90's Thriller Throwback: The Puppet Masters

A Surprisingly Strong And Classy Sci-Fi/Thriller That Delivers The Goods

by robotGEEK

Somehow I never got around to this one before, and I'm not really sure why. I guess it just didn't look all that interesting to me, but my tastes in films tend to change over the years and suddenly I had an urge to finally check this out. And I'm so glad I did, because this was a surprisingly great, effective little sci-fi/thriller.

A race of aliens have invaded a small rural town and taken over human bodies at an alarming rate. Within just a few weeks, they will have completely taken over the planet unless a secret government agency can stop them. 

Released in 1994, and starring an actor I'd never heard of, The Puppet Masters succeeds in it's no-frills approach by offering up decent amounts of thrills, action, suspense and just a little bit of horror to give you an overall satisfying experience all wrapped up in a neat little package. And I can't stress enough how surprised I was at how good this was. I suppose I was expecting a mediocre thriller, but instead was treated to a well-crafted science fiction thriller that literally hits the ground running right from the start.

Despite the lead (Eric Thal) being decent, but someone I'd never heard of until now, the large eclectic cast was impressive to say the least, with Keith David, Donald Sutherland, Julie Warner, Will Patton, Yaphet Kotto, and Marshal Bell all turning up in this to great effect, adding a large dose of class to the production. But it's really Sutherland's intense performance of an almost heartless and emotionless boss that carries the film.

Based on the book by author Robert A. Heinlein, screenwriters David S. Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins, Dark City), Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Shrek, Aladdin, Little Monsters, Pirates of the Caribbean), the film doesn't really blow you away with anything particularly clever or groundbreaking, but it does offer ample amounts of tension and thrills consistently, all put together with class by longtime television director Stuart Orme, here marking his one and only big budget theatrical feature. And after seeing this, I'm quite surprised he never got more theatrical gigs, because he did a stellar job here. Nothing too fancy, but sometimes that's just what the project calls for, and he delivers the goods. In fact, this could easily have been a great Made-for-TV film, yet still works great as a big budget feature without losing any of it's quality.

The Puppet Masters was released on Blu Ray last year by Kino Lorber with a bunch of new interviews by the large eclectic cast as well as commentary by director Stuart Orme and editor David Yardley, with an all new scan and impressive picture quality.

Bad Movie Night Presents: The Intruder (2019)

Dennis Quaid's Over The Top Pyscho Performance Steals The Show In This Otherwise Tired Premise

by robotGEEK

There's something to be said about filmmakers who keep taking on the tired tropes of a home invasion thriller considering it's already been done to death. What that is, I don't know. But what I do know is that I'm glad they did this time around because it was one of the most entertainingly bad films we've seen in some time.

And I'm going to make this as short and sweet as possible, because I'm going to tell you you've already seen this film countless times before. It literally brings nothing new to the table. But what it DID do incredibly well is cast Dennis Quaid as the villain, and boy does he not only go over the edge, but he relishes in the psychopathic nature of the character that it's damn near a goddamn parody, and it's amazing!

Here we have the same old story. A wealthy young couple (Michael Ealy, Meagan Good) moves into a dream home in the suburbs and away from their busy city life. The former owner is none other than Dennis Quaid, here playing Charlie Peck, a retired construction business owner who can't seem to let the house go. He often stops by unannounced to cut their yard for them, or brings a bottle of wine for a quick hello. However, when his seemingly good deeds become more and more brazen and bizarre, things start taking a turn for the worst.

I swear you've seen this film before. I will say though that the acting is pretty good across the board, with the insanely gorgeous Meagan Good stealing literally every scene she's in, even if her actions, or rather her dumb decisions, are the catalyst for a lot of what ultimately happens here. But it's Quaid's show all the way and my word does he deliver the goods tenfold here. I'm sure he's played villains before, but I don't think he's ever played them so unhinged like he is here and I loved every goddamn second of it.

Director Deon Taylor (Meet the Blacks) does a fine job making the film look good. There are no complaints there. I think the real travesty here is the completely uninspired script by David Loughery (Passenger 57, Money Train, Nurse 3D, Lakeview Terrace). And it's a shame, because he's written some pretty damn fine films before. How this got greenlit is anyone's guess.

