Alright gang, I know it’s almost February of 2020, but I still have a Best of 2019 post or two I want to get out before moving on! I’ve already covered old and new horror films, but I saw a lot of other flicks this year that I at least want to say a few words about. So, I’m going to do exactly that and run down a whole slew of movies and just say a few sentences about what I dug! LET’S. GET. INTO IT!
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!
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.
*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. *
It might be hard to remember now, but there was once a time where we didn’t want to see Mel Gibson get his ass handed to him. In fact, when Lethal Weapon came out back in 1987 he was a bonafide hero. The film, written by Shane Black and directed by Richard Donner is still an action classic, thanks in no small part to this knock-down, drag-out fight. In the rain. With Busey. It’s just fantastic.
You’ve already been warned, but this IS the end of the movie, so if you’ve somehow never seen Lethal Weapon, this is SPOILER-tastic. Seriously though, how have you never seen Lethal Weapon?
For the past seven or eight years — pretty much since I got out of college — I’ve been focusing on absorbing as much new entertainment as possible, not necessarily brand new, but new to me. In that time, and going back to my days in high school and college, I’ve also been building up a collection of books, trades, movies and albums that I’ve deemed good enough to keep (or cheap enough to check out). In the past few weeks, though, I’ve been more in the mood to revisit the films and trades I love and own instead of looking for new things to devour. I’m not sure if this is a function of getting older or maybe the result of having my fill of goofy, bad movies seen on Netflix (for the time being).
Whatever the case, when Lu went down for her nap yesterday, I didn’t have the desire to flip through my ridiculously long Netflix Instant queue. Instead, I wanted to watch Rambo: First Blood II. I got a great deal on the Rambo Blu-ray set a while ago which reintroduced me to the fantastic original film, but also the whole franchise which I realized I have a lot of fond memories of.
As I noted after watching First Blood, the Rambo I really remember from my childhood — the shirtless guy with black pants, a headband and a bazooka — actually came from this sequel. The film finds Rambo’s one time commanding officer Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) approaching the imprisoned one man army corps (Sylvester Stallone, of course) with a special offer: help us with a mission in the jungles of Vietnam and get a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Rambo takes the deal and nearly completes the mission before getting burned by the guy who’s really in charge, Marshall Murdock (Charlies Napier). With that, Rambo gets captured and tortured, but thankfully has a friend on the outside in Co (Julia Nickson) who helps him escape, a move that unleashes Rambo’s mighty vengeance on his captors and, eventually, his betrayers.
The film includes all the bigtime action you’d expect with explosions, arrows through bad guys and even the perfect synergy of both: exploding arrows. But, what struck me once again about a Rambo movie is the fact that Stallone portrays this character with a depth and sadness that my younger self couldn’t understand. This is a guy who was trained to kill and he’s great at it. Now he’s in the real world and he can’t catch a break. A sheriff thinks he doesn’t look right and tries kicking him out of town. A shady military guy dangles freedom in front of him and leaves him high and dry. For him, the war is never over and he’ll probably never get to win, this time or any other. Sure, you can watch this movie and enjoy the aforementioned explosions, but there’s more going on which I can appreciate these days.
One layer of Rambo I noticed that was completely unintended, though, is its similarity to Predator. Rather, since the latter came out two years after the former, Predator‘s similarity to Rambo. Both movies feature an incredibly well-trained person going into a jungle to do a job, getting betrayed or lied to and going up against an unforeseen challenge that takes all their skills to defeat. For Rambo it’s an army of Vietnamese baddies, for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, it’s an alien hunter with crazy weapons. Both movies also include a strong female character who plays an important part in the proceedings, a general lack of shirts in the end, super cool “preparing for battle” montages (a favorite genre trope of mine) and even similar dudes-holding-guns posters.
But, I’m far less interested in talking about the similarities between these two flicks than I am about how much I love them both(though someone should definitely do a mash-up). In the case of Predator — a favorite of mine going back to the Family Video rental days on into my Wizard internship when I scored the ass-kicking nickname Dutch after watching the first two Predator movies in a weekend — the film greatly benefits from its extended cast. We’re not just seeing Schwarzenegger in the jungle, but his whole crew, a gang consisting of Dillon (Carl Weathers), Mac (Bill Duke), Blain (Jesse Ventura, before we knew how crazy he is), Billy (Sonny Landham), Poncho (Richard Chaves) and Hawkins (screenwriter and Iron Man 3 director Shane Black). It’s important to have such a beefy group of dudes because they offer the Predator something to fight.
