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Kung-Fu masters with heavy metal hair kick each others’ bodies apart while the Ol’ Dirty Bastard raps about running game. This is the first five minutes of the RZA’s heavily anticipated directorial debut, and it is exactly what we were hoping for. The action is frenetic, and bloody as hell, and the music, while sliding toward the more traditional as the film goes on, completes it to create a satisfying whole. The hip-hop/martial arts aesthetic has never been better, and The Man with the Iron Fists is not only an essential piece of that legacy, it’s self-aware and exciting niche entertainment.

A decently complex but well-designed story structure is held together by running commentary of the Blacksmith (RZA), who feels at once out of place, with his modern locution, and spiritually engaged. We move from character to character under this guide, learning who the players are and how every piece fits into place in anticipation of the final showdown. The plot builds toward what promises to be an explosive ending, telling of a shipment of gold that’s headed through the violent Jungle Village, where seven deadly clans have gathered to wage war. Infighting in the Lion Clan has put a warmonger on top, a goofball psychopath named Silver Lion (Byron Mann) who seeks to claim the gold.

He stays in Lady Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) hotel, the same place where later a mysterious gunfighter, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), will establish his lethal presence. Meanwhile, Zen-Yi (Rick Yune) is told of his father’s death at Silver Lion’s hands, and treks back to Jungle Village to avenge him and take the clan back. Predicting this course of action, Silver Lion dispatches his chief assassin, Brass Body (Dave Bautista), to deal with it.

Everyone needs a weapon, and so they all turn to the Blacksmith, who only wants to leave with his woman, a Blossom Prostitute known as Lady Silk (Jamie Chung). There are many characters here and a lot of recognizable names. As a co-screenwriter, the RZA manages to balance all of them equally, allowing for even minor characters like the Gemini Killers (Andrew Li and Grace Huang) ample screentime for badassery. There are also some key cameos, though apparently I missed Eli Roth’s. Watch for that one, I guess.

With RZA as a director, this does in a few ways feel like a debut film. The camera isn’t always confident or well-placed (though a few shots are downright beautiful), but the action is great — hyperviolent, flamboyantly bloody, and visually stimulating. There’s a rhythm to it that I assume a rap producer must have a feel for — the speeding up and slowing down for crucial moments and amplification of impacts is second nature to someone who not only lives and breathes musical timing, but has gorged himself on a lifetime of martial arts cinema to know well what works and what doesn’t.

And the story is perfectly structured for this premise. It’s an action movie, so there’s no muddling of the action with boring mythology or cliché and boring characters as in the last live-action Hollywood Chinese martial arts movie — The Forbidden Kingdom. Though this lacks the star power of that movie, it has a cast that not only looks great in their crazy costumes, but provides energetic or appropriately brooding performances. A particular standout is Byron Mann, whose Silver Lion enjoys what he does just a bit too much.

Though the RZA as an actor seems to take a backseat to the others, he shows his stuff in the moments he provides for himself, playing the Blacksmith with a subdued rage and mystical spirit that comes through in those sad, sad eyes. His voiceovers are just so damn entertaining, and his physical performance is believable in its own, fantastical logic.

On the writing side, there is a lot of dialogue that works, but is somewhat ‘dropped’ by awkward shot choices. There’s a moment early on where one of Silver Lion’s cronies agrees with a fellow soldier in that very obvious, bandwagon way, and the Silver Lion begins to call him on it, which feels like the setup to a punchline that never comes — there’s never a reaction shot of the dude, or really any change in frame at all from Silver Lion. It’s the small things like these that will eventually have you wondering abour later moments, like when the female Gemini notes that the Blossom cook’s beef is spicy, and he responds, “Oh goooood,” rather strangely but seemingly deliberately. Why include that moment at all?

Complaints are small and those are all of them. The Man with the Iron Fists is a hugely entertaining action movie with memorable characters and a plot that builds and intrigues, rather than complicates and alienates. Tarantino provides an introduction and trailer for Django Unchained before the RZA’s movie starts, and the Jamie Foxx-led ‘southern’ looks damn good, but the bar’s been officially raised for balls-out, exploitative, genre-literate violence.

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A man like Neil Marshall makes Doomsday because he thought a futuristic soldier facing down a knight would be cool. A man like Neil Marshall makes two critically acclaimed horror movies and then obliterates expectations with his third.

A man like Neil Marshall is one the last great champions of genre cinema.

Though he’s in a league with Edgar Wright and Robert Rodriguez — the modern day John Carpenters of our world — he fell down with Doomsday, such that his next film, Centurion, went seemingly unnoticed, leaving his future in uncertain terms. It’s hard to believe, really, because the philosophy behind Doomsday was so genuine, though some might say naive. He wanted to make a movie so absurd you’d be compelled to laugh, but also find yourself enjoying some of the best R-rated sci-fi action in years — nobody makes movies quite like this anymore.

Dog Soldiers

I don’t think this is technically his feature debut, but it’s a strong start for a career nonetheless. Making use of minimalist settings and a creepy atmosphere, Marshall managed to make one of the few cool werewolf movies in existence. And certainly the last, though I’m sure a few movies made in direct answer to Twilight will challenge Dog Soldiers.

As one critic put it so well, this is like Alien, Predator, and Jaws all rolled up into one — but with werewolves. It feels derivative, but in that good way. It’s familiarity done with enough style and care that it feels fresh. There’s some gore, some ooh-rah soldier stuff, way too much foreshadowing, and a lame twist at the end. A formula for success, often necessary with such formulaic subject matter.

Right, there’s a lot of dog and wolf jokes/puns at the start of the movie. It feels like a beginner’s screenplay in that regard, but it isn’t quite enough to push it over the edge, into absurdity. Leave that for the one after next…

The Descent

I don’t care for this movie. It’s drawn out and the monsters are not scary or that well-designed. Visually, that is. In other regards, there’s implied history to them, and it’s pretty creepy, but I actually prefer the nonsense lizards from The Cave, or whatever the fuck. The Descent was white-knuckling in its first half, with these women being claustrophobic in caves, and getting stuck and running high tension. I can’t imagine a better place to set a horror movie. Cave-diving is not escapism, James Cameron.

The flaws of this movie, like the aloof narrative and out-of-the-blue moments could at the time be excused, or even appreciated, as horror movie unpredictableness, but the next movie would paint them in a new light.

Doomsday

When Doomsday was announced and the trailer was released, people whined. They said, “It’s 28 Days Later meets Mad Max meets Escape from New York.” Now, I don’t know what fucking planet these people live on, because no way does the combination of Mad Max and Escape from New York equal anything but Yeah. Was it just the derivative nature of the project that got people so frazzled? Perhaps it was an insult to their intelligence, because they perceived the movie to think it was being original, on the grounds that, well, most movies tend to do that. But of course the rip-offs were so glaring that it seemed to taunt the audience.

