Friday, January 27, 2012

Crosscut (1996)

Crosscut poster

Tagline:

No one quits the mob.

Movie Review:

Crosscut 1

I am not only a fan of action films. I am also a film collector. Those of you who are regulars here may have already noticed my new photoblog Explosive VHS, where I will be showing additions to and some of the favourites in my VHS collection. I also have a big fondness for LaserDiscs - remember those? The LP sized CDs that were vaguely popular in the 80's and 90's with video and sound quality greater than anything else available to the home market during its release. DVD quickly killed it, but as with VHS, there are many titles available on that format not yet released on DVD, let alone bluray. One such film is Crosscut. I knew nothing about the movie, but when I saw a photo of a guy holding a pistol to the camera above a city-scape shot when doing my routine eBay LaserDisc hunts, I just knew I had to get it.

Martin Niconi (Australian actor Costas Manylor of Picket Fences, the Saw franchise and the hilarious Corman film Dinocroc) is a tired mob thug who, along with his mob associates, collects overdue loans from businesses, with force. After a successful reclaiming of forty thousand dollars, Martin and associates retire to the mob bar. The violent, loudmouth son of the mob boss gets trigger happy and in the course of defending himself, Martin shoots him dead. Immediately he flees the scene and visits his uncle Leo who gives him money and the keys to his cabin in the woods. Martin makes for the cabin and begins a new life as the logger Matin Jones. However, the mob won't let the death of the boss' son simply go away. So begins the hunt!

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This was not what I was expecting from the cover. That isn't to say I enjoyed it, however those of you who are expecting 90 minutes of mob vengeance action will be sorely dissapointed. The film revolves mainly around Martin trying to start his new life as a lumberjack and having to deal with being the unwanted, fish-out-of-water in a town that is already under pressure from the upcoming close of their whole logging operations. Martin tries his best to keep to himself and earn honest money doing an honest trade, but his shift leader Max (Casey Sander) doesn't like the look of him. To make matters worse, Martin shows interest in Max's sister Anna (Megan Gallagher), and that doesn't sit too well with Max.

The action takes a back seat to the story here. Once Martin has become a fugitive most action involves trees being lopped and Martin trying to get into Anna's pants. There's the token redneck bar-brawl as well, though it is over too quick, a minor car chase, and a few threatening guns pointed here and there but most of the action takes place in that famous final-fifteen of the film. The mob eventually, and obviously, locate Martin and attempt to make him pay for his crimes. This final scene is pretty good stuff with many of the loggers coming to Martin's aid, and improvising weapons from their logging equipment.

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If it wasn't for the language in the first few minutes and a few violent deaths at the end, this would be proper midday-movie stuff. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. It's just a solid little film with a tried-and-true plot that can be enjoyed without too much thought, and not be overly grotesque or exploitative to cause offence to Mother whilst she peeks up at the screen when doing her knitting. Perhaps there was a TV cut of this shown in the early afternoons where the opening swearing was ommitted and the blood-splattering chest hits cut to a minimum. Costas Mandylor is just that kind of easy to watch TV actor, I guess. Perhaps his stint in Picket Fences sealed that. And the forest settings helped a lot.

Manylor does a fine job, though not an outstanding job. That could be said for the entire cast really. There's nothing hugely memorable - except the completely cliched, violent and racist language in the opening scenes of the mob boss' son. Gallagher does a decent job as the love interest who is also an owl loving environmentalist. I laughed loud at the most obvious midday-movie romance scene I've seen in a while - Martin's incompetence at catching a fish, ensuring he drops its flapping body numerous times, to the absolute delight of Anna. Everyone else from the mob guys to Anna's teenage son acquit themselves admirably.

All in all, if you aren't expecting an action extravaganza, this is a decent film. It was kind of refreshing in a way; I had put the disc on just to check the quality of it, not being in the mood to watch an action film, and ended up engrossed in it enough that here I am writing a review. Worth watching if you are in the mood for something of this type, find it cheap enough, or better yet it's on TV. Perhaps at midday.

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The Video:

Decent fullscreen transfer on an NTSC LaserDisc. A little desaturated perhaps, which was a problem on many LD's, but still a huge upgrade over VHS. Solid audio output with a digital stereo track. Runtime approx. 96 minutes.

Sourced From:

LaserDisc off eBay Australia for $5.

Trailer:

Unfortunately I couldn't locate a trailer.

More Screens:

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Arena (2011)

Arena 2011 poster

Tagline:

There's no greater battle than the battle for your life.

