Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004)

Low-budget, low-bug count direct-to-video sequel to Verhoeven’s excellent classic.

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 

This review was written  9 years too late

1997’s Starship Troopers had a budget of over $100,000,000. This underfunded follow-up, diligent research can reveal, cost 15 cents, a nail, and the shell of a great-great-great-
grandfather snail.

This waste-of-time film must have been greenlit to wring a few bucks out of the name because there really is very little else here. Some suspiciously re-used looking bug footage opens the film with a platoon of troopers abandoned to their fate when faced with an overwhelming number of arachnids. A handful make a last stand allowing the remainder to peg it to a nearby fort to await rescue.


B-movie actors – not very scary. Thousands of marauding arachnids – scary.

The fort is very useful because, from a budget point of view, you use a cheap little studio somewhere in the low-rent areas of Hollywood, and chuck your actors in and let them get on with it. The occasional shoot-out with one or two puppet bugs, with guns now using laser beams left over from Starcrash instead of expensive fake bullets, are poor excuses for set-pieces. Thus, our action is focused on our stranded troops who all start going a little stir crazy. Some psychic nonsense and brief nudity follows before it turns out little bugs are inside one or two humans and starting to take over the others yawn yawn.

No returning characters from the first film, none of the humour neither, you can only feel sorry for FX maestro turned director Phil Tippett trying to do his best here on two bob.

Not worth even the time of a completist. Would you like to know more? 




The Hunger Games (2012)

Children kill each other on telly in a well-acted but otherwise familiar SF action drama.

The Hunger Games (film)

The Hunger Games (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

This review was written  1 year too late

Reading anything about the film adaptation of Susanne Collins‘ popular novel of the same name reveals a familiar set of references. Its resemblance to both the book and film of Battle Royale, its resemblance to the short story “The Lottery” and numerous other humans-hunting-humans films – Death Race 2000, The Most Dangerous Game, Turkey Shoot. It’s a long list, and it takes some oomph to do it well again.

The story set-up is the usual futuristic, post-war division of society with rich winners and destitute losers. Here, the rich offer the poor a way out by randomly choosing young boys and girls to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of all.

Katniss Everdean volunteers for the games to save her chosen little sister from a certain fate. A skilled hunter with a reason to win beyond the riches escape and victory promise, Katniss is played with some depth by the excellent Jennifer Lawrence, supported by Woody Harrelson as a former winner turned trainer, as well as good turns from Wes Bentley and, surprisingly, Lenny Kravitz. The quality acting really saves The Hunger Games because, alas, there’s not a lot else going on.

By falling into that SF chestnut (i), the divided, dystopian society, the makers (let’s not single any one individual out) approach their vision so heavy-handedly it’s embarrassing. The well-to-dos flaunt themselves in garish, OTT costumes and make-up – imagine an entire city populated with Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element – and eat fine food. Meanwhile, the struggling poor in concentration camp-stylee clothes, living in a permanent grey, survive off of scraps and barter.

Turkey Shoot (film)

Turkey Shoot (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cue SF chestnut (ii), where a violent game keeps the urges of the masses checked. Administration of this televised game is borrowed wholesale from The Truman Show, with Wes Bentley in the Christof role, manipulating events to produce better entertainment. This approach is particularly knuckle-headed in that the two big FX set pieces in the film – a forest fire and a big doggy attack – don’t make sense. If the show is about watching the kids kill each other, why generate events that could result in their deaths?

The controllers of the game are also incongruous. You can just about buy all the overdressed, affected, made-up rich types enjoying the bloody spectacle screened in a Roman gladiatorial sort of way, but the “normal” folk working at the TV station where the programme is made are just so that – normal. Not crazily dressed, not eccentric in any kind of way. So matter-of-fact, that it defies credibility that not one of them might question what they do, or at least show some hint of discomfort. They are, after all, accessories to the murder of children.

And don’t get me started on the dubious gifts that get parachuted into the game to assist players. Pah.

Only worth your time if you are a fan of the books or cast. Otherwise, The Hunger Games will leave you… (I hate this bit..) starving.



