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.”
Savages (mild spoilers): when two pro pot dealers have their shared girlfriend kidnapped by a cartel for leverage, they don’t take it lying down. This one is absolutely packed to the brim with torture, violence, action sex, drugs and rock & roll – it’s all turned up way past 11. All the characters are all pretty broad stereotypes, however it’s the cast and story that raise this above your standard gang-banger flick. Hell, it’s worth watching this just to see the scene with Del Toro and Travolta – each doing their thing and loving every second of it. For a 2hr30 film, it’s so packed with action and plot that it never drags: as it plays out like a dramatic chess match. Savages barely puts a foot wrong until it doubles back on what would have been a powerful, Shakespearian out-of-the-blue ending – instead copping out at the last second for a crowd-pleaser. The only real downer for me was a sloppy, grating, “ike-OMG-totally-I-was-like-and-she-was-all” So-Cal voiceover that does nothing more than point out the obvious – and annoy the shit out of viewers. After a couple of duffers, this one definitely puts Oliver Stone back on the cinemap, and with ample style to spare.
John Carter of Mars: an American civil war-vet accidentally teleports to Mars in the middle of a war. At over an hour long the setup drags on, and the whole film never really shakes off the ‘teeing up a franchise’ vibe as things are cintinually explained – including all of the confusingly named species, planets, and cities – feels like Bill Cosby suggested a couple. The script isn’t the best, although there’s a few comedy gems poking out between clunky, formulaic dialogue and sections of explanation – that would have been better to get over with in one big voiceover. There’s some half-decent actors making a quick buck here Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Willem Dafoe – who are all good, but nobody has much scope with flat, stock characters, the most entertaining and likable of which is a non-speaking dog-like alien. Some other undertones felt out-of-place, like the environmental agenda segments (including literal green warriors!) Some positives of note: graphics are awesome considering most of it is CGI/Green Screen, several gratuitous big action set-pieces, the score is top drawer and is reminiscent of Indy films, skimpy outfits on the Princess are awesome, a smart ending, and there are parts that feel like a solid old-fashioned action adventure. Unfortunately, despite the source being an ‘original’ space story (almost 100 years old) it’s been copied and ripped off so often over the decades, leaving a major air of déjà vu. Finally, I know we’re supposed to suspend disbelief, but given advances and general knowledge in astronomy / physics / space and science… a lot of the unknowns from 100 years ago now feel like massive, tardy unexplained plotholes – but that’s a minor gripe. John Carter is undoubtedly an impressive story; but it’s just not presented as best it could be (down to the framing device – it’s necessary, but could have been done better), and because of this, it never got me going once, which is disappointing for a film this big.