Category Archives: Action

Lost Boy – Short Film Review


A visually stunning sci-fi short film that relies entirely on visual imagery to tell its story. The plot is rather vague and ambiguous, but there are several very clever cinematography tricks used against the backdrop of a desolate, dark landscape.

It seamlessly uses the pan across an object, swipe to a different character, pan, swipe, different character. The slow pans move in closer to the subject following each successive swipe, just like Spielberg did in Jaws as Brody watched the town folk swim in the water while he sat back and nervously watched.

In this story, the antagonist isn’t a shark, though, it’s a large android-like figure with a red band of light covering his eyes, like Cyclops from X-Men. He is chasing after a cyberpunk-looking figure, who’s often running in slow motion, the background a constant source of tension. The ‘cyclops’ weaves in and out of the frame horizontally, creating a demonic aura, though we don’t completely understand his moral position by the end of it.

Great world-building and production design, though it plays out more like a music video than an actual narrative. I couldn’t tell you the motivations of the characters if I tried, but whatever they are, they looked cool going after them. Personally, I would have liked the terminator-style chase sequence to be a bit more frantic and have a little less slow motion. The slow motion implies that we care deeply for this character’s livelihood, but we don’t. Speed it up and it becomes more energetic, intense, and engaging, instead of just simply pretty to look at.

Directed by Ash Thorp and Anthony Scott Burns

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Baby Driver (2017) – Film Review

The opening to Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” feels a bit braggadocios, a bit indulgent, and a bit too similar to a recent Apple commercial. All in one take, the opening tracking shot follows our main character, Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, as he walks freely through the streets, crossing roads, passing murals, and avoiding bystanders. Each set piece he walks by correlates with the words in the song he’s listening to with his signature earbuds, always at hand and usually blaring full volume.

It’s a clever opening, though very self-referential: “Shaun of the Dead” featured one of the greatest one take tracking shots ever with Simon Pegg’s character bumbling through his town, ignorant of the blood and zombies surrounding him as he yawns his way through the vacant streets. The movie slows down a bit after the opening street dance/music video, getting into the reality of Baby’s life as a getaway driver for low-life, high-stake criminals.

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The leader of the operation is Doc, played smugly by Kevin Spacey. Jamie Foxx plays the confrontational character, even having a line in the movie commenting about the crazy position being filled already, by him. Jon Hamm plays a more sedated role as Buddy, another member of the crew; he wants to get the job done and get out of town with his girlfriend as soon as possible.

Baby drives as a result of a traumatic childhood experience involving a car wreck and the death of his mother. He has permanent ringing issues in his ears as a result of the accident, hence the constant music. The soundtrack is the lifeblood of the movie: the characters question it constantly, but when the music starts, Baby switches gears and turns into an 11th grade version of Ryan Gosling in “Drive”. He’s slick and intelligent, knowing the routes by heart, able to intuitively escape from seemingly inescapable scenarios.

Lily James plays Deborah, a young girl that works as a waitress at the diner where Baby’s mother used to wait tables. He’s a regular at the diner and soon garners her attention with a few of his songs and some friendly conversation. They have a runaway vibe throughout, though their relationship can’t be entirely filled out due to his responsibilities to Doc as the whiz-kid driver.

The movie has a lot of heart and clearly a lot of passion for the art of fast-speed driving. The coordination that had to happen to clear the roads and perform the spinning, sliding car donuts must have been exhausting. “Baby Driver” is an exhilarating chase movie made by one of the most inventive action directors of the decade.

Get Out (2016) – Film Review

Get Out is a marvel of a movie in an age where explosions and VFX are the main magnets that pull popular audiences out and into a comfy multiplex armchair. On the surface, both in the trailers and in the first act build-up, it’s a story about characters and social interactions. It plays off cultural stereotypes and commonly misused/abused racial phrases, contrasting some very real and at times shocking attitudes without pulling any punches. Yet it all seems too on the button, too hyper-focused and self-aware to be a movie that’s just about a family not accepting their daughters black boyfriend. And it’s not just that; there’s much more to it.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, an excited but hyper-nervous boyfriend. He leans on his girlfriend, Rose, played by Allison Williams, helping to ease her worries through cute jokes and quips. Rose’s innocent, red-cheeked demeanor feels like a sort of android or human replicant that acts exactly like a stereotypical white college girlfriend acts. She’s way too accommodating to him; there isn’t any real drama between the two of them, only love and kisses, smoke and mirrors.

