We Want Action: BKO Bangkok Knockout (2010)

I watched BKO: Bangkok Knockout a few Fridays back and just didn’t get around to writing it up for a Friday Fisticuffs, but I enjoyed the movie so much that I did want to tell you guys about it and maybe get the word out. I came across the movie on Netflix Instant and yes, it is subtitled, but I didn’t really have much trouble following the story even while looking away for almost everything but the fight scenes.

I’ve said several times that, when it comes to action flicks, I’m mostly in it for the fight scenes. The plots are usually overwrought and don’t fit with the tone of what you’re watching considering the superhuman acts performed by the men and women in these things. In the case of BKO, we start off with a pair of fight clubs auditioning for a Hollywood producer. It’s kind of like something out of America’s Best Dance Crew, but with actual kicking and punching. The winning team–actually called Fight Club–goes out, parties and wake up in a house they don’t recognize. That’s when things get nuts as they eventually find themselves in an industrial complex of some kind and are informed that they will be competing in a series of fights. Turns out a bunch of rich folks are paying for this event and are placing bets as to whether the Fight Club kids will defeat the video game boss-like people sent to attack them.

Or something. Again, who cares, right? Not me. There’s a few more twists and turns, but I either missed some or don’t want to ruin the details (that about covers any and all oversights on my part, right?). The set up is familiar and kind of ridiculous, but I’ve got to say, the results are pretty amazing. The movie is basically a video game. There’s even a huge, masked slasher-esque bad guy who keeps showing up and kicking ass. It’s fun watching traditional martial artists essentially fighting Jason Voorhees. There’s also some pretty incredible fight scenes set in a fenced-in room, under a moving semi-truck and the like.

As with many of the Thai action flicks that I love so much, the key to this one is how real everything seems. Well, maybe not the set-up itself, but the fights. Dudes get MESSED UP in this movie. There’s also a nice little treat at the end where we actually see the surviving members of the Fight Club getting patched up in the hospital. If memory serves, you don’t really see these kinds of things a lot, but I liked it here because it brings the whole thing back around to reality. You wouldn’t be able to do what these guys did without needing to at least hit the sack for a while.

Anthology Rotation

At some point while burning through Stephen King’s gigantic Under The Dome, I thought it would be fun to switch gears for my next reading endeavor. It won’t be a tonal shift, necessarily, but more of a format one. Instead of hopping hack into the world of novels, I think I’ll tackle some of the short story and anthology books I’ve had filling up my to-read piles for ages. I don’t know about you guys, but I have a tendency to jump in and out of short story books at my leisure because I don’t feel that compulsion to finish them (unless there’s a theme or recurring characters or something along those lines).

Anyway, I dug through some of my boxes and assembled a pretty good line-up, if I do say so myself. I’ve got Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things (I read his Smoke & Mirrors over YEARS, but American Gods in a relatively short period of time), Elmore Leonard’s western collection Moment of Vengeance & Other Stories (big Leonard fan, but I’ve never read any of his westerns or any westerns for that matter), Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew (which I’ve delved into a bit), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button & Other Stories (also dipped into a little) and Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts (which I just got from Amazon).

The basic idea is to read a short story from each book and then move on to the next (to the right, in reference to the picture). I arranged them so the genres wouldn’t be back to back and will offer up a good deal of variety, though I’m sure the Gaiman book will be varied in and of itself. I’m excited because this not only will help me get through some books that have been sitting in piles for years, but also hopefully help me explore the short story genre better, something I haven’t really done since college and that was all stuff I was told to read. Anyone else forced to buy an anthology with their professor’s published story in it? Yeah, I’ve got a couple of those back home.

Anyway, it should be fun. I know with Christmas and New Year’s coming up, I won’t have a ton of time to read, so this will probably work out pretty well for me. It’ll be nice to feel some reading accomplishment while also attending to all my other duties. I think I’ll do a post on Fridays about what stories I read that week. That’s the plan at least. Anyone want to join me?

Riding With The King: Under The Dome (2009)

I’ll be honest, I’m shocked to be writing this review so soon after purchasing Stephen King’s Under The Dome just over three weeks ago. This book is a monster at 1072 pages and I am at best a slow reader, but I guess that’s a testament to how taut and compelling I found the story.

If you haven’t read, don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything without giving off the warning. The basic plot of the book revolves around a small town called Chester’s Mill in Maine, that, one day, out of nowhere, finds itself completely surrounded by a clear, impenetrable dome. But, Chester’s Mill isn’t exactly what it seems and you probably couldn’t have picked a worse town to cover in a dome. There’s a lot going on there, most of which I will not get into, but all of it is the result of Big Jim Rennie, a local politician who says he’s thinking of the town and God, but is really only thinking of himself.

