Dear God NO! [Grindhouse Cut]: a murderous outlaw biker gang kill their rivals and hide out in the woods, where they meet a crazy scientist and big foot… I think. Yup, here’s another ‘nasty nostalgia’ film with faux grain effect, pops and scratches, heavy saturation, projector sounds, mono/muffled soundtrack, tracking issues, etc, etc. It’s only 81 minutes long, but is crammed with filler: you get 5 minutes straight of up-close ‘mondo’ style topless dancing, a psychedelic heroin dream trip, and a Nazi Dr Frankenstein babe trip – all for no reason other than padding out the runtime (and increasing the shock factor). Made on a shoestring, the film’s packed with bad dialogue, bad acting, bad characters, actor changes, and ‘plot threads’ that make literally no sense. It’s like the director asked a 15 year old boy what he thought was cool – boobs, swearing, drinking, and bad attitudes man – and just rolled with that. We first meet the biker gang the morning after they trash a bus full of nuns and rape/murder them all, and it only goes downhill from there; bottoming out with a snuff scene that goes too far with a double rape and fetus removing/killing. I’ve seen much worse than this and not been as disgusted as this just nasty for nasty’s sake; and I couldn’t believe that there are directors out there that make Rob Zombie look like a proficient filmmaker. I’ve sat through some truly terrible movies in my day, and this is down there with the worst of ‘em. The only good thing about the entire project is it’s old school poster, and the only way I can imagine convincing anyone that this has worked is if you pitch it as a poor-taste no-budget physical effects show reel – or a masterclass in using controversy and a good poster as a get-rich-quick idea. A very very niche and ultra-nasty bikesploitation film.
Lone Survivor [Title Spoiler: only one of ‘em survives]: follows a Navy Seal team as their recon mission goes south and they’re ambushed by Taliban militia. From the get go it’s a flag-waving military recruitment advert; glorifying the ‘Army Bro’ lifestyle and full of manipulative shots: wide aperture, emotional music, golden hour lighting. It takes a while to get going, but when the action starts the movie completely shifts gear. After a quick round of various viewpoints on killing potentially dangerous civilians (also the only real characterisation we get) there’s an epic, sustained and very intense action scene, that goes on just long enough to become a bit silly; as the protagonists are shot dozens of times but keep limping on, literally throwing themselves face first down massive cliff faces while mowing down seemingly infinite hajis with seemingly infinite clips of ammo. This set piece is grittier than most too, with blood splattering headshots, close-ups of wounds, shrapnel surgery – not much left to the imagination. This kind of action, and the way it’s shot make the film feel more like a HK influenced heroic bloodshed film than a traditional army or Hollywood action movie. The final five minutes are a tribute to the dozens American soldiers that died in this operation; a nice touch, but ultimately raises more questions about why America perpetually sacrifice so many young people to interfere in the middle-east. As a War Movie, Lone Survivor is pretty light, but as a no-brainer action film it works spectacularly, with one of the best gun battles in recent memory.
“Been around the world twice. Talked to everyone once. Seen two whales fuck, been to three world faires. And I even know a man in Thailand with a wooden cock. I pushed more peeter, more sweeter and more completer than any other peter pusher around. I’m a hard bodied, hairy chested, rootin’ tootin’ shootin’, parachutin’ demolition double cap crimpin’ frogman. There ain’t nothin’ I can’t do. No sky too high, no sea too rough, no muff too tough. Been a lot of lessons in my life. Never shoot a large caliber man with a small caliber bullet. Drove all kinds of trucks. 2by’s, 4by’s , 6by’s and those big mother fuckers that bend and go ‘Shhh Shhh’ when you step on the brakes. Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards. I’m a lover, I’m a fighter, I’m a UDT Navy SEAL diver. I’ll wine, dine, intertwine, and sneak out the back door when the refueling is done. So if you’re feeling froggy, then you better jump, because this frogman’s been there, done that and is going back for more. Cheers boys.”
