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Outrage Coda (2017)
Unsatisfying end to the trilogy
Outrage Coda is a violent but unsatisfying end to the Outrage Trilogy. The main problem is that Takeshi Kitano's Otomo is barely in it and little time is given to his story/motivations. As a result, when he goes on his climatic rampage (that's not a spoiler if you've seen the Outrage films -- He always goes on a rampage), you don't care because the film hasn't built it up properly. The rest of the major characters are all very superficially drawn and equally evil, so it's tough to care about who is doing what to whom during the convoluted schemes. The ending seems like it was supposed to be very moving, but is more likely to leave you going, "huh?"
That said, I strongly recommend you watch this immediately after watching the first 2 films. At the very least, Kitano's character's lingering resentment from those films may carry over and round out his character in this film.
24 Hours to Live (2017)
Lower your expectations - It's no John Wick
The reviews comparing 24 Hours To Live to action classics like John Wick and Taken are not doing this film any favors. 24's action scenes lack the spark, inventiveness, and even just length of the top action scenes you'd see in stuff like John Wick or even Jackie Chan's The Foreigner. Aside from one very short car chase / shootout that has some cool shots and viciousness to it, all of the action scenes are run-of-the-mill things done about as well as you'd see in an expensive TV show. It's competent, but nothing memorable.
That also describes the rest of the film. Ethan Hawke and a few of the actors do their best, but they don't have a lot to work with. It's the same old hoary plot about an assassin trying to atone for his sins and 24 doesn't do anything new or interesting with it.
Overall, 24 Hours To Live is competent enough to stand above the true garbage that a late era Steven Seagal might make, but it's nowhere near the top action films either. It's a middle of the road 5/10. Meh.
Long men fei jia (2011)
If you're not watching this in 3D, then you're not watching the real movie
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate must be watched in stereoscopic 3D to be properly appreciated. Its abundant visual spectacle is so clearly tuned for 3D that watching the film in anything less would mean you're not watching the real film at all. In 2D, the CGI backgrounds & objects are distractingly bad, robbing many scenes of their drama and gravitas. But in 3D, somehow it all works and you're transported into a vibrant, gorgeous world delivered with maximum visual panache.
If can watch this film in 3D (it's not hard -- Your smartphone & a Google Cardboard VR headset will give you full brightness 3D that's brighter than the cinema's 3D!), then this is a must see. If you can't, then don't even bother with this film.
Re: Born (2016)
A fighting manga turned into a movie
The story and acting in Re:Born are barely there. A retired super killer is chased down by his old comrades who are all unrealistic weirdo psychos the likes of which you normally only see in manga/anime. The hero doesn't say much and emotes even less, then kills them all. The end.
But here's the thing about Re:Born -- It plays like someone took a couple of years-worth of a sports manga (Japanese comic) about knife-fighting and turned it into a 100-minute movie. Think of a young men's manga series about fighting like Grappler Baki or Tough. Re:Born has all of the hallmarks of this type of manga:
- Obsessive attention to small details of the sport, in this case being subtle changes in fighting techniques and stances, or use of different strategies and weapons.
- Each fight being a story in itself
- Sudden bursts of emotion from otherwise macho super-killer men -- In this case, tough military men suddenly weeping and confiding that their greatest regret was not being able to die for their friend during battle.
- A succession of outlandish opponents introduced abruptly, all displaying over-the-top sadism or weird, excessive dedication to their sport. Example: One guy in Re:born chains his knife into his forearm tendons so that he'll never lose his weapon!
- Finally, a hero who is superhumanly talented in the sport, able to dodge bullets like normal people would dodge a paper airplane.
The main difference from these manga is that there is no narrator or thought bubble explaining the intricacies of what's going on. "Oh, he changed his stance to become more limber and dodge the throat strikes!" You just have to pay attention. And pay attention you should, as the fights are extremely fast and intricate. The choreographer did a great job varying the moves and building up the intensity of the fights. You never feel like they are the same, even though they are almost all knife fights. Re:Born has a bunch of small action moments that I don't think I've seen in other movies before.
