Review: Out for Justice

Directed by: John Flynn
Category: Badass Cinema

Released in 1991, a year after the excellent Marked for Death and directed by the guy responsible for Rolling Thunder, Best Seller and Lock Up, Out for Justice represents another solid entry in Seagal's early filmography when pretty much every film he made was a bonafide action hit. Those were the days weren't they? When year after year Seagal and Van Damme were going head to head for the top spot recently vacated by Chuck Norris.

A man is shot to death in broad daylight in front of his wife, son and countless witnesses. Det. Gino Felino (Seagal) gets the call and discovers that it's his friend and fellow cop Bobby. Gino also discovers that the killer was another old friend from the neighborhood and gangster wannabe Richie (William Forsythe).  Gino soon uncovers a complex plot full of dirty cops, mob ties, and a man on the edge with nothing to lose and nobody to stop him. When Richie's murderous rampage continues throughout the city in one long and deadly night, it's up to Gino to hunt him down and stop him at any cost. 

Out for Justice, while thoroughly entertaining, didn't "wow" me like Above the Law (1988) or Marked for Death(1990) did, and I think a lot of that has to do with the script by David Lee Henry (Roadhouse). As far as structure goes, it was fine-lots of action, fights, violence and a subplot involving Gino and his impending divorce from his estranged wife, but there seemed to be so many unnecessary scenes of dialogue that just serve no purpose and quite frequently make absolutely no sense. So as it's set in the Italian community of Brooklyn, you have all these head honchos from all these different mafia families who feel the need to deliver speech after speech about respect and loyalty and all that, but they throw these scenes in frequently and outta nowhere that they ultimately slow the film down when for the most part, they are unnecessary. I counted at least 5 different sequences like this and when they were over, they accomplished nothing. But the topper was when Seagal's character Gino delivers his own speech, or rather a story, to some mob guy from the neighborhood about when he was a kid and looked up to this older father figure guy and yadda yadda yadda. It was so long and when it was all over, it had absolutely nothing to do with the story and I was thinking to myself "What the hell was that?". Mainly because that scene went on for far too long and seemed kinda ridiculous when he's supposed to be out looking for this psycho killer, yet he's got the time to stop and tell stories of growing up in Brooklyn.

But that's really a minor complaint because all in all, it's a really great and well made action thriller. Director John Flynn gives the film an authentic gritty 80's style atmosphere that never goes out of it's way to be stylish. He keeps the camera still and that's one of the films greatest assets. Realism is thrown out the window in favor of the outlandish, but it's an action film, so what do you expect? It's hard not to hit on that aspect because watching Gino roam the city in search of Richie as he literally sends dozens and dozens of people to the hospital or the morgue is pretty fucking amazing. And the fact that he's able to get away with it without any consequences being that he's a cop on the clock only adds to the films charm. Seagal doesn't always pull off the Brooklyn accent all that well, half the time it feels forced, but who really cares. You want to see him bust some heads and kick some ass and he does that aplenty here. Out for Justice displays some pretty straight forward action sequences like car chases, shootouts and some pretty badass fight sequences. A fight scene in a bar where Gino (Seagal) goes toe to toe with an Asian baddie, each with a pool stick in each hand, is a standout. The beauty of all of these fight sequences, save for the last one with Richie, is that it's always Gino up against a large group of guys, never one on one. Seeing how he can put a guy down with the simplest of movies is always awesome to see.

Besides Seagal we have William Forsythe as Richie, a guy who appears to be planning something big and with a death wish. Forsythe has made a career out of playing villains and this is no exception. Except in Out for Justice he's so over the top and just plain ridiculous sometimes that he ends up coming off more like a buffoon than a scary gangster. Especially when it comes down to the fight with Gino at the end. Let's just say that for all his tough guy talk, he hits like a girl. And when it was all over, I wasn't satisfied with the "why" he goes on this murderous rampage. Yea there's an explanation, but it's not the explanation I was expecting and logically, made no sense. Especially since for the most part you think he's planning something huge for the end as he keeps promising, only to be let down once you realize what the real motive was for his insane behavior.

Not as awesome as Above the Law or Marked for Death, but one helluva ride nonetheless.

On a side note, I saw an interview with John Leguizamo when he was on Live with Regis and Kelly a few days ago where they asked him various questions about his illustrious career. They asked him about working with Steven Seagal on Executive Decision and he did not hesitate or mince words on how much of an asshole Seagal is in person. He does a great Seagal impression by the way, but talked about how when he met him for the first time on set he tried joking with him to lighten the mood since both of there characters are supposed to be buddy buddies in the film. He said Seagal grabbed him, shoved him up against the wall and basically said "he" was the head honcho there and basically saying "you ain't shit". After hilariously bashing Seagal, he ended the interview with saying Seagal ran like a girl. I just thought it was hilarious.


Prometheus Trailer is up!

Just in case you've been living under a rock or were too consumed with the madness of the holidays, here is the first trailer for Ridley Scott's Alien prequel/stand alone film Prometheus that came out a week ago. 
Judging simply by the imagery, this is exactly the kind of science fiction film I was hoping for from Ridley Scott, who hadn't done a film in this genre since Blade Runner. Watching this trailer over and over only gets me more excited. Can't wait!


Review: Cyborg Cop

Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Category: Sci-fi

When I sat down to watch this one, I had no idea what I was in for. I knew nothing of the plot or who the filmmakers were. The title sounded cool and with the name Cyborg Cop, my first thoughts were that this was going to be another Robocop ripoff, much like the awful R.O.T.O.R., but it appears that I was completely wrong. While I was expecting a tale of a dead cop turned into a cyborg roaming the streets of the city, instead I was treated to a film that primarily takes place in a small Caribbean island. As a result, Cyborg Cop ends up playing out like an Exploitation or Trash film more than anything, and that's all due to the talents of it's director, Sam Firstenberg. It wasn't until the opening credits started rolling that I was aware Firstenberg was even behind this. So right away I knew I was in for something special. You see, while I haven't seen everything director Sam Firstenberg has done, he is responsible for a few of my most favorite "WTF?" films of all time, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination namely. He also did Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo and a slew of others like American Ninja and Avenging Force. So let's just say I was a little excited to see his name attached to this.

Jack and Philip Ryan are two brothers who also happen to be DEA agents. When a bust goes sour and Jack (David Bradley) kills a suspect before backup arrives, they are forced to resign and go into seclusion. One day Philip tells Jack of a secret job he's about to do in the Caribbean and needs Jack to look after his son while he's gone, sure to be back soon. When Phillip disappears after sending Jack a secret message, Jack goes to the Caribbean looking for his missing brother and discovers he's been turned into a cyborg by a mad scientist who uses these cyborgs for his drug running business. 

I wish I could say that Cyborg Cop was a blast because it certainly had all the necessary ingredients to pull of an awesome low-budget sci-fi trash flick, but ultimately it just didn't work as well as it could have. It had it's moments, like a strong opening, a John Rhys-Davies doing some insane overacting and star David Bradley seriously rocking a fanny pack. But right at the half way mark the film starts to go down hill. Too many scenes of Rhys-Davies belting out speeches about who knows what, a love/hate relationship between Bradley's character and a reporter along for the ride that just doesn't work, and a truly and utterly horrible final act that suffers from probably some of the worst editing I've seen in a very long while.

