Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Action”

Movies that entertained me in 2014

best-movies-2014

Following on from my last post about my favourite music from this year, today I present the movies I watched that were released in 2014. Unlike my music list, this list is a review for the movies I watched, not just the ones I really enjoyed. As such I get the chance to highlight a couple of films that everyone should avoid watching, if they haven’t as yet been sullied.

There were a lot of good films released in 2014, especially in the action genre. But I will note that more films are suffering from the dreaded PG13 rating, whereby horrific violence is glossed over to save us from harm. All this really does is mean that we have violence without consequences portrayed in film. And no nudity. At least the DVD versions often have a more mature cut of the film available. Still no nudity. FSM forbid there be nudity. Won’t somebody think of the children!

By release date:

Snowpiercer
Technically released last year but only made it to Australia (US, etc) this year, as it was a South Korean production. I have been very impressed with the films coming out of Korea, with visuals and camera work that belie the production costs. Snowpiercer is no exception to this and managed to attract an international cast. Unlike many Hollywood films, Snowpiercer, and other Korean films I have seen, are not afraid of going for the hard ending to the film. Expect to see more from the Korean film-makers and their influence spread.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Inspired by, or based upon, or royalty check paid to, Tom Clancy for his Jack Ryan series of novels; Shadow Recruit is the latest take on the character. Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (who killed Sean Bean) and Ben Affleck have all brought Ryan to the big screen, with adaptations of a series of books I gave up on back in my teens. There was nothing particularly wrong with this movie, it was entertaining enough, but there was also nothing that was going to see this franchise have another instalment soon.

The Raid 2: More Arse Kicking
You could be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t further story to be had from The Raid. Given that the first film was pretty much one long fight scene that the hero won, what more was there to do? Aside from visit the hospital and spend months recuperating. But when a film that awesome is made there is always going to be a sequel, no matter how tenuous the narrative link is (although apparently the sequel is based upon a discarded script used in early development by the director). Where The Raid was flat out action, The Raid 2 has more suspense and plot, and plenty more awesome action. Can’t wait for the next Judge Dredd film to be based on it.

Non Stop: Taken on a Plane
Liam Neeson beats up bad guys on a plane. This time he’s an alcoholic and not really sure who he should be beating up. Not a patch on Taken but has a better plot than Taken 2.

RoboCop
It is hard to remake a classic film, especially in Hollywood, which generally requires writers and directors to gather up copies of the old classic to burn in a fire pit and then piss on the ashes in order to develop a script. When judged as a brand-new movie with no baggage from Verhoeven or the 80s (not one bad 80s suit or haircut appeared in this film), then Robocop is actually worth watching. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it is worth watching the film just to see Samuel L Jackson’s performance as a loud-mouth, arrogant, douchebag cable news anchor (you know, Bill O’Reilly). But we can’t ignore the baggage, so this comes off as a pale imitation. Still superior to the other Verhoeven remake, Total Recall.

The Lego Movie
Honey, where are my paaaants? The Lego Movie has grabbed a lot of attention and it is well deserved. The movie isn’t without its faults, but it is a kids film that doesn’t silently make parents wish they had decided to be ‘just good friends’ a decade ago.

3 Days to Kill
There were a lot of ingredients in this film that suggested it would taste fantastic. Instead it was a bit bland and made you feel guilty about eating all those calories for no reward.

300: Rise of an Empire
I am an unashamed Eva Green fan. I could happily spend 2 hours watching her stare at the camera, she is that good an actor (more on that in my 2014 in TV). All the ingredients that made 300 awesome are back (except Gerard Butler) with a more expansive stage. The director was clearly going for epic and almost made an action flick that got there. Unfortunately the cool visuals have been copied by too many other movies since the original, so much of the impact is lost.

Need for Speed
I played a lot of Need for Speed when I was younger, so it was awesome to watch the game being brought to life in the movies… Is that an oxymoron? Aaron Paul holds this film together, since the material is paper thin, and NFS wasn’t exactly weighed down with plot as a game. Enjoyable whilst being nothing amazing.

Captain America: Winter Soldier
This was just such an awesome film. The script was inspired by the classic run of comics by Ed Brubaker, with the writers and director managing to capture so much of what a good superhero comic is all about. Without much doubt, Captain America: Winter Soldier, was my favourite film of the year.

Sabotage
Just awful. There is virtually nothing to like about this film. All the characters are unlikable, the script doesn’t make sense, the ending feels like a let down, and not even Arnie’s charisma can stop this steaming pile of elephant crap from being one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

Transcendence
Not many people liked this film, yet it wasn’t as bad as most claimed. The hate is probably a hangover from the last Johnny Depp vehicle, The Lone Ranger, which will haunt him to his deathbed. That doesn’t make Transcendence a good film, as it is slow, predictable, and crammed with undeveloped characters. But it has Cillian Murphy in it and Paul Bettany does his Paul Bettany thing, so the movie is watchable.

