The Last Stand

Directed by: Kim Jee-Woon
Category: Action

Oh man, I'm so torn with this one. I really am. On the one hand, as a die hard action fan who grew up in the best possible time for action cinema, the 80's and 90's, I am happy to see Arnold return back to making action films again and picking interesting directors to work with. On the other hand, this isn't nearly as good as I was hoping it'd be and that really kinda shocks me considering all the talent involved. But, I will say this. It's a helluva lot better than Stallone's last solo feature Bullet to the Head. What a seriously missed opportunity on that one. But this one is just marginally better.

Being that this was director Kim Jee-Woon's first American feature I was really surprised at how subpar this was, considering this is the man who kicked my ass with his amazing and brilliant serial killer/revenge film I Saw the Devil. You'd never guess this was from the same director. Don't get me wrong, there were some nice shots, but the majority of them didn't really stand out, neither does a lot of the film in general, which says a lot. There are some fine action sequences, but they feel few and far between, and to me the comedy element played out way too much for my taste. I knew there would probably be some, especially with Johnny Knoxville on board, but I don't think I was expecting this much comedy in a Schwarzenegger action film to be honest, and especially not in his first stand alone return to action cinema.

When I first started hearing about this film in pre-production and what the story was going to be about, I have to tell you that I pictured something completely different than what ended up on the big screen. Essentially it's a standoff film. Schwarzenegger plays a small town border sheriff who knows a Mexican drug kingpin is on his way to him to get to the border, and Arnold's character, with the help of his small staff, are the only thing standing in the kingpin's way. I pictured something small in scale, and something that played out more like a western, only in modern time, kinda like Walter Hill's 80's classic Extreme Prejudice. That's exactly the kind of film I was expecting in look and tone, and after hearing Jee-Woon was at the helm, I thought he could certainly deliver. Eh? Nah. That's not what we get. Instead we get an uneven over-budget action film with way too much CGI and seems to play more for laughs than to cater to a genuine action fan.

You know, despite not starring in a film for a number of years, ol' Arnie hasn't lost his touch. He's not any better, but he's not any worse either. He's Arnold Schwarzenegger plain and simple (he still hasn't lost the accent?). And everyone else is fine in their roles, except for the main baddie Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega). I'm sure they coulda done worse than this guy, but holy shit did he suck.

All bitching aside, at least the film looked half way decent. No shaky-cam quick-edit bullshit. So that was a relief. I wish I could have said the same for action legend Walter Hill's return to the directors chair with Bullet to the Head. Lazy man, just fuckin' lazy filmmaking.

So yea, it was alright and a good time waster, but it didn't knock my socks off. So far that's 2 for 2 with both Stallone's and Schwarzenegger's first solo films out since The Expendables bombing at the box office and in my opinion, in quality. Let's hope there next collaboration Escape Plan (formerly The Tomb) fares better.


Quick Shot: The ABC's of Death

Directed by: Various
Category: Horror

Personally, I've never been a big fan of anthologies. There's always an equal number of bad segments that go along with the good ones, and this one is no exception. However, on the plus side, with 26 different stories and only a slightly over 2 hour running time, you know the segments are literally only a few short minutes each. So if they suck, then you don't have to suffer through those particular stories for too long.

The ABC's of Death is a unique anthology. 26 different filmmakers from all over the world choose a letter from the alphabet, then with that letter they choose a form of death that starts with the letter they chose and are given free reign to come up with whatever they want that correspond with that letter. For example T is for Toilet, F is for Fart and D would be for Dogfight. And yes, these are the titles and forms of death for these letters in this anthology.

Not generally being a fan of these types of films, I have to say that I found this to be quite an entertaining experience overall. Sure, some of them sucked, but some of them were awesome. And some of them were just ok, and some were difficult to watch. Some were fascinating, ingenius, funny, shocking, strange and boring. There's also quite a few "WTF?!" segments, which are always fun to watch with a group of people. And of course there are a few oddball and weird ones that just don't make any sense, or even correspond with the letter they're supposed to correspond with. But that's just a few. So there's a healthy selection of different styles and tastes spanning 26 different shorts. Overall, you won't like every single one of them, but the ones you do like and the ones that do work for you, work exceptionally well. Granted, it's pretty uneven and all over the place, so you have to have a pretty open mind and maybe even a warped sense of humor to get through some of these.

