Carpe Action – Seized

When the least believable thing in your film is Scott Adkins as a tech guy, you know you’re going to have a good time. Isaac Florentine’s Seized stars Scott Adkins as Nero, a former special forces operative who lives on the California beach with his son Taylor (Matthew Garbacz). Nero’s tranquil life is suddenly disrupted when Mzamo (Mario Van Peebles) kidnaps Nero’s son. To get his son back, Nero has one job: kill. Should Nero fail to complete Mzamo’s tasks, Taylor will be killed through carbon monoxide. It’s a race against time as Nero must unleash his hidden killer to rescue his son.

RAD: Seized is a lean and mean shot of adrenaline! Florentine wastes no time in dishing out high-octane action spectacle. The fluid fight sequences are shot in an intelligible way; there is no shaky cam or frantic editing. Adkins kicks, flips, and even gets to fight with both hands behind his back. In an era where the Schwarzeneggers and Stallones are but relics of the past, Adkins proves to be the rightful heir to the action heroes of old. The film follows the same pattern throughout: go to one location and kill everyone in sight. What keeps the sequences from feeling tedious are the technical craft of the stunt performers and the fluid cinematography.

Mario Van Peebles also makes an exciting turn as the bad guy Mzamo and almost steals the whole film. For a direct-to-video action film, it’s refreshing to see an actor fully committing to their role as the big bad. It’s certainly not a Hans Gruber performance, but Van Peebles makes the most with the material he’s given and goes for it. In turn, Mzamo ends up being much more engaging than he would have been under the hands of a lesser actor. As a bonus, Mario Van Peebles even gets to perform some of his stunts which is a fun little treat.

BAD: On a technical aspect, the action is spectacular. The biggest issue with Seized is the lackluster dramatic arc. Nero has lost his wife and has a strained relationship with his son. We don’t see nearly enough to establish the father/son relationship. The character of Taylor is badly written and comes across as unlikeable right from the start of the film. The angsty teenager trope is commonplace in films like this, but the character is horrible to his father who’s just trying to emotionally connect with him. A few more scenes to humanize Taylor would have better established the emotional stakes.

The third act is both the film’s strength as well as its weakness. On the one hand, the action reaches its peak, but Florentine decides to make some questionable twists and turns that were not properly set up during the first two-thirds of the film. While the fight sequences are undoubtedly exceptional, the payoff never quite reaches a satisfying conclusion. The film gives us something different from what we were anticipating.

THE FINAL TAKEDOWN: Overall, Seized is an excellent way to spend a quiet afternoon. For DTV action films, Adkins continues to prove why he’s the king of the genre. It’s not the most innovative action film in Adkins’ filmography, but it most certainly gets the job done in delivering simple thrills and entertaining beatdowns. Seized is an endorsement for fans of Scott Adkins and low-budget action filmmaking.

The Batman (2022)

He is vengeance! He is the night! He is PATMAN!!! Two years into his crusade on crime, Batman (Robert Pattinson) has little to show for it. Crime continues to run rampant and rot the core of Gotham City. A series of murders of Gotham’s rich and powerful lead Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to the Riddler (Paul Dano), a serial killer intent on exposing the city’s corruption. As the murders and conspiracies unfold, Batman must reckon with the lies of Gotham’s rich and powerful as well as just how effective his fight for Gotham has been.

It has been ten years since the Caped Crusader’s last solo outing and the road leading to The Batman has been interesting. Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman introduced us to an older and more jaded version of the character played by Ben Affleck. The film’s reception was divisive, but Affleck’s performance showed promise. Affleck’s next project would have him direct and star in his own Batman feature but after a series of personal issues, Affleck stepped down and Matt Reeves would direct with Robert Pattinson to don the cape and cowl. Matt Reeve’s interpretation of the Batman mythos takes some interesting twists and turns and while the presentation is clunky in parts, The Batman is undoubtedly the most accurate interpretation of the character to date.