Cyborg Cop ultimately left me scratching my head most of the time. Like the cover for instance. That image on the cover is neither of star David Bradley's character nor his brother, who actually gets turned into a cyborg. Instead it's of a small supporting character who doesn't utter a single word and is simply known as cyborg. And what about the title? Why is it called Cyborg Cop when the two brothers aren't even cops anymore and the one who does get turned into a cyborg isn't even the star? Why does David Bradley wear a black leather jacket when it's clearly 120 degrees outside? In the final action sequence when Jack infiltrates the drug runner's compound, why is he able to just throw the homemade bombs and have them explode when just a few minutes earlier he clearly had to physically light them with a lighter for them to detonate?
And don't even get me started on the weird relationship between Jack Ryan and the female reporter Cathy. Obviously meant to be played for laughs, it just comes off as forced and more than anything, really uncomfortable. Like, you know he's gonna bed the chick, but they make you sit through endless back and forth flirting and annoying angry banter when they should be focusing more on some action sequences.

Which brings me to my final complaint. I don't know what the hell happened, but everything about that final action sequence felt off, like an amateur was editing his first film. Scenes were cut in half, right down to the sound effects. Like it was an edited version of Cyborg Cop or something because it was too violent, only it wasn't. Some of the punches and kicks that were thrown and landed in a fight sequence didn't even have sound effects! And don't get me started on the inability of the filmmakers to simply count correctly when editing a sequence where a guy shoots at two different people, yet somehow three go down. The list goes on and on. But it's just the overall execution of the action sequences and fight scenes in general that were just bad. Such a bummer considering director Firstenberg is responsible for some pretty great low-budget 80's gems. The frustrating thing is that you can overlook a lot of this if the film just didn't lag for so long in the middle when it focused on the needless love story of Jack Ryan and the reporter or when Rhys-Davies scenes seemed to go on forever and ever as he belted out speech after speech about nothing. For a low-budget sci-fi film called Cyborg Cop, it needed a helluva lot more action, even if it was bad action.

The good? David Bradley certainly gives it his all. He's really trying with the material he's got to work with. Why he wears a fanny pack with a black biker jacket is beyond me. It does offer some cool low-budget action and a few "so bad it's good" sequences of science fiction and gore. But they're few and far between and once it gets to that final action set piece when Jack infiltrates the compound, well it's just so laughably gawd awful you wonder what the hell they were thinking when it's all over.


Review: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter AKA Part 4

Directed by: Joseph Zito
Category: Horror

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter aka Part 4, I've always considered my favorite of the series. I think because even as a kid watching these for the first time when they came out in the 80's, I always felt Part 4 was made so much better than the previous entries. I've never been a fan of director Steve Miner, who helmed 2 and 3, though I will admit he did a much better job with Part 3D mainly because of the 3D gimmickry he displayed. Overall it made for a much better experience. But it wasn't until director Joseph Zito took over the directing duties for this entry that I really took notice of how awesome a standard slasher flick could really be. I honestly didn't even really need to revisit it this time out because I've seen it so many times before, much more than any of the others, that I probably know it by heart. But for the sake of "keeping it real" and just to be able to move on to Part 5 (the only one I don't think I've ever seen from beginning to end), I thought I'd sit through it anyway.

After Jason is thought to have been killed by the sole survivor of the last massacre at Crystal Lake just 1 day before, he mysteriously comes back to life in the morgue and continues his bloody rampage of unsuspecting people at Crystal Lake. This time out a mother and her two children living alone in a cabin in the woods rent out there other next door property to a group of horny teenagers for a weekend of partying. One by one they are killed in gory fashion and it's not until Jason goes head to head with little Tommy and his big sister Trish that Jason might have finally met his match.

Not much of a synopsis because going into Part 4, the story hasn't changed. An unsuspecting group of teenagers arrive for a weekend of partying and sex only to be killed off one by one by an unstoppable Jason.
Of course, it's never explained how or why Jason suddenly comes back to life in the morgue after he was most certainly dead at the end of Part 3. So I guess now he'd be considered a zombie technically? Because he's gotta be full blown dead now from what I can tell. But without explanation as to how or why Jason can do what he does, Part 4 does possess a lot of things that make it work really well. Better pacing, better kills, more nudity, more blood and a better all around cast.

Besides having the talents of director Joseph Zito, who had just come off of the excellent early 80's slasher The Prowler, but before he moved onto Missing in Action, Invasion USA and ultimately the excellent Dolph Lundgren actioner Red ScorpionThe Final Chapter has so many other things going for it. Casting wise, it has one of the better ensemble casts in the series up to this point. The chicks are a little hotter, and the overall cast in general is pretty awesome. First and foremost, you have a very young Corey Feldman as Tommy, who's character shows up in a few later sequels. And you've also got a pre-Back to the Future Crispin Glover looking the most "normal" I've ever seen him. He's not sickly pale, sickly skinny or with a weird haircut. Here he plays kind of the nerd of the group of horny teens who has been labeled "dead fuck" throughout the film as a joke by his buddy Ted. It ends up being a nickname that sticks. And though he's pretty normal for most of the film, he demonstrates one of the most laughably horrible dances I've ever seen on film, just to keep that edge. I'm telling you, it was like a full body dry heave and it must be seen to be believed. There's also a very hot and frequently nude Judie Aronson who you'll remember as the brunette who ends up being Wyatt's girlfriend at the end of Weird Science.

One of the best things I love about The Final Chapter is the return of Tom Savini in the makeup effects department after being absent for Parts 2 and 3. It's not his best work, but it's far better than anything produced by the effects teams of both 2 and 3. Savini's stated in several interviews that he was excited to return to the series for this installment because after doing the effects work for the first one, he was told that The Final Chapter was supposed to be the very last and "final" one in the series and as he felt he gave birth to Jason in Part 1, he felt it only fitting to kill him off in glorious fashion in Part 4: The Final Chapter. Though it was intended to be the end of the series, that was not meant to be. There's simply too much money to be made off of endless sequels from a popular slasher franchise.

In my opinion, this is the best and most solid entry in the series up to this point. Part 3D definitely had it's moments, but once Part 4 came around I was sold. Solid director, solid cast and better kills make for an overall better experience.

For a recap of my reviews of the first three films in the series, check them out here:



Danny Trejo kickin' some ass! Bad Ass Trailer is up!

Only one thing left to say after that. "Hell Yea".
Yea, you could argue it's a ripoff of so many other films, but hey, it's Danny "fuckin'" Trejo! Who cares.


The Ninja Trilogy big box VHS

The cycle is complete.

After I had seen Revenge of the Ninja for the very first time, I was floored by how completely ridiculous it was. But it had me hooked. It was a fun kind of ridiculous and with Sho Kosugi front and center, it was just a brilliant combination. But then I saw Ninja III: The Domination, the unofficial third entry in the series, and just couldn't believe what I was seeing. Next to Never Too Young To Die, it has got to be one of the biggest "WTF?" movies I've ever seen. I mean, it was just gloriously bugnuts insane and made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but I loved it! So I just "had" to own these films in there original VHS release. Not that I'd ever watch them because I already own them on DVD, but just for collecting's sake. 

I didn't make it a daily habit, but I'd occasionally search for them on eBay whenever I would remember. They are often available in there original big box format from Cannon Films from various eBay sellers, but they always ask too much. I have a rule of not ever paying more than $10 for a VHS. It's just a personal thing because if I don't give myself a limit, I could easily go crazy. And I've passed up some pretty  badass stuff because of my stupid rule. But I knew if I waited long enough and was patient, I'd come across another fairly cheap. As luck would have it I indeed found a copy of both Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III roughly about the same time for fairly cheap and put my bids in. I lost, of course, but 1 day later the seller, who I had no idea was the seller of both of them, contacted me with a "second chance offer" for both of them. I guess whoever outbid me on them reneged on his or her bid and bowed out. So I got them after all at an awesome price. Revenge of the Ninja amazingly is still sealed. The cover and spine are slightly faded, but it's still in it's original shrink wrap. Sweet! And Ninja III is in very good condition, only having some minor scuffs and shelf wear at the top and bottom. Then soon after that I happened upon Enter the Ninja purely by accident as I was casually browsing one day. I had no intention of ever looking for it since I've never seen it, and the seller used a "stock" photo instead of taking an actual photo of the VHS, but I though "what the hell" and put my $1 bid in anyway. I won and when I received it I was surprised to see that it was the original big box Cannon release. 

