I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Steel Arena

tn_steelarenaSTEEL ARENA doesn’t seem at first glance like a particularly distinguished b-movie, especially in its current form as a poorly transferred old VHS tape that’s scanned but not panned. Many scenes, including the first one, are conversations in the front seats of vehicles with one or more participants mostly cropped out of frame. I rented it because it’s one of these stuntsploitation movies I find so interesting, but this time it’s about the lives of professional stunt drivers in a road show, not in movies. Most of the stars are real drivers playing themselves and doing their own driving. STEEL ARENA is to stunt drivers as ACT OF VALOR is to Navy SEALs.

It centers on Dusty Russell, a not-all-that-talkative good ol’ boy with a silly mustache that would endear him to the modern hipster. He’s looking for work and a moonshiner has a job opening.

“Can you drive?”

“Sure.”

It doesn’t seem like it’s his passion in life yet, but he turns out to be good at it, leading the cops on a chase that predicts every episode of The Dukes of Hazzard ever made. But the payment plan has some problems so he moves on and finds his way into “the destruction derby” (same as a “demolition derby” as I always knew it), teaming with a guy he meets, Buddy Love, and going on to dominate the circuit. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ring of Steel

RING OF STEEL is a classical underground fighting circuit movie from 1994, and it has many familiar elements: a hero who needs work after accidentally killing an opponent in a legitimate match, a mysterious, clearly untrustworthy stranger who leads him into the temptation of a high stakes fight club, rich people betting, the slow roll-out of death matches after the hero is already in too deep, a jealous and possessive-of-women rival, police snooping around, a girlfriend who ends up being used as collateral to make him fight the big match, all that type of stuff. But it has one unique element that gives the whole enterprise a novel flavor and personality: the fights are sword fights.

The hero is a disgraced fencing champion. Given a choice of weapons, he picks some kind of 17th century musketeer deal to go up against knights and samurai and shit. And some of the score by Jeff Beal (IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL, BLACKFISH, WEINER, HE WAS A QUIET MAN) would work for a Roger Corman sword and sorcery movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Satin Steel

tn_satinsteelSATIN STEEL is a 1994 Hong Kong cops ‘n martial arts movie that starts off as a bit of a LETHAL WEAPON rip-off, but with women. I wish the heroine was actually named Satin Steel, but instead her name is Jade (Jade Leung, BLACK CAT 1 and 2). Like Riggs, Jade is a maverick police detective with a death wish. And it opens with a similar (though smaller scale) undercover bust where she does something insane to get her collar (it involves a grenade).

She takes crazy risks because she’s depressed that her husband was shot to death (and fell out a high window!) by assassins trying to kill her. We learn this when she’s outside smoking and brooding to a bluesy soundtrack and she witnesses a wedding in progress. When her flashback ends she’s holding her gun to her head. Luckily she snaps out of it, realizes she has caused a scene and goes over to congratulate the newlyweds, but in my opinion you can’t really recover from a faux pas like that. That is just plain poor wedding etiquette, I don’t care what the 2nd amendment says.

Although Jade is a cop who gets her man, she’s obviously hard to deal with, so the boss takes a getting-rid-of-Chris-Tucker-in-RUSH-HOUR type glee in sending her to Singapore to investigate an international arms dealing ring. And something about the American mafia and diamonds and a guy that was involved in the World Trade Center bombing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Steel

tn_steelIn 1998, we got the first ever black Marvel super hero on film, Wesley Snipes as BLADE. An important milestone in pop culture, a breakthrough for Wesley Snipes, one of the great films of the decade and of the comic book genre. It’s momentous no matter how you cut it. For the record, though, DC was ahead of the curve. They had their first black super hero on film one year and one week earlier than Marvel.

But, uh, to be clear it was… Well, it was STEEL. There’s no other way to say it. The movie was STEEL. That’s the only thing about it.

Shaqille O’Neal is Steel (Christian name John Henry Irons), an inventor of experimental weapons for the U.S. military. We first meet him demonstrating a sonic cannon test model with his friend Sparks (Annabeth Gish, WYATT EARP) and some fucking asshole named Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson, NEW JACK CITY). We know John is a nice guy because he’s telling a senator about his weapons being non-lethal.

“You like that?”

“Not killing? Yes ma’am, I do.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Programming note

Hey friends,

I usually try to do four reviews a week – this time I accidentally ended up one short. Most likely I won’t be posting again until Tuesday, except maybe some touristy tweets from Memphis, where I’ll be over the weekend for family/vacation type business. I look forward to getting back up to speed again soon. Have a good weekend everybody and as usual thanks for reading.

–VERN

p.s. I hope the shit doesn’t pop off this weekend!

 

L.A. Takedown

L.A. TAKEDOWN (or MADE IN L.A. as the credits said on the region 2 DVD I watched) is a 1989 TV movie written and directed by Michael Mann, that started as a TV pilot but the series wasn’t picked up.

Actually, I take that back. It started as a 180 page screenplay that he wrote before THIEF, and tried to get Walter Hill to direct, but after a decade of not getting it off the ground he had a chance to do a TV series so he gave up and rewrote it as the pilot. It’s too bad he didn’t keep pushing for it, because it would’ve been interesting to see what the movie version would’ve been like. If it were up to me it would be called HEAT and star Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. But of course there’s already the Burt Reynolds movie called HEAT so that would never happen.