The Raid 2: Berandal (aka The Raid: Thug): following on directly from events in The Raid… after his brother is murdered the rookie SWAT member goes undercover in order to flush out the city’s dirty cops. It feels like director Gareth Evans is “doing a Tarantino” here, drawing from a lot of established Asian movie elements: the story is essentially Infernal Affairs; the themes feel like those of a fairly standard Japanese – notably Takashi Miike – gangster flick (internal power struggles, territorial battles, OTT Violence, honour, betrayal, black humour); and the visuals feel like you’re watching a modern Korean movie – e.g. Park Chan Wook – as it’s loaded with rich imagery and patterns (like the art deco ballroom and bar, sterile kitchen, snow fight) and some cartoonishly menacing enemies (‘Hammer Girl’, and the ridiculous side-combed, cane-wielding baddie) – there’s also a shitload of nods to A Bittersweet Life, from the Car/Warehouse fight to the impeccably dressed mobsters. The action scenes remain unbelievably entertaining, expertly choreographed and jaw-droppingly inventive – although shaky cam is used a lot more in this one. You never get tired watching Iko Uwais play human pinball with dozens of henchmen, exploiting the various locations, and through most of the big fights you can’t help but grab your equivalent body part that has just been mangled on-screen and shout “fuuuuck!”, every 20 seconds. Once again, there’s a good peppering of ultra-black humour to provide a little relief from the action. At 150 minutes there’s a lot that could have been cut out and not missed – from developing minor characters through to shots of nails, water, snow – although it is rigidly punctuated with big set-pieces so you never get the chance to nod off. The Raid was a powerful, gritty, relentless and raw 90-minute virtually dialoge-free history-making fight-fest that raised the bar for all action movies – and although I can understand why Evans didn’t want to just do the same again, in ‘beefing up’ The Raid 2 he has leaned a little too heavily on other director’s works, taking the edges off – and diluting – the 90-minute, 10/10 movie that’s contained in here. Niggles aside, the film is still packed with genre-defining action, cutting edge fight-choreography, and more hard-18-rated violence than you could shake a poorly-aimed shotgun at.
Jack Reacher: an ex-military investigator is called in by a man who claims he’s been framed for the murder for five seemingly random sniper killings. Being based on a book, it’s got a good central story, packed with action and it moves along at a good pace, getting better as a conspiracy begins to unfold – although it’s seems deliberately obvious; the cooked evidence, motives and clues are easy for viewers to pick up. My biggest problem with this is that it reminds me how much of a ‘high-rent’ Jason Statham Tom Cruise is; same look, same voice, same haircut, same righteous quick-fire lines in every film – he never attempts anything new or different. There’s a couple of massive mis-steps that break up the tension – mostly the two bat-wielding goons that feel like they came from a Laurel and Hardy film, and the fingerless mastermind (Herzog!) – all seem unnecessary and out-of-place, given the otherwise serious / straight-up tone. Rosamund Pike‘s top also gets lower and lower as the film progresses. Back to the film, it’s a well-made piece, with some solid moments of tension like the opening scene – and sniper-scope-o-rama. On the other hand, you always know exactly how the film’s going to play out, and because Mr Reacher is ten steps ahead of everyone else, which forfeits a bit of suspense. Overall Jack Reacher is a decent, well-made, entertaining film, despite being a “bit wet” and a “genre picture” if there ever was one. Guns, fighting, cars, cleavage – it hits all the right targets.
