Wednesday, 29 July 2009



Written & Directed by: Desi Singh
Starring: Gary Daniels, Tina-Desiree Burg & Desi Singh

Monster movies are usually a safe bet for a bit of fun. Throw in a cool monster, a neat setting, a bunch of disposable characters, a hero to fight the monster come the showdown and ramp up the action. Reptilicant actually has most of these ingredients: a shape shifting monster; the deserted Alcatraz prison; a bunch of inept jewel thieves; action star Gary Daniels as the hero; and there is plenty of gunplay and a scrap between Daniels and the beastie. But low and behold none of this makes Reptilicant much fun; the monster suit isn’t convincing despite mostly being old school prosthetics; the characters are bunch of annoying twerps who seem to carrying toy guns around; Daniels is wasted and looks as embarrassed to be in this as you probably will be watching it; and the action is lame save for the actual half decent fight between Daniels and the monster at the end.

Now there is no doubt a movie like Reptilicant is not supposed to be taken seriously, as no monster movie should be, but the whole movie is just so amateur, any fun that could have been had just evaporates. Unless it is unintentional of course. After a six pack and when watched with a group of friends, Reptilicant will no doubt be a hoot as its ineptitude does provide a lot of entertainment. If the acting and special effects weren’t bad enough, then check out the ridiculously inappropriate music and random sound effects. Even poor old Gary Daniels can’t save this one (and apparently only appeared in it as a favour to the producer) and at one point gets to rip off the famous glass gloves scene from Kickboxer. Except this time he makes his fighting gloves from diamonds, the only thing that can kill the monster (don’t ask!), and it’s either a cool little homage to a great film or just another low point in this mess of a monster movie.

To be fair none of the actors seem to be taking proceedings that seriously and probably just meant it as a bit of fun, there is that decent fight at the end and the final twist is still pretty cool even if it is signposted a mile off. For better monster action check out either of The Guyver movies or the recent Feast (the first one) and for a fun Daniels vehicle watch Fist of the North Star or one of his many PM Entertainment flicks again instead. I like monster movies, even bad ones, but Reptilicant even tested my tolerance for crap movies. If you are gonna watch (and I still recommend that you do) best have a six pack near by. Actually, make it two.

A Better Tomorrow 2


Directed by: John Woo
Screenplay: Tsui Hark & John Woo
Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung & Leslie Cheung

Fans of Hong Kong action flicks need no introduction to the seminal classic A Better Tomorrow. Directed by The Killer and Hard Boiled helmer, John Woo, it is credited with kick-starting the whole “heroic bloodshed” genre: a bunch of guys banding together to blow seven shades of shit out of gangsters/triads/basic scum. Woo and stars Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung all return for a sequel that was rushed out almost a year after the original and features one of the finest climactic gun battles of Hong Kong action cinema.

There’s no question this is a good film but, having said that, it is somewhat overrated. Or rather, it is flawed in certain aspects. The direction is crisp, the action fierce and the performances convincing but the story just doesn’t gel. Something to do with Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung’s characters infiltrating a notorious gang while Dean Shek (Peking Opera Blues) has a nervous breakdown, becomes mute, heads off to New York to meet Chow Yun Fat (playing the twin brother of his character from the first film), only to snap out of it, pick up some guns and blow the hell out of half of Hong Kong. The two plots are never cohesive, with too much time given to the mounting melodrama of Yun Fat helping Shek become well again. In fact for the first forty minutes or so, this melodrama threatens to kill any tension before Woo wisely reins it in to focus on ballistic action and gangster driven posing. Rumour has it that Woo and producer Tsui Hark (The Blade) disagreed on how the story should develop, each of them taking a stab at the editing. It shows, as the film (at least up until the last twenty minutes) is often patchy and diverse in tone.

However, A Better Tomorrow 2 is by no means a bad film. For all the ripe overacting, Woo still manages to cram proceedings with many standout scenes, characters and heart pumping action sequences. These include the hotel shootout, the mysterious killer with shades, Lung having to shoot Cheung to prove his allegiance, Cheung being shot just as his child is being born and the infamous adrenaline blast showdown that set a benchmark for heroic gunplay. Set in a sprawling white mansion, three of the main characters take on an army of black suited goons in a bloody and brutal gunfight that also finds room for axes, samurai swords and many, many grenades.

