24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Action movies

In NY, Jason Statham looks to punch above his weight

April 18, 2012 |  9:26 am

NEW YORK -- Since he first appeared as Guy Ritchie's tough-talking muscle more than a decade ago, Jason Statham has pounded, head-butted, pummeled, hammered, shot, punched, knived, thrashed and battered countless of on-screen victims.

But for all his Schwarzeneggerian ambitions, Statham has perhaps never racked up a body count as large as that of “Safe,” Boaz Yakin's new crime-themed action movie, which sees more blood and bullets than a small Central American war.

At the movie’s New York premiere on Monday, Yakin was effusive about his star, and not just for his kill count. The actor, Yakin said before the screening, “adds some colors to the palette here, and he does it in a way that knocked me out." The pun was figurative. One hopes.

The film, which Lionsgate releases next week, takes the director back to the street action of his acclaimed indie debut, “Fresh,” though this is a movie meant to sell tickets to a no-translation-required global action crowd as much as it's designed to win Sundance awards (even if it does feature the producing hand of longtime/previous Quentin Tarantino collaborator Lawrence Bender and costars a bunch of streetwise theater-y types like Danny Hoch).

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'Battleship' propelled by action cliches, early reviews say

April 13, 2012 |  5:00 am

Battleship, a board game with no characters or plot, might seem like odd source material for a movie. Then again, recent blockbuster franchises have sprouted from toy lines ("Transformers," "G.I. Joe") and a theme park ride ("Pirates of the Caribbean"), so perhaps it's not much of a stretch. Early reviews of "Battleship," which opens in some foreign countries this week and May 18 in the U.S., indicate that although the film does indeed offer some semblance of a narrative (briefly: humans vs. aliens on the high seas), the storytelling takes a back seat to the explosions.

In the Birmingham (England) Post, Alison Jones says director Peter Berg is channeling Michael Bay, and she characterizes "Battleship" as "'Pearl Harbor' by way of 'Transformers.'" Jones adds that "No action movie cliche remains unmilked in a movie so jingoistic it practically bleeds red, white and blue." Berg, however, does have a sense of humor, and "his decision to just embrace the machismo" earns the film some bonus points in her opinion.

MSN Movies UK also invokes the ghost of action movies past, calling Berg's film "a long, loud and very spectacular actioner that does on the sea what 'Independence Day' did in the skies." But because the film has "an obsession with artillery," most of the characters fall flat: "it's hardly surprising that 'John Carter's' Taylor Kitsch gets lost in the crush as a disgraced officer shocked to find himself in charge of the human resistance." At least pop singer Rihanna has fun as "a spunky munitions ace."

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'Raid: Redemption': Director Gareth Evans kicks up action [Video]

March 22, 2012 |  7:00 am

Growing up in Wales, Gareth Evans couldn’t wait for his father to go to the local video store every weekend and return home with a stack of martial arts action films starring the likes of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Sammo Hung.

Now, some two decades later, the 31-year-old Evans has transformed himself into an Indonesia-based martial arts filmmaker. His second such action flick, “The Raid: Redemption,” which was produced for around $1 million, has been a critical darling on the festival circuit since it premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival. It opens both in the U.S. and Indonesia on Friday. (Above, you can watch an exclusive video narrated by Evans about the making of the movie's "hole drop" scene.)

The film, perhaps best described as an edge-of-the-seat “Die Hard” with fists and feet of fury, showcases the Indonesian-style martial art of silat. The plot revolves around an elite special forces team rookie named Rama (Iko Uwais) who is trapped with other members of his force in a rundown, 15-story apartment building inhabited by a vicious crime lord and his equally ruthless cronies.

Silat has a lot in common with other martial arts such as kung fu and muay Thai, Evans said. “They tend to share similar movements,” he said. “But it’s the presentation of it. It is the packaging of how you go from A to B, which is what makes each of the martial arts feel different and unique.