So, if you like this kind of manga or think you would, then definitely check out Re:Born. If you're a martial arts cinema fanatic who really pays attention to the fine details of a fight scene, then definitely check out Re:Born. If you like Japanese action v-cinema trash films with a nihilistic bent (hello, early Takashi Miike), then Re:Born may be your jam. BUT if you want a clear, cohesive plot, interesting dialogue, and emotional payoffs, then stay the hell away from this movie. It's not for you and was never meant to be.
Wu xia (2011)
Oozes STYLE... Imagine early Luc Besson directing a kung fu film!
Wu Xia is the best film in Donnie Yen's filmography. It may not have the most fights or be the most rah-rah crowd pleasing, but it's easily the best directed & most complete movie he's ever made. Huge credit has to go to director Peter Chan. He gives the film a remarkable sense of style that reminded me of early 1990s Luc Besson (when Besson was one of the most stylish directors in the world). Gorgeous visuals, weird yet perfect music, and a quirky rhythm all come together with an interesting story to form a highly compelling film that feels like no other kung fu movie out there.
Don't get me wrong: It's not empty style. Every scene successfully conveys the emotion/feeling it's supposed to convey. There's no moment that rings false or feels like it could've been done better. Frankly, director Chan tells the story so effectively that it makes most of Yen's other films feel amateurish in comparison.
The incredible style applies to the fights as well. Frankly, the film's fights set a new standard: They manage to combine the intricate choreography of old school wushu kung fu scenes with the hard hitting MTV style of modern Hollywood action without losing what makes either of them good. You can see all of the choreography clearly, but you also get that awesome hard hitting, kinetic MTV sense of style, yet there is no shaky cam or seizure-inducing editing! There is a big chase & fight scene about half way through this film that would be entertaining for most people, but for a student of kung fu cinema, it should be recognized as game changing filmmaking.
Bottomline: Donnie Yen's best made film and a new high watermark for the wushu genre.
Kurôzu Explode (2014)
Unsatisfying mix of realism and cartooniness
Crows Explode departs from the flashy and energetic style of the previous Crows Zero films by being adopting a somber tone and giving a few of the characters real, fleshed out emotions and struggles. The problem is that this realism is mixed with the typical Crows action craziness of having various cartoonish thugs fighting for control of Suzuran, a high school that apparently has no classes or teachers. There's not enough time devoted to either and the film is unsatisfying as a result.
And to be honest, I came for the fighting, but I left wishing there was more time spent on the drama. The dramatic scenes are in that classic Asian macho drama mold of cool/tough guys suddenly bursting into emotion they can no longer contain, with anger, fear, honor, and respect all coming together at once. It's the kind of awesome stuff that Asian cinema does best, but there just isn't enough time spent on the drama here. Too bad, as the little that is here is pretty good.
Chek dou (2015)
Hollywood-quality production with Hollywood-quality writing, for better or worse
First things first: The surface aspects of Helios are outrageously good. The production value rivals Hollywood films with convincing large scale sets, international location shooting, subtle photo-real CGI, gorgeous cinematography, and rip-roaring action scenes. Speaking of action scenes, Helios' gun battles are firmly in the new wave of Hong Kong gun play: Hard-hitting machine gun battles with a dash of real-world tactical flare. They resemble more the thrilling shootout in Michael Mann's Heat rather than John Woo's elegant work. This action style works well for thrillers and HK cinema have gotten damn good at it in recent years.
Sadly, Helios' plotting and narrative are also notably Hollywood- esque with shallow characters, contrived emotions, and ludicrous plot all held together by tightly paced editing and actors that demand you look at them due to their great acting or great looks. It all still manages to be compelling, but none of it holds up on reflection. Despite its flaws, Helios could normally be recommended as a fun "turn off your brain" action thriller and that would be that. Alas, the ending makes the recommendation much harder. Without going into specifics, just know that there is no satisfaction to be had in any way. No closure, no justice, no explanation. Viewers will have to decide for themselves if it's worth watching a movie that entertains mightily then reverses all of that good will in the last 10 minutes.
