Action

Review: San Andreas

May 29 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219506:42413:0[/embed] San AndreasDirector: Brad PeytonRelease Date: May 29, 2015Rated: PG-13  At some point in the last 20 years or so CGI and ever more impressive special effects have allowed a new genre to crop up. The destruction genre is a subset of action that, as the name suggests, revels in the destruction of a place or the entire world. This destruction is usually caused by some natural disaster, but the end result is always the same: buildings tumble, millions of people die, and one group of people makes it out alive. It's always the same and by now the shine of seeing a city fall apart has worn off. We've seen it 100 times before in 100 different ways so if you're making some destruction porn you better have something more than just stunning visuals of a building falling over. That is all San Andreas has. It is a destruction movie functioning on the belief that we're still impressed by this stuff despite that fact that it is no longer impressive. Does it look good? Sure, but so does every other movie in the genre, and we literally just saw San Francisco destroyed last year in Godzilla. It just isn't exciting anymore without something behind it and there is nothing behind San Andreas. It is, in fact, so boring and vapid that its lack of character ruins its destruction sequences because, damn it, you just want everyone to die. Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is an LAFD helicopter rescue pilot and he and his crack team are the best of the best so when the San Andreas fault starts to cause massive earthquakes stretching from Hoover Dam to San Francisco he hops into action... by ditching his team, hi-jacking a government helicopter and saving his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) in L.A. then flying to San Francisco to rescue his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Meanwhile Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a scientist at Cal Tech has, figured out a way to predict earthquakes and has warned all of San Francisco that an even worse one is coming. Prolific destruction ensues as millions die and Blake loses layer after layer of clothing in order to show her breasts off.  It's dumb to expect too much depth in a destruction movie, and you really shouldn't, but the lazy nature of San Andreas is particularly insulting. The plot is so paint-by-numbers that I expected the screenplay credits to be attributed to a coloring book. The "estranged couple pulled back together by disaster" trope is so old and so poorly executed that not even Johnson's charm can salvage how ineptly it is handled. Meanwhile you've got Blake falling in love with a guy she just happened to meet ten seconds before the world started shaking and his little brother following them around for comic relief. It is surprising then, considering just how little creativity went into the screenplay, that they could screw it up so badly. You'd think with most of the characters and plot already developed a million times over in tons of other movies they could have pieced together something coherent, but instead the movie can't even hold onto its own basic plot threads. We're introduced to Ray's crack team of rescuers, but they disappear once the destruction starts. The film can't even give it's villain a proper farewell as Emma's new boyfriend, who is routinely made more unbelievably douchey, plot line consists of him being a douche and then (spoilers) dying.  But, you say,who cars about plot when you've got the Golden Gate bridge being crushed by a tsunami (after it miraculously survives a 9.6 earthquake). Suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride. It's just hard to enjoy a ride that you've been on 20 times and isn't executed very well in the first place. Brad Peyton brings almost no creativity to the job, content to let his CGI department make some pretty pictures and then piece them together into a "story." Tension barely builds in action sequences thanks to the fact that he can barely hold a scene together. Near the end, when Ray must rescue Blake from drowning at one point, the sequence falls apart about like the building the two are trapped in. Maybe if San Andreas felt even slightly aware of just how cliche and unoriginal it was then it could be fun, but instead it takes itself deadly seriously. At one point Paul Giamatti looks directly into the camera and says, "Pray for the people of San Francisco." It's a line so campy it should have been played up as such. Instead it only highlights the film's inability to capture either the true emotion of massive destruction and death or the awe that these kinds of films use to be able to pull out of us simply from visual splendor. One more note. The timing of this film could not be worse given the situation in Nepal. While Warner Bros. has provided information on how people can contribute to relief efforts in marketing campaigns and agreed to match dollar for dollar every contribution their employees make to Nepal what they didn't do was make a movie that inspires any of the emotions that this tragedy deserves. San Andreas just wants to show destruction and it wants you to revel in it.That's nearly impossible given the timing of the release and the fact that reveling in nothing but glorified destruction got old at least five years ago. 
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A lot of faults
I'm going to preface this by coming out as a lover of big dumb action. I do this because critics get a lot of crap for coming down on "fun" movies where we're supposed to go in with our expectations low and just enjoy the "fu...

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Kung Fury

Kung Fury is finally here and it is everything


Stunningly 80s, all awesome
May 29
// Matthew Razak
I'm just going to leave this here with a hearty recommendations. Usually awesome trailers fleshed out fall flat, but the 30 minute Kung Fury movie is a masterpiece of modern cinema and possibly the only film that will ever hold a candle to Mad Max: Fury Road.  Finally, Kickstarter doesn't let us down... well, this and Veronica Mars. 
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Makes me want to jump off a cliff
Remaking Point Break was a dumb thing to do, but remaking it as what looks like a deadly serious action film with extreme sports is even dumber. If I already wasn't that excited for this movie I'm even less now. Not even...

