Join The Grumps as we bring you a selection of what’s new and now in the Action genre. Strap in for Round-house Round-Up!
THE PRINCESS (2022) [NEW ON HULU]
Form = Function in this actioner that starts off reminiscent of a dainty medieval folk tale and progresses to a “relentless action flick” with a badass final girl. Joey King as The Princess proves her worth in the role, displaying a confidence that elevates this film from the typical straight-to-streaming fare. Other than the impressive stunt fighting at hand, that confidence is carried out onscreen by The Princess periodically shredding her frilly Ren-Faire costume, ripping off unnecessary fabric here and there as her character becomes tougher and more furious (leading to the “final girl” allegory in a slam against patriarchal expectations of a submissive royal medieval to-be wife). Action movie veteran Olga Kurylenko also stands out as she eats up the screen as the darkly hammy evil opponent, an actor who by all rights should be regarded in the same vein as, say, Milla Jovovich, but who unfortunately has seemingly never really received her “due.” Some critics have complained this film suffers from being written and directed by men, but honestly, the spirited and cunning performances given by all the film’s female stars (King, Kurylenko, and Ngô Thanh Vân) transcend any question in that direction. This film really does far exceed any low expectations you might have.
BULLET TRAIN (2022) [NEW IN THEATERS]
Far be it from any of us not to enjoy a highly stylized, brightly lit modern take on a hyper kind-of-Agatha Christie murder mystery story, a crime thriller with exceptional violence, charming characters, and surprises around every corner. Bullet Train might come off as a bit too “cute” for some, but in general, the film never ceases to bewitch its audience in its charismatic depiction of fate, good luck and bad, and twisted family obligation. As an action film, this one has clout as most of the Second Unit and stunt coordination has done considerable work within the genre in the past decade, including credits on John Wick, Hobbes & Shaw, and Nobody, among quite a few notable others. Bullet Train also seems to have been cast perfectly, from Joey King as “The Prince” this time (weird) to Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry as two clever assassins to Hiroyuki Sanada as the Yakuza elder to, yes, even Brad Pitt (who’s taking the “I wasn’t supposed to be here today!” trope to a new level). All of that star-studded action, and it has some really scary moments involving a snake in a toilet! Eek!
CARTER (2022) [NEW ON NETFLIX]
This is relentless action times a thousand. Take the energy of Hardcore Henry (2015) and mix it with the gore of The Sadness (2022) and you have an idea of what you’re in for with Carter. This film attempts to create the illusion that it is all one massively long take, and although the edits are easy to see with a trained eye, the successful undertaking of such a lofty filmmaking goal is not beneath director Jung Byung-gil (you know him from 2017’s The Villainess). What’s interesting about this film is how immersive it is, which can be attributed to its eerie similarity to an action-style video game. All of the explanatory scenes with dialogue feel very much like video game cut scenes, down to the offscreen voice of a handler that only our protagonist can hear due to a device implanted in his head. And just like a video game, the action gets wilder and more cartoony as the film goes on. Carter does suffer a bit from some confusing plotlines, but hey, this is pure eye candy. We can forgive.
day shift (2022) [new on netflix]
If you’re looking for a fresh take on the buddy action movie, Day Shift isn’t exactly it. Tired tropes and shallow characterizations do this film no favors, however, its quick-witted humor and creative action sequences almost fully make up for that. Day Shift is a movie about vampire hunters, which, in the age of ultimate romanticization of and personal identification with what are actually violent fanged monsters, is a nice change. Let’s see some undead carnage, shall we? Jamie Foxx is our lead here, and he spends the first half of the movie stoic as hell, which maybe isn’t a thing Jamie can really pull off. But luckily he loosens up a bit as he (and the audience) become more familiar with the supporting cast (Snoop Dogg and little baby Dave Franco). It leads to his character’s “loose cannon” reputation really erupting, starting with an intensely violent scene shared with Scott Adkins and Steve Howey in a suburban vampire den, and ending with a climax of Snoop joining the fight with a giant machine gun named “Big Bertha.” Director J.J. Perry as a martial artist and stuntman himself knows what he’s doing with these action sequences, and without them, this movie could be written off as a droll ’90s buddy comedy throwback. Thankfully it’s more clever (and much prettier) than that.
JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1995) [BLACK-AND-WHITE EDITION NEW ON BLU-RAY]
To just change a movie’s coloring to grayscale without rhyme or reason means nothing but a cheap novelty. But Robert Longo’s vision for Johnny Mnemonic was more than what we received in 1995. After studio meddling and arguments with his cinematographer, Longo turned in a kind of preposterous cartoon of a cyberpunk film that did not do all that much justice to William Gibson’s source material. But all we had to do was wait 25 years. Longo spearheaded a newly edited black-and-white blu-ray release that may seem frivolous to some, but those in the know can easily tell you it adds an entirely new dimension to the film. This black-and-white update, done with effort and care, strikingly changes the film’s tone into a serious work of sci-fi noir. The silly special effects are still there (the famous “going inside the internet” visual trope), but with the added grit and grain of black-and-white those effects seem more like a legit work of independent art. The “bad acting” is still there (sorry, Mr. Rollins), but in the light of noir, all of those melodramatic performances are instantly appropriate. The action sequences look fantastic, too, as well as the anime cut scenes peppered throughout them lending a more vintage feel (remember in the ’90s when MTV showed Astro Boy cartoons late at night?) that adds so much to the odd cyberpunk time capsule nature of this film. The dutch angles even make so much more sense now. This seriously is the version of Johnny Mnemonic we always deserved, and fans of this film will be so happy to see it.
SAMARITAN (2022) [new on amazon prime]
Superhero fatigue is a real thing, but fortunately for Samaritan, it’s able to rise above that. Presented to us as an isolated story without some tiring sprawling narrative, this graphic novel adaptation checks most of the boxes that are missing in the modern superhero saga. First of all, it tells us who our enemies are. Samaritan does not shy away from the concept of righteous anger or confronting the corruption of local authority, and shows us the power real citizens (mostly working-class) hold against a fraudulent government exploiting them. It also does not shy away from showing us the foulness of using violence to make those points. It shows the complication of our actions, which, even though this feels like a late ’90s/early-2000s superhero throwback, is refreshing in comparison to other types of moralizing that goes on in the modern superhero flick. Samaritan also wins points in that it’s a “kid in peril” story, with no kind of helicopter parenting in sight. In that regard, it actually seems a lot like Last Action Hero (1993) wherein it’s a story about a boy ignoring curfew and going on a crazy adventure that also isn’t bogged down by the chance of romance or anything else other than just pure excitement and adrenaline. Speaking of which, the stunts are pretty cool here (led by 2nd Unit coordinator J.J. Perry — yes, you just read that he directed Day Shift above), lots of explosions and flipped cars and fire and such. And if we’re sticking to the throwback angle, all our childhood dreams come alive when we see our hero driving a trash truck. A great working class nod, huh?
From Spencer Seams:
KADUVA (2022) [NEW IN THEATERS]
The bombastic and explosive stylistics of modern Indian action is limitless. It can easily encompass any scenario and any setting with that magical epic sensibility that never lets up. This includes the most mundane of locations, for example, church. That’s the crux of the recent Indian actioner from Mollywood (Malayalam cinema), Kaduva. A corrupt creepo of a priest moves to a new parish and the local rubber magnate is not having it, then there’s some beef with a local cop. The basic premise alone caught my attention. So far, I’ve seen barely an inkling of Christianity at all in any recent Indian action. That alone makes this stick out. Church life and culture are ultimately different, and the same. Slight spoiler, the predatory priest does get beaten so that’s fun. The religious interplay with other aspects of life and politics is engrossing at first then fizzles into not much.
It opens with the Catholic shuffle: move a creepo to a new region instead of inciting punishment or even addressing the issue. The corrupt cop becoming the real villain pushes aside the elements that make Kaduva stick out. As the two and a half hours run on, I just wanted to see over-the-top fights and sweet musical numbers instead of character and story. The plot merges into a mirage of melodrama with layers of police corruption, secret government nonsense, and not too much music. There are things that I like but it’s what is missing or lacking that is the problem. The biggest downside is that the titular Kaduva is slick and smooth and searing with sex appeal but this approach is best if the plot and melodrama work well; they work well enough. Other films like Pushpa (2021) do the “too cool for school” dude, but match that with a great plot, right emotional beats, and mesh of tones that this brand of action specializes in. There are some great and glorious moments throughout like when a drug-sniffing dog slo-mo jumps out of a car, and the final showdown at the Rakkuli Festival. Overall, nothing fully connects to something that interesting. It’s boilerplate, which is not inherently bad or good. Kaduva is not bad. It’s good, but the potential for more is hard to ignore.
