Archive for the Action Category

Oblivion * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Science Fiction with tags on September 28, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Joseph Kosinski.
Screenplay: Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise but there’s no denying that his choice of projects have always been bankable. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s most of his films and performances were of a particularly high standard. The same could be said of the 00’s as well. However, over the last three years, cracks are beginning to appear; “Knight and Day“, “Rock of Ages” and “Jack Reacher” have failed to register any form of quality. On the surface, “Oblivion” has all the hallmarks of the Cruiser getting back on track but, unfortunately, proves just as lacklustre as the aforementioned duds.

In the year 2077, Earth has been obliterated by an alien race and the surviving members of humanity have moved on to inhabit Saturn’s moon, Titan. Jack (Tom Cruise) and his wife Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have remained on earth, though, to protect machinery harvesting the planet’s resources before Jack begins to suspect that his mission isn’t as straightforward as he thought it was.

Director Joseph Kosinski follows up his previous science fiction film “Tron Legacy” with another venture into the future. He works from his own graphic novel and delivers an intriguing premise that pays homage to classic Sci-Fi movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Planet of the Apes“. His setting is suitably bleak (captured beautifully by cinematographer Claudio Miranda), his use of visuals are striking and his tone is perfectly sombre. In fact, Kosinski actually assembles a good addition to the science fiction genre. Unfortunately, his assembly soon falls apart due to a script that’s devoid of any substance or characters that we can invest in. The pace is lethargic, to say the least, which only really registers that a lot of the film is just padding. Nothing happens for a good chunk of the movie and when the plot is finally opened up, it fails to make sense or hold any form of coherence. Even if it did, your likely to have lost interest by that point anyway. Cruise wanders around aimlessly (presumably in search of characterisation) and the likes of Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau needn’t have turned up at all. The most frustrating thing overall, though, is that the big reveal is one that we’ve seen many times before and all, but completely, rips-off Duncan Jones’ far superior “Moon“. The similarities are almost shocking and I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen Jones’ name on the screenwriting credits.


Kosinski is a director that may yet find his feet. He certainly has an eye for sumptuous visuals and can stage a fine action set-piece. However, he really needs to work on a coherent narrative and one that isn’t as dull or desolate as the landscape that his characters roam.

Mark Walker

Big Trouble In Little China

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror with tags on September 13, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Suzee Pai, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Al Leong, Jerry Hardin.

“Like I told my last wife, I says, “Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it’s all in the reflexes.”

Director John Carpenter made some excellent films during the 70’s & 80’s – “Halloween“, “Assault on Precinct 13“, “The Thing“, “Escape from New York” and “Prince of Darkness“. Some of these are considered classics bit all take on a serious and/or horrific tone. However, Carpenter has also dabbled in comedy with his debut “Dark Star” in 1974 and “Memoirs of An Invisible Man” in 1992. Here, he combines his talents of horror and comedy and delivers, arguably, the most accessible and enjoyable film in his canon. Continue reading

World War Z * * * *

Posted in Action, Drama, Horror, thriller with tags on September 11, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Marc Forster.
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Peter Capaldi, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, Elyes Gabel, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Abigail Hargrove, John Gordon Sinclair.

In making it to the screen, World War Z wasn’t without it’s problems; firstly, there were complaints of it’s very loose take on Max Brooks’ novel, then it’s violence was toned down to achieve a PG-13 certificate; a script rewrite happened half way through production; cinematographer Robert Richardson left to work on “Django Unchained” and the likes of Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. As all these problems piled up, the expectation was that the film would be an absolute disaster. Well, quite simply, it’s not. Despite it’s problems, it’s actually quite a tense and impressively handled thriller.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former UN worker, happily spending some time at home with his family, until the sudden outbreak of a zombie plague takes over his home city. They are forced to flee and Gerry manages to get his family to safety but news breaks that the whole world is suffering the same outbreak, leaving Gerry to get back in the field and use his experience to search for a cure.

After a brief introduction to our protagonist, Forster doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. Within minutes we are thrust into an absolutely exhilarating opening sequence of the rampaging undead overtaking Philadelphia (actually shot in Glasgow, where I witnessed them filming) and it’s from here that you realise that there’s plenty of potential in this summer blockbuster. It doesn’t matter that there’s a lack of blood or gore because the suspense is handled so competently and effectively that you’re still on the edge of your seat. In fact, it’s the perfect example that less can be more sometimes. What’s most impressive, though, is the epic scale in which it’s delivered. There are several intense action set-pieces where hordes of zombies leap from rooftops, clamber over walls and rampage through an aircraft mid-flight. As an action movie, it certainly delivers the goods and also finds the time to incorporate geopolitics as the epidemic goes world wide. Anchoring all this mayhem is a solidly understated, central performance from Pitt. Having produced this movie – throughout it’s spiralling budget – his commitment to make it work comes across in his performance. He’s entirely believable and identifiable as a family man desperate to survive his chaotic surroundings. Nobody else really gets a look in, including a severely downsized role for Matthew Fox and a brief cameo from, the always reliable, David Morse. Ultimately, the film rests on Pitt’s shoulders, though, and he handles it with aplomb. So much so, that the lack of blood splattering and zombie flesh eating takes a back seat to the character driven drama.
Due to it’s production difficulties, plans for a sequel were shelved. However, having now become a box-office summer smash, the sequel has been given the go-ahead. I, for one, wholeheartedly welcome it.