Five movies you love that aren't as good as Mad Max: Fury Road

May 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Why it's beloved: Gravity is a technical marvel. It's the kind of film you have to see in theaters, because the scope of it is literally infinite. It's about swirling alone in the blackness of space, where the slightest mistake can kill you at any moment. We gave it a 100. I wouldn't have given it a 100, but I understand why Matt did. It's a technical marvel, and you spend much of the film wondering how the heck they did it. (Short answer: Computers. Long answer: Extremely complicated technical rigs and setups and choreography. Also, computers.) Seen on the biggest possible screen in 3D, there's nothing quite like it.  Why Mad Max is better: But the issues arise as soon as you decide to think less about the impeccable technique on display and more about what it is they're displaying. Mad Max may not have the same quality of CG or 3D that Gravity has, but it's the same sort of spectacle. For every moment Gravity had that made me gasp, Mad Max had ten. But it's not just about the look of it. Gravity's fundamental failing is its inability to let viewers figure things out for themselves. Everyone just keeps talking, even when it literally threatens their lives. They should be conserving breath. But instead, the audience needs to be told everything, or else... I mean, how could we possibly figure it out? Gravity assumes we're dumb.  Mad Max doesn't.  Mad Max knows that we can figure things out. Only a handful of things are ever explicitly stated, and it never feels like dialogue for the sake of dialogue. They don't sound like they're speaking to the audience. They sound like they're speaking to each other. Like people. We're shown things rather than told them. You learn everything you need to know from damn good filmmaking, not an overlong screenplay. Why It's Beloved: In my review of The Raid 2, I hailed it as the best action film ever made. I had a lot of reasons for that. You're welcome to read about them. But now, just over a year later, I'm at a crossroads. I say that The Raid 2 is the best action movie of all time, but... Why Mad Max Is Better: This has been eating at me since about halfway through my first viewing of the film. If The Raid 2 is the best action movie, but Mad Max is a better movie, and Mad Max is an action movie... does that make it the best action movie of all time? I still don't know the answer, but I do know this: Mad Max is, on the whole, a superior viewing experience. The action in The Raid is beyond incredible, and the "fights" are undoubtedly better than the ones in Mad Max, but after the first viewing, those long sequences of political blather start to grate. By the third time I saw The Raid 2, I was rolling my eyes. (Worth noting: The original The Raid doesn't have this problem. It is also not as good as Mad Max, but it is fundamentally closer to Mad Max than its sequel is.) It's fine, but it's definitely not as good as what Mad Max has to offer. The few moments of downtime in Mad Max are all excellent. They drive forward the characters and/or the narrative in interesting ways. There isn't a single wasted frame in the entire goddamn movie. You could cut half the political bullshit in The Raid 2 and the film would be better for it. But every last second of Mad Max is essential. Given a choice, I would probably rewatch individual action sequences from The Raid 2 over those from Mad Max. But if I had to choose one film to watch all the way through over and over and over again? No contest. Mad Max is is. Why It's Beloved: Joss Whedon took a group of superheroes and made an ultimately fascinating and extremely enjoyable team film. With the added charm that is so uniquely Whedon, I mean, what's not to love? It's big, it's funny, and it's got people wearing silly costumes. Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: The second time I saw Mad Max, I went with my friend Brian. He doesn't really like Joss Whedon. After Guardians of the Galaxy (also not as good as Mad Max: Fury Road) came out, he said, "That's the movie that proves Joss Whedon is a hack." After we got out of Mad Max, he said it again. "This movie clinches it." He called the movie "life-changing." He would definitely give it a 95 or higher on the Flixist review scale. He would not be wrong to do so. I didn't name The Avengers 2 here intentionally. Not just because the critical response has been much more muted, but because the film's treatment of women has come more under fire than the original The Avengers (not that it was the best there either). Point is: Joss Whedon is known for writing strong female characters. That's his claim to fame. But none are as strong and as badass as the team in Fury Road. Let's be clear: A 78 year old woman does her own stunts. But here's the thing: A 78 year old woman has stunts to do. You know what that is? The. Best. Suck it, Whedon. Why It's Beloved: Last year's Academy Award Winner should not have won the Academy Award, but that didn't stop it from being an incredible film. But what really makes it so freaking amazing is the way it uses its technical prowess to create something uniquely cinematic. When most films are so same-y, it takes something like Birdman to kick you awake and remind you that movies can be and are magical things. Film is a magical medium. It takes reality and can bend it almost to the breaking point without you even noticing it's happened. You think you're looking at a straight path but it's curving you around. And suddenly you realize that you had no idea what was happening and now you're on a different path entirely. Birdman's one-take conceit does all of that and more. Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: But it doesn't do it as well as Mad Max. Mad Max isn't a two hour take; it's a two hour car chase. But here's the thing: That car chase feels so much more real than anything in Birdman. Even ignoring the way Birdman breaks the rules in order to bring you into Riggan Thompson's head, it shatters illusions in order to wear its point on its sleeve. Birdman hits you over the head with its message because the characters monologue about it constantly. It's all very nihilistic, and though it's (extremely) compelling, it's less compelling than watching people develop during a car chase. The characters in Mad Max develop subtly but poignantly. No one in Birdman really develops at all. And while that may work with the narrative that's being told, watching Michael Keaton be sad after monologuing about things is far less momentous than watching Tom Hardy give a tiny thumbs up to a woman who he had been pointing a gun at minutes before. Why It's Beloved: Drive was the best movie of 2011. It was the first film that I saw at a press screening that I would later pay to see. And... I'm not actually sure there has ever been another example of that. I love the film. The nearly silent but completely deadly driving protagonist was pretty darn compelling. And though it has ultra-violent action in it, it's the journey of a Real Human Being that made everyone love it. (I mean, that soundtrack, though.) Why It's Not As Good As Mad Max: You may have guessed that I intentionally reduced the character of Driver to "nearly silent but completely deadly driving protagonist" in order to make the comparison between him and Max even easier, but the reality is that they both fit into the same mold. But the difference is that Driver spends the film trying to keep a woman safe because she can't fend for herself. What Max is doing is far more interesting. He's helping Furiosa and the others, not saving them. He doesn't have to be the one to get revenge, because at any given moment, he's not the biggest badass in the truck. The focus on cooperation between two equals without any need for a romance makes Mad Max an ultimately more meaningful film. 
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#6: Literally everything else
I've seen Mad Max: Fury Road twice in the past week. Crucially, I paid New York City movie ticket prices to see Mad Max twice in the past week. Next week, I will all-but-definitely pay to see it a third time. I don'...

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I Am Wrath

Saban Films picks up Travolta's I Am Wrath for NA


Rock that cut-off, Travolta
May 20
// Matthew Razak
If you're an older actor right now then you basically have to be making an action movie/revenge movie where you kick a lot of people's asses with your special skills of ass kicking. The latest to join the pack? John Travolta ...
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Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson will reteam for Shanghai Dawn


I don't know karate, but I know ka-razy
May 15
// Hubert Vigilla
As Coming Soon noted yesterday, MGM is finally moving forward with Shanghai Dawn, the sequel to Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson films Shanghai Noon (2000) and Shanghai Knights (2003). As Flixist EIC Matthew Razak said in our staff em...

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

May 14 // Matthew Razak
[embed]219448:42382:0[/embed] Mad Max: Fury RoadDirector: George MillerRelease Date: May 14, 2015Rated: R  If you're not a child of the 80s and you subsequently ignored everyone telling you to watch at least one of the Mad Max films for the past 20 years then it's possible you don't know the premise of the franchise. That really isn't a problem. One of the strangely wonderful things about this series is that continuity is the last thing it cares about. Instead its focus is on its themes and the mythic creation of a man called Max.  There are a few key elements, of course. It's somewhere in the post-apocalyptic future. Water, gas and areas that aren't desert are scarce. Man has fallen into lawlessness and still wears far more leather than you'd expect. The world is dependent on despots who run small fiefdoms where they control the supplies and the cars -- car chases are really popular in the future. Max (Tom Hardy) is a loner haunted by something terrible that happened in his past (possibly the tragic ending of the first film, but it's never made clear).  He's taken prisoner by one of these fiefdoms run by a mutated man named Immortan Joe, who has developed a war like cult around his control of water. On a routine gas run Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) steels the tanker she's carrying so she can rescue five women from being bred by Joe. A chase across the desert ensues in which both Max and one of Joe's half-life warriors, Nux (Nicholas Hoult) join the fray. It may sound like I'm simplifying much of the film with that last sentence, but I'm not. Once Fury Road gets started on its chase premise it holds onto it until the very end, only stopping every so often to deliver exposition of some surprisingly sentient plot points. It is as non-stop as a film can be and it works magically. Characters are developed almost entirely through actions leaving dull blather and burdensome world creations (I'm looking at you, Jupiter Ascending) in the background. At first it may feel like the movie is being horribly unclear because it refuses to hold your hand, but then you realize that by letting the story ride along with the car chases its not holding your hand, but yanking you along with it screaming, "Shut up and enjoy the damn ride!" Miller's blend of actual stunts and limited CGI is a master work in cinematic action. The only person who could even come close to him right now is Gareth Evans of The Raid and The Raid 2 fame, and he owes much of his style to Miller's original trilogy. It's the kind of action that makes you shift your thinking from "this is fun and dumb" to "this is fun and art." The kind of relentlessly, perfectly contstructed set pieces that prove just exactly what's wrong with the likes of lazy action direction we get from Michael Bay types. The difference is just how relentlessly old school Miller is in his direction. It's as if Miller didn't get the memo that over-cranking to speed things up just isn't done anymore or that pushing into an extreme close up at high speed is considered tacky now. No one told him and so he just does it and it works. It works so damn well and feels so original that even the most jaded action connoisseur will be on the edge of their seat during the film's climatic final chase. This all despite the fact that really each sequence is the exact same thing (tanker getting chased by cars). That's not a problem, though, because in reality the movie is just one long, beautiful action sequence. It's the tanker chase from Road Warrior drawn out across an entire film and it's glorious. This isn't to say that there's nothing to bite your mental teeth into. Mad Max isn't really about the nitty gritty of characters, but more a study of archetypes, humanity and the ever present lone wolf hero. Max isn't a character, he's a symbol for survival, rebirth and redemption. That's why the films have almost no continuity between them. It's why Tom Hardy's almost monosyllabic performance is so spot on. It's why the characters around him are the driving force of emotion while he is simply the hammer that triggers change. If anything Theron's Furiousa is the star of this film as she takes the role of the heart -- albeit one that can kick some serious ass. All this is why the movie's use of the rescue of a group of "pure" women trope actually works despite the cliche. Fury Road is delivering an incredibly meta, two-hour action think piece on the genre itself. You may think I'm over analyzing all this, and that's absolutely fine. You can come out of Fury Road thinking everything I just said is idiotic, but you can't come out of it thinking you saw anything but a kick in the ass to action cinema. Mad Max is actually mad, and weird and strange and different. It features a double-guitar-flameflower playing mutant strapped to the top of a car that is basically a massive speaker system. It has people wearing ridiculous clothing and some of the maddest dialog this side of a David Lynch production.  Fury Road may be a "sequel," but it feels entirely original, and that might be the real reason it stands out so well. In an industry that has become so cannibalistic, to the point that it could destroy itself, Fury Road is undeniably unapologetic about being different. If this is what is on the other side of the superhero movie apocalypse then sign me up. 
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Way beyond Thunderdome
You might be wondering just why a franchise (or whatever Mad Max films are) to a trilogy that came out in the 80s and starred Mel Gibson is getting a sequel now. The real reasons probably have something to do with money and c...

