Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Protector


THE PROTECTOR (1998)

Directed by: Boon Collins & Fabien Lloyd
Screenplay: John McFetridge, Boon Collins, Russel Langille
Story
: Robert Cousins
Starring: Frank Zagarino, Matthias Hues & Steven Nijjar

Ok, so this is not The Protector that is the underrated 80s action flick which was Jackie Chan’s first bid at Hollywood stardom but rather a low budget and quite frankly insane action film from the 90s. This one stars B-action movie stalwarts Frank Zagarino, Matthias Hues and Steven Nijjar. Wait, who? Fans of 80s and 90s straight-to-video action films will no doubt know who Zagarino (Shadowchaser films) and Hues (No Retreat No Surrender 2) are but who the hell is Steven Nijjar? Well he’s the main principal here, not to mention he also produced this low budget oddity, and spends most of his time running around trying to dodge bullets and fisticuffs. And when he’s not dodging either of those he, well, does more running! Seriously, half the 90 minute runtime is Mr Nijjar just running around and away from various things, and while he has great stamina and rarely breaks a sweat, you do begin to wonder what the hell is he running from now, especially when he’s got to find his memory, rescue his once-thought-to-be-dead-son, and thwart Hues’ big, bad and oh so camp bad guy.

Ultra low budget action tripe, The Protector is all kinds of action insaneness. Memory wipes, missing sons, chicks with guns (and berets!) and lots of non-acting (mainly courtesy of Nijjar), The Protector certainly has a lot of cool and crazy ingredients but delivers them in such a chaotic and incoherent way it will no doubt even test the patience of even the most hardened action trash fan. However, despite all its silliness the film has 3 tricks up its sleeve that makes it worth a punt. One and two: Zagarino and Hues. Three: tons and tons and tons (and tons) of action! It’s always great to see Zagarino and Hues (they even get a cool fight!) kicking ass, even in one of their more rare action titles such as this. Zagarino does look pissed off the whole time though gets to crack wise about his ex-wife and bust a lot of skulls and Hues is a hoot as the camper than camp villain complete with leopard print shirts, continuous cigars and a bevy of beret wearing/machine gun toting beauties at his disposal. The two stars certainly make the flick more watchable and both get ample opportunity to kick ass and dispense firepower.


And credit where credit is due, The Protector is crammed to the rafters with action. It rarely lets up with fight after fight (some good, some not), explosions, vehicle destruction and machine gun firing awesomeness. The action may be a little rough and ready but its lively, well sustained and makes the flick all that more enjoyable. There is even an elaborate scene where our hero has his feet set on fire but continues to fight and then escapes gunfire by jumping through a window, all the while still on fire! Cool. The less said about the continue re-use of the same corridor in the climactic siege of the villains lair the better (and not to mention the fact Hues is often shooting at nothing off camera!) but for a ultra low budget action flick done by some people that, well, wanted to make their own action film, The Protector delivers action, action and more action.

You laugh (unintentionally), you’ll cry (as it sometimes hurts!), you’ll hurl (mainly because of Hues’ shirts) and you’ll probably be entertained.   

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Kite


Check out my new review of Kite over at Blueprint Review.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Felony



FELONY (2013)

Directed by: Matthew Saville
Screenplay: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jai Courtney, Joel Edgerton, Melissa George & Tom Wilkinson

Tense and unsettling thriller Felony is an often gripping, albeit slow burning, tale of the moral quandaries Australian cop Malcolm Toohey (Edgerton) must face when he knocks down a young lad one night when driving home intoxicated. Said boy is rushed to the hospital and when asked whether he was involved in the youngster’s accident, Malcolm steps over an honourable line (wanting to protect his career and reputation) when he lies and says he wasn’t: just finding the boy in the road the way he was. Enter long time, and somewhat scuzzy, cop Carl (Wilkinson) who, through some kind of warped sense of wanting to protect his fellow officers, helps Malcolm and gives him a cover story. Malcolm is seen as a hero, the boy’s mother seeing him as her son’s saviour, but new cop Jim (Courtney) has his doubts and begins his own investigation into the case. Soon the officers are forced into a battle of wills as cover-ups and consciouses begin to crumble in a pursuit for the truth.  


