When I saw this pop up on TubiTV recently, it occurred to me that it had been well over a decade since I last saw this. And like most of you, I just did not like this when it first hit theaters. I should mention that when this was released, I was thick in the middle of my Spawn obsession. Oh yea, I was a die-hard Spawn geek when he first hit comic book stands in 1992. I was about 16, and when the toyline hit 2 years later in 1994, I was full blown obsessed with this character, hitting every Walmart, K-Mart, Toys R Us and Target store located within 50 miles of our little town trying to snag every single figure from this line. I was so obsessed that when I turned 18, I got a Spawn tattoo.
Yes, you read that right. I got a fucking Spawn tattoo when I was 18 years old. So you can imagine my excitement when learning that a live-action film was in the works via none other than New Line Cinema, the same company responsible for the insanely awesome live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) film (which I was equally obsessed with) and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. I felt the film was in the right hands because the comic, storyline and even the toys were quite dark, and if anyone could handle the material, I felt that New Line could, especially given how amazing the first two TMNT films turned out.
Then I saw the film. I remember opening night vividly, sitting there with my buddy excitedly as a guy went up front to present and discuss the film before it started playing. Well, it sucked. I walked away shockingly disappointed and confused as to how they could take so many liberties with the source material and completely ruin the basic principles that McFarlane had laid out for the character.
|Not the actual cape in the film|
Then there's the fact that they pull a Judge Dredd (1995) on us and have Spawn without his iconic mask for the majority of the film. So first you take away his cape, and now he doesn't even wear his mask most of the time, instead leaving his burnt head exposed. Whhhyyyyy????
Michael Jai White is actually pretty good and effective as Al Simmons/Spawn, but the casting of Martin Sheen as the villain is really odd. Not only does he look strange with his badly dyed jet black beard and hair, but he just doesn't come across as villain material, especially since he's so small. But I'm sure they were needing a big name to help sell the film to a broader audience.
And lastly, the climax of the film takes place in a living room. That's right. After all that buildup leading to Spawn exacting his revenge on Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen), the finale of the film, or it's third act, takes place in a.....wait for it.....living room. I mean, what a real letdown to have so much of the film building up to this point, only to have it fall apart in the end. Sure they jump in the fireplace and take a quick detour to hell for a few minutes, but if you think the CGI cape was bad, holy shit. Hell looks 100 times worse. I really wish they hadn't even bothered trying to depict Hell or even Malebolgia, because they're both just so laughably bad. For a film that began with $20 million, and was kicked up another 20 to a total of $40 million, the effects work still looks terrible.
Now on to the good. You know, as a film, Spawn doesn't actually look bad. There are times when it has a nice professional quality to it that reminds you that you're watching a big budget adaptation of a dark and violent comic book film. I'm talking strictly cinematography and visual aesthetic here. And then there are moments when it looks like a Made-for-TV movie. It's such an uneven mess all around, including it's visual aesthetic, that it makes it really hard to find some bright spots in this. But there are a few.
The makeup by KNB is pretty fantastic. Clown is spot-on and really both frightening and utterly annoying (be sure to watch it with subtitles to understand what the hell he's even saying), while Spawn's suit and burnt makeup effects are pretty gnarly....sans the missing cape and mask.
The effects work isn't all bad though. Violator looks fucking cool and much like Clown, is spot-on and taken right out of the comics. I know ultimately they had to delegate different effects companies to handle all of the CGI effects in this, so I'm not sure which one was responsible for the Violator effects, but they're arguably the best CGI effects in the entire film.
And finally, all of the little nods to a few other characters from the comics were impressive and a much needed highlight overall. Angela, Sam & Twitch, the news reporter and a few others all make nice little subtle cameos.
All of these surprisingly good aspects still don't do enough to save this mess. I can see it being a guilty pleasure for some, but for me, someone who actually really enjoys unintentionally bad films, even this one is a huge misfire for me. It was a very stupid decision to remove his cape from his look, and while the practical action sequences were entertaining enough, it's when the film dives into it's core mythology that this live action adaptation falls apart. It's no surprise that former visual effects supervisor and first-time director Mark A.Z. Dippe never directed another theatrical feature after this.
Needless to say, as soon as my initial film experience was over, I was already making plans to get my Spawn tattoo covered up. It was something that was already in the works as I had grown tired of the Spawn comics in general. They definitely became too weird and complicated for my taste when it started branching out into different alternate realities and alternate universes, thus ending my love for all things Spawn; the character, comics, toys and various other merchandise associated with him.
