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House of the Dead (2003)
Stupid, Flawed, and Poor - But Still Fun.
I remember seeing "House of the Dead" during its initial theatrical run because I had been following the movie's production for quite a while before hand - and it seemed to be very promising. On top of that, I'm a HUGE fan of the games, and that was the main incentive for me to look into it in the first place.
The film in and of itself is a travesty; a jumble of gore, sex, and haphazard character development. Some scenes happen for no reason, other scenes go on much longer than they should, and the overall narrative suffers because of it. An example of the Oscar-worthy script:
RUDY: "You created it all so you could be immortal. WHY?"
CASTILLO: "...To live forever."
A big problem "House of the Dead" suffers from is an identity crisis. Is it a horror movie? Is it an action movie? Is it a love story? Is it a tragedy? Is it a comedy? We may never know.
Acting is a mixed bag, too. Some of the cast are likable, namely "Captain Kirk" who gets all of the one-liners (not to mention the most memorable scenes/kills). The majority of the actors/actresses are just incapable of, well, acting. Sure, this is a B-movie based on a videogame... but are decent characters too much to ask for?
The centerpiece of the movie, a giant battle between the survivors and a small army of zombies, is a novel idea - which is for the most part carried out well. There are only a few things working against it; namely the EXTREME OVERUSE of the 360-degree camera spin. A lot of the time they use it for no reason, and in a way it hurts the action more than it helps. And, when the 7 minute sequence is over, they show it AGAIN in fast-forward for about 10 seconds. Why? Well, I guess they realize how short the typical viewer's attention span is.
All of the complaints aside, it's time to address the GOOD points of the movie. First of all, the zombies. Clearly this is what the most time, money, and care was spent on. Their designs are amazing - some of the best in any zombie movie. Secondly, the effects and look of the film. A lot of the gore, guns, sets and makeup show semi-quality production value. Third, the soundtrack. While it's generally oppressive techno/metal/rap, it definitely suits the movie's overall feel well, and often helps to elevate what's happening onscreen. And, while it's kind of a cheap selling point - the women are very easy on the eyes; namely "Alicia".
After watching the DVD and listening to producer Mark A. Altman's commentary (who happens to be a big fan of the games as well), I felt kind of bad for him because he originally had a LOT of good ideas that were cut from the movie or never even filmed due to budget/time constraints, or director Uwe Boll just not wanting to use them. Had Altman's ideas been carried over, "House of the Dead" could have been FAR better than it ended up.
That said, if you haven't seen this movie yet, you should already know what to expect by now. At most, this goes under the "so bad it's good" category, but even then that's cutting it close. Personally I can still enjoy watching it - which I do - but if you ask me WHY I enjoy it I can't give you a clear answer. If you're brave, rent it first. You may end up almost kind of liking it, like I do.
In Hell (2003)
A Surprise - Quite Possibly Van Damme's Best Movie.
When I first read the synopsis for "In Hell", Van Damme's latest direct-to-video effort, I was unimpressed. It essentially sounded like a throwback to "Death Warrant", another movie in which Van Damme goes to prison and is forced to fight.
When I took time to watch it though, I can honestly say I WAS impressed. Van Damme has come a very long way from his "Bloodsport" days, and he actually is convincing in his role. Don't get me wrong, he won't be winning any Oscars soon, but he has become a good actor - and it shows here. He makes the character metamorphosis (from family man to brutal killer) work. The people who berate Van Damme on his inability to emote have no room to do so this time around. He's a very sympathetic character.
Another surprise: Van Damme doesn't know martial arts in this movie. He doesn't do the trademark "splits" or "high kick". He's just a regular guy trying to survive the situation he's been put into. A lot of the time he actually gets beaten up and tortured. It's not until he becomes a "monster" that he starts holding his own in fights.
