Friday, April 26, 2013

Death Race 3: Inferno (2012)

Death race 3 inferno poster


The rules are simple: Drive or Die. 

Movie Review:

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After successfully winning four races during and after the course of Death Race 2, Carl Lucas aka Frankenstein (Luke Goss) only has one more race to win and will gain - along with the rest of his crew - a full pardon from Terminal Island Penetentiary. Unfortunately for Lucas, the Death Race franchise has been bought out from under Weyland's (Ving Rhames) watch by new owner Niles York (Dougray Scott), who does not intend to honour the previous bargain. Instead, the racers are shipped off to a new desert race track in South Africa. Will Lucas live long enough to gain his freedom from the new tyrannic race-master?

I was a big fan of the first film with Jason Statham and very much enjoyed the direct-to-video prequel from 2010. I stated back then that while the script had some niggling continuity errors, the CAR-nage more than made up for it. Death Race 3: Inferno ramps up the CAR-nage (okay, okay…) with even bigger explosions and crashes than it's predecessor, and much more interesting and varied scenery. Setting the race in South African sand dunes and slum towns was a good idea, I thought, and sees the racers combat in far more unpredictable terrain than a track in a prison complex. Indeed some of the shots of the dunes, valleys and towns are quite attractive (There's certainly a lot of red sand around that place).

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Where the film falls down is the characterisation - or complete lack of it. There is no growth of any of the (returning) characters: Danny Trejo's Goldberg, Fred Koehler's Lists, Taint Phoenix's Katrina and Carl "Luke" Lucas plod their way through the film not really bringing anything new or interesting to the table, outside a very small handful of light-hearted additions. Goldberg for instance has a very small fling with a nurse after being injured in the race. An attempt is made to introduce jealousy to the Katrina character but you really just don't care that much. We meet a handful of new characters, principally the new drivers (with names like Razor, Nero, Olga, Fury, etc), but none are that interesting - in fact the one called Psycho was really getting on my nerves by the end of it with his bad lines. Some of the more interesting exchanges involve the uncredited African locals, who get in on the race as well bringing their own cars and machine guns in to the mix, and there's even some minor humour when the race intrudes into the peoplehomes (literally).

Ving Rhames literally phones in his performance as Weyland (half of his scenes are on a car phone). He is really only here to hand over the reigns to new boss York, which is a shame. York himself is the guy you love to hate; the only one in the film you could have any emotional connection with, albeit a negative one. He double-crosses, violently outbursts at his staff - poor secretary Prudence (Roxane Hayward) cops the brunt of it - and holds a massive grudge again Lucas that will see him try to sabotage his own Death Race. Another returning character is competing driver 14K (Robin Shou) who literally spends his whole time yelling in a Chinese dialect to his co-driver and not much else (that lack of character development problem again).

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There also seems to be far more shaky-cam in this one and far, FAR too much ultra-zoomed-in shots. When the cars are flying over sand dunes or crashing through shanty towns, the picture is great. When the camera focuses on the drivers we can see up their nose. And in the fight sequences we see a lot of elbows and feet as the camera jerks around. It's not the worst example of MTV-style film making I've seen (see the early/mid-2000's Seagal flicks for that) but it was off-putting.

So the race mayhem itself is still as good as ever, and the scenery is far more interesting than before, but the lack of empathy or even interest I had for the characters really brought this one down. There's no chatter between the drivers and co-drivers of any real purpose, and between matches in the pit nothing much goes on. I will say that the final third does bring some "Aaaaaaah!" moments that rectify this to a fairly substantial degree, but the writers and director could have spiced up the dialogue for the rest of the film. Recommended of course for the action, but I think I will find myself re-watching part two more than part three.

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The vehicular mayhem is pretty epic, but the sixteen year old boy inside me couldn't get past the glorious opening girl-fight sequence. To pick the ten winning co-pilots, all the girls are thrown into a ring to fight to the death. Similar to the sequence in the previous Death Race prequel, the contestants in skimpy outfits that promote breast size unlock weapons and kill each other in over-the-top fashion until only ten combatants remain. I very much enjoyed the flame thrower. I also quite appreciated the brief, slow-mo shower sequence with Katrina, baring all her assets. Ahem. 