While not as perfect as many will have you believe, A Better Tomorrow 2 is still a good film and is essential viewing for fans of Woo, Hong Kong Cinema and gun carnage alike.

Soul Searcher


Directed by: Neil Oseman
Written by: Neil Oseman & James Clarke
Starring: Ray Bullock Jr, Katrina Cooke & Andrew Nicol

An ambitious and often infectious independent British sci-fi, Soul Searcher overcomes budget limitations with oodles of creativity, but is let down by some poor plotting and cloying melodramatics. The initial premise is ripe for creativity as the existing Death decides is time for a new replacement and finds him in the form of young world spurned street sweeper Joe (Bullock Jr). Training him in the ways of the Grim reaper, how to catch escaped Demons and martial arts (!?), Death feels Joe is the ideal candidate to take up the soul collecting mantle. However, Joe isn’t so sure and can’t quite leave the real world behind; for him in the form of the lovely Heather (Cooke). Fraternizing with the real world soon leads to trouble when Heather is killed by an escaped soul, Dante (Nicol) who is looking to open the portals to hell so he can find his long lost love. But, as we all know, opening the portals to hell is never a good idea and soon leads to many other horrible things crossing over into the real world.

Oseman’s film, shot on a shoe string budget, features some fine camerawork, dazzling special effects and a fair share of high impact fights on what must have been less than peanuts. The film’s ideas and themes don’t always gel and despite a strong opening, Soul Searcher gets clogged up in the middle section with two many characters, too much melodrama and a pace that loses all urgency. Joe and Heather’s relationship, though nicely performed by Bullock and Cooke, takes up way too much time and is of the soap opera variety. When Joe is supposed to be off chasing demons and collecting souls he’s actually mulling around deciding how to tell Heather that he loves her. This leads to way too many secondary characters being introduced or tagging along including Joe’s annoying best mate, a pistol brandishing Trinity like action heroine and some rock band who get so much free advertising it would make Coca Cola envious.

Things pick up in the final stretch where Oseman manages to stage an impressive battle aboard a train heading straight to hell. Soul Searcher is by no means bad and for those who like quirky fantasy with Buffy the Vampire Slayer style trappings and action, then Soul Searcher is a definite must. It’s also very British in tone and style making it a slightly unique sci-fi action ride that just needed to cut back on its abundance of pointless characters and overlong running time.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Judgment Night


Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Screenplay: Lewis Colick
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr, Stephen Dorff, Jeremy Piven & Denis Leary

Highly underrated suspense/action flick from the early 90s, Judgment Night takes its simple premise and runs with it. Coupled with tight direction, a frightening urban landscape and a great bad guy in Denis Leary, Judgment Night jacks up the tension and action as four friends (Estevez, Gooding Jr, Dorff and Piven) take a wrong turn in the urban jungle on their way to a boxing match. Down and out in the wrong part of town they attempt to help an injured man who has crossed their path. Said injured man is trying desperately to get away from bad guy crime lord Fallon (Leary) who when catching up to the running man executes him and then sets off in pursuit of the four witnesses. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse through an urban hell which the suburban foursome is definitely not at home in.

After making a splash in Hollywood with gruesome and hi-tech sequels A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Predator 2, Stephen Hopkins applied his considerable skill for blockbusting tension and action to what is his most under appreciated Hollywood flick. Set piece cinema it may be, Judgment Night still has enough character and even social commentary to lift it above most genre fair and with Hopkins on board, a dark thriller is crafted. His skill for cranking up tension is cut loose in a number of scenes not least a brilliant scrabble across a rickety ladder between two high rise buildings, a stalk and slash sequence inside a deserted department store and best off all the four “heroes” hiding in a rail car desperately trying to persuade the homeless that reside in there not give them up to Fallon and his goons who lurk and taunt them from outside.

