Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Rambo



RAMBO (2008)

Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Screenplay: Art Monterastelli & Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz & Matthew Marsden

John J. Rambo returns. The same unstoppable killing machine his country made him but, some 20 years on from Rambo III, a different man. Older, wiser and semi-retired in the heart of Thailand, Rambo has attempted to put his killing past behind him and live a gentler life, away from the rest of the world. Having been let down by his country, twice, forced to resuce his friend and see those he cared about die; Rambo is also a cynical and introverted man. His first words in this forth instalment of the action franchise are, “Fuck the world,” and perfectly sum up how this character feels about the world now. He’s approached by a group of missionaries who want him to guide them into the heart of Burma so they can provide medical aid and bibles to those in need. Rambo is reluctant and tries to persuade, Sarah (Julie Benz) to take herself and her group back to where they came from. Blinded by their own need to prove that they will make a difference, the group don’t back down and Rambo reluctantly leads them into the depths of a war torn jungle. No sooner have they arrived, Rambo’s warnings come true and the group are captured by a platoon of renegade Burmese soldiers who are tearing apart the country. So with the ‘aid’ of a group of mercenaries, Rambo picks up his trusty bow and arrow and sets off to war one last time.



An unrelentingly dark war film, Rambo returns to the gritty roots of the original film, First Blood, to deliver a vicious and visceral action film. Nothing will quite prepare you for the bloody ride this film takes you on, as Stallone returns to one of his most famous characters and shows us the dark side of being the ultimate soldier. No one liners, no snazzy special effects, just gut wrenching violence and the true horrors of killing. Rambo is a man who can’t escape what he is: a killing machine. Made by the government who abandoned him, he is so finely tuned that, as he comments in the film, ‘Killing becomes as easy as breathing.’ First Blood still holds up today as a gritty and violent action film that showed a country abandoning its men after they return from Vietnam, as well as providing requisite action thrills. The sequels, though very entertaining and certainly recommended, went in the more ‘Rambo as a superhero route’ with the set pieces getting bigger and bigger. Rambo however, is much more like its originator and provides a perfect conclusion to an almost perfect set of action films.



Stallone still embodies the character and gets more dialogue this time, letting us see the man behind the soldier. He also takes up the role of director for the first time in the series and brings a real life approach to proceedings. As mentioned, there are no one liners or ridiculous heroics, as all of the characters literally fight for their lives. Gore and grit is thrown on the screen in a relentless barrage of horrific images that show the true nature of slaughter and war. Stallone’s approach pulls no punches and the scenes of carnage, particularly those of the Burmese army slaughtering villagers, are harsh and often hard to watch. They do not glorify violence but rather show the nasty nature of it and its perpetrators. Scenes of dismemberment, rape, torture and even children being killed are all thrown at us, alongside the enemy soldiers being dispatched by Rambo. It can be uncomfortable viewing but does serve a purpose. Scenes of rape of the village women may go a little too too far in one instance, but Stallone is trying to show us that bad things are always occurring and not everyone can be rescued. These atrocities are going on in the world and foreigners venturing in to help and preach the way of God can be just as pointless as the killing. Stallone makes a brave move to show that the American missionaries, though good people, may be just as deluded as the Burmese in what they are trying to achieve. Not that anyone should ever give up on trying to help those in need, but maybe look at doing it in different ways.



Though the imagery and actions are sometimes hard to watch, Rambo is by no means horrible to watch. In fact, it is quite the opposite as Stallone has crafted a kinetic action film as well as delivering a message. The character of Rambo, despite being considerably older and a little bulkier, has lost none of his craft and when called into action he is still capable of showing the team of highly trained (and younger) mercenaries a thing or two. The battles and action scenes are more ground and reality based, compared to the other sequels, and give a real visceral punch. Blood is certainly drawn and limbs hacked off but the all important Rambo elements are there: bow and arrow, tense rescue from an enemy compound and enough fire power to start World War III. The best bit comes when Rambo rescues a group of Burmese villagers from a game of land mine Russian roulette using his bow arrow, planting many an arrow in the enemy’s head.



