Thursday, 30 October 2008

Deadly Prey



DEADLY PREY (1988)

Written & Directed by
: David A. Prior
Starring: Ted Prior & Cameron Mitchell

God damn, this movie is all kinds of awesome. Seriously, how Ted Prior and his amazing, indestructible Daisy Dukes didn’t get nominated for some kind of award is anyone’s guess. Yep, that’s right the lead actor, the extremely buff and extremely mulleted Ted Prior wears Daisy Dukes (i.e. women’s) style shorts. Not only does he wear them, but he wears them for almost the entire duration of this flick and nothing else. Yes, nothing else. If this was some kind of softcore Chippendale’s video, fair enough. But Deadly Prey is an action film (and features a surprising amount of soldier killing action) with the hero running around in nothing more than a pair of jean shorts. A sight to behold and one you will probably fail to extinguish from your memory any time soon. I know I’m having trouble.

The set up is pretty cool: a bunch of military nuts are kidnapping local folks and hunting them in the bayous as part of so called “training.” Unfortunately, and not just because he is only wearing Daisy Dukes, they kidnap Ted Prior who just happens to be some kind of bad ass Rambo type motherfucker. Cue lots of running around in tight shorts, posing in an almost monkey style manner and nobody batting an eyelid that he is wearing a pair of freaking Daisy Dukes.



David Prior produced and directed a ton of these cheap jack action flicks most of them pretty bad, a few of them pretty good. Deadly Prey certainly ain’t good by any means but should be seen by anyone who calls themselves a fan of cinema. On top of Ted Prior’s (Dave’s brother) amazing wardrobe and acting we have Cameron Mitchell stumbling around drunk and bloated trying to help the hero and failing miserably, and an endless stream of “there definitely not trained military personnel” for the hero to off. In the film’s defence, there is a lot of killing and action meaning the pace never lags but watch out for Prior slamming a very obvious dummy into a tree and a bad dude so shocked at discovering a dead comrade he backs up into a tree but carries on with the scene. Brilliant and up there with the equally awesome scene in Fred Williamson’s Black Cobra where a dude steps on a pipe and knocks himself out: amazing. Action cinema doesn’t get any better.

Deadly Prey is not for the faint hearted. If all the killing and bloodletting wasn’t enough, the site of a dude running around in women’s shorts pushes this movie to extreme limits. Prior has made better than this (Night Trap, The Lost Platoon) and at least got Pamela Anderson to bare all several times in cheesy classic Raw Justice (aka Good Cop Bad Cop) and that almost erases the image of Ted Prior running around in those fucking shorts.

Deadly Prey: see it and die!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

District 13



DISTRICT 13 (2004)

Directed by: Pierre Morel
Written by: Luc Besson & Bibi Naceri
Starring: David Belle & Cyril Raffaelli

Now here is a breath of fresh air. An action film so streamlined, so action packed and so much fun, District 13 reminds us of why these types of films can be so darn entertaining. Written and produced by Luc Besson and helmed by ace French cinematographer, Pierre Morel (Unleashed), this a film that combines inventive action, quick-fire editing and even some decent acting, into a frenetic fireball of action.

It’s 2010 and the Paris ghettos have been sectioned off by a gigantic wall. Within this wall, gangs reign and corruption runs rampant with only Leito (David Belle) trying to hold on to some humanity by running the only non-crooked apartment block. Up to his neck in trouble after nicking a boatload of drugs from local kingpin, Taha (Bibi Naceri) he soon finds himself joining forces with super-cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) when the policeman needs help tracking down a stolen nuclear weapon that is being hidden within the ghettos. And that’s it: two daredevil heroes trying to recover a bomb from a heap of bad guys. And quite honestly, that’s all it needs to be.



Bringing two distinctive types of action to the fray, Belle and Raffaelli ooze charisma, energy and style as they throw themselves into increasingly dangerous situations. Belle excels at his “parkour,” a free running sport that involves flipping, somersaulting and squeezing though and over any kind of object or building, while Raffaelli (the smaller blonde twin from Kiss of the Dragon) brings his considerable martial arts skills to some very brutal fights. The opening forty minutes or so is dedicated to simply showcasing these two athletes’ talents, which are simply a joy to watch. Rafaelli’s one man assault on a bad-guy-infested casino is a standout action set piece.

Backing them up is an eclectic array of supporting actors, some fine rapid cut editing and Morel manages to keep a handle on things, just stopping short of making proceedings overly ridiculous. Momentum (an apt name for a company releasing such an adrenaline soaked film) has packed the disc with some satisfying extras including trailers, outtakes, a making of, and a look at the sport of parkour. An excellent package all round and if you are looking for pure unadulterated action, then snap District 13 up now.


