The Mission (1986) Review

Director: Roland Joffé

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, War

Runtime: 125 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The Mission is a sweeping, yet somewhat problematic, historical epic that just might be too big for its britches. Set in mid-1700s South America, a group of Jesuit missionaries, including former slave-trader Mendoza (Robert De Niro), dedicate themselves to protecting a remote jungle mission from encroaching Europeans who wish to enslave or massacre the natives. It’s not the most satisfying drama I’ve ever seen, but it has an interesting story that carries the movie.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of The Mission is its wonderful Ennio Morricone musical score, which is one of the finest ever for an adventure/historical film. It’s not an action picture, but there is a somewhat lengthy battle sequence towards the end to spice things up. In his review of this piece of cinema, critic Roger Ebert describes the combat as “badly choreographed.” I don’t really agree, but it’s hardly the best action scene I’ve ever witnessed.

The Mission will probably appeal most to audience members who were largely unaware of the atrocities that accompanied European colonization of the New World. For them, it will be an eye-opener. The flick does seem a little too concerned with trying to absolve the Church of its role in these brutalities in the Americas. The picture is also a little too slow at times, but it’s not necessarily overlong.

Buoyed by its musical score and one-of-a-kind plot, The Mission goes by with a passing grade. Some viewers really dig this film, but I merely like it. It’s certainly a beautiful-looking and sounding work, but some of the more important elements feel half-baked. The Mission is notable for having an early role for Liam Neeson (as Fielding, one of the missionaries).

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Hard Boiled (1992) Review

Director: John Woo

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Director John Woo’s Hard Boiled, originally titled “Lat Sau San Taam,” is known almost solely for one thing: its gratuitous quantity of action. There’s so much shoot-’em-up that the plot about Hong Kong police officer “Tequila” Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat) taking on an army of bloodthirsty gun-runners barely even registers. This is a film of little substance…it’s almost entirely style…but what style!

The action sequences in Hard Boiled are nothing short of breathtaking, being some of the finest I’ve ever seen. It’s a true ballet of bullets, with elaborate “gun-fu” scenes breaking out every few minutes. The body count of the picture is astronomical, and it looks like the actors and stuntpeople are in real danger most of the time, with squibs constantly going off and debris, vehicles, flames, and people flying all over the screen.

What holds back Hard Boiled from masterpiece status is its story. It’s nothing more than a thin, clichéd excuse for relentless physical mayhem. You’ve seen its elements before in countless gangster and cop films, so you’re not always as emotionally invested in the carnage as you’d like. Fortunately, there’s so much gunplay that firearms do the talking far more often than mouths do.

Hard Boiled is in the running for the honor of the most action-packed flick in cinema history. This hyper-violent crime-thriller (which has a good musical score by Michael Gibbs) is so chockful of fighting that it will really only appeal to the most hard-core of fans of the action genre. Many audience members will be turned off by the lack of a strong central plot and the wildly unrealistic and acrobatic combat. Sure, The Killer (1989) may be better, but this one still works wonders for those who know what they’re in for.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Killer (1989) Review

Director: John Woo

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 111 minutes (standard version), 104 minutes (American version)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Director John Woo’s The Killer, originally known as “Dip Huet Seung Hung,” is a film that fires on all cylinders on both the action and drama fronts. Virtuous Hong Kong hitman Ah Jong (Chow Yun-Fat) must go on one last mission to pay for eye surgery for Jenny (Sally Yeh), a woman he accidentally blinded. A key entry into the “heroic bloodshed” subgenre, this is a stylish and melodramatic crime-actioner that’s mandatory viewing for action fanatics.

The action scenes here, mainly in the form of shootouts, are spellbinding, and easily some of the best ever. Don’t expect realism from The Killer, as it features heroes with bottomless magazines jumping, leaping, and dodging all over the place to avoid being shot. Appropriately, the greatest action sequence in the movie is the grand finale, but just about any of the gunfights contained in it could’ve topped off a lesser action film.

The Killer definitely takes a heart-on-its-sleeve approach to its subject matter, which may come across as embarrassingly emotional for audiences unaccustomed to Asian filmmaking. Even if this picture’s bloodbath soap opera styling isn’t your thing, it’s hard not to feel the wallop packed by its punch. It has a big heart…and an even bigger body count.

Sure, there’s quite a bit of on-the-nose dialogue (at least on the subtitled version of the flick I own on home video), but The Killer just feels so right. Its blend of heartrending drama and relentless, two-fisted gunplay comes across as effortless. Of all of the John Woo movies I’ve seen, this is clearly the best, and I’m comfortable calling it his masterpiece.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Superman Returns (2006) Review

Director: Bryan Singer

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 154 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

2006’s Superman Returns picks up just about where the original Superman series of the 1970s and 1980s left off. Yes, we have a different actor playing the Man of Steel this time around (Brandon Routh, instead of Christopher Reeve), but it seems to follow the same continuity of the old franchise. In this adventure, Superman returns to Earth after spending five years looking for the remains of his homeworld of Krypton, only to find that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has found a new boyfriend – Richard White (James Marsden) – and that Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is back to plotting his evil schemes. It’s a bit on the bloated side, but I can still say that I like it.