Somehow I never got around to this film before. Surely I remember it, but I also remember not being all that interested in it at the time. And I'm sure had I seen it, I might have still felt the same way. But then again, maybe I would have loved it? I don't know. But watching it now for the first time, nearly 30 years after it's original release, I am just floored by how good this was and how much I enjoyed it. Let's dig in.
Released in 1992, Sidekicks tells the story of Barry (Jonathan Brandis), a weak and mild-mannered teenager who fantasizes about being Chuck Norris' sidekick, often daydreaming about being in the very films that we all love from Norris, such as Missing in Action, Delta Force 2 and The Hitman to name a few. When a kind teacher takes a liking to him, she sets him up with her uncle (Mako), a martial artist who decides to take Barry under his wing to train for an upcoming karate championship.
The film carries such a pleasant charm that it's really hard not to love it. Completely engaging right from the very beginning, and full of heart in a way I was not expecting, Sidekicks also benefits from some seriously hilarious moments courtesy of the legendary Joe Piscopo, who plays an over the top sensai of a local karate dojo, and a sworn enemy of Chuck Norris. As great as Sidekicks is all around, I doubt it would be half as good if not for Piscopo's casting here. Literally every single scene he's in is pure gold, and I laughed so fucking hard. Not only is he the villain in the overall story arc, but he's also the villain in all of the movie sequences Barry transports himself into and it's pure genius. I mean, what other universe could Piscopo play the villain in a Chuck Norris film?? Mr. Piscopo, I salute you.
In the directors chair is Norris' brother and long time collaborator Aaron Norris, and he does an outstanding job here. While I was never much of a fan of his style of directing growing up, I've certainly grown to love and appreciate it in my older age. Where I originally saw his style as plain and boring, I now see as slick and refined in a way that a lot of directors were never able to capture consistently. If anything, Norris was a consistent director in the best possible way. His films might not have always been great, but most of them were, and they all looked good. This was wedged between The Hitman and Hellbound, both also directed by Norris, and while I thoroughly enjoy The Hitman (even though I feel it should be better), I really could not get into Hellbound. But I should revisit it soon. I might feel differently next time around. In fact, I think I'll revisit both of them.
Another one of this films many pluses is it's surprisingly stellar cast. Of course there's good ol' Chuck, and the late-great Jonathan Brandis (It, Seaquest 2032) turns in a really great performance as Barry, but there's also Mako (Conan The Destroyer), Beau Bridges (The Wizard) as Barry's dad, Julia Nickson (Rambo: First Blood Part II), Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years), Richard Moll (Night Court) and of course the one and only Joe Piscopo (Dead Heat).
In the grande scheme of things, it is ideal that you have seen the films they keep referencing in Barry's daydreams, because it's what makes these sequences work so well. Sidekicks is a film full of heart, laughs and just good vibes all around. Aaron Norris' direction is slick and solid, the score is inspirational, and it all comes together seemingly effortlessly in the best, most cheesy 90's way possible. In short, Sidekicks rules and rules hard.
How to see it:
Unfortunately, this has never made the leap to DVD or Blu Ray here in the states yet. And like many Chuck Norris/Aaron Norris collaborations, this one has never gotten the widescreen treatment either. At least here in the U.S., it's only been released on VHS and Laserdisc, and it's not streaming anywhere on any platform that I could find. I had purchases a DVD from Australia claiming to be an official remastered DVD, only to discover it's a bootleg from a Laserdisc source. So whichever way you go, just be aware that you're not going to find it on DVD or Blu Ray officially. At least not yet.
Talking to people about my experience watching this film for the first time, I was delighted to discover that it's a cult classic in the truest sense. People REALLY love this movie and it's one of those that they grew up on and have loved ever since. I feel if any of Chuck's older films could benefit from a new updated release, it's this one.
That's right! For all you retro fiends and classic cartoon lovers, these two 80's gems have now been added to TubiTV's FREE streaming site.
by robotGEEKKarate Kommandos was a short 5-episode Mini-Series released in 1986, and it's honestly a damn shame it didn't get picked up for a full series because it's great as a gloriously cheesy ultra-violent cartoon. I mean, they just don't make them like this anymore.
Since there were only 5 episodes produced, it was released as a full-length movie on VHS instead of by episodes as was the norm. One of the most surprising aspects of this particular cartoon was that Chuck actually provided the voice work himself.