The pace moves at a fair click and the night time setting lends itself to the alien world the protagonists find themselves in. They are constantly battling with their own morals and their own perceptions of the world they find themselves in. A good amount of the tension comes from the concept of the four leads finding themselves out of their comfort zone. Not exactly clean cut heroes, the four main leads do well imbuing their characters with a little more depth than this material usually allows as each of them react to their predicament differently. But it is Leary who steals the show as the vicious Fallon, a thoroughly nasty human being just kept the ride side of over-the-top. By the time it comes to the beat down fight at the finale you are glad he is getting his lights punched out.

Equal parts tense thriller and rollicking action film, Judgment Night is an uncomplicated, thrilling ride. A great cast, a director flexing his creative skills and a straight forward story well told, Judgment Night is a true 90s gem.

Order of One


Directed by: Kevin Woodhouse
Starring: Jason Cavalier, Melantha Blackthorne & Kevin Woodhouse

Stuntman/actor Jason Cavalier and scream queen Melantha Blackthorne re-team for another bout of extreme action in the independent kick-fest, Order of One. These two actors/directors/writers/editors previously paired up for the sick flick, action kick that was Saints and Sinners. That film combined just about everything under the sun, from full on gross-out gore to nifty martial arts to smatterings of nudity to mind bending imagery and enough blacker than black comedy that even that bumbling Kazakhstan reporter, Borat,would be offended (and that’s saying something). This time the pair, along with director Kevin Woodhouse, have created a more clear-cut action film with a distinctive grind-house feel, that is no less (if not more) entertaining than Saints and Sinners.

Straightforward story: There is the sword of destiny. Local crime boss, Mr Park (Grand Master Hyung Chul Kim) wants it. A luckless reporter (Kevin Woodhouse) has it. He reluctantly teams up with escaped convict, Sonny (Cavalier) to keep it out of Park’s hands. Park then sends just about every hood, assassin and mercenary, including deadly trio, The Sirens (Blackthorne, Isabelle Stephen and Danielle Dubois) after them. What follows is a cavalcade of carnage as gunfights, fisticuffs, wisecracks and the odd bit of gore flow freely through the gloriously exploitation-packed ninety minutes. While not always coherent and lagging a bit around the mid section, Order of One is a fine bit of micro-budget filmmaking that manages to squeeze out every penny of its limited funds and create an impressive array of action sequences

Cavalier is a professional stunt man and has racked up an impressive resume including War of the Worlds, Screamers, Scanners 1 and 2 and 300. An accomplished martial artist he brings his skills to the action coordination department on Order of One. Cavalier and stunt coordinator, Jan Pivon, orchestrate some knuckle-busting fight scenes and chase sequences, the best of which feature the two male principals being dragged behind a moving car and an extended, wall-smashing fight in a gas station. The fights have a bare bones feel with lots of tough hand-to-hand combat. There are also plenty of gunfights, swords fights and car chases to keep the action moving. In fact, the action is very well handled and creative for such a low budget film. Plus, come the last twenty-five minutes, it hardly lets up. Cavalier makes a fine leading man and is offered solid support from Blackthorne and Woodhouse. Performing double duties as director and actor, Woodhouse keeps everything together (just) with his straight man character and serviceable directional duties. Blackthorne provides ample eye candy, stunt person duties and some nifty camera shots as she is also billed as the director of photography.

On the downside, Blackthorne is not featured nearly enough, having more of a supporting part here and the film is dogged by some standard low budget traits. There is a surfeit of dodgy supporting acting (that Irish cop character!), limited locations, a plot that almost collapses under an overabundance of characters, a needless male nude prison shower flashback (!) and a few effects that don’t convince. But having said all this, Order Of One is fuelled by enough creativity to save it from any of its shortcomings. Split screens, freeze frames (very cool), grainy flashbacks and the aforementioned impressive photography elevate it from the standard no budget dreck. Woodhouse throws in any technique he can think of to give the film a comic book feel even using a cool video game style sequence to spice up the action. As Cavalier walks down a corridor dispatching goons, computer game style graphics appear tallying up the body count and displaying how much energy our hero has left as he is pummelled by the bad guys. Great stuff, albeit a little too brief. However, the best is the 60s Batman TV series type pop-ups that appear during fight scenes. Featuring such inventive titles as Eyeball Exit Punch, Heart Extraction Fist and Drunken Pool Cue Swipe (my favourite!), they are a hoot and provide a lot of the film’s fun and gore.

