Tag Archives: action movies

Asphalt Burning

About 20 minutes into this movie, Jay decided it would be worth throwing her laptop at the TV if it stopped us from watching any more. Honestly, I am surprised it took that long for her to get to that point.

Roy (Anders Baasmo Christansen) is a Norwegian car junkie and proud Mustang owner who, while celebrating his upcoming wedding, kisses his fiancée’s ex-girlfriend Robyn (Alexandra Maria Lara). Despite Roy’s best attempts, for some reason his fiancée Sylvia (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen) does not agree that the kiss shouldn’t count because Roy could not have known the two knew each other. Roy’s only chance to win Sylvia back is to travel from Norway to Germany’s Nürburgring and beat Robyn’s Porsche on its home track, in a race for Sylvia’s hand. Sylvia is surprisingly satisfied with this arrangement despite every single minute of in this movie proving that marrying Roy is a terrible idea.

Having raced on a virtual Nürburgring in both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport I can confirm that Roy’s Mustang would have no chance at all there against Robyn’s Porsche, but of course the race is going to play out very differently in Asphalt Burning than in virtual reality, let alone real reality. Still, despite being totally unrealistic, the final race is actually one of the more believable parts of this film, even factoring in a bizarre tour bus subplot which I cannot even begin to explain.

Clearly, Asphalt Burning had aspirations of being Europe’s answer to Fast & Furious, or at least Cannonball Run, but it comes at least a quarter mile short of that not-so-lofty goal. There is a valuable lesson to be found here for any filmmakers with similar aspirations, though: do not use CGI to stand in for practical vehicle effects. If you can’t make a trick happen with a combination of practical effects and editing, then don’t make that trick a part of your film. Not coincidentally, all of Asphalt Burning’s stunts seem to have been done entirely on a computer.

It’s not helping anyone to include totally unbelievable and unrealistic stunts in your movie. It’s distracting, it’s annoying, and it’s going to make me hate your movie even more than the bad dialogue, dislikeable protagonist, and inane plot points already did. As always, I should have listened to Jay.

Wonder Woman 1984

It’s been 70 years since we last saw Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). She’s working at the Smithsonian in cultural anthropology and archeology, she’s doing her hero work on the down-low, and she’s been missing her sweetie, Steve. She’s been missing him for 70 long years.

Her new colleague at work, the meek and self-conscious Barbara (Kristen Wiig), is a gemologist doing a little investigative work for the FBI. The stone itself is worthless, but it claims to be a wish-granter, a dream stone, and both Barbara and Diana make wishes on it before they realize its true potential. Diana, of course, wakes up beside Steve (Chris Pine), but Barbara wakes up cool and powerful and strong, like Diana, although wishing to be like Diana does come with a little more than she bargained for.

Anyway, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), greedy 80s business man, seemed to know the stone’s possibilities very well, which is why he cozies up to Barbara in order to snatch it. With infinite wishes at his disposal, Lord becomes overwhelmingly powerful and practically unbeatable – especially since the wishes seem to extract something from the wisher, and Diana’s been growing weaker. Barbara, meanwhile, is growing stronger, but also shrewder, meaner. And Lord’s finding ways to increase his reach, taking his avarice international, influencing entire nations, not to mention enemies.

In fighting Max Lord, Wonder Woman is fighting pure greed, corruption, and the world’s obsession with more. Wonder Woman has always been more than capable at taking down villains with her expertly applied kicks and punches and of course her trusty lasso. But how do you fight concepts, idealogy, or human nature? This presents an interesting challenge that even Wonder Woman hasn’t seen before.

Gal Gadot is of course absolute perfection as both Diana and Wonder Woman. Having spent the past 70 years among humans, she is of course more jaded, more knowing, but she’s also more human herself, subject to the same loneliness that anyone would be if they’d been grieving for seven decades, and reluctant to get close to anyone because of it. She’s become more familiar with her strength and her abilities, and puts her weapons (tiara, lasso) to greater use. To win, Wonder Woman will have to flex not just her muscle, but also her ingenuity, and harder still, her faith in humanity’s inherent goodness despite plenty of evidence otherwise.

