Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Drug War


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

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Final Round


FINAL ROUND (1994)

Directed by: George Erschbamer
Written by: Arne Olsen
Starring: Lorenzo Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont, Clark Johnson & Anthony De Longis

Blatant low budget rip-off of The Running Man, Final Round gets by on Lamas’ likeability, Kinmont’s looks, De Longis’ slimy bad guy and a pace that’s keeps everything moving fast meaning we get just about 75 minutes of B-movie action entertainment.

De Longis is the evil Delgado (what’s with all the De’s??!!) who was once the right hand man to the also evil Munro (Stephen Mendel) but has now branched out as a crime kingpin in his own right. And his evil specialty? Organising a Running Man/Hard Target/Most Dangerous Game style event where rich bastards place large bets on humans being hunted by “skilled” hunters. Thrown into the gauntlet (an abandoned industrial estate encased by an electrical fence!) is motorcycle loving, non-shirt wearing and all round kickboxing badass Lorenzo Lamas. He’s been scouted (it seems breaking up one bar fight and not wearing a shirt are all the requirements one needs to be thrown into the game!), drugged and kidnapped and now must fight for his life. Along for the ride is his busty date Kinmont and some other random dude (Johnson), whose only function is to have some banter with our hero and prove inept at every fight he gets himself into. At least Lamas can kick ass and he does so in this by the number action cheapie.


Lamas has made better action vehicles than this (Bounty Tracker, Viper) and the limited budget is really stretched to breaking point (the unconvincing inescapable hunting arena: they could have knocked that fence over no problem!) but if you can forgive its shortcoming’s (the naff infra-red eye patches the hunters wear: they don’t even look cool!), Final Round is passable early 90s B-movie action. We get Lamas being cool and a badass (despite wearing quite possibly the worst action movie outfit ever: stonewashed denim dungarees! Nothing says hero like stonewashed denim dungarees, especially when you’re rocking one strap undone!!), Kinmont is lovely on the eye (though is disappointingly relegated to the screaming damsel in distress: not cool, this lady can kick ass. Check out CIA Alexa 1 & 2 for proof), Johnson (who would go on to helm big budget action pictures S.W.A.T and The Sentinel) is fun as the forever-crap-at-fighting sidekick and De Longis is perhaps the best of all of them as the evil Delgado. He even gets to put his bull whip expertise to use in the final fight. Cool.

This brings us to the action. There is certainly plenty of fights as Lamas takes on various bad guys (including kickboxing champ Ian Jacklin) but between the lack of threat from the bad guys (many of them looking a little over-the-hill rather than like deadly hunters) and the less than dynamic choreography, means the fights lack punch. Still, there are a few nasty kills (including a particularly horrible hook-to-the-face moment!) and as mentioned, Final Round doesn't outstay its welcome with its barely 75 minute run time.

Cheap, not always cheerful and with a decent amount of action Final Round is a watchable Lamas flick. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Rapid Exchange


RAPID EXCHANGE (aka FLIGHT 747) (2003)

Directed by: Tripp Reed
Written by: Tripp Reed & Sam Wells
Starring: Lance Henriksen, Lorenzo Lamas & Matt O’Toole

This fun little heist flick from UFO Pictures (purveyors of cheap and cheerful sci-fi and action films: Interceptor Force, Velocity Trap, Dark Waters, Boa vs Python and a bunch of others) sees 90 action star Lorenzo Lamas and his buddy team up with a group of dodgy thieves to rob a Boeing 747, mid flight, of almost a quarter of a billion dollars. Having been hired by the even more dodgy Lance Henriksen you know shit is going to go wrong and double crosses will abound: which they do as Lamas and his buddy are set up, left for dead but come back fighting for the money they are owed. High altitude plane-to-plane transfers and some not bad early 2000s low budget CGI ensue.

More of a lightweight caper (albeit with a bit of swearing and violence thrown in) than a full on action film, Rapid Exchange is an entertaining B-flick thanks to its game cast, a bit of humour and some cool effects showing the team of crooks transferring from one plane to the other as they attempt to steal the cash. Lamas is his usual likeable self and seems to be having fun playing the more comedic character of the cast (which involves him dressing up in various unconvincing and ridiculous, but no less funny, disguises!) and while Henriksen isn't in the film a whole lot he plays smarmy and sleazy well and gets most of the best lines.

