90's Action Attack!: Moon 44

Roland Emmerich's Big Fancy Early Sci-Fi Tale is Better Than You Would Expect

by robotGEEK

Before German writer/director Roland Emmerich hit it big in Hollywood with Universal Soldier, he got his feet wet with this vastly underrated sci-fi/action/thriller. Released 2 years before UniSol, Emmerich flawlessly displays his knack for outstanding visuals and exciting action with this under-the-radar gem. This was when he was really delivering some intensely visual films like UniSol, Stargate and Independence Day. But he had to start somewhere and this little seen and often forgotten gem was just the experience he needed to firm up his specific aesthetic, which also allowed him to work extensively with models and special effects. Let's get started.

Released in 1990, Moon 44 tells the tale of the future, where natural resources are nearly depleted and big companies now look for them on remote moons. When airships full of these much needed supplies begin disappearing on their way back to Earth, the company sends in an undercover officer to figure out what's happening. Thrown together with a group of prisoners (cheap labor and if they complete their jobs, they receive early release from their sentences), he soon discovers there might be sabotage in play, and must figure out who's responsible.

While there's not nearly enough action as you'd expect, Moon 44 more than makes up for in style, production design and it's excellent casting. Of course, there's Michael Pare, who some may say sleepwalks through his roles, but he sure makes the best of it. I had completely forgotten that Brian Thompson was in this, because he's always a welcome addition to any film. And then there's Stephen Geoffreys (Evil Ed from Fright Night), and Malcolm McDowell as the guy in charge of the mining station.

Aside from a completely unnecessary subplot involving prison rape, the film flows generally smoothly as our undercover agent works to try and uncover who's responsible for the missing ships, only to find his own life in danger. So at it's core, it plays out more like a thriller, only it's a damn good looking one, and they throw in enough action and kickass model-work to keep us action junkies satisfied. But really, it's in the visuals that keep you invested and Roland Emmerich delivers full force on that front. It's one of the best looking sci-fi thrillers I've ever seen; literally a perfect combination of Aliens and Blade Runner in terms of it's visuals and production design. Just for that alone, this has a ton of re-watchability for me.

This was just one of several films that Roland Emmerich made before hitting it big with Universal Soldier in 1992, which as we all know was then followed by genre-defining classics and franchise starters Stargate, Independence Day and unfortunately Godzilla, before he would transition to being known as the disaster king with big budget effects heavy films like The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC and 2012. After revisiting this one, I wish Emmerich had stuck to this style of filmmaking, which made his earlier films like UniSol and Stargate so great. Though I will say White House Down was a surprisingly solid effort, and a sort of throwback to his older days as a filmmaker.

How to see it:
Sadly, here in the U.S., this has been virtually impossible to find in widescreen. While it did ultimately get a release on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD, they were all piss poor quality and what's worse, in full frame. You just can't enjoy or appreciate a film like this without seeing it in true widescreen, because Roland Emmerich put so much work and emphasis into every single frame of film, it would be like trying to watch Blade Runner in full frame, and you just really can't.

Thankfully, the fine folks over in Germany released this baby in an HD upgraded Blu Ray. But it gets better. It's region-free and in widescreen. And the best part is that it's relatively inexpensive, usually going for around $10-$20 on eBay. The transfer is excellent, and the sound quality crisp and clean. I can honestly say I'm extremely proud to have this in my collection and here's yet another win for Germany in putting out these hard to find films in a quality presentation.


90's Action Attack!: Street Hunter

The Legendary Steve James is Given his 
Moment to Shine in this Forgotten Classic

by robotGEEK

If you haven't already noticed, I've been on somewhat of a Steve James kick lately. I just love the guy, and have always felt he never got the chance to really shine the way he should have. Cannon Films really lost a great opportunity to let him lead the franchise after Michael Dudikoff bailed on the third American Ninja film, but they didn't. And whenever he would pop up randomly in something like Chuck Norris' Hero and the Terror, or William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A., he was always wasted. He really was a badass in every sense of the word and deserved much more respect than he got. He was always the "partner", and never the lead.

