Pound Shop Movies

Corrupt (1999)

In: mudwig, crime, reviews

12 Dec 2008
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.

Cyber-Tracker 2 (1995)

In: mudwig, reviews, action, sci-fi

02 Feb 2008
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!

The Secret Craft (2001)

In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi, thriller

11 Nov 2007
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

Space Marines (1996)

In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi

07 Jul 2007
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.

Project Shadowchaser 3 (1994)

In: mudwig, reviews, horror, sci-fi

11 Nov 2006
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.

Magic Kid (1994)

In: mudwig, reviews, action, comedy

11 Nov 2006
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.

No Tomorrow (1999)

In: mudwig, reviews, action

05 May 2006
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

Logan's War (1998)

In: mudwig, reviews, action

04 Apr 2006
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.

The Prince And The Surfer (1999)

In: mudwig, reviews, comedy

11 Nov 2005
The second credit from the left is Kids, don't try and jump over a castle on your skateboard.

Ah literature. While I haven't technically read anything by Mark Twain in really quite a long time, I have seen his apperances in those episodes of Star Trek when they go back in time and Whoopi Goldberg is there, which I think makes me more than qualified enough to judge Arye Gross' Californian re-imagining of Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, in the way more radical The Prince And The Surfer.

Gross is best known as an actor, for some definition of "best known" anyway, but on this film he's (mostly) behind the camera - this is his first, and so far only, directorial credit. Being that he's somewhat of a Hey, It's That Guy himself, it is no suprise that the film is packed out with similar familiar faces, but often unfamiliar names. Timothy Bottoms presumably had his name taken off the final credit roll, but plays the Surfer's dad, Johnny, C. Thomas Howell appears as a wacky security guard (warning: it's krazy komedy!), the always fantastic Vince Schiavelli plays the prince's manservant Baumgarten, Robert 'Freddy' Englund plays evil Minister Kratski, Allyce Beasley (who played a gnome in Everquest 2) makes an apperance as part of the royal staff, and Ayre Gross himself turns up as the other wacky security guard (caution: kooky).

The leading roles are filled by Sean Kellman, whom I have never heard of, and possibly neither has anyone other than Mr and Mrs Kellman, as the two titular roles, the up and coming Linda Cardellini as Mel, the Prince's love interest, and the not-up-and-coming, perhaps-peaked-with-this-film Katie Johnston as the Surfer's love interest, Lady Galina.

There is only one way for Ed and Mel to appease the guardsWhile I'm sure everyone is familiar with the plot, everyone is probably not familiar with the tubular inSURFpretation writer Gregory Poppen (who cameos as a steering wheel lock wielding driver) has fashioned. The prince is Prince Edward of Gelfland - heir apparent to a monarchy with economic problems. The Queen, a distinctly and inexplicably american Jennifer O'Neill, takes her son and his betrothed on a trip to the USA, hopefuly to broker a trade deal to save their country. At the same time, over in the States, Edward's doppleganger, "Cash" Canty, is hanging with his buddies, riding his board, and robbing magically disappearing coffee and news papers (continuity may not be this movie's strong point). Cash dreams of becoming rich, and getting out of the rut he and his friends find themselves in. Edward dreams of seeing America, and experiencing life with the common people. Unfortunately Cash hasn't got the cash, and Minister Kratski wont allow Edward out of his hotel.

Eventually, Edward manages to get the chance for one slow limo drive by of the beach, with the Princess Galina, his bride to be. As they argue, Galina decides to throw caution to the wind and stick her head out through the limo's sunroof. Of course, this happens just as they pass a skate park where Cash is hanging out. Intrigued, Cash skates up to the limo and skitches a ride into the royal resort, and mananged to evade the security. While looking for the princess, Cash ends up in Edward's room and on noticing the resemblence, a plan for both of them to get what they want is born. Little do they know that the evil Minister Kratski has a plan of his own, to make himself rich with the help of a group of scheming theme park developers who want to turn Gelfland... into Golfland.

Best. Wallpaper. Ever. I think it's fairly clear that this is a movie for the kiddies, and should therefore not be held to the same standards that we, as adults, would demand from our cinematic entertainment. That said, it is pretty unreasonable for a movie that has Surfer right there in the title to not actually feature one single instance of surfing. At one point you see a couple of surfboards, and late in the film Cash's dad runs towards the sea with just his trunks and a surfboard, but I think that's a pretty poor effort. Given that there were some I'm Gonna Git You Sucka like stunt doubles used for some of the skateboarding scenes, it would have seemed reasonable to do the same with the surfing. To be fair though such scenes may be left forgotted on the cutting room floor, as I noticed on the credits there was one "Gail Trout" who was credited as "Female Johnny Double". Now Johnny was indeed the name of Cash's dad, Timothy Bottom's character, but I can't think of an instance, apart from the aforementioned, and not shown, surfing, where he would require a double. Especially a female one. Unfortunately Gail Trout does not have any other credits to her name over on IMDB, and there's something fishy about the google results for her name (boom boom), so her role shall remain a mystery.

There are some stand out elements of this movie though, primarily Erik Lundmark's casio keyboard score. While clearly made with a very limited amount of time, and money, I feel it is one of the few movie soundtracks that really help move the film along. This is mostly achieved by the DUHN DUHHHNNNN everytime we cut to a shot of Robert Englund's evil Minister Kratski, and the tinkly happy piano-a-like trills as Queen Abby finds love in the arms of Johnny. The laugh a minute gag fest that is the banter between the incompetent security guards at the resort actually finds its mark every now and again as well, mostly thanks to some good timing rather than funny lines. As could be expected really, most of the actors put in a decent job, including Katie Johnston. It does seem a shame that she's not done anything bar a couple of TV episodes since The Prince and the Surfer, but for all I know she's in some big broadway show. Or drunk in a gutter. Either way.

There is a new crop of DVDs in at the pound shop, with some bigger names than usual. Admittedly Sean Kellman isn't one of them, but there are far, far worse kids movies that are aired to defenceless children every day. The evil cues, Vincent Schiavelli, and Sean Kellman's attempt at both a posh and a surfer-dude accent are entertaining enough that I'd have no problems saying this is worth a pound. Interestingly, the Paul family that produced the movie have some other quality adaptations to their name, films with wonderful titles like "The Princess & the Barrio Boy", "The Modern Adventures of Tom Sawyer", which appears to feature Erik Estrada AND inline skating, and "The Karate Dog", which probably isn't an adaptation, but will probably will be adapted out of Jon Voight's CV.

Expect No Mercy (1996)

In: mudwig, reviews, action

08 Aug 2005
Rippling Muscles, Rippling Intellect
The skill of tae-bo, the kill of tae-bo.
(Note, this is a rip off of my own review over at the Clan 404 site. Hot damn am I lazy. Be warned that I pretty much spoiler the entire movie, which is probably a good thing.)

1. "I didn't know you could think"

In a nutshell Expect No Mercy is the story of Front Side Bus* agent Justin Vanier, played by now Tae Bo superstar Billy Blanks. His mission is to infiltrate the reknowned Virtual Arts Academy, a high-tech martial arts training camp which doubles as a front for a double super secret assassination agency, run by the evil Wolf Larsen, as Warbeck. Much bad martial arts ensues.

The film starts with a hit by Warbeck's boys. Possibly the high point in a movie that never lets off the Action Accelerator, the hit begins with a realistic Virtual Reality sweep through a city and out to the target's country mansion. The 3D sequence is literally in a class of its own, and makes the graphics in, well, just about anything, including that Dire Straits Money For Nothing video, look good. We join the live action sequences as Warbeck's Camp Crusaders reach the edge of the compound. Stealthily kitted out in pitch black combat gear they blend in seamlessly with the bright green grass and trees in the middle of this sunshine filled day. In a sequence that echoes the SAS assault in Patriot Games, the team sneak across the open ground, take up positions behind small trees and shrubberies, and wait for Warbeck's go signal.

The ensuing fight is one sure to go down in history. Highlights include Anthony Delongis as Damian (camp baddie #1, and Warbeck's right hand man) lashing out with his whip and breaking the neck of the "mark", who throws his glass of wine into the air as he dies, the contents going everywhere. In the next slo-mo shot, however, Damian cooly catches the falling glass and takes a sip. As the rest of the team engage, Spyder, played nepotistically by Michael Blanks, brother of your hero and mine Billie, leaps over a small wall and engages a mook in mortal combat. What makes this fight outstanding is Spyder's tendancy to yell "CHA" as he throws his lethal martial arts moves. This combined with a propensity for the mooks to die from falling over, falling through tables, or being punched in the stomach, makes for an entertaining few minutes. Finally, on their way out, whip wielding Damian is snuck up upon by a canny guard. With a gun mere feet away from his back, and only a whip in hand what can he do? Only roll forwards, and with a whip move of stunning imposibility, whip the gun out of the startled guard's hand. You can't pay for this kind of stuff, son, you've just got to live it.

In short order we are introduced to Jordan (in a dead kind of way), who was the police's former contact inside the Virtual Arts acadaemy. Varnier is the best of what's left, and is rushed off in his big pink pick-up to enter Warbeck's layer. The Virtual Arts academy is a large campus like center, filled with people training in various forms of martial arts and doing excercises. Giant pictures of Warbeck hang on the walls, and guards dressed in stylish GuardGarb(tm) patrol the upper levels.

Having unbuttoned his shirt and rotated his cap to acceptable levels, Justin enters the compound and is introduced to one of the great innovations of the film. You see, as this is a Virtual arts academy, there can't be any of this old fashioned sparring (though this does appear to be going on in various shots). No, here sparring is done in small rooms against VR opponents, using headsets and some interesting technology that allows the user of the room to feel the blows from his virtual opponent. Luckily for us all, no one attempts to explain how it works.

When cosplayers attack The opponents in these virtual booths (of which there are apparently lots, but we only ever see the few around 113) are cleverly designed to replicate real life situations, with a mugger complete with stripy top and Lone Ranger style face mask, a jester and a samurai all making an appearance. Vanier demolishes a few opponents with ease, impressing his blonde, female instructor, Mz Female Lead Vicki, played by Laurie Holden, who recently featured as The Thing's ex in Fantastic Four. We are speedily introduced to the poor man's** Jean Claude, Jalal Merhi as "Eric". He's short, knows some karate, and speaks with a slightly bizarre, and often monotone, accent. To give you an idea of his vast abilities, here is what the trivia section of his imdb biography used to say:

"Apparently an expert martial artist."

Unfortunately for us, an person named "Jalal Merhi" appears to have submitted a more flattering bio to the DB, with tidbits like: "Is known to his admirers as Beiruit's Steven Segal."

While Warbeck is hired to do another hit, on a man under police protection, Justin meets up with Eric and they begin to investigate the academy. Having cunningly stolen a passcard, Eric and Justin begin to sneak into the more secure parts of Warbecks fortress-like school. Unfortunately they are noticed by Vicki, who is persuaded to join up to the forces of good. Once inside, Eric begins hacking into the computer, while Justin goes off for no particularly good reason. Unbeknownst to Eric, Vicki (intentionally) sets of the alarm, before Eric shows her the evidence of Warbecks assassination business. This prompts Vicki to say "shit". However, on my 18 certificate video this has been inexplicably, but humorously, dubbed over with her intoning "shoot". The alarm prompts a series of pole wielding mooks to run down various corridors to be dispatched by Justin. Showing his tactical skills Justin attempts to evade one lot by hiding in a door well, pressing himself into the left hand side, leaving him in full view of the guys he was running away from, as they approach from the right. This moment of genius over, Justin runs downstairs and confronts a slightly higher class of mook, causing him to issue some classic dialogue, along the line of "that virtual stuff, that's crap". Eric does the same, until they end up outside the building, on a rooftop several floors up. Luckily the bad guys didn't know about the converted Vicki, and she escapes with the disk containing the evidence. This is roughly the end of the lad's good fortune however, as Damian shoots them both with tranquilising darts. Warbeck decides to let them live, hooking them both up to the computer to it can "learn their moves". After a brief bit of lauding it over our plucky heros, Warbeck leaves to take care of his teams assault on the police safehouse, which is situated in some woods.

