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.
Philip Noyce’s The Bone Collector augments it’s atmosphere in the obvious hopes of evoking memories of David Fincher’s Sev7n (It’s even got an actor who also appeared in that film) which for the most part it nicely does. Story wise, however, it’s got entirely it’s own thing going on and follows the ever popular path of the serial killer whodunit. In this almost audience interactive sub-genre, we are routinely presented with a host of different characters, some following archetype and others not so much. The identity of the killer could literally be anyone we see onscreen at any time, even down to a tiny character who maybe shows up in one small scene. Then it’s up to the viewer to race the protagonist towards a correct conclusion, a game which I’ve never been all that good at lol. This time it’s Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie who step up to the batters’s plate, hunting a very nasty individual who kidnaps people in locked taxi cabs and leaves them to die in various sadistic ways. Washington plays renowned criminal profiler and ex cop Lincoln Rhyme, left paralyzed from the neck down and bereft of any will to live following an accident. When his old cop buddy (Ed O Neil) shows up and pleads him to take a gander at the case files of the new killer, he reluctantly dusts off the old instincts and goes on the hunt. Problem is, he’s a turnip from the neck down and needs an avatar with whom he has a rapport with and can carry out the leg work, so to speak. He takes a shine to young patrol woman Amelia Donaghy (Jolie) who is showing early signs of the same forensic brilliance after she responds to the scene of one of the murders. She becomes an extension of him, and together they work to smoke out the killer and put a stop to his crimes, also bringing some kind of peace to Rhyme’s restless mind in the same stroke. They are hassled by the world’s most belligerent and obnoxious Police Captain (Michael Rooker in full on asshole mode) and helped by Rhyme’s kindly nurse assistant (a very good Queen Latifah). There’s also work from Bobby Cannavle, Leland Orser, Luis Guzman, Mike Mcglone and David Warshofsky too. Noyce is a solid and very slick director (he did wonderful work in the Jack Ryan franchise, as well as the very underrated The Saint), gamely shunting his aesthetic into the serial killer vs. Detective corner. It’s a decidedly grisly affair, despite the glossy sheen and big names, and almost veers into outright horror in places, but is always kept in line by the excellent chemistry and friendship between Jolie and Washington, who are both great on their own and as a team. Good stuff.
Stephen Sommers’s Deep Rising is some of the most fun you’ll have watching an overblown action horror spectacle, if that’s your type of thing. It plays the slimy underwater alien formula to the hilt, an epic and very funny gory swashbuckler that is sadly very underrated and not too talked about these days. It’s ridiculously watchable, insanely gory and punctuated by one liners and quips that work so well in the flippant context of the script. The story concerns a band of nasty sea pirates who plan to hijack the world’s largest ocean liner cruise ship, and all the riches onboard. They arrive to find the vessel empty of any passengers, and full of something they’ll wish they never came across. A massive and very icky underwater predator has eaten everyone onboard and now has turned its attention to the newcomers. They are picked off one by one in deliciously grotesque kills that show director Sommers in his little seen R rated mode. Treat Williams is a hoot as John Finnegan, a sort of cross between Indiana Jones and Bruce Campbell, a soldier of fortune and adventurer with a vernacular chock full of wiseass quotes and idioms that tickle the funny bone no end. He’s got a sidekick named Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O Connor slays it) and a girlfriend named Trillian St. James (isn’t that the best name ever?) played by Famke Janssen in a fierce, sexy and capable turn as the chick with the gun that everyone loves. The trio make the film dizzyingly entertaining and you find yourself wishing you could hang out with them longer once it’s over. There’s a snivelling villain played by the always smarmy Anthony Heald, and the ragtag group of pirates are brought to life by distinct personalities such as Jason Flemyng, Cliff Curtis, Clifton Powell, Djimon Hounsou and the great Wes Studi. Sommers is a seriously underrated director. He spins loving odes to the adventure films of Old Hollywood with passion, wonder and the spark of imagination in spades. And what does he get? Critically and commercially spat on, time and time again, with some of his films not even getting a proper release (don’t get me started on the masterpiece that is Odd Thomas). Hollywood and the masses don’t deserve him and his toiling, thankless work, and yet he soldiers on. What a guy, and what a stellar filmmaker. This ones a testament, a rollicking, bloody piece of creature feature bliss that never fails to knock my socks right the hell off.
Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder is a completely awesome little horror flick that has gathered copious amounts of dust since it’s mid 90’s release. Forgotten and forsaken, it should have spawned an epic frachise in the vein of stuff like Wishmaster, but oh well, we’ve still got the original beloved entry. Now, just exactly how much of what we see in the film is based on actual Bram Stoker work is up for debate and a little beyond the scant research that I have done, but it’s a tidy little concept that’s executed with B-movie earnestness and a love for the spooky corner of cinema. The plot concerns a priest named Father Vassey, played by genre titan Michael Rooker. Vassey is probing the rural Midwestern belt of the US looking for an ancient demon that’s something like a shapeshifter who deeds on both darkness and human souls, which resembles a cloud of dust reflected through hundreds of chrystal prisms, from what i remember. He’s not your garden variety preacher, sporting two laser sighted semi automatic handguns which come handy in tight shadowy corners, and the jaded will to kick some supernatural ass, not so much in the name of the Lord (he doesn’t believe in god anymore) but more for a dark and personal crusade against the Shadowbuilder. The demon hovers around a young boy, hungering for a soul within that has the potential to both become a saint and also open a doorway to hell in one stroke. Vassey is a determind and resourceful badass, relying on nearby townsfolk for help and support, and Rooker sells the schlocky tone with remarkable gravity that is his trademark. He almost always plays extreme characters in tense narratives and keeps up the energy like clockwork. There’s a hilarious turn from a dread lock adorned Tony Todd (Candyman) as Evert Covey, a backwoods eccentric with a penchent for rastafarian speech and a part to play in the drama once we realize he isn’t there solely for comic relief. This one is hard to find and almost no one has seen it, but I’m hoping my review will change that, because it’s it’s a little treasure and a fantasy horror classic for me.
Walter Hill’s Streets Of Fire is just too good to be true, and yet it exists. It’s like the type of dream concept for a movie that you and your coolest friend think up after a bunch of beers and wish you had the time, money and resources to make yourself. It’s just cool right down to the bone, a beautiful little opus of 1950’s style gang trouble set to a so-good-it-hurts rock n’ roll soundtrack devised by the legendary Ry Cooper, Hill’s go to music maestro. It’s so 80’s it’s bursting at the seams with the stylistic notes of that decade, and both Hill and the actors stitch up those seams with all the soda jerk, greaser yowls and musical mania of the 50’s. Anyone reading up to this point who isn’t salivating right now and logging onto amazon to order a copy, well there’s just no hope for you. I only say that because for sooommeee reason upon release this one was a financial and critical dud, floundering at the box office and erasing any hope for the sequels which Hill had planned to do. I guess some people just aren’t cool enough to get it (can you tell I’m bitter? Lol). Anywho, there’s nothing quite like it and it deserves a dig up, Blu Ray transfer and many a revisit. In a nocturnal, neon flared part of a nameless town that looks a little like New York, the streets are humming with excitement as everyone prepares for the nightly musical extravaganza. Darling songstress Ellen Aim (young Diane Lane♡♡) is about to belt out an epic rock ballad in a warehouse dance hall for droves of screaming fans. There’s one fan who has plans to do more than just watch, though. Evil biker gang leader Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe, looking like Satan crossed with Richard Ramirez) kidnaps her as the last notes of her song drift away, his gang terrorizes the streets and disappears off into the night with poor Ellen as their prisoner. The locals need a hero to go up against Raven and rescue Ellen, and so estranged badass Tom Cody (Michael Paré) is called back to town after leaving years before. He’s a strong and silent hotshot who takes no shit from no one, and is soon on the rampage to Raven’s part of town. He’s got two buddies as well: two fisted, beer guzzling brawler chick McCoy (Amy Madigan), and sniveling event planner Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). That’s as much plot as you get and it’s all you need, a delightful dime store yarn with shades of The Outsiders and a soundtrack that will have your jaw drop two floors down. The two songs which Ellen sings are heart thumping legends. ‘Nowhere Fast’ gives us a huge glam-rock welcome into the story, and ‘Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young’ ushers us out with a monumental bang before the credits roll, and damn if Hill doesn’t know how to stage the two songs with rousing and much welcomed auditory excess that’ll have you humming for days. Paré is great as the brooding hero, and you won’t find too many solid roles like this in his career. He’s a guy who somewhat strayed off the path into questionable waters (he’s in like every Uwe Boll movie) but he pops up now and again I’m some cool stuff, like his scene stealing cameo in The Lincoln Lawyer. Dafoe clocks in right on time for his shift at the creepshow factory, giving Raven a glowering, makeup frosted grimace that’s purely vampiric and altogether unnerving. Him and Paré are great in their street side sledgehammer smackdown in the last act. Bottom line, this is one for the books and it still saddens me how unfavorably it was received… like what were they thinking? A gem in Hill’s career, and a solid pulse punding rock opera fable. Oh, and watch for both an obnoxious turn from Bill Paxton and a bizarre cameo from a homeless looking Ed Begley Jr.
