Navy SEALs (1990)

Although our mission here at the ISCFC is to bring you reviews of movies where you’ve got half a suspicion that I’m just making them up, so obscure are they, every now and again we get time off for good behaviour and we get to review something you might actually have heard of. And so it is today with one of the greatest running jokes ever (in “Clerks”).

Before I start, this review was written on 23rd May 2017, the day after a terrorist attack killed almost 20 people at a concert in Manchester. This is the town two of my ex-girlfriends live in, one I’ve visited hundreds of times, and (obviously) my heart goes out to those who’ve lost loved ones or whose lives have been affected. The subject of terrorism and war in the Middle East is the main theme of this movie, and its attitude towards the innocent people caught up in a conflict they don’t understand or agree with is almost obscenely liberal, at least to the 2017 viewer. If, perhaps, this is a little too close to home, please feel free to skip this review and go read some of our other trash.

“Navy SEALs” feels like it ought to have been a Shane Black / Jerry Bruckheimer movie. From the very beginning, where we see co-star Charlie Sheen waking up on a beach, hungover from a bachelor party, it feels like part of that family, somewhere in between “Lethal Weapon” and “Top Gun”. A heck of a cast gradually wakes up and goes to a wedding – there’s groom and excellent moustache-wearer Graham (Dennis Haysbert); sort of background guy Dane (Bill Paxton, who really ought to have had a bigger role); the aforementioned Sheen, playing a fellow called Hawkins; and, the star of proceedings, Lt Curran (Michael Biehn).

By the way, I think Michael Biehn must have fired his agent after this, or every casting director in Hollywood got bored of his by-the-book military man shtick at once. Aside from a brilliant role in 1996’s “The Rock”, he never did anything nearly as big again. I mean, he was in “Aliens”, “The Abyss”, “Terminator” and this…he’s like the Sam Worthington of the late 80s.

When you’ve finished laughing at them all being interrupted by their pagers in the middle of the wedding ceremony, our team of badass Navy Seals is off to “the Eastern Mediterranean” to rescue some soldiers who’d been captured there. I want to doff my cap to the location scout, because it looks absolutely like it could be the middle of a warzone – all the exteriors were filmed in Spain, which is apparently full of bombed-out ruins (or it was all just really good camerawork and I’m an idiot). They also filmed in real military bases – you can’t help but be impressed when they’re having a conversation and the backdrop is a gigantic aircraft carrier. The action is strong, as you’d expect from a big budget macho movie of the era.

ASIDE: There are two very important speeches in this movie, which are even more surprising given it was made in 1990, before the Gulf War really started. First is an extremely modern-sounding anti-USA argument from the baddies holding the hostages, about what the USA does to his country; and secondly comes a lot later, and is the journalist who’s crowbarred into the story in order for there to be a woman in the cast (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, with a terribly underwritten part). She’s half-Muslim and, doing an on-air bit, basically breaks down the history of Islamic terrorism in a couple of sentences. Islam is a religion of tolerance, but enough bombs land on your head and you’re going to be less tolerant. It must have been of mild interest to viewers in 1990, but with 27 years of bombs being dropped on the heads of tolerant Muslims, it has a much deeper resonance. I realise how stupid that is to say about a ra-ra pro-USA big budget Hollywood movie like “Navy Seals”, but I call them like I see them.

There’s a beautiful party scene set on a golf course, which attempts to rival the beach volleyball scene in “Top Gun” for sheer bro-like homoeroticism, with two men going shirtless and just wearing small neon-coloured shorts; when this scene’s finished, and you realise the movie isn’t even a third over yet, you begin to wonder what on earth is going to be left for them to do for the next hour. Well, darkness and misery, of course. Sheen starts enjoying the violence a little too much, Haysbert (who might as well have had a target painted on his chest, after missing his own wedding) gets popped, and the team look miserable while the President and his top brass decide what to do about the cache of surface-to-air missiles the SEALs found on their rescue mission. Then there’s tons of action, in the air, on and under the sea, and on land, and apparently a group of retired SEALs who went to the premier were mostly happy with the action and portrayals of characters, so if you like authenticity, this may even have some of that for you.

