Archive for the ‘Ninjas’ Category

AGE OF THE DRAGONS (2011)

I can’t speak for every dude who writes about movies on the internet, but as for me, it’s not like I don’t have any options at all as to how to spend my free time. Sure, I fit the stereotype of single and brainy, but I also bring plenty to the dating pool. I’m generally considered to be sweet, thoughtful, loyal, and giving. Most people find me funny. I’m certainly presentable, even considered outright attractive from some angles. I’m currently regularly-employed and employable. I’m terrific with kids and I’ll make a great father one day. Animals also love me (though not always cats). The ladies reading this may be asking, What’s the downside?

Well ladies, the answer may be that I’m addicted to movies. Addicted. Big-time. I don’t know why, but I can’t go more than a day without one. And there’s only so many times you can watch GOODFELLAS or PULP FICTION or BOOGIE NIGHTS or whatever finite number of acceptable classics that normal guys my age watch, before you start sniffing around the outskirts of what’s out there in the great beyond, movie-wise. Sometimes that search can result in a great discovery, and most other times it doesn’t.

When I saw a preview somewhere for AGE OF THE DRAGONS, I knew I was in trouble. Somebody made a version of MOBY DICK starring PREDATOR 2‘s Danny Glover as Melville’s Captain Ahab, in the relentless and dangerous pursuit, not of a great white whale, no, but instead, of a great white dragon.

Aw hell.

I’m gonna have to watch that.

RIGGS!

MOBY DICK is often cited as The Great American Novel. Every author is out there trying to write one, but Herman Melville did it almost two hundred years ago. The book is its own Great White Whale. It has influenced countless writers and their works, been adapted to film multiple times, and has many obvious and less obvious descendents in movies such as JAWS and ALIENS. MOBY DICK is so many things — a historical document detailing the whaling industry of its era, a lierary allegory, a character study of obsession and madness, a rousing adventure tale… It’s really good! You should read it.

For a book of more than six hundred pages, the main plot of MOBY DICK is perfectly simple: A young sailor named Ishmael and his friend Queequeg, an intimidating foreigner, get a job on a whaling ship called the Pequod. They meet the first, second, and third mates on the ship — Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, respectively — but it’s a while before they meet the ship’s captain. When he arrives, he basically takes over the book. Ahab is a vengeful Quaker (which is an oxymoron, for the record) out to destroy the white whale who, in an earlier encounter, scarred him and took his leg. The only question is how many of the crew members will survive his deranged quest.

I love this story — it kind of has an elemental appeal to me at my center. It’s based on a true story! I love stories about sea monsters. As a kid my family took summer vacations to some of the areas described in the book. I grew up obsessed with the whale at the Museum Of Natural History in New York. And technically I’m half Quaker, so I even get that part of it. All of this is a run-up to say that I have more than a passing familiarity with the source material for AGE OF THE DRAGONS, which is why I found it to be even more of a bizarre anomaly than I figured it was going to be.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS is so remarkably bizarre precisely because of its fidelity to MOBY DICK. There is no question that the people who made AGE OF THE DRAGONS have read MOBY DICK, which is both what makes it strangely admirable and what makes it so weird. Let’s look at some of the similarities and the differences.

Well, besides, the obvious.

MOBY DICK.

MOBY DICK is about a large angry whale.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS is about a fire-breathing dragon.

In AGE OF THE DRAGONS, the action is shifted from sea to land. The dragons can fly, but the men who hunt for them travel on land. (Sky-boats would have been a little too crazy. Duh.) Still, their choice of vehicle is in fact a boat.

Boat.

The boat does have wheels, so I guess that makes sense, and the terrain they cover is generally coated with blankets of snow, so technically the boat is travelling over expanses of water, but again, let’s not mince words here: This is fucking weird. I mean, if you want to get all film school on it, you could possibly attribute the snow boat to being an extended reference both obliquely and literally to Werner Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO, another story of mad obsession, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fucking snow boat in a dragon-hunting movie.

Not only that, but the winter is apparently one of the utmost extremes, so you know what that means….

Ahab Snow Ninja

!!!SNOW NINJAS!!!

Snow Ninjas.

At every moment where I got anywhere near taking this movie seriously, somebody would show up dressed like a snow ninja and I’d have to chuckle. Which is totally fine. There isn’t anything at all wrong, from where I’m sitting, with a movie about dragon-fighting snow ninjas. But if you’re going to make a movie like that, you ought to have a sense of humor, and AGE OF THE DRAGONS is played for straights. It’s pretty dour and grim, missing the fact that Herman Melville had a satirical eye, having penned lines for MOBY DICK like “Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”

But I guess the makers of AGE OF THE DRAGONS figured, if they were going to take the sense of humor out of MOBY DICK, they’d better put something else in, and what they settled on was — you guessed it — a pretty girl. Her name is Rachel, which, despite there being no character like her in MOBY DICK, actually does mean something in reference to the novel. (I think the Rachel is the name of one of the boats.) Here the character is Ahab’s daughter, who he took in after her family was killed by dragons. Ishmael takes a shine to her, I guess because she’s a better bunkmate than Queequeg, which Ahab doesn’t like but what did he think was gonna happen, really. The actress doesn’t resemble Danny Glover much, which I guess is a virtue because let’s face it, she’s only really in the movie for stuff like this:

Girl.

