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.

The Curse Of Being A ‘Red Shirt’

The term ‘red shirt’ came into being when people watching the original Star Trek series noticed that almost every single time security personnel, who wore red shirts, were sent down to a planet with Kirk and company that they were killed by the end of the mission. They were fodder for the robot/creature/woman/man that was out to hurt the more important members of the landing party. What mattered was that the officers of the crew were safe and that the ‘red shirts’ were expendable. Below is a montage of red shirt deaths from the original Star Trek series. I didn’t make it so don’t blame me for the music!


The term ‘red shirt’ is now used to represent any character in a film whose presence doesn’t bring much to the plot, but whose death somehow creates a sort of filler. This filler can be used to show the killer or something similar, but the ‘red shirt’ doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they die. As you can guess this is used quite frequently in horror films. If there is a haunted house filled with rowdy and horny teenager chances are a couple of them are going to sneak off, have sex and be killed in the process. They can be considered ‘red shirts’ because their roles aren’t meaningful and their deaths give the killer some more time on screen.

Is any of this fair to these poor expendable characters? Of course not! Can you imagine being an innocent character just going about your business when all of a sudden somebody jumps out and kills you? I mean, you only had five minutes of screen time and didn’t even get to show off your talent of being able to blow milk bubbles through your nose!

Horror Film Survival Tips: #2

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Let’s say that you are in an old abandoned high school with a bunch of friends. You all used to go to the school as teenagers and are having a spooky old time wandering about the empty hallways and hearing strange noises. While you are innocently standing in a cobweb filled hallway blood drips all over your head from the ceiling above. What do you do?

A. Scream and get the hell out of there.

B. Go to the the locker room and take a shower.

C. Just laugh it off and continue hanging out with your friends.

The correct answer is B, go to the locker room and take a shower. Nothing is worse than being in a haunted building and getting dust or blood all over your clothes. You spent the whole day trying to find just the right outfit for exploring and then this happens! How annoying! Surely, deciding to take a shower to get the worse of the grime off isn’t a bad idea? The water will of course mysteriously turn on only because you are lucky, not because of some evil unseen force. Remember, it’s a good thing to be clean and hygienic looking no matter where you are!

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.

History in Films: Gladiator

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This is going to be either a regular or semi-regular series of blog posts concerning how history is displayed in films. Since I’m a history nerd I can get quite worked up when a movie gets it all wrong.  Warning, there will be major plot spoilers ahead. Anyway, off we go!

Gladiator is all about a Roman General from Spain called Maximus who is betrayed by the Emperor Commodus. He figures out that Commodus has killed off his own father, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and wants him dead since Aurelius made him heir instead of his own son. After he finds his family murdered he is turned into a gladiator and gets revenge by killing Commodus in the Colosseum.

Was Marcus Aurelius murdered by his son Commodus?

No. He died of plague in the city of Vindobona, modern Vienna, in the year 180 CE. Commodus was there during the time but had nothing to do with his death.

Did Marcus Aurelius want his son Commodus to become Emperor?

Yes he did since he made Commodus co-emperor in the year 177 CE. There was a lot of controversy at the time concerning this since Commodus had no military training and was considered very erratic. Aurelius was considered, even back during his time, to be one of the most intelligent of all of the Roman emperors, so people were quite shocked by his decision.

Was there a Roman general during the time of Marcus Aurelius named Maximus?

No, there wasn’t. However, Aurelius had a close friend who was a general named Marcus Nonius Macrinus.

Did Commodus have a sister named Lucilla, and did she have a son named Lucius Verus?

Yes, Lucilla did really exist. She was in on a plot to kill Commodus that failed, so her and two other women were sent in exile to the island of Capri. Later that same year Commodus had them killed. She did have a son named Lucius, but he died as a child.

Was Commodus insane?

I wouldn’t say insane as much as he was totally full of himself. He declared himself the embodiment of Hercules, so in turn he could call himself the son of Jupiter. He had statues put up all over Rome and the Empire depicting himself as Hercules; full of power and strength. In 192 CE he declared himself the new Romulus, the original founder of Rome, after Rome was heavily damaged by fire. He even renamed the city and gave new names to the months that corresponded with his self appointed twelve names. He was quite lazy when it came to ruling Rome, and let his favorites dole out policies for him. All of these actions made him a lot of enemies in the Senate.

Did Commodus actually fight as a gladiator, and did he die in the Colosseum?

Yes, he did fight in the Colosseum as a gladiator, and this outraged the citizens of Rome. Gladiators who fought against him would surrender and not be killed, but he would slaughter amputees, exotic animals and perhaps even criminals. In private matches he would kill whomever he fought against. He even charged Rome for the privilege of seeing him fight. All of this brought along his downfall, and he wasn’t actually killed in the Colosseum. On December 31st 192 CE a group of conspirators got Narcissus, the wrestling partner of Commodus, to strangle him in his bath. After his death the original name of Rome was restored and his statues were pulled down.

