Street Fighter (1994)
There are a bunch of things in this movie that we still find in big action films today. You have the world domination premise, a large group of people being held hostage, military might and way too many characters crammed into one installment. Even the fictional country/city setting and Bison’s superhuman powers at the end are typical of modern times.
Ok, there are key differences though like the lighter tone and overall casting choices. This movie also has a lot of gunplay which has diminished (or morphed into laser/superpower/magic blast battles) with mainly the advent of a flood of comic book pictures. Strange, you’d think you would want to have a lot of street fighting in, you know, your Street Fighter movie. But the filmmakers subverted expectations by going for something different and bigger than piddly skirmishes in various locales. That model had been done to death by that point (and extremely well too with badass shit like Lionheart and Enter the Dragon). So I appreciate the attempt at changing it up.
Screenwriter extraordinaire Steven E. de Souza (Die Hard, The Running Man, Ricochet, Commando, 48 Hrs.) clearly had aspirations of diving into the world of directing and saw this as his meal ticket. He probably thought of this film as a way of paying his dues and getting some experience before he could sink his teeth into something meatier. Unfortunately for de Souza the picture tanked and he only went on to direct a handful of not well known TV shit. Street Fighter isn’t poorly directed though. It’s the script (also written by de Souza) and the casting that are the real problems. Too bad Steven.
Look, this isn’t a good movie really but I had a lot of fun checking it out this last time. Everybody loves to crap on it but it’s far from the worst thing. It doesn’t commit the high crime of being boring which goes a long way. There’s usually something weird and/or semi-exciting happening. It doesn’t seem careless. It feels like they actually kinda tried and went for something.
Anyway, in closing I argue that this picture resembles something more of the 2010’s than it does the 90’s and that was interesting to see.
The Big Chill
Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi and Body Heat), this dramedy focuses on a group of college friends that reunite because one of their own committed suicide. They’re all in their thirties now and find that life is kinda depressing. Their college days were the best years of their lives when they lived together, ate together, slept together and got fucked up together. It’s about discovering oneself and reconnecting with your past. And seriously guys I don’t get why this was such a hit.
I’m pretty sure I get what the movie’s saying (your youthful vigor eventually transforms into self-absorption which perhaps allows for self-reflection) and what these characters are going through (a sort of early mid-life crisis brought on by the death of one of their friends). But my big gripe is that the characters aren’t any different at the end than they were at the beginning. There isn’t clear emotional growth. One guy possibly hints that he’s gonna scale back on the drug usage and one of the women might have gotten knocked up. Maybe. But that’s it.
I feel kinda gypped because of how broad the entire thing is played and how we supposedly went on a rich emotional journey even though we have nothing to show for it.
But how about that awesome soundtrack? Ooooo, the soundtrack. That’s the thing the film is known for, right? Fuck the soundtrack. A lot of the time it’s distracting and feels forced. It’s weird, the song selection here comes across as ham fisted by obnoxiously doubling down on what the characters are feeling, but similar selections and usage done in Dirty Dancing are genius. I think part of it is that Dirty Dancing actually goes somewhere and the songs help to convey emotional evolution. With The Big Chill it’s a series of scenes that could be placed in just about any order so the songs only seem to reinforce insipidly happy or sad sentiments without much complexity or even context.
I dunno, I’d say give this one the chilly shoulder.
White Men Can’t Jump
I genuinely can’t believe White Men Can’t Jump isn’t considered one of the best films ever made. Every aspect is fucking phenomenal. If you haven’t seen it it’s about two basketball hustlers (Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt) and Wesley Snipes (Passenger 57)) that cross paths and out of the games they play on each other and with each other they forge an incredible, yet fragile, relationship. They each have their struggles outside of their passionate athleticism and equally fervent scamming (which for them is inseparably interconnected) that both round them out and ground them. Without that the movie would be too hollow, so their lives off the court are wisely focused on for half the film. But make no mistake, basketball is life for these guys and they’ll always keep playing, even if it means their downfall.
Shit, I guess white men can jump ‘cause this was written and directed by a white dude: Ron Shelton. He wrote the really fun corrupt college basketball picture Blue Chips and directed the underrated cop drama Dark Blue. He also did the overrated baseball chick flick Bull Durham but I won’t hold that against him.
Everything from the script to the acting to the crystal clear editing to the skillful character development to the un-fucking-believable cinematography (so many beautiful slow motion shots of tight passing and gorgeous uninterrupted angles of the actors sinking shots for real), this is a masterpiece guys. And that ain’t no hustle.
Another solid action picture from Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins. This one involves Adkins crossing the border into Mexico to rescue his niece. He kills a lot of cartel dudes in the process and they ain’t none too pleased about that. When Adkins delivers his niece back to his sister in Arizona they have to defend themselves against not only the forthcoming Mexicans but a corrupt cop who also wants them dead. It’s as simple as you can get.
Damn guys, if you’re looking for action that harkens back to the golden 80’s/90’s era then direct to video (DTV) is still the place to go. I have no beef with newer theatrically released action movies but generally they have their own unique super slick style. Close Range goes back to photographing the fights in a flatter (but not dull) manner by pulling back the camera, showing the full body in frame and allowing the actors/stunt people do their thing. Florentine does employ some slow down and speed up but it’s minor and not done in the extreme way like you usually see it.
The fights themselves are all exciting and Jeremy Marinas (The Expendables, TMNT (2014), Power/Rangers (that short that turned the Power Rangers into a very dark and gritty concept, even though that’s not at all what the Power Rangers are)) did a great job choreographing them. The stunt guys really throw themselves into it and Adkins never looked better. He even battles an SUV on foot at one point, if you’re into that kinda thing.
I think my favorite fight though is the one Adkins has with the guy who’s attempting to avenge his brother’s death from the opening of the movie. The poor bastard exclaims “you killed my brother!” and Adkins responds “Yea? Well I’m gonna kill you, little bitch. Let’s go!” It blows me away that that semi-psychotic response is uttered by the good guy!
Florentine and Adkins have worked wonders in the past with Undisputed II and III and the Ninja movies. This is another triumphant notch in their belts. It’s not sophisticated in any sense of the word but that’s ok. It’s just a damn good time. I definitely recommend this one if you want a very solid, no frills, quick 80 minute action picture.