Monday, 21 December 2009
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Written & Directed by: Neveldine/Taylor
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Logan Lerman Amber Valetta, Alison Lohman & Chris Bridges
Neveldine/Taylor take a break from their hyper-kinetic, loopy as a bowl of fruit loops action franchise Crank to make, well, their hyper-kinetic, loopy as a bowl of fruit loops sci-fi actioner Gamer. About as subtle as one of Lady Gaga’s outfits and applying as much force as a wrecking ball to the crotch, Neveldine/Taylor continue their big, bad and brash assault on the action film and, surprisingly, make a fun and stylish sci-fi flick. Sure, hardened sci-fi fans (those who like their science fiction a little slower, more thoughtful and time spent on exploring different alien races) may not groove to Gamer’s sensibilities (or they might if they fancy some sci-fi of the curveball variety i.e. loud and proud and featuring lots of gunplay) but, whether you like it or not, Neveldine/Taylor’s style is a distinctive one and backed up by a game (ahem!) cast and fierce action make Gamer an almost surrealist action trash, sci-fi slam of a picture.
So, there is a video game called Slayers which allows users to take control of real life humans, in this case convicted felons, who fight against one another over thirty games in a bid for freedom: if you last the thirty games and your user doesn’t get you killed first. The top fighter is Kable (Butler), ace at combat and wouldn’t you know it, not guilty of the crime he is supposed to have committed. His controller is Simon (Lerman) a 17 year old (for the lack of a better phrase) “douche bag” who is hoping to be the first player to win Slayers and there by bed loads of hot chicks (see, playing video games constantly does make you attractive to women, well, that and being a douche bag!). But Kable has other ideas and wants out of the game which he will hopefully achieve with the help of some cyber rebels (Bridges, Lohman) who want Slayers shut down as they know, evil, southern accented, uber douche bag and creator of the game Castle (Hall) is up to no good and using his game for potentially much more nefarious reasons.
To be honest, for what many will describe as a silly action movie targeted at the younger demographic (which it is); Gamer actually has a lot going on. Aside from all the action, violence, nudity, swearing, cool tech and videogame nonsense, Gamer also packs in a resistance movement, another real life video game called Society (The Sims with real people), swipes at the media (Kyra Sedgwick pops up as the host of a talk show for some reason or another), swipes at the gaming industry, our reliance on technology and digs at video gamers themselves. There is also some kind of dodgy military program in their as well (there always is!) and a whole host of cool cameos from John Leguizamo, Terry Crews, Zoë Bell, Keith David, John de Lancie and in an absolutely hilariously bizarre bit Milo Ventimiglia as the appropriately monikered Rick Rape. Yep, not much subtly here. Actually, that’s a little unfair as the acting is pretty good, the cast obviously embracing the outlandish and serious aspects of the concept, and while there are one too many characters juggling for screen time and Gamer will never be mistaken for being deep, the characters are a little more rounded than you would expect. Butler continues to impress as the dangerous and determined Kable and Hall is a hoot as the deranged Castle who even manages to sing and dance in the middle of a fight scene!
Neveldine/Taylor don’t forget their bread and butter as they manage to stuff Gamer with a (and, again, for the lack of a better phrase) shit ton of action. Larger in scope and more bombastic than the Crank films, the makers certainly know how to immerse the viewer in the action. Cameras follow the players through battle scenes, much like in a video game, achieving a somewhat first person feel. The game Slayers features the convicts going against one another in abandoned warehouses and streets armed to the teeth with machine guns, bazookas and anything they can get their hands one (again, much like a video game). Big gun battles and buildings being blown apart ensue and there is an impressive truck chase as well. Now Neveldine/Taylor perhaps overdose on the shaky camera, jittery editing, we-are-totally-putting-you-in-the-action aspect and those who aren’t fans of this technique may not be bowled over by it here. While I am an advocator for the let-us-see-what-is-happening-and-appreciate-the-stunts kind of action, Neveldine/Taylor can do the shaky, whiplash style well and do manage to orchestrate some impressive mayhem. Mention should also go to how they start the action off big and go smaller as the film goes along (as apposed to starting small and getting bigger) as Kable first takes part in huge battles before honing in on individuals and swapping running gunplay and truck chasing for one-on-one combat.
A film with a real love it or hate it syndrome, Gamer is nevertheless a blitzkrieg of style, ideas and action that if you can go with the flow, is a lot of fun. It’s morals may be a bit sketchy (is it a warning on how violent and twisted video games have become or embracing this trend and applying it to a movie?) and while its not quite as bat shit crazy fun (damn lack of better phrases!) as Crank 2: High Voltage, Gamer is still high octane, eye searing, taste pushing entertainment. Game on.
