6.24.2017

Batman Was Released 28 Years Ago Today

* this is a day late, so it was technically yesterday. But I wrote this yesterday, the 23rd, so that should still count.

Tim Burton's Batman has and continues to be one of my all-time favorite films ever. It's a film that I was obsessed with upon it's initial release, and that obsession has not waned in the least bit ever since. I still love it, and frequently revisit it on a regular basis, always buying each new Blu Ray release that comes out, even though they're not any different from the previous one. It's a sickness.

In the summer of 1989, I was a 13 year old kid, and my family and I were driving all the way to California from Texas to visit family (we did this every 2 summers), which took about 3 and a half days. I remember Paula Abdul and Milli Vanilli constantly playing on every single radio station we picked up on the way over there, and I remember stopping at a random convenience store in some small town and bought the novelization of this film from a book rack and ended up reading it in the car ride up there. I have so many vivid Batman-related memories of that summer, so I thought I'd share them all with you here briefly as I wax nostalgic.

I remember buying so many film related items that summer, like a Batman fabric poster, which I still have, several of the Toy Biz Batman toy line, a cardboard Batmobile sun deflector for my parent's car, and several movie-related Batman t-shirts that were literally available everywhere (the merchandising machine on this film was insane and unprecedented). But the one item that I still covet, the one that I still own and still use to this day is my ceramic Batman coffee mug, which had the  Batmobile on one side. With the exception of a very small minor chip at the top, it's still in pristine condition and I refuse to let anyone else touch or use it to this day.

When I got to the theater in the city of Lancaster, CA that June 23, 1989 wearing my glow-in-the-dark Nicholson Joker shirt, the line literally stretched around the entire building. This was the my first experience ever dealing with a long line for a movie. But I waited, and we eventually got in to see it and that one movie screening changed my life forever. I became obsessed with Batman after that and it was all because of this movie. Ultimately I would end up seeing it in the theater a good 6-10 times and then an innumerable amount on VHS.

Is the film perfect? No. I'm a realistic guy and I know the film suffers from quite a few problems. I know there was a better film in there somewhere but the one we did end up getting wasn't bad either. In fact, from a design standpoint, it's phenomenal. No other film had come out before that looked and felt like this one did. At the time I had no idea who Tim Burton was, even though I'd seen Beetlejuice at the theater the year before and didn't like it (at the time), and being 13 years old, I didn't have a clue what a production designer was, much less Anton Furst, the man who created the industrial gothic look and tone of Batman, who also designed the best version of the Batmobile ever. And then there's the man who designed and created the batsuit, Bob Ringwood. Hands-down my favorite version of the Batsuit in the entire history of film versions and still the best in my humble opinion.

And minus a few issues like structure and a weak ending, the film overall is tremendously entertaining and endlessly enjoyable. There's just a very fun, yet deadly serious and ominous tone, which is totally contradictory I know, but that's exactly what this is and in a very odd way, it works. There'd never been a film like this before, much less a superhero film, and though the current DC Movie Universe is flooding the market with them these days, they still haven't been able to pull it off as effectively as Tim Burton, writer Sam Hamm, and designers Anton Furst and Bob Ringwood. It seems now though that DC has taken all the recent negative feedback and are slowly scaling back on the dark and dreaded tone.

I feel that a lot of what makes this one so much fun despite it's dark gothic tone is Danny Elfman's iconic score. It's perfectly fitting for the material and adds so much to the experience. It's also a sad reminder that we don't get these kinds of scores anymore, no matter how big the film. It seems that composer's are all tapped out of themes these days, because I can't remember the last time we've gotten anything vaguely in the league of scores from Williams, Elfman, Eno and Badalementi. Nothing memorable or iconic, not even for the big superhero films. which is sad.

This past year I had the pleasure of seeing this film on the big screen again as part of Cinemark's Classics Series, and I felt just like a kid again. Even though I've seen it hundreds of times since then, it didn't lose any of it's appeal or entertainment value, and was just as good seeing it for the something-hundredth time as it was 28 years ago.

6.23.2017

Revisiting Timecop

It's easy to say that Van Damme's career is sporadically hit or miss. But there was a time early in his career (late 80's to early 90's) where he was turning out quality work and quality films on a regular basis, with a majority of them hitting the theaters. At that time he was one of the biggest action stars on the planet, at a time when Stallone and Arnold's star-power were waning, and we were hungry for some new action blood. He might not have been the best actor around, but he was dedicated, good looking and could do some physical stuff nobody else could. Timecop was right at the tail-end of his winning streak, before his personal problems became news headlines and his films became less and less fun, important and well....good. Thankfully Timecop is all of those things and more, and yet another highlight of director Peter Hyams stellar career. Let's dig in.

Crackle was streaming this recently and I realized I hadn't seen it for a while. When I began watching it, I was surprised at how good it was and that it was far better than I remembered. I was also a bit surprised to learn that it's really more of a sci-fi/thriller rather than an action film. There's plenty of action for sure, but the film really puts a lot more focus into the story, which was impressively compelling, and it's thriller elements, which kind of took me by surprise, but didn't make it any less entertaining because it was awesome.



Going in, there were 3 things I was most excited about: Van Damme, director Peter Hyams and Ron Silver, and all 3 didn't let me down. Ron Silver has always been a favorite actor of mine. I always love when he plays the villain, because he's just so damn good at it. Watch Blue Steel if you need further proof. And Peter Hyams is such a criminally underrated director. I won't even get into why, because I made a whole post all about him a short while back, but trust me, he's a God among filmmakers in my book. Sure his last good film was The Relic in 1997, and every film since then has been......questionable, but he did keep up a massive winning streak spanning 2 decades (80's and 90's) and delivered some incredible films that have still stood the test of time, and Timecop is a perfect example of that. He gives the film such a distinct visual style, the kind that only adds to the films overall appeal, and he never really gets the credit he deserves for it. It's a very similar style to Roland Emmerich in the 90's (see Moon 44, Universal Solder, Stargate and Independence Day), before Godzilla and CGI changed all that forever. But it's really this "look" that gives Timecop so much of it's flavor.

There were only 2 things that I had minor issues with. I'm sure there are other better examples, but here it seems JCVD was really struggling with his acting. At least he doesn't look tired like he does in later films like Maximum Risk and Knockoff. But here his line delivery is pretty bad, even for him. It could also be because there's more dialogue here than he's usually accustomed to, and definitely much more depth needed for his character. But you know, we don't come into these films for Van Damme's acting, right?



I also felt the ending was a bit of a letdown. Usually these films slowly build up to a big finale, but this one kind of just ends without much of a bang. We do have the big confrontation, the reveal, and a bit of fighting, but none of it really packs a punch the way a finale should. But, as a whole, Timecop delivers the goods on a consistently entertaining level and it's really just a small gripe. There was no huge crazy finale, but that's okay too.

