The Mummy (1999) Review

Director: Stephen Sommers

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror

Runtime: 124 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1999 film The Mummy feels like an attempt to recapture the magic of the original Indiana Jones trilogy. The movie is about a group of adventurers who unleash an ancient Egyptian curse while searching for a lost city. On IMDb’s “Connections” page for this picture, it is considered a version of the The Mummy (1932), but this flick is far more action-adventure-oriented than that oldie.

I can’t say that this feature completely succeeds in its aping of the Indiana Jones series, but it’s still a worthy piece of cinema. There are some lively, rousing action scenes (especially in the first half), and the interwar setting is pulpy and exciting. While he’s no Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser (as Rick O’Connell) is a surprisingly able action hero. Jerry Goldsmith’s musical score makes its presence known (in a good sort of way).

Perhaps the biggest downside to The Mummy is that it goes a bit too heavy on the fantasy elements early on. The aforementioned Indiana Jones films generally slowly built up to supernatural happenings, while this movie frequently tosses that sort of stuff at the audience throughout the runtime. This means that there’s notably less mystery and awe in the picture.

The first half of The Mummy is probably superior to the back half, but I’d still recommend this flick to people looking for a pulp fiction fix. The action-adventure content is the star of the show here, but there’s also a sizeable quantity of light horror to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. I’m not as enchanted with it as some viewers are, but I still enjoy the ride.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Deadpool 2 (2018) Review

Director: David Leitch

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The superhero comedy Deadpool 2 certainly isn’t the easiest movie to write a review for, as it’s so similar to the original. That being said, if it’s more of the same, you can sign me up, as the first Deadpool flick was too good to resist. Here, the adventures of mercenary-turned-superhero Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) continue, as he sets out to prevent a young mutant nicknamed Firefist (Julian Dennison) from being killed by time-traveling warrior Cable (Josh Brolin).

As I hinted at earlier, Deadpool 2 maintains the crass, fourth-wall-breaking humor of the first one. However, for all the comedy (which almost always successfully hits the mark), this film has some real heart to it that makes it more than just another R-rated snarkfest. The actions of the characters are not simply consequence-free, but the picture still manages to keep a light-hearted tone.

While the action in 2016’s Deadpool was far from bad, its sequel ups the ante. While it’s not top-notch, the combat here is an improvement over the original installment in the franchise. Ryan Reynolds seems to be having plenty of fun throughout the movie, but I feel the need to bring up Josh Brolin’s role as the villain. He mostly plays things straight and serious, but he never falls victim to does-he-even-know-what-kind-of-movie-he’s-in-right-now? syndrome.

A few people have taken issue with the Deadpool features for trying to subvert the superhero subgenre while largely playing by its rules (in terms of storytelling). I don’t have much of a problem with this. I mean, what’s a comic book movie without a big, high-stakes confrontation with the baddies at the end? Overall, I can’t say that I enjoy Deadpool 2 as much as the 2016 original, but it’s still a swell piece of light-weight action-comedy fluff.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Deadpool (2016) Review

Director: Tim Miller

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 108 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

While not the first superhero movie rated R by the MPAA, Deadpool helped prove that fully R-rated comic book flicks could be box office smashes, with all the requisite violence, sex, and swearing. In this film, terminally-ill mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is tortured into immortality, leaving him gruesomely scarred from head to toe. He then sets out to exterminate the goons who gave him his current looks. It sounds pretty heavy, but this is, in fact, an action-comedy.

Few films smash down the fourth wall quite like Deadpool. It’s a relentlessly irreverent and often satirical take on superhero pictures that takes no prisoners. However, don’t worry about your expectations being subverted too much. As meta as the whole thing is, this feature still manages to invest the audience in its characters and make you care about the outcome of the story.

With a plot often told in a non-linear fashion, there’s no shortage of either laugh-out-loud-funny jokes or bloody action. While the fight scenes get a thumbs-up from me, it’s really the comedy that’s at the heart of Deadpool. It really is an endless series of smart-ass pop culture references. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.

This is sort of a spin-off of the X-Men series, but you should be fine watching this movie even if you know nothing about the rest of the characters in its expanded universe. With action that comes fiery and frequent and gags that land far more often than they fail, Deadpool is a recommended piece of cinema for fans of superhero flicks. Well, I should specify that it’s for superhero aficionados who are old enough to watch R-rated films.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) Review

Director: Sam Liu

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 76 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The animated film Batman: The Killing Joke was the first Batman movie to be released with an R rating in the United States. Based on a popular graphic novel of the same title, the picture follows clown criminal Joker’s (voiced by Mark Hamill) attempts to destroy the Gordon family, with superhero Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) trying to save the day. Thanks to more adult content than your typical superhero flick, this one’s for the grown-ups only.