It’s a poor cousin to the great action classics of the 80s and 90s, but it’s still in the family. You will start to drift away when they get sent back to the Middle East for the third time, but you shouldn’t, as the final segment is nothing more than “The Warriors”, with the SEALs trying to get across the city to their waiting submarine, while everyone wants them dead. It doesn’t match the rest of the movie at all (as that’s all precise military tactics and lots of EMOTIONAL conversations) but it’s great.

The writers and director are, perhaps unsurprisingly, ISCFC favourites. Director Lewis Teague also made “Wedlock” and the “Justice League” TV movie / pilot (poor Lewis, his IMDB bio lists him as “efficient and underrated”, pretty much the definition of damning with faint praise); and co-writer Gary Goldman penned “Big Trouble In Little China” and “Total Recall”, before making his money as a script consultant.

Chances are you watched this when it came out and have no memory of it at all – perhaps it shouldn’t be top of your list when it comes to rewatching, but it’s worth leaving on, should you ever happen upon it.

Rating: thumbs up

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R.I.P.D. (2013)

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Directed by: Robert Schwentke

If ‘Men in Black’ never existed, and Jeff Bridges hadn’t been in ‘True Grit’ then ‘R.I.P.D.’ might have had the several ounces of originality which could have made it a break out box office hit.

Instead ‘R.I.P.D.’ flopped.

The problems of ‘R.I.P.D.’ stand mostly in the casting of Ryan Reynolds, and to an extent the future version of Ryan Reynolds Kevin Bacon. Reynolds brings the charm, Bacon backs it up with smarm. But yuck, there is something that prevents Ryan Reynolds from connecting with cinema audiences. Ever since ‘National Lampoon’s Van Wilder’ he has been talked about in certain circles as being charismatic and wise cracking, but there is also a far more damning and consistent theme with Reynolds work, in that he is a franchise killer. Think ‘The Green Lantern’, think ‘Blade: Trinity’. Even in this film, which ends with the most blatant sequel set-up ever, you think to yourself – I really don’t think ‘R.I.P.D. 2’ will be made because of Ryan bloody Reynolds.

‘R.I.P.D.’ is no dafter than ‘Men in Black’, ‘Wild Wild West’ or ‘Ghostbusters’, but the trouble is that those films got there first decades before. The story of ‘R.I.P.D.’ goes like this… Boston PD detective Nick Walker (Reynolds) is double crossed by his partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon). Hayes kills Walker and Walker goes to Police purgatory, the Rest in Peace Department, a place for dead cops who have some unfinished business back in the land of the living. The dead cops are responsible for tracking down deados, crooked monsters whose souls have not gone to the afterlife. So their job is to travel back to earth and try and capture the deados. In order to remain undetected by those they have left behind the dead cops are given unique avatars that have no connection to their previous selves.

Nick Walker is partnered with Civil War era U.S. Marshal Roycephus aka Roy Pulsipher. Like any good buddy cop movie the unlikely partners bicker and squabble their way through several scenes before coming together at the end to crack the big case. That case gives Walker the chance to gain vengeance against the man who screwed him over. Most of the laughs come from Jeff Bridges, but Reynolds cracks a few of those darn one liners he is so well known for causing stress lines to flicker on my enraged forehead.

There are some good parts of ‘R.I.P.D’. Mary-Louise Parker excels as the stern Police Chief Proctor, and living avatars of Roy and Nick are an elderly Chinese man and a stunningly attractive catwalk model (Marissa Miller) provide several ha ha ha’s. But because ‘R.I.P.D’ is a film composed from bits and pieces of other films, and the source material of these other films is just too strong and too beloved, it seems almost a crime to steal from them.

– RJW

5/10

R.I.P.D. on IMDB

Taken 3 (2015)

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Directed by: Olivier Megaton

When a film franchise becomes absurdly popular there is almost no point trying to form a critical opinion. ‘Taken 3’ is absolutely obliterating Oscar nominated films and making a heck of a lot of cash at the box office. As far as the movie business goes, that’s all that matters. Whenever a new ‘Taken; movie is at the cinemas, your average man and woman on the street aren’t going to take a quick look at the Rotten Tomatoes score and decided to stay at home and spend a night flicking through Netflix, they are going to go along and enjoy it for what it is. They go on the roller coaster because they want to taste the vomit in the back of their throat.