In the mean time, a scientist who looks like an old(er), squished Robert Plant sends wave after wave of cheesy opponents at Eric and Justin, culminating in a whole possy of unlikely characters pounding on the deadly duo. Luckily, Vicki turns up just in time and rescues our heroes, who head off to the next action set piece, at the police safehouse

Warbeck lectures Vicki on conditioner The fight is, unsuprisingly, a bit crap, and to gloss over the details all the cops die, but the all important Woody Allen-alike witness is kept alive. The scene does contain the films "touching" moment, and an explosion, and there's nothing wrong with that. In the ruckus Vicki was nabbed by the two surviving goons, Damian and Spyder, who leap in a car and speed back towards base. Justin, Eric and Woody leap in another car and set off in an OJ style slow speed chase. Rebelliously defying convention, the cars go in a straight line at a moderate pace, with occasionaly smatterings of gun fire being exchanged. Eventually, the bad guys do the sensible thing and shoot a rocket launcher at our heroes, causing Woody to run off, and give the dynamic duo an excuse to steal a Porsche, which they promptly do.

By the time they reach the academy, things are looking grim. Warbeck has realised the cops are on to him, and decided to set up shop elsewhere. Spyder's downstairs planting bombs all over the place, and Damian has Vicki hanging by a rope over the side of a Big Tower. Eschewing backup, Eric and Justin charge in, Mr Vanier looking for Spyder while the second name-less Eric goes for the girl. Spyder and Justin fight, watched over remotely by Warbeck. While it looks like the baddies may have the upper hand for a while, in the end Spyder learns that justice is thicker than water, and goes down for the count. Ignoring the bombs, Justin heads off after Warbeck, while on the roof Eric encounters Damian.

Justin enters Warbecks offices, seeing him sitting calmly at a desk. He attempts to assault the haircut of evil, but finds that it is only a hologram! Enraged by the trick, he slaps on some virtual goggle, and goes to fight Warbeck in the CyberRealm (or something). Having been mostly whupped, he calls out the evil mastermind, and heads down to the main hall.

On the roof, the fight is not going well for the good guys, as Damian alternates between kicking Erics ass and sawing through the rope that holds Vicki (who is selling her midriff for all it's worth).

Back in the hall Justin has been tricked again, as some kind of VirtualForceFieldGridOfDeath begins to lower down towards him while Warbeck chuckles from the stairs, accusing our hero of being obsolete, and a thing of the past. Justin's not done yet however, throwing a flag pole into a convenient looking box which shuts of the field. Warbeck steps up, and they resume their dance of death.

On the roof, it looks like things are all over for Eric. Damian is whipping him about like a plaything. Then suddenly Eric fights back and scores one hit, and another. Reeling back Damian looks up with suprise and exclaims "I didn't think you were this good!". Eric cooly replies "I didn't know you could think" and kicks him off the tower. Yay Team Good! BUT all is not over. Damian may have the last laugh after all, as Vicki's strained rope finally gives way and she plummets towards her certain doom. At the last minute, Eric leans over the edge and catches the rope with Damians whip, and hauls her up to safety.

In the hall room, Justin and Warbeck are clashing like veritable Titans. Warbeck presses his advantage, until Vanier fights back with a series of massive roundhouse kicks. Battered and bleeding, Warbeck realises he has lost, and Justin makes a little speech. Warbeck tries a move, a la Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon, but with a final shot, Justin knocks him out, throws him over his shoulder and runs out as the building explodes.

2. "Is that all you got?"

HQ, you wont believe what he is wearing.The always entertaining comment writers on IMDB have a range of opinions. My favourite review is less than complementary, but captures the movies inherent charm:

"I know some of the people who worked on this film, and I still can't stand it. Most of the fight scenes were wooden and boring - your basic B-movie fare, the dialogue bites and was there a plot here? I'm sure someone thought so, but I didn't.I watched it once to be polite to my friends, but I felt like my foot was caught in a bear trap and I would have to gnaw my own leg off to escape. Never again."
- Oberon11.

To break the movie down a little: The direction is flat, but at least it attempts to be exciting. Zale Dalen has evidently seen action and martial arts movies, and knows what kind of shots and scenes should be in them. That is about all. The script is distinctly rubbish, but then again so are a large number of scripts that do well. With better effects, different actors, could this movie have been a classic? Well, no, and I think it probably would have made it worse. Billie is the definitive Snipes-Lite, and the monotone of Jalal has a strangely crap charm to it, though he does, as one review said, act like an on screen fight choreographer. The effects are deeply horrible, but there's no shortage of them, and they are all executed with a brave kind of gusto.

3. "That virtual stuff, that's crap"

Yes, horribly enough there's a game, and appropriately enough it's shit. The one review I could find, which has been since erased from the web, gave a stunning 30%. It's an arcade beat 'em up and according to the review appears to have almost no good features at all, apart from the finishing moves . Here's a taste:

When you start the game, you'll see a non-interactive video transmission from a fellow agent and be prompted to select a "Virtual Opponent" to fight in the "Virtual Arena." The opponents themselves are an odd bunch, ranging from an evil clown to a scantily-clad dominatrix, while your character is a generic male in a karate outfit. An information screen pops up, and the round -- and your headaches -- begin

As you can see, it's true to the movie. It seems that the publishers, Microforum, have left the games business, and that along with the review, most traces of the demo have been excised from the web. I'm fairly sure I still have a copy in my extensive crap movie game tie in archives, but I was never able to get the thing to go so I can't to give a first hand account of its majesty.

4. "Here's one opponent you can't switch off"

I thought that Zale Dalen's career had been completely killed by this film, but it seems I was wrong. IMDB has listed "Call of the Wild", a TV series of which Mr Dalen directed an episode, after a gap of 5 years since EnM. We can only presume he has been in therapy. For those interested, he looks like this, and I must admit I cannot imagine that man actually directing this film, so I'm guessing he wasn't there. If you really want to know, then you can email him here or here.

As for Billy Blanks, while you of course know him from your weekly Tae Bo workout, but he was also the suicidal american football player in underrated Bruce Willis Die Hard-alike The Last Boy Scout. Unfortunately, at some point Billy decided to hide his EnM past, and removed the movies page from his site. Still, if you want to support him and his foundation, you can purchase some motivational dog tags, even if his former range of techno BillyWear appears to have been discontinued.

The good lookin' gal in EnM, Laurie Holden, differs from many of the cast by being fairly succesful and popular. There are a number of fan sites dedicated to her, and after a quick check around this one looked the nicest. For some reason it doesn't mention Expect No Mercy however.

Writer J. Stephen Maunder is credited on a new(ish) film, starring and directed by Jalal Merhi, called "Expect To Die". I have thus far been unable to confirm it is a sequel, but it definitely features a virtual training system, which is good enough for me. Unfortunately, the UK has been so far deprived of a DVD release, but the US import is sitting on my shelf, awaiting the Proper Time for a Viewing.

* Federal Security Beaureau or some other psudoTLA.
** This may be an insult to other actors who are described as a poor man's someone else.

Memory Run (1996)

In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi

07 Jul 2005

This film has been rated 18 due to sustained floppy haired resistance leaders.
In a terrible betrayal of the movie, nothing in this cover is glowing blue.

How far back is it fair to go with the blame for cyberpunkish dystopian movies? Personally, I'm willing to punch a voodoo fascimile of Fritz Lang in the face for creating the sublime Metropolis, without which I'm sure we'd have had a lot fewer problem. On the other hand, Ridley Scott deserves a kick in the proverbials for Blade Runner, especially since a disturbing percentage of these films contain some variant on the word Run in their title. Memory Run, or Synapse as it seems to be called in America, is in fact not a low budget sequel to Johnny Mnemonic (oh how good that could have been), but instead tells the story of body crime, in a future time.

Andre Fuller (Chris Makepeace) is a criminal with a somewhat british gang and without much in the way of morals, thanks to witnessing the murder of his parents by the corrupt, totalitarian government when he was young. After a bit of the regular robbery shennanigans, and some boffing of the (entirely willing, ex-girlfriend) victim (Karen Duffy), Andre goes his merry way to sell some guns to floppy haired resistance leader Gabriel. Unfortunately, it seems the powers that be have designs for him other than a life of crime, and Andre soon finds himself stitched up (fairly amusingly) for her rape and murder, by one of his own gang no less. The punishment for this crime is to have his mind transplanted into his former girlfriend's body, and be brainwashed into an acceptable replacement. Thanks to the scientific genius of Dr Munger (Saul Rubinek), the manly Andre now inhabits the body of his former girl, with a new name, Celeste. Personally, I think the conditioning might have gone easier with, say, the name Andrea, but Celeste does roll off the tounge.

All this is at the behest of the mighty chairman of the Life Corporation, Bradden (Barry Morse). It doesn't take long to realise that Bradden has more interest in the success of Dr. Munger's experiment than merely as a new form of capital punishment, and when Munger fails in his attempts to condition him, Andre is then given over to the care of Munger's colleague, and Bradden's lover Dr. Meringue (IMDB claims it's spelt Merain, but I don't believe them). Meringue installs a device into Celeste's head that causes pain every time she is violent, but still this doesn't control her. Munger, outraged at what is being done with his work, does his best to help Celeste, but soon the experiment is given up on as a failure, and Celeste is sent to rot in a prison.

Fortunately, her cellmate happens to be the sister of a certain floppy haired resistance leader, and Celeste gets out, though at the cost of the cellmate's life. After taking revenge on her old gang, Celeste keeps the promise she made to find the resistance and tell Gabriel what happened. Celeste/Andre finds the resistance again in about three minutes, something you'd imagine the lifecorp would have been trying to do for a while.

Gabe has both key weapons of an underground resistance, floppy hair and trenchcoats. He also has the shoddy hang out, the disturbingly small number of men (though more do turn up and get shot at appropriate times), and an edgy, world weary charm that makes him impervious to bullets. Most importantly though, he has a SciFiBike. This bike is no ordinary one, featuring pointless smooth plastic bits the likes of which only Airwolf has seen, and a big ol' sidecar which accomodates two people. Disappointingly we never get to see Munger take a trip on it, though he must have utilised it as Celeste, Gabe, and the good doctor head to Lifecorp's HQ to take them down, and find out what happened to Andre's body.

Saul Rubinek (with quad damage). When it comes to the cast, one name dominates, despite not appearing on the cover (though neither does anyone else's), Saul Rubinek. He's slightly chubby, he's jewish, he cracks wise, and he's playing a doctor. His character, Dr Munger, is one of Shakespearian proportions. Trapped beween his blind passion for his work, his regret for what the horrors that work has caused, his compassion for Celeste/Andre, and of course his fear for his own life, Munger may be the defining character of low budget sci-fi in 1996.

In fact, he's part of a fairly reasonable cast, with the fetching Karen Duffy enjoying the leading role as Celeste (and I'm not even going to mention her tiny, tiny part in McBain *). Barry Morse and Matt McCoy play Bradden the baddie and the angelic Gabriel respectively, and both provide a strong dose of hey-it's-that-guy reactions, though without reference to their extensive careers on IMDB the only things I can actually remember them in are Space 1999 for Morse and Seinfeld for McCoy. But hey, Space 1999 and Seinfeld.

Behind the camera, director Allan A. Goldstein obviously had a message to communicate with this film, and that message was that the future is blue. The opening, where a young Andre's family are murdered by government stormtroopers, is presented in blue and white, and the night time views of the city are similar bathed in blue. The shields that guard, amongst other things, various buildings, and imprisons Dr. Munger in a comfy chair, glow an eerie, "cheap-special-effect" blue, and the lightening like bursts that zaps our heroes when walking through a forcefield is, of course, blue. If a given object can glow blue, it's fairly safe to say that at some point it will.

The other message here is one of gender issues. What happened to Andre is the subject of more than one distubing Christian Slater/Mr T. slash fiction outing in the literary outback of the internet, but it does make you wonder. Is Celeste female, or male? She pretty quickly falls in love with lanky Gabe even with her male brain. Is he gay, is she straight, are they both bisexual? The transgendered question is a difficult one which the film, well, pretty much ignores.

Karen Duffy. Sometimes credited as 'Duff'So OK, Memory Run might be bluer than BB King in a horrible loo cleaner accident, and the gender issue may get less screentime than people being shot in the chest, but the questions are at least in the script. The credit for that almost certainly belongs to Hank Stine, as it is his 1968 novel Season of the Witch that the film is based on. Though the actual book seems relatively hard to get hold of, the ebook is readily available. Interestingly, the ebook page claims that the book has been made into "a major motion picture", but declines to mention the title. Smart move.

