With the release of this cult classic on Blu Ray 5 years ago via Shout! Factory, this somewhat forgotten gem got a boost of well-deserved popularity, and has been riding a decent wave of success ever since. Personally, I haven't seen it in ages. Maybe more than 20 years to be exact. I do remember going to my local theater to see it, and I was so excited. Being about 13 years old, I was the prime age for this, and from what I can remember, I loved it. I'm sure I got my hands on it on VHS too, but you know how it goes, life goes on and you forget about a lot of things. With legendary director Stuart Gordon's sudden passing recently, I felt the urge to revisit some of his early films, and this one was right up at the top of the list.
Stuart Gordon said it best: "It's a kids film that adults can enjoy", and that couldn't be more true. Revisiting it the other day, I enjoyed every single second of it, but watching it as an adult, I was a bit struck by how kid-friendly it was, something I don't remember when I was younger. Aside from a woman's butt shot, and the lead character screaming "I'm going to get in this thing, and I'm going to kick your ass!!!", it's all pretty PG-Rated. And you know what? That's fine. It doesn't take away from the fact that it's still entertaining as hell.
Essentially, Robot Jox is Pacific Rim, where humans operate giant mechanized robots from inside. But instead of fighting giant monsters like in Pacific Rim, they fight themselves for sport. And while today it's pretty clear where Pacific Rim got it's inspiration from, back when it was first released, to kids like myself, it was more like a live action Transformers movie. And you know what? I have to admit, 30 years later, the effects work is so damn impressive. For a kid, this was legit awesome, but as an adult, I can admire how incredible the effects work is because it's all practical. Minus a small CGI moment in space, all of the robot effects, including the fighting, is all done using models, big sets and a whole lot of creative ingenuity. When you consider that all films today, both big and small, will implore CGI 99% of the time, seeing a film done this way is so special. While there are moments that it's undoubtedly clear that models are being used, there are also plenty of moments that will blow your mind in how they made it all happen. Forced perspective, green screen, stop-motion and composite shots make this such a surprisingly effective and tangible experience that it will make you miss the way films used to be made.
The cast is full of great familiar faces (I won't bother naming them all, but you've surely seen them all in plenty of films both big and small), but I have to give it to production designer Giovanni Natalucci (Once Upon a Time in America) for giving the film a sleek, retro aesthetic that only adds to the films enormous visual impact. If anything, Robot Jox is a feast for the eyes combining Natalucci's impressive set design with the Robotech-style design of the robots.
At the time it was the film's production companies (Empire Films) biggest film, who would ultimately go bankrupt during production. Was it because of this film's budget and box office failure? I'm not entirely sure, but the sad reality is that it did not do well. And I have to admit, thinking back, I was a bit surprised this actually made it into theaters, where Gordon's previous films, at least where I lived, hadn't before. And it's such a shame it didn't do well, because it's quite a fun experience. I can only guess that it might have been targeted to adults, when it's really made for kids. Or vice versa. I don't know to be honest. Either way, neither went to go see it upon it's original release, yet it's sustained a healthy cult status ever since because while plenty of others have tried to duplicate, or capitalize on the film's popularity (Charles Bands Crash and Burn the following year comes to mind), none could do what Robot Jox was able to do on a creative and talent level. For that, it remains one of the best examples of low-budget science fiction filmmaking at it's finest, utilizing a long lost art form in practical effects magic and it's quite frankly, stunning to see in HD today.
I picked mine up on Amazon here in the U.S., but I've also seen it pop up on eBay. I would also suggest browsing eBay or Amazon over in Germany as well, as a lot of them will ship to the United States.
Robot Jox is cheesy good fun, and you'll definitely want this to be in your HD collection.
90's Action Attack!: Strategic Command (Quick Shot Review)
You would think that with all this time on my hands, that I'd have more time to be able to do these reviews, but for some reason it's been the opposite. I'm probably watching more movies than I have in ages, but because of my other hobbies, I'm finding it hard to sit down and write about them. Anyway, maybe the best way is to just make them short and quick. So here we go.
I came across this on Amazon Prime and right off the bat I'll tell you that it's good. It's damn good, just not as great as it could be and probably not the kind of film you're expecting. For starters, it's more a thriller than an action film; sort of a combination of Air Force One and Executive Decision, with maybe a dash of Passenger 57 thrown in for good measure.
It's an exceptionally well made film, and the cast is full of familiar faces, most notably a young Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as a snotty television reporter who's also stuck on the plane with the hijackers. If anything, the constant who's who of character actors was a fun and pleasant surprise. I would have to say that really the only thing lacking, or where the film slightly falters is in the action department. There's not a whole lot of it, and the little fight scenes and action scenes there are, are less than thrilling and feel a bit rushed and uninspired compared to how well the rest of the film is put together. And this could all be because they were probably handled by a second unit director, someone with a different style of shooting than the actual director. If that's the case, it would explain a lot.