Saat po long (2005)
Donnie Yen wasn't lying..
.. when he called SPL the pinnacle of his martial arts choreography. It rocks. HARD. Not only are the fights are brutal, fast, and complex, but Donnie may have achieved the impossible: He made Brazillian ju-jitsu look exciting on film. Donnie's character repeatedly goes for takedowns, armbars, chokes, and all the moves that you might see in a UFC or Pride match (with Sammo countering attacks exactly how the big fighters do it in a real bout), while seamlessly combining them with the incredibly fast, complex punching and kicking exchanges you'd expect in a Hong Kong flick. Did I mention that the fights are bone-crunchingly brutal? There is a real nastiness to the punchups that should yield a great reaction from enthusiastic audiences. And then there is the spectacular Wu Jing vs Donnie Yen fight. It starts off very, very fast and complex, then at a certain point, the tempo changes and you suddenly realize that it's because they're just making it up ON THE SPOT and the damn thing becomes even more impressive. The long, unbroken takes should please fight purists, too.
The film itself also holds up. Director Wilson Yip really shows off his passion and skill in this film. It's an intense crime drama that doesn't have to pander to any teeny boppers, so he is free to finally let loose. The story is solid and Yip takes the opportunity to devise some great sequences. There's a scene that cuts between Donnie looking at photos of the policemen he's about to lead and footage of the same cops intensely doing their business that is pure cinema.. a scene that could have been plain on paper, but is made exciting purely through the director's vision - the way it's cut and scored and staged. In other words, there is a lot of obvious effort put into the drama. It isn't just some thrown together filler btwn fight scenes. This is a real film. Oh, and one comment about the audio: It's amazing. The music is superb and the sound effects are everything you could hope for in a kung fu film (ie, they accentuate every move and hit as you'd want them to). I hope the DVD has a great DD5.1 track and that you have the system to play it 'cause it'll make a big difference.
Complaints? I have only one: The fights should have been a little longer, but that's okay because they burn twice as bright as most.
Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003)
I'm shocked. Until Timecop 2, I don't think I had ever seen a cheap, direct-to-video sequel that was actually good and possibly even better than its theatrical predecessor! And it's not just because of the action either - the best thing about the film is its story. It's handled with EXQUISITE pacing. On the one hand, the hero played by Jason Scott Lee is constantly jumping from time period to time period, so there's always some action or intrigue going on. But amazingly, at the same time, the filmmakers manage to acknowledge all of the great moral or ethical dilemmas that a time altering premise provides. It's thought-provoking and even a little emotional. Basically, the film is stuffed with great ideas, good acting, and decent action scenes.
The only way Timecop 2 suffers in comparison to the first is in the cinematography. Whereas the first film had fantastically moody photography, the sequel looks like an above average television film. It has a too "clean" look to it. It isn't horrible, but it's not very cinematic either. In terms of action, the film is exceptional at demonstrating fast, brutal Jeet Kune Do moves. I guess Jason Scott Lee has still been practicing since he did Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story all of those years ago.
Bottom-line, give Timecop 2 a try. It's far better than it has any right to be.
Kommando Leopard (1985)
Not bad for a mid-80s B-movie
Commando Leopard is cheesy but enthusiastic action trash for the most part. It's not extremely different from any other jungle-set, exploitation war movie from the 1980's. However, it does have 3 notable elements: First, the photography shows occasional flourishes of style that you wouldn't expect in a cheap 80s action b-movie. It's shot in 2.35:1 widescreen and every so often you get an artfully composed shot, a low angle "hero pose" image (which are far more common to big budget post-1990 action movies!), or a visceral over-the-shoulder camera angle on the gun play. The photography is nothing spectacular as a whole, but it does give the film an intermittent visual slickness that sets it apart from the bland coverage common to 1980's B-movie cinematography. Second, legendary actor Klaus Kinski is in the movie. Third, Commando Leopard is quite ambitious with at least 3 large-scale destruction/explosion scenes. There's a sense of enthusiasm to the affair that makes it easy to watch. Overall, it's one of the better examples of low-budget, exploitation film-making in the genre and era.