Warrior King



WARRIOR KING (2005)

Directed by: Prachya Pinkaew
Starring: Tony Jaa

The hit action team of Tony Jaa and Prachya Pinkaew reunite for the follow up to their 2003 international hit, Ong Bak, in Warrior King (or Tom Yung Goong as it is really known), a film that travels similar paths as the previous flick but is never as wholly satisfying. One man fight/stunt/gymnast team, Jaa, plays Kham, a quiet Thai village boy who spends most of his time looking after his two elephants. When said pachyderms are kidnapped by ruthless poachers and shipped to Australia, Kham sets out on the road of revenge, intent on returning his beloved pets to their home and breaking many, many, many bones along the way.

As stated in the promotional trailers on the extra features disc, Warrior King was the most anticipated Thai action film of the year. As a consequence of such hype, the film was never going to live up to expectations and, despite having a lot to recommend it, doesn’t match the sheer adrenaline of Ong Bak. This is partly due to an uneven tone, a choppy storyline (to say the least) and the misguided attempt to include English speaking Thai cast members who have not quite mastered the language. Armed with a larger budget and the pressure to top Ong Bak, the film makers have simply tried to cram in too much. Along with kidnapped elephants we get scheming cops, a comedy sidekick, oodles of Thai style melodrama, a lady-boy crime boss, a wildly vivid colour scheme and even the odd CGI animated sequence. It’s a lot to take in for what is essentially a straightforward storyline and a complete 180 from Ong Bak’s stripped down and streamlined plot.



However, and moving aside from the obligatory comparisons with Ong Bak, Warrior King is still a thrillingly entertaining film, stuffed to the seams with incredible action. Jaa, Pinkaew and stunt coordinator, Panna Rittikrai, excel in their fight choreography in some of the best fight scenes conceived in recent times. Watch Jaa (who is a competent gymnast as well as martial artist) flip, hurl, kick, spin and punch his way through a series of confrontations including a scrap with rollerblading punks, a dust up featuring not 1 but 4 hulking behemoths, a visually stunning fight in a burning temple and that infamous uninterrupted, 4 minute takedown up several flights of stairs. Yet the highlight (for this reviewer at least) is where Jaa inflicts so much pain on about 50 black suited adversaries as he breaks their arms, legs and backs over and over until none are left standing.

Flawed it may be, but Warrior King is a worthy follow up, featuring unmatched martial arts combat that actually gets better each time you watch it. Premiere Asia’s disc is backed up with a plethora of quality extras including trailers, pre-production fight action and cast and crew interviews.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Serpahim Falls



SERAPHIM FALLS (2006)

Directed by: David Von Ancken
Written by: David Von Ancken & Abby Everett Jacques
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson & Angelica Huston

Dark, brutal and riveting, Seraphim Falls is a mean and moody western that rarely lets up from the get go. Unfairly ignored on its initial blink and you’ll miss it release, David Von Ancken’s film brings the dirt and grit back to the western and gives its two leading men their best roles in ages. Neeson’s Carver is relentlessly pursuing Brosnan’s Gideon across the harsh Wild West wilderness determined to bring him to justice for a past discrepancy. Carver doesn’t care what the cost is to himself or his posse (which includes Michael Wincott and Ed Lauter) as long as Gideon is captured. But Gideon is a man of resource, a skilled soldier, hunter and trapper who is prepared to go to any lengths to outwit his pursuers.



As much a chase thriller as it is a western, Seraphim Falls works thanks to its simplicity, its grit and the brilliant performances from the leads. Neeson is riveting as Carver, a man with tunnel vision who will not accept any outcome other than the capture of Gideon. Along with Taken, this film shows Neeson is still a very gifted and underrated actor able to switch from any genre and role and fill its boots convincingly. But as good as he is it’s Brosnan that steals the show. The former James Bond has rarely been better and gets the role of the life time in the dark and dangerous Gideon. Hidden under a massive beard and a presence that gives the sense this man has actually been to hell and back, Brosnan completely inhibits Gideon, a man who can adapt to and survive almost any situation he finds himself in. The two actors completely engage the audience with their characters, characters who are not wholly sympathetic or walk the path of good.



