Perhaps John Carpenter’s greatest sci-fi/action/horror/western to boot!
John Carpenter is one of the undisputed ultimate masters of modern genre cinema. His career as a director spanned four decades, and in 2001 he created his preliminary swan song Ghosts of Mars (even though he took a few small jobs in the years after). He stated that he got burnt out, and decided to stop making movies, “happily playing video games and enjoying myself”. Together with Escape from L.A. and Vampires,Ghosts of Mars could be seen as the final part of a farewell trilogy of sorts with a lighter and more campy tone than many of his previous works.
Ghosts of Mars was originally planned as a sequel to Escape from L.A., but after that one did not do well at the box office those plans were scrapped, and a stand-alone movie was conceived. Ghosts of Mars unfortunately also was a financial flop, but I’ll argue in this article that it has a lot to offer for action fans and should not be overlooked!
In the future, Mars has been colonized by humans. Melanie Ballard is member of a police squad that is own its way to a Martian mining village to pick up “Desolation” William, a high-profile criminal. The town seems deserted upon arrival, but soon they realize that the new inhabitants are ghastly creatures with a thirst for annihilation of all humans.
The film is filled with “Carpenterness”, and many themes from his previous movies make a return. A group of cynical anti-heroes (Escape From New York) are under under relentless siege by a violent mob (Assault on Precinct 13) in an isolated place (The Fog) with an invisible enemy in the midst of the group (The Thing). And just like in many of his other films, there are a few hooks that could have expanded into social commentary territory, but which are not pursued further this time.
The setting features a Sci-Fi dictatorship of the more unlikely kind (a tyrannical matriarchy), so there’s no political context this time. Other aspects such as the capitalistic greed of digging too deep, a drug epidemic, and heedless occupation of frontier territory are touched upon, but stripped of relevance for the largest part. It may be easy to say Carpenter failed in this respect compared to films such as Escape from New York and They Live that had a strong political sub-theme. But maybe he just wanted to put some uncomplicated fun on the screen this time. In Ghosts of Mars, subversion gives way to silliness, and there’s plenty of awesome and crude one-liners going around.
The story is straightforward, told without much fuzz at a good pace, and Carpenter succeeds in creating an interesting world that gradually reveals itself. He also managed to drum up a nice ensemble cast, a badass soldier gang with badass weapons who love to shoot things and exchange profanities. Species star Natasha Henstridge leads the pack and is pretty awesome, as are a pre-superstar Jason Statham, and a hard-as-nails Ice Cube.
The film has simple, almost minimalistic sets that ooze the vibe of both 1950 Sci-Fi flicks and Wild West ghost towns. A couple of scenes were made with miniatures, and some backgrounds look so coarse as if they were matte-painted, it all looks old-school awesome! The editing, especially in the action sequences, seems a bit off occasionally, but it just enhances the B-movie feeling. And Carpenter created a killer soundtrack once again (at least if you like shredding guitar sounds) this time by collaborating with Heavy Metal legends Anthrax and Steve Vai.
With the action, Carpenter takes no prisoners and may have created his most violent film, at least the body count is well above that of any movie he made before. Enlisting the (in)famous KNB EFX group for the practical effects results in an overabundance of blood and body parts being thrown around. Self-mutilations of the possessed miners are frequent, as are beheading by thrown saw blades, and subsequent display of the severed heads on pikes.
The unfortunate police squad endures a few skirmishes in the first half against both human and inhuman adversaries, but chaos and mayhem completely take over the second half. The savage mob of disfigured and possessed miners burns everything to the ground, and every two minutes something explodes. For the action sequences, Carpenter drew plenty of inspiration from classic Western themes, with shootouts on Main Street, a jail sequence, and a showdown in a running train with a crate of dynamite.
Ghosts of Mars earns the “100% Carpenter” quality seal, even though it may be fair to say that it is one of his lesser achievements. But even a half burnt-out Carpenter was still able to create a film full of excitement, a wild genre mashup that never fails to entertain. Carpenter himself stated that the film was intended as a parody of sorts, and that may explain why some scenes feel as if they are missing the mark, but the whole film may actually be one giant practical joke he’s playing on the audience. As far as films go taking place on Mars, it’s no Total Recall, but in the genre of Sci-Fi action horror Westerns Ghosts of Mars takes the top spot!
One fan’s summation of why Rocky Balboa stands tall in the Rocky film franchise!