Outside of Danny Glover, there’s no one in this movie you’ve heard of before, except for Vinnie Jones. My British friends know Vinnie Jones from his soccer — sorry: football — career, and my American friends know him from SMOKIN’ ACES 2, X-MEN 3, and GARFIELD: A TALE OF TWO KITTIES. He plays Stubb in this movie, but not for long. A dragon breathes on him and he turns into a pile of dust. Sorry if that’s a spoiler. I don’t think anything like that happened in the Melville text, but I guess they only had Vinnie Jones budgeted for a couple days on this shoot. It doesn’t feel like an organic storytelling decision, is what I’m implying.

Vinnie.

Anyway the main reason I wanted to see this movie was to see Danny Glover acting weird and talking a lot about dragons, and in this respect I did not walk away disappointed. Basically Danny Glover hates dragons because when he was a young Danny Glover, he and his sister were walking through the woods and a dragon showed up. The dragon turned his sister into a pile of ashes like it did to Vinnie Jones, and it also burned Danny Glover up pretty bad, to the point where he can’t go out in direct sunlight. On one hand that’s a bummer, but on the other hand….

Danny Glover in Snow Ninja outfit.

Danny Glover in Snow Ninja outfit.

As I was watching this movie, which has a lot of dull parts — really too many, for a movie that has dragons and Danny Glover dressed like a G.I. Joe character — I gave a lot of thought to Danny Glover, who is an actor I have a ton of affection for, but who has been really under-served by the movies, I think. He’s definitely a guy who has “important actor” status, but who hasn’t been in as many great things as he should or maybe could be.

Danny Glover High Points:

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (Clint)

WITNESS (a rare villainous turn)

THE COLOR PURPLE (probably, I haven’t seen it)

LETHAL WEAPON (obviously)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN (Bill Duke version)

LONESOME DOVE

TO SLEEP WITH ANGER

THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS (funniest part of the movie)

DREAMGIRLS

Personally, I liked SILVERADO, PREDATOR 2, PURE LUCK, and BE KIND REWIND also, but I don’t know if those roles necessarily go on the highlight reel. (PURE LUCK is pretty bad, actually, but it’s a Martin Short movie, so.)

I guess the point I’m making is, for such a prestigious actor, there sure are a ton of movies like OPERATION DUMBO DROP, GONE FISHIN’, LETHAL WEAPON 4, and SAW, on that resume, which also includes an unfair amount of shitty TV shows. Of course Danny Glover has been in some great stuff, but not enough. He needs some Fincher or Mann or Spike or Spielberg in his future. I mean, of course I enjoyed seeing him like this —

Riggs!

— but there aren’t too many of me. I’m a guy who will spend this much time thinking about a version of MOBY DICK that has dragons: Through me does not necessarily pass the road towards Oscars and widespread critical acclaim. And even with that said, I’d probably rather see a sincere version of MOBY DICK than a silly one which I can only watch in the middle of the night when there’s no female presence around to stop me. There’s no reason why Danny Glover couldn’t be given a movie where he can play Captain Ahab for real. He shouldn’t be stuck playing some weird groaning Gollum-esque character lurching around in a cave in Utah at computer-animated dragons.

Seriously, you should see the part when he fights the great white dragon at the end and gets his leg caught in the harpoon — if only for a textbook definition of anti-climax. I mean, I haven’t said much about the effects of the movie: The production value is actually rather good — I liked the sets and the costumes and even a couple of the scenes of the dragons. The actors all take it as seriously as they’re asked to, and the music by J Bateman (either Jason or Justine, I’m not sure which) is better than average for a movie of this type.

But the movie’s pace is slack and all the good dragon bits all happen early on — it’s like the production blew their dragon wad early, and like a bad lover with no follow-through, skimped on the effects in the final scenes. Even Danny Glover turns into computer animation, a cluster of pixels being dragged away on the tail of a fake monster. If it wasn’t enough that he was asked to overact through the entire movie, he doesn’t even get to leave it with any dignity.

So AGE OF THE DRAGONS, sadly, probably not a thing I can recommend. But at least I learned a thing or two about myself.

I learned that all you have to do is say the word “dragons” and I will watch your movie. It’s a foolproof method of advertising. Everyone and their grandma use more common sales pitches such as “boobs” “monkeys” and “explosions” to lure me in, but not everyone promises “dragons” and that brings my eyes over, every time.

The other thing I learned is that if I had any brains at all, I would have just watched JAWS for the 57th time. So maybe strike “brainy” from that list of datable qualities I listed up top in reference to myself.

