Films of 2016

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Review Blood Father (2016): Mel Gibson delivers and that's all that matters!

genre: crime, action, thriller

Blood Father is hardly an original or fresh film. It's one that has been done to death and doesn't really try to do something fresh or original. So what if the story is totally predictable? As long as it entertains right? 

And this it does. Mel Gibson is in top form and looking great. He looks so fit he could easily do a Lethal Weapon 5 if he felt like doing so. But he doesn't so let's get over that shall we? Mel Gibson plays a character named Link who is an ex alcoholic and ex con. He used to be an enforcer in a biker gang and because of that past has been estranged from wife and daughter. Link is on the right path of being and doing good until his daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) calls him. Lydia is in very deep trouble and brings with her all the things to him he is so hard trying to stay clear from. Daughter dearest is a true pain in the ass and a real wench to put it mildly. It's very hard to sympathize with her because we aren't really given a reason of why she is behaving like she does. Her whole attitude sucks and it annoyed the hell out of me. But of course father link wants to help out his daughter even if it means getting into a whole world of trouble. 

Well, Lydia also has not been entirely truthful (big surprise) about her predicament and Link doesn't think of it since he is under the impression she is an addict like he was. Had she been upfront I am sure he would have been more careful and better prepared. But very soon the bad guys come knocking and Link is forced to deal with them and flee the scene. Almost every event is predictable to a tee but I did not care since Mel Gibson was bringing his A game. And what a joy it was to see him kick ass like he did. That is what the main draw is and it was real good. Now I am not going to deny that I had hoped for a little more depth concerning the father and daughter relationship. Or that they at least had shown or given us more background on the relationship. Since now there hardly was a conflict. Only once did Link get angry because he was tired of his daughter lying to him. There was also only one scene where they showed affection for each other. These moments are not enough to give you insight about them. It would have been very welcome especially since Lydia mostly comes across as sociopath. Why is she like that? What transpired between her and the mother? Why did she leave her home? Why didn't she contact any of the parents? Did she regret it? Just a few of many questions that are raised but never answered. Then again since this is focused on action it's not really necessary to know all these things. All we need to know that the daughter is in trouble and that the father does everything in his power to help her out. It's so basic, how can't you not love that? Besides it's not all serious and dramatic. There is a healthy amount of humour infused. Especially when it comes to the friendship between Link and Kirby. Is it a coincidence that these characters are named after well known videogame characters? I don't think so. 

So do yourself a favour. Ignore the harsh criticism and just enjoy Mel Gibson's performance. He alone makes this film worth your time.

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Review Hard Target 2 (2016): Not a John Woo production only they did not have the heart to tell the doves!

genre: action, adventure

It's important to note that John Woo had nothing to do with this production. For a long time though his name was attached to this project which sparked surprise and hope. But mainly surprise. Perhaps they were truly counting on him to be a part of this production and got a little presumptuous by ordering a whole bunch of doves. Hence this film is filled with them. Could this have been an attempt to mock John Woo? If this is the case then it's no wonder Woo did not feel like to be involved.  I also would not tolerate people with such attitudes. Especially since the whole concept of a sequel to this film is preposterous. Nobody asked for this sequel. But ok it's here so let me tell you what I thought of it.

Hard Target 2 has no connection to the original. It basically takes out one element of the original which is the manhunt. This time the main villains are Robert Knepper and Temuera Morrison. What happened to you Temuera? You once were a warrior. Anyway they are quite competent and adequate yet they are a little too reserved and calm. At least Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo knew how to exaggerate the evilness of their characters. They were aware that the premise is ridiculous and that you had to embrace the cheese to make it work. Knepper and Morrison take it far too seriously. Not once do they crack jokes or have some fun interactions like Pik and Fouchon did. 

For a while it managed to hold my interest. But after twenty minutes or so it became obvious that the film has one real big problem. Pacing issues. This film has some real solid moments where Scott Adkins gives us what we expect of him. Like always Scott is the best thing this film has to offer. He gives it his 100 percent when it comes to the action, stunts and acting. Too bad though that he is let down yet again by poor storytelling and even poorer direction. Roel Reiné certainly is not the worst of directors. In fact he often manages do a lot with minimal means. By that I mean that he knows how to make the action look good visually. However he is also a director that often doesn't get what makes the action more compelling. An example of this is his use of slow motion. He uses it at the most random moments ever and instead of making it look more exciting and stylish it just looks silly. It did seem like this was a little nod to director John Woo. But I don't see how you can pay tribute by doing it all wrong. Another reference to the original Hard Target was the gun used by Robert Knepper very similar to Lance Henriksen's gun. In combination with the badly timed slow motion it almost came across as a parody. Why would you insult Woo and the audience like this? That is just uncalled for. Because probably the only people who have any interest in this film are very likely the fans of the original. So a little respect please. 

