90's Action Attack!: Demolition University

The Demolition Franchise Continues With This "Die Hard on a School Field Trip", Courtesy of Witchboard Director Kevin S. Tenney

by robotGEEK

I have to admit, these Demolition films are pretty fun for what they are. While I really didn't know what to expect with the first one, Demolition High, I found it to be an entertaining "leave your brain at the door" type of film that's easily a Die Hard ripoff with Corey Haim as a new transfer student at a high school when a group of terrorists take the school hostage. Naturally Haim implores his New York upbringing to outsmart them and take them down one by one. Directed by legendary low-budget king Jim Wynorski, it was ultimately better than I expected, with a killer cast (Jeff Kober is the villain!) and a fun vibe. Sure it's silly, but it's surprisingly competent and a fun easy way to spend your hour and a half.

Released a year after Demolition High, Jim Wynorski's friend (and fellow low-budget king himself) Kevin S. Tenney (Witchboard, Night of the Demons) takes on the sequel, this time taking place partly in a college, as our hero is once again put in a situation where he must take down a band of terrorists during a school field trip.

While not as entertaining, engaging or as well made (more on that later), it's still worth a watch. At a brisk 90 minutes, there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half of your life. It seems that director Tenney, once revered within the horror community in the 80's for his horror classics, and even delivering a kickass action flick in 1990 with the criminally forgotten Peacemaker, just doesn't have the touch anymore. While the film looks "okay" for the most part, it's in the action scenes where the film really starts to fall apart. Nothing flows smoothly, with the editing, choreography and camera setups looking downright amateurish, which blows my mind considering how much I love Peacemaker, which is full of nonstop action and insane stuntwork. I don't know what happened here, but none of this looks or feels like the same Kevin S. Tenney who made a handful of classics before this.

Still, it's not a terrible way to spend your time. You get Haim (also a producer on this) looking healthy and charming, Amy Dolenz being impossibly cute, and so many cliche's that you can't help but enjoy the ride. It's so silly (more so than Demolition High), and shockingly amateurish that it almost ends up being a parody.

While not as good as the first one, it's not terrible. Well yea, it's terrible, but at least it's terrible in a semi-fun way. Robert Forster is a welcome addition to this mess as a no-nonsense general, as is original SNL cast member Laraine Newman and Khrystyne Haje from the classic 80's sitcom Head of the Class. So if anything, the cast keeps it engaging enough. It's a shame this didn't turn into a series of more films, because it has potential and I quite enjoyed the first one. I don't know where it could have gone after college, but in the end, it's a fun, silly series of films that never take themselves seriously, and if anything, it's always good to see Corey Haim in top form taking down terrorists left and right.

You can currently watch both Demolition High and Demolition University on Amazon Prime for FREE.


The Cult Corner: Short Time (1990)

It's Time to Give This 90's Gem Another Look

by robotGEEK

Dabney Coleman just doesn't get enough credit for being such a great actor. He steals the show in everything he comes out in, from Tootsie, to 9 to 5, to Cloak & Dagger (a personal favorite), and even Boardwalk Empire. Here, at the age of 58, and attempting to play someone in their late 40's, Dabney tried his first hand at action (if you don't count Cloak & Dagger) in this forgotten action comedy that delivers more than you expect in a big way.

Released in 1990, Short Time tells the somewhat macabre story of a police officer, who at just 8 days away from retirement, mistakenly thinks he's dying of cancer and has days to live. So in order for his family to collect on his life insurance (to ensure his young son can go to college), he decides to try and get killed in the line of duty, the only way his family can actually collect on it.

With a story like that, this film probably wouldn't get made today, but I'm also glad it was made in the late 80's/early 90's because it carries a very special flavor of action that you just don't see anymore. While marketed as more of a comedy (it is amusingly charming), it's the action that takes center stage as Det. Burt Simpson (Coleman) puts himself in harms way any chance he gets in a series of car chases and shootouts, only to find that trying to get killed in the line of duty isn't as easy as he thought. Director Gregg Champion (The Cowboy Way) handles the action sequences like a pro, shooting the film and the action in an evenhanded manner, much in the way someone like John Badham would. No frills, but highly effective when composing his shots and getting the maximum out of each sequence. And I have to admit, considering it's mostly trying to be a comedy, the action is pretty badass and damn impressive, most notably a crazy huge car chase sequence that would easily rival The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A. respectively.

