Running Scared (1986)

Directed by: Peter Hyams
Category: Action / Comedy

I remember this one vaguely, but had always been meaning to check it out again because Peter Hyams did this and while he's had a hit or miss career, he has made a couple of really good films. Plus, an action comedy with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as cops in the 80's? Throw in a cheesy Michael McDonald 80's hit and dude, I'm sold!

This was a lot of fun, especially on a day when I couldn't seem to find anything to watch that I was in the mood for. A solid cop/buddy action/comedy from the mid 80's with a really high entertainment value. Here, Crystal and Hines play two wise cracking Chicago cops who have a smart ass answer for everything and who seem to be inseparable, even in there daily lives outside of work. I mean, they should just be a couple because that's how close they are. They're in the midst of bringing down a ruthless up and coming drug lord named Julio Gonzalez (Jimmy Smits), and after successfully capturing him when some rookie cops who had been undercover infiltrating his organization couldn't, they are forced to take an extended vacation to Florida so things can settle down. After loving the life in Florida, they decide they are going to retire and open up a bar over there. When they return to Chicago to tell there boss they are done, they learn that Gonzalez has been released from jail and is walking free. They decide that they just can't let this guy roam free knowing that whatever he's doing, it's sure to be illegal so they vow to track him down and lock him up for good before they turn in there walking papers. Only Gonzalez seems to have the upper hand this time sabotaging them whenever they think they are getting close and when Gonzalez kidnaps Costanzo's (Billy Crystal) ex-wife, then it becomes personal and Costanzo and Hughes (Gregory Hines) will stop at nothing to bring him down.

Crystal and Hines chemistry is purely evident, but I think a lot of what Running Scared has going for it is director Peter Hyams direction. The guy has proven in his long career that he can shift styles and genre's from film to film, to varying degrees of success. This one, for the most part, is definitely a winner though and I had a lot of fun with it. I've seen Hines in a few action oriented roles before, but for me watching Crystal play a cop and even get serious from time to time was a hoot. The end is where he really delivers in the serious cop role though, and I loved every second of it. I think it's just because it's something I've never seen him do before, play a cop in  gritty film. Yea, he's a wiseass most of the time, but when they involve his ex wife, his attitude shifts and he'll do anything he can to get the job done without involving the cops. And after seeing this, especially in some of the scenes at the end when things turn deadly serious, I wish Crystal would have taken on more roles like this. It was a surprisingly nice departure from his usual stuff.

I think what also makes Running Scared so successful is that it works on two different levels. There's enough solid action to satisfy an action fan, and there's enough comedy if that's what you're looking for. Me, I would have liked it to lean "more" towards the action because it was done so well and when the shit hits the fan, I just wanted more and more of it. Hyams has a gift for filming this stuff when he's firing on all cylinders and he pulls off the action and a really cool car chase really well.

Sure, I had a few very minor complaints about it, but honestly not any even worth mentioning. This was definitely a blast from beginning to end with plenty of action and comedy to make it worth your while. Throw in a cheesy montage of Crystal and Hines living it up in sunny Florida to "Sweet Freedom" by Michael McDonald and well, you're just gonna have a good time.


Mimic: The Directors Cut Blu-ray

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Category: Sci-fi / Horror

You know, I'm a huge fan of writer/director Guillermo del Toro. Ever since Blade II (where I was first introduced to this wonderkid), the guy has seriously impressed me with his writing and directing style. It's safe to say that he's definitely one of the few visionary filmmakers out there. He's one of those filmmakers who has a very specific look to almost all of his films, much like Peter Jackson. But this is one of those films that I somehow never got around to for various reasons. I think the lame U.S. DVD cover art never appealed to me to begin with. I mean, it's a film about mutant bugs and the cover is a close up of star Mira Sorvino? Actually, the more I think about it, the DVD cover art must be the reason. But when I heard they were releasing a "Director's Cut" with some nice special features and an intro by del Toro himself? Well I thought this would be the perfect time to finally check this sucker out. Plus, look at that new cover art! Brilliant, bloody fucking brilliant and if they put this much attention into it's initial release, I think it would have been a much more successful film than it initially was. 

