Friday, 25 January 2013


Swaggering through a post-apocalyptic Aussie outback future where very little remains but desert and everyone dresses like a spiky-haired, over-accessorised 80s punk, Mel Gibson returns as hard-as-granite rebel Mad Max Rockatansky, and he’s pissed. Gibson is on fine form as the grizzled, heroic lawman who wanders the outback, scavenging for survival, righting wrongs and skelping bad guys in the face. Looking slightly fruitier with long hair and a flowing tunic, Mad Mel is, thankfully, still a reliably gritty and intimidating presence, more than capable of equalising entire units of fearsome cyber-punks with little more than some badass attitude and his wily wits.
 In the third instalment of George Miller’s classic Road Warrior series set in a world where, due to energy shortages, society has broken down and lawlessness is rife, someone has pinched Max’s automobile, so he sets off to settle the score. Arriving at the intimidating, seedy desert outpost of Bartertown, ruled over by the sadistic Aunty Entity (Tina Turner!), Max wastes no time making his presence felt. When he’s stopped and threatened by some scary blokes with swords, Max whips out a Big Fucking Gun (B.F.G.) and shoots the hair clean off one guy’s head, just to show he’s not messing around. He explains he’s looking for something someone owes him and he ain’t leaving til this shit gets sorted out.  When he’s told that he can’t go any further until he surrenders his weapns at the door, Max cheekily produces an entire arsenal from under his cloak: crossbows, knives, guns, the lot. It’s a hilarious scene and sums up this man’s headspace: he lives for war.
  Upon hearing of his potential as an enterprising whupper-of-ass, Aunty swiftly strikes a deal with Max, promising to help him if he agrees to provoke a fight with the diminutive Master, who controls the town’s energy resources and challenges her leadership. In Bartertown, electricity, vehicles, functioning technology are made possible by a crude methane refinery, fuelled, quite wonderfully, by pig pooh. Master, carried around by his massive, masked bodyguard, known as Blaster, has started getting cocky, putting embargoes in place that are starting to make Aunty look daft, so she wants Max to challenge him to a fight in the Thunderdome, a terrifying colosseum where feuds are settled mano-a-mano. Max thinks ‘why the hell not?’ He loves a good fight. As if to prove this point, he passes his ‘audition’ by seriously maiming three of Aunty’s warrior goons. Fair dinkum!
  Going undercover to size up his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, Max takes up a highly unenviable job shovelling pig shit in the underworld, where he discovers that Master Blaster is the one who has taken possession of his vehicle. Master also turns out to be a right cocky little bugger who likes bullying his workers and shouting grans statements like ‘Me run Bartertown!!!’ Max cuts the jerk down to size by saying, ‘Sure, that’s why you live in shit!’ but has to bide his time, when all he really wants to do is slit the guy’s throat. Eventually he realises that big lug Blaster (who wears a ridiculous helmet that looks like a bin) is susceptible to high pitched sounds and figures this is his chance to beat the guy, so he seizes his chance and challenges him to a fight in Thunderdome where, as the locals never tire of chanting, ‘two men enter, one man leaves.’ Nice.
  The Thunderdome is a deliciously savage creation, a massive dome-shaped cage filled with spikes, booby-traps and what-have-you, where both combatants are strapped to massive stretchy bungee cords and forced to do battle with whatever weapons the onlookers throw to them, whilst athletically bouncing around like acrobats. Upon entering, one wild-eyed spectator tells Max, ‘I know you won’t break any rules – there aren’t any!’ Though I guess this isn’t strictly true, as the whole crowd continue to chant the whole ‘two men enter…’ mantra. Silly bugger!
 Still, the battle is immense, with Max somersaulting all over the place, trying to outwit the human juggernaut as they go at each other with everything from spears to chainsaws. Our hero, armed with a whistle that he hopes to use to deafen his adversary, ends up taking a hell of a beating and drops his secret weapon. Bruised and battered, he resorts to Plan B: kicking Blaster’s head in. Displaying athleticism worthy of the most spry, wiry jungle monkey, Max outwits his opponent and eventually gets the better of him, knocking off his helmet and deafening him with the now retrieved whistle, before doing him in with a massive hammer.
  However, just as he is about to deliver the killing blow, Max realises that his opponent is actually mentally-handicapped and refuses to kill him. It is a cracking display of compassion and even as the crowd chant for Max to finish him, he refuses – this was not part of the deal. As he stands down, Aunty’s goons step in and finish the job with a crossbow, leading one to wonder why they didn’t just do that in the first place. Max is made to pay for being such an honourable and just dude in these times of lawlessness, as Aunty banishes him from town, tying him to a horse and sending him out to the desert to die.
  Luckily, Max is a clever bugger and sneakily attaches a gourd of water to a monkey and sends it out into the desert for him to find later, just before he is banished. Smart! However, this only gets our hero so far and eventually he succumbs to the harsh desert heat. Staring death in the face, Max thinks his number is up, before he is rescued by Savannah (Helen Buday), leader of a bunch of desert-dwelling kids who have formed their own tribal community, like a futuristic version of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.
  After getting a much-needed haircut, Max is back to his sleek, short-haired best and accepted as the saviour of this gang of savage-but-innocent urchins who speak their own muddled up language and are convinced that he has come to lead them back to what they quite irritatingly call ‘Tomorrow-morrow Land.’ Max tries to convince them that they’re better off where they are, and he’s not far wrong, as their little forest community is the closest the Mad Max franchise has ever got to paradise. Max, as always, is looking after the best interests of the innocent and knows that the nearest township is Bartertown – a horrible, unforgiving sleaze-pit that will surely chew them up and spit them out.
  However, the Savannah sees his coming as a sign and is determined to leave anyway, so when Max tries to stop her, some of the young ones rise up and attack him with spears. Of course,  a bunch of kids is no match for The Road Warrior, who shows he’s not to be messed with by punching Savannah, knocking her out for her own good. Despite his efforts, the rebels set off anyway, forcing Max to chase after them and show off his hero credentials by rescuing them from killer quicksand.
