Action and Adventure

Bullet Train (Blu-ray)

Proto-SPEED. Before there was Keanu Reeves lopping the head off of Dennis Hopper, there was this, the original “keep the public transportation conveyance going above XX miles an hour or something’s blowing up real good” movie. Bullet Train raced through Japanese theaters in 1975 and forever allowed the people at Amtrak to point in its direction and say “Hey, it could be worse!” Ken Takakura pays the madman who plants a bomb on one of Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train expresses. If the train drops below 80 kph, it’s KABLOOIE for the train and the hundreds of passengers. Fighting against his malevolent devices is a bad-ass train engineer played by legendary Sonny Chiba. That’s your movie–the train rockets forward and a bunch of people scream their heads off and back at home base, the nerds scramble to save lives and the cops spring their manhunt to find the bad guy. All in all, Bullet Train is an okay 70s-era disaster, but a pair of sizable demerits drop the rating: It’s too long. This bad boy runs a whopping 152 minutes, which is just too hefty for a simple thriller/actioner like this. The nature of a train, limited by the tracks, kind of short circuits the number of cool, death-defying scenarios that can happen, versus, say, a bus. See, at the end of the day that’s what the upshot of Bullet Train is for me–it made we want to watch Speed immediately. And that’s just what I did when this movie ended. Thank you Bullet Train! The Twilight disc (that you probably won’t find in stores): 1080p, 2.35:1, a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (Japanese), an isolated music and effects track (for some reason, and a featurette. THE VERDICT Guilty of taking it’s sweet-balls time getting to the destination.

Edge of Eternity (Blu-ray)

Gold + Guano + Grand Canyon. From Twilight Time, a remastered version of the 1959 thriller that, because it’s Twilight Time, you won’t be able to buy. But, hey, that’s your problem. Anyway: it’s Arizona, specifically the Grand Canyon, and some dead bodies are starting to turn up. Enterprising–and smoldering!–Deputy Les Martin (Cornel Wilde) sticks his nose into the mystery and begins to uncover a hive of corruption and betrayal. At center of it? You guess it: gold. Apparently, there’s some gold to be had an old mine and someone has got the glitter-eye so bad, he’s been offing locals. As Martin investigates he meets the lovely Janice Kendon (Victoria Shaw), a kindred spirit and teammate in mayhem. Eventually, the investigation culminated with a legit-impressive done-for-real fight on a U.S. Guano bucket hauler that’s crossing the Grand Canyon (mixed with some bodaciously awful  rear-projection effects). I don’t get the title–“Edge of Eternity” strikes me more as a 30 Seconds to Mars B-side–but this little film is a fun slice of cinematic action history. In these days of Bayhem and whatnot, where your senses are so thoroughly pulverized by two and a half hours worth of gonzo action, a film with a modest runtime (77 minutes), an uncomplicated plot (bad guy wants gold, kills people, gets dropped into the Grand Canyon), and an absolutely gorgeous female lead (seriously, Victoria Shaw, in all her flamboyant Technicolor glory is a stunner) is a welcome retreat. That’s what Edge of Eternity is: a short, simple, streamlined throwback thriller (throwback is wrong of course as this was already thrown back at the time of its production). It won’t remain in your thoughts for long, but if you want a nicely staged, decently-acted (have I mentioned how beautiful Victoria Shaw is??) mystery film with a stand-out stunt sequence and a buttload of aerial photography of the Grand Canyon, here you go. Good disc from Twilight Team, starting with the rich 1080p. 2.35:1 transfer, a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, and extras including an isolated music score and audio commentary with a pair of film historians. That said, good luck trying to find it! THE VERDICT Not Guilty. Add this to your bucket list.

The Take (Blu-ray)

