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Gwai ching lei tai hei (1999)
Evil Dead 2 rip-off
LAST GHOST STANDING (1999, original title Gwai ching le tai hei) is Hong Kong's answer to EVIL DEAD II and by that I mean it's pretty much an open copy of the Sam Raimi classic. This time around the setting is a cinema - shades of DEMONS - where Satan unleashes a bunch of minions to take down anyone unlucky enough to be caught inside. What follows is a mix of senseless action and puerile comedy, with characters riding 'excrement monsters' through the corridors and lots of other silly stuff going on. EVIL DEAD bits include a woman's severed head flying around and attacking her loved one and a guy's hand getting possessed forcing him to chop it off. Chin Kar Lok has a small role spoofing Jackie Chan, complete with a massive prosthetic nose. It's too low budget to be much cop, with non-existent horror and way over the top comedy.
Search and Destroy (2020)
SEARCH AND DESTROY is a lamentable action thriller shot in Bulgaria. The main actor is a guy called Dylan Bruce but I've never heard of him either and his acting skills are non-existent. The story sees a former soldier set on one more mission where he tackles with an old foe. Plenty of action here but none of it is remotely realistic, and the whole thing is spoilt by an inappropriately cheesy musical track that plays incessantly throughout. It's almost as if they added some random temporary score and accidentally left it in the release version. The only familiar face is ex-EASTENDER Leslie Grantham appearing shortly before his death.
House of Bamboo (1955)
Film noir with a change of setting
A decent stab at a film noir with a tough and gritty vibe going on. Robert Stack - later the host of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES - plays an army investigator who infiltrates a gang of robbers to solve a murder. The setting is postwar Japan which keeps things feeling fresh and original, a really nice change of pace. Robert Ryan has a tremendously tough role as a hard-bitten criminal and is involved in the electrifying climax.
Breaking Bad: Madrigal (2012)
Another excellent episode. If they keep up this level of consistency then season five is looking to be the best one yet. All of the sub-plots are involved and engaging and feature great writing. I love that the writers realise what a winner they're on to with Mike so feature him a lot.
Another extremely dull episode that adds nothing to what's come before. David Tennant is once again back to ham and chew up the scenery without restraint while Jessica is more dour and unlikeable than ever. This is undoubtedly padding in the middle of the season.
The Sweeney: The Bigger They Are (1978)
A middling episode, not helped by the cliched characters that show up in support. The story has plenty going on but the viewer simply doesn't feel as involved or excited as in other, better episodes.
The Battle of Billy's Pond (1976)
Nothing to dislike
Once again Children's Film Foundation show themselves to be ahead of the game with THE BATTLE OF BILLY'S POND, a fascinating slice of ecological adventure from the mid 1970s. The story is about two kids playing at a local pond and beauty spot who become aware that something or someone is polluting the water and killing the fish. Doing some homespun detective work they track the culprits and a battle takes place. This has endearing kids, a strong political message (similar actually to big Hollywood hits like DARK WATERS but made on about a hundredth of the budget) and the usual funny supporting roles from the adult performers. Nothing to dislike here.
BREACH is a low budget ALIENS rip-off set on a spaceship lit in shades of green and blue. It also goes under the title ANTI-LIFE. The story follows a bored crew as they go about their routine jobs until assailed by an alien life form which has the ability to travel from body to body. Routine action plays out until the climax. The whole thing seems to have been shot in a small enclosed set with a minimum of action and mostly centred around dull dialogue. Thomas Jane has a cameo and Bruce Willis has a surprisingly large role, but he plays this obnoxious wisecracking drunk who's really hard to engage with. Avoid.
Breaking Bad: Live Free or Die (2012)
Another great episode and wonderful start to what is sadly the final season. Walt's character is darker and more frightening than ever, while the return of Mike is a real delight. The scheme that the boys pull off here is truly hilarious and brilliantly written, making this like a mini heist film in itself.
