Tag Archives: action

Body of Lies

The advertising for Body of Lies says something like “Packed with breath taking action sequences” which is essentially a lie.  This isn’t an action flick and trying to sell it as such does it an injustice.  Either the studio were nervous, stupid or perhaps they don’t think much of the cinema going public.  Whatever the reason, Body of Lies is actually a dramatic thriller espionage action movie with some action sequences (impressive) and lots of dialog.  I really enjoyed DiCaprio and while I disliked Crow’s character immensely it’s probably because of his acting prowess that he made the man so odious with so little screen time.

The story covers a US CIA agent (DiCaprio) based in the Middle East, trying to get closer to a terrorist leader who is currently coordinating attacks on mainland Europe.  DiCaprio and his superior (Crow) differ in how they want to deliver results, with DiCaprio clearly more sympathetic to Arabic and Muslim sensibility.  They clash several times and as we proceed to the movie’s climax we see how much both of them are prepared to sacrifice for what they believe in.

I found the dialog absorbing and the roles well played.  I can’t comment on whether the movie is an accurate portrayal of the conflict going on in the Middle East or America’s involvement in it, maybe Ridley Scott has spent years researching it, maybe it’s just a pastiche or an impression but it certainly raised some interesting ideas.  The action sequences were well done, realistic and gritty and the scenes in the final act were suitably traumatic (I won’t spoil it too much for you).

Ultimately however the ending felt too loose, too open perhaps.  Maybe because Crow doesn’t seem to suffer any consequences for his actions, maybe for other reasons.  In any case it was like the last rocket of your fireworks evening misfiring, it didn’t spoil what came before but it left me feeling like we’d missed out on something important at the end.

Babylon A.D.

If your audience is expecting a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action movie in which your beefcake hero runs around and shoots a bunch of bad guys, while protecting a mysterious young girl then really, it should be quite hard to screw it up.  Make it exciting, give it some funky dialog and some charismatic characters, give them something to deal with together to form some bonds, and reveal the back story as you go illuminated through the lights of tracer rounds and frag grenades.

I admit it’s not easy or we’d all be doing it, but there are some advantages to bringing a sci-fi action movie to the screen in terms of plot development and character depth.  Get it anyway half decent and the crowds will be happy.

Which makes it all the harder to excuse Babylon A.D. and to understand what the hell they thought they were doing.  Oh it starts out on a firm footing, Diesel still has enough on-screen presence and acerbic charm to pick up the role (essentially Riddick without the mirrored eyes) and he can cook!  We get a little back story, we get some evidence he’s bad ass, and we get to meet the other two of the trio as he collects them (in quite an amusing manner) from their little convent.  There’s something weird about the girl, and there are some people trying to capture her.  Perfect, now we just need a good solid set of action combat / chase sequences and a small twist near the end and we’re golden.

Maybe the girl’s female protector turns out to be a bad guy, maybe Diesel’s character turns out to be a double agent, maybe the whole world turns into tofu, just something little and twisty after all the action to make us look back and go ‘oh yes, I see now’.  That’s what a twist should be, not something out of the blue but something which makes you re-evaluate what you saw and assumed.  Just to remind you to pay more attention next time.  It shouldn’t be obvious before-hand, but it should be totally obvious with hindsight.  That’s the point right?   To suck us in and then whack us when we’re not looking?

Why then, why in the name of all the Norse gods, does Bablyon A.D. take a 345 degree turn 15 minutes before the end and tell a completely different story about which we had no warning.  No hidden messages.  Yes, the girl was weird, maybe psychic, maybe telepathic, perhaps just odd.  But if you have to tell us what happened before the movie started, with 8 minutes of monologue from a character we’ve only just met, so that you can then justify the last 11 minutes of the movie, you’re doing it wrong.

Come on!  Basically, Bablyon A.D. is two movies, everything you see up to the 15 minutes before the end, and then everything after that.  We listen to some exposition which explains why the girl is weird, who the bad guy is, what is really going on, and then we get a limp-wristed end sequence.  Really, I’ve not been left hanging by a movie as badly as this before and I’ve watched some crud.  It’s a true shame because it feels like Bablyon A.D. reached for something and failed and instead of that being recognised and aspirations toned down, they just hacked it together any way they could to deliver the story they’d tried and failed to shoot.  I’d rate the first three quarters as a passable and watchable action sci-fi movie and the last 15 minutes or so as pure shite.

Avoid.

Death Race (Blu-Ray)

What did you expect? I didn’t watch this expecting to see a re-make of the original, I just watched it expecting to see fast cars, crashes, explosions and cliche! I wasn’t let down. How many times can you review a movie and say ‘the dialog / acting won’t win any awards but it’s entertaining’ and still sound credible? Probably fewer times than I have. This is a movie that makes no excuses, no apologies and carries no pretence. It’s nearly a remake of Running Man, but with cars, and it’s a damn sight better than Running Man as well. Jason puts in his usual performance and I actually liked him in this more than Transporter, he actually seems to have slightly more depth in Death Race. The supporting cast provide support, the action sequences are impressive and there are enough amusing moments to keep you smiling.

