Tag: action

Movie Review: The General (1926)

Seen: On 35mm at the Somerville Theatre, with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis.

The Somerville Theatre (one of my absolute favorite local theaters) has been doing a series of silent films on the big screen with original musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, and I think that is just a super swell idea. I’d heard Jeff’s fantastic keyboarding at the Sci-Fi Marathon a few years ago, and have since wanted to see more silents with live music. When The General popped up on their schedule, I knew that was my priority. Set in the early days of the Civil War, the film stars Buster Keaton as Southern train engineer Johnnie Gray. Though he is literally the first to enlist at his local recruitment center, the Confederate Army believes his skills are too valuable to make him a soldier, and he is summarily rejected. Disheartened and embarrassed, he returns to his love Annabelle (Marion Mack), who believes him a coward for not even trying to enlist, and he is left with nothing but his beloved train, the General. When his train is stolen as part of a Union plot to disrupt Confederate supply lines, Johnnie takes it upon himself to save the day.

Fusing the adventure, action, war, and comedy genres into one singular film, Keaton dared to present a brave Confederate fighter in a humorous (but never mocking) context. It’s a strange combination, and a controversial one at the time, but miraculously it really, really works. Keaton’s earnest charm, the exciting storyline, and the spectacular stunt work all come together for a thrilling and laugh-out-loud funny film. I realized something that I love about watching a silent film in a theater is the shared experience, the sense of communal response. I felt very aware of my own laughter and gasps of surprise, as well as those of everyone around me in the theater, and it was just a nice feeling. And while some people might be encouraged to talk more because of the lack of dialogue, I found myself more intent on the screen, not wanting to miss a visual cue or sight gag. Of course, this is not just an effect of silent film, but in large part due to the brilliance of Buster Keaton. His deft mingling of breathtaking action sequences and adorably ridiculous comedic exercises is always a pleasure, and I loved the death-defying high-speed (sort of) train action just as much as the humorous mix-ups and self-deprecating jokes.

One of the speakers before the film (I believe it was David, all-star projectionist) mentioned that something that made this movie special within Keaton’s body of work was the character’s competence. He isn’t a clumsy, useless oaf who eventually manages to be the hero through trial and error, he’s a mostly capable dude who just gets more capable as the situation becomes more dire. Which is why this is not a mockery of the Civil War South, and in face I found myself weirdly rooting for their side. Which has its own problems, OF COURSE, but I told myself since Keaton’s character isn’t actually a soldier for most of the movie it’s not like I was rooting for the Confederate Army to win the war, I was just hoping this one Southern train engineer would get his train back. Because he loves his train.

The General is overall a satisfying movie. When Keaton isn’t chasing down Northern spies and performing impressive feats of train action, he’s hanging out with his lady Annabelle, who turns out to be pretty cool. She learns how to drive a train within a span of a few minutes, and totally helps Johnnie fuck things up for the enemy. Their love grows out of a mutual wish for destruction of assholes, which I respected, and together they blow up a bridge! Awesome! And, as I had anticipated, the music was fantastic. Rapsis is an expert silent film composer, and his improvised score was performed on a synthesizer set to imitate a traditional movie orchestra sound, complete with musical sound effects. Rapsis added an exciting, personalized layer to the screening and I hope I can catch more of his performances for the Somerville’s series.


Pair This Movie With: Oh no, I don’t know! What do you think? Another train adventure? More silent comedy? Or some wartime shenanigans?

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013)

Seen: At the Capitol Theatre in Arlington.

So I find myself constantly waffling in my resolve to stop caring about X-Men movies. It. Is So. Hard. So here I am, reeled back in by the promise of badass Japanese ladies and a script that won’t make me want to bash someone’s head in, watching the sequel to the horrific X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Which turns out to be a sequel to the also horrific X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Yet somehow, even with all the bad taste left in my mouth from its predecessors, I found myself basically enjoying The Wolverine. Set some time after the events of X3, with Logan (Hugh Jackman) wandering around the Canadian wilderness, clearly super depressed because he has a beard. He is found by a badass fighter in stripes called Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who whisks him away to Japan so he can meet with a dying comrade from his warring days. But then everything goes to shit and he’s got to beat up a lot of people while also falling in love with his dead friend’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto).

