Highlander: Endgame Review; A Shockingly Entertaining Guilty Pleasure
Directed by: Douglas Aarniokoski
With Highlander 3: The Final Dimension, the filmmakers gave us a straight-forward sequel to the original film, bypassing the absurdity of the second film (which I still happen to love). Except Highlander 3 was largely unmemorable and uninspired. So I went into this one with some trepidation, not even really knowing what the cast or filmmakers consisted of.
Verdict? Highlander: Endgame aka Highlander 4 was a blast. Legitimately. While it looks and feels on the low-budget side, it somehow works, and really well in that specific low-budget hyper stylized action kind of way, just the type of film I happen to love to death. Having not seen the Highlander series, this was the first time I'd seen Christopher Lambert and Adrian Paul together. I know Lambert kind of showed up for the pilot, but I don't know what direction that storyline went. Here MacLeod (Lambert) takes over the role of mentor the way Sean Connery did in the first 2, and in doing so, he kind of overshadows and outshines Adrian Paul's Duncan MacLeod character. I'd read that Lambert was supposed to have just a small part, but the end result looks more like a co-star lead, and ultimately steals the show. Not that Adrian Paul is any less entertaining as a lead. I'd never seen him in anything, so this was my first introduction to him, other than a random guest spot on an episode of Seinfeld, and the guy delivers the goods as a MacLeod. I think part of what sells it is his immense physicality to the role. For the most part, you know it's him doing some of that crazy swordplay and stuntwork, where as you know Lambert was so blind without his glasses that it was a constant struggle.
For me, one of the first things I noticed when compared to the lackluster part 3 was that visually and aesthetically, this one looks so much better. Again, not knowing who directed it beforehand, I was surprised to learn it was none other than Nurse 3D's director Douglas Aarniokoski's first film, after having worked as an assistant director on a huge number of projects big and small, starting with Pee-Wee's Playhouse and eventually working his way onto films like From Dusk Till Dawn, Austin Powers and Resident Evil:Extinction. He seems to be relegated to television work these days, and in all honestly I was not a fan of Nurse 3D, but here the guy delivers the goods. There's some really great camera work, compositions and camera movement going on throughout, and most surprising of all, it's bloody and violent as hell. When someone gets cut or sliced, it's almost always followed by a frenzy of blood flowing through the air. And none of that CGI crap either. Nothing but good ol' fashioned squibs and blood packets were used and it's fantastic. So there, right off the bat, Highlander 4 is way more stylish and way more violent and bloody than I was expecting. We're off to a good start here.
Have you noticed I rarely ever include a synopsis of these films? Do I really need to? Nah. I mean, they all basically follow the same formula right? MacLeod learns of yet "another" lost and forgotten immortal he must fight and kill because if an evil immortal remains the last, then the world turns to shit.
Aside from Adrian Paul and the return of Christopher Lambert in the role that cemented his cult status, the supporting cast in this is quite good and dare I say.....awesome. First off, we have Bruce Payne as the main villain. Really, he's about one of the best villain actors out there and while the thought never occurred to me that he could make a great villain in this particular franchise, when I saw him it put a HUGE smile across my face. When Payne is a villain in a movie, it automatically elevates it's status. Have you seen him in One Man's Justice aka One Tough Bastard? If not, I highly recommend you do that right this minute. Moving on. As the film progresses, they throw in Donnie Yen, and some other familiar faces and I've got a huge grin on my face. This film just kicked up a few notches of awesome.
The purpose of this Highlander entry, it seems, is for Christopher Lambert to pass the torch to Adrian Paul and let his Duncan MacLeod character continue the film franchise. Sadly, things didn't quite work out that way. Endgame ended up being the last good Highlander film because it's follow-up Highlander: The Source was quickly and universally panned, and remains the most reviled out of the franchise. It was so bad that they never made another one after it's release in 2007.
I must be honest. I wasn't expecting to have such a good time going through these films. I've always loved the first film and since I was a kid, it's always been a favorite and one that I revisit constantly with every new DVD or Blu ray release, which I always end up purchasing. I guess my love for it prevented me from "possibly" souring that love with some bad films and while yes, technically a few of them are not so great, I'm still glad I made the effort to watch them because despite some of their shortcomings, I did enjoy the experience in some form. I'm nervous as I head into 2007's The Source, but maybe it's not as bad as people say. To be continued...