One of the best aspects of this feature is the voice talent. In some ways, this is a continuation of the revered Batman: The Animated Series, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively. The voice-acting is top-notch and, along with the stirring animation, carries the movie. The pacing also garners a thumbs-up from me, with tons of material being crammed into the seventy-six demented minutes of runtime.

Batman: The Killing Joke was met with a lukewarm, at best, reception, partially thanks to the handling of Barbara Gordon (voiced by Tara Strong), better known as “Batgirl.” The film doesn’t really know what to do with her and the alarming accusations of sexism might hold water. The Joker-less first act of the motion picture is also only tangentially related to the rest, which is also something that holds the product back from true greatness.

Very dark, macabre, intense, and sinister, The Killing Joke just might have the best depiction of the Joker yet seen on film. Unfortunately, some questionable narrative decisions almost derail this train. It’s an impossible flick to turn away from, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel “right.” The work may have also been better served by a less ambiguous ending, but maybe that’s just me.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Gangster Squad (2013) Review

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Genre(s): Action, Crime

Runtime: 113 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 2013 actioner Gangster Squad was widely panned by critics upon its release, with many professional film reviewers commenting on how it looked unfavorable when held up against The Untouchables (1987). The stories of the two pictures are almost identical, with Gangster Squad being about a team of Los Angeles police officers on an off-the-books mission to drive mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) out of the city in the years following World War II. Overall, this movie isn’t as masterful as the 1987 flick that it bears many similarities to, but I still think it’s worth watching.

The first word that springs to mind when describing this feature is “pulpy.” It doesn’t pretend to be realistic, preferring to be heightened, unsubtle, stylized, semi-cartoony, and exaggerated. It’s a “print the legend” kind of work. I think all of this threw some critics expecting something more down-to-Earth for a loop. Despite its borderline-campy nature, the film’s plot about vigilante cops is bound to make some viewers squeamish.

The plentiful sequences of action and violence are handled smoothly, with the exception of a nighttime car chase that’s probably a bit harder to follow than it needed to be. The characters are easy to distinguish from one another, thanks to an all-star cast. A special mention should go to Sean Penn, who plays the vile villain with aplomb. The narrative is straightforward and satisfying.

Fans of the pulpier side of gangster fiction (like myself) will definitely want to watch this one. Sure, it’s not as good as The Untouchables, but how many pictures are? A piece of trivia about Gangster Squad is that a shootout scene in a movie theater that was originally going to be in the flick was cut due to the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Stone Killer (1973) Review

Director: Michael Winner

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The year before Death Wish (1974) was released, that picture’s director (Michael Winner) and star (Charles Bronson) collaborated on another crime flick, this one called The Stone Killer. The plot’s about police detective Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson) investigating a series of murders and uncovering a mob-related revenge massacre in the works. Death Wish it ain’t, but it still has its moments.

This street-tough actioner moves along at a solid pace, starting off with a figurative “bang” and rarely letting up, as the bodies start to pile up. The Stone Killer is set in a dirty, unpleasant world that reflects the American anxieties of the 1970s. This means there are a couple of scenes depicting police brutality that probably wouldn’t make it into the film if it was made nowadays.

While this movie isn’t as entertaining as Death Wish, it is noticeably more action-packed than that 1974 crime-drama. The carnage is squib-heavy and exciting, with there being a few shootings, a nice vehicle chase, and a couple of gunfights. Bronson is in full action-hero mode here, managing to fill a respectable number of body bags.

The Stone Killer may not be top-tier Bronson, but there’s enough here to like to make it worth recommending. Yeah, it does sometimes feel like the plot was just constructed so that bloody action set-pieces could hung off of it, but I can’t hold that against the movie too much. This feature also stars Martin Balsam as mafia boss Al Vescari. Balsam would later reunite with Bronson and Winner in the unintentionally hysterical Death Wish 3 (1985). Too bad this film didn’t get a cheesy sequel called The Stoner Killer where Bronson shoots hopped-up dope fiends on the loose.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Hard Times (1975) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Sport

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Macho filmmaker Walter Hill’s directorial debut was the excellent 1975 action-drama Hard Times. During the Great Depression, a drifter named Chaney (Charles Bronson) makes a living as a bare-knuckle boxer in the New Orleans region with the help of his shit-talking manager, Speed (James Coburn). It’s an unusual type of sports movie, being about the underground world of street-fighting, but Hill pulls it off remarkably well.

Appropriately for a film set during this time period, Hard Times has a gently melancholy tone. Some of the best things about this picture are the seedy and atmospheric New Orleans-area locations that it explores. It seems like no dank backroom in the city is left behind by the filmmakers. Charles Bronson is more taciturn than usual here and is supported by his then-wife Jill Ireland, who plays Lucy Simpson, the love interest.

