Action

Sabotage

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2014

Albert S. Ruddy Productions

Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Bill Block, David Ayer, Ethan Smith, Paul Hanson and Palek Patel

Written by Skip Woods and David Ayer

I’m going to put my neck out there and say that I truly and honestly admire Arnold Schwarzenegger for what he does in SABOTAGE. This is a Schwarzenegger who realizes that he would look downright silly trying to do the same kind of action movie he did back in the 1980’s. He can’t be the One Man Army Killing Machine anymore. Sure, he’s still in better shape than 90% of us but he’s no kid anymore. And he doesn’t try to hide it unlike the other two members of The Holy Trinity of Action Movie Heroes. Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis are still trying to convince us they’re still able to pull off stunts they did 30 years ago. But not Schwarzenegger.  He’s got respect for our intelligence. Oh, he still does physical stuff but nothing like the stunts he did in say, “Commando” or “Eraser” These days he’s relying a lot more on story, characterization and supporting casts to give his movies weight.

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SABOTAGE isn’t a movie he could have made back in the 1980’s. He had to wait until now to make a movie like this where he could make his age work for him and for the character he plays. Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t Schwarzenegger doing Hamlet (and I still say he should have done it. Who in their right mind wouldn’t pay to see that?) but he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself.

John “Breacher” Warthon (Arnold Schwarzenegger) ramrods an elite team of wildass DEA agents. These agents are just one notch above being full blown renegades. A couple of them (Sam Worthington and Max Martini) appear to have severe psychological issues while Lizzie (Mireille Enos) is the team’s loose cannon, brazenly flaunting her drug habit and sexual promiscuity in the faces of her boss, her teammates and her husband (Worthington)

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During a raid on a cartel safehouse, Breacher and his team help themselves to $10 million of the cartel’s money and blow up the rest to cover their theft. They hide the $10 million but when they go to recover it, they’re pissed off beyond words to find it’s gone. In the meantime, the DEA has somehow found out about the stolen money. Breacher is put on a desk job and his team suspended pending an investigation. Six months later and with no concrete evidence tying them to the money, Breacher and his team are reinstated.

Turns out that isn’t a favor at all as a couple of team members are gruesomely killed and there’s only two possibilities: either the cartel is killing off Breacher’s team in revenge for stealing their money or it’s a team member who is killing his (or her) partners to keep all the money for themselves. Either way, Breacher’s stuck in the middle. Unable to trust his team or the DEA, he has to rely on the help of Investigator Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) the homicide cop assigned to the case. But can Inspector Brentwood trust Breacher? Because during the course of her investigation she discovers that Breacher just may have more motivation than anybody else on his team to steal and kill for the money.

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By now you should have tumbled to the fact that Schwarzenegger isn’t playing his usual good guy. In fact, this may be the closest we’ll get to see him playing a bad guy as Breacher nor his team are likeable characters. In fact, they’re all really not much better than the criminals they go after. But that’s okay by me. I don’t need my characters to be likeable. As long as I understand their motivations for doing what they do, I’m cool.

The supporting cast in SABOTAGE is an unusually strong one for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and yet another sign that you’re not getting your usual Schwarzenegger Shoot-Em-Up. Terrence Howard and Josh Holloway are members of Breacher’s team while Harold Perrineau is a cop partnered with Brentwood and provides the movie with much needed comedy relief. Believe it or not, it’s Sam Worthington who walks off with the acting honors in this movie as well as Mireille Enos. Their characters are complicated enough to deserve a movie of their own. They’re married DEA agents who have long ago surrendered to corruption and spiritual degradation in the pursuit of justice. Mirelle Enos just about steals the movie from everybody in sight during the third act.

What else? Oh, the violence…seriously, this just may be the most violent movie Schwarzenegger has made and considering his track record, that’s really saying something. Director David Ayer is not interested in cartoon violence or the glorification of it. The violence in SABOTAGE is amazingly cruel, bloody and horrifically messy. And Schwarzenegger has got quite the potty mouth as well. I gave up counting after his twentieth F-bomb.

So should you see SABOTAGE? If you’re a longtime Arnold Schwarzenegger fan like me you probably already have. But if you haven’t, give it a chance. It’s not his usual action movie and has far more of a mystery thriller aspect than the trailers would lead you to think. I appreciate him always trying to expand the range of what he can do in films and I think that with movies like this and “Escape Plan” in which he also played a different kind of character than we’re used to seeing, he’s showing that Arnold Schwarzenegger still has a lot to offer us.

