Review: Rapid Fire

Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Category: Badass Cinema

This was my first introduction to the late-great Brandon Lee. When this hit theaters, I don't think I had seen Showdown in Little Tokyo yet for some reason, probably because it never hit theaters down where I lived. But I just remember being super excited that a child of Bruce Lee was making movies as well as being a distinguished martial artist. The trailers promised something pretty badass and also knowing that the director of Steven Seagal's awesome Marked for Death was at the helm got me even more excited.

Jake Lo (Brandon Lee) is a college student who happens to be the son of a civil rights activist who was murdered during a demonstration. When Lo is invited to a charity function under the guise of a date with a pretty girl, he witnesses the murder of a drug kingpin by a fellow mob and drug dealer. Caught between two feuding drug lords he is enlisted by the FBI for a sting operation, only to be double-crossed by them and on the run. When he meets tough Chicago detective Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe), he agrees to help him bring down the drug lords in an effort to clear his name. 

So how does Rapid Fire hold up all these years later? While I did enjoy watching this and it does have a lot of action to satisfy the action fan in me, I also found it to be very bland in terms of the style and even some of the action sequences. Nothing really stood out, except maybe for that badass showdown between Brandon Lee's character and cult icon Al Leong. That fight, I must say, was pretty badass and it was nice seeing Leong have a much bigger part than what we're used to when he's usually somewhere in the background looking like a bad guy and not really given much else to do. Here, refreshingly, he's given an extended part where he plays sort of a bodyguard to the main villain of the film and when he and Brandon Lee square off in the end, it's truly one for the ages. But take out that awesome fight sequence and the rest are only kinda "OK" and unmemorable, which is tough considering Lee's and stunt coordinator Jeff Imada's talents.For me, I think it lies squarely on the shoulders of director Dwight H. Little. I don't know, it just didn't seem as stylish or flashy as his previous effort. And that's not to say that's what makes a film good for me, because in a lot of cases in regards to these kinds of films, in this era especially, it's not or hasn't been really about the visual style. I think it has more to do with the execution of the fight and action sequences. Bad camera angles, sloppy editing in some places and not enough of a distinction between wanting to be a gritty action film like, for example, Seagal's Out for Justice from the year before, or even going back to Chuck Norris's Code of Silence from all they back in 1985 to wanting to be something a little more visually impressive as say director Dwight H. Little's Marked for Death from just two years before. It kind of teeters on trying to be both unsuccessfully and for me at least, became more of a distraction.

Through all my gripes though, there's no denying Brandon Lee's undeniable talents. The guy was just made to be a star and who knows where he'd be had his life not ended so suddenly and so tragically. As a skilled performer, martial artist and actor he didn't need to necessarily throw some martial arts around to be a badass, just look at The Crow for the best example where there's nary a martial arts movie in sight. The guy had charisma, charm and a huge presence that even under a pound of goth makeup as in The Crow, still shone through. Speaking of which, I really need to sit down and watch that one again.

Rounding out the cast here you have the always awesome Powers Boothe as detective Mace Ryan as the sort of father figure in Lo's life. I think it's fascinating how Boothe doesn't seem to even really try in anything, he just "is" and that's good enough for us. Kate Hodge, who I remember from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, is fine as the cop/love interest to Lee's character Lo. Nick Mancuso, who I'm ashamed to admit I remember from Blame it on the Night (a film frequently on HBO during the summer in the mid 80's) shows up as a psycho Italian mob boss who goes to war with rival drug lord and former supplier Kinman Tau (Tzi Ma), a guy who's name you might not know, but you've seen countless times on television shows and some films here and there. Basil Wallace, who played the Jamaican kingpin in Marked for Death shows up here as a federal agent with a bad attitude, but only briefly. I think the best thing for me as far as casting goes has to be seeing 4 different small supporting character actors from Big Trouble in Little China. The aforementioned and awesome Al Leong, Donald Li (who played the restaurant manager in BTiLC where Russell and gang would hang and plan), and two other guys I don't know by name, but are familiar. You see those guys and can't help but yell out loud "Big Trouble in Little China!".

Overall a good action/martial arts film, but not a great one. I would have to say that though this is Lee's first big budget solo effort, I actually prefer his previous film from the year before Showdown in Little Tokyo. That one just plain rules.


Review: More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead

Directed by:  Bill Philputt
Category: Documentary

Not since 2010's Never Sleep Again on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise have I been so completely consumed by a film franchise with such a riveting documentary. The second I heard this was getting released late last year, I pre-ordered mine without thinking twice. Many thanks to the great horror site Eat the deaD for keeping me updated on the status of this release and also to the great horror and VHS site Ghoulbasement.com for first turning me onto the fact that this thing even existed.

If you're a fan of Dan O'Bannon's 1985 opus The Return of the Living Dead or even any of it's lackluster sequels, you need to see this documentary. It's just brilliant and touches on everything you've always wanted to know and all of the things you didn't know that were going on behind he scenes. I had no idea how much of a troubled shoot this thing was. For me, it seemed to come out at a time when there was a lull in the quality of horror movies coming out. Sure there were some bright spots, like George Romero's Day of the Dead that same year and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter the year before, but not many that really stood out. Then Dan O'Bannon did something unheard of and pretty damn brave. He made a full on zombie film, but infused it with some dark comedy elements (which work amazingly well and never going too far overboard), a frequently nude Linnea Quigley  and an in your face punk soundtrack that added an extra layer of awesomeness to an already awesome zombie film.

