90's Action Attack!: Project: Shadowchaser (1992)


Die Hard Meets Demolition Man With Martin Kove Saving The Day!

by robotGEEK 

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


90's Action Attack!: The Big Hit (1998)


From The Director Of Jackie Chan's 'Crime Story' And Producer John Woo

by robotGEEK

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. 

Despite my issues with the forced comedy, The Big Hit will certainly entertain you and satisfy the action itch, because the action was very well done and abundant. It's a shame Wong only made one other film, an American TV Movie called The Disciples starring Ice-T, which he would use the Alan Smithee pseudonym on, and not direct again. That was a long time ago. 

How to watch it:

The Big Hit is currently streaming on Amazon Prime this month 


90's Thriller Throwback: Company Business (1991)

Fun, Slick & Engaging: A Truly Underrated Gem In The Spy/Thriller Genre

 by robotGEEK

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


The Cult Corner: Death Machine (1994)

From the director of Blade, comes this mish mash of films that offers up ample amounts of inspired filmmaking

by robotGEEK

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. 

Now, the main star of the film here is Brad Dourif, who plays the arrogant man-child villain Dante. If you look up any of the reviews for this, it's almost unanimous that Dourif is easily the favorite part of people's experience with this. To say that he played Dante over the top is an understatement. You can clearly tell he's having a good time here, but while most people enjoyed that, I found it incredibly annoying. To me, he played him like a puberty-stricken moody 13 year old boy who does nothing but throws tantrums and honestly, my favorite parts of the film were the moments he wasn't in it. 

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.