It’s kind of like every movie you’ve ever seen where a jerk owns a town. He’s got his own goon squad and does what he wants until the dashing hero comes in and mixes things up. It’s Patrick Swayze in the awesome Road House and either Joe Don Boxer, The Rock or Kevin Sorbo depending on which Walking Tall your watching. In this case, the hero of sorts is Dale “Barbie” Barbara an traveler who was leaving town on the day the dome appeared after running into some trouble with Rennie’s son and his friends. He also happens to have served in the military, which should prove helpful right?

Much of the tension and dread I felt while reading this book came because I was worried about bad things happening to Barbie or one of his compatriots. Being under the dome is bad enough, but having a calculating, cunning and cruel man like Rennie moving townspeople around like chess pieces does not make the situation any better. I have a thing about being helpless and always find stories where a person is made to be that way highly effective and disturbing. That happens on several different levels throughout the book, which is yet another reason why it grabbed me and didn’t let go.

Let’s label this SPOILER TERRITORY. I didn’t and still haven’t read any of the criticisms of the book. My main one is that some of the dialog–especially anything said by the teenager members of the town–sounded not just weird but jarringly bad. But, hey, maybe kids in small town Maine talk like a slightly toned down version of Scooby Doo’s pal Shaggy. Anyway, I did hear that a lot of people didn’t like the ending and I think I understand why on two possible counts. First, I’m sure the way everything was resolved didn’t sit well with some people. I thought it was a well crafted, well seeded and well executed method that I did not see coming, so for those reasons, I liked it. The other element that I would imagine rubbed people the wrong way was how they might have felt cheated because our big bad Rennie and dashing Dale Barbara never got to really face off. Well, them’s the breaks, I guess. Again, the explosion was telegraphed and hinted at all along, so it’s not like it came out of left field or anything. I kind of liked it because it’s how reality works: all kinds of plans are in motion and sometimes they collide in spectacularly explosive ways.

STILL SPOILERS I do wonder if all the build-up to the ending was actually earned by the actual ending. As I said, I was glued to this book, but I finished the last 100 or so pages in sporadic, stolen moments over the Thanksgiving holiday, so my intake of the information was choppy. I thought the final attempt on the box at the end was pretty intense itself but nowhere near as much so as when I felt like Rennie’s guys were going to get Barbie. It kind of ends before it ends with there only being so many options. With the town destroyed, the air polluted and the bad guys dead, they either live or they die, they either get out or they don’t. With all the other dangers, options and people removed, the focus might not please everyone. I’m glad he ended it the way he did, a downer ending would have been rough after all that.

Okay, we’re out of the spoiler zone. When I first picked this book up for a few bucks at Barnes & Noble (check next time you’re there, I recommend giving it a read) I was worried that it would be overly stuffed with nonsense. I had a similar fear in the beginning when King was seemingly cataloging various people and animals effected by the dome appearing. What I didn’t realize then was that the author was setting me up for the rest of the story which, while mostly about a few key people, was really about an entire small town trying to deal with a very large threat. Yes, the story could have completely followed Barbie and Rennie, but it would not be nearly as rich or as engrossing of a read. I haven’t read a ton of Stephen King books and usually never close together (though I did just read Running Man back in April and have a copy of his short story book Skeleton Crew sitting around near a copy of Misery), so I’m not an expert, but I don’t remember being this engrossed by any of his books with the exception of The Shining, which I REALLY wish I had gotten back from my co-worker at the bagel shop before he got fired. I did attempt to read the equally huge It, but never got close to finishing. I think this is a great effort by a great talent that’s worth reading, especially if you can get it on the super-cheap at B&N like I did!

Let me know what you thought of the book. I’m curious what the complaints about the ending were. If you’re going to comment directly and spoilers, though, please note that for readers. Thanks!

Fantastic Voyage Trade Post: Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four Volume 1

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Dale Eaglesham & Neil Edwards
Collects Fantastic Four #570-574

Fantastic Four is one of those concepts that has limitless potential that doesn’t always get reached. I’ve only gotten a few issues into the series’ original run in my Fantastic Voyage posts, but I do have some on-again-off-again experience with the book. I started reading with Heroes Reborn and then moved over to the Heroes Return Chris Claremont stuff which I could only stand for about five issues or so. It wouldn’t be until I got my hands on Mark Waid’s run of the book until I really experienced how good this team could be. That is one of my favorite Marvel runs of all time and I hope to get back to it in the relative future. For me, the key to good FF stories is emphasizing both the fantastic elements while also dealing with the family drama at the same time.

