Let me start off by saying I had high hopes for this one in two opposite directions. Either it could have been a great Die Hard on a plane style action/thriller, or it could have been a really great So Bad, It's Good romp with an over the top Ray Liotta being Ray Liotta. I'm sad to say that it kind of sort of falls in line between the two, never going far enough on either side
First off, if you love crazy Ray Liotta, then this movie is for you. Here he is an unhinged beast and literally the only thing that makes the film worth watching. While it's actually not bad, and quite good in some areas, you can't help but feel that it could have been a pretty great Bad Movie Night classic if they had just decided to dive head-on into cheese. Seriously, had they given it just a little bit more oomph in the cheese department, this would have been a certified Bad Movie Night classic! No doubt. But what we ultimately have here is a film that kind of teeters on that very special type of film, but never far enough. It's a competently made film, with some surprisingly impressive effects work and decent cast that easily could have made it an enjoyable 90's action/thriller, but what we're left with is a film that doesn't know whether to be a good action/thriller, or an unintentionally hilarious, but highly enjoyable cheese-fest.
For his part, Liotta is a blast to watch. In the first act, he plays calm, cool and even a bit charismatic, making you believe he's not such a bad guy after all. But it doesn't take long for his true colors to shine, and boy does he let loose in easily his most "Nic Cage-y" performance. It's easy to see he's having a blast here, and it's kind of scary how intense and good he is here in the role. Lauren Holly does a fine job as the protagonist, a stewardess who must outwit Liotta's serial killer character as well as try to land the plane solo. But I think the real standout here, or rather the most likable, is Ben Cross as a pilot who guides Holly's character over the radio on how to fly and land the plane safely. He's actually a very good and likable actor, and outside of his notable role in Dark Shadows, never really hit it big the way he should have.
Turbulence is an easy time-waster, and I can guarantee you that you won't be disappointed. While it never quite goes as far as it could, it's a hoot to see simply for Ray Liotta giving his most over the top performance to date.
Harold Ramis, Mark L. Lester, John Candy and Eugene Levy Create Comedy Gold
It's hard to believe that it's been decades since I've last seen this. And I don't remember too much about it really, other than the main cast and the sequence where they dress up in drag and bondage inside of an adult video store. But it's been a film I've had an itch to revisit for a while now, but never found the opportunity. That is until Crackle threw it on their streaming site for the month of July. So let's dig in.
After a former lawyer (Eugene Levy) and a former cop (John Candy) take jobs as security guards, they uncover a corrupt union that includes ripping off their own companies, taking bribes, and even murder. When their concerns are met with dismissive attitudes, they decide to blow the corruption wide open.
After finally revisiting it, I was struck by a number of things I found surprising. First, that it's a helluva lot funnier than I remember, and secondly, there's a lot more action than I was expecting. Let's start with the comedy. I was totally unaware that Harold Ramis had anything to do with this, but it shows that he has a story and screenplay credit, along with mega producer Brian Grazer, James Keach and Pj Torokvei (Real Genius, Back to School). I mean, all that talent just involved within the writing of this classic is impressive, and it's all translated brilliantly onto the screen because I laughed the entire time, from it's hilarious opening to it's action-packed climax. Yes indeed, Armed and Dangerous is a comedy gem that had me cracking up the entire time.
One of the things that surprised me was that this is directed by action maestro Mark L. Lester, a year after the Arnold classic Commando. So it sounds strange that after delivering arguably one of his best, most loved films in the action genre that he would dive into a comedy. But hey, Walter Hill did it roughly around the same time too with Brewster's Millions back in 1985 after a string of action classics that included 48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire. But what I found more surprising is how good he is at it here. I mean, the movie never skips a beat and it's genuinely hilarious for all the right reasons, so it's a surprising to me that he never did anymore comedies after this. At least none that I'm aware of since most of his films after this went straight to home video. Add to that the fact that he didn't direct a film for 4 more years until 1990's excellent cult classic Class of 1999, a sequel to his own breakout hit Class of 1984. He would then deliver a film of near legendary status the following year in 1991 with the Dolph Lundgren/Brandon Lee action classic Showdown in Little Tokyo. Anyway, I'm veering off course here.
John Candy was on such a winning streak here. Coming off of comedy classics such as Splash, Summer Rental and Volunteers, he would follow this up with his cameo in the genius musical adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors and then Spaceballs and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Eugene Levy, who costarred with Candy in Splash, was an SCTV regular who primarily stuck to television work before and after this for the most part. But overall A&D is filled to the brim with such an impressive cast that it's hard to know where to begin. We have the adorable Meg Ryan (Innerspace) of course, and then there's Kenneth McMillan (Dune) who plays her father, but we also have a who's who of character actors all making notable and memorable appearances throughout such as the legendary Brion James (Blade Runner) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) as two of the heavy-handed union reps, Robert Loggia (Innocent Blood), Larry Hankin, Steve Railsback and Tiny Liston, Jr. just to name a few. This cast was incredibly entertaining all around.
Having an expert action director comes in handy quite often in here because A&D has a surprisingly large amount of action sequences. While most of it is played for laughs, it doesn't take away from the fact that the action is seriously badass in here. That last third act though is damn impressive with some killer action and stuntwork for sure.
Armed and Dangerous exceeded my expectations at every turn. It's hilarious, fun, and carries a large amount of action to satisfy any action fan. John Candy and Eugene Levy are in top form and honestly, make a great team. While they costarred together in a number of things before this, I'm surprised it didn't continue considering this is easily their best collaboration.
