A Second Look: Waterworld

The truth is that Waterworld, despite it's reputation and many flaws, isn't a bad film at all. In fact, it's quite incredible and damn near a masterpiece of sci-fi action

by Jason Elizondo

We all know the story of Waterworld right? Plagued with production problems right from the start, the film would ultimately go onto box office infamy as being one of the costliest box office bombs ever, right up there with Cutthroat Island and Dune. At the time of it's release, it was the most expensive film ever made, with Costner investing 22 million of his own money into it. It's widely been panned by critics and often referred to as a mega-flop, even before the film was released. Only, when you look at the real data, it's actually not a flop at all, despite all the negative press and reports. In fact, while it would never be considered a hit, it did in fact turn a small profit after video sales. So unlike other mega-budget epics that actually failed to turn a profit, Waterworld is not one of them. Yet even to this day, despite decades of correct information at our fingertips, it's mostly dismissed and labeled a disaster.

1995 was a tough year for cinema. Though the 90's was an awesome decade for film in general, that era wasn't devoid of it's own number of big budget flops, with the biggest headline makers being Stallone's Judge Dredd and Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island (2 films that I absolutely LOVE ). So maybe because of the bad publicity of these 2 sinking ships, or maybe because of the early word of mouth that the film (already with such an inflated budget that there was no way it could possibly make that back through ticket sales stateside) was already labeled a disaster in the making, Waterworld was in a sense, predestined and doomed for failure. It doesn't help that the behind the scenes turmoil between star Kevin Costner and his longtime friend/director Kevin Reynolds was making headlines....again (same thing happened with Robin Hood in '91), with Reynolds, again, leaving the project before it's completion, leaving Costner to finish with editing duties himself...again. What's surprising to me though, and I'm sure to most others, is that despite their tumultuous relationship, Reynolds and Costner (the two Kevins as I like to call them) would work together a total of 4 times, most recently on the Hatfields & McCoy's Mini-Series in 2012.

Knowing all of this already, I was excited to head back into the world of Waterworld, because 1), I hadn't seen it since it came out and remember almost nothing about it, and 2), if Cutthroat Island taught me anything, it's that I shouldn't believe the negative hype and just enjoy it for what it is, and that's pure epic popcorn entertainment. Let's dig in.

Waterworld, despite it's negative reputation before, during and since it's release, is hands down one of cinema's biggest spectacles for a number of reasons. It's epic filmmaking on a grande scale done in a way that hadn't been done before, or since. It's massive budget is evident on nearly every single frame of film and it's a glorious masterpiece of post apocalyptic cinema. Here, instead of utilizing the desert wasteland as was so often the case before, they instead to choose the ocean, with the idea that because of the polar ice caps melting, the entire planet has been submerged in water. To survive, the last remaining inhabitants of the planet have been forced to build structures above the water utilizing any last bit of remaining hardware and supplies they can find. In doing so, this creates a sort of Mad Max on water aesthetic that is a true sight to behold. The fact that real sets were built for everything you see is such a gargantuan task, yet, despite all of it's troubles, they pulled it off in a way that will blow your mind. Simply from a set technical and design standpoint, Waterworld will blow your mind.

The action sequences take center stage here for a number of insanely large sequences that utilitize precision  stunt choreography to pull of some of the most mammoth action sequences you've ever seen, and on water to boot, making it all the more impressive. Are they the best action scenes I've ever seen? Certainly not. But they're impressive, no matter what way you look at it. The amount of technical savvy put on display that utilizes death-defying stunts, explosions, jet ski's, planes, boats, guns, fire and a whole lot of water (sometimes all at once!) is hands-down legendary, making this one of the best examples of post apocalyptic sci-fi action ever to grace the screen in the last 50 years. While I would never consider Kevin Reynolds to be a stylish director, he gets the job done in a professional way, often with a large budget, who's proven himself to be reliable behind the camera when he's not walking off set and away from a project after a fight with Costner. Which reminds me, I need to revisit Robin Hood.

If there was anything I would complain about, it would be that the film drags a little too long in the human elements, where the Mariner (Costner) and his two companions are getting to know each other, where the Mariner pretty much acts as a mean-spirited and bullish brute. Still, despite these moments, and despite the fact that some would consider Dennis Hopper's hammy performance a bit too much, the film, while quite long, delivers a large bang for your buck in the entertainment department. Once it begins to feel as if it's overstaying it's welcome, another incredible action set piece kicks your ass and melts your corneas and you forget all about it.

It's a shame that this film could never shake the stigma of being a bomb, when the data proves that in reality, it was not. It didn't make a large profit, but it was able to make back it's budget and marketing, which would suggest that despite the bad press, it was technically in the black, not the red.

Having finally revisited it after so many years, I was floored by the amount of talent and production that went into this. I'm so glad it was made in the 90's, because I'd hate to see this had it been made today. You can bet your ass most of the film would be CGI, much like the Pirates of the Carribean films are now, and it just wouldn't look or feel as special as it does here. Or real for that matter. This is epic filmmaking at it's best and most purest form, without the ease of computer effects and all done practically in the most impressive form. Here's to hoping that Waterworld will continue to grow in it's cult status as one of the finest examples sci-fi action on an epic scale. The 90's were the best.


