The Shelf Is Half Full

An optimistic geek's blog on comic books, movies and professional wrestling.

Archive for the category “Action Films”

New On The Shelf – Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a 2015 action-comedy film based on the series of comic books The Secret Service by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar. It is directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, with Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson and Mark Hamill in supporting roles. The film is both a love letter to old James Bond films and a parody of them; the tone of the film is generally over-the-top and comical, thought it does have a few moments with some effective pathos. But mostly it’s just a fun time at the movies; violent, crass, utterly ridiculous, but mostly just fun.

kingsman

The bulk of Kingman’s plot centers on the recruitment and training of Eggsy by Harry Hart (Firth), a secret agent who goes by the name of “Galahad” in the secret service known as Kingsman. Eggsy is the son of a former Kingsman who was killed on a mission with Hart, shown at the beginning of the film. In the modern day, he is little more than a street punk who is unlikely to go anywhere except for jail (or the morgue) until he calls in a favor from Kingsman as a tribute for his father’s death. After some convincing, Hart convinces him to try his hand at becoming a member of the Kingsman. He is one of several hopefuls that will be replacing Lancelot, an agent who was recently killed in action.

While Eggsy does his training, Galahad picks up where Lancelot left off, following a trail that leads to philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Valentine believes that humans are killing the planet and is looking to build more moral and financial support for a plan that will be extremely harmful to the human race, but hopefully save the planet. With a trademark lisp and a hatred of blood and gore, Valentine is a quirky megalomaniac villain who definitely feels at home in a movie that spoofs so many tropes from spy movies. He also has a female bodyguard named Gazelle whose feet have been replaced by springboard razor blades. In case you hadn’t picked up on the tone of this movie yet.

Valentine and Gazelle

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a movie that I would consider more “good” than “great”, and there’s nothing wrong simply being a good movie. For me, the good far outweighs the bad; there is a lot of good acting here, the action is well shot and memorable, the film’s humor works more often than not, it has some moments with legitimate tension and emotion. The mentor-student relationship between Harry and Eggsy is one of the better takes on this trope I’ve seen in a while; they have good on-screen chemistry and I found it easy to get emotionally invested in that bond. Colin Firth is an actor I have a great deal of respect for, and it was cool to see him thrive in the role of an action star, something he was definitely unproven in.

Eggsy is a very good archetypal character, someone who is living in a bad situation where nothing seems to go right for him; he’s got a lot of edge to him but it’s also obvious that he cares about his mother and his friends. That loyalty, his willingness to fight, and a desire to achieve greatness makes him a hero that is capable of growing; he feels like a completely different character at the start and ending of this film, but not unnaturally so. Taron Egerton is definitely an actor I’ll be keeping an eye on from now on. Similarly, Sophie Cookson was highly entertaining as Roxy Morton, Eggsy’s friend and primary competition for the role of the new Lancelot. I want to see more of her.

Recruits

Something I do want to address, while being careful not to spoil, is a joke at the end that has generated some controversy among viewers. Being a tribute to and parody of James Bond films, it’s no surprise that sexual conquest is brought up in the movie. Women always threw themselves at Bond, and something similar happens in this film. My view on it is this; people who are offended by a crass joke after two hours of over the top violence and warped humor clearly are in the wrong movie. Secondly, compare the way the male and female characters act in this film compared to how James Bond interacts with say, Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and try to tell me with a straight face that Kingsman’s joke is more sexist.

There’s also a brilliant subversion of “gentleman spy seduces a woman” earlier in the film, and Roxy herself is a character that is never treated as anything less than equal to her peers. I can’t recall a single camera shot that treated her as sexual object, and that’s a good thing.

Overall, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fun and solid bit of escapism that I would recommend to fans of the spy genre, fans of good action, and those who enjoy campy and over the top humor. It’s not a movie for everyone, but I think the target audience will find a lot to enjoy.

