Category Archives: Action

#320 The Big Heat

(1953, Fritz Lang)

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better”

Today I’m reviewing a film noir! Awwwww yeaaaaaah!

The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford as Dave Bannion, a police detective investigating the death of fellow officer Tom Duncan. After a woman named Lucy (Dorothy Greene) tips him off that the case may not be as open-and-shut as it first seems, she soon turns up dead. Bannion begins investigating further, and finds himself receiving threatening phone calls, and a confrontation with a local mob boss results in the death of his wife. Now Bannion is on the trail of the truth, both for justice and for revenge! Read the rest of this entry

#312 Run Lola Run

Lola Rennt
(1998, Tom Twyker)

“Everything else is pure theory”

Quite often I’ll find myself amusingly pointing out how 80s certain 80s movies are. This is not a bad thing. Back To The Future is an immensely 80s movie that is also great fun. But rarely do I apply this to 90s movies. It’s rare for me to point at a movie and say “this movie is so 90s”. Trainspotting and The Matrix are rare exceptions, as is Run Lola Run, which is possibly the most 90s movie ever made.

Run Lola Run is about a woman named Lola who runs a lot in the movie. There you go, there’s your plot. Oh, okay, here’s more. Lola (Franka Potente) receives a phone call from her boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s gotten himself involved in some unspecified criminal scheme and now owes some gang members a large sum of money that he left sitting on the subway. Lola now has twenty minutes in which to retrieve the money, or replace it, and so she races to help him. The movie shows three attempts at this, varying in Lola’s success.

So yeah, this is the most 90s movie ever made. It’s like Trainspotting switched its drug of choice to ecstasy and slept with The Matrix, resulting in this child. It messes around with styles and genres, it has a thumping club soundtrack, it features “cool” youth as its central protagonists and goes out of its way to make itself appear as stylish as humanly possible.

And you know what? It works! That thumping club soundtrack drives the film, injecting it with so much energy that you feel the pressure of Lola’s running. You almost feel like you’re running along with her, and this feels as tense and as exciting as you’d expect it to be. It works so well in the movie’s favour since, well, most of it is about Lola racing against the clock.

There’s also some stunning cinematography on show here. The movie employs a number of different filming styles to represent different things – Lola initially running out of her apartment building is animated, scenes involving Lola’s father and his mistress are filmed in a shaky handheld camera style, some scenes are long takes, while others are heavily cut as if it was an Edgar Wright movie. It’s easy to think that this mashing of styles could potentially lead to confusion and disorientation, but it doesn’t. It instead creates a dizzying thrill ride of a movie.

Story-wise, Run Lola Run is fascinating. We never know if the three attempts Lola makes are Groundhog Day style loops, if they’re alternate realities, or if they’re simply three versions of what could have happened. Cases can be made for Lola being both aware and unaware of the different attempts – Lola is inexperienced with a gun in the first run, but is mysteriously good with one in the second – and it leaves an awful lot of unanswered questions by its end. But they’re questions that are left open to interpretation, allowing the viewer to craft theories forever over the myriad possibilities.

This is both a good and a bad thing, however. While it’s certainly good because it gives value to repeated viewings, as you can attempt to figure out the mysteries, there’s still a sense of emptiness in regards to the whole movie. It asks a lot of questions, but does it mean to ask them or are they the result of plot holes papered over by the stylish exterior?

However, this is pretty much the only complaint I have about the movie, and even then it’s pretty vague as criticisms go. On the acting front, Lola is a very likeable character and Potente is fantastic at playing the huge array of rapid-fire emotions she goes through, and carries us through the film in the best way possible. And, what can I say, I guess I like super stylish 90s movies.

Run Lola Run is fantastic. After a few weeks of tearing apart films I simply couldn’t get into, it was refreshing to watch a film that felt exciting, tense and hugely entertaining from start to finish. If, like me, you love 90s cinema, this is one you can’t miss.