[voice over voice on] Death Race is the story of a man wrongly imprisoned for a terrible crime he didn’t comit, fighting for his survival and freedom, to rebuild his family, his honour and his life [voice over voice off]

There’s a small amount of plot, but the movie moves on quickly and doesn’t dwell on it too much, I actually preferred that.  I didn’t need a 20 minute back story, then 30 minutes of Eye of the Tiger style training for a 30 minute finale.  Instead what we get is about 8 minutes of setup and then 82 minutes of fast driving and big explosions.

Grete loved it.  I loved it.  The cats hated it.

Max Payne

Oh Max, what have you done?

Warning: Review probably contains spoilers and definitely contains foul language.

I don’t want to crucify this film because I don’t think it deserves it.  However, as you can imagine as the start of a review, that sentence can’t bode well.  I wanted to see this in the cinema because I think action / thrillers deserve a shot on the big screen.  I think that was the right choice, but I also think we might have enjoyed Zack and Miri make a Porno more.

Max Payne (for the 2% of the people in the world who might ever read this blog and don’t know) is based on a computer game of the same name.  The gimmick, if you like, in the game is the ability to slow-down the action so you can aim or react more accurately.  The main character in the game (it’s a 3rd person shooter) is Max Payne, a cop whose wife and child are murdered.  The movie has a similar premise and while the general elements of the game are the same, the overall plot structure is different.

Ok that’s enough background.  So, what’s wrong with it?  Well, the pace is wrong.  It’s too slow for an action movie, but not tense or suspenseful enough to be a thriller.  The pace doesn’t flow either, it jerks around like a lame fish and that doesn’t help the overall image.  I have a feeling this is mainly an issue with how the final movie was edited, but I could be wrong, it could be the screenplay.  On top of that, Max is plain dumb.  He’s stupid.  He behaves like a stupid dumb fuck.  He’s miserable, he’s an idiot.  When he finally gets the evidence he needs to prove he’s innocent and begin the search for what really happened he doesn’t even send it to the police, FBI or internal affairs before running off to exact his revenge.

His dumb fuckedness and miserableness mean it’s almost impossible to empathise with him.  Fuck, he got shot and even I thought ‘good, maybe he’ll die and we’ll be put out of his misery’.  Yeh I get that his wife and kid were taken from him, and I get that he’s brooding, but fucking get over it man really.  Mark Wahlberg does fine with the material, assuming that’s how it was written, but you can’t like the character, there’s just nothing to like.

The screenplay – well.  The story is contrived, yeh I know it’s based on a game, but come on, some of this shit is basic stuff.  Here’s a few:

  1. there’s an internal affairs guy, whose sole reason for existing appears to be to ensure in the last few moments of the movie he can go ‘don’t shoot Max, make sure we bring him in alive’, in case you know, the thousands of armed police involved decide to put him down.  He adds zero value (other than a minor role allowing us to learn who the real bad guy is).
  2. near the end, the FBI get called in but don’t do anything other than galvanise everyone else into stupid and pointless fucking gun-toting action.  WTF.
  3. the mid-level bad guy sweats, a lot.  Come on, I’ve seen CSI, his sweat is all over every crime scene he’s in, they would have nailed him months ago.
  4. Max is ‘framed’ for a death (of a cop), but at the same time he’s almost beaten to a pulp, except the only injury he appears to sustain is a sore hand which goes away in the next few scenes.  Based on that, somehow the entire police force thinks Max did it.  Despite that, he’s allowed to walk around with his gun and the police just stare at him in a menacing manner.  And a useless IA guy asks him some questions (two to be exact).  The whole thing is a contrivance to somehow make us feel Max is being set up or prevented from doing something.  However since we have no empathy for whiny-fucktard Payne, we don’t care.
  5. Max Payne, super-cop, misses that his wife’s work has been taken from her desk the night a robbery goes down, and only notices 3 years later.  Come on!

I could rant like that for a lot longer but I’ll stop.  Suffice to say, the screenplay is contrived, we’re forced to make too many assumptions, believe too much bullshit and accept too much stupidity from our hero to make it work.  It’s possible some of this was explained in cut scenes and it’s been butchered or it’s possible it was never in the screenplay and the director made the best he could.

Did I say yet that Max Payne (the character) is fucking stupid?  Not unlucky.  Not in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Just dumb.  And he shoots a lot of people without asking questions, after he’s invaded their place, yeh sure most of them are bad guys, but moping unhappy revenge driven cops who shoot first are hard to empathise with.

Not only is the screenplay contrived, it’s just not very good.  The dialog is cliched, there are sections of exposition to explain stuff we already got (we’re not as fucking stupid as Payne is) and then there are things which just don’t get explained that make little sense.  Again, could be an editing issue (too much on the cutting room floor) or the original screenplay’s problem.  It looks to me like the director has more experience than the two writers though, so I’m going to hedge a bet and say the screenplay sucked.

So why am I so angry?  I mean, the screenplay for Doom was pretty stupid but I coped okay with that (mostly).  I’m angry because this movie was three feet away from being really good.  Not Oscar material, but certainly a top quality Action Thriller with some nice quotes and some good memories.

