Kelly’s Heroes (1970) Review

Director: Brian G. Hutton

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, War

Runtime: 144 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The 1970 World War II comedy Kelly’s Heroes could easily be thought of as It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World Goes to War. During the Second World War, clever American soldier Kelly (Clint Eastwood) convinces a U.S. platoon to go on an unauthorized raid behind Nazi lines in France to rob a bank holding a fortune in gold bars. Despite its rampant silliness, this is probably one of the better war films out there.

Yeah, Kelly’s Heroes is a comedy, but it was armed with a massive budget that makes it feel like a true war epic. It seems like no expense was spared. It should be noted that this is a highly cynical movie, with Allied troops having to do some serious looting during World War II to get anything out of that conflict. Maybe they’ll even cut the vicious Nazis in on the deal? Its unglamorous look at the 1939-to-1945 war is tempered by its upbeat nature. An upbeat anti-war flick? Yes, it exists, and its name is “Kelly’s Heroes.”

The combat sequences here are excellent, like everything else about this picture. Despite being a comedy, the action scenes are mostly played straight (although the tank assault on the trainyard has plenty of dark humor), giving the production a tough edge. Lalo Schifrin’s musical score is fantastic as well, and the film greatly benefits from the inclusion of the not-so-1940s song “Burning Bridges,” performed by the Mike Curb Congregation. The all-star cast is top-drawer, featuring the aforementioned Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas (as Big Joe), Don Rickles (playing Crapgame), Donald Sutherland (bringing Oddball to life), Carroll O’Connor (he’s General Colt), Gavin MacLeod (in the role of Moriarty), Perry Lopez (as Petuko), Harry Dean Stanton (portraying Willard), and Karl-Otto Alberty (playing a Nazi tank commander).

Kelly’s Heroes is a rootin’, tootin’, lootin’, shootin’ good time. Packed with familiar faces, intense battles, and big laughs, this movie just about has it all. It’s not meant to be a literal recreation of World War II, even though the inclusion of a 1960s-style hippie tank commander, Oddball (Donald Sutherland), has thrown many viewers for a loop. Please don’t take this one too seriously. Go with the flow, and you’ll be rewarded with one Hell of a war picture.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Vera Cruz (1954) Review

Director: Robert Aldrich

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, War, Western

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

During the Franco-Mexican War, American gunslingers Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper) and Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster) are hired by the French-dominated Mexican government to escort Countess Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel) across rebel-held territory in Mexico. One of the better movies that either Gary Cooper or Burt Lancaster appeared in, this action-adventure-western is not just highly engaging, it was also very influential on the western genre. Wikipedia currently claims that The Magnificent Seven (1960), the westerns directed by Sergio Leone, The Professionals (1966), and The Wild Bunch (1969) all owe a little something to Vera Cruz.

This war-time western has a mean, tough demeanor that would help inspire the tones of various western works to come. Its casual violence, amoral personalities, and stylized gunplay would all be noted by upcoming filmmakers. Vera Cruz feels ahead-of-its-time, more like a 1964 flick, than a 1954 one. The cast is also stacked, featuring the aforementioned Cooper and Lancaster, as well as Cesar Romero (as Marquis Henri de Labordere), Charles Bronson (playing Pittsburgh), Ernest Borgnine (showing up as Donnegan), and Jack Elam (as Tex).

This heightened war/western feature has tremendous action…and lots of it. The big, final battle is a highlight. Gary Cooper really gets the opportunity to show off his inner John Rambo. The runtime is only a little over an hour-and-a-half, so Vera Cruz crams plenty of action scenes and an innumerable quantity of double-crosses into its package. This is nothing if not entertaining.

Vera Cruz is essential viewing for fans of the cast and the genres. The only element that really ages the work is some “Lost Cause”-style reminiscing about the American South (due to the fact that Cooper’s character was a plantation owner). However, this is offset somewhat by the presence of the badass Ballard (played by Archie Savage), a Black gunman who used to serve in the Union military during the American Civil War.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Black Knight (1954) Review

Director: Tay Garnett

Genre(s): Action, Adventure

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Alan Ladd is about to go medieval on your ass in this 1954 action-adventure not-quite-a-classic. In the Middle Ages, blacksmith John (Alan Ladd) fights to prevent a group of villains from overthrowing King Arthur (Anthony Bushell), the ruler of England. It’s an okay change-of-pace for fans of Ladd, but it’s my guess that nobody else will end up amused.

