Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Commando



Title: Commando
Director: Mark L. Lester
Released: 1985
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke,

Plot: Retired Commando John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) has settled into an isolated life with his daughter (Milano), only to find himself being forced to carry out a political assassination when his daughter is kidnapped. Now Matrix has eleven hours to rescue his daughter from her kidnappers.


Review: Having launched himself into the public conscious with the Conan movies and “The Terminator” with this film we really started to the see the foundations of the Arnie formula starting with his introduction in this film consisting of close up shots of his muscular frame which only seem to make everything seem bigger and more impressive than it is. Even the chainsaw which looks pretty tiny when we see it, looks like its 6 ft long in its vanity shot.

The opening shot of Schwarzenegger carrying a log over his shoulder is such an iconic shot and feels almost like the studio introducing a major star being introduced  and it could be considered so seeing how compared to the films which came before it, it’s tonly very different with Schwarzenegger trading in the sword and sorcery antics of his early films (Conan / Red Sonja) being changed out for one liners and heroic gunplay which would become the foundation of the classic Schwarzenegger movie formula. Its only on rewatching the film that you also realise just how bonkers that opening title sequence is as we go from shots of the all powerful, man of the earth to shots of Matrix and his daughter getting ice cream and hand feeding a deer, which while important to show the life that Matrix has made for himself since his retirement from the special forces tonely is just such a random switch.

The plot itself is paper thin and really only serves to guide the audience from one exciting moment to the next, especially when Matrix has to do very little work to find his way to the villain Arius’s (Hedaya) hideout on the fictional Val Verde which was also referenced in both “Predator” and “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” which like this film needed a Spanish speaking country like Cuba or Nicaragua but at the same time wanting to avoid any potential diplomatic issues. Sadly the film really lacks a defined villain so it ends up that the henchmen here are actually more interesting than Arius with of course the most key being Vernon Wells “Freddie Mercury on steroids” Bennett another stone cold psycho as Wells channels the same kind of driven intensity which made “Wez” in “Mad Max 2” such a memorable villian, though the questionable fashion choices remain present as here he trades in his ass-less chaps for a chain mail vest! His knife fight with Schwarzenegger though at the finale is the stuff of action movie legend.

Of course the Arnie formula isn’t quite perfect at this point as Matrix is not only shown as being the muscular badass but also capable to superhuman feats of strength such as the ability to tear phone boxes out of the ground or throw nine mall security guards through the air. The strength element is always played down usually with Schwarzenegger’s body size being more of a key element than any kind of strength. These moments as a result end up being pretty jarring when they occur though this film more than nails is the ridiculous elements of heroic gun play which in turn would form the blueprint for the action movie genre.

The action scenes are unquestionably the best parts of the film and only build as the film goes on from a hotel room fist fight with Bill Duke’s green beret (he eats them for breakfast) hanging David Patrick Kelly (who looks comically short throughout) off a cliff. The grand finale being the now legendry shootout with Arius’s personal army which see’s Matrix not only getting to pull out all the “War Toys” but also fire countless bullets without ever having to reload but also find something to turn into a weapon regardless of how cornered he appears to be. The body count alone for this finale might be one of the largest ever filmed.

The other noteworthy aspect of this film and certainly its most overlooked come from Rae Dawn Chong’s unlikely sidekick and air hostess Cindy who is initially unwillingly coerced into helping Matrix get his daughter back only to turn out to be surprisingly resourceful let alone perhaps the first ever member of the “Girls with Rockets” club by taking out a police truck with a rocket launcher. Why is it so rare to see women firing rocket launchers or similar in films? Certainly its a question which came to me when I was on the “Exploding Helicopter Podcast” discussing “Hard Ticket To Hawaii” and lead to me creating a list on Letterboxd to log every film this happens (feel free to name your ideas) so its safe to say thats this film should also get a credit for being so forward thinking to have her weld such a traditionally male weapon with just as much competence as her male counterpart….even if she does initially have it the wrong way around.

A fun side note is that originally this film was going to have a sequel which would have been a reworked version of “Die Hard” and seen Matrix being hired to head up a security team at the big corporation were his daughter is also working as a lawyer. Matrix would make up a team of the toughest and most dangerous people he knows only for them to turn out to be inline with the company he’s working for which is really just a front for illegal arms deals. Matrix of course ending up to fight through all the people he hired to rescue his daughter again which sounds like a great plot but at the same time its hard to argue against how “Die Hard” ultimately turned out. Who knows maybe this will be the plot of “Expendables 4”

For mindless fun this is unquestionably one of the key Schwarzenegger films and one whose cult status has only increased in recent years. Here though we get everything we want from an Arnie movie and while it might not be perfect there enough mindless violence and action to make for the perfect popcorn movie.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Buffalo '66



Title: Buffalo ‘66
Director: Vincent Gallo
Released: 1998
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette, Jan-Michael Vincent, Anjelica Huston

Plot: Released from prision after serving five years for a crime he didn’t commit, Billy (Gallo) is keen to get his life in order starting with a visit to his parents. However to maintain the lie of his whereabouts all this time he kidnaps tap dancer Layla (Ricci) to play the role of his fiance.

 

Review: The debut film from the man of many talents Vincent Gallo and who here writes and directs the film, though if your to believe Gallo he was also responsible for the cinematography aswell.

Made on a shoestring budget of $ 1.5 milion this aggressive little indie film is not one for those of use who watch films for escapism or to generally not feel like garbage by the end credits for this is far from the happiest film as Gallo crafts a film full of hate and vitriol as Billy is introduced angry and carries it through for nearly the whole film as he angrily searches for a bathroom, argues with his parents and even gets angry at Layla for daring to actually have feelings for him. That being said though in Gallo’s world view everyone is seemingly just as angry.

A favourite of not only the critics where it appears frequently on the top 50 lists of independent cinema but also the majority of Letterboxd reviewers whose glowing reviews for this film made me wonder if I’d stumbled into a different movie as this was far from the most thrilling cinema going experience as instead I found myself feeling like I was locked in a filthy room with only a single Kleenex to clean up. Honestly I wasn’t sure what there was to enjoy about a film were for the first hour it just seemed to be a stream of people determined to let each other know just how much they hated each other.

Of course there have been other equally grim movies such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Irreversable” that dare I say I’ve enjoyed, but with those it was clear that there was a destination they were heading towards and that it wasn’t just some demented experiment in endurance that the director was seemingly trying to craft. It’s here of course that I find the biggest question mark about the film in that its unclear what Gallo is actually trying to achieve here other than fuelling his own ego as throughout Gallo ensures that he constantly the focus of the film while the now legendary fallout from the film which saw Gallo claiming that he carried Ricci while refering to her as being a “Puppet”, he also blamed Anjelica Huston for the film being turned down by the Cannes film festival.