You can currently watch it for FREE on Crackle.com, or rent it for a few bucks on Amazon. There's a 2011 Blu Ray you can pick up for roughly $10, and the DVD for even cheaper.
Excessive Nudity, Juvenile Script, and Mediocre Action. What More Could You Ask For?
As much as I love bad movies, I have to admit that I haven't really dug into legendary B-Movie filmmaker Andy Sidaris' filmography all that much. I think up until this point, I've only ever seen the excellent Seven (1979) and the Bad Movie Night masterpiece Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987). Before this, he hadn't directed a film since Seven in '79, taking a 6 year break from filmmaking. But after this film, he pretty much made and released a film a year all the way through 1993's Fit to Kill. It seems that beginning with this film, he found his little niche, or stride, and just kept belting them out left and right. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on your taste in bad films, but one thing's for certain, his films are definitely entertaining.
Malibu Express tells the tale of a smooth talking Texas private eye named Cody Abilene. I mention that he's from Texas because they throw that in your face as often as possible. In fact, his characterization of a Texan is so over the top that it actually falls into a caricature territory. I'm from Texas, I would know. He's hired to infiltrate a rich and powerful family to see which one of them has been leaking high tech secrets to the Russians.
Really, that's the bones of the story. Much like Sidaris' previous film Seven, it gets way too complicated and convoluted for it's own good, when really all we want to see is a bunch of random nudity and poorly executed action. Oh, and plenty of unintentional hilarity. Thankfully this film possesses all of those things so the over-complicated plot doesn't take away from your enjoyment too much. I think it started to sink in with Sidaris because ultimately, the main character, Cody Abilene, has to narrate the film to tell us what's going on.
I should point out that Malibu Express is strange. There are so many odd things that happen that don't make a lick of sense, but surely adds to the films overall appeal. There are too many to make an actual list, but believe me you'll be scratching your head a whole lot during the film. At it's heart, it looks and feels like a film written by a horny 13 year old boy. I'm not even joking. The dialogue is so juvenile and unintentionally hilarious that you just have to assume that Andy Sidaris must have written this film when he was a preteen. But again, that only adds to the film's appeal. On the downside though, this is sadly not Sidaris firing on all cylinders. Whereas I just love his more stricter and professional tone in Seven, and his more polished work in Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Malibu Express seems to be a decline in quality all around, from the direction, certainly the writing, editing and acting. I should also point out that while there are plenty of moments that take place elsewhere, most of the film takes place within a house, coming off as sort of a "Clue"-style thriller as he tries to figure out who's killing who.
As per usual, Sidaris shows up in a cameo as an RV tourist but he's so annoyingly over the top it's cringe-inducing to watch. It's also surprising to learn this was released in 1985, when it looks and feels more like a film shot and released in the mid 70's. There's also an ongoing gag about a hillbilly family of 3 who keep trying to challenge Cody to a car race throughout the film. I mean, these scenes are awful and such an unpleasant chore to sit through. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just once or twice, but they keep showing up over and over and it got old really fast.
While the cast is a collection of non-actors, most likely Playboy models, there are a few bright spots, like the legendary Sybil Danning, who always brings a breath of fresh air every time she shows up on screen. Also, you'll get a kick out of a pre-Police Academy 2's Lt. Mauser showing up here as a thug.
While I wouldn't say it reaches the level of some of Andy's best known and loved films, its certainly got enough going for it to make it enjoyable for any Bad Movie Night. I actually had this in my collection for years as part of that cheap 12-Movie set "Girls, Guns & G-Strings: The Andy Sidaris Collection", but never got around to watching it. When Mill Creek recently began releasing his classics on Blu Ray, I couldn't pass up the very low price of $8 for this, which you can still do on Amazon for that price I believe.
It Took Long Enough, But We Finally Have a Documentary on Flash Gordon The Movie And It's Awesome
First of all, I had no idea this documentary even existed until it hit Amazon Prime as short while ago, because I can guarantee you that if I had been made aware of it earlier, I would have been more than happy to contribute to it's crowd-sourced funding, which is how it got made. But sadly I wasn't even aware of it until now. Anywho, when it popped up while browsing Amazon recently, I immediately added it to my list and finally got to watch it this past weekend.
If you've ever wanted a behind-the-scenes making-of documentary (which we've surprisingly never gotten yet) on the legendary Cult Classic Flash Gordon, then this documentary is for you. If you ever wanted to see a documentary about Sam Jones, his life before, during and after Flash Gordon, then this documentary is for you. In reality, it's like 2 different docs in one, and though some people online have been complaining about the fact that it did not know what kind of documentary it was trying to be, I actually love that about this. I love that it's both of those things and honestly, myself, or anybody for that matter, is in no position to bitch about that because as far as I know, this is the only documentary to truly dig deep into all things regarding that Flash Gordon film.
I think one of the most fascinating, and certainly most entertaining, things I discovered in this was all the details I was not aware of until now. Like just exactly why Sam Jones never got bigger than his role as Flash, and why he never got another big gig afterwards. Or that his voice was dubbed in the film. I literally had no idea. But there are so many things I was not aware of about this movie, a movie that I absolutely adore. So learning all of these behind the scenes aspects on one of my favorite films was such a treat, and I hope it will be for you too.