Ok. So Wolverine has never been my favorite X-Man but I do enjoy the character’s mixture of wise-cracks and berserker rages, as well as Hugh Jackman’s constant shirtlessness. This movie adapts the well-known Japan arc to fit the films’ timeline, and a lot of it works well. It’s got a more serious, dramatic tone, with Logan having guilty visions of Jean Grey all the time and just generally brooding. I loved the Japanese setting, mostly because it makes this the only mainstream comic book I can think of that has more people of color than white people, so great job, movie. The action is exciting and a little ludicrous (that battle on top of the train? Whaaaat?), but weirdly kinda takes a backseat for a time so that the story and relationships can develop more. I could see what they were going for, and it’s kind of successful, but it also struggles between being a silly action movie and being a more introspective superhero drama.

One of the main cool things about this movie is that there are several awesome ladies who play major parts in the story. Viper is a sultry mutant scientist who’s pretty on top of things and I dug her as the villain because she seemed pretty misandrist and reminded me of Poison Ivy, but then of course at the end it turns out the real villain is a dude (in a totally foreseeable twist). Mariko is a little damsel in distressy at first, but she’s also an individual with her own life and her own problems, and she propels a lot of the plot forward. The best, THE BEST is obviously Yukio, who is very different from the comic version but still super rad. She’s adorable and deadly and I was in love with her hair style. I liked how they fit her into Wolverine’s lady-sidekick thing, and never made it romantic. But because she was so awesome, I wanted her onscreen all the time, and kind of wish this movie was “The Yukio”. That’s the problem with introducing awesome lady characters that I fall in love with, they’re always doing rad things on the sidelines and I want them to be front and center. Wolverine’s a cool hero and everything but I was just reminded of how starved I am for a great female-driven superhero movie.


Pair This Movie With: I have a hankering to revisit the first two X-films, which I haven’t seen in years despite being a little obsessed with them in middle school and high school.

PS And no I DON’T want to talk about the after-credits sting, my GOD how can they fit all this into the same universe when nothing made any sense in First Class and also shouldn’t Xavier be in a new body or whatever and ugh I HATE THAT I CARE SO MUCH ABOUT X-MEN.

Movie Review: Duel (1971)

Seen: On dvd on our project set-up, rented from the Tufts Library.

A condescending businessman named David Mann (Dennis Weaver) sets off on the road for a very important meeting with a client, hoping to close a big deal or something I don’t know. On the lonely desert highway he finds himself running up against a dirty, obstinate trucker, who seems hellbent on making him late. As their drive progresses it becomes clear that the trucker wants to kill David, and their inconvenient cat-and-mouse game becomes a fight for survival. They match wits and horsepower in a one-on-one struggle as David finds his seemingly firm grip on reality completely upended by one enigmatic driver. It is a… DUEL.

With a simple but terrifying premise and expertly expanding tension, the Spielberg/Matheson team has crafted a tight and gripping thriller that is refreshingly no-fuss. Most of the story takes place on deserted desert roads, stretched thin between scattered gas stations and divey diners. As it becomes clearer that this truck really has it in for David, and as his disbelief and fear grow in proportion, the apprehension spills over onto the viewer and it’s hard to pull away. The script has minimal dialogue, which apart from some off-putting voiceover works really well. Spielberg is deliberate in his framing and shot construction, though there are unwanted details made apparent on a big screen (this was made for tv). I especially loved how the truck was presented, always looming at the edge of the frame, and never ever revealing the driver inside. The truck itself is the villain, sporting mashed license plates from previous kills and silently, unwaveringly pushing his prey to the edge.

Our protagonist, David, is mostly just a self-absorbed asshole, and to be honest I was on the side of the unseen trucker most of the time. He was just such a dick, and he talked too much, and he was a shitty husband, and probably a Republican. So even though I think this movie is really cool, the fact that the lead character is so annoying but somehow triumphant kind of lessened its impact as a whole. Also I kind of wanted more focus on David being driven insane by these weird mind games the trucker was playing, where no one else saw or believed him. Still so good though.


Pair This Movie With: Well I still haven’t seen it but I’m guessing scary truck movie Maximum Overdrive fits the bill.

