Mudwig is a twit Pound Shop Movie Reviews

December 27, 2008

Corrupt (1999)

Filed under: — Ian @ 12:52 am
Suprisingly, Master P wasn't involvedGangstas and incompetently run pie shops, what more do you want?

It’s rare that you’re watching a movie and are forced to check that it was in fact directed by Albert Pyun because it’s so awful, but Corrupt inspires exactly that reaction. It’s short, clocking in at less than 70 minutes, but don’t let that fool you into believing it’s a taught, pacy affair. Instead imagine a world of flame throwing gangstas, bin-hiding hoods, and of chip shop operators that get involved in the murky, high-stakes games of drugs (I think) and bizarre haircuts (for sure). 

MJ (Silkk the Shocker) is a young up and comer in a tough, yet generic, inner-city environment. Corrupt (Ice-to-tha-Tizzle) is the drug lord that rules aforementioned inner city environment with an iron fist, with the assistance of his right hand, right eye, number 2, Cinque (TJ Storm). MJ and another hoodie rob a poorly defended stash house, taking three bricks of finest intended for Corrupt, in an attempt to break out of the cycle of drug crime and violence that grips their lives.

To be honest, up until the robbery things were going OK for this film. There were some shots of a guy messing around on a bike, some vaguely menacing Ice-T time, and the heist itself. It started to go down hill about the time Corrupt went to confront his connect, who sported one of the most bizarre haircuts I’ve seen outside Sigue Sigue Sputnik. It was a sort of side pony tail, which would be bad enough, but was unaccompanied by any other hair leaving some sort of hair tentacle growing out of the side of his head. He also spoke in what sounded like a deeply dodgy Jamaican accent, so enraging Ice-T he actually burst into flames, incinerating Sidepony, before throwing fireballs at Sidepony’s henchmen and leaping out of the window.

The amount of foresight needed to get that haircut is staggeringLuckily, being that Corrupt was several stories up, his suport team were passing in a truck with fire extinguishers at the ready. With some off screen detective work, Ice-T twigs MJ was involved in the caper, beats up Lisa, MJ’s girlfriend, and goes to hang out at the pie shop where MJ’s sister (Jodi, Karen Dyer) works to see if he can worm MJ’s location out of her, and himself into her pants.

In much the way that the dodgier modern action films tend towards being a plotless collections of stunts, this movie tends towards a plotless collection of bizarre and improbable scenes. Two of my favourite characters are credited as The Sayer and ‘Snackbar Dude’. The Sayer is an apparently homeless guy that turns up in the pie shop, calls our heroine Jodi a ‘fly ass bitch’, and gets his pie gratis, in what is the only succesful (though unprofitable) transaction the snackshop actually has.

Snackbar Dude is the source of most of the other, failed, transactions attempted in the movie. His lengthy initial attempts to buy anything are met with disappointment, to which he responds by squirting tomato ketchup all over the place, gangsta style. His second attempt results in some food, but instead of the number five he has ordered, he receives a number two (not a euphemism). Snackbar Dude lodges a protest with the management, but only receives a swift elbow in the face from Miles, Jodi’s better half, who happened to wander in. You’ll be pleased to learn Snackbar Dude does order a burger at the end of the movie, but unfortunately whether or not he gets it is left as a question for the sequel.

Don't look at the mirror, don't look at the mirror...

One fine example of the work of the many, many lineless extras comes when Jodi is trying to sneak into the mob courts where MJ is awaiting his mob justice. She slips around the side of Corrupt’s limo convincingly, and the driver clearly had instructions not to look in his wing mirror, lest he should notice the sneaking and disrupt the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. He tries valiantly to stare in every other possible direction, but just can’t hold out and has to get a glance in, right at the end of the shot. 

Speaking of extras, there is also a rather poorly filmed, but massively overpopulated, shoot out at the climax of the film, during which pretty much every character gets shot and Ice-T justifies his fee with some wonderful expressions. Do stay for the credits though to see the approximately 6 speaking roles and the ridiculously large number of stunt men who were presumably used in the final gunfight. 

Other than Silkk and Ice, most of the cast are mostly smaller players. Karen Dyer has a reasonable number of credits, though on her IMDB page there is the notice that she also performs as burleque artists Eva La Dar. One of the more interesting careers goes to Tahitia Hicks, playing MJs fairly mental girtfriend Lisa, whos acting career stops with this film, but from 2003 she has a number of camera and cinematography credits. I would make a crack about Corrupt killing off her future as an actress, but on balance I suspect it would be more likely to be a case of  ’even I could do better than that’.

Ice-T actually covers this performance in his 'Masterclass' seminars

On the backend, the main name is of course Albert Pyun, one of the heroes of the modern B movie. The writing talent comes from Hannah Blue and Andrew Markell, names I haven’t previously encountered. They technically have three credits with the great one, as, in a grindhouse sort of way, this movie was originally part of a greater whole.

There are two other films, Urban Menace and The Wrecking Crew that make up the other parts of Pyun’s street trilogy, and judging from IMDB all were equally well reviewed, and all somewhat trimmer than the average movie. 

On the positive side, the picking are slim. Ice-T puts in a pretty stallwart performance, and often appears to be wearing his SVU standard outfit (including hat) so Finn fans should be pleased. Silkk the Shocker gives what could be called a natural performance, only fluffing his lines once, and Karen Dyer makes a mostly not half-hearted attempt at the dialogue. And it’s pretty short!

Sound track fans will enjoy the 2 ice-t tunes that seem to be repeated through out, and I believe the box claims an isolated music score, though I couldn’t actually find that on the DVD after a superficial examination. There was an entertaining quiz (tip: note all number plates you see in the film), though clearly the DVD developers expected no-one to finish this, as whle there was a ‘you got caught slipping’ failure screen, winning just returns you to the menu, making it more of a moral victory.