Doomsday, rather, the reaction to Doomsday, is proof that we live in a cynical movie-watching world. As soon as one watches the film, they’ll realize that the director was not only paying homage to these earlier movies, but having a complete blast with them. It’s the same principle, but on a much different level, as what Peter Jackson did with King Kong. Marshall wanted to introduce this genre to a wider audience, though he may not realize just how inventive the film actually is.

Yes, it uses the structure of Escape from New York as a base, but that’s fine because just like how Waterworld is a perfect Mad Max 3, this is a great sequel to Escape from L.A., following in the same conventions that that film set up — that being, this premise of crazy people clustered together is going to breed some batshit insane obstacles for the hero to meet. This post-apocalypse movie isn’t just about zombies or cannibals or viruses — Rhona Mitra’s character Maj. Eden Sinclair (awesome name) is going to fight medieval knights in an arena and get into car chases with barbarians who tape their beheaded girlfriends to one piece so they can drive together.

Doomsday in this regard recalls Total Recall, another gory 80s movie that didn’t come out in the 1980s. And much like Total Recall, Doomsday in its day was not well understood. There’s a joy in novelty and invention in Doomsday, and a lot of these scenarios and things are born out of sources we’ve all enjoyed, but kicked up to a new extreme. It’s not only one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade, but one of the goriest and most fun action movies too. This rabbit will be blown up by sentry turrets for — well, for absolutely no reason.

Marshall also introduces two things here that carry over into his next picture: a strong female character, and an impressive ability to have the audience invest in characters they know nothing about. For the latter, we have these two soldiers who survive by Sinclair’s side longer than they have any right to. I assumed they’d die at every encounter, because truly this is her show, and these guys have no characterization. What they do have, and this was seen in Dog Soldiers, is solid chemistry. Despite the carnage and the macabre setting, these two have a laugh as they take out cannibals with axes, and by goofing around — and even just surviving up to a late point — I didn’t want to see them die. For an action movie, this is a preferable, on-the-fly alternative to actual characterization. Good on you, Neil.

Then of course we have the tough girl, played by the woman who looks like a tough girl despite the beauty — Rhona Mitra. While she may not be as compelling to watch as the next female character to be discussed, Maj. Eden Sinclair is one cool chick, with a fake eye and a knack for killing gladiators. She’s a badass, but she’s a believable badass. Not only does Rhona Mitra look like an athletically capable woman (rather than Milly from Hard Revenge Milly, to use a recent example, who looks like a pretty normal person you’d see walking around), she isn’t the action hero god that trounces everyone. She gets beat up and tossed around, and this puts her on an equal playing field with the villains.

Last post I lamented the fact that Milly wasn’t the action hero god. That’s because I want a movie like hers to be a slasher flick, but with Doomsday, it’s more appropriate that Sinclair is a realistic badass. It heightens her moments of victory, and adds tension to hand-to-hand fight scenes with spears in swords… in the future.

Doomsday will keep you guessing, and Neil Marshall leaves you in good hands with Eden Sinclair, who’s got the tacit nature of her most obvious inspiration — Snake Plissken — with an all-soldier, no fucking around attitude that’s pretty rare, even for dude action heroes. It’s confidence without the one-liners, and the badassery to back it up.

Neil Marshall is also ballsy enough to take an unbelievably beautiful South African stunt woman and paint her face beyond recognition, and then behead her… and then reattach the head in vain. I am so ashamed that I skipped this movie when it came out in theatres. It’s right up there with Slither and so many others…

Centurion

Doomsday was a sci-fi movie that wanted to be a sword-and-sandals movie, so let’s just make a sword-and-sandals movie. While this one lacks the wacky nature and imagination of its predecessor, it has the same level of bloodshed and action. If you’re in town for a straightforward, bruising actioner, Marshall is your man. Centurion stars Michael Fassbender and Jimmy McNulty himself as soldiers of the Ninth Legion, which went missing during the expansion into Pict territory. This is that story, though historical accuracy is not something we come to a movie like this for.

We come because we know it’s going to be a ride, one with plenty of blood and running around in beautiful Scotland scenery. There’s also a lovely Olga Kurylenko all done up to look like a barbarian, whose Etain is savage as hell but still manages to look sexy. Indeed she is the greatest draw, and plays a great part in the film. Centurion, despite the violence and overall intensity (“I AM A SOLDIER OF ROME! I WILL NOT YAAYLD!”), borders on generic, and requires that iconic image of deadly Etain with her facepaint to stand out.

There was a moment in Centurion where I felt the story could’ve capitalized on the L.L. Cool J mentality from Deep Blue Sea, that of having two stories interwoven, where one is basically irrelevant and all the better for it, but the two soldier who get separated don’t have much screentime as such, and leads to an anti-climax within the narrative. I really thought that dude was gonna kill those wolves and make it back, which would’ve made no sense and been more Marshallian.

There’s kid killing and CG blood explosions — that which we adore from Doomsday, but none of the same elements that make you say ‘wow’ and sit up, save for a particularly nasty eye-trauma. Good, but not great. Memorable certainly for Etain, a performance that’s subtely animal, though we get the feeling that a great deal is blasting through that bloodthirsty brain of hers, maybe even some humanity.

Conclusion

Neil Marshall is a complicated thing. We’re not used to filmmakers who make movies because that’s their interest, and they want to make movies. Odd as it is to say. He’s not interested in the business or in making money, but having fun, which produces some of the most unpredictable and lively entertainment in movies today. Whatever his next movie will be, I can’t guess at subject matter, certainly, I can only hope that it arrives soon.

Bloody Battle is 10% more futuristic than its predecessor, as measured in the new style fancied in the gangsters of the day — gas masks. The two movies take place in a familiar post-apocalypse, one where it’s likely that down under Master Blaster upholds his power in Barter Town, though Japan has a more cyberpunk feel (if Versus can be said to have a horror movie feel, for example). The war-torn buildings and desolate interiors offer an appropriately impressionistic environment for our formidable heroine Milly, though they also offer the audience’s best guess that Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle is after all, a budgeted affair.

Though a larger world is implied, much of the story unfolds in parking garages and non-descript warehouses, with the occasionally dressed-up set peppered in for world-building’s sake. Fortunately, by the endgame this actually registers as insignificant, because the action these environments house is a specific flavor of stylized ultraviolence, one with flying kung-fu, cool poses, and wacky weapons that inflict impressive spectacle when unleashed on smug, gas-mask-clad do-wrongers.