It’s okay Idris. You got the Bond gig. Also known as Bastille Day The Take puts our guy Idris Elba (Star Trek Beyond) smack into the middle of a terror-ridden Paris. Bombs are going off, explosions are taking out civilians, and the populace is paralyzed with crippling fear. Meanwhile, a dashing pickpocket named Michael Mason (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones) finds himself inadvertently wrapped up in these violent shenanigans, making himself a pivotal asset that the CIA desperately needs. And that’s where agent Sean Briar (Elba) comes into play. He’s dispatched by his superiors in Langley to babysit Mason and keep his intel safe and sound. Which kicks off a buddy adventure, as these two race against time to untangle the mystery behind the terror attacks, which–surprise!!!–may not be the work of actual terrorists but the nefarious Old White Man Cabal… Here’s the straight dope: The Take is about as milquetoast a thriller as you can get for a movie about Paris being assaulted by terrorists (and yes, this film was released unsettlingly close to the actual terrorist events in Paris). Even with out the awkward contemporary source material, this film just doesn’t have enough juice to separate itself from the pack. Look, I’m all about Robb Stark, but Richard Madden should doesn’t bring much energy to the proceedings here. He’s supposed to be giving us a sly outlaw with charm to spare (for crying out loud he convinces his girlfriend to walk the streets naked for a pickpocket distraction!), but in the end he coughs up a character with the charm of a bran muffin. Then we’ve got Idiris Elba, who’s awesome, and you don’t need me to tell you that. And while I’m all on board for him taking on the 007 mantle if the wants it, there’s not a ton worth talking about here with his efforts. It’s mainly his character, who was written as a standard-issue tough guy agent. A such, we’ve got a going-through-the-motions approach. In fact, all of The Take is pretty much “going through the motions.” There’s aren’t a lot of surprises and virtually nothing memorable as far as action scenes go. if you’re an Elba completionist or want to see what the Young Wolf has been up to since the Red Wedding, this might be worth your time. Everyone else? Not much to see here. THE VERDICT Guilty. Take a breather.

Sole Proprietor (Blu-ray)

“She involves him in a deadly conspiracy that puts them in the cross-hairs.”

Colors (Blu-ray)

70,000 gang members. One million guns. Two cops.

Moby Dick (Blu-ray)

The whale is feeling Peckish John Huston’s legendary telling of Herman Melville’s classic story of blubber and metaphors lands on a Twilight Time Blu-ray, which, of course, means that by the time you read this all available copies will have long since left retail, only to be later found somewhere buried deep within the submerged catacombs of Oak Island. You know the story: Ishmael is the lone survivor of a lost whaling vessel. He brings back with him the unbelievable story of a violent encounter with an ill-tempered white whale–as well as the saga of pathological, one-legged vengeance in the form of Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck). Through storms and whale hunting and oil boiling and blubber harvesting the crew of the Pequod power through, willing to follow their maniacal captain to the gates of watery Hell. They, of course, get their wish eventually as Ahab leads them right into the teeth of the fearsome Moby Dick. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Moby Dick, but this one holds up well. The sense of adventure on the high seas is present and accounted for, even if it is obvious that much of the whale-on-man action was filmed with miniatures in a water tank. But, hey, there’s something cool about this practical, nuts-and-bolts movie-making. And the final confrontation with the great whale still manages to be a thriller (even if it’s obvious it’s dolls in a tub). Of course, it’s all about Gregory Peck, who brings a gravitas and a half to the role of Captain Ahab. The guy cuts a mean figure with his pegleg and nautical beard and unbridled desire deliver all of his dialogue with a salty, guttural bellow. His final descent into madness in the final battle is still a sight to behold. Solid presentation from Twilight Time: 1.66:1, 1080p and a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio are joined by a featurette on the creation of Moby Dick (the whale), an isolated score track, a film historians commentary. THE VERDICT Thar she blows. Not Guilty. Save

Quarry: Season 1 (Blu-ray)

