Tag Archives: action

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado 

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado is the original south of the border shoot em up bloodbath, bar none. I’m aware it’s a sequel/remake of Robert’s breakout debut El Mariachi, but the now legendary style and brutality he cultivated started to blossom here in the Mexican desert with scowling Antonio Banderas and his guitar case packed with heavy artillery. The aesthetic coalesced into something measurable here, whilst in Mariachi we only saw fits and starts. Here the tone is solidified and paves the way for the magnum opus that is Once Upon A Time In Mexico, my favourite Rodriguez flick. It all starts with the image of Banderas sauntering into a scumbucket cantina, full of sweaty machismo and smouldering angst, laying waste to the place with more phallic firepower than the entire wild Bunch. It’s a time capsule worthy sequence that demonstrates the pure viscerally intoxicating effect that the action film has on a viewer, when done as well as it is here. Narrated by wisecracking sidekick Buscemi (Steve Buscemi, naturally), Banderas positively perforates the place, fuelled by the internal furnace of revenge, shrouded in the acrid scent of gunpowder and awash in tequila delirium. As soon as this sequence blows past, the credits roll up and we’re treated to a Mariachi ballad sung by Antonio himself, belted out with his band to ring in this hell-beast of a movie. Together, those two scenes are some of the very, very best opening sequences you can find out there, timelessly re-watchable. The rest of the film pulls no punches either, as we see El leave a wanton gash of carnage in his wake across Mexico, on a vision quest of violence as he works his way up the ranks of organized crime, starting with slimy dive bar owner Cheech Marin. Quentin Tarantino has a spitfire cameo, rattling off a ridiculous joke before El steps into yet another bar and the shit (as well as the blood) hits the fan. His endgame target is crime boss Bucho, played with terrifying ferocity by Joaquim De Almeida. It’s hard to picture an angrier performance than Banderas’s before Almeida shows up, but this guy is a violent livewire who’s not above capping off his own henchman like ducks in a row, puffing on a giant cigar and casually blowing the smoke in his concubine’s face mid coitus. El has a love interest of his own too, in the form of ravishing, full bodied Carolina (Salma Hayek). Hayek is a babe of the highest order, and their steamy candle lit sex scene is one of the most full on ‘jizz your pants’ rolls in the hay that 90’s cinema has to offer. This is an action film to the bone though, and they’ve scarcely mopped up and caught their breath before he’s forced to dispatch another horde of Bucho’s degenerates in high style. One has to laugh a bit when a guitar case becomes a full on rocket launcher during the earth shattering finale, but such are the stylistic dreams of Rodriguez, a filmmaker who is never anything short of extreme in his work. As if the guns weren’t enough, Danny Trejo shows up as a mute assassin who like to hurl throwing knives at anything that moves, and it’s this Baby Groot version of his Machete character years later that comes the closest to punching El’s ticket. The stunt work is jaw dropping as well, a tactile ballet of broad movements, squib armies that light up the screen, accompanied by gallons of blood that follows the thunder clap of each gunshot wound like crimson lightning. It’s a perfect package for any lover of action, romance, action, darkest of humour, action, oh and action too. When discussing films that have held up in years or decades since release, this one is not only a notable mention, it’s a glowing example and a classic that has just aged gorgeously.

-Nate Hill

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Ariel Vroman’s Criminal 


Ariel Vroman’s Criminal does its best to pay homage to beloved pseudo science fiction genre films of the nineties like Face/Off or Eraser, and for the most part it succeeds. All the elements are in place: padded, eclectic cast, implausibly sketchy high concept brain tampering, slick anti-terrorist war games, a brash arch-villain and adorably clunky emotional interludes. When a deep cover agent (Ryan Reynolds, weirdly uncredited) is killed in London, his FBI handler (Gary Oldman), has a shit fit at the lost secrets he knew and commissions Dr. Tommy Lee Jones to use sketchy cutting edge science and transfer Reynold’s memories into another man’s cerebrum. Of course they choose some violent, irreparably damaged convict, namely Jericho Stuart, played with growling, feral panache by Kevin Costner. “You hurt me, I hurt you back worse”, is this deeply sociopathic dude’s mantra, and it’s expectedly hilarious that the bureau shoots themselves in the foot by picking such a wild card for the program, but there you have it. With new memories, Jericho’s basic primal instinct is diluted with emotional scar tissue from Reynolds, haunted by his former wife (Gal Gadot, terrific), as well as a host of clandestine secrets from Ryan’s noggin that propel him on a globetrotting (well, London trotting, really) excursion to bring down a radical cyber criminal (Jordi Molla, the Spanish Gary Oldman, coincidentally sharing the screen with his counterpart). This is the Kevin Costner show all the way, it’s really the best work I’ve seen from him in years. He would have been way better taking the antagonist route with his career, as showcased here. Jericho is a bitter, psychotic outsider and Kevin plays it up royally, dishing out bone smashing beatdowns on random pedestrians and calling anyone he sees a ‘fucker’. Oldman yells at everything, and I mean everything. It’s like there were cue notes next to his lines that said ‘just scream your lines the whole way through’, but he’s fun too, that early career intensity showing through his weathered gaze. Michael Pitt also shows up with a hysterical Dutch accent, doing the boy with the dragon tattoo hacker shtick, looking pale and sullen. The cloak and dagger stuff is uproariously silly, as it should be, the emotional core appropriately sappy too. Smart move in keeping the hard R action movie alive, unlike some movies we know (I’m casting a disgusted look over at Expendable 3), and indeed Kevin gets some overly bloody kills in that fulfill the carnage quota and then some. He kicks ass, Oldman hollers, Reynolds cameos, Gadot cries, Jones looks weary, and so it goes. Not a total slam dunk, but it will make you feel nostalgic for those good old Sly/Armie/Van Damme blitzkriegs of yore. 

