Are modern action movies too streamlined and family friendly? - PG-13 and CGI rant

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Every movie director, producer, and cast member wants to have butter on his/her bread. Sales matter. That's for sure. That being said, I'm a bit concerned about direction that action movies have taken on the past decade in the New Millennium.  I don't know about the rest, but I feel unenthusiastic about majority of the new releases. Why? Well, for starters I feel that directors nowadays streamline movies down too much. "What do you mean, like no plot, in action movie? Well you don't need that in action movie!". I'm not talking only about a plot, I'm also talking about streamlining in terms of making movie fit for audience of all ages (or, at least, wider selection of ages than before). I'm also talking about the fact that real stunts are pushed away, making way for cheap looking CGI effects and action sequences, which all tend to look the same nowadays. Not to mention the overly popular PG-13 rated super-hero movies - how about something totally different once in a while? Most of the new action movies leave me without taste, without impression of any kind. They are tasteless. Like eating a chicken salad without chicken.

Have you noticed the trend where new sequels to some old movie series, which started as "R-rated" (for no younger than 17 year old) movies, are now coming out as "PG-13"? For example "A Good Day To Die Hard" (2013) was rated PG-13, while original "Die Hard" (1988) was R-rated. Upcoming "Robocop" (2014) aims for PG-13, while the original "Robocop" (1987) was rated R. Original "The Terminator" (1984) and "Total Recall" (1990) were both rated R, while "Terminator: Salvation" (2009) and "Total Recall" (2012) were both PG-13. Just a few examples, but you can see the trend. It's certainly not a coincidence that high hitting action movies are coming out with lesser PG-13 rating more often than ever before.  I'm surprised to see that "Lethal Weapon 4" was actually tagged with R-rating, for it was much soften than the first one. "So? Less violence, so what, the spirit's still the same!" - no it's not, I disagree. It's not only amount of the blood in the movie, but also the topics that are involved in the movie. The aesthetics, upon which the movie is created. In other words, PG-13 rated movies will have less adult topics and violence, thus changing the tone completely.


(upcoming Robocop (2014) looks like a "Dare Devil 2".)

I'd call most of the modern action movie directors out on proposing mass audience, instead of driving on honest artistic vision of theirs. Yes - John Moore, José Padilha, Bryan Singer... even my old favorite Sam Raimi, recently. Avoiding adult topics and violence is some sort of a trend of "family-friendlying-down" movies for a level, where whole or almost whole family can watch it. But, dark real-life topics and high paced violent action was driving force in action movies previously, perhaps reaching it's pinnacle in the eighties. Avoiding those elements in hopes for wider audience and PG-13 rating will leave part of the action movie fans with bitter taste in their mouths. I'm sure that at some point we are getting tired of the excess supply of family-friendly PG-13 action films.

Another complaint of mine is the action itself. Or rather, the looks of it. Have you noticed that movies today lack really good/scary looking blood effects and gore? Few decades ago directors got creative, because amount of CGI-effects (computer generated imagery) was rather limited. Hand-made effects (hand crafted physically by man, instead of computer art) sometimes looked cheap (on their own way), but often also scary and brutal. Nowadays, action movies have forgotten pretty much the effects than can be physically made by man, and are replaced by CGI-effects.


(Terminator 1 (1984) eye scene. I'd take this over modern CGI generated scenes any day. I kid you not.)

The use of CGI has reached ridiculous level, where almost anything from blood to explosions, from a simple car to a full scene, is generated by computer programs and technology. CGI generated stunt doesn't look, and will never look as good as, for example, real stuntman driving a bike or flying a helicopter, not to mention more honest looking hand-made blood effects and explosions. Now bare in mind, that CGI  has it's upsides, and allows totally new dimensions of creative freedom for movie directors, just if they used it the right way.  I do accept some environments (such as backgrounds) to be envisioned and created by CGI, if they wouldn't otherwise be possible to be made. Modern movies just feed us too excessively with CGI effects and CGI-generated stunts, to the point it's ridiculous and looks clumsy. Just take a look at the zombie-like creatures (dark seekers) in "I Am Legend" (2007), for example.


(Some disastrously bad looking zombies in I Am Legend (2007). Not scary at all.)

Couldn't they just hire a few actors instead of computer-generating them? I don't want to feel like I'm staring a highly modern computer game, but a real movie with real actors (and real stuntmen). It's sort of funny to think, that modern movies are starting to look more like modern video games each day, and likewise, modern video games are starting to remind interactive movies. A pinnacle, where "hand-made" effects live in total harmony with CGI, in my opinion, is Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It looks fabulous, even today! I hope that we don't reach the day, when real stuntmen are not needed anymore, because by then, the action scenes will look like watching a video game cut-scene.

One more point of streamlining, in my opinion, is that modern action movie producers have mostly abandoned deliberate pacing and tension-building in the movie, as well as idea of tight plot. Sure, action movies generally never put too much emphasis on the plot (although there may be exceptions). Movies like Commando, Rambo, Hard Target and such, were always quite straight-forward action films. However, I feel that nowadays we are fed super-fast and extravagant action sequence with CGI stunts, one after another, without real taste, without building any tension in-between the sequences. I feel that modern action movie directors are downplaying us as viewers, like we couldn't handle any slower sequences in between the action at all nowadays. Like we, the first "energy-drink generation", weren't smart enough to handle little bit of a plot, or that we weren't patient enough to wait a few minutes for a tension to build up before the actual action.

