Thursday, May 17, 2012

April 2012 Viewing: Revenge, Trash and... Hockey?

I've been working on my April 2012 viewing recap for more than two weeks, which should tell you a couple things. One, I saw a buttload of movies last month and, two, life has been busy! As you'll see from the write-ups below the majority of the flicks I saw came thanks to two film festivals: ActionFest (which took place early in the month down in North Carolina) and the 12-hour Exhumed Films exFest 2 in Philly at the end of the month. This is probably as many flicks as I'll see in one month at any point this year and only three were rematches. Read on...

Not an official ActionFest selection but as has become tradition we ended up taking in a movie on Thursday night after the post-travel dinner at Tupelo Honey Café. Luckily, the Sofa Theater was deserted for this 10:10 PM showing, leaving us free to cackle at every putdown, berating and un-PC action delivered by Woody Harrelson's dirty cop character. I'm still not sure if James Ellroy intended for us to think he was the hero of the flick or not. (Theatrical)

Entertaining but far far far too long action comedy about a criminal who assumes governorship of a small province, much to the dismay of the local crime lord (Chow Yun Fat). Jiang Wen steals the show as the bandit-turned-politico and the escalating war of wits between the two stars is fun to watch but eventually turns exhausting. (ActionFest)

Not sure how this sports flick/romantic comedy fit into the "film festival with a body count" mantra but I'm glad it did because GOON was the undisputed cinematic highlight of the weekend. Seann William Scott stars as a lovable, if dense, bouncer who attracts the eye of a minor league hockey team in need of an enforcer to protect a gifted player in danger of flaming out. The flick has all the sports-rom-com tropes but is also so fiercely profane and hilarious you'll have to see it twice to catch all the jokes you missed while you were laughing. (ActionFest)

I remember when this flick premiered in the 80s and being barraged with tv ads that made it look like a goofy western spoof of sorts. While the flick is packed with gratuitous 3-D gags from start to finish, the tale is actually more of a straightforward spaghetti western than you might expect. Tony Anthony stars as a gunslinger whose fiancé was stolen from him at the altar and he spends the next 90 minutes tracking her down. In 3-D. Rejiggered with RealD 3-D technology for a flick that's fun and looks fantastic! (ActionFest)

One of two flicks screened courtesy of the After Dark Action series and the only really serious dud of the festival. Jim Cavizel stars as a recently-released con/dad out with the family on a trip he hopes will make things the way they were. When a gang of incompetent, bickering thieves stash a satchel of cash on the family's SUV the stage should be set for a tense thriller pitting the two fracturing groups against one another. Unfortunately, TRANSIT sinks down into a swamp of suckdom as the action becomes repetitious and predictable while the acting becomes more atrocious and histrionic. And, no, Diora Baird does not take off her top. (ActionFest)

More than one festival organizer type hyped this spoof as "this year's HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN". Luckily, that wasn't the case as this spoof of Empire-esque 80s action/sci-fi is genuinely funny and has a real affinity for the source material. Unfortunately, the joke wears a little thin after awhile and it would have felt more like genuine 80s-ploitation with less green screen, but I'm curious to see what the folks at Astron-6 do with an actual budget. Plus, we got to see the amazing LAZER GHOSTS 2: RETURN TO LASER COVE short. (ActionFest)

A pre-dawn raid on an impregnable safe house goes horribly awry when the criminal inhabitants are turned loose on the invading cops. Guns, knives, refrigerators, fists, feet, light bulbs and more are turned into lethal weapons as a young cop fights for survival while seeking answers. I can't wait to see what's next from director Gareth Evans (and I'll be sure to avoid an upcoming Evans-free US remake that will probably both suck and blow). (ActionFest)

One of two Donnie Yen flicks playing the fest (along with WU XIA), this retells the Romance of the Three Kingdoms tale, with Yen starring as Guan Yu, whose exploits were critical to the collapse of the Han dynasty. If that's your thing you'll probably dig this but these period swordplay epics always leave me cold and BLADESMAN is no exception. Aside from a fight in an alley I can barely remember a single highlight, though Jiang Wen again steals the show as a rival general Guan Yu isn't sure he can trust. (ActionFest)

A crime boss looking to beat a murder rap sends a gang of thugs out to retrieve a half-million in stolen cash. The killers – led by former TWIN PEAKS bad boy Dana Ashbrook – make their way down the list of potential thieves, finally zeroing in on a newly-relocated family complete with psychotic adolescent, grumpy jailbait step-sister and parents who may have stolen the mobster's cash. Unlike TRANSIT, AGGRESSION SCALE is at least in on the joke and has the sense to showcase the low-budget charm and high-concept plot (frequently described as "HOME ALONE with a psychotic kid"). I wish they'd taken the concept a bit further than they do but if you keep your expectations low this one is worth a watch. (ActionFest)