Reeve’s understanding and love for Batman’s mythology are undeniable and nothing reflects that more than in his interpretation of Gotham City. Whether you admired the gothic aesthetic of the Burton films or the grounded realism of the Nolan films, Reeves strikes the perfect balance between the familiar and the contemporary. Gotham City looks and feels dangerous, but at the same time, it’s also alluring. Gotham City is a living, breathing character which was something that was lost in Nolan’s Batman sequels. We get to see the higher-tier of the city as well as the seedy underbelly inhabited by Gotham’s most vile criminals. Gotham City is a vibe and the three-hour runtime provides an ample amount of time in exploring the world that Matt Reeves built.

Robert Pattinson has been having a career resurgence and his work in The Batman is the culmination of his grind and determination. The billionaire playboy we’ve come to know over the years is nowhere to be found. In his place is a recluse who takes more pleasure in being Batman than he does in being Bruce Wayne. It would have been just as easy to have Pattinson play up the billionaire playboy considering his conventional good looks, but both Reeves and Pattinson wisely opted to go in a different direction. The result is a fresh interpretation of Bruce Wayne that remains true to the essence of who the character is. In an era where superheroes rarely ever get hurt, it’s engaging to see Pattinson’s Batman get hurt and fail from time to time. With just two years under his belt, this is a Batman who still has plenty to learn and after watching The Batman, the sky is the limit for where they take this character.

Clocking in at three hours, this is the longest Batman film. Unfortunately, more doesn’t always mean better and you feel the runtime. The Riddler is featured as the film’s villain but John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone also plays a minor role as the antagonist linked to the corruption in Gotham. While acts one and three thematically align with Batman and his influence on Gotham City it’s the middle portion that pushes those themes to the side in favor of a plot-driven detective story. The Riddler sets off everything that happens but neither he nor Batman share any screentime together until the start of Act 3. Had Reeves truncated the Falcone subplot, this could have resulted in a film that was focused and streamlined.

A perfect film this is not, but The Batman is the most entertaining Batman film we’ve ever gotten. The world of Gotham City is fully realized and the performances all range from good to great! Zoe Kravitz and Robert Pattinson’s chemistry is on fire and Jeffrey Wright makes for an excellent Jim Gordon. For those expecting an action-heavy superhero film, The Batman will feel more of a piece with films like Zodiac as opposed to traditional blockbuster fare. For those simply wanting to immerse themselves in the world of Gotham City, then The Batman will give you everything you hoped for.

Masters of the Universe

By the power of Grayskull! The battle between good and evil will be fought on our own planet earth as He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and Skeletor (Frank Langella) fight for the fate of Eternia and the universe. After being transported to earth, He-Man and friends seek help from Julie (Courteney Cox) and Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill), two teenagers who can help bring our heroes home. While our heroes look for a way home, Skeletor dispatches his troops to terminate them. Will He-Man finally defeat Skeletor or will Skeletor accumulate enough power to conquer all? This is Gary Goddard’s Masters of the Universe!

A complicated production schedule caused the film to go over budget. To keep budget costs low, Cannon Films decided to set most of Masters of the Universe on earth as opposed to the fictional world of Eternia. For He-Man fans, this is a deviation of the mythology, but it works surprisingly well. To embrace Masters of the Universe is to admit that this is not the He-Man film you might have wanted. Once you can accept this fact, the film is fun schlock entertainment. This is Star Wars meets Bill & Ted except for the fact that most of the actors aren’t nearly as charismatic as Reeves and Winter.

While most of the performances are mid-to-low tier, there is one performer who stands above the rest and that is Frank Langella as Skeletor. Langella originally took on the role for his son who was a fan of He-Man. He’s since gone on to state that Skeletor was one of his favorite roles and quite frankly, that’s not hard to believe. Langella understands the film he’s in and he makes a full course meal of every scene to deliver a delightfully villainous performance. He’s scary, but in a cartoonish way. Langella strikes a perfect balance between theatrical and frightening.