Not only that, but I feel that many modern action movies, starting from older movie series such as Die Hard, now rated as PG-13, to newer movies such as Iron Man and several other "super-hero" films (totally over-produced "genre" in last years), have lost their touch of any realism in the action sequences. Although, as a short note, I must admit I liked newer Batman movies a little, as an exception. With CGI and hyper-fast computer-generated stunts, the modern action movies lack the feel of characters being flesh and blood. The stunts are way over-the-top, way too fast-paced, and look ridiculous. In the eighties, most of the "bad" or low budget action films, that still had some ballsy action, were actually enjoyable to watch, at least once. Such films would include: Blastfighter (1984) with Michael Sopkiw, Steel Dawn (1987) with Patrick Swayze, and  The Exterminator (1980) with Robert Ginty. Nowadays "bad" action films are just plain bad, and not even funny anymore. Take Catwoman (2004) with Halle Berry or Ultraviolet (2006) with Milla Jovovich, not to mention DOA: Dead Or Alive (2006), a fighting film with PG-13 rating, to give a few most horrible examples. Fast-paced action is usually good thing, but the more than that isn't always the better. I got one word for directors, "gravity". Of course, gravity can and should be exceeded to a certain point depending of the movie, but enough is enough (even in super-hero movies)...


(The Avengers (2012), involving a terrific cast. Sadly, superhero-movies are totally over-produced "genre" these days, and in my opinion over-rated, too.)

When every new action movie character from Batman to Alex Murphy and John McClane moves like a Spider-Man, I really start missing movie directors such as James Cameron an Ridley Scott, and  it's time to search through one's movie library for something older (or The Expendables!) - preferably more than a decade.

-www.crimeandactionmovies.com | Tane Norther



REVIEW: Escape From Alcatraz (1979, Don Siegel / C. Eastwood, P. McGoohan)

Sunday, 1 September 2013




Escape From Alcatraz is somewhat based (especially the events) on a true-story of a convict called Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood), who escaped from notorious prison of Alcatraz in 1962 with a few fellow convicts, but wasn't ever heard of afterwards. The so called "impossible-to-escape" prison of Alcatraz was located in an isolated small island, with no equipment to get cross the sea to mainland, but some suspect Morris succeeded, because his body was never found, while the others believe that he drowned. The case has remained a mystery and fascinated several people, including film makers, and musicians. Focusing on films, though, Alcatraz is also presented on a classic nineties action movie hit The Rock.

Escape From Alcatraz from 1979, however, was directed by old-school director Don Siegel, who had already directed movies as early as in 40s. Siegel had already worked with Clint Eastwood on films such as Dirty Harry (the original) and Two Mules For Sister Sara. Escape From Alcatraz was one of his last ones, and we can be only lucky he had time to make it.

If you expect this to be another action driven film such as "Dirty Harry in prison", or heavily realistic tied to the fact that it's based on "true story", you are probably going to be disappointed in the both scenarios (although less in the latter mentioned, as this movie is relatively 'retrospective' in terms of it's events and characters). Escape From Alcatraz is quite slow-paced movie, and doesn't feature much real action, yet it manages to be very suspenseful. Eastwood plays his role in his trademark-style as you would expect, except without the high pace featured in Dirty Harries and such: a lonewolf-type who doesn't talk too much, but when he does, it's certainly something important. A man who doesn't take crap from anyone, but doesn't like to get involved into fight before necessary. A man who can fight relatively good to defend himself. You've seen this role before by Eastwood. A rather grumpy and sarcastic, smart guy. Not sure how true it stays for the real persona of Morris, but it doesn't really matter. The happenings of the movie do follow the true story quite well, however.


(Arrival in to the scene)

If you expect an explosive beginning with high-speed chase or bank robbery, or anything like that, with a story build-up about the events leading into custody of Frank Morris, you'll be disappointed (I can't remember what Morris did to end up in the jail in the first place, but it's not relevant in this movie, anyway). The movie begins at the situation, where Frank Morris arrives into Alcatraz. A rather silent beginning, showing the guards leading him to the prison from the boat of arrival. No flashbacks from the past freedom or of the crime itself. The beginning makes it clear that this movie is about the presentation of, and life within, the prison, and about the escape plan of Morris, rather than about the crime itself. Prison life is presented with rather dark and serious tone, realistic even, with violent guards and prisoners nonexistent rights (although violence isn't often really shown fully in it's bloodiest form, per se, as the movie is Rated PG-13). They live their lives the same way every day, except for Morris, who's bound to escape.

