Tag Archives: Straight to video

Cinema-Maniac: The Debt Collector (2018)

In 1986, there was a Hong Kong movie called A Better Tomorrow that influenced a entire film industry, and was the first of many collaboration between actor Chow Yun-Fat, and John Woo. While it’s uncertain the collaboration between Scott Adkins, and director Jesse V. Johnson will have any kind of effect on the direct to video action business. They certainly are leaving a mark already. From Savage Dog (2017) an ambition action movie with a historical background that’s solid, to the surprisingly good comic good adaptation of Accident Man (2018), and now a film with direct inspiration from buddy cop movies with The Debt Collector (2018). Adding on to the list of good films under their collaboration.

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Sue: “See this towel? It’s for you after the beating I’ll give you.”

The Debt collector follows classically-trained martial artist French (Scott Adkins), who goes to work as a mob debt collector in order to save his gym. This synopsis sounds like something out of a early 90s action flick, and in some ways pays homage to that. Teaming French up with experience mob debt collector Sue (Louis Mandylor). Starting the relationship in predictable, but well executed fashion of the two not getting along, and over time striking a closer friendship. The banter between French, and Sue keeps the film proceeding events engaging when action isn’t on screen. Making wisecracks at each other expense, talking about the moral lines that should never be crossed in their line of work, sharing a bit about themselves, and some very subtle references to some of the actors previous works for fans to catch. Also, some tongue in cheek lines to the sorts of movies it burrows from.

What simply starts as a series loosely strung together events do lead up to a overarching story. It takes halfway through the movie before it gets there being more incline to be character driven than story driven. Slowly having French, and Sue engage in various scenarios all of which end up going south. Mixing tightly choreographed action sequences, comedy, and the occasional characterization into it many scenarios. Once the overarching story becomes a mainstay it’s also another predictable path. Leading to French to further if what the job requires of him is actually worth it. There’s the part of learning about his target making him reconsider his job. Coming together in a climax with a unexpected outcome for a movie starring Scott Adkins, and even more surprising is the ending. It’s an ending ultimately suits the story for how far both French, and Sue went for their job by having actual consequences movies it is homaging wouldn’t go for. Earning it’s ending by having its characters question what they do, and taking the time to delve into that. However, it does mean anyone expecting the usual triumphant Scott Adkins climax in this movie will be disappointed when not receiving it.

One noticeable misstep in its early goings is completely ignoring the whole save the gym motivation for French as the film progresses. It does kick off the plot in a organic fashion, but a more personal driven motivation would have serve a greater purpose in the long run, especially considering the course it final act takes. Briefly touching on the value French gym has to him will suffice initially since it’s a fun throwback action flick. That is until you reach the final act where it changes course, and the undercooked motivation weakness comes into full effect. Aside from this misstep in the beginning, just about the only other major drawback would be the uneven structure. Half of the movie is packed with action sequences one right after the other, and the other half takes a drastic turn into the dramatic side with some splices of comedy. Taking into account the story’s intention it misdirecting the viewer works in it favor. Well, mostly. Throughout the movie, you see stock footage of cows eventually being taken to get slaughter. It’s on the noise in it’s message delivery, and far from subtle as the closing lines hammer its point home.

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Despite low budgets, Adkins is always reliable on the action side for excitement

Scott Adkins takes the lead as French with his British accent. This role allows Adkins to stretch more of acting chops than his usual role, though isn’t given any heavily dramatic scenes. The most dramatic he’ll get is letting out a sigh of exhaustion. While his dramatic scenes are lacking what isn’t is Adkin capturing the straight man characteristic of his role. Managing to be convincing as someone out of his element. Where he does deliver the most is where it counts (besides the action sequences) is with his co-star Louis Mandylor. Adkins rough straight man attitude compliments nicely against Mandylor sleazy has been demeanor. Mandylor easily outshines Adkins since the material provides him opportunities for his character to be more intimate with those around him There’s also intensity in Mandylor which he captures perfectly in his eyes when he has to get his hands dirty. Their chemistry is the film biggest strength creating something that feels genuine in the actor comradeship with each other. It’s unlikely you’ll care a deal about the characters, but you’ll definitely find the duo entertaining if nothing else.

The supporting cast will largely go unnoticed since all of them get push to the wayside because of the film’s story. Only Jack Lowe is able to leave much of an impression in a small role since his character is begging for his life. Showing an ease to become a character with not a lot to chew on. Biggest surprise is easily Tony Todd. He doesn’t get plenty of screen time, but visibly has fun in his brief appearance. Then there’s Vladimir Kulich in a bigger role who also doesn’t have much screen time, though he’s enjoyable if only for the fact Adkins is once again playing a character who works for Kulich. Other than that, the supporting cast do fine in their small roles that do prevent nearly all of them from being able to shine does also mean the acting in general is better than average in your direct to video action films.