109 minutes

Rated R

 

Shaft In Africa

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1973

MGM/Warner Bros.

Directed by John Guillermin

Produced by Roger Lewis

Written by Stirling Silliphant

Based on characters created by Ernest Tidyman

For a character who is usually described as being “the black James Bond” John Shaft actually didn’t do a lot of stuff we associate with James Bond. John Shaft in his first two movies is a private investigator working cases strictly in Harlem. He doesn’t uses gadgets, he doesn’t take on world conquering supervillians. He doesn’t report to or take orders from anybody. That all changed with SHAFT IN AFRICA which turns John Shaft into an international action hero and I think it was the smartest move the producers could have done. By taking Shaft out of his turf there’s an element of real suspense and danger in this movie. We’ve seen in two movies that Shaft is unbeatable when he’s in his element. But in this one he’s halfway around the world and there’s nobody he can call for help and he can’t even really trust the people who are supposed to be on his side.

SHAFT IN AFRICA starts off with a great sequence where Shaft is kidnapped by a gigantic African (Frank McRae) and his diminutive partner. Shaft is then subjected to a number of tests to determine if he can survive in the African desert. He passes the tests and only then does he meet the men who ordered his kidnapping: The Emir Ramila (Cy Grant) who rules over an East African country and Colonel Gonder (Marne Maitland) The two of them are working together to destroy a modern day slavery ring that recruits East Africans and illegally smuggles them into France. The East Africans are promised passports and wages enough to bring their families over but instead they find they’re working in sweatshops for barely enough money to buy food.

Shaft is naturally (and quite sensibly, I think) reluctant as he thinks he’s way too Americanized to pass for a native African. But once he lays his eyes on the woman who’s to tutor him in African ways he changes his mind. And I can’t blame him. If Vonetta McGee was tutoring me, I’d change my mind in a quick fast hurry my own self.

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Armed with James Bondian gadgets such as a camera hidden in his walking stick which is his only weapon and a tape recorder in his tribal bag, Shaft gets himself placed inside the pipeline, allowing himself to be recruited and working his way up until he reaches the man in charge. But it’s a bloody trail as Shaft has been fingered by someone inside the Emir’s organization and he has to continually defend himself against assassination attempts.

SHAFT IN AFRICA actually reminds me a lot of the novel version of “Diamonds Are Forever.” In that one, James Bond goes undercover and inserts himself into a pipeline of diamond smugglers. And like Shaft he makes his way up the pipeline by killing off the folks trying to kill him. And Bond has his Tiffany Case while Shaft has his Jazar (Neda Arneric) the nymphomaniac girlfriend of the supervillain Amafi (Frank Finlay) who is the mastermind behind the slavery ring and a lot of other nastiness besides.

Richard Roundtree by now can slip into John Shaft’s skin with no problem but I like how he still brings new shadings and reveal of character. In Africa Shaft seems to become a new man. While he states flat out at the beginning of the job he’s doing it only for the $25,000 fee he’s contracted to be paid we see along the way as he follows this slave pipeline of misery that it changes him. There’s a thirst for justice and retribution that is reawakened in his spirit that has been dormant for too long.

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Vonetta McGee is deliciously wonderful and the conversation she has with Richard Roundtree about ritual tribal female clitoridectomy has to be seen to be believed. Modern day movies love to pride themselves on how mature and adult they are. But we’re talking about a movie made back in the 70’s where a black man and black woman talk freely about ritual tribal female clitoridectomy. I don’t remember a movie made in the last twenty five years (by white OR black filmmakers) that even approached such a subject.

It’s always fun to see Frank McRae in a movie and this is one of his early roles and he’s a lot a fun to see in anything he does.  And after the urban hellscapes of 1970’s New York in the first two “Shaft” movies, the clean wide open spaces of Africa and the international flavor of France gives SHAFT IN AFRICA a truly different look and feel. After the kinda so-so “Shaft’s Big Score!” SHAFT IN AFRICA is exactly what the series needed and I think that if the movie series had continued instead of going to TV, John Shaft would have grown into the sort of international action hero James Bond is. It’s a great movie and well worth your time seeing. Enjoy.

