Technically, this isn’t a music video, and technically, I don’t care.
IT IS THE GENIUS.
Watch, then let’s discuss.
Perfect, right? The music matches the scene.
Not a little, not a lot, but so much I want to marry it.
It’s a slow burn. Tension keeps rising and rising, until it breaks and the drums kick in and it’s like Phil Collins song except Denzel Washington is slaying bad guys with severe amounts of style.
What I love about this action sequence, and the entire movie, is how Denzel’s Washington character keeps surviving and thriving despite being outnumbered and outgunned.
In 99.9 percent of action movies, the hero wins because he’s bigger and stronger (Arnold Schwarzenegger), flexible enough to do the side splits on different planets (Jean-Claude Van Damme), has better gear (IRON MAN, BATMAN), or has superpowers.
Denzel’s character wins by being clever. It’s so much more satisfying than mowing down acre after acre of faceless bad guys before confronting the Final Boss Villain on a rooftop, at night, while it’s raining, then listening to his maniac monologue and chucking him down a chasm to get impaled on something long and sharp.
There’s no creativity in showing us that again. We have seen it 329 times.
Denzel’s character in this movie, and the sequel, wins by being smarter than the bad guys. And he does it without getting repetitive, which is refreshing and entertaining. Even the first real fight scene of this movie, he’s planning things out and out-smarting the villains.
The final Home Depot-ish fight is the most creative of all. I love how he chains his traps together, starting with the stuff on the floor to use his barbed-wire and cement bag trap, then the next thug getting speared with a gardening tool when he stops to check out the body of his buddy.
Without music, this would be a wonderful scene.
With this music, it’s iconic, and I’ve watched the thing, like, five bazillion times. Do I rewatch Schwarzenegger mowing through 200 extras in baggy uniforms again and again? No.
Hat’s off to the director and the songwriter for pulling this off.
And yes, I have seen THE LITTLE THINGS, and yes, we will chat about it later this week. A beautiful film.
Michael Jai White is one of the best action movie stars, period. I put him up there with Jason Statham and Scott Adkins.
His fight scenes are always inventive, and he’s simply fun to watch whether it’s a straight thriller like BLOOD AND BONE or a comedy like BLACK DYNAMITE.
So what felt off about WELCOME TO SUDDEN DEATH, which is a sort-of sequel to a Jean Claude Van Damme movie with the same premise: DIE HARD in a sports arena.
Check out the trailer before the customary smack talking begins.
There are good fight scenes in this movie, and Michael Jai White is totally likeable in here, as usual. There’s also good comic relief his cowardly sidekick, another arena employee who is super reluctant to take on a bunch of professional bad guys.
Something seems off through the whole movie.
It looks fake–too well-lit, too in-focus. Maybe they shot it with some kind of cutting-edge 4k camera and we’re used to some film grain. Dunno. Worth thinking about, seeing how I remember they had the same sort of problem with THE HOBBIT movies being shot in 60 fps or whatever.
Compare that first trailer to a scene from probably the best Michael Jai White movie of all time, BLOOD AND BONE.
Notice how the camera moves, how it puts certain characters in focus while blurring the background, and how things don’t seem perfect without being clunky?
It just feels more real. Like you’re somebody in the crowd watching the action.
The other thing that bugged me was the villain, who was a little too jittery and on-the-nose with his dialogue to be truly scary. One of his minions, a fighter with a shaved head who said hardly anything, actually was super scary. Make that guy your baddie and we’ve got a better movie.
But hey, things to quibble with in a movie during the global zombie apocalypse are far less important than the only question that matters: Should you fire up the Series of Tubes and watch it?
Yes. Anything starring Michael Jai White is basically (a) Watchable, (b) A Popcorn Fest, or (c) So Knowingly Bad It Circles Back to Good.
It’s a cheesy action movie, not two hours of a black-and-white French existentialism flick that you talk about with your bestie until the sun comes up at Denny’s and the waitress gets sick of you drinking endless coffee and ordering your fifth side of fries because it’s been five hours and she knows you’re a starving college student or starving artist/writer type and the tip is going to be a joke.
