Thursday, 29 November 2007

The Last Sentinel



The Last Sentinel (2007)

Written and Directed by: Jesse Johnson
Starring: Don Wilson, Katee Sackhoff and Keith David.

Director Jesse Johnson made a splash a couple of years ago with the brutal, indie hit Pit Fighter. It was a breath of fresh air adding the grit (and not to mention some gunplay) back into the fighting tournament film. A renowned stunt co-ordinator, Johnson follows up his genre hit with a more ambitious project set in a post apocalyptic world and starring action movie stalwart, Don “The Dragon” Wilson.

The future has been torched, cities lay wasted and Tallis (Wilson) is the sole survivor of an elite core of super soldier called The 700th. Roaming the empty streets and industrial districts for food and weapons, Tallis lives day to day, hiding from the ever dangerous Drones. A police force brought in to govern a country going to hell; the Drones now rule the land with an iron fist and heavy artillery. Tallis is just trying to stay alive but when a survivor from a rag tag militia (Katee Sackhoff) falls in to his care, Tallis finds himself once again taking on a mission to rid the city, and possibly the country, of the Drones once and for all.



Having really enjoyed Pit Fighter, been a fan of Don “The Dragon” Wilson since my teens and impressed with all the pre-release material for The Last Sentinel, I was somewhat disappointed with the final product. By no means a bad action film (it is still overflowing with explosions and gun battles) but definitely a mixed bag, The Last Sentinel unfortunately fails to keep up its momentum and excitement all the way through. The project may have been a little too ambitious for the budget, though the film certainly scores points for trying. The Drone costumes are a visual treat, the location work well used and the pyrotechnics staggering. Yet, for some reason everything just doesn’t quite gel. It may be Johnson’s script. His direction is pretty solid (and he certainly proved himself a good director with Pit Fighter), especially in the action scenes, but all too often the pace and logic falls apart in the slower scenes. The actors, while good, seem to have been given little to work with and don’t always convince when delivering lines of dialogue. A scene where Sackhoff and Wilson discuss books is so sloppily handled and over almost before it begins, you wonder what on earth it was all about. Obviously to build character, it would have been nice to see the two characters sitting discussing the books rather than just making some random, off the cuff remark. However, the leads are good, Sackhoff is a fiesty freedom fighter and Wilson (finally dropping his kickboxing nickname, The Dragon) gets to act all serious for a change. And is quite good to boot. Sharing a lot of his dialogue with a talking gun (not as bad as it sounds but way overused), Wilson shines as the battle scarred warrior finally finding a human existence with his blossoming relationship with Sackhoff. Good to see him doing something different.



Now the action at times is pretty sweet and at other times ho-hum. The explosions are big and the gunfire hard hitting but for every scene that gets the intensity right there is another that is all over the place. The first battle (a flash back to Tallis’ combat days) is impressive stuff: intense, gritty and bloody. Likewise a running chase through corridors, as the heroes attempt to out run and out gun the Drones and ends in a spectacular escape through a floor and out a window. Yet, there are other scenes that start and stop quite randomly (for instance, Tallis descending from the roof onto some Drones) they ruin any kind of momentum the previous scenes built up. Still, Johnson crams the film with action, meaning you are never too far from an explosion or fire fight and the end showdown, between Tallis and a Commander Drone is visually impressive.



Disappointing in certain respects but entertaining and successful in others, The Last Sentinel is an action flick that will please some and infuriate others. Enjoyable if not highly satisfying it gets by on its ambitions, its leads and its ton of action. Jesse Johnson is still a director to watch and The Last Sentinel does show him branching out and trying different genres and ideas. Let’s hope he’s got his gritty techniques back for his upcoming project, The Butcher.

The Marine



The Marine (2006)

Directed by: John Bonito
Screenplay: Michelle Gallagher & Alan B. McElroy
Starring: John Cena, Kelly Carlson and Robert Patrick

Sometimes it’s the simplicity of action movies that makes them so entertaining. Their complete disregard for logic, physics and character for the sheer abandonment of adrenaline and pyrotechnics: fun times for the sake of fun times. And by this notion, The Marine is pretty simple. Dude’s wife gets kidnapped by trigger happy bad guy and his goons. Dude is an ex-marine, who gives pursuit and blows up everything and everyone in sight, in his path and in this movie. If you’ve seen Schwarzenegger’s Commando, then you’ve seen The Marine. Both films follow almost identical plots and while Commando has the edge in all round kick ass value, The Marine is still quality, explosion heavy entertainment.



Lean and mean at a scant 80mins, The Marine jettisons all set-up, character development and downtime for a series of over the top action scenes as our hero demolishes his way through the swamp and cast in order to get his wife back. John Cena (a pro wrestler making his movie debut) plays John Triton, the titular marine, who spends all of five minutes actually being a marine before being quickly discharged. Following a diamond robbery, a couple of funny scenes seeing our hero trying to adjust to civilian life, and the introduction of the gun toting bad guys, it’s down to business as the movie switches into the familiar chase/hunt element. Cena isn’t bad in his first role and actually comes across as quite human rather than just a killing machine, while Kelly Carlson (Nip/Tuck) adds a little more spark to the obligatory damsel in distress role. The bad guys are a pretty entertaining bunch with T2’s Robert Patrick stealing the show as the completely off his head, Rome. He seems to be having a ball.



The flick is as slick as they come and jam packed with action. While momentum is always kept up, the running time is perhaps just a little too scant. Things, characters and set ups whiz by so quickly sometimes, you wonder what has just happened and who the hell that was. There is a great bit where our hero gets sequestered by two mad-as-a-hatter rednecks and must use his brawn to whoop their asses. The whole scene lasts all of a minute and a half and is cut so quickly, you wonder what was the point of introducing those characters and that scene in the first place. Likewise, with the opening sequence set in Iraq. Triton goes in to rescue a bunch of other marines and machine guns down everyone that isn’t American. What could have been an exciting, extended set piece is all over in a matter of flashes and I’m still trying to figure out what went on and how they got out. And that’s the movie’s downfall: the action is just cut too quickly and apart from the awesome (and yes, very over the top) car chase feels rushed. Let the action scenes breath, let them play out and let us see what our hero is actually doing to thwart all these bad guys.

