Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hardwired (2009)

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Tagline:

They stole his past, now he's taking back his future.

Back of DVD:

After losing his wife in a horrific car accident, Luke Gibson (Academy Award Winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., Best actor in a supporting role for Jerry Maguire, 1996) wakes up in the hospital to find his once idyllic life on the brink of destruction. Implanted with a lethal microchip and monitored closely by a Hope Industries executive (Val Kilmer), Gibson is plagued by strange visions and haunted by a past he cannot remember. If he wants to survive, his only chance lies with a group of renegade hackers who may be the only ones who know how to stop the dangerous corporation before it's too late. Also starring Michael Ironside (Terminator Salvation).

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Movie Review:

The Matrix has influenced a lot of movies. Although it itself was influenced by everything from Wargames to Tron and probably even Dark City, The Matrix really pushed the whole 'cyber' culture down the masses throats in a big way. There was a failed attempt before that with The Lawnmower Man, but that was quickly forgotten (though it's a guilty favourite of mine). Hardwired is another movie that owes its existence to both of those movies. I think Gooding Jr. has been having some acting classes form the school of Keanu as well.

Luke (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his wife get into their car and start driving away. Only seconds later their car is hit side on by a four wheel drive (figures) and his wife dies from sustained injuries. Luke is hospitalised and not expected to live. The Doctor sees that his medical insurance has expired and is about to send him to take his chances in the public waiting rooms, when a couple of black-suited guys turn the wall into a TV, through the magic of cyber-stuff or whatever. On the screen is second-in-charge of the massive corporation Hope Industries, Virgil (Val Kilmer). Virgil tells the doctor they will pick up the bill, in return for performing some experimental surgery on Luke that will save his life.

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After a bit of dodgy CG animation of some sort of CPU being installed into his head, Luke wakes up in his hospital bed, with no memory of who he is. He sees a guy trying to sell him a watch and freaks out a bit. Honestly if you woke up in hospital and some dude tried to sell you a Rolex you'd probably do the same. His sister (Teyla from Stargate: Atlantis) says that no-one else was in the room and takes him home. She shows him around his house but nothing jogs his memory, though he is told he had a wife who died. Luke sees another strange illusion, this time a hot blonde selling whiskey. He freaked out more over this than he Rolex guy and runs out into the street where we see he is being watched by the black-suited guys.

More than the black-suited guys, Luke is being watched by a couple of cyber-punk type kids in a beat up old van. You can tell they are cyber-punk because they have red and blue hair and pasty white skin. They aren't called Neo or Trinity, but they aren't far from it. They are more like that Aussie kid who was in the soapie Home and Away who went on about what Tasty Wheat tasted like, and was also the digital pimp to the girl in the red dress. The real "cool" nerd types that say LOL instead of actually laughing.

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The now totally freaked-out Luke tracks down the Doctor that operated on him and demands answers. The Doctor doesn't get much out before Luke is taken over by an extreme, ringing pain in the head; it turns out questioning the implant results in pain and can even blow your head up, like Scanners. Luke sees dozens of the guy selling Rolexes and loses his shit so bad he smashes the window to a shop and steals one. A security guard tries to stop him, but (and this is when it gets weirder), Luke starts seeing giant text messages in the sky: "Safety's On. We won't let you die." Luke understood the 'safetys on' part and runs from the security guard, who tries to fire but can't (because... the safety's on). These cyber-geeks have hacked into the chip in Lukes head and sent him message overlays and directions to their car. After the awkward introductions, he is taken to see Michael Ironside (I always get a kick out of seeing him in movies. It's like seeing Lance Henriksen. By the way, keep a close watch on the final shots of this film.). Ironside and his disabled son "Keyboard" (See! Cyber-geeks) get all Blue pill/Red pill on Luke and explain what has happened to him and how they need his help to take down Hope Industries. Luke and the geek patrol proceed to find the key players in the brain-chipping game and deal with them, usually violently.