Fire it up and watch this thing. Then watch BLOOD AND BONE for the first time, or the second, before closing your eyes later this week and picking a Michael Jai White movie totally at random, as required by law.
What if I told you there was a movie starring Batman (Ben Affleck), The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), the dude from Sons of Anarchy (Charlie Hunnam) along with Poe Dameron from the Star Wars movies?
You’d say “Nuh-uh,” and I’d say, “Yeah-huh” and we’d argue about who was drunk until I fired up Netflix and started showing THIS ACTUAL MOVIE THAT EXISTS.
Here is the trailer. Watch it, then we’ll talk smack.
The immediate question is, “Who is that other blonde dude who I sorta recognize?” and the answer is Garrett Hedlund, who played the lead in the TRON remake and is in other motion pictures I will not list right now because you know how to use the googles, if you care that much.
But there is more to talk about, and yes, this will involve spoilery spoilers.
The big issue is, “Did our dream team of ex-special forces experts make nightmarishly stupid mistakes?”
Yes. Yes, they did.
Let’s go into the Top Four Mistakes made by our superteam.
Mistake No. 4: Not splitting up
After they found all the money and took it from the drug cartel boss, they took the cash in a single van.
Then they tried to exit the country in a helicopter, with most of the cash carried in a cargo net dangling beneath. A long list of bad things then happens, based on this single decision, with their pile of cash shrinking each time.
All of the Bad Things could have been avoided if they split up, right away. Have each team member take their share of the cash and go in different directions, alone or in pairs, by sea or by train. Whatever.
Mistake No. 3: Not hiding the money
Hey, what’s in all those bags hanging underneath the helicopter flying low and under the radar? Any farmer, police officers, soldier, or drug cartel member who saw their chopper would not think “Basmati rice” or “every known VHS tape of The Star Wars Christmas Special.” They would hear that helicopter from far away, then see it, then notice all the bags, and think “scads of drugs” or “mountains of cash.”
And word would spread, like it did, making it hard for the team to escape.
The first rule of heists and capers is simple: Don’t get caught with the loot.
The second rule of heists and capers is: Don’t get caught with the loot.
The third rule of heists and capers is: Hide the loot in multiple places, you ding dong.
Another smart idea is to transfer or hide your precious stolen treasures immediately, so there’s nothing on you that’s incriminating, and the loot is safe even if you get detained, arrested, or thrown in jail for a year. Because when you get out, the first thing you’re doing is safely retrieving ALL THE CASH from a storage unit or whatever, then living a nice life as you sail around the South Pacific in that sweet sailboat Kevin Costner had in WATERWORLD or drink mojitos on a white sand beach with Red and Andy Defrusne.
Mistake No. 2: An exit route over ginormous mountains
Yes, it may have been the shortest route to the sea. However, big helicopters and little airplanes both have trouble getting over towering mountain ranges, especially when carrying too much weight.
This was the Stupid, and also led to many other problems, like crashing the chopper (bad), getting into a shoot-out with local villagers (very bad!), and eventually going over the ginormous mountains by foot (terrible).
If you avoid Mistake No. 3 and hide the money, you can put away the guns and body armor and also avoid Mistake No. 1 (not splitting up) and have folks leave the country by train, plane, car, truck, or whatever. You’re a normal person going home. There will be food and warmth and no need to get into firefights, or freeze your hiney off in the mountains while villagers track you down and KILL BATMAN because he shot their villager father and such.
Mistake No. 1: Not wearing masks
This may seem silly. What a small thing, wearing masks? How could this be the biggest mistake?
Except wearing masks is everything.
How does the drug cartel know to look for them, specifically? Because they left witnesses, being unwilling to kill women and children, the family members of the cartel boss. That’s honorable and good.