Richard Norton was a blast as the main villain/terrorist/hijacker. While it was a bit surprising to see him play the character straight, without any martial arts skills, it proves that hes one hell of an actor, and not just a skilled martial artist. Dudikoff, to his credit, does a fine job and carries the film effortlessly on his shoulders, and the rest of the cast is impressive. I just feel it needed a little more action, and it would have been nice if the little action we did get was handled a little more smoothly. But as it is, Strategic Command AKA Executive Command, offers a nice slice of 90's "Die Hard on a plane" thrills on a budget. I personally enjoyed it.
You can currently watch this on Amazon Prime and TubiTV.
Documentary Spotlight: Never Surrender - A Galaxy Quest Documentary
The Sci-Fi Classic Finally Gets It's Due
I'm well aware that Galaxy Quest has gained an enormous cult following since it's initial release in 1999, though oddly enough, I wasn't one of those fans. While it did well enough, it wasn't the big hit the studios and filmmakers were expecting. But a funny thing happened. As the years went on, people began to discover just how great it actually is, and before long, it took on a life of it's own among the sci-fi community. A big part of the problem was that it was marketed as a comedy, when the reality is that while there are some funny moments, Galaxy Quest ultimately plays out like one of the best Star Trek films that isn't actually a Star Trek film.
What's interesting is that I can only recall maybe having seen it once. And I don't even remember much about it really, other than some basic stuff. But watching this doc I was struck by how much I had forgotten, and most importantly, who was actually in the film. I couldn't believe it! And while some were relative unknowns then, but have become household names today, it's the brilliant casting of the leads that surprises me. When you hear of the names the studio initially wanted to cast, you'll be floored because while brilliant, it just would have been a completely different film than the one we got. And Tim Allen for his part is the rock and glue that holds it all together so incredibly well. But it's shocking to discover that he wasn't even their first choice!
Never Surrender is a brilliant, funny, touching and poignant documentary that focuses on Galaxy Quest, it's inception, production, it's release and ultimately it's huge cult status that took years to acquire. Here we get to talk to literally everyone involved, from the actors, to the writer, director, producer, high profile fans, cosplayers and so much more. Never Surrender is a love letter to that classic film that not only answers any question you may have on it's production, but also why people seem to love it so much. It's an endearing hour and a half that will make you feel all kinds of feels and trust me, you'll want to revisit Galaxy Quest immediately afterwards.
Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary is currently streaming on Amazon Prime as of this writing
80's Thriller Throwback: The Hunter (1980)
I'm going to be right up front with you and say that I have never seen a Steve McQueen film. At least, none that I can recall. Weird right? I can't explain it either, but it is what it is. I do realize thought that I need to rectify that, especially now with all this time we have on our hands.
McQueen plays Papa, a bounty hunter circa 1980 who tracks down bail jumpers, while also trying to maintain a relationship with his gorgeous, younger girlfriend who just so happens to be ready to give birth to their first child. In the middle of all this, a psycho from his past has resurfaced and is hell bent on killing him.
I found this to be enjoyable, but a far cry from what I was expecting, or to put it more bluntly, what it could have been. There are moments of greatness that are completely overshadowed by it's ho-hum approach, meandering endlessly from one insignificant subplot to another that never results in anything satisfying. It's as if this was intended to be a television series and they just decided to cut up a bunch of the episodes and turn it into a film. In the end, it should have been a television series or Made-for-TV movie because that's exactly what it feels like. There's never anything that justifies this being a theatrical release. Aside from it's ending, and a car chase involving a tractor, everything, including it's tone, is so mediocre here. There are so many plots going on at the same time, yet none of them connect. You're basically following him on his job tracking bail jumpers, and it almost feels like an entire episode could have been dedicated to all of these jobs/hunts he's on. Then there's the endless sequences involving his relationship with his live-in girlfriend who's just about ready to give birth and their endless list of issues involving commitment. There is so much happening that the storyline involving a killer who's after him, which should have been the main focus, is an nothing but an afterthought, barely registering as a plot device. If you were to combine all the minutes that are dedicated to this storyline, it would probably add up to about 15 minutes total, which is a shame because the killer, played by Tracey Walter (Batman 1989), is highly effective and he appears so infrequently that you forget about him until he randomly reappears an hour later.
It's a shame that this was McQueen's final film. I mean, it's entertaining in a television kind of way, but for a film that actually had a theatrical release, and for a film that ultimately would be his last due to his sudden death, The Hunter feels like such a wasted effort, not knowing what to do with itself or where to go. McQueen is great, all of the actors are great, but it lacks any kind of focus and punch.
The Hunter is currently streaming on Crackle for FREE as of this writing.
80's Thriller Throwback: The Banker (1989)
A Sleazy, Neon And Smoke Filled Detective Thriller That's As Odd As It Is Entertaining
If you're relatively close to my age, you remember this VHS cover while browsing your local video store way back in the day. I know I did, but I can tell you that that cover never pulled me in or did anything for me. So I never watched it. But thanks to Amazon Prime, I was finally able to check it out.