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The Burning (1981)

The Burning (film)

The Burning (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once-banned video nasty with Oscar-winner Holly Hunter and George from Seinfeld.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 

This review was written 32 years too late

Surprisingly not buried by its makers – current Paramount CEO Brad Grey and Miramax’s Weinstein Brothers, among others – The Burning is a standard US early 80s gore-a-thon that, like most US early 80s gore-a-thons, isn’t that gory. Made the “video nasty” list in the UK, it’s now available uncut – and unexciting.

Kids at a summer camp accidentally immolate weirdo caretaker Cropsy, leaving him looking like pizza. Five years later, Cropsy leaves hospital with mayhem on his mind and heads back to camp, after setting the scene of what’s to come by sticking scissors into a prostitute who failed to notice his charred, melted features.

At camp, we see the usual collection of irritants who don’t die quickly enough at Cropsy’s hands, or garden shears in this case, which are his preferred MO. Among the kids you want to see massacred are Jason Alexander a long time, a lot of hair, and quite few inches off the waist before he was George Costanza in Seinfeld; and a barely recognisable Holly Hunter.


Cropsy? Cropsy! I think I’m going to kill you!

The film then sets up a series of faux scares where we think an innocent is going to get it only for it to be revealed as a prank or some other non-entity trying to scare all and sundry. There’s a little T&A here and there, lots of Cropsy POV shots in the woods at night, but the whole film never really gets going.

Even when the kids get stranded without their canoes, there’s ample opportunity to pick-off victims one by one that’s not exploited. When you compare this fodder to what the likes of Mario Bava was doing years before, it is a real disappointment. A supposedly notorious raft massacre scene that helped contribute to the film’s UK ban is particularly dull.

Rick Wakeman’s sub-Carpenter electronic score grates; Tom Savini‘s make-up uninspired, while British director Tony Maylam manages one or two stylish moments.

The Burning is a distinctly – here it comes – tepid affair otherwise.


Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

cockneys-vs-zombies-bannerOnly a British horror-comedy would pit cockney oiks and OAPs against the undead. Richard Briers with a zimmer frame and an Uzi? Bring it on.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

This review was written 1 year too late

A couple of crafty builders in London’s east end unearth a crypt sealed since 1666 and decide to see what they can nick from it. Cob-webbed skeletons start moving, then reach for the inept pair and – bam. We have our outbreak story explained. Now, we can get on with the blood and the feasting and the carnage.

Cockneys vs Zombies is a surprisingly fun film, and much like the recent Nazi exploiter “Iron Sky“, does silly things well keeping it from slipping into genuine bad.

While a zombie epidemic begins, a small group of Cockneys are about to pull a bank job and use the cash to save their grandad’s old people’s home from closure. Cockneys, see? They love family. It’s all about family.

Despite bungling the robbery, they manage to escape thanks to the undead who have managed to eat the old bill who were lying in wait. Decamping to a warehouse, they realise their situation and go on a rescue mission to the OAP home. But is seems the old folk are doing pretty well by themselves, lead by the once hard-as-nails Ray who ain’t giving up without a fight.


Interestingly, the film has an awareness of what zombies are and how they behave. The characters are familiar with zombie lore and use it to their advantage. Even the pensioners know it. A bite equals infection and turning, the undead shuffle slowly, you need to mash their brains to finish them off – it’s all there. They’ve seen every film listed in the Book of the Dead.

As the youngsters in the warehouse squabble among themselves Ray’s pensioners are doing their best to hold off an assault. When his family arrive, totally tooled up, we get to see the likes of Richard Briars, Honor Blackman, and Tony “Get Some In!” Selby shift prodigious quantities of lead the undead’s way.

It’s all handled with a big, knowing smile by director Matthias Hoene, while Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker as the grandsons of Alan Ford’s Ray, abetted by a sassy cousin in the form of Michelle Ryan, keep the rhyming slang and unremitting Cockney attitude from getting too annoying.


All together now, “We’re going head-to-head, with the undead, you can fill ’em full of lead but they won’t stay dead…”.

What’s not to enjoy?



Head-to-head song

Shaun the Sheep

Shaun the Sheep

Shaun the Sheep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He’s Shaun the Sheep,
He’s Shaun the Sheep.
He even mucks about
With those who cannot bleat.

