Sunday, 25 September 2011
THE KUNOICHI: NINJA GIRL (2011)
Directed by: Seiji Chiba
Screenplay: Seiji Chiba
Starring: Rina Takeda, Mayu Onomura, Shiho Fujisawa, Kotono
Japanese writer and director Seiji Chiba sure is churning out these cheap and cheerful ninja flicks. From the over-the-top Alien Vs Ninja, to the rather quite good Rogue Ninja and to the awesomely titled Evil Ninja, Chiba certainly likes his ninja movies (he also wrote the awesome Death Trance starring Versus main man Tak Sakaguchi: track it down if you can) and usually that is no bad thing. Ninja movies: awesome. Lots of cool fight scenes: awesome. Plenty of over-the-top concepts and gore: awesome. Chiba’s films have often featured at least one, if not all, of these but unfortunately Ninja Girl might just be one quickie ninja flick too many.
Ok, so it’s not that bad and essentially more of the same. The film certainly has an over-the-top concept: some nasty male ninja dudes (who have had their genitals cut off for some inexplicable reason!!) are kidnapping women and delivering them to a nearby town to be used as tools of pleasure for the higher ranking officials (who still have their genitals: presumably). Some other evil ninja then kidnaps one of the said kidnapped women himself (!) and plans to get her infected with a horrible sexual disease (by some gross looking dude kept in a cave) and then have her infect the entire town she is being sent to (the town is home to a rival ninja clan he wants to wipe out). On top of this, the original evil dudes didn’t bank on one of the women they kidnapped being a badass ninja. She is and she’s Rina Takeda (from other high kicking films such as Karate Girl and High Kick Girl: awesome titles!) who, eventually, kicks everybody’s butt. That’s a lot to fit into 65 minutes.
And this is the problem: almost too much going on. Well, too much explanation of what is going on. The film only features two sets (a forest and that cave recycled from both Alien Vs Ninja and Rogue Ninja) and for a film clocking in at just over an hour (a B-movie runtime if there ever was one) there is an awful lot of exposition about how evil this person is and what evil plans this person has and what this evil person is going to do and so on and so on. While not particularly graphic there is also a rather misogynistic and perverse tone that ultimately mars the film from being outright fun. Sure, Chiba is at least doing something a little different with the ninja genre (than just fighters out for revenge or to regain honour) but what we want is high kicking, sword wielding action.
Thankfully there is at least one standout action sequence. Takeda takes on one of the bad dudes in an awesome brawl that is tightly choreographed, well filmed and features some wicked swordplay. The girl can fight and Chiba can certainly craft an action sequence. Unfortunately it’s all too little too late and makes Ninja Girl (awesome title again) a bit of a disappointment. Chiba is still an action writer/director to watch but this doesn’t have as much kick ass action as Rogue Ninja or the bonkers fun of Alien Vs Ninja.
GUARDIAN ANGEL (1994)
Directed by: Richard W. Munchkin
Screenplay: Jacobson Hart
Starring: Cynthia Rothrock, Darren McVicar, Marshall Teague, Ken McLeod, Lydia Denier
PM Entertainment and Cynthia Rothrock teamed up for, well, a low budget action movie. The action movie/car chase straight-to-video producers of the 1990s, PM Entertainment, worked with many a B-movie action star (Don the Dragon Wilson, Jeff Wincott, Gary Daniels) and even managed to rope in the first lady of American kung fu, Rothrock, for this very silly but action packed vehicle. The car chases are thin on the ground this time but there is plenty of kickboxing action to go around.
Flick starts off as a run-of-the-mill cop flick as two cops (Rothrock, Teague) go gunning for a master criminal, and foxy French lady (Denier), who is causing a nuisance of her self killing people as she looks for some missing counterfeit money plates. Low and behold Rothrock’s partner (who also happens to be her man squeeze) gets killed (good old Teague, from Roadhouse and US Seals 2, exits the movie far too quickly) and this sends her into a depressive downward spiral. Enter smarmy playboy Darren McVicar. He needs a bodyguard and likes women. Rothrock can kick ass and has a great ass. And boom: she is his bodyguard. They begin a love/hate relationship, it turns out the sexy French chick was McVicar's ex, lots of attempts on his life occur, there is a hilarious sojourn to a mental asylum, Rothrock gets to kick butt and there’s some impressive stunts involving Rothrock (or her stunt double) being dragged by a horse and a silly finale featuring speedboats and a helicopter. B-movie business as usual.