The movie's split into two segments: firstly, Morris' arrival and adaptation to prison life, and secondly, planning and executing the escape plan. The pacing is rather smartly deliberate. While the first half of the movie is interesting, when the viewer can truly identify with Morris, who enters the prison without really knowing anyone (although, sense of realistic helplessness is reduced by Eastwood's take on Morris' persona with his regular tough-guy role), and will bump into other prisoners with different kind of personalities. A constantly suspicious, rather impassive, and disciplinary warden (Patrick McGoohan), who keeps constantly punishing the prisoners, revoking special rights granted to them. Doc (Robers Blossom), a lone and quiet painter. Charley Butts (Larry Hankin), a rather goofy lanky man, who stresses too much about everything. A black man called English (Paul Benjamin), a leader of the blacks in the prison, a tough but clever, thinking guy, who doesn't think much about Morris at first, but soon discovers he has found a another scareless man rather similar to himself, a new friend. A rather funny incident is the way English calls Morris "a boy" every time, but Morris gives the same back at the right time. It soon ends into sort of a "friendly" harassing, that grows into a friendship.


(Morris dares to approach English)

A biggest prison cliche in the film along with the ever-necessary "evil warden" is Wolf (Bruce M. Fisher). That stereotypical "big guy" who wants to boss a "new fish" around. After getting to know the more nice faces, Morris bumps into Wolf in the shower, a homosexual convict, who's about to find a new "friend". Wolf soon finds out that Morris isn't so keen to "drop the soap" in the shower, and will not take any threats too kindly, either. After a little brawl, both are sent to solitary prison cells for some time, despite the fact that Morris explains he only defended himself from an assault. Morris starts to see that he is trapped into prison with total injustice, and starts building an escape plan. This is backed up by warden revoking certain rights from the convicts, leading one to commit suicide.

The second segment of the movie is about the escape plan and execution. That's where the movie starts building up the heat and thrill! Morris finds out a "soft-spot" in his prison cell and starts to scout the possibilities to get out of Alcatraz all together. A plan that needs extensive scouting with the escape-route is almost suicidal in high security prison, where guards keep patrolling constantly, not giving much space to breath. To execute his plan, Morris has to ask some other convicts to co-operate with him. Luckily enough, some of his old friends, Anglin brothers, John (Fred Ward) and Clarence (Jack Thibeau), have just been transferred to Alcatraz. And for the fellas, who are looking long time inside the rock, possible escape sounds more than tempting, although Morris describes the chances to succeed as "thin". Charlie Butts also accompanies them, although it may not be a wise choice, for he doesn't have nerves of steel.


(Planning the escape with Anglin brothers)

(Once you've pissed Wolf off, you've pissed him off for life)

The second half of the film is really good slow-burning thriller the four prisoners planning and executing the escape under the eyes of suspicious guards and warden, a escape-plan running on thin ice, ready to break if any extra weight set on it. More heat is brought on, when an old friend, Wolf, gets out from the solitary cell, and takes sets his goal to finish off Morris, who cannot afford to get locked up for long in the middle of the plan. While the escape plan and "making the route clear" out from Alcatraz is very thrilling phase, the escape-day itself and the escape, could had been bit more action-packed. Also, there's no much dialogue at the phase. It may be realistic, but it could had been tad more entertaining. The ending comes quickly after the rather quiet escape, leaving the end-result totally open and mystery, realistically, as the case was never solved.

One more complaint: the darkest screens on the escape do "flicker" weirdly, and I don't know if it's in this particular Blu-Ray release, or in the original film. Light-levels vary very much on those scenes, being unstable. Every time more light is let in the scene, graininess reduces noticeable and picture sharpens up, while when light is reduced, the opposite happens. This happens in several scenes at the end-side of the movie. However, I'm pretty sure that overall, Blu-Ray release is update to DVD release in quality. There's healthy amount of grain (no losing detail by over softening), mostly, but sharpness of the image varies quite much between different scenes. Some look great while others acceptable for a Blu-Ray. But overall, very tolerable picture quality, though far from perfect (It's '79 so what would you expect?).

Conclusion

Escape From Alcatraz is a stylish, retrospective, slow-burning thriller, with smart, deliberate pacing. The dialogue is rather brief and clever, but only in the right places, and the movie is more about portrayal of the characters and their actions, as well as about presenting the escape plan itself - a piece of mysterious history. The scenery and shots do give impression that the movie didn't have that big budget, though, as scenery looks rather "generic" and realistic, rather than full of expensive props and special effects, but it certainly can represent a realistic prison well. Eastwood puts his own personal touch to his character Morris, although perhaps not realistic, we know he's entertaining in his regular role. This movie probably would had been too dry without a few generic prison-glitches, such as the evil warden and homosexual and violent convict Wolf, too. Yet the glitches are only a few. Siegel does well present Morris' early times in the prison, building up relations with the other convicts, and seeing brutality of the guards, while trying to find a way out. The escape preparations under guard surveillance and Wolf breathing to Morris' back is very suspenseful chapter in the movie. Only problem in this film is, that while realistic, it could had been slightly more flashy. Also, the beginning of the movie, which simply starts out as arrival to Alcatraz without almost any dialogue, and without showing how Morris ended up there in the first place, cuts off some important things, that could had build up and presented his character in better, more thrilling way. Same goes for the ending, which is quite brief, although understandable, due the fact, that Morris' body was never found and he was never seen again.


(How durable is this frame?)