Kristen Wiig is well-cast as Barbara Minerva, a woman who is tired of being overlooked. As she transitions into the film’s co-villain, Cheetah, her confidence and her newfound powers race to outstrip each other, and we see her grow into her new role, wearing her new power like a mantle, like the fur coats she’s begun to adopt.

As for Pedro Pascal, it’s just nice to see his face for once. He understands that Max Lord doesn’t have to be evil to be a great villain. Villains who go around murdering and pillaging are easy to identify and unanimously reviled. But a villain who gives the people what they want will get away with a whole lot more. Since eliminating Lord would also mean negating their own wishes, people like Cheetah, who would otherwise perhaps not be on his side, are willing to fight for him to protect their own interests. Pascal puts a charming face on greed and desire, convincing an awful lot of people to wish for things they probably know they shouldn’t.

Director Patty Jenkins’ action sequences remain divine, but she’s not afraid to remind us that Wonder Woman, unlike some super heroes who shall remain nameless, is about more than just brawn or fancy gadgets; she’s got heart, and not just her own strong sense of right and wrong, but an impressive belief that ultimately humanity will share it and choose it as well.

In flashbacks, we saw a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in Amazonian warrior games, where she learned that she couldn’t win until she was truly ready. What will the grown up Diana be asked to give in order to win, what sacrifices will she make for people who will never know or appreciate it, and how will she fight differently when she actually has something to lose? Seventy years among humans will change a woman, even a Wonder Woman.

If you’re in the U.S., Wonder Woman 1984 is available to stream on HBO Max. In Canada, it’s available as a premium rental. Stick around for a mid-credits scene.

The Beast

We all have bad days at work. A client pushes your buttons or a colleague isn’t pulling their weight or a vital piece of equipment is on the fritz again, wasting your time and feeding your work monster. The Beast is about a bad day at work. Some guy wakes up, probably with a positive attitude and a spring in his step, but when he gets to work, things all fall apart. He thought kidnapping a little girl would be easy, and it was at first, but boy did he kidnap the wrong dude’s daughter. And no, her dad is not Liam Neeson.

Teresa’s (Giada Gagliardi) dad is The Beast. You can call him Riva (Fabrizio Gifuni), for now. Riva is a lone wolf veteran, estranged from his family ever since he returned from Afghanistan as only a shadow where a man used to be. Haunted by his combat experience, only little Teresa still loves him whole-heartedly. So when his growly teenage son reports her missing, Riva goes BEAST MODE to find her and bring her home. The cops whose actual job it is to find Teresa aren’t too happy about his rogue status and neither is Riva’s PTSD, which is being triggered rather wildly, incapacitating him with flashbacks to his time BEING TORTURED AS A PRISONER OF WAR. So there’s that.

Riva is not exactly a man with a very particular set of skills; I mean, I’m sure he’s no slouch what with his special forces training, but he’s not super-human either, merely a dedicated man with only one goal in his mind. The fights are not slick, over-choreographed affairs, they’re messy and savage and desperate, just a dad trying to survive long enough to get to the next door, behind which he may find and save his daughter. Or not. It’s a big city with a lot of doors, and a lot of bad guys standing menacingly in front of them.

Apparently this is not an Italian remake of Taken, or at least that’s what their legal team assures us, but it sure feels like it. Gifuni is a convincing anti-hero, always stalking the next dose of his meds, never sure which is the greater threat – the guy with the knife in front of him, or the guy with the knife in his memories. Probably not quite sure which is which either. He takes a lot of punishment, but when your daughter is Taken taken, the math goes wonky, the damage inflicted to damage sustained ratio ever malleable.