“One of the things I really loved about silat is the fact it is so adaptable and so fluid in the way it moves. You can be fighting someone and then they can come down and take your legs from you. It’s all done in a blink of an eye. It can be adapted if you are in a wide open space or a confined space. There are around 200 different forms of silat. Each one is relevant to the culture of its village or sometimes influenced by animals. In this movie, we went for a universal silat.”

Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, which is distributing the movie in the U.S., called Evans a filmmaker to watch. “The action and the way he moves a story along ... you blink your eyes and it’s over,” he said. “I haven’t seen a movie this exciting with this kind of action in years. He keeps the tension so tight that by the end of the movie, you get up and you realize you have broken into a sweat.”

Evans’ move from Wales to Indonesia was spurred by his wife. After getting a master’s degree in screenwriting in Wales, Evans made his first film, the low-budget thriller “Footsteps,” in 2006. Though it wasn’t released in Britain, it did get a DVD release Stateside. “That was a key moment for me,” he said. “Before that, I was doing my 9-to-5 job doing Web coding and making videos for people to learn Welsh.”

But after making “Footsteps,” he knew the only thing he wanted to do was direct more features. “But I had no idea how,” he said. “In the U.K., I didn’t push enough to get into the industry.”

Meanwhile, his Indonesian Japanese wife, “Raid” producer Maya Barack-Evans, couldn’t get work in Wales. So they decided to give Indonesia a try. His wife made some calls in the country and Evans soon got a job directing a documentary, “Land of Moving Shadows: The Mystic Arts of Indonesia, Pencak Silat.”

“It was the first time I had ever been introduced to silat,” said Evans. “I wanted to kind of show my friends in the U.K., but there were no films being made in Indonesia that showed it in its pure form.”

While he was making the documentary, he met his future star Uwais, a truck driver who was a student of silat. “We were filming his master,” Evans said. “He did a display demonstration. I was blown away. This guy can move.”

And the two have collaborated ever since. Uwais was the star and fight choreographer on Evans’ first martial arts film, “Merantau,” which was a hit in Indonesia and was sold internationally. For “The Raid,” Uwais did the choreography, along with Yayan Ruhian, who plays the villain Mad Dog.

Evans doesn’t believe that the film’s nonstop violence and bloodletting will turn off audiences. “It’s a violent movie,” he said. “But we are not being gratuitous or repulsive. We don’t linger on things. It is the equivalent of someone coming up and punching you in the stomach and running away.”


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-- Susan King

'Act of Valor' offers steely action, wooden acting, critics say

February 24, 2012 |  4:38 pm

Act of Valor

The new action movie "Act of Valor," about an elite squad of commandos trying to foil a deadly terrorist plot, brings a novel addition to the genre: real Navy SEALs. The movie stars active-duty SEALs in the lead roles and grew out of military recruiting efforts, eventually becoming a feature film. According to movie critics, the film betrays its origins, offering crackerjack action scenes but also stiff acting and a thin story.

The Times' own Kenneth Turan writes that "Act of Valor," co-directed by Mike "Mouse" McCoy and Scott Waugh, "still has some of that promotional film feeling to it, plus a healthy dose of worshipful mythologizing." Turan says the SEALs "are certainly impressive in combat situations" and "the split-second logistics of SEAL operations, not to mention the gear they have at their disposal, is also remarkable." Alas, "impressive as all this is, it can't hide the fact that these total warriors can't really act, a situation that may not matter in combat but has to be characterized as a drawback in a motion picture."

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'Act of Valor': Navy SEALs get their close-up (and Obama moment)

February 14, 2012 |  3:58 pm


Even before the Navy parachute team dropped out of the sky high above Sunset Boulevard, you had a sense the “Act of Valor” premiere was a different sort of Hollywood event. After all, Tim Tebow had asked to attend.

As the screening for the movie was set to begin at the ArcLight on Monday night, there stood the Broncos quarterback, dressed spiffily in tie and vest,  glad-handing members of the industry in the lobby and taking photos with adoring fans, who seemed to be doing more than their share of kneeling themselves. This was just after the Leap Frogs, as the Navy jump team is known, had made their aerial entrance, whooshing by in a plane overhead and then floating down to the red carpet -- but right before Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the lobby in a more conventional Hollywood manner (walking, with an entourage).