Here you get a ton of brand new interviews with virtually everyone involved in the production of that first film, from actors, to the team behind the camera, and right down to Brian May of Queen, talking about his experience doing the now legendary soundtrack to that iconic film. He even digs into who exactly who contributed to each song and what parts of those songs. I'm telling you, this is a wealth of information regarding all things Flash Gordon The Movie and if you've ever been a fan, this is something you need to watch. And lucky for you, it's now available for free on Amazon Prime right now.
A Tour De Force of Hilarious Brilliance Pouring Out of Every Pore
Wow. Just.....wow. Those were my exact words immediately following the "experience" that is L.A. Story, a film written by the brilliant Steve Martin and directed by Mick Jackson (Volcano, Threads, The Bodyguard). When this was first released way back in 1991, I remember it well, but also remember ignoring it because it looked like a romantic comedy. And at its core, it is. But it's also so much more, which I'll get into shortly. But at the time I was all about horror and action and while I enjoyed Steve Martin comedies up until that point like Three Amigos!, Roxanne, and his brilliant role in Little Shop of Horrors, I avoided this one. Boy what a mistake that was.
L.A. Story, at it's core, is a romantic comedy. But it's so much more than that. It's an over-the-top surreal look at what life was like in L.A. in the late 80's and early 90's, and that in itself is worthy of it's own subject matter. But here, Martin brilliantly blends this with a story about a newly single local weather man who meets the love of his life (Victoria Tennant) through a chance encounter, while also newly dating a much younger free-spirited woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) as a way to move on from his recent breakup, but also because, as he puts it, he's a man. So you're getting so much in such a short amount of time and personally, I found it exhaustingly brilliant. Every single second is ripe with clever visual references that add layers of genius to an already hilarious, touching and romantic script.
I think part of the reason that maybe I, and countless others, probably avoided this was because it was marketed as a pretty basic rom/com, but it's so much more than that, which is something that the trailers never touched on. Probably because it's so unique and they were attempting to market it to the most broad audience possible (I can only imagine what people thought when they did go see it at the theater and instead were treated to a surreal look into life in L.A. via 1991). But in the marketing, they left out some of the most important elements of L.A. Story that make it so unique and just completely special and unforgettable. It's whimsical, magical, surreal, clever and most importantly, it's hilarious from start to finish. And not just with it's broad comedy, but in it's visual ques embedded throughout the entire film, which I found flat out brilliant. You really have to pay attention to so much of what's going on in the background or right in front of you.
I've always loved Mick Jackson as a director and I think choosing him, an outsider since he's from England, to direct a film about L.A. was an inspired move. He adds so much to the film that I think nobody else would have been able to, and certainly more than anyone who's actually from Los Angeles, CA. I've always felt him to be an underrated filmmaker, even though he's made memorable films like the dark, bleak and unforgettable cult classic Threads (1984), the better-than-it-should-have-been disaster film Volcano (1997), and the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner thriller The Bodyguard (1992), he is rarely ever mentioned by name or reputation, and it's a shame because he's a damn fine filmmaker, and I can easily throw this in with his best.
L.A. Story is not for everyone, and I can see how some might be turned off by it's more surreal qualities, but I find them all quite whimsical and magical in nature, and I hope you do too. Above all else though, it's quite hilarious and inventive with everyone turning in great performances, Jackson's impeccable direction and the film keeping an even tone throughout, never swaying too far into serious territory. It's always funny and it's always entertaining.
A Perfect Thriller in Every Sense of the Word
Unlawful Entry is the perfect example of why I love 90's thrillers the way I do. Released in 1992, it deliveries everything you could possibly want in a solid thriller, only it does it in such a perfectly structured way that I couldn't possibly think of a single thing to complain about.
After a scary break-in by an intruder who puts a knife to Karen's (Madeleine Stowe) throat, she and her husband (Kurt Russell) befriend the police officer who responds to their call. Soon officer Pete Davis (Ray Liotta) begins helping out a little too much and it soon becomes clear that not only is he unstable, but he has his sights set on Karen.
By offering up just the right amount of tension, suspense and thrills, together with some impressive editing and superb direction by Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused), Unlawful Entry succeeds in a way that so many other thrillers fail. Let's not forget, the early 90's were ripe with suspense/thrillers, so there was no shortage of them during this time. Not only does it give you a compelling story, but it creates a situation that could very easily happen to any of us, and gets you to wonder just how exactly would you react under the same circumstances.
If there was anything I took away from this film, it's that Madeleine Stowe is a goddess. Sure the film is just fantastic, but if you've never seen Tony Scott's Revenge (1990), and needed a reason to fall in love with her, then this film will do it. My gawd what a sight she is in here, and she should be, because she's the catalyst for everything that follows in the film.
And then there's Ray Liotta. By now he's known more for his intensity than anything. I mean, it's crazy (and scary) how intimidating he can be with something as simple as a Chantix commercial. But I swear, he could reach through the tv screen and literally kill you with his gaze, and that's what makes him so fun as a villain. Sure he's proven himself a great, and incredibly hard-working actor in everything from action classics, dramas, thrillers, comedies and family films, but he'll most certainly be most remembered as being so great as a villain and nobody does crazy like he does here.
I had picked up an old VHS tape of this years ago and it sat on my shelf for so long I had just forgotten about it. I did the smart thing and finally moved it over to my "watch pile" next to my tv so that I would remember to throw it on someday. Now that I finally have, I can kick myself for waiting so long because this was just such an absolute treat from beginning to end and I think it's time I add this to the collection upgraded. No Blu Ray that I know of, so it will have to be DVD for the time being.