Route 666 (2001)
Slick look for a C-grade flick
If "Route 666" has anything going for it, it has to be the visual aspect. The film is shot in 2.35:1 widescreen and is very nicely photographed. The lighting and camera angles demonstrate a slick professionalism more common to major Hollywood studio productions than cheap, direct-to-video horror flicks. That said, the rest of the film is nothing special. The plot involving restless ghouls on an abandoned desert road is mildly involving, but some terrible overacting (Dale Midkiff, in particular, constantly acts like Chandler--from the TV show "Friends"--having a panic attack) and remarkably stupid plot contrivances undermine any tension built by the director. At one point, two characters start a fist-fight for no reason except to be a plot device to keep them from helping other characters under attack. The filmmakers don't even try to provide a good reason for the sudden fight. At best, the least discriminating viewer might chuckle knowingly at the cheap ploy. More likely the average viewer will say, "Why the hell did they start punching each other?!" Either way, the result is that the audience is knocked out of the story. That's too bad, as the director (or editor) otherwise keep a quick pace to the movie that is usually enough to gloss over most minor plot problems. The film is certainly never boring; there are gunfights, chases, and violent gore horror galore. Bottomline: if you are the type of movie watcher who is familiar with b- or c-flicks and can enjoy them despite their problems, then you could do much, much worse than "Route 666."
The Mechanic (1972)
The film starts very slowly.
The Mechanic becomes fairly exciting in the last 15 minutes. Before that, it's a slow burn that is occasionally boring. There is a drab atmosphere that pervades the film and combines with the restrained acting of the leads to give the production a muted feel. Perhaps that was intentional given that their characters are calm, controlled hitmen, but it doesn't necessarily make for interesting viewing. Bronson is given some good lines and is admittedly effective at conveying a man with feelings boiling under the surface. Without using words, he gives the viewer the impression that his aging hitman character is troubled over his past deeds or empty life, and he subtly reveals hints of happiness when he finds a protege. Jan Michel Vincent as the protege shows none of this depth, but his approach is perfectly suited to the shallow, psychopathic brat that he plays.
Anyway, most of the film is spent with Bronson as he goes through what have now become run-of-the-mill hitman/crime film cliches like meeting crime bosses in lavish estates, meticulous planning of hits (some of which are clever), and living a lonely lifestyle at home. None of it is truly exceptional (through modern eyes anyway) and the music is straight out of a late 70s or early 80s television mystery show with its sudden, short blasts of horns or bells. Finally, in the last section of the film, they change gears and the viewer is provided with a well-paced and taut action sequence. It's nothing that would amaze a contemporary viewer, but it is well constructed and the strong pacing comes through still after all these years.
Overall, The Mechanic is nothing you need to run out and see, but it does have its charms for fans of hitman films or dark thrillers.
Special Forces (2003)
Shockingly decent, balances realism with fantasy
[Note that there are 2 different direct-to-video movies named "Special Forces". One of them stars Daniel Bernhardt (Bloodsport sequels, Matrix Reloaded) and has a black & white cover. This one stars Marshall Teague and is a bit newer.]
I cannot believe it. Isaac Florentine's "Special Forces" may be the first low budget, direct-to-video action movie to succeed in satisfying the military/gun nuts, the martial arts fans, and general action fans all at once. It's even fairly well-made in terms of direction and production value.