It's important to point out that you really have to be in the right mood and frame of mind to enjoy this. I mean, it's a bad film in the sense that it's an extremely tired premise and there is literally nothing really worth getting excited about. A friend of mine actually gave it a shot based on my recommendation, but couldn't get past 30 minutes. And I will say, you have to invest in this, because it takes time for Quaid's character to slowly unhinge into over the top crazy, but my gawd is it worth the investment. Literally every second he was on screen being creepy, weird and batshit crazy had us laughing out loud, yelling "WTF?" and rolling our eyes and it was wonderful. I'm telling you, if you can invest a good hour and a half and get through some pretty mediocre exposition and storytelling, you'll be handsomely rewarded with a very good time.


A Case For Terminator 3: A Better Sequel Than Most Give It Credit For

Keep in Mind. Watching This Sequel Requires Being in the Right Frame of Mind

by robotGEEK

With all the hoopla over the new Terminator film hitting theaters, with most of it negative, I thought I'd take a look at one of the sequels that gets tons of flack. Well, let's face it. All of the sequels after Part 2 get lots of flack, but there's something about this one. For some reason, when people are bitching about the terrible sequels, their go-to is always Salvation and Genisys. As they should. Those films are terrible. For that reason alone, I thought I'd revisit this one since I already owned it, and really have no desire to go see the new one yet. So let's dig in.

Here's the thing, and I know I'm in the minority here, but I actually really enjoyed this a lot. If anything, it's pretty much a big budget B-Movie, much in the same way the first one actually was. Only with that first film, Cameron was such an incredible filmmaker that he made the film look and feel bigger than it actually was. The same thing can't be said about the director of this one, Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Breakdown). And I'm not really sure why that is. I mean, it looks good for the most part, and Mostow had proven himself an accomplished director with the damn near perfect thriller Breakdown. But there's something very defining in the way he shoots this thing. It just can't help but look like a B-Movie, no matter how much money they threw at it. And that's one of the reasons why I enjoy it.

At the time, this was the most expensive independently produced film, almost reaching the $200 million dollar range. But you'd never know that just by watching this. Despite being made a whole 12 years after the landmark and groundbreaking Judgement Day, the effects work here has taken a sharp detour in quality. No matter how many effects sequences they throw at us in this, both big and small, they look cheap compared to any other film in the franchise, which is crazy considering more than a decade had gone by since the previous installment.

But this film is not all CGI effects. Surprisingly, there are just as many practical effects and stunts as there are CGI, and it's in the practical side of the effects that the film really delivers and shines, with Arnold even shelling out a cool million of his own money to pay for that crazy "crane car chase" sequence in the middle of the film. It's a shame that they just didn't try and stick with it in that sense the way the first film did, by keeping most of the effects work practical and small. I feel if they had, it would have been a much better film experience overall, having gone back to basics the way that original first film did, instead of giving us mediocre effects work for a film following one of the greatest sequels ever made.

Bad CGI and strange tone aside, the film has some good things going for it. For starters, Kristanna Loken is a great Terminator. Her dead-cold stare, even when she's on the losing end of a fight, is damn impressive, as is her physical badassery. If there was ever a Terminator in the franchise that was in the same league as Robert Patrick's T-1000, I think she would be it. And there's also the moments where the film tries to infuse some tongue-in-cheek humor that falls embarrassingly flat, coming off as cheesy rather than funny. But again, that's all fitting in with it's unintentional tone.

And despite my criticisms of the film's B-Movie quality, ultimately that actually works in it's favor. If you can't get it to compare to that masterpiece first sequel, then at least going the complete opposite direction is admirable, even if it was ultimately unintentional. And that's what Terminator 3 is; a big budget mess of a film that didn't turn out the way it was originally intended, and once again stalled the franchise for another 6 years. It's hard to say whose at fault; the director, screenwriters, or producers. Maybe all of them? Somehow none of it gelled well together and created this bastard child of a sequel. But it's still a helluva lot of fun, and I'd revisit this one again before I even consider any of the ones that came after.