What made Return of the Living Dead such a landmark in the horror genre was that writer/director Dan O'Bannon didn't set out to make a flat out horror comedy. He keeps the horror elements in check and splashes it with just enough visual panache that though it's his first directorial effort, you'd never know it. The film looks bloody amazing.

More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead gives you a full 2 hours of insight into the production of the first film. All the way from it's conception when dealing with all the legal issues associated with the title since Romero and his writing partner from Night of the Living Dead John A. Russo, owned the rights to the "living dead" title and then became involved in a court battle over ownership when Russo decided he wanted to do a sort of unofficial semi-sequel, to it's theatrical release and reception. Russo won the court battle, paving the way for his semi-unofficial sequel called Return of the Living Dead, only to have Dan O'Bannon get on board and rewrite the script and make it something uniquely different. Then it delves into the intense drama regarding "everything" Return of the Living Dead in terms of makeup effects, casting and O'Bannon's infamous tyrant like behavior behind the camera. More than any other of the issues they touch on though, it's Dan O'Bannon, Clu Gulager and costar Jewel Shepard's "difficult" behavior that you find most fascinating. I honestly had no idea all of that stuff was going on and it's truly fascinating to see almost every single actor from the original film appear in the documentary with tales of the stressful situations put upon them during production and some of the stories they had to share about there costars. Really great stuff. You also get some great insight into why O'Bannon has only ever directed 2 films in his lustrous career with Return of the Living Dead and then 1992's Shatterbrain before giving up on directing  altogether.

The special features are just as awesome. Along with trailers, Dan O'Bannon's last interview before his untimely passing in 2009 and other goodies, you have separate but smaller documentaries on the WTF? and troubled Return of the Living Dead Part 2 and Brian Yuzna's Return of the Living Dead 3, which are just equally as fascinating. Especially in regards to Part 2, a film so bad I couldn't even finish it recently when I tried revisiting it after over a decade of not having seen it.You finally get deep insight into what the hell went wrong with Part 2 and why.

Overall a really, really great documentary on one of my absolute favorite zombie flicks of all time. They manage to give the documentary a really fun vibe, even when dealing with some of the more serious issues. And it's just always great seeing all the main players as well as the supporting cast over 25 years later.


Review: Black Moon Rising

Directed by: Harley Cokeliss
Category: Cult Classic

I think I might have only ever seen this one time before. I remember virtually nothing about it, other than the fact that it had a pretty rad car. But chances are that if I can't remember anything about a particular movie, then it wasn't very memorable. I had this on my list for some time, right after Jack Thursby over at Collected Cinema did his review on this back in November, which you can find here. Reading his great review reminded me of how much I enjoy revisiting mid 80's classics or even ones I've never gotten around to seeing before. There's just something about the style and the way films were made in general back then that I'm just drawn to.

Quint (Tommy Lee Jones) is a professional thief who is hired by the FBI for one last job to steal some sensitive data by breaking and entering into a facility and grabbing a cassette tape. While being hunted by the security team of this facility, who's leader apparently knows Quint well and has a long dueling history with, Quint happens upon a racing team and there state of the art vehicle called The Black Moon at a gas station. Knowing the security team is hot on his trail, Quint hides the cassette tape in a small compartment in the back of the Black Moon. The racing team attends a dinner function with there vehicle and the secret tape in tow and bad news for them, a team of professional car thieves led by Nina (Linda Hamilton), steals every expensive looking car from the lot, including the Black Moon, and takes them to her boss who steals and resells high end vehicles from a huge office building. Quint decides to team up with the race team who desperately need there car back as it's one of a kind, which gives Quint a much better chance at recovering the cassette tape hidden in the car. If he can't recover that tape for the FBI, he doesn't get paid and won't get to retire as he hopes. 

I had no idea until Jack over at Collected Cinema did his review on this one that the great John Carpenter had anything to do with this. In the film, John Carpenter is credited in story and screenplay (along with two other screenwriters), and it wasn't until this knowledge that I began to notice how much of a Carpenter feel it all has. While it does have a Carpenteresque vibe to it, unfortunately it doesn't represent the best of what the guy has to offer. As excited as I was to finally sit down to see this and then to learn that he was involved in the writing of this thing, I found it to be a little tedious and dull through most of the midsection. Don't get me wrong, the film's made very well with exceptional performances from all involved, even my favorite surprise costar of the film Bubba Smith, who plays s secret FBI agent with a bad attitude and cusses like a sailor. And director Harley Cokeliss (who I'm not familiar with , but who apparently did Malone right after this with Burt Reynolds-which I've always wanted to see) handles the directing duties very well, giving the film a sleek look and feel, especially when it comes to anything involving that awesome car, but I just couldn't shake that ho-hum feeling through most of it. When I started to think about it, I had a hard time trying to even categorize Black Moon Rising. I wouldn't call it a thriller, or an action film, or even a drama because it doesn't possess enough of these qualities to categorize it under any of these genre's. But if I had to, I guess I'd call it a spy thriller since it has a lot of cat and mouse stuff going in between Quint, the girl who stole the car and the bad guys who are after Quint and the stolen data he took from them.