  Lost in the desert and conceding that heading to Bartertown might now be their only hope for survival, Max leads the kids back for a final face-off against Aunty’s evil empire. Using the kids to help sneak back into the methane refinery, Max starts a revolution by blowing the place to smithereens, taking half the town with it, before whizzing off in liberated car-cum-train vehicle thingamajig. At long last, the sort of high speed vehicular battle that made the series famous ensues and it is well worth the wait.
  A squadron of baddies give chase in a fleet of amazing, souped-up off-road cars and monster-trucks, giving Max and his new pals the opportunity to off them in a variety of thrilling ways. Max shows off his superior driving skills by leaping from car to car and battering the drivers, not pausing for a moment’s breath. It is a great sequence with some amazing stunt work: Mad Max at his best. Stunt drivers clearly earned their wages on this one, as cars dangerously swerve across rail tracks and off cliffs as the baddies do all they can to get revenge.
  Eventually commandeering a small plane to assist their escape, the gang realise that they are carrying too much weight to take off. Max, heroic as ever, gets off the plane, sacrificing himself to ensure these kids a better future than the one offered by aunty and her wretched disciples. He bravely drives a truck straight at the convoy of pursuing villains in order to clear a path for his new pals to take off, hence saving the day. Max displays such bravery that, catching up, aunty decides to just spare him and drives off, laughing. That is seriously cool: here’s a guy that is so courageous, the villain just lets him go out of respect for the size of his balls.
  What a Hard Bastard!
INDESTRUCTIBILTY: 6/10 – Battles armies of tooled-up future-punks and rarely looks ruffled, though does depend on a whistle to save his bacon. A close shave!
COMBAT SKILLS: 7/10 – Shows his skills with all manner of weapons and bounces about the Thunderdome like a spider-monkey!
ATTITUDE: 9/10 – Does it all for the kids. Dude! Could do with more one-liners, though…
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 7/10 - Jumps from car to car like a lunatic, and all good heroes should have helper monkeys, just in case.
BODY COUNT: 4 kills in 107 minutes – not very mad! 1/10
MEL’S SCORE: 30/50
MEL’S AVERAGE SCORE: 26.667/50 – a lot of work still to do!

Friday, 18 January 2013


  ‘You sure don’t look like no rootin’ tootin’ son of a bitch or cold blooded assassin,’ exclaims young upstart and wannabe bounty hunter The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett),when he first comes across Clint Eastwood’s wrinkly, grizzled widower Will Munny, working the earth in the old American west. Looking to cash in on the bounty offered up by a group of prostitutes for the swift execution of the bandits who cut up one of their own, the Kid can scarcely believe the sad, tired old man before him is ‘the meanest son of a bitch alive,’ that he’s been searching for. He’s in for one helluva surprise, as in this impeccable Best Picture Oscar winner directed by Eastwood himself, the lines between fact and myth, heroism and villainy are ambiguously blurred, with Clint reminding audiences that there’s plenty life in the old dog yet.
  When we first encounter Munny, it’s easy to see where the Kid is coming from, as the supposedly reformed mercenary who hung up his guns long, long ago seems like an old, washed-up has-been, left to run a farm and doing a pretty lousy job of it. As he wrestles with his conscience, interesting questions are raised about Will’s motivations for considering this One Last Job: is it about the money? This job could guarantee a better future for his poor, motherless kids. Or is it about doing what’s right? As Will says of the outlaws he’ll be tasked with murdering, drunken animals who gleefully slashed up a young whore: ‘they got it comin’.’ Yet, there is also a hint of suggestion that this is the opportunity he’s waited years for – the chance to get back into doing the only damn thing he was ever any good at, namely cold, hard killing. It’s to Eastwood’s credit that he keeps us guessing, right up to the film’s awesome, shocking crescendo, whether Munny will live up to the legends.
  As Munny attempts to get back into character, eleven long years after he left his bounty hunting days behind, we discover that he can barely get up on his horse and really can’t shoot for shit anymore. Munny needs to get his mojo back, cutting a poignant figure, as own kids look on, embarrassed by the old lug struggling to get back in the saddle. It is interesting to see Eastwood, an absolute legend of the Western genre, exposing his frailties by taking on such a flawed, vulnerable role, and it is a profound, emotional experience joining him on his journey to see if, after all these years, he’s still got what it takes to be a real Hard Bastard.
  Joining up with his old comrade Ned (Morgan Freeman), Munny and the Kid ride off for the little town of Big Whisky, where Gene Hackman’s hardnosed sheriff ‘Little’ Bill Daggett keeps the peace by resorting to brutal, violent tactics. Along the way the men reminisce around the campfire, giving insight into their past transgressions. He sees a lot of himself in the big-talkin’, whisky-sluggin’ Schofield Kid and it is evident in his eyes that he doesn’t like what he sees, the young, innocent buck standing at a crossroads in his life that reminds the old warhorse of the lamentable path he once took. Munny seems disconsolate as he considers some of the terrible things he’s supposed to have done. ‘You ain’t like that no more,’ opines Ned, but something in his voice only half convinces us, and it is little ambiguities like this that make the film such a treat. As their journey continues, small tidbits about Munny’s past are gradually teased out, constantly altering our perceptions of the cowpoke who, at first, seemed merely nothing more than a harmless old man. Munny is at once a sad, lonely old fool who still pines for his dead wife, but also shady, whispered-about gunslinger, described  by those who remember his from way-back-when as ‘cold as the snow.’  Yet despite all we learn about him, Munny still manages to engage our sympathies, staying true to his deceased beloved when the prostitutes offer him ‘free ones’, and soaking up a beating from Little Bill, when he is cornered in a saloon. Relentlessly battered for daring to bear arms in Bill’s town, we are left to ponder if Munny is still cut out for all this, as he barely puts up a fight as the lawman wades in. Munny also shows compassion when, having shown off his rifle skills by tagging one of the whore-slashing outlaws from considerable distance, he allows the desperado’s pals to bring him water as his life slowly, painfully ebbs away in the afternoon desert heat. It says a lot for Clint’s performance that though Munny kills for money, we find ourselves wholeheartedly rooting for him.