Somehow this film kind of gets swept under the rug in a variety of ways, whether it's listing Van Damme's best films, or director Peter Hyam's talent behind the camera in delivering a great sci-fi/action/thriller under the radar, or just in terms of these classic 90's sci-fi actioner's altogether. It's rarely ever mentioned in the same breath as other great's from the same time like Universal Soldier or Stargate, and that's a damn shame. While I never got around to the Jason Scott Lee low-budget sequel, I can at least revel in the experience of revisiting this classic and loving it more than I ever did before. It's also worth noting that Hyams and JCVD would re-team the following year for the highly underrated and excellent Sudden Death, which I will also be revisiting shortly. Stay tuned...

How to see it:
Timecop has been released numerous times on DVD and Blu Ray as either a standalone film or as part of a 2-pk with Bloodsport on both formats at a very reasonable price. I've also seen it as part of one of those Van Damme Action 4-pks, so really, there's no shortage out there. You'll find it easy and find it cheap. Me, I got the 2-pk with Bloodsport on DVD, because the DVD quality on this one is actually very good and I didn't feel it needed an upgrade to Blu Ray just yet. Plus I got it for under $5. Score!

* speaking of JCVD, are we EVER going to get to see his Full Love aka Soldiers aka The Eagle Path? Anybody have any info on this?

6.22.2017

Documentary Dynamite!: Nintendo Quest


2015
Directed by: Robert McCallum
Category: Documentary

I'm always down for a good documentary, and this is one I'd been eyeing for a while when I first happened upon it on Hulu Plus a while ago. But I never actually got around to it, even though the NES is my all-time favorite console. I eventually forgot about it until I came across it again recently on Crackle. I took it as a sign to finally get off my ass and watch it already.

Avid game enthusiast and collector Jay Bartlett has 30 days to collect every single officially licensed Nintendo game released. He cannot order anything online, which means he has to grab each of the 678 games in person while driving cross-country. His good friend Robert McCallum is along for the ride to document it all. 

Sadly, while amusing and entertaining for the most part, it doesn't quite hit the mark for me. It's a shame too, because it starts off really strong and the subject matter alone, original NES games, should be enough to grab just about any gamer. But this documentary suffers from a few problems that really prevents it from being awesome. For starters, the main focus of this documentary, Jay Barlett, just isn't a very compelling guy. At least not enough to follow around for an hour and a half. He's likable enough, but never really shows much of a personality or charisma, other than the moments when he gets upset about something. Some past trauma and personal issues also come to light. And then there's the amateurish look and feel to it all. While not terrible, it always comes across as a reality show rather than a documentary (yes there's a difference). The camera is constantly moving and swaying side to side, even in the transitional moments where the narrator and director is talking directly to the camera. In fact, this constant camera movement reminded me of a kids game show on Nickelodeon or something. And the other moments, where a small crew is following Jay as he visits friends and video game shops across the country are handled with little flair. It's as if whoever was behind the camera never filmed anything before. It's a slight annoyance, but one I personally couldn't look past.

The beginning of this doc is pretty excellent though, and I wish they had stuck to this format rather than what they chose. It starts by giving you an oral and visual history of Nintendo, from it's inception to it's dominance in the U.S. market to it's lasting impact on the video game market. It's really with this first section of the doc where it really, really shines and ultimately ends up being the most fun and best part of this documentary. Probably because it's quick and throws a lot of information at you in an entertaining way, while also incorporating a lot of old vintage footage. But as this was only McCallum's first documentary feature, I have to cut the guy some slack and hope his upcoming Masters of the Universe documentary, currently in post-production, will be a vast improvement tonally and in quality.

None of this means that it's bad either. On the contrary. It's engaging enough throughout if you're a fan of Nintendo or a vintage gamer. It's fun watching him find a lot of games I hadn't even thought of since their original release, and also discovering titles I never even knew existed. And of course, there are the rare and mega-rare titles. the ones we all hope to come across randomly some day. Here, we get to see Jay find these holy grail cartridges out on the hunt and through connections and the lengths some will go to for these.

Not one of the best, but not a terrible one either. It's enjoyable just for the mere fact that you get to see so many of these games again, especially if you either haven't played them in years or have completely forgotten about what it's like game hunting. Any other NES documentaries out there that I'm not aware of that you'd recommend? Please let me know!

How to see it:
It's since been removed from Hulu Plus, but if you want to stream it for free, you can watch it on Crackle. You just have to endure commercials from time to time. But that's a small price to pay to get to see it in digital for free. You can also purchase the DVD for relatively cheap. I'm sure it comes with bonus content too, so that would be a good way to go. But it's available for free on Crackle right now. I just don't know for how long.








6.21.2017

Hunter: The TV Series (1984-1991)

Growing up, I was always aware of this show, but never got around to actually watching it. At the time, I was all about Knight Rider, The A-Team, The Fall Guy and sometimes Air Wolf. But this is why I love Hulu Plus so fucking much. They're all on there and I can watch them anytime I want. Anywho, as I was browsing recently Hunter was suggested to me, and at the time, I was smack in the middle of a long Miami Vice run and needing something a tad different in the 80's action genre to break up the monotony. I thought I'd at least give the hour and a half pilot a shot, if nothing else.

I'm so glad I did because Hunter was just fantastic and so much more than I was expecting. I'm only about 4 episodes into the first of 7 seasons, but what an opening! They really put so much into that pilot to grab you, and it worked. Essentially it feels like a cross between a Dirty Harry film and any of Charles Bronson's films from the 80's. Lead actor Fred Dryer even kind of looks, dresses and talks like Dirty Harry to be honest, only he's much more of a smartass 100% of the time, which really adds a lot to the likability factor to his character. He could easily have played it straight, which would have been ultimately forgettable, but because he's a smartass and always dropping quips and puns, it's far more effective in his character development and Dryer was a fantastic choice.

What would a good cop show be without an equally compelling partner? In this case, we have the smoking hot Stepfanie Kramer, who works really well as a counter-balance to Hunter's wisecracking antics. It also helps that we see her in tight skimpy outfits often (at least in the first few episodes I've seen so far) as she routinely goes undercover as a prostitute.

The pilot episode was a story about a serial killer who targeted women, with Hunter and his new partner trying to discover the identity of this killer and try and stop them before they killed again. A lot of this episode looked and felt like a slasher film, and I was constantly impressed with it's dark, gritty tone, action sequences and violence. The direction was pretty solid overall too, with some sequences being quite awesome, while others could have used some tweaking. Still, for a mid 80's television show, I was mightily impressed. And here's the clencher, the pilot costarred Brian Dennehy as a psychiatrist 2 years after he was going for Stallone's balls in First Blood.


Sam J. Jones in the Bill Duke directed episode in Season 1




Speaking of cameos. Episode 3 was also amusing in that it costarred Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon) and was directed by actor and future director Bill Duke (Predator, Commando).

I am absolutely loving this show - as much as I love Miami Vice, but in a different, more gritty and less polished way. I love that he's a smartass, and I appreciate the graphic tone, which I understand will shift and change with upcoming seasons. I'm also really enjoying the intro's and end credits. They're a funny and amusing reminder of how these shows used to be. With this one, they give you a preview of that particular episode during the opening credits, and the end credits give you a picture recap of what just happened. LOL. It's awesome.