The end is what really saves the film ultimately, which is a shame since you have to wait a good hour before you get to the good stuff. There's a really complicated and high tech plan to break into the huge office building where the Black Moon is housed and there's some pretty cool car chases going on inside this huge office building when Quint and his cohorts attempt to steal back the Black Moon with the help of Nina, who has a change of heart and ends up falling for Quint in his attempt at retrieving both the vehicle and the stolen data. This whole third act ended up being much longer than I was expecting and I enjoyed every second of it. Finally there's something exciting going on and when Quint and Nina drive the Black Moon through the window of one tower and into another about 20 stories up, well that was just plain awesome. And seeing Tommy Lee Jones play somewhat of a reluctant action hero as he does a lot of ass kicking as well as receives a lot of it was fun to watch. He still doesn't look like a tough guy, but he played one pretty good here. Though in all fairness, he does get the living shit kicked out of him quite a few times.

Not the worst that Carpenter, Jones or Hamilton has to offer, and not the most exciting or entertaining either. Too many dull moments in the middle hamper the overall feeling left by this, and even with Jones kicking ass as the self-assured anti-hero, Black Moon Rising won't win over any new fans.


Review: Dead Heat

Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Category: Cult Classics

This film had been sitting in my queue forever just waiting for me to give it a spin, but as with most things, I never got around to it. It wasn't until my good buddy Ingo over at Hellford 667 Movie Reviews did a review on this sucker a few weeks back that I finally got that little nudge to finally check it out again, which I hadn't in what seems like 20 years now. You can check out Hellford 667's awesome review here.

 Dead Heat was a staple in my household back in the late 80's when this first hit VHS. I don't remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure it never got a theatrical release in my tiny little town, so VHS was the only way to get it. I've always loved this film because to me it represented one of the better pairings of horror, action and comedy, a formula that more often than not does not work. But I think there are several factors that go into that in Dead Heat's case. For one, you have the undeniable talents of first time director Mark Goldblatt. He's no stranger to the film industry as he's been a film editor since the late 70's on everything from The Howling, The Terminator, Commando, Rambo 2, Showgirls, T2: Judgement Day to the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But his first foray into directing was with Dead Heat. And as most people know, he would go on to do Dolph Lundgren's The Punisher (1989) one year later. But you've also got a great cast, some great practical effects and a great premise. 

Dead Heat Japanese VHS cover courtesy of VHSwasteland.com

Mortis (Treat Williams) and Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) are two cops on the clock when they take a call for a jewelry heist in progress at a local jewelry store. When they arrive, it seems bullets just won't do the trick to bring these guys down. So Mortis gets creative and decides to crush one of them with the car, while the other one accidentally blows himself up with his own hand grenade. When the medical examiner, who also happens to be Mortis's ex, checks out the corpses, she discovers that these guys were already dead before the robbery as rigor mortise had already set in long ago . Soon Mortis and Bigelow discover that someone is reanimating dead bodies and using them to commit robberies. When Mortis himself is killed in the line of duty investigating the case, he himself is brought back to life at the lab he was investigating. Zombified and wanting revenge, he and his partner hunt down the culprit and ringleader of zombie criminals to put a stop to it before his time is up. 

This was a lot of fun and there's no denying the chemistry between Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo. These guys make the movie as fun as it ultimately becomes. Williams is always great, whether he's doing action, drama or even some comedy. But here, as the straight man between the two partners, you know, the one who wears the suit while the other partner sports a leather jacket and skin tight jeans, he's able to convey the struggle of getting killed in the line of duty, resurrected back to life, and then sad and angry that 1. Someone killed him and he doesn't know who or why, and 2. he only has something like 72 hours left before his body starts to decompose rapidly until he's gone for good. As far as Piscopo goes, he's hilarious in anything he's in. As the tough guy sidekick he adds a lot of the much needed comic relief, but turns serious and tough when need be. One thing you immediately notice is how buff he is. Still strange to see since I'll always picture him as that skinny slimy guy from Johnny Dangerously. But here he's an odd buff. Like his arms are huge, yet he has no shoulders, which makes him look disproportionate. Or maybe that's just me. This was at a time when I remember he was really into weight lifting. I even had a copy of Muscle & Fitness magazine from somewhere around this time where he graced the cover. You read that right, Joe Piscopo actually graced the cover of a Muscle & Fitness magazine. 

Dead Heat also works really well because of it's structure, and I think the pace also has a lot to do with it. It never get's too serious, and though there's a few sections in the middle devoid of action, it still moves along fast enough that you never get bored. Keep in mind, it's no genre defining masterpiece or anything, but if you're looking for a fun movie that's surprisingly well made on all fronts, then you should thoroughly enjoy this one. It definitely has a few standout moments, some pretty nifty effects, a standout supporting cast with the likes of Darren McGavin, Robert Picardo, Professor Toru Tanaka and Vincent Price, and enough action to be able to call it an action movie with some horror and comedy elements thrown in for good measure. I really wish director Mark Goldblatt had continued directing movies. He gave us all the one-two punch of Dead Heat and then the awesome The Punisher (1989) with Dolph Lundgren (the best one) the following year, but then stopped directing altogether. So at this point it's been 23 years since he's directed a flick, and I think it's about time he got back into it. 


Review: Merantau

Directed by: Gareth Evans
Category: Badass Cinema

One things for sure, I sure as hell don't see enough Indonesian flicks. But then again, chances are most of them won't be as good or as awesome as Merantau.

