The Swiss-French-American star has had his fair share of attempts at cracking the A-List, mind you with an oeuvre that boasts almost 90 screen appearances; everything from John Greystoke in a Tarzan adventure to a mad-monk in GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, it's no surprise, then, that one of his better titles, the 1992 Stuart Gordon-directed sci-fi actioneer FORTRESS, has one of only two recurring characters in his CV, John Brennick.
It's a campy 95-minutes set in 2015 when America has imposed a one-child policy due to its exploding population. Brennick and his wife get busted at a check-point-Charlie while trying to smuggle the pregnant woman out of Dodge to Mexico (of course) and they're sentenced to 31 years hard-time at the Men-Tel Corp's Fortress, a state-of-the-art prison that drops 33 stories into the earth and is run by Poe (Kurtwood Smith), a sadistic, by-any-means-necessary warden. There's lots of explosions, cyborgs, lasers, cyborgs with lasers, more explosions, cameras and lasers before Brennick and his posse blow the joint and leg it to freedom.
Cut to 2000 and FORTRESS 2: RE-ENTRY gets a release date and it has a (very) brief theatrical turn before dropping on to video-stores shelves around the world. Stuart Gordon stepped aside, making way for New Zealander Geoff 'FREEJACK' Murphy, hot off the back of, erm... UNDER SIEGE 2 and a made-for-cable western, THE LAST OUTLAW starring Mickey Rourke.
So, after the most outrageous escape from the most inescapable prison owned by the most powerful corporation and run by the most ruthless warden, what could be in store for Brennick now? All too often setting a sequel in space means the beginning of a severe downward spiral for the franchise. Sometimes it comes around later (FRIDAY THE 13TH 10: JASON X) rather than sooner (HELLRAISER 4: BLOODLINES or LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE) but it's rare it should come around on the second instalment but that's precisely where FORTRESS 2 went. No shit, space. Just ... skip to the end.
After a prologue set in a gorgeous wilderness lodge in the Rockies, FORTRESS 2 sees Brennick, 7 years after the events in the first film, with his rag-tag group of Rebels enduring in their continuing assault on Men-Tel. They're re-captured and sent to a MORE inescapable prison with a MORE ruthless warden where they plan a MORE outrageous escape -- In space! Daft? Yes. Ropey? You betcha. Fun? Tons. Way more than you might think. Is it good though? No. Not even close.
Like most uninspired sequels, FORTRESS 2 is essentially a remake of the first, swapping this for that and him for her and smashing rocks for zero-G space-walks. There's the expected chow-time brawl, the warden's evil right-hand-man, the muscle-head that comes around eventually and Pam Grier, popping in while riding the tail-end of her short-lived JACKIE BROWN career resurgence.
The special effects are lacklustre and the acting turns are less than adequate, so what is it that makes it so much fun? Lambert. That's pretty much it. Christopher Lambert and his inimitable charm. He has the acting capacity of an after-dinner mint and possesses less facial expressions than a overly thirsty Steven Seagal, but he holds a charm you just can't deny when he's on screen.
Had Mr Brennick gone the way of Mrs Brennick and been recast for RE-ENTRY, this follow-up would have went from bad to just downright intolerable, but luckily, thanks to Lambert, we get to pass the time in a sort of comfort. Given his history with the *ahem* 'character', and the depths his career sunk to at one point, it wouldn't be a surprise if his agent put in a call and said 'Don't worry, Christopher, if all goes wrong there's always FORTRESS 3.' Whether or not that's a good thing will remain a mystery. For now, at least.
Using the zoo's underground tunnels and animal pens, they hide their guests during the day and invite them to socialise in the house at night. The rescued guests are eventually disguised as Germans and assimilated back into society, unbeknownst to the NAZI officers who oversee the zoo's function.
Comparisons are inevitable and I am going to proclaim THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE as SCHINDLER'S LIST LITE. It is a fanciful film set against a horrific backdrop, and while it strives to tell a harrowing tale it fails to capture the true horror of the Holocaust. The bombing of Warsaw is depicted fleetingly with a few explosions, some flying debris, and the sound of air-raid sirens. And what should be a harrowing moment of subtext ends up being a lazy plot device that lacks intensity and emotion. The ghetto itself, as depicted, is little more than a fenced-off street lined with houses, and the overall persecution of the Jewish people is glazed over as though too distressful for audiences to bare. What an insult. When those inevitable war crimes are actually depicted the camera flinches and looks away, with the result being a sterilised and cowardly depiction of an important historical story.