The first thing I will mention is that this was nothing like what I was expecting......at all. Which was honestly a pleasant surprise. It's weird as shit, yet that's part of what makes this so memorable, and in some circles, great. Also, the real star here is the legendary Robert Forster, who plays a burnt out, but brilliant cop. I mean, his name should be front and center in big bold letters at the top of any advertisement for this because it's ultimately his film all the way. The fact that I wasn't even aware that he was in this is a crime. He's fucking amazing in this as always and it's yet another example of why he was one of the best and so good at what he does.
I suppose I would call this an erotic/detective/thriller with a dose of "The Most Dangerous Game" thrown in, because why not. As the film starts you feel it's going to be another run-of-the-mill 80's/90's low-budget thriller, because that's what it feels like. But you soon discover it's something else, and probably better than you expected. For me personally, I found it to be made exceptionally and surprisingly well. I mean, this could easily look like a Made-for-TV movie, but it has style to burn throughout and director William Webb does a fine job making it all look good. I should also mention that it helps that it's drenched in 80's neon and smoke, making it kind of feel like a music video from time to time, which is awesome.
Overall I found this quite enjoyable. Maybe it was because my expectations were low going in (I have never met a single person who's even seen this before), but it held my attention throughout, and as the film progressed, it just got weirder and weirder, which was a blessing for sure, as this could easily have been a paint-by-numbers, and easily forgotten thriller. It's a sleazy, neon drenched, amusing, gritty, violent, and at times wacky thriller that I would consider a pleasant surprise if you're in the right mood. Kudos to writer Dana Augustine for taking the unconventional route, and to director William Webb for giving the film plenty of style. While it may not currently have a strong cult status, I feel it's day is coming and it's just a matter of time. More people should be certainly be aware of this little gem, so let's all do our part to help spread the word.
It's currently streaming on Amazon Prime (as of this writing) n the U.S., in a nice 4K restoration and most importantly, in widescreen. I'm not sure if this ever got a legitimate DVD or widescreen release for that matter here in the states, but word is that there is a new Blu Ray release on the horizon with an all new color-corrected transfer courtesy of Dark Force. I for one, will be on the lookout for that release. In the meantime, enjoy Amazon's surprisingly slick transfer while it's available.
90's Action Attack!: Firepower (1993)
Low-budget action is one of my absolute favorite genre's, and while there is no shortage of these types of films at my disposal, I've experienced a sort of lull these past few weeks. I maybe sat down to watch a good handful of them, and none of them did anything for me. I was shocked! Usually there's a gem in there somewhere, but not this time. That is until I stumbled upon this one. And really, I should have known better. I should have known to just seek out a film from the almighty PM Entertainment from the get-go, because they rarely ever disappoint.
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, gangs have taken over sections of the city where the police are not allowed. 2 cops (Gary Daniels and Chad McQueen) go undercover and infiltrate one of these zones to find a criminal known as The Swordsman (The Ultimate Warrior), and to also look for a drug the gangs claim is a cure for AIDS, which they control and sell. By infiltrating this drug and criminal enterprise, they must enter the death matches.
Part action film, and part tournament-to-the-death film, Firepower checked off all the boxes on my list and I loved every second of it. There's action, shootouts, huge explosions (that always seem to come out of nowhere), fights to the death, and most surprisingly of all, the legendary The Ultimate Warrior!!!
This was one of 2 films directed by PM Entertainment producer, director and co-owner Richard Pepin in 1993, and would mark his directorial debut for the company. Along with his partner Joseph Merhi (himself a director for the company), PM Entertainment would ultimately become the equivalent to what Cannon Films did in the 80's, only these guys were doing it in the 90's, but much better. They released a slew of action films and that were filled to the brim with insane stunts, copious amounts of explosions and enough action to keep us die-hard fans satisfied all throughout the 90's. While not every single film on their catalog was a gem, most of them were and they were consistent with their look and feel, no matter who directed them. But you could always tell when either Pepin or Merhi took the directors chair because they were actually really good at it and their particular films are considered the best of the bunch.
Pepin's other film that year was Fist of Honor. I'm not sure which came first, but let's say for arguments sake it was this one. If that's the case, it's an impressive debut for sure. You'd never know it was his first time behind the camera. Not only does he handle the action well, the fight scenes in the death ring are also impressive, but for a first-timer, even more so. Gary Daniels and Chad McQueen do fine in their roles, but Jim Hellwig AKA The Ultimate Warrior was a real surprise. While not a wrestling fan personally, there was something about this guy that just screamed wrestler. My buddy The Cinema Drunkie was kind enough to inform me that The Swordsman was in fact The Ultimate Warrior. I men, he's just a massive presence in here. Even though he doesn't utter a single word of dialogue that I can recall, and he certainly can't actually wield a sword very well at all, he's a dominating and imposing figure and really the standout of the film. From what I gather, this was his only film role outside of wrestling.
Firepower isn't mind-blowing or anything, but it's a helluva fun action flick from the PM Entertainment era that most certainly satisfied my thirst for a fun and surprisingly well-made action film after a few weeks of duds.
You can currently watch Firepower on Amazon Prime and TubiTV last time I checked.
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