Documentary Spotlight: 80's Blockbusters - When Hollywood Played Tough

"Love 80's action films? Then you'll want to see this"

by Jason Elizondo

I was turned onto this documentary (seemingly tailor made for me) through a good friend of mine, Jeremie Damoiseau, author of the Dolph Lundgren book "The Punisher: The Untold Story", the definitive book on the making of that cult classic, which has already been released in French, with an English expanded edition coming soon. Jeremie also runs Dolph Lundgren's official website and is pretty much the expert on all things Dolph Lundgren related. A few weeks ago he mentioned this new documentary because Dolph not only makes an appearance through many various clips of some of his classic films, but was also kind enough to sit down with the documentary team for a new interview, where he discusses some of his experiences making a few of those classics, most importantly his breakout role in Rocky IV. So a big thanks needs to go out to Jeremie for the heads up on this one. Otherwise, I might never have known about it.

"Who has never watched Rocky or Terminator? In the '80s and early '90s, action films were big hits, and we all remember famous scenes and lines. Industry players and expers, speak of the golden age of the genre, by highlighting the socio-political context it was thriving in. Like it or not, these "so bad it's good" movies have marked the history of cinema!"

Released in 2017, 80's Blockbusters is a feature length French documentary that digs deep into the world of 80's and 90's action films; the big loud expensive Hollywood films that made names out of stars such as Arnold, Sly, Dolph, Chuck, Seagal, Van Damme and Charles. Through clips, as well as old and new interviews, we take a trip down memory lane when action films kicked our asses, and despite some that ended up box office bombs, have gone on to cult status infamy.

Being an action fan my entire life (thanks dad!), I was stoked to learn there was a new documentary that touched on my favorite genre. I never really need an excuse to revisit some of these classics, most of which are some of my favorite films of all time, so I must admit that despite the fact that it didn't really touch on a lot of films I would have liked, or some of the relevant topics, it was a really fun time and totally worth the rental fee.

Since it is French, some subtitles are involved, but it's not very often. You can rent 80's Blockbusters on Amazon HERE for free if you have Prime, or you can rent it for a cheap $2.99.

80's Action Attack!: Stakeout; A Mixed Bag in the Cop/Buddy Genre

The writer of Rush Hour and the director of Blue Thunder and WarGames try too hard to make it funny, when it really didn't need to be

by Jason Elizondo

This is a film that's been on my radar for as long as I can remember, and the only reason I never actually watched it until now was because I just wasn't a fan of director John Badham...until now. Growing up, I always felt his visual style was just too stale and dull. I remember watching films like Short Circuit and Point of No Return and just not digging the "look" of his films at all. And because of that, I pretty much avoided any film with his name on it. You see, I'm a visual person. I need to be visually stimulated to enjoy a film, no matter how good or bad it is. It's usually the visuals that I most likely walk away from remembering the most.

But as I get older, my tastes tend to change and I can look back at films I didn't enjoy before with older, wiser eyes. Or I can appreciate what the film was doing despite it's lack of visual stimulation. Case in point - Blue Thunder. While it annoyed me to no end that Badham shot that nearly entirely with handheld camera's, I found it to be quite frankly one of the best thrillers ever made, in any decade. And quite an exhilerating one too. When I was expecting an action film about a top secret copter going after bad guys, instead turned out to be a "man on the run and out to clear his name" thriller with some intense moments and outstanding performances from an incredible cast. Seriously, I kick myself for waiting so long to get to that one. And it's because of my Blue Thunder experience that I decided to finally dig into his filmography a bit more, and I quickly learned that while some films are just okay, others are quite great and visually impressive, such as WarGames and Dracula (1979).

Which brings me to Stakeout, a cop/buddy action/comedy released the same year as another, more successful film in this genre, Lethal Weapon, that did well enough to warrant a sequel 6 years later with most of the original cast and production team returning, including director John Badham. I figured if it produced a sequel, maybe it's better than I was thinking? So let's dig in.

There were things I liked about Stakeout, and there were things I didn't like about it. For starters, it tries too hard to be funny and instead of inducing laughs, I found myself cringing because it just didn't work and felt forced more than anything.

I also found the pairing of Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez.....odd. Estevez is fine as per usual, but Dreyfuss just seems totally out of place in this type of film and while I can admit that he actually looked good and probably the most "in shape" I've ever seen him, he comes off a bit creepy as he stalks a gorgeous Madeleine Stowe, whom he's supposed to "staking out" for his undercover job because her former lover, a convicted murderer, is on the run and they feel he would eventually reach out to her. It could be because of the fact that Dreyfuss is much older than Stowe, or that his attempts at trying to win her over instead seem rather unintentionally creepy than endearing. Either way, it just doesn't work and gives you an uncomfortable feeling.

