Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dudikoff double feature

The Human Shield
(1992) * * *

Cast:Michael Dudikoff, Tommy Hinkley, Steve Inwood

Directed by Ted Post

Dudikoff stars as a Iraq war vet who returns to Iraq to rescue his brother who has been taken hostage by a Saddam Hussein look-a-like (Inwood) in this surprisingly suspenseful and better than average Dudikoff action flick. While Dudikoff leaves the ninja pajamas home the transition of darker material and suspense make this far better than what you would expect from Dudikoff. The action is well staged, Steve Inwood makes for a good villain and the film actually goes a step further by making the Arabs not cut and dry evil, as even the brother’s guard is seen to be three-dimensional. The Human Shield isn’t without it’s flaws, for one the movie’s revenge angle plays fine until you think about it, mainly why Hinkley would be in a country in the first place where a man that is high ranking official in the army has a vendetta against your brother but for what it’s worth, The Human Shield is an agreeable mix of action and intrigue. Indeed it might not be perfect but it is a step in the right direction for a man trying to get beyond the ninja stars and black jammies.

The Shooter (1997) * * *

Cast:Michael Dudikoff, Randy Travis, William Smith, Valerie Wildman, Andrew Stevens

Directed by Fred Olen Ray

For a change of pace Dudikoff has actually made a decent movie after such uninspired fare as Crash Dive and Chain Of Command, Dudikoff ventures out to the Western genre and for the most part is well suited to such. The Shooter is a fairly standard story in which Dudikoff plays a Civil War hero who rescues a hooker from a beating, by killing the son of a town’s crime boss (Smith) to which Dudikoff is tortured and along the way a mysterious gun slinger (Travis) may have a score to settle with Dudikoff as well. The Shooter is not in the same league as say Good The Bad And The Ugly or even Django but it is a rather interesting Western and one that has well made and well acted. The simple story is simply the same old stuff, but the actors make their characters believable and even Smith manages to make his character more than one dimensional. Travis though is a standout, making for a worthy advesary, Dudikoff meanwhile fares well in this environment. The shootouts are well staged and The Shooter then is a fairly decent Dudikoff flick all things considered.


Stallone binge

(1986) * * *

Cast:Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni, Andrew Robinson, Brian Thompson, Art La Fleur

Stallone stars as Marion “Cobra” Cobretti, a shirt ripping, match chewing, (80s) shade wearing one man army cop who protects a supermodel (Nielsen) against a gang of night slashers who kill at random so that a new order can be born. Suffice to say Stallone keeps butting heads with liberal cop (Robinson) and his superiors (La Feur) who finally just give him the okay to just go out and do what he does best, and what does Cobra do? He packs a machine gun with laser sight, fires tons of ammo and just kicks ass and takes name in this enjoyable actioner that makes Death Wish 3 seem restrained and A-political at times. As far as plot goes, Cobra doesn’t have a lot of credibility, for instance the whole point of spreading chaos and spreading a new order (Which is this violent militia’s goal) would mean to have witnesses, so why they hunt Nielsen is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile the fascist overtones and ridiculous final monotone about the court systems all add up into a highly charged political debate that makes little sense but to provide violence. Cobra is very well put together, the action sequences are spectacular and exciting. Indeed Stallone is even less animated than usual, as he makes Rambo seem whiny by comparison. In terms of Death Wish rip offs (And this is a Death Wish rip off, more so than a Dirty Harry rip off) Stallone knows how to sell it well, and in that Cobra is one of the better bodycount movies of the genre.

Tango & Cash (1989) * *

Cast:Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Teri Hatcher,Michael J. Pollard, Brion James, James Hong, Geoffrey Lewis

Forgettable formula cop stuff has Stallone and Russell as the title cops who end up joining forces to do battle with crime boss named Yves Perret (Palance) after setting up our two cops on a bum rap, Tango and Cash clear their names with wholesale slaughter. The action is only adequate but frequent enough to make it at least somewhat watchable, the thing that sinks Tango and Cash is the forced comedy. Stallone in particular has no idea how to deliver a Schwarzenegger one liner, indeed Stallone isn’t funny, he worked fine with Demolition Man, but when he is actually asked to make jokes the result is just painful. Russell overdoes it as well, and the problem is that Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell really don’t have chemistry, indeed it is so forced. Jack Palance though is generally great as is Brion James and Michael J. Pollard, Tango & Cash is just not fresh enough to work. They can’t all be Lethal Weapons and this one sure as hell isn’t.

Demolition Man (1993) * * *

Cast:Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Denis Leary

Directed by Marco Brambilla

Super cop John Spartan (Stallone) is unthawed from suspended animation to take on a super criminal Simon Phoenix (Snipes) who has escaped from the prison, seems that the new society is politically correct, and everything that is bad for you is illegal, indeed you are fined for profanity, suffice to say Phoenix is a bad guy that nobody in this world can take, Spartan meanwhile finds it hard to adapt to the new P.C life and finds out that there is a conspiracy to bring Phoenix out to take out a rebel underground led by Leary. Demolition Man is one of Stallone’s better efforts by far. The action element is sort of overblown (though well staged) but it’s the comic element that make this so fun. In fact the Utopian society that Stallone wakes into provides a great backdrop to contrast against Stallone. Demolition Man also features Stallone in good form. Indeed where as he was awful in Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot, here Stallone does comedy effortlessly. Bullock also provides solid back up with an inspired performance and Snipes provides a great villain with a sense of humor. Demolition Man then is more entertaining than people made out at the time is one of Stallone’s underrated flicks.

Assassins (1995) *
Cast:Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, Julianne Moore

Directed by Richard Donner

With this much talent involved, Assassins should’ve been a classic, the director of Superman and Lethal Weapon 1 and 2, teaming up with Rambo and El Mariachi in a film that is no doubt the lowest point in their collective careers. Assassins revolves around an assassin (Who wants out of the biz, as no cliché is left unturned) who starts a bitter rivalry with an upcoming assassin and in the process joins with a computer hacker (Moore) Ugh what a stinker this movie is. There is hardly any action and what there is comes from the bigger is better school of thinking, making it that much more mindless and boring. The movie leaves no assassin cliché unturned, there is no element here that wasn’t done better in the Charles Bronson classic The Mechanic. The mid 1990s were a low point for the action genre and movies like Assassins are why. The biggest tragedy in all of this is that this from people who know better and so when this movie bombed big time at the U.S box office, it was seen as an act of mercy.

