Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sniper: Reloaded (2011)

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Deep in the Congo: Marine... Peace Keeper... Killer.

Movie Review:

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I was a big fan of the first Sniper film when I was younger. A kid at school obsessed with military weapons leant me a copy on VHS and told me it was a great movie. He was right. Different to the usual action movie I was used to, Sniper was more about stealth and outwitting your enemy. A thinking mans action movie with Tom Berenger as the Sniper and Billy Zane as his protege. Berenger has starred in two direct-to-DVD sequels that I have sitting on the shelf but have not gotten around to watching yet but this is the first time Zane has returned to the franchise. Sniper: Reloaded is the fourth in the series but is really something of a reboot (hence the "Reloaded" monicker).

Sniper: Reloaded stars Chad Michael Collins as Sgt Brandon Beckett, the son of Berenger's character Thomas Beckett, a fact reaffirmed early on when a photo of Thomas is displayed pinned to his son's paperwork (can we even call that a cameo?). The movie is told as after-the-fact events, detailed by Beckett during a pre-court marshall breakdown with his superior officers wanting to know what happened in the Congo. He explains, that when on a routine peace-keeping mission with his team for the UN, new orders are given to locate, retrieve and protect a Jean Van Brunt (Rob Fruithof), a local Congo resident of European descent of interest to the UN. Upon retrieving Van Brunt, he is shot at by a sniper and killed, the team of soldiers firing back and trying to find cover. One by one Beckett's team is killed by the sniper, so Becket makes a run for it. He is shot and falls into a pit, unconscious, and presumed dead by the sniper assassin.

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When Beckett awakes he is having his wounds attended to by a local hunter, Martin Chandler (Patrick Lyster), who rescued him. The two go back to the house of Van Brunt looking for a reason as to why he was a target and discover his teenage daughter, armed and minding the fort. Beckett decides to take her to the safety of the UN installation but first they detour back to Chandler's camp. It's been overrun by milita stealing the orphan children he was safeguarding and a firefight ensues. The rebels escape with the children... and this is when Richard Miller (Billy Zane) is informed that Beckett (son of Beckett) needs some assistance and flies over to the Congo.

Zane doesn't show up until the 38 minute mark - I was beginning to get worried we were looking at a bait-and-switch here, but his involvement worked well in the story and there was no real need for him to show up earlier, so I wont hold that against the producers. He brings the laughs in this with his dry humour and antics. He is so straight-forward and efficient that it becomes funny at times as he quickly moves from one item of business to another. In his first scene training junior snipers on the agony of long missions, he is asked 'What do you do if you need to pee?' and he simply replies "Go in your pants. I love it so much I'm going in my pants right now." Zane also has a great Dolph Lundgren from the opening scene of The Expendables moment ("Too low") in the final minutes of Sniper: Reloaded; let's just say he shoots a little too close to somebody with a high powered rifle and we get to see the aftermath of it.

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There is some great location work on display here, as you would expect being filmed in Africa. Lot's of opportunities to take National Geographic style footage of giraffes, rhinoceros and elephants in the wild. I was a little disturbed at the hunter saying how beautiful Africa and the animals are, knowing full well he probably wants to mount a lion head on his wall. There's also some interesting camera work during the fire-fights; a camera is mounted onto the rifle so that you can see the soldier's face as he shoots at enemies. There's a bit of the Saving Private Ryan fast-motion camera work as well that is as nauseating to me as it was in that movie, but it's not used that often. A lot of the shots are rightfully taken through the scope of Beckett or Miller's rifle.

Chad Michael Collins is the lead here and he does a fine job, though Zane's character trumps him in the coolness stakes. Chad makes for a very believable young soldier and I must not be the only one to think so; his previous roles on TV have been soldiers almost consistantly. Being a sniper movie he doesn't get any punchfighting in - it's all strictly firearms in this movie - but it's all very solid material. Pistols get pulled out for close encounters and it's all very clean and methodical on the goodies side, with the baddies firiing automatic weapons wildly at anything that moves. All except for the antagonist of the piece, the mysterious sniper that shot Beckett in the beginning. A small bond builds between Beckett and Miller and there's a couple of decent scenes of Miller training his new sniper protege.