Langella may have had the time of his life, but his costar Dolph Lundgren had the opposite experience. After his successful debut as the cold-blooded Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, Lundgren was suddenly thrust as the leading man of what was meant to be an action franchise. At the time, he had just flown in from Sweden so his accent was thick and his acting experience was sparse. In terms of physicality, this is an inspired casting choice for He-Man, but Lundgren looks so uncomfortable and stiff that he can’t fully meet the needs of the role. As a physical performer, Lundgren can handle the stunts, but Lundgren’s lack of acting chops make it hard to believe that he is the true ruler of Eternia.

Masters of the Universe would ultimately be the undoing of Cannon Films. With a budget of $22 million, its final gross was $17 million. Over the years, it has gained a cult following and it’s easy to see why. It does plenty of the wrong things, but Masters of the Universe does get a few things right. Frank Langella’s performance coupled with the production design of Castle Grayskull are absolutely marvelous. The effort put into the set and costume designs cannot go unnoticed. It didn’t become the “Star Wars of the 80’s” as Cannon Films had hoped, but it did help to launch Dolph Lundgren’s career which is a victory in and of itself. Whether you’re familiar with He-Man or not, Masters of the Universe is an entertaining nostalgia trip that will please the old and young alike. If you loved smashing your action figures together as a child, this is the child fantasy you’re looking for.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: To be quite transparent, the action is fairly pedestrian so it was hard to single out any particular action sequence. If I had to pick one though, it would be the climactic battle in Castle Grayskull. Remember when practical sets and soundstages were a thing? The interior of Castle Grayskull is one big playset and all the characters have room to interact with their surroundings. Gary Goddard, the director of Masters of the Universe, pushed to have at least the opening and ending of the film set in Eternia. The $22 million was certainly spent in the right places because it feels like a Star Wars setpiece. The final battle between He-Man and Skeletor is clunky, but the overall presentation is solid.

Cobra – The Gritty Beverly Hills Cop

Crime is a disease and he’s the cure. George P. Cosmatos and Sylvester Stallone team up for cult classic Cobra. Marion “Cobra” Cobretti is a street cop who plays by his own rules. After witnessing a murder, Ingrid, played by Brigitte Nielsen, is placed under the protection of Cobretti who suspects that this latest murder might be linked to a dangerous cult led by the Night Slasher. What ensues is an hour and a half of high-octane action. Can Cobra find the killer without risking Ingrid’s safety or will the Night Slasher and his crew catch their latest victim? Here is Cobra!

Stallone’s career is a rollercoaster ride; from the cultural phenomenon of Rocky to the schlocky Expendables, the quality of Stallone’s films are usually hit or miss. Stallone had originally been attached to Beverly Hills Cop as the lead. When tasked with rewriting the script, he had removed most of the comedy beats in favor of a darker action film. Realizing that the action sequences were beyond the studio’s budget, they passed on his script. Stallone would take these ideas and use them for Cobra. Cobra’s production history has been well-documented in the past with stories of Stallone’s unprofessional behavior to a rumored x-rated cut that had to be cut down to have a wider audience appeal. Despite all this, Cobra still manages to be an exciting action film, flaws and all!

Stallone’s face and name may be on the poster, but it’s Brian Thompson’s terrifying performance as the Night Slasher that leaves an impression. Thompson’s physicality, cast-iron jawline, and booming voice are just the icing on the cake; the glue that holds this performance together is Thompson’s intensity. In the showdown between Cobra and the Night Slasher, the villain gives an impassioned monologue of how the strong will survive and how the weak will perish. Thompson’s delivery of that monologue works so well because it’s delive. The beads of sweat dripping from the Slasher’s face as well as his baritone voice further drive home the point that this man might not even be human at all. He’s a hunter and he won’t stop until he’s killed his prey. A couple of extra scenes could have further established the menace of the Night Slasher, but Thompson is still able to be effective with the little material he is given.