Not one of PM Entertainment’s best (that would be Rage or Last Man Standing or The Silencers or Zero Tolerance or Cyber Tracker 2…) and not Rothrock’s finest hour either (try Righting Wrongs or The Blonde Fury) this is still passable low rent action thanks in part to the always likeable Rothrock (who has sparky chemistry with McVicar), many a B-action movie stalwart appearing (Teague, McLeod, Art Camacho, Robert Miano) and the fights (while not spectacular) are punchy and energetic (choreographed by Richard Norton and Art Camacho).
Decent action, the always-welcome Rothrock and lots of ridiculousness (including a guy who gets his crotch set on fire!) make this watchable B-movie trash to fall asleep to.
Monday, 19 September 2011
Saturday, 17 September 2011
Directed by: Olivier Megaton
Screenplay: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Zoe Saldana, Jordi Molla, Lennie James, Amandla Stenberg & Cliff Curtis
So another glossy action flick rolls off Luc Besson’s movie conveyor belt and while it features all kinds of logic defying nonsense and falls foul of too many “techniques” of modern filmmaking (I’m looking at you completely inappropriate, intrusive and annoying music), Colombiana is actually a decent and highly enjoyable action flick. It’s the age old story of a youngster witnessing the death of her parents by some slimy bad guys only to grow up and become a ruthless (and impossibly sexy) killing machine who, of course, goes after her original family’s killers: inevitably leading to a big, bombastic showdown.
Fair play really, as it’s an enjoyable plot hook that, again, works well here and Besson and his team at least give us some likeable characters to root for and some decently staged action beats to make Colombiana a worthwhile, sun soaked ride. There is a bit of grit thrown in as well, at least grit that lives within a heightened action world, as the violence is often quite brutal (though never overly graphic) and the cast at least put blood, sweat and tears into their parts and the action scenes. Zoe Saldana (who is always good in anything she is in) actually manages to convince as a 100lb lethal killing machine. She is tough as nails but infused with personality and she carries the film admirably on her very skinny shoulders. Plus if the sight of her escaping capture in nothing but her underwear and a high-powered rifle doesn’t entertain, well, then you have no right watching movies. The always underrated Cliff Curtis is great as her would be mentor and Lennie James impresses as a more down to earth cop on the deadly assassins trail.
Olivier Megaton makes up for the damage he did to the once enjoyable Transporter series (he helmed the much botched Transporter 3) by filming some dynamic action scenes that for once actually flow. Aside from one over edited/shaky cam fight scene near the end, the action scenes are well put together and most importantly thrilling. From an awesome sequence featuring Saldana breaking into a prison to the firepower heavy shoot-up finale, the action is mean, lean and full of force. It thankfully never feels too rushed and feels more born out of the situation than just thrown in to fill out the running time.
On the downside, logic often takes a flying leap out the window (a young girl somehow makes it all the way to the seedy streets of Chicago from the dangerous streets of Colombia almost entirely on her own; sim cards, or at least what looks like one, in 1992, don’t think so!) but then this is a pulp action film. In addition, Megaton just can’t get away from that annoyingly intrusive music. Seriously it plays over scenes that have no need for it and is thrust into our ears so we know, like, that this scene is dramatic. There is no need for this as the cast are more than able at conveying the emotion.
It may be a little generic of story but with taught direction, a game cast and some impressive action, Colombiana is a refreshingly straightforward and highly enjoyable action film.
THE DEVIL’S TOMB (2009)
Directed by: Jason Connery
Written by: Keith Kjornes
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr, Taryn Manning, Henry Rollins, Zack Ward, Valerie Cruz, Jason London, Frankie G, Stephanie Jacobson, Brandon Fobbs, Bill Moseley, Ray Winstone, Ron Pearlman
Phew! What a cast. Especially for a low budget and derivative schlocker about a squad of grunts sent into some underground bunker to rescue somebody, only to get trapped and picked off one-by-one. Yep, a bunch of inept military dudes and dudettes are slaughtered while trapped underground in a movie you’ve probably seen a million times. Yet, despite the familiar set-up and a ridiculous amount of B-movie ham and logic busting barminess, this action-horror hybrid is fairly watchable and delivers a good amount of machine action and lots of gloopy gross out gore.