One other problem is that the character of Scott Adkins never truly is in danger. He is not put on the spot enough for you to buy that he is being chased by these evil and ruthless rich people. And how can we be if one of the hunters is burnt out Rhona Mitra who clearly doesn't want to be there. Or she also did not comprehend how she should have approached the role. She should have done it like she did in Doomsday. Quasi serious and tongue in cheek at the same time. But maybe this also can be blamed on director Roel Reiné. He seems to prefer the melodrama over comedy. Only by doing so he killed the fun factor considerably. 

Actually I would say that this movie is no fun at all. The adequate action scenes could not prevent me from getting bored. I stopped the film like three times. I am someone who very rarely does this. But I had to otherwise I would pull out my hairs out of frustration and anger. Yes the pacing is that terrible. Hard Target 2 might not be the worst I have seen and within a certain mindset you might even find yourself enjoying the film. But if you were expecting the same level of spectacle from the original then you are better of watching that one instead. 

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Review Escape from New York (1981): I am a little torn about this film. Find out why.

genre: action, science fiction

John Carpenter almost can do no wrong with me and it is safe to say that Escape from New York certainly is a solid film. But can it be called a classic? I am not so sure.

For the most part this film holds up well. Apart from a few outdated effects here and there it looks pretty good visually. You really get a good sense that the New York everybody knows does not exist anymore and that it's a completely different world now. If I had to make a comparison it looks very similar to the dark streets portrayed in The Warriors except maybe slightly eerier since there is no hint of civilization left. There is a high dark apocalyptic feel to this film that does not disappear even when daylight comes. The fact that even the military and police are hesitant to go into this maximum security prison only adds to the sinister ambiance.

So what is the film about? In short Snake Plissken (Kurt Russel) who got apprehended by the police is tasked by Hauk (Lee van Cleef) to rescue the president of the U.S. and to recover the suitcase with an important tape inside. Apparently Snake is the only one capable and reliable enough to go in on his own. From this moment on there are two factors that provide a constant tension. One is the time limit Snake Plissken  is put on. He is injected with some explosives that will detonate after the set time has passed. The other is that both Snake and the audience don't know what to expect. Everything about this New York is unfamiliar and dangerous. Almost anything could happen. Combine that with the haunting theme composed by director John Carpenter himself and you could almost say that this is more a horror flick than action film. If it weren't for a few flaws. Carpenter never makes good on the promise of the truly evil and despicable events happening. One example of this is a group called crazies. Guess why they are called that? Once they make their appearance you can feel the tension rising and you brace yourself for Snake to be in real trouble. Only Snake manages to get out of that nasty situation relative unharmed and very easily. I would have liked to see at least one or two of these crazies make his life difficult. So that we would be able to experience how dangerous it really is. Basically the whole film is like this. It's close to giving us all the horror and spectacle but then resorts the easiest ways out and denies us that exciting action and fun.

Granted for a first time watch it's acceptable. Not so for multiple viewings. Because then you realize that Escape from New York is a very minimalistic film. It just has enough for a one time watch or perhaps a second watch but that is it. There is nothing about this film that requires extra thought or attention. Apart from a few moments the film manages to have a nice pace and not become boring. but that has to be credited to the actors. Kurt Russel in particular. The though antihero role suits him and you instantly believe that he is the real deal.  Escape from New York like I said is solid but it's not a film you would be able to watch over and over again. And apart from the things I mentioned I don't know what else I could say to speak in favour of the film. So I will leave it like this for now. Please do feel free to share your opinion on this film and perhaps you could point out some elements that I might have overlooked that make the film deserving of it's cult status.

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Review Yes Madam a.k.a. Police Assassins a.k.a. In the Line of Duty 2 a.k.a. Huang jia shi jie (1985): The finale makes it worth your while.

genre: girls with guns, action, martial arts

This film is released under many different titles and like always is confusing as hell. You can change the title as many times as you want it is not going to change the content that much. Unless you changed it for each market which I am certain of did not happen. Craziest thing is that this is the first in the In the Line of Duty franchise and not the second as the title suggest. See what I mean? Anyway what you need to remember that this film is produced by Sammo Hung, directed by Corey Yuen and is starring Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Rothrock, Tsui Hark, Hoi Mang and Dick Wei. 

