Friday, 25 December 2009

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Oh hey, it's Chewie's wife and - OH JESUS,
WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!


The internet is a funny thing. It wasn't so long ago that acquiring certain entertainment meant soliciting fat, neckbearded weirdos in their dank underground lairs. For the right price they would put a bootleg VHS cassette into your sweaty, trembling hands, and then you could go home, draw the blinds and enjoy the illicit material in the comfort of your own home. Sure it was usually terrible quality, a fuzzy, 4th generation dub if you were lucky, but that added to the mystique, the lure of the forbidden that's become lost in this age of streaming video and high-speed internet. I'm talking, of course, about The Star Wars Holiday Special, the unloved bastard child of the Star Wars universe.

Although George Lucas had no involvement, most of the original cast appears, even "R2-D2 as R2-D2". I guess the midget inside didn't rate an actor credit. Most actors deliver the performances you'd expect from a contractually obligated TV guest spot, with Harrison Ford in particular delivering his lines with a lack of energy and enthusiasm that wouldn't be seen until Indiana Jones 4: George Lucas Has Lost his Goddamn Mind. Mark Hammill, meanwhile, had recently undergone reconstructive surgery after a car accident, so he is wearing four times as much eye makeup as Carrie Fisher, plus he has prettier hair.

The show starts well enough, with Han Solo and Chewie attempting to outrun a couple of Imperial Star Destroyers in the Millenium Falcon, which, like all action sequences in this show, is pieced together from pre-existing footage. Han Solo is trying to get Chewie home to his family for Life Day, the most important of all Wookiee holidays. I always assumed that Chewie was a confirmed bachelor, like Han Solo, but I suppose it makes sense that they would have a mismatched buddy cop relationship, with Chewie as Roger Murtaugh. I'm just going to assume that most of his growls are Wookiee for "I'm getting too old for this shit."

The majority of the show takes place back at Chewbacca's house as his family wait for him to arrive. Although from the outside it resembles a tree-mounted rotating restaurant, inside it looks like a ski lodge from 1977. Chewie's family consists of his wife Mala, his father Itchy and his son Lumpy. Yeah, that's right Itchy and Lumpy, his family are named after symptoms of genital herpes. His cousin is named Burning During Urination. Although Mala and Lumpy look pretty much how you'd expect, Itchy resembles some sort of hideous yeti with an underbite. For the duration of the show they communicate entirely in unsubtitled Wookiee-speak, which means for the opening ten minutes we watch these three sasquatches grunting and groaning as they sit around waiting, take out the garbage and other exciting activities you'd expect from the Star Wars universe.

Being a holiday special, there are plenty of C-list celebrities making guest appearances in vaguely-related comedy sketches and musical numbers. One such segment stars Bea Arthur as bartender of the Mos Eisley Cantina. When the Imperials impose a curfew and shut down the bar her patrons refuse to leave, so she figures the best way to clear the place out would be to sing a terrible song. Good call! She is also romanced by Harvey Korman, appearing as an alien with a mouth in the top of his head (don't ask). Korman appears in a couple of other comedy sketches; as an intergalactic Julia Childs in a cooking show and as a malfunctioning robot in an intructional video. Both are terrible. The funniest parts are when the show attempts anything close to genuine emotion, such as when Mark Hammill attempts to coax a smile out of a frantic Mala.

What this show does provide is a fascinating glimpse into entertainment in the Star Wars universe, and it's pretty lame. For instance, a holographic recording of some Cirque du Soleil acrobats is enough to have Lumpy applauding wildly and leaping up and down with excitement. A box containing a miniaturised Jefferson Starship has an Imperial Officer transfixed for minutes on end. The creepiest moment is when Itchy experiences what is essentially VR porn, with a guest starring Diahan Carroll cooing and singing to him as he growls with pleasure. You know, I always assumed that Chewbacca was pretty handsome by Wookie standards, so it stands to reason that Mala would be hot stuff. This means that Itchy has some pretty fucked up tastes in women.

The most interesting segment is a short animated story, notable for being the first appearance of Boba Fett. He actually appears quite similar in appearance and personality to in the movies, although he has a lot more spoken dialogue. This little feature has nothing to do with the rest of the show, but it has a comprehensible plot and some action so it's a damn sight more entertaining than anything else.

The show reaches it's crescendo of awfulness when Chewbacca returns home and the wookiees and entire Star Wars cast gather for the Life Day celebrations. Carrie Fisher, looking stoned out of her mind and grasping at nearby actors for support, gives a speech about Life Day before bursting into a ear-shredding Life Day song set to the Star Wars theme music. The cast embrace each other and stare into the distance while looking like they'd rather be anywhere else. Happy Life Day everyone!

I don't consider myself a huge fan of Star Wars, but I'm still quite surprised that I hadn't seen this until now, since such legendary awfulness is like my Siren's Song, both beautiful and devastating. However, this wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting. It wasn't funny or entertaining, so it fits in nicely with a lot of the other Christmas specials from around that time. It proudly pisses on the Star Wars universe, but I respect the ballsy if misguided decision to focus the show on a trio of freaks who don't speak any English. If nothing else The Star Wars Holiday Special is a jolly seasonal reminder that the Star Wars legacy was being undermined long before Greedo shot first.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Feast III: The Happy Finish (2009)

I would watch a movie just about this guy.

I didn't hate Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. It was so aggressively juvenile, like a prepubescent boy screaming obscenities over XBox Live. Even the subtitle seemed to be tailor-made to get a "dur hur hur" out of the kind of guys who think Family Guy is hilarious because "dude, it's so wrong." I hoped that the third film would get things back on track and recapture what I liked about the first film, but when I saw an alien shitting out a woman's semi-digested head in the opening scene I knew I would be in for a bumpy ride.

Feast III: The Happy Finish was shot back-to-back with the second movie, which is rarely a good sign since the second part usually suffers. This is confirmed on the commentary track, where director John Gulager laments the numerous production problems that resulted in severe script cuts and a film that just squeaks over the 70 minute mark. Obviously the same actors return, with Gulager's wife (Diane Goldner) as Biker Queen, his brother (Tom Gulager) as Greg Swank and his father (legendary character actor Clu Gulager) as the seemingly invincible Bartender. Probably his dog was involved somehow; I'm pretty sure he held the camera during the action scenes. Also returning is Hanna Putnam as the ditzy Secrets, Carl Anthony Payne as the car salesman Slasher and Juan Longoria GarcĂ­a as Thunder, the one surviving half of a duo of midget luchadors. Biker chick Tat Girl (Chelsea Richards), underused in the first film, gets a little more to do here and, even better, spends the majority of her screen time with her tits out.

The writers still have fun introducing horror movie cliches and then gleefully turning them on their head, but the end result is a film that changes tack every few moments and never really finds it's groove. It zig-zags down different plot threads with no sense of drive or purpose and characters are introduced and dispatched seemingly at random. You know, there's a reason why films use certain genre tropes and character archetypes; because they work. Sure the anarchic spirit of this film is kind of fun, but comes at the expense of plot, tension, interesting or likable characters etc.

The other problem is that their usual tricks and shock tactics aren't all that effective the third time around. The first time they introduced an extremely capable, heroic character and then immediately killed him off it was pretty clever. The third time around it seems kind of lazy and annoying. At one point there's a martial arts expert who leaps into sewers and starts whipping ass with a pair of wrist-mounted blades. He's named Jean-Claude Segal and he even has a nonsensical introductory speech where he calls himself a "whistling warrior". Clearly this character was created just for me, but unfortunately I knew that he was way too awesome and interesting to live.

Like the second film, characterisation is wildly inconsistent, although the characters seem to be slightly less sociopathic and sometimes display actual emotion. Probably the closest thing to a genuine character arc is Greg Swank, who spends the entire film with a pipe embedded through his head. He gradually becomes more demented and remorseful for the act of infanticide he committed in the second film and when an alien finally removes the pipe from his head the film cuts away to a dream sequence where he is floating in the ocean. A pleasant little art house moment amongst the meth-fueled insanity, that and the utterly bizarre ending that would even leave Takashi Miike scratching his head.

The aliens look as goofy and rubbery as ever, but I appreciate that nearly everything is done with practical effects instead of CG. It's extremely gory and fans of the second film's tasteless depravity and obsession with toilet humour will get a kick out of this one too. A bum gets the shit literally kicked out of him. A zombie woman gets disemboweled through her vagina. An alien fucks a guy in the ass until he explodes, giving birth to an alien/human hybrid. My favourite gag was when Bartender tries to do the old trick of cauterising someone's flesh wound with lit gunpowder, but accidentally blows the guy's arm off. Whoops!

There are still issues on the technical side. Editing is occasionally incoherent and in what is perhaps an effort to disguise the cheap costumes, a lot of the action is obscured by shaky camera work. Also, sometimes they use the camera's night vision mode during dark scenes. This isn't a celebrity sex-tape, assholes; get some real lighting. By far the worst scene is when they fight a bunch of zombies in an underground chamber, lit only by a seizure-inducing strobe light. This part of the film, what is ostensibly the climactic action scene, is rendered nearly indecipherable.

If you didn't like the second film in this series then this one won't change your mind. Somehow I didn't find it quite as grating, but perhaps that is only because I knew what to expect. This movie is summed up nicely by a scene where one of the aliens teabags the camera with it's over-sized scrotum. Sure, this movie has some enormous balls, but it puts them to use by insulting the audience in the most tasteless and juvenile ways possible. If getting cold-cocked by an alien's wrinkly nutsack sounds like a good time to you, you might enjoy this film.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Mirrors (2008)

You try to avoid looking into evil mirrors when
your wife has such an awesome rack.

