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Review Blackjack TV Movie 1998: Focus on the action and you will still find some enjoyment!

genre: action, crime, heroic bloodshed

Blackjack was intended as a backdoor pilot. Basically to see if it could become a TV Show. Well, the show never happened. Does this mean the movie was bad? Let's dive into this, shall we?

If the idea was to entice and got me all excited for a series with Dolph Lundgren as a badass bodyguard then it's safe to say this TV Movie failed. Can we blame John Woo for this? While he did direct and produce it and he does seem have his stamp on it. I don't think he was very much involved. It doesn't feel like a passion project or anything like he has done before. Even the Once a Thief show is superior to this. Still, I think there is enough here to at least warrant a one time viewing. The action is less explosive and hard hitting but I did found some enjoyment in some of the sequences. 
This time no pigeons, but enough gun play in slow motion to satisfy the craving for bloodshed. It is clear that the budget must have been super low as John Woo can't be extravagant and dramatic, at least not action wise. For example, in the opening scene we get introduced to Jack Devlin and his friends. They have called him into action because some thugs are threatening to kidnap their precious daughter. While protecting her his eyes get hurt. Every time he sees the colour white he gets blinded. It doesn't really make much sense to be honest. He is hurt physically, but the consequence seems to be psychological. It doesn't matter. He manages to defeat the bad guys anyway. After his recovery he receives news that his friends have died in a car accident, off screen. It's like a couple of months after the attack but Jack never questions whether this could be foul play or not. Even if it truly was just an accident, old school John Woo,  would have shown this. The death of these people would have been exploited so that we could feel his pain. Especially since he now has to take care of the daughter. 

But just when he is trying to get adjusted to his new situation, another friend (Fred Williamson) ask his help with a female client of his. She is targeted by some psycho. He declines at first. But then his friends gets shot. In the hospital he comes to the realization that he has no choice but to help out. His client. Cinder James, is not really stable at this moment and completely hooked on drugs. Jack Devlin doesn't like that and makes sure she kicks the habit. Meanwhile, the psycho (Phillip MacKenzie) is still on the prowl for her. In this film MacKenzie reminded me lot of Hugh Jackman with a hint of Jason Isaacs on a terrible acting day. Thing is that if he wouldn't speak, he would have been terrifying. But the guy needs to recite Shakespearean dialogue and overact like there is no tomorrow. A good actor like Anthony Wong could do that and still come off as menacing. Unfortunately, Mackenzie is like a cartoon villain who is incompetent and inefficient. 
Jack of course has no trouble dealing with him and puts an end to his terror in style. It's a little ridiculous how the bad guy gets defeated, since he easily could have avoided it. But then again, the film had to end somehow. As with many of John Woo's early films this one doesn't have much of a plot. And yet there are enough sub plots here to fill two seasons. It seems to me they were trying to set up several story lines and characters for the show completely hurting the pace and impact of the main plot. Not going to lie. Had John Woo been able to shoot more of his trademark action then this could have been a hit show for sure. As is, just focus on that and ignore everything else, you will be able to find some enjoyment in it.

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Review Ghostbusters: Afterlife 2021: Better than the 2016 version but also a misfire!

genre: adventure, comedy, fantasy

Another Ghostbusters sequel no one asked for. This time people were a lot more optimistic since this part was going to be the sequel to the original franchise and it seemed to embrace the nostalgia. Unfortunately, there are quite a few flaws to address. 

First the film takes too long for events to kick in. Now there is nothing wrong with lack of action and adventure but you do need something to make it worth your while. Like building up the main characters, building up tension or simply having scary or funny moments in the film to get you invested. There is an opening sequence that starts with the death of a prominent figure in the franchise. Only you don't really feel the impact or tragedy that has occurred. In large part because you aren't outright told who the figure is. Although I had a suspicion once Janine Melnitz appeared on the screen. However she hardly shows any emotion or sense of loss. She even downplays what the character meant for her. Perhaps this should have been seen as a red herring. Still, the supposed mystery wasn't that mysterious or compelling in the first place. In hindsight I think they should have shown her crying or worse. And if not in serious manner than exaggerated, at least we could have had some laughs.

Second, there is nothing original about this film. Almost every event in this film is lifted from the first part. Once a certain name is mentioned, you already know how things are going to play out. I really wished they would have done something new or at least attempted to bring in a new element or something more threatening. Instead it's a rehash of the same elements from the original without the humour and spirit Ok, there are some jokes but they are so flat and unfunny I couldn't laugh. Better get used to this because Ghostbusters: Afterlife is not even trying to be a comedy.