Monday, 14 December 2009
MURPHY’S LAW (1986)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Gail Morgan Hickman
Starring: Charles Bronson, Carrie Snodgress & Kathleen Wilhoite
Murphy’s Law: If it can possibly go wrong, it will.
Jack Murphy’s Law: Don’t fuck with Jack Murphy!
Murphy’s Law is one of the better, if not best, 80s Charles Bronson thrillers: a fun, tight and often violent pulpy crime picture. Sure a lot of his 80s and 90s work became somewhat indecipherable, Bronson just playing Bronson no matter what the picture was, the films often being sold as some variation of the Death Wish formula to cash in on Bronson’s successful franchise. While Murphy’s Law does feature Bronson in a tough guy role and regular bursts of action and violence, this flick varies things slightly by adding a foul mouthed female sidekick, Bronson as a down and out loser and a wicked villain in the female form of off-her-rocker Carrie Snodgress.
She plays a recently released criminal with a history of mental illness, who is now out to kill the cops that send her down. Toned up, handy with a gun and showing a complete lack of mercy she gets down to gunning down those who sent her down. Sparing Murphy so she can turn his life upside down first, she kills his wife and her new lover and sets Murphy up for the killing. Since he’s been a drunk pretty much ever since his wife left him, and prone to stalking her, and with fellow officers fed up with his insubordinate ways, Murphy is arrested and things don’t look good for him. On top of this he keeps bumping into foul mouthed thief McGee (Wilhoite) who for reasons only a 80s action film could come up with, ends up in the same holding cell as Murphy handcuffed to him. Seeing his chance to escape and clear his name, the two break out and form an unstable alliance as they try to track down the killer before being caught again.
Throw in some vicious gangsters Murphy has also managed to piss off (and who can make an appearance in the final gun battle) and you’ve actually got a about three films in one: a serial killer flick, a buddy flick and an action flick. Yet, surprisingly it all kind of works and makes for pleasant, action packed viewing. J. Lee Thompson made around eight flicks with Bronson (including the equally underrated Messenger of Death) and the two obviously had a groove that helped produce gems like Murphy’s Law. Sure, there is a fair amount of 80s ludicrousness such as Murphy stealing a police helicopter while still chained to McGee, then crashing it into a drug den just so he can then gun them all down with an M-16. But on its on pulpy terms, Murphy’s Law is solid entertainment. The dialogue is sharp, not least Wilhoite’s continuous foul language (which adds some comedy) and Bronson is great as the not so great Jack Murphy. In fact, his character is a bit of an ass, messing things up more than he fixes them and Bronson actually seems to be savoring the chance to play a drunk. Plus, the interaction with him and Wilhoite is pleasantly engaging, the two making a very odd couple for an action flick.
In addition, having a female villain is a refreshing dynamic and Snodgress is excellent as the hell bent hereon, totally believable as a woman on a violent war path. Thompson also stages some impressive action, proceedings climaxing in an extended shootout in a dark and deserted hotel. Excitingly staged and filmed, getting a great atmospheric feel out of the setting, there is mucho crossbow and shotgun blazing action and a great kiss-off one liner for Bronson.
Certainly a case of “they don’t make them like this anymore” which all adds to the enjoyment of Murphy’s Law. It may be a bit of a mish-mash but there is enough tough talk, pulp noir and violent action to make this one of Bronson’s most entertaining.
My new review of The Yakuza at Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)
My new review of I'm a Cyborg but that's Ok at Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Dogs of Chinatown and Contour at The Stunt People (www.thestuntpeople.com)
Dogs of Chinatown at All Aces Media (http://allacesmedia.com)
My Resident Evil: Extinction review gets a mention and a link at number 5 in this cool Zombie movie list at Only Good Movies:
Underground and Bodyguard: A New Beginning
DRIVEN TO KILL (2009)
Directed by: Jeff King
Starring: Steven Seagal, Dimitry Chepovetsky & Igor Jijikine
Seagal has been making direct-to-DVD stinkers for a while now but recently they’ve been turning around in quality and getting better. Sort of. Driven to Kill continues this new trend, and while it’s still a long away from the likes of Hard to Kill and Under Siege, it’s a decent enough, if predictable, Seagal flick with some hard edged action.
