Showdown in Manila

Released: January 2018

Director: Mark Dacascos

Run Time: 86 Minutes

Not Rated

Distributor: ITN Distribution

Genre: Action

Cast:
Alexander Nevsky: Nick Peyton
Casper Van Dien: Charlie Benz
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa: Aldric Cole
Tia Carrere: Mrs. Wells
Mark Dacascos: Matthew Wells
Mathias Hues: Dorn
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: Dillon
Cynthia Rothrock: Haines
Olivier Gruner: Ford

When The Expendables came out back in 2010, people have always wanted to have their own dream team of action stars.  The Expendables had Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Gary Daniels, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren.  At the same time, Robert Rodriguez did Machete, which featured the likes of Danny Trejo, Don Johnson, Robert De Niro,  Jeff Fahey, Steven Seagal, and Michelle Rodriguez.  These were pretty awesome movies at the time, but over the past few years we’ve been seeing team-ups of actors like Mark Dacasco, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, and Olivier Gruner in films like Ultimate Justice, Death Fighter and a new film called Showdown In Manila.

The film begins as Nick Peyton, head of a local Violent Crimes Unit, as he and his team are prepared to take down a known drug and human trafficker.  Unfortunately, they are led into an ambush by a criminal kingpin known only as The Wraith.  With his entire team decimated and himself left for dead, Nick leaves the police force.  Two years later, Nick is a private detective with partner Charlie Benz, taking down cheating husbands and other minor non-lethal activities.  At the same time, FBI agent Matthew Wells is murdered in front of his wife by The Wraith.  Seeking retribution, she hires the two private detectives to hunt down and bring back The Wraith to face justice.  I really love it when stories are straight-forward without the extraneous use of surprise twists.  Half of the time, those twists don’t work and you can see them coming a mile away.  When a movie presents a story that takes you from A to B to C without any deviation, that tells me the story is honest in its approach.  Simple, yet honest.  The story in Showdown In Manila isn’t anything that I haven’t seen before, but it works for what’s presented here.

Let’s talk about the cast first, shall we?  Leading the pack is Alexander Nevsky, a former Russian bodybuilder turned actor, writer and producer.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never really seen anything with this guy in it.  I’ve heard the name in the independent action film scene, but I’ve never had the pleasure of actually seeing him in action.  Standing at 6’6″, this guy is TOWERING and built like a tank.  Unfortunately, I can’t really compare his performance in this film with another, because I haven’t seen his other movies.  I will be rectifying that over the next few weeks.  As a result, I’m not entirely convinced yet that he can hold a movie on his own.  He strikes me as an actor that’s a lot better when he’s bolstered by a strong cast.  Thankfully, we do have that here.  Nevsky definitely has some really solid chemistry with Casper Van Dien’s Charlie Benz.  I have to admit, I’m a big fan of Casper Van Dien.  Ever since he showed up in Starship Troopers over twenty years ago, he’s shown that he’s got some pretty good screen presence and pretty strong personality.  Here, he plays a former LA cop with a unique……problem.  His introduction into the film is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.  Later on in the film, we get screen legends like Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock and Olivier Gruner.  It’s really awesome seeing these guys on the screen together.  Cary Tagawa always makes for an outstanding villain.  He’s got that real sinister feel about his characters that makes them somewhat scary.

The action in the film is not bad.  It really isn’t.  However, and some people not like this, but the film does take its time getting to the actual showdown part of the film.  Outside of the opening action sequence, the first half of the movie is more like a buddy cop movie.  Showdown In Manila takes time to get our two main leads to search and find this particular bad guy, and I really like the way that they actually do a little bit of investigating.  There’s not a whole lot of investigating, but what is there is appreciated.  There is some actual tension that does build up throughout the film and it feels like things could really explode, which they eventually do.  The film saves the big climactic battle for the last and I really like the fact that the film does that.  There’s gunplay and explosions and wonderful stuff like that.  But we also have some hand-to-hand action, which has been choreographed by Mark Dacascos’ own father, Al Dacascos.  Sadly, some of these action sequences are let down by some questionable editing.  The hand-to-hand stuff suffers the most from the editing.  Don’t get me wrong, what we see is pretty decent, but the way the camera moves along with some of the editing kinda gets in the way.  That being said, the final battle is a pretty thrilling sequence.  Watching Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock kick ass never gets old.  Alexander Nevsky is clearly a physical presence, but I don’t feel the film fully utilizes Nevsky the way it needed to.  He’s got some serious potential as the next Arnold Schwarzenegger-type of action star, and that’s not a bad thing.