When it comes to action films, few names are as recognizable as Sylvester Stallone. Making a name for himself throughout the 80s, he is still just as relevant today. Of his more recent works, one of my personal favorites is his 2006 effort, Rocky Balboa.
From Wikipedia: “Rocky Balboa is a 2006 American sports drama film written, directed by, and starring Sylvester Stallone. The film, which features Stallone as underdog boxer Rocky Balboa, is the sequel to the 1990 film Rocky V, and the sixth installment in the Rocky franchise that began with the Academy Award-winning Rocky thirty years earlier in 1976.
The film portrays an aging Balboa in retirement, a widower living in Philadelphia, and the owner and operator of a local Italian restaurant called “Adrian’s,” named after his late wife.”
This film speaks to me for a number of reasons. It focuses on Rocky after his glory days, well into his retirement trying to regain meaning in his life. After he accepts a challenge from the current champ, he is thrust back in the spotlight and despite his days as a champion, he is still considered the underdog.
I always have an appreciation for “Underdog” type films because many people consider me to be an underdog. I have faced adversity in my acting career and in life, so this film speaks to me metaphorically in the sense of realizing your passion and going for it even if the odds seem against you.
One of the scenes that stands out to me is where he gives his son a lecture about life. In a nutshell, he tells him that everyone faces adversity in life and your character is judged based on how you deal with said adversity. This is not only my favorite Sylvester Stallone movie but also my favorite movie in the Rocky franchise (excluding Creed and Creed II). If anyone needs a feel-good inspirational story, then this is the one for you.
Ranking the best action movies from the legendary Gary Daniels!
Expert Karateka and kickboxer Daniels was the uncrowned king of spinning kicks in the 1990s, and his gravity-defying skills led him to much success in the action movie arena. The blue-eyed whirlwind never broke into the top tier of action heroes despite his incredible martial arts talent and solid acting qualities, but remained in the DTV circuit for his entire career. Yet he graced action movie fans with some ultimate classics, and it this article we have a look at Daniels’ 10 most explosive entries to the genre!
Gedo (aka Fatal Blade) was another take on the East meets West type of actioner. L.A. cop Richard (Daniels) tries to track down the murderers of his partner, and Yakuza hitman Domoto is called from Japan to help his fellow gang members in a turf war with a rival gang. Both of their paths cross in unexpected ways, and mayhem follows. The plot sounds simple enough, but is somewhat convoluted and actually not that interesting.
Fortunately, the classic quartet of car chases, explosions, shootouts, and martial arts helps us forget about it. Having a bunch of Yakuza in the movie is always a boon, too, lots angry yelling and growling in Japanese and the weird code of honor is badass stuff! Daniels takes on his favorite role as cocky cop with a martial arts hobby, and delivers some awesome fights, going really rough on his fellow stunt adversaries with uncanny agility. Gedo is a competent production that looks surprisingly elegant for a DTV actioner, and overall is a nice goodie bag of cost-effective carnage.
The combined action veteran power of Daniels’ fighting prowess and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s unmatched sleaziness in villain roles coalesced in White Tiger. Daniels play Mike, member of a DEA assault team. When his partner gets killed during a raid, he is out for revenge in Chinatown. In the meantime, Victor Chow (Tagawa) is setting up machinations to rise through the ranks of the triads at all costs.
Black suits, sunglasses and Mercedes cars, the triads are a cool bunch of classic action movie gangsters. Add to that some stylish shootouts and explosions, kick-ass martial arts action by Daniels in top form, and we get plenty of excitement. The finale also features the awesome moment when Chow grabs a phone handle while fighting Rick, grunts “it’s for you, Mike” and starts beating his face with it. Maybe White Tiger is not destined to become a classic, but it’s a good time-waster and has everything an action fan could want in a movie.
“LAPD, Rock’n’Roll division!” In a dystopic future, a fake (and lethal) vaccine for AIDS is being produced in Los Angeles’ Zone of Personal Freedom (aka the Hellzone), a district where law enforcement is suspended. Police officers Darren and Nick are determined to find out who’s behind this, and go undercover into the Hellzone posing as tournament fighters. Escape from New York meets Bloodsport in this buddy cop flick that was one of the earlier co-operations between Daniels and the mighty low-budget action forge PM Entertainment.