An interesting movie, that stands test of time well, especially with good cast and realistic way of presentation. This movie was as suspenseful as the first time I saw it, although, it may not be the best choice for those seeking more flashy prison film with lot of action and prison glitches, or over-the-top characters. I give the movie "tight eight" bullets out of ten, rounded upwards.


The Good

  • Eastwood is entertaining
  • Realistic prison-set and story
  • Deliberate smart pacing of story works
  • Thrilling escape!
  • Friendship between Morris and English
  • Controversy with Wolf
  • Retrospective


The Bad

  • Scarce action
  • No take on the crime itself
  • Scenery and probs look to be a bit cheap end
  • Some picture quality problems
  • Limits of a retrospective film
  • Rated PG-13


8 Bullets out of 10

(One of the Eastwood's underrated films, not so explosive, but very suspense-building)
Buy Escape From Alcatraz as DVD disc from Amazon.com 

REVIEW: Hard To Kill (1990, Bruce Malmuth / S. Seagal, W. Sadler)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


  • Buy Hard To Kill as DVD disc from Amazon.com
  • Original Release: 1990
  • Director: Bruce Malmuth (Nighthawks)
  • Starring: Steven Seagal (Under Siege, Exit Wounds etc.), William Sadler (Die Hard 2, Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption etc.)
  • Also starring: Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science, Wrongfully Accused etc.), Branscombe Richmond (Renegade TV-series, Commando, Batman etc.)
  • Running Time: 95min
  • Rated: R
  • Reviewed format: Blu-Ray
  • Budget: $10 000 000 (est.)
  • Gross: $47 410 000 (USA)


Hard To Kill was released in 1990, a year after one of the most controversial 'love-or-hate' action star Steven Seagal had debuted in his first starred action movie called 'Nico', a nice little action movie to begin with. In Hard To Kill, the plot of the movie begins at year 1983.

Seagal plays a lone-wolf (surprise!) type hard-as-steel-cop Mason Storm, running a cover operation against senator Trent (W. Sadler), who's trying to eliminate his competitors with hired assassins, to ensure the win on re-election campaign. Storm (Seagal) is set to videotape a meeting at the local docks between senator Trent and some mobs for evidence that Trent is dirty. Storm succeeds to film the meeting and escape the scene silently.. well.. almost, with a quick brawl against one of the mobs. Afterall, what would a Seagal movie be without clashing with the mobs, even quickly, when they both end up on the same street?

Storm tries to call his partner Kevin O'Malley at the police station about the evidence tape, but ends up leaking the information to wrong people, local corrupt cops, who won't allow senator Trent's campaign be dragged into the mud. After the phone call, Mason Storm heads home for a nice romantic evening with his wife, without knowing that his identity is known by the crooked police officers, and the mobsters are about to pay not-so-friendly visit to his late night bedroom-party.

Few shotgun rounds and seven years later, in 1990, Storm recovers from seven-year-long coma. He soon finds out that his wife and son seem to be dead by the armed home invasion to his house, and that he's been on coma for years. Remembering, that he still has the evidence-tape hidden at somewhere, Storm realises that he needs to get out of the hospital rather quickly, for the corrupted cops are still after him after all these years, and they have just been notified about the coma victim waking up. While still powerless and weak, Storm doesn't manage to escape the hospital on his own, but the luck is on his side, as a nurse (Kelly LeBrock) who has warm feelings towards Storm, rescues him on the last second and takes him to a hidden place to recover his strength. Now Storm is training vigorously to get back in shape and lusts for a revenge...


(Seagal is not afraid of a shotgun, no sir)

Hard To Kill isn't quite your typical straight-forward Seagal movie where he just goes and kills everyone -- bam -- ending-credits. The movie contains just a bit more diversity and plot that there is to several other Seagal movies, especially those newer ones that seem to be lacking all of the good qualities that older Seagal movies have. I'm not a huge Seagal fan, personally. I think he has a few decently good movies, Under Siege being perhaps the best one, but Hard To Kill makes it in the Top5, if not even to Top3 best-of-Seagal-movies list.

Hard To Kill features rather typical avenge-death-of-your-family type of a plot. However, I don't think that I recall seeing Seagal often in very fragile state where he couldn't handle himself. You can find such sequence in Hard To Kill as Seagal wakes up from coma in the hospital and is unable to escape without the help of a witty nurse who rescues Seagal. The phasing and tempo of Hard To Kill is a bit exceptional due the plot and it's events, as in the beginning of the movie we see Seagal videotaping the mobsters, and then with very minimal effort of any violence escaping the scene. That sets quite weird tone to a Seagal-movie, which are often quite action packed with smashing and slashing (stealhy Seagal?). Sure, we see him soon after kicking butts of a shop-robbers, but then, Seagal gets his own butt kicked by the crooks invading his house and killing his wife.

A bit lacklustre beginning on the part of the action continues more weirdly after the home invasion, as Storm (Seagal) wakes up in the hospital being all helpless and powerless. I actually waited all the time Seagal just to jump up of the hospital bed and start kicking some ass, but that doesn't happen on this sequence of the film, not yet for a good while. Could this be the most "realistic" part of any movie done by Seagal so far?