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This movie has a of Scott Adkins driving people

When it comes the action side, fight choreography is handle by Luka LaFontaine (also responsible for the fights in Savage Dog) goes for a more grounded treatment to better fit its movie. Meaning, restraining Adkins from using many of his high flying maneuvers in favors of a more brawler like approach. Thankfully, LaFonatine is more than capable to get creative with his fight choreography. Since Adkins typically fight with men taller, and bigger than him this makes fight scenes eventful as none of them go down easily. LaFonatine is able to corporate some clever counter moves into his grounded choreographed fights without them feeling out of place. Seeing Scott Adkins get fling into a wall when someone blocks his punches, or seeing Adkins get slammed multiple time on a bar table when the person he’s fighting him won’t let his go of his grip is nicely worked in. Adkins receives plenty blows in the film requiring his character to either fight out of a scenario where he’s out number 3 to 1, or use something in his environment to get the upper hand. The action choreography is perhaps the least complex Adkins ever performed, but it’s shot nicely, and edited together nicely to make them entertaining nonetheless. The film does have one gunfight towards the end, and it’s pretty laughable it continues the tradition of people constantly missing at point blank range in Adkins direct to video action films. It’s further highlighted by the fact that Adkin character background, but it’s still an enjoyable gunfight in spite of that leap in logic.

The Debt Collector proves that Jesse V. Johnson, and Scott Adkins compliment each other really well. Jesse V. Johnson molds a story, and character that are engaging while allowing Adkins a departure from his usual roles, and letting the action experts do their thing. Adkins is able to rely more on his acting, and is able to hold his own against Louis Mandylor who takes the spotlight from him. When it comes to the action side Adkins is always reliable on that front, but here it’s nice to see him shine in a different way. Jesse V. Johnson, and Scott Adkins shortcomings in their fields are evident, but their understanding of each other strengths compliment each other in the films they make, and that’s make them an effective team. Producing far better films than you would expect from the direct to video market.

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Manic: Savage Dog (2017) Review

There was a time where straight to home video action films were the absolute worst the action genre could provide. Nowadays the notion hasn’t changed, but there’s been a steady rise in quality thanks to talented filmmakers knowing what to provide to its audience, and without it feeling like a cheap cash grab. One actor in the forefront in these straight to home video action movies is Scott Adkins. An actor who appears in some big budget movies in bit roles like Doctor Strange (2016), and The Expendable 2 (2012), but is mostly stuck in lower budget efforts. The trait most of these lower budget efforts share is Scott Adkins always work with competent directors whom also share his desire to make the best possible film despite their limitations. Sometime they work as mindless entertainment like with Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear (2013), and Close Range (2015), while duds like El Gringo (2012), and Eliminators (2016) being just as common in his filmography. One thing his film can be counted on for is supplying good action sequences, and thankfully Savage Dogs falls into the category of Adkins better films.

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Adkins: “They won’t release me until I improve my acting.”

Savage Dog is set in 1959 Indochina, following Martin Tilman (Scott Adkins), who is due for release from Den-Dhin-Chan labor camp run by Vietnamese warlords and European war criminals, but the corrupt forces running the jail will do everything in their power to keep him locked down. Telling a simplistic story in its heart, but aiming higher than it could achieve. The first half of the film focuses more on developing characters, and trying to tell a story about finding a purpose. Using the first half purely as buildup to eventually rein in the carnage the second half of the movie will be dedicated too. While the sentiment is admirable, the execution is simplistic on all front. Characters are typically shady, and money hungry all in the effort to evade consequences for betraying their country. It sounds like these characters have depth to them. In actuality, that’s about as far is it goes for developing most of it characters whom just meant to add to Tilman body count. It easier to root for our ex-British officer whom is hunted down by his own country when one of your villains is a ex-Nazi. Also, characters reiterating multiple time their all ex whatever of a certain country helps too.

In spite of a runtime of 94 minutes, the pacing is generally slow, but works in service of the movie. This does negatively affect some aspect of the story, like Martin Tilman romantic relationship that is meant to be the dramatic core of the film doesn’t work. Most of the bonding between Tilman, and his lover is glossed over. The other aspect of Martin Tilman that is tackle somewhat well is Tilman looking for purpose in his life. Evolving from his introduction into a satisfactory character arc. Aspects of Tilman past are kept limited, and to the point. Supporting characters are fine. Isabelle (Juju Chan) arc revolves around her believing in the good of people, and keeping that belief. She doesn’t grow beyond her introduction, and mostly serves the role of just being the love interest. One other positive could be Isabelle doesn’t become a damsel in distress, but at the same time it means she becomes useless to the story after the first half of the movie is done.

