Thursday, April 16, 2015

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2 (2015); [REC] 4 (2015); and KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN (2015)

(US - 2015)

The RZA's ragged and likely compromised (his original cut was rumored to run a self-indulgent four hours) kung-fu homage THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS wasn't really a hit when it was released in theaters in the fall of 2012. Grossing close to $16 million, it made just enough to recoup its $15 million budget, thus justifying a DTV sequel. Minus the cosmetic "Quentin Tarantino Presents" banner, RZA returns in the title role and co-wrote the script with ROMEO MUST DIE screenwriter John Jarrell (whose last writing credit was the 2002 Bruce Campbell vehicle TERMINAL INVASION), but hands directing chores off to straight-to-DVD action sequel specialist Roel Reine (THE MARINE 2, DEATH RACE 2, DEATH RACE 3: INFERNO, THE SCORPION KING 3, 12 ROUNDS 2: RELOADED). As far as these things go, IRON FISTS 2 is dumb but reasonably entertaining, has some better-than-expected CGI, humor in the form of some intentionally anachronistic verbiage and delivery and, like many of Reine's movies, looks a lot more expensive than it really is. The film opens with RZA's Blacksmith leaving Jungle Village on a journey of peace to find his chi, but instead being attacked by the brother of the dead Silver Lion, his chief adversary in the first entry. The Blacksmith, named Thaddeus, is injured in the melee and is eventually nursed back to health by the family of Li Kung (21 JUMP STREET's Dustin Nguyen), the leader of a village of oppressed, slave-laboring miners ruled by tyrannical warlord Master Ho (Carl Ng), whose ruthless quest for power and "The Golden Nectar" has rendered the paraplegic, wheelchair-bound Mayor Zhang (the great Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) a helpless figurehead.

Of course, Thaddeus the Blacksmith will aid Li Kung and the miners in their fight to take back their village from Master Ho in what essentially amounts to a martial-arts redux of SHANE and PALE RIDER. Where RZA paid homage to '70s kung fu in the first film, here he sets his sights on things like Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH and Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, right down the final showdown between the miners and Master Ho's feared Beetle Clan being set to a sampled remix of Ennio Morricone's "The Ecstasy of Gold." Rivers of blood flow, and there's one very well done and exceptionally splattery and chunky full-body explosion, plus a visual shout-out to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST with Master Ho having some miners impaled on wooden poles going in one end and exiting through the mouth. While it's lacking the first film's flamboyant performance by RZA buddy Russell Crowe playing vulgar mercenary Jack Knife as a fusion of Richard Burton and Oliver Reed, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2 isn't bad for what it is. While RZA's heart was in the right place when he took on directing duties in the previous film, Reine is much more solid and polished with action sequences and ensuring that its Thailand location-shooting has a near-epic scope that you wouldn't expect considering its low budget and straight-to-DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix Instant release (it actually looks better than its much bigger-budgeted predecessor). You could almost see this turning into a franchise or a cable series with RZA's Blacksmith functioning as some sort of wandering, 19th century David Banner, drifting from village to village helping those in need. And I don't know about you, but Ng's Master Ho declaring "You just walked into a windstorm of flying elephant shit!" is pure poetry. (Unrated, 90 mins, also streaming on Netflix Instant)

[REC] 4
(Spain - 2014; US release 2015)