When roaches seem to be the cause of a disease striking children in great numbers in New York City, entomologist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) seems to have created a miracle cure, a mutated bug created in the lab that will kill off the cockroaches, effectively putting an end to the fast spreading disease, and then die also within a week. The approach seems to work and there appears to be no sign of this child killing disease for a few years. But when a rash of murders and disappearances along with the discovery of one of her genetically mutated bugs that were supposed to have died off years ago come to light, she soon realizes they have something much more dangerous on there hands. A super bug that has grown and adapted to mimic human beings, which make them much more dangerous than anybody could have ever imagined. 

This was a really good movie. Director Guillermo del Toro has such a keen eye for fantasy, that even in the realms of a horror film, it looks and feels like a fantasy film also. Atmosphere. Atmosphere is what this film is all about and del Toro pulls it off splendidly. It's a purely cinematic experience that only someone of del Toro's gifts can generate. I've never seen the theatrical cut though, so I can't compare that version to this one. Though in the supplemental material found on this release he states that there were problems right from the beginning and he states matter of factly that it was a miserable experience and he was not able to make the film he set out to make. Even with this "Director's Cut", though he says he's happy with it seeing the light of day, he's still not completely happy and if this is the closest we get to his original vision, then it's better than nothing. 

Mimic: The Director's Cut tells us immediately what's going on right from the get go, which I really liked. They lay it all out for you with the disease that's killing children and with Susan Tyler single handedly putting a stop to it........seemingly. This is all done in the first 15 minutes. Fast forward a few years and she's married to another scientist and they are trying to have a baby, while both also being married to there work. One day a couple of kids bring her a huge bug that they found in the subway which they intend to sell to her for a few bucks. While observing the bug it attacks her, which she in turn kills out of frustration and when it starts secreting a white liquid, the same secretion she designed and created years ago to kill off the cockroaches in the first place, she realizes that these new bugs somehow survived and that's only the tip of the iceberg. Soon she realizes they've also evolved, grown and adapted tremendously within just 3 years and can now mimic human beings in the dark of the subway tunnels. 

The slow burn pace in the first half didn't really put me off because I really liked what I was seeing. Visually, it's impressive. And for me, most of the time, it's enough to keep me interested enough to finish it through to the end. But thankfully, the second half of the film really delivers with all the suspense, chills and even action you'd come to expect from Guillermo del Toro. Not in the same way as in Blade II or the Hellboy films, but in the parameters of a horror film, it was exciting and well done. I'd been wanting to pick up this Blu-ray ever since it was released, but was unsure if it was any good so I didn't want to shell out the cash for it, you know.....just in case it sucked. But, as luck would have it, it was on sale at Best Buy for very cheap and wanting to buy myself a little father's day gift, I just couldn't resist and what a gift it was. I'm glad I purchased it though because this is something I can see myself revisiting from time to time for the visual stimulation. Plus, it has a healthy dose of special features. Short, but with a lot of info on the problems that plagued the production and also on the creation of the creatures and whatnot. The most fascinating though would be del Toro's candid interview in his curse laden explanation as to why he doesn't think it's a very good film in general (though he's happy this release reflects more closely to his vision than the studio's theatrical cut) and what his original intent had been for the film right from the beginning. All in all, Mimic is not great a great film, but it's a very satisfying horror/fantasy film with a killer ending. 


Review: The First Power

Directed by: Robert Resnikoff
Category: Horror

Man, I hadn't seen this one in forever. I vaguely remember it. I remember some cool scenes, Jeff Kober being creepy and one of the few films Lou Diamond Phillips starred in that actually hit the theaters. It's also a surprisingly difficult film to get cheaply in the states for some reason. I don't know why. It's not great or anything, and the DVD itself is as bare bones as it could possibly be. Maybe there was a limited run? I don't know. But anyway, I finally saw it and I have to say I enjoyed it. It's utterly preposterous, silly and for the most part, logic is completely thrown out the window, but it does also have a few things going for it. Like the stunts for one. There is some pretty amazing stuntwork going on in here and though they were ridiculous, I think they had a big part in why I ended up liking this so much. You know, it's your standard late 80's early 90's supernatural thriller/detective story about a cop chasing a serial killer, only they throw in some insane stuntwork out of nowhere that serves no real purpose in moving the story along, but looks great on screen. Sometimes, depending on your taste or mood, it can be enough. In this case, for me it was.