Hardwired is entertaining but, frankly, a bit crap. I will re-emphasise that I was entertained throughout, but there are many issues in this, the first being Gooding Jr's Keanu style wooden acting. When he tries to emote, he fails. He always looks like someone has slapped him in the face with a trout, which I suppose is fair enough when you keep getting harassed by Rolex salesmen. The whole "corporations run the world" thing has been done to death, though I did like the opening montage of well known company logos rendered on famous buildings and locations; the Windows logo at Stone Henge, the Statue of Liberty projecting a spinning Playboy bunny logo, the McDonalds logo emblazoned on the wall of the Hoover Dam.

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Gooding Jr. I don't know too much about. I don't think I've seen many or any of his bigger movies. Like I said before, he's pretty wooden but he does get to kick a few arses. There's a nice roundhouse kick early on, and he shoots a few guys. He holds his gun like Seagal which was pretty amusing. Gooding has done a whole stack of DTV movies in recent years. I'll check out a few more in the future.

I have to give special mention to the best actor in this movie, Val Kilmers hair. Don't go looking at the cover up the top, I have no idea what was going on in that photo because it NEVER happens in the movie. It looks like it was taken ten years prior. Val Kilmer has an awesome blond hairpiece that combined with his nanna glasses (complete with chain) and his inability to drink a glass of water without looking ridiculous make for spectacular entertainment on its own. Kilmer himself never leaves his office building and is filmed against green-screen most of the time. Actually he reminds me a lot of a long haired Lumbergh from Office Space. Scroll to the bottom of the screen to see what I mean.

Hardwired isn't really that bad, it's just pretty stupid. I didn't look at the clock once so that's a good thing. It's quite pretty and the Hollywood OS makes plenty of appearances, along with much stock bleeping and blooping. At least no-one says "I've hacked into the mainframe" or "It's a UNIX system! I know this!". So, no space hovercrafts, Sentinel robots or Oracles but plenty of geeks with handles for names and computers with fifty screens like the one from Swordfish (hey, another bad hackers movie) but still worth watching. I could probably stand to watch it again even. Just don't expect anything new. Hey, it's DTV - why would you want to expect that anyway?

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The Video:

The video is excellent overall, but this is a new release, reasonably budgeted (for DTV) movie so you would expect it. The picture is very sharp and the colours vibrant, particularly all the computery whatsits. Sound clear as a whistle and quite dynamic. Reviewed the dual-layer R4 disc in 16:9 widescreen. Runtime 94 minutes.

Sourced From:

Big W for $8.94

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993)

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Tagline:

Their battle will decide the fate of the human race... forever.

Back of DVD:

It's all in Thai language, so just watch the trailer below.

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Movie Review:

I liked Joe Lara's work in my last review, Armstrong, where he played the bad guy known only as "Ponytail". He was good in the role of a terrorist nutter so I wanted to see more of what he could do. Going through my recent acquisitions I realised I already had another - American Cyborg: Steel Warrior! And what's more it's a Cannon movie, so it's bound to be fantastic.

It's a post-apocalyptic Terminator style future. We are informed by a voiceover that seventeen years ago (we don't actually know when this movie is set) there was a nuclear war in which the machines won and enslaved the surviving humans. Sound familiar?. We are allowed to live out the rest of our days in run-down cities run by The System, and as all the women are now sterile there won't be any more of us to continue the species.

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But as always with us pesky humans, you just can't stop us from trying to breed. Scientists at work in an underground lab have successfully gotten a girl Mary (Nicole Hansen) pregnant and are now keeping her foetus in a jar to grow. I don't know why she couldn't keep it in her own jar (wink wink) but that's science for you - always making the simple difficult. The scientists are prepping a team of soldiers to take the foetus in a boat to Europe where humans have had better luck in overthrowing their new cyber-overlords and a healthier gene pool exists. The map indicates they will go to the port only a few clicks away and hop on board a boat.

Meanwhile a cyborg with bleach-blond hair and a bikers jacket (John Saint Ryan) receives orders from a computer kiosk in the street by plugging his finger into an outlet. The orders are to find and exterminate the human rebels. Somehow he locates the hidden lab and smashes his way in, blowing up everyone in his path with a huge machine gun. Mary and one other girl escape through the tunnels of the lab on to the street, but the cyborg follows and kills Mary's associate. Mary gets away but the cyborg retrieves the map from the dead girl and now knows where Mary is heading. It chases her through one of many abandoned factories in the movie but she manages to elude it again and drop an engine on its head. Problem solved.