The story hook of a fake AIDS vaccine hit the zeitgeist of the early 1990s, and the Hellzone is convincingly decorated with tons of filth on the street and characters that look equally filthy. The first half of the film does some surprisingly convincing world-building and mixes it up with shootouts and car chases (watch out for that classic GM Futureliner that thankfully emerges without a scratch from a violent pursuit), while the second part is basically just a series of fights. I’m almost sorry to write this, but in this film Daniels’ character comes across as rather irritating, and the script gives him a couple of seriously cheesy and sexist one liners (not of the charming type). He somewhat compensates this with a good performance in the ring, beating the daylights out of the everyone he is matched against. Firepower packs a serious punch for a low-budget flick, and is more fun than it has any right to be.
Daniels and PM Entertainment worked together on several movies, but the pinnacle of their collaboration is the “R” trilogy of Rage, Riot and our number seven on this list, Recoil. During a bank robbery, the son of crime boss Sloan gets killed by detective Ray Morgan and his squad. Sloan hires some hit men to take out the whole police department, and the fun begins. An ultraviolent shootout between police and bankrobbers sets the stage, and is one of the most intense action sequences PM has ever created. And it continues after that with car chases that will blow your mind. There’s cars flipping, crashing, jumping, grenade duels at 70 mph, and one of best showdowns in a PM flick that includes a five-minute wrestling duel on the roof of a speeding limo.
Daniel undergoes the usual revenge flick transformation from caring family guy, over agonized victim to remorseless avenger, and he does a pretty good job at all of it. The whole story has its lengths, though, especially in the middle part. But this, and even the embarrassingly cliched mafia characters cannot ruin the film, there’s just too much awesome action happening. Recoil is an orgy of destruction with just a little too much drag occasionally, and that’s really the only thing that prevents it from being PM’s finest hour.
Fist of the North Star is loathed by hardcore fans of the manga and anime series, but then which live-action adaptation of this kind of source material isn’t? And despite the obvious issue that almost all Japanese characters in the film are portrayed by white people, if you approach Fist of the North Star as just trying to be a fun post-apocalyptic actioner, you’re in for a lot of entertainment. Daniels plays Kenshiro, member of the North Star clan, who competes with the Southern Cross faction over what’s left of civilization after World War 3. Southern Cross leader Shin kills Kenshiro’s father, and establishes a tyrannical rule over the world. Kenshiro survives the attack, and becomes a one-man army that thrashes everyone who stands between him and his quest for revenge.
Director Tony Randel created a pretty awesome visual mix, and combines the classic post-apocalyptic imagery of crumbling cities and desolate desert landscapes with Soviet-style art and a touch of Metropolis. Daniels as one-man army of a mission of revenge is in top shape, topless and sweating for the most part of the movie, and showing off some serious splits during a meditation session. He also pulls some nasty moves on his opponents, rearranging body their parts in very uncanny ways. Fist of the North Star looks a lot better than it should considering its budget, the mood is perfect, Daniels is great in it, only the chaotic and meandering plot prevents it from being an ultimate masterpiece.
Gary Daniels is Hawke and wants vengeance, rarely has a film been so aptly named. Eric Hawke attends the funeral of his step brother, a cop murdered by two hitmen. The ex-marine starts an investigation of his own to find the killers. He gets in the crossfire of a war between an Asian and a Neonazi gang and soon after discovers a sinister conspiracy. The story is all over the place, but that’s okay, it’s only purpose is to throw as much enemies towards Hawke as possible. The setting is pretty neat with a lot of street violence and all sorts of goofy characters.
It’s hard to take anything serious, and it’s probably also not meant to be, such as when Hawke attacks the Nazi gang while dressed up as a rabbi. Daniels’ fighting is top notch with lots of spinning kicks roundhousing everyone who gets in his way. And the usage of improvised weapons in several of the many fight scenes really adds to the fun. Defibrillators and electric knifes become deadly devices, and the greatest of them all is a rooftop antenna Hawke and the end boss are beating each other to death with. There’s a just a ton of crazy stuff going on this movie, Hawk’s Vengeance is perfect entertainment!
With Riot, PM Entertainment made a welcome change from their usual generic crime story background, and the grim intro with original footage from street riots sets a very different tone than for almost any other PM film. Three kids get killed by the police, and riots break out in the city on Christmas Eve. The daughter of the British ambassador gets abducted in the turmoil, and ex-SAS operative Shane is sent to the epicenter of the riot zone to deliver the ransom money.
