Pound Shop Movies

Spotswood

In: mudwig, reviews, comedy

01 Jan 2005
Last of the Moccasins
You can tell this is an old poster as the big names on the front are actually the leads.

Most of the movies that find their way onto these pages are of the action variety, partially because of the fact that there exists a market for direct to video action movies, and partially because action movies can often skate by on a particularly thin veneer of acting ability. To kick off 2005, we have 1992's Spotswood, or The Efficiency Expert in the US, an Australian comedy that follows in the Aussie tradition of telling solid stories and producing entertaining, clever films with great attention to detail.

Thankfully, given the nature of the movie, there are some decent actors in the mix. First and foremost is Sir Tony Hopkins as efficiency consultant Errol Wallace. The next most-likely-to-be-credited is Russell Crowe, but this is one of Russell's earlier movies and his part is a fairly small one. Other Aussies fill up the majority of the roles, of course, including Toni Collette, who debuted in Spotswood, Ben Mendelsohn as the engagingly awkward Carey, Bruno Lawrence, Alwyn Kurts and a whole host of notable australian stand bys. The film was directed by Mark Joffe, who most recently helmed Billy Connolly's The Man Who Sued God.

Spotswood is a good, if not spectacular movie. It's not a great film, I suspect it will make very few people's favourite movie lists, but there is nothing massively wrong with it, which is a distinct achievement. It is a comedy, primarily, but with enough drama to satisfy someone who's not particularly interested in a chuckle. It takes it's time to let the characterisations mature, but does so with a reasonable feeling of pace, and it's a local movie, but one with international appeal. You don't have to be from Australia to appreciate this movie, you just have to be from somewhere that has experienced modernisation, and that's pretty much everywhere.

The conflict in Spotswood is the modern versus the traditional, with the representation of each being a mantle that is shifted between several characters throughout the run of the movie. The film is set in the early sixties, and Anthony Hopkins and John Walton are business consultants in the final stages of streamlining, via the sacking of several hundred workers, the running of an Australian factory as part of a condition of sale to an American company, with part of the proceeds of the sale as an incentive. They are hired to consult on a small moccasin making business by the owner, Mr Ball, which Errol Wallace attends to, leaving his partner to finish up. Despite Ball's assertions, Wallace (Hopkins) soon discovers that the business is surviving only by selling off chunks of property around the factory. His efforts to modernise the production process meshes poorly with the relaxed, eccentric methods and expectations that the workers have developed, apart from with the bratty and ambitious executive Kim Barry (Crowe). In contrast to the factory being sold to the Americans the workers do not respond militantly to the changes, doing their best to make Wallace welcome. While all this is going on, young second generation factory worker Carey (Ben Mendelsohn) attempts to use his new position as Wallace's temporary assistant to woo the boss's daughter, Cheryl, who is far more interested in Kim, while being completely oblivious to his friend Wendy's feelings for him. As the staff start to feel this pinch of Wallace's changes they see the Carey as an implicit part of this, and of the break up of the extended family that the workers had formed.

One of the strengths of the film is the singular feel it creates. The browns and yellows of the set design and lighting, the 60's wardrobe, hair and makeup, and the writing all create a fantastic image of the world of Mr Ball's shoe factory, and its conflict with the cold environment of Wallace's home and his relationships with his wife, and consultant partner Jerry Finn. The two threads of the story line, following Carey and Wallace respectively, weave in and out smoothly, both struggling with the same central message of change, but change for the better. The main problem with the plot is the predictability. There is little chance of anything in this movie suprising you, which dampens the pace, nullifies any possibility of suspense, and hurts the tension between the key elements.

Overall, other than a superb slotcar racing scene, the memorable moments in Spotswood are all character driven. Hopkins' performance is mannered, subtle, and everything you'd expect from an actor of his stature, but what is perhaps more suprising is the depth of quality in the cast, as there is hardly a badly delivered line or misplaced gesture to be seen. Spotswood is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, it's probably a little too gentle in it's humour for some, and a little too contrived for others, but I think it's at least worth a watch. I'm fairly sure that you can get this one on a two-films-on-one-disk with Wet Hot American Summer, which is an absolute steal. Of course, if you can't find it it is on Amazon for slightly more.