Credit must be given to Ringo Lam. As in "Replicant", the man knows how to take what could otherwise be Van Damme trash and turn it into Van Damme treasure. He clearly shows us the dark, gritty world of "In Hell", and pulls no punches. The fights in this movie are just plain BRUTAL. Kicks to the head of someone while they're down, stomps to the ribs, punches to the neck - there are no "nice, friendly" battles here.
There actually is one scene *POTENTIAL SPOILER* in which Van Damme finally snaps after grotesquely killing one of the inmates, that is hard to watch. It just shows how much of a toll the prison has taken on him as an inmate, and as a human being. *SPOILER OVER*
It's unfortunate that this movie will never get a U.S. theatrical release, because if it did I have a feeling that most people would be very impressed with how much of an improvement Van Damme has made as an actor. At this point I'd say "In Hell" is in the high echelon of direct-to-video movies, and it definitely deserves a rental if not a purchase.
I hope Van Damme continues to make movies like this, and turns down projects like "Derailed". If he does, then who knows? He may be a big shot in Hollywood again someday.
Lik wong (1991)
"Rogan's Kung Fu Is Unorthodox..."
"The Story Of Ricky" is a cult movie, through and through. It's also one of those movies you either love or hate. There really is no room for middle ground here.
The best moniker for this movie would be "The Mother of All Gory Kung Fu Movies". Yes, it even outdoes the recent "Kill Bill" in the over-the-top bloodshed aspect.
The storyline is rather unimportant, but I'll address it anyway. Ricky Ho, a rather young man, is sent to a notorious prison for a manslaughter conviction. Once he arrives there, he gets stopped at a metal detector because as it turns out, there are 6 bullets embedded in his chest. Ricky's excuse? "Souvenirs." Not long after that, Ricky realizes there's something sinister at work in this prison. People are being murdered for no reason, and "The Gang Of Four" are running rampant - led by the assistant warden, a rather disgusting man with a glass eye that contains mints. During his stay, Ricky befriends some of the inmates, and becomes an underdog hero against the gang of four, whom he takes on one at a time - usually with a very splattered outcome. Here's some examples:
*POTENTIAL SPOILERS* 1)Ricky punches through one side of a fat man's stomach, and out through the other, causing blood to come out like a waterfall. 2)Ricky punches a man in the face while he's falling, subsequently shattering his skull. 3)One member of the gang of four makes a prisoner's head resemble a watermelon at a Gallagher comedy act. 4)One of the gang of four members, after disembowling himself, attempts to strangle Ricky with his intestines. The list goes on and on. *SPOILERS OVER*
If you're looking for something to do on a boring weekend, do yourself a favor and watch "The Story Of Ricky" with a group of like-minded friends. You won't regret it... unless you have no tolerance for gore. Buckets and buckets of gore.
More Style Than Substance - But Man, Such Great STYLE!
"Returner" isn't going to be remembered for it's story. It won't be remembered for it's dramatic value. It probably won't even be remembered for the cool characters. Nope, instead whenever the average moviegoer thinks of "Returner" all they'll remember is the action scenes and how awesome Takeshi Kaneshiro looks in Matrix-wear.
But first things first. There's a movie somewhere inside of these slo-mo shootouts, and it's a fairly decent one at that.
In the future, humanity is being devastated by the Daggra, a nigh-unstoppable alien race. A young girl, the "Returner" of the title, manages to make a jump back in time to October, 2002 and an attempt to figure out just how the alien menace began.
Turns out the Yakuza have taken a stray Daggra baby hostage (for some reason or another). A huge fleet of Daggra ships are on the way to Earth to pick up their little lost lamb. So the girl must find a way to get the alien baby back home before some Japanese mafia guys send it back home in pieces. This is where Kaneshiro's cool assassin guy comes into play. I won't tell you anymore, except for this - I loved the ending. I didn't see it coming from a mile away, and how it brings everything full-circle is excellent.
As for the action scenes, the matrix comparisons are unavoidable... Although in Returner they're done imaginatively enough to retain some freshness. I have to say this - the scene where Millie tosses a mug of water into the air, freezes time and catches the falling water in the mug is still one of the most impressive special effects I've ever seen in my life.