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I guess I should mention the eye-candy of the piece, newcomer Annabel Wright as Lieutenant Ellen Abramowitz. Her inclusion is pretty limited and it feels as if the producers hired her then worked out what to do with her afterwards. There's a brief, restrained sex scene where you don't get to see much of anything and then she's occasionally holding a pistol or wearing an officer's uniform. Not much to the character at all. All the other characters serve their purposes well but they just couldn't give her a decent part.

I really enjoyed Sniper: Reloaded overall. The acting was good accross the board, the action was quality and asside from a few boring moments in the middle - mainly during the forced attempt at building a relationship between Beckett and Abramowitz - it moves at a swift pace with a few good twists and turns. The ending sets it up for a fifth movie in the franchise too, and if the quality is at least as good as Reloaded I say bring it on.

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The Video:

Typically gorgeous anamorphic widescreen print with explosive surround sound that we've come to expect from modern action films. The african landscapes pop on the screen and the night-time scenes are not crushed into blackness. Runtime 91 minutes.

Sourced From:

Region 1 disc from eBay for about $10.


More Screens:

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cartel (1990)

Cartel poster


It's kill or be killed in this all out action thriller!

Movie Review:

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Cartel is a by-the-numbers actioner done extremely well. Ever since I saw the (very early) review on The Direct to Video Connoisseur I knew this one would be for me but it's taken me a year to track down a copy. It really is great that there are other action movie blogs out there that review the best and worst of 80's and 90's bad-action (that's a legitimate sub-genre as far as I'm concerned), simultaneously bringing to light great films from a better time in cinema, but also taking a hit on the films that just don't cut the mustard (Olivier Gruner's Extreme Honor was taken off my list thanks to this review). I hope in that regard that Explosive Action is also fulfilling a greater purpose.

Enough of that. Cartel sees Miles O'Keeffe (Ator the Invincible!) as helicopter pilot for hire Chuck Taylor. In this instance he was hired to transport what he thought were medical supplies, but upon landing his chopper is raided by the feds and the packages are found to be carrying cocaine (of course). The awaiting cartel see the bust and come in all guns blazing beginning with an uzi on a motorbike and ending with a car chase and fight onboard Chuck's own ride. Cartel leader Tony King (Don Stroud; Twisted Justice, King of the Kickboxers) is arrested along with Chuck, however King's number two guy Rivera (action bad-guy go to man Gregory Scott Cummins; Stone Cold, Caged Fury, Action U.S.A., Cliffhanger) manages to escape.

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With Chuck serving time for narcotics possession alongside Tony King they have to get along, but it isn't easy. King insists that Chuck work for him and he will arrange an early release through his contacts. Chuck refuses the deal and as a result, King sends his goons Rivera and co. to kill his family; his sister is raped and murdered, her son shot and his own wife nearly killed. When she recovers she follows the cartel trying to get information on their actions and reports to Chuck who forms a plan to escape from prison, take out King and his goons, destroying the cartel and gaining his vengeance.

The action scenes are what stands out and they are very good. We get many machine gun shootouts, a few prison beatings and shivs - corrupt guard included - car and helicopter chases, cars smashing through walls, a shootout in an underground car park, and a car crash with an explosion so good we are shown it in slow motion three times from different angles ala Executive Target. Cartel isn't as completely over the top with action as that movie but it's consistent and with purpose. Some of the gun violence is pretty brutal with blood gushes and painful shots to the bone.

