Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Title: Pacific Rim Uprising
Director: Steven S. DeKnight
Released: 2018
Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin, Charlie Day

Plot: Ten years after the events of the first film, society has begun to rebuild itself believing that the Kaiju threat has long been defeated. Jake (Boyega) the son of the now legendary Stacker Pentecost and now a disgraced former Jaeger pilot makes a living selling Jaeger parts on the black market only for a chance encounter with Jaeger enthusiast Amara (Spaeny) to see them both being drafted into the PPDC as the threat of the Precursors and their Kaiju creations threatens the world once more.

Review: Pacific Rim Uprising was unquestionably a film I was looking forward to, even if my general lack of desire to pay for overpriced cinema tickets has meant that it's taken me until now to actually watch it. Needless to say with Del Toro not returning for this sequel there was certainly an element of doubt if it could love up to his original love letter to the Kaiju genre and for the most part I feel that Steven S. DeKnight's follow up continues to build upon the world Del Toro had established. In the years which have passed the Pan Pacific Defence Corps have once more become recognised as the key defence and as such no longer the rag tag band of pilots scrabbling for resources through black market deals for Kaiju parts.

At the same time it should be noted that this is a much more busy and louder film as DeKnight revels in the chaos and destruction compared to the Del Toro pacifist approach which focused more on the battle between giant robot and monster than potential collateral damage. Now while both movies certainly provided the same buzz and excitement from these scenes I wanted as a life long Kaiju fan there is an unquestionable feeling that the DeKnight's is lacking something.

Plotwise there is a real mish-mash of ideas at play and while seeing the PPDC turned into a heavily funded war machine is a welcome evolution for the series even if one potentially set to be made obsolete by a new drone program. At the same time Jake the son of rousing speech maker and leader Stacker take on the hero duties this time as he finds himself drawn back into the fold as the Precursors launch their latest offensive which sees the film working more of the enemy within angle which ties it nicely to the original film aswell leading to a more meaty role for one of the few characters who make their return when their betrayal is inevitably revealed. The rest of the film though is this weird mix of Kaiju fun with an undeniable and unneeded and not mention unwanted Top Gun vibe as Jake and his former co-pilot Nate (Eastwood) play out a Maverick / Ice Man dick swinging contest which would have honestly worked better if they were rival pilots ultimately forced to team up than co-pilots from the start. Throw into the mix an unresolved love triangle and it just feels like it's padding out the run time.

One of my initial concerns regarded how both Jaegers and Kaiju were shown in the trailers, which honestly left things looking like a reskinned Transformers movie, here the camera work is just as impressive as the first film even if the action is alot more hectic than the lumbering intense battles of the first film. It's just a shame that the film suffers from some truly horrible sound design which only serves to cheapen and detract from the film as radio mics crackle and weapons would sound more impressive if you just made your won Pew Pew sounds. Thankfully the action sequences are still fun to look at with plenty of Jaeger tech being showcased here and sure while no one might be using a cargo ship as a makeshift bat the new set of Jaegers all come with their own fun toys to battle not only the Kaiju monsters this time but also the new drones which perhaps might feel alittle too close to the aforementioned transformers, but thankfully it’s given enough of a spin to work.

While Del Toro's absence is certainly noticeable here, it's still a fun (if flawed) experience that I enjoyed my time with, while DeKnight's own additions to the series like the mini Jaeger "Scrapper" and the rival Shao Corporation only help to make this a fuller and more exciting world which I hope that they continue to explore with further films.

Saturday, 5 January 2019


Title: Rollercoaster
Director: James Goldstone
Released: 1977
Starring: George Segal, Richard Widmark, Timothy Bottoms, Henry Fonda, Harry Guardino, Susan Strasberg, Helen Hunt

Plot: When a bomber (Bottoms) plants a device on the tracks of a rollercoaster causing it to derail, it soon becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse as Safety Inspector Harry (Segal) attempts to stop him before he strikes again.

