Monday, 17 August 2009
TEN DEAD MEN
Running Time: 87 minutes
Website:Ten Dead Men site
Director: Ross Boyask
Please be advised that this review relates solely to the UK version
"Ten Dead Men" is the latest film from the duo of Phil Hobden and Ross Boyask under their Modern Life? banner. I'd like to be able to tell you something about their previous film 'Left For Dead', (check out the bone-crunching Trailer!) but I haven't been able to get hold of the DVD and watch it. They're even giving it away as a free and copletely legal download HERE to help promote the release of "Ten Dead Men", but as yet, having downloaded it, I am unable to get it to play on either my PC or Mac regardless of what player I use, be it Windows, Quicktime, iTunes, DivX etc. Even VLC was having none of it, and that plays just about anything. As is customary with any sort of computer problem, I'm blaming Bill Gates. Even for the fact that it won't play on my Mac. Die, Gates, Die!!!
Obviously, it seems God does not want me to watch "Left For Dead". However, even The Almighty himself has been unable to prevent me getting my hands on "Ten Dead Men", so here's my review.
I've been wanting to check this one out for a while now. If you're going to do low budget films, it's common knowledge that you do a zombie or slasher flick because they're relatively easy to do. Action and martial arts films, on the other hand, are not so easy to do. Any idiot can shuffle about and groan whilst wearing zombie makeup, but leaping roundhouse kicks and the like take a little bit more effort. You can recruit your family and friends as zombies, but probably not as backflipping, axe-kicking ninjas It's a lot easier to choreograph a zombie attack or some cheerleader getting stabbed than it is to choreograph a halfway decent fight scene, which is why you get more low budget zombie and slasher flicks (just look at Zone Horror after 10pm!) than you do low budget martial arts flicks. As such, it's refreshing to see something a little bit different, and this is coming from someone who absolutely adores low budget zombie and slasher flicks.
It's pretty much a standard revenge flick, with the ostensible and remarkably taciturn hero Ryan (Brendan Carr) tracking down and taking out the people who killed his girlfriend (Poojah Shah, ex-Eastenders apparently, but not watching soaps I wouldn't know...) and left him for dead. Astute readers may have already gleaned that people being left for dead is something of a recurring theme or 'leitmotif' for the Modern Life? boys.
As you might well imagine, copious amounts of brutality and bloodshed ensue as Ryan works his way through the list of assorted lowlife scum in a series of impressively-executed action scenes with a number of inventive little twists. Up until "Ten Dead Men", I'd never seen a film where a guy smears a handful of piss and urinal cake into the eyes of his assailant to temporarily blind him and escape his clutches, but I have now! I guess we just have to thank our lucky stars that the writer didn't think to pay homage to John Waters' "Pink Flamingos" (totally NSFW, and you will probably regret clicking the link for the rest of your life unless you really enjoyed that movie with the 2 girls and 1 cup!) and have someone leave a convenient floater in one of the stalls.
Carr (with the aid of some stunt doubles) certainly distinguishes himself in the action scenes, throwing in a wallrunning flip and somersault kick amongst others. Sadly, the fact that his role is almost entirely dialogue-free means he is left with little to do inbetween other than pull a variety of facial expressions to communicate to the viewer his state of mind. This is all very well and good when all that is required is to stand around and look moody, but there are also times when it just doesn't work. Frankly, it's not an enviable situation for an actor of any standing to find themselves in, but it is the situation he finds himself in with this particular movie. Still, like a porno movie, nobody really watches movies like this for the dialogue. Instead, they watch it to see people get injured and/or killed in a variety of new and inventive ways and in as graphic a manner as is possible, and it is on this front that "Ten Dead Men" happily delivers.
For pure oddity value alone, you've got former "Steps" star Lee Latchford-Evans getting garroted in a car park (could this perhaps be the birth of a new cinematic sub-genre wherein minor celebrities or reality TV show rejects are graphically killed onscreen? Might be quite a lucrative market for this, I think...most people only watched the remake of "House Of Wax" so they could see Paris Hilton get killed, after all), and apparently he had a concert to perform later on in the day with his new band "The Latch". Now that's what I call suffering for your art!