Ok, so maybe it's not a 100% Indonesian film since Gareth Evans, the writer/director/editor of this film is Welsh, but the cast (save for the 2 main villains who are Danish and French), setting, culture, there form of martial arts-Silat, and language are Indonesian, so I would say it qualifies as 90% Indonesian. But I'm getting off track here because who cares, Merantau was awesome and everybody needs to see this film. I don't even know where to begin in describing the onslaught of insane martial arts displayed in here as well as it's star Iko Uwais, who had never been in a film before and who was only chosen to star in this thing after the films writer/director Gareth Evans happened upon meeting him by sheer chance as he was working on a documentary on Silat, an Indigenous form of martial arts that's prominently displayed in Merantau.

Yuda (Iko Uwais) is a young man from a small village who leaves on his quest of Merantau, a rite-of-passage that every young man from that village must take before becoming a man by leaving the small village life and venture out into the real world to make a name for themselves before returning home. As he arrives in the city of Jakarta, immediately things aren't working out for him. His pre-designated apartment is gone, leaving him without a place to live and without a job. He soon is pick-pocketed by a young boy and when he chases the boy down, happens across the boys older sister who is getting roughed up in an alley by her pimp. Yuda intervenes, beating up her pimp and setting off a series of events that thrusts him into the world of human trafficking and the ringleaders who want him dead. 

Words cannot describe how insanely badass this film is. Iko Uwais is a star in the making. The guy is such a natural in front of the camera that I'm frankly shocked that he isn't a trained actor or has never been in a film before. I never would have guessed that if I hadn't had read up on it. And his Silat skills are nothing short of amazing. The guy can kick some serious ass and the last time I was impressed like this was the first time I ever saw Tony Jaa in Ong Bak way back in the day. The stunt work on display here is also incredible. While there is a little wire-work used here and there, it's very minimal and unless your looking for it, you probably won't notice it because director Gareth Evans films everything at such a break-neck speed that the pace of this film is unrelenting.

Merantau is almost 2 different films split right down the middle. The first half is pure dramatic backstory as it shows Yuda living in his small village preparing to leave. Then he reaches the city of Jakarta and nothing seems to be going right. And it's not until you see him beat down that pimp in the alley way that you really see any kind of martial arts, even then it's very brief. But the thing about this first half of the film is that it's so beautifully shot, with lush cinematography of the gorgeous landscape and even of the bustling city of Jakarta. Really beautiful and stunning camera work for sure. And I'll be honest and say that it was during this first half also that I was a little let down because I thought I was going into a martial arts film, much like the cover art implies, because going into this I knew almost nothing about it. I knew it had a cool name, had a cool cover which showed some kind of action going on and that it was Indonesian.

Right at the 40 minute mark, right when I was thinking that maybe this wasn't the film I thought it was going to be, something really amazing happened. Yuda is calling his mom from a payphone on the side of the road in the middle of the night to tell her that nothing is going right and maybe he should come home. But while he's on the phone he sees that pimp again, and he's got that girl that he had saved previously before, only this time the pimp has about 5 guys with him. Yuda hangs up the phone and confronts them in the alley displaying some truly impressive martial arts skill. Only he doesn't win. Ultimately 5 guys against one seemed too much for Yuda and he's taken down to the ground. As the pimp, his men and the girl walk back into the club from the alley, Yuda gets up in slow motion. He's defeated and angry. During this awesome slow-motion shot, Yuda composes himself, takes a deep breath and walks into the strip club where the pimp took the girl. The second Yuda steps into that club Merantau becomes a tour de force of badassery and does...not...let...up for the entirety of the next hour. I'm telling you, you barely get a second to catch your breath or even try to digest the awesome fight you just saw when another even bigger and better fight comes outta nowhere to blow your mind.

And that's how the second half of Merantau plays out, as one of the best martial arts films you've ever seen and one of the most awesomely photographed with one mind blowing and bone crunching martial arts sequence after another. Welsh director Gareth Evans has only made one other film before this, but you'd never have guessed it. The guy is a master visualist, whether it's in dealing with the martial arts sequences or with any of the other sequences in general: the guy has an incredible eye for visuals. And one of the most important things to mention is that when dealing with the fight scenes, he never reverts to slow-motion. He uses it in other scenes to great effect, but with the action he keeps it fast and furious, just the way we like it. And I just can't say enough about the star of the film, Iko Uwais. The guy, though very unassuming, is so incredibly badass in this. His Silat skills are bloody amazing. I hope this guy's career becomes huge, because he deserves it and he's definitely someone to keep your eye on in the future. He and writer/director Gareth Evans already have another film under there belt with The Raid, which should be coming out soon if it has not yet already. You can count me as super stoked for that one.

I don't really want to go into anymore details about the story or what ultimately unfolds in the second half because the less you know, the better. I was constantly and pleasantly surprised at almost every turn that the film took in the second half with everything in regards to casting, story, action, violence and so forth. So that's something that I feel should best be experienced visually instead of me possibly ruining it for you if you haven't yet had a chance to see this amazing martial arts film. Merantau literally blew me away and you deserve the chance to experience that opportunity for yourself as well.


The Star Wars Holiday Special

Oh yes people! This thing does in fact exist and it aired one single night on CBS back on November 17, 1978 before it was banished forever. My first immediate thoughts roughly 5 minutes into this? "What the hell were they thinking"? To take something so sacred to so many people all over the world and do this to the Star Wars name is just incomprehensible. Epic. Truly epic in it's awfullness and pushes the limits of how truly weird one show can possibly be.

Seriously, it's pretty dreadful and how the hell they got Harrison Ford on board for this is beyond me. It must have been in his contract because if you know anything about the guy and his disdain for this kind of thing you'd know he more than likely wouldn't have done it.

