Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Expendables



THE EXPENDABLES (2010)

Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone & Dave Callaham
Starring: Stallone and just about every other action star from 1980s and 1990s

God bless Stallone. The dude is one of the undisputed kings of action cinema and our childhood's, at least all of us now past thirty, would not have been the same without Rocky, Rambo and Ray Tango (yes, even Ray Tango!). Despite pushing well into his sixties now, Stallone has embraced his legacy as an action hero and with The Expendables pays tribute to the film's that made him, and many of the rest of the cast, stars back in 80s and 90s.

Stallone is Barney Ross the leader of an elite team of mercenaries who include the likes of Jet Li, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and the almighty Dolph Lundgren. Asked to check out some dirty goings on on a South American Island, Barney discovers a place gripped in fear by an evil dictator and a scheming former CIA spook (the always awesome, Eric Roberts). Coupled with new found feelings for sexy lady friend Sandra (Giselle Ite), who wants to free her island and its people from the fear and violence, Barney rounds up his troops and they head on down, tooled up and ready for action, to whoop some ass. And some ass they whoop.



Playing to the tilt on the violence, carnage and insane action that made the action movies of the 80s and 90s so damn entertaining, The Expendables is the perfect homage and an action blast all on it's own. Stallone's purpose is to cram in as many familiar faces from the action world as possible and then set them off against one another in a series of uber violent confrontations. Character development is thin but then it only really needs to be. We've come to see the stars strut their stuff and their stuff is what they strut. Sure not all The Expendables get loads of screen-time with Stallone and Statham being the main leads but they don't need to. It's The Magnificent Seven/Dirty Dozen syndrome with several main characters surrounded by an eclectic array of supporting characters who all do their thing and get at least one memorable scene for themselves. Everyone is great fun, except for maybe Li who despite a few funny lines looks bored as hell by the whole thing, and Stallone gives equal attention to some cool bad guys. Roberts' is great as the slimy Munroe backed by fierce henchmen Steve Austin (proving a powerhouse in the fight scenes) and ace martial arts star Gary Daniels (who surprisingly gets a decent amount of screen-time and action). There is also room for the always welcome Mickey Rourke (riding motorcycles and inking tattoos) and, of course, the cool cameo from action giants Willis and Schwarzenegger.



Stallone and Statham make an appealing duo and bounce off one another well ("I'm buddha, he's pest") and it has to be said Statham almost steals the show in this. Considering he is the newest kid on the block, he holds his own well with the older action gods and seems to be having a blast. But the show is well and truly stolen by Dolph Lundgren, stealing every scene he is in as the somewhat unhinged Gunner Jensen. Really, he should have been in it even more. He also gets to fight Jet Li, twice, and opens the film by literally blowing a guy in half with a shotgun! Stallone knows his action and rams the movie with the stuff. It varies in execution, some scenes brilliant, others edited to quickly rendering them confusing. It's an unfortunate symptom of modern action cinema and disappointingly mares the big fight between Li and Lundgren, the edit and camerawork cut just a little too close and quickly. However, there are still many other great set pieces including a couple of nice fights featuring Statham using knifes to creative and brutal effect, an epic free-for-all in the bowels of the bad guys hideout featuring pretty much the entire cast going toe-to-toe with one another and an awesomely insane sequence involving a plane, a pier, Statham hanging out the nose of the plane and mucho explosions. But the best bit, for this action fan at least, has to be Daniels taking on Statham and Li at the same time in a brutal fight that once again shows what gifted a fighter and underrated performer Daniels is. Awesome.



This sure won't be for everyone, not even every action fan, but Stallone does deliver a fun ride and copious amounts of old school action. Not quite as brutal as the last Rambo (but almost), The Expendables may not always live up to all the pre-release hype and "most-awesome-action-cast-ever assembled" hyperbole but it is a rollicking good time. Stallone has a great legacy of action films behind him and he can safely add The Expendables to it and despite getting on a bit now, I think he could pull one more action ride with The Expendables out the bag before his eventual retirement.