Van Damme double feature

Death Warrant (1990) * * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Robert Guillaume, Cynthia Gibb, George Dickerson, Art LaFleur, Patrick Kilpatrick, Joshua Miller, Conrad Dunn, Abdul Salaam El Razzac

Directed by Deran Sarafian

Van Damme goes undercover in prison to put the foot down (literally) on the warden and such who are harvesting organs while trying hard to keep his cover, which will be tough as The serial killer sandman (Kilpatrick in an excellent performance) he put away is transferred into his cell. Death Warrant is yet another classic Van Damage film, and really Van Damme at his peak is essentially what makes Death Warrant a must for genre fans. However it should be noted that this is actually Van Damme’s best made film, it’s a low budget but slick film with a (welcome) brutal edge. Real stakes are being played and Van Damme feels vulnerable and not exactly a superman. Indeed the finale is suspenseful, well lit and actually quite suspenseful. That said Death Warrant doesn’t start out well, it seems like it’s going to be standard prison clichés and the standard undercover plot, but once Van Damme goes behind bars the film kicks into high gear. Most of this atmosphere makes Death Warrant seem gloom and doom, but the movie is well acted and the characters (mainly Guillaume, Dunn and Razzac) that make the prison environment feel real. Sarafian manages to set up suspense and really the movie is a heavy duty action flick that is actually a half way decent film, and not just a good Van Damme flick. Death Warrant then follows a predictable formula, but given the atmosphere and emphasis on grittiness, the formula works.

Double Impact (1991) * * *

Cast:Jean-Claude Van Damme, Geoffrey Lewis, Cory Everson, Bolo Yeung, Alan Scarfe, Alonna Shaw

Directed by Sheldon Lettich

Van Damme plays twin brothers (and martial arts experts) who join forces to take back the big business bad guys and triads who killed their parents and stole the million dollar tunnel that they own, of course the business baddies aren’t going down with a fight but JCVD (x2) knows how to pack a punch and is bringing out the guns. Double Impact is a lot of fun because it’s essentially a gimmick martial arts film but one that works. There really is no reason to talk about the plot and story because it just serves to showcase kung fu battles as two Van Dammes destroy bad guys by the hundreds. Indeed the climax finds Van Damme fighting Bolo Yeung (Possibly looking for vengeance after Bloodsport) and the overall ship climax became ripped off repeatedly in other DTV kung fu movies (Back In Action and Deadly Target to name a few) The flick also features a great scene where Van Damme takes on himself in a completely ridiculous sequence set up by even more ridiculous circumstances (Van Damme #2 thinks Van Damme #1 is sleeping with his girlfriend in one of the most hilarious sex scenes ever) so it all leads to both of them feuding and Van Damme #1 saying how he’ll swim back to L.A The action element is what really makes this worth seeing, it’s all well made and well directed and although the film is really goofy and ridiculous, it doesn’t take away from the movie, in fact it makes Double Impact a fun martial arts flick.

Alien Vs Predator series

Alien Vs Predator (2004) * 1/2

Cast:Sanaa Lathan, Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bava

Directed by Paul W. Anderson

Extremely disappointing monster bash finds a bunch of archaeologists going to some Artic area where an Alien nest is located, after the aliens have wiped out the cast, the last scientist joins forces with the Predators on a really lame hunting trip. Wow, what a disaster. You just can’t make a PG-13 Aliens or Predator movie because it just mutes what made the others so effective. The big problem here is that all of the action has been watered down, the suspense level is completely non-existant and to make matters worse the movie doesn’t feature a human element that you could see standing tall against the Aliens. Indeed Sanaa Lathan is an alright actress but she doesn’t have an action presence like Sigourney Weaver. We are supposed to be with the Predator, but they come off as serious wusses. Indeed the only good thing about this movie is that it made others realize that Predator 2 wasn’t so bad. Alien Vs Predator is an awful movie, based on a great premise. This is really bad stuff, and I liked Anderson’s work in Mortal Kombat. No suspense, no real action, basically we are left with yet another mindless product that does little that hasn’t been done before, and nothing that is entertaining.

Alien Vs Predator: Requiem (2007) *

Cast:Steven Pasquale, Robert Joy, Reiko Aylesworth

Aliens fight Predators in a small town in what is basically the same mix as before, although even being R rated doesn’t work because the movie just has such a low degree of style. This is one of the most boring and completely lame sequels to ever come out. There is no attempt to develop the characters, the gore is laughable and lame and the action element stinks. Really the only good thing to say is that this abortion is what killed the AvP franchise once and for all. Indeed these movies are so piss poor, I refuse to include them as part of the Alien and Predator series. Some people enjoy a fun bad movie (I am one of them) but this is too lifeless and too unimaginative to enjoy, on all levels this is much worse than its lousy predecessor and that really says a lot.

Predator series

Predator (1987) * * *1/2

Cast:Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, R.G Armstrong, Kevin Peter Hall

Directed by John McTiernan

A macho CIA Rescue unit led by Schwarzenegger and Weathers, end up doing battle with an intergalactic hunter who sees them as big game, and in the process starts picking off the commandos one by one. Predator is of course a classic of the genre but it’s not for the action as much as it is for the suspense. Certainly the macho element provides a great focal point as such starts to crumble in the face of a new challenger but nobody seems to remember how suspenseful the narrative is, one great touch for instance is that we don’t see the Predator until the end. Indeed it’s hard to believe that this was once not only a great action flick but also a great Sci-Fi flick. Predator is really no different than Aliens via Most Dangerous Game but Schwarzenegger and Co. really kick this into high gear. The Predator is an excellent creation and the final fight sequences where Schwarzenegger relies on booby traps and Rambo-like survival tactics to draw the Predator out is as good as action movies get, and in terms of suspense you really can’t go wrong with Predator.

Predator 2 (1990) * * *

Cast: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Maria Conchita Alonzo, Bill Paxton, Ruben Blades, Robert Davi, Adam Baldwin, Morton Downey Jr.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins

Predator 2 features Danny Glover as a super cop in L.A where Jamaican drug lords and Colombian drug lords battle it out in a war zone which of course attracts everyone’s favorite alien hunter making it a 4 way battle between the cops, gangs and the new player in the game. Predator 2 isn’t quite as good as the original (the suspense just isn’t as sharp) but this overly maligned sequel is far better than most made out at the time. The most effective element is that it’s more of a rip off of Robocop/Mad Max in a lot of ways. Indeed the backdrop is effectively gritty and for the most part Predator 2 is well paced, and features some exciting moments and Glover makes for a vulnerable hero. If anything else Glover recalls a Blaxploitation flick great like Fred Williamson and with that element taking on the Predator, there are some good stakes being played. The thing is Glover is very good in the role, without Glover’s strong presence, Predator 2 would falter but thanks to Glover’s charisma Predator 2 makes for a likable outing. Another thing in Predator 2’s favor is that the good cast sells the concept, Gary Busey in particular provides great back up as the rogue FBI agent trying to capture the Predator, indeed Predator 2 would’ve benefited from a better ending and more explanation as to how the city got to be a war zone, but overall this is the second best of the series and is a worthy if not always successful sequel.