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Always On My Shelf – Casino Royale

I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road a second time earlier today and I feel confident in saying that it’s the best action movie to come out in years. Pure action films have rarely ever been among my favorites; I’m more of a character guy and sometimes that isn’t given proper focus in action films, so I find myself not caring about the action involved. However, I have gradually started to develop an appreciation for the artistry behind a good action film; how they are shot, how the stories are told, how characters are developed without sacrificing the action, etc. The first time I sat down with an action film to truly study this was in the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale is directed by Martin Campbell and stars Daniel Craig as James Bond, his debut playing the character. I didn’t play a lot of attention when this movie came out in theaters because I just didn’t have a lot of interest at the time, but it has since become one of my favorite “popcorn flicks”; a movie to throw on when I just want to relax and have a good time without having my intelligence insulted. The film has some spectacular action scenes; the parkour chase and the airport scene are the ones that always stick with me because of their energy and tension, but there are other good scenes throughout. However, Casino Royale also does well at the quieter aspects of the James Bond franchise: a cerebral villain and a love interest that actually feels fully realized.

La Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson) is the primary villain and he and Bond play a lot of mental chess with each other, especially at the Texas Hold’em poker game that dominates most of the second half of this movie. Chiffre is a great character because he is feeling pressure from those behind the scenes and it is really cool to see such a desperate antagonist whose motivation is completely understandable. He looks like he never sleeps and may snap at any moment, which makes him both vulnerable and scary.

CASINO ROYALE

James Bond’s status as a sex symbol is at least as important to the appeal of his character as his job of being a super spy action star. Women have always thrown themselves at him throughout the franchise’s fifty year history, but I don’t think any of them hold a candle to Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green). Though she doesn’t appear until about a third of the way into the movie, she instantly makes an impression with her verbal jousting match against James on the plane, where they analyze each other based on first impressions. Vesper’s personality is well established and she doesn’t just fall into Bond’s lap, showing considerable reluctance to even pretend to be romantically involved with him.

Of course, as the film develops Bond ends up saving Eva on a few occasions, but it’s a scene where they have survived a near fatal run in with assassins that really sets the tone for their relationship and for this era of Bond films. As Vesper sits in the shower visibly shaken and trying to clean the blood off of her, Bond moves in to comfort her, showing a tenderness and compassion that is unusual for the character. James Bond has historically shown little regard for anyone, so to see him be kind to someone makes him more human and thus more interesting. In many ways, this movie is a deconstruction of the James Bond character, and this romance is no small part of that.

Vesper

And that brings me to what is probably this film’s greatest aspect: Daniel Craig as James Bond. I remember seeing trailers for Casino Royale and being surprised at who they had cast in the role. Bond to me was the dashing 1990’s action hero Pierce Brosnan and the suave, classically handsome Sean Connery from old Bond films that occasionally showed up on television. Craig seemed to just be a little too rugged for the role in my eyes; of course I hadn’t seen the man smile in any of the action-filled trailers and didn’t realize that he’s perfectly capable of making hearts melt. Ironically, Craig is now considered by many fans of the series to be the very best James Bond, or at least one of the best.

The reasons for this are two fold; one is the aforementioned vulnerability that he showcases. He is willing to show a more human side to the character and isn’t always calm, cool and collected. He shows that he’s capable of caring about another person, that he feels fear and can be selfless and even have his heart broken. This makes the audience connect to him a little more and we don’t just see him as some idealized symbol of masculinity. Sean Connery’s Bond was a TV character, but Craig’s Bond feels like a real person.

Shower

And on the other side of the coin, Daniel Craig is also the roughest, most realistic portrayal of James Bond to date. There’s a ferocity in his eyes during action scenes that is just endlessly more compelling that the unshakable grins of most other actors who have played the role. While Timothy Dalton showed that it was possible to do a harder, tougher Bond, Craig was able to take those aspects and amplify them while still keeping the charm and humor that have become synonymous with the character. This allows the grittier action and more serious style of Craig’s films to stand out in the franchise without feeling completely out of place.

Casino Royale is my favorite James Bond film to date because it was the one that made me finally connect with the character. While I enjoy other Bond films (Goldfinger and Skyfall being the other two standouts for me), this is the one that resonates with me most. I love Daniel Craig in the role and I hope that Spectre is far from the last time we see him play the character. For me, he is James Bond.

Bond

The Top Twelve – Reasons To See “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Mad Max: Fury Road is a 2015 post-apocalyptic action film directed by George Miller, the fourth film in his “Mad Max” series of films. Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as the titular hero, and also stars Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hault as main characters Imperator Furiosa and Nux. It is also my favorite movie of 2015 so far and the best action movie I have seen in years. And if you haven’t had a chance to see it and are apprehensive about doing so, I have compiled an organized argument of every major reason to see this awesome movie.