6.20.2017

90's Thriller Throwback: Desperate Hours


1990
Directed by: Michael Cimino
Category: Thriller

As I slowly dig into enigmatic writer/director's short but eclectic career, I decided to follow up my disastrous screening of Heaven's Gate (more on that in another post) with this little seen, little mentioned and often overlooked thriller from 1990. Re-teaming with his Year of the Dragon star Mickey Rourke, Desperate Hours is somewhat of a departure for the megalomaniac filmmaker. For starters, it's a modern film and not historical, which he seems to jump back and forth to between films. And secondly, he didn't write or co-write this one. He's merely the director this time around as well as a producer along with Dino and Martha De Laurentiis. But that's why I was excited. Because if Year of the Dragon is any indication, I seem to like his gritty thrillers more than his extravagant big budget historical epics. So let's dig in.


An escaped con (Mickey Rourke) on the run from the law kidnaps a rich dysfunctional family and hides out in their home while he waits for his accomplices to arrive, all while the law is closing in on him as tensions inside the house come to a boil.

Desperate Hours is a really solid little thriller in the absolute best possible sense. It demonstrates the best of what Michael Cimino can do within the thriller genre and a tight script, even though he didn't have a hand in the script personally. And I must admit, I was a little bit apprehensive going in because on the surface, I was wondering how a film that's primarily about a family being held hostage in their own home could be thrilling, engaging or entertaining. But rest assured, it is. Cimino infuses this film with enough of his claustrophobic sensibilities (if you've seen any of his films then you know what I mean) and keeps the film gritty, yet highly stylish in a genre where this film easily could have gone unnoticed. And the sad thing is that it largely has. People have either never even heard of it or have, yet never bothered to watch it, which is a damn shame because it's quite frankly an excellent film all around.



This was a pivotal time in Mickey Rourke's career. His career defining roles were becoming less and less, and his personal troubles becoming more prominent in the headlines. The year before he had made a film called Wild Orchid with his then girlfriend Carrie Otis, and hell, I was young enough to not give a shit about any of that but his tumultuous relationship with her on and off the set seemed to just always be in the news, so whether I wanted to know or not, I knew about it. And it's because of his personal issues and on-set behavior that quality work became less and less. However, he was able to knock this one out of the park in classic Rourke fashion before falling victim to the "villain" label in numerous low-budget action films from then on out. That is until The Wrestler proved to us all that he could still in fact deliver a helluva performance.

Anthony Hopkins turns up as the bullish angry lawyer husband who's in the throes of a bitter divorce from his wife, Mimi Rogers. Hopkins is interesting in this one. I've seen him in a LOT of films, and this was made a year before he gave the world his career defining role of Hannibal Lecter. Very much like he does in SotL, he uses an odd accent that I can't quite place. At times it seems he's trying to do American, and at others, a whole other accent altogether. If you watch any of his other films you'll notice he doesn't ever do that, sticking to his native tongue most of the time. But in here, it was just so distracting that I didn't know what to make of it. The cast is rounded out by some notable character actors like Kelly Lynch (Roadhouse), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Elias Koteas (TMNT 1990), David Morse (12 Monkeys) and Shawnee Smith, who just 2 years before headlined the excellent The Blob remake in 1988, but here plays just another annoying and forgettable teenage daughter.



One of the biggest surprises for me was the film's structure and pace. While a large part of it takes place within the Cornell house, the film does an excellent job of taking us outside throughout the film as we look at the story through the eyes of the detectives on the case. And it's really with these moments away from the house where the film really shines and Cimino is able to do what he does best, and that's giving the film a true sense of his visual magic. Despite his history of being pretentious, a perfectionist and megalomaniac, it's with films like this and most importantly Year of the Dragon, that reminds me that while all true, he was still a highly gifted visual filmmaker. He knew how to add tension where it needed it most, and does it with a mostly even hand, giving the actors room to work their magic, while simultaneously filling nearly every shot to the brim with a constant sense of claustrophobic dread. I've never seen another filmmaker who's been able to do that the way he does and if you pay attention, it might blow you away as it did me. Sadly, Cimino would only go on to direct one more film after this, The Sunchaser a full 6 years later.

On the surface, there's nothing really remarkable about this little film, which is probably why it didn't do very well and has largely gone unnoticed. But if you like a razor-sharp edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of tense moments, unflinching violence, a top-notch performance by Mickey Rourke, a score that gives that film a punch of bravado, and some of the most keen visuals Michael Cimino has to offer, then look no further and give this film a shot. It makes for a perfect Sunday afternoon viewing.

How to see it:
Currently here in the U.S., there's only ever been one single DVD release from 2002 that you could pick up really cheap, which is what I got. Thankfully it's in widescreen. I don't know. It seems like his films just don't get much love when it comes to releases. Much like his Year of the Dragon, it's only gotten the one here in the states, in a very bare bones no frills edition. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free, and that would probably be the smartest way to go since it will be in HD and I'm sure will look far better than the old DVD. To date, no Blu-Ray has been released and none on the horizon, but I know of a French Blu-Ray available and I'm sure there are other regions that probably offer this that I'm not aware of yet.

6.19.2017

Revisiting Spielberg's E.T.

I'm old enough to remember seeing E.T. countless times in the theater back in 1982. I was in elementary, and I specifically remember the school taking us all to the theater to see it. I also remember my after school daycare doing the same thing. It was just that kind of movie. The kind you could take pretty much any kid to and that they knew it was both suitable and also very entertaining. I also remember that it took years for it to hit VHS, and waiting and waiting for it to eventually hit. See, back in those days the time it took to go from theaters to home video was usually about a year, not like now where it's virtually just a matter of weeks or a month. But I wanted to see it again so bad and always checking with my local video stores and all saying the same thing, that it still wasn't out and they had no idea when it would be. Of all the things I remember about E.T. as a kid, it was the fact that I had to wait so long (years if I'm not mistaken) to see it again on my home television screen.

It would eventually hit Home Video and become as big a juggernaut as it was on the big screen. I can't even tell you how many times I saw it, but it was a lot. Not to mention the barrage of endless tie-ins, toys, and product placements, most famously with Reese's Pieces candy. But as we get older our tastes change and I kind of forgot about it, not watching it a single time for several decades, that is until the Special Edition hit on Blu Ray, which provided us with both the regular and the "touched up" a la George Lucas' Special Editions where Spielberg added a few scenes that he wasn't able to do before because of the lack of technology, and altered a scene here and there, most famously with the one where he replaces guns with giant walkie talkie's in some of the agents hands. Really, the Special Edition has become kind of a laughing stock for a few reasons, and most people still prefer to watch the original, as do I. Since watching that SE version I've unknowingly avoided this film ever since, by sheer happenstance. Flash forward quite a few years and I see that it's on Netflix, so I decide to give it a shot one afternoon as I'm full-blown into my 80's obsession and hope for the best for 2 reasons: 1) that it's the Theatrical Version, and 2), that it's still as good as I remember.



The answer to that is yes and yes. E.T. is still as magical and engaging as it ever was, even now as a 41 year old man, I enjoyed it just as much as I did so many decades ago. But I also learned something very important this time around. While Spielberg has better films under his belt, I think E.T. is his most visually stunning film to date. And that, more than anything is what really caught me by surprise because of all the films he's ever directed, most of them all-time classics, the fact that he pulled off something so visually captivating aesthetically that he hadn't been able to before or since blows my mind. Every single shot was a work of art, and I was constantly in awe of what he did on a visual level with this film.