Movie studios are rarely averse to a good publicity stunt, but the high-flying spectacle, thrown by studio Relativity Media, was unusual given the people at the center of “Act of Valor": Navy SEALs, the elite amphibious unit that usually conducts its business well outside of the public eye.

Opening Feb. 24 (you can watch the trailer below), “Act of Valor” was built from the raw material of real-life training videos of active-duty SEALs, with footage folded into a series of scripted vignettes about a number of harrowing missions.  (You can read the film’s fascinating back-story in my colleague Rebecca Keegan’s Sunday Calendar piece.)  The group believes that it’s ready for its public moment, or at least a slight pulling back of the veil that has enshrouded it for so long.

Before the screening, directors Mouse McCoy and Scott Waugh asked the SEALs who appear in the film, about a dozen of them scattered throughout the audience, to stand for a moment of recognition. The audience then gave them a standing ovation, the first of several that would follow during key points in the film. “And we wanted to thank the … wives, mothers and spouses of those who go down range and serve our country,” said the directors, who are known collectively as the Bandito Bros., using the group’s lingo for the heart of their operations.

Many of the SEALs present Monday night also appeared in the film, real-life commandos who, while not likely to turn in their uniforms for Screen Actors Guild cards anytime soon, have also for a brief moment become screen stars on top of their day jobs hunting down bad guys in distant swamps and deserts.

After the screening, the SEALs mingled in the lobby, getting high-fives from members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Then they retired to a Hollywood club across the street, where their gold-flecked, deep blue uniforms served as an unusual sight among a premiere’s more typical mix of industry players and hangers-on.

(Many of the SEALs were reticent when approached and asked for their reaction to the film, saying little more than “great movie,” although a few, declining to give their names, did say that they found it motivating. “It made me want to go out and do even more for this country. And maybe like a thousand push-ups,” one SEAL told 24 Frames.)

"Act of Valor" opens on several thousand screens next week, its campaign financed by Relativity Media, the independently run studio that paid about $12 million for the right to release the movie. Though the movie never makes mention of the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden last spring -- it focuses far more generally on the SEALs' skill and sacrifice -- it’s impossible to sit through it and not think of that strike.

Which means the movie, not unlike Chrysler’s Clint Eastwood Super Bowl commercial this year, could be seen as providing tacit support for President Obama, who ordered the Bin Laden mission.

Indeed, a few weeks ago, the filmmakers took their movie to the White House, where senior brass from the Navy joined to view it with the president. The commander in chief watched the film through and told the filmmakers he liked it, according to a person who was present at the screening but declined to be identified because he was asked not to reveal details of the event.

(The philosophy that  underlies the SEALs also plays to the administration’s belief that smaller, highly specialized units often represent a more favorable military option than traditional shock-and-awe tactics. And the SEALs' mission in Pakistan last year -- itself the subject of an upcoming movie from the filmmakers behind "The Hurt Locker" -- is a key piece of the president's re-election campaign.)

Relativity will hope to capitalize on the same patriotic, pro-SEALs feeling, and is positioning “Act of Valor” as far more than a typical action movie. The company's ambitions were evident in a Super Bowl spot, rare for a movie not based on an existing brand and containing no name actors, as well as a social-media campaign that exhorts filmgoers to "join the conversation."

The film's tagline plays on a similar sense of duty: “The only easy day was yesterday,” it states -- a sentiment that, as one watched the SEALs walk around the premiere after-party Monday night, was hard to disagree with even amid the abundant appetizers and open bars.