Documentary Spotlight: Chris Claremont's X-Men

While X-Men wasn't a title I was particularly obsessed about growing up in the 80's and 90's, I knew enough about it to be a casual fan. My main titles were Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man and most importantly, Punisher. But I would randomly grab X-Men from time to time, and if I'm being 100% honest, X-Men was the very first comic I ever purchased when I was a kid in the mid to late 80's. The exact year escapes me, but I'm pretty sure it might have been Classic X-Men #20. I remember being at a local convenience store (remember when they sold comics in convenience stores!!) and randomly grabbing that issue of Classic X-Men and immediately being hooked on comics to the point that I became obsessed with them for many, many years.

While X-Men wasn't a personal favorite, and even if you as a casual collector weren't necessarily an X-Men fan, it's hard to not know that Chris Claremont is alone responsible for crafting the X-Men brand into what they are today. Having written that comic for a total of about 16 years, he created so many characters and memorable storylines that ultimately became the X-Men legacy, many of which made it into the big budget feature films of the last 20 years. In short, Chris Claremont is the man who made them what they are today.

How much did he create and invent in that time? You'd be surprised! And it's all laid out splendidly in this engrossing documentary that gives deep insight into literally every year since it's creation by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, a comic that wasn't that big of a hit by the way. Claremont is front and center here, but they also interview some former Marvel heavyweights, like former Editor in Chief Jim Shooter (Secret Wars), whom Claremont fought regularly with and honestly comes across as really unlikable.

This excellent documentary is currently available for FREE on Amazon Prime.

Haunt; One of the Best Horror Movies in Years

Saw Meets The Haunted House Theme Park in This Impressive and Gory Slasher

by robotGEEK

Released in September of this year, I was only made aware of this film after a Facebook friend posted about it in a movie group recently. Intrigued, I looked it up and found that it's produced by Eli Roth (a much better producer than he is a filmmaker) and written by the team who wrote the excellent A Quiet Place. I was sold. The following weekend I rented it on Amazon and hoped for the best on a Saturday night. Let's dig in.

In short, Haunt (not to be confused with the film of the same name from 2014) was absolutely great and just what I was hoping for. Given that a ton of these "haunted house theme" films come out every year around Halloween, it's refreshing that a new one can come out and floor you in a way that 90% of them don't. While there's nothing necessarily new here, it's in the professional way it's all laid out and put together that makes it stand out.

A group of friends decide to try out a new Haunted House Attraction after finding a flyer after leaving a local bar. Once inside, they quickly realize that what are supposed to be scary displays might actually be real. Once they try to leave, they soon discover the truth. 

Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, Haunt delivers the goods tenfold. The story is pretty simple, but it's execution is done in such a brutal and intense way that you're left squirming in your chair for so much of it, while simultaneously being drawn by its intensity. The kills, violence and gore are exceptionally well done, and the reveal of the killers is impressively disturbing. And that's something that becomes harder and harder to do these days, revealing a killer or killers that are memorable and not standard cliche's. Without giving too much away, I liked where they went with the identity of them here. It was different, in a good way.

When you compare any film to Saw, then you're pretty much thinking of Torture Porn, and all the things that come along with that. While this is most definitely in the same vein, the kills, gore, set pieces and effects work were all top notch and surprisingly impressive. And lets be honest, torture porn has been played out to the point that nothing is really all that shocking anymore. Most films these days tend to spend all of their effort, time and money in the kills, leaving the rest of these films (i.e. story, pace, acting, structure) pretty bland efforts. Outside of the gore, they're nothing to write home about. Haunt is different and a welcome change of pace to the genre.

Haunt can be seen on Shudder, and is available to rent on Amazon Prime.

90's Action Attack!: Virtual Assassin (1995)

Michael Dudikoff's "Die Hard in a Science Lab" is a lot better than it has any right to be

by robotGEEK

By this point, Dudikoff's once promising career as an action star had started to wane, and while he continued to work regularly, the quality of his films had diminished greatly from the once popular Cannon days. Still, he worked tirelessly and while most of his films were forgettable DTV fare, there are a few gems scattered throughout that decade. This is one of them.

Dudikoff plays an ex police officer turned janitor for a high tech science facility. When a band of terrorists, led by the legendary Brion James (no introduction needed!!!), infiltrates the lab so that they can insert a deadly computer virus that will give him world domination, it's up to Nick James (Dudikoff), who reluctantly heeds the call. 