This is such an interesting trilogy. They have nothing to do with one another other than the fact they all have Sho Kosugi in them, only as a different character in each one. In Enter the Ninja he's a supporting player. In Revenge of the Ninja, he's front and center as the star. In Ninja III: The Domination he's back to being a supporting player, but steals the show in every single scene he's in. One things for sure, we definitely need more ninja films. 


Review: Blow Out

Directed by: Brian De Palma
Category: Cult Classics

Brian De Palma writes and directs this brilliant suspense thriller that's equal parts conspiracy theory, serial killer film and Hitchcockian thriller. Blow Out has got to be without a doubt one of the best film experiences I've had in a long while. I loved everything about this geek-infused mystery from start to finish, beginning with De Palma's flat out "brilliant" camera work, the genius opening credit sequence, Pino Donaggio's late 70's, early 80's infused score and Travolta's harrowing portrayal of a man caught in the middle of a cover up who holds the key that could blow the thing wide open and will stop at nothing to tell the truth.

I think most people will agree that when it's all over, and you're trying to process the experience you just had watching this, you can't help but wonder why the hell Blow Out is not more popular and better known in the film community. I just don't get it. This film is amazing, one of the best thrillers I've ever seen and somehow it's slipped through the cracks. But honestly, I'm not really surprised. The marketing and promotion for this film was all wrong. Perfect example is the only DVD release prior to Criterion's 2011 release was MGM's 2001 release. The packaging alone left a lot to be desired. It's literally a completely black cover with a closeup of Travolta's distorted face screaming. That's it. How the hell are you going to gauge what kind of film it's about with a cover like that? Just look at Criterion's new cover here. Just from the image alone you get that this is somehow associated with the film business just by all the reels and endless tape you see all over the place. But you also see that it's an old film judging by the machinery in the picture and most importantly, Travolta himself. This was right after Urban Cowboy when he was at the top of his game. And if you ever wondered whether he was really anything other than a guy in a polyester suit dancing to the Bee Gee's, look no further than Blow Out. He delivers the goods on all fronts here.

Trying to come up with a synopsis this time around is going to be extremely difficult for several reasons. One, I don't want to give away too many plot details here because the less you know, the better. I went into this thing with only the bare minimum info beforehand and was handsomely rewarded afterwards with how complex it ultimately became. Two, when it's all over, it's almost like 3 different stories somehow and ingeniously rolled into one by a master filmmaker in his prime. So here it goes.

John Travolta plays Jack, a sound effects technician for low-budget crappy horror films. At the behest of his boss he goes out to record new "wind" sounds to use in there films. Yes you heard correctly, wind. While out late one night in a park recording sounds of nature he hears a car barreling down the road in a distance. He aims his microphone recorder towards the vehicle and watches as the vehicle seems to have a blow out causing it to careen into the river. Jack jumps into the river to help and saves a woman who was in the back seat. Only one thing bothers him. He's sure he heard a sound right before the blow out and since he was recording it at the time, his suspicions are confirmed. However, once  this information gets out, he soon realizes he's opened up a Pandora's Box of conspiracy, deceit and cold blooded murder. 

The visual artistry displayed here by writer/director Brian De Palma is simply amazing. I was simply "wowed" the entire time and that's something I don't say often. He incorporates his split screen technique in a few scenes, but not as often as you would expect. But it works so effectively here, and it never plays out too long. This is also the first time he incorporates steadi-cam, also to great effect. But that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the camera tricks he's got up his sleeve. Simple shots take on a life of there own all because of where he just simply places the camera. I just couldn't get enough of it because I eat that shit up.

You also have to admire how De Palma revolves the story around a sound technician who works on sleazy low-budget horror films. For filmgeeks, it's a blast watching how they go about working on these kinds of films and how important a good scream is.

The cast was pretty great here. Travolta delivers the goods, and Nancy Allen (Robocop) as the woman he saves from the river does a convincing job as a ditsy damsel in distress who might have bitten off more than she can chew. A young and fully haird Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue) also entertains as a scuzzy opportunist. But it's John Lithgow who really steals the show. I won't go into specifics, but the guy who's mainly known for comedy goes down a really dark path in this one and it's his performance more than any other that stays with you. But I also must say the visuals play such an important role here. When working with the right material, Brian De Palma can create some stunning taut and suspenseful sequences. Like the sequence in The Untouchables in the bus station with that baby stroller. Thrilling, thrilling stuff. I mention that sequence because there's one in here done in a similar way in a subway station that almost made it feel like a completely different film, but in a good way.

Criterion really did a bang up job on this transfer. The film simply looks stunning in it's 1:77:1 aspect ratio which utilizes De Palma's inventive camera work to great effect. The sound, which plays such an enormous part in the film, as well as the score is awesome. And that opening sequence and title sequence. That is really something. I think I had a grin a mile long on that one and immediately I knew I was in for something special. Blow Out is a tragically overlooked gem for all parties involved and you owe it to yourself to give it a try.


Review: Red Scorpion

Directed by: Joseph Zito
Category: Badass Cinema

First and foremost, I need to thank my good buddy Ingo over at Hellford 667 Movie Reviews for hooking me up with this super rad German DVD. He knew I had been wanting to see this one for a while and after doing some research, I was bummed to learn that Red Scorpion is unavailable in widescreen anywhere, until he found out they were releasing a German unrated version in it's proper aspect ratio earlier this past month. Needless to say he hooked me up with this awesome piece of Badass Cinema as an early Christmas present because he's just plain fucking awesome that way. Thanks man! 

One thing's for sure, Red Scorpion certainly didn't disappoint. I had seen this maybe only one other time before when it first came out, but remember virtually nothing about it, so I was eager to revisit this film from Lundgren's most impressive (my personal feeling) stage in his career. 

Nikolai Rachenko is a revered Russian KGB agent assigned to infiltrate a black anti-communist camp and assassinate it's leader. When he fails his mission, he's tortured and set for execution by the very organization he's served his entire life. Angry and humiliated he escapes into the African desert and taken in by a local tribesman who saves his life and opens his eyes to the horrors of his people. Nikolai, angry and out for revenge, joins forces with the revolutionaries and wages war on his former Russian commanders and there Cuban allies. 

Red Scorpion was a blast from start to finish. It had just the right amount of action for an 80's action fest with plenty of over the top scenarios and violence. Sure, it has a few slow moments here and there, mainly whenever Nikolai was "roaming the African desert". But if you know how the story plays out, you kind of expect there to be roaming scenes and that they always slow a film down, no matter how beautiful the scenery is. I counted three such sequences in here. Luckily the first two are brief and right when you start to get slightly bored......BOOM! A nice big action sequence comes outta nowhere. The only real slow one was the last roaming sequence, when he's taken in by the tribesman and taught how to hunt and all that. Other than that the film kept a constant pace with plenty of action and violence to satisfy any serious 80's action fan. I've always been a fan of director Joseph Zito. He's more than capable of handling both action and horror as evident in his filmography with films like the early 80's slasher The Prowler and Friday the 13th Part 4, and then delving into action with films like Missing in Action and one of my favorite Chuck Norris flicks ever, the completely ridiculous but totally awesome Invasion USA. He doesn't carry any kind of specific visual style, but knows how to blow shit up real good and make it look good when it counts. For some reason, after a string of awesome films like these in the 80's, he seemed to have fallen off the map completely and it's a damn shame he didn't continue giving us awesome action films like this. It might have something to do with all the trouble that went on behind the scenes during filming where financing fell through and because of delays, the budget doubled. Maybe he just got burned out? I don't know. 