There's also a few scenes in Cartel that are hilarious. The whole photo-shoot with Chuck's sister is a laugh riot as she poses with the camera trying to make computers and cereal appear sexy. There's a brilliant montage of 'happier time' memories, like pushing children on swings, as Chuck reads a letter from his girlfriend in prison. Chuck even manages a one liner; he drops a guy off a building and says "Enjoy your flight!". Arnold would be proud.

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One small thing that could be considered a negative is the rape and murder of Chuck's sister. It's a pretty callous scene that goes on for a while with lot's of screaming and the slimy antagonists enjoying it too much. It was actually a bit of an uncomfortable watch which brought the roller-coaster action ride to close to being 'real drama' - something none of us want. It does at least create a realistic reason for Chuck to break out of prison and avenge her death as it wasn't a pleasant one at all. The only other thing that annoyed me was Chuck's girlfriend Donna (Crystal Carson) who used up all of the non-action scenes begging Chuck not to do anything rash, not to take the law into his own hands, blah. Thank god he didn't listen to her or he'd still be in prison today.

O'Keeffe is a solid action star, and his portrayal of Chuck is cool and calm. It looks like there are a few more movies of his that would be worth my time. Zero Tolerance with Robert Partrick is one that is sitting on the shelf awaiting a review so I will get to that one in due course. One I'd love to get a hold of is Liberty & Bash, a buddy-cop flick with O'Keeffe playing "Liberty" and Lou Ferrigno playing Bash! Don Stroud is a great mob boss type villain who totally gets his deserved comeuppance in a great finale scene at a shipping yard. Gregory Scott Cummins is always good in these roles, the slimy second banana with a switchblade; a total joy to watch.

Once again IMDB ratings demonstrate just how untrustworthy they can be. Cartel currently stands at 2.8 out of ten; that's an extremely poor rating. To put it into perspective, the piece of shit Future Fear sits at 2.6. These two movies aren't even on the same field; hell they aren't even playing the same game. Cartel is a solid 5 movie, no question - but for fans of bad action (and that's you, loyal blog reader) Cartel ranks around an 8. Solid action, very little needless plot exposition and a bit of humour to spice it all up. Even the slightly longer runtime for a movie like this doesn't hurt it. Great fun and well worth hunting down however you can.

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The Video:

This DVD release from JL Entertainment is an odd one. It's a Region 4 NTSC disc that appears to be a direct port, even including the opening ident, from the out of print Region 1 Simitar release. All they did was slap an Australian ratings advice on the front so I'd say the legitimacy of the release is up for question. Still, there is nothing technically wrong and the full-screen picture looks fine and the sound clear, so I'm just thankful that they bothered. Runtime around 100 minutes, complete with the worst DVD menu in history.

Sourced From:

A random DVD store for $9.95. You will only find this in smaller stores and eBay; major chains certainly won't carry this title.


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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mission of Justice (1992)

Mission of justice poster


Out of Uniform. Out of Control.

Movie Review:

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This is some simply superb early 90's action right here. I truly couldn't ask for much more with this movie. The action was fast and flowing and of a high standard. The story was honest and simple, never trying to be more than it sets out to be. And most importantly, Mission of Justice is never boring. It also never slides into the realm of tackiness by sending Wincott off to strip clubs or including pointless sex scenes.

Jeff Wincott is Kurt Harris, a cop who is partnered with Lynne Steel (played by karate expert Karen Sheperd; Blood Chase, Righting Wrongs, Cyborg 2) arrests a guy for beating his girlfriend. Harris' Seargent chews him out for this because the guy was a good snitch and sets him free. He immediately goes back to his girlfriend; Harris and Steel (great combo!) race over to protect her but are too late, he's already beaten her to death. When Harris brings him in a second time and gets chewed out yet again by his Seargent, he punches him in the face, earning him suspension. Harris opts just to resign.