Highlander 3: The Final Dimension; A Lame and Tedious Low Point in the Film Series
Directed by: Andrew Morahan
After revisiting part 2, and frankly loving the shit out of it, I decided to keep going in the franchise. Truth be told, as much as I hold the first Highlander in the highest regard, after part 2, I never bothered seeing any of the numerous sequels. In fact, I'm not really sure how many of them there even are as of this writing as they don't go by Highlander 2, 3, 4 and so on. Instead they go by titles such as Highlander: Endgame and Highlander: The Source. Not that it will take that much effort to figure out what order they go in.
First up, Highlander 3, or Highlander: The Final Dimension as it's known here in the states, or Highlander: The Sorcerer as it's known elsewhere. I remember being pretty excited about this one when it was announced because after the initial disaster of part 2, we all were hoping for something more in line with a straight-up sequel to the original. I was also excited because this would be the feature film debut of director Andrew Morahan, who had done a few of Guns n' Roses epic videos back in the late 80's on into the 90's like November Rain and Don't Cry. I always felt he had a great visual eye (in the confines of a music video anyway) and couldn't wait to see what he did with the franchise and his first shot at a full-on feature film. But then I began seeing trailers and well, my enthusiasm took a nose dive and I never made the effort to go actually see it. It just didn't look very good, or exciting, or even competent in the sense that it looked low-budget and nothing that looks like it should be playing in your local theater. I took that as a sign that the franchise was dead in the water, and so I ignored it and never bothered with any of the others, not even the television series.
Connor MacLeod has been living a peaceful life thinking that he is the last of the Highlander's. When an old foe in the form of a samurai warrior/magician escapes from his tomb after 400 years, he seeks to take revenge on MacLeod for putting him there.
Finally sitting down to watch this my initial feelings were pretty much confirmed. Highlander 3 is frankly mediocre in nearly every single department. There's nothing about this that stands out, and there's nothing about this entry that warrants a repeat viewing. It's pretty bland to be honest. His talent for directing video's sadly doesn't transfer over well to feature films, and sadly, I found Highlander 3 to be a bore for the most part, with even the fight scenes being tediously lame. Honestly, the only highlight for me was Mario Van Peebles as the villain, but even then, he was nearly a rehash of The Kurgan from the first film, only changed somewhat to be a black samurai? I think.. I don't know,
Again we're treated to flashback sequences, and again they're as dull as they were in the first film. I love the first Highlander to death, but man those flashback sequences always killed the momentum for me. At least the second film decided to do away with those completely. But this film often tries too hard to replicate so much of what made the first film work so well that it almost feels like a remake. I mean, they even have MacLeod return to New York City, and funnily enough they dress him exactly the same way he was dressed in the first film. There's even a scene with Kane (Van Peebles) doing a crazy driving sequence with his victim, MacLeod's son, just like Kurgan did in the first film. How did either of them learn how to drive?
Andrew Morahan is no Russell Mulcahy, but he does try his hardest. It's just not enough. The visual's don't pop and nothing flows. There are moments where something "works" and "hits the right note", only to be surrounded by uninspired camerawork that looks like it was a Made-for-TV production. The action is a bore, and there's never any real excitement. I'm not surprised that it took them another 6 years to finally get the nerve to make another one. I'm actually surprised they even tried. Highlander 3 is just kind of ....... there. It's not terrible, but it's not memorable. It does play out like a true sequel though, totally ignoring anything that happened in the second film. It references that first film so much that you'd think they were doing a remake, and in that respect, it just comes across as tired. I guess with this one they decided to play it safe, but in doing so, they seriously dropped the ball, created a mediocre film at best, one that will leave no lasting impression.
Skyscraper Film Review; an Anna Nicole Smith Die Hard Ripoff That's Cheesy Awesome
|Sadly, she does not wear this dress or even look like this in the actual film|
Directed by: Raymond Martino
I'd always been aware of this low-budget action starring none other than Anna Nicole Smith, but oddly nothing about this production ever tempted me enough to actually watch it. And I honestly can't tell you why I finally decided to do so, but boy oh boy am I fucking glad I did, because this turned out to be far more entertaining than I expected it to be. Admittedly, all the reasons I loved it are probably the reasons why most would hate it, but for me, this was pure low-budget action gold.
