Action movies were the first genre of movies that really captured my imagination. When I was a wee lad, explosions, gunfire, and karate chops were the quickest ways for a movie to make it’s way into my heart. Regardless of the quality of the action, let alone the rest of the movie, if there was action to be had I would eat it up. Now that I’m a little older and a lot grumpier, action movies have to earn their respect from me. I’m a lot more critical of movies than in my youth, and shit like Tak-three-n doesn’t fly with me anymore. While I still like to think I have a childlike enamoring to big explosions and loud, dumb action in movies, the execution of these juvenile films is of equal importance to me now.
Hard Boiled is a Hong Kong action flick written and directed by the legendary John Woo (The Killer, Hard Target, Mission: Impossible II, Face/Off) starring Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and Tony Leung (Hero). Hard Boiled is widely considered one of the greatest action movies of all time, even being inducted into the Criterion Collection because a movie where Chow Yun-Fat soars through the air blowing up a thug on a dirt bike with a well placed shotgun blast is considered to be at the same level of cinematic brilliance that Bergman’s The Seventh Seal or Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai are.
Hard Boiled follows Inspector Tequila (yes, really) played by Yun-Fat, a gritty cop from the streets tasked with taking down a local gang of Triads. Tequila is ruthless and unorthodox in his policing, butting heads with his chief whenever he’s out on a mission. Along the way, he runs into Alan (Leung), another cop who has been deep under cover with the Triads, slowly moving his way up the ranks. Together, they team up to investigate the Triad gun smuggling operation in Hong Kong. Tequila wants the Triads dead, but Alan needs to keep his cover so that he can bring them down from the inside. Tensions rise between the police and the Triads, and many, many, many bullets are exchanged along the way.
Google defines mediocre as:
Adjective: of only moderate quality; not very good.
“a mediocre meal”
Synonyms: ordinary, average, middling, middle-of-the-road, uninspired, undistinguished, indifferent, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, pedestrian, prosaic, lackluster, forgettable, amateur, amateurish; Informal: OK, so-so, ‘comme ci, comme ça’, plain-vanilla, fair-to-middling, no great shakes, not up to much, bush-league. (more…)
It’s the state of the film industry in 2016 is that any independent director with even a hint of talent or vision gets snatched up by a giant studio to begin working on $100 million dollar blockbuster movies where they have almost no agency over how the movie will be made. They are just names to be used for marketing rather than actual filmmakers for these gargantuan projects. Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) and James Gunn (Slither, Super) were gobbled up by Marvel to direct The first two Avenger movies and Guardians of the Galaxy respectively. Gareth Edwards (Monsters) got pulled on board to direct the terribly mediocre 2014 Godzilla flick (thank god Toho have taken the Godzilla IP back). Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) helmed Jurassic World and is expected to direct Star Wars Episode IX. Marvel almost had Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End) in to direct Ant-Man, but when Wright fought to have creative control over the film but when the Disney owned movie factory refused to budge on the subject, Wright told them to fuck off and left the project.
Since this odd trend of taking independent, relatively low budget creators and sticking them in charge of movies that cost three times more than the GDP of the polynesian island nation of Tuvalu and thinking everything will be okay seems to be picking up steam, I worry that some of my favorite directors will get swept up into this chaos and won’t be able to work on projects that they are really passionate about. One of those directors is Jeremy Saulnier, director of one of my favorite movies, Blue Ruin.
Saulnier’s most recent project is Green Room, a punk rock bottle-movie thriller starring the late Anton Yelchin and the indomitable Sir Patrick Stewart. The plot to Green Room is very simple. The Ain’t Rights, a young, down on their luck punk band get a gig at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar in the Pacific Northwest. They need the money badly, so they decide to play, get paid, and get the hell out of there as soon as possible (not before souring a few skinheads’ days by tearing through the hardcore classic Nazi Punks Fuck Off). On their way out after their set they witness a brutal murder on premises, and therein lies the main conflict of Green Room. The Ain’t Rights want to go home, and the neo-Nazis want them dead. It’s one of those narratives that seem a little too schlocky and over the top, but Saulnier treats it with a bleak, dour seriousness and intensity that keeps the audience from suspending their disbelief or losing immersion as the film chugs along.
The last few movies I’ve written about have had release dates somewhere in the past 3 years (I’m seriously surprised how many movies I’ve written about on this blog so far that were released in 2013), so I figured I would turn back the proverbial clock and review a movie from a decade we haven’t touched here on Coffee And Illithids: the ’70s. The ’70s were a time of big mustaches, ugly suits, and exploitation flicks. Yes, in the ’70s, the grindhouse was king. Gritty movies with violence, sexual assault, and other despicable acts portrayed on screen. Anti-heroes or even villains were the protagonists of these movies. They would leave you with a grimy, sleazy feeling when they were over, like you had to take a shower to wash the filth from your soul. I don’t think anyone could say they walked out of movies like The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave with a smile on their face. However, leave it to a director like John Carpenter to bring a smarter, more accessible style of grindhouse flick to the silver screen.
John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 is ’70s action thrill ride reminiscent of movies like The Warriors, Night of the Living Dead, and The Hills Have Eyes. The premise, like most Carpenter movies is simple: A couple colorful characters are stuck in a hairy situation together and they need to overcome their differences to work together and fight the bad guys. We had Jack Burton and Wang Chi teaming up against Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China, MacCready, Childs and the rest of the gang versus the alien nightmare in The Thing, and the epic smackdown Frank and Nada gave the aliens in They Live.
Assault on Precinct 13 sees police Lt. Bishop (Austin Stoker) joining forces with death row inmate and convicted murderer Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) while defending an L.A. police precint against a blood crazed gang laying siege to it after one of their leaders is killed. Bishop and Wilson need to hold down the building with its couple remaining staff members overnight until reinforcements arrive. It’s like the opposite of The Raid, but I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Enemy is a psychological thriller/ mystery film directed by Denis Villeneuve who also directed the critically acclaimed thrillers Prisoners, Incendies, and Sicario (all of which also happen to be on my to-watch list). I’m on the fence about whether or not I would call this an arthouse film or not, because it seems to straddle the line between an accessible movie that makes you think and a surrealist mindfuck. Enemy is loosely based on the book The Double by José Saramago and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a bored history professor who finds Anthony St. Claire, a small time actor who looks exactly like him. It isn’t just an uncanny resemblance. Anthony is physically identical to Adam. If you haven’t guessed it, Anthony is also played by Gyllenhaal. Adam researches and quickly becomes obsessed with Anthony, and begins interfering with Anthony’s private life trying to figure out who Anthony really is and why they appear to be the same person. Their lives become somewhat intertwined and they both need to find their way through a web of mistrust and deception to get to the bottom of it.