As a lead character Billy makes this far from the easiest experience to get through as there is no one that he won’t pick an argument with or shout abuse at and while Gallo might with painful tedium strip aware these layers of aggressive armour as the reasons are revealed from the abusive family home which is layed on thick for if you couldn’t tell by the general bitterness around the family table Gallo throws in a flashback to Billy’s father killing his puppy when he didn’t clean up after it. We also flashback to the events surrounding his imprisonments was he’s interrogated by his bookie Mickey Rourke whose surprise appearance here was one of the spattering of high points scattered throughout the film.

Ricci’s Layla makes an interesting counterpart to Billy as represents the light in this world, even though her lack of concern for her situation let alone willingness to go along with Billy’s plan remained a sticking point for myself especially when Billy is just so continually aggressive towards her only to suddenly fall for her in a moment of sickening smaltz because of course she’s the only one who can save him from his own darkness. Still despite the cliché path for her character here Ricci still manages to craft several moments throughout the film such as a spontaneous tap dance at the bowling alley. But with her doe eyes and general manic-pixie-dream girl aura around her its hard to not like her character

While the film might be a slog to get through it does however incorporate some interesting visual ideas into its cinematography to hold your attention with the best of these coming at the finale were we get to enjoy freeze frame gunshot wounds as the camera moves freely around the frozen figures. For all the flashy camera work though, it often feels like more of a distraction for the general unpleasent tone throughout this film.

Sure this fans might have its fans but like its leading man this was one film whose appeal was lost on me.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

MBDS Showcase #49 - Dog Soldiers / Cannibal Holocaust



Fellow Brit Zoe (Zobo With A Shotgun) joins me for this latest episode to share her love of all things dark and twisted which formed the basis of her site. 

On this episode we look at British horror with Neil Marshall's "Dog Soldiers" aswell as the notorius former video nasty "Cannibal Holocaust"

We also discuss the censorship and the darker side of horror, living near horror movie sites and Zoe reveals which horror icon she'd most like to take for a pint.



You can find the full MBDS Showcase movie list here

Opening Theme: "Hyperfun" - Kevin Macleod (http://incompetech.com/)

End Theme: "Out of Limits" - The Marketts


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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Zoom



Title: Zoom
Director: Pedro Morelli
Released: 2015
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alison Pill, Mariana Ximenes, Tyler Labine, Jason Priestley, Don McKellar, Claudia Ohana, Jennifer Irwin

Plot: A comic book artist who works in a sex doll factory, a model who wants to be a novelist and an egotistic film director discover that their lives be more inter dimensionally linked than they realised

 
Review: A random little indie film which seemingly slipped under the radar only to randomly turn up recently on Sky Movies in their independent cinema section, but at a loss for something to watch recently I thought I would give this a watch if only to cross off another Gael Garcia Bernal title off the watchlist.

Crafting the sort of tale that we’d expect to come from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, this is certainly an ambitious concept that director Pedro Morelli attempts to tackle for what is only his second film. Still here he attempts to craft this interconnected not to mention interdimensional tale which switches back and forth between its three leads.

First we have Emma (Pill) a comic book artist who works with her boyfriend in a sex doll factory, while she harbours her own fantasies of a comic book heroine figure. At the same time she is writing a comic book about the chauvinist director Edward (Bernal) unaware that what she is drawing is actually happening in Edward’s world.

Edward heads up the second plotline in particular him being struck down with a micro-penis thanks to some vengeance alterations on Emma’s side. Keeping in tune with the comic book theme his segments are all shot using rotoscoping which adds a unique element to the film and perfectly suits the reality he’s living in. Edward also provides the link to the third plotline with his film being about the model and aspiring writer Michelle (Ximenes)

Michelle’s story is also one of the weakest of the three as she has spent her life getting by on her looks, only to find that no one including her boyfriend Dale (Priestley) believe in her abilities as a writer. Of course the book she is writing also happens to be the one controlling Emma’s reality bringing everything full circle….still keeping up with us?

Initially this was film which didn’t sit with me and it was only after the first thirty minutes that it really clicked and all started to slowly pull together. It’s key to note this as I can see this being a film which a lot of people could dismiss on that opening half hour which serves to introduce the three plot lines while at the same time with perhaps the exception of Emma neither of the other two leads exactly jump out and this sadly remains the case for Michelle’s story which remains pretty much a non-starter throughout.

The main issue for Michelle’s story is that for the most part it feels like any “discover yourself” style story, as she skips out on the luxury apartment and good looking boyfriend to escape to Brazil to write her book, along the way of course discovering this sense that she doesn’t need any of the finary. Its the kind of story you can plot out pretty soon after it starts and its really once the worlds start to blend during the finale that things actually get interesting for her character. In fact its the moments of blending between the worlds that provide the actual moments of intrest for her character which is otherwise largely forgettable. I mean she’s not even featured on the poster or the DVD cover which kind of only further highlights what an afterthought her story was.

Emma’s story feels like it could have been its own film without the inter-dimensional cross over which if removed could have been a lightly comedic crime thriller as her story moves from her getting superheroine style breast implants to her and boyfriend Bob trying to move a large quantity of cocaine she gets in the mail thanks to a postal screw up. It could with these plot elements very much be a Coen Brothers style crime caper which we ultimately only get hints of here due to Morelli having to juggle the three plotlines.

Gael Garcia Bernal’s plotline as Edward takes alittle longer to warm up of the three as he initially comes off as a totally unlikeable character as he engages on sport lays and surrounds himself with people who massage his already inflated ego. This of course makes for the best setup for the main meat of his tale which see’s him suddenly being struck down with a micro penis thanks to the meddling from Emma’s side. This sends him on a quest to reclaim his manhood which includes experimenting with the Rolls Royce of fake phalluses.

Bernal here gives another great performance while somehow managing to work once more with unusual material which not only makes it easy to go with, but somehow manages to reflect in her performance the audiences confusion. His willingness to take on such unique material continues to make him such an enjoyable talent to watch while bringing back memories of Johnny Depp’s early work before the oddness essentially consumed his originality alongside his overwhelming amount of collaborations with Tim Burton. Its especially impressive that he can still project his performance as well as he does despite being rotoscoped while giving us such fun scenes as him drinking a cup of tea during a threesome or attempting to deal with a malfunctioning phallus its fascinating to watch.

While this might not be the greatest experience there is still a certain amount of originality which has to be commended even if it feels like an attempt to imitate Charlie Kaufman’s style, there is something to this film which make it worth giving a look, especially if you want to see something different and its to that extent that I wish that this was slightly more polished as when it works its great, but far too often it just doesn’t making it all the harder to recommend. Still in terms of originality its certainly up there.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Woman



Title: The Woman
Director: Lucky McKee
Released: 2011
Starring: Sean Bridgers, Pollyanna McIntosh, Angela Bettis, Zach Rand, Lauren Ashley Carter, Shyla Molhusen

Plot: Country lawyer and supposed family man Chris (Bridgers) capture a primal woman (McIntosh) he finds in the woods during a hunting expedition, whom he proceeds to chain in his cellar while making plans to “civilise” her, not realising the effect she will have on his family, who are already a fractured unit to say the least with his wife Belle (Bettis) suffering from his casual abuse, while he seems to be moulding a monster in his own image with his son Brian (Rand), meanwhile his eldest daughter Peggy (Carter) lives in constant fear of her father, with the only one untouched by Chris’s influence seemingly being his youngest daughter Darlin’(Molhusen), while this family clearly is a powder keg waiting to explode and the woman could be  the spark to do just that.