The fourth and allegedly final installment in a franchise that was already superfluously padding an 85-minute running time as early as [REC] 2, [REC] 4 marks the return of Manuela Velasco as reporter Angela Vidal, the central character of the first two films, as well as director Jaume Balaguero, who co-directed the first two entries with Paco Plaza before Plaza flew solo on the third while Balaguero went off to direct SLEEP TIGHT. Balaguero is back and Plaza is out, but it hardly matters. After a very well-done first film, the [REC] series has been running on fumes since about 40 minutes into [REC] 2. [REC] 3: GENESIS was the odd-man-out, HALLOWEEN III/THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT of the franchise, instead focusing on a different cast at a wedding reception where the demonic virus outbreak spreads at the same time as the events of the first two films, a concept that allowed Plaza to rip off Lamberto Bava's DEMONS and Michele Soavi's THE CHURCH. One survivor of that reception (Maria Alfonsa Rosso) turns up here, but Velasco's Vidal is again front and center, rescued from the apartment building from the first two films and quarantined with others on a ship in the middle of the ocean. The ship's been commandeered by secretive medical researcher Dr. Ricarte (Hector Colome), who's working on a retrovirus to counter the outbreak and is convinced that Angela is the key to finding a breakthrough. That is, until all hell breaks loose when the ship's infected cook contaminates all of the food, and everyone's trapped onboard since Ricarte cut off communication and disabled the lifeboats to eliminate the chance of any infected making it back to the mainland. If nothing else, [REC] 4 deserves some credit for completely jettisoning the exhaustingly overplayed found-footage element, even if that's what gives the [REC] title its meaning. It's also telling that the [REC] movies have overstayed their welcome to the point that they've outlasted the very craze the original had a hand in popularizing ([REC] was remade in America as QUARANTINE). There's nothing really exciting here: those infected by the virus crave human flesh and sprint and banshee-howl through the ship when attacking. It's pretty much a fast-zombie apocalypse on a boat, though there is a nice nod to the great DOCTOR BUTCHER, M.D. with one of the infected being on the receiving end of an outboard motor head-shredding. There's nothing more than can be done with this story, and while Balaguero has insisted that this is the final film in the series, the door is of course left open for a fifth (or even worse, a reboot), even if he may be the only one who still cares: Magnolia released this on VOD and five screens in the US for a total theatrical gross of $837. (R, 95 mins)

(US/UK/Netherlands/Belgium/Canada - 2015)

At the time it took place in 1983, the kidnapping of Amsterdam-based Heineken Brewery CEO Freddy Heineken led to the biggest ransom ever paid for an individual, the equivalent of roughly $17 million. Heineken and his driver Ab Doderer were abducted outside of Heineken's office on November 9, 1983 and held for three weeks before an anonymous tip led police to suspect a small group of friends and failed businessmen led by Cor van Heut and Willem Holleeder, who split the money five ways and fled. All were eventually apprehended and served prison time. It's a fascinating story, and it was just made into the 2011 Dutch-language film THE HEINEKEN KIDNAPPING, with Rutger Hauer as Heineken. In this English-language telling--made with the input of famed Dutch true crime journalist Peter R. de Vries, author of the 1987 chronicle The Kidnapping of Alfred Heineken--Anthony Hopkins pulls out all of his Hannibal Lecter tics and mannerisms (in other words, "Anthony Hopkins") for a perfunctory performance as Heineken, making schmoozing small-talk and attempting to manipulate his kidnappers. Even going through the motions, Hopkins effortlessly walks away with the film, which isn't hard since it's also a gathering of the hottest new talent that 2008 had to offer, with Jim Sturgess as van Hout and Sam Worthington as Holleeder. Other than Hopkins and a couple of well-acted bits by David Dencik as Doderer--knowing he's expendable and that if the kidnappers want to show how serious they are, he'll be the example--nobody makes much of an impression.  There's a reason Sturgess never became a big star after ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and 21 and Worthington's career never took off after AVATAR, the highest-grossing film of all time: they just aren't very interesting actors. Competent, yes, but guys like Sturgess and Worthington (and, I guess, Ryan Kwanten, who plays kidnapper Cat Boellard but, like the other two actors who make up the quintet, more or less just blends in with the background) are a dime a dozen and never stand out when given headlining roles. And judging from this film's almost non-existent theatrical release, the Sturgess star vehicle ELECTRIC SLIDE getting dumped on VOD two weeks ago after celebrating its fourth anniversary on the shelf, and that Worthington's most recent major gig being a supporting role in SABOTAGE--one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's worst movies--Hollywood has apparently finally given up trying to make them happen.

It doesn't help that KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN rushes through the set-up and never establishes a clear time element (van Hout and the others spent two years planning their abduction of Heineken), but it's also packed with every kidnapping thriller trope and cliche imaginable. You can predict with almost clockwork accuracy at what point the Amsterdumbasses will turn on one another and question their loyalty, or how fugitive, homesick van Hout's insistence on calling his girlfriend back home in Amsterdam will eventually lead the cops right to their door. It almost takes a special effort to make a story this inherently interesting so utterly bland and instantly forgettable. Lifelessly directed by Daniel Alfredson, who helmed the second and third inferior entries in the original Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy, KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN doesn't even work hard enough to earn the participation medal of being deemed a harmless time-killer, or to justify its existence just four years after another film told the exact same story. (R, 95 mins)

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