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End of Watch: two of LAPD’s finest end up with a bounty on their heads after accidentally disrupting the activities of a brutal cartel. From the opening car chase this feels very realistic, shot primarily on dashboard / surveillance / handheld cameras etc. This style not only lends itself to authenticity – glamour is played down throughout – but heightens the drama and urgency of action sequences. Both leads (Gyllenhaal and Peña) are superb, the naturalistic script makes them genuinely feel like friends, and their performances make you believe that they are regular guys – the fire scene in particular shows us that they are real heroes. What sets this aside from most cop films is that the antagonists are painted as being so ruthless and violent that there’s a genuine sense of danger that simmers throughout the film, hitting boiling point at the climax. My only major issue is that because the overall style is ‘handheld’/’genuine’ footage, characters in the middle of drive-by shootings / full-blown firefights / intimate moments are always carrying a camera/phone etc; even when there’s plenty shots in the film that aren’t handheld, so it seems a bit stupid. Also, if the penultimate scene had been cut, the ending would have also been so much more powerful. Niggles aside, End of Watch is a stunning cop film, with a strong ‘buddy’ vibe, real threat and two great performances at its heart. This is easily the best cop film in years, and arguably ever.

Score: 9/10

Weather Wars (AKA Storm War): when his R&D funding is cut by the government a mad scientist teaches them a lesson by unleashing biblical weather on D.C. No ifs, buts or maybes, this is 100% a TV movie; it even fades to black every 10-15 minutes. Story wise, the premise is interesting, and there’s some heavy science to explain and back it up too; this is complemented with some Interesting family dynamics. There’s not much going on in the acting department; Stacy Keach goes mad and everyone else is competent at best. The SFX are pretty standard, but there’s not nearly enough weather, warring or destruction for a film called Weather Wars (with a dvd cover depicting flood/fire/lightening mayhem.) The story chugs along mechanically but falls flat with a messy ending that’s impossible to follow. I love a bit of cheesy b-movie, but even by the SyFy channel’s standards this is poor. For die-hard SyFy / TV Movie fans only.

Score: 1.5/10

 

Chocolate: a retired loan shark falls ill, and her daughter goes out to get the money back to pay for the medical bills. Even though it’s clearly just an excuse for the action, the story is pretty bad, and was in the front seat for too long. Also the sooner Thailand realise that emotional scenes don’t have to feature slow motion filming and hammy cheap pop music, the better. What sets this film apart is the amazing action choreography, stunts and creative fighting. There’s five full-blown fights – Ice / Warehouse / Meat Factory / Showdown and Building – crammed with jaw dropping tricks and set pieces that most countries wouldn’t think about letting you try. As shown in the end credits the heroic (dumb) stuntmen here go through hell to get the perfect shot, and it pays off big time. Despite essentially having to play an autistic ninja, the lead girl does a stellar job and her stuntwork / fighting skills are immense – you can’t believe half of the things she’s doing. If you want to see a good story of vengeance and justice, Chocolate probably isn’t the best example, but if it’s insane stunts and action choreography a la Tony Jaa films, this hits the target.

Score: 6.5/10

The World is Not Enough: [Spoilers] when an oil tycoon is assassinated 007 is sent to protect the endangered daughter, a former hostage to one of the world’s most wanted men. After some success on the protecting front, Bond gets to the bottom of a scheme that will… erm… jack up the price of oil… (Note: villain aspirations were quite low in 1999, with Y2K getting all the attention)

Super mega cool submersible jet boat!!

Another Brosnan film, and another absolutely outstanding opening scene & mini-mission; Spanish bank robbery followed by MI6 bombing then the most ridiculously cool and insane boat chase ’round the Thames, over some streets (still on the boat!), wrapping up at the Millennium Dome.