@jonnyabomb

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I probably should be doing about 50 other things at this very moment, but I saw this great top-50 list today and was inspired it to immediately answer it.  I made my list very, very quickly, so in plenty of ways it’s the most honest form a list like this could ever arrive in.  While the numbering is fairly arbitrary (until the top five, where shit gets definite) and while the contents could easily change as soon as five minutes from now, this is still a fairly good representation of what a top fifty movies list from me should look like.  Anyway, let’s hit it.  Links where they fit.  I eagerly await any and all comments you might make!

50. Watermelon Man (1970).

49. Fletch (1985).

48. The Great Silence (1968).

47. Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954).

46. The Hit (1984).

45. Knightriders (1981).

44. The Night Of The Hunter (1955).

43. Of Unknown Origin (1983).

42. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973).

41. Prime Cut (1972).

40. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997).

39. Coffy (1973).

38. Trainspotting (1996).

37. In Bruges (2008).

36. Quick Change (1990).

35. Collateral (2004).

34. Out Of Sight (1998).

33. Halloween (1978).

32. Magnolia (1999).

31. Raising Arizona (1987).

30. Escape From New York (1981).

29. Shogun Assassin (1980).

28. Goodfellas (1990).

27. Purple Rain (1984).

26. True Grit (2010).

25. The Unholy Three (1925).

24. My Darling Clementine (1946).

23. The Insider (1999).

22. Alligator (1980).

21. Animal House (1978).

20. High Plains Drifter (1973).

19. Freaks (1932).

18. Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

17. An American Werewolf In London (1981).

 

16. Predator (1987).

 

15. Jaws (1975).

14. Shaft (1971).

13. Evil Dead 2 (1987).

 

12. The Wild Bunch (1969).

11. Manhunter (1986).

10. Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976).

9. Heat (1995).

8. King Kong (1933).

7. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

6. Big Trouble In Little China (1986).

5. Unforgiven (1992).

4. Dawn Of The Dead (1978).

3. Ghostbusters (1984).

2. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968).

 

1. The Good The Bad & The Ugly (1966).

@jonnyabomb

So the trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation just hit the internet.  If you haven’t seen it yet, please visit my friends at Daily Grindhouse and watch it here.

In case you’re wondering if I had any thoughts about the previous G.I. Joe movie, it turns out that I had somewhere around twenty.  Which is arguably eighteen or nineteen more thoughts than writer-director Stephen Sommers had.  And that’s not a knock — well it is, but as you’ll soon see, I managed to adjust my expectations properly and enjoy the movie, even though, obviously, it’s dumber than an anthropomorphic Michael Bay explosion trying to memorize algebra.

One thing I hope you get the chance to read, even if you don’t get to the hyperactive jokiness of the majority of the piece, are my opinions at the beginning concerning film criticism and the aforementioned adjusting of expectations.  I’m biased, but I think it’s a good point.

Anyway, here we go (again).

______________________________________________________________________

G.I. JOE: The Rise Of Cobra

(August 8th, 2009)

I don’t drink much anymore.  So there’s that, and also, there’s the fact that I’m no longer a kid.  Qualifying for either of those conditions would help anyone immeasurably in watching a movie like G.I. JOE: The Rise Of Cobra, but that’s not the way I saw the movie.  “Drunk children will love G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra!”  Somehow I don’t think that will be a promotional tagline that Paramount will seize upon for their ad campaign.  No, not while Kid Rock is still out there somewhere, churning out crap songs to plunk into TV spots for movies exactly like this one.

Now I actually liked the movie, believe it or don’t, but before we get to me, let’s talk about those critics.  There was some small uproar recently over the fact that the G.I. Joe movie was not screened for critics in advance of its release.  That sort of clandestine action never goes over well with critics, and to the rest of us it usually indicates dire things about the movie’s quality and the studio’s faith in its chances at success.  Even the Transformers movies were screened for critics, and we all know how that went.

In my opinion, however, this minor pop-quake actually tells us very little about G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra itself – instead, all it does is point to the massive flaw in the entire network of popular criticism as it is presented and perceived in America today.  My point being:  How would any so-called serious critic sit down to write a review of a movie like this one with a straight face?  How would one employ the regular critical shorthand as currently established for grading movies, when talking about a G.I. Joe movie?  G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is the kind of movie that should make mainstream critics recalibrate their systems.  For example:

When judging a film’s quality, Empire Magazine, Time Out New York, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone use five stars.  Roger Ebert uses just four.  Entertainment Weekly, that hot schoolteacher, uses letter grades.  (They gave G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra a “D”!)

Here’s my question, then:  How in the world can you use the same grading scale for a movie like G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra that you do for Waltz With Bashir, or There Will Be Blood, or Milk, or Slumdog Millionaire?  If those films receive your top-shelf rating of four or five stars, then where does G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra rank?  Can you do negative stars?  Isn’t that a black hole?  Or is that an astronomy question?  Clearly, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is not of the objective quality of those aforementioned great films, but how can anyone say that G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra doesn’t manage to achieve its own particular goals?  G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra doesn’t have a single profound thing to say about the world we live in; it doesn’t have any Academy Awards ambitions; it doesn’t have a brain in its head.  It exists solely to entertain, as only a movie based on a comic book based on a cartoon based on a toy line can.  How can you possibly hold G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra to the same critical standards as you would No Country For Old Men?  You can’t, although you also can, because:  In its own thoroughly idiotic way, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is just as effective in achieving its aims.