Some may baulk at the idea of a white, Western hero going in and killing so many of an Eastern country. There is no statement to be made here, as evil is evil no matter where they come from. In the first two films, Rambo went against his own people, Americans, as it was they who let him down. Here, it is just a group of people from a country who are the bad guys, not an entire country. And every country has their bad guys. If anything does let Rambo the movie down, it’s perhaps the less than stellar supporting cast. The rag tag mercenaries are nothing more than stereotypes and unnecessarily aggressive and antagonistic. They maybe take up a little too much of the action when Rambo should be kicking butt, though having said that, it goes with the notion that Rambo is an older fighter and may need a little assistance. However, Matthew Marsden (Resident Evil 3) makes an impression as the mercenary sniper, School Boy. He is the only one friendly to Rambo and is a dab hand with the rifle come the action scenes. Julie Benz (Dexter) also stands out as the refreshing Christian who actually wants to help, rather than just preach the Lord’s word. The classic Rambo theme is disappointingly in short thrift here, which is pretty much unforgivable.

Still, Stallone has crafted an intense, challenging and horrifying action film that stays close to it roots. So close in fact, the film has such a welcome 80s, old school feel, it could have been made all those years ago with the others. Hardened critics will no doubt dismiss it and it may not be as subtle as art house or dramatic cinema but Rambo does deliver a message. And any message delivered that gets you to think in some way is worth the time. It’s also an excellent action film. In and era of bloated excess, pointless remakes and shallow blockbusters, its good to see a hero going out and getting his hands dirty and actually fighting for something.



On a side note: Rambo ends in such a perfect way, that despite my want for many more adventures, this should be the last film in the series. Rambo truly has come full circle.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Commando



COMMANDO (1985)

Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Screenplay: Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vernon Wells & Rae Dawn Chong

Quite possibly the quintessential 80s action film, Commando still remains (almost 23 years on) one of Schwarzenegger’s most solid and entertaining films. About as pure as action films get and along with other 80s action epics, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Die Hard, Commando helped set the template for the modern action film. Brisk pacing, one liners, massive stunts and a high level of violence were synonymous with action pictures of the 80s and 90s and Commando is one of the finest examples of this genre.



Schwarzenegger is retired Colonel John Matrix just living the quiet life with his young daughter Julie (Alyssa Milano). She gets kidnapped by a bunch of mercenaries who want to blackmail Matrix into doing something bad. He refuses and sets about destroying everyone and everything in his path until he is reunited with his daughter. Set over an eleven hour period, the time in which Matrix has to get his daughter back, Commando neither dillies or dathers in providing the requisite action and stunt thrills it promises. Streamlined to the extreme and utilizing Schwarzenegger’s charisma and knack for one liner delivery, the film pulls no punches in showing the violent methods Matrix will go to in order to rescue his daughter. He is a one man army who is able to take out trained killers, armies of soldiers and the odd phone booth with just a machine gun, a couple of grenades and his bare hands. Director Mark L. Lester (SIS: Extreme Justice, Night of the Running Man) directs in an efficient manner, giving us just enough dialogue, comic relief and character building before throwing us into another scene of well orchestrated mayhem.



And what mayhem it is, all buoyed by Schwarzenegger’s dominating physique and star making charisma. Having appeared in the Conan films and made a name for himself the year before in breakout hit, The Terminator, this was the role that shot him to superstardom. Obviously still getting to grips with dialogue, which is kept to a minimum, he is still testing the waters of being a movie star here but delivers with his sheer presence and ability to bounce back in every action scene. No matter what Matrix is put through, he is an unstoppable tank of a man who gets up, dusts himself off and sets about eliminating the next set of bad guys. The action sequences are stellar and show the skill and commitment of the Hollywood stunt world. Set pieces include the fight/chase at a shopping mall, Schwarzenegger’s fight with bad guy Cooke (Bill Duke), Schwarzenegger’s rescue from a police truck (complete with four barrelled rocket launcher) and the famous Matrix vs. an entire army finale.



The film also has a memorable cast of supporting characters including Rae Dawn Chong’s plucky air stewardess sidekick who haphazardly gets tangled up in Matrix’s plight and gets the film’s best line. When Matrix is fighting Cooke and the two are trying to out masculine one another, she exasperatedly states, “I can’t believe this macho bullshit.” David Patrick Kelly (The Crow) is memorable as the weasel like Sully who gets the best death scene but has the worst fashion sense. His suit was surely gaudy even by 80s standards. Vernon Wells (The Road Warrior) is perhaps the only one not to fare so well. He’s good but as bad guy Bennett he comes across just a little too camp to be a truly memorable villain. Still, he gets the best one liner from Schwarzenegger. Bennett gets pinned to a furnace with a steel pipe emitting steam and Schwarzenegger simply deadpans, “Let off some steam Bennett.” Brilliant.

Bennett, a few 80s trappings and some dodgy back projection are the only chink’s in Commando’s armour. Action films like this simply aren’t made today and Commando is one of the true giants of the golden age of big budget Hollywood action cinema. With all the aforementioned greatness there is also James Horner’s distinctive score, the infamous tool shed sequence (complete here in the uncut version) and one of the best taglines ever: Someone, Somewhere, Somehow is going to pay. Now that tagline is enough reason to see this action classic alone.

