Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Project Shadowchaser 3000 aka Project Shadowchaser III (1995)

Proect Shadowchaser 3000

Tagline:

For years, man’s deadliest enemy has been lost in space.

Movie Review:

Project Shadowchaser 3 - 1

The crew of the Comstat 5 space station orbiting Mars are going about their daily business when the station triggers an alarm; whopping great space ship on collision course! Impact imminent in 5… 4… 3… you get the idea. Space ship “Siberia” crashes into space station, one crew member instantly killed, atmosphere venting, and the rest of the crew battle each other and their own fears. With little choice, it’s decided to explore the crashed ship. This was a bad idea. There is something on that ship that caused it to crash, and it is definitely not human. Let the hunt begin.

So I glossed over that plot pretty quickly, because you all know it. This is Aliens. This is Predator. Even a film as recent as Sunshine has this plot. It is not original by any stretch of the word. Our rag-tag crew of the wheelchair bound cigar-chewing captain Wheels (played by Bill Kirchenbauer), the crazy one called Snake (Christopher Atkins), our “hero” Kody (Sam Bottoms), the tough female warrior type Tatiana (Elizabeth Giordano, who seems to only star in films with Frank Zagarino!), the girl with the over the top Russian accent, Rea (Musette Vander, Project Metalbeast, Oblivion), the eccentric Professor, the ships dog… you can paint this picture. Even “guess she don't like the cornbread either” guy from Aliens (Ricco Ross) shows up playing basically the same role. The game here is to mentally work out early on who you think will survive, and who will not, and see if you get it right by the end.

And that fantastic plot device of the nuclear reactor going critical so we better hurry this movie along makes a grand appearance!

Project Shadowchaser 3 - 2

Our killing force (technically played by Frank Zagarino, but more on that in a moment) is gradually revealed to the audience in fragments. The first couple of kills are seen primarily through the eyes of the, as it turns out, cyborg (in a very Terminator visage). Others are in darkness or slightly off screen. We then learn that the already barely-seen Zags can shape-shift into the forms of crew members! The film just turned into The Thing as its crew versus crew, who is really who, etc. The stalk-and-kill via electric shocks and laser bolts is a blast to watch (pun intended).

The special effects are surprisingly very good. No, not 300 million dollar Hollywood good but there is nothing here to complain about. The ships in space drift along and have a good looking weight to them, the inside of the space ship switches between Red Dwarf and Forbidden World territory, and the computer generated additions are definitely more Sci-Fi and not SyFy. Fans of futuristic computers that look like 1983 are going to love this as well. And the action? Well this is, as it turns out, more of a sci-fi/horror film but just like Aliens there is plenty of bloody (and gory) violence to enable the rapid diminishment of the crew. But no kickboxing, damnit.

Project Shadowchaser 3 - 3

The only real downside to the film? A lack of the Zags! He only really shows his face well after the one-hour-ten mark (in a ninety-six minute long film), as his character spends so much of the film disguised as members of the crew. Thankfully when he does show, he is totally boss. The Zags plays a wonderfully deranged android, and his makeup (like the rest of the effects in the film) are really quite good. Part cybernetic endoskeleton, part wad of gory fleshy bits. Zags is totally believable as the android and has some obvious similarities to Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. I have actually watched these films completely out of sequence, and part three here is the first that I have seen so I cannot comment on how this android compares to the others, but I like what I see here. 

I am genuinely shocked this film came out in 1995. It feels more like 1987, and it demonstrates its influences from that era clearly. Director John Eyres - of the first three of the Shadowchaser films - clearly enjoys his outer space sci-fi, having also produced Monolith, Convict 762, Dark Planet, and Xtro II. He has managed to film a quality little sci-fi-actioner with dabs of horror that feels like an 80’s film, in the Roger Corman tradition. There’s never any slow-down, no pointless character arcs, just a group of mis-matched space crew members being picked off one by one by a deranged shape-shifting android. What else do you need in a film?

Oh yeah, did I mention it’s a Nu Image production? Watch it now.

Project Shadowchaser 3 - 4

Highlight:

The Zag’s first line of the movie is to call, in a robotic voice, out to the ship's dog; “Here boy! Woof! Woof!"

And an awesome decompression chamber head explosion!