The only other character left to mention is Valentine (Keith David) whom also serves the film narrator whenever needed. Out of everything in the writing, Valentine narration is easily its biggest fault. Whereas the previous faults mention contributed somewhat positively to the bigger picture, Valentine’s narration could have been entirely removed. Sometimes stating the obvious, and sometime summarizing the purpose of a scene in a couple of sentences. For example, when there’s a scene of Isabelle, and Tilman relationship becoming more romantic, Valentine tells the audience exactly what they’re seeing. Same with when Tilman is brutally fighting as a bouncer against some unwelcome guest, and Valentine’s states (paraphrasing) that something savage has awaken within Tilman. Quite insightful in stating the obvious. Most silly of all, is given the fate of Valentine’s character he’s basically narrating from beyond the grave leading to some confusion. Sure, revealing the death of Valentine’s character could be considered a spoiler, but given his only purpose is get to killed, and provide pointless narration it’s better to have you prepare beforehand about that odd narrative choice.

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So, this is Colonel Sanders with a clean shave.

Lastly, the second half of the film is where it finally picks up. Seeing Tilman embraces his anger, and seeing him kill a dozen, or so people like a one man army is it biggest strength. Narratively, the first half did a competently enough job to make this action onslaught satisfying. The hero is easy to root for, and the villains are easily detestable. Unfortunately, the first half is a hindrance with very little interesting things happening. Since the material never raises to the level it wants, die hard fans of Scott Adkins movies, or action junkies can endure the rough first half, but the average viewer isn’t as likely to stick around. For those who stick around will receive everything they could want from a lower budget action film starring Scott Adkins, even if it takes a while to get there.

Scott Adkins takes the lead as Martin Tilman. In terms of acting, Adkins takes a wholly serious role. Unlike his usual film, his cockiness that he portrays in some of his roles is absent here. Removing part of his charm that can be found in El Gringo (2012), and Accident Man (2018). When wholly serious, Adkins limited range of acting shows a lot, especially in the first half. Struggling to displays the years of violence, and yearning for a purpose Tilman is meant to have. Some of Adkins weak acting is hidden by having him participate in some fight sequences in the first half where believing Adkins is a expert fighter is easy to accept. Believing Adkins is a lost soul of sort is a pill not as easy to swallow. However, in the second half of the film, Adkins improves as the stunt work, and action sequences he’s good as performing become more prevalent than his dramatic chops. Adkins lack of strong acting chops is forgivable since the second half highlights his strength better.

Supporting cast on the other hand come off as decent. For instant, Juju Chan whom plays Isabelle does good all her dramatic scenes. It’s night, and day how easily Juju Chan can emote in her delivery compare to Adkins. However, she’s also quite a capable actress able to work within Adkin limited dramatic chops to make a scene work better than it should. Just like the rest of the cast, the only issue I have with her acting is it’s mostly one note. Keith David whom plays Valentine delivers a good performance. He’s able to be more loose since his character isn’t as serious compare to everyone else. However, his best part of acting is when he’s narrating, giving some power to his narration, even if it’s ultimately pointless.

Finally, the cast of evildoers themselves. Vladimir Kulich is easily the best actor among them, though because of bad writing he reiterates the same dialogue multiple times throughout the film. He performs the role of a ex-Nazi without hamming it up, or being cartoonish. Marko Zaror plays another one of the baddie, as well as being the only other person, besides Cung Le, who can stand evenly with Adkins. Performance wise, both Zaror, and Cung Le are mostly one note. Cung Le has to come across as intimidating while Zaror somewhat has to give off a similar vibe. They do decently since they aren’t required to express much in their characters like Scott Adkins.

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Explosions make Adkins sleepy.

When it comes to action, Savage Dog tries to be more realistic than Adkins usual film. Just a bit so the usual high kicks, and more elaborate martial art fight sequences Adkins is known for are tone down. Yet, don’t become a detriment to the action sequences. What partially makes up for this is sometime seeing gore within the action sequences. There’s isn’t a lot of gore, but when seeing the sight of a man face getting blown off by a shotgun at point blank range in a close up shot, or seeing Adkins decapitate someone’s head what gore it has truly satisfies. Not to forget some of the gore special effects are surprisingly good despite the film obvious, limited resources.

The fight sequences in the film are easily the standout of the film. They make up a majority of the action bits. Fight sequences in the first half are entirely one sided having Adkins easily beat whoever he’s fighting. Adkins fight are more of a bare-knuckle variety mostly punching his opponent with maybe the occasional kick. Just when you think you’re tire of seeing similar looking fight scenes. The second half allows Adkins to fight tougher opponent on two occasion. One of them is against Cung Le who gives Adkins a good beating. Unfortunately, the fight between Cung Le, and Adkins ends anticlimactically. Granted, the way it ends makes sense in context, but it just strange it chooses this moment to go against action movies norms.