112 minutes

Rated R

The Killer

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1989

Media Asia

Written and Directed by John Woo

Produced by Tsui Hark

Set the WayBack Machine for 1989, Sherman. We’ve got to go back a bit before I get into the meat of this review because it’s important. Trust me.

Even back in 1989 I had a reputation among my friends and family as a movie guy. That’s because I went to the movies two or even three times a week. This is 1989, remember. There is no Netflix, no Hulu, no Internet, no DirecTV, no 500 HD movie channels, no DVD, no Blu-Ray. VHS is king. So I would frequently take in a movie during the week with my buddies after work, maybe go to one by myself and then take Patricia (we’d been married five years by now) on the weekend. Got the picture so far? Good.

In the spring/summer of ’89 I was besieged by friends of mine who constantly asked me had I seen this Hong Kong action movie that was like nothing they had ever seen before and I absolutely had to see this thing as it would change my movie going life forever. Matter of fact, friends were telling me that this movie topped “Die Hard” and I really couldn’t believe that as I thought “Die Hard” was just about the best action movie I’d ever seen in my life up to that point. So I finally decide to go see this movie. Problem is that it’s playing only at one theater; an arthouse cinema on the East Side around 23erd St somewhere and the movie is only showing three times a day. And all those showing are during the early part of the day while I’m working. The first showing was around 11AM or something like that.

Hey, no problem. It’s the warm weather season and I don’t need much of an excuse to play hooky anyway. So I call in sick and determine I’m gonna check out this movie that everything insists I just have to SEE to believe!

I get to the theater, pay for my ticket, go in and I’m surprised to see that at this time of day the theater is packed. I get one of the very few seats remaining, sit back and wait to see what everybody has been telling me is so mollyfoggin’ amazing.

One hundred and eleven minutes later I stumble out of the theater with the rest of the audience as if I’m Moses who’s just seen The Burning Bush. Some of the audience members have seen this movie three, four or even five times already and soon I am engaged in a discussion those other people about the movie. In fact, about a dozen of us become fast friends due to our mutual admiration of movies in general and this movie in particular so we go out to get something to eat and then come back to catch the third and last showing of the day which is even more packed than the first showing to the point that people are standing in the back of the theater or sitting on the floor.

That movie was John Woo’s action masterpiece THE KILLER.

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I only relate all this because I know how much time has passed between then and now and for most of you reading this, you’ve seen so many action movies that you have absolutely no idea of the impact that THE KILLER made when it first came to American theaters. Trust me. THE KILLER was like nothing else we had ever seen. For me, it was my first exposure to John Woo and yes, my movie going life was never the same again.

Master assassin Ah Jong (Chow Yun-Fat) wants out of The Triad and agrees to take one last job in return for his freedom. During the job he accidentally blinds the nightclub singer Jenny (Sally Yeh) while trying to protect her from getting shot. Ironically it’s the muzzle flash from his own gun that blinds her.

Filled with remorse, Ah Jong visits Jennie at the club every night after he blinds her to listen to her sing and they fall in love. She has no idea he’s the reason for her being blind and Ah Jong determines to get enough money to take Jenny to America so that she can have a corneal transplant. In order to get that much money, Ah Jong has to take a high-risk hit. The hit goes bad and during his escape, Ah Jong is identified by a police detective, Li Ying (Danny Lee) who becomes obsessed with capturing Ah Jong. Li Ying is the perfect guy to catch Ah Jong since he’s on thin ice with his bosses who consider him pretty much a wild bull on thin ice anyway. But he has a gift of putting himself in the mindset of criminals and he finds it pretty easy (maybe too easy ) to get into Ah Jong’s head.

Ah Jong has to not only stay out of the gunsights of the police but also his Tong boss Wong Hoi (Shing Fui-On) who has ordered a hit on Ah Jong since his identity has been compromised. What makes THE KILLER so unique is in that Ah Jong’s pursuer Li Ying becomes his closest friend and ally as the both of them discover that they’re mirrors of each other, bound together by similar personal codes of honor and loyalty.

