Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Dangerous Man



A DANGEROUS MAN (2009)

Written & Directed by: Keoni Waxman
Starring: Steven Seagal, Byron Mann, Terry Chen

Woah, a good direct-to-DVD Steven Seagal movie? Well, a decent one at least. It would seem so, as A Dangerous Man is an entertaining and, for the most part, well made action film. And that isn't often said about Seagal's output these days. A Dangerous Man is nothing new in terms of story or motivation as Seagal still plays some ex-special forces type, out of prison for a crime he didn't commit. No sooner is he out he gets mixed up in a war between Russian and Chinese gangs and thus decides to help out a damsel in distress who is also caught in the crossfire. Simple action movie set up that is enlivened by solid direction, some decent characters and a boat load of hard hitting action. Despite looking bigger than he ever has, Seagal actually shows up for this movie (though there is still doubling and the inevitable dubbing to be seen and heard) and is front and centre for most of his action scenes. He gets to say a bit more this time around and doesn't hide in the shadows like he has done in a lot of his post cinema released days. The film has a glossy sheen to it, nicely shot and produced in Canada and Keoni Waxman is an assured hand behind the camera. He gets the best out of his bad guys (including Byron Mann and Terry Chen) who add bite to proceedings and everything rattles along at an enjoyably pulpy pace, bad guys getting dispatched here and there and with explosions at regular intervals.




Waxman crams his film with action including everything from sustained shootouts to hard hitting hand-to-hand combat. Despite some doubling, Seagal participates in his fights taking on various opponents in some rough and ready one-on-ones. The fights are fast and hit hard the bone breaking nature of them ever present with stuntmen thrown into and through various objects and free standing structures with satisfying crunch. The last 40 minutes or so is basically just two long gun battles as the action is ramped up. Well put together and featuring a surfeit of firepower, Waxman delivers what an action movie needs most: lots of hard hitting action. In fact, the film has a very violent edge to it people dispatched in various bloody ways including one poor sucker having his head impaled on a large saw blade. Not for the squeamish but this Seagal picture does what many have failed to do since his days as a direct-to-DVD pioneer commenced: delivers hard edged action and large quantities of it.

No classic but very entertaining, A Dangerous Man should please Seagal fans, is a well made action thriller and uncomplicated, action soaked entertainment.


Equalizer 2000



EQUALIZER 2000 (1986)

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago
Written by: Frederick Bailey
Starring: Richard Norton, Connie Wahl & Robert Patrick

Equalizer 2000
is essentially about one big gun. A really big gun. In fact, it’s so big (no, this isn't a porno!), it's basically three guns in one. Everybody wants to get their hands on it as for some reason it gives the holder ultimate power over everyone else who only have puny guns. So what happens is, everyone (bad and good guys) spend 85 minutes shooting their guns at one another in one long succession of shootouts that barely stops for any dialogue. In fact, I'm trying to remember if anyone actually spoke in this movie. There is practically no story save for different tribes (all with machine guns) fighting each other in a post apocalyptic land where tough guy and silent hero (and I mean silent, as he says all of 3 words in the entire picture) Richard Norton builds this bad ass super-weapon (presumably the Equalizer 2000 of the title) starts blowing everybody away with it, loses it to some other guy who starts blowing away people with it, who then loses it to some other guy who starts blow...you get the picture. Seriously this cheap but admittedly cheerful Philippine shot actioner from the Roger Corman/Cirio Santiago stable is just one long gun fight. Not that that is a bad thing but some may find the repetitive nature of the action tiresome



But if you like your low budget action movies of the distinctly low budget variety and set in one of those cheap, knock off Mad Max settings then Equalizer 2000 is a hoot. I personally enjoyed the action, decently staged (most of the time) for this kind of film with emphasis (and most of the budget) on gunplay, firepower and explosions. Norton gets to fight a bit, bed the rather voluptuous Connie Wahl, shoot loads of bad guys who look like Nazi rejects and tussle with a thoroughly despicable Robert 'T2' Patrick (making his screen debut here). The film has a kind of low tech, post apocalyptic charm to it as these kind of movies were only (and could only be) made in the 80s. They represent a bygone time in (B-movie) cinema when all you needed was a bunch of extras, some cool looking vehicles, an abandoned quarry to film in and a reasonable budget to cover pyrotechnic and ammunition costs.

