Dark of the Sun (1968) Review

Director: Jack Cardiff

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, War

Runtime: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The Congolese Civil War of the 1960s (referred to as the “Congo Crisis” on Wikipedia) had just ended when this mercenary action-adventure picture was released. During that war, a team of soldiers-of-fortune led by Bruce Curry (Rod Taylor) and Ruffo (Jim Brown) are sent on a deadly mission to rescue a trapped town of civilians (and their diamonds) before Simba rebels can close in. It’s a fictional story, but this film has all the intensity of a chainsaw on full-blast.

Dark of the Sun showcases several very good action scenes, as the characters battle their way in and out of the heart of the Congo. Supposedly, a great deal of content was deleted from the movie before and after being sent to censors, but the sequences where stuff may have been removed don’t feel particularly choppy. Quentin Tarantino was apparently so pleased with this movie’s musical score, done by Jacques Loussier, that he included several snippets of it in his flick Inglourious Basterds (2009).

The characters here are occasionally colorful, with those played Rod Taylor and Jim Brown being appropriately badass, but different enough to be distinguishable from each other. To complicate the expedition that our heroes (or anti-heroes) are on, the doctor, Wreid (Kenneth More), is an alcoholic and the man providing the local Congolese troops, Henlein (Peter Carsten), is a former member of the Nazi war machine. There is a fairly prominent female character, Claire (Yvette Mimieux), but there isn’t a substantial romantic subplot. This is a guy movie, through and through.

Dark of the Sun is up there with Walker (1987) and The Wild Geese (1978) as one of the best mercenary-oriented war flicks of all time. It’s not quite as bloody as those movies, possibly thanks to some cut footage (which I hope isn’t lost forever). It’s probably not the easiest action-adventure feature to hunt down, but it’s more-than-worth a watch if you can find it. It’s tough as nails.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

‘Gung Ho!’: The Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders (1943) Review

Director: Ray Enright

Genre(s): Action, War

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Made in the middle of World War II, ‘Gung Ho!’: The Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders is a rough-and-tumble war actioner designed to raise the spirits of the American populace and remind them what they’re fighting for. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an elite team of American Marines is assembled for a secret mission during World War II. Their objective: raid the Japanese-occupied outpost of Makin Island, killing all enemy soldiers and leveling the place. Based on a true story, this a swell piece of propaganda.

Humorous at times, Gung Ho! does an able job of the building up to the final action sequences on Makin Island. The training scenes are cool and the part where the raiders are packed into submarines like sardines elicits a greater sense of claustrophobia than anything in Das Boot (1981). The battle scenes in the third act are very good, packed with gunfire, stabbings, and big explosions.

What holds Gung Ho! back from being one of the greats is that many of its characters are, more or less, interchangeable. Just about the only folks in the picture to make an impression are Colonel Thorwald (Randolph Scott) and “Pig-Iron” (Robert Mitchum), and that’s because they’re played by famous actors. There’s also some minor romance towards the beginning of the runtime that doesn’t have a significant payoff. Gung Ho! is sometimes derided as it’s a piece of war-time propaganda partially made to whip up hatred of the Japanese. I don’t really hold this against the film, though.

Gung Ho! is, in my opinion, one of the better combat movies to be released during World War II. As bloodthirsty as it occasionally is, its heart is in the right place. It’s not as slick as some of the other flicks from this time period and many of its characters get lost in the shuffle, but this is still a piece of cinema that begs to be watched by war film addicts.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Ten Tall Men (1951) Review

Director: Willis Goldbeck

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Romance, War

Runtime: 97 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Burt-Lancaster-joins-the-French-Foreign-Legion is the “hook” of this 1951 war/action-adventure film. During the Rif War in Morocco, a trouble-making sergeant in the French Foreign Legion, Mike Kincaid (Burt Lancaster), assembles a group of fellow Legionnaires (all of whom are rotting in prison) to launch a preemptive raid on desert rebels before the aforementioned insurgents can launch an assault on an undermanned French-occupied town. This flick has an interesting proto-The Dirty Dozen (1967) story, but it’s much more light-hearted than that hard-boiled World War II film.

