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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Martial Arts Cycle > Mixed Martial Arts > Blaxploitation > Exploitation > Documentary > Fight > Arena (2011/Sony DVD)/Freerunner (2010/Image Blu-ray)/Lethal Ladies Collection (w/Firecracker, Too Hot To Handle & TNT Jackson/Shout! Factory DVD Set)/Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011/Sony DVD)/S

Arena (2011/Sony DVD)/Freerunner (2010/Image Blu-ray)/Lethal Ladies Collection (w/Firecracker, Too Hot To Handle & TNT Jackson/Shout! Factory DVD Set)/Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011/Sony DVD)/Sucker Punch (British/2011/Lionsgate DVD)/UFC: Matt Hughes (Anchor Bay Blu-ray + DVD Sets)


Picture: C/C+/C/C+/C-/B- & C     Sound: C+/B/C+/C+/C/C+     Extras: D/D/C/C/C/B-     Films: D/D/C/C+/C/B-



Now for a trip to the world of real life mixed martial arts and the lower, sometimes stranger side of action films.



First we have four new entries in the death sport subcycle that can be further split into two story types.  With almost the same exact storyline, Jonah Loop’s Arena (2011) and Lawrence Silverstein’s Freerunner (2010) are about young men who are kidnapped and forced into playing a deathsport broadcast worldwide on-line and they are the worst entries here.  Arena offers Kellan Lutz (those Twilight films) as a single kidnapee and Samuel L. Jackson (in his weakest work ever) as the villain running the operation.  Wow is this bad, below all involved plus corny, stupid, pointless and boring.  This Death Race wannabe is an absolute mess and embarrassing throughout.  The same can be said for Freerunner (which takes place in New York City and actually makes it look bad) which has a whole group of the athletically capable men who can run up walls, do flips, jumps and the like locked into the same mess.  Civil Rights never come up, the way they are trapped never makes sense and it is just all lame, lame, lame.  Extras include a Trailer, five featurettes and one includes Outtakes & Bloopers with no point.


A variation that tends to be a little more realistic and certainly more respectful of the audience has the fighters willing participate with revenge as a motive. 


Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011) is directed by and stars Michael Jai White (Spawn, The Dark Knight) as a legendary fighter who a young man turns to for help as another young Internet entrepreneur wants to feed his MMA (Mixed martial arts) website with more profit-making fights.  It is more amusing than expected despite its obviousness and predictability.  I also liked its attitude, though I just wish it had been better.  Other fighter/actors include Lyoto Machida, Todd Duffee and Scottie Epstein.  Extras include Deleted Scenes and a feature length audio commentary with White, Duffee and Epstein.


A British production by Malcolm Martin called Sucker Punch (2011, not to be confused with the awful Zack Snyder financial bomb also from 2011) involves a young man (Danny John-Jones) who was beaten badly by a huge, angry, tough fighter twice his size (shown in flashback more than we needed to see it) spends most of the 92 minutes trying to arrange a new fight with said tough guy in a convoluted plot that is watchable (more than the Snyder film) and being British makes it different than most of its U.S. counterparts by default.  Amusing, I once again wondered what would have happened if it had a better script.  Trailers and a Making Of featurette are the extras.


UFC: Matt Hughes (2011, issued in both Blu-ray and DVD sets) is the latest biography documentary on one of the franchises biggest fighters whose reign runs from 1999 to 2010 and makes him one of the most successful MMA fighters of all time.  A twin brother from small town America, he became an unlikely winner at first due to his silence and subtle demeanor, but this also made him underestimated and he would begin to surprise the MMA world very quickly.  Interviews and footage of his younger days, along with a visit to his hometown where he still lives makes this one of the best UFC releases to date.  Both format versions include an illustrated booklet with text and the bonus disc includes 15 fights and a UFC Hall Of Fame introduction, though the DVD version starts these extras on the first DVD.


Finally to not ignore the ladies, we have a triple feature of three Roger Corman production in the new Lethal Ladies Collection DVD set.  Three different women in three different lead roles as female action heroes albeit exploitation films.  Firecracker (1981) offers real life Karate champion Jillian Kesner as… a karate champion looking for her sister who has disappeared and it looks like it might be drug related.  She is fun ion the role, but it is the usual formula flick that goes nowhere and is not too watchable, which can be said for Don Schain’s Too Hot To Handle (1977) starring Cheri Calfaro (who does a feature length audio commentary for the film here) as a contract murderer whose next target is in the Philippines.  One of the last such projects in the counterculture feminist style (the music is a hoot and the U.S. red, white & blue motifs are classic) is a plus, but the script offers nothing new.  It might make a fun triple feature with Superchick and the Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman pilot from 1974, though.


Last but not least is TNT Jackson (1974), from Firecracker director Cirio M. Santiago, a film often considered one of the worst of all time (see the 50 Worst Films Ever Made DVD reviewed elsewhere on this site) with Playboy Playmate Jeannie Bell going to Hong Kong to find her missing brother who has been killed.  When she finds out his fate, she will get revenge in any way she can.  What makes this one a howler and more worth watching than you might expect is his how amusing Bell is.  Her acting is never angry, though it is not that good, but neither are most of her co-stars.  The film has ambitions to be a Bond film at times, then you have the fight sequences with their “unique” sound effects and the fighting style Bell has can best be described as mannequin-resistant all making this the best film on the list.  You have to see it to believe it.  The same trailers appear on both DVDs as the other extra.



All the DVDs are anamorphically enhanced, with Sucker Punch U.K. (as we’ll refer to it from now on) being the very weakest having constant edge enhancement, softness, motion blur and major color limits beyond any attempts at style.  The Lethal triple feature (all 1.78 X 1), Arena (2.35 X1) and DVD version of Hughes have those problems to a lesser extent, Lethal due to the age of the print ands older transfers, Arena due to too much digital work and Hughes (also 1.78 X 1) but being a documentary with a mix of old and new video footage though its 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer Blu-ray version is the best-looking release here with good color, though the HD footage has aliasing errors, some softness and slight staircasing and the rest is analog NTSC amateur and professional footage.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Freerunner is actually weaker throughout due to styling and gutting out of the picture and offers some of the worst footage of New York City you will ever see.  That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Beatdown the best looking DVD on the list.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is on Freerunner is surprisingly good and easily the sonic winner here, far surpassing anything the disc has to offer, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on Arena, Beatdown and especially Sucker not offering the consistent soundfields they should.  Both Matt Hughes releases are Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with mono moments and the Lethal triple feature is all Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, but does not sound bad for its age throughout even when the films sound aged themselves.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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