Starting with a prologue that’s ‘Finding Bigfoot meets Mad Dog Morgan’ we find ourselves in the Australian gold-fields of 1825 where notorious bush-ranger Thunderclap Newman is about to meet his maker before we switch to the modern day and two eager treasure hunters, Jack (Shawn Brack) and Kent (Anthony Ring), who are hot on the trail of Newman’s lost stash. Continue reading
Takashi Miike has a global reputation as a purveyor of the wild, the edgy, the transgressive. In fact, the bulk of the Japanese director’s extensive filmography is more traditional fare, despite his standing as the international festival circuit’s enfante terrible. Yakuza Apocalypse, however, is exactly the kind of film you think of when you think of Takashi Miike.
With its cookie-cutter plot and cardboard characters, Redeemer is a throwback to the 80s. A time when action films could get away with being a flimsy excuse to hang a succession of stunt scenes on. But in modern times, the result is underwhelming at best.
Tough ex-cop Wade Olsen (Jason Williams – probably better known as the titular “Flesh” of Flesh Gordon) is kidnapped by an all-girl gang of bikers known as the Sisters Of Love. They want revenge (Olsen has either busted or killed each of their men) so they stake him out in Death Valley and get ready to execute him. Since they each want to be the one to pull the trigger, the Sisters devise a unique way of resolving the dispute – they’ll each perform a striptease for Olsen, and the one who can get him hard first can do the honours.
With a synopsis like this and a title like Valley of The Cycle Sluts, you’d be forgiven for expecting nothing more than porn – but this is something much much stranger. There is soft porn aplenty – a good percentage of the film is given over to the striptease routines – but there’s equal time given to the back-stories of each of the men that Olsen put down or put away. These flashbacks aren’t standard porn-with-plot fare either – they’re violent, un-jokey, and there’s a weird amount of effort put into stunts, costumes, weapons, and pyrotechnics.
This strange devotion to the biker-gang backstory in what would otherwise seem to be a lightweight (if weirdly unsexy – we’ll get to that in a bit) biker-themed soft porn movie suddenly made a lot more sense when I did a little digging. You see, Valley (or to give it its full title, Valley of The Cycle Sluts: Enter The Danger Zone) is actually the fourth installment of a series of movies featuring Wade Olsen, which start with 1987′ The Danger Zone. These movies seem to have been passion projects for Jason Williams (he co-wrote and starred in all of them) and chronicle the adventures of Wade Olsen (a sort of poor-man’s Dirty Harry) in his fight against a gang of drug-dealing, kidnapping bikers led by a man called Reaper. I haven’t seen these (and information is thin on the ground) but on the basis of the flashbacks in Valley, they look like prime low-budget “video nasty” material, heavy on the ultra-violence and gratuitous boobs – and probably good fun.
Here, however, it’s the gratuitous boobs that are kind of the problem. The thing is, there are an awful lot of “Sisters Of Love” and after the third or fourth rendition, one amateurish striptease routine looks a lot like another and it all gets pretty dull. In addition, these striptease routines are all framed by scenes of the women saying how much they hate Olsen and look forward to killing him which rather wrecks the mood – unless that’s your (very, very specific) fetish. In fact, the main attraction of the striptease scenes rapidly becomes the spectacularly weird early-90s stripper-costumes the women have on under their biker gear – there’s a green bustier that appears to be made of skinned Muppets that deserves a special mention – you’ll know it when you see it.
Probably the strangest touch comes with the character of “Ol’ Zeke” (Barne Williams Subkoski – a veteran of previous Danger Zone movies) whose entire role is to hide out in the scrub and spy on the proceedings through binoculars, while commenting on the physical attributes of each of the girls. Zeke seems like he belongs in a completely different movie – possibly a light-hearted sex-comedy like the original Flesh Gordon. Between this, the gritty (if dodgy) flashbacks, and the off-putting stripteases, Valley Of The Cycle Sluts is totally unable to fix on a single tone and stick with it.
