Saturday, 25 August 2012

Transit



TRANSIT (2012)

Directed by: Antonio Negret
Written by: Michael Gilvary
Starring: Jim Caviezel, James Frain, Elizabeth Rohm, Diora Baird & Henry Perrineau

This fast and furious action thriller is sweaty, gritty and tension filled as a group of crooks chase after a family who have their money, in an awesome souped up black Chevrolet Chevelle. The plot may be streamlined (crooks hide their stolen cash in the car of a travelling family so they can get through a roadblock and then go gunning after the family to get the cash back) but the actions of the family and the criminals are never predictable. Sure this is Southern action pulp (proceedings taking place on the sweltering roads and bayous of Louisiana) yet the filmmakers have taken the time to give care to the characters and succeed in doing what a lot of action filmmakers seem in able of doing these days: make their film exciting, tense and action packed.


Produced by Joel Silver, Transit has a slick and professional sheen perfectly capturing the hot and sweaty nature of the Southern atmosphere as the tension between the crooks and family heats up. While James Frain’s bad guy is suitably nasty and driven to get his money back, it’s his ever-changing relationship with his gang that brings a lot of the tension. While he is a ruthless mastermind, he is at the mercy of one of his group who holds the key to them executing a clean getaway. This makes the bad guy somewhat vulnerable, meaning he is not as in control of the situation as he thinks he is. Likewise, the filmmakers have made the family just dysfunctional enough to add tension to their plight. Jim Caviezel’s dad is not quite the family man we first think and does the wrong thing on a number of occasions, which threatens to tear his family apart. His family never really trusts him but have to rely on him, which adds extra tension to the full throttle plot.


The cast are uniformly good here, even the youngsters who play Caviezel’s boys. The crooks are a little more three dimensional for this type of flick and, while I’m sure it’s always more fun playing the bad guys, they don’t dominate proceedings. The family are well rounded and both Caviezel and his onscreen wife (Elizabeth Rohm) convince as desperate parents trying to get their family out of a horrible situation. Director Antonio Negret (Seconds Apart) never lets his foot off the gas, creating a high-tension chase film. Momentum is sustained throughout with some impressive set pieces all mounting the tension and vehicular destruction (that cop car flip is a doozy!). And that Chevrolet Chevelle is a thing of beauty (much like the lovely Diora Baird) as it tears through the swampland causing mayhem.

On the negative side the film is a little over edited on occasion (though for the most part the action is cut well and easy to follow) and there is some shoddy back projection: I know it’s cheaper to green screen scenes within a car but it looks so much better when you film the actors in real moving cars. However, this is quality action filmmaking, a tense ride and while it has its roots in exploitation, a meaty thriller thanks to some fine acting and character development.

Good stuff.



The Pandora Project



THE PANDORA PROJECT (1998)
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: John Terlesky
Starring: Daniel Baldwin, Erika Eliniak, Richard Tyson & Tony Todd

This cheap quickie from Cinetel Films and Jim Wynorski sees Richard Tyson (Kindergarten Cop) running around causing trouble with some kind of device that can implode the cells of any living creature without demolishing surrounding buildings and vehicles (woah!). Hopping all over the place, with his band of rent-a-goons, Tyson first tries to sell the device to some Mexican drug lord, only for the deal to go south. He then legs it back to the US and sets his sights on eradicating important officials. Uber serious government type Tony Todd ropes in old pal and all round super solider Daniel Baldwin to track him down as, well, he’s “the best damn man in the business” and, wouldn’t you know it, Baldwin has a score to settle with Tyson (at least I think he did! They certainly new each other from being in the forces but I watched this pretty late at night and as you can see the plot is already all kinds of complicated!). Speaking of complicated, Baldwin has also got to get married (to the lovely Erika Eliniak no less) something his beautiful bride likes to keeps reminding him of. Can Baldwin stop Tyson from killing loads of people and make it to Vegas on Saturday to get hitched? Well, what do you think?