The point being, I had a good time at G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra.  I felt like the trailers and previews gave me a completely accurate idea of what to expect, and I engineered my expectations accordingly.  Like I said at the outset, I only would have had more fun if I had been drunk and/or thirteen years old again.  But I would never, ever suggest that there’s more to G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra than stupid fun.  So I’m not here to write a review, because who really cares about such normally crucial technical aspects as the visual effects or the action choreography or the cinematography or the editing or the score, when the end result is… G.I. Joe.
(Almost forgot:)  The Rise Of Cobra.

Still, I do think it would be fun (for me, at least) to unleash my trademark blend of enthusiasm for things I like and sarcasm for things I don’t, and vice versa, upon the approximately 73 characters that populate this enjoyably dumb movie.

Yo, MTV Raps!

PART ONE.

THE GOOD GUYS.

Ray Park as Snake-Eyes:

The baddest ass on the team.  This is what it’s all about right here.  Snake-Eyes is the coolest, the best, and the most popular character the G.I. Joe franchise has to offer, and all the movie really had to get right is him.  And they pretty much did.  He’s a ninja commando who uses swords and nunchucks and machine guns, and he doesn’t talk, which is always cooler.  See, he took a vow of silence at a young age, and hey, side note: if more people would follow suit, the world would be a better place.  Snake-Eyes is all the appeal of martial arts and mayhem without the unnecessary talk.  Any moment Snake-Eyes is on screen, G.I. Joe fliesThe only weird thing about the movie incarnation of Snake-Eyes is the fact that they stuck lips on his mask.  Why?  What is it with big-budget movies and their consistent desire to add body parts where there don’t need to be body parts?  Especially on the one dude who doesn’t use ’em?  In the grand tradition of Bat-titties and the Bat-package:  It’s Snake-Eyes-Lips!

 

Channing Tatum as DUKE:

The newest recruit to the Joe team.  At first, the wannabe-black whiteboy talk he was doing annoyed me, but then I realized that the real Army probably has a lot of young guys from the hip-hop generation in its ranks, Generation Kill and all that, so I appreciated one of the few attempts at realism that this movie makes.  Otherwise, there’s nothing particularly memorable about the supposed main character, except for the part when he gets really sad over running out of Dubble Bubble bubble gum.

P.S.  Mark Wahlberg, meet your replacement.

Marlon Wayans as Ripcord:

Duke’s best buddy.  Bad news for Marlon Wayans; this is gonna have to be the last movie where he plays the wacky young guy.  Dude’s balding like mad!  He’s showing more forehead than John C. Reilly.  I guess it’s good that Marlon Wayans was in G.I. Joe for the comedy relief – after all, the movie was so super-serious until he showed up.  Meta-textual question: If Marlon Wayans only ever appears in A) Wayans Brothers movies and B) this, then does that make this a Wayans Brothers movie?  Because if so, this is the second-best Wayans Brothers movie ever!  (After I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, naturally.)

Rachel Nichols as Scarlett:

The red-headed hot chick who shoots rewinding crossbows and speaks dead languages and loves black guys.  Primary military specialty:  She’s very pretty.  Rachel Nichols makes that blond model chick that was following Quaid around look somewhat mannish.  While I think it was kind of exploitative to have a five-minute-long scene where Scarlett walks on a treadmill in a sports bra, I won’t exactly be writing an angry letter to the studio either.  Give the lady some credit though – this is one of the more thankless roles in the movie.  I did a double-take when they gave her the line “First fight I lost since I was a kid” – since earlier, she’d immediately lost the first fight she had in the first scene she appeared in, and then went on to be endangered several times throughout the movie, always needing to be saved by the guys.  Again, credit goes to Rachel Nichols for not seeming at all like a pushover, despite the best efforts of the script to make her character seem that way.

Said Taghmaoui as BREAKER:

The communications guy who takes Duke’s last piece of Dubble Bubble.  Ten years after a great, chilling supporting performance in Three Kings, this is what it comes to.  Oh well.  I wonder if Said Taghmaoui also thinks about Mark Wahlberg when he sees Channing Tatum.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Heavy Duty:

The apparent G.I. Joe squad leader is, sadly, best described as “big black guy with huge machine gun.”  The actor better known as Mr. Eko from Lost doesn’t get much to do in this movie besides sorely testing my computer’s spell-checker and, in one scene, blatantly dressing up like Wesley Snipes as Blade.  EDITOR’S NOTE:  Heavy Duty is possibly the single most unfortunate character name in the entire movie because kids will inevitably pronounce it as “Heavy Doody.”