As far as the directors go, if you're a filmgeek or a horror fan, you'll recognize some of their names, and some you won't. But that's where the fun comes in. You research who did what and what else they've done before and that leads to a slew of other films and titles you probably had never heard of before.

Overall I found this a trip worth taking. Ambitious for sure, and it is a trip, and even a mindfuck in some instances. I'm still trying to process the onslaught of "WTF?!" from the very last segment for the letter Z, which stands for Zetsumetsu (Extinction). Seriously. What the fuck?! I loved it, but man that was an insane few minutes.


Punisher: War Zone

Directed by: Lexi Alexander
Category: Badass Cinema

Holy shit. Why does Punisher: War Zone get no love??
And how have I let this one pass me by for so long before revisiting it?

First thing's first. Let me begin by saying that when I saw this in it's initial theater run, I honestly didn't like it very much. "What the hell's wrong with me?!" you say? I have no fuckin' idea. I just didn't dig it for whatever reason. And I wish I could remember why and give you specifics, but I honestly have no clue why I didn't like it back in 2008.

Flash forward 5 years and I have a whole new appreciation for this insanely graphic and extremely over the top piece of Badass Cinema. Why you ask? Well, for starters, our good man Jack over at Collected Cinema recently did a "Completist Guide to the Punisher Series", which you can find here. A really great read as he reviews all three Punisher films, with which I'm pretty much in agreement with on all points. But it was that article that got me thinking about this film again and deciding that I should maybe give it another shot. You see, when I think of The Punisher, I automatically just revisit my one and only favorite Dolph Lundgren starring 1989 low budget incarnation. I can't explain it, but I just love the shit out of that film. Even if you take the whole Punisher mythology out of the picture, it's an insane piece of action filmmaking and one of my favorite films.

So after reading Jack's review, I'm all kinds of excited to check this out again. I run to my local rental store and check it out, pop it in the player and BAM!! Immediate onslaught of violence and carnage like I haven't seen before. I mean, this thing is nuts, in all the right ways. You keep telling yourself "Did I just really see that?", because there is some batshit crazy type of violence in this thing. So before I go any further, I suppose it's only right that I say "Thank You" Jack.

Somehow, in some way, most people seem to like Thomas Jane's Punisher film the most. I don't get it. I see what writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh was trying to do, but it just doesn't work for me. And the tone for most of the film doesn't support the style he was going for. That whole thing with the neighbors in the apartment just doesn't mesh well the film as a whole and just throws everything off. And worst of all, you barely see The Punisher actually kill anybody. But in War Zone, holy hell, you see blood spraying carnage in the opening sequence and it does not let up until the film is over. Kudos to Lexi Alexander for not submitting to outside interference by toning down the violence. Instead, they seem to go out of their way to shock you, which is always a plus in my book. But what also works is it's relentless pace. You never have time to get bored.

Aside from it's relentless pace and overabundance of flat out violence, this film looks beautiful. Director Lexi Alexander has done such an amazing job visually filling the screen with lush vibrant colors, beautiful cinematography juxtaposed against jaw dropping violence. The film just looks simply stunning. Alexander films this the way an action film should be made, with style.

Of all 3 Punisher films, Dolph Lundgren will always be my favorite. That's just the way it is. But I have to admit, Ray Stevenson actually looks and sounds like The Punisher should look and sound more than anybody. Perfectly cast in my opinion, and the best looking Punisher to date. You know, as I write this, I'm starting to get irritated. All these years everyone bitches about there not being an awesome Punisher film. Well here it is, yet it made no money, much like Dredd (another favorite) and is considered a flop. How? I mean, this has everything you want in a Punisher film and then some, yet it's still not enough to make everybody happy. I just don't get it. Maybe they'll attempt another interpretation in the next few years or so, but I can't imagine it being any better or as entertaining as this Badass Mutha.

Complaints? Just one really. I would have loved to have seen the iconic skull symbol more prominently displayed. Yea, it's there, but just barely as it's a heavily faded image on his bulletproof vest. Director Alexander was opposed to even having a skull period, but gave in to pressure. And me just being a die hard comic book fan of The Punisher going back to the 80's when I first started collecting them (still got my set of the initial Punisher: War Journal), I just wanted to see it as the two previous Punisher films failed to do it. I mean, it's just so iconic. I just wish it was much more of a presence in the film that it was. So yea, kickass film full of style sprayed red with blood. I love this film.