A little bit more drama-type phase continues for a good while when Seagal, hidden by the nurse to a house far off the city, continues to build up his shape and strength, to be ready to seek revenge of his assaulters and dirty cops, not to mention senator Trent. This part is almost like a mixture of cheesy drama between Storm (Seagal) and the nurse (LeBrock) falling in love, and some Rocky Balboa-esque pre-match workout sessions. If just the nurse's name was Adrian and soundtrack featured Eye Of The Tiger, but luckily no, that would had been a bit too much! If Rocky ran up some steps and cheered on the top, Seagal conquers a small mountain by running it up all the way, Rocky-style. At least he doesn't raise his hands in the air on the top of the mountain and cheer like Rocky. Although, that could had been comedic.


(Dizzy Seagal waking up from coma, could this be almost realistic Seagal moment?)

But all-in-all, the first half of the movie with home invasion, getting out of coma, romance and training for shape do set the tone and meaning (cause of the revenge) finely for the the rest of the more action packed movie. At least this movie has the plot, but does it cut down the speed and action by too much? I suppose it's matter of taste.

It won't be until perhaps 1/2 movie gone, with a one decent fight and all that plot-grounding, before the attitude of Hard To Kill gets all action-packed and rough. Good thing is, that the movie doesn't really ever slow down after the more slow first half, and action movie fans get what they desire, if they haven't given up on the film and fell asleep already (though I hope they haven't!).

Conclusion

First off, I want to state that the Blu-Ray quality of the film was solidly satisfying. The image had enough of the original grain/noise left, which I personally like, grain noise contains detail. Yet minor details were noticeably sharper than what you would expect of DVD. Solid image quality.

About the movie...

Overall, I think Hard To Kill as a movie is entertaining, but slightly average. It's not your typical in-your-face Seagal movie, since it has different phasing and it has more plot to it. Seagal isn't, surprisingly, invulnerable all the time. I'm not actually sure whether the slower more drama-style beginning is a good or a bad thing for a Seagal starred movie? It's just a bit different. For a first half of the movie I certainly felt like the movie would be a bit letdown, but the pace picked up on the end half, exploding. Hard To Kill is like a medium-sized dynamite, but with overly long fuse. I always laugh at the name Mason Storm, it's to overly cheesy too. "I'll get you Storm!!".

Well, the plot about coma and revenge was pretty good, and it worked, sort of. I left with feeling, that the director Malmuth didn't quite know how to capture the plot very well, and what could had been great set of events in the beginning was now just average. I have to give credit to Seagal though on this one, as it's usually so stiff Seagal that makes the first slower half of the movie work nicely. Fight scenes, especially when the movie takes the pace, are very good! I'm sure that any action movie fans that prefer martial arts over the guns on the part of the action will be pleased to see Seagal break some bones. Only complaint would be a few parts where Seagal breaks some arms, and while action on his own part looks fine, the 'special effects' look quite amateurish, in a bad way (injuries).

(Kelly LeBrock, scene from 'Weird Science')

Rest of the cast does varying job. LeBrock is sexy as hell as a nurse (she looks like being spent too many hours under surgical equipment these days, though), and she can definitely hold her own as a 'female hero' of the film -- strong and smart, yet not so over-the-top that female heroes in nowadays films tend to be (overly powerful physically). A good old 80's style female hero, I could say. William Sadler also does good job a Senator Trent, with some solid funny acting. I especially liked his interpretation of "get lost" when he hears the bad news about Storm's return, while on a luxury hot tub with his hot date, when he tells the girl to beat it and empties his glass with a priceless look on his face. Sadly, Sadler's lines are quite a few, but he still does a solid side-kick role just like he's done several times on many different movies. Only complaint on the rest of the cast would be that Hard To Kill doesn't really contain any great anti-hero character, that could possess powers to match Seagal physically. Sadler's just man hiding behind his mobs with a little screen-time, but none of the mobs don't really stand out or build real tension and suspense between him and Storm. But then again, it's Seagal starred film, and on his films he often owns the mobsters with ease, so...

Hard To Kill left me with a bit undecided taste. Undecided, between if it's average or a good movie. It's got so weird tempo that it surprised me as a Seagal film. Plot idea is fine, but execution of it is just average. Seagal makes a very solid acting and fighting though. If you're not afraid to spend more drama-movie moments with Seagal (believe me it's not as horrible as it sounds, at least this time!) the first half of a movie, and want to see some of the Seagal's top moments on the action-department on the last half -- if you want a Seagal movie with fair amount of plot and good fighting, the go and get Hard To Kill! It's a mixed bag that could had topped Under Siege if the director did slightly better job, but it's still quite solid! Don't expect too violent gore though. One of the better Seagal movies for action movie fans, coming close to a level of Hard Target by Van Damme for example, in comparison.

This movie packs up action (amount) worth of 6/10 and gore & violence worth of 5/10. That's due several slower moments in the movie, and solid amount of fighting, which however, isn't so bloody and gruesome. One line to remember:

Mason Storm: This is for my wife. Fuck you and die!