Review: A film probably best known for its rather spectacular opening roller coaster crash than the film the footage was taken from this would be one of the few feature films that director James Goldstone directed spending most of his career directing TV Pilots for Ironside and the original Star Trek were his work was not only noted for its momentum but also the “fifteen-minute cliffhangers” he brought to them. A film equally noteworthy for being one of the four films which Universal presented in “Sensurround” were selected theatres were low-frequency bass speakers were used to create vibrations at key moments, which ultimately proved to be so successful that it cracked the plaster of some of the theatres which choose to use it.

Despite the impressive opening crash this is surprisingly a much more subtle film than I was expecting as Goldstone instead here chooses to craft a tense thriller with the rest of the film plays off the tension of not knowing were the bomber has hidden his next device let alone the mind games between Timothy Bottoms unnamed bomber and George Segal’s Safety inspector Harry. Bottoms however was criticised for being too boring as a villain in reviews for the film when it was originally released but here he gives a performance reminisant of Kevin Spacey’s John Doe in Seven which here really works for the film, especially when he is spending the majority of the film taunting Harry over the phone or a walkie talkie, all the time knowing that he holds the power in this situation with Harry left to play the unwilling puppet in the proceedings.

Segal meanwhile is an engaging leading man as the frustrated safety inspector he works in humorous subtle digs at his incompitant bosses while also having to work with the local police chief and Richard Widmark’s tough FBI agent. While it might seem that his talents are perhaps alittle wasted here seeing how he spends most of the film talking to the Bomber over the walkie talkie while moving through a variety of amusement rides which for theme park fans provides its own enjoyment with the film being shot on location at Ocean View Park, Kings Dominion and Six Flags.

The Cinematography throughout is extremely impressive especially with the rollercoaster footage were large portions are shot from the front of the carriage creating that simulator feel of being on the ride which is a nice touch especially when Goldstone isn’t planning on giving the audience any more crashes. The fact that they are shot from so many angles including some impressive profile shots is really add to the excitement, especially during the finale were the cat and mouse games are played out on the opening of the six flags Revolution the world’s first coaster to use a clothoid-shaped vertical loop and more fun against the backdrop of a Sparks concert a gig which had rumoured to had been offered to both the Bay City Rollers and KISS the later turning it down in favour of doing KISS Meet The Phantom of the Park. Sparks would later recall doing the film as one of the worst things they have ever done which I had to wonder if this was before or after they did their 2006’s album Hello Young Lovers. Despite what they feel about it, the high energy performance here really play well against the tension of this final game between the bomber and police.

While it might initially be a little disappointing to see what seems to be setup as another disaster movie dissolve into a thriller it ultimately proves to be the right move here, especially with Segal’s performance certainly able to carry the film so that such shocks are never required even though the film had originally been planned to be a lot more gruesome with both the opening crash and how the bomber ultimately meets his demise, a plaque for which can still be found on the rollercoaster at Six Flags. While perhaps not a film that rewards repeat viewing it’s one still worth checking out especially for the opening crash as you wonder just how they pulled it off.

Friday, 23 November 2018

The Midnight Meat Train

Title: The Midnight Meat Train
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Released: 2008
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Raimi Vinnie Jones

Plot: Leon (Cooper) is a photographer with an obsession with the darker side of the city, however when challenged by gallery owner Susan Hoff (Shields) to find darker subject matter he by chance discovers a serial killer (Jones) using the midnight subway system as an abattoir.

Review: Another film to be adapted from Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood” short story collection this film also marked the English language debut from director Ryuhei Kitamura who much like Barker is equally no stranger to blending genres. My main reason for checking this one out those was the memory of Vinnie Jones’ role as the sharply dressed serial killer who rides the midnight subway trains being compared to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator” and its certainly a performance he nails here with him imposing form and ice cold demenor.