The cast is pretty ace, with Dabney's ex-wife being played by Terri Garr, who also appeared in Tootsie, and Matt Frewer playing his partner. I like Frewer for the most part, but there are times when he comes across as trying too hard to be funny and goofy, and it's a bit painful. This is one of those times. Frewer would appear in another forgotten action classic the following year with The Taking of Beverly Hills. Joe Pantoliano, Barry Corbin and Xander Berkeley round out the cast.

For his part Coleman is just awesome. I've always liked him, and here, seeing him thrusting himself head-on into dangerous situations that result in some pretty impressive action sequences was such a sight to see. While he typically plays unlikable characters, he comes across as both charming, tough and surprisingly effective as the action hero lead, who despite his best efforts to get himself killed, always turns out the hero.

I honestly can't praise this film enough. It was such a stark reminder of the type of action comedies that were actually really good once upon a time. The shot-on-film aesthetic and impressive camera setups (no handheld nonsense here) lend themselves to a visually pleasing experience full of action, heart and a tiny dose of laughs. It's a shame that to date, this has never gotten a release here in the U.S. other than on VHS. Not even on DVD, which just blows my mind. I hope a company out there like Kino or Shout! Factory snags the rights to this some day and gives it a legit release, and in widescreen, which would be a first for this film.


Bad Movie Night Presents: Steele Justice

Unintentionally Hilarious and Insanely Entertaining 80's Action at it's Best

by robotGEEK

How have I not seen this until now? Released in 1987, Steele Justice stars legendary bad guy Martin Kove, here in an attempt to make him a leading action star for the very first (and only) time in a big budget film that, despite it's budget, looks and feels more like a classic Cannon flick more than anything, and it's fucking glorious.

Martin Kove plays John Steele (get it?), a down and out ex-cop and ex-Vietnam vet who wanders from job to job with no clear direction in life. When an old Vietnam General and former enemy Kwan (Soon-Tek Oh), now a successful businessman and secret drug lord, and his son begin creating terror in his hometown, Steele must stop them. When they kill Steele's ex-partner and only friend, they sealed their fate.

Steele Justice has so much going for it that I don't even know where to begin. For starters, the cast is just epic here, with a kickass roster of notable bad guy's who were mainstay's in the 80's showing up, most notably the legendary Al Leong in a much more prominent role than we're accustomed to, and of course Peter Kwong (Big Trouble in Little China, Never Too Young to Die), as the son of Kwan, who leads his fathers charge with a brutality that pisses John Steele off. Rounding out the surprisingly stellar cast is Sela Ward, Ronny Cox, Bernie Casey, Sarah Douglas, Shannon Tweed, Asher Brauner (American Eagle) and so many more. And of course, the one and only Martin Kove. I have to be honest and say that despite their best efforts, I just can't take Kove as the hero as he's made an amazing career out of playing bad guys. It's in his face too. Even when he's being charming and nice, his face betrays him in a way that no matter what he does or says, he just looks like a villain. Regardless, he was awesome, and unintentionally hilarious. I'm telling you, the cast is nuts, but in a purely delightful way.

Obviously played straight, Steele Justice is loads of unintentional hilarity in the best possible way. I'm saying this is easily one of our Bad Movie Night masterpieces, right up there with Never Too Young to Die, Hired to Kill, Mankillers, Strike Commando, Deadly Prey and Killer Workout. So much of this film doesn't make any sense, with so many of the decisions of the characters being so ridiculously stupid and defy all logical thinking that you just can't take any of it seriously. And then there are the moments that literally have no explanation and leave you confused and dumbfounded. I won't mention them to you here because it's best to experience them for yourself, but you'll know exactly what I'm talking about, and you'll more than likely say out loud "WTF??".  There's even a totally out of left field epicly WTF? music video sequence that will blow your mind halfway through.

 Steele, for his part, is a treasure to watch. It seems so effortless for Martin Kove to play this unlikable character, who's valiant attempt at being charming comes off as creepy, and he really puts his all into it. The moments when he yells out in anger (of which there are many) during any number of shootouts is pure gold (think Reb Brown in literally every movie he's in).

