Saturday, April 21, 2007

Episode 30 - Action Film Round-Up

Hot Fuzz - Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is the best officer on the London police force. In fact, he's so good at his job that he's made the rest of the force look bad. The solution to this problem? Give him a a town very far away from London. So after a few (very) brief goodbyes, Nick heads for Sandford, a small village in the country with a minute population and literally no crime. Actually, there is some crime, but the Sandford police force would just as soon let minor misdemeanors go unpunished as bother doing anything about it. Nick, of course, won't stand for this and begins shaking things up with his new partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). Danny, the son of Chief Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), may not be the best cop, but he's certainly seen enough action movies to have dreams of one day being in a firefight. As time passes, Nick begins to notice a pattern in the "accidents" that have begun to occur in the small town of Sandford, leading him to believe that there may be foul play afoot at the hands of local market owner Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton). Convinced that Nick is barking up the wrong tree, he loses the support of his co-workers and must take matters into his own hands with nothing but an endless supply of guns and a bevy of ridiculous camera maneuvers at his disposal. In the vein of Shaun of the Dead (which was also masterminded by Pegg, Frost, and writer/director Edgar Wright), Hot Fuzz is a blatant call-back to a specific genre. This time instead of zombie movies, the team has targeted action flicks for their signature brand of homage/parody. I've been exposed to a lot of British comedy throughout my life, mainly because of my grandmother's love of sitcoms such as Are You Being Served, and I've always found it to be a bit of an acquired taste. However, with Simon Pegg's obligatory combination of quirky timing and glib jokes with modern pop culture references and fan boy nods to the audience, I can't imagine how anyone could dislike his films. He and Edgar Wright have taken all of the staples of twenty-five years worth of action films and squeezed all of their recognizable stereotypes into one movie with hilarious accuracy. They've also done so without making the film a complete mockery of itself. It never goes over the edge into idiocy quite like films such as Hot Shots! or Airplane!, and maintains a plot that would work just as well in a film not meant as an homage piece. If you have ever enjoyed a Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme, Seagal, or Jackie Chan film, Hot Fuzz is the movie for you.

Tango & Cash - Ray Tango (Sylvester Stallone) is a well dressed man with manners. Gabe Cash (Kurt Russel) is a smart talking street-level dude. The two couldn't be more different if they tried, but they have one thing in common. They're both LA cops and they'll do anything to get their man. Unfortunately, they're also both really good at their jobs. So good, in fact, that crime lord Yves Perret (Jack Palance) is fed up with them foiling his deals and has devised a plan to get them both out of his way for good. Feeding false information to both Tango and Cash, Perret sets up an elaborate scheme by which both cops are framed for murder and sent to prison. Once behind bars, the two of them realize that unless they can escape they won't live long enough to be proven innocent. Taking matters into their own hands, the odd couple of the Los Angeles police force make their escape and set out on a mission to bring down Perret's crime syndicate once and for all. All they need to do is work together, but that may be easier said than done. Tango & Cash is a prime example of an eighties action film. Back in the days when movies like this were made, people didn't care so much about plot stability or reality as long as there were explosions, catch phrases and rippling muscles. Things have certainly changed since 1989. Tango & Cash is a fun film, for sure, but there were times during the course of the movie when I was left absolutely stunned by what was taking place on screen. For example, we've all seen representations of prison riots on television or in films, but when the duo of cops are led into lockup after being framed, I was taken aback. Paper was being strewn through the air as though all of the inmates were shredding newspapers and magazines by the dozens, there were fires burning all over the place, and the guards didn't seem to give a damn. It was as though this was common practice in this particular prison. Also, how in the hell did Yves Perret and his goons manage to break into the prison to torture Tango and Cash? And while we're on the subject of unbelievable events in the prison, when Tango refuses to leave his cell to escape with Cash, how does he subsequently escape to save his buddy from being shot by the guards? Admittedly all of these subjects seem unimportant once we near the end of the film and our heroes hop into a modified truck with a gatling gun strapped to the side and shoot their way into a heavily guarded fortress full of goons with guns piloting heavy machinery, but in the end it's all just part of the joy of Tango & Cash. It's hard to believe that there was a time when movies like this were commonplace, but it's sure as hell fun to watch them and visit a near-extinct genre of film.