Against the odds, this manages to be a satisfyingly tense addition to the zombie sub-genre. It doesn’t go for the jugular in a gratuitous manner, instead it works on your nerves and focuses on telling a relatable story. Die hard horror fans may want more from it, but it delivered just the right amount of thrills for me.

Mark Walker

Saving Private Ryan * * * * *

Posted in Action, History, War with tags on May 24, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Steven Spielberg.
Screenplay: Robert Rodat.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Farina, Ted Danson, Harve Presnell, Bryan Cranston, Dale Dye, David Wohl, Ryan Hurst, Harrison Young, Nathan Fillion, Leland Orser.

When Steven Spielberg was finally handed a long overdue Oscar in 1993, he received it for tackling the harrowing genocides of World War II in “Schindler’s List“. So far, he’s only received two Best Director Awards and the other was fittingly received when he tackled the battlefields of that very same war in “Saving Private Ryan“. Two different film’s but equally as powerful as the other.

During WWII, Chief of Staff General Marshall (Harve Presnell) is informed of the death of three brothers in different conflicts and that their mother will receive the telegrams at the same time. A fourth brother, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is believed to be still alive, somewhere in the French countryside, and the decision is taken to locate him. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), is given the rescue mission of leading his 2nd Ranger battalion through Nazi occupied territory to find Ryan and send him home.

Spielberg is, quite simply, one of the finest filmmakers that has ever graced the craft. He is, and will continue to be, heralded throughout generations of audiences and that’s with very good reason, as he’s instilled a sense of awe and unadulterated entertainment for over 40 years now. Despite an impressive backlog of movies that consists of such classics like “Jaws“, “Close Encounters…“, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T“, the opening 25 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” – where he thrusts us into the 1944 D-Day landings of Omaha Beach – is arguably his most impressive and certainly his most visceral work. It’s absolutely exhausting in it’s construction and sense of realism and the realisation soon sets in, that this cinematic autuer is not about to pull any punches in portraying a time in history that’s very close to his heart. The opening is so commanding that some have criticised the film for not living up this grand and devastating scale but Spielberg has many more up his sleeve. He’s just not able to deliver them too close together – otherwise, the film would be absolutely shattering and very difficult to get through. To bridge the gap between breathtaking battles scenes the film falls into a rather conventional storyline about men on a mission but it’s only purpose is to keep the film flowing and allows Spielberg the ability to make the brutality of war more personal. Two scenes in particular, are as overwhelming as the opening to the film: the hand-to-hand combat between a German soldier and Private Mellish (played by Adam Goldberg) and the deeply emotional and ironic injuries of T-4 Medic Wade (played by Giovanni Ribisi). These moments in the film are the most difficult to watch but they only really work because we are allowed the time to bond with the characters beforehand and experience the combat with them. Each of them have a particular, but very different appeal, making it harder to accept when some of them perish in savage and harrowing circumstances.
The cast also deserve the utmost praise for making the roles their own; the always reliable Hanks is solid in the central role and there are exceptional performances from the first rate support, namely, Barry Pepper and the aforementioned Goldberg and Ribisi, who are all outstanding.
Janusz Kaminski’s magnificent, and Oscar winning, cinematography is also starkly delivered; his images are both beautifully and horrifically captured and Spielberg’s decision to desaturate the colour and adopt some handheld approaches, add an authenticity that’s rarely been captured in the genre and brings another dimension to some of the finest and most realistic battle scenes ever committed to the screen.
There’s not much in the way of criticism that I can throw at this near masterpiece, other than Robert Rodat’s script; the conventional plot strays into cliché where the Germans are completely stereotypical and there is absolutely no sign of an Allied soldier anywhere. Rodat would have you believe that America fought the war singlehandedly, but despite these discrepancies, the film has so much power that these faults can be overlooked.

One of the darkest chapters in our history is viscerally captured in a raw and uncompromising piece of work from a virtuoso director, tapping into the highest of his abilities. Some may prefer the more fantastical and escapist nature of Spielberg, but for me, this is the finest film he’s made.

Mark Walker


Gangster Squad * * *

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, thriller with tags on May 1, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Ruben Fleischer.
Screenplay: Will Beall.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Jack McGee, Jon Polito, Josh Pence, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton, John Aylward, James Carpinello, Don Harvey, Ambyr Childers, Frank Grillo, James Landry Hébert.

Although I’ve yet to see director Ruben Fleischer’s previous comedy film “30 Minutes Or Less“, I did manage to catch his debut “Zombieland” which injected a lot of humour and style in the zombie sub-genre. For his third film, he assembles one of the year’s most impressive casts and decides to drop the comedy and focus on a real-life crime story. His stylish approach is, once again, on show but unfortunately, his film suffers from a dreadfully threadbare script that fails to utilise his very talented ensemble or elaborate on a story with massive potential.

