Tag Archives: action

First Love

4 Oct

‘First Love’: Boxer and dame are on the run through cartoonishly blood-slicked streets

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Takashi Miike, the Japanese auteur of such intimate torture ditties as “Audition” (1999) and “Ichi the Killer” (2001) and the Kurosawa-worthy swordplay of “13 Assassins” (2010), returns to his roots with “First Love,” which, while lacking the intimacy of his other works, delivers the anticipated cringe-worthy beatdowns and unfolds in a freer and more conventional fashion. Taking place almost exclusively at night, amid the seedier side of a neon-bathed cityscape, “First Love” borrows some from Tarantino’s gangster dramas as it centers around a taciturn boxer (Masataka Kubota) and a young woman haunted by ghosts and forced into prostitution (Sakurako Konishi), thrown together and sucked into a criminal underbelly of yakuza heavies, drug dealers and one super badass moll.

That boxer, Leo has his own ghosts – abandoned as a child, he’s recently learned he has a brain tumor. Yuri (Konishi), as a means for her handlers to hold her to her trade, is often hopped up on drugs that only expounds her frenetic paranoia; the specter only she can see comes charging at her in nothing but tighty-whities. Yes, “First Love” is that kind of of gonzo good WTF. It’s a deft professional jab by Leo that brings the the two together, but before they can pause to fall in love – because you know they should be together, no matter how hopeless and desperate their futures seem – bigger machinations rise up and engulf then. A midlevel enforcer named Kase (Shôta Sometani), seeking a greater slice of the action, hatches a plan to play his mafioso boss against a rival while mixing in a squad of corrupt cops. It’s a crapshoot that goes wildly astray. There’s little redeeming about Kase, though the fact that he thinks he’s smarter than he is helps make “First Love” such an enjoyable shit show of madness and mayhem.

Kubota, who also starred in Miike’s “13 Assassins,” carries the silent accidental hero part with aplomb as Konishi’s imperiled damsel dances about him, weaving in and out of bouts of hysteria. It’s great cinematic chemistry, but the real scene stealer here is Becky Rabone as Julie, the girlfriend of the gangster henchman who was Yuri’s protector/pimp. She’s pretty good with a blade, and if there’s not one around she’s just as happy to go hand-to-hand with a larger male counterpart, stomping his brains out once she’s got him down. Talk about a take-no-prisoners attitude (though the name Julie just feels wrong for such a luridly alluring incarnation): For most the film, she rolls through the streets sans pants or skirt, just blood-splattered stockings and stiletto heels. There’s one hilariously grim scene in which a gangster has his gun-wielding arm lopped off and tries to pry the the firearm away with his remaining hand, but his dismembered arm is clutching the pistol too tightly. (“Fist Love”?) It’s classic Miike, and sure to be an elating moment for fire-branded fans. “First Love” may be a bit of a changeup, but all the twisted, dark wit is in there and served up with a wry, bloody smile. Also too, not enough can be said about Nobuyasu Kita’s fine cinematography, which captures the rain-slicked, trash-strewn streets in vibrant neon splashes.

Atomic Blonde

2 Aug
Charlize Theron is a literal knockout in this fast-paced spy thriller

Action and intrigue abound in this hyper-stylized spy thriller that takes the former quite seriously, boasting some of the best fight choreography on screen in recent years and a car chase worthy of Baby Driver. It’s also violent as hell and makes no apologies as it punches its way through end-of-the-Cold War Berlin — on the eve of the Wall coming down — where a crucial “list” of British intel assets is up for grabs with the KGB, MI6, and other interested middlemen locked in a bloody game of chess to procure it.

The driving fear at British HQ is that if the list falls into Russian hands, it could extend the Cold War by decades, and while that might have factored mightily in Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel that the film’s based on, The Coldest City, it’s nothing more than a McGuffin here and a catalyst for Charlize Theron’s MI6 operative, Lorraine Broughton, to drop from one gonzo battle royale to the next — even a same-sex hookup in a night club bathroom ends at the barrel of a gun.

