Tag Archives: danny trejo

John Flynn’s Lock Up

John Flynn’s Lock Up is a great early Sylvester Stallone prison flick, back in the late 80’s heyday of the action genre where envelopes were pushed, no punches were pulled and rough, brutal scripts were green-lit on the daily. Stallone plays Frank Leone, a genuinely likeable guy who has a few weeks left on a sentence that resulted from a trumped up charge to begin with, and he’s ready to get out. Donald Sutherland’s Drumgool, the new warden, has other plans though, as the two of them have a rocky past and he has nothing but contempt for Frank. This spurs an onslaught of ruthless, bloody prison violence, yard fights, shankings, betrayal and riots as sneering sociopath Sutherland does his best to ensure that Stallone never again breathes free air. The film is so charged up and cold blooded it’s almost comical at times, but always enjoyable and hard hitting. Director Flynn is responsible for stuff like the Steven Seagal bone cruncher Out For Justice and notorious 70’s exploitation flick Rolling Thunder, so grit and machismo are par for the course and then some. Sutherland just goes above and beyond as Drumgool, it’s one of the great under-sung villain performances in the genre, the guy is fucking evil personified and the legendary actor eats up every frame of screentime, demolishing scene partners left and right with that leering glare and slate granite drawl. John Amos scores as the incredibly stoic captain of the guard, there’s great work from Sonny Landham, Darlene Fluegel, Frank McRae, Larry Romano, Danny Trejo and a stunning film debut by Tom Sizemore, already a scene stealer as a fast talking con who plays sidekick to Stallone. You won’t often hear this mentioned in the prison flick round table discussion but it’s really one of the best out there, rough and ready to brawl, with a galvanized steel veneer over the fight sequences, hard bitten performances, nice moments of fleeting humour and no shortage of breathless, pulverizing violence.

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: toXic

In the endless sea of direct to video output, sometimes you find one that although is rough as all hell around the edges, has potential and moments that shine, even if they’re stuck in a muddled, overcrowded narrative. Toxic is one such film, a psychological horror/crime hybrid that is so full of B level movie legends, rappers and porn stars that some are only around for a second, a whole galaxy of fringe talent caught up in a story that needs complete attention to be understood, not because it’s any kind of genius labyrinthine story, but simply because it’s edited with a chainsaw and has more dangling plot threads than an entire season of CSI. There’s two timelines it takes place in, a setup that already isn’t explained well enough off the bat, but such is the level of commotion. In one, nervous mobster Tom Sizemore (nuttier than usual as this was his first gig after a stint in jail) hires two henchman (Corey Large and Danny Trejo) to find his daughter (Charity Shea) who is apparently very dangerous, but he won’t say how or why. She ends up at a strip club run by rapper Master P and her presence seems to cause nothing but trouble for everyone there including a severely depressed hooker (Dominique Swain), an ill fated homeless man (C. Thomas Howell) and others. In another timeline we see another strip club run by pimp-with-a-heart-of-gold Costas Mandylor, in which Corey Large shows up again as a mysterious bartender and the whole berserk plot hinges on his two characters, but they really should have let him stick to producing duties and hired another actor because he’s in desperate need of some acting classes. All manner of other famous faces make cameos too including Bai Ling as Sizemore’s weird clairvoyant girlfriend, scene stealer Susan Ward as a sympathetic bartender, Steven Bauer, Lochlyn Munro in dual roles, Paul Johansson, Ron Jeremy, James Duval, Johann Urb, Holt McCallany, Cerina Vincent, Shar Jackson, Nick Chinlund and the list goes until you start to wonder if these prolific people were just hanging around the studio lot and needed extra work. Here’s the thing: there *is* actually a discernible story here that’s interesting and engaging, and upon reflection it does all in fact make sense. *But*…in a ninety minute film with this many cameos and random stuff, it’s too much to feel coherent. I will say that the final twist/revelation is handled in a top tier, musically visceral way that’s quality stuff, but so much else was kind of incomprehensible that several people I’ve watched it with could tell there was a twist by the tropes being used, but not what it actually was. With a new angle on editing, sharpening up the script and whatnot this could have been something more accessible, but I still really like it for effort put into a neat storyline, the laundry list of cool cast members, that final scene that’s done so well and the obvious, endearing homages to Tarantino and Tony Scott in style and tone. Interesting, pulpy, lurid, scattershot stuff.

-Nate Hill

BRACE FOR IMPACT!: An Interview with Alexander Nevsky by Kent Hill

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Moy Priyatel’ Superzvezdy (My Superstar Buddy) Alex Nevsky is back. Fresh off his Showdown in Manila, and now with his biggest production to date – MAXIMUM IMPACT.