On the plus side, the film nixes the comedy halfway through and it pretty much becomes an action/thriller from the middle on, which, as it turns out, makes for a much better film overall. Seriously, the second half is pretty much what I wish the entire film had been to begin with and combined with Badham's solid direction, the film ultimately becomes decently entertaining. Too bad it had a rough start.

If you can make through the awkwardly unfunny first half, you'll be handsomely rewarded by the second half. Madeleine Stowe is just absolutely gorgeous as the damsel in distress, with a heart of gold and a feisty spirit, while the rest of the cast deliver the goods efficiently. Not one of my favorite cop/buddy films, but it was decent enough. Writer Jim Kouf, director John Badham and its two main leads would all return for the sequel, Another Stakeout, 6 years later.....sans the mustaches.


The Toy Corner: Custom-Made Dolph Lundgren Punisher Action Figure

by Jason Elizondo

If you know anything about me, or follow me here on a regular basis, then I'm sure by now you know that Dolph Lundgren is my favorite action star, and his Punisher film is my favorite Punisher film. The character of The Punisher is also my all-time favorite comic book character, ever since I began collecting comics as a kid somewhere around 1988 or 1989.

As a straight-up adaptation of the titular character, I know the Mark Goldblatt 1989 low-budget classic isn't the most accurate or best representation of the character, but it has so many other things going for it that I can easily overlook it's faults. I just love it to death and I love Dolph's portrayal of the tortured soul who decides to save a bunch of rich children from the Yakuza, proving he does in fact have a heart inside that cold exterior. Sure I would have loved to have seen Dolph don the signature black tights, white go-go boots and gloves and the giant skull on his chest, but he still looks cool in his black leather getup. Am I right???

Recently I've gotten knee-deep into collecting toys again, more specifically vintage toys of my childhood. And that eventually lead to "custom action figures" in the style of old G.I. Joe's. When I met someone online who actually makes these custom figures of our dreams, the first one I commissioned was this bad boy, because I knew they would never make this dream a reality, so it would just be best to make my own, and Dan over at Death By Toys was the man to do it.

My specific instructions were to make him and the cardback size and style reminiscent of the vintage Joe figures of the 80's, but I pretty much left everything else up to him. And as you can see, he did not disappoint. I love this thing so much, and I'm over the moon about it. In fact, it's inspired me to try and start making my own soon, because there are a ton of action figures I'd love to see made from some of my favorite obscure 80's films. Stay tuned!!

In the meantime, please check out my friend Dan's shop and blog Death By Toys


80's Thriller Throwback: The Star Chamber

Peter Hyams criminally underrated thriller deserves to be seen

by Jason Elizondo

Between two of writer/director Peter Hyams science fiction classics, Outland (1981) and 2010 (1984), he wrote and directed this thriller centered around a judge who, upon getting frustrated that criminals escape justice due to technical formalities, joins a group of elite judges who take the law into their own hands to disband their own brand of justice. They are known as The Star Chamber. But once Hardin (Michael Douglas) discovers that a mistake has been made, implicating the wrong persons responsible for the death of a child, he soon discovers he may be way in over his head and once the wheels are put in motion, he can't stop it.

Going into this one, I literally had never heard of it or even knew of it's existence until I did a quick IMDB search of Hyams' filmography. Doing some further digging I found the old VHS cover, which quite honestly is a total misrepresentation of the film as a whole. So maybe I did see that cover back in the 80's at my local video store, but I can guarantee you that I would never have given it a second thought, because the lame cover art, and the slightly misleading title (it sounds like a sci-fi film) lead you to believe it's something else entirely. And really, that is the one and only complaint I have about this film, because quite frankly, it's pretty fucking fantastic. Let's dig in.

Peter Hyams has undoubtedly crafted a splendid thriller that delivers some of his best work behind the camera, while also giving us, the viewer, ample amounts of thrills, tension and suspense all wrapped up in a neat little package that is as visually stunning as it is thrilling. Much like his work in some of my favorite films from his filmography, Hyams impressed me nearly at every turn with his stunning visuals and impressive use of light and shadows, something of a trademark when it comes to his thrillers. Narrow Margin is another excellent example of this. Surprisingly, he wasn't his own cinematographer yet. That wouldn't happen until his following film, 2010: The Year We Make Contact in 1984.

