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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Highlander II: The Quickening

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

“It’s weird how they built a huge franchise off of the first film. I can’t quite understand it. It’s like they say in the film ‘There can only be one. ‘ In a genre film you can create any scenario you like, but once you break your own rules, the audience feels betrayed, which is what happened with HIGHLANDER II.”–Russell Mulcahy to Money Into Light, 2016

“The more cornered we were, the more stupid things we had to come up with.”–Christopher Lambert

From the dawn of 1986 they came…moving stylishly down through the decades. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, struggling to reach the time of The Reviewing, when Vern will look back at the whole franchise

I missed out on being disappointed by HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING with the rest of the world in 1991. Somehow I never watched the HIGHLANDER movies until the 21st century, at which point I’d lived many years knowing part II had been universally rejected and mocked. And when I did watch it it was the re-edited and 19-minutes-longer “Renegade Version” put together for DVD in 1997, and I’ll be honest – I liked it! I’ve always been one for weird, not-taking-the-easy-road sequels like BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, BATMAN RETURNS, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, BRIDE OF CHUCKY, RETURN TO OZ, JASON X, etc. So I was into the idea of Connor MacLeod in a dystopian future city working with rebels to, uh… blow up a shield around the earth, because it’s not necessary anymore. I mean — sure. Why not? (read the rest of this shit…)

Highlander

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

HIGHLANDER is the 1986 cult classic about immortal warriors of different nationalities waging a battle across centuries, and its opening is a clash in its own right. It starts with Sean Connery narrating flowery fantasy movie text, cuts to credits rhythmically cut to a rockin Queen theme song, and before we know it the gorgeously grainy cinematography of Gerry Fisher (WISE BLOOD, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, DEAD BANG) and the orchestra of Michael Kamen (DEAD ZONE, BRAZIL) are lavishing cinematic glory on a super-powered sword fight between trenchcoated acquaintances in the Madison Square Garden parking garage during a professional wrestling match. The stadium rock band influenced by opera butts up against the rock arranger turned classical score composer for a sword-and-sorcery meets urban-action cage match. And somehow this all feels perfectly natural.

The production itself is a battle royale of nationalities: British and American financiers, Australian director Russell Mulcahy, Frenchman Christopher Lambert playing Scottish, Scotsman Connery playing Egyptian-Spanish, carrying a katana. Classes, cultures and eras fit together in unexpected ways, forming a movie that feels a little closer to the neo-noir-and-loneliness cinematography-porn of BLADE RUNNER than to other action films of ’86 like THE DELTA FORCE, AVENGING FORCE, NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER, QUIET COOL, DANGEROUSLY CLOSE or NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE. And yet HIGHLANDER developed enough multi-generational populist appeal to be declared “best movie ever made” by Ricky Bobby in TALLADEGA NIGHTS. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Swordsman / Gladiator Cop

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

THE SWORDSMAN is an only-on-VHS Lorenzo Lamas joint from 1992. Coming two years after the end of Falcon Crest (for which Lamas was the only actor to appear in all 227 episodes), this was a particularly productive period for the actor and Taekwondo and karate black belt. His other films released that year were FINAL IMPACT, SNAKE EATER III… HIS LAW and CIA CODE NAME: ALEXA.

I’ve only seen one of those, but I bet none of them open with text about a king in ancient Greece:

“2300 YEARS AGO ALEXANDER THE GREAT INHERITED A LEGENDARY SWORD BLESSED BY APOLLO. WITH THIS SWORD HE FELT INVINCIBLE AND LED HIS TROOPS INTO BATTLE CONQUERING THE KNOWN WORLD. UPON HIS DEATH, ALEXANDER HAD THE LEGENDARY SWORD BURIED WITH HIM AS HE BELIEVED HE WOULD RISE AGAIN.”

Lorenzo Lamas plays Andrew, a cool long-haired homicide detective who has psychic visions when he touches blood and in his spare time dreams images of himself in a robe looking at old statues and swords and fighting a guy with a hood hiding his face. Then he’ll wake up, add a sketch to his dream journal, and tie his hair into a ponytail.

Andrew has a comic relief partner named Leo (Frank Crudele, BLACKJACK, STEP UP ALL IN, one episode of Highlander: The Series) and a therapist (Michael Copeman, THUNDERGROUND, SCANNERS III, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER II, six episodes of Highlander: The Raven including the pilot) who you can tell is kind of a cool ex-hippie type because he has grey hair but wears a colorful Hawaiian shirt and is into experimental therapies. (read the rest of this shit…)

Avengement

Monday, May 20th, 2019

In AVENGEMENT, Scott Adkins creates one of his best characters yet, though I don’t necessarily expect to see a franchise around this one. Like French in THE DEBT COLLECTOR, Cain Burgess is a regular working class British fighter who tries taking an illegal job to pay for a gym. In this case it’s a quick gig for his older brother Lincoln (Craig Fairbrass, CLIFFHANGER, RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER, THE BANK JOB, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN), but it goes wrong and he ends up in prison.

