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THE DAMN REVIEW: Road House

The 80’s were a massive decade for action movies. I mean, the Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Rambo series were born, and huge crossover franchises like The Terminator and Indiana Jones came to fruition. However, there is one piece of 80’s action lore that stands on a different level. 1989’s Road House, a character study that ends up being an insane American kung fu epic. Strange how these things work out…

The lead in Road House is the late screen icon Patrick Swayze. He plays a fella named Dalton, a guy shrouded in mystery who has only a few known characteristics. Number one: when a bar needs “cooling” he’s the guy to call. Number two: you don’t want to be on his bad side. And number three: he may or may not have killed a guy by ripping his throat out in the past. Dalton is recruited to come on out to Jasper, Missouri to “cool” a bar called the Double Deuce. For those wondering what “cool” means I wish I could explain, but it’s never concretely defined. Combine a bouncer with a manager with a doorman? There could have been several other duties he could’ve been performing off screen for all we know, apparently he graduated from NYU. This is Dalton’s movie. However, a few other people do show up. For one, there’s Brad Wesley played by the late Ben Gazzara. He essentially owns Jasper and drains its local business owners of all of their income in an effort to build his own empire. He employs a crew of characterless goons that more or less do his bidding without question, one of whom happens to be pro wrestling icon Terry Funk. After a routine beating at the Double Deuce we are introduced to Dr. Elizabeth Clay, played by the stiff and leather faced Kelly Lynch. Dalton quickly falls for Clay for whatever reason. Not much else to say about that. And finally, rounding out the ensemble is Dalton’s mentor and friend Wade Garrett (eh-hem WWE fans) played expertly by Sam Elliott, who at one point exposes his pubic hair. What is with action movies hiring good actors to breathe life into their movies in minor roles? Is this a recurring theme throughout the genre? Oh, and there are also a handful of townspeople that factor into this. Dr. Clay’s uncle owns an autobody shop, there’s a car salesman, the fellow that rents out his farm to Dalton, a blind guitarist, and a handful of bartenders, patrons and bouncers that serve little roles in the film.

 “I don’t need a uniform. I’m Dalton.”

There’s trouble at the Double Deuce. It has a terrible reputation and fights break out every night. The bouncers thrive off of tossing customers through tables, smashing bottles and just revelling in the chaos. There are bartenders that skim the register, and others that sell drugs in the bathrooms. When Dalton steps in, he quickly puts his foot down on this behavior, which is the first act that catches the eye of Brad Wesley, whose nephew is fired from his bartending gig at the Double Deuce for taking a few too many dollars from the register. Essentially the entire movie is just a daytime scene where Dalton either pisses off Wesley or meets up with a friend, followed by a nighttime scene where there’s a barfight up until the very end. Dalton’s jobs pissing off Wesley include the aforementioned firing of his nephew, winning the heart of Dr. Clay for whom he loved, and trying to make the Double Deuce thrive, regardless of the attempts made to stop that.

Now this movie is most well known for its last half hour or so. Once Dalton has been tormented a great deal by Wesley, he enlists the help of Garrett to help him through it, that’s when things get good. Up until that point however, this movie is just straight up bad. And not just bad in general, but bad on every level. The action is repetitive. Swayze stops bar fights. Bottles get broken, knives are pulled, etc. There’s nothing worth noting in any of the early action sequences aside from maybe Swayze’s stance and martial arts moves. Speaking of martial arts, the movie really spends an awful lot of time focusing on Swayze, eh-hem, Dalton’s physique and workouts. There are three sequences that include him working out in some form or another, one of which is watched from across a lake by the maniacal Wesley (who also watches him fornicate atop his roof as well). But the last act does kick into high gear, in a sense that it throws caution to the wind. Dalton is challenged, and he never loses. There are several fires that are caused by Wesley’s main goon Jimmy, who looks forward to sparring with the great Dalton. These two actually have a pretty entertaining fight on the beach that separates Dalton’s barn from Wesley’s estate. You can guess who wins. Dalton then proceeds to demolish the rest of the goons in boring ways and then Wesley’s fate is in the hands of the D-Man himself. One thing that must be noted, and is actually the only legitimately good act in the filmmaking is the inclusion of Dalton ripping out a throat. They do a decent job of having barflys mumble, “I heard he ripped a guys throat out.” to the point where in every fight I found myself saying, “Will a throat get ripped?” The Saturday Night Live flick MacGruber pays loving tribute to this. Overall the action is generic until push comes to shove, which even then relies a lot on big moments lodged between boring kills.

