MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT
Gareth Edwards, director of the original MONSTERS, as well as 2014’s GODZILLA re-stomp, produced this one presumably from afar, handing the reins to Tom Green, who is presumably not the Canadian comic. A bold attempt at recreating the more intimate approach to monster films that more or less worked last time, but unsatisfying.
THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING!
This doc chronicles the efforts of a handful of Muslim comedians to erase common misconceptions and bridge social gaps between Muslim Americans and, well, us not-Muslims, I guess. Interestingly, it turns out that the comedians’ fellow Muslims are the hardest nuts to crack. Funny and poignant.
GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS: UNDEFEATED
Apparently, this series has morphed from an edgy drama to a more or less formula-driven gang fight slugfest, only in the UK gangs are called “firms” and they wear sweaters and hushpuppies. The fight scenes are poorly edited and shot, so star Scott Adkins’ skills are not on display as they should be.
FISTS OF LEGEND
Not to be confused with the Jet Li vehicle FIST OF LEGEND, this Korean martial arts drama steers clear of the usual Rocky variation to posit a story of middle-aged desk jockeys trying their hand at the competitive fight game. The narrative often flashes back to high school, when so many men place a high value on their fighting prowess, and subsequently live in their own shadow, and this device manages to be both poignant and exciting.
More or less an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, so it’s unable to sustain the mystery of the premise for its running time. The initial build up is great but the last act doesn’t hold up.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP
You’d think a metalhead like me would’ve caught this one before now, but… Some of the best comedians of the era take on the roles of deluded and drug-addled rock stars. Plenty of clever improv, but its humor is swiftly becoming dated. So…catch it now!
If you’ve never seen this moody, sometimes artsy sci-fi horror you’re missing one of the most horrific and disturbingly beautiful entries from the 80s post-apocalypse roundup. Scarier than ALIEN, odder than THE THING, it’s definitely worth a watch.
SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS
Not to be confused with Jet Li’s MARTIAL ARTS OF SHAOLIN, this Hong Kong fist-fest from legendary director Chang Cheh stars Fu Sheng and Kuan Chun Chi and some amazingly intricate choreography — along with occasional shocking brutality. The plot is strictly assembly line; fighters from a defeated clan travel to train under masters of a specific style that will overcome the strengths of their enemies, sort of like paper-rock-scissors, but there are surprises to be found.
Back in 1958 this was probably a controversial film, despite clearly being a message of warning to any young ladies giving consideration to such acts of depravity as wearing slacks to school, sassing off to their parents, or breaking into the old abandoned movie house for gossip sessions. Sure, you can watch it and have a laugh at the naivete’ — but you might also find yourself wishing YOU lived is such a time…
BILL BURR: YOU PEOPLE ARE ALL THE SAME
You’ll recognize Burr from his stint on Breaking Bad, and if you’re like me you’ll find his comedic observations and delivery sincere and pitch perfect.
Ryan Phillipe plays a sheltered but not necessarily spoiled actor who is kidnapped and taken into the swamps by a pair of Cajuns looking for revenge. Nothing overly complicated here, but if you think Phillipe is just an overrated pretty boy with no range you’ll be surprised.
THE TOXIC AVENGER PART 3
Everything that made the first two entries feel like fresh frenetic trashy fun now feels forced and dated. Positively chatty compared to its action filled forebears, and not even that funny.
Takashi Shimizu of the GRUDGE films has never quite fulfilled the promise of that franchise but his work is always trippy, creepy and fascinating. This one, loosely connected to his previous film SHOCK CORRIDOR, takes its time, isn’t very bloody, and aims to be more cerebral than is the trend, so settle in.
Cung Le, a former MMA and San Shou champion, stars in this low budget actioner with Peter Weller and Jean Claude Van Damme, as an ex-con vigilante sent by his prison mentor (Van Damme) to oust (kill) the crime faction that has infested it. Weller chews scenery of course, but it’s the fights that we want, and while Le’s skill set is far better suited to actual fights, as opposed to movie fights, he’s a powerful and personable presence and this is a good early vehicle for him.
It was about eight months ago while toiling away in the gym that the thought came to me: MAKE A WEB SERIES MEATHEAD! THEN YOU CAN HAVE A REASON FOR DOING ALL THIS!!!!
“All this” constitutes weight lifting, strict dieting, stretching, bag work, wrestling, sparring and countless hours practicing kicks. At a young age I decided I would be an action star; more specifically a martial arts movie hero. Along the way, that interest in martial arts morphed into the pursuit of actual competitive fighting; which you might imagine is a whole different animal.
Fast forward a decade or two and I find myself enjoying some success as a writer. Now rewind again, and I am writing a script to sell with myself attached as star–just like Stallone.