  Munny just about scrapes through the final bullet-whizzin’ encounter with the outlaw gang, seemingly relieved that the Kid takes care of the more grisly acts of violence by blasting the final bandit as he sits on the crapper. The job seemingly over, both men seem disconcerted, regretful of what they’ve done, with the Kid swearing off violence for the rest of his days, telling Will ‘I’m not like you.’ Going their separate ways, Munny too seems to swear off his wicked ways, bearing a sad, confused look that tells us that this experience really did not provide him with the closure he was searching for. However, all that changes when word reaches that Ned has been captured and killed by Little Bill for not revealing the whereabouts of his partners and Munny saddles up one last time to go and even the score. That sad look transforms into one of horrible acceptance that makes us instantly understand that he’s been holding back this whole time. His friend is dead and it’s all his fault, and the real old Will has to come back if he’s gonna do this properly. Things are about to get ugly…
  Swaggering into the local brothel on his lonesome, brandishing a massive rifle, Munny suddenly seems to have doubled in height, chest puffed out, that familiar Eastwood growl spooking out every miserable straphanger in the joint. When it all kicks off, Munny is like a man transformed, the demon finally unleashed as he tears up the place, blasting anything with a pulse, shouting cool, fearsome things like ‘I killed everything that ever walked or crawled!’ When his rifle misfires, he still finds time to chuck it at Little Bill, before drawing his six-shooter, so ineffective before, and displaying some spectacular marksmanship to take out multiple cowpokes in seconds. Unloading into Bill’s head, Munny stares right into his eyes, not even flinching as he does so. It has been a long time getting there, but this is Clint’s supreme badass moment that we have all been waiting for, and it is so scorchingly incendiary that it is well worth it.
  With Bill dead and the job done, Will savours the moment and takes a long hard drink of whisky – his first in years. It is his moment of acceptance, a realisation that he can never change the man he is and the things he’s done. As an onlooker cries, ‘You killed five men singlehanded!’, Munny just shrugs and drawls, ‘Yeah…’ like it’s no big thing. To escape the bar, Munny roars to all gathered outside that he will kill every man in town and their wives if they try to stop him riding out of there, fearsomely leaving us to contemplate if he is merely playing up to his legend, or if he is capable of far, far worse. Riding off, he orders the townsfolk to ‘bury Ned right, or I’ll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches,’ and you kind of get the impression that they will most certainly be sparing no expense for the poor bastard’s send-off.
  Unforgiven is Clint at his finest, sucker-punching the audience as he unleashes a character who turns out to be far more frightening and stoic than we are ever led to believe. The film brilliantly plays with legend and fact, reputation versus truth, to deliver a memorable character study for the ages. Will Munny is, without a doubt, one Hard Bastard.
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 7/10 – He’s old, he’s weary, but if you hurt his friends, he will not be stopped!
COMBAT SKILLS: 7/10 – He’s rubbish at first, but reveals he was only holding back. When the monster is unleashed this guy could kill you in his sleep.
ATTITUDE: 6/10 – Ambiguous. The bad guys definitely got it comin’, but it’s hinted that Munny’s perpetrated some seriously nasty shit in the past.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 7/10 – Lives up to his reputation as ‘the meanest son of a bitch alive.’
BODY COUNT: 7 kills in 131 minutes – takes far too long to unleash the beast. But then, that’s the point… 1/10
CLINT’S SCORE: 28/50   

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


  Time for some classic martial arts mayhem, with Chuck Norris on icy-cool James Bond form in Lone Wolf McQuade director Steve Carver’s outrageous, action-heavy revenge thriller. Chuck, clean-shaven in this one, is Sean Kane, a cop forced to resign from the San Francisco Police Department Narcotics Division when he goes berserk after his partner is murdered during an undercover op gone wrong. Turning vigilante to investigate the case, relentless Kane soon finds himself mixed up in a much larger drug-smuggling conspiracy where justice can only be served by beating the skulls of many, many bad guys to a pulp.
  Interestingly, the Kane we see at the start of the flick is not the straight-faced, supercool Chuck Norris we have come to know so well. Smiling, laughing, joking with his partner Dave as they shoot the shit on a stakeout, it’s nice to see Chuck let his hair down and have a laugh, but of course this can’t last long. Sure as sin, Dave soon gets shot and hideously burned alive with Kane forced to look on, helpless, as the stakeout turns out to be one huge shitestorm of a double-cross. Though he can’t save his buddy, you can almost see a switch flip in Kane’s head, as he goes mental and keeps on after the crims, even though he has taken a beating himself. Showing no mercy, he takes out the baddies that are too slow and unfortunate enough not to escape, proving how hard he is by tossing his gun away, preferring to take the final hoodlum on hand-to-hand. When the goon pulls a blade, Kane chooses karate-kicking him out of a window over reading him his rights.
  When the captain (Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree!) goes ballistic over his handling of the case, asking, ‘How do I defend a man like you?’ Kane just gives him a glassy stare and bellows, ‘I’ll save you the trouble,’ as he throws back his gun and badge. He marches straight out of the station, that cold look in his eye, and gets into his sweet sports car and speeds off, the captain looking on, worried. He knows this shit ain’t over, not by a long shot.
  Next we see him, Kane is working out at his amazingly flash pad, a condo by the river that has so many locks and alarms it’s like the dude lives in Fort Knox. Intensely focused, a man on a mission, he works his tired body so hard that he eventually collapses in a heap, before getting up to take a whole heap of vitamin pills, all the while talking to his cute little dog. The guy is a wreckin’ machine, but this nice little touch reminds us that he is human, with a heart and soul.
  Kane is soon contacted by Dave’s girlfriend Linda, who just happens to be an investigative TV reporter who may have a lead on the case, but informs Kane that she is in perilous danger. As it turns out, she’s being pursued by a monstrous, brick-shithouse-big, oriental assailant known only as The Professor (WWF’s Professor Tanaka!) and it says all we need to know about Kane’s badass-ability that this chick would rather call him than the cops when she’s in this kind of trouble. Determined to aid her, Kane runs out of the house and into a goddamn speedboat, as if his car and cool red leather jacket weren’t evidence enough of his unfeasible awesomeness. However, Kane is too late, with Linda turning up dead, firing his utter vehemence up to terrifying boiling point. As if he wasn’t angry enough, storming from the murder scene, he finds his car is about to be towed! ‘Try it!’ he spits at the tow-truck driver who wisely backs off once he catches a glimpse of those menacing, glassy, snake-like eyes. He is a man on the edge and it is on!