Disposable and really rather ridiculous it may be but Equalizer 2000 is a load of shoot'em up fun with a funky post apocalyptic charm and wall-to-wall action. Plus, it you are tired of films with endless reams of exposition, complex dialogue and depth of character then Equalizer 2000 is for you.


Lethal Panther



LETHAL PANTHER (aka DEADLY CHINA DOLLS) (1990)

Directed by
: Godfrey Ho
Written by: Simon Fong & Charles Ng
Starring: Sibelle Hu, Maria Jo, Yoko Miyamoto

Girls with guns, babes and bullets, floozies with oozies: whatever you want to call this less than high brow genre, Lethal Panther (Deadly China Dolls as it's known here in the UK) features a trio of the female species brandishing weapons and taking justice into their own hands in this fun but very violent actioner. Churned out by Hong Kong B-movie godfather, Godfrey Ho, this film gets down to business quick and rarely (if in fact, at all) lets ups. A low-fi mix of action and sleaze, the film serves up one or the other at increasingly regular intervals, as three fighting ladies (Sibelle Hu, Maria Jo, and Yoko Miyamoto) take on the slimy nephew of a crime boss who is attempting to take over the criminal empire for himself. Story rarely matters, or makes much sense for that matter, as Lethal Panther is just a showcase for some seriously dangerous looking late 80s Hong Kong stunts and action.



The action is thick and fast and heavy on the bloody squibs. A sort of low rent John Woo movie, Lethal Panther is filled with gunplay and shootouts, all relentlessly staged but without any of the flair of a Woo flick. But this is a schlocky low budget film so a certain amount of scrappiness is expected. To be fair the action is often mounted well and as mentioned, full of squibs and dangerous looking stunts. The female leads acquit themselves well, jumping into the action with aplomb and one is rarely a few minutes away from the next action scene. There is some tight kung fu thrown in as well, breaking up all the gunplay, and Ho even manages to work in a pretty cool sequence where he inter-cuts two shootouts happening simultaneously. It almost elevates the flick from its exploitation roots. Well, not really, this is still Hong Kong action trash after all. The sleaze is copious too, many fairly graphic sex scenes intermingled with all the action and violence and there is rarely a likeable character to be found. Still, this flick moves fast, knows what it is and is a pretty decent example of female orientated action from Hong Kong in the late 80s.

For extra trash and cheesiness this flick makes no bones about ripping off the soundtracks from other (more famous) films. Not least in one "brilliant" scene where two of the protagonists are having a conversation on a beach while the Halloween theme is playing in the background. Not only is it totally inappropriate to the scene but it's actually John Carpenter's original theme. Brilliant. When the film couldn't get any barmier and B-movie, it throws in the Halloween theme (one of the most recognizable pieces of cinematic music) just for good measure. A true B-movie through and through, which is a lot better than you would expect (at least in action terms) and if they had just managed to squeeze in a car chase as well, then Lethal Panther would have been B-movie nirvana.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Friday, 16 July 2010

Predators



PREDATORS (2010)
Directed by: Nimrod Antal
Written by: Alex Livtak & Michael Finch
Starring: Adrian Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins & Laurence Fishburne

Ok, Predator is a bit like a religion for me. I hate to get all "fanboy" but it really is. A near perfect mix of action, sci-fi, 80s macho posing and unrelenting tension. Likewise, Predator 2 is just as close to my heart. Yes, Predator 2. For the lack of a better way of putting it, Predator 2 is (nearly) just as good as the original and simply awesome. Anyone that says otherwise is, well, wrong. So, to sum up; Predator: awesome. Predator 2: awesome. Wisely ignoring the events of the Alien vs. Predator films (which are far from awesome but certainly enjoyable on a guilty pleasure level), we now have Predators: which, to be honest and despite a certain amount of critical deconstruction and the inevitable/never ending/often ridiculous hopes that this would be an equal to the original, is actually pretty awesome.