I'm not going to bore you with every little detail about the film, other than to say that it was just as enjoyable as it was all those many years ago, only this time I was also able to fully appreciate how visually stimulating this was. For a filmmaker who's given us some fantastic films in his decades long career, most of them impressive on a technical level, I was blown away by the fact that when compared to his work on E.T., most of those other films only barely scratch the surface of what he can do with a camera in terms of compositions. On a technical side, most of the effects work is still outstanding and come off far better than most CGI that we are inundated with today. I will say though that some of the "bikes flying in the air" stuff just wasn't very good, but even so, considering "when" this was made they're still rather impressive.....for their time. I'm glad this was the Theatrical Cut too, because my memories of the Special Edition just aren't very good. I think of the scene with E.T. in the bathtub and I cringe.



Hands down an incredible experience for me all around, and proves yet again what a talented and incredible filmmaker Spielberg was in his prime. I mean, he still is, but he seems to churn out more drama's than usual these days, and when he does do an adventure film, well we get Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Need I say more?

6.14.2017

Documentary Dynamite!: Becoming Bond

A few months ago I was in a big James Bond binge, devouring all the Dalton and Brosnon 007 films and as many Roger Moore films as I could before I got burned out, which I eventually did. And I'd always been aware of George Lazenby as an actor and that he did play Bond just one single time, when Sean Connery gave up the role and they were looking for a worthy successor. I always wondered why it was just that one time though, and thankfully, this documentary spills out all of those juicy details.

I'm a frequent user of Hulu Plus, I just love it. And when they recently added this to their list of new films, I was excited. I hadn't heard any buzz on it or anything, but I just felt it was going to be good, and boy was I right. Becoming Bond was hands-down one of the most entertaining documentaries I've seen in a while. Funny, charming and inventive, it's told by George Lazenby himself as he sits in front of the camera and tells his life story and how he ultimately became Bond. But what I found amusing was the fact that they would also have actors reenact these moments in his life, but it's done in such a satisfyingly heartfelt and poignant way that at times it feels like you're watching a movie, only narrated by the man himself, George Lazenby, and it's in these moments where Becoming Bond really, really shines. The actors do such a magnificent job in the roles of the real life people who would become integral parts of Lazenby's life, with actor Josh Lawson, who plays George as an adult, really bringing it all together in a knockout performance that's both touching and funny.

There's a moment about 30 minutes in when the director of the documentary has to stop Lazenby while he's speaking and says "Wait, I have to stop you right there. How much of this is true?", where Lazenby responds with "Which part?". The director: "All of it.". Lazenby: "How could it not be true if I remember it?". And that's a perfect example of how fantastical his life story is and how amazing of a story it ultimately becomes. What I found most surprising is that you don't even have to be a fan of the 007 franchise to enjoy this. If you enjoy a good documentary, then you will love this. Whether you're a fan of James Bond or not, that's really only a small part of his entire life story, which is a fascinating and incredible journey, made all the more amusing by a man who, whether you believe him or not, is likably arrogant and tells the story of his life in such a matter-of-fact way that you can't help but enjoy the ride. And what a wild ride it was.

80's Cannon!: 10 to Midnight


10 to Midnight has been on my list of films to watch for a very long time now. It possesses 3 things that immediately made it a priority to watch (Bronson, Cannon Films & J. Lee Thompson directing), it was just the matter of finding just the right moment to do so. It's also brought up often as one of Bronson's best from his 80's era, described as a slasher/thriller about a serial killer who kills women in the nude, which makes it an instant departure from his usual "revenge" stuff. I just wanted to make sure I had the time to sit through it completely and not have to watch it in 20-30 minute intervals, which is usually how I have to watch movies these days.

As excited as I was about finally getting a chance to sit down with this early 80's Bronson/Cannon classic, I have to admit that I was left a bit underwhelmed and somewhat confused by this uneven effort. While not bad, it wasn't nearly as awesome as I was expecting, nor as violent as a lot of other reviews lead you to believe either. Yes it's violent, but it's done in such a cheap manner that it never comes off as gratuitous because you just can't get past the fake looking blood and dodgy/ill-conceived editing of these sequences. One of the things that drew me to this was the fact that it was the first in a long line of films between Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson. I'm a huge fan of most of them (Death Wish IV being my favorite) and I've always liked Thompson as a director, but something just seemed off this time around, like he couldn't figure out what type of film he was trying to make or he couldn't stick to a specific style since it changed frequently throughout. But you know, it's not a huge deal for most and I can certainly understand it's appeal. I just don't find it nearly as good as I was hoping it would be.

Of course, Bronson was being Bronson, which was cool. But this film was yet another reminder that Bronson just plays the same character in nearly every one of these 80's films, which if you like them, it's fine. Except in this one, I noticed a bit of range in that he was more of an asshole than normal here, which was amusing watching him be condescending and a smartass to nearly everyone. Too bad that didn't transfer over to his daughter in the film, who plays an even bigger one and just comes off as insufferable. Andrew Stevens, who plays Kessler's (Bronson) new partner easily stands out as the best and most likable character in the bunch. I've always liked Stevens as an actor. I never thought he got the credit he deserved for being a good one, because he really is. While he's good at playing a villain, he's equally as good playing the good guy. Stevens would eventually go on to be a mega producer, writer, actor, director on well over 100 films in the DTV market just a few years later. I have to say though that the real scene-stealer in this would have to be Gene Davis, who plays the serial killer because he was just absolutely awful. Just terrible. Every scene he was in was cringe-inducing. In this he plays a serial killer who kills women while he's in the nude, which is a lot. So if that's your thing, you will see a lot of nudity in this, mainly from him, but of other random women as well.


I don't know, the more I think about it the more I realize this didn't hit the mark for me. It felt a bit lazy at times, and the constant shift in tone (sometimes it's a slasher, sometimes it's a detective drama) didn't blend well when it very well could have with just some minor tweaks. With all his experience as a director, I think it's with J. Lee Thompson that I'm most disappointed with. Often feeling and looking amateurish, had the film been more streamlined and stylish, it could easily have been a lot better as a film overall. I mean, just look at his work in Death Wish IV, my favorite of his Bronson collaborations. Still, this isn't a bad film. I'm glad I finally got to see it and it definitely left an impression. Just not in the way I had hoped.

How to watch it:
This film is available in a variety of formats, nearly every single one to date. So it's just a matter of picking how you want to watch it. It won't be hard to find.

6.09.2017

80's Horror: The Brain (1988) Film Review

I'd come across this cover before during some of my many frequent visits to the local video stores back in the 80's and 90's, but it never drew me in so I never gave it a shot. Flash-forward several decades and while seeing a film at The Alamo Drafthouse recently one night, they show this trailer for an upcoming screening. That trailer had me, and since I knew I couldn't make the screening since I live 5 hours away, Not knowing what it's even about, I grabbed myself a copy, so let's dig in.