The Good

  • Martial arts
  • One of Seagal's better films
  • Sexy LeBrock
  • William Sadler's funny
  • Plot (as in idea)


The Bad

  • Cheap effects (especially broken arm)
  • No memorable mobs with much screen-time
  • Weird tempo


6 Bullets out of 10

(Mixed bag with some kick, and one of the Seagal's best)
Buy Hard To Kill as DVD disc from Amazon.com

REVIEW: Beyond The Law (1993, Larry Ferguson / C. Sheen, M. Madsen)

Tuesday, 26 March 2013





Prologue

Ahh, Beyond The Law, one of the less known movies of early 90s that was one of my favourites out of that era when I was a teenager. I finally managed to pick up this movie in DVD format quite cheap and have been eager to see the movie for a while, since last time I saw this was, what, fifteen years ago? At least.

Beyond The Law holds quite 80s-flavored vibe within, presenting long asphalt roads in beautiful desert-filled environments, motorbike gangs, leather jackets, guns and drugs. But this movie is not quite as speedy as it sounds. Beyond The Law can't be called an action movie exactly. As much as the setting of the movie screams for high speed action sequences, the movie is more of an crime/drama-type movie with some comedy and no-guts-no-glory-attitude thrown in. But mostly, the very vibe of it is quite dark and serious, drama-like. The movie is based on true story, but quite loosely.

Beyond The Law is being starred no than Charlie Sheen, who finally picks up a bit more serious-toned, gutsy role after his comedic run on previous roles in Hot Shots! and The Rookie. Sheen plays a police officer who goes undercover to bust an infamous motorcycle gang for guns and drugs. Other stars feature Michael Madsen as motorbike-gang leader "Blood", Courtney B. Vance as agent who hires "Dan" for undercover work, sexy Linda Fiorentino as a photographer who makes a document of Blood's gang, and Leon Rippy as "Virgil", a nut and goofy mechanic who introduces "Dan" into motorbikes and gangs.

Plot

Sheen plays Daniel "Dan" Saxon, a police officer, who wrestles with nightmares and trauma of his childhood. Dan's uncle was a police officer too, and his mother was of native blood. Therefore his uncle used to lock Dan up in a cellar and beat him up for years while handcuffed, leading Dan eventually to steal a gun and shoot his own uncle. Due his painful memories, Dan has grown up hot-headed and short-tempered man. 

When he gets fired from police due brawl between him and his commanding officer, he is offered another chance to work for police force as an undercover agent. Dan's new task is to bust local gun- and drug-dealers. After hesitation, Dan agrees the job. He meets a guy, biker named "Virgil" in a bar, who has a dream to become a deputy sheriff, and after Dan naming him such, he agrees to teach Dan thing or two about local motorbike-gangs and motorbikes.

Soon after Dan learns that the biggest drug- and gun-markets are running wild within local motorbike gangs. Assigned to bust one of such gangs, Dan comes up with false identity and personality and goes to infiltrate a local motorbike-gang called "The Jackals"  (lead by "Blood" starring Madsento stop gun and drug business, introducing himself as "Sid" from now on. After getting himself sucked too deep into the gang's criminal business and becoming some sort of friends with gang-leader "Blood", Dan who is already struggling with his childhood trauma and hatred towards police, becomes hesitant to turn Blood and The Jackals in. Who are the real friends of his now?

Review

When I was a teenager, this movie was one of my favorites at the time, which I recorded into VHS when it aired on television, and watched the movie over and over several times. I can see why. There's rock'n'roll, motorbikes, some tough attitude (could had been pushed even more far), few but clever parts of comedy, and nice desert views.


Lets start with the image quality, however. This version is nowhere near a "DVD standard" that you would expect from a DVD-movie. Image is even slightly pixelated in some scenes that's clearly visible with my 42" regular television,  and it's overly soft and blurry too. It's not totally bad, but it sure as hell doesn't look like something standard that could be cranked out with DVD from a movie from 1993. Was the original movie this bad image-quality-wise too, or is it just this DVD-version? However, it's still watchable, but surprisingly blurry. Also Finnish version was cut to 97minutes. Not sure what they cut out here, as I cannot remember (hopefully not much of the best parts!).

Charlie Sheen plays Dan Saxon and his fake-personality "Sid" very well. I can only think quickly one role that I remember, where he acted even more better, and that was in Platoon. The "childhood-trauma" of Dan does make sense, but it perhaps contains too little underlay. The trauma could had been used more effectively, and it could had played perhaps bit more large part. It had more potential to Sheen's character than how much was used. 

Sheen plays hot-headed undercover officer "Dan" very well, and it's enjoyable ride to see him adapt his undercover-role of a tough motorcycle-man, while being mentored by a nut mechanic called "Virgil". Dan starts to struggle between the line of his two personalities: his own as a cop, and his fake-personality as a motorbike-gang member called "Sid". Being constantly demanded to act respectably towards the two, his supervisor, agent Convey Price, and his new friends in "The Jackals" keeps things interesting all the way until the end of the movie, as Dan tries to hang on with the both of the parties, who tear him into two morally different directions. 

Madsen also plays "Blood" enjoyably well, certainly much better than in the much newer "Hell Ride" where he played a bit similar role. Well, Madsen always almost plays this sort of a though-guy. If you've seen his role once, you know what to expect. Well, at least in Beyond The Law it works. Madsen is calm, but insane and evil similarly. He could kill you just like that, smoke a cigarette, and walk away. As a gang-leader his quite believable.

