Monday, 23 March 2015

The Manhunt


Directed by: Fabrizio De Angelis (as Larry Ludman)
Screenplay: Fabrizio De Angelis & Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: Ethan Wayne, Henry Silva, Raimund Harmstorf, Bo Svenson & Ernest Borgnine

The Manhunt sees The Duke’s very own son, John Ethan Wayne, having a go at leading man duties in this little seen American shot, Italian produced slice of action schlock. Much like director Fabrizio De Angelis’ Thunder series of films (his riffs on the First Blood formula where Native American cop Mark Gregory is accused of all sorts of things he didn’t do leading him to go up against the corrupt cops who set him up), The Manhunt features a wronged hero (Wayne) being accused of something he didn’t do (stealing a couple of horses) and thrown in the slammer run by a nasty Sherriff/warden (Silva). So after the obligatory humiliation at the hands of the Sherriff and his goons, some sweaty chain gang work, and befriending one of the inmates (who is no doubt  gonna wind up dead the minute he befriends the hero!),Wayne attempts to escape, outrun the pursuing dirty cops and reclaim the horses that are rightfully his. 

Now the concept of a would be hero attempting to clear his name and get his two horses back may not sound like a recipe for an exciting prison/action flick and in many ways one would be right. Wayne is so determined to get his damn horses back it all seems a bit daft: especially when he keeps repeating the line “It’s about principle” when virtually every other character tells him to forget it about it. To be fair, it kinda is about the principle (he bought those horses fair and square damnit!) and really the stealing of the horses is just an excuse to set in motion Silva’s sadistic Sherriff and an ever increasing amount of dangerous car stunts. Tracking similar territory to the Thunder films (wrongly accused hero, desert locations, nasty cops, lots of vehicular destruction in slow motion), The Manhunt plays like a slightly watered down version of those flicks. It’s a got a modern Western vibe going for it (complete with twangy score) and while the film isn’t as excessively violent as a lot of other Italian action flicks from  the era there is still plenty of insane car stunts (including a cool chase utilising a stolen prison bus) and plenty of shotgun blasting action. 

It’s all quite low key and Fabrizio takes a while to get to the action but once good ole John Wayne Jr is on the run proceeding heat up considerably. It’s got that vintage 80s Italian feel to it (not quite sure how to pinpoint it but if you’re a fan of these films, you’ll know the feel!) and a who’s-who of cool bad guy supporting characters. Silva is at his mad dog, shotgun wielding best along with fellow corrupt cop Raimund Harmstorf (Thunder 2); always good to see Ernest Borgnine acting everyone else off screen, even if his character does a complete out-of-nowhere 180 in his motivations in persecuting/helping Wayne’s character (!); Bo Svenson (also Thunder 2) pops up for all of five minutes; and Wayne, well, he doesn’t exactly have the screen charisma of his famous father but makes for a decent silent hero.

It may be a bit slow to get going for those looking for fast and violent action and it’s all so slight (even by 80s Italian action schlock standards) some may turn off before all the cool car stunt action kicks in but The Manhunt (if you can hunt down a copy: sorry!) is a neat little Italian action oddity that gets by on some cool location photography, a nostalgic Italian movie vibe and lots of cars being flipped. 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Night of the Sharks


Directed by: Tonino Ricci
Screenplay: Tito Capri & Tonino Ricci
Starring: Treat Williams, Janet Agren, Antonio Fargas, John Steiner, & Christopher Connelly

Now here’s a film that may even test the patience of the most avid and hardened fan of Italian action schlock from the 80s (that’ll be me then!). Despite the presence of the always ace Treat Williams, the awesome artwork featured above and below and  the promise of some crazy shark action, Night of the Sharks (great title!) is as bonkers as any mid 80s Italian flick featuring a couple of American stars (collecting pay cheques!) as there’s ever been but unfortunately, not always in a good way.

First off, and despite the title and artwork, Night of the Sharks is not a creature feature. There is a shark (called Cyclops!) that has some kind of personal vendetta against Treat’s character (and even taunts him by stealing his boat in one of the more absurd moments: of which there are many!) but the film is more about (or at least seems to be!) stolen discs containing top secret information, shifty rich people trying to get said CD back, a bit of action, some sunny locations and lots (and lots) of contrivance to make all these elements work and somehow get Treat and his buddy Paco (Fargas) involved in it all.  