The A Team



THE A TEAM (2010)

Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Written by: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom & Skip Woods
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bloom & Jessica Biel

The A Team is a fun time. It really is. Based on the uber cheesy but always entertaining action show from the 80s, The A Team movie stays pretty much true to the fun times of the show albeit with edgier action, a pace that threatens to sizzle your eyeballs and, yes, CGI. Mercifully forgoing the camp route of TV big screen adaptations such as Starksy & Hutch, The A Team is hard edged action from the get go with enough silliness, a touch of comedy and a whole heap of absurdness to remind you that it's based on a TV show which featured pretty much all of the above.




Igniting barely once the the Twentieth Century Fox logo has left the screen, Joe Carnahan's film rockets along at hyper speed with an opening ten to fifteen minutes that crams in so much it's, well, just insane. We see through some outlandish situations and high octane action how the four soldiers of fortune came to be and once the title card has been and gone it's onto the mission that shows how The A Team came to be arrested, locked away and stripped of their rank. But barely six months later Hannibal, Face, BA and Murdoch are hatching an escape and a plan to get revenge on those who set them up and sent them away. From here on in it's " I ain't getting on no plane!", flying tanks and running down the side of buildings firing machine guns action.




Awesomely ludicrous it all is but it's so much action soaked fun. Any mention of "that wouldn't happen," or "that's not realistic" is a waste of time and completely missing the point. The TV show wasn't realistic, the movie isn't realistic, hell, most action movies aren't (and aren't supposed to be) realistic. What's wrong with having a little fun watching some dudes fly tanks and thwart the bad guys? For the most part the action is fluid and tight. Yeah, Carnahan can't quite get away from rapid fire editing which mares some of the action and the CGI is a little heavy come the later action scenes but there are many other reviewers out there who will have much more fun tearing all this apart: I'll let them spit venom about it. The action is adrenaline charged, firepower heavy and hard edged as well. People do get killed unlike in the TV show (sorry die-hard A Team purists!) but the updated take on the action, stunts and edgier slant brings the film into the modern action arena. There is a corking set-piece which takes place between two high rises before turning into a running gun battle and even the flying tank bit is a hoot.




What keeps the the film zipping along is the chemistry of the main cast. The four chosen to play the leads are all great and were obviously having a blast making this picture. They feel like a unit and a group of friends and all do justice to the original characters. The flick also benefits from some cool bad guys including a a very vain and funny Patrick Wilson and co-writer Brian Bloom who is just awesome as uber bad guy Pike. Should have given him even more screen time. Carnahan just manages to keep a lid on all the madness as at just under two hours he crams a lot in and tries his best to give Hannibal, Face, BA and Murdoch equal screen time. The only thing he could have done is maybe eased up on the frenetic pace somewhat. The film is super charged and that works well most of the time but a little more, and slower, downtime between the set pieces would have been nice for the four heroes to have a bit more banter. The scenes of the team being discharged and subsequently banged up could have been fleshed out a little more also with proceedings rushed in order to get to the next part of the mission. Likewise the trademark van could of had a bigger appearance.

For the most part this feels like an A Team film and is an action filled romp. It may suffer a bit from the pitfalls of modern filmmaking (rapid fire editing, subtly substituted for bombast and, yes, crappy CGI: though it ain't that bad!) but The A Team is a slick, funny, action ride that had this reviewer grinning. Plus, every director from now on should put Sharlto Copley in their films: dude is awesome!


Monday, 23 August 2010

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Street Soldiers



STREET SOLDIERS (1991)

Directed by
: Lee Harry
Screenplay: Spencer Grendahl & Lee Harry
Starring: Jun Chong, Jeff Rector, David Homb, Johnathan Gorman, Joon Kim, Katherine Armstrong, Hwang Jang Lee

Low budget, martial arts riff on West Side Story (sort of) that is all kinds of cheese, complete with ridiculous acting and "awesome" 80s styling but is good fun if you are in the mood for some goofy action thrills. Street Soldiers, while now appearing very outdated and raising more than a couple of smirks from the "acting," has its heart in the right place and is packed with a fair amount of karate action.

