BLACK COBRA was another one of my blind rentals, and I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise gem, but it’s definitely more interesting than I bargained for. The last thing I rented without knowing anything about it was BILLY BOY, which turned out to be a shitty South African movie about white people, filmed during apartheid, so it’s a cool coincidence that this is a competent (if sorta home made) one with a black South African hero after apartheid. And the first fight scene is against a group of white South Africans trying to treat him like it’s the old days.
T.J. Storm sounds like the name of a fictional action hero that a kid in a movie idolizes, but that’s the handle of the martial arts champ and stuntman who plays Sizwe Biko, a guy who “won a couple of titles” and whose father is a jailed hero of the South African revolution. (Whether or not they’re related to Steven Biko is never mentioned.) His father wouldn’t confess his crimes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so he was never let out, and now they’re conspiring to kill him in prison. Sizwe learns that he could get him out by bribing a certain judge, so he digs up the family’s secret diamond stash and takes them to L.A. to fence.
“Okay, I understand that, but Jack you need to realize that your sunglasses are the only protection you have from all the white out there.”
It wasn’t part of the original plan, but as I was re-watching the American John Woo movies I realized I had to revisit this 1998 USA Networks TV movie (and unfulfilled backdoor pilot), even though I did an okay job reviewing it long ago. I’ve recently had good luck recommending it to a couple people who never heard of it, but I hadn’t seen it myself in 11 years. Fortunately this thing (shot right after FACE/OFF) holds up as an absurd and entertaining Dolph Lundgren vehicle that transcends its cheapo format.
Dolph plays Jack Devlin, a world class bodyguard who seems to work out of Reno. In the opening he agrees to a favor for an old friend who owns a casino and needs him to protect his little girl Casey (Padraigin Murphy) from the mob. She calls him “Uncle Jack,” which I took literally this time, but my research tells me that they’re not actually related.
It goes down kind like in TAKEN, where the kids get to Europe and are immediately kidnapped. Here gunmen arrive about 30 seconds after Jack walks into the house with Casey. He’s checking the rooms upstairs when they come in. (read the rest of this shit…)
BROKEN ARROW is John Woo’s second American movie, and maybe his most generic. Christian Slater (HE WAS A QUIET MAN) stars as Air Force Captain Riley Hale, who’s sent on a test flight with his browbeating mentor and pal Major Vic Deakins (John Travolta, CHAINS OF GOLD) that goes awry. Their experimental bomber is carrying two nuclear warheads to find out if they can do it without being detected via radiation. The trouble is, some low rent DIE HARD sequel type villains are waiting out in the desert for Deakins to intentionally crash the plane so they can steal the missiles and make the government pay a ransom to get them back. God damn dirty bombnappers.
Hale survives the crash and encounters park ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis) and Deakins has devised various ways to slow down anybody else coming in to help, so they gotta John McClane and Zeus Carver it out. Slater and Mathis had already starred in PUMP UP THE VOLUME together. Later Mathis would be in another movie that Travolta was in, THE PUNISHER. They’re all fairly likable, but their characters are bland and lifeless compared to a Chance Boudreaux or a Castor Troy. (read the rest of this shit…)
There was a time, I must admit, when I didn’t properly appreciate HARD TARGET. I had already been intoxicated by the unadulterated John Woo of THE KILLER, BULLET IN THE HEAD and HARD BOILED (in that order, I believe) so when I watched his 1993 Hollywood debut I could only see the compromises. American Woo was less violent, less stylish, less emotional and built around the stiff toughness of Van Damme instead of the smooth charisma of Chow Yun Fat.