Brick Mansions
Brick Mansions is a remake of the French film District 13. They even got the original star, parkour legend David Belle, to play the same role again. There is nothing to like about this film, they even managed to ruin the parkour scenes with terrible camera work and editing. Watch the original, this was pitiful.

X-Men Days of Future Past
The problem with watching an X-Men movie is that we have seen The Avengers, Iron Man, and the previously mentioned Captain America. There is nothing particularly bad about this movie, but we have just had a slew of excellent comic book movies (which is a rarity), so this pales in comparison. X-Men suffers from being far too serious, lacking humour and interesting dialogue. Also, Hugh Jackman is a tad too lean and veiny in this film.

Edge of Tomorrow
I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive Tom Cruise for making Jack Reacher a foot shorter than he should be. But Edge of Tomorrow goes some way toward making amends. This was an excellent movie and was not the usual Cruise fare. The only thing that annoyed me about the film was the ending, which was the typical Hollywood rubbish. If they had stuck with the ending from the book then they would have had something remarkable.

A Million Ways To Die In The West
Family Guy is one of my favourite TV shows, despite having gone off the boil in recent seasons. Seth MacFarlane made a successful transition to movies with Ted, but some people aren’t enamoured with his brand of humour. I am and this was the funniest film I’ve watched since Ted. It isn’t as good, however, as A Million Ways To Die In The West suffers from being about 20 minutes too long. It seems all recent films are clocking in at 2 hours long, which is 30 minutes too long for a comedy, in my opinion. And A Million Ways could have retained most of the material and come in shorter, just by utilising tighter editing.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Of all the comics to become a blockbuster movie, Guardians is not an obvious choice. But everything about this film is done just right. Everything about Guardians says that it has to walk such a fine line that it should fail miserably. Instead the humour hits its marks, the acting stops the characters falling into Batman & Robin territory, the action is awesome but not overdone, and there is a sentimental note to the film that could have easily become soppy. My second favourite film of the year.

Lucy
It is hard to get past the ridiculous premise of this movie when it is a well known brain myth. But even if you dismiss that, Lucy is a rubbish film, so the use of the 10% Myth is the least of its problems. The main thing I hated was the problem that many of these “I’ve just become super smart” themed movies have (Transcendence had this as well to an extent), and that is the idea that the smarter you become, the more inhumane you become. Smart people = jerks, apparently.

The November Man
This was a solid action movie starring Pierce Brosnan (who killed Sean Bean) showing that he hasn’t lost his action chops. Nothing amazing about this spy-action-thriller, which means Brosnan carries the film. One thing I did hate was the ending, which seemed really odd. I’m sure there is a director’s cut that will be released that will make more sense, as clearly there was a scene missing.

The Equalizer
Denzel Washington is a Man On Fire…. Wait, different movie. Denzel Washington is a man with a particular skill set… Sorry, that’s Liam Neeson. Denzel Washington kills some Russian mobsters using hardware supplies and Sony product placement. The Equalizer is a pretty standard vigilante action movie. What sets it apart, or makes it worth watching, is Denzel, because when is he not worth watching, and the understated story-telling. A lot of films like this go out of their way to beat their audience over the head with various plot points, The Equalizer just pokes their audience in the face.

A Walk Among the Tombstones
Liam Neeson doesn’t beat up nearly enough people in this film.

Book Review: Sign of the Cross by Chris Kuzneski

Sign Of The Cross (Jonathon Payne & David Jones, #2)Sign Of The Cross by Chris Kuzneski

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes when I’m reading a book I’m not sure if I’m meant to be excited, enrapt, or cringing. It’s taken me a few days to arrive at a decision and I’ve decided to cringe.

Sign of the Cross is a fast paced action adventure novel in the vein of Steve Berry, James Rollins, or that guy who wrote the book that annoyed the Pope; what was his name? In the second instalment of Payne and Jones’ adventures, the mercenaries are hired to hunt down two archaeologists who have uncovered a secret that could bring down the Catholic Church. Meanwhile a team of killers are reenacting the crucifixion, because, you know, that’s what Jesus would have wanted. With everyone hunting for Payne, Jones and their pet archaeologists, and a few murderers running around, who at the Vatican knows and who wants the secret, and do they want it for power or payback?

This is the first Chris Kuzneski book I’ve read, and it will be my last. Now that I’ve had time to reflect upon the story and writing, I’m actually surprised I finished the novel. Kuzneski came up in my recommendations because he writes fast paced adventure novels like two of my favourite authors, the previously mentioned Berry and Rollins. Unlike those two, however, Kuzneski takes all of the same ingredients for a novel, mixes them in an overly large bowl (the book is over 400 pages), and manages to make gruel.