Raging Angels

In: mudwig, reviews, fantasy

12 Dec 2004
Warning: This Image Features A Demon
Actually only features a single raging angel.

I really hope that this movie was paid for by a church somewhere, Ed Wood style. At least in that case you could say that some sort of misguided sense of evangelism was behind it, and write it off as The Passion Of Moloch, but I suspect it was simply a misguided sense of film making that wrought this particular Heavy Metal parable.

Young Indiana and Boondock Saint Sean Patrick Flanery stars as Chris, our angsty rock hero. Chris' girlfriend, Lila, is played by Monet Mazur, as seen recently in Ice Cube-em-up Torque. The other "name" in the movie is oscar nominee Diane Ladd, playing the preacher/faith healer, and of the cast she is the only one to give the appearance of really putting in any effort at all, turning in a fair performance in the face of distinct mediocrity. Behind the scenes, the director is a mystery, as he Alan Smithee'd himself before the film's release, perhaps after the studio butchered his creative vision, or perhaps after someone with creative vision butchered him. One interesting credit is Chako van Leeuwen, who also worked on class James Cameron flying fish of doom picture, Piranaha II.

The villians of the piece (outside of the devil, of course) are a group known as the Coalition For World Unity. Through the powers of possibly the least charismatic man on the planet, rock legend Colin Grammercy (though I only realised he was a rock legend about two thirds of the way into the film) the Coalition is converting The Youth with the power of Heavy Metal. Evil Heavy Metal.

The coalition envisions peace through a one world government, and they're willing to kill to get it. However, unlike regular conspiracies, their killings are carried out by Demons. Or a Demon, to be precise, called Moloch. On the side of the forces of good is Chris, who gets kicked out of his band for being drunk, and if his later performances are any indication, for being crap. His girlfriend is also musical, and when her day job as a waitress is ended in a hail of drive by bullets, she decides to audition for the job of a backup singer with the dastardly Grammercy. Chris' Grandma dies, pushing Chris back to drink, and causing Lila to leave him. Of course, Chris tries and fails to get her back, eventually partnering up with Diane Ladd's feisty southern preacher Sister Kate to get his girl back from the CWU, and save the world for Jesus, and for Rock.

Outside of this outline there are several elements of the plot that serve little purpose apart from annoying and irritating the viewer. The most cardinal of these sins is committed by Shelley Winters, as Grandma Ruth. Anytime you see anyone credited as Grandma anything it's a warning sign, but in this case blazing klaxons and flashing neon signs could not prepare you for the amount of annoying that this woman can bring to bear. See, Grandma Ruth has visions, visions of doom for those around her. After Chris ignores a portentious vision she had concerning Lila, she goes to Sister Kate for help, hence introducing her to the picture. Why she goes to see her is fairly unclear since Sister Kate is a faith healer, and Lila was in a rock band, which is not one of the traditional complaints. In fact, why Grandma Ruth does anything is fairly unclear. I suspect that at some point during the rehearsals (if there were any) someone used the word "doddering" with regards to this part, and it was clearly taken to heart. Winters takes doddering to a whole new level, including a scene where you discover she owns a gun, which adds a dangerous edge to the dodder, until finally, during one of the film's high points, she falls down the stairs and dies, after croaking out her Final Thought. She was, as one may expect, killed by a demon. Since she was approximately as threatening to the Coalition as a boiled turnip, I suspect Moloch simply got the wrong address.

Looking at the rest of the film, it would be easy to make the assumption that it was created in the heady days of the 1980s, when most of the music was at least vaguely current. In fact it hails from 1995, and as such utilises the powers of space age computing machines to render the demonic effects. Unfortunately, the space age computing machines seem to have had coffee spilt down them as the effects are somewhat less than the horrifying hell beasts that one would hope for. Demon heads wobble about, swoop through cars, and do some poorly superimposed crawling around on the ceiling, and a distinctly lo-fi crackle of blue lightening regularly pops up as a signal of Evil Forces At Work, especially effective when it is shot from the end of a sword up to distances of literally inches. Unfortunately the analog special effects aren't much better. Apart from some quality pushing-through-a-rubber-wall type bits, the film features a deadly fridge skidding across the room, a light-the-paper and stand well back car explosion, and some fantastic outfits. Outside of the metal bands who presumably brought their own wardrobe, Moloch is a masterpiece of visiting the local fancy dress shop for a mask and having the props department knock up some high quality bat wings. While he gets to dominate the proceedings, costume wise, near the end of the movie we are treated to a bronzed, blonde, coiffured and backlit Angel who sports a look somewhere between a professional wrestler and an extra from a porn version of Gladiator.