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As she continues on to the port she is rumbled by a gang of sailors and transvestites. As she is about to be done in, a knife is thrown into the back of one of the thugs. Joe Lara (as 'Austin') appears and doing his best Van-Damme-in-Cyborg impression (of which this movie owes a huge debt) deals with all the degenerates swiftly and rescues Mary. Mary asks for his assistance in getting to the port but he politely declines "Pardon me lady, I have business to do." and goes to trade items at a local pawn shop. Mary manages to discretely tag along, but that only attracts the cyborg who has returned from the dead to finish her off. It's all very Terminator cat-and-mouse, and Austin manages to temporarily defeat the cyborg by stabbing it in the neck. The cyborg bleeds white goop just like the Bishop androids do and Mary and Austin escape into the sewers. Mary ultimately convinces Austin to stay with her by lying to him that waiting at the port is a shipment of radiation sickness drugs.

For a rip-off of quite a few post-apocalyptic movies, this is a pretty fun ride. I really don't know why it only has a 2.3 rating on IMDB, it's worthy of at least a 5 (or a solid 7 in bad-action ratings). Joe Lara is good in his role as Austin and John Saint Ryan plays as convincing a cyborg as Schwarzenegger does. He uses his glowing techno-eyes to detect footprint heat signatures and can even self repair, though his voice is more like a Cyberman and less like an Austrian. Mary holds her own against the cyborg just as well as Austin does.

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The movie goes on like this for a while - cyborg attacks, Austin and Mary kill it and escape, cyborg comes to life again - until Mary is captured by cannibals known as 'leeches' who have an Asteroids upright arcade cabinet for some reason (at least something good survived the nuclear holocaust). The cannibals are a bit like humanoid CHUDs and are eager to taste Mary, but Austin busts in and blows them all to hell. Then they have a romantic moment ("You've never been kissed before?").

There's plenty of action, shootouts and running around in abandoned warehouses and factories but there are not many laughs (except for the sailor muggers). There is a very nice soundtrack, which I don't usually say of 80's movies. It's a dark electro-classical-synth thing with choral chanting parts; it really suits the glum atmosphere of the movie well. The plot has been done before but I don't care, I get a kick out of these movies, particularly their dirty, broken industrial worlds filled with neon lights and hookers and smoke emanating from sewers. Think of this as Hardware on an even lesser budget. It's a Canon movie so by rights it's awesome, and one of the producers worked on JCVD's Cyborg, so that should help you align your expectations. Some of cinematography is really good too and I liked the use of drab colours contrasted with badly placed blue neon lighting tubes.

American Cyborg is ridiculous but is far more deserving of a better IMDB rating than this piece of shit. Another good one for Joe Lara.

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The Video:

This Thai DVD is pretty good quality, with a nice anamorphic print and generally clean audio (although I heard some clipping every now and then when people were shouting). The R1 I believe is only fullscreen so this disc is definitely a step up. The only issue is the manufacturers forgot to mark the video anamorphic bit, meaning that your equipment can't automatically work out if it's widescreen or not. All you need to do is go into your DVD setup and force 16:9 display. A bit annoying but nothing that can't be solved.

Sourced From:

Lawsons in the Sydney CBD for $5.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Armstrong (1998)

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Tagline:

The Cold War has Just Heated Up.

Back of DVD:

CIA agent Bob Taylor (Charles Napier) arrives in Moscow with his new wife Susan (Kimberley Kates) with a highly secret vieo tape of Russian missiles leaving an unknown base near Moscow under the cover of darkness.

Are these missiles destined to be aimed at the US or are they being smuggled to a terrorist organisation. The Americans need to know where these missiles are going, the only person who can help them  discover their destination is Armstrong (Frank Zagarino) an ex buddy of Bob who now trains an elite Russian anti-terrorist squad under the command of Colonel Zukov (Richard Lynch). Zukov is from the old guard, corrupt, ruthless, and will stop at nothing to gain control.