The action in the film is one end of the Hard Revenge Milly equation that’s so frustrating. The premise of this sequel doesn’t stray far from the original’s plot, certainly not for the purposes of puzzling out what’s so problematic in an otherwise highly entertaining gore-fest. Milly, after massacring the gang that brutally murdered her husband and set her baby on fire, while at the same time tearing her body apart with knives and forcing her to watch, finds herself hunted by friends of the gang — as we learn from the hardly comparable Chan Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, revenge is a cyclical, spiralling affair.

At the same time, Milly is approached by a young woman whose lover was killed, and seeks training for vengeance of her own. It may not sound like much, but keep in mind that the original movie was 45 minutes long, and this one still isn’t quite average feature length, clocking in at 74 minutes.

So what’s the trouble with Hard Revenge Milly?

The opening fight scene embodies a rare and beautiful ideology in action movie filmmaking, where the action hero is depicted as a slasher villain in how he/she dispatches foes. The only contemporary example that springs to mind is the critically discarded Punisher: War Zone, a film that sees Frank Castle slaughtering villains as if they were zombies — heads explode, bodies explode; the carnage is front and center, and there’s a gleeful joy in the application of a crazed badass to the action.

When this badass is essentially the Terminator, the entertainment is in the creativity of the hero killing slimy villains rather than the drama of ‘will the hero prevail?’ since there would clearly never be a question (there never is a question, regardless of what action movie you’re watching, but let’s not parade on the dreams of the Len Wisemans and the McGs of the world*). Punisher: War Zone succeeds where the 2004 Punisher fails (for one) in the villain department, because there’s a nemesis cold war going on — Frank Castle might be crazy, but Jigsaw and Looney Bin Jim are batshit. John Travolta? Not very threatening and surely no threat to Thomas Jane, which deflates the drama of ‘will the hero prevail?’

War Zone goes above and beyond, then, where Castle has gangsters to kill like a regular Jason, but with more RPGs, and these guys are no threat, but also a villainous element that provides any measure of suspense. Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle, as well as its predecessor, have the same pretty Japanese pop-singer dude who happens to be a badass.

It’s odd, because while the end fight of the original is much longer than any other fight scene in the movie, it’s less entertaining because the guy offers a sizable opposition, and this is not what we were being driven toward with Milly tearing through people earlier. What makes this guy special? His kung-fu seems to be pretty good but he looks like everyone else and isn’t characterized appropriately in this regard. The sequel does a little better by having the villain be a cyborg, but any cyber-fuelled cool factor is negated by his villainy stemming purely from his sexual deviance — aka homosexuality. That’s great, guys.

This may sound like a lot of talk for something pretty unimportant, but the in-the-moment result is that Milly gets thrown around a lot by these lame villains where she should be trouncing everyone, save for something actually impressive. Anything other than yet another gangster dude. Like the Bride, Lady Snowblood, or Lady Vengeance, Milly gets her gender-equality fair share of the action movie beating, but to me it doesn’t make a lot of sense given the premise of what these movies are. This might sound like sexism, and it probably is, but this time, I honestly just don’t give a fuck. I don’t want to see a woman nicknamed Hard Revenge Milly getting her arm chopped off and defeated, only to win with further cyborg upgrades further down the road.

Not to mention that Milly technically falls into that more recently popular category of kick-ass females, here dubbed the Dragon Tattoo category, where only rape or violence against the heroine can incite bloody rebirth. That’s not a big deal here, because not only is Milly’s origin story so absurd, the movies are extremely obviously not meant to be taken very seriously.

I mean, look — when Milly cuts some dude’s body with her elbow sword, their high blood pressure sprays in an initially hesitant fountain in the grand tradition of Chinese and I think Japanese cinema. It’s great, silly fun, but it is metered a bit by Milly’s qualified badassery. That said, Bloody Battle is an improvement over an already entertaining original, one that reaches for eleven on the novelty dial in the fight scenes: we never know what her metal body’s gonna drum up next to slice and dice her foe, or what lethal new form this familiar weapon will take, but we know it’s gonna be bloody as hell. Meanwhile the action is intense and fantastical, remaining compelling through the whole of the two films with the promise that they’ll end in brutal, comedic splatter.

This movie is also interesting for its essence as a sequel. This is an instance where the follow-up deconstructs the original, showing the aftermath of the events in the first movie and the effects they have on the heroine. She isn’t just a killing machine, she’s a killing machine with no sense of control and a lost past that she can’t even be sure of. In a peculiar moment, Milly questions her memories in a spot of dialogue lifted straight from Ghost in the Shell. The self-deprecating doctor character plays Batou here, swatting down her Shirowesque cyber-Descartes existential quandaries much in the way the audience might.

Philosophical questions about revenge are paid equal lip service, but it amounts more to an intriguing setup to a theoretical third installment than an actually compelling discussion. Milly might be cursed by her vengeful journey, which infects others and only begets violence and death, but we’d rather see her kick some ass than mope around like the Major.

Or get her ass kicked by the villains, for God’s sake. Somebody needs to give this director, Takanori Tsujimoto, a bigger budget and put the lead, Miki Mizuno, in more action movies — they make a great team.

 

*Because I like Len Wiseman for some reason and I really enjoyed Terminator Salvation for some reason

Total Recall is pornography.

I’m ashamed of myself — I was railing against the Total Recall remake in the days before its release, though mostly in jest, saying things like “It was Arnold, not Philip K. Dick, who made Total Recall great” and other words of wisdom in a similar vein. I wanted to see Total Recall for reasons a product of hard cynicism — ranging from “I wonder what an Arnold movie is like without Arnold” to “I refuse to see Batman Begins 3*”, but didn’t include “I’m going to enjoy this.” Why wouldn’t I enjoy this? Despite the director’s not sterling resume, and the bland, depressing source (remake of an adaptation of an uncinematic short story), this movie is a complete joy, an absolute gem.

Total Recall 2012 benefits and suffers from its modernity. Gone are the more outlandish elements, like vagina-faced mutants and ancient aliens, and with those things the rapid-fire pace of imagination that elevates the original, which is reduced somewhat, though a significant residual fleshes out the world. And what a world — there is a broad and intimate attention to detail in a cityscape that takes turns being as big, beautiful, and absurd as the green and vertical city from Vanquish and the best Blade Runner mean streets since the original, beating out strong contenders for the throne like Natural City.

Granted, this reeks of ‘Christ, why even bother,’ much in the way of Natural City, and it’s true — Total Recall makes Minority Report seem more important than it is for crafting a Phildickian utopia that isn’t flooded by rain and defended by not umbrellas but neon parasols. It’d be a real issue if the city wasn’t so busy, so energetic, serving as a satisfying and dazzling backdrop for action that’s more intense and entertaining than expected in a PG-13 movie. It’s good action, not splatterfest action like the original. They’re both good, but in different ways. Nobody’s getting used as body shields, but I think Kate Beckinsale just punched Colin Farrell in the face with her vagina.