Mr. T ran longer for a total of 3 seasons and 30 episodes, beginning in 1983. This is great news for me personally because I actually never got around to this one and it's been a cartoon I've been wanting to see for some time now. I just never got around to pulling the trigger on the Hanna Barbera DVD collection.
If you're like me, or if you're relatively close to my age (mid 40's), then you remember this film playing on either HBO or Cinemax way back in the early to mid 90's. And during the subsequent years, it would be a film that was relatively hard to get your hands on, as it never got an official DVD release here in the states, and to be honest, I think most people just either forgot about it or forgot what it was called. I know I surely did. It's one of those low-budget sci-fi classics that would play religiously on those channels, like Space Raiders (1983) and Android (1982), but would ultimately be forgotten.
Released in 1989, this Empire Studios release has so much to offer that it's still hard to grasp that it has yet to be given a proper release. Let's begin with it's impressive production. For starters, it's written by the creative duo of Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo (The 1990 Flash TV series, The Rocketeer, Trancers), and produced by none other than Full Moon's Charles Band. Former production manager and first assistant director Peter Manoogian (Eliminators) directs with gusto, giving the film a lot of the same energy and aesthetic that made his previous sci-fi film Eliminators (1986) such a cult classic. You remember that one right? That was another staple on cable television, with the main guy being half man, half robot, with his lower half being a mini tank. Yea that movie was awesome.
Newcomer Paul Satterfield plays Steve Armstrong, a cook at a local greasy dive who's dreams of becoming an Arena Fighter come to fruition when he's seen impressively pummeling an aggressive customer to the ground. The Arena is the biggest fighting competition in the galaxy, and the winner immediately becomes both rich and famous. But each bout, filled with aliens of varying species across the galaxy, comes with it's own challenges as Armstrong is merely a human in a world filled with aliens. As corruption within the tournaments rears its ugly head, Armstrong and his team, led by the beautiful Claudia Christian (The Hidden, Maniac Cop 2) fight to win the tournament fairly.
Arena is so much fun. Not only is it a great looking film, full of impressive production design, makeup effects (even for it's budget) and a solid cast of notable character actors who you're sure to recognize (even under a lot of prosthetics and makeup), but it's tone (in all it's PG-13 rated glory) reel you in from the beginning and it's a helluva fun ride. In a lot of ways, it has a lot of the same charm that made Stuart Gordon's Robot Jox (1989) from the same year so damn good.
Now I mentioned earlier that it has never gotten an official DVD release here in the states, and that's not entirely true. It was released as part of a 4-Pk from Shout! Factory back in 2003 on DVD, along with Eliminators, America 3000 and The Time Guardian. Sadly, they're all in full frame, except for The Time Guardian, which is the only one in widescreen. This set is super cheap, but then again all you get are 4 films with no extras and not even in their proper aspect ratio. So technically it has been released on DVD, but never as a standalone film. I feel it could surely be due for a spiffy Blu Ray upgrade by now.
Last I checked, Arena was currently streaming for FREE on The Roku Channel, but I'm not sure for how long
It's such a shame this movie doesn't get more respect. Or that it's considered a classic. Having not seen it in quite some time, I was both pleasantly surprised and honestly floored by how brooding, intense and all around engrossing this was, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that not a lot of people talk about it. And I'm not really sure why, because this was pretty fucking great.
It's safe to say that the series had taken a hard detour into the absurd. There are moments in Part 3: The Dream Warriors (undoubtedly the most popular in the franchise) where Freddy is beginning to turn into the wise-cracking trickster we would eventually be accustomed to, but it's also easy to forget that in the first 2 films he was serious, scary and mean. Part 4: The Dream Master (my personal favorite, even though it's basically just a long slick looking music video of random sequences that don't make any sense) is where he fully embraces the silly side of his character, before everything goes overboard and into shit with Part 5: The Dream Child, a film I have never been able to finish.
So with this film, Wes Craven wanted to re-establish the franchise and the character of Freddy by taking him back to his horror roots and away from the silliness and campiness that had run rampant in the series for years. And honestly, he fucking nailed it here. Everything about this film works, even in it's surreal meta film within a film world dichotomy. It's dark, bleak, mean-spirited and so immersive that you barely even realize that Freddy Kreuger doesn't even make his first appearance until a full hour and 20 minutes in! Because you're fully invested, and you're submerged into this story.