And that’s exactly what Hickman does in his first volume of Fantastic Four stories. I read most, if not all, of these issues while I was still working at Wizard, so this was more of a revisiting, but I had just as good of a time the second time around as I did the first.

So, what does the book contain? Three stories, actually, which is impressive considering the collection only contains five comics. First and foremost, we see Reed join a pan-dimensional group of Reeds who have banned together to help change all of the universes. The question he’s posed with–and one that’s central to our version of Reed–is whether he’s willing to risk his humanity (read: family) and fully embrace his world-changing brilliance. After that, Johnny and Ben (with tagalongs Franklin and Valeria) head to their own alternate world and help save the day. I believe this was the location featured in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run on the book which I could not bring myself to read after about half the first issue. Finally, we end with Franklin’s birthday party which is a fun family and friend moment followed by a mysterious traveler essentially laying out the next year or so of Hickman’s story (cryptically, of course).

As I said, Hickman does a great job balancing the family and fantastic elements, but he also balances one of the other difficult things about the FF: continuity. These guys have been around consistently for 50 years. That’s a helluva lot of stories for writers to borrow from or base their own stories off of. Sometimes–as in the case of the Claremont issues–the continuity is just too deep and confusing. Other times, writers go on and do their own thing. Again, Hickman balances these elements very well. The history and continuity are there, but they’re not primary to the story. As long as you know the basics of the FF–and maybe not even that, I’d absolutely hand this book to someone who knows nothing about the team–you’re good to go.

Dale Eaglesham matches Hickman perfectly on this book. He’s been one of my all-time favorites for years because his figures always look big and iconic, even when they’re doing something small, like talking to a loved one. He’s the perfect match for this book and you can feel when he’s not drawing the issues. They’re still good, but not as good as you know they could have been. It’s a small complaint, but I want me more Eaglesham!

Ad It Up: Challenge Of The Gobots

Yeah, yeah, I know the Go-Bots are widely considered a poor man’s Transformers, but I think there’s plenty of room in pop culture for multiple shows about robots turning into other things (just not buildings). Of course, I say that with a child’s memories. I haven’t gone back and watched Go-Bots or even much of G1 Transformers recently, so they could both be boring and bordering-on-unwatchable. I always dug the Go-Bots designs and would like to see them redone by a modern artist (or maybe even some of that CGI magic). If my opinion was based solely on this ad–which I scanned out of the second issue of the 1985 Punisher miniseries–I probably wouldn’t but. How boring!

Just Finished Wolverine And The X-Men (2009)

I actually feel bad writing about Wolverine And The X-Men before talking about the second and third seasons of Beast Wars, but seeing as how the Marvel toon is fresher in my mind, I’m going to roll with it. I have a long history with animated versions of the X-Men. I remember seeing Pryde Of The X-Men when I was a kid on VHS at a friend’s house, I was a huge fan of the arcade game (technically animated, I guess) and was all over the 90s cartoon when it was on. That also lead to me buying a ton of the 5-inch Toy Biz X-Men and X-Force action figures. I have a two-stack printing paper box packed to the gills with them back home. I think the X-Men work best in this kind of “let’s pull from the comics, but not be glued to continuity” way. I’ve said this before, but most long-running mainstream comic books tend to be huge sandboxes littered with toys that other kids have created their own adventures with. You can go in and pick out the toys you like, maybe borrow a few of the elements that the other kids created, but then go off on your own.

What I liked most about WATX is that the whole 26 episode season felt like a great example of long-form storytelling. Plus, even though it borrowed some of the larger story elements from the comics–even ones that were already done in the 90s cartoon–the overall story felt fresh. Speaking of the story, in the very beginning of the series, Professor X got zapped and is unconscious. This lead to the break-up of the team, but Wolverine needs to put them back together. He also happens to be communicating with Professor X who has woken up in a very “Days Of Future Past”-esque future (but one populated with latter day mutants like Hellion and Marrow). This storytelling device really broadens the story because you’ve got Wolverine not only trying to put the team back together but also trying to prevent whatever leads to the devastation in the future. At the same time, though less frequently shown, the Professor fights in the future to figure out what happened so he can tell Wolverine.

But, don’t be scared away by the show’s long-form storytelling. Most of the episodes work very well on their own and even hint at other future stories they might have gotten to had there been a second season. I actually wish that this was my very first exposure to the X-Men because it would be pretty amazing. Sure, a few things were changed or simplified, but overall I think it’s a great dose of X without getting too complicated. On the other hand, there are so many cameos from comic-based characters that even I had trouble keeping up. To be fair, though, I’m not exactly an expert by any means, but having read a few X-books in my time, watched the movies, seen the cartoons, collected the trading cards and just been around comics for almost two decades, you absorb a lot.