There’s zero-gravity, futuristic gadgets, and some very cool-looking robots thrown into the mix. It’s a streamlined art direction that offers a more focused, cyberpunk look than the original at the price of a playful, more unpredictable quality (like Inception vs. Paprika). Bill Nighy plays the resistance leader, but rather than being a mutant on the stomach of some other dude, he forgets where he is and assumes it’s The Matrix Reloaded, saying things like “Memories are constructs of the Mayan-dah,” and then looking up and winking at the Architect, who’s of course always watching.

The characters are pale shadows of their former selves (with one alarming exception), as there’s nothing visually interesting about them, and the serious attitude of the film keeps dialogue on the straight. I never realized how much of a non-character Quaid was until someone un-Schwarzenegger played him — he’s a blank slate searching for his identity, which is a compelling premise for a character, though better yet a short story, but doesn’t make for a particularly charming or memorable hero. He’s good at killing people, and that’s what counts, along with the generally strong performances — Bryan Cranston will never play a goof again, you can count on it.

When the fight is done and the hero and heroine look in each other’s eyes, it hit me what a hollow experience this movie was, favoring the ideas over any character development or drama, and not expounding on those ideas as expertly as the author, or introducing any new concepts. But then I thought back and remembered how much I actually enjoyed Kate Beckinsale’s character going around doing stuff. It’s sad that Richter and Sharon Stone’s characters have been combined into one, such that Ironside never gets his arms chopped off by an elevator, and nobody gets pierced through the skull with divorce, but Beckinsale plays one awesomely ass-kicking lady, a villain who isn’t sympathetic or interesting, but is extremely fun to watch. She runs hard after Quaid, and her physical performance heightens the action. And obviously, she looks good doing it all.

But this amounts to little more than pure guilt — guilty pleasure of the highest order. Total Recall may not be considered very important in the realm of science-fiction, but it’s unique for being one of the few action movies with nearly non-stop action. Quaid and Jessica Biel bound from set-piece to set-piece as the collateral damage and body count rise faster than you can groan at all the visual homages that put Terminator Salvation to shame. Why did the director say this movie would be more like the short story than the original movie? It’s just less like the original movie. There’s no tiny alien invasion, or anything completely odd.

This is a good thing, however. Total Recall 1990, an adaptation of a pretty good short story, is a really fun story, and I appreciate its immortalization in remake form, as well as the remake itself, which is an energetic and colorful adventure with a lot of pretty things to look at**, whether that be the city, the action, the robots, or the very attractive and active lead women.

*(On The Dark Knight Rises): Hey, the fights may be hampered by poor fight choreography and dumbass costumes, but he finally nailed the cinematography (stood still) and surrounded the action with pure spectacle — more like Batman Begins than… that other one

**(On Art Direction): Just one problem: the guns. The pistols were fine, but I recognize the rifles from reality, or at least, the reality of near future weapons that find homes in like, Ghost Recon. They look cool, but why not design something new? I could be wrong… maybe it was just a dream.

What a specific thing this is, and what a delicate feel modern action directors whiff on so frequently. Movies like Taken are on the right path, movies like The Expendables farther but still there, and movies like Machete miss it entirely. Thing is, those three movies are all pretty acclaimed, relatively speaking. The following movies are overlooked, underappreciated, or downright hated, and that’s because they’re far ahead of their time. Or… twenty to thirty years past…

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Color, motion, composition, and endless violence. With this four year follow-up to the more popular and successful Thomas Jane Punisher, Lexi Alexander had pretty much free reign to do something we often shy away from, and the result is a balls crazy and allegedly faithful adaptation of Punisher comics. In those comics, people get their heads blown off, bodies torn apart, shot to pieces, and more — if that sounds good, pop this in the VCR and sit back. I think a problem with a lot of action movies these days is a mind-boggling commitment to realism. Movies are escapism, and we get to see in movies what we can’t see in real life or on TV shows or sometimes in our own minds because we wouldn’t think that a chair leg could be used to dispatch of somebody in such a way.

Punisher: War Zone is part slasher movie, and part zombie movie. It’s a slasher because the Punisher wrecks everyone he sees, and it’s a zombie movie — but without the zombies, which as of late have become the weakest parts of a zom… well never mind, that’s an absurd thing to say but I do believe they’re a bit played out. Six years ago. In zombie movies people get their heads blown off, bodies torn apart — you remember. The Punisher does horrible things to the human body, and he’s so eh about it. That’s why we have the straight man in Colin Salmon, a fan favorite despite rarely being in good movies, to react as we would when somebody gets their face removed.

Rounding out the cast are TV faces, in particular Dominic West of The Wire fame. Here he plays Jigsaw, and his reparte with “Looney Bin Jim,” who you won’t recognize from any of the comics, is comedy gold. In the end though, I appreciate that this movie commits to over-the-topness, and is plenty aware of what it is. A violence film, one that’s gleeful in its horrendous violence. The spectacle is spectacular, as people explode and get punched in — seriously, the Punisher could poke somebody in this movie and they’d start hemmohraging. Unfortunately for them he does much more than that.

Verdict: BUY, IMMEDIATREY

The Expendables (2010)

The build-up to The Expendables was enormous. Here’s a movie with everyone, about a team of soldiers who at some point will probably learn that they’re expendable, a classic trope whose best analog here would be Predator. I was also thinking Alien, but that’s not exactly an action movie. So I’m sitting in the theatre watching this movie and in the first five minutes a guy gets his head cut off with a sniper and I’m thinking, “Okay. I can see this.” But then the rest of the movie happens and it’s like… they just gave up. Or actually cared about their awful story. All I know is that it involves Angel Batista and waterboarding some chick, which was uncomfortable. Why would I want to see that? Was The Expendables gonna be the political thriller that’ll really bring to light all sorts of discussions on the morality of torture in our modern day? No, that’s clearly the job of 24: Season 8. There’s little action in this movie, and the action that’s there is average. Mildly entertaining, but highly disappointing.

These actors have Crank, Total Recall, Die Hard, First Blood, Terminator 2, and… Crank 2 between them, and The Expendables falls far beneath all of them. To be fair, Arnold wasn’t really in it, but he’s definitely in the sequel. Christ. I won’t go up to the box office and say “One for The Expendables 2 please… JUST KIDDING!” and then drive back home because it’s rated PG-13 (doesn’t really help though) I’ll do that because the first movie was atrocious.