Dolph Lundgren, just coming off of Masters of the Universe and before heading into The Punisher, plays mean brute asshole like nobody's business. It's actually a type of character he's perfected in his long career and has made a career out of it, much to our delight. Another bright spot in here as far as casting goes would be the late Brion James as a Russian army dude who's good at dispensing corporal punishment. His high pitch voice while trying to simultaneously do a Russian accent is often times hilarious, but he's still great in the little screen time he's given here. M. Emmett Walsh as a reporter who just happens to get thrown in jail during Nikolai's assassination attempt, thus inserting himself into the rest of the story, does a fine job as an asshole American who just does not like Nikolai simply because he's Russian. I enjoyed his role so much that I wish he had a bigger part than he did. But he really makes the most with what he's given. 

I love how the Russian battleship plays such a big part in this. It's so massive and completely intimidating when you hear the thudder of the helicopter blades as it's scouring the African desert looking for villages to decimate. And when it does, it's pretty fucking awesome. While that's cool, it's not as cool as when the battleship and Nikolai, armed with a monster of a canon (the same pictured on the cover) go head to head in a showdown at the end. Classic Joseph Zito stuff man! If I had any complaints, it would be maybe a little too much Little Richard music played throughout, and the last "roaming through the desert" sequence. But that's pretty much it. I enjoyed the hell out of 95% of it. 

This is a really solid entry in both Dolph Lundgren and director Joseph Zito's career. With the exception of a slow sequence in the middle when Nikolai is taken in by an African tribe, it's pretty much wall to wall 80's style action at it's best. And when the finale rolls around with an insane amount of carnage in one last battle, you can't help but be giddy as a teenager watching this for the first time. Especially when they freeze frame that last shot. They just don't do shit like that anymore.  

On a side note. 
When my son was born almost 9 years ago, we decided to name him Nikolai. Yes, he's technically of Hispanic heritage, but we were trying to come up with a unique variation of the name Nick as a tribute to his grandfather who passed away and who he's never met. I believe Nikolai came from a band member of The Strokes, but I think now I will just tell people I named him after Dolph Lundgren's character from Red Scorpion from now on. It just sounds cooler.

One more special thank you to Hellford 667 Movie Reviews. You rule man! 


New Movie Roundup: Fright Night and Cowboys & Aliens

Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Category: Horror

Yet another perfect example of another needless Hollywood remake. A few recent others that come to mind, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and Conan. Though I still haven't seen Conan yet, so I can't say whether it was good or not, but judging purely on it's lackluster box office performance it would be safe in assuming it's not the Conan film we had hoped for. But I can certainly say this falls right into the category of "needless" along with The Thing prequel/sequel/remake thingy and Samuel Bayer's Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

There just didn't seem to be any point with this one. It offered nothing new, inventive or creative to the story that would warrant a remake. That's not to say that the actors weren't good, because they were fine. Colin Farrell is about as cool and hip as he's ever been. Anton Yelchin did a decent job as the semi nerdy Charlie and Christopher Mintze-Plasse as Charlie's "former" friend Evil Ed was inspired casting. But everything just felt so forced. Like there "had" to be a remake and this was the best they could do. And while they made some pretty big changes to the story and even the characters, it didn't make up for the fact that there was just no need, especially since the original Fright Night circa 1985 is still a shining example of a great horror/comedy hybrid complete with regular looking actors who come off as believable and not like they came out of some reality show, a hypnotic, moody and 26 years later, recognizable score, impressive practical effects and a capable director with a flare for fleshing out a story and it's characters.

The thing about this remake is that it's not horrible, it's just alright. And if it's just going to be alright, why bother when you're tackling such a well known cult classic? It just doesn't make any sense to me. They tried sprucing it up by updating a few things like Peter Vincent's character most notably. Instead of a suave television host, he's now a much younger Criss Angel wannabe magician doing elaborate shows in Las Vegas. He's an alcoholic, a fake and a pretty big douche bag. I didn't like that change. I think one of the things that made the original so great is that you really like and care for  Roddy McDowell's Peter Vincent. You just can't help but love the guy. The effects here were also kinda lame. A "lot" of unnecessary digital blood and it's just so painfully obvious in at least 4 scenes that they were forced to do some kind of 3D gimmickry with shit being flung towards the camera. I don't remember if this was released in 3D or not, but with those scenes it sure felt like it did. I don't know, it just seemed like a wasted effort from a director not capable of handling such a big film. All it does is just make you want to watch the original again.

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Category: Sci-fi

This had some pretty awesome ingredients. Mix a western with an alien invasion story, have the director of Iron Man helm the sucker and bring in Indiana Jones and 007 for good measure. For all intents and purposes, it should have worked, and I just can't put my finger on why it didn't. It's not bad by any means. In fact, with some pretty outstanding special effects and badass leads it definitely has it's moments. But it doesn't "wow" you like it should've. There were never any "Holy Shit!" moments and Favreau, while usually at the top of his game, didn't impress me this time around. He made a few creative choices that just didn't work for me and seemed to revert to handheld a little more than usual.

The effects were top notch, and I enjoyed seeing some familiar faces like Keith Carradine and Clancy Brown doing some nice work, but it just didn't seem as spectacular as it should have been. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it credits 5 screenwriters? With so many people working on one script, that's never a good thing. Though the action scenes were pretty cool, overall it didn't have the visual flare I would come to expect from a Jon Favreau flick. The guy impressed me with the severely underrated Zathura, and blew me away with the first Iron Man. But when part 2 came around, it suffered the same problems as Spider-man 3-too many villains. But unfortunately he doesn't redeem himself here. Another problem I had with it and with sci-fi films in general these days is that I just don't like the way they're designing aliens anymore. Attack the Block is an exception, but for the most part like here and in Super 8 for example, I just don't dig the design of them. Fully CGI'd and way too complicated. Most of the time you can't even tell what they look like because they just look so weird. It was cool and had it's moments with some cool action, but it not enough of them to be able to call this awesome.


Badass buy: The Evil Dead Thorn EMI Clamshell VHS (sealed)

This past year as I've gotten back into VHS collecting, I've slowly been building my 
Thorn EMI / HBO Cannon VIDEO 
collection. They produced a pretty eclectic group of films on white clamshell cases back in the VHS heyday and ones that I've always been drawn to. I just love the clamshell look and annoyingly, the U.S. didn't make it a habit of releasing a lot of VHS this way, rather on cheap cardboard slipcases. I don't collect everything they put out though, just films I actually thoroughly enjoy. And I'm new to this and still learning of what there output was and when.

 I didn't even know Thorn EMI had The Evil Dead under there belt until when I came across it recently for a very cheap price. The beauty about this purchase, besides getting it for very cheap, is that it's still SEALED!!! Sweet! The only damage seems to be a large tear to the shrink wrap with some smaller ones here and there. But most importantly, the actual clamshell and plastic are untouched. 


Review: Dead & Buried

Directed by: Gary Sherman
Category: Horror

Dead & Buried is a film with a lot of talent behind the camera for a little seen or heard of early 80's horror film.

