2nd Chance Theater: ACTION MOVIE MAY Edition
Sometimes movies fall through the cracks. Bad press, confusing trailers, not enough money for a super-wide release, behind the scenes politicking at studios, money not coming through, etc, there are a myriad of reasons for movies to not get the eyes on them that they so richly deserve.
That’s where Nonstop Karate comes in: we give movies that deserve a wider audience for whatever reason: they’re actually good; it’s so bad it must be seen to be believed; a great actor’s early work; here there be ‘splosions, etc.
And we’re back. I’d like to thank Nicholas G. Allen for filling in for me last week. As much as I love ACTION MOVIE MAY and as hard as it may be to believe, writing from the POV of Michael Bay and short stories about me take a lot of work, and I have…you see…I, uh…
Sorry. I just realized that the two most-read works of mine are Michael Bay fan fiction and Matt Loman fan fiction.
Wow. Give me a second.
Okay, I’m good.
I needed a little break from the relentless pace that is ACTION MOVIE MAY, and Nick stepped up.
This may come as a shock to some of you, but my taste in movies is not shared by anyone. Ever. It turns out that some of my favorite movies are not given the same respect by some people,or some people haven’t even seen many of them. Okay, most people haven’t seen them.
I know. I can’t even believe it, either. I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that many movies that I will watch over and over again aren’t held in the same regard by many of my esteemed peers.
What a bunch of fuckers.
In preparation I marathon’ed a bunch of under-appreciated action classics alone because that’s how dedicated I am, and also because all my friends were out doing stuff.
With girls. Which is, you know, whatever, right?
I’m ever so lonely. Give me a sec.
Ahem, so here we are, redeeming movies that may not be classics (yet), but certainly deserve a chance to stand on their own merits and be judged properly and not consigned to the trashcan of history simply because no one knew about them, or couldn’t be bothered to see them.
Thus a special ACTION MOVIE MAY edition of 2nd Chance Theater. Actually, I’ve only done one other article like this, also about an action movie. I’d like to do other genres for this series, but I depend on other people to tell me when “important” movies are “good.”
Demolition Man: John Spartan is a cop who doesn’t play by the rules, but gets results. On a mission to stop the worst criminal alive, Simon Phoenix, Spartan bungees onto a building Phoenix controls to bring the madman down. He kills most of Phoenix’s gang, and apprehends the criminal, but the building explodes and collapses during the fight. As rescue crews put out the fire, they find dozens of bodies, hostages Phoenix had taken earlier. Spartan insists that they were already dead as they did not show up on thermal readings. He’s arrested, and, along with Phoenix, taken to an experimental cryogenic facility where they will be rehabilitated by computers while serving their sentences frozen in stasis. In the future, Phoenix is thawed out for his parole, and it turns out his behavioral modifications didn’t take. A madman is let loose on a future that has outlawed aggression, violence, and red meat. Ill-equipped to deal with the greatest threat in the 20th century, the 21st century police force thaws out John Spartan to stop Phoenix.
“Send a maniac to catch a maniac.”
I know for a fact a lot of my friends have seen this movie because I forced them to watch it.
Yet, it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves by many people as a shining example of the action genre despite doing everything right. How do I know it does everything right?
Because it borrows quite a bit from the action movie nearly everyone can agree on, Die Hard.
John Spartan (God, what a great action lead name) is a fish out of water in a touchy feely universe world he doesn’t understand and doesn’t understand him. Tough New York City cop John McClane finds himself taken out of his blue collar roots and thrown into the finery of Southern California. Both our Johns are plain-spoken men who must navigate a world where people constantly blunt what they say or use doublespeak. Both men are the only ones who can stop a madman dropped into the midst of a group of people frighteningly ill-equipped to deal with their current situations.
Second, the villain. Hans Gruber and Simon Phoenix have quite a bit in common. Both are very intelligent, very capable, even-tempered men, and they both have a mission.
Many action movies tend to have a villain who’s evil because villains are evil. I love Commando, but the bad guy, Bennett, serves only to fuck up Arnold’s life. Sure there’s some bullshit about kidnapping Arnold’s kid to make him overthrow a government (single handed) but every thing Bennett does, every choice he makes is just to fuck up Arnold’s life. That’s it.
Hans and Phoenix however have goals. They are trying to do something and someone is fucking up the plan. That’s the difference between a good villain and a great villain. Hans wants to steal a shit load of money and Phoenix has to kill a target. Furthermore, they’re not sitting around waiting for either hero to come after them. You could easily make a movie from the point of view of either Hans Gruber or Simon Phoenix and it’d be a really good movie. Hans is planning a perfect heist with a team of professionals from around the world. Simon Phoenix is learning about the world, again, stealing equipment, raising an army and setting out to install himself as the undisputed warlord of the biggest bunch of pussies, ever. They have their own stories and their own character arcs. Rather than spend the entire movie trying to deal with the hero, they’d be perfectly happy if he was trapped somewhere, or tied up by rules and bureaucracy. Neither man lives simply to see their enemy die.
Finally they are both redemption stories.