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Even today when I watch THE KILLER I am astounded by the action sequences. The final shootout in the church is the second best shootout I’ve ever seen on film and it’s earned by the fact that when it comes, we’re totally invested in the characters so we care who lives and who dies. THE KILLER has a great story that is both tremendously simple and yet overwhelming complex at the same time. It’s pretty simple why Ah Jong takes on the responsibility of restoring Jenny’s sight. It’s pretty simple why Li Ying comes to admire Ah Jong. What’s not so simple is how these characters have their own agendas that come into play and have to be resolved in blood.

This is the movie that made Chow Yun-Fat a star in this country. He’s got the same kind of badass cool that made Sean Connery, Steve McQueen and James Coburn stars and it’s all there on the screen in this one. I also like Danny Lee a lot because of his character and his acting talent we to see a lot of the Ah Jong character through his eyes as he gets inside the head of his quarry.

And the gunfights…good googlymoogly…us provincials here in America had never seen gunfights like this until John Woo said “Here…let me show you how it should be done.” And he did. Each and every gunfight in THE KILLER is epic. And this is the one that begins the classic. quintessential John Woo standoff with two guys pointing guns in each other’s faces. This one has Ah Jong and Li Ying maintaining the pose that they’re having a nice, quiet and friendly conversation in Jenny’s apartment while she serves them tea. But all the while they’ve got guns on each other. Being blind she can’t see the guns. It’s a scene that’s both hilarious and suspenseful to the max.
john_woo_the_killer__spanSo should you see THE KILLER? Without a doubt, YES.

Dredd

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2012

Entertainment Film Distributors/Lionsgate

Directed by Pete Travis

Produced by Alex Garland and Andrew MacDonald

Written by Alex Garland

Based on the character “Judge Dredd” created by John Wagner and Carols Ezquerra

I miss the huge eagle shoulder emblem and that honkin’ huge chain. Really. I can understand why that shoulder emblem is impractical for police work but I still miss it. It’s the only thing I miss from 1995’s “Judge Dredd.” Well, I miss Diane Lane. And as good as he is (and he is very good) Karl Urban can’t say “I am the law!” like Sylvester Stallone (or Kelen Conley) But outside of that, fifteen minutes into DREDD I couldn’t remember anything else about that earlier movie. That’s how good a job DREDD does of giving us a version of the classic British comic book character that is far closer in spirit to the Judge Dredd we know and love.

Mega-City One is an impossibly huge city covering the East Coast of what used to be the United States with over 800 million citizens living in it. The number of violent crimes is staggering. In order to combat the crime wave, Mega-City One is policed by The Judges who fulfill the functions of both police officers and judges. Having caught a criminal, Judges are authorized to try and sentence criminals right on the spot. Cuts down on the paperwork.

It’s new Judge recruit Cassandra Anderson’s (Olivia Thirlby) first day on the job. Even though she failed several of her aptitude tests to become a Judge, she’s given a chance to prove herself due to her being an extremely powerful psychic. If she can pass her Assessment, she’ll get her badge. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she’s partnered with Judge Dredd, the toughest and most feared Judge in Mega-City One and it’s him who will have the final say if she becomes a Judge or not.

And then comes the worst news. While investigating three murders in Peach Trees, a 200 story slum tower, Dredd and Anderson arrest Kay (Wood Harris) one of the lieutenants of The Ma-Ma Clan. Run by former prostitute and now drug kingpin, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) takes control of the tower’s control room and seals off the building from the outside, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside. Ma-Ma can’t afford to let Dredd and Anderson escape as since during their investigation they found out that Peach Tree is the center of production and distribution for Slo-Mo, a highly addictive drug that slows down the user’s perception of time. On their own and cut off from back-up, Dredd and Anderson fight their way up, floor by floor to get to Ma-Ma.

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DREDD is just about a perfect B-Movie. If this had been made back during the heyday of grindhouses in the 70’s and 80’s it would have run on 42end Street for a solid year. It’s gloriously violent and wallows in the violence because it’s a movie that knows full well what it is: it’s a grindhouse/exploitation B-Action Movie  and it has no desire or aspirations to be anything but the best grindhouse/exploitation B-Action Movie it can be.

But there are plenty of touches here that elevate it to the top rung of B-Movies. First off, it’s a lot smarter than it has to be. It doesn’t have the satirical edge the comic strip does but it makes up for it with sharp characterization and plausible motivation. None of the characters are dumbed down so that they’ll play by the numbers. These are smart, dangerous people on both sides and they behave like it. The production is also highly unique looking. Mega-City One and Peach Tree has a look both realistic and functionally futuristic at the same time. It’s a good movie to look at just for the production design.