Still, The Marine is slick entertainment that is nothing more than a series of brawn and booms. If you can get past the mind numbingly awful, over patriotic opening scenes then The Marine is a fun ride that harkens back the days of Arnie and Sly, where to get the job done all you had to do was blow everything up. If The Marine gets one thing right, it’s blowing stuff up and that really is the first and foremost thing you need to get right in an action movie.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Air Panic (aka Triumph in the Sky)



Air Panic (aka Triumph in the Sky) (2001)

Directed by: Bob Misiorowski
Screenplay: Adam Geirash & Jace Anderson
Starring: Rod Rowland, Kristianna Loken and Barbara Carrera

Back in the day (the Nineties anyway) Nu Image cranked out low budget action flicks, creature features and disaster movies. Air Panic (or Triumph in the Sky as it’s known on these shores) was one of their later disaster flicks that, despite it obvious low budget, pushes the concept of air disaster to extreme limits. The story is pretty simple: a disgruntled ex-employee of some company or another creates some device to control planes and sets about crashing them into various buildings and oceans. A cocky flight inspector dude figures this out and rushes to board the next doomed plane (which he does in the most insane and stunt happy way). Its then up to him, the sexy stewardess, the usual assortment of odd ball passengers and the heroes’ buddies on the ground to take back control of the plane before the nutter crashes it into a nuclear power plant. Fun stuff.



Air Panic is an enjoyable B-movie that despite all it absurdness (isn’t that what B-movie’s are founded on?) rattles along at a breakneck pace and is made all the more entertaining by the quality of acting. Rowland, Loken (pre T3 fame) and a few others perform well above the norm for this kind of flick, bringing a little more edge to proceedings. Yeah, the bad dude overacts into oblivion (he is crazy after all!) and there is the obligatory nutter who can’t stand flying and inevitably opens the door mid flight, but in general the cast perform very well. Geirash and Anderson’s script is nothing more than a carbon copy of Speed (complete with hero’s best mate going to the villain’s house only to be blown to smithereens) but the director keeps everything tight, meaning we are never far away from the next in flight disaster or crashing into a mountain scene. The action and tension is ratcheted up nicely, even managing to shoe horn in the destruction of the Baltimore airport and how many B-movies can boast that?



Unfortunately, Air Panic has one major flaw preventing it from being solid gold B-movie entertainment: the special effects. Save for one cool scene where a jet engine falls off and bounces into the airport the effects are very poor. CGI is so amateurish that it often looks unfinished and the digital planes never convince. I know it’s a low budget movie but the effects surely could have been a bit better than this. However, if you can get past that major flaw, then Air Panic is a fun, silly and action packed ride and a definite recommendation for those who like aviation disaster movies.

Friday, 23 November 2007

U.S. Seals 2



U.S. Seals 2 (2001)

Directed by: Isaac Florentine
Screenplay by: Michael Weiss
Starring: Michael Worth, Marshall Teague and Damien Chapa.

Seriously, this movie rocks. If you are kung fu fan or into b-movies in anyway, then check out U.S. Seals 2. Martial arts a go-go, in a film that defies its budget and manages to be far more entertaining than many of its blockbuster counterparts. Having practically bugger all to do with the first U.S. Seals, and U.S Navy Seals in general, the film is mainly an excuse for some gob smacking martial arts sequences, courtesy of Hong Kong maestro, Andy Cheng. Renegade U.S. Seal, Ratliff (Chapa), kidnaps an American science boffin, and with his elite team of mercenaries, whisks her away to an abandoned island where she will be used to activate 2 nuclear missiles. Ratliff is demanding one billion dollars (insert Doctor Evil laugh here), or he will start blowing up half of America with said missiles. Enter Casey (Worth), a U.S Seal and former compadre of Ratliff. Along with General Donner (Teague) and a ragtag bunch of fighters for hire, Casey sets out to the remote island to save the scientist and settle a few scores.



Rogue military soldiers. Stolen missiles. Abandoned islands. An elite team sent in to save the day. Sound familiar? Yep, this is basically The Rock mark 2. However, this is no straightforward rip-off. It’s a rip-off with kung fu. But it’s all part of the fun. Things kick off with a John Woo flavoured opening sequence before the action slows down to let the story take shape. Yes, U.S. Seals 2 does actually have a story and it’s nice to see a little movie taking the time to at least develop a plot, no matter how cheesy it is. When the action kicks in again, it’s a non-stop barrage of wicked martial arts combos. Fight co-ordinator, Cheng and director Florentine, have pulled out all the stops. The combat scenes are fluid and brutal, and the initial scrap on the island is a brilliant free-for-all as the Seals take on dozens and dozens of bad guys, the action cutting seamlessly between different fights. Due to some plot contrivance nobody can shoot a gun, thus all characters swagger around brandishing samurai swords, chains, fighting sticks and their good old fists. This leads to a number of creative fights with various weapons, climaxing in a great showdown in a room raining down with water. Michael Worth is an energetic hero and proves his worth in the fight scenes, Andy Cheng even gets in on the action, as henchman Artie and stuntwoman and martial arts stalwart, Sophia Crawford, also pops up as the obligatory bad girl.



Isaac Florentine’s trademark ‘swoosh’ sound effect is used to full force here, meaning every time a character turns their head, points, raises their gun, or even blinks it is accompanied by a swoosh. A bit cheesy but, again, it all adds to the fun. Florentine is known for delivering kinetic action films with dazzling martial arts on a minuscule budget (check out Special Forces and the great Cold Harvest). His films contain well shot and choreographed action that make big budget action films like Romeo Must Die, look all the more lazy. Along with fellow director, Steve Wang (Drive), Florentine really should be shooting action flicks in the big league.

If you are fan of action, then seek out this surprisingly good flick. Cheesy and over the top, yes, but damn if it isn’t a lot of fun.

Out on Bail



Out on Bail (1989)

Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Screenplay: Michael B. Sonye, Jason Booth, Tom Badal
Starring: Robert Ginty, Kathy Shower and Tom Badal

Out on Bail is a little known action thriller starring B-movie mainstay, Robert Ginty. He stars as drifter, John Dee (get it?), who drifts into the wrong small American town (actually South Africa, doubling not always convincingly for the States). While he’s dining at the local eatery, enjoying a cup of chilli, he unwittingly stops a stick up, killing the two robbers in the process. Receiving no sympathy from the law enforcement he is soon banged up by the lunatic sheriff (Tom Badal). Several beatings and one shifty lawyer later he is “out on bail” and forced to assassinate some local politician or else the sheriff and his cronies will come gunning for him. Finding escape in the arms of town beauty (Kathy Shower), a shotgun and an armoured hearse (no really!), Dee turns the tables on the corrupt townsfolk for the over-the-top, explosive finale.

For what should have been a simple film about a drifter taking revenge on those who done him wrong, Out on Bail is a strange flick that gets bogged down with it’s slow middle half and some bug-ass weird characters. Ginty, usually a reliable force in these kinds of action pictures, practically sleepwalks through the film, nary saying a word. His very awkward love scene with Shower (in a shower!) doesn’t help and what is up with her mute kid who always looks whacked out on some kind of drug? Speaking of weird characters, Tom Badal plays the bonkers sheriff too full tilt, so much so that his ranting and random outbursts just become tiring rather than threatening. Then there is the odd squeaky lawyer, the mad dancing stripper in the bar and those random motorcycle punks in the final chase. Which all add up to a whole lot of Eh?