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The films marketing campaign focused heavily on the concept of a white young woman bringing her dark-skinned, African-American boyfriend out to the families farm estate.

The advertisements didn’t reveal much about the intricate plot details. With a very reasonable budget of 4.5 million, the producers of Get Out were hoping that, as a hybrid 2017 horror movie, the film would work best as a word-of-mouth product as opposed to releasing it in a more traditional manner through relentless TV marketing.

The studios certainly didn’t need to buy big TV ad spots in the end. As of mid-April, Jordan Peele’s horror film has grossed an impressive 184 million.

With overwhelming critical approval and praise, as well as the instant name recognition stemming from Peele’s hit show, Key & Peele, the film’s producers had very good reason to take a step back and let the quality of the movie speak for itself.

Director Jordan Peele has always professed a love for horror films, good or bad or atrociously bad. He has also expressed his fairly unique perspective on race. Peele is a half black man raised by and growing up alongside a predominantly white family.

A major part of Get Out involves small interactions between Chris and Rose’ parents’ white, country-club friends. These encounters are sometimes staged bluntly for comedic effect or in a more subtle manner to help build ambiguity and mystery.

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At times, the social satire veers towards being a bit too transparent, such as when the father, Dean Armitage, played by Bradley Whitford, insists to Chris that he would definitely vote for Obama for a third term, if he could.

A white man complimenting an African-American man on his “prowess” or “muscular strength” may appear to be a compliment at face-value, but those on the receiving end of the compliments clearly feel uncomfortable. They feel like they are being evaluated. It’s as if their body and entire being are being mentally measured and weighed for current or potential value, similar in a way to the extreme scouting tactics used on young, pre-teen athletes.

The story arc comes and goes without any lingering moments dragging down the fast-paced narrative. The first half introduces us to the characters and scenarios, giving the audience time to think about the direction of the story, to ponder about the potential twists and turns. Peele buys himself enough time in the first half of the movie to convince the audience that we know what kind of movie we’re watching, only to have the rug firmly pulled out from under us in the final act.

Some of the plot points don’t entirely add up, though I won’t go into spoiler territory. I think It’s important, though, to think more about the social and cultural messages rather than the labyrinthian, complex narrative.

The story details don’t 100% hold up upon multiple viewings, but the entertainment value remains the same. There’s plenty to talk about, and part of the fun is seeing it with someone for the first time and helping them fill in the pieces to the puzzle. Compared to the multitude of uninspired and unoriginal horror films being punched out these days, Get Out should get an oscar nom.

Overall, Get Out is a thoughtful look at race relations in America. It’s both funny and bleak in the way that it shatters stereotypes that people still commonly use to this day. A piercingly bold and occasionally frightening ride through the eyes of a young African-American man.

The Magnificent Seven – Film Review

The greatest moments of “The Magnificent Seven” aren’t the scenes where all the magnificent’s are sitting around, talking about their magnificent adventures. Movies should show, not tell, and I agree. But if you aren’t willing to show a characters journey, their past, their present state in the world, then you’ve got to try to tell us a little bit about them.

Cowboys talk in gravely, deep-voiced mumbles, I understand. But not all of them. Josh Faraday, the alcoholic magician played by Chris Pratt (or is it just Chris Pratt played by Chris Pratt?), has a lot to say. The quiet one, Chisolm, played by Denzel Washington, talks and acts as if he were living in an entirely different cinematic universe, a slow-burn, darkly-lit drama photographed by Roger Deakins.

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Luckily for Chisolm, he isn’t required to interact a whole lot with this ensemble, other than the obligatory assembling and introductions of the squad. We’ve got 7 here? One, two, three…I count six. Never mind, the seventh is standing over there, as Pratt’s character says in the beginning of the film, “Oh, good, we’ve got a Mexican!”

On-screen diversity is a hot topic in Hollywood and they’ve responded, if not in any dramatic way. They’re learning that people don’t just want diverse characters, they want actual characters. You know, a person with a motive other than revenge or a skill unrelated to their culture.

