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American Commando Ninja (1988)
A real treat
COMMANDO THE NINJA is one of the cheesiest and funniest slices of trash I've seen from IFD, a bottom-of-the-barrel ninja adventure full of the usual cut and paste film-making and rock-bottom production values. This one was even shot on video, which sets it apart from the others. For a change, the film they're ripping off - which seems to be Taiwanese - is almost as entertaining as the new ninja footage, with a hunt for secret plans and the like. You get a bunch of permed women fighting and one of them wearing Southern Cross shorts at one point! Truly this film has the worst fashions of the 1980s in all their gaudy glory. The dubbing is also some of the shonkiest you'll hear. The new ninja footage is a hoot, full of random slow motion at the wrong times and extensive battles around wooden sets built in the woods. This one's a real treat for bad film lovers.
The Lost World (1925)
This early adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fantasy classic was made so long ago that the author managed to see (and enjoy it). Watched today it's something of a curiosity piece, with all of the dated appeal of a typical silent movie: mannered overacting, fussy characters, everything done on a seemingly small scale. Where it shines is in the quality of the special effects by maestro Willis O'Brien, with the climactic scenes of the dinosaur rampaging through the streets of London going on to inspire a whole wave of cinema in the 1950s (GODZILLA included) and through to the present day. The stop motion is of excellent quality and the real highlight of an imaginative story. It's not KING KONG, but it is a lot of fun and quite charming.
Venus Peter (1989)
VENUS PETER is a quiet, reflective kind of film that looks at the experiences of growing up in the 1940s on Orkney. It's based on autobiographical events and features a good amount of character depth although little in the way of narrative structure or incident. There are similarities to the likes of KES but this film doesn't have the same kind of power, although there are certain affecting moments like the publicised whale scene. The cast is rather good and features a surprising amount of familiar faces, from TV stalwart David Hayman to FRIGHTMARE baddie Sheila Keith.
Shadows of Fear: Did You Lock Up? (1970)
The first episode of the SHADOWS OF FEAR television series is an interesting little piece mixing suspense and morality in equal measure. The focus is on an ordinary married couple - played effectively by Michael Craig and Gwen Watford - whose idyllic lives are shattered when their home is targeted by burglars. The husband takes things particularly badly, and his fragile mental state spirals out of control. Things build to an inevitable climax which packs in all the power you could wish for.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Arthouse blockbuster tedium
Here's the long-awaited sequel to the Ridley Scott hit, but unfortunately it ended up in the hands of director Denis Villeneuve instead - a man I find criminally overrated after the threesome of PRISONERS, SICARIO and ARRIVAL all failed to impress me. BLADE RUNNER 2049 is similarly glacial in its construct, with the director seemingly unable to inject any warmth into his film whatsoever. As such, the performances feel artificial (maybe that was the intent) and you don't really care about any of what you see. Harrison Ford's the most interesting thing in this, and it's criminal to make the audience wait two hours to meet him again. Elsewhere, the endless CGI scenery is admittedly beautiful, but the plot is surprisingly slight - reminiscent of ANGEL HEART at times, but weaker. Watch it for the visuals if you must, but otherwise this is weak sauce compared to the first.
The Task (2011)
Do without it
THE TASK is another piece of nonsense from After Dark productions, a movie that feels like it should have been made as a found footage if anything. A group of mixed contestants head into an old abandoned prison as part of a game show - a tired old plot that gets a very boring run-out here. The villains are the usual weirdos from muscle skinheads lurking in the shadows to annoying Pennywise-imitating clowns. With boring, exchangeable characters and performances that never rise above the tedious, this is the kind of budget horror production we can all do without.
The Whole Wide World (1996)
A mighty mess-up
Well, I admit to being excited to see this film purely because Robert E. Howard is one of my all-time favourite writers, but at the same time I was disgusted when this turned out to be an obligatory romance albeit one with a messed-up male lead. I doubt that anybody involved in this actually read a Howard story, because instead of the imaginative intellectual who comes across in the writing, he's played by Vincent D'Onofrio as a loud-mouthed brute, alternating between the occasional bit of charm and random mad shouty interludes. There's little subtlety here and only one or two attempts to really get inside his head. Most of the emphasis is on Renee Zellweger; she's younger than you usually see her but just as irritating, a collection of mannerisms in place of a real performance. The whole thing's a real pity.
How I Live Now (2013)
Interesting scenario, spoilt by bad characters
Another day, another young adult sci-fi movie, this one taking the premise of a military apocalypse that sees London nuked and survivors relegated to the countryside and hunted by both armed militias and the usual psycho gangs. Saoirse Ronan is the heroine, an imported American brat who arrives with her relatives but finds the obligatory teen angst and romance interrupted by the end of the world. I did like the low-fi look here, and in the second half the depiction of a barren landscape is well handled and feels very British. A shame, then, that the central characters are made so unlikeable, particularly Ronan's thoroughly unpleasant piece of work. Saying that, Tom Holland is quite charming and it will be this kind of role that propelled him into the big time with SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING.
