Review: Men of War

Directed by: Perry Lang
Category: Badass Cinema

Men of War has 3 things going for it; Dolph Lundgren, a beautiful tropical location and a very impressive ensemble cast. Other than that you've got a very slow burn kinda film with only about 30 minutes of real combat action, which only comes at the very end. And that's a shame because with a film called Men of War, and an awesome ensemble cast like this I sure as hell was expecting a lot more.

It's not a bad film mind you, but very slow with only minor spouts of entertainment sporadically found throughout. To me it felt like it ended up playing out more like a drama more than anything, knowing full well that there is going to be a big showdown when you have so many mercenaries carrying heavy artillery, it just takes forever to get there.

Nick Gunar (Lundgren) is a former Special Ops soldier turned mercenary for hire who, with the help of his former Colonel (Kevin Tighe), is hired by the Nitro Mine Corporation to put together a band of his former soldiers and force a group of natives of a South China Island into signing over there rights to precious minerals only found on that island. When the locals refuse and the Nitro Mine Corporation enlist backup to deal with the situation, Gunar becomes jaded and becomes sympathetic to the native culture, falling in love with a woman there and taking up there cause. When some of his band of mercenaries don't agree with his new view, a line is drawn and Gunar is forced into a showdown with his former soldiers and defend the island and it's people. 

This film seriously needed a lot more action than it had. And even when we get down to the big showdown at the end, it's not as impressive as you hope it to be. Some of the action scenes work, and some of them don't. On the plus side though, it's a beautifully shot film with stunning photography in gorgeous widescreen. The action, unfortunately, isn't handled as well visually, which wouldn't really be a problem if there was only more of it.

I really liked the cast here. Dolph always delivers, but you've also got Tiny Listen as one of his soldiers with a bad attitude, Kevin Tighe as his former Colonel, Trevor Goddard (Mortal Kombat) as his arch nemesis,  Charlotte Lewis as a native that Gunar falls in love with and an almost unrecognizable Catherine Bell as one of the soldiers, albeit as a tomboy. But I think the real standout here is B D Wong (Law & Order: SVU) as Po, as kind of an unofficial leader and spokesman for his tribe. The guy was hilarious as Po, always referring to Gunar as "boss" and talking with slang that hints that he might not be completely forthcoming with what he's telling Gunar. Wong seriously saves this thing from being a bore-fest with his performance in here.

All in all, not a bad film. It's a beautifully shot film to look at, but it just needed some more action to liven things up.


Review: John Carter

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

These days, when films end up costing somewhere around $250 million dollars to make, it's hard for them to live up to expectations. More so with a property that not everybody is familiar with, such being the case with John Carter. Based on a series of books by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs, this film had been in development hell for years, literally going all the way back to the 30's, and going through a varied roster of directors such as Kerry Conran (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), Robert Rodriguez (Machete), John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator) and even Jon Favreau (Iron Man). But for one reason or another was never able to get off the ground until Pixar wiz kid Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo) came on board for his first live action directorial effort. The name even went through many changes as it was originally titled "A Princess of Mars", of which the story is based. Then it was changed to John Carter of Mars (a MUCH cooler sounding name) before it was just called John Carter. So how does John Carter end up being a century to the year after it was originally published?

John Carter was fucking amazing! Now keep in mind, I did have some issues with a few things, namely the lame title, the "what were they thinking?" opening and some dull moments here and there, but for the most part, when it's all over and the end credits roll up, John Carter ends up being an awesome piece of action-sci-fi-fantasy at an insanely epic scale that keeps you solidly entertained from beginning to end with some of the most amazing effects to be put to film to date. Add to that a frenetic pace with only a few slow moments sporadically thrown in and it's a great way to spend 2 hours and 12 minutes of your life.

I really don't know who's responsible for the hack job done to the title because John Carter sounds mediocre as hell. I mean, it sounds like it could either be some football biography flick or some weepy romantic drama. John Carter of Mars was perfect, especially considering there intention is to make a whole slew of these films if this first one is successful enough. Throw the word Mars into the mix and it's instantly awesome. But just John Carter? Especially since the majority of the average movie-goer has no idea this is based on a wildly successful series of science fiction/fantasy books written in the early 1900's? Bad move. And that opening sequence just felt all wrong, completely taking you out of the story and instead of working out the story-line to reach that point, kind of blindsides you with this oddly out of place sequence that makes you think the studio didn't think you'd be smart enough to figure it out later in the film. Like, "Boom! Here's some information you NEED to know before we even get into the story that way you know what kind of film you're getting into right off the bat!".

It's hard to really go into any detail as far as the story goes, because I went in knowing very little (only knowing it was from a series of vintage science fiction stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs and was originally titled "Princess of Mars", of which this first story was based) and was rewarded handsomely with a sweeping epic tale spanning 2 planets and endless characters, species and a wildly imaginative story-line. So I will try to be as fragile as possible giving only important information in regards to the story. But be forewarned. 

