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.



Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Doorman (2020)



Her second chance is their Last Hope

Movie Review:


Former Marine with PTSD, Ali (Ruby Rose, John Wick 2) takes a job as a doorman for a luxury New York City high-rise. What should be a walk in the park turns into a game of outsmarting and battling a group of art thieves, led by their boss Victor Dubois (Jean Reno, Leon the Professional), all while ensuring that a father and children staying in the hotel remain unharmed.

Bizarre career change aside, this was a solid Die Hard in a Hotel type movie. My buddy and guest-reviewer XtroTheMutilator recommended this one, and I’m glad that he did. Ruby Rose is believable as an ex-military arse kicker and obviously did some action training for the film. The choreography is above par for this kind of film – this might have been released DTV in most markets (likely due to COVID) but it definitely has a budget – fast multi-person kick-downs mixed with gun-fu and I’m glued to the screen. It runs a lean 97 minutes with very little in the way of filler, and the various plot devices to explain the situation are articulated well. I mean, it’s a Die Hard clone but replacing the cop with a marine – it’s likely going to work.


The opening scene with Ali still in the marines is excellent stuff. Travelling in black government cars, the entourage she is protecting gets attacked by a team with both machine guns and bazookas. Cars are one-by-one blown up until only one remains, with Ali taking out bad guys with her side-arm like a fairground game. Proper Explosive Action and a perfect opener to this kind of film.

But it’s not just the opening scene she kicks arse in, Ruby holds up throughout the whole piece, doing a great John McLain impression – or more accurately, a Steven Seagal in Under Siege 2 impression, as she spends most of her action time with an unskilled sidekick who instead knows the secret passages in this old hotel. Together they ride the elevator shafts, hide in abandoned box-filled rooms and set traps involving electricity. There’s a few top quality kills to look forward to as well.


Jean Reno is fine in this, though he doesn’t have to do a great deal but fill the Alan Rickman role. Dubois has henchmen to do his dirty work, but what he does have is a French accent and accompanying good manners. While Rickman’s Hans Gruber or more accurately, Travis Dane in Under Siege 2, are unhinged bad guys, Dubois plays the tea and wine drinking variety admirably. The kind of guy that brushes lint off his jacket when berating you. It’s good to see him in a new movie.

Dubois may be the leader, but his number one Borz (Aksel Hennie) is the real piece of work in the film – the Gary Busey in Under Siege equivalent. For starters he is the one that got Ali her job as doorman, so trust is immediately broken there, but he also doesn’t care much about his fellow heisters either, throwing them under the bus to ensure his cut of the action.


Louis Mandylor has a minor role in this as a safecracker. He's not quite comic relief but he's not as deadly serious as the rest of the cast. It's been good to see him have a bit of a resurgence lately, especially in both Debt Collector movies sharing equal screen time with Scott Adkins. I started to notice him more after the last Rambo film. The Mercenary from Jessee V. Johnson was pretty great, and I see he has one called Legacy out with another DTV action star, Luke Goss. Definitely adding that to the to-watch pile.

This film is directed by Ryûhei Kitamura of Versus and Midnight Meat Train fame! First I was surprised to see his name tagged on this, but checking his IMDB of the last few years I see Downrange, an action-thriller about a sniper that I've had on my watch list for a while. Based on the quality of The Doorman, I’ll be bumping that one up the list!