Review: The Sweeney

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Last night the husband and I sat down to watch The Sweeney. It is a 2012 film based on a British television series that was made in the 1970’s, and since I’m an American I had never heard of it before. The Sweeney is about an elite London Metropolitan police unit called the Flying Squad, who try to find the perpetrators of an jewelry store heist in which a woman gets killed. It stars Ray Winstone as DI Jack Regan, who despite some setbacks, refuses to give up on the case.

The main things that impressed me about this film were the fight scenes, car chases and gun shootouts. There are many of them and they are very well done. In Trafalgar Square the suspects rob a bank and Regan and his crew go after them. It’s not done on a set, or at a location that could maybe pass for the famous place; it was actually done at Trafalgar Square. I can’t think of another film that has actually shot an action sequence at that location, so the entire fact that they were able to do that effectively on a relatively small budget is outstanding. It took the director, Nick Love, only six hours to film that entire scene. When you watch the film it’ll make you wonder how the hell did he do that! The whole film looks really nice, which proves that you don’t need a huge budget to make an action film. In fact I would encourage independent filmmakers to watch this in order to see for themselves that a small budget doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the details.

I have always enjoyed Ray Winstone’s performances and this is no exception. The only issue I had at all was that he mumbled sometimes, and since I have only lived in the UK for six months I had issues understanding him. This happens whenever I watch any of his films so it’s all on me and not on him. If you are American I suggest you put on the subtitles; there is no shame in that! Winstone is gruff and tough and totally believable as a cop who will do a anything to get the villains. Ben Drew (Plan B) plays DC George Carter, who is Regan’s main partner in chasing down the bad guys. I am so far removed from popular culture that I had no idea who this guy was until I looked him up. There is a strong tradition of rappers becoming movie stars with mixed results and he is better than average at it, so he doesn’t bring down the film or anything like that. Finally, the last main character is DC Nancy Lewis, played by Hayley Atwell. You will most likely recognize her from Captain America. Her performance is adequate as a tough and sexy police officer. Quite frankly many actresses could also have played this part so there is nothing too special about her. There are many other recognizable supporting actors in this; far too many for me to name. If you regularly watch British films or television shows you will see many familiar faces.

The Sweeney has a pretty good screenplay but there is one major thing that bothered the hell out of me; the fact that Regan and Atwell were having an affair. Winstone is at least 20 or 30 years older than Atwell, so it wasn’t very believable. I know that many films these days have a much older man screwing a much younger woman and they make it seem like a normal occurrence, but it’s not! It’s a sexual fantasy perpetrated by filmmakers that has got to stop! Okay, end of rant! Since I have never watched the television show I don’t know how far off the mark the screenplay of the film is, but as far as original ideas go the story is pretty good. One thing that is different about this is that the top bad guy doesn’t really have many lines in the film. The good guys chase after this fellow and he’s pretty much this shadowy mysterious character. We barely learn anything about him, besides the fact that he’s Croatian. This didn’t really bother me or anything since the film is focused on Regan trying to find the guy.

All in all I can honestly say that I enjoyed watching The Sweeney. Even if you’re an ignorant American like me who has never watched the television series you will like this film. It stands by itself as a good example of a well made action flick.

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Review: Enter The Dragon

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This is the best martial arts film ever made. It has everything; Bruce Lee, Bolo Yeung, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, well choreographed fight scenes, political talk against ‘The Man’, intrigue, and even pretty women. The last thing doesn’t really interest me that much since I’m a woman but I know that men have their needs!

Enter The Dragon is about a kung fu master named Lee (Bruce Lee) who enters a martial arts contest run by drug kingpin and slaver Han (Kien Sheh). Lee goes undercover to this contest on the behest of the British government who have been after Han for a very long time. I’m not going to give the ending away since I’m not assuming that everybody has seen this, but I can safely say that a lot of fighting happens and some people die. It wouldn’t be a martial arts film without any of that, now would it?

What makes Enter The Dragon the best martial arts film ever made? Bruce Lee. There can be no question that he was one of the best martial artists to ever live. Mainly because he didn’t follow any strict rules when it came to his style. He combined several different traditional forms of martial arts, and his own philosophy, to create Jeet Kune Do. Throughout the film his creation is shown in philosophical conversations between characters and during the battle scenes. Lee choreographed all of the fighting, which unlike a lot of modern fight scenes weren’t cut every two seconds to hide stunt doubles and the like. The mirror fight between Lee and Han is hands down one of the best martial arts fight scenes ever filmed. It has been copied many times in other movies but never duplicated in terms of quality. This is due in part to the direction of Robert Clouse, who really knew what he was doing in terms of filming action sequences. His use of slow motion techniques during some of the film doesn’t slow down the action, but rather make it all the more intense.

Besides Lee the characters Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly) are a hoot; Roper is an in debt gambler, Williams a street fighter from ‘the hood’. Their shared dialogue is very, very funny and brings some comic relief to the seriousness of the film. Bolo (Bolo Yeung) is another interesting character, an evil bad-ass fighter and one of Han’s men. You may recognize him from Bloodsport, in which he plays pretty much the same kind of guy. Nothing wrong with a bit of typecasting because he is quite a frightening looking fighter! I’ve always imagined Glenn Danzig watching Enter The Dragon as a kid, seeing Bolo, then thinking that he too could be a very muscular short dude! Don’t tell him I said that though! In the nunchuk scene you may be able to spot a very young Jackie Chan, who is an extra that gets beat up by Lee.

