Search This Blog


Thursday, May 1, 2014

No Looking Back - A Film Review

No Looking Back is a 1998 drama about ordinary people in a small seaside town. It was written and directed by Edward Burns, and starred him, Lauren Holly, and Jon Bon Jovi. The story is about a waitress named Claudia (Holly) who has lived in her small town all her life, and is dreading her 30th birthday. She feels trapped, often looking bored while maintaining a polite façade. She’s been with her trusty and supportive boyfriend Michael (Bon Jovi) for three years, but cannot commit to an engagement. In comes her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Burns), who Claudia dated when they were teenagers, visiting home and intent on seducing her away from the small town with romantic dreams of escape. It’s a tough situation for her, to choose whether to have safety and security with Michael or romance and adventure with Charlie.

The film doesn’t seem like much at first, because it’s about blue-collar people in a small and boring town, but there’s something touching and emotional about it. The film captures moments of the town seeming like a dead-end. People at the bar gossip about each other’s business, Michael’s car is crap but he can’t afford to get a new one or even a good mechanic job, Claudia’s mom is housebound after her husband left her, Claudia’s sister is a struggling single mother, and Claudia goes through life with a look of bored resignation on her face. Even when Charlie comes in, he just gets a job pumping gas twice a week, briefly goes out with a teenage girl, and stalks his ex-girlfriend. Even if he brags about getting out, the small town is still in him, and he runs right back into his problems.

The movie has a fitting soundtrack. Sheryl Crow’s “Home” sets the opening mood for the movie, interpreted as a mixed love letter to a town that isn’t the best, but is still home. Bruce Springsteen’s working-class blues plays during a few scenes, and alt-rock bands of the day Sponge and Local H play during a bar scene.

Charlie is a dirtbag, plain and simple. He is trying to steal away Claudia, he antagonizes Michael, and it’s obvious that he only came back because he hasn’t done anything with his life, and Claudia represents something good and pure, like a love he can return to.

One of the surprise standouts in the cast is Jon Bon Jovi. Michael is truly a decent guy, honest and hardworking. There’s no false pretenses with him. He wants simple things in life: a good job, a good family, good friends, and a good car. Jon Bon Jovi really plays him with conviction and realism, and makes him a sympathetic characters.

Lauren Holly did well portraying Claudia. Claudia is sympathetic, but not very likable. She resigns herself to a boring life, but doesn’t look for better options or try to do more constructive things beyond working and tolerating her own existence because it’s safe. Charlie is clearly a bad choice for her. Claudia’s sister relays a phrase said by their father: “No matter how hard you try, you can’t shine shit.” Charlie is a romantic ideal for her, but would definitely leave her when things got hard, like when they were teenagers.

The greatly film underperformed when it came out, making $250,000 on a $5 million budget. Burns said that his friends joked around, calling the movie "Nobody Saw It," and Burns didn't make anything for two years. The film is now available on Netflix streaming, and is definitely worth watching for an intimate character drama.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Unhook the Stars - A Film Review

Unhook the Stars (1996) - This is one of my favorite movies about female friendship, written and directed by Nick Cassavetes.. Two women find solace in each other, as well as support, love, and friendship. Gena Rowlands plays Mildred, a lonely widow whose children are grown and gone. Marisa Tomei plays Monica, a single mom struggling to support her family. The two become friends when Mildred offers to babysit Monica's son J.J. (Jake Lloyd) while she;s at work. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement: Mildred gets to have companionship and to be mothering again, and Monica gets to have a trusting friend and support while working out her issues with work and her estranged husband.

What makes this film special is the performances by Gena Rowlands and Marisa Tomei. Their characters feel like real people, like ordinary people one would know. Rowlands excels at characters who are flawed and touched by life's troubles, yet always carries a sense of class with her, and a sense of inner pride as well. She portrays Mildred as a sweet grandmotherly type who enjoys doting on a quiet little boy, and is a sympathetic and kind person. Tomei is an underrated actress (despite having an Academy Award, she was often written off as a fluke because she won for a comedic role) who can play the funny best friend or the mysterious seductress, and her role as Monica is a great combination of being rough, sexy, and funny. A particularly funny and well-timed scene is when her profane and angry phone call conversation overlaps with a positive family conversation, her retorts syncing up as unintentional responses to innocent family talk.