MMA fighter and rising action star Cung Le teams up with director John Hyams (who did the kick-ass UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATIONS) for this low-budget, inner city neo-western. Le stars as the strong, but silent, ex-con who rides into town in a vintage car, determined to clean up the streets ruled by rival gangs and a hammy crime boss played by a scene-stealing (and chomping) Peter Weller. Jean Claude Van Damme turns up in a small role as Le's wizened prison sensei in this After Dark Action installment. (I think I would have preferred EL GRINGO with Scott Adkins or STASH HOUSE starring Dolph Lundgren, but whatever.) Entertaining but predictable, DRAGON EYES is devoid of any of the flourishes that made Hyams' UNIVERSAL SOLDIER reboot such a blast and aside from Weller it's largely unmemorable. (ActionFest)

More Donnie Yen! This time out we get another period piece, but it's a surprisingly entertaining martial arts/crime thriller hybrid that's desperately in need of a better title. Yen stars as a married paper maker who kills two thugs attempting to shake down an elderly shop keeper. Though the townsfolk champion their humble hero the investigating detective isn't so sure. When the detective's recreations of the crime scene reveal truths about the event (and Yen's character), he and his suspect must face truths that were probably best kept hidden. MAN FROM HONG KONG star Jimmy Wang Yu co-stars as the ruthless leader of a gang of bloodthirsty criminals. A well-done blend of martial arts action crossed with CSI thrills. (ActionFest)

TV guest star vet Robert Viharo stars as Kane, a tough-as-nails bounty hunter in this gritty, low-budget actioner from ILSA director Don Edmonds. A masked serial killer is stalking the streets and between working out, smoking and bedding a lovely socialite, Kane tracks him down with help from BLACK SHAMPOO's John Daniels as a rival bounty hunter named Black. Rough, tumble and unapologetically 70s, BARE KNUCKLES is like a violent tv pilot or men's adventure novel adaptation. (Netflix Streaming)

Fun actioner with Chuck Norris as an ex-cop-turned-PI, Bernie "Sigfried" Koppel as an Auschwitz survivor/master jeweler and Joanna Pacula as Koppel's niece/biz partner. When an excavation in the Sinai desert yields legendary stones of Biblical origin, they end up (naturally) in Spokane, Washington where Dirk (Daniel Bernhardt) kidnaps Koppel and forces him to cut the stones. When Shep Shepherd (Norris) saves Elizabeth (Pacula) from a diamond heist he ends up helping find her uncle. Director William Tannen (FLASHPOINT, THE HERO AND THE TERROR) keeps the flick moving and the action snappy. Unlike Steven Seagal's recent flicks, Norris knows his limitations and doesn't make his character some sort of indestructible superman who can't be hurt by the younger, flashier Dirk. (Netflix Streaming)

A bizarro late-in-the-game giallo from Lamberto (DEMONS, DELIRIUM) Bava starring Tomas Arana and Joanna Pacula. After Tracey's husband's corpse is stolen from the local cemetery a vicious killer begins hacking up victims and leaving body parts for her. Arana is great as the increasingly-frustrated cop who is desperate to unravel the mystery and track down the killer - when he isn't bedding the hassled but hot widow. Unfortunately, Bava plays the first half of the movie predictably straight and only allows it to really run off the rails in the latter stages. Had the whole flick hewed closer to the crazy bits I might hold it in higher regard, but it was still fun to see genre vets Gianni Garko, Erika Blanc and John Morghen in supporting roles. (Raro DVD)

Every filmmaker should aspire to put a period on their cinematic legacy like Riccardo Freda did with MURDER OBSESSION. This loony genre hodge-podge stars Stefano Patrizi as Michael, an actor with homicidal tendencies who takes his girlfriend to the family estate for a little r&r with his cougary mom (Anita Strindberg in her final flick) and Oliver The Creepy Butler. When pals from his latest project arrive (including Laura Gemser), a mysterious killer starts picking them off. Though it might sound like a textbook giallo, MURDER OBSESSION is anything but, packing its running time with hallucinogenic dream sequences, giant spiders, black magic, blasphemy and more all mixed into a kooky Eurotrash stew. (Raro DVD)

Seriously? Do I need to say anything about this? If you're reading this blog and haven't seen this textbook slice of 80s Ameritrash action sleaze I simply don't know what to tell you. The recent Synapse Blu-Ray release is a must have for any self-respecting trashhound. (Synapse Blu-Ray)

Early 70s Nam-ploitation complete with a mentally-scarred super soldier who returns to the family ranch only to discover that filthy carnys have been making trouble. Our twitchy hero can only take so much and the whole flick consists of a series of escalating events leading up to the inevitable confrontation between the carnys and their thug allies (led by Sid Haig as "Pillbox") versus the soldier and his crew. A somewhat hysterical treatment of post-battlefield trauma in which the grizzled WWII hero dad can't understand why his killing machine offspring won't kill! (exFest)