  Teaming up with spunky journalist Heather (Maggie Cooper) and Linda’s father James, who just happens to be the sensei who blessed him with his martial arts skills, Kane tugs at the tail of the snake that turns out to be a massive Triad-run drug ring. Needless to say, the snake bites back, with Kane taking on and pulverising numerous karate-chopping, white jump-suited evil minions, while being relentlessly pursued by a machine gun-packin’ helicopter. The baddies send legions of goons to take him out, like they just know he’s a man that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and though his assailants come at him with various guns and knives, Kane bests them all using nothing more than his kung fu and his wits. Whether he’s leaping off the side of a huge ship, or high-kicking a light bulb so that the sparks set off a room full of fireworks to over his daring escape, Chuck is on slick, legendary form, showing off the set of skills that set him apart from mere mortals.
  Not much is revealed about Kane’s past, other than he is one of the best cops on the force and it’s kind of neat the way that, as the film goes on, when people talk about him we come to an understanding that he has a stature as some king of supercop. When he meets Christopher Lee’s shady head of the TV station Canfield (who, spoiler alert!!!, turns out to be the mastermind behind the whole damn thing!), the magnate informs him that he doesn’t normally allow access to his files to anyone, not even the cops, but he will make an exception for Kane because he knows him by reputation. Later on, when Canfield remarks, ‘I hear you no longer carry a weapon,’ one of his goons butts in to say, ‘He is a weapon!’  That’s pretty damn cool.
  When he’s not bitchslapping treacherous lowlifes, Kane can also be rather charming and sweet. Heather is instantly attracted to him, as though he is an unrepentantly cruel sonofabitch to the bad guys, he can be an absolute sorcerer with the ladies, with not once ounce of sleaze in his body. The perfect gent, he cooks for her and even dines using chopsticks, just to show how cultured he is. When it’s time for bed, he makes no attempt to seduce her, making sure she’s nice and settled in the spare room and says goodnight with a boyish look of naivete, as though intimacy couldn’t be farther from his mind. But, of course, during the night Heather can’t help herself, and she comes to him. Smooth.
  Still, for all his sleekness and asskicking prowess, Kane is not completely infallible. He gets easily sucker-punched by Canfield’s bodyguards and has to rely on James’ assistance to escape, though he does manage to incapacitate a guy with his hands tied behind his back, so that’s got to be worth something.
  Getting over that little hiccup, Kane and James assert their resolute bravery by taking on the entirety of Canfield’s tooled-up army, completely unarmed. This leads to a blistering assault on the tycoon’s hillside mansion that sees Kane groovily duel with one villain on a diving board, before facing off against the gargantuan Professor in a fight that’s so vicious, when the punches land, it’s as though cannons are going off. Things get even more volatile when the cops, led by the Captain who has been observing Kane’s quest all along, wade in to finish the job. The Captain reveals that he decided Kane’s vigilante shenanigans were causing the baddies more problems than they were causing him, so he left him to it. Right on!This results in an incendiary fire fight, the perfect backdrop for Kane’s final confrontation with the wretched Canfield.
  Kane takes the villainous capitalist down with ease and starts to strangle the life out of him, just as the S.F.P.D. burst onto the scene. As the Captain implores Kane to ‘let the law have him,’ there follows a quite ridiculous and unintentionally humorous scene where the two men debate the implications of killing the criminal mastermind, all while Kane still continues to choke the hapless bugger who clings to life for an unfeasibly long time. Still, justice wins out in the end with Kane proving he’s a proper goodie by showing mercy to the man that had shown him none. Kane, James and Heather saunter off to celebrate a job well done and Kane finally allows himself to smile again. The Hard Bastard’s earned it.
INDESTRUCTIBILTY: 7/10 – Dodges many, many bullets, but still gets sucker-punched a bit too easily.
COMBAT SKILLS: 8/10 – Takes on a small army using, for the most part, nothing but his hands.
ATTITUDE: 7/10 – Pursues justice relentlessly and is a smoothie  with the ladies. Shame his wisecracks aren’t up to much.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 7/10 When he’s not diving off the sides of bloody big boats, he’s chilling in his sport scar, speed boat or his fortress crib. All on a copper’s salary.
BODYCOUNT: 12 kills in 99 minutes – pretty tame for a revenge rampage. 2/10

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Ah. We have been conned. Expert stunt co-ordinator-turned-director David Barrett (he did stunts on Jurassic Park III and Spider-Man) brings us today’s Hard Bastard action, which turns out to be one of those direct-to-video efforts that features a big star in a small supporting role, but canny marketers have realised they can shift more units if they pretend said actor is the main star of the movie.
  So here we have Fire With Fire, the story of fireman Jeremy Coleman (Transformers’ Josh Duhamel) who realises that the witness protection program cannot keep the people he loves safe from the vicious Aryan perpetrators of a murder he witnessed, so decides to track the villains down and eliminate them himself. Bruce Willis is Mike Cella, a cop who takes an interest in Jeremy’s case, as his own partner was murdered by Aryan ringleader Hagan (Vincent d’Onofrio) and has been looking to nail the son of a bitch for years. As Jeremy takes down Hagan’s gang one by one, utilising skills taught to him by U.S. Marshall girlfriend Talia (Rosario Dawson), herself targeted by Hagan’s goons, Cella helps to keep him one step ahead of the law and the bad guys so that justice can be served. It’s a small role for Bruce, proving that even the action greats are not above starring in DTV drivel to take a quick paycheck, but those sneaky marketing bastards have put Bruce’s face up front and centre on the DVD cover to make it look like he’s the star of the show, when in actual fact he spends most of the movie behind a bloody desk. So, anyone picking this one up expecting another Die Hard­style explode-a-thon could be in for a rough ride, though that’s not to say Bruce doesn’t get to have few creditable badass moments…
  Despite not having a whole lot to get his teeth into, Bruce makes the most of a small part, very believable as the frustrated cop who refuses to yield in his quest to bring a criminal to justice, while the rest of the world turns a blind eye. Hagan’s intimidation of witnesses has meant that he remains at large, and this time Cella is determined that the sucker will go down no matter what. He knows that by putting Jeremy on the stand will put the boy’s life in danger, but he needs him to testify, otherwise he knows this Nazi creep will continue spreading hatred and evil. He spends the whole of his limited screen time simmering away, waiting for his chance to explode with rage, assuring his fellow cops that ‘If they want him, they’re gonna have to go through me!’ It’s interesting to see Bruce play a more restrained role and during his talky good cop/bad cop scenes with his partner (played by Bonnie Somerville –Mona from Friends), you can just see it in his eyes that he can’t wait to get out there and bust some heads. Face to face with Hagan’s fast-talking sleazy lawyer, who insists his client is innocent, Cella erupts, ‘How can you say that shit with a straight face?!?, before being restrained. Bruce may be a little older, but the Die Hard man is most definitely still in there, waiting to burst out and blow shit up.