Cobra’s original runtime was over two hours but had to be cut down to 87 minutes for more theater screenings. While the film was now viable for wider distribution, it came at the cost of underdeveloped subplots and characters; particularly the romance between Cobretti and Ingrid. Stallone and Nielsen were in a relationship during the filming of Cobra but their onscreen chemistry would make you think otherwise. Stallone has been a romantic lead in the past with Rocky, but with Cobra, it doesn’t feel appropriate for the character. Brigitte Nielsen herself has nothing to do other than be the damsel in distress. If it had been so crucial for these two to fall in love, it would have been best to flesh out their relationship with more screen time together.

The Night Slasher is the leader of a murderous cult, but because of the film’s lean runtime, there’s little time spent in developing the murder cult or how they function. The most insight the film provides is the fact that they bang their axes in unison which, while creepy, hardly passes for world-building. If the basic idea is that they want to kill people, that’s fine, but a few sequences of these people doing bad things would only help in amplifying the personal stakes.

Amidst all the studio meddling, they knew better than to botch the main selling point: the action sequences! Cobra has it all: shootouts, car chases, and excessive explosions. Whether you love or hate a Stallone film, there’s no denying that his action sequences will always be high quality. The car chase between Cobretti and the Slasher’s troops is a fun showcase of practical stunts and good editing. The camera follows the chase from all over the Long Beach area as both cars are driven through oncoming traffic and dangerous roads. It’s an adrenaline rush that only an 80’s film can achieve. Stallone’s attention to detail as well as his willingness to perform many of Cobra’s stunts are a large part of why his action films continue to resonate with audiences.

Cobra is a bit of a mess, but when one takes into consideration just how difficult the filmmaking process was, it could have been much worse. Brian Thompson delivers a devilish performance that will terrify you and Stallone once again plays up his action hero persona to great effect. I’m the pantheon of 80’s action, it’s easy to see why it’s received cult status. The shorter runtime might not have served the film well, but the film’s set pieces and characters are enough to hold the film together.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The opening shootout at the supermarket feels all too real in our current world which is why it works so well. This sequence feels closer to the darker tone that Stallone was apparently going for when he first wrote the script for Cobra. Marco Rodriguez, the actor portraying the Supermarket Killer, deserves every award you can give him! He’s only in this one sequence but he takes full advantage of it by dishing out a performance that is off the walls. The moment Cobretti comes in to save the day is the moment you can finally breathe a sigh of relief because you know he’s going to save the day. Even if you get nothing else out of Cobra, this sequence is undoubtedly the high mark of the film.

DRAGON INN – A WUXIA CLASSIC

An unlikely group of heroes must band together to protect the innocent in King Hu’s Dragon Inn. Following the execution of the emperor’s minister of defense, the malicious eunuch Cao banishes the minister of defense’s children to the self-titled “Dragon Inn” where he dispatches his troops to execute them. The only obstacle in their way, however, are a group of fighters – Xiao Shao-zi and the Zhu siblings. Can they defeat Cao and keep the children out of harm’s way or will they fall to the blade of the enemy? “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” says the boomer. In this case, they happen to be right! Here is Dragon Inn.

When one thinks of Wuxia films, we tend to associate them with the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero. Dragon Inn isn’t as big as those films have but what it lacks in scale, it makes up for with intricate set pieces and nail-biting tension. Every sequence in this film is an absolute banger! Danger lurks in every corner of the Dragon Inn and Hu masterfully builds that tension to its breaking point. The best moments come in watching how the characters respond to the situations they’re put in and it results in tremendously exciting payoffs while also establishing the competence of the protagonists.

The poisoned wine sequence is the best example of Hu’s use of tension, atmosphere, with a touch of comedy to boot. As our heroes sit and dine with Cao’s soldiers, they intentionally poison the Zhu siblings’ drinks. Sister Zhu, the sharpest of the siblings, catches word of it through Xiao and attempts to get Brother Zhu’s attention without Cao’s men noticing. It’s a witty back-and-forth between the Zhu siblings and Cao’s men as each side coaxes the other to drink the poisoned cup.