Besides friendship, the film centers on Mildred's self-discovery as an elderly woman living on her own, and her life is touched by her relationships with Monica and J.J., as well as sweet and flirtatious moments with a local Quebecoise truck driver (Gerald Depardieu). It isn't often to see films that are about elderly people or senior citizens moving into the next phase of their lives after children and spouses have gone, and the film gives hope to the idea that a new beginning is always around the corner, no matter what age. There isn't a major plot to this movie, and there doesn't have to be. With a strong script and talented actors, just people talking about everyday stuff can be fascinating.

The Other Woman: A Film Review

The Other Woman (2009) - This was a very interesting drama, featuring an unsympathetic and often unlikable heroine. Natalie Portman took a risk playing a woman who knowingly sleeps with a married man, gets pregnant, marries him after he leaves his wife, and her baby dies after three days of life. Emilia is often cold, snobby, and deals with the grief of losing her baby by talking down to her 8-year old stepson William (Charlie Tahan), being irritated whenever he rambles, asks personal questions, or wastes her time. She's a really difficult character, and especially bad when she looks down on others while ignoring her own transgressions.

But the film has depth, and Emilia has to accept her baby's death while learning to accept her stepson, and own up to her coldness due to emotional trauma. The movie at both treats her as a three-dimensional character while not ignoring her awful attitude towards William (giving him ice cream when he is lactose-intolerant, giving sarcastic answers, snapping at him to shut up when he talks about her baby). She has to confront her selfishness towards her relationship with her husband and her part in the destruction of his family. The movie feels real, and took a chance on making a story about a difficult and unlikable character, especially a woman who would be called a "homewrecker."

The director/screenwriter Don Roos has a talent for making films with complicated female leads, like in Happy Endings or The Opposite of Sex. He also consistently works with Lisa Kudrow, giving her roles that were more complex and serious than the roles she played on Friends and The Comeback. I am not always a fan of Natalie Portman, as she can be very wooden, but this film allowed her to play a more human character, both good and bad, and to work with more depth and texture.

Brief Reviews of Films About Best Friends

The Sweetest Thing (2002) – This movie bombed when it came out due to a weak plot of a woman chasing a guy mixed in with gross-out gags, but the saving grace in it for me was the wonderful chemistry between Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate as best friends Christina and Courtney. The two have this banter of dirty jokes, girlie bonding, and support for one another.  You can really feel the deep history they have between them, from their in-jokes, references to past adventures (singing along to “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” from Spring Break ’94), teasing of one another about striking out with guys, wearing dirty underwear, wearing 1980s’looking dresses, and their own personal smells. The actresses worked really well off of each other, as if they had been best friends for years. The banter between the two of them is really warm, funny, and special, and is a highlight of an otherwise forgettable movie.

I Love You, Man (2009) – This movie had a good premise to it: a man realizes he doesn’t have any male friends and goes out on platonic dates to get them. Paul Rudd and Jason Segel worked so well together as Peter and Sydney, especially whenever they nerded out to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” bonded in the “man cave,” or talked in silly made-up words to each other, like “Totes McGotes.” The plot was relatable, as it can be hard for people to make new friends or find more friends of the same sex if they don’t feel macho or girlie enough in a general way.  Sydney helps Peter to bring out his looser side, to not feel socially awkward when he makes bad jokes or stumbles, and to feel good with a male friend without feeling like he has to change himself. This friendship is not a bromance, because that cheapens it. They do grow to love one another, but it’s not romantic or obsessive. It’s just deep best friend love.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Films I Saw at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater

Between 2005 and 2008, I used to go to this small indie movie theater on Avenue B in NYC called The Two Boots Pioneer Theater. It's long closed, but I really enjoyed it, and went whenever I saw a mention of a film that looked interesting. I should have gone more often, but I wasn't into cult movies or stuff that was weird for the sake of being weird. They played an interesting variety of films, and I saw them for a $6 student discount. I haven't seen another theater in the city like it since. So I'm writing a list of the films that I saw there, which is unfortunately pretty short.

The Warriors - 1979 retelling of The Odyssey with street gangs. I loved it, I loved its grunginess and sense of danger.

Hair High - animated film that is a cross between Grease and Carrie, from Bill Plympton. A really wonderful film, and I met Bill Plympton at the screening, where he sketched his dog character from his short films for me.