Los Angeles, 1949. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is determined to take hold of the city and muscle out any competition. Police Chief William Parker (Nick Nolte) has other ideas, though. He forms a squad of no-nonsense cops to fight back and puts World War II veteran John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) in charge of the operation. O’Mara assembles his crew and tackles Cohen’s organisation with the same brute force that the criminal acquired it with.

From the off-set, Fleischer doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. The brutality of Mickey Cohen is captured within the first few minutes by a scenery-chewing Sean Penn, on menacing form. Following suit, we are then introduced to Brolin’s strong arm of the law, charged with bringing this notorious gangster to justice. Straight away, Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography and production designer Mather Ahmad manage to capture the glitz and grime of late 1940’s L.A. and it looks like we could be treated to something akin to Curtis Hanson’s sublime “L.A. Confidential“. Unfortunately, the look and feel is where the comparison ends. This isn’t anywhere near as tightly constructed as James Ellroy’s labyrinthine thriller and that’s the most frustrating part; it could have been. The elements are in place but the all-important script seems to have it’s concrete shoes on. The writing is repetitious and lazily strung together and for a film that’s seemingly focused on it’s characters, it ultimately fails to deliver anything that resembles a three-dimensional role for any of the impressive cast on show. Brolin, Gosling and Penn get most of the screen time but this is a role that’s completely beneath the abilities of Gosling as he takes a back seat to the other two and the talented likes of Ribisi, Mackie and especially Peña needn’t have turned up at all. It all but completely abandons the good work it sets out to do and resorts to stylistic action scenes that are drawn out and devour the latter half of the movie – eventually leading to nothing more than a shoot-em-up and an obligatory toe-to-toe thrown in for good bad measure. Quite simply, the whole thing comes across as a poor case of cut-and-paste and squanders what little powerful scenes and performances it does possess.

It’s a real shame that this ended up so superficial when it had so much potential. Instead of being a passable piece of pulp with too much reliance on it’s star wattage, it could have been a solid addition to the gangster genre. I’m sure Fleischer believed in the material at one point but my Tommy-Gun’s not convinced.

Mark Walker


Welcome To The Punch * * 1/2

Posted in Action with tags on April 12, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Eran Creevy.
Screenplay: Eran Creevy.
Starring: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Peter Mullan, Johnny Harris, David Morrissey, Andrea Riseborough, Daniel Mays, Jason Flemyng, Daniel Kaluuya, Elyes Gabel, Ruth Sheen, Steve Oram.

This film marks the start of a trilogy of UK ventures from actor James McAvoy in 2013. It was released practically back to back with Danny Boyle’s “Trance” and an adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel “Filth” will complete McAvoy’s year. Let’s just say that he hasn’t got off to the best of starts with this one.

During the pursuit of master criminal
Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), doggedly determined policeman Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is shot in the leg which allows Sternwood to escape. Now disgraced within his precinct, Lewinsky believes he will never get the chance bring Sternwood to justice. That is, until Sterenwood is forced out of hiding to return to London from his Icelandic hideaway and hunt down the man responsible for shooting his son. Lewinsky is given the perfect opportunity to rescue his reputation but he also uncovers a deeper conspiracy involved.

I’ve said it countless times before but I’m afraid I’m going to have to say it again; I’m not a massive fan of the action genre. I find it all a bit hollow and the story and logic always suffer for the sake of set-pieces and excitement. This has that very same problem. The reason I went into this was for the actors and the curiosity of how a British made movie, in this genre, could compete in terms with the U.S. At least, on both these accounts, I wasn’t disappointed. McAvoy, once again, proves his leading man credentials with fine support by Mark Strong and British character actors like Peter Mullan, David Morrissey and Johnny Harris. The film’s, near futuristic, look and gritty feel is also perfectly fitting and for a change, a British action movie handles itself just as well as any other. However, it’s ultimately no different from the mind-numbing, generic dross that this genre so often delivers and the plot, as expected, has holes aplenty. In fact, they are so wide, they are actually quite offensive. Despite it trying to play clever and keep it’s cards close to it’s chest, it’s all rather predictable and leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just wasted your time. Eran Creevy does well, in the directing stakes and conducts his action set-pieces with impressive ease but his script has more creeks and holes than his protagonist’s dodgy knee. If it wasn’t for the committed actors and the neon-infused cinematography by Ed Wild, this would be a complete write-off.

With a better script and more respect for the audience this could have been a lot better. Sadly, it has neither of these and carries so much self-indulgence it would be more aptly titled… Welcome to the Paunch.

Mark Walker


Cloud Atlas * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on February 21, 2013 by Mark Walker


Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Wishaw, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgees, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, James D’Arcy, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Keith David, David Gyasi, Xun Zhou, Gary McCormack, David Mitchell.

Recently, Yann Martel’s novel “Life Of Pi” made it to the silver screen after an exemplary adaptation by director Ang Lee. However, the novel itself had been deemed ‘unfilmable’ beforehand. There are many literary works that have come under this assumption and David Mitchell’s Booker Prize-nominated novel Cloud Atlas is another. The reception of this film has been very mixed but, give or take, the odd discrepancy and noodle scratching moment, this is an impressively successful endeavour that proves, once again, that the ability to transfer page to screen is entirely possible and vibrantly alive.