Bloodfist VII: Manhunt




BLOODFIST VII: MANHUNT (1996)

Directed by: Jonathan Winfrey
Written by: Rob Kerchner & Brendan Borderick
Starring: Don Wilson, Jillian McWhirter & Steven Williams

For a former World Kickboxing Champion, Don “The Dragon” Wilson did alright in the world of low budget action pictures. Never really breaking the big time, or producing a film that really showcased his abilities as a fighter, he nevertheless managed to make entertaining action films. During the nineties he even carved out several franchises for himself. He made three Ring of Fire movies, two Cyber Tracker movies and eight (yes, eight!) Bloodfist movies. Again, not bad for a low budget actor. This brings us to Bloodfist 7, a light and breezy Wilson vehicle that neither offends nor overly excites.



Having very little to do with the earlier Bloodfist films, the title Manhunt is more appropriate as this is basically Don Wilson’s version of The Fugitive. Albeit, on a small budget and with more kickboxing action. Wilson plays Jim Trudell, a former Special Forces soldier who is just minding his own business when he helps out a stranded woman (Jillian McWhirter). After spending the night together, she disappears taking Trudell’s car with her. He sets out to find her, and his car, but soon discovers this mysterious woman is linked to murder, crooked cops and an illegal auto theft syndicate. Now caught in the mix, Trudell must go on the run and clear his name before determined cop, Doyle (Steven Williams) catches him first.



Despite being the seventh in the series and no doubt churned out in a couple of months between other Bloodfist, Ring of Fire and Cyber Tracker movies, Manhunt proves to be one of the better entries in the series. Things start off low key with mood being built and Wilson even showing some acting range before segueing into the man on the run element. Proceedings are kept brisk and while production values aren’t exactly high, the film benefits from being shot on location rather than in a series of abandoned warehouses (though there might have been a few of those as well). Steven Williams (The X-Files, Route 666) steals the show with all the best lines while the always watchable McWhirter (Last Man Standing) is criminally underused.

There’s not as much action as there is in many of Wilson’s other movies, with most of the kickboxing being saved for the finale showdown. Wilson still busts a few moves but rightly tones done the martial arts to concentrate more on outwitting the pursuing cops and bad guys. A few illogical steps aside (why does Wilson get into the trunk of that car? And more importantly, how does he get out?) Manhunt is easy viewing and certainly recommended to fans of Don “The Dragon” Wilson.

Blue City



BLUE CITY (1986)

Directed by: Michelle Manning
Screenplay: Lukas Heller & Walter Hill
Starring: Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy & David Caruso

An almost unheard of gem from the 80s, Blue City is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of Florida noir, starring the then hot brat-packers Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy. Based on the novel by crime writer Ross McDonald and co-produced and co-scripted by Walter Hill (The Warriors), Blue City is a short, sharp and sweet tale of Nelson’s, Billy Turner, returning home to avenge the death of his estranged father. Peppered with sharp dialogue, intense action and a streak of black humour, the film allows Nelson to shine in a very enthusiastic performance. Ry Cooder’s souped up score adds to the buoyant mood, as do excellent performances from Scott Wilson, Paul Winfield and a very young David Caruso. Only Ally Sheedy is a little underused as the token girlfriend but she would go on give better performances in films such as High Art and Fear.

Clocking in at a brief 80 minutes, Blue City never outstays its welcome and despite featuring several members of the Brat-Pack, is much more adult in tone than say the Breakfast Club or St Elmo’s Fire. The story may be nothing new or overly challenging but that’s not to say it doesn’t have something to offer. Worth seeking out if you can find an old VHS copy (no DVD as of yet), as this forgotten flick is a great slice of Florida soaked fun.

Dark Breed



DARK BREED (1996)

Directed by: Richard Pepin
Written by: Richard Preston Jr
Starring: Jack Scalia, Donna W. Scott & Jonathan Banks

Aliens, car chases, explosions, morphing, big guns, overacting, bazookas, Jack Scalia, government conspiracies, complete absurdity and marital issues all combine for PM Entertainment’s over the top guilty pleasure, Dark Breed.