Order of One is a successful amalgamation of action and exploitation that should ensure fight and grind-house film fans will have a damn good time. Don’t expect the polish of a big budget action film, but do expect a ton of talent, fun and kung fu.

Serial Cops


Directed by: Damien Lee
Screenplay: Damien Lee and Joseph O’Brien
Starring: Chris Penn, Jennifer Dale, Chad McQueen and Michael Madsen

Chris Penn and Michael Madsen were first on screen together in the groundbreaking (if overrated) Reservoir Dogs. They then appeared in Lee Tamhoroui’s flawed but entertaining Mulholland Falls. Now (well 1997 really) they return in Serial Cops (a.k.a Papertrail, a.k.a Trail of a Serial Killer) a low budget offer that has a few entertaining moments but ends up a load of silly nonsense.

Directed by Damien Lee (When the Bullet Hits the Bone) Serial Cops is your typical direct-to-video serial killer flick: good in concept, bad in logic and the talent/money needed to make it entertaining. Penn is burnt-out cop Jason Enola who is pulled out of the standard “I want my wife and kids back” depression by his buddy and fellow cop Brad Abraham (Madsen) to help track down a serial killer named Alone. Preying on young women, Enola suspects the killer could be one of Dr. Robertson’s (Dale) therapy patients. He enlists her co-operation and sits in on the therapy sessions keeping an eye on William Frost (McQueen). Each patient has a different phobia and all may have a motive for doing the killings. Will Enola find out who the killer is before he/she kills again? Will this film defy expectation and not descend into derivative drivel before the inevitable chase climax? Will Michael Madsen stop acting like he is reading off cue cards? Not so likely. Well Enola might find out who the killer is at least.

First off, this is a pretty standard film and has a passing resemblance plotwise to Richard Rush’s Colour of Night. It was obviously shot on a very low budget, meaning there is a lack of action scenes (save the rush to save the day ending) and the sets are distinctly bare. The plot is by the numbers and is not pulled off with enough style or tension to ever really be engaging. The final twist (admittedly unexpected) is so ludicrous, that any credit the film did manage to build up is thrown out the window. Due to a lack of any action the film tends to drag, even at 90 minutes long.

Acting wise, things aren’t much better. Penn phones in his performance and his scene where he gets mad at a possible victim is over-the-top hilarious. Jennifer Dale (Once a Thief) is adequate as the psychologist but mainly acts flustered and is seemingly more depressed than her patients. McQueen (Firepower) just smokes a lot and couldn’t be a more obvious red herring if he was wearing a T-shirt saying “I’m not the killer.” This brings us to Madsen. He acts so bizarrely in some scenes you wonder if he is drunk, on drugs, pissed at his agent or all three. In one scene, he interviews Dale’s character and it’s hard to tell whether he is supposed to be acting nervous or whether he is actually just trying to remember his lines. However, the best piece of acting goes to Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Yes, you heard right: the star of Bloodfist 1 to 3 million pops up in a brief cameo as another cop at one of the murder scenes. In addition to Wilson’s groovy cameo the film has a couple of tense sequences that work well. The scenes of a patient falling prey to her phobia, and when the cops raid the killer’s house and find what’s in the basement are quite well done. Alas, this is not enough to save the film from being just another generic and silly, albeit mildly entertaining, direct-to-video serial killer flick. For a film featuring Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve McQueen’s son and the great Don “The Dragon” Wilson this should have been a whole better.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bodyguard: A New Beginning


Directed by: Chee Keong Cheung
Written by: Chee Keong Cheung & Oliver Morran
Starring: Vincent Sze, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Richard Ng, Carl Ng & Stephanie Langton

Chee Keong Cheung follows up his fun debut flick, Underground, with the more ambitious, Bodyguard: A New Beginning. Underground was a fast and fun fight flick that entertained due to its competent fight scenes and a unique and fresh spin on a tired formula. Working with a bigger budget, a starrier cast and a wider scope, Keong Cheung sets out to fuse drama and action for a dark tale of gangster life. Leung (Sze) is Wong’s (Richard Ng) number one bodyguard. Sent to England to look after a mysterious woman from Wong’s past, Chloe (Langton), Leung finds his loyalty and emotions are put to the test as he begins to form a relationship with Chloe. Meanwhile, back in Hong Kong Wong is under threat from rival gang boss Kai (Tagawa) who has fallen in league with Wong’s traitorous son, Yuen (Carl Ng).

