On this week’s episode, I’m running down a quintet of action movies that feel like comic book movies, but without existing source material. I had a great time putting this list together and a lot of fun watching these movies. I hope you do too!
Johnny Mnemonic‘s one of those 90s sci-fi action movies I saw once in high school and didn’t really think of much between then and when it popped up on Netflix Instant fairly recently. The movie finds Keanu Reeves’ title character working as an information courier. Instead of carrying the data in a briefcase, though, he gets it uploaded into his head. When mobsters attack as he’s getting the upload, things start going south for the guy who wants nothing more from life than to live the typical 80s yuppie lifestyle. Too bad for him, though, it turns out that what’s in his head is not only killing him, but could also save the lives of millions of people in this dystopian technofuture created by William Gibson, the godfather of cyberpunk.
I thought this was a pretty fun little action movie. In addition to Reeves you’ve got Ice-T playing a kind of resistance leader named J-Bone, Henry Rollins as a tech expert going by Spider and Dolph Lundgren as a crazy street preacher named Street Preacher. Oh and 90s That Lady Dina Meyer is Jane, Johnny’s bodyguard. She was in a few episodes of Friends and also Starship Troopers around this same time. The cast is pretty far from perfect, but the biggest bonus of this film is that you get to see Dolph Lundgren fighting Henry Rollins (or at least their stunt doubles going at it).
After giving this movie another watch, I get why I hadn’t thought much about it since the late 90s. While it is fun and Reeves gives a solid performance, it just doesn’t feel all that groundbreaking. Sure, it seemed to have a better budget than most of the other 90s dystopian action movies I’ve seen, but then you’ve got Rollins’ not-so-great acting and then there’s a cyber dolphin and, while I love Dolph, his character’s about as one note as you can get. Plus, when you think of Keanu Reeves sci-fi movies from the 90s, it’s really hard to think of anything past…
I mean, come on. This movie wasn’t just big, is was revolutionary. From the way it handled computer based worlds to those mind-bending action scenes, The Matrix very simply changed the game of big budget sci-fi action films. And all of that is thanks to Andy and Lana — then Larry — Wachowski and their insanely big vision for this film and it’s pair of sequels.
I often wonder about the impact of 90s cinema on pop culture outside of my generation. There were so many movies that were huge when I was growing up that don’t seem to get talked about anymore. Backdraft and Forest Gump are two that come to mind and I hope The Matrix isn’t like that. But, watching it again for the first time in maybe 10 years, I can see how it might seem dated to younger viewers and I’m not talking about the special effects. All that leather and those glasses and just about everything everyone wears just seems so 90s/early 00s, but maybe that’s because this movie was just so damn influential. In other words, is it a “what came first” scenario?
On the other hand, I wonder how much teenagers know about what was going down 20 years ago in general. When I was growing up in the 90s, the 70s were huge again and seemed very well documented all over the place. The nostalgia loop I mentioned when reviewing 54 had a lot to do with that, but I also don’t know how culturally impactful the 90s are to kids today, so maybe they wouldn’t think of those outfits as dated and could just get lost in the movie’s crazy world.
If you don’t remember — or you happen to be younger and aren’t familiar — The Matrix takes place on an Earth overrun by intelligent machines who now use humans incubating in egg-like pods for food. To keep the human brains occupied they built a computer simulation that allows them to live out their daily lives never knowing what’s really going on around them. Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, gets selected by a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to learn about the true reality and help fight the machines. Morpheus believes Neo to be the chosen one, an idea that gets backed up when he takes to manipulating the Matrix incredibly well as the film progresses.
While there is a certain amount of affectation to the proceedings, I still really enjoyed this movie. And, since it had been long enough since I watched it, I was surprised by some of the smaller moments, though most of the larger ones are etched in my brain. This movie came out when I was 16. I remember seeing something else while my buddy Chad went to see this at the huge theater out in Maumee that’s actually closed now (it was one of the first stadium seating megaplexes in our area). It was a much longer movie, so we waited a while for him to come out and when he did it looked like he’d seen the face of the creator. He was blown away. As we did at that time, we promptly made fun of him and then saw the movie ourselves and loved it. I had a poster on my wall and the VHS tape when it came out. And I remember seeing at least one if not both of the sequels in IMAX. This was a huge franchise for my generation and came along at the perfect time for me personally because it was the beginning of my more grown up movie going career.
