Friday, February 26, 2010

The International (2009) - By Mark Oswald

Ok, story time again…A few years ago I was touring the good ole’ US of A with my band at the time, and we had arrived in Ventura, CA to play this music festival we performed at the year before. While we were in town, our guitarist told us that his uncle, an actor, wanted to take us out to breakfast one day. “Who is your uncle,” we asked. “Jack McGee”, he responded. Once we realized who that was, we were pretty fucking stoked!

McGee upholding the law (right)

For those of you not in the know, Jack McGee is a respected “that guy” actor (i.e. - someone who pops up in movies all the time, causing you to go, “Hey, it’s that guy!”). You may not know their name, but you can always rely on them to perform valiantly in a supporting role. For example, if you’ve seen Scrooged, Lethal Weapon 2, Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors, Backdraft, Basic Instinct, Lethal Weapon 3 (Director’s Cut), Miracle on 34th Street (Remake), Jury Duty, Showgirls, The Quest, Jungle 2 Jungle, Breakdown, The Prophecy 3, Coyote Ugly, Thirteen Days, Legally Blonde 2, Crash, 21, a certain episode of Seinfeld, or the first couple seasons of Rescue Me, then you’re sure to recognize Jack McGee. So when he met us outside our hotel, I was, needless to say, pretty excited. Long story short, he was awesome, and one thing he mentioned was that he was about to fly out somewhere to start shooting a movie called The International with Clive Owen. I made a mental note of that at the time, but totally forgot until he popped up about halfway through this movie.

Moving on to the film itself…The International is a political/big business thriller that almost seems like it should’ve come out in the late 90’s. Clive Owen plays Louis Salinger, an Interpol agent who’s hot on the trail of an evil bank. Yes you read that right; an evil bank. I don’t mean “evil” like they’re a bunch of devil worshiping sadists or anything, but they’re a lot worse than JP Morgan Chase charging you double the fee for using a non-Chase ATM. Anyway, if I remember correctly they were brokering weapons deals between a European mafia syndicate and foreign military powers…or something. I don’t know; this was a complicated ride. There were a lot of intense exchanges of dialogue about this bank and their underhanded dealings.

I suppose that before I go any further, I feel I should mention that even though I’m reviewing this film, and I have a tendency to review Action films, this is not really an Action film. It does contain ONE very cool Action SCENE within its 118 minute running time, but a violent free-for-all, this is not. Clive Owen does get to exercise some legitimate badassitude, though. For one, he looks like shit. He hasn’t been sleeping much lately and his appearance is kind of sloppy. These traits, as you know, are genuine badass characteristics. He doesn’t carry a gun, but he knows how to use one from his time on the London police force, and fortunately for us, he does not hesitate grabbing the weapons of others and jumping into action when needed. What I’m trying to say is that he’s not the ridiculous cartoon hero that he played in Shoot ‘Em up. Think more Children of Men instead.

Wife of Sabertooth, Naomi Watts, is also in this but she doesn’t do anything particularly badass, so I’ll end that train of thought before it begins.

Cool tough guy walk #817

One thing I found really interesting is that the filmmakers were always shooting around these elaborate structures, both natural and man-made, in most of the outdoor scenes. They almost became a character of their own, and gave the film a certain feel of complexity; and complexity defines this movie quite well. As I mentioned, Owen’s character here is not the same as in Shoot ‘Em Up, just as The International’s plotline is not nearly as simplistic. All I can say is that if you choose to watch this movie, make sure you’re sober and that it isn’t too late at night, because if you stop paying attention for even a few seconds, you may completely lose track of what is going on.

So are you a fan of complicated political thrillers, high on intrigue and discourse, but low on action? Maybe you’re someone who used to love action movies, but now you feel that you’ve “outgrown” them? Well first of all, you can suck it…second of all, you may like this movie. I thought it was pretty good.

Body Count – 14

Times I slapped myself into paying more attention – At least 5

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chato's Land (1972) - by Mark Oswald

Alright, quick back story here…I discovered this one while searching through Charles Bronson movies on Netflix to add to my Queue. Shortly after adding it, I found it at a Blockbuster Video that was going out of business in my home town of Nashua, NH. It was $3.99. I purchased it. The End. Good story. Thank you.

Bronson's Land

Chato’s Land, directed by Bronson’s Death Wish 1 – 3 helmer, Michael Winner, turned out to be more interesting than I had originally expected. From the descriptions I had read, it seemed to be about a half-breed Apache named Pardon Chato (Charles Bronson) who killed an asshole town sheriff in self-defense and then escaped only to be hunted through the desert by a posse, thrown together when word of the killing got out. There’s a lot more going on in this story, though.

One of the first things I noticed is that Bronson’s character doesn’t even get the majority of the screen time here. He only speaks a few lines of dialogue in English, with the rest being in Apache (no subtitles either). Most of the scenes and dialogue belong to the gang that’s after him; lead by Quincy Whitmore (Jack Palance), a former Captain in the Confederate Army. At first I thought this character was going to be a slightly psychotic killer-type with delusions of the Civil War still raging on, which I deduced when he pulled out his old military uniform immediately after being informed of the situation. It could’ve also been because he was played by Jack Palance, but who knows. In truth though, he is the most level-headed of the bunch, and seems to be leading the mission in order to regain some of his pride lost after the Union’s victory of the war. He is a bit of a sad character, but intelligent and noble. You can clearly see his disgust towards some of the other members of the posse as the film goes on. His men are a motley crew of cowboys, some looking to avenge a death, others wanting to quench their thirst for bloodshed.