I loved Haute Tension (except for the twist ending) and I thought the The Hills Have Eyes remake was one of the best things to come out of this horror remake boom, so I had some high hopes for Alexandre Aja. I knew this one wasn't well received, but horror rarely gets good critical reviews, especially when it's this well produced, so I thought it was worth a shot. Apparently it's based on a not-great Korean horror film called Into the Mirror, which I haven't seen, but unlike many Asian horror remakes it's rated R, so it's possible for adults to enjoy it and not just tiny, tiny babies.

Kiefer Sutherland plays Ben Carson, a former NYPD Detective who shot an undercover cop about a year ago (we know this because he keeps year-old newspapers lying around), turned to drink, lost his job, his family etc. Now he's living with his sister Angela (Amy Smart) and taking mystery drugs to help him overcome his alcoholism. Until he can get reinstated he's taken a job as a nightwatchman at a huge, derelict department store that was burnt-out in a fire five years ago, but hasn't been refurbished due to an ongoing insurance battle. It's kind of weird because it's this enormous, beautiful building just sitting vacant in the middle of Manhattan. Can you imagine the taxes?

Anyway, all the creepy mannequins and blackened fixtures make it a good setting for a supernatural horror film. It seems that the previous nightwatchman, Gary Lewis, had an obsession with mirrors and would spend his evenings polishing up all the mirrors in the building. I don't know why, since his reflection is clearly an asshole who made him slit his own throat in the opening scene. Carson doesn't know this though, so he's pretty freaked out when he sees weird stuff in the mirrors, like his own reflection giving him sass or people burning from bad CG fire. Carson even catches on bad CG fire himself and it's a little embarrassing when he starts rolling around on the floor groaning and screaming. Quick, somebody find a bad CG fire extinguisher!

At this point I figured that the department store was hell of haunted, but it turns out to be something much more ridiculous. In fact, it's pretty amazing how quickly Carson leaps to the conclusion that these ghastly visions are something evil-mirror-related. I guess he's a pretty good detective after all. He's also helped along by Gary Lewis, who posthumously sends him a conspiracy theorist starter kit, full of newspaper clippings about the department store fire and mysterious mirror-related deaths. He stumbles across another convenient clue when he finds Gary Lewis' wallet lying around the department store. It contains a scrawled note reading "Esseker".

I figured this note was a "redrum" kind of deal but it's not, it actually refers to Anna Esseker, a schizophrenia patient from an old mental institution that's walled-up in the basement of the department store. Obviously, right? Luckily he's got one of those detective buddies who will look up any piece of information he wants, no questions asked, so soon he's got his hands on a big file of exposition. It seems that back in 1952, before ethics committees, Anna was given an experimental schizophrenia treatment where she was strapped into a room full of mirrors and forced to look at her own reflection for days on end. A couple of days later all of the other patients butchered each other, Anna disappeared and the institution was closed. I guess everyone forgot after that, I mean who would remember an incident like that?

Firstly Carson heads to the creepy farmhouse where Anna used to live. Apparently she suffered from violent seizures that were a danger to herself and others, so her brother shows him the basement dungeon where they used to lock her up. I don't know why they still have it after 56 years, maybe they rent it out as a bed-and-breakfast. He also discovers that after the incident at the institution Anna was shipped off to a convent with a strict no-mirrors policy, and there she remains, so Carson heads there to meet her. She tells him that she wasn't schizophrenic at all, she had a terrible case of Satanitis, and the demon is now trapped in mirrors, or some stupid shit.

While all of this is going on he freaks out his family by getting crazier and crazier. His sister asks the perfectly reasonable question "Why don't you get a normal day job?" but he responds "It's not that simple." Well, no actually, it really is. In fact, his poor sister cops it worst of all, a literally jaw-droppingly gory death while she's taking a bath. Poor Amy Smart. He also freaks out his cleavage-happy wife and adorable moppet kids by going on crazy rants, painting over all the mirrors in their house and even busting some caps at an evil mirror in their front yard. I don't blame them for thinking he's insane, his behaviour is pretty crazy, even for a guy being haunted by evil mirrors. Just calm down, will ya? Jeez.

Eventually his wife experiences some mirror hauntings for herself, so it's a race against time as Carson takes the nun back to the mental institution at gunpoint so she can face her demons or whatever. He straps her into the creepy mirror room and after thrashing around for while she just straight-up explodes, along with every mirror in the joint. This would have made a fine ending (and in fact in did, until poor test screenings forced them to change it) but instead Anna turns into a CG demon thingy and starts chasing Carson around and throwing him through walls. As the building starts collapsing all around him he impales her on a gas pipe and, shouting "Eat this, bitch!" (it's not exactly "Let off some steam, Bennett"), shoots the pipe until it explodes. In addition to the unnecessary demon fight, they also added a twist ending. Audiences these days expect a twist ending in their horror, even if it's stupid and nonsensical, and this one makes the twist ending of Bruno Mattei's Rats: Night of Terror look perfectly reasonable.

There are some creepy moments in this film (the misbehaving reflections are pretty good) but overall the premise is far too silly for a movie that takes itself this seriously. Alexandra seems to be aware of this fact, since he seems to be working way too hard to make things scary. There are so many ominous shots of mirrors, complete with overbearing musical stings, that I think it would make an good drinking game. Just don't don't look at your reflection in the shot glass. There's a pretty funny part where Carson smashes his rear-vision mirror in frustration, only for the camera to hold on an extended shot of his car's side mirror. "You can't escape us! Mirrors are everywhere." It's almost as hilarious as the evil trees in The Happening.

Although it's not all that scary, I did enjoy Kiefer Sutherland's batshit performance. He does a lot of hoarse whispering and shouting for no reason, what other people refer to as his Jack Bauer voice but since I've never seen 24 I'll have to take their word for it. He screams, he cries, he gets to say ridiculous lines like "Stay away from the water! It creates reflections!" without a trace of irony. We're talking almost Nicolas Cage levels here, the DEFCON 4 of overacting. Highly enjoyable.

There's probably a good movie in here somewhere. If they had stuck with the haunted department store I think it could have been a pretty good horror film, but it just tries to do too much. Instead of focusing on one thing it spirals out into a greatest-hits of supernatural horror, with spooky mental institutions, creepy farmhouses, demonic creatures and exploding nuns. I'm not going to write Aja off completely, but consider my faith in him soundly shaken.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Shootfighter: Fight to the Death (1992)

BOLO ATTACK!!

Most kickboxing films in the late 80s/early 90s were named by combining two unrelated yet violent-sounding words (eg blood, death, kick, fist, fighter, sport), a principle similarly applied to the naming of Image superheroes. I figured that the term Shootfighter was another product of this creative technique, but it turns out that it's an actual thing, an MMA-style combat sport. I don't know anything about the rules, but apparently you're not allowed to tear out an opponent's throat with your bare hands because when Mr. Lee (Martin Kove) does that in the opening scene the shootfighting officials kick him out and ban him from the sport. Lee protests that "Only a battle to the death can determine a true champion" and they're like "Why don't you go and start your own shootfighting league then?" and he's like "Maybe I will." and they're like "So go do it then". So he does.

Years later we are introduced to Ruben (William Zabka), owner/chief instructor of a small, struggling karate school along with his wife Cheryl (Maryam D'Abo). So interestingly enough this film re-unites two The Karate Kid alumni, John Kreese, sensei of Cobra Kai (Martin Kove) and his top student Johnny (William Zabka). Although Lee never tells Ruben to "sweep the leg", I believe at one point a fighter tells Ruben "I hope you brought a body bag". Anyway, Ruben's brother-in-law Nick shows up after a long trip and straight away you know he's a badass because he has a ponytail and wears huge shades and a leather jacket, plus he rides a motorcycle. He's played by Michael Bernardo, a Karate champ, although if you prefer you can imagine he's played by Ralph Macchio, making this film a Karate Kid reunion special.

Actually the moment where these two guys meet is one of my favourite moments in the film; the two guys exchange tough-guy banter and show off by kicking cigarette packets off each others heads. Ruben also introduces Nick to his sensei Shingo, played by Bolo Yeung. It's nice to see Yeung playing a good guy, but unfortunately he doesn't get a lot to do here. Most of the time people just ask him a question and he stands there motionless for a while and then nods sagely, punctuated with a wind chime sound so you know that he's actually a wise, contemplative master and not just a bit slow and steroid-addled.

After winning a local Karate match, Nick and Ruben are approached by Mr C. (Edward Albert), one of Lee's associates, and they are invited to compete in Lee's illegal shootfighting tournament in Mexico. Ruben desperately needs the money and convinces Nick to go with him. As they progress in the tournament the rounds become more and more brutal, but they are invited back in a month's time to complete in the finals. Little do they know that the final round is a fight to the death. What's more, Shingo was one of the shootfighting officials who destroyed Lee's career; Nick and Ruben's invitation is merely a trick to lure Shingo to the tournament, so Lee can take his revenge.

