My Favorite Action Movie Discoveries Of 2017

So far, I’ve looked back at my favorite blockbuster and newer horror viewing experiences of the year, so now it’s time to talk about action flicks! In 2017, I discovered some underrated movies in this department, saw some way more well-known ones, dipped into a few new genres and even marathoned the films of a particular 80s and 90s action icon!

Continue reading My Favorite Action Movie Discoveries Of 2017

I Very Much Enjoyed Man Of Steel

man-of-steel-poster I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, getting into Superman comics in the early 90s changed my life. Finding out about the death of the icon lead me into the world of comics sparking my imagination and introducing me to a hobby I still enjoy to this day as well as a career that allows me to spend every day with my daughter while playing reporter, Clark Kent-style. But, that doesn’t mean I love everything related to the character. In fact, I’m pretty much the only person I know who doesn’t like the movie from 1978 starring Christopher Reeve. That’s just not my Superman. My Superman didn’t have quite so much goofiness. As you might expect, I’m also not a fan of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns which suffers from not only a connection to movies I don’t like, but also creative choices that don’t service that character very well. Still, there’s great things in that movie, it’s just not a Superman story.

But, even given my mostly negative reaction to his previous film Sucker Punch, I was hopefully optimistic for Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. I liked what he did with Dawn Of The Dead, 300 and Watchmen, properties that I adore, have no experience with and like respectively. Plus, even though Sucker Punch was a mess, I assumed that Warner Bros. and producer Christopher Nolan would be able to temper Snyder’s whims better than he did on his own with his previous offering. Sucker Punch also looked freaking fantastic and did masterful things with CGI fight scenes that I figured would work their way into Man Of Steel.

So, when it happened that the latest Superman movie was scheduled to debut on Father’s Day weekend and my in-laws were in town, my wife decided to take me to the picture shows to celebrate the most important holiday of them all. Aside from Dark Knight Rises, I can’t remember the last movie I saw a movie in theaters, so this was a nice treat. We got there early and secured pretty good seats which was a wise call on our part because it filled up pretty quickly. I was happy to see people of all ages, even families, pouring in to watch Superman on the big screen.

And it turned out to be a great experience. The crowd mostly followed movie etiquette and also seemed to get engrossed with the film. I also have to commend the Showcase in Newburgh for having some really high quality digital projection. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a movie in theaters that looked as good as this one (outside of IMAX of course). Oh and I really enjoyed the movie itself too, which was a relief.

I’m going to throw up the SPOILER WARNING right here because I knew relatively little going into the movie and enjoyed seeing how it unfolded. So, if you don’t want to know about the flick, stop here. The story winds up covering a lot of ground, starting with Superman’s dad Jor-El trying to convince the Kryptonian council that they need to abandon their planet in order to keep the race going. Having foreseen these planetary problems well in advance Jor-El and his wife Lara decided to have a child by way of natural methods instead of the cloning processes used on the planet for centuries. In order to save their only son, Jor-El and Lara planned to launch him into space where he would land on Earth, a planet of beings physically similar to Kryptonians, but that would grant their child amazing abilities. At the same time, General Zod and his people decide to overthrow the government, but they disagree with Jor-El’s methods and there’s more conflict there. Kal-El winds up getting shot into space, Zod and his people get captured and sentenced to imprisonment in the Phantom Zone and Krypton eventually explodes.

Cut to Earth where an adult Clark Kent travels the world trying to stay anonymous, but usually breaking off to use his fantastic powers to help save people. Lois Lane winds up discovering his true identity while at the same time Zod and his fellow prisoners show up near Earth demanding they turn over Kal-El. Just before that, Clark learned his true identity, got his suit and went on to not only work alongside the U.S. government but also do his best to work with Zod, though that turned out to be less than likely thanks to Zod’s desire to terraform Earth in order to revive the Kryptonian race there. Many fights ensued.

As much as I love Superman and have what I like to call MY era of his adventures (basically post-Crisis to New 52) I enjoyed the changes that Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer made. It makes sense that one of the best reporters around would be able to figure out who Superman really is. That completely shifts the paradigm of the Lois and Clark relationship, but since you’re dealing with a movie instead of something more episodic like comics or TV, I think that’s a fine alteration. I also really enjoyed how human and realistic Superman is. This is a very new, young hero, one who has the ideals of the hero I know and love, but doesn’t know how to do everything all the time. He flies through buildings without checking to see if people are inside, he causes all kinds of damage to the city and, well, he does that thing at the end. An experienced Superman wouldn’t do those things, but one without any kind of real training or experience? That guy would do these things. I appreciate how it all makes sense within the confines of the story.