At some point after writing Shadow of the Witch, Stine had a sex change and is known know as Jean, which implies parts of the book were more than just intellectual curiosity. The ebook is variously listed as romance, erotica, and sci-fi, so it may flag up some disturbing FBI list for strange people, but does feature a new afterword. Should anyone get it and it turn out to contain a reference to the film, please let me know. Especially if that reference mentions Saul Rubinek. Or if you are Saul Rubinek. That would be cool.

I didn't mind Memory Run too much, and as with so many of these movies much of the blame lies with paceless editing. In the tradition of all bad sci-fi, it replaces potentially confusing cerebral moments with gun fire, but people die with a fair wack of style, and the good guys wear trenchcoats. Saul Rubinek really is the best part of the film, but Barry Morse's performance is a close second (and Chris Makepeace's at the end deserves a nod). The story that peeks through is solid and, to be honest, more fit for the world of budget movies than the "I, Robot" end of the movie millions scale. Memory Run is worth a watch, and it's probably worth your quid at the poundshop, but I can't see it getting much repeat viewing.

* Dammit.

The Revenger

In: mudwig, reviews, action

06 Jun 2005
This is possibly the only picture of this cover on the internet
How an actress of Nancy Mulford's stature did not get a top billing is beyond me.

Unfortunately, as the years march on the chances of an acting partnership between Dirk "Face man" Benedict and Frank Zagarino diminish significantly, which I think is not just my loss, but humanity's. However, Frank has worked with some legends in his time and one of the biggest is Oliver Reed, who died after drinking a typically inhuman amount a few years back. The late eighties were not the best time for Oliver Reed, film wise, which while probably fairly irritating for him proves fortunate for fans of action b-movies - thanks to 89's The Revenger.

Before we get into the main storyline, I should warn you that this movie features more than your recommended daily allowance of saxophone. Michael Keller (Frank Zagarino) is a saxophonist, which naturally means a lot of sax on the soudtrack, but we are also treated to Mike's reacquiring of his saxophonal skills after a stint in prison. I have a theory, backed by no research whatsoever, than the saxophone playing during the "rubbish" and "doing scales" sections is Frank himself tootin' the horn, while the "professional jazz saxophonist" section is an over dub by a professional jazz saxophonist. In a perfect world Frank would have a website and I'd be able to email him the question, but then again he may never have responded, much like Anthony De Longis when I posed an Expect No Mercy/Bullwhip related inquiry.

Still, on to the plot. This script must have sung to the experienced ears of AIP, as it has the lot. Kingpins, vietnam vets, porn, gangsters, explosions, did I mention porn, and a clean cut young hero we can all get behind. Frank plays Michael Keller, who, after a gig one night, gave a lift to his deadbeat brother Mackie, played by Arnold Vosloo (who has had a good run on 24 recently, and was, for a short period, married to Nancy Mulford, the leading lady). Unfortunately Mackie is (quite obviously) on the run, and is kill in the inevitable ensuing police chase , as is a police officer. Michael gets charged with the death of the policeman and is sent down.

Once again Frank found himself playing his instrument on the toilet.Years later and back in the open world, Michael finds out that his brother was on the run from a porn producing gangster by the name of Jack Fisher (Reed) who is convinced that Michael has the half a million dollars that Mackie stole from him, which he doesn't. To put a little pressure on our hero, Jack kidnaps Michael's girlfriend Lisa (Mulford), leaving Michael no option but to take her back by force with the help of Mackie's old Vietnam war buddy, Harry, played by Jeff Weston. Fisher isn't the type to give in easily though, and the body count starts rising. As an aside, the film opens with a stylised Zag training scene presented in black and white with odd splashes of colour, perhaps inspiring the cinematic style of the recent Sin City movie. Perhaps not.

Given the period, the cast, and the high levels of nudity early on, it would be fair to say that I expected very little of the acting in The Revenger, but I was most pleasantly disappointed. Oliver Reed chews the scenery well, but actually injects some pathos into his character, notably in his neurotic interactions with his girlfriend, and his distress over the death of a henchman. On the side with the white hats, Zagarino does almost as well with Michael, carrying off what could have been quite a nauseating role with aplomb. Of course, you expect him to be able to yell out of a burning building while holding a machine gun, but the segment where he goes to find his old band, and some of the scenes with his brother's army buddy Harry are played just right. Speaking of Harry, Jeff Weston puts in a cracking performance, again against a very cliche ridden character. Frank Zagarino always brings an entertaining energy to his movies, no matter the budget, and this time the cast complement it well, even Nancy Mulford, who makes a competent enough girlfriend in peril.

At least Mr Reed isn't wearing sun glasses in this sceneThere are problems though. On the nitpick-y front, there isn't a great deal of actual revenge in this movie, at least no more than you'd expect from your average b-action movie, which makes me doubt whether anyone had actually watched the film when naming it. On the more practical front the film is not short on predictability, and suffers from a completely unnecesary wrap-everything-up ending. The poor finish is highlighted by the fact that it follows a generally excellent ending sequence, complete with explosions galore, barricaded cabins, and slightly heroic petrol station attendants. The writing in general is on the more acceptable side of medicore, but lacks the witty flair that, to be fair, this kind of movie didn't really get till after Lethal Weapon, which was probably not released until after The Revenger had been written.

Still, there's enough good to overlook the bad, and I wouldn't hesistate to recommend not changing the channel should this one pop up in a late night slot somewhere. Zagarino fans will get everything they've come to expect, and it might be interesting for Oliver Reed fans to see what he can do with some downright dodgy dialogue. For the Nancy Mulford fan(s), well, it's probably better than Act of Piracy. There are far worse girlfriend kidnapped by a porn kingpin movies out there.

Should you specifically want to see this movie, which is within the realm of believability for the Zagarino connoisseur, the options are somewhat limited. Amazon returns only the kung-fu movie of the same name, and for those across the pond there doesn't appear to be any evidence of a region 1 DVD release at all. If the local pound shops are all out then a few copies seem to be available on ebay, but I'd view that as a last ditch as you will be paying more for postage than you will for the film.

Final Impact

In: mudwig, reviews, action

05 May 2005
Warning: Impact may not be final.
Lamas, and chest rug.

It seems that the great movie makers often overlook kickboxing during their cinematic investigations into the human condition. While regular boxing has movies like On The Waterfront, Champion, Raging Bull or Rocky, kickboxing has movies like Final Impact. OK, so some of those movies aren't really about boxing and there are certainly better kickboxing movies than Final Impact, but this film is so dire that it drags the genre down in the same way Police Academy 7: Mission To Moscow erases all my happy, carefree memories of Police Academy 6: City Under Siege.

So why would you be attracted to the film, apart from the general pedigree of the ILC publishing stable? Well, it's Lorenzo Lamas for one thing, a direct-to-video giant, and this is an actorly outing for him as most of the fighting goes to someone else. Also, he sports a cowboy hat for much of the movie, which is generally a sign of acting pedigree. Secondly, it's a movie about a washed up champion taking on a young prot?g?, which means you have the distinct advantage of having basically seen this movie before, probably several times, hence freeing the mind from having to concentrate on those distracting plot elements, or troublesome storytelling.

As you may have guessed, Lamas is in fact the washed up former contender of the piece, as one time kickboxing champion Nick Taylor. Beaten humiliatingly by the current champion, played by Jeff Langton who pulled off an inpiring combination of TV work with episodes of Buffy and Matlock on his CV, Lamas has given up on the world of Sport, and retired to running a strip / kickboxing bar, and drinking booze to try and exorcise the demons of his defeat. However, when a young turk with the potential for greatness comes along, Taylor sees the opportunity to return to the sport, and have his revenge on the man that beat him. The contender is Danny Davis, played by Michael Worth, and has, as far as we can see, no skills whatsoever, but that can be solved with a short Team America style training montage. Then it's off for the big tournament, Danny's shot at the big time, and Nick's shot at vengeance.

So, the negatives. Well, it's a cheesy movie, but you do expect that to some degree, especially when Mr. Lamas is involved, and I'm not sure that cheesiness really changes a fun movie to a rubbish one. Unfortuately for Lamas' fans he is only involved in one fight in the whole thing. His role, as it happens, is reasonable, but I suspect the majority of people that actually watch this movie are going to be doing so for the chance to see Lorenzo get in the ring, rather than Michael Worth. Even then, the fights are few and far between, and what's between makes them seem a lot further. The pacing of the movie has much more to do with its more dramatic cousins in the kinds of boxing movies I mentioned earlier, but without writers, actors or directors that ever seem really comfortable making this kind of film. Even the lovely Kathleen Kinmont disappoints, wrangling a little bit of life out of a very, very poor role as Taylor's long suffering wife, without any of the attitude that makes her an interesting presence in the more regular action films she starred in with Lamas through the early ninties.

The project does feature a lot of regular PM Entertainment names, with Joseph Mehri co-directing, but I get the feeling that the keeper of the vision was writer/director Stephen Smoke. The PM films, at their best, are slices of entertaining, low budget action, but Final Impact has few of the hallmarks of one of their better pictures. The action, when it's there, isn't bad. I think anyone would enjoy watching Gary Daniels' brief cameo in the film as a fighter at Nick's club who knocks several shades out of Danny near the start of the film, and in general there's an aggressive energy to the fighting that works well, and gives the pace that makes these kind of movies work. Unfortunately, this means that the fights are short, which leads us into a quick return to the slightly drab existence of training montages and stilted dialogue.

Overall, this could have been worse, but it could have been much, much better. Lorenzo Lamas isn't totally incapable of acting, as he has shown in various other projects, but Final Impact tries to be a drama and a kickboxing movie and is entirely unsatisfactory as both. There's not enough fighting for fight fans, not enough talent for drama fans, and the only group I can think of that will really get a kick out of it are the hardcore Lamas-heads who want to see something a bit different.

Nightmaster

In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi

04 Apr 2005
Watch The Shadows of the Nightmaster Dance
Aussies and paintballs and ninjas, oh my!

In the US and UK this film was known as Nightmaster, which sounds like a low quality computer RPG developed in the former Yugoslavia. In Australia, its country of origin, the film is titled "Watch the shadows dance", which sounds like angsty LiveJournal poetry inspired by the the leather trenchcoat wearing characters of the aforementioned game. These days at least, the draw of the film is the then fresh faced, 20 years old Nicole Kidman, who had not yet starred in one of the high points of her career, the sublime Bangkok Hilton, but had put in her performance in the peak of cinematic genius that is BMX Bandits. Other than the former Mrs Cruise, the cast is relatively low key, with the notable exception of drug dealer Guy Duncan, played by Craig Pearce who went on to co-write Baz Luhrman's Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.

On the other side of the camera, the film is directed by Mark Joffe who went on to make the ninja-less Spotswood, and Billy Connolly vehicle The Man Who Sued God. Providing a spot of new wave-y rock, and some piercing looks during his cameo, is oz singer/songwriter Paul Kelly in his sole film appearance, which curiously seems to be missed out from his otherwise very complete biography.

Of course, the reason any one would watch this is the presence of Nicole Kidman, who in this movie resembles a red headed microphone, a mass of fluffy hair and long legs. That said, while Nicole is an integral player, as Amy, the star is most definitely "Robbie", played by Tom Jennings who is famous for, well, not much really. I'm not sure whether conclusions should be drawn about the presence of a Grahame Jennings in the production credits, but certainly Questions Should Be Asked.

HAIR Robbie and Amy are still in school, along with a number of other students of dubious ages, but their lives are consumed with a secret game, a game of ninja uniforms and shuriken paintballs, glowy paint sticks and cunning traps. The game is their escape from the 80's view of the future they inhabit, filled with clacky laptops that suggest the blazing power of DOS 3, and homework assignments that are handed out on 5 1/4" floppies, which would probably be regarded as some form of bizarre sporting implement by modern school kids. Outside of school the world is a dark, foggy place, filled with slightly weirdly shaped cars, and security officers wearing outfits reminiscent of the Death Star operators.

The game is based in an abandoned warehouse in which the students, properly attired and armed, attempt to mark their opponents with paint to eliminate them, while moving towards a bell on a rope hanging from the ceiling, known as sanctuary, which wins you the game. Even if you can out-ninja all the other competitors there are a series of traps setup by the wheelchair bound gamesmaster and his gang of assistants, most of which consist of a net approximately the size of a tea towel falling on you. Robbie is the reigning champion of the game, thanks no small part to the special attention he receives from the martial arts/gymnastics teacher at school, Steve Beck, who sees the makings of a champion in him, presumably (we eventually gather) in the high profile world of kickboxing, or as I prefer to think of it, the official sport of Don "The Dragon" Wilson.