Ron Pearlman (collecting a pay cheque) has been tinkering with God, the Devil and fallen angels in his deep underground desert base and non-surprisingly all hell has broken loose. Cuba Gooding Jr (continuing his seemingly lucrative sideline in straight-to-DVD fodder) and his squad of trigger-happy soldiers are dispatched to retrieve him but as this type of set-up dictates, they get trapped, possessed and ripped apart accordingly. Ray Winstone (collecting a pay cheque) also pops up for some inexplicable reason (mainly in a lengthy flashback: flashbacks seeming to be a prerequisite of all straight-to-DVD Cuba Gooding Jr movies these days) and there is lots of quoting from the Bible shenanigans as the possessed cast go all heaven and hell on us.
Actually, the God and Devil angle is pretty cool and makes for a change from the usual aliens-on-the-loose or experiment-gone-wrong plot hook and provides mucho opportunity for some freaky possession scenes and copious amount of gore. The blood-splattered excesses are in abundance here and the flick is pretty damn gross. The gore is well handled and the film evokes a certain icky vibe that plays well with all the firepower action. Bill Moseley (collecting a paycheque) gets a weird scene as a possessed scientist rabbiting on about this, that and the next thing and somehow on top off all the gore, possession and military styled action the flick also manages to work in some nudity and a pretty gross lesbian scene. B-movie schlock heaven this is.
Cuba looks somewhat lost in all the gore and action hullabaloo and seems a little tired from making one B-movie after another. Winstone and Pearlman are underused but bring some reliable grit to proceedings and the rest of the cast are actually pretty good. They bring a bit more personality to their stereotypical roles and certainly throw themselves into all the gooey gore. Director Jason (son of Sean) Connery keeps everything moving fairly fast, the gore and close knit action delivered at regularly intervals making sure we viewers get our B-movie fix.
Good, silly, platoon of soldiers fighting for their lives in a sealed off underground complex schlockfest
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
SCREAMERS: THE HUNTING (2009)
Directed by: Sheldon Wilson
Screenplay: Miguel Tejada-Flores
Starring: Gina Holden, Greg Bryk & Lance Henriksen
The original Screamers was a nifty little slice of hard boiled sci-fi directed by the underrated Christian Duguay (Art of War) and starring the always great Peter (Robocop) Weller. With some sharp dialogue (courtesy in part by Alien co-scribe, Dan O’Bannon) and some corking hard edged action it overcame hokiness and cheesy supporting characters to deliver a taught little sci-fi flick. Based in part on the short story Second Variety by Philip K. Dick, this belated sequel continues where the first left off and despite also featuring a whole heap of hokiness is actually a fun little sci-fi sequel.
A squad of grunts respond to a distress signal from the supposedly deserted planet Sirius 6B. Overrun by the self-evolving, blade-wielding, limb-severing robot Screamers, the space grunts find a band of survivors carving out a meagre existence all the while trying to dodge those body part-separating robots. On top of this they’ve got some kind of space storm on its way to destroy the planet, their ship has been sabotaged (isn’t that always the way?), the Screamers are taking on human form, the plot holes threaten to swallow the film whole and the so called space marines look like a bunch of rejects from 90210. Thank god for some decent action, a good dose of gore and the always-dependable Lance Henriksen.
While the budget is distinctly low, the so called “twists” sign posted a mile away and the platoon of lunar soldiers provide little grit or personality (did no-one learn from The Hills Have Eyes 2: populating your film with a group of charisma free youngsters and trying to pass them off as soldiers does not work) the film is still surprisingly entertaining. Sheldon Wilson’s direction is slick and the pace is swift meaning the killer robot action comes thick and fast. The action is a nice mix of extended gun battles and close knit robot-crunching action as the squad are, literally, torn apart by the razor sharp mechanisms. The gore is well staged and surprisingly bloody as the characters meet some nasty ends and for a cheap sequel to a cult sci-fi flick from the mid nineties, the production values and CGI are pretty darn good.
Good old Lance Henriksen makes a late last act appearance and this marks his umpteenth pay-cheque-collecting appearance in a cheap-jack sequel in the past decade (other highlights including The Mangler 2, Alone in the Dark 2, Pumpkinhead 3 & 4, Hellraiser 8, Mimic 3: geez!) but out acts everyone else and always makes anything he’s in somewhat entertaining. Despite a whole lot of plot absurdity, Screamers: The Hunting still has plenty of action, gore and weird human killing robots making it a perfect slice of B-movie sci-fi.