Blu-Ray Review: Busting (Kino Lorber)

For as long as I can remember, Peter Hyams has been one of my all-time favorite writer and directors. Though you've certainly heard of many of his films, and more than likely seen and loved them, most people don't know the name of the man responsible for making them as good as they are. And most are unaware that the guy also wrote those films himself. For a guy who's given the world such classics such as Outland, 2010, Running Scared, Stay Tuned, Narrow Margin, Timecop, Sudden Death and even smaller films like The Presidio and The Relic, it's a travesty that his name isn't already in our consciousness and considered one of the best filmmakers on the planet. But alas, that's where we're at and it's such a shame.

But before he would deliver some truly amazing classics, Hyams got his start directing in the early 70's with TV films, before transitioning to the big screen with this action/comedy/thriller from 1974, which he also wrote, making this his first solo writing and directing gig for a feature film.

Robert Blake and Elliott Gould star as two L.A. undercover cops who routinely bust prostitutes and their Johns. When one of their busts ties back to a local drug kingpin, they get in way over their heads, despite repeated orders from their superiors to back off. 

This was right before Blake would hit it big in his most famous role, that of Det. Tony Baretta in the hit series Baretta from 1075-1978. But then of course, we all know why he became ultra famous after that. But that's another story. Gould was busy this year, having made a total of 4 different films. The guy has acted in almost 200 different roles, but he'll always be Ross and Monica Geller's father on Friends to me. But here they play the roles of the cop/buddy effectively well in a way that foreshadows the formula that writer Shane Black perfected with films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and even The Nice Guys. That formula has always been around, but it wasn't until Black's Lethal Weapon that it was perfected in a way we hadn't seen before. But you can see a lot of that here in this film. In fact, it's so evident that there's no doubt in my mind that Shane Black has seen this film. It reminds me a lot of his what he did with The Nice Guys, and even some of his earlier films.

Hyams would perfect this formula himself personally with his 80's action/comedy/thriller classic Running Scared in 1986, a film that continues to be one of the best and most shining examples of this type of film, and a highlight in writer/director Peter Hyams filmography.

As far as Busting goes, I enjoyed it a lot, but I didn't love it. This could be because it feels like he's still trying to find his "style", and it sometimes struggles to find it's rhythm. The film looks great, and you see moments where he's coming into his own here, but not quite hitting the mark 100%. As a result, the pace and structure also become a bit uneven. The film never feels like it's moving towards a big climax, rather it shifts in tone throughout, sometimes feeling like it takes a few steps back instead of forward.

Despite it's pacing issues, the film packs a visual punch. The grittiness of early 70's LA is on full display in such a glorious way, with Kino Lorber's stunning new transfer bringing it all to exquisite life. There were so many moments that reminded me why I love how films of the 70's were made. Like for example in the night sequences where our hero cops are running through the city chasing a bad guy and that very specific way a street light used to be captured through a camera, illuminating the screen with a large soft white halo around each light source. I remember it vividly in Superman: The Movie (1978) and that very same effect is perfectly captured here in stunning clarity.

Hyams was also perfecting his directing skills here. While not quite up there with his best work in later years, you can clearly see his talent here. No doubt. For the first time in any of his films, he utilizes a whole lot of tracking shots, some in such a unique way that I hadn't ever seen before, or since. And still, his direction here is leaps and bounds better than most films of this period, and most importantly, this genre. He's one of the best directors on the planet, and this film, if anything, serves as an early reminder of that. He wouldn't go on to become his own cinematographer until 1984's Outland, which as you know is a huge rarity in the field when the director also serves as his own Director of Photography. Hyams was the best in more ways than most people will ever know or be aware of.

The performances are strong throughout, with Robert Blake sort of coasting through here in a very understated performance, while Elliott Gould does a far more memorable turn as a schlubby, messy cop who doesn't seem to care for his own personal appearance, but does a helluva job as a cop who doesn't hide from his personal convictions. We also get a few memorable supporting bit parts from Rob Zombie mainstay Sid Haig (here as a bouncer/bodyguard), the legendary Antonio Fargas (I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!), Allen Garfield (Beverly Hills Cop II) and Michael Lerner (Maniac Cop 2).

The Specs:
- 1080p HD presentation
- 1.85:1 widescreen
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Peter Hyams
- Audio Commentary with star Elliott Gould and film critic Kim Morgan
- Trailers for Busting, The Long Goodbye and Running Scared

Despite a lack of subtitle options and any real special features, the commentary is worth a listen. Hyams is informative, while Gould and Morgan keep it lively and fresh. And I can't stress enough how impressive the transfer is on this. Combining the vibrant colors of the 70's with this HD presentation is gorgeous in a stunning color palette of greens, oranges, yellows and red's.