Here he plays a one time Russian gangster called Ruslan, now turned crime novelist. Well he’s been a chef, an environmental warrior and even a doctor (!), so why the hell not: Seagal can be a crime novelist. This is all by-the-by as it’s mentioned all but twice and serves little purpose to the plot which sees Ruslan’s daughter being attacked and seriously hurt by some nasty mobster heavies. This means Ruslan steps back into action mode as he hunts down those responsible and dishes out the pain. Ok it’s all pretty straight forward and standard formula but there is one twist that makes it just a little different from all the out-for-revenge Seagal flicks. His daughter’s fiancé (played well by Dimitry Chepovetsky) accompanies Ruslan on his quest for vengeance, his gangster father responsible for his future wife's attack. However, he is not the gangster is father is and nowhere near as capable at dishing out the violent retribution like Ruslan. It’s a unique dynamic and gives Seagal a different kind of sidekick: one who wants to hurt the people that have hurt the one he loves but finds it difficult to do so.
More surprisingly, Seagal is in pretty much all of this flick. Doubling and dubbing is kept to a minimum and its fun to see Seagal actually be in one of his pictures all the way through. He even tries to act a bit. Just a bit, mind. The action is not bad either, again Seagal partaking in most of it. He has a wicked extended knife fight with a bad dude, there’s a great shootout in an enclosed parking lot and the sustained running gun battle in a hospital is exciting and explosive stuff. The action is clear and crisp and the fights punchy and brutal, Seagal getting to face off with Indiana Jones 4 bad guy, Igor Jijikine.
So, not great but not bad either with some solid action. And these days, that’s pretty good for a Seagal flick.
Monday, 7 December 2009
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
A snippet from my review of Hong Kong action film Fatal Move from Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com) has made it onto the front cover of the Region 2 DVD release from Cine Asia:
"Entertaining slice of gangster action." FAREASTFILMS.COM
I made my first DVD cover. Wahoo :)
My review of Crying Fist on Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
HIGHLANDER 3: THE SORCERER (1994)
Directed by: Andrew Morahan
Screenplay: Paul Ohl
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Kara Unger & Mako
The original Highlander is a stone cold classic. It still holds up over twenty years later and is an almost pitch perfect amalgamation of fantasy, 80s styling and break neck action. Buoyed by fine performances, crisp and creative direction from Russell Mulcahy, one awesome bad guy and an ending that pretty much wrapped everything up neatly it is, as said, a classic. But having gained cult status and made a ton of money an inevitable slew of mish-mash sequels and a long running TV show ensued. Highlander 3 is by no means as good as the original but it is actually one of the more enjoyable of the various sequels and spin-offs. Made as a sort of apology for the disaster that was Highlander 2 (which seemingly tried to destroy everything that was great about the original), Highlander 3 is certainly schlocky and not as stylish as Part 1 but is still a fun, action packed Highlander story.
Ignoring the events of Highlander 2 completely, Highlander 3 picks up some years after the events of Highlander. It seems Connor MacLeod (Lambert) wasn’t the last immortal after all and there are still a few roaming the earth looking to claim his head as the ultimate prize. Not least, the mad and bad Kane (Van Peebles) an all but carbon copy of the Kurgan (Clancy Brown) from the original. He wants MacLeod’s head while MacLeod just wants to be left alone to live with his son and romance pretty lady Alex (Kara Unger) who may just be the reincarnation of his long lost love (or somebody that looks a lot like her anyway). So after a nostalgic trip to Scotland, MacLeod, whether he wants to or not, must get back down to the head lopping business.
Van Peebles' over-the-top villain isn’t the only thing that is strikingly similar to the original as this instalment pretty much plays like a re-hash of the first film: right down to Kane driving a car crazily much like the Kurgan did. No doubt in an attempt to make up for Highlander 2, the filmmakers stuck so closely to the successful elements of the first film they ended up just making another version of it: only less good. Fair enough I suppose as it’s much better than Part 2 and the following sequels and a lot more fun that the TV series. Van Peebles, despite just playing the Kurgan.2, is also a blast (but, obviously, not as good as Clancy Brown) and while Lambert looks noticeably tired in this instalment (presumably getting a bit fed up with all the Highlander shenanigans) is still good as Macleod, playing him here as a more experienced and slightly bitter version of his character from the first film.
The action isn’t bad either, delivered regularly with a lot of bang for your buck. Mucho sword fighting and crazy pyrotechnics all delivered with Hollywood efficiency, as things well and truly blow up whenever an immortal loses his head. The final showdown between Lambert and Van Peebles is efficiently punchy and sword wielding and features a neat gag where Van Peebles gets his legs cut off which then have to come running back to him so he can rejoin himself and carry on fighting. Cool! The flick, much like the original, has a sense of humour about proceedings, though the tone and story does swerve here, there and everywhere.
