Saturday, September 25, 2010

Screamers: The Hunting (2009)

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Tagline:

The perfect weapon is now the ultimate killing machine.

Back of DVD:

It's been thirteen years since the robotic killing machines known as Screamers destroyed the human population of Sirius 6B. But now a distress signal brings a team of rescuers to the supposedly abandoned planet. Can it be a long lost colony of human survivors? Or have the Screamers evolved into something even more sinister... half-man/half-machine hybrids that need to escape Sirius 6B to finish their mission: the complete annihilation of the human race?

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Movie Review:

This movie got a bit of a panning when it came out, but low budget sequels to moderate or high budget movies always get that, especially horror and science fiction ones. Add on to that the fact we are talking about a plot 'inspired' by a Phillip K. Dick short story and of course the sci-fi nerds are out for blood. Me? I'm here for a good time at the movies and hopefully get some explosions while we are at it. And anything with Lance Henriksen in it can't be that bad.

After a small set-up on the planet from the first movie (the one with Peter Weller), we are taken slowly through the empty corridors of a space ship (very Alien). A hot girl (Gina Holden) awakens from a nightmare and proceeds to her medical check for all awakening from cryo-sleep. After some witty banter to establish the hierarchy of the players, all assemble on the main deck to watch a video mission briefing. There was a war on planet Sirius 6B that led to one side creating the Screamers: robots that kill all human life unless you are wearing an electronic tag. However there has been no communication with planet Sirius 6B to Earth for some time, so the team's objective is to locate survivors and bring them home. To add a timeline to the proceedings, the planet will be destroyed by a storm in six days. The government waited 13 years to send a team to the planet, now they have six days to perform a search and rescue and get the hell out of there. That's bureaucracy for you.

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On their first day on the planet, the team of mercenaries/rescuers scan an underground structure and locate a bunker. Unknown to them, they are being watched in the distance by a dude in a makeshift gas mask. When they enter the bunker it's soon apparent they have located the original Screamers construction facility. There are also piles of skeletons, apparently used as spare parts as the war drew on. The team decide to camp in the bunker for the night, but one of the members - a scientist - wakes up and quietly goes to play with one of the dormant Screamer-bots. This of course wakes up the entire warehouse of Screamers, though only we the viewer realise this yet. This, like most sci-fi movies, leads me to the conclusion that scientists are out to destroy us all. Meanwhile the one guy left on the ship to guard it hears a noise and tries to find the source at the top of a ladder. He climbs half way and quickly gets ripped to shreds in an orgy of stock sci-fi slicing sound effects.

When the team awaken the next day they locate an old mine and proceed to get shot at from the verandah. "We're from Earth, here to help you!" they shout. "Screw you!" is the received response. Obviously these people don't want to leave so forget it, mission scrubbed let's go home. Never that easy though as the team get attacked by Screamers on the way back, one guy loses his tag so the token tough guy gives him his, then of course gets his leg chewed off. In a "get back to the chopper!" moment, the guy blows himself up, taking the screamers with him. Back on the ship the rest of the team discover the gory remains of the guy left behind, but worse still, that the Screamer on board has drained the ships power supply. No-one is going anywhere so it's decided that they will return to the people of the mine and try and get some power cells from them.

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There's a really stupid part coming up here. After being allowed through the protective walls of the mine and meeting all the survivors (there's only a handful), the team go for a walk and find three teenagers being hung on a wall in chains. The kids convince the team that they are being experimented on and should be released. On a planet full of Screamer-robots, I'd be reluctant to believe what anybody says, but the team decide to release the kids. Of course they are friggen Scanner/human hybrid and proceed to tear the crew apart with their embedded palm-saws and face-spears. One punches right through a guys chest and out his spine. Then the medic girl gets the same done to her after begging for her death to "be quick". The survivors of the rescue team and the mine residents flee to find the power station a few hills away that may have enough power cells to get them home to Earth.

The effects in the movie are half and half. After watching the behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD I learned that many of the gore shots and the like were made with prosthetics and bags of offal. These scenes were fairly impressive and better than you would expect from a direct-to-dvd horror movie. Other parts of the movie, including the robotic Screamers and the exterior of the space ship, are all CG and are about on par with Babylon 5 or early Stargate SG-1 - that is to say, not remarkable but not disgraceful either. Better than a made for SyFy channel movie. The kills are all pretty good. Oh and Gina Holden is really good eye candy.

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I haven't spoken about Lance Henriksen yet. That's because he hasn't been in it yet. That's right, this is another one of those movies where the largest star gets the smallest part. He doesn't show up until after the first hour when it's revealed that (spoilers) he is the guy in the gas mask from the beginning and he is the caretaker of the mine and creator of the Screamers. In fact I can unhappily tell you that Lance gets about six minutes of screen time and dies at the end of it. Very, very disappointing as the film makers could have done a lot with his character earlier on. He could have probably filmed his scenes during the lunch break on set of another movie. At least they didn't chuck him on the front cover and write "STARRING LANCE 'BISHOP FROM ALIENS' HENRIKSEN" in huge font below the title.

Aside from the original Screamers this movie owes it's existence to many that came before it. Aliens is an obvious first thought, and there is a bit of Starship Troopers as well, but I really saw a lot of Virus in this movie. You know, the one with Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland in it. That movie had a similar plot; bunch of people scope out a place they are not familiar with and one by one get turned into puddles of gore by machines and machine/human hybrids. Virus was the better movie but for the low budget that this movie obviously had to play with I think the producers did a great job, and the actors aren't half bad either. Just needed more Lance. And I really like that cover.

