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Vigilante Diaries (2016)
Good production values let down slightly by a poor script
I had been looking somewhat forward to the Vigilante Diaries after reading some interviews with the writer and star Paul Sloan. His enthusiasm for the movie had me intrigued.
The first thing that stands out from the movie is the excellent technical quality of the film. The production values of the movie definitely make Vigilante Diaries stick out from the DTV crowd. The bullet and blood effects are, although digital, done well and give the action a bloody, gritty feel.
The film is also shot in a number of location's, which is not usually seen in a DTV action movie. They travel to Russia, Glasgow, London and others. I ma assuming that Sloan and Sesma done this with their own money, to give the film an international feel. Unfortunately a lot of these scenes are not required and drag the film out. Although it was nice to see places like Glasgow in an American action movie It seems they were used just because the actor/director had the opportunity to visit these places.
Sloan as the Vigilante of the title, equips himself well as the lead. I don't think he will ever be a leading man, but is great at action, and I will look at the rest of his career with interest. Michael Jai White also shows up in a limited role, but does get a chance to show off some moves. Rampage Jackson is also good, in what is actually quite a humorous role. Of the leads, the only bum note is Jason Mewes, who is cringe worthy in some scenes, and wouldn't have been missed if he was cut from the film altogether.
As mentioned before, Director Sesma does a great job with the technical aspects of the film, and the action scenes are great. Unfortunately the film should have been edited down. Although the movie only runs to 105 minutes, it feels much longer due to some unneeded scenes. I feel bad complaining about a DTV movie being over ambitious considering some of the garbage that currently floods the market. At least I can say that it is miles better than some of the recent Steven Segal films and their like.
I would definitely recommend Vigilante Diaries to action fans, and would have given it a higher score if it wasn't for a few elements which bring it down a bit. Hopefully with Sesma's next film he will get everything right.
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
It is like the poor man's Battleship.
It has taken Roland Emmerich 20 years to get a sequel to Independence Day made. In this time he has had some flops and some big hits. I think he may have made this, definitely his poorest offering yet, so that no matter what he makes next will be classed as brilliant in comparison.
The film is a comic book of a film, and in my summary I said that it is like a poor man's version of Battleship. I am not saying that Battleship is good, but its at least enjoyable, something which independence day 2 never reaches.
In the original movie, which was made with a much smaller budget than this overblown mess, the effects seemed spectacular. This was down to the fact that at the time, there was still a large use of practical effects. Unfortunately this time round, there is an overuse of CGI. Some of it is admittedly excellent, but it is so lifeless, it just drains the film of any feeling.
Also the film was set in a real world environment, which was unprepared for an alien invasion. When it happened the characters had to fight them with real world weapons like fighter jets. In the sequel we have space ships with warp drives and laser guns, with space stations on the moon another unlikely addition. There is absolutely nothing in the film that you can relate to.
It is good to see Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Judd Hirsch back from the original, but other than Goldblum, they are pretty much wasted. Luckily the actors are good to overcome their underwritten parts and Hirsch injects the film with some humour. When Judd Hirsch is one of the best things in action movie, you have to ask yourself whats going on? The new leads are unfortunately pretty poor. Its not really the actors fault, as they cant really do much with what they are given. The supporting cast are also wasted, with William Fichtner being totally underused.
On the directing side, Emmerich just overloads the screen with a ton of effects and hopes it covers up for the total lack of imagination which he showed in the original. I have read that he is looking to make a sequel to Stargate next. I hope that the failure of this movie stops that from happening, as I actually think that is his best film.
Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken (1974)
Sonny Chiba Messes people up
This was the film that made Chiba an international star, and is also famous as being the first film in America to be given an X certificate due to its violent content and not for sex or swearing.
There is very little plot in the film. Luckily there is some excellent action along the way which makes up for any of the plots shortcomings. Chiba is excellent and proves once again that he is one of the best martial arts stars ever. Here he plays Takama Tsuguri, the Streetfighter of the title. He isn't you'r usual kind of hero, and in any other film he would be probably classed as a villain. The film begins with Tsuguri being hired to break out a convict from prison which he does with extremely violent results. Afterwards he is double crossed by the family. Most people would get their revenge by just beating them up, not Tsuguri. Instead he beats up the convicts brother and sells the sister into prostitution, and this is the hero of the movie.