The final confrontation between Adkins, and Marko Zaror is also a good one. It’s the only time in the film where Adkins has to overcome a foe whom has the upperhand in a fight. Unlike previous fights, the “realism” is slightly more removed here whenever both Adkins, and Zaror trade blows with knives. It doesn’t end the film on a bang since nothing elaborate is done in the film, but it does provide the film final moment of gore before ending which is probably one of the best moments in Scott Adkins career.

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How much get can I get for this head?

The other action set pieces typically have Adkins blowing holes into peoples with guns, and barely getting hit with bullets non-stop. Gunplay is more interesting than your average action movie with Adkin seemingly being quick enough to dodge gunfire regardless of what gun is being used against him. Seeing someone get shot is made satisfying when seeing blood squib explode in small amount. Only negative to the action sequence requiring Adkins basically taking out an entire army at their base is the low budget here becomes the most apparent. Throughout the movie, the small budget is concealed well enough, but this particular set piece instead of seeing dozen of men go after Adkins at once you likely see at most 3, or 4 go after Adkins. It doesn’t feel like Adkins took out an entire army. However, that’s a small complaint against it. Jesse V. Johnson knows how to crafts, and capture action satisfactory.

Savage Dog ambition is never met, but is far better than your average straight to home video action film. Offering a refreshing setting, solid acting among the cast, and some good action sequences with the rare moments of gore to enjoy once the carnage kicks in. It’s a not a film I would give a general recommendation since it’s faults easily can ruin the experience for an average viewer. At 94 minutes, for fans of action cinema craving for another solid flick, or fans of Scott Adkins this is recommended to check out.

6/10

CINEMA-MANIAC: ELIMINATORS (2016) ACTION MOVIE REVIEW

There was a time when going straight to home video was considered a death sentence for anyone working in the film industry. However, ever since the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and many others the image of it has turned around. Now more than ever it’s more common to find a surprisingly profitable home video market, especially in the action genre as it’s more unlikely to be saturated with CGI action, or incompetent handling of action sequences which tend to be the common complaints from action fans about major action film productions. While most of these straight to video action movies are of bad quality. From my experience, you can come across some that are worthwhile as Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear, and Close Range as brainless entertainment. As unlikely as it to come across the solid straight to home video movie the name Scott Adkin is one you can be assured to contain good action sequences, but quality films isn’t one thing he specializes in.

Eliminators plot is so bare bones, much like its characters, that any sort of attempted exploration, same with a simple synopsis, can be classified as a spoiler. A majority of the movie is basically Scott Adkin getting chased by Stuart Barrett (who is best known for his WWE in ring name Wade Barrett), and looking for his daughter. However, there is so little to the story that I struggle to write anything about it besides simply stating it’s thin, has flat characters, and can go for several minutes of nothing significant happening. For example, when Scott Adkin enters a child services building from the moment Wade Barrett begins to chase after Scott Adkin it stays on this single chase sequence for around 14 minutes of screen time. In this very prolong chase the only piece of information that is gathered is Scott Adkin obtain the location of his daughter right at the beginning of this chase sequence. After that, it’s simply playing a game of avoiding Bad News Barrett’s bullets. This sequence also contains a continuity error as it begins in day time when Scott Adkin enters the child services building, and then becomes night time when both Adkin, and Barrett leaves the building. Implying that yes, this whole portion in the child services building possibly lasted hours, even though only a couple of minutes just passes for the audiences.

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I’ve got around 7 bullets of bad news to deliver to you.

The reason movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, and Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear work in spite of their slim story is they know how to have the action scenes to drive further engagement. In Fury Road, it’s a constant ongoing spectacle with gorgeous visuals that is upping the antics, and Ninja 2: Shadow of A Tear crams as much well choreographed action scenes as possible while it briefly makes work of its very generic story. In these two films, while the writing were weak they attempted to fill the void by having events in the films play out so it wouldn’t be a chore to view when there isn’t action on screen. Eliminators takes the structure of these two bare bone story movies, and decides to have even less story, and prolong action sequences.

So now comes the question if the story, and characters are bare bones does the action sequences make up for them, and the answer is simply no. With little to invest in it became difficult to care about the action scenes the more frequently they came up. The first fight scene has Scott Adkins fighting against two hooded robber with bats attacking him. It’s a amusing short fight, and the subsequent fights aren’t quite as fun to watch since Adkins make quick work of everyone else. That is until Stu Bennett appears in the film, and participate in the best action sequences with Mr. Scott Adkins.

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One of two highlight scenes from Eliminators

The two fight sequences between Scott Adkins, and Stu Bennett are actually pretty good. A surprise given one is an martial artist, and the other is a pro-wrestler. There’s also a large height difference as Stu Bennett simply towers over Adkins. However, with both actors being professional in choreographed fights, Tim Man (the film’s credited fight choreographer) takes both men backgrounds incorporating their fights. Stu Bennett is very commendable for keeping up with Scott Adkins during their fight sequences, and visibly takes enjoyment in no selling the many Scott Adkins kicks he takes. During their first encounter Adkins, and Bennett don’t do any complex reversals, or complex techniques it’s still a good fight both men pull off. Basically ending up just being a showcase how much of a beating both man can endure in long takes, yet still continues performing the more of the action sequence.