Knockabout Korean comedy
Another knockabout Korean comedy, similar in tone to THE GRAND HEIST but a contemporary supernatural comedy instead. The story sees a group of shamans and ghost-busters descend en masse to a seaside village plagued by an overwhelming abundance of malign spirits; a battle between life and death then plays out. This one offers a good mix of story ingredients, with lots of absurdist humour, character interplay and action, and the climax is particularly good with large-scale fights and chases. Overall it's perhaps a little too Korean for my tastes; I did find the journalist character somewhat annoying and some of the mugging is just a bit too much.
The Sweeney: Bait (1978)
A decent episode
A pretty good SWEENEY episode. Tense and exciting at times and with a well-developed storyline which keeps on giving. It's particularly notable for featuring Barbara Ewing in a great supporting role and her scenes towards the climax are fantastic.
OVER YOUR DEAD BODY (2014, original title Kuime) is another film from the incredibly prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike. This one's set at a theatre, where a troup of actors are busy rehearsing their latest production, a stage adaptation of a classic ghost story. Trouble arises when the actors begin to adopt the roles of their fictional counterparts and things come to a head when madness, adultery and murder plays out. As interesting as the plot is, this is very much a disappointing film, a real slow-burner where very little happens for the first hour and ten minutes. It's very low budget and has that horrid digital look that I despise, and the actors have very little to work with. Things pick up for the climax, where Miike brings in some of his traditional nastiness with a very unpleasant self abortion scene and some grisly ghostly hijinks right at the end, but for me it's too little, too late at that point.
Softcore porn with added Naschy
Here's one I saw so you don't have to! COUNTESS DRACULA'S ORGY OF BLOOD (2004), a Z-grade straight-to-video slice of softcore erotica from filmmaker Donald F. Glut. I watched this purely for Paul Naschy; the great man appears in the film's historical prologue, playing an evil-fighting monk who offs two vampires. His screen time in this one is limited to just a few minutes so no reason to tune in. The rest cuts to the present day, where the vampires return to their (un)life and bite more victims, but it's all an excuse for endless lesbian coupling and non-stop female nudity. The production values are cheap and even the erotic atmosphere is non-existent, leaving this a tawdry exercise in softcore pornography. I did enjoy the gooey vampire deaths in the prologue but it all goes downhill very soon afterwards.
Brute Force (1947)
Slow burner with a fantastic climax
An early prison break genre, setting up many of the plot ingredients and cliches that would become familiar decades later. It's a well-cast little production, with a youthful Burt Lancaster on top form as the simmering con engaging in a battle of wills with sadistic guard Hume Cronyn, also excellent in an against-type role. It's a slow burner for sure, gradually building character before letting rip with one of the most dramatic climaxes of the decade; an excellent way to end the thing.
The Sweeney: Money, Money, Money (1978)
A better episode. An interesting and violent storyline sustains the narrative and there's an excellent role from Edward Judd, looking very different from his 1960s heyday, playing a lottery winner hiding a dark past. The twists are fine and the action comes thick and fast.
Deddo sushi (2012)
DEAD SUSHI (2012, original title Deddo sushi) is one of those low budget splatter films that were all the rage in Japan 10-15 years ago. Some of them made it to the west for DVD release; you may remember titles like ROBO GEISHA, TOKYO GORE POLICE and MEATBALL MACHINE. Generally I'm not a huge fan of such productions but I do appreciate their quirkiness and low budget mayhem, and DEAD SUSHI is one of the better ones I've seen. It stars high-kicking Rina Takeda as a talented sushi chef living in her father's shadow who heads off to find work at a remote rural restaurant before disaster strikes.
These films are known for anything-goes madcap behaviour and DEAD SUSHI doesn't disappoint in that respect. The plot is essentially a small cast getting attacked by sentient flying sushi which burrows into flesh, lops off heads and causes all manner of gory mayhem. It's all done with tongue firmly in cheek, but they put a lot of effort into these films and this one shines in terms of energy and enthusiasm. It's a little too gross for me at times, but there's so much in the way of action, mayhem, weird characterisation and FX work that I found it hard not to be entertained.