I can only imagine this film being of significance to Silkk the Shocker or Ice-T completists, and I really would question whether Albert Pyun even turned up, bar a couple of shots. That said, I actually can’t think of any other movie where Ice-T spontaneously combusts, and I would be interested to see if Urban Menace and The Wrecking Crew bring this series to something greater than the sum of its parts, or just drive my dvd player to self immolation as well.

February 27, 2008

Cyber-Tracker 2 (1995)

Filed under: — Ian @ 4:03 pm
Cyber Tracker 2 - Featuring Terror 2.0De Longis gets no cover love.

Having seen it years ago, I’ve been intending to review Cybertracker 1 for some time now, but never quite found a way to write it without using the word “Terminator”. However, while browsing the revitalised pound store DVD range I discovered a Prism double sider with Cybertracker and it’s previously unavailable seque, and decided to skip past the first film entirely.

We are first (re)introduced to Eric (Don “The Dragon” Wilson) at a drug buy – of course he’s just working undercover, and soon finds himself, and thirty or forty cops, up against laser wielding bad guys – and these lasers explode! Much like Terminator 2, we’re also introduced to a friendly version of the previous film’s villain, in the form of a combo Chaingun/Flamethrower wielding Tracker called number 9, who sports a fine cosplay tinfoil Robocop look. 9 rescues Eric and the Cops in the buy, using the power of exploding things, and shows that maybe Trackers are OK, and were just misunderstood.

However, the baddies are busy making next-generation of Trackers, now super advanced killer androids that appear human, and using them as assassination machines. Unfortunately for Cyborg Cop fans John Rhys-Davies was no where to be seen (and you’re not likely to not notice him, lets face it), though at least this movie does, in fact, feature a cyborg cop.

The evil assassin corp have been hired to bump the Vice Governor up a pay grade, and do so with an evil robot version of Connie from the first film, a successful reporter and wife of our hero, Eric. The police, of course, assume it’s her, and the plucky pair (plus their cameraman) are forced underground as they try to dodge both the forces of Law & Order, and Evil Corp. attempting to clean house.

The celebrity mags were all over the subtle nip-slip hereMost of the heroes will be familiar faces if you haven’t blocked out memories of the first movie. Eric, pictured, Connie, the former anti-Tracker terrorist and good looking Journalist, played by Stacie Foster, and Jared, the former anti-Tracker terrorist and good looking cameraman (with a Because I’m Worth level of bouncy hair), played by Steve Burton, both return. John Kassir turns up as a C4 wielding not-so-former anti-tracker terrorist, complete with some excellent Mr C4-Head dolls, to round out team Good Guy.

The replicant based baddies are lead by evil weapons dealer Paris Morgan, played by the wonderful Anthony De Longis, who, it must be said, handles the Evil Genius moments and the brief fight sequence he has with total maniacal cool.

Of course, the casting director had little to do with the biggest stars in the movie, the heroic Explosion and his brother “Boom!”. No matter what the actors are doing, there’s always time to cut away to a model house getting blown up, or one of the many, many exploding police cars that PM Entertainment presumably had a factory cranking out somewhere. To be fair, the explosions were pretty good, and the models not totally unconvincing, though the lasers left something for the asking.

Which is the real Dragon? We may never knowThat said, while “Boom” is rendered pretty well by the Sound FX department, there is a somewhat annoying choice around AGNES 3000 (sister of Outkast rapper Andre 3000 presumably), Eric’s computer system. Throughout it’s limited selection of scenes the computer emits a truly irritating high pitched whine, which is a shame as the effect is fairly decent – a bit like the digital pixie woman off the Robocop TV series.

The movie doesn’t let up on car chases either. Again, in an entirely unTerminator moment there’s a chase through some kind of concrete river passage, with an evil Tracker chasing Eric and Mrs Eric in a truck. Eric luckily stole a humvee with a machine gun on the back, which he puts to good effect. One chase scene even involves what is apparently the longest tunnel in the world, where the citizens appear to get actively involved, as the chasing parties overtake the same car a number of times, from a variety of angles.

Realistic weapons were the number 1 priorityInterestingly, the film throws in a reference to VR fighting masterpiece Expect No Mercy, when during a extended Eric nipple scene, a random girl arrives to train with his VR headset. Rather than the fine “slightly glowing person in a silly suit” technique of ENM, the VR characters here are poorly modeled Ninjas with detachable limbs, whose asses the girl then eKick. She the proceeds to bear no further relevance to the plot.

This film was released just after the original, implying a somewhat tight schedule, and unfortunately, the back to back nature of the filming seems to have taken it’s toll on The Dragon. Mr Wilson is lacking flair, both in his plank like performance, which instead of it’s usual supple willow is more of a sturdy oak, and even his kicks and chops don’t come across as dynamic as normal.

Indeed, despite the multitude of action sequences, and event some Swayze-level shirtlessness from Jared, the film is actually a bit listless, and rather predictable. When it succeeds in breaking away from this, the film seems to run to the other extreme. There are a few disposable moments, such as VR girl, that contribute little, and I’m pretty sure at one point the Evil Corp. openly assassinate the Governor in the rather public lobby of their secret base without much regards to the consequence – which is fair enough as there weren’t any! Traditionally I tend to associate PM movies with a fair bit of pace (and plenty of explosions), but while it does cover a lot of ground, the viewer is left feeling every step.

All in all I found Cyber-Tracker 2 somewhat of a disappointment, a little lacklustre even when compared to the first one, and not up to fine Wilson efforts like Out For Blood. Yes, there is some good quality violence – the EricTracker’s assasult on the police station was undeniable fun, but there are better films out there from both The Dragon and PM. Do keeping checking out the pound stores though, as there have been some reasonable releases recently – Bride of Chuckie, £1, bargain!

November 11, 2007

The Secret Craft (2001)

Filed under: — Ian @ 12:25 pm
Note that this is clearly and legally defined as THE SECRET craft, and not in any way just The Craft.The tagline “Always Believe… Never Deceive” openly has nothing to do with the movie whatsoever.

Also, and originally, known as The Source in the states, The Secret Craft is a movie about four thirty something high school outcasts who gain incredible powers – and there’s not a copy of Activating Evolution in sight!

