Tag: action

Movie Review: The Cannonball Run (1981)

cannonball-run
Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

We were pretty down about Hal Needham’s passing. His movies are always lots of fun and I love his respect for and dedication to stuntpeople. I remembered that I’d never actually seen The Cannonball Run so that felt like an ok way to celebrate his career. The film tracks the events surrounding a cross-country road race that attracts all manner of speed demons and goofballs, all with their own ideas about how to evade the police as they speed down numerous interstate highways. Sexy lady friends (and lovers? Probably?) Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill (Tara Buckman) use their looks to avoid speeding tickets, bickering racers JJ (Burt Reynolds) and Victor (Dom DeLuise) drive an ambulance complete with a phony doctor (Jack Elam), Seymour (Roger Moore) unleashes strange spy gadgets in the manner of James Bond, and sleazy pals Blake (Dean Martin) and Fenderbaum (Sammy Davis, Jr) disguise themselves as priests to fool any suspicious cops. A lot, and I mean A LOT of hijinks ensue as this huge group of famous people races to the finish.

This is a really very silly movie, like, Mel Brooks level of silly. Appearances from Dom DeLuise and George Furth certainly aid the comparison. As you may know, I’m kind of a Mel Brooks fanatic so I mean this as a high compliment. It’s got outdated jokes, ridiculous sight gags, more wacky characters than you can shake a stick at, and a fair amount of nonsensical activity, all of which I love! I spent most of the movie oscillating between who I wanted to win because I liked almost everyone, but ultimately rooted for the misandrist lady team who took advantage of lascivious cops. I gotta say, I was very taken in by Sammy Davis, Jr and Dean Martin, though, whose rude humor and old man DGAF-ery was oddly charming. DeLuise can be overbearing, but having Reynolds there to balance things out helped ground them as the core racing team. Most of all, THE STUNTS. It’s Hal Needham, I expect high-flying car action and unexpected levels of destruction and boy did I get it. There’s even a fantastic fight scene involving Jackie Chan! Because yes, Jackie Chan is in this movie!

Which brings me to some of the negative aspects of the film. While I appreciated its fairly diverse cast, some of the racial stereotyping is so antiquated it’s just jarring. Jackie Chan plays a Japanese racer who doesn’t speak English (but seems to be speaking Chinese some of the time) whose car has outlandish technology. I love Chan, and it’s awesome he got to show off his martial arts skills in the big fight scene, but the entire comedy of his character is a stereotype and it just doesn’t work. Jamie Farr’s role as a car-obsessed Arab sheik is similar, although his character is so ridiculous it worked a bit better because it didn’t really rely on stereotypes as much (at least not ones I know) but was more of a general caricature of a really rich foreigner. Of course, treatment of women isn’t much better, as Farrah Fawcett’s charcter is kidnapped and drugged by the supposed “good guys,” who are never even punished for it. But honestly, the whole movie (though inspired by a real guy) exists in this completely exaggerated parallel universe where nothing really makes sense and everything is goofy as hell, so it’s not like I was ruminating on the script’s exploration of race and gender. I was mostly just tickled pink by how much FUN I was having. Thanks, Hal Needham, I’ll never forget you.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Of course my first thought was Death Race 2000, the absolute best road race movie. For other 70’s fast car flicks there’s Smokey and the Bandit (another Needham/Reynolds team-up) and Grand Theft Auto.

Somerville Theatre Terrorthon, Part II

Tremors-2
Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. But first! Read Part I!

After a very satisfying dinner and some much-needed caffeine, we were ready to sit through the next 4 Terrorthon films, continuing our cinematic odyssey into the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Again, not much “terror” to be had here, but a really solid offering of sci-fi adventures with mild horror elements. The only one from this grouping I hadn’t seen was Tremors, but I’d tried watching it just a few weeks ago and my internet was being fussy so it didn’t work. I was really excited that I could actually see it, and on a big screen no less! And since this Thon went from 12pm-12am, I wasn’t even that sleepy (as opposed to the all-night escapades of the other marathons I go to). Anyway, read on for some sci-fi goodness!