Kino Lorber has been steadily making a name for themselves in the Blu-Ray market, oftentimes getting their hands on rare titles before other, more popular, releasing companies. And it's because of companies like Kino that I have hope for some of my all-time favorite undiscovered and under the radar gems (some of which have never even gotten a DVD release before) getting the official Blu-Ray treatment for the first time. One can only hope.


Jaws: The Revenge Film Review

A giant monster shark that growls like a dinosaur, wrecks havoc on the Brody family once again, this time in the Bahamas! Is it the same shark that killed her other son just months earlier in Amity? It's never explained! But who cares!?

by Jason Elizondo

While most people would be surprised to learn that I haven't seen any of the Jaws sequels until now, what I find surprising is that none of them are bad......at all. You see, these sequels have always been plagued with bad-word-of-mouth and often dismissed and labeled cheesy or bottom of the gutter type sequels. Only, they're nothing of the sort, and while they wouldn't win any Oscars for filmmaking, they're each entertaining in a way I hadn't expected.

While I wasn't all that big a fan of Jaws 2 (I felt it was just more of the same and offered nothing new in the way of exposition), which seems to be most people's favorite sequel in the franchise, I absolutely loved the often maligned and ridiculed Jaws 3D. Sure it's a bit uninentionally campy, in no small part due to it's hysterically awful 3D effects/Green screen work. Yet, if you can look past those very brief moments, you'll find that the film is actually really fun. It helps that it's got a solid cast, and finally changed scenery (here taking place in Sea World), but really, it's a fun film that had a much more professional touch than I was expecting (again, just look past the awful effects).

My enjoyment with that third entry really got me excited for this one, even though it's pretty much laughed at and largely forgotten. And come on, that "This time it's personal" tag line doesn't help. At all. And it's because of this that I went in a bit apprehensive, expecting a low-budget turd, when in fact it was surprisingly good and well made. Let's dig in.

Knowing nothing about who made it and only being aware of the fact that Jaws staple Lorraine Gary was returning again, with Michael Caine (???) in tow, I was surprised with the rest of the casting. And how could I not? For starters, there's Lance Guest (The Last Starfighter) leading the charge. But then there's Mario Van Peebles, Lynn Whitfield, the aforementioned Michael Caine (who seems oddly out of place and in a totally different film altogether), and then last but not least, Karen Young, who does a far better job here than she did in the terribly subpar Burt Reynolds flick Heat, where she played his former girlfriend and easily gave the most cringe-worthy performance in the entire film. But I'm glad to see it was a fluke, because here, as the wife of Lance Guest's character, she proves that she can in fact act without attempting a hideous accent.

To be honest, the first half of the film is a bit slow and uneventful. We see Chief Brody's widow Ellen Brody move to the Bahamas to be with her son Mike, his wife Carla and their daughter after her other son Sean, who took over Chief duties from his father in Amity, is killed by a shark. Believing that sharks are deliberately targeting her family (as ridiculous as that sounds), she still decides to move to the Bahamas in the hopes of putting her past behind her and attempts to build a new life, while also loving her grandmother role to her granddaughter. Only, despite her son Mike's reassurance that there are no sharks in their area, a monster shark makes his way there regardless and, despite logic, seems to target the Brody's once again. Sure it makes no sense, but just go with it.

The second half is where the film picks up, and we get to see some solid shark action. And it's really in these moments that Jaws 4 delivers the goods better than I expected. Right from the moment the shark first emerges, you see him in all his glory. They don't try to amp the suspense with camera tricks or keeping him in the shadows unseen. Not here. Instead he's front and center and if I were to be completely honest, the shark mechanics and effects were spectacular. Old-timer director Joseph Sargent, who's biggest claim to fame could be the original Taking of Pelham 123 all the way back in 1974, does an excellent job in these horrific moments, where the film becomes quite brutal in the most fascinating way.

Then when we get to the finale, whatever issues you may have had with the film's pace, story or structure, are completely forgotten as we're treated to a kickass showdown between the monster shark and Ellen Brody, her son, Michael Caine and Van Peebles involving a plane, a boat and a shark. I won't spoil it with details, but rest assured, it's awesome, bloody, violent and brutal. And the best part is the shark itself, here proving what magic can be made using a robotic shark and some good ol' fashioned camera work.

It's a shame lead Lorraine Gary didn't act much, because she's very good and the true anchor for the entire series, even if she didn't appear in the third one. With a little over 30 acting credits to her name leading up to this one, Jaws: The Revenge or Jaws 4 would be her last role. Too bad. She's just great.

There's something to be said about how special these films are, and I can admit I was a dumbass for not having seen them until now. Somehow they never appealed to me growing up, and maybe it was for the better that I waited? As an adult, I can appreciate them differently than I could as a kid; even more so now that we'll never get a film made like this again with robotic sharks. While CGI will allow them to do a lot more than they ever could before, it's just not the same. CGI, for all it's advancements, can never replace a badass killer robot shark. It's tangible. It's there. You see it, and you can appreciate it viscerally, even with it's ridiculous dinosaur growl.