Detective Russell Logan (Phillips) is an LA cop who has a reputation for putting serial killers away. His latest suspect, Patrick Channing (Jeff Kober), is a serial killer with a satanic edge, sacrificing his victims in a demonic and ritualistic fashion. When he's caught by Logan, he's immediately tried, convicted and sent to the gas chamber. Only this is exactly what Channing wanted all along and in the process, his evil spirit is freed and he's able to move from body to body continuing his murderous rampage until Logan can find a way to stop him again, this time for good. 

I really liked seeing Phillips in a leading role like this. I've always liked the guy and though he's played plenty of cops, playing a standard cop in a serial killer flick was a guilty pleasure. Same goes for the always reliably creepy Jeff Kober. I know he doesn't always play villains, but when he does it just seems so natural. I'll just always remember him creeping me the fuck out in this and Out of Bounds when I was a teenager. Seeing Mykelti Williamson in this as Logan's partner was a surprise. I didn't remember him being in this and only became aware of him after Forrest Gump came out. Strangely though, they misspell his name in the credits as Mykel T. Williamson. Weird. But he was fun to watch as the more lighthearted of the two and the one more willing to crack a joke in an awkward situation. I think the only one I had an issue with was Rachel Griffiths, who plays a psychic who helps Logan in tracking Channing down and who seems to be the only one who knows how to put a stop to him once and for all. I just didn't find her very good or convincing and I was constantly annoyed whenever she was on screen.

I have to give props to writer/director Robert Resnikoff for creating such silly and ridiculous situations and a tired premise and making it all look good, because he does and pulls it off wonderfully. I was surprised to read that he's only ever directed two films in his career, this and some film a few years before called The Jogger. I'm not saying it's groundbreaking or anything, but it's competent for a guy who's only ever made 2 films and he keeps the gritty film noir style in check. I should also mention that he also wrote the Jay Leno/Pat Morita crapfest Collision Course. I'm gonna leave that one alone though. But I'll say I was impressed with the overall look, tone and grittiness of this one and thought he handled the stuntwork especially well. It wasn't as bloody as I would have imagined, but the detective noir feel certainly makes up for it. Plus, though silly, some sequences just looked plain cool. Like where Logan and the psychic are running from Channing in a rundown hotel and left weaponless, Channing rips a hanging ceiling fan out from the ceiling and uses it as a weapon as the blades miraculously keep spinning even though he's ripped the chords out of it. Of course Logan shoots at it and of course, it deflects all of the bullets because it moves that fast and it's that strong. But that's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. It's completely unbelievable, maybe even stupid for some people, and this film is full of scenes like that, which gives it that unexpected vibe. Like, shockingly, whenever Channing possesses someone and takes over there body, they also miraculously know martial arts. You just gotta go with it. I might be in the minority with this one, but I enjoyed it.


Mini Review: Iron Sky

Directed by: Timo Vuorensola
Category: Sci fi

You know when you're about to watch a movie, and you don't really know anything about it or anything about the people who made it and all you know is that you've heard a few things here and there online about how it's a low budget movie, and somehow made with the financial help of fans and that it's a mish mash of genre's and categories and so you don't really know what to expect and then it exceeds all your expectations and then some? Well Iron Sky is that film. Iron Sky literally blew me away with how awesome, inventive and creative it was right from the beginning, only getting better and better as it progressed until the thrilling final act where you're treated to an amazing display of special effects that seem to have been made on a minuscule budget, only looking so much better than half of the big budget garbage being shown in our theaters today.