Sourced From:

The Australian blu-ray, presented in excellent quality 1.78:1 widescreen with a thundering DTS soundtrack.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hunt to Kill (2010)

Hunt to<br />kill poster


Survival of the Baddest.

Movie Review:

Hunt to Kill<br />01

Steven Austin is Jim Rhodes, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, is out camping and hunting with his unwilling teenage daughter Kim (Marie Avgeropoulos). She gets bored and drives to town and gets busted by the sherif for shoplifting. Her unimpressed father comes to bail her out, but at the same time a gang of bank robbers are holding up the sherif station. Killing the sherif for being uncooperative, the family Rhodes are forced to help the bank robbers track their way through the forest to find their bounty, which was stolen by a double-crossing associate.

That's the plot in a nutshell, very simple and straight-forward. The film runs for 90 minutes and generally moves at a fair clip even though most of it is slowly walking through a forest. There are enough detours, deviations and chances for Gil Bellow's trigger-happy Banks to take out those that get in his way to spice things up. It seems a bit odd that these people - who can rob a bank with the aid of non-existent voice synthesising technology to divert an incoming police pursuit - need the help of a ranger so badly, but that's just one of those "Well I guess they needed to make a plot out of something" details that I can (generally) forgive. Along the way, both Rhodes attempt to escape a couple of times, and in the third act we presume that Jim is killed. That's when he comes back Rambo-style, armed with a convenient crossbow!

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Gil Bellows (True Justice and a bunch of other TV) was good, albeit predictable, as the main bad guy Banks. He's everything you love to hate in a bad guy boss; he holds a serious grudge that forms the focus of the film, he does not accept incompetence among his own team, and he never stops grinning evilly. Banks was a seriously dislikable character, which means Bellows succeeded in crafting a good baddy. Good enough for 90 minutes of direct-to-video action, anyway. I did give a little cheer when he got his comeuppance.

Gary Daniels plays Jensen, Banks' second-in-command and the most well-balanced and loyal of the team to Banks. Daniels' thick British accent (thicker than usual, it seems) really stands out like a sore thumb. I was disappointed in the lack of action that Daniels' had on screen, actually. Mostly it's just bickering between the rest of the gang, a couple of shots fired and then the final fight with Austin - which at least was worth the price of entry as he gets a few decent roundhouse kicks in to Austin's face. The other gang members (Michael Eklund's "Geary" the techie one, Adrian Holmes' "Crab" the incompetent one, Emiliie Ullerup's "Dominika" the pretty one) are all pretty bland and not really worth discussing. They simply serve as cannon fodder for both Rhodes and a pissed-off Banks.

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Director Keoni Waxman is quite prolific among the DTV-action world, particularly with Austin and our favourite Steven Seagal. He directed both of them together in Maximum Conviction, a film I enjoyed more than the rest of the world (it seems), and is helming the upcoming Seagal/Danny Trejo/Ving Rhames vehicle, Force of Execution. On paper that one sounds a blast. Waxman's also, in retrospect, put many cast members from this and his Seagal films into Seagal's television serial True Justice.

You may have noticed that I tagged Eric Roberts but so far have not mentioned him. That's because the son-of-a-bitch is dead before the opening credits roll! In a scene that is only there to show Austin receiving a watch that will come in handy later, he and Roberts take down a meth lab in the middle of nowhere, Texas, and Roberts faces the mean end of a drug dealer's shotgun. That's it. Although he's not on the cover of the DVD or any of the photos on the back, he is listed as #1 on IMDB in the credits list - so I'm calling this a bait-and-switch on technicality.

Overall I thought this was decent enough, if you can ignore the obvious plot faults of a crew of technologically-benefited bank robbers not being able to determine where North is without a 17 year old girl to help them. And if you don't expect to see Eric Roberts for more than a millisecond. Seriously he must have just been driving by the set when Waxman shouted out "Hey Roberts! Want to make fifty bucks?" Check out what our buddy at the DTVC thought of the film as well. I commented on his review two-and-a-half years ago but I'm only just getting to mine now!

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Serious spoiler alert! There are two main highlights for me; the eventual one-on-one fight of Austin and Daniels, and the final (drawn out) death-throws of Gil Bellows' Banks character who "dies" not once, not twice, but three times. Eventually after hobbling away from the first two failed attempts at being dispatched by Rhodes, Banks pushes for a third attempt by quipping at Rhodes "Is that all you got, mountain man?! You can't kill me!". To which Rhodes invokes the films title: "When I hunt.. I HUNT TO KILL!" (given in away in the trailer) and ploughs Banks down with a quad bike in a hilarious fashion, before blowing him and the quad up with a flare gun. Champagne stuff and worth seeing the film to the end for.