The novel started well, but I noticed myself cringing at the end of the chapters with the ham-fisted foreshadowing. This continued until I would start preemptively cringing as I reached the end of each chapter. Seriously, it felt like the end of every scene or chapter Kuzneski would have a line like “Little did they know that only two of them would return.” But wait, there is more. There is an underlying casual sexism and racism to the novel that is unintentional, but jarring. An early scene has one of the characters, Nick Dial, surprised to see a woman Interpol agent. Not that Nick was sexist, women could be just as good as men……. No, Nick explained that he wasn’t sexist, but some of his bosses weren’t as open minded. Yeah. I’m not sexist, but….

These two points are just the major problems I had with the writing of this novel. And it is mainly the writing that lets this book down. In the example I just mentioned, there are many ways authors could discuss Nick’s surprise at seeing a woman on the job. But the way the scene was written it sounded like the author was desperately trying to sound progressive and PC. This poor writing happened throughout the book, which actually has a reasonable plot, a bit of humour, and great pacing. Some readers may not notice these issues, although I note many reviews complain about the foreshadowing, and it was entertaining enough for me to finish reading, so others may find this enjoyable. But I would recommend reading anything by Steve Berry or James Rollins instead.

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Misleading packaging: why reviews matter

FarCry

There is nothing worse than picking up a book, movie, whatever, expecting to be entertained based on the cover. The above example is the movie Far Cry, starring Til Schweiger, in what looks like a cool action flick. The description even makes you look past the fact that this is a video game adaptation, promising a slick action-eer:

An ex-special forces soldier turned boatman is hired by a journalist to investigate a top-secret military base on a nearby island.

The problem with this packaging is that this is a film by Uwe Boll. Til Schweiger is a fantastic actor and a major box office draw card, especially in his home country of Germany. He was also the driver behind one of my favourite films of all time, Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Yet not even Til can save us from the worst director of all time.

One of the things that amazes me about Uwe Boll is not so much the fact that he is still making films (petition to stop him making films) but the fact that he is able to attract the money and star power to his movies. You would think that actors would be keen to avoid working with Uwe so that they don’t sign a career death note. But Til, Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Eric Roberts, Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff, Claire Forlani, Leelee Sobieski, John ‘Gimli’ Rys-Davies, and Ben Kingsley (although, Kingsley may be an Oscar winner, but he has appeared in some truly awful films), have all lined up to appear in a Uwe Boll production. Why!?! Rys-Davis has implied that the money is good and Uwe is easy to work for. No mention of exactly how good Uwe is to work with; I’m going to assume running hot and cold hookers and blow.

This speaks to the underlying problem with picking good entertainment. We can be easily mislead with a cool blurb, impressive trailer, a spot at the front of the store, a stand that tackles you to the ground and forces you to buy the movie/book. It is why movie stars are paid big money, because they have a brand that audiences recognise, and that can guarantee box office sales. In publishing you have name brand authors like James Patterson occupying the front of the store because they are reliable bestsellers. And Lee Child was recently shown to have the strongest brand in publishing, with fans following him from book to book more than any other author, because of his reliably entertaining books. Uwe Boll is the opposite of this brand of success and reliability.

Essentially media consumers like us are less likely to try a new author, or watch a film by a new director, or one that stars actors we haven’t heard of, because of the Uwe Boll’s of this world. We want our entertainment to be entertaining – I know, not much to ask really – and we hate being mislead by slick tricks. We see a cool poster or cover, we see a big name actor attached, or read a cool blurb, only to be sorely disappointed. So instead of trying something new, we stick with what we know and trust.

I guess that is why I promote books I’ve read and liked on this site. That is why we need people to review books, movies, TV shows and music. That is why we need to find people with similar tastes to make recommendations to us. If we can’t stop Uwe Boll making films, at least we can tell people about the films that are worth watching.

Rules of thriller writing

archer-gun

1) If in doubt kill a character.

2) Plot holes can be filled with dead bodies.

3) Nothing screams thriller more than characters screaming for their lives.

4) Car chases and shootouts are mandatory.

5) The hero can’t die, unless you really, really want them to.

6) The bad-guy must die horribly, unless you want them for the sequel. Even then, the sequel could be a zombie thriller.

7) Beloved minor characters must die the most gruesome and pointless of deaths.

8) Minor bad-guys must follow the inverse ninja law.

9) The only reason a gun should ever run out of bullets is if it puts the hero in even more danger.

10) The rules of physics and biology do not apply to the hero, unless it puts them in even more danger.

11) Deus ex machina can only be used once in the story, so use it wisely.

12) If your story hasn’t given your readers a heart attack, rewrite it so that it does.

