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 na├»ve 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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Albert Pyun Fest

Radioactive Dreams (1986) * *

Cast:John Stockwell, Michael Dudikoff, George Kennedy, Lisa Blount

Directed By Albert Pyun

Stockwell and Dudikoff star as two brothers who spend all their childhood reading Detective novels and upon rearing their heads in the Mad Max-like wasteland discover that the world is a mean spirited place, they also get their hands on a keys to a nuclear bomb hence throwing them into war with various gangs that want to rule the world.

Inside Radioactive Dreams there is a good movie in there trying to get out but unfortunately Pyun can’t tie his plot threads together well enough. To make matters worse Dudikoff’s Jerry Lewis impersonation while accurate quickly exaggerates and it’s only in the finale when Dudikoff drops such and goes for a film noir mood that the movie starts to work. Radioactive Dreams is competently made but the big problem here is that the film needs more action and less comedy because the comic value is not only non-existent, but horrific in its ineptitude. Radioactive Dreams then gets a passable rating for trying to do what has never been done although the question remains whether such should’ve been attempted in the first place.

Captain America (1991) *

Cast:Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Scott Paulin, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin

Directed by Albert Pyun

By far the one of the worst comic book adaptations ever made, Captain America fails because the film just doesn’t have the budget to make anything decent out of such. The story about this horrendous film is pretty interesting (more interesting than the film) as it seems Pyun had a script and an idea but no financial backers, or as Pyun put it “Captain America wasn’t made with little money, it was made with no money” Indeed given the utterly banal nature of the fight sequences and the lack of Red Skull make up, one doesn’t doubt this. Captain America then couldn’t possibly live up to the comic book. The only problem with all of this is that the film is just unrelenting in its dullness. This isn’t then Captain America so much as Captain Boring. Indeed the fight sequences are extremely shoddy and very unexciting. Which is why I grant Pyun this point, because I saw Pyun’s other films and you can see that his fight sequences often at the very least provide visceral punch. Not so here. Another problem as well is that you can tell the cast involved know that they are involved in a bomb. Indeed this probably was one of those movies that looked like a great idea on paper but you need more than good intentions to make a decent movie out of this nature. Another observation is that people complained about the vastly superior (And underrated) Punisher film as feeling too much 80s Action flick and not true enough to the comic. What is sad is that Captain America doesn’t even feel like too much of something else so much as it feels like just a big worthless chunk of nothing.

Bloodmatch (1991) * * *

Cast: Thom Mathews, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Hope Marie Carlton, Dale Jacoby, Thunderwolf, Michel Qissi, Vincent Klyn

Directed by Albert Pyun

Thom stars as Brick Bardo, a mad as hell kickboxer who abducts the champion fighters (Urquidez, Carlton, Thunder Wolf and Jacoby) that set up his brother for the slaughter and along the way not everything is as it seems. Bloodmatch is an utterly baffling and insane martial arts action flick, not unlike Cyborg in the way it just works in a way that defies all logic and forces us to accept it on its own ridiculous standards. The fact that this film bills itself as a kickboxing mystery should basically let you in on the sheer nuttiness of this film. What is most surprising is how much we find ourselves ignoring the absurdity of it all and embracing the action sequences which are very well choreographed. The acting is of course atrocious (excepting Mathews) where the actors sprawl out some of the most hilariously stilted lines outside of a Ed Wood movie (“Matches of guilt and innocence (…) Connie you’re getting into that ring one last time to fight again, because after that you won’t fight again, you’ll be dead” being among one of my favorites) Indeed it’s hard to review such a movie because Bloodmatch is very entertaining and it does deliver the action goods (and very well) the hard part is determining whether Bloodmatch is a legit good movie and I can’t honestly tell you that such is an unseen gem of martial arts movie classics. However what I can say is that gibberish plot aside (There is an utterly unexplained twist that hints at whether Mathews is a robot made from the brother, the brother that was “killed” or indeed the kickboxing brother who was at the wrong place wrong time) this is simply put a guilty pleasure for yours truly and giving credit where credit is due, Pyun is the best used in the martial arts genre. It’s no secret then that Pyun is maligned by the community but there is no doubt that this is one of Pyun’s better efforts.

