Monday, 18 February 2013

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Check out my new review of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate over at Far East Films.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning


Directed by: John Hyams
Screenplay: John Hyams, Doug Magnuson & Jon Greenhalgh
Starring: Scott Adkins, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei Arlovski, Maria Bonner

Director John Hyams hit it out of the ballpark with the third Universal Soldier film Regeneration. It was a dark, streamlined and action saturated sequel that rejuvenated the franchise and is one of the best action films of the last ten years. High praise indeed but for a low budget threequel it is awesome stuff. Hyams is back for Part 4 and takes the story of Luc Deveraux into even darker territory. Day of Reckoning has to be one of the most violent, not too mention strange, action films to come along in an age: big or low budget. If you ever wondered what it would be like if they took the Universal Soldier concept and turned it into a horror film with ample blistering action, then here it is.

At the end of Regeneration, Luc (Van Damme) had been re-instated as a Unisol, sent on a rescue mission, kicked the hell out of everybody and was then seen running off into the distance his future unknown. Several years later he has resurfaced, seemingly gone bad and, having tracked down many other Unisols, formed his own army. His intention: to “set free” these Unisols from their government controlled shackles. As was also seen at the end of Regeneration, cloning of the Unisols was now in full effect and sure enough new and improved versions of Andrew Scott (Lundgren) and the unstoppable Unisol from Regeneration (Arlovski) have also surfaced. Having been set free, these super soldiers are having trouble controlling their violent rages, as their military training and conditioning seem to be at odds with trying to think for themselves. Thrown into the mix is John (Adkins) whose family has been slain by Luc for some mysterious reason. He sets out to find Luc and discover what connection he has to the Unisols and their murderous rampage.

While this entry deviates in tone compared to the previous instalments, with the horror and violence elements ramped up considerably, Day of Reckoning is a brave and impressive (if on occasion rather startling) direction for the franchise to go. Obviously not wanting to repeat himself, Hyams delves into the dark psyche of the troubled Unisols where violence is their very nature and delivers a film that is equally disturbing and frightening as is it is entertaining and action packed. Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux is a changed man (or is it Unisol), not the character from previous entries, a man who has finally succumbed to the dark path his government manipulated life has lead him down. Van Damme, in more of a cameo role this time around, is excellent as the troubled Deveraux who at one point goes all Colonel Kurtz on everybody. With the introduction of the clone concept we also get the return of Lundgren (as bonkers as ever as the unhinged Scott) and Arlovski possibly playing an even more ferocious version of his character from Part 3. The flick belongs to Adkins though who really raises his game as an actor, is a welcome new face to the franchise and gets to cut loose with all of the above in some fantastic fight action.

Larnall Stovall (Undisputed 3) choreographs some wicked fights scenes. Brisk, crisp and brutal the fights excel in their execution and Hyams shoots and cuts them so we can see all that is going on. He lets the fights play out, like you should, never rushing them meaning we feel the full impact of every hit. There is maybe a little too much slo-mo used in the Van Damme vs. Adkins fight but Lundgren vs. Adkins and Arlovski vs. Adkins (in a sporting goods store: featuring perhaps the film’s biggest Holy Shit moment!) are incredible. Likewise Adkins take down of all the Unisols in their underground lair and a stonking car chase show Hyams and his crew are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to staging action. While all the Universal Soldier films have contained their fair share of violence, Day of Reckoning takes it to new and much darker heights as the Unisols are given free reign to kill and maim. It could be argued that the film pushes it too far (and it may come as a bit of a shock to fans of the series) as sex and violence often sit uncomfortably alongside one another (especially in an upsetting sequence where Arlovski decimates a brothel).

Add in trippy strobe effects, weird visions involving Van Damme, groovy point-of-view shots and enough confusing clone shenanigans for several sci-fi films and you've got quite possibly the strangest action film on all the collective stars resumes. However, Hyams never takes his eye off the ball as he maintains the tension throughout, knows when it’s time to kick proceedings into gear with impressive action and makes sure his cast are always delivering their A-game. While Regeneration still has the edge (in terms of sci-fi cool, action and more Van Damme and Lundgren) Day of Reckoning is more than a worthy continuation and an absolute blitzkrieg on the senses.

Driving Force


Directed by: A.J. Prowse
Screenplay: Patrick Edgeworth
Starring: Sam Jones, Catherine Bach, Don Swayze, Billy Blanks

A post Flash Gordon Sam Jones and Don, brother of Patrick, Swayze star in this groovy slice of vehicular mayhem exploitation which features a lot more drama that one may expect from a film featuring Mad Max style pickup trucks causing damage on the highways. Jones is Steve who takes a job working for a highway clean up crew so he can earn a wage and keep custody of his young daughter. He drives a souped up and armoured pick up truck listening out for road accidents so he can get to them before Don Swayze’s Nelson and his crew (including a pre Talons of the Eagle and TC 2000 Billy Blanks: cool!) get there first: whoever clears the wrecks first, gets paid. With Steve now on the roads business is down for Nelson and he sets to fix this by any means necessary. Meanwhile Steve also has his pesky in laws to deal with who are trying to gain custody of their granddaughter, also by any means necessary.

Driving Force is basically a blue-collar exploitation flick. While is features it fair share of vehicular action and destruction much of the narrative is concerned with Steve’s blossoming relationship with Dukes of Hazard hottie Catherine Bach, his fight to keep hold of his daughter and his ongoing grudge with Nelson. Steve is just a good guy trying to do right. This might sound lame for a flick called Driving Force and while it’s disappointing there wasn't more truck stunt action, this is still a solid little B-movie. Jones is very good as the constantly put upon Steve, his relationship with Bach feels real and while Swayze is as scuzzy as ever his character is actually dying from cancer giving him a sort of doesn't care if he lives or dies attitude which gives his bad guy an interesting dynamic. While it never really feels sci-fi, Driving Force is set in a not too distant future meaning all the trucks are suitably Mad Max in design. We even get a cool scene where Steve and his mate tool up and overhaul his truck, a la The A-Team, making it a badass machine for the final showdown.

Much of the dueling truck stunt action comes in the second half with an impressive showdown featuring several trucks battling one another, crashing, smashing, playing chicken and generally exploding. Its cool stuff all delivered in old school style with stunt drivers being put through their paces. There could have been a bit more of this but what there is, is good stuff. Driving Force is probably the best, and only, futuristic truck chase family drama you are ever likely to see but it’s actually pretty decent and one of Sam Jones’ better entries in his low budget action movie career.

Keep on truckin’!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

I Come with the Rain

Check out my new review of I Come with the Rain over at Far East Films.

Top Ten 2012 at Far East Films

My Top Ten Eastern films of 2012 at Far East Films