"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

Extreme Justice

EXTREME JUSTICE is a 1993 cop movie by director Mark L. Lester (STEEL ARENA, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO) that you can find on DVD, VHS or streaming on Prime. Lester has done a pretty broad range of b-movie types, but one thing some of them have in common is a great sense of exaggeration. In CLASS OF 1984, for example, he presents a world where juvenile delinquency is so severe that a previously mild-mannered music teacher has no better choice than to do battle with one of his students and dump him through a skylight into the school gym during the big recital. In its sci-fi sequel CLASS OF 1999, such out-of-control kids have led to an overreaction that includes militarized robot teachers.

So I wasn’t sure which way he would go in his movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips (RENEGADES, UNDERTOW, THE BIG HIT) as an LAPD detective who rather than getting in trouble for his police brutality gets promoted to a secret unit where “what useta get you in trouble’ll get you a round of beers.” I guess the reason I wasn’t familiar with this one is that they were worried about releasing it a year after the L.A. riots/uprising and dumped it to HBO. But I’m happy to report it doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure – the movie is very clearly saying that this extreme justice is too extreme and not justice. It’s not the good kind of Paul Verhoeven “you have to be really thick to not understand this satire” clear, unfortunately, but right now I’ll settle for the more accessible “he has a girlfriend who’s the conscience of the movie and convinces him that this is all wrong” type. (read the rest of this shit…)

Alone

By now most people around here are familiar with John Hyams, director of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION (2009) and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012). For a decade now we’ve scratched our heads wondering how those two genuinely visionary masterpieces of contemporary action didn’t bring Hyams to the attention of Hollywood gatekeepers who could’ve certainly used his skills making mid-budget action movies or thrillers, to say nothing of their big video game adaptations and terminators and what not. But without their dumb asses he’s managed to make a Cung Le vehicle I really like called DRAGON EYES (2012) and the 2018 comedy ALL SQUARE (which I just discovered is on Hulu), and the rest of the time has found plenty of work in television.

He put some of his sensibilities into the SyFy zombie series Z Nation, including an episode that’s mostly an extended chase scene and battle, and moreso in the more serious Netflix prequel series Black Summer. If you’ve checked out that show (and I recommend you do), you won’t be surprised that he can make a clean, elegant, deeply scary thriller like ALONE, which was released to digital platforms Friday after being well received at the virtual Fantasia Film Festival. It’s his simplest and least weird movie, all the better to show off his finely tuned suspense set pieces, enhanced by strong acting and a pervasively ominous atmosphere. And it’s very involving, making us feel like we’re there, whether “there” is in a parking lot at night watching truckers pull up to use a restroom, or high up in the trees listening to their brittle fibers creak as they bend in the breeze. (read the rest of this shit…)

Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story

In this age of streaming and crowdfunding and what not there has been a new wave of documentaries about movie topics I’m interested in. The history of Cannon Films, of martial arts cinema, of ‘80s horror, etc. Some are great and comprehensive, some take on too broad of a topic and can’t really get very far, some are just amusing surface level “remember that?” tours through basic things you likely already know if you watched the movie on purpose. So I try not to expect much more than a cursory talking-heads-and-clip-montages glance at a compelling subject.

STUNTWOMEN: THE UNTOLD HOLLYWOOD STORY – which Shout! Studios is releasing to digital platforms tomorrow, September 22nd – gave me much more. Credited as an adaptation of the book of the same title by Mollie Gregory and directed by April Wright (GOING ATTRACTIONS: THE DEFINITIVE STORY OF THE AMERICAN DRIVE-IN MOVIE), it has interesting things to say about the history of women in cinematic stunts, addresses industry issues that hadn’t all occurred to me before, and most of all gives a glimpse into the lives and work of some really fascinating, amazing women. (read the rest of this shit…)

Vegas Vacation

VEGAS VACATION is a standout in the VACATION franchise saga in that it’s the only one that doesn’t have a NATIONAL LAMPOON’S in the title. I don’t know if they sued to get it off of there, like Stephen King did with STEPHEN KING’S THE LAWNMOWER MAN, or if National Lampoon said “VACATION is old hat, we decided to be strictly in the VAN WILDER business now,” or if it’s just an acknowledgment from Hollywood that by 1997 nobody who didn’t go to Harvard in the ‘70s gave a shit about that magazine or was even totally clear what exactly it was. Whatever the reason, the name wasn’t on this one, the brand showed weakness, and before long if I’m not mistaken National Lampoon was forced to change its name to American Pie Presents Magazine.