I know the sequels got a lot of flack for being difficult to understand, which I can’t speak to because I don’t remember much about them, but this movie stands as its own wonderful thing that got me excited about movies when I was a kid and had much the same effect for me as an adult. Hopefully I’ll get around to the sequels in the relative future and see if I can make sense of them. No promises though considering it took me several tries to watch both of these movies as I am a very tired old man these days.
Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of fun diving into the action movies of the 80s and 90s focusing on stars like Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. As it turns out, Lundgren and his films have turned out to be a lot more impressive than I would have imagined. Not only does it turn out that he’s a brilliant man, but what I’ve learned about his life has been pretty fascinating. He also makes really fun movies with lots of kicking and explosions.
One such movie is Dark Angel (a.k.a. I Come In Peace) which I’d never seen and only started hearing about in the last two or three years. Shout Factory recently released the film on Blu-ray and a buddy of mine sent me a copy. I jumped at the chance to start watching the week before last, but fell asleep and then found myself in a place without a Blu-ray player so I had to hold off on finishing until last night. But, I will say the movie about alien drug dealers running afoul of Lundgren’s Detective Jack Caine and his new partner Special Agent Smith (Brian Benben) was worth the wait. While investigating the murder of a police officer, Caine and Smith become more and more aware of the intergallactic threat which they fight in an abandoned warehouse, as you do.
The disc comes with a retrospective that scored Lungren, Benben and director Craig R. Baxley (Action Jackson) to talk about the movie. It was really interesting learning that Baxley was tight with stunt people, so he was able to really beef up the explosions and other action elements, all of which look great in Blu-ray. Lungren also points out an interesting aspect of the story that I didn’t think about, but it’s cool to see a sci-fi movie that’s on a relatively small scale. This isn’t an alien invasion movie with a few people fighting them off, which is what you tend to get. From story and explosions to actors and ideas, I dug Dark Angel and am glad to have it in my collection for repeated viewings.
Moving from Dark Angel to The Punisher seemed like a pretty natural move for me. Not only did they come out a year after each other, but they both feature a bad ass Dolph sporting uncharacteristic dark hair! Plus, it helps that the latter has been in my DVD collection for years.
A lot of people complain about how bad comic book movies were for so long and, compared to the effort put in these days, it’s fairly accurate. But, I think The Punisher — directed by Mark Goldblatt (Dead Heat) — is an overlooked gem. Frank Castle is actually one of the easiest comic book characters to bring to film which makes him a good choice for a lower budget, street level movie concept. His wife and kids were killed so now he’s driven by the desire to kill all criminals. There’s no flying or lasers or superpowers, just lots of shooting, punching and explosions which were right up Lungren and company’s alley in the late 80s.
This movie finds Castle living in the sewers, befriending weird rhyming guys like Shake (Barry Otto) who give him information and avoiding cops on the hunt for him like Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.) and Sam Leary (Nancy Everhard, who was in Trial Of The Incredible Hulk that same year too!). Castle’s after a mobster named Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbé) who’s on the ropes after years of the Punisher taking out his men compounded with the recent appearance of Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori) who’s trying to take over by kidnapping all the mobsters’ kids. To save the kids, Punisher teams up with Franco to get his boy back.
The film features several great fight scenes, but there are two particularly fun ones. Castle heads to Coney Island in an attempt to get the kids back and faces off a ton of gun-toting ninjas in an amusement park ride. How rad is that? The end of the movie also features Castle and Franco storming Lady Tanaka’s skyscraper, taking on all kinds of threats as they climb towards their adversary. For some reason, many of these scenes are tinged red, but I still really enjoy this high body count explosion of violence. This is one of the few comic book movies that also fits right in with that great 80s/90s action aesthetic and I love it.
This week’s biggest release is none other than Iron Man 3 (Two-Disc Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy), the latest Marvel Studios film to hit home video complete with all kinds of special features for you to comb through until Thor: The Dark World comes out.
On the other side of the comic book movie side of the fence, Warner Bros. unleashed their The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition [Blu-ray] which includes Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises as well as plenty of previously unseen special features.
What are the odds that two Explosions Are Rad favorites not only have straight to video movies debuting on the same day, but also feature the same word in both titles? Apparently pretty good as Jason Statham’s latest Redemption (also known as Hummingbird in the UK) dropped today…
As did Dolph Lundgren’s clunkily titled Blood of Redemption. This one also stars Billie Zane and sometimes-Statham collaborator Vinnie Jones. So many connections!
Dollman starring Tim Thomerson and directed by Albert Pyun (Cyborg) isn’t exactly a lost classic, but we’d definitely be interested in checking out the recently released Blu-ray from Full Moon.
