Thursday, September 29, 2016

5 things to love about Extreme Heist aka Wicked Game (2002)

What’s it about:
Ex-Power Rangers actors Johnny Yong Bosch and Jason Narvy play a couple of criminals who stumble across a money laundering enterprise and steal a huge amount of money. Together with a FBI agent they must stay one step ahead of the cartel who want their money back.

5 things to love:
1. The stunts. My word, this film puts a lot of big budget films to shame. All the stuntmen throw themselves around with complete disregard for safety. People jump out of planes, off cars, down stairs, off roofs. At time it feels like a stunt show. A few bits look faked but most of it looks very painful and very dangerous. It’s akin to watching an episode of Jackass in places. Take a look at this sequence:-

2. Johnny Yong Bosch (terrible haircut aside) gives a fun, light-hearted performance and has a great rapport with Jason Narvy. Both of them aren’t great actors by any stretch of the imagination but the friendship between them both is palpable. Bosch I feel could have maybe given Mark Dacascos a run for his money if he’d been given a few more roles.

3. The plane scene. Okay, now I’m getting into spoiler territory. The film begins with a skydiving sequence (that’s shot for real, no blue screens here) and I sat there thing, okay so that’s cool. But then at the end Bosch and the main villain jump out of a plane together with one parachute and fight over it as they fall. It’s a sequence I’ve seen in other films (Point Break, Eraser, Terminal Velocity) only this time it’s a genuine sequence with no digital trickery. It made the whole thing really exciting to watch.

4. A lot of films have terrible ideas of how computers work and how you make money transfers but this one takes the cake. Everyone seems to be using technology from early 90s.

5. I’m a fan of the original Power Rangers TV show (it was a gateway drug for a lot of Japanese media) and it was great to see a cameo from Paul Schrier (Bulk from Power Rangers) playing the owner of a restaurant. He and Narvy (who played Skulk) give each other a knowing look which made me smile.

1 thing it did need:
Better cameras. The whole thing looks like it was shot on MiniDV and it’s super grainy. Had they got a better DOP and budget this might have been a cult classic. As it is it’s too ugly and rough around the edges for most viewers. I loved it though.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

5 things to love about Doctor Mordrid (1992)

What’s it about:
Jeffrey Combs plays Doctor Mordrid (a thinly veiled version of Marvel’s Doctor Strange) a powerful sorcerer who protects Earth from supernatural threats under the guise of being a criminal psychologist. An evil villain called Kabal wants to find the Philopsher’s Stone and unleash monsters from the fourth dimension on to Earth. Only Mordrid and his neighbour Samantha can stop him.

5 things to love:
1. The cast is top notch. Jeffrey Combs is clearly relishing the opportunity to play a rare heroic role. Brian Thompson as the bad guy is suitably intimidating and Yvette Nipar (who co-starred in the 90s Robocop TV series) is at peak hotness.

2. The production design of Mordrid’s apartment is awesome and clearly where most of the budget went to.

3. The climatic fight between Mordrid and Kabal takes place in a museum where they both take control of dinosaur skeletons who proceed to battle it out. It’s a short sequence but lovingly composed by Dave Allen who also did the effects on other Charles Band produced films like Robot Jox and Prehysteria.

4. Spotting where writer C Courtney Joyner has ‘borrowed’ from the Marvel comic Doctor Strange. Apparently the script was originally supposed to be Doctor Strange but the rights elapsed so they just tweaked the story.

5. The scale of the story. Comparing this to most blockbusters nowadays it’s kind of awesome how small and intimate it is compared to X-Men Apocalypse and Batman v Superman.

1 thing it did need:
More for Brian Thompson to do. He doesn’t really have a lot of screen time and at 74 minutes the running time could have been padded out a little more.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

5 things to love about Shopping (1994)

What’s it about:
Jude Law plays a criminal who is released from prison and quickly returns to a life of crime stealing cars and ram-raiding with his girlfriend. However he incurs the wrath of local crime boss Sean Pertwee who feels he is encroaching on his territory.

5 things to love:
1. The cinematography is really good for such an obviously low budget film. This was Paul W S Anderson’s debut film* and although it never quite comes together there are some fantastically creative shots throughout the film.

2. Although not “top tier” the soundtrack for the film is pretty great. My favourites were Utah Saints – ‘I Have Something to Say’ (which sadly removes the Highlander dialogue sample), Orbital – ‘Halcyon+On+On’ and The Sabres of Paradise – ‘Theme’.

3. The cast is like a who’s who of British actors. Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, Jason Isaacs, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce. I can’t say they are great performances, the script is too stilted and stylised, but it’s fun to see a lot of them in early roles.

4. I liked what the film was trying to be. A sort of A Clockwork Orange for the 90s. It doesn’t succeed but I appreciate the effort. The way Anderson sets the film in ruined buildings, tower blocks and empty streets had a powerful vibe.

5. Lastly, you’ve got to love the terrible 90s clothing that everyone wears. If you didn’t live through the 90s you won’t understand.

1 it didn’t need:
There’s a lots about this film that doesn’t work – Jude Law is very, very hard to take as a working class thief – but the thing that brings the film to a grinding halt every time is Sadie Frost awful performance as Law’s girlfriend Jo.

* Full disclosure: I don’t think Paul Anderson’s a terrible director and enjoy almost all his films (bar AVP) on a turn your brain off and have fun-level

Thursday, September 8, 2016

5 things to love about Wolfen (1981)

What’s it about:
Albert Finney is a New York cop tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a real estate tycoon and his wife. All the clues point to the killer being a group of wolves, possibly even werewolves(!), who are hiding out in the ruins of the Bronx.

5 things to love:
1. The POV shots in the film are really well done. It’s similar to Predator but rather than pixelated bright colour it’s done with an effect I’ve never seen before. It sort of inverts certain colours. The camerawork in these sequences are super smooth. There’s a part where it ascends a spiral staircase that I can’t figure out how they did so well. It’s mesmerising.

2. The setting is also very cool. A lot of it is shot in the ruins of New York’s Bronx district. I’ve seen glimpses of this period before but never in such detail. Rubble strewn blocks with single burnt out buildings still standing. It all looks amazing. Hats off to cinematographer Gerry Fisher (Highlander, Exorcist III).

3. At one point Finney’s character climbs the Brooklyn Bridge to talk to a group of Native American construction workers. It’s a super tense scene with Finney using safety lines to secure himself. You can tell they didn't fake this.

4. The film is full of great performances: Gregory Hines as a morgue attendant, Tom Noonan as an animal expert but far and away the most memorable is Edward James Olmos who gives a crazy and ballsy performance - both figuratively and literally - as at one point he runs around a beach naked at night pretending to be a werewolf.

5. Though the film is very down to earth and realistic for most of the running time it occasionally bursts into flurries of super insane violence. At one point, a wolf bites a man’s head clean off. The head falls to the floor and the man is still able to blink for a few seconds before the car next to his body explodes!

1 thing it didn’t need:
The sex scene between Albert Finney and his love interest. No thanks, didn’t need to see that.