Steele Justice, written and directed by Robert Boris (Frank & Jesse), is a Bad Movie Night masterpiece of the absolute best kind. Unintentionally hilarious, oftentimes strange, full of an incredible list of actors that surprised me at every turn, solid action, absurdity aplenty, and Martin Kove turning in easily my favorite performance from his entire career. He may not be leading man material, but he sure does try, really hard, and it's a beauty to watch. If Steele Justice is anything, it's 100% entertaining from start to finish and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better time in the 80's action department.


90's Action Attack!: Silent Trigger (1999)

by robotGEEK

Dolph is my all-time favorite action star. More than Arnold, Sly, Chuck and Charles. I wish I could explain my fascination with this guy, but I can't. I just think he's the coolest action star on the planet. So the fact that I haven't seen this until now kind of blows my mind. To make matters worse, this is directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, Razorback, The Shadow), a director I adore. I honestly have no excuse. I guess I was worried it might not be any good, and here, a project starring and directed by two men I admire, was sidelined by me for many years. I should also mention that it wasn't an easy film to come by anyway in widescreen. Knowing how visual a director Mulcahy was, I did not want to settle for a full frame VHS tape or DVD my first time out. If there was any chance of being able to see it in widescreen, then I would just wait for that opportunity. Luckily Amazon Prime is the perfect place for these hard to find 90's action films.

Released in 1999, Silent Trigger see's Dolph Lundgren as a professional sniper, who is double-crossed. After a brief disappearance, he re-emerges for another job, surprisingly hired again by the company that double-crossed him, only to find that he may have been double-crossed again. Along with his previous "spotter", he tries to figure out who's responsible.

Silent Trigger was a solid flick from every angle. Simple in it's premise and approach, most of the film takes place inside a building, which gives Mulcahy ample excuses to get creative with the camera. Kudos to him for still giving the film a slick sheen despite these limitations. The film does venture outside of that building in flashbacks and in it's opening sequence momentarily, but the bulk of the film takes place within an abandoned high rise building under the watchful eye of security guards.

There's plenty of action, suspense and visual flair from start to finish, and while I wouldn't call this one of Mulcahy's best films, it's better than I expected for what it is. Let's just say, I've seen some of Mulcahy's films after this and they bare little resemblance to the once visionary directors previous style and work. But considering this is a pretty standard DTV flick, it's definitely above average. It's a very small cast, with Dolph leading the charge with zero effort and all macho charisma like a pro. And honestly, had anyone else headlined this other than Dolph, I doubt we'd even be discussing it today. It's as good as it is because of his involvement, plain and simple.

In the U.S., Silent Trigger is available on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD in Full Frame (as is the case for most of Dolph's DTV stuff in the 90's). To date there has been no official widescreen release of this film on any format in the U.S., let alone Blu Ray. I am aware that there is a snazzy German Blu Ray out there, which I'll probably snag at some point (I'll need to see if it's region-free). However, I have good news for you streamers. It's available on Amazon Prime right now, and in glorious widescreen, so like me, you have no excuse to finally check this out.


90's Action Attack: Soldier (1998)

"I'm Going to Kill Them All"

by robotGEEK

I've never really been a fan of director Paul W.S. Anderson. So much so that I've systematically avoided all of the Resident Evil films after being extremely dissappointed with AVP. In fact, other than Death Race, I haven't seen any of his films in the last 20 years. And that's based solely on his very specific style of directing and overuse of bad CGI. I just can't stomach it. But then I remembered Event Horizon while I was browsing Hulu recently, and since it had been well over 20 years since I'd seen it, I figured why not give it another shot.....and I fucking loved it. It was like "Hellraiser in space", done to the nines and was a far better experience than I was expecting. That got me to thinking of some of his other early films I hadn't gotten to yet, namely Soldier, which was made the following year. So I felt that if he carried some of that same visual aesthetic over to Soldier, then I'm sure I'll dig it, even knowing Soldier was ultimately a flop.