Third, there is no real adventure or spectacle to behold. There are like three big action / adventure sequences and only one of them came close to being grand. I said close because I had hoped it would lead to bigger and better events. But none of the events after this sequence were spectacular. At least not visually. On an emotional level a little. There is an ultimate meta moment where tribute is paid to that one figure I mentioned. One of the original team members who isn't with us any more. I liked it and thought it was endearing. Apparently, this was the biggest moment of the film and in all honestly felt incredibly underwhelming. Because none of it was earned. 

I really hate to say this since I was hoping for this film to at least be fun. But I don't think it's possible to recreate the magic that once was. Sometimes you have these films that should not have worked in the first place but did because of the time, place and people involved. Even with some people returning, there are so many other factors that are absent. So after two failed films it's pretty obvious that they should stop. 

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My thoughts on Remniscence (2021). Last Night in Soho (2021), Dune (2021) and Antlers (2021)

Remniscence was presented as this huge blockbuster film in the same vein as Inception. Premise wise it's not even that far removed from that film as well. Only the main differences are the style and genre. Inception was an action thriller and Remniscene is a neo noir with Hugh Jackman as the gumshoe on the search for his femme fatale. While Remniscence isn't short of ambition the scale is quite small. So is the impact. Not that there is anything wrong with that. However it takes the film far too long to get to the point and therefore will waste a lot of your time. It also does an injustice to the chemistry and dynamics between Jackman and Thandie Newton. The film could and should have been about them. Especially since Rebecca Ferguson is miscast as the temptress. She is not the type all men would go crazy for. Am I supposed to believe that a guy like Jackman is so easily impressed by a dame like that? Think again! It also doesn't help that the mystery itself isn't twisty enough. Film most suited to watch on rainy Sundays.

Last Night in Soho, the latest film from Edgar Wright, must be one of the most overrated films this year. Just like Baby Driver it's met with such praise while not offering anything creative or refreshing. It can't even deliver on the genres it is supposed to be. As a mystery it lacks red herrings, and as a horror it lacks tension and scares. A real shame since the film did start out pretty compelling only to lose me the second the fantasy elements kicked in. What should have been a thrill ride becomes a bore through and through. The late Diana Rigg is the only person who at least makes it worth your while. But despite her efforts she is not supported by the direction or story. On top of that the film tries to make a statement of some sorts. It's so on the nose that it simply fails to have any impact. And for people claiming this is clever. No, it's not. It's just a case of style over substance. 

Speaking of style over substance. Dune also prefers the visuals over character development, intrigue and tension. I can tell that I am supposed to be impacted by events and what the characters are going through. But how can I when it's not even that clear who I am supposed to be rooting for. Sure the film focuses on The Atreides family but there are many other parties involved who are just as prominent and don't even get the time and attention they deserve. Mind you, the film is not boring. I only didn't really care about anything or anyone. Not in the slightest. However there is one thing that I noticed that did have a profound impact on me. And that is how much Dune is similar to Star Wars. Or should I say how Star Wars is similar to Dune since the novels were written long before George Lucas wrote his stories. I honestly never realized that George Lucas stole so much from the Dune novels. Since I recognized a lot of the scenes and elements in the Star Wars films. That to me is the most compelling argument to have someone watch this adaptation. The story itself and how events unfold at least to me aren't memorable.

Ever since Antlers was announced, I was awaiting it's arrival eagerly. Especially since Guillermo del Toro was attached to the project. It was promoted as if he had a big hand in it. In hindsight I don't think this is the case. He probably only provided the funds and gave writer / director Scott Cooper the freedom to make the film he wanted to make. Too bad that Scott Cooper is a little out of his depth when it comes to horror. Not only does the film lack tension, it's not really scary. There is atmosphere and the acting is quite good. You can't fault the film to even be immensely psychological. But the pacing is incredibly slow and not a whole lot happens to keep you on the edge of your seat. This easily could have been terrifying yet fails to instill dread on the audience. It also does a real poor job of building up the mythology. It expects of you to already know certain folklore. But even then it should establish some rules. And it never does. Such a disappointment!

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Review The Matrix Resurrections (2021): One big middle finger against the fans of the first hour!

genre: science fiction, action, adventure

When word got to me that a fourth part was coming to The Matrix franchise I wasn't as excited as most were. To me, as flawed as the trilogy was, it was finished. Sure a lot of things can be done with the world especially in the right hands. But to truly innovate always was going to be an impossible task. Then again after all these years I did foresee some possibilities like blending wire-fu and gun fu portrayed in many Hong Kong films of yesteryear and now, and don't forget Keanu's own John Wick which was heavily inspired old school Hong Kong action. I mean the action could have been explosive.

