Thursday, 21 April 2011
SINNERS & SAINTS (2010)
Directed by: William Kaufman
Written by: William Kaufman & Jay Moses
Starring: Johnny Strong, Kevin Phillips, Costas Mandylor, Sean Patrick Flannery, Tom Berenger
Back-to-basics ballistic action is what Sinners & Saints delivers in spades. It’s also got ample tough guy swagger, a rough and tumble vibe and several meaty performances from a game cast which includes some fresh faces and action movie stars from yester year. It’s a down and dirty cop thriller and William Kaufman’s film is a welcome return to the kind of tough guy action films we just don’t see much of anymore.
In a Katrina ravaged New Orleans, bad ass cop Sean Riley (Strong) is facing a suspension with his tired looking captain (Berenger) doing everything he can to keep Riley from screwing up his life. Riley is as tough as they come and after losing his son and being abandoned by his wife, he is becoming increasingly more jaded. After the gunning down of his latest partner (Kim Coates) in a ferocious opening gun battle, Riley is assigned to a new case where brutal slayings, involving burning the victims alive, are plaguing the city. Teamed up with a rookie partner (Phillips), the pair plunge into the darkness of the city and do battle with warring gangs, a rogue team of former combat experienced killers and Riley’s childhood friend (Flannery), who may just be at the center of all the violence and murder.
Sinners & Saints certainly walks the well worn path of a cop thriller: tough, renegade cop with a damaged home life; a rookie partner who is his polar opposite; a new case that will either push him further over the edge or save him from his downward spiral. But Kaufman and his co-writer Jay Moses take these familiar elements and spin them into something that seems incredibly fresh. First off, Johnny Strong gives an impressive performance as the seen-it-all cop and despite being as hard as nails there is a human under there. When his captain tells him to take it easy and reassigns him he refreshingly doesn’t lock horns with him but agrees, showing the two have a friendship beyond their working relationship. Likewise, when he is partnered with Phillips, despite a little trepidation, the two form a realistic relationship becoming friends and backing each other up in the numerous firefights: no clichéd arguments about how to do things or hating each other at first only to then respect each other nonsense. Despite all the seasoned acting talent on hand, Strong and Phillips hold their own and make for some welcome likeable heroes.
In addition to this refreshing take on the usual cop heroes there are also some formidable bad guys on show. For once the villains feel like a threat and thanks to likes of Costas Mandylor, and his brother Louis (who plays a scary eyed killer), are injected with ruthless venom. Costas Mandylor is just awesome as the bad guy increasingly losing his grip on the situation and under pressure from other scary bad guys in the form of gang bosses Jurgen Prochnow and Method Man. In addition, Sean Patrick Flannery also makes an impression as Riley’s at-the-end-of-his-line buddy. Seemingly shot on the streets of New Orleans, still in a ravaged state, Sinners & Saints achieves a fairly gritty tone and feeling, not least in some of the violence which on a few occasions is intensely graphic. The flick sticks to its dark roots and pulls no punches in the death and torture scenes. This is a hard edged thriller.
On top of all this, Kaufman and his team stage some barnstorming action scenes. Mainly of the gunplay/heavy firepower variety (though there are few hand-to-hand fights in there too), the gun blazing action is top notch. Obviously tipping its hat to Heat, the action is staged with verve, clarity and ammo spewing ferocity. There are several sustained set-pieces of machine gun combat as the cops and various bad guys go at one another with high powered weapons. The action scenes are tense, well choreographed, easy to follow and seem devoid of any CGI. This is proper old school action staging. From a quick and merciless raid on a photography studio to an impressive gun battle that ensues when the cops accidentally stumble on the bad guys doing bad things, the action scenes sizzle and place Sinners & Saints high above most independently produced action films.
Sure proceedings do tend to tip into the pulpy side of things (though this never dents the entertainment value) and some may be put off by the overt tough guy swagger and some of the more predictable elements but on the whole Sinners & Saints is impressive: both as an action film and a thriller. Well made, with interesting characters, a tense pace and some corking action scenes this film deserves to find a wide audience. Great stuff.
Monday, 18 April 2011
Friday, 8 April 2011
THUNDER SQUAD (aka WILD TEAM)
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Screenplay: Roberto Leoni
Starring: Antonio Sabato, Sal Borgese, Julia Fursich, Ivan Rassimov, Werner Pocath
Italian shock master Umberto Lenzi is well known for his gore soaked shockers The Man from Deep River, Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive but made just as many action pics as he did horror ones. Thunder Squad is perhaps one of the lesser known jungle based action flicks and isn't as insanely wild or over-the-top as the likes of other Italian action flicks such as Strike Commando or Double Target but is still a fun romp through the jungles with a heavy dose of machine gun action.
Short and sweet it gets straight to the point when the son of some important dignitary is kidnapped and held hostage within the bowels of the jungle. So Antonio Sabato (Tuareg Desert Warrior) and his rag-tag team of middle aged special forces dudes (consisting bizarrely of a British chap, a German and the most stereotypical Italian: mamma mia!) are called in and once they've proved how bad-ass they are (by kicking the crap out of some young soldiers) and recruiting (and perving on) a foxy babe who just happens to be an explosives expert, they head into the jungle to rescue the young nipper. But double crosses, the unrelenting jungle, the need to constantly take a break to rest (well, they are middle aged afterall) and the fact the kid they rescue is more resourceful and better at saving the day than they are, all conspire against them as they attempt to complete their mission.
