Friday, April 16, 2010

Masters Of The Universe (1987) *1/2

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Chelsea Field,Jon Cypher,Courtney Cox, Robert Duncan McNeill, Billy Barty, James Tolkan, Meg Foster, Christina Pickles

Directed by Gary Goddard

He-man (Lundgren) and his sidekicks (Field and Cypher) travel to earth to get their hands on a key that will set their sorceress (Pickles) free from the clutches of the evil Skeletor (Langella) who wants to rule the planet, also two teenagers (Cox and McNeill) get involved in what is one of the most uninspired movies ever made. Masters Of The Universe is a lifeless film all around, the type of film made with the littlest of effort because it was solely based on a TV series for kids. Indeed Masters Of The Universe is a prime example of a film being made with indifference for the film doesn’t even have the budget to have He-man fight on his own planet. This is a pretty lame movie but there are a few redeeming factors, one being Langella, Tolkan and Barty’s enthusiastic performances and to be fair the sets in the beginning and ending are well done, but one of the most disappointing parts of the film is how little action it has, as Lundgren and his sidekicks are kept out of action for a surprisingly long time. Also such a good cast is wasted on such boring material. Dolph meanwhile has some screen presence but this role doesn’t require anything but him flexing his muscles and given the lack of action, this will no doubt disappoint D.L fans. All in all though, Masters is just an extremely tedious film and completely void of energy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Showdown Re-evaluation

Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991) * * *

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Tia Carrere, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Toshiro Obata

Directed by Mark L. Lester

Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee join forces as two martial arts expert cops who battle the yakuza, bent on making a power play on the streets of Los Angeles. However for Dolph the fight is personal as the head yakuza boss killed his parents. The big twist here is that Dolph is like all big into samurai tradition, knows Japanese customs while Brandon Lee is an MTV junkie who is 100% American- Surprisingly Lester doesn’t take much advantage of this set up, opting instead to focus on Lundgren and Lee wasting numerous bad guys without breaking a sweat. I must admit Showdown In Little Tokyo is one of those films that you feel really sort of embarrassed to like. I for one should say that with the combined talents of Lundgren, Lee and Tagawa the fact this wasn’t a grandslam is a surprise. However then Showdown In Little Tokyo is so compulsively watchable and so hilariously un-politically correct that this shameless and gratutious action vehicle became a favorite among action fans and in my case I always secretly watched it as a guilty pleasure. There is much  unintentional humor to be found and I must admit this film is ridiculous and unbelievably corny and badly structured in terms of script (the tone goes back and forth between grisly violence and would be comic lines) but despite my attempts to say how bad this movie is, it has managed to be in my DVD collection and I just enjoy the film immensely. Mainly because the movie tries too hard and is often ridiculous because of it, also the film's plot is a total hodge podge, I mean for one the film seems truncated by some 14 minutes (plot angles such as the police investigation, as well as why Dolph's parents were murdered aren't even explained!). The acting is horrible (Lundgren and Lee can barely keep straight faces) and Showdown doesn’t even attempt to make Tagawa a credible villain, indeed this could’ve been made in the World War II era for how racist it is toward the Japanese villains and yet I find myself watching it, often in morbid fascination and often out of sheer pleasurable guilt. I don’t know how to really explain it but, this movie is pretty bad as far as everything you can name (excepting the action and crisp direction) however it is just so compuslively watchable that I have to give it marks for something. Indeed I would argue that Lee and Lundgren fans will love this movie (look at me) but if its quality you seek, avoid it. In the mean time here is one of my all time guilty pleasures.

Cyborg (The Series) Re-evaluated (Cyborg 1)

Cyborg (1989) * * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Dayle Haddon, Vincent Klyn

Directed by Albert Pyun

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as kickboxing savior Gibson Richenbacher, a mercenary of the future forced to battle a savage gang of mutants who kill people for unexplained reasons. Also is a robot named Pearl Prophet (Haddon) who has the cure for the plague in her bionic brain, and ergo needs to be delivered from evil by Gibson. Cyborg is a fairly bad kung fu rip off of Escape From New York, the acting is atrocious, the movie jumps from flashback to the present without explanation and worst of all, the movie is often incoherent. Cyborg does deliver the action for fans of the genre, and of course Cyborg is slightly better than most post apocalypse movies of its day, sad story, true as it is. That said the real appeal of Cyborg is in its camp appeal, as the silliness of the bad guys as well as the extremely bad acting make this one easy to laugh at. Indeed Cyborg hits its unintentional hilarity apex when Jean-Claude Van Damme is crucified and forced to kick down the cross. A scene so hilarious it makes the film a must for fans of hilariously awful cinema. Indeed I recommend as it is indeed better made than most films in its collective genre,  the fight sequences are done right and the movie is never ever boring,  however I recommend it with reservations because this is as campy as movies get.  Indeed the finale in the end in particular will have Bad Movie fans in tears of laughter.  While Cyborg can be considered somewhat of a failure,  the truth is I really can't explain such badness when I watch such a movie so much.  I mean the way Van Damme looks in his wig is worth the price of admission alone.