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The Chinese cowboy, Billy Rocks, played by Lee Byung-hun, is very skilled at throwing all sorts of sharp, metallic weapons, even his own hair-pin. It’s typical to cast a Chinese man as the prototypical knife-thrower (with a twist, albeit), but at least his stereotype isn’t dull. Billy actually rocks. He’s a quiet character but arguably the most entertaining of them all.

The second most engaging character arc would have to be Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, a PTSD-ridden sharpshooter who uses Billy as a circus entertainer for the locals, splitting the dividends between them. Their relationship seems very complex: Billy feels bad for Goodnight’s war-torn suffering, while Goodnight takes advantage of a foreign mans abilities for his own gain.

The film doesn’t come close to replecating the greatness of the original film, or even close to The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa’s original telling of the tale. But beyond the sketchy, loosely-plotted characters, there is a thirty-minute plus action sequence that’s very entertaining. If anything, you can be assured that director Antoine Fuqua hasn’t lost his interest or his touch in direction large scale, dynamite-driven action sequences.

Iron Man 3 (2013) – Film Review

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The first thing I thought walking out of the theater is that this movie is either innovative or disrespectful; there is no hiding the fact that liberties have been taken with the entire genre in the new Tony Stark vehicle.

Without giving away any spoilers, if you look at the one liberty (and those who’ve seen it know exactly what it is),  and judge it solely on it’s merit and the merit it had in the comics, you’re going to call it disrespectful to the origins. But if you look at how it fits into the whole plot and schema of the movie, it’s a very clever device.

The movie is about identity and accountability, and of all the character flaws shining through Tony Stark, no-one can deny he’s not afraid of being known and being accountable.  Indeed, that was the whole moral conundrum that resulted in him de-weaponizing his whole company in Jon Favreau’s first Iron Man movie.  And then he goes and makes a public statement to a terrorist, even blurting out his home address (though it’s surprising that by now everyone doesn’t know where the great Tony Stark lives, especially an international terrorist).

The new Iron Man does have a boat load of humor, courtesy of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” director Shane Black. But don’t let these cover-up the depth that aches beneath the surface. Tony Stark is living anxiously after the events of the Avengers. The anxiety-attacks could have been a little better written, maybe with hallucination or more of his pain shown alongside visuals.

Robert Downey Jr. looks wide-eyed and breathes heavily throughout the film. And although he’s a great actor, there’s just not enough built-in or earned emotion for us to feel a whole lot of sympathy; and just imagine how difficult it might be for a viewer who hasn’t seen the events of the The Avengers.

Some of the greatest scenes in the movie come in the form of a young boy Tony finds in a small-town.  Their personalities are very similar and it results in a lot of spark on-screen. They quip, talk about fathers, and help each other out in a charming, big brother sort of way.

The remote-controlled armor is an odd duality. The movie’s premise promotes the idea that Tony is Iron Man, Iron Man is not Tony.  It’s an inciting moment for Tony’s third-act epiphany; he has gone too far.  He builds a boat load of armor, his technology commanding a bit too much of his attention.

The movie is an interesting exploration of the old theme of man-or-machine, even if the climax may be a bit overlong. The explosions never really end in the climax and the lack of quiet moments spliced in between the chaos creates a numbing affect. The repetition of the action sequences simply normalizes the barrage of fireworks. It goes off the rails, falling into the default mode of a standard superhero showdown.

Dredd 3D (2012)

I was happy to be able to see Dredd not only in 3D, but also at a multiplex specializing in I MAX. It was a truly exciting film: from the beginning scenes spanning across the outer region of Mega City One, with towering buildings scattered across the land, to a zooming motorcycle hosting a well-equipped Judge: In this case, Judge Dredd. Played by Karl Urban, who seemed at first a little too much of a character actor, he puts on the boots and shows he’s got the muscle for the job. Wearing a mask that covers him from the nose up, he has the huge task of working with minimal gesture, and not making it look campy and forced, like Sylvester Stallone did in the original movie.