No, it isn't as good Predator or even Predator 2 but as a belated sequel to these films, it's actually pretty good, stands its own ground and harks back to the days when action/sci-fi flicks where simpler and focused on simply entertaining us. Following a similar set up to the original, Predators sees a group of different soldiers/warriors/society's worst thrown into an unknown jungle with no idea how they got there. Forming a shaky alliance the "team" hesitantly make their way through this alien world all the while being hunted by an unknown mysterious presence. But we all know, and the team soon discover, what this presence is as the Predators systematically pick their prey off one-by-one.



Ratcheting up the tension, at least for the first half of the film, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal serve up a taught, tight, monster movie. The tension is thick, the characters refreshingly dubious and painted in shades of grey, and, again, despite months and months of online bashing/negativity/hatred, Adrian Brody is just fine as the tough guy action hero. He might not be known for these kinds of roles but he does well, as the dude can act and handles himself well when all the action stuff kicks in. In fact, there is a lot more character and decent acting on show than one might expect from a film called Predators. Using gifted actors (such as Brody, Braga, Grace) gives us more believable characters to go along with all the action and gore. Antal wisely spends time with his characters between all the action bits meaning we get to know them somewhat.

Speaking of Antal, he is fast becoming one of Hollywood's most solid directors. Having helmed the really rather good and very underrated horror flick, Vacancy (and tough guy action flick, Armored) he was a good choice for helming a Predator flick. He shoots wide, keeps his editing tight but never over-cuts and can balance tension, character and action to make an entertaining whole. The set pieces are often thrillingly staged including a tense sequence involving some new and nasty Predator creatures and a taught shootout in what seems to be some kind of Predator camp. Some may disappointed that the action isn't bigger or more frequent but the set pieces are for once (and mercifully) not over-the-top or CGI enhanced. In fact, CGI is kept to the minimum and the action is more focused on confrontation and trying to stay alive than attempting to go over-the-top crazy.



Sure the makers don't nail everything. There is actually perhaps a bit too much character downtime and not enough Predator action. The second half is nowhere near as tense as the first half, too many plot twists and holes rear their ugly head come the final third and the film does tend to reference the first film a little too heavily on occasion. Still, this is a far better Predator film than one could have hoped for and for once hasn't been toned down or radically changed too much in order to get more teenagers (who have probably never seen or even heard of the original) into cinemas.

No, it isn't the Arnie original but trying to recreate that in this day and age would be ridiculous. One of the reasons Predator is so good is because of the time it was made in, when tastes and blockbuster ideals where much different than they are now. Predators is a modern take on the Predator mythology which, inevitably, will irk some fans but thanks to some solid direction and action, Predators holds its own ground. Plus, at the end of the day and much like the originals, it's a monster movie: dudes fighting monsters from another planet with guns. And on that level it works and entertains. Like I said, Predator is like a religion to me and Predators more than suffices as a sequel/continuation to that classic film.

Ong Bak 2



ONG BAK 2: THE BEGINNING
Directed by: Tony Jaa & Panna Rittikrai
Starring: Tony Jaa, Dan Chupong

Ong Bak was the lean, mean, fighting machine that introduced the world to Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa. Simple in its story telling and containing some of the most impressive and not to mention bone crunching fighting to come along in an age, Ong Bak gained instant classic status. Then it got a sequel. Well, sort of. Ong Bak 2 is a sequel in name only as it has nothing to do with the original fight film. Despite starring Tony Jaa (who also directs here) and still featuring a ton of impressive fight action, Ong Bak 2 is about as far from Ong Bak as you can get. Whereas the original was a modern day set action flick, this is a period piece set in some dark and dirty, and very bloody, time in Thai history. Whereas Ong Bak had a comedy sidekick and a light touch in between all the violent action, Ong Bak 2 is unrelenting in its despair, blood, violence and general gothic oddness. To be honest, it's not really surprising fans of Ong Bak where disappointed by this wholly baffling sequel.