What more do you need to know? This also marks the first proper film Cynthia Rothrock has been in and has made her a huge name in Hong Kong and in the rest of the world. And very rightfully so. Because she truly impresses every scene she is in. For Michelle Yeoh this also is the first proper film but you would not be able to tell she is not as experienced yet since she also shines when it comes to the action and her acting. However both Michelle and Cynthia aren't in this as much as you would expect. I guess the studio bosses weren't as confident and came up with the idea to have established actors steal the limelight with their goofy and comedic antics. One of these actors is director / producer Tsui Hark. The goofiness is of a level that it simply gets tiresome very soon. I don't mind this in short little bursts in between tense or other exciting scenes. But not like it's done here. Here it takes over the whole story and detracts from the action too much. Especially since I didn't care that much for the characters. I was more interested in Cynthia and Michelle. They basically could have showed them typing up reports and it would have been more compelling than the incompetent low life crooks fumbling yet another ploy they came up with. However the finale does make up for the lack of action prior to it since it is here where the most kickass martial arts is showcased. It immediately made me nostalgic and reminded me why I fell in love with most of the HK flicks made in the Eighties and Nineties. Because it rocks. Still. That is quite the accomplishment if you ask me. Especially if you compare it to older films of for example Steven Seagal. Most of the action in his (older) films don't hold up that well. 

This film might not show enough of Michelle and Cynthia but whatever they do show of them is more than solid. For the fans of the girls with guns genre or HK flicks in general you can't pass this up. 

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Review Find Me Guilty (2006): A courtroom drama that never gets boring.

genre: crime, drama, comedy, biography

When I found out that this was going to be a courtroom drama I had serious doubts in watching this movie. While I like the genre there are no real surprises you can throw in the script especially when it is based on a true story. But nothing prepared me for Vin Diesel. Find me Guilty is his best performance till date. And he really makes this movie stand out. He shows a range I haven't seen before in his previous and movies after. There were a lot of moments in the movie you feel for the guy. We know that he is a gangster and has done some awful things and still you root for the guy. His closing statement really does look like it came from the heart. After seeing this it puzzles me why Vin Diesel doesn't do more roles like this. Maybe because they rather see him doing action movies. The direction was also great and I should have known that since Sidney Lumet was the director. Lumet has a certain style where he blends comedy and drama in such a way that it makes you connect with the characters. 

Forget or ignore all the things you know about Vin Diesel and the roles he is famous for. You will be pleasantly surprised what he is capable of. Even his role in Boiler Room is nothing compared to his Jackie DiNorscio.

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Review Casino Royale (2006): The making of a human bond.

genre: action, adventure, espionage

The first time I heard about this remake i was a bit skeptic. Later when I found out they would place the story in the present time I could see the possibilities. I must admit that I was disappointed the first time I saw this movie. But I understand why they had to change the Bond formula. Die Another Day was a fun movie but even for a Bond movie way over the top! Still a Bond movie has to contain gadgets, outrageous stunts and a lot of action. Since these are what make the movies stand out from other action adventures. Casino Royale has dismissed these and gone are the typical trademarks. So what is left? A new Bond, that is more realistic than his predecessors. James Bond has to rely more on his own strength and intelligence than before. And because of this he does make mistakes. This makes him very human. That aspect does deserve praise. After some considerable thought I think it was the right course to take. It's nice to see a realistic Bond handling matters. I never had doubts about Daniel Craig, I know he is a very good actor. And he is the main reason this Bond movie works! He actually saved the movie. A lesser actor couldn't have pulled of what he did. He managed to be vulnerable and human and at the same time be masculine and rough when needed. People don't seem to realize that this actually is Bond's first mission and that this movie is the prelude of the Bond we know from the previous movies. Daniel Craig makes this transformation very believable. As you can see in the end he finally has become 007. I know that for most it will take a while to get used to the new concept. But I think Craig has proven himself to be a very good Bond. It's a shame that he doesn't want to play the role anymore. Especially since he was awesome in Spectre. If only the movie itself were also. 

Overall this (together with Skyfall) should be counted as one of the best in the franchise. (Personally I prefer Skyfall because of  how it successfully blended the old and new Bond elements. Still don't let that detract you from watching this if you haven't yet.) 

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Review Marked for Death (1990): Memorable villain but everything else is average.

genre: action, martial arts

Two things I come to realize watching back older Steven Seagal films. One I sure was a lot more accepting and forgiving of bad films back then and second Seagal's style of fighting can be downright boring to watch.

Marked for Death was a film I enjoyed thoroughly the first time I watched it. Now having seen it again I was incredibly disappointed. So much so that at one point I was rooting for Screwface (the main villain of the story) to be successful in killing John Hatcher (Steven Seagal). But the guy apart from being creepy and scary was very ineffective. He basically was all show and talk. I don't mind lengthy monologues by villains as long as they back up those words by action and resolve. If you want to kill someone then just do it already. Don't waste precious seconds with useless rituals. Especially if most of these rituals are made up and make fun of real traditions and religions. 