Of course, we can't forget that outside of the demonic elements this is a movie about music, or more specifically about the glam-er side of heavy metal. From the wails of Chris' former bandmates during the opening to Stryper's stirring lyrca wearing hit over the end credits, this film is more rock than Tommy Vance in a quarry. The Coalition For World Unity's big event near the end of the film features a fairly decent performance by such a band, before Colin Grammercy takes the stage for some sub Billy Idol rockin', which is far less popular with the formerly enthusiastic extras in the crowd than the previous act. The good guys fare no better, having left their heavy metal past behind Chris and Lila are seen recording a new wave/goth-y kind of track at the end, which was sure to set the charts alight in Finland.

Overall, Ladd puts in a decent performance, Miss Mazuro is extremely fetching, and there are several moments when you don't want a rock to fall on Sean Patrick Flanery, but they just can't make up for the unpolished drek that is the rest of the movie. The credits indicate that this film is dedicated to the memory of some poor individual, presumably as a form of post-mortem final insult. There are worse things to do with your time than watching Raging Angels, but unfortunately almost all of them involved making Raging Angels.

The one review of Raging Angels on Amazon is very positive, so this film is presumably selling somewhere. Maybe they'll make a sequel.

Shadow Run

In: mudwig, crime, reviews

12 Dec 2004
Michael Caine is wearing shades. They have failed to hide his identity.
This movie is not, in any way, cyberpunk.

Shadow Run a crime thriller without much in the way of thrills, or a gangster movie without much in the way of characters. Michael Caine plays Haskell, a suav? but amoral criminal who has been hired by the aristocratic Landon-Higgins, played by James Fox, to steal some specially made paper. The paper is used for printing money, and is the key element in making undetectable forgeries. Of course, the security is rather tight, with the weakest point being an armoured van that follows a computer controlled route from the factory. The van is still no easy pickin's, and Haskell's initial attempt fails, leaving blood pouring from the van, but no way in to get at the ?100 million worth of paper inside. This is where we come in.

To be precise, this is not where we come in. We come in with a fat kid. Now, I have nothing against fat people, or kids, or even fat kids, but the sight of a large-and-in-charge pasty skinned 13 year old huffing his way across the country side in his PE kit and NHS glasses is just not the way to open a movie. I simply could not imagine, say, a Bond film opening with a pumping David Arnold theme over elegant visual effects involving guns and curvaceous ladies being overshadowed by the cinematic value of a puffed out salad dodger. The name of the jogging giant is Joffrey, and he's played by a young actor called Matthew Pochin who did not manage to spin his performance in Shadow Run into a career, so far at least.

Joffery happens upon Haskell just after the failed attempt on the money van. To keep him quiet, Haskell gives him fifty quid and tells him to keep his mouth shut, presumably because he was a little tired and couldn't be bothered to hide, or move, the body. Joffery immediately goes back to his public school and tells any and everyone he can find about the incident. Luckily for Haskell it seems that Joffery is as fond of telling porkie pies as he is of eating them, and is believed by no one. Through out the rest of the movie the kid pops up occasionally in a fairly unnecessary way, but most of his screen time is based around a sub plot, if it can be called that, about his fairly unhappy life. See, Joffery's father was a criminal of some kind, and he is picked on by the rich kids at his school, partially because of that, partially because he is fat, and partially because he can sing better than them, as they are all choirboys. At this point, everyone with some level of higher mental function has given up on caring, but we still get to experience the boy's highs and lows as he journeys through life, surrounded by his equalling annoying child co-stars. Moving on...