Trailer:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

AWOL-72 (2015)

Awol 72

Tagline:

Running is the only option.

Movie Review:

Awol 1

“I just want a piece of normal."

Conrad Miller (Luke Goss, Death Race 2, 3, Blood Out, Night Crew, War Pigs) is a soldier with a dark past; one that he seems to want to escape. He has the wheels in motion to set his girlfriend Laura (Heather Loop) and himself up for a new life in the Maldives. However, going AWOL is not as easy as just not showing up to work. The cops are after him, primarily Detective Adams (RZA, The Man with the Iron Fists, The Protector 2), multiple hitmen are after him and the Russian consulate are after him - and a mysterious “asset" they think he is holding. Conrad’s plans to flee to the sunny island are not going to be as straight forward as he had hoped.

I didn’t mind this. I’m quite a fan of Luke Goss’ style and gave positive reviews to his films Death Race 2, Death Race 3 and Blood Out. When given the right films, he approaches a DTV equivalent of Jason Statham - that’s praise, by the way. He punches believably, kicks believably and holds a gun believably. As the AWOL marine he is pretty ordinary, but he earns extra points for being the Good Guy that puts things right as his journey unfolds. Saving the girl from the violent boyfriend, rescuing hostage people-smuggling victims - these actions and others like them add a modicum of soul to the character of Conrad Miller.

There’s a few good action scenes to watch for in AWOL-72, though they are few and far between though satisfyingly violent. Miller viciously beats up a redneck at the petrol station, and then again later in the film gives him a second serving. There’s a few run-ins with the mysterious Myron (our main hitman played by Bokeem Woodbine) that have that modern shoot-em-up feel found in a lot of post-2000 DTV action films, and him and Goss get a short but shark kickfighting session in. I also quite enjoyed and was surprised by the skills shown by hitwoman Monica (Mary Christina Brown, Shadowman, Blood and Bone) - that girl has some Rothrock moves on her. 

Awol 2

“Lies are what we are."

This is Luke’s movie, thankfully. I bought into his plight and with every damsel he saved along the way, I rooted for him more. You don’t know his full past and you don’t know all the truths behind what he is doing, but he comes across as a good man trying to leave a horrible life behind him, using some of his skills from that same horrible past to obtain better. The character was well written and had little nuances such as crushing all burner phones he touches that help sell Conrad Miller as a skilled man.

Everybody else is really just minor support, including RZA. He plays a decent Detective, though he is not given much to detect. There isn’t a great deal of story to buy in with him - he may as well be any cop - and that is the main complaint I have with the movie. The local corrupt sheriff (Louis Mandylor), the mystery assassin on Miller’s trail, the Russian diplomats, even Miller’s girlfriend: they are all merely window dressing for the story of Luke Goss the Marine Putting Things Right on his Way to Freedom. I suppose they are like the bass guitarist in a band; they are not the star, but you notice when they are not there in the background laying a good foundation. All of the extra bodies in the film help flesh it out and make it more believable, however each on their own do not add much in the way of character. A smoking habit from the Russian agent Cushko (Adam Gregor) are about as deep as we go with character building here.

AWOL-72 is a little bland, but not offensively so. The film is obviously shot digitally and has the same annoying over-bright look (blue skies are bright white) that we see a lot of nowadays. There’s a few twists to keep you on your toes, though they are not anything outrageously different to any other thriller. I am not one that minds cookie-cutter films in the slightest if they are done well, and AWOL-72 is done well enough. Worth a watch.

Awol 3

Highlight:

The showdown in the cafe with Goss, Woodbine and Christina Brown is the best demonstration of action in the film.

Trailer:

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sniper: Special Ops (2016)

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Tagline:

He’s Watching Your Six.

Movie Review:

Sniper: Special Ops

Sniper: Special Ops is a Fred Olen Ray directed military action film, that is completely unrelated to the Tom Berenger/Billy Zane series. We start with Steven Seagal as Sergeant Jake Chandler, crack-shot sniper, laying down protective cover fire for an assault led by Sergeant Vic Mosby (Tim Abell). Their mission is to rescue a Congressman and return him to the local outpost, but the team come under enemy fire from the local Taliban insurgents. Sgt. Mosby and his team escape but Sgt. Chandler is stuck behind with a wounded soldier. The Colonel refuses a rescue mission at this time due to a lack of manpower, instead sending the team on a different sort of rescue mission; retrieve a stuck Hummer full of much needed ammunition and supplies. But the team get more than they expected when they learn about the civilian - and her baby - that they have to escort as well.