This is one of those old movies set in the medieval era where all the castles have well-manicured lawns, as if somebody actually lawn-mowed all that shit. This gives the film a fake-looking quality, and those silly-looking helmets worn by all the mounted soldiers and knights certainly don’t help things. Was this one of the pictures that Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) was spoofing?

According to the current words of Wikipedia, one critic, Jeffrey Richards, said that Alan Ladd was “playing the part like a tired American businessman prevailed upon to take the lead in a revival of Merrie England.” Ouch. I don’t think he was that bad in the lead role, but it is sort of jolting to see a guy who typically stars in westerns and film noir doing such a character. Well, if you don’t like Ladd, you can always follow Peter Cushing, who plays Sir Palamides here. Yes, Grand Moff “Grandma” Tarkin is in this flick.

Okay, it may sound like I hate this movie, but I really don’t. The action scenes are satisfactory (there’s even one at Stonehenge, because why the Hell not?) and Alan Ladd is always fun to watch. The runtime’s short and I see the kitschiness of it all as a plus, not a minus. There are worse ways out there to spend eighty-five minutes.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Duel of Champions (1961) Review

Directors: Ferdinando Baldi and Terence Young

Genre(s): Action, War

Runtime: 105 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Duel of Champions is one of those 1960s Italian action movies that features an American movie star (in this case, Alan Ladd) for box office appeal. Set in ancient times, the warring cities of Rome and Alba decide to have the conflict between them settled by a three-on-three warrior duel. As you might expect, Ladd is one of the soldiers chosen to square off in the high-stakes fight. Do not expect greatness, and you might get through the coming motion picture.

This is definitely not your typical Alan Ladd film, and he looks uncomfortable in ancient Roman attire. Seeing an actor who specializes in westerns and film noir in such a setting is sort of surreal, and may or may not add to one’s enjoyment of the picture. Yes, Ladd is a convincing tough guy, but seeing him running around pre-Christian Rome is almost odd enough to inspire laughter. The English-language cut of the flick was directed by Terence Young, who would later direct three of the Sean Connery James Bond features.

Fortunately, Duel of Champions has lots of action to make up for some of its faults. Some of it is clunky, but it’s competent at other times. Hell, some of the bigger battles don’t even look like something filmed specifically for this movie. They could be footage from a different production centered around Ancient Rome for all I know. Alan Ladd goes into action hero mode towards the end of the picture, which will please fans of his.

Curiously, the plot synopsis of the cut of the movie available on Amazon Prime currently claims that the flick contains a parallel subplot involving two friends who find themselves on opposite sides of the American Civil War (!). Almost needless to say, this is not in the version watchable on that site, if it exists in any form. Anyway, Duel of Champions is a little goofy, but it’s not terrible. Ladd fanatics probably won’t regret watching it, but, be warned, this is not a typical role for him. It’s alright.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

No Time to Die (2021) Review

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 163 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

No Time to Die is unconventional for an official James Bond film, which is why it’s my favorite of the series at the time of the writing of this review. It won’t appeal to all fans of 007, but its audacious, risk-taking nature makes it a winner in my book. The movie’s plot, one of its least important and remarkable components, concerns British super-spy James Bond (Daniel Craig) fighting to stop creepy terrorist Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) from developing a world-threatening bio-weapon.

This is Bond for the age of COVID-19, but the flick’s biggest strength is that it has a lot more heart than one might expect from a 007 picture. The audience is actually invested in the characters and their struggles here, instead of just munching popcorn to the latest action-adventure spectacle (something this feature still has lots of, though). Previous Bond films have been adolescent fantasies, but this one feels different. It’s more mature, with actions having consequences.

The action scenes here (some of which appear to be inspired by the John Wick franchise) are quite good, with some prime-cut stuntwork, but they’re secondary to the characters. Speaking of characters, they are well-defined, although the villain’s motivation could’ve been expounded on more. The pacing in No Time to Die is somewhat erratic, but manages to stay on track fairly well for a nearly-three-hour flick. The third act is almost guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat.