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The movie doesn’t flinch away when it comes to the violence. Especially during gunfights which are shown from the point of view of those who have inhaled the Slo-Mo drug. Everything is then shown in slow motion. The idea is to capture the hallucinogenic feel of the drug user and the movie pulls it off in a way that I’ve really never seen before. People are getting taken out with head shots or having their guts blown into hamburger and the way it’s filmed is actually beautiful in a way.

The acting is wonderful with Karl Urban leading the way. He’s become one of my favorite actors in recent years and he gets another gold star from me for his commitment to the role. Just like the comic book character, Karl Urban’s Dredd never removes his helmet and we never see his face. Urban does all his work with his chin and his voice. He talks in a terrific pseudo-Clint Eastwood voice that isn’t exactly an imitation or impersonation but is just short of that. Urban manages to get in quite a bit of humor in a character that is essentially humorless. It cracked me up how no matter what Ma-Ma throws at them or how dire the situation got, Dredd never forgets that he’s supposed to be training Anderson and from time to time will ask her questions as if they’re in a classroom and not standing knee deep in dead bodies.

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Since by his very nature we can’t get into Dredd’s head as he has no friends, no family and lives only to uphold the law we have to turn to Anderson for the movie’s emotional center and Olivia Thrilby does a better than average job of that. Anderson doesn’t wear a helmet because it would interfere with her psychic abilities so we get to see her face and the emotions at play in her as she tries her best to survive this hellish day. I really liked the adversarial relationship that develops between her and Kay as they play mind games with each other, trying to get the upper hand. Since Anderson is a psychic and can tell what others are thinking and feeling, she has to reconcile that gift with the duties a Judge must perform. Thrilby does a great job at portraying and balancing that conflict

And as one of the best bad guys I’ve seen in recent movies, Lena Headey doesn’t just take the cake. She steals the entire damn bakery. Ma-Ma is smarter, tougher and more sadistic than any man that works for her and Headey dives into the role with manic glee. Out of everybody in the wonderful cast she looks like she’s having the most fun.

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So should you see DREDD? If you haven’t yet then you absolutely should set aside time for DREDD. It’s a perfect Saturday afternoon movie, with impeccable casting and told in a direct, straightforward, pedal-to-the-metal manner. I had a great time watching it and I think you will as well. Just one little warning: the language in this movie is not for those of you with soft ears or gentle sensibilities and the violence is not for kids or those of you who don’t like violent movies. It grinds my grits when people watch R rated movies and spend the whole time complaining about the language, sex and/or violence. The movie rating is there for a reason and DREDD more than earns it’s R rating so don’t say you weren’t told.

Rated R

95 minutes

The Killer Elite

1975

United Artists

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Produced by Martin Baum

Screenplay by Marc Norman and Stirling Silliphant

Based on the novel “Monkey In The Middle” by Robert Rostand

THE KILLER ELITE is most definitely a lesser Peckinpah entertainment. But lesser Sam Peckinpah is still better than most other directors on their best days. It hasn’t got the wild, chaotic and yet balletic violence of some of his earlier movies. It’s not as energetic as his other, earlier movies. And the story doesn’t deal with the themes Peckinpah is known for such as men searching for redemption and justification in a violent and dishonorable world. The two reasons for this could be because Sam Peckinpah wasn’t allowed to rewrite the screenplay and this was when Peckinpah began using cocaine. (allegedly it was the star of this movie, James Caan who introduced him to the stuff) and adding the yayo to Peckinpah’s already legendary intake of alcohol didn’t make for the best of working conditions.

In any case, whatever the reasons for the way it turned out, THE KILLER ELITE is essentially a straight-up cloak-and-dagger action flick. We got double crosses, gun fights, car chases, ninjas, martial arts…it all adds up to a satisfying package.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are mercenaries working for a company called Communications Integrity. It’s a private intelligence/military/espionage corporation that contracts itself out to official government intelligence agencies to do the jobs that for one reason or another they can’t do. Locken and Hansen have been friends and partners for years and that’s the only thing that saves Locken on their last assignment together. Hansen has sold out to a rival corporation. He kills their latest client, an East European defector and goes against orders to kill Locken as well. Instead he shoots out Locken’s knee and elbow, crippling him.