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Movie Review:

Here we have a late 90's Nu Image bad action flick and wow, does it ever live up to the description of 'bad action'. Particuarly the 'bad' part. But honestly it's a lot of fun anyway so here we go.

An American couple arrive in Moscow (Charles Napier as 'Bob' and Kimberley Kates as 'Susan'). This itself is funny as he is about 25 years her senior. Though I suppose I shouldn't be a prude about these things. Times are changing, and all that. They are very obviously being followed by another car as they leave the airport and Bob can't stop sweating. When they get to their hotel, Bob hides a VHS he had in his pocket (!) inside the rooms video player. Hopefully his wife won't tape over it with Russian sitcoms, because it's probably important.

Somewhere else in Moscow, a blond guy drops out of a helicopter on the roof of a government building and shoots a grappling hook to the opposite window. The guy swings over, smashes through the window, beats up the guard then kills the whole room of military officers by sliding along the boardroom table on his back and letting rip with his machine gun. Oh no, it was a fake, and the blood was just jam or something. Haha. Turns out his name is Armstrong and he has been hired by the Russian Colonel Zukov (Richard Lynch as a bad guy again) to train Zukov's elite KGB forces. Frank Zagarino as Armstrong is pretty funny in this. The guy is a pretty average actor and his line delivery is terrible but he has fun in this role anyway.

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Bob goes to see Armstrong at his apartment. He tells him that something is going down in the Russian military - there are plans to sell nuclear weapons to the Middle East - and he needs to help to stop it. Just as Bob is about to tell Armstrong about the video tape, a bunch of mafia guys burst in and shoot the place up, killing Bob but Armstrong escapes out the window. Charles Napier really had a short part in this as he buys it really early on. When the mafia guy (Joe Lara, credited only as Ponytail because, like, he has a ponytail) shoots him and blood splatters on his shirt he gets upset and yells at the dead Bob "Look at what you did!" - then shoots him another half dozen times. One of Ponytail's henchmen chases Armstrong in his car through the city streets, swerving to miss a pram (nice cliche) and crashes into a pile of boxes.

Kimberley Kates is pretty hot. After the funeral of her husband, she gives the video tape to Armstrong. Not liking what he sees on the video he goes to see 'the only person he can trust', a young Captain in the army, and convinces him to go to the army depot and stop the sale of the weapons. Susan decides to have a shower and, well, you can definitely tell that a male directed this movie. The door bell rings (room service, that she didn't order) so she quickly dresses in a light shirt (without drying first) and answers the door. Even though she pulls a gun on the guy, I think his expression would have been the same regardless ("oh my god, boobies"). She spends the next ten minutes soaked, headlights beaming, fighting off Ponytail (who had hidden in the room service cart, that old trick), escaping out the window and running down the street (still soaked, and with no pants on). I was surprised at how much action Susan had in this scene. The best part is when she runs along the hoods of parked cars with her persuer trying to knock her off with his own car. Then she rolls under a tram!

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There's a few other good parts in the movie like the chase on foot through the derelicts, the fight with Ponytail's fat friend ("No speak English good!", "Then speak English bad!"), the foiled sniper attempt on the President at the opera (which Susan gets all prettied up for) and the finale is classic bad action material with Armstrong armed with twin AK47's trying to defeat ticking clocks, untie Susan from a chair, and stop bad guys that come back from the dead for a final shot. Joe Lara isn't bad as the sleazy Mafia guy, but I loved his daft accomplice that kept getting in trouble from his boss for doing the wrong thing ("I kill her now boss?").

There's nothing at all new in this movie; you've seen all of it before, and you've seen it done better, but "Armstrong" is still a fun ride. What I found strange was that this came out in 1998 - it certainly feels more like a 1990 movie, but I guess that's what happens with cliched bad action flicks: you lose all sense of time. It's not done particularly well or anything but it's pretty serviceable as a late night bad action flick and doesn't overstay its welcome.

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The Video:

Being a Nu Image from the 90's the picture is full-frame. The picture is perfectly fine with good colours and deep blacks for a movie of this quality, and the audio is clean and clear. Nothing to complain about here. I reviewed the R2 DVD. Runtime 95 minutes.

Sourced From:

eBay for 93c.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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