Tag Archives: Action

#161 – Operation Oracle

(1989, US, 105 min) Dir Hector Malevich. Cast Roddy Piper, Malcolm McDowell, Rae Dawn Chong.

In a part of Iran that looks suspiciously like Arizona a Navy SEAL team headed by “crack infiltrator” Cole Baskins (Piper) lands under cover of night. Their target – the top secret lab where Dr Rodney Deems (McDowell) is believed to be working on a super weapon for the Ayatollah that could wipe out the United States. The nature of the weapon is unknown but the threat is very real. The raid goes awry, an Iranian Army brigade waiting for them – obviously a tip-off. Baskins makes it out and recuperates thanks to the kindness of some passing Bedouin, falling for one of their kind in the shape of Fallah (Chong). Once he’s fit enough he can return, defeat his enemy and root out the mole that has infiltrated his team and it will be a battle to remember. Only then will the nature of the super weapon be revealed… Knuckleheaded doesn’t really cut it – the script is beyond laughable, the cast uniformly bored and the casting of obviously not Middle Eastern Rae Dawn Chong is questionable at best. The whole thing plays out like a child’s retelling of a Rambo marathon without the enthusiasm or geopolitical nuance. How Malevich, once one of the titans of Soviet cinema, came to this is beyond me.

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#134 – White Hell

(1930, US, 100 min, b/w) Dir William Z Dolman. Cast Henry Lensing, Piper Pitt, Tom Claus.

Two fisted ice-bound thriller. A heavily moustached Tom Claus is underhanded seal baron Ogdon Bush, a man content to lord over his own personal fiefdom in the frozen wastes of Alaska until rogue philanthropist Lou Seward – quietly played by the ice eyed Lensing – drags his wind lashed carcass into Bush’s town. Bush sees the errant Seward nursed back to health by his mistress Amy (a glowing Pitt) and God knows he tries to get the man on board but aside from being a man of business, the principled Seward is also a dedicated animal lover hell-bent in beating back the seal pelt industry even if it means taking men like Bush on one at a time. Thus the stage is set for a battle of iron wills with the love crossed Amy stuck in the middle. A none more rousing finale make exceptional use of the abandoned Arctic paradise sets left in ruins from Hans Bismark’s 1924 flop The Cogs of the World as the set of a ten minute firefight that ends, as firefight are wont to do, in tragedy. The first landmark film from forgotten genius Dolman.

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#104 – Night of One Thousand Bastards, The

(2011, HK, 100 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Nicolas Cage, Regina Ho, Mo Yun-Fang.

I know he’s had a long and a varied career but still, it’s hard to reconcile the disreputable Jackie Woo of old with the disreputable Jackie Woo who is now deemed worthy of invitation to Cannes but I guess that says a lot about the post-Grindhouse world we live in. His inaugural fest film was Bloody Dolls, an uncharacteristic convent-set revenge flick that spent the guts of it’s runtime following the actresses gazing wistfully out over the mist-shrouded countryside and not, you know, disembowelling someone. He was back to his old form with this, his third film of 2011, and not only that but he snagged Nicolas Cage too! Okay, late-period low-budget in-hock-to-the-tax man Cage but still, it’s something. So Cage is a US government hitman in mainland China, there to kill a party functionary (Yun-Fang, looking tired) holidaying in some backwater town when the titular bastards arrive – a horde of freshly dead zombies hungry for blood. The tables now turned, Cage and Yun-Fang must team up to survive. The luminous Regina Ho plays Yun-Fang’s daughter and Cage’s inappropriately young love interest who spends the whole film under a table screaming. Don’t let the chorus of boos that trailed the film from Cannes fool you – this is a fun bit of trash that doesn’t attain Woo’s manic heights of the past but will keep you going the four months until he makes another.

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#81 – Demon Streets 2099

(1985, It, 98 min) Dir Mario Andreotti. Cast John Saxon, Romeo Romero, Paula Pitt.