1849: a Pacific ocean voyage that unearths a stowaway slave.
1936: an inspirational composition of classical music in Edinburgh.
1973: a manuscript that invites a dangerous conspiracy in San Francisco.
2012: a publisher goes into hiding in a nursing home, fearing for his life.
2144: a totalitarian regime in futuristic Korea gives birth to a rebellious clone.
2321: a post-apocalyptic Hawaii that leads to the cosmos…
These are the six stories that connect life, the universe and everything as past, present and future interlace with one another and humankind struggle to make sense of their existence.

What better way to tell a story than to begin it in the ancient way? An old man sitting around a campfire with scars on his face and wisdom on his tongue. That’s exactly what the trio of directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have done and it sets the perfect opening to an expansive, spectacular, hugely ambitious and visual, storytelling adventure. It’s so vast and labyrinthine that it’s hard to even begin to break it down. It works on so many levels; from the metaphorical to allegorical, as well as, the tangential and does so while setting it in six different centuries (from the 19th to the 24th) and having the same actors play several different roles throughout. It’s difficult to find your feet and it could take at least an hour before you even get a hint or actually begin to grasp anything that’s going on. Once the narrative strands do come together, though, the film becomes a completely immersive experience.
It poses questions as to the meaning of our existence and the direct relation we have to one another and whether our experiences in life are just luck or predestined by means of Karma, reincarnation or simply through a greater, unknown, connection within the universe. In other words, it explores the complex questions and search for answers that have been pondered from time immemorial. It also incorporates the influence of art, television and how easily deities can be constructed and how, essentially, humankind is their own worst enemy. There will certainly be more questions than answers throughout this journey but what this film does, is run with life’s conundrums, meanwhile freeing itself from narrative conventions and hits you from six different angles all at once. It really is astoundingly complex stuff.
Now, I don’t profess to understand Cloud Atlas in it’s entirety. I did manage to get a reasonably good handle on it’s elaborate tapestry but it’s a film that requires, at least, a couple of viewings to fully grasp. The utmost patience and concentration is essential and if you happen to switch off for a second – throughout it’s almost three hour long running time – then it will, ruthlessly, leave you behind. You have been warned: this film will pickle your brain for weeks. It has confounded many; so much so, that it’s been written off as disappointing or a pretentious mess. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that it should not be ignored. The only drawbacks I found were the tenuous linking between a couple of the stories and the tone of the film shifted a little uneasily in places. Nevertheless, this is one of the most ambitious, intelligent and beautifully constructed film’s for quite some time and, if invested in, will bring many rewards.

I don’t know why I’d choose to paraphrase at this point other than to sum up this film (and my review) by leaving you with the words of a wiser fellar than myself: “I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ it-self, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands a time until – aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again… Catch ya further on down the trail“.

Mark Walker


Django Unchained * * * *

Posted in Action, Western with tags on January 18, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, Walter Goggins, James Remar, James Russo, Dennis Christopher, Laura Cayouette, Don Stroud, M. C. Gainey, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, James Parks, Michael Parks, John Jarratt, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Dern, Franco Nero.

Few director’s can claim such enthusiasm upon the release of their new film but Quentin Tarantino is certainly one of them. There’s always a real buzz and anticipation to see what provocative and sensationalist material he’ll be serving up. So, back he comes and once again he has revenge on his mind. This time it’s not with Samurai’s or Nazi’s but with six-shooter gunslinging as he heads West (or south, as the case may be) to pay homage to the films of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. This being the most renowned, creative (or plagiaristic) auteur behind the camera, though, he just can’t help himself, and infuses it with all sorts of influences. And the results? The results are highly impressive and thoroughly enjoyable.

In the American South, two years before the civil war, former dentist now bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) free’s a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who will be able to help him track down three outlaws known as ‘the Brittle brothers’. As their relationship develops, Schultz learns of Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who is now the property of ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and they both hatch a plan to free her.