It is Lifeday on Chewbacca's home planet of Kashyyyk. Chewie and Han Solo are trying to make there way to Chewie's home through the galaxy via the Millenium Falcon so he can celebrate the most important day of the year for the Wookies. However, the Rebels have other plans and are hot on there trail, preventing them from reaching his home. Meanwhile, we get an incredibly boring look inside the goings on of Chewie's family life which consists of his wife Malla, his father Itchy and his son Lumpy. We watch Lumpy and Itchy have a fight, Malla learning to bake some dish with Bantha meat off of the television program she is watching (You read that right. We are treated to a very long sequence of Chewie's wife baking a dish) that's hosted by Harvey Korman in drag, and also a peek into the daily lives of other residents, like a shop owner and family friend by the name of Saundan (Art Carney) and the bartender of the Cantina, played by the one and only Bea Arthur. 

Immediately you're hit with how bad and how strange it all is. I mean, the opening segment of Chewie's family is so long, drawn out, completely weird and dull as hell. And the whole thing with the cooking show? It really is as dull as you can possibly imagine. You have to stop and think, "That's what they're doing a Star Wars Holiday television special about? Chewbacca's wife learning how to cook?". And in all honesty, I have no idea whether any of this was meant to be funny or play out like a drama, because I honestly can't tell. There's a scene where Chewie's dad decides to use a visual aid machine that can only best be described as Wookie porn. I mean, that scene is so weird and uncomfortable and I seriously can't believe it was on national television and nobody made a stink about it. But I guess it was alright because the fantasy ends up being about Diahann Carroll who then begins to break out in a song. 

And then............you know what? I'm not even gonna bother with the play by play because this thing is just plain ridiculous, so incredibly dreadful and cringe inducing that it's no wonder it's gone down in history as one of the worst things ever produced for television. It's so bad that it has only aired 1 single time, "ever", and that's it. No VHS release, no laserdisc release and certainly no DVD release. They will never release this thing officially and for very good reason. I'm sure it's something they wish they could bury forever, but because a few brilliant people decided to record it on there VHS recorders back in November 1978, it's been reproduced over and over and over again and readily available on the internet if you look in the right places. 

The one and only saving grace out of this entire thing is the short animated segment that lasts 9 minutes and 40 seconds. This thing just plain rules and looks like something that came right outta Heavy Metal. It's also the absolute very first time the world is introduced to Boba Fett and he is such a badass in this. Even the guy who voices his character is awesome. What a way for an introduction into the Star Wars univers. The segment has something to do with Luke and Chewie looking for a talisman and running into a bounty hunter by the name of Boba Fett who ultimately betrays them, but that's really all I can get from it. It was just really cool to see with some old style, yet hip animation that broke up the monotony of the rest of this thing.  

The Cantina sequence. Yup, taken right outta Star Wars, complete with the same band and all, only this time the bartender is none other than the Golden Girl herself, Bea Arthur-who plays Ackmena, who of course breaks out in a Star Wars song. Huh? And the weird thing is that this sequence has nothing to do with Star Wars. Instead, it's about a guy (Harvey Korman) who goes into the bar to hit on the bartender, Bea Arthur, because he felt something the last time he saw her there. That's all it's about until Dorothy, er I mean Ackmena, breaks out in song.

Somehow, in some illogical way, all of these sequences are supposed to connect to each other somehow, culminating in the arrival of Chewbacca on his home planet to finally celebrate Lifeday, but I don't see it. And for the topper, we're treated to Princess Leia singing a dreadful song during the Lifeday ceremony.

I have to give it to them, astoundingly they somehow got all of the original key players of Star Wars to do this. You have Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and recycled footage of  Darth Vader. They're all actually in this, including the animated sequence. My guess is they just didn't read the final script when they said yes to do it or it wasn't ready. 

I struggled to watch this thing through to the end and I was so glad when it was all over, which was very difficult since it runs way too long at 97 minutes without commercials. The Star Wars Holiday Special is truly epic in it's weirdness and because of this, some people might enjoy it. Call me crazy, but  I sure as hell didn't. 


Review: Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn

Directed by: Charles Band
Category: Cult Classics

Now this is what a low-budget post apocalyptic film is supposed to look like. This is one of those rare occasions where the film actually lives up to the badass poster art, and considering how low-budget this film is, it's all the more reason to be pleasantly surprised. I have to give it to Full Moon head honcho and Metalstorm director Charles Band, while he hasn't always turned out memorable films or entertaining ones, his directing duties here are pretty damn impressive. Forgoing any kind of logic or inventiveness, director Charles Band instead decides to go for sheer fun and excitement, never mind that it doesn't make any sense or even wrap up to an actual conclusion. It is what it is, 100% low-budget cheesy fun.

I really had a lot of fun with this one. Low-budget post apocalyptic films were a dime a dozen back in the 80's, and though a majority of them came from the Italian market, there were a few notable American made films that made an impression. Spacehunter would be another notable example, as well as Escape from New York and a slew of others, but this one from low-budget producer extraordinaire and sometime director Charles Band certainly delivers the goods. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and the production value looks almost non-existent, yet it's put together so well, with such a professional touch that you just can't help but enjoy it. Throw in Richard Band's "better than it ought to be" huge, thunderous and downright catchy score, the very decent cast, some downright weird and trippy sequences and a visual competence that raises it heaps above the competition and you have one of the best and most entertaining post apocalyptic films to come out of that era.

