Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on April 23, 2013
“Nobody can beat Bruce Lee, everybody can beat me” -Jackie Chan
Failing as a stoic Bruce Lee clone early in his career, Jackie Chan discovered that audiences preferred him as a cheery masochist, enduring abuse for fun and profit. His kung-fu clowning in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master (both 1978) established a persona he would tinker with the rest of his career. When he shifted from martial arts period pieces to modern day action thrillers in the 1980s, his drifting fool becomes professionalized, an innocent goofball in uniform. His masterpiece of this period is Police Story (1985), which was recently issued on Blu-Ray by Shout! Factory, along with its initial 1988 sequel, Police Story 2 (1988). Chan has made five Police Storys to date, with a sixth in production set for release later this year, but the original remains his (and my) favorite.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on March 26, 2013
To make a thoughtful direct-to-video action movie is about as difficult as recovering from a meaty right hook to the jaw from Stone Cold Steve Austin. Working on shoestring budgets and two-week deadlines, most DTV product is a jumbled mess of plot holes and broken bones. So when a director is able to compose a coherent space and worldview out of such chaos, it’s a minor miracle. With The Package (2012), Jesse V. Johnson joins Isaac Florentine (Undisputed III) and John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) in accomplishing this magic act. It is a simple story well told, of a mob muscleman (Austin) tasked to deliver a mysterious package to a gangster known only as “The German” (Dolph Lundgren). Its contents are sought by a third gang, and what was a simple job for Austin turns into a war. Johnson strips down dialogue and establishes character through fighting styles: Austin is a deliberate and quiet thinker, waiting slowly for an opening for his devastating punch, while the flamboyant Lundgren speaks in long winding monologues before springing for a quick and outrageous kill. Johnson shoots fights up close but in wide angles, so the need for cutting is minimized and blows register with traumatic impact. Jesse V. Johnson has been a stuntman (The Amazing Spider-Man), a writer (The Butcher, 2009) and a director, and he took some time out to speak to me about his varied career adventures. We discuss Dolph Lundgren’s working methods, the fun and frustrations of working in DTV, and the motivation behind his viral Wonder Woman fan trailer.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on January 15, 2013
For the past decade Korea has produced the most innovative genre films in the world, with directors Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon reinvigorating revenge thrillers, police procedurals and westerns. This year Hollywood is playing catch-up, commissioning remakes of recent Korean hits and importing that influential trio to make their English language debuts. Spike Lee is shooting his version of Park’s seminal Oldboy, and Allen Hughes has signed on to redo Kim’s A Bittersweet Life (2005, and whose Tale of Two Sisters was Americanized in 2009 as The Uninvited). Bong is finishing up production on his dystopic sci-fi film Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans, while Park’s psychological horror film Stoker, featuring Nicole Kidman, will be released on March 1st. The first out of the gate will be Kim’s action movie The Last Stand, opening this Friday, which marks the post-gubernatorial screen return of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kim is a restless genre tweaker, using traditional templates and then pushing them to extremes. His style varies from the antic energy of his “kimchi Western” The Good, The Bad, The Weird to the elegant control of his criminal revenge saga A Bittersweet Life, but his films insistently return to the theme of self-destructive violence that pulses just below the surface of the human psyche.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on December 18, 2012
For as long as there are aging matinee idols looking for a quick paycheck, there will be commando movies there to pay them. While the painfully self-conscious Expendables movies brought this prestigious genre back into box office glory, it’s a format that has been cranking along for decades. Before Stallone, the most successful old man revitalizer was Andrew V. McLaglen (son of actor Victor), who cranked out fogey action flicks from the 60s through the 80s, after a long career in TV Westerns. Cult home video outfit Severin has just released The Wild Geese (1978) on Blu-Ray, which stars the leathery trio of Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore. McLaglen’s favorite among his films, it is a bloody imperialist fantasy in which a group of ex-Special Ops Brits parachute into Africa to rescue a deposed leader from a tyrannical despot. Fitfully released in the United States as its distributor was going through bankruptcy, it exudes more testosterone per film frame than Stallone’s pec-flexing opus.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 13, 2012
As I was getting ready to wrap-up my year long celebration of ‘60s spy films, I received something extraordinary in the mail; the new special issue of Cinema Retro’s Movie Classics magazine celebrating “50 years of James Bond in Cinema.” The issue boasts a spectacular cover image of Sean Connery and Ursula Andress taken in 1962 to help promote the first Bond film, DR. NO. The image literally jumped off the page and into my heart reminding me of how magnetic the two actors were in those iconic roles. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more memorable screen couple from 1962 but at the time that the photo was taken Connery and Andress were relatively unknown. DR. NO would catapult them both into cinema history and eventually make James Bond one of the most recognized film characters in the world.
Today it’s hard for modern audiences to fathom the impact that DR. NO had. The film was made for just one million dollars but its unique visual style and pop art sensibility made it seem light years ahead of its time. It took audiences to exotic locations while introducing them to a handsome, well-dressed international man of mystery who could easily outwit and outmuscle fiendish villains hell-bent on world domination. Sean Connery’s James Bond may have dressed like a million bucks but his roguish manner and rumbling Scottish accent hinted at his working class roots and that gave him universal appeal. He was exactly what film audiences needed to combat the Cold War jitters and help usher in the swinging sixties.