Craven is a very skilled filmmaker. And that's something that took me years to fully appreciate. When I was younger, of course I loved films like Shocker, Swamp Thing and A Nightmare on Elm Street like everyone else, but as I got older, and really looked at the specific way he shoots his films, I was wickedly impressed more and more. I mean, look at what he was able to do with his followup to this, Eddie Murphy's Vampire in Brooklyn. Marketed as a comedy (and I will agree it is actually funny in some parts), I was shocked to discover upon watching it for the first time that it's actually more of a gothic romance horror film than anything else, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. I never would have thought based on the trailers trying to sell it as an Eddie Murphy comedy. I guess the same thing can be said about Murphy's Metro (1997), a film marketed as a comedy but in reality is a pretty badass cop/action/thriller. But with Vampire in Brooklyn, Craven was able to really make something special out of something that could have turned into a dud. And I know it wasn't necessarily a hit, but I do know that it's gained a nice cult status since it's initial release. My point is that it's far better than it should have been, and that's all due to Wes Craven, not Eddie Murphy.
It's a shame that New Nightmare didn't spawn more films and re-ignite the franchise. He tried his best to steer it in the right direction, and honestly, he nailed it here. Everything works so effectively. The constant sense of dread is palpable, and with the exception of a few dodgy CGI effects, the design of everything that happens in the final act is just incredible. In regards to Freddy's new look, I love it. While a bit different than the makeup that defined his look from Parts 1 through 4, it's leaps and bounds better than his new makeup look from Part 5.
While this last film (not counting Freddy vs Jason that came almost 10 years later) didn't kickstart a new era of Freddy films, it is a glorious sendoff to one of the most popular horror icons, and horror franchises in film history, delivered by the man who created it exactly 10 years earlier.
Here's a series of films I never got around to. Mainly because I just never came across them. While fairly cheap on VHS, DVD's (in full frame) are shockingly pricey. Luckily Amazon Prime has this first one streaming, so let's dig in.
I have to admit that this one surprised me at nearly every turn. A very fun and surprisingly well-made film that is basically Die Hard meets Demolition Man, but mostly Die Hard, and a full year before Demolition Man even came out. Without reading anything about it going in, the killer cast is what immediately impressed me the most. While I knew Frank Zagarino (Armstrong) is the main guy, I was not expecting Martin Kove (Steele Justice), Paul Koslo (Robot Jox) and Meg Foster (They Live) to tag along for the ride. Even more so to discover that Kove is actually the good guy here, something we just didn't see enough of.
An android (Zagarino) and his group of mercenaries hijack a building and take a bunch of people hostage, including the presidents daughter (Meg Ryan). Desilva (Kove) is a prisoner who is released from his frozen cryogenic state to help them rescue the presidents daughter and bring down the android, only they mistakenly thought he was someone else. Forced into a situation of life and death, Desilva rises to the occasion as the reluctant hero intent on getting out alive.
The action is pretty slick, Zagarino is a great imposing figure as the killer robot, and the cast is really impressive. I mean, they're always great, but seeing Martin Kove play the reluctant hero every once in a blue moon is such a welcome change. Meg Ryan is great as always, actually turning into a badass here, but I think the real standout for me was Paul Koslo, whom I am always used to seeing playing a foreign villain. Here he plays the straight-edged FBI agent under pressure to do whatever is necessary to save the presidents daughter.
It really is a blast from start to finish. It pulls no punches in trying to be original, instead having fun by borrowing elements from other films and throwing them into a blender. It hits the ground running right from the very beginning and never lets up. The action sequences, even including the model work, is impressively done. While I had issues with the gunfire (yea I know, a weird complaint), the rest of the action, aside from some bad editing here and there, is plentiful. I also found the theme song to be eerily similar to Danny Elfman's Batman theme, but that could just be me. Here's to hoping the next 2 installments are as entertaining.
Project: Shadowchaser is currently streaming on Amazon Prime
Curiously, I'd never gotten to this one until now for some reason. Which is odd since I was probably at my peak "John Woo" phase when this came out. I mention that because this was a film he executive produced, and it's got Hong Kong Action Cinema written all over it.
