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.

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.

Wings (1927) Review

Directors: William A. Wellman and Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 144 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1927 war-time aviation epic Wings was the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (then called “Outstanding Picture”). It’s not my favorite film of 1927 (that would be Metropolis [1927]), but this is unquestionably a solid choice for that honor. During World War I, two American pilots – Jack Powell (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) – are in love with the same woman, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), and have to put aside their differences to be effective servicemen. The resulting feature is one of the best of the silent era.

Extraordinarily, two of the leads, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, had to learn how to fly aircraft so that it would be the actual actors in the cockpits of the fighter planes during the flying sequences. The film’s credited director, William A. Wellman, flew an airplane for the French Foreign Legion during World War I (scoring three confirmed “kills”), so this guy knows what he’s doing (IMDb also claims that Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast was an uncredited co-director for the project). The action scenes, both on the ground and in the air, are astounding. They’re huge in scale and feature insane stuntwork.

The flaws with Wings are few. There is a fairly lengthy scene dealing with Rogers’ character’s adventures in Paris while he’s drunk off his ass that slow the movie down. The flick also goes on for a tad too long after the war ends. However, these are just about the only things that I can think that go wrong with this action-filled picture.

This is a truly massive production with an energetic musical score by J.S. Zamecnik. It may be silent, but some of its heart-pounding spectacle still hasn’t been topped in the age of computer-generated imagery. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for a very early appearance by Gary Cooper (as Cadet White) as a pilot who greets the main characters at flight training. He even has a Hershey’s chocolate bar, in an early piece of product placement. Don’t miss this one!

My rating is 8 outta 10.

FDR: American Badass! (2012) Review

Director: Garrett Brawith

Genre(s): Comedy, War

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Warning: If you have any dignity, taste, reverence, self-respect, integrity, class, culture, or decency, turn off your DVD/Blu Ray player right now and avoid this film like the plague. However, if you lack those traits, you’ll probably enjoy this ultra-low-brow comedy about U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Barry Bostwick) preventing Axis werewolves from taking over the world. Yes, there will be polio jokes.

The humor in FDR: American Badass! ranges from Airplane! (1980)-esque silliness to randy, raunchy punchlines, including a couple revolving around taking a dump in a flower vase. This comedy certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but there is a great deal of joy to be had from the anachronistic swearing and dialogue. The hammy acting and the horrible, low-budget special effects only add to the “funny factor.”

Yeah, a couple of the “sketches” that make up the movie may last a little too long, and not every joke lands (of course, there’s so many that some duds are expected). The introductory sequence is pretty cringe-inducing, but, if all you want are cheap laughs and obscenities aplenty, it’s smooth sailing after that. It’s not an action picture, despite some claims, so don’t expect the titular character’s tricked-out wheelchair to be used as much as you might hope.

FDR: American Badass! is perhaps the first film that pops into my head when I hear the phrase “dumb comedy.” It’s pretty undemanding and “politically incorrect,” and will probably end up a personal classic for those who watch it and don’t expect anything more than gags about polio, promiscuity, pot, and poop. I laugh a lot at it, despite its trashy aesthetic, so I’m going to give it a thumbs-up for certain audiences.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Review

Directors: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Romance

Runtime: 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood was the first major film released by Warner Bros. to use the new three-strip Technicolor process to generate realistic colors on the big screen. It was a wise choice for that distinction. Set in medieval England, renegade Saxon lord Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) launches an insurrection against the vile Prince John (Claude Rains), who has taken over the throne of the country while the true king, Richard (Ian Hunter, not the one of Mott the Hoople fame), is off fighting in the Crusades. This is one of the best action-adventure flicks of the 1930s.

The movie benefits from an abundance of skillfully-made and very rousing action sequences (Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood even beats up a couple of goons with a dead deer at one point). This must’ve been one of the most action-packed motion pictures yet made back in 1938. Amplifying the thrills is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s wonderful musical score. It’s a remarkably merry actioner, with characters constantly bursting out laughing at the slightest comic relief.