As the films goes on, we see the deterioration of these characters caused by such an arduous journey through some seriously rough territory; “The Badlands” as they call it. We get glimpses as to the evil that men can do when pushed too far by the elements as well as their supposed prey. I say “supposed” because let’s face it; their hunting Charles Bronson, as a half Apache, expert survivalist, and total all-around badass. He constantly gets the upper hand on them; setting false trails, draining their already-dwindling water supply, and taking shots at them in the middle of the night, just so they know he’s still around. Things are going pretty well for him until the posse comes upon his home and attack it in a way that won’t surprise you if you’re familiar with some of the other Bronson/Winner pictures. Needless to say that after this, Chato is done fucking around with these men and things get real serious. You can tell because he ditches his normal white-man clothes in favor of a loin cloth and head band; the uniform of a serious man.

Chuck = Ripped
The final section of the movie reminded me of a more methodically paced version of when Stallone goes hunting for evil Vietnamese soldiers after they kill his woman in Rambo: First Blood Part II. Except this is all made more interesting here by the fact that it is done over a longer period of time, as the men are continuing to turn on each other while also being picked off one by one. I found it interesting that as their stress levels escalate through the film, you start to realize that maybe the guys you didn’t think were so bad in the beginning, are really the worst of all when pushed to the limit.

"Don't make fun of my headband"

I’d definitely recommend this to fans of Bronson, as well as any fans of the Western genre. It’s not the all-out action fest like some of the other films I’ve covered in this blog, but it’s definitely a lot more interesting. There’s a lot of good noble/deep cowboy talk in this thing as well, which I always love to hear. So in closing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite bits of dialogue from Palance’s character to his men when talking about their surroundings, their adversary, and their situation in general.

“To you this is so much bad land - rock, scrub, desert, and then more rock. A hard land that the sun has sucked all the good out of. You can't farm it and you can't carve it out and call it your own... so you damn it to hell and it all looks the same. That's our way. To The Breed (Chato), now, it's his land. He don't expect it to give him much and he don't force it none. And to him, it's almost human - a living thing. And it will give him a good place to make his fight against us.”

Body Count - 12

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blood and Bone (2009) - by Mark Oswald

"I want you to tell every mother fucker behind these walls, that if they get the notion to fuck with me—don’t."

What two things do the following films have in common?

Universal Soldier: The Return
Exit Wounds

Give up? Ok.

1 – They’re all pretty crappy action movies
2 – They all feature Actor/Martial Artist, Michael Jai White

Now this is not a dig at Mr. Jai White, but rather an example of how a truly talented ass-kicker can go from sub-standard junk like the aforementioned films above to the realm of top shelf awesomeness like Undisputed II: Last Man Standing and the subject of today’s column, Blood and Bone, in just over a decade. It might have something to do with the fact that before, he was playing smaller roles in other action stars' films (US: The Return and Exit Wounds), and he was bogged down by a terrible script and even worse CGI in Spawn. The good news though? All that is behind us now…

MJW vs. Adkins in Undisputed II

I had heard some really good things about Undisputed II, so despite having never seen the first one (which apparently doesn’t have much to do with its sequel anyways) I checked it out; and boy was I glad I did. It was a gritty, action-packed testosterone fest from beginning to end that wasn’t without a little bit of heart either. MJW was a charismatic and fun-to-watch lead who was sent to a Russian prison, only to butt heads with the equally impressive Scott Adkins, who played the institution’s top fighter. Adkins is also making a nice little name for himself these days after playing smaller roles in The Bourne Ultimatum and Van-Damme’s The Shepherd: Border Patrol, as well as filling in for Ryan Reynolds as Weapon XI in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He’s got the film Ninja coming soon to DVD, as well as Undisputed III: Redemption shortly after that, where his character from the second is given the lead treatment.

But back to the topic at hand…Blood and Bone, like Undisputed II, features a plethora of rock solid ass beatings, the majority of which are delivered by MJW himself. He plays a character named Bone (hence the title) who is damn near untouchable in these fights. There’s even an impromptu shoot-out where he proves himself just as deadly with a gun as he is with his fists, which is pointed out by his Manager, Pinball, played by Dante Basco, or “Rufio” from Hook.


There’s a lot to appreciate in this movie for fans of martial arts and action films. The camera work is not overly stylized or showy (i.e., you can actually tell what the hell is going on). The direction in general is fairly minimalistic. Most scenes are kept to just a few angles, which tells me that the director wanted to present people with an entertaining movie without flash getting in the way of telling the story. That last observation is also a good way to look at this entire film. Nothing contained within is more complicated than it needs to be. I could go into more detail, but I recommend watching it for yourself instead.

I also enjoyed the villain, James (Eamonn Walker), who was played as a reasonably complex character instead of a one-dimensional A-hole or cartoonish wacko. He doesn’t like swearing in his home, he is a seemingly well-educated lover of animals and classical art, and all he really wants is to get into the big leagues of the underground street fighting elite, populated by snobby old white guys who would rather keep him as a second tier gangster than except him as one of their brethren. So James would be a pretty stand-up character if not for the fact that underneath all his posturing and panache, he is truly a cold-blooded killer.

Six against one? Not a problem.

So I would definitely recommend this to old school action fans as well as anybody else looking for quality badass entertainment. It’s got an honorable lead, great fight scenes, a few interesting touches reminiscent of 70’s Blaxploitation films, and an ending that reminded me a little of Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter. Feel free to disagree however, that’s just the feeling I got. Now all I have to do is find myself a copy of MJW’s forthcoming Blaxploitation spoof, Black Dynamite, which Ben has told me is quite good.

Body Count – 9 (The lucky few)

Times MJW "destroys his enemy" – Any chance he gets.