To me, this is what Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow should have been. I love that film, I even have a rare Comic Con art deco poster hanging on my wall, but it all felt very amateurish and couldn't help but feel how much better it would have been had a more experienced director been at the helm. Yea, I know, the guy never made a big budget film before, so I will cut him a little slack for creating a very impressive looking film. But for my money, Iron Sky is the film that Sky Captain should have been. It's got an insane amount of action, plenty of humor that actually works, some suspense, thrills and really good use of special effects that you just wouldn't expect to see in a film this small. Which only adds to amusement of how good this film ends up being because it's a seriously entertaining flick from beginning to end, retaining a constant fun vibe all the way through.

Long story short: 2018, some Nazis somehow found there way to the moon, hiding on the dark side for over 70 years after World War II in 1945. After a group of astronauts stumble upon there base, one of them is captured and taken prisoner. Convinced this American astronaut is a spy and is part of a bigger conspiracy to attack and infiltrate them, they decide to attack Planet Earth. 

I think the cast of unknowns here were all pretty great and effective in portraying the kind of characters they were trying to portray, almost at a cartoon or parody level at some moments. I will admit, there were a few scenes here and there that didn't work, but for the most part it all works fine. Even the sillier moments. But that's okay, because it does get serious off and on, and when the shit hits the fan in the last act of the film, it's impressively done. I think this director has a big career ahead of him and I'm curious to see where he goes from here. I don't know what the release dates are for this as I know it will be different everywhere. I don't think the U.S. will be seeing an official release for some time, so I'm very grateful and thankful to Ingo over at Hellford667 Movie Reviews for giving me the chance to. Thanks man! To check out his review of this awesome flick, go here.


Review: Superman vs. The Elite

Like any comic book geek or animation fan, I watch these DC and Marvel DTV flicks when they come out. Some are not so special, but then some are just plain badass when done right. Batman: Year One is probably one of the best and most recent ones that come to mind, but a lot of the Superman ones are really good too, and this one is no exception. I'm usually up to date on these releases or at least aware of them through various media outlets I regularly peruse on a daily basis, but for some reason I'd never heard of this one until it came out. And the title kind of threw me off too because it has a "kid" vibe to it, or is that just me? In any case, don't let the title throw you, this is badass and certainly one of the better DC Universe titles released in some time.

The first thing you'll notice immediately, if the opening credits didn't scare you away, is that there's a definite change in art style compared to the other Superman animated flicks. It actually takes about 10 minutes to get used to, but once you do you can't help but feel that it works, because it does. And be warned, the opening of this thing really, really throws you off and me and my buddy were both looking at each other with a "Uh oh" look. But it's all to throw you off. Immediately with the credits, it has a kid TV show retro kinda intro, which was cool but not what I was expecting. Then when the credits are done you're given a "WTF?" moment because you see Superman doing his thing, but drawn with a juvenile style and right when you're about to think "What the hell is this?", you realize it's a cartoon being shown on a television that's being seen by Clark Kent and Lois, a kind of parody of Superman for the kids, and then it's back to normal and good.

A new band of superheroes known as The Elite, each with there own unique super power, seem to come out of nowhere. Young, hip and with a slight dark edginess to them, the media, the public and even Superman himself take to these teenage super heroes immediately until it becomes very clear that they do not hold the same ideals and value for life that Superman does and soon it becomes Superman vs. The Elite in a no holds barred for dominance on planet Earth. 

This was really, really good, especially considering I knew nothing about it going in. The slightly different animation style really works for this particular story and the story ended up being a lot darker, and much more violent, going places I wasn't expecting it to go to. I should also note that Tim Daly didn't return as the voice of Superman this time around. Here he's replaced by veteran TV and film character actor George Newbern who is a dead ringer for Daly. I actually had no idea until it was over that it was somebody else other than Daly doing the voice because you just can't tell. I've always felt Daly was perfect for the voice of Clark Kent / Superman, but after this, I'll be just as happy with Newbern in the role. Like Daly, he exudes bravura and confidence befitting Superman. 

Even though the film is entertaining throughout, with a healthy dose of action and battles right from the beginning, it's really the second half that really delivers. I was pleasantly surprised at how dark and violent it got with the last act, which is always a good thing. Keep it fresh and you'll keep the fans interested. And I have to give it to DC, though I am and will always be a Marvel guy, when it comes to the DTV animated films, there's just no competing against DC Universe. Oh, and to just add to the overall badass experience of renting or buying this, there's a 13 minute feature on the making of the new animated film currently being worked on based on Frank Miller's legendary and genre defining graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, with Peter "Robocop" Weller voicing Batman. I get chills just thinking about that. I'd say this is definitely worth a viewing if you should ever get the chance.