Steve comes from the John Kreese school of martial arts instruction, the "there's no mercy in this dojo" principle. While his simultaneous attempts to teach gymnastics and martial arts have disturbing parallels to Richard Norton classic Gymkata (tagline: the skill of gymnastics, the kill of karate), Steve mostly teaches a "second place is first loser" attitude that is covering up his own past, some terrible experience in the military. As Steve says, after looking at a photo of himself with his old unit, "all the men in that photo are dead". After Robbie almost kills someone in the game he begins to pull away from Steve's teachings and see Steve for what he is, and that's not just a low rent Martin Kove. Steve is addicted to drugs, and his dealer is the dastardly Guy Duncan.

The good guys are in white. Guy and his gang of two scrawny youths represent the even darker underbelly of the future Australia. Dressed unerringly like Scottish indie darlings Franz Ferdinand, Guy and his posse hit on Amy, dis the game, and generally act sleazy. Unfortunately, after getting mashed trying to start a fight with Robbie, Guy's entrepreneurial brain comes up with the idea of blackmailing Steve, which ends Guy's life and his short, but meaningful, cautionary tale. Robbie witnesses the murder, causing Steve to try and eliminate him and setting up the final showdown deep in the warehouse. The battle is between the amateur ninjas of the student body and the (unexpected) real ninja that is Steve. To his credit, Steve does have a real ninja fan that makes short work of the net trap.

The film is a bit of a mixed bag, with the mix heavily weighted on the crappy side. There are some nice touches; Paul Kelly's lyrics during his bar performance narrating the drug dealing going on in the background, or Robbie's relationship with his mother, who is living in London and communicates exclusively via what appear to be pirated chinese VCDs, which blows Skype out of the water. On the other hand there is the general Neighbours level acting, the phenomenally cheesy fog and neon exteriors, rubbish sound effects from bad chanbara dubs, cops that look too ridiculous for the Sabotage video, and Ms Spane. Ms Spane is another teacher at the school who mostly serves to get Robbie out of a situation by tuning up, utterly inexplicably, to rescue him, on a motorbike.

I don't think the action milieu is Mark Joffe's strong suit. However, there were a lot of these aussie teen action movies during the 80s, and it may have been some form of permit requirement to make one, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Yes, Nicole Kidman is in it, gives a reasonable performance, and looks great in a school girl uniform, but I suspect you'd have to be a bit of a completist/obsessive to watch it for that alone, though this is the internet so that's probably not too unlikely. The music's naff, the plot's thin, and the action, when it's there, is rubbish. On the other hand the final fight could have been worse and the film features some pretty weird dream sequences, but you'd still have to be really desperate for something to watch before choosing Nightmaster.

Amazon are trying to sell this with the description "The boundaries between real life and fantasy becomes blurred when Robbie and Amy play night games...", which may give you the wrong impression about the kind of action this movie contains. The flip side of the double-bill version from the poundshop contains a documentary about tomb raider. Woo.

Playing God

In: mudwig, crime, reviews

03 Mar 2005
Hard to tell that Playing God stars David Duchovny.
As you can see, the plot is the selling point.

Unlike most of the movies that grace these pages, Playing God is actually quite well known. This shouldn't really come as a suprise, given the star presence of David Duchovny, in 1997 at the height of his X-Files fame. Names like Angelina Jolie and Oscar winner Timothy Hutton also provide some buoyancy. It does beg the question how this film ended up in the siberian gulag of poundshop DVDdom, a fate that, perhaps, it doesn't deserve.

Outside of the big three, there are a host of semi-notables in the cast. The brilliant Peter Stomare, doomed always to be "that guy in Armageddon" plays a russian gangster named Vladimir, which does not stretch his abilities particularly, and Gary Dourdan from CSI pops up as Yates, one of Tim Hutton's thugs. There are a number of "Hey, it's that guy"s that pop up, which could prove for some form of entertaining drinking game.

But, while we're all still sober, to one of the less important parts of the movie - the plot. Duchovny plays Eugene Sands, a disgraced ex-surgeon, and drug addict; the latter leading to the former. During one of his regular visits to a shady drinking establishment to purchase some illegal substances two gun men burst in and proceed to shoot a gentlemen enjoying a drink at the bar. After the bar owner nixes the idea of calling for an ambulance, Sands' instincts kick in and he performs a makeshift operation, saving the wounded man's life. Of the bar patrons assisting him Angelina Jolie stands out, as you would expect, as a beautiful girl called Claire, who seemed to know the victim. Sands goes home, mixes some narcotics with his healthy glass of milk, and crashes. Next morning he awakes in a car being taken to to meet gangster Raymond Blos2som, played by Tim Hutton. Claire turns out to be Blossom's girl, and had impressed him with the tale of Eugene's work the previous night. Blossom offers ten thousand dollars for Sands to operate on a man who is set up in the middle of the hotel room complete with all the medical equipment you could want, and nurses. Sands eventually agrees and ends up becoming Blossoms go to doc, and in a slightly strange way, his friend. Of course, things do not continue smoothly as Blossom breaks off a relationship with the russian mob in order to get in with new chinese partners. The russians object to this deal, and express their displeasure with a few hits on Blossom's crew, attracting the attention of the FBI. At the same time, Sands finds himself falling in love with Claire, and getting increasingly addicted to the rush of his new occupation.

It's tough to decide whether the film is affected more by its bad points than its positive ones, since there are significant examples on both sides. For the first fifteen minutes or so of the movie, however, the negative is most certainly accentuated. The first, and most vocal, of the problems is Duchovny's voice-over, which provides a running semi-noir description over the top of the less action packed parts of the movie. While Duchovny's dry delivery does afford some truly amusing moments, and some choice one liners, in general it just feels cheap. There are some poorly considered scenes scattered through out as well, a prime example being during the car ride where Sands is being taken to Blossom for the first time. The two thugs, one white, one black, discuss the differences between american football and soccer, which in a film that often inspires unfavourable comparisons to Pul Fuction perhaps wasn't the best choice. Similarly, at one point Sands decides to get on the wagon, and get off the horse, to mix some metaphors. This is achieved remarkably smoothly, despite one amusing moment of being caught drinking cough syrup, which doesn't really balance with the rest of the film's reality that was otherwise consistent, if not entirely accurate, in its drug portrayal. The drug addiction also invites a number of cringe inducing addict clich?s and lines.

This is a general problem with the script though, elements of which are by far the weakest points of the movie. There are quite a few cheesy moments thrown in for not much payoff, and the dialogue often relies on a rather better than average delivery to make it palettable. David Duchovny and Angelina Jolie don't help much with some distinctly listless acting at times, mostly when they're not working with each other. This, to be fair, shouldn't come as much of a suprise, and Duchovny at least has always performed far better working off other strong actors than on his own. British director Andy Wilson falls over a little on some of the, fairly sparse, gun sequences, but for a first feature makes a decent attempt.

Jolie and Duchovny cut the rug At other times, the writing seems really spot on though. Sands comes across as a compassionate man, and in fact all the main characters seem to have likeable elements, a more positive link with Pulp Fiction. There are some well played comedy sequences, such as a scene of Sands running through a hotel, trying to save Claire, and going back and forth with an FBI agent over a walkie talkie, in another one of Blossom's mooks get killed in his car to the sound of the Bee Gee's Jive Talkin' from the tape player, or in a third an addled gangster waves a gun in Sands' face, yelling at him to make his dead friend Jewish, so that he can avoid an autopsy. Even on the action front the final chase set piece is entertaining and well executed, if a little poorly motivated, making a good show piece for the director.

This isn't really a film where the story is the key element. The characters of Blossom and his henchman work so well, and Tim Hutton in particular puts in such a brilliantly off the wall performance that you are at times swept along by people that are fundamentally likable, while at the same time quite twisted. Even the two psychotic surfers that Blossom farms out some dirty work to have a human side that is endearing, even if the characters as a whole are not.

Duchovny and Angeline Jolie work especially well together, there's not a lot of passion in their relationship, but it still seems significant. Duchovny's detached, sardonic humour lightens the film, which certainly has the potential to turn very dark and serious, and contrasts well with Jolie's in-the-scene intensity.

One of the problems that Playing God suffers is that it is expected to be that it is not. It is not an action movie, and it's not Pulp Fiction. It is a crime movie, but it's not a movie about crime, and it's not about spectacle. Unfortunately, the film itself seems confused about this, and I get the feeling that if the script had ended up in different hands it could have been an almost unrecognisably different experience. This leads to a very variable movie, and unforunately the start is not one of the strong parts. This, I think, will leave some viewers with a bad taste for the rest of the film, which is a shame as overall I think there are enough good elements to make Playing God worth a watch. Certainly Duchovny fans should see it, but I think any one that's willing to give a movie some leeway will find something entertaining in there.

Amusingly, the official review of the film on Amazon refers to, err, Deep Space 9.

The Maker

In: mudwig, reviews, drama

02 Feb 2005
The Maker - In A Wacky Font
The question is whether Hollywood DVD gave Jonathan Rhys-Meyers top billing just because his name is longer than the rest.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro" - Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)

The Maker falls into one of a fairly limited group of pound shop movies that I would seriously consider paying Proper Money for if someone put together a DVD release with a good transfer and some special features. This is not to imply that the film is a classic, but it is the kind of movie you would want to show to people you actually liked.

I might be a little biased from the get-go, as very early on in the movie, while we are being introduced to the main characters, the soundtrack features a number of songs by Elliott Smith, one of my favourite suicidal songwriters. The initial characters we meet are the friends of Josh Minnell (the always cool Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) , including Fairuza Balk putting in a great performance as Josh's teenage, lesbian best friend Bella. Josh and his mates cruise around comitting minor crimes and laying about, slightly in conflict with Josh's infatuation-from-afar with police officer Emily Peck, played ably by Mary-Louise Parker, who, despite several notable roles, I know mostly from West Wing.

Josh lives with his adopted family, the Minnells, as his parents died when he was very young. A few years after their death his older brother lit out, and hasn't been seen since. However, it is Josh's 18th birthday, and out of blue appears his brother, Walter (Matthew Modine), complete with convertible, nice suit, sunglasses, and their parents surname. He also seems to know what actually happened to their parents, referring to the nightmares that Josh claims he is no longer having, fractured dreams of a dark, dank warehouse. Walter quickly turns out to be a crook, with his literal partner in crime Felice (the wiry Jesse Borrego), and it doesn't take long for Walter to convince Josh to join him in some less than legal escapades

Walter and Felice subscribe to the concept of the "maker", the person who makes the rules for a given situation, and who dictates how everyone in it responds. When, during a heist under the guise of a removal company, the trio are stopped by a cop, Josh's instincts take over and he chats easily to the cop, while Felice is close to flying off the handle at the lawman's presence, due to his fear of returning to jail. Walter and Felice reward Josh with an extra slice of the cash from the job, explaining that just then Josh was the maker, and to always find a way to take that role and control the events. Speaking of control, the man fencing Walter's stolen goods is a haggard crook named Skarney, played by Michael Madsen, whose office is a garden table and chair set overlooking the airport, and decorated with some hired muscle. Josh finds himself getting involved in bigger and bigger heists, and coming into more and more personal conflict over what he is doing, and what happened to his parents.

Despite the criminal elements that run through the film it is very much a story of relationships, and decisions about them. Josh's with his friends reflects, and is reflected, in his uneasy friend/partnership with his brother and Felice. Walter's attempts to rouse Josh out of the teenage slump he seemed to be in, mostly by throwing him in at the deep end, and showing Josh his version of the truth about the world isn't that far from the attitudes of their foster parents, to Josh at least.

Similarly, the ongoing semi-romance between Josh and the several years older police officer Emily is one of the best, but strangest, parts of the movie. From the start, where he's lazily stalking her, to their first encounters (after he's followed her into the blood bank, and given blood, she helps him when is unable to pierce the foil on a box of juice, commenting "that's the serve part of protect and serve"), and through to his dancing with her with the confidence his brother had given him, there is a slight edge to their relationship, an element of surreality that never seems to matter during their scenes together, but makes the whole thing seem slightly dreamlike elsewhere in the movie.

The surprising thing about the film is the quality of the performances. It's a given that Matthew Modine is going to be compelling to watch, and Rhys-Meyers has certainly proved his talent recently, but there's hardly a bad performance to be found, and Michael Madsen steals the show with his understated performance, which taking the harshness out of some of the script's rougher edges. Director Tim Hunter does have a striking style, with some of the informality of the many TV shows he's worked on brought over into the style of the film, and thematically there has commonalities with his more noted River's Edge. Echoing the earlier film, Hunter regularly brings things down, to remind us that Josh is just barely 18, and how his life has snapped over the course of the movie.