Let’s get this out of the way. This is not a Steven Seagal film. Hell, this is not even a Van Dam film. This is Tim Abell’s starring vehicle, and a fine job he does with it too. I thought he was a believable Seargent who could use his brain and was capable in a battle. Tim is not new to military action films either, having had roles in 2012’s Soldiers of Fortune, 2003’s Special Forces directed by Isaac Florentine, and 2002’s We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson. He comes across comfortable in military fatigues and was enjoyable to watch in action. It is a shame he was not credited on the cover as such.

Sniper: Special Ops

This is, without a doubt, Steven Seagal at his laziest. He is barely in this movie and when he is, he is basically motionless. A Steven Statue. No martial arts. No patented Steven Slap-fu. He might be on the cover but this is actually bait-and-switch territory, folks. Sure in the past he has been so lazy he has had somebody else dub his lines in ADR, but to be frank he doesn’t HAVE enough lines in Sniper: Special Ops to require any ADR. At the 12 and a half minute mark, he finally gets off his arse and enters a proper firefight, however he quickly resumes the sitting position thereafter. Honestly it became a running joke for me, so I itemised his appearances:

  • Opening scene - Sniper Seagal doing his thing. Gets attacked, holds up in abandoned building. Wait for it, I assume this is building to something
  • 16 minutes - Seagal in chair
  • 32 minutes - Seagal still in chair
  • 35 minutes - Seagal goes to get some water
  • 47 minutes - Returns with water, goes back to chair
  • 58 minutes - Oh shit, this is a Steven Seagal film isn’t it? I forgot. Yup, STILL in that chair
  • 1:17 - Seagal pulls himself off the chair to engage in another short firefight - from the safety of the roof (he is a sniper after all) before managing to get the final photo and line of the movie (see highlight at the end of the review).

Sniper: Special Ops

As for Rob Van Dam, his character was no standout. He could have been any of the other non-Tim Abell grunts. He was fine and worked with what he was given, but did not deserve second billing over Tim Abell who ran the whole thing. I’m fairly disappointed in the way this film was marketed. I understand Seagal’s billing, but is Van Dam actually big enough to warrant second bill? I wouldn’t have thought so. His only “real" cinematic pictures were Gary Daniel’s Bloodmoon, Wrong Side of Town and 3 Headed Shark Attack (snigger). I suppose WWE fans might be more receptive to him.

And who would the Colonel be in the film? None other than Dale Dye star of Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, JFK, Rules of Engagement, and Seagal’s own classics Under Siege and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (I wonder what Dale thinks about working on a modern Seagal film?). He doesn’t get much to work with, but that’s as a Colonel is on the field - issue some commands and stay in your tent. The other character of note is NATO correspondent Janet (Charlene Amoia) who plays the cliched daughter-of-the-Admiral, allowed to photograph the missions because daddy runs the whole show. She is a little annoying but her character grows during the film and the animosity between her and Sgt. Mosby is calmed when she proves herself in a shootout with the Taliban forces. She is way more important to the story than Ol’ Steve is.

Sniper: Special Ops

So despite the lack of Seagal, is the film any good? Actually, yes. I found Sniper: Special Ops to be pretty engaging for a film that spends half its running time mulling around an armoured vehicle trying to get it repaired. There was a enough firefights and stealth mission work to keep me glued, and the subplot about the Afghani civilian and her baby was handled well. Plenty of military jargon speak (“Playtime is definitely over, I repeat - Playtime is definitely over!”) that I found amusing as well.

What the film did NOT need... was Steven Seagal. His “rescue me” subplot was completely redundant to the picture until the last fifteen minutes, and they could have written it out entirely. You know those Godfrey Ho cut-and-paste Ninja films, where Richard Harrison is spliced into some random Hong Kong crime drama, wearing a red bandana that says NINJA on it? That’s basically Seagal’s role in this film. You could not phone in a role more than he did here. He shoots a few guys early on, babysits an injured man for 75 minutes then ends by shooting a few more guys and winking at the camera. C’mon, Steve. 