The studio behind ‘Taken 3’ is aware they have a sure-fire box office hit, and they want to keep bringing home the bacon. But how to better this? Make even more dollar dollar. This involves compromising a little by cutting out some of the blood, tapping into the family market. In a similar move to the release of ‘Expendables 3’, ‘Taken 3’ is packaged as an accessible action movie, fun for all the family. It is the kind of movie where a Dad raised on ‘Die Hard’, ‘Terminator’ and ‘Rambo’ can take along his ten year old son and not expect an ear bashing from Mum for exposing their precious boy to bloody ultra-violence. Certainly it is interesting to see how director Olivier Megaton has presented a woman with her throat cut in the most tasteful way possible and even a bit of playful water boarding.

At the beginning of ‘Taken 3’ Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills’ seems to be going through a period of relative calm. He is able to play golf with his veteran CIA colleagues, is on good terms with his ex-wife Lenore and happy that his daughter Kim is attending college and in a stable relationship. This quickly changes when Lenore is murdered. Don’t worry folks, I am not spoiling anything. Her murder was revealed in the trailers. I’m still scratching my head at that the reason for that blatant giveaway.

The sad thing for Neeson is that once again he plays a man whose wife has died. It is almost like this is written in all of his acting contracts, and somehow helps him cope with his unimaginable real life loss. I don’t want to labour too much on this point, because I’m uneasy with encroaching too much into an actors private lives.

‘Taken 3’ takes a long while to get going; when Lenore is murdered the film finally gathers pace and essentially becomes ‘The Fugitive’. Mills is pursued by Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), an inspector who will happily eat pieces of evidence, and at the end of the film claim he figured it all out, despite always being off the pace and effectively chasing shadows through the whole movie. Mills runs from the inept LAPD whilst at the same time trying to figure out who killed his wife.

What makes the movie a mess is the botches, whenever Mills is on the run, either on foot, or in a car chase, the camera work is all over the place. It is difficult to see what actually is happening. At one stage during a car chase a shipping container rolls off the back of a lorry, and what should be an absolutely terrifying action sequence is thrown away by shoddy camera work.

When ‘Taken 4’ is no doubt released in a couple of years’ time, people will still flock to see it. But who knows, maybe the ‘Taken’ franchise will get better, in a similar way to how the ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise has been revived. A new director and a few new characters could give Bryan Mills a second wind. As for now all I can say is that ‘Taken 3’ is a flaccid action movie and the worst in the franchise by far.

– RJW

4/10

Taken 3 on IMDB

John Wick (2014)

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Directed by: Chad Stahelski and David Leitch

Liam Neeson’s reinvention as an action hero has paved the way to several actors, whose careers were in limbo, to give this action movie thing a go. Kevin Costner did ‘3 Days to Kill’, Pierce Brosnan ‘The November Man’ and now Keanu Reeves stars as brooding former hitman John Wick. World weary, battle scarred and struggling with personal tragedy, these veteran actors have filled a gap in the market. Even Arnie and Sly have been able to have successful comebacks because no young guns have stepped up to the plate. We live in a time where cinema audiences of a certain age are crying out for “real men”. It’s why ‘The Expendables’ can make money at the box office. We crave testosterone fuelled monsters going on a blood thirsty rampage.

‘John Wick’ has a flimsy sickly beginning. Wick is a cold blooded killer with a broken heart. His wife has suddenly died, and a glimmer of hope trots into his life in the shape of a small puppy called ‘Daisy’. Daisy is the last connection to his wife. One afternoon the cocky spoilt son of a Russian mobster bumps into Wick at a petrol station and offers to buy his prized Mustang, Wick tells the guy to go swivel… in Russian. Later that night the Russians invade Wick’s home, beat him up, kill his dog and nicks the Cadillac.

