Sunday, March 7, 2021

Redemption Day (2021)

Redemption Day (2021)


Fight for love. Fight for life. Fight for redemption.



U.S. Marine Captain Brad Paxton (Gary Dourdan) suffers from PTSD caused by a mission in Syria that went bad. Struggling to return to normality, his home life is uprooted when archaeologist wife Kate goes on a dig near the Morocco-Algeria border and is kidnapped by ISIS-aligned Algerian terrorists led by Jaafar El Hadi (Samy Naceri). Bypassing the bureaucracy and Federal policies, Brad sets upon a mission into enemy territory to rescue his wife and at the same time find himself some redemption.

Let’s set expectations up front. This is not a 90 minute roller-coaster action shoot-em-up. Outside the final act, this is an intentionally paced, tense build up with little direct action for most its running time. But don’t change channels just yet, because this is no bad thing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a slow burn, but it is definitely in no hurry to get to the conclusion.


When we do get the action it’s well executed, if sporadic, military versus insurgents battle tactics. Brad gets to shine as he dispatches terrorists with total precision, be it up close with a side-arm or from a balcony with a sniper rifle. Accompanied by his Moroccan counterpart Younnes (Brice Bexter), the one-two punch in the final siege on the terrorist compound has some heart-racing moments. Headshots are bloody and not obviously CG (muzzle fire isn’t fake either). The dark tone of the film means we get some gritty closeup killings with blades as well.

So how is Gary Dourdan? Now I’ve never seen any of the series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation but apparently he was a leading character in that for eight years. What I have seen him in was Alien: Resurrection, a long time ago and looking much younger with dreadlocks, but in Redemption Day he was pretty authentic. When faced with the reality of the situation and what he must do, his character of Brad Paxton battles his own demons to rescue his wife Kate (played believably by Serinda Swan) with blazing accuracy and attention. He definitely felt like a military Captain who had seen some shit, and was laser-focused on the job. Being that the mission is not sanctioned, Brad is doing this for – as the tagline says – love. There’s a little bit of a “Taken” vibe to his portrayal which explains why he never smiles.


Let’s talk Samy Naceri as terrorist leader Jaafar El Hadi. We last saw Samy many years ago in the French language comedy-action film Taxi, and boy is he different here. I don’t think I would have recognised him if his name wasn’t on the cover. I really liked his take on an ISIS commander. Had just the right amount of “manic” without going overboard, though he was ruthless when needed – takes out more than one of his own for being incompetent. I like that in a terrorist. He has a far more manic first officer who is like a rabid guard dog, spitting foam and quickly turning to anger and violence. I like that too.

Now, Ernie Hudson is not the kind of minor character role I would expect in a film like this, but I’ll take any Ernie over no Ernie. When it comes down to it however, he has two scenes – helping Brad Paxton face his traumas in the boxing ring, and helping Brad Paxton by taking care of his daughter in his absence. They aren’t momentous scenes but Ernie’s role as Brad’s father is meant to provide a calming Ying to Brad’s tortured Yang, which works to some degree but really, we could have used more Ernie. We did however get a reasonable amount of screen time from Andy Garcia as the Ambassador, though his role as Cuban-cigar smoking facilitator doesn’t really leave much to write about.


There are some parts of the film that take the shine off a little; the first I might put down to poor subtitles. In a prayer scene with the terrorists, El Hadi speaks and the translation on screen is “(praising God in bad Arabic language”). There is no comedy in this film, let alone this scene, so not sure what the intentions were here but it comes off pretty rough. Maybe it was to do with his French-Algerian accent, I don’t know, but I did rewind it to check that I read it correctly.

Robert Knepper is one of those “that guy” types, apparently in the IMDB top 5000 with 142 acting credits including Transporter 3 and Hitman. He has a brief role as an Oil Tycoon that has a lot more to do with the plot than might initially be presumed, though I’ve got to say his scene was pretty damn hammy. Very Colonel Sanders Texan white suit with a wide hat and gold tipped walking cane. My oh my. This felt like an after-credits sequence rather than part of the main film. Voltage Pictures, your Seagal is showing.