Review: There are times as a critic were you will encounter a film, which makes you stop and say “I really have no idea, how the hell I’m going to review this” and much as was the case with “Martyrs” arguably the closest film I could compare this to and once again I’m presented with exactly the same situation, so this is going to be real interesting to see how this works out….so here goes nothing.

Lucky Mckee one of the more fiercely independent horror directors currently working, having first burst onto the horror scene in 2002 with “May”, he has continued to maintain his indie roots while continually proving to be one of the few continually exciting horror directors currently working in the modern horror scene. A reputation which he further cements with this film, which could also be his most controversial to date as  he once again teams up with horror writer Jack Ketchum for his second adaptation of Ketchum’s work after previously directing “Red”. While “The Woman” might be the sequel to Ketchum’s “The Offspring”  it is not essential to have read that book or even seen the film version, to get into this film as it is still very much a standalone movie,

Since its premier at Sundance “The Woman”, were a man in the audience walked out complaining about the violence and misogyny featured (as shown in a much discussed YouTube clip), it has essentially has been a hot bed of controversy since then, with Director McKee crafting a potent mixture torture, nudity, rape and visceral gore, but surprisingly the most shocking thing on here is more the casual abuse which Chris is happy to hand out to his family, to maintain his position as the head of the household. When all these factors are combined this is far from an easy movie to watch, yet Mckee still manages to keep a vice like grip on your attention, slowly twisting the tension as he builds up to the inevitable meltdown.

The cast are all pretty much faultless with Mckee’s once again casting his long term partner in crime Angela Bettis once more having cast her in all his film since, playing the titular “May” in his debut feature she has proven more than capable of adapting herself to the various roles Mckee has written for her in the past and here she perfectly embodies the character of Belle, who has now been reduced to a timid shell of a person, to the point were she unquestionably follows her husbands plans to civilise the woman, without Chris bothering to properly explain his intentions, while being certainly even less willing to stop him tearing the family apart. Bridgers is equally fantastic as Chris, easily switching between his dominating side he reserves for his family and the southern gentleman face he projects to the public on his day to day life, while only truly revealing the true depth of his evil at the climax which like his third side comes seemingly out of nowhere. Still he is very much in the mind of the end justifying his means, as he regularly beats the woman when she disobeys his commands, while not even thinking twice to use a power hose to clean the dirt of her body.

With such controversial material on display, I found myself questioning how much the younger cast members were aware of the content of the film? Still both Carter and Rand handle their roles wells with Carter certainly being one to watch, with her portrayal of Peggy proving to be especially memorable, as she takes the audience with her on an emotional journey, as she struggles to handle the chaos around her, let alone the fact her parents are keeping a feral woman in the cellar. Yet at the same time you feel that she longs to feel the same acceptance that her father shows to her brother, frequently emasculating her appearance by cutting her hair short and wearing baggy clothes, seemingly to disguise her femininity ideas sadly not explored further, much like a last minute pregnancy accusation which comes out of nowhere, yet to which Mckee seems especially keen to nail down, even when the audience is doubting it’s plausibility, let alone that it is used as the breaking point for the family. Rand on the other hand is more of the curious teenager and monster in the making, as his father bullies him constantly to mold him in his image, while when left to his own devices even starts imitating his father’s actions with the woman, quickly changing from the naive teenager into something a lot more dark and sinister whenever he is near the woman.

McIntosh is truly believable as the titular woman, whose statuesque figure embodies this Amazonian like character, whose very nature is deeply rooted in our most primal instincts as she lives only to further her own survival, happily chewing off Chris’s probing finger without seemingly the slightest bit faze by the violence of her acts, while communicating only in the most basic of grunts and howls. Even though she seems to understand what is happening around her, the woman remains true to her primal instincts throughout, as especially shown during the bloody climax were she truly shows what she is capable of, as she sets about extracting her own brand of revenge on her captives.
Despite several moments of extreme gore, outside of Chris loosing a finger, Mckee has make the bold decision to keep the gore for his shocking finale were he delivers in spades and truly ensures that the film gets a bloody send off, while seemingly being more happy to torture the audiences psyche until then, through scenes of Chris’s torments let alone a rape sequence which is handled in a thankfully non gratuitous manor and serves solely as a representation of the decline in morals that the woman brings out in the men in the family, as Mckee once again demonstrates a keen intellect behind his desire to shock.

While it might be easy to get caught up in the sexual politics which Mckee continually plays around with throughout to varying degrees of success, it is essentially best to leave these points open to personal interpretation, while for myself I found it to be a film which worked best when looked on as a grim portrait of picket fence hell, while proving once more that hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Texas Chainsaw 3D



Title: Texas Chainsaw 3D
Director: John Luessenhop
Released: 2013
Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Thome Barry, Paul Rae, Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen

Plot: Picking up the shortly after the events of the original film as a group of vigilantes burn down the Sawyer family home and seemingly killing every member of the family. Decades later Heather (Daddario) finds out she has inherited a mansion from her grandmother, only to find out that it holds more than its share of secrets.


Review: A film I’d originally dismissed as another attempt to cash in on the legacy of Tobe Hooper’s breakout film and former Video Nasty which wouldn’t get a UK release until 1999. Despite this the studios have frequently been keen to milk the franchise and turn its chainsaw welding maniac into another iconic slasher figure. Due to this I had little intention of watching this film, especially after the abysmal “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Begining” which kill dead any potential momentum the original and surprisingly decent remake had. It was infact only after hearing Emily and Christine recommend the film on their podcast “The Feminine Critique” that I thought it was time that I finally give it a watch.

In a unique twist this film doesn’t attempt to remake the original film, but instead takes the unique move of following on directly after the Tobe Hooper original ignoring all the films which followed which if you haven't seen already director John Luessenhop helpfully spoils by giving you a highlight reel of all the best parts. True this does help bring the viewer up to speed to were he wants to start his film, but I can’t help but feel this is kind of a downer for anyone who chooses to start with this film or enters it expecting a delayed follow up to the 2003 remake. Suprisingly the film was originally pitched as a new trilogy with the films being released out of order with the first film being set in a hospital, the second film would act as a prequel and the third completing the storyline. The producers however feeling that audiences might not get the ambitious idea instead scrapped the plans in favour of the film we have now while for no discernible reason also releasing it in 3D.

Seemingly a fan of the series Luessenhop opens with a siege on the home of the family of cannibals now known as the Sawyers in a scene which not only attempts to rip off the opening siege of “The Devils Rejects” but also features some of the worse CGI fire effects ever. Still for the fans we get cameos from Marilyn Burns, the original Leatherface Gunner Hansen and Bill Moseley who played Chop Top in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”. Having killed off the family and burned the house to the ground we now move forward to present day and the introduction of Heather and her friends as they road trip out to the mansion she’s now inherited from the grandmother she never knew she had.