Blow Out German Embossed VHS Clamshell

Snagged this beauty with some help from my good buddy and fellow filmgeek Ingo over at Hellford667 Movie Reviews. A cool cover, and so much better than the lame U.S. cover we've had to endure for decades. You know the one, the simple black and white image of John Travolta screaming? I've always hated that cover art and it says "nothing" about the film, which is a shame because I only recently saw this one myself for the first time back in December, and was floored by how amazing it was. Definitely one of director Brian De Palma's best films (helming this between Dressed to Kill and Scarface between 1980 and 1983) and so much better than I could have ever imagined. I think Criterion nailed it with there recent DVD and Blu-ray release, even right down to the cover art, which speaks volumes of the film as a whole. 

You can check out my review for this incredible film from back in December here


Review: Leviathan

Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Category: Sci-fi/Horror

1989 was oddly a big year for deep sea films. Just in this year alone we had Leviathan, Deep Star Six and James Cameron's The Abyss. Nobody can argue that Cameron's The Abyss is the best of the bunch, but for my money, I'd have to say George P. Cosmatos's Leviathan is easily the second. While The Abyss plays a lot to the fantasy/sci-fi genre with some drama thrown in, Leviathan often times feels like a horror film underwater. In fact, it has a lot in common to John Carpenter's The Thing, only it's underwater and the creature they do battle with is not an alien. But it has a big The Thing feel to it. Deep Star Six however, I remember nothing about other than it was directed by the original Friday the 13th director and starred 1/2 of the father duo on that 80's show My Two Dads. But anyway, we're here to talk about Leviathan, so let's get crackin'.

My good buddy Ingo over at Hellford667 Movie Reviews recently saw this one, and from what I remember he liked it. I honestly hadn't seen it since maybe the 90's and like Deep Star Six, remember nothing about it and when Netflix recently added it onto there Watch Instant list just the other day, I jumped at the chance. I've recently been on this extreme late 80's, early 90's Cinema kick and this one got me excited to watch. And that's one of my biggest problems when watching films, I have to be in the right mood or mindset to watch certain genre's of films. That's why I'd make a horrible reviewer for hire. I just can't go watch anything whenever. I have to be in the right mood or I just won't enjoy it.

Leviathan is a good ol' fashioned monster movie. You've got great visuals by Cobra and Rambo: First Blood Part 2 director George P. Cosmatos. You've got some nifty practical creature effects by none other than Stan Winston himself. You've got a better than expected score by Jerry Goldsmith. You've got Peter "Robocop" Weller being a badass surrounded by an awesome ensemble cast which includes the impossibly cute Amanda Pays and you've got two screenwriting powerhouses penning this sucker in the names of Jeb Stuart (Die Hard, The Fugitive) and David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven). If all that's not enough to get you excited enough to see this then I just don't know what is.

A crew of underwater deep sea miners on the last leg of there 90 day stint encounter a sunken Russian vessel. When one of them brings a safe containing vital information on the ship and it's crew as well as other items, the crew soon realize something horrible has been unleashed in there station, something that kills them off one by one and seems to absorb their memories. It's up to Steven Beck (Peter Weller) and his remaining crew to take a stand and find a way to destroy the creature while simultaneously finding a way to escape to the surface where a hurricane is looming above. 

It's really difficult not to get into the specifics of the plot because it will unfortunately give too much of the little surprises away that aren't huge by any means, yet pay off nicely when revealed as the story progresses. So that little summary up there will just have to do. But it had a healthy dose of surprises that made it above average quality, if somewhat similar to a few other notable films like The Thing and Aliens. In fact, I would have to say it owes a "lot" to those two films. Yes, it's a smaller and cheaper looking version, but fun all the same.

