"I'll just get my gear."

Fast Getaway

FAST GETAWAY (1991) is a movie that has not made it to DVD, and the VHS cover shows a slightly Vanilla-Ice-looking Corey Haim doing a teen magazine locker pinup pose in front of a red rectangle. I was vaguely aware of its existence for many years before learning that it might be worth watching because it co-stars Cynthia Rothrock. And only when I rented it did I learn that it’s the first of only two movies directed by stunt legend Spiro Razatos. (His other one is CLASS OF 1999 II: THE SUBSTITUTE, and then he did some episodes of Team Knight Rider.)

Razatos is a stuntman going back to the early ‘80s (THEY CALL ME BRUCE, POLICE ACADEMY 2) who graduated to stunt coordinator with OMEGA SYNDROME in 1986. He also did SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2. I first became aware of him when I was impressed by the crazy low budget car stunts in the MANIAC COP movies and learned he was the second unit director and stunt coordinator behind them. He also did EXTREME JUSTICE, BAD BOYS II, TALLADEGA NIGHTS and DEATH RACE, and then he became the go-to car guy with FAST FIVE and all subsequent FAST movies, plus MONSTER TRUCKS and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS, which has some good shit in it, I swear. (read the rest of this shit…)

Possessor

POSSESSOR is a fucking great and deeply disturbing near-future-cyberpunkish assassination thriller directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Yeah, when you’re David Cronenberg’s son, seems like it would be good not to direct real grim, trippy movies that are gonna be compared to your genius dad’s early shit. Too much to live up to. It might be easier to just be a rapper named Li’l Decker or something. Like, what if Sofia Coppola had started out making gangster movies? But DJ The Doctor From JASON X here pulls it off. It doesn’t seem to be copying any specific content or style from the elder Cronenberg, but it definitely is a contemporary equivalent to the tone and quality of the old man’s early, crazy shit.

It stars Andrea Riseborough, who I for a second recognized from MANDY but thought – nah, must be somebody else. She plays a pallid and haunted looking lady named Tasya Vos, a fittingly cool name for someone in her line of work. She looks like she’s on her death bed, but it’s part of her job as a strange type of assassin and undercover agent… I would say a futuristic type, but I’m told this takes place in alternate past? I don’t know. But she spends most of her time in a lab with her head plugged into a machine that somehow projects her consciousness into an implant that her colleagues have clandestinely placed inside an unwilling subject. So, while controlling some poor sucker’s body, she murders her target, then turns a gun on “herself,” which returns her to her real body and/or ties up the loose ends of the assassination plot. Kind of like a clumsier, riskier, more evil version of plugging into the Matrix. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pray For Death

PRAY FOR DEATH is a 1985 American ninja movie starring Sho Kosugi. He’d already done the three Cannon ninja movies as well as 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA, so this was not any kind of a first for him. It’s even the third one he did that co-starred his sons Kane and Shane. But if you’re like me and you like a ninja movie that is watchable and has a ninja in it, this is one of them.

It’s not surprising to see that director Gordon Hessler (KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK) did a bunch of TV shows like Wonder Woman and CHiPs, because that’s kind of what this feels like. His martial arts bonafides include episodes of Kung Fu and The Master. He later did another one with Kosugi, RAGE OF HONOR. What does make this one kind of interesting is that it’s written by James Booth, an English stage and screen actor who was in ZULU, DARKER THAN AMBER and CABOBLANCO. He was once such hot shit that he turned down the title role in ALFIE, but when things slowed down for him he tried out screenwriting, starting with the Charles Grodin movie SUNBURN (1979) and the Gil Gerard TV movie STORMIN’ HOME (1985). (read the rest of this shit…)

Born American

I don’t necessarily think of Renny Harlin as one of my favorite directors, but the truth is he’s very foundational to my viewing. I grew up being obsessed with all kinds of movies, but when I try to pinpoint what truly hooked me on my twin obsessions of horror and action, it seems like the main culprits are A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS and DIE HARD. So their sequels, both directed by Harlin, were huge for me at the time.

I understand why A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER doesn’t get the same love as DREAM WARRIORS, but for me it was monumental because it was my first Freddy movie in the theater. When it came out on tape I watched it (and its making-of tape) over and over again. That’s how I knew there was this hot up-and-coming director named Renny Harlin, a long-haired Finnish dude who showed such promise with the 1987 horror movie PRISON that he did Freddy 4 and DIE HARD 2 – followups to two of pop culture’s biggest things going. I think some article I read in Newsweek or somewhere called Harlin “The Sequel Master.”

I rented PRISON, of course, and I’ve seen it since then, and it’s pretty good, and stars Viggo Mortensen before he was classy. But until recently I never really paid attention to the fact that Harlin made one movie before that, a Finnish production, but about Americans, and more in the action vein. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cut Throat City

CUT THROAT CITY may be the capital of CUTTHROAT ISLAND, I’m not sure, but the one I’m here to write about is the crime film set in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and it’s the latest directorial effort of The RZA.