While the old-school filmmaking has aged well, the action sequences did come across a little silly. It isn’t a bad thing, especially considering that the film is over 60 years old, but for a modern audience, it does take some getting used to. It’s a Time Capsule to a time before special effects and when practical stunts reigned supreme. It’s easy to see why Dragon Inn is hailed as a classic: it’s the result of a director’s use of atmosphere, space, and tension to craft an action film that’s expertly staged. The dedication of the actors in not only performing their own stunts but also in delivering charismatic performances further aids in the immersion. Dragon Inn is a certified classic that will appeal to action fans and cinephiles alike!

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: A good payoff is only as good as its setup and the final fight between Cao and the five swordsmen lives up to the hype! Throughout the film, it’s established that Cao is not to be taken lightly. Those who know Cao describe him as one of the fastest and most proficient fighters around which makes him overmatched for just one person. It takes teamwork and strategy to fight Cao, but even when cornered, he still makes it a challenge for our heroes to defeat him. The final fight is also visually stunning and captures the gorgeous vistas of the Chinese mountainside. The location feels just as much a part of the action as the characters and provides a sense of space for the actors to play off of. Even by today’s standards, this sequence works because of how well-established the characters are and just how scary Cao can be in a fight. The sequences track smoothly and never cut abruptly; it’s a synchronized performance of choreography and camerawork.

Castle Falls: Time is Money

Two badasses, a stack of cash, and less than twenty-four hours to make it out alive, Castle Falls pits Dolph Lundgren (who also serves as the film’s director) and Scott Adkins against a group of thugs who are out to find a stash of money hidden within an abandoned hospital that’s soon to be demolished. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, our heroes have only a few hours to make it out with the money and their lives. Will they beat the odds or will we find them buried within the rubble? In this review, we’ll be breaking down The Rad, The Bad, and The Final Takedown.

THE RAD: Castle Falls feels much more restrained and deliberately paced than one would expect, and it works! Mike Wade (Adkins), is a disgraced fighter who’s so broke that he’s forced to sleep in his pickup truck. Richard Ericson (Lundgren) is a prison guard trying to pay for his daughter’s cancer treatment. The film does a good job of establishing the characters’ motivations which results in the action feeling much more personal and engrossing.

THE BAD: Intercut with the action are scenes of the city’s mayor and townspeople preparing for the demolition of the abandoned hospital, but these scenes show up at random moments in the film and don’t feel organic to the film’s pace. The first half of the film does an excellent job at setting up the characters and their motivations, but the ticking clock element of the second half is clumsy and does not effectively raise the stakes.

Along with the lack of urgency, the villains also pose no real threat to our heroes. Scott Hunter plays Deacon Glass, the big bad of the film, but unfortunately he’s about as memorable as a one-night stand. Hunter has the chops to be an intimidating villain, but the character is underwritten and is too generic to ever be taken seriously. None of his henchmen are memorable either, and they serve no other purpose than to be cannon fodder. The final fight sequence between Glass and Wade is visually impressive, but ultimately lacks any real dramatic tension.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The fight between Lundgren and Adkins is delightful! What’s instantly noteworthy about this sequence is how well Lundgren and Adkins play off each other. While it’s apparent that Adkins is more agile and spry, Lundgren proves that he’s still capable as a physical performer. This sequence is reminiscent of the Roddy Piper/Keith David fight in They Live. Watching our heroes duke it out before they must ultimately work together is a highlight for any action fan. 

THE FINAL TAKEDOWN: Castle Falls is a solid action film that, while not particularly memorable, provides just enough drama and thrills to keep you entertained for an hour and a half. The film’s pace will either keep you on the edge of your seat or will have you sinking into the couch, but once the action starts, it’ll lock you in. Lundgren might not have the style or technique of other top tier action directors, but he brings an authenticity that is present within every frame. Castle Falls is a fun, low budget, thriller; if you’re looking for an easily digestible action film, this will satisfy your craving.

2021 Best of Part 2:

Without further ado, let’s finish this!