Verdict: Avoid

Doomsday (2008)

The preemptive criticisms of this post-Descent Neil Marshall flick were priceless. They called it a mix of Escape from New York, 28 Days Later, and The Road Warrior. Now, I can’t speak for 28 Days Later — but look at yourself. Is that a bad thing?! I’d say more accurately the closest analog to Doomsday is Escape from LA, the much maligned sequel to Carpenter’s 1981 classic. Escape from LA to me set a precedent which was never capitalized on until Rhona Mitra hit the land beyond the wall in this movie, where it’s the same old song and dance: we quarantined a segment of population and they’re crazy. Time to check back in.

In Escape from LA you had transvestite Pam Grier, plastic surgeon zombie Bruce Campbell, Map to the Stars Eddie, surfing, evil basketball, and hanglider battles — it was completely wild and unpredictable, a 100% good time throughout, because amidst all this madness you have our favorite hero Snake Plissken, an entirely over-the-top and bad motherfucker. In Doomsday you have girl snake, a woman with an equally great name — Maj. Eden Sinclair.

I’ve talked a little bit about girls in science-fiction movies, and Eden Sinclair always places highly on ‘the list,’ (the one in my head) alongside better known femmes like Ripley and… Clone Ripley. She’s believably badass, and it isn’t like she’s just fighting useless stormtrooper types, you know the corporate soldiers in gas masks — she fights Ren fair knights and Mad Max cannibals. Add David O’Hara and one great chase scene at the end and you’ve got a recipe for Marshall’s best yet movie (though I haven’t seen Centurion). There’s actually more I want to say about Doomsday but this isn’t the time. So for now…

Verdict: Yes!

The Nelvedine/Taylor Catalogue

Crank, Crank 2: High Voltage, and Gamer are all great fun. Let’s look at each individually, because they’d all place on this list and you should infinitely see them.

Crank: The humble beginnings of one Chev Chelios, who finds out he’s a dead man in a high-concept movie. Shot on camcorders and rollerskates, this movie takes you to the action on a unique plane. There’s also very explicit violence and sex. For those It’s Always Sunny fans check out a cameo appearance by Glenn Howerton.

Crank 2: If you thought Crank was good, get ready, because Crank 2 is a phenomenon. Pretty much the insanest and funnest American action movie since Death Wish III. Eye-popping, and in at least two cases cringe-inducing. There’s just something about nipple cutting… These movies are endlessly inventive and highly motivational. Some days I’d like to just get up and run through town with a sexy accent, screaming into the air. The only fault I have with the movie is the villain. As much as I like Clifton Collins, Jr., and as great a character as he was, there was really great chemistry between Chev Chelios and the original guy — the first villain would also engage in a phone conversation with Chev and be like “We’re gonna kill you man,” and Chev would say something very casually and get the dude royally pissed off every time.

Gamer: I really enjoyed this movie. I know some have gripes with it, and maybe it isn’t as good as the others, maybe it takes itself too seriously, but I’m actually a big fan of the imagery in this movie, even as a straightup science-fiction film. The art design is great, the guns are big and cool, the battlefield is appropriately shattered, and Society is bright and eerie. It’s a movie with a surprisingly entertaining story, which is surprising given the saturation on the market across time for all these ‘evil sport on TV, look at yourself’ movies. This came out around the same time as The Condemned and Death Race, the latter of which I saw and also enjoyed quite a bit. If you’re into solid sci-fi shootemups or glorified B-movies or whatever name you want to give something like this, check it out. Explosions, Dexter, Zoe Bell, Gerard Butler with a gun, and the hectic assault on Society make it all worth it.

Verdict: Check em

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Interesting story behind this one, but it’s not my place to go over it here. It’s also one that made watching the movie slightly bittersweet, but don’t let it get to you because Hobo is a very entertaining grindhouse flick. It isn’t like Planet Terror or Black Dynamite which, while they do dabble in their respective horror and action, are comedies, and good ones at that. Hobo with a Shotgun pretends to actually take itself seriously — and it makes sense. These guys set out to make a crazy 80s action movie with a lot of blood, and they succeeded. While there was less Hobo than anticipated, it’s still a fun, gory ride, with an early cameo by Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, the one who’s always losing his head.

Of course, there’s plenty more; I didn’t mention any foreign movies, but there are a few that have a lot of action and lean toward the ludicrious — half of the 80s action movie was the HK school, stuff by Woo and To, and there are modern versions of those, but F. I’m out.

Four Brothers was a faulty sign of things to come. While Baby Boy (2001) proved to be Singleton’s last filmed screenplay, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Abduction reach into realms I’m not entirely comfortable exploring. This revenge drama, while not his original screenplay, held promise. It tells the story of the titular four brothers, who return home to figure out and deal with those responsible for the shooting death of the kindest old lady on the block, she who took them all in off the streets. With the death scene, I was immediately reminded of a similar revenge movie I saw recently, Death Sentence, which took a lot longer to get to this same moment, the convenience store catalyst. Right away Four Brothers was doing things right, but it what it became wasn’t what I anticipated.

When the credits rolled I thought, “Okay.” I recognized that I had enjoyed it throughout the 100-minute or so run, but the movie limps to a pretty unsatisfying conclusion, much unlike other classic revenge tales like Oldboy or Death Sentence, or Death Wish III, or even the bad ones like The Punisher (2004). The violence level was really off the charts, but in a bad way. Singleton isn’t exactly known for being gratuitous with brutality, but I’d wholeheartedly hoped this would be a good time to try it out. Not a lot of action really happens here, which is a disappointment because not a lot else happens either…

The four brothers go around gathering information, and fighting amongst themselves, and their chemistry is ultimately what sells the movie, because a lot that happens is uneventful. Sofia Vergara raises a fit, Mark Wahlberg and Garret Hedlund sulk around, and every now and again there’ll be a chase scene, or one very dull shootout. Character interactions between these four actors is great, and makes the movie very watchable. I suppose it’d be up to you to decide if that’s a good enough reason to watch this movie, because it might just be the only one. It’s a fun script — a relief, and a great cast.

One of the actors in this movie I’m particularly enamored of is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who’s played sympathetic villains in two of the best science-fiction movies of the decade, and returns here for quite the opposite. He’s straightforwardly evil, which is fine, but it’s that he’s essentially a blaxploitation villain is maybe a little tonally inconsistent. It’s very nearly Punisher (2004) syndrome, where John Travolta plays a text-book bad villain, but we’re only laughing with Ejiofor, and not at him. Either way, he’s not really filling the role — Garret Hedlund in Death Sentence was more effective, and I guess he’s also pretty good here as well, on the opposite side of the vengeance.