The Tigers are a cool gang who wear orange jackets and hang out being, well, just cool really. Their arch enemies are The JP's, a nasty gang of scuzzballs who are muscling in on The Tigers territory and aren't apposed to a little raping and killing. They are led by the homicidal Priest, a complete loon who soon discovers his former squeeze is now knocking boots with one of The Tigers. He flips out, declares all out war on The Tigers who themselves turn to a kindly karate teacher to help train them to fight off the ever marauding JP's.

Cheap Street Soldiers certainly is but to be fair the filmmakers put all they've got into making a fun action packed flick. The action is always constantly flowing, creative camera techniques used here and there, and some nice location work help the film overcome its limitations. Unfortunately it is let down by some awfully shoddy acting, everyone over-egging their performances. Not least lead bad guy Priest played with wild-eyed looniness by Jeff Rector, in one of the most over-the-top performances to surely grace low budget cinema. Seriously, the dude must have bee on something when making this flick as he acts so out there it tips into hilarity. Mind you, it all adds to the fun and despite the abundance of cheesy moments the film does have a fairly hard edge to it. The violence is often strong with a home invasion scene, a gang rape (thankfully implied and not seen) and the shooting of a young kid all adding to the exploitation feel of the flick.

There is a fair amount of action on hand as well. It's all a little sloppy and scrappy to begin with, as numerous street fights take place between the two gangs, the multi person dust-ups lacking focus but certainly giving the feel of free-for-all scraps. Things get better as the flick progresses with a big full on showdown featuring some stellar martial arts action. Not surprising really as kung fu aces Jun Chong (Silent Assassins) and the legendary Hwang Jang Lee (The Secret Rivals, Snuff Bottle Connection, Drunken Master) face-off in the final battle. Pretty cool stuff with some great bootwork.

Yeah it's cheesy as all get up (complete with an out-of-the-blue/what-the-fuck psychic moment!), Hwang Jang Lee isn't utilized enough (but does parade around with a rubber snake spitting venom in the eyes of people: awesome!) and Jeff Rector is all kinds of insane but Street Soldiers is harmless late eighties/early nineties action nonsense. It's got a bit of heart, a hard edge and some cool high impact action that makes it an entertaining hoot.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Knight and Day



KNIGHT AND DAY (2010)

Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Patrick O'Neill
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis

One's enjoyment of Knight and Day will depend on one's tolerance for escapist entertainment and one's fondness or dislike of the two leading stars. This is a film about escapist entertainment and zips along from one zany set piece to another buoyed by the stars' infectious chemistry. If you have to analyze every film for its cinematic worth and not just go along for the ride then you will no doubt not enjoy Knight and Day. But if you enjoy an action comedy for what it is then Knight and Day is a fun concoction of stunts and smirks in the Bird on a Wire mould.



Roy Miller (Cruise) is a spy on the run from his former agency who bumps into June Havens (Diaz) at an airport. After some plot contrivance that gets her on a plane with Roy, and some other dodgy looking people, June inadvertently finds herself thrust into a world of crashing planes, automatic gunfire and lots of shifty looking agents continuously telling her she will be 'safe' and 'secure' if she just comes with them. Now on the run with Miller, June begins to question whether she has chosen the right side as Miller's erratic behaviour leads them into ever increasing danger.



Knight and Day isn't always subtle as the comedy is occasionally forced, the action bombastic and the script zig-zags from one implausible set up to another. The tone shifts from knockabout comedy to in-your-face action with wild abandonment, it not always being clear whether this is a romantic comedy retooled with a high action quotient or an action film with added romance and comedy. Not that it really matters as under James Mangold's tight direction (having a little more fun here after heavy hitters Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma) the heady cocktail of action and laughs just stays the right side of light entertainment. The leading actors great chemistry improves matters also the two trading quips and bouncing dialogue off one another as they dodge bullets and engage in high speed chases. Cruise and Diaz bring an effortless charm that always reminds us this is supposed to be fun no matter how absurd things get.