As I mentioned before, this has a pretty stellar ensemble cast, with each getting plenty of screen time and plenty to do. The one I really dug was Richard Crenna (Col. Trautmen from the Rambo films), who plays the character of Doc aboard the mining station. He's a good guy, and seems good at his job, but there's always this underlying feeling of something's just not right about this guy. Like he seems like a great stand up guy and all, but seems to be hiding something from his past, or seems to be capable of something...........dangerous. I'm not going to tell you whether he is or isn't in this film, but he played him so well that you just can't tell. Some other notable character actors that make up the rest of the mining crew are Daniel Stern, Hector Elizondo (no relation to me by the way), Ernie Hudson and Amanda Pays, who I remember from Max Headroom.

I wouldn't say this is a slow burn kind of film, because even though things take a short while to get going, the look and feel of the film make up for the lack of suspense until they discover that mysterious sunken vessel, which isn't very long into the film. Then things start kicking into gear and the pace picks up tremendously, offering some really good tension and suspense with some good ol' fashioned creature effects. Maybe not as good as Rob Bottin's work on The Thing, but cool nonetheless. There's also a really gnarly sequence in here that I just loved. It's the sequence where the remaining crew decide it's time to take a stand and protect themselves and they start pulling out all these crazy weapons that they would normally use on the job underwater. They don't have guns, but they do have crazy looking retro future industrial chainsaws and flamethrowers that look awesome. And it's a great montage with creative angles and quick cuts. Thank you George P. Cosmatos.

I've heard a lot about how Cosmatos didn't really direct a lot of both Cobra and Tombstone, leaving both Stallone and Kurt Russell to have to finish directing duties themselves to an extent. I don't know if all that's true or not, it very well could be, but I will say that Leviathan "looks" like a George P. Cosmatos film, much like Cobra, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Tombstone did. They all possess a similar look and style and Leviathan is no different. Great ensemble cast, great look and a helluva lot better than I was expecting it to be, this should be on your immediate watch list if you haven't seen it in a while.


Review: Prince of Darkness

Directed by: John Carpenter
Category: Horror

I've always hated this cover art for John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. It all looks very cheap 80's direct-to-video and I don't even think that person on the cover is even in the film because he doesn't resemble anyone in it. And I think that's why I never gave this one much thought up until now. It just didn't look like anything I'd enjoy and just going by the cover alone, it looked cheap. Boy was I wrong!

Prince of Darkness is a very rare thing in deed, old school filmmaking at it's finest by one of the men who helped define the genre himself. A film with a miniscule budget, but with the talent of someone like Mr. Carpenter being the camera, you'd never know it. Like a lot of his better known films from this era, it's just visually stunning, yet simplistic. It's a slow burn kind of film, but with a huge payoff when it's all over. And even in it's slower sections, Carpenter keeps the tension and suspense at a near constant beat. For me, out of all his films, this one closely resembles The Fog and The Ward in overall tone, a kind of film I wish he had made more of. 

Before man walked the Earth..........it slept for centuries. It is evil. It is real. It is awakening.

Synopsis via Derek O'Cain: 
A sinister secret has been kept in the basement of an abandoned Los Angeles church for many years. With the death of a priest belonging to a mysterious sect, another priest opens the door to the basement and discovers a vat containing a green liquid. The priest contacts a group of physics graduate students to investigate it. Unfortunately, they discover that the liquid contains the essence of Satan himself, and they also discover that he will release HIS father - an all-powerful Anti-God! The liquid later comes to life itself, turning some of the students into zombies as the Devil comes forward to release his father. Will these students be able to stop him?