Rolling Thunder

Directed by: John Flynn
Category: Revenge Thriller

This is one of those films that I always meant to see, but somehow always passed me by. And it's got quite a reputation as a cult classic, yet never really got very considerate releases since 1977, until Shout! Factory released it on Blu Ray recently with a beautiful widescreen transfer. So now I finally had a chance to see it the way it was meant to be seen and here we go.

As far as revenge films go, this one's pretty great. Now keep in mind that it's a slow burn kind of a film, but it's building up to a climax, you can just feel it through the entire film, and when it does, it's pretty fuckin' fantastic. But I knew it was going to be good, even if I wasn't so sure with the opening. Once I saw Paul Schrader's name in the writing credits, and always being a fan of director John Flynn, well my mind was put at ease.

I think it's best to know before going in that it is a slow film for the most part, with not a lot of action or even suspense. Most of that is all saved for the third act. But what you get is a character study of a man who's returned home from the war, who's so reserved it almost drives you nuts. He knows his wife is having an affair with a local cop, but he doesn't seem to care. His wife and son are murdered right in front of him during a robbery attempt, as well as having his hand mutilated, and you'd never know it by his stone cold demeanor. But he's formulating a plan in his head. He rarely speaks, and never shows emotion, but you sense that he can explode at any minute. And that's a rare thing to see in this type of film. We're so used to seeing the central character angry, furious and hell bent on revenge, but you don't see that in him. You get bits and pieces of what's going on in his head from time to time, but it's not really until halfway through that you realize he's about to do something, something that he can't walk away from.

With a well rounded cast that has William Devane playing Major Charles Rane as the man on a mission of revenge with a quiet intensity, there's also a very young Tommy Lee Jones and a surprising small bit with Dabney Coleman. But I think what really pulls everything together perfectly is Flynn's sure-handed touch behind the camera. I've always admired his work, and count his Out for Justice as one of my favorite Steven Seagal films. Here, he makes everything look tough and gritty, but it looks good. And the man knows how to stage a sequence. That finale is pretty damn fantastic.

Apparently Shrader wasn't happy with how this turned out because it's not what he had envisioned, but I like it. I think it's a great example of the revenge thriller. Coming out of the late 70's only adds to it's visual panache. Probably not something I'll revisit again for quite some time, unless I'm showing it to a buddy, but a pretty badass late 70's film done extremely well with an awesome finale if that's what you're in the mood for. Those are my thoughts.


Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Category: Horror

I've never been much of a Michael Myers fan. I've seen most of these, but not in order and I usually can't distinguish one from the other after part 3. These were never as interesting to me as the Friday the 13th films or the Nightmare on Elm Streets. When Shout! Factory released the Collector's edition of Parts 2 and 3 recently, I took the chance and grabbed 3 and gave it a spin. Known as the "black sheep" of the series, the one that has nothing to do with Michael Myers, I actually enjoyed it for the most part. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, through all it's negative history, is a solidly made 80's horror film.

So apparently, after the debacle (at the time) that was Halloween III, it took 6 years to get another one made, and with this they decided to go back to the roots and do a straight up slasher film and forget what happened with the previous installment in 1982. Obviously that's the best decision and I guess it took so long to make another one because the Halloween name had been soured.

So here are my quick thoughts on this entry:
The good:
Straight up slasher film going back to it's roots and giving us what made the Halloween films what they were. There's nothing spectacular about any of this, but you know, for a late 80's horror film it's not bad at all. For a kid, Danielle Harris really knocks it out of the park as Michael Myers new form of prey, his niece. The girl is good, plain and simple. Donald Pleasance returns in the role that ultimately defined his career as Dr. Loomis, and again delivers the crazy. And the rest of the cast is about as good as you'd expect. The best thing I think this film has its pace. I don't remember ever really getting bored or wondering when the pace would pick up. For that, I think it keeps you interested and invested enough to see it through to the end. Sure the first half is a little slower than the second, but the second half does pay off with a frenetic pace and some cool kills, most notably an awesome sequence of Myers killing a couple of guys in the bed of a pickup truck while it's in motion. The kicker? They were actually on the hunt for Michael when he suddenly appeared to be hanging onto the tailgate the whole time. Very cool sequence indeed.