Sourced From:

Region 2 DVD from Anchor Bay. Sharp 16:9 print as you would expect.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Silencers (1996)

Silencers poster 


The government denied they exist. But the Men in Black are here... 

Movie Review:

Silencers 01Silencers 02

Jack Scalia plays Agent Rafferty, a Secret Service agent tasked with protecting a Senator. He fails in this task when a group of strange Men In Black terrorists manage to eliminate their target, however, all is not normal with these terrorists. Meanwhile a group of scientists at the Phoenix corporation are working on creating a dimensional portal between our world and an alien world, overseen by the same Men in Black that killed the senator - the leader being an alien called Lekin (Carlos Lauchu, Anubis in the Stargate film) who looks a lot like Skrillex with those black-rimmed glasses. Coming unexpected through the activated portal is another alien, Comdor (Dennis Christopher, Fade to Black, Circuitry Man II, Alien Predator) who is here to close the portal and rid Earth of the silently-colonising Men in Black race (called the Marcabians) but unfortunately is knocked out cold and captured. Agent Rafferty is tasked with transporting a payload (that he does not know is a restrained Comdor) to a research facility, but the Men in Black have other plans.

Wow! I didn't think PM Entertainment would be capable of science fiction this good, but I have been (happily) proven wrong. This is actually very good stuff. The action quotient is very, very high and the science fiction elements work well. This is the kind of thing that the SyFy channel should be spending their money on - less CG creature-features and more Men in Black with exploding cars!

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Jack Scalia is believable as a Secret Service agent. He plays the role cool and professionally, and after being smacked in the face with the proof aliens exist just gets on with his job - to protect the payload - however, Dennis Christopher is very good as Comdor, and has the required "what is this human emotion you call love?" quirks down pat (though in this movie that line is not uttered, but you get the drift). He admits his race is pacifist, which comes across in his inability to (initially) fire a weapon and his openness in giving detailed explanations about his solar system to an elderly couple in a diner over lunch. The two grow to have a good relationship that reminded me of something like a cross between Enemy Mine and Twins. Carlos Lauchu's Lekin was also entertaining in a manic way, laughing evilly when given the opportunity.

For a PM film, the special effects were actually extremely good. Of course we are used to PM pulling out all the stops when a car needs to blow up, but we had a few good alien spaceship shots, the Stargate-like portal, green blood and a few other other-worldy type effects. Colour me impressed, but this was better quality than most made-for-TV even today. 

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The action? It's PM so there was a lot of it. There was and endless supply of cars running into other cars, or launching off other cars into trucks and choppers. A few buildings exploded, with the obligatory slow-motion jump from the fireball. Every second person had an automatic weapon and was not afraid to shoot it at somebody else with an automatic weapon. So suffice to say, there was plenty of action in Silencers to keep the audience enthralled. It also seemed to me that everybody was doing their own stunts, particularly Scalia. There were scenes where he was climbing all over a moving truck that definitely was no stunt double. He spent a few minutes hanging off the side off a tanker moving at high speed, shooting at enemy aliens. I couldn't see any harness and it was definitely not green-screen, so big props to Scalia and everyone else who had the guts to perform stunts in Silencers.

Overall this was one of the best PM films I've seen to date. The action was practically non-stop, the story and acting were of high quality and there was no dull parts (outside a few minutes at Rafferty's ex-wife's house - though this did get to show us Comdor relating to Rafferty's son). Definitely recommended for fans of science fiction with high action.


Outside the 14 or so cars that flipped, I think the highlight for me was the truck vs. helicopter chase that ended with Rafferty launching a car into the chopper, it crashing to the ground in flames.. and Rafferty walking away from the upturned car with barely a scratch. This is Die Hard territory, folks! 

Sourced From:

A very bad transfer on the Payless Entertainment R4 DVD that squishes Silencers with another PM film, Hologram Man, onto the one disc. This would be fine except they only used a single-layer disc, so the compression is severe and blocks up consistently. Best to buy another edition. Runtime approx. 100 minutes.