Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Red Dawn (1984)

 An accurate portrayl of everything this movie has to offer

Red Dawn is a "What If" story about what it might have been like if America was invaded in the 1980's by Soviet, Cuban and Nicaraguan armies. I had never seen this movie and passed it up hundreds of times in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart, but when I saw it as a 2-pack with Navy Seals in the very same $5 bin, I had to get it. I even bought a copy for Mark as a late Christmas present (breaking our old tradition of buying eachother only edible gifts). I don't know why, but I never had enough interest in this movie to even read the description, so I had no idea what I was in for. And what was I in for? Maybe the most violent movie I've seen in my adult life (for some reason I saw some horribly violent movies as a kid... I came out alright though). The story focuses around a group of young high school kids (most importantly Charlie Sheen as Matt and C. Thomas Howell as Robert) and Patrick Swayze who plays Charlie Sheen's older brother, Jed. 

Not the Brat Pack

What I appreciated about this movie is that it didn't waste any time getting into the action. Jed drops off his little brother at school and before he can even get out of the parking lot, the Soviets have parachuted and opened fire on a history teacher, interrupting his foreshadowing lecture on the wars of Genghis Khan. The shit storm has started. The troops open fire on the unsuspecting kids and even fire rockets down the hallways. Amidst all the gunfire and confusion,  Matt and Robert are able to run fast to the parking lot where Jed is waiting to give them a ride in his pickup

They are lucky to escape town, which has been completely taken over by enemy troops, and make their getaway to the mountains where they will spend the next couple of months learning how to shoot guns and be men. And how exactly do you become a man? Well, for starters you could kill a deer and then drink its blood. That's what C. Thomas Howell does anyway. Matt and Jed apparently already did that when they were younger and hunted with their father, so they think that it's normal and that everyone should do it. Matt says, "Once you do that, there's going to be something different about you... always!" Well if that ain't the truth! He sure must have the "spirit of the deer" in him, because from this point on, he is a killing machine with no remorse (you know, like a deer). He'd rather wear the scalp of his dead enemies than ever be caught wearing his Star Wars hat with flipped up visor ever again. He honestly becomes too tough for his own good, but has a new sense of school pride when he starts yelling out "Wolverines" (his school's mascott) when he kills people. If school ever re-opens and they make a new sport that involves blowing shit up with rockets, he could totally be the captain.


"A Wolverine!"
Towards the begining of the film, Jed says "It's World War Three down there", but we're not sure if it actually is WWIII until Powers Boothe comes parachuting in to confirm that yes, it is in fact World War Three down there. I'm pretty sure the only point of his character, who's name is Andy, is to give the viewer all the exposition that, up until this point, was missing. He describes how horriffic the war has been and how much of the country has been invaded, blah blah blah. He delivers his lines the same way he later does in Rapid Fire, like a hard boiled detective and much like in that movie, he makes it work. It's like Mark said to me the other day. "It's like he's just too grizzled and badass for reality." But maybe that's just the way he talks.

Everybody's dead!

So far I've mentioned two people that are pretty badass in this movie, C. Thomas Howell and Powers Boothe. Swayze doesn't quite reach the standards set by his fellow castmates even though at one point he does tell everyone to "Never cry again!", but then breaks his own rule by sneaking off into the woods to weep like a little girl. That's not to say that little girls can't be badasses though. Take Jennifer Grey for example. She's a small girl, but manages to be the toughest person in this movie by far. She doesn't say much, but she manages to blow up a tank and a building filled with soldiers. Who needs rockets when you can hand deliver bombs? She even takes a bullet from a helicopter like a champ.

The movie is a little dated based on the fact that the entire story hinges on the audience believing that the Soviets would invade the US. I was born the year this movie came out, so I barely lived in a world where there was a Soviet Union (they dissolved in 1991). All I know is that when I was second grade, our classes got new maps and people started calling it Russia. But even if it was a completely fictional idea that involved a made-up country, the idea of WWIII taking place in the United States is still terrifying. Apparently they are remaking this movie for a 2010 release and instead of the Cold War scare, they are using the terror of a Post 9/11 world. Shouldn't they change the title? I thought the "Red" part of Red Dawn was in reference to the color of the Soviet flag?