After some decent action at the beginning, Out on Bail lumbers along in the mid section, taking forever to get to the point. Patience is rewarded with the final half hour which features the aforementioned armoured hearse in an extended chase which includes motorcycle stunts, explosions, a fight on the bonnet of the hearse (cool!) and the spectacular gate crashing of a funeral. The action is solid and overall the film is shot well. Entertaining in parts, Out on Bail is never wholly satisfying due to the wandering tone and wobbly acting. However, those who are fond of low rent action movies of this sort, that were cranked out in the eighties and nineties, may get a kick out of it.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Peacemaker



Peacemaker (1990)

Written and Directed by: Kevin Tenney
Starring: Robert Forster, Lance Edwards, Hilary Shepard and Robert Davi

A cult favourite, Peacemaker is a fully adrenalized B-movie that makes up for what it lacks in budget with sheer verve. Action and stunts are pushed to the limit in this tale of two aliens (Robert Forster and Lance Edwards) who crash land on earth and set about blowing the living hell out of L.A. and each other. One is a cop and one is a criminal, but which one is which. Identities flip-flop between the two and it’s up to, caught in the middle, Dr. Caisson (Hilary Shepard) to figure out who is who before they kill her, one another or all three.

Director, Kevin Tenney is a filmmaker who can create a lot on a small budget. Gems such as Witchboard 1 & 2 and Night of the Demons overcame limited budgets and hokey stories with oodles of creative camerawork, committed performances and solid direction. Peacemaker follows in the same vain and saw Tenney moving away from horror to more action orientated material, albeit with a sci-fi tinge. It may just be his best film. Momentum is kept up throughout by the narrative’s chase element and the cast’s committed abandonment to the fun element of alien cops and criminals. Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Supernova) is a great as the sneering, is he or isn’t the bad guy alien, proving a force to be reckoned with, as he always gets back up no matter how much the rest of the cast knocks him down. Lance Edwards (who pretty much disappeared after this flick) is good fun as the slightly dim-witted possible hero, while Hilary Shepard (Scanner Cop) all but steals the show as the human caught up in the alien chase mess. Despite accepting her situation (and endless silly sci-fi jargon and explanations) with the upmost ease, she keeps her tongue firmly in cheek and delivers some class one liners (“The only difference between a brown nose and a shithead is depth perception”). Throw in Robert Davi (Die Hard) as an equally wise cracking cop and you have a great cast that add to the fun of the show.



Yet, Tenney really pulls it out of the bag with the stunts and action. With little let up between the gunfights, high falls and car chases, Peacemaker delivers full throttle action in spades. It may be a little rough around the edges and somewhat low tech by today’s standards, but the action is relentless, full-on and violent. The amount of people thrown through windows and off buildings is staggering and the adrenaline is pushed to the max, helped in part by a thumping score that propels the action. The centrepiece is a turbo charged extended car chase that doesn’t skimp on intensity for almost ten minutes.

Peacemaker is a full-on fun movie and quite possibly the best movie Kevin Tenney ever made. It may resemble another cult classic from around about the same time, The Hidden, a little too much and the dialogue does tend to get very silly, but it never detracts from the good times this move gives. Seek it out.

Chill Factor



CHILL FACTOR (1999)

Directed by: Hugh Johnson
Written by: Drew Gitlin & Mike Cheda
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr, Skeet Ulrich, Peter Firth and David Paymer.

This film is a bit of a guilty pleasure. I catch it every time it’s on TV and have seen it several times. I’m not sure why I like it really, but it does provide an hour and half worth of fun entertainment. Along with Soldier (another guilty pleasure), Chill Factor is an easygoing mix of action, explosions and (debatable) humour.



On a remote tropical island, Dr. Richard Lang (Paymer) is testing his new experiment: a type of weapon/bomb called Elvis (?) that has to be kept under 50 degrees or it will explode. When said weapon goes off, destroying the island and most of the U.S. Army, rogue army Colonel Brynner (Firth) decides he wants to steal it and sell it to the highest bidder. Lang manages to get the weapon to his friend, Mason (Ulrich) before dying from a gunshot inflicted by Brynner. Mason enlists the help of Marlo (Gooding Jr) and his ice-cream truck (to keep the bomb cool in) and adhering to Lang’s dying wishes, high tail it across country to get the weapon to safety. Along the way they must keep the bomb under 50 degrees and are relentlessly pursued by Brynner and his goons.

So what’s good about it? Well it all ambles along at a fair pace, with suitable bursts of action and comedy. There’s a suspenseful scene where the heroes have to drive the truck along a cliff edge and an exciting ride down the side of a mountain in a speedboat. Ulrich (Scream) and Gooding Jr (Judgment Night) have strong chemistry as the bickering duo (though some may find Gooding Jr’s over-mugging a little irritating). Firth (Amistad) as bad guy, Brynner, is good, camp, evil fun never taking things too seriously (the scene where he is barking orders while eating an ice-cream is particularly funny). The film is no more ridiculous than most other big-budget, high-concept action flicks like say Speed (with both films sharing pretty much the same plot ). The opening sequence of the island being destroyed is also quite suspenseful.



What’s wrong with it? It is a case of been there, done that, seen it all before. The Lethal Weapon style comedy hi-jinks, cartoon goons and big explosions (cool), are all a bit déjà vu. It’s what Hollywood does best (and a lot) and the film feels like a Jerry Bruckheimer flick done lite. Chill Factor also suffers from some decidedly ropey camera work and editing. Fights and stunts are often shot in close-up making it difficult to discern what is going on and some scenes have obviously been sliced and diced. It looks like first time director, Hugh Johnson, has suffered a lot of studio interference when cutting the film together. There are also some glaring mistakes in logic: mobile phones working in tunnels; arguing about how hot it is while continuing to wear heavy leather jackets.

However, this is a film built for entertainment. It is no action classic, but Chill Factor is fun, well acted nonsense and I can’t wait to catch it the next time it’s on TV (shit…I need to get out more).

Demolition University



Demolition University (1997)

Directed by: Kevin S. Tenney
Screenplay: Steve Jankowski
Starring: Corey Haim, Amy Dolenz, Khrystyne Haje and Robert Forster

I have a high tolerance for low-budget action films from the Nineties. In fact, I love ‘em. Everything from PM Entertainment to Nu Image to the gazillions of kickboxing themed movies that flooded the market from the tail end of the eighties up to the millennium, I was there renting, purchasing and religiously watching them. I still do, especially with many now being released on (cheap) DVD. However, Demolition University pushes the limit even for mid-nineties, budget stretched action.