Michael Douglas always has and continues to remain one of my favorite actors working. It wasn't until Ridley Scott's Black Rain in 1989 that I really learned to truly appreciate his work, but it was from that moment on that I was pretty much keen to anything he did. As I watched this, where he once again delivers another solid powerhouse performance as a man struggling with his frustrations at the justice system he works for, while also grappling with his own personal morals, he exudes an intensity that you rarely see in actors these days. He really was and still is one of the best, who could pull of a cool charming adventurer in Romancing the Stone, or a total badass with a badge and an attitude in Black Rain. I would argue that this performance here ranks as one of his best, but I shouldn't have to, because it's fact. We already know this, right??

In my humble opinion, The Star Chamber is a criminally underrated thriller that rivals the best of what Hyams has to offer in this genre. Hell, it's even one of Michael Douglas' best roles and performances! The fact that it never mentioned in any conversations related to either Peter Hyams or Michael Douglas, or that it's not considered a thriller classic in it's own right, is further proof that its title was either misleading or confusing, and it's cover art, has missed the mark on every release it's received. Even as recently as 2013 (it's last DVD release), Anchor Bay decided to go a different route and it depicts a closeup of Douglas holding a gun in front of a U.S. flag or a Department of Justice seal (depending on the territory) in the background. Not only does he ever once hold a gun in the film, but it inaccurately makes it look like he's some sort of vigilante, which he's not. I won't get into the specifics because if you've never seen it, you should immediately and discover the reasons for yourself. BUT, I will say that despite it's surprisingly inaccurate covers throughout the years, it's still very much a great early 80's thriller and one of the most visually stunning I've ever seen.

The Star Chamber (please try to overlook that title), is arguably one of the best thrillers to come out of the 80's, and one of the best in Hyam's filmography. Sadly overlooked and long forgotten, it's a film that hits all the right notes and delivers a totally fulfilling experience within the thriller genre. Visually compelling as is the subject matter, with riveting performances by Michael Douglas, Hal Holbrook and a host of notable character and veteran actors, it's a film that's begging to be discovered for the very first time. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out, you'll be glad you did.

How to see it:
Currently DVD is the only real route to see this in widescreen. Though Amazon lists a Blu-Ray for the cheap price of $100, I've never actually seen one. I do hope it gets a better release someday. It's such a visually impressive film, and an HD upgrade would be ace.


Blu-Ray Review: The Hidden (Warner Archive)

Warner Archive's No-Frills release boasts an impressive transfer, despite a complete lack of new supplemental material

by Jason Elizondo

The Hidden is the very definition of a Cult Classic. Released in 1987, it's one of those films you saw either late at night on cable, or forever on your local video store shelves. Equal parts action, horror, thriller and science fiction, it's one of those films that was made at just the right time, with all the right incredible talent to deliver one of the most memorable under-the-radar classics that we all love so much.

The Hidden has always been one of my favorite films. It's one of those I revisit often, because no matter how many times I've seen it, it never gets old. It takes the material seriously, and in doing so offers up ample amounts of straight-edged action and thrills with horror, thriller and sci-fi overtones. Right from it's kickass opening credits sequence (honestly one of the best opening credit sequences ever put to film), you realize you're in for something truly special, and it never lets you down. The film plays it smart by giving you great characters and solid entertainment without having to cheapen itself with humor or sex.

Directed by Jack Sholder, who's previous film was A Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy's Revenge, and written by Stakeout, Another Stakeout, Rush Hour and National Treasure scribe Jim Kouf, The Hidden boasts a killer cast led by a very young Kyle MacLachlan, fresh off his one-two David Lynch punch with Dune and Blue Velvet, here turning in a performance eerily similar to what he would do with his now iconic Dale Cooper role just 3 years later. Claudia Christian (Maniac Cop 2, Babylon 5) has never been hotter (you'll see what I mean), and Michael Nouri turns in a solid performance as the grumpy cynical local cop that MacLachlan's agent Gallagher is teamed up with to track down a killer. You'll even spot a pre-famous Danny Trejo as a jail inmate (what else?!).

Seriously one of the best under-the-radar classics that never got the respect it deserved initially, it's since grown considerably as one of the best films in this genre. If you've never seen it, I urge you to remedy that immediately. If you have seen it, but haven't in a while, then you're going to want to grab Warner Archive's brand new HD Remaster on Blu-Ray. Let's dig in.

Warner Archive has been doing some great things lately releasing forgotten gems and cult classics out on Blu-Ray, and some in their proper aspect ratio for the very first time. Their recent Blu-Ray release of the John Landis classic Innocent Blood is an excellent example of that. Yet, I have a love/hate relationship with Warner Archive. I love that they're finally releasing these classics out on Blu for the first time, but I hate that no other supplemental material is ever included, usually just the film itself. In some cases they'll just port over Special Features from the previous DVD release instead of spending the time and money to do new interviews or dig up old content. It's a shame really, because that is a huge part of why we buy these new Blu Ray's to begin with. Companies like Shout! Factory and Kino Lorber have been doing stellar work in including brand new features to dig through and makes the oftentimes high price point worth the investment. The same cannot be said about Warner's new releases, so you must really love the movie to spend around $25 or more for a new Blu Ray without any Special Features, because all you're likely to get is a good transfer, and that's it. But sometimes that's enough if it's a movie that hadn't gotten a decent release until now.