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The Video:

The video was excellent and the audio for the most part excellent as well, though at some points I felt the guy with the boom mic. could have moved in closer. Colours are sharp and vivid, and the effects look fine. A nice 16:9 enhanced print from Sony. Runtime 91 minutes.

Sourced From:

EzyDVD for $7.50.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ninja (2009)

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Tagline:

A silent warrior. A lethal mission.

Back of Blu-ray:

It remains as true today as it did in the days of the ancient Samurai. The weapons of the Ninja hold legendary powers for both good men and evil. The deadly weapons of the last Koga Ninja have now been entrusted to an American Ninjitsu student studying in Japan. Commanded by his Sensei to return to New York and protect the weapons at all cost, he must defeat the skilled Yakuza assassins hunting him and prevent the power of the weapons from falling into evil hands.

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Movie Review:

Ninja movies are the best and this year we were treated to two excellent ones - Ninja Assassin, with boy-band frontman Rain and Ninja movie staple Shô Kosugi, and the similarly themed Ninja starring Scott Adkins. Both have similar revenge and escape plots but one is more true to the late 70's / early 80's style ninja movie. If you can't tell by the logo above which one that is, you're reading the wrong blog. This one was also produced by action favourites Nu Image, responsible for most of Dolph Lundgren's recent output as well as the latest Rambo movie and The Expendables.

The movie starts with ninjas at a dojo practicing their art, including Scott Adkins as token white guy Casey. Adkins we learn ended up in Japan as a child when his parents were killed and he ended up being raised and trained at the dojo. He is the most trusted student of the sensei and as we can see by various stares between the two, the rival to Masazuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara). In the opening credits we are shown the Yoroi Bitsu, a chest that contains the weapons and armour of the last Koga Ninja, and some cool flashbacks of the weapons in use centuries ago.

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Masazuka has a go at Casey about his parents. Casey tempers his anger when his sensei tells him to be calm, so Masazuka and Casey have a bout instead. Masazuka takes it too far though and mid-fight switches his training staff to a sword and lunges at Casey. Sensei has had quite enough by now and banishes Masazuka from the dojo. The guy blubbers like a little girl and is on his way.

The scene changes to Valdivostok where a merger is about to take place and signed in a theatre, for some reason. Before the deeds can by signed, a friggen ninja comes out of no-where and slaughters everyone. The techniques in Ninja are similar to Ninja Assassin, particularly the gore effects, but they are not as over-the-top - though we still get a knife to the head, a sliced throat and a decapitation. In a boardroom a guy with a cigar says "there will be no merger." It appears we have a Ninja-for-hire, but who could it be?

Back at the dojo, sensei is hosting a presentation to announce his successor. Masazuka swaggers in looking like a modern-day yakuza representation from a Seagal DTV movie. He demands what is 'rightfully his', the Yoroi Bitsu. Sensei obviously tells him to get stuffed. Worried about what Masazuka will do, sensei orders Casey and his own daughter Namiko to take the Yoroi Bitsu to New York to a safe hiding place. That evening Masazuka returns in his complete ninja getup and slaughters the dojo guards before confronting sensei. The lights go out but Masazuka has uber night-vision powers on his ninja helmet! Masazuka shoots sensei with a poison dart, then, when sensei refuses to divulge the location of the Yoroi Bitsu, cuts his head off.

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Scott Adkins totally brings it in this movie. I am yet to watch the Undisputed movies (I am waiting to get the first one with Snipes before I sit down and watch the whole trilogy) so I am not sure how he goes in those, but in Ninja he is pretty awesome. Once in New York and after hiding the Yoroi Bitsu casket, Casey and Namiko are attacked by thugs from a local sect (headed by the boardroom cigar guy from earlier). They shoot the place up and Casey's host and friends are killed, but he and the girl manage to escape. Now on the run and presumed guilty of killing his friends, the two must both protect the casket and avoid the thugs from the sect. Not only that, but Masazuka is in town and also after them and the casket.

There's a few good action scenes before the inevitable final fight between Casey and Masazuka. The two get chased onto a train by the thugs from the sect and Adkins goes absolutely bananas with his fast martial arts. He beats up half the guys and breaks some arms, and even throws one through a (closed) window, perfectly timed so the guy is impaled on an incoming train on the opposite line. Namiko also holds her own (the daughter of a sensei, so of course she has skills) and takes the rest of the guys out with the crutches of another passenger! At the start of the third act in the flick, Masazuka catches up with the two and defeats Casey on a rooftop, escaping with an unconscious Namiko by - get this - revealing his WINGS just like friggen BATMAN and sailing to the ground! Amazing. Adkins also gets a Van Damme style six-on-one fight with guys from the sect, ending with taking out the cigar smoking guy (he's in the crazy getup in the photo below). The final fight with Masazuka is great, and Adkins gets his hands on the contents of the Yoroi Bitsu to help him.

I really enjoyed Ninja. It felt far more old-school than Ninja Assassin. The gore is more restrained but is still there, and the kills are just as sweet. In fact I think the more subdued gore makes for a tighter movie with more reliance on Adkins fighting skills eventual swordplay. They are both great movies, but I think Ninja just has the edge. Another win for Nu Image.

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The Video:

An excellent quality Blu-ray from Australian newcomers All Interactive. Sharp and clear widescreen video that represents the filmed aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and a thumping DTS-HD surround soundtrack. The movie is in English but there are a few scenes in Japanese and the subtitles were fine.

Please note that the screenshots in this review are from a dodgy download version (I can't screen capture Blu-ray video) that is for some reason in full screen 4:3 aspect.

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Sourced From:

eBay for $14; a very cheap new-release Blu-ray.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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