If you’re a fan of bad movies, you’ll enjoy this – the actors mostly seem like they’re improvising (badly), the plot makes not the tiniest bit of sense, and the whole thing seems to be cobbled together from disparate (and fundamentally incompatible) pieces. Or you could conceivably be a completist fan of the Danger Zone franchise, or morbidly curious about what happened to Jason Williams in later life. Otherwise, not recommended.
The Cheezy Flicks motto seems to be to bring you the best of the worst and with 1977’s SuperVan they have outdone themselves! This isn’t so bad it’s good as much as so bad you can’t believe it!! And I loved every damn insane, pointless, exploitative, WTF moment of it! Okay, enough exclamation marks. Truth is, most people are going to be bored stupid, turned off by the bad acting, the lack of storyline, the nonsensical direction (and I use the word direction with some hesitation) and the slowness of things. BUT, for those true connoisseurs of trash, this is a true gem, a turd that no matter how well polished will always stay brown but one you’ll notice doesn’t smell half as much as you first thought.
The story revolves around vans, customized vans, lots of them. Oh and CB radios because hell they were cool too in 1976 so why not throw them in as well. See, there’s this big van show called Freakout 76 and our hero, small town boy Clint (Mark Schneider) is going to try and win the big prize, five thousand smackeroos, for best van. Only on the way to the event he comes to the aid of a chick being smash and grabbed by some bikies and loses his van to a crusher in the process. No problems though, he has a friend, a genius in fact who works in the research department for one TB Trenton (Morgan Woodward chewing up the scenery), owner of Mid American Motors and one rich, greedy son of a bitch besides. His mate is supposed to be building a petrol guzzling van for Trenton but instead he’s come up with Vandora – a super van that runs on solar power! Looking likes something from one of them 80s post apocalyptic Eyetalian movies, Vandora has lasers, a sonic scrambler, a weird whistling sound when she drives along and is seemingly unstoppable. Of course, Trenton isn’t happy about this turn of events, particularly since he’s sponsoring Freakout just to promote the Trenton Truck (he owns an oil company too by the by) and wants Clint and Vandora out the way. Oh and the girl, Karen (Katie Saylor), that Clint rescued – she’s Trenton’s daughter. (of course I hear you say).
With the lamest bikers you ever did see, the gayest moustaches this side of Magnum PI, a whipped cream fetish and the guy who went on to play Uncle Leo in Seinfeld (Len Lesser) as comedy relief cop you know it’s going to be trashy from here on in.
Filmed during a real van show it seems, there are endless wasted minutes of people wandering around, looking inside vans, smoking dope, grabbing girls, looking at girls, looking at vans… and then there’s Charles Bukowski!! Yep, the Buk makes an appearance as a waterboy at the wet t-shirt competition. A competition by the way where the girls keep their t-shirts on. Ah the price of fame huh, the price of fame. Of course, for Van geeks this is some pretty cool stuff – there are some sweet 70s murals and vans in this pic so for us kids of the 70s this is purty sweet. George Barris, the man who created Vandora, and who also appears in the movie, then went on to create the demon car in that other lost classic The Car and Kit from The Knight Rider series and when you look at Vandora you can see a little Kit in her. The guys behind this movie would go on to be involved in Moonshine County Express (starring Marcia Brady!) and Terror Train which should give you an idea of the pedigree we are talking about here.
This is a shocking movie, a cash in by some guys trying to work out the next teen thing and coming up with “well, vans are in right now, cb radio, hey, lets have some chase scenes, a teen comedy sort of deal, make a statement about petrol guzzlers.. think we can have it written up by lunch, I’m kinda hungry.” Then throwing it all at the wall and seeing what stuck. Taken from a video print so you get scratches, glitches and even the odd video flicker, this is true exploitation at its peak. I bow to Cheezy Flick’s greatness.
The extras – Keeping with the theme the boys have added trailers from Convoy, Zombies of The Stratosphere, Savannah Smiles, Jive Turkey, Horror Hotel (early Christopher Lee!), Legend Of Boggy Creek and Andy Warhol’s Bad as well as a string of Intermission ads from the days of the Drive-In including Bernz-o-matic Car Heaters so you can go to the drive-in all year round. I think I love these guys.