Bill Murray's Directorial Debut is a Forgotten Gem, Cult Classic & 90's Oddity of the Best Kind
Here's another forgotten film I finally checked off my list. Quick Change is a comedy (and I use that genre title loosely) about a trio of bank robbers who attempt to flee the city after their crime, but are beset by a number of circumstances that take them on an odyssey through the streets of New York as they try to reach the airport.
Released in 1990, this would be Bill Murray's one and only directing effort. Some quick digging on the internet reveals that this was a passion project for Murray, and as such, he became both producer and co-director so he could have more creative control, the only time he's ever done either for a feature film. This was made and released when Murray was in a high point in his career, having just released the highly successful Ghostbusters II the previous year, and Scrooged before that, and following this up with classics such as What About Bob?, Groundhog Day, Ed Wood and Kingpin. So it's safe to say he had a remarkable amount of creative freedom to do whatever he wanted, and for better or for worse, the result is Quick Change.
While I enjoyed this quite a bit, I didn't love it like I hoped to. And after re-watching the trailer, I remember why I avoided it all these years until now. It just looks like a terribly unfunny comedy, and that's sort of what it is. But it's also a film that falls into a very niche genre of comedies that are few and far between; comedies that are not actually funny and often times offbeat, bizarre, dark and surreal like Something Wild, After Hours, Into the Night and Joe Versus the Volcano. While this one doesn't quite reach the level of those films, it gets pretty close. The little bit of humor this does have comes from Randy Quaid's childlike character, but for the most part it carries a strictly dry humor, which actually works really well here. I just feel if they had tried to make it a little darker and more weird, it could easily be a great cult classic. As it is, it's really good, but not one I see myself revisiting anytime soon.
Murray and co-writer Howard Franklin share directing credit on this and so it's hard to tell who to give credit to, but for the most part, it's a nice looking film. Nothing fancy or stylish, but it's clear they knew what they were doing in framing up their shots, with a few images really standing out, especially in the first act when dealing with the bank heist.
To Murray's credit, he plays the part flawlessly in easily one of his most subdued performances as a man who's trying to keep it together, despite a neverending series of obstacles that create chaos and tension on their journey out of the city. He never once tries to be funny, which today isn't all that surprising after fantastic performances in films like The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers. But there was a time when he attempted to do "serious" way back in 1984 with The Razor's Edge that didn't go over so well. While I wouldn't call his performance in here dramatic, it's serious enough in tone that it could almost pass for dramatic. Still, there's just something "different" about him here, and I struggle to put my finger on it. Whatever it is, it works, and it almost makes me wish he directed more, because that could be part of why he's so effortlessly good in this.
Murray's co-director and co-writer is Howard Franklin, who delivered some solid dramatic screenplays with In The Name of the Rose and Someone to Watch Over Me before this, but mostly stuck to comedy after as both writer and director with The Public Eye and Larger Than Life. Of all the films under his belt as director, I would say this is probably his best effort.
Quick Change is a noble effort, and a really good film, just barely teetering on the verge of being great. That in itself is an accomplishment, and worth your time checking out. If anything, it's worth seeking out just to see the one and only film Bill Murray has ever directed, because it's quite an impressive debut if you ask me. It hasn't yet received a snazzy Blu Ray release, so your best bet is grabbing the DVD, which you can do cheaply.
An Ambitious, Yet Flawed, Debut as Writer, Director, Producer and Star of a Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde Tale That's Better Than You Think
Released in 1986, Wisdom would mark Emilio Estevez's first stint as a director. He made this the same year he appeared in Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive, making 1986 a pretty busy time for him. While information like that is usually enough to motivate me to check it out, I'll be honest - I never much cared to because it looked like a melodrama to me with that title and U.S. cover art. But having finally seen it, I was way off, because this is in fact a pretty impressive directorial debut that starts off as a drama, but slowly progresses into an "outlaws on the run from the law" traveling cross-country tale that takes a sharp detour into violence, which was an awesome and welcome surprise.
I think part of what makes this film so impressive is Estevez's sure-handed direction. At the time this was made, he was the youngest person to ever direct a feature film for a major studio at 23 years old, beating out Orson Welles by a year, and though he's since claimed in interviews that this was an embarrassing vanity project, I'd have to disagree. It's a film that plays true to an artist who knows exactly what he wants and how to do it. There was never a single moment where I felt it came off as amateurish, or even vain......well, maybe the opening and closing sequences. But it's a confident film without ever trying to throw it in your face. Is it perfect? No, the pacing and structure could use a little tweaking. But it's nowhere near the trainwreck the critics claimed it to be upon it's release. In fact, though most people have either hated or dismissed it, it's since grown a substantial cult following, enough for Warner Archives to "finally" release it on DVD for the first time ever a few years ago under it's "On Demand" label.
I'll be honest, the plot and the way the film plays out are a little baffling. I mean, you normally wouldn't put the two together, yet it works surprisingly well here and only adds to the aura that Estevez knows what he's doing.