  Cella, for the most part, has to settle for living vicariously through Jeremy as he is the first to twig on to what the vengeful firefighter is up to. He has several chances to bring evidence to light that would seriously screw up Jeremy’s quest, but does his best to keep the young buck ahead of the game. At one point he almost puts out an A.P.B. on the kid after he offs Vinnie Jones’ Limey enforcer, but changes his mind, waiting to see where all this is going. When fingerprints are found, Cella insists that the results must come to him and only him, looking to keep Jeremy on the streets for as long as it suits him. He may not be kicking ass in the traditional sense, but in this one Bruce is most definitely the man pulling the strings. At one point he explains his position to Jeremy, saying, ‘I want ‘em dead and buried just as much as you do. But, I’m a cop…’ You can tell he’s getting a kick out of Jeremy’s vigilantism, because under different circumstances it could quite easily be him out there, and he knows it.
  Despite being kept down by bureaucratic bullshit, Cella still gets his chance to shine, when he’s called to a meeting with Hagan who tries to intimidate him too. Taunted and threatened by the bigot and his armed cronies, the tough guy detective doesn’t back down. He just fires that cheeky smirk at them that we know so well, a look that says he doesn’t give rat’s ass what these guys are saying: it’s time to put up or shut up! Refusing to compromise, Cella swaggers away from the meeting, and when one of Hagan’s thugs tries to stop him, he effortless beats the guy down in seconds, a sign that he’s still got a deadly tiger in the tank. Later, just when it looks like he’s about to bring Jeremy in, he reveals his hand, telling him, ‘You can’t do this on your own,’ before letting him go free to face Hagan in a final, deadly encounter.
  Fire With Fire is a serviceable enough little action thriller, with some brutal action sequences and some real edge-of-the-seat moments, though it’s a real shame that Bruce doesn’t get involved more often. He definitely does wonders with a small part and his mere presence helps to lift the film to a whole other level, though straight-to-DVD is almost certainly where this one belongs. If anything, Bruce’s scowling, pissed off, Hard Bastard kicking out against the system act definitely whets the appetite for another Die Hard instalment which will thankfully be making its way to theatres very soon! Yippie-ki-yay!!!
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 4/10 – Doesn’t really see a whole lot of action, though you get the impression he could definitely handle it.
COMBAT SKILLS: 3/10 – Only punches one dude, but does it with such style that you ust know there’s plenty more where that came from.
ATTITUDE: 7/10 – Fights the good fight from behind a desk, so the youn g upstart can wage his war on the streets.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 3/10 – Bends the rules to breaking point to bring a baddie to justice, but doesn’t jump through any windows or crash any cars. Disappointing.
BODY COUNT: Possibly one in 97 minutes – rubbish. 1/10
  So, it has only been a week of this action movie business, but I have to confess I am being sucked right into this world of violent, explosive manliness. By going into the viewing experience with a healthy respect for the rules and clichés of the genre, I have been able to get a kick out of critically-neglected DTV efforts like Fire With Fire. Movies that have garnered quite pitiful ratings on sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes are proving to be thoroughly entertaining, once I accept what the filmmakers and the Hard Bastard involved have been trying to achieve. It has been an entertaining ride so far, and I am curious as to how I will feel about all this a little further down the line. Cheers!

Monday, 14 January 2013


  The Hard Bastard Gods have decreed that today shall be the turn of the Master of Aikido, Lord Steven Seagal, to show off his indomitable macho action man chops. I have never been the biggest fan of Seagal’s zen-but- mouthy, take-no-crap, dress like a hippy, sting like a bee schtick, but after this one I have definitely reassessed my feelings towards the man. Released during Seagal’s mid-nineties heyday, when the pony-tailed one was at the peak of his box office powers, Director John Gray’s the Glimmer Man teams The Great One up with jive-talkin’ Keenen Ivory Wayans, to incendiary, thrilling effect. Wayans’ wisecracking, Humphrey Bogart-loving L.A. Detective Jim Campbell is forced to partner-up with Seagal’s mysterious, mystic, bead-wearing New York cop, Lt. John Cole, when they are assigned to track down a serial killer dubbed ‘The Family Man,’ due to his habit of murdering entire families in atrocious, ritualistic fashion. Campbell quickly discovers that Cole, steeped in Buddhism and used to working alone, has a shady past that could actually hold the key to solving the case and unlocking a much larger conspiracy. Happily, this involves copious violence, sweet car chases and a whole load of stuff that blows up grandly.
  Seagal is a commanding presence here, and though he often looks ridiculous in his bizarre, multicoloured tunics and beads, he glides through the narrative with such poise and confidence that he owns any room he walks into. Cole oozes self-belief and tackles some pretty hairy situations with a serenity that makes him look totally badass. No sooner than he’s been assigned to this homicide case, he’s strolling into a hostage situation in a school, purely because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. As his partner points out, it’s not even in their department jurisdiction, but before anyone even knows what’s going on, Cole has sorted the situation out by hurling himself and the teen gunman through a plate glass window. His methods are extreme, but dammit, he gets results. As it turns out, the kid’s dad is someone very important: shady crook Frank Deverell (Bob Gunton), who just happens to be a central figure in the whole conspiracy, and Cole becomes a marked man for refusing to testify that the boy was temporarily insane. Quite bodaciously, when Deverell presents him with a thinly-veiled threat, Cole explodes: ‘You tell your asshole boss that nobody threatens me…now take your ugly ass outta here!’ Seagal is supremely skilled at spitting such venomous censures and in this movie he gets plenty opportunities to vent his spleen. Cole is also quick to point out that he deplores violence, but will remorsefully resort to it when the baddies give him no other option. Thankfully, this happens quite regularly, resulting in some impeccable, squelchy bloodshed.