The film is also packed with huge set pieces. Mangold, having shown he can cut action with the end shootout of Cop Land and ace gunfights in 3:10 to Yuma, gets to play big here, ramping up the stunts and action sequences. On the whole the action is fun, tight and exhilarating, free from all that fast cut nonsense, allowing us to see the stunts actually happening. Unfortunately he can't stay away from CGI overload with too many of the action scenes "enhanced " with it. Not always a bad thing, though it does push the law of physics here, but for a big summer blockbuster it is decidedly ropey CGI. It never quite blends in with the live action and the background projection seen in all the driving scenes is sometimes shockingly bad. Please Hollywood put actors back out in real moving cars like you used to and stop using crappy green screen to fill in the background later in order to save money. The set pieces are best mainly when done for real which include a rooftop chase and the extended opening fight on board an airplane: arguably the best action scene of the film.

Despite the bad CGI and predictable plot developments, Knight and Day is an entertaining action comedy. Nothing groundbreaking but refreshing in its quest to just simply entertain, pretty much free of schmaltz and the mushy stuff and surprisingly crammed with a boatload of barnstorming action. Not bad.

Nightforce



NIGHTFORCE (1987)

Directed by: Lawernce D. Foldes
Written by: Russell W. Colgin, Michael Engel & Don O'Melveny
Starring: Linda Blair, James Van Patten, Richard Lynch, Chad McQueen, Claudia Udy

I have a huge tolerance for bad action movies. Especially bad action movies from the 1980s. They can be as cheesy, far fetched and just plain ridiculous as they want and I will enjoy them. But Nightforce pushes even this reviewer's tolerance for shit B-movies as it's just so ridiculous that it's, well, shit. Even with copious amounts of alcohol and watching it with other like-minded B-movie aficionados might not make Nightforce any more of a fun experience but then again if I'm suffering another bout of insomnia and ingesting large amounts of booze I might watch it again. Actually, it is kinda goofy fun. Wait, no it's not, I can't start liking it, this movie is awful.

Maybe it's the 80s cheese, or all the stunt men running around firing machine guns, or B-movie stalwarts Richard Lynch and Linda Blair that make Nightforce just tolerable. No, its just that its so mind boggingly barmy. So how 80s is Nightforce? Well other than having Richard Lynch and Linda Blair in the cast, there is also Steve McQueen's son Chad, everybody has insanely huge (and i mean, huge) hair, the film pretty much stops for the obligatory Playboy soft focus sex and shower scene (actually that's one of the good bits!), Cameron "I'm drunk" Mitchell is in it being, well, drunk and a bunch of douche bag teenagers can become highly trained soldiers by simply finding a bazooka in a junkyard and listening to Lynch playing the flute (!). No really. Lynch, who plays some tough soldier type, takes time out to play the flute for the young wannabe fighters and nobody bats an eyelid, like it's the most normal thing in the world, when in fact its the most insane, unintentionally hilarious thing in the world. Actually, all this stuff I've just written is making this movie sound pretty good.

If only it was. From all the inept action, including the world's slowest car chase, to a bunch of privileged white kids just cruising on down to South America in their product placement jeep and fighting and killing a ruthless militia like it's no big thing (see, you really could do anything in the 80s) Nightforce just blows. Oh hell, who am I kidding, watch this movie, it's hilarious. One minute people are being killed and raped the next minute the douche bag teens are just having a laugh like they are on some fun jaunt in South America killing people with machine guns.

Ok, having now written this review, Nightforce is in fact awesome. There is no way I'm throwing away my VHS copy. In fact, I'm gonna watch it again right now, just for the bit where Lynch asks one of the teenagers if he can fly a helicopter and the teenager thinks for a second before answering: yes! There being no mention of him being able to do this beforehand. Brilliant. God bless action cinema and God Bless the 1980s.