Tag Archive | action

How I Spent My Summer Vacation isn’t a such a bad trip after all

Given the misfortune Mel Gibson has brought upon himself over the past few years, it’s easy to forget that his cinematic track record isn’t half bad.  So while How I Spent My Summer Vacation may have been denied a cinematic release Stateside (as Get the Gringo, a more apt title), it shouldn’t come as much surprise that it’s a decent action flick.  Of course, how enjoyable it actually is will depend on how well the viewer gets past the fact of Gibson’s in-your-face presence here.

It’s not that Gibson is bad in the role.  On the contrary, he does a convincing job as a mysteriously nameless thief (credited only as Driver- easy there, Gosling lovers) caught in a botched job that lands him in a vast, cut-throat Mexican prison community.  Gibson, having co-written the script, has made a good call in not casting himself as any kind of straight up hero- those days are long gone.  As a duplicitous thug, Gibson still maintains enough charisma to make it work, even if having the man himself as the protagonist doesn’t sit quite right, anti-hero or not.  Thankfully, there’s enough action to distract from thoughts of how awful a person Gibson may well be.  None of How I Spent My Summer Vacation paints an especially favourable view of Mexican law enforcement, but the Yanks aren’t exactly beacons of justice either.  In fact, all the supporting characters have dirty hands of some sort (and are played by mostly unrecognisable faces, as Gibson’s days of working with established, marketable co-stars are also a thing of the past).  Genuine likability isn’t exactly a theme of How I Spent My Summer Vacation at any level.
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The Raid redeems the action genre

It would seem highly unlikely that a Welshman would write and direct an Indonesian shoot’em up that, with a budget of only about a million dollars, would become one of the finest action movies to hit big screens in years.  Yet that is exactly what Gareth Evans has done with The Raid.  Uncompromising, yet sensible enough to remain on the right side of tastefulness, Evans has created a film that, despite its subtitles, offers broad appeal and shames typical Hollywood “action” movies.

The Raid storms UK cinemas May 18

The concept is a simple one: a SWAT team is tasked with taking down a nefarious drug lord’s stronghold, in this case a rundown 15-story apartment building filled with fearless thugs set to protect their interests.  Evans wastes little time before the police squad is attacking the block, opting to construct the plot in the midst of the chaos.  Whilst giving the viewer a break from the tremendously intense action sequences, a smart narrative unfolds that plays on loyalties and betrayal, with matters rapidly becoming more complicated.  There may not be much dialogue relatively speaking, but what is spoken is calculated and effective.  With Indonesian martial arts expert Iko Uwais’ young officer at the heart of the siege, The Raid sets the standard for pulse-pounding action.  Formidable opposition takes the form of pint-sized Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), whose own astounding Silat skills are breathtakingly displayed onscreen.  Yet The Raid is not merely a martial arts exhibition, as the film’s description would be incomplete without the old “everything but the kitchen sink” adage: guns of various sizes, machetes, knives, batons, axes and even a refrigerator all make a hefty impact.
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Statham’s cracked Safe

From writer/director Boaz Yakin comes Safe, a parade of stereotypes, inane dialogue, gun fights and car chases.  Of course, the master of ceremonies could only be one man: the Stath.  Yes, Jason Statham puts on his American accent to batter and blast ethnic baddies into oblivion in this surprisingly mild action-thriller.

Set in New York City, a flurry of flashy, seamless cuts introduces the main players of the story to come: the young Chinese maths prodigy Mei (Catherine Chan) used as a human ledger, the Russian mafia who are tracking her down, the Chinese mob that has lost her and, finally, our cage fightin’ hero Luke (Statham), fresh from beating his opponent within an inch of his life.  As the fates would have it, the same Russian gangster who is hunting down Mei also ends up on the losing end of a sizable bet based on the assurance Luke would take a dive.  The amazing thing about Safe is how light on action it is during the first act.  Serving the old adage “show, don’t tell” two fingers up, violence is implied whilst threats and plot points are explained.  The entire character of Luke, beyond his fondness of shooting people, is described by his enemies rather than conveyed by Statham.  When the Stath does open his mouth, it’s to deliver priceless lines such as “I’ve been in restaurants all night long and all I got served was lead” or “I’ll chew your feet off at the goddamn ankles”, which would have been more interesting if it was a precursor to Luke actually doing so, but alas, there are no feet chewed off in Safe.
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Battleship blows… everything up

“Motherfu”-KABOOM!!!!! BOOOOOOMMM!!!!

If the above sounds like a good time, then Battleship just be the film you’re looking for.  The latest mind-boggling toy cash in from Hasbro takes the concept of the classic board game, straps it to a muthaf’n missile and shoots it at a giant-ass alien spaceship.  Director Peter Berg, having been mutated with the genes of both Michael Bay and JJ Abrams, captains this ship into over over-produced waters with Taylor “John Carter” Kitsch as his cabin boy, errr, leading man.