I've always had trouble buying Barry Newman as a tough guy (he always came off as too Bert Convey Meets Steve McQueen Lite for my taste) but he makes for a watchable cut-rate Bond in this early 70s Alistair MacLean adaptation. Newman stars as Talbot, a deep sea salvage expert who is hired by an oil magnate to retrieve an underwater exploration vehicle needed for a secret mission. It gets a bit convoluted and there's plenty of head-scratching plot machinations, but it's largely worth it for the opening half-hour featuring a crash-filled car chase through Louisiana. The always slimy John Vernon and a pre-GHANDI Ben Kingsley are on hand as villains in need of their comeuppance and Roy Budd's score evokes many a 007 outing. (exFest)

I'd been jonesing to see this one since we caught the trailer at the 2011 installment of ActionFest and it does not fail to deliver. Jimmy Wang Yu stars as a Hong Kong police inspector sent to Australia to extradite a drug runner (Sammo Hung). While there he hooks up with a pair of goofy but affable Aussie cops (including Hugh Keays-Byrne, MAD MAX's "Toecutter"), beds a couple chicks, beats the shit out of half the population, and battles drug-dealing-gun-smuggler Jack Wilton (played with moustachioed awesomeness by one-time 007 George Lazenby). Fast, funny and violent, MAN features a buttload of stunts, crashes and fights, including a firewalking Lazenby and Yu trashing a penthouse fortress. If possible, I actually love Lazenby and ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE more after seeing this flick. (exFest)

This oddball Canuxploitationer stars Brenda Vaccaro as a fashion model on a weekend date at the remote country estate of creepy oral surgeon Dr. Black (Chuck Schamata). When she uses the doc's bitchin' Stingray to race Don Stroud and his muscle carload of creeps off the road it turns out to be a deadly mistake. The payback-seeking cretins descend on the estate forcing the pair to fight for their lives. I dug the sleazy vibe of this one, but your mileage may vary with your fondness for the charismatically creepy Stroud. The filmmakers (including producer Ivan Reitman) blow some chances to take the flick in interesting directions that could have pushed it into DEADLY GAMES territory. (exFest)

Henry Silva stars as a stone-faced mob killer in this violent thriller better known as THE BOSS. When a theatre filled with mob dons gets torched by Lanzetta (Silva), surviving mobsters seek revenge by kidnapping the daughter of Lanzetta's boss, Don D'Aniello. Much killing and incineration follows as Lanzetta makes his way up the food chain thanks to orders and advice from top dog Don Carrasco (Richard Conte). Silva is fascinatingly expressionless as the cold-blooded hitman who rescues the kidnapped daughter, only to discover she enjoyed her captivity and is now a wanton nympho. Gianni Garko shamefully overacts as a corrupt cop. (exFest)

The lone exFest entry from the 80s and it was a blast to see Wings Hauser in all his pimp-stick-wielding villainy on the big screen (courtesy of a great-looking print). When drug-addled hooker Ginger (a pre-MTV Nina Blackwood) turns up dead at the hands of her Western-obsessed pimp Ramrod (Hauser in his first starring role), vice cop Walsh (Gary Swanson) recruits outlaw hooker Princess (Season Hubley) to help snare him. Gary Sherman's 1982 sleaze epic is packed with action, boobs, grime, neon, colorful characters and Hauser's terrifyingly evil turn as a vicious pimp. (exFest)

Of all the ILSA flicks, the original is probably the one I was least itching to see again. Dyanne Thorne stars as the titular character, an insatiable commandant conducting horrific experiments on the camp's prisoners of war. When an American prisoner finally satisfies her wicked lust, he uses his ways in the sack to set in motion a plan to end her reign of evil. Though it has been twenty-plus years since I last watched SHE WOLF, even I realized that the print had been trimmed of a decent amount of sex and gore, a fact quickly confirmed by pals like Bruce Holecheck of Cinema Arcana. Still, Thorne's primary talents are frequently on display and I can't help but chuckle at the use of the HOGAN'S HEROES set. (exFest)

I missed this one at ActionFest 2011 so I was thrilled to stumble upon it at Redbox one afternoon. Based on a series of French novels/comics, the film relates the origin of Largo, a baby who is plucked from an orphanage and raised in secret as the heir to the fortune of billionaire businessman Nairo Winch. When his adoptive father dies in what appears to be an accident, Largo finds himself thrust into the role as head of the corporation. He soon discovers that the death was no accident and he may be offed before he ever has a chance to claim his rightful spot in the boardroom. If you dig globe-trotting adventure sprinkled with a bit of corporate intrigue you'll dig this. (Music Box Films)

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