Thursday, December 10, 2009

Death Wish (The Series)

Death Wish (1974) * * * *

Cast:Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, Jeff Goldbulm

Directed by Michael Winner

Fascinating effort still remains the greatest vigilante movie ever made, not because of the action element and dramatic moments, but also because of the black humor, Bronson’s excellent acting and the factor that Bronson isn’t really looking for those responsible for the murder of his family but just on the muggers in general. While the sequels are one man army bodycount action flicks, this one stands above them all as a true classic. Bronson is as expected, sharp and his presence overall sells the concept. However what makes Death Wish so special is in fact that Winner balances out the serious moments as well as the brutal vengeance with a sense of humor. For instance the sequence where the news interviews others inspired by Bronson’s vigilante actions are in fact genuinely funny. Another factor is the fascinating elements that Death Wish has. The movie sees vigilante justice as in fact the only way to deal with muggers and the crime rate, indeed no scene is stronger than when Bronson asks what kind of a person just lets people get away with such things, and of course the angle that finds the police sort of torn on the vigilante and his justice, as the news reports that mugging is down and Bronson’s antics made New York that much safer. Death Wish then represents a time capsule of the 70s, when movies like Dirty Harry and The French Connection gave the impression that what is needed is a death sentence for muggers. Also the action is well staged,  indeed it’s impressive that while the subsequent entries got more violently graphic, this still remains the most suspenseful and overall has the most impact. Death Wish then is, rightfully so, a heavyweight in the genre.

Death Wish II (1982) *

Cast:Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, Laurence Fishbourne, Thomas F. Duffy

Directed by Michael Winner

This pointless rehash has Bronson and Gardenia, and the same director but overall it completely lacks the elements that made Death Wish 1 so great. For one there is no sense of humor, the action is badly put together and the story is just the same as the first, with this time Bronson getting vengeance on those that attack his catatonic daughter and housekeeper. Actually the whole thing starts as the muggers grab his wallet, he chases them, catches one and beats him up, so then they come to his house for reasons fairly vague. What happens this time is so boring, as the film takes way too much time of Bronson stalking his prey, setting up his ruse to fool his girlfriend (Ireland) and then shooting his often unarmed enemies. Also I guess Bronson does get into a few fights and breaks up a drug deal but these scenes are boring and not at all that enjoyable. However what puts Death Wish II in ugly territory is the long and drawn out rape of Bronson’s maid and daughter, these sequences are fairly graphic (and edited one inch of its life) and it leaves the film feeling rather distasteful. What’s ultimately more surprising is that despite the graphic rape, we are still indifferent to Bronson’s call to arms. Death Wish II is a very weak movie, it remains one of the worst vigilante movies ever made (Only The Exterminator is worse) and it doesn’t work on any level. Death Wish II then is just an ugly, ungainly disaster of a film. Ultimately Death Wish II is one of Bronson’s very worst movies.

Death Wish 3 (1985) * * *

Cast:Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Ed Lauter, Deborah Raffin

Directed by Michael Winner

This time Bronson is hired by police captain Lauter to single handedly wipe out the gang bangers that have terrorized New York since the Vigilante’s departure, of course Bronson doesn’t need much convincing since the creeps murdered his old war buddy and so with vengeance in heart and 30 caliber machine gun in hand vengeance is served C-O-L-D. Death Wish 3 is one of the most guilty of guilty pleasures as it basically has hardly a vengeance angle, no attempt at even trying to be realistic and of course over the top violence that you ultimately cave in and enjoy the film as an action flick. Of course there’s no real plot, just Bronson shooting muggers, the muggers retaliating and then Bronson pushing back to a big orgy of gunfire that is the finale. Bronson of course seems more into it then he does in Death Wish II, and while Death Wish II collapsed into seriousness, Death Wish 3 seems to be almost a black comedy. One imagines that some of this is in fact intentional, especially since there are many sequences seen as comedy, mainly the housewife who shoves a mugger out of the house with a broom, and Bronson’s running joke of Wildey, a gun that is used to hunt elephant. Death Wish 3 is the type of vigilante movie that Cannon films (the producers of this) would use for their template of other ridiculous action flicks. However while Death Wish 3 is an excellent guilty pleasure, it is also a signature Bronson movie and is actually fairly well made as far as things go. The action is cut pretty well, the pacing is good and the film isn’t too badly acted, it’s just that this goes to the extreme so much, that you can’t take it seriously. While I can’t say Death Wish 3 is a bona-fide classic, I can say it’s a lot of fun to watch and no wonder it became a cult favorite. Death Wish 3 is probably the best movie Bronson made in the 80s and from a fan of his 80s work, this says a lot.

Death Wish 4:The Crackdown (1987) * *

Cast: Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez ,Dana Barron, George Dickerson, Soon-Tek Oh

Directed by J.Lee Thompson

Bronson’s back in L.A, this time dealing out vigilante justice to the drug lords responsible for the overdose of his girlfriend’s daughter at the hands of crack, Bronson is actually sponsored by a millionaire who provides him with the necessary ammo and explosives but there’s a double-cross and once again Bronson gets the old machine guns out from behind his fridge (Obviously the ones from Death Wish 3) What can I say about Death Wish 4, it’s ultimately even campier than the Death Wish 3, and while you could admire Winner’s intentional humor (as well as unintentional) and overall quality to the action, this time this is all across the board incompetently made. For instance the gunfight in the fish factory as well as the oil rig shoot out are in particular badly staged, mainly because Bronson just stands with a machine gun mowing down bad guys, indeed Bronson doesn’t even really break a sweat this time until the finale, where his girlfriend (Lenz) is taken hostage. Glass shatters before people are thrown into it, sounds of gunfire is heard before we see the fire on the end of the barrels and hilariously the climax takes place at a roller-skating rink where numerous laughs come just from watching people fall down and panic when the shooting commences. There’s also really, really bad acting from everyone (Even Bronson, Lenz and Ryan are bored with the movie) and this cheapjack sequel while very entertaining fails on pretty much all angles. Indeed this is one bad movie, I mean to explain how cheap the movie is, just know that the score steals the tracks from Invasion USA and 10 To Midnight. Both movies are much better than this, though Death Wish 4 is far funnier.

Death Wish V: The Face Of Death (1994) * * *

Cast:Charles Bronson, Lesley Anne-Down, Michael Parks, Robert Joy, Chuck Shamata

Directed by Allan A. Goldstein

The best sequel (in terms of quality and intentional results that is, though I still like 3 more) finds Bronson this time more in Jason Voorhies mode, as instead of using a machine gun, turns to cyanide sprinkled treats, C-4 laced soccer balls and acid pools to finish off mobsters who attack his finance and then kill her, Bronson keeps wrestling with the idea of going back to his old ways but when he sees the law fail again for the 5th time, Bronson becomes judge, jury and executioner, despite being 72 years old… Bronson as usual is effective in the role, in fact he seems very into the movie, as he personally taunts his prey before sending them plummeting to their deaths. The vengeance angle feels justified this time, as Parks makes an appropriately smarmy villain, in fact Parks gives a great performance one that makes Death Wish 5 more fun than one would expect. The film is also technically well made, as the action is cut relatively well, the production values are big improvement over the three entries and the serious nature is ultimately effective. That said the film takes a tad too long to get to Bronson’s vengeance and it is somewhat disappointing to see Bronson abandon the machine guns in favor of explosives and poison, but the film’s body count is decent, the gore level is high and the factory climax is ultimately pretty satisfying. An underrated sequel to be sure, Death Wish 5 then ends the series on a high note.

