Friday, 20 April 2018

Bad Cop (2010)

Detective Sean Riley is a cop who is only a few steps from the criminals he hunts.  When his partner dies in a shoot-out, for instance, he executes the man who did it in cold blood.

Shortly afterward, Riley is assigned to a series of vicious homicides where the victims were set alight, then sprayed down with an extinguisher, then set alight again.  This proves to be the work of a group of well-trained killers, who seem like they might be hunting Colin, an old friend of Riley's.  The only question now, is will they find Colin first, or will he?

Bad Cop (aka Saints & Sinners), is not a particularly good film.  The story and dialogue are nothing special, and the acting is of shall we say "varying" quality.  Lead Johnny Strong (who also wrote the film's music) is handsome and competent in front of the camera but not especially charismatic, but that still puts him a cut above some of the other cast members.

On the plus side, the film moves along at a fair clip and its frequent action scenes are well-staged (albeit rather generic).  It also makes good use of its post-Katrina New Orleans setting.  Finally, it's quite fun to play "spot the semi-famous face" as there are a number of has-been and never-quite-wases in the cast.

Still, at the end of the day this is a mostly competent but pro-forma action film, which isn't really something that I can in all conscience recommend.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Dick Turpin, Season 1 (1979)

By all indications the real life Dick Turpin was a pretty typical ruffian, horse thief and highwayman of his era (the early to mid 1700s), but the English-speaking peoples seem to have long had a tradition of romanticising outlaws, particularly in times where the authorities were not popular.  Turpin was active in the early years of the "foreign" House of Hanover, which faced major rebellions in both 1715 and 1745, which likely didn't hurt his ascension to become something of a Robin Hood style figure in British folklore.

Turpin was executed in 1739, but this light family-friendly action/drama takes the premise that the man hung that day was an impostor, and the 'real' Turpin was still at large, waging a one-man war of retribution against the corrupt and wealthy officials who had impoverished his family.  Said officials are led here by Sir John Glutton.  A subtle show, this is not.

In the course of the thirteen episodes presented in the first series of the show, we will tick off a lot of the common tropes of such lightweight historical drama.  There's the foppish dandy who turns out to be a cunning highwayman; the rival robber who turns out to be a beautiful woman; the bad guys using an impostor to blacken Turpin's name, and so on.

Familiar though it is, it could all work well enough if delivered with verve, but I don't think Dick Turpin quite manages to stand and deliver on that front.  Leading actor Richard O'Sullivan certainly has the required roguish charm, but the production values are ... well, it's a British show from 1979, with all that entails.  A bigger weakness though, is that there is not really any sense of menace from the villains.  Every time he encounters them, Turpin is easily triumphant.  I guess that suits the light tone the show is obviously going for, but it doesn't exactly make for thrilling adventures when then bad guys are portrayed as so obviously outclassed all the time.

Also hurting the show is the ordering of episodes on these DVDs, which is different to those of the original airing order, and seems quite nonsensical - things that happen in one episode on the discs are blithely ignored in the next because the second episode was intended to be viewed before the first.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Friday the 13th (1980)

A boy drowns at a summer camp.  A year later, two counselors there are murdered.  The camp, unsurprisingly, shuts down.  The events are so well-remembered that even more than a decade later, when plans are afoot to re-open the place, locals still refer to it as "Camp Blood" and warn its newly-hired teenage staff members away from it.  The teens, of course, ignore these warnings ... a mistake most of them will not live to regret.

Friday the 13th is one of the iconic "slasher" franchises, and along with Halloween it more or less founded the genre as a cultural and commercial phenomenon.  It also caused a storm of controversy on its release, mostly for its violence.  Gene Siskel was so antagonistic to the film that his review reveals the identity of the murderer, in the hope that this would discourage people from seeing it (spoiler: it's not the guy pictured above).

This hand-wringing about the graphic content honestly looks a bit over-the-top nearly forty years later, where far worse happens on cable shows every week, but it's probably at least in part due to the success of films like this one that the shift to more graphic content began.

So setting aside its position as a seminal work of the genre, which is probably enough for most horror aficionados to at least check it out, is this first (of many) Fridays worthy of a watch?  Surprisingly, I think it probably is, unless you're simply not into this kind of film.  The acting's middling but not terrible (there's even a very young Kevin Bacon in the cast), the script hustles along sufficiently well that its rather thin substance isn't much of an issue, and on the technical side, everything is solid.  The practical effects (by maestro Tom Savini) are excellent, given when the film was made and its budget, and the sound design is also very effective.

(Yes, I really did review this film for an actual Friday the 13th.  If you check a calendar, you can probably work out when I'll be reviewing Part 2 :) ).

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Castle, Season 7 (2014)

Season 6 of Castle ended with a big cliffhanger.  It wasn't really something that the show had done before and it doesn't really feel like something they knew how to do, because it kinda gets parked after episode 2, and is then pretty much forgotten except for in episode 20, where they (partially) resolve it, largely via the means of a big exposition dump from a character we have never seen before (and according to IMDB, will never see again).