Ruben leaves Shingo's school after he refuses to train him for the finals, so leading up to the tournament we have two interleaved training montages. Nick's montage is scored by Asian-style pipes and drums as he and Shingo partake in wholesome training activities like jogging and ab crunches. Shingo must be a great trainer because at one point he whispers something into some airballing kid's ear and he's immediately able to make three-point baskets with his back turned. Ruben's montage, on the other hand, is scored by thrash guitars as he trains by beating up Latino gangster stereotypes. It's the good and bad, the yin and yang, the Rocky and Ivan Drago of training montages.

It should be noted that Ruben is a complete ass to his wife throughout the film. He borrows money from gangsters without telling her, which is bad enough, but when his creditors start hassling him he disappears with Nick to Mexico so he can raise money in deadly shootfighting matches, leaving his wife at their mercy. When he returns his wife is understandably upset, so he pitches a fit about her "controlling his life" and leaves her. Interestingly enough, this plot thread is never resolved. Cheryl discovers that Ruben has gone back to Mexico to compete in the finals, but she never shows up, not even in the final few seconds for an "Oh, I guess they are back together now" post-victory embrace. I hope that when Ruben got back the locks were changed. Dick.

Thankfully Nick is a lot nicer to his love interest, a friend of Cheryl's named Jill (Sigal Diamant). She gets obsessed with him after one date, which is mostly spent sitting on the couch watching VHS footage of a brutal cage match. Normally this would be pretty weird but this movie takes place in an alternate universe where women go apeshit over brutal bloodsports. By the finale the female spectators are pumping their fists in the air and screaming for blood. Calm down, ladies, I thought you were better than this. Jesus.

The plot of this film doesn't make any sense at all. Shingo doesn't want Ruben to compete in Lee's shootfighting tournament, so why didn't he just tell him it was a death sport? Sure his English isn't great, but I think he could have got the point across. Al Swearengen and Mr. Lee in Deadwood managed okay and the only English Lee knew was "cocksucker". Instead Ruben heads down to Mexico and discovers that fact for himself. Nick goes after him but gets captured himself and the two brothers are forced to fight each other. Luckily Shingo shows up as well so Lee challenges him to a fight. It's a pity that the one fight with Bolo is such an over-edited mess, but the end-result is that Shingo mops the floor with Lee. Once defeated, Lee pulls a knife so that Shingo can finish him off with a gory arm break and one of his trademark gratuitous finishing moves while still retaining his honour.

This film has a lot of decent fight scenes, but unfortunately there's very little tension since the vast majority are between characters we have never met and will never see again. One fighter is named Boa and has a pet snake that he licks and fondles plus he likes to wriggle around like a snake and uses snake-style kung fu. I like it; he's got a theme and he's rolling with it. He's interesting to watch and I would have liked to see more of him (there's even another character named Mongoose that he could fight) but unfortunately he dies in his first fight when a huge black guy named Buck tears his heart out with his bare hands. This film doesn't even try to make you care about the characters before it kills them off. Give me a line of dialogue at least.

That aside, the choreography is pretty good and there is a large range of weapons on display. Most of the people are good screen fighters except for the real actors that are sprinkled among the cast to keep the performances from getting too distracting. It's an action packed and surprisingly gory entry in the venerable shirtless-musclemen-in-a-cage-match subgenre of action films, even if it suffers from a lack of plot, suspense, memorable characters and Bolo.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Grizzly (1976)

How awesome are bears? Pretty awesome.

Grizzly
has the distinction of being one of the first Jaws rip-offs, landing in cinemas a little under a year after Spielberg's blockbuster. Apparently the script was written in 8 days, which is not surprising since they pretty much took the script for Jaws and replaced all instances of the word "shark" with "bear". It may be nakedly transparent in the aping of it's progenitor but it makes no attempt to conceal it's roots; the DVD cover (featuring sweet poster art by comic book legend Neal Adams) exclaims "Jaws with Claws!" Coming from this moral low-ground they have no qualms about spicing things up with blood and severed limbs. Awesome!

The movie begins with a (model) helicopter flying over a beautiful autumnal forest as Ranger Kelly (Christopher "Pieces" George) gives a lecture about the environment to a couple of bored-looking suits, who we never see again. After a montage of happy campers we cut to a couple of be-flannelled girls, returning to camp after an exhausting ten mile hike. Unfortunately they left their campfire burning the entire time and Smokey is pissed. One girl gets slashed to ribbons in a flurry of choppily edited stock footage, her arm going flying into the air. The other girl tries to hide in a wooden cabin but the bear tears it apart and kills her, stashing her body on the roof so it can drop down dramatically when Ranger Kelly comes to investigate. "Looks like this camper... had more than she could bear." YEEEEAAAH!!

They send out a few Park Rangers to try and find that darn bear, one of whom decides she's going to take a break and "soak her feet", which is code for stripping down to her underwear and swimming in the icy river. This flimsy pretext to show some skin angers the bear and he eats her too. The Park Rangers then put out a bear warning on the radio, causing campers to immediately start pouring out of the forest and running down the hill like there's free beer waiting for them at the bottom. The Park Supervisor (this movie's equivalent of the evil Mayor) isn't happy; he's hoping to be appointed to a corner office in Washington and a rampaging grizzly isn't going to look good on his record. He refuses to close down the park but Kelly isn't going to give up that easy because he's a maverick. We know this because the Park Supervisor tells him "You're a maverick, Kelly!" Oh, I hate that Park Supervisor. He's just so smug.

Kelly seeks the help of a naturalist named Scotty (Richard Jaeckel), and although he dresses more like a Quint, Scotty is clearly this film's Hooper. I quite liked this character, he is a crazy nature expert who studies animals by draping himself in furs and living among them like Timothy Treadwell. He suggests that the bear is over fifteen feet tall, weighs over two tonnes, and that he's descended from the pleistocene-era megafauna arctodus simus. Well, obviously. Kelly also enlists some help from a Vietnam vet helicopter pilot named Dan (Andrew Prine), the Quint equivalent. He even has a scary bear story echoing Quint's speech about the USS Indianapolis, but unfortunately it does not involve his platoon being attacked by VC bears in the jungles of Vietnam.

The most pointless character of all is Kelly's girlfriend Allison (Joan McCall). They take a few scenes to establish that she's an independent woman and a photographer, so you figure she's going to get into trouble and maybe help Kelly get some proof by taking photos of the bear. None of that happens, because about halfway through the film Kelly refuses to let her come out with him (bears can smell a vagina a mile off, drives them insane with rage) and she disappears for the rest of the film. As manly men they are born with the skills necessary to combat a two thousand pound grizzly; clearly the third act is no place for a woman.

The Park Supervisor also calls in a bunch of amateur hunters to take care of the bear, and I do mean amateur; when one of them is confronted with the bear he immediately drops his gun and runs. Later that night, three dimwitted hunters are startled by a bear cub and have the bright idea of using it as bait to lure out the grizzly. Of course, the ursine fiend outwits their trap by eating the cub. His hunger unsatisfied by that midnight snack, the bear goes on an insane rampage. One camper becomes bear chow when she decides to put on some perfume, which as we all know attracts bears and Jason Voorhees's. A local woman is eaten and her son's leg bitten off and the bear even tears down a ranger station. This is one hungry bear.

In a final attempt to find the beast, Kelly and Dan fly around in a helicopter while Scotty heads off on his own, claiming that he will be able to throw a rope around his neck and lead him into captivity. "I can look like him... I can smell like him... give me a chance!" he pleads. I admire his can-do attitude, but this bear is fifteen feet tall and weighs over two tonnes, I don't think Grizzly Man style shenanigans are going to cut it. Sure enough the grizzly shows up and decapitates his horse with a single blow. Scotty wakes up as leftovers in a shallow grave, apparently the ursine equivalent of Tupperware, but I guess the bear was just psyching him out because he shows up and eats him a few moments later.

Kelly and Dan's final battle with the bear is pretty entertaining, although there's a massive missed opportunity when the bear rears up to the perfect height for a chopper blade decapitation. Of course guns are completely useless and Dan soon finds himself in a fatal bear hug, but luckily he decided to bring along his old Vietnam War bazooka. This is a pretty common occurrence in films, Vietnam veterans having chests full of surplus heavy weapons. Did the Vietnam war have a take-home-what-you-don't-use policy? You can probably guess who comes out worse for wear after the bear-vs-bazooka climax, but the movie ends on a surprising bummer, with some sad music as Kelly wanders over to inspect his friend's corpse. Oh ursine behemoth, what hast though wrought?

All of the bear footage was realised using a captive grizzly, although at no point does the bear interact with any of the actors. Apparently they had a mechanical bear but somebody left it out in the rain, so they had to make do by editing together some reaction shots, brief snippets of a guy in a bear costume and the occasional fake bear arm (insert your own 2nd amendment joke here). Like Jaws, they also use a lot of bear POV shots, complete with theme song. They use a lot of careful editing and camera placement to try and make the bear seem bigger, but at no point does it seem anything close to it's purported fifteen feet.

This is a watchable effort by director William Girdler, but probably not his best. It doesn't even try to put an original spin on the formula, although to be fair Jaws rip-offs hadn't really become an established sub-genre yet. Grizzly was intended as a standalone rip-off. After this film was made the rights were sold to Mehahem Golan of Cannon films, who made a sequel in 1987 called called Predator: The Concert. Starring George Clooney, Charlie Sheen and Laura Dern, it was about a 20-foot bear that wreaks havoc at a cheesy 80s New Wave band's outdoor concert. Sounds pretty awesome, but unfortunately it has never seen wide release due to a bankruptcy case surrounding the first film. Until then, we'll always have Grizzly.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Re-Animator (1985)

When a chemical is fluorescent green you
know it must be full of SCIENCE!


