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 brian miller:
FUTURE COPS (1993) [REISSUED ON BLU-RAY FROM PANORAMA CORP]
The most peculiar implication of Future Cops is that in the future all humanity transforms into video game characters. While most ’90s cyber-tropes are kernels of truth wrapped in dense layers of goofiness and naivete, this particular prediction is presented so casually that it can easily be missed. Yet, in the year 2021, with most people’s lives existing online, it isn’t far from the truth. That said, in Future Cops, the characters are literally able to hop into computer screens on a whim and can do all sorts of video game battle moves while in “the big room.” They are essentially invincible / got cheat codes for infinite lives as well. Yes, this is all very surprising to the inhabitants of the early ’90s, where the future cops and criminals have time-traveled back to. What is the most shocking though, is that no one in the ’90s notices that all these future folks are characters from the immensely popular video game Street Fighter II. At one point they go to an arcade and there is a Street Fighter II game console, so this isn’t some universe without SFII. It is just something no one notices, and definitely, no one asks, “How did fictional video game characters become real people in the future?”
AQUAMAN: KING OF ATLANTIS (2021) [NEW ON HBO MAX]
Animated action choreography that excels in excitement can be even rarer than live-action examples. In this new, very young-leaning offering about the dude who talks to fish, the stylizing fits so perfectly with the fight scenes that James Wan’s producer credit comes as no shock at all. His Aquaman (2018) is one of the biggest success stories of the DCEU films for this very reason. The other reason that film is so beloved is because it has genuinely gruesome Lovecraftian horror in it. So good news: the entire 2nd act of this new animated film trilogy is about a disgusting sentient island emerging from primordial chaos. This trilogy also understands its toddler+ audience extremely well and revels in butt jokes. So that’s the trifecta: Good action. Lovecraft horror. Butt jokes. This is a win in all classical categories.
RED NOTICE (2021) [NEW IN THEATERS AND STREAMING ON NETFLIX]
Are we tired of Ryan Reynolds yet? Hell, no! The comedic Canadian heartthrob is practically making it his mission to take over the hearts and minds of every man, woman, and child in our hemisphere, starring in no less than six major blockbuster films in the past 36 months. Red Notice is the latest action-comedy Reynolds has under his belt, and if you’re wondering if he breaks typecast at all, it’s not a spoiler to say no, he certainly does not. But like it or not, his trademark quips are part of what gives this film its much-needed momentum, along with some pretty serviceable action sequences that don’t exactly surpass expectations (think along the lines of mid-tier Fast & Furious). The plot is definitely contrived: a notorious art thief (Reynolds) gets mixed up with an even more notorious art thief (Gal Gadot), and they in turn both get mixed up with a federal agent who’s been framed for — you guessed it — art thievery (Dwayne Johnson, who manages to be both in prison and in a jungle, again). The three actors’ chemistry is decent, and it’s pretty nice to see Gadot get to ham it up rather than be held hostage by superhero stoicism. Some things to look out for: “normie” jokes about Etsy and The Great British Bakeoff, a brilliant usage of “Sabotage” (finally), and that guy you know from Silicon Valley doing his worst James Mason impression for his character (we think he might have lost a bet).
ARMY OF THIEVES (2021) [NEW ON NETFLIX]
We must first applaud an action film that centers not on a boarish bodybuilder with cool shades and a leather jacket, but instead a pale, awkward nerd who looks like he could have been a former member of Pet Shop Boys. However, beyond that, the applause sign seems to have shorted out because there’s not really all that much interesting going on. Army of Thieves is the prequel to Zack Snyder’s equally flat 2021 action-horror Army of the Dead, but with 87% fewer zombies. Aside from an entertainingly absurd underground safe-cracking ring (a competition that grants you an actual trophy for winning), and some very well-designed “taking you inside the engine”-style graphics, this film relies upon the most gratuitous heist movie tropes saddled with way too heavy a dose of personal trauma backstory. Granted, there are plenty of logical fallacies to pick this movie apart with, but even so, it makes for an enjoyable-enough throwaway Saturday afternoon actioner (with surprisingly little action). Proceed with cautious optimism.