Pictured: A band on Fremont Street that was likely playing either “You Give Love a Bad Name” or “Wanted Dead Or Alive.”

I can’t claim to be an aficionado of the VACATION mythos, but after watching NATIONALLY AVAILABLE SPIN-OFF OF THE HARVARD CAMPUS COMEDY MAGAZINE’S EUROPEAN VACATION for the Summer of 1985 series I decided to be a completist and watch the only one about a vacation I’ve actually taken. I first went to Las Vegas with some friends who, like Clark and Ellen in the movie, went to renew their vows. I honestly have no interest in gambling, but it’s interesting to watch for a little bit and then walk around taking in all the people, the art on the slot machines, the crass opulence everywhere, enjoying food and alcoholic slurpies and a zipline and late hours and walking past outdoor stages with ‘80s cover bands and realizing the unifying power of Bon Jovi. Seriously, I never liked Bon Jovi growing up, but you hear those songs and somehow everyone seems to know them and want to sing along and it’s weirdly inspiring.

I can completely understand having an aversion to the place, especially if you don’t drink (a little day drinking is part of the fun for me), but I enjoy it there, I find it interesting. So I have a soft spot for Vegas and I like seeing movies filmed at places I’ve seen in real life. I’m easy that way.

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The Witch: Subversion

I watched THE WITCH: SUBVERSION after I heard a few good things and read that it’s from the guy who wrote the incredibly upsetting but badass I SAW THE DEVIL. For this one Park Hoon-jung is also the director, as he’s done with several other films I haven’t seen, including the gangster movie NEW WORLD (2013).

I wish I could tell you this was a crass DTV sequel to THE VVITCH. I did initially assume it would be horror, then I heard it was action, but it turns out to be something harder to categorize. Some melodrama, some sci-fi, some carnage. It seems closest to a Y.A. type movie – teen melodrama X-MEN – except, like so many of the other South Korean movies I’ve seen, it gets horrifically violent at times. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Jewel of the Nile

Wow, THE JEWEL OF THE NILE came out less than two years after ROMANCING THE STONE, which was expected to be a flop, so it’s not like they had a head start. Fast turnaround. Robert Zemeckis was off making BACK TO THE FUTURE and Diane Thomas was writing scripts for Spielberg (and wanted to be paid well) so producer/star Michael Douglas hired director Lewis Teague (ALLIGATOR) and writers Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner (THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, later SUPERMAN IV, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, STAR TREK VI, MERCURY RISING and the bad PLANET OF THE APES).

The story starts six months later, with Joan and Jack sailing around the world on the boat he bought with the proceeds from part 1’s stolen jewel. (I thought he bought it for her as a gift, but I guess not.) This time she’s having trouble writing her books because her life is too much romance and adventure. She’s actually bored of all the exotic locales and beautiful sunsets and sits in the boat with her typewriter writing a garbage pirate adventure which she now imagines starring herself and Jack but also gets thrown off and accidentally turns the pirates into punks? I don’t know if that represents a typo or a failed artistic flourish or what. (read the rest of this shit…)

Romancing the Stone

I don’t think I’ve seen ROMANCING THE STONE since the ‘80s. I’ve been curious to rewatch it forever because it’s one of those things that was huge at the time that hasn’t survived as much in the cultural memory as other things. Like, maybe I didn’t study the crowd scenes enough, but I didn’t notice Kathleen Turner’s character Joan Wilder in READY PLAYER ONE. I suppose because this appealed a little more to the parents of the kids now in charge of the world’s nostalgia. But it’s directed by Robert Zemeckis, who I tend to like, so when I heard that my friends at the podcast The Suspense Is Killing Us were doing a Patreon bonus episode about the ROMANCING THE STONE/JEWEL OF THE NILE duology it prompted me to finally get to it.