The Street Fighter (Series)

The Street Fighter (1974) * * * *

Cast: Sonny Chiba, Goichi Yamada, Yutaka Nakajima

Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa

Bad ass Sonny Chiba stars as the greatest anti-hero ever captured on film, Chiba is Terry, an A-moral karate expert/mercenary that kills non-paying customers and sells their sisters to pimps, ends up becoming the good guy by default when he butts heads with the Yakuza, who look to muscle in on an Heiress’ oil company fortune. Chiba helps her, not out of principle but because they wouldn’t pay him enough and because they tried to kill him. The novelty of The Street Fighter is that this hero is just so mean spirited. This is the cynic’s kung fu movie hands down, as Chiba’s charisma and martial artistry sell the character who is clearly one of the meanest characters ever captured on film. (He makes Harry Callahan seem like sensitivity guru by comparison) Meanwhile the story is unexpectedly good, the story is paced well and the film has some excellent fight sequences. The martial arts film buff can’t go wrong here, mainly because Chiba’s character is so endearingly mean spirited, and although Chiba isn’t at all ponderous or indeed finds his good side, the film keeps an interesting edge throughout. Meanwhile the action is just as well staged. Sonny Chiba no doubt inspired Steven Seagal’s presence because you clearly see Chiba made the template. The Street Fighter then is ultimately one of the best movies in the martial arts genre, up there with Master Of The Flying Guillotine, Five Fingers Of Death, Enter The Dragon, Crippled Avengers and The Big Boss. Indeed if I had to make a list of the greatest kung fu movies ever made, you can bet I’d reserve a place for The Street Fighter. It’s a classic Period.

Return Of The Street Fighter (1975) * *1/2

Cast:Sonny Chiba,Yoko Ichiji

Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa

Chiba returns with the same swagger but unfortunately the series doesn’t rise to Chiba’s effortless charisma. The kung fu scenes are there as is Chiba’s dependable presence but the story feels padded, uninspired and needlessly convoluted. Indeed this movie is pretty disappointing stuff after considering the fun factor of the first. Still not all is bad, for instance the brutal edge is still there, the Return Of The Street Fighter is just as action packed and there is a thrilling motorcycle chase that makes the film supremely watchable, it’s just that it’s not up to the first one’s standards. Though Return is better than the lackluster sequels that followed, this one is worth it only for die-hard fans who don’t mind seeing the same story and generally same results done here on with less success. Personally one should check out Chiba’s stellar work in G.I Samurai, Karate Bullfighter, Karate Bearfighter and The Executioner as those films are depicted with far more ambition and verve than this fairly uninspired sequel. Still it's pretty decent when compared to most in the genre and I don't know if I said this already, but Sonny Chiba is cool and ergo amything the man is in can't be too bad.

The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge (1975) * *

Cast:Sonny Chiba, Sue Shiomi

Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa

This time Chiba does more spy work as he tangles with drug smugglers who want to get their hands on some tapes that have a formula for making Heroin, however since the drug smugglers double-cross our P.O’d hero Chiba takes vengeance in the typically mean spirited way. A passable though ultimately tired sequel, Even Chiba this time seems bored with the plot surrounding him and the film makes Chiba more into a good guy than the other two efforts which ultimately takes away what little novelty this entry would have. Some of the chop socky is fun and as usual Chiba’s charisma always makes a movie somewhat worth watching but this film is pretty pedestrian in all levels and isn’t all that exciting on any level. This would be the worst of the series if not for the subsequent entry.

Sister Street Fighter (1976) *1/2

Cast:Sue Shiomi, Sonny Chiba

Dull entry in this worn down series finds Chiba playing second fiddle to Shiomi, as a karate expert who helps Shiomi battle the drug smugglers who have taken her brother hostage. Shiomi works pretty well, and once again Chiba is fine (though he’s playing a different character) What really sinks this movie is the pacing, in that there are too many long intervals where there is no action. What action there is adequately staged but overall this feels more like a bad spy movie than a Street Fighter series, of course part of this is due to the fact that it wasn’t intended to be a Street Fighter sequel. However even as a stand-alone film this has problems, mainly in that this film is just too boring. Not to mention that the drug smugglers are unexciting villains, and that Shiomi pretty much makes short work of them. Only the fists of fury of the climax, as well as Shiomi and Chiba’s sturdy screen presence save the film from being completely without merit.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kosugi Ninja series

Enter The Ninja (1981)
* * *

Cast: Franco Nero, Susan George, Sho Kosugi, Christopher George

Directed by Menahem Golan

Nero stars as a ninja who after an opening action sequence graduates to lethal ninja, right after the ceremony he visits a friend in the Philippines and protects said friend and fetching wife (George) from land developers, who then employ Nero’s main rival Kosugi. Enter The Ninja is one of the essential kung fu theater classics that rival the classics in the Bruce Li cannon (Though this is clearly not up to Bruce Lee standards.) indeed all of Enter The Ninja is goofy, including a ridiculous climax in which Franco Nero (looking utterly sloppy in the otherwise solid action choreography) employs his kitana, ninja stars and all type of goodies to waste the bad guys before going one on one with Kosugi in the film’s inarguably the most enjoyable movie. As campy and fun as Enter The Ninja is, one finds most of the fun moments come from villains Christopher George and Sho Kosugi. Franco Nero a decent Italian actor looks hopelessly lost in the role as does Susan George who make the least convincing actors to ever be in a ninja flick, although that’s because they try to employ their acting chops to roles that require little talent. This is the film that started the ninja craze and hands down this is well worth a look as a curiosity piece.

Revenge Of The Ninja (1983) * * *

Cast: Sho Kosugi, Keith Vitali, Arthur Roberts, Virgil Frye, Ashley Ferrere, Kane Kosugi, Professor Toru Tanaka

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Sho Kosugi emigrates to the U.S after a rival ninja clan wipes out his family, leaving only his son and mother as survivors, however his best friend Braden (Roberts, also a ninja) is now a drug lord and has been witnessed by Kosugi’s surviving son , Kosugi puts on the pajamas again, gets the old kitana out and fights Braden in a fight to the death in one of the best ninja movies made in the 80s. Revenge Of The Ninja along with American Ninja 1-2, is ultimately one of the most enjoyable martial arts films of the 80s. The action sequences are staged extremely well, by having Kosugi the lead of the movie makes this a significant improvement over Enter The Ninja, as Kosugi is far more convincing of a ninja and a far better martial artist than Franco Nero. The main flaw with the movie is that Kane Kosugi (real life son of Sho) is utterly annoying, also the film doesn’t have enough ninja versus ninja action, sure there’s tons of action involving ninja versus mobsters and gunners but one would’ve liked to see more ninjas getting their asses kicked. Everything though is made up for by the climax where talented martial artists (though not talented actors, excepting Kosugi) fight in a climax that is surreal in the energetic chaos that finds Kosugi scaling a building and fighting Roberts decked out in ninja gear that includes flamethrowers, ninja spikes and marbles which are used to trip someone into said spikes. While martial arts are known to be pretty short on plot and bad acting, Revenge Of The Ninja is much better than most and in doing so , Revenge Of The Ninja is a classic of the genre and is well worth picking up on DVD. In fact, Revenge Of The Ninja is one of Sho’s better movies and one of the signature flicks from the Cannon studios. In other words, a must see for a martial arts fanatic.