The title of the film is unfortunate, and it overlooks the bravery the real key player. For a story titled THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE it was disappointing to learn that the character who put their life on the line most was the Zookeeper himself. While his wife was at home tending to the zoo and keeping their 'guests' quiet, it was her husband who travelled into the ghetto under the NAZI's noses and saved hundreds of lives. Nevertheless the cast is adequate with Jessica Chastain in the title role. Her performance is well measured and reaches for emotional highs, and her ability to transition from distress to composure is impressive. It is a shame, however, that she carries such a caricatured Polish accent throughout the film that I spent the entire time wishing it had been made in German with subtitles. Her husband is played by John Heldenbergh who delivers a well-measured and understated performance. His presence on the screen is certainly the film's biggest strength and he affords it a creditability where an American actor would have failed. And of course the third player is Daniel Bruhl (I know, right?)... ie that “go-to” German guy who plays a NAZI well (CAPTAIN AMERICA, IN TRANSIT, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS etc). It's fortunate that Bruhl is a great actor and serves up a consummate turn as Hitler's head zoologist, who has a crush on the Zookeeper's wife.
The film was directed by New Zealand filmmaker Niki Caro, whose previous films include the exceptional WHALE RIDER, NORTH COUNTRY and MCFARLAND USA. She has a great talent for storytelling and has proven herself to be reliable with heavy material. Unfortunately her attempt to tell this true forgotten story from the Holocaust has been marred by a glossy production design, heavy restraint and a blind eye. The colours are also too vibrant and her screen would have benefited from a more washed out colour palate, and a greater emphasis on the shadows.
As an entire package, the film presents a misleading cutesy title, a refusal to depict the holocaust honestly and it casts far too much light on one of history's most unfathomable moments. A massive misstep and a lacklustre film at best.
Walter Hill has a penchant for macho “beefcake” filmmaking and his reputation as an action director is undeniable, yet he made UNDISPUTED after a self imposed hiatus following the disastrous fiasco that was SUPERNOVA, and the result is a fight film without spirit. His usual budget and elaborate production design was taken away and he was left to make a cheap and undesirable movie that did NOT deserve to have a sequel made after it... and yet such a sequel (three of them, in fact) WAS made and it was superior in every sense.
UNDISPUTED II mostly ignores the original events, aside from a passing reference, but does follow the character of “The Iceman” Chambers, now played by Michael Jai White. No longer the world champion Chambers finds himself in Russia to film a Vodka commercial where he is set up by the Russian mob. They plant drugs in his apartment so that he is arrested and sent to prison and forced to compete in an illegal fight against a notorious brute. His savage opponent is Yori Boyka, played by Scott Adkins, who strikes a vicious blow and knows no mercy. Suffice to say the movie is a rehash of the first instalment and serves as a reboot.
Director Isaac Florentine is one of cinema's most undervalued action directors whose talent lingers in the direct-to-video arena. His name is not a house-hold name yet fans of contemporary fight films will know exactly who he is. He has a natural flare for action and has a unique ability to capture martial arts on a highly energised manner where every frame that he shoots is engaging. His camera is kinetic and he pulls no stops to deliver the goods. His highly choreographed fight sequences are heightened by the use of slow-motion, fast-motion, camera gymnastics and atmosphere. Every point of contact within his fights are accompanied by the spray of sweat, lashings of blood and bone-crunching sounds, and what he achieves with UNDISPUTED II is a sequel that surpasses it's predecessor.
The sterile production design of Walter Hill's first film has been replaced with a cold and unforgiving atmosphere, and the characters populating the screen are pitted against a grimy environment full of piss and shit. The mundane boxing of the original story has also been upgraded to facilitate a brutal and unruly brand of mixed martial arts, which give the story an uncompromising quality. Florentine's vision for this franchise is certainly stronger than Hill's and his execution is superb.
The cast is better too. Michael Jai White may not hold the same imposing figure as Ving Rhames but his screen-presence is better suited to the genre. He delivers the same attitude of Rhames' portrayal but offers a lot more sincerity and emotional depth. Scott Adkins steals the show as the villainous Boyka and despite having a totally stodgy Russian accent, his presence is mesmerising. He possesses an intensity and menace that is rarely seen in action movies these days and proves himself to be one of cinema's most underrated tough guys.
Of course there's a whole level of absurdity to UNDISPUTED II, whereby every character speaks English and there's an apparent lack of judicial process. The narrative structure is flimsy and the character arcs are convenient, but when it comes to this particular brand of movie none of that matters. These frailties are compensated by Florentine's signature style and his visually engaging design. He set out to make a hard-hitting fight film and delivered in spades.
