Wisdom (1986), Emilio Estevez's Forgotten Directorial Debut

An Ambitious, Yet Flawed, Debut as Writer, Director, Producer and Star of a Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde Tale That's Better Than You Think

by robotGEEK

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.

The only way I was able to actually watch this film (which I'd been wanting to do for a while now), was by purchasing the Warner Archives DVD. It's not streaming on any platform I could find, isn't uploaded on YouTube, and wasn't available through Netflix's DVD mail-delivery service (yea I still use that). Having an Amazon Prime membership allowed me to get this at the cheap price of $11, and that's important because all of that factors into how much I actually enjoy a film. If I want to see it bad enough and there are no other ways to do so other than buying it on a physical media, then I will just buy it, with the thinking that if I don't like it, I can just immediately turn around and sell it on eBay and hope to get some of my investment back. But if I like it, and know it's a film I will revisit at some point, I keep it and it stays in my collection. Mind you, I can't keep every film I like because I just wouldn't have the room. It has to have a re-watchability factor to it, because if I just like it and know I won't ever sit down to watch it again, then it's just taking up the limited space I have for my collection when I can use that space for something I do know I will want to revisit. Wisdom, thankfully, is a film that I know I will want to re-watch again someday, and that to me is the sign of a good film. It ultimately shares a lot in common with his impressive and better-received followup directorial effort Men at Work in the sense that it's a confidently looking film, being a film he directed released the same year he made a career-defining classic (in Men at Work's case it's Young Guns 2, both being released in 1990, and this film being released the same year as Maximum Overdrive) and carries a tone that's hard to define and describe, yet you walk away satisfied by the experience. Good job Mr. Estevez.


A Case for Greatness: Black Rain (1989)

Ridley Scott's Hidden Gem is a Masterpiece Waiting to be Rediscovered

by robotGEEK

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.

Just in case you have been living under a rock and "still" haven't seen this (it's okay - all of us have been there at one time or another), Black Rain follows New York cops Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas) and Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia), who get caught in the middle of a Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) gang war in New York. When they arrest one of them, they are told to escort him to Japan, only to have him slip through their fingers once they arrive. With the help of a local officer Masahiro (Ken Takakura), they set out to track down this crime boss and murderer. 

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.

Speaking of the great cast, huge props need to go to the legendary Ken Takakura, who plays their Japanese liaison during their visit. Despite Takakura's admission that he doesn't speak a word of English, his grasp of the language and performance are nothing short of impressive. Being able to use the proper subtle nuances of each English word was so impressive that I was floored to learn he didn't know English......at all. For a guy who built a decades long career out of playing samurai's, bad guys and villains, his performance here as the by-the-book, yet likable sympathetic liaison who grows more attached to these NY cops through a series of life-changing circumstances will win you over. In the extra's located on the Blu Ray, Takakura also confesses that this is the first time he's ever shown smiling in a film.

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.

The film opens in New York and spends about a good quarter there before heading to Japan, where a good chunk of the film takes place. I actually love both settings because Scott is able to make great use of both locations, with a harsh gritty realism in the NY environment, and the bright neon-drenched locations in Japan. The film just looks amazing in any location they were set in, but it's within the Japanese environment where the film really flourishes. The excellent Blu Ray release of this has an incredible 2-part documentary on the making of this film, which spotlights Scott's hardships of shooting under Japans strict rules, which led to Scott proclaiming that he would never shoot a film in Japan again. The government restrictions were so great, with time limitations being the biggest factor, that they ultimately ended up shooting several key sequences in the U.S. and made to look like Japan because their shooting visa's had expired. Nevertheless, even with the constant restrictions and stress of shooting a film in a different country under extremely strict guidelines, Black Rain flourishes as one of the best examples of this type of film. The film's hard-edged tone never falters, the performances across the board are top-notch, and the visual eye candy produced by Jan de Bont and Ridley Scott are breathtaking. All of these things produce an exceptional viewing experience that never fails to impress or entertain me, no matter how many times I revisit it, which is quite often.

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.


80's Action Attack!: Eye of the Tiger (1986)

Gary Busey's First Action Lead Gig is an Instant Cult Classic

by robotGEEK

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!


The Cult Corner: Phase IV (1974)

A Tour de Force of Science Fiction Filmmaking Unlike Anything I've Seen

by robotGEEK

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.