Bram Stoker's Dracula - the Coppola version from 1992. The print seemed to be from 1992, it was that dated-looking. I think the movie is somewhat ridiculous in its storytelling, but it looks like a 1920s silent film in a good way.

The Girl Next Door - Not to be confused with the Risky Business remake, this is based on a sick story from the 1960s about a teenage girl being held captive by a suburban mom and her teen sons, being raped, beaten, starved, and eventually dying of her injuries. This film frightened me to the bone, and is one of the most startling horror films I've ever seen. There's another version of the story as the movie An American Crime, but I don't want to revisit that story, and the big names in the film (Catherine Keener, Ellen Page) are more distracting than when I watched virtual unknowns in the other film.

Air Guitar Nation - A fun documentary about an air guitar competition in Finland, where wannabe rock stars show off their skills at doing air guitar, and are pretty great at mimicking the guitar solos. I even thought I recognized a guy I used to date in it, but I doubt it was him. This documentary played on VH1, so it's gotten around more.

Rock the Bells - Another fun documentary, this one about the Rock the Bells Hip Hop Music Festival, featuring the reunion of all the members of the Wu-Tang Clan. It was fascinating to see how the group dynamics worked, and seeing how RZA is like the daddy/leader of the group, while ODB was unreliable and difficult to get a hold of. Method Man and Redman make a great pair, and the others were cool as well.

Gloria - This film made me a fan of Gena Rowlands for life. It's an effective movie about a woman who has lived a hard life being a mobster's mistress, and is as tough as nails. Through tragic events, she ends up having to take care of a little boy who is being hunted by the mob for information his father had. Gloria isn't a mother in any sense, but she has this great relationship with the kid even if it doesn't seem loving. It is a fascinating movie, and The Professional was definitely influenced by it in terms of events and a relationship between a child and a mysterious neighbor who has criminal ties.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Favorite Movies of 2013

I didn't go out to the movies much this year, due to being busy a lot with work and school, and watching films on Netflix a lot. So these are my favorite films of 2013, in no particular order:

Don Jon - an interesting romantic comedy that explored unrealistic expectations in relationships, both with a guy's views on sex shaped by pornography and a girl's views on love shaped by romantic movies. I really liked the script and performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, and Julianne Moore, and found the film fascinating, talking about it with my boyfriend afterwards.

Prisoners - an incredible thriller. Even if I figured out who the culprit was midway through the film, it was still a well-paced and lengthy film that was focused on police investigative work rather than torture scenes (though there were a few grisly ones) and shock horror. Jake Gyllenhaal always continues to amaze me with his acting, and his dedication to portraying realistic and thoughtful characters, and Hugh Jackman is as versatile and talented as ever. I want to watch it again, just to get invested in the story because the performances were so good.

Now You See Me - such a fun and twisty movie, with a talented cast of comedic actors. I was surprised by where the story went, and how my expectations didn't go where I thought they would. I loved seeing the magic scenes and how the magicians pulled off their heist, it reminded me of my childhood memories of watching magic shows on TV and being amazed.

Pacific Rim - While I felt this film was lacking in some areas plot-wise and with the lead performances, I thought the CGI was fantastic, the battle scenes were fun, and Charlie Day was a major highlight of the film. There is a good reason that he is the breakout star of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, because, though he often plays crazy and loud characters, he has a sweet humility to him that makes him likable. I appreciated seeing him play an intelligent character after playing variations on "Charlie" in movies like Going the Distanceand Horrible Bosses.

Homefront - It's not a great movie, but I liked the classic story of revenge, and it felt like an old B-movie, like something Charles Bronson would have been in. Jason Statham did really well playing a dad, and I was impressed by the little girl playing his daughter. She portrayed a character that was intelligent and resourceful, was clearly her father's girl (in terms of smarts and self-defense tactics), and the actors had a sweet chemistry together onscreen. It was also one of the few times I've seen a bully being portrayed in a three-dimensional way, and the audience gets to see why he is a bully due to a crappy home life, and how he has the potential to be a good kid. James Franco and Winona Ryder were ridiculously fun to watch as meth head criminals, especially Ryder's character's ineptitude. This movie is good for a rental for any action movie/Jason Statham fans.