This is the foot which kicks the wasps nest.

Wick then decides to gain vengeance.

What follows, after a weak start is some of the finest fight choreography I’ve seen in an American action movie as Wick declares war on Russian mobster Viggo Tarasov’s son Iosef. Wick, nicknamed “The Boogeyman” used to work for Viggo, so the mobster knows how dangerous Wick is, and puts a bounty on Wick’s head to try and protect his idiotic son. Viggo offers a number of deadly assassins two millions dollars to kill his former chief assassin.

As bodies fall and bullets fly it’s amazing how many former wrestlers and cage fighters you can spot. Former UFC fighter Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine, “Big Sexy” Kevin .Nash, and feared Sambo fighter Vladislav Koulikov to name but three. Reeves is excellent; adopting this strange hybrid gun-fu mix that incorporates Krav Maga and Brazilian Ju Jitsu as he despatches villains left, right and centre.

When we do pause and the gun smoke clears and the blood trails dry the solid acting is provided by reliable guys like Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Michael Nyqvist and Ian McShane. This is necessary because Reeves, an actor frequently criticised for his wooden performances, needs good actors around him, solid workers to carry him. ‘John Wick’ works so well because of this.

 – RJW

7/10

John Wick on IMDB

Redirected (2014)

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Directed by: Emilis Velyvis 

I think there’s two ways a reviewer could dissect ‘Redirected’. You can take the heavy handed approach, strap on some metaphorical brass knuckles and take some cheap shots. Poke poe-faced at the clichéd mockney gangster dialogue and the wafer thin characters. Or, and maybe this is because we are in the Festive Season, you could be generous in your praise and look beyond the obvious failings of this film and reluctantly admit ‘Redirected’ is fun, dumb and a clapped out thrill ride through the streets of Lithuania.

‘Redirected’ is about four mates, a group of friends who you might find in your latest blokey advert for Ladbrokes zooming around a Go-Kart track, or clinking glass bottles after guzzling down a few bottles of WKD blue. You have John, the organizer who ropes the gang into a robbery; he wears a silver dye job that is more Phillip Schofield than George Clooney. Then there’s the awkward comedy duo of the fat bloke Ben and the lanky wimpy geek Tim. The three pull in their friend Michael, a straight laced member of the Queen’s Guard.

The four hold up a poker game held at a strip bar called ‘The Big Tits’ (says a lot about the lad tone of the movie) featuring some notorious London gangsters. They grab a stash of several thousand pounds and the gold ring of a gangster called The Golden Pole played by Vinnie Jones. The four guys then attempt to fly to Malaysia but end up stopping in Lithuania due to a volcanic ash cloud which has polluted the skies about Europe.

As an aside, it’s worth reflecting that Vinnie Jones has had an amazingly successful acting career considering his limited range and ability. His first five films are respectable Hollywood projects, and though he has been in some terrible films since, by hook or by crook he’s had an acting career for the best part of sixteen years. That’s incredible, and deserving of some praise.

Lithuania in ‘Redirected’ is presented as a lawless country that seems like the kind of no man’s land you might find in a Judge Dredd comic. Everybody is corrupt, the Police, the priests, even the paramedics. The four guys get separated and shafted by every person they encounter. Then Vinnie and his mob turn up and try and track down the money and his ring.

The chase is quite rewarding, the gang find themselves in life threatening situations, and even by the end of the film, danger is still in the air. Home always feels a long way away. Director Emilis Velyvis should be applauded for his ability to pace the movie almost perfectly, keeping things moving somehow allows the critical eye to bypass the shitty dialogue which mostly consists of foul mouthed Brits shouting “fuck”, “cunt” and “bastard”.

Maybe it’s the unique blend of a Lithuanian and British cast, but ‘Redirected’ feels different to a lot of straight-to-DVD British gangster flicks. I’m taking the optimistic line and reckon ‘Redirected’ isn’t too bad, above average in the “Geezers need excitement” sense.