On the one hand, this tale of parasitic aliens who have taken over a US shuttle crew and crashed to earth with the intention of killing everyone is utter nonsense. Don’t come looking for Oscar calibre acting, as everyone acts straight out of a 1950s B-movie and lead man, Jack Scalia’s Vietnam flashback is about as dramatic as an episode of My Little Pony. Don’t look for logic either. Characters running around L.A. in NASA space suits with giant US flags on the back with nobody batting an eyelid, and giant bazookas being pulled out of nowhere to conveniently blow somebody or something up are just a few lapses in logic. It isn’t all about aliens and explosions though. The filmmakers have thrown in some drama in the form of Scalia’s marriage with his estranged wife, Deborah (Scott). The fact that his wife is one of the possessed astronauts is beside the point and the scene where Scalia argues with the alien about marriage while another character looks on as if it is the most normal thing in the world is priceless. Ken Loach this ain’t.



On the other hand, Dark Breed has a lot of energy and is good, action-packed fun. The 1950s B-movie vibe is evident in all the alien chasing and conspiracies and there are some pretty smart visual effects for this kind of film. As with all PM Entertainment films, there is a ton of great action. It hardly lets up, with shoot-outs, alien morphing and some excellent car chases. The opening chase is especially memorable with the aliens nicking a truck with a house on the back (like an earth-invading alien would do) while Scalia takes pursuit. It all falls apart come the end, with everyone running around aimlessly shooting at anything and everything, but there is enough action and explosions to keep any 14-year old boy or B-movie fan happy for an hour and a half.

Dark Breed is the kind of film only America could produce and, though not their finest, is a decent slab of sci-fi by PM Entertainment. It is best watched late on a Saturday night, in true 1950s B-movie fashion, in a triple bill featuring two other PM sci-fi extravaganzas, The Silencers and The Sender. Brain meltdown is assured.

Monday, 18 February 2008

DOA: Dead or Alive



DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE (2006)

Directed by: Cory Yuen
Screenplay: J.F. Lawton and Adam & Seth Gross
Starring: Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance, Devon Aoki & Eric Roberts

The pure unadulterated fun that cinema can provide, especially action cinema, lets us escape the monotony and mundane of life for a couple of hours. Uncomplicated, sugar coated, eye candy cinema can help relieve stress and put a smile on our faces. Lots of stylized action, fights and daring do can be cathartic and help embellish the idea that we are all heroes inside, and that we could all kick butt if the situation required it. Cinema, despite what a lot of other critics may have you believe, does not always have to be plot driven, dense character studies (though there is nothing wrong with that genre) and can just simply provide adrenaline pumping kick ass entertainment. Combining pure unadulterated fun, eye candy visuals and lots of stylized action is what DOA: Dead or Alive does best. It mixes it up into a fast and frothy one hour and seventeen minutes that any bloke will find satisfying in some way. Because as the saying goes, it always helps to stuff your film full of bikini clad babes.



Anyone looking for a plot or that deep characterization is wasting their time and completely missing the point of DOA. In fact, with a film like DOA it’s pretty much redundant to mention plot and deep characterization and so therefore we shall concentrate on what the film does provide: lots of fights and bikini clad babes. Ok, so three hot babes (Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance and Devon Aoki) all skilled in various forms of fighting are recruited and flown to an island to take part in the combat competition, DOA. Joining them are some more hot babes and a few hot dudes in case there are any ladies watching this movie. What ensues is a series of one on one fights a la Mortal Kombat, as the fighters try to eliminate one another to get to the $10 million prize. However, it turns out the competition’s organizer, Donovan (Eric Roberts) has some other dastardly plans up his sleeve, so the hot female contestants must join together and use their fighting skills, and bikinis, to stop him and his never ending army of goons.



As a film that provides babes and fights, DOA does both exceptionally well. Jaime Pressly and Holly Valance stand out from the crowd of beauties not only for their looks but for bringing a bit of sass to their characters. Considering neither of them are natural fighters they also perform well in the fight scenes, both of them showing they can throw a mean kick. Hong Kong maestro, Cory Yuen is the man behind the camera and much like he did on his American film debut, The Transporter, makes the film and it non-fighters look good. The action is very stylized and meant to convey the moves from the video game on which the film is based . Despite most of the girls not being trained fighters, the action is still fluid, well shot and for the most part a joy to watch. There are a lot of wires and some doubling used but this all adds to the element of fantasy. Plus for all the non-fighters, the film still throws in some real fighters to spice up the action. Colin Chou (Flashpoint, Matrix 2 & 3), Kane Kosugi (Blood Heat, War) and Silvio Simac (Unleashed) all make appearances and bust a cool move or two. Mention must also go to Yuen and his team for keeping the action pretty much fluid and uncomplicated. The fashionable hyper editing in many a Hollywood film is mercifully toned down here, meaning we actually get to see the moves the characters pull off. Aoki’s bout with Simac is particularly entertaining as they throw one another through walls and every free standing piece of furniture around.



