Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Butcher


Written & Directed by: Jesse Johnson
Starring: Eric Roberts, Keith David, Bokeem Woodbine, Irina Bjorkland, Geoffrey Lewis

Merle “The Butcher” Hench (Roberts) is an enforcer for the mob. Not exactly long in the tooth but no spring chicken either, he seems to be going a little soft in his older age. So much so, crime boss Murdoch (Davi) recommends Merle think about retiring and letting the young guns take over the heavy stuff. Having been in the business a long time and been around the block once or twice, Merle instinctively knows leaving the “business” isn't that easy. When Murdoch sets Merle up to take the fall for him ripping of another crime boss, Merle figures its time to get out and get out for good. But not before he’s dished out some vengeance fuelled pain and taken a little money kick back for himself.

Mean and muscled up pulp doesn’t come much more hard boiled than The Butcher, a cracking gangster flick about tough guys being tough. The set up may be familiar but the execution is given a refreshing overhaul and mucho pumped action courtesy of writer/director Jesse Johnson (Pit Fighter, Charlie Valentine) and star Eric Roberts. Johnson has crafted a pumped up, hardboiled gem which has just as much emotional punch as shotgun blast. We may be walking through a pulp fiction world but the characters are given real emotion, making them much more than goomba stereotypes. The dialogue is also pin sharp, flowing freely from the noir infused mouths of the characters. Johnson wisely focuses on character, building up the relationships and their complications, us the viewer getting to know Merle Hench before the inevitable outburst of sustained violence. And that emotional punch? Well that's courtesy of Eric Roberts in one of his best roles in years, showing he’s still got acting chops to burn. No doubt his Merle Hench is a tough guy who has seen and done bad things but Roberts superbly portrays him as a real man, reaching a turning point in his life, but still capable of dishing out extreme violence. It’s great to see Roberts, an always underrated actor, bite into a meaty role and there is excellent support from a who's who of yesteryear action cinema: Robert Davi, Michael Ironside, Keith David, Geoffrey Lewis and Jerry Trimble.

While the film takes time to build to the action (don’t go in thinking this is a blood soaked shoot ‘em up from the get go) it’s worth the wait. After all the tension mounted, character established, Johnson caps his flick with an almighty orgy of gunplay violence as Merle takes on and takes out Murdoch’s gang in several shell expending, automatic fire powered action scenes. Brutal in the their squibtastic and limb severing force, there is nothing fancy about these scenes but they sure are thrilling. Tough guys going at one another with shotguns and pistols and blowing seven shades of shit out of themselves and everyone around them. Sure a suspension of disbelief is needed, not least at the amount of shells fired and Roberts brandishing a massive machine gun circa WW2 in one scene but the choreography is tight and the emotional pay off sustained as we feel every bullet fly and hit. Great action by a director who knows how do orchestrate the stuff.

Overall, The Butcher is a great slice of pulp action cinema. Great characters, dialogue and action all combine for a bloodthirsty tale of vengeance. Some may be put off by the tough guy swagger and overly pulpy tones but they would be missing out on a quality slice of tough guy action movie making.

10 Great American Martial Arts Films...Kung Fu Cinema

10 Great American martial arts films you probably haven’t seen (plus one you HAVE to)

Kung Fu Cinema

Was going to write a similar piece about the best American martial arts film most people haven't seen. But the good folks over at Kung Fu Cinema have beat me to the punch. Instead of writing a competing article here is a link to their great piece which covers all the films I would have mentioned. A great piece about some great films.


The only addition I would make would be the very awesome Contour made by The Stunt People

And every martial arts fan worth their salt needs to see Broken Path, if they can find a copy.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Monday, 22 March 2010

Monday, 15 March 2010

Blood and Bone

My new review of Blood and Bone at Far East Films (

Green Zone


Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan & Jason Isaacs

Star and director of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum team up again to bring another frenetic thriller to the screen with a very timely military slant. Set shortly after the US led topple of Saddam’s grip on Iraq, Chief Roy Miller (Damon) leads his team in search of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction). Frustrated that every fire-fight and life and death situation result in them finding nothing, Miller begins to question his superiors on whether these WMDs actually exist. With a tip off from an equalling suspecting CIA official (Gleeson) and a news paper reporter (Ryan), Miller ventures further into the bowels of a burnt out Baghdad in search of the truth, hunted by both the Iraqi army and members of his own side.