The problem with most horror-comedies is that they are neither scary nor funny. Operating under the mantra "it's just a stupid horror film", it's a critic-proof niche of genre cinema with an endlessly forgiving audience, which is probably why it's so popular with amateur and low-budget filmmakers. Still, sometimes a talented team will succeed against all odds and strike that difficult balance between funny and frightening. For my money, American Werewolf in London gets the balance just about perfect. The Evil Dead series, early Peter Jackson and Return of the Living Dead are other good examples. And yeah, Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator. I wouldn't have opened the review this way otherwise, would I?

Watching this film today it's hard to imagine the effect that it had on the horror landscape when it was released in the mid-80s. At a time when serious slasher films were all the rage, along comes a campy horror film full of gore and silliness while also being quite perverse and disturbing. It's based on one of H.P. Lovecraft's short stories, but really it's got fuck all to do with it and in terms of tone it's about as far from Lovecraft as you can get. I mean, there's hardly any racism and the word "eldritch" isn't used even once. Stuart Gordon would continue to molest Lovecraft's work throughout his career in films like From Beyond and Dagon.

In Re-Animator, Herbert West (Jeffery Combs) joins Miskatonic University as an undergraduate student, after he is disgraced following some dodgy medical research in Europe. He moves in with fellow med student (and apparently a big Talking Heads fan) Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), despite the protests of his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) who also happens to be the Dean's daughter. West manages to butt heads with top researcher Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), hilariously pissing all over his research at their first introduction and interrupting his lectures by snapping pencils. Not a smart move for an undergraduate but Hill deserves it because he's kind of a dick and is always hitting on Megan (Barbara Crampton), which is gross.

Dan gets suspicious of West when their dead cat is discovered on ice in his refrigerator, and after hearing some suspicious noises in the basement he stumbles upon West using a special reagent to bring it back to life as a vicious zombie feline (a pretty funny scene). After West threatens to reveal his relationship with the Dean's daughter to the school board (although I'm not sure why they would care; the Dean already knows about it), Dan agrees to use his access to the morgue to help West with his experiments. Naturally things start getting out of hand and soon a crazed zombie is lying on the floor with a bone saw buried in it's chest and Dean Halsey is driven straight-jacket insane by a botched re-animation.

When the security guard stumbles upon the blood-soaked aftermath, West manages to weasel out of things with the least-convincing story in history, although Dr. Hill remains suspicious. Hill puts the Dean in a turn-of-the-century-style padded cell which appears to be built adjacent to his office, complete with a large observation window in the wall. For some reason, having the Dean bashing his head against the wall and spewing blood from his mouth fails to raise any eyebrows with the staff, leaving Dr. Hill free to ogle Megan and confront West about his research. West doesn't respond well to Hill's threats and decapitates him with a shovel, but when he brings both parts of Hill back to life he steals the reagent and escapes back to the University with the goal of raising his own zombie army.

I wasn't quite able to figure out whether Hill's body and head operate independently, but I had to laugh at his disguise; attaching a dummy head to his decapitated body and carrying his own head around in a bag. Why didn't he just re-attach his severed head to his body? Anyway, after Hill's head is nestled in a blood-filled tray, he sends out the Dean, who he has lobomotised into a complacent zombie slave, to kidnap Megan to be his zombie bride. The infamous ensuing scene is super-gross and everybody who has ever talked about this film has made a joke about Hill "giving her head", so instead let's just say that Hill attempts to "perform cunnilingus" on Megan using his "severed head". Get it?

Luckily Dan and West burst into the morgue in time to prevent mouth/genital contact, but before they can rescue Megan all the bodies in the morgue spring to life. Megan's undead father shows a glimmer of humanity when she pleads for his help and he hilariously headbutts Hill's severed noggin and fights the other zombies, buying them some time to escape. West gives Hill an overdose of the reagent, which has the surprising effect of turning his viscera into prehensile tentacles, while the morgue is destroyed when a curious zombie decides to fuck about with a junction box for no good reason. Megan and Dan escape and the film ends on an interesting note that would be expanded upon in the inferior-yet-fun sequel Bride of the Re-Animator five years later.

The Re-Animator is a pretty great film, and a lot of this has to do with Jeffery Combs's performance as Herbert West. It's easy to ham it up with the mad scientist role, but Combs manages to make West arrogant, self-absorbed and clearly insane but also funny and somewhat likable. It's pretty hilarious to see this short, bespectacled nerd tearing around insulting everybody like he's king of the world. The rest of the cast are also good and David Gale is particularly enjoyable as the sleazy Dr. Hill. The effects are cheesy and the score is a naked rip-off of Psycho but it all comes together quite well under Stuart Gordon's strong direction. Definitely a horror classic.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

2012 (2009)


I actually saw this film a couple of weeks ago but I couldn't be bothered writing about it until now. That probably tells you everything you need to know.

The Maya are well-known for their sophisticated astrology and calendric system, and part of this system is the Long Count calendar, a base-20/base-18 calendar system that identifies a day relative to the Mayan creation date (August 11, 3114 BCE). Hooray for Wikipedia! Well, it seems that this system just ends on December 21st, 2012. Some people think it indicates that some sort of Doomsday event will occur on that date, but these people are stupid and it's all complete bullshit. The 2012 date is just when the Long Count calendar wraps around to zero again, and in fact the Maya did predict things occurring after this date. The 2012 event is just the Maya version of the Y2K bug, but lucky Mayan prophecy doesn't figure into Roland Emmerich's new film all that much, it's just a convenient date to hang his apocalypse porn on.

The plot summary reads like a disaster movie checklist. You've got your scientist, Dr Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who stumbles across some scientific data that predicts a massive disaster will occur sometime in the near future. The cause is something stupid about solar radiation liquefying the Earth's crust. I believe neutrinos are mentioned. He manages to grab the ear of White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), and together they formulate a plan to ensure the survival of humanity.

You've also got your relatable everyman, Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a struggling writer who takes his two kids on a camping trip to Yellowstone park in an attempt to repair his damaged relationship with them. Is his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) now dating a rich asshole? Oh, hell yeah. At Yellowstone they stumble across a crazed conspiracy theorist named Charlie Frost. He is played by Woody Harrelson, although I suspect that Harrelson just stumbled onto the set one day and they just started filming him and worked into the script as best they could. Through Frost they discover the truth about the coming apocalypse and learn of the existence of several arks, built by the governments of the world to weather the flood waters. As the world quite literally collapses around him, Curtis is determined to find the arks and bring his family to safety.

You can probably fill in the rest of the movie yourselves. They have multiple brushes with death, maybe meeting a few wacky side characters along the way. An evil politician will have a change of heart thanks to a stirring, heartfelt speech. Curtis will be presumed dead after heroically saving the day, but - phew! - he didn't die after all. A swelling orchestral score will shotgun-blast emotion into your face. A cute dog will leap to safety at some point. Every disaster movie cliche is dutifully followed with a minimum of originality or creativity.

One thing this movie does really, really well are the scenes of destruction. Apparently this movie cost $250 million to make and I believe it. There is an incredible limo chase through the streets of L.A. as the buildings collapse all around them (also a notable scene for featuring the world's worst Arnold Schwarzenegger impression). Aircraft take off as the runway plunges into a chasm behind them. Entire chunks of the continental shelf snap off and drop into the ocean. It's all very spectacular. Naturally, Emmerich applies the same anthropomorphic malevolence to earthquakes that he has to explosions (Independance Day) and cold (The Day After Tomorrow), with rifts in the earth chasing people all over the place. The most hilarious touch is when the Sistine Chapel cracks in two, right through the point where Adam and God's fingers touch. Well played, sentient earthquake, well played. There is also some great cinematography from Dean "The Patriot but not the Roland Emmerich one" Semler, with the camera kept at a respectable distance so that we aren't rudely interrupted by the reality of millions upon millions of people being killed. There really should be a name for this kind of apocalyptic spectacle cinema. Perhaps spectacalypse or funnageddon.

It is, to use a cliche, a roller coaster ride, but there's a reason that roller coaster rides don't go for 158 minutes, interrupted every half hour for a teary-eyed speech from Chiwetel Ejiofor. I mean, you'd get really bored and nauseous and you'd be thinking "Why is the guy from Redbelt lecturing me about humanity?" 2012 could have been the most entertaining 90 minute film ever made, but instead it's bloated with cliches and too damn long. Even the scenes of destruction get boring after a while and Emmerich has to make things more and more ridiculous to keep your attention. I defy you not to laugh when President Danny Glover gets slam-dunked by an aircraft carrier. It's not possible.

I figured the film was over at the point where Curtis and his family sneak aboard one of the arks, the US one naturally; everyone else has to share. The UK, France and Germany sharing an ark? Yeah, that should work out great. Instead Curtis and Co. end up dropping a piece of hardware into the gears, jamming the doors open and creating a horrifying disaster by extending the film for another half hour or so. Seemingly unaffected by the freezing arctic waters flooding the chamber, Curtis manages to repair the damage and is hailed as a hero for fixing the fault that he caused, costing the death of thousands in the process.