Thankfully, Adkins, and Stu Bennett fights are enjoyable because they are the only while action sequences in the film. Whatever action the rest of the film has to offer isn’t quite as exciting, nor impressive to see. In particular a very lazy gunfight between Adkins, Daniel Caltagirone (whose character is forgettable), and Bennett in a single place. All that occurs in this gunfight is both men firing, missing hitting each other, one takes cover while the other does more shooting, and repeat the process for the rest of the sequence. Gunfights in Eliminators usually lack urgency since you know the main participants in them won’t get hurt. Sure, that’s same criticism can be applied to other action movies, but in Eliminators when your two top stars have to participate in all the action sequences it’s more noticeable neither will get taken out. Editing in them are fine, but the lack of interesting cinematography choices. Especially the last gunfight in the film where Adkins despite having the disadvantage of carrying a shotgun, and fighting against two goons whom have AK-47 (appearance wise at least) makes quick work of them. It’s their stupidity that gets them axe. One of them definitely deserves if they unload an entire clip of bullets onto a scarecrow.

In terms of acting Stu Bennett (a former WWE Wrestler) comes away the best in the film. Despite being asked to hardly deliver any dialogue Stu Bennett did the best he could. Without much to bite into his character Bennett visually sold his role of Bishop well coming across as a viable threat to the almighty Scott Adkins. Remaining silent for most of the movie, and given what his purpose of the film he’s easily the best actor. Scott Adkins is again is a reliable man of action, and his performance in this is a nice departure from his usual tough guy shtick he sticks with. He’s in a slightly more vulnerable state constantly seeing him either partially retreat in a action sequence, or seeing Bennett giving him a good beating does wonder for an actor who seemingly appears invincible in his movies. The supporting cast, same with the music, are forgettable addition to the flick. It’s simply better to look up clips of Scott Adkins, and Stu Bennett fight scenes, and not put yourself through a bare bones movie just for those scenes.

Eliminators is a bare bone action film that is unable to sustain its momentum through its entire run time. Thin characters, and a very basic story without much substance can’t be save by action sequences alone, especially when one of its major actor has to be kept alive in order for their to be someone competent for the hero to fight. It provides the goods in terms of action, but even with your brain turned off there isn’t enough here that warrants your visit.

2/10

 

Cinema-Maniac: Close Range (2015) Movie Review

Straight to video films generally lack in quality so imagining an ocean of action films that are possibly worse than the higher budgeted action films is not far fetched. Action films in general offer a wide range of approach in execution, but unfortunately they also have negative stigmas to overcome. In particular to the ever famous claim that no one watches action movies for the stories which is far from the truth. A great story can make an action movie unforgettable which is proven with Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, plotless, and brainless action movies aren’t off the table for enjoyment either as Mad Max: Fury Road is currently the most critically acclaimed of these plotless action films. Sure it has a story, but the spoonfed dialogue, loosely written story, and simple characters results in underwhelming writing. Close Range offers pretty much the same thing; simple characters, a loosely written story, but loads of good action scenes for your entertainment in 81 minutes.

Close Range is about a rogue soldier turned outlaw who is thrust into a fight with a corrupt sheriff, and a dangerous drug cartel in order to protect his sister and her young daughter. That synopsis is about as much as the story evolves, or develop in the course of yes 81 minutes. It’s bare bone storytelling relying on basic character archetypes that can be defined as the good guy, and the bad guy. With its length there’s little room for character development. That includes lead character Colton MacReady (whose last name is what I usually order at McDonald’s) whose characterization is simply to make Scott Adkins (who plays Colton MacReady) look cool. Colton characterization paints him in a good light usually by his family whom only say positive things about him. What is strange about the simplistic storytelling are its intention are clearly too just string together a series of action scenes. This is evident by some leap in logic in the story from the corrupt sheriff who doesn’t call for backup when a dispatcher tells him she heard heavy gunfire from a phone call, to a drug kingpin who only takes a handful of henchman despite the hero killing dozen of his men including his son very early in the film, and if Colton MacReady is on the run why isn’t the military shown to be chasing after him. It’s brought up that Colton put a superior officer in the hospitals, and was meant to be jailed so one would expect the military actually be bother to pursue Colton. This plot point goes nowhere as there isn’t a single character dedicated to represent the military in any way. It’s usage is to make Scott Adkins appear more dangerous, and cool, even though he’s already both of those things.