The planes and daring robbery are all rendered with CGI and as mentioned, the CGI is pretty good for a film of this budget. The heist is well staged and fairly thrilling though does become a little overly-complicated and drawn out: not least in the last act of the film where Lamas and his buddy attempt to retrieve their loot in a somewhat muddled and anti-climactic finale! However, if you can get past a few “Huh?!” moments and leave any anger you have towards CGI behind, Rapid Exchange is an easy going action caper buoyed by a watchable cast and a lively pace.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Behind Enemy Lines 2


BEHIND ENEMY LINES II: AXIS OF EVIL (2006)

Directed by: James Dodson
Screenplay: James Dodson
Starring: Nicholas Gonzalez, Matt Bushall, Keith David, Bruce McGill, Ben Cross & Peter Coyote

Direct-to-DVDs sequels to films that hit big are practically their own genre these days and often, taken on their lower budget terms, usually decent entertainment. Especially in the action arena with Universal Solider notching up three sequels (part 2 a bit ropey, 3 & 4 absolutely stellar), Death Race two sequels (2 a bit naff, 3 much better), The Marine two sequels (both decent) and the likes of Undisputed and Never Back Down receiving sequels that are far better than the original franchise starters (if you haven’t already, check out Undisputed 2 & 3 for how action sequels should be done!). However, it’s not always good to continue an action franchise (the less said about The Art of War sequels the better!) and Behind Enemy Lines 2 is unfortunately one of the worst of the bunch: an over edited, headache inducing mess.


The original, considerably bigger budget, Behind Enemy Lines (which starred Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman) was some glossy action fluff that was turbo charged thanks to John Moore’s kinetic direction. Sure he used a little too much rapid editing, slow-mo and all kinds of wizzy tricks to jazz up the action but always knew when to hold back and just let the action flow. The same can’t be said about its first sequel which is often like one giant 90 minute music video and quite possibly why the term “Avid fart” was coined.  No editing trick is missed from all the mentioned above to ridiculous amounts of dissolves, overlays, freeze frames, colour changes and pretty much any other transition or effect you can think of that comes with a modern digital editing suite: meaning there is rarely a frame that goes by without some kind of editing trick assaulting your eyeballs. If you think Steven Seagal’s oeuvre of late has been the ultimate perpetrator of the dreaded “Avid fart” I would say that crown now goes to Behind Enemy Lines 2.

There is a decent story here for a military action vehicle as a squad of Navy seals get stuck behind enemy lines while attempting to blow up a missile base in North Korea. However, between the constant editing nonsense, excessive shaky cam in the action scenes and some heavy handed political mumbo-jumbo (as the likes of Peter Coyote and Bruce McGill argue over the best course of action to take when the mission goes south!) means any potential thrills or tension are all but diluted in a barrage of MTV style edits. Shame really, as on the rare occasion when everything does calm down and plays out in a smooth and coherent fashion there is a decent film to be found. The cast are pretty good and the end raid on the missile base is actually quite tense and thrilling before the dreaded retina blazing editing kicks in again.

The second sequel, Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia, was a more successful sequel. It again tells the story of a bunch of military dudes fighting for their lives while stuck in enemy territory albeit this time in a much more straightforward and easy to watch fashion with regular bursts of decent action. Seriously, that’s all us action fans want. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Badge of Fury


Check out my new review of Badge of Fury over at Blueprint Review.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sword of the Assassin


Check out my new review of Sword of the Assassin over at Far East Films.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Warbus



WARBUS (1986)

Directed by: Ferdinando Baldi (as Ted Kaplan)
Written by: Ferdinando Baldi & John Fitzsimmons
Starring: Daniel Stephen, Romano Kristoff, Urs Althaus, Gwendolyn Hung, Ernie Zarate

Full throttle, Italian made, Vietnam military action spectacle that may just be the most streamlined 80 minutes of firepower and explosions ever committed to celluloid. Ok, so that might be an excessive case of hyperbole but Warbus gets straight to it: a bunch of soldiers, ensnared behind enemy lines, commandeer an old bright yellow school bus and set off through the Vietnam jungle, guns blazing, in an attempt to get back home. Along for the ride are a bunch of missionaries also trapped behind enemy lines and what follows is a lot of driving, a good dose of 80s Italian war film weirdness, tons of gunfire and an incredible amount of explosions: even by Italian made, Vietnam military action standards. 