I think I’ve been negative so far about Four Brothers, and that’s wrong, because I did think it was good, and at times, especially toward the beginning, fairly effective. Singleton is not only a great director of actors, but a solid storyteller. He knows how emotions translate through the camera, and he’s got a great, and unpretentious, eye for composition. The prevailing issue to me is that Four Brothers goes in directions in the second act. I sort of like the idea that a lot of unresolved thematic areas happen here, because it gives the movie larger scope than it had, but midway through the movie you figure everything out and think, that’s pretty good, only to have it not be the case later on.

The car chase is what I’m referring to. Marky Mark and Tyrese manage to run their enemies off the road, or the car flips over, and they rush out to go after the suspected killers. Hedlund is told to wait, and the two guys drag the murderers out, start beating on them, and shoot them. Hedlund’s expression here and the camerwork give us the idea that Four Brothers would be a Nietzschean fable akin to Death Sentence, but with that hood film twist. It’d be something about how these thugs were redeemed by this woman, but in attempting to avenge her, they began to return to where they started — you can never get out of the game. I think that’s what Singleton was going for in this scene, but… it was only a scene. The story continued on in its blaxploitation fun n games.

It felt more interested in the involved story, which dealt with a conspiracy of sorts, and organized crime, and even city government. This is fine, but it’s only fine, where Four Brothers could’ve been poigniant and maybe disturbing. Basically if it were injected with Singleton DNA — the same criticism I had for Rosewood — it would’ve taken that necessary step and been great. As it is, Four Brothers is good.

Ghost Protocol is the rarest type of film, one where I never once notice its length. It could have gone for three hours and I wouldn’t have noticed. It combines the best of a thriller and an action movie, where it entertains between all the big set pieces, and of course really shines during those big set pieces. Going in, I was a bit worried. Not only did I believe that movies are an inefficient medium for this type of entertainment, I remembered that I hated this type of film. It shares qualities of James Bond and Jason Bourne, but it’s actually a good-time movie, one with the imagination and light-heartedness to stand apart from its overly gritty contemporaries.

A few years ago, probably 2007 or whenever Casino Royale came out, I came to terms with my thoughts on the action movie, and the thriller movie. In trying to parse out just why I didn’t like Casino Royale, or any James Bond movie not starring Pierce Brosnan (although strangely I suppose I did enjoy The Man with the Golden Gun when I saw it), I happened upon a television, which had on display Jason Statham’s face. I decided that this was The Transporter, or one of its sequels, and thought hey I like Jason Statham. Something happened to me then that had never happened before: in ten seconds, I was overwhelmingly bored by a movie. It was just him expositing, talking about drugdealers or something. I recognized this scenario as one of obligatory exposition, and couldn’t handle it.

When two characters sit down and move forward the plot, sometimes that’s fine, if the story is interesting enough. The story in an action movie is rarely exciting, even if it isn’t formulaic: guy’s daughter is kidnapped, goes after those responsible to bring her back. Is that Commando, or Taken? If it’s girlfriend it could be The Marine and a number of side-scrolling beat-em-ups on the Nintendo. The Hollywood action movie is also typically a high-budget affair, so set-pieces are those invested in. You can’t pack ninety minutes of high-budget action into a movie — those in-between moments are a necessity. Some filmmakers are able to make the in-between just as entertaining, like Robert Rodriguez or Jonnie To. Others aren’t.

Now, when you say “thriller,” my mind goes right to Jason Bourne. When I saw The Bourne Ultimatum in theatres, I must have been fourteen. I wanted an action movie. But this thriller didn’t have enough action to compete with John Woo, and not enough drama to be anything else. I simply could not wrap my mind around what made those movies so popular. Nowadays I get it, though I still have yet to revisit that particular trilogy. Maybe when Jeremy Renner stars in The Bourne Legacy, I’ll check that one out. One series that this confusion still holds for is Bond, because none of those movies — with the exception of the nineties and early 2000s era — have over-the-top action (or Colin Salmon*). And of course, none of them have compelling stories or drama.

All that leaves is the character. James Bond is similar to Indiana Jones — he’s cocky and he’s a womanizer, but James Bond to me isn’t nearly as cool. Probably because being cool is the only thing he’s there to be. He drinks his drink and has PG to PG-13 sex with women, never once drinking from the Holy Grail or, I don’t know, tossing the idol. Where’s the draw? I’ll take Mission: Impossible over James Bond any day, although ironically Ghost Protocol is the only one I’ve seen in full.

Ghost Protocol does not deal in overwrought storytelling — its exposition is light on its feet, being delivered while other things are going on, and never the exact center of attention. While story is being processed, beautiful locales are on display and characters are interacting with their often witty back-and-forths. Here characters are actually intriguing despite being flat, such that I genuinely hope to see all four back in another movie, hopefully teamed up with Ving Rhames. Maggie Q I could go either way on. Simon Pegg is Simon Pegg — put him in a good movie and he’s great (in a bad one he’s good), Paula Patton is the attractive and very badass agent, and Jeremy Renner is the data analyst — with a secret. Each character gets his or her moment in the sun, so they don’t feel like dead-end red shirts or useless expendables here to make Tom Cruise look more like an action star. He does look an action star — I think the gratuitous rock-climbing sequence in Mission: Impossible II he demanded from director John Woo is evidence enough.

Beyond that, most of the time the actual exposition is, quite simply, compelling. As an operation is being laid out it’s pretty neat, but doesn’t of course match up to the execution. The gadgets and even the ingenuity these characters utilize make for very tense, very creative near-future espionage situations. It’s like Metal Gear Solid, but just a movie, not a movie with quick-time events. In one instance, a massive image screen is used to fool a guard into believing nobody is in the hallway, when in fact Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise are there, and in another, the team fools two people into believing they are meeting in one room, while in reality, two meetings are taking place, and they’re intercepting information. In the latter example, disguises and contact lens cameras are required, and when things go wrong, fast-thinking and briefcases that print paper inside get thrown into the mix.

While the ending maybe isn’t as climactic as one would imagine it should be, and the denouement feels a pint cheesy, I enjoyed it all. In fact, the former helped me along with the whole time thing. When the climax hit, I hardly realized. Tom Cruise was fighting the villain, and I thought to myself: Oh, this movie must be over soon. That’s kind of sad.

I really don’t have much to say here: it’s a very good time at the movies, a true blockbuster that doesn’t push genre boundaries, but revels in its form. I don’t know why this movie wasn’t called Mission: Impossible IV (who am I kidding, of course I do) but hopefully it isn’t the last sequel, and there’s much more to come. And although I did mention earlier that movies are an inefficient medium for this kind of thing (something I’ll try to expand on later), TV or video-games can’t always have Tom Cruise scaling the largest skyscraper in the world.

Man, when he said “mission accomplished,” and pushed the button, I died in laughter.