Nemesis (1992) * * *

Cast: Olivier Gruner, Tim Thomerson, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Thom Mathews, Deborah Shelton, Brion James, Nicolas Guest, Merle Kennedy, Marjean Holden, Thomas Jane

Directed by Albert Pyun

Albert Pyun returns to his Cyborg roots for this similar but superior cyber cop on run scenario as LAPD Cyborg Oli has a bomb planted in his heart to blow up his lover (now a computer chip) and prevent the humans from uprising. Once again Nemesis works simply because Pyun films some incredible action sequences. Olivier Gruner’s utterly wooden acting is for once appropriate and basically Nemesis moves so fast and often has so many good ideas that it emerges as one of Pyun’s most enjoyable efforts. There are some flaws of course, for one the acting is terrible (Excepting Thomerson, Tagawa and Shelton) even from the usually reliable Brion James and Thom Mathews. Indeed Brion James has an utterly absurd German accent almost as ridiculous as Ernest Borgnine’s from Laser Mission. Also Pyun doesn’t always succeed in tying his many (Admittedly intriguing) plot threads in the most coherent manner but he does keep the pace fast and the thrilling action sequences make this worth seeing for the genre fan. Another plus that Nemesis has in its favor is the look and atmosphere. This is a very visually enjoyable film and captures the whole Mad Max/Max Headroom feel effortlessly. Indeed this is Gruner’s best film to date and overall well worth tracking down.

Knights (1993) * *

Cast:Kris Kristofferson, Lance Henriksen, Kathy Long, Scott Paulin, Gary Daniels, Vincent Klyn

Directed by Albert Pyun

Pyun returns again this time combining a lot of the elements of Nemesis and Cyborg together in a film that is funnier than most comedies though one isn’t sure I should praise it as such. The ridiculous plot involves kickboxer Long who joins forces with cyborg warrior (Kristofferson, who is unintentionally hilarious in a part that Dolph Lundgren would be right at home with.) to fight a gang of vampire cyborgs (Led by Henriksen with a hook-hand) who oppress humankind and who have met their match in our heroes. Pyun rips off Cyborg’s savage gang of mutant villain element and plugs in a Nemesis styled cyborg takeover in a film that fails on all levels except for the unintentional comedy part. Indeed where as Cyborg was sublimely bad entertainment, it got the action sequences part right, as well as the atmosphere and did have a weird energy that made it work in spite of itself. Nemesis was actually good so that takes such out of the equation. What is ultimately surprising about Knights is that the action sequences are flat and uninspired. Indeed there is no zip to the confrontations and such becomes hilarious because seeing Kris Kristofferson kickboxing against Gary Daniels and a slew of martial artists is just insane in its utter absurdity. The climax is even campier because Kathy Long fights the bad guys with Kristofferson’s cybernetic torso in her backpack (!) All of this is of course utterly silly and blatantly laughable. However the fact that the film aside from the production values fails to do anything right and yet is still so entertaining is what makes it hard to review. So in that in the end I say to tread carefully. Though if you like to laugh at really awful movies, this should just about fill the bill.

Nemesis 2 (1994) *

Cast: Sue Price, Tina Cote

Directed by Albert Pyun

Where as Nemesis 1 is one of Pyun’s best efforts, this inert dud of a sequel is easily one of Pyun’s worst movies. Apparently truer to Pyun’s original vision (which was supposed to have Megan Ward instead of Olivier Gruner) this terrible film actually doesn’t have much to do with the first one (at least from what I could tell) Indeed there involves a time machine and a cyborg warwith the humans that have since lost since the first movie but otherwise it’s basically charisma-less Price running around the desert fighting the bad guys in one-sided fight sequences leaving one to doubt how the cyborgs could indeed enslave man (let alone beat Olivier Gruner) when they are so brittle. The production values are decent but this movie just doesn’t have an interesting story or any interesting action, therefore making it a complete bore.

Nemesis 3 (1995) *

Cast: Sue Price, Tim Thomerson

Directed by Albert Pyun
Even worse than # 2.