After a brief opening credits sequence featuring an old war statue shot from every conceivable angle while the tiles roll over it (!), it’s straight into the gunfire and exploding huts as the missionaries desperately attempt to flee their under fire camp from the Vietcong. No messing about, straight into the action: excessive firepower, epic explosions and loads of extras getting wasted. This is how things proceed for much of the rest of the film as the bus, which picks up several American GI’s along the way, trundles through the jungle stopping frequently for gun battles, diffusing minefields (by shooting automatic weapons at them: awesome!), navigating tough terrain, more gun battles and seemingly blowing up every hut/building/free form standing building they come across. In the brief breaks between all the action, director Ferdinando Baldi keeps things ticking along with all kinds of absurdness: once character suffers from epilepsy for no apparent reason, the soldiers all shack up with the various lady missionaries at one point or another and the troupe discover an abandoned building full of alcohol at another point and stop to drink and talk about, well, I’m not really sure! 

But as mentioned, gunfire and explosions are the name of the game here and Warbus is jammed packed with both. There is a serious amount of explosions in this film, all gloriously captured and doing their job of blowing shit up good and well. It wouldn’t be surprising if the filmmakers were given a budget for explosions, found an old school bus and were told to craft a movie around the two. If so, mission accomplished. The film is also nicely shot, making good use of it locations and the cast are suitably sweaty, heroic and unhinged, in equal measure, meaning there is plenty of eccentricity to go along with all the action packed awesomeness. Those who like a little more plot to go along with their bang bang and boom boom may not find much to enjoy here (and probably shouldn’t be or wouldn’t be watching this type of film anyway!) but for the Italian jungle based military action film enthusiast out there, Warbus is a gem worth tracking down. 


Arcade


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

Bad Channels


Check out my new review of Bad Channels over at Blueprint Review.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Sophie's Fortune


SOPHIE’S FORTUNE: THE TREAUSRE OF QUETZALCOATL (2013)

Directed by: Chris Cronin
Produced by: Phil Meachem
Written by: Chris Cronin & Paul Thomas
Starring: Simon Hardwick, Donald Standen, Camercon Prudames, Steve McTigue & Elsa Busow

Now this is how you make a fun short film: thirty minutes of action soaked coolness with its tongue planted firmly in cheek all shot through like a blockbuster epic. Director Chris Cronin and his team of writers, actors, stunt people and effects artists cram so much action, fun and over-the-top imagination into Sophie’s Fortune it makes for a breezy and entertaining thirty minutes. In fact, imagination is the name of the game here as a group of dads throwing a birthday party let their imaginations run riot in their annual treasure hunt game leading to all kinds of gun play, fist fights and jungle based adventures. Thrust into the mix is newcomer Brendan (Hardwick) who has brought his niece Sophie (Busow) along to the party and promises to bring back the treasure just for her. Adapting quickly to the imagination-run-riot treasure hunt, Brendan finds himself put through his paces and fends off the other dads in a series of high-octane action scenes.


For a low budget film shot in the English countryside (effectively standing in for a jungle setting), Sophie’s Fortune does wonders with its premise becoming a sort of mini Indiana Jones adventure. Nicely shot to resemble blockbusters of the 80s and 90s with events and action scenes playing out in an un-fussy manner (meaning no silly camera shake nonsense or over editing craziness): Sophie’s Fortune is a refreshingly unpretentious affair. Adventure and action is the agenda here and once the dads run off into the woods to seek the treasure the action kicks into high gear. Featuring a nice and often non-stop mix of gunplay, fist fights and a ridiculous amount of explosions the action is varied, often creative and gets bigger and bigger as it progresses. With more than a hint of Indiana Jones, a little bit of John Woo and some high impact fights scenes, the makers of Sophie’s Fortune go for the action jugular and it doesn't disappoint. There is also a great gag when a bad guy turns up with a “Painless” style mini-gun ala Predator and proceeds to decimate everything in his path: awesome.


Speaking of gags (both funny and visual), the film packs in a few of these as well (in between all the action goodness) including a neat scene where the dads are running through the woods and transform into the heroes they perceive themselves to be (which you can preview here: https://vimeo.com/83441812) and a very funny bit where we see the kids watching all the action from the sidelines and, yep, wouldn’t you know it they are bored: despite all the carnage, chaos and stuff blowing up! Sure the CGI/green screen effects don’t always convince and the run time could have been a little longer to get to know the characters a bit better (and fit in a couple more action scenes!) but all in all Sophie’s Fortune is a blast. Well shot (it looks fantastic), well acted and with well choreographed action scenes this is a mini blockbuster hoot.

Check out the full trailer:
https://vimeo.com/80818546