Not great and will forever be overshadowed by the original, Highlander 3 is still enjoyable and passable entertainment that hits the action beats well and has just enough of what made the original great to make it a semi decent, if pointless, sequel.
HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)
Directed by: Terry Marcel
Written by: Terry Marcel & Harry Robertson
Starring: Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw & Annette Crosbie
How naff is Hawk the Slayer? Pretty naff. But in a good way. Yep, naff can be good. And Hawk the Slayer is all kinds of good. Well, naff. Cheap, cheerful and very, very British, well except for the two leading men being American of course, it’s Lord of the Rings lite (sort of) as Hawk (who I’m pretty sure is never referred to as the actual “Slayer”) is a goody two shoes, know it all, brilliant-with-a-sword hero who with his band of merry men (an elf, a dwarf and a gaint: hmmmm, Lord of the Rings eh?) set off across the land to free everyone from the evil clutches of Voltan (Palance). He just happens to be Hawk’s (Terry) mad, evil brother who has the land in his mad, evil grip (which simply seems to involve shouting at people a lot). He also killed Hawk’s lady love and father so they have that to sort out as well.
It’s not all bad though, as Hawk the Slayer is a whole heap of campy fun. From Hawk levitating his sword, to the ridiculous sound effect and musical score that accompanies this (and pretty much when anything else happens in the flick) to the ever so serious Elf warrior and Jack Palance hamming it up (and seemingly suffering loss of depth perception with the crappy helmet he has to wear!), Hawk the Slayer has something for fantasy film and bad movie lovers everywhere. Bernard Bresslaw (from the Carry On films and other fantasy themed flicks where he had to play a giant) is good fun as, yep, the warrior giant and the authentically cold and damp English woods provide a bit of grit to the setting and help to counteract all the campness.
The action scenes aren’t much to write about, though there is a fair few of them, edited too rapidly and relying on the crappy speeded up effect of the Elf firing many, many arrows at once. Still it’s all part of the cheesy fun and while it's not as good as similar early 80’s fantasy fare (Krull, Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer: I’m sorry but it isn’t) Hawk the Slayer still, ahem, slays plenty bad guys and provides enough silly fun. Cool.
Some more recent reviews I've done for film site Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)
Thursday, 12 November 2009
DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM (2009)
Directed by: Patrick Alessandrin
Screenplay: Luc Besson
Starring: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle & Elodie Yung
The original District 13 blew everybody (well, most people) away with its heady mix of martial arts, parkour styled stunts and super charged momentum. A quick, slick 80 minutes it was a world wide hit and brought martial artist Cyril Raffaelli and free runner David Belle cult action status. Now they are back in a sequel, that while not as super charged, does add a little more grit and still delivers a heap of well choreographed action.
Not much has changed from the first District 13, the promises to clean up and help out the walled in slums of Paris not kept. Leito (Belle) obviously let down by this, is still running around the District trying to fix things the best way he can i.e. attempting to blow up the huge concrete walls himself, or least do some damage to them. Gangs run rampant in the walled in districts, each laying claim to their own territory. Drastic measures are set in motion to clean up and essentially eradicate the war torn districts by some shifty secret service types. Acquiring a tape that shows the secret service instigating a set up that will benefit the shifty secret service types and not the residents of the districts, Leito ventures into the city to meet up with old partner Damien (Raffaelli). He himself has got into trouble (i.e. set up) and landed in prison, so Leito must first rescue him and then the two set off to stop the destruction of the district.
Despite the fact that District 13: Ultimatum is a good film and a competent action film perhaps what mars it the most, and doesn’t make it as good as the first, is that both too much has changed and not enough has changed. The plot is essentially the same as the first go around without the kidnap of Leito’s sister and this time Damien must be broken out of prison. It still takes a good chunk of the film’s running time for the two heroes to actually meet up and each are given their own introductory action scene. Nothing really wrong with this formula, but perhaps just a little too much rehashing of the good bits of the first entry. In addition, the tone and pacing is a little grungier and slower this time around. This does to some extent dilute the adrenaline pulsing rush of the first film but it gives Ultimatum its own style and a bit more tension as we build to the action. New director, Alessandrin doesn’t quite have the sharp, full throttle direction of Pierre Morrel (who directed part 1) but he does ring some tense moments out of the non action scenes which give this instalment a little more bite.
