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Replicant [2001]Replicant - Directed by Ringo Lam – 2001 – 101 minutes – Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Rooker, Catherine Dent, Brandon James Olson & Pam Hyatt. If like me, you were slightly disappointed that Van Damme’s flamboyant villainous portrayal in big screen Action extravaganza The Expendables 2 wasn’t afforded the screen time he richly deserved, then Ringo Lam’s criminally underrated Replicant is the perfect antidote to replenish your need for Van Dammage. Co-starring with the ever reliable Michael Rooker, Jean-Claude Van Damme takes on one of his infamous dual roles in this unique Sci-Fi-Thriller. We are initially introduced to Van Damme in a shocking scene where he brutally murders a mother, setting her on fire and leaving her small baby in the burning building to perish. Van Damme is Edward Garrotte, an emotionally disturbed Serial Killer with serious mummy issues. Garrotte is nicknamed ‘The Torch‘ by police, due to his trademark burning of victims. Rooker is Detective Jake Riley, a hardened veteran cop who has been after Garrotte for some time, without much success. After one particularly close encounter between Jake and Garrotte, the Detective is approached by a representative of the National Security Agency, who offers him an intriguing proposition. Apparently they have cloned Garrotte using DNA found in a strand of his hair, and they want Jake to work with the killer’s clone and use him to try and track Garrotte. This is when the fim really becomes interesting, as the clone, referred to as ‘Replicant’, allows Van Damme to deliver one of his most impressive performances to date, portraying the Replicant as a child-like innocent, whose only knowledge of the outside world comes from the information the laboratory provides him with. As the Replicant’s knowledge is limited, he is initially unable to speak, allowing Van Damme to deliver a compelling performance based solely on physical acting and use of body language to convey the clone’s feelings and emotions. An underrated actor, the oft high kicking Belgian is astonishingly unselfconscious in a deceptively tough role which could have easily been mishandled by a lesser performer. Jake ultimately takes the Replicant into his custody and the pair leave the NSA headquarters and head into the outside world, where their fractious relationship begins. The Detective initially mistreats the clone, due to his physical and thereby psychological association with the murderous Garrotte, while the innocent Replicant can’t understand what it is he has done to merit such ill treatment. It’s not all Drama and Psycho-analysis though, as Ringo Lam is a man who knows how to shoot Action, as anyone who’s seen any of his masterful Hong Kong Thrillers would testify. The action here does not disappoint, with several kinetic set pieces which really get the blood-pumping. There is also the inevitable climactic fight between Garrotte and the Replicant; a mouth watering prospect, this Van Damme mano-a-mano is accomplished mighty effectively on screen. The film features the muscles from Brussels in his best dual role to date, delivering the goods in the dramatic stakes, whilst also serving up more than enough high kicking action mayhem to satisfy his core fanbase. Trivia: The term ‘Replicant’ is derived from Ridley Scott’s cult Sci-Fi Classic Blade Runner [1982], which invented the term to be used instead of the traditional term ‘Android’. If you like this you might also like: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer [1986] – Replicant co-star Michael Rooker delivers a superlative portrayal of a Serial Killer in this extremely harrowing and horrifyingly convincing hybrid of Crime and Horror. Based on a true story. Maximum Risk [1996] – Excellent earlier action thriller collaboration between Van Damme and director Ringo Lam, co-starring Species’ starlet Natasha Henstridge as the eye candy.


