The Cannon Films Logo - My First Tattoo in 20 Years

When I turned 40 (I know, I can't believe it myself) last month, I wanted to mark it with a special occasion. I had been itching for a new tattoo for a good 10 years at least, but never actually did anything about it. Turning 40 is a big deal (to me anyway), and not in a good way. I was not looking forward to it at all. So I figured if I was going to literally be turning over the hill, I should take the opportunity to do something I'd been wanting to do for years. I had a hard time trying to settle on an idea. That is until an online friend of mine in Paris got this Cannon Films Logo himself and once I saw it, I knew that this is what it would have to be. No question. I was inspired. If there was any symbol that would describe my childhood growing up in the 80's addicted to cheesy action and horror movies, it's this.


Highway to Hell Film Review

Directed by: Ate de Jong
Category: Cult Classic

Ate de Jong's Highway to Hell is one of those low-budget obscure films I remember seeing often in my local video stores. I remember that terrible cover, and I remember actually renting it a time or two, mainly because I knew the guy who did it also did Drop Dead Fred. My memory is pretty fuzzy on whether I actually liked it or not, but what I do recall was it was littered with an odd assortment of cameo's, with Gilbert Godfriett as Hitler continuously yelling he is not Hitler being burned into my memory for some strange reason. Other than that, I really don't remember anything about this, and I honestly forgot about it. That is until it recently got the DVD/Blu ray treatment, it's first official release in any form other than VHS in the U.S., and the first time being able to see it in it's original aspect ratio.

So I invited a bunch of my movie friends over and threw this baby on. None of them had even heard of this before, and the one that did couldn't remember a thing about it. So we all went into this blind, which is usually the best way to do it.

Original U.S. Poster Art (TERRIBLE)
First thing I need to say is that Highway to Hell is insane. Literally. This film is just nuts, but in such
a chaotically fun way. Highly absurd and ridiculous, with a slight hint of tongue-in-cheek humor that's hard to pull off effectively, yet it works here. You won't laugh out loud or anything, but it's silly premise, structure, and end result works better than you expect it to. If you're a fan of films like Hell Comes to Frogtown, then you'll most certainly enjoy this one as well. While there's not a lot of "action" per say, it moves along at a brisk pace with enough "odd" cameo's, and wtf? chaotic moments that it's a helluva lot of fun from beginning to end.

I was most shocked to learn that none other than Brian Helgeland wrote this. If you're not familiar with his work, he's the guy responsible for big Hollywood films like L.A. Confidential, Mystic River, Man on Fire, Payback, and a slew of others. But before this film, he had also written 976-Evil. So I guess you gotta start somewhere. You'd just never guess the same guy came up with this WTF? insanity.

Then there's director Ate de Jong. He's been directing since 1976 (The year I was born), and still continues to direct today. But 1991 was the year he directed this and Drop Dead Fred, which both happen to be his most well known works. With the exception of an episode of Miami Vice, none of his other films ring a bell. He does alright with the material he's given. I think I would have liked to have seen more style, or more of a fluidity in his camerawork, but it's not bad. Just not very inspired visually. But, I will add that that may be in keeping with it's low-budget/post apocalyptic vibe. So it could be deliberate for all I know.

The blu-ray is a must own. I've seen it fluctuate sporadically in price here and there, but honestly, it shouldn't be more than $20 with shipping. It comes with the film in a solid digital transfer and it was nice seeing it in widescreen for the first time. The highlight for us was an interview with makeup/fx artist Steve Johnson. This guy. He's a trip, and his candid interview is well worth the price of the blu ray alone. Do yourself a favor and watch it following the feature. You'll be glad you did.

I'm not saying it's a perfect film, but it sure is a fun one, especially watching with a group and some alcohol. It's highly absurd, silly, sometimes comical, sometimes awesome, and all around fun.