The Mad Max Trilogy: Look Back in Anger

May 12 // Hubert Vigilla
Mad Max (1979) - Lawless Ozploitation Mad Max, the film that started it all, wasn't post-apocalyptic. It's pre-apocalyptic. The world in the film is lawless and rowdy (i.e., the Platonic form of Australia?), but not the rusty, dusty S&M wasteland that would be seen in the subsequent films in the series. What we get instead is a solid Ozploitation revenge movie, one reminiscent of a drive-in biker picture or a western about bandits hunting down the lawmen that done killed one of their kin. The first Mad Max is an origin story that the other movies will riff on and play with. Max is a leather-clad cop in a muscle car who kills a punk called The Nightrider in a car chase. The Nightrider's posse rolls into town looking to even the score. Revenge, mannequin molestation, eccentric music cues, and general Ozplotation mayhem ensues. When not running down goons and making them cry, Max is back at his seaside house with his saxophone-playing wife Jesse and their cute toddler Sprog. (The hell kind of name for a kid is Sprog?) Home offers a semblance of order in a world that's otherwise falling apart and unable to be saved. Which inevitably means this domesticity is doomed. You know things aren't going to end well for Max and his wife because they have a cute way of saying "I love you." This is generally a sign of someone's eventual death in a movie, sort of like when a character develops a sudden and persistent cough. The police force is in shambles, just holding on to some shred of order like the rest of civilization. After the grisly murder of one of his friends on the force, Max wants to quit so he can lead a normal life. His chief, Fifi, tries to convince him to remain on the force and delivers a key line: "They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes." Max goes on holiday with his family to clear his head, which leads to a chance run-in with The Nightrider's friends and the eventual tragedy that pushes Max over the edge. By the end of the film, Max's ordered and peaceful world is gone. He goes vigilante to get revenge, goes full anti-hero in his methods, and instead of returning to his seaside home, he leaves society for the road. Off he drives out into the lawless wild, which is where he now belongs. One of the final shots of Mad Max is our hero driving off as an explosion goes off in the background. That's not just an act of revenge carried out, it's the obliteration of the ordered world. Fifi's line about the return of heroes sets up Max's recurring reluctant heroism in the other films. In the next two Mad Max movies, Max's motives begin as self-interested and self-serving, he eventually shows his true qualities as a character. In the process, he aids in the founding of two separate societies, giving others a chance to rebuild the civilization he's abandoned. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) - Post-Apocalyptic Anarchy From Mad Max to The Road Warrior, we go from lawlessness to anarchy. There's no vestige of the civilized world. Now it's a land of bondage gear and crossbows. To get by, people scavenge and murder. Max's badass vehicle has gone from shiny to a dusty matte black. Both the man and the machine are amply battle-scarred; Gibson appears to have aged 10 years in movie-time even though this sequel was released just two years after the first film. Welcome to the apocalypse—ain't it grand? The Road Warrior is easily the best movie of The Mad Max Trilogy, and a remarkable achievement in reckless action filmmaking. Stunt performers leap off speeding cars, hurtle through the air, break bones on impact with the Australian dirt. The vehicles—which look like someone played Frankenstein in a junkyard—are gloriously expendable, colliding at high speeds and creating the scrap metal equivalent of a Bloomin' Onion®. The western vibe of the first Mad Max is here again—rather than bandits out for revenge against lawmen, it's outlaws raiding a mining town—though there's also the air of a samurai film, particularly Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. The film follows Max as he tries to bargain for some gas from a small outpost of peaceful survivors. He eventually agrees to help them leave their besieged settlement for a seaside paradise (as seen in postcards). If the survivors were to remain, they'd be killed by the tyrannous Lord Humungus and his band of barbarian perverts clad in assless chaps and football pads. As a character, Max begins to take on the traits of classic cinematic nomads, particularly Toshiro Mifune's character from Yojimbo and Sanjuro and Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name from Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Max is even called "The Man with No Name" by the Bartertown announcer. (He's also called "Raggedy Man," which walks the line between badass and adorable.) We begin to see the recurring Mad Max motifs here: the ripped version of the MFP uniform, the bad leg, the sawed-off shotgun, his car bobby-trapped with a bomb. Max is surrounded by a lot of colorful supporting characters in The Road Warrior. There's Bruce Spence as the gyrocopter pilot, and also a feral child with a razor-sharp boomerang. Lord Humungus makes a strong impression with his bulging scalp, his metal hockey mask, and He-Man physique. The whole look of the Humungus posse carries forward into Thunderdome, and seems to partly inspire the goons in Fury Road. (The influence extends to the pro-wrestling tag team The Road Warriors, later known as The Legion of Doom. The movie also inspired Tonka's Steel Monsters toyline, which featured a hefty post-apocalyptic vehicle and action figure; as a kid, I had a Masher truck, which was driven by a Lord Humungus knock-off named Metal Face.) Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) - A Kooky Melange As far as sequel subtitles go, "Beyond Thunderdome" is the post-apocalyptic equivalent of "Electric Boogaloo." That and the Tina Turner song "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" are probably the lasting legacies of the film. (Unpopular opinion: "One of the Living," the Tina Turner song during the beginning credits, holds up better than "We Don't Need Another Hero.") Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome carries the series out of its Ozploitation past and sticks it right in the middle of the 80s. And a bunch of kids. Not only is Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome the most 80s entry of the trilogy, it's also the most blockbustery in execution. The vibe is less western and samurai movie and more Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There's also a disappointing lack of vehicular action in Beyond Thunderdome until the finale. Max enters an outpost known as Bartertown (the outback's Mos Eisley) in search of some stolen goods. In the process, he becomes embroiled in a power struggle between Bartertown's founder Aunty Entity and a duo known as Master Blaster. Master Blaster runs the underground pig shit refineries that produce methane, the town's super-fuel. There's a fight in Thunderdome, which is an early highlight, featuring chainsaws and bungee cords and raucous chanting from the post-apocalyptic masses. Thunderdome gets beyond Thunderdome in about 25 minutes, though. Max eventually winds up rescued by a tribe of children who are convinced he's a savior who'll fly them to Sydney, Australia (as seen in a View-Master). Thunderdome was apparently inspired by Russell Hoban's