Ten Tall Men starts off awfully comedic and retains a jokey tone for much of its runtime. The humor here doesn’t really land most of the time. The romance isn’t really effective, either, and many of the supporting characters aren’t as well-defined as they should’ve been for a men-on-a-mission film. The action-adventure elements are what saves this movie from the trash bin. Sure, it’s apparent that they didn’t have a large budget to work with, but the combat scenes are fair.

The story that eventually became Ten Tall Men was actually originally a western. However, the sort of western/war film that the filmmakers were aiming for was considered old hat by the time of this picture’s production, so the action shifted across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s easy to see how the U.S. cavalry were substituted by the French Foreign Legion and the Native Americans by the Moroccan guerrillas.

When it’s all said and done, Ten Tall Men is an adequate war movie that goes somewhat heavy on the comic relief. You should also be warned that a romantic subplot breaks out. The final action scene is hardly the strongest one in the feature, but this film clips along at a decent pace, so it doesn’t dwell on any of its faults for too long. It’s okay, but there are better French Foreign Legion flicks out there, like Legionnaire (1998), Beau Geste (1939), and March or Die (1977).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Raid 2 (2014) Review

Director: Gareth Evans

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 150 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Raid: Redemption (2011) was a lean, mean action machine. So, how does its sequel stack up? This ambitious, Indonesian-language picture (originally titled “Serbuan Maut 2: Berandal“) follows Rama (Iko Uwais), the hero of the first one, as he goes undercover in the mob to expose crooked cops and gangsters. It can’t top the original, but The Raid 2 certainly gives it its all trying to do so.

While the first movie was a simple story of a S.W.A.T. team trapped in an apartment building of criminals, the second film tries to be an epic-scale crime saga…with lots of martial arts thrown into the mix. I don’t really think The Raid 2 pulls it off. It lacks the effective “hook” of the The Raid: Redemption and goes on for way too long (it’s two-and-a-half-hours long, for Heaven’s sake!). It also wallows in ineffective melodrama on an occasion or two.

Of course, the action scenes are the real reason to watch, and they are just as impeccably choreographed as you’ve hoped. Unfortunately, some of them just made me wonder “why should I even care about what’s going on?” Also, for a mob movie set in modern times, there seems to be a noticeable lack of guns. I guess these guys (and gal) just prefer to beat the shit out of each other with fists, feet, and melee weapons. Who am I to judge?

This violent-to-the-point-of-self-parody action film is a disappointment after the magnificent first flick in the series. When people aren’t getting pummeled, it can be a bit of a clock-watcher. The drama just doesn’t quite work and the runtime is a monster for a martial arts movie. I suppose it might be worth a watch for hard-core action fanatics, but I wouldn’t expect much outside of the insane fights.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Venom (2018) Review

Director: Ruben Fleischer

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

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Was this…was this supposed to be a comedy? I ask because I was laughing or on the verge of laughing for a significant part of the film’s runtime. In this origin story to one of Spider-Man’s most famous baddies, investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is infected by an extraterrestrial organism (named Venom, I guess) that gives him superhuman powers. As far as comic book villain backstories go, it isn’t Joker (2019), but it has a certain appeal.

Most of that appeal comes from its, uh, humor. The semi-parasitic alien Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy) provides many of the guffaws with his awkward, sudden lines of dialogue that only Brock can hear. Some of what he says sound like the filmmakers were trying to be funny…but, at other times, I wasn’t quite so sure. Nonetheless, laughing, in my book, is always a good reaction to a movie, whether it was provoked intentionally or not. Hardy commendably commits to the ridiculous material he’s given.