Bradley Cooper’s role as the photographer Leon meanwhile is kind of confusing as here he plays a photographer obsessed with exposing the seedier side of the city which we are lead to believe is for artistic purposes while at the same time he shows no qualms about putting himself in harms way when he chooses to photo graph a gang on the subway. Frustratingly the background or reasons for Leon pursuing this work is never made clear so why he’s willing to take such risks much less become so obsessed with tracking down this suspected killer.

Of course seeing how this is a film being based off a short story there is of course the requirement to pad out the story which here questionably adds Leon’s girlfriend who really doesn’t add a huge amount to the film in terms of plot and really only served to bring an element of melodrama to the final act. What is confusing though is how Kitamura manages to craft a film which is clearly in need of some trimming as while the additional elements certainly don’t detract from the story the film still felt like it overstayed it welcome especially when it passed the point I felt like we should be getting some kind of resolution.

Unsurprisingly for Kitamura and the fact this is based on a Clive Barker text the film is gratuitously bloody which can in some scenes work such as one potential victim attempting to craw across the blood drenched floor while other seem like bad 3D effects which made me wonder if this film has ever been scheduled for any kind of 3D release. Still there is still some inventive violence on show here as skulls are clubbed with a meat hammer and crimson sprays across the carriages. The highlight being when we get to see the nights quota of victims strung up like a human abattoir.
Outside of the gore which is the arguably the obvious draw here Kitamura also brings his underrated eye for detail in his settings as he bring a real feeling of sleaze to the subways, while a cat and mouse style chase through an abattoir bringing a real menace to Jones character as he stares down a corridor of carcasses. All of which rises it about the predicted disposable horror that the film is sold as, something also not helped by its throwaway distribution by the studio.

A frustrating film at time as it diverges from being an effective thriller to tedium but when it works it is an effective film but far from what fans of Kitamura have come to expect from the director who here feels at times like he's had his wings clipped.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend

Title:Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend
Director:Hideki Takayama

Review: Reknown as one of the landmark titles of adult animation, this notorious anime adapted from Toshio Maeda’s manga has continued to shock each new generation of anime fan who no doubt were directed to it by the previous generation. Of course when it was released in 1989 it served in many ways to taint the impression the general public had about anime while the hysteria lead by newspapers such as The Daily Mail began leading a public outcry to “Ban this sick filth”.
Of course looking at the film its easy to understand why audience were so shocked when this title was released especially when there was nothing else really like anime with the genre’s seemingly carefree attitude its gratuitous sex and violence with the closest we had come to such material in the west being the sporadic adult animated title such as Heavy Metal or the films of Ralph Bakshi. Infact so uneducated were audiences at the time especially with there being no internet to refer to, anime was often refered to as Japanimation or Manga which was certainly the case in the UK thanks to majority of titles being put out by Manga entertainment.

Because of Urotsukidoji’s notorious legacy for myself it was always a title I avoided much like many of the demon based titles, largely due to the feeling of watching something you really shouldn’t especially with popular titles of the era such as Violence Jack, Wicked City and Genocyber which seemed to relish the levels of sex and violence with thie popularity of these titles in many ways influenced the titles being available when I started getting into Anime in the late 90’s were the focus was often on more adventure, sci-fi and horror based titles than the staggering range that anime fans now have available to them. At the same time with most anime being only accessible via VHS releases / tape trading it limited further what you could watch with the cost of these tapes often making you more cautious about not wanting to be lumped with a tape you couldn’t pass on. Still with the aim of trying to cross off the list those anime titles for one reason or another I’d missed I finally decided to bite the bullet and watch it.

Originally released as a series of three OVA’s (Original Video Animation) which were edited down into this theatrical version for western audiences at the same time cutting around 40 mins of gratuitous sex and violence, something that many fans / anime sweaties are often quick to gripe about despite there still being plenty of nudity, gratuitous violence and demons befiling humans left in the film and taking a look at the cuts list its nothing that I personally can’t live without but of course if your the sort of anime fan who wants to see such things and have the extra bucks to pay trader prices you can hunt down the uncut version released in the Perfect collection via Anime 18.