A small town high school kid must stop an evil alien being, along with the alien's accomplice - a popular local enigmatic television host, intent on controlling the world by brainwashing every human being on the planet through television reception.

I never know what I'm getting into with these types of films. Just from the trailer, I already knew it was going to be cheesy, which was perfect, because I loooooove 80's horror cheese. It's the best. But it's not always successful and can be a really hard thing to pull off correctly because it's all in how they handle it, and whether they're doing it intentionally or if it's just a happy accident. It's typically the happy accidents that end up being the best and most memorable and The Brain easily falls into that category and it's a blast from start to finish.

The Brain was pretty much I hoped it would be, in that it was fun, cheesy, very 80's, and had some nifty practical effects work that makes it better than I was expecting. Not great mind you, but it sure was fun. It's also ridiculous, with some hilariously awful dialogue, acting, and a story that's just the right amount of dumb and entertaining. There's no way this film was meant to be taken seriously, but it's sure played that way and for that, it rises above your standard schlock. It also helps that for a film of this......budget, it's rather competently made. Or as competently made as a film like this could be I should say. It's not lazy, which is a huge plus, and the acting for the most part isn't bad, but there is definitely some bad acting to be found in here. I think the most surprising thing for me was seeing David Gale (Re-Animator) in this. And if you haven't seen this yet, just wait till you see what they do to him. Oh it's glorious.

This highly entertaining slice of low-budget goodness comes from frequent collaborators Edward Hunt (director) and Barry Pearson (writer), who also worked on Plague (1979), Bloody Birthday (1981) and Alien Warrior (1986) together among others. I've actually owned Alien Warrior for years now and still have yet to actually watch it. Maybe it's time I get to that. But I was surprised with Hunt's work on this one. While not exceptional, it's fairly competent (surprisingly!!) and retains some rather clever camerawork to compensate for lack of budget and effects, which only adds to it's overall charm in a positive way.

This film won't change your life or anything, but it sure is a helluva good time in the "low-budget 80's horror cheese" department and a far more entertaining film than I was expecting going in. To be honest, I'm surprised it doesn't get much love or even an upgraded release complete with all the bells and whistles. But hey, if Blood Rage (as obscure as they come) can, then maybe The Brain isn't too far behind.

How to see it:
I can't say that the current price tag for the VHS and Laserdisc are justified, because while I did really enjoy it, I would probably never pay those prices. But that's just me. And unfortunately, those are the only 2 legitimate releases we have here in the states as a legit DVD and Blu Ray release of this classic is still not currently in the works as far as I know. If I'm wrong, please let me know. Thankfully there are a few other avenues. For starters, it's usually available on YouTube for free. And if you just need a physical to hold in your hands, there are plenty of bootleg's around from various sites at a cheap price. Obviously they'll be sourced from the VHS or Laserdisc release, but something's better than nothing.

6.02.2017

80s Action Attack!: Bulletproof

Here's another in a long list of 80's action films that I've completely forgotten about, and one that is criminally underrated. It's weird to me that this never get's mentioned anywhere. I follow a lot of "action" related blogs, pages, sites and groups, and in all the years I've been in these, never once has this one ever come up. But, as I was casually browsing VHS tapes one day on eBay, I came across this because it was an RCA tape, the ones with the red border and 2 different spine fonts on either side. Some come as a side-loader, while others do not. But these were RCA's first, so it's top quality stuff and heavy, which makes them more attractive to me. Since collecting these sometimes hard to find tapes is my passion, I was excited to get to grab one fairly cheap. So let's dig in.


When a state of the art military tank and a group of army specialists are taken hostage in Mexico, Frank McBain (Gary Busey), a tough-as-nail cop who doesn't follow the rules, is brought in to rescue the hostages and bring back the tank because one of the hostages is a former lover. 

There are so many elements combined at just the right time that it would be nearly impossible for this to have turned out anything but great. And that's exactly what Bulletproof is. It's fucking great. For starters, we've got Gary Busey in his prime, coming off the heels of his outstanding performance as the hitman Joshua in Lethal Weapon. Busey is just fantastic in this. It's as if the role was tailor made just for him, and who knows, maybe it was? He's a total badass, but also is able to add just the right amount of crazy, the kind we've come to expect from Busey, and it's awesome. The guy's a national treasure. Only he can play cool and crazy that particular way. Sure Nicolas Cage does as well, but Busey's in a whole other ballgame. Throw in the great Henry Silva as the villain, and a large ensemble cast of notable baddies like Danny Trejo, Cay-Hiroyuki Tagawa, William Smith and Juan Fernandez, and well, Bulletproof soars.

I think that Bulletproof succeeds as well as it does for a number of reasons, the standout being Gary Busey in the lead, but it's the behind the scenes roles that really serves the film well. Directed by Steve Carver, who years earlier delivered one of Chuck Norris' best films with Lone Wolf McQuade, it comes from a story by none other than Fred Olen Ray (Cyclone, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers), and his frequent collaborator T.L. Lankford, and it's with these 80's action heavy hitters that Bulletproof carries a very distinct Badass Cinema flavor, the kind that instantly makes it a classic and a highly enjoyable one at that. This film oozes so much charisma it should be criminal. Every second is an enjoyable one, even if it's just a tender moment with Busey in bed with his hot girlfriend, or when he's shooting the shit with his partner during a bust. Busey really makes this one as great as it is and it's all his show.

I'm shocked this doesn't ever get a mention. Having been made in the late 80's definitely adds a lot to the experience, but regardless of that, it's such a great action ride all around. Great vibe, great talent, and a quality about it that makes it stand out among the pack. If you love action, 80's action, badass cinema, or if you just love Gary Busey, you owe it to yourself to check this out!


How to see it:
You can find it on VHS in one of RCA's rad red border slipcases on average about $10-$20. There's an OOP 2002 DVD from Echo Bridge that also pops up from time to time with not nearly as good a cover as the VHS. But it's cheap, roughly going for around $5. But I don't know if it's in widescreen or not since the back of that DVD release doesn't specify. So I'm guessing not. But it also comes as part of a 4 Action Packed Movie Marathon with their Volume 2 release, and this one does come in widescreen and you can get it for under $10, which is a steal since you get all of these other classics with it. Volume 1 is still a vastly superior edition, but this one is good if only for the inclusion of Bulletproof.

5.27.2017

Poltergeist VS Poltergeist II

Recently my wife and I have had continuing conversations about which is the better film, Poltergeist 1 or Part 2. While I do really love the sequel, I've always been a bigger fan of the first film for a number of reasons, where my wife is a bigger fan of the sequel. So then we get into a spirited and comfortable debate about why our pick is better than the other. We've had this discussion so many times in fact that we decided to revisit both of them just this past week to finally get a fresh perspective on it. So let's dig in.

Being the age that I am, which means I was a kid when they were first released in the 80's and watched them quite often, even up until now, I can honestly say I've probably seen both of them well over a hundred times each, and each time is just as entertaining as the last. But it wasn't until this past week, when I really had to study them and take note of the very specific elements that they both had to offer, that I figured out what made each of them so great and special individually.