Directed by:
Gary Sherman (Vice Squad, Wanted Dead or Alive)
Written by:
Ronald Shusset (Alien "story", Above the Law, Total Recall)
Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Invaders From Mars, Total Recall, Screamers)
Special Makeup Effects:
Stan Winston (The Terminator, Aliens, Predator)

The main thing this film has going for it is it's constant sense of dread. The film carries an eerie atmospheric tone that reminded me a lot of John Carpenters The Fog, only not as awesome and not as visually stunning. In a lot of instances it reminded me of a made for TV movie. For a horror film from 1981, that's not always a good thing.

Potters Bluff, Rhode Island. A small seaside town where everybody knows everybody and nothing exciting ever happens until tourists start getting killed off in gory fashion at an alarming rate. Sheriff Dan Gillis, the college graduate who came back home to become the town sheriff, is at a loss. He thinks there is a serial killer responsible until clues lead him to believe there might be more to this close knit town, his wife and the local mortician included, than he ever imagined. 

I'd heard of this film once or twice before and finally made it a point to check it out the other day. For me, it was the talent involved behind the camera that pulled me in. I've always been a fan of both Ronald Shusset and Dan O'Bannon, who between the two of them have given me some of my favorite sci-fi, horror and action films of the 1980's. So a horror film from early in there career written by both of them with special effects by the great Stan Winston should be a sure thing right? Well yes and no. It's not so much a full on horror film as it is an atmospheric thriller with some pretty impressive effects. So going into this thing expecting a horror film and ending up with a suspense thriller that looks like it was made for television kinda left me a little bummed when it was all over. It just didn't end up being the kind of film I was hoping for. I can't really pinpoint one specific thing that felt off, because the performances and the direction were fine, but somehow it just didn't gel very well. Like it didn't know what type of film it wanted to be. At one point it felt like a Twilight Zone episode, and at another it felt like a Fog wannabe. The shifting tone really threw me off and if it wasn't for the creative and pretty awesome kills here and there as well as Jack Albertson's (in his final role) role as the local mortician with the entire town under his spell, then I woulda been bored out of my mind.

It did have a few bright spots though. The main actor who plays the sheriff, James Farentino, was pretty great. The guy was just so gung ho the entire time and gave it his all, even with some of the ridiculous scenarios. And I swear, I seriously thought it was the actor who played the dad in The Wonder Years, only younger and thinner. I'm telling you, the guy's a dead ringer. Also great was Jack Albertson, Charlie's grandfather from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He really steals the show and it was so great to see that he ended up having a much bigger part towards the end than you realize in the first half. It also had some pretty nifty special effects courtesy of Mr. Winston. The only problem was they just seemed so out of place in a movie like this. Like, the killings were so severe, but then the film turns back into a slow Twilight Zone episode or an Alfred Hitchcock presents episode and after you cringe at the painful death, you sort of scratch your head thinking it seemed so over the top compared to the rest of the film.
I would also have to say the big twist at the end was awesome. I'm talking about the very last scene right before it cuts to credits. I honestly never saw it coming and was pretty impressed with how inventive it was. Overall though, Nothing really stood out here that will ever make me watch it again unfortunately. It was a nice effort and if anything, it really makes me want to see John Carpenter's The Fog again, another horror film that came out the year before about another small seaside town dealing with mysterious murders, only made much better and worked much more effectively by a master in the beginning of his prime.

Expendables 2 Teaser Trailer is up!

Not much of a trailer as it is more of a confirmation of who's actually in it this time around. 
First thing extremely noticeable is that the camera actually stays still, as opposed to Stallone's overly used shaky cam method in the first one. The action fan in me is still pretty excited about this one though. 


Super Rad: Hardware Japanese Laserdisc for sale on eBay

Is this freakin' sweet or what?!
Casually browsing eBay yesterday I came across this and just wanted to pass this along. I felt it was too badass not to.

As of today 12.15.11, it's got 2 days left in the auction with zero bids. But with a price tag of $99, I doubt it will sell. But I could be wrong.

I seriously love this low-budget sci-fi/horror hybrid from director Richard Stanley. It's got just enough badass moments, gore and ingenuity to make it stand out from the crowd. For a recap of my review from back in June, check it out here.

Personally, I love this film to death, but not enough to shell out a cool $100 for the laserdisc that's probably not even in widescreen from what I can tell. I'm happy with my 2009 Special Edition 2 disc DVD release, unrated with tons of extras. I've never seen this cover image for the film before, and it fucking rules. I wish it was either cheaper or available on other formats with this rad cover art.

Follow the link here to check out the eBay auction before it ends.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with eBay, the eBay seller or the auction. I just thought it was too cool an item to not pass along. Good luck!


G.I. Joe: Retaliation trailer is up!

You know, the first one was a silly, fun, over CGI'd campfest. I watched it once, but I'll probably never watch it again. Too much of a playful tone for my taste. But this, this looks more like a pretty straightforward and hard edged action flick with some pretty badass action sequences without any crappy quick edit cuts or shaky cam. The addition of Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis is genius in my book and can only give the film some serious cred it most definitely needed. This looks more like the kinda live action G.I. Joe film I was hoping for the first time out. Thoughts?


Review: Scanners

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Category: Cult Classics

Scanners is a film that I've shockingly never seen. It's just one of those things, like I've seen bits and pieces here and there and everyone knows that exploding head sequence, but somehow always passed me by until I made a conscious decision to make it happen. Even then, it took me about 4 times to get through it because right now, I'm just so busy with work and sitting through an entire film from beginning to end without interuption is just impossible.  I will say this though, I had high expectations because 1. It's from David Cronenberg and 2. It's about superhumans with telekinetic powers that can literally make your head explode. Also, the year it was made get's me excited and that VHS cover........is that not the coolest cover or what?!

Despite a multitude of flaws, I actually enjoyed this. It didn't end up being the film I was hoping for or what the VHS cover and trailers implied, but because of the sheer talent of Cronenberg's brand of storytelling, I was able to look past most of the issues I had with it and enjoy it nonetheless. First off, it's circa 1981 and I don't know, movies just looked cool back then. The clothes, the design, the setting and just the way films were made in general back then all come together so wonderfully here. It's the same feeling I had when I saw Nighthawks not too long ago. The feeling of "they just don't make films like this anymore". In this day and age of quick edit shaky cam bullshit something like this is refreshing. The practical effects in here are phenomenal. I mean, that exploding head sequence that this is so famous for is worth the price of admission alone. Even when watched frame by frame (yea, I'm sick that way), it's amazing how well it looks and how real too; It's that good. While some of the cast is not great in this, there are some pretty impressive performances to be had, namely Michael Ironside and Patrick McGoohan. And I love the concept. The idea of superhumans born with this telekinetic power where they can control minds and inflict harm on there victims is just awesome to me. Although I was kind of expecting full on telekinetic battles like in Dark City, I was sadly disappointed until the final showdown between Vale (Lack) and Revok (Michael Ironside). It wasn't the badass ending I was hoping for, but it did redeem itself quite a bit with this final showdown and some of the plot (albeit cheesy) twists.

Now onto the bad. Stephen Lack, who plays the lead in the film Cameron Vale. Oh my lord, this guy cannot act. Stiff or wooden wouldn't even be the word because it's not even that. The guy just cannot act and it's painfully obvious in his delivery of every single line of dialogue. I don't know how he got this job or why Cronenberg thought a relative unknown could pull off a lead like this, but it just didn't work. On the plus side though, the guy looks good when he's "scanning" somebody. He pulls off the body language really well, complete with the facial expressions and deadpan eyes because let's be honest, not a lot of people would be able to pull off something like that without looking ridiculous. So while the guy can't act, he looks good where it counts; the scanning sequences. Which brings up another issue I had with the film. That exploding head sequence sells the picture, no doubt. Only problem is that it's the "only" exploding head sequence in the entire film and since they give you that incredible sequence pretty much in the beginning of the film, you're left waiting and waiting for more exploding head action and it never comes, not even close. You just feel kind of cheated and misled. Like they tease you with this great piece of awesome gore, but that's it. They never even attempt to compete with that scene later on. Some other issues would be that it's painfully slow at times, and some scenes just don't make sense. Like when Vale (Stephen Lack) uses his "scanning" abilities through a telephone?! Come on! He just barely got a grasp of this whole "scanning" thing and all of a sudden he's confident enough to know that he can "scan" through a telephone? I'm sorry, but that just doesn't jive with me.

Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is a homeless man who uses telekinetic powers to harm people. When a Doctor (Patrick McGoohan) learns of his existence, he takes him in to help him properly develop and control his powers. Vale soon realizes that he's not the only scanner and that someone is killing them off one by one. With the help of Doctor Ruth and his underground organization, they seek to find the most powerful scanner out there, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) who they feel is responsible for the killing off of the rest of the scanners and end his reign of terror. 

Michael Ironside really shines here. When given the right material, he can scare the crap out of you with his intense and often times explosive performance. Patrick McGoohan is also pretty great as well. There's just something about his voice that almost hypnotizes you. I sense an accent in there somewhere, but can't quite place it.

I think most people's gripes with this would be that it's slow. And indeed it is, sometimes dreadfully so. But Cronenberg intercuts the slow parts (I wouldn't call it boring) with some insane violence outta nowhere and with a really great visual style that takes full advantage of the cold and depressing environment. Towards the end of the story, computers play a big part of the story and it's fascinating to see these monstrous computer dinosaurs in there infancy. I get such a kick out of that stuff. Even more so when Cronenberg incorporates this into the end credits. Genius stuff and I have to admit I geeked out a little with that credit sequence.

Scanners, for the most part, is a slow burn kinda film and after an awesome display of practical effects in the beginning, it unfortunately doesn't pay off when you're expecting a full on "scanner" battle by the end, though the final showdown is pretty sweet. Cronenberg, according to IMDB, states that this film was a frustrating experience and that the production was severely rushed. Basically writing the script as they were filming, which would explain a lot about it's shortcomings. Given the time to develop a proper script, Scanners could have been something pretty incredible. But the idea of it still fascinates me and though it has some weak parts, I still found it thoroughly enjoyable. I've really been wanting to see this one for a very long time and in all honesty, it could have turned out a whole lot worse. It mostly worked for me and in my opinion, the good far outweigh the bad with this one.


Raiders of Atlantis Australian & U.S. VHS Covers

Raiders of Atlantis Australian VHS Cover

Just snagged this sweet Australian VHS of one of my favorite films ever, Raiders of Atlantis

Not as cool as the U.S. cover found below, but cool nonetheless. A really great film from the Trash/Exploitation rage from the mid 80's. For a recap of my review, check it out here.

Raiders of Atlantis U.S. VHS Cover


Review: Silent Rage

Directed by: Michael Miller
Category: Badass Cinema

I must confess, this one left me a little underwhelmed. Not to say that all the ingredients weren't there, but I think it was in the execution by director Michael Miller where this thing really falls short.

I've had this in my DVD collection for years now, always meaning to pop it in and give it a spin, but always forgetting that I have it. I know I've seen this before, but it was literally some 20 odd years ago at least so my memory of anything related to this film are virtually nonexistent. But it sounds cool. Chuck Norris as a Texas sheriff hunting down an unstoppable killer with his trusty and goofy sidekick circa 1982? Sounds like a winner to me!

I'm not going to bother with a synopsis this time out because I just basically gave you the jist of the story. I mean, I couldn't really elaborate on that in synopsis form since annoyingly not much is really explained in the film. Stuff just happens and you just have to accept it. Instead I'll go more for a play by play on what works and what doesn't and hope it doesn't come out too long.

Silent Rage works on some levels, but then fails miserably on most of them. What you should know first before going in is that this is "not" an action film, rather it's more of a thriller with hints of a slasher film here and there. And it's when the film is hitting on these slasher film themes that it really kinda tanks. Firstly because whenever the killer is going around killing people, director Michael Miller converts to full blown hand held POV camera work a la Halloween. Fitting since Halloween II had just come out the year before. I don't know, to me it was a lame copout technique and completely shifts the tone of the film from a Chuck Norris film to a slasher film wannabe. I mean, the killer is even wearing a jumpsuit! The only thing that's missing is a mask. It only makes it painfully clear this guy has no business directing big budget features.
When the story is not focused on the killer and using the POV camera work, then it resembles a pretty standard and straight forward thriller, only this time it's got the man, the myth, the legend..... Chuck Norris.

The film starts with John Kirby (Brian Libby) having sort of a meltdown in his rented room in a house full of screaming kids and an equally loud mother. He receives a phone call and he tells the person on the other end of the line that he's "losing" it and doesn't know how much more he can take. Right away you get he has mental problems and he's probably talking to his psychiatrist because he looks like he's about to flip out, sweating profusely and trying to take some pills that he proceeds to drop on the floor. In a split second.............he snaps. He walks to the back yard and picks up an ax and kills the mother of the house for no reason. The mailman, seeing the woman scream for her life through a window, calls the cops and enter Texas sheriff Dan Stevens (Norris) and his clumsy partner Charlie (Stephen Furst). Long story short, John is killed with a barrage of shotgun blasts after a struggle with police "after" Stevens had already subdued him and put him in the back of a squad car. So it's here we are shown that this guy somehow possesses some kind of superhuman strength. So that's a pretty promising start. Not spectacular or anything, if only it had been filmed better. Director Miller uses long tracking shots with a hand held camera that offers nothing other than the conclusion that the guy doesn't know what the hell he's doing. Bad camera angles, bad choreography and bad steadicam work leaves a lot to be desired and sort of blows such a powerful opening from a film.

Thankfully, when the rest of the film isn't focused on the killer, it actually looks a little better - no bullshit and lazy steadicam work. Unfortunately this is also what hurts Silent Rage because a good half of the film is not even focused on the killer or who he was or how he became the "silent rage", but instead on Sheriff Stevens trying to woo his old girlfriend back, who also happens to be the sister of the killer's former psychiatrist (Ron Silver), who in turn also happens to work with a mad scientist named Dr. Spires (Steven Keats) who has invented a new rejuvenating drug that can rapidly heal the body of any type of injury in a matter of minutes (It's really not as complicated as I make it out to be). Only problem is that it's never been tested on a human. And that's where John Kirby comes in. Since he was able to somehow display this remarkable strength by taking all these shotgun blasts to the body and still keep going, Dr. Spires think he's the perfect candidate for the drug since he's dead anyway, much to Dr. Halman's (Ron Silver) objections. What could it hurt? Little do they know that while the drug does in fact help the body to rapidly heal physically, it also turns your brain to mush and for some reason into an unstoppable killing machine. Why? I don't know. They never explain why of all things a person would turn to murder and why he specifically targets certain people before ultimately just killing everyone in site.
Silent Rage plays heavily on the Frankenstein theme, for better or worse and they never explain anything, other than they gave a dead crazy guy drugs that brought him back to life and just made him even more crazy.