The other main thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the brief scene with the President and the other members of the White House over video conference with the ambassadors. The acting skills drop drastically when the Executive speak, the worst coming from The President – played by Jay Footlik. According to IMDB, this guy has had a couple of minor roles spanning back to Teen Wolf but was in fact a White House advisor to President Clinton. Not sure how he ended up in the film but the quality of that scene really took me out of the moment. The final CG shot of helicopters flying over the ocean was also pretty bad, which was quite unexpected given how good the long-shots of military vehicles in the Morocco landscape were looking earlier.

Overall I dug Redemption Day. It’s not without its problems, and if you want wall to wall shootouts you came to the wrong party, but its heart was in the right place and the execution – for the most part – was well articulated and often gripping. A solid full length feature directing debut for Hicham Haji.



Monday, March 1, 2021

Money Plane (2020)


An explosive casino heist in the sky



Jack Reese (Adam Copeland) is a highly skilled thief with a massive gambling debt. After a failed art gallery heist, he is now owed to underworld crime boss Darius Grouch aka The Rumble (Kelsey Grammer aka Frasier). Jack and his team of heisters are forced to take one more job - board a high-stakes, airborne casino known as the "Money Plane" that flies in international airspace. Filled with the leaders of criminal syndicates from around the world, Reese and his crew must rob the plane of its cryptocurrency and cash and make it out alive.

Despite problems, I had quite a lot of fun with this. First of all, this has nothing to do with Snipes vehicle Money TRAIN so get that out of your mind right now. Straight-forward heist plot with the standard double-crossing by the person who hired the heisters – oops, spoiler (as if you didn’t see that coming). The momentum only slows down for a handful of minutes in-between the first failed gallery job and the Money Plane heist (with some pretty bad sappy dialogue, I have to say) which is a pretty good score in my books. My number one rule in movies is “don’t be boring”, and I was never bored during Money Plane.


Adam Copeland isn’t bad as the lead. He’s quite restrained and always has this look on his face of “how did I get this gig?” which is kind of amusing, but he gets the job done. I couldn’t take my eyes off the top-knot, and yes ladies, he finally unleashes the full Fabio in the final scene. I was a bit taken back by the use of his role though. In this kind of film I’d expect him to be Kurt Russel in Executive Decision, but he was more (but not fully, so don’t get the wrong impression here) Steven Seagal in Sniper: Special Ops. The story has Copeland be the pilot on the plane, so he spends more than half the running time sitting in a chair and flying the damn plane. It seems a waste but it works with the story, so I can’t really complain. In a way it makes it funnier having beefcake Copeland fly stick while the wimpier tech guy (Trey, played by Patrick Lamont) fills in for him in the action department.

The most interesting of the protagonists for me is Katrina Norman’s character Isabella, shown on the poster in the red dress. She gets the best hand to hand action in the film with some neck-snapping, ear-ripping sex appeal pulled off with a sly smile and implied one liner. As for Thomas Jane, he plays the old friend from previous jobs. “Remember Brazil?” Copeland says to him. The two have history and Copeland relies on Jane for “Plan B”.


The last protagonist of note is man on the ground Iggy, played by Director and co-Writer of Money Plane Andrew Lawrence. He is there to receive the downloaded money transfer with a collection of ancient gear that looks like something ET assembled to phone home. But hey, the Director can cast himself a role if he likes.

The various villains on the Money Plane are all cartoon caricatures, which is all I really want in something like this anyway. The slimy, stewardess-arse-slapping guy, the Texan big shot that never loses, the subtle Japanese high roller – it’s all here. Special props to Joseph Lawrence as the Concierge of the Money Plane, last seen around these parts playing a robot in Android Apocalypse. He, along with bookkeeper and lonnnnnng time television actor Al Sapienza, added a professional yet somewhat sinister face of the House that I really enjoyed.