There were 2 instances where he did carry a film all on his own. The first was 1989's Riverbend, an impossible to find film directed by none other than Sam Firstenberg (Revenge of the Ninja, American Ninja, Breakin' 2), and then there's 1990's Street Hunter, Steve James' one and only screenwriting credit. And guess what? Street Hunter is also really hard to come by these days. Having only ever gotten a VHS release, there's no DVD or even a Laserdisc release that I'm aware of, making that VHS pretty scarce.

Steve James plays Logan Blade, an ex-cop turned bounty hunter who's somewhat of a hero in the community. When he's not busy busting bad guys or tracking down fugitives, he's doing what he can to help his community. When a young street gang leader named Angel (John Lequizamo) begins taking over the drug traffic in his city, Blade's life begins to turn upside down. And with the help of the ruthless Col. Walsh (Reb Brown) by Angel's side, Logan Blade might have finally met his match. 

Released in 1990, Street Hunter is a hidden gem within the low-budget action genre. Steve James is finally given his moment to shine, and boy does he deliver. Having co-written the script himself, you see so much of him all over this thing. He's brutal when he has to be, but also kind, gentle and loving. The moments when we see him trying to have some sort of relationship with his girlfriend really show how charming and charismatic he can be without even trying.

But the action is where it's at and that's where Street Hunter delivers the goods. While not filled to the brim with it, there's enough to keep you satisfied, and with enough of a Grindhouse aesthetic that makes it stand out. Actually, if I'm to be honest, I was surprised at how well the film looked and turned out overall. I'd never heard of director John A. Gallagher, but he did a bang-up job making the film look slick, gritty and handled the action sequences like a pro. Was there room for improvement? Sure, but still damn good regardless. It felt at times like something either Albert Pyun or William Lustig would have directed, oftentimes even emulating their very specific style. It made me wonder how much better it might have turned out had either of them directed it themselves. Not that it's badly done as it is, because it's pretty fucking awesome. Though James doesn't do a whole lot of martial arts fighting, instead choosing to use his badass gun, he does allow himself an amazing moment in the last act where he takes on a whole bunch of thugs at the same time in true American Ninja style.

A very young John Leguizamo plays Angel, the leader of the drug gang, and I have to admit, he wasn't as annoying as he usually is here. Reb Brown (Strike Commando, Yor) does not disappoint as the stone cold killer Col. Walsh. And what Reb Brown film would be complete without his trademark screaming while shooting guns, which he does plenty here. It's hilarious.

Street Hunter may not be for everyone, but if you enjoy low-budget vigilante films, this one delivers the goods tenfold. It oddly reminded me a lot of the Maniac Cop films for some reason. It's made and handled exceptionally well and James is given his prime moment to shine, literally just killing it with ease every second he's on screen. It's a shame this film isn't more well known, easy to come by or that it didn't spawn a franchise. It certainly deserves all of those things and I wish more people had the opportunity to see this. I'd personally love to see it get a decent release, even if it's a foreign Blu Ray release, like say from Germany (they've been killing it lately with hard to find films being released in HD and in widescreen for the first time), since it's never gotten one other than VHS here in the states.

But there is some good news. You can currently rent it on Amazon to stream for just a few bucks, which is how I saw it. It's not available for free on their Prime service, but still, $3 to rent for 30 days is one helluva killer deal. The quality was pretty good too, considering.


90's Action Attack: McBain

Legendary Action Filmmaker James Glickenhaus Delivers Another Action Classic with this Under The Radar Gem

by robotGEEK

When I recently watched the James Glickenhaus classic Shakedown for the very first time (finally!), I immediately fell head over heels in love with his very special brand of action filmmaking. That led me to dig into his very short list of films he made as a director, which included Jackie Chan's The Protector (LOVE!!), the arthouse action/thriller The Soldier, and of course, Shakedown, hands-down one of the best action/thrillers to come out of the 80's. This amazing journey then led me to this, his first and only 90's full-on action/thriller. The funny thing is that I had always been aware of this film, even seeing it numerous times at the video store, but had no idea it was a James Glickenhaus film. But I guess I can say that about all of his films.

Released in 1991, McBain tells the story of Robert McBain, a vietnam vet working construction in New York who bands together with his old vietnam war buddies to take down a Colombian dictator who was responsible for the death of one of their former own.