HOWEVER: If they wore masks, and stuck to the rest of their plan, there would be no witness description. They did kill the guards and the cartel boss, so nobody would know what their voices sounded like. Plus, it’s pretty hard to tell all your cartel minions with guns to be on the lookout for a guy who sounds like Batman, another guy who sounds like he was on that biker show, plus a dude sorta sounds like The Mandalorian.
Wearing masks means even if the family members got a glimpse as they passed each other on the road, they wouldn’t know who hit them. Was it an inside job? Did another cartel come after them, or police officers? Those would be the first three logical suspects. A superteam of American ex-special forces folks would be last on the list.
Wear masks. Don’t go over stupid deadly mountains in a helicopter. Hide the money, or at least get it out of the country five different ways when the team splits up after the job.
Seems pretty simple, right?
HOWEVER: This isn’t really a traditional caper or heist. It’s almost an anti-war movie, like PLATOON. The closest thing I can think of is the damned excellent Chris Pine-Jeff Bridges bank robbery caper, HELL OR HIGH WATER, with a similarly mixed ending. They successfully pull off the heist. But it comes at a high price, due to hubris.
TRIPLE FRONTIER is actually a cautionary tale of the downfalls of greed and violence. Unlike most action movies, where the heroes blow stuff up and show the glorious thrills of killing bad guys with abandon, this movie is meant to make people question those decisions. Because people do die. Was it really worth it?
Your average action movie doesn’t pause to consider this question at all. Though I’m a giant fan of thrillers and action movies, there comes a point where most of these movies jump the shark on this issue. So many bad guys, zombies, or alien invaders get shot, stabbed, and blown to hell that you lose count. And it loses meaning.
This is why movies like JAWS, ALIEN, and PREDATOR are so memorable. There isn’t a sea of bad guys dying left and right. There is one Very Bad Guy, who seems invincible, and he’s winning until there’s one hero left.
Which means my armchair quarterbacking of the big mistakes made by our superteam isn’t casting aspersions at the screenwriter or director. They totally intended for the characters to make all kinds of mistakes, based on their greed and character flaws. Batman wanted all the monies, despite the fact that it made them spend too much time at the drug cartel house, and that it made the helicopter overweight. So if you really wanted to pin the blame on a single character, he’s most at fault, and he gets punished the worst for his sins, seeing how a villager shoots him in the head from long range as revenge for Batman killing poor villagers who wanted some of the money they found after it fell from the sky. Don’t blame them for that at all.
Back to the verdict: it is the apocalypse, and you have watched Every Possible Thing on the Televisions Already, which means tes, you should fire up the Netflix and watch TRIPLE FRONTIER.
And if you haven’t watched it, do HELL OR HIGH WATER while you’re at it. 11/10 would recommend.
You can make all sorts of academic arguments about how many stories there are. One: the hero’s journey. Two: tragedies and comedies. Ten, if you read SAVE THE CAT and see what primeval stories ring true. Plus plenty of other books and storytelling gurus and academics who will happily explain why there are actually 36 stories, or 100.
With action movies, I’d argue there are clearly some distinct types:
Monster in the House–You’re trapped in an enclosed space with a monster, and either it’s gonna kill you or you’re gonna kill it. There’s no escape, no calling the cops, no trickery. This is a great situation and I’d argue ALIEN (supposedly sci-fi), FATAL ATTRACTION (pigeon-holed as domestic drama), and JAWS (mislabeled horror) are all actually Monster in the House.
A key difference between these stories and horror: the monster dies. In true horror stories, the monster is actually punishing everybody for their sins (teenagers drinking, doing drugs, having sex, or scientists playing God) and everybody dies in the end. Only the monster returns for the sequels.
Disaster–A volcano is about to go off, a giant asteroid will hit the planet, or a climate change means Kevin Costner’s movie WATERWORLD is a prophecy. This type of movie ends one of three ways: (a) the hero stops the disaster (ARMAGEDDON), (b) the hero can’t stop it but gets everybody out of the burning lava, or (c) this is really a horror movie and the disaster can’t be stopped because we’re being punished for our sins.