I could have tried to come up with my own synopsis, but this one pretty much nails it completely. So kudos to Derek O'Cain for hitting it on the mark. 
This was truly a really great little film and so much better than what I was expecting it to be. I just couldn't shake this constant feeling of "They just don't make them like this anymore" from the opening credits to the last frame, all accompanied by John Carpenter's signature brooding and thoroughly effective score. John Carpenter made this right smack in the middle of Big Trouble in Little China and They Live. Two of my favorite Carpenter films that did not meet critical or box office expectations at the time, but are considered certified Cult Classics today. One of the things I love about this one is that it stars two Big Trouble in Little China alumni's Victor Wong and Dennis Dun, two really great actors I thought should have had bigger careers than they did. Donald Pleasence also stars as the priest who invites the physics students and there teacher to the church to study the mysterious container full of the green ooze, which in turn get's the ball rolling when the ooze starts taking over the students and turning them into zombies one by one. I have to say, this has a pretty large cast for such a small film, yet Carpenter is able to give each character ample screen time and with plenty to do. You never wonder "Hey, what ever happened to that guy?". For me, one of the biggest casting surprises was of the lead, which happens to me Jameson Parker. I only ever remember him from tv's Simon & Simon, which he was still on while making this film, and just remember thinking how strange it was to see him starring in this little horror film. But he does a great job and kudos to him for trying something different. Though Donald Pleasence gets top billing, and Jameson Parker seems to be the lead, the one I think responsible for carrying the film squarely on his shoulders has to be Victor Wong, who plays the physics professor and who you will remember as Egg Chen from BTiLC. He's just awesome in this and too bad other directors didn't take Carpenter's lead and cast him in more prominent roles. 

As simple as the movie is made, you've got lots and lots of the classic John Carpenter flourishes throughout that make all of his best films what they are. Some pretty damn good effects, the classic simplistic John Carpenter score, beautiful widescreen cinematography and just enough tension and suspense to keep you on your toes and never bored. I really loved how the second half really delivered on the goods with this one too, with just the right amount of "everything". So much so that I really didn't want it to be over. If you should ever get the opportunity to check this one out, I strongly recommend you do so. I'm shocked I never really tried before until now, and it's the perfect example of "Don't judge a book by it's cover". 


Review: Extreme Justice

Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Category: Badass Cinema

Mark L. Lester has always been a hit or miss director. He can deliver some really solid action entertainment with films like Commando, Class of 1999 and Showdown in Little Tokyo, but then he can also make films like ........well pretty much every film he's directed from 1996 until today. It's a shame really, because when he's working on all cylinders, he can certainly deliver the goods. He reminds me a lot of director Russell Mulcahey, whose film Ricochet I just recently reviewed and which I loved to death. When Mulcahey hits, he hits hard, but when he misses, we get films like Highlander 2: The Quickening.

Extreme Justice, thankfully, falls into the badass category for the most part. Released in 1993, 2 years after the awesome Showdown in Little Tokyo, he shows he can still direct an action film when given the right tools, no matter how small the budget. And that's something you'll notice immediately with Extreme Justice. It looks and feels like a direct-to-video film shot on a tiny budget and years before his biggest hits. Only this was made "after" the height of his directing career. It's a good solid action thriller though, just utterly ridiculous most of the time. I mean, the entire concept and the things these guys do and are able to get away just defy all logic. Yet, it's based on a real outfit called the S.I.S. (Special Investigation Section). Wholey exaggerated of course for effect, but still incredible.

Dan Vaughn (Scott Glenn) leads a highly secretive investigative force of the LAPD called the S.I.S., whose job is to hunt down the most dangerous criminals and take them down by any means necessary without protocol and without fear of being prosecuted. In most cases, they watch the criminals actually do the crime they are being investigated for and let them finish before taking them down, all so that they an say they didn't act prematurely and had enough evidence to pin on them, no matter how horrible the crime. When one of there men is killed on the job, they recruit young hotshot and former protege to Vaughn by the name of Jeff Powers (Lou Diamond Phillips). Known for a hot temper and taking extreme measure, they also note that he gets the job done and that's what the S.I.S. find appealing. Soon, Powers discovers that his new partners are not playing by the rules and in most cases, crossing an ethical line that Powers just can't comprehend and before long, it's him against his unit. Who will come out on top?

I have to say, despite it's small budget and DTV feel, I really enjoyed this one. Scott Glenn is always fun to watch, and watching him play a character with a dual personality was fascinating because he pulls of charming and menacing in the same breath so convincingly. Lou Diamond Phillips does a great job playing the tough cop with a conscience, battling both his morals, his duty to his fellow officers and his live in girlfriend (Chelsea Field), who also happens to be a reporter hellbent on uncovering his secret and exposing the S.I.S., a fact that his new partners are aware of and do not take kindly to. There's also Yaphet Kotto as one of these S.I.S. guys, only in full cowboy getup, which just looks...........odd.