We hear the story in pieces throughout the movie, as Cain reveals it to a captive audience at the members only pub he barges into after escaping custody during a supervised visit to his dying mother (Jane Thorne, THE FOREIGNER). Only one of them, Hyde (Nick Moran, LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS), has ever met Cain, who has been through such a thorough metamorphosis he’s barely recognized. If rehabilitation was the intention of Cain’s incarceration, the opposite effect was achieved. A nice guy with no record and nothing but regrets for his actions was forced to develop his fighting skills and a “callused mind” to withstand the years of stabbings and beatings made possible by the perfect storm of a price on his head, a corrupt staff and a clueless prison board. He returns to the old neighborhood sporting cheap metal replacement teeth, a scar across his eye and napalm burns on half of his face, like a gnarled Frank Miller drawing. He describes himself as “A hardened, rusty nail.”

(I hope that’s his Twitter bio.) (read the rest of this shit…)

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Friday, May 17th, 2019

I don’t want to raise anyone’s expectations too high. I know some are saying JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM is fun but lesser, and that could very well end up being the conventional wisdom. In my mind, though, it’s more than that. It’s an outstanding achievement, a new action classic that outdoes the excellent CHAPTER 2 in both garish spectacle and elaboration on the strange mythology of this secret world of elite assassins.

Like all JOHN WICK movies, it’s full of things you never knew you needed to see, things that are ludicrous, but treated with knowing seriousness, increasing their level of awesomeness. For example, you know that cliche where a character you like gets shot and drops to the ground and you have to wait and hope for the reveal that they were saved by a bullet proof vest? That happens with a dog.

And what about John Wick walking through a desert, but dressed like John Wick? If James Bond goes out into the desert – hell, even if Batman does – he wears different gear. But there is no Desert Action John Wick. When he treks through Moroccan sand dunes he wears the same suit and tie we just saw him wearing in a New York downpour. I suppose maybe he cancelled his debit card when he came back and doesn’t know how to buy new clothes without access to his usual services. But I think it’s more because he’s an icon. That’s his uniform. That’s John Wick. And because director Chad Stahelski knows it’s surreal to see this guy in drastically different settings across the world without changing his blood-stained clothes. (read the rest of this shit…)

Alien Agent

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

ALIEN AGENT is a 2007 made-for-Sy-Fy collaboration between Mark Dacascos and director Jesse V. Johnson. For Dacascos it might’ve been the type of quickie affair he could do for fun and profit between hosting Iron Chef America and appearing in occasional higher profile movies like CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE* and CODE NAME: THE CLEANER. For Johnson it was definitely a gig for hire, his fifth movie as a director but still a learning experience a decade before he started dominating the low budget action world with SAVAGE DOG, ACCIDENT MAN, THE DEBT COLLECTOR and TRIPLE THREAT. So it’s not a career best for either, but it’s a scrappy, entertaining little cheapie with some pleasingly odd touches stirred through the humble sparseness of its production.

Dacascos plays Rykker, a guy who drives around acting like a fed, even flashing a badge, but then steals a police car and sleeps with his tie on in a closed church. He seems to be in an ongoing one-man guerrilla war against a gang of leather-jacket-wearing thugs led by a hot tattooed badass lady named Isis (Amelia Cooke, SPECIES III). In truth they’re all aliens from the same dying planet, and Rykker is sort of a conscientious objector trying to stop Isis’s group from enslaving the human race. Apparently they used to date, and they seem to still kind of like each other, but he believes their people can find an uninhabited world to colonize, and she thinks that’s not enough of a sure thing, so they fight. (read the rest of this shit…)

China Strike Force

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

Some of the great western martial artists have a Hong Kong movie or two under their belts. Cynthia Rothrock did YES MADAM, ABOVE THE LAW, etc. For Brandon Lee it was LEGACY OF RAGE. Darren Shahlavi had TAI CHI II and IP MAN 2. Gary Daniels had CITY HUNTER. Scott Adkins was in that movie EXTREME CHALLENGE. Michael Jai White was in SILVERHAWK.  And of course Paul Rudd stars in GEN-X COPS 2: METAL MAYHEM.