Evidently these protesters never saw the film, and their aggressive campaign against its director Cassie Jaye succeeded in having the film pulled from cinemas and removed from festival programs. The simple fact that these people's ignorance and disregard for creative freedom has impeded other people's rights to engage in a discussion is outrageous and a blight on true democratic values. Shame on them, and shame on those cinema's who were too gutless to stand up to an angry minority.
To THE RED PIILL itself. Director Cassie Jaye begins the film with the pretext of herself being a feminist, with the intention of investigating the rape culture throughout American colleges. Her research quickly lead her to an online organisation called the MRM (Men's Right's Movement), which purported that men's equality was far less than that of women, and that the radical feminist movement had demonised men. Jaye initially approached the MRM as a hate group, but as she dug deeper into their rationalisation she began to sympathise with their plight, and as their arguments became more increasingly supported by facts and statistics, she found herself questioning her own beliefs and ideologies.
At no point (whatsoever) does THE RED PILL advocate sexism, misogyny or violence against women. It is simply a film that examines an alternative point of view and invites a broader discussion. Throughout the course of the documentary Cassie Jaye turns her attention to the very feminists (radical) who would later seek to destroy her film, and in giving them the platform to state their case she has ultimately exposed them to be an aggressive and irrational obstruction to free speech.
Of course as is the nature of documentary filmmaking there is always an agenda, and the filmmaker will structure their film in a way that strengthens their own position. And so there is no denying that the conflicting arguments at the crux of the film have been presented in a way that is both polarising and confrontational. Having said that, Jaye provides marker-points throughout the film to illustrate where her beliefs are challenged, and with candid confessionals along the way she is careful about how she portrays her subjects and is cautious about demonising either side. She wants an honest discussion, and it is only towards the end of the narrative that her frustrations at the behaviour of the radical feminists overwhelm her.
The film addresses various social situations that the MRM argue are unequal to the rights of women. Some of these issues include male suicide rates, workplace fatalities, military conscription and mental health. With each concern expressed Jaye follows up with her own research and fact finding, and as the MRM position becomes more and more valid she, in turn, makes a point of representing these men in a sincere, rational and straightforward way. They are not the women-hating organisation that their opponents paint them to be and – in fact – some of their members are card-carrying advocates for women's rights.
This is not a groundbreaking film by any means, but it is technically adequate. Jaye presents the film though a series of one-on-one interviews as well as visual aids such as statistics, archival footage and a narration that makes it a personal odyssey whereby her own ideologies are challenged. She has cast her attention on a taboo issue that is as equally fascinating as it is divisive and she deserves gratitude for exposing an unconventional subject.
As a male writer it feels socially precarious to be reviewing a film which examine's men's rights. And by expressing empathy towards the MRM's cause I open myself to the same criticism that the film faces. While I certainly do not agree with all of the views presented in the film I do walk away having felt engaged, as though I was part of the discussion. It is my very trepidation in siding with some of their views that actually strengthens the film's argument. Where is the harm in having an honest conversation about an important issue? And how is a person's belief a threat to another person's views? People have the choice to watch the film or to ignore it. They have the freedom to disagree with it, and they have the right to discuss it. I pity those whose who consider their own views to be virtuous above all others and I detest those whose uncivil self-righteousness effects the freedoms of others.
And so for the sake of opposing censorship and supporting freedom of speech, SEE THE RED PILL and make your own mind up. Or take the blue pill and ignore it. The choice is yours!
In it he plays ex-US federal agent Thomas McKenzie, living the quiet life in England after he and his family were relocated through the Witness Protection Agency. After a botched home invasion his Chevy Chase (face) ends up all over the telly and he finds himself evading the hitman who was sent by the baddies he was hiding from in the first place.
It's all very ho-hum. This is the kind of throw-away nonsense we've come to expect from Danny Dyer - presumably Eastenders had him too busy for this shoot - but it's the kind of fluff Adkins can do in his sleep. All that pesky plot stuff is just gap-filler until he gets his next chance to kick heads and take names... and take his shirt off. He
does that a bit too.
To that, Nunn can just barely shoot an action sequence favouring pragmatic utilitarian choices over imagination. Which is a shame because a couple at times ELIMINATORS verges on some imaginative direct-to-DVD stuff (a hand-to-hand melee in a cable-car in particular) and, were it not for Nunn, could have been another Adkins class-act up there with his NINJA films, as it is, it barely scraped through.
And we're not even going to talk about the hackneyed script and unforgivable American accents from just about everyone involved. If it's got one thing going for it its refreshing to see films of this ilk set somewhere other than the grimy streets of Somewhere-USA. The rained-out photography and cockney accents peppered with slickly choreographed ultra-violence seems to have a different kind of punch on that side of the pond.