One thing I did like about this film is that it played things relatively straight. None of this Michael Bay bullshit where everybody is constantly cracking jokes to relieve non-existent tension. I think Emmerich realises that the boundless stupidity of a film like this provides it's own humour. The ending is a perfect example. After floating around for a few months they realise they just plum forgot about Africa and it survived all this apocalypse business just fine. Also the flood waters begin to recede so I guess the liquefaction of the Earth's crust is just a temporary problem. I wasn't really expecting Emmerich to have the balls to go through with a global apocalypse like in Deep Impact, but this is just insulting.

Roland Emmerich has made quite a career out of blowing shit up in big, stupid films, so it's no small thing to say that 2012 is Emmerich's biggest, stupidest and explodiest film ever. In fact, I believe that with this film Emmerich has reached the apotheosis in all three categories. With nowhere left to go I suggest Emmerich take up another profession such as shoe-making or dog grooming.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Out for Blood (1992)

Behold the acting range of Don "The Dragon" Wilson!

The world of Direct-to-Video action films is getting pretty crowded these days, what with JCVD, Dolph Lundgren and, of course, Steven Seagal all throwing their hats into the ring. However, back in the late 80s and early 90s, there was one name that was synonymous with Direct-to-Video action: Don "The Dragon" Wilson. I don't who gave him the nickname "The Dragon", but that shit has stuck with him like herpes and now I believe you have to pay his lawyers ten cents every time you refer to him without it. "The Dragon" put his considerable kickboxing talent (and less considerable acting talent) to use in dozens of dodgy action films. He appeared in Albert-Pyun-esque low budget sci-fi flicks like Cybertracker and Futurekick and eight out of the nine Bloodfist films. In 1995 he made a whopping seven films! Truly, this was the age of "The Dragon".

In the very Seagalian-titled Out for Blood, Wilson plays John Decker, a criminal lawyer/martial artist whose life is destroyed when his family is murdered by drug dealers. The culprits are roaming free thanks to an incompetent police force and Decker's selective amnesia about the night in question. The police are skeptical about Decker's condition, but he is being treated by a psychiatrist named Dr McConnell (Ron Steelman). The two of them hang out a lot socially, which is weird and probably unethical, and McConnell takes a personal interest in restoring Decker's memory.

One night Decker is out jogging, haunted by memories of his family, when he is confronted by some stereotypical scumbag drug dealers (many uses of "holmes", "ese" etc). Simmering with rage, he beats them to a pulp and after realising that one of the men was there on the night his wife was murdered he tosses him off a rooftop. A homeless woman witnesses his act of vigilante justice and soon the media have branded him with the hilarious nickname "Karate Man". It's only later at the hospital, when he helps subdue a enormous, drug-fueled madman, that his synapses begin to fire and he gets a little piece of his memory back. He realises that his amnesia can only be cured by beating up as many drug-dealing scumbags as he can find. This is probably the best set-up for a martial arts vigilante film ever.

So by day Decker is a smartly dressed criminal lawyer and by night he stalks the streets of LA in his Adidas jogging suit looking for drug dealers to kick in the head. He doesn't have to look very far either; he can't even enjoy a quiet meal a noodle bar without being interrupted by an armed gunman. At one point he visits some drug dealers in an old train yard and even though there's just one dealer selling coke to a couple of dorky white guys there are at least a dozen guys armed with uzis. Seems excessive, but Decker manages to punch, kick and shoot his way through them anyway, getting those two buyers caught in the crossfire. Don't do drugs, kids, or you too could end up in a Don "The Dragon" Wilson film.

Decker also tries to conceal his vigilante alter-ego from his would-be girlfriend, a gallery owner named Joanna Montague (Sheri Shattuck doing her best Katherine Hepburn impression), but she manages to piece it together when she sees a report about "Karate Man" on the TV. This film probably sets a record for conveniently placed local news reports; everybody seems to have their TVs on and set to the local news 24 hours a day. Joanna is kind of annoying but she does introduce him to a Japanese artist named Hiroshi (Aki Aleong) who acts in the critical role of "wise master", inspiring him with folk wisdom and haikus.

Gradually Decker works his way up the food chain of the local drug distribution network, which is lead by a cowboy named Rick (Todd Curtis). His organisation seems to be a pretty varied lot, from bikers to hillbillies to surfer dudes, but they all seem to be united by their love of bandanas and long flowing hair. Unfortunately his gang cannot lay claim to having the best hair of all, that title belongs to a mafia bodyguard played by Deron McBee (aka Malibu from American Gladiators).

Naturally Rick kidnaps Joanna and Decker is forced compete in unarmed combat with a knife expert named Blade. There's a pretty funny moment when it focuses on Blade's fruity scorpion earring, and there's a musical sting that sounds like a rattlesnake. Eventually it turns out that the mastermind of the drug organisation (and the murder of Decker's family) is Dr McConnell. I'd put in a spoiler warning, but if that revelation comes as a surprise to you then... jeez. I don't know what to say. Maybe you should give up on narrative fiction altogether and take up scrap-booking. Turns out that McConnell spared his life for some reason and kept him under control using a combination of hypnosis and drugs.

This is probably one of the better Don "The Dragon" Wilson films. There's a lot of action and while the fights aren't fantastically choreographed or edited, they are extremely violent. There are several broken limbs, an eye gouging and a several stabbings. If a fight film isn't technically brilliant I'll take some tastelessly brutal violence as an acceptable trade-off. A less acceptable trade-off is compensating for a complete lack of boobs by having the portly Dr. McConnell lounging around in a skin-tight, nipple-accentuating sweater. I'll take no boobs over man-boobs.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Paranormal Activity (2007)


I've been looking forward to this film for a while and by the time the trailer was released in Australia - basically a stream of hyperbolic pull-quotes from various newspapers, websites and probably your mum, calling it the "scariest film ever made" - the hype had reached such epidemic proportions that it nearly turned me off the whole thing. Going in I was naturally a bit skeptical, but luckily I really enjoyed it, probably the best example of... well, I used to call them Blair-Witch-style films, but there are so many of them now that that comparison seems a bit quaint and old-fashioned, like referring to modern video games as Space Invaders. It's a documentary-style horror film. You know what I'm talking about.

Here is a plot synopsis: Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) set up a video camera in their bedroom in order to gather proof of some ghostly activity in their new house. During the day Micah films their conversations as they discuss their situation and what they are going to do about it. During the night he mounts the camera to a tripod and films their bed as they sleep. These sequences are where the movie really shines; time-lapse photography punctuated with ghostly happenings that are breathlessly suspenseful. At around 90 minutes it's the perfect length, it could have easily worn out the formula if it had gone on much longer.

I liked that the two leads weren't Hollywood actors. They look like normal people you might actually see or talk to in real life. They are both good actors but there is a rawness and a realism to their performances that makes them a lot more believable. You aren't constantly aware that they are annoying movie characters like in Cloverfield and the acting never gets as hammy as in The Blair Witch Project. Micah is a bit of a douchebag but he's a believable douchebag. It's understandable that he'd be really fascinated and excited by it at first, and then later that he'd want to stay and protect his girlfriend and try to take care of things himself. It's less understandable why he would sit on all that footage instead of showing it to somebody. I bet Ghost Hunters would pay a fortune for that shit.

A couple of times they call in a psychic who is a pretty funny character. He tells her that the presence in their house isn't a ghost, it's a demon, which blows because that means it's completely random and malicious, and pretty much anything you do will just piss it off more. Sucks to be you. Also, leaving the house won't do jack because it's tied to Katie's presence (a pretty clever way of dodging the usual plothole of the couple just packing their shit and leaving the house). Then he gives her the number of his demonologist friend and leaves. They are unable to contact him and, faced with some serious feces/fan interaction, they call in the psychic again. He basically says "I'm pissing this thing off more by just being here. You're on your own." and leaves. What an asshole!

This film also does a great job of integrating the camera into the story and the Paranormal Activities are kept on such a a small scale that you can (usually) understand why they would pick up a camera and try to document it instead of running for their lives. I must have shouted out "Just put the camera down, you fucking idiot!" only half a dozen times or so, which is a new record. Even more importantly, the camera is kept relatively steady. Micah actually holds the camera like a normal person; pointing it at his subject; panning and zooming steadily and sparingly. Then during the night scenes, when most of the spooky shit happens, the camera is mounted on a tripod. Hallelujah! Nice to have a film that doesn't assume modern audiences won't fall asleep from boredom if the camera isn't leaping around like a Jack Russell terrier. At the showing I went to you could hear a pin drop during those night scenes. They were as engrossed as fuck.

I had a couple of minor problems with the film. There was a part where Micah spread talcum powder on the floor to try and get evidence of the demon's presence and, well, they looked like oversized bird feet. Maybe they thought that hooves were too cliche, but I couldn't shake the feeling that she was being haunted by Big Bird. Also, I wasn't really happy with the way the film ended, with Katie covered in blood and the bad CG etc. It was too much. I would have preferred if they had cut out that final part and ended things a little more ambiguously. I'm sure it would have pissed off a lot of teenagers, but they're too busy giggling during the dramatic scenes and twittering their facebooks or whatever so fuck 'em.

