Thursday, 25 February 2010
Director and Story: Art Camacho
Screenplay: Richard Preston Jr
Starring: Gary Daniels, Gregory McKinney, Robin Curtis and Richard Foronjy
Recoil is another action juggernaut from the PM Entertainment Group: connoisseurs of the no-frills (read: cheap), pumped-up (read: cheesy), adrenaline fuelled (read: fun ) action movie. Recoil is a car crashing, bone smashing, gun-firing hoot and features some of the best stripped down (read: no CGI) car chases/stunts this side of a Hollywood blockbuster. Starring unsung hero (read: he’s in B-movies), Gary Daniels and a plot so mad (read:..er..mad), Recoil is an unpretentious cocktail of action and mayhem that only the most jaded and cynical of viewers could not fail to enjoy.
Detectives Morgan (Daniels) and Cassidy (McKinney) are two cops minding their own business when they are called to a bank robbery in progress. A shoot-out ensues and one of the robbers escapes, with Morgan and the L.A.P.D giving chase. After an exhausting car chase, the runner is killed by Morgan and several of the officers. The dead robber turns out to be the son of underworld crime boss, Vincent Sloan (Foronjy), who sets in motion a vendetta against Morgan and the L.A.P.D. Morgan’s family, partner and fellow cops are all slain, upsetting Morgan, who then sets about evening the score. You can guess the rest from here.
Yes, it’s all pretty familiar (many PM Entertainment films share the same plot) and yes, it’s all very silly, but damn if it isn’t entertaining. The screenplay is nothing more than a framework for massive stunts and sustained gunfights but this works in the film’s favour. The action is its selling point and it’s a point it makes very well. Things kick off with a bang, as the first 20 minutes is a giant shoot-out cum car/motorcycle chase. Things slow down for a bit as the plot (read: ha!) begins to take shape before another car chase livens things up, this time featuring a SUV and a giant truck. A little more downtime follows (with some monks: don’t ask) before yet another car chase explodes across the screen, involving a limousine and a spectacular jump from a bridge by our hero. These three centrepieces are worth watching the film for alone. Stunt co-ordinator Spiro Razatos and director (and fellow stunt co-ordinator) Art Camacho work up the adrenaline ten fold as cars flip (and then flip some more), explode and even split in two. Considering the low budget and the lack of CGI, the stunts achieved really are all the more mind blowing. The opening chase features a spectacular sequence where a car becomes airborne in downtown traffic and takes out a traffic light before crashing down and rolling for about 3 blocks. Razatos is a prolific stunt-man/co-ordinator, having worked on many big action films (Bad Boys 2, Face/Off, Swordfish) and was responsible for many of the stunt sequences in other PM Entertainment films (The Sweeper, Last Man Standing and the almighty Rage). I swear, you could give this guy 10 quid and a clapped out Ford Cortina and he would still manage to pull of an eye-popping car chase.
On top of all the car carnage, there is some thrilling gunplay and even some thumping martial arts. The opening shoot-out (which tips its hat not so subtly to Heat) is well staged, though is dampened somewhat by Daniels’ character walking in slow motion in front of the on-coming gunfire, avoiding being shot (read: bollocks) and managing to take out the gunmen single-handedly, which the rest of the L.A.P.D seemed incapable of doing. Right. However, Daniels does get to shine in the last part of the film. An accomplished martial artist, he gets to cut loose in a series of short but sweet sequences. Unlike many of Daniels’ films (Cold Harvest, Bloodmoon) this is not a martial arts film and those expecting an all out kickathon may be disappointed. The action in Recoil is well balanced with an exciting mix of car chases, gunplay and hand-to-hand combat.
Now to the downside (read: crap parts). The plot is fairly ludicrous and is mainly just a revenge story that’s been seen a million times before. There is the usual tough guy talk (fuck you motherfucker, no fuck you cocksucker), hammy overacting and an ill advised plot development, where our hero spends some time recuperating in a monastery after the slaying of his family and narrowingly escaping death himself. However, the filmmakers should be given credit for at least trying to pace proceedings a little better than is common for this type of film. This is mainly an action movie and is crammed to the gills with it, but the action is paced evenly throughout allowing breathing time between the car pile-ups and explosions. The scenes of Morgan with his family are gentle counterpoints to all the mayhem and never slow the action down.