As far as Locken’s bosses, Weybourne (Gig Young) and Cap Collis (Arthur Hill) are concerned, his career is over. But Locken undergoes an intensive period of rehabilitation that includes studying martial arts and actually becomes pretty damn fearsome at using his cane as a weapon. And the rehab pays off when Cap Collis comes to him with a job. An Asian client , Yuen Chung (Mako) needs protection from assassins while he’s in the United States. While the C.I.A. are supposedly in charge of his security they pass the job along to ComTeg because of who’s leading the assassination team: George Hansen.

Locken recruits two former ComTeg operatives as his backup for the assignment. Mac (Burt Young) is an expert driver who now owns his own garage where he builds custom made vehicles for security work. Jerome Miller (Bo Hopkins) is a weapons expert who doesn’t have all the spots on his dice. But what none of them are aware of is that they’re all pieces on a bloody chessboard and the game is an internal power struggle between Cap Collis and Weybourne.

You have to sit through a lot of plot exposition before getting to the good stuff but it’s worth it. I like the scenes of Locken regaining the use of his leg and arm and I appreciate that the story doesn’t turn him into a Jim Kelly level martial arts master. He’s good but he’s not that good. I enjoyed the humor in the scenes of him recruiting Mac and Miller. Burt Young and Bo Hopkins obviously are having a lot of fun in their scenes together and I wish they had had more. Burt Young gets a lot of mileage out of his character Mac who is an unashamed slob. Unkempt is a polite word for his appearance. But put him behind the wheel of a car or a .45 automatic in his hand and he’s pure dynamite. And quite unexpectedly he takes on the job of being Locken’s conscience, forcing Locken to re-evaluate his own worth in this shadow word of death and deceit.

There’s a couple of terrific action sequences such as a Chinatown shoot-out and a battle between Locken, Mac and a hoard of katana wielding ninja. There’s a really goofy scene involving Mac’s wife Josephine (Sondra Blake) who calls everybody ‘Mr. Davis’ when Locken is around. The funniest scene is probably the one where Mac is trying to defuse a bomb attached to the underside of their getaway car while a cop is standing over him, kicking his legs, demanding he come out from under there while Locken is calmly explaining to the cop why that isn’t such a hot idea.

So should you see THE KILLER ELITE? Yes. I will be the first to say it’s not one of Sam Peckinpah’s best but it’s a solid action flick that has good performances from everybody and more than enough story to hold your interest until the ass-kicking commences. Highly recommended.

122 minutes

Rated PG

Shoot ‘Em Up

2007

New Line Cinema

Written and Directed by Michael Davis

Produced by Susan Montford and Don Murphy

I’m going to give you the best recommendation I can give you for SHOOT ‘EM UP and it comes from my wife Patricia.  We went to see this movie and I was fully prepared for her to hate it.  86 minutes later the credits are rolling and I asked her what she thought of it.

“I loved it.” Says she, taking me totally by surprise and yet again reminding me that I should never be so arrogant as to presume to predict what a woman will think.

“What did you like about it?” I ask.

Patricia smiles at me and says quite seriously: “I like a movie that gives you exactly what the title says it will give you.”

And she’s right on the money: SHOOT ‘EM UP is exactly that and nothing more: a series of gloriously over the top, spectacularly inventive and violent shootouts that is hung on a plot so bizarre and outrageous that it leaves you with only two options: sit back and have a good time or just eject the DVD and watch  another movie.  Really.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is just that kind of movie.  It makes no apologies for what it is.  You either just have to go along or go home.

Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) is sitting on a bench waiting for a bus, eating raw carrots when a bleeding pregnant woman runs past him.  Five seconds later a bunch of guys with guns in a car screech past him, waving guns out of the windows and following the pregnant woman.  On an impulse, Mr. Smith follows and in a devastating gun battle wipes out the guys in the car and delivers the baby, severing the umbilical cord by firing a bullet through it.  The mother catches a round through the forehead and Mr. Smith goes on the run with the child.  He’s being pursued by Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) a former FBI forensic profiler gone bad who now leads a team of badass gunslingers whose only job is to recover the child Mr. Smith is now caring for.