Predators (2010) * * *

Cast: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishbourne, Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Louis Ozawa Changchien

Directed by Nimrod Antal

This time a group of anonymous people wake up on Predator Island, where they are systematically hunted, however the predators have hand picked their prey as the game feature mercenaries, snipers, serial killers, rapists, drug lords and a slew of crazies, meanwhile a slew of predators pick the characters off one by one. Surprisingly this sequel ends on a rather downbeat note. Predators does feature a somewhat miscast Adrien Brody (who looks like Roy Scheider at times) but Changchien, Trejo and Braga work well in the role. Topher Grace is another huge gaping miscasting, especially since he is armed with a scalpel and 100 lbs at most. Indeed he isn’t going to do much damage against predators, also the film follows the original a little too much as the Predator planet is too similar in look to the one in the first. Also Laurence Fishbourne’s character seems too shoehorned in and doesn’t play that good of a role other than to provide yet another obstacle for our heroes. That said there are some good touches such as the tracking dogs, the action is well staged and in fact quite suspenseful. The real problem is that the Predators themselves are such bad asses that you have to put them up against someone like Arnold (Or at least Danny Glover) Brody and Co. are just not nearly as believable as prey that Arnold and Danny were. That said, the movie is relatively enjoyable, it’s just that this could’ve been and should’ve been better.

Arnold double feature

Commando (1985) * * * *

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells,David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke, Alyssa Milano
Directed by Mark L. Lester

Schwarzenegger declares war and kills everyone who practically moves in his quest to destroy an ousted dictator who kidnapped his daughter, and to get revenge on his friend Bennett (Wells) who betrayed him, while trying to get there in time to save his daughter with the help of a Flight Attendant (Pilot in training) All you really need to know is that Schwarzenegger flexes his muscles, shoots at least 500 people and then when he runs out of bullets uses pitchforks, machetes and a skillsaw blades to scalp, amputate and slaughter anonymous bad guys without blinking. In other words this is classic Schwarzenegger brought to us from the same guy who gave us the equally excellent Class Of 1984. The anything goes finale is basically the highlight but there is much to enjoy such as when Schwarzenegger actually rips out a phonebooth with a bad guy in it and then chuck it over his shoulder, or the way Schwarzenegger gets hit by a car and yet keeps going (Making this the second movie in a row where Schwarzenegger was hit by a car) The best part of Commando is simply the fact that it is nothing more than just a turkey shoot and really you can’t go wrong with that. While Rambo:First Blood Part II was the more popular of the two, this one was the more fun of the two, but why not make time for both? If anything else this is what led to the greatness of 80s Action and you really can’t go wrong with Commando. Indeed Lester’s subsequent efforts Class Of 1999, Showdown In Little Tokyo and Night Of The Running Man while not as good as results of this and Class Of 1984, are still well worth seeing.

Total Recall (1990) * * *1/2

Cast:Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Sharon Stone

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Schwarzenegger stars as Quaid, a seemingly everyday construction worker plagued by nightmares of Mars, despite the reluctance of his wife (Stone) Quaid gets an artifical vacation but ends up awakening the past and remembers he was a secret agent while all of a sudden everyone is trying to kill him and now Quaid has to somehow overthrow Cohaagen (Cox) and his first lieutenant Richter (Ironside) Total Recall is a good action movie, but it’s a classic for Science Fiction. The best element is that Verhoeven films the action without let up but he also takes the time to add novel touches like the Johnny Cab, The whole idea of Artificial vacations and how Verhoeven toys with whether Schwarzenegger is dreaming or not, then things get truly even more mind bending when we learn of mutants and an reactor that will save everyone Mars (as you have to buy air) Total Recall is a smart and intriguing story wrapped up in action spectacle, indeed if there is a flaw it could be that the film doesn’t develop the elements as much as you would like. For instance Schwarzenegger’s past is not really explained and the whole twists and turns sometimes provide plot holes, such as why Schwarzenegger would get that much help from double agents or for that matter what the rebels do to well, rebel. The best element is that Total Recall gets wilder and crazier with every minute, as to create a surreal movie, Indeed the film though feels like an acid trip but that adds to the fun factor and Total Recall still holds up well twenty years later and remains one of Schwarzenegger’s all time best.

Invasion USA (1985) * * *

Cast:Chuck Norris, Richard Lynch, Melissa Prophet, Alex Colon

Directed by Joseph Zito

“America wasn’t ready…but he was!” said the tagline to one of the most outrageous and completely ridiculous bodycount-actioners ever made. Invasion USA breaks away from Norris’ usual martial arts swagger in favor of one man army antics and the result is in parts hilarious and entertaining. Invasion USA is actually a lot more fun as a time capsule than you might expect, for instance this was laughable in the 80s but now it’s just evolved into classic bodycount camp. The big thing is that the movie is pretty much the Chuck Norris Facts:The Movie, we witness Norris drive cars through malls and shoot his uzis at anonymous militia mercenaries (it’s not even really the Russians, though the leader is a Russian) led by grim faced America value hating Richard Lynch. What makes Invasion USA so enjoyably bad is the set up scenes as when the mercenaries blow up the suburbs on Christmas day, they try to blow up a school bus with kids only to have Norris (completely un-phased, may I add) take the bomb off the boss and then nonchalantly put it on the terrorist’s car quipping “Did you lose this” Invasion USA also opens with the slaughter of Cuban immigrants in what would be at home as a parody of border patrol in some futuristic movie. However Invasion USA is technically well made. The production values are slick, the action sequences are exciting and often well put together and the whole movie is paced pretty well. Joseph Zito then films such action at a brisk pace and the final showdown with the National Guard which leads to a the duel with bazookas (Of course) make this one of the most entertaining flicks from Norris’ catalog. Indeed, it feels like a PM movie made in the Reagan era because everything blows up real good. A guilty pleasure then perhaps but there is something that feels so bad it feels good.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cynthia Rothrock binge

Above The Law
(1986) * * * 1/2

Cast:Yuen Biao, Cynthia Rothrock, Corey Yuen, Roy Chiao, Siu Wong-Fan, James Tien, Karen Shepherd

Directed by Corey Yuen

A kung fu lawyer (Biao) turns vigilante after being upset over how triads can buy the judge, however dogging him on the way is Interpol agent (Rothrock) who doesn’t want anyone to take the law into their own hands and who gives as good as she gets, Above The Law (AKA Righting Wrongs) is an excellent martial arts movie that features some of the best fight sequences ever staged, indeed where as Jackie Chan has the best stunts in Police Story and such, this has some of the best fight choreography as there is no shortage of suspense and the imagination in these fight sequences make this a must see for kung fu fans. The story is also developed and provides a narrative that doesn’t follow the predictable path (Especially the ending) and while the motivation for Biao is standard stuff, the actual investigation that features an honest cop (played by Yuen) actually provides some actual drama that makes you feel for the characters. I must repeat that the fight sequences are truly spectacular and thrilling, there is nothing you’ve seen before and it makes for a satisfying mix. Yuen Biao is one of the most underrated martial artists but he is also a very good actor as well, Rothrock too works extremely well and basically because we care about the characters we are actually involved in what happens to them. The biggest tragedy is that Above The Law was harder to find back in the day, where the typically lame Rothrock American made movies were always there. Above The Law though is an excellent movie, I really don’t know how to review it without turning such into repetitive compliments, but trust me this is one of the all time greats of the martial arts genre and if you haven’t seen this, you really should. Above The Law also ranks as Rothrock’s best movie to date.

