Wick-ed Action

I love a good action film. In going over lists of various film genres, I discovered I’ve seen the majority of the “best” action films, though I don’t always agree with what is considered an “action” film. I expect an action film to have – well, action: a lot of movement of characters or equipment, such as vehicles. It could be modern reality based – James Bond or Air Force One, or futuristic, such as Terminator, Alien, or Serenity, comic book heroes, or war-type films such as Commando or Rambo (my grandmother made me take her to every Stallone and Schwartzeneggar film that came out). There should be suspense, perhaps mystery, a vehicle chase, and almost always a good fight scene. Body counts are expected, but graphic violence isn’t required – Suicide Squad had a high bullet count, but little gore. History of Violence had a lower bullet count, but extremely graphic depictions. I don’t mind gore, but I won’t watch cruelty or sadism – I shut off Killing Season because it was focused on torture, not action.

I adored John Wick, an action movie with Keanu Reeves as an assassin who tries to retire but is sucked back into the business against his will. It was just about everything I could want in a film – the script is good, the acting is good, the cast is excellent and the action is awesome. It’s just a good all-around film. I saw John Wick 2 on opening day (the DVD was released June 13) and – it was good, but not quite as great as the first. The action is impeccable – perhaps the best actual hand combat choreography I’ve ever seen (especially compared to the farce of Batman v. Superman). The script is good. But Wick’s lines, so eloquent before, are cut to choppy, often one-word sentences, which Reeves is not good at. It’s got a high bullet count, a high body count, and realistically graphic splatter from a man who was known for killing four people with a pencil.

One thing I noticed about John Wick 2, though not as obvious as it was in London Has Fallen, a C+ film with multiple script flaws: the impact of videogames on choreography of action sequences. JW 2 has a wonderful flight/fight scene through the ancient underground tunnels of Rome, but you can see the influence of popular games such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Run, stop, run, corner, shoot, shoot balcony. Man pops out of hall, bang. Run, stop, turn, shoot. It might fit the tone of the scene, but it’s very stiff and staged. London Has Fallen was much worse: the greatest action sequence of the film, the Big Rescue, and the movie looked as if you’d taken a clip from Call of Duty, overlayed it with actors, and CGI’d them together. Maybe it was my TV upgrading the blu-ray to 4K, but you could almost see pixelation in the edges of the graphics. You could have checked it off a list: guy pops up behind garbage can? Check. Drive-by shot through windshield? Check. Balcony? Check. It was so obvious that not only did it stand out, it was distracting, and you stopped watching the progression because you were so offset by the fakeness, a “Where-Have-I-Seen-This-Before?”

Is this the wave of the future? I hope not. Sure, you can look back at an early Bond film and see how cheesy the fight scenes are. You can almost hear them counting off in their heads: fist, block, step, kick, block, groin, throw, grab, twist… You can marvel at the slo-mo twists and turns of The Matrix sequences, but that’s not exactly reality, either. CGI is wonderful – it gave us Legolas sliding down oliphaunts , Avatar, and Inception. Almost all movies are made with a green-screen at this point, even comedies. But videogames are another empire – like trying to equate a romance film with porn: all the action, none of the reason. You can pop bullets all day, but why you’re doing it is a vague battle against “bad guys.” Relying on a videogame sequence kills the creativity needed. Think of the cliché of the good guy crouched down, pointing people what direction to go and then shooting at the target to cover them, or the stock western of a shootout on main street, with townsfolk peering through broken shutters. Action movies need to reinvent themselves by nature to keep themselves fresh and interesting.

Videogames are fun. Action films are fun. Sometimes movies based on a videogame are really fun (Warcraft, Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat). But using videogame mentality in place of a more expensive or creative thought process – that’s cheating, and it doesn’t look nice.

Have you noticed the “videogame effect” in any other films?

Susan Reads: Retribution Falls

WoW!  That’s all I can say.

Who doesn’t love the TV series Firefly?  Who doesn’t want to see Firefly come back?

Retribution Falls is about as close to a Firefly clone as you can get.  Better yet, Firefly crossed with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in a rough-and-ready blend of space faring steam punk. From almost the first chapter, the parallels, whether planned or endemic to the genre, are uncanny at times.

Have I got your attention yet?

Darian Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, a second-rate ship he won on a bet, but it’s the only home he’s got. Frey is a minor-stakes air space pirate, picking up small legal jobs here and other illegal ones there, hoping to make enough to keep his ship running and his crew fed, with a few coins of profit left over (sound familiar yet?).  His crew is made up of a rag-tag group of misfits, each one on the run with secrets they’d prefer to keep hidden, from the secretive but aristocratic Crake (my mind cast Paul Bettany in the role) to the quirky navigator Jez, who can manage to fake death a little too easily (I can picture Angelina Jolie here), and more.

When Frey and his crew are framed for blowing up a ship during a petty robbery, he finds himself on the run for his life – but are the Century Knights after him, or one of his crew? Frey’s attempts to unravel the mysteries lead him down a trail of old flames and bad memories, while the secrets of his crew slowly come to light. The path of salvation appears to lie in a pirates’ haven called Retribution Falls, a place of myth no ship has ever returned from. Frey must make hard choices – entrust his beloved ship to someone else in case of emergency, or run the risk of execution if captured. In the end, Frey and crew find that being an oddball among a group of oddballs makes you nothing but normal, and that to get trust you also have to give a little.

I read one review of the book that nit-picked every line of dialogue and every motivation of every character until there was nothing left. That really irked me. Even as a writer, I don’t read a fiction book to beat the story to death. I want a good story that holds my attention, characters that I can relate to whether through abhorrence or camaraderie, and a thread of believability – I’ll believe your unicorns can fly, but don’t tell me they have dainty little shoulders. Beyond that – I don’t care that females or mermaids or talking parrots are underrepresented. I don’t care if air pirates are passé. I don’t care if you think mechanical golems are cliché. This is the way this story goes. The characters and situations read like the first of a series, and in a good series, it takes time to fully develop all the characters – otherwise, what’s the point of a series?  If you put all the food out at a banquet at once, who cares about the next course? 

If any book deserves to be made into a film – or better yet, TV series – this is the one.Read it. Enjoy it. It’s worth every page.