Essentially, Estevez plays John Wisdom (hence the title), a recent high school graduate who can't find a job because of a past conviction for stealing a car to go joy riding years earlier. Frustrated, he decides to rob banks. But not to steal money. Instead he uses his newfound purpose in life to help aid American farmers, who are suffering from a financial crisis and are unable to pay back loans and mortgages. John decides to wipe out their debt by destroying all of their mortgage and loan records from every bank he hits instead of robbing them of their money, in the hopes that it will buy the farmers more time to be able to get out from under this financial crisis. With the law fast on their cross-country tale, time is running out.
It's easy to nitpick all the plot holes and little things that work against it rather than for it, but you can do that with any film literally. So that's not fair to do just because this is coming from a first-time director. The fact of that matter is that Estevez, a hot property at the time in Hollywood who already had a slew of classics under his belt such as Repo Man, St. Elmo's Fire, The Outsiders and The Breakfast Club, was a young 23 year old who was given an insane amount of money to produce his first film as a director. And while most would use that opportunity to overindulge, he instead keeps things subdued and to a minimum, even coming in under budget and under schedule. Yet all anyone can ever talk about are the film's problems. Honestly, after my first ever viewing, I couldn't find a single thing to complain about other than it's ambiguous title, which I feel worked against it because it says nothing about the film or what it's about, until you've finally seen it. I can only assume if it was a more marketable title, something that easily identifies the type of film it's going to be, it might have helped it's chances at the box office a little more. But who knows?
Estevez cast his real life fiance at the time, a young Demi Moore, to play his girlfriend in the film, who he haphazardly convinces to join him on his cross-country quest. A lot of the decisions the characters make are quite foolish, but it's in keeping in line with the thinking of a young 20-something year old. In fact, one of the biggest turning points of the film and for the characters comes from a stupid split-second and disastrous mistake she makes that alters their lives forever, completely changing the course of the film. If you can just remember that these are kids doing something completely noble, yet incredibly stupid, then it passes a lot more plausibly. Though Estevez says that this experience and backlash he received because of it devastated him, he rebounded nicely with back to back hits with Stakeout the following year in 1987 and Young Guns the next year in 1988, marking that film and his portrayal of Billy the Kid as arguably his most career defining role.
Ridley Scott's Hidden Gem is a Masterpiece Waiting to be Rediscovered
Released in 1989 (a great year for cinema), Black Rain marked a return to form for director Ridley Scott, who had weathered a series of back to back critical and box office misfires up until that point. Sure we can look at classics such as Blade Runner, Legend and Someone to Watch Over Me and bemuse over their initial reception, but the fact is that despite all of these films being great and now considered seminal works, they were all bombs and Ridley hadn't had a hit since Alien 10 years earlier in 1979. Black Rain would be a critical and commercial hit (though a minor one), paving the way for Scott to continue making films that would define his career.
Yet, despite it's now almost cult status as a certified badass within the action/thriller genre, and a tentpole for films that dig into the Asian culture, it's rarely ever regarded as the masterpiece that it should be. I mean, it is almost universally loved by anyone I come into contact with on social media whenever I mention it, but outside of that, it's rarely ever held in the same vein as other thriller classics by critics, and it's a damn shame because it really is one of the best films in this genre.
While Ridley Scott is considered one of the greatest visual filmmakers still working today, it blows my mind that his work prior to this film, with the exception of Alien, were not well-received. And while Black Rain was generally better received than all of his 80's films, it still doesn't get the love and recognition it deserves. Quite frankly, Black Rain is a masterpiece, plain and simple. An action/thriller that digs deep into the Japanese culture, with gorgeous visuals courtesy of legendary cinematographer Jan de Bont (Die Hard: as cinematographer, Speed: as director) and of course, Scott's keen eye. This also sports an amazing score by Hans Zimmer, marking his first of many collaborations with Scott here. The Asian influence in his score is incredible.
Michael Douglas had just come off of winning an Oscar for Wall Street 2 years earlier in 1987 and hadn't acted in a film since. Black Rain would also mark the first time he played a cop on film, and boy what a badass he was in here. I think part of the reason I love this film so much is Douglas' portrayal of a morally corrupt cop, who's been put through the ringer in his personal life, and let's that bleed over into his professional life as a tough as nails cop who really is one of the coolest badasses I've ever seen on film. Douglas marked his 2 year absence from the Silver Screen with a bang here.
It's true that Douglas is the hero and badass here, but the person who undoubtedly left the biggest impression is Andy Garcia, here as Conklin's nice, sympathetic and extremely charming partner. You just can't help but love him and though he only spends about a quarter of the time on film, he leaves a huge lasting impression. Garcia had made a splash in De Palma's The Untouchables 2 years earlier in '87, and would go on to deliver a tour de force performance the following year in 1990's Internal Affairs.
Similarly, Yusaku Matsuda, who plays the lead villain Sato, made a career out of playing cops or good guys, and Black Rain may be the only time he played the villain (I could be wrong), and boy what a devilishly perfect performance it was. Sadly, as great as Black Rain is on it's own merits, it's marked by a tragedy in the fact that Matsuda was suffering from stomach cancer at the time, and did not tell anyone about it until filming had wrapped. Knowing he was going to die anyway, he wanted to be remembered forever, as he put it, by this performance and film so he suffered in silence never letting on to anyone. He died a few weeks after the film had premiered and Black Rain is dedicated to him in the closing credits.