Keep it in mind…
He’s one of a kind!
Oh, life’s a treat
with Shaun the Sheep.

He’s Shaun the Sheep (he’s Shaun the Sheep),
He’s Shaun the Sheep (he’s Shaun the Sheep),
He doesn’t miss a trick
Or ever lose a beat (lose a beat).

Perhaps one day…
You’ll find a way!
To… come and meet
With Shaun the Sheep.

Ohhh, come and bleat,
With Shaun the Sheep! (Baa!)

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30 Days of Night (2007)

30 Days of Night (film)

30 Days of Night (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Excellent, alternative and refreshing vampire film, with an intriguing premise, stylish direction, and some satisfying, choppy violence.
Rating: ★★★★½

This review was written 6 years too late

A month-long polar night in the small Alaskan town of Barrow gets nasty as well as cold when a herd/troop/flange (insert your collective noun for vampires here) of bloodsuckers descend on the place – and boy, are they hungry.

The vampire genre, much like the zombie genre, is pretty much dead (boom-tisch!) these days. It’s hard to get interested in another take on the fang-toothed undead that does not seem a variation on some approach already taken. Welcome, then, is 30 Days of Night, which strands a bunch of humans in a snow-bound town in perpetual darkness.

30 Days whips along at a cracking pace, and very soon into the film most of the town has been decimated by the fierce, multi-fanged vampire clan led by Danny Huston. Up against them is Ashton Kutcher‘s sheriff, his estanged wife and small bunch of survivors moving from house to house as they wait out the month until the sun returns.

While the vampires have speed, agility and strength on their side, the survivors have local knowledge of both Barrow and the weather conditions to aid them in their struggle.

Danny Huston in 30 Days of Night

Sharp-toothed guy.

Circumstances continually force their hand, of course, and their numbers dwindle as they lose more and more each time they move on. The vampires also get it a bit too – spectacularly torn to shreds by snowploughs, axes, and assorted crunching machinery. A final, unexpected showdown concludes the film just as the sun returns.

Brit director David Slade does a superb job creating atmosphere and gives his film a real style, making the vamps extra menacing by having them communicate in their own, feral language and filming them in such a way to give them a hungry, kinetic desperation to their movement. And for a film set entirely at night, it’s lit very well, meaning you don’t miss a drop of the red, red blood sprayed, pumped and drank.

Originally a rejected screenplay that subsequently became a successful graphic novel, it rose again as a film thanks to Evil Dead-ites Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures. 30 Days delivers in much the same way Raimi’s own, post-Spider-Man stylish horror Drag Me To Hell – a novel approach, assured direction, and a respect for the audience. Recommended.



A brief encounter with the late Michael Winner

English film director Michael Winner.

English film director Michael Winner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good egg who had the decency to answer tweets directed his way. And The Mechanic is a good film.

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The trouble with ninjas

OR rather, the trouble with ninja films. Or rather, to be more specific, the trouble with ninja films from the 1980s made by the Cannon Group, is that the ninjas do not seem to behave like ninjas.

The Cannon Group

The Cannon Group (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ninjas were supposed to be silent assassins, masters of stealth, and all that malarkey. In the likes of Ninja III: The Domination, or American Ninja, for example, they are neither stealthy nor silent.

Cannon’s ninjas always preceded an attack by yelling a “Yaaaaarrrrgggghhhhh!” giving the victim more than enough time to be ready.

Film poster for American Ninja - Copyright 198...

Film poster for American Ninja – Copyright 1985, Cannon Group (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also have the decidedly un-stealthy habit of wearing their black ninja suits in broad daylight, in green forests, on city streets – generally anywhere that will easily make them stand out to all and sundry.

And then there are the pauses, the interminable waits while our ninja reaches inside his costume to find a shuriken, smoke bomb or other ninja-device. Again, anyone faced with a black-clad killer rummaging through his apparel would be gone way before a throwing star struck him right between the eyes.

Of course, I am being a sour-puss about all of this, but one can only watch so many (too many, in my case) Cannon ninja films before you start wondering why we were so tolerant 30 years ago and how these dreadful films made so much money.


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