Reese, played by Mat Scollon (who was in CSI once), is a moody young goth who has just moved to a small town in California with his father, a chemistry teacher. On his first day at school, in fine blazing Cali sunshine, Reese’s black on black Hot Topic ensemble stands out, and he is mercilessly picked one – despite his array of Eminem style put-yourself-down comebacks. Reese soon runs into Zack (Edward DeRuiter), a nerdy rich kid who defeats some bullies with his knowledge of latin (or Zach, the coolest kid in the school, according to the completely misinformed back of the box), Zack’s cocky sister Ashley (Melissa Reneé Martin) and her ditzy, hippyish friend Phoebe (quiet you), played ably by Alice Frank.

On a jaunt into the woods to take drugs and download illegal music, or whatever the kids do these days, Our Heroes discover some weird glowing rocks, and take the earliest opportunity to stand on them. This provides a euphoric experience, and, naturally, a superpower – though Zach quickly explains this with science, and a laptop.

Goth SMASHZack gets the power to read minds, and broadcast creepy messages telepathically, Phoebe gets the power of telekinesis, Ashley gets The Voice, and Reece gets the power to heal/hurt himself/others, and have flashbacks to his mother’s death. Pumped up with their psionic abilities, the team get down to the business of petty revenge on the people that have irritated them over the years, or in Reese’s case, days.

Now I’m not an American, and I never went to school in the US, but I have seen all of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars, so I think I’m pretty up on the difficulties those in their mid-to-late twenties have in high school, but some of the educational methods at Secret Craft High seem a little off.

Head on the desk - that's where the learning is.I’ll give them the teachers sitting up on the desks, and generally having a relaxed and freewheelin’ attitude – it’s California – and I’ll even give them the ridiculously unbalanced teams in the various sporting segments shown. However, if I was taking a test and some Aussie woman inaccurately accused me of cheating, then took away my paper and told me to spend the rest of the lesson with my head on the desk, that would be probably make me head straight for the NiN mp3s.

Throughout the film the teachers’ main imperative seemed to be to belittle the students over their lack of knowledge – knowledge that, presumably, it was the teachers’ job to impart to them. Perhaps it was all a clever ploy on the part of the film makers to cause us to empathise with Our Heroes, once they start abusing their powers for petty, petty revenge.

Zach, after enduring another assault on his intelligence by the fine and understanding history teacher, uses his mind reading skills to answer every question on whichever bit of historical trivia pops into the teacher’s head, until he finally calls the bespectacled historian on an attempt to fake an answer. Phoebe, on the other hand, takes revenge on the evil Aussie by repeatedly breaking her chalk, and eventually, in a final act that surely destroyed all of AusTeachers self confidence, proffering some chalk of her own. Sir Gothalot gets his own back during another of the finely balanced games of dodgeball by making the non-nerd side unable to throw, so their balls require little dodging – harsh in anyone’s book. Ashley uses her power of Command to have one of the male teachers to kiss her, and tells a bitchy blonde girl to get into a bin – though once in the bin the girl handles the bewildered gazes of the friends with an admirably dismissive “what?”.

And we're spent.This section also features lots of posing for promotional effect, and walking up and down some grass in a sassy and in control way, but it wasn’t too bad, for a montage. Of course, after this brief happy togetherness the abuse of powers starts to turn deadly, and what was once a kooky game for these wacky outcasts turns into a battle – a battle that (unexpectedly) is won with polka music – and if that doesn’t want to make you see the movie, I don’t know what will.

The film was written, directed and edited by Steve Taylor (he’s a triple threat!), who went on to direct the somewhat better known, though probably not better regarded, horror movie Detour. The cast doesn’t fare much better when it comes to notoriety, with a variety of TV credits to their names. Melissa Reneé Martin actually appeared on Veronica Mars as an 09er called Ashley, which I would say is validation of her performance in this film.

The effects aspects of the movie actually worked pretty well. The Beautiful People soundalike that our gothy hero rocks his deep inner hurt out to isn’t a bad homage, and the rest of the soundtrack ticks along on the same kind of note. The special effects are roughly Highlander level (with some fine Quickening-y lightening at one point), and certain serve their purpose – letting the audience know that these people are Magical Wizards enhanced with the science of psionics.

Pound shop DVD collectors might be interested to note that this film actually comes with an Unlisted Special Feature, as on top of animated menus, scene selection and the trailer, there is also a gallery option. On the down side, the audio sync was completely out for several scenes, most notably at the very start of the movie, but it doesn’t really “spoil” any of the deliveries. US Alice Frank enthusiasts might be interested to know that there is a half decent DVD available over there, including a commentary and all sorts of goodies.

Though a warning to Alias/Lost fans who may be tempted by the fact that David Anders (Sark/Kensei) is allegedly in this movie, – apparently it’s only for five minutes, and I have to confess to not noticing him at all.

Overall, I really didn’t expect to like this movie, and while I’m not exactly organising a Secret Craft convention, it didn’t suck half as bad as it could have. The opening third is a little (glowing) rocky, but the film does get into a kind of a roll, and it ends in a solid, if predictable*, way. If you see it, do pick up The Secret Craft, as you might have more fun than you really should. Or if not, just put your head on the desk till the end of the film.

* bar the polka

July 19, 2007

Space Marines (1996)

Filed under: — Ian @ 6:13 pm
Project Shadowchaser the ThirdI honestly don’t know how Gunther’s one good eye got top billing

In news that’s sure to disappoint fans of rubbish South African action movies, I had been planning to review Operation Hitsquad – not, as it happens, a film about finding the latest boy band sensation – but since it’s been months since I saw it, I’ve finally come to realise my subconcious is telling me something. Instead we return to the heady world of budget Sci-Fi, with director John Weidner (of Lamas’ CIA and The Dragon’s Out For Blood fame) and writer Robert Moreland (who also wrote the second best Air Traffic Control movie of all time, Ground Control) with their mid ninties classic, Space Marines.

