Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – frozen in the swinging 60s, and thawed out in the 90s Austin “Danger” Powers has to defeat his nemesis Dr Evil while re-adjusting to modern life. Depressing fact: this film is almost 20 years old. Uplifting fact: it’s still as funny as you remember. Mike Meyers’ style isn’t for everyone, but this is about as mainstream as he goes; and the more James Bond knowledge you can bring to the table, the better (dispatch one-liners, henchmen deaths, sets, character names, elaborate death traps…). The clever setup means there’s a lot of rope to be used here: the spy genre, action movies, and fish-out-of-water elements, all fully capitalised. There’s quite a narrow band of humour used here: namely slapstick, funny faces, silly dances, and physical jokes – nothing too high-brow, but it’s all to the highest standard. If there’s one weakness it’s that the movie as a whole is a little too reliant on skits and unrelated interludes. With my James Bond obsession and nostalgic hat on, I’m probably not the most objective person to be watching this, but I would have genuine questions if someone didn’t enjoy such a light, charming, and loving parody of the early Bond Movies. Almost twenty years old, but still a stone-cold comedy classic, the first Austin Powers film is 95 minutes of laugh-out-loud, wall-to-wall top-drawer comedy.
If you can watch this clip without laughing (or even smiling) call a doctor – because you’re dead inside.
Satan’s Blade: the evil spirit of an ancient and violent mountain-man terrorises tourists at a secluded ski lodge. At 80 minutes, you expect a punchy slasher, and with the first ten minutes only consisting of women getting undressed then shot in the tits, it’s half way there… however it all goes south very quickly. Released in 1984, this has more of a 50s/60s feel due to very basic camerawork, acting, editing, and a very poor sound mix – people talking inside a car, but no car noises; missing screams; shouting through walls but sounding crystal clear; silent shower curtains etc. Also, for a slasher, the deaths are fairly disappointing, with dabbed on blood and lots of cutting/editing; but very little gore. The acting isn’t much better, with ‘studenty’ performances, and stunted delivery of very stale dialogue. You know a film’s amazingly bad when the IMDB page is full of its actors/writers tearing it to pieces and apologising for it! Regular viewers will be disappointed by Satan’s Blade; but as a formerly rare, no budget b-movie, the Blu Ray release is a treat for hardened collectors and VHS nostalgists looking to upgrade their copy, and learn about the film through the plethora of new extras and features.
Standard death acting in this picture
Strike Back: Vengeance (Season 3) – when a billionaire acquires four nuclear triggers in order to re-shape Africa, only section 20 can stop him. Continuing with the UK/US collaboration, this takes everything that worked about ‘Project Dawn’ and made it all bigger/louder/better. Every episode is wall to wall action; with dozens of set pieces, hundreds of deaths, and a load of whiz-bang sex scenes. The entire season is 100mph, and it’s simply great fun. The characters feel more rounded, the leads’ chemistry is fantastic, and it’s very professionally made – but things like ‘character development’, ‘plot’, and ‘direction‘ are background noise to the explosions, gunfights, stunt driving, and spec ops that march the show forward. It’s hard to believe that such a ridiculously intense level of action (huge set pieces every 10 mins or so) can be done on a TV budget – the 10 episodes are paired off into FIVE 90-minute long mini missions that run together. In a world of toned down and heavily edited 12-rated action films, the swearing, sex, and sensational action makes this feel like something from ‘the good old days’. Completely knowing, and aimed directly at young male action fans, Strike Back Vengeance is a show that only really does one thing (infinite ammo, high-octane action turned up to 11), but does it brilliantly – making it a truly unmissable show for action fans
The Swinging Cheerleaders: an investigative journalist infiltrates a cheerleading team for an article, but ends up uncovering an even bigger story. Most interestingly, this film is made by exploitation master Jack Hill (Big Bird Cage, Coffy, Foxy Brown – and straight after those films) trying to avoid becoming a one-trick pony with ‘Blaxploitation‘ or ‘Women In Prison‘ films. Very much a snapshot of the times, every character is ‘stock’ / stereotypical, and the various plot threads are relatively straight forward. Disappointingly, this film is way more tame that you’d expect from Jack Hill, and a film called ‘The Swinging Cheerleaders’. It’s title and marketing pitch it as a sequel to ‘The Cheerleaders’ (a raunchy comedy), but this one’s a completely different beast: it’s not exploitation, or even a sex-comedy, but feels more like an educational piece about college / sex / gambling / drugs / match fixing. Think watered-down Roger Corman picture, or heavily censored Russ Meyer picture. Although The Swinging Cheerleaders is a well made and entertaining picture; it all feels a bit rushed and compromised.
As always, Arrow have given this movie the ultimate release, with a brand new 2K restoration and – as always – there are shedloads of interviews, extras, and a director’s commentary – making this an essential purchase for Cheerleader and Jack Hill fans.
The Green Inferno: when she joins a deforestation activism group, a naïve student comes face to face with the cannibal savages she’s trying to protect. I’ll put it straight out there; I’m not a big fan of Eli Roth… that being said, I had a blast with this film. The naive protagonist / final girl is surrounded by thin and/or unlikable characters (angsty alternative goths, far out hippy protesters, etc) so you’re not all that fussed about their fates, and watching them get dispatched is rather entertaining. There’s some outrageous practical effects, showcasing bloody and disgusting gore, but it’s all tongue cut out in cheek – think ultra black horror / borderline stoner comedy – with several laugh out loud moments. There’s a fun Final Destination style plane crash, followed by an intense tribe meeting (the scariest part of the film) – and after that it’s all killer. The only two downsides are that the film takes around halve the running time to get going; it also feels less urgent / more detached than the ‘found footage’ ‘real life’ cannibal exploitation films of the 70s & 80s. It would have been foolish to try to pull off a ‘Mountain of the Cannibal Holocaust Ferox God’ movie in 2015, as it just wouldn’t have the same impact, so Roth has taken the ‘cannibal movie’ template and given it a nice postmodern spin. The Green Inferno got an unfair rep by people mostly focusing solely on the gore; but tonally, it feels more like an out-and-out send up of student, or ‘leftie’ activism to me. Over time I hope it’ll become a cult hit along the likes of Cannibal the Musical and Delicatessen. Disgustingly enjoyable.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
Criminal Activities [mild spoilers]: when they get a bad investment tip a group of friends try to settle their debt to a mob boss by kidnapping a rival gangster’s family member. I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining this crime caper was – the henchmen side-story (which stars the director) is particularly rib-ticking. The script and performances are surprisingly funny, but there are so many “Fucks” in here it feels like the film is going for a Guinness record – which is a bit of a shame, as it distracts from the good jokes. There are also some very well handled and well placed moments of serious tension and drama that really sink the hooks in to the viewer. The big issue is that it completely hangs on a very large and very wild twist that you could never have guessed on your own (and requires about 10 mins of runtime to fully explain). I hate lazy comparisons, but this one’s quite unique: think Lock Stock and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – and you just don’t get many good films in this sub-genre. How much you ultimately enjoy Criminal Activities will depend on your tolerance for a big old slap in the face at the end – although there’s plenty fun to be had on the way.