5.17.2018

Blu-Ray Review: The Taking of Beverly Hills (Kino Lorber)

This Forgotten 90's Action Classic Finally Gets a Much Deserved Upgrade

by robotGEEK

In case you didn't already know it, The Taking of Beverly Hills is one of my favorite action movies. Not that that's all too surprising though, right? It has everything I love in a cheesy 90's action flick in spades, and boy does it deliver. I remember this being a film I caught randomly on TV (probably HBO or Cinemax) back in the 90's and sort of forgetting about it ever since. Flash forward a few decades and I randomly snagged this on VHS on eBay; threw it on one Monday afternoon on my day off and proceeded to have just the best time. It's a highly absurd slice of 90's Badass Cinema that caters to that very niche genre (the terrorist and the wrong place/wrong time/wrong guy who has to stop him) where you really have to suspend belief to enjoy it. But I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy every single second of it. I legitimately had the best time revisiting this.

What I love about this is that it's pretty much a nonstop ride of action and explosions (I'm talking about mansions literally getting blown to shit and a tank destroying half of Beverly Hills), where our protagonist, a rich football star (Ken Wahl), teams up with a cop (Matt Frewer) to stop this band of terrorists who have taken over the city, all played to a highly eclectic, yet fun and amusing 90's soundtrack that includes Janet Jackson's Black Cat and Faith No More's Epic to name a few. It's just a great time, plain and simple. It also works as a fascinating time capsule of 1991. You'll surely enjoy the mullets, big shoulder pads and dated decor immensely.



One of this film's most impressive qualities is in the casting of the legendary Robert Davi as the villain. Davi, as most of you all know, is always a genuine badass and makes any film he appears in so much better, and it's no different here. His presence alone elevates the material substantially.

Another element that doesn't get nearly enough respect about this particular film is just how fantastic it looks. Directed by Sidney J. Furie, a director who's made both good films (Iron Eagle, The Entity) and terrible films (Superman IV), with cinematography by Frank Johnson (The A-Team series), The Taking of Beverly Hills oozes style out of every pore, giving it such a slick aesthetic that it could very easily pass for one of the early Die Hard films. That's how great this thing looks, and now that we have this new HD transfer, I think more people will finally be given the chance to notice and appreciate that.



For starters, Kino's transfer is great, there's no question about that. But one of the biggest benefits from this new release is being able to see it in widescreen in HD for the first time here in the states. Before this, the only available widescreen version of this film was on Laserdisc, and with LD's having long been extinct, this particular release often goes for big money. I rarely ever found it for under $50, which could be because of it's rarity or the fact that it was the only way to ever see it in its proper aspect ratio. Either way, it was expensive and our only other option was VHS, in full frame. I could be wrong, but I'm not aware of an official DVD release of this here in the U.S., until Kino Lorber came along.

Like much of Kino's releases, this is pretty devoid of extras, save for a commentary by film historian Howard S. Berger and Sidney J. Furie biographer Daniel Kremer. You also get a trailer of the film. It's always a shame Kino doesn't go the extra mile and produce some new interviews or any other extra's that we really want to see. I'd love to see Ken Wahl come out of retirement and talk about his experience making this, his first and only big attempt at being a big budget action star after his highly successful Wiseguy TV show. Or hell, even Matt Frewer or director Sidney J. Furie. But alas, we got none of that. Luckily the transfer and sound quality are top notch. So you pretty much just get a great looking film, but that's it.

If you love action, and miss the big budget action spectacles of the 90's, then The Taking of Beverly Hills is for you. It's big, it's loud, and it's utterly ridiculous, but so much fun. You just can't beat it for sheer entertainment value alone.

Released by Kino Lorber in January of this year, it's available from any of your favorite online retailers for roughly around $20. For action fans, it's a Must-Buy.




5.15.2018

80's Action Attack!: Rage of Honor (1987)

"Justice is Here"

by robotGEEK

As I'm knee-deep into my ninja and Sho Kosugi fix, this little seen and often forgotten entry from his 80's output popped up on my radar after gleefully rediscovering the masterpiece that is Pray for Death. Naturally it was a no-brainer that I would immediately grab this one as well. And as luck would have it, just like with Pray for Death, Rage of Honor got a snazzy Blu-Ray release back in 2017 courtesy of Arrow Films. Let's dig in.