Does it deserve all the malicious ridicule it's received in the 30 years since it's release? Absolutely not. Is it a great film? No, but it's an entertaining one and a far better film than any of the clones released since. There's a touch of class to the whole production (most notably in the shark mechanics and solid direction), with it's change of location, solid performances (Lorraine Gary is so good) and surprisingly brutal deaths making it a respectable entry in the franchise, and just in the killer shark genre in general.

How to see it:
Jaws and it's 3 sequels can all be seen in HD on Netflix. If you need to physically own them, there's some great and cheaply priced Blu Ray's available out there.


90's Thriller Throwback: Striking Distance

Bruce Willis made a ton of flicks in the 90's. No joke. Look it up. And this is one of his best, despite the fact that it often gets overlooked

by Jason Elizondo

Sandwiched between Death Becomes Her and his supporting role in Pulp Fiction, Striking Distance sort of came and went with very little attention and fanfare, despite the fact that it was directed by Road House's Rowdy Herrington (such an awesome name), and contained easily one of the best supporting casts in a 90's thriller that I can recall. If memory serves me right, I did in fact see this way back when, but had forgotten nearly all of it, which doesn't surprise me since it seems I'm apparently not the only one. It's a shame though, because having revisited it recently, I discovered it's quite possibly one of the most underrated flicks to come out of Bruce Willis' hectic 90's filmography. So let's dig in.

Homicide detective Tom Hardy (Bruce Willis) is hot on the trail of a serial killer, whom he believes to be another cop. While his suspicions fall on deaf ears, one last run-in with the killer ends with the death of his own father. Following this devastating death, Hardy is demoted to river patrol duty where years go by and he falls deeper and deeper into alcoholism. When the serial killer resurfaces, he seems to taunt Hardy personally by only killing people he knows. With the help of his new partner Jo Christman (Sarah Jessica Parker), he sets out to uncover the truth behind the killer and why he seems to have a personal vendetta. Will he stop him in time before he strikes again?

Family of cops

While not necessarily trailblazing a new path into the thriller genre, Striking Distance is an effective and competent entry that really has a lot of entertainment to deliver for a film that seemed to have either passed people by completely, or just got lost in the epic sea of thrillers during this era. Let's not forget that Willis was also insanely busy during this decade, turning out a total of 30 films (not even including guest spots on tv shows), which is just nuts. Still, this one, oddly enough, got lost in the shuffle. Either way, I think if you just gave it another chance, you'd be surprised to discover that it's pretty damn good in an old fashioned 90's thriller sort of way. And to me, that's one of the best ways to define a solid thriller. By classifying it under that very specific era, it's given an immediate quality that is far too rare these days, where it reigned supreme in easily one of the best decades of cinema. We can't say that about films today, or in the last 20 years for that matter, and that's pretty sad.

Willis does a fine job, as per his usual, in his very stoic, grumpy, moody way, and Parker, here in her one and only action/thriller if I'm not mistaken, also does commendable work. I've always found her to be annoying, but that's probably because I find it hard to separate her from her character from Sex and the City, the shallow annoying city girl who makes all the wrong decisions. Yet I didn't hate her in here, which surprised me. But moving on.

It's really the supporting cast that knocked this one out of the park for me. I mean, it's pretty fucking impressive. Let's begin with the legendary Dennis Farina, who is such an underrated actor with a huge presence. Did you know he was a real life former cop? Man, the guy just seems to pop up in so many random things but always leave such a strong impression. I always forget he was in Manhunter too, or that he was the host of Unsolved Mysteries for 174 episodes after Robert Stack. Then there's Tom Sizemore, John Mahoney (Frazier), Robert Pastorelli, Andre Braugher, Tom Atkins (!!!) and Brion Fucking James! Man, what a cast!

At first I was a bit let down when I "thought" I knew who the killer was within the first 15 minutes. The film seemed to be a bit lazy, or so I thought, in that department and didn't appear to shake the tree or divert your attention somewhere else. Boy was I wrong though. It did not turn out the way I had thought. But even if it had, it didn't take away from it's entertainment factor for me. I found it to be enjoyable-y unpredictable and predictable at the same time, while also intense, fun, thrilling and with some solid camera work and killer action and stunts. Really, all the things you want in one of these.

How to see it:
Currently available on every format, including Blu-Ray for around $5, you can stream it for FREE momentarily over at Crackle. I say momentarily because they tend to change their film lineup month to month and some months this is available, and some it's not. But keep checking, because it's worth your time.


Documentary Spotlight: Sense of Scale

Fans of miniature practical effects will absolutely love this intimate look into the dying art of miniature model making, and it's long-lasting legacy from the mouths of those who created them

by robotGEEK

How this documentary about miniature models in the film industry has flown so far under the radar by most film lovers blows my mind. In fact, personally speaking, I'd never even heard of it until just a few weeks ago, when I came upon an article on Den of Geek about the miniatures used on the first Die Hard. After my initial excitement about discovering this doc began to subside, it was immediately followed by the surprising fact that I had no idea miniature's were even used in Die Hard to begin with, which I guess is a testament to how good they were if you didn't notice them. The video they posted to accompany that Den of Geek article was a deleted scene from this very documentary, so I figured if the effects work on Die Hard didn't make the final cut, I could only imagine what actually did!