But with the passage of time comes wisdom and context. From the perspective of today we can see that HARD TARGET stepped deeper into the Woo Zone than any of his subsequent American films save for FACE/OFF. More importantly, it’s clearly a masterpiece among Van Damme vehicles, themselves an enjoyable body of work that can benefit from some Woo. A pessimist sees HARD TARGET as Woo watered down with Van Damme. But I’m an optimist now so I know it’s a refreshing glass of Van Damme spiked with a shot of Woo tequila. (read the rest of this shit…)
SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES (or KILL ZONE 2 in the U.S.) is not truly a sequel to SPL/KILL ZONE, the great 2005 martial arts/police thriller that Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and director Wilson Yip did together before the IP MAN movies. Instead it’s an even better movie with Tony Jaa (THE PROTECTOR), Louis Koo (DRUG WAR) as the villain and Zhang Jin (THE GRANDMASTER) as the main henchman. Wu Jing (WOLF WARRIOR) and Simon Yam (MAN OF TAI CHI) both return in lead roles, but not as the same characters from the first one.
Director Cheang Pou-soi (DOG BITE DOG, MOTORWAY, THE MONKEY KING) and action director Li Chung-chi (team leader of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team who also choreographed GEN-X COPS 2, VENGEANCE and IP MAN: FINAL FIGHT) have come up with some next level shit that’s pretty much everything I could hope for in a serious Hong Kong action movie: an intense, involving story with a strong, dramatic tone, building carefully to powerful explosions of violence including large scale shootouts and vehicle mayhem but primarily martial arts with a wide variety of styles that express things about the characters and situations. (read the rest of this shit…)
Not long ago I wrote about director Jamaa Fanaka’s last film, STREET WARS (1992), and before that his first one, WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES, aka SOUL VENGEANCE (1975). You could sum him up as a director of idiosyncratic blaxploitation, but he wasn’t some cynical Hollywood guy going where the money was. He really was a young filmmaker with a voice. He managed to do three feature films while he was still in film school: BROTHER CHARLES, EMMA MAE (1976) and the one he’s best known for, PENITENTIARY (1979).
This is a movie about a guy who gets screwed over by the racist system, goes to prison and makes his way by boxing. We’re talking eight years after SHAFT, seven years after SUPER FLY, three years after ROCKY.
Our hero is Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy, HAMMER, LONE WOLF MCQUADE), who we first see as a homeless man sleeping in a little tent near a highway. He’s woken up by white dudes off-roading on motorcycles. Hitchhiking, he gets picked up by Linda (Hazel Spear, DISCO GODFATHER), a dream girl with a flower in her hair, driving a cool van. She explains that most people wouldn’t pick up hitchhikers on this highway because there are both men’s and women’s prisons nearby. (read the rest of this shit…)
Before there was such a thing as Marvel Comics movies, there was BLADE.
Technically it wasn’t the first Marvel movie. It was the fourth. But nobody would’ve expected Marvel Comics to take over the movie business the way they have now. There had been the infamous flop HOWARD THE DUCK in 1986, and a few low rent b-action movies: THE PUNISHER starring Dolph Lundgren in 1989, then Albert Pyun’s DTV movie of CAPTAIN AMERICA in 1990. A Roger Corman production of FANTASTIC FOUR had been made in 1994 merely to extend the movie rights to the characters; it was never released, and the negatives have since been destroyed. I still kinda like THE PUNISHER, but until BLADE came along in 1998 none of these really connected with audiences, and there was no reason to think they would. James Cameron and Golan & Globus had an equal amount of success in trying to make a Spider-man movie, and Marvel had gone bankrupt.
Let’s be honest, most of us never heard of a Blade before the movie. He came from the ’70s series Tomb of Dracula, part of a team of Dracula-hunters made up of descendants of Mina Harker, Abraham Van Helsing and Dracula himself. He wore a red leather jacket and green pants and spoke what creator Marv Wolfman later admitted was “cliche ‘Marvel Black’ dialogue.” But screenwriter David S. Goyer was a fan of the character when New Line Cinema, inspired by the success of FRIDAY, wanted to do a black super hero movie.