If you are into action/B-movies with lots of car chases, then Recoil will be right up your car-wreckage-strewn street.
Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: Three Untamed Beauties
March 31st - April 18th
At the opposite end of the stereotype of docile Japanese women—heroic good mothers, chaste daughters and hardworking faithful wives—actresses Ayako Wakao, Mariko Okada and Meiko Kaji embodied the transgression of limits, breaking rules, flouting norms and generally upsetting everyone.
This series explores the idea of unconventional beauty that these spellbinding actresses created through an unparalleled body of films. Both Wakao and Okada were muses and inspiration for two major film directors, Yasuzo Masumura and Kiju (Yoshishige) Yoshida, respectively, while Kaji navigated between filmmakers, a wild card of Japanese cinema at the time. Put together, their films delineate what one could call an aesthetic of “convulsive beauty”(André Breton).
Click the following link to find out what films are screening and when with this new and exciting series being shown by the Japan Society.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
On February 19th the Japan society will be screening Kenji Misumi’s Destiny’s Son (Kiru). From the director of Lone Wolf and Cub, Destiny’s Son is a forgotten masterpiece featuring Raizo Ichikawa, the “Japanese James Dean,” in a wondrously dark and foreboding role.
Check out the blog for the Japan Society Film Program which offers reviews, trailers and info about upcoming screenings of classic Japanese cinema.
333 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017
Part of the Monthly Classic Series:
The Double Edged Sword:
The Chambara Films of Shintaro Katsu & Raizo Ichikawa
December 2009 - May 2010
Monday, 15 February 2010
My new review of The Challenge at Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)
DOUBLE TARGET (1987)
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
Written by: Bruno Mattei & Claudio Ferguson
Starring: Miles O’Keeffe, Donald Pleasence & Bo Svenson
Completely ridiculous but unashamedly fun action romp from Italian director Bruno Mattei (here billed as Vincent Dawn), Double Target features so many big explosions the filmmakers probably destroyed a good part of the Philippines when making this picture. One time direct-to-video regular Miles O’Keeffe (Phantom Raiders, Marked Man) is hired by a very confused looking Donald Pleasence to go into Vietnam and infiltrate a Russian training camp under the control of an accent varying and possibly quite drunk, Bo Svenson. Keeffe agrees as it will allow him to find the son he left behind in Vietnam many years ago and bring him back to the good ol’ US of A.
So what ensues is actually a pretty cool and non-stop barrage of chases, shootouts, navigating minefields, motorcycle chases and many, many, many explosions. Cheap and cheerful Italian produced action flicks made up for what they lacked in budget, acting ability, coherency by spending what money they did have on blowing everything up. Mattei certainly has a thing for explosions and pretty much everything our hero comes into contact with gets blown up, big style. The pyrotechnics are impressive and every set and vehicle gets destroyed in a fireball. On top of this, there is mucho firepower, some unconvincing fights, chases involving motorcycles and jeeps, helicopters galore and even a fight with a shark. Yep, O’Keeffe fights a shark and wins by; yes you’ve guessed it, blowing it up. Awesome! This movie really does have everything. And to be fair, it’s all handled pretty well and one is rarely a few minutes away from the next action scene.
On top of this, there is the ridiculous subplot of the hero’s son tagging along, who at first hates his newly discovered father but comes to love him (in the fastest 180 degree change of feelings ever!). Pleasence and Svenson are obviously collecting pay cheques, Pleasense looking like he’s not sure what movie he’s actually filming and Svenson making for a not very convincing Russian. Add in lots of other Italian craziness (did I mention that bit with the shark?!), some cool location work and an excellent score that really drives the action (and was probably nicked from another film!) and Double Target is some excellent Italian flavoured, explosion happy action. And there’s a fight with a shark in it!
Thursday, 11 February 2010
THE BOOK OF ELI (2009)
Directed by: The Hughes Brothers
Written by: Gary Whitta
Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson
A post apocalyptic western, The Book of Eli sees Eli (Washington) wandering the blasted out plains of America, heading West, carrying a mysterious book. Fighting off the fury of a ravaged nature and violent gangs that wander the desert, Eli is determined to get this book to the West coast where he believes it will be safe. However, another man by the name of Carnegie (Oldman) also wants the book, aware of its power and willing to do anything to obtain it. When Eli is temporarily detained in Carnegie’s broken down town, he learns that Eli is in possession of said book. Eli makes a quick escape and Carnegie sets his small army after him, becoming increasingly desperate to get hold of this mysterious book.