It’s the future – a post-apocalyptic wasteland which here means the deserts of Spain. There are demons – yes, demons – here too. You can tell which are the demons too because handily they tend to be well dressed in suits and ties where the rest of the population are togged out in rags and dirt. Oh yeah and they’re in the habit of flying everywhere on big ol’ black leathery bat wings. Once that’s out of the way in the info dump that begins the film, this is pretty much a Western. Saxon is Preacher White, a drifter who has ridden into the town of Pestilence with a pair of phaser rifles and a mission in mind. The first film from Paolo Androetti’s son Mario who displays here the same colourful eye for a shot as his father and the same way with a bucket of hot gore too, as well he should considering that he apprenticed with his father for the ten years or more preceding this – I mean the guy pretty much grew up on sets between the model of a desiccated corpse and a hamper full of maggots. Unfortunately he also shares his fathers variable quality control – this is a mostly indifferent flick that flopped massively but his next film, The House of Midnight, set up his subsequent career nice enough.

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#80 – Judge Shock

(2002, US, 101 min) Dir Roger Bertle. Cast Timothy Olyphant, Taye Diggs, Michelle Rodriguez.

It’s the future. Outside the cities are a wasteland. The population are controlled by TV. The most popular show on TV is a game show called Judge Shock. Basically the show uses convicts as contestants (yes, like The Running Man) who have to evade Judge Shock. The Judge himself is a masked assassin a bit like the Stig from Top Gear but he can do kung-fu and shoot electric from his hands and stuff too. So anyway – the film opens as a new episode with contestants Paul, John and Lucy (Olyphant, Diggs and Rodriguez respectively) dropped into the dark, maze-like arena where the game is to play out. Of course they’re all there for crimes they didn’t commit and of course they’re all adept at martial arts and that so there’s a good fight in them. Of course they also manage, in the course of the film, to best the not actually invulnerable Judge and uncover the reality of the show which, yeah, leads them to a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Bertle’s got a way with the action which is shot clearly and kinetically and the film’s Matrix influenced look is great even if it’s derivative, all inky blacks and neons with sets that are simultaneously spacey and claustrophobic – the only problem is the plotting by numbers that is the script. Oh, and the awful title. Ignore both if you can though and stay for the action – it’s worth it.

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#74 – Severed Tongue

(1991, HK, 105 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Jackie Woo, Maxy Feng, Annabelle de Long.

While never in fear of achieving respectability Jackie Woo skirted the edges of the mainstream in the mid to late eighties and came within sniffing distance of a halfway decent budget and a recognisable cast. Something about this must have been antithetical for Woo as he followed his most conventional and popular film to date, Law Fist, with this, his most repellent feature. Cocky Triad Vin (Woo, as usual) has been sent by his boss to Indonesia to hash out a drugs deal but while there gets carried away with women and drink and ends up kidnapped by some kind of a jungle cult. He escapes but without both his tongue and penis – both having been graphically torn off/out – and makes his way back to Hong Kong only to be shunned by his former compatriots. Finding that he’s now somehow endowed with mystical powers (along with hallucinations of jungle men following him) he takes bloody revenge on his fellow Triads and do I mean bloody – one victim has his skin pulled off over the course of what seems like an eternity of tearing and screaming, one has his head popped like a zit, another his limbs wrenched from his body. According to the man himself in the 2006 documentary Jackie Woo: Bloody Vengeance, this film was catharsis after years of Triad interference but it didn’t seem to do his standing with them any harm – while only a moderate success at the box office it was so well received by the Triads they gave him an effective carte blanche for his next half-dozen features.

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#73 – Backspace

(1987, HK, 96 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Jackie Woo, Phillip Ko, Rosamund Kwan.

By the standards of director Jackie Woo this is an unusually restrained techno-thriller but in saying that I have to warn potential viewers that this isn’t The Net or anything like that – it’s still a Jackie Woo film which means there are two beheadings, a disembowelling and one instance of a topless lady running around on fire. Aside from that it’s a model of restraint from the guy. Jimmy (played by Woo’s favourite actor – Woo himself) has just started working at DynoTime industries which boasts a fully automated office building, from the doors to the drinking fountains. Unfortunately for him, in a big slapstick moment involving an inappropriate use for a banana, he screws up big time on his first day and has to hide from his tyrannical boss under his desk. There he falls asleep and wakes up after hours to find the building in lock down with a very vigilant computer standing guard like HAL with whirling razor-sharp blades and before he knows it he’s fighting for his life. As if that wasn’t enough a gang of punk criminals are breaking in that same night, hence the aforementioned body count. Of course the film ends with Jimmy prevailing and being garlanded with Employee of the Year but the journey there is something else. Alternating between broad comedy, hard-core violence and misty-eyed sentimentality this is a classic Hong Kong kind of film.

