Each month The Grumps bring you a selection of what’s new and now in the Action genre. Strap in for Round-house Round-Up!
from andrew gimetzco!:
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) [new in theaters]
It’s difficult to imagine anyone unfamiliar with the Capcom Resident Evil games being interested in any film or TV adaptation of them. So to divorce yourself from the source material is a difficult task, even if it’s just a modicum of information gleaned from the games and their promotional material. And here lies the problem with RE:WTRC: too many changes that are intended to set this new film apart from both the previous franchise and the games, all the while using other visual ideas and cues from the games and perhaps the first film of the previous franchise (zombie Dobermann). Among the changes are odd casting choices for characters who initially had decidedly very distinct and recognizable character designs, but whose casting doesn’t come close to those established characters. The director here has some of the characters’ names only, outright changing their entire personalities in order to give them an arc to aim for? Now, it sounds like I’m a stickler here, and maybe I am? But redesigns of characters don’t often veer too far away from the original. But here even a hairstyle shift seems to be a miss-step. Had this been the very first Resident Evil film ever from back in 2004, I reckon we’d be mostly ok with it. And yet, even with all the zombie, mad science, and monster mayhem (this is where the film stays most faithful), though gory, it all seems so safe. It’s a gory movie with functional, albeit no-frills, action, which seems like a pull away from the previous franchise. Here there is no gimmick to the violence. The heroes shoot their guns and wrestle with ghouls but there is no MMA or super-heroics. It’s understandable as to why there’s that shift, but there could have been some very good Jackie Chan-style evasive action when fighting some of the zombies. As it is, it feels very much akin to George A Romero’s 30-second trailer for the Resident Evil 2 video game. Still, I’m pretty sure that I will be watching this film time and again once it hits the home market. It’s junk food action-horror for the soul.
from justin harlan:
the matrix resurrections (2021) [new in theaters and on hbo max]
Trading in some of its signature flash and pizzazz for monologuing has certainly soured some Matrix aficionados on the latest installment, The Matrix Resurrections. However, this conscious decision to undercut and comment on the phenomenon that has been The Matrix works to draw focus on what the series has had going for it all along – a countercultural message of the power of love. Despite being criticized for being “too woke” or “too political,” this installment doubles down on the already hyper sociopolitical themes of the series and forces those who repurposed the message of the original trilogy to support an ultra-right-wing ideology to stop dead in their tracks.
With a brilliant cast deliberately filled with stellar LGBTQ actors and advocates, it’s expected that the film will draw the ire of the anti-“woke mob”… but even those interested in nothing more than a strong sci-fi entry with some standout action sequences can find something here to embrace. Sci-fi/action fans interested in escape can still turn off their social media and tune into a fun time, courtesy of HBOMax or their local theater.
On the surface, fans still get to visit with their beloved Neo and Trinity. They also get to meet new iterations of Morpheus, Smith, and several special guests on the way to a few new important characters, too. With a unique meta-framework that comments on modern gaming and entertainment, the film connects the first from old to new in fun and interesting ways. There are certainly criticisms to be had and clunkiness to be discussed, but that’s part of the allure for this franchise from the first installment until today.
As noted above, those who find the most alluring parts of the genre to be the sociopolitical meat to chew on, like me, can watch and rewatch and discuss until their bleeding hearts are content. So, it’s truly a must-watch for genre fans of all types.
from nick spacek:
18 bronzemen (1976) [recent revival screening]
At the beginning of December, the Museum of the Moving Image and Subway Cinema co-presented eight newly-restored films from Taiwanese director Joseph Kuo as part of the 9th Old School Kung Fu Fest. Included among the films were 1976’s 18 Bronzemen and 1977’s 7 Grandmasters. The first is Kuo’s take on the Shaolin Temple genre, wherein Carter Huang plays the son of “heroic Ming rebels, spirited away from a Qing-led massacre of his family and hidden in Shaolin Temple [where] he spends 20 years learning Shaolin kung fu before graduating by entering the labyrinth of death where he must face the 18 Bronzemen, who are gold-skinned fighting robots, as well as a series of tests that can drive you mad.”
It’s the usual hour-long training film, followed by a ten-minute test sequence, wherein our hero engages in a series of encounters that require the use of everything he’s heretofore learned. Said test sequence is the entire point of watching most Shaolin Temple films, because most — with the exception of 36 Chambers of Shaolin — fairly drag up until this part of the film, and then the final 20 minutes are a rush to get to the revenge aspect. It looks really excellent, however, and the Bronzemen sequences are superbly choreographed and feature some really fantastic tests.
7 grandmasters (1977) [recent revival screening]
7 Grandmasters is a “battle of styles” type kung fu film, in which “Master Sang Kuan-chun (Jack Long) receives an anonymous challenge on the eve of his retirement that sends him on a martial arts road trip to prove he’s still the best by taking on every single master of the martial arts he can find.” Along the way, he’s framed for murder and acquires a new student whose entire purpose is comic relief, as said student repeatedly gets his ass kicked.