The huge commercial success of Goldfinger in 1964 not only saw Ian Fleming’s fictional super-spy James Bond become a genuine international cultural phenomenon, but helped usher in the era of the Bond clones and parodies, with studios eager to carve out a slice of the box-office pie with a 007 of their own. As a result, the remainder of the 1960s gave us such cinematic super-sleuths as Derek Flint (James Coburn) and Matt Helm (Dean Martin), not to mention episodic series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, Get Smart and Honey West on television.
Created (under the penname ‘Sapper‘) in 1920 by Herman Cyril McNeile, Bulldog Drummond had his origins in the decidedly grim, black & white world of the classic detective pulp magazines and early film noir, and had already been featured in nearly twenty films dating back to 1923 when veteran Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and director Ralph Thomas decided to update the character and drop him squarely into the coolly pulsating, pop-art world of the Swinging Sixties. Ironically, Bulldog Drummond had been one of the biggest influences on Fleming when he created Bond, and now he was trying to walk in the footsteps of his infinitely more popular illegitimate son.
Based on an original story (rather than one of McNeile’s existing novels), Deadlier than the Male casts Richard Johnson as the suitably debonair and sophisticated insurance investigator Bulldog Drummond, hired after a private jet carrying a powerful oil magnate suspiciously blows-up while in flight. Aided by his eager but somewhat naïve American cousin (and budding playboy) Robert (Steve Carlson), and in between bouts of womanising, Drummond eventually uncovers a plot by a mysterious villain to destabilize the oil industry and throw it into chaos, which he aims to achieve by hiring two gorgeous female assassins (Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina) to kill off key oil figureheads in various creative ways.
Any resemblance between Deadlier than the Male and vintage Bulldog Drummond begins and ends with the lead character having the same name (and even then he is rarely referred to as ‘Bulldog’). This is pure sixties cinema pulp influenced directly by the Bond movies – and for what it is, it is quite superb. Director Thomas (perhaps best known for helming the popular series of Doctor comedy films) keeps the proceedings moving along at a cracking pace, ensuring the film doesn’t lose its steam by the third act (a problem which hindered several of the Bond parodies). The art direction by Alex Vetchinsky is fantastic, particularly the giant automated chessboard which features prominently in the climax, and the exotic Mediterranean locales are captured to full advantage by cinematographer Ernest Stewart. The soundtrack is suitably nightclub cool, and makes great use of the Walker Brothers’ hit title song over the opening credits. Richard Johnson makes a smooth, laid-back and confident hero, but he is rather overshadowed by Nigel Green as the deliciously Blofeld-like evil villain, Carl Peterson. Elke Sommer and the late Sylva Koscina are also hypnotic to watch, using their charm, their firepower and their curves to get what they want.
Whether emerging from the ocean clad in bikinis and clutching spear guns or glammed-up in the latest European fashions, Sommer and Koscina dominate virtually every frame of film they are in, and have a nice onscreen chemistry. They would have been great in a spin-off movie together. Other cast members of interest include Milton Reid (who went on to an official Bond film in 1977s The Spy Who Loved Me), Suzanna Leigh (The Deadly Bees) and the lovely Virginia North (who gained a minor cult following amongst horror fans for her role in The Abominable Dr. Phibes).
Three years after Deadlier than the Male, Johnson was back as Drummond for the second – and final – time in Some Girls Do. Ralph Thomas also returned to the director’s chair, and the film really amped-up the sci-fi and fantasy elements, as Drummond once again faces off against his old foe Carl Peterson (played here by James Villiers), whom this time around is using a harem of beautiful, scantily-clad robotic women to help him sabotage the launch of a new British supersonic airliner jet (there is little doubt that these two 1960s Drummond films were a major influence on Mike Myers’ Austin Powers trilogy).