Man of Tai Chi - Keanu Reeves' directorial debut about a Tai Chi expert who joins an underground fight club. The fight scenes are incredible, with so many amazing martial artists, and the best part is that there are few jump cuts. The camera holds on the fight scenes so the audience can see everything in action, like how old-school action movies did it, and not jumbled up. This was a strong directorial debut for Reeves, featuring his friend Tiger Chen (stuntman from The Matrix films), and was a fantastic action film to see this year.

Fast & Furious 6 - I didn't realize until recently that I am a fan of this franchise. I've seen all the movies except for the fourth one, and my favorites have been the fifth and sixth films. The cast has such a great chemistry together, and the audience really gets the sense of them being a family, despite all being criminals who pull off crazy heists. I appreciate that it's a very racially diverse cast without calling attention or making a big deal out of it (the cast is made up of actors who are White, Black, biracial, Asian, and Hispanic), that they don't overload on CGI and use real car stunts and stuntpeople for incredible scenes. The fight scene between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano was brutal, in a good way. They fought hard, and were more like guys having a brawl than women going for hits and kicks from a distance. Their scene was easily one of my favorites of the film. I am looking forward to seeing the 7th film, though it will be hard for the filmmakers to work around the death of Paul Walker, since he plays one of the main characters and has close relationships with the leads played by Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster. Plus, Jason Statham plays a villain in it, and I'd love to see that when it comes out. 

I'm sure there were many other great movies, I just didn't go out to the movies much this year. For honorable mentions, I enjoyed This is the End, and thought it was hilarious, but it's not my favorite. And The Hunger Games: Catching Fire had some really good performances by Jena Malone and Elizabeth Banks, and improved on the first film.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Some of My Favorite Action Movies of All Time

I have developed into being a big fan of action movies. I love seeing well-choreographed fight scenes, intelligent and interesting characters, great timing with comedy, music, drama, and action, and seeing how a genre that has been considered dumb or brainless can elevate above those stereotypes into something great. I will go through a mix of obscure and well-known movies.

Die Hard (1988): Arguably the best action movie ever. This movie is nearly two and a half hours long, and I will watch it whenever it is on TV.  Not only is the story well-paced with great acting, but I love that almost everyone in the film, no matter the size of their role, is memorable, and gets a good moment. From the very beginning, with the man on the plane telling John McClane a method of relaxing after a trip, to the very end, where a dirtbag reporter who blew Holly’s cover gets righteously punched out by her, everyone stands out in some way. You have Ellis the obnoxious yuppie; the two Johnson FBI agents; the black computer whiz; Argyle the limo driver; Sgt. Al Powell as the only cop on John’s side; the Asian henchman who steals a candy bar; the loudmouth police chief who can’t make a right move; the German henchmen with long hair and kickboxing moves; John's wife Holly, who takes charge as leader of the hostages; Mr. Takagi, and many others. Alan Rickman’s screen career was solidified with his debut film role as Hans Gruber, and is one of the best villains of all time. He doesn’t even have a high body count (he only kills two people himself, and his henchmen kill two others), but he is intelligent, cool under pressure, and is funny in an incidental way.

I love the little moments of comedy sprinkled around. John in the air vent, mocking his wife “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs . . .”; Alan Rickman saying “Ho Ho Ho”; the exchange about Vietnam between the two Johnson FBI agents; "He could be a fucking bartender for all we know!”; Ellis’annoying laugh; in relation to a body that fell out of the window: “Who knows, probably some stockbroker, got depressed”; John being denied on his 911 call and being told the line is only for emergencies: “No fucking shit lady, do I sound like I’m ordering a pizza?!” “Oh my God, the quarterback is TOAST!”; and so much more.

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996): Such an excellent action film, written by Shane Black of Lethal Weapon fame and directed by Renny Harlin. Geena Davis starred as Charly Baltimore, an assassin who suffered amnesia, and who previously thought she was Samantha Caine, all-American housewife and mother. While she lives her life, she had hired private investigators to find out who she was before had amnesia, with little success. Enter Samuel L. Jackson, a down on his luck private investigator who helps her uncover her past as she, due to another accident, finds out she has incredible skills in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat. From then on, it’s insane action scenes as she squares off against her former lover, who is plotting with the C.I.A. to stage a bombing and blame it on Islamic terrorists.  While Davis had starred in the bomb Cutthroat Island (also directed by her then-husband Renny Harlin) as a heroic pirate, in this film she showed more depth in playing an action heroine and did some incredible scenes, mainly a pivotal one where she holds her breath underwater during a water torture scene and remembers more of her past.  