Repo! The Genetic Opera [2008]Repo! The Genetic Opera – Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman – 2008 – 98mins – Starring Anthony Head, Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino, Paris Hilton and Sarah Brightman. The horror genre has a pedigree of impressive musical movies, with The Rocky Horror Picture Show [1975], Little Shop of Horrors [1986] and more recently Tim Burton’s excellent Sweeny Todd [2007]. Sadly this movie does not join them. However it is certainly worth a watch with excellent performances from Anthony Head and soprano Sarah Brightman and an interesting Bladerunner-ish futuristic storyline. Set in 2056 a conglomerate called GeneCo offers anyone willing to pay the chance for surgery, whether it be for medical or cosmetic reasons. The uptake is high with people becoming hooked on plastic surgery to improve their looks. However the downside is if you cannot keep up with your payments, a repo man is sent to reclaim what belongs to GeneCo, normally with fatal consequences as pieces of surgery are forcefully removed. Heading up GeneCo is the evil Rotti Largo, played by Paul Sorvino who is normally a very reliable actor and is also alleged to be a talented singer. I don’t know if it was just the songs he was handed in this role, but I would say that the jury is still very much out on that verdict. Working for Largo is Nathan [Head] who was a brilliant doctor turned nasty repo man with the tragic death of his wife. He hides this sinister life from his seriously ill daughter Shilo [Alexa Vega], but when he is ordered by the manipulative Largo to repossess the eyes of brilliant opera singer Blind Mag [Brightman] who was a friend of his wife and Godmother to Shilo he finds himself torn between family loyalty and his work. The themes are very operatic in nature with a subplot involving Largo’s children [who include Paris Hilton] vying to take over the business. Director Darren Lynn Bousman, who worked on a number of the Saw films, as you would therefore expect keeps the atmosphere very dark and bleak, with some very bloody and extreme horror; in one memorable scene Nathan sings while ripping the intestines out of a repo victim. Sadly the films failing is the fact that the songs simply aren’t good enough, and despite the efforts of the cast, crew and direction, an opera with duff songs is always going to be an opera with duff songs. Trivia: The movie is based on a stage play The Necromerchant's Debt. In order to get the movie financed director Darren Lynn Bousman filmed a 10 minute version of the story to show to producers in which Michael Rooker played the Repo Man. If you like this you may also like: The afore mentioned trio The Rocky Horror Picture Show [1975], Little Shop of Horrors [1986], Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd [2007], also Dario Argento’s gory reworking of The Phantom of the Opera [1998] is very enjoyable.

Retroactive [1997]Retroactive – Directed by Louis Morneau – 1997 – 103 minutes – Starring Kylie Travis, James Belushi, Shannon Whirry, Frank Whaley, Sherman Howard, Jesse Borrego and M. Emmet Walsh. A taut, tense, highly effective time travel/road movie with a novel set up, Retroactive was one of the finest films of 1997. The film begins when central protagonist Karen's [Kylie Travis] car breaks down; she is ultimately picked up by two strangers, Frank [James Belushi] and his girlfriend Rayanne [Shannon Whirry]. Frank is a shady character who unbeknownst to his fellow travellers, is on his way to meet a contact to sell them some stolen computer chips. However, after repeatedly calling Rayanne’s fidelity into question, Frank eventually resolves to violently blow her away. Karen manages to escape the car with a crazed Frank hot on her heels. She finds her way into a fenced off laboratory, where it transpires that a time travel experiment is being worked on; she forces the lone scientist to send her back in time to prevent Rayanne’s murder. The time travelling device works and she finds herself back in Frank and Rayanne’s car earlier that day. Unfortunately her plans to save Rayanne’s life are continually beset with unforeseen circumstances; every time she travels back in time something goes wrong. Moreover, certain acquaintances of Frank become increasingly involved at various junctures, leading to an escalating bloodbath which ultimately spirals out of control. To divulge any further details would ruin the surprises the film has in store, suffice it to say that Retroactive is a clever, witty, Action-packed Sci-Fi Thriller about theconsequences of time travel which gives a stale, tired subgenre a much needed shot in the arm. It's an adrenaline fuelled blast. Trivia: Former US President Bill Clinton’s brother Roger appears in a small role. Roger Clinton also co-starred as the Mayor in Pumpkinhead 2: Bloodwings [1994] and played ‘Agent Clinton’ in the Leslie Nielson ‘comedy’ Spy Hard [1996]. If you like this you may also like: A.P.E.X. [1994] – Enjoyable time travelling Sci-Fi nonsense about a robot drone being sent back in time from 2073 to 1973, an experiment with disastrous consequences which adversely affect the time line, leaving humankind overrun by murderous robots.