Back at the ranch, Haskell's plate is full. Landon-Higgins doesn't exactly trust him, and the feeling is mutual, he's had to kill an old friend for something or other, and he still doesn't have a way in to the van. Various people proceed to pop up in the plot, first TV's Rae Barker as Julie, a hooker that serves to be an attractive female with some lines. Next, the ever so experienced Ken Colley appears as a driver for the paper plant who has been retired off due to health complications, named Larcombe. With a bit of fiscal persuasion and a night with Julie, Larcombe spills the beans on the van's systems. It seems that the computer that controls the van's route, and sets off the alarm bells if anyone tries to rob it, communicates with HQ via the mobile phone network, and it just so happens that theres a large patch of no signal very close to its route. So close, in fact, that on occasion road closures have forced the van to go straight through it. This area is known to the drivers as "The Shadow", and hence their trip through it "The Shadow Run". Haskell seizes the opportunity, and quickly assembles a gang. The gang mostly consists of some people that don't have any lines and craggy faced villian Leslie "Dirty Den" Grantham, playing Liney. Together they plan, and execute, a predictably violent heist and pretty much everyone dies. Apart from the fat kid.

This film is quite disappointing for a number of reasons. It lacks pace, but in a way that still involves a lot of things happening. The problem is that the vast majority of those things simply don't matter, especially the entire Joffery storyline, and they just bog the movie down. Still, that could have been excused if there was a quality to the writing that made it worth taking your time, but it simply isn't there. Caine, Grantham, Colley and Fox all put in good performances, but it's just throwing rocks against a tide of torpid boredom. Haskell, particularly, is a massive missed opportunity. Michael Caine can play a gangster, we've seen it numerous times, and that experience is evident is his performance, but the shallow, violent nature of the character just doesn't gel with it. How such a man would still be operating acting as he does is hard to imagine, and it is impossible to integrate his actions throughout the movie into a believable whole.

Possibly even more disappointing is the treatment of the core plot elements. The heist itself should have been a good one, a decent target, an interesting solution, and the kind of value that causes a lot of fractious thoughts on the part of the individual thieves. The relationships between the characters had some value too, primarily that between Julie, the hooker, and Haskell. There was a sense of understanding between the two characters that was wasted in service of the film's tone. Finally, the tension between Haskell and Landon-Higgins, while not exactly an original bit of writing, had the potential for some great screentime with James Fox and Michael Caine sparking off each other, but Fox was hardly in the movie and so apart from some brief scenes it just didn't happen.

If you want to watch a British gangster movie in this mould then try Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, or one of a hundred others. Shadow Run doesn't have the laughably bad special effects or true incompetence that could make it enjoyable in an MST3K kind of way; it is simply leaden, heavy handed, tat.

If you're insane, or an excessively dedicated Michael Caine fan, the movie is on Amazon, as well as at the finer pound shops.

McBain

In: mudwig, reviews, action

12 Dec 2004
McBain - Available For Coups, Revolutions etc.
If this cover was accurate it would contain more Hawaiian shirts.

Christopher Walken is in this movie. So is Michael Ironside. Its release caused the Simpsons to use Rainier Wolfcastle instead of McBain for a couple of seasons. It has possibly the most ludicrous plane to plane combat scene in cinema history. This movie should be taught in schools.

It starts, as most things do, in 'Nam. Christopher Walken is a POW, and is being forced to fight in some form of home made Tina Turner-less thunderdome. Just in the nick of time a passing chopper-full of troops, having just been told the war is over, decide to quickly assault the POW camp. McBain wants to say "thanks" to his rescuers, but instead a man by the name of Santos hands him half a hundred dollar bill, as part of a Pact Of Honour. If McBain receives the other half, he'll know he has to come and help Santos move, or feed his cats while he's on holiday.

Years later, McBain is mostly into welding, while over in Colombia Santos and his rag tag rebel band are trying to stage a coup against the corrupt government that is being run by German drug dealers named Hans (all german drug dealers are named Hans). Santos' rebellion does not succeed, and he is executed. His distraught girlfriend takes the only option she has left, and goes to America to find a iron worker. Moved by her story, and his debt, McBain then proceeds to round up his former unit, purchase some hardware, and take over the entire country.