As you can see the film Gladiator embellished, or even made up, a lot of the ‘history’ that it portrayed. I can understand making up certain events to have a screenplay run more smoothly, but there comes a point in which you have to stop and think if what you are trying to portray goes too far off of the original mark. There were some historians actually consulted to make this film, but so many changes were made to the script concerning historical accuracy that one of them walked out and the other refused to have their name attached to the film.

Why I Admire The Way Of The Sith And Find The Jedi Boring

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I would like you all to know that I’m not a huge Star Wars nerd; I have always been at the edge of its fandom. In the past I played quite a bit of Star Wars Galaxies as various Imperial characters, and have read quite a few of the Sith oriented books that are tied into the Star Wars universe. With that being said I am by no means an expert in Star Wars lore, but I am also not a total novice. I just don’t want any hardcore Star Wars fans to read this and think that I am attempting to be some sort of guru. This is an opinion piece and nothing more. Now we can move on!

Since I can remember I have always been attracted to the darker characters in the Star Wars universe. For me the darker characters have represented something that I could not personally attain, but could often dream about. For instance, I could never learn how to use my anger to control my actions in such a way as to defeat somebody in a light saber duel, but I can watch in awe as Darth Maul obtains that goal. The Jedi, on the hand, think that emotions should be under control at all times and that to be emotional is to be weak. To be emotional is to be human, so I find this line of thought to be very restricting and quite frankly dull. Both the Sith and the Jedi have moral codes that they obey, let’s take a look at them.

THE SITH CODE

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.

Through passion, I gain strength.

Through strength, I gain power.

Through power, I gain victory.

Through victory, my chains are broken.

The Force shall free me.

What I really like about the Sith Code is that it’s realistic and not based on some nearly unobtainable perfection that you are supposed to achieve. Yes, as a Sith you have to train to attain a certain level, which can take a long time. However, emotions are something that everybody has and that everybody has lost control of at one time or another. What the Sith have to do is to use those emotions in such a way as to affect their actions. When you think about it we do that every single day; controlling our actions by our emotions rather than trying to think of a ‘logical’ way to solve a problem. Of course, what makes a decision logical? Can’t a logical decision be one that is directed by the emotions?

Passion and lust are emotions that the Sith admire and routinely bring into practice. Those two emotions can be brought forth to attain different things. An individual Sith can have a passion for an object, a person, power, or for a goal that they want to achieve and all of that is acceptable and admired. If they want something they will find a away to get it without worrying about others that stand in their way. This shouldn’t be seen as a purely evil construct, just a different way of thinking.  The Sith think of their well-being first, rather than of those around them. Others may see this as self centered, greedy and corrupt, but I see it as looking out for yourself first. In the setting of the Star Wars universe it seems more logical, at least to me, to set yourself above others and to make sure no others stand in your way of doing so.

Could I ever attain such goals? Of course not, I’m not in a character in a film. However, I am drawn towards the mythos of the Sith and can admire their use of emotions to gain whatever it is they want.

THE JEDI CODE

There is no emotion, there is peace.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

There is no passion, there is serenity.

There is no chaos, there is harmony

There is no death, there is the Force.

The one thing major that I really don’t understand about the Jedi is their rejection of emotions. They feel that by rejecting them that they can find some inner peace, which in turn makes them want to do good and create peace. I can’t imagine living my life without showing any emotion and not being guided by them at all. In fact I find such a system of conduct to be very illogical. Not only that, I find such a goal to be unattainable. I equate it to modern religious sects who are in monastic institutions so that they can’t be tempted by the sins of the outside world. Even if you isolate yourself you are still going to have emotions and be subject to them.

Jedi are not supposed to marry or have sex. Yes, you heard that right. Since having emotions and expressing them is considered a bad thing love and sex are out of the question. Oh, I’m sure that they have ‘friendly’ feelings for their colleagues and friends, but it can’t go any deeper than that or it might interfere with their inner peace. Remember, inner peace is something that they really want to achieve and perfect. They are pretty much wannabe hippies. I mean they don’t even qualify as full fledged hippies because they aren’t into sex. I would maybe have more respect for them if they actually realized that having emotions is not a ‘bad thing’ and doesn’t necessarily lead to being a bad person. Remember, evil is all subjective and in the eye of the beholder.

I actually feel quite sorry for the Jedi, because I can’t imagine finding inner peace by suppressing all emotions.

Now, I realize that there are those who might feel the complete opposite of how I do, and that’s fine. Also, I know that the Star Wars universe doesn’t exist. If for some odd reason we all find ourselves suddenly placed in a Star Wars cluster of planets, such as the Coruscant System, I would join the Sith and train to be one of them. There, I said it. For the record I think I would make an awesome Sith assassin. 

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.