Unintentionally (I hope) hilarious and quite possibly racist in its depiction of Middle Eastern terrorists, Demo U fails to whip up any sense of energy or fun often found in these unassuming actions pics. Flat as a pancake in every department, from action, to direction to the sorry excuses for villains (what’s up with the evil American military dude? Is he supposed to be funny, evil or is he just having a nervous breakdown??). Director Kevin Tenney has made some great genre pictures such as his early horror hits Witchboard and Night of the Demons to the superb alien/action-fest, Peacemaker. Yet, he shows none of the flair or creativeness he displayed in those films. And the plot? Well, there just isn’t one. Now low-budget action flicks aren’t renowned for over complicated or thought provoking plots, and they don’t need them either, but actual motivations and story development are so thin on the ground it’s embarrassing. A bunch of terrorists steal some deadly liquid (or something) take over a water plant (or something) and its up to a bunch of visiting college students (well Haim and Dolenz) to stop them (or something). This wouldn’t matter if the flick delivered any kind of cool action, but it doesn’t. Aside from one decent explosion stunt, its just AK-47’s blazing, missing everybody and everything in sight.



A sort of sequel to Jim Wynorski’s Demolition High (also featuring Haim), a university appears for all of five minutes before the “action” is relocated to the generic abandoned factory/warehouse/whatever, common in these low budget movies. Haim isn’t actually that bad (though what’s up with the eyebrows??) and Dolenz is easy on the eye if given little to do. Which is a shame, as she was excellent in Tenney’s earlier film, Witchboard 2 (and if you wanna see a film that maximizes its low-budget to full potential then check out Witchboard 2) and a decent actress to boot. Genre stalwart, ace actor and all round cool dude, Robert Forster is fun in his small role but even he can’t save this picture from the state of mundane is constantly finds itself in.



So having pretty much completely trashed the film, is there anything to like? Despite all the problems I had with it, I still kind of enjoyed it on a so-bad-it’s-good level. I will always love B-movies, champion them and though, yes, many can be so bad they are actually bad, a few bad ones are still entertaining on the most base of levels. Dolenz is cute, Forster is class, Haim is easy to watch and even on a bad day, Tenney is still worth checking out. In fact, take the time to check out his back catalogue (including the aforementioned flicks) and you’ll find some well-made, fun and creative B-movies.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Hard Justice



Hard Justice (1995)

Directed by: Greg Yaitanes
Written by: Nicholas Amendolare and Chris Bold
Starring: David Bradley, Yuji Okumoto and Charles Napier

Hard Justice is a film that certainly delivers on the action front. It often seems its sole purpose is to cram in as much gun, car, bomb and martial arts violence as possible. Produced by Nu Image during their low budget glory days, Hard Justice has a much more polished look than many of their previous films, with a decent budget obviously being channelled into the several impressive action set pieces. And to be honest that’s what makes the flick so darn entertaining: its complete abandonment of plot for excessive gunfire and car flipping.

The story (an almost carbon copy of Van Damme’s Death Warrant from a few years earlier) is as basic as they come and sees David Bradley (American Ninja 3, 4 & 5. That’s right, there were five!) as ATF agent, Nick Adams, go undercover to a maximum security prison to avenge the death of his best mate, who also happened to be undercover at the same prison. Once there, he has to fight his cell mate to gain respect, avoid some slippery nonsense in the shower, entrust the help of his sexy female cop friend on the outside, settle some old scores and crack many, many (many) skulls. So, business as usual then?



Hard Justice isn’t going win any points in terms of originality, or subtly for that manner. It’s very violent, brash and downright trashy. However, director Greg Yaitanes (now working full force on CSI and its many incarnations) shows verve in the action department and keeps things moving at such a velocity, you hardly notice how absurd proceedings get (ex. the sexy lady cop friend suddenly knows how to fly a helicopter, very well. Hmmm!). Yaitanes does steal from about every John Woo movie going, but adds his own touch with some hard impact and sustained action scenes that are some of the best seen in a low budget film of this type. He book ends the film with two superb sequences that warrant a viewing by any action fan. The opener features mucho cool gunplay and about twenty cars all being thrown through the air as our hero narrowly escapes, while the climax includes a chase scene incorporating a bus, a helicopter and one hell of a death by grenade.



The acting isn’t too bad either. Support is provided by genre stalwarts Charles Napier, Vernon Wells and Jim Manici, with Napier adding the right amount of sleaze as the sadistic warden. Bonita Arden brings a little more depth to her limited screen time as the sexy female cop friend and Yuji Okumoto is always good value as the villain Bradley has a score to settle with. Bradley, himself, isn’t bad either but is much more adept at the action scenes than the dramatic ones. For every scene he is good in, there is always another scene where he either looks confused, constipated, crazy or all three. There are times when he looks as if he doesn’t know where is or what is going, often staring out into nowhere. But he certainly makes up for this in the action scenes. This was probably his biggest budget, and certainly his best film and Bradley cuts an imposing figure in all the fight and chase sequences.

Hard Justice may be your typical mid nineties straight-to-video action film, but it is one of the best. Yaitanes makes the film his own, adding a bit of style, a dash of inventiveness and a shed load of action. It is quite a rare film so if you can track down a copy, then do, as Hard Justice is a solid hour and half of stunt filled entertainment.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior



Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (2006)

Directed by: John Laing
Action Director: Koichi Sakamoto
Starring: Brenda Song and Shin Koyamada

Make no mistake; Wendy Wu is a Disney movie. It’s cute, its set in a very fashionable high school, there’s a fair share of sugary teenage angst and an important lesson about one’s true culture is well and truly learned. A made for TV Disney movie, the film wears the House of Mouse badge firmly on its sleeve and should appeal to many a teenager. Yet, this movie has a lot to offer and it’s also a whole lot of fun. Mixing Eastern culture into a modern day American high school setting, Wendy Wu is an often laugh out loud funny culture clash comedy that just happens to feature some kick ass martial arts action.

Wendy Wu (Brenda Song) is your typical high school student who is more concerned with winning the coveted role of Homecoming Queen than taking up the mantle of defender of evil. This news is delivered to here just days before Homecoming by the somewhat mystical monk, Shen (Shin Koyamada). Having trained for many years and travelled as many miles to inform Wendy of her destiny, Shen must stay with her to make sure she carries out her kung fu training. Finding this all a little irritating and clashing with her impending Homecoming Queen triumph, Wendy is reluctant to take on such a task. However, Shen is not one to quit so easily and his persistence pays off, making Wendy realize there is more to life than just fashion and high school popularity. Accepting her destiny, Wendy begins her training and it’s just as well, as an ancient evil has found its way to Wendy’s hometown with the purpose of wiping her out. And if that’s not enough to contend with, Shen must adapt to his new surroundings, get a clue and blend in. Cue many Disney styled montages of embarrassing dancing and trying on the latest 21st Century style fashions.