I think a lot of the problems that the film has can be chalked up to the fact that it is an independent action film.  A lot of the things that I’m sure that they wanted to do or do better came down to budgetary and time constraints.  That’s something that needs to considered when you watch an indie film, whether it’s a horror film, action film, or a comedy.  That being said, I really like the way that Mark Dacascos staged some of the action.  He doesn’t really rely on shaky-cam, thank god.  However, for fans of Mark, he only shows up for a couple of minutes.  At the end of the day, Showdown In Manila was kind of what I was expecting.  Nothing super complex or ultra dark.  It’s definitely got a sense of humor, and the chemistry between Alexander Nevsky and Casper Van Dien is pretty strong.  A lot of the issues I have with the film I can forgive because of the nature of the film and how it was made.  Honestly, it’s pretty solid little action flick.  I can honestly say it’s worth check out at least.

My Final Recommendation: Welcome to the jungle, baby!! 8/10

 

The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback Crowdfunding Campaign Has Begun!

The last time I posted about the upcoming sequel to The Martial Arts Kid, The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback, I was informing everybody about the crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo.  The campaign for the film, as of this writing on 1/15/2018, is in effect.  For the next 2 months, we, as an audience have the opportunity to help fund this project to make it one of the most anticipated independent films of 2018.  The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback is the sequel to the award-winning family film, The Martial Arts Kid, starring legendary martial arts actors Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.  The official press release is as follows:

As of January 15th, 2018, the IndieGoGo Campaign to raise extra funds for THE MARTIAL ARTS KID 2: PAYBACK is LIVE and ACTIVE! The sequel will be bigger, with a larger cast, more locations, greater action, and a lot more danger.

Once again we will be using the largest number of real martial arts Grand Masters, Masters and Champions as have ever appeared on screen before; breaking our own record. We need your help to make this sequel something we can all be proud of. Join the Dragons: Cynthia Rothrock (Aunt Cindy) and Don Wilson (Uncle Glen) as we create something special together. And don’t forget that we will have some terrific perks for everyone involved.

The INDIEGOGO is now LIVE!

Crowdfunding Pitch Video:

Director Michael Baumgarten returns to direct this sequel to the well-received original film.  Cynthia Rothrock and Don “The Dragon” Wilson also return in their respective roles as Uncle Glen and Aunt Cindy.  I gave the first film some pretty high marks, so I will try to post on the campaign’s progress over the next couple of months.  I hope that anybody who has seen The Martial Arts Kid is as excited as I am for this upcoming sequel.  For anybody who may be interested in the film, I will post a link to the official IndieGoGo site for the film down below.  The site will provide more information on the film, cast and crew as well as perks for people who wish to donate.

Official IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Project For The Martial Arts Kid 2

 

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

 

Released: June 1982

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Rated PG

Run Time: 113 Minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Genre: Science Fiction/Action

Cast:
William Shatner: Admiral James T. Kirk
Leonard Nimoy: Spock
DeForest Kelley: Dr. McCoy
Nichelle Nichols: Uhura
George Takei: Sulu
Walter Koenig: Chekhov
Kirstie Alley: Saavik
Ricardo Montalban: Khan
Bibi Besch: Dr. Carol Marcus
Merritt Butrick David
Paul Winfield: Terrell

Growing up as a kid in the 80s and early 90s, I was exposed to a lot of movies including Alien, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars.  I was also introduced to the wonders of Star Trek.  I don’t remember who or why, but I found Star Trek to be as nearly as compelling as Star Wars, just in a different way.  Star Trek has a tremendous legacy going back 50 years, starting with the original series that aired during the 60s.  It was unlike anything that anybody had seen before.  Not only did you have an international crew which included an African-American AND a Russian, but you also had an alien with pointy ears.  Not only did Star Trek change television as people knew it, but it also gave us a positive glimpse into what our future could hold.  That was, is and will continue to be the essence of Star Trek.  Sadly, the original series was cancelled after 3 seasons, but the show had already left its mark.  When Star Wars hit theaters in 1977, Paramount Pictures scrambled to come up with something of their to rival George Lucas’s masterpiece.  Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released to mixed reviews in 1979, despite being a success at the box-office.  For the next film, the budget was a lot smaller and Gene Roddenberry’s influence was pushed to the side.  In 1982, the first sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was critically acclaimed and is regarded as the best Star Trek film ever made.

Some time after the events of the original film, Star Trek II sees James T. Kirk promoted to admiral and Spock to Captain.  The film opens as young Vulcan Lt. Saavik as she takes the Kobayashi Maru test.  Sometime later, the USS Reliant, with Commander Chekhov and Captain Terrell, is orbiting a planet called Ceti-Alpha 6 in hopes of being able to test an experimental terra-forming torpedo called Genesis.  Exploring the planet, they come across some cargo carriers.  Realizing that these containers held the ruthless criminal known as Khan Noonien Singh and his people, Chehkov and Terrell are captured.  For those who may not know, this is not the first time that Khan has shown up in Star Trek.  The Wrath of Khan, in many ways is a sequel to the original series episode, Space Seed, where Khan attempts to hijack the Enterprise.  This film acts as a natural continuation of that episode and in the context of the films, it works very, very well.  The situation with Khan is not the only thing that’s happening here.  We see Kirk in a later stage of his life where he misses being able to command a starship.  There are a lot of themes that run concurrently throughout the film:  The passage of time, mortality and revenge.  While the film is certainly far more action-packed than its predecessor, Star Trek II still remains a true Star Trek film in every way.