Movie Review: Jukkalan (This Girl is Bad-Ass!!) (2011)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

A teen bike messenger named Jukkalan (JeeJa Yanin) and her well-meaning uncle (Petchtai Wongkamlao) find themselves in a heap of trouble when Jukkalan is hired to transport goods and money for warring gangster factions. She steals their money but keeps working for them (or something?) and soon tons of grunts are attacking her every second. Meanwhile a nerdy neighbor is trying to date her, but she has her eyes set on a different, hunkier neighbor. Hormones and high kicks fly around everywhere in This Girl is Bad-Ass!!.

So. Bike messengers. Martial arts. JeeJa Yanin. A title about a girl being a badass. THIS MOVIE SHOULD HAVE BEEN EXCELLENT. But mostly it was just totally stupid, nonsensical, and boring. The script has no direction, I had no idea what was happening half the time, and when I did it was probably because some dumb, juvenile subplot was happening that I definitely didn’t care about. The comedy is extremely broad and hokey, and every scene seems to extend a minute longer than it needs to so the jokes are beaten into the ground. Speaking of beating, even the action sequences aren’t satisfying! They try to do this martial-arts-with-a-bike fight style and it definitely sounds better in theory than in practice. A few of the later fight scenes are pretty cool, with JeeJa Yanin using various found objects to beat the shit out of some gangster henchmen, and I do just really like watching her work. She’s not a very good actress here, though, and her character is vapid and annoying. Most of the characters are cartoon caricatures, which makes sense since this is supposed to be a comedy, but maybe I just don’t quite follow a Thai sense of humor. The only person who actually made me laugh was the bike messenger boss, who dressed in ridiculous outfits, had foot-long eyebrows, and rode around on a bumpy horse toy.

It’s not like it’s worst movie in the world or anything, it just doesn’t live up to its premise’s potential. And there’s a bit of homophobia towards the end. I did dig several action scenes, and was pleased to see a badass lady fighter at the center of a story that didn’t sexualize or victimize her at all. But you could just watch the scattered battle scenes and you’d probably be ok, it’s not like the context made much sense to me while I was actually watching the movie anyway. Here’s one on youtube.


Pair This Movie With: I don’t know. More like a “Watch Instead” I think. I would revisit Chocolate, which also stars JeeJa Yanin and has some excellent fight sequences but the subject matter is kind of off. Or Premium Rush for more bike messengers?

Movie Review: Red 2 (2013)

Seen: At the AMC/Loew’s at Boston Common.

Following the previous investigation of old-guy former CIA operatives, Red 2 sees the adventures continuing for Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), and his best friend Marvin (John Malkovich). The three find themselves at the center of a conspiracy involving a decades-old nuclear device hidden somewhere in Moscow. Multiple agencies want Frank and Marvin dead because of their connection to the device from a failed mission during the Cold War, and they must forge a few unlikely partnerships with allies [like MI6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren)] and enemies [like Russian secret agent Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones)] alike to track down the bomb so it won’t fall into the wrong hands.

I was a big fan of Red, and was surprised but pleased it even got a sequel, but the addition of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lee Byung-hun is what got me excited for Red 2. Lucky for me, the film as a whole is pretty good, too. It’s got some great action sequences- from Bruce Willis beating the shit out of armed CIA grunts using only what he finds in an office file archive, to Lee Byung-hun beating the shit out of Russian cops while chained to a soda machine. The story is cookie-cutter stuff, to be sure, relying on easy-to-spot twists and a fascination with 80’s action movie tropes. But, the script is clever enough and doesn’t take itself too seriously, while the characters all get their moments to shine. I wasn’t really here for a good story, I was here to see famous people over 40 kick some ass.

Admittedly the first half of the movie was sort of uninteresting to me, since I felt the subplots about Bruce Willis fretting over Mary-Louise Parker every second and also her intense jealousy over Catherine Zeta-Jones were BORING and lazy. And can Bruce not be so controlling? Super annoying. But the second half picks up, and both the action and the story become more compelling, and I found myself enjoying myself immensely by the time the credits rolled. Too bad it took a while to get there, though.


Pair This Movie With: Well, of course the first Red comes to mind and it would be fun to double feature that. But there were also some parallels to Fast Five, for a nice action pairing. Personally when I came out all I wanted to do was see more Lee Byung-hun, especially The Good, The Bad, The Weird where he’s also a super-hot villain.

PS Soooo I need a Lee Byung-hun/Helen Mirren buddy action comedy STAT.