Re-teaming with his Pray for Death director Gordon Hessler, Sho Kosugi attempts to take a somewhat detour from his typical ninja fare by making this more of a secret agent style film where he plays a DEA agent who's partner is killed by a sadistic drug-lord, whom he chases all the way to Argentina for revenge after quitting the force.
Rage of Honor tries really hard to distinguish itself from the ninja craze that Sho Kosugi himself made so popular as "the" defining face of the ninja in the 80's by making it more of an espionage/agent action film. But try as it might, in the end it ultimately becomes a ninja film without the term "ninja" ever being uttered. It's true. About halfway through the film our protagonist Shiro (Sho Kosugi) pretty much gives up the "I'm not a ninja" charade and utilizes his ninja skills (which are never explained or mentioned) to track down the drug kingpin responsible for his partner's murder. Once in Argentina he's constantly confronted by this evil kingpin's army of ninja's (again, never explained why there are so many ninjas in Argentina of all places), which gives Shiro plenty of opportunities to prove who is in fact the best ninja of all.

Does it sound like I'm complaining? I hope not, because the reality is that these are the reasons that make Rage of Honor so great. While not necessarily in the same league of cheesy-awesome as his previous film Pray for Death, it's every bit as entertaining, just in a more polished way as opposed to Pray for Death's highly amateurish aesthetic. Which is surprising considering they're both directed by German born Gordon Hessler. These two films couldn't be anymore different visually, and that could be attributed to either his Cinematographer's or the fact that he grew substantially as a director since their last collaboration. That's not to say Rage of Honor is not without it's share of unintentionally hilarious or plain cheesy moments, because it has a lot of both. And much like Pray for Death, is one of it's most endearing qualities and makes it so special.

I have to be honest here. I love Sho Kosugi. He was a huge part of my childhood growing up in the 80's knee-deep into action and ninja films. But, he is not the best actor. And you know, he will even admit that. In his new interviews, he states several times he's not an actor, but a performer. His real strength is performing the physical stuff. And it shows. Here he is given a lot more lines to deliver compared to several of his previous films, and unless you watch it with subtitles, you really can't make out most of what he says. But I'm not complaining. The same thing happened to Jackie Chan in the excellent The Protector. His attempt at English was oftentimes painful and hard to understand unless you used subtitles, and it's the same thing here. But hey, they both deliver where it counts and that's in the fights and action, and boy does Kosugi kick a whole lot of ass in this one, especially in the second half when he travels to Argentina and literally takes on an entire drug cartel, which, randomly and surprisingly consists of ninjas.......in Argentina. You just gotta love 80's action films. They really were the best.

Kosugi explains in a new interview that his manager convinced him to step away from the ninja genre because it had been done to death, and urged Kosugi to explore other things, hence the change in this film where he tries to take a short step outside of the ninja genre. He openly regrets that decision because he feels if it was his thing and he was good at it, he should have rode that wave a little longer, because ultimately, this would mark the last big starring role for him in a big film. He would only co-star in a few films shortly after before retiring in 1994, only to be coaxed out of retirement for Ninja Assassin in 2009, where he played the villain. It's been 9 long years since then and he's stayed away from film and television since then. Though he still trains 3 hours every single day, and has a ninja epic with his son planned on the horizon. I hope that actually happens.

Rage of Honor is a badass and fitting sendoff to a legend in an era where he reigned supreme as the ultimate ninja badass. He may not have sustained that legendary status past the 80's, but man did he deliver some incredible films while he was in his prime. In any case, we'll always have these gems to look back on.

How to see it:
Like with their Blu-Ray release of Pray for Death, Arrow Films gave this one a solid Blu release with a great new widescreen transfer and a few extras. The best Special Feature being Part 2 of a brand new interview with Sho Kosugi himself called "Sho & Tell", where he discusses his life in and out of the film industry and his experiences making Rage of Honor.

Honestly and personally speaking, this interview alone is worth the price of this new release, which is surprisingly cheap for usually under $20. The transfer is incredible, and you also get a collection of trailers for other Sho Kosugi classics as well as a few fun extras. Grab it and add it to the collection! It's a Badass Cinema essential!




5.10.2018

90's Action Attack!: No Escape - One of the Best Films You Never Saw

by robotGEEK

By all accounts, No Escape is the very definition of a lost gem. Released in 1994, it would mark Ray Liotta's first solo starring role after riding the success of Goodfellas in 1990. Sadly, No Escape came and went with little to no fanfare during it's initial release and despite an impressive ensemble cast, high production value and under the reigns of James Bond director Martin Campbell, it went largely unnoticed. And that is quite frankly, a damn crying shame, because No Escape is arguably one of the best movies you never saw.