But what really drives you nuts about this elite group of cops is the fact that they always know when something is going to go down, only they stand by and "let" it happen so they can catch the bad guys in the act. In one shocking instance, they stand by as a woman is kidnapped and raped in the back of a van knowing full well what's going on. Powers, incensed and appalled just can't contain his anger and stand by helplessly as a woman is getting raped by a group of 3 guys, takes a stand by disobeying orders from Vaughn and engages the 3 rapists in a gun battle, blowing the cover of the S.I.S., which ultimately becomes the beginning of the end for his career with the group and the downfall of Vaughn. The victim get's killed anyway, as do the rapists and that's a recurring theme that Powers just can't get used to. There are so many casualties in almost every case they take on, so much bloodshed and unnecessary violence without ever attempting to even apprehend these guys before they do anything bad, yet nobody get's reprimanded and the S.I.S. almost always get off Scott Free.

All in all, not one of director Mark L. Lester's best efforts, but definitely not one of his worst either. A good solid piece of 90's action, if a little on the outlandish side. Good fun though, you should enjoy it.


Review: The Fifth Element

Directed by: Luc Besson
Category: Sci-fi

This was one of my favorite films when it first came out. Being a huge fan of director Luc Besson, I was mesmerized by the Frenchman's take on the sci-fi genre. Incredible visuals, lush and daring design, Bruce Willis just being a badass and a frenetic pace teeter tottering between comedy and sci-fi action made this one stand out from the rest. It was just fun, no qualms about it. But revisiting this one recently, I was surprised at how much more comedy there was actually in here than I remember and how for me, a lot of it just doesn't work. It has a few standout funny scenes, but it starts to get pretty old after a while with the constant fainting, or the annoying apprentice to Ian Holm's character of Father Vito Cornelius who's just so annoyingly jumpy and weak.

But The Fifth Element is also just plain awesome in so many other respects. The casting of Tiny Liston Jr. as the president for one. Is that just not genius casting?! And the always badassness of Bruce Willis. But there's also a very unique and even brave design aesthetic going on here with everything from the costumes and sets, to the design of the creatures, ships and the decision to use old school puppetry for the Mangalores heads, bounty hunters for Gary Oldman's character Zorg. Speaking of Oldman, he definitely adds a nice healthy dose of flavor to the table with his rendition of Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, but I still don't get why he had a southern accent. I mean, of all accents, why a southern one?

As much as I love this film and the unique direction it takes by implementing a lot of comedy into the mix, I can't help but think how much better it would have been had it been a straight up hard edged sci-fi spectacle. All the necessary ingredients are here and accounted for, but it always feels like it takes such a huge detour when something silly or funny happens, often becoming unfunny. Don't get me wrong, some of the comedy bits work here and there, but I think it's too much at times and I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not. But hey, that's just me. It still works remarkably well with enough action to satisfy any action fan and some amazing costume and set design. Still not sure if I agree with Milla Jovovich being a "perfect" being though. I mean, she's hot of course, but I could easily imagine a lot of other hot actresses at the time that would have looked a lot better in that costume. I'm just sayin'.

One thing is for sure, The Fifth Element is a lot of fun, no matter what issues you may have with certain aspects of it. Writer/Director Luc Besson, who had just completely floored me with The Professional 3 years earlier again delivers some outstanding visuals, just in a different context. Whereas with films like La Femme Nikita and The Professional, the colors and tones were dark and gritty, everything here is bright, colorful and shiny. Though I'm not one for agreeing with the need for sequels often, I think I would have loved to have seen this world expanded some more with a sequel. Maybe not so much with the actual Fifth Element's character, but rather Bruce Willis's Korben Dallas character. I think it would have been a lot of fun to see what other adventures Besson and frequent screenplay collaborator Robert Mark Kamen could have come up with for the character of Korben Dallas. Basically he's John McClane, only.............you know, in space.