Of couse, it’s not a perfect film, though few are. I’m not quite sure where I fall on Michael Shannon as Zod. He was a little too “screaming evil bad guy” for my liking. The challenge whenever you’re dealing with a villain, especially one who wants to destroy our world, is making him sympathetic. And, when you really THINK about Zod, he’s sympathetic because he wants to save his people, but he doesn’t ever come across as likable or even levelheaded, so most people just dislike him, write him off as crazy and wait for the fight scenes.

And boy, are there fight scenes in this movie. It is difficult to follow them sometimes because they go by so fast. The camera also moves A LOT in this movie, like they gave the cameraman 19 extra cups of coffee before yelling “Action.” But, at the same time, we’re dealing with ridiculously fast beings instead regular humans. These scenes got a little video game-y at times, but I enjoyed them all the same. I would have liked to have seen more practical effects, but I’m not sure if that’s even possible given the way these crazy fights were mapped out.

I also had a bit of a problem with the in-your-face Jesus comparisons. In addition to being 33 (Jesus’ age when he died) and striking at least one overt on-the-cross pose, Clark also goes to a church where he talks to a priest directly in front of a stain glass window featuring Jesus. It was so on the nose that it made my eyes roll. I’m also not a fan of tying Superman to any one religion, or religion at all really. He might be his own man with his own beliefs, but he’s also supposed to be a hero of the people. You could have just as easily done that scene with him talking to anyone in the entire world. I wish they had gone that way because, as it is, that church scene feels incredibly trite.

I’m also not sure what to do with the fact that the only person in the film to bring up evolution is the most evil Kryptonian in the group: Faora. I can understand Zod’s desire to save his people, but Faora just seems to enjoy fighting and killing. She brings up evolution while talking about how the Kryptonians are going to destroy humanity and that just seemed weird to me. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think there might be a pro-religion, anti-science message in this movie that I do not go in for.

Speaking of Faora, holy crap Antje Traue is a villainous treasure. She looked at every solider shooting at her like that single friend you have looking at your kid when they’re doing something cute and the friend could not be less interesting. It’s amazing. In fact, aside from my on-the-fence-ness when it comes to Shannon, I thought the casting in this movie was delightful. Henry Cavill perfectly captured Superman and Clark Kent. Plus he’s dreamy! Amy Adams nailed Lois Lane, one of the greatest ficitonal characters of all time. She might not look like the version of Lois that lives in my brain, but she matched the actions completely. It’s all good from there, too, with Diane Lane as Ma Kent, Kevin Costner as Pa, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Ayelet Zurer as Lara and, well, literally everyone else in the cast.

Man of Steel PosterWhich is a roundabout way of bringing me to another elements of the film I enjoyed: they didn’t make a big deal about a lot of the Superman comic book elements brought into the film. Kelex is in this thing, you guys! That’s a pretty deep geek reference and yet it’s not distracting if you have no idea who or what that is. It also seemed like they didn’t refer to Metropolis as Metropolis until it was shown on a computer monitor in one of the military war rooms, but I could be wrong on that one. Ma and Pa Kent weren’t actually referred by those titles. They also didn’t try to shove too much of the relatively unimportant Daily Planet staff into the film. Since we’re dealing with a pre-Metropolis Supes here, it makes way more sense that they not be heavily featured in this film. But, it’s still great to see them doing their things and showing what to expect with potential sequels. More Jenny Olsen please!

The more I think about this movie the more I enjoy it. I stayed away from just about anything anyone was saying going in, so I’m not sure what the complaints are. I’d assume the end rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. The slowish pace of setting up yet another superhero origin on film — one that most people probably know the very basics of — also might not have sat well, but I enjoyed the slow burn. What did you guys think?

Friday Fisticuffs: The Man With The Iron Fists (2012)

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I love The Man With The Iron Fists on two related levels. First and foremost, this is a capital A awesome movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and revels in the grime and grit of old school Hong Kong action movies but upgrades everything from the fight scenes and weapons to the quality of the actors and shooting. The second level that I dig about this movie is that it’s clearly RZA (who directed, co-wrote with Cabin Fever and Hostel’s Eli Roth and also starred in) making one of his dreams come true.  I don’t know much about him, but I do know that the Wu-Tang member loved these kinds of movies as a kid and eventually proved to people with money that he could do one himself. I think anyone who has a creative streak in them or a longtime fandom for a particular genre can relate to that idea.

For what it’s worth, I watched this movie on Blu-ray which looked awesome and went with the extended cut. I’m not sure what made it different from the theatrical one, but figured I should put that out there.