  Though Cole is prone to sprouting weird, floaty spiritual nonsense like, ‘she is merely a broken vessel,’ and ‘crying cleanses the soul,’ he also exhibits some quite outrageous, sage, otherworldly skills, such as being able to work out where a murder victim came from purely by her ‘bone structure’, and is knowledgeable about mystical Eastern medicine. He even sneakily gets Campbell to ingest some ‘powdered deer penis,’ to cure his allergies, which becomes a whimsical, but tired running joke.
  Constantly laughing, joking and ribbing each other, Cole and Campbell become an affable double act, with Campbell reliably bringing the blithe, street smart attitude, and Cole bringing the wisdom and the ultraviolent pain. Cornered by some baddies when they stumble across some hoods breaking into a car, Seagal warns them: ‘My friend, he’s a little bit country, I’m a little bit rock n’ roll!’, nicely summing up their relationship, before it all kicks off. With the bad guys attempting to rob them, thinking them unarmed, Cole quips, ‘do you take plastic?’ before whipping out a credit card containing a sneaky hidden blade, slashing up his assailants quick style, before kung fu-ing the shit out of them. It makes you wonder: what kind of guy would carry such a thing? He’s resourceful and tough, and throughout  the movie he does it all with no small measure of style and finesse.  As Campbell points out, ‘He speaks Chinese, dresses like a monk and he’s like Bruce Lee in battle!’ Amen to that.
  When his ex-wife is found butchered and he’s stitched up for the Family Man murders, Cole shows what he’s made of and comes out fighting, looking to track down and punish the powerful figures from his past who he figures must be behind it all. When the chief informs him that he’s suspended pending an investigation, following a heated exchange in the P.D. men’s room Cole enquires which urinal the boss has just pissed in, before tossing his gun and badge straight into the manky piss-pot. Nice.
  Cole then tracks down his old army buddy-turned Senator Smith (Brian Cox), who he suspects might have something to do with it all and becomes caught up in an electrifying restaurant smackdown. Before he’s even entered the eatery, Cole sparks out a mouthy maître d’, and when Smith’s bodyguard suggest he leave quietly, the Buddhist ballbuster retorts ‘I have something in my pocket that will completely clear up that bruise on your forehead.’ Before the confused enforcer can finishing asking ‘what bruise?’, Cole has knocked him into next week and is soon taking on five very angry, highly trained bad guys. Effortlessly messing them up, tossing them through windows and taking a chance to show off his brilliant close-quarters combat style, Cole swaggers off, point made, and coolly enquires, ‘Do you validate parking?’ This one really is a masterclass in ridiculous action movie quipping, with the wisecracks coming thick and fast, making for a bloody good, riotous laugh.
  We soon find out where Cole got his particular set of skills from when, plotting to take him down, co-conspirators Deverell and Smith reveal that he is ex-Special Ops, the best-of-the-best, a Vietnam vet nicknamed ‘the Glimmer Man’, who has seen some serious shit.  Of Cole’s past form, Smith explains, ‘there’d be nothing but jungle…then a glimmer…then you’d be DEAD.’ Cole was apparently so tough that he went rogue and started making up his own assignments, before disappearing to Thailand where he found spirituality and peace, eventually dedicating his life to law and justice.  Unfortunately for the villains, setting Cole up seems to have only succeeded in flicking a switch in his head that makes the violent acts of justice we’ve seen so far look like a goddamn picnic. When two hoods posing as cops try to kidnap him, from the backseat of a speeding car the steamed-up Spartan beats one of them to death with his own gun. He then fearlessly smashes the vehicle right into a massive gasoline truck, spectacularly rolling out the back window just before the inevitable fiery mushroom cloud signals that this most definitely means WAR.
  Next time the partners encounter Smith, proper procedure goes out the window, as Cole shoots  him in the foot to get him to squeal, then promptly blasts him in the hand just to prove he ain’t messing about. After he’s spilled the beans, (some convoluted nonsense concerning a cover-up, Deverell, chemical weapons and Russian mobsters)Smith confesses, ‘I miss you Jack…our men these days, they just won’t go that extra mile.’ This is the level of Hard Bastard we’re dealing with – he’s so nails, he’s getting compliments from the guy he’s just shot! Then, as Smith begs them for leniency and to at least call him an ambulance, Cole spits, ‘I only shot you in one foot – hobble to the hospital!’
  With the info he needs, Cole shows off his smarts, playing the bad guys off against each other and leading them into a ferocious, riveting gun battle. When, during the assault, Campbell is blasted right out of a window and left hanging precariously from a ledge, Cole shows how selflessly courageous he is by abseiling down the side of the building to rescue him. This is very cool indeed.
  Finally getting to go mano-a-mano with the real Family Man killer - Deverell’s nefarious right hand man Cunningham (John M. Jackson) - Cole pulls out all the stops in a brutal, bloody final fight that shows just how unstoppable The Glimmer Man really is. Urging his foe to ‘take your best shot,’ Cole seems unsatisfied, despite the crunching blow to the face he receives for his troubles. ‘No! Your best shot,’ he roars, inciting the guy to wallop him even harder. ‘Boring!’ he cries, quite splendidly, before composing himself and calmly quipping, ‘That’s the best you got, I’m gonna have to kill you.’ Then he unleashes hell in the type of classic, furious fight that sees scenery demolished marvellously, and blood and teeth fly through the air like gristly bullets. The duel reaches fever pitch with both men trying to strangle each other to death, before Cunningham receives his comeuppance by being sent hurtling through a window to be impaled on spikes below, just as the church bell tolls. It is a suitably stylish end to a thrilling physical encounter.
  With Cole’s name cleared and the war finally over, injured Campbell is led off on a stretcher, stopping to tell Cole that ever since he’s met him he’s been nothing but trouble. Smirking, Cole says he’ll keep that in mind, shooting his comrade a look that implies he ain’t seen nothin’ yet, before swaggering off into the crowd: ready to right some more wrongs and kick a whole lot more ass. He’s The Glimmer Man. That’s just how he rolls.
