Thursday, June 30, 2011

Solo (1996)

Solo poster

Tagline:

Part Man. Part Machine. Total Weapon.

Movie Review:

Solo 2

Have you seen Soldier starring Kurt Russel? Or Indio 2: The Revolt with Marvellous Marvin Hagler? Then you've seen this movie. Forgetting the fact that Peebles is a robot, Solo could be considered a mash-up of those two films (though Soldier actually came out two years after Solo). It's that same old story of a soldier trained to believe one thing from his superiors and peers, and learning the real truth when he's thrown into the thick of it. It just so happens that this time the soldier is a robot.

Solo (Mario Van Peebles; New Jack City, Hard Luck, Gunmen) is a prototype robot made for the army; an android killing weapon designed by the military and utilized to enter into a Latin American war to destroy the rebel natives fighting simply to maintain their freedom. On the mission his helicopter crashes into a mountain and he is badly injured and is nursed to robotic health by a native boy and the other villagers. He learns that these villagers are being harassed by a local militia who demand that they build them an airstrip, or something. Contrary to his programming, Solo develops an affinity for the villagers and decides to help them fight back. This displeases his creators who send a destruction order out for Solo, lead by the raving lunatic Colonel Madden (William Sadler; Hard to Kill, Die Hard 2 and my favourite role, The Grim Reaper in Bill and Ted!).

Solo 2

This is a pretty okay deal for the most part. The first 10 minutes and last 20 minutes are, as usual, the best part of the picture, but there's enough action throughout the middle to keep you entertained. It gets bogged down a bit with Solo learning how to dress in robes, comprehending figures of speech and understanding 'this human emotion called love', but for the most part it moves at a fast pace. It's all very polished and has the look of an expensive Hollywood production. I'm sure this probably bombed at the box office and would have been right at the moment when action fell out of favour with Hollywood for a decade, with all the action heroes (Van Damme, Seagal, Lundgren) going DTV. There's plenty of exploding huts, exploding helicopters and backflips (through explosions) to keep people entertained so what more do you want?

Mario Van Peebles plays a good deadpan robot, though he always looks like a kitten that's been mistreated. Arnie pulled off a deadpan yet manic robot face. Peebles looks more like a gentle giant. He still gets the job done and the 'humanity' that he displays forms the centric part of the plot. He also manages to kick a bit of arse, easily dispatching foes in hand-to-hand combat, absorbing hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and pretty damn good at those backflips. His fights do tend to have a PG-13 rating vibe to them with no real believable damage occurring on screen.

Barry Corbin is in this as the General that calls all the shots. I think he might even be wearing the same uniform he wore in Wargames a decade earlier. Adrien Brody (Splice) has a small but crucial role as Bill, the creator of Solo, who of course wants his creation back in one piece; quite an early feature film role for him. William Sadler as Colonel Madden is the highlight here and is as cold as ice to his team, his colleagues and definitely to Solo; he totally goes off the rails by the end and is a joy to watch.

Solo 3

Like I said previously, the final act was the highlight of the movie with the biggest body count, largest explosions and most rounds of amunition (and arrows) fired... and then Super Solo turns up. Solo 2.0, or Solo: The Upgrade if you like. It's on like Donkey Kong in a Robocop versus Robocop 2 fashion as the two cyborgs proceed to tear each other apart. It's a bit of a surprise which person gets "upgraded" to serve this purpose and the final fight is pretty damn decent, if a little short.

This isn't a bad jungle action film with a difference, if you let your expectations drop just a little. It looks flash - something Hollywood does do well - but it's pretty standard stuff within, with a little too much saccharin dripping from Solo's learning experiences. Still, it doesn't deserve to be associated with the death of Hollywood action as much as it would appear on the surface, but there really wasn't much big action at the cinema for a while until the comic franchises came back in to favour again and the Bourne movies took over. That's a shame really, as it's not all that bad and worth your time at least once.

Solo 4

The Video:

This early R4 DVD has held up well. A nice 16:9 scope transfer and a punching soundtrack. No problems here at all. Runtime around 90 minutes.

Sourced From:

From a used store for a few dollars.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Solo 18

Solo 18

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Game of Death (2010)

Game of death poster

Tagline:

They picked the wrong man to cross.

Movie Review:

Game of Death 1

Wesley Snipes has churned out quite a few DTV films in recent years since his tax issues, though they have generally all been okay at best. The Marksman, Unstoppable, The Detonator.. all okay but nothing amazing. Chaos with Jason Statham was probably the best one with lot's of twists and decent action to boot. Undisputed went to cinema so doesn't count, but that's a really good one. His most recent effort is Game of Death; how does it fare?