Hai kikku gâru! (2009)
Fights and more fights
HIGH-KICK GIRL! Is less a movie and more a collection of demonstration fight scenes. It's a very low budget martial arts flick from Japan, notable for launching the career of B-movie queen Rina Takeda, and very good at fighting she is too. But that's all you get - one fight after another. The choreography is very good and the fights are nicely staged and very hard-hitting, but there's no plot, character or development to go with them other than a very bare kind of minimum. Takeda would go on to better things with the likes of the entertaining DEAD SUSHI.
The Sweeney: Nightmare (1978)
Not a great episode. It's perhaps enlivened by some unusual dream sequences featuring then-new laser technology but these feel cheesy and dated when viewing in a modern light. The rest of the plot, about rival gangs and IRA involvement, has potential but the execution is plodding.
Alice in Borderland (2020)
ALICE IN BORDERLAND is a Japanese Netflix TV show based on a popular manga (as are so many). I'm just done watching the eight episodes of season one and I'm blown away by the quality of the series. It's very much like an updated BATTLE ROYALE, with a sudden apocalypse followed by incessant life-or-death games that our protagonists have to play through to earn playing cards. Imagine THE CRYSTAL MAZE but with killer lasers and arterial spray instead of Richard O'Brien waffling on about mumsey and you've got it. Excellent quality throughout and a great mix of plot, character, FX and action. What impressed me most is the consistency of this one, usually a show has some weaker episodes but I rated all of them 7/10 or above, so it gets a 9/10 overall from me. It really is that good and I'm eager for season two.
Daman akeseo guhasoseo (2020)
Another great Korean action film
Another very fine South Korean action thriller, directed by the writer of such classics as THE YELLOW SEA and THE CHASER. It's not quite on par with those masterworks, but it's still very good. I feel the Chris Hemsworth movie EXTRACTION inspired the look, the action and the setting of this movie, along with the usual touches from BOURNE and JOHN WICK. The first half hour is a little confused as it sets up the pieces, but before long we're in Thailand and things kick off on typically spectacular style. DELIVER US FROM EVIL offers a splendid mix of fine acting, stark violence and excellent action sequences, and once the suspense hits it rarely disappears before the credits roll. Recommended.
The Zoo Robbery (1973)
THE ZOO ROBBERY is another Children's Film Foundation slice of adventure with a more fantastic approach than some. The story surrounds a Yeti at London Zoo called Yen-Yen (!), which is kidnapped by a gang of thieves. A gang of youthful crime investigators give chance and attempt to rescue it. Truth be told, the yeti costume is one of the worst I've ever seen - why did they give it such a ridiculous SHAPE? - yet the rest of this production is nicely handled, particularly the camaraderie between the kids and the hijinks on Regent's Canal.
The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
Subtle but assured
A pretty interesting slice of American noir, set in post-war San Francisco. The protagonist is a concentration camp survivor from Poland who assumes a dead woman's identity in order to survive, and soon finds herself living in the ancestral home in the US. Richard Basehart is her new husband. Plenty of mystery and character development here amid the slow-burning pace, and it all pays off nicely towards the climax. A subtle but assured kind of film, reminiscent of REBECCA.
Last Man Standing (1988)
B-movie fight flick from Canada
CIRCLE MAN is a B-movie fighting flick from Canada, starring Vernon Wells who was still riding high from the success of COMMANDO. Here he's a punch-drunk and washed-up fighter who ends up back in the ring for some brutal bare-knuckled bouts. Seasoned B-movie star William Sanderson plays in support. It's too low budget to be much cop, but there are elements of interest and plenty of fights, so it's not quite the worst.
Alice in Borderland: Episode #1.8 (2020)
A satisfying climax to the first season of ALICE IN BORDERLAND. The main plot is tied up at speed within the first half an hour, with all of the usual twists and surprises. A couple of bits are cliched but there's so much else it doesn't matter. The last twenty minutes goes further into the back story and effectively sets up the next season, which I'm looking forward to on the strength of this.
The Sweeney: Trust Red (1978)
Nothing very exciting here. The usual story with burglars falling out and the boys getting involved. The most interesting part is seeing Gretchen Franklin, best known as Ethel from EASTENDERS, in support.