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 9/10 – Cunningham kinda gives him a run for his money, but to be honest, Seagal barely breaks sweat.
COMBAT SKILLS: 7/10 Great with his hands, a piece or even a credit card. Not bad.
ATTITUDE: 8/10 Strives to do what’s right, takes cases that are outside his department, and tells bribing baddies to kiss his ass. However, possibly did some questionable stuff in Nam…
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 7/10 Leaping from moving cars, abseiling down buildings during a firefight, maiming baddies with credit cards, he’s pretty damn crazy!
BODY COUNT: 14 kills in 91 minutes – A lot of room for improvement! 2/10

Friday, 11 January 2013


  Today’s installment of badass Hard Bastardry comes in the shape of Walter Hill’s Prohibition-era hard-boiled gangster-noir thriller Last Man Standing. An officially sanctioned remake of Akira Kurosawa’s influential 1961 actioner Yojimbo, this one stars Bruce Willis in full-on scowling, cocky, tough son-of-a-bitch mode, as mysterious, travelling gun-for-hire John Smith. Stopping off in the small, West Texas town of Jericho, Smith quickly realises the burg is practically deserted, save for two warring bootleg gangs who have driven almost everyone else away with their nefarious misdeeds.
   In town for about five minutes, Smith is soon neck-deep in trouble for staring a little too hard at the gorgeous girlfriend of Irish gangster Doyle(David Patrick Kelly). Despite being heftily outnumbered by eight hard-as-nails Irish hoodlums, the cocksure, wisecracking scoundrel mouths off, ‘A guy once told me it’s a free country!’ before the boys teach him a lesson by trashing his car. Smith duly gets the whole town’s attention and establishes quite the reputation by downing a scotch before outdrawing and blowing away Doyle’s top shooter. No sweat. Smith then promptly hires himself out to Italian mobster Strozzi (Ned Eisenberg)’s outfit, smelling an opportunity to make a fistful of dollars by playing the two rival factions off against each other in the war to control the contraband coming in from Mexico. The stage is set for some gloriously violent, double-crossing, explosive gangster mayhem.
  Bruce is pretty damn cool in this one, slightly toning down his wise-guy, mouthy John McClane schtick to create a likeable, but ambiguous character whose moral code has many shades of grey, and whose motives are not always entirely clear. Smith doesn’t think twice about killing, but he’s also a gent, tipping his hat to the ladies and always ready to defend the honour of the weak and innocent. He gets mixed up with Strozzi’s downtrodden mistress, Lucy (Alexandra Powers), hinting that the ladies may be his one and only weak point. Despite masterfully deceiving and backstabbing practically everyone in town for his own benefit, when Lucy is brutalised after their affair comes to light, Smith shows he still has a heart by making sure she gets safely out of town.
  Though he may have a soft centre, Smith, thankfully, is still reliably tough as hell. Ambushed by thugs while getting his rocks off with a hooker (a young Leslie Mann), he proves that a real Hard Bastard always keeps his guns handy as he athletically leaps out of bed, retrieving his six-shooters from under his pillow and blasting his attackers to hell. In the nude. It is a very, very cool manoeuvre and an absolutely classic action moment, only slightly ruined by the fact that he doesn’t get back under the sheets to finish the job.
  Throughout the movie he displays massive cojones by repeatedly mouthing off, making enemies and getting into fistfights, knowing full well that the bad guys could pull a piece at any moment. The man just doesn’t give a rat’s ass. At one point, knowing that both sides want him six feet under, Smith nonchalantly sits in his chair in the mid-afternoon sun, in full view of the whole town, and quietly, smugly peels an apple, almost daring his enemies to make a move. That’s what I call tough!
  Even when Doyle’s right hand man, fearsome enforcer Hickey(a terrifically menacing Christopher Walken) arrives in town, unflappable Smith still doesn’t back down. As the eerie, gangly, gravel-voiced Hickey does his best to intimidate him, the hotshot mercenary just smirks and waits for his moment: he’s the man with the plan, and he’s playing all the angles. Even when he’s ambushed in the bath, Smith keeps his cool, just leaning back and listening to what hickey has to say. When asked if he’s scared, he even has the gall to say ‘Yeah…the water’s getting’ cold!’ As his men beat the crap out of him and Hickey remarks, ‘He’s nothing without a gun,’ we just know that Smith still holds all the aces and he’s gonna finish this with gutsy aplomb. Smith is definitely the kind of guy you should really kill while you’ve got the chance. He’s even mental enough to think that he can take on an army of armed hoodlums while busted up, armed only with a small knife. ‘I can get a gun with it, ‘ boasts the crazy bastard.
  After showing early promise, Hill’s picture starts to sag a little in its mid-section, proving perhaps a little too talky for those expecting non-stop, tommy-gun-blasting action. It’s fun to watch Smith swindling not just the hoods, but Bruce Dern’s crooked Sheriff as well, into thinking they’ve got the upper hand, but after a while you just want to see Bruce do what he does best: namely, making things go KABOOM!
  Thankfully, the film builds up to a gorgeously bloody climax that sees Smith showcase his terrifying gunplay by taking on a room full of armed hoodlums in quite spectacular fashion. Not one of them manages to get close to the smooth, fedora-clad, shit-hot marksman, who is fast, assured, confident and impossibly cool. When one hood holds a gun to a girl’s head, Smith doesn’t even hesitate before blowing the guy away. We know so little about the guy, yet his body language, his reflexes and his confidence suggest that the havoc he wreaks on Jericho is only the tip of one icy cool iceberg. He annihilates goon after goon, all with that crazy, world-weary Die Hard look in his eyes, firing off a shitload of bullets and making the corpses bounce about all over the place like in a goddamn ultra-violent videogame, just to make sure they’re dead. He fights on, even though he’s severely wounded from his earlier pasting, even stopping for a big ol’ drink of whisky, because, hey, you might as well.
  With business sorted out and just about everyone in town now dead or dying, Smith shows no joy, no celebration. ‘They were all better off dead,’ he spits, then gets back in his car and drives off, back out into the unforgiving desert. This was just another job. Now, on to the next one.
  What a Hard Bastard.
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 7/10 – Smith does take a hell of a beating, but it barely slows him down.