Suprisingly, there aren’t any other films with thee title Space Marines – at least that IMDB admits to – which is a little suprising given how generic it sounds. That said, Weidner makes an effort to include all the Sci-Fi staples we’ve come to expect, shake-the-camera impacts, exploding ship’s consoles, odd uniforms, swirly space things and all. Luckily for him, and us, the movie is rescued from being a Hamil-less Wing Commander cut scene by the raw genius of John Pyper Ferguson, who squeezes every last brilliant, hammy drop from the script.

JP plays Col. Fraser, the leader of a band of Evil Pirates, and posessor of the accent and moustache of a Confederate general. Apart from plotting his own enrichment, and our heroes’ demise, he lurches through weird self aggrandizing conversations with his pirates, and, in one of the best bits of the film, practices his villianous proclamations into a dictaphone before delivering them to his plucky space marine captive.

spacemarines2.jpgSaid captive is Zack Delano (Billy Wirth), our hero and a rebellious young space trooper, serving under the wise Officer Gray Wolf and his plasticy APC of grunts. Zack gets into trouble with The Wolf when he ignores orders and goes literally several feet out of his way to rescue the low-rent Charlie Sheen-alike new guy. Clearly Leave No Man Behind is a bit more of an aspiration than a maxim to Gray Wolf, who was quite content to ditch AlternaSheen in the battlezone, but Zack’s Kirk-like dedication to orders gets him a spell in the clink.

The whole shebang got started because Col. Frasier, his main heavy, Gunther, and a bunch of pirates hijacked a shipment of Highly Explosive Substances, and then ransomed it back to the United Earth Federation of Science Fiction Utopian Societies. Unfortunately, before Wolf’s team of ultimate bad-asses can retrieve the boom juice, the politicans step in and insist on negotiations. Net result: diplomat, male and female leads taken hostage, Frasier retains both ransom and explosives, flamboyant cackling ensues. From then on, it’s up to Zack to sort things in the expected heroic fashion.

spacemarines3.jpgThere’s some good mook work on both sides in this movie. As might be predicted there are a variety of Marine types in the unit, including a Computer Guy cleverly called “Hacker”, a hot-shot pilot called “Hot Rod” and a guy that dies called “Mike”. The main concession to their grunt-y-ness is a trip to a (holographic) strip club, which results in some name calling and hair pulling over the death of “Mike”, but does serve to make clear that a holographic strip club is both a silly and ineffectual idea.

The enemy mooks on the other hand to a good job of looking like space pirates – that is to say they look like pirates – and appear to have spent the required time at bad guy bootcamp, learning to miss at distances down to several inches, jump in front of incoming fire, and perform graceful somersaults during explosions. There’s actually some quite funny stuff between Fraser and Gunther regarding their employees, and some old fashioned getting-shot-when-you-fail moments.

Amongst the principles JPF and Michael Bailey Smith nail their roles as Frasier and Gunther. The massive, eye-patched second in command provides an anger-management issue based foil to Frasier’s flamboyance, and the two clearly had fun making the film. On the heroic side Billy Wirth acquits himself well, as does Cady Huffman, playing slightly liberal female diplomat, and frosty love interest, Dar Mullin. There’s even a sort of little romantic subplot nicely hinted at between Cpt Gray (Edward Albert) and Cmdr Lasser (Meg Foster), veterans with evident sci-fi experience (both including Star Trek DS9 as it happens).

There are plenty of elements that work in the film as well. The soundtrack is big and brassy, and nails the kind of accompaniment you want to watch with what is, essentially, a popcorn movie – albeit £1 microwave popcorn. The CGI is competent, especially given the fact the film is over ten years old, and certainly doesn’t detract from the hard won suspension of disbelief. There are some nice throwaway bits of comedy that play reasonably well, including Frasier’s dictaphone moment, of course, but Dar’s frustrated dealings with a uninterested videophone operator when trying to call for help from the Pirate’s lair are almost equally amusing.

On the other hand, the plot is uniformly rubbish, and deeply derivative of things people really shouldn’t derive from, like Seagal movies. The budget is probably all on screen, but there clearly wasn’t very much of it in the first place, and there are a few too many moments of slow-mo scruffy pirates getting laser blasted. The ending also leaves a lot to be desired, it’s almost as if the filmmakers suddenly realised they had to wrap this thing up and just found a convenient place to stop, which is fairly underwhelming.

Overall, Space Marines is probably for the more regular B-Movie watcher, but leans well into the entertaining part of the spectrum. There’s a top notch villain performance by JPF, which is worth the £1 entrance fee on it’s own, and I certainly enjoyed it more than, say, the much higher budget Wing Commander movie. You could certainly do worse, and I get the feeling that if I turned on the TV and Space Marines was on, I’d probably watch it again.

November 20, 2006

Project Shadowchaser 3 (1994)

Filed under: — Ian @ 12:23 pm
Project Shadowchaser the ThirdThis cover from Generic Sci-Fi Images Vol 3: Red Planets.

From what I’ve read, the first two shadowchaser movies seem to involve, in some way, terrorists, presumably space terrorists. According to the fine people at Stomp Tokyo this is due to the fact that the director is ripping off Die Hard and Terminator (together at last!), while I’m fairly confident that the lack of terrorists in this one is due to the fact he’s primarily ripping off Aliens.

Still, the film was a departure for me, as my formative Frank “Frank” Zagarino experiences had him playing the sandy haired hero, not a Guile-haircut sporting killer android. Still, a Zag film is a Zag film, and I was more than willing to try a slice of budget sci fi horror on his behalf.

