Monday, 28 March 2011

Give Em Hell Malone



GIVE EM HELL MALONE (2009)
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Mark Hosack
Starring: Thomas Jane, Ving Rhames, Elsa Pataky, Doug Hutchinson, Chris Yen

I suppose Give Em Hell Malone is a love it or hate it kind of film. You either get it or you don't. You either go with its vibe or you don't. I got the vibe and I loved it. Part noir, part ballistic action, part black comedy and part ultra violent and stylised comic book infused mayhem, Give Em Hell Malone certainly mashes its genres but with a committed cast and director who embrace the outrageous nature and a frenetic pace that never falters over the 90 minute run time, this is an ultra-violent good time.




Give Em Hell Malone is one of those flicks that is set in the present but has a kind of stylised 1940s private eye vibe going on. Everyone has cell phones and it's present day but all the main characters are tough guy gumshoes, femme fatales and comic book villains straight out of some 1940s pulp fiction. This is an aspect you will either get on aboard with or you won’t. Despite the modest budget which means things are a little rough around the edges sometimes, the makers nail this aspect well. So we have Thomas Jane as the hard-as-nails Malone, a gun for hire who survives a nasty gun fight, walking away with a suitcase filled with mysterious contents. So no sooner has Malone cried "set-up" everyone and their cousin comes gunning for the suitcase. These include the obligatory femme fatale, a trio of uber-violent villains and somewhat inexplicably, Malone's own mum. Well, she's not really after the suitcase but somehow gets caught up in all the carnage to hilarious effect.



Thankfully not taking itself too seriously, Give Em Hell Malone has fun with its zany concept and once it's out the starting gate, rarely let’s up. Dark comedy, violence and over-the-top action all go hand-in-hand as the film tears its way through private eye concepts and clich├ęs, embracing and obliterating them with equal aplomb. The cast are spot on, spitting out hard boiled dialogue and Jane is just plain awesome as the impossible to kill Malone. He seems to be the go to man for quality genre fare.

I've always been a fan of director Russell Mulcahy from Highlander to Resident Evil: Extinction and his tight direction helps to keep the frenetic charge of the film on track. The budget does show through occasionally but Mulcahy crams the film with so much ultra violence and gags the entertainment never dips. This is certainly a violent film: in an over-the-top, cartoon kind of way but very violent nonetheless. Folks are burnt (repeatedly), bloody squibs go off left, right and centre, a guy's face is shattered from a bullet and Malone himself gets pummeled more times than is humanly possible to survive. It must be noted that the film opens with one hell of a gun fight, the best action scene in the film. In fact, it’s so good it’s kinda disappointing there is nothing quite as good or as kinetic in the rest of the film. Ok, every time Chris (little sister of Donnie) Yen shows up to cause mayhem is pretty damn awesome as well.

Probably not a film for everyone, Give Em Hell Malone is a wild ride with a cast and director at least trying and mostly succeeding at delivering something different.

I dug it.


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Deadly Crossing



TRUE JUSTICE: DEADLY CROSSING (aka RUSSIAN CROSSING) (2011)
Directed by: Keoni Waxman
Written by: Steven Seagal
Starring: Steven Seagal, Sarah Lind, Gil Bellows

After years of direct-to-DVD action fodder (some good: Pistol Whipped, A Dangerous Man; the rest mainly rubbish) and a brief stint with a reality TV show, the big man and one time Under Siege star now transplants himself into an action TV show: True Justice. Seagal is tough Seattle cop Elijah Kane (in other words: he's Steven Seagal) who heads some kind of bad ass crime fighting squad made up of good looking, know-it-all and improbable police officers who only exist in slick TV cop shows. So there is a new recruit learning the ropes, a douche bag pretty boy who thinks all the ladies love him, a female cop who looks like a Sports Illustrated model and of course Seagal himself, who mainly sits behind a desk sprouting wisdom and occasionally gets up to fire guns and break bones.