I loved this one. Not only is it classic Glickenhaus all the way, the casting is especially special here. For starters, we have the legendary Steve James (American Ninja, Street Hunter), getting more screen time than we've been acustomed to as a supporting player, because more Steve James in any film is always a good thing, but we also have Michael Ironside, Maria Conchita Alonso and a roster of other notable character actors. And I  never would have figured Walken for this kind of role, but he handled it like a true badass and a pro.

The film starts with a bang as we're thrown head-first into a rescue mission in Vietnam, and I must say, it was damn impressive in it's execution. Glickenhaus has a very specific way of directing and shooting action sequences, and he did not disappoint here. We're then transported to the present day New York City circa 1991, and then to Columbia where this group of men, now older, wiser and somewhat bored with their professional lives, attempt to exact revenge for the murder of their brother by taking down a ruthless dictator.

Whether shooting in the jungles of Columbia, the streets of New York, or even all the way over in Hong Kong, Glickenhaus just knows how to shoot an amazing action sequence. It's a shame that this would be his last hurrah in terms of action/thrillers, as the last few films he made after this were easily forgotten, and not within the action/thriller genre. But hey, at least we still have a strong handful of classics we can keep going back to.

While it sort of feels like a "rescue mission" type film, it's actually more of a revenge-style action film. Our group of seasoned soldiers are not going to rescue anyone, rather their purpose is to exact revenge for the televised murder of their 'Nam brother at the hands of a ruthless dictator. They're even able to secure help from a rogue air force pilot along the way after a pretty incredible dog fight battle sequence in the air. Once they arrive in Colombia, they must infiltrate El Presidente's compound with a full arsenal at their disposal, where all hell breaks loose. Needless to say, McBain did not disappoint. It's the kind of film that I was both not expecting, but also hoping for. It's a Class A production handled with gusto by a far too underrated director with a stellar cast.

Glickenhaus only made 2 other films after this, the '93 thriller Slaughter of the Innocents, and the kids movie Timemaster released in '95, both of which haven't fared nearly as well as any of his previous films. He hasn't written or directed a film since then, and it's a damn shame. Yet I don't think he could even make a film like he did all those years ago, just because of how films are handled these days. It certainly wouldn't make it into theaters, and shooting films digitally rather than on film like in the old day's just takes so much away from the experience and general aesthetic of them......for me anyway. So maybe I should just appreciate the great classics that he's given us and stop thinking about the films he could have given us had he kept making them.

McBain is one helluva great action film, made all the better with it's stellar casting and Glickenhaus' very unique way of shooting. It's a bit under-the-radar, which is a shame that more people don't know about it compared to a few of his other films, but it's not any less entertaining. That I will guarantee.

How to see it:

As far as I'm aware, it's only gotten a VHS and Laserdisc release here in the U.S., but I know it's been released on DVD and Blu Ray in other countries. The best one to get would be Cultproof's Region Free Blu Ray, which is roughly around $20. It's in widescreen, and the presentation and audio are pretty great. The only real issue is that it's lacking in any extra's, so all you get is the film and nothing else.

I've heard that there's an Arrow release either already out, or coming soon. So I'm sure that would be a great release to get your hands on. But there's some good news for those of you who like to stream. McBain is currently available on Amazon Prime in the U.S., but I can't vouch for it's quality or if it's even in widescreen, which is really the only way to see it to really get the scope of these large action set pieces.


Conquest Film Review

Lucio Fulci's Sword & Sorcery Epic is as Trippy and Bizarre as You'd Expect, and it's Great

by robotGEEK

While legendary Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci is mostly known for delivering some killer classics within the horror genre, he would sometimes dive into other genre's, like this Sword & Sandal's fantasy from 1983, a year after directing two of his most well known classics (Manhattan Baby and The New York Ripper). I was convinced to give this one a shot by a buddy of mine, even though I had never even heard of it until now. While certainly not one of Fulci's more well-known films, and not an easy film to come by generally speaking, I was lucky to discover that Blue Undergrounds 2016 DVD release is pretty affordable and to date, the best release you're going to find of this. So let's dig in.

A young man, armed with a magic bow and arrow, joins forces with a barbarian outlaw and embarks on a mystical journey to take down an evil sexy witch who plans on stealing the magical bow and arrow for evil. 

