Justin Kurzel’s under-rated adaptation of the blockbuster video game franchise is an intensely sombre work that never condescends, in a genre that almost always infantilises audiences. A rich painterly look brings visual flair to an admittedly challenging script—with too much rather than too little plot—that follows Michael Fassbender as he inhabits the body of an assassin circa 15th century Spain.
It’s way too long and overblown—but boy is it entertainingly overblown, shot to bits with Michael Bay’s distinctive “fucking the frame” style. Playing gung ho cops infiltrating a Miami ecstasy ring, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence maintain their chemistry and snap crackle repartee as the world explodes around them, with frenetically staged chases and shootouts a-plenty.
Arriving well before the current glut of superhero productions, Tim Burton’s take on the Dark Knight puts the “goth” in Gotham City—his deliciously dark sets influencing what would become a more heavy-handed approach to caper crusader narratives. Michael Keaton’s straitlaced impression of Batman/Bruce Wayne is spectacularly countered by Jack Nicholson’s ludicrously entertaining, shit-eating performance as the Joker.
A frizzy-haired, rosy-cheeked young Nicole Kidman (16 at the time of filming) stars as one of the titular whippersnappers who scoot around Sydney on bicycles, foiling the plot of criminal masterminds. Stuffed full of playful shots, unconventional angles and DayGlo colours, this bona fide Aussie classic is kitschy and gaudy, set to the tune of a pumping synth soundtrack.
Robert Rodriguez brings rollicking energy and party vibes to the Mexican underworld, playing up to the idea of legend and spaghetti western style mythologizing by conjuring a larger than life character—Antonio Banderas’ El Mariachi—we hear about before we see. A guitar and a mariachi tune is never far away, in a film full of various kinds of performances i.e. music, action spectacle, and fun Tarantino-esque monologues. QT himself in fact appears in a cameo.
Using the science fiction genre for dystopic class-based allegory (a staple of cinema since Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), Neill Blomkamp turns the “aliens on earth” narrative into unsubtle social commentary. The poor ETs in his explosively entertaining film even cop their own derogatory slur, referred to as “prawns.” Sharlto Copley’s protagonist is tasked with moving them on to an even worse location than the titular shanty town, encountering gruesome body horror when he starts physically morphing into one of them.
Quentin Tarantino’s balls-to-the-wall homage to the genre of stirrups and six shooters hinges on a simple premise: what if the hero of an action-packed western were black? Jamie Foxx pursues blood thirsty revenge as a Deep South slave set free, in a film that couples pulpy QT-isms with scolding allegory about entrenched racism in America.
Tom Cruise plays an alien-fighting US solider who cannot die and experiences the same day over and over, Groundhog Day style, in Doug Liman’s rootin’-tootin’ video game-esque sci-fi. The fight/die/repeat format keeps a ferocious pace and doubles as a commentary on the infallibility of the Hollywood hero.
Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro face off as an obsessed cop and a big-time thief in Michael Mann’s exalted crime film, set in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. The director’s stop-start momentum switches between bursts of action to simple dialogue exchanges, the most famous and memorable transpiring between the two lead actors in a diner, over a cup of coffee.
Edgar Wright has great flair for visual expression and narrative economy. The second instalment in his beloved Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy is a genre-bending buddy cop comedy about a police officer (Simon Pegg) relocated to a boring, sleepy village—boring, that is, until all those gruesome killings start happening. Few filmmakers direct comedy as creatively and interestingly as Wright, who uses editing to bring the form of the film itself into the joke.
Christopher Nolan’s penchant for grandly staged action, combined with a fun multi-dimensional twist, takes the well-worn “dream within a dream” concept to exhilarating places, tiering an espionage narrative with matryoshka doll layers of realities inside realities. Leonardo DiCaprio’s dream-penetrating thief had to go deep inside his own consciousness to prevail—but is he still in some outer realm of the cosmos, watching a spinning top wobble?
Never has navigating somebody’s insides seemed so much fun! Joe Dante’s stupidly enjoyable romp runs (tiny) rings around other miniature adventure movies (i.e. Honey I Shrunk the Kids and The Borrowers), making them look sedate by comparison. A kooky plot twist sees Dennis Quaid’s aviator shrunk down to matchstick size, piloting through the body of poor ol’ Martin Short.
“Did I need a knife in Siberia?” That is the showstopping line in Jack Reacher, hissed by a deliciously creepy Werner Herzog, playing a former political prisoner cum villain. Tom Cruise is leading man, in fine form as a quick-thinking tough guy thrust into a tangled plotline involving crimes and conspiracies. Generic but satisfying.
