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Red Sonja (1985)
Red Mullet., 27 February 2015

Arnold the Barbarian meets his match in the shapely form of statuesque Brigitte Nielsen as Red Mullet, who rivals The Austrian Oak's ability with a blade while proving herself equally as inept as the musclebound star at delivering her lines. With these woefully wooden performers sharing much of the screen-time, working from a pitiful script that is heavy on the cheeze, Red Sonja is unintentionally camp, mid-80s sword and sorcery adventure that proves far more amusing than thrilling.

In the film's horribly trite opening scene, young Sonja rejects the sexual advances of evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman), slashing the wicked ruler's face as she struggles to escape; as a result, the queen orders her guards to kill Sonja's family and gang rape the insolent young woman. Years later, having learnt fighting skills from an old master, Sonja is given the opportunity to settle the score when she embarks on a quest to recover a powerful talisman that has been stolen by the despotic Queen Gedren. Together with man mountain Kalidor (Arnie), irritating Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes Jr.) and his willing slave Falkon (Paul L. Smith), Sonja travels to the queen's fortress to destroy the talisman and put an end to Gedren's tyranny.

Despite fairly decent production values—the film boasts impressive sets and costumery, reasonable effects (including some lovely matte paintings), spectacular cinematography, a rousing score from Ennio Morricone, and some well choreographed swordplay—Red Sonja is a rather embarrassing addition to the barbarian genre as a whole. The flat direction from Richard Fleischer renders the action scenes ineffective, the acting is diabolical, the storyline and dialogue utterly asinine, and the film's uneven tone makes it hard to figure out who the intended audience was: much of the movie seems light-hearted and rather juvenile at times, but the severed limbs and gouts of blood make it unsuitable viewing for children.

Of course, quite a few giggles can be had from the film's shoddier elements, which include a glowing wood spirit that inexplicably bestows special powers on Sonja (although just what these powers are is never really clear), Arnie riding a mechanical water dragon, Queen Gedren's giant vibrating pet spider, and a shonky steam-driven video screen that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serial from the 30s.

Raw Deal (1986)
It's those looking for a decent action flick who get the raw deal., 26 February 2015

Between the marvellous, macho, military mayhem that was Commando and the sheer brilliance of sci-fi/action classic Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared in this shoddy shoot-em-up, most notable for being the one where the star slicks back his hair (seriously, that's the only thing I could remember about this film from my previous viewing).

The uninspired plot for this largely forgettable cheese-fest sees Arnie as disgraced FBI agent turned small-town sheriff Mark Kaminsky, who slaps on the pomade to go deep undercover in the Chicago mafia after being offered the possibility of reinstatement if he helps to kill the mobsters responsible for the death of his ex-boss's son. The slicked back hair fools everyone but mob heavy Max Keller (Robert Davi), who suspects that the new muscle isn't on the level.

There's no denying that this is far from Arnie's best film—the script is diabolical, the action is poorly staged, and the majority of the movie seems to be simply treading water until the bullet-riddled finale—but for those after a few unintentional laughs to go with their gratuitous violence, look no further…

This film's so-bad-they're-good highlights include Kaminsky's hilarious domestic spat with his inebriated, cake-hurling wife (Don't drink and bake!), Arnold struggling to deliver the priceless line 'He molested, murdered and mutilated her' (the film is worth watching for this moment alone), the ridiculous attack on the bad guys' quarry hangout which sees our hero effortlessly picking off numerous villains while fishtailing his car at high speed, Kaminsky's reckless suggestion to start a bombing campaign on the city's police precincts (what's a few maimed cops in the pursuit of vengeance?), and the inevitable scene in which Kaminsky 'tools up', preparing a vast collection of weaponry for the final battle, pulling on his leather jacket and checking himself out in the mirror before he leaves to kick ass.

Unmitigated tripe this may be, but it sure is funny at times.

Red Heat (1988)
The heat is off., 25 February 2015

Tough Russian cop Captain Ivan Danko (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent to America to capture Georgian criminal Viktor Rostavili (Ed O'Ross), who is in Chicago master-minding a massive international drugs operation. Unaccustomed to U.S. police procedure, the fish-out-of-water cop employs no-nonsense, Soviet-style law enforcement to get his job done, much to the dismay of brash American detective Art Ridzik (James Belushi), with whom he has been partnered.

The problem with this film is that it doesn't live up to its title: instead of a red hot action flick that burns up the screen with intense ballistic gunfights and spectacular scenes of destruction and chaos, we get a rather tepid buddy cop movie, heavy on the humour and frustratingly light on the carnage. This mightn't have been so bad if the comedy had worked well, or if there had at least been some kind of chemistry between the leads, but the predictable script rarely delivers decent laughs and James Belushi makes for an uncharismatic foil to Arnie's efficient, stoic bad-ass.

When the action does kick in, it's all too brief and staged with surprisingly little style or imagination by director Walter Hill. The film's closing action scene, which sees Danko and Viktor careering through Chicago in buses, lacks the much needed wow factor, feeling more like a routine mid-film moment rather than a satisfyingly climactic finalé. All told, Red Heat is far from Arnie's best and not a patch on Lethal Weapon, the previous year's buddy cop blockbuster.