Captain J.T. Robbins (Liotta) is convicted and sentenced to prison for the murder of his commanding officer. Taken to a prison island by a sadistic warden with no means of escape, he must learn to survive and deal with the two opposing gangs of prisoners who solely inhabit this prison island.



I must say, No Escape is a blast of a film from beginning to end. There was never a single moment that dragged or didn't offer an ounce of entertainment. The film moves along at a brisk pace, never spending too much time where it doesn't count. Director Martin Campbell, to his credit, infuses the film with so much style that it still blows my mind that most people just don't know who he is, and more importantly, are completely unaware of the fact that he's responsible for some pretty great films. Some personal favorites of mine would be Cast A Deadly Spell, Casino Royale, Goldeneye and The Foreigner, and of course No Escape. Let's just all forget he directed The Green Lantern.

While there's nothing mind blowing about this film in general (guy gets sent to an island prison and plans an escape), what it's able to do is deliver the goods in a fundamentally rich way, giving the film a high budget quality sheen, while also delving into the exploitation genre a bit. The films opening first act is fucking great, where our protagonist is going through the reigns of a futuristic prison. With the use of some great practical effects and model work, No Escape kickstarts a kickass 2 hours of thrills, action and excitement, only slowing down long enough to build up a small bit of tension before the next onslaught. And while the film primarily takes place on this prison island, it's not any less visually impressive or stimulating. Where Campbell could easily have gone the easy route by shooting handheld (which most directors choose to do in the jungle setting), he takes just as much time setting up shots and making it looks slick.


The cast is just epicly phenomenal in here. Ray Liotta, who never really hit it big as an action lead after this, shines as a true badass here. A lot of that has to do with his cold-dead stare, something not a lot of people can do, yet seems effortless for him. In the physical action department, he holds his own well and kicks a whole lot of ass. But it's in the film's large ensemble cast that also impresses. For starters, we have the legendary Lance Henriksen, here playing against type as a good guy, known as The Father, who plays sort of a father figure to the prisoners on the island. But we also get Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon, Kevin J. O'Connor and a ruthless Michael Lerner as the prison warden. Stuart Wilson, whom I know as the villain in Lethal Weapon 3, does a bangup job here as the charismatic, yet volatile cannibalistic leader of a rival prison gang. All in all, a great ensemble cast that elevates the film significantly.

It's a shame this film didn't do much business. While it's certainly gained momentum as a true cult classic since it's initial release and I'm happy that people are discovering this highly underrated gem for the first time, the fact that it wasn't an automatic hit just blows my mind. It literally has everything you'd want in a film like this, minus any nudity (sadly it's a strictly all-male cast). Excellent cast, superb direction that's slicker than it has any right being, a formidable villain, a badass Liotta proving he can carry a film all on his own, and some incredible action sequences that can stand up against anything the big hits of '94 were offering in your local theaters. In short, No Escape is a great thrill-ride full of beautiful locations, exciting action and impressive stuntwork, shot in a way that films just aren't made today. It's a reminder of when action directors took the time to set up impressive shots and set pieces, delivering both style and substance, with neither overshadowing the other. No Escape is begging to be rediscovered.



How to see it:
To date, an old DVD release from 1998 is the best version available here in the states. While the transfer is okay, for some reason you have to adjust the ratio on your TV because it won't play as a straight widescreen without some adjustments. But fret not, there's good news! Umbrella Entertainment in Australia are releasing this on Blu Ray for the first time under it's original title Escape From Absolom, which you can find HERE. The site says their in stock, yet they don't have a cover image available, so I'm not sure what's going on there. But you can bet I'm putting my order in now.

5.05.2018

The Toy Corner: The Protector Jackie Chan Custom Carded 3 3/4" Action Figure

Here's the second entry in my "80's Action" line. I have to say, I'm really happy with how the cardback turned out on this one. Probably my favorite one so far. For the figure I used 2 different ReAction figures. But like I've said before, I have more fun working on the cardback design and packaging than the actual figure. Now if only I could convince someone to make the figures for me so I can just concentrate on the cards. LOL.


Being as Billy Wong (Jackie Chan) changes clothes a ridiculous amount of times in this movie, it was really hard to pick an outfit that would standout as the most iconic from the film. So I chose to go with the getup he wore in the last act, where he fights Bill Wallace. So basically,. it was light colored jeans, white sneakers, a white t-shirt and an olive green jacket.