Heatseeker (1995) *1/2

Cast: Keith Cooke, Thom Mathews, Norbert Weisser, Gary Daniels Tina Cooke

Directed by Albert Pyun

Don “The Dragon” Wilson look-a-like Keith Cooke stars as the last human kickboxer who battles a tournament where cyborg fighters compete for some world tournament and also aboard is Thom Mathews as a fighter who is looking for redemption for his father and Weisser who clearly has a sinister agenda involved, one that involves not letting Cooke win at any cost and he’s willing to pay hardball (Kidnap Cooke’s girlfriend trainer Cote) Heatseeker is Pyun’s first martial arts movie that isn’t even remotely entertaining. (It’s not Kickboxer 4 that’s for sure) The thing that is most odd about Heatseeker is that it is so badly shot in the fight arena. The camera seems to capture the action at almost always the wrong angle. It was sort of irritating in Pyun’s enjoyable films when he would sometimes shoot the audience reaction as opposed to the action but this is often from a detached view that it’s very tough to even enjoy the action as it is so processed and distanced. The movie outside of that is even worse, mainly because the movie has too many filler sequences of Keith Cooke running around town naked, or would be training montage between Cote and Daniels. Meanwhile Pyun rips off Rocky IV in Gary Daniels’ character as not only does Daniels bare a resemblance to Dolph Lundgren, he doesn’t even get as many lines. Another problem is that Cooke is completely dull as the hero (Losing his charisma from King Of The Kickboxers) All in all Heatseeker is a disappointment on many levels. Indeed only Thom Mathews and Norbert Weisser show some charisma in their parts. Indeed Weisser is by far the only thing that keeps you watching this dud. Indeed throughout the film I kept wondering how much better the movie would’ve been had Weisser had a better script set to his villainous talents. Mathews meanwhile clearly shows up the blank Cooke and it’s sort of odd that they didn’t just cast Mathews in the lead. What Pyun really needed was to goose up the fight sequences, cause the feeble action sequences, fail to distract the audience from the fact that they’ve seen it all before… and from Pyun.

Mean Guns (1997) * * *

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Ice-T, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Michael Halsey, Thom Mathews, Yuji Okumoto, Tina Cote, Kimberly Warren

Directed by Albert Pyun

Mean Guns surprisingly predates the (vastly superior) Battle Royale but the premise is the same as prisons have become corporate run and to take care of this, the worst criminals are gathered up and forced to fight to the death where only three will walk away alive, the warden running it (Ice-T) is also being set up for the slaughter by the corporations that run such prison system, while wiry killer Lambert joins forces with hitman Halsey, Innocent by stander Van Valkenburgh and femme fatale Warren in a fight to the finish. Fight sequences that involve bats, guns and even garrots are used all set to mambo (?) music. Mean Guns moves at a very quick pace and has lots of well choreographed action that often adds a surreal touch to proceedings, as things grow so hectic and bizarre it becomes surreal. Indeed the main inspiration for Mean Guns is no doubt John Woo. For Pyun even tries to tie this movie with a heroic bloodshed angle that, all things considered, offers effective moments (though the ending is overkill). What works the best are Lambert and Ice-T, two actors that have more range than they often show in throwaway B.movies like this. Lambert in particular has his best role in ages as a wiry psychopath that volunteers for such and who has vague qualities that don’t necessarily make him the clear cut bad guy. Ice-T meanwhile uses his New Jack City presence and makes good on creating a menacing yet humorous bad guy. Another plus is the chemistry between Thom Mathews and Yuji Okumoto, as two prisoners who work effectively as a team but let a fetching blonde come between them. All of this in the end is silly and the ending in particular doesn’t work with the overall tone of such, but even Pyun detractors will find something to enjoy here. It’s not great but this is a fun

Crazy Six (1998) 1/2*

Cast:Rob Lowe, Ice-T, Mario Van Peebles, Burt Reynolds, Thom Mathews

Directed by Albert Pyun

Crazy Six stars Lowe as a burned out con man junkie who finds himself in big trouble when he rips off Ice-T and finds himself hunted in some dilapidated European wasteland. One of the problems with Crazy Six is determining what exactly is going on. The plot follows a fairly similar theme of double crosses and such but the movie is so murky and ugly that the film fails to work as even camp. To make matters worse the character of Crazy Six is boring, unlikable and wimpy. Indeed Lowe pretty much is bailed out by Mathews and Reynolds and pretty much the movie tries to be Tarantino like in mood, unfortunately Pyun just can’t muster any enthusiasm among his talented cast. Rob Lowe in particular is miscast as an action hero, but what makes the casting worse is that Lowe clearly knows how far his star has faded and he brings that sense of “doing it for the paycheck” to his role that ultimately makes it sort of sad. Indeed all actors involved have seen better days and it’s not a secret given the aggressive contempt they speak their lines with. Indeed this movie most likely has a more interesting story behind the scenes, in which a far more enjoyable movie would be mainly asking the actors what it’s like to be in a film ungainly to the eyes and how boring it is to play such roles and the stories involved with why they took the role in the first place. Crazy Six is a really terrible effort all around. I usually defend Pyun as creatively misunderstood, but this was rough going for me. Indeed one doubts if Pyun even enjoyed making this film, given the workmanlike camera angles and indeed lack ofreal ambition in committing this turkey to celluloid. In fact one wonders if this wasn’t done without the threat of violence to the cast and their loved ones. Crazy Six is so extremely tedious that it’s not a film that is watched so much as endured. You stand warned.