So, life happened. And I never quite pulled the trigger on that extended stay in LA and the casting calls and schmoozing that are requisite to becoming the next Van Damme.
I did spend a very strange summer there, landed a few roles in martial arts films that somehow never saw general release, choreographed fights for some indie flicks, but I never leveled my focus purely on that pursuit. And in retrospect, I realize that the idea of actually getting there kind of scared the hell out of me. It has its downsides believe it or not. One need only research the biographies of even the most well-regarded and enduring principals of the action genre.
But now we find ourselves in an era when web series are a thing, and it doesn’t take millions of dollars to commit your story to film or video. It does take some substantial planning though, and a concerted effort from a good many people to bring to life even the simplest tale. And that’s what THE OUTSIDE MAN is–a simple tale that will place the martial arts and its practitioners in its truest light; redemption, self sacrifice, doing right because it’s right–and not just for the sake of winning the girl or avenging the humiliating defeat. These are the themes to which the creators of THE OUTSIDE MAN and I aspire.
In coming weeks I’ll write more about my preparations, my bumblings, my highs and lows and most importantly about the amazing people on my team. By the end of this project I hope to have created something that moves you.
TOURIST TRAP: Right before the slasher craze of the eighties, a double fistful of more surreal entries found their way to cinemas, including this gem. Chuck Connors of all people, shows up to make your skin crawl, in a story that does a good job of capturing that elusive “dream logic” feel that can make a film seem like a nightmare.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION: The action spectacle I’d read raves about found its way to my DVD player, and delivered as promised. Simple enough siege story with Iko Uwais from MERANTAU kicking asses from one and of a criminal-infested apartment building to the other. The intricate fight scenes will fill the bill for action junkies.
CREATURE OF DARKNESS: Few films have actually ever filled me with rage because of nothing more than the incompetence and utter lack of care that went into making them. This POS is on that short list. I will award kudos to the designers of the titular creature–but other than that, I hereby forbid anyone in my family or circle of friends from ever again mentioning this egregious mess.
DRAGON (WU-XIA): It’s a shame this recent Chinese release has such a generic title; it’s sure to get lost in the shuffle of martial arts films–and it deserves much better. The always excellent Donnie Yen in another dynamic role (also working as fight choreographer, though there are only a handful of fights) opposite Takeshi Kaneshiro in a what can only be described as a historical action mystery akin to a Chinese period version of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Excellent on all levels.
A FORCE OF ONE: One of Chuck Norris’ earlier vehicles. So hopelessly dated there’s no way to recommend it, especially if you’re a martial arts fan. The fight scenes here are Norris’ worst without exception (yes, that includes “Yellow Faced Tiger”) but that’s mostly owing to utterly clueless and careless camerawork. Interestingly, the “helicopter kick” that Jean Claude Van Damme claimed to have invented is performed here by Eric Laneuville, years before JCVD’s advent.
2 DAYS: Paul Rudd plays an actor who drafts a film crew to document the twenty four hours leading up to his planned suicide. Less depressing and edgy than it sounds, this low budget comedy, lensed on 16mm, is worth a look.
THE ABC’s OF DEATH: An anthology film with each entry based on a letter from the alphabet is a mediocre idea at best. After about C or D, the law of diminishing returns kicked in, with each entry becoming worse. Part of the problem is that most of the stories are more comedy than horror, and not very funny at that. A shame, because there are some true talents credited here. Full disclosure: I stopped watching after about H or I, when a torture scenario that involved child rape, among other things, suddenly drained away the last scrap of enjoyment. I get being edgy, but don’t go cheap, boys and girls.
UNDERTAKER: THE STREAK. I’ve long since given up on professional wrestling, but it’s nice to relive some of the highlights of my old favorites. Mark Callas, a.k.a. The Undertaker, is one of the most imposing and talented performers in the business, and his morbid gimmick strikes a chord with a horror fanatic like me. Really only of interest to like-minded folks.
SPLICED: After a long string of disappointing horror viewings, I somehow managed upon this enjoyable 2002 ode to teen slashers. Drew Lachey, who I believe was in a boy band or perhaps an MTV “program,” leads a cast of good-looking high schoolers in the tale of a horror movie icon seemingly come to life. It’s like a tribute to Wes Craven with elements of both SCREAM and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET coming into play, and handled fairly well at that. (Editor’s Note: Drew Lachey is brother to Nick Lachey, who was indeed in a boy band.)
11-11-11: Dripping with creepy atmosphere and a sense of dread, as well as some fine performances and nice direction by SAW vet Darren Lynn Bousman. So why did it seem to lie so flat to me? Maybe it’s the now-cliched twist ending.
Stay tuned for future installments from PCG’s Quirky Queue!