The TSL’s Grindhouse: Avengement (dir by Jesse V. Johnson)

I’m not really sure if “Avengement” is actually a word but, regardless, that’s what Cain Burgess is determined to get.  AVENGEMENT!

Martial artist Scott Adkins plays Cain in this 2019 British film.  When we first meet Cain, he’s in prison but that quickly changes once he manages to escape.  Cain heads to a pub, one that’s owned by his brother, Lincoln (Craig Faibrass).  After he’s taken everyone in the pub hostage, we learn about how Cain not only came to be a prisoner but also how he ended up with some rather prominent facial scars.  It turns out that Cain likes to tell a story and, for whatever reason, the gangsters are willing to sit around and listen.  Through the use of flashbacks, we see how Cain went from being an innocent martial artist to being the most feared man in prison.  We see how he learned to kill and how not even getting acid thrown in his face could slow him down.  Cain’s a scary dude and he’s out for revenge!  Or avengement!

Of course, we also can’t help but notice that a lot of Cain’s adventures feel as if they’ve been lifted from other British crime films.  The talkative gangsters bring to mind the films of Guy Ritchie.  A lengthy chase scene owes more than a little to the opening on Trainspotting.  Even the fight in the pub owes a bit to the finale of Shaun of the Dead.  It’s all a bit familiar but then again, that’s part of the appeal of the modern British crime thriller.  We watch these films specifically for the posh villains and the pub fights and the often indecipherable dialogue.  The familiarity is often exactly what the viewer is looking for.  (That said, I was a little bit surprised by the lack of Russian mobsters wearing track suits.  That was a missed opportunity.)  I think the other reason why Americans, in particular, like British gangster films is the novelty of seeing that British gangsters can be just as unnecessarily violent as American gangsters.  It’s nice to be reminded that America isn’t the only country that breeds violence.

Speaking of violence, Avengement is a very violent film and it’s also often a very bloody film.  When you consider how much of the film takes place in prison, it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of stabbings.  (What is somewhat surprising is that there are also a lot of stabbings outside of prison, even when there are guns nearby.)  I’m usually not a fan of gratuitous violence but Avengement handles it all with a certain wit.  The violence is so over-the-top that it’s hard not to suspect that the filmmakers are commenting on the excessive nature of other British gangster films.  There’s a lengthy montage of Cain just fighting anyone who comes near him and it goes on for so long that it actually becomes somewhat humorous.  It’s hard not to feel at least a little admiration for Cain’s determination to start a fight with every single person that he sees.  He certainly doesn’t give up.  Scott Adkins is a gymnast, along with being a martial artist, and there’s a grace to his movements that comes through even when the film is at its most brutal.  Early on, I joked that the film would only work if its ultraviolent protagonist turned out to be likable and strangely enough, that’s exactly what happened.  Scott Adkins, to my surprise, turned out to be not only an exciting fighter but also a pretty good actor.  He shows enough screen presence in Avengement to make viewers hope that he’ll someday get a major action role.

Avengement is a ferocious but entertaining and unpretentious action film.  Watch it.  Experience it.  Just don’t worry about trying to understand what everyone’s talking about.  Just assume that everyone has a reason to want Cain dead and Cain has a reason to want the same for everyone else and there should not be any trouble at all.

The Drifter (1932, directed by William A. O’Connor)

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

This line, which has been recycled in so many western parodies, is actually used seriously in The Drifter, a forgotten western from the pre-code era.  The line is delivered by Montana (Russell Hopton) and he’s speaking to a mysterious character known only as The Drifter (William Farnum).

The Drifter is a French-Canadian who has spent decades searching for his lost-lost brother but who is now ready to go into town, get work as a logger, and hopefully find a woman to marry.  Along with a mysterious man who is named Whitey and who is played by Charles Sellon, The Drifter is hired to work for local lumber magnate, John McNary (Noah Beery).  The Drifter impresses everyone with his good hearted ways and he falls in love with McNary’s daughter, Bonnie (Phyllis Barrington).  Unfortunately, Phyllis is already dating Paul LaTour (Bruce Warren), who is her father’s main business rival.  But before The Drifter can concentrate on winning Phyllis away from LaTour and also solving the mystery of his own missing family, he has to deal with the most dangerous man in town, Montana.  As Montana puts it, the town’s not big enough for both him and The Drifter.

The Drifter‘s story is potentially interesting but the low-budget, the shoddy production values, and a slow pace all conspire to do the film in.  This was one of the countless western programmers that was produced in the early 30s.  Like many of the other poverty row productions of the era, it starred an actor who had been huge during the silent era but who struggled to find work during the early years of the sound era.  William Farnum started as a stage actor and as a protegee to Edwin Booth, who was largely considered to be America’s finest stage actor even if he was forever tainted by being the brother of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth.  Farnum’s very theatrical style of acting made him perfect for both Broadway and for the silent film era, a time when actors had to use big movements and dramatic facial expressions in order to convey their emotions.  When the sound era came along, Farnum’s style was suddenly no longer in vogue and, unfortunately, it took him a while to adjust to working with sound.  Even in a sound film like The Drifter where he had dialogue, Farnum gives the type of overly theatrical performance that was more common during the silent era.  What’s interesting is that Farnum’s performance actually works for the character of The Drifter, who is meant to be an outsider who struggles to communicate with other people.  Despite some implausible twists at the end, the rest of The Drifter isn’t as interesting.

Farnum eventually did adjust to the sound era and he became a respected character actor, playing many captains and many judges.  In 1953, when he died at the age of 76, Hollywood turned out to pay their respects.  Cecil B. DeMille and Paramount Picture co-founder Jesse B. Lasky served as pallbearers.

Here’s The Teaser For Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor is one of the more remarkable success stories of the MCU.

He started out as the kind of boring super hero whose origin didn’t make much sense and who felt a bit out-of-place with the other Avengers.  (It was always funny to him how quickly they all were to accept the fact that Norse mythology was based on reality.)  But, thanks to director Taika Waititi and actor Chris Hemsworth, he’s been transformed into one of the most beloved characters in the MCU.  Waititi and Hemsworth both realized Thor was a ludicrous character and the best way to handle that would be to embrace the silliness of it all.

That was the approach that they took with Thor: Ragnarok and it appears to be the same approach they’ll be taking with Thor: Love and Thunder.  And, of course, Chris Pratt and the Guardians of the Galaxy are the perfect people to help them do that!

Here’s the teaser for Thor: Love and Thunder!

Music Video of the Day: Anthem For The Year 2000 (1999, directed by Gavin Bowden)

Does anyone remember Silverchair?

They were the band from Australia who got a lot of attention because they were all teenagers who weren’t even old enough to drink when they were big in America.  From the minute that Silverchair showed up on MTV in the 90s, it has been fashionable to dismiss them as being overly derivative of the other bands that were popular at the time.  That’s a valid complaint and the lead singer always tried too hard to be angsty but Silverchair did get better towards the end of their run and, if they were derivative, they were never as cynically blatant about it as band like Bush was.

Anthem For The Year 2000 is one of their better songs.  To understand both the song and the video, you have to think back to what the world was like in 1999, when everyone was worried that Y2K would lead to computer systems shutting down across the world.  It was also a time when people were very worried about “the new world order,” as seen by the video’s robot politician.  Actually, I guess 1999 isn’t that different from 2022.