Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Favorite Action Scenes

Welcome to 2016 everybody! 

To get the year off with a bang and a strangled half-scream, here is a selection of some of my favourite action scenes.


The Train Fight, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
To this day, the most memorable brawl of the series. Oddjobb, Jaws, Xenia Onatopp -- no other henchman, no matter how iconic, has been able to match the sheer menace and physicality that Robert Shaw brings to the character of Red Grant. Their fight in the train car, recently referenced in Spectre, is so tense because there is no gimmick to it -- it's just two desperate men in a confined space fighting for their lives. The hyper-real sound design, expert choreography and Peter R. Hunt's signature editing all combine to create one of the few truly gripping action sequences in the long running series.

The three-way tussle, THE RAID
Actions speak louder than words. And Mad Dog is very, very loud.

The street ambush, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
Almost forgotten in this post-Bourne universe, Clear and Present Danger represents the best of the Jack Ryan films adapted from the books by Tom Clancy. A cracking thriller that privileges smarts and interesting characters over explosions and special effects, the film's best set piece is the ambush on Jack Ryan's (Harrison Ford) motorcade. With hyper-real sound design and a coordinated approach to the ambush, it is a testament to the power of this scene that it is used as a training film for anti-terrorism units and government security agencies.


The final battle, PREDATOR
Everything has been leading up to this: All the big guns fired, big muscles flexed and big mouths shut all the macho posturing whittled to the nub; all the one liners worth saying said. With its focus on a pared down, elemental struggle between man and beast, this sequence feels like a re-working of Beowulf. Perhaps the most important aspect of this sequence is how director John McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October) manages to make Ah-nuld feel like an underdog even before the Predator re-appears. The Austrian Oak comes across as potentially vulnerable. Remarkably, McTiernan manages to make Schwarzenegger comes across as just a human being. This makes his eventual victory over the alien so much more satisfying.

The Police Station, THE TERMINATOR
A story goes that Schwarzenegger was once approached by a group of cops in a gym. They all claimed that their favorite scene was the Terminator's assault on the police station. It is indeed great. The best moment of the whole scene is the shot of Sarah Connor reacting to the sound of the machine's first shots. The nightmare is not over...

The free-running jamboree, CASINO ROYALE
After the CG bonanza that was Die Another Day, the creative team behind the Bond franchise came back to earth. Wasting no time, they drop Daniel Craig into a foot race against an agile adversary who is more than a match for the green 007. What makes the scene great is that it acts as a study in contrast, between the free-running fugitive's physical abilities and Bond's less refined, more strategic approach. Recognizing that he cannot match his foe's prowess, Bond focuses on finding shortcuts to decrease the gap between them. Both a detox from the gadget-heavy Brosnan flicks and an introduction to our protagonist, the parkour chase is an unqualified success.

The opening police pursuit, THE HIDDEN

While it owes a debt to The French Connection, this sequence emerges as a fitting encapsulation of the film as a whole. Filled with the dark humor and peerless inventiveness which makes this among the best B-movies of the Eighties, what starts out as a rote police pursuit of a bank robber takes a turn for the macabre as their unstoppable quarry plows through downtown LA. Look out for a great bit with a pane of glass.

The White House Attack, X-MEN 2
There have been some really great action sequences in comic book movies -- the truck ambush in Dark Knight, the air rescue in Iron Man 3, the elevator smackdown in Captain America 2 -- but no scene for my money comes close to matching the sheer brio, invention and flat-out excitement of Nightcrawler's (Alan Cumming) assault on the White House. It was a sequence so good that Bryan Singer would later use it as the template for the equally memorable Quicksilver set piece in Days of Future Past.

The train chase, NUMBER SEVENTEEN

Holy crap, this movie is dull. For the first two thirds it is just a bunch of boring characters bumbling around the stairwell of a creaky old house. It's so bad, I could not believe that Alfred Hitchcock had directed it. And then they leave the house and get on a train. You can tell that this is the scene that probably attracted Hitch to the project. As our heroes chase the villains back and forth on the roofs of the carriages, the movie goes from one star ignominy to 3 stars average -- the scene is honestly terrific. Filled with nerve-shredding moments and some great little action beats, this train chase puts most blockbusters to shame. And that includes the obvious model shots, which just makes it look like a really hyper-active episode of Thomas the Tank Engine!


This post has been literally years in the making. Consider it a work-in-progress. If another scene comes along, I'll add it in. 

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