When Black Rain premiered in September of 1989, it hit #1 at the box office and remained there for several weeks, ultimately earning an impressive worldwide total of $134.2 million. Not bad for a film with a $30 million budget. Yet, it's never mentioned in the same breath as some of his other well-known films like Blade Runner, Gladiator, Thelma & Louise and The Martian to name a few, and that needs to change. It's a slick, hard-edged and riveting film that delivers some of Michael Douglas's, Ridley Scott's, Hanz Zimmer's and Jan de Bont's finest work in their careers.
How to see it:
Paramount released a Blu-Ray in 2007 that offers a really great picture quality as well as a healthy dose of extras to dig into that tackle the film's troubled production in Japan, the script, post-production process, release, score and casting. Best thing too is that you can get it super cheap, for under $10 so you have no excuse. If you want to go the streaming route, it's available on Amazon Prime and Hulu right now.
Gary Busey's First Action Lead Gig is an Instant Cult Classic
This is one of those films I never really cared too much for back in the day, mostly because I just felt at the time it was pretty standard stuff. And to a degree, it is, but that's also why it's so damn good. Watching it today at this age makes me appreciate just how great it actually is, where we live in a world full of shaky-cam/quick-edit CGI bullet holes bullshit, Eye of the Tiger is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Released in 1986, and sandwiched between Silver Bullet (1985) and Lethal Weapon (1987), Eye of the Tiger may very well be his first gig as an action lead, but I could be wrong. He would continue this trend 2 years later in '88 with the excellent Bulletproof. But unlike Bulletproof, which is pure glorious 80's cheese at it's finest, EotT is gritty and serious, never once even dipping it's toe into camp or cheese, which is surprising when you consider that it very well could have.
Eye of the Tiger tells the story of Buck Mathews (Busey), who's just been released from prison and is happy to go back home to his loving wife and little daughter. You see, Buck is a really good guy who just happened to get caught up in something stupid, so he did his time and he's ready to get his life back together. But it's not long before he comes to the aid of a rape victim at the hands of a motorcycle gang, and they soon set their sites on him. When they attack Buck's family, he sets out on a violent path of revenge.
I gotta admit, this one was really solid. I knew it could have gone either way, but I'm glad this one took the serious approach. I mean, we already have Bulletproof for awesome cheesy action, so I'll take this one any day. It's also a new favorite within the biker genre, of which there are very few really. Plus, we get the reliable William Smith (Seven, Red Dawn, Maniac Cop) as the main biker bad guy, hamming it up to number 11 on the crazy-o-meter.
Confidently and competently directed by Richard C. Sarafian (I don't think I've ever seen any of his other films), EotT benefits from his sure-handed direction, especially in the action scenes. Oh, and did I mention Buck acquires a gnarly suped-up 4 X 4 truck loaded with arsenal and kickass electronic gadgets to aid in his revenge? I'm telling you, this film has it all and it's awesome.
Eye of the Tiger is an excellent entry in the biker genre, as well as the revenge and even the 80's action categories. Gary Busey is a kickass anti-hero and while he doesn't display the crazy erratic Busey behavior we have grown to love (he does plenty of that in Bulletproof though), he's just as great here. Eye of the Tiger makes for a perfect Sunday afternoon watch. Give it a try!
A Tour de Force of Science Fiction Filmmaking Unlike Anything I've Seen
Released in 1974 to little attention, Phase IV is one of the most unusual, surreal, amazing, bizarre and flat-out brilliant science fiction films I've ever seen. What's more, I'd never even heard about it until a friend of mine brought it up to me. After finally having seen it and being legitimately blown away, I'm shocked this isn't more well-known or recognized as a classic within the genre. It delivers in such an unexpected way I struggle to even categorize it correctly, because it's not a typical science fiction film. Yet it's because of that that makes it entirely refreshing.
Legendary title designer Saul Bass (Psycho, Casino) marks his one and only feature length directorial debut with this experimental film - no doubt due to it's poor performance and reception at the box office. But in time Phase IV has grown to such a degree that it's easy to see it's influence on countless filmmakers, most notably Panos Cosmatos' Beyond the Black Rainbow.
Since it's initial lackluster release, it's since grown to become a lost classic, mainly for it's legendary and now mythical ending that was ultimately cut before released theatrically that gave the ending of the film a much more powerful and somber conclusion. Though these elements still exist, even having been screened at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX as part of a Saul Bass Celebration in 2012, they have never been screened or released elsewhere, or telecast in any form to date. This once in a lifetime screening has been the only official presentation of this discarded ending, which is a true shame because from what you read about it, it seems like the perfect conclusion to such an incredibly ambitious film experience.
As you can probably tell by now, I haven't really mentioned what the film is actually about, and that's on purpose. I think the less you know going in the better. I didn't know a single thing about it when I popped in the Blu Ray. It didn't even come with a trailer, so I went in as cold as possible; not for a lack of trying, but since the format I chose to watch it on (a bare bones Blu Ray release from Olive Films) didn't offer anything in the way of plot, not even with the minimalist cover art, it was a complete mystery to me. And honestly, that was a blessing. Since I didn't know what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised (even floored at times) at damn near every turn. It was one of the most unusual and excellent film experiences I've had in a very long time. I can't even compare another film to it because it's it's own thing entirely and because of that, it will remain a classic to so many. Saul Bass did a helluva job directing this in such a unique way that some of the images will stay with you for a very long time.
I will completely understand if not everyone shares my sentiment, because it can come off as so bizarre at times, and at others even a bit cheesy. But looking at it as a whole, it's hard to disagree that it isn't something special.