-Nate Hill

Lunch with the Equalizer: A Conversation with Richard Norton by Kent Hill

Richard was a young lad from Melbourne, Australia plagued by asthma who loved martial arts.

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As he grew in skill, he would eventually catch the eye of the legendary Chuck Norris, who extended an invitation to the young Norton to come and train with him. It was while working as a celebrity bodyguard that he finally found his way round to the home of Norris, and from there he was offered a part in The Octagon as the masked ninja, Kyo.

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This would be the first of more than sixty screen appearances for the action film star, stuntman, stunt/fight coordinator/choreographer and martial arts trainer. He has worked on fights for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, joined Suicide Squads, trained Scarlett Johansson  for the Manga turned motion picture Ghost in the Shell. He even braved the heat, dust and high-octane insanity on George Miller’s Fury Road.

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As a respected member of the martial arts community, Norton has remained close friends and has shared the screen with fellow industry luminaries such as Jackie Chan, Don “The Dragon”  Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

When I spoke with him, Richard was on his way to train the X-Men for another big screen outing, so there is no sign that the humble 67 year old from Melbourne is slowing down.

Richard Norton is a man who remembers well his origins and what it took to climb the mountain of success, upon which he stands, victorious. It was really cool to chat with him. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

So, here he is folks, the ‘real’ action man . . .  Richard Norton.

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Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever


Big. Loud. Dumb. Hollow. Notorious train wreck and box office failure. Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever is all of these things, and yet somehow I still got a kick out of it, albeit in the shallow end of the speedometer. I know what you’re thinking.. “wow, another turd that Nate is polishing up with multiple syllable words to make it seem like less of a piece of shit.” Well, you’re not wrong. I fully concede that this is one huge glorious, post Mexican food pile of shit, but there’s something about it that pulls me in every time it shows up on SyFy or some such channel. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s one of those rare films that not only is shot in my hometown of Vancouver, but actually set here too. Mostly Vancity just doubles for Chicago, New York or any other Yankee metropolis, but director Kaos (yes that’s his name) chose to tell the story right here in my little burg. Speaking of story, or lack thereof, it’s one big shredded mess of a plot involving Ecks (Antonio Banderas) and Sever (Lucy Liu) two former federal agents out to get each other, eventually working together and then both becoming chumps in some ludicrous government conspiracy involving arch villain Gant (Gregg Henry, hammy as ever). It makes little to no sense, it’s so convoluted it prompts the viewer to throw their hands up in exhausted defeat and give up hope on any cohesion, instead letting a wave of shitty early 2000’s special effects and over elaborate, unwarranted stunt work to wash over them like a tidal wave of rejected video game cutscenes. And poor Vancouver, looking like a ghost town, just gets blown to fucking smithereens by these trigger happy, matrix wardrobed, scowling lunatics. I’d probably stay off the streets too if Lucy Liu massacring hordes of VPD officers was in the forecast, or on second thought maybe not, that sounds kind of hot. I’m rambling, but any review of this film has the right to get sidetracked and ramble as much as this pile of wanton sound and fury does for the entirety of its scant runtime. It’s disastrous to be sure, but does that stop me picking up the remote and switching over to something else when it’s on? Not really. Plus, despite the actual film, this has to have one of the coolest looking DVD cover posters ever designed. I mean, look at it. 