This pilot episode is a slick looking production and deals with the gang trying to take down some Russian kingpin played by Gil Bellows. Seagal looks more at ease than he has done in most of his direct-to-DVD epics of late but the rest of the cast, despite trying their best, are unfortunately lumbered with annoying characters who attempt to try and out douche one another. Sarah Lind is the only one that comes off as really likeable as the tough new recruit. Deadly Crossing is part CSI and part Seagal movie and while it never blends together seamlessly, the flick feels more like the action shows of the 80s and 90s such as Renegade and Walker: Texas Ranger compared to one of those numerous talking head cop shows that seem to clog up the airwaves these days.



There is a decent amount of action as well, including Seagal akido-ing bad guys at regular intervals, some decent gun battles and even a ridiculous bit where Seagal skids and slides his SUV while he fires his gun at the same time taking out the bad guys. Awesome. Unfortunately, the makers obviously got hold of a new Avid edit system when putting this together and overdo the whole thing with lots of ridiculous swooshes, fast cuts, blends, flashes and various other stupid and pointless "Avid farts." Ugh.

Cheesy action TV that's entertaining, has Seagal doing his thing and is an easy going watch if you like some fisticuffs and fire fights to go along with all the cop talking and posing. He's conquered martial arts, movies, music (sort of) and the energy drinks business, now Seagal well and truly kicks TV's ass.


Monday, 21 March 2011

Exiled




My new review of Exiled at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Postmortem



POSTMORTEM (1998)

Director
: Albert Pyun
Screenplay: John Lowry Lamb & Robert McDonnell
Starring: Charles Sheen, Michael Halsey, Stephen McCole & Ivana Milicevic

I've always enjoyed Albert Pyun films with the likes of Nemesis, Kickboxer 2, Cyborg, Mean Guns, Knights and even Adrenalin all regularly getting a watch so I can get my Pyun action movie fix. Here we have Postmortem a slight change of pace for a Pyun flick (as in there are no cyborgs or kung fu featured): a serial killer flick that manages to create an unsettling mood and be quite entertaining at the same time. In fact (for those who care, and I know there are some), this could be Pyun’s most accomplished work, at least since Nemesis.

James McGregor (Sheen) is an American ex-cop turned novelist who, after seeing one too many nasty crimes, has deserted his family and shacked up in Glasgow, Scotland. Wallowing in self pity, McGregor is accused of a killing when a dead girl turns up in his back yard. Convincing the cops he is innocent and that a killer is setting him up, McGregor high tails it into the highlands to get away from the madness. However, Inspectors Ballantine (Halsey) and Turner (Millicevic) want him to join the police team in their hunt for the killer. It’s only a matter of time before McGregor agrees and the search for the killer is on.



So far, so standard. What is refreshing about this film is the setting. Having the action take place in Glasgow may seem a little odd but it is a nice change from Los Angeles or New York. We get to see a lot of Scotland’s architecture and countryside as McGregor and the police chase the killer through city streets, graveyards and various other local settings. Part of the appeal is perhaps seeing a Hollywood actor run around the middle of Glasgow (not something you would often see, I assume). People of a Scottish persuasion may be irritated by the fact that an American has to show the local police how to find the killer. This is a valid point, though Sheen being American makes his character more of an outsider and gives him a sense of loss while tracking a killer in an alien country.

Sheen (credited as Charles here) works well in this film, showing that there is still an actor inside him. In the earlier scenes, and presumably drawing from personal experience, he portrays the alcoholic, disheveled McGregor convincingly. Once he is on the case, Sheen plays his character as a man desperately trying to stop the bad that is happening (though his transformation from drunk to hero seems to just involve having a shave). But Sheen and the script never turn McGregor into a gun-toting, gung-ho saviour. He is very much an ordinary man, who makes mistakes and finds himself caught up in something unbelievable. McGregor never resorts to using a gun and there is no improbable romantic subplot. The rest of the cast do well with their one-dimensional characters. Halsey (Mean Guns) as Ballatine is good support but obviously struggles with his Scottish accent.