Released in 1995, Virtual Assassin AKA Cyberjack (a much more fitting title) is basically Die Hard in a science lab, and it's great. I think for me the most surprising element is in just how well its made all around. Directed by Robert Lee, making his directorial debut after a decade as Assistant Director of over a dozen films both big and small, Lee surprisingly gives the film a professional sheen that I was not expecting. Yea sure you see the limited budget splattered all over the screen, but even so, his camerawork and compositions were something to admire. And believe me, that's not something I'm looking for in these types of films, so noticing that almost immediately was a pleasant surprise.

While the majority of the film takes place inside a large high tech computer/science lab set in the future, there are a few moments in the first and final act that implement impressive model work, and these are the moments that honestly surprised me the most. Of course they look like models, but it's in how they were implemented into the scenes and how they were shot that were most impressive. I actually wished there were more model-work sequences because they looked so great! But that's just me.

Brion James is hands-down the highlight here, sporting bleached blond blown-out hair and goatee, an oversized black leather jacket and looking like he's from an early 90's Glam Metal band, he does what he does best and that's make every scene he's in memorable. Lucky for us, he's the main villain here, giving him ample screen time to play over the top in the best possible way.

If I had any gripes, it would only be 2 things. First, they give the characters of Nick James (Dudikoff) and the villain a Boston-type accent that doesn't always work, especially in the case of Nassim (Brion James), where it seems to come and go. The second would be the title of which it's currently available as in the U.S., Virtual Assassin. It gives a sort of misleading idea that some of the film will take place in a virtual world, but there's never a single second that that actually happens. Cyberjack is a much more fitting title. Other than that, there's plenty of action, style and over the top nonsense to deliver the goods.


I'm Back....

I took a LONG break from here because my love of photography took over all of my free time outside of work. As a personal art form, it has grown exponentially, and it looks like it may actually be a way for myself to make a little money at some point. I've learned so much this past year and with having dedicated so many long hours every day to growing as a photographer, I feel it's time to pursue it even further as a legitimate business. If you're interested in seeing any of my work, please follow me on Instagram, backwindfilm, and on Twitter backwindfilm. I would greatly appreciate it.

I was also let go from my job this week, which is both scary and a little exhilarating at the same time. Because I have a disability, finding work is going to be a huge challenge, so I'm currently weighing my options and trying to figure out how to move forward. But! That gives me time to get back to doing one of the things I love most, which is watching movies and telling you all about them. So expect a high volume of reviews coming soon. I hope you enjoy them. If anyone has any tips or suggestions on how I can possibly make a few bucks reviewing films for others such as well known websites and magazines, please email me at robotgeek76@gmail.com with any info. It would be greatly appreciated. Stay tuned!


Bad Movie Night: Turbulence (1997)

by robotGEEK

Let me start off by saying I had high hopes for this one in two opposite directions. Either it could have been a great Die Hard on a plane style action/thriller, or it could have been a really great So Bad, It's Good romp with an over the top Ray Liotta being Ray Liotta. I'm sad to say that it kind of sort of falls in line between the two, never going far enough on either side

First off, if you love crazy Ray Liotta, then this movie is for you. Here he is an unhinged beast and literally the only thing that makes the film worth watching. While it's actually not bad, and quite good in some areas, you can't help but feel that it could have been a pretty great Bad Movie Night classic if they had just decided to dive head-on into cheese. Seriously, had they given it just a little bit more oomph in the cheese department, this would have been a certified Bad Movie Night classic! No doubt. But what we ultimately have here is a film that kind of teeters on that very special type of film, but never far enough. It's a competently made film, with some surprisingly impressive effects work and decent cast that easily could have made it an enjoyable 90's action/thriller, but what we're left with is a film that doesn't know whether to be a good action/thriller, or an unintentionally hilarious, but highly enjoyable cheese-fest.

For his part, Liotta is a blast to watch. In the first act, he plays calm, cool and even a bit charismatic, making you believe he's not such a bad guy after all. But it doesn't take long for his true colors to shine, and boy does he let loose in easily his most "Nic Cage-y" performance. It's easy to see he's having a blast here, and it's kind of scary how intense and good he is here in the role. Lauren Holly does a fine job as the protagonist, a stewardess who must outwit Liotta's serial killer character as well as try to land the plane solo. But I think the real standout here, or rather the most likable, is Ben Cross as a pilot who guides Holly's character over the radio on how to fly and land the plane safely. He's actually a very good and likable actor, and outside of his notable role in Dark Shadows, never really hit it big the way he should have.