What lies ahead of this are a number of increasingly violent action scenes culminating in an excellent fight on board a giant tanker fighting the main villains henchman until he comes face to face once again with the convict that he freed at the beginning of the film.
Direction in the movie is basic, other than a use of an x-ray shot that shows broken bones, which was utilised to better effect years later in the Jet Li movie "Romeo Must Die". Also there are no performances of note other than Chiba, and even then he is known more for his fighting skills than his thespian ones.
It is no surprise that this film made Chiba a star as he is definitely in a class of his own. His popularity in America was also due to the death of Bruce Lee and audience's wanted to fill the void left by him. Personally I prefer Chiba to Bruce Lee. He may not be as skilled as a Martial Artist, but just seems more deadly on screen than Lee was. Even in its dubbed and re-edited form, the Streetfighter is still a great Martial Arts movie.
Fukkatsu no hi (1980)
Bleak Disaster Movie from a Japanese Master
An excellent disaster movie from Japanese director Kinji Fukasaki. The film, starring an international cast, isn't your typical Hollywood fare, and they would probably never make a film like this in the disaster genre.
The film obviously doesn't have the budget of a Hollywood movie, but Fukasaku makes up for this in terms of plot and performances by the actors. He also seems to have a carefree attitude when it comes to killing of main characters no matter how famous they are compared to the rest of the cast. He has Glenn Ford, who may have been the biggest star in the film at that time. He doesn't seem to care as he kills him off after only thirty minutes. Considering that he is meant to be the President, this is a major thing in the film, but Fukasaku plays everything downbeat.
If this was an American movie, it would have the Americans saving the world from the virus of the title. Instead the virus wipes out almost the entire population of the world with only around a thousand people left alive.
The film has some recognisable faces from American cinema such as George Kennedy who seems to have starred in all the disaster movies that were going. The film casting is a little silly in parts in terms of casting people like Chuck Conners as a British Naval Captain, but this is only a minor fault.
The only drawback that I can find is that the version I watched seems to be heavily edited from the original running time. Now this doesn't ruin the flow of the film, but major chunks of the film are supposedly missing. Also missing are some performances such as Sonny Chiba's character, who I only noticed once in the films complete running time, which is a shame as he is one of Japans biggest stars.
Great 90's Style Action Movie
I originally heard of Gridlocked through the website Twitch, who had said that it was like a throw back to 90's action movie. They were not wrong. Felt like I was watching an old PM Entertainment movie. The only thing missing was an appearance from Jeff Wincott.
Originally I was a bit apprehensive, as star Dominic Purcell has not got the best track record. No fault to him, as he is always a welcome presence, but his films of late have been poor. This may be down to the fact that they have mainly been directed or produced by Uwe Boll.
Luckily there are no such drawbacks this time round, with great production values, and excellent action scenes, this is definitely one of the better DTV actioners I have seen in a while.
Performance wise, Purcell is his usual reliable self as the lead. Stephen Lang is great as the villain, although could have had a bit more screen time. Danny Glover gets limited screen time for his usual too old for this role. WWE superstar Trish Stratus still looks great and gets a number of decent action scenes, and Vinnie Jones is thrown in for good measure.
The only drawback is Cody Hackman, as the film star that has to work with Purcell as part of his Community Service. He can be slightly annoying, and the fact that he is playing an A list movie star, it would have been better to get someone that has movie star quality. This is a minor problem, and with the rest of the movie being of higher quality than usual, its not much of a complaint. Surprisingly Hackman is a karate champion, but he actually doesn't really participate in a lot of the action in the film.
There is a slight slow build to the siege part of the film, but once it begins it doesn't let up, with there being a number of violent shootouts taking place. The film definitely earns its R rating. The Director is going to be someone I will be keeping an aye on.
Wo de te gong ye ye (2016)
Sammo's still got it
My Beloved Bodyguard is the first film Sammo Hung has directed in almost 20 years. Although not one of Hung's classics, this is still streets ahead of what the critical reviews have said.
Originally My Beloved Bodyguard was to star both Hung and Jackie Chan, in the Andy Lau role. The film has obviously went through some rewrites since then, as I can't see Chan playing the type of role that Lau plays here.
The plot of the film steals somewhat from movies like " Man on Fire" and the "Man from Nowhere", with Hung as a retired Civil Servant protecting a young girl. In this case it is local triads, who Lau, the child's father, owes money too.