First, there is plenty of gunplay and it manages to look vaguely authentic. The soldiers use proper shooting stances, keep their fingers out of the trigger guard, move & cover semi-relistically, and, unlike most low budget 'spec ops' movies, it looks as if the firearms were chosen because they were credible as US special ops weapons and not because they were the only ones available to the production. I wonder if this is due to Marshall Teague? On the special features of the Criterion Collection DVD of "The Rock", Teague is seen with a real Navy Seal demonstrating realistic weapons handling. Perhaps he brought this knowledge & training over to this film? On an even more pedantic note, several of the scenes where the soldiers were undercover in town reminded me of the fictional novels of Dick Marcinko, the Navy Seal legend turned best-selling author (Rogue Warrior, etc). Playing mind games and staredowns with the goons, evading tails, etc. A bit of a nice touch if you're familiar with Marcinko's work, though obviously it may be a completely unintentional similarity.
Second, the martial arts fights are very good! The final battle is blazing fast, energetic, and brutal. Whoever choreographed it certainly knows the specific rhythms and timing of a good Hong-Kong-style fight scene. The hand-to-hand fights are kept mainly to the latter half of the film. Before that, there are some quick takedowns and exchanges where you can see glimmers of this HK-style flair, but they are kept low-key so that they simply add a bit of energy to the proceedings without constrasting too much with the realistic gunplay.
Lastly, Florentine's direction is solid. He knows how to shoot and edit an action scene for both clarity and excitement. Thank goodness that he's not one of those MTV directors who feels the need to cut every half-second, chopping up every action scene into an incoherent blur. When so much work has gone into staging the action scenes, it's nice that he lets them play out clearly on screen. The non-action scenes are handled competently as well. There's an occasional bit of visual style here and there, but basically he just keeps things moving along and rarely if ever looks amateurish. You could call it a smooth professionalism. They also make great use of their Eastern European locales. It's scenic and absolutely believable for the story.
Overall, "Special Forces" is an enjoyable action flick featuring an unusual amount of detail & competence dedicated to the staging of its action scenes. If you're familiar with the direct-to-video military action genre, this is certainly one of the better ones.
Director Albert Pyun is responsible for some of the most inept movies in the history of cinema. Never mind the action scenes - Even simple dialogue scenes can be mangled and made unbearable with his magic touch. Therefore, it comes as a surprise that "Nemesis" is so eminently watchable. Nice visuals, interesting ideas, evocative cyberpunk mood, good pacing, and a rather shocking grasp of effective action camerawork and editing. I suspect that another director did most of the work on this one, but I've never been able to confirm. All I know is that there are action scenes in here that are genuinely good, to the point where you might think you were seeing the work of a young but talented action stylist. There's even a "shoot through the floor gag" that was ripped off wholesale recently for the Kate Beckinsale vampire/werewolf film, "Underworld".
Of course, keep in my mind that this is a B-film. It's lower budget and the acting isn't that great. But among B-films, it's quite good. As I said, the action is way above average in energy and style. As well, the locations are varied, and it was one of the earliest films to achieve a William-Gibson-esque cyberpunk feel. If that sounds interesting to you, then give Nemesis a rent. BEWARE: Do NOT rent any of the sequels. Pyun regained his usual golden touch for the sequels, producing what may be the most hate-inducing cinema known to man.
Code Red (2001)
Remember that it's a TV movie
Yes, this film is obviously influenced in great part by Predator and is in no way an equal to that classic. But you know what? It's not supposed to be! It's not a big budget Hollywood flick. It's a B-movie. A made-for-TV one at that. By that standard, Code Red is actually a bit above average. The acting is decent and the directing is competent. It's not ultra stylish, but the director knows where to put the camera and there is vigor in some of the action scenes. Most surprisingly, the weapons and costumes aren't laughably inaccurate like many B-movies. Which is not to say it's perfectly authentic (eg, they fly around in a civilian helicopter), but at least you don't have American soldiers carrying around low-end foreign weapons because that's all the production could find at that filming location.