I didn’t dislike this movie, it’s well set-up even if it’s a premise we’ve definitely 100% seen before in a movie called Taken. The pacing of the third act is pretty screwy, the climax anti-climactic as it comes about 30 minutes too early in the movie. Or the movie goes on 30 minutes too long afterward (and it’s only 97 minutes). Still, if you’re looking for some gritty action, that’s exactly what you’ll get, and The Beast (La Belva) is streaming right now on Netflix.

Ava (2020)

Ava (Jessica Chastain) is an assassin who has started making things very personal at her job(s). She’s started asking her targets what bad thing they did to get themselves added to her hit list, which is a no-no in her line of work. Things get worse for Ava when faulty intel blows up one of her jobs and her employer deems her a loose end. She’s now a target herself. Clearly, Ava needs to disappear but before leaving town, she wants to try to make amends for leaving her family eight years ago without any explanation.

This film surrounds Chastain with lot of familiar faces, including John Malkovich as Ava’s handler, Geena Davis as Ava’s mother, Common as Ava’s former lover/sister’s boyfriend (super awkward), and Colin Farrell as Ava’s boss. After a troubled development, which included a director stepping down due to allegations of assault and abuse, and the movie being renamed, Ava then went straight to VOD because of COVID-19.

All in all, VOD is probably the best place for this film. It’s an interesting portrayal of an assassin’s daily life, which is not as glamorous as some films make it out to be. Ava is an addict who has no one close to her and struggles with guilt. She’s trying to reconnect with her family after walking out on them, a task made much harder when she can’t even tell them what she’s been up to since.

The character bits are solid but due to the nature of Ava’s work, this is an action movie, and the action sequences simply aren’t as good as they need to be. The game has been raised by John Wick and Ava does not measure up. This isn’t a casting problem, as Chastain appears eager and able to follow peers like Charlize Theron and Gal Gadot into action star territory. But Chastian is let down by a lack of imaginative choreography or stylish cinematography. The fight scenes just don’t pop like they need to, and the action sequences need to be stronger for this film to really shine. As it is, Ava is a decent but easily forgettable film, which in the time of COVID still makes it better than most rental options.

Project Power

911 is being flooded with calls of very, very strange occurrences. People are having some very unusual reactions to a new drug they call Power. Everyone reacts differently to it, and some very badly. Police aren’t just powerless to stop it – some people can out-run cop cars on foot while taking it, others become bullet-resistant. Basically, you get some kind of super power, but it’s temporary, you don’t get to choose it, and sometimes it just kills you dead. As they say: results may vary.

Today this drug is toppling police precincts, tomorrow: governments. So one local cop, Frank, operates a little outside the bounds of his badge with a young drug dealer named Robin to get it off the street before it’s too late. Which may or may not line up with the intentions of a man named Art, an ex-military man who is rather single-mindedly looking for his daughter who is somehow mixed up in all of this.

Discerning individuals may already think this premise sounds interesting, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Perhaps you don’t need any further convincing, so this is just icing on the cake: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It seems like not very long ago we were lamenting his rather lengthy sabbatical from Hollywood, but he’s following up his return to film in 7500 with a far different turn as a dedicated but unorthodox New Orleans police officer. Once he teams up with super stubborn soldier dad Art (Jamie Foxx), you’ve got a combo you can’t take your eyes off of. But you will, because the third member rounding out their trio, Robin (Dominique Fishback), may have rap dreams, a sick mom, and unfinished math homework, but she holds her own between these fiercely driven men. This is a star-making role for Fishback, whose talents help set this film apart.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman serve up an adrenalized sci-fi action film that’s got some pretty slick and nearly non-stop violence binges. It hardly leaves room to catch your breath, let alone contemplate these characters and who they might be when they’re not chasing down Dr.Evil. Project Power is thrilling and engaging but it’s no Marvel: not everyone can afford the many phases and chapters of a cinematic universe. Most films, this one included, have just under 2 hours to tell a complete story. Project Power can only hint at themes like what is power, and who should wield it. Most of the time, Joost and Schulman choose action over narrative, and you can hardly blame them for it, given the tempting material. I do, however, blame them just a bit (and screenwriter Mattson Tomlin) for an embarrassing lack of imagination. Not one of their super powers is original; you will find each one has already been dreamed up by comic book writers 50 years ago. Which doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of fun to watch someone ignite like a real-life human torch. I just wish we knew enough about the guy (Machine Gun Kelly, ugh) to appreciate what in his DNA or his personality is self-selecting this particular power and how finely it straddles the line between weaponized flame thrower and self-immolation.