Daniels walking through a lawless zone with a suitcase full of money is a magnet for all sorts of mayhem. He’s really just running from one place to the next through streets filled with rubble and burning cars, mopping up hordes of enemies (among them a drunk softball team and a murderous hockey gang), always on foot and outnumbered. We’re treated with the classic PM suite of shootouts, fights and explosions, but this time delivered within an atmospheric setting and good-looking sets. The fight choreography and camerawork s also excellent, and with Daniels’ skills in kicking ass added to the mix, Riot becomes an awesome B-actioner.
For Bloodmoon, Daniels worked with director and stunt choreographer Siu-Hung Leung who made the totally bonkers martial arts spectacle Superfights two years earlier. Bloodmoon follows in its footsteps, giving us 90 crunchy minutes of insanity. A mysterious masked stranger kills several martial arts masters, each time during a blood moon. Ex-cop Ken O’Hara is called back to action, and leaves no stone unturned and rib cage unshattered to bring an end to the killing spree. The plot and dialogues in Bloodmoon are trash of the finest kind, and will give you a few good laughs between the fight sequences.
The quality of the fights is completely at odds with the rest of the film, we’re treated with Hongkong style fights of the highest level with an incredibly creative choreography and tight editing. The action goes completely through the roof, with the fighters going up against each other like tornadoes, smashing each other with everything they can get their hands on. Together with less than a handful of other films such as Drive and Guyver: Dark Hero, Bloodmoon is the best iteration of Hongkong-style martial arts in a US action flick of the 1990s, and also gives us the best physical performance Daniels has ever delivered in an action film. It’s a wild mix that may leave you baffled occasionally, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
Two masters of action joined forces for Cold Harvest. Daniels was an established name in the action world in the 1990s, and director Isaac Florentine grabbed the opportunity to leave his first true big mark in the genre. A mysterious plague devastated humanity, and civilization lies in ruins. Bounty hunter Roland rescues Christine, the wife of his deceased brother, from the grips of lunatic bandit lord Little Ray, who has some a sinister plan for her. Roland takes up the fight to protect Christine from Little Ray’s goons.
The setting is great, a chaotic blend of western and post-apocalyptic tropes infused with a total overdose of both gun and kung fu. The tempo and intensity created by Florentine is completely off the scale, and he gives Daniels plenty of opportunity to showcase his talent, every five minutes he shoots someone or kicks them through the room, doors or windows. In Brian Genesse as Little Ray Daniels finds a formidable opponent, their showdown is an incredible fight sequence and appropriately the highlight of the film. A low-budget action flick cannot get better than Cold Harvest, it’s pure DTV gold!
Daniel’s ultimate masterpiece (and that of PM Entertainment) is Rage, the first non-stop action flick to have ever seen the light of day! A mild-mannered elementary school teacher (Daniels) is abducted by a group of rogue scientists and turned into a killing machine. Not overly content with his fate, he uses his newly acquired superpowers to escape and keep his numerous pursuers at bay. From the beginning to the end, Rage is in total overdrive mode and never stops for even a minute.
The whole film evolves around several set pieces that unleash a cascade of old-school mayhem with Daniels dangling from a skyscraper while being shot at by a helicopter, and other sequences that feature some of the best stunt work to ever make it into a US action film. The finale in a shopping mall becomes another highlight with more people to throw than there are windows to break, and the ultimate nightmare for action movie fans: a video store that carries only PM titles gets shredded! Rage is one of the best action movies of all time, at least when considering the ratio between spectacle and spent budget. I dare you to prove me wrong and check out this masterpiece!
It might not always work, but damned if The Marine 2 isn’t just a great action movie watching experience!
When you need a direct to video sequel made, who is the one person you can trust to get the job done? If you weren’t thinking of Roel Reiné (Hard Target 2, The Man With The Iron Fist 2) then you have to watch some more direct to video films my friend.
Reiné’s sequel-making talents began on The Marine 2. Although it’s the second film in the franchise, it’s not a direct sequel to the 2006 film The Marine. In this installment we see our lead John Cena replaced by his fellow WWE wrestler Ted DiBiase Jr. Reiné takes the series to Thailand with a fraction of the budget of the first film.
The film that he and his crew crafts is stripped down and very scrappy, although it doesn’t go without some bothersome faults.
During a very romantic getaway Joe Linwood (DiBiase Jr.) and his wife Robin (Lara Cox) are thrown into a violent hostage situation in the resort they are staying at. It is up to Joe, with the help of army veteran Church (Michael Rooker), to take out terrorist leader Damo (Temuera Morrison) and rescue his wife.