At the time it was easier to compare to other vampire movies. Anne Rice style romantic bloodsuckers had dominated the image of the subgenre since at least the movie version of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE in 1994, and BLADE was part of a pushback that included FROM DUSK TILL DAWN two years before and John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES two months after, all reminding audiences how much fun these creatures could be as vicious monsters that need to be exterminated. Each has their own version of the rules and their own leather-clad hunters with weapons made from silver, garlic, holy water or wood, but only BLADE (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then two seasons in) treated it as an opportunity for martial arts. (read the rest of this shit…)
I got a good laugh when I went to see THE LAST WITCH HUNTER and they showed a trailer for the POINT BREAK remake. They’d been advertising it for a while, but this audience clearly didn’t know about it since they gasped and groaned in disapproval when the title came up. They knew that this was going too far to remake POINT BREAK, even though they didn’t know that a trailer about some guys robbing a bank wearing president masks and then an FBI agent who’s a surfer has a theory that the robberies are being done by extreme athletes and he goes undercover in the group but he gets too close to the guru-like leader whose name is Bodhi means this is a remake of POINT BREAK. They didn’t recognize it until the title.
But they’re kinda right. POINT BREAK cannot be duplicated. It can be ripped off and turned into a great series of movies about globetrotting street racer super-thieves, sure. But it has a unique power that’s a combination of a great/goofy premise, a script with a ton of funny dialogue, excellent sequences directed by the great Kathryn Bigelow at the top of her action game, incredible skydiving stunts and photography, a maybe-not-knowingly-funny performance by Keanu Reeves as surfer dude cop Johnny Utah, and most of all a towering performance of charisma and sincerity by Patrick Swayze, who (like Vin Diesel in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, actually) seems to truly, deeply believe the philosophy his character spews. (read the rest of this shit…)
AMERICAN ULTRA is an action… I want to say comedy?… about what would happen if a totally unlikable stoner who works at a Cash ‘n Carry turned out to unknowingly be a brainwashed government super killer who has been missing and the CIA tries to take him out so he finds himself killing a bunch of dudes in self defense and doesn’t know why. THE BOURNE IDENTITY meets some dude you know’s unproductive early 20s.
But it’s not jokey like a Cheech and Chong picture or THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Mike, the horrible loser protagonist, is played by Jesse Eisenberg (CURSED) with his usual cold distance, minus the intelligence. He’s not the funny or huggable type of stoner either, he’s just the kind that you’re supposed to like because he has a dream of creating a generic “underground comic” about a monkey (it could be this generation’s MONKEYBONE in my opinion) and mumbles quasi-deep philosophical bullshit comparing his life to that of a tree. In narration he humblebrags about being “a fucked up couple” with his long-suffering, oh-that-poor-woman, someone-really-needs-to-have-an-intervention-with-her-about-that-terrible-boyfriend-that-is-sucking-away-her-life-essence-every-second-of-the-day girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart, JUMPER). But, sorry bud, these two aren’t even Sid and Nancy, they’re just a guy who disappoints his girlfriend by saying they’re going to Hawaii and then instead having a panic attack and bringing her home to make her an omelette and then burning it. (read the rest of this shit…)
BEYOND THE RING is an amateurish underground fighting drama allegedly based on a true story and starring the Brazilian Taekwondo Grandmaster Andre Lima as himself. Depending on what parts of it are true it’s a deeply personal story and/or a weird vanity project.
In the movie Andre is a Taekwondo instructor (at one of his actual L.A. area schools it looks like), a widower and single father of teenage son Joseph (Joseph Nerlinger) and pre-teen daughter Jessica (Aycka Lima). He stopped competitive fighting after his wife’s death and gets real stubborn when his brother-in-law Patrick (Martin the bad guy in KARATE KID Kove) comes around trying to make sure he’s taking care of the family well and what not.
The hook is that one day Andre finds out his daughter has a brain tumor, and his insurance doesn’t cover her surgery, so he ends up taking an underground fight against a guy called Zulu (Justice Smith, BLOOD AND BONE, THOR) to try to raise the money. My assumption was that real life Lima really had a sick daughter and maybe did some kind of tournament fighting to pay for the surgery, not an illegal thing like this, but I’ve found some biographies of him online and none of them mention his family life at all. I guess this is one of those unverifiable martial arts tall tales, like how BLOODSPORT is supposed to be based on a real guy called Frank Dux who claims to have taken part in a real Kumite. But if the guy’s daughter (who I believe is playing herself in the movie?) didn’t really get sick that would be an unethical truth-stretching in my opinion. (read the rest of this shit…)