Jonathan Pryce as THE President Of The United States:

This is the kind of movie where the President Of The United States is played by a British guy.  That’s all you need to know about that.

Gerald Okamura as Hard Master:

Hey, that guy was in Big Trouble In Little China!  Nice character name too, buddy.  EDITOR’S NOTE:  Second most unfortunate character name in the entire movie.

Dennis Quaid as General Hawk:

Speaking of Big Trouble In Little China, Dennis Quaid has a slightly better John Wayne impression than Kurt Russell does.  Anyway, then he gets a near-death scene, then he gets to ride around in a wheelchair, then he hobbles around on a cane, then he heals up, all the while yelling a lot.  So the biggest star in the movie gets all the best chances to show his range.  And all he does all that while wearing a beret…  That’s your real American hero right there.

Brendan Fraser as Some Random Guy:

I’m not sure what he was doing there, actually.  He rides a motorcycle into the underground base (!) and says some unmemorable things and then he walks right back out of the movie.  I guess this cameo was supposed to be exciting for somebody, but I missed it.

PART TWO.

THE BAD GUYS.

Christopher Eccleston as DESTRO:

For most of the movie, the terrifically-named Destro is the main villain.  What his secret evil plan is, I could not tell you under torture.  I doubt the movie’s many screenwriters could either.  Destro’s motivation is hardly the point though – he’s exclusively there to look weird, be vaguely Scottish, calmly act evil, and eventually get a metal mask soddered onto his mug.  Destro’s most memorable character quirk is that he hates the French, which unintentionally makes him vaguely sympathetic.  I mean, this is a movie where anyone voluntarily watching it actively wants to see Destro blow up the Eiffel Tower.  As long as there’s pointless destruction on a massive scale where the countless peripheral casualties have absolutely no effect on the main characters, the movie is working.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as COBRA COMMANDER:

The indie darling who has the look of a skinnier Heath Ledger (or a way skinnier Jimmy Kimmel, if you prefer) gets his helmetless-Darth-Vader impression going, as the most over-the-top insane character in the movie.  Which is no minor accomplishment.  This character, who goes by several names in the course of the story, has close personal ties to a couple other main characters.  As if the movie wasn’t busy enough already – what with the incomprehensible plot and the multiple protagonists and the TWO separate love triangles – we also learn that some of the characters are related to each other.  Shocking!  Sarcasm!  It’s not at all shocking, and I blame George Lucas.

An Extra as THE RANCOR KEEPER:

Speaking of George Lucas…  Am I crazy or is that shirtless hooded fat guy who cries over the death of the monster in Return Of The Jedi walking around at the beginning of G.I. Joe?

Arnold Vosloo as Zartan:

The master of disguise.  In many ways, this guy is the funniest character because he’s always randomly dressing up as other people when there’s really no need for subterfuge.  Meanwhile, his buddies do most of the heavy lifting.  For example, in the scene where the bad guys raid the G.I. Joe fortress, Zartan kills a soldier and then starts to put on his clothes.  Later on, he hijacks a camel.  Eventually, he’s the one who engineers the most evil plan of all:  the sequel.

Sienna Miller as The Baroness:

Though nearly every major character [very comically] gets at least one flashback sequence, Sienna Miller’s ridiculous character arc is the most pivotal to what exists of the story.  Here she plays a very bad girl who was once a very good girl.  Four years back, to be exact.  How specific!  Before G.I. Joe, I’d only ever seen Sienna Miller in small parts, in Layer Cake and Stardust, but apparently she’s a huge name in the tabloid world.  I can’t speak to that, but I’m happy to say that she’s fine in this movie.  It’s as game a performance as any:  She does exactly what is asked of her, and with some self-aware humor to boot.  What else can be said?  Let’s cover the last character and go home…

Byung-Hun Lee as Storm Shadow:

The evil ninja who’s got a Spy Vs. Spy thing going with Snake-Eyes.  However, Storm Shadow’s ninja mask doesn’t have lips, so he’s got the edge there.  He also speaks – another edge – and in fortune cookie language no less!  “Fear is a great motivator.”  Thanks, Sum Dum Goy.

It must be said that after my first viewing of the G.I. Joe movie, Storm Shadow is probably my favorite of all of the amazingly ridiculous characters described above, because it is Storm Shadow who provides the single greatest image of the entire film, an image I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen in years and years of moviegoing, an image which I never knew I always wanted….

A NINJA WEARING A JETPACK

A NINJA WEARING A JETPACK

!!! A NINJA WEARING A JETPACK !!!

Yes, this movie shows you a ninja flying through the sky, using a jetpack.  Eisenstein never saw that one coming.  A goddamn ninja on a goddamn jetpack.  There’s also an underwater fortress and a polar bear and a robot zombie on fire.  That knowledge is really all you need when trying to reckon whether you’re the type of person who needs to see this movie, and if you’ve read this deep down into this article, something tells me you are.

More nonsense daily and often on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

   

PUNISHER: WAR ZONE & THE SAD STATE OF THE CINEMATIC SHIT-KICKER.