Finally, the concept is fun and goes beyond simply being a Predator clone. With its secret government bases, alien conspiracies, and other pulpy sci-fi novel elements, the whole thing takes on a fun, "X-Files by way of action movie" feel. If you can accept that you won't be seeing Hollywood production values, then you may find Code Red to be an enjoyable little film.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
It's been a long time since a movie has given me that wonderful squirming-in-my-seat-from-the-tension sensation but Dog Soldiers succeeded brilliantly at doing just that! Absolutely intense film with great monster designs, skillful direction, funny dialogue and a game cast. Unlike some (much more expensive) Hollywood films, this low budget wonder reveals its attention to detail even down to the behaviour of the soldiers. Someone clearly did their homework when it came to teaching the actors how to interact like real soldiers. Even the weapons handling has an air of authenticity.
If there's anything to fault here it is the camerawork which tends to be a bit too frantic and zoomed in. Certain scenes feel like nothing but shaky closeup after shaky closeup. While this technique can ratchet up the tension, after a while it leaves the viewer confused and irritated - especially when you can't tell whether one of your beloved characters has just been killed.
However, this is a minor concern in the face of Dog Soldiers' overwhelming brilliance. I cannot wait to see it again! (By the way, I had no trouble understanding the humour despite my North American background. I suspect the same will be true for most N.A. viewers.)
WAY Above Average for Direct-To-Video
Operation Delta Force 4 is actually way above average in the areas where it most counts for direct-to-video action flicks: Production value, direction (camerawork/editing), and amount of action.
1) It looks good. The Eastern European locations are convincing because, well, it's set in Eastern Europe. The interior sets are well-lit, well-photographed and equally convincing. There are plenty of vehicles used (tanks, buses, trains, helicopters). Uniforms are believable. It seems they skimped a bit on the weaponry though. Why are the Delta members always using AK-47s in this film? Oh well, I guess you can pretend that they're using AKs because it matches the most common weaponry of the region which suits the covert nature of their operations. Yeah, that works for me. Anyway, bottomline is that while you wouldn't mistake it for a big studio picture, the production is miles ahead of most DTV crap.
2) There's one word for Mark Roper's direction here: ENTHUSIASTIC! Most DTV flicks have amateurish or disinterested direction featuring very static shots and compositions that can best be described as utilitarian. However, Roper's work shows some real flair. He tries a variety of angles and dramatic shots, mixes it up with slow-mo, and makes use of a lot of tracking shots. It's not all great, but more often than not it works. And it's all brought together by tight editing that keeps the pace way up. I was really surprised by his work on this film given that his last Operation Delta Force film seemed quite amateurish. He really kicks it up a notch here and gives the film true energy. Again, it still isn't up to the spring-loaded tension and awesome visuals of the best Hollywood action films, but it's way better than most.
3) The action is non-stop! The film is 96 minutes long and close to 60 minutes of it is action! The best is the second big action piece in the film which runs for at least 20 minutes. It goes from a chalet shootout to a ski chase to a city bus attack to a tank battle! Oh, and it's accompanied by an enthusiastic music score that's reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's synthetic score for The Rock.
So what's the downside? Well, the story doesn't make a helluva lot of sense. The villain was clearly intended to be a bit deep and emotionally complex, but they spend so little time building his story up that when his big emotional moments come they don't register much. That's true for the other characters, too. Big emotional scenes come out of nowhere and aren't impactful because they weren't developed enough beforehand. The acting is also uneven. The female lead has two big dramatic scenes. Her acting is laughably bad in one scene and quite convincing in the other. What gives? The same goes for most of the other actors. They're good in some scenes and awful in others. This is a direct-to-video actioner though, so what do you expect? It already delivers big-time where it counts which is rare enough these days. Recommended for hardcore interest fans and those with an interest in military action (though who aren't too big on accuracy). Just remember that it's a DTV movie and I think you'll be impressed.