Let's start with the obvious, Anna Nicole Smith starring in a Die Hard ripoff. While I was not expecting much from her in the acting department, though she was surprisingly decent in the 3rd Naked Gun film, I was not expecting her to be as terrible as she was in this. While it was highly entertaining to see this trainwreck performance, it was also a bit sad. Clearly on some kind of drug/medication, Smith's inability to deliver a single line of dialogue coherently has to be seen to be believed. I mean, it's bad. There's bad acting, and then there's Anna Nicole Smith on drugs kind of bad acting, which takes it to a whole new level of terrible. It's painfully apparent the filmmakers were aware of this, as her screen presence and actual lines are nearly non-existent. In fact, there were times when I actually forgot she was even in this, that is until a new random out of the blue nude/sex scene pops up with her.
When I finally got my hands on this, I was surprised, then elated to learn this was from none other than PM Entertainment, my absolute favorite low-budget action company. Their output is immense, and damn near impressive. If you're into this particular genre, their films will get you hooked! Some of my favorite action films are from this company, and they have so many films, it will take me my lifetime to try and get to them all, but it'll be fun trying. So yea, PM produced this and so I knew right off the bat that there would be a very specific quality to it and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.
Skyscraper had everything I had hoped for and then some. There is plenty of action, so much in fact that I forgot half the time this was an Anna Nicole film because it tends to focus so much on the other characters and action sequences more than anything. In this case, that's a good thing because I'm sure they didn't want the viewer to focus too much on Anna Nicole's hazy/incoherent acting. Writer/director Raymond Martino delivers some solid stuntwork, explosions, action set pieces, and a rather large and eclectic cast that entertains in the best, most cheesy way possible. When you see the group of bad guys, you'll know what I mean. I have so many unanswered questions that relate solely to them. Like, what accent are they trying to do? What's up with the leader? Is he speaking English? Why do they wear sunglasses in the dark? Why do they wear black leather pants? Why do they wear black leather coats? Why do they always have an insane number of readily available rocket launchers at any given moment? What is Anna Nicole doing in the shower in the beginning? Was the water turning her on? So many questions.
As this is a film starring none other than the one and only Anna Nicole Smith, you can bet your ass there's the requisite nudity, but what's kind of hilarious is that it's always at the weirdest, most unusual times, and always unexpected. Then it shockingly becomes tedious because she just looks so "out of it" the entire time and it isn't anything we haven't already seen before. I will admit, the first sex scene was nice, but also way too long for it's own good. Amazingly, I ended up kind of checking out during these and hoping the next action sequence would hit soon. They just end up being long and tedious, without really offering anything exciting, which is so weird to admit.
I wish I had waited to see this with a friend, or better yet, a group of friends. It's cheesy, hilarious, with some pretty badass action and stuntwork, and of course, truly awful acting by Smith who seems to pop in sporadically from time to time. It's a fun time for sure, and if you can appreciate films like this, then I'm sure Skyscraper will be a new favorite of yours.
THE ROCKY IV SOUNDTRACK; EASILY ONE OF THE BEST ROCK SOUNDTRACKS EVER
Recently I've gotten into soundtrack collecting. I guess I've always been a fan and have casually purchased them here and there in different formats, but lately I've really gotten into it. About a month ago I was perusing a local record shop that just recently opened and I found this soundtrack on cassette literally as I was walking out. It was more of a casual afterthought that I picked it up because it was so cheap, maybe like $2. So I figured why not?
When I popped this baby in while I was doing some house-painting, it was just the thing I needed to keep me pumped while working solo in the house. I was shocked at how great this was. I mean, I remember the James Brown song "Living in America", and of course "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor, but I had totally forgotten all the other great rock songs littered throughout this film, some that are even better than the songs this film is mainly known for, most notably "No Easy Way Out" by Robert Tepper, which was played during a montage sequence in the film. Man what a fantastic fucking song. But then when I looked at the song list on the back of the cassette my mind was blown even more with the discovery that none other than Vince DiCola of Transformers: The Movie fame, had also done the score for this, with 2 of his excellent synth tracks included in this soundtrack. I'm telling you, pick this soundtrack up. CD, vinyl, cassette, whatever floats your boat. It's amazing and quickly becoming my GO-TO soundtrack and all-time favorite.