“Our multigenerational bromance will live forever. I do know about the throat ripping though, I won’t forget that.”

Brad Wesley is easily the best part of this film. This antagonist shows exactly how little effort went into making this movie anything more than 90 minutes of Patrick Swayze showing off his skills and rockin’ bod. Wesley is like the old version of Francis, Pee-Wee Herman’s enemy in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. He’s goofy, stupid, and has all the money in the world. I mean, the first sequence we see him in, he’s flying a helicopter over Swayze’s barn with a tooth eating grin smeared across his face, and the second scene he’s in he’s driving maniacally, probably drunkenly through the road singing gleefully. And instead of having Dalton shot the second he starts screwing things up for him around Jasper, he plays along with Dalton’s games and ends up destroying several local businesses just to prove his dominance. Road House should be the story of an eccentric billionaire in Wesley, not in the boring and overly cool Dalton.

If only this was his face the whole flick…

One thing this movie is full of is hilarious one-liners. If there is one reason to watch this movie from front to back, it’s to hear the ridiculous stuff that writers David Lee Henry and Hillary Henkin (WHAT a female co-wrote this?) put in the script. We get zingers like “Time to drain the main vein.” “I used to fuck guys like you in prison.” and “Pain don’t hurt.” among several others that I will allow you to see on your own if you so choose to watch this.

I must admit. Road House is not worth the time. Having friends around, or maybe a mind altering substance, may make this movie can be infinitely more enjoyable. But it’s a lot of tension built up to have lackluster fight scenes. The one liners, Sam Elliot and the absurdity of Brad Wesley are the only real reasons to watch this flick. Even in the realm of ‘so bad it’s good’ flicks, Road House is barely par of the course. I know I’ll catch a lot of flack for that, maybe I’ll even get my throat ripped out. I’m ready for it.

So…what do I conquer next? Do I leap to one of the franchises I listed up top? Nah, let’s just say the next flick rhymes with The Funclown.

ADDED TO THE RANKINGS: Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott

(All images and video are copyright Silver Pictures)

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THE DAMN REVIEW: The Expendables

First and foremost I apologize for the heinous amount of time it took for me to write this review. There were several instances where I found myself writing and then just dozing off because it was so boring. There’s a line that must be drawn when reviewing glorified B movies, and it took me a long while to realize exactly where that line is. So again, apologies to those that may have been waiting for this….

When one thinks of great ensembles in film, their minds immediately jump to the likes of Ocean’s 11, Heat, The Departed, Crash and a slew other critically acclaimed flicks. Stuff that most adults could watch and say, “Now this is a piece of art!” When I think of great ensembles one film immediately comes to mind. And using the term ‘film’ is a stretch. We’re talking 2010’s The Expendables. A film that features more testosterone than a middle school locker room, more over the top personalities than a high school theater production and more “hell yeah’s” than a college frat party.

The movie is essentially a who’s who of action. First and foremost we have the director, writer, producer and star Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross. Stallone is no stranger to the genre, and he’s certainly no stranger to the ways of awful acting. Ross is the leader of a ragtag group that is equal parts biker gang, thrill seeker, and mercenary. They take money where they can and do whatever is asked of them. Most of the time killing is involved, intentional or not. Each member of the group exemplifies a few general characteristics, and their characters grow solely based on those characteristics alone. Stallone’s Ross is the leader of the pack, a man who has seen so much action in his years that he may just lose all sense of dignity. Then we have Jason Statham as Lee Christmas, a knife aficionado dealing with a one dimensional romantic relationship. Jet Li is next, as Yin Yang, the Asian karate guy. How politically correct. Then there’s Dolph Lundgren as the phyiscally imposing Gunnar Jensen, a man on the brink of losing his marbles. And rounding out the group is token black guy Terry Crews as token black guy Hale Caesar and Randy Couture as emotionally unstable Toll Road. These guys are joined occasionally by semi-retired Expendable Tool, played perfectly by Mickey Rourke.