Possible Spoilers Ahead. John Carter is a Civil War soldier who's done his duty and just wants to be left alone. When the war tries to re-enlist him, he fights them off any chance he gets until one day he's cornered and miraculously transported to Mars. There, much stronger and able to leap huge bounds because of the effects of gravity, he's caught up in a thousand year old war between feuding tribes, a princess in desperate need of a savior and an evil warlord with the power to destroy the planet in the palm of his hand. With his unique power and abilities, John Carter becomes a reluctant hero with only one thing on his mind........to get back home. 

I also feel the marketing for this film is way off. I don't know where to pinpoint it exactly, but it just feels so uninspired. The trailers do not do the film justice and I remember first seeing the teasers and not being impressed at all. Even the theatrical trailers were just alright. But now that it's out, I've seen some much more impressive TV spots capitalizing on a lot of the films strengths and actually make me want to go see it again. I also think they could have done a much better job with the poster art. Remember that first teaser poster of a closeup of his face with the initials J.C.? What the fuck is that?! That's the best you can do to get the average movie-going public excited about a film and possible franchise they know nothing about? I think when it's all over and it's come and gone the big wigs will see what a huge opportunity they let slip through there fingers because they hired the wrong people to market this thing.

In terms of sheer science fiction/fantasy spectacle, this probably won't wow you like Avatar did, but I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't come pretty damn close if you can look past the lame title and marketing of the film. It's much better than the trailers lead you to believe and with the guy behind Wall-E and Finding Nemo at the helm, it's pure genuine science fiction entertainment at it's finest.


Captain America (1990) German VHS Clamshell

So yea, it's not a perfect film but Albert Pyun's take on Captain America still has a lot to like. The look for one. It's definitely got a classic Pyun look to it reminiscent of some of his best films like Nemesis and Cyborg, the type of films that don't venture into his "experimental" style which he seems to be doing a lot of these days. 
And when there's action, what little of it there is, it's pretty damn spectacular even on this small scale. I can easily pick out a handful of scenes or sequences that hint at some Pyun "brilliance", and they all just so happen to be scenes where there's some form of action. Too bad there's just not enough of it in here. A lot went into getting this film made and bottom line is that it wasn't the Captain America film we all were waiting for or that the trailers had promised. BUT! If you know any kind of history about this film you know most of it was out of Pyun's hands. The guy was hired to direct a film, but it's all the stuff behind the scenes that we "don't" hear about that really made this film what it was. The biggest issue? They lost funding right smack in the middle of production. No funding = no money for effects, action or even sets. 

And as the years go by, I find myself liking Matt Salinger's look and portrayal of Cap more and more. It's about as dead on authentic to the comic as it could possibly be and Salinger gives it his all. Pyun hinted in the Director's Cut that he intended to go more mainstream with this one and hit the melodrama, but I think we all really just wanted some Albert Pyun style action, and though this probably would have been the most perfect opportunity to do so, it just wasn't meant to be. 


Timecrimes available on Netflix Instant!

Nacho Vigalondo's brilliant time travel masterpiece Timecrimes is finally available on Netflix Instant and if you haven't yet had a chance to see this incredible little film, I strongly suggest you do so. And what better time than now since it's readily available via streaming on Netflix. 

Trying to describe this film is nearly impossible without giving too much away because this film takes so many unexpected twists and turns that it'd be selfish of me to ruin them for you, which is also why I've never done a review on this because you simply can't without giving away too much. The least you know going in to this, the better. I can't even show you the trailer because whoever put that sucker together unfortunately included some extremely crucial spoilers that virtually ruin the entire experience for you if you watch the trailer before seeing the film, which you would obviously want to do before seeing the film, just to get an idea of what kind of film this is. But I strongly urge you "NOT" to watch the trailer if you intend to see this film. Trust me. 

Timecrimes easily ranks as one of my absolute favorite time travel films ever made and everybody deserves a chance at seeing this film before it's unfortunately butchered before the inevitable Hollywood remake. 


Badass Buy - Maniac Cop 2 Widescreen Edition Laserdisc

You read that title right. Maniac Cop 2. In Widescreen. On Laserdisc.

I never knew this insanely awesome piece of Badass Cinema was ever available in Widescreen as the VHS release as well as the rare and out of print bare bones DVD are both in a bastardly Full Frame aspect ratio. So imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon this beauty only to find that it's in Widescreen! And I'm talking true Widescreen and not some Letterbox format. 

I just saw this a few nights ago and the transfer looks impressive, even for Laserdisc standards. Throw in the fact that it's in it's proper aspect ratio and the only way you can see it like this and I am one very happy man. Review coming up shortly. 