But perhaps even more shining star is Leon Rippy as that goofy and nut mechanic "Virgil", who introduces Dan into the world of gangs and motorbikes, but then realises that the going gets too tough, and he isn't enough of a bad-ass himself after all. Lets just also add that Linda Fiorentino is quite sexy in the movie with her long legs and wicked smile.

The plot in Beyond The Law is very enjoyable, although what shines the most is bad-ass setting of the movie that almost screams for "cult" with it's bikes, guns, and the endless desert. The setting and Sheen's more thoughtful yet hot-headed role-play are truly quite memorable. Although the setting is quite dark, the vibes in the movie are really more "uplifting". This is not your violent movie number one, where motorbike gang brutality is shown realistically per se. Not, even though some gutsy scenes included. The style actually works great in Beyond The Law, and doesn't leave me complaining for more violence. The movie is more like relaxing ride than hectic adrenaline rush, with some great scenes to laugh at and it works like charm. Beyond The Law is more attitude, and how far it can take you within the motorbike gang hierarchy, than about actually showing the gruesome deeds done by the members.

As much as I love the plot about a trauma-driven police officer going for undercover work in the world of motorbike-gangs, so deep that he actually starts to forget who he really was, I think that the movie falls a bit short on it's underlay-work with the plot. Plot's idea is great, but it should had been expanded! Movie is just a bit short in terms of running time, because I feel that there's a HUGE potential in Beyond The Law that could-had-been, and partly it was left unused by shortening/cutting the plot down from it's potential length. Still, the attitude of the movie and Sheen's acting as well as the fantastic setting makes this movie very enjoyable.

Beyond The Law deserves more recognition than it got. It has all elements to make a true classic, but it falls a bit short on plot underlay and cut length making now "only" a good movie. The movie mixes well darker more thoughtful drama-like side of things with uplifting feeling of good old 80s-style biker-gangs, balls, and some gutsy comedy. It's not a violent way "gutsy" movie, but more like attitude based way. Beyond The Law comes with a few flaws but leaves you wanting more. Recommended!



The Good
  • Sheen's memorable role
  • Bikes, guts, and rock'n'roll
  • Desert-setting is beautiful
  • Dark, thoughful, yet uplifting plot


The Bad




  • Falls a bit short on length
  • Unused potential is huge
  • Bad image-quality (at least reviewed version)


6 Bullets out of 10

(memorable and fun even with unfilled potential)
Buy Beyond The Law as DVD disc from Amazon.com

REVIEW: Dredd 3D (2012, Pete Travis / K. Urban, O. Thirlby)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


  • Original Release: 2012
  • Director:  Pete Travis (Endgame etc.)
  • Starring: Karl Urban (Doom, Red, Priest etc.), Olivia Thirlby (Being Flynn)
  • Running Time: 95min
  • Rated: R
  • Reviewed format: Blu-Ray (3D)
  • Budget: $50,000,000
  • Gross: $13,401,683 (USA, 26 October 2012)
  • Buy DREDD 3D as Blu-Ray+DVD disc from Amazon.com

Prologue

Dredd 3D is based on Judge Dredd comics. As I'm not too familiar with original comics, I won't be drawing comparison on how well this movie succeeds to adapt their spirit, but rather rate and review this movie as a stand-alone film. The future America is one big wasteland and within is located one cradle of violence, "Mega-City", ranging from Boston to Washington DC. When criminals are bursting out and violence is reigning, it's time to call "judges" to take a hold of situation! Judges are the future police, law enforcement of the toughest kind.

I ended up watching this movie as my brother had bought it and suggested that we'd finally try a movie with my "3D-television", that would be designed and made for 3D. Those movies have been quite rarely made and released so far, of which some include Piranha 3D, Saw 3D, and Conan 3D. Saw's 3D adaptation was a big disappointment. Not so because of the 3D technology, but because the plot and movie stunk. Therefore I did not have high expectations for another movie made for 3D technology, especially since it was a recreation of an old classic, "Judge Dredd", starring none else than Sylvester Stallone. Not that the old one was actually one of Stallone's best movies, but at least it had it's share of good laughs and action.

This day we had few beers and some sauna, and after that it was time for the new "Dredd". So we threw the movie into Samsung's Blu-Ray -drive and turned 3D mode on. The 3D -glasses of LG's HD-TV were quite comfortable. And after all, I had used them a few times previously.  I wasn't in the mood for very complex movie anyway, and Dredd handled the job of quite brainless action-piece rather fine.

Plot

Dredd is a simple movie by it's plot. Nothing too fancy about it. In short. Judge Dredd ends up investigating case about a new drug called "Slo-Mo". Tracks lead to a 200-level slum tower called "Peach Trees", where suspected drug-lord Madeline Madrigal alias "Ma-Ma" produces the drug and leads his gang. Ma-Ma executes mercilessly rogue drug dealers skinning them pale and infusing the with Slo-Mo, then throwing them down from the top-floor to the bottom level of the tower.