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We are also introduced to the Peacemakers; a sort of martial-arts peace-keeping vigilante group from the "Mission of Justice" that appears to have the approval of the city to act as its guardians, and is helmed by Dr. Rachael Larkin (Brigitte Nielsen; Red Sonja, Rocky IV, Cobra), also an aspiring mayoral candidate. One ex-Peacemaker, who left because he didn't agree with Larkin's methods, is boxing champ Cedric Williams (Tony Burton, a real-life boxing champ and also the trainer of Apollo Creed in all Rocky movies) and good friend of Harris. He's paid a visit by the good Doctor who wants him to come back to the team but he won't have a bar of it. After receiving a thrashing from Rachel Larkin's henchman (and brother perhaps?) Titus Larkin, played by the always good Matthias Hues he remains unconvinced and is killed by Nielsen with twin blades to the neck.

What ties the two stories together is Harris, who goes to see the scene of the crime, finds a flower near the crime scene. Later that night he spots the same flower on TV being worn by none-other than mayoral candidate Dr. Rachel Larkin. Putting two and two together, Harris decides to pose as an aspirational member of the Peacemakers and gain revenge from within.

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Jeff Wincott seriously brings his A-game to this one. In fact this must rank up there as one of his best. His martial arts skills are on great display throughout and yes, he actually beats people senseless with those two sticks he's holding in the poster. There is very little gun fire in the movie outside a few thugs with handguns; it's just arse kicking and face punching. A real testosterone filled movie. Wincott stays within his acting limits and that makes his character more believable. Any emotive scene is kept to its bare minimum; about the only cornball scene in the movie is the right-out-of-the-cliche-book segment when after he learns of the death of his friend, Harris sits on his couch with a bottle of whiskey getting hammered, looking lovingly at a photograph of the two together. He then gets pissed off seeing the Doctor on the TV and hurls the bottle at it.

There's very little (intentional) humour in the movie though on this occasion that's fine. Outside a few one liners that are hardly worth mentioning, Wincott et. al. keep their straight faces on. Brigette Nielson isn't playing for laughs at all, but you do have to giggle a little at her evil portrayal of the Doctor. She keeps boot-licking lackys at her side at all times and could easily pull off an eyepatch and stroke a cat on her lap. Whenever she is in 'thug' mode and out protecting her assets she has her hair tied back and up, which makes her look exactly the same as her character in Rocky IV.

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Part of Harris' induction into the Peacemakers is a running of the gauntlet fight that sees him punch and kick out about twenty armed men; totally awesome fight scene, right up there with the best. There is also a kick-arse fight in a car chop-shop that's just nuts and vintage Hong Kong style 'everything but the kitchen sink' action. Wincott uses whatever he can pick up to bludgeon or incapacitate his assailants; electrical cord, neon lamps, pieces of car. Guys get thrown into piles of boxes, chucked out windows, it's just great. And did I mention that Matthias Hues is in this? He's always a sign of classic bad action and his contribution to Mission of Justice is no different. He even speaks a few times which must be a highlight in his career, and he's in it enough so that I don't feel cheated.

Special mention must go to Karen Sheperd who doesn't let Wincott take all of the action. She's very good at her martial arts, right up there with Cynthia Rothrock. Another skilled martial artist in the film is Harris' new Peacemaker buddy Sal (Jeff Pruitt, an accomplished stuntman and bit-part player in Martial Law, Sword of Honor and Wincott's Open Fire) who also displays great skills in arse-kickery. Mission of Justice is a great fun movie with plenty of re-watch value.

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The Video:

I watched the new release Australian disc put out by RAAM Multimedia. It sports a clear 4:3 transfer though there are some scenes that look claustrophobic enough to indicate this was probably filmed in widescreen. The audio is also clear and the punches crack nicely on the stereo soundtrack. I noticed a small video glitch about the ten minute mark but it was only there for a few seconds. Runtime approx. 90 minutes.

Sourced From:

Go-Lo variety store for a whole $2 RRP.


More Screens:

I think I've successfully captured the feel for this film with the following collection of 'fight-faces'.

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