Road House [1989]Road House – Directed by Rowdy Herrington – 1989 – 114 minutes - Starring Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliot, Ben Gazzara, Jeff Healey, Kathleen Wilhoite, Red West, Julie Michaels, Terry Funk and Marshall R. Teague as ‘Jimmy’. An immaculate Martial Arts/Exploitation film about the life of a tough, Tai Chi trained, almost mythically legendary Bar room bouncer. His name is Dalton [Patrick Swayze], and he doesn’t know the meaning of the word pain, as he remarks to the sexy female Doctor [Kelly Lynch] stitching up one of his wounds: ‘Pain don’t hurt.’ A mark of his status is conveyed by a running joke whereby any time he meets somebody new they greet him with; ‘I thought you’d be bigger.’ The story begins with Dalton being hired as head bouncer at the Double Deuce, the toughest Bar in Jasper, Missouri, where a brutal punch up/glassing is never more than a minute away. With his level-headed, hard-arse efficiency it doesn't take Dalton long to clean up the bar. However he hadn’t reckoned on dealing with Brad Wesley [Ben Gazzara], a crime boss with the whole town under his thumb. Wesley takes a disliking to Dalton when the latter sacks one of his boys from the Double Deuce; he likes him even less when he discovers he’s courting his ex-wife. The conflict between the two men escalates, with Dalton calling on his old amigo Wade Garrett [Sam Elliott] to assist him, while Wesley uses his power to divert alcohol supplies from the Double Deuce and sends his Martial Arts lackeys to rough the place up. The scene is set for more violent confrontations – Dalton has the power to tear out a man’s throat - and more outrageous dialogue -‘I used to fuck guys like you in prison!’- than you can shake a bloody great stick at. Excellent fight choreography abounds in this extremely well made, flawlessly paced, shamelessly entertaining brew of ultra-cool, knowingly silly action goodness which stands as a true classic of its kind. Trivia: Keith David [The Thing, They Live, The Rock, etc.] cameos as a bartender. The late Jeff Healey, who features predominantly as blind singer/guitar player Cody, was in reality a blind singer/guitar player, the front man for The Jeff Healey Band. If you like this you may also like: Murphy’s Law [1986] – An enjoyable Charles Bronson vehicle featuring a more prominent role for Road House co-star Kathleen Wilhoite as Bronson’s foul-mouthed comic foil. Striking Distance [1993] – An enjoyable subsequent film from director Herrington, starring Bruce Willis as a waterlogged cop. Walker, Texas Ranger: One Riot, One Ranger [1993] – Head Road House lackey Marshall R. Teague is upgraded to head villain in this feature-length TV movie pilot to the long running Chuck Norris series.

Robot and Frank [2012]Robot & Frank – Directed by Jake Schreier – 2012 – 89mins – Starring Frank Langella, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice for the Robot. Set in the near future Frank [Langella] stars as a retired cat burglar who lives in a cottage in the woods and is slowly losing his mind to dementia. His son Hunter [Marsden] visits once a week and is becoming increasingly worried about his wellbeing. As Frank flatly refuses to go into a retirement home, Hunter buys him the latest healthcare accessory, a robot butler who is programmed to cook, clean and devise a daily routine and hobbies for its patient in order to help memory retention. Frank initially dislikes the robot, which wakes him up early every morning, prepares healthy meals and tries to encourage him to take-up gardening. Eventually though he begins to value the companionship and when Frank suggests that he teach the robot how to pick locks as a hobby both are very pleased with each others progress. When Frank learns that the local library has been taken over by Yuppies and will be getting rid of all the books as everything is available in digital form he is very upset and decides to get revenge on Jake [a dislikeable Jeremy Strong] the lead moderniser. Frank therefore sets about planning a burglary of Jake’s luxury house, working with the robot to run through the scheme. The robot is keen to encourage activities that get Frank’s mind working and being programmed with the intention to help his patient and not with moral or legal directives it doesn’t fully understand the consequences of its actions. Peter Sarsgaard who provides the voice for the robot does an excellent job at portraying this dilemma. While Langella’s top-notch performance and the subtle direction from Schreier carefully manages not to make the story overly sentimental which could so easily have been the case. Instead they have created an at times very funny and hugely enjoyable heist movie. Trivia: This is the first feature film for director Schreier. Over the end credits a number of real-life robots are shown carrying out various tasks – hopefully it won’t be too long before we can all get a robot butler! If you like this you may also like: If you like Frank Langella check out his Oscar nominated performance as Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon [2008]. If you like ageing burglar movies The Maiden Heist [2009] should be right up your street with Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken and William H. Macy as security guards planning to rob their own museum.