So I will admit that it's a lot of fun, if uneven. The action is impressive, and the cast is pretty great all around. The direction by Kirk Wong is really solid and it's soundtrack will definitely take you back to the 90's in a good way. I feel that the film only really suffers in two areas. One, with it's forced and awkward comedy, and two, with how Lou Diamond Phillips portrays one of the main characters. Essentially, everyone in this film is from New Jersey, so literally everyone talks like they're right out of The Jersey Shore, and it can be incredibly annoying at times because it's so over the top. But not as annoying as Phillips as he goes so overboard with his accent and portrayal that you literally have to watch it with subtitles to understand just what the hell he's saying. I'm not even joking or trying to be funny. It's absolutely ridiculous and really hurts the film overall, not to mention the fact that it just comes across as a stereotype in the worst possible way. Anyway, moving on.
The Big Hit comes courtesy of director Kirk Wong, who directed the absolutely incredible Crime Story (1993) starring Jackie Chan, easily one of my favorite Chan films and at the time, one of his rare "serious" films as he has a penchant for including comedy whenever possible. But Crime Story was different, and that's probably why I loved it so much, not to mention that it's just goddamn gritty and violent as all hell. Seriously, if you haven't had a chance to see it yet, get to it.
Wong does a really great job handling the action sequences here, incorporating a lot of the standard HK tropes associated with that genre. But it's also apparent he's working within the Hollywood system, which does make it look and feel a little different than what you'd expect from a HK action director. With that being said, there's a ton of action, and it all looks great, but it never truly feels 100% HK the same way Woo, Ringo Lam or Tsui Hark would have done it.
Labeled an action/comedy, there are many repeated attempts at comedy, but for me it was just so forced and cringe-inducing. While Kirk Wong is really great at directing action, comedy is something else entirely. Or American comedy for that matter. It just tries way too hard, and all you end up doing is rolling your eyes. That's not to say there aren't some little clever moments that actually work, because there are a few here and there. There's this little bit about a VHS rental of King Kong Lives that was amusing, but like everything else, they went too far with it and killed it's potential as an actual funny comedy bit. So for me, most of it just didn't work.
One of the biggest surprises for me here was the quality of action for sure, but the large and surprisingly impressive cast. In the leads we have Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bokeem Woodbine and Antonio Sabato Jr., but then there's Elliot Gould, Christina Applegate, Avery Brooks, Lela Rochan and Lainie Kazan. If some of those names don't mean anything to you, you'll most certainly recognize them when you see them. It's a shame everyone is doing an awful over-exaggerated New Jersey accent the entire time.
How to watch it:
The Big Hit is currently streaming on Amazon Prime this month
Fun, Slick & Engaging: A Truly Underrated Gem In The Spy/Thriller Genre
This is one of those films that I always passed over at the video store, even when I worked in one as my first job. Nothing about the title or cover art suggested it would be anything I'd be interested in back then (the early 90's), so I never gave it a second thought. *I know this German VHS cover art above looks great, but check out the simple U.S. poster art below. When it recently popped up on both Amazon Prime and Hulu, I decided to do a quick search on it and discovered that not only does it come from writer/director Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), but it actually has really favorable reviews. Lets dig in.
When a semi-retired spy is given an assignment to trade a Russian prisoner for an American, things don't go as planned and he soon discovers a trail of corruption and must work with his former prisoner to escape Russia alive
This wonderful little film is the true definition of a hidden gem. Beautifully shot, tightly edited and flawlessly crafted in a neat little package that brings back stark comparisons to the excellent 80's childhood favorite Cloak & Dagger more than anything else. I kind of went in expecting something serious and by-the-numbers, sort of like Peter Hyams excellent, yet simply effective The Presidio, but instead was treated to something that was fun and more lighthearted than I was expecting, while also being dark and violent when the time called for it. Most of that is due to writer/director Nicholas Meyer's razor sharp script and slick direction, but the undeniable chemistry between Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov really adds a lot to the fun.
Gene Hackman is just so damn good. He's so brutishly effective as a villain that it's all too easy for him to be typecast as one, so it's incredibly refreshing to see him turn in a good guy performance every once in a while, like he does here. I'd also like to mention there's a pretty great supporting cast of familiar faces all around such as Terry O'Quinn, Kurtwood Smith and Daniel von Bargen to name a few. It's just as if this film kept surprising me at nearly every turn, and I loved it.