- New HD Remaster of the film
- Audio Commentary by director Jack Sholder and Tim Hunter
- SFX Footage with commentary by Jack Sholder
- Theatrical Trailer
- Audio: DTS HD-Master audio 5.1 remix for home video / DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 original theatrical mix
- English Subtitles 
- Widescreen presentation

On a technical level, the new HD transfer is incredible; the best I've ever seen for this film and the because of this new transfer, I was able to see something I hadn't noticed before - that the film uses a whole lot of the color green, quite splendidly I must add. As far as tranfers go, it's stunning.

I'm also glad they chose to stick to the original poster art rather than try and come up with something new, which rarely ever tends to be better than the original. So kudo's to Warner Archive for sticking to the classic artwork for this one.

As I mentioned before, all of the extra's were pulled from a previous DVD release, so there's sadly nothing new, but what you do get is an exquisite new transfer of an excellent and visually stimulating film. It's a Must-Buy. No question.

The Hidden was released this past September and is available everywhere you purchase your Blu-Ray's online, and is a definite "Must" for your collection if you love cult cinema. Director Jack Sholder has stated that of all the films he's ever directed, this is his favorite and his best. I would have to agree.


80's Cult TV Series "V" Getting Rebooted Into A Trilogy Of Films

Original series creator Kenneth Johnson tapped to write, direct and produce saying "V will be the first of a cinematic trilogy which will tell the full epic tale in the manner I always envisioned"

by Jason Elizondo

Apologies that this news is now a week old by now (been crazy busy!), so you may have already heard. But it was just announced that my all-time favorite TV Series "V: Enemy Visitor" is getting yet another reboot. Only this time it's going to be in a trilogy of new big budget films! And! Original "V" creator and writer/director of the first original mini-series Kenneth Johnson is going to be writing, directing and producing all of them! At least that's the word for now. That can all change at any time, or after the first film. Still, this is crazy cool news and how ironic, because coincidentally, I've been revisiting the series as we speak, and I'm currently on my last 2 episodes. Expect a full review of this landmark series from yours truly soon.

"V" began as a 2-Part Mini-Series in 1983, and became a huge ratings juggernaut. I remember this time, and I remember this Mini-Series was a big deal. Everybody was talking about it. It was so successful in fact that another Min-Series soon followed, V: The Final Battle, this time in 3-Parts the following year. That in turn spawned a single season of 19 episodes from 1984-1985. The series ultimately was less successful than the 2 previous Mini-Series and it was done. "V" was then rebooted in 2009 with much hoopla, but very little attention and just like the original series, it was dead after one season. I'll explain why in my review of the series in a later article.

This new 3-Picture Deal could be either a great thing, or the final nail in the coffin after several attempts at trying to capture the magic of the originals. But I have faith that Kenneth Johnson can do some solid work, if the effects are good. Johnson, who was the creator of not only "V", but other great television classics such as The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk and Alien Nation, as well as those series writer and director for a number of episodes. In fact, when I revisited the very first Incredible Hulk 2-Part Episodes that launched the series, which was really more of an Incredible Hulk Movie, I loved it, and in my honest opinion, the best Hulk adaptation to date. Here's to hoping he can work his magic again, because after all, he was also responsible for the Shaq disaster Steel.

Originally reported by Digital Spy and Bloody Disgusting

Netflix Recommendation: The Ritual

A Folk Horror tale that manages to deliver the horror goods in a conventional, yet refreshingly unexpected way

by Jason Elizondo

I went into this one fairly cold. The only thing I knew about it was that it was a Folk Horror film, and that's it. I knew nothing about it's production, or what the film was even about. The reason I even knew of it's existence at all was because Folk Horror is my wife's absolutely favorite genre of film, and this is a film that has been on the radar of that specific community for a long time, namely because there just isn't a whole lot of Folk Horror out there to begin with, so when a new one is being made or about to be released, it's a big deal in that community. For them, the Netflix premiere date just couldn't get here soon enough.

Based on the book by Adam Nevill, The Ritual tells the tale of a group of college friends who, instead of going on a trip to Las Vegas, choose (some reluctantly) to go on a a camping trip through the woods of Sweden in honor of their friend who recently died in a horrific crime. Once they reach their destination, they soon discover they're not alone, and being hunted one by one by someone or something evil and unseen. 