While the promotional campaign is pushing the whole Bourne in Iraq slant, Green Zone, despite sharing similarities with that franchise, proves to be quite a different beast. Attempting to fuse a real world thriller with an adrenaline charged action film; Greengrass and Damon get the mix just about right. The movie is serious to a point where it maybe tries just a little too hard to get its point across. Not that there should be moments of light relief or snappy one liners as Green Zone does deal with a very real, serious and ongoing state of affairs. It’s just that in its relentlessness to throw us into the chaos torn streets of Baghdad and corrupt world of shady government officials, subtly is often replaced with a sledgehammer approach. This may be the point as the film deals with a certain set of characters thrown into a whirlwind situation, played out over a couple of very frantic days. This will no doubt irk some as characters are defined as either good or evil and there is little room for complex deconstructions of their personalities, motives and backgrounds.

While it is comparable to the Bourne trilogy, Green Zone has a slightly harder edge: due in part to this being based on real rather than fictional events. The film shares a similar visual style with Greengrass and Damon’s Bourne entries but, and despite the trailers suggesting otherwise, isn’t as action heavy as them. There is certainly a good dose of military styled action but Green Zone is all about momentum. The film rockets along, even when there is no blazing action on the screen. Character, plot, situation and emotion are all developed on the run as the movie is all about the pursuit: whether that is negotiating, reasoning or automatic weapon based action. This all in turn brings up Greengrass’ love of shaky, gritty, constantly moving, “going-for-realism” camerawork. While he is arguably the best at it, the technique is perhaps overdone here. It certainly adds to the chaotic, on-the-run vibe of the film and certainly intensifies some realistic action scenes but is perhaps not so needed in the talkier scenes: or when one character is simply walking over to meet another.

The action scenes are impressively tense and up until the extended running gun battle at the end: short, sharp and sweet. The epic showdown is a thrilling, white knuckle set piece but is unfortunately marred with that shaky camerawork. Yes one gets the sense this is very realistic but it would also be nice to get a clear picture of what is happening and to whom. Still, all Bourne comparisons and shaky camera jibes aside, Green Zone is still an effective military thriller that engages and even shocks in equal measure. And for a big Hollywood release it also shows America in a somewhat unflattering light, concerning their actions in the recent Iraqi conflict, which is a brave move for a studio film. Not without its flaws but an intense thriller in its own right, Green Zone may split viewers but is a refreshing grown up action film.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Ninja Assassin

My new review of Ninja Assassin at Far East Films (

Death Wish 2

DEATH WISH 2 (1982)

Directed by: Michael Winner
Screenplay: Brian Engelbach
Starring: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia

Subtlety was never one of Michael Winner’s strong points and is completely absent in this lurid, sleazy, ultra violent follow up to his and Bronson’s 70s vigilante classic, Death Wish. While it borders on tipping into full blown camp and absurdity (which further follow up Death Wish 3 did with wild and entertaining abandonment) Death Wish 2, despite a little dated, still shocks and shows little mercy in its scenes of violence and abuse. Not much is different here from the first go around, just bigger, louder and more in your face. Bronson’s architect by day, vigilante by night Paul Kersey has left New York and relocated to Los Angeles. But it’s just another city full of scumbags who break into his house, rape and kill his housekeeper then kidnap his daughter and do the same to her. So what does Kersey do? Buys a bunch of guns and goes on a one man warpath to settle the score.

No real time for character interaction or development or pondering the pros and cons of vigilantism and even less spared to delve into the social problems that cause violence to erupt so viciously in modern inner city areas: Winner’s film is about getting to the next violent justice serving action scene as quickly as possible. Winner’s style here is all efficiency; scenes shot and cut to make a point quick, no time for dwelling or underlying meaning. For example, Kersey’s mourning for the loss of his daughter constitutes one brief scene of him escaping to a friend’s cabin in the country and getting angry chopping wood. It lasts all of a half a minute and we know he is angry, hurt and ready to dish out revenge because he has chopped some wood in a very angry way. Thus, it is down to business and Winner delivers what most people have come to see the film for and no doubt what the producers wanted: sleaze and action.

For a fairly mainstream movie, Death Wish 2 is a hard watch when it comes to the rape and abuse scenes. Not much is really spared or left to the imagination and Winner perhaps lets his camera leer a little too long on these scenes. The violence is graphic too, no gun shot wound spared, every violent punk getting their just desserts and Kersey’s daughter graphically impaling herself on a fence railing after being raped. Not happy stuff. However, Winner does manage to craft some excellent action scenes, arguably the best out of all the Death Wish films. Here he allows the scenes to play out, sustains the tension and packs them full of firepower. Kersey taking out some goons attacking an innocent couple is a well staged shootout, Bronson effectively using a concrete pillar as cover. Likewise the capture of one of the main villains is an audaciously over-the-top fight that sees him taking out cop after cop in a massive street brawl. Winner certainly knew how to stage action.