Enter The Dragon is a total product of its time. Made in 1973 there is quite a lot of political commentary which is very cool. How many martial arts films do you see these days that talk about ‘The Man’ and about how evil he is? None, and we are a worse off society for it! You can never say that Enter The Dragon doesn’t look dated because it does. This isn’t a bad thing since the sets, the music and even the costumes give it a certain feel. Yes, it can be seen as slightly cheesy, but to be honest what martial arts film doesn’t have it’s fair amount of cheese? The difference between Enter The Dragon and other films though is the fact that the production itself is very well done. It had a studio budget behind it and that made all of the difference. These days most martial arts films are straight to video without a great budget and they suffer for it.

The screenplay, written by Michael Allin, is a pretty simple good guys vs. bad guys type story, with some revenge thrown in for good measure. Han is the heavy who makes heroin and gets women addicted to it so that they can be sold as sex slaves, while Lee is the good guy who is ultimately out to get revenge from Han for the death of his sister. Everything else is secondary, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some character development going on. The character Roper actually evolves as the film goes along. At first we just think that he’s a self important idiot, but we learn that he’s actually a good guy who does the right thing when called to action.

As you can tell I love this movie. I first saw it as a child in a movie theater in the 1970’s and I know that it heavily contributed to my interest in action films. If watching this film doesn’t change how you judge fight scenes then there is something wrong with you.

Review: Universal Soldier

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I saw this for the first time in about twenty years last night and have decided to grace you with a review of it. It’s not every day that you see somebody taking the effort to review this film so consider yourselves all lucky!

Universal Soldier is basically about some dead Vietnam War vets who are somehow brought back to life and are genetically changed to become the ultimate soldiers. GR44 (Jean-Claude Van Damme) starts remembering what happened back in Vietnam before he died, takes off, and is chased by GR13 (Dolph Lundgren). GR13 was totally insane when he died and goes after GR44 even though he is told not to. There is pretty much the whole plot. It’s fairly simple, but then again this is an action film so you can’t expect Oscar worthy material here. The screenplay is by Dean Devlin and it’s directed by Roland Emmerich, who both worked on Stargate and Independence Day among other things. By knowing that you can pretty much guess what you’re getting; a basic action film that gets things done.

What surprised me last night about Universal Soldier was that it doesn’t look too dated. Since it was made in 1992 it doesn’t have what I call the ‘poodle perm’ syndrome. You know when you watch an 80’s film and there is no doubt it’s an 80’s film because every woman has an enormous perm? Yeah, that. Since it escaped that by the skin of its teeth it honestly looks like it could have been made recently; Van Damme and Lundgren looked way younger than they are now, but in terms of the production it was really well done. The stunts and chase scenes looked realistic, which could be down to the fact that there still weren’t that many CGI effects being done at that time since it was still too expensive. I think that actually helped this film because I feel that CGI effects would have made Universal Soldier look like a straight to video production.

During the time this was filmed Van Damme couldn’t speak much English, so according to Devlin they purposely made his dialogue short and to the point so that it would be easier for him to pronounce his lines. Yes, it’s easy to tell that the character isn’t a mental giant, but then again he’s been sort of dead since the Vietnam War so you have to give him kind of a break. Van Damme isn’t awful since he kicks much ass as expected and this is probably the role the made him really famous. By the way there are numerous shots of him naked from behind. Yes, as a woman, I can say that he has a nice ass. Don’t be uncomfortable, we’re all friends here! Anyway! I actually really liked Lungren’s performance because he makes GR44 not only nutty, but kind of funny at the same time. It has to do with how he delivers lines such as ‘They wouldn’t listen.’ when asked by Van Damme as to why he’s wearing a necklace of human ears. Have to admit that made me crack up, being the morbid person that I am.

The fight scenes are pretty well staged, especially the last major scene which was done in the rain. It’s actually kind of funny seeing a smaller man like Van Damme fighting a big guy like Lundgren, I mean the guy is huge! However, you can believe that Van Damme could possibly beat him just due to the tenacity of the character. He’s part superhuman since he was genetically enhanced, so if he couldn’t kick ass he would be in trouble. There is a good amount of gore and breaking of limbs, so if you like seeing blood coming out of the back of heads you’re in luck! Just to warn you there are some needle scenes that are pretty nasty, as in them being shoved into the back of skulls.

One of the only weak points in this film is the performance of Ally Walker who played the reporter Veronica Roberts. Quite frankly I don’t like female characters being thrown into action films when all they do is stand there and become part of the scenery. Rather, I like it when they take part in the action and can take care of themselves. Walker plays her like she’s a manic-depressive off of her meds. Then again she plays all of her roles like this, which has always annoyed me a bit. So, this is all about a weakly written female character and an overly enthusiastic actress. It could have been much worse so it really doesn’t affect the film too much, and when you think about it such female characters were common in the action films of the time, and in fact are still pretty common now.

Universal soldier is a fun action film that will satisfy the needs of any fan of the genre, so get out there and watch it.