In the end, if you want an action/sci-fi movie that's mainstream, but offbeat enough to keep a unique identity, then go with "Returner". It's highly enjoyable, and just as highly recommended.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Not Bad... Not Bad At All!
I was fortunate enough to score a few tickets to the premiere of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake, and I have to say it exceeded my expectations. The original TCM is one of the movies that introduced me to the horror genre, and because of that I was very concerned that they would try to make this movie more accessible to the "MTV generation" by relying more on flashy visuals and unneccesary humor rather than gritty, all-out gore.
Fortunately, those concerns were quickly pushed aside.
While the movie can never be praised for originality, credit must be given to the filmmakers for adding new ideas and changing parts of the movie so that even long-time fans won't be sure of what to expect.
A lot of care was put into Leatherface in this incarnation - considering that he's what makes the whole thing scary to begin with. In my own honest opinion, he's way more frightening in this version than the original. Not that the original wasn't - but here it's just that he's more fast, powerful, and deadly. Even better, he doesn't pop out at times you're expecting him to, but rather... when you least expect it. There are some homages to the first TCM present, so at least the new blood pays respect to the old.
So, if you like horror, go on and see this movie. If not for ol' Leatherface, then at least see it to let the studios know "Hey, we need more movies with Jessica Biel getting drenched, whilst wearing a white top."
B gai waak (1998)
Only Action-Junkies Need Apply...
"Extreme Crisis" is what we typically refer to as a "no-substance" kind of movie. If you want things like character development, cohesive plotline, and drama... go watch "Infernal Affairs." If you want a movie that's about 20% talk and 80% action, then this movie's right up your alley.
The story (thin, but still present) revolves around Kenya Sawada's character, an SDU team leader whose entire squad is wiped out by a terrorist cult in the first 5 minutes of the movie. Stricken with grief, he visits all of their graves on a regular basis. One day, though, a hot-shot cop (played by Julian Cheung) meets up with him - because as it turns out the terrorists that had killed the SDU team are now planning a sarin attack on all of Hong Kong.
Much shooting, exploding, and chasing ensues.
In this movie, the terrorists are extremely cold-blooded. When they take over a TV station, you can be assured that there'll be more dead hostages than living ones by the end. There's even a scene where a child gets shot at point-blank range. Also, don't get too fond of the characters in this movie. Without spoiling anything for you, I can say that not many of them make it to the end.
All of that aside, the movie's strength rests in its action scenes - which are some of the most well-done I've seen in a long time. My favorite would probably have to be a tense shootout/fistfight inside of a restroom. There's also other eye-candy as well, like a scene in which a row of police cars are simultaneously blown-up, flipping in the air almost like an automobile-ballet.
So, in the end, if you just want an action movie for action's sake, Extreme Crisis is a good way to go. If you want something that'll leave a lasting impression on you, look elsewhere.
A Classic, In Any Right.
"Young And Dangerous" is one of those films that is known about by anyone even vaguely familiar with Hong Kong movies, and for one reason. It's excellent.
The characters, the actors (Francis Ng is an excellent villain), the story, even the musical score all combine to make this one unforgettable film. Themes like loyalty, trust, and friendship in general figure heavily into the plot - which really makes for a strong narrative.
As in most movies concerning the Triads, there is a lot of violence. The thing is, in "Y&D" it isn't extremely glorified, nor is it downplayed. It's just there - for you to judge on your own. Surprisingly, the violence in this film actually serves to move along the story, not just for a "wow" factor like in many other HK features.
At any rate, if you're new to HK movies, or are just looking for a good gangster action/drama, then by ALL means rent (or buy) a copy of "Young And Dangerous." You'll thank me later.
Down to Hell (1997)
A True Glimpse Of Humble Beginnings...
I had seen Ryuhei Kitamura's phenomenal "Versus" before this, so my expectations were a bit different than what I ended up seeing...
But "Down To Hell" is one interesting little movie.