Double World

This movie is a little hard to describe. It’s definitely fantasy – hard to distinguish if it’s an ancient civilization (with sporadic impressive technology), some post-apocalyptic but rebuilt future, or just an alternate universe, but in any case, picture ancient China but let’s call it two basic nations: north and south. The north and the south are predisposed to war against each other of course, but there’s been 10 years of peace up until this recent kerfuffle. The kerfuffle has necessitated the 10 neighbouring clans to each send a team of 3 to establish the very best warriors, who will be declared the grand marshals for the coming war. The clan where we’re embedded has few people volunteering for the likely deadly positions, so when Dong Yilong (Henry Lau) throws his hat in the ring, he’s immediately approved, even though he’s literally strung up by the ankles during this meeting, having only moments before been caught for stealing and about to be executed. No one in the village would miss him. Known as The Bastard, he’s always been an outsider, and his clan sees him as expendable if not worthy. The next volunteer is known as The Deserter (Peter Ho) because he was the sole survivor in the last war. These two (yes, there’s a third, but let’s not get too attached to him) set out toward what promises to be an extra bloody competition, but the road there is also filled with peril. The Bastard has nothing but a broken comb, the only thing left to him by his mother who died in childbirth, and The Deserter carrying a broken spear that returned from him from the last battle.

If the plot sounds confusing, don’t worry. This movie is all about the action. If you’re here for anything else, you’ve got the wrong film. But as an action adventure fantasy, it’s pretty much everything you could want. First off: nonstop action. They don’t wait until they get to the war games, they encounter lots of danger from lots of sources before they even get to the part that’s supposed to be the challenge. And in fact, we meet Dong Yilong as he’s being pursued for theft. So: An Aladdin-style pursuit, a near-execution, a giant Scorpion thingie that’s definitely learned some tricks from Tremors, and a sandstorm that could stop a horse, but not the intrepid young woman (Chenhan Lin) who’s destined to be their third (the generic, unnamed member of the original trio has no backstory and no special possession, so you know he’s not going to make it to the end, but he barely even makes it through the beginning!).

And that’s just the cost of travelling! The actual warrior competition is going to involve shackles, impalings, a ferocious puppy, and a beast who makes dragons look like mosquitoes. Plus some supernatural shit for good measure.

The fight choreography is gorgeous, the CG is flawless, and the action’s non-stop. We went in with low expectations and were pleasantly surprised by a fun watch that helped curb those summer blockbuster cravings.

The Old Guard

Andy (Charlize Theron) is one weary warrior. She leads an elite team of mercenaries but when they’re called for a new job, she hesitates. She once believed they were doing ‘good’ but as she scans the news channels and her friends’ faces, she can no longer find any proof. The world isn’t getting any better. Is it even worth it? But client Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is insistent: a bunch of young girls are being trafficked and only the very best team – her team – can save them. So Andy swallows her cynicism and leads Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Nicky (Luca Marinelli), and Joe (Marwan Kenzari) once more into battle. Except Andy’s instincts were right: it’s a trap.

Copley’s been secretly tracking her team all along, on behalf of “the youngest pharma CEO ever” (Harry Melling). Eager to make a splash, not to mention a billion dollars, he wants to study Andy and her team to see what make them so special – and to replicate it, of course. Because humans are both greedy and vain and we never, ever learn a lesson.

