Robot Revolution (2015)

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Although you could, if you were unkind, dismiss this as a weird Judge Dredd fan-film, or a cheap knockoff of sadly missed TV favourite “Almost Human”, there’s something surprisingly meaty and interesting about this. As far as ISCFC-reviewed movies go, it’s in the bottom 10% in terms of budget but I’d say the top 10% in terms of inventiveness and ideas. So read on with me, then get yourself to a VOD place and buy yourself a copy.

In the not-too-distant future, terrorism is rife, robots control many aspects of our daily lives, and most cops have android partners. Officer Hawkins (Virginia Logan) is dispatched to a normal tower block on a normal case, but runs into all sorts of different groups – a gang of teen junkies, a lazy building supervisor, a family with an odd religious affiliation, some terrorists and their tech genius, a huge hulking robot cleaning device…plus, something is causing all the machines in the building to malfunction; throw in a government conspiracy and you’ve got yourself a tense little thriller.

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It’s set entirely inside one building, with a lot of action taking place in corridors, stairwells and claustrophobic little rooms. The budget was obviously microscopic, but the people behind this film decided to do something different – use everything to their advantage. Rather than have everything look like a cheap digital camera, they use the conceit of half the movie being from the robot’s POV, so the screen is filled with the data on his viewscreen; there’s static and weird colours and every effect in the book to make the footage look like it came from broken old security cameras; and to disguise that the place they’re filming in is a disused university dorm rather than a futuristic slum. To be able to say something like this about a movie is so incredibly refreshing – microbudget movie-makers who are bothered about how their film looks!

As the cops collect up the people in the building, we come across the first problem, in that the movie really slows down at around the halfway point and doesn’t get going til really close to the end. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say this was a short film that they pushed to feature length, but even then they’ve bothered giving the group individual personalities and having them represent different ways of living in this grim future. You will learn to dread the static screen on the robot’s display, though, as you’ll see it A LOT.

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But enough of my grumpy attitude! It’s a surprisingly good movie, with a series of incredibly strong performances, especially related to other movies of a similar budget and scale. Virginia Logan is great in the central role; but there’s plenty of others, like the building super and the tech wizard…I think you’ll enjoy this. I want these people to get a bunch of money so they can really let their imaginations run wild, because that’s the only thing holding them back from making a genuinely great sci-fi movie. But support indie filmmaking and inventive sci-fi and rent “Robot Revolution”.

Rating: thumbs up

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Ninja Apocalypse (2014)

Not really sure any of those words are true, apart from "ninja"

Not really sure any of those words are true, apart from “ninja”

Some movies are so good, and have such an interesting hook to them, that they inspire many many imitators. “Enter The Dragon”, “Halloween”, and “The Blair Witch Project” are three big examples, but the new kid on the block is “The Raid”. It’s a brilliantly simple idea – our protagonists need to fight their way out of a large building, filled with people who want to kill them. Because you can get away with setting pretty much the entire thing indoors, budgets can be stretched too.

“Ninja Apocalypse” isn’t just a clever name, because we’re in a post-apocalyptic situation. Ninjas are everywhere, just because, and they’ve got some pretty badass powers – one clan can shoot fire, another has super-speed (and weird teeth, not sure if they’re related), but our heroes, the Lost Clan, have electricity-based powers. Main guy Cage (Christian Oliver, who you may remember from being the Zack Morris replacement in “Saved By The Bell: The New Class”) is asked to take a group of Lost Clan ninja to a big meeting, where Fumitaka (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, a great “That Guy” actor) is trying to engineer some peace between the clans.

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The rest of the Lost Clan are very simply sketched out at the beginning – Cage is told to take the strongest, the smartest, the fiercest and “the most talented” (not really sure what that meant, it appears the filmmakers couldn’t think of another way than “hottest” to describe any abilities a woman might have). So, the five of them go, and while they’re at the big pow-wow, Fumitaka is killed and the crime is pinned on the Lost Clan.

Now, I said “The Raid” but if you’re any sort of a fan of genre movies, right about now you’ll be saying “this is more The Warriors, surely?”. And you’d be right – I’d lay good money on someone describing it as one crossed with the other in order to secure funding. There’s a scene later on where they’re stopped by the Sirens, the hot women gang, and I said out loud “have they not seen The Warriors?”

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Although the promotional material says they fight their way out of a hundred-storey deep bunker, it’s not strictly true – they fight their way off the level they start on, then drop to the very bottom and take on some zombies (why zombies? Why not zombies, is the question you should be asking) then go right back up to the top. It’s not the only time you’re left feeling a trifle cheated – for a film which should be non-stop bad-ass-dom and excitement, there’s not a ton of any of those things. The big reveal makes no sense, revealing Fumitaka to have been a sucker for decades, too.

Director Lloyd Lee Barnett is better known as a visual effects guy, and it definitely shows – well done on that front, although the CGI blood is a bit too fake-looking. It looks like a fair amount of money was spent on it, but perhaps they ought to have spent a little more on acting and a little less on special effects. No-one needed what amounted to a lightsaber battle at the end, you guys! So, a film which certainly looks good, with mostly interesting set design, but with too few actors of any ability and a script which borrowed so heavily from “The Warriors” I’m surprised they didn’t sue.

Rating: thumbs down

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Modern fighting – thoughts on “The Raid 2” and “In The Blood”

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The ISCFC loves fighting films – a few days ago, we reviewed martial arts classic “Dragons Forever”, and a few months ago we did modern gem “Ninja”. Today, we’re taking on a couple of brand new films with fighting at their core – one of them the sequel to a modern classic, the other a good old-fashioned (relatively) low-budget actioner starring someone best known for fighting for real. How do they shape up?

