"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Riddle of Fire

RIDDLE OF FIRE is a distinct and very funny movie about three hellraising dirt bike rider kids named Alice (Phoebe Ferro), Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie (Skyler Peters). Their day long quest to get a blueberry pie for Hazel and Jodie’s sick mother (Danielle Hoetmer, bit part in one episode of every TV show) so they can play video games strands them deep in the woods with a family/cult of witchcraft-practicing poachers called the Enchanted Blade Gang. This takes place in rural Ribbon, Wyoming, but it’s filmed in Park City, Utah by rookie feature director Weston Razooli, who grew up there.

The kids are introduced hiding behind ski masks, but with their names written on the racing plates of their bikes. There’s a montage of loading and assembling their paint guns, the attention to the metal clinks and air canister pffts as fetishistic as any actual-gun preparation sequence you’ve ever seen. Now armed, they break into a warehouse and pull some ninja shit to steal an Otomo Angel video game system. When they’re caught by a worker, Hazel distracts him with a handful of gummi worms. (read the rest of this shit…)

Life After Fighting

LIFE AFTER FIGHTING is a 2024 indie action movie starring, written, directed, and choreographed by Australian martial artist Bren Foster. He even has writing credits on some of the songs on the soundtrack. That sounds like a vanity project, which I wouldn’t necessarily be against, but if “vanity project” is someone forcing their way onto the screen when they don’t really belong there, this is not that. This guy is a natural, and it’s a good movie, delivering well within the traditions of the genre and occasionally even transcending them a little. I kinda loved it.

Foster is close to my age, and has been on screen since a bit part in the crazy made-for-TNT kung fu movie INVINCIBLE in 2001. More recently I’ve heard he was good as the villain in DEEP BLUE SEA 3 and as Max in the Mad Max video game. I knew the name was familiar, and sure enough I first encountered him as one of the younger co-stars who takes on most of the fighting in a couple of the later Seagal movies. I didn’t mention him in my MAXIMUM CONVICTION review, but in FORCE OF EXECUTION I noted that he’s basically the main character even though on the cover he’s only seen as a tiny reflection in one lens of Seagal’s sunglasses. I praised his fighting but wrote that “when he’s talking instead of kicking ass he lacks the charisma to be captivating. Maybe it’s partly because he fakes an American accent. Shoulda gone full Van Damme and not worried about it.” Here he does in fact get to use his real accent, but also I think he’s just more comfortable in something coming from his heart. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Last Kumite

THE LAST KUMITE is a movie designed for a very specific demographic some of you may be familiar with. It’s a throwback to ‘90s tournament fighting movies, its cast is heavily populated with venerated icons of the genre, and they even managed to get a score by Paul Hertzog (BLOODSPORT, KICKBOXER), his first since 1991’s BREATHING FIRE. Best of all it features two new songs by the king of montage rock, Stan Bush (if you’re not familiar he did multiple songs on KICKBOXER and BLOODSPORT and “The Touch” from TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE).

Knowing all that, and that it was partly funded with Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, you could reasonably expect it to be directed by some young fanboy, but in fact it’s from someone who’s been in the trenches of legit DTV martial arts movies since the ‘90s. Ross W. Clarkson got his start doing cinematography for Ringo Lam (he’s worked with him on five movies) and he did Dolph Lundgren’s THE MECHANIK, Isaac Florentine’s UNDISPUTED II and III and NINJA I and II, and Michael Jai White’s NEVER BACK DOWN: NO SURRENDER. So he knows what he’s doing.
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Getting Even With Dad

June 17, 1994 was such a big day that in 2010 Brett Morgen released an ESPN 30 For 30 documentary called JUNE 17TH, 1994. It covered Arnold Palmer playing his final round at the U.S. Open, the commencement of the first FIFA World Cup hosted by the United States, a ticker tape parade for the New York Rangers after winning the Stanley Cup, Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals, Ken Griffey Jr. tying a Babe Ruth home run record, oh yeah and O.J. Simpson’s infamous slow police chase in the Ford Bronco. One important event of the day that it did not cover was the release of Mike Nichols’ WOLF starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. And I will not be covering it either, despite its story of an older generation getting all macho to compete with a younger one stealing their jobs and women, because I already wrote about it in my Summer Flings series.

There is however one topic I will be covering that was far too provocative and/or non-sports-related to include in the documentary, and that’s the movie GETTING EVEN WITH DAD starring Ted Danson as Dad and Macaulay Culkin as the party getting even.

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Ernest Goes to School

June 10, 1994

I put ERNEST GOES TO SCHOOL on my schedule because it was on a list of June 1994 releases, but upon further research I realized they didn’t exactly attempt to mount a challenge to SPEED and CITY SLICKERS II. They only gave it a limited release in Connecticut (nickname: “The Ernest State”) before the rest of the country got it on video in December. So I could have very justifiably skipped reviewing it in this series. But never let it be said that I retreated from my search for knowledge. Ernest, going to school!? I mean, how is something like that gonna pan out? I had to know.

It occurs to me that I’ve never reviewed an Ernest P. Worrell movie before, so I’ve never had a chance to note that back in the Ain’t It Cool days some people thought my name was a reference to the off camera character Ernest was talking to in the commercials and TV series he did, or that it was funny to write “Know whut I mean, Vern?” in response to my reviews. Both were incorrect.