Some reviews have complained about the lack of action in the movie. Must having been watching something else, as there are a number of good action/fight scenes in the movie. There's an excellent chase sequence with Lau and a number of gangsters, that is only let down by being a bit short, then a fight between Sammo and some thugs who come to his house. Then there is the extended finale, with Hung taking on a group of gangsters. Unlike the comedic fights Hung used to take part in, this is just brutal, with multiple limbs being broken.
The film has been harmed somewhat by its advertising campaign which shows the actors, some of which are legends like Yuen Biao & Yuen Wah, that appear in the movie in action poses. Unfortunately most of the actors on the posters only appear in the film in limited cameos, which is a shame. This isn't a fault of the film, as i'm sure Sammo had nothing to do with the advertising.
On the performance side, Sammo is his usual self. His fans won't be disappointed. Lau is also good, in the only other lead role of the film. Only Lau could turn a somewhat waste of space, into a likable character. Lau also acts as the films producer.
On the directing side, Sammo shows his skill behind the camera, and although his action scenes are more edited that in the past, his choreography still shines through. Only drawback is his overuse of a blurry slow-mo effect which can be somewhat distracting.
If you are a fan of Hong Kong cinema and/or Sammo Hung, I would definitely recommend "My Beloved Bodyguard".
Last Embrace (1979)
Great Hitchcockian thriller
Last Embrace is unlike most Jonathan Demme films. Although made as somewhat of an homage to Hitchcock, you would be forgiven in thinking Last Embrace is a Brian De Palma movie. The look and feel of the film put me in mind of De Palma's movie Obsession, which itself was a homage to Hitchcock's Vertigo.
Roy Scheider is excellent as the shell shocked spy who uncovers what he thinks is a Jewish conspiracy but runs much deeper. Janet Margolin is equally good as a character that is more than she appears to be. Charles Napier, Christoper Walken and John Glover also put in good turns in smaller roles. Also look out for an early appearance from Mandy Patinkin.
There are some excellent scenes of tension, where at first you are not sure if Scheider is just going mad, or if someone is really trying to kill him. The finale of the film is especially good, taking place at Niagara Falls.
The plot can be overly complicated at first, but is actually quite simple when the whole film is played out. Some reviews have complained that the film is anti-semitic. The only reason for this is that they mention that in the past some Jewish people were evil. I don't see how this is being anti-semitic. The film shows that any one is capable of evil acts.
The UK Blu-Ray release has this as an 18 certificate, which in my opinion is over the top. Other than some brief nudity there is nothing in the film that would suggest that it should be an 18. I don't even remember any swearing in the film.
If you are a fan of the films of Hitchcock, Demme or even De Palma you should give Last Embrace a go. You won't be disappointed.
Midnight Special (2016)
Another cracker from the Director of Take Shelter & Mud
From the very vague trailer, I was intrigued by what Midnight Special was actually going to turn out to be. The trailers were very reminiscent of 80's John Carpenter. Luckily the film lives up to what was shown in the trailers, and is definitely one of my favourites of the year so far.
The excellent Michael Shannon, intense as ever, plays a devoted father, who kidnaps his own son from a religious cult. Along for the ride is the equally excellent Joel Edgerton, and later on in the film Kirsten Dunst. I won't go too much in to the plot, as it would surely spoil your initial viewing.
All performances are great. As mentioned earlier Shannon and Edgerton are excellent, but the smaller roles played by Sam Sheperd and Adam Driver make an impression. Even Kirsten Dunst who I'm not really a fan off is great here in a limited role as the boys mother.
This is by far Jeff Nicols best film so far, even surpassing the excellent Mud. Fans of Clsoe Encounters and Starman will love it, even though it is a bit more grounded than them, and is more of a thriller for the most part.
Ma Yong Zhen (1972)
Martial Arts Masterpiece
Possibly Chang Cheh's finest martial arts movie, containing everything that people have come to expect from him. The film has a good, although not great, storyline, charismatic actors and thrilling action scenes. It also contains a ton of blood.
Chen Kuan Tai plays the title character, and we follow him as he rises through the ranks of the gangster world. David Chiang shows up in supporting role as a crime boss who is admired by Kuan Tai. Although he only appears briefly he still gets a chance to show of his moves, and be a tough guy.