Lady Dragon (1992) * *

Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Robert Ginty

Directed by David Worth

Rothrock plays an ex-CIA agent who goes looking for vengeance against the drug lord (Norton) who killed her husband and raped her while her ex-boss (Ginty) might have something to do with things in this uninspired Rothrock vengeance saga. The plot tells you all you need to know and you plug in a few fight sequences which are adequately staged but don’t really salvage this strictly formula kung fu flick. Indeed even the novel idea of a woman doing the avenging plays no part as the film makes no difference to the gender of the characters. The one thing Lady Dragon has in its favor is a charismatic leading lady who deserves better material to work with, and a cast of decent actors such as Richard Norton and Robert Ginty who are clearly wasted by Lady Dragon’s completely lame story. Ginty’s appearance is ultimately disappointing because he doesn’t really get to much of anything and his character is a stock role that is bland and forgettable. Lady Dragon aside from the nifty title, a few moments of decent (low rent) action and the three actors make this film tolerable but not very memorable. The Indonesian locations are poorly shot and the film looks really cheap as well making this film one for Rothrock die hards only.

Lady Dragon 2 (1994) *

Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Billy Drago, Sam J. Jones

Directed by David Worth

A remake of the original more than a sequel, only this time Rothrock avenges her soccer player husband and her own rape at the hands of Jewel thieves led by Billy Drago and goons. Once again everything that plagued the original is here in full effect, except this time it’s even duller around as the movie doesn’t even feature that good of action sequences. The Indonesian locale just looks ugly, I’m sure the country is beautiful and would make a great back drop for movies but here the film just looks repulsive. Completely dreary and devoid of life, indeed that’s Lady Dragon 2’s biggest flaw, it’s lifeless and completely unnecessary. Billy Drago gives yet another one of his over exaggerated performances that seems some
what sleepy, suggesting that Drago could care less about the role, Rothrock meanwhile is miscast in a role Bronson personified. Rothrock doesn’t do meaty drama very well and her motivation for vengeance is unconvincing and ungainly. Lady Dragon 2 just doesn’t have anything worthwhile about it, the fight sequences are indifferently choreographed while the film has all the excitement of televised golf, It’s truly hard to believe the director of this co-directed Kickboxer 1. Lady Dragon 2 is a low budget disaster that has the serious misfortune of also being a complete bore.

Undefeatable (1993) *
Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Don Niam, John Miller

Directed by Godfrey Ho

One of the greatest camp gems has Cynthia Rothrock as a street fighter who goes up against a serial killer martial artist named Sting Ray (Niam) who kills numerous women after being jilted by his fetching red headed wife, meanwhile a martial arts expert cop (Miller) on the case and it’s only a matter of time before cop and street fighter join forces to ice the sting ray. Unintentionally hilarious martial arts hijinks finds what is one of the most hysterical villain ever committed to celluloid, Sting Ray played by Don Niam is just extremely hilarious. Sting Ray just attacks at random sans rhyme and reason as he just attacks any random anonymous red head sometimes with a certain dress and sometimes not (the film makes so little sense) The film has no basis on credibility as the police instead of questioning sex offenders or rapists start with martial artists who practice a particular technique. Meanwhile there are incestuous overtones that drive Sting Ray to murder women. Lastly the ending is hilarious but the actual ending after the final dispatch is baffling. Undefeatable is an awesomely bad kung fu movie, I mean the quality doesn’t even match Bruce Le’s Greatest Revenge, the choreography is decent and the fight sequences have their moments but overall this is strictly for comic value. If anything else the finale and the groan inducing Schwarzenegger-esque clips are worth the price of admission, in other words if you like really hilariously inept and utterly incompetent kung fu terribleness, keep your eyes peeled for Undefeatable.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Midnight Express (1978) * * * *

Cast:Brad Davis, John Hurt, Randy Quaid, Paul L. Smith, Norbert Weisser, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins

Directed by Alan Parker

The late (underrated) Brad Davis stars as Billy Hayes a dope smuggling American who screws up when he is sent to a Turkish prison camp where he slowly loses hope, humanity and his sanity before he springs his escape and gets back to the U.S. Midnight Express has been considered racist and angry and I for one agree with that assessment if looked at in a completely face value way. A lot of the movie is fabricated (the real life Billy Hayes didn’t kill anyone) but the effect and message is all the same. Many others have brought up that you shouldn’t feel bad for Billy Hayes because he is smuggling keys of dope into this country, but this is the point. How one absurd mistake and not realizing the culture can in fact get you in a situation that is way over your head. I think the most fascinating part of Midnight Express is how close to home it hits the American attitude regarding other countries. The movie has a standout scene where Brad Davis delivers a speech on how the Turks can hold having 53 days in his face then turn it into a 30 year sentence, unaware of how the rules work in a foreign land. Brad Davis’ character then isn’t as sympathetic and probably with good reason because the way Midnight Express shows the atmosphere of true hell, such might be a good thing as the suspense  reaches intense levels. The big fight sequence between Davis and a fellow Turk in particular takes one aback. Indeed the most powerful element is the way the characters are isolated, the U.S embassy is helpless, they don’t really know the language and it is survival every single day and not only can the Americans not do anything about it, they don’t seem to really care about helping out. Sure the film does paint Turks in an unflattering light but I think the fact that Davis has in fact screwed up and is being forced to face the music makes Midnight Express fascinating and thought provoking. Indeed the big racist speech where Davis calls the Turks pigs, is well done because he goes on to ask for human mercy, complains how he has done enough time and that it’s not fair and how things that are illegal become legal again when others do it around them, it’s a tell tale sign of Foreign thinking that holds no water in a society built on strict values and religious principles. Midnight Express would go on to inspire many ugly prison films like the Van Damme flick In Hell but this is the only prison flick that earns it’s ugly drama and ultimately becomes fascinating. Even 30 some years later Midnight Express remains one of the all time best prison movies and perhaps a stern warning for those who don’t do as the Romans do.
Machete (2010) * * *

Cast: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, Tom Savini

Rodriguez follows up Planet Terror by making a movie out of the fake trailer promised 3 years ago in the undeserved flop of Grindhouse, the result all things considered are fairly successful as Machete finds Danny Trejo as an ex-federale turned day laborer who is forced by Booth (Fahey) to be the triggerman of a prominent Senator McLaughlin (De Niro, in a performance which shows actual enthusiasm for once) when things go awry Trejo starts using such things like weedwackers and of course machetes to get even with the bad guys who doublecrossed him, unable to stop him, Booth calls in the talents of minute men militia leader Jackson (Johnson) and Machete’s old foe Torrez (Seagal, in one of his best turns) to dispatch him once and for all. Aiding our hero is the help of She (Rodriguez) a leader of a gang of miffed Mexicans and straight and narrow Border cop Rivera (Alba, the film’s weakest performance) with Lindsay Lohan just sort of showing up in a nun’s habit toting a gun in the fire ball fueled finale. Machete isn’t 100% as great as the original trailer promised, but it does move and manages to be enjoyable in a silly homage type of way. Rodriguez does seem to be trying a little too hard and the film seems to be too tongue in cheek (especially in comparison to the blaxploitation flicks) but Machete works due to the cast which all provide great characters in their own right. The villains in particular played by Fahey, Johnson, De Niro and (surprisingly) Seagal all provide excellent fodder for Trejo to mow down for our entertainment. Trejo meanwhile has the charisma and swagger to recall Charles Bronson. Indeed the only real downside is the ladies in the cast, as Lohan fares the best but has a character that is badly written, Rodriguez just seems to disappear and return at regular intervals when the plot requires it and Alba is depressingly vapid. That said the film moves at a brisk pace, the action is well staged and the movie works on its own ridiculous level. Machete then is trash, but of the fun variety.
Steele Justice (1987) * * *