No Time to Die successfully pulls off for the James Bond series what Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017) less fruitfully attempted for its franchise. It shakes up the formula, but still gives the viewer something satisfying to latch onto. This is a fresh and different 007 movie that did what it took to stand out from the rest of the pack. Sure, it’s got the big-body-count carnage we’ve come to expect, but it also provides quite a bit of heart and soul.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Danger Close (2019) Review

Director: Kriv Stenders

Genre(s): Action, Drama, War

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Danger Close is a recreation of one of the most dramatic military engagements to involve Australian and New Zealander troops during the Vietnam War. In 1966, a patrol of soldiers from those nations is ambushed by communist forces in the middle of the South Vietnamese jungle, prompting a desperate relief attempt (the clash is known as the Battle of Long Tan). This reverent war picture is one I want to love, but merely end up liking and respecting.

Part of the reason that Danger Close stumbles a bit is because of how hard it is to keep track of many of its characters. A few stand out, but this combat-heavy movie doesn’t give enough time to flesh out most of them. It tries to keep the audience informed on the strategic situation in the battle with the use of a map or two, but this is soon drowned out by numerous scenes of up-close-and-personal warfare. To be honest, I found the movie somewhat confusing at times, regarding the placement of the various characters on the battlefield.

There’s plenty of action to go around in this flick, as I’ve alluded to. It definitely prevents the overall feature from becoming unengaging, although the battle sequences are above-average at best. It’s mostly just Australian and New Zealander troops lying on their bellies, mowing down waves of charging communists, with an occasional commie being sent flying into a tree by an exploding artillery shell. A scene detailing, in slow-motion, the trajectory of an artillery shell flying through the air struck me as a bit melodramatic, like something Michael Bay would do.

This movie could be seen as the Down Under version of The Outpost (2019), which premiered the same year. Danger Close is a respectful combat picture that lists all of the Australian and New Zealander fatalities from the Battle of Long Tan at the end, complete with their ages. This hits as hard as anything in the film proper. It’s a solid war-action feature, but I am disappointed in the way that it played the “who’s-who?” game with the characters it depicts.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Looper (2012) Review

Director: Rian Johnson

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

Runtime: 113 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Half of a decade before he was trolling Star Wars fans with Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), director Rian Johnson unleashed the sci-fi-thriller Looper on the world. The movie concerns itself with mob hitman Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who kills people sent back in time from the future via time travel. However, what’s he supposed to do when an older version of himself (Bruce Willis) is sent back to his time for him to execute?

The performances in Looper are often singled out for praise, and rightfully so. Wearing facial prosthetics to help him resemble Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does his best impression of that movie star. The real M.V.P. of the flick has got to be Willis, though. He has a reputation for looking bored in many of his more recent roles, but writer/director Rian Johnson actually manages to coax a committed performance out of him here. Jeff Daniels, playing gangland boss Abe, also deserves a shout-out.

This movie has plenty of ideas, but there may be too many for one film. Take the issue of telekinesis in this picture, for example. It’s introduced relatively early in the runtime, but largely forgotten about until the third act or so. To the feature’s credit, it doesn’t get bogged down in the nitty-gritty science of time travel. I couldn’t tell you if Looper‘s version of that fictional science holds up to scrutiny, but it makes it believable without wasting too much time on exposition.

This flick, which was partially inspired by The Terminator (1984), has some pretty average action scenes and some pandering to China. I did enjoy the abrupt ending, though. It felt reasonably ballsy. Overall, Looper is one of those movies that exists in the Twilight Zone between being recommended to watch and being recommended to pass over. I suppose audiences looking for solid performances in a sci-fi-action picture will find much to write home about, but the story may be a bit too formless for others.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Emperor (2020) Review

Director: Mark Amin

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

Runtime: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 2020 biopic Emperor fumbles with the historical facts, but still manages to be an entertaining work about an often-overlooked period of U.S. history. In 1859, just before the outbreak of the American Civil War, escaped slave Shields Green (Dayo Okeniyi), nicknamed “Emperor,” joins militant abolitionist John Brown’s (James Cromwell) raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), with the goal of inciting a slave revolt. As historically inaccurate as it may be, I still found myself engaged to the events taking place on the screen.