Released in 1998, Soldier was Anderson's follow up to the sci-fi/horror classic Event Horizon. And even though Kurt Russell was still riding high following a string of hits, Soldier somehow failed. Even despite a kickass trailer that effectively used White Zombie's More Human Than Human, and displaying a barrage of kickass action, Soldier was a flop. So much so that Kurt Russell took a break from acting for a few years before returning with 3000 Miles to Graceland and Vanilla Sky in 2001. And I honestly can't explain why I avoided it all these years. I can surely attest to the fact that had I seen that trailer, I would have jumped on it immediately.

Soldier is another prime example that Anderson was once a great visual director. In fact, you can easily count his first 3 big budget Hollywood films (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon and Soldier) among his best. Somehow for some reason his style changed drastically following Resident Evil, and it's the same visual aesthetic he's retained ever since, except for Death Race, which was surprisingly awesome. It might be partly due to the fact that he didn't use any CGI (from what I can remember), and it was just a big, loud fun action flick that reminded me why Anderson was so good in the first place. It may also be because Anderson, like most directors, transitioned from film to digital cameras, thus changing the "look" of his films entirely. Sadly Death Race was but a brief detour from his now usual "digital style" and he would go right back to overused CGI, slow-motion and uninspired camerawork.

One of the things that constantly surprised me was the familiar faces. Starting with Russell, who spoke less than 2 minutes of dialogue in the entire film. Here he's big (literally the biggest you've ever seen him, and ripped), tough and more of a robot than anything. But Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) as the main villain was awesome, as was the inclusion of Gary Busey, Jason Isaac's, Michael Chiklis, Connie Nielson, and Sean Pertwee (Gotham), who were all welcome surprises.

All in all, Soldier was a pleasant surprise. It was stylish in a way I hadn't anticipated from Anderson, and full of rock-solid action both big and small. The production design was impressive, as were the plethora of practical effects and pyrotechnics. The film slowed down a tad in the middle, but was able to recover nicely in the last act to deliver a wholly satisfying finale full of spectacle.

One thing I did not know going in was that it was written by David Webb Peoples, who is most famous for writing Blade Runner and Unforgiven. Peoples has stated that Soldier exists in the same universe as Blade Runner, acting as sort of a side-quel. In fact, highly observant viewers can spot many nods to Blade Runner throughout, even the famous spinner, while experts will also point out that Peoples wrote this screenplay around 1982/83 when Blade Runner was hitting theaters, but kept getting shelved when actors and directors originally interested on the project passed. While all this is fascinating, I just found it to be a really great sci-fi/action film that delivered in a way that I was not expecting. I half-expected to trodge my way through it, thinking I would probably be playing on my phone half the time. But no. I was invested from the very start, and the film never failed to deliver the action goods. It was a good old fashioned time in the action department, and a reminder of the type of quality that Paul W.S. Anderson was able to deliver many years ago.


The Cult Corner: Miami Blues (1990)

An Unconventional Caper That Delivers

by robotGEEK

I'm back. I guess I just can't stay away. I love movies so much and watch so many of them on a regular basis I feel the need to let some of you in on some hidden gems that you might not be aware of. But I think I'm going to change my format from here on out. I think from no on I'll stick to a "Short Form" review style, so that I can get more out in a timely manner. So let's kick things off with this under-the-radar film from 1990.

Like you, I've certainly come across this title at my local video store. I remember always thinking how crappy the cover was, and in any promotional material always seeing images of a shirtless Alec Baldwin, or that one image of him sitting in a bed with an uzi in one hand, and a wad of cash in the other. Other than that I knew nothing about it. Thankfully Hulu Plus has had this on their streaming site for a while and I finally took the plunge.

Miami Blues is great. It's also one of those films that is hard to categorize, much in the same way Miracle Mile, Into the Night, Joe Versus the Volcano, and hell, even Innerspace to some degree. And these are all incredible films, and the fact that they're nearly un-categorizable probably explains why they didn't do well, because how can you market a film that is hard to fit into a specific genre? The same can be said about Miami Blues, a film that came and went with very little attention, but has gained a cult status in the following years.