post-apocalyptic novel Ridley Walker, which explains the fractured/restructured speech patterns of the child tribe. The film feels like it grafts Max into this sort of story, and his previous skill set of hard-driving and vehicular cunning are not particularly valuable for this adventure. Instead, Max uses his fists and some of his wits (and a whistle... and a monkey), and yet he feels a little off. It's the difference between the Han Solo of The Empire Strikes Back and the Han Solo of Return of the Jedi—Mad Max goes soft. Thunderdome introduces some fascinating disjunctions to the continuity of The Mad Max Trilogy. Bruce Spence, the actor who played the gyrocopter pilot in The Road Warrior, shows up in Beyond Thunderdome as the pilot of a small plane. It's unspecified if Spence is playing the same character in both movies or two separate pilots. Max's car also appears again in Thunderdome, though it was blown up real good in The Road Warrior. (Maybe it's another tricked-out Interceptor, like a second pair of black jeans just in case?) The story of Thunderdome doesn't entirely cohere on its own either. It feels like a Mad Max tale told by a child, which figures since the story is all about Max helping children establish a new society elsewhere. If we think of Max as serving a function in the foundation myths of the societies he's helped create, this wildly plotted fairy tale version of a Mad Max story might have been entirely intentional. Mad Max's Pseudo-Continuity - A Tankful of Juice or The Legend of Mad Max There are a few ways to think of the loose continuity of The Mad Max Trilogy (and possibly even Fury Road), and I'm glad the series has a kind of pick-and-choose mentality, like we're able to co-create the post-apocalyptic world to a certain degree. Apart from straight continuity, you can think of The Mad Max Trilogy as a kind of loose continuity, with the same character wandering off and going on different adventures, and bits and pieces not always fitting together neatly. The best example of this is probably the Zatoichi films, a series of 26 movies that star Shintaro Katsu as the title character. In each film, the blind samurai known as Zatoichi tries to escape his ruthless past but is then confronted with its repercussions. Instead of a sawed-off shotgun, he's got a sword concealed in his walking stick. There are slippages in continuity in the Zatoichi films when viewed sequentially. In one movie, Zatoichi's sword is broken, but then it's perfectly fine in the next. It's like Max's car showing up again in Thunderdome. Another option is to think of Max as the same character-type/archetype in the films but not the same character throughout the series. It's like the Zelda games in this regard: there's a guy named Link who wears green, carries a sword, gathers certain items, and he goes on adventures. Maybe each Mad Max film is its own discrete Mad Max film, with each inhabiting a different world but with recurring elements and common motifs persisting between the worlds. You can also think of this in terms of Jack tales—Jack referring to the archetypal stock hero of stories such as "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Jack the Giant Killer," and "Little Jack Horner." In this case, we'd have "Max the Mad," "Max the Road Warrior," and "Max the Guy Who Went Beyond Thunderdome." To that, one could also think of The Mad Max Trilogy as a thematic trilogy that's loosely connected, sort of like Leone's Dollars Trilogy. The Man with No Name may or may not be the same character from film to film, but he embodies a character-type that's already equipped with certain storytelling machinery (i.e., the gunslinger, the loner, the ronin). The archetype allows Leone to explore different kinds of stories that are thematically linked. There's another possibility I've been considering that provides an in-story explanation for the inconsistencies in continuity. In this possibility, Max is the name given to a mythic figure who helped various societies try to re-establish order in the post-apocalyptic world. Note that The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome are both presented as histories that are recounted by people in the future, each one in their newly established civilization for which Max is partly responsible. Max is a hero in the foundation myths of these new, separate societies. The tellings of a Max story differ since each society is defined by its own values and own history. If the first Mad Max is closest to an agreed-upon canon, it would make sense why The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome offer divergent stories that don't fit perfectly together—they're the myths of two societies that have never interacted that share a mythic figure in common. The recurring Bruce Spence pilot may not be the same person, but maybe he serves the same mythopoeic or folkloric function in the two different societies, sort of like the tanuki in Japanese folklore, or the spider in African folk tales, or other kinds of tricksters who manifest themselves in different forms. Miller knows his Joseph Campbell, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is one way he's put his cinematic hero to good use. This brings me back to Fifi's lines in the first Mad Max: "They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes." If this mythic read of The Mad Max Trilogy holds, we see Max abandon his own dying civilization, help build new civilizations, and become a hero to these new socities. Max has succeeded in giving people back their heroes, and in the process has helped seed a little bit of hope for the future. And yet the hero at the end of each of the Mad Max sequels cannot go back to society. It's something he's known, he's loved, but that he cannot recapture. Instead, he gives the new world to others. It's like my favorite line from the book The Return of the King, which Frodo says at The Grey Havens: I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you. It makes me wonder how many other times Max has given up the world so that others could rebuild it and enjoy it, and how many other Max tales there are, and how they differ, as if the new civilization has played a game of mythopoeic telephone with the legend of the Raggedy Man. One reason I think "One of the Living" is better than "We Don't Need Another Hero" are the lines "You've got ten more thousand miles to go" and "You've got ten more thousand years to go." In other words, a hero's work is never done. [embed]219429:42374:0[/embed]
Mad Max Trilogy photo
"The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!"
I have yet to see Mad Max: Fury Road, which comes out this week, but I did get a chance to see the first three Mad Max movies over the weekend at a friend's place: Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad M...

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Terminator: Genisys still spoiling things with character posters


Guess they just gave up
May 11
// Matthew Razak
Serious SPOILERS incoming. When Paramount released the last trailer for Terminator: Genysis they spoiled what appeared to be a major plot point that would have helped to hook people in. We all just assumed it was a mista...
John Wick sequel photo
People keep asking...
People keep asking if I'm back. Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back. We didn't review John Wick here on Flixist (which was a major oversight on my part because I saw it during my vacation that weekend and totally didn't write on it...