First thing's first. Conquest is hot garbage. It's the kind of film you could easily tear and pick apart, with plenty of issue's we could spend hours going over. But guess what? You don't go into these for high art. You dig into these Italian Trash films because they're fun, and that's exactly what you get here. A fun, glorious, trippy ride that seems to throw so many random sequences together that you never know what will happen next. What Conquest lacks in budget, director Lucio Fulci more than makes up for in visual brilliance as he makes this Sword & Sorcery epic look unlike anything you've ever seen before.

Filmed entirely through a lens filter that gives the film an eternal hazy quality (sort of like a soap opera), Conquest is chock full of nudity, gore, swords and sorcery, and enough WTF? moments to make you question your sanity. Yet despite, or perhaps because of all of these things, Conquest still manages to entertain in a way I hadn't expected. For a guy who's made a name for himself in the horror genre, his ability to turn the Sword & Sorcery genre on it's head is impressive to say the least.

But make no mistake, Conquest is not a good film, not by any stretch of the imagination. It's a fun film, made all the better with Fulci's very special brand of filmmaking and some pretty outstanding visuals to boot. It's in all of it's low-budget unintentional campiness that makes it a great slice of 80's unhinged goofy weirdness. Throw in a ton of nudity and some out of left field gore, and you have one of the most original barbarian films I've ever seen. I can certainly understand why people might not like it, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. It carries a very specific quality that I wish most of these low-budget genre films would possess. But it's definitely an acquired taste. It almost reminded me of a live-action version of Bakshi's Fire and Ice.

Ultimately, Conquest makes no apologies. It's crude, violent, magical, sexual and utterly silly, yet so much fun and strange at the same time. There are some truly outstanding moments full of impressive eye candy, mixed together with some surreal, bizarre, fantastical moments that only Lucio Fulci could conjure up. It is what it is and whether you love or hate it, you can't say that it wasn't fun.

How to see it:

Currently there's no HD or Blu Ray release of this here in the states, and boy could it ever use a solid cleanup job. The best version we have over here would be Blue Undergounds 2016 DVD release, and really, that's not saying much.

Because of Fulci's strong use of filters throughout, the picture is hazy, grainy and of really poor quality - almost as if you're watching it on VHS, especially in the night sequences. Yet it's still just a tad better than VHS quality. Here's to hoping someone will give this a proper restoration and new transfer some day. If there is any film from Lucio Fucli's cannon that could benefit from a strong new transfer, it would be this one. I would also love to hear about some of the history regarding this film, like what his inspirations were when making it, and how the hell they came up with this crazy story to begin with.


80's Action Attack: American Ninja III: Blood Hunt (1989)

A Worthy Entry in the American Ninja Franchise Where Steve James is Given his Glorious Moment to Shine

by robotGEEK

While it's true that American Ninja II is easily the best and most entertaining of the entire series, that doesn't mean that the preceding sequels don't have anything to offer. I went in to this one a bit skeptical, because I mean, come on, how can you top Part 2? You can't, especially when it's written by the same guy who wrote Pray for Death, arguably one of the best ninja films ever made. And knowing that Dudikoff didn't return to this one, instead handing the reigns over to David Bradley, probably didn't help tempt me either, so I always just put it on the back burner. That is until Hulu Plus added it to their lineup this month, so I had no excuse. Let's dig in.

By the time it was all said and done, AN3 was a cheesy blast of absurdity, mixed with some genuine awesome ninja cinema and I enjoyed it immensely. It was sort of a bumpy ride getting there though, because not having Dudikoff as the lead was a bit jarring, and the film played it pretty stale and safe in the first half, but all my issues were completely turned around by the second half because it became more and more bizarre, absurd, silly and campy. In other words, it got a whole lot more awesome.

The legendary Steve James (clearly having a blast here) returns as Jackson, who along with newcomer David Bradley (in his first role) as Sean, team up to stop a terrorist who goes by the name of "The Cobra", who's created a deadly virus that can kill you, or also turns you into a zombie ninja. It's never explained why it's either/or, so you just have to go with it. As I stated before, the film takes it's time setting things up early on, but boy does it get pretty silly later, and honestly, that's a blessing because if it weren't for how absurd it is, it could easily be pretty forgettable. But because it's so unintentionally campy, you just can't help but have a good time with it.

