Archives for posts with tag: undercover

Badges-of-Fury

Jet Li headlines this action comedy as “vintage” cop Huang, who, along with young comic relief partner Wang (Zhang Wen), is tasked with investigating an odd series of “smile murders”, in which each victim wears a mysterious grin at the time of his death. Moderately funny, Badges of Fury would have been strengthened by more shared screen time and bickering/bonding between mismatched partners Huang and Wang, who spend much of the film acting independently; but scenes between the comical Wang and sassy but insecure sergeant Angela (Michelle Chen) are also highly rewarding. The silly, CGI-facilitated action sequences, complete with crazy cartoon sound effects, will probably be too goofy for fight fans accustomed to western sensibilities, so these scenes are best judged by the standards of slapstick.

3.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Badges of Fury is:

4. Pro-gay, from the standpoint that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Wang has a run-in with two camp homosexuals who criticize his attire.

3. Asian supremacist. A coroner, citing the superior findings of western medicine, claims there is no such thing as an acupuncture point controlling smiling; but Wang, standing up for Eastern traditions, proves him wrong and makes a major breakthrough in the case by demonstrating that each of the victims died by strategically inserted needles.

2. Pro-family. “Cherish those closest to you,” Badges of Fury advises viewers.

1. Feminism-ambivalent. In the tradition of Hong Kong action, women cops are tough and scrappy; but a telling look on Angela’s face during an interrogation scene suggests that a woman, even an emancipated professional, needs a man in her life to make her happy. Angela is also insecure about her weight and looks. Huang injects further political incorrectness when he reacts to a suspect’s appearance. “You know why we see so many harassment cases? Look at what she’s wearing.”

 

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Homefront

Viewers are encouraged to do what they can to endure a disorienting first five minutes or so of prologue material shot in spazvision, as Homefront quickly shapes up to be an exciting suspense vehicle for leading limey Jason Statham. Screenwriter-producer Sylvester Stallone has written a human and involving winner for his fellow Expendables  alumnus, who profits in presence by playing something more substantial than Rambo’s globe-trotting sidekick.

Statham is quietly tough in his role of recent widower Phil Broker, a veteran of Interpol and the DEA who tries to make a new life for himself and his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) in a rural Louisiana community. Unfortunately for them, a schoolyard incident escalates into a dangerous situation involving meth manufacturer Gator (James Franco) and one vengeful ghost from Broker’s past.

At stake throughout and uppermost in the audience’s apprehensions is the safety of the innocent Maddy, so that portions of Homefront recall Cape Fear or Taken with its story of a loving but serious-minded and violently protective father. As in Taken, the hero is rather too impervious – getting shot, beaten up, nearly drowned, and car-wrecked are only momentary setbacks for the formidable Broker – but Homefront‘s momentum is such that its excesses might just as well be the sparks of its incendiary potential.

James Franco is as scary as Gator as he was as Alien in Spring Breakers, while Kate Bosworth fumes with bitchy toxicity as Cassie, the meth-head Lady Macbeth of the piece. Izabela Vidovic is a sophisticated young actress and deserves credit for making the little girl at the heart of the story an interesting character. Also in the cast is Winona Horowitz (alias Ryder), who appears to skanky effect as Gator’s main squeeze Sheryl.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Homefront is:

7. Racist! Sacrificial Negro rules of survival are clearly in effect.

6. Feminist. Maddy handily dispatches a big boy bully at school.

5. Anti-police. A corrupt sheriff (Clancy Brown) turns a blind eye to Gator’s business.

4. Pro-gun. A solid stock of firepower comes in handy when a man has to defend his castle.

3. Anti-redneck/pro-N.W.O. The locals are throwbacks to hillbilly days, complete with feuding clans. What they need is a good dose of civilized one-world-government whoop-ass from somebody with a foreign accent!

2. Pro-family. Notwithstanding no. 6, Homefront does showcase a touching father-daughter relationship.

1. Anti-drug. Drug dealers appear as deplorable people. Gator, the dastard, has even turned his own sister into an addict.

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone, who previously suffered and grunted to great effect in the excellent Lock Up (1989), gets thrown into the slammer again in Escape Plan as Ray Breslin, the Harry Houdini of incarceration. Breslin is so adept at egress from maximum security penitentiaries that he actually makes his living at it, hiring out his services to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and going undercover in different correctional institutions across the country to test their tightness. Breslin finds himself in the bind of his life when he agrees to try his hand at the Tomb, a CIA-commissioned, privately operated black prison “off the grid” and designed for containing dissidents the government would prefer to see “disappeared”. This time Breslin’s sentence is more than a game.