If the original District 13 was criticized for anything it was for its lack of plot and character interaction, instead focusing on jamming in as much action as possible (why this is seen as a negative in a movie about free running, martial arts and showcasing the acrobatic talents of the two stars, I’ll never know!). It seems like producer and screenwriter Luc Besson has attempted to give this film a bit more character, dialogue and non-action scenes, which has in turn caused most of the complaints to be that this isn’t as fun as the original and too slow in getting to the action. I guess people are never happy! In some respects it’s a fair point as there will be initial disappointment that this sequel isn’t as fast moving or features as good as action as the original but at least the makers were trying to do things a little differently despite the recycled plot. Plus each director has put their distinctive mark on each film, for better or worse.
Action wise, District 13: Ultimatum still delivers. Yeah, it’s not as tight, sharp and momentum pushing as the original and it does take time to get to it but the action scenes are still exhilarating, and choreographed and performed with aplomb. Raffaelli (choreographing much of the action as well as performing it) gets a number of show stopping set pieces including a great scene where he has to protect an original Van Gogh while using it to ward of a bunch of attackers. His choreography is clear and crisp and his fight scenes a joy to watch. Unfortunately, David Belle doesn’t seem to get as much screen time, his free running abilities less showcased this time around. His introductory action scene pales in comparison to Raffaelli’s (arguably the best in the film) and his own in the first District 13. Perhaps they didn’t have enough time to film many parkour scenes or wanted to concentrate more on martial arts but it’s a shame as his character is just as important to the franchise as Raffaelli’s. However, he does get one action scene to show his stuff, once again running across, up and down the high rises attempting to out run his pursuers.
Perhaps not quite what fans were expecting, District 13: Ultimatum may not feel as fresh and fast as its originator but it’s still a quality example of Euro styled action and pretty decent sequel with some top notch action scenes.
Directed by: Jonathon Mostow
Screenplay: John Brancato & Michael Ferris
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, James Cromwell & Ving Rhames
Unfairly overlooked at the tail end of the summer blockbuster rush, Surrogates is a good looking and sometimes thoughtful slice of science fiction starring the always reliable Bruce Willis. He plays reliable cop Agent Greer who like most of the human race lives his life through a surrogate: a good looking, healthy synthetic version of ones self which can never be hurt or catch disease. This means most of the human race is actually holed up in their homes, jacked into a computer, living their outside lives through their robot counterparts. Greer hasn’t actually seen his real wife in some time, as she refuses to be seen other than through her surrogate. Feeling disconnected from his wife and the world around him Greer and his partner Peters (Mitchell) must also cope with a surrogate killer on the loose who has a weapon that can not only disable the surrogate robots but kill the users jacked in at the other end.
Helmed by Jonathon Mostow who also made the robot themed (and not that bad) Terminator 3, Surrogates zips along at a fair clip but still finds time to infuse matters with character and emotion. Willis carries the film well, despite the silly wig his surrogate is given but actually spends most of time as his character's human version: an older, slower and slightly broken down version of his surrogate. When his surrogate is destroyed (in a barnstorming sequence that involves a crashing helicopter) he opts out of getting a new one, wanting to finish the investigation himself. This means Greer is thrust back into the real world for the first time in ages and has to cope with being slower, older and less beautiful than everyone around him. He also feels physical pain again and while Peters opts to still remain in her surrogate (we only get one brief glimpse of her human form) the two forge an unlikely human/robot alliance who team up to track down the killer. Greer also attempts to reconnect with his wife who is bed ridden, pill popping and morning the death of their son and thus will not go out into the real world unless she is in surrogate form (a very beautiful Rosamund Pike). Greer soon finds his life and the hunt for the killer crossing paths and the person who is shutting down all the surrogates may actually have a purpose and a want for society to return to how it used to be.
While Surrogates is mostly successful at merging sci-fi with big action, though there are really only two big set pieces (the helicopter/Greer surrogate set piece and the Peters/car chase near the end), it’s the more thoughtful sci-fi aspects that linger than the big set pieces. Willis may be doing his slightly damaged, older everyman bit but it works well within the context of the story and it’s refreshing that his partner, the female Peters, is actually the stronger of the two. Mitchell is great as always, looks amazing (as most of the cast do, the make up department doing a brilliant job of making the future look beautiful) and gives her character a bit of grit. The action scenes are handled well (Mostow knowing a thing or two about action after helming Breakdown, U571 and T3) and the film ends on a rather sombre almost thoughtful note highlighting that this kind of future may not be too far away, our reliance on technology and want for perfection already leading us there.
Nothing revolutionary but entertaining nonetheless and much better than expected. The Hollywood budget helps to make everything look good, the cast are equally impressive and overall Surrogates is just a decent, well made slice of sci-fi action.