Ninja III: The Domination (1984) *

Cast: Lucinda Dickey, Sho Kosugi

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Breakin meets Enter The Ninja, in a movie that should meet the trashcan. Real life break dancer Dickey stars as a dancer who is possessed by a dead ninja, a dead ninja that tries to strike back at those that killed him, however only Kosugi knows that only a ninja can kill a ninja, and so an exorcism is in place and then a fight to the death, which staying awake throughout this mess is in fact. Lucinda Dickey is of course no martial artist, so she looks utterly silly, as do the action sequences. The film’s supernatural elements are ridiculous and poorly done. Indeed had this film got out the break dancing and had just non-stop ninja fights this could’ve been half way decent, instead the film is utterly tedious. Kosugi is wasted in a brief supporting role but worst of all, this film takes up too much time trying to showcase Lucinda Dickey and her boyfriend cop’s relationship, a fatal flaw that makes this film utterly unwatchable. In fact at least the Bruce Li flicks in question knew what they wanted to be and didn’t take up time trying to combine really lame elements such as break-dancing and ninjas. In fact this film is one of the worst ninja movies ever made, and don’t let anyone say any different. Thankfully Firstenberg would later redeem himself next year with the vastly superior American Ninja. Ninja III is strictly for die hard martial arts fans that think Bruce Li In New Guinea is just too complicated for the brain. A truly dreadful sequel, do not see it.

9 Deaths Of The Ninja (1985) *1/2

Cast: Sho Kosugi, Brent Huff

Directed by Emmett Altson

Kosugi and Huff star as commandos/martial arts experts who band together to lead the rescue of American children in the Philippines taken hostage by terrorists with a midget army (!) who I think are supposed to be ninjas but probably not. Actually 9 Deaths is for the most part fairly hard to follow, the film is more along the lines of a James Bond flick than a ninja flick, in fact there aren’t even any ninjas in the film, indeed this is more of a Delta Force styled movie than a ninja flick. That said there are some campy laughs to be had. The film’s completely cheap and dime-store quality is hard not to mock, the shoddy action sequences are almost surreal in their ineptitude and the film is just completely insane. The bad guys’ plans don’t make any sense and for some reason the film just jumps around sans explanation. Fans of kung fu camp may find something to enjoy as this is truly as hilarious as bad ninja movies get, seriously how can one not chuckle at seeing ninja comandos fight a midget army but anyone else that asks for quality with their ninja flicks (fun-bad as opposed to so bad it's good) are well advised to steer clear, as this remains one of the shoodiest in the genre and certainly remains one of Kosugi’s worst efforts.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Snake Eater (The Series)

Snake Eater (1989) * * *

Cast: Lorenzo Lamas, Josie Bell, Ronnie Hawkins, Ron Palillo, Robert Scott

Directed by George Erschbamer

Lorenzo Lamas stars a Cop/Marine (of the Snake Eater special forces) who  uses his special forces skills to become a Rambo like one man army to save his sister from a gang of backwoods mutant-like thugs who for no reason kill various people who cross their paths, and therefore it’s on like donkey kong. Snake Eater is what you call a guilty pleasure, it’s cheaply made, badly acted, and ridiculous and yet somewhat enjoyable in a schlocky way. Indeed Lamas actually fares better than he usually does (before and after) and while the movie’s attempt at humor is utterly lame, Erschbamer keeps the pace quick, the action (while cheaply conducted) is well staged and the villains are suitably menacing, indeed for those looking for campy action, one will find a lot to enjoy about Canada’s answer to Rambo. The best part of Snake Eater comes from the hilarious escape from sleeping bags that Lamas and Bell are tied into, in which suspense lingers on Lamas’ attempt to swing back and forth to knock out one of the bad guys, a sequence that is hilarious but no less than the fact that the main bad guy kills with bear claws.

Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster (1991) * * *

Cast: Lorenzo Lamas, Larry B. Scott, Michelle Scarabelli, Ron Palillo

In what is Lorenzo Lamas’ best movie to date, Snake Eater II finds L.L reprising his role as Soldier, a crazed one man army cop so insane he’s actually confined to a mental facility, which of course serves as to where Lamas and Scott plan their destruction on drug dealers who cut their drugs with rat poison (credibility is not a big factor here) and in doing so becoming judge, jury and executioner at the expense of mobsters who are destroyed from the inside out. Snake Eater II is not only a vast improvement over the original, it’s also one of the better entries out there in the STV market, indeed the production values are slick, the action well staged and the comedy actually quite funny. Indeed Erschbamer keeps the action frequent and Larry B. Scott of Revenge Of The Nerds fame has good chemistry with star Lorenzo Lamas, indeed the best part of the movie is the appeal of both, as they plant bombs in toilets, replace fire extinguisher with ones rigged with gas and of course a sequence in which a guy is electrocuted by a lamp and a broken fish tank. Of course the film is almost as funny as the original and the difference here is that this one tries to be funny and succeeds. Indeed, this movie holds its own against many comedies and that is something that one doesn’t expect. However what also makes Snake Eater II head and shoulders above most Canadian action films (let alone Canadian Lorenzo Lamas films) is the creativity with the premise, the movie could’ve been a one man army cop Vs drug lords but by revolving around a mental home, the best sequences of humor come from the crazies (including a hilarious arsonist and a sex crazed televangelist) as well as the way how our hero sneaks in and out of the mental facility and still has the time to have his female shrink fall from him, who then doesn’t notice that Lamas makes bombs in the very building. Snake Eater II then isn’t high on credibility stakes (why would drug dealers cut their drugs with poison, that would kill business, literally.) but it’s action packed and the film’s comedy works very well. This is a straight to video gem, and for what it’s worth the best Lorenzo Lamas movie to date.

Snake Eater III: His Law (1992)
* *

Cast: Lorenzo Lamas, Minor Mustain, Tracey Cook, Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow

Directed by George Erschbamer

Lorenzo L returns as Soldier, who has gone from a Rambo-like one man army to Lethal Weapon-like cop who this time teams up with the “Cowboy” (Mustain) to do battle with a gang of outlaw bikers who have kidnapped a college student girl (who they infected with herpes) meanwhile there’s very little plot and little of the camp that made the first one fun, or the humor and creativity that made the second one so good. This one is more of a routine rip off of Stone Cold and while Erschbamer does craft some decent action, Snake Eater III fails to really deviate from the rip off formula, and this time without a foil in the vein of Larry B. Scott, Lamas is given a Clint Eastwood like partner that is fairly humorless and especially more disappointing is that both Mustain and Lamas lack chemistry and therefore Lamas is back in his wooden and humorless mode that renders this entry for Lamas’ most endearing die-hard fans who will enjoy the (mindless ) action.