War movie buffs will jazzed to hear that Shout and Timeless Media have Movies 4 You – Timeless Military Film Collection available now. The set includes Hell Raiders, Lost Battalion, Tank Battalion and Go For Broke.
The biggest release of the week by far is Louis Letterier’s Now You See Me, the magic-themed heist flick starring Morgan Freeman, Common, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco.
How is it possible that a movie featuring Dwayne Johnson, Liam Hemsworth and Emma Roberts didn’t get a wide theatrical release as was the case with Empire State? Maybe it’s because, cool as the movie looks, Johnson just doesn’t fit in with the 70s period piece aesthetic of the film.
TV-wise, Person of Interest: Season Two, Revolution: The Complete First Season, Spartacus: War of the Damned – The Complete Third Season, Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete First Season and Sinbad: Season One are all available now.
WB has a 20th Anniversary The Fugitive Blu-ray to check out, but there aren’t any special features listed.
We haven’t seen Mulan: Rise of a Warrior, but seeing this movie for sale on Amazon lead us to the above trailer and now it’s definitely on our to-watch list.
Hey, Jean-Claude Van Damme fans both Hard Target and Sudden Death now have fancy new Blu-ray versions. Note that both of these are all regions import discs that come with zero special features, so they might not actually be very fancy.
You guys like multi-packs? We here at Explosions Are Rad LOVE them. As you might expect we’re all over 4 Film Favorites: The Matrix Collection (BD) [Blu-ray] (basically the same thing as the DVD version that’s been out for a while) and the Dusk Till Dawn Blu-Ray/DVD Combo pack which features the three movies as well as Full Tilt Boogie, a documentary shot during filming of Robert Rodriguez’s initial film.
We’re also interested in multipacks with less well known films like Echo Bridge’s 8-Film Fast Action [Blu-ray] which includes People I Know, Ordinary Decent Criminal, Malevolent, Albino Alligator, David Cronenberg’s Existenz, B. Monkey, Dolph Lundgren’s Men Of War and Sean Bean’s Bravo Two Zero.
Finally, if you just can’t get enough Sharknado on Syfy, you can now buy your own copy for repeated watching.
Zhang Ziyi is in talks to appear in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II – The Green Destiny alongside fellow returning castmate Michelle Yeoh and franchise newcomer Donnie Yen. Director and fight choreography Yuen Wo Ping (Iron Monkey) will fill in for director Ang Lee. [via ComingSoon]
Focus, a racing-based heist film, brought on Rodrigo Santoro (300: Rise Of An Empire, The Last Stand) to play Will Smith’s boss in the film being directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid Love). [via THR]
Director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) hired a trio of actors for his horror/action flick Dead Snow: Red Vs. Dead which teams up the lone survivor of the first film with a group of zombie hunters called The Zombie Squad. Said actors are Martin Starr (Freaks & Geeks, Party Down), Ingrid Haas (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) and Jocelyn Deboer (College Humor). [via Variety]
Sony, New Regency and Ubisoft are teaming up to make a movie based on Sony’s November 19th-shipping Watch Dogs. [via Hero Complex]
The Bandito Brothers utilized real life Navy SEALS when they filmed Act Of Valor. For the sequel, though, they’re focusing on the adventures of a S.W.A.T. team. Scott Wiper (The Condemned) is writing the script. [via Deadline]
Finally, we lost two icons in the world of films and crime fiction this week. Elmore Leonard, whose adapted novels include Rum Punch (transformed into Jackie Brown by Quentin Tarantino) and Get Shorty, passed on August 20th at the age of 87. Legendary director Ted Post (Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, Magnum Force, Good Guys Wear Black) passed away on the same day at the age of 95. Our thoughts are with the families of these two incredibly prolific individuals.
Wanna know what’s really up with The Expendables 3? Check out the official press release from LionsGate and Millennium Films:
LIONSGATE AND MILLENNIUM FILMS COMMENCE
PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY ON ‘THE EXPENDABLES 3
Lionsgate Will Distribute Action Thriller on August 15, 2014 in North America and the UK
SANTA MONICA, CA (August 19, 2013) – Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF) and Millennium Films will begin principal photography today on THE EXPENDABLES 3, the third installment of THE EXPENDABLES action-thriller franchise, with production shooting on location in Bulgaria and at Nu Boyana Studios in Sofia.
THE EXPENDABLES 3 will feature Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to their roles in the first two films with Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford joining the all-star cast along with Kellan Lutz, MMA star Ronda Rousey, welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz and Glen Powell.