Reiné puts his money on the screen. He takes a real resort in Thailand and turns it into a battlefield. From beginning to end we get decently staged gunfights and mostly authentic pyrotechnics. Reiné knows what you’re here for and he won’t bother giving you anything less. In the early moments of the terrorist seige of the resort, he shows a decent long take of an action sequence. The sequence has some quick brawls and real explosions that may take you by surprise.
The brawls in the film don’t try to reinvent anything but a lot of the action is easy to follow. There’s a standout fight between Joe and two Muay Thai fighters. This fight features a series of long takes. Now it may be sloppy in some portions but there are some spots of good choreography which was done by Seng Kawee. He later went on to be stunt coordinator for ONLY GOD FORGIVES and DA 5 BLOODS.
My main point that I hope sticks is that Roel Reiné gives you your money’s worth of action. Some may not agree with some choices completely, I know I didn’t, but it’s hard to deny the energy put into them.
There is a lot of drama that somewhat flails in the water. I found myself dreadfully bored of Ted DiBiase Jr.. Now I know it can be unfair to be judgmental because he isn’t an actor, but there isn’t an ounce of charisma in him. It makes me curious about how DiBiase Jr. was in the ring. His wooden like performance only stands out more when he shares the screen with the likes of Rooker and Morrison.
Both of them are not only having a lot of fun with their roles, they play them with a lot of life. They feel genuine in their characters. Morrison is almost too fun to watch in his final chase through a real village with DiBiase Jr. to the point that you almost end up rooting for him.
At the end of the day, I would recommend this film to action fans looking for some cheap popcorn fare. The film is the equivalent to cheap fireworks, sometimes they might work or sometimes they might be a dud. But when they do work, it’ll surprise you.
Article By: Cameron Levins is a filmmaker, comic book lover and fight scene enthusiast. Ever since his dad showed him Bruce Lee as a kid, he became obsessed with action films. In his free time he’s either day dreaming about an action scene or researching fight choreographers. Follow Cameron on Twitter here.
For years, I’ve wanted to make action movies, whether they were martial arts or action/thriller. It always seemed to be just out of reach. I never had the resources or the connections to make it happen. All of that has changed. After producing “Skin Circuit” last year and now “Double Cross”, I have officially formed my own production company called TKO Productions. My goal is to show the masses that you don’t need a lot of money to produce a high-quality action film.
The first release under the TKO banner is my well received short film “Skin Circuit” which was co-produced by Head Hammer Studio. Next will be my first feature length endeavor “Double Cross” which is also co-produced by fellow contributor Robb Antequera, also known as “The Cinema Drunkie”. Double Cross is currently in Pre-Production with stunt rehearsals and photoshoots happening in the very near future.
An Ultimate Team
Robb Antequera will also be lending a creative hand with helping me develop ideas into screenplays and eventually into films. We’ve had a strong relationship over the past 2 years, and it continues to grow.
TKO Productions will be a force to be reckoned with in the world of Indie Action Cinema. Keep it locked and loaded right here at the Ultimate Action Movie Club for more updates on TKO Productions and all other things action!!!
Scott Adkins is not gonna miss his chance to blow!
If you’ve gone through my past work on this site, you’ll already know I’m a huge fan of the work of Scott Adkins. The man is the best action star of our time, and he has the resume to prove it.
So when I heard he was reuniting with his Green Street Hooligans/Eliminators director James Nunn to make a military siege action thriller all in one take called One Shot, I was very hyped to check it out. So, how was it, you ask? Well, let me tell you!
An elite squad of Navy SEAL’s, on a covert mission to transport a prisoner off a CIA black site island prison, are trapped when insurgents attack while trying to rescue the same prisoner.
Ohhh boy, if you were looking to add another candidate for the best action movie of the year, here it is! A non-stop thrill ride of heart stopping proportions, One Shot is an absolute blast, with director Nunn, Adkins, and the rest of the cast and crew turning in a real all timer.
Speaking of Scott, he gives a terrific performance as Jake Harris, the lead SEAL who is tasked with trying to keep everyone alive after the bad guys overrun everything, followed by great jobs by Ashley Greene, Ryan Phillippe, and the rest of the cast.
The real star of this film is director Nunn, who does an amazing job putting together this film and making it all look so seamless as one take. I was seriously watching the film and trying to guess where the hidden cuts were, and I absolutely could not! It was done that well! Kudos to him and his team!