This could have been a fairly by the numbers action movie, even if the action is pretty impressive. Of course, it kind of has to be these days; John Wick went and raised the bar on that, and now even a fairly trash movie like Extraction needs some intensely choreographed and inventive sequences. And of course, somewhere along the way, Charlize Theron has become a bonafide action star. But what makes The Old Guard stand out from the rest is its philosophy, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s instinct to slow things down and instead of asking ‘what’s next?’ asks ‘why?’

It’s hard to know whether to categorize The Old Guard as a sci-fi movie or a super hero movie or a straight up action adventure. But like Wonder Woman, a film easily among the best in any of those genres, this movie doesn’t just explore the extent of their so-called super powers, it wonders when to use them, why to use them, and if they should be used at all. If Andy’s Guard isn’t quite human, the people they fight, and the people the save, are. The cost is high and the price is grief; Andy’s body may be strong but so is the emotional toll. And when new Guard member Nile (Kiki Layne) is discovered, the whole group has to decide whether it’s all been worth it.

The Old Guard isn’t a perfect movie but it dares to depict heroics occurring somewhere between survival and sorrow. It shows us not just its true cost, but both the weighing of it, and its weight.

Anna

Anna (Sasha Luss) is a young Russian woman selling tchotchkes to tourists in a market when a talent agent discovers her and makes her a model. She’s a working and indeed sought after model when she’s discovered by Alex (Luke Evans), an intelligence agent, who recruits her as a Russian spy and introduces her to their boss, Olga (Helen Mirren), a woman who attributes her successful career to being as meticulous as she is detached. Turns out, ‘beautiful model’ makes for a pretty good cover – she has access to an elite crowed and her fragile good looks make her seem innocent and naive. She is a deadly assassin but never suspected. Her goal is to work only long enough to retire to a simple life with financial security. But since when are spies ever allowed their own plans? American spy Lenny (Cillian Murphy) definitely has other plans for her – but how many times can one woman switch allegiances?

Anna is of course savvy enough to weaponize her beauty, but unlike Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow, she uses sex to manipulate her own handlers. Unfortunately, this film invites too many comparisons to that movie and many others. The spy genre is prolific and writer-director Luc Besson has certainly drank from that well before, but it sort of feels like he’s run out of new things to say. He throws in so many crosses and double crosses you almost feel as though he’s making fun of them, and I might have preferred an out right parody (Paul Feig, I’m looking at you: we’re still waiting on Spy 2) to this twisty mess. Perhaps Besson is a little too comfortable and therefore a little complacent in assassin mode. Granted, the action is slick and well-choreographed, but you’ve seen it all before, and you’ve seen better.

Anna is as solid but bland. It won’t surprise you or delight you. It may mildly entertain you or distract you if you’re a fan of action/spy thrillers and don’t mind a little repetition. If you haven’t seen La Femme Nikita, see that instead and never mind this disappointing retread.

In The Line of Duty

Vice Captain Volk (Giancarlo Esposito) is running a pretty high-stakes operation which of course goes sour. With an officer down, the suspect takes off running, with Volk cautioning the other officers to hold back. Which doesn’t account for Officer Penny (Aaron Eckhart), a nearby cop on foot patrol, who hears the call and immediately gives chase. The suspect puts up a good chase too, nearly gets away in fact, but Penny corners him in an alley and when they both pull guns, Penny’s still standing, and the suspect is dead. Which is unfortunate for a couple of reasons: a) Penny’s got a trigger-happy reputation as it is, but worse b) the suspect was a kidnapper, and with him dead, there goes the only lead in the investigation. Oops.

Turns out, it’s Volk’s own daughter who’s been kidnapped, and they’ve got about 60 minutes to find her before she expires. Penny is immediately relieved of is gun and his badge, but by god, that’s not going to stop him from saving the day. Ava Brooks, however, might be a bigger impediment. Ava (Courtney Eaton) is a young woman armed with a live feed and a passion for truth. She sticks to Penny like glue and she’s live streaming this entire unsanctioned pursuit. Why Penny allows this to happen is about as puzzling as her cell phone’s amazing battery life, but let’s just be good sports about it and pretend these scenarios are likely.