The majority of the film is fight, fight, fight, with action choreography by Corey Yuen and Yuen Cheung-yan. It’s superlatively shot, taking advantage of location shots and making sure you can really see what’s going on. The variety of styles and weaponry included keeps things fresh and interesting, and the 2K restoration makes it very watchable. 7 Grandmasters also benefits from Li Yi-min’s new student, as the comedy is also well-choreographed action, allowing a contrast between Master Sang Kuan-chun’s sometimes effortless defeats of his opponents and the novice’s frequent ass-kickings. It’s a lot of fun.
spider-man: no way home (2021) [new in theaters]
Spider-Man: No Way Home, the latest in the MCU’s Spider-Man series of films, brings together the multiverse possibilities teased in Far From Home and brought to fruition in Into the Spiderverse and the recent Marvel series for Disney+. Thanks to the inclusion of Dr. Strange as part of the MCU, the superhero mega-franchise is no longer bound by time and space, allowing for things to get a little weirder than they might have otherwise.
Long story short, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) wants Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell and make people forget that he’s Spider-Man. He changes his mind mid-spell, but though Strange is able to bring things to a halt before catastrophe strikes, there were a few things that snuck in through the cracks separating our reality from all the others.
This leads to a series of encounters with characters from the earlier Sony Spider-Man films, such as Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx’s Electro, and others. While the multitude of villains allows for some excellent action setpieces — with the introduction of Doc Ock and the Goblin on a bridge a real highlight — the five villains mean that things can get a little muddled, especially given the fact that Dafoe and Molina are the focus, giving short shrift to the remainder of the fearsome foes.
Thankfully, the emotional heft given to the back half of the film — thanks to character history and interpersonal interactions — more than makes up for the lackluster use of the Lizard, Sandman, and Electro — and the final battle is all the more effective for it. Fan service could have easily hamstrung No Way Home from the get-go, but by focusing on these characters and their histories, and the potential changes possible by messing with the multiverse, it opens up myriad opportunities going forward.
Alas, that “going forward” aspect does mean that Spider-Man: No Way Home does have an underlying element of being both a conclusion to a trilogy (several, really), while still feeling as though it’s merely a waypoint on the way to something else. Given Spider-Man’s rich history in Marvel comics and cinema in general, it’s starting to get really frustrating that every single one of the character’s on-screen appearances isn’t allowed to stand on its own, but must instead be a stepping stone to something else.
THE PROTEGE (2021) [new to blu-ray]
Once in a while we get a buddy comedy actioner that tries to switch up macho expectations of the subgenre, and we may not be surprised that Samuel L. Jackson co-stars in two of the most successfully done ones. Twenty-five years ago Jackson narrowly escaped several friendly pummelings from Geena Davis’ assassin character in The Long Kiss Goodnight, but now he’s trying his luck against unsung action star Maggie Q in this year’s The Protege. Jackson and Q undoubtedly have chemistry in this film that leads the viewer to all sorts of places; their “buddy” relationship being more of the father figure and adopted daughter variety, and we can see clearly how much they really care for each other. The action heats up when Michael Keaton enters the picture, giving Q an opponent for rather explosive flirty violence. It’s really nice to see Keaton doing some action choreography again, and I’d venture to say it even tops any stuntwork he might have done as Batman. If you’re looking to supplement your date night with an action film that’s pleasing to guys and gals alike, this one is definitely a safe bet.
thrilling bloody sword (1981) [newly restored on blu-ray]
One of the more exciting and genuine boutique blu-ray labels out there is Gold Ninja Video. It’s everyone’s go-to place for martial arts rarities, both affectionately and painstakingly restored by no doubt the most tireless film lover anyone could ever meet. This Taiwanese film is an action-packed bizarro retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which is just as fantastic as it sounds. Combining traditional European folklore, Eastern mysticism, imaginative monsters, and martial arts spectacle, this film is simply a “must-see” for those who are into weird cinema. Consider this one a gateway of sorts for fans of folkloric horror films like Viy or oddball arthouse pictures like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders to start exploring all the strange possibilities the action genre has to offer.
COPSHOP (2021) [NEW ON BLU-RAY]
Oftentimes I’m turned off by a filmmaker’s seeming obsession with a 1970s aesthetic, especially if it’s a cop movie. Luckily Copshop is dynamic enough to overcome my upturned nose, helped greatly by its smart and lawful protagonist. Alexis Louder plays rookie officer Valerie Young in this Assault on Precinct 13-style “one night in one location” action fiasco, a performance that is so strong and likable that you’ll forget you ever uttered “ACAB.” At this film’s core, it is exploitation, but delivered in a modern package; as we watched, Andrew mentioned Louder’s character reminded him of the comic Martha Washington Goes to War, and I couldn’t agree more. This is an action film with a final girl that rivals (I might even say surpasses) most horror heroines; the character is played with such determination and poise that in the end, we’re pumped to see more of her. The other highlight of the film comes via character actor extraordinaire Toby Huss, who is so amazing we don’t even need the perfectly serviceable and surprisingly greasy-looking Frank Grillo or Gerard Butler in any other scenes. They just happen to be there.