This fascinatingly enlightening and highly informative documentary focuses on the dying art of miniature models and effects in films. While it primarily focuses on the 80's, it also digs into the 70's and even into the 90's. Here we hear firsthand from legends in the field who have worked on everything from Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Terminator and Escape to New York, to the failed mid-80's attempt at Total Recall, Independence Day, Die Hard, Ghostbusters and Starship Troopers to name just a few, because the large amount of films they cover in here is insane.

Told exclusively through brand new intimate interviews from the model makers and effects artists, they reflect on the good ol' days of practical effects work, and give deep insight into their work and how they were able to pull off some of the most impressive practical effects in some of Hollywood's biggest hits and cult classics. Each interviewee also provides a plethora of vintage behind the scenes photos of their work on all of these films. The only downside is that there is no actual behind the scenes footage, and they don't show any actual footage from the films they're discussing. But that's to be expected and I completely understand. They cover an insane amount of films here and I can't even imagine the logistical nightmare of securing the rights to show actual footage from all these blockbusters.

It's a great documentary that's primarily a collection of sit-down interviews that looks and sounds to be shot on a home video camera. There's no fast-paced structure or quick-editing to give it a fun vibe. There's no hip score to go along with it, but rather a monotone ominous score. In short, it's nothing fancy. Instead, it's a flood of powerfully valuable insight and information by the miniature effects masters themselves. For fans of practical effects work from some of our most favorite films of the 70's, 80's and 90's, it's a must watch. There's no question. It may not be the most visceral experience in a sea of documentaries, but it's not any less entertaining.

Sense of Scale is available for purchase from any number of online retailers in a 2-Disc Set, with the first disc being the film and the second disc containing 45 minutes of deleted footage, making the entire experience roughly about 3 hours. Buy it. You'll thank me.


Action Attack!: The Russian Specialist

Dolph Lundgren's 2nd directorial effort marks a confident Lundgren behind the camera, delivering a modern day western revenge tale that delivers the goods in a big, bold and bloody way

by robotGEEK

Being as big a fan as I am of Dolph Lundgren (he's my favorite action star), I have yet to really dig deep into his films from the 2000's on, and there's several reasons for that. First and foremost, the guy just makes too many damn films and I can't keep up, when there are so many other films I need or want to watch and just don't have the time. The second would probably be that the quality and budget of his films began sinking more and more into DTV territory in the mid 90's, and that's pretty much where he's stayed ever since, with the exception of a few big budget films such as The Expendables franchise. But mostly, it's strictly low-budget action films, with a few comedies and television series sprinkled here and there. And that's not to say there aren't any solid gems in this era, because while some of these are indeed pretty forgettable, there are some real winners like 2014's Skin Trade, which he co-wrote and starred alongside Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) and Ron Perlman. Really, if you haven't seen it yet, do so; it's pretty great and a pleasant surprise.

The 2000's was also when he began writing and directing films himself. His first would be 2004's The Defender, stepping into the directors chair when the films original director, Sydney J. Furie (Iron Eagle, The Taking of Beverly Hills) became too ill. Since then he's directed a total of 6 films, with The Russian Specialist aka The Mechanik being his second stint as director and star. He also came up with the story, while the screenplay is credited to Bryan Edward Hill.

The love for his low-budget films - especially those directed by him personally - varies greatly across the board by both Die-Hard Lundgren fans and the casual DTV fanatics. But I was recommended this particular one by a very trusted source, Jeremie Damoiseau - friend and author of the excellent book The Punisher: The Secret History. Jeremie also happens to run Dolphs official website, so you can say he's somewhat of an expert on the guy, and he hasn't steered me wrong yet. Plus, we're both huge fans of Lundgren's Punisher, so I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. When he says this one is one of his best, I believe him. Let's dig in.

When Nikolai's (Dolph Lundgren) family is caught in the crossfire during a drug deal and murdered, he moves to the U.S. to start over, working as a mechanic. When a rich Russian tycoon offers him $500,000 to rescue her daughter from Russian drug lords back home in Russia, Nikolai takes the job once he discovers that the leader of the ring is none other than Aleksandr "Sasha" Popov, the man who killed his wife and son. Not only will Nikolai help rescue a rich woman sold into prostitution, but he'll also be able to exact his revenge for his family's murder.