Unfortunately, if action and spectacle was the one thing you were hoping for then let me help you out of that dream. It's almost absent. Sure there is enough to make the film feel like it belongs in the franchise. But it doesn't even come close to the action in previous films. Actually I am sure that this atrocity will make you appreciate the sequels to the original. Even when they in general were regarded as lesser films. Now, I was very aware that they were very limited in truly surprising you. The Matrix gave us special effects we hadn't seen before. There isn't much you can do to improve on that except maybe if you are named Rajinikanth with his Enthiran. It's an example what you can do with enough imagination. Sorry to say but one of the original creators Lana Wachowski lacks this through and through as she didn't even try to bring back the foundations of the original. While it can be argued that the story of the original was mind-bending, the main appeal of the film always was the throwback to old school Hong Kong action modernized with technology of today. If this is gone, what is left? The story. 

And you better bring your A game if you want to blow us away with a concept that on paper has many possibilities but in practice is difficult to accomplish. There are only so many ways you will be compelled by the notion what is real or not? I did like certain moments in the film where they do make you doubt a little. But then I realized it's all a ruse and mere deception. To be honest, I was fine with that. I actually liked it how Thomas Anderson had to re-learn things about him and the world he resides in. As simple as the Jesus / superhero plot line was it's a very effective one. But no, you can't have this without some woke approach ruining it for you. I am pretty sure they thought it was brilliant. Instead it made me feel like the whole viewing experience was one big joke.

In all fairness, I don't think The Matrix Resurrections is super bad. I was entertained in places. But it certainly doesn't come close to any of the previous parts in the franchise. Not even Enter the Matrix. That game sure had some impossible and tedious sequences. Still it also has some iconic moments that brought me joy. I didn't get that from this film. More the opposite. So yes, overall as a standalone film I am sure you will find entertainment. As part of the franchise this almost one big middle finger against the fans of the first hour! Not one I can recommend. 

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Review Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021): Even non Kung fu fans will love this!

genre: comic book adaptation, super hero, martial arts, action, adventure, fantasy

It's a little weird to see Shang-Chi pop up as a superhero in MCU because he is a typical hero that belongs in a Wuxia film. I have been watching Kung fu films since I was 3 so it's safe to say I am a big fan of the genre. However I wouldn't say I was cheering to see that genre get mixed into the Marvel universe. Because to me they are two different beasts and don't belong together. But to be fair Shang-Chi surprised me by showing it can be done and hopefully also has motivated people to delve into Hong Kong cinema.

While the film is low on story and true character development the action and adventure elements are extraordinary. I mean, Mrs. P. who doesn't like Kung fu films was on the edge of the seat all the time and kept saying how beautiful and awesome the action was. That alone is a victory in itself. However Marvel also has shown how a hero like Shang-Chi can have significance in the MCU. Especially considering his connection to The Mandarin. How this will manifest in the future is something I do look forward to. What really helps sell the film is the energy and dynamics between the main characters. Tony Leung is an excellent villain. Since he is capable of infusing his character with immense charm and depth. Leung is a master of playing villainous types in the most human way possible. And if you don't want to take my word for it then go watch Hard Boiled. You will see it for yourself. I also liked the chemistry between Awkwafina and Simu Liu. It felt natural. They are very good friends who have each other's backs. Very refreshing to see they aren't a couple. Although if eventually they do become one I don't think it would be that weird since that happens a lot. 

Despite many of the fantasy elements I liked how most of the action was grounded in reality. It is very similar to old school Jackie Chan which shouldn't be that surprising since Brad Allan who was an action director on this film also was a member of Jackie Chan Stunt Team. Sadly was, because he passed away in August this year at age 48 due to an illness.

Last but not least is the soundtrack. It has many themes that will keep playing in your head and pumping you up. Besides, hearing the themes will immediately transform you those moments in the film when played. Soundtracks of films should be memorable like this. There are too many tunes nowadays that are too generic for their own good and therefore I will always applaud compositions which are integral to the viewing experience.

Overall a very good entry in the MCU and a must watch for sure!

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Review Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021): It's basically a rom com!

genre: comic book adaptation, super heroes, action, adventure, science fiction

This second outing is proof Sony doesn't care about Venom and simply is using the character to milk his popularity. The same goes for Carnage.