Barely Lethal Trailer  photo
Barely Lethal Trailer

First trailer for Barely Lethal sure is lethal


Apr 27
// Nick Valdez
I'm immediately interested whenever A24 picks up a film. They've done such a good job of picking out the more interesting and experimental properties like Ex Machina, Spring Breakers, Obvious Child, and so on. Their latest fi...
Mad Max Trailer photo
Mad Max Trailer

Newest Mad Max: Fury Road trailer has all the furious roads


Apr 17
// Nick Valdez
Do you need any more convincing? At this point, you're either as hyped as I am for the next Mad Max or you're super uncool. But if you needed just one more trailer, than the latest one featuring footage of the old films will do just the trick. Mad Max: Fury Road opens May 15th.
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Terminator 5

Newest Terminator: Genisys trailer sure has a lot of spoilers


Seriously, so many
Apr 14
// Nick Valdez
While I've been all for Terminator: Genisys' kitchen sink approach in rebooting the series, maybe I've spoken too soon. Whoever's marketing the film just went and completely spoiled the film's big twist for the film's second...
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New Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer gives us plenty of Black Widow


Because we meed to see the entire film before it opens
Apr 06
// Matthew Razak
Think you've seen enough of Avengers: Age of Ultron? Tough, here's a brand new trailer with even more to see. Be grateful. Actually, the folks behind the marketing have done a decent job of not revealing everything. While thi...

Review: Furious 7

Apr 03 // Matthew Razak
Furious 7Director: James WanRated: PG-13Release Date: April 3, 2015 [embed]219227:42315:0[/embed] Furious 7 is everything you expect it to be. An over-the-top car chase film jam packed with fist fights, gun battles, insanely awesome set pieces and lots of dialog about family. It is definitely an absolute blast and a good movie, but it misses Lin's flare. The director had a unique skill for building up action sequence to their most implausible conclusions, and then jumping the shark again so that all you could do was sit in your seat and think, "WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?" While Lin shoots for this on many occasions he hits the target far less meaning Furious 7 is awesome, but it is not as good as its predecessor.  In terms of plot it might be the weakest of the entire series, which is saying something. Dom (Vin Diesel) returns with the majority of the gang: Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). After the last film they all settled down, but now the brother of Fast and Furious 6's villain, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), is out for vengeance. He attacks Hobbs and then goes and kills Han, as we saw at the end of the previous film. This causes Hobbs to call in Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russel) who leads a covert US spy team. Dom and he make a deal that the "family" will rescue a kidnapped hacker in return for using her world monitoring technology to turn the tables on Deckard Shaw and hunt him. It is a truly weak excuse to go from one action sequence to another in exotic locales, but it works enough. And yet at the same time the plot may be one of the bests thanks to its focus on family, loss and the untimely death of Paul Walker. Walker is digitally edited into some scenes, including an incredibly touching conclusion handled with a surprising amount of subtlety for the series, but even the ones that were filmed before his death seem touchingly appropriate. A conversation he has with Mia before going into the last action sequence is heart breaking and the series' continuing themes of family and friendship work the best they ever have.  You came for the action, though. It is the same ridiculousness you've come to expect from the series, and while it lacks that aforementioned touch that Lin brought to it it is still some of the most mind blowing stuff you'll see on screen this year. That building jumping scene we all saw in the trailer? If you think you saw everything, you are so wrong. Every time you think a scene won't top the last one they pull out some new ridiculous stunt that makes your jaw drop. It's also nice to see that Wan prefers to use actual cars when he can whereas Lin often relied on digital escapades. Wan also prefers showing a lot of gyrating female bodies in bikinis to the point that the actual "porn" overshadowed the car  porn.  That obsessions with showing off naked women also goes for burly men (and women). Wan's fist fights might be the best the series has seen, if not the most plentiful. The inclusion of the amazing Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey helps to no end, and the Statham/Johnson fight is pretty much everything you could have hoped for with a little more thrown in. If Wan lacks the magic to put together action sequences as well as Lin he definitely has it when it comes to fights.  Furious 7 also balances its cheesiness well thanks to the Walker scenes. Previous entries into the franchise often felt heavy handed when Diesel started talking about family or the franchise tried to develop characters, but here it all seems to fit. While you're itching for the next action sequence to start or for Johnson to drop another incredible one-liner (the man flexes out of a cast at one point) at this point we've been with these characters for so long that you actually care. That doesn't mean the camp doesn't reign supreme. Kurt Russels entire point in the film is to say bad lines and put glasses on his face like he's doing his best David Caruso, and once the action does start it's pretty much just one-liners and Tyrese punch lines.  Furious 7 is indeed everything you want and expect from the franchise, and while some of the magic is gone thanks to Lin's departure there's plenty left to keep the franchise awesome. If this entry is any indication, by the time the ninth film roles around we won't have any plot and Diesel will just come on screen after every action sequence and say something about family, but that will be fine with me. What is great about the Fast and Furious series is not that they're a guilty pleasure, but just that they're a pleasure. It's a franchise of ridiculousness that everyone is, for some reason, heavily invested. Keep em' coming and in the case of Furious 7 bring some tissues. 
Furious 7 Review photo
Cars, breasts and family
To begin, I am not Nick Valdez, our resident Fast and Furious reviewer. He is in transit to a new life in the big city and thus cannot, at the moment, partake in the next installment of the series. I hope you will accept...