The Book of Eli is the first film from the Hughes Brothers in 9 years. Blazing onto the scene with urban thrillers Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, they last graced the screen with underrated graphic novel adap, From Hell. They return to the screen and once again surprise and thrill with a film that has a lot more going on than the action packed trailer suggests. Sure, The Book of Eli still has a fair share of action set-pieces, all thrillingly staged, but the film also entertains with its unique take on the post apocalyptic genre and is much about character as it is action. Adopting a very much old school approach (i.e. how they used to make blockbusters back in the 80s and 90s) the Hughes shy away from frenetic editing and fast moving narrative and take their time to tell the story of Eli. The narrative takes its time to play out as we experience Eli living his lonely existence, relationships and adversities are developed between characters and the action develops from the situations rather than just being thrown in for the sake of it. The cast are all superb, great to see Oldman as a bad guy again and even waif like Mila Kunis is effective as a would be warrior who joins Eli on his quest.
The blasted out, dust bowl landscape is vividly realized and the Hughes use a striking and effective musical score to help drive the action and create tension and unnerve as the characters make their way across the desolate landscape. The action is well handled, starting with several well choreographed fights that Eli has with various outlaw gangs and climaxing in a little bit of Mad Max style vehicle carnage. The stand out piece is a bravura one take (with a little help from some CGI) shootout at an abandoned house where the wanderers are holed with a been-out-in-the-desert too long couple (Frances de la Tour and Michael Gambon). The Hughes Brothers know how to stage and frame action and The Book of Eli features some stylish big budget action scenes. Never saturating proceedings, the action is born out of the rising conflict meaning it is nicely paced throughout.
Now the film has a fairly religious slant. It’s pretty obvious what the book Eli is carrying from the get go and some may find the religious aspects a little heavy handed. In truth, they are, though not bludgeoned onto the viewer. The film deals with the Bible, what it means to some people, how it helps others and even how others want to use it for evil. This may put some off, and I was certainly wary at first, but it is handled surprisingly well being part of the story rather than dominating it. The ending is maybe a little too neat and tidy as well and there are certain twists and revelations in the third act that while work well within the frame of the story being told may be hard for some to swallow.
On the whole though, The Book of Eli is a thrilling piece of genre storytelling with a refreshing adult tone, breakneck action and is a lot more character based than many of its Hollywood conveyer belt counterparts.
LIGHT BLAST (1985)
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Enzo G. Castellari & Tito Carpi
Starring: Erik Estrada
Erik Estrada plays, well, Erik Estrada in this looney-toon Italian produced, American shot action/sci-fi extravaganza. Low rent, low budget and low on logic, Light Blast is, ahem, a blast of crazy action from the original Inglorious Bastards director, Enzo G. Castellari. Italian cinema was big back in the 80s and the Italians shot a lot of their films in the US with US actors. Light Blast is one of Castellari’s attempts at an all out American cop action flick, albeit with a bit of sci-fi thrown in for good measure. Estrada is a no-nonsense cop after some crazy scientist who has an even crazier lazer gun that melts the faces off people in an over-the-top gory and, yes, crazy way.
So we get heaps of low tech but packed full of dangerous stunts car chases; lots of shotgun blasting shootouts; face melting a la Raiders of the Lost Ark; Estrada in a wicked fight with an extremely tough nurse(!); a finale involving a souped up dune buggy; more shootouts (cool!); and Erik Estrada in his underpants thwarting some terrorists with a gun hidden inside a roast chicken (don’t ask!). The film makes rarely a lick of sense and despite the obvious low budget benefits from actually being shot on 35mm and on location in San Francisco. The action is pretty tight as well. The initial car chases are a bit slow in execution but feature mucho car smashing and are made up for with the insane dune buggy chase. The shootouts and fights are pretty solid though and you are never far away from the next action scene. Plus, who doesn’t want to see Erik Estrada fighting a buffed up nurse?
The Italians sure knew how to make them back in the day: violent, action packed and crazy as hell. High art Light Blast ain’t but action packed, bonkers fun it is. If you have to see only one Italian made sci-fi, action film starring Erik Estrada featuring lots of face melting, make sure its this one. Actually, I think this is the only one.
