Friday, May 27, 2016

Guy Movies with Active Brain Cells

Memorial Day weekend is a fine time to go see a movie where Michael Bay make stuff go boom, but if you're like me and enjoy reasons behind the boom, consequences after the boom, and some semblance of character depth for the parties involved in the boom, options can be limited. In honor of a very mixed year in popular storytelling, and the stupification of the male population at the tiny hands of a certain presidential candidate, I thought I'd share some films that have both action and plot, in honor of other people who have both testosterone and thoughts.

Terminator 3
So everybody loves the first one, and the second one had effects so suave we forgave the fact that they just happen to find a smelting pool off of the freeway in downtown L.A., just when it's time to kill the T-1000. T-3 generally doesn't get a lot of love due to some schlocky humor (The Termanatrix inflates her boobs to get out of a traffic ticket...why not just give her machine gun nips already?). But if you look at this entry compared to 2008's "Salvation" and the two-hour abortion that was "Terminator: Genysis", T-3 is a pretty solid film. Giving the T-X the ability to control other machines differentiated her from the T-1000, plus there was a top-shelf car chase, and at one point Arnold breaks a urinal over her head. Original choice of weaponry should always count for something in an action film.

The real coup is the ending though, in which young John Connor realizes he can't stop Judgment Day, he can only survive it. A summer blockbuster with the balls to end in a nuclear holocaust deserves a little love.

The Tarantino Collection
"Reservoir Dogs", "Pulp Fiction", and "Inglorious Basterds" are perfect films. Both Kill Bills and "Django Unchained" are near-perfect. "Hateful Eight" is solid. No comment on "Jackie Brown". Action storytelling was changed by Tarantino. He popularized the phenomenon of explaining the action after it happened, rather than before. He made non-linear chronology cool rather than confusing. And how about his use of music? Can you hear "Stuck in the Middle" without picturing Michael Madsden shouting into a severed ear? I thought not.

Many times, an action movie will benefit from low expectations. I didn't think much of Kingsmen going in, and now I check online once a week for rumors about how the sequel is coming along. The movie is campy and self-aware, but it uses wit to turn these into strengths. The characters talk about Bond and Bourne, rather than insulting the audience by pretending the competition doesn't exist. Samuel L. Jackson isn't a total black hat because though his solution is villainous (genocide via ringtone...they make it work though) the problem he identified is real (climate change). The hero isn't 100% successful, and there's likely to be fallout over his partial failure if they write the sequel well.

After Rob Zombie's use of "Freebird" in "The Devil's Rejects", I didn't think another film would be able to use the song again, but the hate church massacre in "Kingsmen" completely overshadows it. This is the most re-watchable action sequence since Quicksilver rescuing Magneto from the Pentagon in X-men. And at the end, the hero is rewarded with anal sex. Incentive!

30 Days of Night
It isn't going to be mistaken for "Citizen Kane" anytime soon, but this vampire movie won me over with a highly original premise: Eager to maintain the myth that vampires don't exist, a pack of them hunt in a refinery town in northern Alaska just as night falls for a full month. Sometimes a movie benefits from its timing. When this one came out, we had just been bombarded with romantic vampires of high quality (Anne Rice's books) and loooooooooow quality (the fecal smears known as Twilight). What was fun about these vampires was their savagery. They wore their victims' gore stains like war paint. Their leader was a sadistic philosopher of sorts, opining that the world was "only hunger and pain". At one point, one of his victims realizes she's going to die and says "Oh God!" and the head vampire looks up in the sky, turns his head around a bit, looks back at her and says, "No. No God." before draining her dry. Even an atheist has to admit that's cold.

Live Free or Die Hard (Die Hard 4)
Stooopid title, smart movie. Forget the atrocity that was Die Hard Five, this one nailed cyber-terrorism like no movie before or after it. There were multiple top-notch action sequences, including the terrorists opening all lanes of traffic on both sides of a tunnel in an attempt to mash Bruce Willis in the middle, there's a fight in an S.U.V. in an elevator shaft, and in the finale it's Holly Gennaro's husband vs. a Harrier Jet. Of all the modern fears, the most credible to me is the chaos a tech-savvy maniac could unleash. Tim Olyphant embodies that fear in the best sequel of the series.

X-2: X-men United
Here's to the hope that Apocalypse isn't as bad as its reviews. Regardless, X-men has been a smart series overall, and the crown jewel is the second entry, which forced Xavier's good mutants and Magneto's baddies into an uneasy alliance against a genocidal branch of the military industrial complex. The limits of each mutant's powers were tested against one another. Wolverine is shot by a jumpy cop, Pyro goes crazy and blasts fire at them, Rogue drains his power and calms the fire before any of the cops gets worse than sooty, Wolverine recovers and gives the cop who shot him a dirty look. The whole movie plays out in brainiac sequences like that, and the pinnacle is Iceman coming out to his parents as a mutant. Sci-fi social commentary at its best.

Honorable mention to "Deep Blue Sea", another one that won't be mistaken for "Citizen Kane", but give it credit for a genetically-enhanced Mako shark shredding Samuel L. Jackson in the middle of his "be motivated motherfuckers" moment.

Look for news soon about my latest publication, "Eagle Eye", the origin story of the sniper of the 99% and my attempt to add to the "both brains and balls" tradition of storytelling.