The good? The cast is really the only thing Silent Rage has going for it. Ron Silver was a treat to watch playing a moody, yet morally competent psychiatrist/doctor who knows right from wrong and wanted nothing to do with the experiment. Stephen Furst was kind of an odd choice as Norris's partner, but he does add a few chuckles to the story. Toni Kalem as Norris's impossibly cute ex and sister to Dr. Halman stands her own with the big guys. Chuck Norris is Chuck Norris. A complete badass. Need I say more? He's so cool and collected the entire time, even when he's walking into a crime scene with the crazy guy still inside and not knowing what the hell he's up against. Or when he's trying to woo his ex with long and pointless sequences of make-out sessions with her. There is a scene though, when the killer has just killed his partner, and he slowly stands up after having been on the floor with his faithful partner Charlie before he died. He. Looks. Pissed. Classic!

I think it's funny that they have a shot of Norris on all the different movie posters of him doing a kick when there's virtually no martial arts action going on in the entire film. I counted 2 scenes in the whole film where he uses a "little", but that's it. A big fight scene in a bar where he single-handedly takes out an entire bar full of biker thugs and the big fight with the killer at the end. What's even funnier is that on any of the trailers and tv spots, they mostly use footage of both the bar fight and the final fight with the killer; the two scenes where there is actual fighting and they hardly use any footage of anything else from the film. The bar fight was kinda cool, but the big fight at the end was ............ lame. It's mostly just a lot of wrestling and tumbling with the guy, with "no" music and really badly filmed where they litreally use the same closeup shots of Norris and the killer over and over and over again intercut between there tumbling bouts.

This is not your standard Chuck Norris stuff, especially considering this came out smack in the middle of a pretty solid point in his career with films like The Octagon, An Eye For An Eye, Forced Vengeance, Lone Wolf Mcuade and Missing in Action. He was trying something different, and it woulda worked if Silent Rage had a better and more qualified director. Feature films is not this guy's forte; no doubt since all he's ever done since this is television work. Give it a shot if you dare. You've been forewarned.


Ferris Bueller's Day Off re-cut as an Indie Film

You know, I could have sworn that I had already posted this before because I've seen it a ridiculous number of times. But when I went to check, surprisingly I couldn't find it in my back log of blog posts. So for those of you who haven't yet heard of this or hadn't gotten around to seeing this incredible piece of work yet and you got 2 minutes to spare, here you go. 

This guy named Joseph Brett brilliantly re-cut a trailer for John Hughe's nostalgic 80's teen comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Only this time, he replaces the music and re-edits it to make it look more like an Indie Film rather than an 80's teen comedy. This is the perfect example of the power of editing. Done this way, I can totally envision how this film could have turned out this way and it would have been just as entertaining. It's also a testament to John Hugh's brilliant camera work in this. I always felt it had a certain visual style, much more than any of his other films and when seen this way, it only solidifies that theory. 

I'll be honest, I fucking love this trailer and how it represents a completely different type of film. As cheesy as it sounds, it gives me goosebumps every single time I see it. The music, the imagery, the tone all cut together so brilliantly in a 2 minute and 7 second montage of utter geek brilliance.

Here's a link to his website: http://www.josephbrett.com/


Review: Hard Target

Directed by: John Woo
Category: Badass Cinema

Hard Target is the quintessential Van Damme flick. If you ask most people what there favorite Van Damme flick is, they'll more than likely tell you it's either Hard Target or Kickboxer. For me, it's Hard Target. For this film, it seems like all of the things that make John Woo and Van Damme great come together perfectly for this film at just the right time in both of there career's. Woo was hungry to make a name for himself in the U.S. and filled this thing with so much over the top style and visual panache (often times unnecessarily) complete with all of his trademarks like his obsessive use of doves, long tracking shots, slow-motion and inventive crane work. There's even some classic Woo gunplay here with scenes looking like they came right outta The Killer and Hard Boiled, only usually Van Damme ends a two-handed shootout with a roundhouse kick. Awesome. Van Damme, knocking these big budget action flicks out one after the other while going head to head with Steven Seagal really shines here too. I  don't know if it's because he was young, on top of the Hollywood action A-List or Woo's direction, but here it's all in the delivery and it's refreshing. You see him in anything lately and the guy just looks tired, like he's going through the motions. I mean, even his facial expressions on most of his recent DVD covers. Look at his face and it's the same look.....tired.

Nat Binder (Yancey Butler) arrives in New Orleans during a police strike looking for her father who's gone missing. After running into a group of thugs, she's saved by Chance (Van Damme) who agrees to help her find her father and act as kind of a guide around New Orleans. They soon find out that her father was homeless and used as sort of a "human" target for an organization headed by Emil Fouchon (Lance Henrikesen) who pays homeless vets with no family $10,000 to be a target for wealthy clients looking for a thrill kill. If they make it to the designated destination alive, they keep the money. Unbeknownst to them the last target they hired indeed had a daughter who's come to town asking questions (exactly why they stress the "no family" clause) with a hired guide who knows a thing or two about survival, tracking, hunting and apparently martial arts who ends up being the last guy they want to fuck with.

Hard Target represents the perfect marriage of style, substance, action and good ol' fashioned stunt work. No CGI bullshit in here, just an insane amount of explosions, bullets and expertly choreographed action sequences. John Woo is in top form here, visually giving us a ballet of violence unlike anything we had seen up until that point. The big action sequence right in the middle of the film where it starts in the square with Chance doing that bit where he kicks the poor schmo off of the moving motorcycle and taking the bike out to the expressway where he's met by Foulchon's (Henrikesen) men in one unbelievably badass and awesomely long sequence is simply stunning. You think there's no way they can top that and in a creative sense, and they don't, but they do add an equally long and equally badass action sequence at the end with so much blood, bullets and mayhem that these two sequences alone are worth the price of admission. Luckily we're given a  pretty outstanding supporting cast along with Van Damme in top form (complete with insanely ridiculous mullet) including Henriksen as head bad guy, Arnold Vosloo as his right hand henchman, Yancy Butler (Witchblade) and even the great Wilford Brimley as Chance's uncle who sports a completely unconvincing (though funny) cajun accent. Henriksen "always" delivers the goods, no matter what he's in; the guy is just a badass. Vosloo does really well also as the South African henchman to Fouchon (Henriksen). He's not big or anything, he's actually kind of skinny underneath the many layers of clothes they have him in, but there's something in the eyes. He just creeps the hell out of you with those eyes. Brimley is a treat to watch, even if you don't buy the accent. Kind of a weird role for him to take, I mean in an action film. But then again, I never would have guessed he'd be in a horror film, and he nearly stole the show in John Carpenter's The Thing. Speaking of weird, I must also mention how strange I thought it was for Woo to make this film as his first foray into Hollywood filmmaking. An action film about a Canadian (?) in New Orleans taking on an assortment of villains on horseback and a motorcycle? Maybe it's just me, but I thought he would have gone for something more mainstream his first time out. Not to say that it doesn't work though, because it does, and awesomely!

If you want to nitpick the film apart, it's incredibly easy to do. I mean, the shit that happens here is just completely ridiculous, but as with most of these films, you have to just suspend all disbelief and enjoy the ride. Like, why the hell are they all wearing trench coats (Van Damme and Henriksen namely) when it's clearly like 120 degrees out there. I mean, everyone is sweating up a storm, but they're sporting thick black trench coats? And  I know there's a police strike supposedly happening, but being able to run around town in broad daylight shooting and killing people left and right through extensive set pieces is a little .......... out there. And that whole snake sequence is really silly, but funny too. There's a scene where Fouchon and company track down Chance's old war vet buddy to a crowded New Orleans street one night where all the bars are at. They shoot him to death in front of everybody and  get away with it? And I don't think the whole mullet thing is ever explained. I mean, "that" is a fuckin' mullet!