The pace of the film is perhaps what makes it work. Some reviews have commented that the film drags in some scenes. This is true but making the film a bit longer at 105 mins, the filmmakers have been able to explore the reasons for the killer’s actions with more intensity and maturity than most serial killer flicks. Using flashbacks and revealing the killer earlier on allows us to see what drives the killer to do what he is doing. There is no quick, convoluted exposition blurted out in the final scene by the killer in order to explain why he is murdering. The film takes time to show what a flawed but no less evil person the murderer is. This makes the character a real monster compared to the cartoon monsters that most thrillers portray their villains as. The gore is kept to a minimum and used wisely, though there is an unnecessary amount of gratuitous nudity.

Pyun hasn't always been renowned for coherence in his pictures, but here he seems to be learning to let scenes run a little longer and have actions explained: he doesn’t seem to have been pressured to cut out huge chunks in order to get that coveted 90 minute run time. George Mooradian’s camerawork is another bonus. The camera flows and swoops around characters and action giving the film a sense of momentum and freedom. Though this technique is overused a little, it is particularly effective in the scene where McGregor and the police pursue the killer through the streets of Glasgow.

With a somber tone and a slightly more thought provoking ending than one would expect, this was a surprisingly entertaining film. In a market flooded with direct-to-video fodder (and I’ve seen a lot…a bloody lot) Postmortem is a worthy attempt at trying something different with the serial killer genre.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen



LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (2010)

Directed by: Andrew Lau
Screenplay: Gordon Chan
Starring: Donnie Yen, Shu Qui, Anthony Wong

Donnie Yen seems to be jumping from one period marital arts blockbuster to the next, Legend of the Fist coming off the back of such hits as Ip Man 1 & 2, 14 Blades and Bodyguards & Assassins. While Legend of the Fist doesn't reach the heights of some of these action spectaculars it's still a good looking romp that is unfortunately let down by a shaky narrative and not quite delivering on the awesome action fest the trailers and marketing material suggested.

Yen is Chen Zhen, an all round good egg fighting for the Chinese resistance during World War 1 and who just happens to be a martial arts badass. After a stonking opening sequence where Chen Zhen takes out a squad of enemy soldiers on the war torn battlefield, the flick relocates to Shanghai. Here Zhen has taken on the identity of a fallen comrade so he can continue to work for the resistance. He gains the trust of a local crime boss (Wong), cosies up to his girl (Qui) and takes on the persona of a masked vigilante who dishes out kung fu justice against the ever threatening Japanese. Let the ass kicking commence.




Unfortunately, it never really does. There are several impressive sequences of Yen dishing out kung fu combat but considering the trailers and such promised what looked like a rip-snorting martial arts good time, Legend of Chen Zhen feels too bogged down in melodrama. Nothing wrong with trying to make a serious film as afterall, the atrocities of war and the fight of the Chinese against the genocide inclined Japanese (circa WW 1 & 2) are serious subjects but Andrew Lau's film just never really takes off: as a serious drama or an action film. Maybe it's the attempt to fuse the two that doesn't quite work or maybe it's that despite Yen's and the cast's best efforts the dramatic scenes just don't always engage. The narrative seems choppy and somewhat muddled with the whole plot point of Chen becoming a masked superhero type saviour of the common people, more of an after thought than an actual integral part of the storyline.

One the plus side, the period detail is lavishly recreated, with Shanghai a glorious neon lit setting. The action when it does arrive is breathlessly staged and features some impressive kung fu combat. As mentioned the opening sequence is a doozy and there is a great fight where Yen takes on a handful of goons in what seems to be some kind of library room. Unfortunately these sequences are far too short but are very sweet. It must be also mentioned that despite the glossy look, the film is extremely violent in parts with graphic violence and torture making frequent appearances.