The Sweeney: a hardboiled copper that plays by his own rules has internal affairs crawling over his operation, just as a jewelry heist bears all of the hallmarks of an old nemesis. First off, I’ve never seen the original TV show, so have nothing to compare it against. The story arc is as ‘cop drama’ cliché as they come, but the characters, primarily Winstone, are what pulls the film through. The few action scenes that pop up (Trafalgar Square, caravan car chase, house raid…) are well-handled & ambitious and they’re balanced off with some great comedy moments – particularly the restaurant/date scene. With the budget limitations (a meager £3M) it sometimes feels televisual, but there’s usually enough flare to notice the slick direction. Ray, Ben and Hayley do well with their characters, but nobody else has much to do. While it’s not the most original story, and not the biggest-budget affair, The Sweeney is a rock-solid cop thriller that punches way above its weight. Do you like it when Ray Winstone calls people ‘slegs‘? Do you like gritty cop thrillers? Do you understand thick LANDAN accents? If so, then this is a film for you.
Here’s the science bit: Sweeney = Sweeney Todd = Flying Squad
21 Jump street: two useless police officers are assigned to a revived ‘undercover‘ branch of the department. The film’s lucky in that it has two genres to mashup and play with – buddy cop and high school – which it does effectively, although the school element is far, far funnier. The first hour is fantastic, catches you off guard, full of well-observed school humour, and ‘random’ comedy (Korean Jesus, trippy drug scenes etc) – I almost choked at one point. It does however deflate and lose its magic in the second half as it frantically ticks all of the boxes you’d see in a bog-standard cop-buddy story arc. Jonah Hill is funny, but well within his comfort zone; Channing “is there anything he can’t do” Tatum is comedy gold – he hinted at this by being the only good thing about last year’s Dilemma, but this is a whole other level – show stealingly good. For additional smartness there’s a nice run of meta jokes about recycling ideas & humour, and loads of movie tropes – these can be found in the car chase and party scenes. With an emphasis on off-the-wall humour, and a genuinely funny script paired with some great improvisation, 21 Jump Street is a solid contender for comedy of the year.
The Interceptor: [Blu Ray] [not even going to try to explain the plot here]. It boils down to being a hardcore Sci-Fi picture featuring the paranormal, supernatural, people from another realm… and that’s just the headlines. It starts with a dude jumping out of an exploding plane, and has similarly insane and impressive stunts for the duration. The action’s handled and executed very well – edited perfectly with long steady takes so you know what’s actually happening! (Speedboat chase / huge fight scenes and generally a shitload of car-flipping stunts) To balance out the awesomeness there’s an overdose of artsy-fartsy dreamy sequences that don’t really make much sense, or advance the story much, but nevertheless look pretty. There’s Assassins creed style visuals with symbols and glyphs all over the shop, an overload of suits ‘n’ shade dudes, and a few hotties thrown in for good measure – put everything together and it’s a nerds wet dream. The BD picture detail is stunning and the minimal pallet ensures that any colours leap out; the sounds solid enough too, particularly in the action sequences. After Nightwatch and Daywatch it’s strange that Russia’s biggest films still go down the Black Vs White, Good Vs Bad… route. A more technically proficient, stylish and insane film you could not ask for – a simpler story, you could.
13 Assassins: a group of chosen samurai are tasked with killing an evil lord, for the future of Feudal Japan! The first hour is intense, but slow-paced – perked up with some token Takashi maddness / grotesque violence. Then you have the 45 minute long action scene, which starts as a tactical battle but quickly turns into a bit of a generic hack-and-slash – and you don’t see much action, just swords flying and splatter sound effects. Takashi does a good job of playing up / emphasising what outsiders most associate with japan: shogun, samurai, dynasty, honor, respect, code, infatuation with death etc… almost to a patriotic level. The biggest downfall was the focus and development of all 13 characters, which doesn’t count for much when they all have the same outfit, haircut and are pretty blurry in the battle. 13 Assassins is a solid ‘against-the-odds’ type story, but collapses a bit under its own grand finale.
Blitz: a crazed killer is knocking cops over like skittles in London, but focusing only on one police station… Story-wise, this follows the tried and tested formula featuring an alcoholic on-edge loner cop, a really bad man and some cat-and-mouse games. It looks quite good, but because of the story and realistic feel you’d associate it more with TV shows like The Bill or Luther. Action scenes are the only parts that remind you it’s a movie, although there’s a cracking chase sequence and several brutal / graphic incidents executed really well. Considine is great (as always) in an understated hero cop role, Gillen does a solid bad guy and Statham nails another Statham-type role, although he’s a bit grittier than usual. There’s absolutely no new ground covered, but for a solid cops vs cop killer story this is a cracker.