The story is simple - and the dialogue is kept to a minimum. Basically, a man is kidnapped by 4 other men, and is forced in a "survival game" through the woods.
Here, he is given a 10 minute head start, and gets three choices of how to end the game. 1) He finds a way to escape, regardless of the fact that they're miles from the nearest road. 2) He kills the four of them, or 3) He himself is killed, and "escapes to hell" (hence the title.)
*SPOILERS!!!* The poor guy doesn't last too long, and after a few close calls, actually gets killed after a throat-slitting and a brutal beating with a chain. The murderer turns his attention for a moment, and when he looks back - THE CORPSE IS GONE! Now, roles are reversed as the hunters become the hunted of a vengeful cadaver. *SPOILERS OVER!*
While watching this, you can almost see Kitamura's style developing through the filming - by the end, the kinetic camera movements and wild editing definitely foreshadow the look of "Versus", which actually helps it immensely. This movie clocks in rather short, at just under an hour... But it's best that way. Personally, I'm surprised they got as much film time out of it as they did. Regardless, it's worth a look if you loved Versus - but buy it cheap if possible. A cool feature on the DVD is a teaser trailer for "Versus", or as it was first called "Down 2 Hell." Just be warned... It IS seizure-inducing - they love that strobelight.
"It's Ok, Kids! I'm Chuck Norris!"
"Chuck Norris, Karate Kommandos" is one of the several dozen TV shows based around an action hero to come out in the mid-80's. This show, as far as action cartoons are concerned, hit all the right spots.
Pointless explosions? Check. Complete and utter disregard for continuity (i.e. Chuck Norris riding a motorcycle one second, and suddenly appearing on the back of a truck without ever showing how he got there)? Check. Children constantly in peril? Check. Ninjas, ninjas, and more ninjas? Check.
All of this, and Mr. Norris' physique which in this cartoon is about twice as buff as the actual guy (which is clear because he spends most of the show shirtless, for some reason). Even funnier, they call this show "Karate Commandos", but there's a minimal emphasis on "Karate." Most of the action involves laser guns and falling steel beams. The funniest scene I remember on this show is where Chuck Norris steals a bike from a little kid, and the kid gets all upset. Then Chuck Norris, as he heads off towards evildoers (via the kid's bike), turns back to the kid (and his friends) and says "It's Ok, Kids! I'm Chuck Norris!"
At the beginning and end of every episode, the REAL Chuck Norris, usually at a Gym or Martial Arts Studio, would talk to the camera - or us, the audience - about the moral of the day's episode, whether it be telling the truth, being a good friend, or... in an ironic turn, not stealing things from others. I guess that doesn't include bicycles?
"Start My Life Over? I WAS ALMOST DONE!"
First and foremost, let me say that Crispin Glover is what makes this movie what it is. Not the rats, not the suspense - although both come in plentiful supply - but Glover's performance as Willard. His nervous, twitching, perpetually sweating expressions will be remembered for a long time to come. That said, on to the review.
"Willard" is the story of a man who lives at home with his overbearing mother, keeps to himself, and gets pushed around by his boss - who is slowly taking over the business that Willard's father (now deceased) started. Things continue along this path, until Willard discovers a small white rat in his basement. It is able to get around all of the set rat-traps, so Willard befriends the rat and names it "Socrates" due to its intelligence.
Not long after that Socrates' family and friends start showing up, and Willard discovers that he is able to communicate with his newfound little friends. Subsequently, he uses this power to his advantage by exacting revenge on his wrongdoers. Not all is well, though. A large, powerful rat named "Ben" shows up one day and threatens to overthrow Willard and Socrates' control over the growing rat army. Where the film goes from there, I'll let you see for yourself.
As for my opinion of "Willard" I have to say that I really enjoyed the picture. Crispin Glover has proven that he is really a great actor, and deserves more than to be referred to as "George McFly." Here's hoping that he gets bigger leading roles in the future (and I don't mean "Thin Man" from Charlie's Angels, either.)