Patrick Hughes (RED HILL) will direct the film, with veteran Dan Bradley (The BOURNE franchise; MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, QUANTUM OF SOLACE) directing the second unit. THE EXPENDABLES 3 is written by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, who previously teamed on OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, and Sylvester Stallone. Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton, Danny Lerner and Les Weldon are producing THE EXPENDABLES 3. Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson and John Thompson are executive producing. Lionsgate will release THE EXPENDABLES 3 in North America and the UK on August 15, 2014.
In THE EXPENDABLES 3, Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the team comes face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney. Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill… or so he thought. Stonebanks, who eluded death once before, now is making it his mission to end The Expendables — but Barney has other plans. Barney decides that he has to fight old blood with new blood, and brings in a new era of Expendables team members, recruiting individuals who are younger, faster and more tech-savvy. The latest mission becomes a clash of classic old-school style versus high-tech expertise in the Expendables’ most personal battle yet.
The production will be overseen by Lionsgate’s Jason Constantine and Eda Kowan.
The first two installments of THE EXPENDABLES have grossed nearly $600 million in combined global box office.
It’s cool to finally have a story for the second sequel in the franchise. Note that a few names have been left out of the release like Jackie Chan, Nic Cage, Milla Jovovich and Mickey Rourke. It’s possible those roles just couldn’t be worked out or that they’re being held in reserve for a later announcement.
*Friday Night Fights presents crazy fight and battle scenes from movies with little-to-no context. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll probably want to skip the clip. *
Sure it’s fun to see guys like Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture fighting side by side in the Expendables movies, but the real reason we here at Explosions Are Rad get psyched with every new casting announcement is because that means the main guys will have more action stars to tussle with. Then again, as Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Yin (Jet Li) proved two times in the first film, teammates can throw down just as well.
Luckily, Gunner got better from that whole bullet-through-the-chest thing and was able to come back for the end of the film and its sequel. That’s just good for everyone.
We here at Explosions Are Rad are big fans of the mash-up action-fests better known as The Expendables movies. The brainchild of Sylvester Stallone, the films bring together some of the best and brightest action stars of all time together offering explosions, fight scenes and gunplay worth the price of admission alone.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, you really need to follow Stallone on Twitter (he’s @TheSlyStallone). The legendary action star took to social media today to not only announce that Bruce Willis won’t return for The Expendables 3, but also that he’ll be replaced by Harrison Ford. “WILLIS OUT… HARRISON FORD IN !!!! GREAT NEWS !!!!! Been waiting years for this!!!!”
He followed that up with what seems like a slam against Willis who appeared as Mr. Church in the first two Expendables movies. “GREEDY AND LAZY …… A SURE FORMULA FOR CAREER FAILURE”
Willis’ Mr. Church played an important role in both films. In the first, he hired the team to invade Valena and in the second he uses their failure in the first movie as leverage to send them out to get a device that winds up putting them in direct opposition to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Vilain. He even got in on the action alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the second film. Will Ford do the same in 3? We sure hope so.
Last month, Stallone also said via Twitter that the new film, directed by Red Hill‘s Patrick Hughes, will feature real life fighters Ronda Rousey and Victor Ortiz as well. Hopefully, they fall into Randy Couture territory and turn out to be super watchable on screen. The film is also said to star Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Couture, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Nicolas Cage, Mickey Rourke, Jackie Chan, Kellan Lutz, Milla Jovovich, Wesley Snipes and many more.
There’s a robot themed art show at Hero Complex Gallery kicking off this weekend called Bleeding Metallics. Check out Collider‘s preview for the show. I’m a big fan of this Terminator art by JP Valderrama.
Deadline‘s saying that the solid opening Pacific Rim had in China recently greatly increases the chances of a sequel. Seeing as how the movie was awesome, that’s great news. If that is the case, it raises a few questions. Will incredibly busy director Guillermo del Toro direct? If so, when? If not, who will take his place and make a movie that can top this one?
Harry Potter director David Yates might make a Scarface remake. The two versions that came before it are solidly in the classics section of moviedom, so what chance does Yates have of adding something great to the franchise? [via Deadline]
Ed Harris is in talks to co-star with Liam Neeson in his latest old-guy-kicking-ass film called Run All Night, TheWrap reports. The pair will be joined by RoboCop remake and The Killing star Joel Kinnaman.
“Why do I always end up in camo?” Dolph Lundgren asked on Instagram. Answer? “Because you’re awesome.”