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.
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