If there’s one fault to be had with The Adventures of Robin Hood, it’s that the film seems to endorse the foreign policy isolationism that was all the rage in the United States at the time of its release. Robin Hood chides King Richard at one point for his foreign adventurism, a sentiment that would look mighty dated one year later when World War II broke out (this is not to say that the medieval Crusades were justified, of course). Robin Hood’s traditional steal-from-the-rich-to-give-to-the-poor narrative also seems a bit muddled by the fact that he’s largely fighting for the sake of restoring a monarch to his throne here.

This is a lively and, dare I say it?, colorful quasi-historical action-adventure feature with a dash of romance (between Robin Hood and Maid Marian [Olivia de Havilland], of course). The characters are well-defined and Errol Flynn is perfectly cast as the titular hero. The action scenes and the musical score also hit the bull’s-eye, so watch it if you haven’t seen it already.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Review

Director: Robert Mulligan

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 129 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seems like one of those books that just about everybody has to read in school, and the 1962 film of the same title is a great companion piece to it. Set in the Great Depression-era South, lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) must defend in court a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox Paxton), while his children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford), try to learn more about a shut-in neighbor, Boo Radley (Robert Duvall). Yes, this is a terrific tale of childhood innocence and ignorance that has become a classic in the decades following its release.

The two heavy hitters of the movie are Gregory Peck’s central performance and Elmer Bernstein’s top-notch musical score. Peck’s serious-minded, conscientious character, Atticus, radiates integrity, self-control, and quiet dignity, so much so that the American Film Institute named him the number one hero of American cinema as part of their AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains retrospective in 2003. The rest of the performances are terrific as well. On the musical front, Bernstein knocks ’em dead with one of the best scores of his prolific career (which is certainly saying something).

To Kill a Mockingbird is a moving motion picture, but I can’t say that it is without faults. It definitely feels like it was based on a novel, like there are (minor) parts of the story being left out to condense the story into about two hours. Speaking of the plot, the two major story threads (the court case and the kids investigating Boo Radley) don’t really come together until the end of the film.

What To Kill a Mockingbird lacks in physical action (although there is a sequence where the children sneak up on Boo’s house and it’s handled like a war movie scene involving soldiers stealthily crossing a battlefield strewn with mines and barbed wire) it makes up for with heart. The characters in the flick certainly have their ups and downs, but, in the end, it’s a feel-good feature. It’s easy to recommend this one.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Super 8 (2011) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

After watching the television series Stranger Things and going back to the 2011 motion picture Super 8, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between the two. The film mentioned above feels like a condensed two-hour story that would’ve been stretched out to an entire season in Stranger Things. Anyway, Super 8 is about a group of kids in 1979 small-town Ohio who witness a mysterious train crash while filming their own zombie movie. The flick borrows heavily from the works of Steven Spielberg (who produced it), but I think it’s highly watchable, thanks to it having an identity of its own and the Stranger Things connections.

For all the big explosions and whatnot found in this movie, it’s the human element that keeps it grounded. The coming-of-age drama involving the well-drawn characters is delightful to watch, only making the action scenes have more impact when they kick in. Most of the film focuses on child actors, which could’ve been a disaster, but the kids here know what they’re doing. The adults in the feature are just as colorful and the struggles that they face interconnect with the ones facing the children.

If you’ve read anything about this picture before, you probably already have a good grasp of what the twists and turns will deliver, but I’m going to be as spoiler-free as possible and just say that the ending, which may sound unsatisfying on paper, really delivers the goods, both in terms of emotion and thrills. It’s hard not to use words like “nostalgic” and “Spielbergian” when describing Super 8, although those phrases have become almost cliché when being used to articulate how one feels about the flick.

There might be some confusion over Super 8‘s target audience (it follows around a group of kids, yet contains brief strong violence and swearing), but this is still a terrific summer blockbuster. Yes, this review has been fairly vague to avoid revealing certain details of the film, but just trust me on this one. I can’t say that it’s one-hundred-percent original (something that gets held against the movie quite a bit), yet audiences who want to see where Stranger Things may have got some of its ideas should watch Super 8 and some of the other features that inspired the latter.

My rating is 8 outta 10.