Davis played her dual role convincingly as the sweet housewife and the cold and ruthless fighter. Jackson did well playing against type as a nervous sidekick who is way in over his head with all of this. Craig Bierko was also fantastic as the villain. The film has had an influence in hip-hop, mainly being the name of a song by The Notorious B.I.G. for his album Life After Death, and rapper Tiffany Lane uses the moniker Charli Baltimore after the heroine.

Since this film, Geena Davis hasn’t acted as much, working to promote gender equality in children’s entertainment and promote positive female characters. I’m happy that she is acting as a hero for young girls, as she was in The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991): Brandon Lee and Dolph Lundgren were martial artists who showed a lot of charisma and intelligence in their action films. I have already reviewed Brandon Lee’s Rapid Fire and Dolph Lundgren’s I Come in Peace, so I won’t repeat it. They teamed up together for this buddy cop/martial arts action movie where they fight to bust the Yakuza in the Little Tokyo part of Los Angeles. Directed by Mark E. Lester, the cops, as usual, clash with each other from the beginning. Chris Kenner (Lundgren) was raised in Japan, where he has a lifelong respect for ancient Japanese culture and conducts himself as thus, disliking American culture. Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee) is of Japanese and white ancestry, and was raised in America, and he doesn’t have any interest in Japanese culture. They are paired to fight the Yakuza due to Kenner being fluent in Japanese and both being skilled fighters. The Yakuza chapter is led by Funekei Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), who is a ruthless kingpin that is also very reverent of ancient Japanese culture, using his sword to execute victims.  He rules Little Tokyo, terrorizing other gangs, and forcing control of small Japanese-owned stores. Kenner and Murata, however, are very street-smart, and often find a way around Yoshida’s plans to attack him and his crew.

The film is clichéd and predictable, but so much fun to watch. It’s best to watch it for the charismatic leads, the awesome fight scenes, and the relish in which Tagawa plays the villain (he has made a career out of playing villains, in Mortal Kombat, Kickboxer 2: The Road Back, Picture Bride, and many others). Other recognizable actors include Tia Carrere as the love interest for Kenner, and Toshishiro Obata, who many would recognize as the leader of the Foot Clan in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie. I highly recommend this film to watch, if only for one of the most “what the hell?” moments I’ve ever seen in a movie:

Face/Off (1997): Like Die Hard, I will watch this movie whenever it is on. For anyone who doesn’t know the plot, the movie is about FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) and terrorist Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage), who are sworn enemies after Troy killed Archer’s son, aiming for him. Archer captures and nearly kills Troy in a fight, leaving him in a coma. But Troy had planned a bombing somewhere in a major public space in L.A., and Archer has to find out where the bomb is. So, due to some scientists’ experiment, Archer undergoes a face transplant operation with Troy, including changing his voice, to get instated into the prison where Troy’s brother Pollux is at, in order to learn the location of the bomb. So now Nicholas Cage is playing Sean Archer, and after Castor Troy wakes up, has his face replaced with Sean Archer’s, and kills the scientists. John Travolta is now playing Castor Troy. Both actors give excellent performances playing dual roles, and being completely convincing in both.

The film is staged magnificently, thanks to the talent of John Woo as director. The film features many of his well-known trademarks: gun fu, doves, Mexican standoffs, long dark trench coats waving in the wind, and battles in a church. The film shares a resemble to Woo's 1992 action masterpiece Hard Boiled, in which Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung play cop and criminal who share a love/hate relationship. A memorable scene in the film was the hospital shootout scene, both for storyline, technical flair (pacing between slow motion and regular speed, all shot in one take, the room being re-arranged by crew members to appear as a different floor while the heroes are in an elevator ), and dangerous stunt work. In Face/Off, try to count how many times the full names of Castor Troy or Sean Archer are said. If you try a drinking game, you'll be passed out before the film ends. On another note, whenever I take a plane and have to walk out to the plane, I always wanted to enter like this (skip to 1:20)