In the end even the classy presence of Scottish hard-man James Cosmo isn't enough to take ELIMINATORS from tired to passable. Maybe next time we should get Isaac Florentine in for another collaboration, get some real wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am DTV class up in this joint.
GET OUT is the debut directorial effort from Jordan Peele (better known as one half of the Kay & Peele comedy duo) and it is – so far – the best horror film of 2017, if not the best film of the year in general. It is a film that borrows heavily from a variety of influences and yet blends all of it's inspiration into a highly original and wildly entertaining chiller. Needless to say I have been swept off my feet and feel the need to slather on the praise.
It begins with a wonderful opening scene that flirts with the slasher influence and kick starts the film with the reassurance that horror fans are in good hands. With a whimsical credit sequence Peele lures the audience with his comical charm, and as the film begins we are taken to a strange and absurd place where nothing is what it seems.
The story follows Andre, an African American man who has dubiously agreed to visit his white girlfriend's white parents in their typically white rural community. His girlfriend, Rose, reassures him that they are not racist people and that he has nothing to worry about, and when they arrive at her parent's house Andre is warmly welcomed into their home. His concerns are triggered, however, when he discovers that the family hires “black help” around the property. A black groundskeeper and a black housemaid, who both share equally unusual demeanours, are the first signs that something isn't right, and before long Andre is in a situation he can't escape from. It is uncertain if Rose's family aren't quite what they seem, or whether it's the rest of the community that he needs to be afraid of.
Peele has described the film as The Stepford Wives meets Night of the Living Dead, and those two titles provide enough curiosity without giving away any of GET OUT's secrets. To reveal more would be to spoil the fun, and to list any more of the film's influences would be a low blow from one horror fan to another. What I can assure you is that this is a smart, brilliantly calculated and masterfully executed flick. Much like last year's remarkable chiller IT FOLLOWS, the film relishes in its minimalist approach and chooses atmosphere over gratuity. The environment that the characters inhabit is as much a player as the humans themselves and Peel's attention to the sound design compensates for whatever obvious tropes he's chosen to ignore. He dabbles with clichés and yet never relies on them, and with an ensemble of wonderfully quirky characters he treats the audience to a wickedly fun ride that is as hilarious as it is scary.
The film is lead by Daniel Kaluuya who previously co-starred as Emily Blunt's partner in SICARIO. He is an unusual actor with an understated screen-presence, and as proven by his appearance in BLACK MIRROR (that weird futuristic “Fifteen Million Merits” episode) he has the unique ability to tell his story through expression. This is a rare quality that few possess and he delivers the goods with ease. He his supported by the always-incredible Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford (who has never been better) and an assortment of talent such as Stephen Root, Caleb Landry Jones, Allison Williams and LilRel Howery. It is a consummate cast working from a consummate script.
Who would have thought that the year's most effective horror film would come from a comedy writer? It might be unexpected but it certainly isn't surprising. Comedy is highly disciplined art-form that relies on measurement. Peele's ability to make people laugh is his greatest asset and he has applied his creative-licks to horror with equal effect. If he can lure his audience into a false sense of security by making them laugh out loud (which he does) then he has given himself the perfect opportunity to scare the shit out of them too (which he does). He's a smart writer and GET OUT is a smart film!
The new film stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as three life-long friends who have recently been made redundant, a blow compounded by the suspension of their pensions. When Caine’s character (Joe) witnesses a brazen armed robbery at his bank, he hatches a plan to replicate the crime and take what he feels is rightfully his. With his best friends Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) in on the scheme, the three men plot a heist of their own, stealing only as much as their pension had owing and donating the excess to charity.
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CAN'T WIN DO TRY is a micro-budget film that, upon first glance, has an unappealing “DIY” quality about it. The dialogue is overwritten and contrived, and the character set-ups are unconvincing. However in spite of these problems I would urge all viewers to persevere, because what follows is a strangely endearing situation comedy that explores a typically American genre, while putting a very “Aussie” spin on it.
The story follows three guys living in a share house. The house is owned by Gordon, whose fiancee has agreed to let him spend a year living a “bachelor” lifestyle in order for him to shake off his adolescence before settling down. Gordon is prudish and adamant about sticking to his fiancee's rules, but when he and his best friend Jez invite an unhinged sex-maniac to board with them the course is set for a year of sex, drugs and debauchery. What follows is a comedy of errors and perversions by which relationships are tested, commitments are broken and fantasy football conquers all.