This film probably isn't for everyone. In fact, I know it's not for everyone because when it finished I heard a guy say incredulously "Was that supposed to be scary?" Sorry, guy. Also, you probably won't like it if go into it expecting a huge payoff. About an hour in a oujia board catches on fire and this qualifies as one of the more over-the-top moments of the film. Those people who hated The Blair Witch Project and can't get over the double-artifice of the fake documentary style probably won't like it either. It worked for me, though. I don't think I've ever been so scared watching so little happen. If you can buy into the fake documentary style then I think you will enjoy it and movie magic will happen etc. You will believe a door can move.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Sworn to Justice (1996)

Chun Li weeps with jealousy when she sees
Rothrock's meaty thighs


I've already discussed how Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kurt McKinney, like a couple of deadbeat dads, abandoned the No Retreat, No Surrender series while it was still in it's infancy. We all know what happened to Van Damme (Bloodsport etc), but if you're anything like me you frequently wake up in a cold sweat wondering what happened to Kurt McKinney. Well, throughout the 80s he made some TV appearances on shows like ALF and General Hospital and for the past 8 years he's been on some soap opera called The Guiding Light, but I don't care about any of that shit. What about movies where he kicks bad guys in the head? Well, the only other action film he's been in since then is Sworn to Justice, where he plays love interest/sidekick to B-movie regular Cynthia Rothrock.

Rothrock plays Janna, a criminal psychologist who returns home from a trip to find her sister and nephew murdered, victims of a botched burglary. What's more, the attackers are still in the house, and after fighting them off she leaps from the balcony and crashes through the trees, getting smacked in the head with a tree branch on her way down. After she coalesces she discovers that she has developed psychometry, the ability to receive psychic impressions of somebody by touching their possessions. Like in all TV shows/movies about psychics, the visions are in black and white with a dutch tilt and annoying editing. She decides to use this ability, plus her martial arts skills, to enact vigilante justice on the people that murdered her loved ones. So it's is like Medium with more vigilante justice and roundhouse kicks.

I thought it her character's occupation was pretty unusual for this type of film. She works for a some sort of law firm/forensics lab and it's her job to give psychological assessments of criminals and determine whether they are fit for trial or require psychiatric treatment. In most vigilante films she would be one of the weaselly, criminal-coddling liberals perverting the justice system but here she's the hero. I don't think it's supposed to be ironic and she doesn't abandon her liberal beliefs like Paul Kersey in Death Wish. She believes it's her duty to give fair and unbiased advice despite the meddling of the prosecution and the defence. Good for her.

During her investigation she falls for a new coworker named Nicholas (McKinney). This guy is interested in Asian culture and has one of those goofy apartments that combines random architectural and decorative elements from a bunch of different Asian cultures, and ends up coming off as patronising rather than tributary. He is interested in martial arts too, and soon after she gives him a kung fu demonstration in her sexy night attire they are rolling around naked in front of an open fire with cheesy saxophone music playing in the background. This is followed by another sex scene later on. To be honest this film shows a lot more of Rothrock that I was after.

It really bugs me when they try to turn Cynthia Rothrock into a sex symbol. It's not that she's pushing forty (she actually looks pretty awesome for her age) or hugely unattractive or even that she's short and kind of stocky. It's that she's Cynthia fucking Rothrock; she should be kicking ass, not slinking around in lingerie and little black evening dresses. She's above that shit. It's like when they put Jet Li in sunglasses. It really doesn't help that Rothrock doesn't really have the acting skill to sell the romance either. I don't think anyone could sell risible cliches like "Is it hot in here or is it just me?" but Rothrock and McKinney definitely can't.

The men responsible for the murders are a bunch of ex-cons led by a boy-band reject named, hilariously, Eugene (Ken Scott). He's shorter than Rothrock so he must be about 4 feet tall, like a hobbit, so I find it hard to believe that this well-groomed douchebag commands respect from these guys. Although to be fair some of these guys look pretty dorky, like the lanky doofus wearing an eyepatch. Eugene takes his orders from the mysterious Mr. Big, whose identity is so ridiculously obvious I was convinced there must be some sort of third-act twist on the way (which there wasn't).

Basically the movie is a series of action scenes where Janna uses her psychic powers to track down the different scumbags responsible and murders them. Nicholas finds out about her vigilante rampage and espouses a pacifist viewpoint, but whatever, you know he's going to help her out by the end of the movie. Everything in between is padded out with some boring sub-plots and a bunch of minor characters. There's an asshole cop named Briggs (Tony Lo Bianco). There's her boss Lorraine (Katie Mitchell), who seems nice but mysteriously follows her around making scowly faces. There's a wise, blind newspaper man named Mr Young (Mako). There's also her mentor (Walter Koenig), who's a psychiatrist so of course he speaks with an outrageous German accent.

One of the subplots involves her giving expert opinion in a case involving a cop-killer. Even though the prosecution are looking to nail him to the wall, she is adamant that he requires psychiatric care rather than jail time. Well, it turns out that the nutball defendant Teddy is played by Brad Dourif (which is awesome and a good use of his Nick-Cage-like ability to over act) and when she fondles the murder weapon she discovers that he had something to do her sister's murder. She uses her psychic powers freak him out and pump him for information.

After blowing up Eugene's brother, Janna battles her way to Eugene's crims-only nightclub for the ultimate showdown. There's a pretty amusing touch here when Eugene gives a short speech and then spins around a chair to reveal his brother's crispy, blackened corpse dressed in a new suit and a terrible blonde wig. I suppose that before she arrived these guys dressed up the corpse, propped it up in a chair and then just sat around having a few drinks. Everybody mourns differently, I guess. Also the corpse blinks a few times, so noticeably that I wondered if he was supposed to be alive somehow.

Eugene and Janna then have a mediocre nun chucks vs sticks battle (there's a lot more show-offy twirling than actual fighting) which is interrupted by the reveal of Mr. Big's identity. When things look hopeless Nicholas busts in and a bad guy grabs his shirt, which tears away like stripper pants so he can whip ass without a shirt on. Unfortunately Janna doesn't deliver the final blow to Eugene, that honour goes to Nicholas while Janna chases down Mr Big on the roof. Nicholas ends up taking a bullet in the shoulder for Janna and Mr. Big completes his movie villain checklist by falling through a glass atrium roof to his death.

After watching the fast paced, Hong Kong styled action of the No Retreat, No Surrender series, I'd forgotten just how slow and boring most American martial arts films are (or at least were) in comparison. Most of the fights here are slow, over-edited and unimpressive. Sure this film was made nearly ten years after Rothrock's Hong Kong heyday, but this is nowhere near films like Yes, Madam or The Inspector Wears Skirts. The only times the film comes close to recapturing that era is during a fight with a little Asian guy in a garage and when she stumbles upon a convenience store robbery Seagal-style and defeats them using a roll of duct tape. Even the latter fight is ruined by awful cartoon sound effects, including tweeting birds when someone is dazed. I can't say I've seen too many of Rothrock's American films, but apparently this is considered one of the better ones. If that's the case I'm not sure I want to see any more.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Fiend

The Politburo are left in a bit of a pickle when the Party Chairman, Andre Keschev, keels over from a fatal stroke while on a hunting trip. Beloved by both the party and the public, Keschev's presence is essential at an upcoming world summit in Geneva. In desperation they call on Anton Yafremov, a Russian occultist with an interest in the dark arts. He uses his black magic to bring Keschev back to life, but as we learned from Pet Semetary, when you pull this kind of stunt they never come back quite right. Soon Keschev is building up Russian military power and bringing the world to the brink of war, much to the alarm of the Politburo. There's only one option left. Assassinate Keschev. But how can you kill something that's already dead?

Firstly they assign two top KGB assassins to murder him during the talks in Geneva. Instead of a gun they are instructed to use a wooden stake under the assumption that he is a creature of darkness and firearms would be useless. I don't know, I'd at least try first. Take his head off with a sniper rifle or blow him up with a car-bomb. Let's try a few established methods before going all Van Helsing on his ass. Naturally their attempt fails and Keschev easily slaughters the assassins and blames the whole mess on the CIA. In fact, it's only at the very end of the book that someone has the bright idea of marching into his office and blasting him with a shotgun. It doesn't kill him but it does put a sizable hole in his torso that remains there for the rest of the book. A+ for effort.

Probably the weirdest assassination attempt is when they try to use an attack dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback to be precise, to maul Keschev as he is wandering the grounds. Yafremov uses his black magic abilities (I guess?) to inhabit the body of the dog and attack him, only for the dog to be killed by Keschev and Yafremov driven insane as a result. He gets sent to a mental institution, surprising the staff when he grows a bony ridge along the length of his back. Very Tales From the Crypt but a little out of place amongst all the political intrigue.

After shipping all the Russian Jews off to concentration camps (this is not a particularly subtle book) Keschev starts purging the Christians. This hampers the conspirators' efforts to arrange an exorcist, especially when their prime candidate, the head bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, is driven completely batshit by demonic forces. Keschev then goes about systematically murdering all of the members of the Politburo he suspects of conspiring against him, which is everyone. One gets trampled to death by a wild boar, another gets eaten by rats (scrotum first), others are crucified in Cathedral of St. Michael, it's a complete mess. Who can stop the Kremlin Beast?

The main character, if there is one, is Sergey Prokop, a KGB operative turned Kremlin paper pusher, who is blackmailed into assisting a beautiful British spy named Ursula Ramanninov. She is a famous Russian dancer and he falls in love with her even though he rightly suspects she's a honey pot. She's certainly an improvement over his fat drunken bitch of a wife, whose born again Christianity soon earns her a date with the secret police and their spiked dildo of doom. Ramanninov and Prokop gradually piece together the truth of the situation and formulate a plan to kill Keschev. However, with tensions rising and Soviet troops marching through Afghanistan and beyond, can they complete their mission before the world erupts into nuclear war?