5 Planet of the Apes (1968)
It’d been a while since I’d seen watched this one straight through, and it was both better than I remembered and just as silly. I mean, it’s tough, because conceptually there are some pretty serious ideas in this movie, and of course it can all be read as a parable relating to our own culture, but between Charlton Heston’s toothy, yelly performance and the privileging of spectacle over substance, it’s hard to really get into its more dramatic implications. Also obviously certain scenes have been parodied to the extent that the film feels like a parody of itself. It’s still a pretty good movie, though, with a fascinating ape society that I wish was elaborated on more, and great turns from Kim Hunter and a super evil Maurice Evans. Fantastic make-up as well, and I love the varied landscapes and weird biomorphic architecture. I just get bored with Heston’s exaggerated macho act pretty quickly, as with many of his performances.
3.5/5

6 Westworld (1973)
Westworld has such a good premise (super fancy vacation spot where guests can act out fantasies with robots in Western, Roman, or Medieval settings but then the robots go CRAZY) that I’m always kind of bummed that I don’t love it. Revisiting it now I feel much the same as I did the first time I watched it: It has some great ideas and a good cast, but the slow pacing and flat characterization is frustrating. I love love love Yul Brynner as the creepy, homicidal robot cowboy and how the whole movie basically turns into The Terminator in the third act, but the first two thirds are kind of boring. I didn’t mind the glimpses into this strange amusement park and its inner workings, but the protagonists are all kind of boring (yes, even James Brolin, though he’s looking good). Also: where are all the women? There are like zero ladies in this movie except for some sexbots and a few female tourists who are barely referenced. I mean I know all 70s movies are just about dudes but come on, can’t that NOT be a thing, somehow, retroactively? Oh well, the title links to my original review.
4/5

7 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984)
My love for this movie is no secret, and surely it’s painfully obvious how much a film like this suits my sensibilities- it’s wacky, it’s funny, it’s from the 80s, it’s got a lot of attractive, bespectacled nerds, and it doesn’t make ANY GODDAMN SENSE. Which I love. The titular hero is a rock star, comic book hero, heart surgeon, and physicist who saves the planet from asshole aliens with the help of his snappily-dressed crew. I’ve always wanted to see this film in a theater, so I was so psyched it was part of the line-up. It’s a fun film to watch with a crowd because it’s so weird and silly, that the audience reactions add to the fun. I’ve gotta say though that after watching this movie who knows how many times over the years, I only registered that Buckaroo is supposed to be half-Japanese a few months ago, and now I’m bummed by the whitewashing. I love Peter Weller and I think he’s great in the role, but it’s always frustrating when a white person is playing a character of color. I always thought he was just a white dude who was into Japanese culture because he’d been raised around Japanese scientists or whatever. This is revealing a not-very-well-kept secret of mine: I am terrible at paying attention to exposition. Like in every movie, I will constantly forget where the story is set, what year it is, how people are related to each other, what the overall goal of the protagonist is. It’s embarrassing. ANYWAY the title links to my original review.
4.5/5

8 Tremors (1990)
Ok! New movie time! This is the cautionary tale of two best friends (possibly/probably boyfriends?) who work as handymen in a small, isolated desert town. The day they finally decide to leave to seek a better life, they are suddenly surrounded by vicious, man-eating monster worms who move about underground. The few people remaining in town all band together to try and blow these fuckers up but it’s pretty hard when they keep eating everyone. It’s funny, it’s gross, it’s action-packed, and it somehow makes Kevin Bacon into a kinda charming goofball. Also it has an adorably frumpy lady scientist! AND Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as a trigger-happy couple! There are lots of reasons to watch Tremors, clearly. It’s also the only movie in the whole pack that actually scared me once or twice, with these unexpected jump-scares of huge worms bursting out of the ground, it’s kind of freaky stuff. Though it’s primarily an action-comedy, the premise is actually pretty terrifying because honestly how would we handle a monster that sensed our movement and attacked from below-ground? Like, where can we hide? They’ll just level all the buildings until they get to us, oh my gosh. The world is ending.
4/5

Well there you have it! Over 12 hours of movies, cartoons, and trailers and we came out mostly feeling like we had to brush our teeth. Which we did.

Anti-Gravity Double Feature: Jason X (2001) and The Pacifier (2005)

Seen: Both on our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ harddrive.