5) The Setup and Payoff of Dolph Lundgren’s Castle Falls

This film is a treat for action fans and not just because of its immaculately staged action sequences. Dolph Lundgren’s conviction in establishing his characters’ motivations is the film’s greatest asset. By the time the action begins, you’re hooked because you understand what’s at stake for both Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins.

4) The Bizarre Personality of Kevin Lewis’ Willy’s Wonderland

Watching Nicolas Cage curb stomp a demonic animatronic gorilla is the icing on the cake for a film that’s so ridiculous but also entertaining. Willy’s Wonderland is a wild concoction of scary, funny, and action-packed that manages to blend together seamlessly. Nicolas Cage movies are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Fortunately, this is one of the good Cage films because it fully embraces its premise and uses it to deliver some terrific action sequences as well as a silent and menacing performance from Nicolas Cage.

3) The Last Duel in Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel

The king is back to deliver one of the most epic battle sequences since Gladiator! After two hours of buildup, the climax of The Last Duel absolutely delivers with an action sequence that starts out exciting but ends up being repulsive by the time it reaches its conclusion. The lack of score is also a nice touch that helps emphasize the barbaric nature of the battle. The entire film itself is terrific, but for fans of Gladiator, the final duel between Matt Damon and Adam Driver is pure spectacle.

2) The Anxiety and Existential Dread of Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby

Shiva Baby is an hour-and-a-half of awkward moments that are effectively conveyed through claustrophobic closeups, a grating score, and a banger performance from Rachel Sennott! On the surface, Shiva Baby is a series of unfortunate events, but the subtext of existential crisis is where the true horror lies as we follow a young adult who can’t get her life together.

1) The Subervise Nature of Michael Sarnoski’s Pig

I’m so glad I went into this one completely blind. This is what some would affectionately call the “anti-John Wick” and for good reason. The film has the setup of a typical revenge film, but it handles it in a way that feels fresh; where you would expect the film zig, Pig goes in an entirely different direction. This might be one of Nicolas Cage’s most understated performances and you can feel that there’s so much beneath the surface. Pig is a quiet and melancholic film that relies more on mood and character as opposed to full-on action.

2021 Best Of:

The year 2020 left the world in a state of uncertainty and panic but 2021 saw it picking up the pieces, a sentiment that can also be applied to film. Delayed theatrical releases, halted film productions, and the accelerated growth of streaming services could not keep the film experience at bay; cinema is alive and it’s here to stay! This year gave us new films from proven directors as well as debuts for promising new filmmakers. As we reach the end of 2021, it’s time to look back and celebrate what cinema brought us this past year. Here are some of my favorite things about some of my favorite films of 2021.

10) Peter Parker’s Arc in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: No Way Home

I’m admittedly not particularly fond of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man films; I think the character has had access to too many resources that it’s robbed us of truly connecting with the character on a personal level. With No Way Home, everything Peter ever had to fall back on is slowly taken away from him until he’s left with nothing but his wits and intellect. No Way Home has Peter learn the true meaning of responsibility as he fully embraces what it means to be Spider-Man. Let’s hope they don’t undo everything too soon.

9) The Fight Choreography of Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi

It’s official: Shang-Chi has some of the best action sequences in a Marvel film to date. From the graceful and balletic fight sequence of the film’s opening to the vicious bus fight between Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi’s action isn’t engaging simply for its immaculate choreography, but because of the emotional stakes attached to it.

8) The Conclusion of Cary Fukunaga’s “No Time To Die”

The Craig era of Bond films borrowed heavily from Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and much like The Dark Knight Rises, Cary Fukunaga and co. give Bond an emotional conclusion that’s both shocking yet earned. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Bond dies! From Casino Royale to No Time to Die, each subsequent film saw Bond slowly tearing down his cold exterior until we finally get a James Bond who’s not afraid to love. It’s a wonderful swan song for Daniel Craig and a cathartic conclusion for fans of his interpretation of the character.