To be honest, the film doesn't offer anything new in the "hikers go missing in the woods" genre, but it's in the films solid cast, it's excellent cinematography, and an ending that was satisfying in a way that most of these type of films fail to deliver on that makes it worth watching. The group of friends, highly annoying and making every wrong decision in the book, are what you'd expect for a group of clueless hikers in a situation like this. But what the film lacks in character depth, it more than makes up for in tension and stunning visuals, all leading to a finale that, unlike most films of this type, actually takes the care and time to produce an ending that not only answers your questions, but delivers the goods in a big way that I was not expecting. I won't ruin it for you here in case you haven't seen it, but rest assured, the payoff is surprisingly fulfilling in a big way.

One of the things I found rather refreshing is that director David Bruckner (Southbound, The Signal), handles the visuals like a pro, never once relying on lazy handheld camerawork that's so common in this genre. Moreover, I'm equally happy that it wasn't yet another Found Footage film, which I've felt has run it's course to the point that they now result in a roll of the eyes rather than genuine excitement. I still can't believe Blair Witch went that route - I expected more from Adam Wingard.

Here, director Bruckner, along with cinematographer Andrew Shulkind, offers up some outstanding visual eye candy that puts most new horror films to shame. Considering this was a Netflix production (Netflix purchased it after it's UK release), that's quite an accomplishment. And all of this comes to a head in the climax, that made brilliant use of some old fashioned movie magic.

Produced by Andy Serkis, The Ritual made it's UK premiere in October of last year, but is now available to stream on Netflix. If you like dark moody horror, you're sure to dig this one.

If you would like me to review a film or Blu-Ray release, please feel free to contact me at jasonisageek@yahoo.com


A Second Look: End of Days

Arnold and director Peter Hyams breathe new life into a tired concept

by Jason Elizondo

As much as I've been a die-hard fan of both Arnold and writer/director Peter Hyams nearly all my life, End of Days has always been a film that I didn't care too much for. In fact, I maybe have only seen it less than a handful of times. It just never really connected with me in any way that I could enjoy. I always felt that it was a weird choice for Arnold, and that Hyams was capable of better, which he had proven to me over and over again throughout the 80's and 90's. And though I actually took the time to watch End of Days a few times, I just could never get into it.

Flash forward many, many years and here I am in yet another one of my Peter Hyams binges. I tend to go through these about once every year or so (he really is one of the best directors ever). So I decided to give this one another shot, because I've noticed this past year I tend to change my mind drastically when I revisit a film, which is what kickstarted my new "A Second Look" series of reviews. Raw Deal, Licence to Kill and Waterworld are some solid previous examples. So let's dig in.

When Satan takes over the body of a local New York businessman, he sets his sights on a new bride at the turn of the century. Local ex-cop Jericho (Schwarzenegger) works as a security expert who stumbles upon this plot and vows to protect the woman Satan plans to marry at all costs.

Despite my previous experiences and feelings about this film beforehand, End of Days managed to turn all of that completely on around this time out. This time it managed to keep my attention, and I noticed things I hadn't either taken the time to before, or just flew right over my head. For starters, this is surprisingly one of Arnold's best performances. I know, I know. It's crazy to even think that, but it's true! As crazy as it sounds, Arnold gave one of his most heartfelt and strongest performances as a man struggling with the loss of his family, and finding a way to continue, always close to falling over the edge.

The always reliable and "busy" Gabriel Byrne turns in another fantastic devilish performance here as Satan himself. Sure you could argue that his accent comes and goes (I honestly have no idea what type he was going for; Irish, English, Chicago?), but he sure has a helluva lot of fun doing it. Plus, he just looks fucking cool drenched in all black. Oftentimes, it's the moments when he doesn't say a word, but just gives you that devilishly fiendish look that makes him the most chilling.

As strong as the performances are, Peter Hyams, once again working as his own cinematographer, is the main reason the film works as well as it does. While it's a familiar story told many times, Hyams' magic with the camera is what makes this one a standout. Much like his previous effort The Relic, and totally unlike most of his other films, this film is dark. Not only in tone, but in it's aesthetic and use of shadows and blacks instead of natural light. This particular moment in his career saw him using a lot of muted colors of browns and gold, bathed in darkness. In fact, with The Relic and End of Days, there was hardly a moment that took place during the day or in sunlight. Purposeful of course, but not entirely unnoticeable either. Still, his particular sensibilities behind the camera work wonders with the visuals here. With this film in particular, there's no surprise that there's little action, because it's not an action film. Yet, despite it's horror/thriller genre, screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe (Air Force One, Hollow Man) can't help but infuse "some" action because it is an Arnold Schwarzenegger film after all. And this is where Hyams blows nearly every other director out of the water in the action genre with his deft use of precision editing and camera setups. Once again, the legendary writer/director/cinematographer proves, rather flawlessly, why he was one of the best filmmakers working.