I’ve already noted the heavy Hong Kong cinema influence on Mark Dacascos movies including CRYING FREEMAN and DRIVE, but in this Hong Kong production filmed in Shanghai for the international market he actually got to be for-real directed and choreographed by the legendary Stanley Tong (SWORDSMAN 2, SUPERCOP, SUPERCOP 2, RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, FIRST STRIKE).

It was filmed in both English and Cantonese, so most of the characters don’t seem dubbed. Dacascos plays the lead villain, Tony Lau, a young gangster who’s trying to get his mentor Uncle Ma (Lau Siu-Ming, ABOVE THE LAW, A BETTER TOMORROW II, POLICE STORY 2) to add drug imports to his criminal portfolio. Uncle Ma is dead set against it – he’s able to pay off the police partly because he stays away from drugs – but he agrees to meet with Tony’s American friend (Coolio, BATMAN & ROBIN, DAREDEVIL) about it out of politeness. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sanctuary

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

SANCTUARY (1998) is not The Great American Mark Dacascos Vehicle, but it’s pretty enjoyable classical DTV (or in this case straight-to-cable, I believe) action, the kind that made me fall in love with the format in the first place. Yes, it’s messy, at times confusing or befuddling. It’s kinda gloomy looking, sometimes there are iffy line deliveries, and there are definitely parts that I laugh at that I’m not supposed to. But also there’s some showcasing of a cool actor I like, pulpy traditions of the genre are exercised, and when something really cool happens there’s a sense of underdog achievement. You’re really pulling for it to be good.

It has a convoluted chronology: it starts with our Catholic priest hero Luke Kovak (Dacascos a year after DRIVE) in a Vatican interrogation room being questioned in Italian about what happened six days ago when he got attacked by some killers from his secret past. From the story of six days ago it keeps flashing back to the larger backstory of his former career doing dirty deeds for the government and why he went into hiding to get away from it. A few times he even remembers his childhood, when a priest was his role model until Dyson (Alan Scarfe, CATHY’S CURSE, IRON EAGLE II, LETHAL WEAPON 3) took him and some other orphans and raised them to be experts in martial arts, guns and spycraft. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kickboxer 5: The Redemption

Monday, May 13th, 2019

“He’s a butcher. A madman. His charm and intelligence make him more dangerous than a cobra.”

Life is cheap in the world of KICKBOXER. Every time the hero doesn’t do a sequel, he gets unceremoniously murdered. It happened to Kurt Sloane (by way of a lookalike) in KICKBOXER 2, and now it happens to David Sloane (through the medium of silhouetted double) in KICKBOXER 5. David (offscreen) refuses to join a new South African kickboxing league, and they have him beaten to death. At least he manages to break the leg of one of his attackers (Tony Caprari, TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY), who will be on crutches for the rest of the movie.

Also worth very little in this series: subtitles. Maybe THE ROAD HOME has legitimate interpretations, and THE ART OF WAR could apply to pretty much anything, but THE AGGRESSOR was a headscratcher and THE REDEMPTION has no practical plot application. Maybe that’s where the American distributors got the idea to rename THE RAID.

But if we follow my usual rule of going by what it says on the opening titles, it’s just THE REDEMPTION, no KICKBOXER in the title at all. And for what it’s worth, the fake David Sloane smashes that title with a flying kick. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

The time has finally come to return to the original KICKBOXER series. We’ve had fun with the new ones, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE (2016) and KICKBOXER: RETALIATION (2018). And of course we know and cherish the 1989 original in which Jean-Claude Van Damme as Kurt Sloan clashes with the psychotic Muay Thai champion Tong Po, who had paralyzed his brother in the ring. KICKBOXER 2: THE ROAD HOME (1991) has both Sloan brothers gunned down and introduces a third, previously unmentioned brother named David (Sasha Mitchell) to bring back the family tradition of defeating Tong Po for revenge. That’ll teach him to murder.

I admit I had somewhat forgotten KICKBOXER 3: THE ART OF WAR (1992), but it mixed it up in a fun way by having David and mentor Xian go vigilante and rescue young women from sex traffickers while in Rio for a championship match.

KICKBOXER 4: THE AGGRESSOR (1994) brings back part 2 director Albert Pyun (CYBORG) and opens with a 4-minute clip show as David recaps the events of parts 1-3 in a letter from prison. Much more time seems to have passed in the story than the two years between direct-to-video releases. Since we last saw David Sloan he apparently fell in love, got married, opened a martial arts school, worked for the DEA “trying to bring a major dealer to the U.S. for trial,” but got busted for killing the guy. “It was him or me. Tong Po saw to that,” he explains, if that counts as explaining. (Other times he says Tong Po framed him.) (read the rest of this shit…)