Revisiting Highlander 2: The Quickening
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
After having not seen this film since it's original release and being appalled, I decided to revisit it recently when I came across it on Hulu. I, more than anybody, was shocked to discover that believe it or not, I actually enjoyed this way more than I expected to. I know, I can't believe it either. When it was first released, I hated it. And then when they released The Renegade Version to try and fix a lot of the complaints (mainly the ridiculous idea that they were from another planet), I still didn't like it. In the end, it didn't really do what it set out to do, which was fix the film as a whole and calm down a lot of the die hard Highlander fans who went berserk.
So here I am, 20ish years later finally revisiting this and having a great time, only this time I decided to tell myself this wasn't a Highlander film and went into it as a standalone film. A weird sci-fi/action/fantasy film that really doesn't make a lot of sense, but packs enough action and visual eye candy to pass as an enjoyable weird hybrid that shockingly works. For me anyway. If you follow the film franchise, then you know they've just flat-out ignored this film completely. It doesn't exist in the Highlander universe anymore, and for good reason. As a Highlander sequel, it's absurd, ridiculous, and just plain stupid. I think we can all agree on that. What's shocking is that it's written by the same guy who wrote the first film, a film that has become a huge cult classic, and deservedly so. I have no idea what the fuck he was thinking when he wrote this film, which completely contradicts any of the lore of the first film. It's so odd. Ultimately it's a film about the environment and a dome MacLoud built to protect the planet Earth's ozone layer. I don't want to get into all the specifics about it, but that's essentially what the bulk of the film is about.
Another interesting bit is that director Russell Mulcahy hadn't directed a film between the first Highlander film and this sequel. That's a whole 5 year gap. But in this same year (1991) he had also directed the excellent and severely underrated cop thriller Ricochet, a personal favorite of mine. So you can say 1991 was one of his strangest years as a filmmaker, having directed one of his most celebrated and one of his most hated films both in the same year. That doesn't happen a lot.
While watching this highly enjoyable oddity, there were a number of things that immediately stood out for me. The first being that Mulcahy's visuals are in top form here. I found a lot of references to his first Highlander film littered throughout, but he also utilized a lot of his ever-changing style that he used in Ricochet. It's a much darker, more slick visual aesthetic that comes off way more professional than a lot of stuff he's done in the low-budget circuit. I found a lot of visual eye candy and production design that look like they came right out of Dune and Dark City. I'm talking big and vast. Not the sort of thing you'd see now with the power of visual effects where they would just create all that background in post. Here it's all really there and it's damn impressive.
The second thing that stood out was that the action sequences were pretty badass. There's a sequence in the first act where they do one of those "hoverboard" sequences that failed so miserably in Masters of the Universe just a few years earlier, only here they actually pull it off with nothing but practical effects and stuntwork. I was rather surprised at how well they pulled it off honestly. No green screen, just pure old fashioned wire-work and it's surprisingly awesome. And there are other highlights, like a sequence with MacLeod and Ramirez driving through a checkpoint and getting shot all to hell. Ultimately, it's got better than you expect action sequences and that's always a plus.
I don't know why it's called The Quickening, because that doesn't really play much of a part in the story. I mean, you expect there to be some history on the whole Quickening thing, or maybe have that play a part of the story, but no. It's just a title that for some reason, was thrown in without any explanation, much like the entire film in general.
I can't stress enough how much this film surprised the hell out of me. I was not expecting that. It still doesn't work in the Highlander universe, but man, as a weird hybrid film, it's pretty badass if you just accept it for what it is. It's dark, it's violent, it's got plenty of action, with Michael Ironside playing one crazy heavy metal-looking villain that easily outshines most villains in recent memory. It's pertty to look at, while dipping into so many different genre's. Most of all, it's fun. Time for me to grab the bluray of this.
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