Unleashed (2005) In 2005, I felt like seeing an action movie, and figured this would be dumb fun. I was completely wrong. Jet Li was fantastic in this film, not just as a martial artist, but as a dramatic actor as well. This film surprised me at how touching it was, and how it used martial arts not just as a weapon of defense, but as the evolution of a character. Directed by Louis Leterrier, Unleashed is about a young man named Danny who is literally treated like an attack dog by a British loan shark (Bob Hoskins) He was raised by them, and has the mentality of both a child and an abused dog.  He wears a collar, and only when it is taken off does he uses his violent fighting skills against men who owe the gangster money. He cannot think far beyond what he is trained to do. But when the collar is on, Danny is subservient and quiet. Through circumstances, Danny meets a blind piano tuner named Sam (Morgan Freeman) who treats him with kindness and invites him to live with him and his stepdaughter Victoria. Danny learns how to socialize and to live as a human in the regular world, and Jet Li played this role with a lot of tenderness and sensitivity. The scenes of him confusing words like “sweet” to describe ice cream or a kiss are nice, and while I had heard of Jet Li casually from Lethal Weapon 4, this was the first time I’d ever seen one of his movies. Morgan Freeman is relaxed in his role, and brings a lot of warmth to Sam. Naturally, the gangsters want Danny back, and it is a battle between staying with this safe family and avoiding capture to be turned into an attack dog again. I don’t even watch this film for the fight scenes, because they aren’t heroic fight scenes, they’re more like dog fight scenes, more brutal and exploitative, which was the point. I watch it for the scenes of Danny with his new family, and re-discovering the world in all of its joys and splendors. I highly recommend this film.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (1990) I saw this when I was seven years old in the theater, and I thought it was amazing. I loved how the film made New York City look so dirty and grimy, how rough around the edges it was, how obviously low-budget it was (despite having the talents of the Muppet Workshop for the turtle heads), and how it was a kids’ movie that wasn’t afraid to put violence and mild cursing into it. I had a serious crush on Elias Koteas on this film, he was the first movie actor I ever found sexy/attractive. I won’t go over the plot, almost everyone knows who the Turtles are. It also had my other future movie crush in it, too, Sam Rockwell, as a young punk leading kids around the underground playground where delinquent teens hang out at, with video arcades, billiards, cigarettes, beer, and ninja training. It was just an excellent movie to see as a kid, and once every few years, I will still watch it and enjoy my nostalgia.

Blade (1998) Blade has been credited in popularizing the comic-to-movie boom of the 2000s, and I definitely agree. What is great about it is that Blade was an obscure character, who looked more like a pimp circa the blaxploitation era, and the film turned him into an intelligent and stoic fighter. A lot of credit goes to the writer David S. Goyer, who wanted to make Blade a serious character, not a spoof like how New Line Cinema wanted. He turned Blade into a respectable action hero, and brought to the screen one of the few black comic book superheroes that has been seen in mainstream films. Credit also goes to Wesley Snipes. Not only for his iconic performance, but because Blade is very close to his heart, and a lot of the instincts and characterizations of the role are from him. Snipes is a highly trained martial artist, with black belts in Shotokan karate and Hapkido, and is skilled in kung fu, weaponry, capoeira, and Brazilian ju-jitsu. The film itself, while dated in some parts due to special effects and 1990s techno music, still stands out as a masterpiece. I love Kris Kristofferson as Whistler. He has a great sense of humor, treats Blade like his son, has great hair and a killer look, and can hold his own in a fight. Similarly, I liked N’Bushe Wright as Dr. Karen Jenson, an intelligent woman who acts as the audience’s POV, and is never turned into a romantic interest for Blade. And I was surprised by how well Stephen Dorff did in this film. Normally he looks like a spoiled punk to me, but that worked great for him in this film. Deacon Frost, in this film, is a annoying little ass who wants to control the vampires, and has a preposterous plan for doing so (See Daywalkers if you’d like to see how Frost’s plan would have worked in reality). He has some really funny moments, especially one where he mocks Blade’s fighting style with his swords and turns and such. Donal Logue was excellent as Quinn, one of Frost’s minions. He constantly gets maimed in the movie, and his growing frustration was hilarious.