Starring Franka Potente & Moritz Bleibtreu
Written by Tom Twyker
Produced by Stefan Arndt
Music by Tom Twkyer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
Cinematography by Frank Griebe
Edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy

Favourite Scene: Too difficult to pick a single scene, but possibly the wealthy banker’s car regularly crashing into some thugs, which amused me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The bed chat was a little bizarre and unexplained.

Watch it if: You like stylish 90s movies
Avoid it if: You don’t like pounding club soundtracks driving a movie

#301 The Wolf Man

(1941, George Waggner)

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”

I was sitting in my big leather armchair wondering what it would be like to be a werewolf. Then I realised it probably wasn’t that good an idea and I decided to watch a movie about a werewolf instead. And why not start with the werewolf movie that started them all, The Wolf Man, one of the classic Universal monster movies?

It’s 1934, and Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) has heard about the death of his brother and returns to his ancestral home in Wales to reconcile with his estranged father, John (Claude Rains). While there, he takes an interest in antiques dealer Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), and purchases a walking stick with a silver wolf head, supposedly representing a werewolf, a local legend. When Larry is attacked in the woods by a wolf, he manages to kill it using the cane, but ends up bitten in the process. I’ll let you figure out the rest.

The Wolf Man may be a classic, but it’s definitely on the b-movie end of things. The first indication of this comes fairly early on when it becomes apparent that the movie is intent on drumming the werewolf legend into your head at every point. It does this by insistently repeating a poem about wolfbane that’s supposedly a local legend, pretty much to the point of tedium. Every character offhandedly tells Larry the poem, who seems amazed by it every single time, while I began to groan every time someone started saying it.

Of course, not much of the film’s other dialogue is much better. From comments about a pentagram-shaped scar being nothing because “that scar could have been made by any animal” (are you sure?) to some incredibly awkward flirting, this movie isn’t going to win any awards for writing. The flirting especially annoys me because it results in a forced love story that doesn’t make any sense and starts by Larry spying on Gwen with his dad’s telescope and then casually dropping personal information about her into their first conversation based on this. This is more terrifying than the movie’s actual horror!

The acting isn’t much better. For the most part, everyone is either phoning it in or seems to not care. The only actor who seems to be putting some degree of effort in is Claude Rains, which makes John Talbot the best character in the whole movie because he’s the only person who feels believable. Of course, this doesn’t make his relationship to Larry believable, because there is no way to think these two actors share any genes because they’re so vastly different in terms of body type and demeanour.

But of course, no one comes into a werewolf movie expecting a deep story and believable characters, we come to watch horrific transformations and see people get attacked by hairy men. How does it do on that front?

Well, it does…okay. It’s kind of a fun watch once the transformations start happening, but marred by some dated effects and makeup that make the “wolf” man look more like a man with an unfortunate medical condition. The first transformation we see is also a major letdown, as Larry’s feet calmly fade to a pair of fuzzy slippers which then walk out of a door.

But it has charm. At least it has that going for it. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a creaky old Universal horror movie from the 40s. It’s there for silly entertainment as you watch a man in questionable monster makeup stalk around.

So, The Wolf Man. Not great, but charming and entertaining enough.

Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patrick Knowles & Bela Lugosi
Written by Curt Siodmak
Produced by George Waggner
Cinematography by Joseph Valentine
Edited by Ted J. Kent

Favourite Scene: The wolf attack in the woods is pretty exciting.
Scene That Bugged Me: That pentagram scar line. Not many animals would make a scar that shape. Just saying.

Watch it if: You like creaky old monster movies
Avoid it if: You like nuanced art pieces with complex plots

#285 LA Confidential

(1997, Curtis Hanson)
“It’ll look like justice. That’s what the man got. Justice.”

For some reason, this review appears to be missing from the spot it’s supposed to be in, and I don’t know what went wrong. So please forgive it from posted way out of order, I only just discovered this!

I love me some detective thrillers. I love detectives and mystery and crime and thrillers so much that I think I might marry the entire genre one day. So I’m happy today because I get to review a nice little classic crime thriller. Happy days.