On closer examination, the rest of the cast isn’t too disasterous. That said, I’m not sure the first words you want to appear on your title sequence are Sam Bottoms, who takes the male lead as Kody. Also on deck for our plucky band of heros are Ricco Ross, or as I like to think of him “the poor man’s Duane Jones”, as Lennox, Aubrey Morris, or “the poor man’s Richard Attenborough”, as the aptly named “Professor”, Mark Phelan, or “the poor man’s Willem Defoe” as Mac the Cap, Bill Kirchenbauer, “the poor man’s David Koechner”, as the X-Men gag inspiring* be-wheelchaired “Wheels”, and Christopher Neame, “the poor man’s Enrico Colantoni”, as the money hungry Rico. The female element is provided by Robina Alston, who isn’t really the poor anyone’s anything, but does have more photos than credits on her IMDB page, and Musetta Vander as Rea. I’m going with “the poor man’s Milla Jovovich” on that one, though I’m fairly sure that’s a not entirely undeserved compliment.

shadowchaser3.jpgOur plucky spaceheros are doing their usual space bits on the communications satellite they call home – mostly sitting around and dressing in jumpsuits – when a huge ship called the Siberia starts bearing down on a direct collision course. I am hoping, from the bit of scene setting at the start of the film, that this is the ship from Project Shadowchaser 2, but I know that is being a little optimistic.

After managing to dodge out of the way of the Siberia, it wheels about and moves in again, and this time there is No Escape. As their little satellite is being pushed towards a certain death at the hands of the Martian surface, the crew have little choice but to ignore the warnings being automatically broadcast and board her, in an attempt to shut down the engines. Little do they know that lying in wait in the Siberia’s Space Mutiny-esque extensive basement is the hideous deformed creation that is Franky Z’s attempt at a Guile-from-streetfighter Halloween costume.

Of course, the former crew are on board as well, one of whom, by pure coincidence, is Rea’s long lost scientist father. They’re all dead, of course. And frozen, but who would let something like that put them off? From this point on the movie follows a fairly predictable horror route, with the crew getting involved in a variety of close scrapes until they manage to turn off the engines. Of course, at that point they discover that there’s a Substance of Inordinate Value on the ship, and in search of profit decide to once again risk their lives, and acting careers.

shadowchaser5.jpgConsidering this movie is on the cheaper side of cinema, the effects work is fairly nice, particularly the external model shots of the Siberia. Inside, other than the omnipresent sci-fi walkways-and-steam-vents warehouse bits, the sets for the ships are reasonably good, without the BBC wobble that often befalls budget sci-fi. There are some nice production touches as well, including the cards which vary from regular playing cards by zig-zagging in the middle, and some graphic displays that, while looking dated, at least look plausible as readouts, and are effective in the film – particularly the heart monitor type readout, which give the crew get their first hint they are not alone. In fact, the director John Eyres keeps the ZagBot under wraps untill around halfway through the movie, which works fairly well. There’s even an odd twist in the music, as while most of it is the standard horror/sci-fi leaning on the keyboard variety, there’s a jaunty twenties style song about space at the end.

In fact, much of the movie has some element of competence. Most of the actors can act, or at least try really hard, and while the performances might be cheesy, given the subject matter that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Where the film falls over is in it’s handling of the many, many clich?s employed throughout. Being that ZagBot can shapeshift, we expect and are dutifully served the “But you could be the shapeshifter! Hey, that’s exactly what the shapeshifter would say!!1!” scenes where the main characters point guns at each other, and the pure grinding inevitability of one of the characters turning on the others in pursuit of profit is so omniprescent it actually comes as a relief when it finally happens.

Every time the script does accidentally lapse into marginally unfamiliar territory, the filmmakers seem to have been worried about the audience getting confused, and have a tendancy to rehash the main points. In particular, during the scenes near the start of the film as the crew try to propell their satellite out of the way of the Siberia, every time some tension starts to build the film cuts to long lingering shots of the exterior of the spaceship, just in case it was all getting A Bit Much. When that doesn’t prove sufficient, there’s always “Professor” on hand to launch into some length exposition, as obviously there were fears that the Memento-like story would confuse.
shadowchaser2.jpg

It is fair to say Shadowchaser III does stand out from many of the poundshop movies I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy. The budget was a touch higher than average perhaps, and certainly what was spent was all up on screen, aided by some decent cinematograhy and editing. Of course there are cheesy special effects, and cheesier acting, but they aren’t a serious hindrance to enjoying the movie. What does hurt is the lego block way the movie was constructed, like there was a sci-fi horror checklist and they made sure to tick all the boxes. I’m not convinced the movie is all that worth a watch standing as is, though if you’re a horror afficianado there might be something more here, and potentially watching the film as part of a trilogy would give you at the incentive to finish off.

Sharp eyed Project Shadowchaser fans will note I said trilogy, while there are in fact four films. I know this as I have the fourth film, and as far as I can see it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the other three, as even Frank’s RoboZag character seems to bear little resemblance to the wisecracking spacejunk we’ve come to love.

* This statement may be factually a lie.

November 13, 2006

Magic Kid (1994)

Filed under: — Ian @ 5:02 pm
That Magic Kid font was created especially for the film.The urge to just throw a huge picture of Don “The Dragon” Wilson on there must have been massive.

In a perfect world there would be a bleak first draft of this movie. It has all the elements for a harrowing tale, a drunken uncle, a boy trapped in the seedy, dangerous world of Hollywood, forced to fight by the aforementioned drunken uncle, vicious gangsters, and Don “The Dragon” Wilson. This is the film we’d have got if Lars Von Trier directed*. Instead, we get the main Merhi himself (that’s Joseph, not Jalal typo fans) with his co-conspiritor Richard Pepin is not far behind, making a family movie about one kid’s dream to kick people in the face. And a dream is just a wish… coming true. Whatever that means.

The kicking people in the face part should not be suprising, as Magic Kid was written by Stephen Smoke, writer/director of Final Impact, a Lorenzo Lamas movie about kicking people in the face (I know that doesn’t narrow it down much). The kid part is a little more unexpected, as PM Entertainment are more known for their action films than wholesome family fun, though wholesome family fun this indeed is, as much as Captain Ron at least.