GoldenEye is the very finest hour that Pierce Brosnan had as James Bond, both as a film and in terms of what he gets to do as the character. It’s my third favourite Bond film of all time and stands as one of the most exciting ventures the series has seen to this day. It definitely falls into a campy style, but one that’s removed from that of the original Bond films from way back when, one that’s all its own and decidedly 90’s. It’s also got one of the strongest and classiest villains of the series, a man who is in fact an ex agent himself which was a neat switch up. Brosnan is so photogenic it’s ridiculous, whether dolled up in the tux or careening through a valley in a fighter jet. He just looks so damn good as Bond, and I sometimes wish he’d gotten a fifth crack at the character. Here we join up with 007 on a mission gone wrong, where he is ambushed and his partner Agent Alec Trevelyan a.k.a. 006 (Sean Bean) is killed, or so he thinks. 006 is in fact alive and well, with a few gnarly facial scars and a new nasty attitude. He puts Bond through a wringer with a diabolical scheme to hijack a Russian nuclear space weapon and do all kinds of lovely things with it. Bond teams up with the survivor of a decimated Russian research centre, a beautiful scientist named Natalya (Isabella Scorupco) who inevitably ends up in his bed. It’s slick, it’s stylish, it’s sexy and everything a Bond flick needs to be. 006 has a dangerous asset in Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a lethal assassin whose weapon of choice are her thighs which she employs with the crushing power of two Amazonian pythons. Janssen plays the role with ferocious relish and the kind of enthusiasm that hadn’t been seen in a Bond villainess since Barbara Carrera in Never Say Never Again. Bean plays it ice cold, letting restraint and calculated malice steal the scenes as opposed to flagrant mustache twirling. I always thought he would have made a cracking good 007 as he has so much residual danger to his vibe from playing many heartless bastards in his career, but perhaps in another life. One of my favourite characters to ever hang out in a Bond flick shows up here, a cranky but lovable russian general named Valentin Zukofsky, played by the awesome Robbie Coltrane, an actor who really, really needs to be in more stuff. His few short scenes are the stuff that makes a piece timeless, and I wish we’d gotten to see more Valentin and more Hagrid elsewhere in the franchise. There’s the usual suspects like Judi Dench as M and Desmond Llewellyn as a crusty Q, and a host of other actors including Joe Don Baker, Tchecky Karyo, Minnie Driver and the irritating Alan Cumming who singlehandedly ruins scenes with his hammy preening. The film thunders along with furious energy and nicely paced action sequences, including a chaotic tank chase through the streets of Moscow and a stunner of a climax set atop a giant satellite dish. As Bond films go, you can never go wrong with this one.
The Taken series has been done to death, memed out to glory and mined for market value a million times over since the first film came out way back in 2008, which has somewhat dimmed the charm of that original vehicle, at least for some of us. Like, how many times can Liam Neeson or his relatives be Taken before even they as characters realize that it couldn’t be happening and that they’re in a movie? Eventually the material unwittingly spoofs it’s origin in its need to repeat itself time and again. That’s not to say the first isn’t enjoyable on it’s own, in fact it’s quite the streamlined little dose of adrenaline that essentially coasts on some great pacing, neat choreography and the endlessly watchable Liam Neeson, whose career took a shot of nitrous to the heart after gamely stepping into the well worn shoes of the grizzled action hero. This was him nimbly ducking through the genre boundaries that his career was in up til that point, and the action thing fit him like a glove. The film is at its best when it follows Bryan Mills (Neeson) in action, which thankfully is most of the time. Mills is an ex CIA spook with some tactics that will seriously put a hurtin’ on you if you cross him in any way. A gaggle of moronic Bosnian human traffickers come under the receiving end of these tactics when they kidnap his vacationing daughter (Maggie Grace, looking suspiciously like she’s a decade older than her character is supposed to be) from Paris and auctioning her off to rich raghead perverts. This propels him into like an hour of non stop energetic ass kicking that is so fun to watch, as he shoots, stabs, sprains and splatters his way through hordes of eastern European cannon fodder, with not a second to spare for even the utterance of a any cheesy one liners. He’s assisted via Bluetooth by his three ex agency barbecue buddies (Jon Gries, Leland Orser and David Warshofsky) and has a few encounters with his jaded ex wife (Famke Janssen). And that’s about it, but Neeson sells the bare minimum as far as the genre goes with his effortless cool and stony, formidable stature that springs into startlingly spry motion every time he has to dispatch a new troupe of Slavic wise guys. If only they didn’t have to desecrate this little piece of lightning in a bottle with two sequels that dampen the momentum with cheap attempts at thrills, I may still feel strongly about this one as I did when it first came out. Hopefully they quit while they’re ahead, shirk the slimy dollar signs and let their first outing age in peace.