90's Action Attack! & Blu Ray Review: The Hunted (1995)

A Forgotten Ninja/Thriller Masterpiece Finally Gets It's Due

by robotGEEK

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:

Shout! just recently released this in a brand spanking new Blu Ray that marks the best presentation of this hidden gem possible. As far as the new 1080p transfer goes, its not mind-blowing, but is a huge upgrade from the previous DVD from way back in 1998. The blacks are dark, the colors pop and the sharpness is impressive. There is a bit of grain found throughout, but I actually like that about it. It was a film shot on actual film so I know what to expect sometimes with these older releases. Still, I can already see people complaining about it. But trust me, it's not a big deal.

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.


90's Action Attack!: Showdown (1993)

by robotGEEK

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.


90's Thriller Throwback: Crimson Tide (1995)

One of Tony Scott's Best Films is Also One of The Best Thrillers Ever Made

by robotGEEK

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.


80's Thriller Throwback: Silent Rage (1982)

Silent Rage is one of the best Halloween films not starring Michael Myers

Seriously. Despite the fact that Norris is starring in this and most of the marketing material shows him doing a karate kick on the cover, this is pretty much a straightforward horror/slasher that easily comes across as much better than the countless slashers that saturated the market during this time. I will admit that it's a bit odd seeing Chuck in something like this, especially since it doesn't play out like a standard Norris flick and there are only 2 scenes where he actually does any fighting; one sequence involving a bar fight full of bikers (an obvious decision to satisfy the Chuck Norris fans), and later when he's fighting the killer.

After a somewhat painfully slow first half, the second half more than makes up for it by offering a straight-up horror slasher with some impressive set-pieces and confrontations between an unstoppable killing machine and a small Texas town sheriff (Norris). The always impressive Ron Silver (Blue Steel, Timecop) shows up as a scientist who worked on the formula that created this monster, but has reservations about it's use and potential. Stephen Furst plays Norris' bumbling partner and sidekick, to unnecessary comedic effect and it's this little annoying element that will test your tolerance for annoying unnecessary comedy in a film that doesn't ask for it.

I don't really want to get too deep into it because truthfully, while I enjoyed it there's really not a whole lot to say about it other than it's a better than you expect slasher, oddly starring Chuck Norris of all people. They follow all of the basic tropes that are found within this genre, including the love interest who gets caught up in the middle of it all. Interestingly though, this would be Chuck's first film as a producer and his first film playing a sheriff, ranger or what have you, which would be something he would be known for later with classics such as Lone Wolf McQuade and Walker, Texas Ranger. He's not the best or most versatile actor, but seeing him in something so different was a pleasant surprise.

I've heard people claim this as their favorite Chuck Norris film, and I can understand why. While I wouldn't personally classify this as even a favorite (I prefer his cheesy action films), it's a notable standout among his filmography of straight-up action flicks, and the first to dip into the horror/thriller genre, which he would dive into later with films like Hero and the Terror and Hellbound.

Mill Creek recently released this as part of their new Retro VHS-themed Blu Ray packaging and it's surprisingly cheap, going for roughly around $5-$8, which is a steal if you ask me. My viewing experience was on Blu Ray, but as part of a triple pack with some other films. If I ever feel the need to grab it again, this is the release I'll be buying.


90's Thriller Throwback: Point of no Return (1993)

A Remake of La Femme Nikita That Nobody Asked For, Yet is Surprisingly Good

by robotGEEK

As I dig deep into some 90's flicks that I never got around to, I remembered this John Badham classic that I never could bring myself to watch for 2 reasons. One, I just wasn't a fan of his work back then (stupidly), and two, I just couldn't see how they could improve on an already great film, La Femme Nikita, of which this film is based on. At the time, I just couldn't see how anyone, let alone an American remake, could top one of Luc Besson's best films. But here I am, with a newfound appreciation for John Badham films, and so this was easily on the top of the list of films to finally dig into of his that I hadn't seen yet.

Based off that French Cult Classic, this American remake stars Bridget Fonda as Maggie, a junkie who killed someone during a botched robbery. Instead of being taken to prison, she's given a chance through a program that turns high risk offenders into assassins for the government. With the help of her mentor and sponsor Bob (Gabriel Byrne), she is given a new identity and called upon at various random moments to fulfill her job as a contract killer for the government.

I've got to admit that I really enjoyed this one a lot. While it doesn't hold a candle to Besson's original, though it does try, it's good enough on it's own merits to redeem itself from the fact that it's trying to top a classic. The acting is pretty stellar across the board, with Anne Bancroft turning in a stunning performance as Maggie's etiquette teacher, and Gabriel Byrne always delivering 110% in anything he's in. He's just a fantastic actor and I don't think he gets the credit he deserves for what he brings to every role. Props to the casting department for bringing in Harvey Keitel as "The Cleaner".