Now the film may not offer anything particularly new in terms of plot or story and it’s certainly peppered with the traditional Disney heart warming messages (a good or bad thing depending on your perspective), but Wendy Wu is a cut above most TV movies. The whole cast performs admirably, never taking things too seriously and jumping into the comedy with aplomb. The two leads especially shine, creating a great chemistry between their characters. Wendy starts off as a somewhat loud and selfish character but Brenda Song infuses her with a likeable personality as the character begins to realize life doesn’t always have to be so shallow. There are also some great comedic moments that are laugh out loud funny without having to resort to crudeness or bodily function jokes. Wendy’s practicing meditation at inopportune moments (in class, at the dinner table) is a highlight.



Yet what sets this movie apart from other Disney channel flicks is the high impact martial arts sequences. Though they are not in abundance (the film is more a high school comedy), the several scenes showcasing kung fu are expertly choreographed and the action packed finale is nearly as good as anything in a big budget movie. The action is handled by Koichi Sakamoto of Alpha Stunts, who in the past have brought blistering kung fu action to films such as Drive and Guyver: Dark Hero as well as the long running Power Rangers TV series. Serving as Action Unit Director, Sakamoto has crafted several thrilling fight scenes that belie their TV budget. From the early encounter between Shen and Wendy’s brother (Justin Chon), to her training sequences, to the excellent final showdown featuring reanimated life-size terracotta warriors, the action is punchy, creative and always exciting. Though doubling is evident it never deters from the impact of the fights and the use of slow motion actually helps enhance them. Sakamoto once again proves he, and his team, are one of the best in the business for on screen action.

So if you are in the mood for something a bit lighter that will give you your action kicks as well as some laughs, then Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior is a good bet. Spot on comedy, high-school setting and expert martial arts combat: not bad for a Disney TV-movie.

Monday, 12 November 2007

She Shoots Straight



SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT (1990)
 
Directed by: Cory Yuen
Screenplay: Barry Wong and Cory Yuen
Starring: Joyce Godenzi, Carina Lau and Sammo Hung
 
She Shoots Straight is a fine example of the fighting femme fatale genre that was popular in Hong Kong cinema during the mid eighties to early nineties. Produced by Sammo Hung and directed by action ace, Cory Yuen, SSS is a tough and tense action flick that shows the ladies are just as good at dishing out the pain as the guys are.
 
Mina (Godenzi) marries into a police family and endures much resentment from her four sister-in-laws at her marriage to their brother and her half breed status. Professional to a T, Mina wants to concentrate on work rather than starting a family: much to her husband’s chagrin. It’s just as well, as bad guy, Yuen Wah (Dragons Forever) escapes from prison, robs a nightclub and fatally wounds Mina’s new husband. Upset and out for revenge, Mina and her sisters-in-law put their differences aside and set out to bring Wah and his gang down.
 
The first 45-50 minutes of this film are absolutely blistering. Full on action is balanced well with character and emotional set up, with only a smidgen of typical Hong Kong comedy creeping in. The tone is set from the get go, as the tough female police officers thwart a kidnapping attempt in glorious over the top, ultra violent fashion. The pace rarely lets up from then on; with Yen Wah’s Vietnamese bad guy causing destruction and mayhem wherever he goes (even mowing down innocent bystanders at the local bird market). The set pieces really shine, showcasing the crisp, clear and clever choreography and stunt work Yuen, Hung and co perfected so well in the 80s and 90s. The raid on a nightclub shot with infrared vision is a breathtaking sequence of intensity and action as the good guys and bad guys try to eliminate one another in the dark. And then there is the final 20 minutes that the flick is (semi) famous for. Intricate action is delivered within the pipe infested bowels of a ship, all principals managing to pull off impressive moves within tight confines. The claustrophobic feel of the interior adds to the intensity of the action all leading up to the showcase brawl between Godenzi and bodybuilder, Agnes Aurelio (License to Steal). The two women go toe-to-toe in a feriocious battle that features some truly painful looking moves and combinations.



Godenzi (Eastern Condors) really carries the film managing to show off her impressive fighting skills with a very humane performance. While the cast around her tend to overact, Godenzi brings warmth to her character ably conveying the emotional turmoil her character is suffering. The real life wife of Sammo Hung (who only has a small cameo here and one very brief scuffle) she also has the moves in the action department and can kick, shoot and jump from car to car with aplomb. Carina Lau (Project A 2) also gives a committed performance as Godenzi’s hostile sister-in-law/partner, while Yuen Wah is thoroughly ruthless as the villain. Despite his appearance resembling a nerdy bookworm, he oozes evil in every scene. The only downside is that he never gets to cut loose in the action scenes, something he is very capable of doing. All the action is based more around gunplay and stunt work (all deftly handled) than martial arts, so those looking for a kung fu fest may be left a little cold.
 
Yuen has crafted a dark, often brutal action thriller that mercifully forgoes much of the comedy hi-jinks synonymous with these types of films. However, he can’t stop the melodrama slipping into the stratosphere. Around the 50 minute mark (after loads of action) the pace slackens a little as the family of cops attempt to deal with the loss of a loved one and a troublesome police chief. Histrionics are on full display as much of the cast shout, cry and scream, and then some, in several scenes that are dragged on for just too long. This break in the action and tone doesn’t ruin the film (and the pace is picked up again for the final 20 minutes) but it does prevent the film from becoming a modern Hong Kong classic. I guess the lack of over the top comedy had to be made up in someway, unfortunately with lots of screaming and much of the female cast coming across as spoilt brats. Still, this does not spoil She Shoots Straight, which is certainly a great action flick and one that, for at least two thirds of its running time, manages to keep a dark and often bleak tone running throughout.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Flash Point




FLASH POINT (2007)

Directed by: Wilson Yip
Screenplay: Kam-Yuen Szeto
Starring: Donnie Yen, Louis Koo and Colin Chou.

Before I get into how (and for the lack of a better phrase) awesome this film really is, lets get the facts out of the way. Much like its star, Flash Point (formerly City Without Mercy) is lean, mean and muscular. Clocking in at just under 90 mins, Flash Point is trimmed of all fat to deliver one of the best action-thrillers of the year, or any year. Re-teaming with director Wilson Yip (after SPL and Dragon Tiger Gate), Donnie Yen once again shows why he his is one of the best actors/choreographers/fighters working in modern day action cinema with a film that rarely lets ups for breath.

Yen plays Inspector Ma (his character from SPL) a hot shot cop who will go to any lengths to catch the bad guy. Known for his no bullshit attitude and impressive fighting skills he is the accumulation of every tough movie cop rolled into one. His partner Wilson (Louis Koo) is deep undercover within a criminal organization run by three brothers, the leader being the fierce and sadistic, Tony (Colin Chou). Ma and Wilson are about to make their move to bust the gang, when Wilson’s cover is blown and he is left nearly paralyzed by Tony and his gang. However, the cops manage to capture one of the brothers and put him behind bars. Three months pass and Ma and Wilson’s partnership is on the edge while Wilson recovers from his injuries. Tony resurfaces wanting revenge and to get his brother out of jail. Striking at the cops, he forces Wilson into a corner which leads to the release of Tony’s brother. However, Tony wants the cops dead and several attempts are made on theirs lives, with Wilson’s girlfriend being brought into the mix. Fearing for their lives, Ma decides to take action for himself. Donnie Yen then proceeds to go ape shit on everybody.