LA Confidential is about three detectives that get involved in a web of corruption and deceit following a mass murder at a local café called The Nite Owl. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is a young sergeant determined to be the most honourable police officer, attempting to live up to his famous detective father. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a violent cop who likes violently attacking men who beat women, and sees the Nite Owl killings as personal due to the death of his former partner. Finally, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a charming narcotics officer who receives kickbacks for providing information about celebrity arrests to Hush-Hush Magazine, and gets involved when one of his schemes results in the death of a young actor.

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#293 Throne of Blood

(1957, Akira Kurosawa)
蜘蛛巣城 Kumonosu-jō

“You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you”

My experience with Shakespeare is not the best. Due to a British education system that seems determined to suck the life out of every form of literature by drily overanalysing every line of a play, my experience of Shakespeare has been spending an entire year reading Macbeth very slowly and subsequently wanting to never read Macbeth again.

So perhaps reframing Shakespeare could help. Perhaps if an influential Japanese director could have made a movie transposing Macbeth to feudal Japan and making it a dark movie about samurai, I could feel a little better about it. Oh hey, look, it’s Throne Of Blood! That’ll do nicely.

While returning from a battle against their lord’s enemies, samurai generals Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) encounter a spirit in the forest who tells of a prophecy for the two men. Washizu is to become master of North Castle, and will soon become lord for the whole castle complex too. Upon returning to their lord, the first part of the prophecy comes true, leading Washizu’s wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), to convince him to kill the lord and bring about the second part. As you can imagine, it doesn’t end well.

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#286 Peking Opera Blues

(1986, Tsui Hark)
刀馬旦

A while ago, I reviewed Once Upon A Time In China, a movie which was frequently presented to me as a serious film about Chinese history, and then it turned out to be a chop-socky kung fu flick. Well, Peking Opera Blues, from the same director, appears to have the same issue. Presented as a serious drama surrounding Peking opera, it’s actually a slightly silly action film. But is it any good?

Peking Opera Blues is set in 1913 Peking, centred on a rebellion against the government of the time. The story features three female leads who form an unlikely team: Tsao Wan (Brigitte Lin), a general’s daughter secretly plotting against her father, Bai Niu (Sally Yeh), the daughter of a Peking opera impresario, and Sheung Hung (Cherie Chung), a young musician searching for a box of stolen jewels.

Peking Opera Blues starts by throwing everything at us. Here’s a general’s daughter who likes to dress like a man! Here’s a musician trying to steal some jewels! Here’s some Peking opera! Here’s a huge rebellion! HERE ARE ALL THE THINGS!

The problem is, this initially leads to the viewer being horrendously overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters and plot points and general goings-on, and it isn’t really a good way to start. For probably the first half-hour of the movie, I was lost. Too much was happening and too little was being explained and I was all set to hate everything.

But then the movie started getting somewhat silly. Over-the-top action sequences exploded onto the screen and the movie started chucking jokes around constantly, and my opinion dramatically changed. These action sequences are consistently excellent, with excellent choreography blending with expert comic timing, and it made the movie a lot of fun to watch.

It’s all basically what you’d expect from a heavily choreographed Hong Kong movie. We get crazy martial arts mixing into traditional Peking opera performances, tons of wire-work and fist fights, and some dramatic escape sequences too. Of course, I still don’t know why the film is presented as a serious drama about opera, because it really isn’t.

Also around this time, the movie starts being clearer about who our protagonists are, especially when they form their alliances, and the plot starts falling into place. Even better, once the confusion clears up, it becomes apparent that all of the leads are charming and likeable.

What’s more, this enhances the action. As the movie progresses, we start caring more and more about our protagonists and we want them to succeed. As I watched them flail around and generally kick ass, I felt myself cheering them on, wanting everything to turn out well. Silly scenes mixed in with all this, such as a series of scenes where the trio get drunk and then try and hide from Bai Niu’s father in her bedroom, add to the fun immensely.

