Archive for the ‘fight film friday’ Category

A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth in the John McClane series, feels like it’s desperately trying to be a light-hearted throwback to the era of 80s action movies. It is certainly a safe enough plan, seeing the huge surge of 80s nostalgia that has been saturating our theaters for the past few years. But director John Moore fails to excite the audience in any meaningful way with this incredibly lackluster entry into the franchise. The film isn’t witty enough, fun enough, or even action-y enough to really get the kind of pull that you would expect from an 80s homage. Even the two Expendables movies had a relatively high entertainment value. But here we see Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney flail around trying to build up some kind of father-son chemistry on screen. It fails miserably at being touching or moving in any way. Even the villains all die off in remarkably anti-climactic ways, one of the biggest betrayals to the core of the Die Hard films. In a movie about one of the classic American action heroes, it is stunning how the filmmakers manage to escort us from one bland shootout to the next without any sense of suspense or stakes to speak of. All of the budget seems to have been spent in the big chase scene from the opening act, leaving nothing but the aforementioned bulletfests and a lot of cheesy explosions in the finale. This is a sad chapter in the story of John McClane, and hopefully it will be the last one.

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Serbuan Maut
“The Raid: Redemption”
Indonesia, 2011
Genre: Action, Gangster
101 minutes
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1899353/

A team of special police officers must fight their way through an apartment building controlled by one of the most powerful drug lords in Indonesia.

The latest project by Indonesian-based Welsh director Gareth Evans, The Raid is the sum result of over forty years of martial arts cinema. Starring the exceptionally talented Silat master Iko Uwais, he and Evans build on their success and experiences with the film Merantau to craft a gorgeous and stunning tribute to the world of fight films. Although written by Evans, the dialogue is sparse, giving only just enough background to invest the audience into the story and leaving the rest up to conjecture and implication. It reminds me a great deal of short action films made by the semi-pro crews on Youtube, only expanded out to a full feature length project instead of confining itself to a paltry fifteen minutes. However, simply because it’s light on words doesn’t mean you should assume it’s a mindless gore-fest. The cast delivers where they can, and the non-verbal chemistry between actors works wonderfully. Evans manages to make sure everyone does a great deal with very little, and it comes off as much more than an intentionally cheesy or over-the-top film with no artistic merit. If you go in and don’t see anything beyond the blood and guts, I can assure you that it won’t be because there’s nothing else there.

At the risk of seeming hyperbolic, The Raid quite possibly has the greatest martial arts action sequences I have ever seen. It is the product of its history, and effectively uses techniques and styles from everything that has come before it. Yayan Ruhian and Uwais’s choreography is all at once brilliant, brutal, and beautiful. Using the spinning kicks and sweeps from the classic Hong Kong era, to the frantic winner-take-all frenzy of modern American films, to the crushing impact of Muay Thai, with a liberal dosing of local Indonesian Silat flavor, cinematographer Matt Flannery manages to capture it all with breathtaking grit and clarity. The sound design picks up where the visuals leave off, leaving every punch, kick, and break echo with fearsome authenticity. The shootouts are equally as intense, a storm of bullets and muzzle flares that boggles the mind with fear and violence. And while the score seems a bit on the generic side of heart-thumping techno beats, it definitely sets a strong tone and pace for the whole movie.

This is the textbook definition of a non-stop action thriller. It drops you right into the tension from the very beginning, and it will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final bullet rings out, and maybe after that as well. This is an absolute must-see for anyone with the stomach for real gut-wrenching action, with no punches pulled. Ladies and gentlemen, the bar has officially been raised.

Fight Film Friday: Warrior

Posted: September 9, 2011 in fight film friday
Tags: , ,

Warrior
USA, 2011
Genre: Sports, Drama
140 minutes
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1291584/

Two brothers must confront their past in the ultimate winner-takes-all MMA tournament.