Bad Movie Night Presents: Samurai Cop 2

Directed by: Gregory Hatanaka
Category: Action

When I learned that there was a fundraising campaign to bring a sequel to the hilarious cult classic to fruition, I was all kinds of excited. The original SC still remains today one of the best Bad Movies ever made, and one of the most unintentionally hilarious films I've ever seen. With the sequel, I remember reading that the young filmmaker behind it was going to "capture the spirit" of the original film and give fans the film they've been waiting for all these years. 25 years to be exact. So when the film was completed and the DVD/Bluray was announced, I immediately put my pre-order in, so I wouldn't possibly miss out. When we set this film's Bad Movie Night screening date to our group, it was only by sheer coincidence that it would also mark the 1 year anniversary of our hugely successful screening of the first Samurai Cop to a roaring crowd. So a bit of nostalgia set in and we were all really excited.

Where do I begin with this film. It was fucking terrible. SC2 is hands down one of the worst films I have ever seen, and this is coming from someone who loves bad films. In trying to capture the essence of the first film's hilariously bad qualities, SC2 overreaches by a mile, and the result is a mess of a film, one that tries too hard to "try" and be funny, only not succeeding. The constant winks at the camera from pretty much every actor, to the constant silly and purposely over-the-top hammy acting only make you cringe. It's so bizarre, really. The actors, half of which are porn stars, are so terrible that had the film been at least funny, you could forgive them, but when you're bored to tears through a tedious script that literally makes zero sense, you audibly mouth "whaaaat??", and "huh??", or you just roll your eyes and yawn. The nonsense on display here is aggravating, annoying, and an insult to the legacy of that classic first film. I honestly have no idea what director Gregory Hatanaka was thinking while making this. It's so bad that you wonder what parts were on purpose, and what, if any, was purely accidental. I can't tell you, and I doubt anyone else would be able to tell. Everything about this film; the acting, production, effects, camera work, choreography, directing, script, music, is so awful and so far off the mark that we just couldn't finish it. That's right. At 45 minutes in, I just couldn't take any more and shut the damn thing off.

There are ways to take a genre, concept, or even a film and pay tribute to it. There are successful ways to go about it, and honor it while also being 100% self-aware. Hobo With a Shotgun did it, Planet Terror did it, Hateful Eight did it, as well as a handful of others, successfully. Writer/Director Gregory Hatanaka has no clear idea on how to do this, or even make a solid film in general. Even if he had failed at providing us with the spirited homage we had wanted, if the film had been at least genuinely funny or entertaining in the slightest, then that could have been an easy pass. But the fact of the matter is that there is "nothing" salvageable here, not even the inclusion of Tommy Wiseau, which I was really excited about. Stunt casting is the first word that comes to mind. And even then, I could not tell if he was honestly that terrible, or if he was hamming it up on purpose.

Speaking of casting, I will say this, it was great seeing Matt Hannon again. While noticeably older, the guy delivers the goods. It's just sad because the guy literally disappeared from site for 25 years, only to be found, alive and well, with his cult status tarnished with this film. And considering the talent involved in this film's large cast, I'm genuinely surprised to say that porn actress Kayden Kross was actually the best actor in this entire film, no lie. Joe's partner Matt Frazer, who also hadn't appeared in a film since the original, seems to have forgotten how to act entirely. Not that he was a thespian to begin with, but at least in the first film he was passable, and even funny. Everyone else, most notably the endless barrage of cult film icons, were just flat-out awful. Joe Estevez (Soultaker), Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop 1 & 2), Tommy Wiseau (The Room), Melissa Moore (Sorority House Massacre 2, Hard to Die), and worst of all, Bai Ling (The Crow). What the hell was she on? I mean, I know she's not known to be a great actress to begin with, but holy hell was she terrible in this.

This film looks like it was shot on a single weekend, with no script in hand, like everything was made up on the spot. Nothing flows, and the constant transitions from one sequence to the next leave you utterly confused. Is it supposed to be in the future? Present day? What is the story even about? Why is it so ridiculously confusing? There is so much that doesn't make any sense or even lead anywhere that sometimes it feels like you're watching 2 different films at the same time. And what the fuck is up with the horrendous soundtrack? I don't know about you, but I found the original films cheesy synth score to be a huge bonus to the experience, but for some odd reason, they decided to fill this film with R & B tunes that are so bad and seem to belong in a totally different film!