Cast: Martin Kove, Sela Ward, Soon-Tek Oh, Ronny Cox, Bernie Casey, Robert Kim, Shannon Tweed,Joseph Campanella, Jan Gan Boyd, Peter Kwong

Vietnam vet and one man army John Steele (Martin Kove) takes on the Vietnamese army after the death of his war buddy (Kim) and in the process steals military equipment and single handedly finds closure from his Vietnam days by wiping out the Vietnamese gangs that is led by an old enemy from the war (Oh) Steele Justice is one of those movies that have to be seen to be believed. It’s so over the top it makes Death Wish 3 seem like a model of plausibility. For instance would you be surprised if I told you that the movie features rats with live grenades strapped to their backs trying to kill our hero? Or what if I told you that our hero gets shot with a poison dart, he cuts out the poison, sucks out the poison and then cauterizes it with a frying pan. Steele’s wife (Ward) who is in a on and off again relationship with Steele is also a music director giving us a really bad 80s music video, while our hero also uses a poisonous snake to kill various bad guys, steals dope and then closes the Vietnamese mob in closed doors before shooting his wife with a beanbag gun (!) “ I don’t want to run, I’m simply keeping you in” is what Kove yells to the bad guys when they tell him there is nowhere to run. Steele Justice then is competently made as far as these things go, but the film is best appreciated as 80s action camp. Martin Kove meanwhile makes for an enjoyable hero whose playfulness goes a long way to making this a pretty fun Rambo rip off.

Shootfighter series

Shootfighter (1993) *1/2

Cast:Bolo Yeung, Martin Kove, Maryam D`Abo, William Zabka, Michael Bernardo,Eddie Albert, John Barrett

Directed by Pat Alan

Sub-par gladiator martial arts nonsense that finds Bolo in a rare good guy role since the obscure 70s kung fu flick Bolo, the plot this time revolves around a no holds barred secret tournament where martial artists fight each other to the death with their hands and feet and an occasional weapon all for the entertainment for the wealthy high rollers who are always in movies like this, meanwhile Zabka (of Karate Kid 1 fame) is there for his debts to loan sharks while Bernardo tries to rescue Zabka from getting hurt while Kove (from Karate Kid 1-3 and Steele Justice) is using Zabka and Bernardo as pawns to draw Yeung back in a death match, in this extremely derivative and completely mindless kung fu cheapie. Shootfighter is of course not in the same league as Hong Kong movies that feature dazzling choreography and quality acting and scripts, but the problem here is that the film just isn’t entertaining in a trashy way. The film is like every single martial arts movie ever made but because the choreography is indifferently staged the film is clearly a pretender in the fight arena as movies like Bloodsport, Kickboxer (2 and 4 as well), King Of The Kickboxers offer far better action bang for the buck. Meanwhile the film is derailed by lame subplots regarding Zabka and D’Abo (who is completely out of place) and there is no real big time threat in the ring to give our heroes any real competition. Shootfighter has a great heart pulling scene and a rare appearance from Bolo Yeung as a good guy, but in terms of entertainment, such novelties are a pretty slim bounty all things considered.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Expendables (2010) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Gary Daniels, Giselle Itie’, David Zayas, Charisma Carpenter, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

A gang of bad-ass mercenaries (Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Crews, and Couture) go on a mission to destroy a small Latin army led by ex-CIA honcho (Roberts) who runs a drug biz meanwhile there is trouble in the ranks as the job is getting to expendable Dolph and when he is cut from the team, he looks for vengeance. All in all The Expendables is exactly what it promises, it features some good car chases and excellent shootouts, but the fight sequences are cut too fast and sometimes not as good as they could be, although the Lundgren/Li showdown is pretty fun. The biggest problem with The Expendables has too many characters, leaving it almost impossible to develop said characters (or the action sequences) when everybody has a big scene.  In other words the movie lacks focus.The plot as expected is extremely routine and has been done a hundred times, but this doesn’t matter so much as how well it is done and The Expendables is pretty good as far as these things go. The Expendables opened number 1 in theaters and it was nice to see that our action stars still have it and can come back as popular. Indeed one hopes we get more movies like this in theaters and if anything else let’s hope our action heroes take down the lame camera angles of Michael Bay and CGI crap. The Expendables then delivers what it promises and on a lot of levels that’s all you need. Dolph Lundgren’s character is probably the most fun thing about it and thankfully he is used well, Jet Li on the other hand comes off the most disappointing in terms of his use as he plays really lame comic relief intead of exploiting his martial artistry as it could,  but all in all the movie works for what it is and while it’s not The Wild Bunch, it is fun mindless entertainment.

Undisputed Series

Undisputed (2002) * * *

Cast: Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames, Peter Falk, Wes Studi, Michael Rooker,Jon Seda, Fisher Stevens

Directed by Walter Hill

A Mike Tyson-like champion goes to prison for rape accusations to which he then battles current prison circuit champion Monroe (Snipes) in a boxing match to determine who is the best, while an elderly mobster (Falk in a great performance) puts it all together and faces off against a warden who doesn’t want the final match to take place. Undisputed was what I thought an undiscovered gem, thankfully though due to the sequels (which are enjoyable) Undisputed has gained a following. Also being directed by Walter Hill, this boxing drama which one feared would be a rip off of Penitentiary, actually turns into a suspenseful boxing drama with great action sequences and characters that actually are well defined. Indeed what it all comes down to is the atmosphere of the prison and Hill makes the prison feel real and closed off. The performances from the cast are all first rate, especially Falk who’s screen presence and charisma works to keep the dramatic scenes from getting routine, Snipes is adequate and predictably passive but Rhames gives a great performance as the villain and is suitably menacing. The story moves at a satisfying clip and overall Undisputed is worth its weight as an enjoyable prison movie and even more enjoyable as a fight flick. Sadly Walter Hill hasn’t done much since although thankfully a project is deemed for release in 2011 with him and Pierce Brosnan, let’s keep our fingers crossed, as Walter Hill is a heavy weight talent in this genre and he knows his action. Undisputed is one of Hill’s best recent efforts as it represents a vast improvement over the surprisingly dull Hill efforts Wild Bill and Last Man Standing, Undisputed then doesn’t quite reach The Warriors/Southern Comfort levels (Or even Streets Of Fire) but Undisputed is well worth seeing for genre fans.