Even in 1982, 12 million bucks was a very small amount to make a movie, and yet, Star Trek II managed to feel grand and epic in terms of its story and visual aesthetic.  Gone are the goofy uniforms of the previous film.  Instead we have a more militaristic Starfleet.  The uniforms are uniquely detailed and have some subtle differences and colors for each rank.  The set designs are also fairly minimalist, but it works extremely well.  The visual effects, including the Mutara Nebula are among the finest that have ever been produced by Industrial Light and Magic.  While some elements of the film have been recycled from The Motion Picture, including the departure of the Enterprise from space dock, it still feels like its own movie.

The performances on display here are some of the best in the entire franchise.  Even William Shatner gives his best performance as Kirk.  All the main characters from the previous film are here: Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekhov, and Mr. Spock are all here.  Leonard Nimoy IS Spock, there’s no getting around it.  As much as I like Zachary Quinto as Spock, there can be no replacing Mr. Nimoy as the character, even three years after Mr. Nimoy’s passing, his presence in this film is absolutely phenomenal.  DeForest Kelley was as awesome as ever as the good doctor.  Everybody brings their best and the film as all the better for it.  The real showstopper of the film, though, is Ricardo Montalban reprising his role as Khan.  Every good hero needs a great villain and Khan is one of the greatest villains in cinema.  Ricardo’s charisma and intelligence really shine through with this character.

The action in The Wrath of Khan is extraordinary.  While the ground combat is pretty good, the space battles are incredible.  I would describe the space battles in Star Trek as the space equivalent of naval warfare with large battleships.  The tension comes from the fact that it’s essentially a cat-and-mouse chase that happens to have some big explosions.  The first battle with the Reliant basically renders the Enterprise immobile.  This is one of the most interesting aspects of the film, in my opinion.  Kirk got beat at his own game in the first round with Khan, and the results are pretty destructive.  The final battle is the most epic, because it is very much back-and-forth.  It’s made all the better, because both sides can’t really see anything because of the nebula.  It’s all “best-guess.”  That makes for a very intense action sequence.

Since this movie’s been out for a few decades now, I don’t think I need to tell anybody about Spock’s death.  While the opening training sequence was a bit of a “gotcha” moment, Spock’s real death towards the end of the film was one of the most heartbreaking and controversial moments in Star Trek.  You can’t just kill Spock, that’s not right.  But that’s exactly what they did, mostly because Leonard Nimoy didn’t want to play the character again.  It wasn’t until after seeing people’s reaction to the scene that Mr. Nimoy felt he made a mistake.  Honestly, it was a very ballsy move, killing a main character like that.  Every time I see it, it still kind of hits me pretty hard.  It’s not only heartbreaking, but it is also a very touching tribute to what the character stood for and why he was willing to sacrifice himself.  It is one of the greatest moments in cinema as far as I’m concerned, even though Spock comes back in the next film.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is considered by many to be the greatest Star Trek film ever made.  To be truthful, I tend to agree.  I loved the original film, even with all of its faults, but the second film is what really gave the franchise a new lease on life.  It re-energized the fan-base and it made people realize that you really can risks in a movie like this and have it pay off.  In my honest opinion, The Wrath of Khan stands the test of time as one of the greatest science fiction movies in modern cinema and one of the greatest sequels ever made.  It’s also one of the few films that I can’t find ANY fault with.  This film is as close to perfection as you can get.  With great performances, a riveting story, and thrilling battle sequences, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a film that is a must-own for anyone who considers themselves a movie buff.

My Final Recommendation: KHHHAAAAAAAANNNN!!!!!!! 10/10

 

Beyond Skyline

Released: December 2017(Limited Release)

Director: Liam O’Donnell

Rated R

Run Time: 106 Minutes

Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Genre: Science Fiction/Action

Cast:
Frank Grillo: Mark
Bojana Novakovic: Audrey
Jonny Weston: Trent
Callan Mulvey: Harper
Iko Uwais: Sua
Yayan Ruhian: The Chief

Back in 2010, there was a little alien invasion film called Skyline.  This movie was about a group of people stranded in a high-rise building when mysterious lights began to appear and people were inexplicably drawn to the lights and disappeared.  Turns out they were being abducted by aliens…obviously.  It was directed by special effects gurus Colin and Greg Straus.  It was a pretty goofy little sci-fi movie but it was surprisingly a good amount of fun.  It was made on a 10 million dollar budget, and it looked far more expensive than that.  The visual effects were absolutely incredible for that kind of budget.  Sadly, the film was let down by a fairly predictable story and characters that you just didn’t care about.  Given how the film ended, one would have expected a sequel, but the film’s reception and box-office intake wasn’t particularly inspiring.  In 2015, we got word that an actual follow-up to the film was indeed going to happen.  A couple of years later, we have Beyond Skyline.  So, is it better than the original film?  Let’s find out.