Usually Smith's protagonists are misogynistic and one dimensional, but at least they're proactive. Prokop, on the other hand, does pretty much fuck all except get ordered around by other people and mope about his horrible wife. At one point he is assigned to protect a politican during a visit to Keschev's dascha. After completely failing at that task, a prostitute confides in him about her fear of Keschev. His response is to give her a knife and wish her luck, which goes about as well as you'd expect. Also, during the climax of the book Prokop just sits around biting his nails while Ramanninov does all the work. What an asshole.

Like in Warhead, Guy N. Smith tries to combine cold war tension with supernatural horror, but I think he's more successful here. The Russian perspective was interesting and it's always scary to have a crazed madman with their finger on the button. It's one of Smith's longer books and while the cat-and-mouse between Keschev and his conspirators is quite enjoyable it does gets a little repetitive after a while. Some decent suspense is generated as the cast of characters is whittled down and it ends in a decent and somewhat surprising climax. This is a pretty good one.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Strike of the Panther (1988)

Oh Jason Blade, you're just so dreamy.

Fans of the Day of the Panther's protagonist, the kung-fu-master/wearer-of-high-waisted-pants Jason Blade (Edward Stazak) - and who isn't a fan - will remember that at the end of the first film we were assured/warned that Jason Blade would return in Strike of the Panther. Here they make good on that promise, which probably wasn't hard since the two films were made back-to-back and released the very same year. Those of you who aren't completely up-to-date on your Blade-ology needn't fear, because the film recaps the plot of the first film in meticulous detail, a process that takes over seven minutes, even though the only thing you need to know is that Blade hooked up with a girl named Gemma (Paris Jefferson) and pussed out on killing his nemesis Baxter (Jim Richards).

After the proceedings of the first film, Baxter is sent to Fremantle prison but, fueled by a burning hatred for Jason Blade, manages to escape by, uh, climbing a sheet rope over a wall. A fittingly retro escape for a prison built in the 19th century, but such lax security was probably a contributing factor to the prison's decommissioning a couple of years after this film was made. Zucor, the criminal mastermind from the first film, is nowhere to be seen so I guess Baxter left him to rot in jail. I can't really blame him since he was kind of an asshole, but this means that the villain of this film is basically the hired muscle, like if there was a sequel to Enter the Dragon where the villain was Bolo Yeung. Actually that sounds pretty awesome.

Meanwhile, Blade has found work in the West Australian police force, training up a new criminal task force in the supposedly top-secret Panther school kung fu. A criminal psychologist from Interpol, Sgt. Lucy Andrews (Rowena Wallace), shows up to lend a hand and Blade is given the assignment of retrieving a politician's crack-addled daughter from a high class brothel. Going undercover, Blade infiltrates the brothel and finds the girl, but with the madam busting into their room every five minutes to distribute fresh towels, it's not long before his true identity is discovered. This gives Blade a great excuse to rip off his shirt and beat up some thugs, all the while dodging pervs in full-body chicken suits (Blade's incredulous response: "You're sick!!") and Angus Young schoolboy outfits.

Gemma is also up to her old tricks, seducing Blade with her sexy dance routines while he impresses her with his shirtless kung fu and frequent work-out sessions. There's also the kind of cultural exchange that is a hallmark of a burgeoning relationship; Gemma learning some kung fu moves and Blade awkwardly step-kick-stepping his way across the dance floor. It's not all leotards and sweaty pecs though. It seems that Blade is having trouble committing. Blade claims that he doesn't want to put her in danger, and he's got a good point because the next morning Gemma gets kidnapped by a couple of Baxter's hired goons.

Also returning from Day of the Panther is veteran Australian actor John Stanton as Blade's mentor (and Gemma's uncle) William Anderson. He gets hit by a car while trying to save Gemma and is stuck in a hospital bed for the rest of the film. Luckily he's still able to provide Blade with fighting advice ("Jason! Above you!") thanks to a telepathic ability that isn't explained but I guess is part of their secret Panther School training. I wish I had a psychic link with Jason Blade. Or John Stanton for that matter.

Baxter holes up with Gemma in the old Fremantle power station and demands to see Blade by 6pm that night or he kills her. Usually in a movie like this the hero would just strut right in without hesitation, but Jason Blade is a prudent man and gets Sgt. Andrews to stall Baxter while he finds out some more information. After tracking down some of Baxter's goons, it turns out that Baxter has assembled a team of expert martial artists to ambush Blade as soon as he enters the power station. Baxter has dressed them up like ninjas with hockey masks and armed them with knives, swords and kamas as well an very un-ninja-like weapons such as butterfly knives, baseball bats and blowtorches.

Thus armed with information, Blade busts into the power station while a SWAT team, led by Sgt. Andrews, breaches from the opposite side. The ninjas try to freak them out by flitting about in the shadows and one particularly brazen ninja, no doubt hearing about Blade's woeful dance moves, tries to intimidate him by break-dancing and moonwalking. Blade triumphs, thanks to the telepathic advice of his mentor, but the SWAT team get completely wiped out save for Sgt. Andrews.

Eventually Blade finds Gemma and has his final battle with Baxter while Andrews nervously defuses the time bomb that Baxter has planted on the station's transformers. After an appropriate amount of back-and-forth fisticuffs, Baxter gets kicked into a junction box and electrified, despite the fact that the power plant had been shut down years ago. This film is directed by the stunt-obsessed Brian Trenchard-Smith, so you'd think Baxter would burst into flames like in a (fellow former stuntman) Craig R. Baxley film, but here he is disappointingly restrained and Baxter simply thrashes around and expires with some cheesy sparks and smoke.

Actually this film doesn't have a lot of the awesome stunts you expect from Trenchard-Smith. There's a pretty cool moment when Blade chases a guy up the side of an apartment building and down again, only for him to get creamed by a passing car, but there's no real good car chases, explosions or gun fights. Granted the first film didn't have a lot of that either, but the action/non-action ratio seems a lot lower here too, even after cramming in some unrelated fight scenes such as Blade beating up some punks who are trying to steal his car. Like the first film, the fights are nicely choreographed and edited, and Stazak has some great moves. Probably not as good as Day of the Panther, but it's still the second best West Australian kung fu flick of 1988.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender 5: King of the Kickboxers II: American Shaolin (1993)

Man, these Hare Krishna are getting really
aggressive about donations


It's fairly obvious that this film was never supposed to be a No Retreat, No Surrender film, given the ungodly clusterfuck of a title. Naturally it doesn't have any connection to the first King of the Kickboxers either, save for director Lucas Lo. It opens on a training session for the villain of the piece, a goofball in a ponytail named Trevor Gottitall. I know I say this a lot, but that's the best name ever. He's a self-absorbed asshole with a whole evil entourage straight out of a Rocky film, including nurses, scientists and tracksuited lackeys. During a training match with a Bruce Lee wannabe, his opponent's pants fall down and Trevor takes the opportunity to deliver a wicked side kick. It's through this that Trevor develops an entire fighting system revolving around the strategic pantsing of his opponents. "Beat your opponent once and he's a threat." says his sleazy manager, "Humiliate him and he'll fear you forever."

Cut to the Jersey Shore Karate Championship and Trevor Gotitall is facing the Daniel-Larusso-esque Drew Carson (Reese Madigan) in the final round of the tournament. Even though you have no idea who this kid is you know it must be important because the lights dim, scary music plays and lightning flashes. When the match begins Trevor thoroughly creams Drew before demonstrating his Deadly Move of Ultimate Pantsing, whipping off Drew's belt (while wearing fighting gloves, which is quite impressive in itself) and sending him 'a' over 't' in his tighty-whities. In a stunning display of insensitivity, the entire crowd points and laughs while Drew's Mr Miyagi equivalent Master Kwan (Kim Chan) bows his head in shame. Drew is humiliated after his ignoble defeat and Master Kwan reveals that although he claimed to have studied at the Shaolin Temple, he actually made all that shit up. As a result, Drew is inspired to travel to China and become a Shaolin monk.

After wandering around China like a stupid tourist he finally reaches the temple and unsurprisingly he is refused entry gets tossed on his ass. After consulting a local girl he manages to get around their strict "no whiteys" policy by going on hunger strike outside the temple until they give up and let him in. He doesn't speak a lick of Chinese and although you'd think that not being able to communicate with other monks or read the Buddhist scriptures might be a problem for an aspiring monk, luckily everyone inside the temple speaks perfect English. Indeed, many of the monks are played by American actors, leading to strange situations such as where fellow initiate Gao (Daniel Dae Kim) refuses to sleep next to him because he's an American, even though Gao has an American accent himself; or where monks speak to villagers in English and get replies in Chinese.

Naturally Drew's all-American sass causes all sorts of friction and he rebels when a 'roided-out senior monk (Cliff Lenderman) assigns them menial tasks such as sweeping and breaking rocks. I guess Drew hasn't seen Shaolin Temple or 36th Chamber of Shaolin or pretty much any film ever made about Shaolin monks. Eventually their training moves onto more traditional fare such as strengthening their hands in braziers of hot coals, walking on logs etc and Drew teaches the other students how to pop-lock and air guitar to Summertime Blues (with "Shaolin Temple Blues" awkwardly inserted into the chorus). Rockin'! I hope you like this song too, because it's used at least half a dozen times throughout the film. I guess they paid their licensing fees and they were determined to get every penny's worth.