Worth a watch, for Tim Abell. As for Steven Seagal? Let’s hope he has more to work with in the upcoming Killing Salazar.

Sniper: Special Ops

Highlight:

An enjoyable, by-the-numbers minor war-action film with a lack of Seagal doing anything but ending the film with a priceless line:

Janet: “Are you really as good as they say you are?”
Jake, removing sunglasses for the first time of the film: “Every once in a while."

Champagne comedy. 

Trailer:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Martial Arts Kid (2015)

The Martial Arts Kid

Tagline:

Bullies Beware

Movie Review:

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Robbie (Jansen Panettiere) is a struggling teenager. Caught by the cops (we don’t find out why), his Grandma has run out of patience and ships him off to his Aunt Cindy and Uncle Glen's in Cocoa Beach. I don’t know why Robbie was so reluctant to get along with his adoptive parents - they are Don “The Dragon" Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock! They are the best parents a kid could possibly have! They agree too, and suggest he joins their martial arts school to learn some discipline. Unimpressed at first, he soon gets into it after seeing his Aunty and Uncle show off their skills on people that deserve to receive them. Robbie has an altercation with the local bully Bo (Matthew Ziff) whilst chatting up his girlfriend Rina (Kathryn Newton) that leads to further harassment in the school halls. He needs to learn how to defend himself if he wants to survive the rest of the school year.

All the old tropes are here. The girl of our hero-in-training's affection’s current neanderthal boyfriend, Bo (what a name for a douche) with a sports car he couldn’t possibly afford. His even douchier friends. The rival dojo run by Glen’s former friend Laurent Kaine (T. J. Storm) hilariously called "DOJO EXTREME!". A burgeoning teen romance. An all out dojo vs. dojo brawl. And of course, the obligatory training montage - everything you expect from a film called The Martial Arts Kid is here and it delivers.

Honestly, I found it a little strange that at my age I enjoyed this so much. I’m not even a big fan of The Karate Kid. But I really appreciated the straight-forward honesty of the movie that didn’t talk down to its audience. And I can’t stress this enough - It really is so great seeing both Don and Cynthia in the same film, as a married couple! Haha! And whilst they are second-fiddle to Jansen, they manage to get a few proper fights in. Cynthia even manages some beach towel-fu!

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"We don’t tolerate bullies here."

Whilst I see (notable) stuntmen in the credits of the film, I am pretty sure that all the main players do their own work here. There’s a scene in the middle of the film of Glen’s dojo and it is packed to the brim with cute kiddies practicing their moves, which I thought was really cool. Robbie’s reaction to that moment is of “I can do this”, and from that moment on he really takes the training seriously. Afterwards he hears that Bo attacked Rina, and we get to see our first real brawls from Robbie outside of the dojo. Vengeance is a powerful thing!

The whole time I was watching this I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen Kathryn Newton in something before. Turns out I had, in Paranormal Activity 4 she had the lead role as Alex. She also has a recurring role in series Supernatural, so acting is not a new thing for her. The overall quality of the acting in the film was higher than I was anticipating. We aren’t talking Oscar material here but this is not Z-grade backyard production. Don and Cynthia act within their means giving believable performances in the parent role, and all the second tier cast perform admirably.

But of course the star of the movie is Jansen Panettiere; another teen actor making the leap from television to movie, his take on the Ralph Macchio role is solid. About the only character that didn’t work for me much was Bo (Matthew Ziff). His portrayal went too much into cliche-land for my liking, and a more over the top bully than any I remember from my school years! Funnily enough both he and T. J. Storm are in the upcoming Kickboxer: Vengeance together. Hopefully that film is as good as it should be. 

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“Assess. Assert. Dismantle."

The Martial Arts Kid won’t necesarily appeal to die-hard, super violent martial arts fans - but that is not the intended audience. This is a modern revision on a classic story, for a contemporary generation of teenagers who will be able to relate to the themes explored around bullying, dating and growing up. It could use a shave of fifteen minutes in the editing department, but otherwise is a natural, uplifting and positive independant movie about triumph over adversity, self-improvement, striving for goals and Cynthia and The Dragon beating up the occasional fool. Recommended.

The film can be purchased direct from the source at http://www.martialartskidmovie.com/. Note that my received blu-ray was a Manufacture on Demand BD-R disc, if that kind of thing matters to you.