One aspect of the writing that goes against the simplistic story, and characters is Sheriff Jasper Calloway (Nick Chinlund). Unlike the other characters whom fall under the good, or bad category the film attempted to make Jasper Calloway fall in the middle category. However, the treatment of his character is out place with the rest of the film writing. Jasper Calloway doesn’t have allot of screen time to paint him in a grey zone. He’s given the position of evil, but loving family man without bothering to mention if what he did was due to desperation. It simply comes across that Jasper despite his personal life status did what he did only for money. There’s Colton sister, Angela Reynolds (Caitlin Keats) who is a better representation of the grey zone resorting to shady activities to pay for a home. Unlike Jasper Calloway, Angela Reynolds is given the role of damsel in distress until the latter part of the film. She works in the confined of what the film aims for whereas Jasper Calloway clearly shows signs of wanting to uphold the law, but his character isn’t explored so it ends up going nowhere. Calloway is also purposeless since his second biggest contribution in the story is sending officers to chase Colton for a car chase. By the standard definition the film leaves many things to be desired none more important than tension for a rush of excitement seeing our hero struggle to stay alive. However, the film applies the rule of cool approach to its writing preferring to stylize for entertainment. It doesn’t pretend to be more than more what it wants to be, which is a brainless action movie, and the writing complements it with a length that makes sure it doesn’t drag out it welcome.

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In Adkins case fighting a Truck is easier than fighting Jason Bourne.

Scott Adkins takes charge in a leading role that require little in the acting department from him. Adkins only requirement is to look tough, sound angry in most of his line delivery, and perform the action scenes convincingly. He fits the bill of good action star looking right in the role while putting in a solid performance as a tough guy. It’s not showcasing Adkins skill much in the acting department as he is constantly in action hero mode. For the role, Scott Adkins only goal is to convince you he’s awesome, and pulls it off. Having both the look, and skills to perform what required of him in elaborate action scenes he makes enduring through the film lesser moments of excitement worth it.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Nick Chinlund, Caitlin Keats, Jake La Botz, Tony Perez, and Madison Lawlor deliver one note performances from pure evil (Tony Perez), unlikable douche bag (Jake La Botz), scared child (Madison Lawlor), and so forth. The supporting cast roles are pretty much an afterthought by having little material where they change emotions. Most facial expressions from actors don’t change when they are introduced to when it finally ends. At most, Nick Chinlund is the most dynamic of the supporting cast, but always comes across agitated. Chinlund doesn’t have the skill to make his character come across as sympathetic. Other cast members like Jake La Botz, and Caitlin Keats deliver exposition most of the time. Resulting in tedium when they don’t speak like people. Caitlin Keats at least gets to perform in the action in the last of act of the film, though not for long, and not performing anything that nearly as elaborate as what Scott Adkins has to pull off. She still deserves of praise for making her moment in the action seem convincing.

Fight choreography is credited to Jeremy Marinas who should applauded for his work on Close Range. The film opens quite ambitiously by having Scott Adkins beat up a bunch of goons single handily in a Mexican compound in one take. Despite the limitation that comes with the one take shot the opening action sequence is well filmed, and performed. One aspect in this fight that works in its favor is its in a enclosed area with not many people in the background. Keeping focus on Scott Adkin fighting whoever is in front of him. Another standout sequence is a one sided fight between Scott Adkins, and Jeremy Marinas. There’s no suspension of who will win the fight, but both actors make it entertaining by allowing each to offer blows before the eventual end of it. Switching battle tactics frequently in the fight turn the tide of the fight in their favor. While the action sequences favors a combination of gunfights inter splice with constant bullet dodging in the third act it does contain a good car chase, fight scenes including a climax that combines it with gunplay, and other set pieces to satisfy the checklist of variety in violence. It’s final act is where it begins to stop caring about logic as characters seamlessly fire endless rounds of bullets from a single clip. All of this is made more impressive when a majority of these set pieces take place in a two story house. This house gets filled with bullet holes, broken glass, and eventually having  a few dead bodies. Due to the story, the film doesn’t offer a high body count, but more than makes up for it in quality. It’s an understatement when saying the production team made great use of everything at their disposal.

Close Range is a satisfactory film for action junkies. The story while simple is clear in its intention to string together a series of action scenes which is why it only bothers to make our hero awesome, and our bad guys villainous. With a length of 81 minutes the film never outstays its welcome being capable of filling the quota of viewers looking for popcorn entertainment. Its low budget action filmmaking from the duo of Scott Adkins, and director Isaac Florentine whom keep on pushing the boundaries of what’s capable with a low budget action filmmaking for the better. While the writing won’t leave an impression it will at least entertain while it last.

6/10

Cinema-Maniac: Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013) Movie Review

Two years ago I saw the original film simply titled “Ninja” (2009) which had solid action scenes for a low budget film, but that’s where the compliments end. Nearly any film with the titled “Ninja” is guaranteed to be awful. Either being ninjas are difficult to modernized or most of the ninja titled films tend to go in a downward spiral in their writing. “Ninja: Shadow of A Tear” is one of the better ninja movies while its simple plot won’t amaze a good pacing prevents the action from becoming tiresome and a better direction elevates the production sides.