And when it comes to the action, when you have Tim Man handling it, you know you’re getting greatness. The action is truly fantastic, with many awesome shootouts, and a couple of hand to hand stuff. Scott goes Mike Banning on a couple of bad guys and stabs them in the brain. That’s the type of stuff I like to see, and it is all so sensational. Just the best!
All in all, as an action fan, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice not checking this one out. It truly sits as one of the very best action movies of the year, and one of the best action movies Scott has ever done. So please check it out if you ever get the chance. I highly recommend it!
Branded a traitor by her countrymen, French national Marie DuJardin is rescued by American soldiers on one condition: to survive, she must lead them to a cache of gold hunted by the Nazis, the French resistance, and the Americans alike.
Good god almighty, what a picture. Director Johnson’s ultimate masterpiece of the bleak & unforgiving kind. The man has truly done it again in bringing us the goods in hardcore action, but also the darkest side of human nature. In this tale, nothing is black & white. The definition of pure grey. Everybody is covered in the blackest cloud within this world of complete desperation & despair, and Johnson conveys that exceptionally.
He is aided by a fantastic cast, led by Bergman. She gives an amazingly forceful performance as Marie, the battered but resilient fighter who will do whatever it takes to survive. Mandylor is perfect as Maitland, a coldhearted bastard who only cares about one thing: getting rich, no matter what the cost. And Murphy, Vandenberg and Bernhardt are also equally great.
With the mention of Bernhardt, and directed by Johnson, I can only guess you’re assuming that there’s some assortment of martial arts featured in here. I’m here to tell you that is not the case. This is a war movie, and people, war is absolute hell. We get a boatload of really gruesome battle scenes, with old fashioned squibs that are the bloodiest since Total Recall. Carnage candy is on the menu here, and we get it in spades.
All in all, I highly recommend this to all action friends and war movie lovers. It’s got a great story, incredible performances, and frequent & intense action. So check it out when you get the chance, you won’t be disappointed.
A look back at the ultimate action sci-fi films from Neill Blomkamp.
Science Fiction knows many themes, but becomes most riveting when it combines fantastic worlds and stories with reflections on the human condition and the current state of our society. In 2009, Neill Blomkamp landed a smash hit with his debut District 9, an action-packed and heart-breaking tale of alien refugees being terrorized by a cynical government and greedy corporations. He followed up with two movies in a similar vein, Elysium and Chappie.
While not a trilogy connected by characters and settings, all three films addressed burning issues of societal relevance without any subtlety, and mixed them up with blowout action sequences, a combination that we haven’t seen in such intensity since 1987’s Robocop. So let’s venture into the world of this visionary director, who has graced us with three absolute masterpieces of 21st century Sci-Fi action cinema!
With his second film, Blomkamp created the ultimate dystopia and cemented his reputation as a filmmaker that combined biting social commentary with high-octane action, this time with the support of Hollywood superstars Jodie Foster and Matt Damon.
In the future, Earth’s population lives in filth and misery, while a small group of super-rich enjoys life in the lavish space station Elysium. Max suffers a deadly dose of radiation during an accident at his workplace, a factory for police droids. With only five days to live, he needs to get to the medical treatment chambers on Elysium to save his life. In return for a ticket on a transport arranged by human trafficker Spider, he agrees to be turned into a weaponized cyborg. His mission is to abduct the designer of Elysium Carlyle, who is residing on Earth, and carries a data chip in his head that can change the course of history for all mankind.
Only a little less than a decade after Elysium was released, many aspects of the film are uncannily close to what would happen if we extrapolate all the worst things in our current society to an extreme, but not completely unlikely scenario. The middle class has disappeared and the poor 99% live on a garbage planet. The vision of billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to leave earth either temporarily or even permanently has become a reality with Elysium, an unreachable paradise with miraculous healthcare. And Max’ workplace feels like a hellish version of an Amazon warehouse where humans are assembling their slaveholders.
Blomkamp immerses the audience without mercy into this terrible, but strangely familiar world, where everyone is either broken, sick or a maniac. Elysium would be an outright depressive film if there wasn’t some cathartic release of ultraviolence during Max’s ordeal. The action hits extremely hard with savage brutality, and keeps coming almost non-stop in the second half of the film. Max’s insane body modifications make him an unstoppable killing machine, and equipped with oversized and supercharged weapons he smashes up squads of droids and mercenaries. The action set pieces are of a stunning intensity, even though they lose some momentum towards the end of the film.