Cyborg 2 (1993) *

Cast: Jack Palance, Elias Koteas, Angelina Jolie, Billy Drago, Alan Garfield

Directed by Michael Schroeder

Apparently Jean-Claude Van Damme’s kickboxing did in fact save the world, as the future is much less devastated here, as big business corporations rule, as technology has in fact flourished since the plague. Anyway the movie has little to do with its predecessor but does have relatively the same plot, only lamer this time around. The story such as it is, revolves around a robot (Future superstar Angelina Jolie)who falls in love with a human karate instructor (character actor Elias Koteas) who then go on the lam, when it is discovered that Jolie has been programmed with a liquid explosive meant to take out a rival corporation. Billy Drago figures as the bounty hunter sent to retrieve our lovebirds, while Jack Palance plays a robot out to save our heroes. Palance, Jolie and Koteas are lost in a film that needs more kickboxing and less uninspired science fiction elements. Cyborg 2 borrows liberally from far better movies like Blade Runner, Max Headroom and The Terminator to name a few, but what really stops the movie dead in its tracks, is the drippy love plot angle, as well as the lack of plot to hold any of the story together. Palance rates as the best element in the film but the film is too repetitive and lame to work as even camp. Indeed at least the first movie tried hard…

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Better Tomorrow series

A Better Tomorrow (1986) * * * *

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Waise Lee, Emily Chu, Kenneth Tsang

Directed by John Woo

When it comes to heroic bloodshed A Better Tomorrow literally blows you away. A Better Tomorrow details the complex relationship between a crook (Lung) trying to go legit and the turmoil faced between him and his straight arrow cop brother (Cheung) after being double crossed in Thailand by their employers things get worse as someone hires hitmen to snuff out Lung and Cheung’s dad and Chow Yun-Fat gives the best performance (and the acting is flawless) as a crippled hired gun who sticks with Lung and goads him into a final fight to get revenge on the new generation mobster Lee, Shing (Lee) who turns out to be the one who double crossed Lung in the first place. I must start out by saying A Better Tomorrow is a very impressive film, this is what heroic bloodshed is all about and in many ways this flick holds its own against Goodfellas, but it’s not just that this is a classic heroic bloodshed film but that it is an emotional film. Like, we actually are invested into these characters and while the action is spectacular and supremely bad-ass it’s the film’s flawless narrative that makes this a movie you’ll watch several times. The most credit goes to John Woo for having a keen ear for dialogue and for setting up actual characters as opposed to just mindless cartoons that who are there just for an excuse for the slaughter. Also the action sequences are so suspenseful and exciting (due to us actually caring about the characters) that this film deserves to stand as one of the reasons Woo is considered a master of the genre.

A Better Tomorrow II(1987) 
* * *1/2

Cast:Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Dean Shek, Emily Chu, Kenneth Tsang, Regina Kent

Directed by John Woo, Tsui Hark

Although more in the vein of one man army action than in the league with the original, A Better Tomorrow II is in a lot of ways just as exciting and interesting as the first, although the somewhat messy plot threads (due to an excess of them) sometimes gets in the way. The plot this time revolves more around the police investigation and how over the hill mobster Shek is targeted for death by mobsters looking to move him out, of course this includes killing Shek’s daughter (Kent) and numerous causalities that lead to a vengeance fueled showdown which finds Chow Yun-Fat again as the twin brother of his character of the first, suffice to say the story has too much going on to really match the freshness and impact of the original, but despite how messy it all is, A Better Tomorrow II is pretty impressive on its own terms. Indeed the lack of focus is a problem but all the stories are interesting and by the ending we are very much into the plight of the characters. The shootouts (especially the finale) are just as good as the first and just as absorbing. Indeed I can see why Hark and Woo got in each other’s ways and maybe the vision wasn’t what Woo or Hark had in mind, but regardless of this, A Better Tomorrow II is an excellent sequel that doesn’t at all deserve the flack it gets from both Woo and Woo fans. Indeed the climax alone makes this a must see.

A Better Tomorrow III (1990) * * 1/2

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Anita Mui, Shih Kien

Directed by Tsui Hark

It’s clear that the wheels are starting to fall off with A Better Tomorrow III, a watchable action flick with some good action, but unlike Tomorrows 1-2, this one feels somewhat tired and forced. That’s not to say A Better Tomorrow III is terrible, for instance Yun-Fat and Mui share great chemistry and the climax is genuinely great but the problem is, that what was fresh and involving in the first two has gotten stale. A Better Tomorrow III despite being a prequel and taking place in Vietnam, Hark doesn’t exactly know what to do with his backdrop. For instance Chow Yun-Fat and Leung Ka-Fai are both witness to a bombing and all this establishes is that they are in hostile territory. There are some great scenes though (Ironically most of them with Enter The Dragon’s Shih Kien) but the shootouts are operating on no drama at all and this time it’s just watching an action flick. This of course would be fine as a stand-alone film but as it is sequel to two excellent action-dramas, A Better Tomorrow III is ultimately somewhat of a disappointment by comparison, mainly because the drama that the first two had was so absorbing, Yet 3 feels forced and doesn’t kick in until the finale and by then it’s too late.