding an Ant Man 3, which better happen soon. These first two and particularly this one are pleasant, gung-ho SciFi comedies that make the most of terrific visual effects, Rudd’s natural charisma and a retro feel. Something about Douglas and Pfeiffer flying around in Ant suits together and blasting through the quantum realm just has me missing the same sort of films they used to star in in their heyday. This is a throwback to that sort of thing, and I love it to bits.
A father/daughter courtroom drama starring Gene Hackman sounds like a recipe for something glossy, showboating and melodramatic, but Michael Apted’s Class Action gives us a mature, emotionally potent and very character driven film that one wouldn’t expect from the slightly sensationalistic trailers. Hackman is a San Francisco attorney who takes on the prosecution of an auto manufacturing giant with a line of suspicious exploding cars. Opposite him as defence for the corporation? His own daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), with whom he has a rocky history with. He’s a philandering hard ass who was never pleased with her and she blames him for the dissent in her family from his womanizing ways years before. The case itself serves as framework for for the very real, raw interpersonal drama that unfolds between them, and their relationship feels grounded and truthful. The key scene is them together in the kitchen cooking; idle small talk leads to harshly flung accusations, emotions are laid bare and by the time the argument reaches a screaming fever pitch, both are quaking with rage, self reflection and sad regret. It’s a powerful scene of performance from both actors, and you’ll scarce breathe for the duration. Hackman is fire and brimstone as per usual, but there’s also a wounded aspect I’ve never seen in him before, something brought out by Mastrantonio who is spectacular in her calmly devastating turn. The late Donald Moffat is great as her steely firm boss, a man governed by fierce logic who has no qualms in casually covering up key evidence. Fred Dalton Thompson is nicely slimy as the reprehensible auto CEO whose soulless disregard for human life is unsettling, Jan Rubes steals his scenes as a loopy ex engineer with ties to the auto giant and Laurence Fishburne (during his ‘Larry’ days) quietly plays Hackman’s firm partner and family friend. I wouldn’t have probably ever known about this film if I hadn’t have come across it in a thrift store, and I’m glad I did. Forgotten these days it seems, it’s now one of my favourite courtroom pieces out there, for letting the characters tell this story, for making it personal and for flowing through the beats organically. The stately San Francisco architecture and melodic score by James Horner give it a personality as well, but Hackman and Mastrantonio rule the roost and probably give their career bests. Highly recommended.
I like to call it Robert Rodriguez’s Predators despite the fact that he only has a producer’s credit, but his influence is all over it, plus the presence of Danny Trejo. This is one solid flick though, and definitely holds up against the first two films. The premise could even be said is more innovative than before, because as with any sequel or update, the story must evolve and break new ground, a feat they’ve outdone themselves with here. The Predators have taken it upon themselves to kidnap the roughest, toughest individuals of the human race and set them loose on a giant planet designed to be a game preserve, and have their fun. Adrien Brody does tense vulnerability to a T as a special ops badass, joined by an Israeli soldier (Alice Braga), a Russian spetznaz operative (Oleg Taktarov), an ex cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a psychotic maximum security inmate (Walton Goggins), an African rebel (Mahershala Ali), a disgraced Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and… Topher Grace, whose involvement gradually becomes clearer. They’re forced to band together against a squadron of specialized hunters who pursue them, complete with the vicious wildlife native to this planet. It’s incredibly cinematic, brutally entertaining stuff, and the actors give it their all, including Laurence Fishburne as a crazy dude who’s been alone on this world a few too many years. Standout scenes include the chilling moment these poor folks reach the crest of a hill, spot two giant suns in the alien sky and realize they’re not in Kansas anymore, as well as a knockout showdown between the Yakuza and a giant predator that eerily mirrors Sonny Landham’s Billy making a final stand in the original film. Atmospheric, well casted, acted and shot, a solid action horror funhouse that lives up to the Predator legacy.