The Protector has quickly become one of my new favorite movies. Everything about it is just so badass and despite it's reputation as being a box office dud during it's initial release, looking at it today only makes it all the more impressive. While not a straight-up martial arts film (which is why people just didn't connect with it initially), it still has plenty of that in here, along with some excellent action sequences and a killer 80's retro vibe that makes it all the more special. If you haven't seen it in a while, or ever, please I implore you to pick up the cheap Blu-Ray 2-Pk of this and Chan's Crime Story from Shout! Factory. It's a helluva fun ride.

Be sure to check out my review 'The Protector: One of the Best Movies You Never Saw' Here.

5.04.2018

A Second Look: Double Impact

Double Impact May Very Well be the Most 
Van Dammest Film Ever Made

by robotGEEK

When Van Damme burst onto the screen in the mid 80's with brief "blink and you'll miss him" parts in notable cult classics, it's safe to say that I don't think anyone knew just how big he would become in just a few short years. When he was cast as in the title role of Frank Dux in Bloodsport in 1988, his career took off like a rocket and he became an overnight sensation. Kickboxer in 1989 would cement that status, and he just exploded from there. Each film he released became a certified hit, and by 1991, he was on top of the world. He had so much power as one of the biggest action stars on the planet, and Double Impact, his most Van Dammest, is the culmination of all that power.

In a lot of ways, Double Impact is the quintessential Van Damme movie. It has everything we'd come to expect and want from a JCVD flick, and having come up with the story, co-written, co-produced and co-starred himself by playing 2 different characters, Double Impact is the culmination of everything he'd worked so hard to achieve, and here he delivers the kind of film not only that the fans wanted, but a film that has his stamp all over it.



To say that Double Impact is cheesy would be an understatement. The fact that it gloriously wears it's early 90's heart on it's sleeve is just gravy. The bright neon colors, bright pastel colored clothes and decor, and very 90's "feel" all lend themselves to a totally unique experience in JCVD's filmography. Make no mistake, Double Impact rules. It rules hard. Even for the casual action fan, you just can't deny how fun and utterly ridiculous this film is, and that's what makes it so special. It's completely silly, but all played straight to great effect. You just know that while both writing and actually filming this, everyone involved is bringing their A-game to the table, and delivering the goods in a fundamentally rich way.

1991 was a different time, and a different era in the action genre. These were the types of films that would be big hits at the box office. Sure we can look at them now and laugh at how silly they are, but back then action was big business and flooded with up and coming action legends such as Jeff Speakman (who never quite succeeded the way he should have), Brandon Lee, Steven Seagal and of course, Jean-Claude. We still had Sly, Arnold and Chuck knocking films out left and right, but they're star had faded somewhat. Stallone was in the middle of a serious quality lull with bombs like Oscar, Rocky V and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Arnold was in far better shape though, with Twins, Terminator 2, Kindergarten Cop and Total Recall all being big hits. Still, we were hungry for new blood and it was Seagal and Van Damme to the rescue, often going toe to toe with each other at the box office.



One of Double Impact's biggest strengths is it's impressive cast. It's the sort of cast you just don't see anymore, filled with notable character actors and badass henchman that rarely ever make their way into action films these days. For starters, we've got the legendary Bolo Yeung (Enter the Dragon, Bloodsport), here has a silent henchman to the film's main villain. He doesn't say a whole lot, but he sure knows how to make his point across through exaggerated facial expressions that more often than not, elicits a chuckle rather than a scare. But he's such a great presence and brings the level of awesome up significantly by being in here.

But wait! There's more! 6-Time Ms. Olympia champion and bodybuilding legend Cory Everson plays another henchman, only this time she's hot, sexy and deadly in her film debut, and man does she leave an impression. She's a total badass and despite the fact that this was her first acting gig, she was a natural. It's a shame she didn't go on to bigger and better things in the film world. She was really something special. Rounding out the killer cast is Geoffrey Lewis, Philip Chan, David Lea, Julie Strain (blink and you'll miss her) and the Hologram Man himself, Evan Lurie. You may not know some of their names, but you'll certainly recognize their faces.



