Quick Takes: Nightmare City, Your Highness, The Foot Fist Way

nightmare-city-poster-161Nightmare City [Incubo Sulla Cittá Contaminata] (1980)
AKA City of the Walking Dead

fourstar

Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani, Eduardo Fajardo, Stefania D’Amario, Ugo Bologna
Directed by Umberto Lenzi

I’ve had Nightmare City on my radar for a while, but the arrival of Tom Savini’s crowdfunded remake-to-be gave me that extra little push in the right direction. Simply put, Nightmare City is a fuckin’ blast. I’ve always been a firm supporter of traditional, walking zombies, with the focus on the incessant nature of the never-tiring horde instead of the more immediate threat that running zombies deliver. But Nightmare City, the first film to use running zombies, proved to me that they can be just as fun, if not more. Director Umberto Lenzi crafts a film with scene after scene of pure balls-out madness, and the way it all bursts forth and inundates the unsuspecting viewer is incredible fun. One moment I was in tense apprehension for what might be behind that aircraft door, and then WHAM! A fucking horde of mud-faced, bloodthirsty fiends runs out, and the rest of the movie never lets up. The running zombies work here because Lenzi still embraces the overwhelming nature of the horde, while also delivering more fun than I think I’ve ever had with a zombie movie. It’s firmly a B-Movie, though, so many will scoff at its low-budget FX, but I say fuck all that and just have a good time with it!

yourhighness_1Your Highness (2011)
threestar

Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Rasmus Hardiker, Natalie Portman, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux, Zooey Deschanel, Charles Dance, Damian Lewis
Directed by David Gordon Green

Not sure how to review this one because it’s the kind of movie you pretty much know how you’ll feel about it before you watch it. If you liked Eastbound & Down and you’ve come on a quest for more Danny McBride to put in your head, Your Highness is a hoot. It helps if you also have an affinity for ’80s movies, specifically ’80s fantasy flicks like Beastmaster or Conan the Barbarian. If you’re not that person, I can’t imagine this being anything close to entertaining. But for me, I’m firmly in the first group, so I really enjoyed seeing Danny McBride in a fantasy setting. The ’80s-style CG lightning was also a quick way to my heart, but I think the perverted, Yoda-like Wise Wizard, brought to life by a puppet, really sealed the deal. Where a lot of ’80s throwbacks just feel like modern movies, Your Highness actually gets the spirit of ’80s sword-and-sorcery movies down pat, and it’s got more than its share of hilarity if you’re in the right frame of mind.

foot_fist_way_xlgThe Foot Fist Way (2006)
threestar

Starring Danny McBride, Mary Jane Bostic, Ben Best, Spencer Moreno, Carlos Lopez, Jody Hill, Ken Aguilar, Collette Wolfe
Directed by Jody Hill

Your Highness got me in the mood for some more Danny McBride, which naturally led me to The Foot Fist Way. McBride plays a Tae Kwon Do instructor that is every bit the foul-mouthed blowhard you’d expect him to be. The character is not as defined as McBride’s Kenny Powers role on Eastbound & Down, but you can clearly see the beginnings of that idea in The Foot Fist Way. Fans will definitely enjoy this one, but as this is the roughest of the McBride films, it’s not one to show everybody. Of course, I love me some martial arts, so the parody of that environment and the characters that inhabit it hit very solidly with me.

Quick Takes: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Under the Skin, High Road to China

cap2_1Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
threestar

Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Maximiliano Hernández, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones
Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier much better than I liked the first Cap movie, but it definitely wasn’t the game-changing superhero movie that I had heard it was. Good thing I don’t expect much other than heroes fighting villains in my superhero movies! Simply put: if you like the Marvel movies, definitely watch this. It features a lot of fun action and a few great things are introduced that will probably deliver more in later movies down the road. I do have to say that I’m surprised by how little any of the post-Avengers movies connect to each other. I don’t think it’s especially necessary, but with the idea that these movies are part of a “phase” now, it does make one think they ought to be more related than they are. But whatever, this one’s got Cap, Black Widow and Falcon all kickin’ ass and takin’ names, so I was more than happy with what I got.