Act of Valor must balance secrecy, publicity with Navy SEALS

The Navy SEALs are ready for their close-up

Super Bowl: Why are the best ads not for movies?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Navy SEALs deploy on a C-130. Credit: Relativity Media


'Haywire': Soderbergh thriller a cracking good time, critics say

January 20, 2012 |  2:44 pm

Back in 2010, rumors swirled that director Steven Soderbergh would be retiring from filmmaking soon and focusing on painting. Since then, though, he's been as busy as ever, releasing the pandemic thriller "Contagion" in September and finding a new muse in the female mixed martial artist Gina Carano, who makes her theatrical debut in Soderbergh's first spy flick, "Haywire." The film, which opens today, has been appraised by many critics as well-crafted and entertaining, if not especially profound.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey declares that "Haywire" is "less a tightly plotted action film than an excuse to showcase Carano's substantial fighting skills." While the film doesn't represent the best work of either Soderbergh or screenwriter Lem Dobbs ("Dark City," Soderbergh's "The Limey"), Sharkey says it's neither's worst effort, and watching Carano kick butt "is thoroughly entertaining, highly amusing and frankly somewhat awe-inspiring." Also helping things along are Soderbergh's trademark dry humor ("dry, bone dry, 0% humidity dry") and "sheer technical wizardry."

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‘San Andreas: 3D' -- a '2012' for 2012?

December 1, 2011 |  8:12 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Maybe it’s the wind that's been rattling the windows here in Los Angeles, but when we heard about the new earthquake disaster movie “San Andreas: 3D,” it seemed … prescient. But hopefully not too prescient.

Written by the veteran Hollywood screenwriter Allan Loeb (“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” “21”) (based on, we should note, an idea and early draft from the writers Jeremy Passmore & Andre Fabrizio), the heretofore unreported project is about the Big One: that mother of all rollers that stretches from California to Nevada first along the fault line of its title and then beyond, leaving plenty of destruction behind.

The movie is being produced by Beau Flynn, the man behind sweeping action movies like “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and the upcoming “Red Dawn” remake. New Line is developing the film, which is currently seeking directors, according to a person who was briefed on the movie but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The 40-ish Loeb has a lot of scripts under his belt –- he’s written broad comedies (“Just Go With It”) musicals (“Rock of Ages”) and big action movies, like the development-snagged “Escape From New York” remake.

Although he's never written a disaster film, there’s a lot of escape in this new movie - -the hero is forced to go on the road to reconcile with his children and his estranged wife, who’s moved away and taken up with another man a la John Cusack’s character in “2012.” (According to a person who’s read the script, the "San Andreas" hero makes the trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco using some rather, er, unconventional transportation.)

Though they don't exactly win Oscars, disaster movies are a timeless staple ands big global earners ("2012" made more than $750 million around the world, enough to support an entire Mayan civilization). And this one, of course, could be in 3-D.

Centuries ago some people believed gale-force winds could foretell earthquakes. Here's hoping the winds foretell only earthquake movies.

-- Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: "2012." Credit: Sony Pictures

Around Town: 'Last Picture Show' and Duncan Jones

November 17, 2011 |  6:00 am

A 40th-anniversary reunion screening of “The Last Picture Show,” a tribute to the vintage TV series “Insight” and a personal appearance by filmmaker Duncan Jones with screenings of his films “Moon” and “Source Code” are among the offerings this weekend.

Director Peter Bogdanovich and stars Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Timothy Bottoms and Eileen Brennan join host Luke Wilson on Thursday evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater for the special presentation of “The Last Picture Show.”

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With MMA-themed 'Haywire,' Soderbergh tries a new trick

November 7, 2011 |  6:30 am


"Haywire," Steven Soderbergh's new film starring Gina Carano, comes out Jan. 20
Over the last decade, Steven Soderbergh has made big studio thrillers ("Contagion," the "Ocean's" movies) and small quirkfests ("Bubble," "The Girlfriend Experience").

Can he do them both at the same time?

That's the question surrounding "Haywire," a Jan. 20 release that world-premiered at a sneak AFI screening on Sunday night with directors and stars in attendance. An action thriller about a globetrotting female assassin--but with arty elements--the Relativity Media film contains each of the Soderbergh strains.

The studio quotient is satisfied by the locations (Dublin, Barcelona, Washington), the stars (Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum) and the general Bourne-ishness and "Salt"-iness of the premise, in which ... well, it's complicated, but basically said assassin hopscotches to distant locales and fends off, with a pugilistic flourish, the enemies lurking in the shadows.

