IN HELL is a 2003 DTV JCVD joint. At the time it was the best 2000s Nu Image/Millennium filmed-in-Bulgaria DTV movie with an action icon getting locked up in a Russian prison, meeting a guy in a wheelchair who shows him the ropes, being mistreated and strung up outside in the cold, and becoming the champion of their fighting circuit. (Then UNDISPUTED II came out.) It’s Van Damme’s last film with director Ringo Lam (CITY ON FIRE, FULL CONTACT), following MAXIMUM RISK and REPLICANT. I like that some of the Hong Kong visual style and emotional sincerity come through, even though I could use fewer scenes where he rolls around in bed remembering flashes of his wife’s murder. (read the rest of this shit…)
Posts Tagged ‘prison’
Well holy shit. I’ve taken my sweet time getting to all three of Jamaa Fanaka’s PENITENTIARY movies, but they’ve all lived up to my hopes. If you’re not familiar, they star Leon Isaac Kennedy (LONE WOLF McQUADE) as Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone, a man who is unjustly incarcerated but becomes a legend in the prison boxing circuit. I’m sure it’s an inspiration for the UNDISPUTED series, but Fanaka’s world is angrier, dirtier, and much, much weirder.
Released in 1979, PENITENTIARY was actually the third movie Fanaka made while attending UCLA. Unlike other directors considered part of the L.A. Rebellion film movement, he was more attracted to Hollywood than to political statements, so he made straight up lurid and entertaining blaxploitation movies. But racism, cruelty and injustice are central to his stories.
PENITENTIARY II (1982) brings the action into the outside world, and it’s a little slicker and more expensive, so it features Mr. T and Ernie Hudson.
But PENITENTIARY III (1987) is a Cannon Film. It is not fucking around. It would be an exaggeration to say that Cannon did to the PENITENTIARY series what they did to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE with part 2, but there’s definitely a hint of that sort of unhinged insanity. We find Too Sweet still a free man, competing as a legitimate boxer, when his corner man is paid off to put something in his water. (That he looks over his shoulder nervously and then just openly pours something into the water in front of an audience without anyone noticing is one of many goofy touches.) (read the rest of this shit…)
PENITENTIARY II (1982) is that thing we love where a director has been burning it up on the fringes and then they get a little more resources behind them and they really go for it. Still low budget and outside of the mainstream, but more professional than the first PENITENTIARY (1979) or the two other features writer-director Jamaa Fanaka made while still a student at UCLA. So he’s still hungry and crazy, but able to accomplish more. It’s one of the beautiful parts of life.
And you know this shit is gonna be good when there’s an opening scene and then a full credit sequence set to grimy DOLEMITE-esque blaxploitation funk and then a long STAR WARS style scroll explaining in more detail than necessary what’s going on.
The score is by Jack Wheaton, additional music by Marvin Gaye’s guitarist and musical director Gordon Banks. I tend to think that outside of the electro stuff like Zapp and “Atomic Dog,” funk no longer existed in the ’80s. Tell that to these opening credits, though: (read the rest of this shit…)
When we last left novelist and heavy metal drummer turned filmatist S. Craig Zahler, he had made a distinctive directorial debut with BONE TOMAHAWK, a nice western with great characters and dialogue and that turns into a little bit of a gory cannibal movie by the end. I liked that one quite a bit but I think film #2, the crime movie BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (which is coming to video on the 26th but I splurged for VOD) is a huge leap ahead for him.
Vince Vaughn (PSYCHO) stars as Bradley Thomas, a burly tow truck driver who, after a really bad day, decides to go back to the drug business for a while. Cut to 18 months later, when his bedroom is almost as big as the whole house we just saw him in, and his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter, BATTLE IN SEATTLE) is pregnant. Their dreams are finally coming true, but some things go wrong at work (as they do) and he ends up in prison, where he must protect himself on the inside and his family on the outside from the enemies he’s made. (read the rest of this shit…)
Well, unlike my first reviews of UNDISPUTED and UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING, I’m perfectly happy with what I wrote when UNDISPUTED III: REDEMPTION was first released. So you can follow that link for what the movie’s about and why it’s great, plus my attempt to sell circa 2010 Ain’t It Cool News readers on the works of Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine, and the concept of DTV action in general. Still, on the occasion of part 4 coming to American video tomorrow I wanted to revisit part III for further analysis and appreciation.
I’d never watched it back-to-back with part II before. That really emphasizes the differences. Though I praised the J.J. Perry fight choreography in II, Larnell Stovall’s work here is something to behold. More fights, longer takes with more consecutive moves, different styles (more throws and groundwork, and capoeira courtesy of Lateef Crowder). As much as I love and don’t want to take away from the classics like KICKBOXER and BLOODSPORT that inspired movies like the UNDISPUTEDs, I think it’s fair to say that the choreography and filming of martial arts sequences has gotten far more sophisticated since those days. (read the rest of this shit…)
Nine years ago when I caught up to UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING I declared it the first DTV sequel better than its theatrical predecessor, and I finally understood the internet love for its star Michael Jai White, who I’d previously thought of as the guy from SPAWN. But I still didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I do now. Yesterday’s pleasant surprise has become today’s under-recognized genre classic.