Of course, it isn’t perfect. There is a desire to tell a serious story in here, and sometimes things can be a bit jarring at times. As an example, after lots of silly over-the-top action sequences and buddy comedy jokes, there’s a genuinely gruesome torture scene that threw me completely. It felt so out of place in such a fun movie that I began to wonder if I was beginning to watch a completely different movie.

It also still never consistently explains its central plot. Sure, we care about our characters and we know that the generals are bad people and we should be rooting for the rebels, but…there’s no backstory. Stuff just happens and we’re expected to understand. It’s a little bit disappointing, really.

But overall, Peking Opera Blues isn’t a disappointment. It’s a blast to watch, and hilarious to boot. Definitely recommended for fans of Hong Kong cinema.

Starring Brigitte Lin, Cherie Chung, Sally Yeh, Paul Chun, Wu Ma & Kenneth Tsang
Written by Raymond To
Produced by Claudia Chung Jan & Hark Tsui
Music by James Wong
Cinematography by Hang-Sang Poon
Edited by David Wu

Favourite Scene: The drunken hang-out scene and the following bedroom scene with about four people hiding under a blanket.
Scene That Bugged Me: That torture scene really doesn’t fit at all.

Watch it if: You enjoy Hong Kong cinema
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a serious movie about the history of Peking opera

#274 Apocalypto

(2006, Mel Gibson)

Fun fact: Sometime in January 2013, I realised how appropriate Apocalypto, with all its Mayan prophecies of apocalypse, would have been for December 21st 2012, the supposed end-of-the-world date based on the Mayan calendar. Of course, this would have been more useful figuring that out before that date, but I guess we can’t have everything. So, after dumping it back in the general pile again, I finally pull it out to offer my opinion.

The good news is, I have an interest in ancient civilisations. The bad news is, I think director Mel Gibson is a bit of a terrible human being. This presents a problem, which led me to wonder exactly how I would feel about Apocalypto.

Set in Guatemala prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Apocalypto follows a young man named Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) as his village is attacked by a bloodthirsty rival tribe. Kidnapped and lined up for human sacrifice, Jaguar Paw seeks to save his family, trapped in a deep pit, while the rival tribe hear a prophecy that their civilisation is doomed. If you know your Central American history, you’ll know how true that prophecy turns out to be.

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#270 Planet Of The Apes

(1968, Franklin J. Schaffner)

“Take your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!”

Imagine if you will, a strange planet far beyond the stars where evolution did something very silly and made apes the dominant species instead of humans. Now imagine your reaction when you discover that planet WAS EARTH ALL ALONG! Yes, today we’re looking at Planet Of The Apes, with one of the most-spoiled endings of all time. It’s even on the cover of the DVD box these days! But even with the ending spoiled, how is it? Is it still good?

A group of astronauts led by George Taylor (Charlton Heston) set off on a long mission to the far reaches of space, climbing into hibernation while the ship steers them to a distant planet. When they wake up, they find themselves on a desolate world. After wandering through the desert, the astronauts are all captured by strange ape men, who view Taylor with great curiosity. Taylor must now figure out how to survive in this strange new world WHERE APES EVOLVED FROM MEN?!?!

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#251 The Adventures Of Robin Hood

(1938, Michael Curtiz & William Keighley)

“It’s injustice I hate, not the Normans”

Robin Hood is a great British legend, putting the city of Nottingham on the map before it became the mugging capital of Europe. Many interpretations of the Robin Hood legend have been committed to film over the years, from Russell Crowe’s moody portrayal to the glitzy Hollywood sheen of Prince Of Thieves to Disney’s 1950s anthropomorphic adventure.

But only one of these made it onto the Movies You Must See list – the original movie that cemented Errol Flynn’s star status, The Adventures Of Robin Hood.

The movie follows the basic structure of the Robin Hood legend. King Richard The Lionheart is busy fighting off the Assassin Order in the Crusades, leading his evil brother Prince John to claim the throne in his absence. The Earl of Loxley, a man named Robin (Flynn), doesn’t take kindly to John’s crippling taxes on the Saxon people and vows to fight back, forming a team of bandits in the forest to lead a revolution against the false king, while simultaneously trying to get into the britches of the fair Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland).