The main themes of brotherhood and betrayal are all here as usual, and the film culminates in one of the finest final fight scenes to appear in a Shaw Brothers Movie.
Of course there is still the usual problems, as in a lot of the more modern day Chang Cheh films, no one considers the idea of actually just shooting the hero from afar. Of course they don't, that would be too sensible, and most of the villains here are idiots. Of course if they just shot him it would end the movie quite abruptly. Instead Kuan Tai gets to fight it out in a bloody trail of glory, and doesn't even give up when he's gets an axe in the stomach.
An axe in the stomach, and he fights till the end with it sticking out of him. Any other film you may think this is ridiculous, but in a Chang Cheh film this is expected.
Chen Kuan Tai would go on to work with Chang Cheh in numerable other occasions, but was never better than in Boxer from Shantung.
Also check out the remakes, Hero, starring Yuen Biao & Takeshi Kaneshiro and also the more recent Once Upon a Time in Shanghai. Both deserve a look, but don't live up to Cheh's classic.
Da mao xian jia (1995)
Lesser Ringo Lam
You would expect the team up of master director Ringo Lam and actor Andy Lau would have had better results. Unfortunately The Adventurers is a somewhat lesser affair for both Director and Star.
The adventurers is a below par (for Ringo Lam) thriller, involving Lau's character Mandy (yes you did read that right)going undercover in America to infiltrate the gang of the man that killed his parents when he was a boy.
Competently made, but more could have been done with the plot and characters. It does involve some good action scenes, but Lam has done better and on a smaller budget. Lam said at the time that it was impossible to make a decent film with Andy Lau because half of the budget was spent on his fee alone. This doesn't make it a bad film.
Generally the performances are good especially Rosemund Kwan as the film's Femme Fatale. Worth a look, but for a better example of Lam check out his other classics The Victim, City on Fire or Full Contact.
Chuen zik dai do (1998)
A major disappointment. The whole film appears cheap and made in a rush. The whole film is way below the standards of everyone that was involved.
It is billed as an action comedy, but neither the comedy or the action works. Francis Ng does his best with one of the poorest roles he has been given in years. Poor Anthony Wong doesn't even get a chance to make an impression.
On the action front everything is mediocre and even Martial Arts master Ken Lo as a crooked cop can't do much to enliven the finale. Definitely one to miss.
Gods of Egypt (2016)
Not as bad as people say
A lot has been said of this movie. Even before the release there seemed to be problems regarding the whitewashing of the cast, as there are isn't one Egyptian actor involved in the production.
The trailers also did not inspire confidence, with some decidedly ropey CGI used. I was hoping that this was just because of the trailers early release. Unfortunately, although a lot of the CGI is excellent, there are still parts of the film that look like a game. This is a minor nit pick though, as it is a fantasy and you can't really expect realism with this type of film.
Of the leads, Gerard Butler seems to be having the most fun as the villain Set. From his scenery chewing intro, where he rips out his nephew's eyes, he doesn't let up. He also uses his own accent in this. Unfortunately he cant seem to decide what his accent is anymore. Still, he is still great in the role.
Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau, as the hero of the story Horus, is in great shape and plays the hero well, although the character can be a bit bland compared to Butler.
Brenton Thwaites is decent enough but cant live up to the two leads. The supporting cast is filled with greats like Bryan Brown, Geoffrey Rush and Rufus Sewell (re-teaming with Proyas for the first time since 1998's Dark City), but are pretty much wasted in minor roles. Elodie Yung gets a bit more to do than the other cast members and Chadwick Boseman doesn't embarrass himself too much.
As mentioned earlier, some of the CGI looks more like a video game, but kind off adds to the overall look of the film. I like the fact that Director Proyas seems to do his own thing here, and doesn't give his fantasy film the expected drab, dark look that so many fantasy's these days have. I like it when a Director doesn't go with the expected. Perhaps that is why the film is failing so much at the box office.
London Has Fallen (2016)
Mindless Violence - Loved it
You can usually rely on Millennium films to supply you with that needed dose of mindless action violence. Be it the expendables, Rambo or any of their DTV movies, they all usually have something in common. A sense of fun.
London has Fallen, is not as good as the first movie, but crams in a great dose of action in its 99 minutes run time. Let down slightly by its sometime poor CGI, typical of a lot of Millennium films, there are some great action scenes throughout the English Capital. Thankly the producers stuck to an R rating, as some of the violence is extreme.