Movie Review:

Arena 1

The 'forced to fight' concept is a staple of cheap, direct-to-video action movies. It also happens to be one of my favourite sub-genres of bad-action, so that's all right by me. I was definitely not on the lookout for this title when I spotted it on the shelves in my local DVD emporium. Samuel L. Jackson in a fight to the death movie, produced by Stage 6 films? I had not realised Sam was that badly in need of a paycheck; that or he just wanted to let his hair down (metaphorically of course, as he is quite obviously bald) and do a quick three day shoot for a laugh. Throw in the model from the Twilight films and we have ourselves a movie.

Kellan Lutz (Twilight as Emmett Cullen, and Dean Russell in the recent Nightmare on Elm Street reboot) is David Lord (great name), a fireman with a pregnant wife. Out driving they hit another car and his wife is killed. Drowning his sorrows in a Mexican bar, Lord gets propositioned by a beautiful girl Milla (Katia Winter). After going back to his room and getting naked, she fires on him with a taser and Lord is quickly packed up in a bag by hired goons and taken away.

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Lord wakes in a dark room in an unknown location. He soon is informed that he is to be a fighter in a series of underground arena matches to the death. He of course initially resists, but after much torture and brainwashing and blackmailing, he begins to play ball - killing opponents in front of the camera for the viewers at home, who are, in this instance, pay per view Internet viewers. This is Deathgames, a brutal series of fights run by ringleader Logan (Samuel L Jackson) and enforced by the mean fist of Kaden (Johnny Messner).

Yes yes yes, you've ALL seen this a million times before. From the B-lows of Ring of Steel, Bloodfist and No Exit, to the B-highs of Undisputed and The Running Man, the forced-to-fight film is the most notorious cookie-cutter action film there is. Barely anything distinguishes these films apart from their leading roles.

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The template goes: our hero is captured, beaten and made to battle other unwilling combatants (and some 'house heroes' as well), usually with some form of collateral held as blackmail. Our hero eventually agrees to voluntarily fight if his conditions are met, and he will also threaten to kill the ringleader. He makes it through to the final battle and is offered a pardon if he works for the ringleader as the new house champion. He disagrees and kills the ringleader in the most painful way possible. There will be a training montage in there somewhere too. That's the description for almost any 'forced to fight' film, and is certainly the description of Arena. I will say that there is a nice twist at the end that stands Arena apart from similar films, so you have something unique there at least.

Samuel Jackson was chewing the scenery so much in this film that he left his teeth marks on the set. I'm not kidding, I've never seen him do anything like this before. In most scenes he was sat in his throne with his two Asian computer technician cross personal strippers patting his brow and giving him a striptease, spouting lines like "What we have here is a failure to communicate! I've always wanted to say that line!" The surrounding decor switches from steel, burlesque and gothic and all Sam needed was a white cat on his lap. He's very similar to The Running Man's bad guy Killian who barks commands to his computer nerd girls to roll in 3, 2, 1 and Action. Also similar to Killian is his repentance in the final scenes; "I just give the punters what they want!"

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The punters are the only thing that let this film down, and also show it's low budget. Whilst the Running Man had a huge studio audience and thousands of people on the street betting on the outcomes, Arena appears to have only two paying members: a bunch of College frat kids holding perpetual drinking parties, and a Chinese office worker at his desk sneaking a view at the Deathgames when he is supposed to be working. It's the kids that suck, really. Maybe I just hate college jocks, I don't really know, but any scene with them shouting "NO WAY BRO HE DID NOT JUST DO THAT!!" at their computer screens while the same blonde bimbos cower from the gore really pissed me off.

Speaking of gore there is plenty of that here. That's the best thing about DTV if you like that kind of thing; it's no holds barred on the blood and dismemberment. There's at least three decapitations in the film and plenty of swordplay and broken bones. Lord is cut to smithereens and coated in blood after every match, particularly the second-last fight with an escaped and deranged convict. The Arena sets themselves are intentional CG; the fighters are put in a green-screen room and in a scene straight out of the Matrix, the room itself is replaced with anything from a Shaolin temple to a junkyard. Very much akin to a holodeck.

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Johnny Messner (Anacondas, Wrong Turn at Tahoe) is pretty decent as the right-hand-man to Jackson. He's well versed in forced-to-fight films, with Ring of Death under his belt and the hilarious looking Kill 'Em All coming later this year. He spends most of the film wearing a black cap as the Executioner. Katia Winter's Milla is gorgeous and we do get a full frontal scene - one for the young males in the audience! Her character actually progresses a little as she begins to fall for Lord when tending to his post-battle wounds.