Battleship gets any trace of plot out of the way early on as the Hopper brothers are introduced.  Alexander Skarsgard’s Stone is the responsible Navy captain who drags his younger, slacker brother Alex (Kitsch) into service with him.  During this progression Brooklyn Decker’s character Samantha is introduced in the most insignificant way possible.  Skipping ahead, Sam and Alex, now a trouble-makin’ sailor, are looking to get hitched.  Unfortunately an alien invasion throws a slight monkey wrench into their plans.  To give some credit where it’s due, this instance of first contact is set up throughout the opening act and is random only in the fact that the aliens motivations are never explored.  For storyline purposes these creatures exist solely to blow ships up.  Indeed, they do so with considerable aplomb as their aqua friendly spacecraft packs some heavy firepower along with some fiercely destructive terror balls (for lack of a better term) that rip through anything in their path.  The explosive effects are impressive initially, but by the time Battleship heads into its second hour, the constant and rather purposeless booming of fireballs becomes utterly tedious.
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Wrath of the Titans is an all out assault on the eye

Sam Worthington returns as the Aussie-accented Perseus- son of Zeus, in Wrath of the Titans, the follow-up to 2010’s much maligned Clash of the Titans.  Now with Jonathan Liebesman at the helm, the Titans series finally includes an actual Titan as Kronos threatens to end the world if Perseus cannot stop him.  With the aid of Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, dodgy dialogue and another awful 3D conversion, Perseus just might stand a chance.

See Perseus face death by tickling in Wrath of the Titans released 30 March

For the benefit of those lucky enough to have either missed Clash of the Titans or successfully wiped it from their memories, a quick rundown of where the gods and Perseus stand opens the film.  As mankind has turned its back on the gods, their power has been depleted and Kronos’ escape from Tartarus becomes increasingly inevitable.  A brotherly dispute between Zeus and Hades (Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes reclaiming their respective roles) makes matters even worse.  Perseus’ indifference takes a backseat when a fire-breathing chimera attacks his fishing village.  This is the first instance of BIGFASTBLURRYACTIONTHATISANASSAULTON
MONSTERUNTILAFTERTHEFACT.  To see Wrath of the Titans, especially on 3D IMAX, is a lot like trying to read the previous sentence: incoherent, hard on the eyes and clearly could have been executed far more successfully.  It’s one of the biggest problems that plague a film that should have been an enjoyable, silly mythological romp but instead falls short of this modest goal.
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Review: Safe House

Denzel Washington dons an evil goatee while low-rung CIA operative Ryan Reynolds attempts to keep him in secure custody and out of the hands of a mysterious third-party in Safe House.  Directed by Daniel Espinosa, the film written by the inexperience David Guggenheim bears some striking resemblances to the Bourne series, but presents as a dim-witted cousin in comparison.

See Denzel's evil goatee steal a car in Safe House in UK cinemas from 24 February

Reynolds is Matt Weston, who unbeknownst to his French girlfriend is a CIA “housekeeper” in Johannesburg, South Africa.  His job consists not of changing the agents bedding or cleaning their toilets, but rather manning the department’s safe house in the city.  Weston is desperate to prove himself and be transferred to Paris but has seen no action in his year looking after the house.  Fortunately for Weston (and the audience- how boring a film would it be watching this guy sit around doing nothing for two hours?), his dry streak is about to end as Washington’s rogue ex-agent Tobin Frost is extracted from Cape Town after he surrenders to the US consulate in order to evade a gang of thugs literally gunning for him.  Upon Frost’s arrival, a heavily armed assault on the supposedly secure safe house prompts Weston to escape with his manipulative “guest”.  Shootouts and car chases follow shootouts and car chases as the theme of betrayal becomes increasingly evident.  Meanwhile, the CIA heads look to contain the unfolding mess on their hands with Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga bearing the roles of responsibility.
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Review: This Means War

Take two best mates, who also happen to be CIA agents, toss in an unlucky-in-love, hot blonde and what is the result?  A steaming helping of a McG action-comedy entitled This Means War, that’s what.  This rom-com wolf in espionage-thriller sheep’s clothing features Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as the combatants fighting for the hand of fair-maiden Reese Witherspoon to sometimes funny, too often maddening effect.

This Means War disappoints from 2 March 2012 in the UK

Super CIA spies Tuck (Hardy) and FDR (Pine) are introduced via a covert mission in Hong Kong that becomes increasingly un-covert, resulting in a baddie looking remarkably well after a terrible fall and an even worse landing (but still dead, nonetheless).  The fallout lands the pair desk-duty punishment as they contemplate their personal lives.  Meanwhile, the central villain (in so much that This Means War actually has one) plots revenge for the death of his brother, in a ludicrously underdeveloped and inconsequential plot-line that acts as little more than a plot device in the flick’s final 15 minutes.  A broody Tuck turns to an online dating site to find love.  Much to her horror, head product tester Lauren (Witherspoon) discovers that she has been signed up to the same site by her neurotic married gal friend, Trish (Chelsea Handler).  Needless to say, Lauren meets Tuck and then coincidentally meets FDR who had been inexplicably monitoring their date together.  Of course, FDR becomes smitten and wastes no time in worming his way into a date with Lauren as well.  Once the pair becomes aware of this highly unlikely coincidence, they agree to both date Lauren and let her decide before vowing that no matter what- bros before hoes.  However, This Means War would be pretty boring if these two alphas males abided by their agreement and while the film is massively stupid, it certainly isn’t boring- no matter how tempting it would be to dub it This Means Snore.
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Review: Chronicle