Yeah that sounds like a recipe for awesomeness but, sadly, it ain’t. Well at least it isn’t to begin with as the first 45 minutes is a bit of a slog and coupled with the random nature of everything means nothing really makes sense. Treat and Fargas seem to be having a great time in the lovely Dominican Republic locations: being buddies, getting into bar fights, wearing Hawaiian shirts! However, the so called bad guys seem to be out of some misjudged comedy, it takes an age for the “top secret CD” to end up in Treat’s hands (who then inexplicably feeds it to the shark: to then only have to go and try and retrieve it come the finale!), Christopher Connelly (Cobra Mission, Bronx Warriors) shows up as a priest (who likes to drink and carry guns!) in charge of some orphan children (huh!), Treat’s ex-wife (Argen) is also shoe horned in (again for inexplicable reasons!) for him to bed and then for her to die (!) and finally come the last 20 minutes the action kicks in as Treat takes down the bad guys with some homemade Molotov cocktails and, err, pretending to be dead!

Hold on, I’m actually making this sound awesome and I guess, after all, maybe it wasn’t that bad: in a very low rent way. The groovy musical score is pretty good, the locations are often lovely to look at and the last 20 minutes or so is some action packed fun. Oh yeah, and there’s that shark which keeps popping up randomly to cause trouble: so there’s that also. So, despite all the naffness (and there is quite a bit of it!), Night of the Sharks is still oddly entertaining and is worth a view if it’s late at night and one has exhausted all the other cheap 80s naff Italian action films in one’s collection.


Monday, 16 March 2015

GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack

Check out my new review of the bonkers GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack over at Far East Films.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Death Wish 4


Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay: Gail Morgan Hickman
Starring: Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez, Dana Barron, Soon-Teck Oh & George Dickerson

After the loony excess of Death Wish 3 things were toned down for the fourth entry, The Crackdown. Toned somewhat would be more apt, as Death Wish 4 is still an over-the-top 80s action film that has more in common with the ultra violent action pictures of the decade than it does with the dark original film that spawned the franchise. Here, Bronson’s vigilante Paul Kersey goes to war against the drug cartels when the daughter of his new squeeze dies from an over dose of cocaine. Having dispatched the pusher that dealt the drugs to the girl in particularly violent fashion, Kersey believes all is done. However, rich weirdo Nathan White (Ryan) hires Kersey as his own personal vigilante to go after the two biggest drug empires in LA: his own daughter having succumbed to the evils of the drugs dealt by these cartels. Soon Kersey is dispatching slimy goons with efficiency  and setting the two cartels against one another (Yojimbo style!) but does White have ulterior motives and has Kersey got himself in over his head in his bad-guy-dispatching-shenanigans this time? 

Much like Part 3, Death Wish 4 jettisons the dark tone of the original two installments and instead focuses on over-the-top action scenes as Kersey is now turned into a one man army waging war against all bad guys. He is far from the quieter Kersey with a single small hand gun as seen in the first film but now a leather jacket wearing, M16-toting and James Bond gadget using super-vigilante. Bigger and badder, Kersey has got slaying bad guys down to a fine art and has all kinds of listening devices, super guns, hidden vaults complete with weapons arsenal (!) and, in one particular outrageous scene, exploding wine bottle gadgets. What the!!?? In the film’s most over-the-top scene, Kersey dispatches a young Danny Trejo (and some other goons) by serving them some fine wine from an exploding wine bottle! Despite the absurdness of this scene and several other ridiculous death scenes, Death Wish 4 is still an entertainingly balls out action film that delivers many scenes of firepower action and grenade launching explosions. Efficiently directed by J. Lee Thompson, Death Wish 4 sees Kersey become a one man vigilante war machine that decimates the LA drug trade in increasingly entertaining fashion. 

While this is a straight up 80s action film typical from the Cannon Films conveyor belt of the time and sadly dispenses Kay Lenz’s grieving-mother-attempts-to-investigate-the-drug-cartels subplot all too quickly, Death Wish 4 still has a slight nasty edge to it and benefits from Thompson’s lean direction. In fact, he opens the film with a prolonged and tension filled sequence of a women being stalked and attacked in an underground parking lot before Kersey’s vigilante hero shows up to rescue her, that is so well executed and tense it’s a pity the rest of the film didn’t stick with this vibe. The sequence even ends with Kersey seeing his own image in one of the attackers he has just slain, suggesting the emotional impact all the killing is having on him (and which is unfortunately not explored any further), making this scene the most effective bit of Death Wish vigilante style justice and its repercussions since the first film.

Instead Death Wish 4 is a serviceable and highly entertaining action film typical of the era that features all the explosions, Uzis, cheap-suit-wearing-goons and machine-gun-blasting-action any action movie/Bronson fan could want. That’ll do.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Death Wish 3


Directed by: Michael Winner
Screenplay: Don Jakoby (as Michael Edmonds)
Starring: Charles Bronson, Ed Lauter, Deborah Raffin, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Alex Winter

If you love/watch/consume action films and are a fan of the man Bronson, then there is no doubt you have seem the insanity that is Death Wish 3 (and if you haven’t, rectify this now!). Abandoning the grim and gut wrenching tone of the first two instalments, Death Wish 3 instead goes for wild action looniness that jettisons all shock and seriousness and instead ramps up the absurd and action stunt mayhem to create an over-the-top 80s cult classic. Bronson once again returns as one man vigilante force Paul Kersey who, upon a visit to New York to see his old friend, finds himself taking up massive handguns and bazookas in order to take revenge on the gang who have murdered said friend. Death Wish 1 and 2 director Michael Winner also returns (for his final bow as a Death Wish helmer) and pushes every aspect of the gun toting, vengeance seeking Kersey through the stratosphere  to very entertaining effect.