Von Ancken also makes the setting as much a character, the American wilderness a harsh and unforgiving place. From the snowy plains of the mountains to harsh vistas of the deserts, the setting makes an impact and pushes the characters to breaking point. This adds to the tension, the chase always pushing on and the filmmakers orchestrating some white knuckle set pieces. Despite being a western there are no real shootouts or showdowns but there is plenty of rugged action. Not least a surprising knife to the face and a unique use of a dead horse.

Despite the general simplicity of the set up and flow of the plot, the film takes a risky but successful detour come the last third, elevating it from your run of the mill western and providing a fitting denouncement for the characters. It may put some viewers off, especially when Angelica Huston’s wandering healer shows up, but it all fits together perfectly and leaves a lasting impact. Despite a few lags between the action and chases, Seraphim Falls is a unique and rewarding experience and the best damn western to come a long in an age.



Acts of Betrayal



ACTS OF BETRAYAL (1997)

Directed by: Jack Ersgard
Screenplay: Patrick Highsmith & Steven Hartov
Starring: Maria Conchito Alonso, Matt McColm & Muse Watson

Quality 1990s low budget action filmmaking, Acts of Betrayal bounces along at a fair pace and is choc full of shoot-em up action. Produced by Avi Nesher (Timebomb, Savage, Mercenary) and starring the smouldering Maria Conchito Alonso (Predator 2), Acts of Betrayal overcomes its low budget and rather barmy plotting with a fast moving pace and enough firepower to fill half a dozen mid 90s straight-to-video action films. Alonso plays the fiery Eve Ramirez, the former wife of a mob boss on her way to testify against him. Of course her and her two FBI escorts are ambushed by a heavily armed bunch of goons who don’t want her to make it to court. So with the surviving FBI agent (McColm) she goes on the run, dodging firefight after firefight, as everyone who isn’t the McColm or Alonso is pretty much in on the dirty deal and wants Ramirez dead.



Despite her character being just a little too stereotypical in the stubborn damsel in distress way (never really believes what is going on; always walk into harms way despite being warned not too; trying to have meaningful conversations whilst in the middle of a gun fight) Alonso is on firecracker form. Feisty, mouthy, witty and sexy her character gives this standard action film a much needed boost of humour, vigour and sexiness. She sparks up good chemistry with McColm (Subterfuge) who despite always trying to act professionally eventually falls for his foxy witness. The plot is action movie 101, nicely set up before segueing into a relentless chase, then revealing the authorities were in on it all along (that’s not spoiling the flick and it’s obvious from about ten minutes in).

The flick is nicely shot and the action mounted with hard hitting impact. We get a fair share of shootouts, including an extended gun fight in a bank, all staged with velocity and lots of firepower and exploding squibs. Despite a few too many random scenes of goons riding around on motorcycles for no reason, the action is always plentiful and enjoyable to watch. There is also a neat shootout at a gas station and it helps that McColm is a renowned stuntman, lending a little more edge to the action scenes.

Little known flick that does what it sets out to do, Acts of Betrayal gives Alonso an entertaining leading role and delivers loads and loads of action. Cool.

Epicenter



EPICENTER (2000)

Directed by
: Richard Pepin
Written by: Greg McBride
Starring: Gary Daniels, Traci Lords and Jeff Fahey

Epicenter is another B-movie du-jour from the PM Entertainment camp. Instead of extended car chases and shoot-outs (pre-requisites in most PM films) we have earthquakes and a former porn star. Nick Constantine (Daniels) is a disgruntled employee of a computer systems company and is stealing their new high-tech military warfare software and selling it to the highest bidder. Unbeknown to him there is an undercover FBI agent, Amanda Foster (Lords) in the midst of the buyers and so Constantine is caught red-handed. Transported to Los Angeles, Constantine is pursued by the nefarious buyers and some corrupt cops who still want to get their hands on the software he stole. But wouldn’t you know it, an earthquake strikes, causing Constantine and Foster to form an uneasy alliance as they dodge determined crooks and falling buildings.



Epicenter is a fairly fun and ridiculous B-movie that gets by on some decent special effects. Daniels (Recoil) is as watchable as ever and it’s good to see him branching out into some non-martial arts roles. Lords (Ice) never convinces as an undercover FBI agent but certainly gives it all she’s got. Fahey (Body Parts) does his usual bad guy cheese and Daniela Nane (Dracula 2) makes a very sexy femme fatale. Even the kids, Katie Stuart and Andrew Francis, are pretty good in this flick, out-acting most of the adults. The whole thing passes along at a fair pace though it does take a while for the actual earthquake to happen. Still, the effects are pretty good and it’s all kind of fun in a very silly way.