In fact, the bad points are almost all centered around the character sketches in the script. While the actors naturally restrain them to some degree, the characters aren't quite on, a little too much a list of relevant character points as opposed to a view of a rounded, dramatic persona, and a little too generic. I imagine this stems from the same well as the slighty preachy attitude that the writing sometimes slips into. The writer, Rand Ravich, went on to make The Astronaut's Wife, which suffers, worse, from a lot of similar problems.

The real let down, however, is the ending. The film had built quite a lot into all the characters, and something had to give in order to tie things up. Unfortunately, the pressure was resolved by just killing most of the cast off, and while the very final scene works fairly well, the action leading up to it is bland, full of squealing tires and tired writing. It's preceeded by a quite cleverly executed heist as well, which just emphasises the problems.

Still, it's shortsighted to condemn a movie based on the last five minutes, and The Maker, despite the sloppier sections and some slightly uneven pacing, is a well made, well performed film. Overall, it is very much worth watching; even though it perhaps isn't as slick a movie as, say, Shades, there is some real heart here, and it is the kind of film that people will be pointing back to later in Jonathon Rhys-Meyers' career.

You could only get it from the marketplace on Amazon, but it seems they have restocked. You know they all came from the pound shop anyway though.

All The Queen's Men

In: mudwig, reviews, comedy

02 Feb 2005
All The Queens Men - Apostrophe Now
Thanks to the miracles of modern design, Matt LeBlanc is on the cover twice.

Eddie Izzard, how do you choose film scripts? While I may never know the answer to that question, I am willing to guess it's not by reading them. From The Avengers to Circle, Ed can't get enough of being... but Eddie Izzard was pretty good. In All The Queen's Men he doesn't even achieve that, but it should have been so right! Men in dresses, WWII era cabaret, Nazis, it's got it all and Eddie should have fit right in.

However, it all goes wrong, and it does so from the very begining with a voice over that could induce cringes right through the armour on a shiny new Sherman. Immediately afterwards we're treated to Matt LeBlanc, as the last-name-only-agent O'Rourke, engaging in a daring (for some definition of the word daring) escape from a German base, complete with an Enigma machine. This includes a tank chase, one of those rare cinematic entites that would take an exceptional amount of skill to make unenjoyable (though it's no GoldenEye). This cannot last, of course, and we are rapidly brought into the movie proper after enjoying the sight of an incompetent British office destroying the Enigma.

One of the interesting artistic choices that the opening indicates, and is repeated throughout the movie, is the lack of subtitles on the sections conducted in german. O'Rourke doesn't actually speak german (because, you know, he's a hero) to be fair, but usually in these kind of situations the german speaking sections are quite brief. This is not so in All The Queen's Men.

Anyway, we quickly reach the movie proper, where, obviously, O'Rourke is asked to go back to germany and get another Enigma machine. To aid him a crack team is put together, consisting of Temporary Major Archie, an administrator sent to keep O'Rourke in line, and played by the vastly over qualified James Cosmo, Johnno, a young (and shockingly, naive!) codebreaker who speaks 27 languages (including german) played by David Birkin, who was the kid that played the young version of Captain Picard in that one episode that time, and finally Eddie Izzard, playing the cross-dressing, bi-sexual former lieutenant Tony, who also speaks german. The target is the the source; the very factory that builds enigma machines.

So far, so mediocre, but now is the time for the movie's big punch. Y'see the war machine has sucked the fatherland dry of its chaps, so all the staff at the factory are women. In order to blend in O'Rourke and his team are going to have to go disguised as women. Comedy uranium. Once the undercover pongos parachute in to Germany, they quickly realise the factory was a fake, but decide to meet up with their local contact and try and find a way out. Their local contact turns out to be one of the best bits of the film, the very lovely love-interest Nicolette Krebitz as Romy, a librarian and allied agent who keeps copies of all the banned books in her loft.

Of course, the forward thinking appeal of ATQM would not be complete without a love interest for Eddie Izzard's Tony as well. It seem that Tony's ex-wife, Paloma, is in the country performing a little opera to uninterested german troops, which means that her driver, Tony's lover and the cause of his seperation from Paloma, is there too. Franz, played by german action Oliver Korittke, is a fairly inconsequential character, though well performed, who mostly sustains interest though a rather spiffing punch that at various times gets applied to most of the cast.

At least one of the four writers must have had a real dedication to the soldierly arts of the screenplay though, as All The Queen's Men comes with a full clip of clich?s, from the secret agent who always works alone to the pompus commander, all drawn from the great hollywood clip-art character file. The jokes don't fair much better, with some quality drag classics finding their way in, such as during O'Rourke's encounter with the marvelous, though only in the film for two scenes, Udo Kier, as General Landssdorf.

Maybe he's born with it? Maybe it's maybelline.
Udo can't hold a candle to Matt. BOOM BOOM.

Having received an invitation to one of the General's famously wild parties, Matt LeBlanc, disguised with the finest plaster board make up and wig, and Romy ditch their (well, Romy's) dates and make their way over to the General. Landssdorf turns round and is presented with a very attractive woman and Matt LeBlanc in a dress. I wonder who in the class can guess which one he has the hots for? Of course, Udo spirits O'Rourke upstairs to his boudoir, and decides to show off some naughty pictures from his safe, the one containing the very secrets that Our Heroes require! Matt punches him in the face, and rifles through the papers. When the general wakes up, he looks as if he's about to call the guards, but instead just asks Matt to hit him again! Ah S&M, what classic japes haven't you given us.

The movie is not devoid of plus points. The production is very nice, there are some decent locations and a very nice title sequence, but then again this is a movie with a proper star, not your average B fare. There are some amusing moments, especially with Eddie Izzard, such as his remark after Franz describes him as bi-sexual in a thick german accent: "Yes, I'm bee-sexual, I have sex with bees". The love story between O'Rourke and Romy is actually quite effective, though the one between Franz and Tony feels somewhat flat. At one point, James Cosmo is captured and tortured in front of Romy, in a suprisingly effective scene. Of course, it doesn't last long, but it's that hint of the daker side of the film that adds real colour, from the bombed out city much of the film takes place in to the motherless child that latches on to Archie.

Disappointingly though the performances of the two main names, Izzard and LeBlanc, is not really up to par, in a movie that sorely needed a strong lead. Eddie seemed less relaxed in the role than even in Avengers, and that was much more of an embarassment. Matt puts in a Joey standard performance as well, really not seeming to look far beyond the character that he was, at that time, playing every week. In fact, the movie would have probably worked better with more Tony than O'Rourke, with Tony fulfilling the role Johnny Depp dominated Pirates of the Caribbean with. That's a comparison I wouldn't have predicted making just after watching this film.

The very ending scene sums things up well though. It's a weird, static shot of LeBlanc and Krebitz leaning against a door way discussing getting their nasty on with reference to whatever they are staring at. It's not very funny, and is a decidedly dull shot, but Nicolette looks fantastic in a WWII uniform with a skinny tie, and vague innuendo is Matt's fort?. All The Queen's Men is no Kelly's Heroes; it really doesn't work at all. Eddie Izzard completists will probably want to give it a viewing, everyone else should probably give it a miss. The DVD on Amazon has a making of feature and it is possible that the one I got from poundland did too, but I certainly didn't feel like checking.

Cover-Up

In: mudwig, reviews, thriller

01 Jan 2005
If the lies don't kill you, the government will.
In many ways, a precursor to Passion of Christ.

There is nothing more irritating when watching a crap movie than suddenly realising that you are actually watching it for the second time, as I recently experienced while enjoying 1990's Cover-Up. One of the few things that can offset the creeping realisation that you have thrown precious life-minutes into the pit of despair that could otherwise have been used to read the latest musings of the internet's lively blogging community is the presence of Dolph Lundgren in the film. Big Dolph has had some classy roles in his time, He-Man, The Punisher, GR-13 in Universal Soldier, and a guy who's scared of milk (though not chocolate milk, so that's something), and Tarrantino started his career as a production assistant on Lundgren's fitness video, but this role, as investigative reporter Mike Anderson, is not his finest hour.

Mike, formerly a marine himself, is investigating an attack at a US army base in Israel and getting nowhere fast with base commander Lou Gossett Jr. who plays a character imaginatively called "Lou". As the title may have given away, something is being Covered Up, and when Mike tries to investigate with the somewhat reluctant help of his best friend Coop (John Finn) and ex-girlfriend, but now Coop's fiance, Susan (Lisa Berkely) all he finds is Danger and Death (for Coop at least). Mike learns that the attack was just a front, and that a deadly new form of poison gas was actually stolen from the base and that someone is planning to use the gas... TO KILL! Thanks to the opening scene, the audience knew most of that a lot earlier, but we'll let them pass on that one.

The thing about Cover-Up is that it's not an action movie, which is certainly what the big D was known for at this point in his career. Unfortunately, it's not much of a political thriller either, and so the action scenes are relied upon to hold up the movie at several junctures. While the few explosions in the movie are nothing special there is a lone, fairly well put together car chase, and some good one on one combat with an assassin, among others, but outside the inital heist the action, what there is of it, doesn't really kick in till well in to the movie.

Disappointingly the intrigue part of the movie is a little ropey as well. While Lou Gossett Jr. and female lead Lisa Berkley both put in acceptable performances they don't get the A for extra effort, and are matched by some equally lack lustre work from Lundgren. Only in the occasional scene, such as a paranoid walk around his hotel room after realising his phone is tapped do you really see he has a level of acting ability greater than the average action star. Even the shower sex scene, which had the potential to be a steamy chunk of cinema is more steamy in the water vapour sense than revealing.
Dolph in a compromising position

The real gems of moviemaking in this picture are the requisite ending twists. The first is in character, and works pretty well, while the second or "unnecessary" twist makes the effort to truly annoy the audience. This is probably not helped by the weird run through Jerusalem that a wounded Mike makes, mixing the religous imagery surround him with the ending of the movie in a way that undermines whatever effectiveness the location may have provided. The whole ending sequence is one of the best shot parts of the movie, but also one of the most fractured from the rest of the film, in terms of feel. It draws the film to a close effectively, and with a visual flair, but not satisfyingly. To be fair, the film does deserve some credit for the use of the locations, which do give the movie a distinct Israeli feel that must have taken some effort on the budget, and the location is related, if not integral, to the plot, rather than an attempt at an atomospheric add-on.

Many of the problems with the film are abetted by the sheer mountains of clich? that fill the movie. The villian's generic monologuing, to borrow a term from The Incredibles, to a captured and disarmed Mike and Lou tops the list, but there is plenty of generic fodder crammed in. The script does have some originality between the formulaic scenes, but it is sometimes hard to tell that the movie was written by people and not some kind of script generation program for the BBC Micro. Director Manny Coto doesn't help matters particularly with a lethargic style of direction, and no apparent interaction with his actors, which is a suprise given his work in horror movies up until then, a genre where pace is particularly critical.

This isn't to imply that the film is without entertainment value, Lou and Mike banter back and forth with an easy chemistry that showed up first in The Punisher, and their scenes are generally entertaining. The action is quite focused when it occurs, and in general the film seems like one tough editor away from being a decent channel 5 saturday night film.

In the end, unlike one of Dolph's later thrillers, Silent Trigger, Cover-Up doesn't even give us a ludicrously huge gun to provide amusement through the more tepid sections of the film. This is probably the better movie of the two but there are many other options in the genre that aren't so reliant on clich?, and are directed with more flair and pace. Still, the package is fairly slickly put together, and as a late night watch Cover-Up might just suffice to provide a gentle lead in to a sound nights sleep. Worth a watch at least once for Ludgren fans, everyone else will probably want to pass.

Why I keep putting these Amazon links up I don't know, but I just would hate for someone to suddenly realise they needed to see Cover Up and by unable to.

Shades

In: mudwig, reviews, drama

01 Jan 2005
The Shades cover fails to feature Mickey Rourke's dog.
Mickey Rourke in smoking shock.

Inspired by Unknown Movies' comments at the start of the recent Local Boys review, I feel I should attempt to bring some balance to these pages by talking about a pound shop movie that you might actually want to watch instead of, say, a Simpsons episode that you've only seen twice. While Shades might not be perfect, it is significantly better than most of the crop, and anyway, how many Belgian movies have you watched recently?