Having enjoyed both SPL and DTG, I was very much looking forward to this flick and despite all the hype surrounding it, I was not disappointed. SPL was one of the best modern Hong Kong action films to come out in recent years. When news broke that Yip and Yen were going to make an unofficial sequel/prequel featuring Yen’s character from SPL, expectations were high. And expectations were well and truly met. This, as mentioned, is a lean, mean thriller that does exactly what it says on the tin. Characters are drawn out and set up against each other, all leading to the action packed, knuckle dusting final half hour. Flash Point is not a twisty turny thriller all about honour and the intricacies of police loyalty and criminal brotherhood. This film is about characters forced into an explosive situation where momentum is the name of the game, always keeping the viewer on their toes as to who will erupt into action first. And the film is all the better for it, for keeping things simple and giving us the best action finale in some time. The cast perform well, fleshing out their roles just enough to make us care for them. Yen is his usual dynamic self, all action and brawn. Koo (Election) provides the brain to Yen’s brawn and holds his own as his character is continually put through abuse. Yet, once again it is the villain of the piece that steals the film. Colin Chou (Matrix 2 & 3) turns what is essentially an undeveloped role into a tour de force of menace and intensity. His stare is enough to break any grown man down and he holds his own in the action department as well.

Now the action really is something to sing about. Building on what they created in SPL, Yip and Yen send Flash Point into overdrive come the final half hour. From Yen running down an assassin, to the extended gunfight/chase, to the Yen vs. Chou showdown, the action is top notch. Chou and Yen are at the top of their games going toe to toe in a fight that combines brutality, speed and some fancy kicking into one satisfying whole. It really is that good and matches the Yen vs. Wu Jing face-off in SPL. Some have complained you have to wait almost an hour to get to the action but it really isn’t a problem and doesn’t hamper the film in anyway. The momentum built in the first hour leads to the action and without it the payoff wouldn’t be as sweet. Plus it gives time for the story to play out and the characters to be built before the action soaks the screen. Anyways the first hour still features a couple of scuffles, several assassination attempts, the bust going wrong, Koo beating the shit out of a suspect and the lovely Fan Binging as Koo’s girlfriend. So really, no that slow.




While praise should be sung for Yen and his choreography, credit must also be given to director, Yip. His directional style is very much evident in the film (no matter how much Yen dominates) and contributes to the success of the flick as much as anything else. As mentioned, the pace is lightening quick, the camerawork fluid, and the tone a little more grittier than the polished look of SPL and DTG. This all works in favour of the film as do the few comedic moments (a nice touch) and the rousing musical score. The music pushes the momentum and really contributes to the success of the picture. An original score that never seems overbearing it just goes to show you don’t need bombastic scores or crappy pseudo rock songs to drive the action.

Ok, I’ve gone on long enough about how great Flash Point is. All that’s left to say is: just see it whenever you get the chance. Non Donnie Yen fans may find his overbearing presence and posing off putting but for the rest of us (especially us who like action flicks) Flash Point is about as good as it gets. Up there with The Bourne Ultimatum, Contour, Die Hard 4, Broken Path and Invisible Target as one of the best action flicks of 2007. See it.

Invisible Target



INVISIBLE TARGET (2007)

Directed by: Benny Chan
Screenplay: Benny Chan, Chi Man Ling
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Wu Jing, Shawn Yue and Jaycee Chan.

Invisible Target is a noble attempt by an established Hong Kong helmer to fuse a hip young cast to a tough and breakneck story. Hard hitting action reminiscent of old school Hong Kong actioneers, solid performances and sleek direction makes Invisible Target one of the years best action flicks and another step in the right direction for Hong Kong action.

Nicholas Tse (Time & Tide), Shawn Yue (Dragon Tiger Gate) and Jaycee Chan (2Young) are three cops brought together, for varying reasons, to take down a gang of criminals who are wrecking havoc across Hong Kong. The gang is led by Wu Jing (SPL), an almost superhuman like villain who along with his gang (including Andy On from New Police Story) are out to assert themselves as a force to be reckoned with and retrieve some stolen money they believe is rightly theirs. However, they do not reckon on the tenacity of three young police officers who will do anything, no matter the cost or structural damage to the city, to put a stop to them. A game of cat and mouse ensues as the cops are pushed to their limit before and all out, explosive finale erupts in a police station. Let the chaos begin.



Clocking in at just over two hours, Invisible Target crams a lot into its running time. Those looking for a realistic police procedural drama may want to look elsewhere (or re-watch the Infernal Affairs flicks) but those who enjoy a cops and robbers drama with plenty of action will find a lot to like. Benny Chan, one of Hong Kong’s most reliable directors, has crafted another great action flick. It may not reach the classic status of previous hits such as Big Bullet, Who Am I? and the more recent (and underrated) New Police Story but he can add Invisible Target as a major achievement to an already exceptional CV. For the most part the film manages a nice balance between drama and action. Most of the action in the first hour is short, sharp and sweet but always entertaining and crafted with considerable skill. A rooftop chase and restaurant fight are standouts, all of which lead to the lengthy action explosion of the last thirty minutes. Taking place in and outside of a police station the finale crams in fights, gunfire, body burns, high-falls and many explosions with giddy glee. This is what Hong Kong used to do best: sustained action finales that would leave the viewer in awe with the amount of action and dangerous stunts on display. It’s good to see Invisible Target getting back to that tradition.



Drama and acting wise the film mostly succeeds. Benny Chan has a tendency to slip into melodrama and Invisible Target is no different. A little too much philosophizing on what it is to be a cop or a criminal doesn’t deter from the good acting on display and the solid scenes of drama. Tse and Yue are both good as the brooding, ass kicking cops but are perhaps given too little to do other than, well, brood and kick ass. If the film belongs to anybody, it’s two people: Wu Jing and Jaycee Chan. Looking at Chan first (the son of the legendary, Jackie) he gives a great performance as the inexperienced, very put upon cop. Some have criticized that he doesn’t get to cut loose and kick ass like the rest of them (and thus not living up to the standard his father set). Yet, they are missing the point. His character is an inexperienced cop and is put through the ringer, emotionally and physically, during the course of the film and Chan plays it to the tilt. His character is not supposed to be like the ones his father played and it’s unfair to compare. It’s a brave role to take on and Chan performs it ably and should be applauded for taking on the role that isn’t your typical hero. This brings us to Wu Jing. Once again, much like he did in SPL, he steals the film from everyone else around him. Intense, charismatic and able to kick ass like the best of them, Jing once again proves the rule that villains are often more interesting than the heroes. Getting to strut his stuff in a number of fight sequences, Jing builds on the menace he displayed in SPL, creating another memorable villain who kicks the living hell out of the film’s heroes in the final showdown.