Wynorski has made about a billion cheapjack action flicks like this (Desert Thunder, Gale Force) many of which are a lot more fun than The Pandora Project. This should have been a B-movie hoot what with groovy sci-fi like weapons, automatic gunfire and a great B-movie cast all on the menu but unfortunately it all feels stale and tired. For one thing, there is too much talking when there should be more running around, gunfights and things just generally blowing up. It’s great that they’ve worked in Baldwin’s upcoming marriage and his close relationship with his brother but damn, I’d rather he was chasing after Tyson and getting into more gunfights and car chases. At least Tyson is a lot of fun, not giving a shit who he kills, cracking quips and just generally being a douche. He chews every scene he is in, rocks a Hawaiian shirt on one occasion and seems to be the only one having any fun.

There is a little bit of action peppered in here and there with a pretty cool gunfight cum fistfight taking place in a deserted racing track. But alas, just not enough to stop this being a dreary B-movie that just needed a little more boom.

Monday, 20 August 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation



HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION (aka GET THE GRINGO) (2011)

Directed by: Adrian Grunberg
Written by: Mel Gibson, Adrian Grunberg & Stacy Perksie
Starring: Mel Gibson, Peter Stormare, Kevin Hernandez, Dolores Heredia, Bob Gunton, Scott Cohen

Now this is more like it. After returning to the acting fold from a short (ish) hiatus with Hollywood gloss Edge of Darkness and the underrated (and very funny) The Beaver, Gibson gets down and dirty in this old school action thriller. At his gruff and tough best, Gibson sinks his teeth into the role of a thief fleeing for his life with a boatload of cash only to get caught and thrown in a hellhole of a Mexican prison. More like a mini town encased in concrete walls and run by killers, pushers and all kinds of corrupt officials, Gibson’s thief must adapt quickly to the harsh life and hold his own against the ruthless clientele. Making friends with a young tearaway and his mother, it’s not long before he figures out how his new “holiday home” works. Likewise, it’s not long until the those higher up get wind of the amount of cash he stole, now in the possession of two corrupt cops, and before those who he stole the cash from come looking for it.


Sun soaked but gritty and sweaty this is a mean and moody thriller, with a thick dose of black humour, which showcases Gibson at his best. His nameless character, doused in dubiously moral shades of grey, muscles his way through the corrupt prison with brute force precision and its fun to see Gibson getting stuck into a tough and meaty character. He also shoots him through with a streak of likeability as he attempts to help the kid and mother. Playing the kid is the superb Kevin Hernandez who sure isn’t your typical annoying movie moppet. Paring a tough character with a kid usually softens a tough action film but not here (as the kid can swear and smoke as well as the adults) but helps give the film a touching human relationship at the centre of all the corruption and violence. Thanks to the excellent acting from the stars and tight direction from first timer Adrian Grunberg, the relationship never feels forced and while proceedings do dip into a certain pulpy charm, the gritty and sweaty edge are all maintained.


Nicely photographed and with some authentically grubby production values, How I Spent My Summer Vacation rockets along. The second half loses it grip on the tension and toughness a little as Gibson’s antics to get his money back and get the kid and mother out of prison stray into the ridiculous somewhat, ramping up the comedy factor and losing the tougher edge present in the first half. However, it’s all still a load of fun (as Gibson uses grenades on more than one occasion to get rid of bad guys!) and the action is orchestrated with a lot of flair (in part by JJ Perry, who has a cheeky cameo towards the end!) from the opening car chase to a doozy of a gunfight which takes place in the middle of the prison.

Managing to, just, keep the right balance of grit and laughs, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is an old school hoot, better than a lot of the big budget blockbusters these days, and features Gibson at the best he’s been for some time. However, the less said about his Clint Eastwood impression the better!

Check it out.

 
                                           

Himizu



Check out my new review of Himizu at Far East Films.