Packing a (period) piece. Hey, you know what network has the best original TV shows going right now? It’s not HBO. It’s HBO’s horny, hyperactive cousin, Cinemax. I’ve been a Max devotee since Strike Back Season 2 blew me away, with the unsheathed, pulpy id of Banshee close behind. Even The Max’s dalliance with gothic horror–the bizarre, engrossing Outcast–was a humdinger. Now the network is back with something else daring and unique, a show unlike anything else you’ll find anywhere. Quarry is based on the the potboiler mystery novels by Max Allan Collins, which tells the story of a recently returned Vietnam vet and the trouble he finds in his hometown in Memphis. Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) is back after serving two years in Vietnam. He returns under a cloud of controversy as his unit had been fingered for war crimes. The life as he knows it has evaporated; his wife Joni (Jodi Balfour) was unfaithful, no one wants to hire him for work and, worse, his best friend and former squadmate gets himself killed trying to be a hitman. Mac finds himself drawn into the seedy world of contact killing, pressed into working for a mysterious man known only as The Broker, forced to pay down his friend’s debt and save his family. As you can imagine, this leads to all manner of unsavory situation and domestic mishap and before it all ends, Quarry will have to face his own demons. And there are demons aplenty in this broody, atmospheric series, an eight-episode tour de force that kept me utterly transfixed the whole time. There weren’t humongous explosions or colorful villains or outlandish plot threads or sex galore or any of the elements you might think would characterize a Cinemax show. No, Quarry is a hardboiled, gritty, ultra-realistic drama, a tale of a broken man with a damaged soul who can’t extricate himself from his violent past or the promise of a violent future. The acting is top-shelf throughout, headlined by Marshall-Green as the tortured anti-hero (and I mean anti) and Balfour as his desperate wife. The two are exceptional talents and their relationship offers as compelling a caricature of a troubled, but loving marriage. Their connection is the emotional core of the show and it works brilliantly. The thrust of the narrative is Quarry’s attempts to negotiate the dark corridors of his new, bloody profession, while trying to preserve his relationship with his wife. Meanwhile, he’s being tracked by a tenacious law officer and The Broker is funneling him towards deadlier and deadlier contracts. It’s all set against the backdrop of the racial powder-keg that is ’70s Memphis. Quarry takes it time to let its plot breathe; this isn’t a slam-bang action thrill ride. But hang with it and you’ll be richly rewarded with some of the very best performances on television, a unique setting, a story that builds gravity a it rolls on and, finally, a one-shot Vietnam War flashback sequence that rivals True Detective’s gold standard continuous sequence. Great Blu-ray set: pristine video (1.78:1, 1080p) and audio (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) joined by audio commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, music videos and interviews. THE VERDICT Hard-boiled mustachioed goodness. Not Guilty.

Death Race 2050 (Blu-ray)

High-octane mediocrity. Here’s an interesting situation. If you compare the Rotten Tomatoes average score with the IMDB user rating you get two very different stories. Now I’m not one to wholly subscribe to either metric as a bulletproof way to gauge a film’s worth, but here’s what’s interesting: RT has Death Race 2050 at 100% fresh (out of six reviews) and and the IMDB user scale clocks in at a paltry 3.6 out of 10 stars.  That’s quite the discrepancy. And, honestly, I’m square on the IMDB user side–why anyone finds this film compelling is beyond me. The latest installment in the Death Race franchise attempts to return the series to its outlandish, campy, black-comedy roots that appears to have largely evaporated with the most recent remakes. The year is 2050 and Earth has become overpopulated. To thin out the people herd, the Death Race unleashes mayhem on the elderly, as drivers rack up points by mowing down geriatric bystanders. This year, each driver is paired with a sidekick who totes VR headsets to give home viewers the chance to live vicariously through their terrible deeds. As usual, the main stud behind the wheel is Frankenstein (Manu Bennett, Arrow), the enigmatic, leather-clad sociopath who routinely leads the wold in Death Race points. But there’s something off with this year’s Race. There’s a resistance afoot, an underground movement to topple the corporation that controls the Race and controls the people. As the carnage piles up and the big, fat, greedy fanbase devours the destruction, he ground-level combat turns into a fight for something that maybe, kind of, sort of looks like liberty. Look, Death Race 2050 tries real hard. Real hard. And that’s the problem. In its efforts to achieve full-on cult status, the strains of contrivance show throughout its runtime. The satire is about as on the nose as it gets (corporations own the country!) and the humor is broader than Lake Huron (look at that fat person eat a giant hot dog!). Add to that the assumed-necessary ingredients for schlock, like random, anonymous breasts and gore effects. Though I will say much of the gore was practical, so a tip of the hat to the special effects crew. On the other hand virtually all of the car action was CGI so, poop. In the end, Death Race 2050 just ended up being a cacophonous mess, a desperate attempt to take the excesses of the original and pump them full of silicone and red food coloring. I say this with no joy in my heart; we can always use more schlock in our lives and I’m always pulling for Manu Bennett. But this one’s running on fumes. THE VERDICT Turbo-jalopy.   Save

The Black Dragon’s Revenge

When you’re investigating the death of the greatest kung fu fighter the world ever knew, you’d better be qualified.

The Black Society Trilogy (Blu-ray)

Among the prolific director’s finest works!