Depictions of slavery have been commonplace throughout the history of cinema. The television show of Alex Haley’s “Roots” in 1977 was one of the first to have a major impact on audiences and Steven Spielberg gave a harrowing introduction of it in his 1997 film “Amistad“. Despite some distressing early scenes in that film, though, Spielberg decided to focus more on the legal issues involved and it progressed into a courtroom drama. Here, Tarantino chooses differently and doesn’t pull any punches. He depicts the brutality these people faced with daring and damning conviction. As always, controversy has followed. It uses racially aggressive language throughout but although Tarantino isn’t known for his entire commitment to historical events, his attention to detail here is fitting and even though it’s been criticised from others (mainly Spike Lee who refuses to even watch it) it has, in Tarantino’s words, created a “dialogue” amongst people about the seriousness of this dark chapter of American history. If one positive is to be taken from this film, it’s that. These heinous events should be addressed and it would seem that Quentin is the only one willing to do it. Personally, I applaud him.
Like most (if not all) of Tarantino’s films, when the actors are verbalising the work of his quill the results become an oratory dance with dialogue. On the surface, this doesn’t have as many quotable lines as his previous works but where Tarantino has improved, is in keeping a scene running with endless wordplay and skilfully teasing a tentative audience. There are memorable and quotable lines here, for sure, but his maturity now lies in drawing out the almost unbearable tension between his characters. His past movies have always contained riveting dialogues but “Inglorious Basterds” was proof that he’d taken it further and could craft masterful scenes of suspense. This is no different, and it’s helped immeasurably by the actors involved; Foxx delivers some solid work as the titular character but has little to do in the earlier part of the film and, if truth be told, he gets overshadowed by three sublime supporting performances (who incidentally had their roles written specifically for them); Waltz is, simply, superb and a similar breed to his character Hans Landa from “Inglorious Basterds“. He’s just as loquacious but, only this time, more endearing; DiCaprio acts up a storm with a rare villainous role who is prone to fits of sadistic and uncontrollable rage and Jackson is perfectly fitting as his dedicated servant who is a conniving and twisted individual. It’s in these superb actors that most of the enjoyment is found in Tarantino’s latest. Although the subject matter is dark and the violence vividly displayed, the story’s not without humour and one particularly satirical scene involving the Ku Klux Klan and their inability to see through their makeshift hoods is absolutely hilarious. It also looks magnificent with cinematographer Robert Richardson capturing the vast and desolate landscapes to perfection.
Even though they are slight, the film is not without faults. Over-length is an issue with some scenes that could have been trimmed without compromising the overall impact and, at times, there was too much reliance on convenience in some plot developments. Still, when it’s the ingenuity of Tarantino at the helm, these minuscule misjudgements can be overlooked as the journey itself is so enjoyable.

A parody of Spaghetti-Western, with humour, violence and blaxploitation. If anyone can make this work, Tarantino can. And that he does. This is another impressive addition to his canon and even though the “D” may be silent, his artistic voice is, most certainly, not.

Mark Walker


Point Break * * * *

Posted in Action, thriller with tags on January 2, 2013 by Mark Walker


Director: Kathryn Bigelow.
Screenplay: W. Peter Iliff.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, John C. McGinley, Lori Petty, James LeGros, John Philbin, Bojesse Christopher, Lee Tergesen, Julian Reyes, Daniel Beer, Chris Pedersen, Vincent Klyn, Anthony Kiedis, Jack Kehler, Tom Sizemore.

Before the Oscar winning heights of “The Hurt Locker“, director Kathryn Bigelow cut her teeth on some intense and very impressive pieces of work; the brooding western/vampire movie “Near Dark“, the stylish and futuristic “Strange Days” and “Point Break“, the adrenaline filled action movie that proved a female director could compete with any male in the genre – hands down.

A gang of bank robbers known as The Ex-Presidents have been looting the banks of coastal Los Angeles towns. Not much is known about them as they commit their crimes while wearing the masks of presidents Reagan, Nixon, Carter and Johnson. What is suspected is that they are surfers, so the F.B.I send in special agents Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) and Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) to uncover more information. Soon Utah is mixed up with surfing guru Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and gets drawn into his adrenaline filled, spiritual lifestyle.

This film was a real favourite of mine growing up in the early 1990’s and still ranks as one of the very best of cop/action movies. Quite simply, where it’s strength lies is in some breathtakingly fantastic action scenes and shows that director Bigelow could always compete with the best of them when it comes to staging an action set-piece. The chase scene alone – through the streets by car before going on-foot through alleyways and houses and at one point, the involvement of a pit-bull – is one of the best action set-pieces committed to the screen and Bigelow should be immensely proud. This is also bookended by some excellent close-contact surfing scenes a spot of bank robbery and sublime skydiving. What more could you really want? It’s a film filled with testosterone and macho posturing but it’s unashamed in it’s delivery. It even throws in some light spirituality and Bigelow juggles the elements with a high level of skill. One thing she doesn’t have here is restraint but that’s entirely the appeal. She’s out to set pulses racing and have some fun and that’s exactly what she does. If you give yourself over to it, you will too. Of course, the film’s lack of restraint throws up some moments when it goes way over the top and stretches credulity to breaking point but it doesn’t matter. It’s entirely forgivable due to it’s sheer indulgment and edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

So is the action genre just one for the boys? According to Bigelow, the answer is a resounding… No. She displays such skill and conviction that she crafts one of the most enjoyable action yarns available. It’s tagline is “100% pure adrenaline…” and on the evidence, it’s not far off it.

Mark Walker


Looper * * * *

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, thriller with tags on December 17, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Rian Johnson.
Screenplay: Rian Johnson.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Garret Dillahunt, Qing Xu, Frank Brennan, Tracie Thoms, Nick Gomez.

12 Monkeys“, was the last time I seen a science fiction/time-travel movie that featured Bruce Willis and if that was anything to go by then this film could do no wrong. In hindsight, it’s not as tight or as clever as it thinks it is and it’s not quite up to the standard as the aforementioned Terry Gilliam movie but it’s still thoroughly good entertainment.