Ninja: Shadow of A Tear tells a basic story about Ninjitsu master Casey out for revenge when his pregnant wife is murdered. As action movies goes it’s as straightforward as it could be. Wasting little time on character development, building up the villain (an evil drug lord no less), or challenging the character’s morals. All of which is done in a hasty matter to advance the familiar plot threads if spend too much time on would have lead to boredom. Benefiting it’s clear rehashing of plot points is good pacing. Being simple enough to follow spacing the action enough for it not to become tiresome. Allowing enough room to setup the many action scenes it has in a somewhat justifiable manner the serves the plot some purpose. In terms of characters it’s filled with stock characters from the lone wolf hero, Indian accent taxi driver, the former rival, and the classical last minute villain switcheroo. The same rule also applies to the scenarios the hero is put in. You’ll know the hero will fight behind a bar, get tortured, escape from a prison, go looking for hidden military base in a forest, eventually kill drug lord soldiers, and the rest action genre veteran or not can predict what’ll happen next. Resembling a setup more fitting for a video game the plot won’t stick to mind in any form, but if it does anything correctly aside from pacing is working towards the production team strength.

Scott Adkins as an actor has little range, but thanks to the script he’s mostly required to be angry, focused, and leave his martial art do the talking. Adkins just like in the previous film is a solid fighter who knows how to perform a good fight. He’s agile that his fight scenes are fast performing elaborate moves that shows his skills even while wearing a Ninja suit. This being a Adkins film vehicle he’s merely here to show off his fighting abilities. The cast are adequate to not ruin the film. Being aware of what roles they’re playing the cast do what is required in them. Director Isaac Florentine knows how to frame an action scene and puts a bigger budget to better use. Unlike it’s predecessor this sequel has night scenes that actually look like they take place at night. Also a plus is the non use of shaking cam during action scenes. Everything on the production side is as solid as it could be delivery the goods in satisfying results. Much like the story nothing will inherently stand out, but the commitment from the production team to strive for better is clear.

Ninja: Shadow of A Tear is an enjoyable brainless action film and not as bad as it could have been for a film that went straight to DVD. The plot is typical and simple, but is a complemented by good pacing, solid action scenes on a low budget, and solid production values. For a film with “Ninja” in the title they’re certainly worst out there, but few ninja films are as watchable even with your brain turned off.

6/10

Cinema-Maniac: Osombie (2012) Movie Review

Action movies overuse terrorists and horror movies overuse zombies for various of reasons. Both archetype can not guarantee whether or not the quality of a story will be good, but gives a good indication of what to expect when they come into play. The violent nature, the scale of danger, and the heroes developing methods to defeat their foes. It’s high body count of victim also equals the numbers of flaws and yawns the audience might give to the film.

Osombie is about NATO special forces on a secret assignment to…find the plot. Within the first twelve minutes the plot already puts off some immediate red flags. Starting off with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden is acceptable, but the film depiction is historically inaccurate. According to the film apparently Navy Seals are experts on zombie killing, Osama Bin Laden kept pet zombies to kill intruders, and created a serum that would resurrect him back into zombie form. Though the film is fictional the liberty taken with Osama Bin Laden assassination don’t amount to much instead of infecting the US Osama Bin Zombie somehow swims back to Pakistan after killing a couple on a beach. That is later followed up with the introduction of our NATO special forces. At first glance the group has personality making the most killing Pakistani zombies only to go downhill quickly. Immediately after being introduce to the NATO special forces the film plays up a character death with overly heavy dramatic music. Unlike the characters, as a viewer this scene should have been saved in the second act to come across more strongly instead of a throwaway plot device. Within these twelve minutes the film has a rocky start only to reach the destination in worse condition than it began.

Each character personality is copy and pasted among the NATO special forces. All are a little comedic, all spout out expositions, all have weak characterization, and everyone of them is idiotic. Forget about serving the country what these NATO special forces needed was better training. It’s hilarious that a character who’s an ordinary man (whose perk allows him to be explosion resistant) thanks Call of Duty for his proficiency in armed combat has better aiming than the NATO special forces. From combat maneuvers the NATO operatives are unaware of their surrounding that every other battle scenario results in a death no longer shocking them. More questionable is not carrying a melee weapon of any sort. The only woman on the NATO special forces has the right idea bringing a sword to not only carry out quiet kills, but also a back up when ammo run up dry. This decision is made more questionable when the NATO special forces clearly know of the zombies existence (yes the 9/11 attack and government is needlessly involved in this too). Even falling into the zombie plot device trap of splitting up into groups. Leaving you speechless that a character who fight zombies with his shirt off survives longer than someone with proper equipment. I feel sorry for this fictional America in “Osombie”. I would never trust these clowns with my own life yet if these clowns are the best we have serving than America is doomed.