I'm done. I'm exhausted. I can't go on anymore. Save yourself the frustration and skip this one.


The Equilizer Film Review

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Category: Action

After finally watching the excellent Training Day for the very first time, I was immediately struck with the feeling that I need to either see for the first time, or revisit past Antoine Fuqua films. First on that list was The Equilizer, a film that didn't really grab me when it first came out. At least not enough to go actually pay good money to see it in theaters. It may just be the fact that I grew up on the original show starring Edward Woodward in the 80's, and the fact that we have yet another remake that looks to dramatically change the formula again didn't help. So I passed on it initially. After finally seeing it, I wish I hadn't.

In short, Antoine Fuqua's The Equilizer is fucking awesome. In fact, I'd put it right up there with John Wick. It's just as brutal and entertaining as that film was, just without the flashy neon bright colors. Fuqua directs with a slick gritty/noir vibe that was hard to see in the trailers, but it's evident in all it's glory when you see the film. In fact, the more I think about it, Equilizer and John Wick could literally go toe to toe because they both hit virtually all the same beats, even when it comes down to why the two leads come out of retirement to avenge. Same plot, essentially, but both with varying degrees of success that make them both uniquely different.

While first thrown off by the casting of Denzel Washington in the lead, my fears were quickly put to rest because really, he just nails the role and kicks all kinds of ass in this. And you know, he's not trying to be Edward Woodward (obviously), and essentially, this is kind of a prequel to how his character becomes known as The Equilizer. So don't go in expecting to see a sophisticated brit who dons a trenchcoat and you'll be okay. Personally, I enjoyed where the story went, and how his character was fleshed out, albeit rather slowly. But that's a good thing, because it's the mystery that keeps you invested, and let me tell you, the payoff is well worth it.

Director Antoine Fuqua again displays his mastery of action sequences. Seriously, why is his name not right up there with those of say, the early career's of John McTiernan and Renny Harlin? He's just as good as either of those guys, if not better. And unlike McTiernan and Harlin, who I happen to love, he's consistent. That's not something you can say about a lot of today's, or even yesterday's, action film directors, who tend to change up their style and aesthetic with every film project. At least in Fuqua's case, all his films follow a similar stylishly streamlined aesthetic. No half-assed shaky-cam nonsense.

The Equilizer is a reminder that I need to continue to support new action films, that they're not all crap. The  majority of them are, but every so often we get a gem like this, that reminds us that they still can make great action films in this day and age. Crazy, right???


San Andreas, a Big, Loud, But Most Importantly, "Fun" Disaster Pic We've Been Sorely Missing

I'll be honest, I really had no desire to see this one. I found nothing about the trailers to be enticing, and the poster was even worse. Sure I love me some Rock, but we all know his stuff is hit or miss. While I do admit that I didn't pay that close attention to the trailers, from what I did see, it just looked like another over-CGI'd mess. Sloppy, fast, tacky, and another collaboration between The Rock and his Journey 2 director Brad Peyton. If the film 2014 showed us anything, it's that big budget CGI-fueled disaster pics just aren't what they used to be. You can have all the money in the world to make them, but to actually create intensity and chaos realistically through pure CGI, well.....it just doesn't carry the same weight.

As I recently browsed through what Redbox had to offer, I came across this and thought "why not?". Boy I'm glad I took the plunge because guess what? I fucking loved it. No lie. It literally does everything it sets out to do, in a much better way than I expected, which ultimately put my fears to rest. It's the same old story. Guy is going through a divorce, and when disaster hits, in this case in the form of a huge mega-earthquake, he must find a way to get to his teenage daughter and ex-wife to save them. Minor sub-plots aside, what I liked about this is that it starts rather quickly, without all that unnecessary fluff they try to hammer into these films to fill the run time. The set pieces are impressive, and to my surprise, all the harrowing disaster-ness is done really well. Where I found the effects work to be too hacky in the trailers, I found to be quite realistic in the final product. The only time I really noticed it being schlocky was in one particular sequence involving water.