This was intended to be in 3D, which is how it was originally released as you can tell by many of the "shoot at the camera lens" gimmicks found throughout, and I really would have liked to have seen it that way too as it looks like it would have been a lot of fun. But seeing it in regular 2D doesn't take away from the experience thankfully. Though the 3D gimmickry is what I'm sure sold the idea, what works in this films favor is it's brisk pace. It never slows down enough to be dull and throws enough action, car chases and weird mystical sequences in it that above anything else, keeps you entertained.

A lot of it makes absolutely no sense, like the title for instance. What the hell does Metalstorm mean anyway? Or even some sequences in general, like when the main character Dogen is chasing the villain of the film, Jared-Syn, and somehow open a portal into another dimension (how the hell do they even know they can do that or even how?) at the end of the film, or even how said villain Jared-Syn is somehow able to be the leader of a large group of people "just because". I mean, they follow his rule but we're given no cause or reason as to "why" they do. They just do because he wants to be the ruler of the land.

As far as story goes, I'm gonna try what I think resembles the story. Something to do with a crystal and the villain of the film needs it to be able to take control of the land or something like that. He uses his army of cyclops, nomads and whatnot to dispense his version of the law throughout the land and to keep the people in line. Meanwhile, a seeker by the name of Dogen (Jeffrey Byron) rescues a woman (Kelly Preston) after her father is murdered by this band of thugs and Dogen (for some strange reason) promises to exact revenge on these people for someone he's never even met. 

The cast is certainly entertaining. You have a very young Kelly Preston as the only chick in the film, who Dogen promises to protect and exact revenge for the death of her father. You also have the always awesome Tim Thomerson in a far too short supporting role as a guy who Dogen seeks help from in order to reach his destination. And along for the ride is Richard Moll as the leader of the cyclops who spews out ridiculous dialogue with such ease that it only proves once again that he was made for films like this.

All in all, a very sleek and entertaining low-budget yarn with some pretty cheesy, but nifty special effects and an above average quality. Definitely worth checking out if you ever get the chance. I haven't checked to see if this is available on DVD in 3D, but that would definitely be something worth checking out. Even with the cheap 3D glasses, I think it would be a helluva lot of fun.


The Adventures of Tintin

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

I know this isn't the type of film I would usually review, and at this point I won't, but rather give some quick thoughts on it since I just saw it at the drive-in theater the other night. After being pretty much blown away by it and going in with very little expectations, I just wanted to quickly convey what a truly great and impressive film The Adventures of Tintin truly is. I can't remember the last time I paid to go see a film and be as entertained as I was by this one.

I'm not a big fan of the whole "motion-capture" thing. For the most part, I feel it's totally unnecessary when they try to make them look as human as possible. I feel that if they're going to go that far, then why not just actually film it live action instead of motion-capture? Case in point, the Zemeckis produced Mars Needs Moms. All in all, it wasn't a terrible film, but surely didn't need to be shot in motion-capture to convey the same look and feel for a film about a kid who goes to Mars. It just didn't make any sense to me why they decided to go that route at that expense. Did they really need to use motion-capture for that one instead of just going full on CGI like all the other CGI family films? And I know Robert Zemeckis has been it's biggest champion, but I still haven't seen a film he's done or produced with the motion-capture technology that actually impressed me. And to this day, when they try to make the characters look as human as possible, so far nobody has ever been able to make the eyes look right. It's all in the eyes, and if you can't get that "dead" look out of there eyes then it's just not going to look good. I think Avatar would be the closest to awesome as it's ever gotten.

I would now like to add The Adventures of Tintin to my very short list of great motion-capture films. This one was so much better than what I was expecting it to be, or even what the trailers lead you to believe. Like most Americans, I knew of the character, but that's basically it. Never seen any of the books or anything like that or even knew what Tintin actually does. I knew he was a kid with a dog and did some kind of detective work but didn't know how he get's involved in all these stories and cases. Without knowing anything about the character, you can go into this and be caught up on everything literally in 5 minutes. There's no set up on his backstory or his family or anything like that. You'r immediately thrust into the events that are about to transpire and you pretty much get what he's all about within just a few minutes.

Let me just say that this is an action packed thrill ride from beginning to end and such a blast. And even with the motion-capture look to it, it's a Steven Spielberg film through and through. While most people would use the ability to go crazy with the camera angles with the motion-capture and CGI, and Spielberg does to an extent, he doesn't go overboard as you would expect and retains the classic Spielberg look throughout, and that's honestly the main thing that drew me in. If Steven Spielberg was at the helm, even though it was CGI or motion-capture or what have you, then it was definitely worth checking out.

To me it reminded me of all the best parts of the Indiana Jones series, because that's pretty much how Tintin plays out. Though Tintin would technically be considered a reporter, he most notably comes across more like an adventurer or an explorer because it's just one long adventure after another intercut with an awesome action sequence every 10 minutes.

The entire cast is pretty great and in top form here, but it's really Andy Serkis who steals the show and the guy has proven to be such an impressive "body" of work that it wouldn't surprise me that one day he takes home an Oscar. I also love how the main bad guy eerily resembles Mr. Steven Spielberg himself. Maybe it's a coincidence, but it's incredibly noticeable and awesome at the same time. To see him do all these horrible and villainous things was such a treat.