Definitely aimed at the teenage boy market, the film is stuffed with scantily clad babes where everyone is gorgeous and perfectly toned. There may be an alarming amount of gratuitous butt shots, cleavage shots and crotch shots but apparently this is all in keeping with the video game. So I’m told. There are also plenty of buff, shirtless dudes for the ladies. Special mention should also go to Eric Roberts, who does his bad guy routine with skill and menace and it’s always good to see him flexing his acting muscles in a film, even one with copious amounts of bikini clad babes.

Fun, fun, fun and more fun is what DOA is. The film looks good, the action looks good and the babes look good. Leave the cynicism at the door and sit back and enjoy the sugar rush this movie provides.

Ring of Fire 2



RING OF FIRE 2 (1993)

Directed by: Richard W. Munchkin
Screenplay by: Steve Tymon & R.W. Munchkin
Starring: Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Sy Richardson, Ian Jacklin and Evan Lurie.

Ring of Fire 2 stars chop-socky stalwart Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and while it is suitably over the top, it is no less entertaining, and surprisingly creative for an early 90’s marital arts flick. Johnny Woo and his wife are all set to get married when she is shot in a robbery at the jewelry store where they are picking out a ring. When the gang attempts to rescue one of their injured from the same hospital where Johnny’s wife is being treated, he accidentally kills the gang leader’s brother. In return, they kidnap his wife and hold her hostage in an underground lair full of martial arts gangs. Johnny then has to venture into the maze of tunnels in order to rescue his wife, teaming up with a homeless Vietnam vet (Sy Richardson). Confused? You probably will be as the plot is all over the place. But if you can suspend disbelief and ignore any lack of plot coherence, then there is a lot of fun to get out of Ring of Fire 2.



It will also help if you are fan of kung-fu flicks, as the main point of the ‘plot’ (as with all Don Wilson films) is to just get to the next fight, and there are plenty of them. As Johnny progresses on his journey the fights become more imaginative as he takes on an array of colourful characters. Choreographed by Art Camacho (Red Sun Rising), the fights display the characters kickboxing abilities to their fullest with a variety of high impact, brutal encounters. The fights are livened by the fact that the action takes place in what seems to be an underground, post apocalyptic, Mad Max style underworld. The film’s style is more fantasy than hard-edged thriller, giving the proceedings a rather otherworldly feel. The plot contrivances, outlandish characters and Wilson being shirtless for most of the running time are all completely ridiculous, but the filmmakers have injected the story with enough energy, imagination and fun to give the movie a real comic book feel. Ring Of fire 2 is certainly not your run of the mill fisticuff flick.



The acting is really not worth mentioning, as everyone (appropriately) hams it up but the script does take a moment or two to at least acknowledge the problems of the homeless. Solid direction by Munchkin (Out for Blood), some eye popping car stunts and explosions from the PM stunt team and a whole host of former kickboxers and martial arts movie regulars (including Evan Lurie, Eric Lee, Vince Murdocco and Ian Jacklin), along with some cool fights, help make Ring Of Fire 2 a barmy but incredibly fun action flick

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Alternate



THE ALTERNATE (aka AGENT OF DEATH) (1999)

Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: Bryan Genesse
Starring: Eric Roberts, Bryan Genesse, Ice-T & Michael Madsen

The Alternate is a bizarre and badly made film but for some reason, that escapes this reviewer, still a relatively fun B-movie. The likes of Eric Roberts (Heaven’s Prisoners), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) and Ice-T (Trespass) star in the story of an evil mastermind (Bryan Genesse) attempting to kidnap the US President (John Beck). The plot is all but irrelevant (and makes little sense) in what is either a great or truly awful B-movie depending on your disposition



Directed by Sam Firstenberg, the helmer of fun times such as American Ninja, Cyborg Cop 1 and 2 and produced by B-movie specialists Nu Image, the film is obviously restricted by budget limitations. The action revolves around one setting (a large hotel) and while this should have meant a taught and claustrophobic action thriller, the over indulgent script (written by Genesse) instead piles on the clichés and continuity gaffes.



So we get: guns that change type in the middle of action sequences; protagonists shooting at less than three feet from one another and hitting nothing; Ice-T disappearing half way through the movie; extremely bad false moustaches; a pair of wince inducing “comedy” rednecks who serve no purpose to the plot; Genesse (good in Cold Harvest and Night Siege) acting like the smuggest of smug gits; Roberts tucking himself in and zipping up his fly (!?) in the middle of a scene; a flame thrower that is quite obviously a spray painted supersoaker; the same car blowing up twice; an awful riff on the hose scene from Die Hard; a cable attached to a stuntman in plain view; mannequins replacing stuntmen falling from a building; ridiculous dialogue such as “I don’t kill Americans”; and Michael Madsen’s complete non-acting.