Review: Malone

Directed by: Harley Cokliss
Category: Badass Cinema

Where the hell would the world be right now if we didn't have Burt fucking Reynolds!?
I'm sorry, I just had to get that off my chest before I went any further because while in reality he's given us some incredibly lame and just plain bad films where the good to bad ratio in his filmography doesn't even go near 50/50 with a majority of his films just plain sucking, every once in a while we get something like Malone or Stick that reminds us that he was in fact a badass at one time.

One could easily argue that good ol' Burt was simply giving a half ass, uninspired or just plain lazy performance in Malone, and for the most part they would be right. But I also think that behind all that "I just couldn't give a shit" vibe from his performance, I think he was also simply just trying to play cool, though it's painstakingly obvious that was not what transpired on film. But I gotta give the guy credit, though he's about 20 pounds heavier, sporting a ridiculous toupee and looking a lot older than he did in Stick, which was just 2 years earlier, he's still such a badass in this and God love him for that.

Burt Reynolds plays Malone, a washed out CIA hitman who's grown tired of the job and decides to leave the agency and travel the country. When his car breaks down in a secluded rundown little town out in the country, he's witness to a town controlled by fear and intimidation at the hands of land developer and all around bad guy Charles Delaney (Cliff Robertson). Delaney is intent on buying up every square inch of that town and if a landowner says no, he simply unleashes a handful of thugs and hitmen at his disposal to solve the problem. So when Delaney and company try persuading one of the last holdouts in the town, he didn't count on Malone, who just so happens to be staying at that house while his car is being fixed and ultimately becomes friends with the family there. 

Malone is such a great fucking movie, and not always for the right reasons. For starters, Reynolds looks like he just couldn't give a shit in here. He rarely utters a word, instead choosing to grimace his answers. And he just looks so much older and out of shape than he did in Stick, and that was just 2 years ago! I just couldn't believe it! And don't get me started on how many times the name Malone is uttered in this film, it's ridiculous. It's like the filmmakers "never" want you to forget the name of the film or the character. When you're not throwing your face in your palm at some of the  more prominent and laughable aspects of the film, the script gives you plenty of truly bad dialogue to laugh out loud at. Like:

Mechanics daughter: What's your name?
Malone: Malone.
Mechanics daughter: Got a last name?
Malone: Yea.


Malone: Why are you here Jamie?
Jamie (Lauren Hutton): I came to kill you.
Malone: I know. If you came to screw me to death, I'd die a happy man.

Dear lord.  But there are plenty of pluses to be found here. Though Burt looks tired and uninterested, he can still kick some serious ass and gets plenty of opportunities to prove just how badass he really is. And director Harley Cokeliss (Black Moon Rising) does make the film look nice, even though it does venture into "Made for TV" territory from time to time. But when the action kicks in, although all too brief for the most part, its bloody, violent and right up my alley. In fact, it looks so awesome when there is a brief moment of action or violence that you just want so much more of it. And that would be one of my biggest gripes. That while each action sequence or fight scene is very well executed, there so damn short and you feel kinda cheated. But we all know there's going to be the big showdown at the end between Malone and the evil land developer Delaney. And that's really all Malone is. One big long setup for the inevitable showdown between Malone and the villain.

Though the production is obviously very low budget, the cast they've assembled here is pretty impressive considering. Besides Burt, you've got Cliff Robertson as the greedy land developer who also apparently has another agenda of ruling the country as a back country survivalist who's slowly growing an army of dedicated survivalists. Then there's Lauren Hutton as Jamie, Malone's partner in the CIA and the only person he can trust, even though she's been recruited to hunt Malone down and kill him. And you've also got a really nice cast of character actors to flesh out the story. All in all, a really solid cast overall.

Taking into account how many films Burt Reynolds has starred in and how many of them are just simply bad, Malone easily ranks as one if his best films. Yup, that's a bold statement and I mean every word of it. Yea, he looks bored and tired here, but this isn't the same Burt from film to film. I mean, look at him in Switching Channels released the following year costarring Christopher Reeve and Kathleene Turner. I don't know why that film gets so dumped on. I actually thought it was pretty hilarious and quite enjoy it. But in that film, Burt looks more alive and inspired than I've seen him in almost an entire decade up to that point. Then check him out in Striptease in '96 and  his award winning performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights in '97. So I don't know, maybe it's just stuff he's got going on in his personal life at the time or the director he's working with.

As the cover image implies, Malone kicks some serious ass in this and it's definitely worth checking out. Apparently, it was available on Netflix Instant about a year ago, and in Widescreen too, but as of this posting it is not and even the M.O.D. DVD is out of print and embarrassingly pricey for a Full Frame aspect ratio with no bonus features. I saw it on VHS, which looks surprisingly good since a majority of the film takes place during the day, giving the film a much sharper image. If you've never had a chance to see this film before, don't go in with any high expectations and just have have fun with it. You'll be glad you did. Classic Burt Reynolds stuff here all the way.