7) The Message of David Lowery’s The Green Knight

Gawain is kind of a terrible protagonist. He’s impulsive, selfish, and in over his head, which is what makes him a compelling character. Gawain’s journey is an odyssey of self-discovery as he learns what it truly means to be a man. He stumbles along the way but once the film reaches its conclusion, Gawain’s transformation is one that feels earned and triumphant.

6) Tammy Faye’s Final Song in Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye

This sequence is all about perspective. It may play out differently depending on where you stand on the character of Tammy Faye, but no matter where you fall, it doesn’t matter to our lead protagonist. In the eyes of Tammy Faye, she’s a superstar and we’re all just living in her world.

Time to Pull the Plug – The Matrix Resurrections

During the penultimate battle between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix Revolutions, Smith, thinking he has the upper hand, proudly asserts his misplaced dominance over Neo. “The purpose of all life is to end.” Neo, in an act of defiance, rises back up with his iconic “bring it on” hand gesture as Don Davis’ score triumphantly plays in the background. They resume their battle and what follows is a gorgeous wide shot of their silhouettes against a backdrop of a large building window as they trade blows. This one-shot alone is more unique than anything in The Matrix: Resurrections.

Set twenty years after the original, it’s revealed that the events of The Matrix were a videogame created by  Thomas Anderson, played once again by Keanu Reeves. Mr. Anderson, unable to decipher truth from reality, regularly visits a therapist played by Neil Patrick Harris who prescribes him blue pills to keep his visions at bay. Anderson’s business partner and boss Smith, played by Jonathan Groff, informs Anderson that Warner Brothers has assigned them to create a Matrix 4, and that they would carry through with its production regardless of Anderson’s involvement. The first third of Resurrections is undoubtedly its strongest and effectively plays with the metatextual narrative of sequels, legacy, and nostalgia. The other two-thirds, however, squander whatever promise the film might have had.

Once again, Neo is awakened from the simulated reality of the Matrix, only this time, he’s retained all of his powers and “still knows Kung Fu.” One of the biggest issues is Resurrections’ lack of stakes. We are once again given a sparring sequence between Neo and a rebooted Morpheus played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II akin to the first Matrix film; the final product, however, lacks the energy of its predecessor. The sparring sequence in The Matrix had an experienced Morpheus teaching a younger, inexperienced Neo to hone his newfound skill while also establishing the rules of the Matrix. When you add in the fluid camerawork, it helps the action move smoothly without confusing the audience. The sparring sequence in Resurrections is a half-baked retread with no character development or stakes because Neo has already gone through this. . It also doesn’t help that the camerawork of Resurrections is too frantic and lacks flow and rhythm

At its core, The Matrix was a sci-fi romance between Neo and Trinity, and while Resurrections tries to get back to that essence, it never fully pays off. Throughout the film, it’s revealed that the machines resurrected Neo and Trinity because their love for each other was a powerful energy source that could fuel the Matrix; one cannot work without the other. It’s a new idea that could have effectively expanded the mythology of The Matrix, but because Resurrections sidelines Carrie Anne Moss’ Trinity for most of its runtime, the end result feels unearned. The chemistry between Reeves and Moss is still as poignant as it was all those years ago, but Trinity feels less like a character and more like an object in Resurrections. She has next to nothing to do save for the third act. As the film reaches its end,  Wachowski gives us a moment that was meant to be the ultimate payoff but instead feels lands with a massive thud. 

For a sequel to a franchise that revolutionized modern filmmaking, Resurrections feels as if it took all of the worst aspects of modern films with its lifeless CGI, underdeveloped characters, and atrocious action sequences. For whatever the sequels lacked, there was still some sort of craft and care put within its visuals and action. Not even a week upon release, Resurrections has already amassed quite the division amongst fans. While one side views Resurrections as a disownment of the original trilogy, the opposite side views the film as a brave new step for the franchise. Regardless of where one falls on the spectrum, Resurrections is more concerned with ideas as opposed to actual filmmaking.