The film meanwhile see’s the Earth realm as one of three interconnected dimensions alongside the demon dimension of the Makai and the more ethereal realm of the beast people known as the Jujinkai which our antihero Amano and his sister Megumi belong to. The pair have spent the last 300 years looking for the Chojin (or Overfiend) who according to legend rises every 3000 years to bring the three realms together in harmony. However despite the seemingly straightforward plot this is a film heavy in random sub-plots and schemes being carried out by various members of the demon realm whose encounters with humans usually end in splatter heavy violence and more worryingly rape, something the film certainly takes a shockingly lax approach to compared to the west.

Amano and Megumi’s mission soon leads them to encounter the shy clutz and occasional peeping Tom, Negumo who has fallen for the popular cheerleader Akemi and following a series of situations which unquestionably make for awkward viewing the pair end up forming an unlikely couple which is of course only complicated further when Negumo is revealed to be the Chojin that Amano and Meguimi have been hunting for. A reveal which in one of the more memorable moments sees him taking on his gigantic demon form in a transformation sequence which sees a trio of penis tentacles tearing through a hospital. The plot at times can feel confusing and distracted which many fans blame on the cuts while for myself it was mainly because of its desire to constantly work in those graphic moments which see the film diverting off course to add another thrill but when it works its still an interesting plot with some fun twists along the way, especially as the prophecy might play out the way that Amano expects.

Much like it’s creator the film’s influence on erotic anime and especially the Hentai genre can be seen throughout the film as its hard to ignore the scenes of graphic sex and roaming tentacles which when combined with the explict violence makes it far from the most accessible anime even though there are titles which followed in its wake which certainly pushed the boundaries of taste further including Toshio Maeda’s own L.A. Blue Girl. Needless to say that despite its importance within the history of anime, this is not going to suit all tastes however if you can stomach the more explict aspects to the film it is still an enjoyable…if that’s the right way to phrase such an experience that this film certainly is.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Andre The Giant

Title: Andre The Giant
Director: Jason Hehir
Released: 2018

Plot: Documentary charting the career and life of wrestling legend Andre Rene Roussimoff better known as Andre the Giant.

Review: If we are to believe everything about Andre we would be lead to believe he had three rows of teeth and could drink 107 beers in a single sitting. But standing at 7ft 4 in Andre was as big as his legend not to mention one of the most recognisable faces in professional wrestling even to non wrestling fans and it’s this legend that director Jason Hehir attempts to find the truth behind as he features extensive interview footage with his family, his fellow wrestlers and “Princess Bride” cast members to craft a portrait of this iconic figure. This is a film certanly not afraid to showcase his life from the triumphant highs to the crushing lows which lead to his premature demise.

Charting his rise to fame in the first half it’s clear that Hehir is as fascinated with Andre’s status as a real life giant as everyone who saw him while he charts the making of his legend as he starts his rise through the wrestling ranks becoming a headline attraction back when wrestling was still broken up into territories defined by local television coverage. Soon ending up as one of the biggest stars of Vince McMahon’s “World Wrestling Federation” now better known as the “WWE” as he helped McMahon essentially bring the end to the territories as the company rode the introducion of cable TV.

One of the strengths of the documentary really is in how Hehir manages to make a film which is as appealing to the establish fan as it is to the newcommer as while there might be extensive talk of the wrestling territories and backstage politics here memorably highlighted by Andre chasing off his minder while he’s trying to play cards. Hehir manages to explain the mechanics of the wrestling industry to the newcomer without slowing down the pace of the documentary. To this extent it can be alittle jarring to have Hulk Hogan seemingly hijacking the documentary to talk about his own career but thankfully he’s on refreshingly modest form and its inclusion is more to build up the showdown between himself and Andre and their iconic match at Wrestlemania 3.