Winner has stated that when he came to make Death Wish 3 he wanted to go all out in the action and stunts to create the biggest Death Wish yet and, well, mission accomplished. The original Death Wish still holds up as a darkly effective revenge/vigilante thriller with bursts of action and the first sequel, while dated in some aspects, is still quite a shocking film which walks a risky line between disturbing exploitation and action thriller. Death Wish 2 introduced better and more sustained action scenes while still keeping the dark and repellent tone of the original but Death Wish 3 is an over-the-top 80s action flick through and through that features probably the biggest and best action blowout in the whole series. 

Bronson, who was apparently no big fan of this installment, is more like a carton version of Kersey this time around and the whole vibe almost seems like a piss take of the first two films. Yet with his massive handgun and gruff attitude Bronson still convinces as the one man killing machine and with a vicious gang of thugs (who could really only exist in an 80s action film!) lead by the memorable Fraker (complete with ridiculous/awesome inverted Mohawk/head stripe combo, and played with convincing menace by Gavan O’Herlihy), Kersey has his work cut out. This leads to mucho booby-trap setting, bazooka blowing up and in one, well, let’s just say freaking awesome scene: Kersey and a buddy running around, blowing away evil gang members with the biggest machine gun this side of an anti-aircraft gun!

With Winner’s lean and mean direction/editing streamlined to the extreme, means there is no messing about, no fat, no unwanted subplots: just the sheer realization of Bronson’s cinematic justice serving persona reaching its violently bombastic (and ridiculous!) zenith as he turns a grimy New York suburb  into an all out war zone. Never has the phrase “They sure don’t make them like this anymore more!” been more apt. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Killer Instinct


Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago
Written by: Joe Mari Avellana
Starring: Robert Patrick, Robert Dryer, William Steis, Morgan Douglas, Lydie Denier, Barbara Patrick, Joe Mari Avellana

One time action-movie-machine, Cirio H. Santiago cranks out his millionth Vietnam/jungle/warfare flick, Killer Instinct and it’s just as nutty, action packed and a helluva a good time as the other million. A very young and eager Robert Patrick, before his time as the iconic T1000, stars as Johnny Ransom (awesome, awesome action hero name!) a gung ho, bad-ass Vietnam soldier who, along with his crew, get captured by a pesky Russian general and his horde of bad guys. Tortured and humiliated, Ransom nevertheless escapes and after some recuperation, a bit of romance with a lovely anti-war campaigner (Patrick’s future real life wife, Barbara) and lots of shouting and disagreeing with his commander, Ransom heads back into hell to rescue his POW buddies and a kindly old communist defector: M16 gun blazing craziness ensues. 

Robert Patrick started out his career in several Cirio H. Santiago action epics (including Equalizer 2000 and the similar Vietnam gun blast-fest Eye of the Eagle), and Killer Instinct (or Behind Enemy Lines as it’s also known) is typical of the era: low budget, shot in the Philippines, a bit of plot, a good dose of zaniness and tons and tons of M16 shell case dispensing and jungle hut blowing up action. While not as good as say the likes of Santiago’s Nam Angels, Killer Instinct sticks to its bullet blistering intentions and serves up the action good and plenty. Santiago also squeezes in a bit of an anti-war stance in the form of Barbara Patrick’s war opposer, who spends her time mostly shouting at Ransom to then only go and fall for him and, of course, bed him because you know, “He just wants to get the job done and get his boys home damnit!” Ransom and his crew also team up with some other resistance fighters (who appear to be French, complete with stereotypical berets!) and there’s a woman resistance fighter who appears to be dressed as Indiana Jones for some inexplicable reason! So see, there is a lot going on in-between the jungle being shredded and blown up!

But really Santiago just wants to get to the next M16 bullet strewing scene and there are lots of them along with Patrick riding a helicopter and blowing up the Russian’s base in explosive style. We also get plenty of rocket launcher action and an army jeep complete with multi rocket launchers blowing the crap out everything in the finale: wow! Seriously what’s not to the like: Santiago, war action, explosions galore and a very young T1000 blasting through the jungle and various abandoned quarries all in the name of 80s action entertainment?