That failed experiment aside, how is the show's seventh year?  Well honestly, it's clearly a bit tired.  The program's signature "wacky" mystery scenarios are growing ever more improbable (there's a stealth super-suit, possible parallel universes, and action movie stars who are actually action heroes, just to name a few); and the character beats are by this stage growing very familiar.  It doesn't really feel like any of the cast have changed or grown much over show's run time, despite the things they have been through.  On the other hand, that kind of "the more things change, the more they stay the same" status quo is a pretty common element of the kind of easy to digest TV comfort food that Castle aims to be.  And to be fair, it is mostly successful in that aim.  You're not likely to embrace every episode, but you're likely to find at least some entertainment here.

That the show mostly succeeds in its admittedly limited ambitions can largely be attributed to the cast.  I personally found myself growing a little tired of Nathan Fillion's mugging in this season, but there's no denying he has charisma, and the rest of the ensemble all do good work.

This season also includes the final 3XK story (an antagonist I never found as interesting as the show's writers seemed to, but it's nice to have closure on him, I guess), and features a pretty solid ending that makes a good spot to leave the show.  While there was an eighth season made, I've heard less than stellar reports about it, and the conclusion here seems like as good a send off for the characters as I could hope for, so I will not be watching it.

Friday, 6 April 2018

The Plumber (1979)

Shortly after Jill Cowper's husband leaves for work for the day, she gets a knock on her apartment door.  This is Max, a plumber sent by the university (who own the building in which they live), sent to check the pipes.  Despite being nervous about letting a stranger into the flat while she is alone, Jill allows him in.

Max is affable but a little bit odd, and Jill is almost sure that he takes a shower in their bathroom while he is supposed to be working on it.  Still, when he leaves after forty minutes or so, saying he has to return the next day to replace some pipes, she acquiesces.

And so a pattern is set for the film, with Max's behaviour becoming ever more odd and disturbing, but without him ever quite doing anything to justify Jill throwing him out.  The work in the bathroom seems to endlessly expand with no end in sight, and Jill cannot get anyone - not even her husband, who is absorbed in an important work opportunity - to listen to her concerns.  Can she find a way out of the situation, or will Max's strange game escalate in some dangerous and unforeseen way?

I quite liked The Plumber, but I think a lot of people will find it frustrating (certainly my fiancee did)  It's a film that spends almost its entire run time in a state of anticipation, constantly dangling the possibility that either Jill or Max will explode, but not quite getting there.  It's going to annoy some, if not most of the audience, with how long it waits to "pull the trigger", and of course for many I think there will come a point where it seems incredible that Jill and her husband let things go as far as they do.

Only watch if you're interested in a film which is all about making you wait for the pay-off (and don't mind the risk that said pay-off might not be the one you expected or wanted).

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Banshee, Season 2 (2014)

The man calling himself Lucas Hood is getting into ever deeper trouble.  More and more of his colleagues are noticing that the new sheriff seems not to know or care very much about police procedure.  His ex-lover's murderous father is still out there, and still gunning for them.  Tensions are escalating with the equally murderous local mob boss.  Oh, and the son of the real Lucas Hood is on his way to town.

So how will the man who passes for our "hero" deal with all this?  Well, pretty much the usual way he deals with things: punch a lot of people, have sex with pretty much any woman who seems the slightest bit interested, and generally make a lot of bad personal decisions.

And on that last point, he sure won't be alone, because "morally compromised people making bad personal choices" is pretty much what Banshee is all about.  Whether it's keeping secrets when there is no good reason to do so, or sleeping with the wrong person, or starting really ill-advised fights, or whatever else, you can pretty much trust the characters to do the wrong thing, even if they oftentimes do so for well-meaning reasons.

You can also count on the cast of the show to commit to those characters and those decisions, with the majority of them frankly delivering performances that are several grades better than the show's schlocky, "sex and fighting" soap opera storylines probably deserve.

Banshee is truly trashy entertainment, but I will confess that it is entertaining.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Fight Valley (2016)

Tori Coro is a tough young woman, looking to make her mark - and the money to get out of her violent neighbourhood - in underground street fights.  When she turns up dead, her privileged and generally rather clueless sister Windsor sets out to find who killed Tori.  This will bring her in contact with Tori's friends - the self-proclaimed "Knockaround Girls" - and enemies, all of whom are frankly more than Windsor is ready to handle, right now.  Only if she can get the help of renowned local fighter Jab might she be able to survive the experience.

My word, this film is a mess.  I mean, I expect bad acting from low budget affairs that have MMA fighters in major roles (Miesha Tate, Holly Holm and Cris Cyborg all feature), and of course I'm not surprised by bad dialogue either.  But Fight Valley bravely if unwisely bucks all kinds of structural expectations of its narrative.  For instance, for the first fifteen minutes of the film, Tori appears to be our protagonist.  But after a couple of fight sequences and rather gratuitous lesbian sex scene, she's killed off camera, and her far less likeable sister takes centre stage.  Then there's the ending, which ... well, let's just say +1 point for trying something really out of the ordinary with martial arts / revenge flick, but -100 points for executing it so badly.

Fight Valley's ambitions far exceed its reach.  I can admire it for what it aspires to be, and even take a moment to commend Cabrina Collesides, who is almost alone in the cast in seeming to understand what this acting thing actually is, but I certainly can't recommend it as a film anyone ought to watch.