This 80's Thriller Was Just What the Doctor Ordered
Between Maniac Cop and Maniac Cop 2, William Lustig directed this often overlooked thriller about a serial killer who picks names out of a phone book (not randomly though), and kills his victim using different methods, and always leaving a calling card. Newly transferred (from New York to L.A.) detective Sam Dietz (Leo Rossi) is hot on his trail and together with his older and cynical partner Malloy (Robert Loggia), must stop him before he kills again.
I know I had seen this before way back upon it's first release on home video, but for the life of me couldn't remember a thing about it other than thinking Judd Nelson was such an unusual choice for the serial killer. But thanks to Amazon Prime, I was able to revisit this recently and I must say, it was great little thriller.
While it doesn't bring anything new to the table, and uses standard tropes we've seen countless times before, there's just something in the way Lustig directs that gives the film a slick, yet gritty look and feel that adds so many more layers to an otherwise bland concept. But William Lustig's surefire direction makes everything look so much bigger and better than it actually is. Yet at the same time, it's a great reminder of the kind of thriller they used to make back in the day. No fuss or frills, just a solid thriller with a great cast and strong direction.
The film is a treat to watch, has just the right amount of tension to keep you invested, and the cast is just ace. Do yourself a favor and give this one a shot. It might not redefine the genre, but it's not trying to either. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
This May Very Well Be One of the Best Movies You Never Saw
Writer/Director/Producer Walter Hill has made an insane amount of action classics in his decades long career, most notably as a director. While he hasn't done much in the last decade or so, it's in the 80's where he really flourished, knocking out classics like 48 Hours, The Warriors (though it was released in '79), Red Heat and Streets of Fire to name a few. Yet, considering how amazingly badass Extreme Prejudice (released in 1987) is, it's a largely forgotten film. Why? I have no idea. But the truth of the matter is that it's largely been dismissed, forgotten or flat-out unrecognized, which is a true shame. Whenever I encourage someone to actually see it, whether they've heard about it or not, they always leave with their mind blown, having just seen one of the toughest, grittiest and bloodiest modern day westerns ever and they can't believe they hadn't seen it until now. Most people don't even realize it's directed by Walter Hill, which says a lot about how under the radar this film really is.
Let's forget, for a moment, the fact that it sports an impressive cast that includes Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe and Michael Ironside, let alone a who's who of notable character actors you'll surely recognize. What's most impressive about this flick, aside from this badass cast, is how macho it all is. It's right up there with Top Gun and Predator in terms of that pure macho adrenaline, and it's a really hard and rare thing to accomplish. I guess The Expendables franchise would be another example; I just wish they were actually better.
In the U.S. Extreme Prejudice has been released on Laserdisc, VHS and DVD. But shockingly, it's only available in widescreen on Laserdisc, with even the DVD being a really shitty full frame presentation and it's such a huge injustice to the material by not presenting it in it's proper aspect ratio. I mean, the visuals are flat-out stunning and there's really no other way to see this other than widescreen to fully appreciate it. Even today, we still have no news of a Blu-Ray release in sight, which brings me to this Japan release.
I had come across this on eBay a few years ago, and I would hold off on buying it because the $30-$50 asking price was a bit steep for a film with no extras. I guess I always hoped somebody would finally release this stateside on Blu, but that still hasn't happened. So one night I just pulled the fucking trigger and snagged this Japan release for $30 and I'm not sorry about it in the slightest.
While it doesn't offer anything in the way of extra's, and to be honest, I'm not that big a fan of the cover either, the film looks glorious in HD and in it's proper aspect ratio. I also realized something upon revisiting this. No matter how many times I've seen it, I never get tired of it. It's an amazingly "tough guy" film, that miraculously offers slick visuals while also looking gritty as all hell. Nearly every single frame is drenched in sweat (along with the actors), and the sunburned atmosphere and aesthetics really lend to an authentic modern western vibe that you don't see very often.
Is the film perfect? Certainly not. The plot can be a bit unnecessarily convoluted at times, especially when it all comes together at the end and you realize it didn't have to be so complicated, but that could just be due to the fact that a few subplots and storylines were edited out. I don't know. Still, it's a helluva great film with an incredible cast that still goes unmatched in it's badassery. But the film, even at the $30 price tag for the Japan Blu Ray, was one of my favorite film purchases and I don't regret it one bit.
While the film is available to stream on Amazon, there's no information on whether it's in widescreen or not. Still, it's a crime this film doesn't have a better reputation, either as an action film, or as a Walter Hill film. This film truly deserves an upgraded HD release on a physical here in the states. It's long overdue.
