Hard Boiled: a classic cops Vs Triads flick by John Woo, arguably at his peak. This is almost always cited as one of the best action films ever made, and with good reason. The bloodshed is so, so stylish and cool: slow-motion, intricate and technical. The action is completely mesmerising in places with explosions, bullets, bodies, weapons and debris all dancing around the frame. This is the closest thing to an action-ballet you’ll see, with long swooping shots, that make the even the most intricate of scenes seem effortless. It also has a real cinematic quality for the most part, with brilliant camera work jumping out in places – peaking with a meticulous 2 1/2 minute single-shot through hospital corridors and lifts, like a shoot-em-up game. The story is pretty standard – fallen colleague, hostage situations and undercover cops – but Woo avoids cliché by putting 90% of the focus on the action. There are some minor downsides to Hard Boiled; the hospital siege goes on for far too long (well over 40 minutes), The 1980s synth soundtrack is incredibly out of date and there’s a bizarro Jazz motif throughout. It’s also the only foreign film I deliberately watch with English dubs because the original audio is in worse synch than the voiceovers. All in, Hard Boiled is the definitive action film that takes all the best parts of a tired genre and makes them great again, and so much more watchable.
Bullet in the Head: Three best friends get caught up in the Vietnam war trying to make a quick buck. When a film starts off this camp and choppy, you know you’re in for a rough ride. There’s lots of slow motion (it’s John Woo), namely people jumping away from massive explosions and/or leaping to the ground after being shot. There’s also a ton of blood and violence, with continual bloodbath shootouts between, the CIA, Vientamese, Viet Cong, Chinese, Mercenaries and anyone else with a gun. What’s most memorable about this film is that there’s absolutely no glorification of war, and what normal people are capable of when pushed into a corner (except the slow-mo!). Some scenes will stick with you for a long time after. Contracting the brutality of war is the films overall feel and style; almost every element is overpoetic, oversentimental, and has dangerous levels of overtheatrical – laugh-out-loud – overacting. It should also be tried for crimes against editing, music and scripts. Another pet hate crops up: relaxed bonding in the middle of a hostage situation / shootout?!?! All the minus points are schoolboy, which is the biggest tragedy as the centre of the film was a memorable, powerful and moving story.
Machete: A betrayed Federale butchers his way through a corrupt syndicate to avenge the death of his wife and child. The full 105 minutes of Machete are just absolutely absurd, from the first fully naked chick pulling out her mobile to intestine misuse and seeing Seagal attempt a latino accent… The grindhouse / shock element is pretty cranked to parody / laughable; although the film relies more on CGI than the inventiveness and real gore that genuine b-movies usually would. In saying that, the action is sweet, bloody and OTT fun – although the editing makes it all seem a bit haphazard. A lot of the story rooted in both sides of a real immigration issue – albeit exaggerated. Action hall-of-famer Danny Trejo finally gets his shot at playing a lead, although the Machete character could be any of his memorable previous roles. Everyone else is effective but pretty forgettable, except for De Niro, whose career just seems to be irretrievable. For the gents in the cast the film’s about 10-20 years too late – there’s nothing really exciting about seeing a fat Seagal and out-of-shape Trejo trying to duel. The deliberately old and retro look and feel to the film works quite well, and Rodriguez is clearly a B-movie/exploitation fan, but with all the CGI – and big names – it does lose the certain appeal of real B-movies. For what it is, and what it’s supposed to be, Machete totally hits the mark. Tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation. Fun, entertaining, over-the-top schlock.