Cheung has made an ambitious film for his second feature that is miles away in tone from his previous film, Underground. Setting and filming the action on two different continents certainly elevates Bodyguard from its low budget roots. The concept of a highly skilled bodyguard falling for the one he has been sent to protect is hardly groundbreaking in cinematic terms but kept lively thanks to the impressive central performances. Sze might not say much but he still manages to bring a requisite amount of emotion to the role of the serious bodyguard and shares good chemistry with Langton. Though looking somewhat bemused as to what is going on some of the time, Langton brings an emotional edge to her character and manages to standout among a cast full of tough talking men. There is also good support from Hong Kong and Hollywood veterans Richard Ng and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and martial arts whiz Mark Strange continues to impress as one of the many assassins sent to kill Leung. But it is Carl Ng (son of Richard) who steals the film. As the conflicted son of Wong, Ng delivers a powerful performance as a man gone bad but who is fighting to regain the good in him.

There is also plenty of Hong Kong style action, though the film builds to it rather than jumping in right away. Sharp, tight and delivered with brutal impact, the action may not be intricate or overly flashy but suitable for the tone Bodyguard is aiming for. There is an excellent chase through a shopping mall, an eye catching fight that introduces Mark Strange and several other fighters and the ending is satisfyingly brutal and action packed. Overall, Bodyguard finds a comfortable groove between drama and action never forgetting about either aspect and always making sure we care for the characters no matter how many fists are flying.

Cheung is still honing his craft but is getting better with each film. Don’t go in expecting a full blooded action epic as Bodyguard has much more going on. It may be a little rough around the edges (but what low budget film isn’t?) but it’s ambition and heart is in the right place and if given a chance, Bodyguard: A New Beginning is an often rewarding experience.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen


Directed by: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Ehren Kruger and Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, John Tuturro & loads and loads of robots

The robots in disguise are back for a second go around in Revenge of the Fallen and in true Michael Bay style everything is bigger but not necessarily better. Bay’s first Transformers flick was an ok enough blockbuster if overlong and not always finding the right balance between intense action and comedy hi-jinks. The visuals were certainly impressive and the flick was buoyed by rising star LeBeouf’s infectious energy. Once again the visual’s are as slick as ever (with the robot count ramped up excessively here) LeBeouf is still on fine comedy form (though appears somewhat distance compared to the first flick) and there is plenty of slam bang action but it’s all just more of the same. There are also bad choices with the introduction of some excruciatingly awful new characters (human and robot) and feeble attempts to shoe horn in various other characters from the first flick making Revenge of the Fallen a distinctly hollow (and at times boring) experience, even for a film about giant robots smacking the crap out of one another.

Things start off ok with mucho destruction in Shanghai as the Autobots seek out and take down giant Decepticon, Devastator. Then there is some silly family stuff, a cool bit with lots of little Transformers, loads of fast talking military stuff and then loads of running around where everyone somehow ends up in Egypt so Bay can get down to destroying it. Along the way shit gets blown up, Megatron gets sidelined once again for yet another bad guy robot (the Fallen of the title) Optimus sprouts wisdom and has an ace scrap with some Decepticons in a forest and then there is some incredibly bad attempts at comedy and two very out-dated robots who are also meant to be there for “comedy” relief. Mudflaps and Skids are possibly the most annoying characters (at least CGI wise) since a certain Jar Jar Binks first graced the screen of celluloid. Talking and cracking wise like too jive happy MCs, they are the definition of walking, talking (transforming) cliché’s that provide very little comedy. What’s worse is they steal a good amount of screen time away from Bumblebee, arguably one of the best robot characters. In fact, he and Megatron are disappointingly sidelined so much to make way for a bevy of new characters. Proceedings almost come to a standstill when ancient Decepticon defector Jetfire is introduced to dish out reams and reams of exposition. His scenes may be visually stunning but they stretch the film out way beyond what it needs to be. Likewise, LeBeouf’s Sam Witwicky is given a pointless comedy sidekick in the form of a new college roommate, and despite being energetically played by Ramon Rodriguez, is superfluous to everything going on, takes time away from Sam’s relationships with Michaela (Fox) and Bumblebee, and, oh yeah, isn’t very funny.