Steve James seemed to have a bigger part here, which is a shame that he didn't get top billing like he should have, because he more than carries the entire film on his shoulders. And that's always bothered me about James. He clearly had the goods to lead his own films and franchise, but he just never got the chance he deserved. He was so damn charming and charismatic, yet he always played second fiddle to whatever lead he shared the screen with. Here, when Dudikoff didn't want to return, Cannon had the perfect opportunity to let him take the charge, but instead they bring in a newcomer. It just doesn't make any sense, and I think only now people are finally realizing that Steve James deserved to be a bigger star. That's not to say David Bradley is bad, because he does quite well considering it's his first film. He just doesn't have the charisma needed that both Dudikoff and James had. At least not in his first time out.

I've read some reviews online from those who just don't like this one, and while I can certainly understand why they didn't like it, I'm also surprised that it doesn't get more love. I mean, it's a Cannon film for starters, and the entire franchise is cheesy, especially part 2, so what do you expect? To me, this entry plays perfectly in line with where the franchise was and where it was headed and I personally had a great time with it. Steve James is a massive badass in here, and by the time you get to the third act, you realize why you love these types of films in the first place. There's nothing spectacular or special about this one, but it is cheesy campy fun, and sometimes that's all we want.

*Fun Fact: You'll most certainly notice George S. Clinton's pretty spectacular score for Avenging Force in here, as they simply recycled it pretty heavily. It definitely adds to the overall vibe of the film, and makes it feel bigger and more badass than it already was.


Maximum Overdrive: Stephen King's 80's Trash Masterpiece

by robotGEEK

There's always been something about this film that I could never connect with. While I grew up on a healthy dose of 80's horror, I never could quite get into this one, no matter how many times I've tried. I'd always felt that it was dull, and never could quite match it's incredible opening. Still, I keep coming back to it every few years hoping I'll like it this time around. Well, that time finally arrived, so let's dig in.

While it's true that the rest of the film just doesn't quite reach the level of awesome as the first half, I still found it an incredibly satisfying film, despite it's lackluster and quite abrupt ending. Maximum Overdrive feels like pure 80's Horror Trash, and it's just a helluva good time. Quite absurd, never taking the time to take itself seriously....at all, and made surprisingly well by a man who admits being coked up on cocaine the entire time, thus using that as an excuse as to why he hasn't directed a film since. But guess what? A film directed by Stephen King high on cocaine is actually a lot better than most of his adaptations, both theatrical and Made-for-TV, made by other directors. After enjoying this one immensely, I wish he had directed more, instead of making this his one and only directing gig.

Maximum Overdrive suffers from a whole lot of problems, some of which really just don't make any sense if you analyze the shit out of it. So don't, or you'll drive yourself crazy. What you need to know is that anything mechanical or electronic begins to turn on by themselves, causing major havoc and chaos. An explanation is given, but it's a pretty silly one. As you can imagine, that also includes a lot of deaths, some of them quite spectacularly brutal in true 80's fashion, which really make the film as great as it is. The fact that AC/DC does the score and soundtrack, providing catchy rock tracks to these sequences is just icing on the cake.

Is it perfect? No, not by a long shot. The second half loses a whole lot of steam, never quite reaching the level of awesome that the first half gives us, and I found any single scene with Yeardley Smith (Lisa on The Simpsons) to be utterly unbearable. Seriously, she may very well be the most annoying character on any film I've ever seen in my entire life. I probably would have killed her myself, or let the machines do it instead of helping keep her alive. Thankfully the rest of the cast is quite good, led by Emilio Estevez, as an ex-con turned cook at a local diner/gas station who leads the charge in trying to outsmart and outlive these giant 18-wheeler's who've taken residence at this pit stop.