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#249 The Host

(2006, Bong Joon-ho)
괴물

It is lurking behind you

I seem to have a good relationship with Korean cinema. So far I’ve enjoyed 100% of the movies that I’ve seen that came out of South Korea. Admittedly, that’s been exactly two movies so far, but that’s still a good track record. Will The Host keep up this record or will it break that streak?

Thankfully unrelated to the Stephanie Meyer novel of the same name, The Host starts with an American scientist dumping formaldehyde into the Han River. Six years later, a sleepy and somewhat slow-witted man named Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is working on his father’s snack bar when a strange creature emerges from the river and causes chaos. His daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-Sung), is captured by the creature, leading everyone to believe her to be dead.

However, Gang-du receives a phone call while under a quarantine ordered by the US Army, seemingly from Hyun-seo. He decides to break out of quarantine and find his daughter with the assistance of his father, Hee-Bong (Byun Hee-Bong), his medal-winning archer sister, Nam-joo (Bae Doona), and his alcoholic brother, Nam-il (Park Hae-il).

At its heart, The Host is a monster movie, putting an unsuspecting populace face to face with a terrible monster that terrorises their livelihood. But aside from that, it’s also a black comedy mixed in with political commentary. It’s also not quite as good as The Good, The Bad, The Weird or Oldboy.

But it’s a close one. There are issues with The Host, but many of them are fairly minor. I did have a bit of an issue with how early the monster is shown, something that seemed to take a great sense of mystery out of the movie. I like my movie monsters to be gradually revealed over time, but this one cropped up straight away and in broad daylight. It felt a little disappointing to see it so clearly so soon.

I also felt the anti-American political commentary was a little heavy-handed. Pretty much every action performed by an American within the plot was horrendously callous and destructive, and the movie seemed to go to great lengths to make the Westerners look absolutely awful across the board. There’s even an American doctor portrayed with cross-eyes just to make him look stupid. It does get a little tiring quite often.

The movie can also feel a little meandering at times, leaping from event to event as it tries to cram a bunch of ideas in. There were times when I felt a little bit lost and wanted the movie to pace itself a little better.

However, these issues failed to get in the way of making the movie highly entertaining. The movie is loaded with comedy throughout the whole thing, largely through the slow-witted protagonist, drunk brother and hesitant sister (who, it must be said, ultimately turns out to be a pretty badass archer). Just like other Korean movies I’ve reviewed on here, comedy turns up in unlikely places, and quite often you’ll find yourself bouncing between horrified and amused without warning.

The monster effects are also pretty phenomenal. The designers chose to keep the monster as close to a mutated fish creature as possible, and it actually feels like a plausible creature when it’s not doing crazy acrobatics. But even then, the acrobatics are exciting to watch, and pretty scary at times. It’s easy to forgive seeing the monster so much when it looks this good.

The Host also manages to be tense and exciting even despite the lack of mystery over the monster. It does this by cleverly matching up the mystery of what the creature actually does with the horrific actions of the Americans, with the release of an unpleasant chemical agent onto the populace being one of the more uncomfortable parts of the movie, in a good way.

All in all, The Host is flawed, but still manages to keep up a 100% approval rating for Korean cinema in my eyes, and that’s what really matters here.

Starring Song Kang-Ho, Byun Hee-Bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona & Go Ah-Sung
Written by Baek Chul-hyun & Bong Joon-Ho
Produced by Choi Yong-bae
Music by Lee Byung-Woo
Cinematography by Kim Hyung-Ku
Edited by Kim Sun-Min

Favourite Scene: Nam-joo making up for her earlier hesitance by shooting a flaming arrow right in the creature’s face? Yes!
Scene That Bugged Me: Did we really need the cross-eyed scientist?

Watch it if: You’re a fan of Korean cinema and/or monster movies
Avoid it if: You’re bored of anti-American messages