Snipes plays Agent Marcus, a CIA agent given an undercover job to do. He's been instructed to get in good with Frank Smith (Robert Davi), a powerful but corrupt businessman, earn his trust then take him out. Six months later Agent Marcus has done just that and is the personal bodyguard to Smith. On a routine drive, Smith suffers a heart attack. As well as that the car is being followed on the ground and in the sky by Agent's Zander (Gary Daniels) and Floria (Zoe Bell). It's soon apparent that Zander and Bell have turned to the dark side as they kill the chopper pilot and infiltrate the hospital where Smith has been taken by Marcus.

Game of Death 2

At gunpoint, Zander and Floria demand that Smith and his treating nurse Rachel (Aunjanue Ellis) take them to the bank vault of wealthy business associate Redvale (Quinn Duffy). Snipe has no real love for Smith but he is determined to stop Zander and Floria from taking advantage of their undercover positions for their own financial gain. That, and they keep shooting at him. By the way the whole movie is told as a retrospective in a church by Snipes to priest Ernie Hudson.

I really enjoyed this one. I would go as far as to say this would be the best Wesley Snipes direct-to-video release so far. The plot wasn't overly ambitious - at it's heart this is a heist movie - and the acting was good across the board. More importantly the action quotient was solid, with equal amounts of shootouts (bringing back the silenced pistols was refreshing after a lot of machine gun shootout movies I've reviewed recently) to punchups. Snipes doesn't even actually have that many lines when it comes down to it. The movie is more interested in stealth action than constant babbling, which worked for me.

Game of Death 3

There's been a change of plan Marcus. We're taking the fucking money.

The only real downside I found was the usual frenetic directing that is so favourable these days. I've seen far worse but there was a lot of avid farts and scenes that go black and white for no real reason ("art"?) and some of the fights are shot too close, but not all of them. There's a couple of good kickfights and firefights that are easily seen and it's great to see that Snipes and Daniels still thrown down properly when given the opportunity. I guess also the retrospective way of telling this story could be seen as a downer, but it does let us see Ernie Hudson as a priest taking confession from Snipes which is fairly amusing. Hudson is always the fourth Ghostbuster to me.

Actually I was really surprised as to how much Gary Daniels features in this. He is the main bad guy but I was still expecting his role to be limited to ten minutes somehow. Gary probably has the same amount of screen time as Snipes. His portrayal of Zander the rogue CIA agent was cool, calm and ruthless - he shoots anyone that even looks sideways at him - and makes for a great bad guy. He also gets a pretty damned good final bout with Snipes on the top of a building that doesn't hold back any punches.

Game of Death 4

Equally good was Zoe Bell, best known for her stunt work in Kill Bill and then as a character actor in Death Proof. She has started getting decent roles in Bitch Slap, Gamer and her own starring vehicle Angel of Death. She put on an American accent for us in Game of Death which blended well with the others though after hearing her strong kiwi accent in Death Proof it came as a bit of a shock. Her best scene here is a standoff in the hospital with Snipes, both shooting at each other from behind walls as Bell explains to him the details of the plot as yet unrevealed.

This is a good one and worth your time. If all you had seen of recent Snipes work was 7 Seconds and The Contractor and wasn't convinced, I say give him another go. This is 85 solid minutes of entertainment with only a few minor drawbacks. I'm really hanging out for Snipe's Zombie action/western Gallowwalker which seemed to have been stuck in post-production hell for years, and even it's official website seems to be down now. Apparently it has had a DVD release in Scandinavia just last April so hopefully a more easily accessible DVD will eventuate shortly.

Game of Death 5

The Video:

Sharp as a pin prick with lot's of colour, strong detail and deep blacks. High definition goodness filmed in scope. Runtime around 90 minutes.

Sourced From:

Zone A blu-ray release from Amazon.

Trailer:

More Screens:

Game of Death 6

Game of Death 7

Game of Death 8

Game of Death 9

Game of Death 10

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Game of Death 15

Game of Death 16

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Crooked aka Soft Target (2006)

Crooked aka soft target poster

Tagline:

Don't ever trust the law.