The year is 2044 and organised crime has a grip on society. Hit men (known as ‘Loopers’) are employed to execute people sent back from 30 years in the future. Time travel is illegal but being under the control of the mafia, it allows them to eradicate people without a trace. One of the rules of being a Looper though, is that they must execute their future selves when they are transported back. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper but he fails to carry out the hit on his older self (Bruce Willis) and they are both forced to go on the run, potentially altering their future with very dangerous consequences.

For any good sci-fi yarn to work, it has to have an interesting and thought provoking concept. This film can certainly claim to possess that. All-be-it, it’s a little self-indulgent and doesn’t entirely hold up under scrutiny but once you let yourself go the film has a lot to offer. Wisely, it doesn’t overplay it’s futuristic setting, preferring instead to go for a more subtle and minimal approach. This helps in creating a better sense of realism for it’s genre and concept, as well as making it easier to identify with the characters – of which, the ubiquitous Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes central stage. Now, a lot has been said about the prosthetic make-up of Gordon-Levitt to have him look more like a younger Bruce Willis and I can see why people have had issues with it. For a start, it seems unnecessary to have a very talented young actor mimic one that isn’t exactly known for having a massive range in the first place. However, this was the path they chose tread and for the first half of the film I thought Gordon-Levitt captured the mannerisms of Willis very well indeed. In some ways, he gave a better performance as Willis than Willis does himself. The only problem I had with the make-up was the meticulously shaped eyebrows. They looked too dark, out of shape and well out of place. Anytime, Gordon-Levitt was onscreen in the latter half of the film, I was distracted by them. Not only did he not look like Willis, he didn’t even look the same way that he started the film. It was bizarre to say the least. That aside, the film is brilliantly structured, well realised and poses the odd noodle-scratching moment. My only criticism would be the second half; it takes the action away from the dystopian city and heads into rural farmland and around this time hits a bit of a lull. Its saving grace being an outstanding performance from young Pierce Gagnon who, just about, acts everyone else off the stage.
Upon it’s release it was heralded as 2012’s “Inception“. I wouldn’t go that far in my praise for this; it didn’t quite have that Nolan magic but in respect of being a piece of exciting and thrilling escapism, it’ll hold up amongst the best of the year. For that reason, filmmakers like Rian Johnson can’t be encouraged enough when they seem intent on delivering movies that an audience can really get embroiled in. I was a big fan of his modern-noir debut “Brick” and despite some critical panning, I also enjoyed his con-man follow-up “The Brothers Bloom“. This is, undoubtedly, a bigger step forward for Johnson but he handles it admirably and I can only hope he continues to provide innovative pieces of work like this, without the Hollywood studios getting their claws into him.

A smart and imaginative thriller that manages to squeeze out more mileage from the time-travel sub-genre. It does so by bringing a fresh and original approach to it’s paradox while also possessing a moral compass.

Mark Walker


Dawn Of The Dead * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Horror, thriller with tags on November 28, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: George A. Romero.
Screenplay: George A. Romero.
Starring: Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, David Emge, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, David Crawford, David Early.

In 1968, director George A. Romero made his directorial debut with the – now infamous – zombie horror film “Night Of The Living Dead“. At the time, it was considered the ultimate gore-fest and has since spawned numerous imitations. Not many have achieved the same standard of that classic zombie movie but Romero himself released this follow-up, ten years later, in 1978 and arguably, it’s as good as (if not better than) his debut.

The epidemic of zombies, who have risen from the dead and are now walking the earth, continues as four survivors of the zombie plague take refuge in a deserted shopping mall. They decide to stay longer than they thought and try to hatch a plan to escape somehow but with the arrival of a gang of militant bikers their security is compromised.

Less of a sequel and more of a remake to “Night Of The Living Dead“, this film benefits from an ingenious and very memorable conceit; four people barricaded in a huge shopping mall while the undead lurk and prey outside. It allows itself to be an allegory of consumerism with a clever and highly satirical approach. It contains an occasional humorous nature but the overall terrifying premise is never compromised. Some of this humour even comes unintentionally, due to it’s cheap budget and sub-par special effects – the blood used looks like vibrant, red, children’s poster paint. However, the low budget only adds to the overall authentic feel and despite it bordering on the ridiculous, Romero’s skill still shines through. His use of tension is excellently delivered, simply by using an extensive series of cuts. Each action sequence is edited in such a way that it is nothing less than highly skilful filmmaking and with Romero assuming both director and editor credits, he deserves the utmost respect. A more sophisticated audience may balk or snicker at the budgetary constraints and abysmal acting but really, it doesn’t matter. The material is so good and handled with such skill that it overshadows any lack of worth or imperfections.

In this particular sub-genre, bad acting and bad effects would normally make for a bad movie but in this instance, that’s not the case. Romero is a master of his craft and this is evidence enough to prove so. Hugely enjoyable, and one of the best, post-apocalyptic, zombie flicks.

Mark Walker


Wanted * * * *

Posted in Action, Fantasy with tags on November 25, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Timur Bekmambetov.
Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, Chris Morgan.
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Marc Warren, Common, Kristen Hager, David Patrick O’Hara.