War–You can’t get a setting with more conflict and action than a war zone, though war movies are often actually about other things with the war truly being the setting and backdrop. Pure war movies are about fighting the good fight and punching Nazis in the nose, or defeating an invasion of aliens by flying your F-16 straight up into the death beam after the president gives an amazing speech. Anti-war movies (PLATOON) are about making people cautious about getting dragged into a mistake, or fighting wars for the wrong reasons.
Rescue–I don’t know who you are. I don’t have any money. What I do have is a certain set of skills.
Betrayal–This is beating heart of thrillers, especially ones that don’t rely on Jason Statham finding creative ways of kicking people in the face. Betrayal from within is a tough, tough story, and there’s plenty of tension and storytelling goodness involved. Using betrayal in an action movie is a wonderful way to spice up the typically predictable plots of most action stories.
Which brings us to THE MECHANIC, an under-rated action movie directed by Simon West, who also helmed WILD CARD, perhaps Statham’s most interesting movie.
What this film does so well is piling up layer upon layer of betrayals.
Your average action film has zero.
A decent one may have a big betrayal right before the climax, something you really did not see coming.
THE MECHANIC shows us how smart storytelling, with early setups, can matter far more than a film’s CGI budget.
This movie starts with a betrayal that leads to Statham being tricked into killing his mentor. And that leads the dead man’s son to Statham, seeking solace and revenge, not knowing it was Statham who pulled the trigger. What’s great is we don’t know until late that the mentor was set up, the evidence against him faked, so Statham genuinely felt remorse. That guilt doesn’t go away when he learns the truth, because it doesn’t change the fact he shot his friend, false pretenses or not.
So it’s beautiful in the end that the son, after helping take out the bad guys, still can’t let go of the fact that his new friend killed his father, and tries to take him out by blowing up his truck when they stop for gas. Even better are the setups–and they are plural, for they are legion–of how the son goes back to Statham’s house, full of dead bad guys, and does everything Statham told him to never do: turn on his fancy record player and drive the red sports car he’s always fixing up and never using.
The car and house blow up, along with the son, and all of this feels about right. Statham didn’t go out of his way to kill the son, not even after the attempt on his life. Wouldn’t seem correct since he did take the man’s father. The son only dies through hubris.
There are more betrayals in this movie, I kid you not, and they’re all set up correctly. None of that nonsense where a film shows a payoff, then explains the setup with a flashback scene THAT YOU NEVER SAW BEFORE.
11/10, an excellent movie that starts strong and ends stronger, with deautiful twists you do not see coming.
Listen: I have watched all kinds of movies, from black-and-white French existentialism to popcorn blockbusters, and my list includes Every Action Movie Known to Man–so if there’s a Jason Statham movie I haven’t watched, that’s only because THEY ARE STILL SHOOTING IT RIGHT NOW.
And there’s a little known movie of his, WILD CARD, which is the hands-down champion of anything he’s ever done.
Counter-intuitive Reason No. 4: Not the fights
You can count on one hand the Statham movies that do not feature tons of amazing fights, where instead he just helps rob a bank and such, and maybe punches THREE people. These movies exist. I have seen them. THE ITALIAN JOB (remake), THE BANK JOB (looks like the ’70s, is not). There is a list.
It is entirely possible, and conventionally smart, to rank typical Jason Statham movies on the quality and creativity of the battles.
That isn’t what makes WILD CARD stand out. The fight scenes aren’t 10 times better. They’re quite good, sure, but that isn’t it. Here’s the big casino brawl. Nicely done.
However, THE TRANSPORTER is packed with some of the best action ever filmed. Ding dong.
Reason No. 3: The writing
This is a big part of the appeal of WILD CARD, which deserved a bigger box office and more attention.
Most thrillers–movies or novels–are pretty linear. A to B to C, straight line. Evil men are doing evil things and we need a hero who can match them, whether it’s spy vs spy or fist vs fist.
The writer for this movie is William Freaking Goldman, who wrote a novel this film is based on and also dabbled in screenplays since, I don’t know, 1965. Wrote a few little films like ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN and THE PRINCESS BRIDE and five billion others.