Once upon a time when I was reading a lot of Marvel comics, including the many editions featuring Spider-Man, Carnage meant something. It was a force so strong and evil that Spider-Man had to call upon Venom to aid him in beating him. Venom already was quite the villain. He had no trouble eating people. To be fair, the symbiote needs blood in order to survive, so it's not like Eddie Brock has that much of a choice. Also I do remember him being far more unstable than how he is portrayed in the live action films. Brock didn't seem to mind consuming people at all. Enter Carnage. A psychotic serial killer with no inhibitions whatsoever. He certainly lived up to his name and caused death and chaos to such extent that the world started to crumble and many other super heroes had to step in trying to remedy the evil spawned by Carnage. Even Venom was like, this is too much. Add the fact that Spider-Man, Venom and Carnage are connected made things so much more compelling and exciting. I mean it's almost endearing to hear Carnage call Venom, dad. That would make Spider-Man his granddad. In a way had Spider-Man never needed to repair his original suit in The Secret Wars both Venom and Carnage would not have existed.

None of the above is in the film. Sure Venom is put against Carnage but there is zero tension or excitement attached to it. The rom com antics between Venom and Eddie Brock were more entertaining than Carnage and whatever he was trying to do in the film. But that is not what I had signed up for. I know that with Spider-Man not being involved they had to find another way to up the ante. Only what they opted for was a bleak and very minimal version of carnage. There is almost no death in the film. And undoubtedly that is because of the PG-rating. However the fact that there is no real urgency to events, is the biggest problem. On top of that the action and spectacle also is disappointing. I mean the CGI is superb. Both Venom and Carnage look real good. However they never are scary or menacing. It's that one element which is very crucial to what they are about. If you take that away there is nothing.

And this is how you should view this film. It's basically a one off film where versions of Venom and Carnage are featured who don't even come close to the original characters. Entertaining while it lasts, but immensely forgettable. 

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Review Long Arm of the Law II a.k.a. Sang gong kei bing 2 (1987): Simple story but with many redeeming elements!

genre: heroic bloodshed, action, crime

Long Arm of the Law II is a sequel in name only as much as the third part in the franchise. I guess it's not so much about the characters arcs but more about the theme that is similar. Bunch of mainland guys trying to make it big in Hong Kong and then get more than they bargained for. I guess this is something that will never truly disappear. Most people have ambitions and dreams and for whatever reason they think it will be easier to achieve these in big cities or regions like Hong Kong. Usually they will realize it's just as hard or even harder.

Crime is rampant in Hong Kong and normal police tactics have failed. In order to be more efficient, the police have opted the use of mainland police officers to go undercover and infiltrate the gangs that are causing the new crime wave. Yes, a trope that has been done to death and therefore not really that compelling. If not for the the three officers played by Elvis Tsui, Ben Lam and Yuen Yat Chor. Somehow they managed to do a lot with their characters even if they have not been given that much to do with plot wise. For me personally Elvis Tsui really stuck out. I mainly know him from playing big stubborn brutes often with some moral code but mostly being super rigid and difficult. In this film he is more laid back, subtle and immensely likable. I think this must be one of his finest performances ever. In that regard he definitely is one of the highlights in this film.

Like I said the plot about taking on crime is not that interesting but it does enough to make the events and action sequences more compelling and intense. Especially when things go wrong. Next to well choreographed action, there is a lot of great stunt work. The clever editing even makes it seem that a majority of the characters are super men and won't break their bones. Like the third part there is a level of grittiness and sadism infused in the film. One scene in particular is pretty brutal but very effective. It really helps to make you root against the villains of the story. The pacing is perfect. I didn't notice any slow down. For a plot this minimal and lacking that is a real accomplishment.

Overall this definitely is one of the better heroic bloodshed titles that has aged well. One I can recommend!

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Review Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy a.k.a. Shi tu xing zhe 2: Die ying xing dong (2019): Awesome action flick!

genre: bullet ballet, action, crime, thriller

Normally I don't dive into sequels without having seen the original. But then I read that the actors who were in the original are playing different characters in a separate story which has little to do with the original and the show it's based on. So I took a chance. And I am very glad I did.

Honestly when I read the premise regarding the plot concerning corrupt cops and agents I immediately was skeptical since Hong Kong crime and action flicks have been doing this thing since forever. And only a few of them actually had a plot or substance to match the action that was heavily featured in them. This is no different. Actually while tonally this seems like a modern and sophisticated thriller it does feel more like an Eighties or Nineties action flick where the plot is in service of the action. Granted the plot is very convoluted and far too confusing for it's own good. But I understood why they went for that approach. They are trying real hard to instill doubt and confusion on the main characters. To an extent they succeeded. Although I really wished that Hong Kong producers of films like these would hire better writers. For example, the film does very little to explain to you before events kick in what the main characters are about. It's enormously vital for the story yet it is asked of you to just go with the plot as it goes. Now, this always had been one of my to go to reasons for action flicks especially the Hong Kong ones. But I think a film would have more classic potential if there are more elements you can return to when watching multiple times. 