Andrzej Bartkowiak (DOOM, EXIT WOUNDS) directs a Ross LaManna (the RUSH HOUR movies) script that is fast, fun, furious and keeps delivering all the way to the closing credits. It’s the story of the battle against terrorism being fought on all fronts. Alex and his Russian security team join forces with Kelly Hu, Tom Arnold and the US company men to track down and stop a major international incident from exploding. When Eric Roberts’ US Secretary of State’s rebellious daughter goes rogue to be with her Russian boyfriend, she is at first feared kidnapped by the surprisingly comedic duo of Matthias Hues and Mark Dacascos, a failed television who has become the bag man for William Baldwin’s Man in the Shadows (as he is credited). What ensues is a race, not only to save the girl, but to stop all hell from breaking loose.

The action is top shelf, which is to be expected from a seasoned pro like Bartkowiak – this blends in well with the pen of LaManna who brings his Tucker/Chan chops to the forefront and lets the laughs ring out with grand timing. The big surprise other than the funny frolicking shared by Hues and Dacascos, is Nevsky. Alex does hard-hitting, action hero stuff in his sleep – but as he exhibited in Showdown (teaming with Casper Van Dien) – he is developing all the time as a versatile performer, and now displaying comedic freedom which this writer can see him parading in the future with roles, not unlike his idol Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Kindergarten Cop/Twins type territory.

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This is a major step up for Nevsky and, although this is the kind of film Hollywood doesn’t make any more (that medium-range budget action movie),  it great to see that it can still be put together independently with top-of-the-line talent in a beautifully slick and professional package that – just as Showdown was a kind of 80’s action movie homage – so now Impact is a look back to the 90’s style action/comedy.

Aside from all that chatter, it is simply a fun movie which I was anticipating and was not at all disappointed with. Alex is a top bloke and I hope you’ll have a listen to our chat and check out MAXIMUM IMPACT when it hits Blu-ray soon…

 

Robert Rodriguez’s Predators

I like to call it Robert Rodriguez’s Predators despite the fact that he only has a producer’s credit, but his influence is all over it, plus the presence of Danny Trejo. This is one solid flick though, and definitely holds up against the first two films. The premise could even be said is more innovative than before, because as with any sequel or update, the story must evolve and break new ground, a feat they’ve outdone themselves with here. The Predators have taken it upon themselves to kidnap the roughest, toughest individuals of the human race and set them loose on a giant planet designed to be a game preserve, and have their fun. Adrien Brody does tense vulnerability to a T as a special ops badass, joined by an Israeli soldier (Alice Braga), a Russian spetznaz operative (Oleg Taktarov), an ex cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a psychotic maximum security inmate (Walton Goggins), an African rebel (Mahershala Ali), a disgraced Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and… Topher Grace, whose involvement gradually becomes clearer. They’re forced to band together against a squadron of specialized hunters who pursue them, complete with the vicious wildlife native to this planet. It’s incredibly cinematic, brutally entertaining stuff, and the actors give it their all, including Laurence Fishburne as a crazy dude who’s been alone on this world a few too many years. Standout scenes include the chilling moment these poor folks reach the crest of a hill, spot two giant suns in the alien sky and realize they’re not in Kansas anymore, as well as a knockout showdown between the Yakuza and a giant predator that eerily mirrors Sonny Landham’s Billy making a final stand in the original film. Atmospheric, well casted, acted and shot, a solid action horror funhouse that lives up to the Predator legacy.

-Nate Hill

DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, a fascinating hybrid between go-for-broke, tweaked out drug cinema, bloody, violent crime revenge thriller and moody, jazz soaked neo-noir, with a central performance from a committed Val Kilmer that goes waist deep in all three. I would say that it was ahead of its time and for that reason didn’t quite fully find its audience, but upon years of reflection I think it’s just such a specific piece that one has to be tuned in just right, and invest enough attention to appreciate it, the first time anyways. Kilmer is washed out meth head snitch Danny Parker, playing both sides of the narcotics game in hazy LA. Or is he trumpet player Tom Van Allen, haunted by past tragedy? The first half of the film sees him awash in an endless cycle of drug fuelled debauchery, stuck in a tireless set of hijinks with his tweaked out ‘friends’ (Adam Goldberg, Peter Saarsgard and more), and habitually snitching out dealers to two very corrupt cops (Doug Hutchison and Anthony Lapaglia, both royally sleazy). The second half shows us why, what dark passage of events led him to the lifestyle and the cursed trajectory he finds himself on in the final act. Kilmer is a restless fallen angel in the role, a man with secrets that the film respects by taking its time unfolding and not revealing too much too soon (avoid any trailers). His Danny even begs the audience to stick around, promising us there’s more to his story than rampant substance abuse. The cast is thick with talent, including Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Chandra West, B.D. Wong, Shirley Knight, Luis Guzman, Meat Loaf, Deborah Kara Unger and a crazed, memorable Glenn Plummer. The scene stealer award has to go to thespian Vincent D’Onofrio though as one of the antagonists, a terrifying drug baron called Pooh Bear because he railed so much blow they had to cut off his nose and replace it with a disturbing prosthetic. His favourite pastimes include reenacting the Kennedy assassination with pigeons and an air rifle, smoking crack to yodel music CD’s and setting a rabid badger called ‘Captain Striving’ loose on the genitals of disloyal employees. The film finds a demented dark humour in him and many other characters, but the other side of that coin is the emotional turbulence and tragic resonance to Kilmer’s arc, two conflicting energies that seem to somehow coexist beautifully. The score by Thomas Newton is noirish and sad, with strains that sound almost like heavenly choirs too, giving the city of angels a half lit, otherworldly quality. The title is important; the Salton Sea represents three key elements to the film. The incident that spurs Kilmer down the rabbit hole takes place right near the picturesque titular place, but it also represents both the sea of excess and scum that Danny basks in, and the ocean of anguish, regret and sadness that engulfs Tom. A brilliant piece.