The visuals were great, really.  I loved the look of the movie, it captured the bleak, harsh world and the contrast between that and the burning hallucinations of the drug addicts were superb.  The hallucination scenes were beautifully rendered and the little falling flaming mote motif1 was really nice.  The action scenes were pretty good, although there weren’t enough and they were too short (but that might have been an issue with getting the American PG-13 rating).  The acting is pretty good, considering the movie genre, original source material and the shoddy screenplay.  Despite the crud that Mark Wahlberg had to spout, he did a good job of it.  He looked the part, credible.  The supporting cast was good enough.  The soundtrack was solid but nothing special.

But it fell short.  Either the good screenplay was ruined by bad direction, or a terrible screenplay was directed as well as possible.  Whichever it was, Max Payne is a movie that could have finally brought us a credible computer game conversion, but didn’t.

Fuck you Max Payne, and your miserable bloody existence.

  1. yeh I did that on purpose []

Midnight Run

In a continuing theme of finding random films on Sky Movies that I’ve not seen yet, we watched Midnight Run last night.  It’s a reasonably typical buddy-cop action comedy style movie from the late 80’s staring Robert De Niro.  The story centres around De Niro’s character, an ex-Chicago cop turned bounty hunter, his history with the mob, and a bail bond collection he has to bring back before midnight in five days from the start of the flick.

The otherwise simple collection is complication by the involvement of several other factions.  The FBI has an interest, the mob has an interest, De Niro’s ex-wife and family show up briefly, another bounty hunter is involved and the bail runner himself (an ex-mob accountant) clearly has some involvement.  The single-threaded plot moves forward at a good pace to bring all these factions together at various moments and then again for the finale.

There’s no overt slapstick here, the comic moments come from the story, characters and the dialog.  De Niro brings his usual weight to what could have been a pretty light role, adding depth and emotion to the main character.  The supporting cast is pretty good, and I enjoyed Yaphet Kotto as the main FBI agent.  The dialog between De Niro and Charles Grodin’s character (the ex-accountant) drives the story forward and makes up a good 50% of the on-screen action, so luckily it’s interesting and worth listening to.

Midnight Run is a better than average implementation of a common 80’s theme, standing above the others due in no small part to De Niro and the well written dialog.

Quantum of Solace

I liked Casino Royale although I thought structurally it had issues.  I thought the new look for the Bond franchise was beyond necessary, it needed to step away from the cliche and it did that very successfully.  As a result, I was looking forward to QoS and I was a little concerned when I read a couple of negative reviews.  The first said that it crams too much action into a short space without time to breath and the second that there’s so much double crossing going on you have no idea where anyone stands.

Well let me tell you, if you’re a fan of action movies, spy based action movies, Bond, or just thrilling cinema, then you’ll probably enjoy Quantum.  It’s not perfect, but it gets the pace much better than Royale did, and it’s no-where near as complex.  A big issue I had with Royale was the need for so much exposition at the end to explain what had happened.  Quantum avoids that, it’s more contained and you’re left to draw your own conclusions about anything they don’t simply tell you which is a much more mature approach.

Quantum picks up immediately where Royale left off and the British Secret Service begins the journey of understanding the new organisation they have discovered.  There are surprises and twists at pretty much every stage although they’re not overwhelming.  The action does kick off right from the outset and the pace is solid, but there are moments to reflect and catch your breath.  Craig is superb as Bond once again, and the two main female characters are well played.  I won’t spoil the female leads, but will just say that they both bring something completely different to the story.

I had some minor quibbles with the plot (which I won’t spoil) but they’re truly small issues.  I liked the ‘bond-light’ approach, there’s no discussion of gadgets and the one or two used are really small elements, there’s no huge organisation supporting Bond where-ever he goes.  For a lot of the movie he’s on his own, for the usual reasons (he’s rebelling, it’s in his nature).

The only real complaint I have about the content apart from the minor plot issues, is that the bad guy packs no punch.  Ok, so the organisation he’s in is huge and scary and in control of the entire universe, but the guy himself just poses no threat in my mind’s eye.  He needed a steel rimmed hat or something, maybe steel teeth.

I do have another complaint about the direction for the action sequences, and that is that I didn’t enjoy the style.  The chase sequences are made up of super-fast cuts, super-shaky shots and usually cut against a backdrop of some other activity (horse race, opera).  It’s just a little too quick for me, I would have preferred more tight-camera work and steadier, longer shots.  It does however give you a huge sense of danger and pace, it’s just not my style.

Even with those last two issues, Quantum of Solace was an excellent movie experience, and as I said, if you’re a fan of the genre or Bond you’ll probably enjoy this a great deal.  For people who’ve never seen either, it’s a pretty good introduction (although without seeing Royale it won’t make as much sense).

Wanted on DVD

I’ve already reviewed Wanted based on the cinema experience.  We got the DVD a couple of days ago and watched it last night.  A second viewing certainly adds some value, it was interesting re-watching scenes knowing how the whole thing plays out, seeing the characters playing out the lie that is central to the story, watching it build towards the end.

If you’ve not seen it in the cinema, and you like a bit of action with some flare, I recommend it.  Really.