A gray-haired Arnold Schwarzenegger plays second fiddle to Stallone’s hero, but does add considerably to the fun of the film. He is given one moment of greatness equal to his larger-than-life persona when, in testosterone-mainlining slow motion, he levels a machine gun and mows down a gallery of disposable baddies. Jim Caviezel, unfortunately, is inadequate to the task of furnishing proper antagonism for the likes of the two leading titans. Sam Neill collects a paycheck for playing a tiny supporting role as the prison’s doctor, while Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson keeps it real representin’ the African-American computer genius community as Breslin’s loyal “techno-thug” Hush.

Escape Plan has exactly two things going for it: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The script is lame and about as original as the title, with typical lines of dialogue being, “You hit like a vegetarian”; “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, motherfucker!”; and, still more amazing, this brilliantly sarcastic coup of a zinger: “Have a lovely day, asshole.” Weaknesses aside, the story is fast-paced, the performances are fun, and the dynamite action combo of Stallone and Schwarzenegger will be a difficult one for fans to resist.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Escape Plan is:

7. Anti-tobacco. A guard’s routine of taking a smoke break causes him to be distracted.

6. Pro-miscegenation. The streets of New Orleans teem with interraciality.

5. Anti-Christian. Schwarzenegger, putting on a show of insanity for the guards, spouts religious nonsense in German. Stallone tears a page out of a Bible and burns it.

4. Anti-torture. Guards pummel Stallone and force water down Schwarzenegger’s throat with a hose.

3. Anti-neoconservative. The Tomb, with its savagery, high-tech surveillance, and disregard for citizens’ constitutional rights, serves as a microcosm of life in post-9/11 America. Giving the lie to the Islam-bashers, Muslim prisoners are violent only when they are provoked.

2. Anti-cronyism/anti-capitalistic. The Tomb is operated by “Blackwater rejects” who do the dirty work of corrupt, authoritarian governments and international bankers. “From a financial standpoint I like it,” Breslin’s business partner (Vincent D’Onofrio) says on hearing about the Tomb and the money he stands to make by cooperating with the CIA. Schwarzenegger is an anarchist or revolutionary of some sort who seeks to bring down the financial establishment.

1. Anti-state. The Tomb is administered by the significantly monickered Mr. Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), who boasts, “In here you have no control over any part of your life, except your breathing.” Of interest, too, is the deindividuated design of the brutal prison screws, who wear S.W.A.T.-flavored get-ups and charcoal-black masks with Caucasian features. Could this be a commentary on the reality of life under fake black president B.O., whose ballyhooed skin color masks exactly the same opportunism that motivated his predecessors in office?

PointBreak

Point Break (1991) *****  Point Break was this reviewer’s second Kathryn Bigelow movie after the underappreciated 1987 vampire horror Near Dark. Like that film, this one is a consistently inventive take on a standard genre, in this case action of the undercover and heist/caper varieties, that goes for a style-heavy approach that in no way detracts from the substance.

The cinematography, and particularly the overcranked (i.e., slow motion) work, is elegant and appropriate to the beauty the characters find in their various philosophically informed adrenaline rushes and passions of choice. The opening credits appear over intercut images of surfing and target practice – married pictures of recreation and violence – that capture the fun but dangerous tone and thematic concerns of the story as a whole. At times Point Break feels like an L.A.-flavored super-episode of Miami Vice, with its undercover operation, sun, and political cynicism – conveyed most creatively in its vision of American presidents as bank robbers, which underscores Point Break‘s constant relativistic tension.

Johnny Utah is an interesting part for Keanu Reeves, a transitional role bridging his 80s dude persona, as exemplified by Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Parenthood, with his later, more serious (but less noteworthy) turns in films like Speed and The Matrix. Reeves even does a little undercover work on the beach in Spicoli mode, acknowledging where he has been as an actor in the midst of cutting his teeth as a leading man of masculine weight.

Swayze is surprisingly scary and darkly charismatic here, and may prompt some viewers to wish he had essayed more antagonistic parts in his unfortunately short career. Busey is entertaining as always, as is Vincent Klyn (Cyborg‘s Fender) in his supporting gig as hardcore surfer hooligan Warchild.

This reviewer is tempted to place Point Break in the highest tier of 80s/early 90s action films. Point Break falls short of being a Conan the Barbarian, a First Blood, or a Running Man, but it is on a level with Red Heat or Shakedown and better than RamboCobra, or Death Wish 2. The absence of a Stallone or Norris in no way handicaps Point Break, an action-adventure-drama with a sensibility all its own. 5 stars, easy.

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