Our Hero, and (presumably) the Magic Kid in question, is Ted Jan Roberts as Kevin, Vague Martial Art expert and youngster (though older than he seems to be playing in the film). After becoming champion at the Vague Martial Arts Championship of Spokane by defeating a kid in Rex Kwan Do trousers Kevin is packed off with his sister Megan, played ably by Shonda Whipple, to visit their uncle Bob, an agent out in LA. Fans of mid-ninties sci-fi will recognise Bob as Stephen Furst, Vir on Babylon 5, and in my mind one of TV’s go-to guys when you need someone rotund and nervous. Interestingly, Furst went on to direct Magic Kid 2, which is unavailable in the pound shop, so far.

If Magic Kid 3 doesn't work out, Ted can find work as a draft excluder.Bob has promised Kevin that he’ll introduce him to Don “The Dragon” Wilson, to whom Bob gave his start many years ago. Kevin is a huge The Dragon fan (proving that the film is set in an alternative universe where people other than Lloyd Dobbler are obsessed with Don Wilson), and sleeps with a slightly disturbing picture of Don doing a bit of Bruce Lee pose on his night stand. Megan has been promised a meeting with “soap star” Tony Hart**, though I think I’d have pushed for the whole deal and asked to meet Morph as well. Of course, when the pair arrive in LA they discover that Bob is a drunk and an inveterate gambler, who mostly seems to be an agent for clowns, and is heavily in debt to some (comically inept, of course) mobsters. Then, as little as you may expect it, martial arts ensues.

The martial arts is really quite good, and usually setup with an entertaining lack of pretence. Practically any situation seems to have a chance of resulting in some Beefy Guys kicked in the face by Kevin. This could be Megan being hit on by some obnoxious surfers (where is Swayze when you need him) while Kevin is inexplicably fishing, Bob enjoying a game of pool against some undesirables who don’t want to pay up, or just a good old fashioned trio of gangsters in fancy dress. In terms of raw martial-arts-per-minute, this film is definitely good value. The physicall kicking-in-the-face is well done as well, Ted Jan Roberts clearly being a talented martial artist, with the final fight against hordes of mooks, which also features The Dragon, featuring some impressive double kicks and big sweepy roundhouses, and throughout the fighting is complemented by decent editing which doesn’t obscure the moves too much.

Gangster fashion finally moves beyond the leisure suit.On top of the regular family fun of TJ kicking people, there are some nice bits of non-martial arts acting, with some decent scenes between Bob and his girlfriend/assistant***, and of course with the Goofy Goons. There’s also a beautiful advert for Universal Studios, as Bob tries to redeem himself by taken the kids on all the rides. Presumably this is how they got permission for shooting some of the At A Film Shoot type stuff at Universal, or some other such deal, but I’d advise taking the opportunity to make a cup of tea, stretch your legs, or drain The little Dragon, as the movie continues shortly.

Being basically a kids movie, it’s hard to critique the plank like qualities of the acting, though TJ takes his performance to hardwood levels, with some excruciating descriptions of the True Ninja Way, plus a slightly creepy monologue at the start of the film. Shonda Whipple makes a reasonable job of a nothing role, and Stephen Furs tsweats and stammers his way through the film with consumate ease. Other than Bob’s, the best lines seem to go to the comic relief mobsters (Mobster: “Where do goons live? Laguna!”, Boss: “When your iq reaches double digits I’ll give you a payrise.”). Joseph Campanella makes a great, drily sarcastic godfather, and Bill Huffsey does a good job as the lead clueless wise guy. Much of the rest of the cast is there to get kicked in the face by Kevin, but throw in some quality stuntmen acting, and on one occasion a Ninja Turtle level californian accent.

Don Wilson's crotch comes pre-subtitled.Overall, Magic Kid isn’t a bad family-oriented martial arts film, a genre not overly known for it’s acting powerhouses anyway, and would make a reasonably entertaining matin? movie. I have no idea why the BBFC decided it deserved a 15 rating over here, as it’s a PG in the states and that seems like a fair recommendation. I notice that Magic Kid 2 was submitted at the same time (2004) and received 3 seconds of cuts, so I’m guessing there’s a fight move that falls under their repeatable behavior watchlist – probably headbuts or ear claps. I’m hoping it wasn’t as part of their restriction on “portrayal of violence as a normal solution to problems”, as the movie does clearly show that while most problems can be solved with violence, sometimes you just have to knuckle down and hustle some bikers at pool.

By the way, in case you watch to the end (which I recommend, if you’re already watching it) I think you’ll see it also confirms my theory that putting a “where are they now” dragnet style ending on a movie is never, ever, a bad idea.

* I think we all know that’s a lie.
** OK, it was Tommy Hart. But Morph goshdarnit!
*** I tried to check the name of the actress on IMDB, and I think it’s Sandra Kerns. It’s never good when your prime piece of IMDB trivia is that you’re not related to someone though. Unless you’re Adam Baldwin.

May 18, 2006

No Tomorrow (1999)

Filed under: — Ian @ 12:48 am
Filters make the world go round.Master P’s childhood dream of becoming an oomp-loompa is finally realised.

When I mentioned the name Gary Daniels to one of my friends he professed to be shocked that I would intentionally watch a movie featuring the big G, who my friend claimed had “No Charisma”. I retorted that I not only watch Gary Daniels movies, but Gary Daniels movies where he doesn’t even kick anyone. The case in question, No Tomorrow, is from the fertile production minds of MWIAT favourites Mehri and Pepin, who not only went straight from rap mogul Master P’s directorial debut on Hot Boyz/Gang Law into his sophmore effort, but also manage to slot in a host of PM Entertainment regulars.

For his second attempt Mr Miller directs a script written by Terry Cunningham, though I suspect he injected some elements from his own fertile imagination. The cast is top notch, with the lead going to aforementioned Brit kickboxer and direct to video star Gary Daniels, Master P featuring as rap mogul and gangster “Maker”, and Pam Grier playing the G-woman on the trail of international arms dealer Gary Busey. Frank “Frank” Zagarino has a cameo at the start, the female lead is filled by aussie Jodi Bianca Wise, and a host of B and TV regulars pop up throughout.