On the action front, things are generally well-done. Well, the fight scenes between computer-generated blob monsters weren’t really my cup of tea, but the other physicality-oriented sequences were satisfactorily explosive. The violence is fairly graphic at times for a PG-13-rated picture, but I guess the MPAA let them get away with certain images because of how far-fetched and absurd the whole thing is.

Do you like your comic book films nice and cheesy? Well, Venom is a flick you might want to look into. It’s never dull and works a fine balance between high-octane action and bizarre comedy. I’m sure it’s great for parties, if you want to play a game of Was-That-Intentionally-Or-Unintentionally-Funny? I would really like to know what the filmmakers were thinking for certain scenes of this movie.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Raid: Redemption (2011) Review

Director: Gareth Evans

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 101 minutes (rated cut), 102 minutes (unrated cut)

MPAA Rating: R (rated cut), Not Rated (unrated cut)

IMDb Page

The Raid: Redemption (originally titled “Serbuan Maut“) is famous for being a cut-to-the-chase action movie that offers little in the way of plot, simply letting various shootouts and martial arts duels do the talking. The story of this Indonesian-language film is pretty bare-bones. A team of cops, including our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), is sent on a mission to clear a large Jakarta apartment building of criminals. Action junkies will not want to miss this one.

While relatively video-gamey, The Raid is packed with some of the most intricately-choreographed fight scenes that theater screens have ever witnessed. They’re truly some of the best ever. The unconvincing computer-generated blood is sometimes a distraction, but it’s a minor flaw. There are a couple of suspense-oriented sequences, because, well, I suppose it can’t be all action.

The action star here is Iko Uwais, who also helped choreograph the fights, and this guy is bound to become one of cinema’s greatest martial arts actors. Wahyu, played by Pierre Gruno, looks like the Indonesian Lee Marvin. I just thought I’d point that out. While this humorless movie is little more than an excuse to show off incredible action, there are a few complications in the plot to keep things fresh. Make no mistake, though, there is almost nothing but virtually non-stop combat here.

The Raid‘s appeal to people who aren’t interested in elaborate fight scenes is almost non-existent. However, action fans will find a treasure trove of hard-hitting, stunt-laden sequences of ultra-violence. Personally, I generally prefer action movies with more characterization and drama, but The Raid is a nice change of pace (and this picture’s pace is turbo-charged). There’s an appealing simplicity to it.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Dawn Rider (1935) Review

Director: Robert N. Bradbury

Genre(s): Action, Western

Runtime: 53 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

This early John Wayne western doesn’t even run an hour, but still manages to be a worthy entry into the iconic actor’s filmography. It’s rough and unpolished, but it gets the job done. The straightforward story is about John Mason (John Wayne) seeking revenge on the man who murdered his father, Dad Mason (Joseph De Grasse), during a heist. There’s very little that could be considered complicated here, it’s just a solid action-packed western movie.

This is one of those micro-budget western films where tough guys bond by beating the shit out of each other. It’s definitely a picture aimed at men, but there is some minor romance thrown into the mix. While John Wayne is clearly the star of the show, one should keep an eye out for Yakima Canutt, the famed stuntman and second-unit director, who plays a villainous saloon owner here.

Other than Wayne and Canutt, a good reason to watch The Dawn Rider is for its plentiful action. It’s not exactly spectacular (I mean, this is a low-budget production and all), but there’s quite a bit of shooting, punching, and chasing crammed into the 53-minute runtime. The highlights include a fist fight on a speeding wagon, which is pretty well-shot for the time (no rear projection here!), and the final punch-up.

If you enjoy western movies for their sweeping, grand scenery and morally-complex plots, The Dawn Rider may not be for you. This is a cheapie actioner made before Wayne struck it big, so keep that in mind. I enjoyed it because of its short length and because it’s fun to see the Duke in a mayhem-filled pre-major-fame role. It’s certainly not boring.

My rating is 7 outta 10.