Tag Archives: action movies

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.

Dying to know more?

Extraction

Happy weekend, everyone! Shall we celebrate with Netflix’s new action flick starring Chris Hemsworth? Let’s discuss.

The plot, such as it is, can be summed up in only one word, which they’ve helpfully made the title: extraction. Picture this: two rival drug lords, one imprisoned and ruthless, the other not currently imprisoned and also super ruthless. The unimprisoned one kidnaps the imprisoned one’s kid, even though the imprisoned drug lord seems not to be the most doting or devoted of fathers, but it’s the principle of the thing, and he’s pissed. Pissed enough to take it out on his own people, threatening to execute their children if they fail to retrieve his. His henchman is a little more fond of his kids, so he goes straight to the best in the biz, Australian Tyler Rake (Hemsworth), a fearless black market mercenary.

Rake drops into India like it ain’t no thing, yoinks the kid (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) out of the evil clutches of his kidnappers, but then has the nearly insurmountable task of navigating an incredibly dense city teeming with an underworld of weapons dealers and traffickers where good guys, if there are any, are indistinguishable from the baddies. Also: Tyler Rake is a sad and broken man, so he may not be as motivated to stay alive as you’d normally like your rescuer to be.

Sean thought this movie was “not very good” and I thought it was “definitely an action movie.” It should be said that Sean generally likes action movies and I’m a little harder to impress. Evidence you’ll need to decipher whether this particular action movie is for you:

1. Hemsworth is only shirtless once, from behind

2. great close combat scenes, very slice and dicey

3. no time wasted on “story” or “character” or “reality”

4. 12 minute long single-take action sequence that really satisfies the bloodlust

5. based on the graphic novel Ciudad by Ande Parks and the Russo brothers

6. the violence is graphic, aimless, and relentless, and often perpetrated by (and against!) children

7. feels a bit like a first person shooter game

8. the stunts are pretty spectacular

9. if you squint hard enough, an assault rifle sorta looks like Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer)

10. doubles as psa for road safety

Altered Carbon: Resleeved

First let me say that although there’s a lot of Altered Carbon sprayed across various media these days, this is my first brush with it. Anthony Mackie stars in a Netflix series and though this is not that, it does involve the character he plays, Takeshi Kovacs.

What you need to know is that “people” are no longer defined by the bodies they inhabit. Flesh is just a sleeve you slip on and off, discarding it when it’s no longer useful, carrying on via your digital conscience uploaded to a “stack” and potentially immortal if treated right.

In this animated Netflix film, Takeshi is hired to do a job, so his stack is uploaded into the body of a soldier, a body so ripped and primed for combat that his head looks tiny compared to the breadth of his shoulders. Takeshi (voiced by Ray Chase) must protect a tattoo artist while investigating the death of a yakuza boss. Holly (Brittany Cox), the young tattoo artist (to clarify: the flesh sleeve she inhabits appears to be that of a tween, but her consciousness is many times that), is fighting for her life. As the yakuza tattooist, she’s in charge of an integral part of each boss’s death ritual and the succession of the next boss. Takeshi has only the help of CTAC agent Gena (Elizabeth Maxwell), whose motives may not align exactly with his own.

Right away, you’ll notice the anime style is unique, with the characters popping and almost glowing compared to the duller backgrounds. The film’s story is fairly simple, and while it does serve as a bridge between season 1 and 2 of the live-action series, it can also be taken as a stand-alone film. While this Kovacs isn’t quite as brooding or as witty as Mackie’s, the action is just as bloody. Kovacs and Gena team up seemingly every 5-10 minutes against enhanced ninjas. In fact, at one point I realized that this felt like I was watching an intense video game walkthrough. All that was missing was some sort of coin reward for K.O.s. Which means it’s a visual treat with some truly impressive (and numerous) action sequences, but the character development is a little lacking. If you’re coming into this with background you’ve gleaned from watching the series, you’ll might find it all the more rewarding. If you’re a newbie like me, you might just feel sufficiently motivated to take on the series – especially now that everyone’s got some serious quarantine and chill time on their hands.

 

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Babe: Pig in the City

Since I snuck Babe: Pig in the City onto our recent Quarantine top ten list I figured I should re-watch it, and in the process, have Jay watch it for the first time. That was a mistake. I had forgotten that the tone of Babe: Pig in the City is startlingly dark for a kids’ movie, and in particular there are several scenes of dogs in distress. As you may know, we lost our little Gertie recently so the last thing we need right now is a scene where a dog goes to heaven!

Assuming you are not grieving a little puppy right now, Babe: Pig in the City remains a really incredible movie. Following directly from the events of Babe, Farmer Hoggett is installing a water pump when tragedy strikes. Bedridden from his injuries, it’s up to Mrs. Hoggett to keep the farm afloat as the bank comes calling. Being a champion sheep-pig, Babe has plenty of offers to appear at state fairs for generous appearance fees, and off Mrs. Hoggett and Babe go to take advantage of Babe’s new celebrity. Unfortunately, the two get hung up in security and miss their connecting flight, and then get separated on their layover in the city while waiting to head home. With all that trouble, how will they possibly find a way to save the farm?