So I was one of those strange people who watched Punisher: War Zone during its brief theatrical run.  If you’re a fan of left-field action flicks and intentional unintentional humor, I’ll tell you it’s definitely worth that late-night rental.  If you like to get drunk, get drunk.  If you like to get high, get high.  If you’re like me and you’re a screwy enough personality even without adding any chemical influence, you’ll absolutely get a chuckle out of the thing. 

It’s total junk, but you know what?  Maybe most times you like to eat healthy.  But sometimes you somehow end up at McDonald’s.  And on occasion, while you’re there, you might even feel dumb enough to try the Fillet O’ Fish. 

Punisher: War Zone is the McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish sandwich of action movies – if you’re brave enough to try it, it’s a very temporary very positive experience which you will probably regret doing and probably not admit to having done.

No one will ever persuade me that even a moment of the previous two Punisher movies (in 1989 and 2004) were remotely watchable, and I’ve never been much of a fan of the character.  But the Garth Ennis Punisher stories are some of the few comics I have kept up with regularly for the last several years.  I’m not talking about the first few stories he did with Preacher collaborator Steve Dillon – those were over-the-top black comedy that’s not to my tastes.  The previous Punisher movie, the Thomas Jane one, went to that well, and “well” is not how that approach turned out.  No, instead I’m recommending (highly) the bleak, black-hearted stories Ennis has written more recently, including The Slavers, Barracuda, and The Long Cold Dark, in which the cold-blooded vigilante is pitted against enemies even crueler than he is.  It’s the only approach that makes much sense.  You have to go with the vicarious impulse.

So I don’t actually agree with the notion that The Punisher is too one-note a character to hang a movie upon.  Film franchises such as Death Wish and Friday The 13th managed to do very well for themselves with a one-note, mono-maniacal mass-murderer as the protagonist.  And in War Zone, the story actually starts with at least two relatively interesting concepts which could make The Punisher an interesting feature-film prospect.  One, he accidentally kills one of the good guys; two, he’s put in conflict with a cop who has a more traditional right on his side.

The movie just happens to bury that promising story framework in a sloppy, overacted, underlined, frequently hilarious comedy.  War Zone is unstructured, aggressively miscast, and lit like a caricature of a 1985 Michael Mann film.  (Neon is everywhere – I especially liked the shot of a character sitting on a stool in front of a shelf of assorted liquor: cut to a wider shot featuring a lime-green neon sign proclaiming “BAR.”) 

Maybe Garth Ennis himself could have written up a dark, interesting Punisher movie, but that won’t ever happen.  At this point, another Punisher movie is probably out of the question entirely. 

Especially not after you see the performances of the movie’s lead villains, Dominic West as Jigsaw and Doug Hutchison as L.B.J.  These guys are starring in a campy, incestuous John Waters comedy, playing homicidal psychopathic brothers with insanely ridiculous accents.  Somebody went and mixed the Punisher into their weird-ass movie, instead of the other way around.

On the subject of that Punisher – the one place where Punisher: War Zone isn’t totally miscast is with Ray Stevenson.  I first noticed Ray Stevenson in King Arthur, which was not a great movie but it was stocked with great badasses such as Clive Owen and Ray Winstone.  If you know Ray Stevenson at all, you know him from Rome, the HBO series in which, among other things, he pulls out some dude’s tongue with his teeth

I don’t know if Ray Stevenson makes a great Punisher, exactly –  he probably projects too much depth for that – but he is quite skilled in the bad-ass arts.  He’s convincing as a shit-kicker in a way that very few actors are, especially these days.  I wish to hell somebody would give Ray Stevenson a different movie in which to practice shit-kicking, because he’s so very good at it. 

Which brings me to a deeper point…

While I was watching Punisher: War Zone, I started thinking about how rare that badass action movies about the great shit-kickers have become.  Shitkickers used to be so popular; not so much anymore.  Where are the big, ugly, mean mother fuckers? 

Where’s Charles Bronson, who was always so many more shades of tough than people give him credit from just the Death Wish films? 

 Where’s today’s equivalent of James Coburn?  Lanky, toothy, fierce, unfukwitable?

Would there be room today for a wonderfully unique, growly, and two-fisted actor like Warren Oates? 

Do we have anyone on the 2008 landscape who could play the kind of roles that men like William Holden, Jason Robards, Robert Ryan, Toshiro Mifune, or Steve McQueen routinely played? 

Could my beloved hero Clint Eastwood have his amazing, legendary career if he were to start out today?

It used to be that movies had a place for men, real men – men acting mean for the sake of good.  They were convincing as tough guys and they gave our dads and grandpas the metaphorical instruction manual as to how to behave.  Looks were secondary, tertiary, or lower still, as qualifications for cinematic supremacy – physical beauty had little or nothing to do with the careers of John Wayne, most likely the most popular and famous American movie star of all time, or of Humphrey Bogart, one of the best remembered.

