Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Quote on the cover of Charlie Valentine DVD cover...

A snippet from my Cool Target review of the Jesse Johnson action film Charlie Valentine has made it onto the front cover of the Region 2 DVD release from High Fliers:

"Violent Action...Definitely Bloody." COOLTARGET.COM

My second DVD cover and the first time Cool Target has been quoted on a DVD release cover. Wahoo:)

Charlie Valentine Review

Monday, 25 October 2010

S.I.S: Special Investigation Section


Written & Directed by: John Herzfeld
Starring: Matt Nable, Peter Stebbings, Omari Hardwick, Colleen Porch & Keith David

Surprisingly good and taut police thriller that pulls no punches in its action scenes and is strengthened by its strong characters and gripping narrative. Originally made for TV and presumably as a pilot for a TV cop show that didn't get picked up, SIS is a short and sharp blast of cop thriller antics that embraces it's pulpy roots but gives us real and interesting characters to root for.

Treading similar ground as the Mark L. Lester film from the early 90s, SIS: Extreme Justice, John Herzfeld's film deals with the exploits of a splinter police force who target and go after extremely dangerous and violent criminals, attempting to catch them in the act of committing a crime and dealing with them by any, violent, means necessary. So we get an eclectic array of police officers attempting to balance normal life with their police life, a new recruit who is walking his own fine line of sanity and some particularly nasty bad guys our team is attempting to shut down.

It's Herzfeld's (who also made the very underrated 15 Minutes and The Death and Life of Bobby Z) tight script and direction that makes SIS so entertaining. It may have it's fair share of pulpy incidents but pulp, to this viewer at least, if quite often what makes cop films/thrillers so entertaining. Herzfeld always makes his characters seem real no matter how violent and over-the-top proceedings might get, the main cast having real personalities rather than being typical stereotypes. After too many cop shows featuring know-it-all characters and impeccably dressed leads, it's nice to see movie cops being tough, gruff and a little scruffy again.

Much like he did with 15 Minutes and Bobby Z, Herzfeld keeps everything tight and taught, the momentum always sustained and offers up some bad guys who actually feel like a violent threat to our heroes. The flick is also peppered with some slick action including the opening shootout and tensely mounted finale which sees the cops thwarting the bad guys latest robbery. There is also an incredibly tense shootout in a house about half way through that also shows Herzfeld can keep action just as taut as his characters and direction.

While the millions of cop shows that clog up TV and sell truck loads of box sets will for the foreseeable future be seen as the benchmark in cop thrillers, SIS is a welcome down to earth and character based police story with a nice side order of fierce action.

Chanbara Striptease

My new review of Chanbara Striptease at Far East Films (www.fareastfilms.com)


Monday, 11 October 2010

Caught in the Crossfire


Written & Directed by: Brain A. Miller
Starring: Chris Klein, Adam Rodriguez, 50 Cent

Ho hum cop thriller about a couple of cops (Klein and Rodriguez) investigating what at first appears to be a random slaying of a gang member but as they dig deeper and find themselves under investigation soon becomes much more as the stink of a set-up from within the police force soon becomes a realization. While the film has good intentions, is professionally made and has no pretensions of being a complex, labyrinth like cop drama, Caught in the Crossfire just lacks oomph.

Despite a decent twist come the end and tense action that opens and closes the film, Caught in the Crossfire spends too much time treading the cop cliches as characters shout and shout and shout some more at each other. It all gets a bit tiresome everybody seemingly trying to out 'grit' one other as tough cops, burnt out cops, and corrupt cops. The makers seem to have pushed the whole idea of making it as gritty as possible too far, making proceeding somewhat unintentionally funny on occasion. Not least lead guy Chris Klein who unfortunately overacts his burnt out cop so much that when he tells his partner to "cowboy up" all hope of grit and seriousness are thrown out the window. Much of the film is also set in interrogation rooms and told in flashback which unfortunately dilutes a lot of the tension, one wishing the characters would get out and do more.