COMBAT SKILLS: 8/10 – No-one is faster with a gun, though we never find out if he could have done it all with that knife…
ATTITUDE: 6/10 – Does it all for the money, but he’s a gent with the ladies.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 7/10 Blasts baddies in the nude and is rude to everyone in a town full of killers.
BODY COUNT: 31 kills in 101 minutes – respectable, but could have achieved so much more if he’d cut the chat and got on with wasting folk. 3/10


  In a plague-infested, Mad Max-meets-Masters of the Universe style urban wasteland future, everyone is into martial arts, nobody can act, and the bad guys all have really ridiculous haircuts. Chaos reigns, as a band of cyberpunk ‘pirates’ led by the magically monikered villainous colossus Fender Tremolo (Vincent Klyn) kidnap a female cyborg who may just hold the key to saving the world. Enter Jean Claude Van Damme’s equally brilliantly named Gibson Rickenbacker, a directionless drifter with a tortured past and unfinished business with Fender, who will have to summon all his strength and high-kicking kung fu courage to become the hero a dying world needs him to be.
  This another one of those Cannon films from the 80s, where production values were usually secondary to having a big name action star wasting a whole bunch of baddies in ever more bloody and explosive ways. The whole picture basically looks like it was filmed in rubbish dumps and abandoned warehouses, with piss-poor makeup and effects, and even worse acting ensuring that this one will hardly be remembered as a classic of the action sci-fi genre. For a film with two main characters named after respected makes of guitars, there is also a whiff of irony about the fact that the flick’s twiddly 80s synth soundtrack is more offensive than its multi-coloured, child-murdering villains. This is one of the earlier entries on JCVD’s CV and it shows, as though he proves dangerous in a scrap, his lines are minimal, probably due to his still developing acting skills. We all have to start somewhere.
Thankfully, Van Damme’s undeniable martial arts skills make this one almost watchable, strutting his stuff in overblown fight scenes packed with neat weaponry, like bola whips, spears and deadly boots containing concealed blades that mean Gibson can kick and stab baddies at the same time. He routinely takes on up to eight bizarrely dressed, gas-mask wearing goons at once, his acrobatics providing the perfect distraction from the film’s terrible, muddled plot. The drifter also shows off his stealthy sneakiness by regularly sneaking up on the baddies, picking them off one-by-one with his bare hands.
 At first, Van Damme’s weary traveller comes across as a bit of an asshole, claiming he doesn’t give a damn about curing the plague and that he’s only in this for revenge. However, along the way, as he takes beautiful, young, fellow drifter Nady (Deborah Richter) under his wing, his past is slowly teased out and we learn just how heroic he really is. After checking out his radical battle scars, his blonde, buxom travel companion attempts to seduce him, but Gibson’s having none of it. Cue corny flashbacks that reveal a horrifically pony-tailed Gibson taking money to lead a young mother and her kids out of the war-torn city, only to fall in love with her. We discover that the bad guys eventually caught up with his new ‘family’ and killed them all, leaving Gibson for dead. This is what made him so hard and dispassionate, afraid of forming attachments ever again. When it transpires that the ‘daughter’ he once thought dead is actually now all grown up, raised by Fender as one of his despicable lackeys, our hero is ever so slightly pissed. In this harsh future, you can’t afford to be soft, and Gibson proves harder than most.
  Still, he is revealed to be slightly more fallible than your usual action hero, whining as he takes a fair few lickings from his foes and routinely having to run away from danger throughout the movie. There are a number of tedious scenes of Gibson and Nady running, though one escape scene involving the Muscles From Brussels swinging out of harm’s way on a bloody great big metal pipe, ploughing through baddies as he goes, is highly entertaining. Our hero has to rely on luck on more than one occasion, but shows immense bravery against impossible odds, never giving up, despite getting his ass handed to him regularly. He risks life and limb to save Nady when he could quite easily be escaping – the sign of a real virtuous champ. The dude even gets completely brutalised, then physically crucified by his cackling adversaries, before bouncing back from near death to save the day. In fact, it seems to be the point of the whole movie that Gibson must be completely broken down, must hit rock bottom, in order to be reborn as mankind’s true saviour, just like that other great hero from history: Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. We can rebuild him…
  In an outrageously cool scene, hung from a cross, Gibson draws on his rage, his memories of all the injustices that Fender and his crew have wreaked on him throughout his life, in order to summon the strength to tear himself free and stride into battle against his nemesis. Appearing like a glistening, bare-chested, vengeful bat out of hell, stood in the pouring rain, armed with a bow and arrow, Gibson calls his enemies out, ready to finally become the hero we suspected he could be. The pulse-pounding battle in the middle of a thunderstorm is incredibly stylish, with Gibson tackling a man on fire before going toe-to-toe with Fender, both combatants stripped to the waist, shivering, but ready for all-out WAR. It is an exceptionally cool moment in a really rather lacklustre movie, but it’s worth waiting for. Fender, resembling a testosterone-fuelled WWF wrestler is an absolute man-mountain and the fight is bone-crunchingly brutal, with heads being slammed in car doors and both men roaring like bears as each thudding roundhouse kick hits home. Unlike their previous duels, this time Gibson does not back down, faces up to his destiny and is rewarded when he boots the wretched blackguard so hard that he flies across the room and is impaled on a gigantic meat hook. Awesome.
  Van Damme emerges from this one a hero, but he takes an awful long time getting there. The film is certainly packed with violence, but so much of it is shown in jarring, super slow-motion that the full effect of JCVD’s radiant martial arts prowess do not fully get the chance to shine through. The Belgian would have to wait for a better director to truly harness the skills that would solidify his place as a true legendary Hard Bastard. And would it have killed them to have chucked in a few jokes?
INVINCIBILITY: 4/10 – The guy gets battered far too easily, far too often.
COMBAT SKILLS: 6/10 - Utilises an impeccable arsenal of weapons and shows off his martial arts, but the slow-mo kind of ruins it.
ATTITUDE:  7/10 – Acts like a bit of an asshole, but he’s been through a lot. Comes good in the end.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 8/10 – Pulls himself down off the cross after being crucified!!!
BODY COUNT: 25 kills in 84 minutes – not bad. Room for improvement. 4/10
JCVD’s SCORE:  29/50