Mind you, I definitely will be returning to this film merely for the action. Since it's that good. Well choreographed, hard hitting and exciting. It's almost everything Raging Fire should have been like. Perhaps I am little unfair and too harsh on Donnie Yen and co. Then again. Both Benny Chan and Donnie have proven to be masters of action and kind of have let us down. Line Walker 2 also could have gone the same route but somehow realized that the pacing needed to be consistent. And that it is. Once the events start to happen you are in a for a fun ride that never lets up.  

It's also a very beautiful film to look at since it also was going for an international flair with locations as Myanmar and Spain (Madrid). There is even part reserved for a CGI bull which is completely satisfying as it shows the brute power a bull is capable off. I would like to imagine that bulls all around the world are proud of their brother taking his revenge that is well deserved. In hindsight I think while the film plays thing quite seriously, you aren't really expected to do so. It's very aware of how insane it is and revels in it. It is therefore I can wholeheartedly recommend this!

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Review Nash Bridges (2021): Nash Bridges revival is decent enough but it has a few problems!

genre: crime, action, drama

Both Nash and Joe enter the scene like they have never left the screen. Sure they both have aged considerably and maybe it's not entirely believable they are still on active duty. Then again, despite their old age they still are very capable until they are stopped.

It's been a while I have watched the show and I don't think I even watched all of the episodes of the last seasons but suddenly it was canceled. I had no idea this was because of political reasons. I always assumed that the show was done. I mean. As much as I liked the show there is not that much you can do with a crime show like this and not repeat itself. Granted Joe's antics and outside activities always were a delight to experience. Cheech Marin as Joe was peculiar. The funny man was more invested in his schemes than actual police work. And I have to admit it took some time for me to get used to him playing a cop. But certain episodes did show he could be serious when needed. In hindsight the light and comedic tone to a serious crime drama was surprisingly refreshing. Nash Bridges amped up the seriousness plenty of times but never at the cost of losing the comedic tone. For whatever reason, Cheech Marin really took it easy. He is barely in the show. And this time isn't even doing enough cop stuff. 

That being said, I do think that Nash Bridges followed a certain formula and was filled with flaws. And unfortunately these flaws have returned. There were episodes that tonally were very reminiscent of Miami Vice that had impact on characters throughout the season. It was one of the elements I liked. But more and more these elements would diminish in favour of wackiness. In this TV Movie this is no different. The show prides itself to be fueled on contrasting characters and it gets real exhausting pretty quickly. You know that at the end of the movie these characters will get along just fine. It's so juvenile. Then again I can't lie that I did chuckle a few times so maybe enough time has passed to revive the show.

Another flaw is the political correctness. Honestly this is getting ridiculous. How many transgender cops are there? I can assure you not many. It's a reality you will have to accept. Before I am being called a bigot. I am not against transgenders or anything but at this point you can't deny that they are trying to force the idea of transgenders being everywhere while this is not the case at all. Only a small percentage of the population is transgender so why then do they need to be represented in a way that make it seem they are present in large numbers. I get it, representation is important. Still I do think it needs to be based on reality just a tiny bit. Besides I don't care whether someone is a transgender or not. Your sexuality says very little of your capabilities. I would like to be impressed by how the character is written or acting. The little this character did was very typical of cops in drama's like this and I have no real opinion on it. Except the TV Movie itself undermines the woman's expertise because they were able to not only undo her hacking but also managed to attack the SIU itself based on her code. A big deal was made about her skills only to throw those under the bus. So how am I supposed to take such a character seriously? Why not have this character just be badass and make the crooks think they were on to her while she in return was on to them so brilliantly that she had managed to get access to everything illegal and important.

I can't remember Nash Bridges being into science fiction. Yet they dove into it and failed miserably. I was having a good time and when they mentioned nanotechnology and kill switch I just didn't care any more. The martial arts in the movie also was a bit laughable. Most of the fighters were terrible. And I was a bit confused why this was even a thing in Nash Bridges. Did they get the shows wrong and confused it with Martial Law? Somehow the people mistook the lighter comedic tone for a full farce. Perhaps they were trying to throw all of this in the movie to see what appealed and not. Well, in case some people involved with this movie are reading this. The finale where Bridges is shooting criminals is exactly the type I would like to see. It was believable and done well. 

Thankfully the saving grace is Don Johnson as Nash Bridges. He gave this movie the edge it needed and would not mind seeing more of that as long as the show does become a little more serious since Nash Bridges was many things but never goofy.

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