An incredibly well acted and well shot film, Felony for much of its running time is riveting viewing achieving its momentum and grip by the tight direction and very convincing performances of the main cast. Walking a wobbly moral tightrope, meaning one doesn’t always have sympathy with the characters, the film keeps one watching thanks to its non-showy and unpretentious way of presenting the story. Melodrama is played down in favour of a much more naturalistic approach, the actors playing very real people in a very real situation. Instead of, and refreshingly so, a docu-like approach (handheld cameras, de-saturated colours etc) to make proceedings seem more real, director Matthew Saville shoots his film beautifully with long, steady shots (meaning the film still has a very cinematic aesthetic) and lets the characters and the actors playing them bring out the realism rather than trying to force it.


The cast are uniformly brilliant with star and writer Edgerton convincingly crumbling under the pressure of his secret while Jai Courtney really impresses in the much quieter more restrained role as his suspicious colleague. Only Wilkinson, who is still really good, feels a bit like a “movie” character rather than a real person with his excessive monologues about being loyal and protecting one’s family being a bit flashy compared to the rest of the cast. Still his character provides the thrust for the ethical quagmire the characters must navigate, which leads the story to a rather surprising (though tad rushed after the slow build of everything else!) late act change of direction which will no doubt split viewers down the middle with its moral implications. It’s certainly an unexpected and brave path to take and will have one thinking long after the credits have rolled.

More like a play that unfolds with tense and beautifully filmed precision than an all-out action thriller, Felony is an enthralling crime story telling a morally ambiguous tale that will make you think.

Recommended.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Gutshot


GUTSHOT (2014)

Directed by: Justin Steele
Screenplay: Jerry Rapp
Starring: George Eads, AnnaLyne McCord, Ted Levine, Vinnie Jones, Tia Carrere, Stephen Lang & Steven Seagal

Gutshot, while he is in it, is not the new Steven Seagal action film. Likewise, for Vinnie Jones fans out there. Their parts are really just extended cameos though their characters do partly drive the plot and it’s nice to see both of them stretching dramatic chops and letting someone else handle the leading man duties. Those duties got to George Eads (of CSI fame) who plays two-bit card shark Jack who, wouldn’t you know it, is in debt to Seagal’s mob boss and doesn’t even have enough change to support his estranged wife and child. Enter Duffy (Lang) some weird rich dude who offers Jack the bet of his life (well more like an offer a la Indecent Proposal) and after some soul searching (well, having a gun pointed at him!) he decides to accept the bet/challenge. Needless to say things don’t go according to plan, Duffy ends up dead, Jack still owes a lot of money and Seagal and his cronies come a calling.


More a dramatic thriller, set in the Las Vegas gambling world, than an outright action film, fans of Seagal looking to see him kick ass with his fast and furious fists (and copious use of doubles!) will be disappointed but those looking to see him doing something a little different (albeit a version of a character he as always played, just a little more crooked this time around!) may be surprised. Sure he only has a few scenes but it’s cool to see the Seagal trying something a little different and actually attempting to act. Lead guy George Eads makes for a believable down-on-his-luck schmoe and while his character first appears to be a bit of a douche he does become more likable as his predicament worsens and Eads makes for an easy-going leading man. Lang can do sleazy and weird in his sleep, which he does well here, and the great Ted Levine also shows up to provide a bit of threat.


As mentioned, and despite the cool title (the flick is known as Gutshot Straight in the States), Gutshot is not really an action film. On its own dramatic thriller terms, the film works well for most of its running time though does loose a bit of steam in the second half with events seeming to meander too much when they should be heating up. However, Justine Steele’s film is nicely shot with good use of the Las Vegas locations and if you are in the mood for a pulpy thriller rather than an all out action ride then Gutshot fits the bill.  


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Snowpiercer


Check out my new review of Snowpiercer over at Far East Films.

Re-Cycle


Check out my new review of Re-Cycle over at Far East Films.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Angel Town


ANGEL TOWN (1990)

Directed by: Eric Karson
Screenplay: S. Warren
Starring: Olivier Gruner, Peter Kwong, Theresa Saldana, Frank Aragon

Action star and all round cool French man Olivier Gruner made an impressive debut in the now somewhat dated but still entertaining Angel Town. An urban drama with a heavy dose of fight action, Gruner plays Jacques who has recently relocated to LA to further his studies. Having trouble finding suitable accommodation he rents a room from a single mother (Saldana) who lives deep in the ghetto area of LA. She’s desperately trying to keep her son from getting embroiled with a local gang and when Jacques intervenes to help save the boy, the gang soon target Jacques and his new surrogate family leading to all out war.