– RJW

6/10

 

Redirected on IMDB

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Fourteen years after the Steve Barron directed ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ comes the reboot. Gone are the rubber turtle suits, 2014’s turtles are created by the latest in studio CGI technology.

The 2014 film is missing a key character, and arguably the best thing about the 1990 film – Casey Jones, but more on that later. It’s little known, but by way of the lips of Mark Kermode, who probably got this information from Wikipedia, 1990’s ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ became the second highest grossing independent movie of all time of that year, and also was in the highest grossing films worldwide of 1990. If you want to know why a franchise film this would struggle to be distributed by major studios then it is because of doubts around adapting from a successful cartoon / comic book. This seems absurd nowadays, but probably represented scepticism around the early nineties about superheroes and comic books.

Jonathan Liebesman who directs the 2014 version, has been behind films like ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning’, both received a panning from critics, but in Liebesman’s defence, he does a good job at presenting flashy action sequences, and I will say ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ is one of those films I will stand up, and I reckon it’s long overdue for a reappraising. In ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ he puts together some memorable moments, but the second half of the film is top heavy in this regard, leading to a mid-point lull

We don’t really see the turtles for the first twenty minutes of the film. Instead po-faced sexpot Megan Fox tries to revive her flagging acting career by playing April O’Neil. Roving reporter O’Neil is fed up with having to present stories involving her jumping up and down on a trampoline wearing lyrca. O’Neil is a serious journalist, and she, alongside reluctant but loyal cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), are on the hunt for the big story. Fox doesn’t do a bad job as O’Neil, but you can’t quite help but think that the role would be better suited to a pluckier likeable female lead actress.

In New York the big story is about a gang called the Foot Clan who is up to no good, dealing dodgy chemicals. Thwarting the Foot Clan is a group of mysterious vigilantes, who later reveal themselves to be the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. In this version of the Turtles, O’Neil is actually closely connected to Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. It turns out her Father’s Project Renaissance lab experiment was responsible for their mutation, and in a laboratory accident she was the one who prevented the turtles from being harmed.

The main problem is that the film is dull as ditchwater. Or should that be sewer water? The leader of the Foot Clan Shredder is consigned to a background character brought out for a few fight scenes in the second half of the film. He is not the deadly potent nemesis that the Turtles deserve to be up against. And we also have to put up with rich scientist / businessman Eric Sacks, who portrays corporate evil, but nothing more. I can’t help but feel we needed more scenes involving the Turtles in action earlier in the film, maybe after O’Neil discovers their identity, just a few more fight scenes of them foiling the Foot Clan, and perhaps even the introduction of a character like Casey Jones to bring a little edge and anarchy to the proceedings.

 

–  RJW

4/10

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on IMDB

S.W.A.T. (2003)

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Directed by: Clark Johnson

I often wonder why some stars fall in Hollywood, as some actor’s careers disappear almost overnight. I also get perplexed how some actors somehow find a niche and can churn out the same tired act over and over, sometimes for over a freaking decade. If anything these actors are the true greats, great in the arts of deception, of perfecting a role and then repeating it over and over again. Michelle Rodriguez comes to mind as one such performer, she plays the gritty street smart Latina, or variations to that affect in almost every movie, but she’s had a decent career, made money, dated Supermodels and in fairness I will also concede that some of the films she’s been in haven’t been all that bad. She is proof that variety isn’t always a good thing. I guess she is reliable, a rock in the cast to build the film around.

‘S.W.A.T.’ contains a wide scale of acting performances veering from the OTT to the can’t be arsed; you’ve got Samuel L. Jackson going through the motions, Colin Farrell coasting, Jeremy Renner straining every sinew to get noticed by casting directors, and a supporting cast that includes the aforementioned Rodriguez and LL Cool J delivering exactly what they’re paid to deliver. Fans of ‘The Wire’ will also notice minor roles for the guy who played Herc and Tommy Carcetti’s right hand man, which seems unsurprising given that the film is directed by Clark Johnson, the guy who played Gus Haynes in Season Five.