Baffling it certainly is, some mumbo jumbo about a kid called Tien (Jaa) who sees his parents slain so trains in the way of martial arts to take revenge on the evil army of dictators, mystical warriors and general oddball fighters who murdered his family. Albeit after he has taken in some crocodile fighting (!), running across the top of elephants (!!!????), a weird flashback structure which tries to explain what is going on and all sorts of gothic/mud encrusted weirdness. Yeah, not much like Ong Bak then. Thankfully it does have one thing in common with the original film: a ton of inventive and brutal fight action. It takes a little while to get to but once the action starts it is some fine Thai flavoured fighting which once again shows why the Thai film industry is currently at the forefront of martial arts action. Jaa pushes himself to the limits of endurance in a series of intricate and incredibly brutal fight scenes that take in many forms, styles and weapons. Often jaw dropping in their execution including an incredible sequence where Jaa takes out a collection of opponents with only his legs while lying on the ground, the fights are quite simply some of the best out there.



To be honest, the gothic, blood soaked period setting and vibe is actually pretty cool and sets the film apart from Jaa's other flicks, as he was obviously going for something dark and serious here. It's a just a shame the film has been chopped and changed so much and ends so abruptly (making way for Ong Bak 3, which is basically just the rest of this film). But the filmmakers biggest mistake was calling this Ong Bak 2 when it is nothing like Ong Bak. Expectations were never going to be met and disappointment was always inevitable which is a shame as this is still a decent fight flick. They just should have called it something else.


Monday, 5 July 2010

Blood: The Last Vampire



BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE (2009)
Directed by: Chris Nahon
Written by: Chris Chow
Starring: Gianna Jun, Alison Miller, Liam Cunningham, JJ Field & Yakasuaki Karata

Vampire slaying abounds in this really rather entertaining live action version of the ace anime of the same name. Once again, this is a film that comes with a less than stellar rep, it hardly having a chance out of the starting gate thanks to over eager fanboys denouncing it from the get go. Now, it isn't a work of art and, yes, the CGI is horrible (one of the main reasons why hate has been thrown at this film) but Blood: The Last Vampire is much better than expected and delivers vampire themed action by the truckload.



Saya (Jun) is a vampire hunter working for a shady organization who hunts down the demons in post Word War 2 Japan. Half human, half vampire herself she is looked after by two agents, Harrison (Cunningham) and Luke (Field,) who assign her missions and keep her in a supply of blood to quench her own thirst. Assigned to a US military base to flush out some demons, Jun unexpectedly forms a relationship with Alice (Miller), the daughter of the base's commander. Alice in turn unexpectedly stumbles into the world of vampires and the two soon find themselves on the run from Saya's former employee's, hordes of nasty vampires and soon to face the most powerful vampire of all, Onigen.

The original anime Blood: The Last Vampire, released back in 2000, was a short and sweet slice of manga styled action horror. The film is much the same though the plot has been considerably expanded to accommodate a feature running time. The anime was pretty much just set on the army base while this serves as the first part of the feature film. Chris Nahon (Kiss of the Dragon, Empire of Wolves) creates an atmospheric setting, utilizing his budget and camera well to create a gothic infused, early seventies Japan that is run amok with vampires. The characters are surprisingly more rounded and infused with personality for a special effects driven action film with the cast effectively embracing the pulpy nature of the script. Jun and Miller make for effectively strong female characters, Jun deftly swinging a sword and bringing just the right amount of melancholy to her role of a lonely vampire slaying assassin. In addition, Cunningham and Field are excellent as Saya's shady protectors, both of them seeming to relish the deliciously pulpy dialogue.



The film may suffer from too much style over substance but then this is a comic book movie about vampire slaying. The characters are much more defined and interesting for this kind of material and developed enough. Nahon has assured direction blending style, gore, character, emotion and action effectively to create a wild and distinctive ride. The action comes thick and fast, with Saya taking apart vampires in several sustained sequences of blood letting. Staged by Hong Kong ace Cory Yuen (Righting Wrongs, The Transporter) the action is fluid and suitably flight-of-fancy but is unfortunately marred somewhat by dreaded quick cutting and awful CGI effects. The editing doesn't completely destroy the action, it's just cut a little too quickly and closely. Unfortunately, the CGI effects do let things down and many no doubt will not be able to get past this. Often looking unfinished and amateur and involved in too major sequences in the film (the chase of a vampire demon across rooftops and an ambitious set piece involving a truck falling down a ravine), the CGI just doesn't cut it and unfortunately stands out from all the good work put into the style and look of the film.