I have to say, this film was a bloody badass good time; a sort of modern day western tale about revenge, right down to the showdown/standoff at the end. Lundgren does a fine job behind the camera as director, keeping it simple but not lazy either. You'd never call him a stylish director, but he gets the job done efficiently and it never comes across as bland, cheap or indolent (i.e. handheld or shaky-cam nonsense). For the most part he takes his time to set up a shot, and does a fine job of it in the process, with a few standout moments really impressing me. As an actor, he, or maybe the screenwriter, was smart in giving him very little dialogue to work with. His character is the strong silent type, and nobody does it better than Dolph, who's mastered the art of emoting a lot through facial expressions and body language, kind of the same way he did in Red Scorpion. And that works incredibly well here because it gives him more time to focus on being a competent director, which he does surprisingly well here.

The Russian Specialist delivers an impact in a way you might not expect, in that it's pretty damn brutal! For someone who had only directed one other film prior to this, he handles the violence exceptionally well. But I guess I shouldn't be totally surprised, right? I mean, he's worked with some of the best action directors in the business. It would make sense that he learned a few things from them along the way. While I can't vouch for his work as director in any of his other films.....yet, I can honestly say he does a damn fine job with this one, giving it a true western vibe that culminates in a bloody shootout in a finale that pays off big time.

All in all I would consider this to be one of the best Dolph Lundgren films to come out of his DTV era in the early 2000's. While it could benefit from just a little more polishing all around, it's far better than the average DTV fare, and proves the Lundgren is a pretty solid director if he's given the right resources. It's also given me the push I need to finally dig into his other directing efforts, which I plan to do soon. If you're a Dolph fan, or you enjoy a good low-budget revenge flick, be sure to track this one down. I'ts worth the effort.


80's Action Attack!: P.O.W.: The Escape

"Cannon produced 'Namsploitation that's the rare example of the film being just as badass as it's cover art"

by robotGEEK

This film has been following me around for as long as I can remember. I can vividly recall seeing this kickass cover on many a video store shelf back in the late 80's on through the 90's when video stores were in full swing. But I'd learned early on that a killer painted VHS cover art didn't mean the film would be just as good, because more often than not, the cover art was far better than the actual film, and in some cases, the only good thing about them. And since I didn't know anyone who had actually seen it, I was never given the push I needed to actually make the effort. Considering this is a Cannon production, that thought was pretty dumb, as I can now admit. Because I've finally just seen it, and it was far better than I anticipated. Let's dig in.

Col. Cooper (David Carradine) lives by a code, and that is "everyone goes home". When he leads a group of captured P.O.W.'s out of Saigon during the Vietnam War, he's given an offer by his captor, the ruthless Captain Vinh (Mako), to escape Saigon and flee to the U.S. as long as he takes Captain Vinh with him, only Cooper refuses unless he's allowed to bring "all" of the captured P.O.W.'s. Vinh agrees, but when they attempt their escape, complications arise in the form of double-crosses, murder, betrayal and salvation.

I have to give Cannon credit - this film was badass in a way I hadn't expected. A short rocky start (i.e. poorly and cheaply shot and edited) is followed by a film that very easily could have fallen through the cracks and ended up something like Missing in Action IV, V or whatever; an easily forgotten entry in the "exploding huts" genre. But as far as 'Namsploitation goes, this one is a definite winner. That's not just a misleadingly badass cover (which was so often the case). This film "is" legitimately badass and as good as that cover promises.

While there wasn't anything particularly special about this "exploding huts" tale, it's in it's casting that really grabbed me, starting with Carradine, who coasts by simply with his charisma. Carradine is playing the way he plays every other single character in any other film, which is ultra cool. For him, it seems effortless, and I can appreciate that. But what's a solid lead without a strong supporting cast?? Luckily this is another area where P.O.W. excels. How? With Steve James! That's how! Whom I had no idea was even in this, which is such a shame because much like everything else he's in, he completely elevates the material he's given and always leaves a strong lasting impression. Why isn't he on the cover?! The rest of the cast is pretty solid, with the legendary Mako delivering a truly ruthless and memorable performance as the evil Captain Vinh.

The film plays on familiar themes, making it pretty paint-by-numbers in this very specific genre, but it's done with technical care in a way that you wouldn't expect. In fact, it comes off a bit more polished than say Missing in Action II: The Beginning, which totally surprised me. For a film that never gets much respect or even any attention, I think most will agree it's a better made film than you're expecting when you go in. And this could very well be attributed to director Gideon Amir, who cut his teeth as a producer a few years earlier with such Cannon classics like Missing in Action (line producer) and American Ninja (associate producer). So Amir already had some idea of how to produce this type of film on a relatively small budget thanks to his previous experience, and that little bit of know-how helps tremendously with films like these. It helps that he shoots pretty straight-forward, without much flair. But that works to his credit though, because the film looks professional when most of these looked cheap.

Amir would continue to work as a producer in both film and television, where he still produces to this very day, but sadly only directed one other film in his career with 1989's Accidents.

For all intents and purposes, P.O.W.: The Escape aka Behind Enemy Lines has largely gone unnoticed and could easily be dismissed as one of Cannon's lower-end fodder. Except, it's actually quite good and worth seeking out. And guess what? It's easy now as Hulu Plus just recently added it to their lineup under their "action" category this month. Give it a watch! It's worth your time.