So, yes, I absolutely recommend watching Wolverine And The X-Men. It’s on Netflix Instant, so it’s easy to track down. The only downside? It’s only one season! The story completes pretty well, but then they do an Age of Apocalypse tease at the very, very end that made me really sad that I’d never see those episodes. That’s one of my all-time favorite alternate reality stories ever!

Stathamathon: Transporter 2 (2005), The One (2001) & Blitz (2011)

I believe my Jason Statham fandom is well documented. I first saw him in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, though I don’t specifically remember him from them. I think the first movie I really noticed him in was the first Transporter flick, which is awesome. Frankly, all three of those movies are huge jolts of awesomeness, worth every moment of viewing. After being primed for a dose of Statham after watching Ghosts Of Mars, I was excited to see Transporter 2 on FX yesterday, so excited that I decided to have myself a little Stahamathon that also included The One and Blitz, which I had never seen before.

In grand Transporter fashion, Frank (Statham) gets wrapped up in someone else’s drama, this time while driving a diplomat’s kid to school. The bad guys’ plot is actually pretty brilliant. They kidnapped the kid and injected him with a virus that needs time to incubate, but once it does can be transmitted through the air. They return the kid to his parents who breathes on his dad who is scheduled to appear at the UN or some such, meaning they’re trying to kill all those people. Or at least get them sick and then charge for the antidote.

Anyway, Statham kicks ass in all kinds of fantastic scenes, my personal favorite is the one with the guy in the boat garage. I think I like Crank and Crank 2 better because they’re just so gonzo, but the Transporter flicks showcase what’s great about Statham: his badass attitude and his no hold’s barred fighting style. Great, fun stuff. Neither of the other movies I watched yesterday topped it, but it was a good way to spend a day.

I figured The One wouldn’t be too heavy on Statham, but the fact that it pre-dated his Expendables team-up with Jet Li by a decade or so, I was definitely curious to see how they interacted. Also, I could have sworn I’d seen this movie, but there’s no way, I must have been thinking of something else. Jet Li plays a guy hopping from alternate reality to alternate reality in an attempt to kill all of his variant selves. With each death, he becomes more and more powerful and his intent is to kill them all so he can become a god. In our world, Li is actually a good guy, so, of course the two fight a lot. Statham winds up teaming up with the good Jet Li which means they only got to fight a tiny bit. But, like I said, this is Li’s movie.

I’m waffling back and forth as to whether or not to call this one silly. I mean, it’s an interesting concept, but it’s not really handled in the most serious or awesome way possible. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Time Cop, but this one has a lot more superpower-based fights which actually look surprisingly cool for a movie that’s 10 years old. Give it a whirl if you haven’t seen it and want something to just have fun with.

Oh, on one last Statham note, I think he was trying to do an American accent. He sounded like himself, but then a little different, dropping a bit of his Britishness, which is weird because he’s playing an interdimensional cop. Are we not supposed to be able to handle the fact that he might be British? Oh, 2001, you so crazy.

Ending the Stathamathon with Blitz was kind of a downer. It’s not an action movie at all, but more of a gritty crime drama in the vein of something like Mel Gibson’s Payback (such a rad movie, by the way). Statham’s the start and gets to do a little more legit acting this time around as a cop coming unhinged as a serial killer calling himself Blitz (as in Blitzkrieg) goes around murdering cops.

It’s actually a really solid movie, comparable to my memories of Guy Ritchie’s early movies (it’s been a long time since I even tried to watch Lock, Stock and Snatch again). It’s very set in the real world with Statham not playing a kind of superman who can take all kinds of punishment and come out on top. A few parts of it felt like they were thrown in there just to be shocking or dramatic, but overall, I enjoyed watching it, even if it was kind of depressing.

The worst thing about the flick–aside from no one getting a flying kick to the face–was the guy who played Blitz. I mean, he played it great, but he was such an asshole, you really wanted Statham to bust out some of those well-known moves and kick this kids face in. What winds up happening to him is pretty cathartic, but sometimes watching Statham’s more dramatic roles is like watching a re-programed Nuke at a museum. You know how dangerous it was (and still can be), so you’re kind of always waiting for it to go off. I’m also not sure how realistic some of the shit Blitz got away with was, but I can suspend my disbelief.

If I had done a little more research of actually planned this out in any way, I probably would have watched Blitz first, then The One and ended with Transporter 2. I was actually hoping that FX would play another Statham movie themselves, but instead they went into back-to-back John Cena movies and no one needs to sit through that. Still, I like knowing that the guy who can so thoroughly kick ass with his feet can also kick ass with his acting. Statham’s the real deal, you guys.