Action is not normally a genre I’m drawn to but when it’s done without reservation, I can completely enter into it. I, normally, find that the genre always goes a little too far. That being the case, if your going to go far you night as well go all out and be as innovative as you possibly can. This can certainly claim to do that.

Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a bored and downtrodden office worker who gets bullied by his boss while his best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend. His life is a shambles. That is, until he is approached out of the blue by the mysterious Fox (Angelina Jolie), a highly trained assassin who is part of a secret society called the Fraternity. Wesley’s father was also a member and now that he’s recently deceased, Wesley is heir to the skills of a master hitman and the Fraternity bring him onboard.

In his first English language feature, director Timur Bekmambetov brings the similar style from his Russian vampire movies “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” and proves that he’s a director that can certainly stage an action scene or two. There are cars that do 360 degree flips, people that leap from skyscrapers, bullets that collide with each other mid-air and even ones that bend round corners, buy hey, it’s based on a comic-book by Mark Millar (also responsible for “Kick Ass“) so anything goes right? The action scenes are sublimely hyper-stylised and delivered with a breathtakingly fast pace. It also stages a lot of the action in glorious slow-motion, encapsulating the moment and allowing the audience the wallow and appreciate even further.
To begin with, the film may instil a certain deja-vu as it borrows heavily from “Fight Club” in it’s premise of a disheartened man, in a dead end job, that finds a new lease of life. Mainly what it incorporates though, is the balletic skills of Hong Kong action maestro John Woo and the gravity defying works of “The Matrix“. Quite simply, it’s ludicrous stuff but riotously enjoyable all the same.
McAvoy struggles a little with an American accent but for the most part he’s good and his performance captures both a sense of humour and an impressive and convincing action ability. A heavily tattooed and vampish Angelina Jolie also gets her fair share of action moments, all-be-it, without much in the way of dialogue. As good as they are though, this is not a film that spends a lot of time or focus on character development. It’s an action movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything else and is all the better for it.

Visually astounding with a breakneck pace that rarely let’s up. It’s exciting, innovative and enjoyable, but most of all it’s fun. Exactly how an action movie should be delivered.

Mark Walker


Leon: The Professional * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Drama, thriller with tags on October 29, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Luc Besson.
Screenplay: Luc Besson.
Starring: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello, Michael Badalucco, Ellen Greene, Peter Appel, Willi One Blood, Don Creech, Elizabeth Regen, Frank Senger.

After some successful and highly creative films in his native France, director Luc Besson turned his hand to American cinema in 1994 with “Leon“. He had already covered the story of a lethal assassin in his 1990 film “La Femme Nikita“, which also featured Jean Reno in a small role as a “cleaner”. This time he focuses more on Reno and gives him the lead as a similar hitman for hire. It may be set in New York – with English speakers – but this is still very much an artistic French film.

Leon (Reno) is a contract killer and is seemingly content with his minimal social life. However, when his young and impressionable 12 year old neighbour Matilda (Natalie Portman) comes home to find her family has been killed by corrupt cop and drug dealer Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), she runs to him for help. The closer they become, the sooner she discovers Leon’s profession and asks him to teach her the skills so that she can have revenge on her family’s killer.

From the off-set, Besson’s visual style is clearly apparent and he makes wonderful use of New York locations with regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. He also allows the characters to blossom and creates and endearing friendship that serves as the heart of the film. Both Reno and especially a young Portman (in her film debut) are marvellous as the unlikely pairing but while they share some genuinely heartfelt moments, the boundaries are blurred with an uncomfortable, sexual subtext between them. Granted, this is formed through the romanticised eyes of a 12 year old and Leon is entirely innocent but it adds a different edge to their sentimental relationship. On the periphery, is the inclusion of a scenery-chewing Gary Oldman that adds a real sense of danger to the proceedings. His performance has been criticised for over-acting but personal I thought he was superb and it’s ranks as one of my favourites from him.
What’s most impressive about the film is Besson’s assured hand and his ability in framing a scene; seemingly insignificant details play a massive part in the sheer beauty of this film while the dynamic music score by Eric Serra is a perfect accompaniment for Besson’s sumptuous attention to detail and deliberate approach. Action movies rarely have such style but this is one that starts and ends with a bang and delivers a warm and affecting emotional core in-between.

A stylish, captivating and emotionally complex film that could comfortably be described as an art-house thriller.

(This post forms part of a “Double-Take” that I done with Eric who runs The IPC blog. Please check out the post in full by going here.)

Mark Walker


Skyfall * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, thriller with tags on October 29, 2012 by Mark Walker


Director: Sam Mendes.
Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory,

Whenever a new James Bond film is released, it seems to strike up enthusiasm and excitement amongst moviegoers. I’m admittedly not a massive Bond fan but having the reliable Daniel Craig shaking the Martini’s and introducing himself by surname first has worked a treat so far. It’s also not too shabby when Oscar winning director Sam Mendes is at the helm, as well as having an Oscar winning actor play the proverbial nasty. Even though I couldn’t summon the same enthusiasm as others, I also couldn’t resist in seeing what all the fuss could be about.