Undisputed II:Last Man Standing (2006) * * *

Cast:Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, Ben Cross, Eli Danker, Ken Lerner, Mark Ivanir
Directed by Isaac Florentine

Jai White (In for Ving Rhames) returns as boxing champion Iceman framed for a bum rap involving cocaine, who  must learn the ropes in a European prison where he must learn a new style of martial arts to stand a chance against current champ Uri Boyka (Adkins) in a satisfying kung fu prison yard that works because of the excellent action and fast pace. The plot is sort of contrived and the whole premise has been done to death (basically Death Warrant meets Lionheart) but in terms of prison action this might be the best direct to DVD release ever to use such sturdy premise. There are of course some flaws, mainly involving junkie Cross who figures in a way to set up two fight sequences between White and Adkins. Another thing that doesn’t work is the whole Cool Hand Luke unity among the prisoners when White refuses to fight, a plot thread that goes nowhere as it is dropped in favor of the martial arts action (which isn’t necessarily bad thing) Undisputed II then is a movie that impresses solely for the action element, I mean the acting, production values and story are all what you would expect but due to the fast pace and the excellent fight sequences which are so spectactular that it makes up for any of the story’s shortcomings, Undisputed II then works very well for fans of kung fu flicks, who will no doubt eat this up.

Undisputed III:Redemption (2010)
* * *

Cast: Scott Adkins, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Mark Ivanir, Marko Zaror

Undisputed III is the weakest in the series but still a solid recommendation from me, the flaws are more pronounced as Adkins is such damaged goods that it strains credibility to see him spin around and do all kinds of jump kicks but aside from that the choreography is on par again and the film follows more in the Lionheart vein and such is a durable premise that seems to never get old. The story as it goes finds Uri Boyka (Adkins) damaged goods who trains again and wins a tournament to fight an international tournament despite a bum knee, meanwhile he befriends a tough black fighter (Jenkins) who are constantly thrown in the hole together. The stakes are raised higher because the loser of the fights are killed and hence the final fight means everything. Undisputed III delivers exactly what it promises and Florentine does wonders with the action element which make this head and shoulders above other dull straight to video clunkers like Unrivaled, Damage and Ring Of Death. Character development then is on the weaker side but when the action is that good, and occurs at regular intervals, the genre fan in me tends to be more forgivable. Bring on Undisputed 4….

Six-String Samurai

Six String Samurai (1998) *

Cast: Jeffrey Falcon, Justin McQuire

Directed by Lance Mungia

Smug and boring post apocalypse wasteland science fiction abound as a Buddy Holly (Falcon) look-a-like uses his samurai skills to protect his Guitar and takes a kid along to the promise land of Las Vegas where he can replace Elvis as the king. They just don’t come more irritating than this movie. Probably closer to Albert Pyun’s vision of Cyborg, the movie plays like a battle of the bands, too bad all of it is so smug and forced. Indeed movies this low budget and ridiculous do themselves wonders by not being so “quirky” and in on the joke because the result is painful. The action sequences are for the most part okay but aren’t very exciting. Another especially lame part of the movie is the kid sidekick that makes it so our Buddy Holly hero gets sidetracked and has to fight a cannibal family as well as other various bad guys, which is a sign of the director not knowing where to go next with his premise. What really sinks this dreary nonsense is the inclusion of comedy, All of it heart wrenchingly lame. The whole joke about Vegas being the promise land and Elvis being the king that used to rule is truly as unfunny as it gets. This is a movie that should’ve been rejected as soon as someone had an idea to make a rock and roll Mad Max rip off. In fact this is so bad it makes Cyborg seem like Mad Max. The idea is basically a stupid premise that becomes long and drawn out. Indeed it’s a gimmick movie with a really awful gimmick.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

John Woo Binge

Hand Of Death (1978) * * *

Cast: Jackie Chan, Tao Ling-Tan, James Tien, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao

Directed by John Woo

Hand Of Death is a pretty decent kung fu time killer, the story as expected isn’t much, as it revolves around the rebellion against the Manchu invasion and how to use a new kung fu technique against a traitor (Tien) Once again take my opinion with a grain of salt, I love kung fu movies, I love John Woo, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Indeed Biao has little to do, Hung wears bad dentures and Jackie Chan is merely a second fiddle to the hero in question. Hand Of Death is a curiosity than, but not necessarily a bad movie. It isn’t nearly as good as what Woo, Chan, Hung and Biao would do later but it does have some good kung fu fights, a coherent story and you can see the elements that Woo would later make down the road. Hand Of Death then sort of cheats on promising a Woo/Chan collaboration but Chan does have a decent part (Unlike 36 Crazy Fists which didn’t have him in it) that should please fans. Don’t expect Hard Boiled (Or even Hard Target) and you’ll be fine, but make no mistake this is one of the better old school kung fu flicks that wasn’t a Shaw Brother or Bruce Lee flick.

The Killer (1989) * * *1/2

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh, Chu Kong, Kenneth Tsang, Shing Fui On

Directed by John Woo

Chow Yun-Fat stars as an assassin who is doublecrossed by his employers on his final mission that he takes to get reconstructive eye surgery for his blind girlfriend (Yeh) that he blinded during one of his assignments meanwhile a cop working to catch said assassin join forces with said assassin to said assassin's employers. The Killer is often celebrated as the best movie John Woo ever made and I can’t quite agree cause I like A Better Tomorrow and Hard Boiled more. That said this is still as satisfying and excellent as people say. Once again it all goes back to the fact that John Woo goes the extra mile to develop the characters and by creating characters we care about, the action, the comedy and the heroic bloodshed angle all mean that much more. I think the problem with reviewing a classic along the lines of The Killer that it’s a fine line between reviewing and all out ass kissing. I think the best way to solve this (aside from telling you that you should seek this out ASAP) is to just mention that this has some of the best shootouts ever filmed, as well as the fact it just has it all. The boat chase that finds a mustached Chow Yun-Fat on his mission while throwing his gun in the water and then continuing on boat to on foot on the beach to the hospital is one of my favorite action sequences I’ve ever seen. I also liked that CYF’s friend that betrays him is seen in a grey area and not in black and white evil mode, I also liked the relationship between Lee and CYF, because this is what provides the main heart of the film. The subplot with Yeh is sort of silly and hokey but near the end it makes the showdown worth fighting for. Also what is most fascinating is the Christian symbolism Woo laces his church finale with and his underlying theme of redemption despite all the carnage, indeed in a lot of ways this ends in an upbeat light. Like I said it’s hard for me to go on in a review and write about a great film without sounding like a groveling fan-boy but then again I’m huge fan of pre-2000 Woo and I only hope people seek this movie out.