I wasn’t as big a fan of “The Raid” as some people. I enjoyed it a lot, but felt there was quite a lot of stuff I remembered from computer games – find a bit of cover, crouch behind it, shoot endless swarms of bad guys, repeat. Perhaps it was the rotten subtitles on the version I saw, which kept dropping out or going “invisible” (white words on white background), but I didn’t feel like it was worth the hype. “The Raid 2”, on the other hand, is a 2 ½ hour beast, a sequel that goes further, with more of…everything, really.

Iko Uwais is Rama, the cop who broke so many people in pieces in the first film, and this time the raid is to go undercover with Jakarta’s biggest criminal gang, not to bring them down but to discover the crooked cops who are on their payroll. This, unfortunately, involves him going to prison for 2 years – but luckily for us, he does get to have an amazing mass brawl in the middle of a muddy quad. The big boss’s son is in prison, so Rama helps him out, gains his trust and works alongside him. Add to this other gangs trying to muscle in on their territory, the son plotting against the father and the crooked cops trying to kill everyone, and you’ve got a recipe for insanity.

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The filmmakers clearly want you to bother about the plot of this one – Rama is supposed to be going to prison for a few months, but due to political interference, ends up in there for two years; although if you were expecting them to develop that side of the story in the gigantic running time of the film, you’d be disappointed. What the film does extraordinarily well is the fighting. The martial art of choice is pencak silat, one born in Indonesia and full of amazing close-fighting speed, and Iko Uwais clearly knows his stuff, as the fights are full of speed and incident and incredible precision.

Oh, and violence. Boy is this a bloody film – people get their faces smashed in and shot off, folks get impaled on a whole variety of things, Hammer Girl (her name in the film) uses her hammers to cause the sort of damage you’d expect…and so on. It’s really really violent. But beautiful, weirdly, as there are so many wonderfully filmed set pieces – like “Hero” but in the here and now.

I liked that this film wasn’t one long orgy of shooting and violence like the first one, but director Gareth Evans seems to have put an entire normal-length ultra-violent film in here, then added another hour of gangsters and crooked cops and betrayals. The thing is, I’m not sure a film like this really needs to be quite as long as it is (two and a half hours)- and it’s got an exceptionally downbeat ending, if you think about it for a minute.

So, “The Raid 2” goes over the top with violence, while giving us plenty to chew on, and it’s an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. It feels very very modern, too, but our other film of the day, “In The Blood” feels like it was taken straight from the 80s (with the exception of the gender of the protagonist).

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Gina Carano is brilliant. She was a kickass MMA fighter, and drew some impressive PPV numbers for her fights until she ran into the (chemically enhanced) Christiane “Cyborg” Santos. After that, someone decided she could make a lot more money acting and not have to get her head kicked in for real, so she made a move. Her first big role was the Stephen Soderbergh-directed “Haywire”, which I loved, and while she’s still not the world’s best actress, she’s not bad and improving all the time. She plays Ava, who marries Derek (Cam Gigandet) after they meet in Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s rich, and his family don’t want him marrying someone like her, who’s probably just after his money, but they do anyway and go for a honeymoon to an unnamed Caribbean island.

We also get regular flashbacks to Carano’s childhood, where she watches her parents get killed (before killing the two assailants herself) and then is brought up by the sort of mysterious fella you get in films like this, who teaches her how to fight extremely dirty and generally look after herself. This is a handy way round the explanation for her being an amazing martial artist, so when Derek falls from a zipline and disappears on his way to hospital, she starts beating her way to the truth.

This is where the film stops making sense, too. I’d suggest stopping reading now (rating: thumbs up) if you don’t want to have it spoiled, as I’m not a good enough reviewer to tell you why otherwise.

Derek is important because he’s an exact bone marrow match for violent gangster Silvio (Amaury Nolasco), who has some rare cancer. The problem is, with the timescale of the film, there’s no possible way Silvio could have known that about Derek before everyone started acting weird. Thinking back on it, it starts to make less sense – unpicking the series of events that led Derek to being kidnapped by Silvio, I’m trying to remember if he had a blood test at any point, and I just don’t think he did. Talking of stuff that makes no sense, what about the bizarre way Derek’s family treat Ava when they come over from the mainland? They seem fairly satisfied that she murdered him and hid the body and just leave after a day or so, never to be seen again.

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So, provided you can completely ignore the fact that this film’s plot is a complete house of cards and the merest whisper of wind is enough to send it tumbling, there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s got some great B-movie people in it (as well as Nolasco, we have Treat Williams and Danny Trejo) and Gina Carano is beautiful. No sense ignoring it, and despite being grotesquely large by Hollywood standards (in other words, built like a fit, strong, athletic woman rather than an undernourished waif) she dominates every scene she’s in and when she fights men, she looks infinitely better than when we’re expected to believe some 100-pound woman who looks like she’s never trained a day in her life can beat the crap out of some ripped 200-pound guy (there’s a reason boxing and MMA have weight classes, you guys).

A bit more acting development and Carano could be a huge star, but I think the writers (one of whom only did cheap horror sequels before this, the other wrote “Dumb and Dumber”) need to work on establishing why stuff happens. I annoyed my viewing companion by trying to puzzle out the ludicrousness of the story, and probably when I cheered at the nightclub fight, where women in tiny dresses throw each other around, so sorry about that; but I’m not sorry for still being unable to work out why A followed B in this movie. So watch and enjoy, but don’t whatever you do spend any time thinking about it.