So based on all these crimes against cinema, The Alternate should not, under any circumstances, be recommended? If you are into foreign films and urban dramas then yeah, stay away. But if you dig cheesy B-movies then give it a look, even if only for the unintentional laugh factor. The first half hour builds tension adequately and for every scene that is incompetently put together, there are a few decent action scenes. Roberts flexes his muscles in two fierce fights, one with Genesse and another with a female combatant. There is also a cool shoot-out in a swimming pool. This all contributes to a certain energy that only B-movies of this ilk exude. This is evident in the closing credit outtakes which feature many goof and gaffes that show the cast and crew having a good time. Madsen’s prank on the crew is priceless and better than his whole performance in the movie.

Film is all about perspective and many will perceive, and rightly so, The Alternate as crap. Yet, if you can go with it, or enjoy these types of movies anyway, there is fun to be found in this B-movie barminess. Or maybe I’m just drunk?

Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor



KICKBOXER 4: THE AGGRESSOR (1996)

Directed by: Albert Pyun
Screenplay by: Albert Pyun & David Yorkin
Starring: Sasha Mitchell, Thom Matthews & Kamel Krifa.

Kickboxer 4 gained a fraction of notoriety when it was initially denied a UK release in 1996. Albert Pyun’s third sequel (after helming Part 2, while Part 3 was directed by Rick King) to the Van Damme classic was banned for unrelentingly violence. There is no denying that the film is extremely brutal, as a succession of fights and gruesome deaths will attest, but in this day and age it will probably be seen as a trashy, mildly entertaining action film rather than an outright video nasty. In fact, Kickboxer 4 is a fairly enjoyable slice of martial arts nonsense.



Sasha Mitchell (star of Kickboxer 2 & 3, as well as Class Of 1999 2) returns as David Sloan, the brother of Van Damme’s character from Kickboxer. Framed by the seemingly indestructible Tong Po (returning as chief bad guy after being absent in Kickboxer 3) and stuck in prison, Sloan discovers Tong Po has kidnapped his wife and is holding her hostage in a drug fortress down Mexico way. A sliver of salvation arrives when the FBI enlists Sloan to enter Tong Po’s illegal fight competition. Sloan is supposed to take out Tong Po but instead sees it as a way to rescue and be reunited with his wife. So the stage is set, once again, for another bout of kickboxing mayhem.



Even the most casual of cinefiles will notice the major flaw in the script: won’t Tong Po recognise Sloan when he turns up for the competition considering he has already faced off with Sloan in the past and, oh yeah, kidnapped his wife? Well, yeah, he would. But the film gets around this rather glaring point by keeping Sloan and Tong Po apart for most of the time; by Sloan turning his face away from Tong Po when fighting; and by giving Sloan a different hair cut (it’s shorter now than it was in Kickboxer 2. Now that’s a disguise!). It’s not the only problem as there are boom mikes in shot, shadows of the cameraman on the actors and a very obvious glare on the camera lens in certain scenes. This is surprising as Pyun’s long serving cinematographer, George Mooradian, is usually a competent and creative cameraman. Yet the major flaw is Tong Po. A menacing and unstoppable force in Kickboxer 1 and 2, he is now a somewhat camp and rather useless villain. The terrible make-up and questionable acting by Kamel Krifa do not help either.



However, despite the flaws this is still an entertaining B-movie. Sloan is now a damaged soul compared to his naive fighter in Kickboxer 2, making his character a more sombre and tougher protagonist. Pyun manages to keep things pretty coherent for a change and delivers some brutal fight sequences. The tournament scenes feature a variety of fighting styles and while occasionally repetitive, they are effectively barbaric. A bar room brawl is the standout as Sloan almost destroys the building taking on a bevy of drunken bikers. The film’s tone is a lot sleazier compared to others in the series due to the dubious nature of several characters and a couple of sweaty, explicit sex scenes.