Posted by davidkalat on December 1, 2012
Having brought up Dr. Mabuse recently, naturally my thoughts also flit to Fantômas. I had promised a while back that I would eventually address Andre Hunebelle’s 1960s Fantômas revival in this blog, and now seems the best time to live up to my word. Along with last week’s visit to Dr. Mabusiana, I’m going to spend the next several weeks exploring the world of pulp mysteries on film—specifically how different filmmakers have approached the task of rendering in cinematic terms a corpus of literature that flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The Hunebelle Fantômas films are not readily available for viewing. It is the case that anyone with an Amazon account can obtain a DVD box set of the entire trilogy—but this import set will come without English subtitles and will only be playable in a region-free player, so it’ll alienate most casual American viewers. With that in mind, I’m going to be fairly heavy on clips this week, so give you a good sense of what these three films are really like. I’ve added subtitles to these clips from an online source of fan-created subtitles. Given the awkward wording, I’m guessing by “fan-subbed” they really mean “ran the French script through Google Translate and performed no proof-reading at all.”
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 23, 2012
Warning! There are spoilers on the road ahead.
When the first promotional photo for SKYFALL (2012) was released earlier this year it caused a minor uproar. It was an azure-tinted picture of Daniel Craig’s muscular back as he sits poolside, solitarily contemplating his next move. It was reminiscent of a promotional photo from Craig’s debut as James Bond in CASINO ROYAL (2006) that showed him emerging from the ocean like a Greek god, much like Ursula Andress’ enchanting entrance in DR. NO (1962), which had embedded itself into the minds and imaginations of countless men and adolescent boys decades earlier. The public’s response to Daniel Craig’s wet torso was somewhat mixed but women (and some men) seemed to love the unusual direction that the publicity campaign for SKYFALL took. They openly swooned over Craig’s imposing physique while many male fans of the Bond series were left wondering where was the designer suit, the gun and the girl? Craig’s nudity seemed casual and unrestrained making the character of James Bond appear exposed and defenseless. His body was being artfully used to sell the Bond mystique and in the past that was a job usually given to women. The Bond girls are renowned for their physical assets and have been used as promotional tools for decades but they’ve got competition now. And while it’s true that previous Bond actors including Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan had their fair share of female fans, the character’s masculine charms have never been exploited in such a direct way. 007 is back, quite literally, but he’s not your father’s James Bond and the first publicity photo from SKYFALL illustrates that point beautifully.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on October 30, 2012
The Warner Archive continues to release an enormous amount of the WB back catalog, at a rate impossible to keep up with. Here is my vain attempt to catch up, covering a group of four films made up of bad men and one very bad woman. The most famous title is Nicholas Ray’s Born to Be Bad (1950), a devious noir/woman’s picture in which Joan Fontaine uses her seductive wiles to marry the heir to a family fortune. Then there is a trio of manly ne’er do wells, with Peter Graves leading a mercenary force in the spaghetti western The Five Man Army (1969), Robert Mitchum doing the same in a priest’s habit in The Wrath of God (1972), and Rod Taylor carousing his way through Dublin in Young Cassidy (1965).
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on August 7, 2012
The collaboration between Toshiro Mifune and director Akira Kurosawa ended in 1965, following the release of Red Beard, their sixteenth and final film together. Having built up an international reputation thanks to his work with Kurosawa, Mifune looked West, receiving his first Hollywood paycheck playing against type as a Japanese industrialist in John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966). He would jump back and forth between Japan and the U.S. through the early 80s, working mainly in stolid war dramas (Midway, Inchon), but also getting to stretch out a bit with John Boorman (Hell in the Pacific) and Steven Spielberg (1941). In terms of viewership, his greatest success was playing opposite Richard Chamberlain in the TV mini-series of James Clavell’s Shogun (1980).Perhaps realizing that Hollywood would continue to shunt him into stereotyped Japanese roles in stuffy historical dramas, he spent the majority of his remaining career at home. For his final U.S. film in this period, he re-united with John Frankenheimer to shoot the entertainingly silly East-meets-West martial arts film, The Challenge (1982). Frankenheimer had similarly entered a low ebb in his career, resulting in these two dynamic talents making a mid-budget action film for CBS Films, to be distributed by the small Embassy Pictures studio.
Posted by keelsetter on July 29, 2012
I have lived in Colorado most of my life. My home is a half-hour drive from the Century 16 theater in Aurora where so many people were recently murdered and maimed while watching a movie. Like most other non-psychopathic people, I felt immediate sadness, anguish, grief, and a myriad of other emotions as I read the unfolding news. In yesterday’s post by fellow Morlock, David Kalat, he says “I’ve lived most of my life in movie theaters,” and I feel the exact same way. I not only inhabit the film theater as a spectator, but as a film exhibitor and programmer I am also responsible for selecting the films that get shown in several venues. The films of Christopher Nolan that I’ve programmed are: Following, Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, and Inception (which, despite being a blockbuster, had enough intellectual cachet for the arthouse crowd). I stayed away from the Batman films, those being out of my bailiwick. However, I was very impressed with Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight, in part because I’m a huge fan of the horror genre, a genre which is always, and predictably, rounded up and put up against the wall as one of the usual suspects when searching for scapegoats. Allow me to state the obvious: regardless of genre, movies can be joyous affairs that bring people together to share in the full range of emotions available to us. No matter how bleak their subject might be, they are ultimately collective acts of creation. What happened in Aurora is a senseless destruction and desecration of life, and my heart goes out to the victims and survivors. It was also a desecration of one of my favorite temples (the movie theater), and a desecration of one of my favorite art-forms (movies themselves). READ MORE
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