Well, here we are. Two weeks and change into quarantine and, if you’re anything like me, the idea of being excited for any reason other than acute anxiety is a distant memory. We’re all working on forming some kind of routine, we’re all trying to keep our sanity intact, but “fun” is a pretty tough prospect in the middle of a global pandemic. Last week I wrote about using film to help chill yourself out; this week we’re donning our bomber jackets, buckling on our gun belts, and revving up our motorcycles to jump the canyon of feeling anything at all. It’s the Fanbyte film club: adventure edition.
1. The Mummy
Brendan Fraser’s big, expressive features and boyish good looks anchor a cast of rogues and misfits in one of the definitive modern summer flicks. This movie is like driving a convertible down a dirt road with the top down, dusty and grimy and exuberant with just enough danger to hold an edge even through its sillier moments. Mercifully, it precedes the snarky Whedonisms of the modern blockbuster by a critical couple of years, opting instead for earnest laughs and physical comedy along with a genuinely satisfying Indiana Jones-esque romance. Pure popcorn, unironic and fast-moving.
2. The Mask of Zorro
Another late ‘90s banger of an adventure flick, The Mask of Zorro throws Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones into what is perhaps the pure Platonic ideal of a “romp.” Colonial exploitation, tragic love affairs, and probably the single greatest exhibition of technical mastery in on-screen fencing of the 20th century’s back half (Bob Anderson, later of Lord of the Rings fame, trained the cast personally) hit like a mouthful of coke and Mentos. The leads are dashing, the villains are despicable, and it’s neither egregiously violent nor overly sanitized.
3. Drunken Master
An early Jackie Chan outing and one of the funniest, most athletic things the infamous daredevil martial artist has ever starred in, Drunken Master hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until every bone in its body is hilariously broken. The movie is essentially just a few thin excuses to pit a bunch of talented martial artists and physical comedians against each other in increasingly outrageous matchups, and the second it lands its last punch it ends with hysterical immediacy. There’s also a scene in which an evil kung fu master, the deadliest man in the land, drops the hero’s pants into a fire just to be an asshole.
You could bounce a quarter off of this movie. James Cameron’s direction and Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay are fast, smart, and thorough, establishing each character with a few broad but artful strokes and then racing onward toward the action without a second wasted. The creature design, all phallic barbs and pelvic arches, is some of the most physically provocative in horror film, jabbing at the viewer’s fight or flight response like catching sight of a wasp the size of a doberman pinscher might in real life. The gripping maternal anxiety material around which the film’s thrills are wrapped makes the whole thing hit like a brick to the face.
Maybe the least pretentious action movie of the past twenty years. Dredd is about two super-cops, “Judges” in the parlance of its grimly run-down futuristic setting, who respond to a call at a gigantic tenement building only to find themselves sealed in with a psychopathic gangster (Lena Headey) and her vicious crew. Dreamily oversaturated colors, crystal-clear slow motion drug sequences, and brutally coherent action make it easy to lose yourself in Dredd’s cynical, pulpy squalor. Lena Headey’s feral, grinning savagery and Karl Urban’s scowling, implacable determination as the titular officer of the law bring it all home nicely.
More Like This:
- Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Top 10 Horror Films of the Decade
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire Review: Still Life in Motion
- 10 Chillwave Lo-Fi Hip Hop Movies to Quarantine Yourself To
Is it dumb? Yeah. Is it basically a well-off suburban dad power fantasy about Protecting Your Woman from dangerous hillbilly trash? Oh, most definitely. Does it nonetheless rip? I cannot tell a lie, my child. Yes. It rips. Kurt Russell as a boring office guy turned sweaty action hunk versus J. T. Walsh’s coldly villainous long-haul trucker and his posse of good old boys intent on taking this city slicker for all he’s got. Genuinely harrowing vehicular action. A few glimpses of stunningly real and affecting domestic horror. And to cap it all off, one of the great final fights of ‘90s action cinema with a deliciously satisfying villain death.
7. To Live and Die in L.A.
Sweaty, desperate, and constantly scrambling from one disaster to the next, To Live and Die in L.A. has a pouty, beautiful young Willem Dafoe and one-time action star William Petersen at peak scumbag hotness, plus one of the best car chases in any movie, bar none, with gorgeous curtains of boiling dust, rivers of traffic, and a nail-biting of string of near misses. Its story about secret service shitbags getting in over their heads while pursuing an infamous forger has surprising political bite, and when the tower of lies and double crosses finally comes down it’s in the midst of some of the most exciting, sleazy action out there.
8. Basic Instinct
Perhaps the most infamous of the currently dormant “erotic thriller” genre, Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct opens with a woman stabbing her bound sexual partner to death with an ice pick mid-fuck and only ratchets up from there. Sharon Stone is like a mantis camouflaging herself against traditional ideas of feminine sensitivity in order to lure men close enough for her to toy with before ripping their heads off, her performance so mocking and turn-on-a-dime nuanced that it’s never really clear what’s a mask and what’s a person. Basic Instinct is crackling neo-noir trashiness at its finest.
9. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
“Horny,” that primal emotion connected to a state of excitement and of hope for the future, is exemplified nowhere better than in Francis Ford Coppola’s last truly great flick. Coppola’s take on Dracula is, to put it mildly, batshit insane. Blood exploding out of a rococo manor’s walls in orgasmic breakers, Gary Oldman under fifty pounds of old age makeup and draped in costume designer Eiko Ishioka’s unforgettable gold-embroidered red gown feeding vampire Monica Bellucci a live human baby; everything is turned up to the max, everything is as disgusting and sexy as possible. It’s like that “everything happens so much” @Horse_ebooks tweet came to life and made a horror movie.
10. The Death of Stalin
Of all of Armando Ianucci’s pitch-black political comedies about the craven, dim-witted groupthink of bureaucrats and career politicians, this one is my favorite. With Steve Buscemi as a choleric, impatient Nikita Khruschev and Jason Isaacs as the incredibly handsome and glibly violent field marshal Zhukov, The Death of Stalin is relentlessly funny with just the right edge of putrid, acidic bite to its jokes about the essentially evil and self-destructive nature of authoritarian government. You’ve never laughed harder at the boot on your neck.