Yes, ‘S.W.A.T.’ is erratic, but in essence it is a good, if a tad unbelievable story that plays well. Farrell is Jim Street, a competent S.W.A.T. team member who almost botches a hostage situation when a hostage is seriously wounded by a stray bullet fired by his hot-headed partner Gamble (Jeremy Renner). Street and Gamble get the Riggs and Murtaugh treatment from their superior and lose their positions on the frontline. A frustrated Gamble quits the force, whereas Street decides to accept his punishment and work in the gun cage.

A chance meeting with S.W.A.T. legend Hondo Harrelson (Jackson) gives Street a chance at getting his spot back, as part of Harrelson’s newly formed group of misfits and strays that he plans to run like an old school no nonsense S.W.A.T. division. After excelling in training Harrelson’s team are assigned to escort one of the world’s most wanted criminals. Mayhem ensues.

Despite a pendulum swing of acting performances levels Clark Johnson manages to breathe life into every character, which ultimately means that we care a bit about who lives and indeed who dies. Harrelson’s team bond quickly, and each have their own motivations for being part of the force. When the bullets fly and the tyres screech it is difficult not to find yourself on the edge of your seat. ‘S.W.A.T.’ is an early noughties above average action thriller that deserves a watch.

– RJW
7/10

S.W.A.T. on IMDB

RoboGeisha (2009)

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Directed by: Niboru Iguchi

I’ve only just realised that I really hate low budget films that knowingly aim for cult status. I want good stories that are told on shoe string budgets, wonky scenery and fluffed lines. I want the genuinely bad, because it was unintentionally genuinely bad, not the “we’re being too clever for our own good” school of cult film making that knowingly makes a film bad. You know, the kind of directors who create buzz worthy set pieces that will be made into endlessly recycled Gif’s or feature in short videos put together by smart aleck’s with too much time on their hands (yes, even more time than it takes to write a movie review). The ridiculousness of acidic breast milk being fired from rubber nipples or shuriken’s being shooting out of somebody’s bottom. Lowest common denominator humour permeates RoboGeisha and means the film ends up becoming a campy mix of the more risqué elements of the ‘Carry On’ films alongside fights scenes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in ‘The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’. I hope you now have a mental image of Barbara Windsor in the pink ranger outfit.

The opening of the film isn’t half bad. It’s nonsensical but you have to go with it. A politician gets attacked by a robot, she splits in half and not one put two assassins appear from her body, Russian doll style. Then Yoshie the RoboGeisha turns up to save the day. Arse kicking karate kicking chicks deliver powerful lines like “You touch my tits and frankly they’ll be a hole in your face”. It’s almost a modern take on Clark Gable’s classic line in ‘Gone with the Wind’. After taking care of the sinister threat Yoshie asks herself “What am I? A robot or a geisha?”

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We then learn the origin story of the RoboGeisha, which begins in sibling rivalry. Yoshie is bullied at home by her older sister Kikue. Despite being incessant picked on she still loves her older sister. The pair are headhunted and then coerced into training as assassins for the evil Kageno Steel Corporation run by a malevolent Father and Son duo. The sisters are made to fight each other during one training drill, and Yoshie humiliates Kikue. Both end up getting mechanical implants to enhance their fighting skills, but whereas Kikue is all in when it comes to working for Kageno, Yoshie gets her head turned by a renegade group who tell her they’ve had family members kidnapped by the Corporation. The group make Yoshie aware about Kageno’s terrorist plans. Yoshie then faces a race against time to prevent a bomb getting dropped on Mount Fuji.

‘RoboGeisha’ isn’t a film suitable for any kind of deep critical analysis. You aren’t supposed to take it seriously, it’s one of those films that you tell your friends about, but not in the “you’ve got to see this because it’s brilliant” in an ironic way, but “for Christ’s sake watch this before the joke isn’t funny anymore”.

Since I’m a grouch, I didn’t really enjoy ‘RoboGeisha’ that much; the laughs all came in the opening scene. After that point I then became irritated and watched the rest of the movie with my arms folded, stuck in silence. There was not even a hint of a smile on my face as buildings bled, baddies got shrimps stuck in their eyes and Yoshie turned into a tank.

4/10

Robogeisha on IMDB