What makes this film a classic is not the quality of the film making. The direction is rubbish, and cuts between many, many things you care not a jot about. Neither is it the quality of the plot, as it makes the average first person shooter game look like a masterpiece of shakespearean proportions. No, what makes this film a classic is the genius of scenes that it sets up. My top five from the movie follow, I wouldn't worry about spoiling them since I do not think mere words can truly convey there majesty.

5. Christopher Walken IS Mossad: McBain borrows $10 million off a new york gangster by hanging him of a roof and pretending to be an isreali agent. Walken gives the distinct, unshakable impression of being completely unhinged, which to be fair is probably an accurate reading. The scene finishes with a quick 1-2 of comedy gold; McBain tells the gangster that his brother in law is ripping him off, which the gangster is all too ready to believe. As they're leaving, one of the McBain Posse asks hims how he knew. He replies "Everyone's brother in law is ripping them off". Zing.

4. The Flashback: About fifteen minutes into the film it quickly flashes back to McBain's rescue in Vietnam, in case you were asleep, got in late, or were in the gents shooting up. The editor had no faith in his audience.

3. Not all drug dealers are bad: The boys need money, and since they're going to free a country from the grip of drug barons, where better to get the cash than from the people that push their products? One quick assault and about twenty dead dealers later, McBain and Co. demand some loot from head dealer Luis Guzman. He explains that he only deals to addicts, never kids (Mr. T would approve), and that he is providing minority employment. When they question as to where he got the army jacket he is wearing he replies "The same place as you". Deciding that Luis is a sound geezer, they decide to hit up the aforementioned local mafioso for ten million instead. OBVIOUSLY.

2. The best doctor in the world, ever: A little girl is dying, hit with a bullet during an exchange of gun fire between the government forces and our heroes. The doc proceeds to take the only chance he has, opening her up in the middle of a field, using a pen knife. He manages to reinflate her lung, fix her flux capacitor or whatever he was doing, and sews her up. Pretty much instantly she smiles, and sits up. Bupa have nothing on this.

1. Air to Air Combat: During their less than stealthy infiltration into SouthAmericanLand, McBain's plane is spotted by enemy radar, who quickly dispatch two elite pilots in their state of the art drug powered fighter jets. One is dealt with by the patritotic mercenary the guys have brought a long in a jet of their own, but the other quickly demonstrates it's superiority to McBain's passenger plane, and pulls up alongside. The pilot gestures, and calls for them to them to land. Faced with a tough situation, McBain pulls out a titchy little pistol and proceeds to shoot the enemy pilot in the head, through the window of McBain's cockpit, the canopy of the pilot's, and the pilot's helmet. This is approximately the second most unexpected thing to ever happen in a movie (the first of course being Ralph Fiennes eating the painting in Red Dragon).

"Pilot: Charlie Seven Zero Four, put the plane down! Do you read me? Charlie Seven Zero Four, put the plane dow... ARRGH!
McBain: We read you loud and clear. "

It's the little details that cement McBain's position in the heirarchy of crap movies. For example, while galavanting happily through their generic south american country, McBain and his crew wear... Hawaiian shirts! And stupid hats! The villian is known only (well, mostly) as El President?, which is about as much spanish as is spoken in the entire film. The south american extras are all Filipino's, most of whom seem to have no idea what on earth they're supposed to be doing. And, of course, an absolutely phenomenal number of people die, something like 240 accord to reputable sources*. I would seriously suggest no one ever tries to play a "drink every time some dies" type game with this film. It is up there with Commando as a film that trying such a game with is likely to put you in hospital.

This film is now in one of those two films on one disc that Hollywood DVD have been going for recently, and depending on your local pound shop you might be able to pick it up for 50p, which would work out as paying just 25p for McBain. To be honest though, I think this film is actually worth paying the full pound for, and I'm sure the people over on the McBain's House Of War forum agree.

* See McBain's House Of War
** McBain [1991] is on Amazon if you are pound shop deprived.