Not a classic of its genre, Kickboxer 4 is still an entertaining slice of martial arts exploitation that non-judgmental fights fans should enjoy. It was followed, nonsurprsingly, by Kickboxer 5: The Redemption starring Mark ‘Drive’ Dacoscas.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Counterforce



COUNTERFORCE (1998)

Directed by: Martin Kunert
Written by: Rick Bloggs & Alan Schechter
Starring: Robert Patrick, Michael Rooker & Louis Mandylor

Using the tense, nail biting, running gun battle from Heat as inspiration and framing several such shootouts around the story of a renegade SWAT squad out for justice, Coutnerforce rises above it’s b-movie trappings to be a tense and enjoyable ride. Realistic and hard hitting gun battles are staged with skill, as Michael Rooker’s cop obsessively tracks down an underground, vigilante police squad headed by Robert Patrick. The seasoned actors bring a bit more edge and intensity to preceedings which transform this story into a riveting action ride.

The main reason to check out Counterforce is for its impressively staged gun battles. From the opening raid on a mansion, to an attack in a night club using night vision, the shootouts are performed using realistic tactics. Proper stance and formations are shown during the action scenes, the gunfire loud and tense. All participants must continually reload and there is a bare minimum of over-the-top heroics that is the custom in many action films. This gives Counterforce a refreshing spin and the action scenes contribute to the narrative rather than just feeling shoe horned in. A sequence involving snipers at long range meaning their bullets reach their targets several seconds after they are fired is particularly memorable, as is a running fire fight in an airport and the tense ten minute finale when two sets of SWAT teams fight one another using automatic weapons.



Things falter with several plot contrivances and certain “why did he do that?” and “that would never happen” instances as Rooker’s character pushes his tough cop attitude to almost ridiculous lengths. He’s still good, just hampered with too many gruff cop clichés. Patrick on the other hand is excellent as the chillingly cold SWAT leader who believes he is doing the right thing, even when killing other cops. His stare and lack of dialogue help make him a memorable and menacing character.

Plot holes and the odd cliché aside, Counterforce is solid entertainment with several standout action scenes. The end also packs quite a punch. Treading similar ground to Magnum Force, SIS: Extreme Justice and Scarred City, Counterforce is a welcome addition to the rogue cop genre and recommended to those who like their action real and full of firepower.

Also known as Renegade Force, Rogue Force and, bizarrely, Six Angry Men.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Hour of the Assassin



HOUR OF THE ASSASSIN (1986)

Directed by: Luis Llosa
Written by: Matt Leipzig
Starring: Robert Vaughn & Erik Estrada

Hour of the Assassin is an unpretentious, low-rent action film that makes up for what it lacks in depth and coherency with ample amounts of car chases, fights and shoot outs. Plus, Robert Vaughn is in it and he always makes a flick, especially a low rent action flick, worth watching. Erik Estrada (CHIPS, Light Blast) co-stars as assassin for hire, Fierro, who is recruited to take out the President of San Pedro. Bearing a grudge against the President and his country’s people, he sets out determined to complete his mission no matter the cost. On his trail is CIA agent, Merrick (Vaughn) and the two play cat and mouse across the country, each determined to outwit the other.



Hour of the Assassin is a cheap and cheerful actioner from the mid eighties produced by the legendary Roger Corman. Shot in Peru, the setting and locations provide a nice back drop and compensate for the lack of budget. The film makes nary a lick of sense with scenes stopping almost as quickly as they start and a bevy of characters introduced to serve little purpose other than to get in the main characters way. The editing is often choppy to distraction, even in some of the action scenes, giving you the sense that director, Luis Llosa (Sniper, Anaconda) didn’t always have the time and money to shoot what he wanted. Erik Estrada practically sleepwalks through his role, portraying an unconvincing assassin and a rather boring leading man. He might not have been given much to work with but he could have brought a little more intensity to his role of a killer for hire.



Yet, this flick has two things to recommend it: tons of action and Robert Vaughn. You are rarely five minutes away from a fist fight or a shoot out and the flick is stuffed with car chases. There must be at least four or five in the ninety minute run time and there is even a cool scene where Vaughn plays pinball with a villain’s car against some trees in order to get information out of him. And speaking of Vaughn, he's as cool as a cucumber as the slick, though slightly over the hill, CIA agent. With shades, a leather jacket, a six shooter and a ton of attitude he always entertains when on screen. It’s also novel to see him playing the good guy for a change.

Hour of the Assassin is a hoot and not to be taken seriously. Full of action, intrigue and Robert Vaughn’s coolness; pick up a copy of this fun flick if you happen across it.