The Punisher (1989) German Big Box VHS Clamshell

This here is a German Big Box VHS Clamshell, or as they call a Hardbox in Germany, of Dolph Lundgren's awesome The Punisher. I know, I've done many posts on this one particular film before here on my blog. First with a review of the theatrical cut and U.S. VHS release, which you can find here. Then of the awesome Workprint Edition that features a pretty impressive 16 minute prologue cut from the U.S. release that gives us a pretty in depth look at Frank Castle before he becomes The Punisher, which you can find here. Then I did another post on the badass U.K. Big Box VHS PAL format release. Such a badass cover if you ask me. You can check that badass cover out here.

So yea, I know I may have an unhealthy obsession with this awesome low-budget action-fest, but how can I not? It's quintessential Dolph Lundgren material and one of the best low-budget action films to come out of the 80's. 

As with most of these German tapes that I'm able to get my hands on, I really couldn't have done it without my good buddy and fellow filmgeek Ingo over at Hellford 667 Movie Reviews. This guy has really helped me out in more ways than one and I couldn't thank him enough. This one is one of the jewels of my Big Box VHS Clamshell editions looking all badass on my shelf. Enjoy!

Review: Zombie

Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Category: Horror

Zombie is a great film. Horror film, zombie film, Lucio Fulci film, whatever you want to call it. From beginning to end this film doesn't disappoint. Zombie keeps up a brisk pace, offers some pretty outstanding effects work and memorable camera work by Fulci. But for all the things Zombie has going for it, the one thing that stands out above all others and still astonishes me to this day is that shark sequence. And I just can't help thinking "How the fuck did they do that?!".

I actually hadn't seen this film in ages, and I think only once or twice, and after the lackluster Berlin Undead, I was needing a classic zombie fix with a tossup being between this and George Romero's Dawn of the Dead or Fulci's other zombie classic City of the Living Dead. But since I don't really remember much about this one since I'd only seen it maybe once, I thought it was a good choice to at least wet my appetite, even if it didn't end up being as badass as I remember.

Though a good 33 years have gone by since it's initial release, "nothing" has been lost in regards to it's entertainment value. It still holds up amazingly well today with Fulci seemingly at the top of his game, as well as having a better than average (for these kinds of films anyway) and amazingly fleshed out script. I should also mention that while Fulci's direction was pretty fantastic in this, as well as having some really top notch makeup and special effects, the score by Giorgio Cascio and Fabio Frizzi is what did it for me with this. I hope I don't sound too old when I say this, but for a flat out zombie gorefest, the score had a groovy vibe, reminiscent of Goblin.

One day an abandoned boat floats into the New York City harbor. When a police boat moves in to investigate it, they are attacked by a zombie hiding underneath. When reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch) gets wind of the story, he does his own investigating and soon finds out that the boat belonged to a scientist who's gone missing. Teaming with a husband and wife who have a boat and act as a tour guide for them, West and the scientists daughter, who wants answers of her own, head out to Matul Island where her father was working hoping to find out what happened to her father and why and how his boat made it back to New York City abandoned. Once there, they meet up with Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson) and soon discover the island is becoming overrun with zombies brought on by an epidemic. 

For a zombie film made 33 years ago, this thing is just plain awesome. Though I haven't gotten a chance to check out the new Blu-ray that was just released by Blue Underground, the extremely mediocre and bare bones 2002 Anchor Bay DVD release didn't diminish my enjoyment of this timeless horror gem. The aspect ratio seemed off and the blacks of the night sequences were annoyingly muted. But thankfully, most of the film takes place during daylight, so not as bad as it coulda been I suppose. On the plus side though, having a healthy amount of unnecessary nudity doesn't hurt either.

One of the more surprising elements I found was that, aside from the initial "zombie in the boat" sequence at the beginning and the "underwater zombie", there's really not a lot of zombie action going on until about a good halfway through the film, which is really surprising for a film titled Zombie. But regardless, Lucio Fulci and screenwriters Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti have fashioned together a thoroughly entertaining and "coherent" zombie film, not easily said in a lot of Lucio Fulci films. The fabulous and insanely confusing The Beyond immediately springs to mind.

Zombie has so many things going for it on a technical level in terms of effects, story, camera work and just the overall entertainment value. But it also possesses some pretty fantastic standout scenes like the "Zombie VS. Shark" sequence, the very first scene you see before the title even comes up, and the very last scene before the screen goes black, on top of the many found out throughout the film. That last scene though, as simple as it is, is so damn effective and almost bone chilling. Fulci seemed to working on all cylinders with this one and as a result, he's given us one of the best zombie films to come out of cinema wasteland in the last 30 years.