Overall, Invisible Target is great entertainment. Another solid film from director Benny Chan, a young cast who show they can run with the best of them, and some glass shattering action that shows Hong Kong has still got it when it comes to the pyrotechnics. Highly recommended.

Back in Action


BACK IN ACTION (1994)

Directed by: Paul Ziller and Steve DiMarco
Screenplay by: Karl Shiffman
Starring: Billy Blanks, Roddy Piper and Bobbie Philips.

Former soldier and now cab driver, Billy (Blanks) finds his sister mixed up with a bunch of dangerous gangsters. Attempting to lure her away from the gangster’s dubious lifestyle, Billy gets caught up in a deal gone wrong. The deal is raided by tough cop Rossi (Piper) whose partner is killed in the subsequent gunfire. Out for revenge, Rossi eventually crosses paths with Billy who is turn after the gangsters who have now kidnapped his sister. The two team up, along with an intrepid reporter (Philips), to take down the gangster establishment.

The plot matters little in what is essentially a no hold barred avalanche of action showcasing the fighting talents of Blanks and Piper. This is a B-movie with a backbone: a backbone that is continually broken, bruised and blown up. Blanks (Showdown) is a gifted fighter and gets to cut loose in scene after scene of martial arts action. His scene taking on a group of dudes in a garage is particularly memorable as he hops from car to car. Pro wrestler, Piper (They Live), is no slouch either, displaying some of his signature moves in a series of brutal confrontations. While the action is the main driving force, the success of a movie like Back in Action relies also on the chemistry between the two leads. Luckily, Blanks and Piper have a great rapor much as they did in their earlier film together, Tough & Deadly.

Back in Action is as about slick as B-movie action flicks come. There is decent support from the lovely Bobbie Philips (TC 2000) and Kari Sarmekum as Blanks’ sister. The bad guys are thankfully not as over-the-top as one would expect (it seems to be derigour to have pantomime villains in action films), instead coming across as quite vicious. Production values are above par and the action and stunt work is of a very impressive standard. Lensed in Ontario, Back in Action must have employed almost the entire Canadian stunt community to pull off the vast amount of action sequences. The film is jam-packed with fights, gunplay, explosions and several car chases. Make no mistake; Back in Action is a fun movie but an extremely violent one. The body count is high but the action is of a strictly comic book style. In fact, it is the comic book energy and fast action that makes Back in Action so appealing.

On par with any of Arnie or Sly’s action hits, Back in Action is a fast and furious ride. Piper and Blanks were a mini action dream team, blazing onto the video store shelf with two of the best B-movie action flicks of the 90s. It’s a shame they don’t movies like this anymore.

Killing Machine


KILLING MACHINE (1994)

Directed by: David Mitchell
Screenplay by: David Mitchell & Damien Lee
Starring: Jeff Wincott, Terri Hawkes and Michael Ironside.

Despite its reputation as a superior and solid B-movie action flick, Killing Machine (aka The Killing Man) is still a hit and miss affair. On the one hand, it is a superior B-movie, creatively made and featuring an excellent performance from Jeff Wincott. On the other, it suffers from a rather dull middle section, a lack of action and a meagre budget that hampers some of its lofty ambitions.

Harlin Garrett (Wincott) is saved from a deadly fire-fight and 70 % body burns by a mysterious government agency headed by a Mr. Green (Ironside). Holed up in a secret facility he is rebuilt from scratch (new face and sex with a busty nurse inclusive). In payment for his new body and wiping clean his dubious past, Garrett is forced to work for Green and his company as a hired killer. Sent on missions to wipe out those who threaten society, Garrett begins to question his role as a killer. Falling for his latest victim, he decides to take his life back into his own hands and settle some scores with Green.

Killing Machine is an entertaining film, just not an entirely satisfying one. Taking a familiar story, director David Mitchell (Mask of Death) has attempted to do things a little differently. A darker vibe than your usual action fodder helps give the film a feel all of its own. Garrett’s voice-over musings on death and identity are a nice touch and give a little more depth to the typical action man. However, they do begin to grate after a while and seem thrown in as if the production couldn’t afford another action sequence. The tense and mysterious opening scenes within the facility soon give way to a meandering and often uneventful middle section, where Wincott goes about his killings and falls in love with one of his victims. It’s a valid attempt at character development, with a few pointless fights thrown in, but it all pales in comparison to the film’s earlier scenes. Garrett’s ‘missions’ are also lacklustre, meaning he just walks around smoking until he bumps into the person he is supposed to kill. Ironside’s character, who is a menacing character in the earlier parts, is relegated to just popping up out of nowhere at random intervals to remind Garrett of how his country needs him. Shame really, as Ironside is a quality actor and his character could have been fleshed more.

On the upside, the film is still fairly entertaining. There is some creative camerawork that keeps things ticking along nicely and as mentioned, Wincott gives one of his best performances. Things pick up towards the end when Green and his men begin to hunt down Garrett and his love. There is some tense gunplay and Ironside gets a cool death scene. The ending is somewhat abrupt, but hats off to the filmmakers for not wrapping up everything neat and tidy, and happy.

Killing Machine is a noble effort at trying something different within the action genre. Not completely successful, Killing Machine is still better than most direct-to-video actioners and is worth a look on a Friday night with a few beers.

Raven


RAVEN (1997)

Directed by: Russell Solberg
Screenplay: Jacobson Hart
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Matt Battaglia and Krista Allan.

Raven is a solid, if unremarkable, meat and potatoes action flick starring the always charismatic Burt Reynolds. Directed by seasoned stunt coordinator, Russell Solberg (Forced to Kill), Raven ambles along reasonably well, managing to pull itself out of it’s made for TV trappings with some mild nudity and some decent stunts.

Jerome ‘Raven’ Katz (Reynolds) leads the covert ops squad, Raven Team. When their latest mission in Bosnia goes tits up, leaving most of the group dead, Duce (Battaglia) decides he wants out, much to Raven’s disagreement. A scuffle, a helicopter crash and one year later, Duce is living the quiet life with new smoking hot trophy girlfriend (the smoking hot, Krista Allen). However, and inevitably, Raven resurfaces wanting the other part of a decoder/thingy/device/whatever that Duce has and revenge on the CIA bods that set him up in Bosnia. Some talking ensues, some people get killed, the babe gets kidnapped, Duce takes up his guns again, there is some more double crossing and a lot of things get blown up.