The plot revolves around the making of a movie in Belgium, by a Belgian producer, but in English, with an American director and star, played by Mickey Rourke and Andrew Howard respectively. The movie they are making is also called Shades, and focuses around the actions, and memoirs, of serial killer Freddy Lebecq, who habitually wore sunglasses and is still alive in prison. Of course the shoot is plagued with problems: the star, Dylan Cole (Howard), goes increasingly off the rails as the film progresses, identifying more and more with Lebecq and attracts a lot of bad press because of it, the money pulls out, the families of the victims are protesting, and the director starts receiving death threats. On top of this the lead actress is an ambitious young woman who also happens to be the producer's girlfriend, and a documentary is being made on the film by a noted TV critic.

Mickey Rourke plays a superb almost-parody of himself as director Paul Sullivan, and Andrew Howard's tempremental star is just on the right side of believable, but the local talent of Jan Decleir as Lebecq, and to a lesser degree Gene Bervoets as the producer who will do just about anything to get the film finished, Max Vogel, steal the show. Vogel's single minded determination is suprisingly endearing, despite his near constant attempts to manipulate everyone around him and Lebecq's ambivalance over having his story told, his potential upcoming parole and his understated but evident sickness is equally compelling.

Story wise it's immediately clear that we're in the kind of territory plumbed by The Player or Swimming With Sharks, among others. The setting makes a world of difference though, with the attentions of the media and the nature of the process being quite different to the Hollywood variant that is most often presented. That said, the film is presented in a Hollywood style, which does disguise quite how influenced this film is by its home country. Lebecq is modelled on real life serial killer Freddy Horion, and I wouldn't be suprised if the film contains some recognisable characters for those in the Belgian film industry. The picture painted is a dark one, but the fundamental message of an industry full of Machiavellian characters will not be a revelation for most; it's almost the standard view of the industry for the more cynical cinemagoer.

Still, films about film are strange territory. Yes, there is certainly room for the kind of clever, satirical writing which pops up in Shades from time to time, but there's also a danger of using the opportunity to riff on, or slate, people in the industry while forgetting about the audience, a trap that Shades seems sometimes to be teetering on the edge of. It's good for writers to write what they know, but as John August said: "If screenwriters only wrote about subjects they knew intimately, most screenplays would be about Tetris, television or getting picked last for team sports".

It's clear that the producers of Shades wanted a mainstream sheen to the film, as much to reflect on the project the film centered around as for commercial reasons, and Danny Hiele certainly did a good job as DP. Add to that some excellent music by one of my favourite bands, Hooverphonic, and the package works very well . In the end, as commercial reasons go the film didn't justify them, with a quite significant amount of hype in Belgium evidently causing somewhat of a backlash on its release. This is not to imply that the film is without issues. It tapers out towards the end, with a few fairly contrived and forced scenes that may leave viewers cold. The direction is slightly clumsy, and at times the film can feel a little heavy handed with regards to it's fairly well trod subject matter. The pacing can also get bogged down, which doesn't quite gel with the US feel, but that is a fairly minor complaint.

Overall, this is an intelligent, darkly humourous slice of film, and is worth a watch. Given a decent DVD release, and perhaps a new edit, I get the feeling that Shades could have had some kind a second chance. As it is the budget market is the only place you'll find it for the time being, but it is definitely the kind of discovery that makes it worth digging.

* Again, for the pound shop deprived, someone on Amazon seems to be selling it for 79p on the marketplace.

Sworn To Justice

In: mudwig, reviews, action

01 Jan 2005
short justice
Cynthia Rothrock has a license to blonde.

According to the font of movie trivia that is the IMDB this film was known in the USA as Blonde Justice, which is a far superior title on the grounds that "Sworn To Justice" means not a lot, and that the concept of Blonde Justice is generally amusing. The blonde in question is of course the legendary Cynthia Rothrock, 5' 3" of high kicking action wonderfulness, but in this film she's not just a martial artist she's also... psychic. A psychic psychiatrist specialist witness, to be precise, called Janna, who goes on a restrained rampage of reasonable revenge after her family are killed by Criminals.

Being the family member of a martial arts star seems about as sensible as being Bond's girlfriend. In this case Janna's sister and niece were housesitting for her when they were killed in a robbery - the villians having assumed the house would be empty. Why, exactly, they were robbing the place was a little beyond me, but the punch bags were probably worth something. Janna is haunted by their deaths, not helped by the fact that she sees the events replay in her mind whenever she touches a small amulet her sister was holding during the deed. Determined not to let herself by overwhelmed she goes back to work, but now her abilities seem to be manifesting themselves everywhere. As she sees crimes occuring she steps to stop them, while at the same time searching for the villians that did in her sister, who have not been idle themselves. It seems they all fall under the purview of a recently released gang boss who is taking over with the help of an anonymous Official. During one shakedown at a chop shop, the boss uses the persuasive technique of the heated nail clipper under the nail, which showed flair and innovation in the field of inducing cringes from the viewer. Suppported by the man known only as The Man, they find that the only thing that stands in their way is an unknown vigilante. And her heels.

The cast is nothing special in the main, with some of the most recognisable figures turning up in almost cameo roles. Walter Koenig brings his experience as B5's amoral psychic Bester to bear, and sports a ridiculous accent, as a psychology professor investigating psychic phenomemon that Janna consults about her burgeoning abilities. Still on the trek tip Voyager's Brad Dourif has plenty of experience playing nutters (starting with Billy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest of course) and pops up in court putting in a top notch performance as a defendant whom Janna is providing expert testimony for, but who was also involved with the gang that killed her sister and niece. Of course, this is a martial arts movie, so we're going to need a few asians, and the go to guy is clearly the voice of Aku himself, the mighty Mako, as a wise, blind, news-stand owner.

On the subject of martial arts, it would seem appropriate to mention that the fight scenes are pretty durn good. The movie ranges in tone, on the lighter side is a brilliantly comical bit of vigilantism in the storeroom of a shop against some hoods who are attempting to rob it, which features sarcastic and quite random comments from the clerk ("oh, I remember the combination now!"), cheesy latino music, and a beautitful bit of duct tape imprisonment to put Jet Li's Romeo Must Die plastic tie scene to shame. On the other end of the scale Janna's fight against her sister's killer is short, violent, and fatal. It's so different it could be from another movie. Even during the relationship between lawyer/tai-chi boyfriend Nick their inevitable bout of sparring is played with a light touch by both actors, leading to a remarkably good scene that feels like nothing else in the movie.

That said, whichever angle the film approaches the fight scenes from they work well. Outside of her Hong Kong movies Sworn To Justice features some of Rothrock's best scenes, martial arts wise. The problem is that there are simply not enough of them. The film drifts by on a sea of melodrama, not entirely helped by soap opera like plot twists, and soap opera level acting by some of the cast. It features two sex scenes, both of which were pretty good, and fairly revealing, but neither of which was really necessary, and mostly served to bog down the already slow story. Janna's psychometric abilities were entertaining, and could have formed a core part of the plot, but really served as little more than a vehicle for getting her to the crimes, which could have been done by more conventional means. This is the kind of film that it is easier to be kind to in hind sight than at the time, as the bland sections are simply not worth remembering, so you don't. This doesn't mean the dramatic sections are all bad, Brad Dourif's scene in which his character is interrogated by Janna is fantastic, and one of Rothrock's finest performances, but this is the exception, rather than the rule.

Sworn To Justice is a hard film to recommend. Rothrock fans should watch it for sure, but then again Rothrock fans already will have. Fans of martial arts movies, especially those of the American direct-to-video/Chuck Norris vein should get a kick out of it, and it's better than your average B. Edit out the cruft though and you have the core of a really good quality action movie, and that's probably what makes it an overall disappointment. Through the movie Cynthia's skirts get shorter and shorter, until the sex scenes appear and they come right off. But it's the long one at the end that she looks best in, and if the producers had realised that, they might have made a better movie.

*Amazon have it, but it looks like no particular improvement over the pound store version, for an extra five quid. If you can find the 2 films on one disc version, the flip side is Gen Y Cops, an extremely silly but extremely entertaining movie that makes the package more than worthwhile.

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.

Gang Law (AKA Hot Boyz)

In: mudwig, crime, reviews

09 Sep 2004
Gang Law, like oompa loompas, is mostly orange
Master P's law is like Master P's love...

Who would let Percy "Master P" Miller direct a feature film? Well, PM Entertainment of course, and more than once. It is their 1999 colaboration "Gang Law" that is the topic of discussion today. As you may have guessed from above, Gang Law is actually the UK name, quite explicably replacing the US title: "Hot Boyz". Perhaps in the mean streets of the ghetto Hot Boyz does not sound like it should have .com appended to it and contain uses of the word twink.

As would be expected from a director who also happens to own a hip hop record label, many of the starring roles are filled by rappers. Silkk the Shocker takes the lead role as Kool, and Snoop Dogg, Mystikal and C-Murder all appear as supporting characters of varying importance. The actor contingent is filled with the sizable talents of Jeff Speakman, of The Expert fame, as a doughy martial arts teacher, as well as similar B-stand by C. Thomas Howell as half of the police dream team, and the human wine box himself, Gary Busey, as his mildly corrupt partner and lead investigator.

This cast lends an interesting balance to the script. While Slikk the Shocker can't act even a little bit, his scenes with Clifton Powell as excellent villian The Saint are roundly entertaining, as are his changing attitudes to Anthony Johnson's stuttering (and aptly named) pee wee. Despite these moments, the failure of the main character to be of any interest at all forms the failure of the movie. The story is, despite the maker's best attempts to disguise it, a character study, and a study of a fall into crime and violence. What was filmed often resembles a music video, presumably because of Master P's experience in that area, but the action isn't good or spectacular enough to overcome the shaky foundations it is built upon.

In essence the plot of the film goes as follows. Kool, a young man from the bad part of town, is powerless to help when his girlfriend is framed by a crooked cop. To try and get her out Kool agrees to go undercover to help a detective named Tully make his case against Saint, the gangster Kool knows had the cop in his pocket. However, once his girlfriend is killed in a savage beating from the crooked cop, Kool goes renegade, starts his own gang, and muscles his way to the top.

While this story underpins the movie, it is hidden in a sea of action scenes and Profound Moments, mostly featuring the main character, which are sort of randomly distributed across the movie. Starting (and ending) with an above average car chase through a dock yard, complete with a full complement of trashed police cars, the movie has drive-bys at funerals, gun fights in drug factories, punchups in nightclubs, and Jeff Speakman getting annoyed. There is nothing particularly wrong with any of these scenes, nor really any of scenes in the movie beyond Silkk's limited range, but there little cohesiveness, and very little happening elsewhere in the world they have created to drive things along. The last third of the film, showing the Hot Boyz taking over the city, is compressed into a sequence of shootouts, drug processing, and money counting, but still has no energy. It's almost a time-lapse shot of the take over, informing us of what happened but not describing the effects it has had on the people involved. By the time we catch up with the crew they've have turned into stereotypical gangstas. While this is reasonable for Snoop's character, whom we never really developed any real knowledge of, Silkk's character bears no resemblance to his earlier incarnation, which means whatever empathy the audience could have developed is immediately lost.

Gang Law is one of those movies that should have skipped out of the bargain bucket of doom most PM movies are destined for. It has some names in the cast, a decent soundtrack (despite one of C-Murder's lines being repeated ad infinitum when in establishing shots), good quality action scenes, and the makings of a compelling story. The problem is that it's all about identifying with Kool, and he doesn't make it easy. Combined with the fact that the case against Kool's girlfriend was so flimsy that a small piece of cheese with a stiff stench could have got her out, the film ends up feeling somewhat unmotivated and flat.

Overall, Master P's attempt at a ghetto story could have come off far worse, but it pales when compared to Ice Cube's films. It even looks a bit shaky next to Ice T's, and he's in Players.

C.I.A II: Target Alexa

In: mudwig, reviews, action

08 Aug 2004
Target: Divorce
Lorenzo sporting the Joe Lara look.

In a Renegade-y mood, I attempted to watch CIA: Codename Alexa, but the wonderful world of online dvd rental decided to throw me its sequel, CIA II: Target Alexa. Despite this minor setback, star and director Lorenzo Lamas did not disappoint with some slightly higher budget than usual (but still deeply shite) action.