What lets the film down is the wholesale rip-off of scenes from other movies. The filmmakers haven’t just copied scenes but lifted them straight from other movies and placed them in theirs. The car/streetcar chase sequence is taken from Eddie Murphy’s Metro and used in its entirety with close ups of this movie’s actors inserted. It doesn’t even work seamlessly as you can see the difference in film stocks as the action cuts between the scenes from Metro and Epicenter. Parts of the opening elevator scene are from Speed and the train crash from Money Train are also used. It is a really cheap and lazy trick that lessens the impact of the movie. It’s a shame as director Richard Pepin has made some quality B-movies before (The Silencers), featuring their own action and special effects. Yeah, you have to cut corners in filmmaking (especially of the B-movie variety) but this is going a bit far and has also occurred in other PM Entertainment films (Running Red nicked the bus chase from Red Heat and The Stray stole the car chase from Basic Instinct). It’s a pity as PM Entertainment has produced some fine action films (featuring some of the best ever filmed car chases) without having to resort to this tactic.

Overall, Epicenter is an entertaining B-movie, especially come the second half, but is cheapened by using stock footage from other, better, films. It would appear originality is dead in Hollywood after all.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Death Race



DEATH RACE (2008)

Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Jason Statham, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson & Joan Allen

Paul W.S Anderson gets back on track with a big, load, tire screeching action film that delivers superior car crunching action by the bucket load. Anderson gets a somewhat unfair rap. Yeah, he hit a few bumps with Resident Evil and the first Alien Vs Predator but in general has always made big, slick, fun movies and (quite rightly) never apologized for it. Blockbusters are part of the movie landscape and should be enjoyed for what they are. His Mortal Kombat is still probably the best videogame adaptation, Event Horizon is a vastly underrated horror/sci fi (release the directors cut already!) and even Soldier is big dumb action/sci fi fun. And Death Race delivers pretty much the same with some fine actors having a ball and the welcome addition of some grit to toughen up the action.



Simple story: the future is messed up and we know gets our kicks watching criminals race to their deaths in souped up, weapon brandishing cars. The three day race sees criminals battling and blowing one another up over three stages until there is one winner. The star is Frankenstein, a mask wearing super racer who jacks up the ratings by killing everyone else on the track and only has one more race to win to gain his freedom. However, he was killed in the last race and Warden Hennessy (Allen), smelling a ratings dip, hatches a plan to keep Frankenstein alive for one more race: frame an innocent former race car pro, stick him in prison, tell him to race as Frankenstein and he will get his freedom. Of course it’s never as simple as that. Cut to the chase: car piling, bumper smashing, truck demolishing action.



Set not too far in the future, Death Race has a grey and gritty feel with the action rarely letting up for a second. Anderson has wisely forgone the CGI route and staged the races and smash ups for real. It’s been a while since a really good car chase movie has come along and Death Race certainly makes up for the lack of them. Once things have been set up, characters and alliances introduced and formed, it’s straight onto the chase and Death Race quite literally delivers what it says on the tin: lots and lots of car chases and stunts, each sequence ramping up the carnage. Stunt master and car chase god, Spiro Razatos (Bad Boys 2) coordinates the car action with skill and grit, vehicles flipping, shooting and tumbling with metal crunching glee. And when an 18 wheeler tanker is introduced and flipped, well, things just get even better. The only downside, Anderson relies just a little too much on the de-rigour quick cut editing but, thankfully, not enough to ruin the action scenes.

Characterization may be thin on the ground but enough for this kind of metal mayhem with the likes of Joan Allen, Ian McShane and Jacob Vargas all having fun. Allen is particularly fun as the evil Warden. Statham does his thing well and there is enough muscle bound testosterone to fill several action movie franchises. There could have been a little more time spent with some of the other racers, especially Robin ‘Mortal Kombat’ Shou’s 14K but the sheer spectacle, stunt packed adrenaline more than makes up for it. Lean, mean, tough and occasionally a little silly, Death Race is a pure guilty pleasure and good to see Anderson delivering more blockbuster thrills. Now it would be cool to see him get away from video games, remakes and already established franchises and try another go at an original script a la Event Horizon.


Assassination



ASSASSINATION (1987)

Directed by: Peter Hunt
Screenplay: Richard Sale
Starring: Charles Bronson & Jill Ireland

Silly but fun action film starring real life husband and wife team Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland. Assassination will never go down as one of Bronson’s best but thanks to fun performances and some over-the-top action it's an entertaining time killer. It’s also a pleasant surprise to see Bronson playing a more light hearted action hero who is actually happy most of the time and not having to dish out ultra violent revenge to those who killed some member of his family. Though he still gets to blow some stuff up good.