Fast, Furious, and Fancy Free: Don't Worry About Guilt, Enjoy the Pleasure

Apr 02 // Hubert Vigilla
This isn't a call for pure populism or anti-intellectualism—anti-intellectualism is a blight worse than the guilting of pleasure. This is about being more comfortable with the pleasures that art can provide. It's also about accepting that taste differs, and that differences of taste are not the automatic markers of inferior intelligence or morality, which are ideas that a phrase like "guilty pleasure" seems to conjure up. In Jennifer Szalai's 2013 piece for The New Yorker titled "Against 'Guilty Pleasure'," she noted the odd origins of the phrase. The whole notion sort of traces back to the ethics and virtues laid out by Aristotle and later Immanuel Kant, noting a distinction between the base, bodily gratification of the flesh and the higher and purer aims of the mind/disembodied spirit. Szalai notes that the first appearance of the phrase "guilty pleasure" in The New York Times was in 1860 and in reference to a brothel. In "Easy Writers," a 2012 New Yorker piece about guilty pleasures by Arthur Krystal, Edmund Wilson provides the following line about the morally debased quality of reading mystery novels: "a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking." I wonder how many people did the Sunday crossword at the brothel while others were at mass. Szalai eventually notes the emergence of the phrase guilty pleasure during the decline of middlebrow culture in American life prior to the late-20th century. That middlebrow period was a point of post-war prosperity in which high art didn't seem so distant, in which cultural literacy was valued regardless of class, and in which companies sought to bring art to the masses (e.g., short fiction in popular magazines after WWII; in the early 1960s, Sears sold fine art prints selected and curated by Vincent Price). There might be a link here between the disappearance of middlebrow culture and the erosion of the middle class. "The guilty pleasure seems to me the distillation of all the worst qualities of the middlebrow," Szalai writes, "the condescension of the highbrow without the expenditure of effort, along with mass culture's pleasure-seeking without the unequivocal enjoyment." Today with social media (a contraption made for the neurotic purpose of revealing how much other people like you for your opinions), the whole notion of the guilty pleasure seems to be predicated on appearing cooler than we are to others, or appearing smarter that we are to our close circle of friends and associates. And yet for some reason, the whole idea of guilty pleasure suggests that we fear being judged for crimes of taste rather than anything that has actual significance to our moral fiber or integrity. As Szalai mentions in her piece, we'll confess to watching trashy television, but then we'll somehow imply that this was a momentary lapse of pure judgement. Really, it was a break from some work of art that's actually worthwhile. Yeah. We're hard at work reading an intellectually challenging and spiritually enriching work of art. (Emphasis on "work," because that nagging inner puritan reminds us that labor is virtuous and that suffering through laborious art is purifying.) This could be another outgrowth of social media, in which we assemble lists of various things that we like as if they are both explanations of who we are as well as externalizations of who we are. It's the stuff-culture we've been born into, in which people judge us because of what's on our bookshelf or in our DVD/Blu-ray collection; or maybe what's on our wall or in the cloud or the queue or the playlist; maybe the algorithm too. The existential pressures of taste that we feel—the outside forces that lead to the idea of guilty pleasures—might simply be part of living in the modern world and late capitalism. We are inextricable from our stuff, and we assume that the outward appearance of the stuff we have says too much about who we really are inside. But what if trashy TV is enjoyable to someone, and so is reading a difficult book? This doesn't seem uncommon to me or mutually exclusive. Or how about just one or the other? The types of enjoyment might differ, and the engagement with the art might differ, but there doesn't seem to be anything inherently wrong in deriving pleasure from a work of art, even if it's classified as bad art. I mean, what's the worst that can happen if you enjoyed an old Ace paperback or a Harlequin romance? Or if you had fun watching WrestleMania, or an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from the '80s, or Fast Five? Oh yeah—the worst thing that can happen is pleasure. And wasn't that the whole point? Ultimately I don't think the divisions between high and low art will be lost, but the guilt ought to be. What the guilt can be replaced by is a kind of reflection about the work, the nature of the enjoyment you've experienced, and why you enjoy the work and the type of pleasure it brought about. The work, whatever it is, and the pleasure, however it came about, can be engaged with thoughtfully. So one of the reasons that the Fast and the Furious series has become so successful might be the sense of escalation. The series has been built right in front of us, and characters have little ticks that make them feel like they're competently realized and performed. And people who've enjoyed the series will be curious to see how the family changes with the loss of Walker, and sad to have to say goodbye. The stakes of the action get raised, the scope of the action gets bigger, the franchise expands in unexpected ways. For instance, there's the disjointed chronology, with the fourth, fifth, and sixth films in the series taking place before the third one. Also, Han (Sung Kang) from the Fast films directed by Justin Lin is the same character from Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow, an indie drama about disaffected Asian-American youths in the suburbs. A 2002 Sundance darling is tied to a $2 billion action movie series. That is awesome, and I say that without any irony or guilt. The pleasures of art ought to be affirmative, and we should be more than willing to enjoy things because we enjoy them, and do it without fear over what others will think about us. I don't think we should be complacent when engaging with the art since we should think about why we like what we like, but we should be comfortable with the idea that we like what we like. Besides, if your pleasure in art is influenced by your fear of judgment from others, you're probably doing this whole pleasure thing wrong. Like Krystal writes at the end of his New Yorker piece that I mentioned earlier: Plotting, inventing, creating characters, putting words in their mouths and quirks in their personalities—it all seems pretty astonishing to me. The prose may be uneven and the observations about life and society predictable, but, if the story moves, we, almost involuntarily, move with it. Let's all move and be moved in our own ways. This week, like always, it's perfectly okay to be moved fast and furiously.
Fast, Furious, Fancy Free photo
Let's try to do away with the idea of "guilty pleasures"
In roughly 14 years, the Fast and the Furious series has become one of the biggest action movie franchises in the world, grossing more than $2 billion. Furious 7 comes out this week, and there's much rejoicing. There's also a...

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Ryan Reynolds confirms Deadpool is rated R


The dream is real and they're going to cuss a lot
Apr 02
// Matthew Razak
Yesterday, a day when we basically believe nothing we read about any movies, an April Fools joke went up that Deadpool would be rated PG-13 over at JoBlo.com. Funny. Way to go, JoBlo. Reynold's himself got in on the act...
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The estate of Bruce Lee doesn't want him in Ip Man 3


The CG Bruce Lee is now unlikely
Apr 02
// Hubert Vigilla
Just last week we reported that production on Ip Man 3 is underway, featuring Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee. While Iron Mike is a lock, it seems that the Donnie Yen sequel has hit a snag with CG Bruce Lee (aka Marshall Law fr...
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Helen Mirren wants to be in Fast and the Furious 8


Seriously, guys--it would be kind of awesome
Mar 31
// Hubert Vigilla
Helen Mirren is a lot of things: an Academy Award-winning actress, an august stage performer, an eternally beautiful woman, the granddaughter of a Russian colonel and diplomat, a five-time WCW World Television Champion, and w...

Review: Dead Rising: Watchtower

Mar 26 // Nick Valdez
[embed]219149:42297:0[/embed] Dead Rising: WatchtowerDirector: Zach LipovskyRelease Date: March 27th, 2015 (exclusively on Crackle)Rating: NR  In Watchtower, the zombie virus has spread round the world and the government has issued a super drug, known as Zombrex, in order to cure it. Digital journalist Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe) and his partner Jordan (Keegan Connor Tracy) end up getting caught in the latest outbreak when a bad string of Zombrex infects a stadium full of people. As Chase tries to survive, he runs into a woman who's already infected named Crystal (Meghan Ory), and now they must work together to survive the zombies, figure out what's going on with the Zombrex, and most importantly, escape from the group of psychopaths on the loose.  Watchtower had quite a bit of an undertaking on its hands. If you're not aware of the Dead Rising games, just know they're famous for featuring a single guy cheesin' his way through hordes of zombies while he wears crazy outfits, makes anything he can into weapons, and its narrative is one of the worst in zombie fiction. So, having Watchtower not be a complete mess is already a huge plus. It fixes this by creating a narrative all its own rather than try and adapt the current stories available. In fact it relegates Frank West, here in the film awesomely played by Rob Riggle and one of the series' flamboyantly divisive characters, to the sidelines whereas the film could've completely derailed had its tone focused on the wackiness of that character. Instead he's used wonderfully here. Adding a bit of levity in between heavier scenes and getting the laugh like only Rob Riggle can. A line like "I'll smack you with that TV" works because the film allows Riggle to be as slimy and goofy as he can while paying homage to videogames themselves.  With zombie cinema as prevalent as it is, it's hard not to get a sense of "been there, done that" with any zombie film. We've seen everything from the grittiest of grit to the hokiest of cheese, so Watchtower tries its best to find a middle ground between the two. There is a sense of loss as the film struggles to find an adequate tone for a good chunk of the film. It might be a result of the film taking the subject matter at face value. Meaning that any goofiness the series is known for is only implied, and scenes only come off as inherently hokey. While this shouldn't have worked, I really enjoyed the little asides the film gives to its corniness. For example, in an awesome Shaun of the Dead like fashion, one of the first things the characters do when the outbreak breaks is to use whatever they can find as a weapon. Which means at one point, Chase fights a zombie clown holding an axe with a muffler before running it over in such a cool way. It's a nice bit of staging that you don't see much in zombie media. It's always a matter of a survivor fighting with the one weapon they have rather than literally using everything at their disposal. As for its lead, Jesse Metcalfe holds his own well enough but Chase doesn't have enough character for Metcalfe to sink his teeth into. It's just sort of an every man. That's a consequence of having Frank West be a part of the film too. That character is so magnanimous every time he's on screen, that every thing else loses spark unwittingly. That's not to say the film completely lacks personality, however. There's a scene early on that marries the game's quirk with the film's grit and makes for a particularly gripping scene. It's shot well (as it's just a constant, smooth take following Chase through a field of zombies), there's a bit where a weapon wears out and he has to switch, and it was one of the few times there was suspense. Chase just becomes a super zombie killer after that point, and while that's interesting in its own right, it does lose a little pizzazz. Then again, that's also a shout out to the game series so kudos to the film.  Dead Rising: Watchtower isn't perfect as it runs for a bit too long, the psychopaths wear a little thin (as the lead gets a weird speech explaining his motivations), and there's a jarring first person camera trick used too often early on. But don't let that deter you away from watching it for yourself. A fantastic videogame adaptation that absolutely nails why the games sell so well, yet never feels alienating for folks who have no idea where this film stems from.  As one of Sony's Crackle service's big headlining originals, this is indeed a good show of what's to come. If they can keep churning out excellent films like this, I'll definitely stick around to see what's next. 
Dead Rising Review photo
"Zombies, huh? I had a feeling you'd show up..."
Videogames have had a rough time in cinema. Since videogames are such an interactive medium, a film adaptation always misses out on the intimacy of player involvement or the videogame's story struggles to find an identity in ...