Not exactly a fun time and probably the most brutal of the Death Wish films, Death Wish 2 serves as a curio time capsule of how they used to make action pictures viciously violent back in the 1980s. Also look out for Laurence Fishburne in an early role as one of the punks Bronson has to take down.

Order of the Eagle


Directed by
: Thomas Baldwin
Written by: William Zipp
Starring: Frank Stallone, William Zipp, Jill Foors

Is Order the Eagle the best boy scout action film ever? Is it the only one? If so, then it is probably the best and the worst. Produced by 80s and early 90s low (low) budget action specialists Action International Pictures (AIP), Order of the Eagle features much of what their films were full of: bad acting, low budgets, ridiculous plots, all seemingly shot somewhere in Middle America. But thanks to a scenic setting, a novel (albeit, silly) premise, some pretty cool action and this viewers extremely high tolerance for crappy action movies, Order of the Eagle is actually a lot of fun.

Starting off as a flick about an Eagle Scout sent off into the woods to earn a badge for surviving in the wilderness or something, he stumbles on a crashed plane and a device containing some highly top secret and sought after disks. Suit wearing, city dwelling, bad guy Frank Stallone wants them back (for some reason or another) and sends off a team of crack tracker/assassins (read: goons with automatic weapons) into the wilderness to retrieve them and kill the scout. Fortunately, said scout runs into kindly, bearded, ex Vietnam soldier cum woodsman William Zipp, who helps him fight off the ever inept goons with machine guns.

Despite the fact that the acting is often awful; Frank Stallone disappears halfway through the flick and the main bad guy then becomes some weird English bloke complete with wellies (!) and an Indian tracker sidekick; the team of deadly assassins are a complete bunch of inept fools, even though they all get their own cool introductions to show how bad ass they are; and the whole flick is blatantly a vanity project for writer/producer/star William Zipp to show how awesome he is (despite spending most of the film running around in what appear to be ladies boots!), Order of the Eagle is pretty cool.

No, really.

The makers use their location to good effect, the action is pretty tight, machine gun heavy and come the second half non stop and it all has a low rent charm about it. Hell, they even find time to squeeze in some nifty booby traps a la First Blood and some ninjas too. Awesome!

Who knows why the flick was sold on Frank Stallone and the whole Eagle Scout angle as both are abandoned barely halfway into the film but as a low budget, wilderness actioner quickie, Order of the Eagle is goofy, AIP produced fun.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Monday, 1 March 2010



Directed by: Christian Alvart
Screenplay: Travis Malloy
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Norman Reedus

Gory action horror set in the far reaches of space, Pandorum sees German director Christian Alvart (Antibodies) let loose with space madness, lost ships, mutants and a style of sheer ferocity. Sharing similar themes with the criminally underrated Event Horizon, Pandorum sees two crew members, Bower (Foster) and Payton (Quaid), awake suddenly from cryogenic sleep on board the massive hulk, Elysium. Suffering memory loss and the rest of the crew seemingly vanished, the two disorientated space travelers set about exploring the ship looking for answers. What they find is beyond their worst fears, the ship now infested with hordes of mutant cannibals and the search for answers becomes an ever increasing battle for survival.

While it’s not always startlingly original in set up, Pandorum has a surfeit of twists, turns and concepts that set it apart from many other lone survivors stranded on a spaceship sci-fi flicks. In fact, it may just twist and turn and be a little over plotted for its own good, as it can get a little confusing as to what is going on to who and why. But then this is all part of the “gone-mad-in-space” vibe Pandorum has going for it and warrants viewing the film at least a couple of times to truly appreciate how it all fits together. Alvart certainly injects his film with a ferocious momentum, the descent into madness and constant escapes from the marauding mutants never letting up. This is not slow, thoughtful sci-fi; this is full on horror in space. That’s not to say Pandorum doesn’t have any smarts going for it. The characters, despite some often clunky dialogue, are rather well defined with personalities and for a refreshing change actually run away and attempt to hide when danger threatens them: as opposed to always walking right into it when they should be blatantly running for their lives.