(Incidentally, Lee's former Steps bandmate, the now-brunette Fay Tozer (the really, really fit one) has recently begun to dip her toes into the acting pool with an appearance in Xavier Leret's 'Flidsploitation' epic Kung Fu Flid which is apparently being renamed "Unarmed And Dangerous" for the upcoming DVD release. You can watch the movie in streaming format via Film Lounge, but given that I live out in the sticks and my internet connection is less than stellar, I believe I'll wait for the DVD. Coincidentally, Kung Fu Flid also credits none other than L4D and 10DM's Phil Hobden as a producer...it seems that if arse is getting kicked on a Low-To-No-budget independent feature in the UK, then it's a surefire bet that this man will be involved in some way, shape or form. Or capacity, even, if you prefer.)
Speaking of minor celebrities and the like, the fun doesn't stop there, as Chico Slimani (Yes, that's "Ten Dead Men" star JC Mac as the interviewer...he's also Chico's real-life brother and agent too, apparently!) makes a brief cameo as himself whilst Axel is flipping through the TV channels, as do UK pornstar Mark Sloan and Hungarian saucepot Kat Varga (most certainly NSFW!), doing what pornstars normally do. I know which one I'd rather watch!
Away from the quasi-celebrity cameos, we swiftly move on to a terrific tear-up in garage, where Ryan sets about dispatching multiple assailants as he tries to get to Stone, played by producer Phil Hobden under his stage name of 'PL Hobden'. Credit where credit's due...most of the time, when a producer casts themselves in their own flick, it's usually a starring role as the coolest/baddest MF'er on the block who can easily outfight guys much bigger and better than him, has all the best lines, car, wardrobe, and all the best looking women throwing themselves at him. Thankfully, Hobden steers well clear of this and just gets the crap beaten out of him like everyone else.
Indeed, if there's one overriding complaint I do have with this movie, it's that everybody gets the crap beaten out of them by Ryan, and probably a little bit too easily for my liking. You never get the sense that he's in any real danger of being defeated or that he has bitten off more than he can chew, even when the gang draft in some outside help with prior knowledge of how he operates. Again, the rapidfire succession of fairly short fight scenes does nothing to help dispell this perception, however erroneous it may or may not be. Considering he's already been fairly well worked over from the beating he's been given at the start of the movie, you never get the sense that the injuries are truly starting to take their toll on him as his quest for vengeance progresses.
True, the filmmakers have sought to address this near-invincibility by depicting Ryan constantly popping some form of illicit pills to keep himself going, but rather than having him run out of pills sometime before the end and thus be forced to continue his one man mission and contend with his own mortality/injuries at the same time, he instead runs out at the very end, when there is only one bad guy left and one that is not particularly physically intimidating either. It's another golden opportunity missed to graft on a little sub-plot and add another challenge for the hero to (somehow) overcome.
The standout fight of the film, for me, is Ryan versus Bruiser(Tommy Gerald), which involves the two of them demolishing the interior of a derelict house as they attempt to demolish each other. Gerald also contributes another nice fight in the Cage Rage segment as his character is established as a serious physical threat.
Cecily Fay is criminally underused in her role as a Dominatrix. For a brief moment during Ryan's escape from the torturous designs of the sinister Projects Manager (a suitably detached Keith Eyles), I thought we might see a proper fight between the two of them. Sadly, she is dispatched with a quick flurry of headbutts and that's that. Given her rather unique combination of martial arts skills (including weapons) and gymnastics/acrobatics, I felt a fight between her and Ryan would have been something interesting, especially considering the additional factor of gender disparity. A female opponent would certainly have added a little variety to the proceedings, especially one with the sort of skills that Cecily has.
In her defence, she looks good doing, saying, and wearing next to nothing, but you could have just put any half-decent looking girl in this role and not noticed the difference. To put a skilled martial artist in a martial arts/action movie but not have them actually do any martial arts-related stuff just seems like a massive missed opportunity to me.
Anyway, you can check her showreel out HERE.
Comedic relief (or as near as you're going to get to it in a bleak and ultra violent revenge flick) is provided by the vaguely Kidd and Wint-ish (or is it actually rather a homage to Frank Miller's homage to these selfsame Bond villains in "Sin City", which the filmmakers readily acknowledge as an influence on 10DM?)double act of the cold-eyed and distinctly moddish Garrett (Jason Lee Hyde, who bears a slight facial resemblance to Bruce Glover, thus inviting the comparison further) and JC Mac's somewhat simple-minded Parker, an apparent bastard hybrid of Joe Pasquale and Frank Spencer, but thankfully slightly less irritating than either. Oddly enough, despite looking and acting the less mean of the pair, the hitherto bumbling Parker has a down 'n' dirty and thoroughly spirited (but again, sadly all too brief) little scrap with Ryan, so much so that it almost seems out of character for him. Still, it's better than getting punked out with an exploding (and somewhat homoerotic) wedgie or set alight by flaming kebab skewers, as was the inglorious fate that befell their undoubted cinematic precursors.