Although it features many of the same elements as its predecessor, they don’t all gel as well as they did the first time around. The screenplay is lacking Jimmy Sangster’s input, and the villains aren’t as memorable as they were in Deadlier than the Male (as Peterson, James Villiers is a poor substitute for Nigel Green). The film is also a victim of its own timing, as by 1969 the initial wave of the James Bond craze was starting to die down, and the Bond films themselves were starting to become overblown parodies. Still, there is plenty to admire and enjoy here, not least of which is the appearance by lovely blonde Swede Yutte Stensgaard (from Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire) as one of the sexy robot drones. Also appearing are Virginia North (playing a different character from the first film), an uncredited Joanna Lumley (who was filming On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – also at Pinewood Studios – at the same time) and the portly Robert Morley, who tries to unsuccessfully add a bit of annoying comic relief and is thankfully killed off before too long.
Madman have done a suitably groovy job with their double-disc release of these two films. The 16:9 anamorphic widescreen print of Deadlier than the Male looks stunning – it’s crisp and sharp and literally pops with colour and depth. Unfortunately the 4:3 print of Some Girls Do is a letdown by comparison, giving the film a less spectacular TV movie feel, though the actual quality of the print is again superb. Extras on each disc include the original trailers and very extensive (and impressive) stills galleries for each film, while Deadlier than the Male also include some nice vintage on-set reports and cast interviews, filmed in black & white and no doubt intended to help promote the movie in cinemas and on television. Also included are two postcards featuring original promotional art for both movies, which gives the set a nice added visual appeal.
If you are a fan of vintage spy flicks, or just someone who loves everything that was silly, sexy and swinging about the sixties, this set deserves to be on your shelf.
- Vintage Cast Interviews
- Vintage On Set Reports
- Image Galleries
- Theatrical Trailers
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.
While the 1970s produced a number of classic Vietnam War films, such as Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979) and the Australian production The Odd Angry Shot (1979), it really wasn’t until the 1980’s that the subject became more acceptable as popular entertainment. In the seventies, it was no doubt still a bit too recent and painful for most Americans to confront, while by the early-eighties the country was beginning to accept its failure and started honouring their people who served in the conflict.
Sawa (India Eisley) is a young woman bent on revenge. Her parents were killed by a human trafficker known only as The Emir, leaving her with nothing. Her father’s partner, hard-bitten cop Karl (Samuel L Jackson) feeds her information, weapons…and memory-repressing drugs to enable her to fight through her darkness.
She kills her way up the local criminal ladder, assisted by a mysterious young man (Callan McAuliffe), trying to get to The Emir before gangs and the police hunt her down.
A live-action adaptation of a fairly grimy hour-long anime of the same name from 1999, Kite wisely ages its heroine up to 18 but for all its supposed female empowerment, the film clearly enjoys Sawa’s various wigs and sexy outfits.
The whole young-female-assassin schtick is already, in the wake of films like Kick-Ass and Hanna let alone La Femme Nikita, becoming old hat and there is little here to invigorate the set-up. The setting is a grubby near-future and the film is shot amongst the graffiti and crumbling concrete of Johannesburg for a fresh look, but somehow still manages to look cheap.
This is despite a real commitment to style – lots of silhouettes and smoke and edgy lighting. But it all feels a little film student-y and ends up like a feature-length music video with sluggish pacing and laborious exposition unloaded in a sequence of lengthy monologues. Eisley in the lead gives it a bit of effort, but the rest of the cast seem to just be going through the motions, aside from bit players with little acting ability.
The action scenes are serviceable and there is a fair chunk of gore, but Kite is a lightweight, forgettable film. Its by-the-numbers story (with a ‘twist’ so obvious you may have already picked it from reading the synopsis above) plods along in utterly predictable fashion, rapidly eroding any interest the set-up may have inspired.
In the end, Kite is a bit like its heroine: pretty, intriguing, but ultimately over-familiar.
The Raid hit action fans like a bomb in 2012. The Indonesian crime flick had as simple a set-up as could be imagined – a handful of cops have to fight their way through a multi-storey tenement building searching for both escape and the crime boss at the top (such a simple set-up, in fact, that the same year’s Dredd had the same scenario, completely independently). But what elevated it was its incredible fight scenes – as fast as they were brutal, with its energetic and fluid camerawork an antidote to a genre overtaken by incoherent shaky cam vignettes.