What if Peter Parker didn’t grow up in the presence of inspiring role models?  What if, instead of Uncle Ben being wise and supportive, he had been drunk and abusive?  Director Josh Trank and co-writer Max Landis seem to have considerable suspicion that the end result may not have been so heroic after all, if their debut film, Chronicle, is anything to go by.  Serving up an explosive genre cocktail, the young filmmakers deliver a fresh, unconventional take on several well-worn concepts that gives their audience a lot to process.

Chronicle hits cinemas 1 February 2012

Andrew Detmar (Dane DeHaan) is a troubled high school senior with a sickly, bed-ridden mother and an alcoholic, volatile father.  The found-footage style camera work is established by Andrew’s decision that he will film “everything from here on out”.  The justification for the video obsession is shaky, but feels unobtrusive enough.  It also serves to illustrate how he is bullied at school and treated with a general disregard.  When Andrew’s cousin, Matt (Alex Russell) and classmate Steve (Michael B Jordan) come upon a cavernous tunnel in the woods, they bring him along to document their exploration.  The trio make their way down into the dank cave and come across a mystifying discovery.  As they approach it, Andrew’s camera goes haywire before finally cutting to black.  Several weeks and a new camera later, the story picks up with the three high-schoolers closer than ever and experiencing some very strange symptoms.  They continue to film their various experiments and exercises, often to great comedic effect, but soon realise the severity of the power now within their grasp.
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Review: Haywire

According to Merriam-Webster, “haywire” is defined as “being out of order or having gone wrong” so it is perhaps fitting that Steven Soderbergh’s latest, a flubbed action thriller, bears that very title.  Haywire features former Mixed Martial Arts star Gina Carano as a freelance covert operative working for Ewan McGregor’s duplicitous Kenneth.  With a star-studded cast including Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas on board, Haywire may look like a hit, but is actually a colossal misfire.

The best thing about Haywire, out 18 January.

Mallory Kane (Carano) is first seen sitting alone in an upstate New York greasy-spoon.  As misfortune would have it (for both her and the audience), human Balsa plank Channing Tatum quickly makes his presence felt.  The exchange between Mallory and Aaron (Tatum), her former colleague, creates a charisma vacuum that threatens to destroy, not only the film itself, but any cinema that dares screen it.  Luckily, the little time is wasted on actual dialogue before the two are violently battering each other in the diner.  Playing out minus score or any significant verbal response from others at the scene, the brawl feels oddly at ease and lacks any dramatic impact.  This will re-occur over the course of Haywire‘s plodding 90 minute runtime.  That a waitress should calmly smash a coffee pot over Tatum’s head is a highly unlikely response, unless, of course, she happened to see his previous movies.  Mallory makes an escape along with a concerned, remarkably willing customer (Michael Angarano) who gently questions her from the passenger seat of his own car as they make their getaway.  A former Navy Seal who believes she can only trust her father (Bill Paxton), Mallory proceeds to spill her entire story to her new pal as they cruise through New York.  Beginning her tale with a hostage rescue mission in Barcelona, Mallory’s account progresses to one final job in Dublin, alongside an MI6 agent (Fassbender), that goes horribly wrong.
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Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Robert Downey Jr returns as the eponymous detective in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. With Guy Ritchie again calling the shots, Holmes aided by Jude Law’s Dr Watson, goes head-to-head with his greatest foe, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris).  The unrelenting action spills from England to the continent as Holmes attempts to prevent Moriarty from fanning the flames of war between Germany and France.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - at its best when the minds meet. At cinemas from 16 December.

A busy introduction sees a cleverly disguised Holmes investigating a Strasbourg bombing, only to be lured into an ambush by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams).  This leads to the first taste of Richie’s slow-motion approach, here used to illustrate Holmes’ thought process as he assesses the best plan of attack.  The end result means success for the detective and an early exit for Adler.  Back at Holmes’ jungle-like London abode, Watson arrives in anticipation of his stag party.  After jibes over the sleuth’s mental state, the duo meet-up with Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft (Stephen Fry), whose ties to the British government will prove to be quite handy.  The ensuing night out leads Holmes to gypsy fortune-teller, Simza (Noomi Rapace, reduced to a plot device) and, after a fast-paced, far-too choppy scuffle breaks out, the scene switches to a battered Watson’s nuptials the following morning.  Meanwhile, Holmes accepts an invite to meet with the revered Professor Moriarty, where his request for Watson to be spared from the upcoming battle between the two masterminds is roundly rejected by the arrogant academic.  From there the action takes off, starting with an exciting and robustly enjoyable train sequence that is the film’s highlight, that is until its path through Paris and Germany leads to Switzerland.
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