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete

Danny Trejo has been acting for so many years that he’s now a totem of the collective action crime genre, and it was only a matter of time before he got a lead role. Thanks to pulp wizard Robert Rodriguez, that lead role came along in the form of Machete, a fake trailer preceding Rodriguez’s contribution to his Grindhouse mashup with pal Quentin Tarantino that was so popular it was only a matter of time before the feature length outing arrived. Well it arrived, and despite being a bit over saturated and too homogenized for its genre inspiration (where was the nudity??), it’s actually a barrel of fun. Rodriguez seems to have attracted Hollywood stars like a magnet since day one, and this one is positively peppered with high profile talent in the kind of roles you’d think they’d never be caught dead in. Trejo is all scowls and moody machismo as Machete, an ex Federalè turned brutal mercenary who seeks vengeance against the ruthless cartel boss responsible for the murder of his family, played of all people by Steven Seagal in the funniest work he’s ever done. There’s also a rigged election subplot stateside in which corrupt, evil senator Robert Deniro schemes all kinds of nasty shit. His lieutenant is played by Jeff Fahey, who was the villain in the fake trailer and expands his sinister presence here. He’s a natural born scene stealer and his businessman/hitman Booth is an especially violent creation, but I suppose if I had Lindsay Lohan for a daughter (she makes a cameo, parodying her own hard partying image) I’d be a tad grumpy too. There’s also Jessica Alba’s Sartana, a sexy female agent who plays both sides and lets the romantic sparks simmer between her and Trejo, until the film pussies out before we get a deserved sex scene. Michelle Rodriguez is a lot of fun as Luz, a revolutionary badass who disguises her operation in a taco truck. The cast is unreal and includes Shea Wigham as Fahey’s exasperated lead assassin, Tom Savini as the world’s most elaborate contract killer, Don Johnson as a racist scumbag southern fried Sheriff and Cheech Marin as Machete’s brother, a catholic priest who isn’t afraid to use a couple holy shotguns to do do the lord’s dirty work. Robert Rodriguez really jumped onboard the grindhouse train after his joint venture with Tarantino, while QT abandoned ship. This flicks is a lot of fun and allows esteemed actors to play in the sandbox with reckless abandon, and most importantly, Danny Trejo to bask in the spotlight after toiling so hard in the supporting ranks for decades. My only complaint is that it’s a bit too tame in the sex department to count as grindhouse fare (all these hot actresses and not a single nipple flourish or bush brandish), but I suppose when Big Hollywood green-lights a gritty fake trailer, you have to somewhat tow the line, even if you are one of Hollywood’s greatest genre magicians. The sight of Trejo ripping out a dude’s intestines and using them to repel down the face of a building is definitely in the spirit of the sort of films that inspired this though. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Gun

Gun is one of the countless disposable B grade flicks that 50 Cent insists on starring in, for some reason. I mean, the guy got rich, he didn’t die trying, he’s set up for a few lifetimes and he just won’t quit showing up in direct to DVD genre stuff, it’s amusingly weird and I’d love to one day ask him why. Maybe he just really enjoys acting, in which case I say go for it, but maybe with an agent who’s a bit choosier at the script roulette table. This one also stars Val Kilmer, a similarly afflicted actor who’s recently been slumming it, but the two aren’t half bad here as a powerful gun runner (fiddy) and his old prison buddy (Vally) who’s looking for a job. What the big guy doesn’t know is that Kilmer is has actually been tagged by the Feds as an informant, which turns the situation into a powder keg of betrayal and secrets that could get lit any minute. The real scene stealer here is James Remar as a dogged vice detective who has been consumed by the task of taking them both down, he puts actual grit and feeling into the role and seems to be a guest star from a way better film. Others include beauty queen Annalynne McCord as a dangerous rival arms dealer, a quick cameo from Danny Trejo playing his usual brand of aggressive thug, and strangely enough John Larroquette as well, who I swear I haven’t seen in anything since Richie Rich back in the 90’s. You could do worse for this kind of fare, but it’s nothing special.

-Nate Hill