The film took the festival circuit by storm and became a global cult hit. In the process, expectations grew exponentially for the sequel as director Gareth Evans, star Iko Uwais and the rest of the team regrouped for The Raid 2. Hailed as the new hopes for action in cinema, the pressure was on to deliver bigger and better set-pieces.
And so they did.
The last few survivors emerge from a bungled raid, led from the carnage by resourceful rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais). They are met by a small taskforce of cops fronted by Bunawar (Cok Simbara), who tells them their team is an anti-corruption squad, charged with getting evidence on the rot within the police force that is stopping any progress being made against organised crime in the city.
They hatch a plan to insert Rama in a local prison to ingratiate himself with Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of local kingpin Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). Once in Bangun’s inner circle, Rama will be able to gather the evidence they need.
But things do not go as planned and Rama finds himself trapped in the middle of an escalating gang war between Bangun, Japanese gangster Goto (Takashi Miike favourite Kenichi Endo) and upstart instigator Bejo (Alex Abbad). He must somehow resolve it all while keeping his identity secret and also not getting killed in the crossfire.
The larger plot scope lets director Evans and his team really cut loose. No longer constrained by the four walls of a building, Evans takes action to bars, muddy prisons, alleyways, toilets, kitchens, streets and more. If you can think of an urban object, the odds are that someone in The Raid 2 gets their face smashed into it.
This is a violent film. Bones are broken, throats are slashed and people are hit with cars. Repeatedly. The superhuman actions of the fighters keep it on the cartoonish side, but there is still a gleeful streak to proceedings (even from the hero) that may throw a murky morality over things. The film holds off a bit before its first real fight scene but from then on, things escalate quickly.
If The Raid was the high-water mark in action films, the sequel raises the bar even further. Uwais is a phenomenon and the sequences just keep getting crazier, including a wild car chase through the streets of Jakarta involving a fight inside a car and numerous gun battles between vehicles.
The camerawork is almost as phenomenal as the fighting itself, swirling around the action without ever sacrificing spatial awareness for freneticism. The result is adrenaline-pumping throughout.
As brilliant as the action is, there is the occasional err in overplaying the hand a touch. There is nothing quite as over-the-top as the endless climactic fight in The Raid, but there is again a duel here that runs for minutes longer than it should. Perhaps few fans will complain, but there are points where it just becomes two guys wailing on each other with no sense of advancement.
The biggest problem is the script. It is as hoary an old gangster tale as you can get and there isn’t a moment or motivation you haven’t seen in a dozen other movies. Indeed, if the action were merely serviceable, The Raid 2 would be a very poor movie. Cardboard characters, stilted acting and bland dialogue abound.
Fortunately, the visceral rush of the visuals is more than enough to carry the day. Breathtaking in the extreme, this is the gold standard of action filmmaking today. The Raid 2 is every bit a worthy successor.
The first main extra on board is a quickie ‘behind the scenes’, which is worth a look for a couple of key sequences. One where a bouncing SUV very nearly takes out a camera crew (missing by maybe a metre) and another an ingenious sequence to film a car chase. It involves the camera car driving alongside one car, then slowing down to drop back to the next, at which point the camera is handed in through the window to a camera operator who is actually disguised as a car seat! He then moves across the second video and hangs out the far window while a third operator, lying on his back on a trolley outside the car, supports him.
It’s a terrific example of the cleverness and commitment to extraordinary shots that elevates the movie.
The other main extra is an extended Q&A session with Evans, Uwais and composer Joe Trapanese at a festival screening. Evans does the majority of the talking and he is a hugely likeable presence, both humble and clearly enjoying his work. The stories are interesting, from the adaptation of the script (which was actually an old gangster script Evans had) to the fact that Uwais psychs himself up for fights by listening to Toni Braxton. The pair are also clearly good friends and chat keenly about plans for The Raid 3.