I have my limits., 22 February 2015

'Angels' Natalie, Dylan and Alex (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu) investigate the theft of a pair of top-secret rings that hold the details of those on the F.B.I.'s witness protection programme.

I gave the first Charlie's Angels movie a fairly reasonable rating (6.5/10) for its excessive action, knowingly daft plot, deliberately cheesy performances, and impossibly sexy trio of stars. Director McG and his lovely leading ladies clearly didn't care that the whole thing was highly preposterous: they were having fun, and that fun proved infectious.

This sequel definitely lives up to it's title of Full Throttle—it's even more dumb, has even more OTT action, and features even more of Diaz, Barrymore and Liu in revealing attire (plus added T&A from a very fit Demi Moore). The film doesn't just go up to eleven… it goes right off the meter, but in doing so it disproves the theory that nothing succeeds like excess by being bloody irritating instead of enjoyable.

Watch it for: the eye candy, which includes Cameron Diaz in a bikini, all three girls in stripper gear, Demi in her undies and, during the end credits, the Angels doing a sexy car wash—plus… Crispin Glover being Crispin Glover, and the cool soundtrack.

Be prepared to hate: all of the action scenes, Bernie Mac as Bosley, the pointless cameos from Pink, Bruce Willis, and the Olsen twins, the meandering senseless plot, Luke Wilson and Matt LeBlanc as Diaz and Liu's love interests, John Cleese's embarrassingly unfunny turn as Liu father, and Shia LaBeouf as an obnoxious, curly-haired brat.

Flatliners (1990)
I wouldn't say that the movie flat-lines, but it definitely has a weak pulse., 22 February 2015

Keen to see what happens to someone after they die, reckless medical student Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) talks four of his friends (played by Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, and William Baldwin) into helping with a dangerous experiment on himself, first inducing brain death, followed by resuscitation after a minute on 'the other side'. When the procedure is a success, the other students take it in turns to have a peep at the afterlife, not realising that when they return to life, they have brought their sins back to haunt them.

As much as I like the cast of Flatliners (with the exception of Julia Roberts, who I find irritating) and admire director Joel Schumacher for his sterling work on The Lost Boys, Falling Down and 8MM, this film doesn't do an awful lot for me: it's the 90s equivalent of so much of the anodyne teen-centric horror-lite garbage that passes for scary these days, with a good looking young cast and lots of flashy visuals, but very little in the way of substance, fun or thrills.

The first half of the film proves very repetitive, as four of the five students 'flatline', and experience a dreamlike afterlife; the second half sees the group suffering the consequences, which for three of the four, amounts to little more than a few colourful hallucinatory 'nightmares' that are easily resolved. Only Nelson ever seems to be in real danger, but in keeping with the lame PG-friendly nature of the film, he survives with just a few scars to show for his ordeal.

Whiteout (2009)
Oh the weather outside is frightful, but Kate's derrière is delightful., 21 February 2015

When a man's body is discovered in the snowy wastes of the Antarctic, U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) investigates and believes she that has a murder case on her hands. With a severe storm on the way, and the sun about to set for six months, Carrie must solve the case fast if she doesn't want to find herself stranded in the South Pole.

Given Whiteout's sub-zero setting, Kate Beckinsale fans might have concerns that the sexy star will be hidden beneath layers of heavily insulated clothing for the duration. They needn't worry: director Dominic Sena ensures that his lead lady shows off her impressive form within the film's first few minutes, Kate stripping down to her undies while getting ready for a shower. It's a memorable way to start proceedings, but sadly the rest of the film is about as distinctive as snow drift in a blizzard at the South Pole.

Despite the film's unorthodox Antarctic setting, Whiteout amounts to nothing more than a mediocre murder mystery, with forgettable characters, a stale (scientifically inaccurate) storyline involving a long lost 'treasure', and dull direction from Sena, who brings on the unconvincing CGI snowstorms whenever the pace tends to drag. It's all so clichéd and uninspired that it's no wonder that I can't remember anything in detail other than Beckinsale bending over in her pants.

Saddle up for some spaghetti-flavoured revenge., 19 February 2015

Fifteen years after the brutal massacre of his family by vicious outlaws, Bill (John Phillip Law) is finally ready for revenge, having perfected his gun-slinging skills; however, the young man finds himself facing competition from recently released criminal Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), who is also gunning for the murderous gang.

Death Rides a Horse marks my very first foray into the spaghetti western genre outside of the relative safety of Sergio Leone's better known movies, and while it's not quite on a par with the Leone classics, the film is still a solidly entertaining adventure that certainly can't be accused of not trying…

Between the film's brutal, rain-lashed opening massacre and its wind-swept gun-fight finalé, Death Rides A Horse delivers almost all the elements one might reasonably expect from the genre: a dashing, gun-slinging hero hell-bent on revenge, a grizzled ex-convict with a score to settle, loathsome villains, wonderful widescreen cinematography, a jail-break, a lynch-mob, fist fights, whisky drinking, poker playing, lots of rapid-zoom close-ups of eyes, a cool Ennio Morricone score, a village of scared Mexicans, and just a little gallows humour.