Miller

#12. George Miller Put 30 Years of Passion Into Making This Movie

Despite being the fourth movie in a series, Fury Road feels remarkably fresh because the last time audiences saw Max Rockatansky was three decades ago. Mad MaxThe Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome are more like cult favorites among action movie fans. My point is that this isn’t a rushed product put out to capitalize on a hot property; fifteen years passed before Miller even considered making another Mad Max story, and a series of problems kept this on the backburner for a long time. Miller had to find a new actor to replace an older (and less popular) Mel Gibson and get funding behind it. There is no reason anybody would go through that period of time without giving up unless it was an absolute passion project.

Nathan

#11. Every Single Character Is Memorable

Whether it’s the excellent costuming and even better makeup that make an impression, or a memorable bit of dialogue or just a guy playing an electric guitar with flames shooting out of it, every single character has something about them that sticks with viewers. Many of these characters border on being savage monsters, yet still have moments where the audience is able to feel sympathy for them. That guy up there played by former pro wrestler Nathan Jones? He has a heartbreaking scene lamenting the loss of his sibling. He’s a horrible villain the rest of the movie, but I still felt bad for him here. There are no boring, bland faces to be seen in this film. When every moment of a movie can stick with you, no matter how small, it’s something special.

Western

#10. It’s a Post-Apocalyptic Western/Action Blockbuster/Art Film

This movie has elements of several different genres, most heavily classic Westerns. We’ve got a hardened hero in a harsh environment that we know very little about. The plot focuses on him helping innocent civilians transport precious cargo on a road where everyone is trying to steal it; a post-apocalyptic caravan heist. It also is unafraid to be “B Movie”, an action film that is certainly indulgent that runs on “Rule of Cool”: it assaults your senses in the best way possible. And surprisingly, it actually is an “art film”, a movie that is made to appeal to serious movie analysts. It doesn’t spoon feed plot details to the audience, it lets the scenery and lighting tell the emotions of the characters. It’s not Under The Skin by any stretch but it’s definitely a film made for students of the art form.

Immortan Joe

#9. Immortan Joe Is A Spectacular Villain

I love this guy. I am a huge fan of villains in general and love really strong antagonists; Immortan Joe is the best new bad guy I’ve seen in a movie since Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. He has a great introduction where he is shown to be vulnerable yet feared and even worshiped by the people he is leading; it’s like Darth Vader without any of the redeeming qualities. This mask is a brilliant prop, and Hugh Keyes-Byrne is able to do a lot of acting with just his voice and his eyes. He has spectacular one-liners and is just utterly unlikable and for that I love him.

Action

#8. George Miller and John Seale Know How to Shoot Action

If you’re one of those people who is tired of seeing poorly choreographed and terribly shot action scenes in movies, you will adore this film. The cinematography in this film is absolutely incredible; wide shots clearly capture all of the action, all of the characters are visually distinct so we can tell what is going on, and the action is creative and exciting throughout. Most of it is also practical stunt work; there are real people doing these insane action scenes with real props on real sets and that just makes the film work so much better than CGI does. George Miller’s direction is key here, but John Seale’s cinematography cannot be downplayed either.

Color

#7. It’s the Brightest, Most Colorful Post-Apocalyptic Setting Ever

Post-apocalyptic films and TV shows are nothing new, and they are usually appropriately bleak and harsh. Mad Max: Fury Road is no exception, but George Miller understands that you don’t need a dark, muted color palette to have a harsh, gritty atmosphere. The blue sky and yellow deserts work perfectly well in getting across the idea that this world is hostile, and allow the greys, browns, whites and blacks of the characters and vehicles to stand out. When some other color like the occasional green of vegetation or the orange-red flames from explosions show up, they stick out brilliantly. The film just looks gorgeous.