Part caper, part dark comedy, part thriller, part detective film, Miami Blues works as well for all the reasons it didn't do well financially. It's a very niche type of film that not a lot of people will understand, or "get", but if you can just go with the flow, you'll find that it's quite the pleasant surprise. Unconventional at it's core, you follow Alec Baldwin's just released from prison ex-con who immediately takes up his old ways upon release, but with more urgency, extreme and with higher consequences. On his trail is Sgt. Moseley (an excellent Fred Ward), an out of shape cop who knows he's got his man, but can't seem to connect him to anything concrete. The back-and-forth battle of wits between these two is what makes the film work so well, and combined with the film's unconventional approach, you have yourself a great time.

Baldwin does a great job at creating a totally unlikable character, and using brute force, intimidation and bully tactics to get what he wants. It's weird seeing him so thin and in great shape, compared to what we've grown used to seeing in the last 20 years. But it's Fred Ward (who also executive produced) who steals the show, as a somewhat bumbling sgt. who's always one step behind.

I discovered afterwards that the film's writer and director was George Armitage, who also did Gross Pointe Blank, which explains a lot about it's particular tone. It's based on a novel by author Charles Willeford, where they even attempted a tv series/movie in 2014 starring Paul Giamatti based on Ward's character Hoke Moseley. Sadly, I think that tv movie was intended as a pilot and it just didn't take.

The film carries a charm that is hard to define and describe. I really can't explain it. As I struggled to try and figure out just what type of film this was supposed to be, I couldn't help but fall in love with Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the films odd tone. I never knew where it was going to go next and oftentimes blindsided me with what did end up happening next. For all of those reasons, Miami Blues deserves to be seen, or a second look if you've already seen it and just didn't connect with it before.


Going on Hiatus....

As much as I enjoy sharing my talking films with all of you, and sharing some hidden gems that some of you may have forgotten about or not ever heard of, I've had a lot of different things pulling me in different directions lately, and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to post on here as much as I want. So I think the best course of action for me right now is to take a step back and focus more on some of my new passions that have taken up so much of my free time. I hope you understand.

If there are any of you who actually do care whether I return or not, or enjoy my taste in films and critiques, you can follow me on Instagram (I'm robotGEEK), where I post regularly because it's in short form. At this piont I don't know when, or if, I'll be back. But we'll see. I have a strong feeling that nobody is going to miss it though...


Species II: A Totally Bonkers Blast of Gory, Nasty Fun

That Rare Exception When The Sequel is Better Than The First

by robotGEEK

I remember being pretty excited about the first Species when it first came out. Probably because H.R. Giger was designing the alien, but also because I just love sci-fi/action/thrillers, and this one looked to get a gem. But for me, it wasn't. I found it pretty dull and lifeless for the most part. Sure it's always nice seeing Natasha Henstridge nude, but overall it was a pretty forgettable experience for me. I decided to revisit it a few months ago out of sheer curiosity because I have been known to change my mind about movies, but not this time. I felt the exact same way as I did all those years ago, only now with a much clearer reason why I don't like it. It has all the bells and whistles of a big budget sci-fi film, a potential kickstarter to a new franchise, but it's just all so very bland. Great cast, and some nifty effects, but I just found it hard to care about anything or get excited. Even on a visual level, when I'd always felt Roger Donaldson was more of a serviceable director, and never adding any level of visual fun to the mix, I still had hope. But alas, it was not to be and Species left me underwhelmed yet again.

Then somebody had randomly mentioned how nuts the sequel was, and as luck would have it, Hulu added the Species films to their lineup and it was just the sign I needed to dig into them, since I would probably never make any real effort to. So let's dig in.

I don't even know where to begin. It seems like the filmmakers, production and studio decided to go the complete opposite direction of the first one, going so far into low-budget grindhouse that it was just fucking awesome. It's bloody, gory, fun, full of nudity and really just a blast from start to finish. It's so absurd, quite ridiculously silly, and unintentionally bonkers that I honestly couldn't believe what I was seeing, but that's what I loved about it. It was a complete 180 from what I was expecting going in, and for lack of a better term, my mind was blown. This is the kind of experience I love, when I go in with one expectation, and being delivered something totally different.

Directed by Peter Medak (Romeo is Bleeding, The Krays), Species II piles on the blood, guts, gore and nudity in a way I was not expecting. Medak, who would seem like an unlikely choice for a project like this, handles it all with such care, giving the film a kind of slick "look" that you wouldn't normally see in a film like this, which only adds to it's continuous surprises.