FROM BRIAN MILLER:
Righting Wrongs (1986) [Reissued on Blu-Ray by Vinegar Syndrome]
The philosophical examination of law and justice in Righting Wrongs is hardly placed in the subtext, but the explicit conversations about it lay on a foundation of wacky ’80s anthem rock and some of the most beautifully choreographed slapstick martial arts you’ll ever see. The results of which really make this heady theme feel less like preaching and more just the addition of a level of startling cruelty to an otherwise jolly film. Absolutely a good thing; that is not a criticism ~ but it is such a unique way of telling a story it will leave you thinking about “deep issues” far more than any A24 film. Impressive to say the least.
Cyber Vengeance (1995) [Reissued on Blu-Ray by Vinegar Syndrome]
The target demographic for this film is historians who want to feel like badasses. Well, maybe it is more in the sub-sub-genre of historians who save the day, not unlike an Indiana Jones film or the nearly perfect Timeline (2003). In any case, this ’90s cyberspace-craze cash-in spends most of its runtime seeing a historian try to save convicts from deadly wars of real-life history recreated in a VR prison, bookended with a VR version of the Mortal Kombat video game. The pace is akin to a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat, which is no problem if you are a fan of any of the things mentioned already. If not, at least check it out to see a guy in a BDSM-styled VR rig humping a couch.
Prey (2022) [New on Hulu]
The Disneyfication of Predator proves to be more of a positive than negative, bringing in Dan Trachtenberg, director of the fantastic and scary as heck 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Streamlining the story and making it smaller than essentially every Predator film since the original gives the franchise a nice tone to move ahead with, and there still are some real stakes in the narrative, allowing for a fair amount of tragedy. On the other hand, most of the violence is just slightly offscreen and the narrative perfection has some of that Marvel “no risks taken” feel. And while the themes of gender and colonialism don’t have much new to say and thus chance a “preaching to the choir” problem, the offering of a Comanche-language version of the film is bold and pays off. If the Predator films continue in this more family-friendly space, that will be fine, but hopefully they won’t be afraid to try off-the-wall stuff as well.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022) [New on Disney+]
Unfortunately, the bulk of this show falls into that dreary category of “superheroes who lose their powers,” but the action scenes do excel in the later episodes. It is nearly impossible to detach any Star Wars show or film from the franchise’s heated history, so a shadow looms over this entry making one wonder if the purpose goes beyond redeeming the prequel actors themselves from a somewhat cursed legacy. It would certainly explain why Ewan McGregor is given so much to show off his acting chops. There is nothing wrong with loving those dramatic moments in the show the most, but if one wants cool lightsaber battles and the use of The Force to brutally smash people with boulders, it is here.
SEOUL VIBE (2022) [NEW ON NETFLIX]
Lifting heavily from your favorite Fast & Furious moments, Seoul Vibe‘s most notable form of homage is a visual style straight out of the immaculate Torque (2004). The editing and visual overlays aren’t as manic as the Joseph Kahn masterpiece, but they do create the sense of characters living in a music video world. Unfortunately, despite all the heavy-handed references, Seoul Vibe never finds any sort of momentum at all. The aspirations here are much more in line with a recent style of Korean blockbuster that is heavy on the ensemble comedy and light on the action, which works beautifully in instant classics like Extreme Job (2019) and EXIT (2019), but at best is just lightly charming and cute here. That all said, as a retro ’80s Korean period piece it shines. The selections of ’80s muzak/lite jazz pop and sporty fashions are fantastic candy. For a film that wants to remind one of F&F so much though, it is strange how airless everything is.
Can’t get enough Action? Take a look at the last edition of Round-house Round-Up for more!