Navy Seals - The United States Navy Seals are deployed on a secret mission to rescue the crew of an American military helicopter who have been shot down by terrorists. After securing the captives the team is attacked and forced to split up during their retreat. Separated from the rest of the group, Lieutenant Dale Hawkins (Charlie Sheen) and Chief Billy Graham (Dennis Haysbert) stumble upon a cache of high tech weapons including stinger missiles that the terrorists have in their possession. Re-joining the team, Hawkins requests to go back and destroy the weapons before the terrorists have a chance to use them, but Lieutenant James Curran (Michael Biehn) orders a hasty retreat. When the higher-ups get wind of the weapons left behind by the Seal team, orders are given to locate and destroy them as soon as possible. Back on the case, and with the aid of a journalist with leads to the weapons by the name of Claire Varrens (Joanne Whalley), Lt. Curran leads his team on several missions in search of the terrorist stockpile. There's really not much of a plot here. There're some weapons and it's up to the Navy Seals to find and destroy them. That's really all the more intricate it gets. However, don't let that fool you. Navy Seals is an excellent action film. There are somewhere in the ballpark of five missions that the team goes on in the course of the film, and each one is fucking great fun to watch! It's all about the tactics and teamwork. I hate it in movies when there's an "elite military team" and they're just a bunch of morons in black outfits with straps all over them and big guns running around shooting everything in sight. In Navy Seals there's a real sense of teamwork and stealth. It's so much fun to see the group function as a whole as opposed to the star of the film running all over the place being a bad ass while his crew gets shot up. This is part of the reason that I love the film Aliens so much. The marines seem like they've actually been trained and are doing their jobs instead of just pretending to be cool. For this reason alone, Navy Seals is worth a watch. However, if you're a child of the eighties/nineties like I am, you'll enjoy Navy Seals on a whole other level from younger or older viewers. The outfits the characters wear and the shenanigans they get into when they're on leave is so late eighties/early nineties that it hurts. But in a good way. Watching Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton wearing neon pink and blue short shorts while riding around in golf carts during a montage set to eighties pop music is an experience that I won't soon forget. If you haven't seen Navy Seals, you really must. It's an experience all it's own. I really can't think of another movie like it.

The Warriors - The streets are ruled by gangs. You can spot them by their eccentric, matching wardrobes. Each gang, apparently, embraces a different theme and is comprised of approximately eight to ten members. The gang we're concerned with is known as The Warriors and hails from Coney Island. When Cyrus (Roger Hill), a strong voice among the gang culture, calls for a meeting of all the gangs, they show up in droves. Just as he reaches the climax of a speech aimed at joining all of the gangs into one, Cyrus is assassinated by Luther, the leader of The Rogues, who frames The Warriors for the murder. Before there is time to enact vengeance on the perpetrators, the cops show up and the illegal rally is broken up. The gangs all disperse, but it isn't long before an underground radio station gets hold of the information that The Warriors are to blame for Cyrus' sudden death. Over the airwaves, the gangs are tasked with tracking down The Warriors and bringing them to justice, street style. Now, outnumbered and far from home, The Warriors have to band together to make it safely to Coney Island before the hordes of rival gangs catch up to them. This is another fine example of how out of the loop I can be. I always assumed that The Warriors was a mockery of a film that was worth nothing more than a few cheap laughs. Hence, I'd neglected to see it until recently. I was, as it turns out, completely wrong. The Warriors is very much a product of the seventies, but it is not the throw away film that I thought it was. On the surface the premise is pretty absurd, but once you allow yourself to accept the world that the story takes place in, this movie becomes all about brotherhood and survival. The Warriors have to rely on each other and are pitted against incredible odds throughout the film. I've never been one to let the time period responsible for birthing a film depreciate it's value, and The Warriors is no exception. There are some ridiculous ingredients in this film, such as the gang that wears striped shirts and overalls and is led by a guy on roller skates who patrols the subways, but once you get past those sorts of things The Warriors stands out as a bold and unforgiving look at a possible future. It's hard to look objectively at such a stylized package, but take my word for it that if you haven't seen The Warriors before, you're missing out on a delightful journey. Can you dig it?

No Escape - In the near future there are prisons that are meant specifically to house only criminals who are never going to look upon the world as free men again. One of these prisons is run by a particularly sadistic individual known only to the occupants of his prison as 'the warden' (Michael Lerner). If a prisoner becomes a nuisance, the warden has them whisked away to an island from which there is no escape. The island is unknown to the outside world, and it's use as the warden's own personal playground is not approved by the government. When a prisoner is left on the island, they have essentially two choices: join up with a tribe of evil, black-hearted men who are known as 'the outsiders', or join up with a small village of people who wish to live in peace known as 'the insiders'. Left with this decision after refusing the warden's orders to torture a fellow inmate, J.T. Robbins (Ray Liotta) opts to join the insiders, led by a man referred to as 'the father' (Lance Henrickson). Life on the island is hard for everyone, but more so for the insiders who are under constant attack from the outsiders. However the father and his people have a plan to construct a ship invisible to the warden's satellites, which they intend to use to escape his watchful eye and his island. They just need one last component to build their vessel. The good news is that Robbins has seen just the item they need on the island. The bad news is that it's in the possession of Walter Marek (Stuart Wilson), the leader of the outsiders. To earn their freedom, the insiders, along with Robbins, must stage one final defense against the forces of the outsiders. Can they pull it off with such limited resources? No Escape came to my attention through a friend who related it to another film that I'm looking forward to by the name of The Condemned. I was pleased to see that it stars not only Ray Liotta and Lance Henrickson, both of whom I quite like, but also Ernie Hudson. Also of note is Kevin Dillon, who plays a sort of sidekick to Liotta's character. This film is by no means great, but is worth a watch. Liotta puts in a solid performance that makes me wonder why he didn't become more of an action movie mainstay like Michael Biehn or Kurt Russell. Perhaps the best role of the film, however, was that of the main villain, Walter Marek. Stuart Wilson constantly walked the thin line between awesome and ridiculous in his portrayal of Marek, but I personally feel that he managed to stay for the most part on the side of awesome. His charismatic and plainly evil performance was the highlight of No Escape. There are many movies that I would recommend before this one, but if you have the chance, you should definitely check it out.

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