Silly and rather tame compared to other Italian action fests, Thunder Squad is still a cheap and cheerful Lenzi flick with some cool location work, ample cheese and a fair share of firepower. Nothing really revolutionary happens and the pace is a little more laid back, what with the squad all at least well into their forties and even pushing fifty meaning proceedings more amble along than explode at breakneck pace. Not that this is a problem as there is lots of overacting, requisite cutaways to shady dudes in suits doing all the double-crossing, a hammy villain and come the final half hour lots of bullets being sprayed.
And this being a cheap Italian action flick from the 80s there is also plenty of absurd goings on to keep the entertainment value flowing. Like what? Well when the team take out the group of trainee soldiers near the beginning they kick the crap out of them while high-fiving each other as if they are out playing lazer tag or something; once they are done perving on the foxy lady recruit they allow her to join the squad but only after she has survived being inside an exploding building, which she somehow does survive and just walks out waving like it's the most natural thing in the world (!); and the fact that the kid they go to rescue (who is an annoying little twerp) ends up saving the day and gets most of the squad sent to rescue him killed. Brilliant. Oh, and there is lots of hilariously awful dubbing and non-acting.
Considering it's a Lenzi flick the violence is rather toned down save for a few bloody squibs. A lower key, less violent but still barmy Italian action flick there is some action fun to be gained from Thunder Squad.
Monday, 4 April 2011
THE TAINT (2010)
Directed by: Drew Bolduc & Dan Nelson
Written by: Drew Bolduc
Starring: Drew Bolduc, Colleen Walsh, Cody Crenshaw, Kenneth Hall
What do a crazy and gross dream sequence, a mental and defecating redneck and a severed penis all have in common? Well, they’re all featured in the opening few minutes of The Taint. All these absurd and gross images assault our senses within the first few minutes of Drew Bolduc and Dan Nelson’s film, pretty much setting us up for the next hour or so of unrelenting nastiness and outright bonkers. Though despite the severed penis and the redneck shitting himself the funniest bit is actually our (anti) hero stopping to light a cigarette mid chase from the shitting his pants inbred.
While Bolduc’s and Nelson’s film certainly reaches epic heights of absurd gross out spectacle and taste boundary pushing madness, it is often at its funniest in simpler more deadpan moments: such as the great moment mentioned above or an attractive couple who while proclaiming their undying love for one another simply put it as “Fuck anyone that isn’t in love like us!” Quite. That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be gained from all the in your face gore and inappropriateness: cause if there is one thing The Taint has, it’s in your face gore and if there is one thing it is, it’s inappropriate. Taking a page out of the Troma filmmaking book and then coating it in acid and adding a fair dose of modern day nihilism, The Taint takes the underbelly of society’s obsession with all things phallic and misogynistic to new depraved heights. Gore, semen and male genitalia have never been thrown at the screen with such wild and embracing abandonment. The Taint is nasty, gory, insane and just plain gross. It’s also pretty damn funny.
When a couple of douche bag wannabe scientists create a serum to enhance the male genitalia and their even bigger douche bag boss releases said serum into the water supply, the male population goes into an unrelenting frenzy of misogynistic madness and penis obsessed lunacy. Women aren’t safe anymore and are liable to get their heads caved in by the maniac males. So, through various exploitation goofiness and nonsensical plotting it’s up to a slacker inclined and 1970s hair and sunglasses obsessed dude and a shotgun wielding, tough as nails, ain’t-gonna-stand-for-it-babe, to hit back at the engorged of penis population. Let the goo spewing madness commence.
Wanna see something different? Wanna see something that lives up to its vile exploitation roots? Wanna see something that has gun blasting heroes blowing holes in and the sex appendages off of deranged maniacs? If so, and let’s face it, who the fuck doesn’t, then watch The Taint. Exploitation to the max, a complete deconstruction of how lame and dick obsessed the male race can be and at times, just outright funny, The Taint is pure underground madness. Slickly shot and delivered with deadpan brilliance, The Taint will assault you with images you never wanted to see and have you laughing out loud at the same time. The comedy flows just as much as the blood and body fluids with some great deadpan moments: our sort of hero always changing between two sets of sunglasses, his ineptness at skateboarding and a hilarious animated sequence featuring some poor hapless bunnies.
Considering the slight of budget there are also some awesomely effective gore effects which are laid on thick and a rather brilliant musical score which only enhances the unrelenting weirdness. Sure it suffers from some unavoidable problems of micro budget filmmaking (ropey acting, momentum sagging, maybe trying a bit too hard to shock) but these crazy kids have crafted a truly unique, gross and shotgun blowing away scumbags experience that should be seen by anyone who is into underground/independent/gross out cinema and for those who miss the exploitation days of the 1970s and 80s.