Hawk’s Vengeance (1997) *1/2

Cast: Gary Daniels, Jayne Heitmeyer, George Chiang,Cass Magda

Gary Daniels (Also known as the poor man’s Dolph Lundgren) replaces Lorenzo Lamas as Soldier Kelly’s half brother Hawk, a bad ass kung fu marine from England who goes to the U.S to get vengeance on the bad guys that murdered his brother, While in America, Daniels pays his final respects, is bewildered by how many women were at his brother’s funeral (You never see the sister Lamas saved in part 1) and falls in love with his brother’s partner (Heitmeyer) and in the process finds a conspiracy involving Triads and bodies that are depleted of organs. Once again Hawk’s Vengeance (Snake Eater IV) is a very feeble and very boring martial arts/cop thriller that takes forever to get started and is so very predictable. In fact there is no type of energy or urgency in the battle field, indeed even when compared to the others in this series, you can see those that made the film weren’t at all having fun making this movie. Daniels is a far better actor than Lorenzo Lamas, has far more charisma and is a better martial artist, but even he can’t kick any life into this inert movie.

Rocky (The Series)

Rocky (1976) * * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton

Directed by John G. Avildsen

1976’s best picture (Although Network and Taxi Driver were better and I’m a die-hard Rocky fan…) finds Stallone in his most signature role as two-bit boxer and low level hood who is given a chance at the title and goes the distance. Rocky is actually much different than the series it spawned (In fact so different that it’s not even really centered around the boxing) Rocky is actually a very rich movie, full of offbeat, down to earth and likable characters so when we see Rocky train and take a beating we are more involved in the film. Indeed if not for Rocky 1, we wouldn’t have really cared if Rocky beat Mr. T, Dolph Lundgren and everyone in between. Indeed it’s the first movie that lends the series so much goodwill, as we love Rocky and the characters so much that were willing to wade through the lame entries (Rocky IV) and still stand by this series as one of our favorites. In fact Stallone is far removed from his action presence , as his acting here is actually very good. Actually quite deserving of his Oscar nod, indeed what a lot of people also forget is just how funny a lot of Rocky is. Like Rocky and Adrian’s first date and the way Rocky says “Yo, you know I never talked to a door before…” or for that matter how charged a lot of scenes are such as when Burgess Meredith comes down to ask Rocky to be his manager, then of course there is the final fight which is still as intense as it was when it played, overall there is a reason Rocky is such a beloved classic and 30 some years later , Rocky has lost none of its charm. It really is a timeless classic.

Rocky II (1979) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky returns for a rematch against heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Weathers) after getting married, trying his hand at regular work, learning how to read and becoming a father, Rocky finds that he isn’t cut out for anything else but boxing, so he trains for the big match and this time in front of his Philadelphia crowd, so this leads to the best training montage of the film. Rocky II pretty much set the tone of the series, mainly lots of training montage and a big suspenseful fight at the end. Rocky II is enjoyable because once again Stallone makes the character effortlessly likable, indeed you cannot NOT root for Rocky here. Rocky II is a decent sequel because Weathers is a great villain, the training montage is spectacular and the final fight is so well choreographed and suspenseful. Indeed this stuff is handled so greatly it makes up for the inherent goofiness of Adrian’s pregnancy complications and Rocky’s attempt to become a commercial salesman and fit in the real world. Indeed the most effective part of Rocky II is when it concentrates on the winning formula. Indeed the reason this movie is merely good and not great, is the fact that it doesn’t have as much character depth as the original but Rocky II is still pretty good as sequels go.

Rocky III (1982) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Mr. T, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Hulk Hogan

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky has gotten soft, so much so that a hungry competitor Clubber Lang (Mr. T) has brutally dethroned Rocky and took him apart in a one sided boxing match, shaken from his defeat Rocky trains with his former nemesis Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to regain his eye of the tiger and get what it takes to win the title again. Rocky III is here where the series turned into a ridiculous fight flick, in which it became more about what bad ass Rocky fights rather than the characters around Rocky. Indeed to showcase how goofy Rocky III is, Rocky actually fights Hulk Hogan in a charity fight, where Hulk Hogan body slams Rocky, throws him out of the ring and in the best moment is hit by Paulie with a chair, it’s moments like this that pad the running time as such is not even important, which is mainly Sly Vs Mr. T and because such is so thin in terms of plot, Rocky III pretty much is built on adding in such elements to stretch things out. In fact this film is your template for your Bloodsports and Kickboxers because this is simply training montage and a big bad villain that is 100% evil. In other words Rocky and Co. aren’t human so much as they are two dimensional versions of themselves that exist to train, fight and give moral support at the end. In other words Rocky III is completely stripped of what made Rocky an Oscar contender, but while this is pure ridiculous formula, Rocky III is still a lot of fun.

Rocky IV (1985) * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton

This time Rocky becomes more like Charles Bronson, as he looks to avenge the death of his best friend Apollo at the hands of Ivan Drago (Lundgren) a Russian superman who can punch 2000 PSI and is honked up on steroids, he also kills Apollo Creed (Weathers) in an ill advised exhibition match and so Rocky goes to Siberia trains to beat the Russian and well you can pretty much guess the rest. The only thing that changes about this formula is the villain, and Dolph Lundgren makes for an enjoyable villain, certainly imposing and the best thing in this ridiculous and boring sequel. Stallone pads this thing out so much, that there is less time for the training montage, in fact the scene between Rocky and Adrian with the cake is truly as painfully corny as it gets, there is a really, really stupid robot this time and the film doesn’t even work in the vein of the third one, Indeed because Stallone loads this thing with endless music videos and would be moments of heart, it’s only in the second half that Rocky IV comes somewhat alive and thankfully the final fight is a real show stopper, but to get to that you have to watch some really dumb music videos and overall this makes Rocky IV dull and ridiculous.

Rocky V (1990) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Tommy Morrison, Sage Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Richard Gant, Tony Burton

Directed by John G. Avildsen

Rocky has lost everything, his money, his license to fight and indeed his health (he suffers from brain damage) so Rocky is forced to go back to the basics and in doing so trains a new competitor named Tommy Gunn (Morrison) however when a promoter (Gant) turns Tommy against Rocky, the matter is settled in the streets. The thing about Rocky V that I think a lot of people hate about it (but not me, I think it’s one of the stronger entries) is that it doesn’t feel like a Rocky movie, so much as a kung fu flick with boxing. Indeed Rocky is told he can’t fight again, he trains a new competitor and then has to destroy him when said competitor turns evil, the only difference between that plot line and a Shaw Brothers movie is that Rocky would’ve trained his son to fight Tommy, that aside this film actually does seem to have heart. Rocky V tries and often succeeds in bringing back the feel of the old neighborhood and I for one found the father and son subplot to be quite affecting. It’s sort of weird how Rocky V is hated so much (Even by Stallone) because it’s really not a bad effort, and Avildsen choreographs a great climax that is probably the best in the series. I think Rocky V could’ve worked better as a stand-alone film, as Rocky is such a likable character we don’t want to see him betrayed and back to where he began again, but as it stands Rocky V is a pretty decent flick and unfairly maligned, indeed it’s way better than Rocky IV.