As you may know I’m a fan of RZA’s music (Wu-Tang Clan, GHOST DOG score), acting (THE PROTECTOR 2, BRICK MANSIONS, THE DEAD DON’T DIE) and film scholarship (the commentary track on THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, his 36films.com livestreams). I’m also a big fan of his first film as a director (and writer and star and composer), THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS. I have some issues with the way he shot the fights, but I absolutely love the old school kung fu fantasy world he created and the many characters, clans and weapons within it. So I take him seriously as a filmmaker. (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman: Soul of the Dragon

I don’t normally review Batman cartoons (I think the only time I have before is the Suicide Squad one, ASSAULT ON ARKHAM), but I think you will agree that this one falls into my jurisdiction. In fact, it’s so weirdly specific to my particular areas of interest that during the ‘70s-inspired opening credits montage with funky theme song, after seeing the names Mark Dacascos and Michael Jai White, Mrs. Vern turned to me in disbelief and said, “Did they make this only for you?

Yeah, actually, it seems they did, so thanks, guys!

No joke, this is an animated movie set in the 1970s, based in the DC Comics universe but taking most of its template from kung fu movies. Its spy movie opening and funky, wah-wah heavy score are clearly homaging ENTER THE DRAGON, and there’s definitely some Jim Kelly/Blaxploitation influence in there, but its flashback structure mostly splits between an old school kung fu training movie and a getting-the-band-back-together type story. Two of my favorite plot structures in one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Invincible Dragon

I love being able to tip off my readers to a high quality, newish martial arts movie they might not have seen or heard of. Especially one that feels like an instant classic to me, like when I saw SPL 2/KILL ZONE 2 in 2015, and I just knew I had to do what I could to get the word out that it was something special.

But that’s not exactly what we’ve gathered for today. This is a different thread that I’ve been following since KILL ZONE 2. One of the highlights of that movie was Jin Zhang, now known here as Max Zhang, who played the lead henchman – a dapper, suit-wearing psycho with kicks like scalpels. He had such an entirely different vibe as the broody handsome rival in IP MAN 3 that I didn’t even notice it was the same actor. So now I pay more attention to him. His most recent release INVINCIBLE DRAGON (original title: 九龍不敗 [KOWLOON UNBEATEN]) is not in the same ballpark as his very good starring vehicle MASTER Z: THE IP MAN LEGACY (2018), and it’s sloppier and stupider than THE BRINK (2017). But I enjoyed the hell out of it because it has some of that precious Hong Kong action craftsmanship and production value, infused with the “are you kidding me right now?” lunacy of a really off-the-rails DTV movie, while managing to showcase some of the qualities that make Zhang stand out from other action stars. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rogue

You know I go into pretty much any movie hoping it will be good, but I admit I was surprised by the straight up legit-ness of this movie where Megan Fox plays an ex-special-ops badass who gets stranded in an area where a lion keeps eating people. Fox is good in it, the characters in it are fun and have a good chemistry, it’s well made, it genuinely works. I had hopes, but not necessarily expectations. I’m happy to report that this is a good one.

(As is my policy these days, I will note that it’s another movie reveling in the power of modern military gear, and it’s mostly white heroes rescuing white people from Jihadist rebels in Africa. But, you know, accepting that we still make movies like that, it’s an entertaining and distinct one.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Samurai Marathon

There’s something about samurai movies that I find really comforting and grounding. People walking around slowly, just trying to enjoy some baths or poetry or something, but their codes and their swords come into conflict. I don’t know, there are different reasons why different ones appeal to me so much, but seeing a good one is always invigorating, so I figured it would be good to see one early in this new year to get things started on the right foot.

I chose SAMURAI MARATHON, officially a 2019 release, though it came to VOD and disc during quarantine time in 2020. It’s a Japanese language film, based on a Japanese novel (The Marathon Samurai: Five Tales of Japan’s First Marathon by Akihiro Dobashi), with a screenplay co-written by Hiroshi Saito (SAMURAI FICTION) and Kikumi Yamagishi (HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI), but it’s directed and co-written by Mr. Bernard Rose of London, England. Obviously a samurai movie by the director of CANDYMAN is gonna catch my eye. And I’m sure glad it did because, my friends, I loved this movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

“In the second film the wardrobe people wanted to go glamorous. And they wanted to make Los Angeles look beautiful – that’s why all the colors are bright and friendly. Los Angeles is not like that – they made BREAKIN’ 2 as some kind of a WIZARD OF OZ of dance. And you know what? For a kid that never had anything, not even the money in the family to go to Disneyland – suddenly people were screaming, and cheering, dancing and being happy on the screen. That’s the fantasy. Maybe Los Angeles will never be that way, but Los Angeles was beautiful for one day when people watched BREAKIN’ 2. I think that’s nice.” -Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers to Marco Siedelmann in the book Stories From the Trenches: Adventures in Making High Octane Hollywood Movies With Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg

BREAKIN’ was a huge hit for Cannon. It opened at #1 even though it was going head-to-head with Universal’s SIXTEEN CANDLES, and on almost 200 fewer screens. It ended up making $38 million, which was more than twice BEAT STREET’s total, and put it at #17 in the 1984 box office rankings, above such films as BACHELOR PARTY, RED DAWN, THE TERMINATOR and Cannon’s own MISSING IN ACTION. And if you scan down that list, way down to #102, you’ll find BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.

That sounds more disastrous than it is, because only its first ten days of release were in 1984; its eventual total would’ve put it around #59. More notable than the sequel’s lower box office take is the fact that they got it into theaters less than 8 months later. But it wasn’t just a continuation – they put together a new team of filmmakers, headed by director Sam Firstenberg, who had just directed Dickey in NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (also released in ’84!), and they gave it a goofier, less reality-bound tone and style with more neon and rainbow colors in the clothes and graffiti. (read the rest of this shit…)