A rookie law enforcement officer called Cassandra Anderson is ordered to help Dredd with the mission in Peach Trees, which forms sort of rookie-veteran controversy between Dredd and Anderson, as Anderson keeps freezing in tough situations and messes things up time to time. This works okay, but doesn't add anything too incredible to the movie's plot. We also learn that rookie Anderson possesses helpful skills after all, as she can read and enter into peoples mind to find about their thoughts. She's some sort of a psychic.

While investigating Peach Trees slum tower Dredd and Anderson find a guy named Kay, who is revealed by Anderson's mind-reading skills to be one of the men carrying out rogue drug dealers executions for Ma-Ma. Kay is arrested and when Judges try to get him out of the tower, Ma-Ma becomes aware of their plans and decides to seal every door and window of the tower by using the towers blast shields under the pretence of a security test to prevent Judges from getting out of "her slum". She then enforces every slum citizen, mostly thugs and scum, to chase down and kill the Judges.

And this is the time when Dredd 3D takes it's pace and never really slows down. Dredd and Anderson are out to get Ma-Ma through his several thugs and bodyguards since they have no way out really either. Later in the movie they will face corrupt Judges bribed by Ma-Ma, and their arrested hostage Kay breaks free disarming rookie Anderson, but when trying to shoot Anderson with her pistol, the gun is triggered with DNA scanner that does not recognise Kay as the owner of the weapon and blows his hand off. That's one of the more memorable events in the movie.

Review

Dredd's approach to action is perhaps bit more old-school and low-budget style and camera angles than in many other newer action movies. There isn't many of those highly detailed isometric CGI (computer generated imaginary) views in the movie, but rather many cheaper looking close-shots and close quarters fighting scenes. This works quite well for Dredd, which creates it's atmosphere by hectic fight scenes and quite brutal violence. Plot could had been expanded a little more tough, since the movie is now just a brainless action film taking place within one location only (Peach Trees tower) that repeats the samey looking themes and rooms as it's shooting place for the scenes. Nevertheless, it's action is quite enough entertaining for that one drunken Saturday evening with your friends.

If you're looking for a movie with intelligent plot that builds up the tension as the movies goes on, forget Dredd. Dredd's tension comes from it's action, not from the plot. I actually felt like plot was quite meaningless in the movie, and just an excuse for some action scenes. Character backgrounds and controversy between Dredd and Ma-Ma, or relationship between Anderson and Dredd could had been built up with more time and care. Now it feels a bit too much like characters are thrown into middle of action without really building up their backgrounds. But, action itself can hold it's own. I give Dredd that much.

3D technology was taken into consideration quite nicely, and several scenes of the movie were obviously made with the technology in mind. While in most scenes 3D visuals were easily recognisable, there were many of the scenes where they really stood out nicely. All the "slow-motion" sequences with 3D technology looked great, like breaking glass in slow-motion and such. Dredd mixed nicely bit more old-school style closeup shots rather than isometric, with fine usage of 3D visuals.

Acting in the movie was decent but nothing too memorable. Karl Urban, also known of Doom (the movie), plays Dredd, well, averagely. He does his job of filling up the actor's shoes for the main character but never really stands out. And since he's wearing the mask all the time, there's no much emotion to be seen of him at any point anyway. He's a bit like Stallone in Dredd, but just not as funny, though he comes close in toughness. Olivia Thirlby also does decent job as rookie Cassandra Anderson with psychic skills, and looks quite pretty too. Little complaint goes for Lena Headey as Ma-Ma. She isn't close as tough main anti-hero that this movie would had needed. She looks more like an "emo-girl" than a tough drug lord and remains totally unmemorable.

Summary

Overall, Dredd 3D is quite average action movie. Plot doesn't give much joy, but doesn't really stink either. It's just there so that we can have a bit of action. Action? Well action sequences are enjoyable and violent, driving force of this movie. 3D technology is used well and scenes that take most out of the technology are enjoyable to watch even in home theater with your own 3D television. Nothing too spectacular, but enjoyable addition to Dredd nevertheless. Actors remain bit faceless throughout the movie but do decent job, except forgettable Headey as Ma-Ma. As negative thing there's not enough emphasize on character backgrounds and relationships. The movie feels a bit like one very long action sequence (no plot diversity, but is it bad?). Also bit more rough/dark comedy would had been nice addition in my opinion. One more thing that I didn't discuss yet is that the movie is a bit short, only 95minutes, but then again what would you expect from a bit thin plot?

A modern era action-movie which nods slightly towards more old-school action films in terms of filming-style and adds some scenes designed for 3D era on top of that. Dredd is fun to watch once if you don't set your hopes too high, and bit of a brainless violent action in this futuristic slum-shooter is enough to satisfy your adrenaline needs for an evening. Don't expect too memorable one-liners and scenes though.

The Good

  • Brutal action and violence
  • Filming style fits well
  • 3D visuals are nice when used


The Bad

  • Too thin plot and it's build-up
  • Headey as Ma-Ma
  • A bit short
  • Bit repetitive scenes and locations (Peach Trees)


5 Bullets out of 10

("about average, enjoyable for what it is")
Buy DREDD 3D as Blu-Ray+DVD disc from Amazon.com