Also is it just me or is Don starting to look more like Lou Diamond Phillips by the day?

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Highlight:

There was a fabulous moment for us old timers when Robbie entered the dojo for the first time and sees on the walls photos of Uncle Glenn and Aunt Cindy, which are just old 90’s promo photos of The Dragon and Rothrock from Operation Cobra and Lady Dragon!

Trailer:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Back to Back aka American Yakuza 2 (1996)

Back to Back

Tagline:

It’s time to clean house.

Movie Review:

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Bob Malone (Michael Rooker) is having a bad day. His house is being repossessed by the bank, the ATM ate his card, and he’s caught up in a Yakuza war against the mafia. But let’s take a step back for a second.

We start with two Japanese business types arriving at the airport, one with a suitcase (Koji, Ryo Ishibashi of Rogue Assassin and The Grudge) and one obsessed with Elvis (Hideo, Kô Takasugi). Taking a limo to the stripper bar -this is at the 3 minute mark, folks - they have jovial conversation about the weight of Elvis’ coffin being inconsistent to that with a body inside it before taking their leave to an Italian restaurant. If this sounds like a Quentin Tarantino film already, strap yourself in because it’s a bumpy ride from here.

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Crossing back to Bob Malone, fed up with his day he takes it out on an inconsiderate driver who parked his car in. It turns out this driver is the getaway driver for a bank robbery that has just gone down and now Malone is in the middle of a shootout - which ultimately leads to his arrest. One of the robbers escapes the bloodshed, and that just happens to be Bobcat Goldthwait (Police Academy 2, 3 and 4’s Zed!) hamming up an exceptional performance as a deranged robber - known only as Psycho - with a bomb strapped to his chest. Worlds collide as Psycho takes his last stand at the restaurant the Japanese guys are dining in, but his failure results in the loss of a hand and eventually an explosive death. 

Lieutenant Dussecq (John Laughlin of The Rock) on the scene arrests Koji, though he brutally escapes interrogation and during his escape kidnaps both Malone and his fed-up bailer daughter Chelsea (played by the lovely Danielle Harris from Halloween 4, Urban Legend and Stallone’s Daylight). Arriving back at Malone’s house, the tables quickly turn as both Malone and Koji have to defend themselves from the attacking Italian restaurant Mafia who are after the suitcase! You see how it’s all connected now people?

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Wow, what a ride this is. The first two acts share a lot with Reservoir Dogs in the direction and the switching between character scenes. There’s even fades and wipes! Every few minutes there’s a car chase or a shoot-out and very little in the way of crummy talking scenes. Michael Rooker brings his A-game as the completely-over-it ex cop in the style of John McClane, and the buddy angle with Koji works well. As you’d expect, the two form a bond over bloodshed and similar goals. We do lose sight of Hideo as he chauffeurs the briefcase whilst wounded and makes his way back to the stripper club. That’s about the only character who felt a little wasted. The third and final act is a journey to a classic action showdown, and is played far more straight than the opening acts.

Back to Back aka American Yakuza 2 shares its name with American Yakuza but the similarities end there; although Ryo Ishibashi is in both films (albeit as different characters). Director Roger Nygard is not a name I was familiar with and checking his biography I can see why. Back to Back is literally his only genre film (if you discount the documentary Trekkies he helmed). That is unfortunate as he shows a flair for action direction here. The film was shot for cable TV and it definitely shows this, but the action is kinetic, the gunplay extensive and the car crashes numerous.

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There are plenty of “hey, who’s that guy?” moments during the film to look out for: Vincent Schiavelli’s distinctive face shows up with the mafia fellas, Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth from Trancers aka Future Cop) makes an appearance and Leland Orser as the loony wheelchair beggar. These glorified cameos add an extra touch of fun to the film.

This feels just like a good mid 90’s Nu Image or PM Entertainment style action film does; think Executive Target for an appropriate comparison. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, has a rocking soundtrack, plenty of interesting characters and enough machine gun action to satisfy the readers of a site called Explosive Action. Back to Back is wall to wall fun!

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Highlight:

Bobcat Goldthwait’s hilarious but short-lived Psycho is worth the price of entry alone. You’d easily mistake the film for a comedy when he’s on screen.

Trailer:

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