John Woo's first Hollywood film was only a modest success. In 1993 Hong Kong's master of ballistic action was little-known in the west, and Hard Target didn't take off in the way it deserved to. To really make it with American audiences, Woo needed to make American movies - and that meant blowing up some helicopters.
The exploding helicopter is one of the images synonymous with action cinema in the west. By the '80s a helicopter's very purpose in an action film was to explode. On a poster or in a trailer, an exploding helicopter is almost the ultimate visual shorthand for excitement. Even on The A-Team, a show where no-one could ever die, a chopper had to be taken out from time to time - its crew inexplicably climbing unscathed from the wreckage.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) [IMDB]
Directed by James Gunn
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell
The team of misfits that form a comic tangent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe get a second run-out in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While the CGI action is more numbing than exciting, this spacefaring sequel has charm and wit to spare.
By 2014, the MCU was well-established and lucrative but in danger of becoming stale. Guardians of the Galaxy felt fresh, deftly introducing a new team of eccentric heroes without the years of buildup the Avengers had required. Better yet, Starlord and his crew were shown to exist in relative isolation from the rest of Marvel's universe, offering a degree of freedom from the straitjacket of continuity.
Tomboy (AKA The Assignment) (2016 / 2017 wide release) [IMDB}
Directed by Walter Hill
Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Caitlin Gerard
Walter Hill's controversial sex change revenge thriller has a strong concept and some good performances. But hamstrung by his own very poor script and a tiny $5 million budget, the genre veteran turns in a muddled, often boring mess.
It's fair to say that Tomboy has had a troubled history. Based on a 1978 script that Hill had optioned and abandoned once before, the film has gone through numerous changes of title and a very poorly received premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. Even before shooting began it was dogged with controversy because of its gender reassignment premise, and in the UK it's been released direct-to-video - and not even on Blu-Ray, at that. The film's single biggest problem, however, is simple: it's bad.
With its heady mix of the fact, fiction and folklore of the American frontier, the Western has been a popular genre for over a century. Detailing the dubious exploits of bounty hunter Silas Greaves, Techland's 2013 FPS Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a brilliant and under-recognised exploration of the Old West.
By 2013, the Call of Juarez series had picked up a very bad reputation indeed. The most recent game at the time, subtitled The Cartel, had become notorious for its poor quality and numerous technical issues. Many were surprised to learn that Polish developer Techland hadn't abandoned the franchise altogether. For its part, Gunslinger was released as an inexpensive download-only title and afforded very little promotion. It looked like another disappointment in the making - but while it didn't make many waves in its release, it won deservedly strong reviews.
While I came to Half-Life late, Valve's 1998 masterpiece was the game that cemented my enthusiasm for games generally, and first-person shooters specifically. Replaying it almost 20 years on from its release, one aspect shines more than any other: the game's unique environments and crucial sense of place.
During the early history of the FPS, developers did not tend to prioritise settings. In classics of the form like Doom (1993), Hexen (1994) and Duke Nukem 3D (1996), settings and locations were only nominal, with little to no coherence between levels or episodes. Things began to change with id Software's Quake II (1997), in which the player progressed through numerous areas of an enemy planet, Stroggos. It was Valve and Half-Life, however, which gave the FPS its first - and perhaps best - coherent sense of place.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
Directed by Chad Stahelski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Common, Ian McShane
Free up a chair at the High Table of modern action films - John Wick: Chapter 2 has arrived and it is glorious.
There's been a clear trend in action films during the last several years: the number of films that fit squarely in the genre is quite small, and mediocre efforts outnumber the accomplished ones. Once or twice a year, however, a film is produced which immediately enters the pantheon of true greats. With their directorial debut John Wick, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch did exactly this in 2014. Combining their vast action design and second-unit experience with the total commitment of star Keanu Reeves, they forged one of the most exciting American action films of the decade.
Directing alone this time, Stahelski has gone and done it again. Chapter 2 is a blistering continuation and expansion of everything that made the original so intoxicating - the unique fictional underworld, the beautiful cinematography, Reeves' performance as "the man, the myth, the legend" that is John Wick and of course the astonishing action sequences. The sequel reaches a level of intensity and accomplishment in action cinema that, in recent years, is matched only by the likes of The Raid 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road.
Mario Puzo (1920 - 1999) is legendary for his novel The Godfather and the film trilogy it spawned. The American author won two Oscars for his screenplays for the first two films, and deservedly so - he not only wrote an epic saga of the American mafia but also played a vital part in helping Francis Ford Coppola adapt and expand it for the screen. Sadly, far fewer people know of the only literary expansion of the Godfather mythos written by Puzo himself - his later novel The Sicilian.
The nominations for the 2017 Oscars were unveiled today. While the 24 categories cover most creative and technical aspects of film-making, there's a conspicuous lack of recognition for stunt co-ordination, choreography, and performance.
Of course, like the domination of La La Land in this year's list, this is no surprise. The Academy's resistance to recognising the men and women who bring action to the screen is stubborn and longstanding. Stunts and action sequences have thrilled audiences almost since the dawn of cinema, but the Academy has never seen fit to reward those who make this possible, even at the risk of life and limb.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein could be called one of the most unheralded first-person shooters of its time. Developed by Gray Matter under the supervision of id Software, the game was released in November 2001 to excellent reviews - but it was ultimately overshadowed by both Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (released just two months later) and its own multiplayer spinoff, Enemy Territory.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein was both a resurrection of id's iconic Wolfenstein 3D (1992), and a thoroughly modern first-person shooter. Remarkably, the developers succeeded in both paying tribute to the "grandfather of first-person shooters" and fully absorbing the lessons from the games that followed in its wake. As a result, RTCW captures the thrill of both old school and modern shooters, and retains tremendous appeal over 15 years later.
The 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace is a cruelly misunderstood and underrated entry in the decades-long series. The remarkable product of a difficult production process, Marc Forster's film is a superb and bold follow-up to Martin Campbell's Casino Royale (2006), which reinvigorated 007. Part of the film's strength lies in its basis in a strong theme which informs almost every aspect of the production: revenge.