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story.lead_photo.caption Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents, in David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde (2017).

Ray Liotta once accused me of not liking action movies (he was trying to defend Turbulence, which was awful), but in that, he was absolutely wrong. I love action movies, they just have to be well done and reasonably thought out for them to really hit me right, so to speak. To give ourselves some breathing room with respect to other genres, we won't be including Westerns, or Sci-Fi on this particular list, but don't fret, we'll get there soon enough. List is alphabetical, and all movies are free to subscribers unless indicated otherwise.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978): Often shortlisted as one of the best Kung Fu movies ever made, this action extravaganza from master choreographer/director Chia-Liang Lui (aka Lau Kar-leung) features some of the best martial arts stunt work ever captured on film, and remains a career highpoint for legendary kung fu artist Chia-Hui Liu. He plays a young student who takes up studies at a Shaolin temple after his fellow ethics students are executed by the evil Manchu government.

This is one film in which the exacting training of the young monks becomes absolutely crucial to the final showdown (the 36 chambers of the title refers to the number of different training disciplines the young student must choose). Filled with flying bodies, intricate fight choreography, and a powerhouse performance from Liu, as he thoroughly puts the smackdown on everyone who gets in his way (quite a number of those).

Intended Audience:Kung Fu fans/Chia-Hui Liu believers/Lovers of dance

Sample Dialogue:"I should have learned Kung-fu instead of ethics."

Streaming Service: Netflix

Atomic Blonde (2017): Since they share certain creative DNA, any of the John Wick films would serve about equally well, but David Leitch's brutal tour de force, featuring a completely kickass Charlize Theron beating everyone senseless in a stairwell, a scene that is already legendary, offers a slightly different perspective. Theron plays an undercover MI6 agent situated in Berlin during the Cold War, who has to work with another agent (James McAvoy) who's well off the rails. Stylish, brilliantly choreographed and unrepentantly ferocious, the film reverberates with violent charm, and Theron, of course, is positively fierce.

Intended Audience:John Wick fans/Adults who like a thread of politics with their carnage

Sample Dialogue:"So, what have I learned after all this time? After all the sleepless nights, lying to friends, lovers, myself? Playing this crooked game in this crooked town filled with backstabbers and four-faced liars? I'll tell you what I've learned. One thing and one thing only: I ****ing love Berlin!"

Streaming Service: Amazon Prime ($2.99 rental)

Black Panther (2018): Ryan Coogler's entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the highlights of the entire series. Featuring Chadwick Boseman as King T'Challa of (fictional) Wakanda, and his country's superhero protector; and Michael B. Jordan as the villainous Killmonger looking to usurp T'Challa's reign.

Coogler's drama contains all the action beats you would expect, but interlaces them with meaningful racial examinations, and an exploration of Wakandan mythology that gives the film much more heft than you might otherwise expect. Exceptional art direction (from Alan Hook and a fabulous crew), brilliant costuming (by Ruth Carter, who won an Oscar), and a first-rate supporting cast, including Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, and Letitia Wright, also make the film a stand-out in the crowded superhero field.

Intended Audience:MCU devotees, but also black filmgoers who want to see a largely black summer tentpole production

Sample Dialogue:"We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe."

Streaming Service:Disney+

Death Race 2000 (1975): I mean, where else can you go to watch a roadster with metal teeth out duel a bomber jet in the open California desert? Paul Bartel's original cross-country death trip -- accept no substitutes! -- is full of the kind of gonzo car-racing chaos (shot practically, mind you) that the Furious franchise utilizes hundreds of CGI artists to re-create.

There's a story, if you need one, about a future (!) world in which the U.S. has become a totalitarian society, with this dueling coast-to-coast race (where drivers score points for the innocent people they kill along the way) created to pacify the masses, but we're not there for all that jazz. Give us David Carradine locked in a brutal race-to-the-finish with (pre-Rocky) Sly Stallone, and a bunch of cars that seem to explode for no good reason.

Intended Audience:Sadistic Gearheads/Aficionados of '70s-era aesthetics/Stallone die-hards

Sample Dialogue:Special Agent: "You know, Mr. Viterbo, as a representative of Mr. President's government, I happen to hold the power of life and death."

Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Stallone): "Yeah? Well I happen to hold the clam sauce."

Streaming Service:Criterion Channel

End of Watch (2012): David Ayer's cop flick remains an underappreciated drama. Powered by a pair of dazzling performances from the leads (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña), the film goes beyond the partners' endless banter and heckling to get at something a good deal more dark and meaningful.

Shot documentary style, the film follows the pair as they cajole and bust on each other, but also as they face increasingly hostile cartel forces working against them. Unlike the soulless bullet-pop of, say, Bad Boys, Ayer is working alongside the vastly more believable premise that cops can get outgunned at a moment's notice, and their chattering machismo is a shield protecting them from the harsh realities of the job at hand.