Monday, 8 February 2010
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
THE BEAST STALKER (2008)
Directed by: Dante Lam
Screenplay: Dante Lam & Wai Lun Ng
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Jingchu Zhang, Nick Cheung, Kai Chi Liu
The Beast Stalker has had some buzz around it since being released in Hong Kong a couple of years ago and while it doesn’t quite fully live up to that buzz, it is still a taut thriller with more than few surprises up its sleeve. Directed with verve by Dante Lam (The Sniper, Beast Cops) The Beast Stalker sees hot headed cop Tong (Tse) causing the death of a young child while trying to apprehend a known criminal on the run. The child’s death is an accident but shows Tong’s gung ho attitude is causing more problems than solving them. Likewise one of his team is badly injured in the pursuit and shunted to a desk job and another fired from his team, leaving Tong’s policing methods in question. Several months’ later the criminal he was pursuing is up on trail and organizes the kidnap of the young sister of the girl Tong accidentally killed. It just so happens that her mother is the prosecuting lawyer in his trial and he wants to make sure she doesn’t send him down. Tong learns of this and sees his chance at redemption by attempting to rescue the young girl. But things aren’t as straightforward as they seem with a master kidnapper who proves to be slippery foe.
A somewhat overgeneralization of what The Beast Stalker is about as it actually has a lot more going. Lam’s film twists and turns with surprises and while the flick certainly exists within a heightened reality (what thriller doesn’t?) the film works on its own hard boiled terms, quite rightly focusing on tension. Coincidence plays a big part in the film, so a modicum of disbelief is required as characters often handily cross paths and finds clues. This is not such a bad thing, especially as the film is spun around all those involved in the opening car crash (now becoming an overused plot device!) and death of the young girl. However, if coincidence isn’t your thing, then no doubt you will pick apart The Beast Stalker. But it all works well within its thriller framework and the film has much more going for it. Tse (Time & Tide, New Police Story) is fast becoming one of Hong Kong’s best young actors and embraces a character who is often hard to have sympathy for. Somewhat selfish and lacking focus when it comes to police procedural his character Tong is nevertheless a man trying to do the right thing despite very rarely getting things right. This is a refreshing spin on the pretty boy hero and it is often in doubt on whether he will actually rescue the girl. His adversary is just as fresh and engaging, Nick Cheung (Connected) certainly inhabits a nasty man (who will do whatever asked as along as he gets paid) but is given a little more humanity when we learn he is also caring for his sick wife and he may just be getting tired of his chosen lifestyle.
But that is giving too much away as The Beast Stalker is best viewed with little knowledge of the story and characters as possible as it's rewarding to see where it goes without too much prior knowledge. What The Beast Stalker does do so well is build the tension, not least during its set-pieces. Reigning in on the extravagance Hong Kong action embraces at times, Lam keep’s the chase sequences tight and thrilling never making anything too over the top. Subtle use of music contributes to the overall effect as well, the film peppered with chases, a high light being Tse chasing Cheung through the streets of Hong Kong.
Flawed it may be with a little too much coincidence and melodrama dampening the overall effect (and Lam’s insistence on herky-jerky handheld camerawork doesn't always help either: sorry, but this doesn’t automatically make your film more gritty and authentic!), The Beast Stalker is still a great thriller that entertains and shocks and doesn’t wimp out at showing how evil people can really be. Bolstered by some solid Hong Kong action and fine leading performances, The Beast Stalker is a refreshing take on an old formula
MR MAJESTYK (1974)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Elmore Leonard
Starring: Charles Bronson, Al Lettieri, Linda Cristal, Lee Purcell, Paul Koslo
Bronson is Vincent Majestyk a melon grower trying to harvest his crop and get it in so he can get make some money. But it’s a hard life, what with mother nature conspiring against you, competition from other melon growers fierce and the existence of a lowly farmer just so darn hard in this rural drama about the hardships of life on the lower rung of the income ladder. Hang on, that’s not right. This is a Charles Bronson film. Yes, he is a melon grower trying to get his crop in but this is no rural drama about living a hard life off the land, this is still a full throttle action flick: car chases, gun fights and fisticuffs all included.
