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BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007)
OK vampire western....oh, and I want to marry Rayne
Uwe Boll has gained a reputation during the last few years, mostly on the internet, of being "the worst director ever". Of course, as it usually happens with these exaggerations, I found this rep to be totally unjustified after watching his two "BloodRayne" outings. Sure, they are both flawed, but on the whole they're no worse than the average DTV release you can find in a quick trip to the video store; not to mention that all this negative hype actually works FOR them, because when you sit down to watch them you're expecting something much worse than what you get.
"BloodRayne" was a medieval vampire horror flick with Kristanna Loken as the title character. "BloodRayne II" is a much more contemporary vampire western, and Loken has been replaced with Natassia Malthe. I actually liked both interpretations of the role - Loken is a touch more sensual, but Malthe has perhaps better kicking abilities; the bottom line is, they're both extremely beautiful and their red hair compliments their faces even more. Production-wise, the film is OK, though it doesn't have the "epic" feeling of the first. The script has some flaws (too much time passes before we first meet Rayne, some of the supporting characters - especially her sidekicks - are not very well defined and seem to come out of nowhere, there are minor inconsistencies with the first film, etc.), but I think the weakest aspect of both films is the action itself: Rayne never seems to get into full kick-ass mode, and the action scenes are often too blurry in the first film, too dark here. I did like the nods to Morricone's scores though - were those notes from the harmonica theme in "Once Upon A Time In The West" I heard at one point?
What I enjoyed more about these films is probably the character of BloodRayne herself. She is ageless, she is strong, she can fight, but she is also essentially sweet: she cares about humanity and uses her powers to battle evil supernatural creatures that prey on innocent people. She will drink human blood - but only if it's offered to her, she won't attack you for it (she can live on blood from animals or other vampires). And on top of all that, she has a sense of humor. In other words, Rayne is marriage material. So if they ever make "BloodRayne III" - either with Loken or with Malthe - I'll be there; let's just hope the action scenes are longer and clearer the next time. (**1/2)
Illegal Aliens (2007)
Not especially funny, but likable and pretty sexy "Charlie's Angels" spoof / knockoff
"Charlie's Angels" meets "Men In Black", says the tagline on the DVD cover of "Illegal Aliens", and for once they got it right: like CA this movie has a trio of hot female crime-fighters (in this case, aliens in human form), and like MIB their mission is to protect the Earth from aliens with evil ambitions (add a bit of "Superman II", and you pretty much have the plot mix). Of course this is primarily meant to be a spoof, but too often the humor is forced and stale: fart jokes have never been and will never be very funny, and even the satirical and "breaking the fourth wall" jokes (such as a "Villain Monologue Timer" that appears on the screen, or the director of the film yelling "cut" and talking to the actors) have been done before, and better (remember that "Dead Body Counter" in "Hot Shots Part Deux"?). In her last film appearance, Anna Nicole Smith plays the lightheaded, childlike agent: it's an one-note performance, but she hits that one note well and she's pretty adorable. Joanie Laurer AKA Chyna chews the scenery to the 9th degree, which can get pretty tiresome, but at least she's still in good shape - if she ever wanted to return to wrestling, she looks like she could do it. As Anna's fellow agents, Lenise Sorén and Gladys Jimenez play it more straight and come off the best; they both also have fantastic physiques and the skimpy outfits to show them. In fact, I think that the people who will probably get the most out of this movie are the admirers of athletic female bodies. (**1/2)
Rage and Honor II (1993)
A slight improvement
In comparison to the first "Rage and Honor", this sequel comes out on top in three ways:
1) Better-shot fight scenes
2) Exotic setting (Indonesia) and higher production values (which allow for some chases and explosions along with the martial arts)
3) A good, unexpected twist near the end
On the other hand, it lacks the colorful supporting cast of the first movie (only Patrick Muldoon stands out - the villain and his henchman are generic), and in the final fight it is obvious that Richard Norton's opponent cannot measure up to him, so there's no chance of a good fight scene.
But on the whole, I found this sequel a slight improvement on the original. (**1/2)
Rage and Honor (1992)
Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock have teamed up several times in martial arts movies, either as partners or as opponents, both in Hong Kong and in America. This is one of their American pairings, and it cannot qualify as one of their best. The story is sloppy in parts, and the fight scenes are only so-so (and sometimes poorly shot). However, the two leads make an enjoyable team, and the movie gets some extra life from a colorful supporting cast that includes Brian Thompson as the main villain, a quite funny Alex Datcher as "Hannah the Hun", Stephen Davies as a druggie ex-stockbroker that everyone calls "Baby", not one but TWO (Terri Treas and Catherine Bach) stunning redheads (I love redheads), and in a bit part, female kickboxer Kathy Long. A good B-movie cast in a mediocre B-movie. (**)
The Only Way to Spy (1978)
Bad beyond your wildest imagination
"The Only Way To Spy" is not a movie. It is a random collection of images shown out of order. To say that it doesn't make sense would be an understatement; any given scene has no connection to the previous or to the next one. There isn't a shred of talent or professionalism to be found in any frame of this picture. I'm surprised that not only it exists, but it also got a video release with a colorful video box cover that makes it look 100 times better than it actually is. It's supposed to be a soft-core action spy comedy: there is no spying, no comedy, very little - and badly filmed - action, and, infrequently, some naked breasts. The busty actress who plays "OO6" is game enough, and with a different cast and crew around her, she could have been the lead in a genuinely sexy spy spoof.