The plot is fairly simple and objective: a veteran judge is forced to take a rookie along, only to end up imprisoned in a tower swamped with gun-men and drug hounds. This rookie, though, is not the normal wanna-be judge. She is a very powerful psychic: she can twist the mind and predict the future based on the thoughts surrounding her. Quite the asset for a police raid, yes. The special drug involved is called ‘Slo-mo’, a substance that causes the user to slow down in time, seeing action and motion at a very low speed. This is used conceptually to great effect: when two men are thrown off a building, we understand why they are forced to take this drug. And we pity, unlike Judge Dredd.

The character of Dredd is not very complex: It seemed that in the original film, they tried more to pry into the skin behind the helmet, and the poor execution caused that to fail. But here they don’t seem to be trying to pry at all. It seems more attention has gone towards the action and intensity, which are both top-notch, while Dredd says little besides one-liners, some stronger than others. The one-location premise, though, is sometimes a bore: It’s hard to imagine the unpredictable when you know the location is static; it’s one of those movies where you wonder how it could go on and where it’s going to be headed next, which isn’t always a good thing.

The lighting and set-design for Dredd matches it’s tone perfectly: It’s dark shadows and gritty decor are a reflection of the corruption and abuse ongoing in Mega City One. Essentially, Dredd holds the same plot foundation as The Raid: Redemption from 2011, though the style is undoubtedly different. In The Raid, swat-teams are designated to take down a drug building: in Dredd, only two armored Judges are sent out.

Premium Rush (2012)

Premium Rush, a movie that brands itself as a thunderous, fast-paced thrill ride, is a bit of a disappointment. It features some excellent performances, most notably from Michael Shannon, but places them like simple pawns on the city streets, en route a formulaic plot and an unsatisfying, predictable pay-off. There are enjoyable parts in the film where we are amused and intrigued by the characters, their actions and situations, but not enough to sustain a feature-length film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, an enigmatic bike messenger who rides inexhaustibly throughout the streets of New York. The decisions made by the messengers have to be decisive and smart: there cannot be any indecision when looking for a way through traffic, and that’s why Wilee doesn’t have any brakes, period. This is the macho line that sets Wilee aside from the other hardcore messengers, though when we’re talking about bicycles, it seems like mentioning testosterone and competitiveness is a joke in itself. The slow-motion cinematography, implemented during times when Wilee is trying to calculate the best route in, around, and between speeding, dangerous boxes of rationally-assembled metal; arrows appear on the screen, a borderline lazy cinematic technique that could have easily been replaced with some urgent editing; anybody remember “Limitless”, with Bradley Cooper? A cinematographer can express distance miles ahead of where a person stands, and the viewer will understand the message, the size-able amount of land to conquer.

The rule is that once you get the package, you don’t trade or hand it off to anyone except the final destination, the recipient, ot explain who it’s intended for, or where it originated from. Wilee isn’t ready to break that rule, his job principles remaining firm.  He takes an envelope from a Chinese college student in intention of delivering it, and is encountered by a nosy man, Bobby Monday, who says nothing of credentials, and for a specifically implicit reason. The story that follows becomes a cat-and-mouse game between Wilee and Officer Monday after Wilee finds out Monday’s occupation while reporting him to his own station. A cop on a bike who doesn’t seem to have been trained along the lines of Mr. Livestrong, adds an ‘aw shucks’ comic-relief, always close to and in pursuit of Wilee but never actually capturing him.

The reasons behind Wilee being a daredevil bike messenger are not revealed through any sort of character development: instead, it is said that he simply does it because he doesn’t want to wear a suit and sit in an office, an explanation reminiscent  of the voice-over in Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting”, a wholly different story, but with the same sort of social futility. The difference, though, is the rebel personalities in Trainspotting have been built up, their every word having an emotional impact. Wilee, for all we know, could just be a lazy, greedy maniac frantically spinning his bike wheels. He’s constantly talking from the blue-tooth device plugged into his ear as he rides, often times trying to repair mistakes while swerving through cars sweeping past him, a 8-bit arcade game brought to life. What a life.

It’s an enjoyable movie at face-value, even for people who shy away from prototypical ‘action movies’; maybe even more for them, as it isn’t any sort of martial-arts or gun wielding spectacle. The acting is solidly consistent and there are some engaging scenes that momentarily hold ones attention–but it’s little more than what the title suggests: a fast-paced pump of adrenaline to the gut, missing anything substantive or interesting for the viewer to keep track of.