It wouldn't be a movie about Shaolin training without a few fuck-ups along the way. A fight with Gao gets out of hand when Drew accidentally kicks the head off a sacred statue, although Gao ends up taking some of the blame under the temple's "dobbers wear diapers" approach to discipline. Drew's biggest snafu is when he convinces some of the other students to go with him to a party at a local girls' school. When the monks hit the dance floor with the girls (there's that Summertime Blues song again) a bowl-cut doofus in aviator shades picks a fight with them. The police arrive at the temple the next day and demand that Drew be expelled, but in the end the head monk lets him stay. Phew!

In Drew's final trial he has to test his skills against a whole bunch of Shaolin wooden men like in Jackie Chan's 1976 film, uh, Shaolin Wooden Men. This involves a whole bunch of goofy looking wooden golems rocketing towards him while flailing their limbs madly. Drew gets completely creamed and I've got to admit that watching him get put in an armlock and punched repeatedly in the gut by a bunch of wooden automatons is completely hilarious. Watch out for splinters! Of course, Drew eventually emerges from the test, battered and bruised but victorious, and is made an honourary monk.

But what about Trevor Gottitall? Well, he's dealt with in the final ten minutes of the film, when the group head off to Beijing so they can compete in an International Wushu Exhibition. Turns out that Trevor is one of the competitors (local Karate tournaments, international Wushu exhibitions; the guy really gets around) and starts beating up Gao in an effort to goad Drew into fighting. Drew initially refuses ("I will not fight for personal glory or my ego") until Gao is severely beaten and the senior monk gives Drew permission to kick ass. The match is pretty entertaining and Drew manages to defeat Trevor even after falling for his secret pantsing move again. You'd think by this stage he would have learned to wear suspenders or a firmly fastened belt.

I particularly enjoyed the ridiculous premise of this movie. In a typical movie of this type, like Shaolin Temple or 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the hero seeks training from the Shaolin monks so he can avenge the murder of a loved one and/or overthrow a political tyrant. In this movie the hero seeks training after being pantsed by an opponent during a New Jersey Karate tournament. It kind of lacks the dramatic heft, you know? Unfortunately it also lacks the quality fight scenes, and although Corey Yuen does a good job with the choreography it's clear that Reese Madigan is the weak link. Occasionally some extras would demonstrate great weapons skills and I would think "Why can't this movie be about those guys instead?" Hopefully the sequel will focus on the awesome character of Trevor Gotittall. Title suggestion: No Retreat, No Surrender 6: King of the Kickboxers III: American Shaolin 2: The Rise of Trevor.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender 4: The King of the Kickboxers (1990)

Let's see your angry faces! Grrrr!

Although it sports the same creative team and the same lead actor, The King of the Kickboxers was intended to be a spinoff rather than part of the No Retreat, No Surrender franchise. It might as well have been part of the series, it's not like it has any continuing story, so they decided to distribute it as No Retreat, No Surrender 4 anyway. I guess they figured that somebody, somewhere must be thinking "Sure, I loved the first three No Retreat, No Surrender films but I really don't think they said everything that needed to be said about refraining from retreating and/or surrendering."

The fourth film starts with a place familiar to No Retreat, No Surrender fans (or NoRNSies as we like to be called): Thailand. Sean Donahue and his spotty kid brother Jake are heading home after winning the national Thai kickboxing championship when a bunch of armed Thai leap out of the bushes and hold them at gunpoint. The leader of these armed men is Khan, played by 7-time world karate champion Billy Blanks, who says "An American can never be champion." and blows up their tuk-tuk. I believe Blanks is supposed to be Thai, which is pretty hilarious because he's an enormous 6-foot black guy with an American accent. He then starts whipping Sean's ass so thoroughly you have to wonder why Khan wasn't fighting in the champsionship if they wanted a Thai to win so bad. Anyway, Khan flat-out murders Sean with a succession of brutal kicks and gives Jake a few kicks in the skull for good measure.

Ten years later Jake Donahue has become an undercover cop played by Loren Avedon. I thought after Jessie Roby, tough guy for hire, we'd seen the last of Avedon's attempts at undercover work, but here we get another peek as Donahue goes undercover as a drug dealer, complete with huge shades, leathers and what I assume is a gravelly biker voice. Donahue is a Tough Cop Who Plays by his Own Rules (tm) so he gives his backup the wrong address and flat out tells the bad guys he's a cop just so he's got an excuse to whip some ass. This leads to an Angry Chief Moment (tm) where Jake is ordered to go to Thailand and investigate some illegal black market tapes. No, not those kind of illegal tapes.

Jake refuses to go back to Thailand at first but later that everning he decides to take a look at the tapes anyway. At first they only seem to show clips of No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers (Jake remarks "Looks like a Bruce Lee movie without Bruce", cue wah-wah trumpet) so I was hoping the film would be turn into a Charlie-Kaufman-esque meta-comedy about Avedon tracking down the makers of the No Retreat, No Surrender franchise. However, it seems that the tapes also show people getting beaten and murdered IRL by his old nemesis Khan, who has used the intervening ten years to accessorise his crew cut with a couple of braided rat-tails. Yes, it seems that before he was hawking Tae Bo tapes to the masses, Billy Blanks was making kickboxing snuff films. Unfortunately Jake doesn't shout "Khaaaaan!" but he does have a flashback to his brother's murder followed by a ridonkulous anguished scream, which is almost as good.

Upon arriving in Thailand, Jake has his big travelogue moment, posing in front of various Bangkok landmarks in a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt. He then meets up with his local contact and tells him that he's going to conduct the investigation his way, which involves heading to Bangkok Kickboxing Academy in a hilarious denim vest, dissing the fighting skills of everyone there, whipping the asses of a few of the students, insulting everybody and leaving. It's basically the same as America's foreign policy for the last few decades, but unlike America's foreign policy it yields some positive results and his impressive fighting chops attract the attention of the snuff film producers.

While this is going on we get to see Khan making one his famous martial arts snuff films. They are produced by a sleazy fat guy who is constantly surrounded by some Thai babes and they are directed by a goofball in a flowery shirt. They lure in a martial arts champion with the promise of a starring role in an action vehicle, but by the time he figures things out (the complete lack of fight choreography was a major clue) Khan leaps onto the set and beats him to death. As a reward Khan gets his pick of a bunch of blonde girls (I'd say foxy babes, but some of them... aren't). He picks the most attractive one, Molly (Sherrie Rose), but she manages to escape onto the mean streets of Patpong where Jake saves her from Khan's goons.

After charming the pants off her, Jake is stalked by one of the academy's top students who, when Jake reveals his true motives for being in Bangkok, takes him to see Prang, the only man who has come close to defeating Khan in the ring. Prang (played by the awesome Keith Cooke) appears to be nothing more than a reclusive alcoholic, but when some of Khan's men show up he snaps out of his drunken stupor and starts kicking ass. This is actually a pretty awesome sequence; Cooke's kicking skills are, as always, top notch. After one of those master/student "Teach me!" "No!" "Teach me!" "No!" "Teach me!" "Okay." arguments, it's time for a training montage! Oh yes, I do love a good training montage, especially one involving weights suspended from intricate pulley systems. Of course, true martial arts training isn't just about honing the body, it's also about honing the mind. Prang tests Jake with koan riddles and drops pearls of wisdom like "There is no pain" and "Success comes through pain". Well, which is it, smartass?

When Jake hops in a canoe and paddles to the remote shooting location, I was impressed. For a snuff film they have some pretty good production values. There are dozens of extras in costumes and facepaint and a massive bamboo cage reminiscent of the Thunderdome. They've got decent lighting, a full camera crew... a real professional set-up. Jake feigns ignorance and dons a traditional Thai dancing costume, beating up on a few extras before Khan steps into the ring holding Molly in one hand and Prang's corpse in the other. Molly is tossed into a net and suspended from the top of the cage while Jake dons his best anguished/constipated face and throws a burnt up photograph of his brother at Khan. Oh it's on, now.

The fighting was choreographed by Corey Yuen so the final battle is really good. There are few moments where it looks like Avedon is a little out of his depth and there are some obvious stunt doubles, but it's a fun, Hong Kong style battle utilising a few different weapons and fighting styles. It also incorporates another of my favourite kung fu cliches: the training montage flashback, where Jake uses his newly acquired skills to defend against Khan's deadly triple flying kick attack. Khan uses his final breath to try and kill Molly, who is so scared she can't decide whether the hero's name is Jake or Jack, before Jake saves her and puts Khan down for good. The army bust in (led by his Shouty Chief) but from the looks of things the snuff director and the producer manage to escape. Jake may have completely botched his mission, but at least he avenged his brother's death and won the affection of a hot blonde babe, and isn't that what's really important?

I'm not sure whether this one is better than the third film in the series, but it was pretty awesome. The rubbish script is by Keith W. Strandberg, who wrote the script for every film in the series. It features a lot of grimacing, shouting and many endlessly quotable lines thanks mainly to the bizarre stylised acting of all involved, particularly Avedon, who makes lines like "Ive been there... for ten years WAAAH!!" into comedy gold. As such it's impossible to take seriously despite the grim subject matter. Never has Billy Blanks repeatedly kicking a child in the head been so funny. The only thing that's important in a film like this are the fights, which are frequent and well choreographed. It's a worthy non-entry in this non-series.