For Double Impact, JCVD re-teams with his Bloodsport (writer) and Lionheart (writer/director) collaborator Sheldon Lettich. Lettich, who's only directed 8 films in his career, hasn't always been the best or most reliable director, but we can all be thankful that at least with both Lionheart and Double Team, he delivers the goods. He's not the most visual director, but damnit if he doesn't infuse the film with a fun tone, an infectious charm while also delivering some great action set pieces.

Van Damme, for his part, is the heart, meat and bones of the film. And it's hard not to think of it purely as a vanity project for him. Not only is he playing 2 completely different roles (allowing himself to play both the tough bad boy, and the sweet charming good boy), but he made sure to integrate everything we'd come to expect from a fun action movie, while also making it a 100% Van Damme experience too. I think the totally random and unnecessary love scene was the clencher, and really, the only thing missing that I'm shocked he didn't include was his trademark "ass shot". You just gotta love him.

Whether you're looking for a great cheesy action movie, or need a reminder that JCVD did make some pretty great films back in the day and was one on top of the world, look no further than Double Impact; a glorious time capsule of the early 90's that will make you fall in love with JCVD all over again.


How to see it:
Lucky for us, most of JCVD's classics are easily available on every format including blu-ray, which run insanely cheap these days, which is how I revisited it recently. Not a big fan of the new cover art, but at least the HD transfer itself is great. And you just can't argue with the price point. Be sure to keep your eye out for the new Lionheart 2-Disc Special Edition coming to us via MVD Rewind Collection in June. Get your  pre-order in today!



5.03.2018

Blu-Ray Review: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (MVD)

"One of the Five Best Movie Titles of All Time!"
~ USA Today

by robotGEEK

Does this legendary cult classic really need an introduction? If you're reading this, chances are that you've already seen this, because honestly, who hasn't? It's a classic! And it has every right to be. What began as a short film in 1976 that then became a full length feature 2 years later in 1978, would ultimately create a franchise and spawn 3 sequels throughout the 80's and 90's. A beloved franchise I might add. One that, despite it's utterly ridiculous concept, has a fan base that continues to grow and grow, which brings us to this brand new 4K restoration courtesy of MVD Entertainment.

This new 2-Disc release, with a killer new transfer also boasts an insane amount of extra content for the die-hard Tomatoes! fans to dig into that includes new commentary, interviews, deleted scenes and in-depth discussions (some of them serious, others tongue-in-cheek) about various aspects of the films production, legacy and cult status. Let's dig in.

Bonus Materials

  • Newly remastered 4K digital transfer of the film
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of film (1.85:1)
  • Original 2.0 Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Audio commentary from writer/director John DeBello, writer/co-star Steve Peace, and 'creator' Costa Dillon
  • 3 Deleted Scenes
  • 'Legacy of a Legend' (SD,14:13) is a collection of interviews, featuring John DeBello, Costa Dillon, film critic Kevin Thomas, John Astin, Steve Peace, Jack Riley, and D.J. Sullivan and more!
  • 'Crash and Burn' (3:40, SD) is a discussion about the famous helicopter crash that could have killed everyone because the pilot was late on his cue
  • 'Famous Foul' (2:21, SD) is about the San Diego Chicken and his role in the climatic tomato stomping ending
  • “Killer Tomatomania' (4:33, SD) is a smattering of interviews with random people on the streets of Hollywood about the movie
  • 'Where Are They Now?' (2:51, SD) fills viewers in on what the cast and crew have been up to over the past couple of decades,
  • 'We Told You So!' (3:07, SD) takes a hard-hitting look at the conspiracy of silence surrounding the real-life horror of killer tomatoes
  • “Slated for Success” (1:57, SD) featuring Killer Tomato Slate Girl
  • “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” (the original 8mm short film) (with optional audio commentary) (17:35, SD)
  • 'Gone with the Babusuland' (the original 8mm short that inspired Attack of the Killer Tomatoes) (with optional audio commentary) (32:28, SD)
  • Original theatrical trailer (SD)
  • Production design photo gallery
  • Radio spots
  • Easter Eggs
  • Collectible Poster
  • Limited Edition Retro 'Video Store Style' Slipcover / O-Card (First Pressing Only)

MVD Entertainment did a bang-up job on this release, and they're slowly making a name for themselves in the Cult Cinema on Blu-Ray movement. In fact, they have a brand new Lionheart Blu-Ray release coming soon that I'm really excited about.