Mr. Smith enlists the aid of Donna Quintano (Monica Belluci) a prostitute whose specialty really comes in handy: you see, she fulfills men who have breast feeding fantasies.  So Mr. Smith offers her $5000 dollars to breast feed the baby while he goes about the business of annihilating the army of killers Mr. Hertz sends after him and maybe while he’s doing that he can find out why everybody seems intent on killing this baby.

If I told you that Mr. Smith eventually learns that the baby is tied into a dying Presidential candidate whose life can be saved only by the bone marrow of infants and his campaign is being bankrolled by a arms merchant you’d call me crazy. But it is what it is.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is the kind of movie that John Woo used to make before Hollywood wrecked him.  It’s a ‘movie’ movie if you know what I mean.  It makes no pretensions at being realistic.  It throws the most improbable characters, situations and plot twists at you and you either say; “What the hell, I’m having fun” or you say ‘Screw it.”  You kinda get what writer/director Michael Davis is going for in the first confrontation between Mr. Smith and Mr. Hertz when they’re pointing guns at each other while Mr. Smith, who is chewing a carrot says; “What’s up, Doc?” and Mr. Hertz responds with: “You wascilly wabbit, you” Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti are playing live action versions of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd who are really trying to kill each other with no bullshit.

Clive Owen is one of my favorite actors and he is obviously having a fun time playing the stone-faced hero who can escape from any situation and who handles a pair of 9mm Berettas almost as good as Chow Yun Fat.  He and Monica Belluci make a great team as the dysfunctional surrogate parents of the child that they have inherited and there is something honestly redeeming about the way they determine to protect this child.  Paul Giamatti is the one actor who is having the best time in this movie.  It’s so unlike anything he’s ever played before and you can see it in his eyes how much he’s enjoying himself.  And yeah, Giamatti makes for one great bad guy.

And how about those gunfights?  Take it from me: every single gunfight in SHOOT ‘EM UP is good enough that any other director would have ended his movie with any of them.  But here, they come one right after another.  Just when I thought the one I just saw was so outrageous that it couldn’t be topped here comes another one that  not only thrilled me with the sheer energy and audacity of the choreography but made me giggle like a schoolgirl as well. The daddy of ‘em all has to be the gunfight that takes place between Mr. Smith and a dozen assassins who have all jumped out of a plane and are plummeting to the ground while blasting away at each other. It’s a sequence that absolutely has to be seen to be believed.

So should you see SHOOT ‘EM UP?  If you’re an action movie junkie like me, you probably already have.  SHOOT ‘EM UP doesn’t have a single realistic moment in the movie.  But I enjoyed the hell out of the fact that the actors and filmmakers were willing to throw everything out the window and just have a good time telling a really out there story and do it with incredible action and their collective tongues firmly in their cheeks.  SHOOT ‘EM UP gives you exactly what the title says it’ll give you and if you expect any more than that then you paid your money for the wrong movie.

86 minutes

Rated R for graphic violence and language.  And I mean it.  There’s an extraordinary amount of violence here as well as a pretty graphic torture scene near the end.  And don’t even get me started on the scene where Clive Owen and Monica Belluci are having sex and he has to fight off half a dozen guys trying to kill them and continue having sex with her. They tried to copy this scene in “Drive Angry” but trust me, SHOOT ‘EM UP does it way better.

Bucktown

1975

MGM/UA Home Entertainment

Directed by Arthur Marks

Written by Bob Ellison

Produced by Bernard Schwartz

Whenever Blaxplotation fans get together and start discussing their favorite movies of the genre, I guarantee that BUCKTOWN is in the top ten, if not the top five. And with good reason. It stars three icons of the Blaxploitation genre who were able to move on when Blaxplotation died and find careers in the mainstream. And it’s an early film of Carl Weathers who went to find his own success in the “Rocky” movies as well as in “Action Jackson” and “Predator” as well television shows such as “In The Heat of The Night” and the cut down well before it’s time “Fortune Dane”.  And it’s a good story professionally acted and directed.

Duke Johnson (Fred Williamson) returns home to the small town of Buchanan, Alabama which is nicknamed ‘Bucktown’.  He only intends to stay in town long enough to bury his brother and then leave. But right from the moment he hits Bucktown, things ain’t right. The police force is openly racist and hostile. Duke finds out his brother died under seriously shady circumstances. And to make matters worse, it’ll take two months before the paperwork is done so that Duke can settle his brother’s estate.