I'm eager to go check this out again to get the full cinematic experience with the surround sound and all that. Seeing it in a drive-in severely limits your ability to get the best quality possible, so I think another viewing will be in order. And I'm now pretty excited to see the next one in the series, if they do end up making anymore. I know overseas it's done quite well, but here in the states not so much. I hope it does well enough to warrant the planned follow-up by Peter Jackson. That would really be something.


Review: Code of Silence

Directed by: Andrew Davis
Category: Badass Cinema

Eddie Cusack's a good cop having a very bad day

While not as awesome as Chuck Norris's other 1985 feature Invasion USA, or director Andrew Davis's next film Above the Law with Steven Seagal, Code of Silence is entertaining on a gritty cop drama level and not on the all out 80's action film level, sadly. But it's still good and has it's moments as well as Norris being a total badass and not giving a shit about what anybody thinks. One of my biggest complaints though would have to be that with the exception of a scene where he's in a gym training or one scene in a bar when he begins to kick the ass of everyone inside, he really doesn't get a chance to show off any of his martial arts skills, which is odd since they make it a point to let the viewer know that he does possess these skills, yet for some reason felt the need to not include them in any part of the film, and a Chuck Norris film to boot. But he does get to talk a lot of shit, throw around a lot of attitude and deliver some really great one-liners.

Eddie Cusack (Chuck Norris) is an honest Chicago cop with a reputation for being a hard ass, no matter the consequences. A major drug bust spearheaded by Cusack goes awry after a gang of robbers headed by Tony Luna infiltrates the operation and kills taking there money and drugs. Only the head drug dealer didn't die and now his brother, played by the awesome Henry Silva, wants revenge and will stop at nothing to get it. Meanwhile, during this drug bust gone bad one of Cusack's men accidentally kills a kid who just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, mistaking him for one of the drug dealers. He plants a gun on the dead kid to make the killing look justified and thus the dirty cops young partner is thrust into a "Code of Silence", which divides the cops of the precinct who honor that code against the young partner and his Sargent (Norris), who knows the dirty cop is up to no good. 

I love me some good Chuck Norris, and after being somewhat let down by the missed opportunity that ultimately became Silent Rage, I felt I needed to seek out some other 80's Norris flicks to quench my love for the guy. Unlike a lot of Norris's other films around this time, Code of Silence plays it straight, never really straying to the outlandish like say, Invasion USA or Lonewolf McQuade, which really isn't a bad thing if you know that's the kind of film you're getting into. But if you're expecting a lot of action, then this one might leave you a little disappointed because it plays out more like a cop drama than anything with Norris showing a little more depth and emotion than usual. What saves the film is that it's really well structured and if you can look past the fact that there's not much action or Norris doing some martial arts then you can appreciate how well it's made.

Along for the ride is the great Henry Silva as the main bad guy Luis Comacho, much like he was in Davis's feature after this, Above the Law. And much like in that film, he's severely underused here. It's so frustrating too because he's so good at being the bad guy in films like Sharky's Machine, yet he only shows up for a minute at a time here and there and it's not until the very end where he's finally given some extended sequences, yet it still doesn't seem like enough. It would have been cool if it was more of a cat and mouse game between Norris and Silva, but the film slows down way too often to address the whole subplot involving the dirty cop who planted the gun on the dead kid and how his partner can't seem to cope with the fact that he knows this and has a hard time living with it and the whole "code of silence" thing. You also have Dennis Farina as Cusack's partner and a nice selection of recognizable character actors. Overall, the cast is pretty great.

One of the things I liked most about this is it's gritty realism, circa mid 80's Chicago. Much like he did in Above the Law a few years later, Andrew Davis seems to have a knack for giving the city a life of it's own, though one of my minor gripes would be he sways a little too much towards the hand held shots, but overall the film looks good. Though the use of reverse shots for several sequences was really odd and painfully noticeable. Like a scene where Cusack is in a car and reverses really fast and then does a 180 so that he can drive forward. Or a scene in the big showdown in the warehouse at the end where they use one shot, and then the same exact shot reversed a few minutes later. Weird.

Martin over at the excellent review site A Hero Never Dies recently did his own Code of Silence review about a month ago, which you can find here, where we pretty much feel the same about this one. It's well made, with Norris demonstrating a little more depth, but won't win over any new fans if you're not already a Chuck Norris fan. Ultimately, there's just not enough action or Henry Silva. 


Batman fan film: Grayson

This is a fan film made to look like a trailer for a full length feature film, only there really isn't a full length film, this is it. What you see is all that was shot. So, as I've read that a lot of people think there actually is a feature film, I'm sorry to say there is not.
This is several years old and I'm sure by now most of you have already seen this, but I never get tired of it. I've seen a lot of fan films and this is by far one of the best and one of my favorites. So much passion went into this and whats even more impressive is that the guy who plays Dick Grayson aka Robin is a fellow by the name of John Fiorella, who also wrote/directed/edited and handmade all the costumes and effects himself. Calling this a passion project would be an understatement considering how incredible it all looks. 
 When it first came out I actually bought a DVD from the director that has a commentary on how he made it and all that. Really great stuff listening to how he made the vehicles look like superhero vehicles with really simple materials like strip tape. Or how trick photography plays a huge role in a lot of the scenes. 
This has been tucked away in my DVD collection for some time until my son brought it out today and was watching it. I forgot how awesome it was. Hope you enjoy it too. 