Jeremy Drysdale’s script offers up a plot that’s drowning in clichés, and director Steven C. Miller doesn’t exactly have any tricks up his sleeve, but if you’re willing to overlook the increasingly unlikely (heck: ridiculous) events, Drysdale and Miller do deliver some wild and constant action. The Line of Duty (yes, there’s some confusion over its proper title) is a forgettable film but it’s oddly watchable in the moment. Eckhart and Eaton have little to no chemistry and in the long and storied history of buddy cop movies, this one isn’t going to make a dent in the genre. It may, however, help bridge the movie void left by an uncaring virus.

The Courier

Ezekiel Mannings (Gary Oldman) is a very bad man. His job title is literally “crime lord” on his business cards (okay, the business cards are unseen in his wallet but I’m SURE they’re there) and he’s awaiting trial for what I’m also certain is just a small fraction of his many crimes. Or perhaps I should say he is not awaiting trial so much as the trial is waiting to hear from one key witness – Nick Murch (Amit Shah) – whom a federal task force has been protecting so he can deliver his crucial testimony, ie, he saw Ezekiel Mannings murder someone right in the head.

You don’t need to see Mannings’ business card to know he’s a bad guy: he wears an eye patch. Which is a statement. Of Evil. I’ve known a few people without a full set of eyes and they’ve never elected to go with the patch. Glass eyes look surprisingly good if you’ve got a socket that wants filling. The only eye patch I’ve ever seen in real life is the little band-aid coloured ones that kids sometimes wear to help correct a lazy eye, and those are quite adorable and definitely don’t count. I’m talking all-black, special ordered from the pirate store, cover of Evil Monthly magazine, doubling down with a goatee, eye patch.

Nor do you need to see Nick Murch’s business card to know that he’s a nerd. Probably an IT guy. He’s nervous and jittery, and his outfit has definitely not been approved by a woman. I mean, he’s got reason to be nervous and jittery. He IS about to testify against a really bad dude, and the whole case basically hinges on him as a witness. But before he can video conference in (from an unspecified European location), a courier (Olga Kurylenko) arrives at the safe house to deliver a package. Spoiler alert: it’s a bomb. A lot of people die, and someone’s even trying to kill her, but instead of fleeing for her life, she volunteers as Nick’s defacto bodyguard and personal protector. Basically, she and Nick end up fighting for their lives in an underground parking structure, and they’ll have to do it for an hour before the cops arrive (why an hour? who knows. but it’s a great little conceit to put some real-time pressure on the situation). Agent Bryant (William Moseley) and his sniper (Greg Orvis) are particularly persistent.

Is this a good movie? No. We never get a satisfying explanation for why this nameless bike courier would stick around to fight a fight that isn’t hers. Or why she’s so darn good at it; “military” hardly covers it.

The violence is…extensive. As in face caved in. As in literal terminal velocity when a body hits a brick wall so hard the skull cracks open like an egg. As in any foreign object with a somewhat pointed end will soon be lodged in someone’s body cavity. And the victim will always agonizingly pull it out, with a flourish of spurting blood. This became such an odd pattern I started chanting “pull it out!” pull it out!” and they always did, even when it was a 3 foot metal rod through the throat.

And to even out the odds, the bad guys were of course prone to soliloquizing, always pausing for one last smug speech just long enough for the heroes to once again narrowly escape certain death. The brutality was so unending that I didn’t really care which side won as long as everyone just stopped getting up. And also: what’s up with this parking garage where a gun battle to the death can be staged for over an hour and not a single person even ran to their car for a stick of gum? I’m suspicious.

Now there is some merit to a movie with mindless violence, I suppose. A time and a place for it, at any rate. But this wasn’t so much mindless as mind boggling. Turns out the eye patch was the least of my worries.

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