Poltergeist (1982)

With the first film in the franchise, I've always been drawn by it's visual aesthetic. That's the main thing that draws me in every single time with this one. I know, the debate can go on forever as to who actually directed it, Tobe Hooper (credited) or Spielberg. I've read every single article, interview and behind the scenes stuff I could find on the subject, and there's still no clear definitive answer. You can ask two different actors who were on set and worked most days of filming, and you'll get two different answers. So I don't know if we'll ever truly know. But, knowing both of their particular styles and skills really well, my feelings are that Poltergeist carries equal parts Hooper and Spielberg, neither being more dominant than the other. Not only that, but it also displays the best of what each director has to offer. There are moments that feel pure 80's Tobe Hooper, and then there are moments where this film is pure classic Spielberg, and that's absolutely fine with me because in the end, this combative collaboration between two powerhouses produced one of the most iconic, visually stunning, commercially successful and entertaining ghost stories ever.

While this first entry offers up a lot of memorable elements like the excellent casting, score, time period (1982!) and it's story, for me it's the films specific visual tone and it's outstanding practical effects work. Few films leave this kind of impression on me and this one always has, even as a kid. It's as if the very best of both Hooper and Spielberg's directing sensibilities collided at the peak of their creative careers, with Spielberg just coming off of E.T. (his most visually stunning film to date), and Hooper transitioning towards more visually impressive films like Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars just a few years later.

Poltergeist II: 
The Other Side (1986)

Outside of my feelings that the character of Reverend Kane is hands-down one of the most eerie, most iconic and most unsettling characters ever put to film, I never put much thought into the film itself. I liked it, but other than Julian Beck's incredible portrayal of Kane, nothing ever really stood out about it to me. But that never stopped me from revisiting it often throughout the years. Because even so, it's a very good film.

Revisiting this one recently made me understand just how good this film really is. In fact, I've come to realize that it's just about as entertaining as the first film, only in a completely different way. While the first film has a more slow buildup, focusing on the family dynamic before moving into the ghost story aspect later, this one is much more darker and feels more like a true blue horror film compared to the first film right from the beginning. The film set's it's dark tone early on and never lets up as it builds to it's climax that never really deliver's on it's full potential, yet stays true to it's tone.

What easily gives the film a lot of it's character is how director Brian Gibson chose to shoot it. His no-frills approach delivers a solid "dark" ambiance to the already moody atmosphere, and it perfectly compliments the film. Sure the first one was a much prettier and more stylish affair, but this one delivers the goods just as effectively, only in a much  more subdued manner. Poltergeist II possesses such a dark unsettling tone compared to the first film that it's often considered a standout when it comes to sequels and a lot of people's personal favorite in the series.

It took me long enough to come around and truly appreciate this excellent sequel. I guess I always had, but I never really thought of it as an important one until now. While not as flashy as it's predecessor, it contains other elements that makes it equally as engrossing and entertaining. We just won't talk about the third one...

5.26.2017

Documentary Roundup: Tower & Mommy Dead and Dearest

Tower (2016)

Netflix began offering this a few weeks ago, and I don't know how or where I heard of it or read up on it, but I somehow knew it was about the Austin, TX sniper shooting from back in 1966 before even seeing the cover art or a single image. I live in Texas, and lived in Austin for a time years ago, and this story is steeped in our history and subconscious, even if you're a kid. You've just "heard" of this because it was one of the first of it's kind and it's such a harrowing story.

As a documentary, Tower is really good and riveting. But what sets it apart from the crowd is how director Keith Maitland let's the story unfold, and in all honesty, I hadn't seen a documentary presented in this way before. He uses animation and voice actors to recreate the events, and then mixes in vintage footage and new interviews with the actual people who lived that ordeal, who were actually there that fateful day 51 years ago, and it's in this unusual way of telling the story that captivates you.

I'll admit, it took me a little while to get used to it, because I didn't know it was going to be animation, and initially, that's all you see. I thought it was a documentary, and it is, and it does eventually begin to incorporate real footage from that day as well as new interviews. Even so, once you get used to the story being told through animation, it grabs you and becomes highly engrossing. It's a clever and inventive way of telling the story through the eyes of those who lived it, and this ranks as one of the strongest documentaries I've seen in a while.

How to watch it:
Netflix is currently offering it, and you can purchase it directly from it's official website at www.towerdocumentary.com.

Mommy Dead and Dearest (2016)

Here's another fascinating and disturbing documentary about a murder case that is as riveting as it is mind-blowing. Unfortunately this is one I can't divulge too much on as it will spoil the surprise and many twists and turns this story takes. So unless you're familiar with this case, it's best to go in cold, which is how I went it. I knew nothing about this story, which surprises me since I'm a news junkie, especially when it comes to crime stories. Yet somehow this one flew right under my radar and what's even more surprising is that this is fairly recent.

But trust me when I say that this story will kind of blow your mind. 20 minutes in and the twists and turns this took really caught me off guard in the best possible way, and I highly recommend checking this one out.

How to watch it:
Unfortunately at this time this one is a little harder to get to. It was an HBO production, and premiered on their channel. You can watch it only through HBO on one of their apps, which I know is available as an extension through Amazon for an extra fee. If you have HBO, you're in luck. If you don't, it will be a bit tricky, but well worth the effort.

5.25.2017

Revisiting Last Action Hero (1993)


I'll be honest. There was just something about this film that never clicked with me. I went to the theater to see it, and I remember owning it on VHS, but I never remember actually loving it. I liked it enough to get it on tape when it came out, but I also remember that there were things about it that bugged me. For starters, at the time, I didn't like how John McTiernan had shot it. I felt it looked too gritty and it reminded me a lot of what he did with Die Hard 3 two years later, which I also didn't like at the time. And there were moments where his camerawork was just odd and goofy (I'll explain later), leaving me wondering just what the hell he was thinking? This was the same guy who directed legendary films like Predator and Die Hard? So I've pretty much avoided it for many, many years, not having the slightest itch to revisit it. But then all of a sudden I did out of nowhere. All of a sudden I really wanted to see this again and see if my initial feelings still rang true. I was close to purchasing a very cheap blu ray of it when I discovered it was currently for free on Crackle. Yes! So let's dig in.

I loved it. I absolutely loved every second of this. This was exactly what I was hoping for all those years ago, and it blows my mind that I just didn't "get it", or just didn't enjoy it until now. Truth is, it's a pretty great and highly clever film that does a fantastic job at giving us some highly entertaining action sequences, characters and plot, while also poking fun at itself. And I think that's part of what I just didn't get back in the day. Maybe it wasn't made clear enough in the marketing, so when I saw it I was confused? Who knows? That was a long time ago. I look at it now and it's painfully clear what their intent was and best of all, it works! So I have to ask, why did it bomb? Why was it a stain on Schwarzenegger's and McTiernan's career rather than a triumph?