The opening of the movie is also the first scene of what we will refer to as Film B – being the Master P Shoots Things film, as opposed to the longer Film A, which is the Gary Daniels Does Acting film. Film B starts at The Ice Factory, which as far as I could see wasn’t a club, but literally a factory where they make ice, where Frank Zagarino is overseeing a shipment of Illegal Weapons. Maker’s none to happy in being cut out of the deal, and when the Zag summons a squad of men in balaclavas and chemistry class goggles, Maker takes pulls out a combined flamethrower and rocket launcher – an elegant weapon for a more civilised age. Despite the overwhelming odds, Maker’s rocketthrower makes short work of the many, many SWATesque guys, eventually leaving just Frank cowering behind a previously exploded car. Maker offers him a simple choice: tell him where Noah is and drive out of here with the truck o’ weapons, or get flamerocketed. Frank chooses the smart option, gives up his boss and hops in the truck, which Maker immediately blows up. Never trust a rap icon Frank.

Maker: Advanced WarfighterThe remainder of “Film B” focuses around Master P’s inherent inability to complete his everyday record label business without hordes of bemasked commandos invading his personal space. Percy dispatches said commandos with his pair of gold plated gats, occasionally employing some implausible kung fu. While many may think of this as ego stroking, I think P would defend it as a build up for Maker’s reintegration to the film proper, and in many ways an exposure of his inner character through the medium of violence – much in the style of Hong Kong’s tradition of heroic bloodshed. Being that at one point five men with submachine guns fail to hit a crouched Maker as he cowers three feet away, all dying seconds later as he unleashes his twin pistols of death on them, I favour the first theory.

“Film A”, on the other hand, focuses around our hero Jason (Daniels), known, like everyone else in this film, only by his first name. As we are introduced to him, Jason is working in some sort of shipping admin job. His wideboy friend has an proposition that could net Jason some money, and shows him a glitzy night on the town, with visits to stripclubs, and some sort of nightclub complete with a bit of darkwave pumping out the speakers, and some goth-ish hookers. Potentially this is just Master P’s view of what white shipping clerks do to have fun, but it clearly works for Jason, who dives into Wideboy’s scam – cooking the books at the company to get product through to The Greek, or in this case The Busey.

This is pretty much Gary Busey's real life.Noah (Busey) is an international arms trading middle man, briefs FBI agent Pam Grier. She’s attempting to stop the a nutty right wing militia buying a plutonium trigger – a deal Noah is brokering. Unfortunately Diane’s command of her minions is incomplete, and one Agent Lancaster decides to pay Noah a visit, at the same time as both Messers Jason and Wideboy, and Noah’s Chinese trigger supplying buddies are in town.

Lancaster’s subtle FBI psychological technique of hammering the place with machine gun fire takes out most of Noah’s entourage, including Wideboy, and it’s left up to Jason to effect an escape, with car/helicopter persuit aplenty, until Jason dispatches the chopper, and Lancaster, with a molotov petrol can. Noah decides the deal is still on, promoting Jason to higher duties, and preparing for an exchange out in the Mojave, at a (presumably) disused airport. Little does he know he, unlike the audience, is in for a few suprises.

Production wise, things stack up well for No Tomorrow. The soundtrack is full of No Limit (? Master P) tracks, and there are some decent cuts in there, especially during Film B’s record label shoot out. There are explosions and action set-pieces, and it’s clear the filmmakers spared no expense (well, relatively) on the blowing stuff up part of the cinematic process. The stunt work is up there with PM’s best, and at times the film has the feel of a much more expensive movie.

On the flip side some of the sets are work experience D&T student cheap, Pam Grier’s HQ in particular, and the variety of locations (except the sole beach, which appears to be masquerading as somewhere Tropical during the ending) don’t really lend themselves to a consistency. It’s mostly forgiveable stuff.

Defensive actingAs for the talking-and-doing-stuff part of the movie, if you ignore the ego stroking scenes (or, peversely, just watch them on their own) and the irritating and predictable ending, it’s not a terrible movie. Unfortunately, the bits that work don’t quite gel with each other, and while Gary Daniels’ performance is a major step up for him, especially considering that he does no martial arts at all, putting veterans like Pam Grier and Gary Busey in the mix doesn’t really help – though neither does the wardrobe department’s “artistic vision” in the boxer shorts Mr Daniels sports before shower sex scene. The ending is almost a case in point, as I certainly would have much preferred to follow Gary B’s arms dealing sociopath out the end of the film than Gary D’s mercenary sociopath. I mean, Noah had just been sold out and he responds with “You’re sneaky Jason. I like that!”.

Of the supporting cast, Jodi Bianca Wise does a good turn as Gary’s love interest, and is pretty and talented enough to land more than the one shot tv roles she current appears to be getting. Her aussie twang broke through a couple of times, but mostly her accent was passable, and her performance solid. Larry Manetti’s slightly sycophantic assistant complements Gary Busey’s natural craziness pretty well, Eric Cadora does an excellent job of being FBI arsehole Lancaster, and George Cheung does his normal good Oriental stuff as the Chinese supplier.

No Tomorrow should have worked, at least as well as a pound shop movie can. There’s some decent action, a suprisingly good performance from Gary Daniels, and some excellent scenery chewing by Gary Busey. Unfortunately, the gratuitous Master P sections are totally disconnected from the film, and while Daniels does well, you just don’t engage with Jason at all. Partially this is due to the performance, but from the beginning there’s nothing that gives the audience empathy for the character. In clips, I bet No Tomorrow looks great, but as a whole it just doesn’t quite hang together. The moral of the story is: gratutious sex scenes – ok, gratuitous rap shootouts – no need.