Emperor takes an action-movie-ish approach to the life of Shields Green. I mean, this picture even has a Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)-esque wagon chase, for Heaven’s sake! The action is almost laughably explosive at times, but I suppose that that’s just the price of making a historical film that gets seen by the masses. It’s a little ridiculous, but it’s all part of the fun.

This movie shouldn’t be looked to as an accurate representation of the events of 1859. The horrors of human slavery are kept safely in the bounds of the MPAA’s PG-13 rating. The Harpers Ferry raid looks like a full-scale battle (complete with a cannon or two!), and the fate of Shields Green is completely fictionalized. It may be a little awkward for history buffs to sit through for these reasons, but these alterations to historical fact make the finished product more commercial.

It may play fast and loose with the truth, but Emperor is still a film that I enjoy. John Brown is my hero, so it’s cool seeing him in cinematic form (even if the flick isn’t as good as Seven Angry Men [1955]). The critical reception of this feature was mixed, but I can largely forgive its crimes against history because of how easily one can become emotionally invested in it. Just make sure to quickly look over Shield Green’s Wikipedia page after viewing.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Tomorrow War (2021) Review

Director: Chris McKay

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

Runtime: 138 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The sci-fi-actioner The Tomorrow War was released direct-to-streaming, but it’s the kind of movie I would have liked to see on the big screen. The film is about present-day dad Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) being sent to the not-too-distant future via time travel to help fight a vicious alien invasion that’s destroyed most of mankind. One or two story beats may be somewhat predictable, but, if you can stay in the moment, you might find yourself having fun.

Okay, maybe “having fun” isn’t the best way of putting it, because this flick presents some surprisingly dire and dark scenarios. The almost unstoppable extra-terrestrials are savage beasts that give this thriller some horror movie vibes. Moments of action are intense enough to get a thumbs-up from me, and the emotional scenes are more effective than not. For a direct-to-streaming work, the budget appears to be quite large, and the spectacle is occasionally overwhelming.

There are some missteps along the way. The first and third acts of the feature have a tendency to rely on Marvel-style comic relief that inappropriately defuse moments of tension. Marvel products are just about the biggest thing in the world at the time of its release, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked that this picture tried to ape their formula a tad. There’s also the matter of the third act feeling like it takes place after the main climax of the film. I won’t go as far as to say that it’s “unnecessary,” but The Tomorrow War might be overstaying its welcome.

This movie’s blend of silly comedy and serious, seemingly apocalyptic situations isn’t its strength. To enjoy the motion picture, it’s best to focus on the palpable sense of dread and desperation, along with its gooey action and violence. Yeah, The Tomorrow War is a flawed work, but my impression of the big picture is rather positive. The second act is especially hard-hitting, easily being the best part.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) Review

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller

Runtime: 147 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the first film in the series with the same director as the previous entry (the man in the director’s chair being Christopher McQuarrie). Can he keep the franchise on its hot streak? After the events of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) fights to recover weapons-grade plutonium from a group of fanatics Hellbent on stirring up as much suffering as possible. The clock is ticking.

This movie, as expected, is filled to the brim with magnificent action set-pieces and life-endangering stuntwork. We’ve got a parachute jump through a thunderstorm, a bathroom slugfest, vehicular chases (on the ground and in the air), and more. It’s quite possible that they’ve gone overboard, but, considering the ecstatic reception the feature got, maybe not.

As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, this flick may contain too much of a good thing. It’s the longest Mission: Impossible picture yet, and one can tell. Yes, it’s very exciting, but how many close-calls can you cram into one film? Also not helping is the somewhat familiar plot. Nuclear weapons in the hands of evildoers again? There is a bit of a been-there-done-that quality to this work of cinema.

Many viewers feel that Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the best installment of the franchise at the time of the publication of this review. It certainly gives you plenty of bang for your buck. The action sequences are stunning, but the story that they rely upon is merely pretty good. So, do I recommend this movie? Yeah, but I don’t find that it quite reaches the highs of the previous two Mission: Impossible films.

My rating is 7 outta 10.