Okay before I go any further lets just say that there will be a few spoilers ahead, so if any of what I have covered so far sounds interesting then give it a watch and if it didn’t well the original is always going to be there.

Right from the start its clear that Heather is far from the usual scream queen as we are shown her working in a butchers shop, carving up with almost glee meat using a bandsaw while her home she uses as a studio for her bone art. Now I’m not going to say that attractive girls can’t be Butchers or have an interest in the grotesque arts, but this is the movie world and hence nothing can usually exist without hinting at something else and the film really put as spin on the mythos as Heather slowly discovers her links to the Sawyers.

The main plot worryingly starts off perhaps alittle too similar to the original film as Heather and her friends pick up a hitchiker, or should I say they almost hit him with the fan before deciding to pick him up, something which he’s surprisingly not overly upset over since he can blag jerky off them. I was half expecting this hitchiker to have some link to the family which he doesn’t though he does attempt to steal pretty much anything that’s not nailed down when Heather her friends deem him trust worthy enough to leave at the mansion. A strange move seeing how they’ve only known him for about five mins but atleast he ends up falling foul of Leatherface so I guess theres some sort of karma there.

While the hitchiker might be a thieving SOB, her friends are equally none that brilliant as we have her douche bag boyfriend Ryan (Songz) who is off from his first introduction so it comes as little suprise to discover he’s cheating on her with her best friend Nikki (Raymonde). The sole redeaming member of the group is Kenny (Malicki-Sanchez) but he’s frustrating never given much to do making his early departure all the more sad especially when there is much more deserving victims to be had.

While this might all sound like another run of the mill slasher with the good looking teens being chased by the hideous killer, but surprisingly Luessenhop is actually trying to do something different with the mythos this time round by turning an ageing Leatherface into the blunt instrument of justice. For the first half of the film its business as usual for him but by the second half of the film were we find out about the corrupt cops in town and Heathers relationship to Leatherface has been reveals via some rather ropey quick cuts as she looks over a police report it could be seen that Leatherface wasn’t actively hunting the teen but rather defending in his own warped way his home.

Leatherface played this time by Dan Yeager really lacks the required presence that Gunnar Hansen brought to the role or just the hulking size of the 2003 version. Despite being 6’6 here he seem a lot shorter thanks to how he’s shot by Luessenhop which remove a lot of the characters daunting presence and ultimately came off a little tepid while the less said about that stupid tie he randomly puts on for the finale showdown the better. I mean is that supposed to symbolise him going to work?

The kills throughout are a lot of fun with some frustratingly being reworked or recycled from the original film, something alittle harder to ignore when you show us all the original kills at the start of the movie. Still the final pay off gives us a memorable death which is only hampered slightly by the use of CGI, something which is such a common issue in modern horror it almost feels like a pointless exercise to mention it. Sure its easier for the film maker by cutting down on the shot reload time but when it comes at the cost of presence for the viewer should the film makers convenience always win out?
While far from the best entry in the series its equally not the worst and certainly brings enough unique ideas to make it worth giving a look, but this is far from the film to represent the tone of the franchise.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

AC Film Club #2 - King Kong Escapes




On this episode of the "Asian Cinema Film Club" myself and my co-host Stephen (Eastern Kicks / Gweilo Ramblings) look at the second attempt by Toho to cash in on the appeal of King Kong by this time having him face off against his mecha counterpart Mechani-Kong in "King Kong Escapes"

Directed by legendary Kaiju director Ishiro Honda the plot itself is the usual randomness with Evil scientist Dr. Who creating his Mechani-Kong which he plans to use to dig for “Element X” in the North pole only to find that the radiation emitted by Element X shuts down his creation. Meanwhile Commander Nelson  and his crew have discovered Kong living on Mondo Island who Dr.Who now plots to use to dig out the Element X by hypnotising the giant ape to do his bidding. Of course its not long before Kong goes wild once more while heading for a showdown with Mechani-Kong on top of the Tokyo Tower!!

Also on this episode Stephen shares his thoughts on the Live-action adaptation of "Ghost In The Shell", The anniversary and legacy of Gundam Wing aswell as why "Attack On Titan" is so essential.

Further Watching



Godzilla (1954)

Destroy All Monsters


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Lady Bloodfight



Title: Lady Bloodfight
Director: Chris Nahon
Released: 2016
Starring: Amy Johnston, Muriel Hofmann, Jenny Wu, Kathy Wu, Jet Tranter, Mayling Ng, Sunny Coelst, Rosemary Vandebrouck, Lisa Cheng

Plot: While attempting to escape her troubled homelife by backpacking in Hong Kong, Jane (Johnston) attracts the attention of Shu (Hofmann) when she is forced to fend off a group of thugs. Now under Shu’s training she enters into the all-female underground fighting tournament known as “The Kumite”.

Review: Originally created by writer / producer Bey Logan as a project to showcase the top female talent of Hong Kong martial arts cinema such as Maggie Q and Shu Qi only for the project to languish in development hell. Picked up by “Voltage Pictures” the film was instead turned into something for a more mainstream audience though surprisingly retaining a gritty edge to its action.

Directed by French director Chris Nahon who is no doubt best known for “Kiss of the Dragon” aswell as the live action adaptation of “Blood: The Last Vampire”. Here he once more brings a highly visual style to the film, though you might want to lower your expectations before you go into this expecting another “Kiss of the Dragon” arguably one of the best of Jet Li’s films. At the same time it should be noted that despite being given what essentially is a gender-swapped version of “Bloodsport” still manages to give us a surprisingly enjoyable brawler.

One of the big issues of this film really falls on the lack of plotting and character development which plagues this film throughout. Lets take Jane our heroine for example who arguably gets the most development of any of the cast and who we are introduced to working as a waitress were her zero tolerance for being harassed by pervert customers sees her being fired from her job and with only her slovenly chain smoking mother at home, she decides to find out what happened to her father who disappeared eight years previous while competing in the Kumite and well that’s about all we ever find out about her.

The other main plotline here involves rival masters Shu and Wei (Kathy Wu) who we see battling at the start of the film in the previous Kumite and from the large amount of time lapse photography spliced into their fight, we are lead to believe is also a fight which has gone on for hours, despite neither fighter seemingly any less dishevelled nor beat up than when they started. When the pair managed to ultimately fight to a draw they are tasked by the Kumite to each train a fighter to represent them in the following years competition which bring in Jane as the fighter of Shu while Wei finds her fighter in the thief and hoodrat Wai (Jenny Wu) who with her hotheaded nature could be seen as the closest the film really has to a villian outside of the psychotic Russian convict Svietta (Mayling Ng).

The fight scenes throughout are surprisingly brutal with this film certainly being more about attractive female fighters engaging in titillating catfights but rather them beating each other to a bloody pulp which is certainly the case for Jane who frequently comes off the worse in her fights. The fight scenes are further helped by the background of many of the actresses having a martial arts background which is certainly the case of Mayling Ng whose IMDB page features as demo real of her skills. Amy Johnston on the other hand has an extensive list of stunt woman credits and much like Zoe Bell who she also co-starred in “Raze” with makes the transition to actress with ease and believability here.