On the flip-side though, I can completely understand why someone wouldn't like it. It's so bonkers, like writer Chris Brancato just though, "fuck it, I'm going to write a batshit crazy sequel and make it fun, something the first film wasn't". And he most certainly did. Some might consider this a mess. But it's a great looking mess, and a very fun one.

Species II exceeded my expectations in the most unconentional way. Where I was expecting a lower class sequel to a big budget hit, I got a blast of "go for broke" gory, bloody, nasty fun, made all the better with Steve Johnson's incredible practical effects work. I would strongly recommend this to anyone who loves films in the low-budget sci-fi/horror genre, because this one delivers the goods and is just so damn fun. Here's to hoping Part III is somewhere within the same scope. To be continued...


90's Action Attack!: Moon 44

Roland Emmerich's Big Fancy Early Sci-Fi Tale is Better Than You Would Expect

by robotGEEK

Before German writer/director Roland Emmerich hit it big in Hollywood with Universal Soldier, he got his feet wet with this vastly underrated sci-fi/action/thriller. Released 2 years before UniSol, Emmerich flawlessly displays his knack for outstanding visuals and exciting action with this under-the-radar gem. This was when he was really delivering some intensely visual films like UniSol, Stargate and Independence Day. But he had to start somewhere and this little seen and often forgotten gem was just the experience he needed to firm up his specific aesthetic, which also allowed him to work extensively with models and special effects. Let's get started.

Released in 1990, Moon 44 tells the tale of the future, where natural resources are nearly depleted and big companies now look for them on remote moons. When airships full of these much needed supplies begin disappearing on their way back to Earth, the company sends in an undercover officer to figure out what's happening. Thrown together with a group of prisoners (cheap labor and if they complete their jobs, they receive early release from their sentences), he soon discovers there might be sabotage in play, and must figure out who's responsible.

While there's not nearly enough action as you'd expect, Moon 44 more than makes up for in style, production design and it's excellent casting. Of course, there's Michael Pare, who some may say sleepwalks through his roles, but he sure makes the best of it. I had completely forgotten that Brian Thompson was in this, because he's always a welcome addition to any film. And then there's Stephen Geoffreys (Evil Ed from Fright Night), and Malcolm McDowell as the guy in charge of the mining station.

Aside from a completely unnecessary subplot involving prison rape, the film flows generally smoothly as our undercover agent works to try and uncover who's responsible for the missing ships, only to find his own life in danger. So at it's core, it plays out more like a thriller, only it's a damn good looking one, and they throw in enough action and kickass model-work to keep us action junkies satisfied. But really, it's in the visuals that keep you invested and Roland Emmerich delivers full force on that front. It's one of the best looking sci-fi thrillers I've ever seen; literally a perfect combination of Aliens and Blade Runner in terms of it's visuals and production design. Just for that alone, this has a ton of re-watchability for me.

This was just one of several films that Roland Emmerich made before hitting it big with Universal Soldier in 1992, which as we all know was then followed by genre-defining classics and franchise starters Stargate, Independence Day and unfortunately Godzilla, before he would transition to being known as the disaster king with big budget effects heavy films like The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC and 2012. After revisiting this one, I wish Emmerich had stuck to this style of filmmaking, which made his earlier films like UniSol and Stargate so great. Though I will say White House Down was a surprisingly solid effort, and a sort of throwback to his older days as a filmmaker.

How to see it:
Sadly, here in the U.S., this has been virtually impossible to find in widescreen. While it did ultimately get a release on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD, they were all piss poor quality and what's worse, in full frame. You just can't enjoy or appreciate a film like this without seeing it in true widescreen, because Roland Emmerich put so much work and emphasis into every single frame of film, it would be like trying to watch Blade Runner in full frame, and you just really can't.

Thankfully, the fine folks over in Germany released this baby in an HD upgraded Blu Ray. But it gets better. It's region-free and in widescreen. And the best part is that it's relatively inexpensive, usually going for around $10-$20 on eBay. The transfer is excellent, and the sound quality crisp and clean. I can honestly say I'm extremely proud to have this in my collection and here's yet another win for Germany in putting out these hard to find films in a quality presentation.