There are some cool new characters that do work, such as the cat like Ravage, a new spin on Transformer classic Soundwave, a great sequence with a Decepticon made up of hundreds of tiny little robots and the huge, hulking and visually stunning Constructicon that wrecks havoc in the final third. Even fan favourite Starscream gets a bit more screen time which is cool. These characters bring more of an edge to proceedings and this is where Revenge of the Fallen is so disappointing as it could have been a much darker and meaner sequel. The original teaser trailer brilliantly hinted at this (all sound, images and little dialogue) but the final film rarely represents what this trailer promised. Granted, this is another movie about giant robots kicking seven shades of hell out of one another and on that level, it works most of the time. There are some great set-pieces including the Optimus Prime fight and a scrap Bumblebee has with a nasty looking Decepticon. But everything else is often flat and relies too much on needless mugging and brain numbing exposition.

Certainly, Revenge of the Fallen is great to look at and shows moments of inventiveness and grand scale action. LeBeouf tries his best, as does Optimus, but they can’t save this sequel from being a load of bloated excess.

The Last Marshall


Directed by: Mike Kirton
Written by: Mike Kirton & Scott Wiper
Starring: Scott Glenn, Constance Marie, Raymond Cruz and William Forsythe

The always reliable Scott Glenn (Hunt for Red October) gets a leading role in the low rent actioner, The Last Marshall. A solid cast and interesting premise are lost under a landslide of dreary dialogue and action movie cliches. Glenn plays rootin-tootin Texas US Marshall Cole McClary who is so obnoxious, hard headed and downright Southern, if you cut him in half he would bleed the Confederate flag. Literally just one step from being a KKK member, his tough guy persona gets him in trouble when a shoot-out goes wrong leaving a cop and priest dead and a woman hostage badly tortured. Broken but not beaten, McClary decides to take his Dixie loving ass to Miami to issue out his own brand of justice. But low and behold, Miami is a completely different place from McClary’s beloved Texas, meaning there is cause for a lot of unfunny and crude comments about faggots, Hawaiian shirts and ethnic minorities. Great!

The Last Marshall should have been, on paper at least, a good, gritty action thriller. Instead it is almost devoid of any entertaining value due to Glenn’s racist, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic comments. He doesn’t like gays, Mexicans, Indians, any ethic minority and, seemingly, women. Glenn is a good actor and certainly goes at it with gusto in portraying McClary as a repulsive, disillusioned dinosaur. The fish out of water concept and McClary’s dated attitude were perhaps an attempt by the filmmakers to turn a once popular action persona on its head and show what a stupid human being Glenn’s character is. The supporting characters (all from ethic minorities or wearing Hawaiian shirts) do give him a run for his money, but the dialogue is not clever or witty enough. The actors struggle to rise above the cliches, rendering the film another sub standard 80s style action flick. Plus the fact that Glenn’s character completely changes his attitude half through because he starts fancying a woman is just an easy (and lazy) get out clause to make him likeable.

Unfortunately the action does not save proceedings either. Despite being directed by renowned stunt man and co-ordinator, Mike Kirton, The Last Marshall’s action scenes don’t cut the mustard. They are fairly brutal in nature and the boat/motorcycle chase is adequately exhilarating, but the action sequences on the whole are just sloppy and badly cut together. In addition, the usually value for money William Forsythe (The Rock) is hampered by a dodgy German accent but does provide a certain viciousness as the main bad guy.

The film is nicely shot and Kirton and co-writer, Scott Wiper (A Better Way To Die) do make a noble attempt to flesh the characters out. Yet this can’t save The Last Marshall from being another bog standard action vehicle that squandered its potential on risible dialogue and the constant need for all characters to swear every other word. SERIOUSLY, to make a tough action film, you do NOT need the characters swearing all the time. Fucking hell, will they ever learn?