But "Haywire' is also a film with the offbeat sensibility of Soderbergh's smaller work, a sensibility evident right from the opening scene in an upstate New York diner. Even more tellingly, like "Bubble" and "Girlfriend" (the latter of course sought to reconstruct adult-film star Sasha Grey as a mainstream actress) "Haywire" is fashioned around a first-timer -- the mixed-martial arts star Gina Carano, whom Soderbergh spotted while watching some televised fights and decided to build a movie around.

As Soderbergh put it at a post-screening question-and-answer session" "She's a natural beauty, and she beats people to a pulp in a cage. Why wouldn't you want to build a movie around her?"

The result is a spy thriller that has elements of "Warrior," not to mention Spike TV. Carano's heroine flips off walls and locks enemies in jujitsu leg vises. (The athlete herself seemed a little cowed by it all on Sunday night: "All of this is surreal," she told the audience after the screening. "I'm a little overwhelmed.")

Whether the MMA aspects and the larger thriller conceit will make audiences want to run out to this movie as much as they did "Contagion" ($74 million domestic) or even "The Informant!" ($33 million) remains to be seen. And those movies are the templates: For all their novelty, "Bubble" and "Girlfriend" were exceedingly niche films, critical curios but not mainstream plays.

Soderbergh has more commercial designs here, as he suggested when he offered his explanation for making "Haywire" in the first place.

"Why is Angelina currently the only woman who's allowed to run around with a gun and beat people up?" he said, suggesting the kind of star and category of film he had in mind. "Someone 20 years ago put Steven Seagal in a movie," he continued. "Why don't we step it up?"


AFI Fest's secret screening is Soderbergh's "Haywire"

Is "Contagion" following "The Town's" awards playbook?

Matt Damon: Steven Soderbergh really does plan to retire from directing

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Gina Carano in "Haywire." Credit: Relativity Media

Brad Bird: Tom Cruise has ruined me for other actors

September 28, 2011 |  2:05 pm

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

Fans might run hot and cold on Tom Cruise these days, but on the set, every filmmaker seems to adore him. Brad Bird, director of Paramount's upcoming "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," is no different.

"He's ruined me for everyone else," says Bird, who makes his live-action directorial debut in December after minting a major Hollywood profile with animation powerhouse Pixar. "I'm not going to understand after this point why any actor doesn't want to do all of their own stunts and hang off of a mile-high building. He truly loves the movies and the movie-making process, and he knows a ton about it but is incredibly polite and shows up on time and has done all of his homework."

Bird and Paramount Pictures are taking an unprecedented approach with "Ghost Protocol" by releasing it five days earlier than its Dec. 21 opening date at more than 200 Imax theaters, as reported over at our sister blog Hero Complex. But it's not clear if a franchise that has been away for nearly six years is up to the assignment it has chosen to accept.

A major centerpiece of the film, which stars Cruise as Ethan Hunt and features an ensemble cast that includes Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg, is the tense action sequence filmed at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai skyscraper that stands as the world's tallest building.

Cruise risked life and limb doing the stunt work, and Bird said the veteran actor was both a resource and raconteur on the set, which was valuable considering the tight shooting schedule for the film.

"He's made for movies the way Michael Phelps is built for swimming," two-time Oscar winner Bird said. "You look at the directors he's worked with too, it's a who's who. Scorsese and Kubrick and Spielberg and Oliver Stone — when Oliver Stone was making better movies — and Michael Mann and Sydney Pollack and on and on and on. It's kind of stunning. Not every one of them was a great movie, but he's worked with great directors over and over again, and you can engage him in those conversations."


Brad Bird: 'Mission: Impossible' opening early at IMAX

Why can't Tom Cruise escape himself?

'Ghost Protocol' looks for acceptance

-- Geoff Boucher

Photo: Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, left, Paula Patton plays Jane, Simon Pegg plays Benji and Jeremy Renner plays Brandt, right, in a scene from "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol." Credit: Paramount.


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