Welcome to the 2010 home stretch folks and we’re nearing the end of one of the weirdest cinematic years I’ve experienced in some time. I’m starting to really get a handle on these upcoming top 10 and Badasses of the Year lists, but they’re both really all over the place and that speaks to the type of year we’ve had. I will say this; it’s been a fun year for Badass Cinema. We got to see some huge comebacks from some Hall of Fame action heroes, while also getting to see a giant new batch of ass-kickers as well really hit their stride, and for me there’s little more I could ask for.
Of course, a lot of what I loved this year had to do with my nostalgic love for ‘80s action cinema, and how many of this year’s team up movies seemed to be tapping into that love. While I pretty much enjoyed all of this year’s throwback actionfests (The Losers, Predators, The A-Team) as expected The Expendables stood tall as my absolute favorite, not really mimicking an old school action film as much as just presenting us with the real thing. Looking to the future, now I just have to wait for Expendables 2 to get rolling!
Now from what I’ve been hearing on Sylvester Stallone’s twitter feed, things are going smoothly so far, and Sly is busy writing the follow-up, which may feature a second team of bad guys and new faces sprinkled about. The original Expendables team isn’t getting any younger, so this has gotten me really excited about the possibility of more classic stars and new blood getting mixed in with what is already an action fan’s dream team. So with that, these are my personal favorites for Expendables 2 possibilities…
Jean-Claude Van Damme – I know the guy may or may not have just had a heart attack, and actually turned down a role in the original film, but I think JCVD is in the middle of a career resurgence at the moment, and this movie could throw him over the top. While not as fun as The Expendables per se, Universal Soldier: Regeneration was ridiculously good, and if someone actually told me they preferred the movie to Stallone’s epic I probably wouldn’t hold it against them. The film has some real chops action-wise, along with strong performances from Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Regeneration also proved to me that Van Damme can still go, and that the guy is downright terrifying when he wants to be. If rumors are true, Stallone wants JCVD for the action heavy in Expendables 2 to go along with Bruce Willis’ evil mastermind. Sounds like a match made in movie villainy heaven to me.
Scott Adkins – I realize that a lot of you may not realize who Scott Adkins is, and if that’s true, I suggest you add Undisputed II, Ninja, and Undisputed III to your Netflix queue right now. The De Niro to action director Isaac Florentine’s Scorsese, Adkins is the real deal; an amazing martial artist with mind blowing action chops who deserves to get to the next big step. Seemingly able to defy gravity at times, Adkins has been kicking it old school in the DTV market for some time and I think it’s time he made the leap to the big screen.
Kurt Russell – I just love Kurt Russell. I’m more of a Jack Burton guy than a Snake Plissken guy, but I pretty much love whatever he does. We haven’t seen him since Deathproof, and it’s definitely time for him to be in a blockbuster follow-up. Besides, Russell would go great with Stallone’s breezey sense of humor, and actually has the acting chops to back up all of his bluster. Not that I don’t like watching Randy Couture beat bad guys to a pulp, but monologues aren’t exactly his strong suit. Russell would have taken those types of scenes and made them your favorite ones in the movie. Even if it’s just a Mickey Rourke-like cameo, Jack Burton needs to get in on this action.
Carl Weathers – I don’t know if there’s bad blood between Weathers and Stallone, but it really felt like something was missing from the first Expendables, and that something was Carl Weathers. Weathers was downright iconic as Apollo Creed, and who doesn’t love him as Dillon in Predator? Heck I’m up for all the Rocky villains to make cameos (alright maybe not Tommy Morrison), but not having Weathers along for the ride seems like a big missed opportunity.
Michael Jai White – As a gigantic fan of Black Dynamite and Undisputed II, I know White has the goods to hang with the legendary original cast. He’s never had a lot of big screen success, but I can admire him so much for setting out to prove his awesomeness, and giving the world the gift of Black Dynamite. I know Spawn is really terrible, but I dare you to watch his fights with Scott Adkins in Undisputed II and not be kind of awestruck.
Dwayne Johnson – Of course, The Rock is an obvious choice, but I think a really viable one. There’s been something awkward about Johnson’s action movie career, and while I haven’t seen Faster, the word on it isn’t terribly good, which is pretty much par for the course when it’s come to the choices he’s made about action flicks so far. Other than the fantastic and underappreciated The Rundown, nearly every other action movie Johnson has been in has been a failure on most levels. He’s not necessarily bad in any of them, but he’s constantly picking bad projects and has only had real box office success so far in comedies and children’s movies. This guy was supposed to be the future of tough guy cinema, but hasn’t had a hit where he isn’t making a fool of himself.
Well, maybe it’s time for an official torch passing. Johnson needs a movie that really solidifies his action status, much like Arnie and Sly were able to do with Terminator and First Blood. Even though this would be a sequel, this could easily be the sort of showcase that Jason Statham was able to get in the first movie, which could end up being the sort of boost The Rock needs in his career right now. If you want to see how he stacks up next to the legends of action cinema then put him next to them and see how it goes.