Rocky Balboa (2006) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Tony Burton, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia, Antonio Tarver, Talia Shire

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky brings the series full circle in what is the best sequel in the series. This time Rocky takes an exhibition match against heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (Tarver) to prove that he still has what it takes as a champion and due to the fact that he still has a little still left in the basement, after being a widower for a couple years. Rocky Balboa is much different than what you’d expect in that it isn’t like Rocky III-V, indeed those movies feel more like Shaw Brothers kung fu movies in plot and follow through than they do as a Rocky movie. This one goes after the character arc that one had long thought the series had lost, Rocky V sort of recaptured it but Rocky Balboa effortlessly brings back the heart and charm that the original had. In fact one can see the parallels between Stallone and Rocky, as many were skeptical (me included) of Rocky being able to pull off such a role at 60, that he could even hope to make anything less than a laughable failure of epic magnitude. It’s to Stallone’s credit that not only does he craft a decent movie but one that actually surpasses all of the sequels. Indeed Stallone’s rise and fall from fame is filtered back to Rocky with very effective results and Stallone is even savvy enough to play on our expectations as we wonder if he’s going to kill Rocky off or if he is going to win at the end etc. Rocky Balboa than is most likely the last of the series but it stands to reason that Stallone couldn’t have crafted a much better conclusion to the series of one of the all time greatest movie characters of all time. Sylvester Stallone then deserves credit for proving that he still has what it takes to make a fitting conclusion to the series and to prove that despite all the macho action roles, still has acting talent.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rambo (The Series)

First Blood (1982) * * *1/2

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

Sly stars in the most influential (and still best) Vietnam Vet run amok film, as Sly plays Rambo, a perfectly killing machine who uses his formidable skills in the backwoods of a small town when the local deputies mistreat him and unfairly arrest him, all of a sudden Rambo is shooting a chain-gun and blowing up half the town. It’s hard to believe that this movie inspired the whole Rambo phenomenon as the film isn’t really on Rambo’s side. Certainly the film isn’t as blood thirsty or jingoistic as what was to come, but ultimately this film is fascinating because it can be seen as a cynical and viscous response to society as First Blood clearly argues that Rambo is but one violent confrontation from reverting back to his combat ways and if you push him far enough you’ll ignite the beast within. The politics are certainly what is the most interesting, but it’s also the shootouts as well as the hand to hand combat sequences that are what most likely got people behind this movie. Stallone is actually very good in the role, making for a believable insane Vietnam vet, and it wasn’t until the 4th installment where Rambo was seen as openly psychotic. Overall though despite the direction this series went, First Blood remains an essential look at the 80s in general. In other words despite being the least violent of the series, this movie succeeds in being the best because First Blood is the most political, violent and angry. Indeed it’s the movie that spoke to 80s generation and continues to be a favorite among teens years later. A classic then, but for those who didn’t like the sequels, this one is ultimately well worth seeing and different in all regards than what you might expect.

Rambo:First Blood Part II (1985) * * *

Cast: Sylevester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Martin Kove, Steven Berkoff

Directed by George P. Cosmatos

Rambo returns to do save the P.O.Ws still behind enemy lines, Rambo II, while ultimately not as good as the first, works in the mindless action department. Rambo II is ultimately just as angry as the first film, in fact where as the first one was angry at the people for not supporting veterans, this one targets the very government that made men like Rambo and then left him to flounder. The film is hard to take seriously in the credibility department, as Rambo’s mission is to sneak behind enemy lines and take pictures, and said government officials wants Rambo to fail, begging the question as to why they would bother in the first place, but Rambo II is about more than just that, it’s about delivering a big body count, pointing the finger at who’s really responsible for Vietnam and more importantly symbolizes how Rambo II was made not only to entertain the masses but to boost the morale of the country after suffering defeat in Vietnam. Indeed this film inspired numerous rip offs, mainly the Missing In Action series (although Uncommon Valor predates this movie…go figure) etc but the disgruntled vet waging a one man war became a popular phenomenon that inspired many in the genre, indeed Van Damme, Seagal and Dolph Lundgen couldn’t have had a career without such inspiration. Then as an artifact Rambo II is still just as entertaining as it was years ago, it still holds up well today despite being dated. (In fact it’s even more enjoyable because it’s so dated) It’s one of those movies that so captures the mood of the 80s so much that it ultimately becomes the decade and for fans of both nostalgia and mindless violence, few movies are as enjoyable as Rambo II.

Rambo III (1988) *

Cast:Sylvester Stallone,  Richard Crenna, Kurtwood Smith

Directed by Peter MacDonald

Sly is back and this time he has tried to turn over a new leaf as he has turned to the Buddhist temples to find his inner peace, it is because of this rejects a mission to help out Afghan troops from Russian oppression and in the process his mentor Col Trautman (Crenna) is captured and ergo Rambo trades in his prayer beads for his M60 Saw in what is a mostly dull one man army flick. This one lacks the angry politics or even the scope of action that the other two entries had. Indeed this sequel is flaccid, lifeless and ridiculous all at the same time. Indeed the energy and ambition is so low, it’s as if it’s getting by on fumes and what makes this even more of a loss is that Rambo III was at one time the most expensive movie at one time, and yet the action sequences are lame. The camera is in the wrong place, there is little suspense and surprisingly Rambo III takes too long to actually get down to business. Rambo III than is a very weak body-count flick, lifeless, slow and just plain boring, it’s not hard to see why this film stalled the series for 20 years. Indeed Rambo III was so inert (words cannot express how tedious this thing is) and bad, this sequel singlehandedly squashed the Rambo Phenomenon.

Rambo (2008) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Muang Muang Khin

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

This time Rambo is found in Thailand making a living by trapping cobras for his Thai employers, when a group of missionaries ask him to help them cross the border to Laos (?) to deliver the message and meds to make a difference, but when expected the Missionaries are captured by cruel dictator (Khin) it’s left up to Rambo to save them and in essence give Rambo another chance to win the Vietnam war again all on his own. Rambo is just as political as the first two, in fact it’s actually full circle, in that the Vietnam vet now seeks to be left alone from the dregs of society, and ergo tells those that would stick their noses in other people’s affairs that such is not worth it. Ergo the politics aren’t as strong or angry as the first two, but the view is just as cynical as Rambo finally realizes that he can’t live a normal life because he himself loves the thrill of killing that much. Indeed we see Rambo saying things like “When pushed, killing is as easy as breathing”… and much, much more. Indeed the message of peace is seen as laughable, as the enemy kills the weak and dominates, it’s not until a stronger force is brought in can justice or even hope prevail. Rambo then is one to see on repeat viewings, for you can see that Stallone understands the philosophy of the character that he personified. Rambo is also far bloodier, mean spirited and gory than all of the others combined, and yet despite all of this I still like the first two better because of nostalgia factor, though if I had seen this at 13 this would be high up there. As it stands now, it’s a pretty damn good one man army flick and hopefully we get more movies like this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Terminator Series

The Terminator (1984) * * * *

Cast:Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen, Bill Paxton, Brian Thompson