Set just before the abductions began in the original SkylineBeyond Skyline follows LAPD officer Mark as he goes to pick up his estranged son, Trent from the police department.  While on the way home on the subway, the entire city comes under attack.  After trying to escape, a group of people including a blind man, Sarge, as well as Audrey, a subway driver, Mark and his son are abducted and pulled into an alien ship.  Trying to find his son, Mark runs into Jarrod, a guy from the first movie whose brain has been put into a new body.  Together, they also stumble on Jarrod’s pregnant girlfriend as she gives birth to a baby girl.  Jarrod then forces the ship to crash in the jungles of Indonesia, where Mark meets up with a couple of local outlaws.  The story here is quite interesting as the film actually overlaps the final events of the previous film.  So, yeah, this IS a genuine sequel.  Honestly, this is the kind of sequel that Independence Day: Resurgence needed to be.  Not only does Beyond Skyline address what happened in the original film, it takes the film to different areas and different locations.  It’s actually nice to see the film expand the world a bit.

Let’s talk about the visuals first.  The original film was built on 10 million dollar budget, but looked like it was made for 5 times that.  The CGI was impressive.  Beyond Skyline’s visual effects are no less impressive.  While some of the CGI later on in the film is kind of wonky, it’s still manages an impressive scale with the size of the ships.  The aliens themselves are a combination of practical suits and stilts enhanced with a bit CG.  It works quite well actually.  A lot of the visual effects are genuinely practical and some of the locations are incredibly beautiful.  The film was shot on location in California and Indonesia.  It’s really awesome to see that the movie actually goes places.

The film boasts a pretty strong cast with Frank Grillo in the lead as Mark.  Frank Grillo has been making a huge name for himself in the action film genre.  He starred alongside Liam Neeson in The Grey as well as working with and taking on Chris Evans in the last two Captain America films.  He’s pretty good at playing a bad guy as evidenced by his performance in Wolf Warrior 2.  It’s really awesome to see Grillo become an alien ass-kicker.  The supporting cast is also impressive.  Beyond Skyline also brings in two of the most well-known Indonesian martial arts actors: Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian of The Raid films.  I’ve always felt that Iko Uwais is not only a great martial artist, but a good actor as well.  I’ve been paying attention to this guy’s work since Merantau.  He’s been getting better with each and every movie that he makes.  It’s awesome to see him finally bridge the eastern and western film industries.

Unlike the first film, Beyond Skyline is a hard R-rated film and it earns it.  Aside from the large amount of f-bombs being dropped, it’s very violent.  It does not skimp on the gore.  The action is intense.  A lot of the fight scenes involving hand-to-hand combat were choreographed by Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian.  That means no wire-enhanced combat when it comes to the martial arts.  It’s about as grounded as you can get when dealing with evil space aliens.  Watching Iko take on these aliens is something to behold.  Frank Grillo can also hold his own with the action.  It’s awesome to see that actors get really down and dirty when it comes stunt-work and action sequences.  The alien sequences get kind of weird especially towards the end of the film, but I won’t spoil it here.

When I said the film was rated R, I meant it.  While the action is visceral and brutal, there are scenes that can be somewhat disturbing, especially when it involves unborn children.  It’s weird, but it’s also very unsettling.  What the aliens do to regular people is pretty gruesome, even more so than in the first film.  It’s slimy and gory and it’s really awesome to see the film not pull any punches.  While the story does take some predictable turns, it’s bolstered by a very strong cast as well as some really intense action sequences.  There are some moments when the CGI looks pretty hokey, but it’s nothing that can’t be forgiven.

Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised at how awesome this movie was.  I enjoyed the first film, but this one is so much better.  Not only is Beyond Skyline a more than worthy follow-up to what was otherwise a mediocre sci-fi flick, it’s also one of the best sequels in recent years.  So, do I recommend this one?  Oh, hell yes, I do.  This movie is bad-ass in every sense of the word.  Not only do you get alien action, but martial arts as well.  What’s not to like?  The film is currently available On Demand and will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray on January 16.  It’s absolutely worth the entry fee.

Final Recommendation: IT’S BLUE!!!  Oh and don’t mess with Frank Grillo, either.  That goes for you as well, space aliens! 9/10