How to see it:
Olive Films released this back in 2015 in a bare-bones Blu Ray. It's literally just the film and the only other thing offered is the ability to choose the chapters. It's a shame really, because a film this special deserves "something" more, like maybe a retrospective about it's impact on other filmmakers, it's unique entry in the sci-fi/horror genre, or hell, even an interview with star Michael Murphy (Shocker, Cloak & Dagger). I'm sure most Phase IV fans were hoping for even that original ending, even if it was included as a deleted scene. But alas, we get nothing but the film. While I am generally a fan of Olive Films for putting out films that have been hard to find, or never got an official widescreen release before, I have to admit that this release is a pretty big letdown. The transfer is nice, but this film surely deserves so much more. I mean, even the cover is shockingly bland. Here's to hoping another company releases this proper someday.
A Forgotten Ninja/Thriller Masterpiece Finally Gets It's Due
I have a funny history regarding this movie. I remember actually buying tickets to see it in theaters way back in 1995, but I didn't actually watch it. Instead I used the time to make out with my then-girlfriend for the next 2 hours and it was awesome. I feel my 19 year old self made the right call, but if that same situation were to happen to me again today at 43, I would definitely choose to watch the movie instead. When Shout! Factory released this recently on Blu Ray for the first time, it was just the excuse I needed to finally watch it, and what better way than in the best presentation possible? Let's dig in.
Right off the bat I got strong vibes reminiscent of Ridley Scott's brilliant masterpiece Black Rain and I will say that this did not disappoint. In fact, it was better than I expected and I feel a fool for waiting so long to finally see it. While it's always been on my radar, it's never been one I heard enough about to make the effort to actually seek out. Yet when I talk about it today, every single person who has seen it says they absolutely love it. So while it came and went with zero attention back in 1995, it's since become a true cult classic and an essential entry in the "ninja/thriller" genre.
Written and directed by J. F. Lawton, who wrote Under Siege, Chain Reaction and surprisingly, Pretty Woman, The Hunted is an excellent 90's action/thriller about a business man (Christopher Lambert), in Japan on a business trip who gets caught up in a centuries long feud after witnessing the murder of a high class prostitute by Japan's most lethal ninja. Soon he is being hunted by this ninja and his clan with only the help of a local dojo instructor and his sympathetic wife.
One of the best things this film has going for it is a strong attention to detail from writer/director Lawton. The film is a beauty to look at, with some very impressive images found throughout, and when it comes to the action scenes, they are just as good as you had hoped, if not better. When I started posting about acquiring this film recently on my Instagram, most peoples first comment was that the train sequences was massively badass and that it will blow me away. I've seen a ton of action films (after all, it's my favorite genre), and that is a mighty proclamation. But they were right, because holy shit. Wow. I did not see that coming and it's hands-down the crowning achievement of this 90's forgotten gem. I won't go into detail, but trust me, you'll be impressed.
One thing you might find interesting, because I certainly did, is that though Christopher Lambert is the star here, he really doesn't do much other than run for his life, hence the title The Hunted. I have to say that the real standout and badass here is Yoshio Harada, who plays Takeda Sensei, a dojo instructor who agrees to help the police with identifying the famed and lethal/mysterious ninja Kinjo (John Lone), who also has a secret past connected to this legendary ninja. Man, he was just so fucking spectacular in this as a no nonsense badass who lives by the samurai code and uses his own secret agenda to finally get to Kinjo. While he may come off as a pretty despicable human being, his performance in the above-mentioned train sequence will have you rooting for him.
This is exactly the kind of film experience I hope for when sitting down to enjoy a first-time-watch of a forgotten 80's/90's classic that I hadn't seen before. Entertaining is an understatement here. The Hunted was refreshing, intelligent, brutal, stunning and a true gem within both the 90's action/thriller genre as well as the ninja genre. Do yourself a favor and grab this gem ASAP.
The Blu Ray via Shout! Factory:
The best part of this is that you get the Workprint version included in the special features section that features extended and deleted scenes not found in the theatrical cut. The only downside is that this version is presented in Standard Definition. Rounding out the extras are a commentary by writer/director J.F. Lawton, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer, Behind the Scenes "On Location" stuff and graphic elements footage.
All in all it's a really great release for a film that most people have forgotten about. It's begging for a rediscovery, or to be discovered for the first time because it's such a great one and the $20 price point for this new blu is an excellent way to dig into this at a decent price.
Back in the 90's I was a huge fan of this kind of film. King of the Kickboxers, Blackbelt, Best of the Best and all of the Bloodfist movies were a staple in my house, which is why I'm shocked I never knew this particular one existed. Throw in the fact that it's directed by Robert Radler, the director of the first two Best of the Best films, and I'm just floored that this one somehow passed me by.
Let me start by saying that I had high hopes for this one simply because Radler is a pretty solid director of these kinds of films, but holy shit this was cheesy as fuck. Showdown is literally a play by play remake of The Karate Kid, just nowhere near as dramatic or good. But I've got to give the writer and director credit for having the balls for even acknowledging the Karate Kid connection through a lame cheesy joke in the film. So maybe they were all in on the joke after all? Because ultimately, this is a really tired and lame "After School Special" kind of take on The Karate Kid.