Hot chick with a leather jacket and grenade launcher... <"blowing away" joke>

We sadly say goodbye to Q who, after the token gadget-based verbal jostle with Bond, Q says “always have an escape plan” and disappears before our eyes. While I may sound pathetic, this was hands down the most emotional and moving scene of the entire series for me (Sorry Mrs Bond). Not only is it’s laden with ‘he’s going to die soon’ overtones – he literally sinks into the ground – but it reminds you that Q has had the best relationship with every 007 for over 35 years and played a crucial part of Bond’s survival in at least 17 films. Q branch isn’t let down here, with some awesome gadgets like the X-ray specs, BMW, credit card lockpick, grapple watch and Q-boat!

One of 007's only friends (that didn't get killed)

Brosnan‘s still on a winning streak here, much aided by a whole lotta of shots of him pointing guns at people and looking angry and/or displeased. We also see Bond properly, and semi-convincingly, injured for the first time ever with a gammy shoulder for the film’s duration (although he did fall about 150 feet!). Most infuriatingly, Bond once again falls for the his one weakness, the oldest trick in the book, and the one thing that continually lands him in trouble… a vagina. If he carried out his job professionally he wouldn’t end up in so many perilous situations!!! (Although a procedural Bond movie would be pretty shit.) How many times has he been betrayed by a chick now!? Really?!

BOOM! Chestshot!!! Right in the tits!

The supporting cast and characters are such a mixed bag here. Robert Carlyle and Denise Richards seem to turn up and sleep through their scenes; sure they’re both vaguely memorable / strong / smart but they lack any presence. The character Bullion (Goldie) feels like his agent managed to sneak him in last minute, and no other henchmen do anything worth noting. On the upside Coltrane goes out in style as Bonds love-hate Russian contact, and Elektra King is played so, so well – Marceau’s beauty, strength and damaged background make her the perfect siren.

Another chick with a gun... someone in production must have a fetish

Other decent touches in this are the hypnotic oily credits, banking Pun-O-Rama, stereotype of ‘Bonnie Scotland’, “strictly plutonic”, “Christmas comes once a year” (Boom, Boom, Chiii!), classic nuke disarmament ultimatum, and Bond jumping from a normal house and landing in a submarine dock!!! There’s also a clear taste for new modes of transport: para-hover-sledge, mini super boat, pipe inspection pod, and the chopper chopper.

All aboard the tube! Next stop, nuclear warhead.

Even though you can’t fault the technical elements of most of the Bond pics, this one’s shot and framed particularly well. While it’s a good film, has a pretty interesting story and is well put together, this one feels like it’s missing some mojo and coherency. So many scenes feel gratuitous (let’s fly to somewhere snowy to have a ski-chase / let’s go to a casino so you can wear a tux…).  Despite some great twists and cool bits it just seems flatter and more lifeless than the previous few outings.

Score: 6/10

Bond's actual nemesis in this film... EXPLODING SNOW!?!WTF!!!!

TOP TRUMPS
Villain: Anarcho terrorist thug with a headache and no feelings. 6
Henchmen: Skinhead Russians x100 / Gold-toothed Bullion / DREADful Gabor. 3
Bond Girl: Assassin – Cruz-esque. Elektra – foxy siren. Denise Richards – Lara Croft entrance/ purple dress – smocking – 8
Action: Opening 10 mins, ski chase, nuclear bunker fight, caviar factory, submarine fight. 5

Goldie looking a bit rapey in the background...

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Elektra looking a bit rapey in the foreground

Romanzo Criminalé: Set in Italy during the 70s/80s this film follows the rise (and fall) of a notorious crime gang in Rome – including their links with fascists and the government. It starts with lots of fast-paced action but after about an hour turns into the usual downfall / betrayal stories associated with gang films. It’s along the same lines as Goodfellas & Godfather and if you can stick it out to the end – almost 3 hours – it’s a pretty good film. Acting’s top drawer, the story’s pretty epic and the location (and retro Italy backdrop) are all fairly convincing.

Score: 8/10