In this scene, Rourke’s tool was enjoying semi-retirement.

With the team assembled, the crew begins their journey on a routine hostage rescue situation. After introducing Lundgren’s loose cannon personality by having him literally halve a man and attempt to hang a pirate, the group returns home and gives him the boot for putting Yin Yang’s life on the line. Shortly thereafter Ross is offered a job. He goes to a church to hear the deal and meets Mr. Church and Trent Mauser, played by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Without as much as a punch swung, the three icons chew up the scenery in what may be the best scene in the movie. Arnold’s Mauser turns down the mission because it’s too crazy, and obviously Ross accepts. So Statham and Stallone inspect the island, realize it’s a foolish mission and go home, wherein Stallone realizes that he’s left behind a culture that needs someone like him. Tool sits down with Ross and the two discuss a previous event that left Tool dead inside, and how he could have made a difference in the world. This is the one and only scene where genuine acting ability is utilized. Motivated by his friends words, Ross boards his plane to go back and realizes that all of the Expendables are with him. The rest of the movie involves waterboarding, men punching women, explosions and a flurry of awesomeness. Did I mention Eric Roberts and David Zayas (Dexter, Oz) lead the bad guys, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is their number one hitman?

“I’m down to punch a lady in the face. Who are you to judge me?”

Now, to the meat of this film. The action. As I said previously the first bit of action in this movie is a torso being blown off. And you know what’s great? Even though I’m spoiling that, it’s still absolutely awesome. The whole introductory scene does a nice job at placing a bit of a disagreement between Statham and Stallone’s characters at what is a better weapon, a knife or a pistol? This theme is the kind of theme that brands your movie as a classic. Screw man vs. society or the meaning of life, I want to know whether a knife or a pistol is better. Call me crazy! One thing that this flick does really well is diversify the action. It’s not like every scene is all punches or torsos being blown off. There’s a nice variety of things being destroyed, whether they be people, palaces, docks, helicopters…even a basketball gets deflated. Another thing that Stallone did was pair up the fights well. He knew that this flick was every action junkies wet dream, and he delivered the pain in the best ways possible. We get to see the two faced Gunnar Jensen turn on his friend Yin Yang and have the brute force of Dolph Lundgren take on the quick paced Jet Li. Pro wrestling legend Stone Cold Steve Austin gets to have a fist fight with mixed martial arts icon Randy Couture. Given this cast, we get to see a small handful of dream fights. Kudos must also be given to the inclusion of the characters in these fights. Too many action films suffer from generic action, people fighting each other, in this movie we see these generic stereotypes play right up to their names. The best of whom in my opinion is Statham. I’d seen him in more serious movies like Snatch and thought he was okay, but he really oozes action star. He delivers the one liners perfectly, has some killer fight presence, and just knows how to perform on the stage that is set. Terry Crews is definitely another guy that kicks some major ass and has a very bright future in these types of films if he so chooses. His effortless sense of humor makes Hale Caesar seem much more than a guy with a razor blade and a machine gun.

“Next time I’ll deflate all your balls.” is the actual line in this scene.

So the verdict is this. Understanding fully that you are going into a movie that was almost direct to DVD, The Expendables delivers in spades. There is some awful dialogue performed by guys who could care less about it, and there are some amazing action displays. Stallone picked a great team and used his immense knowledge as one of the forefathers of the genre to craft a terribly good movie. Testosterone for the win.

People have been asking me, “What’s next?” and my response is “It rhymes with Chode Blouse.”

ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin

(All images and video are copyright Millenium Films)

The Damn Rankings: Explained

One question that has plagued the internet since its inception is who is the greatest action star of all time. A fair question in its own right, but with a such a grand spectrum of actions movies, how can we judge these icons of film? Well I have devised a four elements that I am judging action stars based upon. Would you like to know what the criteria is? Well let’s take a look:

1. Screen Presence: This one is simple. How does the star appear on screen?  A good example of this would be based upon the 1985 classic Commando. We have Arnold Schwartzenegger one on side, ripped, looking like a boss. And then opposite him, the steam-filled Vernon Wells as the infamous Bennett. And with this I don’t mean to say every action star needs to look like 1985 Arnold, or NOT look like 1985 Vernon Wells (I think this blog post is the most times Vernon’s name has been used in a long time) as much as it means that action stars need to stand out in the world he’s in.