The fact that this was directed the same year as Radler's cult classic Best of the Best 2 blows my mind because BotB2 is hands-down one of the best sequels ever made and a perfect example of how you can take the bones of the first film and amp it up to 11 effectively. Yet, somehow here, he really delivers quality on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Whereas BotB2 was professional (I still can't believe it didn't get a theatrical release) with highly impressive fight scenes, action scenes and even dramatic moments here and there, along with all the things that great sequels add to the table, but this was something completely different.
You would never know the same director released these two films the same exact year, but he did. One is polished, while the other one is shockingly amateurish and I just can't get over it. While I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, I certainly wasn't expecting this. It's a good thing that it's not a total loss and does offer some solid brownie points.
For starters, the lead, Kenn Scott (Raphael in TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze) isn't a bad actor at all. He handles the role of "new high school kid" well enough and same goes for his fighting scenes. Billy Blanks plays the Mr. Miyagi role to great effect and when it comes to his fighting scenes, he delivers the goods. We also get Patrick Kilpatrick, in all his over the top glory, as the main villain really hamming it up here. And the legendary Brion James shows up for comedic effect as the aloof and out of touch Vice Principal of this crime-infested high school who shows up in random interludes to make a snarky joke to a student and that is literally all he does here. He probably filmed all of his scenes in a single day.
Showdown is 100% pure cheese, some good and some bad. The good cheese helps us get over the bad cheese for the most part, but gosh there is so much to dislike here overall. The worst thing is that the film is very dumbed down to the point that it's infuriating. I mean, there were so many moments that I rolled my eyes or just flat out yelled at the tv screen, and not in the "oh my gawd I can't believe they just did that, that's hilarious!" kind of way. It's more of a "How old was the guy who wrote this?". The endless cliche's, like the new kid being warned over and over and over again not to talk to the hot girl because her boyfriend will literally kill you and constantly blowing off the warnings even though he's literally gotten the shit beat out of him already because of it, will drive you mad.
Despite my gripes, it's not a total loss. It's worth a watch for sure and does offer up some nice 90's nostalgia when everyone wore clothes 5 sizes too big and had really weird haircuts, and seeing Patrick Kilpatrick in one of his most over the top performances ever make it watchable. The soundtrack is sadly laughably lame, where I think they literally only use 2 cheesy soft rock songs for the entire film, and doesn't do anything to give the film a harder edge. In fact it does the complete opposite.
This recently got a snazzy new Blu Ray release via the excellent label MVD Rewind Collection. I was on the fence about picking it up, knowing it was also on Amazon Prime. Lets just say I'm glad I didn't fork over the cash for the Blu Ray. It's a shame, because this really could have been pretty awesome. All the right ingredients are here, but it's just all put together so sloppily.
One of Tony Scott's Best Films is Also One of The Best Thrillers Ever Made
Being as Tony Scott has and always will be one of my all-time favorite directors, I'm shocked I never took the time to watch this until now. And I don't even have an explanation. I guess I just really wasn't into thrillers back then, whereas today I'm all about them, especially from the 80's and 90's. When this popped back onto my radar recently I grabbed the cheap Blu Ray and took a nosedive into one of the most intense, most well-crafted thrillers I've ever seen.
At this very particular time in his career, Tony Scott was on a roll; a creative winning streak if you will, with classics such as the grossly overlooked gem Revenge (1990), the excellent Shane Black-penned action/comedy The Last Boy Scout (1991), the Tarantino-penned True Romance (1993), and now this excellent submarine thriller from 1995. The guy was delivering top-quality cinema at a breakneck pace and this film is no exception. It's easily one of the best thrillers I've ever seen that demonstrates a professional craftsmanship that you just don't see very much of. Considering that most of the film takes place within the confines of a submarine, you would think that his ability to create interesting and dynamic camera setups would have been hindered, but that's not the case at all here. Somehow he was able to make this film just as visually lush as any of his best films, and that was just one of this films many surprises for me.
Filled to the brim with an insanely impressive cast of then up and comers like James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Zahn, Danny Nucci, the surprisingly large cast was a constant rotation of surprises at every turn. And then there's of course,Denzel and Hackman. These two titans of pure raw intensity delivery some of the best work in both their respective careers and every second they were on screen together made for amazing cinema, and delivery hands-down some of their finest work. The sheer intensity that Hackman can produce with something as simple as a stare is so impressive, while Denzel, who also released the excellent cult classic Virtuosity the same year, was riding high after a wave of critically acclaimed roles such as Philadelphia and The Pelican Brief and Malcolm X.
Whenever I bring this film up, most peoples first comment is that people feel the need to let me know about that Quentin Tarantino wrote the conversation about The Silver Surfer. But the truth is that quite a number of other notable screenwriters helped punch up the script here and there, such as Robert Towne, Steve Zaillian and of course, QT. I will say though that that Silver Surfer conversation does stand out because it's so drastically different from any other conversation in the film and also pretty funny.
Crimson Tide was a breath of fresh air. A totally immersive slice of expert filmmaking from one of the most underrated directors working in the 80's and 90's, full of insane amounts of tension, intensity and a pace that never lets up for a second, leaving you pretty exhausted by the end. It quite literally and easily became one of my new favorite Tony Scott films, and one of my new favorite thrillers. Scott really was one of the most original filmmakers that ever lived, delivering a very specific visual aesthetic that nobody has ever been able to reproduce. It's a shame he's no longer with us, but his legacy will live on. He deserves that.
This excellent thriller is available on a very affordable Blu Ray for roughly $5. No extras but the picture quality is pretty impressive.