Directed by James Cameron

Sci-Fi/Action classic combo that finds Schwarzenegger as a seemingly unstoppable killing machine (literally) sent back through time to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton) who will go on to give birth to the savior of humanity 40 some years into the future, while the future resistance sends Kyle Reese (Biehn) to protect her. Wow, what can I say about what has become one of the all time staples of both action and science fiction? Aside from that fact that The Terminator is one of the all time greats and still remains Schwarzenegger’s best movie of all time. I also would add that The Terminator has aged very well, as James Cameron’s pacing, atmospheric direction and action packed spectacle still delivers. Indeed in terms of the series this is by far the most compulsively watchable, the one with the most heart and has the most suspense. Another thing that makes The Terminator a classic years on, is the way Cameron plays with time paradoxes, as Cameron’s sure hand not only keeps the action going but also keeps the story fascinating and tightly wound. Indeed this is hands down one of the best movies of the 80s and for those who haven’t seen it;  you guys don’t know what you’re missing. Also of note is how The Terminator sports some of the best action sequences to date (The police station massacre) and 25 years later remains every bit as intense as when it came out. In other words they don’t come any better than this…

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) * * *1/2

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton, Earl Boen

Arnold returns in this crowd pleasing sequel that finds Schwarzenegger sent back in time to protect John Connor (Furlong) from the T-1000 (Patrick) a far more advanced prototype that is impervious to bullets, can shape shift and is made of liquid metal, also on board is Sarah Connor buffed up and pumping belts of ammo at “Liquid Man” (As many dubbed the T-1000) alongside the Cyborg protector. Once again Terminator 2 is every bit as excellent as you’ve been led to believe, the action is spectacular, the movie is extremely suspenseful and compact, the special effects are awesome and the story is just as captivating, however it still in my opinion isn’t quite as good as the first because the movie sort of takes a detour half way through as the film provides needless bonding between Furlong and Schwarzenegger, also the film isn’t quite as paced as well as many of the Mental hospital scenes seem unnecessary and padded. That said, T2 delivers everything it promises and often a bit more. Indeed T2 is at its best when it focuses on the paradoxes and indeed the overall impending doom that is judgment day and the fight to prevent and whether one can or cannot alter destiny. Also the film boasts a villain that is easily every bit as memorable as Arnold was, in fact having the T-1000 imitate a police officer is a great touch, and the liquid nitrogen finale as well as the story arcs make this a fairly excellent sequel.

Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003) * * *

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Clare Danes, Kristana Loken, David Andrews

Directed by Jonathan Mostow

Belated and somewhat unnecessary sequel finds Arnold sent back to not only protect John Connor (Stahl), but also Connor’s future wife Kate Brewster (Danes) and numerous Lieutenants (that are killed off and never explored again) while facing off against the T-X (Loken) an even more advanced model than the T-1000 and is build specifically to destroy other terminators. Terminator 3 does feature some good action sequences, The fire truck and wrecking ball car chase is among some of the best car chases I’ve ever seen, however Terminator 3 is let down solely by a very weak villain in Loken. She has the look down but try as she might, Loken isn’t nearly as menacing as either Schwarzenegger in the original or Robert Patrick in the first sequel. Indeed the movie is often times half baked as many elements are just abandoned, such as how the TX is sent back to take down numerous targets, also the TX doesn’t have any real power or threat over the T-1000, they should’ve just sent another T-1000 back or cast a far more imposing actor, as seeing Loken battle Schwarzenegger is often ridiculous, still weak villain aside the story has a downbeat hook that made the first two compelling, and thankfully the ending doesn’t chicken out as the movie ends on a downbeat note, the paradox angle as usual provides the best moments, as do the action sequences and Schwarzenegger’s effortlessly winning charisma. Indeed on its own Terminator 3 is pretty decent, but it is somewhat of a disappointment as a sequel to one of the best series of all time. Indeed I recommend it, but with some reservations.

Terminator: Salvation (2009) * *

Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jane Alexander, Anton Yelchin, Michael Ironside, Helena Bonham Carter

Directed by McG

Terminator 4 abandons everything that came before it to basically showcase the actual fight in the future, so this one lacks the time travel angle, as it starts off with John Connor (Bale) leading the resistance in battle and teaming up with a Terminator that is build on human memories (or something?) Anyway lots of ammo and plasma guns are fired at the big robots in a film that is adequate as far as things like this go, but sorely disappointing when even compared to Terminator 3. Bale’s hero is somehow even more expressionless than Schwarzenegger was, and Schwarzenegger was playing a cyborg! The action is okay, but this isn’t anything you haven’t seen before and at times I was more reminded of Mad Max more than anything else. What is ultimately even more of a cheat is that the movie doesn’t play around with said paradox angles, and the moments of would be heart comes off as ridiculously sappy. In other words fans of the series who such as myself that enjoyed the science fiction element of these films will be sorely disappointed by the lack of ambition shown here. T4 is an ultimately mediocre and soulless exercise in apocalypse action.
Dangerously Close (1986) *

Cast: John Stockwell, Thom Mathews, J.Eddie Peck, Carey Lowell

Directed by Albert Pyun

Dangerously Close is like Class Of 1984 meets music video in a mindless and repetitive throwaway from Cannon films. Future B. Movie master Albert Pyun tries hard to inject a sense of style into the proceedings, however, like they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Dangerously Close finds high school reporter J. Eddie Peck getting involved with a wealthy fascist gang (led by Stockwell and Mathews) when various kids start disappearing. There is of course a conspiracy that may or may not involve teachers but by the 15 minute point you will not care as you will be too bored to follow the simplistic narrative. Dangerously Close plays like a third rate lame Teen soap opera, the characters are paper thin and Pyun can’t seem to get a handle on what the point of his movie is. Dangerously Close has endless sequences of people driving, while staring at the camera while music plays. What this has to do with anything is anyone’s guess.

The Quest (1996) *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Roger Moore, James Remar, Janet Gunn, Aki Aleong

Directed by Jean-Claude Van Damme

Jean-Claude Van Damme essentially directs a remake of Bloodsport, this time as a kidnapped thief who fights for big wig pirate Roger Moore, to win a prized gold dragon in the 1920s sometime. Despite being the star’s directorial debut, it’s also easily the worst fight flick of his films since No Retreat No Surrender, lacking the strong villains, epic scale fight sequences and a sure hand to pump up the fights, Van Damme manages to film some of these fights well, but everything else he really louses up. For instance the drama of Roger Moore trying to steal the dragon, as well as the love interest and even the beginning which finds Van Damme as a mime(!) Indeed Jean-Claude Van Damme tries to go for more of an Asian feel that concentrates on the character, but Van Damme’s vision is too simplistic and therefore the fight sequences while adequate make this one of Van Damme’s lesser efforts. Indeed with Bloodsport, Kickboxer and Lionheart available, this quest is definitely one not worth going on.
Red Scorpion (1989) * *

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, M. Emmet Walsh, Al White, Brion James, T.P McKenna

Directed by Joseph Zito

Dolph stars as a Russian killing machine sent to dispatch a rebel leader leading the rebellion against the Soviet rule in some unnamed African country, Dolph fails his mission and is sentenced to death, he then is trained by a bushman (!) in the art of war and leads the rebels in an attack against his former comrades. Red Scorpion comes alive only in the action sequences which are creatively staged, and well directed. However the story is routine, predictable and stupid all at once. The climax furnishes a big body count, as Dolph becomes the Russian answer to John Rambo, but Red Scorpion doesn’t work as a Rambo rip off because of the lack of such crowd pleasing moments. Red Scorpion does have some unintentionally hilarious moments (mainly comic relief from Walsh that is so unfunny it becomes funny again) and is at least better than Rambo III, but other than that this forgettable effort is for Dolph Lundgren fans and undemanding audiences.