With a wandering tone, a lack of focus and a need for a few more action sequences, Legend of the Fist is a little underwhelming. Breathlessly staged in parts and frustratingly plodding in others the film is a mixed bag but worthy of a watch if you are a Donnie Yen fan.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Scanner Cop



SCANNER COP (1994)

Directed by: Pierre David
Screenplay by: George Saunders & John Bryant
Starring: Daniel Quinn, Richard Grove, Darlanne Fluegel & Richard Lynch

Scanner Cop
(along with its sequel, Scanner Cop 2) is a spin-off film from the original Scanners series, and while not as good as Cronenberg’s original, it is a decent sci-fi cop thriller. Rescued by a kindly police officer from his out of control Scanner dad, Samuel Staziak (Quinn) grows up to be a cop. Learning to suppress and control his Scanner abilities (reading minds, controlling people’s actions), Staziak just wants to lead a normal life. However, the evil Dr. Carl Glock (Lynch) disrupts these plans with his plot to wipe out the L.A. Police Force through mind control. This forces Staziak to unleash his Scanner abilities to prevent Glock’s plan.



Directed by Pierre David (producer of Mission of Justice, Scanners 2 & 3), Scanner Cop is a fairly ludicrous affair but no less entertaining for it. Decently shot (though the lighting tends to be a bit dark) and produced, the actors do their best with the material given. Basically a cop thriller with a bit of Scanners thrown in, the film still displays some nifty special effects sequences. Courtesy of John Carl Buechler (From Beyond, Bride Of Re-Animator), we get engorged veins, metal plates exploding from heads, a giant insect and three tiny heads bursting from another character’s forehead. There is also the obligatory Scanners exploding head shot. Yet the best is saved for the rather disturbing scene when the hero wanders through a mental asylum (representing Hell, which another character is stuck in) where the inmates are doing lots of wrong (very wrong) things to one another. Gross, but very effective.

Add in Drake from Aliens (Mark Rolston), a cameo from the late, great Brion James (Bladerunner) and a good amount of silliness and Scanner action, and you have an entertaining hour and a half of mind-frying entertainment.


Project Shadowchaser 4: The Gates of Time



PROJECT SHADOWCHASER 4: THE GATES OF TIME (aka ORION'S KEY) (1996)

Directed by
: Mark Roper
Screenplay by: B.J. Nelson
Starring: Frank Zagarino, Todd Jensen & Jennifer MacDonald

Project Shadowchaser: The Gates Of Time
is a very bizarre flick. The first three Project Shadowchasers were entertaining and action packed sci-fi B-movies, with number 2, Night Siege, being the best of the bunch. Number 4 however, abandons all that made the others fun (cool fights, gunplay and lame one liners) for a muddled tale of African tribes, a dying kid, little alien dudes, a mythical elixir, lame action and some Gates Of Time that are never mentioned or seen in the film. Oh, and the psychotic cyborg from Shadowchaser 1-3 shows up too.



After a very odd prologue featuring dancing tribes, aliens and loads of lightening, Frank Zagarino’s flat-topped cyborg is unearthed by two dim-witted archaeologists and is on a quest to find an elixir and something called Orion’s Key (the film’s original title, which makes sense considering it’s said about 20 times during the film). Somehow the archaeologists’ kid and their nefarious boss get involved and it’s down to business, with the killer cyborg chasing everyone in sight. Now that’s all good and bizarre, but the strangest thing is setting all this in Africa. Watching bleach blond, leather clad Zagarino run round the desert causing havoc is very silly indeed. Director, Mark Roper (Warhead) is a South African native and fills proceedings with picturesque shots of the African landscape and its people. One minute it’s a daft sci-fi flick, the next a travelogue of the African countryside. There seems to be an awful lot of tribal dancing for a film about a killer cyborg.

It’s a shame really as The Gates Of Time has decent production values and is fairly well made and shot. More of a bemusing oddity than an entertaining film. However, look out for the creepy opening eyes in the rocks when the heroes are climbing the cliff. Sounds odd, but is eerily effective.

The flick also goes by the title of Alien Chaser.