There’s a lot to be amused by in Money Plane. I don’t just mean the concept and its execution (which are frequently, unintentionally funny) but there’s a few scenes that have intentional humour; often quite black. I was shocked and laughed for a full minute at an unexpected violent death during a game of Russian Roulette. I had to pause to take breath I was laughing so hard, which doesn’t happen often to me. Much of the violence takes place during the gambling, with the Adventure Bets coming straight out of The Running Man book of sadism.

In terms of budget reflected on screen, this is mid to late 2000s era Seagal for sure. Shaky camera, CG muzzle shots and poor sound design all on display here. There’s even a bit of SyFy Channel going on with some ludicrously awful fake moustaches – check out the do on our Texan cowboy gambler. The sets are cheap but I can let it slide, as the whole thing is meant to be on a plane and you can’t very well expect a DTV action film starring an ex-wrestler to aim much higher than a faux-velvet curtained room with an Ikea bar top and a few screens on walls.


Now, let’s talk bait and switch. The cover for the film shows stylised heads of Copeland, Denise Richards, Kelsey Grammer and Thomas Jane, with Katrina Norman wielding a machine gun. There’s a plane with an explosion behind it. Denise Richards is second billed and Frasier’s head is second biggest. Copeland looks like the bounty hunter from The X-Files with a top knot. It promises a lot, but we know what these covers are like.

Richards? She’s Copeland’s wife and has literally one line and two scenes. 45 seconds of screen time at best, which is a contrast to her other recent plane heist film (where the heist was actually of the plane) Altitude with Dolph Lundgren. She was the lead in that film but is basically cutaway footage in this one. I guess the marketers are hoping people will pick the DVD up and say “hey she was the pilot in Starship Troopers!” rather than “she was the lead in Altitude”.


As for Frasier playing “The Rumble” (hah!), he is fun, and does get enough scenes to feel like you weren’t gipped. After the initial meet and greet he’s basically on video call to Pilot Copeland, barking orders and generally being snarky. I thought he did a decent job as the rich art collector, hamming up an attempt at Scarface with his big cigar and terracotta floors and some priceless dialogue: “You want to bet on a dude fucking an alligator? Money plane.” Wonder how Director Andrew Lawrence convinced him to be a part in it all. Thinking about it, his role is kind of like the bad guy version of his character in The Expendables 3 and has about the same screen time.

So, overall I had fun with this silly movie and it blasted through its 79 minute runtime. I’d have even accepted five minutes more to flesh out some of the paper-thin characters a bit, but whatever – the film is called Money Plane. We got money and we got a plane. Money Plane. Job done.


Friday, February 19, 2021

Monsters of Man (2020)

Monsters of Man Poster

Film Review:

A robotics company teams up with a corrupt CIA agent (Neal McDonough) to position themselves to win a lucrative military contract. They illegally airdrop four prototype robots into the middle of the infamous Golden Triangle to perform a live field test on unsuspecting drug lords. Unfortunately a team of humanitarian volunteers witness the murder of the village and soon become the robot’s targets.

This film was mental! And I mean that in the most positive way. Utterly relentless in its execution, these robots are the true modern Terminators. Directive says kill everyone? You better believe that is what they are going to do. It’s not that they do or don’t care about humanity – that’s putting emotion into it – they simply don’t acknowledge that as a mission parameter. What it results in is machines that will do whatever is necessary to carry out their mission, using tactics that appear on the surface to be sadistic in some cases – but remember, they are robots and don’t entertain such things as emotions.