The downside to the action scenes comes from some seriously choppy editing and misguided attempts to include flashy camera work to heighten these scenes and add to the excitement. The other issues comes from Nahon shooting so close to the fight scenes rather than giving them the space to breathe and allow the audience to be able to see what is happening on the screen.

Despite being a DTV title certainly here on these rain soaked shores this film really fights above its expectations and while it might not be the most groundbreaking film of the year, while perhaps verging on blatant plagiarism of “Bloodsport” this is still an entertaining if slightly flawed brawler that’s still worth giving a look.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Lifeforce



Title: Lifeforce
Director: Tobe Hooper
Released: 1985
Starring: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard, Nicholas Ball, Aubrey Morris, John Hallam, Chris Jagger, Bill Malin

Plot: When the crew of the space shuttle Churchill discover a spaceship hidden in Halley’s Comet the crew choose to investigate finding three humanoid life forms in suspended animation which they choose to bring back to Earth unaware that they are a trio of space vampires.

 
Review: When we look at the “Masters of Horror” collective Tobe Hooper would be another of the directors like Stuart Gordon and perhaps to an extent Joe Dante whose work never really gets the recognition it deserves. More so in Hooper’s case were he found early success with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” arguable one of the scariest and intense movies ever made, only to find it overshadowing the films which followed as he strived to replicate it with the films which followed in career littered more recently with more misses than hits.

This film really marked the beginning of the decline for his career which would following its release descend into medeocricy outside of the occasional high point which can be found in his TV projects such as the pilot episode for “Dark Skies” and his episodes for the “Masters of Horror” series. This film however would be the first film in a three-picture deal which he was offered Cannon Films following the success of “Poltergeist” and which would lead to Hooper directing both the “Invaders From Mars” remake aswell as the cult favourite “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”.

So were do we begin with this film? Its far from an easy question as this is a film which is seemingly never sure what exactly it wants to be as we start off as an “Alien” style space movie whose similarities are not all that suprising when you consider that the script was co-written by Dan O’Bannon. From here the film seems to be settled into its Space Vampire groove, only to then shift into a body snatchers mood before then switching to an all out zombie apocalypse on the streets of London. It’s a wild and random ride to say the least and one I will attempt to decipher in this review as best as I can, but even as I sit down to write this review I’m left with the same sense of confusion that I got with Hooper’s experimental hippy debut “Eggshells”.

The first half of the film is actually pretty enjoyable as we get the crew of Churchill investigating the mysterious craft, finding fossilised giant bat like creatures and our trio of naked space vampires asleep in suspended animation. Originally this discover sequence was to be shot in silence which would have been really interesting to see, especially when how this opening portion is shot and the zero gravity movements of the characters are almost hypnotic to watch and there is so genuine tension to these scenes of exploration aboard the alien craft.

Unsurprisingly the focus is placed on the hot naked space chick (May) and not the two space studs who are pushed to the background for the most part. Back on Earth she of course wakes up suddenly and wastes little time sucking the lifeforce out of her victims all while wandering around completely naked and with little desire to actually find clothes. In a fun twist her victims which are reduced to shrivelled husks also start feeding on the lifeforce of anyone near them causing this vampire like virus to soon begin spreading out of control, while those unable to find a victim explode into dust which for some reason never gets old.

We are also introduced at this point to our hero and SAS Colonel Caine played here by an impossibly young looking Peter Firth who I was most familiar with his role in the TV series “Spooks” as the MI5 officer Harry, so it was kind of surreal to find him randomly turning up here. Inturn his appearance really gives the film a feeling of a Doctor Who episode, especially as he carries this Quatermass attitude which I really wasn’t expecting to find with this film.

While it seems at this point that you know were the story is going with Hooper seemingly crafting a space vampire romp, things instead take a turn for the random when Churchill crew member Tom Carlsen (Railsback) suddenly returns to earth in the ships escape pod. Carlsen randomly shares a psychic link with the female space vampire who for some reason they never both to name, even in the credits she is listed as “Space Girl”. The psychic link angle really is overplayed throughout the second half of the film which is also were the film starts to grind its gear and loose the momentum it had in the first half with Hooper working in a bunch of Dracula style seduction dream sequences between Carlsen and the female vampire. It also serves to take us out into the British countryside for no real discernible reason I could think of other than to stretch the film out or that Hooper just really fancied filming in the countryside. The body snatchers angle this diversion introduces makes absolutely zero sense and what I would say needed to be cut from what is a greatly inflated runtime which needed to loose around thirty mins. At the same time it would also mean losing Patrick Stewart's appearance as the manager of a hospital they believe she is hiding out in.

The ending though is really were the film not only jumps the shark but the whole aquarium as the film suddenly turns into a full blown zombie apocalypse which you can’t but wonder if it served as the inspiration for the post-apocalyptic London of “28 Days Later”. This finale Hooper just goes nuts and throws everything at the screen with Caine battling his way through the zombie hordes and seeing how much Peter Firth is seen smiling throughout these scenes its hard to tell if he’s just having fun or just given into the fact that he’s just resigned himself to the fact that none of this is making the slightest bit of sense. It is however a lot of fun to see London being reduced to rubble, thanks to Hopper getting access to a recently closed model village which he could blow up as a substitute London.

Were the film really excels however is with the special effects, in particular the practical effects throughout the film thanks to John Dykstra whose work here really stops the film from being just another throw away Cannon title, while making it non to surprising that it was also one of their most expensive productions alongside “Master of the Universe” and “Superman 4: The Quest for Peace”. What it does give us though are dried husk zombies whose body rejuvenate when they suck the lifeforce out of their victim or explode into dusty clouds when they can’t. By the finale they are more traditional looking zombie effects which is to be understood, but really made up for by some fun body horror elements.

A truly random experience which certainly could have afforded to hack out half an hour, especially the distraction provided by the third act which throws in the unneeded bodyswappers element which really brings nothing to the film apart from adding confusion to the film which would have taken away from the film more had the finale been so much fun. Its hard to say were this film lies in terms of being good or bad as it somehow manages to fall somewhere outside of such ratings and while its far from Hooper’s best film its one which is still worth watch if only to be astounded by its sheer randomness as there really is nothing else quite like it.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

12 Rounds 3: Lockdown



Title: 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
Director: Stephen Reynolds
Released: 2015
Starring: Dean Ambrose, Roger Cross, Daniel Cudmore, Lochlyn Munro, Ty Olsson, Sarah Smyth, Rebecca Marshall, Toby Levins, Bill Dow, Sharon Taylor, Matthew Harrison

Plot: Detective John Shaw (Ambrose) returning from recently being shot while on duty in an incident which claimed the life of his partner, he has little time to settle back into work when he accidentally uncovers incriminating evidence about fellow detective Tyler Burke (Cross) who soon locks down the precinct with his team of dirty cops leaving Shaw alone to get the truth out.