He’s offered a solution by Harley (Bernie Hamilton) the amiable town drunk who worked for Duke’s brother.  Harley suggests that Duke re-open his brother’s bar/nightclub. After all, Duke’s got to stay in Bucktown anyway, right? What’s the harm?  The idea is met with no enthusiasm by Aretha (Pam Grier) who was in love with Duke’s brother.  Matter of fact, she doesn’t like Duke very much, period and sums up her feelings about him in one well-put sentence: “he ain’t nothin’ but a big city, jive ass spook!”

Duke re-opens the nightclub and quickly discovers that Harley left out one important detail: Police Chief Patterson (Art Lund) and his police force are shaking down everybody in Bucktown since its main businesses appear to be gambling, prostitution and drug dealing. Duke tries fighting back but it’s clear that he’s going to need help to clean up the town.

One phone call later and help diddy-bops into Bucktown in the form of Roy (Thalmus Rasulala) Duke’s oldest friend who grew up with him and served with him in the military. Roy comes with his crew: Hambone (Carl Weathers) T.J. (Tony King) and Josh (Gene Simms) and once these guys get started, there simply isn’t any stopping them.

In short order, Roy and his crew brutally and viciously slaughters the corrupt cops and I do mean slaughter. These guys do not believe in taking prisoners and once the smoke clears, there’s nobody left standing but them.  Now quite naturally everybody thinks Roy and his crew are going to go back where they came from but such is not the case.  Because after checking out the action in Bucktown, Roy sees no reason why he shouldn’t step into the vacuum he created and run Bucktown himself.  And it becomes quickly obvious that Roy and his crew are far worse than Patterson and his corrupt cops ever were.  Even though Roy orders his men to steer clear of Duke, T.J and Hambone don’t think that’s fair and they initiate their own plan to drive a wedge into the friendship of the two men and turn them against each other.  It takes Harley being beaten nearly to death and Aretha almost being raped to make Duke realize that it’s his responsibility to put things to right in Bucktown or die trying…

BUCKTOWN has got a bit more meat on the plot than most Blaxplotation movies and I suppose that’s why it’s still remembered to this day. It’s also a different movie for Fred Williamson and Pam Grier in a lot of ways.  Fred Williamson doesn’t play his usual ultra-hip superdude with a quick quip and easy smile for every situation.  He’s actually pretty reserved through much of the movie until the end when he finally gets sick of Roy’s shit and decides that no, he ain’t gonna take it anymore.

Pam Grier herself isn’t the Filmic Goddess of War she usually plays.  She acts as Duke’s conscience, pointing out to him the necessity of his doing the right thing and taking responsibility for dealing with Roy.  Thalmus Rasulala is marvelous as usual.  He was one of those actors who never seemed to turn in a bad performance no matter what role he played or what movie he’s in. Besides his many roles in Blaxplotation movies he also played the father of Kunta Kinte in ‘Roots’.  If you only know Bernie Hamilton from “Starsky and Hutch” you’ll be surprised at seeing him here as a washed up ex-pro football player who likes pulling a cork way too much.  Carl Weathers makes the most of his supporting role here and it’s interesting seeing him play a bad guy.  The only actor in the movie I can’t stand is Tierre Turner who was one of the most annoying child actors of the 70’s.  He’s since gone on to become one of the best and most respected stunt coordinators in the business and I’m happy for him since acting plainly wasn’t for him.

So should you see BUCKTOWN?  If you’re a fan of Blaxplotation, you probably already have.  If you haven’t then this movie is an excellent place to start, especially since it stars Fred Williamson, Pam Grier and Thalmus Rasulala.  Your education in Blaxplotation isn’t complete until you’ve seen them at work.

As usual, whenever I review a movie from the 70’s and 80’s I feel I should inform you that these movies were made in a time before Political Correctness and as so, racism and sexism is all over the place. And the violence isn’t played for laughs. It’s downright brutal and messy. If you have a thin skin and are easily offended then by all means, stay away from BUCKTOWN.  But if you’re made of sterner stuff and want to dip into film history and spend some time with a true classic of the genre, by all means, enjoy.

And here’s a P.S. for you: BUCKTOWN was remade in 2004 as “Full Clip” which starred Busta Rhymes in the Fred Williamson role and Xzibit in the Thalmus Rasulala role.

94 minutes

Rated R