Matt Damon (as Max) and Jodie Foster’s as Elysium’s tyrannical defense secretary give solid, but not very inspired performances. It’s hard to be intense, though, if you have someone like Sharlto Copley going for the Maniac of the Century award. Even though Blomkamp’s muse is relegated to the second rank in the film he makes the screen explode as usual, this time as Elysium’s enforcer on earth, a psychotic mercenary with a katana and explosive shurikens as his weapons of choice! While being a ted less crazy than Blomkamp’s other two films, Elysium is still a delightfully radical Sci-Fi action spectacle.
An innocent child, a caring mother, and a manipulative father living on the outskirts of society. This sounds like the ingredients for a dark family drama, but the kid is a robot, the parents are two gangsters portrayed by famous South African rap duo Die Antwoord, Ninja and Yolandi, and those are only two aspects of Chappie’s colorful absurdity!
Arms corporation Tetravaal builds and operates the Scouts, a squad of police droids that are deployed to combat rampant crime in Johannesburg. Tetravaal engineer Deon develops an artificial intelligence and tests it on a decommissioned Scout unit. The droid (named Chappie) is stolen by gangster Ninja who seeks to exploit Chappie’s superhuman combat skills for a heist. And Deon’s jealous co-worker Vincent is also after Chappie’s AI for his own product line of assault mechs.
Chappie revisits one of the themes from District 9: an extraordinary creature humanity can learn so much from becomes nothing more than a target for selfish and sinister intentions. On top of that, the film approaches the nurture vs. nature controversy in a most entertaining way. Happy and sad, angry and cheerful, we go through all the emotions with this confused robot (with killer voice acting by Sharlto Copley) who just wants to read children’s books with his mummy, but is always drawn into trouble by Ninja.
And just like in Blomkamp’s previous films, Chappie is ripe with criticism and ridicule of arms corporations. The company is embodied by Hugh Jackman in a pretty awesome role as psychotic weapons engineer with a five dollar haircut, who convincingly answers the questions who the real criminals are in this film.
The action frequency is not extremely high, but there’s still plenty of mayhem going around. Gangsters and killers robots are clashing in bloody shootouts, with Chappie causing a good deal of mostly unintentional havoc on his own. A robot teaches us a lesson in humanism, and again Blomkamp managed to create a film full of humor, heart and awesome action, what better way is there to digest food for thought?
Blomkamp crashed through the gates of Hollywood with his debut movie, which even earned him four Oscar nominations! Thought-provoking Science-Fiction got relegated to art-house cinema to a large extent in recent decades, but with District 9 Blomkamp brought it back to Blockbuster action flicks big time!
An alien spaceship floats over the city of Johannesburg. Weakened and starving aliens are found inside and put into a camp. Years later, the camp has degraded into a crime zone, and the city administration tasks weapons corporation MNU with relocating the aliens to District 9, a more tightly controlled compound outside the city. Wikus van de Merwe is put in charge to run the operation, and is exposed accidentally to a black liquid found in an alien shack during the raid. He starts to undergo a ghastly transformation, which makes him the target of MNU mercenaries and Nigerian warlords.
The plot is not even a metaphor, but re-creates the South African apartheid regime of the past with aliens as helpless victims instead. And it doesn’t stop there, Blomkamp even draws a line back to the Nazi terror with concentration camps, murderous medical experiments and a slow genocide with MNU officers destroying all alien eggs they can find. On this grim foundation, he builds a thrilling story of betrayal, hope and friendship. Sharlto Copley carries the movie almost on his own, as the tragic protagonist Wikus, who realizes what horrible policies he helped to enforce only when it’s too late and he sees things from the other side of the fence. Ironically, he becomes the most sought after individual in the whole camp, as he undergoes a physical and mental transformation during his ordeal.
Starting out as a feeble bureaucrat he gradually evolves into a remorseless avenger, also thanks to weapon technology from another planet. Hyper-fast projectiles with extreme impact let everything explode, be it buildings, cars or human bodies. Aliens vs. mercenaries vs. warlords give us some high-octane action sequences that turn the slums of Johannesburg into a warzone. With District 9, Blomkamp combined the intensity of Black Hawk Down with an intricate plot and biting social commentary a la Robocop, and gave us everything a genre fan could dream of packed into a single film!
A slightly cheesy, but compelling, story smoothly combines with ultimate action in The Substitute (1996).