The concept and design of Pandorum is especially impressive, creating a sort of high tech, futuristic, Goth, horror world. This adds oodles of atmosphere to the flick and the design of the nasty beasties aboard the massive spaceship is genuinely disturbing, making them a particularly vicious foe. In fact, the scenes involving the mutated atrocities are arguably when Pandorum is at its best. Alvart piles on the tension and threat, and even the gore, as the humans fight for their lives, not least in one scene where a very nasty beastie throws everyone around like they are rag dolls. Pandorum works best when it is in full horror mode and Alvart creates several intense set pieces of gore soaked, action packed and terrifying mutant horror. In addition, the film keeps the viewer guessing to what is actually going on and takes some unique u-turns just when you think you have it sussed out.

On the downside, Alvart can’t stay away from the dreaded over editing. It’s not too bad here but rears its ugly head more than not and while it helps to build the intensity of the action scenes, it could have been eased up elsewhere. The film seems to rush a little too much, some scenes just desperate to get exposition out (hence, the clunky dialogue) whereas the film could have slowed down just a bit. The objective seems to be to create a non-stop, intense ride and Pandorum certainly works on that level but some easing up on the character and dialogue scenes (i.e. don’t rush them) would have made Pandorum a much more satisfying experience.

Having said that, if horror in space is what you want then Pandorum delivers. With an impressive and committed performance by lead Ben Foster, some excellent visual effects and intense action, Pandorum is a serious slice of outer space madness: props to Alvart for sticking to his full throttle guns. Just don’t go in expecting something akin to the recent Moon and Star Trek reboot as this is a very different kettle of sci-fi fish. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Max Payne

MAX PAYNE (2008)

Directed by: John Moore
Screenplay: Beau Thorne
Starring: Mark Whalberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris O’Donnell, Chris Bridges

Another video game to movie adaptation, Max Payne the game featured mucho bullet time action and shootouts making it perfect material for a big screen version. Well, sort of. First off, I’ve never played the game on which this movie is based so really can’t compare as to whether it is a faithful adaptation (word is: it isn’t). It doesn’t feature much bullet time or slow motion and the film takes some time to get to all the gun carnage but when it does, it’s certainly bullet riddled and kinetically staged. So, die hard fans of the game are no doubt disappointed with this movie adaptation (not least with all the drug induced hallucinations of flying demons that have been added here: which are actually pretty cool) but as a piece of slick, comic booked vibed, pulpy action, Max Payne isn’t half as bad as you will no doubt have heard or read on many other like minded blogs and forums.

Sure it 's as derivative as hell: hard as nails cop, goes gunning for those who killed his wife and kid which all has something to with the aforementioned drug, which is causing people to do all kinds of crazy things thanks to those demon hallucinations. It’s obvious who the bad guy is from the get go and everything is perhaps a little too po-faced and serious for its own good. Especially for a film that exists in a heightened comic book/video game reality. But, if you can get past all preconceptions and obsessive fan boy hatred, Max Payne delivers some cool noir tinged action. Slick as hell thanks to its Hollywood budget and John (Behind Enemy Lines) Moore’s glossy direction, the film looks great and inhabits a groovy rain soaked, noir world. In fact, the film is quite dark in its portrayal of violence, nasty characters and that entire hallucinatory drug taking thing. The winged demons have come under a lot of criticism but actually add to the groovy Goth noir the film has.

For a film that is sold on all its gun toting action and intricate gunplay, Max Payne the movie takes its time getting to it. Not that its a totally bad thing but it will frustrate many a viewer going into the film expecting it from the get go. Apart from one brief shootout near the beginning things don’t really kick off until the last third when the guns certainly do come out blazing. And its great stuff as well, despite not living up to the bullet time, slow-mo legacy of the game. But Moore knows how to do action and the gunplay, while not as intricate or sustained as say a John Woo flick, is kinetically charged, bullet riddled and squib-tastic. A running battle in an office block with a swat team and a shootout in an underground garage standout and there is some violently impactfull shotgun action too: all framed, shot and cut so we can appreciate what is going on. In fact, Moore wisely stays clear of the fashionable editing overkill meaning the action scenes have an old school feel to them and are all the more enjoyable. There just should have been more of them.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is underused, especially the lovely Mila Kunis, but its always great to see Beau Bridges chewing up the screen. Not the abomination its reputation has, Max Payne (if you are a less than demanding viewer: I mean this ain’t meant to be The Departed!) is an enjoyable glossy, action ride with some fantastic bullet riddled gunplay. I’m no doubt in the minority with this one. But then again, I usually am.