However, if you can get past this and resist the need to spew forth reams of abuse about the crappy CGI, Blood: The Last Vampire is a highly entertaining and fun vampire action movie. It's a decent live action version of the anime, (again) no where near as bad as you might have heard and certainly a lot better than the last Blade film. Give it a chance


The Marine 2



THE MARINE 2 (2009)
Directed by: Roel Reine
Written by: Christopher Borelli & John Chapin Morgan
Starring: Ted DiBiase Jr, Lara Cox, Temuera Morrison & Michael Rooker

The Marine was a ridiculously over-the-top, fun slice of action cheese that saw wrestling star John Cena get his first action starring role. Harking back to the uncomplicated, blow-shit-up days of the 1980s, The Marine was action fueled absurdness and a whole heap of fun. It now gets its own sequel, in name only, and sees another wrestling star, this time Ted DiBiase Jr, take the lead for another go around of heavy action antics.



Much like the first but more serious and violent and without the excessive CGI touches, The Marine 2 is a straightforward lone-man-must-rescue-his-girlfriend exercise in action heroics. Joe (DiBiase) is one tough marine who after a mission gone slightly awry goes on vacation with his wife to some tropical resort out in the middle of nowhere. Said resort is promptly taken over by Temuera Morrison and his bandits, for some reason or another, holding Joe's wife and a bunch of other people hostage. So, Joe swiftly resorts to marine mode and infiltrates the resort to rescue his wife, kill the bad guys and well and truly blow shit up.



Jettisoning the tongue-in-cheek nature of the original, The Marine 2 is a much more serious affair with none of the jokey bad guy antics from the awesome Robert Patrick seen in The Marine. It's also a lot more violent meaning the action is more grounded compared to the original's over-the-top stunt heavy nature. This may disappoint fans of The Marine as part of it's fun was the over-the-top nature. However, the different style works in The Marine 2's favour, giving it an identity of its own. Plus, it's just as jam packed with action as The Marine was.

Director Roel Reine makes the most of his budget making the film look extremely professional and orchestrating some impressive mayhem. While some of the bigger shoot-outs may be a little rough around the edges, Reine sure knows how to use his camera: wide shots and sweeping shots capturing every angle of the action. A great one take action sequence involving the capture of the resort is creative and exciting and the extended chase/fight finale along the stick supported platforms and houses out over open water is thrillingly staged. Likewise, an amazing fight between DiBiase and two bad guys is breathlessly choreographed, filmed (again, using mostly one take) and put together.

Despite the routine plot, the main star's lack of charisma, old hats Morrison and Rooker obviously just collecting pay cheques, The Marine 2 is elevated above most quick cash in sequel dreck thanks to assured direction and lots of impressively staged action. Roll on The Marine 3.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Storm Warriors II



THE STORM WARRIORS II (2009)

Directed by
: The Pang Brothers
Written by: The Pang Brothers
Starring: Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Simon Yam, Nicholas Tse, Charlene Choi

Big budget, CGI fueled sequel to the original Storm Warriors seeing stars Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng return to the roles of mystical warriors, Cloud and Wind. This time Danny and Oxide Pang take the helm for a visually stunning, often action saturated but ultimately hollow spectacle. However, despite some negative reviews, our heroes being bland more often than not and CGI being very much at the forefront of the action, Storm Warriors II is surprisingly entertaining, action packed with the CGI often impressive in its execution.

Cloud (Kwok) and Wind (Cheng) along with their master Nameless (Kenny Ho) have been taken captive by feared warlord, Lord Godless (Yam). Managing to escape, Nameless is severely wounded in the struggle, meaning the fight with Godless falls to Wind and Cloud. Godless is determined to invade China and take it for himself, so Wind and Cloud set about training themselves to fight Godless: Cloud harnessing the power of his master, Nameless, while Wind takes on the "Power of Evil" to strengthen himself for the fight. But as Godless seems near undefeatable and Wind is seduced by the new evil in him, Cloud finds himself battling both a tyrannical warlord and his warrior friend.