Nicholas Meyer directed this the same year he directed Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, considered by many to be the last great Star Trek film from the original franchise. So not only was he incredibly busy this year, but he delivered a one-two punch of greatness in both the "spy/thriller" genre, as well as the "science fiction" genre. Which makes it all the more surprising to learn that after this incredible year, he only directed a TV Movie before calling it quits as a director. Gene Hackman, for his part, had just come off of Peter Hyam's excellent Narrow Margin, another great thriller from Hyams, and another great good guy role for Hackman.
If you give this a chance, you'll find that this isn't your typical spy/thriller, in that while it is a serious film from start to finish, it has such a pleasant air about it that keeps it fun and engaging throughout. A sort of "fun" spy/thriller, of which there are far too few. As I mentioned before, the closest thing I can compare it to is 1984's Cloak & Dagger, which if you loved that movie as much as I do, then you'll surely love this.
How to watch it:
Company Business is currently streaming on Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime
I literally just finished watching this, and felt compelled to immediately sit down and write down my thoughts for fear I might actually forget them, which happens a lot these days. And I have to be honest, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. On one hand I can understand why people love it, but on the other, while impressive for a low-budget film, I found certain aspects of it off-putting.
Let's start with the good. It's written and directed by former special and makeup effects artist Stephen Norrington, who we all know would go on to direct the first R-Rated Marvel film with the incredibly kickass Blade 4 years later in 1998, making cinematic history for a number of reasons. So you'll notice almost immediately it has a "quality" to it. While he hasn't quite reached the level of visuals he would attain in Blade, you see sparks of that brilliance here and there here. And I have to admit, for a guy who has never directed a film before, it's quite impressive for the most part.
The big killer robot, aka the Death Machine, is revealed in pretty much the same way it was in Richard Stanley's Hardware (a film Norrington also worked on), only showing you bits and pieces of it until you get the full reveal in the third act. As the film progresses, you'll notice several more nods to that cult classic. As far as robots go, you can say that this one is pretty cool. Big, clunky and deadly, it's hard to really make out any sort of design to it all, but since you never really see it from afar for most of the film, it doesn't really matter. The action, when it "finally" hits, is pretty fierce and chaotic in a good way.
You'll find some familiar faces, some of them surprising, like a young and very 90's looking Rachel Weisz in a very brief scene, and Richard Brake (31) doing some scene-chewing with legendary character actor William Hootkins (Batman, Hardware, The Empire Strikes Back) offering up some valuable credit.
One thing that I was not expecting was it's tone and tongue-in-cheek humor. It's as if it's constantly winking at the camera, making so many pop culture references, including one of Street Fighter (the video game), that you know Norrington is a nerd at heart. But yea, the film has a slight wink-at-the-camera sort of humor that kind of threw me off a bit for a while, but it was something I warmed up to.
On the negative side, I found the constant closeup shots a bit jarring. With so much of the film being shot up close to the actors or objects almost all of the time, I found it hard to make out any of the surroundings and really made it feel claustrophobic. It's a shame too because there were several moments where Norrington pulled back, and you can actually see what's going on and some of the films impressive production design, combined with some outstanding camerawork make for really beautiful compositions. It's a shame they're so random and infrequent. I'm not sure if shooting the film almost entirely in closeups was out of necessity, or a creative choice.
While I found the first half curiously offbeat in it's tone, it's last act more than makes up for most or all of my issues by basically blending Hardware, Robocop 2 and Aliens into a rousing and satisfying conclusion. Overall it won't blow you away or anything, but it's impressive enough to keep you invested for the big payoff.
How to watch it:
Death Machine is currently streaming on Amazon Prime in full frame, which honestly makes the closeups far more jarring than they probably are. Still, the fact that it's so easily accessible at the moment should warrant a watch.
A German 3-disc Blu-Ray set in widescreen was released in 2015, which seems hard to find these days, and a recent import from Spain goes for around $25. Still no U.S.
Ronin Flix is now taking pre-orders for this insanely impressive new set of one of the most infamous cult classics ever released. Tons of new extras, a brand new 4K scan, posters, a book and well, I'll just let you read the details for yourself below. Pre-ordering now will get you FREE Shipping and $10 OFF.