Intended Audience:Cop procedural enthusiasts/Gyllenhaal and Peña fans/Lovers of the gritty and more realistic

Sample Dialogue:"White people get hung up on this * soulmate bull****. Just hook up with a chick that can cook and wants kids!"

Streaming Service:Netflix

Gallipoli (1981): Listen, no one is less happy to see Mel Gibson on the screen now, but the truth was, in his early years, he made some hella good movies (it helped that fellow-Aussie, director Peter Weir used him as a leading man). This film, set during WWI as the Australian troops faced off against the Turkish forces in the Gallipoli peninsula, stars Gibson as a "sprinter" brought in to relay information between outposts, as the Turks relentlessly attack the Aussie soldiers.

Gripping and nerve-fraying, Weir -- amidst a canonical directorial run that also included Picnic at Hanging Rock, and, also with Gibson, The Year of Living Dangerously -- taps some of the great war movies of the past, including the work of David Lean, to produce this understated epic.

Intended Audience: War Movie fans/Gibson devotees/Weir appreciators

Sample Dialogue: "The thing I can't stand about you, mate, is you're always so bloody cheerful."

Streaming Service: Amazon Prime

The Italian Job (1969): Not to be confused with the (watchable) remake with Mark Wahlburg, this elegant British heist caper flick features the redoubtable Michael Caine as Charlie Croker, just sprung from prison and looking for a big score.

His plan, hatched in the wake of a friend's botched attempt, involves creating a perfectly placed traffic jam in Torino that lasts long enough for him to steal a trunkful of gold, and make a getaway utilizing a trio of Mini Coopers to navigate the otherwise impassable streets. Things ... don't necessarily work out the way he intended.

Intended Audience: Car Chase buffs/Mini Cooper devotees/Michael Caine accent impersonators

Sample Dialogue:"It's a very difficult job and the only way to get through it is we all work together as a team. And that means you do everything I say."

Streaming Service: Criterion Channel

The Man From Nowhere (2010): If the title sounds like a classic Western (a later list), South Korean director Jeong-beom Lee's film is clearly inspired by the genre. Former special agent Tae-sik (Won Bin) has retired his deadly skills and lives a peaceful life as a kind of hermit, his only friend a young girl, So-mi (Sae-ron Kim). When her mother's drug trafficking gets her and her daughter kidnapped, Tae-sik has to unleash the fury of his former life to try and save them.

A bit like a South Korean John Wick, Jeong-beom knows how to frame the hell out of a shoot-out, and Won, an actor who only intermittently appears in films, brings a charismatic intensity to the bloody proceedings.

Intended Audience: Slick shoot-out fans/John Wick apostles

Sample Dialogue:Tae-sik: "I'm sorry for pretending I did not know you. I really wanted to know you, so I pretended I did not know you."

So-mi: "What does that mean?"

Tae-sik: "I don't know either."

Streaming Service: Amazon Prime

The Raid: Redemption (2012): Gareth Huw Evans' film begins as a group of brave cops is tasked with breaking into the highrise of a known drug baron on the ground floor. We get a brief flash of the home life of our hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), but after that, the rest of the film is a nonstop adrenaline blast of insane stunt choreography, flying bullets, and inventive beat-downs as Rama makes his way closer to the top of the building where the Big Bad resides.

This film, and its excellent sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal, are easily two of the best action films of the last decade. This is also the break-out role for Yayan Ruhian (who also appears in the last John Wick film), a diminutive but insanely fierce fighter, who was so good in this, Evans brought him back for the sequel.

Intended Audience: Flat-out action fans/Martial arts denizens/Lovers of exotic killings

Sample Dialogue:"Pulling a trigger is like ordering a takeout."

Streaming Service: Amazon Prime ($2.99 rental)

Seven Samurai (1954): One of the great movies of all time also happens to be an iconographic action epic, fancy that. Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, one of several in this Japanese auteur's unforgettable filmography, inspired countless Westerns (including, pretty directly, The Magnificent Seven), and inspired a generation of directors.

Concerning a small village in feudal Japan, beset by marauding bands of thieves, who hire a veteran samurai (Takashi Shimura) to form a super-team to protect them (yep, count the MCU in on the inspired), the film plays out as good vs. evil tapestry, but one rooted in real human emotion and pathos. (Scorsese would have absolutely nothing ill to say of this particular superhero flick, I assure you.) If you haven't seen it yet, the Coronapocalypse is the perfect time to rectify that grave error.

Intended Audience:Everyone from cinephile to action fan

Sample Dialogue:"This is the nature of war: By protecting others, you save yourselves. If you only think of yourself, you'll only destroy yourself."

Streaming Service: Criterion Channel

MovieStyle on 05/29/2020

Print Headline: Action!


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