Best Quote: Jed and Matt's dad, Mr. Eckert, played by Harry Dean Stanton, yelling to his sons from behind a fence at the local Drive-In turned Prison Camp "Avenge Me!... AVENGE ME!!!

Body Count: Honestly there is no way to keep track of all of them. I tried, I really really tried, but even with pausing the movie and counting the piles of bodies I couldn't keep track. Here's what a 1984 article from the New York Times has to say:
"The National Coalition on Television Violence has condemned the summer hit ''Red Dawn'' as the most violent movie ever made. The fantasy about third-world troops invading a small Colorado town averages 134 acts of violence an hour..."

Point Blank Kills: Again, too many to count. Everyone does it though like it ain't no thang to shoot a guy in the face.

-by Ben Stumpf

Navy Seals (1990) - by Mark Oswald

Navy fuckin’ Seals, man.

These guys are out of control and truly outrageous judging by this 1990 action film by Cujo and Jewel of the Nile director, Lewis Teague. Okay, so maybe they’re just slightly outrageous, but the needle is tipped into the TK red zone by the antics of hot shot Charlie Sheen. Don’t believe me? You want proof? Well fine. His shenanigans include, but are not limited to, jumping out of a car and off a bridge on his way to a fellow Seal’s wedding, riding a bike after a tow truck that snatched his convertible for being parked on the green at a golf course, and then liberating it once he catches up. AND before any of this, he is introduced waking up on the beach, and he may or not have been wearing a Hawaiian shirt…like I said, out.rageous.

Dammit Sheen, what don't you get about "ALIENS reunion photo shoot"?!

I’ve heard about this movie for a while, and it had (in my head at least) been built up to a Road House level of entertainment. I’m sorry to say, that such perilous heights were not quite reached. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it though. I actually found it to be a solid action movie that might as well have doubled for an actual Navy Seals recruitment campaign. I mean, if I had only this film to go on, I’d be signed up already. They look like they’re having a great freakin’ time! Drinking, shooting, jumping out of helicopters, scaring the shit out of commie left wing journalists, and my personal favorite, homoerotic golf montages set to “The Boys Are Back in Town.” Again, count me in! And don’t worry; I’ll bring the neon shorts. Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say there may be just a tad of embellishment going on.
Biehn says, "Stay frosty"

I mentioned Charlie Sheen before, but he’s technically not the “Lead” in this. That honor goes to the “Hero of the 80’s” himself, Michael Biehn. I’ve always loved this guy, probably due to his performances in The Terminator and Aliens, which were of course both directed by James Cameron. He also appeared in Cameron’s The Abyss, (but I didn’t see that till a few years ago). Sadly, outside of the 80’s his career didn’t quite blossom like he and I presumed it would (should). The only other things I’ve really seen him in have been supporting roles in Tombstone, The Rock, and more recently, the Planet Terror half of Rodriguez/Tarantino’s Grindhouse double feature, which he was awesome in. I loved his interaction which Jeff Fahey as his brother in that film, and I’d love to see a film based just around those two characters; great stuff. Going back to The Rock, though, his character in that film and Navy Seals could’ve been the same one for all I know, apart from having different names, of course. He was simply born to play these stern military badasses. Give him a gun and a com-link and he’s good to go. Other members of the team include Biehn’s Aliens co-star, Bill Paxton in a less jokey and less…um…big role, as the squad’s sniper, and Dennis Haysbert who you would all probably recognize as President David Palmer from 24, or at least those All State Insurance commercials (“Are you in good hands?”).

One thing I really liked about the final confrontation in this film is that I felt it had a real sense of danger to it. The Seal team was in enemy territory, outnumbered like you wouldn’t believe, having to run from cover to cover, and I really got the feeling that any of these characters could bite it at any time.

As I mentioned before though, the movie didn’t quite fill up the ridiculous cheese quota I had prematurely assigned to it. Maybe this was my fault, or maybe its reputation simply preceded it; regardless I enjoyed it as a solid bit of 80’s action cinema (And yes, I know it came out in 1990, but in terms of action movies, early 90’s is still technically late 80’s).

I’ve been informed by my Soda on the Roof cohort, Ben, that this film is not as good as Red Dawn, which he purchased along with this as one of those two movies in one case deals, but I have yet to see that one, so until then…stay tuned.