Animation Attack!: Rock & Rule Film Review

by Gabriel Gonzalez

Greetings and salutations, fellow retro-nerds! Welcome to my first of many installments of robotGEEK’s Cult Cinema- ANIMATED Edition. Today’s feature is an obscure little mind-bending gem from 1983 that goes by the name of Rock and Rule. For me one of the bonuses about this particular flick is this will be my absolute first time seeing this, so my review will be more visceral compared to revisiting something already seen. So, without further ado, grab your key-tars and strap yourselves in—this Canadian furry fetish ride is about to blast off.

Did someone say "furry fetish" AND "Canadian"?

“The Lowdown”

Rock and Rule takes place in a post-apocalyptic future and revolves around a struggling singer named Angel. At a club’s talent night, she gets the attention of (and subsequently kidnapped by) an established rock god and 2D Mick Jagger tribute(?) named Mok, who himself a successful musician but is currently experiencing a bit of a career slump.

So, how does he intend get out of this vocational funk, you ask? Of course, he wants to use her lovely singing voice to summon a creature from another dimension. It is then up to Angel’s band mates to track her down, where their psychedelic quest comes to a head in Nuke York.

No beasts of burden were harmed in the making of this film

Rock and Rule was directed by Clive A. Smith, whose later work would come to include animated features like Peter Rabbit (1991), and Pippi Longstocking (1997). It was written by Patrick Loubert and Peter Sauder, who, along with Smith, have credits that include Babar (1989-2000). Incidentally, the film’s production company, Nelvana, was also responsible for the animated short featured in the cult classic The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).

Following in the footsteps of iconic animated features like Heavy Metal, this movie’s soundtrack featured big names like Cheap Trick, Iggy Pop, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. In fact, they were such a big deal, the movie started off by introducing the bands before the actual cast. Because obviously, the studio was banking on a fun, yet thought-provoking plot and stellar voice acting by an all-star cast, right? Right??
Fun Fact: According to the director, these guys were not intended to resemble David Bowie

Aesthetically, the art direction and animation sequences were appropriate for the era-- reminiscent of a Don Bluth/Disney mash-up on day four of an LSD bender. The futuristic world itself takes a back seat in much of the cinematography. This is normally okay, but the characters and story seemed to have joined in and let the music take the wheel, which isn’t too bad in itself, though nothing too spectacular either. Some of the special effects were decent, including the usage of live-action elements and various non-animation tricks to achieve unique ends.

The smog is absolutely breathtaking this time of year

Life on Mars? 'fraid not. This is Nuke York

Though there were a few funny and otherwise clever lines here and there, the dialogue was plain, almost boxy at times, but this is likely because the music is the star here, taking center stage. The soundtrack, as previously mentioned, was the main attraction. Parts of it were very synth-heavy, though it found its way back to its rock sound, and many of the vocals had that raw, almost low-grade quality to them. Once again, this is quite fitting for a film of this caliber. For me, it wasn’t until the third act that the music resonated with me in any substantial way. But then again, I was sober when I saw it.

By the way, we here at robotGEEK'S Cult Cinema do not condone the cool act of drug abuse

“The Conclusion”

How this film managed to elude me for so long, I have no idea. But now I’ve seen it, and am a little more whole for it. If you want to indulge in an hour and twenty-so minutes of fair tunes set to weird animation, and aren’t looking to expel too much brain power, give this movie a shot. It’s worth at least one viewing. Oh! Try watching it at half speed—Everyone sounds drunk.

Thank you all for tuning in. Hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing it. Until next time!

Gabriel Gonzalez - contributor 

G. J. Gonzalez is a doer of many things, including but not limited to writing sci-fi stories, acting, and developing software. Keep an eye out for his latest work, Althea: An Oneiric’s Tale, coming soon on Amazon.


Blu-Ray Review: Rawhead Rex (Kino Lorber)

"This Clive Barker Folk Horror Creature Feature may not be one of the best examples of 80's horror, but that didn't stop Kino Lorber from pulling out all the stops on this semi-obscure cult classic in a killer Blu-Ray release"

by robotGEEK

This 1986 Creature Feature comes to us courtesy of Underworld AKA Transmutations (1985) director George Pavlou. Marking legendary author Clive Barker's second foray into screenwriting (based on his short story), he would follow this up with his genre-defining franchise starter Hellraiser in 1987. In fact, Barker credits his miserable experience with this particular film for inspiring him to begin directing his own screenplays personally, because quite frankly, he hated this one. As is often the case, his original vision was severely skewered beyond his control and the final product was not what he had envisioned. Yet, despite it's many issues, it's retained a cult status for 30 years, and fans have had to wait as many years for a proper release, complete with all the bells and whistles. That day has finally arrived, so let's dig in.

Kino Lorber releases for the first time ever on Blu-Ray this slightly obscure cult classic in a brand new and impressive 4K restoration with a healthy dose of special features and killer packaging to boot with brand new cover art (with the original poster art found on the reversible sleeve) and new slipcase art. As far as packaging goes, this thing is slick as hell and one of the better looking releases I've come across recently.