-Nate Hill

The Art Of War


Everyone loves a Wesley Snipes flick. If it’s decent, that is, and these days he’s been churning out some sewer muck. Back in the day, however, he had some bangers, which includes The Art Of War. Wesley heads up an elite tactical team here, secretly employed by the United Nations, hired to do all kinds of cloak and dagger stuff, including securing trade deals, eliminating potential threats and maintaining cooperation from all sides. Run by a well spoken Donald Sutherland and Anne Archer, it’s a low key ‘fight fire with fire’ situation, until it all goes tits up and Snipes is framed for the murder of some bigwig Chinese dirtbag. Forced to contend with Triads, government factions and his own former partner gone rogue (Michael Biehn steals every scene, as usual), it’s a nice set up for a serviceable, above average action yarn. That Oriental influence always seems to make these thrillers seem cooler (ever seen Black Rain or Rising Sun?) which helps as well. Snipes and Biehn are livewires though and have a fantastic silenced pistol duel late in the third act, which is one slick showcase of a sequence. Not a whole lot to this one, but as an entertaining garden variety actioner, it holds up just fine. 

-Nate Hill

3000 Miles To Graceland


If I believed in guilty pleasures, which I don’t, 3000 Miles To Graceland would constitute as one, but I’m a pretty open book, avid fan of all sorts of films, and I either like something or I don’t, there’s no special category for things I’m too embarrassed to say I enjoy. This film is the very definition of unbridled fun, and greases up a pair Hollywood leading men stars for two of the meanest, sleaziest, down n’ dirtiest roles of their careers. Elvis is the name of the game here, pretty much every character spending the film in King costumes of varied colour and style, gathering in Vegas for one bloody shit show of a casino heist, then gloriously double crossing each other and running off into the desert with their ill gotten loot. Kevin Costner is demented brilliance as Murphy, a bad tempered, psychotic criminal who may literally be Presley’s long lost bastard child. Costner rarely gets to cut loose and grime it up like this and he milks every hair-gel soaked, chromed up second of it. He’s at odds with former partner in crime Zane, played with cold, sociopathic grace by Kurt Russell. It’s a hoot watching these two tough guys go to war on each other in high style, killing everything else that moves and seriously not giving one ounce of fucks the whole time. That’s pretty much all there is in terms of plot: a heist, and then one long, violent extended chase scene punctuated by character’s deaths every few miles. David Arquette, Ice T, Christian Slater and Bokeem Woodbine play their short lived cohorts, and they’re also pursued by a few wise-ass federal agents (Thomas Haden Church and Kevin Pollak) who are always one step behind. It’s the Kurt and Kevin show all the way though, and they both let it rip, two antagonists out to get each other in the worst ways, leaving a spectacular trail of wanton carnage and deliberate collateral damage in their sequin strewn wake. A total blast. 

-Nate Hill

Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire


How many shady, degenerate 70’s era Boston lowlifes does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Doesn’t matter, they’re too busy shooting at each other, the lightbulbs and everything that moves in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, the best film of the year so far. After an arms deal gone royally wrong, we get to spend a joyous, breezy hour and a half watching these halfwit scumbags blast each other to kingdom come in a not so abandoned warehouse, unfolding in real time and at a pace that has our pulses racing faster than the magazine clips can defecate shell casings. Wheatley’s output hasn’t been my cup of tea so far, but he’s won me over with this lighthearted, ballistic mini-masterpiece. It’s what I call a ‘low concept high concept’ flick, which I’m sure someone has said before, but suck it. A bunch of childish idiots in a roomful of heavy artillery, the bullets are bound to soon be flying as fast as the dry insults. The deal is simple: meet, sell a bunch of rifles to help the IRA cause, and be on their way. That’s not to be the case though, for as soon as one of them recognizes another party’s member from a violent scuffle prior, tensions mount until that first shot rings out. From there on in it’s a ‘childish game of paintball’ (to quote a friend) that escalates into a deafening fire fight filled with acidic humour and John Denver music, a hilariously counterintuitive soundtrack choice. Armie Hammer is priceless as Ord, cool as a cucumber and constantly lighting up joints mid-gunplay. Sharlto Cooley chews scenery as Vern, the preening peacock of the group, Brie Larson kicks ass and takes names, Cillian Murphy underplays the IRA consort while Michael Smiley, the butt of the geriatric jokes, gets in everyone’s face even before things go south. Patrick Bergin, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Enzo Cilenti and Jack Reynor also get their licks, but the performance of the film goes to Sam Riley, a criminally overlooked talent who’s been laying somewhat low recently. His character Stevo is indirectly the reason for all this mayhem, and he’s a walking disaster, the sleaziest little reprobate you can imagine. Riley plays him balls out and doesn’t hold back, I really wish we saw more of him in films these days. All of these bozos positively ventilate each other with bullets, no one not sustaining at least two or three gunshot wounds somewhere on their body, and once the Reservoir Dogs esque conclusion rolls around, we know that few will be left standing. Clocking in at a rapid fire ninety minutes, this is surefire entertainment for not only action fans, but anyone who loves movies, it’s a perfect example of the reason I go to the theatre. Cheerfully violent, casually profane and hysterically unapologetic. Just the way I like em’.

-Nate Hill