I realize how silly that is to say considering Die Hard has someone rappelling via fire hose and Demolition Man has someone getting their head KICKED off, but it’s true. John McClane must prove himself not only to his wife who’s thinking of leaving him, but to himself. John Spartan must prove that he has a place in this soft, bloodless world and that he’s better than Phoenix.
The world they created for the movie is extremely interesting because it might work. Aggression, any stimulation really, is rooted out and the design of it is futuristic pan-Asian, sort if everyone in Blade Runner drove hybrids, the sun shined, and the hippies won. Freedom and choice given up for the sake of safety, but everyone’s comfortable and it’s an easy world in which to live.
Demolition Man features a very young Sandra Bullock, and the last bit of Stallone before he went off the deep end and things got really self-indulgent, and the two have an interesting chemistry. The naive Bullock was to serve mostly as exposition device/love interest in the script, but rather than tell Spartan about the future, she longs to know about the past. She’s after the adrenaline rush and it shows after every action sequence.
If that’s not enough they give you Wesley Snipes versus Sylvester Stallone. This is was fairly early in Snipes’ trajectory as a star, well before he was evading taxes and acting like a dick on set, and he throws himself into the role. He and Stallone have some great scenes together, and his athleticism as a younger leaner man up against the larger and stronger (on paper) Stallone make for some great fight scenes and juxtaposition.
And again, I don’t want to overstate this, but a man gets his head KICKED off.
The Long Kiss Goodnight: Samantha Caine is a teacher in Pennsylvania with a daughter and a very nice man in her life. Samantha is suffering from amnesia, and over the years hired private detectives to find out who she used to be, but recently resigned herself into not knowing about her past. After video of her in a Christmas parade is broadcast over the local news, a convict sees it, escapes prison, and attacks Samantha. Samantha kills the man with skills she didn’t know she had. At the same time, of the detectives she had written off, Henessey, lucked into a vital piece of information and brings it to her. However, Samantha’s old life catches up to the two as Samantha discovers she’s actually Charlene ‘Charli’ Baltimore and used to be an assassin. As more people come to to kill her and Henessey, Charli’s memory begins to come back, but will it be in time to stop their plot and save her new life?
I say this a lot, mostly to recommend a movie I know doesn’t fit the criteria of a purely ‘good’ movie, but goddamn, the Long Kiss Goodnight is a really fun movie. The plot’s kind of silly with a false flag plot to secure funding for fighting terrorists or something, and an over-the-top villain who thinks being ‘wacky’ is the same thing as being a unique character, but the movie remains intensely watchable.
Actually the bad guy, Craig Bierko, was in the running to play Chandler on Friends and he plays his role like a murderous Chandler Bing.
What saves the movie is the chemistry between Geena Davis’ Charli and Sam Jackson’s Henessey, and extended cameos by two great character actors, Brian Cox and David Morse.
The action’s fantastic, and since it came out well before the Bourne advent of shakey cam you can actually tell what’s going on, and furthermore, the movie manages to make Charli lethal but believable. Salt with Angelina Jolie, which is a nice middle-weight action movie, and the upcoming Colombiana with Zoe Saldana ask viewers to believe that a 90 lb. woman could krav maga the living shit out of full-grown, well-trained men wearing body armor, but Charli rarely goes up against men bare-handed. She usually has a knife or a gun, but even then most of her fights are snapping necks quickly and efficiently, not trading blows like in a sped-up kung-fu flick.
Geena Davis would have been a great action star, and it sucks that this movie never took off and that Cutthroat Island was unbelievably shitty, because she looks really comfortable with knives and guns, and she sells it well.
This movie came out right after A Time to Kill and was probably in production soon after Pulp Fiction which means it’s the last time Sam Jackson’s yelling was under control. Much like Pacino going to 11 ever since they gave him an Oscar for Scent of a Woman, Jackson keeps playing the role(s) that got him a lot of attention and a lot of acclaim. Here he’s still loud and abrasive, but its more subdued.
You know, as subdued as yelling and being a dick can be. Jackson manages to be both world weary and pissed off about everything and simultaneously in over his head at the circumstances in which he now finds himself.
Besides the action, it fulfills one of the biggest rules of the action genre: have awesome one-liners. Not only are the lines good, but they delivered with gleeful assurance by the cast. I mean, check these out:
- How many guns do you have on you old man?
- Three. One shoulder, one hip and one down here, right next to Mr. Wally, where most patdowns never reveal it, as even the most hardened federal agent is often reluctant to feel up another man’s groin. Any other questions?
- Yeah, what’s the weather like on your planet?
- Good evening, pretty lady. How ’bout some company?
- No thanks. I’m saving myself ’til I get raped.
- Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
- I hope not, ’cause I’m thinking how much my balls hurt.
*guy pulls a knife*
- Oh honey, only four inches?
- You’ll feel me.
- We jumped out a building!
- Yes, it was very exciting. Tomorrow we go to the zoo.
- Easy, sport. I got myself outta Beirut once, I think I can get outta New Jersey.
- Yeah? Well, don’t be so sure. Others have tried and failed. The entire population, in fact.