My gripes:
For me, director Dwight H. Little has always been a hit or miss director. He's made a few cool films, most notably helming my favorite Steven Seagal film Marked for Death. I guess seeing how badass he made that film, they got him to do Brandon Lee's first big budget film Rapid Fire two years later that was supposed to make him the next big martial arts star. Personally, I think he dropped that ball on that one. Rapid Fire just didn't seem to have that extra ingredient that made Marked for Death so great, and it wasn't nearly as entertaining. And as we all know, the film didn't make Lee a star. That would happen 2 years later with The Crow, and would unfortunately also mark the end.
But I don't know, it seems like so much of this was straight forward and nothing interesting or creative visually. I had hoped that since it took so long for them to get another one of these made, and they were going to go back to the slasher formula, they would have done it with a bang, buuuuuut not so much. Honestly, it looks as though any Joe "Somebody" made this, which is never a good sign for a director. I couldn't help but notice so many times watching this where I thought "Wow, he really missed a great opportunity to make this look badass". But what are you gonna do?

George Wilbur as Michael Myers. I'm sorry, I just wasn't feeling it. To me, he looked kind of odd. Too thin, with insanely obvious shoulder pads in his jumpsuit, which were really distracting. I know Wilbur is a stuntman, which allowed him to do all his own stunts, but still. He just didn't look the part.

All in all, not a bad entry in the series by any means and a good way to bring the series back into game. Sure it could have been better, but it wasn't bad either.

Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan

Directed by: Rob Hedden
Category: Horror

Yea, it's taken over a year, but my quest to re-watch all of these Jason films in chronological order is still in effect. And when Netlix began streaming these recently I finally got the chance to check this one out. I own all of them except for this one and Jason X. So it was always a difficult choice trying to decide whether to rent it, buy it or borrow it. And because of that it took me forever to finally get to this one. But Netflix saved the day.

Well, you know, this was pretty bad. Bad from all angles. The production, the execution and hell, even in the title, where you're meant to think that Jason wreaks havoc in the big apple only to find out he spends maybe 15 or 20 minutes chasing a few kids at the end. The majority of the film takes place on a boat, which is a new way of taking the concept I guess, but don't trick us into thinking we're about to see a badass slasher flick of our favorite baddie slicing and dicing his way across New York City. That ain't what we get here at all.

I would honestly have to consider this among one of the worst in the series. Part 7 was no masterpiece, but it played with some cool concepts and in the least had some pretty cool kills. This one is far more bland and lame. First of all, most of the kills happen off camera (huh?). And when or if you do see one actually take place in "front" of the camera, it's extremely tame . We don't even get the usual T&A to distract us from time to time, something most of these films do really well. I remember a brief half-assed scene in the beginning, but that's it. So right away, no T&A and no decent kills. So why are we even bothering with this again?

This was Kane Hodder's second run in the series playing the unstoppable Jason. I honestly had no idea he started so late in the series. I mean, you always hear he's everyone's favorite Jason and as much as I would hear his name tossed around throughout the years in regards to playing Jason, I would have thought he began early on or maybe about Part 5, but it looks like he only had a go at it about 4 times. I thought he was good. Maybe too big and bulky for my taste, and for someone who's supposed to be dead, he breathes awfully hard. It almost seems like a signature thing; his whole body moves drastically when he breathes. If you're dead, why would you be breathing? For my money, I actually thought the guy playing Jason in Part 6 was the best one. But that's just me.

As far as execution goes, this was about as bland as can be. At least Part 5 was so bad that it was laughable. This one is just bad and boring. Never a good mix. Writer/Director Rob Hedden apparently had some background doing a few episodes of the Friday the 13th television series, but his particular style of filmmaking does not translate well onto the big screen or feature films. Stick to television man.

I hate that it sounds like I'm beating this thing up to a pulp, but honestly I found no redeeming quality. No T&A, no awesome kills, no gore, no NYC. What gives???
I think the only decent aspect to come out of this is that I finally saw it and now I can move onto Jason Goes to Hell.