Raven is nothing new in terms of plot and structure and when there isn’t action or naked women on screen it does tend to fizzle out. But all in all it’s a decent B-movie. Reynolds is his usual wise cracking self: chomping on cigars, running around with an AK-47 and getting it on with implausibly beautiful women half his age. David Akroyd is also good quality as a slimy CIA suit and the two cops investigating all the explosions and gunfire raise an occasion smile. Unfortunately, Battalgia (Universal Solder 2 & 3) and Allen don’t fare so well. Battalgia is as wooden as the slab of oak he resembles and Allen, well, plays the trophy girlfriend: all smiles and ‘gee-whiz.’ She does get naked though, twice, and the scene of her walking along the beach in a bikini that barely covers all the important parts is worth watching the flick for alone.

Stunts and action are above standard with the extended shootout/raid in Bosnia that opens the film being the standout set piece. Special mention should also go to the fact that every single woman in this film is stunningly hot. I swear there is not an ugly woman in this film. The producers must have had some special clause that all women must be leggy, busty and incredibly hot. Krista Allen: hot. Some dudes secretary: hot. Reynolds squeeze: hot. Every single woman seen in the background of a scene: hot. So really, Burt Reynolds, cool stunts, Krista Allen and a ton of hot babes: these are the reasons I enjoyed this flick.

Run


RUN (1991)

Directed by: Geoff Burrowes
Screenplay: Dennis Shryack & Michael Blodgett
Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Kelly Preston and Ken Pogue

Run is an underrated and under seen gem. A glossy looking, well crafted and thrilling man-on-the-run flick, it manages a fine balance between suspense and action. Charlie Farrow (Dempsey) is a college law student looking for anyway to make an extra buck to help pay his way through school. Slightly cocky and always full of energy he gets a job driving a brand new Porsche across state to deliver it to its wealthy owner. While on the road the car (inevitably) breaks down and Charlie is forced to get it repaired. Having a few hours to kill he is introduced to an underground gambling club where he tries his hand at wining a little more cash. However, another gambler takes a dislike to Charlie and one scuffle later said gambler is accidentally killed. Turns out he is the son of a local mob boss, who along with some crooked cops set out to terminate Charlie. Alone, save for a little help from a kindly card dealer (Preston), and fighting for his life in an unfamiliar town, Charlie has no other option but to run.

Giving quite possibly the most energetic performance of his career (or any action movie), Patrick Dempsey, literally, tears across the screen in a serious of high octane chase sequences. His character begins brash and slightly arrogant but as the film progress and the threats on his life increase, Dempsey transforms Charlie into an endearing character the viewer is left rooting for. There is able support from Preston, Pogue and a couple of crooked cops but the film belongs to Dempsey. After the initial set up, Run becomes one long chase movie and that’s why it works so well. Those looking for intricate and dense plot will want to look else where (with a title like Run, it’s going to be all about the action), but those who like their action movies sleek and slick will find a lot to enjoy.

Director, Geoff Burrowes and stunt coordinator, Mic Rodgers, have crafted a serious of break neck and intricate action/stunt set pieces that give Run the breathless momentum it needs to sell its story. From the bowling alley chase, to the police car high fall, to the Uzi fight in the dog racing stadium, Run’s action sequences excel in ingenuity and suspense. They are tightly constructed giving the maximum adrenaline rush action scenes should. All are well paced within the story, as Charlie runs from one life threatening situation to another. This gives the sense the character is always on the move and if he stops for too long, he will end up dead. It should also be noted that all the action is crafted without the aid of CGI. Run was madev well before the age of computer enhanced trickery and is all the better for it.

It’s a shame Geoff Burrowes has never really directed anything since. An Australian director/producer, Run seems to be his only foray into Hollywood. A pity as Run is one the best late 80s/early 90s action films that aficionados of the genre should check out immediately.

Shoot 'Em Up




SHOOT ‘EM UP (2007)

Written and Directed by: Michael Davis
Starring: Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci and Paul Giamatti

The best comic book movie of 2007 may be one that isn’t actually based on a comic book. Coming across as a live action graphic novel, Shoot’ Em Up is a deliriously demented comic book blast of a movie, that is a hyper violent hoot right from the get go. Mr Smith (Owen) intervenes in the attempted killing of an on the run pregnant woman by a fleet of black clad goons. Unable to save her life, he finds himself lumbered with a newly spawned sprog who the never ending fleet of goons, led by the homicidal Mr. Hertz (Giamatti), want dead. Severely. With the help of a voluptuous prostitute, DQ (Bellucci), Smith and his make shift family take up arms against Mr. Hertz and his seemingly unlimited army in a film that well and truly lives up to its title.



If gunfights are your thing, then check out Shoot ‘Em Up. Writer/director, Michael Davis (Monster Man) takes his first shot at the big time with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but with enough flair and edge to mark him out as a new talent. The narrative flicks from one shoot out to the next, each becoming increasingly violent, creative and downright bonkers. Shoot out while delivering a baby: check. Shoot out during a sex scene: check. Shoot out while sky diving out of a plane and possibly plummeting to your death: check. Over the top, perfectly stylized and with enough charge to rev up several action flicks, Shoot ‘Em Up’s shoot outs are fast, fun and frequent. They may not deliver the panache or squib strewn grace of a John Woo movie (whose influence is all over this flick) but they are always entertaining and certainly push the boundaries of creativity. Plus, after many a Hollywood flick becoming saturated with the wire-fu that is ever so popular these days, its good to see a flick getting down and dirty with gunplay again. Those with a dislike for guns may want to stay clear though.

Many will no doubt warble on and on about the lack of plot but they will be missing the point. Shoot ‘Em Up is about one thing and that is the action. There are many films out there (including other action films) with dense and intricate plot and fleshed out character we can all get to know, but this film is about the situation, the momentum and the action. Davis makes it all work very well thanks to a committed cast and some running gags that always amuse no matter how heavy handed they become. I read somewhere that the cast (all actors who have done respectable work) were slumming it by appearing in Shoot ‘Em Up. Not so, as Owen, Bellucci and Giamatti’s performances are what carry flick when it isn’t shooting seven shades of shit out of someone or something. Being able to switch from serious drama to comic book violence with effortless ease is the sign of any good actor and all three leads do well here, going with flow and in Giamatti’s case, inhabiting a murderous sleaze with unhinged venom.



The Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd metaphor may get a little tiring (though death by carrot never does!), the dialogue and jokes could have been a little sharper and the whole reason why everyone is shooting at each other in first place may not make much sense, but this matters not a lick. Shoot ‘Em Up is turbo charged fun with a wicked (not to mention twisted and very violent) sense of humour. A comic book for adults, Shoot ‘Em Up is by turn’s ultra violent, crass, misogynistic, sick, funny and exhilarating. So just like any good 1980s action flick then.