Review: Lord of Illusions

Directed by: Clive Barker
Category: Horror

Wouldn't you know it? Immediately after watching the theatrical cut I find out there is actually an "unrated directors cut" which Clive Barker says is his true vision of what Lord of Illusions was supposed to be, one that runs a full 12 minutes longer. So that will have to be a later review, with this one being of the theatrical cut of the film.

 I've always been a big fan of Clive Barker, and around the time he made Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions, I would consider myself a die hard fan. So much so that when I got my first tattoo at 19, it was of one of his illustrations. To this day nobody knows what the hell it is and I still have to explain it to them. But I love it. Around that same time I had every single book, novella and short story he ever published and couldn't get enough of his writing style. The he started making movies and in the late 80's to mid 90's with the triple threat of Hellraiser (1987), Nightbreed (1990) and then Lord of Illusions (1995). But that's it, he hasn't directed a film in almost 20 years, which still shocks me because with each film he showed a maturity and growth, much more than your average newcomer horror director. But sadly, that wasn't the case. Lord of Illusions was his last directing gig and the world of horror is sorely missing a true visionary.

Detective Harry D'Amour (Scott Bakula) is a private eye who seems to constantly sway towards cases relating to the supernatural. When he's hired by a famous magician's wife (Famke Janssen) for a job, he witnesses the magician's death and soon realizes that there's more going on than he was first led to believe. When he discovers a connection between the magician Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor) and Swann's former teacher and cult leader Nix, who Swann killed 13 years earlier, he opens up a Pandora's Box of death and magic that could lead to the end of the world. 

"I was born to murder the world"

Lord of Illusions, while not perfect or as awesome as his previous effort Nightbreed, works really well as a hybrid of two separate types and styles of films, the detective noir films from the 50's and a modern day horror film. One of the best things I love about this film is that you immediately sense Barker's maturity as a director. The film oozes style at almost every turn and looks much more polished than his two previous efforts. But, I have to admit Nightbreed is still my favorite. He also infuses the film with an eclectic array of strange characters, some good, some bad, that are so unique and outrageous (complete with odd names) that they almost deserve a film of there own. And that's just a testament to his creativity. The guy knows how to create some truly unique characters.

I really liked this one. It starts with a strong opening, slows down for the majority of the middle, and ends with a pretty grande finale. When the film slows down for the mid section, it plays out more like a detective story as D'Amour is investigating what the hell happened to Swann and what he may have been mixed up in. Some people may find this midsection to be extremely lagging, especially when your trying to remember the odd names with the large cast of characters, but I found it entertaining nonetheless because the cast is pretty great, especially Bakula, and the look of the film is pretty fantastic. But once he realizes there's a dark and supernatural connection to the illusions and that it's real magic and not tricks, the story delves more into the horror elements culminating in a pretty far out ending complete with some outstanding effects and some awesome quotable lines. Barker has always been ahead of the game in creating some pretty great dialogue. To this day, Hellraiser is still one of the most quotable horror films ever.

Overall a pretty great film. The film lags for a majority of the middle, but the combination of some great camera work, great actors and the kind of huge finale all films should have, really make for a much better experience than you'd expect. I just need to get to that "unrated directors cut" soon while this one is still fresh in my mind for a decent comparison.


Review: Steel Dawn

Directed by: Lance Hool
Category: Cult Classic

This "ho-hum" mid 80's offering from Missing in Action 2 director Lance Hool stars Patrick Swayze as a warrior with no name roaming the post apocalyptic wasteland when he stumbles upon a group of settlers looking for a day laborer to help on there farm. When other scavengers and settlers learn that this particular farm has the ability to produce fresh water, they will stop at nothing to seize control and claim this farm as there own and it's up to Patrick Swayze to stop them.

The only real high point of this film is that it stars Patrick Swayze as the nomad with no name and that it also costars the late great Brion James as the foreman of the farm who at first doesn't like the nomad, but ultimately befriends him. And that's really it on the plus side because this is such a lackluster effort on all fronts that even the frequent bouts of action and sword fighting that intercut between the long drawn out sequences of roaming the land and the "heartwarming" scenes where the nomad begins to care for the family at the farm can't save this uninspired mess.

The biggest problem is that there just isn't anything awesome about it at all. No awesome fights, no awesome gore and no awesome visuals. It's all very mediocre and though it could easily have been an Italian Trash film because it almost looks like one, the fact that director Lance Hool doesn't seem to possess any kind of visual style when it comes to directing prevents this from even reaching Trash or Exploitation level, which would have been a definite plus if it had. Everything just feels so stale that you can't help but wait till it's all over (if you even make it that far) so that you can move on to the next one.

Swayze is fine as the macho warrior with a heart of gold but a secret and deadly past. Brion James is pretty much great in whatever he's in and this is no different. I wish I could be as forgiving with the rest of the cast but nobody really stands out other than Swayze or James. Unless you count Arnold Vosloo (Hard Target, The Mummy) who stars as one of the main bad guy's henchman, only they dub his voice for some reason.

The big downer is that it's a competently made film, there's no denying that. It's just all so bland and uninteresting, even right down to the fights and action, that nothing short of a spectacular finale could save this thing, which unfortunately it does not possess. It's amazing to think that this came out the same year Swayze made Dirty Dancing. Two completely opposite types of films where one skyrocketed him to superstardom and one that easily could have ruined his career, but it didn't because as we all know he would go on to make one of the most badass manliest man movies ever made in the last 25 years called Roadhouse just 2 years later. Oh, and some little ghost story film a year later called Ghost.