On the next subject at hand, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with my Badass of the Month picks, so here we go.
Badass of the Month – October 2010
Frank Moses, played by Bruce Willis – Red
It’s amazing how Bruce Willis continues to thrive as an action hero. The guy is getting up in years, but probably no working actor currently has a better shorthand when it comes to his own screen persona and how much instant badassery it brings along with it. You can’t get the image of John McClane out of your head if Willis in an action film, and Frank Moses is just another variation on that role, even if he’s supposed to be a retiree. To be honest, even though it’s not the longest or heavily choreographed fight scene of the year, the Frank Moses vs. William Cooper (Karl Urban) throw down in this movie is one of the most brutal and satisfying pieces of violence I’ve seen in 2010. The fight is used for maximum impact, as is every moment Frank Moses is in this movie, which made Red a terrific piece of popcorn. Willis continues to be the king of cool when his characters are guns a-blazing, and Frank Moses is no different.
Badass of the Month – November 2010
Chen Zhen, played by Donnie Yen – Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
I’m not going to talk too much about Yen in this film because I’m actually going to discuss this movie in an upcoming column, but I can’t see where you could watch this film and not love what Donnie Yen brings to this role. No Hong Kong action star is doing more consistently incredible work than Yen, and I think this is his best work of 2010. Playing a character formerly embodied by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury and Jet Li in Fist of Legend, and adorned like Kato from Green Hornet, Yen’s version of Chen Zhen is a pulp hero with a network of spies trying to undermine the Japanese occupation of Shanghai from underneath while he does the dirty work out in the open. That means destroying the villains with his amazing kung fu mastery. Whether doing damage on a WWI battlefield or on the streets of Shanghai, this is an incredible two-fisted action performance from Yen, and if you love martial arts films in the least, then this is the film for you.
I did have an Asian Cinema column planned for today and nearly finished, but I decided to save it for the near future, and instead decided to finish today’s piece with a couple of tributes. Of course, everyone has heard of the recent passing of Leslie Nielsen and Irvin Kershner, both of which hit me pretty hard. These were both men that greatly influenced the movies I watched and enjoyed, and sadly I’ll never get to see them seen work again.
Part of me especially wished that someday I’d see Frank Drebin on screen again. It’s amazing when you see so many gut-wrenchingly awful slapstick comedies and cheap parodies that come out each year, and then compare them to the comedy classics from team ZAZ that starred Leslie Nielsen. Unfortunately, I was too young to really remember Nielsen in his heyday as a dramatic actor, but it’s not like his comedy performances were that much different anyhow in terms of his screen persona. Nielsen was the king of deadpan comedy after Airplane, solidifying his title with the short-lived Police Squad on TV and the amazing The Naked Gun trilogy. Of course, pickings were slim when it came to replicating that success after he broke away from the Zuckers and Abrams, but for that run he was just a machine of great comedy.
Nielsen was so amazing at deadpan that it’s tough to even watch his older works without waiting for some kind of punchline. I mean, it’s still awesome to go back and watch him in Forbidden Planet or in one of the seemingly hundreds of shows he worked on over the years, but I don’t think there’s a comedian working currently that could match the laugh I got from the first time I heard Nielsen say “Bingo” and then pull a bingo card out of a bad guy’s desk. I just know I’ll always be a little sadder now when the situation arises and one of my automatic “Don’t call me Shirley” or “I Love It!” quotes comes out.
As for Irvin Kershner, there was a pain that ran especially deep upon hearing of his passing. The Empire Strikes Back was the first film I ever saw in a theater, and while my 3-year old self was already in love with George Lucas’ universe thanks to my parents not minding that I watched Star Wars pretty much every day on betamax, Empire was still a giant step in me becoming a lifelong fan of not only Star Wars, but movies in general. Sure, Kershner never made another classic, but when The Empire Strikes Back is on your resume, who cares? Other films may be more critically acclaimed, but when it comes down it to, can you honestly think of a movie more universally loved and adored?
Movies like Robocop 2 and Never Say Never Again may not quite live up to their potential, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had with them, and it’s hard to begrudge a director who made a film that had such an influence on my life. George Lucas carries a lot of the love and the burden for the highs and lows of the Star Wars franchise, but without people like Irvin Kershner, the series probably wouldn’t be what it is today. When it comes down to it, Kershner was in the director’s chair for the heart of the greatest trilogy of movies ever, and that’s an accomplishment that shouldn’t ever be overlooked. He will definitely be missed.
Alright, so that does it for this week. I’ll be back soon with some high kicks and face punching action movies ready for your consumption.
Tags: Airplane, Bruce Willis, Carl Weathers, Donnie Yen, dwayne johnson, expendables 2, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt Russell, Leslie Nielsen, Michael Jai White, R0bTrain's BADASS Cinema, Red, Scott Adkins, the empire strikes back, The Rock