Falcon Rising (2014)
South-of-the-border fight flick
FALCON RISING is a south-of-the-border fight flick starring everyone's favourite man mountain, Michael Jai White, of BLOOD AND BONE fame. This one's a pared-down thriller with join-the-dots plotting (about rogue cops) and a Yakuza conspiracy involving the usual corruption and murder. White is our PTSD-suffering war hero who walks straight into the middle of the situation and proceeds to kick backside in various violent intervals. This one's really low budget but manages to stage a sequence of decent fights, and it helps that the likes of Capoeira fighter Lateef Crowder play in support. Director Ernie Barbarash cut his teeth on CUBE ZERO and various Van Damme vehicles and does a commendable job here.
Battle of the Bulge (1965)
Solid, but not immersive
BATTLE OF THE BULGE is one of the epic WW2 films of the 1960s, but given that all of the others are so good - from THE GUNS OF NAVARONE to THE LONGEST DAY - this one pales in comparison somewhat. It's not that this film is particularly poor, it's just that it could be better. It's overlong, for a start, and surprisingly simplistic given the nature of the actual battle itself. Robert Shaw plays a nasty Nazi in charge of a tank division attacking an assembled group of heroes, inevitably played by famous American old-timers: Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews et al. The scale is impressive throughout, although some of the back projection hasn't aged very well, but somehow this simply isn't as immersive as the true classics from the era.
What did I just watch?
Oh dear. TWINKY turns out to be one of the most awkward, excruciating, embarrassing movies I've ever sat through, a comedic spin on the LOLITA tale in which a middle-aged novelist (his speciality is erotica, obviously) falls in love with a young school girl. If this sounds dodgy, it really is, especially in our modern times which don't look kindly on such pairings. It doesn't help that the massive age gap is further heightened by the casting of Charles Bronson, who always looked much older than his years, and Susan George playing her character as an immature, hyperactive little girl with the spirit of a 10-year-old.
Bronson certainly plays against type here but he seems bored by the whole experience, and you wish he'd go back to shooting crims instead. George is just irritating - imagine the flawed aspects of her character in STRAW DOGS and play them up times a hundred and you'll be there. A cast of distinguished British character actors are wasted in support, and the mindless script just goes on and on and gets increasingly unfunnier. The weirdest thing is that this was all directed by Richard Donner, who became one of America's top directors a decade later.
When Eight Bells Toll (1971)
Lesser-known Alistair Maclean
WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL is one of the lesser-known Alistair Maclean novel adaptations out there, and that's purely because it looks and feels rather insignificant when compared to the real classics of the genre like WHERE EAGLES DARE or THE GUNS OF NAVARONE. A cast-against-type Anthony Hopkins plays a gruff special agent on the track of a criminal mastermind who's been bumping off British agents, and the setting is a watery one with lots of diving and action on and beneath the waves. It's lively stuff and provides a neat contrast to Bond by emphasising realism over style. Hopkins is good value but his thunder is stolen a little by a pitch-perfect Robert Morley who is a hoot as the comedy relief.
6-Headed Shark Attack (2018)
6-HEADED SHARK ATTACK is the umpteenth film in this unenviable franchise from The Asylum, which almost manages to be more ridiculous than their SHARKNADO movies. This one features the usual bunch of coast-dwelling characters finding themselves menaced by the titular mutant, which walks on land in some particularly ludicrous moments. Bad CGI effects and worse acting are the orders of the day here, with the usual emphasis on bikini-clad starlets and a total lack of depth and originality on the part of the writers.
Not very good
BREAKDOWN appears to be rather liked on this website but I'm afraid I have to go against the grain. I found it a slog to sit through, an overlong reheating of gangster elements that substitutes depth for sheer viciousness and goes way over the top in a torture scene. Craig Fairbrass gets a chance to act with a bit more depth than usual in his hardman role, but he's not particularly likeable in the part and the endless family material really drags the pacing down. There are some good elements here, such as James Cosmo's powerful old-timer, but overall it's simply not very good.
Wai Si-Lei chuen kei (1987)
A good mix
THE LEGEND OF WISELY is an enjoyable addition to the Wisely series of Hong Kong science fiction movies made over the last few decades and featuring the titular character as a famous novelist investigating strange, sci fi-related mysteries. It's not as out there as THE CAT but it's still worth a look and reminded of Jackie's ARMOUR OF GOD a great deal. Wisely (in the form of Samuel Hui) gets involved in the threat of the famous "dragon pearl" from a Nepalese monastery and finds rival factions competing for possession of it. Most of the action is set in a picturesque Egypt, and to add to the fun Shaw Brothers legend Ti Lung plays in support. The film offers a good mix of Indiana Jones-style globetrotting adventure, furious fight scenes, a spiky Joey Wang and a big effects-fuelled climax.
Let down by bad direction
BULLET is a cheap straight-to-video digital thriller starring everyone's favourite Mexican hardman, Danny Trejo. It feels like a deliberate spin on the whole MACHETE mythos with Trejo cast as an unstoppable killer who destroys anyone who gets in the way of his quest to rescue his kidnapped grandson. The plot is very similar to TAKEN and the overall film has a great pace with lots of violence to see it through. Jonathan Banks, an old-time B-movie villain who previously appeared in the likes of UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY, makes for a great criminal mastermind. The main problem with this is the direction, which is really schlocky and poor when it comes to the action, giving everything a fake, rehearsed look. Not a good look, and frankly it spoils the movie.