via Ronin Flix:
Starring Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Jamie Bernadette, Maria Olsen, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann, Jim Tavare, Jonathan Peacy, Roy Allen, Alexandra Kenworthy, Meir Zarchi, Terry Zarchi, Tammy Scher (Tammy Zarchi)
I recently revisited this out of the blue, for no real reason other than it had just popped in my head and I felt like revisiting it. To my surprise, I quickly discovered this is a very hard film to get your hands on. Or at least in widescreen. From what I could gather, it only ever got a single DVD release, and it was in the dreaded full frame. There are a few uploads on YouTube, but they're all shit quality. Mill Creek actually released this on Blu Ray back in 2016 (I had no clue), and quickly went OOP. So of course it goes for insane money on the secondhand market. I'm talking anywhere from $50-$200 for a film that I barely remember and am not even sure if I'll like at this age. However, I was both lucky and surprised to learn it was released in widescreen on VHS in a Collectors Edition Clamshell Release. So thankfully I did get to finally see it in all it's widescreen glory. As for the film itself, I'll post a review on it sometime soon when I can find the time. But those of you who've wanted to either revisit this 80's cult classic, or check out this oddity for the first time, there's great and "affordable" news.
Kino Lorber will be releasing this as part of their "Classics" series on December 8th. From the looks of it, we're not getting any special features, which seems to be the norm for KL releases, but we are getting this in HD and in widescreen. Oh, they're also going back to the original "unedited" poster art. If you recall with the Mill Creek release in 2016, they hilariously edited out the machine guns, which was so ridiculous. As you can see here in the cover, guns are in tact.
Here are the details via Amazon:
• Audio Commentary by Film Historians Mike McPadden and Kat Ellinger
• Lossless 2.0 Stereo Audio
• Theatrical Trailer
• Optional English Subtitles
Color 95 Minutes 2.35:1 Rated PG
Michael Harlan (John Stockwell, Losin’ It, Christine, Top Gun) has procrastinated on his science project until the last minute, and his teacher (Dennis Hopper, River’s Edge, Blue Velvet, Speed) issues him an ultimatum: turn in a science project or flunk. So, Mike scavenges a military base’s junk pile for a suitable gizmo to pass off as his project. He finds one... and unwittingly unleashes the awesome power and energy of the unknown. Twisted dimensions… time warps… a fantastic realm where the past, present and future collide in a whirling vortex that takes the class on a startling adventure through time and space. The wonderful cast includes Danielle von Zerneck (La Bamba), Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit), Richard Masur (Scavenger Hunt), Barry Corbin (Stir Crazy) and Ann Wedgeworth (TV’s Three’s Company).
You can pre-order this directly from Amazon HERE. And I highly suggest you do so, because it will most surely sell out as it did before. My Science Project is set to release on December 8th.
Not to be confused with the PG-Rated family-friendly live action Robocop series from 1994, this 4-Episode-Mini-Series from 2001 pretty much delivers the goods within the confines of television, yet it's rarely ever talked about. Sure people love deriding that early 90's atrocity, but it's really surprising that nobody ever mentions this one, because I have to admit, after finally getting to see it, it turned out to be a lot better than I was expecting going in.
Now, full disclosure. I still haven't seen the 1994 series that only lasted a single season, but just based on it's reputation, it's not popular in the least. In fact, I haven't met a single person who actually likes it. We all know that they decided to follow in the footsteps of Robocop 3 by making it PG, and including a kid as one of the main characters, but seeing how Part 3 crashed and burned so miserably, I'm surprised they would continue down that path just a year later with the series, instead of changing course. Whatever the reasons, the series died a sad death and it would be 7 years until they tried to resurrect it once again.
Instead of going for the full-on series this time, they decided....."smartly", to make this a mini-series. Only each episode of this mini-series is an hour and a half long (the length of your average film), making the entire endeavor a whopping 6 hour's to sit through. The episodes (Dark Justice, Meltdown, Resurrection and Crash and Burn) all carry their own distinct storylines, but still part of a much larger storyline that spans the entire 4 episodes, so you have to watch them all to know what's going on.
Prime Directives is awesome. It felt like the kind of Robocop show we all had wished for. I mean, we were never going to get a high dollar show that would match the budget of the films, so all of those people who complain about how low-budget it all looks really must have thought otherwise. But for a television show, Prime Directives looks exactly like what I was expecting it to. And unlike the 1994 PG rated series, they went the R-Rated route here. It's not a hard R, because while I did spot a scene with boobs "once", and maybe a few curse words here and there, I think that rating is strictly for the violence. It's not crazy violence, or even gory for that matter, but there is a helluva lot of action going on in each episode. So much so that sometimes it was exhausting.