Iron Angels



IRON ANGELS (1987)

Directed by: Teresa Woo & Raymond Leung
Written by: Teresa Woo
Starring: Yukari Oshima, Moon Lee & Elaine Lui

While Iron Angels may not be the best Hong Kong action film from the city’s movie heyday, it’s certainly a benchmark in the battling babes genre. Moon Lee, Elaine Lui and Yukari Oshima dive in with nerve jangling aplomb, throwing themselves into the fist fights, car chases and narrow escapes from explosions and show they are just as adept at taking a kick to the face or jumping from a high building as any bloke is. Hard hitting and often violent in nature, Iron Angels features some truly awe inspiring stunt work that still makes the jaw drop twenty years on.



Lee and Lui are part of a co-ed Charlie’s Angels type super squad who re-unite to take down a drug smuggling operation. Said operation is run by the sadistic and completely bonkers Madame Su (Oshima), who turns to increasingly violent ways to stop the Angels from shutting down her drug ring. I say Iron Angels may not be the best, as apart from the incredible action and a mesmerizing performance from Oshima, it lacks a truly involving narrative. The action takes a while to get to and the film is not quite as packed with it as other reviews may lead you to think. Lee and Lui’s characters are so thinly developed with a good portion of the flick still given over to the male characters. This is supposed to be a girls with guns flick; we don’t need any blokes tagging along with them when we know they can handle themselves as well, if not better, than them.



That said, Iron Angels still delivers and while the spy/Charlie’s Angels element may not be as good as the action, the action more than makes up for it. Coming from the Golden Age of Hong Kong action cinema, the stunts and firepower are top notch. All done for real and often dangerously so, the action is tough, gritty and come the second half of the flick, unrelenting. Showstoppers include a fight in a high rise parking structure, an extended gun fight/attack on Madame Su’s house and the awesome three way finale battle between the female leads. Yet if there is a sole reason to see this flick, it’s for Yukari Oshima. A stalwart of this genre, she is at once beautiful and deadly and obviously relishing the chance to play a deliciously evil character. She can also kick ass with the best of them.

Seek it out and marvel at the intense action and enjoy the madness Hong Kong flicks used to put their casts through. While not as accomplished as Police Assassins or Royal Warriors, Iron Angels is nonetheless an entertaining female led action film.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Marked for Death



MARKED FOR DEATH (1990)

Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Written by: Michael Grais & Mark Victor
Starring: Steven Seagal, Keith David & Basil Wallace

Man, they sure don’t make them like this anymore. Hell, Seagal doesn’t make them like this anymore. Which is a shame, as Marked for Death is easily one of his best (if not his best) and is a rough and tough action film from an era when Seagal was at the top of his game. The story is nothing revolutionary with Seagal’s tough cop, John Hatcher, returning home to give up his violent ways as a law enforcing officer. When a local drug kingpin, Screwface (Basil Wallace) starts invading Hatcher’s neighbourhood and putting his family in danger, he once again takes up arms and with the aid of his buddy (Keith David), sets about breaking limbs, getting in car chases and shooting lots of people.



What it lacks in plot, and watching the film you do get a sense a lot was cut out in order to keep the action flowing, Marked for Death more than makes up in attitude and action. The eighties and nineties produced hard hitting, violent and stunt filled action films like this, which just aren’t made anymore. They may have been implausible but that was the whole fun factor of them: a lone, almost super, hero taking on an army of deliciously ludicrous villains. Marked for Death is a fine example of this. Seagal actually puts a little more oomph into his performance, almost acting in many scenes, especially those with the always great Keith David (The Thing). His jackets and ponytail may cause sniggers but Seagal’s performance is intense and he certainly excels in the action scenes. Director, Dwight H. Little (Halloween 4, Rapid Fire) directs in a tight and tough fashion, shooting with grit and blending the Jamaican voodoo vibe seamlessly with the over the top action element. He also throws in some very violent scenes including hands chopped off, decapitations and even human sacrifice.



Yet it’s the fights and action we all come to a Seagal film for and this film has some of the best. The pony tailed one (still slim and in shape here) puts his Aikido skills to good use in a number of fights, often against many opponents at once. The action is often brutal and staged with energy, the standout set piece being a car chase cum shootout/fight in a department store. However, the real scene stealer is the villain. The action impresses but Basil Wallace’s Screwface makes the film. Just keeping the right side of over the top, Wallace gives a show stopping performance as the completely demented, voodoo loving, ghost like Screwface. He is so intense in some scenes; the other actors really do look scared.



A great villain, great action and even a good performance from its star make Marked for Death one of the top old school action films. Joanna Pacula and Kevin Dunn are given underdeveloped roles and little screen time, and even Keith David is somewhat underused, which is shame, but the film delivers the action and the tight direction means this is a blast from beginning to end. Forget all his recent direct to DVD efforts and recheck this classic for vintage Seagal.