Eliminators (Blu-ray)

Punching! Scott Adkins, I am convinced, is one of our more underrated action stars. That is, I’m not sure if he registers at all on anyone’s “household name radar” and that’s a shame. The guy is one-man special effect and what he might lack in raw acting chops he more than makes up for with an ability to jump high into the air and extend his legs out in such a way as to cause moderate to severe damage to someone’s face. So anytime a new Adkins movie comes down the pike, I take notice. The latest is Eliminators, a WWE Film that pits pro wrestler Wade Barrett against Adkins in a film that promises…well, massive beatings. And that’s pretty much what we get. Adkins plays Thomas, a one-time special agent in witness protection. Due to a tragic misunderstanding with some young local toughs, his cover is blown and the gangster looking for his head springs into action. He dispatches his most fearsome assassin, Bishop (Wade Barrett) to rub Thomas out. With Thomas’s only daughter held in the balance and the ever-present threat of Bishop, Thomas races to keep his family alive, find safety and, ultimately, make it to the end credits in once piece. That’s your movie and as far as direct-to-video productions, Eliminators isn’t bad. Adkins brings the requisite amount of pummeling to the festivities and Wade Barrett proves to be a worthy, physically imposing counterweight to his polished movie fight skills. If you’ve seen the Adkins brand of fighting before you know he adds a decent amount of flash to his hijinks. In Eliminators the choreography is more grounded. No wire work, no CGI-enhanced stuff, and only a handful of the Adkins trademark flip-kicks. Still–it works. If you’re not looking for all-out flash, there is a decent amount to enjoy here. The simple conceit of a dad wanting to protect his daughter proves enough of a motive driver for our hero and the stakes are robust enough to keep things a few degrees north of superficial. And the final bad guy showdown is worth your while. THE VERDICT Not Guilty. Enjoy this steady Adkins diet of pummeling.

The Last King (Blu-ray)

Scandinavian slaloming, Dark Ages style. The Middle Ages had a lot of wild and woolly stuff going on, usually on a daily basis. Kings rose and fell. Cities were sacked. Civilizations were wiped out. And strep throat went untreated, subjecting millions of people to everlasting gullet discomfort. This era of humanity, while sucky for all who lived it no doubt, remains one of my favorites.  Human history pivoted in inexorable directions this stretch and entire cultures thrived (Saxons!) or fell short of world dominance (Danes!). But, mainly, I liked the Middle Ages because of the movies. The sword-swinging, gut-stabbing, britches-muddying tomfoolery that tends to characterize  these endeavors. So you can understand why I was eager to take The Last King for a spin. Here’s the story: the throne of Norway is up for grabs. There’s an heir, but he’s currently vulnerable to usurpation due to the fact that he happens to be a baby. Some nasty Church bishops have their eyes on the crown so they dispatch all manner of sword-thug to slay the kiddo and secure the throne for their own devious purposes. The only thing standing between the future king and a tiny coffin are two warriors. Together they tote the baby across the snow-swept terrain of Norway, dodging arrows and sword swipes and shield bashes, but mainly they ski. Oh how they ski! Downhill! Uphill! Cross-country! They ski and ski and ski and slaughter and ski! Good movie here. I’m always down for a swashbuckler that happens to feature some historical context from an era I have no clue about. And seeing I’m not as up on my Norwegian royalty succession background, The Last King ladled on some welcome knowledge along with its raw pugilism. Most of you will notice Kristofer Hivju, a.k.a. Jon Snow’s ginger BFF from Game of Thrones. He’s a bit looser here than in the HBO series, but still operates at peak bad-ass. And regardless if you couldn’t pick anyone else out of lineup The Last King stands on its own wind-chapped two legs. The pacing is swift, the action is fun and visceral, the cinematography is gorgeous and the history is cool and interesting. If any of this resides anywhere near your wheelhouse, consider this a recommendation; The Last King offers more than a sleigh-ful of spills and thrills. On Blu-ray, the Norway topography looks dynamite in 108op and the brouhahas ring out in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (in the original Norwegian). THE VERDICT Ikke skyldig.  

Lone Wolf and Cub (Blu-ray)

”You would have been happier if you’d chosen to join your mother in her world.”

Trouble Man (Blu-ray)

His friends call him Mr. T. His enemies call for mercy!

Anthropoid (Blu-ray)

Resistance has a code name.

To Live and Die in L.A. (Blu-ray)

A federal agent is dead. A killer is loose. And the City of Angels is about to explode.

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