Since then we’ve seen White star in more vehicles worthy of his talents (BLOOD & BONE and BLACK DYNAMITE being standouts), we’ve seen choreographer J.J. “Loco” Perry further make his mark with HAYWIRE before moving up to giant movies like FATE OF THE FURIOUS, and we’ve seen villain Scott Adkins grow into a martial arts icon in his own right, often working with this same great director, Isaac Florentine (NINJA, NINJA II: SHADOW OF A TEAR, CLOSE RANGE).
But even looking back, UNDISPUTED II is not a stepping stone to greatness. It’s an example of it.
You and I, obviously we rented RIOT because Dolph Lundgren is on the cover. But we will quickly learn that this is a Matthew Reese Films presentation starring Matthew Reese as Jack Stone.
As you could guess from his name, Jack Stone was an amazingly awesome and legendary cop before a bank robbery and killing of a fellow officer (seen in fragmented flashbacks) put him behind bars. The guards (who wear full body armor and goalie masks) taunt him and the inmates threaten him, except for one tall shy guy with a mop. That’s William, played by Dolph. He hunches over, winces, mumbles, acts scared. But he immediately looks out for Jack. If Jack gets jumped he’ll leap in and beat up a guy with a mop handle if necessary.
Actually there’s one other guy who likes Jack, in a part I didn’t understand. When Jack’s cellmate (ex-football player Seante Williams) first finds him in the cell he starts threatening him, but then recognizes him and smiles. “Jack, right?” He introduces himself as Silva and gives him his choice of top or bottom bunk! Toward the end of the movie a giant muscular blond, like a new model of Dolph, who has been set up as a major threat, comes to kill Jack, and Silva flies in with a Superman punch and takes care of the guy for him.
I don’t know, maybe Silva’s supposed to be some undercover guy planted there to help him? Might as well be, it seems like everybody else in here is. Jack purposely pleaded guilty to get into the prison where his wife’s killer is. William, we find out, is an FBI agent who has been inside for 6 months to look into corruption at the prison (talk about a shitty gig!) and he also has a partner in there who is also undercover. (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…)
FORTRESS is one of those rare b-movie (or B+ movie?) gems that you come across every once in a while that has everything: good cast, great gimmicks, unexpected emotion and substance, cyborgs. It’s a 1993 sci-fi action movie, but clearly without a summer blockbuster budget, so it feels somewhere between Paul Verhoeven and ROBOT JOX. And that makes sense, because it’s the same director. Man, why did I never see this before? Didn’t I know it was a Christopher Lambert movie directed by Stuart Gordon? Don’t I believe in the auteur theory?
Lambert plays Brennick, an ex-soldier (“the most decorated captain of the Black Berets, yet you quit in disgrace…”) busted with his pregnant wife Karen (Loryn Locklin) trying to sneak out of the country because it’s illegal to give birth twice. They both end up at the Fortress, a giant underground, privately owned prison. The convicts become property of the Men-Tel Corporation and used for prison labor. Their job: to keep building further into the ground, making more room for more convicts to build even further. That’s my favorite concept in the movie because it so deviously illustrates the problem of the prison industrial complex. Zed-10, the computer program that runs the place (voice of the director’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon), keeps saying the Men-Tel slogan “Crime does not pay.” But of course for them it does. (read the rest of this shit…)
If you count TV movies – and I do – JERICHO MILE is Michael Mann’s directivational debut. It’s not as cinematic as his later big, wide movies, but it’s from the days when TV movies were legit enough to play theatrically overseas. It also stood out from other TV at the time, winning Emmies for writing, lead actor (over Kurt Russell in ELVIS!) and film editing for a limited series or special, and a Director’s Guild Award for “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Special/Movies for TV/Actuality.” (?)
It’s a prison movie, and you know Mann isn’t gonna want to soften that up. I mean, it’s TV so we don’t get any profanity, racial slurs or rape, but it’s still got a gritty feel because it was filmed in Folsom with the real inmates all around, and plenty of establishing montages that are clearly just documentary footage. You can definitely tell that some of the supporting players are real cons. I wasn’t surprised when I read that Mann had to negotiate for each of the race gangs (white, black and Latin) to have representatives on screen and vow to prevent any race wars or riots during filming so the production wouldn’t be kicked out. I mean obviously it’s an unwritten rule on pretty much all movie sets that the actors should not be involved in any race wars. But I still give them credit for not having one. Apparently there were a bunch of stabbings, one fatal, but those were allowed. (read the rest of this shit…)