Missing



My new review of Missing at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Wild



My new review of Wild at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Charity Hurts



CHARITY HURTS (2010)

Written, edited, produced, action choreographed, starring and directed by: Andrew Thatcher

As you can tell from his credits above, Andrew Thatcher is pretty much a one man mini movie production house. Based in Australia and utilising all his micro-budget knowledge and resources, he has produced his second action feature Charity Hurts. A very tongue-in-cheek and loving homage to action films and a wry look at the world of money hungry charities, what he lacks in budget and special effects, Thatcher makes up for in guts, determination and just good old fashioned martial arts action.

Damn charity workers. They're always popping up at inappropriate moments, bothering us on the street and making a nuisance of themselves asking for our hard earned money. But there are some charities who just won't take no for an answer and if you don't pay up, they come a collecting. Jason Jones (Thatcher), who not only has an awesome action movie name, is fed up of these pushy and violence inclined charities and decides to do something about it. It's not long before he discovers the charities are being run by mob boss John Scaglioni (John Tsoutis), which means Jason Jones has to fight off wave after wave of martial arts trained charity workers as he works his way through the city to take out Scaglioni.



Now Charity Hurts is as micro-budget as they come, most likely funded out of Thatcher's pocket but he puts his heart and soul and a lot of enthusiasm into this fun fight filled film. Over its brisk 70 minute running time, his Jason Jones stumbles from one fight to the next, each confrontation getting trickier and the choreography slicker. With an impressive martial arts background, Thatcher crams the film with fast and fluid fight scenes. The dust-ups get better and more brutal as the film goes along, Thatcher taking on an ever increasing number of opponents, often several at a time. Shot and cut for clarity the fights include a taut and tight 4 on 1 free-for-all in what appears to be some kind of abandoned parking structure/industrial estate/wasteland/action movie setting du jour. The never ending fights lead to a wicked showdown between Jones and Scaglioni, with some fancy bootwork ending the film on a particularly action packed high.




Along with all the kung fu action there is a fair bit of gun-play including a great homage to John Woo, where Jones and an over-zealous cop shoot it out with a bunch of gun toting goons in gloriously over-the-top fashion. There are just as many comedy beats as action beats peppered throughout, the cast hamming it up and embracing the fun nature of the flick. On the downside the cheap effects sometimes get in the way of enjoying the action. Thatcher is certainly trying and mostly succeeding in covering as many action types as possible (kung fu, gunplay, lots of explosions) and while some of the effects add to the humour (including the most ridiculous escape by jumping out of a window ever!) the film is at its best when focusing on the marital arts action.

A fun fight flick that sates the thirst for martial arts action and while its micro-budget stylings may not be to everyone's taste, Charity Hurts shows a lot of heart and never stops being entertaining with its high quota of kung fu combat.




www.charityhurts.wetpaint.com

Last Man Standing



LAST MAN STANDING (1996)

Written and Directed by
: Joseph Merhi
Starring: Jeff Wincott, Jillian McWhirter, Steve Eastin, Jonathan Fuller, Michael Greene & Jonathan Banks

PM Entertainment was one of the most prolific independent film companies of the 1990’s. Churning out a never ending supply of B-movie action and sci-fi flicks, you couldn’t walk into a video store without noticing the latest Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi (the PM of PM Entertainment) action masterpiece. Last Man Standing (not to be confused with the Walter Hill/Bruce Willis film of the same name) was one of the company’s biggest productions, and starred the great Jeff Wincott. Featuring some outstanding car chases, the film is an entertaining though predictable flick from the PM stable.

Kurt Bellmore is a tough, upstanding cop (with extremely bad fashion sense; check out the crocodile skin cowboy boots and brightly coloured blazers) who is happily married to his wife, Annabella (McWhirter) and has the best partner on the force, Doc (Banks). This perfect set-up is blown apart when Doc is murdered, in a hostage situation, due to bad judgement by dirty cop Seagrove (Eastin). Bellmore is blamed for the killing and unfairly dismissed from the force. Suspecting foul play from his boss, Demayo (Greene), and fellow cop Seagrove, Bellmore discovers they are in cahoots with a gang of dangerous back robbers led by the homicidal Underwood (Fuller). With his wife in tow, Bellmore then sets about bringing the robbers to justice and exacting his revenge, levelling half of Los Angeles along the way.




