RONDO is the second feature from writer/director Drew Barnhardt. Ethically I need to fully disclose and disclaim that he’s a reader of this websight and we’ve corresponded off and on for many years, which is why I plugged but didn’t officially review his 2009 no-budget slasher/thriller MURDER LOVES KILLERS TOO. So take it with whatever amount of salt you feel is necessary, but I truly believe movie #2, which was released on disc by Artsploitation Films earlier in the summer, is distinctive. It has the feel of the style of pulp novels I love, where a (in this case) somewhat blank character falls into some seedy business and part of the thrill is having no idea what direction it’s going or even what structure the story’s gonna take.
The plot concerns Paul (Luke Sorge), a combat veteran living with his protective younger sister Jill (Brenna Otts) after being dishonorably discharged for what we’re told was an “of course, mysterious” shooting incident. Jill tells him he can’t have alcohol or guns in the house, but he’s such a mess she ends up cradling him and pouring whiskey in his mouth like she’s bottle-feeding a baby. She sends him to an addiction doctor someone recommended to her, but doesn’t realize he’s going to talk to a weirdo who will give him a big monologue about the local fetish community and then “prescribe” for him to show up at an apartment in a highrise downtown to fuck some rich creep’s wife in front of him. (read the rest of this shit…)
Recently I saw multiple articles about a scene from an obscure movie that someone had appreciatively posted on Twitter – “that insane Nicolas Cage viral clip,” as Entertainment Weekly put it. Can you believe that Youtube clip he did? The inside story of that Youtube clip he did. What a nut! What a meme! What a Nicolas Cage!
The clip was a very brief and strange uncredited cameo Cage did in the 1989 straight to video sex comedy NEVER ON TUESDAY. It had never made it to DVD because the company that had planned to went out of business first. I’d never seen it even though it’s the first movie from a director I like, Adam Rifkin (PSYCHO COP 2, THE LAST MOVIE STAR).
It’s great that we have the technology to easily share shit like this, but I’m old school so I waited to watch the whole thing. When I checked Amazon it was listed as “currently unavailable” on both VHS and Prime streaming (which I don’t get anyway), but luckily we’re still holding on to Scarecrow Video here in Seattle, so I rented the tape. I’m glad I did!
(read the rest of this shit…)
SHAZAM!, as a super hero premise, is no Batman. Or Aqua Man. Or Plastic Man. Or Meteor Man. He’s just some kid who meets a fuckin wizard in a cave who gives him the ability to turn into your standard adult muscular flying off-brand Superman-type cape guy. For the several years that they were talking about making a SHAZAM! movie, even when The Rock was gonna play the bad guy, I assumed I wouldn’t bother to watch it. But when it finally got made by LIGHTS OUT director David F. Sandberg – The Rock has a producer credit, but isn’t in it – it had a good enough trailer that I gave it a shot on video.
It begins in the past, when a kid (Ethan Pugiotto, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2) and his dad (John Glover, MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS, BATMAN & ROBIN) and older brother (Landon Doak) are involved in a car accident, and as it’s happening the kid somehow flashes from the backseat of the car to the cave where the wizard (Djimon Hounsou, ELEPHANT WHITE) explains the mythology of the movie, which involves magic powers he has to pass on to a new hero, and monster statues representing the seven deadly sins. But after some simple testing I guess the wizard determines this kid is a dick and not worthy of the powers in question, so he turns him away. (read the rest of this shit…)
Cheang Pou-soi has been directing movies since 1999, but I never knew about him until 2015 when I was blown away by KILL ZONE 2 (SPL II). MOTORWAY is from 2012, and it’s a much simpler film – shorter, less complicated, less thematically heavy, and it works really well that way. Maybe some of this simplicity comes out of the type of action. Martial arts scenes like KILL ZONE 2’s require increasing complexity – for example the knockout prison riot scene – but this is a car chase movie. At its heart it’s about two drivers. One guy in a car driving very fast after another guy in a car. Literally straight forward.
It’s a serious movie, but it’s got a nice tinge of absurdity to it. Its law enforcement protagonists are not cool homicide detectives or badass SWAT dudes, they’re part of an elite squad of, uh, traffic cops. I guess they’re there for their high level driving skills, but their regular job is camping out with the speed gun, pulling people over, wearing dorky windbreakers and reflective vests, the kind of thing most action movie cops only have to do in a funny montage after they get in trouble. Cheung (Shawn Yue, LEGEND OF THE FIST, THE GUILLOTINES) takes the job seriously and is annoyed that his older partner Lo (Anthony Wong, HARD BOILED, GEN-X COPS 2, EXILED, THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, IP MAN: FINAL FIGHT) seems to not give a fuck. (Having him browse literature about an upcoming retirement seminar is a good spin on the ol’ two-weeks-from-retirement cliche). (read the rest of this shit…)
One of many underground fighting movies I took a look at in my action movies of summer ’89 retrospective was CAGE, a cheapie starring Lou Ferrigno and Reb Brown as Billy and Scott, two Vietnam buddies forced into a cage fighting circuit. It was enjoyable for its cast, its warm-hearted tribute to friendship, and even its naive-feeling sincerity about the uncomfortable premise that Billy acts like a child because of a brain injury. And I got even more entertainment reading about director Lang Elliott’s later business ventures, including taking over a smoothie chain in a failed attempt to produce a Dorf feature film and build a theme park.