So yeah, Jason Statham will never get a better screenwriter for one of his moves. Ever. And the quality shows, start to finish.
Instead of an A-B-C storyline, where everything is on-the-nose, Goldman starts with a fakeout. We see Statham being a jerk to a man and his girlfriend in a bar, and it isn’t until a few scenes later that it’s clear he got paid to bully the man and lose a fight in the alley to boost the man’s prospects with his girlfriend. The whole movie is like this, with setups and payoffs interwoven with subtext and subtlety. You just don’t get that in your average action movie.
Reason No. 2: The director
Yes, you can make a case that Luc Besson and Jason Statham were born to make movies together, with Luc’s gonzo style goosing up Statham’s dry delivery and humor.
Simon West isn’t quite on the god-tier level of William Goldman, though he’s got an action-movie pedigree a mile long. The man directed CON AIR, THE MECHANIC (another Statham film), and the original Rick Roll video, NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP. I kid you not.
Writer and director are 90 percent of the battle, and in this case, it was the right decision to run in the opposite direction of Luc Besson and gonzo. Simon West went with gritty, and it works.
Reason No. 1: Letting the hero be clever
I know, I know–every hero should be smart, right? Except this doesn’t typically happen in thrillers and action movies.
Hero see problem. Hero smash!
Did that not work? Smash different way?
Not work? Smash harder!!!
There’s a huge, quiet, and tense scene where Statham is in deep trouble. Baby, a Vegas mob boss, brings him in about two murders. His fingerprints are on the gun (true). In an ordinary action movie, the solution to this problem is Statham kicks a thug, punches another dude in the throat, and jumps down an elevator shaft with the cable wrapped around Baby’s throat.
Except that’s stupid, and not really an option. Statham knows he can’t fight his way out of this. Even if he somehow killed everybody in the room, Baby’s organization would not shrug and say, “Okay, you win, go on with your bad self.” They would hunt him down, and he would die.
So I really found this scene to be different and beautiful. The one setup you need to know is the bad guy accusing Statham raped a friend of his, and Statham helped sneak her into the hotel to get a little revenge, and they didn’t actually kill anybody.
You have to love Baby’s dialogue in this scene. Normal action films would be on the nose, with Baby saying, “Yeah, I believe him over you. Get outta here before I change my mind and tell Junior to put one between your eyes.” Baby’s polite, understated menace and sarcasm is far more frightening than a tough guy who has to yell and threaten people.
Every year, Hollywood, Bollywood, and other movie-making centers of the world spend $459.3 bazillion dollars producing action movies, with $458 bazillion going to CGI and special effects and $0.00001 bazillion paid to the screenwriters.
WILD CARD is a tremendous argument that you can produce far better movies in this genre by reversing that ratio. I don’t believe there is a single frame of CGI in this thing. Doesn’t need it.
Kudos to Simon West, Jason Statham, and the legend known as William Goldman–we will never have another like him.
If you were alive during the 1980s, Edward Woodward rocked white hair, cool suits, and a gun as he helped the helpless in the name of justice.
It was kinda like THE A TEAM, except just one guy, no van, no Mr. T, no trucks full of bad guys driving over a ramp and flipping. Also, Edward Woodward actually hit things when he fired his gun.
Sure, this was a cheesy show. Tell me something that wasn’t absolutely cheeseballs in the ’80s. But it was a pretty good form of cheese.
Here’s a trailer, and bonus points for all the big-name stars you can spot guest-starring in this thing.
So: if you fire up the interwebs, there’s not one but TWO movies starring Denzel Washington as a more modern and gritty equalizer.
Here’s the trailer for the first one, then we’ll talk smack.
Is Denzel Washington believable as a bald, middle-aged tough guy with a past, somebody who tries to start over as a regular man working at a home improvement warehouse?
Yeah. You believe it.
Hell, I’d watch Denzel Washington working his Joe Job for two hours as he explains the different grades of plywood and sends people to the right aisle for floor tile. The man is an acting legend.