Director John Lyde works on a low budget and does impress in some areas. His shot position was that of an expert able make little appear as grander than it actually is. Zombies carnage is in huge supplies as well as some decent practical gore effects. These effects could be taken for granted whenever blood spurts out from a gunshot it’s in CG and the shoddy CG is made more evident when in the last minutes with plastic looking air vehicles. Acting leaves plenty to be desired, though that’s mostly from a poor script. Most of the performances are monotone and much like the characters personality the performances are copy and pasted. Paul D. Hunt being the exception with his charismatic persona on the stale material. Giving a scene a comedic value even if it’s unintentional (one of his jokes is so bad it made zombies appear). Now the biggest strike against film is the editing by Airk Thaughbaer and Kurt Hale. There’s several occasion when a gunshot or sword slashing off screen would drown out conversations making it difficult to listen to even the most basic of conversations. Another issue with the editing is the usage of music being bombastic. Some scenes would have left a bigger impression without hard rock music playing. Taking the fun of seeing zombies murder is also by the power of terrible, terrible editing.

Osombie provides a huge body count at the cost of competent editing making a bad movie harder to watch. Like the zombie terrorist themselves whatever life the script could have taken is beaten to the floor with poor characterization, editing that drown out what the actors are saying, and the utter lifeless essence of providing anything resembling joy. Infuriating the viewer instead of providing some dumb fun escapism.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power (2005) Review

If it wasn’t for the Carlito’s Way collection set I would have never known about the existence of the prequel. Now a prequel in this case makes some sense exploring more Carlito Brigante life and diving deeper into how he became to be the man he went on to be is by no means a bad thing. Unfortunately this prequel does very little in terms of developing Carlito Brigante further than what was already established in the original Carlito’s Way.

Carlito’s Way: Rise To Power is set in the late 1960s, follows Carlito Brigante emerging as the heroin czar of Harlem. Much like the original its heavily driven by dialogue, but the narrative path taken is strictly linear. Following the routine of a standard crime film the script does not bring anything you haven’t seen before to the table; you have a young criminal rising to power, the wise and well spoken mentor, to the old and angry Italian wiseguy who doesn’t like young punks, romance with a street wise woman, and many more crime film tropes. Going as far as showing the outcome of the climax like it predecessor in the beginning of the film. Unoriginality only begins to scratch the surface of problems. Characters are entirely new without a single one created in attempt to bridging the two films. These new characters are written with good intentions, but the interactions between them is predictable. One new character upon being immediately introduce is utterly unlikable only to become a driving force for the film narrative. At no point is this character downfall ever tragic because by design making the film most unlikable character have emotional weight does not work. This same notion works with the rest of the film. You have a standard setup or plot device with a predictable outcome appearing superficial only to become a major part of the story serving it weakness. Story elements are often half baked, generic in execution, and empty of any risks. The film’s ending is easily the biggest drawback of the story. With this being a prequel it fails to show exactly how Carlito Brigante went to jail for a force happy ending. At no point does this prequel help pave the way for events of the original “Carlito’s Way”. By the time the climax comes you will truly feel just how unspectacular everything turned out to be.

Jay Hernandez who played Carlito does a decent job, but if you are looking for the intensity of Al Pacino, it won’t be there. Hernandez’s smoothly understated performance and the colorful presence of Mr. Van Peebles performances are better than the film itself. Sean Combs give sa moderate performance looking directly at the camera and delivery over the top lines to the best of his abilities. Luis Guzman (also in the original Carlito’s Way) was entertaining as the nutty hit-man. His casting in this film is a huge problem not only does he play a completely different character, but it adds confusion seeing an actor from the original breaking continuity and comes off as goofy that Carlito would meet two people who look and act exactly the same. Mtume Gant comes off as annoying, but that’s mostly to blame on the material. If anything Mtume Gant is quite good making his character as unlikable as possible. It’s a shame the material didn’t offer him any scene to show of his character good sides. Aside from poor writing is director Michael Bregman is too blame for this lifeless prequel. Wait why does that name sound familiar…he was a producer on “Carlito’s Way”. In that that case his directorial effort is awful. Every scene is just plainly shown without a personality or any kind style behind the camera. Michael Bregman simply films a scene and that’s it. No emotion, no eye for details, nothing that conveys the interest from Bregman. Everything is comes across more lifeless than the characters killed in this movie. Bregman might have worked on the original, but chose not to retain anything that worked in Brain De Palma film.

Carlito’s Way: Rise To Power fails as a standalone film for staying closely to the genre routine without an attempt to be different and as a prequel fail to connect the dot to its predecessor in any way. It fails in these two areas even more so taking into account that with a failure to expand upon a beloved film in any area. It’s just about as superficial as a prequel can get.

3/10