Written, directed and edited by DeCeglie the film presents a strange trajectory whereby the quality and technical competence evolves with the story. Those aforementioned DIY attributes at the beginning of the film develop into elaborate and confidently executed set-ups with smooth transitions, unshakeable tracking shots and proficiently calculated framing. What begins as a shoe-string passion-project actually becomes a stylish and affective indie film worthy of praise.
The cast is perfectly assembled, most of whom starred in DeCeglie's previous film JUGULAR, and their chemistry is evident. Harry Quinlin leads the film as Gordon and gives his character an understated nativity that underpins the entire story. A lack of online information suggests this is his debut performance and by all accounts it is a sturdy one at that. He is supported by Christopher Millington and Matt Furlani who both bring unique nuances to their roles. Millington has a sharp tongue as the best friend Jez, with an ability to dish Aussie colloquials with ease. His classic “you dickhead” style of insult is hilarious and well timed, and he balances irresponsibility with sensibility very well. As for Furlani... well.... talk about a show stealer! He plays the loose cannon of the trio who revels in sexual misadventure and immorality. His performance feels heavy-handed at first, with his whacked-out personality seeming out of place and forced... yet as the story unfolds and the frivolity takes hold, his undeterred performance ends up being the highlight of the film. His is a hysterical turn that will surely prove divisive for unsuspecting viewers.
With a 125-minute running time there is no doubt that CAN'T WIN DO TRY is far too long for it's own good, and I would welcome an aggressive re-cut should DeCeglie feel inclined. A lot of the dialogue would benefit from tighter edits and many of the comical situations could do with more restrain. Should DeCeglie tempt to whittle his clever little film down to 80 or 90 minutes then he would have a bloody great film on his hands. Nevertheless he has still delivered a rip-snortner that I highly recommend. Support the Facebook page, keep your eyes peeled and be sure to see it as soon as you can.
When it comes to BLOODSPORT 2 the most important thing to know is that the movie opens with the legendary James Hong. That – right there – is reason enough to persevere despite hesitation. How can anyone resist the one-screen presence of Hong when he's delivering corny likes like “There was a time when even good was bad” and “The worst prisons are the ones we build ourselves”. Needless to say it's classic cheese! Oh and I suspect that his character of Master Sun is actually Snotty from REVENGE OF THE NERDS 2, or perhaps he kept his wardrobe relevant!?
Another reason to watch BLOODSPORT 2 is the inclusion of Mr Miyagi (sorry, Pat Morita) and Donald Gibb (Ogre from REVENGE OF THE NERDS... oh wow, another NERDS crossover). Gibbs reprises his role from the first film and pretty much does the same thing... ie grunt, grunt, grunt.
So the story takes place at an undetermined time after the events of the first film. Those events aren't referenced (or at least I've never payed enough attention) but the notorious “Kumite” tournament and Donald Gibb's attendance prove that we're in the same cinematic universe (does Gibb sleep there or something?). The film opens up with Master Sun teaching a class of American children, and for some fucked-up reason he's telling them a completely inappropriate story about his past student, Alex Cardo, and the illegal underground Kumite tournament.
Alex Cardo is played by Daniel Bernhardt and his casting is, no doubt, the result of a “Van Damme lookalike” casting call. His looks are similar and his on-screen presence is definitely cut from the same cloth... all the way down to the full splits. He plays a prisoner inside, what has to be, one of Thailand's most luxurious institutions. He befriends an old man (Hong) who becomes his mentor and trains him for the Kumite... as if they knew he would get out of jail in time to compete (hmm). And low-and-behold a wealthy benefactor (Morita) steps in and secures a release for Alex so that he can fight.
And with that very convenient set-up we are thrust into the tournament, which isn't quite as grungy as one might recall. This time around the Kumite's arena is much smaller and a lot more sanitised. The grim and gritty atmosphere of the first instalment has been replaced with a sterilised PG-friendly environment. The contestants lack the gruff of their predecessors lack the same level of menace and braun. The fight choreography is often clever, however the execution is stilted and unconvincing. Moments of invasive hand-held cinematography are also distracting and intrusive.
BLOODSPORT 2 is the dumbed-down re-hash that had to be. No one wanted it, but what is most astounding is that it performed well enough on the home-video market to warrant two more sequels. Berhardt had a good enough command of the screen to define his own talent, and the shame is that he was never able to use it to his advantage later on. Outside of this franchise he struggled to forge a platform for himself, and only managed muster a few bit roles in films like THE MATRIX RELOADED and JOHN WICK. I like him and I hope we get to see more of him....
Watch his BLOODSPORT entries with a gleeful caution.