But this is an action movie, meaning we need to get down to the fight scenes. And this movie features some truly inventive battles.
Here’s what they really do right: variety.
Most action heroes rely on certain gear or moves. Indiana Jones has his whip, 007 has his Walther PPK, Zorro and Robin Hook and Jedis have swords–there are good character reasons for all that. But it can get repetitive.
Every fight scene in THE EQUALIZER is different and interesting. Denzel doesn’t have a signature weapon; he improvises and uses found objects, or takes weapons from his opponents. It’s kinda like Jackie Chan, except instead of spinning ladders and making jokes, Denzel is KILLING ALL SORTS OF BAD GUYS.
In terms of bad guys, the Achilles’ heel of action movies, this movie actually stars a charming, chilling, scary villain who makes the final showdown fair and full of suspense.
I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.
Will watch the sequel, then send a bribe to the producer to make sure Denzel fulfills the trilogy, as foretold by the prophecy.
Unless you are allergic to 007, Jason Statham, and Jackie Chan–and somehow managed to dodge all 5,392 Marvel films–you’ve seen plenty of action movies.
GUNS AKIMBO is on the interwebs now, and it stars Daniel Radcliffe, so that automatically makes people like me perk up. Can a grown-up Potter carry an action movie, with zero wands and magic, and no Hermione to save him from hubris and idiocy? Will there be any sarcastic jokes or easter eggs referencing a villain who looks like a methed-up cousin of Voldemort? And does the movie work as entertainment?
Here’s the trailer, then let’s talk smack not just about this movie, but about how this film illustrates–for good and bad–the Five Unwritten Laws of Action Movies.
Interesting, right? The premise is good. You have an Average Joe sucked into an action movie in a plausible way, and he doesn’t have an easy out.
Those elements are the first three Unwritten Laws.
The First Unwritten Law of Action Movies: The Hero Cannot Be Superman
I don’t literally mean the Man of Steel, though talking about Supes can illustrate the extreme limits of how action movies go bad.
The more amazing and unbeatable you make the hero in the beginning, the less thrilling any action movie becomes. Superman is invincible, so it’s kinda impossible to worry about him getting hurt or killed, which absolutely murders any tension in the movie.
James Bond and other action movies keep breaking this law. They’re super tough, ice cold, and irresistible to the opposite sex from the first minute of the film, which not only kills tension–you know they’re gonna win–but it also destroys character growth, as in THERE IS NONE.
The acid test for a movie smashing the first law into itty bitty pieces is this: Is there a scene near the climax where our Ultracool Hero beats up and mows down a faceless army of bad guys before he gets to the Final Boss? You know the scene, because you see it all the time. Like this one.
Daniel Ratcliffe in this movie is definitely an Average Joe, completely unskilled compared to those he’s matched up against, so that ratchets up the tension. The question isn’t “how many bad guys will he mow down?” It’s, “How many minutes will Harry Potter With Guns survive?”
The Second Unwritten Law of Action Movies: Is This Plausible?
A lot of movies get the first law right, then immediately commit a Class B Storytelling Felony by having their Average Joe, an accountant from the suburbs, involved in a crazy plot involving Russian spies, the mafia, and a suitcase containing an alien artifact.
Whether the hero is a professional or amateur, the premise needs to be exciting, yet reasonable. If a gangster with his own private army kills your kung fu mentor, are you really going to take on and kill 300 armed criminals with your bare hands, on a rooftop in the rain? No. Not plausible. A movie that did this right was IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE. The hero is an average man who takes out the drug dealers who murdered his son, but he does it step-by-step in clever ways.
The Third Unwritten Law of Action Movies: Is There No Way Out?
It’s not just a cool Kevin Costner movie. IT’S A LAW.
Horror movies are notorious for this, but action movies aren’t far behind. If the hero could solve this easily, say by calling 911 or renting a car and driving the hell away, then it’s lazy storytelling.