To top things off, aside from the numerous hand-to-hand fights, there's also an extremely well done sequence where Ryan launches a full-on armed assault on the gang. Guns, grenades, gasoline...you name it, he uses it. I wasn't crazy about some of the CGI in this sequence, but it's bearable because it's brief. Again, this scene stands out because it's a little longer than the others (and segues into the fights with Jason Maza and Silvio Simac, thus extending it further), and I feel that is perhaps the missing ingredient for most of the action sequences in this film.
If anything, I feel that most of the fights are perhaps just a little too short in places, but this is more than likely a consequence of the fact that there needs to be a lot of them as Ryan has a long list to work his way through. I mean, it took Uma Thurman two whole movies to hack her way through a list half that size (okay, and maybe a few other people in the process), whereas Ryan does twice as much in half as many movies. What there is in terms of action is well done, it just seems to be over far too quickly in most cases.
I believe that it is the fact that the storyline necessitates so many fight scenes which has in turn given rise to the oft-aired complaint that this movie is just one fight scene after another with little much of anything in terms of dialogue, character or plot development sandwiched inbetween. In a film that runs 87 minutes, that's nominally one fight every 8.7minutes, and that's without taking into account that the fights themselves will comprise/eat up some part of those 8.7 minutes themselves. Of course, each character has some form of backstory or brief character sketching which eats further into their allotted time. It's not so much "Hello, Goodbye!", but rather "Hello, DIE!", as we are introduced to character after character only to see them meet a violent end a few short minutes later. There are too many divergent storylines for a film of this length to be able to comfortably handle, and as such it does seem to be somewhat truncated in parts. Personally, I'd have gone with less victims (and by victims I mean those he has to kill...the bodycount on this sucker is a lot bigger than a mere 10) and longer fight sequences, but that's just me.
This surfeit of storylines is probably why the filmmakers decided to use a narrator to drive the plotline forward. Not a bad idea in and of itself, but for my money the narration by Doug Bradley doesn't work. There's nothing wrong with the narrative or his reading of it, it's just that his voice doesn't really 'fit' with the subject matter.
However, putting myself in the producer's shoes for a second, I can see that having a narrative by an actor of international reknown with 'above the title' name value versus having a narrative done by someone whose voice is a more natural fit but is completely unknown is a commercial no-brainer (although unless my ears deceive me, a different narrator is used briefly at the very start of the film). I have no doubt that having Doug Bradley's name attached to the project will have certainly opened a few doors and gained a few more sympathetic ears than an unknown would have. Plus it lends an air of respectability to what is otherwise a very low budget affair.
In short, whilst I don't think the Doug Bradley narrative works for the film in an artistic sense, I have no doubts that the Doug Bradley narrative worked extremely well in a commercial sense.
(Oh, and in case you're wondering, it's done in a normal speaking voice rather than the ominously otherworldly tones you might be more familiar with from the likes of the Hellraiser movies or the introduction from Cradle Of Filth's "Her Ghost In The Fog".)
The other storytelling device used to flesh out the very minimal dialogue (apparently the film was ultimately conceived this way for budgetary reasons) is one of constant flashbacks, signified by the screen whiting out and then fading back in again. Indeed, one could say that the whole movie is a flashback of sorts as when we first find Ryan, he's in the process of killing off his eighth victim.
Director Ross Boyask wears his influences firmly on his sleeve...you've got the Tarantino-inspired "shoot from the boot" (or "trunk" for our Americanese-speaking readers) shot, the "Commando" homage with Ryan gearing up before his attack on the gang, and the Robert Rodriguez trademark "guy walks towards camera as something blows up behind him" shot, amongst numerous others.
The latter was a little disappointing as I didn't think the shot was composed as well as it could be (should have been a little tighter, as in the above photoshopped picture...compare it to this promo and see the difference), and being something of a stickler for good composition, I couldn't help but notice the inconsistency in some of Boyask's shots. When he gets it right, which he does more often than not with shots like Terry Stone looming menacingly in the toilet doorway, it's great. When it goes awry, such as with some of the scenes of Ryan and Amy's domestic bliss, it is so jarringly perfunctory that it looks like someone has spliced in one of the dialogue bits from a feature porn movie into the film. Moody action stuff he can do, kitchen sink (literally) not so much. On the plus side, he's only going to get better with each passing film, and it's not like you're going to be watching a film like this predominantly for the dialogue (of which, as I have said before, there is very little).