Body Count – 47

Lame Charlie Sheen one-liners – 17

Times Sheen is outrageous – 10 (Though I could’ve missed one…or 12, who knows; he’s crazy!)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rapid Fire (1992)

Brandon Lee plays Jake Lo, a pissed off art student studying in L.A. The source of his anger? He watched his father get flattened by a tank in Tiananmen Square. The last thing he wants to talk about is what happened to his dad that night, so when he is asked by a fellow student to attend a Tiananmen benefit dinner to share his story and raise awareness of what happened there, he declines. It seems that all he wants to do is draw and maybe find a nice girl and it looks like things are going his way when the nude model from his drawing class asks him out on a date. When he goes to meet her that night, he realizes that this girl tricked him and he's actually at the Tiananmen benefit. What a bitch.

At the benefit Jake witnesses a murder and starts his long series of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If ever there were a film genre "wrong place, wrong time" this movie would be the poster child. They even say it a few times. Anyway, the murder is committed by one of our two major villains, Tony Serrano (played by Nick Mancuso who plays a dirty DEA agent in Today You Die. Tony is an Italian American (they make this clear by showing him eating pasta constantly and saying things like "bada bing") The murder starts a war between him and his former friend Tommy, an Asian drug lord who refuses to give Tony a bigger cut of his heroin business.  Now Tony wants the witness, Jake, dead and the Feds want to bring Jake to Chicago, Tony's home base,  to help take Tony down.

 When I bought this movie, I had never seen it, but was wishing for a non stop action ride. Wish granted. The action is easy to come by and really well done. Brandon Lee is excellent in the fight scenes and not too bad when required to act. I especially like his relationship with ultra good cop Mace Ryan, played by Powers Boothe. Boothe delivers every line as if he were a 1930's hard boiled detective, but he makes it work. He's as tough as nails, but has a heart of gold and is more worried about getting the job done than his own health.

The film's tag line is "Unarmed And Extremely Dangerous", but this isn't entirely true. There are plenty of instances where Jake has either a gun or knife or metal rod, but something happens to him every time he uses one of these things. Jake seems to be disgusted by weapons and always throws them away after using them even when he needs them most (this is usually done in slow motion). Perhaps Jake prefers to fight hand-to-hand. We already know he is highly trained in martial arts as we are shown in the the slow motion fighting scene in the opening that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

Overall the movie is a lot of fun and the acting is decent all around. The plot isn't anything new, but the film makers at least do a decent job of making it somewhat logical, unlike most action movies I've watched recently. It has its cheesy moments and over the top scenes, but for me, those are things that make these kinds of movies so entertaining.

It's worth mentioning that this film, like Death Warrant (see Mark's review from 1/4/10) also features Al Leong. I never knew his name until Mark mentioned it, but I recognized him as that guy that was in some movie, or was it some other movie? Turns out he's both "some movie" and "some other movie" and about 100 others.
Included on the DVD is a short promo shot by Fox during the making of this movie that starts out introducing Brandon Lee as "The Action Hero of the 90's". Unfortunately Lee died soon after this during the making of "The Crow", but had he lived, he would definitely have been at least as big as Van Damme or Seagal and I would most likely be collecting his Direct to Video releases.

Body Count: 34

People who have been on "Lost": 2
Raymond J. Barry who played Ray Shephard (Jack's uncle) and  Francois Chau, who plays Dr. Pierre Chang aka Dr. Marvin Candle (Miles' dad)

References to Bruce Lee: 1
Boothe says to Lee "Why don't you take those Fists of Fury outside?"

-By Ben Stumpf

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

American Ninja (1985) - by Mark Oswald

Okay, so this is a movie about ninjas. Real Ninjas. Like the ones you grow up hearing about in books and movies, etc. but you know, realer. So automatically this movie has that in its corner. Plus, the ninjas in this film,(in addition to doing battle with martial arts, throwing stars, swords, boa staffs, and arrows), also come well-equipped with machine guns, flame throwers, and even a wrist laser at one point; Just as they speak of in the stories of old… This is some serious shit right here. On the other side of the ninja star, however, the filmmakers aren’t going to be held back in their pursuit of cinematic excellence, so yes this is a movie about ninjas, but definitely not those ancient, uber-traditional, super conformist ninjas. This movie is all about updating for the 20th century. So we also have an American Ninja in this thing, and as you may have guessed (probably not from the title or anything), the story revolves around him. Who is our titular American Ninja you ask? Well the character goes by the name of Private Joe Armstrong, the actor goes by Michael Dudikoff and kind of looks like a low-rent Warren Beatty.