My good buddy Ingo over at Hellford 667 Movie Reviews recently hooked me up with the Workrpint Version of this awesome action classic and it was interesting, but didn't really offer anything to the story that was sorely missing. I like the cut that was released theatrically and feel it works just fine. You really couldn't ask for anything more in a 90's straight up action film. Maybe some nudity? But seriously, everything works. The cast, the action, the stunts, the camera work and most importantly Jean-Claude Van Damme kicking some serious ass and seriously rocking a southern mullet.


Hands of Steel aka Fists of Steel U.K. VHS Cover

Here's the U.K. VHS cover for Hands of Steel aka Fists of Steel aka Atomic Cyborg, one of the best  Exploitation - Trash - Post Apocalyptic - Terminator ripoff - Arm Wrestling - Sci-fi films 
to ever come out of the Exploitation boom. 
For a recap on my review, go here
And to check out the U.S. VHS cover from Lightning Video, go here.

I often seek out VHS covers of some of my favorite films in any format. And this one I've looked for often. But one day when I "wasn't" intentionally looking for it I happened upon it by accident and for super cheap. Funny how things work out that way. 


Review: THX 1138 The George Lucas Director's Cut

Directed by: George Lucas
Category: Sci-fi, Cult Classics

Believe it or not, George Lucas actually made a few films before the behemoth that was Star Wars took over the world, this being one of them back in 1971. I know, I know. It's crazy to comprehend, but it's true. THX 1138 is based off a student film he did in college titled Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB winning numerous awards and to much critical appraise . When Francis Ford Coppola started his production company American Zoetrope, he chose his good friend George Lucas's first feature film as his  first project to produce under this new banner. When released, the film bombed and almost bankrupt Coppola's production company.

I had only seen this film one other time before. When Lucas released his Director's Cut Special Edition complete with updated effects I jumped on the chance to pick it up on DVD back in 2004. Only problem was that when I watched it, whether it was the DVD itself or my crappy player, it kept skipping over huge chunks and freezing all over the place leaving it an incredibly frustrating experience for me. Since then it's been buried way back in my massive DVD collection basically forgotten until now. So how does it look with fresh eyes 7 years later?

I must say, this is probably one of the most visually rich science fiction films I've ever seen. The George Lucas who gave us Star Wars and the Star Wars universe remarkably is not the same George Lucas who wrote and directed this saga of a dystopian society where everything is controlled, including emotions, food intake, relationship partners as well as work and sleep habits. Of all his films, this is his most visually impressive. The imagery Lucas displays here is simply stunning, pushing the limits of the Widescreen aspect ratio to brilliant effect. The minimalist setting and design play such a pivotal role in the story itself that even with little to no dialogue, you are immersed in this reto futuristic tale of society under constant rule. THX 1138, an "experimental" film more than anything, won't win over any new fans if you're looking for something on par with his other more famous science fiction film, but for somebody who enjoys something inventive told mainly through visuals and imagery, THX 1138 is certainly a feast for the eyes.

The world of THX 1138 takes place in a self contained environment where sex is outlawed and everything is controlled by drugs. One day THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) stops taking the drugs and starts experiencing normal feelings again, mainly a sexual attraction to his mate LUH (Maggie McComie). He get's her pregnant and they are both arrested as sex is one of the biggest laws that can be broken. Meanwhile THX 1138 has met SEN (Donald Pleasence), a strange member of this society who seems to hold a fascination with THX 1138 and through certain procedures, has done what he can to get rid of LUH so that he and THX 1138 can co-habitate together as he feels THX 1138 would make a perfect roommate. While incarcerated for his sex crime, he starts planning his escape from this morbid society. He soon learns that not everything he has learned and lived is what it seems and knows he's left with no other choice but to try and free himself from this world at any cost.  

What makes this film so unique is that almost nothing is ever explained. You don't know how far into the future or the past they might be. If they are even on Earth or maybe some distant planet. The history of any of these characters like who they are or how long have they been here? You don't know who, if anybody, actually rules this place. How big this world of there's is? These are all things that are left to imagination of the viewer to make up for themselves. It's an odd way of telling a story and can easily aggravate someone who's looking for answers. And that's one of the biggest obstacles this film has against it. Half the time you just don't know what the hell is going on. Things are happening and you just don't know how or why. To top it off, everything, and I mean everything, is categorized by coded numbers. People, situations, events, procedures, you name it. It's all spoken and categorized by numbers which only add to the frustration of now knowing what the hell is going on. I can see why this was such a huge failure for both Lucas and Coppola's Zoetrope pictures. For at least the first hour, nothing really happens. We're treated to many, many scenes of these branded individuals going through there mundane and ordinary daily procedures over and over again with only Lucas's inventive and brilliant camera work to break up the monotony.

Right from the opening frame it's immediately apparent that every single shot has been painstakingly planned, designed and executed to full effect. And despite all of it's flaws, that's probably the best thing this film has going for it, that whether you think it's great or sucks, it looks beautiful. For me, to be quite honest, the first 75% of the film is a complete bore. If it didn't looks so incredible, I would have given up on it after 20 minutes. But I've always been a visual kinda guy, both in my tastes and in my art. I love style, any kind of style, and if I'm drawn to a film purely for the visual aspect of it, I'll more often than not stick through it till the end, which is the case with this film. But I think for most people it's the first three quarters of nothing happening that can drive you nuts. It's not until THX 1138 finally devises a plan to escape when the film "finally" starts to take shape and offer a little more excitement than the usual "nothing". And it's in these last 30 minutes that I really wish represented the whole of the film. If Lucas had done the entire film like this it would have been remarkably better and more than likely much more profitable. These last 30 minutes kick some serious ass. THX 1138 is on the run with the help of another lost citizen he's met along the way, and we're treated to a pretty badass car chase as well as being relentlessly being hunted down by the chrome robots on there motorbikes. This last section is what ultimately saves the film and when it's over, you sort of feel a little sore at Lucas for making us sit through an hour of beautifully shot "nothing" to finally get to the good stuff where he could easily have completely gotten rid of sequences that offered nothing to the stories progress and replaced it with a much needed bit of action. I know he was't going for that type of film, but had he gone that route it woulda been a helluva film.

As far as the cast goes, they do really fine work with very limited dialogue. A very young and fit Robert Duvall proves why he's so good at what he does. Donald Pleasence as the calculating and possibly dangerous  SEN also turns in a fine performance, and quite possibly the most normal performance I've seen from him in any of the films I've seen him in. It should also be noted that sound designer Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now) who also co-wrote the screenplay with Lucas also did a lot of the experimental sound effects and sound elements found throughout the film. Most of the time you think it's just part of the score by Lalo Schifrin (Enter the Dragon), but it's actually experimental noise done by Murch. Some of it works really well, and some of it just seems designed to distract you from the fact that nothing is going on.
As with Star Wars, Lucas went in and enhanced all of the effects and added some digital effects sequences to expand this world and enhance some scenes by expanding some background imagery and creating new scenes altogether. 99% of it works, while one sequence in particular is just downright cringe inducing to the highest extent. I'm talking about the shell dweller's sequence when THX runs into a pack of them while on his escape towards the end of the film. Oh man that was a really lousy sequence with horribly rendered CGI animals. While you can clearly tell when and where these newly added scenes and CGI sequences are, with the exception of the "shell dwellers" sequence, it works really well and doesn't take away from the film at all. With how impressive George Lucas has made the imagery here, the effects only add to it in a good way.

Make no mistake, THX 1138 is not for everybody and I'm sure I'll get some flack from some of you for liking it as much as I do. For me, it's the visual experience that kept me hooked along with the final act that had me wanting more of this world that looked and worked much better than the rest of the film did. Whether you love it, hate it or just find it passable, one things for sure, THX 1138 had a profound impact on a lot of science fiction films that followed with it's visionary and experimental take on the science fiction genre.