Bronson plays Killion, a seasoned secret agent who, along with his team, is assigned to protect First Lady Lara Craig (Ireland). Of course her being the rich, spoilt and badly written female caricature that she is, will have none it and the two butt heads from the get go. Which of course means she doesn’t believe Killion when he warns her of an attempt on her life, leading to her to put herself in harms way in the most annoying and stupid manner. However, after some exploding boats, barns and dead people alter her perception of Killion’s skills, she soon comes around to the idea of her assassination and the two then go on the run determined to expose who is behind the assassination attempts.



Harmless fun, that is cheap and cheerful this Cannon produced Bronson vehicle rattles along in a ridiculous manner but is made watchable by the charming leads and their fun character interplay. Ireland does well and on several occasions shows she is not as dumb as her scripted character appears. It would have been nice to have her character as a more responsible, intelligent person but hey, this was the eighties when the woman had to be a little dumb in order for the quick thinking male to have reason to save her. Bronson is cool as ever and seems to be having fun playing a character who isn’t carrying around loads of emotional baggage and violent retribution on his mind like, say, in Death Wish 1 thru 5000.

Flick is competently made by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service helmer Peter Hunt and while most of the action is saved for the second half of the flick, it is satisfyingly explosive if rather over-the-top in a very 80s way. I mean, where else will you see Bronson riding a motorcycle with a machine gun mounted on the handlebars and then dueling with another guy with bazookas? Yep, these dudes don’t use guns but bazookas, firing rockets at one another until one of them eventually goes boom. Oh, and lets not forget the jet ski shootout. Great, if silly stuff. In fact, the action in Assassination seems to pack in every kind of vehicle going from helicopters, to boats, to cars, to motorcycles, to trains and to even those aforementioned jet skis. So for the sheer amount of vehicular themed action (it’s as if the makers were ticking off all available vehicles until they got them in the movie), Assassination is recommended on a that alone.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Avenging Force



AVENGING FORCE (1986)

Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Booth
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James & Bill Wallace

One of the best efforts to come from the Cannon stable in their mid-eighties boom, Avenging Force is quality, gritty action entertainment. Hot on the heels of the success of American Ninja, stars Dudikoff and James, along with director Firstenberg, reunited for this tough take on The Most Dangerous Game. Set in and around New Orleans, a rogue group of super patriots calling themselves Pentangle are slowly gaining power and hunting those in the bayous of Louisiana who pose any threat to their organization. Their next target is local politician Larry Richards (James) and his family who are marked for termination during a Mardi Gars parade. Little do they know he is ex-military and is also best buds with Matt Hunter (Dudikoff) another ex-military super dude who just happens to be visiting Richards. Needless to say the assassination attempt goes tits up in spectacular fashion, leading to Richards and Hunter taking matters into their own hands. But will they manage to outwit this elite group of fanatics or will they themselves become the prey in the mud caked swamps of Louisiana?



Let’s just say Avenging Force has not dated well in terms of patriotism, fashion and good old 80s cheese. The villains are comic book 101, amping up the ham to stratospheric proportions but the entire better for it. Bill Wallace, James Booth and John P. Ryan all deliver scenery chewing performances that deserve some kind of award and make their characters deliciously evil. Their ideals and speeches may be outdated and cringe worthy but the idea of hunting humans never loses its impact, even when wearing ridiculous masks and costumes. Dudikoff does his thing and is more confident in the action scenes than the acting ones, obviously still finding his feet as a leading man. Good thing the always great Steve James is there to help him along. The dude is awesome and just doesn’t get enough screen time.



Now the concept of humans being hunted by other humans is not a new one to action cinema (see The Most Dangerous Game, Hard Target and Surviving the Game) but is given a groovy gothic vibe here thanks to the moody swamp locations. The hunting scenes bookend the movie with Firstenberg creating an attention grabbing opening scene of two poor dudes being hunted and slain. The muddy, muggy atmosphere lends the flick oodles of tension and the constant rain come the finale gives the action a striking look. And it is the action that makes this one of Cannon’s best films. Big stunts, shootouts and loads of down and dirty fist fights mean Avenging Force still packs a punch. But the standout has to be the Mardi Gras shootout which is thrilling in its execution and brutal impact.

Though the American Ninja films are more fondly remembered, Avenging Force is just as good as any of them and way better than most of the later sequels. Probably Firstenberg’s best directorial offering and, despite the cheese factor, worthy of rediscovery as a great action film.