This may seem like an odd comparison at first, but I think that this feature is somewhat similar to Rocky (1976), which was released one year later. Both flicks have plenty of punching and fighting, but are really about the relationships that develop outside the “ring.” Speaking of “punching and fighting,” the action scenes in Hard Times are pretty well choreographed, never lacking in impact or feeling too over-the-top.

This gritty gem is a movie that fans of tough guy cinema will want to track down. Often understated, yet always heroic, this bare-knuckle boxing saga is simultaneously sensitive and tough-as-nails. That’s a balance that’s highly satisfying when pulled off by the right filmmaker. To top things off, this motion picture features a cute cat in a supporting role.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Marked for Death (1990) Review

Director: Dwight H. Little

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Marked for Death is one of those movies that will readily appeal to the so-bad-it’s-good crowd, and very few else. Former DEA agent John Hatcher (Steven Seagal) goes to war with some drug-pushing Jamaican-American gangsters after his family is targeted for extermination by them. Is this Steven Seagal’s best film? I couldn’t tell you that, but, of all of the ones I’ve seen (and I’ve seen quite a few), it is definitely the most entertaining.

The pony-tailed Seagal is largely a charisma black hole here (no one can say the line “Serious fun” with less joy than him), but this only adds to the enjoyable absurdity of the whole production. Fortunately, he’s blessed with one of the best sidekicks in action picture history: Max (Keith David). The primary baddie of the flick is Jamaican mob boss Screwface (Basil Wallace), who provides some of the most delicious villain ham-acting this side of Bennett from Commando (1985).

Marked for Death is essentially devoid of romance, allowing the carnage to do the talking…and what carnage it is! The action scenes are ace, highlighting Seagal’s trademark brand of bone-snapping super-sadism. There’s some enthusiastic overkill towards the end, when one character gets killed approximately four hundred times. Of course, the violence is accompanied by a fair amount of one-liners, some of which are pure non-sequiturs.

This over-the-top action film has a cool musical score from James Newton Howard and a relatively early appearance from Danny Trejo (playing Hector). The whole thing’s very lean and very mean, making it a ton of “serious fun” for fans of trash cinema (it really knows when to end). This bundle of unintentionally funny, kitschy joy also illustrates the days when, in regards to international travel, they’d let anything through customs.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Mr. Majestyk (1974) Review

Director: Richard Fleischer

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 103 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Mr. Majestyk is the 1974 film where Charles Bronson literally plays a badass melon-farmer. The movie’s straightforward plot concerns Vince Majestyk (Charles Bronson), the owner of a watermelon farm who finds himself on the run from the law with vile mob hitman Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) by his side. Yes, people will die, cars will be chased, and watermelons will be shot to shit.

How’s the action? Well, it’s not outstanding, but it’s ably-done. Perhaps the best action set-piece in the entire flick comes in the first act (it’s the one where Charles Bronson and Al Lettieri’s characters are forced to set off together after escaping from the police). It should be noted that there are some stretches with no action that might test the patience of some viewers.

Bronson is clearly the star of the show. As you might expect, he plays yet another one of his classic, silent tough guys here. However, it would be a crime to not at least mention Lettieri’s performance as a hot-headed murderer. The rest of the characters are fine. They’re pretty easy to tell apart from one another, so the filmmakers got that right.

Okay, this one has a kitsch moment or two, but it’s really a thrill to see ol’ Bronson portraying a macho, melon-farming son-of-a-bitch. Fans of the actor will find this an enjoyable ride. The shotgun-blasting Mr. Majestyk was actually released the same year as the more-famous Bronson crime-drama Death Wish (1974), which would prove to be a landmark in the actor’s career.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Another 48 Hrs. (1990) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte return for more in this so-so sequel to 48 Hrs. (1982). Once again, tough guy cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) recruits the help of conman Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) to help him on a case. This time, the police officer wants to take down a mysterious drug lord known as “The Iceman” as well as clear his own name after being accused of killing an unarmed man.

The plot of Another 48 Hrs. feels rather formless, which is the biggest problem with the film. In retrospect, it just seems like our dynamic duo are chasing various leads until the final shootout arrives. Sure, Nolte and Murphy do no wrong here, but the plot needed a little more meat on it. Oh well, at least the adequate pacing and relatively short runtime keep this flaw from being fatal.

The action scenes here are actually better than the ones in the first installment of this motion picture duology. They’re definitely not top-tier, but they are filmed and edited in a more coherent fashion than in 48 Hrs. This picture is somewhat famous for the amount of glass that gets smashed in it and, yeah, panes of that stuff are being broken left and right. I guess it adds to the fun of the whole experience.

Another 48 Hrs. features less racist and homophobic dialogue than the original, which may make it easier to watch for modern audiences. It’s also less grimy- and gritty-feeling, but – hey – if that’s the cost of superior action set-pieces, I’ll pay it. Okay, the bottom line is that this one isn’t quite as good as the 1982 flick, but it certainly is watchable.

My rating is 6 outta 10.