*Colin Salmon is a totally cool guy. Anybody who likes Paul WS Anderson movies should recognize him, and he was going to be the next Bond on the recommendation of Pierce Brosnan. But the studios went with Craig. Nothing against Daniel Craig, of course. He was great in the Dragon Tattoo, another movie out right now worth seeing. Make it a double feature.

Yes, I am that technically improficient that there are no embedded videos to be found anywhere on this site or in this post. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out, but for now, here’s five action movie trailers. The action movie is a topic of significant discussion here on Dreck Fiction, because they’re experiencing something of a renaissance in the recent years. And note that when I say action movies I mean 80s action movies. There’s some of that in this list, whether they’re literally from 1980-1989 is whatevers.

5. A History of Violence

The simple story of a podunk town. Nothing really happens. EXCEPT.

4. Ashes of Time Redux

From what I’ve seen of the movie so far (it’s rare I’ll watch a movie 100%, I guess), I’d be hard pressed to call Ashes of Time an action movie. But the trailer sure wants you to think it is. There’s beauty in cinema violence, and Wong Kar Wai makes everything beautiful, so don’t worry about it. What’s more stunning than dudes on horseback jumping over dunes in slow-motion? Spartans in slow-motion, eat your heart out… in HELL.

3. 13 Assassins

Goes to show that all you need is a good editor to sell a movie. I was sold when the guy jumps off the building and they cut as he lands to FROM LEGENDARY FILMMAKER TAKASHI MIIKE. Unfortunately I never finished watching this movie. It wasn’t as bad as his others, but I just have very little motivation to return to it. Watching the trailer again couldn’t quite do it, though it is good.

2. I Saw the Devil

Man the last shot in this trailer is great. Good movie, good trailer. One that really gets across just how jacked up this Korean diddy really is.

1. Death Sentence

James Wan’s action/drama is an underrated movie with a stirring performance by Kevin Bacon, gory violence, and a terrible soundtrack. Some of the worst and most inappropriate music I’ve yet experienced over video. But none of that is in the trailer. What is in the trailer is great. The definitely captured some of the more artistic shots of violence, like tackling a dude off the staircase and firing a gun into the air. I would recommend this movie, but the trailer does a better job.

There’s something to be said for superhero movies these days that aren’t Marvel or DC produced, genrebusting film, and anything made by James Gunn. So allow me — Super, Gunn’s most recent directorial feature, is easy to get into, hard to watch, and extremely difficult to parse out. Even that assessment isn’t entirely accurate; it isn’t hard to watch like Crank 2 nipple cutting or Dune, but the violence is unexpectedly brutal, and the tone vaccilates wildly. Of course, this is a James Gunn movie, so the violence is just right, as is the immorality and profanity, and everything else that makes for a fun time. It’s got the premise to go far, and yet I must be restrained in my praise — it won’t be glowing, but it will be. The movie is very, very entertaining, but it’s also highly demented, just as knocked in the head as everyone says. The problem is that it clashes with preconcieved notions about the story and where it’s going, and this extends even to the morality of the story.

We follow a down-on-his-luck loser, Frank D’Arbo, played by Rainn Wilson, as his wife is stolen by the scheezy Jacques, Kevin Bacon no less, and decides to turn to masked vigilantism for empowerment. This is one of those goof-ball origin stories, no? So all of the resulting trial and error and crime-bashing montage is par for the course — this is familiar territory. Why then is it veering off-course, settling on the road, veering, settling, and veering again so often? I’m not just referring to the surreal sequences of being touched by God or “Bombs,” or anything — there are more than a few moments of pure what the hell in this movie, both good and bad, depending on your disposition.

If you liked Slither, you’ll probably like this movie. A better comparison though would be Kick-Ass, though I’ve yet to see that movie. Woody Harrelson was also recently in a movie like this — where there are triple A superhero blockbusters, there will persist the indie scene, and independent superhero movies like Super can’t exploit special effects and CGI for ticket sales, and they certainly don’t have the marquee value of brand names like X-Men and Spider-Man. So Super decides to go the old-fashioned route. Or does it? It’s hard to decide just where Gunn was going with this movie, what he was trying to say or what emotions he wanted the audience to feel at any given moment.

It isn’t enough for a filmmaker to simply make a movie that’s fun, whose sole purpose is to be fun, because that doesn’t always yield ‘fun movie,’ as a result. Though Machete could’ve benefitted from that formula, I suppose. The problem with Super is that it feels unfocused, but not in the usual way a movie like this could be, it’s more in an abstract area that’s difficult for an audience member like me to pin down — the actual development. This is a script that’s been sitting in James Gunn’s desk since 2002 (so no, guys, there’s no base for controversy with this and Kick-Ass, which was published in 2008), so it’s very possible that it’s been through a number of revisions, or drastic changes correlating to James Gunn then and James Gunn now.

I don’t know what the answer is. Here’s the chief issue: While I know truly nothing of superheroes or the comic world, I can gather that after Watchmen, stories about superheroes were either the genuine article or post-modern. Super is neither, though we assumed one of two going in. We think we understand what we’re watching during the first act, that Super is a slightly less zany and much more violent Scott Pilgrim–especially after that credits sequence–but as the movie goes on, we don’t know what’s coming next. Like, to the max. I figured that when his brain was touched by God, ‘we don’t know what’s coming next’ meant crazy moments, but in reality, it was sacred elements like story elements and tone and theme. Even Scott Pilgrim gets the (correct) girl at the end, but with Super, who knows what’s gonna happen.

I must applaud a film for being so audacious, though this can easily be confused for laziness, unfortunately, but it’s difficult for me to run out and hold Super over my head on the African cliffs like Simba because it’s not that the movie goes in unexpected places that counts, it’s the places themselves, and by the end of the film, we’re expecting a point. We get one, but it’s not satisfactory. I decided before the movie was over that it was an ending and a point satisfactory to the character, which would make Super doubly akin to Scott Pilgrim, because this is a movie that sort of happens in the dude’s head, and why can’t a resolution be fine just for the character? But — then we have a last shot that’s similar to the ending of A History of Violence and Oldboy. In fact, it’s the identical shot. It’s one of ambiguity. What’s going on?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Just let yourself go and let Super wash over you. It’s a fun movie, with a few good lol out loud moments, like the wheelchair lady, D’Arbo explaining why Robin was named after a bird (because… they’re loyal), and Ellen Page expressing discontent at the villains knowing D’Arbo’s identity. While the action isn’t exactly John Woo, when it’s got Verhoeven levels of blood and gore, it doesn’t need to be. There’s a good amount of it, but the real reason to watch Super is for the characters. The writing is priceless, and I was invested in seeing just where all of these guys were going, from the main character D’Arbo right down to the henchman played by Michael Rooker, another in the cast of James Gunn familiars.