Oddly enough, despite all it has going for it, like nonstop action and impressive Robocop suits, it's also equally bad in the ways that I like. For example, a lot of the acting is laughably awful, the dialogue is really hammy, and the casting is.......not good. There are so many cringe-inducing moments where certain characters are trying to act like badasses or villains that it's entertaining for the wrong reasons. Casting was just way off across the board here. Though I found Page Fletcher (The Hitchhiker) to be a decent Alex Murphy/Robocop, he's surprisingly short when compared to any of the actors who played him before in both film and the tv series. It's just hard not to notice, especially when the character of Cable (basically an upgraded 2-gun slinging Robocop) comes into play. He's so badass in so many ways, even if he just looks like a shinier, bigger Robocop.
I must admit, as much as I enjoyed it, each episode, or I guess technically they'd be considered a TV Movie considering how long they are, was a chore to sit through at times. They're basically too long for their own good. While it's fun seeing a shit ton of action and carnage, there were many times when I felt it overstayed it's welcome. And then there are the many storylines going on simultaneously. While most of them connect in some way, it just felt like there were too many of them and trimming down some of those subplots would have been welcome.
Yet despite my issues, it's hard to deny it's charm, because it tries really, really hard to capture the magic of the first 2 films, most notably in its attempts at satire. I loved it overall. It's violent, cheesy and gloriously over the top on a budget. It may not be the Robocop series we all dreamed of, but it's the closest thing to capturing the tone of the first 2 films. And let's face it. It's been 33 years since that landmark first film. 2 cartoon series, a live action series, a live action mini-series and a big budget remake later and nothing can match that kind of magic. But for my money, despite the awful acting, casting issues and outdated tv-grade CGI, Prime Directives gets pretty close.
How to watch it:
Currently, the entire 4-episode mini-series is streaming for FREE on The Roku Channel, so if you currently use a Roku device to stream apps on your tv, or use a Roku Smart TV, you already have it. I'd take advantage of this opportunity before it's gone. Otherwise, you can purchase them on DVD individually for roughly $10 each new and used. I haven't seen them released as a set yet.
Low-budget maestro Cirio H. Santiago (Equilizer 2000, Naked Vengeance, Wheels of Fire) directs this martial arts flick starring the impossibly sexy Jillian Kesner as a woman who travels to Manila to look for her sister who's gone missing. When she arrives, she soon discovers her sister was mixed up with and killed by the local mafia and illegal underground fighting ring organization. Being a martial artist herself, she immerses herself into this seedy underworld to find out what happened and exact revenge.
Firecracker has a lot going for it, but doesn't quite reach the level of Bad Movie Night classic, except for one glorious sequence that really makes the entire experience worth it. There's a scene where our heroin Susanne Carter (Jillian Kesner) is being chased by 2 thugs. While running for her life, her clothes repeatedly get caught on items that rip them off, where she's left in her bra and panties. And then in a surprising role reversal, she then taunts the thugs into chasing her even further where she attempts to take them on using her martial arts skills. Her bra is ripped off in one of these fights and she's left nude and kicking this guys ass. I have to say, this surprisingly long sequence is fucking amazing and even if you find the rest of the film a bit tedious, this sequence is worth the effort.
That's not to say the film is uneventfully bad all around. While I did find it dull for good portions of it, Santiago sprinkles enough foot chases and old school kung fu fights to keep you invested. They're not great fights by any means, but really harken back to the old school way they used to shoot and edit these fights (with the exaggerated Enter The Dragon-style sound effects taking center stage), which brought back a lot of good memories for me. Much like a lot of these Philippines movies of the 80's, it's a good mix of Filipino and American actors, with Malibu Expresses mustache'd star Darby Hinton sharing the screen here with Kesner. But while Kesner is a true ass-kicking goddess on the screen, I personally found a minor character of Rey, played by martial artist, director, writer and producer Rey Malonzo, to be the real standout. Only popping in from time to time, he steals the scene every time he shows up. He's like a hybrid of Bruce Lee and Yeun Biao, kicking ass and taking names with such ferocity that aside from the nudity, leaves the biggest impression overall.
There's also a truly bizarre love scene that will blow your mind because it's unlike anything you've ever seen. I can only imagine what was going on in Kesner and Hinton's heads while this was being filmed, yet it adds to the films overall nuttiness.
While it won't rank up there with the best of the Bad Movie Night classics, it's definitely worth a watch.
You can currently watch Firecracker on Amazon Prime and for FREE on TubiTV.