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#66 – Homme du sous-terre, Les (Underground Men, The)

(1988, Fr, 100 min) Dir Jack Vitesse. Cast Denis Lavant, Richard Bohringer, Dominique Pinon.

Night. As the people leave the metro and the lights go off, the Underground Men (led by Lavant) can emerge from the shadows. The premise might sound like the beginning of a horror film but Vitesse is a man enamoured by the cinéma du look of the time and the Underground Men are street punks more like Christopher Lambert in Subway (an obvious influence) than Hugh Armstrong in Death Line. The film follows this half-dozen strong crew operating in silence, raiding stores, stealing cars and generally wreaking havoc. Soon enough le flics (led by Bohringer) are giving chase and the film goes underground for a prolonged subterranean chase on motorbike, skateboard and foot that takes up the film’s final forty minutes through service tunnels, train lines, the sewers and the catacombs into skyscrapers and monuments but always back down again, coming off like a Mad Max 2 beneath the streets instead of in the desert. While it doesn’t all add up (Why are they stealing the cars? How have they not been noticed before?) and the characters personalities are non-existent, it’s slick and stylish enough to hook the viewer into leaving these questions for later.

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#64 – Beyond the Stars

(1954, US, 123 min) Dir Hal Douglas. Cast Jim Thorn, Alice Patrick, Ed Dietrich.

The best that can be said about Beyond the Stars is that it’s right. If you wanted to go into space yourself then you could watch it and take notes and construct the same rockets and use the same methods that are used in the movie and it would work. The problem with that is that the film will be super exciting to rocket scientists but to your average Joe and Sally on a Saturday afternoon it may as well be filmed in Snooze-A-Rama. And that’s just the plot – you can have the dullest script sold to you by the magnetism of a bona fide star but Thorn, Patrick and Dietrich seem to have been cast on the size of their jaws rather than on their ability to react before a camera better than a slab of aged steak. Add that all together and you’ve got a film that plays at two hours plus but feels like a year. The title’s a con too by the way – they get to Mars by the halfway point and waste precious celluloid standing around in the dirt for the rest of the film. Avoid like a holiday in a vacuum.

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#58 – Cyborg Hamlet

(1983, HK, 105 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Jackie Woo, Rosamund Kwan, Phillip Ko.

No real need for a synopsis here as it’s basically, as above, Hamlet with a cyborg. Okay, yeah, so what’s the deal, I hear you say: why’s the guy a cyborg? Fair enough, maybe it’s a bit different. Okay, so John Hamlet runs the biggest electronics company in Hong Kong and his proudest achievement is his cyborg son. Young Hamlet (director Woo) was on death’s doorstep when his father, apparently without repercussion, grafted a load of metal to him in order to save his life. Of course his father dies in mysterious circumstances, his electronics empire being taken over by the shifty Tony Claudius (Ko) who is also having his way with Hamlet’s mum, in case murdering his dad weren’t enough. Cyborg Hamlet is thus all sad in a rainy alley one night when the genuinely terrifying ghost of his father appears and demands bloody vengeance. Who is Cyborg Hamlet to decline? It all goes a bit off-piste from there – slaughtered henchmen didn’t play the biggest part in Shakespeare’s original text from what I can recall. Between crushing skulls in his metal hands there’s still time for some romance with Rosamund Kwan’s Ophelia before she goes mad (which is the bad guy’s fault too of course) and then it all comes to a bloody head at the wedding of Claudius and Hamlet’s mum which involves a massive martial arts rumble across three floors, a daring rooftop chase and someone getting a big metal pole like a javelin through the face. Great fun but no good for revision, kids!

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