Superman Returns is in its groove when dealing with the big action set-pieces. Advances in special effects since the 1980s and that sort of thing mean the disaster and rescue sequences are more spectacular than before, with one of the more memorable ones involving an out-of-control airplane that Superman must prevent from crashing into a baseball stadium. Backing up the titular superhero throughout the movie is the returning John Williams musical theme from the ’70s and ’80s, though the main composer for the picture is John Ottman.

The biggest problem facing this action-adventure is its overlong runtime (a little over two-and-a-half hours). The climax goes on for a while, and there’s numerous scenes that the movie still has to show us after the grand finale, which might test your patience. Another minor fault of the flick is that Superman sometimes exhibits some stalker-ish behavior. I mean, the guy can see and hear through walls.

Superman Returns is a better movie than Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), and roughly on par with Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980). A couple of parts go on and on, yet it’d be a mistake to entirely dismiss the feature for this. Unless you’re a Christopher Reeve purist, Superman fans will probably experience enough moments of delight to make it worth watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

21 Jump Street (2012) Review

Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 109 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 2012 film 21 Jump Street is one of the better entries into the buddy-cop genre. This action-comedy is about Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), two inept police officers who’re assigned to pose as high schoolers to bring down a ring of drug dealers. You can think of it as a party-hardy high school movie with more explosions and gunfire.

21 Jump Street is simply a very, very funny film, no matter how you slice it. High-brow it ain’t, but if you don’t think the scene where the two leads converse with Mr. Walters (Rob Riggle) while losing their minds on drugs is hilarious, then I don’t want to know you. Yes, there are a couple of predictable beats in the picture, but most of it feels quite fresh.

There’s more humor than shoot-’em-up here, but the action scenes are competent (and bloody) when they do arrive. The gunplay and car chase action are mostly relegated to the third act, but the rest of the flick is so damn enjoyable that those who came just for the violence won’t be too frustrated. The pacing is noticeably fast, so there’s no worries in that department.

This is an immensely likeable comedy that has great chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. The overwhelming majority of jokes landed (for me, at least) and the characters were easy to distinguish from one another, partially thanks to being played by an all-star cast. I can’t say that 21 Jump Street is for everyone, but, if there’s something inherently comical to you about two trigger-happy cops posing as teenagers, you’ll need to check it out.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Hell’s Angels (1930) Review

Directors: Howard Hughes, Edmund Goulding, and James Whale

Genre(s): Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Director Howard Hughes tried to top Wings (1927) with 1930’s Hell’s Angels. Both are fairly similar World War I aviation pictures with plenty of romance, so which one would be victorious in a dogfight? Hell’s Angels deals with British brothers Monte (Ben Lyon) and Roy Rutledge (James Hall) who’re romancing the same woman, Helen (Jean Harlow), and later join the military to serve as pilots after the First World War breaks out. Even though this one has sound, I think it pales in comparison to the silent Wings.

The action scenes are the clear audience draw for Hell’s Angels. The aerial warfare sequences are magnificent, although there’s very little ground combat. This flick has quite the body count…literally. Three stunt pilots were killed filming the large-scale dogfights. Howard Hughes even got in on the action and suffered a skull fracture doing some flying for the picture.

It’s the somewhat uninteresting plot that keeps Hell’s Angels from true greatness. The brothers’ troubles over Jean Harlow’s character don’t add up to much when everything’s said and done. As I said earlier, it’s really the war-related stuff that people want to see and remember. The romantic aspects of the movie are just filler.

Hell’s Angels was released during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, prior to the enforcement of the Production Code, and has a few mild swear words as a result, something that was pretty rare at the time (even for a Pre-Code film). While primarily black-and-white, there is a color sequence during a ball and some scenes are tinted. Overall, Hell’s Angels can’t out-shoot Wings, but it still manages to be a watchable war feature.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Safe (2012) Review

Director: Boaz Yakin

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

2012’s Safe is a film that feels like a love letter to action movie fans from action movie fans. In this superb picture, a former cage fighter with a shadowy past named Luke Wright (Jason Statham) decides to protect a young girl with a photographic memory named Mei (Catherine Chan) who’s on the run from the Chinese and Russian mobs in New York City. You see, Mei is being used to memorize and protect a numerical code that everybody in the city wants to know. If you’re an action fan, buckle up, because this one’s right up your alley.

This mercifully-romance-free flick has a great emotional hook to it that successfully invests the audience in the action about to unfold. One really wants to see Luke and Mei survive and help each other. The plot itself is a little complicated at times (so many different factions are fighting over Mei), but it doesn’t detract from the experience. Jason Statham gets to show just a little more range than he usually does, although it’d be a mistake to expect Oscar-caliber performances from this actioner.

The action scenes littered throughout the runtime are simply incredible. Whether it be cars chasing each other, people pummeling each other with fists, or combatants shooting it out with firearms, this movie satisfies thoroughly. New York City hasn’t seen this much big-body-count carnage since Death Wish 3 (1985). There may be a few instances when computer-generated bullet impacts are employed, yet this can be easily forgiven.

Safe feels like throwback to the macho, pumped-up, played-straight action films of yesteryear. Fans of those sort of features need to get a hold of a copy of this one. People who don’t like shoot-’em-up action-thrillers will find little to entertain themselves with, though. Here’s a fun fact: the musical score for this movie was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, the frontman of the New Wave band Devo.

My rating is 9 outta 10.