The story begins with a squad of ruthless thieves headed by Patrick McLaren (Alex McArthur, CONSPIRACY THEORY) driving a garbage truck, which they ram into an armored car. It flips and gets pinned against a wall before they attach bombs, yank the guards out and line them up so some of them can threaten them and punch them in the face while the others climb in the car and steal its contents.  But like an idiot, the squirrely rookie Waingro (Xander Berkeley, BARB WIRE) turns Mr. Blonde and shoots one of the guards, forcing them to kill the other ones too. This was supposed to be clean. (read the rest of this shit…)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Troma boy made good James Gunn (SUPER) returns as director and this time sole credited writer to bring us GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, the continuing adventures of Marvel’s literally-colorful team of intergalactic reprobates. Gunn doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, he just coasts on the charm and humor of the world and characters he set up in the first one. But this time they hit the ground running, already a team, and Groot (Vin Diesel, FIND ME GUILTY) is a baby tree man instead of a giant one, so they only have one big enforcer guy instead of two, and they have to take turns babysitting.

Think about it: wouldn’t it be weird if in one of the FAST AND FURIOUS movies all the sudden Tyrese was a 2-year-old and they still had to take him with them on their missions? It’s a pretty different dynamic.

The team is still earth-born manchild Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt, WANTED), green warrior woman Gamora (Zoe Saldana, THE TERMINAL), wiseass mercenary raccoon Rocket (Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN), and literal-minded berserker-with-a-heart-of-gold Drax (Dave Bautista, WRONG SIDE OF TOWN, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN, THE SCORPION KING 3: BATTLE FOR REDEMPTION, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, RIDDICK, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE). They fly around in a little space cruiser and battle with laser guns, swords, bombs and jumping and what not. This time they do a security job in exchange for Gamora’s evil cyborg sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, THE BIG SHORT), who becomes the dangerous-prisoner-who-maybe-they-should-free-as-an-ally character like Riddick, Napoleon Wilson or Desolation Williams. (read the rest of this shit…)

Best Seller

Sometimes you’re not in the market for a topic to write about, but it falls right into your lap. Me, I’ve been dying to start writing about JCVD, but I keep coming up with other ideas that I get excited about. I have three different action stars fighting it out in my head to be my next book, so when I finally get the current one polished off and find some time to work I’m gonna have to make a decision and stick with it.

LAPD detective/best-selling true crime author Dennis Meechum (Brian Dennehy, FIRST BLOOD) doesn’t have as hard of a time deciding, because his subject keeps showing up in person and hassling him until he gets started. Back in ’72 he survived the infamous robbery of a police evidence depository (with the thieves wearing Nixon masks four years before POINT BREAK) and turned his experiences into the hit book Inside Job: Anatomy of a Robbery. This guy is a hard worker: he’s still a cop, and also keeps writing books, and also has raised his beloved daughter Holly (Allison Balson, Little House on the Prairie) alone since his wife died of cancer. But he’s burnt out and having trouble writing another one and some guy named Cleve (James Woods, VAMPIRES) has decided to come tell him what to write about. (read the rest of this shit…)

Happy Yaddle Appreciation Day

Hey everybody. As you know, certain people enjoy lispy puns, and have turned “May the 4th” into the international day to celebrate Star Wars. Which seemed like a pretty good idea a few years ago when there wasn’t a new Star Wars movie coming out at all times.

You know I enjoy the Star Wars but in case some of you get sick of hearing about it today I thought it would be a good time to re-up one of my favorite series I’ve ever done, LUCAS MINUS STAR WARS. By going through 44 years of everything Lucas had his name on that was not Star Wars-related I think I really showed (or at least convinced myself) what a force (get it) he was in Hollywood even outside of his most beloved creation (Yaddle).

So here for your convenience are links to all Lucas reviews (including a few, like HOWARD THE DUCK, that I wrote before that series) in release order:

THX 1138
AMERICAN GRAFFITI
MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI
KAGEMUSHA
BODY HEAT
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
TWICE UPON A TIME
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM
MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS
LATINO
LABYRINTH
HOWARD THE DUCK
CAPTAIN EO
WILLOW
POWAQQATSI
TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM
THE LAND BEFORE TIME
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
RADIOLAND MURDERS
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
RED TAILS
STRANGE MAGIC

And, ah hell, I guess I should include my Star Wars writings too. “STAR WARS NO BAGGAGE REVIEWS” was also a proud time in outlawvern.com history, so here they are plus my Ewok ones and the post-Lucas ones:

STAR WARS
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
RETURN OF THE JEDI
THE EWOK ADVENTURE aka CARAVAN OF COURAGE
EWOKS: BATTLE FOR ENDOR
STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES
STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH
DISNEY’S STAR WARS MINUS LUCAS: THE FORCE AWAKENS by Disney
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS SUPPLEMENT

Firestorm (2013)

FIRESTORM, the Hong Kong movie from 2013, is unfortunately not a remake of the 1998 firefighter action vehicle starring Howie Long. But it’s a good movie. Andy Lau (INFERNAL AFFAIRS, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, THE GREAT WALL) plays Inspector Lui, a by-the-book cop trying to catch a gang of brazen thieves. He’s there when they literally lift an armored car with a crane, and he hopes to be there (but more prepared) the next time they strike.

This is not the Hong Kong I know from other movies, with all the bustle and boats and steam coming off of outdoor markets. This is clean, professional downtown Hong Kong. Tall buildings, office clothes. That robbery happens in broad daylight, the gunmen wearing scary fencing type masks. It’s got a realistic feel but it’s this outlandish action spectacle, like HEAT meets more of a DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE world. (read the rest of this shit…)