Best known for his previous sports drama Miracle, director Gavin O’Connor writes and directs Warrior, a film he hopes will become “the Rocky of mixed martial arts.” With the sport growing faster than ever and all eyes on the battle for legalization in states like New York, fans of MMA have reason to be wary. Previous films, television shows, and even video games referencing the sport’s culture, practioners, or image have been far from charitable, contributing to greater unease and misinformation among the general public. But right from the start, it seems apparent that a lot of love for the sport and the people apart of it went into O’Connor’s movie. The culture of MMA is represented fairly accurately, with even a number of thinly-veiled real world analogs in the film. While the premise and backdrop of the story seem a bit on the unreal side, it’s mostly a solid simulation of the world sports fans are familiar with. Japanese cinematographer Masanobu Takayanaki does a fine job lighting up the screen with a sense of both grandeur and intimacy. Complimented with strong sound design and a moving, if a bit questionable, score, Warrior is an impressive feat of aesthetics that does justice to the sport.

It must be said that the story isn’t particularly innovative or original, and seasoned fans of sports dramas will likely recognize a great deal of popular genre tropes. However, it sets everything up well and amazing performances by the cast really outweigh any feelings of cheesiness. Joel Edgerton really gets the chance to open up on camera, and it’s amazing to see him perform such an impressive role. Tom Hardy doesn’t disappoint either, and delivers in a way that makes it impossible to fully love or hate his character. This is the very definition of a nuanced and human performance, and Hardy manages to hit just the right balance between heartless and compassionate. Nick Nolte as the brothers’ father is outstanding as well, and the three actors elevate the film from just another sports drama to something truly worthy of becoming a classic.

Although definitely flashier than actual mixed martial arts fights, the on screen matches aren’t unbelievable, and work well within the bounds of the film. The choreography is impressive and the performances hit hard. With cameras that mimic the real-life sports coverage, the scenes all feel dynamic and authentic. Fans may chuckle a bit at the fights, but I think the film deserves at least as much of a pass as boxing films do. This is a powerful film, with great action pieces and even better dramatic performances. This is the MMA movie fans have been yearning for, and this is the kind of movie we deserve. Go out and watch this movie, and bring all the non-fans you can find.

In honor of one whole year doing Fight Film Fridays, I am glad to present my very first video review!

Conan the Barbarian
USA, 2011
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
112 minutes
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0816462/

30 Minutes or Less
USA, 2011
Genre: Action, Comedy
83 minutes
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1622547/

Jesse Eisenberg stars as a slacker pizza delivery man who is locked into a bomb and forced to rob a bank for his freedom.

A new slacker comedy by the director of Zombieland, Ruben Fleischer brings us a much darker subject with 30 Minutes or Less. Keeping the same slightly-older-than-college-aged jokes about drugs, drinking, and the awkwardness of being a young adult, Fleischer also manages to delve into some surprising depth in his characters, never really having a clear villain in the story. Penned by first-time screenwriters Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan, the story is nice and tight once you get past the fairly ludicrous premise (the production staff have repeatedly claimed that it’s not based on the bizarrely similar Collar Bomber incident from 2003). The dialogue is casual and natural, feeling for all the world like the improvised style of Seth Rogan’s films, with the rapid-fire banter and over-explanation of obvious jokes. In fact, Danny McBride’s character feels very similar to a role that Rogan would have played, though somehow even less mature. McBride continues playing the same role he’s been playing through Kenny Powers and Your Highness, with a bit more of an edge to contrast with his partner in crime, Nick Swardson. Together they work in harmony, the ineptness of both somehow complimenting each other on screen. Eisenberg is phenomenal in this role, blending his best performances from his past films into a strange sort of geek everyman, capable of being both incredibly sensitive and a giant asshole. The rest of the supporting cast does well, with Aziz Ansari having some great chemistry as Eisenberg’s best friend, despite some hiccups here and there.

The movie is shot and edited well enough, keeping the action moving as the plot continues to thicken. The sound is sharp and the soundtrack hits the right beats. As an action film, it works surprisingly well for the little amount of action they actually used. Some very solid car chases and explosions go a very long way, it seems. There’s a bit of CGI elements in some of the shots, but it looks good and doesn’t really detract from the rest of the scene. All in all, it’s still more comedy than it is action, but it does deliver in both genres. While it’s not really fair to compare it to Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less is still a fun ride with some good work from everyone involved. It’s not the best or brightest film this summer, but it’s worth checking out.