If you were wondering why Arnold was noticeably thinner and less bulky this time around, it's because he had just had heart surgery after a scare, and this was his first film in 2 years. Of course, thinner Arnold is still a much bigger version of any normal human being, even the ones in excellent shape. It's interesting that his first collaboration with such a legendary filmmaker was a horror/thriller rather than a straight-out action flick. It's amusing to think of what they could have made together in that genre, a genre that Arnold personally dominated for a number of years, and one that Hyams delivered the goods in with classics such as Sudden Death and Timecop.

One of the films most interesting positive attributes is it's stunning use of practical effects work. Believe me, I'm as surprised as you are. The 90's isn't generally regarded as a good moment in effects history, but the effects team here was on point and through the use of limited CGI, old fashioned model-work, and Hyams ability to mix it all together effectively, End of Days surprised me at every turn with it's stellar effects work.

Is it perfect? Certainly not. There are a few moments that trigger a response that you don't expect. Like the sequence when Jericho (Arnold) fights with an old heavyset lady and she actually gives him a run for his money. Or the moment when Christine (a sexy Robin Tunney), the object of Satan's desires and pursuit, claims she's been dreaming of him all her life, yet he just barely took the form of his new host a few days before. Minor issues of course and nothing that takes away from the enjoyment of the film in general.

Released in 1999, End of Days would mark the last good/great Peter Hyams film. His 2001 followup The Musketeer was met with dismal returns and universally panned by critics and moviegoers. 2005's A Sound of Thunder and 2009's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt followed suit. When it was declared that Hyams would return to the directors chair and the action genre and re-team with Jean-Claude Van Damme for 2013's Enemies Closer, I was over the moon excited. Until I saw the film, which I just did not like.....at all, for a number of reasons. Gone was the visual stylist I adored for so many years through many, many films, and Van Damme just seemed both exhausted and far too over the top for my taste as the villain. It was a sad closing chapter for Hyams career as a strong director, but if End of Days can prove anything, it's that even as late as 1999, Peter Hyams proved that he was the best and delivers the goods in the most unexpected ways. It might not be considered a highlight in his career, but it should be. If it's been a while since you've seen it, or if maybe you've never seen it period, give it a shot and keep an open mind. It might surprise you with how great it is.

How to see it:
Released on DVD in 2000 and Blu-Ray in 2008, they run fairly cheap. While I didn't watch it on Blu Ray myself, I can say that the DVD is a pretty solid source. But having finally revisited and loving it, a Blu-Ray upgrade is definitely in order for the near future.


Willow Film Review

Does 80's Fantasy Adventure get any better than this? I doubt it.

by Jason Elizondo

As I sit down to write this, I'm fully aware that it's taken me a full 30 years to finally get to this point. Why? I have no idea and no excuse. Somehow, for some reason, this film never appealed to me before, so I never took the time to actually watch it. Ever. And yet I know virtually everything about it. Throughout the years I've learned virtually everything about it's production, it's release and it's long-lasting status as one of the best fantasy adventure films ever made. Still, I never saw it. I wish I could tell you why or how, but something recently drove me to finally seek this out, 30 years later, and it turned out to be a much harder goal to accomplish than I originally anticipated.

I fully expected to find this on DVD for around $5, figuring that this was one of those films that got endless releases and re-issues on DVD for years and years where you would ultimately find it in a bargain bin. Nope. Apparently the 1 DVD release it's received in 30 full years is considered OOP and, to my surprise, highly sought after. So much in fact that the old DVD's typically go for anywhere from $30-$50. Considering the fact that I've never seen it before, I didn't want to spend that kind of money on a film that could potentially not be very good. But I guess that's a gamble with any film, right? Anyway, I'm heading off course here. Let's get to the flick.

When a baby is discovered floating by the river, the townspeople of little people elect Willow to protect her and get her back home to safety. Little does Willow know that this baby is special, and the evil Queen Bavmorda will do anything to get her hands on her. With the help of Madmartigan, a swordsman he meets along his journey, Willow realizes his true gifts as a sorcerer. 

Willow has got to be one of the best Fantasy Adventure Films ever made. Hands-down. The expert craftsmanship on display is nothing short of brilliant, and it surprises me that director Ron Howard clearly has a gift for this genre, but never followed this up with another fantasy epic. And I admit I went in a bit aprehensive. I mean, knowing Howard had only done a few comedies and drama's before this, I wasn't sure if he could handle something this big, with so many effects. But you know, this just proved never to judge a book by it's cover. Howard did a phenomenal job with the visuals, tone and most importantly, the effects, which I'll get into later.