I had always seen these copies of American Ninja and it’s four sequels in video stores when I was a kid cruising for that new action fix, but never went ahead with the rental. It was only within the last couple years that I had been hearing more and more about the first in the series from other like-minded souls across the Internet. So I took the plunge, and the plunge was deep, and vast, and long, and…really about what you would expect from a movie called American Ninja. And what exactly would you expect? Well I don’t know what you did, but I expected cheesy awesomeness, and my friends, I got it. You see, this film comes from the production company known as Golan-Globus, a veritable Action treasure chest in the 80’s. They turned out some notable mayhem in the form of Death Wish II, Breakin’, Runaway Train, Missing in Action 3, Cyborg, Delta Force 2, and my personal favorite, Masters of the Universe; but that’s another review altogether.

Now with this being my only performance to base Dudikoff’s action chops on, I’ll start at the beginning. We are introduced to Joe almost immediately, coolly leaning on an army truck while flipping around a switchblade knife. He’s wearing military fatigues, so we know that he must be a soldier at the military base where half of the film takes place. There are other soldiers hanging out nearby, playing hacky sack. When their ball gets launched away from them, it of course lands right in front of Pvt. Armstrong. So what does Joe do? Kick it back to them? Pick it up and walk it over? Nope. He just keeps standing there flipping his knife. What an asshole! Nah, Joe just doesn’t like to get involved with things unless he has to. This involves but is not limited to picking up hacky sacks and fighting his fellow soldiers for bragging rights. All Joe really seems to enjoy doing is hanging around, not saying a word until he is needed…to kick ass. Fortunately for us, he does in fact kick a lot of ass in this movie. He’s one of the “shit magnets” you hear about so often in Badass Cinema. Another thing about Joe that you should know is that he’s lost his memory. He doesn’t remember why he knows how to kick ass, he just does it when called upon.

We find out later that as a child he was trained by a middle-aged Asian man in the ways of the ninja. Throughout the movie he has quick flash backs to his training sessions where he mastered the art of Ninjitsu while wearing a shirt, fashioned into a diaper as opposed to actual pants. Must help with the kicks. Seriously, I’ve never even seen Van Damme pull any of that shit. In the fight scenes, Dudikoff seems to handle himself reasonably well for the most part and he actually does do a lot of ninja-esque sneaking around, so they were really keeping the theme alive in this one.

Aside from the main man attraction, what else do we have going on around here? I have to mention the presence of Perennial Action Sidekick, Steve James. This guy is always a lot of fun to watch. He is 6’ 1”, jacked, and consistently over the top. He’s been a part of classics like The Warriors, Vigilante, The Delta Force, Avenging Force (also Starring Dudikoff), American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, Johnny Be Good, Hero and the Terror, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt, McBain, and another of my personal favorites, Weekend at Bernies 2.

What about the villain, you ask? Well I gotta say I really don’t remember too much about him other than that he was an asshole and, according to my notes, talked as if he had a mouth full of Sour Patch Kids.

Well that about does it for American Ninja. This movie was a lot of cheesy action fun; Perfect for a night in with the guys, or a particularly cool girlfriend.

Body Count - 128 (roughly)

Number of times Dudikoff “jumps out of the way” - 9

Monday, January 4, 2010

Death Warrant (1990) - by Mark Oswald

In my recent quest to have the “definitive action movie collection”, I have become more open to revisiting titles that weren’t exactly my top picks when I had first seen them years before. In the special case of Mr. Van Damme, I have already paid a returning visit to his films, Sudden Death and Maximum Risk. Neither were my favorites by the Muscles from Brussels when I was growing up. I had always looked fonder upon the likes of Hard Target, Timecop, and Double Impact. But like I said, I’ve become more open minded while compiling my action movie library, and when I purchased and watched these films again, I found them both to be highly entertaining. Especially in the case of Sudden Death, which is probably now one of my JCVD favorites.