- Oh, shit! Ah, that hurt like shit!
- I know. That’s why I distracted you first. Same principle as deflowering virgins.
- Huh? What? Virgin – ? What?
- Read it in this Harold Robbins book. Guy bites her on the ear. Distracts from the pain. Ever try that?
- No, no, I sock ‘em in the jaw and yell, “Pop goes the weasel.”
-You’re going to die screaming. And I’m going to watch.
I’ll stop there, otherwise, we’ll be here all day. The point is, this is a very good, very well acted, very well directed action movie that’s been well cast and filled with fantastic one-liners probably because it was written by Shane ‘Fucking’ Black, who for all intents and purposes deserves to be the patron saint of ACTION MOVIE MAY even more than Michael Bay as Bay, and frankly my love of action movies wouldn’t exist without Black’s work in Hollywood.
Equilibrium: Mankind almost wipes itself out in the 21st Century. What’s left of civilization decides to band together and abolish everything that divides humanity and causes us to war: religion, art, political parties, and finally, emotion. Naturally there is rebellion and the police, who are highly militarized, spend most of their time putting down these people who collect art, music, and refuse to the take the emotion dampening drug, Prozium. They are helped by a warrior-monk like sect of their society, the Grammaton Clerics, who employ a new martial art, the Gun Kata which combines John Woo gunplay with kung-fu. Perhaps the greatest cleric to ever go in to the field, Preston, discovers that his partner, Partridge, is a “sense offender,” and feels. Preston kills his partner, but the next day misses his dose and begins to experience emotion for the first time in his life. Overwhelmed, but intrigued he continues to skip doses and revel in the human experience while trying to hide his secret from his family and an ambitious young Cleric, Brandt.
Let’s get a few things out of the way: first off, this is a heavily flawed movie. It takes place in a world where there is no emotion, but the only people who act like they’re not experiencing any are Preston, played by Christian Bale and his young son. Brandt, a young Cleric looking to replace Preston as the number one gun in the brave new world, played by Taye Diggs, acts emotional all the time. He’s smug. He’s ambitious. He’s happy. He’s angry. It boggles the mind that the subdued, dour Preston is under investigation and here’s Taye Diggs smarming it up like a motherfucker. No one talks like they grew up in a world devoid of emotion. Everyone says ‘feel,’ or ‘like,’ and talk about how events and interactions affects them.
Second: the new world is unbearable. I get that no one has any emotion and that’s why it’s all in dark, drab colors, but it’s a shitty police state. The fascist future of Starship Troopers and the conservative hippies of Demolition Man are alluring because it might work. You give up some freedoms, or in Starship Troopers case, citizenship, to live in a world that’s safe. Those are seductive futures. They’re bright. They’re colorful. People are happy, but under the surface something’s wrong, the question is: is whatever’s wrong worth ignoring to live a comfortable life?
It’s not even close in Equilibrium. The future fucking sucks, but unlike say Blade Runner where it feels like a natural progression of a world, everyone bought into the world of Equilibrium. It was built from the ground up by them, and it blows.
Third: the big twist? I mean, I don’t want to spoil it, but to put all the pieces into place and for everything to work almost perfectly, well, there’s an awful lot of ‘if’ coming off that plan. There were many, many, many different ways to get to points A, B, and C, none of it had to be pre-ordained or meticulously plotted.
Having said all that, the action in this movie is unbelievably cool. The gun kata is given a very bare minimum explanation about why it would be used and how it’s employed, but that doesn’t matter because it gives us an excuse to watch Christian Bale do karate with Desert Eagles. In a post-Matrix world, Equilibrium found a new way to do gun play that really hadn’t been done before: shootouts as hand-to-hand combat.
In many action movies it’s extremely easy to simply have your hero be a better shot than everyone else. Everyone’s firing the same kind of guns, hiding behind the same kinds of walls, ledges, and boxes, but somehow the hero shoots them before they shoot the hero. Bale’s Preston is unquestionably a better combatant than everyone around him and not just because. He flows through enemies, outfighting and outwitting them at every turn. There’s no fancy posturing, with all the combat being quick and brutal. Bale is hitting people to put them down.
The movie is style over substance with lots of posing from Christian Bale, but the style is cool, and the action original and interesting enough that you forgive it.
Most importantly, and I know I harp on it nonstop (karate): They. Pull. The Fucking Camera. Back. Christian Bale, or his very convincing stunt double are constantly demonstrating their martial prowess, because why invent a new martial art if you’re not going to show it off?
At the end of the day, it’s an interesting movie with a lot of elements that don’t work, and a lot that do. If you’re with a group of friends and you’ve been drinking or will be, you can’t go wrong with Equilibrium.
See you kids on Thursday,
Posted on May 23, 2011, in Lists, Matt Loman, Movies, Pop Culture and tagged action, action movie, ACTION MOVIE MAY, Action movies, christian bale, demolition man, equilibrium, geena davis, gun kata, long kiss goodnight, sam jackson, samuel l. jackson, sean bean, shane black, Sylvester Stallone, taye diggs, the future. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.