Still, despite it's flaws, Caught in the Crossfire is not all bad. It might be a tad predictable but Rodriguez (from CSI: Miami) is effective as the other cop trying to figure out what is going on and surprisingly 50 Cent isn't that bad in what amounts to a glorified cameo. There is a professional sheen to the production and the flick is bookended by a couple of impressively tense shootouts. If the rest of the film had been as engaging as it's opening and closing, then Caught in the Crossfire could have been a much more exciting and edgy ride. As it is, it's an ok police thriller if you are in need of a cop movie fix.

Wrong Side of Town


Directed by: David DeFalco
Screenplay: David DeFalco & Marquito Sanchez
Starring: Rob Van Dam, Dave Batista, Jerry Katz

Yet more wrestling stars turn their trade to starring in action movies, this time Rob Van Dam and Dave Bautista throwing fists and body slamming people in the distinctly low rent but not completely unenjoyable, Wrong Side of Town. Rob Van Dam and his wife have gone out for a meal and a night on the town with their new neighbors. Unfortunately things don't well and Van Dam accidentally kills a guy who attacks his wife. Said guy just happens to be the brother of a local and vicious crime boss who sends out his goons to hunt down and kill Van Dam and his friends. So, run-of-the-mill chases and fisticuffs ensue.

Predictable and very low budget, Wrong Side of Town is harmless trash featuring a couple of likable wrestlers kicking the crap out of bad guys. While it's nowhere near as polished as the likes of The Marine, The Condemned or Walking Tall (other action films featuring wrestlers), the makers do their best and maximize the city of Baton Rouge to its best. Unfortunately proceedings drag somewhat, the flick not as packed with action as you might expect. And I'm afraid for a low rent movie like this your action is the main selling point. Things tend to drag a bit, the film never being the exciting, dangerous chase through a night time city it should be. The final twenty minutes manages a sudden burst of fight action, nicely choreographed and packed with punch. There just should have been more of it.

The acting is about what you would expect though bad guy Jerry Katz is suitably menacing and Dave Bautista is also good as Van Dam's buddy roped into helping him fight bad guys. He just isn't in it enough. Rob Van dam is a likable hero and there are various appearances from other wrestlers and folks from the rap world. Not as much fun as it could have been but a watchable wrestling themed action flick nonetheless.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Legend is Born: Ip Man


Directed by: Herman Yau
Screenplay: Erica Lee
Starring: Yu-Hang To, Bernice Liu, Yuen Biao, Ip Chun

While it will always be compared and no doubt less favoured to (and seen as a quick grab cash in) Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip's recent Ip Man and Ip Man 2, The Legend is Born is a surprisingly worthy addition to the recent Ip Man movie craze, works as a sort of prequel to Yen's films and is a cracking martial arts film. Helmed by one time category III bad boy (and cinematographer of such Hong Kong hits as Time & Tide and Fatal Contact) Herman Yau, The Legend is Born is no cheap knock off. While it may not be historically accurate, the film has been made with care and skill to not only tell a good story but deliver frequent bouts of impressive martial arts action.

Essaying the early years of Wing Chun practitioner Ip Man, the film is set before the events in either of Donnie Yen's films. We see Ip Man as a child being sent to learn Wing Chun at a prestigious school before growing into a teenager, leaving for Hong Kong to educate himself, learn and develop Wing Chun from other masters he encounters on his journeys and have his first experiences of love. Along the way he develops and progresses the art of Wing Chun into his own style much to the irk of his original master. The invading Japanese are an ever threat and Ip Man must face the biggest battle of his young life in the form of traitors who hit a little too close to home and which inevitably leads to an epic multi fight showdown.

While we may not have needed yet another film to fill in every fact/event/fight of Ip Man's life, The Legend is Born is simply just a great martial arts film. Well made and refreshingly uncomplicated and unpretentious in its storytelling style, it evokes an old school approach to the narrative with plenty of character moments bolstered by frequent bouts of fighting action. The action is of a particular high standard, the fights fluid, crisp and intricate, with talented fighters going one-on-one with each other to gratifying effect. Wirework is kept to a minimum to simply enhance some fights and care and skill has been applied to craft exhilarating and exciting fights. Ip Man's tussle in a market early on and the multi-fight smack-down are the highlights, the choreography always creative and going for maximum impact. The big end showdown features Hong Kong legend Yuen Biao (who gets a welcome amount of screen fighting time here) taking on a group of ninja clad intruders before Ip Man himself finishes them off with a staff before taking out one of his main adversaries in a wicked one-on-one fight to the finish.