With Death Warrant, where Jean-Claude plays a cop who goes undercover in a prison to find out who’s been killing his fellow inmates, it was a similar case, however after viewing the film once again, my original opinion hasn’t shifted all that much. That opinion is that Death Warrant is a movie that, while not exactly “bad”, in terms of late 80’s/early 90’s action cinema, doesn’t really have much to offer either. I mean Van Damme is strutting around, kicking people in the face as usual, and the conspiracy story surrounding him isn’t that bad, but unfortunately the way it all plays out didn’t do much for me as a whole. I’m not going to spoil what the actual conspiracy is, but I’ll at least say that I didn’t see it coming, so good for them on that front. There are other good things going on in this movie too, so I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing it. For instance, any time in any JCVD movie, that the filmmakers actually acknowledge the fact that Van Damme was clearly born in a foreign country (in this one he’s from Quebec, Canada), I’m willing to tip my proverbial hat to them.

As far as the villain goes, he actually seems to be a pretty formidable opponent for Van-Damme. He is The Sandman, played by Patrick Kilpatrick (now there’s a name!). I knew that I recognized him from somewhere and it turns out that Van Damme is not the only action hero that he has faced off with. He took on Seagal in Under Siege 2, Schwarzenegger in Eraser, and Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing. In this one, he’s got the extreme creep-factor in his corner. He's also constantly blabbing about how he’s, “The Sandman, and you can’t kill the Sandman”, or something, and I have to say that in many instances he actually makes a pretty good case for himself. In their final battle, he seems to come out of nowhere to attack Van Damme. This clearly flusters our hero and gives us some cause for concern, which doesn’t always happen in these kinds of films. That brings me to another good thing the movie did for itself. It made you worry about Van Damme's character for a good portion of the movie. First of all, he’s a cop, in prison, where cops aren’t looked too fondly at  (see also, Tango & Cash). Then he pisses of the Hispanics, has to meet with the weirdo “mystical inmate” guy that they always have in prison movies, who lives in a different area than the general population. This guy ends up being an ally, but at first he just seems like a genuine whack-job. There’s also a part towards the end where he seems to be getting chased down a corridor by the entire prison population. Then he’s got to worry about the corrupt guards, who even after they find out he’s a cop, do nothing to help him because, you know, they’re dirty (as in crooked, not dirtayyy). So things are pretty well stacked against our hero, and you end up rooting for him all the more because of it.

As I said before, the movie wasn't all that satisfying for me. One thing is that the fights aren’t shot in a very realistic manner, or at very good angles where it actually looks like people are punching and kicking each other. There also isn’t really all that much action. The movie gets bogged down with the mysterious, “What’s happening to the inmates?” plot. Mystery plots in action movies are always a dangerous balance. The movies typically aren’t highbrow enough to spend the necessary time crafting a really solid whodunit. In Death Warrant, I know I said that the actual conspiracy turned out to be pretty good, but it just doesn’t play out in a way that’s especially interesting. Oddly enough, the story was written by Batman Begins and Blade scribe, David S. Goyer. I guess this explains the whole Sandman thing, which sort of sounds like a character that might show up in a Blade or Batman movie. Not Spiderman though. Not at all…

So in closing this out, I’d say that this film is primarily recommended to serious Van Damme fans, or fans of the ‘prison movie’ genre. For better examples of Van Dammage I’d recommend Sudden Death, Timecop, and most definitely The Muscles’ newest flick, JCVD, which I can honestly say was one of my very favorite movies of 2008. Truly a sight to be seen.

One more thing I have to mention, though, is the appearance of Al Leong, a familiar face to any respectable action movie fan. He’s had small parts in films including, but not limited to, Big Trouble in Little China, Lethal Weapon, Action Jackson, Die Hard (pictured), They Live, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Perfect Weapon, Rapid Fire, Army of One, Beverly Hills Cop 3, The Shadow, Double Dragon, Escape from L.A., The Replacement Killers, and Godzilla. I miss not seeing him pop up in random movies these days, always sporting the skullet and long goatee, and always ready to fight. I guess that his absence may be one of the true signs that The Golden Age of Action Cinema is truly behind us. Here’s hoping for a new renaissance though!

Body Count (including offscreen/implied) - 9

Times JCVD kicks someone in the face - 14 (He knows what the people come to see)