And fight they do! From the scene where everyone just desperately blasts into the jungle hoping to hit what took their friend to Billy making a last ditch effort to try and stop their pursuer, this movie is jam packed with iconic action set pieces all of which lead up to the king-daddy of them all as a mud-covered Dutch does his damndest to kill this thing with a series of cunning booby traps. I have no idea if it was intended or not, but there’s a real “natural versus technological” theme in that last fight in which the one with fewer pieces of tech winds up winning the day over the more “advanced” species.
Anyway, Predator doesn’t have the depth that Rambo does and that’s fine by me. If I felt for every single action hero the way I do for John Rambo, these things would be a lot less fun, but every now and then it’s good to actually feel something in addition to explosion-fueled excitement.
I mentioned many of the similarities between these two movies above but there’s one more that I think it worth noting: both have had fantastic sequels in the past five years. After mounting a comeback in 2006 with Rocky Balboa, Stallone decided to revisit one of his other famous characters in the wildly intense Rambo from 2008. Meanwhile, the Predator franchise, which has been Dutch-less since the initial outing, came back swinging with Predators in 2010, a film I really enjoyed and want to revisit soon. Heck Stallone even said at one point that he’d like to see Rambo face off against a Predator, but I think he was half joking. In fact, after doing a little research, it turns out Stallone was interested in adapting a book called Hunter which would, essentially, do just that. I fully support this decision!
We’re pretty lucky to live in an area with not one, but three drive-in movie theaters that are less than an hour away. We usually go to the Warwick, but they’ve had some pretty strange pairings this year. I’m still not sure why they didn’t go with an Iron Man 3/Star Trek Into Darkness combo, but that’s neither here not there. As the parents of a 2-year-old without a regular babysitter, we’re pretty limited in our movie-going options, so we like to have at least one film that Lu will kinda-sorta like. So, when we saw that Hyde Park had Monsters University paired up with Iron Man 3, we figured it’d make for a pretty good outing.
Lu and I actually have never seen Monsters Inc., but we did both see the show at Disney World based on the film. Even so, I’d say we both enjoyed the experience. Lu loves pretty much anything that’s big and bright and I thought the movie was a fun, kid friendly version of the kinds of college flicks I’ve loved since I was a kid myself.
The film follows Mike (Billy Crystal), a young monster who wants to be a scarer who winds up getting in to the number one school for such things, Monsters University. There, the overachieving bookworm meets Sulley (the glorious John Goodman), another scaring student who’s the latest in a long line of scarers. The problem? Mike isn’t actually scary and Sulley relies too much on his family name. The two wind up in the same geeky fraternity which allows them to compete in the Scare Games. Thanks to a deal made with the dean (Helen Mirren!), if they win the Games, she will let them back into the scare program. From there they have to join forces, become friends and learn to work together.
I like everything from Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds to PCU and Pitch Perfect, all of which either influenced or are somewhat similar to this movie, so it’s right there in my wheelhouse. Even though I haven’t seen the original, I didn’t feel lost when it came to this movie which was nice. I didn’t realize that one of the villains from the original was also in this one, but my wife told me about it on the way home, so I was in on the joke after the fact. I’d say this works extremely well as a stand alone film and a prequel because it does actually make me want to see how these characters act as adults. Time to move that flick to the top of the ol’ Netflix Queue!
Much as I wound up liking Monsters University, Iron Man 3 was the movie I was more excited about. Movies like this which are big on the geek radar can get a little tiresome to folks like myself who cover them on the interwebs. Even though I probably wrote a dozen or two stories about this film for Spinoff, I still enjoyed it and — more surprisingly — was still in the dark on a lot of the major plot points. It helped that I avoided every tweet and conversation about the film after it came out.
So, the story this time around is that Tony Stark’s going down a fairly dark path. He’s pretty disturbed after the events of The Avengers which saw him possibly destroy an entire world/army/dimension. He’s building all kinds of armors, but there’s a more physical threat gunning for him: The Mandarin. An international terrorist played by Ben Kingsley, the Mandarin has plenty of shady people working for him like Guy Pearce, but more importantly, his people have been imbued with Extremis, a techno-organic program that can rewrite a person’s DNA, making them a fire-breathing, superpowered menaces. They blow up Tony’s house which sends him out on his own without a suit to figure out what’s up with the Mandarin and spoilerific things ensue.
I’m not going to get into specific spoilers just yet, but I do want to talk about the ending of the film. Like I said, I went in relatively spoiler free, but I did figure that the extra armors Tony built would come into play during the film and boy do they. It’s so rad seeing Tony running around a giant structure, hopping in and out of different suits and fighting off bad guys. It’s the kind of thing that Joss Whedon did really well with the final battle scene in Avengers and something director Shane Black followed up on pretty well in this film.