As a wrestling fan the film more than delivers especially with the wealth of archive footage which is included, especially for the lesser seen early portions of Andre’s career. The documentary also does not shy away from the brutal backstage politics of wrestling with many of the wrestlers interviewed openly discussing Andre intentionally roughing up wrestlers who either annoyed him or he perceived as threatening his spot and its refreshing that the documentary doesn’t shy away from the more negative aspects of Andre which only adds to the build up to his match with Hogan were going into the match Hogan had no idea if Andre was going to go along with his match plan or not.

While a large portion of the film is unsurprisingly devoted to his wrestling career Hehir does touch briefly on the making of “The Princess Bride” were he memorably appeared as the giant Fezzik a role which William Goldman had written with him in mind. Perhaps disappointingly to fans of the film this section is one of the briefest but it does feature some fond memories by his co-stars Cary Elwes and Billy Crystal aswell as Director Rob Reiner reminiscing of dealing with a drunk Andre suspended on wires so they could film a horse riding sequence.

Unquestionably this is both touching tribute to the legendary wrestler which wrestling fans will certainly enjoy but at the same time accessable enough that the uninitiated will still find much to enjoy here.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Island Claws

Title: Island Claws
Director: Hernan Cardenas
Released: 1980
Starring: Robert Lansing, Steve Hanks, Nita Talbot, Jo McDonnell, Martina Deignan, Barry Nelson, Tony Rigo, Raymond Forchion, Dick Callinan, Dolores Sandoz, Frank Schuller, Mal Jones

Plot: When a leak at a Florida power plant dumps several thousand tons of toxic waste into the ocean it causes the local crab population to suddenly start growing to monsterious size and start moving in on the local population of a nearby fishing village.

Review: The sole film from director Hernan Cardenas while also written by Ricou Browning and Jack Cowden who also created “Flipper” making their move into writing a movie about killer giant crabs a perfectly logical one. This late entry in the animals run amok genre doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the genre outside of the fact that its about giant crabs which compared to the numerous shark movies out there is certainly one of the lesser seen creatures of terror. I mean even ants to my knowledge have clocked up more movies than our crustacean pals have but stumbling across this on Amazon Prime who recently have become almost shameless with the kind of movies they choose to stock their on demand library with I thought it was an interesting enough concept to check it out.

Opening to a research lab were they are conducting experiments in increasing the size of crabs using warm water and growth hormones as a warm to help increase the world’s food supplies, especially when they discover that the local crab population near the power plant have been growing bigger which of course is nothing to do with the fact that a few tons of toxic waste have been dumped in their part of the ocean which anyone up to speed on their movie logic will know already that movie radiation equals giant monsters compared to real life were it sadly this is never the case. It’s here though that we are introduced to journalist Jan (McDonnell) who is writing a story on the lab only to soon also get involved with scientist Pete (Hanks).

Elsewhere bar owner Moody attempts to keep the small town together by acting as their unofficial head as he keeps the peace amongst the locals usually by keeping them boozed up in his bar while he also acts as Pete’s adopted father after his parents were killed in a drink driving accident caused by Jan’s father who also runs the power station responsible for all the giant crabs. There is a small part which hints at bad blood between the two fathers but is as dropped as quickly as its introduced like so many of the sub-plots in the film which includes a group of Haitian refugees who wash up on the outskirts of town and hide out in the mangroves and whose sole reason for their inclusion seems to be so that Cardenas could work in an angry mob who thanks to some old school racist tendency believe that the Hiatians are to blame for all the strange happenings in town which they equate to voodoo reminding us once more that there are few things as dangerous as a group of drunks with an idea.

The crab attack are sadly pretty sparse here and for the most part involve actors working with a swarm of real crabs which are actually used pretty effectivly especially during one of the scenes highlights when they swarm the school bus which one of the locals Amos lives in with his attempts to battle the invading crabs showing us that the banjo is as little use as a weapon as it is an actual instrument.