All joking aside and despite the rather odd, but novel, set up of Bronson being a melon farmer, he is still an ex-serviceman who falls foul of the law when he runs off some deadbeats trying to take over his patch. Sent to jail he finds himself on the same prison bus as mob hitman Renda (Lettieri) whose crew attempts a daring rescue of the incarcerated bad man. Things go spectacularly wrong and Majestyk seeing his chance to get his name clear, and get his crop picked, grabs Renda with the intention of handing him back over to the police. However, Renda escapes and swears to kill Majestyk himself. So, its up to Majestyk to strike back when he can and kill Renda first, all the while trying to make sure he gets his crop in and make some money.
A fine piece of hardboiled action with Bronson at his no nonsense best, Mr Majestyk is straight laced, tough talking, features regular bouts of fierce action and benefits from a sharp script from the great Elmore Leonard. Overly complex it may not be, the film is all the better for it as this a tale of a simple man just trying to get along with his simple life who keeps having to take up arms in an attempt to get a handle on circumstances that always seem to be out of his control. Bronson is his usual tough guy self but shows a little humanity under his rough exterior, embodying the everyman farmer. Al Lettieri (The Getaway, The Godfather), spits venom as the nasty Renda, a violent man who is used to getting his way but meets his match in the form of the quietly confidant Majestyk.
Richard Fleischer (Soylent Green) directs with a crisp and cool manner, no hard boiled beat missed as tough guys square off and the action explodes. Coming from the 70s heyday the action is low tech by today’s standards but packs a realistic punch as tension is well mounted and every shotgun blast is violently felt. The end shootout is a doozey and there are some impressive chase sequences and stunts involving a pick up truck that all add to the pulpy, pumped up action. Old school: best school.
A great 70s flick and one of Bronson’s finest, Mr Majestyk still rocks thanks to its simplicity, solid acting and tough action. And the fact it makes a melon farmer a believable bad ass. Cool stuff.
BRIDGE OF DRAGONS (1999)
Directed by: Isaac Florentine
Written by: Carlton Holder
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Valerie Chow
Bridge of Dragons is another mini action masterpiece from cult director, Isaac Florentine. Much like his other films, Cold Harvest, High Voltage and US Seals 2, Bridge of Dragons is a highly entertaining, if slightly over-the-top, flick featuring adrenaline fuelled action sequences.
Set in an alternative post war world, Bridge of Dragons tells the story of a fallen society ruled by the vicious General Ruechang (Tagawa). Preparing to marry the resistant Princess Halo, he is humiliated when she escapes his clutches and flees to the opposing rebels. Sending his most elite assassin Warchild (Lundgren) to retrieve her, Ruechang gets more than he bargained for when Warchild turns traitor, joining the rebels. All out war escalades, as Warchild and Halo set out to free the people and put an end to Ryechang’s deadly reign.
Minimal plot serves as a structure for some spectacular action, in what is essentially a fun film. The alternate reality (much like the futuristic western setting in Cold Harvest) adds a lot of charm and is pulled off effectively with some decent production values. Not everyone will dig the alternate vibe, but if you can suspend disbelief for an hour and a half, there is a lot of fun to be had. Lundgren is his usual charismatic self and gets to show off his martial arts skills (to great effect) in the fight scenes. Tagawa (reuniting with Lundgren after starring together in Showdown In Little Tokyo) is great as always, as the evil dictator, but could have been given a little more screen time. The really rather lovely Valerie Chow (billed here as Rachel Shane) is a pleasure to watch, though seems to be remarkably made up considering she is on the run.
As with all Florentine’s films, it is the action that really delivers. Bringing a Hong Kong flavour to proceedings, Bridge Of Dragons features some thrilling gunplay sequences. Working with frequent collaborator, fight arranger Akihiro Noguchi (High Voltage, Special Forces), Florentine has also created some blistering fight sequences. Though not as accomplished as those in US Seals 2 and Cold Harvest, the fights are still well filmed and choreographed, with the stick-fight on wooden stumps and the final duel being standouts. It wouldn’t be a Florentine film without his trademark exaggerated sound effects. Used only sparingly here, characters actions and fight movements are accompanied with the requisite swoosh noises and only add to the fun vibe.
Once again, Florentine has served up the goods on a meagre budget and proved he is one of the most creative action directors around. Bridge Of Dragons is a hoot from start to finish and should be enjoyed by any avid action fan.