Going to school is pretty boring sometimes, but in the action movie realm schools can become playgrounds of destruction and arenas for heroic deeds! The sub-genre of action films in a high school setting is rather narrow, but gave us a few classics such as The Principal.
Toy Soldiers and Class of 1999 (a sequel of sorts to the somewhat unpleasant exploitation flick Class of 1984). All of them went deliciously over the top, and threw students and teachers into merciless fights against cyborgs, terrorists or drug-dealers. And in 1996, The Substitute followed in their footsteps.
The Substitute came out one year after Michelle Pfeiffer gave the tough, but good-hearted U.S. Marine-turned teacher for black students from a rough neighborhood in the schmaltzy school drama Dangerous Minds. The Substitute likely was conceived to benefit from the commercial success of this teacher-on-a-mission type of film, but thankfully it strongly dialed back on the melodrama and added some healthy doses of testosterone-infused old-school action!
Jonathan Shale and his crew of mercenaries return from a covert mission in Cuba. He visits his girlfriend Jane in Miami, who is a school teacher. She gets kneecapped after a run-in with one of her students, gang leader Juan Lacas. While Jane is recovering from the assault, Shale poses as her replacement to make sure she remains safe in the future. When he finds out that Lacas and other members of the school are involved in drug trafficking, he reactivates his old squad to clean house in Gangster’s Paradise.
If you know a school where a drug ring operates from the building’s basement, please let us know! This and some other parts of the film’s premise are a bit bonkers, but once you accept them the film tells a fairly consistent story in its setting. A chaos class gets straightened out by Shale, who teaches them valuable life lessons about his time in Vietnam and in a biker gang, but his biggest gift to the students is to rid the school of drug crime. We all know that more than discipline and some pep talk are needed to help kids succeed, but there is a coarse charm to this idea, that is only enhanced by the film’s unapologetic mixing of its social message with hard-hitting action.
The Substitute is a film that cares for its characters, every actor plays their part with verve and manages to create a sense of sincerity even in some of the more absurd situations. Tom Berenger of eternal Sniper fame is Jonathan, the tough guy with a kind heart. He takes no prisoners when things get rough, and just owns every scene he’s in. Berenger is joined by a jovial gang of ex-mercenaries who are chilling out at the shooting range. The great William Forsythe is the most flamboyant member of Shale’s posse. His character Hollan looks wild, behaves wild, and shows us what psycho-killer Richie from Out for Justice would be like if he joined the forces of good.
The films also devotes a good chunk of its runtime to a couple of nice action sequences. We follow Shale as he goes from one encounter to another with Lacas’ gang, with each time things getting more violent and deadly. Disciplinary arm-bending is succeeded by throwing thugs out the window, and Jonathan’s crusade culminates in a Cannon-esque finale where our merciful mercenaries defend the school against a whole squad of baddies. It’s all staged on a modest scale compared to blockbuster action flicks of its time, but there’s enough creative ideas and spectacle to keep things exciting.
Despite a bunch of bloody killings, the film has an uplifting vibe. A fart joke early into a movie is always a good signal that we shouldn’t take things too serious. There’s also lot of positive attitude in The Substitute, and that is a nice change from the all-too common cynicism we find in so many action films. The Substitute combines a slightly cheesy, but ultimately compelling story with fun action sequences, and goes after its premise in an amazingly smooth way. And if nothing else, the message that we need more ex-mercenaries as school teachers will stick for sure!
Full of tension and spellbinding action, Escape from Mogadishu is another killer South Korean modern actioner.
Escape from Mogadishu is a South Korean Action/Drama/Thriller from director Ryoo Seung-wan that tells the true story of the efforts of both North & South Korea’s involvement in the Somali Civil War and their combined efforts to escape the city alive.
This film was such a riveting experience from beginning to end. With heart pounding action, hard hitting drama, and fantastic performances, this is without a doubt one of the best films to be released this year.
Director Ryoo, who also helmed the outstanding The City of Violence and the gripping The Berlin File, infuses the proceedings with so much suspense it almost becomes unbearable at times. He is aided greatly by a first rate cast, who all turn in excellent performances.
It’s worth noting that the conflict that begins in this film is also the same conflict at the heart of Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. This would make a great double feature bill, if your heart could withstand it all.
And the action sequences are all absolutely spellbinding. The film is a slow burn affair, so you have to wait a bit for things to begin. But when it does, it becomes an absolute spectacle of nail biting tension.
So if you have the chance, do check out Escape from Mogadishu. It’s a thoroughly enthralling tale that I highly recommend.