Gerard Butler is great in the lead, and makes a great action hero. His character in this sequel is quite sadistic in places, but I felt it just added to his character. Eckhart is good, but given less to do than Butler. The supporting cast, other than Charlotte Riley, are all pretty much short changed, with a lot of them possibly filming their parts in a few days. Morgan Freeman's first appearance, meeting Butler in the White House, looks as if it was filmed separately from the rest of the movie.
Director Babak Najafi does a great job with the action, especially with a one take action scene in a London Alleyway. The scene only let down slightly by poor effects work. He may not be up to the standards to Olympus has Fallen director Antoine Fuqua, but carries it off well.
Give it a chance
A lot of reviews have been rating this movie quite low. It seems most people are disappointed that it is not the first movie. There are a lot of differences with this sequel, mainly being the overall tone and look of the film.
The original is always heralded as a classic, and a lot of people from the West go on about its originality. Martial Arts movie fans will know that these types of films were a common genre in the past. None of them were as well produced as Crouching Tiger, other than possibly Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time (1994).
Although filmed in English, this feels much more like a traditional Hong Kong martial arts film from the 70's or 80's. Some of the dialogue is slightly stilted in it's delivery but doesn't sound ridiculous as others have commented on. The romantic aspects of the original have been toned down, and the pulpy adventure aspects have been pushed to the front. This is not a bad thing, as the film has a number of excellent fight scenes throughout. The film site Joblo said that the fight scenes were poor. Personally they must have watched a different movie, as all the action was well done. The action may not compare to the original, but is still excellent.
On the performance side, Yeoh and Yen are definitely the stars here. Yeoh reprising her role from the original is excellent as always, although does get a bit short changed in the finale. Yen is the main focus with the action, and as always works well with director Yuen Wo Ping. The best fight is his fight with Harry Shum Jr, Roger Yuan and himself on a frozen lake.
The two younger leads in the film don't make as much of an impact, especially when compared to Chang Chen and Zhang Ziyi in the original. Jason Scott Lee is a pantomime villain in the best sense, and does well in his fight scenes, although is carrying a considerable bit of weight since his Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story days.
On the direction front, Yuen Wo Ping is no Ang Lee, but that isn't really a problem due to the type of film that this version of Crouching Tiger is, being a pulpy action adventure. The locations have also been commented on, as the movie has been shot in New Zealand and not China. I actually liked this aspect as it gave the movie a different look than usual.
The Finest Hours (2016)
70's style disaster movie with better special effects
If the Finest Hours was released in the 70's I think it would have done a lot better at the box office. Unfortunately this type of film can't find the proper audience that it definitely deserves.
It's quite a different film from Craig Gillespie, but he does a great job here, especially with the action scenes.
All performances are great, especially Pine and Affleck. Some of the smaller roles are a bit less developed, but are still played well by great actors like Eric Bana, Ben Foster & Graham McTavish, who do a lot with what they are given.
Unfortanately I had to watch the 3D version, as it was the only showing in the cinema. The 3D added nothing to the overall experience. Luckily the film was good enough to rise above this.
One drawback of the film was the love story aspect. I understand why it's included in the film, and I don't have a problem with this part of the story, only that at particular points of the film it would cut back to the girlfriend on the mainland. It ruined the tension in a couple of scenes, but overall the film was still great.
Excellent Old School Western
There has been a number of westerns being released recently, from the excellent Bone Tomahawk, The Hateful Eight & the Revenant to the decent Diablo.
The Forsaken doesn't compare with the greats, but is still an excellent old style Western. The problem with this, is that it will be judged for being to old fashioned. If not for the swearing by the great Brian Cox, this is a Western that could have been made in the 60's with Glenn Ford or Randolph Scott.
All performances are excellent, and the reviewer saying that Kiefer Sutherland overacted, he must have been watching another movie. Donald Sutherland is equally as good as his father. Michael Wincott is also worth mentioning, in a memorable role as a hired gun. He seems to be channelling Val Kilmer in Tombstone. As mentioned before, Brian Cox is excellent as the villain, using up the films swear quota. The only poor lead role is Demi Moore, which is not down to her acting, but limited screen time and development. Still give her points for not being vain and letting her grey hair show through.
The plot isn't the most original, but gets the job done. Jon Cassar does a great job of directing and the Canadian scenery that is used looks terrific.