This is a solid rental at the very least. If you are a consistent fan of 'forced to fight' films I'd just go out and add this to your collection. Sam Jackson is hilarious and the fights themselves are solid, even if they are a little too MTV-edited in parts. Good stuff.

Arena 6

The Video:

Unsurprisingly, this DVD sports a sharp and detailed picture and a strong soundtracks. There's plenty of music during the fights that make your speakers earn their keep. Filmed in scope, perhaps the producers were hoping for a theatrical release. Runtime 94 minutes.

Sourced From:

Locally purchased DVD.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Walking Tall: The Payback (2007)

Walking tall the payback poster

Tagline:

For Home. For Family. For Justice.

Movie Review:

Walking Tall The Payback 1

I had wanted to get some Sorbo action onto this blog since day one but it just never happened. Recently I discovered that there were two in-name only sequels to the Dwayne Johnson movie from 2004 (and Bo Svenson series from the 80's, and Joe Don Baker series from the 70's) that starred Sorbo so I had to pick them up. Vigilante justice films can be good fun, so how did this go?

The town of Wherever (somewhere in Texas I think) is being slowly taken over by Harvey Morris (A. J. Buckley), his chief of police brother Walter Morris (Betley Mitchum) and their gang of thugs. Through police and mayoral corruption, and heavy handed tactics, Harvey Morris is gearing up to buy out the town for his own enterprise. The townspeople are too scared to act, all except for Sheriff Charlie Prescott (Richard Dillard) who is proving to be a pain in Morris' arse.

Walking Tall The Payback 2

When the Sheriff dies under mysterious circumstances (his car is run off the road by Harvey and co., then set alight), Nick Prescott (Kevin Sorbo), his son, returns to town to get to the bottom of his death. As he digs deeper and deeper, Harvey and the boys make his life and his friends lives harder and harder. Townsfolk start dying but his tracks are so well covered by the afformentioned police and mayoral corruption that not even FBI agent Kate Jensen (Yvette Napir) can help. That's when Nick Prescott takes matters into his own hands!

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this. It's more of a slow burner than a frenetic action film, but I think that is what you want from a vigilante justice style movie. The overall feeling is that of a western, and that is epitomised by the ending scene between Prescott and Harvey Morris which sees the two at twenty paces with fingers on their triggers, silos exploding in flames all around them. That's not to say that there isn't any action until the final fifteen, but that's really where it all kicks off.

Walking Tall The Payback 3

We of course get a bar brawl, which is standard procedure for films like this; Prescott gives one of Morris' thugs a lesson with a pool cue. Most of the other violence in the film is that of Morris and his gang intimidating the townsfolk, including a nasty rape of the diner waitress Crystal. That alone should help set the tone of this film for you - it's gritty, like the town itself and the people within it. It's not at all dissimilar from Dolph Lundgren's Missionary Man, except that instead of a motorbike Nick Prescott rides a horse and a pickup truck, but the general story of a town overrun with corruption and thugs echoes this plot considerably.

Sorbo seems born to play this kind of role. He doesn't need to emote any more than a grimace and a twirling of a club and sawn-off shotgun. He has a physical presence that makes for a believable vigilante and looks at home in the country threads and riding horseback. He actually looks quite threatening in the final fifteen when unleashing The Payback that the title indicates, beating on the bad guys with solid punches and pipes to the face.

Walking Tall The Payback 4

Buckley is okay as the bad guy Harvey Morris, but he doesn't have the presence needed to be threatening. Honestly if it wasn't for his backup support thugs his clock would have been cleaned within the first ten minutes. I know I would have tried to pull that beard off his face and make him eat it while begging for more. The lead thug with the handlebar moustache was far more threatening, and he did all the dirty work anyway. Morris looks more like a crazy cult leader.

This was a solid movie that's (for the most part) well acted, not overly melodramatic and provides the correct amount of action needed to sustain this kind of film. Tripp Reed (Rapid Exchange, Time Under Fire) provided solid direction with no silly camera tricks added to provide a fake polish. It's also not overly long at 90 minutes on the nose. I'm looking forward to checking out the sequel to this - Walking Tall: Lone Justice - which sees Sorbo reprise his role of Nick Prescott also directed by Reed.

Walking Tall The Payback 5

The Video:

A very pleasing and crisp 16:9 transfer with a solid soundtrack, as one would expect from a modern DTV film. There is a refreshing level of film grain, demonstrating that this was not filmed on cheap digital cameras. Runtime 90 minutes.

Sourced From:

Quite hard to locate the Australian R4 editions put out by Sony, I found this as a used rental.

Trailer:

More Screens:

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