So I gotta be a little concerned about the state of American masculinity when the most popular action-movie character of the last ten years is…

Captain Jack Sparrow. 

Johnny Depp is great, but while he’s admirably tried to fight it, he’s ultimately, unavoidably, a pretty-boy.  And in the Pirates movies, he’s an action hero with makeup

Dude’s got makeup on, and HE’S the ruler of all the pirates?  Tyrone Power was a pretty-boy too, but he went easier on the makeup at least.  But these are the pirate movies our generation gets.  Babyfaces for babies.  I actually like Orlando Bloom, but he’s in those movies to make Jack Sparrow look butch.  You see my point?

The next most popular lead in action movies?  Probably it’s Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man.  Now, I’m a big Tobey fan, despite and/or because of the universally agreed-upon fact that he resembles me pretty much exactly.  (On a good day, I also get the Jake Gyllenhaal comparison, but that works even more damningly towards my point.  Gyllenhaal is twice the romantic, sensitive poet type that Maguire is.)  While Sam Raimi is all the more a genius for casting my doppelganger as the greatest comic book hero who isn’t Batman, I still have an issue with this, weirdly enough.  I’m not sure that our action heroes should necessarily resemble me – at least, not as a rule, rather than the exception.  Our action heroes should look like they FLOSS with runts like me.

The guys who should be in that spot haven’t broke through to action in the way I’m describing. 

Clive Owen has not exactly been able to hit as an action star the way he should be. 

Russell Crowe was holding it down for a minute there, but he rushed off into serious-actor territory and never really returned. 

Bruce Willis was great at it, but he seems not to be doing it [in watchable movies] anymore. 

Sam Jackson is brilliant at it, but he works so often that it’s not special anymore. 

Keanu Reeves and Matt Damon were very solid in the Matrix and Bourne films, but remember, they were cast against type. 

Denzel can do it, but he’s got so many other vivid facets to work at, and all of them are squarely in leading man territory – he’s more a Robert Mitchum than an Ernest Borgnine. 

Daniel Day-Lewis can do it (Gangs of New York) but usually refuses to. 

I could see Mickey Rourke getting it done, but the proper system isn’t in place. 

Remember, I’m not maligning any of these actors – I don’t think I’ve mentioned a one that I don’t think is legitimately great.  I’m merely talking about a genre that seems to have disappeared off the big screen, a joyfully malevolent genre where pretty faces exist only to get pushed in.

In action, real down-and-dirty shit-kicking action flicks, generally the actors who we think of today strictly as character actors should actually be the kings.

Casting Daniel Craig as Bond was a great step, in my opinion.  He was kicked up from villainous supporting roles, in movies like Road To Perdition, to the big time.  I know the ladies find Daniel Craig dreamy, but I like him because he looks like he’s actually been in some fights; maybe there’s even a busted nose somewhere in his hazy past.  I’m not particularly a Bond fan, and those fancy spy extravanganzas aren’t the kind of movies I’m talking about, but I like that he’s out there in big movies.

But outside of all of the above – really, what else is out there? 

I like The Rock in movies, but he’s not the answer we need.  He’s a little too metro, and definitely too funny. 

I like Mark Wahlberg too, a whole lot, but as an actor way more than an action guy – I’ll never be able to forget “Good Vibrations” no matter how good the guy was in Boogie Nights and Three Kings

Jason Statham is decent at what he does, but there’s nothing quintessentially American about that guy – he’d ideally be the fourth down the line in a badass ensemble, not the headliner.  Besides, he used to be a male model. Dismissed.

Hayden Christensen keeps getting action roles, but come on now, seriously. 

Hugh Jackman has a little Clint in his look, but also a whole lot of musical theater. 

That kid in the Twilight movie is inevitably going to get his shot in an action flick now, but he looks like Kate Winslet to me.

  
We’re THIS close to a Justin Timberlake action movie.  That’s all I’m warning against. 

And if that happens, I guarantee Lee Marvin is going to be royally pissed.

You know, the world is upside down.  You’d have to vacate movies almost entirely and go all the way to television in order to see the character actor running rampant in his badassed primacy.  You’d have to watch The SopranosThe ShieldRescue MeThe WireOz.  The characters on Lost who used to star on Oz.  And of course, Rome.

All of which brings us back to Ray Stevenson.  He’s part of the solution.  But he can’t do it alone.

Consider all of the above to be an S.O.S.

_______________________________________________________________________

This essay was originally posted in December in 2008. Since then, the most dire prophecy contained within it has come to pass.  The situation has not much improved.  “It gets better,” my ass.

Doesn’t look happy.

 

http://twitter.com/jonnyabomb

 

 

 Something I wrote way back when.  I’m prouder of this than I probably ought to admit.