After a botched mission in Istanbul, Bond (Daniel Craig) is presumed killed in action. In actual fact, he’s been laying low and indulging a bit too much on alcohol. He resurfaces when he hears the news of attacks on M16 headquarters in London and M (Judi Dench) brings him back to resume service. It transpires that the attack on M16 HQ is at the hands of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) who has a score to settle with M herself.

This is not your average Bond movie at all. Recently they have been doing away with the conventions of the franchise and stripping it back to basics. I, for one, have been a fan of this recent minimal approach but I still wasn’t prepared for how bare this one was. A lot of attention is placed on character development which is almost unheard of from a movie featuring this character. In a lot of ways, it seemed like this film was making a new statement and relaunching a new take on Bond. It dares to make some serious plot developments involving prominent characters and introduces new ones in the shape of Ben Wishaw as a welcome and convincing Q and a new introduction to Miss Moneypenny. The other developments I won’t divulge here. It even gives a little history and backstory to Bond and also shows some weaknesses in his character; Bond isn’t as invincible as some of the earlier instalments which is a welcome change of direction. Of course, this is all handled well by Craig who is very convincing in the role, further fuelling the argument as to whether he’s the best yet.
No Bond write-up would be complete without mentioning the villain of the piece and this is where the excellent Javier Bardem comes in. He puts in a marvellously on edge and surprisingly humorous performance that I really wasn’t expecting. Bardem can do these type of creepy characters with aplomb but unfortunately, it’s the decisions of his character that leave his addition to the ‘Bond baddies’ rather ordinary in comparison. When the writers intend on keeping things more realistic it would probably be wise not leave gaping holes in the story and have the characters behave a little more cautiously. It seemed to me that they’d rather have the best of both: they wanted the realism as well as the indulgence and the two don’t really go hand in hand. The villains in previous Bonds always made critical mistakes but to have one that just stumbles around as if they’re invincible is a little insulting to, not only, the deadly 007 agent but also to the audience. That being said, it’s still a decent flick and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had with some clever nods to the Bond movies of old and some sumptuous cinematography by Roger Deakins.

I’m not sure how Bond enthusiasts will receive this one. There’s a good chance if you’re into the franchise then you’ll like it but personally, I thought it was a little underwhelming. It doesn’t match the intensity of Craig’s first outing in “Casino Royale” but is admittedly an improvement over his second “Quantum Of Solace“.

Mark Walker


Machete * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Comedy, Crime with tags on October 21, 2012 by Mark Walker


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis.
Screenplay: Robert Rodriguez, Alvaro Rodriguez.
Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Shea Whigham, Daryl Sabara, Tom Savini, Gilbert Trejo, Billy Blair, Nimrod Antal, James Parks, Stacy Keach.

In 1997, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez released their Grindhouse double bill which consisted of “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror” respectively. They also included a series of trailers beforehand. Of course, these trailers were fictional works but there at least two, so far, that have been made into feature films and director’s Eli Roth and Edgar Wright have expressed interest in adapting their trailers in the future also. One that has already reached the screens is Jason Eisener’s “Hobo With A Shotgun” with Rutger Hauer and the other is this unashamed, violent gore-fest from Rodriguez.

Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) is a former Mexican Federale who is set-up by his corrupt bosses, resulting in the death of his wife and child. He manages to escape death himself and heads over the border to the United States, vowing revenge on those that wronged him. Not before long though, Machete is involved in a failed assassination attempt on US senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro) and again finds himself on the run. It would seem that both betrayals are linked and Machete will stop at nothing to get to those involved.

With a highly stylistic and candid Grindhouse opening that’s nothing less than impressive, it’s apparent very early on what you’re letting yourself in for here. This is not a film that will demand very much from you, other than checking your brain at border control beforehand. I’m surprised that I actually went with this, as I often find Rodriguez’s stuff to be very self-indulgent. This happens to be more of the same and shares Rodriguez’s propensity for some preposterous action scenes. That being said though, it’s still quite a lot of fun. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is and benefits from a great cast of deliciously nasty characters, spouting some choice moments of dialogue. A bit like Tarantino, Rodriguez seems to be able to command a plethora of acting talents and again like Tarantino, gives familiar actors – that have fallen on harder times – another shot onscreen. In this case, Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey and (amazingly) Steven Seagal get interesting characters to play. It’s also fun to see Danny Trejo in a rare leading role and the underrated – but fast rising – Shea Wigham also makes a welcome appearance. The biggest disappointed (as it often is these days) is a criminally underused DeNiro. All in all though, it’s the cast that play a big part in the enjoyment of this cliche ridden homage to 70’s exploitation flicks where it also can’t resist throwing in a satirical commentary on US immigration policy. Rodriguez’s style is, without doubt, an acquired taste and one that I admittedly don’t always have but if you’re a fan of his films then this should go down nicely.

Not a lot can be said about a film that is ultimately about showcasing the many different ways a person can perish at the mercy of a machete. You can either accept the premise and run with it or you can avoid it completely. Either decision would be entirely understandable, as this is a film that will only work on a complete suspension of disbelief.

Mark Walker.