Face/Off: is what happens when John Woo makes a film about a cop and a baddie swapping bodies. The rule is that any film that opens up with a double-assassinaton attempt, fake moustaches and a kid getting shot is going to be great. The first 40 minutes are filled with ridiculous over-acting and pseudo-science; a fully working face swap, really?!? Neither actor can pull off the madness of Caster Troy convincingly and when he wasn’t making ridiculous noises and faces, Cage was trying his damndest to un-act. Then there’s the action, and Face/Off is crammed with huge slabs of over-the-top action, culminating in the apartment shootout carnage with ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ pumping through the speakers; one of the most epic and intense action scenes I can remember. Because both guys’ families are in danger it makes the story more gripping. There’s a lot of face touching, religious symbolism and bad parenting throughout (what ever happened to the hot goth Dominique Swain?). Despite the cheese and clichés this is my top action film of the 90’s, perhaps ever. If you’ve not seen this yet, where have you been hiding?
Shooter: ex-sniper with a vanishing pony-tail (stupidly) gets caught up on the wrong end of a presidential assassination attempt. The politics and explanations in this were so clichéd and had so many twists / conspiracies that Michael Moore could have written it. Wahlberg’s not exactly on form, and pretty much mumbles his way through the majority of the script, which is heavy on the sniper talk – giving the film (and Swagger) authenticity. The best thing about this film was the action, and although there’s not loads, it’s was about quality over quantity – especially the cottage shoot-out and counter-sniping scenes. The ending feels totally rushed, with everything being cleared up in about two minutes flat. It’s an OK flick, but ends up way off target.
Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood’s acting swan song, where he cast himself as a lonely raging Polish bigot that spoke like the new batman and spent the whole film pointing guns and swearing at ethnics. He was happy to put differences aside for some beer though! The heavy handed racism makes the film hard to watch at times, and feels pretty excessive – not unlike Crash. The more times you see a frail pensioner stand off against gangs the less realistic the film felt. It’s great to see his relationship grow with his new friends but it takes a long time to kick in and the last scene, although epic, is pretty contrived – the film’s essentially an urban / modern Western. It’s a simple and powerful story, but it is full of stock characters and trundles along at a snail’s pace. His acting’s spot on, but overall the film’s missing some depth. As a comparison, it doesn’t have much on Mystic River.
Assembly: an epic Chinese film of one man’s struggle through two wars and his quest for recognition of his fallen soldiers. The first 60 minutes of the film shows 4 battles, 3 of which are so realistic that it makes Private Ryan look like a scouts training exercise – the only downfall is they cranked the ‘shaky cam’ up to advanced Parkinsons level in the first one. Some great suspence sequences leading up to the fights. The second part of the film drags on a little as the story weakens but the acting / cinematography / Chinese scenery keeps it more than watchable – and the ending picks up a bit. It’s brutal but humane, and Zhang Hanyu’s performance is utterly jaw-dropping.
Children Of Men: Undeniably one of the best movies of 2006. Can’t really say too much without giving the story away other than it’s the perfect combination of plot, action, violence and cinematic genius. When I saw this first time round I was absolutely lost for words. The story’s bleak, but believable. Technically, this film is astounding. A lot of the key scenes done as single-takes, peaking with an 8-minute war shot that will leave your jaw in your lap. Some people will no doubt think that it’s too slow, but for me, it was just a great, well-told story. All the little details (posters, adverts, background chat) add greatly to the realism. The acting’s also top-notch, even Michael Caine, who I almost exclusively dislike. See this film at all costs, but make sure it’s on a big TV to get the full effect.