Hard To Kill (1990) * * *

Cast: Steven Seagal, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Sadler, Frederic Coffin

Directed by Bruce Malmuth

Seagal plays super-cop Mason Storm an Aikido expert who survives an attack on his family only to wake up later looking to avenge the matter, seems Seagal accidently videotaped a corrupt politician (is there any other kind?) and his dealings with mobsters to assassinate the current mayor or senator of the state, but after recouping with a fetching nurse (Seagal’s than real life wife LeBrock)and using Chinese herbal remedies to put him in peak condition to get revenge in the most brutal of ways. Hard To Kill represents a vast improvement over the mediocre Above The Law, as the revenge angle is perfectly suited to Seagal’s style of hero, and the bad guys are viscous and thoroughly hateful. Also, the action goes more for suspense, especially the action sequence where Seagal has to dodge gun toting hit-men while bed ridden and needing a broom to press the elevator buttons. Hard To Kill also succeeds in giving us the vintage Seagal line- “I’m gonna take you to the bank…the blood bank!”

I Come In Peace (1990)
* * *

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Matthias Hues, Betsy Brantley, Michael J. Pollard

Director: Craig R. Baxley

Dolph stars as Jack Caine, a Houston detective who is partnered up with straight laced FBI agent Larry Smith (Brian Benben) to investigate the seemingly strange murders of heroin induced victims that had their brains sucked out. The two cops learn that the one behind it is an Alien drug dealer (Matthias Hues, who would become a legendary heavy) who has come down to earth to harvest humans for their endorphins, hot on his trail is an alien cop that joins forces with our heroes. I Come In Peace is very derivative and built upon tiresome cop movie clichés. However I Come In Peace works despite itself, and wisely director Baxley goes the action route and in doing so delivers a better than average  Lethal Weapon/The Hidden clone. Also what sells the story is the on screen chemistry between Lundgren and Benben who have some quirky moments adrift the carnage (and clichés), but the main selling point is (of course) the action, to which I Come In Peace scores the highest marks on. I Come In Peace might not be a bona-fide classic but for fans of the genre, it stands head and shoulders above most of its ilk and delivers exactly what it promises.

Lionheart (1991)
* * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Brian Thompson,Lisa Pelikan

Directed by Sheldon Lettich

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as a legionnaire who goes AWOL to see his dying brother, he doesn’t succeed in time, and so he street fights to keep his deceased brother’s family from being homeless in this enjoyable retelling of Hard Times. Lionheart will not be remembered as 1991’s best movie (or even 1991’s best Van Damme movie) but it’s story while silly and padded, manages to be serviceable backdrop to the excellent fight sequences, and while the plot involving the foreign legion is trite and forced, the fight sequences and indeed the family scenes give this movie a little more depth than one might expect. If anything else the final fight in the climax is in particular excellent and very suspenseful.
Above The Law (1988)     * * *

Cast: Steven Seagal, Pam Grier, Henry Silva, Sharon Stone

Directed by Andrew Davis

Seagal plays Italian-Catholic cop Nico, a detective who battles a straggle of corrupt cops and crooked ex-CIA agents involved with funding missions to kill Latin-American drug lords, while also trying to take out the senator who is going to bring light to their plans. Above The Law has sturdy directing, and does in fact have some good action sequences, but the story is so routine and forgettable that the film never works as either a political thriller or straight forward action. Seagal is admittedly decent and a departure from the action star he plays today, but the plot is just  another cop Vs group of baddies movie.  Andrew Davis tends to direct smarter action flicks that focus on suspense but in this case he has not enough story to draw from. Above The Law is often so by-the-numbers and predictable that it barely registers and once it hits the credits you often struggle to remember what happened before.  Above The Law then is recommended though with some reservations. The film is action packed and fairly well paced but I have the feeling this will appeal solely to Seagal fans who will enjoy the action,  but personally I thought Seagal was better showcased in Out For Justice and Hard To Kill. Fans of Blaxploitation great Pam Grier will be especially disappointed by how little she is used.  That said the film is still fairly enjoyable it's just that the film doesn't come together like it should. Above The Law despite its shortcomings is still worth seeing.

Fallen Knight (1998) *

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Francoise Robertson

Directed by Jean Marc Piche

Dolph plays Luc, a David Carradine-esque templar priest who travels from Tel Aviv to New York (Really Canada, where this was filmed) to stop a body hopping demon from unleashing the anti-christ. Robertson plays the archeologist who tags along at first for her career and second to help Dolph keep the gates of hell locked in what is one of Lundgren’s ultimate blunders. Dolph Lundgren despite his screen presence, isn’t the first one would expect, to be a priest or for that matter to get his ass handed to him by a guy a foot shorter than him, but then again Lundgren isn’t alone, as the numerous actors playing the demon are all just as unconvincing and laughable. The one salvation that a film of this magnitude would need is the fight arena, but these sequences are lame, while the horror element is more absurd than suspenseful and Piche manages to somehow shoot the punches, sword clanking and explosions at all the wrong angles. The action is lame at best, but the movie gets somehow even more pathetic when Lundgren is asked to recite fortune cookie wisdoms and the ineptitude of the production furthermore makes this Lundgren’s worst feature. Also known as The Minion, so avoid it under both titles.

Cyberjack (1995) * * *

Cast:Michael Dudikoff, Brion James, Suki Kaiser

Directed By Robert Lee

Cyberjack is the first (and best) film to combine Die Hard with Blade Runner (Night Siege: Project Shadowchaser II was the other one) and in Cyberjack we find ex-American Ninja Dudikoff as Nick James a cop turned janitor who finds himself in a fight against the criminal who killed his love interest/partner years ago. Seems that Brion James plans on trying to rule the world through cyberspace and in the finale we see our ex-American Ninja duking it out with a super-powered Brion James. Cyberjack is low budget but the filmmakers make the most of it, and in turn provide some interesting plot angles (such as Dudikoff being aided by a robot in battle), as well as funny one liners to make the derivative plot angle go down easier. Plus the unexpectedly low key tongue in cheek acting from Dudikoff and James elevate this to watchable status. Certainly nobody is mistaking Cyberjack as a classic, but it’s hands down one of Dudikoff’s better efforts.