THE HARDER THEY FALL (2021) [NEW ON NETFLIX]
This is one magnificent feat of a first film from director Jeymes Samuel. Full of stylistic clarity, The Harder They Fall takes us on a tongue-in-cheek journey into the Wild West to follow marauding gangs of guys, both good and bad, as they seek revenge and restitution. Harsher critics have denounced the film for its historical inaccuracies, however, it’s those kinds of people who have no concept of the cinematic value of revisionist history who insist things be boring. This film is colorful, even when it isn’t (a literal “white town” is a nice comic touch), and the world it builds is instantly believable, even if it is a tad abstract at times. What’s attention-grabbing is the film doesn’t shy away from violence, showing blood splatter as blows are struck and displaying the gory consequences of gunplay. In most Westerns, the cowboys tend not to bleed too much even if they’re shot, so it’s an oddly appropriate reminder of how powerful violence is inside a genre that typically treats it so flippantly. Another plus is the film’s anachronistic soundtrack, incorporating elements of hip-hop, dub, and neo-soul into this Old West world without seeming gimmicky. We’ll chalk that up to Samuel’s time as a musician and producer under the name The Bullitts – which hey, after watching The Harder They Fall, go check out some of The Bullitts’ discography. We recommend starting with this video from back in 2012 starring Rosario Dawson that first put Samuel on the map for us.
COWBOY BEBOP (2021-) [new on netflix]
An online acquaintance recently asked “Who is this even for?” in reference to Netflix’s new live-action adaptation of the beloved late ’90s anime series. This pretty much echoes the sentiment put forth by fans of the original anime, but what they’re choosing to neglect is not everyone likes to consume media in the same way they do. Case in point: me, Elbee. It’s me the new Cowboy Bebop is for! See, I never could really connect too much to anime (before you jump on my back, obviously there are exceptions), so an adaptation with human actors in mostly organic settings helps me feel the reality of this Western-inspired space fiction more than 2D animation really does. 2021’s Cowboy Bebop is remarkable in that it feels quite grounded even for outlandish circumstances, which allows for us to genuinely ingest a proposed future in which society has embraced post-structuralism and rid itself of certain moralisms so far that it seems everyone lives in a kind of laissez-faire cooperation. Sure there are martial arts fights and gun violence, but this is how the “New Old West” operates. The violence is there as a means to an end, but how the series presents it is artful; the action choreography and editing are cool and stylish, likely meant to recall film noir-ish tones and embellish the acid jazz-like notes throughout the series. With animation, literally anything is possible, but to carry the same themes over to live-action and have them play out in a new, exciting, enjoyable way, well, that’s saying something.
from justin harlan:
THE CHINESE BOXER (1970) [NEW ON BLU-RAY FROM 88 FILMS]
88 Films has just released a beautiful remastered Blu-ray of classic Shaw Brothers Kung-Fu flick The Chinese Boxer. Released in 1970, the film written by, directed by, and starring “Jimmy” Wang Yu is widely considered the beginning of the non-wuxia Kung Fu cycle. A classic in every sense of the word, it features much of what would become the tropes and staples of the Shaw formula, but with a darker, bloodier edge.
With more realistic violence and a pretty graphic rape scene (especially for 1970), the film is far less family-friendly than most of the Venom Mob movies or other such classic titles of the heyday of Shaw. Yet, the fighting scenes still integrate the over-the-top wackiness that defines the classic Kung Fu cycle and leans heavily on the trope of evil, violent Japanese interlopers – something that is featured in many subsequent films of the era.
All said and done, the film is a must-watch and the Blu-Ray is a must-own for the martial arts cinephiles among us. The 88 Films release includes a badass poster, an awesome essay booklet, and stellar artwork. Jimmy Wang Yu kicks ass and you’d be foolish not to partake in said asskickery, as far as I’m concerned.
DARK ANGEL (AKA I COME IN PEACE) (1990) [NOW STREAMING ON HULU]
Added to Hulu this month, Dark Angel (aka I Come in Peace), the classic 1990 sci-fi/action gem starring THE Dolph Lundgren and German baddie extraordinaire Matthias Hues, is a must-watch holiday film this season. Set during the holidays, the film is centered all around Dolph’s close encounters of the destructive kind. With a tough guy alien on the loose, a gang of high-powered drug dealers causing havoc, and a dead partner, Dolph’s Detective Jack Caine goes on a wild ride that essentially leaves him as Earth’s only hope.
Like cult classic Liquid Sky, the alien is on Earth to extract human endorphins. Unlike the aforementioned film, Dark Angel isn’t boring and overrated. Outside of the aliens and the endorphins and the drugs, it’s best to leave this one without much more explanation. It’s Dolph in all of his glory and truly must be a part of your holiday viewing this year.
“I come in peace!”
“You go in PIECES!”
Can’t get enough Action? Take a look at last month’s Round-house Round-Up for more!