Side-note: Mark Roper must be a huge fan of "The Rock". It has two actors from that film (John Laughlin, Greg Collins), features a copy-cat score, and has numerous small scenes or shots lifted from The Rock as well (eg, leader pausing to close the eyelids of a fallen soldier). His last Delta Force film was the same way.
Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
So close yet so far.
At first, it seems Kiss of the Dragon has all the elements needed for a great action movie: Talented performers (in both acting or action), great cinematography, beautiful locales, imaginative bad guys, witty script, and plenty of setups for great action scenes. Yet as a martial arts movie it fails on one all-important level: The filming of the fight scenes! Chris Nahon and his editor screw up this area badly. They keep the camera far too close to the action *and* combine it with excessively fast and haphazard editing. The result is that you can barely see the intricate kung fu choreography in the film. Consider that for a moment: This is a kung fu movie. They spent extreme effort choreographing the fights and culled the best fighters from all over Europe. So what is the first thing the director does? Obscure the action so you can't tell what's going on! All you see is a close-up shot of punch then cut to a close-up of a kick. So why even bother with real martial artists or choreography? Anybody can look good when filmed this way. It's enough to make a kung fu fan scream in frustration!
It's not that fast editing or close-ups have no place in kung fu films. Even Jackie Chan uses them. But the difference is that Jackie Chan uses them at the right time. In a Jackie fight scene, you can always tell exactly what's going on, you can always see the important bits of choreography, and the cuts come at logical times, knowing when to allow certain moves to be played out in one continuous shot and when to cut without interrupting the action. In contrast Nahon seems to cut almost at random. The action doesn't flow at all. It has no rhythm. It is only during the climatic fight that Kiss of the Dragon begin to improve in this area. There are a few moments during this battle that are as great (in the filmmaking and choreography) as anything Jet Li has done in Hong Kong. However, this small improvement only serves to emphasize how badly Nahon screwed up all the other fights.
Overall, Kiss of the Dragon is disappointing when you consider how close it was to greatness. All it needs to be great is for the fight scenes to be re-edited. I pray that for the DVD release they will do a new edit of the movie and allow an appropriate editor (perhaps an experienced Hong Kong fight editor) to re-assemble the fight scenes, but I'm not holding my breath.
Love and Treason (2001)
Surprisingly good TV movie
A naval officer (Kim Delaney) is ensnared in a plot involving military secrets and extortion after her traitorous ex-husband (David Keith) escapes from prison. While the writing is basically standard TV thriller stuff, Love & Treason stands out from the TV crowd with its unusually good production values and stylish direction. The deeply saturated colours and visually striking shots remind me of Jerry Bruckheimer's big action thrillers (well, on a much lower-key TV scale, of course). I'm not surprised to learn that the director, Lewis Teague, has several feature films under his belt and that the film was produced by the people behind Hunt for Red October. However, don't expect Bruckheimer-type action scenes. Indeed, the amount of action is minimal, with the running time largely filled by dialogue and intrigue. Teague keeps the pace fast and steadily builds the tension though, so lack of action is not a big problem. The actors are fine if unremarkable and great outdoor locations are used. Overall, it's well above average for a network TV movie.
Counter Force (2001)
The World's Elite Special Ops Units!
This is a 3-part documentary series about the world's elite military and law enforcement units such as the British SAS, US Delta Force, German GSG9 and many more. Each part is 1 hour long and features a lot of great stories and footage (such as that taken from the helmet cam of a Delta operator as he storms a kill house!). The series was created and written by Samuel M. Katz, an author of many books about the SpecOps units, so you know this will be a program with quality info. Anybody with an interest in this subject should seek it out right now. You will love it!