Ok, first off, Storm Warriors is light on plot and characterization. Basically one simple set up played out in a series of caves and temples this isn't quite the full on epic many might be expecting. Sure it’s full of visual delight and plenty of action but the film is about a small set of characters caught up in one intense situation. No traveling across magical lands, no epic battles between hordes of soldiers (save for a neat animated sequence showing the slaughter of an army), and no reams of incidental characters. There are a few other characters but they serve little purpose other than to explain a little exposition and then pretty much disappear. For example, Nicholas Tse's evil son of Godless character, who you think is going to fight the heroes come the finale pretty much just disappears towards the end. Likewise Lam Suet's character at first seems to be some sort of portly comic relief but gets sidelined for most of the film. Instead we have the heroes, who despite the two leading men's best efforts are just bland. Thankfully we have the great Simon Yam on board. He is an absolute hoot as the main bad guy and gives the film the boost of menace it so needs.



In addition, the film also feels like a chapter in the Storm Warriors saga, not a complete film. It ends incredibly abruptly, attempting to go for a "cliffhanger" ending which doesn't quite work. However, and considering I said at the beginning of this review Storm Warriors was surprisingly entertaining, action packed and with often impressive CGI, the film isn't a complete write off. The Pang Brothers know a thing or two about impressive visuals (check out the likes of Re-Cycle for further evidence) and the film is certainly a visual treat. Surprisingly a lot of the film has still been shot on live stages and sets’ meaning the CGI is used to enhance the action scenes and the characters powers, rather than create the whole film by. The CGI is often of a high standard and used well to highlight the magical powers of the characters. Some will no doubt be disappointed that the action is more special effects based with the build up promising lots of one-on-one fighting and bootwork only to be replaced by CGI extravagance. But this is the type of film Storm Warriors is: a special effects fueled fantasy, not a straight martial arts film. The Pang Brothers still orchestrate some impressive set pieces including an awesome fight between Cloud and Godless and the final half hour containing fight after fight. Not the greatest choreography (too much use of close ups) but the film at least delivers on the promise of fantastical warriors facing off against one another.

Not a disaster by any means but certainly underwhelming in certain respects, Storm Warriors II is best viewed with expectations lowered and will no doubt be appreciated more by comic book fans and lovers of visually spectacular fantasy than hardcore martial arts fans.

Forced Vengeance



FORCED VENGEANCE (1982)

Directed by
: James Fargo
Written by: James Fargo & Franklin Thompson
Starring: Chuck Norris, Mary Louise Parker, Camilla Griggs & Michael Cavanaugh

Early and very much barmy Chuck Norris vehicle that hasn't dated very well, suffers from the most absurd voiceover possibly ever but is made watchable thanks to primarily being set in Hong Kong and featuring a ton of hard hitting action courtesy of the man of a million facts. Norris is tough as nails former army dude, now a Hong Kong casino head of security, Josh Randall who doesn't take no for an answer and will punch you square in the face if you do happen to use that word in his presence. When his father and adoptive brother, who run the casino Josh works for, get into trouble with shady "businessman" Raimondi (Cavanaugh) and end up slain, Josh goes on a one man rampage of revenge and bone breaking albeit with two sexy ladies and his Stetson in tow.



Playing to the tilt on Chuck Norris' tough guy image, Forced Vengeance may have been seen as a serious thriller back in 1982 (or maybe not!) but thanks to much subsequent mocking of said image, Norris parading around Hong Kong looking like a cowboy straight out of Texas and his use of a ridiculous voiceover constantly pointing out the obvious and making crude and sexist remarks, the film comes across often unintentionally hilarious. Also choppy editing and pacing, random characters introduced for no reason and an unnecessary rape scene don't help matters either. Not all action movies from the 80s have a nostalgic sheen to them, Forced Vengeance being a prime example of the the tough guy/unstoappble hero image not always dating so well.

Still, Forced Vengeance does have a few things going for it, especially if you are a Norris fan. This being from earlier on in Chuck's career, the film has a definite hard edge courtesy of director James Fargo (who also directed Dirty Harry sequel, The Enforcer). The action is satisfyingly old school and bone crunching, Norris high kicking his way through a surfeit of fisticuffs. The film also benefits from the Hong Kong setting, much of the action nicely shot on location.

No great shakes, not even by the bearded one's standards, but worth a watch for some action with bite and for a giggle at some silly and outdated posing and tough guy antics.