Last Saturday my companions and I incorrectly assumed we could catch a 7:30 screening of Gravity at the Somerville Theatre. SILLY US. It was sold out at least a half hour in advance and so we walked back to our apartment. We decided to watch another space movie that Miles had recently acquired, a little something called Jason X. I haven’t actually seen any of the other Friday the 13th movies so this was an interesting experience. After that we wanted something more and after making a Jason xXx joke we realized that this could be the night we finally watch The Pacifier, a family comedy starring Vin Diesel that most people probably try to forget existed but had been on my to-watch list for a while. I must tell you though that after spotting the German dvd in a video store in Stuttgart, I can only think of it as Der Babynator. Maybe my favorite film title ever, to be honest.

Jason+X+14

So Jason was this guy who killed hundreds of people over the course of several movies, and when they finally caught him they found he himself couldn’t be killed (IRONY), so he was locked up for a while and eventually cryogenically frozen. Hundreds of years later he wakes up on a spaceship full of trigger-happy soldiers and hormonal college students, so, you know, one thing leads to another. I don’t think there’s much more exposition than that, really. I mean he kills a lot of people, and he’s in space, and eventually he gets super-powered because of technology. There’s a perky android in the mix, too.

Ok, I mean, OBVIOUSLY this movie is ridiculous, and like, what is even happening here. I don’t know, but it is pretty gosh darn entertaining. I mean, you’ve got goofy “futuristic” costumes (which basically means a lot of netting and bellyshirts), sexy times at inappropriate moments, gruesome senseless violence, horrific dialogue, and SPACE. There’s a surprisingly badass lady-action moment when Lisa Ryder’s “Kay-Em 14” is weaponized and just unleashes hell on Jason 1.0, so that was cool. And Jason X himself is kind of weird and awesome, all glowing metal and gross veins and shit, but he’s only there for the last 15 minutes or so, which felt like a cop-out. Overall it is not a very good movie, like at all, but I can’t say I wasn’t taken in by the grisly murders and hokey outer-space antics- it’s just dumb fun. Also: David Cronenberg is in this movie, presumably because he’s like best friends with director James Isaac.

As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3/5

pacifier

Hopefully you all know how I feel about Vin Diesel. I feel pretty strongly. Because he’s so great, you guys! I knew The Pacifier would probably be dumb, family-friendly comedy and might feature a lot of Diesel embarrassing himself for the sake of the children, but I couldn’t stay away. The story revolves around Shane Wolfe (Diesel), a Navy SEAL who is forced to guard (and essentially babysit) a family after he loses their scientist father on a mission. Through discipline and a little bit of love he helps these kids get through a few weeks of school while also looking for some secret technology their dad presumably hid in their house. Also I guess they’re in mourning? I don’t know, they never talk about their dad dying but also maybe I wasn’t paying attention to most of the narrative exposition. I had a few drinks, ok?

Directed by Adam Shankman and written by The State members Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, this movie is a lot better than you’d think it is. It’s extremely silly, of course, and generally nonsensical, but whatever- that’s basically the point! And it made me laugh! It helps that the cast is pretty strong, including Brittany Snow, Lauren Graham, Brad Garrett, and Carol! Kane! (!), but naturally this is all Diesel’s show. He’s doofy and over the top as this military dude out of his element, and it works. The script is decent, filled with unexpected situational humor and a few good one-liners, and there’s even some good action thrown in. Also: a Sound of Music musical number! Eep! It’s stupid, yes, and it has too many children, YES, but The Pacifier is basically a funny movie. THERE I SAID IT.

3.5/5

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

riddick
Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ hard drive.

I saw and dug Pitch Black for the first time a while ago, and just kept forgetting to catch up with The Chronicles of Riddick. The pending release of the third film in the series prompted me to finally watch it, to the extent that I actually missed a preview screening of Riddick so I could finish this movie. A notoriously very different type of film, Chronicles is set five years after the events of the first film, with bright-eyed killer Riddick (Vin Diesel) still a highly-sought-after criminal. After nearly being captured, he finds his way to the planet Helium Prime, which is on the verge of being conquered by an all-powerful race of aliens who destroy or brainwash and enslave all the people they battle. Or something. So Riddick has to save this whole planet, but first he has to go to a deadly prison planet to help out Jack aka Kyra (Alexa Davalos), one of his two surviving buddies from the first film. He also has to discover the secret to his own origins and whatnot. THEN he can save this planet. All the while, pimply Karl Urban is following him around trying to capture him.