The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960)
THE BOY WHO STOLE A MILLION is a likeable picaresque comedy with plenty of chase action to keep the plot moving along. The plot is a variant of a popular '50s set-up in which a kid finds himself pursued by the authorities for various reasons (being abducted by Dirk Bogarde and shooting somebody occurred in other films I vaguely remember from the era). However, this one plays up the comedy of the situation a lot more, with pratfalls and oddball performances from minor characters. The inclusion of Pepe the dog is a good asset, and the likeable performance of the main lad helps too. The Spanish locations are well utilised by Ealing director Charles Crichton, and a few familiar faces appear along the way to help things along.
Fertile Ground (2011)
Another low budget horror film from After Dark productions; FERTILE GROUND is a low rent haunted house story built on traditional lines. The lead character, played by Hilary Swank lookalike Leisha Hailey, moves into a home with her husband after the sudden loss of her baby. She soon finds herself plagued by visions which may or may not be linked to a skull found in the house's plumbing system. Everything that transpires here is low key in the extreme, with the usual CGI ghostly effects limited to a single scene or two. However, it's not too bad, despite being very cheap. Hailey delivers a strong performance and the slow-building tension is roughly effective at times. Hardly a great film, but an amiable time-waster nonetheless.
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
ANNABELLE: CREATION is another mindlessly derivative spin-off from THE CONJURING, this time a prequel to a pre-existing spin-off about a creepy doll. Got that? Watching this, it quickly becomes apparent that creativity is in short supply here, because everything is telegraphed well in advance and there's not a single surprise from beginning to end. We get a children's home setting, Miranda Otto in little more than an extended cameo, and endlessly repetitive jump scares in which the soundtrack goes quiet for a few minutes before the viewer is made to jump with a loud bang. When this happens for the tenth time, your patience will have long since evaporated.
Bad Match (2017)
BAD MATCH is a typically derivative story of online dating gone awry. It has a tired, '90s feel to it although a modern look with the usual digital shooting and uninteresting direction. The biggest problem I had with it was that the protagonist is so completely unlikeable you're actually willing for bad stuff to happen to him constantly. The early set-up parts of the story aren't too bad, but around the halfway mark it falls apart with one cliched scene after another. There's a twist ending but it's not particularly impressive either, so the end result is indifference.
Not bad at all
HIJACK! is another of the TV movies that David Janssen concentrated making in the early 1970s. This one's pretty decent and reminiscent of the classics of the genre - DUEL, SORCERER, and BREAKDOWN. It's not as good as any of those three but it's a passable time-waster nonetheless. Janssen and old-timer buddy Keenan Wynn are tasked with transporting a truck containing a secret shipment cross-country, but from the outset they're met by a group of sinister villains intent on stopping them at any cost. The low-rent action is a lot of fun, with some fiery stunts and chases thrown in, handled well on the TV budget. An unnecessary romantic sub-plot is the only detraction here.
Tod eines Fremden (1976)
A slog to sit through
THE DEATH MERCHANTS is a rather slow and uninteresting spy drama made as a collaboration between Israel and West Germany. Inevitably the Israeli secret police are the heroes here (in the form of Jason Robards) while a group of Arab terrorists are creating havoc around the world. A disinterested Hardy Kruger is the guy caught in the middle of the situation due to a case of mistaken identity, and various tired shenanigans follow. There's the occasional murder alongside a lengthy romantic sub-plot, and despite real-world locations this never quite fires up the way it should. It's one of those films which is a slog to sit through.
Not quite the worst...
THE NEXT WAVE is the second of these no-budget WAR OF THE WORLDS adaptations, once more starring C. Thomas Howell and directed by him as well. They're not quite the worst of their kind, mainly because they manage to pack a lot of action into what is a tiny budget. The CGI effects are as bad as you'd expect, but they're quite varied and a lot of effort has gone into some of the scenes, particularly the Martian attacks and the outer space flight. The acting is generally wooden and the emoting clumsy, but at least there's plenty of incident to keep your mind off the tedium.
HELLGATE is a terrible, little-known horror film of 1989 that's one of the most disappointing of the decade. The plot seems to have been stitched together from bits and pieces of better movies, and it screams cliche throughout. The opening sees a woman killed by a biker gang, only for her grieving father to bring her back to life. She proceeds to act as a succubus, going around seducing men and killing them. The usual bunch of teenagers turn up at an abandoned house and slaughter continues. The first half of this hokum plays out as softcore pornography while the second half descends into tedium with overacting, bad scripting, and hopeless direction.
Dark Shadows: Episode #1.375 (1967)
Episode 375 offers plenty of soap opera-style intrigue, with Angelique being the driving force for evil and the other characters caught up in her nefarious schemes. As episodes go, it's rather a talky one, and not particularly gripping now that the initial culture shock of the 1795 is wearing off.