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Ip Man 3 will feature Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee


So... will this Donnie Yen sequel be partial schlock or total schlock?
Mar 24
// Hubert Vigilla
Ip Man 3 (or Ip Man 3D) has been in the works for a while, but the Donnie Yen sequel started shooting today in Shanghai. With the start of production comes news of some really bizarre stunt casting. According to The Hollywood...

The Cult Club: The Last Dragon (1985)

Mar 23 // Hubert Vigilla
The Last Dragon begins at the end of our hero Bruce Leroy's (Taimak) primary martial arts training. His name's really Leroy Green, but he's such a Bruce Lee wannabe that people call him Bruce Leroy. His teacher sends him on a quest to find Master Sum Dum Goy in order to achieve the golden glow, a kind of spiritual martial arts perfection that allows a true master to generate light from his or her body (i.e., going Super Saiyan). During this quest, Bruce Leroy is challenged to a duel by the hulking Sho'Nuff (Julius J. Carry III) and winds up embroiled in a kidnapping/music video extortion scheme involving TV host Laura Charles (Vanity) and Napoleonic arcade tycoon Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney). Though Bruce Leroy goes on his quest alone, there's a Wizard of Oz vibe in his journey for Sum Dum Goy, making The Last Dragon the second NYC-based Wizard of Oz movie I can think of (the other is The Wiz). It makes the New York of the film a kind of fantasy setting, one that features roving gangs of costumed goons like Sho'Nuff and his posse (who wouldn't be out of place in The Warriors), and jive-talking Chinese dudes at a fortune cookie factory who, like Bruce Leroy, simultaneously subvert ideas of black and Asian identity (more on that later). The coming-of-age angle in The Last Dragon is equally fascinating. Despite his skill as a martial artist, Bruce Leroy is basically a socially inept nerd. He's spent his life dedicated to a niche interest, so much that he doesn't have an identity outside of Bruce Lee idolatry. You get the sense that he's lived entirely in his own head with little social interaction outside of his family and the dojo. When he meets Laura Charles and begins to have feelings for her, delayed puberty hits him like a spinning back kick to the gonads. (This is what David Cronenberg described in his audio commentary for The Fly as "the sexual awakening of a nerd.") Bruce Leroy's younger brother, Richie (Leo O'Brien), is more than happy to oblige his older brother with some birds-and-bees talk, which is another one of the film's switcheroos when it comes to character expectations and outward appearances. The primary narrative scaffolding for The Last Dragon is the arc of classic kung fu movies. There are the outward nods, of course, like Bruce Leroy in a the yellow Game of Death tracksuit or Sho'Nuff's red glowing hands a la King Boxer/Five Fingers of Death by director Chung Chang-Wha. (Both the Game of Death tracksuit and a sound cue from King Boxer/Five Fingers of Death would make appearances in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films.) But the structure of the kung fu movie is more important than the garnish. A lot of kung fu narratives, broadly, depict a hero on some kind of journey, a refusal or failure to meet a specific challenge, the escalating repercussions of this failure, a recognition of one's own faults (sometimes in the face of imminent defeat), and an act of problem solving that leads to triumph. The ultimate victory is the problem-solving moment, like when Jackie Chan gives up being macho and learns to love the feminine form of drunken boxing in the original Drunken Master, or when Bruce Lee metaphorically destroys his own ego in the hall of mirrors in Enter the Dragon, or when Gordon Liu creates a new weapon and wants to go beyond the 35th chamber in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Bruce Leroy's problem-solving moment is also the culmination of the Wizard of Oz fairy tale and the coming-of-age story: Bruce Leroy's got to grow up and be Leroy Green, his own man, forging his own identity unique from Bruce Lee, becoming his own master just like the heroes in kung fu films, and finally participating in the world outside. Bruce Leroy's journey is so internal, which makes Sho'Nuff the perfect villain for the film. Calling himself The Shogun of Harlem, Sho'Nuff is martial arts badassery externalized with no philosophical grounding. For Sho'Nuff, martial arts is a way to do things, but not a way of life that invites self-reflection or self-discovery. That tends to be a distinguishing characteristic of lots of martial arts villains, whether it's a heavy played by Hwang Jang Lee or those goons from The Cobra Kai. They're proficient in a fighting style, but limited by the idea of the style as an end in itself (i.e., "My tiger claw can beat your snake fist technique!" Nevermind that the hero has one-upped the baddie by combining snake style and crane style by the end). The Bruce Leroy/Sho'Nuff difference is made all the more apparent in the casting. Taimak is a real martial artist, and according to Wikipedia has black belts in in Karate, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Hapkido, Jujutsu, and Tae Kwon Do. Carry, by contrast, had no martial arts background at all, but damn if he doesn't look like a supreme bad ass. (Carry even looked awesome as Lord Bowler, a supporting character in the Bruce Campbell vehicle The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which aired for a single 27-episode season on Fox in the early 90s.) The most external part of Bruce Leroy's character calls attention to racial stereotypes and cultural identity, which even today seems pretty novel. Here's a young African-American man who lives in Harlem in the 80s, but he dresses like a coolie and speaks in a measured, contemplative, downright Buddhist tone; he even eats popcorn with chopsticks. The jive-talking Chinese guys I mentioned earlier are essentially the guards of Master Sum Dum Goy's fortune cookie factory. They make their first appearance in the film dancing in Chinatown with a massive boombox. The trio makes fun of Bruce Leroy's outfit and demeanor before dismissing him. It's a meeting of two different stereotypes that are upended, which calls into question, even in a small way, what it means to "act black" or "act Asian." Bruce Leroy is "acting Asian" yet seeing "blackness" reflected back to him in the guise of three Chinese guys, who are probably experiencing a similar and inverted moment of reflection. This cultural identity issue isn't just in that first scene with the Chinese characters. Later in The Last Dragon, Bruce Leroy tries to change his voice and "act black" in order to disguise himself and infiltrate the fortune cookie factory. He does this by mimicking his younger brother Richie, repeating the lines "Hey, my man, what it look like?" in different ways, including a Michael Jackson falsetto. (Just think of the complicated racial/cultural implications there.) The characters at the fortune cookie factory don't buy the act, but they think they can use Bruce Leroy's blackness in order to learn how to play craps properly, as if all black people know how to shoot craps. [embed]219059:42295:0[/embed] In another scene that comes earlier, one of the Bruce Leroy's students, Johnny (Glen Eaton), wants to exploit his Asian-ness as a martial artist by essentially "acting more Asian." Johnny claims he wants to take the art of fighting without fighting (another Bruce Lee nod) one step further. "I mastered the art of fighting without knowing how to fight," Johnny says. "You see, people are afraid of oriental dudes. Give them a little move, a little scream, and lots of attitude." Johnny makes like Bruce Lee with a stance and a scream, then he gets kicked in the head. Being a true martial artist takes work and isn't just about what people see on the outside, and maybe the same can be said about becoming yourself completely, whoever you are. These little moves and little gestures in The Last Dragon acknowledge that our cultural identity is far more fluid than fixed. Who we are isn't necessarily predetermined by outward signifiers because there's a certain ability to define oneself in a way that feels comfortable and also authentic. It's about personal identity as the three-section staff, the 36th chamber, beating Mr. Han in the hall of mirrors. Or, maybe thinking about it another way, it's like Bruce Lee put it: Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. [embed]219059:42275:0[/embed] Next Month... Alec Kubas-Meyer and I discuss Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975). Banned in several countries upon release, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo is one of the grandaddies of extreme cinema and consistently on lists of the most disturbing movies ever made. Salo is notorious for its graphic violence, sexual depravity, depictions of coprophagia (i.e., feces eating), and pervasive sadism. But is it art? PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Tromeo and Juliet (1996) Samurai Cop (1989) El Mariachi (1992) Six-String Samurai (1998) The Warriors (1979)
Cult Club:The Last Dragon photo
Kiss my Converse!
The Last Dragon is a sort of time capsule. It's so era-specific with its plot elements--early music videos, a Soul Train analog, arcade culture, grindhouse cinemas, a song by DeBarge--that it couldn't be anything but an 80s m...