Review: The second of the “Action Six-Pack” series from Lionsgate and WWE Studios after the Soska Sisters prison drama “Vendetta” the script for this film originally titled just “Lockdown” was nothing to do with the previous “12 Rounds” films, but with the studio clearly keen to have another franchise to go alongside their ever popular “Marine” series the script was reworked to create this second sequel to the Renny Harlin original which stared John Cena. Unlike the previous two films though which saw their hero being forced to complete 12 challenges, this film does away with the concept entirely and instead goes with the much more literal 12 rounds which Detective Shaw has in his gun to take on the dirty cops now hunting for him.

When it comes to the WWE Films its always with a sense of impending dread and hesitation that I often find myself entering into these films with. More so when it means being faced with Wrestlers not being able to carry the charisma of their ring personas over to the screen. There was a brief period were this issue was countered by the films featuring the wrestler in a supporting role as seen with the likes of “The Call” and “Dead Man Down” but lately they seem to be drifting back to the original model of having the wrestlers play the lead roles. True we have had several wrestlers who’ve proven themselves capable of carrying their films such as The Miz and to an extent Kane but at the same time we’ve also had the clumsy comedy of Triple H in “The Chaperone.

When it comes to Dean Ambrose whose ring persona is that of a deranged lunatic you’d expect to see him cast in a role like Riggs from “Lethal Weapon” and despite seemingly being introduced as the sort of cop who plays by his own rules end up coming off like more of a John McClane styled character especially when this film boils down to what is essentially Die Hard on a budget. At the same time Ambrose might not be the worst wrestler turned actor but at the same time here he never seems to ever get out of first gear with his persona which generally just stays on one level throughout the film. At the same time his character is barely developed throughout the film, despite plot points being scattered throughout the film such as his responsibility over the death of his partner we never really get a feeling of him being a fully developed character especially when outside of this fact we don’t get to know anything really about him.

Roger Cross’s dirty cop Burke on the other hand is an almost cartoonish villain seemingly modelled after Alonzo Harris from “Training Day” who somehow has a whole mini-army of fellow dirty cops who he can not only bring in at a moments notice, but are somehow able to lockdown the whole police station with minimum amount of hassle, let alone how easy Burke is able to convice everyone that Shaw is the dirty cop which would be easier if he was the loose cannon kind of cop you’d expect Ambrose to be playing, but when he’s been viewed as the good cop who just wants to make a difference it makes zero sense that he could be so easily framed.

Another issue the film has is that Shaw never has someone to play off like McClane had Al in the original “Die Hard” and instead leaves us with scenes of him muttering to himself and Burke barking orders and generally voicing his frustration at constantly being thwarted in his attempts to take out Shaw. We do get the rookie office Taylor (Smyth) who seems to be introduced to fill this role for Shaw and perhaps in some way help redeem him for getting his partner killed, but sadly she never gets to play much more than a bargaining chip between Burke and Shaw.

Thankfully the action scenes here really make up for a lot of the flaws in the film with Reynolds crafting exciting scenes of both gun play and general hand to hand combat with Shaw showing the same kind of inspired thinking on his feet which made John McClane such a memorable action hero as seen here by him convincing the bad guys he’s gone into the vents when he’s actually hiding out in the same room.We also get a unique use for a taser which really needs to be seen.

While the plotting is pretty standard and by the numbers it largely works and plods along nicely throughout while being broken up with decent bursts of action. However it is let down by the final act which sees the inclusion of a much unneeded double cross which should have been cut out as it not only has zero effect on the plot but doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

On the whole this is like so many of the WWE Studio films in that its disposable yet entertaining and if anything much like “Sausage Party” I’m actually kind of concerned by how much I enjoyed this one, though hardly a breakout role for the acting career of Dean Ambrose. Still compared to the dreck being churned out by the likes of the Sci-fi channel you really could do a lot worse than giving this a watch.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

MBDS Showcase #48 - At The Earths Core / Challenge of the Tiger


The "MBDS Showcase" is a cult movie podcast which aims to provide an introduction to cult and obscure cinema, while inviting my guests to share their own cult movie obsessions.

Youtuber and cult cinema fan Brandon Tenold (Brandon's Cult Movie Reviews) returns for an ass kicking double as we look at the overlooked Bruceploitation movie "Challenge of the Tiger" in which Bruce Le directs and stars as a CIA Agent paired with Richard Harrison's swave womaniser as the pair try to locate a super-sterility drug 

We also get to see Doug McClure team up with Peter Crushing for "At The Earth's Core" as he fights dinosaurs, seduces cavewomen and solves problems by punching them!!
 
All this plus Canuxploitation, movie ratings and the appeal of bad movies, plus much more!



You can find the full MBDS Showcase movie list here

Opening Theme: "Hyperfun" - Kevin Macleod (http://incompetech.com/)

End Theme: "Out of Limits" - The Marketts

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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Shallows



Title: The Shallows
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Released: 2016
Starring: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge, Angelo Jose Lozano Corzo, Jose Manuel Trujillo, Pablo Calva, Diego Espejel, Janelle Bailey

Plot: Struggling to deal with the loss of her mother to cancer medical student Nancy (Lively) travels to the same secluded beach in Mexico her mother had visited. However when she is attacked by a large great white shark, she finds herself stranded 200 yards from the shore while being stalked by the relentless shark.


Review: Director Jaume Collet-Serra really is a director whose work its hard to place as while he’s given us films such as “Orphan” and “Non-Stop” he’s also the same director responsible for giving us the likes of “Goal 2: Living The Dream” and the “House of Wax” remake which so memorably was sold on the prospect of seeing Paris Hilton die. As such your never really sure what your going to get from him and while the concept and trailer for the film really gave it all the potential of being another disposable summer release this film thankfully really isn’t.

Stripping the film down to its key elements here Collet-Serra really crafts something surprisingly special as he seemingly knows that the real heart of the film lies in the battle between Nancy and the shark currently standing between her and the shore... and that’s essentially it. This is also what appealed to Lively who was drawn to the project when she saw the similarities between this film and her husband Ryan Reynolds “Buried”.

True it might be a big shark which continually torments Nancy but this at the same time this isn’t some gigantic creature with super intelligence, which makes this already miles better than the countless shark movies which have continually attempted and failed to top what Steven Spielberg achieved with “Jaws”. The shark here instead is designed with a much more natural behaviour for the most part with Collet-Serra really only letting it off the leash in the build up to the finale. As such the shark only attacks Nancy initially when she stumbles into its hunting ground, while her injuries only serve to maintain its interest in her.

Despite the fact that Blake Lively has hardly set my world on fire with her previous performances which always felt that she was getting by on just being the token pretty girl rather than anything resembling dramatic talent and yet she is fantastic here, especially when its a role that requires her to act by herself for about 90% of the film though she does get a seagull (nicknamed Steven Seagull by Lively) to chat with. While this sounds like kind of a drag here it actually works as we get scenes such as Nancy treating any time she has to perform first aid on herself like she is treating a patient, which sees her talking her way through each procedure which largely consist of short term solutions she can cobble together on the fly.