The plot is the old stolen gadget chesnut. The US have developed the Super Scientron-o-matic 3000 nuke guidance system, which for security reasons is in two parts, a big box and a little key, each in a different location. The big box part is stolen by Straker, an ex-CIA agent with bad facial hair and a bad attitude, who is being fed information from inside the agency and plans to sell the guidance system to whichever Evil Government will pay the most. Unfortunately for Straker the key is stolen before he can get to it by euro-mercenary Kluge, for no discernable reason. Bumbling CIA ninja Mark Graver is sent into get the sciencetron back, dragging his old flame Alexa back to the company after she gets messed up in a robbery.

This movie is all about the ladies. Despite Lorenzo's top billing, the ever lovely Kathleen Kinmont is most definitely the star. The central message of the film seems to be "don't underestimate hot chicks", as a series of ignorant males get offed after doing just that. Starting with an excellent shoot out in a rather sparsely shelved shop, continuing through embarassing a bunch of Kluge's mercenaries, and escaping from Straker's makeshift prison, bloke after bloke assumes Kinmont will be soft a touch and gets kicked in the face for their trouble. On the villianous side as well, Kluge has his own lady of pain who insists on spitting out quite hideous one liners before or shortly after nobbling her confused male opponents.

Out of the gents, the highlight of the piece is clearly John Savage's mercenary leader Kluge. The character is slightly morally ambiguous, mostly fighting on the same side as our heroes, which gives Savage a bit more to chew on than is usual in these types of roles, and his delivery of the usually ridiculous dialogue in a fairly rediculous accent is dead on. I'm only disappointed we didn't get more scenes between him, butch bitch Lori Fetrick (who allegedly pops up in the TV L.A. Heat) and their Vernon-Wells-In-Commando-esque camp sergeant.

Considering that the film is called CIA though, you'd think they'd concentrate a little more on the actual agency. Ususally films portray the CIA in one of two ways: 1) powerful, all knowing government agency starting coups in one country while taking out commie pinko ruskies in another. 2) An incompetent, corrupt intelligence agency out of control, little more than nationally sponsored organised crime. This movie takes an alternate standpoint, painting a picture of an agency with a budget of approximately three pounds a month, and a staff of two fairly useless agents and one reasonably irrelevant controller. Even location wise, the base is far from the glamourous Langley HQ of the first Mission: Impossible movie, mostly appearing to be located above an off-license in a rough part of town. To be fair the movie does feature two other CIA agents, neither of whom get a line before being killed off, though their deaths don't even invoke a cursory check-for-pulse from the entirely unconcerned Lamas.

Overall there are some things that CIA II should be applauded for. It is basically a female led action movie, putting Lamas and co. into the back seat, but in a fairly quiet and restrained way, without the novelty factor that has a tendancy to creep in to a Cynthia Rothrock movie say. However, the pacing drags at time, and I think there would be definite benefits of seeing the first film, as characters pop in and out that were clearly established in the previous installment. There are better movies in the PM stable, but there are also plenty worse.

Armstrong

In: mudwig, reviews, action

07 Jul 2004
Zagarino vs Lara Round 2
Only one of these men is Tarzan.

There aren't many places that say Action more than Russia. There aren't many men that say Action more than Frank "Frank" Zagarino. And there aren't many directors who don't say Action, but judging by Armstrong's sub-Warhead fight scenes, Menahem Golan might be one of them.

This movie looks like it has everything. Sparking Zagarino/Lara action, one of the Princess' from Bill & Ted getting her norks out, bad-ass-old-military-dude for hire Charles Napier and brilliant blonde-weirdo for hire Richard Lynch. Stick it all in Russia, add some obvious stunt doubles and you should have a sizzling slice of b-grade entertainment, but it just doesn't work.

In some movies Kimberly Kate's extended nudity/wet t-shirt (and magically appearing trainers) chase scene would be considered gratuitous, but in the slow, uninspired world of Armstrong, it's absolutely essential. The same can be said of Lynch's cavorting with hookers in his I'm-a-bit-corrupt bar scene, and that isn't the hallmark of a film worth watching.

For what it's worth, the plot centers around Lynch's Colonel Zukov, who is involved in selling russian nukes with the aid of the american and russian mafia. Zagarino (as the titular Rod Armstrong) is employed by Zukov to train his men, having been a former CIA agent and seal, after proving himself able by breaking through the incredibly tight security formed by one man and a window to assault a mock treaty signing. Armstrong is expensive, but that's because every time he goes on a mission he expects to die, though unfortunately for this film at least, he never does. Zorkin (Napier), Rod's old boss, comes to visit with a never quite explained plan that almost certainly involved showing the tape he has of some soldiers joyriding a nuke around moscow to Armstrong, and/or someone that could actually do something about it. When Zorkin is bumped off by Joe Lara and his russian mob cronies, Armstrong knows that he has to save the known world by stopping the mafia's evil plan, and of course get into the extremely hot Mrs Zorkin's knickers. Will he succeed?!!!?!!?/?!!!1!?
Yes.

The world of direct-to-video always stretches credibility, but Armstrong twists and breaks it apart like the cheap toy it is. Grenades explode in a orgy of undamaged furniture, throwing fat men out of windows that mysteriously turn into Zagarino just before impact. The script throws clever solutions to every problem, such as Armstrong stopping a nuke countdown by shooting a load of computers with a AK47, or busting in to a base by driving a truck through the gate. While the truck through gate idea is not a problem, his bizarrely setting the top of the cab ever so slightly on fire, to the point at which it looks like someone has strapped a '70s gas effect electric fire on it, made about as much sense as, well, the rest of the movie.

There are worse films in the world, and I think almost anyone will appreciate the comedy in Joe Lara's delivery of the trite and tired dialogue, but if you're looking for more than laughable lines and Kimberly Kate's fetching figure, then you can do better than Menahem's 35th feature. Armstrong is most definitely less than the sum of its parts.

Warhead

In: mudwig, reviews, action

07 Jul 2004
Tense hacking in Warhead
Artificial Intelligence on a Global Scale.

The tagline for this movie reads "Nuclear Terrorism On A Global Scale". This raises several questions, such as "what is local nuclear terrorism?", or alternatively, "does it really count as global when the action is set pretty exclusively in the USA bar a bit of terrorism in switzerland at the end, which was a) by our hero, hence not terrorism and b) not nuclear?", which is a pretty long winded question. The saddest thing of all is that we may never know the answers.

Warhead is a retread of one of the classic direct-to-video plot lines. A terrorist organisation (the United Patriots Movement) nobbles a bunch of special forces, and gains control of a Very Big Bomb (the titular "Warhead"). The sole survivor of the aforementioned spec. forces team is sent in to stop them, after clashing with his boss because he played by his own rules, was a loose cannon, and possibly a man on the edge. WHO WOULD EXPECT that the terrorist leader and the man sent to stop him were in the same class at commando school, and hence know each others strengths, weaknesses, and haircuts.

Our hero is Jack Tannen, played by the mighty Frank Zagarino, who you may know from... well nothing really, but he has done voice work for a Command & Conquer game which seems disturbingly common amongst actors of films I watch. The villian is Joe Lara, who would meet up with Zagarino again in '99s Strike Zone, '98s Armstrong and '97s Operation Delta Force, quite possibly sporting the same Goatee Of Evil in them all. The fiesty female lead goes to Elizabeth Giordano, who popped up in a couple of episodes of PM's L.A. Heat series, and the award for best acting in the movie goes to the big green crashmat that leaps into the air when Zagarino lands on it during the final fight sequence.

Lest you think this is a clich? ridden, formulaic procession through an obvious storyline, there are some scenes which are unique to this movie. For me the two standouts are: 1) The hack-off between Dr Evans and his scientist daughter Jessica as they arm and disarm the warhead with complex commands like "Destination Washinton" and "Destination Override". 2) The ice hockey scene. In this masterpiece of action several armed goons come after Zagarino, and they mix it up from one side of an (in-use) ice hockey rink to the other. Faced with a lack of traction, Jack Tannen grabs the belts of various players who pull him around to escape or attack the villians. Even when several of their number have been shot by the thugs, the players still seem willing to skate around aimlessly to allow Zagarino to get a good tow, or on one occasion a sling-shot straight into the porky Patriots. A true classic, and worth the price of admission on its own.

Warhead was reasonably entertaining, and the sparking hot ActionChemistry between Lara and Zagarino has prompted me to pick up another of their films, Armstrong. The violence is full on and paced to the music, and while the characters are stupid they are all stupid to the same low level, which gives the movie a sense of consistency. Like watching primary school kids put on a play Warhead is not really any good at all, but it gives Mr & Mrs Zagarino something to tell their friends about when they're asked how little Frankie is doing.

Out For Blood

In: mudwig, reviews, action

07 Jul 2004
Out, For Blood?
Don Wilson is one of the most dynamic action stars in this image.

Don "The Dragon" Wilson was 3 time world kickboxing champion. He featured, both in name and in person, in Cameron Crowe's Say Anything, where he kicked John Cusack in the face. Other than that and a brief appearance in Batman Forever, Don's screen career has focused on the world of direct to video. Always working, often for the people like the infamous Roger Corman, and various PM related groups, Don had starred in ten films in the four years of career leading up to this 1993 Richard W. Munchkin chaired slice of martial arts amnesiac action.

Munchkin is a common co-conspirator with Mehri and Pepin, that latter of whom filled the roles of both producer and director of photography on the movie. Other than Don, the cast includes anime-english-dub voice over regular Beau Billingslea (Jet in Cowboy Bebop) and Aki Aleong, ever popular old chinese guy for-hire.

"The Dragon" plays John Decker, lawyer and happy family man until the day his wife and son are cruelly murdered by a Psychotic Drug Gang©. Unfortunately, the events traumatise Decker to the point at which he can no longer remember what happened, only seeing glimpses in dreams and flashbacks. The law is unable to catch the villians, and so Decker decides to reap his own vengeance. Quickly dubbed Karateman by a media unaware of his true identity, Decker cleans up the streets one villian at a time. Frustrated and unable to get their push their products thanks to Karateman's actions, the local crimelords make a deal with some dirty cops to ruin his reputation, and make him a wanted criminal himself.

His only allies are a lady art dealer (Shari Shattuck) that provides the love interest, as well as a jealous ex-boyfriend with accompanying heavies, and the wise old chinese artist she has in residence (Mr Aleong, of course). Aleong in particular helps Decker deal with the guilt and turmoil he is feeling about his Karateman alter ego, and the fragments of his familiy's murder he is remembering, in a way that his psychiatrist was failing to.

Despite the less than awe inspiring moniker, Karateman does indeed kick some bottom in this film. The action is frequent and always entertaining, with Don giving an excellent performance throughout. The film is utterly, utterly littered with clich?s, to the point at which it is a case of suspending your disbelief that the scriptwriters actually churned this stuff out. The move doesn't so much skirt predictability but settle into it like a comfortable chair, and the only people who are likely to be suprised by the unfloding events are those that haven't seen an action movie. Ever.

However, the villians are villianous, the hero is heroic and there are plenty of fights, explosions, and man-on-the-edge performances from Wilson. The biggest crime in cheap action movies is to be boring, and while there are slow sections this movie isn't that.

Last Bet (A.K.A Lesser Prophets)

In: mudwig, reviews, drama

07 Jul 2004
Last Bet or Lesser Prophets?
The back cover contains 100% of your RDA of gambling references with regards to seeing movies.

Last Bet, or Lesser Prophets, has some reasonable talent in it, including the always masterful John Turturro, NYPD Blue's Jimmy Smits, Elizabeth Perkins, Scott Glen who I shall forevermore associate with Hunt For Red October and John Spencer. It's a low budget movie, first time feature director, and looks like the kind of film the crops up in the early careers of many fine actors. However, this entry in the CV was actually made in 1997. By that point John Tuturro had already featured in Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink, Jimmy Smits was still working on NYPD Blue and George DiCenzo had provided his voice talents to She-Ra: Princess of Power. Still, evidently something attracted them away from their lucrative voice over careers for a few days, and it's a bit of shame that the script didn't land with a better director, as over all Last Bet is an enjoyable film that just could have been worth slightly more than ?1 on DVD.

The plot centers around George DiCenzo's book making operation. Detective "Iggy", played by Scott Glen, is after the trio of bookies, blaming them for his brother's suicide after they accepted a large bet for him which went south. After almost being busted they move to a new location, and make a huge bet themselves on a sure-thing, the tip being brought to them by the fairly mentally unstabled Leon (Turtuorro). Iggy tracks them down, but instead of bringing the bookies in demands the money back his brother bet. In the middle of this gambler Jimmy Smits informs the trio that he wont pay them his gambling debt, and gets himself shot, albeit somewhat accidentally, by Leon.