Of course, the film wouldn't be nearly as good, entertaining or memorable were it not for the fantastic performances of Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer. Davis, as the titular character, was just absolutely the reason this film works as well as it does. He's so damn endearing, charming, humble and clearly born to play this role.

And then there's Val Kilmer as the one and only Madmardigan, who by now has become such an iconic and legendary character. While I've always been a fan of Kilmer (despite his reputation for being difficult), I have to admit he was made for the role of Madmardigan and I couldn't imagine anyone else giving it the life that he was able to breathe into it at that point in his career. In fact, I would consider it my favorite Val Kilmer performance.....just barely edging out his Doc Holiday.

The film plays on familiar Sword & Sorcery themes, only it's a thousand times better than most because of the incredible casting, Ron Howard's impeccable direction and highly spirited screenplay by Bob Dolman, in which Willow marks his one and only fantasy screenplay. And honestly, despite all of the other stars aligning at just the right moment in time to create this epic, it all starts with Dolman's script and here he truly delivers the goods in a slightly fresh and thoroughly entertaining way. It's fun, clever, funny, adventurous, thrilling and exciting; all the elements that make these Sword & Sandal epics so good.

Effects-wise, Willow is a technical marvel. I half expected to go in here and roll my eyes at the dated effects work, most of which you see in all the trailers, only to be quite fair, they weren't bad....at all. In fact, they were better than I was expecting. Howard knew the importance of "perspective" when utilizing green-screens, because nothing is more aggravating when you see a great green-screen shot destroyed by the fact that they make the background just as clear as the foreground, making it totally unbelievable. But Ron Howard didn't do that here.....thankfully. And the results are some of the best implored use of green-screen in a fantasy film I've ever seen, especially the 80's.

Yet, despite everything that Willow and it's effects team at ILM get's right, it's the ones that don't work so well that people will most remember. And it's not the effects team to blame, but rather the fact that the technology just hadn't quite reached it's full potential by that point. Still, you can't help but marvel at it all. Even with the dated stop-motion, pre-Terminator 2 morphing and green-screen, they're charmingly kitschy and ever so endearing.

Willow may very well be one of the best fantasy adventure films ever made. I feel foolish for having waited so long to finally see it. It's everything I hoped it would be and so much more. I felt like a kid again, eyes glued to the television screen and a huge grin clear across my face the entire time. In fact, I was sad that it was finally over, because I could have sat there all day immersed in this fantasy world, which is interesting because I've never been much a fan of fantasy to be completely honest. There are a few exceptions though; Krull and Dragonslayer being some fantasy films that I do very much love. I can now add Willow to that very prestigious list.

How to see it:
Willow received a Special Edition DVD release in 2001, and a Blu-Ray/DVD Combo HD release in 2013, both of which are Out of Print and both very expensive on the secondhand market. However, if you still have a Laserdisc player, you can pick up the 2-Disc LD for very cheap, and best of all, it comes in widescreen. No word yet on any new or upcoming release but I sure hope they do. I can't be the only one itching to get my hands on an HD transfer. But seeing as George Lucas has been releasing the original trilogy of Star Wars over and over and over again, I can't see why this one wouldn't follow suit? Only time will tell.


Netflix Recommendation: Bright

by Jason Elizondo

It took me a while to finally head into this one. Despite the fact that upon it's Netflix premiere becoming the most watched and most popular Netflix release ever, it was received with very mixed reviews, with most of the word-of-mouth being that it was just "alright", or "not as good as it could have been". And it seemed like every day for weeks someone was posting about it. So I waited for the dust to settle before finally digging in.

This past Saturday night I finally decided to give it a shot, and while I wouldn't exactly call it great, I did enjoy it very much and it marks a strong comeback for director David Ayer, who sort of fumbled a bit with his previous effort The Suicide Squad. While this wouldn't be considered one of his best films, it's a fun way to spend 2 hours of your time if you enjoy action/sci-fi/fantasy hybrids. And really, who doesn't? If I were to pinpoint what kind of film this is, it's like a cross between the excellent Alien Nation and Colors, two films that were both released in 1988, only with orcs and fairy's instead of aliens and gang members.