A Bullet In The Head (1990) * * * *

Cast:Tony Leung, Jackie Cheung, Waise Lee, Simon Yam

Directed by John Woo

A Bullet in the Head despite it’s absurd title is a hard edged Vietnam war drama that is as brutal as it is brilliant. The story details 3 youths who get into a gang fight that ends up killing someone and so to escape the law they go to Vietnam where they get involved with a Gold smuggler and the Viet Cong. The most powerful sequence by far is when the characters are put together with American P.O.Ws and forced to shoot one another, or for that matter when Waise Lee causes Cheung brain damage in an effort to not be discovered by the Viet Cong while hiding. What is most astounding is that the characters in this movie don’t start off as necessarily bad guys, even Waise Lee, perhaps too ambitious and maybe foolish and naïve but overall the feeling that everything that is led up to this moment is due to circumstances that get out of hand is by far what makes this highly recommended viewing. Unfortunately A Bullet In The Head is hard to find and typically expensive, however if you can find it for rental or to buy for around 15 bucks, such is worth the price. This makes an excellent companion piece to The Deer Hunter and in many ways it’s just as good. However the movie is hard to watch due to its unrelenting nature and therefore be sure to know what you’re in for. This is a disturbing movie but one well worth seeing all the same.

Once A Thief (1991) * *

Cast:Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, Cherie Chung, Kong Chu, Kenneth Tsang

Disappointingly slow Woo-lite comic yarn about three thieves who form a love triangle while attempting to steal a painting that will set them up for life. The film only picks up in it’s finale where CYF springs to action with a not-bad action sequence. The heist scenes are especially disappointing, as Woo just doesn’t seem to know what to do with those sequences. Indeed in comparison to Johnny Handsome in which Walter Hill filmed the heists with such an unbelievable rhythm, Woo unfortunately fails to find the right tone during these scenes and it comes across as forced. Indeed you know something is wrong when you want Woo to just get it over with rather than being thrilled by what you’re watching. Another big problem is that this material feels experimental and therefore Woo will plays around with various ideas but never quite hones in on the right tone he needs to establish. Indeed this had potential but I think Woo needed Jackie Chan to bring his comic set pieces to life.

Hard Boiled (1992) * * * *

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung ,Teresa Mo, Phillip Chan, Phillip Kwok, Anthony Wong

Directed by John Woo

This is John Woo’s best movie tied with A Better Tomorrow. John Woo peaked here and never captured the same magic (Though he did come close with Red Cliff) Chow Yun-Fat stars as Tequila a bad ass cop who finds himself joining forces with an undercover cop to fight triads who have taken over a hospital. I wish John Woo was allowed to let loose like this in the U.S. Hard Boiled is the real deal, it has the best action sequences of all time (seriously the dirt bike battle is the best shoot out I’ve ever seen) and Chow Yun-Fat's Tequila is up there with Popeye Doyle, Stanley White and Dirty Harry as one of the biggest bad ass cops of all time. Hard Boiled also doesn’t skimp on the character development or story which ultimately elevates this above all cop thrillers. Indeed the only tragic part of Hard Boiled, is that many refuse to see this because it has subtitles. It of course is their loss. I think the next thing I have to address is Hong Kong cinema in general, where as the U.S had some of this grit in the 80s and early 90s, It’s just so refreshing to see Woo not cramped by quick edits and ADD cameramen. Indeed after sitting through Woo’s later work in Mission Impossible 2 and Paycheck one is only saddened by how Woo can’t even be allowed to direct what he wants to direct. Indeed Red Cliff shows that Woo still has it and being that he’s made the best made for TV pilot I’ve ever seen (Blackjack which I enjoyed, but such praise isn’t saying much) shows that Woo has it. Hard Boiled is how an action flick should be,  coherent action sequences, characters you care about and a character driven story. It’s hard to believe Hollywood seems to misuse such a master in action cinema.

Hard Target (1993) * * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henriksen, Yancy Butler, Arnold Vosloo, Wilford Brimley, Kasi Lemmons

Directed by John Woo

John Woo joins forces with Van Damme and the results are decent but neither director or actor are at their best. For instance Van Damme has done better with Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Universal Soldier (And Double Impact if I’m honest) but this is better than Nowhere To Run. As for John Woo, this wasn’t his worst movie before or after. (Once A Thief was worse) However as it is stated this stands as one of Woo’s better Hollywood movies. Mainly because he was allowed to actually film coherent action sequences, do at least 70% of his thing and pack a brutal punch. (Hard Target is ultimately to this date, Van Damme’s most blood thirsty effort to date…and it’s been 17 years) Indeed this is a film that was merely adequate when it came out but has aged very well. Mainly because action films today tend to be so weak. The graveyard sequence in particular is exciting and the finale is despite what detractors say one of Woo’s best show stoppers. The problem is, Woo’s heroic bloodshed angle doesn’t coincide very well with Van Damme’s 80s action persona so it ends up feeling like a cross between which ultimately feels like just a standard Hollywood action flick for it’s time. That said Hard Target is worth seeing for the action alone and for the fact that Lance Henriksen makes for a great villain, Vosloo provides good back up and Van Damme is at his best. Indeed the only weak part is Butler who is just terrible. It is then sort of disappointment and praise I heap on Hard Target and it’s because I liked it, when I wanted to love it. However I don’t even tend to like Woo’s new films nowadays.

Broken Arrow (1996) * ½

Cast:John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Howie Long, Delroy Lindo

Directed by John Woo

John Woo turns into John Woeful in this sort of Die Hard rip off, sort of Fail-Safe rip off all tedious action movie. In a blatantly dull action flick that takes forever to get started and doesn’t have a decent villain, a plot that makes sense on any dramatic level and a movie full of mindless plot threads that would set the tone for the Michael Bay and Jan De Bonts of our time. Now to be fair Woo does stage a pretty impressive action sequence near the end but by then it’s too little too late. Meanwhile while some shootouts have some moments of excitement it is all ruined by absurd lapses of logic (such as anyone being able to survive while the nuke go off  underground, or for that matter how Travolta would know to rig the nuke to make it go off if someone punched the wrong codes in.) Another problem is Travolta who makes for a ridiculous villain. Apparently ticked off at the military for passing him up on promotions, one would understand such motivations if he was fired or for that matter his country tried to kill him, however nuking the country because of how he’s pissed off about promotions is pretty laughable to say the least. At least I can understand greed as motivator. There is more that is wrong, mainly how Mathis is able to stand tall and fight mercenaries when she is just a park ranger. Slater fares well here (probably the best) but it would’ve probably been more fun to see him as the bad guy and Travolta as the good guy. Mainly because Travolta’s character is so whiny and silly, when says "Yeah, ain't it cool" to Slater when Slater accuse him of being out of his mind isso over the top in its stupidity it sets the tone for the film. . The ridiculous nature of the film didn’t bother me, the lack of action, character development and lack of excitement was what renders this film broken.

John Woo’s Once A Thief (1996) *

Cast: Sandrine Holt, Ivan Sergei, Nicolas Lea, Michael Wong, Robert Ito

Utterly terrible remake of a mediocre Woo movie surfaces in this inane made for TV movie that doesn’t even deliver the action required. Anyway this time there is an agency that hires our three heroes (One a jailbird forced out of jail, his girlfriend and her new ex-cop lover) to take on their adopted brother (Wong) There really isn’t much that can be said about this mindlessly awful TV movie. The comedy is so forced it borders on rape and the action sequences are badly staged, lamely directed and totally not Woo-like. Indeed this awful flick has sort of a following which is something one doesn’t understand. Among the 90210 inspired soap opera and the old Once A Thief failed premise the movie comes together to be the worst movie John Woo had made to date. Indeed one figures that Woo made Blackjack to make up for this stink-bomb, Blackjack while not Woo’s best is miles ahead better than this.