Quiet

#6. Dialogue is Both Minimal and Memorable

Another key element borrowed from Westerns is the way dialogue is handled in this movie. There are long stretches where nothing is spoken, allowing for the action scenes to tell the story or for the actors to use their body language to show what our characters are going through. One of my favorite scenes is when Max and Furiosa first meet each other; it’s an incredibly tense situation as they don’t know if they can trust each other but are desperate to survive. There is very little dialogue between the characters in this set and yet there is a lot told to the audience by how they silently interact with each other. Another key element in the script is that the villains are more talkative and loudly scream their lines; they are more like savage beasts than humans. Conversely, the heroes have a more restrained, weary quality to their voice, as they are victims of the world. It’s a brilliant but subtle way of helping distinguish the characters.

Adrenaline

#5. Two Hours of Adrenaline-Fueled Action

This movie is just an incredible ride from beginning to end. The action scenes are plentiful but varied; they are filled with nail-biting tension and insanely cool ideas. I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun watching a movie, or having the kind of urgency to go back to the theater to see the same movie again as I do now. Movies like this are why people go to a movie; to lose themselves in a world for two hours and be absolutely enthralled the entire time. If you want to go to the theater to have a good time, see this movie.

Max

#4. Max Rockatansky is a Vulnerable Hero

The worst thing an action film can do to the audience is have a character who is invincible. Yes, an action hero has to be capable of pulling off incredible feats and be able to deal with pain. But they have to feel pain in order for us to empathize with them and believe in their physical and mental toughness. Max Rockatansky is extremely vulnerable in this film, getting captured in the opening scene, being tortured and then enslaved. He also is emotionally vulnerable, haunted by survivor’s guilt and clearly having problems with trusting people or even empathizing with them. Not because he’s a bad person, but because he’s trying to survive and has to look out for himself. Max suffers, but he also triumphs; he is a perfect action hero.

Furiosa

#3. Charlize Theron is Brilliant as Imperator Furiosa

While the title is Mad Max: Fury Road and Tom Hardy is excellent as the titular lead, Charlize Theron is the one who steals the show. Imperator Furiosa is the one driving the plot; she orchestrates a plan to rescue Immortan Joe’s slave wives from their life of servitude and carries it out to the best of her ability. She shows savvy and determination, toughness and passion; she’s just a great character all around. Theron gives a restrained performance that pulls the viewer in, and that only makes the moments where she breaks down even more powerful. She is one of the absolute best female protagonists in any action movie I can recall, which brings me to another key point about this movie.

Women

#2. Women Are Treated With Respect By The Filmmakers 

Mad Max: Fury Road is a violent, gritty action film designed to appeal to a predominantly male audience. It is set in a world where women have absolutely no freedom or rights, and are treated more like cattle than people. Older women have their breast milk harvested to feed Immortan Joe’s war boys. The younger woman are slave wives, called “Breeders” explicitly throughout the film to emphasize this point; these women are forced to have sex and produce children by Immortan Joe. One would think that a world so hostile to women would be the last movie that one could describe as “feminist”. Yet while the world treats women as objects, the script, the director, and the camera work does not. There are at least eight major female characters in this movie, each with a distinct personality. While they don’t always agree with each other, they are all trying to help each other.

And despite the fact that five of them are in very minimal clothing and one of them has a scene where she is fully naked, the women are never shot in a way that seems exploitative. There is a scene with five half-naked women and a water hose and it doesn’t feel pornographic in the least. That’s a tremendous feat and a tribute to the script and the way these women are shot. George Miller is not trying to titillate the male audience with sexual objectification; this is a movie about women who are treated as property fighting for their freedom.  It’s refreshing to see a movie that is so obviously designed for a male audience also be respectful of female characters and promote a message of gender equality. And it’s a smart business move too; women are far more likely to enjoy a movie where they don’t see women treated as toys for the men. As the girls say on more than one occasion, “We are not things!”

Survival

#1. The Themes Of Survival, Moral Decay, Freedom and Redemption

Despite being an over-the-top, often campy, explosion and violence filled movie, Fury Road has a surprising amount of thematic depth to it. The core theme is survival; the world has ended and everyone has limited resources, so they have to fight just to live another day. This situation has led to moral decay; Immortan Joe and the War Boys are little more than beasts, violent and cruel and only out for themselves. The worst of humanity is on full display, and not even our heroes are immune to it. Max and Furiosa are at each other’s throats until it becomes clear they have to work together to survive, and they still struggle to make that decision. The film also explores the difference between merely surviving and finding more to life than surviving. The women are slaves who desire freedom and will forsake safety to have it. Joe’s War Boys blindly follow him as an act of faith, hoping to go into Valhalla, a better place than the world they live in. Max and Furiosa want to find a place to call home, something they have had stolen from them. And they are also looking for redemption; they’ve both failed themselves and others, but perhaps they can find redemption in their actions on this day.