Writer Max Landis (son of John Landis), who exploded on the scene with his screenplay for Chronicle back in 2012 and has continued to deliver a steady stream of content in both film and television (rumored to be writing and directing a remake of is father's classic An American Werewolf in London) incorporates enough new fantasy and mythology into the material that wholey makes this it's own beast in a clever way that I hadn't expected, with David Ayer delivering some solid camerawork. He doesn't quite reach the level of awesome he did in Fury, instead choosing to fall back on what he did in Suicide Squad with a good portion of it sticking to his fast, loose and freestyle approach. That's not to say there isn't some impressive camerawork in here, because there is. Some shots mightily impressed the hell out of me a number of times, and I wish he had stuck to a more structured approach like those more often because some of those visuals were fantastic. Yet, it also feels like a made-for-tv movie at times, which it technically is. On a visual level, it's sort of a mixed bag.

I wouldn't consider myself a Will Smith fan per say, but I do respect that guy as an actor and I admire the fact that he's a very hard worker, and a damn good actor. I've never seen a film where I felt like he was miscast or phoned it in. For all intents and purposes, Smith has never let me down or failed to deliver the goods. He's a much better actor than most people give him credit for. And that really could just be the roles he chooses, where maybe some really don't allow him to stretch his acting muscles. But here he turns in another great performance and he may not be the #1 blockbuster star anymore (there was a time when every one of his films debuted at #1, making him one of the most successful stars on the planet), but he never fails to deliver the goods.

The real standout here for me was Joel Edgerton. Even under a pile of makeup and prosthetics, the guy delivers his lines, body language and emotions so thoroughly and convincing that he easily walks away the most impressive and the endearing in the entire film.

I'm not saying that this was incredible, but definitely a fun way to spend your time. It's a cop/buddy movie with sci-fi/fantasy overtones that mixes all of these elements together in a way that hadn't yet been done before.....surprisingly. Max Landis' script is fresh when it needs to be, yet familiar at the same time. David Ayer's direction is pretty solid overall. I would have preferred him to take more time setting up some killer shots, but in the end, he thankfully doesn't revert back to his Sabotage or End of Watch handheld aesthetic. The performances ares strong across the board and the effects work, violence and action are handled exceptionally well. Yet, with all these strong points, it always feels like something is missing, or the beat is off somehow. I can't really put my finger on it.

On the plus side, Bright was so successful that Netflix has already ordered a sequel, which David Ayer is reportedly going to both write and direct himself this time around. Who knows? Maybe this is the beginning of a really solid franchise? Only time will tell.


Retro Rewind: The Making of LIFEFORCE (1985)

by Jason Elizondo

Tobe Hoopers Lifeforce is the very definition of a cult classic. Produced and released by Cannon Films in their heyday, it was part of a 3-Picture-Deal between Cannon and director Tobe Hooper, an almost unheard of contract for directors, especially in the 80's. But Cannon was different. They were about hitting Hollywood fast and hard with an insane amount of talent and, at the time, money was no object. And we all know the deal by now. Cannon just couldn't keep up that type of business with the amount of money they were spending and as they got closer into the 90's, they were done.

The first of this 3-Picture-Deal with Cannon was Lifeforce, a horror/sci-fi/vampire/thriller hybrid based on the novel The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. Thematically, it's the first and only "naked vampires in space" film ever made, and with a pricetag of 25 million (a huge sum in 1985), it was also the most expensive film Cannon would ever produce. Ultimately it's total domestic gross would be 11 million, making it a box office bomb for both Hooper and the ill-fated Cannon Films, but that didn't stop them from turning out more films than any other studio at the time and Hooper continued to complete his deal with them by following this up with Invaders From Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, both in 1986.

Despite Lifeforce not becoming the box office blockbuster they all hoped for initially, it's certainly grown a rather large cult following since it's release 33 years ago. In fact, when you watch it now, you just can't help bu marvel at it's grande design. Hands-down one of the biggest sci-fi epics to come out of the 80's, it's odd mix of vampire lore, space aliens, end of the world disaster and zombie's make it easily one of the most unique films ever made. It's about as epic as epic can get in the sci-fi/horror genre and Hooper gives some of his best work in his entire career in here. In fact, while most would probably disagree, I'd have to say this and Invaders From Mars would have to be my two favorite Tobe Hooper films.

Another added treasure is Mathilda May (then an unknown 19 year old from France), who plays the lead Space Vampire. She spends most of her limited screen time (only 7 minutes total) completely nude and has got to be one of the most beautiful women on the entire planet. So there's that.

If it's been a while, I urge you to revisit this gem of a film and hopefully you'll see that time has been extremely kind to this, giving us an excellent example of old school filmmaking and practical effects work at it's best. In the meantime, here's fun half hour behind-the-scenes "Making Of" documentary directed and produced by Drew Cummings for the "Making Of..." television series that ran from 1983-1991. ENJOY!!

* unfortunately the YouTube video won't allow me to embed it here, so you'll have to follow either of the two links below. But trust me, it's a great watch.