the king’s man (2021) [new in theaters]
Interestingly enough it is a big-budget cartoony action movie based on a comic series that put me face to face with how little I know about World War I. Granted, the history presented in this prequel entry of the Kingsman film trilogy that solidifies the birth of the Kingsmen organization slants heavily on the side of revisionist, but still, it made me want to read more about the war that often gets passed by quickly in American schooling to spend more time on its hellish successor. Reviews for The King’s Man so far haven’t been too favorable, but I think those reviewers are failing to see its merits: sure it’s not as outlandish and lampooning as the previous two movies, but as it’s set in the early 20th century, it’s got a genuine old school globe-trotting action-adventure vibe, akin to an Indiana Jones or even a Jonny Quest. To look out for: a sleazy Rasputin, tons of gentlemanly sword fighting, one very angry long-haired goat, and a pretty decent end credits theme by FKA twigs.
the matrix resurrections (2021) [new in theaters and on hbo max]
To quote our own Justin Harlan who provided us with his own take on the new Matrix film literally a few paragraphs ago, “There are certainly criticisms to be had and clunkiness to be discussed….” So leave it to me to happily provide the grumpier side of our readership with such criticism and discussion:
When does being “meta” become too cute? Probably when it’s knowingly showing your cards by writing a script that openly admits you don’t actually want to be making the movie that you’re making. In The Matrix Resurrections, many have applauded this approach as a scathing commentary on “sequel culture,” however, to me, it shows a catty impulsiveness that’s too on the nose to be very smart. Like the previous trilogy, Lana Wachowski set out to make a film that would be deemed “important,” and in some regard, she very well succeeded. But in true Wachowski fashion, the importance of the message is muddled with conflicting philosophical diatribe that comes across as more glib than enlightening. That said, though, there are a couple of interesting questions brought up in this straight-up remix of the original Matrix film(s): Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) advises the young revolutionaries to form what is, in effect, a co-op with their mechanized oppressors, with the allegory of growing strawberries as a way to coexist peacefully with an opposition — which, correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t exactly a viewpoint shared by most modern activists. Further, the only real breath of life in the picture is the villainous Analyst character playfully portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris, which begs the question: how can such a misogynistic representation of the patriarchy be so damn likable? But you know, the Wachowskis are nothing if not a little cheeky between all the heavy-handedness, so at the very least The Matrix Resurrections stays true to form.
from brian miller:
TIGER CLAWS TRILOGY (1992 – 2000) [REISSUED ON BLU RAY FROM VINEGAR SYNDROME]
The fun part about franchises with no arc is that nearly anything can happen. ’90s trilogy Tiger Claws is about the best-case scenario for such directionless irresponsibility. The debut film surprises the most simply by not being satisfied with the low standards of trash DTV. The cinematography and editing transcend with a poetry and vision rare in US urban martial arts films. The score, which launches out of a diegetic of a bucket-drummer street performer, never ceases to be percussion-centered. The sensibility is not unlike ’70s gritty NY filmmaking. It really helps make the NY setting of the movie feel convincing despite being made in LA. While Tiger Claws 2 does little of note, the concluding part 3 pulls things back into excitement with a deep dive into the supernatural. It’s a satisfying direction for the series to end on and a great way to embrace being trashy after such high-minded beginnings.
NEW YORK NINJA (2021) [NEW ON BLU RAY FROM VINEGAR SYNDROME]
The entire promotion campaign for this release has been centered around the unique way the film was salvaged. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t known any of that back story before watching. Essentially, the visuals from the ’80s still existed but none of the audio could be found, nor a script. So a new script was written and all the dialogue was done in ADR by a new vocal cast. If I had not known this, I would have simply thought it was a wild af lost low-budget gem. Knowing the story though, I feel trapped in a quantum state of indecision about the choices in the script. A lot of the dialogue is intentionally poorly written, with characters needlessly repeating themselves and using plenty of non-sequiturs. Knowing that these borderline mockery style lines were written knowingly is tough to accept. On the other hand, if I were under the belief that this is what was originally scripted, I’m sure I would have an accepting attitude about it and have found it charming. Fortunately, the protagonist is charming even on mute and nothing can stop this movie from being a triumph despite my own existential dilemmas.
How To Film: A Jackie Chan Fight Scene [via film trap]
More important than any action film release lately is an example of action film press that we should all be measuring ourselves by (and are probably failing to live up to). This Film Trap video interview with stunt choreographer Alex Chung and Gold Ninja Video’s Justin Decloux is the above and beyond sort of journalism that not only honors the action genre and everything that goes into it, but immediately makes the viewer truly learn something they’ll never forget. This is more than an interview, but essentially an educational film with proper lessons and examples on display. Just watch and you’ll see:
Can’t get enough Action? Take a look at last month’s Round-house Round-Up for more!