Where the film suffers somewhat is with its rather pedestrian plot, that offers too few genuine surprises, and which, at almost two hours, resorts to padding out the action by having the lead characters take it in turns to put themselves in mortal danger, only for one to be saved by the other. This nonsense takes some swallowing, but director Giulio Petroni's stylish handling, some gritty violence, and a fine performance from Van Cleef ensure that the film never drags.

While this might not be a top-tier spaghetti western, it's impressed me enough to make me want to check out further non-Leone movies.

Jet Li in the script with no worth., 18 February 2015

Chow Si Kit (Jet Li) is a writer of serial adventures who imagines himself as the hero of his stories, brave archaeologist King of Adventurers. Recently, Chow Si Kit has been suffering from writer's block as a result of his marriage problems with wife Monica (played by the lovely Rosamund Kwan), but receives help from his friends when his back is turned, making the King of Adventurer's latest exploits a little more outlandish than usual.

I'm a massive fan of martial arts star Jet Li, and director Siu-Tung Ching's A Chinese Ghost Story is one of my all-time favourite HK movies, but with Dr. Wai, the pair have managed to deliver one hell of a dreadful film, a shoddy mess of ill-conceived comedy and action scenes that seem to have been edited together completely at random. I defy anyone to make sense of this movie, particularly if, like me, they're watching with English subtitles, the film boasting some of the worst subs I have ever tried to read.

Cutting between Chow Si Kit's real life and that of his imaginary character, Dr. Wai pays little attention to logic or narrative flow. The visuals are stylish, as one might expect from Siu-Tung Ching—a lot of time and money has clearly been spent on creating a spectacle—but it's all so incredibly slapdash that none of it works. On the contrary, the film proves extremely tiresome, despite such lavish nonsense as a giant runaway metal bull, a steam locomotive crashing through a town, a mid-air encounter with a man-monster on a crashing plane, and a set-to with flaming whip-swords. Despite such adversaries as a team of ninjas, a pair of sumo wrestlers, and Billy Chow, the showy kung fu fight scenes also fail to impress thanks to an over reliance on ridiculous wire-work.

I've seen Dr. Wai described as a Chinese Indiana Jones, but to be honest, the best bits of Dr. Wai aren't even as good as The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull at it's worst, which says a lot.

Pure Brucesploitation., 17 February 2015

Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger is a highly irreverent kung fu cash-in that shamelessly exploits the mystery surrounding the death of '70s martial arts icon Bruce Lee, using it as the impetus for a far-fetched storyline involving Hong Kong movie stars being blackmailed into becoming international drug mules. Casually mixing fact with fiction, the film stars Bruce Li as Bruce Lee acolyte Tiger, who, devastated by his master's sudden death, decides to investigate rumours of foul play. Teaming up with reporter George, Tiger learns of an incriminating tape-recording made by Lee's mistress that makes him the target of crime boss The Baron. Cue lots of kicking and punching as Tiger dispatches numerous henchmen to finally face The Baron.

Showing actual footage of Bruce Lee's corpse during the opening scenes, and introducing fictional character Suzy Yung as the late star's mistress (presumably to avoid being sued by actress Betty Ting Pei, who was rumoured to be Lee's real-life mistress), ETDETT is undeniably disrespectful to the memory of Lee, but as a fan of trashy exploitation films, I couldn't help but have just a little fun with this tawdry chop socky flick. The acting is atrocious, the story risible, and the '70s decor utterly abysmal (witness the world's tackiest cigarette dispenser!), all of which proves unintentionally amusing, while the martial arts scenes, although somewhat repetitive in style for much of the movie, are at least frequent enough to ensure that the pace never lulls. Towards the end of the film, the standard of the fight scenes improves markedly, with a fun clash between Tiger and a female gymnast in a yellow tracksuit (a nod to Game of Death?) and an impressively staged final battle that takes place on the rocky shore of the South China Sea.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The end. At last., 15 February 2015

Almost fifteen years ago, I was genuinely excited to see The Lord of the Rings brought to life by director Peter Jackson. Now, six Middle Earth films later, with countless hours spent watching extravagant CGI battles, sweeping shots of spectacular scenery and grandiose architecture, happy hobbits, angry orcs, athletic elves, dour dwarfs and wise old wizards, I couldn't be happier. That it's finally all over.

With each successive Tolkien film, I could feel my enthusiasm growing steadily weaker and weaker. As the CGI became more and more elaborate, the action became more and more preposterous, so much so that I could no longer suspend my disbelief. Legolas repeatedly defying all the laws of physics became painful to watch. Although I should have loved The Hobbit movies, the book being my favourite work by Tolkien, I found the whole bloated experience frustratingly tiresome, with The Battle of the Five Armies being the most disappointing of all.

Having already realised the majority of The Hobbit in the first two films, there really is very little story left for Jackson to tell, so he pads out this third chapter with pointless romance, internal conflict and even more CGI-heavy battles, all of which proves relentlessly dull if you've already seen the director's other five Middle Earth movies. Needless to say, I was more than pleased to see Bilbo arrive safely back at Bag End, just so that I could say a very final farewell.

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