The cast is excellent, even in those I didn’t at first recognize, like James Gunn and Rob Zombie (though after seeing Dazed and Confused and not recognizing Ben Affleck or Cole Hauser I find I’m pretty oblivious when it comes to people). I could’ve stood to see more Nathan Fillion and Kevin Bacon, but the moments they had they reveled in. The standout however would most certainly have to be Ellen Page. I’d been pretty indifferent to Ellen Page up until this point, seeing her only in Inception and five minutes of Juno, but this movie’s convinced me of her brilliance. You can tell an actor’s going all out when the accent pokes through; she handles the complicated character Libby quite well, and she’s one hell of a character. She starts out pretty normal, and by the time the movie’s over she’s been through quite a range: off-the-wall enthusiastic, psychotic, rapist, and crybaby. A number of pretty bold modes.

Super? Check it.

“They know your secret identity? FUCK!”
– Libby

 

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Note: It’s kind of confusing, but the post “1. The Ghost in the Shell,” did not mean that that was the #1 thing of the year, despite it following the other two Year End Review posts.

Here on Dreck Fiction I’ve talked about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at length, so this will probably be retreading old territory — bear with me. In the end, the most awesome thing I saw this year came out last year, Edgar Wright’s third, and in my opinion, best movie — crazy as that sounds. When I first saw the movie over the summer, I was blown the hell away. Unfortunately I saw it the last day it was available OnDemand, one of the motivating factors behind the big decision to press enter. I always knew I was gonna like Scott Pilgrim; the trailers seemed promising and I had a lot of faith in Edgar Wright to make something that was at least entertaining. I remember very specifically — quite a feat, as I saw this perhaps five months ago — my dad came in the room and delivered some message so I had to pause the movie, and I paused it right before the Ramona/Roxy fight, maybe after Ramona threw Ann (who?) away. Sitting there, I was just thinking to myself, “I’ve really enjoyed this movie so far. I like the direction this is headed.”

As somebody who’s invested some time in learning about filmmaking, it’s hard for me not to zero in on the technical side of things, and ever since I started this blog I tend to think critically about movies when I’m watching them. Scott Pilgrim actually rewarded me for being aware of the filmmaking, because it’s such a finely crafted movie that when immersion is eschewed in this way, it’s a good thing. It allowed me to notice the details, which to director Edgar Wright are extremely important. The frame is always brimming with significant details and easter eggs — and boy does he and DP Bill Pope love the frame.

In terms of the look of the movie, it’s not even “look what we can do,” not even “look what we can do and how well” — it’s a spectacle resultant of very measured craft. Every eyepopping moment on screen, whether a product of the camera movement, clever composition, actor blocking, or visual effect, means something. Of course, the point of contention then for critics is that what it all means may not interest them, but that’s no excuse to not recognize the inspiring brilliance in this film’s making. Scott Pilgrim, appreciated today only by a small but very, very vocal minority, will have genre standing as time goes on.

It’s an outstanding example of the action-comedy, which, like the horror-comedy (of which Edgar Wright so excelled in six years earlier), requires a hefty amount of balance: tone, structure, wit — these elements aren’t enough, it’s within their combination that Scott Pilgrim and Slither and Desperado and other great, modern genre-mashups emerge. They must work with each other; this doesn’t feel like an action movie with comedic elements or a comedy with action scenes, it’s a whole film that plays out from start to finish, and by the time we reach the end, we’ve laughed, we’ve been excited, and we’re had our hearts warmed. The manufactured feel of so many other comedies and so, so many other action movies was left at the door.

The film had a predestination in terms of its artistic success, just like The Thing (2011), the next Mary Elizabeth Winstead movie, was doomed to critical and commercial failure at the point of its inception. It was based on preexisting material, which is a first for the director, though at the time of screenwriting the final volume had yet to be released, which led to some merciful reshoots* at the end of production. I’ve never read the comic, but I think the process and idea of adaptation set the wheels in motion for Edgar Wright. He took on a mission and was rather noble about it. Like Rodriguez wanting to make Frank Miller’s Sin City over Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, Wright strove to recreate the comic, but adapt it to the moving medium of film.

With such a dedicated force at the helm, there should’ve been little doubt in my mind that Scott Pilgrim was a movie to look out for, and right now there’s little doubt in my mind that the director’s fourth movie will be one to watch. It’s a pretty bold adaptation — in these days of Nolan’s Batman and endless reboots (these X-Men weren’t gritty enough), Scott Pilgrim feels fresh. The creators behind the film obviously adore the movie medium, and don’t shy away from its possibilities. Some people (I think) have called Crank one of the best comic book movies ever, because it is exactly that, despite not being based on anything.

Crank is the antithesis to a movie like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or any of the X-Men movies, which like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider and all these things — it revels in its form. Movies, like comic-books, have a heightened reality, but somehow this gets lost in Hollywood’s endless struggle to be super serious and realistic. I’m not saying that when Peter Parker and Mary Jane upside-down kiss that CG hearts should come out, because that would be inappropriate to its foundational laws of reality, but the dedication to realism has led filmmakers to want to play it safe in terms of spectacle.

With such high budgets, why don’t we ever see something that’s completely balls-to-the-walls? Like fucking Punisher: War Zone! Christ, every time I gotta complain about these damn comic book movies that’ll always be mentioned. War Zone wasn’t made on a $100 million budget, but it was totally fun. It had energy. Like Scott Pilgrim, which, because it was made on a very high budget, was able to go above and beyond. Very rarely in that movie has a frame been untouched by frenetic computer enhancements and craazy color.

At the end of the movie, we know that the heroes are going to fight the villains, probably in New York, and they’ll throw cars around. With a movie like Scott Pilgrim, it’s a mystery as to what’s simply going to be seen next. And when something wild happens, it’s almost always logical or, at least, never truly out of left field. Giant animated yeti is going to fight dragons in the middle of a battle of the bands? Sounds alright to me.

Well, that’s probably enough of my Continuing Adventures in Eternal Praise for this One Movie for now. I kind of lost steam there towards the end, but those comic book movies always piss me off, so when I perceive a chance to rant, I’ll take it.

So there you have it. Those are the ten best, and two worst, things I saw this year. Overall, it was pretty solid. Last year there were actually ten movies, but hey — if TV shows are gonna be as good as Arrested Development, I’ll certainly take TV shows. Good night, and have a happy New Year! (Excuse me if you don’t celebrate New Year’s, I know that’s not very PC of me**).

*The original ending to the movie was changed when the final book was released. Originally, and you can still see these scenes in the DVD, Scott ends up with Knives. Thankfully Brian Lee O’Malley was there to save the day, and Edgar Wright was so goddamn dedicated to being true to the source…

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