The extra content, most of them surprisingly short (good thing there's a lot of them), are a hoot to dig through and very fun. One of the best things about them is listening to writer/director John DeBello, who wrote and directed all of the Killer Tomatoes! movies, discuss his experiences and some fun trivia regarding all things Killer Tomatoes!. You also get his original short that inspired the full-length feature as well as a retro style slipcover and poster. The transfer itself is incredible, bringing out the bold colors of the 70's in all their grainy glory. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! has never, ever looked this good.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! is available now wherever Blu-Rays are sold and from any of your favorite online retailers for an average price point of $20-$30, depending on the retailer. Regardless, it's a Must-Buy. No doubt.



5.01.2018

The Toy Corner: Commando Custom Carded 3 3/4" John Matrix Action Figure

As I continue to dig into my new hobby, I'm learning a few things about myself. One, that I really don't have the time to dedicate to this, and two, that I really have more fun working on the cardback designs rather than the actual figures. So I always find it more rewarding and a lot easier if I can find a loose figure already made for what I need, and just work on the cardback design, which is really where I have the most fun. However, I do have to make action figures from scratch from time to time by cutting up existing figures because unfortunately, the figures I want have never been made and more than likely never will. That's why I do this.

Recently I scored an original vintage loose John Matrix 3 3/4" figure from Diamond Toymakers. This figure is something I've been after for years and never ever pop up. He's incredibly hard to find, so when I came across one, albeit a bit dinged up, I couldn't believe that nobody outbid me on it. And for a surprisingly low price too!

Scoring this gave me the chance to play with some new cardback designs that I intend to continue with for an all new "80's Action Hero" line. Since I didn't have to actually work on the figure, it was a lot easier for me and much faster. By allowing me the time to only work on the design of the packaging and not having to worry about the figure or how I would do it, I was able to focus entirely on the design and I'm really happy with how it came out.

P.S., these are not for sale. I only do them for fun.

Look for a few more in this series coming soon! They're already in the can. I just need to put them all together.

4.27.2018

Action Attack!: Fortress 2: Re-Entry

Christopher Lambert Goes to Prison.....AGAIN!!!

by robotGEEK

I can honestly say that I never gave the idea of watching this sequel a second thought. That is until I discovered that it was directed by Geoff Murphy, a highly underrated director that I admire greatly, who's delivered some excellent classics such as The Quiet Earth, Freejack, Young Guns II and Under Siege 2. While I'd always loved (and still do) the first one directed by Stuart Gordon, nothing really compelled me to actively seek this out until now. So let's dig in.

Released 8 years after the cult classic original, Fortress 2 once again finds our protagonist John Henry Brennick (Christopher Lambert), being incarcerated after many years on the run with his wife and daughter. This time the highly sophisticated and advanced prison is aboard a satellite in space, leaving virtually no chance for escape. But of course, if there's anything Brennick is good at, it's escaping from prison to reunite with his wife and daughter. And once again, the prison is under the control of a seedy prison warden with his own agenda.


I'm not gonna lie. I had high hopes going into this one. Not only is it a sequel to a pretty great low-budget classic, but the fact that Murphy was behind the directors chair had me excited. But this was a  bit after his steady stream of quality output, and while Fortress 2 isn't terrible, it isn't all that great either.

I'm sure shooting inside a prison is hard. You don't have much leeway in terms of where to set up your shots and whatnot, so from a visual standpoint, I can't give him much flack. I'm sure his hands were tied to a degree. Still, Murphy is able to pull off some impressive shots here and there, so it's not a total loss. It just never really gets above average in the entertainment department, and Geoff Murphy, being confined in such a tight small setting, is unable to make the film look interesting, which really goes a long way with films like this, because even if it's not all that entertaining, if it at least packs a visual punch, then that's something. But sadly, not even Murphy's oftentimes impressive camerawork can add much value to this experience.

I'm not saying it's bad, because it's not. In fact, if you can look past my personal issues I've just listed, it's a pretty enjoyable, if albeit standard low-budget sci-fi flick. On the plus side, I was pretty impressed with the effects work, especially in the moments when they're floating in space in space suits. Sure it wasn't believable in the least, forgetting the lack of gravity in several scenes, but it was still awesome.

Not one of Geoff Murphy's best, but it's not a bad film either. In fact, as far as low-budget sequels go, it's pretty damn good. If you enjoy the first one, it's definitely worth your time to dig into this one. Overall it's pretty much the same story, just told in a slightly different environment. It won't win over any new fans, but it's a decent addition to the franchise.