I think for me personally, the biggest surprise was how well King did handling the directing duties, in that he gave the film a really clean, solid looks aesthetically. He knows how to frame a shot, surprisingly, and it reminded me of the type of horror that was pretty prevailant in the 80's, where directors took the time to set up their shots and make the film look good. You can't say that anymore for the most part, but despite all the things stacked against him, King managed to deliver a visually pleasing film as well as a fun one. Of special note is that King's cinematographer was Armando Nannuzzi (Silver Bullet), who successfully sued King after an on-set accident resulted in Nannuzzi losing one of his eyes. It didn't stop Nannuzzi from working though, as he continued to work all the way up to 1998.

Ultimately, Maximum Overdrive, Stephen King's one and only directorial effort has enough things going for it that you can overlook the negatives. Just shut off your brain, don't over-analyze it, and you'll have a great time. It's a shame it didn't do well upon it's initial release, further personified by King's personal drug issues at the time, but at least we can look back on it today and appreciate it for what it is and nothing more, and that is as an excellent slice of 80's Horror Trash.


90's Action Attack!: Demolition High (1996)

This Die Hard in a School Delivers the Goods

by robotGEEK

Released the same year as his infamous Vampirella adaptation, this Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall, The Return of Swamp Thing) directed actioner was quite the pleasant surprise for me. While Wynorski's style and quality is all over the place from film to film, I'm happy to say that this little seen or heard of low-budget "Die Hard in a high school" action flick is easily one of the ever-prolific director's better films. Quite a feat when you consider he knocks out anywhere from 2-5 films every single year for the last 34 years!

With a roster of notable character actors and cult screen icons such as Gerrit Graham (Terror Vision, Phantom of the Paradise, Child's Play 2), the always badass Jeff Kober (The First Power, Out of Bounds) as the lead villain, the sexy as hell Rocky DeMarco aka Melissa Brasselle, Dick Van Patten (Eight is Enough, The Love Boat), Alan Thicke (Growing Pains), and of course, Corey Haim - who needs no introduction - Demolition High surprised me on a number of different levels. The cast, which at first seems so random, is actually pretty damn great if you ask me. Jeff Kober is always a reliable villain, and he does not disappoint. The sexy as hell DeMarco, here as his right hand girl and easily the toughest character in the entire film, plays a total badass here, dressed head to toe in tight black leather, sporting a hand cannon that's easily too big for her hands, and does it like a boss. You just can't take your eyes off her, not for a second, and I'm sure the cast probably felt the same way. Then there's Corey Haim, 10 years after his breakout role in Lucas (followed by The Lost Boys the following year), and handling the material well, in fact much better than I expected as the hero lead, who must use his street smarts to outwit and take down this group of terrorists who've taken his school hostage. But I think the real surprise for me was Alan Thicke, who plays his father and is also the new police chief. Hearing him curse (gasp Mr. Seaver!), act tough and lead his patrol was pretty badass and such a change of pace from what I had grown up seeing him as.

The film isn't without it's issue, but really, for this kind of film and production, they're minor and can easily be overlooked, because in the end, Demolition High delivers what it sets out to do, and that's deliver a Die Hard-style action film on a limited budget. Thankfully, Jim Wynorski is up to the challenge and delivers the goods in spades, giving the film a professional touch for the most part, looking a lot better than you'd expect considering it's budget, with some solid action sequences and a visual aesthetic that I've come to admire from the director when he was on fire early in his career. Most of all, it's a really fun film.

Demolition High is a pretty tough one to find, as it's only ever received a VHS release as far as I'm aware. No DVD or even a Laserdisc that I've seen, but I could be wrong. But I have good news! It's currently streaming on Amazon Prime, along with it's sequel Demolition University, for your viewing pleasure. It may also be on YouTube, so I'd check their too. I'm fairly new to Prime, so I don't know if films stay on there indefinitely or if they're taken off after a certain amount of time, but last I checked, it's there.


Status Update...

Recently I've become more and more busy, getting attached to new things that take a lot of my free time away from this. Because of that, I was contemplating shutting this site down altogether because I'm just not in the right head space right now to keep it going. The drive just isn't there right now, instead being pulled into other directions. And truthfully, I don't even know if there's anyone out there who even reads these anymore.

But I continue to watch a ton of flicks, I just don't seem to have the time to write about them anymore. Instead of shutting this site down completely, I'm thinking of doing short, quick mini-reviews from now on, because I do love talking about films. I don't really know yet.
~ robotGEEK