GUNS AKIMBO does this right in a clever way by bolting guns on Harry Potter’s hands. He can’t get them off, can’t open doors, can’t put on pants. It’s terrifying and funny and works beautifully.
The Fourth Unwritten Law of Action Movies: The Villain Must Be Bigger, Badder, and Better
It’s an achy break big mistake to make the hero smarter, tougher, stronger, taller, or generally better than the villain. The villain needs to be (a) scary, and (b) the most deadly thing in the movie. Period.
You can see action movies that shatter this law all the time, with savage, scary henchmen who the hero struggles to beat. Then when he finally gets to the villain pulling the strings, that fight feels anti-climactic.
This is the opposite of the Superman problem. Go ahead and make your villain super. Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, the shark in Jaws, Thanos–all of those bad guys are great because they’re scary and tough one-on-one. They don’t need a bunch of minions to back them up.
The villain in this movie does sort resemble a methed-up and tattooed cousin of Voldemort, though I’m not sure that’s intentional. But he’s plenty scary, and definitely bigger, badder, and more deadly than Daniel Radcliffe’s character, so they do it right.
The Fifth Unwritten Law of Action Movies: The Best Scenes Go Last
There’s a great fight scene with Nix, the blonde killer, early in the movie. Then she sacrifices herself (yeah, spoiler alert) so Harry Potter can make it to the final boss battle.
Except her final scene is nothing compared to that earlier scene. It’s meh. Switch those around in the editing room and IT WOULD BE MAGIC.
The same is true for chases, witty dialogue, suspenseful moments–put the best last. Escalate up to the end.
Listen, it’s the year 2020, which the prophecy apparently foretold was the Apocalypse, except nobody warned us, so I know that you know that we’re all plumbing the depths of Netflix and Amazon Prime for decent things to watch.
GUNS AKIMBO commits a few misdemeanors, but it gets the big things right and is definitely worth watching.
Good trailer, right? And there’s a good movie buried in here. Mads Mikkelsen is a great actor. His whole performance is perfect. It just feels like Mads is in a different movie than everybody else.
POLAR is best described like this: picture a bunch of screenwriters or studio execs watching JOHN WICK and saying, “What if we did that, but had Quentin Tarantino direct the thing, like KILL BILL?”
Except they couldn’t book Tarantino and decided to turn up the cray-cray up to 11.
I’m a huge fan of action movies, so sure, it was fun. There was just a disconnect between the gritty performance of Mads and the villains chewing up the scenery.
Since this silly blog is all about taking things apart and seeing how they work, or could be fixed, here’s what went wrong and how to fix it.
Three easy fixes, one small and early, one middling and the final fix big and late:
1) Lose the dog
Early on, Mads retires and buys a puppy, which was way too on-the-nose for me with the movie already super close to the plot of JOHN WICK.
Soon after, Mads has a nightmare and accidentally shoots the puppy. No. Don’t even go there.
In fact, action movies need to spike any scene where the bad guys kill the retired killer’s dog, cat or favorite horse, because JOHN WICK slayed that forever.
2) Keep the same tone
Scenes with Mads and the girl he later protects feel like part of the same gritty movie.
All the scenes with the villain and his minions feel like they were written, shot and directed by somebody else–a younger director who spent every night binge-watching Miami Vice and hanging out in strip clubs as he wrote these scenes.
Pick a style and stick with it. As in, pick the style that fits your lead actor, not your side characters.
3) Give us a villain as strong as Mads
Mads is a great character and we get to see him in action multiple times. A fast, powerful killer. The main villain, the boss of a pack of bad guys, is far less scary. In fact, his minions are stronger and better than he is.
This turns the villain into a joke, and he really only shows up for comic relief.
In the climax, when Mads enters the villain’s lair for the final confrontation, it’s a boring mismatch the director chooses to not even show. We just see the villain’s head fly through a window after Mads chops it off.
That’s a huge disappointment. An action movie’s climax needs to be, I don’t know, climactic. There were tons of other set pieces earlier in the film that were far more interesting and exciting, so it left a bad taste at the end.