Seeing how Nancy only has her wet suit, jewellery and a strap from her obliterated surfboard to help her, its fascinating to see how she deals with a situation which only continues to get worse for her especially with the clock continually ticking down to high tide. This of course means we do get some cringy moments such as her pinning a leg wound together using earrings and her necklace and it surprised me to see how willing Lively was to play a character who is essentially brutalised by the elements for the film, especially when she does all her own stunt work here outside of the few moment of surfing which were handled by pro surfer Isabella Nichols who also taught Lively some of the surfing basics such as how to Wax the board and attach a leg rope to give it more of an air of authenticity.

Outside of the survival aspect of the story we also get brief asides to her family as her father questions her decision to drop out of medical school after her mothers death, while her younger sister only further cements the impression we get of her home life. We also get passing interactions with a pair of fellow surfers and her local guide which while they serve to provide potential saviours for her its soon clear that its going to fall to Nancy to get herself out of the situation.

By keeping the shark for the most part for the final quarter it really helps build a sense of creeping dread throughout the film. At the same time while it might be a CGI shark it is still miles ahead of the phoney looking CGI that the Asylum / Sci-fi have been lumbering their productions with and it makes for an effective threat by the production not skimping on this element, especially as we all know how a cheap effect can quickly deflate a production of any tension gained in its build up.

One of the big surprises of the 2016 release schedule this is a film certainly worth seeking out, especially for Shark movie fans left craving the same kind of thrills that “Deep Blue Sea” delivered. At the same time its tight plotting and brief run time stop it outstaying its welcome or becoming too outlandish.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

King Kong Escapes



Title: King Kong Escapes
Director: Ishiro Honda
Released: 1967
Starring: Rhodes Reason, Akira Takarada, Linda Miller, Eisei Amamoto, Mie Hama, Yoshiumi Tajima, Nadao Kirino, Shoichi Hirose, Haruo Najajima, Yu Sekida

Plot: Evil scientist Dr. Who (Amamoto) has created his own robot version of King Kong called Mechani-Kong which he plans to use to dig for “Element X” in the North pole only to find that the radiation emitted by Element X shuts down his creation. Meanwhile Commander Nelson (Reason) and his crew have discovered Kong living on Mondo Island who Dr.Who now plots to use to dig out the Element X by hypnotising the giant ape to do his bidding.
 
Review: One of the numerous overlooked King Kong titles / cash in titles with this one seeing Toho studios who’d previously obtained the King Kong licence for “King Kong Vs. Godzilla” and which despite being a box office success Toho hadn’t exactly rushed to follow it up until this film for which they teamed up bizarely with the American production company Rankin / Bass who are no doubt best known for their Christmas specials despite putting out several giant monster / dinosaur features such as “The Last Dinosaur” and “The Bermuda Depths”.

Drawing inspiration from the Rankin / Bass saturday morning cartoon “The King Kong Show” which saw the giant ape saving the world from various aliens, mad scientists and other monsters. This of course makes for the perfect source material for director Ishiro Honda especially as it puts Kong more in line with the likes of Godzilla who at this point was engaging in his own world saving antics. Working with the other three “Godzilla Fathers” producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, composer Akira Ifukube and most key special effects by the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya which is no doubt why this film appeals to my Kaiju fanboy side especially with Honda hardly deviating from his usual Godzilla format, Ifukube even recycles some of his Godzilla themes to great effect here.

If anything could be said about this film is that it really wastes no time in getting to the monster action as we are barely 20 mins into the film before we get to not only see Kong for the first time but also Gorosaurus who makes his Toho debut in this film and despite being killed by Kong would make a miraculous recovery for his more prominent appearance in “Destroy All Monsters”. We also get to see Kong battle a sea serpent who looks strangely similar to Manda.

Despite Tsuburaya handling the special effects, the Kong suit is still an awkward Kaiju reworking which is only slightly better than the one we saw in “King Kong Vs. Godzilla”. Of course that being said it is still miles ahead of some of the awful giant ape costumes we got in the Kong knock offs like “A.P.E.” and “Queen Kong”. Here Tsuburaya really appears to be trying to tap into the more human side of Kong as seen through the overly sympathetic eyes which serve to make him more humane than any kind of monstrous threat, though he just looks down right dopey when he gets hypnotised by “Dr. Who”. The Mechani-Kong on the other hand looks fantastic, even if its movements sound like a disco siren.

Of course the reason we are all here is to see Kong face off against his mechi-counterpart and while it might be kept for the finale its well worth the wait as the pair battle it out while hanging off the Tokyo tower. Interestingly despite being in Tokyo Kong actually chooses not to destroy anything….unlike Mechani-Kong who mere minutes of arriving in Tokyo is busy smashing building. Why Kong chooses to head to Tokyo from the North pole is unclear much like how he manages to get there so quick after escaping Dr. Who’s secret base which appears like the henchmen uniforms to have been recycled from “You Only Live Twice”

The plot itself is kind of nonsensical aswell as just downright sexist in places with Commander Nelson having an unexplained past with the villainous Dr. Who which causes the second half of the film to grind its gears in places as Dr. Who tries to win over Commander Nelson to his cause even employing the charms of Madame Piranha played here former Bond girl Mie Hama whose country of origin which she is supposed to be representing is kept a mystery as one of the more random running themes of the film as characters origins are frequently questioned. The film also borrows elements from the original “King Kong” with Susan (Miller) essentially playing the Fay Wray role as Kong falls for her meaning that she is able to control him, when not constantly being kidnapped by him or his Mechi counterpart meaning we get to see a lot of footage of a questionable looking doll standing in for her.

Considering when this film was made Ishiro Honda was Toho’s go to director for their Kaiju movies not only through his heavy involvement with the Showa era of the Godzilla movies, but also introducing the world to the likes of “Rodan” and “Mothra” with their stand alone films and to this extent this version of Kong perfectly fits in this unofficial Kaiju universe that Toho were making with these films and which Honda would essentially bring together with “Destroy All Monsters” the following year.

A fun Kaiju movie which brings a fun spin to King Kong mythos which is certainly a lot more enjoyable than some of the entries in the apesploitation genre. At the same time its quick passing and generally fun kaiju action makes this one worth giving a look if only for some throwaway fun viewing.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Police Story 4: First Strike



Title: Police Story 4: First Strike
Director: Stanley Tong
Released: 1996
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jackson Lou, Annie Wu, Bill Tung, Yuriy Petrov, Nonna Grishayeve, Terry Woo, Ailen Sit, Nathan Jones

Plot: Recuited by the CIA, Insp. Chan (Chan) to follow leads connected to a nuclear smuggling case, only to soon find himself on the trail of a missing nuclear warhead.

Review: Despite being the forth entry in Jackie Chan’s legendry “Police Story” franchise you really don’t need to have seen the previous three to enjoy this film and hence why it was sold to western audiences as just “First Strike” giving it the illusion of being a stand alone film especially to cash in on the success of “Rumble In The Bronx” which had introduced Chan finally to audiences not familiar with the Hong Kong cinema.