My first "0 stars" rating in 2007!
"I was talking to the parrot!"
A wealthy banker disappears; "People don't just vanish into thin air!", says Poirot; Inspector Japp has a challenge for him: he bets 5 pounds that Poirot can't solve the case within one week without ever leaving his apartment; Poirot accepts the challenge, and sends Captain Hastings out with a list of "odd" questions to collect information.
Three things are most notable about this episode: a) the "Poirot solving the mystery from his own house" gimmick, b) the story itself, which is quite intriguing (as usual for an Agatha Christie story, the truth is hiding in plain sight), c) the little magic tricks that Poirot learns how to do by studying a book - they are amazing. I re-watched them step-by-step on the DVD, and I couldn't spot any editing tricks - it looks as if David Suchet did them himself! (***)
The ending makes this episode
A Chinese man arrives at a London hotel; he has with him the map to a long-considered "lost" mine, and he has agreed to sell the map to an English bank. But the next day he doesn't turn up at the time of the meeting; in fact, after a few hours, he turns up dead. The president of the bank asks Hercule Poirot for help.
Apart from the Oriental flavor (it's partly shot in London's Chinatown), and a brief look at Scotland Yard's methods in the 1930's, this is for the most part a rather trivial episode of the Poirot series. But it is saved at the end by the startling revelation of the killer's identity. Up until then, it's a ** out of 4, but the last 5 minutes make it a ***. One of the clues is so obvious in retrospect that you may feel like hitting your head on the wall if you miss it (and I did....miss it , I mean).
Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)
Cult classic wannabe
"Hell Comes to Frogtown" seems to have many of the necessary ingredients to become a genuine cult classic, but the execution is uninspired and the film is not NEARLY as much schlocky fun as it could have been. The main problem is the pacing, which is, in a word, deadening: there are long stretches of nothing happening. In a movie like this, the No 1 thing you want to see is "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Sandahl Bergman kick a lot of mutant frog butt. They do, but to a much lesser degree than you might expect (even after Piper enters a room holding two shotguns and yells "Eat lead, froggies!"). It doesn't help that large portions of the film seem to have been filmed in a small, dusty warehouse. But Piper is likable enough, Sandahl Bergman and Cec Verrell are 2 strong & sexy women, and the "frog effects" are acceptable, so I'm giving this a higher rating than it probably deserves: ** out of 4 stars.
Sword of Honor (1996)
Zero points for originality or creativity here: within the first 10 minutes, two cops have stopped a convenience store robbery-in-progress, and a little later one of them, who is about to retire from the force, goes on "one last job"; no prizes for guessing what happens to him. "Sword of Honor" was obviously designed as a starring vehicle for Steven Vincent Leigh; he has some cool moves and his acting is OK, but most of the fight scenes are nothing special, despite the clear Hong Kong influences (people don't just fall down when they take a hit; they fly several feet away). There is barely enough story for 30 minutes, but the movie goes on for 90+, which makes it quite dull. Sophia Crawford has two exceptional fight scenes (her best trick: pulling a guy's jacket halfway down so that he can't move his arms and he becomes defenseless against her attacks), and shows her amazing body in lingerie, but she is wasted in the second half: she gets shot and falls into a coma. The most amusing scene is a nod to her Hong Kong film past, when she is shown understanding and even speaking Chinese. (*1/2)
Good, not great
Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to a small seaside English town for some "restful vacation". But that is not exactly what they get, when they meet a young woman who owns a large house near their hotel, and whose life seems to be in danger.
This is a 100-minute-long episode of the Poirot series, and I'd be lying if I said that the pacing never lags - it does. At the same time, I wish the post-climax had gone on a bit longer, to allow Poirot to make some further explanations. As it stands, the plot has some unclear points (the bullet....the poisoned chocolates....the cousin that was invited upon the insistence of Poirot....obviously I can't go any further without spoiling things), and it is possible that it doesn't stand up 100% under scrutiny. On the other hand, there's plenty to like here: the wonderful locations and production design, the exceptional acting, the cinematic direction, the small clues planted here and there ("Oh, how I like them!", says Poirot), some laugh-out-loud moments (the scene where Hastings tries to explain who Poirot is to Nick is a small masterpiece of writing and acting, as is the one of Inspector Japp on the beach).
As for another reviewer's remark, "how beautiful is Polly Walker!", the answer is: more beautiful than words can explain. (***)