I also recommend Blade II, and it’s a toss-up as to which film I think is better. I am a big fan of both films. Blade is a great introduction, has memorable characters, and awesome fight scenes. Blade II umps the ante, with having super-vampires who feed on both humans and vampires, and Blade needing to work with a team instead of alone. That film's strong cast included Leonor Varela, Ron Perlman, and Donnie Yen, and was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who has a nerdy passion for comic books and horror stories. For Blade Trinity, I like to pretend it never happened, though Ryan Reynolds had some good comic moments in it. It was just a mess that needed a better director and a more interesting storyline. I don’t blame Wesley Snipes for refusing to participate fairly on-set or only appearing for his close-ups, it really didn’t do the series justice. Hopefully now that he’s released from prison and will be in the next Expendables movie, the audience will get to see him return to fine form.

Death Proof (2007): This film was directed by Quentin Tarantino, and was one half of the film Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror being the other half. A tribute to low-budget grindhouse movies of the 1970s, Death Proof has gorgeous women, fast cars, shootouts, great music, and is a fun throwback to the old B-movies that Tarantino obviously loves (and in some cases, rips off of). The plot focuses on a serial killer named Stuntman Mike (an excellent Kurt Russell), who gets off on killing women with his stunt car, in which he is protected from damage. He does this to a group of women who had been partying in a bar for hours, and their deaths are blamed on their alcohol intake, while Mike, being sober, gets off scot-free. But he meets his match when he tries the same thing on a group of much stronger women, two of which are trained stuntwomen who can handle guns, cars, and fights. Tarantino specifically wrote one role for a stuntwoman he worked with, Zoe Bell, who doubled for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (and for Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess). He had her play herself, and she is incredibly natural and fun to watch. The car chase scene, which goes on for nearly 20 minutes, is incredible to watch, both in Bell’s fearlessness in riding on top of the car hood, and the amount of terror the scene generates.  The film’s second half is incredibly satisfying to watch Stuntman Mike get his comeuppance and be out-matched by these steely women.

Maniac Cop 2 (1990): I caught this movie on TV last year, and was blown away by how dark and gritty this low-budget action movie is. Directed by William Lustig and written by Larry Cohen (who wrote the awesome 80’s horror comedy The Stuff), Maniac Cop 2 continues on the story of a serial killer who poses as a police officer, and survived his death at the end of the first movie. This film stars Robert Davi as Det. Sean McKinney, and his partner Susan Riley, played by Claudia Christian of Babylon 5 fame. They go through the dark and mean streets of New York to catch this killer, but keep missing him as he strikes again and again. The film, from its title and premise, would seem like an awful film, but it is very well-written, genuinely scary in a realistic way (especially given the time when New York was at its heights of crime) and Davi and Christian are excellent leads in the film. One of the standout scenes in the film is where Susan is handcuffed to the steering wheel of a runaway car, outside of the car door, and is being dragged alongside the car as it veers out of control on a highway. She must get herself inside the car to control it, but could easily be dragged  for miles and be killed. It is one of the most inventive action scenes I’ve ever seen, and kudos to the stunt coordinator, stuntwoman, and Claudia Christian for pulling this scene off:

Blood and Bone (2009) This martial arts film, directed by Ben Ramsey and written by Michael Andrews, is a low-budget direct-to-DVD action movie starring Michael Jai White as an ex-convict named Bone who does organized street fights in order to get money for revenge for a fellow inmate’s incarceration and death. The film has echoes of Hard Times and Lionheart regarding a drifter doing organized street fights for cash, and while the plotline isn’t original, the fight scenes are fantastic. What is great about them is that the scenes are shown in all their glory, with the camera pulled back, shot in one take, and no special effects or camera tricks. White is an exceptional martial artist, and the scenes highlight his talents, especially a set-up for him to fight several guys in a role as the camera pulls back, finishing in a quadruple kick, and landing right in front of the camera, at 1:25.

The acting is good from White, who has the talent and looks for a leading man action star, but I was also pleasantly surprised by Eamonn Walker, who played the villain James, an eloquent crime boss who is an expert swordsman, and a fearful individual. As the film progresses, James’ debonair attitude slowly disintegrates as he becomes more angry and unhinged, and it becomes his downfall. He lets anger get the best of him, whereas Bone is more calm and composed throughout the fights. There are some faults with the film. The music can sound very cheap at times, the audience never finds out why Bone was in prison, and Dante Basco can be a little annoying as a loud-mouth sidekick of Bone’s. But otherwise, it is a fantastic martial arts film, one which can easily be found on Youtube or Netflix.