Kathleen Turner (who’d only been in BODY HEAT and THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS previously) stars as Joan Wilder, Waldenbooks Romance Author of the Year winning author of Love’s Wicked Kiss, who we meet just as she’s completing her latest novel, as depicted through a re-enactment with her first person voiceover. She imagines her heroine Angelina as March 1981 Playboy Playmate of the Month Kymberly Herrin (GHOSTBUSTERS blowjob ghost, BEVERLY HILLS COP II, ROAD HOUSE, ZZ Top “Legs” video), but our glimpses of the rugged hero who rescues her look suspiciously like Michael Douglas. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge

Other than my long-held above average Ms. Pac-Man skills, I cannot claim to be a gamer. I have very little experience playing the video game Mortal Kombat, so I mostly know it as the one they play on acid in Larry Clark’s BULLY. But I’m only human; I have the same weakness for mystical fighting tournaments, magic ninjas, monster violence and spines being pulled out as anybody, button-masher or otherwise. So I’m always open to checking out any cinematic developments related to the Mortal Kombat intellektual property, and that’s good because the recent DTV animated feature MORTAL KOMBAT LEGENDS: SCORPION’S REVENGE is one of the franchise’s best konkoktions to date.

Although I kind of enjoy the silly PG-13 live action movies MORTAL KOMBAT and even MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, I appreciate that this cartoon is super-duper hard-as-fuck R strictly for violence. No boobs, don’t remember the cursing, a few references to balls (because Sonya Blade repeatedly crunches Johnny Cage’s), but the rating is for tons and tons of bloody, reprehensible bodily deconstruction. Pretty frequent finishings and fatalities and flawless victories in this one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Top of the Heap

Christopher St. John was a stage actor and member of the Actor’s Studio who had been in FOR LOVE OF IVY and HOT PANTS HOLIDAY and then was up for the title role in SHAFT. He didn’t get it, obviously – instead he played the supporting role of the militant Ben Buford. But that was enough to inspire him to invest his money in this independent starring/writing/directing/producing vehicle with ads billing him as “Christopher St. John, whom you last saw in SHAFT.”

Because of that connection, and because it’s a 1972 movie dealing with the Black experience, with some guns and a soundtrack by J.J. Johnson, it is sometimes lumped in with Blaxploitation. It’s not that at all. Frankly I prefer movies where the exploitable elements are more prominent, but that’s obviously not what St. John was interested in, and that should be acknowledged. This is an arty, experimental and political work that reminds me much more of Jules Dassin’s UP TIGHT (co-written by Ruby Dee), Melvin Van Peebles’ SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG and Bill Gunn’s GANJA & HESS than SHAFT or SUPER FLY. It’s more about an impressionistic depiction of societal sickness than, you know, traditional entertainment. For what that’s worth. (read the rest of this shit…)

Trouble Man

TROUBLE MAN is a solid tough guy movie from the early ‘70s Black action cinema movement. Director Ivan Dixon was an actor (PORGY AND BESS, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, NOTHING BUT A MAN) turned TV director (The Bill Cosby Show, Room 222, Mod Squad) making his first theatrical feature. He followed this with the much more politically radical THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he went back to TV after that.

The script is by John D.F. Black, a white TV writer who had worked on some of the same shows as Dixon and then wrote SHAFT. The feel of this one is closer to SHAFT than SPOOK. It’s a serious and gritty movie, but it’s less concerned with militancy and more the standard staples of the genre often referred to as Blaxploitation: the wish fulfillment of larger-than-life manliness, some garish period style, and an outstanding soundtrack album by a genius soul artist – Marvin god damn Gaye!

The hero (Robert Hooks, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, King David in POSSE) is actually called Mr. T, or sometimes just T. Though he might be able to make a claim for Toughest Man in the World, he has little else in common with the other Mr. T. He has regular hair and wears suits and ties. Sometimes a little flashy, I guess. And the ties are almost as wide as your head, but everybody else in the movie is wearing those too. (read the rest of this shit…)