Ninja Assassin crept inconspicuously onto DVD shelves today.  No, it’s not all that good, but how much good do you expect?  If you keep your expectations at a rational level, you’ll have a good time.  It should be noted that there’s not exactly a precedent for overly impressive quantities of cinematic quality in the ninja genre.  Ninja movies are probably my favorite genre of movie where you couldn’t name a single legitimately “good” one and you don’t need to care about the distinction anyway.  There are good movies and there are fun movies, and sometimes the two overlap and sometimes they don’t.  In the past twenty years, movies like The English Patient, Titanic, Shakespeare In Love, American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind, and Chicago have been deemed worthy of the awarded title “Best Picture” – but add them all up and they still can’t match the number of times I’ve seen Shogun Assassin.  (That’s Shogun Assassin, not Ninja Assassin – but it’s an understandable mistake.  These movies do tend to overlap in the naming.)

 

Ninja Assassin is a movie without much common sense, and one that is boldly meaningless when it comes to matters of theme or emotion, but it kept me thoroughly entertained throughout its admirably efficient running time.  There are ninja-on-ninja fights and ninja-on-cop fights, ninja stars and ninja swords, ninja jumping and ninja grunting, explosions and rain and rivers of blood and one very pretty girl (the lovely Naomie Harris.)  You really only need the one pretty girl when she’s THAT pretty, and surrounded by ninjas.  The French film director Jean-Luc Godard said, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.”  Well, all I personally need to like a movie is ninjas and Naomie Harris.  By that barometer, Ninja Assassin succeeds by a wide margin.

The story is pretty standard and pretty forgettable by ninja standards.  One ninja develops a conscience and tries to break from his ninja assassin clan, so the ninja assassin master sends all of his ninja brothers after him for some ninja reckoning.  The ninja clan is technically evil so they’re into some real-world criminal activity, which is how Interpol gets into the story.  Naomie Harris, who I’ve appreciated very much in movies like 28 Days Later and Miami Vice, is a low-level agent who picks up on the case and has trouble convincing her supervisors that the European ninja threat is real.  To be fair, the ninjas in this movie can literally blend into the shadows and become invisible, so they’re even a little less believable than the average every-day ninja.

 

The movie’s main character is generally ridiculous.  He’s played by a single-named Korean pop star named Rain, who can at least be complimented on his commitment to doing sit-ups, if not his acting.  Brotherman definitely has some impressive abs – which the movie repeatedly hones in on – but I’m not impressed by abs.  The movie heroes I respect are guys like Gene Hackman, guys with faces full of character and hard-lived life, who might be a little paunchy but who – even now – could use guys like Rain for toothpicks.  This Rain kid looks more like a sad puppy – like that old cartoon character Droopy, if someone had taken away his ice cream.  Let’s see where you are in a couple decades, Rain.  If I’m wrong, feel free to track me down in the old folks’ home and make me eat my words.  (Just be sure to remind me to also take my prunes with those words, please – I’m so forgetful sometimes…)

Anyway, whether this guy is a convincing bad-ass or not is actually irrelevant, because it’s all about the stunt teams enlisted to carry out the ninja action, and those guys are phenomenal.  Ninja Assassin was a Joel Silver production, and he knows the right guys to hire.  The fights in the movie are uncommonly quick-moving but still coherent and fun (and remarkably, almost supernaturally brutal.)  The director was James McTeigue, the AD on the Matrix movies, and he brings all the best fight choreography from those movies to this one.  J. Michael Straczynski did a quick rewrite on the final script – comic book fans might know him best as a guy who wrote Amazing Spider-Man for a while there, but I know him best as the guy who finally defeated the unparalleled spelling abilities of both myself and Microsoft Word.

But probably the most valuable contribution to Ninja Assassin comes from Sho Kosugi, the veteran star of many ninja movies from the 1980s, who has aged into a pretty mean-looking bastard.  He plays the villainous ninja master, and he scowls and bellows just beautifully.  Casting Sho Kosugi gives the movie a ninja street cred that it might not have otherwise had.  Ninja fans know Sho Kosugi as a convincing heavy from classic non-classics such as Enter The Ninja, where Italian film star Franco Nero dons a white ninja suit and prowls through the jungle (surely one of the greatest camouflage failures ever enacted by a great white ninja.)  Really, I wish I could take more time to dissect Enter The Ninja because it’s pretty spectacular and has one of the more unintentionally hilarious villains ever seen in a 1980s movie – which is saying plenty!

 

 

But today is Ninja Assassin’s day, and while its day may pass quickly, its makers can rest easy, knowing that they have made an entertaining addition to the canon of ninja movies, a canon that doesn’t require much more than the aforementioned amended-Godardian elements to be perfectly enjoyable.  In other words:  If you like ninja movies, probably you’ll like this ninja movie.  I do, and I did.  In other words, then:  If you like ninja movies, there may be something wrong with you, but at least you’re in good company.

Peace out.

   

   

Alien Vs. Ninja!!!!!!!

Posted: June 9, 2010 in Aliens, Movies (A), Ninjas

Learning that this movie exists has made my day.  Knowing that I have a good chance of seeing it makes me chuckle.  Looking at the upper left hand corner of the poster is an amazing experience, regardless of how the movie turns out.