As I said, the subject matter in Babe: Pig in the City is very dire at times, but through it all Babe never loses his sunny disposition. In turn, his good nature charms everyone he comes in contact with, and helps them be better animals (because naturally, Babe only talks to animals not people, though he does understand human speech perfectly). With the ground rules having been well-established in Babe, Pig in the City is free to jump right into frenetic chase scenes, and wastes no time in doing so. In that respect, the non-stop action in Babe: Pig in the City evokes director and co-writer George Miller’s other big franchise, Mad Max.

Babe: Pig in the City is not quite the masterwork that Fury Road is, but it’s a great film in its own right, and a worthy addition to Miller’s catalogue that towers over all but the best kids fare (as well as most “grown-up” action films).

Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Old Bosley (Patrick Stewart) out, new Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) in; turns out, Bosley wasn’t a name, it was a rank.

Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Elena (Naomi Scott) are fellow Angels and kind of frenemies but not only are they going to need to get along for this next mission, they’ll also be training a newbie on the fly as mild-mannered, law-abiding layperson Jane (Ella Balinska) gets swept up into the fray.

Jane is a systems engineer who blows the whistle on a piece of tech that sounds revolutionary and life-changing but also dangerous and possibly weaponized. So of course the Angels are called upon to make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, and believe me, several grubby, evil little hands are doing the “gimme gimme” gesture in its direction. The Angels are willing to risk their lives to save us all, but they more they uncover the more their own agency seems compromised and nobody knows who to trust.

The movie got off to a rocky start for me because it was a little too “girl power!” And obviously I’m all about strong, capable women but let’s just show rather than tell. We don’t always need banners and slogans. But the movie seemed to get that stuff out of the way pretty early on, and then we hurtle through action sequences like it’s against the law to slow down.

The movie isn’t as bad as you likely heard from early reviews, but it never quite manages to be all that you want it to be either. If you’re remaking this particular movie in 2019, maybe make it subversive? Maybe challenge the status quo? Definitely justify its existence by updating some of the more dated concepts and definitely, definitely have fun with it. That’s its biggest problem: a lack of identity. It’s never really sure where on the spectrum of action movies it wants to fall and it never dazzles us with any distinguishing features. When the Angels’ closets are revealed, containing a to-die-for wardrobe, heavy weaponry, and a plethora of beautiful bobbles and accessories all hiding James Bond-type gadgets, there’s no zeal. I wanted pageantry. I wanted at least as much fun as the boys in the Kingsman movies, combined with the snappy chemistry between Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart in Spy.

Kirsten Stewart appears to enjoy showing off but otherwise there’s little fizz on the screen. It feels like work for them, and indeed I admit that I don’t appear to be having fun at my job either, and it would also make for a rather boring movie. But if you’re bothering to make this a movie, then I want glamour and I want fun. I want you to either embrace the silliness and really go for it, or I want you to skewer the concept and serve it on a silver platter with so much garnish I don’t know what to do with it. I do not want you to take the well-traveled, extremely trampled middle path of been there, done that.

Killer Elite

As Killer Elite begins, assassin Danny Brice (Jason Statham) decides to hang up his gun. But clearly, it’s not so easy for an assassin to retire, because before long Danny’s best friend Hunter (Robert DeNiro) has been kidnapped by a sheik, held hostage until Danny takes revenge for a murder committed by British secret agents. Danny doesn’t a1140135_killer_elite_3rgue much and sets out to joylessly kill the four British agents on the revenge list.  As the agents start dying, retired superagent Spike (Clive Owen) catches on to Danny’s mission and inserts himself in the middle of the action.

The main problem with Killer Elite is that it’s a showdown between anti-heroes who are either trying to kill or save other anti-heroes. I simply had no idea who to root for. It’s not Jason Statham, who so easily falls into this revenge plot imposed on him by the sheik, who brings no personality at all to this role, and whose dead eyes confirm regret in ever getting involved with this movie. It’s not Clive Owen, who somehow is even less charismatic than dead-eyed Statham. It’s not Robert DeNiro, who is totally forgotten during all but the opening and closing scenes. There’s a huge empty void at the centre of this movie that no one even attempts to fill.

The void is all the more glaring because the action scenes are almost as flat as the characters. They’re not terribly executed but since Killer Elite has nothing else to offer, the fights needed to be great to compensate for everything else that’s lacking. And they’re not. At best they’re a slight change of pace from a mundane story that you’ll be too bored to care about, and at worst they increase the viewer’s boredom by being as lifeless as Statham’s dead eyes.