This Underrated Action Classic is One of The Best the 90's Had to Offer
Steve Wang's Drive is a film I've been itching to see for many, many years. While not impossible to find, it was hard enough that I didn't really try all that hard. Here in the U.S., its never gotten a DVD release, only having been released officially on VHS. I know there were some downloads to YouTube, even in widescreen, but I just always forgot about it. That is until recently, when a friend of mine, Michael Cook from Retro Rocket Entertainment Podcast Network, mentioned it was available on Amazon Prime for free this month, so I took that opportunity to finally give this a watch and boy am I glad I did.
Toby Wong (Mark Dacascos) is a human prototype capable of superhuman speed and strength. When a wealthy Chinese billionaire, the great James Shigeta (Mr. Nakatomi from Die Hard!) wants the prototype destroyed, he sends a hitman and his crew to destroy him. Wong then teams up with an innocent bystander (Kadeem Hardison) to help him escape a nearly neverending pursuit of death-defying chases, fight scenes and explosions.
Released in 1998, Drive comes to us courtesy of Special Effects master (Predator), and sometime director (The Guyver 1 & 2) Steve Wang. Yet for some reason it's never gotten a full blown solid release here, which blows my mind, because it's arguably one of the best buddy/action movies to come out of the 90's. To put it frankly, Drive is fucking awesome. A blast from start to finish, filled with some seriously impressive martial arts action and choreography, along with some killer visuals.
If there's anything this often-forgotten action classic taught me it's that Mark Dacascos is an underrated badass, and that Steve Wang is a damn fine director. It's a crime he didn't blow up after this as an action director, because the stuff he pulls off here, even in terms of composition, is highly impressive. Frankly, I'm shocked he didn't go on to do more action films. Dacascos though, is such an undervalued martial artist. I mean, I know he's been working nonstop and has appeared in some great things, but he should be a much bigger star than he is. I'm psyched he's going to be in John Wick 3 though, so hopefully that will give him a resurgence of sorts.
Hands down one of the biggest surprises I've come across in the action genre this past year, Drive deserves a much bigger audience. I can't believe it hasn't gotten a bigger and wider release here in the states on any format. Even a DVD would suffice, but as of now, nothing. Here's to hoping it gets a snazzy Blu-Ray release soon from a cult film distributor. Drive is an adrenaline-fueled action cult classic that will blow your mind with it's sheer volume of insane action, stunts and martial arts, with none of the annoying shaky-cam/quick-edit crap that seemed to permeate the market after Taken and The Transporter. Despite it's limited budget, you would never know it. Wang handles the production, visuals and action like a pro, and Drive easily rivals any big-budget action flick that hit our local cinema's at the time. In fact, it's easily better than most of them and Drive is an underrated and underappreciated action masterpiece.
How to see it:
Currently it's streaming on Amazon Prime for free this month (January), and in widescreen to boot. The only physical release we have in the U.S. is VHS. If you have a region-free player, it's been released on DVD in other parts of the planet, though I haven't heard of a blu-ray release yet. But I could be wrong.
UPDATE: Well apparently there was a U.S. DVD release but it's so rare that it's almost impossible to find. I don't know what the quality was on that, the aspect ratio, or what cut it was but it looks like we did in fact get one once upon a time.
It's Time One of the Best Techno Thriller's Ever Made Finally Finds it's Audience
This is a film I'd always been aware of, but never thought twice about. That is until I came across a fascinating article about the films tumultuous and troubled production, which always fascinates me about films. Sadly, most people will always automatically associate this film with co-star Natalie Wood's untimely death, which happened during this film's production before she was finished shooting all of her scenes, but really that's just only one of the things that doomed this film from the start if you look into the films history. But guess what? For a film that nearly didn't even get released at all because the studio instead wanted to cash in on the insurance money and claim it a loss, Brainstorm is actually amazing. In fact, it's easily one of the best Techno Thriller's ever made, and one of the best thrillers I've seen in the last couple of years. Brainstorm deserves so much more recognition.
Released in 1983, Brainstorm follows the story of Michael (Christopher Walken), a scientist, who along with Lillian (Louise Fletcher) and a small team, have invented the first ever virtual reality experience where they can not only see what someone else can see, but they can taste, smell and feel those experiences. Naturally, the U.S. government wants to get their hands on this technology, much to the dismay of the team, and a race against time will determine the outcome.
This insanely riveting film experience comes to us courtesy of special effects legend Douglas Trumbull, who has worked on classics ranging from 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Blade Runner. Here he wrote and directed the film (his second directing effort after Silent Running 11 years earlier) and wanted to give the audience an experience unlike anything we'd experienced before by creating something called Showscan, a 60 frame per second process that ultimately was too costly for the studio to try. Basically, Trumbull had these really great ideas for this very special film but nobody to support it. He wanted to do something that gave the audience the same feeling the characters were experiencing while in the virtual reality world. In the end, he was told by the studio that the normal scenes would be shot in 35mm, and the virtual reality scenes in 70mm, which is why the widescreen format keeps changing back and forth throughout the film. In any case, it was a way for the audience to differentiate between the real world and the VR world.