Whether Dwayne Johnson is being in something serious, or silly, I have to give the guy credit; he brings his A Game to every single role he's in. He never half-asses anything, so whether I actually like a film of his or not, I respect the guy as one of the hardest working actors in the business. In this role, he brings his usual swagger, and it seems like a perfect fit for him. And as is the case for these big budget disaster pics, there's a large who's who of supporting actors that all bring that extra something to the table. Unfortunately we don't have that 1 big surprise cameo or bit part from someone big time. That would've been icing on the cake.

While disaster pics were big business more than a quarter century ago, they continue to be made, yet less enthusiastically and less regularly, with 1 every few years or so. Despite this, they still don't seem to be made well. While Roland Emmerich has been called the "King of the Disaster Epics", he doesn't seem to make them all that well, at least when you compare them to some of his stronger films earlier in his career. With films like 2014 and even his version of Godzilla, for example, there's always room for improvement. He's been known to get these made fast and cheaply, but "quality" is never a word used when describing his work unfortunately. I am looking forward to his Independance Day sequel though, so hopefully it will be a return to form for the big budget maestro. But, if San Andreas is any indication, it seems that director Brad Peyton may be able to fill those shoes as well.

San Andreas is pure popcorn/disaster epic/eye candy. It's a ton of fun and if you can shut your brain off and not give into asking questions like "why do the seismologist's and scientists have power when the rest of the city is virtually without electricity?", then you'll enjoy this big budget disaster pic that hits all the right notes, no more, no less.


M. Night Shyamalans' The Visit, a Solid Surprise in an Otherwise Muddled Career

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Man, I am really, really behind on these, and I do apologize. Rather than do full-blown reviews, I think the majority of these will be my "Quick Shot" reviews just so I can catch up. First up, M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit.

I'll be honest. I have not seen an M. Night film since 2002's Sign's, which I did in fact enjoy. When people spoiled The Village for me, I just avoided it, and when I attempted The Happening, I just could not get into it. Then when people spoiled the ending for me, I really had no reason to finish it, mainly because that ending just sounded stupid. So I have not seen his last 5 films, and from what I hear, I'm not missing out on much.

But then The Visit seemed to creep up on us out of nowhere, and shockingly, there was a lot of positive buzz around it. Personally, I can't stand found footage films, so I was immediately turned off, but the continued buzz eventually won me over and I decided to give my first Shyamalan film in nearly 15 years a shot, with extremely low expectations.

I have to admit that I enjoyed this for what it was. Not expecting much to begin with, I was treated to a stripped down thriller that used old fashioned storytelling and a nice buildup of tension and suspense to get the story across, rather than using cheap jump scares and an overabundance of CGI. The found footage approach didn't annoy me like I had anticipated either. Shyamalan did his homework, and instead of going the annoying shaky-cam route, instead utilized a few creative tricks at explaining why the camera moves so smoothly throughout. For me that was a solid plus, and half the time I forgot this was supposed to be found footage.

As with most of his films, this film does have one of his trademark "twist endings". Personally, I wasn't expecting one, so I didn't spend the first half of the film trying to "figure it out". It never dawned on me, though my wife certainly did, and subsequently figured it out before the end. But even so, while it wasn't mind-blowing, it was interesting and creative, and just the little creative twist the film needed to keep things fresh and interesting.

All in all it was a solid and enjoyable effort. Nothing spectacular, but nothing bad either. It's a good way to spend an hour and a half of your time, especially with a significant other, if you're in the mood for something genuine in the thriller/horror department. Though the budget is limited, you'd never know it. Everything about the acting, direction, pacing and production lends itself an air of quality and class. It's not on the same caliber of Signs, The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, but it's his best film in the last 14 years, and hopefully a return to form for the filmmaker.