El día de la bestia (1995)
Wild comic-book-like visuals, scary and funny
A movie you will not soon forget! Day of the Beast is a breathless End of Days film that veers confidently from unsettling horror to farce to fantasy and back again. Truly unlike anything I've seen before, yet it is never so weird as to be unaccessible to the average viewer. Almost the entire film is shot at night and the director/cinematographer take great advantage of it. Madrid looks like something out of Blade Runner, sporting deep forbidding shadows mixed with bright neon and blues. The visuals very much reminded me of Europeon comic books. From the complicated and busy compositions to the use of colors which are vibrantly eye-catching yet never so bright that they seem "happy" or completely artificial like music video. The art direction is excellent as well. It further realises the Euro comic atmosphere with its unusual buildings and slightly skewed view of reality. Definitely a must-see for the eye candy junkies.
Try to see this film widescreen and subtitled if you can. You lose a lot otherwise.
Simon Sez (1999)
Aggressively stupid but gets better towards the end
Simon Sez is a relentlessly stupid and childish film. Dennis Rodman's sidekick gives what may well be the most annoying performance in cinematic history. The first 20 minutes, with its idiotic dialogue, day-glo costumes, and poorly executed action will test the patience of all but the most undiscriminating viewers. However, while the dialogue and costumes don't much improve, the quality of the action takes a big leap midway through the film. All of a sudden, there are imaginative shootouts, stunts and chases that are well-shot and well-executed. Things are helped along by the scenic European coastal locales and Rodman's surprisingly serious performance. Ultimately, Simon Sez is not a great or even a good film, but it should provide entertainment to fans of B-movies and crazy Hong-Kong-style action.
Predator 2 (1990)
Not too bad in retrospect
Like most hardcore Predator fans, I was a bit disappointed in Predator 2 when it came out. It just didn't capture the magic of the first film. The characters, while more realistic and deep, lacked the gung-ho appeal of the first film's grunts. Also, instead of the original's extreme suspense punctuated by bursts of action, they chose to make Predator 2 a straight-forward action movie. The problem is that the director didn't provide the superdramatic visual pizazz that all great action films require. Just look at the camera angles and direction used in the sequel then the original. Director John McTiernan's work on the first film still looks modern and stylish to this day, while the sequel by Stephen Hopkins already looks a tad dated. Having said that however, watching Predator 2 again without the memory of the first film interfering, Predator 2 is actually rather enjoyable. The story does a good job of expanding the Predator concept and revealing further details. The actors give good performances, the score by Alan Silvestri is as effective as ever, and the second half of the movie is continuous action. While not nearly as good as the first film, it is a entertaining film on its own and better than its reputation would suggest.
Gong yuan 2000 AD (2000)
The Best Hong Kong Gunfights in Years!
With 2000 AD, director Gordon Chan cements his status as modern Hong Kong cinema's "King of Gun Battles". While his peers seem intent on putting together shootouts which are either a) amateurish and poorly edited (Extreme Crisis, Blood Rules), or b) oblique and artsy (The Mission), Chan proves there is at least one director left in Hong Kong who can deliver thrilling and explosive gunfights like nobody's business. He's not a John Woo clone though. Unlike the slow-motion beauty of Hong Kong cinema's most successful export, Chan prefers a hard-hitting and realistic approach. Think of the gun battle in Michael Mann's HEAT, and you will get an idea of how Chan likes to shoot and edit. Besides the action scenes, 2000 AD is an average Hollywood-style thriller. The story won't change your life, but you will be amused and that's enough. Best of all, the movie is WELL-PACED! That's one skill the current crop of HK directors seem to lack - Their films are too slow. Not 2000 AD. Well paced, good acting, amusing story, and awesome action. What are you waiting for?
NOT an action movie at all. Think Blues Brothers.
With Luc Besson's name attached to this movie, you would think that Taxi would be an action movie like the great "The Professional" (aka Leon) or "The Fifth Element". It is NOT. It is pure comedy. Yes, there are some gunfights and car chases, but they are NOT portrayed as tense or thrilling like in most action films. The action in Taxi is always portrayed for comedy or looking "cool". It reminds me of "Blues Brothers". That movie also had big car chases but you would never consider it an action movie. Taxi is the same. It is funny, entertaining, and has pleasant actors, but just don't go expecting great action and you will be fine.