This may sound like a fairly dark film on paper, but it's propelled along by a weird sense of comedy, especially between the three bookies, and the random craziness that Turturro utters from time to time. The focus bounces back and forth between the main thread of the story and a whole host of side plots, including Iggy's wife's pregnancy, Leon's wife-beating neighbour and the unfortunate end of Jimmy Smit's backup man.

The script is suprisingly good, with plenty of pace and an energy that fits the New York setting. The actors put in good performances too, and really the main problems are inexperienced direction and editing. This is quite a shame, as the film had the potential to have been a much more mature and interesting piece than it ended up. Despite this, it's easy to enjoy the flow of the film, and after a bumpy first few minutes anyone with a reasonably open mind should be entertained enough to watch til the end without feeling unsatisfied.

L.A. Heat

In: mudwig, reviews, action

06 Jun 2004
(The original) L.A. Heat
The german cover has boobs.

First things first, this movie generated two sequels and (kind of) a spin off series, which proves that miracles can happen. Secondly, this is the first appearance in this mighty organ of a film by Joeseph Merhi and Richard Pepin, AKA PM Entertainment, a veritable powerhouse of direct-to-video movie producing genius. They are responsible for bringing us many, many terrible movies, and some rather better ones in the later parts of the ninties, including the non-Bruce Willis starring Last Man Standing. This, however, was their first film to star Vaguely Famous People, specifically Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and american football legend/star of the screen Jim Brown.

Now, Mr Merhi has a fairly decent directorial style, and it's always nice to hear the directors opinion on a film they've made. However, and I mention this mostly for the advantage of Hollywood DVD, I don't want to hear the director during the film. Hopefully it's a simple SNAFU with my copy, but for some reason at various points you can hear essential comments such as "walk over to the fridge" and "cut, no keep going, keep going, keep going, good" coming somewhere off camera. Mostly this seems to be the fault of retarded editing, as there are also bits of overlapping dialogue.

With cop movies, it's not about the story per se. This one involves a drug dealer named Clarence, a badge on the line, and a girlfriend in peril, which, bar the existence of a drug dealer named Clarence, should be familiar territory. The important thing in this kind of movie is the cop's quirk. Clint Eastwood was slightly to the right of atilla the hun, Mel Gibson had a deathwish, Bruce Willis was burnt out, and Michael Winslow made funny noises. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Jon Chance wants to be a cowboy, as demonstrated in various dream sequences of him, suprisingly, as a cowboy. Unfortunately, he hates violence, and hence deams of himself as a fairly sucky cowboy who gets shot by an indian with furry boots, which is the worst kind of indian there is. His dreams play themselves out, as his partner gets iced by the aforementioned clarence, and Chance has to find a way to make things right, while maintaining his principles.

Jim Brown, to be fair, makes a superb Angry Black Police Lieutenant. He ups the quality of every scene he's in, and makes the film almost seem like a proper movie. Otherwise, the acting is about what you'd expect, ranging from believable to "look that way and say this". There are some fairly amusing side characters, including some good sarcasm from the other pair of detectives, and top class professional stage fighting by a pool hustler near the end.

The end of the movie was not, however, where the tale of Jon Chance ends. He would return, again played by LHJ, a year later in '89 in L.A. Vice, then once again in 1990, this time with Hilton-Jacobs himself taking the directorial chair for Angel Of The City, though this is only according to IMDB, as I've never seen it. Most interestingly, in 1996 PM created two series of L.A. Heat for television, starring regular PM cohort Wolf Larson and going with the ever-wacky black cop/white cop combination.

With regards to this version, L.A. Heat is not really any good whatsoever. However, there is a girl in an utterly ridiculous outfit withint the first ten minutes, and if you get a chance to hear the version with the random directors comments then that's worth something in itself.

I don't care what they say upstairs, I'm a damn good cop! You don't have to kill to be a good cop - Detective Jon Chance

The House On Sorority Row

In: mudwig, reviews, horror

06 Jun 2004
The old lady is GLOWING!!!!1!
Talent was, in fact, off limits.

I'm not sure when slasher flicks featuring sorority girls became a clich?, but I'd believe that it was at the very moment writer/director Mark Rosman penned the first scene of this slice of 80's horror.

The plot is, well, a slasher movie plot. College girls on the eve of graduation accidentally bump off their weird sorority house mother in a prank gone wrong, which they were playing as revenge for her forbidding them to have a party. You see, the party was on the day that she closed the house every year for weird and spooky reasons. Unfortunately, the body disappears and one by one the girls are taken out, all while their hep party funks it's way through the night.

The eighties pervades this film like aquanet in big hair. The band that plays at the graduation party appears to be based around the concept of taking something from every single succesful group of the early 80s and mashing them together in one bemulleted supergroup. Scientists in the future will be able to precisely date items by comparing them to what appears in this movie, and I suspect that from a very early age, babies will instinctively be able to determine that the film was made in '83. All the standard college types are there, including the obligatory humourous fat guy, moronic jocks, and campus security guard. On the other hand, there's also a disembodied head placed (fairly randomly) in a toilet, so it's not all bad.

One of the pleasures of these kind of movies is what it's stars went on to do after their roles propelled them to success. Of the cast that had a further career in the movies, star Kate McNeil worked on 2001 Carey classic Glitter, which means at least this isn't the worst film she was ever in. Non surving sisiter Jane Kozak got to excercise her lungs again in Arachnophobia, and possibly in Ron Howard classic Parenthood. Still, at least it's not Glitter.

This is, above all, is a horror movie, and if you can ignore the mostly wooden acting, predictable scripting and utter eighties-ness through the majority of the film, then the conclusive chase between the killer and remaining sorority girl is actually pretty good, even though the killer seems to have the ability (admittedly fairly common in these kind of movies) to walk through walls. There are some good bits of atmosphere and tension, and it leaves you with a much better impression of the movie than it probably deserves (still not a very good impresison, but even so).

Overall, without this movie and movies like it we probably wouldn't have scream, and without scream we wouldn't have scream 2, and without scream 2 we wouldn't have the pleasure of seeing Jerry O'Connell die painfully. That, for me, is enough.

Portrait Of A Hitman

In: mudwig, reviews, action

06 Jun 2004
A designers dream of a cover
natty

The world of cheap movies is dominated by one name, and that name is Hollywood DVD. While examples of their craft can occasionally be found maskerading as proper movies in mainstream retailers such as Virgin, the true spiritual home of these gems is the pound shops that have proliferated across our towns and cities.

One film published by the aforementioned Hollywood DVD is '77 Jack Palance vehicle, Portrait of a Hitman. The premise is fiendish in it's intricacies. Palance is a hitman, one of the deadliest in the world, but at the same time he is also a master painter, despite the fact the one painting you actually see him working on looks like the cover of a 70s romance novel. All seems well in the world of the artistically inclined assassin, until he's given the contract to kill a surgeon. Not any surgeon, but blonde behemoth Bo Svenson, who plays Palance's closest friend. Being a 70s movie, they express their friendship in the form of high speed races in sports cards, but still, Palance can't go through with it.

Sharp eyed readers may note that as plots for rubbish movies go, this isn't actually that bad. Unfortunately, a number of elements work against the film. Firstly, they clearly didn't shoot enough of it. Clocking in at 88 minutes seems reasonable, until you realise that at least 15 of those minutes are recaps to other parts of the film that you've already seen, usually with the addition of a filter, or some kind of alternative editing. To at least give it a chance of hitting the run time, most of the movie is paced incredibly slowly, apart from short bursts of hyperactively edited plot when someone realised that nothing had happened in the last ten minutes.

This isn't to say the film is all bad. Richard "Shaft" Roundtree pops up as the villian of the piece with an amusing jamaican accent and Phillip "Kung-Fu" Ahn has a role based mostly around sitting down as Palance's hitman friend, Wong. There was also a guy named Bobby, or possibly Billy, that Palance seemed pretty damn cut up about killing. We had never seen him before, but Bobby/Billy's death haunts me to the day, as does most of the movie.

These days you can get the DVDs in two-packs for a pound, so this movie should cost you no more than 50p, but please, place a value on the 88 minutes of your life you will lose, or perhaps the 20 minutes until everyone sensible has given up.

Cyborg Cop

In: mudwig, reviews, action

06 Jun 2004
Cyborg Cop
He is in fact wearing one of those Steven Segal vests under there.

Cyborg Cop. Is a cyborg better than a robot, or a "Robo"? Perhaps. Is Cyborg Cop better than Robocop 1, 2, 3 or that weird series with his magical inter-web pixie friend? No. That is not to say however that it is not worth watching.
Our story focuses around one man, who is neither a cyborg or a cop, but was once the latter. His brother goes missing on a mission for the DEA, in some Foreign Place full of Foreign People who are ruled with a drug filled fist by the fat guy from Sliders, who you may recall more recently as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies, John Rhys-Davies. Rhys-Davies goes under the villianous name Kessel, though I doubt even the falcon could get round him in just 12 parsecs.

Kessel is manufacturing cyborg super assasins, as were many drug lords back in '93. Personally, I think he missed the boat a bit, as surely something as sophisticated as his cyborg tech would have had lucrative medical applications, but evidently villians don't think that way. Anyway, our hero, David Bradley, goes off to rescue his brother, picking up an Attractive Female Reporter on the way to find out what happened. Martial arts ensues.

As tat goes, this is of the better variety. The pacing is acceptable, the banter is occasionally witty, and the star has a cool kung-fu style. On the other hand the film starts off on a fairly hardboiled cop/military tip, but after the girl appears in the picture gains the air of a comedy action picture, and sort of flip flops back and forth as required. Rhys-Davies utilises a deeply crazy accent to good effect, but his robot henchment look like rejected Gary Numan backing singers, and appear roughly as threatening as successful Gary Numan backing singers. Oh, and the ending is a bit rubbish, but I think it is our duty To Cinema to judge things as a whole, rather than just on the last five minutes.

Overall, Cyborg Cop is better than Beverly Hills Cop 3 , but worse than Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol, and you can't say fairer than that.

Street Gun

In: mudwig, crime, reviews

06 Jun 2004
Street Gun
A Street Gun Named Desire.

The worst kind of bad movies are the ones that show promise, but never quite follow through. Street Gun is just such a film, though the promise in question certainly isn't in the hands of star Justin Pagel. Street Gun is moulded after many a classic crime story, and shares elements with films such as The Godfather, Once Upon A Time In America, The Third Man, and other classics. Unfortunately, it's in the same way that chimps share elements of their DNA with humans - one flings poo, and the other makes movies like Street Gun. Perhaps this wasn't the best analogy.

The story revolves around Justin Pagel as Joe Webster, a wannabe thief who drifted into crime in the search for something he could excell at, as he did when he was a boy. Dissatisfied with the ineffectual and amateur nature of his operation with his two partners in crime, Joe goes looking for a job with the local big boss, and after proving himself is giving the opportunity to work a major heist. Things, of course, go wrong.

Firstly, I should point out that there are some honest to goodness decent scenes in this movie. Joe's meeting with his father is excellent, as he is criticised for being unable to stay in a job or succeed as a criminal. "Do you want some gas money, for the getaway car?" mocks his Webster senior at one point. Unfortunately, that relationship is never returned to, and the parallel relationship between the crime boss and his son is also not explored, which is a shame as the potential is clearly in the script for it. There is a pretty good stunt sequence as well, with Joe escaping from the FBI by clinging to the back of a truck, and leaping off of a bridge when the truck is finally stopped. The opening robberies are also fairly amusing, by Hollywood DVD standards.

In fact, there are plenty of areas where the film sounds like it could go in an interesting direction. The continued talk about the power of computers, the nature of the relationships between father and son, the clash between moving forward with your life and career and losing touch with your friends, and honour and family among thieves are all touched upon, but never really expanded. This just leaves the film messy and discontinuous, as it dives off into short tangents that are never rolled back into the main story line. On the other hand, at times the movie leaps forward so fast, it's hard to tell exactly what's going on. Characters are brought in and killed off, motivations and characterisations flip-flop, and fairly slow contemplative rooftop scenes are interjected with high violence actions scenes. It's like a Vin Diesel movie, but without any budget or the raft of good supporting actors.

The director hasn't worked on anything else since Street Gun, and in fact neither have most of the actors. This is a shame, as I think it would tough on anyone to always have Street Gun as the last film they made.