Turbulence is an easy time-waster, and I can guarantee you that you won't be disappointed. While it never quite goes as far as it could, it's a hoot to see simply for Ray Liotta giving his most over the top performance to date.


The Cult Corner: Armed and Dangerous (1986)

Harold Ramis, Mark L. Lester, John Candy and Eugene Levy Create Comedy Gold

by robotGEEK

It's hard to believe that it's been decades since I've last seen this. And I don't remember too much about it really, other than the main cast and the sequence where they dress up in drag and bondage inside of an adult video store. But it's been a film I've had an itch to revisit for a while now, but never found the opportunity. That is until Crackle threw it on their streaming site for the month of July. So let's dig in.

After a former lawyer (Eugene Levy) and a former cop (John Candy) take jobs as security guards, they uncover a corrupt union that includes ripping off their own companies, taking bribes, and even murder. When their concerns are met with dismissive attitudes, they decide to blow the corruption wide open. 

After finally revisiting it, I was struck by a number of things I found surprising. First, that it's a helluva lot funnier than I remember, and secondly, there's a lot more action than I was expecting. Let's start with the comedy. I was totally unaware that Harold Ramis had anything to do with this, but it shows that he has a story and screenplay credit, along with mega producer Brian Grazer, James Keach and Pj Torokvei (Real Genius, Back to School). I mean, all that talent just involved within the writing of this classic is impressive, and it's all translated brilliantly onto the screen because I laughed the entire time, from it's hilarious opening to it's action-packed climax. Yes indeed, Armed and Dangerous is a comedy gem that had me cracking up the entire time.

One of the things that surprised me was that this is directed by action maestro Mark L. Lester, a year after the Arnold classic Commando. So it sounds strange that after delivering arguably one of his best, most loved films in the action genre that he would dive into a comedy. But hey, Walter Hill did it roughly around the same time too with Brewster's Millions back in 1985 after a string of action classics that included 48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire. But what I found more surprising is how good he is at it here. I mean, the movie never skips a beat and it's genuinely hilarious for all the right reasons, so it's a surprising to me that he never did anymore comedies after this. At least none that I'm aware of since most of his films after this went straight to home video. Add to that the fact that he didn't direct a film for 4 more years until 1990's excellent cult classic Class of 1999, a sequel to his own breakout hit Class of 1984. He would then deliver a film of near legendary status the following year in 1991 with the Dolph Lundgren/Brandon Lee action classic Showdown in Little Tokyo. Anyway, I'm veering off course here.

John Candy was on such a winning streak here. Coming off of comedy classics such as Splash, Summer Rental and Volunteers, he would follow this up with his cameo in the genius musical adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors and then Spaceballs and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Eugene Levy, who costarred with Candy in Splash, was an SCTV regular who primarily stuck to television work before and after this for the most part. But overall A&D is filled to the brim with such an impressive cast that it's hard to know where to begin. We have the adorable Meg Ryan (Innerspace) of course, and then there's Kenneth McMillan (Dune) who plays her father, but we also have a who's who of character actors all making notable and memorable appearances throughout such as the legendary Brion James (Blade Runner) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) as two of the heavy-handed union reps, Robert Loggia (Innocent Blood), Larry Hankin, Steve Railsback and Tiny Liston, Jr. just to name a few. This cast was incredibly entertaining all around.

Having an expert action director comes in handy quite often in here because A&D has a surprisingly large amount of action sequences. While most of it is played for laughs, it doesn't take away from the fact that the action is seriously badass in here. That last third act though is damn impressive with some killer action and stuntwork for sure.

Armed and Dangerous exceeded my expectations at every turn. It's hilarious, fun, and carries a large amount of action to satisfy any action fan. John Candy and Eugene Levy are in top form and honestly, make a great team. While they costarred together in a number of things before this, I'm surprised it didn't continue considering this is easily their best collaboration.

You can currently watch it for FREE on Crackle.com, or rent it for a few bucks on Amazon. There's a 2011 Blu Ray you can pick up for roughly $10, and the DVD for even cheaper.