I am far from the first critic to liken Stephen Chow’s zany chopsocky period movie to a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon, but sometimes the collective wisdom gets it right. Chow (also the writer and director) plays a blunderous small-time con artist who, in a rural slum in China in the 1940s, becomes embroiled in an epic brouhaha between the murderous “Axe Gang” and a trio of genuine kung fu masters. The story is OK; the execution is delightful.
While driving a convertible with no hands (naturally) Arnold Schwarzenegger fires a bullet at an assailant. This inadvertently causes an ice cream cone to kill a man by flying into the back of his head. “Iced that guy,” says Arnie, “to cone a phrase.” Best or worst one-liner ever? Last Action Hero is nothing if not self-conscious. The film—about an 11-year-old kid who enters an alternate universe—is half-hearted as a satire but backhandedly enjoyable.
When cardshark Eddy (Nick Moran) loses big in a rigged poker game, he and his pals set out to settle their debts by stealing from weed dealers. Surprise surprise, there are complications. The various elements of Guy Ritchie’s cockney gangster movie really gel: the snappy performances, the even snappier dialogue, the washed-out cinematography, the disciplined and energetic editing. It’s Ritchie’s first film and remains his best.
There was every indication that George Miller’s fourth Mad Max movie would turn into a fizzer, enduring a famously difficult shoot and arriving three decades after the previous installment. But when Fury Road roared into cinemas, depicting cinema’s most elaborate U turn, it became clear the director had delivered a face-melting modern classic. And that the titular character (Tom Hardy) had finally met his match with Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa.
Who could forget that getaway car?! This beloved Australian classic famously features a yellow Honda Z that splits in half, transforming into two motorbike-like vehicles. The kooky titular protagonist (Colin Friels) teams up with a career criminal (John Hargreaves) and gives him various irresistible inventions to assist in his thieving, including armed remote-controlled rubbish bins.
Produced in the giddy era of 90s Jim Carrey comedies, the star’s rubber-faced antics inform the tone and even the aesthetic of this stupidly enjoyable film about a mild-mannered bank clerk who dons a magical mask and becomes a kind of live action cartoon—as Carrey always was. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde story and, in today’s context, a kind of anti-superhero movie, the protagonist transforming into a human pogo stick wreaking Looney Tunes style carnage.
The Wachowski siblings’ sci-fi blockbuster needs no introduction; labels like “classic” do not come close to doing it justice. Keanu Reeves snapped out of ordinary life to fulfill a Christ-like call to arms, taking on the gods of the computer program dictating our lives. The “bullet time” sequences inspired countless copies, although attempting to trace the impact of The Matrix is folly. A genuine phenomenon; more a cultural touchstone than a movie per se.
Tilda Swinton plays the Willy Wonka-esque CEO of a company that produces a not-so-sweet product: giant genetically engineered pigs to carve up and sell worldwide. Chaos ensues when a young girl (Seo-Hyun Ahn) puts up a fight to save the titular character’s bacon. There’s Spielbergian largesse in Bong Joon Ho’s brisk direction, but he goes places Spielberg wouldn’t—with prickly messages about anti-meat consumption and corporate malfeasance.
Leonardo DiCaprio has never copped it harder than in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s neo-western survival film: he’s beaten, slashed, shot, mauled, frozen, buried alive, flung off a cliff…and that’s just the first 30 minutes. Beginning with a breathtaking early skirmish, Emmanuel Lubezki’s striking camera work follows poor Leo in close proximity, as he embarks on quest for revenge against rotten old Tom Hardy.
It’s more of a drama, really—but the final hellzapoppin moments in Brian DePalma’s highly quotable gangster film (“say hello to my little friend!”) alone qualify it was an indispensable action flick. A coke dealing (and snorting) Tony Montana (Al Pacino) climbs the crime ladder—and good luck to anybody who stands in his way.
The titular character’s dialogue-free movie spin-off—on the family-friendly side of the action genre—sends Shaun to the big city, on a mission to return his amnesia-afflicted farmer pal. Evoking the craftsmanship of great silent era comedies, in addition to inspirations ranging from Jacques Tati to Luis Buñuel, co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak construct an utterly delightful work of art: spirited, lively, inventive, humane.
Gregor Jordan’s offbeat Australian crime caper casts a then little-known Heath Ledger as a bird-brained wannabe crook, who misplaces a big bag of cash and finds himself tumbling down the “in over your head” crime movie trajectory. It’s not a great performance, but it suits the scratchy, uneven but endearing charm of the film, which mixes Lock Stock-esque crime shenanigans with a quintessentially Aussie sense of humour.
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