2. Machismo: The original working title I had for this category was ‘One Line Execution’ but to me that doesn’t handle it right. There’s a lot of notoriously terrible one liners (should Vernon Wells be brought back into this?) that are delivered so stupidly, with such lack of any true acting ability, that they are utterly ballsy. Now in that same vein we have legitimate screen actors who appear in several action movies (Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, etc.) who aren’t necessarily handed goofy one liners, but still deliver that…machismo. So to summarize, this is the badass-ery of the action star. If screen presence is how they fit into the movie, machismo is how the movie fits them (see Dwayne Johnson’s entire filmography).

3. Fight Prowess: Simple. How does said action star stand in fights. And I don’t mean ‘does he win?’ I mean moreso, does he belong there in the first place (oh hey Vernon Wells).

4. Overall DAMN Factor: This is a bit of an average of all of those with a twist. The DAMN factor is based on the visceral reactions these stars give in movies. How many times do they do something that makes me as a viewer go ‘DAMN!’ and possibly rewind it several times? You can be the worst action star of all time but one badass moment that makes me go ‘WOW’ gets you credit in my book.
So that explains what goes into the rankings…a few more bullet point notes before I start actually reviewing movies…

-I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what types of movies fall into the action category. Do the Rush Hour and Beverly Hills Cop series count because they are action/comedies? Does the Indiana Jones quadrilogy count because it’s action/adventure? Do war movies count? Do straight up spoof movies like Black Dynamite count? Do kung fu and sci-fi fall under the action umbrella? And my answer is this: I’ll watch these movies and make the call. If I stayed solely in the ‘action’ genre I’d get bored. I will certainly take  movies that are action heavy with real plots and legitimate directors into account, but I might avoid some sub-genres altogether so this blog doesn’t get too broad (Spider-Man is action heavy, but how does he fit in the rankings next to the Hulk?).
-Recommend me flicks! I have a handful of movies that I want to review, but when presented with cool movies I may have never heard of, I may jump to those instead of all of Vernon Wells’ filmography.
-Sorry Vernon, for saying your name so many times in this post!


Want to hear a spoiler for what my first reviewed movie is? It rhymes with Plexplendible.

The Damn Reason

Remember those lazy mornings/afternoons/evenings in college on the weekends when your body was still recovering from the previous nights festivities and all you could muster up the energy to do was flick on the TV? Yeah. Those were the days. Now, I was lucky enough to attend a university prestigious enough to provide their students with free HBO, so rather than trodding along through the world of cable, I got prime entry to the world of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Madagascar, What Happens in Vegas, Over Her Dead Body and a slew of other movies that I was not in the target demographic of. However, lodged between the chick flicks and kids movies there were always a handful of gems, many of which featured machine guns, awful dialogue, and explosions that looked about as real Jar Jar Binks. I know these kinds of movies aren’t gems to everyone, but to me, they hit the spot. And I think one reason why these movies stuck to me, and continue to, is because as a young person I wasn’t really exposed to them. While not to say I was raised in a strictly PG home, I just missed a lot of classics and as I grew up never got around to seeing them. So as I’ve gotten older and gone to the movies to see movies like Fast Five, The Expendables, Shoot ‘Em Up, Taken and a whole buttload more of modern action movies, some of the cliches and beats are lost to me. And I want to discover the best and worst of those cliches and beats. Because I’m a geek, and that’s what geeks do.

So, having that in mind, I also want to determine which action star is the best. I plan on devising a simple set of categories that highlight the best parts of each action star. Now I know someone like Dolph Lundgren is no Marlon Brando, so I doubt you’ll see “Legitimate Acting Skills” as a category, more like “One-Liner Delivery” or “On-Screen Presence”. And as I watch more movies, and absorb more of these stars, I can put my finger on who exactly is the best action hero! It’s exciting, I know.

So, sit back, relax. Get ready to read my thoughts on some of the best and worst action movies of all time. I’m going to enjoy watching them!

P.S. A special thanks is due to Blame Society Productions‘ Matt Sloan, whose web series Welcome to the Basement inspired me watch classics I haven’t seen. Thanks!

Bulletproof can’t come soon enough…..