The film begins inauspiciously enough as a British agent with the list on his person is stalked through the streets of Berlin and taken out smash-bang style. We then catch up with Lorraine 10 days later in London rising naked out of a tub of ice and covered in bruises. The connection between the two events and the framework for the film becomes a jigsaw puzzle of slow reveals fed to us in flashback snippets as Lorraine’s debriefed by her MI6 higher up (Toby Jones, who seems made for the part) and a curmudgeonly CIA handler (John Goodman). Part of the fun here is drinking in Lorraine’s sultry resistance to their inquiry, which bears a certain familiarity to Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell — another can-do blonde under the thumb of authority — in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct. Continue reading

The Gunman

21 Mar

‘The Gunman’: Penn is almost mightier than weaknesses of misfiring action film

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Sean Penn jumps into the action genre – or that’s the tag everyone’s layering onto his involvement in “The Gunman.” In concept the film, a thinking person’s espionage thriller with a serious thespian at the fore and an international slant, has the bones of “A Most Wanted Man,” “The Constant Gardener” and even the Bourne films, but that’s as far the genetic similarities go. In the bigger kinetic rendering, the uneven pacing and seemingly smart twists that suddenly nosedive into cliché confine the film much the same way its uninspired title does: The obvious is floated as a banner that implies something more and deeper to come, but it never does.

032015i The GunmanPenn’s up for the role as a gun for hire, employed by a Blackwater type org that pulls the strings behind the soldiers of fortune in movies such as “Dogs of War.” His Jack Terrier (I kept thinking dog too) is buff, physically well oiled and ready for action at the drop of a pin. His only weaknesses are that he smokes and, while on assignment in the Congo, falls for an idealistic aid worker, Annie (a fetching Jasmine Trinca).

Given the film is directed by Pierre Morel, who steered Liam Neeson through much mayhem in “Taken,” you’d think Annie’s safety would be that catalyst for the gloves to come off, but the film (based on the 1981 novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette) is more concerned with corporations deploying operatives in third world hell-holes to tip the balance of power for profit. Annie serves mostly as a raw point between Jack and his handler Felix (a misused Javier Bardem) after an assassination of the Congo’s mining minister ripples across the years and continents. Continue reading

The Expendables 3

16 Aug

‘Expendables 3′: Bloated sequel shows they don’t make ‘em like they used to

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Ah, “The Expendables,” the low-fi, big (former-)star-fueled franchise that started as a amiable insider joke but with “The Expendables 3” has grown big and bloated – like many of its mothballed stars – and thrown aside its agility and sense of humor. The previous two installments, directed by creator Sylvester Stallone and Simon West, smartly ran spry at under two hours; here in the hands of relative newcomer Patrick Hughes and at more than two hours, the film is not only overlong and annoyingly stilted at times, but also, clearly long in the tooth.

081514 The Expendables 3Old-school old guys schooling buff newbies with plenty of tongue-in-cheek ha-has was the way of the first films. “Expendables 3” starts off that way, somewhere in a Baltic/Eastern Bloc country with Barney Ross (Stallone), the series quarterback of a covert military ops group, springing an old colleague (Wesley Snipes) amid great, witty barbs about “tax evasion” and “blades.” Then it’s onto Mogadishu, where Barney and crew go on a routine mission to stop an arms trade and get their asses handed to them. The fly in the ointment, and adding to the heavy list of new names, is Mel Gibson as Conrad Stonebanks, who’s as bad-assed as the whole Expendables crew and arguably the dark side of Gibson’s already certifiable Riggs persona from the “Lethal Weapon” franchise.

Realizing he might get old chums – Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham among the lot – killed going back after Stonebanks, Barney kicks off a youth movement and winds up with a series of generic 20-something hunks (Kellan Lutz of the “Twilight” series among them) and a woman named Luna (MMA fighter Ronda Rousey) who looks fetching enough in a red dress but can throw down with the best of the lads. Rousey isn’t much of an actress, but boy can she spin, flip and make the stunts look extra authentic. Of course she shows up most of the cast.  Continue reading