It’s funny how the fates play their hand. Not long before I hand completed the interviews for this piece, I found I had been gifted the opportunity to interview Phillip Noyce, who happens to have directed BLIND FURY – a film that was both the inspiration behind and the film that came to mind when I first heard about Blindsided: The Game. And what a film! Walter is a seemingly unassuming guy who likes his peace and serenity – and his warm apple pie. His daily life, to the voyeur, would appear idyllic – that is until he decides to visit his local convenience store at the wrong time. A gang of stand-over men are looking for payment on a debt owed by the proprietor, and Walter’s friend. You know something is rotten in Denmark, and Walter looks as though he is the kinda guy to let sleeping dogs lie. No way! Like Josey Wales before him, Walter is the man, the hero who’ll always double back for a friend. That’s when the ACTION begins….
You might find yourself, as I did, waiting for something to happen. When Walter reveals his secret however, you’ll marvel and the grace, fluidity and devastating ability that the film’s hero has been keeping under his hat. The ensuing war which Walter wages with the movie’s antagonists is fierce – with a satisfying resolution.
I think the only thing I wasn’t happy about after watching Blindsided is that it ended – ’cause I, for one, wanted more. So it was an honor and a privilege to sit down with the filmmakers behind this veritable dynamo – this indie action gem waiting in the wings.
Blindsided: The Game pays homage to classic action films like Zatoichi and Blind Fury not only in its protagonist Walter, a blind swordsman, but also in that the film places heavy emphasis on storytelling combined with great action. This is no surprise with Clayton J. Barber in the director’s seat, who comes with over 20 years of experience as a stunt coordinator in Hollywood. Leading man Eric Jacobus plays Walter, a lovable cook who’s an expert gambler and swordsman. The character is the amalgamation of Jacobus’s 18-year career as a comedic action performer in the indie film arena. Director Clayton J. Barber is pushing the boundaries of modern action entertainment by bridging Hollywood with the indie action film world.
Barber notes that, “Eric Jacobus came from the indie action film realm. He was like a punk rocker of the action genre using raw film-making. We’re bridging these worlds together to create a totally new kind of action experience.” Jacobus echoes Barber’s sentiments: “Indie action guys have all the tools they need to showcase their skills, but the element of storytelling still has to be there. Clayton’s that storyteller who knows action. This is our Le Samurai.”
Barber and Jacobus aren’t the only stuntmen involved in Blindsided: The Game. The film features an ensemble of action stars and stunt performers both behind and in front of the camera. Roger Yuan, a veteran action star featured in action films such as Shanghai Noon and this year’s Accident Man, who plays the shopkeeper Gordon, also choreographed one of the film’s major fight scenes. Producer David William No (Altered Carbon from Netflix, and Matrix Reloaded) acts as a knife-wielding card shark and goes toe to toe with Jacobus in the climax. Veteran stunt performer Joe Bucaro (xXx, Iron Man) plays the ruthless gang leader Sal, Nicholas Verdi (Close Range, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) plays Nico and acted as director of photography, and Sal’s enforcer is played by Luke LaFontaine (Savage Dog, Master and Commander) who also served as the sword fight coordinator.
Production company, JB Productions, is dedicated to delivering strong storytelling and first-rate action, created by people who truly understand action. Barber says, “This is a new approach to action film-making. Blindsided: The Game is the perfect collaboration for us, and we hired great stunt performers to play the lead roles and even work behind the camera with us because we wanted to work with folks who knew action. That’s the brand people are buying into, and we’re always looking to build that brand by collaborating with talent both in America and overseas.” Jacobus and Barber previously collaborated on the hit short films Rope A Dope and Rope A Dope 2: Revenge of the Martial Arts Mafia. Blindsided: The Game is an expansion of the 2017 short film Blindsided, which was the first title under the Jacobus / Barber (JB) Productions banner. Blindsided was released to much acclaim, with fans craving a conclusion to the story. Blindsided: The Game replays the entirety of the original Blindsided and carries the story to completion, capping the film off at the length of a TV pilot.
Jacobus and Barber are confident that Blindsided: The Game will fulfil fans’ desires for a complete film. Blindsided: The Game will be free to stream on YouTube NOW!