Leading man To Yu-Hang certainly cuts it in the fight scenes and as a younger Ip Man holding his own against Donnie Yen's interpretation and it's always great to see the likes of Yuen Biao back on the screen, kicking ass. There's also an extended cameo from Sammo Hung (who seems to have to be in every Ip Man film going!) with he and Biao getting a brief but cool little fight scene. The eldest son of the real life Ip Man also makes an appearance as one of the Wing Chun masters who helps to train his father and the action is expertly coordinated by Kuang Hsiung (Bloodmoon, Drunken Master 2).

While Yen's versions still may be the superior films, The Legend is Born is no slouch, an entertaining watch and if you are in the mood for just a decent, well made, action soaked martial arts film, then this more than fits the bill. Entertaining stuff.


DAMAGE (2009)

Directed by: Jeff King
Written by: Frank Hannah
Starring: Steve Austin, Walton Goggins Donnelly Rhodes, Laura Vandervoort

Big bad wrestler Steve Austin has been carving out a little niche for himself in the world of action cinema with supporting roles in the likes of The Longest Yard and The Expendables and headlining the rather decent The Condemned. He's also started headlining some staight-to-DVD action titles the first of which is the very watchable Damage. On the surface, it's a run of the mill story about ex-con Brickner (Austin) being released from prison and trying to hold down a job in regular society. But having been put away for killing a man, holding down a job isn't easy and so Birckner puts his fists to good use by taking part in underground fighting. So far, so predictable and to be honest the film doesn't really surprise in its journey of redemption, the narrative reaching a predictable destination. But it's the journey that Damage takes to get to this destination and the surprisingly level of care given to character that makes it so enjoyable. Plus there are many brutal fight scenes along the way to help proceedings progress nicely

While on the surface a fight film, Damage is much more about the small surrogate family that Brickner forms with his fight promoter Reno (Goggins) and his lady friend/post fight nurse Frankie (Vandervoot). All three are trying to escape troubled pasts, and the not exactly plain sailing present, and form a bond that sees them looking out for another as they attempt to make enough money to leave their pasts and debts behind. With a surprisingly character based script from the writer of The Cooler (an awesome flick one should see if one hasn't already!), Damage takes its time to let us get to know these three troubled but likable characters. Austin is good as the strong, silent Brickner with Goggins and Vandervroot adding quality support. Despite each of their character's flaws the actors make us care for them and make it enjoyable to spend time in their company.

Austin also gets to take part in some brutal fight scenes which pepper the film. Decidedly non-flashy and free of intricate or showy choreography the fights are basic but brutal, going for a more realistic take on men knocking the hell out of one another. Maybe shot and cut a little too quick, the fights scenes manage to balance out the character and story development nicely, Damage having a distinctive 1990s fight film vibe about it.

With decent production values and a professional sheen to it Damage, despite a certain predictability, actually feels like a fresh and new fight film, is better than a lot of what the likes of Snipes, Van Damme and Seagal have been putting out in recent years and shows Austin may have a decent career in action cinema ahead of him.

Japan Society: ZEN & ITS OPPOSITE: Essential (& Turbulent) Japanese Art House

The Japan Society are very excited to unveil their 2010-2011 Monthly Classics series ZEN & ITS OPPOSITE: Essential (& Turbulent) Japanese Art House, starting on October 15 (with Kwaidan). This new series peers into the dark side of the classical repertoire of the late 1950s and 1960s: from Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1965), Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plain (1959), Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1964) to Nobuo Nakagawa’s Hell (1960) and Kihachi Okamoto’s Sword of Doom (1966).

More information on the 2010-2011 Monthly Classics series can be found at:

Monday, 4 October 2010