The climax of the film though see’s the towns folk battling an 8 foot crab which somehow has managed to remain hidden until it suddenly destroys Moody’s house. Created by Glen Robinson who’d previously worked on effects for “King Kong” (1976) and “Flash Gordon which far exceeds the expectations of the films low budget especially when he built a complete crab and not just the front portion which you’d expect. While still an impressive looking design it sadly lacks any real movement meaning the actors are forced to run around a lot shooting at it with shotguns and generally trying to sell it as being more of a threat than it really is and perhaps Cardenas might have been better just sticking with his initial crab swarm.

The downside to the film other than the occasionally plodding plot threads certainly comes from the lack of lighting during the night sequences which really make it hard to see what exactly is supposed to be happening half the time, which one of the attack scenes is for the most part impossible to make out meaning that it lost much of its effect.

On the whole its not a bad film just not the sort of film that your likely to watch more than once and even then its throwaway entertainment at best especially if your a fan of the genre.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

American Ninja

Title: American Ninja
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Released: 1985
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phil Brock, David Vlok

Plot: Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff) a drifter conscripted into the U.S. Army to avoid going to prison finds himself drawing on his ninjutsu training when his unit are caught up in a plot to steal weapons from the army being carried out by the Black Star Order of Ninjas.

Review: A standout title for Cannon films which would inturn spawn a further four sequels as here they once more attempt to cash in on the Ninja trend which itself was less focused on any kind of historical accuracy and instead more focused on the look of the Ninja outfit and general excuse to wheel out all kinds of fun gadgets and weapons.

Here Michael Dudikoff plays Joe a loner who has been trained in the ways of Ninjutsu from birth which certainly comes in handy when he’s required to pulls out these skills throughout the film and despite not being a trained martial artist tapped into the James Dean vibe that Cannon films wanted after audiences struggled to get on board with the idea of a female ninja in the equally cult “Ninja 3: The Domination”. Certainly Dudikoff nails that James Dean persona of the loner with a chip on their shoulder but then here Dudikoff is far from the most expressive of actors and for some reason seems to have the same expression throughout. Even at the end were he is the hero surveying the smouldering remains of the battlefield does he not crack a smile and instead maintains the same gruff expression.

Thankfully what he might lack in expressions he does make up for in terms of his abilities as an action star even though he didn’t have any martial arts skills at the time of filming unlike his co-star Steve James which turned into something of an issue between the two with Dudikoff not wanting to be shown up with James requesting that his fight scenes be filmed on the opposite side of the compound to Dudikoff to avoid further problems. The pair would eventually squash their issues halfway through the production but watching the film you could easily believe that Dudikoff was a trained martial artist especially when you look at scenes like the sparing session between Dudikoff and James. James though makes for a great co-star and much more than a sidekick which is character had originally been written as and thanks to James changing a lot of the dialogue which was one of the main conditions of him agreeing to do the film and certainly it makes him much more of his own heroic character especially during the final showdown were he gets to fight his own battle.

The action throughout while perhaps lacking in any kind of logic especially when you get multicoloured ninja’s but it still manages to be enjoyable as a popcorn action flick and with it’s high bodycount and especially during the finale which features a ninja vs ninja showdown between Dudikoff and the head ninja played by Tadashi Yamashita in a fight which is a mixture of the pair trading Ninja gadgets (which include wrist lasers!!) while simultaneously engaging in an obstacle course. Needless to say this film more than delivers in mindless fun.

Perhaps having some kind of expectation going into this film, seeing how its an American Ninja movie perhaps made me view this in a more forgiving light, but when approached with the view point of just having fun with the movie it certainly delivers while the tight runtime which dedicates a large portion to action scenes equally helps and really makes me keen to see what else the series has to offer.
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