Movie Review:

Crooked 3

Talking with a work colleague the other day I postulated that there are three tiers of action hero: A-level stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Bruce Willis. B-level stars like Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes and Steve Austin. Sometimes A and B level stars mix - B-level stars may have had prolific A-level careers in the early days, and A-level stars may take a pay dive every so often to appear in something smaller. But then there are the C-level action stars who never really get above their stature, rarely invited to play with the big boys. I can't think of two actors that epitomise this more fully than Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Olivier Gruner. Perhaps we'll allow Billy Blanks to the party as well; bless him and his Tae Bo.

When I tell my friends what movies I watch on the weekend for this blog I usually get looks of puzzlement. This would definitely be one of those movies that would result in head scratching from anybody I tried to explain it to. Nobody in regular film-going circles knows who Don or Olivier are but I got real excited when I found that they were both in the same movie. Not only that, but stars from the past like Fred WilliamsonGary Busey and hell even Martin Kove were in this as well! That's solid direct-to-video action gold on paper... but in practice?

Crooked 4

In short, not really. The basic plot of Crooked sees Fred Williamson in a glorified cameo role along with another detective protecting a snitch in a hotel. While the two play cards the snitch orders in some prostitutes (unusual for protective custody, but there you go). One of the girls freaks out and decides to wait in the bathroom while the other gets on with the job. That's when the cops are attacked by assailants known to the snitch and are killed. That's right Williamson is already out of the picture and we are ten minutes in. The snitch is killed after revealing he has money hidden in a locker but has lost the key. The girl waiting in the bathroom, Angel (Diana Kauffman) finds the key on the floor and makes a run for it.

Detectives Danny Tyler (Wilson) and Phil Yordan (Gruner) arrive on the scene and it's obvious the two don't get along. Gary Busey as Chief John Rouse, who spends the movie with crooked glasses and talking into his lapel.. actually maybe that's why the movie is called Crooked?.. thinks it's a great idea to pair this mis-matched couple of detectives up to find the missing Angel and protect her from the killers still on the loose. Martin Kove as Jake Lawlor spends the movie standing in hallways drinking coffee, until the final act when he finally picks up a weapon.

Crooked 5

So you can see already it's a Don and Olivier vehicle and everyone else is just along for the ride. It could still work, right? Eh, sort of. The production values here are pretty bad; think early 2000's Seagal DTV movies as he was making his transition from silver screen to small screen. Bad lines, bad delivery, bad acting, bad shaky cameras, bad stock sound footage. The shaky cam was so bad at some points that the two cups of tea I had just had felt like coming back up again. IMDB says the budget was 2.5m. That's pretty low in this day and age and it shows, quite badly. At least a car gets blown up, that's a good use of the budget.

Danny, Phil and Angel stay on the move throughout the movie and whenever they stop they are eventually attacked. This leads Gary Busey to believe there is a leak among his team and he keeps a "close eye" on them. Martin Kove continues to stand in hallways. Olivier and Don try their best to be the new Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee in Showdown in Little Tokyo mis-matched buttoned-down cop and get's-the-job-done cop, but there is very little chemistry between them and the lines they are given to recite don't help. Phil in one scene tells Angel to her face that she is a "fucking whore" and in the next scene buys her lunch. This needed a better writer.

Crooked 6

Enough of that crap, how's the action? Mediocre for the most, but Olivier and Don still bring the swinging high-kicks to the table which is good. Don brings his angry fight-face a few times which is outstanding and easily the best parts of the film. Some of the fights (there are a few) aren't too bad but again they suffer from being zoomed in too much with shaky cam and off putting generic punch, kick and firing sounds. The shootouts are quite average and at one point one of the thugs that attacks Don looks like a bum off the street, complete with beanie and grey beard. At least the picture from the cover with Olivier firing two pistols cross-arms actually occurs, which is more than can be said for most DTV action covers. There's a totally inappropriate dual sex scene that borders on soft-core between Phil and his wife and Danny and Angel. If you ever wanted to see Olivier Gruner in a foamy bath with a girl who has breasts the size of watermelons, Crooked is for you.

It sounds like I hated this movie; not so. I was entertained and didn't fall asleep. I just expected more from the cast but for that, in this case, I am blaming the crew and to a lesser extent the budget. Actors can only work with what they are given and what they are given here, for the most part, is bland and unfulfilling. Worth a rental or 99c pickup, but keep your expectations low.

Crooked 7

The Video:

Nothing to write home about but a good enough widescreen picture on the R1 disc (under the title Crooked). The sound is fine except for the obvious budget issues that's caused by bad microphones. Runtime around 90 minutes.

Sourced From:

eBay for 99c.

Trailer:

More Screens:

Crooked 8

Crooked 9

Crooked 10

Crooked 11

Crooked 12

Crooked 13

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