Captain America: The First Avenger
USA, 2011
Genre: Action, Superhero, Science-Fiction
125 minutes
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0458339/

Chris Evans stars as the American super soldier, out to stop the fearsome Red Skull from using superior technology to take over the world.

Captain America: The First Avenger, the latest in Marvel’s line of blockbuster franchise adaptations, pulls out all the stops in getting the fans riled up for the Avengers film next year. Directed by Hollywood veteran Joe Johnston, he manages to combine everything needed to produce a quintessential comic book movie and does so beautifully. It functions well as a sort of adventure period film, with the background of WW2 and a touch of self-aware silliness. The visual effects are generally fantastic, as are most Johnston movies, with the exception of some hokey green-screening for a pulp action feel. It doesn’t look great, but it fits the aesthetic and tone of the story. The digital alteration of Chris Evans into a 90 pound weakling is particularly impressive, and while not perfect, demonstrates how far special effects have come.

Not really known for his acting prowess, Evans shines in the best role of his career. His role as Steve Rogers is both awkward and charming, incredibly All-American without being obnoxious about it. No stranger to superhero films, the difference here is the fantastic script by the team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The dialogue is funny and ridiculously entertaining, yet amazingly subtle and nuanced when it needs to be. This is exactly the kind of writing that fits the superhero genre, and allows the entire cast to reach their greatest potential. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull exemplifies this balance between the cartoonish and genuine, taking a comic book supervillain and making it work with depth and character. Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips could have been just another military stereotype, but somehow exists as more than that, feeling completely in touch with the environment around him. Everything is tight and polished, from the performances to the plot, and is definitely one of the best written superhero movies to date.

Johnston knows his action, and it all comes together here. The choreography isn’t particularly sophisticated or elegant, but it’s a solid piece of work, and gets the job done well. The effects add flash and style to the already potent pyrotechnics, blending the CGI and practical effects wonderfully. Captain America is a fantastically fun film, and is certainly the strongest action movie to come out this summer. Whether you’re a fan of the comics or not, if you plan to see only one blockbuster this season, make this the one.

Fight Film Friday: Ironclad

Posted: July 15, 2011 in fight film friday
Tags: , ,

Ironclad
UK/USA, 2011
Genre: Action, War, Historical
121 minutes
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1233301/

A member of the Knights Templar must break his vows of peace and silence after King John seeks revenge for being forced to sign the Magna Carta.

Jonathan English, an American director still looking to make his mark on the industry, directs this historical drama about the siege of Rochester in 1215. After a couple of flops, this might be English’s big break as a filmmaker. Ironclad is a very interesting look at the times of King John, striving for a blend of authenticity and true epic scope. The cinematography is certainly gorgeous, taking advantage of the natural beauty of the Welsh countryside. While not really supported by the lackluster editing, it still manages to come off as a strong visual piece, with good use of limited CGI elements to add to the scene instead of distract from it. The score is suitably classical and moving, tying the elements together nicely.

The script itself is mostly good, save for a few odd lines here and there, but it’s the actors that really sell the story. Everyone gets to have their Oscar moments, showing off the strength of the cast. Paul Giamatti steals the show as King John, devouring scenery left and right like the bratty monarch was known for. James Purefoy delivers a solid performance as the film’s hero, the world weary Knight Templar, torn between his vows and his desires to lead his own life. The rest of the cast is rounded out with fine readings that almost seem like character roles, representing common archetypes of fantasy and historical fiction, but manage to show some considerable depth.

The most surprising thing about the movie was the sheer impact of the violence in every scene. The action is incredibly grisly and graphic, sure to make even seasoned movie goers flinch at least a little. While the choreography wasn’t terribly sophisticated, it’s all performed with gusto and fervor, giving every battle a real sense of tension and value. Unfortunately, English opted to use the super tight style of action filming, making it very difficult to really appreciate anything happening on screen. It’s chaotic and confusing, which works somewhat for placing the audience right in the thick of the battle. However, strictly as a piece of film, it does work against it aesthetically. Still, overall, Ironclad is a gritty and powerful historical war movie, and absolutely worth checking out in theaters.