In 1994 Elliott returned with a sequel, so far his final directorial work. CAGE II (subtitled THE ARENA OF DEATH on the VHS packaging) reintroduces Billy and Scott while they’re out grocery shopping. Their negotiations about whether or not Billy is allowed to buy a blue soft drink are intercut with ominous shots of a gang of long haired bad guys in sunglasses and black trenchcoats walking toward the store. And it lays it on thick how much innocence this evil is about to collide with. Billy and Scott smile at a little boy. Two women invite Scott to a party. Before that, while they’re giving him the eye, two smiling children skip by, holding hands! (read the rest of this shit…)
Having wrapped up my series on the action movies of summer ’89, I’ve been enjoying the freedom to dart around to different topics that catch my interest. But I realize there’s a little bit of unfinished business to get out of the way. There were two movies I reviewed in The Last Summer of ’80s Action that spawned not-even-on-DVD-in-the-U.S. sequels five years later. There’s nothing hugely special about either of these part 2s, but you know how I am. I had to see them. And the one that follows series-opener RED SCORPION seems like a good epilogue or postscript, because it really signals a change in world politics.
Remember how RED SCORPION part 1 was produced with the cooperation of the racist regime in South Africa? The sequel is having none of that. In fact it explicitly casts racists as the bad guys. GOP lobbyists Jack and Robert Abramoff are still credited as executive producers, but the movie strays far from their original mission of making conservative arguments in genre movies. The villains are even described in expository dialogue as “ultra right wing.” (read the rest of this shit…)
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? SHADOW is the 2018 film by Zhang Yimou, the director best know to people like me for giving us HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. It’s his followup to THE GREAT WALL, a pretty silly but impressive international production that has a bad reputation in the U.S. for exceedingly stupid reasons (basically, a great Chinese director wanting to make a movie with Matt Damon was mischaracterized as whitewashing). SHADOW is another gorgeous and meticulous period martial arts epic. Though quieter and less action-oriented than the others I’ve listed here it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. One of those ones that crept up on me. Slowly luring me in until I’m in awe of it by the end, and love it the more I think about it. I was lucky enough to see it theatrically, but waited for its arrival on Blu-Ray and DVD this week to finish my review, so that more people would be able to check it out.
This is a movie that’s a little under two hours and builds to a large battle with some really cool weaponry gimmicks and that thing I love where they come up with a philosophy-based martial art to defeat the enemy. But that’s really the cherry on top – it’s mostly about palace shenanigans. It’s about the kingdom of Pei, who lost the city of Jingzhou to rival kingdom Yang when Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, MERMAID) lost a duel to Yang Cang (Hu Jun, RED CLIFF, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, FIRESTORM). Most of the people of Pei are still sore about it, but King Peiliang (Zheng Kai, THE GREAT WALL) is a coward and just wants to forget about Jingzhou. So he gets pissed and, to the outrage of the military, strips Ziyu of his title when he finds out he challenged Yang Cang to a rematch. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’m into the early hiphopsploitation for many reasons: they’re a time capsule of an era and culture I’m fascinated by, they’re sometimes humorously dated or clueless about the subject, and they were what introduced me to that world, accurately depicted or otherwise. The BREAKIN’ movies were the big ones, but at the time I liked BEAT STREET better – it felt more authentic, and didn’t center on an outsider. Years later I discovered WILD STYLE (definitely the most legit one) and STYLE WARS (the documentary that seems to have inspired some of BEAT STREET), but also started to be much more enamored by the cartoonish world of Special K, Turbo and Ozone in the BREAKIN’s.
WILD STYLE was first, released in 1983. But check out the release schedule for ’84:
May 4: BREAKIN’
June 8: BEAT STREET
September 28: BODY ROCK
December 21: BREAKIN’ 2: WE ALREADY MADE A SEQUEL TO BREAKIN’
BODY ROCK – the one from New World Pictures – is the one I never knew about back then. It’s also by far the dumbest one. Therefore I have no choice but to recommend it. It stars Lorenzo Lamas (in the midst of Falcon Crest, five years before SNAKE EATER) as Chilly D, a… graffiti artist? He keeps saying he is, but we only see him helping with one subway car during the opening credits. He’s the founder and namer of the Body Rock Crew, his friends who breakdance, and he seems to be some kind of club promoter who introduces them when they dance at a place called Rhythm Nation. Then he stands on the side awkwardly doing a few moves. (read the rest of this shit…)
After this summer’s fun-if-flawed GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS I must’ve been in need of some spiritual guidance because I was thinking I should look into worshipping Mothra. See what that whole thing was all about. And then, as if by divine intervention, a slick piece of Mothran propaganda – a nice new steelbook Blu-Ray of the original MOTHRA film from 1961- caught my eye. It’s an old school Toho kaiju movie with lots of goofy human shenanigans holding off the good stuff until later, but its imagery and strangeness warm my soul a little.
The structure seems lifted from KING KONG. An expedition to a mysterious island inhabited by strange creatures and primitive, drum-thumping natives brings something exotic back to the city to be exploited in a heavily hyped stage show, but these forces can’t (and shouldn’t) be contained, so this all leads to a giant creature attack on a city. (read the rest of this shit…)
As with LETHAL WEAPON 2 and ROAD HOUSE, KICKBOXER is a classic that I’ve already reviewed, and I stand by what I wrote about it the first time. But I thought it might be worth revisiting 11 years later, after also writing about its sequels, remake and remake sequel, and in the context of these other ’89 movies. It hit some European countries in April and August of that year, and the U.S. on September 8th, making it a good closer to THE LAST SUMMER OF ’80S ACTION.
Earlier in the series we had fighting circuit movies from an old Disney live action director (FIST FIGHTER), the World Wrestling Federation (NO HOLDS BARRED), and a guy that did Dorf movies (CAGE). Not surprisingly it was Cannon Films that gave us the season’s slickest version of the form, building off the success of BLOODSPORT (1988) for an in my opinion even better vehicle for shiny new splits-doer Jean-Claude Van Damme. I mean that literally, by the way – in the climax the camera really focuses on the reflectiveness of his muscles as an illustration of how ready he is to triumph. (read the rest of this shit…)