For a guy who had only directed one single film before this, and 11 years prior for that matter, Brainstorm is such a delicately polished looking film. It's the kind of film that looks like someone who's been directing big budget films for years had done, and that's a testament to Trumbull's clear unique vision and talents behind the camera. The film is awash in beautiful modern architecture, splendid visuals, strong performances and some insanely impressive effects work and compositions. Not to mention it's both compelling and riveting, as much as it is entertaining and suspenseful. The fact that I hadn't seen it until now, or that it rarely ever gets mentioned at all just blows my mind. Immediately after watching it I got online to snatch up the Blu-Ray, only to discover it hasn't yet made that leap to HD, which both saddens me but also doesn't surprise me.
This was a time when Christopher Walken was really breaking out into leading man territory. While that didn't really last too long, he surely gives a great performance here, even with his odd mannerisms and all. The scene-stealer in this film though has to be the one and only Louise Fletcher, who plays Michael's lab partner Lillian. She carried such a ferocious spunk that it's impossible not to love her in this and I'm not surprised to learn it was the most fun she had making a film.
Natalie Wood is excellent as well, and so darn cute. It's a shame this would be her last film. Reports state that she hadn't finished shooting all of her scenes so Trumbull had to rework the ending and use stand-in's for certain shots. It is also said that her death was one of the main reasons MGM, going through financial difficulties at the time, was ready to throw in the towel and recoup their loses through their insurance, but Trumbull insisted on re-cutting it. He knew he could save the film despite MGM's insistence that they just scrap it. So seeing as I just loved the film to death as it is, I'm curious how different it would have turned out had they been able to shoot it the way Trumbull initially wrote it without having to change things due to Wood's premature death.
It's a shame and travesty this doesn't get more love, or that most people have never even heard of it. Douglas Trumbull's experience was so heartbreaking and frustrating that he vowed never to direct a Hollywood film again, and he's kept his word. This film experience ruined any dreams he might have had to direct feature films again. Yet, 36 years later, it remains a technical marvel and easily one of the best surprises for me in the last few years. It's a film that invented the Virtual Reality concept before it was ever something that could become a reality, which would still take a few more decades. It reminded me a lot of Michael Chrichton's excellent Looker, as well as John Carpenter's Starman, 2 films I love to death, and I'm incredibly happy to find another film that compares to those gems. If you're looking for something different, smart, classy, clever and downright excellent, give this one a watch. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Here's to hoping for a Blu-Ray release in the near future.
When Liam Neeson got a huge resurgence following Taken and it's sequels, it seemed like he was in so many copycats of the very film he made famous. And to be honest, some of them just aren't very good, which is probably why I avoided this one in particular. I don't remember the trailer, but I do know that the poster art gave me another Taken vibe.
But I remember a few years ago a fellow friend on Instagram had really talked this one up and I had never forgotten that. When I realized my dad actually owned this, I snatched it for a lazy day watch, and let me tell you, when that day finally came, I was pleasantly surprised at how strong and great this little film is.
For starters, it's not an action film.....at all. So the image of him holding a gun on the cover is a bit misleading and unnecessary. Yes he fires a gun in the film, but rarely. The reality is that this film is actually a detective thriller, more in line with the old private eye films that were so popular once upon a time. And that's one of the films many surprises.
One of the best things about this film is it's surprisingly strong cast. I won't get into the all of them and spoil it for you, but there were a lot of surprising faces in here, with Stranger Things and the Hellboy reboot's David Harbour being at the top of that list. But of course, none of that works unless you have somebody strong enough to carry the film and Liam Neeson is up to the challenge. In fact, it's effortless for him. You can say he's pretty much playing his character from Taken, just without the close combat fighting and gun battles, and it would be true. But he's just so damn good at it!
From it's very first frame, to it's last, AWAtT is a visual feast. Writer/director Frank Scott (Logan, Minority Report, Get Shorty) give the film a slick noir-ish, yet contemporary vibe that almost acts as a character on it's own. Either Scott did his homework, or he had this film planned out in his head from the beginning because it's one of those films that is just as visually stunning as it is gritty within the private eye genre. It's rare (these days anyway), where a filmmaker spends just as much time on the visual tone of the film as they do on the story. In that respect, AWAtT is a rare treat indeed.
Easily dismissed and all but forgotten, this one might surprise you if you're looking for something with style, substance and entertainment value. A sleek detective noir flick that gives Neeson plenty of opportunity to shine, and boy does he ever.