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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray: ICE SOLDIERS (2014) and RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE (2014)

ICE SOLDIERS
(Canada - 2014)

If you can imagine SHOCK WAVES caught in the Polar Vortex and paired with UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, but brought down by sluggish pacing and lackluster greenscreen and CGI, then you've got a pretty good idea of how ICE SOLDIERS plays out.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, while America is focused on Cuba, the Russians have deployed three genetically-engineered super soldiers to launch a terrorist attack on NYC.  But their plane crashes in the barren tundra of northernmost Canada and they're discovered by some scientists at a nearby military base, who are promptly killed as the "Ice Soldiers" vanish in the endless, frozen wilderness.  50 years later, scientists Malraux (Dominic Purcell) and Lobokoff (Nicu Branzea) get funding from an oil company to ostensibly drill for crude but really to search for the Ice Soldiers, who Malraux believes are still at large.  Also along are micro-managing oil company ballbuster Frazer (Camille Sullivan), who hired a crew of money-hungry crew of mercenaries led by Col. Trump (the great Michael Ironside).  With a blizzard on the way, Frazer and Trump call an early end to the expedition until Malraux discovers the frozen bodies of the three Ice Soldiers who, miraculously, still show faint signs of life.  Frazer and Trump see endless riches but Malraux has a change of heart and tries to terminate the life support for the Ice Soldiers, who proceed to kill everyone but Malraux and again escape.  On his own in the middle of nowhere, Malraux encounters Native American TC Cardinal (Adam Beach) and hires him to help track the Ice Soldiers, who have retained their intelligence and still plan to go forth with their half-century-old plan of attacking NYC.


Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson (BEOWOLF & GRENDEL) and written by Jonathan Tydor (I COME IN PEACE), ICE SOLDIERS gets off to a decent start and gets a lift from an enjoyably growly Ironside in vintage "Michael Ironside" mode.  Even Purcell is better than usual and the film has some amusingly goofy asides, like the Ice Soldiers commandeering an SUV and discovering their affinity for rap music and trashy women.  But with 90% of the cast killed off by the midway point, the pace slows significantly and Gunnarsson and Tydor fall victim to clich√©s and plot convenience.  Of course Cardinal has a drinking problem.  And when the trail of the Ice Soldiers leads Malraux and Cardinal to the nearest town, they're immediately arrested for no reason other than increasing the body count when the dumb--and soon-to-be dead--cops don't buy their story.  By the time Malraux brawls it out with the lead Ice Soldier (Gabriel Hogan), it's very likely that you'll be as checked out of this as its makers. (R, 95 mins)


RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE
(US - 2014)

There's a sharp satirical bite to the concept behind this faux-documentary from NYC-based British indie filmmaker Ashley Cahill.  Filmed in 2010 under the title CHARM and shown on the festival circuit under that title as well as MALCOLM before its current rechristening, RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE stars writer/director/producer/editor Cahill as Malcolm, a seemingly affable Manhattan doorman who moonlights as a serial killer whose exploits are being chronicled by documentary filmmaker Bob (Dominic Ciccodicola).  Citing Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and Scorsese's MEAN STREETS and TAXI DRIVER as influences (and dedicating the film to Samuel Fuller), Cahill's biggest debt is probably owed to Remy Belvaux's MAN BITES DOG as Malcolm sets out to avenge the gentrification of NYC and return it to its sleazy and dangerous glory days of the '70s and '80s.  AMERICAN PSYCHO-as-a-mockumentary wears a little thin after a while and Cahill falls victim to intermittent self-indulgence, but there's a lot of genuinely sick laughs throughout, whether Malcolm is confronted with such offenses as homeless people asking for his pizza but complaining because it's not vegetarian ("You're a bum, you're begging for food and you won't eat meat?  What happened to this city?"), vacuous poseurs who wear homemade Truffaut and Godard tees but don't appreciate Clint Eastwood and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER ("Is that the one with the monkey?" someone asks), vegans, thumb rings, movie theater texters ("Do you know how difficult it is to get a film released?  Have some respect for the cinema!"), and trendy bands ("If I could kill any band in the world, it would be Kings of Leon").   There's also some hints at sly meta commentary on battles between producers and directors when Malcolm starts clashing with Bob over the goals of the documentary and the direction in which it's heading.  Cahill doesn't really explore the ramifications of his actions until an admittedly inspired finale that feels like TAXI DRIVER if rewritten by Larry David.  Not everything in RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE works and it ultimately feels like a drawn-out MAN BITES DOG tribute as seen through the lens of a trust-fund Abel Ferrara, but when it works--which is more often than not--it works well, and I liked the vibe that Cahill captures amidst the jarring mix of laugh-out-loud humor and shocking violence.  As an actor, he comes off as an odd and funny combination of Stephen Merchant and William Fichtner.  Also with Dustin Hoffman's dead ringer son Jake as a gun dealer and a cameo by Cahill pal Kirsten Dunst as herself.  Co-produced by Wes Craven's son Jon. (Unrated, 87 mins, also streaming on Netflix Instant)


Note: though in English, this is the French trailer for the film, hence the "Un Film de Ashley Cahill," which is not some pretentiously douchey stab at humor on his part.

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