First official trailer for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Mar 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]219158:42293:0[/embed]
M:Impossible Trailer photo
Fugees make everything better
First things first. Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible 5, featuring the incredibly awesome and incredibly real high flying plane stunt, is now officially titled Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. Secondly, this trail...

Review: The Gunman

Mar 20 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218712:42047:0[/embed] The GunmanDirector: Pierre MorelRelease Date: March 20, 2015Rating: R  Sean Penn has both writing and producing credits on The Gunman. There is also a sequence where Sean Penn goes surfing and then running shirtless through a town, clearly-steroid-induced muscles glistening. Coincidence? I think not. But of all the vanity moments to add to a film, a couple minutes of manflesh aren't really all that offensive. And though it's pretty clear that The Gunman was made with Sean Penn in mind at any and all times, I tell this to you so you go in with the proper mindset. This is Sean Penn's movie, everyone else was just playing a part in it. Sean Penn plays Martin Terrier, a former assassin who was sent away after a particularly significant job in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eight years later, he's doing some work for an NGO in the DRC, working to let go of his past, when a group of militants comes looking for "the white man." If this were Taken, that would be the end of the narrative. The rest of the film would be 60 minutes of Sean Penn going around and shooting people until they stop bothering him.  But this isn't Taken, and that's just the start. Liam Neeson was a dramatic actor willing to give up the drama in order to be a badass. Sean Penn does no such thing. His action highs are countered by quieter moments of introspection or conversation. Not every moment ends in death, though many do. There isn't really a switch that goes off, where everything suddenly changes. The film escalates, as these things do, but it follows the peaks and valleys principle far more closely than Taken, which is really just a valley followed by the peakiest of peaks. But part of this is a function of The Gunman's rating. It's rated R. Taken was rated PG-13. If you really think about that film, you realize that that's kinda fucked up. I mean, it's a film that uses sex trafficking as an all-but-throwaway plot device. The implications of Taken's narratives are horrific. But the film glosses over them, because if it didn't, it probably would have gotten an R. The Gunman is actually less conceptually disturbing, but it adds a level of gravitas to everything that happens. The film essentially opens with an assassination, Terrier's last before disappearing. But that assassination isn't just the inciting incident for the film's narrative; it's something that weighs heavily on its protagonist's mind. He has nightmares – probably PTSD – and Post Concussion Syndrome, which means that loud sounds (like explosions and gunfire) can put him off balance and possibly even knock him out. This isn't explored as deeply as it could be, but little things like that add up to make the film a bit less generic than it may seem. Because, let's be real, it seems pretty gosh damn generic on the face of it. You've heard the premise at least infinite times before, and the roided out Sean Penn looks bizarrely like Sylvester Stallone, but sometimes the film does surprise you. Specifically useful is the general lack of Deus Ex Machinas. They happen, because sure, but more often than not it isn't blind luck that gets Terrier out of trouble; it's skill. Bad guys usually shoot on sight, and they're usually pretty smart. They do their best to trap him, but he's just more of a badass. And because of this, the action sequences are all quite good (and the addition of (lots of) blood gives the whole thing an extra kick), even if they do subscribe to the over-cut/confusion camera style of filmmaking. But that's less a problem with The Gunman than American action cinema in general. It's not even a "trend" anymore. It's just the reality. And it's sad. And I hate it. But it is what it is.  There's a running joke on staff that our own Sean Walsh has a tendency to give not particularly good action and horror movies the benefit of the doubt. This is what led to Taken 2's 65 and Taken 3's 70. But with The Gunman I know how he feels. As of the time I write this, the film has a 38 on Metacritic and a 14% on Rotten Tomatoes. And yet, here I am as one of the few who legitimately enjoyed the film. I really did. As a follow-up to Taken, it may be kind of disappointing, but it's a radically different film and a different kind of film. By comparison, pretty much everything will be a disappointment (Taken is amazing). It's trying to be thoughtful and change up the formula, if only a little bit. It doesn't work all the time, perhaps not even most of the time, but it's really a lot more interesting than I think people are giving it credit for. "Interesting" is a great word, but its meaning has changed a bit. People usually say something is "interesting" because they have nothing actually positive to say about it, and "interesting" sounds positive. And honestly, bad things are usually kind of "interesting." But The Gunman is interesting in a positive way. It's interesting in context with Taken and other action films of its sort, it's interesting in the way it takes advantage of its R rating not only to up the gore factor but to try to tell a story that's a bit less ADD, and it's interesting in the way it uses a pretty great dramatic actor like Sean Penn to tell that story. Writing/producing credit or no, this is an interesting (there's that word again) choice for him. And I want to see the film succeed, because I'd like to see him try it again. The Gunman may be a rocky start for Penn's would-be rebirth as an action superstar, but it shows potential for something great. If this was Sean Penn's Taken, I guess it's time to wait for The Grey. 
The Gunman Review photo
Sean Penn's particular set of skills
It's impossible to talk about The Gunman without discussing Taken. Everything director Pierre Morel ever does is going to be compared to it. And by starring Sean Penn, The Gunman invites those comparisons. Take...

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