Of all the things that surprised me upon this revisit, none of them more than my feelings towards John McTiernan's approach to directing in this one. It's beautiful and amazing and I feel like I understand why I might not have been a big fan of it before. Other than the one time I saw it in a theater, all of the other times were on VHS, in dreaded full frame/pan & scan. Upon this revisit, I was painfully aware that this is the kind of film that needs to be seen in widescreen. There were little moments that I had always thought were odd before, but seeing them now in widescreen, they were made more clear, because before there were parts of the scene missing since it was cut into full frame. And the film itself at times comes off as being gritty, especially in the New York sequences, and again, seeing them on VHS only made them grittier. But seeing them in digital form and in widescreen, well they just popped and looked so much better. McTiernan's camera work does wonders for the film and proves yet again that he's a master at shooting action sequences, even if most of them are highly exaggerated, which of course was done on purpose.



The best parts are obviously the moments within the fictional Jack Slater IV movie where everything is dialed up to 11. But the sequences that take place in the real world, though much more gritty, also offer up equal amounts of entertainment. In fact, there's never a dull moment to be found, never a time when my eyes wandered towards the clock to see how much time I'd already spent watching this. In fact, even though it clocks in at a bit over 2 hours, it just didn't seem long enough. McTiernan and co-writer Shane Black fill the film with so many nods to other classics (most outside of the action genre) and inside jokes that my wife was just having a blast, especially with the running gag of F. Murray Abraham (a co-worker of Jack Slater on the police force in Jack Slater IV) and the fact that he killed Mozart in Amadeus, which just happens to be one of her all-time favorite films. And that right there was just one of many clever tongue-in-cheek moments that make this one a bit refreshing. The endless barrage of killer cameos also add to it's appeal.

The phrase I keep hearing over and over is that this was "ahead of it's time", when describing why it didn't do well at the box office. When you watch it now, it's just a great film in general, even if you don't like action films. It's funny, clever, entertaining, and the action certainly delivers by the truckloads. But again, I have to wonder, would it have been more successful had it come out today? Though it's a film we've had many years to revisit and digest, my gut still tells me that it would not, especially today, where the film industry seems more and more fickle and harder and harder to generate a legitimate hit, especially with the skyrocketing costs of making films today. I feel that this film is still too clever and too original for it's own good to become a box office hit in the theaters, mirroring it's lukewarm reception when first released 24 years ago. And what makes it even more mind-boggling is the fact that nearly everyone involved, director John McTiernan, writer Shane Black and star Arnold Schwarzenegger, were all in their prime and at the top of their game. What are your thoughts?



Last Action Hero has only aged considerably well over time. Though I've seen it numerous times over the years, it wasn't until seeing it as a 41 year old adult that I really, truly appreciated it and understood everything it was attempting to achieve, and succeeding in spades. Outside of that mindset, it's also just an incredibly satisfying action film made at just the right time and delivering the goods tenfold.

5.23.2017

80's Thriller Throwback: Out of Bounds






































1986
Directed by:
Category; Thriller

Easily one of the more memorable films I remember watching in this genre back as a kid in the 80's, this one ultimately proved to be more difficult to track down simply due to the fact that it's never gotten a legitimate DVD release still to this day. So VHS and Laserdisc was my only option, and unfortunately, the VHS doesn't come cheap. Or, it doesn't come as cheap as it should, rarely ever showing up for under $20. Not knowing whether this was actually any good or not made that price tag something that kept me from pulling the trigger countless times. Eventually I found a pretty beat up tape on eBay for just over $10. Still too high for my liking but it was the cheapest I'd seen in forever. So let's dig in.

A farm boy (Anthony Michael Hall) heads to LA to stay with his older brother after high school. It couldn't be a better time for him either, since his parent's relationship soured and things are rough at home. When he accidentally grabs an identical duffel bag belonging to a drug dealer (Jeff Kober) full of heroin at the airport, the owner will do anything it takes to get it back. With the help of a friendly waitress (Jenny Wright) he befriended on the plane, he tries to outsmart the drug dealer while also trying to convince the cops that he's innocent and it was all a mixup. 

While it ended up being a pretty great thriller, I don't think it justifies charging $20 for an old VHS tape. That's pretty much the thing that kept running through my head until it was over. I kept hoping something would happen, or that the gears would shift dramatically to WTF? territory (the way Band of the Hand did) that would justify people charging ridiculous prices for an old VHS tape that really isn't all that in demand. Yet it was a good film, with strong performances (especially from Hall), a solid soundtrack (there's even a sequence that takes place in a club where Siouxsie and the Banshee's are performing), and an entertaining cat-and-mouse game that keeps you on your toes. Had the film been missing any one of these elements, it would easily have become forgettable. Thankfully it isn't, and whether you are a fan of these types of films or not, you can't deny that it's an expertly crafted thriller full of style and substance.


One of the things that really makes this a standout is it's excellent cast. While Jeff Kober (as the resident villain and drug dealer) always turns in a winning performance as the villain, it's really Anthony Michael Hall who shines in this one. Having just come off a string of John Hughes comedies like Sixteen Candles and Weird Science, along with a drama in The Breakfast Club, taking the lead in an action/thriller was a huge change of course for the guy and he couldn't have pulled it off more flawlessly. Even though I kept seeing Gary Wallace or Farmer Ted, it's his attitude and confidence that really sells it. He's still a young guy, but he's definitely grown and matured in the year or two since his John Hughes days, and carries himself with an air of bravado that really goes a long way. It ends up coming off as shocking, but in a pleasant way. And he sells the shit out of it.

The biggest thing about this film that surprises me the most is not how good it is or how strong the performances are, but rather in the team behind the camera. For starters, the sole writing credit is credited to Tony Kayden, who's done mostly television work, with his only other standout being the 1989 sci-fi film Slipstream, that costarred Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton, and directed by Tron helmer Steven Lisberger. Yet I don't ever hear much about Slipstream to begin with, so I'm not sure if that's even a good example. But Out of Bounds is directed by a guy by the name of Richard Tuggle, who's only ever directed 2 films in his entire career, the Clint Eastwood thriller Tightrope (which he also wrote) and this one. So there's a sort of strange combining of forces that came together at just the right time to deliver a film that easily proves that despite a somewhat lacking track record, they can still pull off a highly effective and engrossing thriller in an over-saturated market.

I hope this gets a legitimate Blu Ray release someday. For the life of me, I can't understand why it hasn't happened yet, or why it's never been found on DVD for that matter in all these years. Hall is somewhat of a revelation in this, and Jeff Kober does what he does best and does it well here. The impossibly cute Jenny Wright (Near Dark) also does a splendid job in her role as the trusting friend who gets sucked into the nightmare. Solid direction, a tightly wound script and razor-sharp tension outline a film that is begging to be rediscovered.

5.20.2017

Beyond the Gates Film Review


2016
Directed by: Jackson Stewart
Category: Horror

It seems the 80's throwback wave is in full swing these days, with a large number of under-the-radar films coming at us at breakneck pace. So fast in fact that it's hard for me to keep track of what's coming out, what's trying to get funded through a crowd-funding campaign, and what's hitting the festival circuit. This one just seemed to come out of nowhere for me. I knew nothing about it and I had never even heard of it until it first hit On Demand a short while ago. Unlike The Void, which had been generating a lot of buzz right from the beginning with it's crowd-funding campaign, this one really flew under the radar....for me anyway. So ever since it hit On Demand, I'd been eyeing to rent it through Amazon, but never got around to it. Fast forward a few months and Netflix is now offering it. Yes! So here we go.