See also:
http://davidmorrell.net/on-writing/writing-advice/
http://www.creative-writing-now.com/how-to-write-a-thriller.html
http://www.writerscentre.com.au/sydney/thrillerwriting.htm

Book Review: Arctic Floor by Mark Aitken

Arctic FloorArctic Floor by Mark Aitken
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is nothing quite like a marketing executive, especially when they work in publishing. These are the people who come up with the fantastic ideas like: dog on the cover because dogs sell books, no dogs in the book; bright and cheery cover art, book about a serial killer; quotes recommending the book by famous authors, authors that have the same publisher. In this case the marketing department came up with a brilliant idea: Matthew Reilly is an Australian author who sells a lot of books, let’s mention him on the cover, despite the fact that the two authors write in a completely different style.

I grabbed Mark’s book from my local library because I saw he had a new book out, the third in a series, and I hadn’t heard of him previously. A fellow Aussie author, with a comparison to Matthew Reilly on the cover: this should be gold. Needless to say, the marketing people drew me in with false advertising. Mark’s book is a thriller and was a decent read, but he was more Cussler or Archer than Reilly. In fact, I was more reminded of Sahara (swap baking temperatures for freezing cold) than I was of Ice Station.

False advertising aside, this is quite a decent thriller. Worth a read, if you are after a James Rollins or Clive Cussler style novel. I’d expect later books in this series will probably “grab” the reader more, so maybe check out Mark’s new one.

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Book Review: Lockdown by Sean Black

LockdownLockdown by Sean Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometime last year Matt Hilton recommended a few authors to me, one of them being Sean Black. I dutifully downloaded a sample of Lockdown onto my Kindle, just letting it sit there, doing the electronic equivilent of gathering dust. Actually, in the digital age, I wonder if we will develop so many little phrases like “gathering dust” since the electronic medium has a lack of physical presence to have relatable descriptions assigned.

Over a year later I finally started Sean’s first novel, bought the full Kindle version, and plowed through this fast paced novel. I really enjoyed the brisk narrative and I could see similarities to Matt’s writing, which is probably why he was recommending Sean’s work.

Guess now I have to find more of Sean’s books.

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Book Review: Temple of the Gods By Andy McDermott

Temple Of The Gods (Nina Wilde & Eddie Chase, #8)Temple Of The Gods by Andy McDermott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ridiculously fast paced action, check. Plot that squirms and worms its way along as fast as the action, check. Nina and Eddie blowing up everything they come across, check. Must be another adventure by Andy McDermott.

In my book Andy McDermott and Matthew Reilly are the kings of fast paced action novels. There is no stone left unthrown, no ancient monument left intact, no bad guys die peacefully: brilliant! Of course this style of novel is not for everyone, especially if you have a pacemaker or take beta-blockers. Some people like to read literature, so there is no accounting for taste.

I have unfortunately missed the previous installment in the series, Empire of Gold, jumping straight from The Sacred Vault. This didn’t affect my enjoyment, but there is reference to past adventures throughout in the plot, so it is best to read the series in order. The cadre of evil billionaires are back again, something the world never seems to run out of for some reason, causing more trouble in their quest to dominate. If you take a close look you will recognise who the people are based upon, Gina Rhinehart and the Koch brothers being alluded to as evil: who’d have thunk?

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Book Review: Temple by Matthew Reilly

TempleTemple by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a little sad. Not because of this book, this book was great. I’m sad because I’ve now read all of Matthew Reilly’s books at least once. I have to wait for his next book to be published: wait!!

If anything, Temple is probably one of Matt’s best books. In typical Reilly style it redefines fast paced and action packed, but this also feels more complete than the Jack West Jnr series. It is also one of his longer books, so plenty of entertainment in this novel to keep you going.

In short, read it.

For those Matthew Reilly fans like me who are awaiting Matt’s next release, it seems he is back writing again after the tragedy last year. Hopefully he is on the mend emotionally as well and can continue to entertain us. Apparently his fans have been out in force to see him at the Supanova events, including the Doc.

A harem of Leias?

Guess this makes Matt the taller version of Marty McFly.

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Book Review: McGrave by Lee Goldberg

Mcgrave Mcgrave by Lee Goldberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some books that you read and feel enlightened about the world around you. There are some books that are fascinating and insightful, making you think. Then there are some that are just unashamedly fun.

McGrave is a straight up actioneer, pure fun, and revels in what some would call cheesy cliches. Instead these cliches are actually part of the humour Less has used to make this story fun.

This story was originally written as a pilot for TV and reminds me greatly of the 80s cop shows. In fact, if you ever saw the hilarious Sledge Hammer, then you could imagine a similar take on action and cop adventure played straight. This McGrave adventure is certainly an escapist pleasure and it had me laughing and entertained throughout.

Treat yourself, unless your idea of a treat is Tolstoy.

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