Friday, 13 February 2015

The Last American Elvis


Directed by: Dominique E. Othenin-Girard
Written by: Dale Trevllion
Starring: William Forsythe, Kari Wuhrer, Leo Rossi, Sharon Farrell & Dennis Hayden

A wannabe cool crime thriller from a time in the 90s when every director and his brother were trying to make a cool Tarantino/indie type film, The Last American Elvis (or Beyond Desire to give it its original title) would like you to think it’s a cool (man that’s a lot of cools!) drama/thriller akin to something like Wild at Heart or True Romance but really it’s just another B-movie action film of the look and type that were produced by the hundreds in the 90s (and the type of which this lowly, and very uncool, reviewer loves and usually laps up!). Unfortunately, it disappointingly forgets to bring the action and instead focuses on a muddled crime story, a would-be Elvis aficionado (complete with working Elvis song titles into the dialogue: groan!) and a whole lot of not-very cool-criminal-posing rubbish. Two things save it from bargain basement oblivion: a very cool red corvette and the always awesome, beautiful and in this case very energetic Kari Wuhrer: cool.

It’s the predictable story of William Forsythe’s Elvis loving wannabe getting out of prison after a 14 year stint for a crime he didn’t commit (yawn!) and speedily shacks up with Wuhrer’s blonde bombshell/femme fatale, who may or may not be on the take. Factor in Leo Rossi’s ridiculous crime boss (who seems to have walked in off the set of some mafia parody movie!), the quest for some missing loot, a ton of sex and nudity, a smidgen of gunplay action and all the cool posing, kooky camera angles and 90s crime quirkiness you can cram into 80mins and you have yourself a cheap jack pulp crime noir.

Director Dominique E. Othenin-Girard (of Halloween 5 and Omen 4 fame) tries his best to make things, ahem, cool and interesting on a limited budget but with Forsythe’s character coming across more as an obnoxious burke than a slick Elivs loving anti-hero, the predictability of the whole scenario, forced (and now dated sounding) “edgy” dialogue and the lack of anything really happening until the couple of decent shootouts in the finale, mean one will just be waiting until the next Kari Wuhrer scene of nudity: which thankfully there is an abundance of. To be fair, the flick is quite racy for a mid 90s low budget action thriller and while she does get nude quite a bit, Wuhrer also injects the film with energy and edginess it lacks everywhere else. As well as being lovely to look at, Wuhrer is a gifted (and underrated) actress and acts everyone else off the screen here.

Meh, it was ok.



Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Man of Tai Chi

Check out my new review of Man of Tai Chi over at Far East Films.


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

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Operation Hit Squad


Directed by: Tonie van der Mawe & Kathy Viedge
Screenplay: Kathy Viedge
Starring:  Vera Johns, Charles Segal, Gael Taylor, Ken Gampu, Brian O’Shaughnessy

With the above cover, the title Operation Hit Squad, a character with a rocket launcher crossbow, the premise of a group of highly trained commandos heading into some badlands to rescue a bunch of captured rich women and the fact this is from the 80s, one would be right in thinking this is going to be awesome. Alas, despite all the aforementioned coolness Operation Hit Squad was not in fact awesome. Unfortunately this one was a bit of a dud. Sure it has its heart in the right place, what with some rich guys wives needing saving after their plane is shot down by a group of militia type nut jobs and a squad of commando type bad assess hired to go and find them (complete with tooling up scene before they head off on their mission!) but the cheap jack production values, plodding pace and a whole lot of meh, huh and what!, added up to B-movie action blandness.

Nothing wrong with a cheap jack action movie but with too-obvious dubbing of all the actors, cameramen reflected in computer monitor screens (!) and the truly mind boggling scene of superimposed smoke on the plane crashing scene (which makes one ask why even bother superimposing it on when it looks that bad: bad even for 1987!!), the cheapness becomes too much of a hindrance to the enjoyment of the B-movie action. The pace is too plodding (with scenes going on and on with no dialogue for no discernible reason!), with random edits and fades meaning scenes often end abruptly and coupled with a weak attempt at injecting serious drama (the out of nowhere suicide attempt by one of the female captives), one becomes impatient waiting for the action to begin. It eventually does but not until almost an hour in. Ack!

Thankfully this is where the film picks up a little. Not that the action is particularly great as it’s often random in nature with stuntmen running around looking confused and slow motion over used to the point of insanity. However, what it does have is explosions. Lots and lots of epic explosions. When the Hit Squad raids the bad guy’s compound: shit goes boom spectacularly with stuntmen flung around left, right and centre. The explosions are impressive and many of the stunts look extremely dangerous: though bizarrely, but somewhat entertainingly, said stunts are often repeated over and over from every angle imaginable! There is plenty of Uzi fire, running around and even a motorcycle with rocket launchers is utilized in one crazy action moment. See, Operation Hit Squad has all the right ingredients (rocket launcher crossbows and motorcycles!) but just can’t mix them into a tasty entertaining B-movie action whole. For explosion and action film oddity complete-ists only.