This one was the sixth Ernest motion picture, or seventh if you include DR. OTTO AND THE RIDDLE OF THE GLOOM BEAM (1985), where Jim Varney played several characters, including Ernest. There were three more after this, all DTV, and out of the whole series this is the only one not directed by John Cherry. Instead the honor goes to Coke Sams, writer of most of the Ernest works going back to the beginning. (read the rest of this shit…)

City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold

June 10, 1994

CITY SLICKERS II: THE LEGEND OF CURLY’S GOLD is the sequel to the Billy Crystal comedy adventure hit I reviewed in my summer of ’91 series. You may remember that Jack Palance won an Oscar for playing the surly trail boss Curly, who teaches Mitch (Billy Crystal, RUNNING SCARED) how to feel like less of a twerp, helps him deliver a baby calf, dies, and is bizarrely buried out in the middle of the desert. The sequel opens with Mitch riding out to visit Curly’s grave, only to have him reach and rise out of it, in a parody of the end of CARRIE. (A nightmare, of course.)

I thought it would be funny if they got Palance back just to do that scene, but this is actually a sequel that follows in the tradition of A BETTER TOMORROW 2, where the stand out character was killed in the first movie so they brought the actor back as his twin brother. Mitch keeps seeing Curly outside his window and shit, his friends think he’s losing it, but in fact Curly’s twin brother Duke is following him around trying to find a treasure map hidden in his brother’s hat, which Mitch has. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hit Man (2024)

HIT MAN (2024) is on the more crowdpleasing side of Richard Linklater movies, a sort of comedy, sort of romance, sort of noir, sort of true story that’s good enough to sort of make me forgive the “based on a true story… sort of” disclaimer and related dad joke vibes. For me it doesn’t quite live up to the hype from the Toronto International Film Festival, where it apparently blew the roof off, but it’s definitely worth watching if you already get Netflix, where it ended up.

This is really a star vehicle for Glen Powell, an Austinite who worked with Linklater in FAST FOOD NATION, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! and APOLLO 10 1/2 (an animated/rotoscoped movie that’s also on Netflix, and quite good) before blowing up in TOP GUN: MAVERICK and ANYONE BUT YOU. Now the two of them teamed up to co-write and co-produce this showcase for Powell doing more than just his usual cocky hunky guy thing (but also that). He plays Gary Johnson, a New Orleans psychology professor who lives alone with two cats, enjoys bird watching, and tucks his polo shirts into his cargo shorts. He’s a dabbler who moonlights as a tech guy for the police, recording undercover stings busting people who were asking around about putting a hit out on somebody. When Jasper (Austin Amelio, The Walking Dead) is suspended for excessive force, Gary is pushed into playing the hitman, digs deep to create a macho character, and turns out to be very good at it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Speed (30th anniversary revisit)

June 10, 1994

So far my study of summer ’94 hasn’t found much excitement in the big blockbuster type movies. THE FLINTSTONES got all the hype but the ones I’ve been most invested in were quirky things by well known directors – SERIAL MOM, CROOKLYN, EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES. Now finally we come to a straight ahead action spectacle that truly delivered at the time and still holds up today.

SPEED came out 30 years ago as I post this, and it’s a classic. It feels like a very traditional studio crowdpleaser, but also not quite like anything else before or since. Twentieth Century Fox figured out what they had on their hands and moved it up from August to June, but no one else was sure at first if Keanu Reeves would be accepted as an action hero outside of POINT BREAK, or even if people would want to see him with short hair. So for many it was a surprise how big it became (5th highest grossing movie of 1994). (read the rest of this shit…)

Renaissance Man

June 3rd, 1994

RENAISSANCE MAN is a really-not-that-bad inspirational teacher movie directed by Penny Marshall (A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN) and written by Jim Burnstein (a rookie who later did D3: THE MIGHTY DUCKS). It’s corny in the usual ways but also benefits from the simple appeal of the formula and a more-subtle-than-usual performance by Danny DeVito (ROMANCING THE STONE, THE JEWEL OF THE NILE, BATMAN RETURNS).

He plays Bill Rago, a fuck up in the world of advertising who gets fired after missing an important meeting with out-of-town VIPs. Ed Begley Jr. (last seen two weeks ago in EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES) appears briefly as his friend Jack who hired him and still cares about him but has run out of jobs for him. While defending him to the boss Jack says “the man’s had a few personal setbacks the last couple years,” and we can infer that one of them is a divorce, but I like that they never elaborate. Maybe it was some weird shit too. We don’t know. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Cowboy Way

June 3rd, 1994

I should’ve known better after BEVERLY HILLS COP III, but I was kind of excited to watch a ‘90s studio action comedy that I’m not really familiar with. I might have seen THE COWBOY WAY on video back in the day, but I don’t remember for sure, so it was basically new to me. Could’ve been an unheralded gem! But it wasn’t. Just some competently produced, very dumb bullshit. I always think of ’94 as a great year for film, but so far, I gotta tell you, the summer movies are not contributing to that impression.

The story is about two bickering New Mexico rodeo pals, Sonny (Kiefer Sutherland, TWIN PEAKS: FIREWALK WITH ME) and Pepper (Woody Harrelson, DOC HOLLYWOOD), who go to New York City to look for their missing friend Nacho Salazar (Joaquin Martinez, JOE KIDD). Nacho turns out to have been killed trying to save his daughter Teresa (Cara Buono) from traffickers, so they try to save her. Both the action premise and the comedy premise are that they only know how to live “the cowboy way” so they don’t really understand the city much but also can punch better than any mere city boy on account of cowboy ruggedness. (read the rest of this shit…)