These are powerful, universal themes that anybody can relate to. You may not notice them because the film is so in your face with the action, but this allows those ideas to sneak in under your skin and stick with you after the shock and awe wears off. There are a lot of ideas worth discussing in this film, and that depth is what makes it more than just one of the best action films of all time. It’s just a great movie, period.

New On The Shelf – Edge of Tomorrow

I am not a person with very many regrets, but one of them is not seeing Edge of Tomorrow in theaters. For some reason the critical buzz just wasn’t enough to convince me to watch it until months after it was released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Now that I have seen the movie I can pretty much guarantee it will always have a place on my shelf.

Edge of Tomorrow (which you may know for it’s tagline of “Live. Die. Repeat.”) is a 2014 science fiction action film directed by Doug Liman and adapted from the Japanese novel “All You Need Is Kill”. It stars Tom Cruise as “Major” William Cage and Emily Blunt as Sergeant Rita Rose Vrataski in what may be the most subversive gender roles ever put into a major action film. The plot revolves around an invasion of aliens called Mimics attacking Europe and the world army’s attempts to defeat them.

Edge of Tomorrow

The primary hook of the film is that Cage’s character is killed by one of the Mimic’s acidic blood, which has the impressive side effect of causing him to get caught in a time loop. Every time Cage dies, he wakes back up at the same point in time with all of the memories of what he’s experienced. Hence the tagline. Once he realizes what is happening and continuously experiences the same day, he attempts to use this knowledge to help defeat the Mimics although nobody will believe him until he runs into Rita, who has gone through the same experience but no longer is caught in her time loop. This plot device is used to great effect throughout the film, providing a lot of comedy and drama that makes it seem less like a gimmick and more like an essential storytelling tool.

For those who are expecting Tom Cruise to play the same invincible action hero that he has played for the bulk of his career, Edge of Tomorrow is an extremely pleasant surprise. William Cage is little more than a charismatic salesman, creating the ad campaign for the world army but avoiding the fighting himself. He is a coward when we first meet him and is thrown onto the battlefield as punishment for trying to avoid the war. It isn’t until he is caught in this time loop and realizes that death isn’t exactly the end for him that he starts to develop into a more familiar action hero archetype.

This is another benefit of the “Live. Die. Repeat,” gimmick. By the very nature of the time loop, Cage’s character is able to fail over and over and over. He suffers constantly and this allows us to have genuine sympathy for what he is experiencing and to get invested in his character growth. This somewhat unexpected focus on action as a vehicle for character development is largely what makes this such a refreshing watch. It stands out among other action films which, even if they have strong characters, rarely uses the action to help them grow.

Blunt

William Cage is a male protagonist who is virtually useless but becomes a hero through dogged determination forged from repeated failure. This is definitely a deviation from the norm, but it is emphasized even further by Emily Blunt’s character, the hardened and capable soldier that Tom Cruise would be playing in a lesser film. The makers of this film understand that such a character is cliche and uninteresting in the lead role and instead make use of it as a highly entertaining mentor. The fact that Sergeant Rita Rose Vrataski is a woman is never brought up; it’s just accepted that she is this awesome, dangerous character who is superior to William Cage and that he needs her help.

In short, Rita Rose is the knight in shining armor and William Cage is the damsel in distress. The fact that nobody in the film seems to make a big deal of the fact that she is the stronger, more capable character out of the two is a great example of how female action stars should be portrayed, and Emily Blunt gives a strong performance to compliment the importance of her role.

Live Die Repeat

Edge of Tomorrow was not a smash success at the box office but it has slowly gained a cult following because of it’s quality. It is not a film that was on my radar and I regret that. It is one of the most fun, original and engrossing action films to come out in a long time. There is a strong focus on telling a story and building characters without sacrificing the intensity of the action genre. Outside of superhero movies which I have an obvious bias towards, I would say this is probably my favorite action film since Skyfall. Naturally, Edge of Tomorrow is heavily recommended; it deserves to be seen.

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