While this film takes perhaps alittle longer than his other films to get going with Chan engaging in some espionage antics before giving us the first of the films big set pieces on the snowy mountains of the Ukraine with Chan wearing little more than a humorous seal hat for warmth chases after a suspect and it what really sets the tone for the film as here we get to see Chan really working at the height of his powers as certainly highlighted by the now legendary ladder fight sequence whose painful screw ups really only demonstrate just how good Chan and his stunt team are. Its during the traditional mistake reel in the credits and you also see that Chan really wasn’t wearing anything remotely warm during the mountain sequences when snowboarding or being thrown into icy water that you may find yourself questioning the general sanity of Chan to put himself through such things.

Perhaps to the benefit of Chan for doing all those snow sequences the majority of the film takes place in Australia were he soon finds himself caught up with the sister of the suspect he’s been pursuing Annie here played by Annie Wu in her film debut. Of course the general plot is pretty thin and this is especially the case with her character whose only real purpose is to play the damsel in distress while the fact she works at the aquarium really is just to setup the finale. This isn’t a major issue thanks to the general charm of Chan’s performance aswell as the fact that most viewers will be here for the stunts and fights than the plot.

This is a great film for newcomers thanks to the light-hearted plot let alone how frequently ludicrious it is to have a film which features an aquarium of man eating sharks and a final showdown which takes place underwater. This of course is largely thanks to Chan’s performance as he’s essentially the every man rather than the bad ass, its just he also happens to be a martial arts master. At the same time he taps into the same slapstick action energy of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd especially with the fight scenes being focused on using the environment around him and making one movement flow into the next. There is no better example of this than in this film when he is attempting to escape from a pair of Russian thugs, one being played by man mountain Nathan Jones.

As I mentioned already the action is really the star of the show here and while it might not top what we’ve seen in the previous three films in the saga it is still inventive and unquestionably better than his current output were its clear as he’s getting older he’s less willing to maim himself for his art especially when those bones don’t heal as quick as they used to, but hey this is the guy whose had so many injuries that he can no longer get insurance so you can hardly fault him for wanting to take it easier in these later years of his career. As such its fun to see a film like this when he was wanting to take those risks. Here Chan is clearly trying to give the audience something they haven't seen before which might explain the underwater fight finale, while the snowboard chase and the apartment escape which sees Chan repeatedly running into closed windows all make for fun highlights.

Frustratingly all the releases of this film bar the Japanese DVD are missing 21 mins from the film, while also dubbed which is less of an issue considering the style of film, but you would think that by now we would be able to get the original version of this film which sadly is still not an option.

A fun entry in the “Police Story” saga though while perhaps not the best film of this period it is still miles better from his current output, while providing the perfect start point for the newcomers to his extensive body of work.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Imperium



Title: Imperium
Director: Daniel Ragussis
Released: 2016
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Devin Druid, Pawel Szajda, Nestor Carbonell, Sam Trammell

Plot: FBI agent Nate Foster (Radcliffe) is sent undercover as a neo-Nazi when it is suspected that a white supremacist group is plotting an attack.

Review: I’m not sure if its just me but I’m sure that the career paths of both Daniel Radcliffe and Elijah Wood if put side by side would pretty much match up with both coming to the attention of the general movie going public through blockbusters before moving into more indie productions and arguably producing some of the best work of their respective careers with Elijah Wood giving us the likes of “Grand Piano” and “Maniac” after the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy while Daniel Radcliffe only continues to make the Harry Potter years seem like a distant memory as he’s matured as an actor let alone showing the same kind of ballsy role picking with films like this and “Swiss Army Man” that helped Joseph Gordon Levitt become such a darling of the indie scene.

Of course when you think of Neo-Nazi’s I’m sure that Radcliffe’s name would be way down the list of potential actors but then that was one of the main things which drew me to this film, after all this is a the kind of role which has become synonymous with the performances given by the likes of Edward Norton and Russell Crowe as well as perhaps to a lesser extent Ryan Gosling. Yet somehow Radcliffe pulls off the role playing up the lack of believability to extraordinary effect.

Based on the career of former undercover FBI agent Michael German who wrote the script with director Daniel Raguissis who makes his feature debut with this film. German over the course of his career spent time undercover with both supremacists and right-wing militants which brings some legitimacy to the always dubious “Based on real events” title card the film opens with.

When Radcliffe’s FBI agent Foster is introduced during the arrest of a terrorist suspect were he is pushed to the background of the arrest while his superiors claim the credit for his work. At the same time Foster is shown as being something of an intellectual loner as he spends his evenings drinking expensive wine, listening to Brahm’s and sharing his meals with a book. However this seemingly makes him the perfect candidate for going undercover it would seem in the eyes of Agent Zamparo (Collette) who is investigating the involvement of white supremacist groups in the theft of caesium-137 which could be turned into a dirty bomb. The fact that Foster is such an unlikely candidate for undercover work, let alone to imitate a neo-nazi is seemingly what makes him perfect for such an operation seeing how many members of these organisations share a similar upbringing as Foster.

This idea that people’s direction in life being affected by their life experiences really plays an under lying theme throughout the film, before being highlighted again at the closing. At the same time the film equally suffers from going through the usual motions of these kinds of movies as we get the initial introduction to the hotheaded agitators while the elder figure making all the big claims turns out to be far from the person they claim to be. We do however get some interesting moments scattered throughout which do bring some unique aspects to the story such as a gathering being held in a quiet suberban neighbourhood hosted by white collar family man Gerry (Trammell) were the guest all seem like regular upstanding members of society despite the fact that one of the wives has brought Swastika topped cupcakes reminding the audience that not all supremacist look the same.

The character of Gerry is another cliché aspect to the story in which we get the Neo-Nazi who can justify his love of Jewish conductors or black music and its the kind of character who turns up time and time again and perhaps its down to the enjoyable performance given by Trammell that it wasn’t such an eye rolling cliché moment here. Gerry though provides for Foster one of the few seeming safe harbours when surrounded by members of the various groups threatening to reveal his true identity, while their shared interests and similar personalities make for a genuine friendship which leaves you wondering if he’s getting too involved with the people he’s supposed to be investigating.

Crafting a tightly plotted story there is little hanging around with the plot while the tension is kept high throughout as doubt is constantly being cast on the different aspects of his story. While Radcliffe might not seem like the most intimidating actor, here it really works to his advantage with the path they choose to take with his character so that you never get the feeling of implausibility like we got when Elijah Wood tried to play a football hooligan in the dire “Green Street”.

On the downside the final act feels kind of forced and rushed and really could have done with having more time to breathe than the sudden introduction of new conspirators to the plot, while Foster rushes around to defuse a dirty bomb plot. While it does have some tense moments such as trying to pass off fake chemicals, it just all needs more time to develop especially when the journey to this point has been so great its frustrating to see such a rushed climax.

A fantastic indie thriller that approaches the Neo Nazi material in perhaps a more subtle way than the superior “American History X” or “Romper Stomper” but this is still a great indie thriller well worth checking out.
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