Knock Off (1998) * * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Paul Sorvino, Lela Rochon, Michael Wong

Directed by Tsui Hark

Jean-Claude stars as a fashion designer and jeans manufacturer who finds himself in the middle of a scheme to smuggle bombs in his company product’s jeans, while his business partner and CIA flunkie Rob Scheider find themselves the target of Russian mobsters, Triads and disgruntled CIA agents. Knock Off is one of those movies that goes in the camp files. Jean-Claude Van Damme a typically decent action star is completely hopeless in his Jackie Chan attempt at humor. Indeed Jean-Claude reminds one more of a kung fu expert Jerry Lewis and the result is a mess, but a compulsively watchable one mind you. Rob Schneider is also completely miscast as an undercover CIA agent, while even heavyweight talent Paul Sorvino fails to do much with his role. Then again this movie is essentially a James Bond Movie meets Halloween III, with some jaw dropping ludicrous directing touches such as Jean-Claude’s foot going into a sock, dubbing so out of synch it’s beyond surreal and of missiles propelling a guy against a wall before finally exploding. Knock Off of course is a camp classic due to its sheer nutty chaos, something that is better appreciated now better than when it came out. From a technical standpoint the movie just doesn’t make any sense and to this day I have no idea how to explain what took place. Yet Knock Off remains relatively fascinating to watch throughout
Pentathlon (1994) *

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, David Soul, Roger Moseley

Directed by Bruce Malmuth

Dolph stars an Olympic athlete Eric Brogar who defects to the United States to escape communist rule in East Germany, much to the dismay of his Neo-Nazi coach Mueller (Soul, in a hilariously awful performance) which leads to the murder of Brogar’s father and best friend, feeling sorry for himself Brogar meets up with a restaurant owner who then trains him for his big comeback in the Olympics, only to find his ex-coach looking to ruin his comeback. Pentathlon revolves around white supremacists trying to kill some type of ethnic diplomat and Dolph having to stop them, and while the premise is certainly ridiculous enough to work as campy fun, Pentathlon feels too much like TV pilot, and not even a good one. Dolph Lundgren is merely wooden in the role, and without his fists of fury, he can’t elevate this one on any entertaining level. David Soul though almost succeeds in making this a camp classic. Almost but not quite, as David Soul’s failed attempts at infusing his character with crazed intensity leads to many awkward moments just sadly not enough, as Soul doesn’t have nearly enough screen time. The really deadly sin, is that Pentathlon doesn’t have any real action to justify its predictable plot, terrible acting and ridiculous premise which in turn renders this as a complete bore.

Under Siege (The Series)

Under Siege (1992) * * *

Cast: Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey, Erika Eleniak

Directed by Andrew Davis

Steven Seagal keeps his winning streak going, as Navy-SEAL turned cook Casey Ryback who is forced to use his Seal training and akidio skills to battle Hijackers who have captured a battle ship with nuclear capabilities. Leading the hijackers are Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey in two excellent performances which keep the momentum going during the breaks in action. Despite being heralded as Seagal’s best effort to date, this doesn’t quite scale the heights of Seagal’s underrated Out For Justice, as that gritty formula showcased Seagal’s form better, but Under Siege does offer plenty to enjoy and Seagal while playing essentially the same bad-ass thug he’s been typecast as, wisely underplays it, while letting Jones and (especially) Busey chew the scenery. Also pacing is somewhat of a problem as the film could stand to be trimmed by about 10 minutes, but overall when it comes to Seagal movies, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Indeed one also secretly suspects how much better it would’ve been with Bruce Willis or Schwarzenegger in the lead. That said Seagal does at least get to rip out throats and detonate a bomb with a microwave, so there is at least some fun to be had.
Under Siege 2:Dark Territory (1996) * * *

Cast: Steven Seagal, Eric Bogosian, Everett McGill, Morris Chestnut, Peter Greene, Katherine Heigl

Directed by Geoff Murphy

Steven Seagal rebounds from the trash-heap to the winning formula that made him a household name among action fans. This time Seagal plays the Navy Seal turned cook who this time has to battle hi-tech terrorists aboard a train, who plan on using a satellite to nuke various places in the world, the terrorists stand no chance against one man army Seagal, especially when they have his niece (Heigl) in tow. Without question this remains Seagal’s most farfetched and ridiculous movies to date. The movie has so many ludicrous subplots as well as no clearly explained motive on the bad guy’s part that isn’t beyond absurd. That said the movie still is worth seeing because there is a lot of exciting action and the suspense level remains high due to the close encounters space that Murphy directs with a good eye. Indeed the movie has Seagal jumping through various box-cars, climbing on top of the roof of the train and basically fight sequences centered around burning boxcars and crashing choppers. Bogosian and McGill are decent but no match for Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey from the original. Indeed if the film had gotten rid of the satellite angle and just kept Seagal going up against terrorists with hostages this would’ve been an easily better than the first. Such as it is, the satellite angle adds a science fiction element that is implausible and that stops the movie’s momentum at regular intervals.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) * 1/2

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Kitano, Dina Meyer, Ice-T, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier

Directed by Robert Longo

Keanu Reeves plays a Johnny, a courier who has downloaded the cure to some vaguely defined plague, however the people that downloaded such in Jonny’s brain are all killed by the Yakuza, so when Johnny gets to the states (New Jersey of all places) various bad guys employed by the medical corporation want his head, literally. Dolph Lundgren plays a religious fanatic assassin preacher while Kitano plays the head of the Yakuza who are Johnny’s deadliest adversaries, they are also the film’s only bright spots. Johnny Mnemonic you can tell wasn’t meant to be an action orientated project, as long intervals go without any real fighting. It’s blatantly obvious however that due to the success of Speed, that Johnny Mnemonic has been edited and turned into an action film by committee, and a very bad one at that. The two bright spots are Takeshi Kitano who plays the only sympathetic character while Lundgren provides life in an intentionally hilarious portrayal of a cybernetic street preacher, whenever Kitano or Lundgren are on screen the film picks up some momentum as Reeves’ character is a ridiculously boring and unlikable character, who, basically runs from anonymous Blade Runner-inspired baddies for far too long. While usually charismatic actors like Ice-T, Henry Rollins, Dina Meyer and Udo Kier are left to flounder in the film’s cluttered back drop and repetitive chases that fail to entertain. Indeed the climax is almost crazy enough to make one forget how dull the rest of this is, but by then it’s too little too late. Ultimately you can tell this movie was torn apart by a committee.

Timecop (1994) * * 1/2

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mia Sara, Ron Silver, Bruce McGill

Directed by Peter Hyams

Time definitely isn’t on Van Damme’s side as he plays a member of the TEC (Time Enforcement Agency), an agency that monitors times and protects it from would be meddlers that would take advantage of time to get rich in the process. Such a meddler is Senator McComb (Well played by the late Silver) who plans to buy the presidency, to which Van Damme has to stop at all costs while also wrestling with his conscience whether to save his wife that died years ago. Timecop is the prime definition of “Big budget bore” A movie that lacks the visceral punch of Van Damme’s earlier Universal Soldier and Double Impact, while not showcasing Van Damme’s screen presence as well as Hard Target. The initial idea is actually quite intriguing, in fact the story and premise aren’t what’s wrong with Timecop, what is, is how Timecop settles into being merely an excuse to watch Van Damme dispose of Ron Silver’s henchman without really breaking a sweat. Normally this would be fine if such a good idea wasn’t being wasted. Indeed what makes Timecop ultimately so disappointing is that it should’ve been so much better, as Hyams chooses to often resist exploration to do such a premise justice. The action is well staged, Hyams keeps Timecop paced well and Silver makes a great bad guy, but ultimately the film settles for mediocrity when more ambition could’ve made this a sci-fi classic.