There are good ingredients here, especially the performance of Mads.
It’s just overcooked and feels like two different movies.
I’m no fan of Tom Cruise, so it takes a lot to (a) part with hard currency to to watch a Cruise film and (b) publicly admit how much that film rocks.
He did it with EDGE OF TOMORROW, one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. I could watch that thing every day, and the more you dislike Cruise, the better the movie actually works.
Hear me now and believe me later in the week: Cruise did the impossible again with MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT.
Why is this movie so good when the last Bond movie bored me to bits, despite my utter fandom for Daniel the Craig?
(1) Practical stunts beat the snot out of CGI nonsense
Yes, CGI is expensive, and it can create amazing spectacles.
Yet we’re used to it. The wow factor is gone.
When I see a hero take on a CGI monster, it doesn’t scare me at all.
Practical stunts, where real people do really dangerous things, still impress people. And this movie is packed with them.
(2) Surprises on top of surprises
Thrillers are about betrayals, secrets, revelations and surprises.
Action scenes are only a bonus, dessert after the starters and main.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT gives the audience action scenes where the action is simply a setup for a betrayal, revelation or surprise. It’s a great way to move the story forward.
(3) Ruthless editing
This movie clocks in at two hours and 28 minutes. It doesn’t feel half that long.
How did the director and editor pull that off?
They ruthlessly cut the boring parts. Putting together a list of Scenes that Are Always Boring would require an entire post, though it would include Two Characters Talking as One Character Drives and my favorite, the Hero Types on a Computer.
The shorter, easier list is Scenes that Are Always Exciting, and that world champions on that list are (a) chases and (b) fights.
So if you make a movie that’s 90 percent chases and fights, with betrayals and surprises after every chase or fight, yeah, it’s going to be fast and fun. The trick is to avoid repetition. As a big fan of cheesy ’80s action movies, including everything Jackie Chan, Arnold and Jean Claude Van Damme ever made, I testify to the fact that most action movies believe, deep in their explosive souls, that the only way to mix things up for your audience is to multiply the number of bad guys facing our hero until the climax, when the producer has to bus in hundreds of extras and run the costume shop 24/7 to stitch up enough Expendable Bad Guy coveralls so they hero can wade through them all on his way to the Big Bad Guy.
That’s not to say there aren’t cliches and silly tropes in this movie. I pray to whichever gods that are listening, please, please stop Hollywood writers and directors from ever using stolen nuclear warheads as a plot device. I beg you. And the revelation that Clark Kent with a Beard is actually a bad guy came way too early for me.
But the nuclear MacGuffin in this movie doesn’t really matter. What puts us in those theater seats are the chases, fights and stunts, which are all spectacular. Well done, Tom the Cruise–now give us a sequel to EDGE OF TOMORROW.
While I was healing up from a thing, I watched every possible free movie on Netflix.
The happiest surprise, out of nowhere? South Korean action movies.
I grew up on cheesy ’80s action heroes: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Dolph Lundgren and the other current stars of THE EXPENDABLES who aren’t (a) former WWE wrestlers or (b) former MMA stars.
But here’s the thing: Korean action movies are different from whatever Hollywood, Bollywood and Hong Kong are putting out.
In a traditional Hollywood explosion-fest, there’s a too-cool hero, a nerdy sidekick, an ancient mentor who the villain kills in Act 2 and a love interest who gets kissed after the villain goes down. It’s a formula, and while there are twists, most movies only try to surprise you with the fine details.
Maybe it’s just the mix of movies on Netflix, or maybe I got lucky. Doesn’t matter. Everything I watched was very, very different than the last. They were all well-shot and well-acted.
Yet it’s the stories that stand out, the bold twists. I watched seven or eight of these, and they all had their own specific plot lines and interesting endings.
Here are the trailers for one of the best, THE MAN FROM NOWHERE.
Now, fire up Netflix and watch it. DO IT NOW.
What do you want to know about the deepest recesses of Netflix? Pick your favorite and I’ll write the review.