Sunday, 30 September 2012


This is an unusual series of films. Started out as a solid Walter Hill film  starring Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames that was dumped by its studio. Then it went the direct to DVD route. And the series got better.

Undisputed 2 & 3 are two of the best low budget genre movies made for quite a while. Sure there’s some cheese involved but who cares. These are melodramas about men beating each other up (but none of them are gay, honest.) Both of these films were directed by Issac Florentine and heavily featured Scott Adkins as Boyka, a mad Russian with a shaved head and a goatee. A mean brutal character, Boyka s one of the best pulp creations in recent years.

Okay the basic plots. Part 1 has Ving Rhames as a boxer who gets thrown in jail as a rapist. (Not a sympathetic character). He thinks he’s the greatest and has to fight the prison champion, a lifer played by Wesley Snipes. He gets beaten. The end. It’s a fun b-movie, one of Snipes best performances. Rhames character is truly obnoxious. You are glad to see him fail. It’s wonderfully understated, cynical but respects the Snipes character, who is trying to survive with dignity in hell.

Part 2 has the same boxer played by a different actor (now Michael Jai White) who gets sent into prison again (for drug possession), this time in Russia. To get out alive, he has to defeat Boyka. He manages to win, finally. He manages not to be a dick this time. This one is much grimmer, with a cold Russian background and a great villain in Boyka, who is a monster, the king of the prison, but who wants to fight the dumb American fairly, prove he’s the best as a warrior. It’s a remake of the first but is an improvement on a great base. It embraces its own melodramatic excess in characterisation, makes the sport kick-boxing rather than boxing, and just goes for it on every level. This is one of the best sequels around, which can cost you about a pound on Amazon. So there’s no excuse for not buying it (save the main character is still a bit of a dick).

Part 3 is the perfect low-budget genre film, improves the second film by making Boyka the lead. Now crippled from the fight at the end of part 2, ignored by all, Bokya improves his mind and body, regaining his championship inside his own prison by brutally destroying the best of who emerged after his injury. Next he gets himself into an inter-prison kick-boxing championship run by gangsters from all over the world. Basically each fight is one style against another. It has a decent story, of a man building himself up, planning his escape when he is being continually beaten on by his enemies, destroying some terrific combatants in brutal fight after fight. It’s both a tough redemption of a total bastard through survival story and an excessive fight movie. Like Part 1 with Snipes, have a worthy protagonist really sells the film.

Undisputed is one of the great low budget film series, with no weak chapters. It’s definitely worth about five hours of your time, and some rewatches.

Saturday, 29 September 2012


Another the stupid season of summer films year has gone by, and what has come about?

Mediocrity on the whole.  Not the type of fun year full of great entertainments like T2, Drag Me To Hell, Robocop or, obviously, Raiders Of the Lost Ark. This was more like a slow descent into a shrug. Was that it?

With The Bourne Legacy we had a dull-witted thriller which hung around tiredly like the dead, in The Campaign a comedy about politicians that forgot to make characters and develop funny situations beyond blabbering around and being obnoxious to women (like a David Cameron interview), in The Expendables 2 an over-the hill action ensemble that started decently and then devolved in a direct to DVD plot, wasting young current action men (Jason Statham and Scott Adkins) in favour of geriatrics in an airport, and of course, The Amazing Spiderman. Apparently there was a script for that. Of course there were decent moments. Prometheus had the visuals but a bad story. The Dictator, while being a bit simple in plot, was vicious and funny. The Dark Knight Rises was ponderous but had ambition and terrific moments, and was a disguised remake of Escape From New York. The Avengers was fun, the best of the bunch but had serious plot problems. It was kinda of a remake of Rio Bravo, which works for me.

So to break down the good in more detail. And even bits of the weak.

For Prometheus, what’s great about the film is that in the age of OTT stupid CGI idiocies like Transformers, this film made use of atmosphere, horror and was really pretentious. It may have been stunningly stupid for a few moments but that’s fine. If you’re “homaging” 2001 and Quatermass, I’ll allow a few slip ups. It was about the evolution of mankind, mysteries and scary monsters in a far off land, cut off from civilisation. It was genuinely attempting to evoke the wonder and fear of space-travel. It was terrific visual sci-fi and ok idea-wise. A few months later, I’d say it was a worthy effort. But the alien at the end was really stupid.
The Dictator was my favourite type of comedy/satire, that of a monster who doesn’t really change, but can be used to parody every movie convention about becoming a better person. It had some very good jokes about dictators, PC left-wing loonies, stupid people who think they’re not stupid, and was generally under-rated when released. Worth seeing if only for the ironic speech about why American should be a dictatorship at the ending.

The Dark Knight Rises was the most comic-book, and the least pretentious, of the Nolan Batman films. It even used the “some days you can’t get rid of a bomb” bit from Batman: The Movie, but left out the marching bands and ducks. It had the best action scene of the series where in a terrific sequence where Batman goes after bank robbers while being chased by the entire police force (not as funny or knowingly ridiculous as The Blues Brothers car chase of the same type). It had Tom Hardy’s Bane, full of muscles and talking like Vincent Price (that’s a compliment by the way). It had the great sequence where Batman had to climb out of a hellish prison. It was a self-serious but well-meant, overblown and a bit mad, and there’s not enough of those kind of films. The good news is this was the episode where Bale finally nailed the Batman character. So Batman 8 was a good one. (I’m counting Adam West)

Finally The Avengers, the House of Superheroes for those of you who know your 1940’s Universal monster mash-ups. The good news is that The Hulk was back, redesigned not to be the woeful Norton version, a lot more like the Ang Lee version. The bad news was the terrible Captain America costume redesign. The great news was that the villain Loki was really bitchy and smug, so dialogue scenes were great fun. Unfortunately for him, talking that way to The Hulk, gonna get you the recipient of the best mainstream moment of the year. The film was pulp done right. It didn’t have the crazy ambition of The Dark Knight Rises, or other more interesting films in its genre like Hulk or Batman Returns, but it’s difficult to think of a way to do this kind of film better.

For the weaker films, there were pleasures. Bourne had Jeremy Renner, who kept the film afloat with many good moments of subtle acting, as did Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spiderman, before the never-ending but samey fight with the lizard began at the half-way point. Will Ferrell managed nice moments of obliviousness in The Campaign (roll on Anchorman 2) and The Expendables 2 had Dolph Lunghren telling jokes and the “we’re AMERICANS, No I’m British, I’m from Sweden, I’m from China” gag.

So while there were too many films needing script-work, none were Batman and Robin/Speed 2 –type atrocities. But some felt like they should have gone straight to DVD.