Except for BR-4, that is. This is the robot that had the “Johnny 5 struck by lightning” moment and got a “soul”. Landing on his head and ejecting its mission parameters hard drive from the back of its skull, BR-4 is not constrained by robot rules and therefore the advanced AI developed for it learns to grow. As well as learning new combat skills in the terrain, BR-4 starts questioning why it exists and if it is indeed alive. Unlike Johnny 5 however, this learning seems to increase its awareness of the power it wields over human life. And by golly, in some scenes I think it enjoys it too much. Remember Cain in Robocop 2 when he takes out the Mayor’s associates and the whole Nuke drug gang? Including women and children? Cain is Johnny 5 compared to these robots.

BR-4 is played by Conrad K. Pratt who also did stunts in The Wolverine. It’s definitely not Asylum level CG here, you can see the underlying movement of a human actor and it makes it so much more realistic. The film was part financed on Indiegogo and you can see there the blue suits that Pratt and the other “robots” wore on set for the CG to be later mapped to. The robots appearance themselves is definitely borrowing a thing or two from the Neill Blomkamp style guide, and that’s no bad thing. Adds a solid military grit to them.

The humans in the film are split into two camps; those who built and own the robots and those who are its targets. Speaking of the latter, they are the exact type of humanitarian 20-somethings that show up in cannibal films. In a jungle they really shouldn’t be in, first they have to worry about the local armed drug gangs, and then being hunted and destroyed by military robot prototypes. Pretty cliched bunch; the wimpy guy, the cocky guy, the girl saying “can’t we all just get along” etc. Not much in the way of diverse character here, just fodder for the robots, but that is more than fine and they get dispatched in brutal and entertaining ways. As the film starts to conclude, those left alive do show their colours a bit more and we see some bravery against all odds.

As for those who built the things, they are quite the mix. The main programmer is, again, fitting the cliché of portly, caffeine-dependent hacker type, who along with his two engineering companions find out quickly that their “test deployment” was actually a live fire exercise. They are pushed around by typical grunt type (seriously, all these characters are wafer thin – my only complaint) who is on a serious power trip, but not as much as our man CIA agent Neal McDonough! Although his scenes were literally shot in one room and when tallied up would not exceed ten minutes, his dominance during those scenes adds gravitas to the picture.

This film was directed, produced and written by Mark Toia, a newcomer to IMDB across all skill types but by no means new to the camera. He is also an Australian (one for the home team!). His personal showcase is filled with short films and commercials he has made. Speaking of IMDB, I just love the short and to the point summary of the film on there. “A US weapons manufacturer tests its 4 killer robots on heroin producers in the Golden Triangle in SE Asia. It goes haywire.” Isn’t that just brilliant?

Another thing I really liked in the film was the location shots. Filmed on site in Cambodia, there is some truly beautiful scenery in the film that contrasts well with the horrors unleashed by these robots. As BR-4 goes more and more rogue, it stalks its targets across rocky terrain, inside ancient holy buildings and through vast swathes of jungle. Truly machine versus nature; the harsh black metal exoskeleton juxtaposed against a vibrant rainforest.

The film also lists Action as its first genre. I disagree here – this is firmly a horror film. If the robots were zombies it would play out the same way. The level of violence and gore in the film is above that of standard action film. I mentioned how it seemed BR-4 started to enjoy killing, and it shows. When he first has his “awakening” he seems to want to understand the human body so, uh, gets his robot hands dirty. Some of the violence is no less sadistic than a slasher film, so be warned if you are squeamish! Watch the red band trailer linked below and you’ll understand what you are in for.

I absolutely loved Monsters of Man and can’t wait to see what Mark Toia has up his sleeve next. The run time was well over two hours – which in this type of film could be its downfall – but I didn’t feel it go a second over 90 minutes. My only real complaint is the lack of a Blu-ray release – I had to get a DVD, which would be okay but they’ve really compressed the video quite a bit and it shows in the fast scenes. There are plenty of digital options up to 4k if that is your thing, however. I hope to see more of these mental robots of death in the future (watch all the credits!).