Direct Hit

In: mudwig, reviews, action

09 Sep 2004
Assassin Movie = Crosshair on cover
Forsythe floats like a yoghurt, stings like a pie.

Hitmen in movies appear notoriously unreliable. Even the slickest professionals are prone to sudden changes of heart, often culminating in the deaths of their former employer or associates. Actors, however, seem to relish the opportunity to play the anti-hero, and do their best to portray the dark side of the characters. Some, like Jean Reno in L?on, paint a portrait of a man who is human, "no women no children", but inhuman in his total lack of conscience about executing his targets. William Forsythe as the Direct Hit-ing John Hatch echoes the darkness of his part by playing it so understated that in several countries he would be declared clinically dead, and with a throaty, horse delivery that suggested he has smoked more than enough to be considered so in all the others.

The hook is fiendish in its intricacies. John Hatch wants out of the game, but his boss (George Segal) requires two weeks notice, or something along those lines, and orders him to off a local stripper to further the political aims of an ex CIA chief who is campaigning to become a senator. Allegedly, the stripper, Savannah, is blackmailing the propective senator with photos of them in bed together some years ago. Hatch struggles with the patriotism of his job before deciding that Savannah is innocent and that he will protect her from the evil machinations of his employers.

So why would this already trite sounding tale be worth watching? The answer is spread, via the magical movie powers of Pepin and Mehri, over the many characters that grace our screens. Leaving Hatch for a minute, let's look at the female lead, Savannah. Jo Champa is an actress who had had ups (Don Juan De Marco) and downs (this) in her career, along with a cameo in Walker, Texas Ranger, which is of course neither an up or down, but a sideways. Her portrayal of Savannah sets the tone for the film, in that she's a stripper* that actually doesn't strip, making her approximately the worst stripper in the movie. On the other hand it doesn't take her long to strip away the cold, callous exterior of Hatch and find his true cold, callous interior, and that's what she grows, in a traditionally short space of time, to love. She even does an adequate job as a spotter at the end of the movie, in a scene that can only be described as "what".

Forsythe's John Hatch is a whole other matter. Somehow, he actually manages to connect with the audience despite not really doing or saying much of anything, and wearing a lot of very un-action star clothes. Perhaps it's that he seems much more like the kind of person that would actually be a hit man than in other films, or perhaps we're just so glad that his sex scene is very brief, but there is something likeable about Hatch, which is clearly a good thing in any movie.

Much of the film is propped up by the good performances of the supporting cast. Action standby Richard Norton puts his aussie accent to good effect as another agency assassin, whether shooting at Hatch or trying to convince him not to retire ("You turned your target into people. Can't do that!"). The lovely Juliet Landau has a brief appearance in the film as a rookie assassin, prompting a stand off with Hatch that forms one of the best short scenes in the film. George Segal as head of the agency supplies a suprising subtle performance, and makes a decent part out of what is basically a bit character. The movie's introduction is reasonably well played as well, focussing on a young assassin preparing for his first hit partnering with the legendary John Hatch. The hit that follows is pretty ludicrous, as if that's a suprise.

The real money is the climactic hand-over scene. What starts of as an exchange between Sentor Corruptus and Hatch, Savannah's daughter for incriminating photos, in a construnction site (of course) quickly turns into an amazing slice of Forsythe invunerability, and classic PM action. A phenomenal number of villians appear toting submachine guns, rocket launchers, pistols, pointy sticks, and all manner of mullet-esque hair cuts. Now matter how much lead is thrown through the air at him, Hatch, despite having the physique of a wardrobe, dodges with ease, and reaps his vengeance by detonating various explosives he had previously buried around the site. Presumably after the coach that they'd transported all the villians in on had emptied its contents to go to their sandy graves, George Segal flies in for no appreciable reason in a helicopter and ties up that final loose end (presuming the agency will be taking care of the stack of bodies, and the creamated candidate).

Overall, Direct Hit is a reasonable way of spending 90 minutes, and ranks as one of the better PM movies. Running from the Big Powerful Agency, and then killing a lot of people is a bit of a staple sub-genre, but one I think that often works better in the slightly rubbish world of the b-movie than it does when combined with the polish of a blockbuster.

* And single mum. There was actually a law passed in the US in 1985, after intense pressure by the powerful D.C. erotic dancers lobby, that any leading female character that worked as a stripper must also be a single parent, and that the father of her child be a wifebeater/drunkard/moron/all of the above. True that.
** Amazon have a different DVD than the one I've seen.