Okay now it’s time to get into SPOILERS. Consider yourself WARNED. Man, I really liked what they did with the Mandarin in this movie even though the reveal feels a bit like the one used in Batman Begins with Ra’s al Ghul. In this case it helped that they got such a weighty actor and had him turn in first, a scary performance and second, a hilarious one. Going for the complete personality switch is what sets this apart and makes for a great moment. This was the element of the film I was most surprised hadn’t been spoiled for me yet. Then you’ve got the ending which certainly leaves Tony Stark in an interesting place in the Marvel Studios Universe. He’s still got that big brain of his, but he doesn’t have the ARC reactor which powers his suit. It’s the kind of move that would last for maybe a few years in the comics before something else would pop up and he’d have to, I don’t know, have his heart get blown up again or something. But, since we’re dealing with a film universe — even a shared one — they get to play with the elements and the players a bit more. The real world side of things is that RDJ might not want to play Iron Man much longer — Tony Stark seems less taxing — and it might make sense within this new world to go a different route and have someone else fill in inside the suit. Of course, since the Extremis now exists in the movie-verse, it’s within reason that Tony will find himself in a situation where he needs to inject himself, this becoming Iron Man Version 2.0. There’s a lot of possibilities and it will be interesting to see where things go with the character from here.
As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a fun viewing experience. I also really liked the kid who played Harley and think he needs to be in a kids-dealing-with-craziness movie like The Goonies. At this point, I’m a general fan of the Marvel Studios films. Avengers is rad, I dig the Iron Man flicks and Captain America, Thor was okay and I haven’t seen Incredible Hulk in a long time, but didn’t like it at the time. I’m curious about the Thor and Cap sequels, but am far more interested in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and the other flicks starring new characters. Let’s see what they can do with some new old characters.
When I was in high school my buddy Eric Toth talked a lot about a movie called Monster Squad. He said it was like Goonies, but full of monsters and that I, being a horror fan, would love it. At that time, I think it was really hard to find on video and I wasn’t really the type to go out of my way to search out a movie, especially when there was still so much at my beloved Family Video that I hadn’t seen yet. Fast forward a few years and I’m at Wizard working with a ton of rad folks including Rickey Purdin who, if memory serves, found one of the creators of the movie selling his own copies or something along those lines. Soon enough he got his hands on a copy and I watched it with him, but I think that’s the only time I’ve actually watched it before last night.
The other night I felt like giving it another watch, added the Bluray to the top of my Netflix queue and was happy to give it a watch last night. Man, I love this movie. Toth and Rickey and all the other people who love this movie are dead-on right, it’s great. I’m not sure how, in a world where Goonies seemed to be on television every weekend I never saw this movie as a kid, but that’s how it went down. The premise follows a group of kids who have their own monster club. They basically sit around and talk about horror movies and how you kill various monsters. Then one day, the monsters come to town and they’re the only ones paying attention so they take it upon themselves to save the day. Said monsters are basically the Universal ones including Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, a mummy a werewolf and a creature from a colorful lagoon of some sort.
A lot of movies like this that people my age remember from childhood can be a real let down if you’ve never seen them and watch them for the first time as an adult. For instance, I liked Lost Boys when I saw it for the first time five years ago, but it didn’t make its way into my list of all time faves. While watching Monster Squad again, though, I was actually really impressed with it and not just because I’m a fan of any movie featuring kids dealing with something crazy (Goonies, The Gate, The Pit, E.T., the Troll movies, even the ball-of-weirdness that is Mac and Me) but also because it’s a beautifully shot (the Bluray looks fantastic, you guys), well thought out flick with lots of extra goodness from ridicuslouly quotable lines (“Wolfman’s got nards!” “I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?”) to really fantastic creatures and special effects (big ups to Stan Winston!). It helps that the film was co-written by Shane Black (Die Hard, Iron Man 3) and Fred Dekker (Night Of The Creeps, RoboCop 3) who both took the material seriously when putting this thing together.
But, the best part about this movie is the fact that the filmmaker never forgets who its heroes are. These are kids. Somewhat goofy, naive kids who never stop thinking like kids. When the wolfman attacks, their leader commands “Fat Kid” to kick him in the nards. Yes! That’s exactly what I would have thought when confronted by a monster as a 10 year old (or whatever age they are). You know, if I wasn’t in the fetal position crying and being eaten already. That’s another thing I love about this movie, these kids are brave and strong even in the face of craziness, which is something I probably wouldn’t have been in their shoes.
I noted on Twitter last night that I could be happy writing these kinds of stories for the rest of my life and I do think that is the case. I don’t want to say that kids today have no idea how good they could have had it, but do they even really do these kinds of movies outside of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies? I’d actually love to do a project watching these movies with modern day kids and seeing what they think of them. I’d also be interested in watching them with a child psychologist and talk about what good and bad messages they might offer to kids. Anyone interested in that? Drop me a comment.