John Hatcher is a burned out DEA agent who suddenly feels like there is no point in doing his job anymore. I could go into the reasons why he feels that way but it's not that important. All you need to know is that as far as he is concerned he is out of the game. Until he crosses paths with a Rastafarian gang member who he apprehends. From that moment on he is made an enemy of this Rastafarian gang lead by Screwface (played by Basil Wallace). After a drive-by shooting on his sister's place his niece gets wounded and this is when Hatcher has had enough and gets back into it and starts doing what he does best. As if being branded as an enemy was not enough Hatcher now is Marked for Death. For some reason though this newfound determination still is not enough for them to deal with Hatcher. All it does is making him angrier and as you and I know it's not going to be pretty if Steven Seagal is angry. Although it's hard to tell with Steven since he basically always looks the same. I assume he was. 

The action is what you expect but surprisingly enough less hand to hand combat. More like the bad guys waiting in turn to have their limbs torn and bones broken. And as exciting as this might sound it got boring after a while since one thing ruined it for me. No one is truly resisting him. There isn't a single person in the film that puts up a proper fight. Something I could have lived with if at least all of the combat was done stylishly. But it is here where I come to realize that Seagal's style of fighting is not that compelling to watch. In fact it is downright boring. All he does is basically grab other people's arms and then they roll making it seem like he is throwing them. And maybe he is the one doing it. Only it simply does not provide the eye candy I want. Because you see Seagal barely punches or kicks in this one. I know that is very typical to Aikido. However would it have hurt for him to do more? Or that he at least would get into fights with people who could dish out some pain on to him before he takes them out? 

Now there is one thing that redeems the film. No matter how cartoonish or ridiculous the mystique surrounding Screwface does help make him into an interesting villain. (He could have been more so but let's not get into that). You would think twice to take him on. So is this film worth your time? I think this is one best suited to watch very late at night or rainy Sunday. Otherwise stay clear.

Fun fact: Jimmy Cliff appears in this film with song John Crow. Apparently Steven Seagal also performed in this song. 

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Review Under Siege (1992): Die Hard on a battleship / One of Steven Seagal's best films!

genre: action, thriller

There is no mistaking that this film was trying to cash in on the success of Die Hard. But it's a well made copy since the formula seems to suit Steven Seagal perfectly.

It is actually very enjoyable to see Seagal come into action and kick ass wherever he goes. The cook named Casey Ryback right from the start is a pain in the ass to some of the staff. In particular Gary Busey. And from his many interactions we kinda know that Seagal is not just a cook. I am aware that this take on it is done to emphasize the surprise factor. Still, I do want to point out that there is nothing wrong with being a cook. In my book it's a profession that deserves respect. (Unless you are one of those that lack any creativity or passion for it.) Anyway it is clear that Casey is the John McClane of this story and that he will be fighting off bad guys left and right and eventually will save the day. He gets some unwanted assistance from Erika Eleniak as Jordan Tate who would scream her longs out and thus endanger them otherwise. But as it turns out she has more balls (no pun intended) than Damian Chapa as Tackman and is very useful to Ryback. (Whatever happened to her? Quick google search led me to her what I assume is her Twitter account which seems to be updated regularly. Only am not entirely sure if it is the real Erika. One of the links given does lead to a legit looking site called Cheryl Sabato Artist Management where she appears to be signed on as celebrity. Cheryl BTW is wife of Antonio Sabato Jr. another has been. He showed up at the Republican National Convention where he makes an embarrassment of himself. But I digress. Just wanted to give you this info in case you were wondering.)

Now one thing that I need to point is that I have seen this film a couple of times already and that the suspense element was completely absent for me. But I guess that this could be said for every film that follows the die hard formula. However most of you won't care about the suspense element too much since of course the main draw is the action. And the action of course is top notch. Seagal's style of fighting is a perfect fit for the close quarters combat. Even when at times you simply feel sorry for the bad guys since they obviously are no match for super cook Casey. But it is so much fun to see these ruthless and very capable terrorists get overpowered by this one man. Actually there is one beef I have with this film. All of the events play out on a battleship. These people are supposed to be the best that America has to offer. The toughest and bravest. But it only takes a few soldiers to take them out of commission? Come on. That simply is unbelievable. Hence you are required you suspend disbelief or shut off your brain. 

I have mixed feelings about the bad guys. Especially Tommy Lee Jones. He is not nearly as villainous as he could have been. I mean compared to Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard he is a pussy cat. I hate to say it but his role could have been played by anyone and it would not have mattered one bit. Their super plan also is incredibly unimaginative not to say outrageously stupid. But isn't it always? In the end even this ridiculous plot serves it's purpose just fine and contributes to one of the better Die Hard Clones ever made. If you have not seen this yet then you should. Especially if you need convincing if Steven Seagal also made some good movies in his career. 

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