I don’t want to make the same mistake I did with Gang Law, so here’s the full sound track listing, as cribbed from the credits:

Constantly ‘N Danger – C-Murder, Mia-X
My Love – Sipping Soma
Throw ‘Em Up – Master P, Kane and Abel
Give Me The World – Silkk The Shocker
Crucify – Cassius Clay
Elektronik – LCD
Think Smart – LCD
Price of Darkness (black Version) – The Electric Hellfire Club
The TRUest SH… – C-Murder

April 6, 2006

Logan’s War (1998)

Filed under: — Ian @ 12:39 am
If only the rest of the movie was as good as the tag line. Beardless Chuck continues the tradition of the cover having nothing to do with the actual film.

Between bouts of starring in informercials for excercise products and being a source of internet comedy, Chuck Norris makes the odd movie. Mostly he takes the leading, but on occasion elects to support some young gun, usually in a script he penned himsself. Despite only Chuck’s name appearing on the cover, Eddie Cibrian is such an actor, and the movie in question is gangster / revenge / martial-arts made-for-tv epic, Logan’s War.

Before we get to the main review, a couple of Caveat Viewers. First, despite the similarity in names, there is absolutely no relation to sci-fi classic Logan’s Run, and any hopes you may have of seeing Michael York switchkicking his way back into the dome will be cruelly dashed. Secondly, if you, for some reason, actually want to follow the plot of this movie, do not watch the trailer that accompanies the DVD. Presumably due to the fact that there never was a theatrical release, someone has created a cinema length trailer by simply grabbing clips at fairly regular intervals throughout the film and sticking them together. Our junior/work-experience trailer creator made sure to include all the important plot points and action sequences, effectively summarising the entire film down into one 3 minute video. On the other hand, if you just want to see The One True Kick (see below), then the trailer is a good way of consuming the reader’s digest condensed version of the movie. Thinking about it, there’s probabaly a market out there for talented editors with time on their hands to recut movies into bite sizes recaps for those who like to discuss movies in the pub, but don’t want to spend two hours of their life watching Chronicles of Riddick.

Logan engaged in a 'tactical withdrawl'.With regards to the story, this is an action movie so it shouldn’t cause anyone suprise or alarm. Though, I do suspect there is some derivation from the script I wrote, for a film starring me, where Chuck Norris would be my uncle and teach me karate on a farm. Admittedly there weren’t any mafioso in my version, but there weren’t any scenes of Chuck and I fighting ninjas on top of stampeding cattle in his, so it evens out.

Logan Fallon (Brendon Ryan Barrett) is just ten years old when he witnesses the murder of his sister, mother and DA father by the mob – narrowly escaping the same fate through a prescient sense of danger. He’s placed into the care of his ex-Ranger rancher Uncle Jake (Norris). Jake provides a loving but bearded home life for Logan, teaching him about life and roundhouse kicks. Driven to earn his uncle’s respect, but at the same timing Burning With Hatred for the gangsters that killed his parents, Logan, now all grown up into Eddie Cibrian (currently on Invasion, but also featured in the excellent But I’m A Cheerleader) joins the US Rangers. He rediscovers his danger-sense by deftly escaping through an enemy minefield after his mission in Terrorististan goes wonky (nb: you may now forget he has magic danger sense, as it plays no further part in the film*). As soon as he gets out of the Army, having won his Uncle’s respect, Logan goes back to Chicago to infiltrate the Mafia, and find the man that killed his family – eventually working his way up to a meeting with the main man himself, the Don.

Supporting Eddie and Chuck are are number of pretty decent actors, primarily FBI agent Joe Spano, who’s currently making a decent turn as another FBI agent in NCIS, and TV semi-HITG Jeff Kober who plays the gangster that killed Logan’s family in order to become a made man. Behind the camera is regular Norris director Michael Preece (who helmed the lion’s share of Walker: Texas Ranger), while Chuck and Aaron Norris wrote the script.

Of course, no one is really going to watch Logan’s War for the moving drama of a boy’s battle with his deep seated internal demons, which leads us to the true motivation: kicking people. However, there is suprisingly little violence in the film, especially in comparison to the average b actioner. I’m guessing this is due to the made for tv nature of the movie, as while the action is not excessive, there is generally something going on that might convince the channel hopping viewer to stay and watch a few minutes.

Oh yes he does.Of the scenes that stand out, the inital hit works fairly well, though it’s pretty much straight out of the textbook of scared children watching their parents get murdered, and the training and war scenes are similarly functional, but not massively exciting. Still, they are mostly buildup for Logan’s infiltration into the mob, which features some natty moves as he shows the Don he can be valuable as muscle. Even so, the movie only really gets into top gear near the end with the final action sequences. In fact, it all builds up to one absolutely fantastic stunt (a remake from an earlier Norris movie), which, appropriately enough, is performed by Chuck, involving leaping through the windscreen of a car to kick a man in the chest. It is a kick that cannot be adequately described with my poor grasp of the language, but suffice to say one of Chucks feet actually goes through the steering wheel. As you may expect, it’s shown uncut in the pseudo trailer mentioned above.

Putting the move near the end was a good idea, because instead of ejecting the DVD with a slight feeling of disappointment, you stab the button with the knowledge warm in your heart that Chuck Norris just kicked someone through a car. While it does just about justify the pound, the fact that the film has to rely on Eddie Ciprian’s wooden, flat performance really does take some stomaching, especially since he’s proved that he can turn in a good take on other projects. I think with the relative lack of arse-kicking involved, the film would have been better served by a more experienced actor who they could have trained up to do the martial arts, rather than the other way around.

On the other hand, the lack of blowing up every vehicle that appears on screen made the budget stretch a bit further, and the production values are generally high. Starting with some good helicopter shots of Chicago, the film is well shot, and features a variety of credible sets – fairly unusual among the crop of pound shop movies. Chuck’s performance is spot on, of course, though I think that just makes how unengaging most of the film is even more glaring.

* OK, technically he uses it when Jeff Kober has a gun to his head, but what kind of danger sense is that? I don’t thing you have to get chomped by a radioactive genetically modified spider to work out that when a gangster has a gun to your head that you are in danger. Or if you do, then get my cape and spandex because it’s crime fightin’ time.

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