Photos from


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Breach (2020)



Deep in Space, They Are Not Alone

Movie Review:


A hardened mechanic (Bruce Willis) is one of a few chosen to stay awake and maintain an interstellar arc fleeing a dying planet Earth in the 23rd century. The last of humanity cryosleeps in the arc while the skeleton crew keep the lights on. However, humans are not the only guests on board. A shapeshifting alien creature has also taken residence and it has a habit of zombifying those it infects. Our crew of janitors must fight the creature and its spawn before the ship reaches New Earth and humanity truly is doomed.

This was better than it had any right to be. I am a sucker for cheap sci-fi action horror and this delivered for me. If you’ve seen the 2008 Steve Railsback film Plaguers, it is basically the same thing as that but with an extra 0 on the budget (maybe not, but you get the idea). Unfortunately unlike Plaguers, Breach does not feature any sexy space pirates. It does however share the similar story of crew on ship being picked off one by one by space zombies spawned from an infection. I wonder if Director John Suits had seen Plaguers first.


Suits has quite a few genre films under his belt, including a similar end of humanity outer space film 3022. I’ve not seen that one but I have seen another of his, Pandemic, which also starred Rachel Nichols in a leading role and had zombies (but not in space). So, he definitely has a “type” you could say.

Bruce Willis has – rightfully so, some would say – had a reputation the last decade of taking any and every role that will pay him and put in very little effort for a front cover billing. The same cannot be said for Breach. I won’t say this is The Sixth Sense or Fifth Element level Bruce, but he’s not phoning it in. Of course, as any connoisseur of direct to video films would expect, a big name appearing front and centre on a DVD cover means they likely have a small role. Bruce isn’t Steven Seagal in Sniper: Special Ops here, but he is not the lead. What he is though is Clay, the cantankerous head janitor who makes space moonshine and talks garbage. And he does it well. He appears in a great deal of the film too, so there’s less that feeling of bait-and-switch going on.


The lead goes to Cody Kearsley who plays Noah, a stowaway. I had never heard of him before, but aside from a handful of television series he apparently played Hawkeye in a 2017 Power Rangers movie. That was definitely a movie I had no interest in seeing (Voltron beats Power Rangers, all day every day). In Breach however he is fine as an every-man trying to protect his family from shape-shifting aliens.

He is supported by Rachel Nichols, Timothy V. Murphy and Johnny Messner as part of the crew designated to stay awake while the other leftovers of humanity cryosleep. If I’m going to pick holes in a low budget sci-fi action film, then it will usually be with the acting but I can’t even say that here. I’ve always likes Rachel (she was fantastic in the series Continuum) so no problems there, and like I already said Bruce was putting in more than an afternoon’s casual effort here. Our lead is fine, the supporting characters all fine (though don’t progress much, if you care about such things). And we have Admiral Thomas Jane who isn’t in it much but barks orders like you’d expect any marine type to when he does show up. There’s really quite a lot of big names in this film, which is kind of surprising.


Sci-Fi like this has to have good effects to be believable, and Breach doesn’t do too badly here. They mask the low budget pretty well I feel, and use the limited ship corridor sets well (I didn’t even notice the packing styrofoam on the walls). The whole thing takes places on this ship that looks a bit like Red Dwarf on the inside. In fact, that show starred space janitors as well… hang on, Red Dwarf had the episodes Polymorph and Emohawk: both about shape-shifting aliens that the crew hunted down in cheap looking corridors. I think John Suits is good at taking notes. But I digress – the effects. Some decent looking lasers, a not terrible CG shapeshifter, and some pretty well done practical effects zombies (with a smattering of bloodies limbs for good measure) is what you get here, and they make up for the occasional wobbly set and dodgy hyperspace effect.

I’ll wrap it up by saying – good job Breach. You delivered what I hoped for in 90 solid minutes and I was never bored. Part Aliens, part The Thing and apparently part Red Dwarf – though thankfully in this instance without the comedy. I prefer my Sci-Fi action played straight. Extra good job to Bruce for not phoning this one in, but just don’t expect Academy Award levels here either and you’ll do just fine.