Still, these gripes are purely a matter of taste than anything else, and other people might find they disagree with me entirely. Having said that, there are a couple of things in "Ten Dead Men" which I thought could have been done a lot better as they are nothing to do with financial limitations or artistic decisions.
For example, when Keller the bent copper goes to collect Ryan's girlfriend Amy, he rings the doorbell and is greeted with a terse 'Do you have any idea what time it is?'. It's broad daylight, she's fully dressed/made up, and you can hear traffic in the background, which would seem to suggest it is neither ridiculously early in the morning nor unsociably late at night. Had she perhaps came to the door in a nightdress or dressing gown then they might have gotten away with it, but as it is this line simply doesn't make sense.
The dumping of Ryan's body at sea is another problematic sequence. We see the nefarious hoodlums heading out to sea in a powerboat, but the dumping of the body is shot looking towards the shoreline, which clearly shows they are not very far out from the shore and all the buildings and people upon it, plus it's broad daylight too, so they can be easily spotted. Had they simply shot the scene from the other side, looking away from the shore and with the vast and seemingly infinite expanse of ocean behind them, it would have looked a lot more plausible, even in daylight.
These are just two things that I thought could have been easily improved/solved at no extra cost.
Still, in spite of the faults addressed above, I rather liked it. There are plenty of good bits to balance out the bad. Indeed, perhaps the greatest crime the producers are guilty of is trying to cram too much in and reach too far beyond the limitations of their budget. Indeed, the mass of deleted scenes included on the disc
(Parkour Chase, Notting Hill, and Speedboat Drug Deal, for example) tends to suggest that this is indeed the case. Inevitably, when you're trying to do so much different stuff, you end up spreading yourself a little too thin in places, and it begins to show.
Having said that, they certainly can't be faulted for trying to go the extra mile and make their film stand out from the pack. There are a number of interesting locations used in the movie (Greyhound track, demolition derby, live Cage Rage event at Wembley Arena) which add significant production value to this little flick. My personal favourite location would probably be the timber yard where the climactic showdown takes place. It's nothing out of the ordinary, but it does look suitably distinctive.
I feel that ultimately the producers are perhaps victims of their own success when it comes to some of the less complimentary reviews floating around out there, as some people might have be lulled into thinking that it is a bigger budgeted production than it actually is. When you consider the budget and schedule/timeframe this was put together under, you suddenly gain a much deeper appreciation for exactly how good it is in spite of these limitations.
Happily, I can report that the ethos of 'going the extra mile' seems to extend far beyond the feature itself. For a single disc release, it is positively crammed full of extras including a 'Making Of...' documentary, cast and crew interviews, the aforementioned deleted scenes (10 in all!), Cage Rage featurette, two feature-length commentaries (one featuring a slightly more locquacious Brendan Carr), and a 30 page graphic novel (or 'ashcan' for the comic book afficionados reading this) which acts as a prequel to the film itself. Plus all the usual stuff like trailers, etc.
In this age of P2P, torrents, and tube sites, it is heartening to see people actually make the effort to add a little 'purchase incentive' value to their product.
So, this leads us to the most pressing question of all: Is it worth the money?
Well, this is going to be a difficult one to answer as I got mine off of Ebay for the princely sum of £2, postage included, so at that price it's unquestionably a bloody steal. Had I paid £5-6 for it, I wouldn't feel particularly short changed, but there's no way I'd pay the £15-17 that some people on Ebay are asking for it. Then again, I wouldn't pay £18-20 for a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster on DVD either, but that's because I'm tight-fisted! For this movie/package, I'd say anything under a tenner is an absolute steal.
Ultimately, this is one you're going to have to make your own mind up on, and balance out how much you want to see it versus how much you're prepared to pay for it. I believe HMV recently had it for around £4, so it can be had at a very reasonable price if you're prepared to bide your time and wait for it. As I write this, it is available for around £2.50 secondhand at Amazon.co.uk, but you've got to figure in postage and packaging to that particular equation.
Personally, as someone who will always give low budget movies a go, and particularly low budget British movies, I'm rather chuffed with my purchase. At the piffling price I paid for it, I'm sure I could turn it around for a swift and handsome profit, but this one is finding itself a home on my 'keep' shelf. Sure, it has more than a few flaws, but there are also plenty of diamonds in the rough, the action and fight scenes are really well done and I'm definitely going to be making a point to check out whatever they are doing next.