2 adult brothers, who obviously don't spend a lot of time together, are forced to reconnect after the disappearance of their father. As they begin clearing out their father's Video Store, they find an old VCR game that was locked away in a safe. Curious, they begin to play it, only to discover that this very game may be the reason for his disappearance. 

Beyond the Gates was a refreshing bit of horror for a number of reasons. While it's not mind-blowing, it's well done and entertaining enough to come off as being better than a lot of other recent 80's horror throwback films in the last few years. In short, it was really good and a lot of fun, but it wasn't great. This one is unique though. It clocks in at just under an hour and a half, making it a breeze to sit through, and unlike a lot of the other films that claim to be a throwback, this one actually looked and felt like one. The camerawork, lighting and synth score all lend themselves to an authentic experience, the kind that The Void was unable to pull off effectively. Writer/Director Jackson Stewart does a competent job behind the camera, not over stylizing the film, which is exactly what it needed to produce that specific throwback feeling. Unlike films like The Void, The Minds Eye and Almost Human for example, where the director or directors forget what an 80's horror film used to look like, instead deciding to shoot them using handheld, giving it the annoying shaky-cam look, which ultimately just comes off as lazy.


The whole angle about summoning the world beyond through the use of a vintage VCR game makes this one a standout among the crowd. The nostalgia factor is big here, and it's because of that I personally really enjoyed it. I know nostalgia isn't everyone's cup of tea, and that it doesn't guarantee a success, but I found it actually worked well in this one. I used to play these terrible VCR games, and still have my Robocop version, which I purchased at Service Merchandise (remember them!?) after the release of the first film in 1987. It's a terribly boring game but a cool thing to look at sitting on my shelf. But this was a clever and unique way to tackle the throwback genre, which is already beginning to feel stale and overly saturated. And let's be honest, most of these end up being "misfires". So it was nice to actually have one that we legitimately enjoyed for the most part.

Barbara Crampton, the big name headlining this project, does a fantastic job in the role of the VCR Game host. Sure you only ever see her on a black and white TV screen, but even in this limited capacity, boy does she leave an impression. Honestly, I couldn't think of anyone else who could have effectively pull this off, other than Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson. The rest of the cast do a fine job in their respective roles, especially the main guy, Graham Skipper, who also just happened to star in The Minds Eye and Almost Human, 2 other throwbacks from writer/director Joe Begos that did some things well but ultimately didn't provide the full experience you were hoping for. So Beyond the Gates, while not perfect, was to me, a better more fulfilling experience.


If I had anything to complain about, it would be 2 things. The first being that they really missed out on a great opportunity to cast a cult icon in the role of the missing father. My mind immediately went to someone like Bill Moseley. But hell, someone as recognizable as Bruce Davison would also work. Sure it's a small role, but it could have really been a memorable one with the right casting. And then there's the slightly abrupt ending that tied everything up nice and neat. I didn't seem to think it was as "abrupt" as others, but I found it oddly quick, without much of a payoff. It's a cool ending mind you, but with the buildup, you kind of expect more.

All in all, a highly satisfying little film that did what most others try to do and fail. The acting is on point, and the use of certain colors, a retro synth score (important!), and a very pleasing visual aesthetic all make for a film experience that's surprisingly enjoyable.

How to see it:
The best option right now it that it's streaming on Netflix. For how long is anyone's guess, but since it just became available it should be there for a good amount of time. You can currently pick up the DVD and Blu for fairly cheap, running you from $10-$20.

5.17.2017

80's Action Attack!: Lone Wolf McQuade


1983
Directed by: Steve Carver
Category: Action

I grew up on a serious dose of Chuck Norris as a kid in the 80's. He was always my favorite of the mid 80's action hero's, next to Schwarzenegger, and I had always considered this my favorite of his films. But then I revisited Invasion U.S.A. a while back and that immediately shot up to the top of that list, knocking this film off until a proper revisit to see which can hold that mantle. That time is now, so let's dig in.

One of the first things I noticed immediately that I hadn't before was that director Steve Carver shoots this like a spaghetti western, and no sequence is more representative of this than the opening. It's nearly mind blowing how much this looks and plays out like one, complete with an incredible score by Francesco De Masi, eerily reminiscent of Ennio Morricone. I'm telling you, you'll be humming it for days. And it's this fantastic opening that really grabbed me, easily making it one of the best openings to a film I've ever seen.

While the rest of the film doesn't stick to this clever and fantastic opening sequence, it does do a decent job of trying to, while also delivering a solid 80's action film. I don't think they could have made it look like an old Italian western for the whole thing, mainly because of the fact that it can't help that it's set in 1983. So for the most part, it looks and feels like a mid 80's action film set in Texas. Meaning, there's lots of dirt, cactus, sweat, sun, and beer. I should know, I live in Texas.

Lone Wolf McQuade is awesome, and easily one of Norris' best films ever. It also helps that it's practically tailor made to suite his very specific acting chops. McQuade is pretty stone cold for most of the film, delivering his lines without an air of character or depth, which suits the character to a "T". Unemotional, even when it comes to a high class woman who literally throws herself at him, and uncaring in the same breath. Norris doesn't even have to try here. He's playing the character as if it's his life.

Lone Wolf McQuade is about as entertaining as they come. The film never slows down to ponder anything, other than when is the next ass whooping going to take place. And it was really refreshing to see Norris use his martial arts skills quite frequently in here when I'm so used to seeing him rarely ever use it. It sounds strange but it's true. He may throw in a kick from time to time, but he hardly ever uses his martial arts skills in any of his films. So that was a bit refreshing. And it's also helpful that director Steve Carver does an excellent job behind the camera, giving the film every bit of grit and style it richly deserves, easily making it one of the better looking films from this genre and this time period.



Of course being that this was the 80's, the decade of excess, even a low-key film like this can't get by without offering at least one single moment of ridiculous cheesy awesome. And in Lone Wolf McQuade, even though the entire film plays it straight, that scene is hands down one of the best in the entire film. I'm talking about the "buried underground with his bronco" scene. If you've seen the film, then you know what I'm talking about. It's quite simply the best scene in the film, but also the most ridiculous, which makes it all the more awesome.

And then there's the one and only David Carradine as the villain. Carradine is such a badass in here, and what makes it interesting and amusing is the fact that he's a fairly normal looking guy. and about average size too, so he's not physically imposing or anything, which surprises you that he can come off as that simply from his attitude and charisma. Like, he acts like he can walk into a room and kick every ass in it, and that's what makes him so memorable, even in his older age. Also, kicking ass in a pastel colored sweater and slacks also works. Or maybe it's just Carradine who can pull that off?

Lone Wolf McQuade still stands as one of Chuck Norris' best films, solidifying it as a classic of Badass Cinema. Around this time, Norris was going toe-to-toe with Charles Bronson for the "tough guy" mantle, but their days were numbered because this was also the time when Stallone and Arnold were making their presence known in the action genre, and by the end of the decade, a whole new breed of action hero would emerge with Van Damme, Seagal and Dolph Lundgren all vying for that top spot. By the 90's, Bronson and Norris would keep going, but finding more success in television.