One of the things that bothered me when I watched the previews upon it's original theatrical run was the annoying overuse of dutch angles, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Badham kept that to an extreme minimum and honestly, for the most part he films this excellent little thriller rather sharply. Besides, he doesn't use them anymore than Tony Scott did so I don't know why it bothered me so much before. When Badham is on fire, he really delivers some excellent camerawork in a way that always sort of surprises me and he's really turning into one of my favorite underrated directors still working today. It's a shame he's mainly stuck to television work for the last 20 years.

Overall this was exactly what I was in the mood for. Despite it's big budget Hollywood trappings, it still feels like a much smaller and more intimate version of Besson's classic, which is fine because it kind of feels like a different film altogether for the most part. It hits all the right notes and despite my initial misgivings all those years ago, turned out to be a pretty great little thriller that I just so happen to adore. Let me put it this way. I had initially rented it on DVD from Netflix, and after a good 15 minutes I already knew I was going to really enjoy it. However, the old DVD just looked terrible, so I immediately got online and ordered the Blu Ray for under $10 and waited to finish it once it arrived. It was too good a looking film to be bogged down by a bad low-grade transfer and I'm glad I waited for the Blu, because the image quality and clarity are stunning and if you're going to revisit this, DO NOT settle for the DVD. Spend a few bucks on the Blu and enjoy it the way it was meant to be seen, in it's best presentation possible.


90's Action Attack!: Hellbound (1994)

What do you get when you mix a horror film, a 90's martial arts action film, and a historical film? Hellbound!!!

by robotGEEK

Chuck reunites with his longtime collaborator and brother Aaron for one of their more unique collaborations in this horror/action/historical mashup. As weird as that sounds, it's actually pretty well done for the most part. While it won't go down as one of their best efforts (it might be too weird for some people), it certainly has enough going for it to give it a watch. It doesn't exactly reach Bad Movie Night levels of fun, but seeing how everyone does it all with a straight face is enjoyable enough.

Norris plays Frank Shatter, a Chicago cop who along with his partner Levels, investigate the murder of a Rabbi, which leads them down a wormhole of the supernatural and someone who may or may not be the devil. Their investigation takes them all the way to Israel where they uncover the sadistic plot of the mysterious character known as Lockley, and his plans to....well just watch the movie to see for yourself.

I think one of the more surprising elements for me here was how good it looked right from beginning. There's no denying my love and appreciation for Aaron Norris as a director. I wasn't much of a fan of his for the majority of my years but have since grown to appreciate his very specific type of filmmaking in my older age. To put it bluntly, I found him to be a very boring and bland director. No style or pizzazz. Yet when I look back on his films today, I see how wrong I really was. While he never really possessed a definable style, his trademark no-frills approach actually helps elevate the material in more ways than you would think. It's no high class work of art, but it's not trying to be either and services the material really well.

It was kind of weird seeing Norris paired with a partner for the entire film. I mean, it's not the first time he's done it, but when you're so used to seeing him play the solo lead, it was a bit surreal seeing him share nearly every single frame with his Chicago cop partner Jackson, played Calvin Levels, who I mostly remember as the car thief from Adventures in Babysitting, but also recently saw in John Badham's Point of No Return. Levels does a good enough job here, but doesn't come away from the experience as anything more than a sidekick. And that's not his fault, it's just the way the material was written. We know literally nothing about him, other than being Shatter's partner who occasionally cracks wiseass jokes, so why bother caring for his character?

While not all the engaging in general to be honest, one of the reasons to see this through to the end is the villain devilishly played by Christopher Neame, who chews up the scenery with such glorious gusto that he makes the experience so much more fun.

It's all a bit silly, but so what? You have to admire everyone's conviction in trying something surprisingly different. It won't end up being one of your favorite Norris, or Cannon Films for that matter, but it's a fun time overall regardless. Those expecting to see some classic Chuck Norris fighting will be disappointed as there's really none at all, except for the final fight when he and his partner face down with Lockley aka The Devil. Mostly just a lot of kicking but at least it's something.

Much like some of Chuck's 90's films for Cannon, this one has never been released in widescreen, which is a shame because it does have some impressive eye candy here and there. I settled for Laserdisc rather than VHS because it's a slight step up in quality, but it could still use an upgraded and cleaned up release and in it's proper aspect ratio, as does The Hitman, another Norris/Norris collaboration with Cannon back in 1991 that still hasn't gotten a decent release.