UndertheSkinUnder the Skin (2014)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden
Directed by Jonathan Glazer

This is why I avoid trailers. Unfortunately, I happened to see the trailer for Under the Skin multiple times over the past few months while I saw repertory screenings at the local arthouse. The trailer is packed full of surreal, engaging imagery, and the marketers even went so far as to use quotes that suppose that director Jonathan Glaser might be an “heir to Kubrick.” So by the time I actually saw Under the Skin, it was thoroughly overhyped and unable to deliver on my expectations. But I definitely liked it. It’s a strange little science fiction movie that creates a significant, believable portrayal of an alien on Earth with effectively no budget and mostly non-professional actors. There’s lots of nudity throughout, and much of it feels gratuitous and only there to add to the film’s hype (given Johansson’s fame). This, in turn, made me imagine the film with the character genders reversed but the nudity the same, and what the reception may have been like then. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be quite the critical darling it seems to be and it probably would’ve been NC-17, too. Apparently, like the men in the film, even critics can succumb to the beauty of Scarlett Johansson.

highroad_1High Road to China (1983)
twohalfstar

Starring Tom Selleck, Bess Armstrong, Jack Weston, Wilford Brimley, Robert Morley, Brian Blessed, Cassandra Gava, Michael Sheard
Directed by Brian G. Hutton

High Road to China is an enjoyable, entertaining film… when it’s not being annoying and too slowly paced. I had hoped to see more of China in a film with this title (and considering that it was co-produced by Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest), but it really is about the road TO China. The aerial footage of the bi-planes, whether it’s grand scenes of scenic beauty or old-fashioned dogfights, is gorgeous and adds considerably to the film’s draw. Evidently, at the time of release this was seen as a Raiders of the Lost Ark clone, but the two films couldn’t be more different. High Road to China is a much more low-key adventure, with a much less likeable hero, but in this day and age of green screen, CG landscapes, it was wonderful to see actual planes flying in the actual air over the actual mountains. If you’re a Tom Selleck fan, definitely give this one a shot.

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Daniel Mays, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Joe Starr, Enn Reitel, Mackenzie Crook

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Expectations: Somewhat high, but I should know better.


Sometimes I get excited about a film despite my better judgement nagging me incessantly to watch something else. This would be one of those times. I read some of the Tintin books as a child, but I am by no means a scholar or in any way knowledgeable about them. I remember the basics, but not much else. When Spielberg announced that he would finally film a couple of the books, I got excited. I thought, “This will be like a new Indiana Jones film, and preferably one without all the negative trappings of the fourth entry into that series (although, I still find that one remarkably enjoyable for some reason).” Then my excitement waned a bit as it was also announced Tintin would be all motion capture animation. I’m not a fan of Robert Zemeckis’s popular forays into the technology, so I found myself torn, wondering if I should be excited or indifferent. Well, I’ve seen Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and honestly it’s a bit of both.

The film jumps right into the storyline without a shred of character development or stage-setting or anything. Just right into the intrigue. OK, I can hang. If it means more time for fun, high-stakes shenanigans, I’m in. Tintin buys a model ship from a street vendor and is immediately accosted by one man willing to pay double, and then another asking him to, “Name his price.” Tintin, of course, states that the ship is not for sale and returns home with it only to have a short scuffle between Tintin’s dog Snowy and an alleycat result in the ship’s masts breaking, and the secret within to fall out.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Richard Armitage, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, JJ Feild, Bruno Ricci

Directed by Joe Johnston

Expectations: High. Thor was great, and I hope this can lead me into The Avengers in a spectacular way.


Ever since I heard Marvel was producing an Avengers film with a Captain America film leading into it, I knew exactly how it should end. The Captain America origin storyline has a built-in cliffhanger that could naturally segue the character into the team structure of what the Avengers film must be. So imagine my surprise when the first scene in Captain America: The First Avenger uses this cliffhanger, effectively letting the air out of the balloon before it even gets the chance to fill up, or even introduce the balloon at all. Oh man, this can’t be a good sign.

Captain America wasn’t always the super soldier he’s now known as. He started as Steve Rogers, a 4F frail weakling who possesses such a desire to fight for his country that he tries anything he can to get another shot at the recruitment process. One of these times he catches the eye of a defected German scientist (played somewhat poorly by Stanley Tucci) who has developed a super serum that can turn Rogers into a beefed-up, Nazi-smashing version of himself. Thus is born Captain America.

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