Face/Off (1997) * * *1/2

Cast: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, Nick Cassavetes, Dominque Swain,Colm Feore, Robert Wisdom, CCH Pounder, Margaret Cho

Directed by John Woo

John Woo’s style finally clicks in the Hollywood style as he takes an absurd science fiction premise and manages to make this into one of the most enjoyable “bigger is better” movies with big explosions and slam bang action. What works this time is that Face/Off actually adds shading to even secondary characters making this is one of the few 90s classics. Face/Off ‘s story revolves around FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta) capturing and almost killing Castor Troy (Cage) who is some kind of terrorist, how Troy has planted a bomb somewhere and Archer has to switch faces with him to get the information where such bomb was hidden, unfortunately Troy wakes up from the coma and forces the doctors to give him Archer’s face. So now Archer (with Troy’s face) has to fight back against Troy, meanwhile both guys turn out to be better fathers for their counterpart’s kids. Face/Off is a great movie because it does have action and a really ridiculous story and that adds to its cheese factor. Indeed, the metal boots upon Alcatraz fight sequence walks the fine line between excitement and hysterical camp. Indeed the entire film walks the fine line and while the film isn’t quite 4 star material this film works as well at grind-house action more so than Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s films that year. Indeed the film is often times brutal and satisfying in its punch of action and while John Woo clearly doesn’t treat the subject with as much welcome humor that such a premise would call for, there is no denying that Face/Off is one of the few big budget blockbusters that doesn’t suck. In fact it holds it’s own against the classics of the action genre and that says a lot. Meanwhile Nicolas Cage is fares far better than he did in The Rock. (Although Con-Air wasn’t too shabby either.) All in all Face/Off is John Woo’s best American effort and well worth revisiting as the years gone by adds to the guilty pleasure vibe. Face/Off then is both a classic for the right and wrong reasons.

Blackjack (1998)  
* * *

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Fred Williamson, Kate Vernon, Saul Rubinek, Kam Heskin, Phillip Mackenzie

Directed by John Woo

John Woo’s second attempt at a made for TV action flick is merely decent which makes it a big improvement over the execrable Once A Thief TV remake of his mediocre original. John Woo gets a lot of the best moments from veteran talents Lundgren, Williamson, Rubinek and Vernon who all make the concept work better than you would expect. Of course the main flaw Woo cannot overcome is in fact that Blackjack is a made for TV movie, which means the action, story, and carnage level all stay at the level of that. Plus add in a ridiculous element involving Dolph’s color phobia and you have all the marks of a disaster in the making. Blackjack then is a testament to John Woo’s talent, for he somehow adequately pulls it off and as long as one suspends belief, Blackjack doesn’t offend. That said fans of the star and director will probably like this but this stands as not neither Woo or Lundgren’s best. Although in Lundgren’s case, at least it’s better than the Abominable Fallen Knight. All in all though it's pretty good.

Mission Impossible 2 (2000) *

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Anthony Hopkins

Directed by John Woo

Terrible sequel that proves Woo simply has lost his magic touch since crossing the ocean. The plot (if you can call it that) revolves around Ethan Hunt (Cruise) trying to keep a deadly virus out of the evil hands of super villain Dougray Scott. Thandie Newton plays the love interest in a meaningless role (Woo never was good with romance angles) The film comes together with all the coherency of a puzzle with 80% of the pieces gone. It has no beginning, it has no ending, it just is a big glob of interchangeable action sequences and absurd plot threads. What is most disappointing is how Woo’s usually skilled craftsmanship in action is clearly on autopilot. In fact you know you’re in trouble when the slow motion and weird camera angles cause people to laugh (Like when Cruise and Scott hit each other in the air) Mission Impossible 2 is just a debacle on all fronts and it was hard to sit through it. Indeed this is where Woo renounced his throne as king of action. A terrible movie and what signified the beginning of the end for Woo. As for Cruise he looks utterly terrible with his shaggy cut and pretty boy looks and short and slender stature makes for a laughable hero. Indeed he is clearly trying too hard, which is weird cause Cruise usually works in such a role. In anycase avoid it, skip ahead to Red Cliff. This kicks off Woo’s dead zone.

Windtalkers (2002) * *

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater,Roger Willie, Brian Van Holt

Directed by John Woo

Mission Impossible II was terrible; Windtalkers on the other hand is merely mediocre and disappointing. There is potential here in the story about the Native Americans who deciphered codes and sent codes that helped in our efforts in World War II, And with John Woo’s Bullet In The Head (and Red Cliff a few years later) Windtalkers held a lot of promise and unfortunately the results are average at best. The problem here is that there is too many secondary characters and plot threads as the film jumps back and forth between Cage and Beach’s relationship and Slater and Willie’s battle sequences. Basically this disjointed effort falls apart because it devotes too much time to the plot threads making it feel undernourished and half baked. The battle scenes are okay but one gets the feeling Woo had to sacrifice character development to make this 2 hours. It’s not really worth seeing but Woo fans might enjoy it.

Red Cliff (2009) * * * 1/2

Cast:Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fengyi Zhang, Chen Cheng, Wei Zhao

Directed by John Woo

John Woo returns with a historical recount of China’s three kingdom period, in which the rebels join forces with two kingdoms to fight a cruel king looking to establish power and hence military strategies are implied and it all comes down to the way the wind blows on the night of an attack. Red Cliff is actually combined from Red Cliff 1 and Red Cliff 2, the truth is I recommend this cut just as much as I’ll probably recommend 1-2 (I have to get a hold of them first) This is sort of like a Shogun Assassin styled  combining of two movies which ultimately becomes a different movie all together. Indeed why they did this cut is unknown but I can assure you I want to get my hands on Red Cliff 1-2. However despite all that Red Cliff is an excellent movie. In fact one wonders where has this Woo been? I mean I started to get scared after his various work that he might’ve lost his touch after the last 11 years of putting out uninspired hackwork. Indeed Blackjack which wasn’t great shakes all of a sudden was coming up in many conversations as to “John Woo hasn’t made a watchable movie since Blackjack” which really depressed me considering that was only decent. Thankfully I can now have a movie that I can bring up in conversation when someone says Woo is lame. In fact Red Cliff is extremely well made and the battle sequences are some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in any genre. It’s nice to see Woo can be this great when he is given the opportunity. I think my only disappointment was the lack of Chow Yun-Fat but really I have to get my hands on Red Cliff 1 and Red Cliff 2, because I’m almost certain those are 4 star movies, I review this because I think it’s a different movie all together. If anything else though it’s nice to see John Woo in good form again and perhaps it’s for the best that Woo stay in his country if he keeps making movies this good. I mean this holds its own against Woo’s heroic bloodshed output and that is high praise.