4.25.2018

A Second Look: Wolf (1994)

Mike Nichol's Highly Underrated Monster Classic is Begging to be Rediscovered

by robotGEEK

Back in the early 90's, Hollywood began revamping Universal's classic monster lineup in a series of big budget classy updates that were met with mixed reviews and unfortunately didn't kickstart a whole new franchise the way the studio's hoped they would. Hiring some of the biggest names in films didn't seem to make a difference either. Yet, you look at Francis Ford Coppolla's Dracula (1992), Kenneth Brannah's Frankenstein (1994) and Mike Nichol's Wolf today, and they're damn near masterpieces. Somehow they just didn't connect with audiences and I honestly can't explain why. Every time I revisit Dracula I'm just floored by how incredible it is, and while Frankenstein isn't my favorite in the bunch, it's a very well made film in it's own right.

Which brings me to Wolf, directed by Mike Nichols, a filmmaker who's more known for his drama's and dramadies than anything else. I remember seeing Wolf when it first came out, yet somehow have neglected ever since. I wish I could tell you why, because after having revisited it for the first time in decades and just being completely blown away, I have no answer. But, here we are so let's dig in.



Wolf is a classy adult horror/thriller, a rare genre that never gets the love or recognition it deserves. It's the type of film that doesn't need to rely on gore, nudity or jump scares to get the job done. While I also love those specific things and enjoy movies that cater to them, I can also appreciate something a bit sedated like this, where most of the power comes from the storytelling, excellent direction and knockout performances. Candyman is another excellent example of this type of film, where mood and atmosphere is front and center, laying a strong foundation for a great story and even greater film.

Mike Nichols shoots Wolf in a very subdued way, never going full-on stylish, instead relying on the tight script and strong peformances to move the film along. Yet at the same time, he infuses the film with plenty of visual "references", such as the constant use of cages, bars and fences. You'll see them everywhere, even in the scenes where someone is riding on an elevator. You can tell the production team and set decorator took great pains in finding just the right locations to shoot. Nearly every building, hallway, house and even a lot of the exterior city shots had to have some sort of "cage" feel to them, and it's marvelous. It might not be something so identifiable at first, but if you pay attention, you'll see what I mean.



The casting is nothing short of perfect here. Nicholson, in an understated performance, does a helluva job as the mild-mannered publisher who, upon being bitten by a wolf, starts exhibiting odd behavior, with heightened senses, abilities and strength. These moments are great. You don't see good ol' Jack playing it calm and cool the way he does here. Even in the moments where any rational human being would explode, he's simply passive and it's such a stark contrast to what you'd expect from someone of his caliber. But for me, the real money shots are in the second half, after he's transformed. Seeing a middle-aged Jack Nicholson, complete in werewolf makeup, running around chasing victims, ripping them to shreds and protecting his new love against a menacing villain of equal strength is fan-fucking-tastic.

Speaking of the villain. If you haven't seen it yet, I won't spoil it for you here, but let me just say that what a spirited casting choice that was, and quite brilliant I might add. One of the reasons I loved this bit of casting was because at the time, this actor was sort of going through a dry spell per say. After making a big impact in the 80's, he would work continuously throughout the 90's, but mostly in minor roles. He would find a huge resurgence in the 2000's, thanks to a hit TV show, where he's continued to enjoy his newfound success. But here, he's just incredible and Wolf is a much better and stronger film because of his casting.


It should also be noted that legendary effects master Rick Baker provided the effects for this, and they're fantastic, with the climax being especially impressive. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone provided the eerily effective, yet classy score and adds yet another layer of class to the production. All of these elements make Wolf great, but it in the end it all comes down to Mike Nichol's direction, and though he had never dabbled in the horror genre before, you'd never know it. He handles it like a pro, but with an elegance and sophistication not usually seen in these types of films. And for that, Wolf is a cut above the rest.

While not one that people immediately remember (Dracula seems to be most people's favorite), I urge you to give it another go. It's smart, classy and sophisticated horror/thriller that delivers the goods in a fundamental way. Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, which are period pieces that rely heavily on effects and strong production design, Wolf sets itself apart by taking place in a modern day city, circa 1994. It's outstanding cast, strong production design courtesy of Bo Welch, Morricone's hypnotic score, Rick Bakers impressive effects and Mike Nichol's sure-handed direction all lend themselves to an excellent film experience. Maybe it's time you revisit this underrated monster classic? I'll bet it's better than you remember.