The story itself revolves around a town called Jungle Village that’s got all kinds of misfits and killers hanging around. RZA is the blacksmith in town and helps build some wild weapons for all the different animal-themed factions. There’s a lot of gold coming into town, plenty of betrayal and backstabbing and a war is brewing between the different groups. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe’s Jack Knife has rolled into town and seems to be a good guy. He teams up with RZA as well as Rick Yune’s Zen Yi who sports a knife suit.

I should note that most of the story details of this film are pretty rote. Raise your hand when you read something unique. RZA is in love with a prostitute who says she wants to run away with him. He believes her and sacrifices his moral integrity by making weapons for terrible people to further his own agenda. That doesn’t go so well, he gets attacked and winds up developing iron hands for himself that he can control thanks to his chi. That last part probably raised some hands which exemplifies an interesting aspect of the film, as cool as it looks and as rad as the fight scenes come off, the most unique aspects of this film revolve around the weapons. Just about everyone wields (or is) a weapon that I haven’t really seen on screen before (or at least not done in such a way) that they make already engrossing fights all the more interesting. I was working on something while watching this movie and found myself transfixed every time a fight scene kicked off.

And that’s what this movie’s all about at it’s core: cool fight scenes with rad weapons. If you’re looking for something with a little more depth, this isn’t your movie, but if you want to see Russell Crowe shoot a guy in the head with a knife gun or two fighters use ice skater-like moves to kill dudes, give The Man With The Iron Fists a watch.

I Watch A Lot Of Movies: Watchers, Flash Gordon & The Next Three Days

I haven’t been watching as many movies lately because we’ve been sitting on Super 8 from Netflix for weeks now and I’ve been watching a lot of TV on Instant lately. But, this week, I got back to it. Most of these flicks I kind of only half watched, but I have good things to say about each of them, so I figured this would be a good post.

Watchers (1988) is kind of ET meets Cujo with some Deadly Friend thrown in. See, Corey Haim stars as a kid whose girlfriend’s dad gets killed by a monster that’s genetically altered to be psychically connected to a super smart dog that stows away in his truck. Michael Ironside also stars as the government guy trying to get the animals back.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what else the movie was about because this one got about a third of my attention, but Haim’s charming nature and Ironside’s insanity-bubbling-below the surface both made an impression on me. Those guys are the best.

I was also struck by the weird balance of this movie. I mean, it’s rated R, but the main characters are a teenage boy and his new dog basically palling around and being heroes. But, with blood and monsters. You definitely couldn’t get away with something like this today.

I know a lot of people for whom Flash Gordon (1980) was a very important movie to them growing up, but that wasn’t the case for me. I’m guessing that’s because it came out three years before I was born and thus placed somewhat outside my purview as a kid, but I also don’t remember it being on TV much like a lot of other movies. My only real exposure to the film came from the Queen soundtrack which I’ve heard bits and pieces of over the years and the action figures that Bif Bang Pow made. So, as I was watching the film for the first time, I kept recognizing characters I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, which was kind of fun.

Anyway, I also didn’t know anything about Flash Gordon as a property or franchise, so this was definitely an interesting experience. From what I gathered (again, my attention was split at best), Flash Gordon is a football player who winds up in space with a woman and a scientist where he winds up in the middle of a conflict between Ming the Merciless and…other people.

I may have missed a lot of the details, but I did catch a lot of the great costumes and special effects used in the film. I continue to believe that practical effects age far better than CGI ones, so it’s great to see people figuring out how to make certain things look, like the winged dudes who fly around like Hawkman. I might not have paid much attention this time around, but I will definitely give this one another look when I have a little more time to devote to it.

I wasn’t sure if I had seen The Next Three Days (2010) because it sounded an awful lot like Law Abiding Citizen which also focuses on a man trying to game the system in order to get to someone in prison. While that one’s about a super genius taking revenge on the man who killed his wife, this one is about a regular guy trying to use what he has to break his wrongly incarcerated wife from the clink. Instead of setting up these wildly complicated and impressive plan, Russell Crowe instead uses his iPhone, YouTube clips and talking to a man who had busted out of prison to figure things out.

It’s an interesting angle to take on this type of movie we’ve all seen a few times. Can a regular man really bust a person out of jail? Maybe, maybe not, but this flick offers at least a possible way (technically, he breaks her out of a hospital instead of jail, which definitely makes it more likely).

There seemed to be a pretty big logic gap towards the end when Crowe was ready to implement his plan and decides to simply throw away all his research material. Now, I think this turned out to be a way to distract the police who searched his house, but still, wouldn’t it just be better to burn everything so they have nothing to work with? I don’t know, I’m not trying to break anyone out of jail. I could be wrong and probably am. Anyway, this was a fun little action flick that gets pretty intense at times, especially as plans get foiled towards the end of the movie, but it’s a fun ride to go on.