Directed by Merhi, Last Man Standing is nothing new in terms of plot or character and despite providing a few twists and turns becomes just another standard tale of revenge. Yet it does have one novel twist: having Bellmore’s wife stick by him. She is not reduced to a damsel in distress or window dressing and even saves her husband from a couple of nasty scrapes. Though not handled in the most realistic manner (Annabella: We are married, I am staying with you, Kurt: Ok) it is refreshing not to see the female character relegated to the sidelines, especially in a tough guy orientated flick. It’s also nice to see a couple sticking together amid the never ending onslaught of gunfire and car pile-ups. Ahhhh.

The early scenes of Doc and Bellmore working together are a nice counterpoint to all the action (and overacting) and show that Wincott can act. But these scenes are cut short to make way for hammy villains and tough guy talk. The movie then descends into characters trying to out tough one another in the swearing (fuck you, no fuck you) and smoking departments. Jonathan Fuller (Castle Freak) is adequately threatening as bad guy, Underwood, but almost ruins his performance by constantly referring to himself as either Snake or The Swashbuckler!!!




However, we don’t come to these films (those of us who watch these films at least) for Oscar worthy acting. It’s for the action. The car chases, the shoot-outs and the fist fights. And in that sense Last Man Standing delivers. Apart from the poorly put together scene of Doc being killed, the chases and shoot-outs are thrillingly staged. A fight between Bellmore and Underwood ends with a spectacular fall from a high-rise building; the Corvette car chase features said vehicle taking flight during rush hour traffic; and the final shoot-out blazes it way through a train station. But the piece-de-resistance is the armoured car/motorcycle chase. Stunt co-ordinator, Spiro Razatos, pulls out all the stops as cars flip, explosions tear up the freeway, people jump from speeding motorcycles onto moving vehicles and our hero is dragged behind an armoured truck a la Raiders of the Lost Ark. Merhi and Pepin are renowned for big action sequences on small budgets and have created one of their best with this car chase.

Last Man Standing
is an awesome action movie. If you like shoot-outs, explosions and car chases then this will be right up your street. It is also a good introduction to the films of Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin.



Japan Society: Hardest Men in Town



Hardest Men in Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex & Violence

This season, Japan Society is proud to present the new Globus Film Series, Hardest Men in Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex & Violence. From March 9 to 19, Japan Society will be screening a series of 15 yakuza films, from 1960s productions featuring chivalrous kimono-clad, sword-wielding gangsters to today's ruthless gun-toting villains dealing in debt, dark trades and deeds. Featuring films by internationally acclaimed directors such as Takeshi Kitano, Seijin Suzuki, and Kenji Fukasaku (among many others), the series includes a large number of premieres and titles never-before shown in the U.S. Also introducing some of these screenings will be a few very special guests, including writer/director Paul Schrader, author Jake Adelstein, and director Takashi Miike.

Featured Films:

The Yakuza – Directed by Sydney Pollack
Onibi: The Fire Within – Rokuro Mochizuki
The Wolves – Hideo Gosha
The Walls of Abashiri Prison (pt. 3): Longing for Home - Teruo Ishii
Brutal Tales of Chivalry - Kiyoshi Saeki
Theater of Life: Hishakaku - Tadashi Sawashima
Blood of Revenge – Tai Kato
Cops Vs. Thugs – Kenji Fukasaku
Battles Without Honor and Humanity A.K.A. The Yakuza Papers (pt. 3): Proxy War – Kenji Fukasaku
Youth of the Beast – Seijin Suzuki
Dead or Alive – Takashi Miike
A Yakuza in Love A.K.A. Villainous Love – Rokuro Mochizuki
Ryuji - Toru Kawashima
Yakuza Wives – Hideo Gosha
Outrage: The Way of the Modern Yakuza – Takeshi Kitano


More information on the festival as well as past series and events is available at:
www.japansociety.org/hardest_men_in_town