OK ok okok so I KNOW that this movie is kind of hated, and that overall it is a MESS but what you need to know right off the bat is that I kind of… LOVE. IT. It’s ridiculous and overblown and nonsensical and bizarre but it’s also, like, so great. Seriously, just think about it. You’ve got Vin Diesel perfecting his gravel-voiced antihero thing, kicking ass every few scenes. You’ve got Alexa Davalos also kicking tons of ass and never getting sucked into a romantic subplot (yay!). You’ve got Thandie Newton slinking about seducing and manipulating an adorably mohawked Karl Urban. You’ve got really impressive sets and ambitious visual design. You’ve got a crazy-complex set-up that pulls out new histories for familiar characters while introducing a host of new people and places and concepts. And you’ve got Dame. Judi. Dench. !. So tell me again why people don’t like this movie? I’d really like to know!

Obviously The Chronicles of Riddick is not without problems. It really is all over the place, and most of the time I had no idea what was going on or how most characters related to each other. Plus there are way too many characters, it’s just bloated compared to the stripped-down thriller of the first film. But then, it looks to me like the filmmakers had no interest in repeating the formula of the first film, and instead are using their increased budget and cult interest to expand the characters and their universe. Works for me. I do understand why people wouldn’t like this movie, but for whatever reason I was totally into it. Diesel’s ultracool posturing and the line of badass ladies supporting him probably played a major role, along with my extremely high threshold for very silly science fiction.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well Pitch Black of course makes sense, and perhaps Riddick but I haven’t seen it yet and keep hearing about how it’s mad sexist. I got some Stargate vibes with the visuals and over-complicated-ness, which I had recommended as a pairing to Pitch Black as well, for different reasons.

Movie Review: The World’s End (2013)

the-worlds-end-image06
Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Once a cool and unmotivated teen who just wanted to have fun all the time, Gary King (Simon Pegg) is now a lonely addict who just wants to reclaim his glory days. He collects together his four best friends from high school- Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Stephen (Paddy Considine), and Andy (Nick Frost)-, who are now all serious and hard-working regular people, for one night of drinking and debauchery in their hometown. Gary’s goal is to take them all through the “Golden Mile”, a 12-location pub crawl that they’d tried and failed as teens to complete. Reluctantly the old friends follow their former leader, and as the night drags on two things become apparent: Gary’s obsessive nostalgia might be indicative of greater emotional stress, and that everyone in the town is acting very strange.

I am not yet at the age where I’m lusting after my youth, although like any good twentysomething I do have 90’s pop culture nostalgia. The themes of The World’s End may not be something I can personally relate to, but the script and performances are strong enough to make for a surprisingly touching action/sci-fi/comedy tale. It starts off as a funny, slightly uncomfortable comedy about a desperate man doing desperate things to hold on to some semblance of purpose in his life through his fond memories of teen years. An opening flashback informs our view of these characters today, while also predicting future events in the film. They’ve all become serious-minded foils to Gary’s over the top “cool guy” demeanor, and it seems not even alcohol will help heal their fractured friendships. Luckily, an accidental discovery of their hometown’s secret extraterrestrial presence shocks them all into dealing with their personal business (in between all the alien robot ass-kicking, that is). It becomes a weird fight for their lives and sanity while opening up new doorways into their personal issues.

The World’s End is a great mixture of superbly filmed action sequences, referential storytelling, strong character development, and hilarious dialogue, all pulled together by Edgar Wright’s hyper-stylized approach to visuals and editing. It’s a little dark, and that’s good, as it strikes an emotional chord deeper than their previous comedies ever aimed for, and makes for a fitting end to Wright’s, Pegg’s, and Frost’s trilogy. Like their other collaborations, it’s the kind of film that will likely improve on repeat viewings, and I look forward to watching it again.

I have to say, my main criticism is that I wish there was more Rosamund Pike. Then again, that’s kind of how I feel every time I see Rosamund Pike in a movie.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I just wanted to watch the rest of the Cornetto Trilogy, naturally, so put this together with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz for an awesome day.