Made during the American martial arts movie boom, Angel Town was a decent launching pad for Gruner and his high kicking skills. Reminiscent of Van Damme pictures of the time (you can almost hear the producers screaming, quick get another French speaking kickboxer and stick him in a movie!), Angel Town benefits from Gruner’s enthusiastic first screen performance, the gritty urban setting and some solid direction from The Octagon and Black Eagle director, Eric Karson. Sure it’s mega dated now, though the urban LA locations do give it the feel of authenticity, and it’s all a bit daft but it delivers the requisite kickboxing thrills with a nice measure of drama.


While Gruner maybe could have flexed his fight skills a bit more, the fight scenes are executed with brutal efficiency making good use of his kicking ability. There are some fun and authentic looking training scenes showing Jacques training with his American buddy, played by Peter Kwong (The Gold Child, Steele Justice), but the showstopper is the climactic free for all fight when the gang besiege Jacques residence. Stunt/fight coordinator Jeff Imada (Death Warrant, Rapid Fire) pulls out all the stops in a tense and tough showdown featuring all manner of high kicking takedowns and shotgun blasting action.

Angel Town is still one of Gruner’s most entertaining flicks (and look out for an early and non-fighting appearance from Mark Dacascos) that serves as a decent action drama not to mention a time capsule of late 80s/early 90s American martial arts/urban cinema.


Monday, 29 September 2014

Brotherhood

Check out my new review of epic war film Brotherhood over at Far East Films.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Blood Ties


Check out my new review of Blood Ties over at Blueprint Review.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Sofia (aka Assassin's Bullet)


SOFIA (2012)

Directed by: Isaac Florentine
Written by: Hans Feuersinger & Nancy L. Babine
Starring: Christian Slater, Elika Portnoy, Timothy Spall & Donald Sutherland

Director Isaac Florentine takes a break from crafting bad ass action films (Undisputed 2 & 3, Ninja 1 & 2), to try his hand at a dramatic thriller (don’t worry, there are still a couple of high impact action scenes) with, unfortunately, somewhat disappointing results. Slater is Robert Diggs a former top FBI agent now living a quieter life in Sofia, Bulgaria as a cultural attaché. When an assassin starts taking out vigilante vengeance on the FBI’s most wanted list, Diggs’ boss (Sutherland) ropes him back into service to find out what the hell is going on. Meanwhile, Timothy Spall is a rather creepy psychiatrist treating a young woman (Portnoy) who is suffering from severe blackouts. Spall also happens to be Diggs’ best mate with the two frequenting a local belly dancing bar (!), where Diggs strikes up a romance with one of the dancers (also Portnoy). Soon Diggs’ personal life becomes entangled with the hunt for the assassin and mucho intrigue and a shed load of belly dancing ensue all leading to a twist that is obvious from about ten minutes in.


While it’s great to see Florentine trying his hand a something other than awesome martial arts action, Sofia will most likely be a massive let down to his fans. It’s certainly got a good cast, some nice locations and is impressively shot but the muddled, uninteresting script hampers proceedings from the get go with far too much time spent on Slater being seduced by the belly dancing charms of Portnoy (seriously, there is so much belly dancing in this film it may as well have been a documentary about the dance!). After a pretty cool opening featuring the black clad assassin taking out a group of targets (and making one believe they are in for a fun action ride) proceedings slip into drudgery as we watch belly dance after belly dance, see Slater become more confused by what’s going on (much like the viewer!) and witness Sutherland hamming it up and having fun in his extended cameo (one of the more enjoyable aspects of the film). 


Unfortunately the film can’t help but slip into a dull grind and the ensuing conspiracy is just not as exciting or as sexy as it thinks it is. Slater does try his best and there is no doubting Florentine’s direction is slick. Fortunately, there a couple of the director’s trademark action beats  to liven things up with the aforementioned kill scene and an extended action blowout near the end where the assassin attempts to complete their killing mission. As always with Florentine, the action is fluid and exciting and features some polished choreography: there just should have been more of it and less of the belly dancing. Good to see Florentine attempting the conspiracy thriller genre and while there are flashes of excitement, Sofia disappointingly fizzles when it should sizzle.

Aka Assassin’s Bullet