Rolling Thunder [1977]Rolling Thunder - Directed by John Flynn – 1977 – 95 minutes – Starring William Devane, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Haynes, James Best, Dabney Coleman, Lisa Blake Richards, Luke Askew and Cassie Yates. William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones both give memorable performances in this harrowing Thriller about the after-effects of war. They play Vietnam war veterans Major Charles Rane and Johnny Vohden, who return from duty to their home town. They are granted a ‘heroes welcome’, and with much fanfare Major Rane is awarded a monetary prize on top of his medals. However, there is a lingering feeling that they can never fit into society as they did before; both men are forever changed by their wartime experiences. Things are bleak for Major Rane back home; during his lengthy military tenure, his wife ‘moved on’ to a relationship with a new man, who has become close with his son in the interim. To make matters worse, a ruthless gang of men break into Rane’s home and demand the decorated Vietnam veteran to hand over the money awarded to him by the town; when he refuses, his attackers apply extreme force, brutally shoving his hand down the garbage disposal unit and cold bloodedly shooting him and his family. After a lengthy recovery period in hospital, Major Rane vows to revenge himself against his attackers. When brothers in arms Rane and Vohden ultimately suit up for a final showdown with the films antagonists, there is a pleasingly unsettling, ambiguous edge to proceedings; the thrilling, suspenseful climactic shootout plays out like a subverted Western [a cross between Gunfight at the OK Corral and Taxi Driver]. Surprisingly avoiding Exploitation territory - despite a ‘revenge’ plotline - undervalued director John Flynn films this as a serious, probing psychological Thriller/ Drama. The underrated Devane makes the most of one of his best roles, subtly delving into the inner recesses of his flawed, deeply troubled character. He is ably matched by an excellent Jones in support, the latter largely conveying his hollow emotional state through body language alone. The looks exchanged between the two men at various points in the film beautifully illustrate their deep bond, shared disillusionment and all round restlessness. They deliver a masterclass in underplayed acting, in the service of a powerfully understated film. Trivia: The original screenplay was written by Paul Schrader [Taxi Driver, Raging Bull]; however the script was re-written by Heywood Gould prior to filming. If you like this you might also like: The Yakuza [1974] – Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura star in Sidney Pollack’s excellent Samurai-Film Noir, devised by Leonard Schrader, and written by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne. Taxi Driver [1976] – Martin Scorsese’s classic urban nightmare. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the films climax with Rolling Thunder’s, as they are markedly similar in theme.

Runaway [1984]Runaway – Directed by Michael Crichton – 1984 – 99 minutes – Starring Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Kirstie Alley, Gene Simmons, G.W. Bailey, Stan Shaw, Joey Cramer, Chris Mulkey and Anne-Marie Martin. Tom Selleck stars in this underrated Sci-Fi Thriller from director/novelist Michael Crichton. Set in a future where robots are so commonplace they help out with everyday chores, the film’s hero is Sergeant Jack Ramsay, a specialist in malfunctioning machine cases. Ramsay is partnered up with the attractive Officer Karen Thompson [Cynthia Rhodes] and the two of them become embroiled in a mystery involving robots inexplicably turning into murderers. Dr. Charles Luther [Gene Simmons] is the villain responsible; he is the instigator of an insane plot designed to raise an army of killer robots for him to be able to command at his every whim. As well as boasting a suspenseful opening featuring a house robot going haywire and a subsequent cat and mouse hunt between it and Ramsay, Runaway also features several memorable Action set-pieces throughout. Jerry Goldsmith provides the film’s strange electronic score, which sounds slightly dated now and remains an acquired taste; however it is undeniably stylish. Runaway of course considerably benefits from the presence of Tom Selleck, a sorely underrated actor with considerable range; he is believable as ever as Ramsay, ably conveying the fragile, human side of his character as well as nailing the tough, heroic Sergeant characteristics; this remains one of his best film roles to date. Fans of Sci-Fi Thrillers should definitely give Runaway a look and it also contains all the requisite thrills your average Action fan craves. Trivia: Head villain Gene Simmons is better known for being the front man for rock band Kiss. If you like this you may also like: Westworld [1973] – Michael Crichton’s highly influential 70s Cult Classic starring a brilliantly cast Yul Brynner as a malfunctioning robot cowboy. Crichton sure does like his malfunctioning robots! 


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