The film comes packed with new interviews, with the most enlightening coming from the F/X team responsible for designing and creating the titular monster figure himself, and the struggles they endured attempting to design a monster in the shape of a penis (Clive Barker's orders!), in a very short amount of time, using minimal resources and a very small budget. And to be fair, whether you actually like this monster design or not, after hearing firsthand from those that created it how damn near impossible it was might make you appreciate it just a little bit more. For all it's failures as an actual scary monster, I'm shocked they were able to pull it off at all.

As far as the film itself, I have to be honest. I wasn't all that into this one, which surprised me because on the surface it sounds right up my alley. And I've come across many a film from this era that, while I knew "of" them, I never actually got around to watch them until now. And usually for the most part, these are the films I tend to fall in love with more. These lost undiscovered gems that flew under my radar for decades, only to discover them all these years later tend to be my favorites. But this one just didn't connect with me. In a weird way, had it been cheesy bad, that would have been a far more enjoyable experience for me. But as it stands, it's just a cheesy low-budget Creature Feature that has a few memorable standout moments, but for the most part, plays the film straight, which isn't necessarily a bad thing had it been badass, or accidentally funny; because really, it needs to be either badass or unintentionally hilarious - there's usually no in-between with these types of films.

Rawhead Rex digs deep into the folk horror mythology, which does a good job at setting itself apart from the rest of the crowd of mid 80's horror films featuring monsters. Still, it's far from a slam dunk. While it's not awful (though some may argue that the creature design certainly is!), it's too much of a bore and not entertaining enough in the "so bad it's good" or "surprisingly badass" area's to really leave a strong impact. I have to commend them though, because considering the circumstances behind the scenes (which are all laid out in detail in the new interviews), I'm surprised it turned out as competent as it did in the end. And despite it's many, many flaws, there are a number of shots that do in fact leave a strong visual impact that sort of come out of left field, but when they're surrounded by somewhat lazy filmmaking then the ones that do stand out are pretty impressive.

Ultimately, the budget, or lack thereof, is plastered all over the screen. In fact, funding dried up and the crew walked off the set, leaving the film incomplete and without an end. Director George Pavlou, after having begged them to return, with only half of them actually coming back, was able to secure the final act, which takes place in a cemetery, where we're given the showdown between Rawhead Rex and the one and only object that could defeat him. It's an interesting finale to say the least, and because of it's extensive use of dated optical effects, does a better job at reminding us of the art of practical optical effects done cheap and fast rather than delivering a satisfying end. It is oddly charming though, I'll give it that. But you know, I can understand it's appeal and why it does in fact carry a large cult following. There's definitely a market for these types of films and while I didn't find it all that entertaining myself, there are plenty out there that do.

The Specs:

Special Features:
-Brand New 4K Restoration - From the Original Camera Negative 
-Audio Commentary with Director George Pavlou, Moderated by Stephen Thrower, the Author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents, Murderous Passions; The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco and Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci 
-Interview with Actor Heinrich von Bünau (Rawhead Rex) 
-Interview with Actor Ronan Wilmot (Declan O'Brien) 
-Interview with SFX/MU Crew Members Gerry Johnston (SFX Supervisor), Peter Mackenzie Litten (SFX Creature Effects), John Schoonraad (SFX Mould Maker) & Rosie Blackmore (Makeup Artist) 
-Interview with Cameraman Sean Corcoran 
-Interview with Stephen R. Bissette, co-creator of John Constantine, instructor at the Center for Cartoon Studies 
-Booklet Essay by Film Historian Kat Ellinger 
-Animated Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery 
-Limited Edition Slipcase of the New Poster Art by Sean Phillips 
-Reversible Art 
-5.1 Surround Audio 
-Original Theatrical Trailer

The new interviews are fun to dig through. The F/X team is open and honest in their recollections of working on this film, and despite budget and time restraints, did enjoy their experiences....for the most part. The most interesting one would have to be from Heinrich von Bunau, who unfortunately was given the job of donning the Rawhead Rex costume. He was a large 19 year old scuba instructor when he was discovered strictly based on his large frame and given the role, having never been in a film before....or since for that matter. Despite the fact that most would find the experience of wearing this one-piece suit for 14 hours a day an absolutely miserable one, Heinrich is surprisingly grateful about his experiences and looks back on that year 3 decades ago with fondness. Director George Pavlou does not have an interview, but does provide a new audio commentary which is fascinating to listen to if you want deep insight into the films troubled production.

Should you buy this?? The answer is a big fat YES. Kino has done a fantastic job on the packaging as well as all of the supplemental material and most importantly, the new 4K transfer, which is rather impressive in it's clarity and vibrancy. And for the price, typically going for $12-$17, grabbing it is a no-brainer and would be a worthy addition to your collection. Pick this up before it either sells out or retailers reverse course and start selling it for what it's really worth, which in my honest opinion could easily sell for more than what it's going for now. Grab your copy today!