No matter how hard Resurrections tries to pave its own way, it can’t seem to shake off the shadow that was the original Matrix trilogy. At times, it tries to break the mold and subvert expectations, but with its underdeveloped characters and general lack of stakes, those subversions are more infuriating than innovative. Being subversive does not give you a pass for being uninspired and this is what Resurrections feels like: an uninspired sequel masking its true nature by pretending to be “subversive.”

Car chases and Court Cases – Shakedown Review

Two of the manliest voices in Hollywood enter the grimy underbelly of New York City to crack down a case involving drug dealers and crooked cops in James Glickenhaus’ Shakedown. Peter Weller’s Roland Dalton is a public defender on his last case before retirement. The case in question is that of Richard Brooks’ Michael Jones, a crack dealer on trial for shooting dead a police officer. Brooks claims it was an act of self-defense after the police officer attempted to rob him of his drugs and money. Dalton enlists the aid of Sam Elliott’s Richie Marks, a narcotics agent, to help him solve the case. As the plot unfolds, both our heroes sink deeper into a larger conspiracy of corruption deep within the seedy underground of New York City. Can they exonerate Michael Jones, or will both heroes be buried beneath the gritty New York streets?

From the dirt and grime of New York City to the gruff and rugged masculinity of its characters, Shakedown is a time capsule to an era that no longer exists. One of the strongest aspects of Glickenhaus’ film is how authentically he displays the gritty aesthetic of 80’s New York. You can practically smell the city from the screen. Nothing is welcoming about Shakedown’s New York City where only the worst of the worst live. In Shakedown, danger lurks within every corner of the city.

Amidst the smoky haze is Elliott’s Richie Marks, the rugged loner sporting one of the greatest mustaches in film history. In contrast, is Weller’s Roland Dalton, the clean-cut straight man to Marks’ macho tough guy. Dalton’s brains mixed with Marks’ brawn makes for an interesting dynamic. Most buddy films would have both characters meeting for the first time, but from the moment both characters appear together onscreen, their interaction hints at past adventures. It’s a shame that Shakedown never had any sequels because the charisma from Weller and Elliott could have spawned countless sequels.

Part legal drama and part action film, Shakedown runs the risk of feeling tonally inconsistent, but in some strange way, both blend seamlessly. Whether hanging out in the courtroom with Dalton or chasing down some thugs with Marks, Shakedown moves at a sprightly pace. In part, it works not only because the characters are compelling, but also because James Glickenhaus is adept at balancing two different genres. As we watch Dalton in the courtroom, it’s clear to see that he’s good and passionate about his job despite his self-proclaimed desire to retire. Weller’s presence helps move the courtroom sequences along at a good pace.

Glickenhaus’ strengths also extend to the action sequences. Not quite as action-heavy as one would expect, but the sequences we do get in Shakedown are high-octane spectacle! The first car chase in the film is viscerally astounding and further proves that practical effects will always triumph over CGI. The action does little to further the plot in any meaningful way, but the skill and craft do more than enough to provide surface-level thrills. It’s an expertly composed symphony of car flips and explosions. 

The weakest aspects of Shakedown come from its faulty plot and script. While Peter Weller does the most with the material he’s given, the love triangle between him, Patricia Charbonneau, and Blanche Baker is extraneous. A subplot with a final resolution that is both anticlimactic and mean-spirited should have been fleshed out or cut out entirely. Had they cut out that one subplot, there might have been more time to build to a stronger conclusion because the third act falls where the previous acts soared. Shakedown ends ten minutes after it should have ended and it’s due to the fact that the film needed to close out all the loose threads.

Shakedown is a rusty time capsule to the sleazy action film of the 80s. While the plot only serves as a table setting for the action set pieces, it’s justified when the action is expertly executed. Peter Weller and Sam Elliott’s dynamite chemistry is the glue that holds this film together; they’re truly a match made in heaven. It’s easy to see why a film like Shakedown was dismissed at its time of release, but now, in a time where action films feel artificial, Shakedown is a film where the action actually feels exciting and authentic. For fans of old-school action films, Shakedown is a spectacle from beginning to end.