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Sudden Death (1995)
4/10
Slow, boring death
26 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
In the post-Die Hard and pre-Matrix world almost every action movie was labelled as a Die Hard clone whether or not the term was justified. Passenger 57 is not Die Hard on a Plane, it's an action movie with Wesley Snipes. Under Siege is not Die Hard on Battleship, it's a military/espionage thriller with Steven Seagal. Sudden Death however absolutely IS an utterly shameless Die Hard rip-off and for this reason I will compare the two mercilessly.

Things get off to a sluggish start with long, white text on black screen credits before we finally fade in to a suburban Pittsburgh street where a fire crew is attending a burning house. Darren McCord (Van Damme) is trapped in the basement with a little girl and loses her when the ceiling collapses on him. Haunted by her sudden death, he loses his edge and quits the job.

Flash-forward two years and he's a single man, losing his kids to a wife who clearly couldn't understand that he permanently damaged his psyche in his effort to provide for his own family. For his son's birthday he wants to treat him to a hockey match at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. It's the 7th game of the Stanley Cup and every seat in the house will be taken (mostly by obvious cardboard cut-outs). The Vice President will even be in attendance. With his adorable, yet bratty, sister in tow (Whittni Wright, by far the best actor in the movie, oddly) they are dismayed by their dad's low-octane fire safety routine as he works around them at the arena.

After what feels like forty years pass, a group of hired guns led by cruel Secret Service man Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe, doing great work with poor material) eventually seize control of the owners box holding the Vice President and his chums, demanding billions of dollars in used 20s and a cab to the airport if their demands are not met. At the point where the movie is about to keel over and die McCord eventually figures out that something is not quite right and sets about saving the Arena and rescuing his daughter who has been purloined by Foss' men.

There's plenty to complain about but I'll start with the very poor editing by Steven Kemper. It's not that the movie is incoherent or anything, but from a narrative and pacing angle this is probably one of the worst edited movies I have ever seen. There is a 20-minute segment where Van Damme just disappears. He's the lead! He should be on-screen about 80% of the time! His tough-guy ultimatum to Powers Boothe over the phone comes way too late in the movie. I refer to his character as Joshua Foss in this review but it should be noted that not once in the movie is his name actually revealed. Can you imagine if they edited Die Hard so that every utterance of "Hans Gruber" was removed and you never knew who Alan Rickman was supposed to be?

The scenes inside the owner's box feel like they belong in a completely different movie. There's nothing connecting Foss' dominance of that location to any other part of the arena. Who is calling the shots? Why do cars in the parking lot suddenly explode? Who is in charge of those detonations? Why does Carla kill Joan to wear her penguin outfit? What good does that do? Why does Carla kill the woman in the ladies room? Who removes Carla's corpse from the kitchen? That is a major plot hole that simply does not make sense. Any villain who removed it off-screen would have known that a would-be hero was in the arena. What happens to the wreck of the first chopper shot out of the sky (in a very bad, awkwardly cut effect). The cops dangling from it land on the cars below but the chopper itself just vanishes.

Foss tells the authorities to transfer one third of the money during each third of the game or he will kill people inside the owners box. An ice hockey game consists of three 20-minute rounds with two 15-minute breaks in-between. This, by default, creates a perfect 90-minute time compression in which Sudden Death should have been edited to real time. But there is simply no physical way that the events seen can take place in that window unless characters have the ability to warp and teleport around the building. By the time McCord learns that there are bombs planted all over the arena (by who and when?) there's already less than one hour left. There's simply no way he'd have enough to time to locate them (by guesswork), diffuse them and fight the bad guys. It's impossible. We only see him diffuse a couple, leaving potentially lots more intact, yet when Foss eventually pushes the trigger there's just one explosion which destroys a water valve.

McCord only offs a small handful of bad guys during the entire movie, leaving many of them either knocked-out or just letting them get away. Wooton, the Sugarman Driver, Brody, Pratt, Briggs (their names are never revealed outside of the end credits) - they all get away. Can you imagine if John McClane allowed Karl, Tony, Franco, and Heinrich to just walk out of Nakatomi Plaza?

One scene has the useless Feds outside find the dead bodies of their undercover men thrown back out onto the street via a Zamboni rig. One Fed says to another "There's something you need to see," then they actually drive out to a location where they see the Zamboni appear on the horizon, driven by a dead body (how?) where it conveniently stops before a barricade of police cars and opens it load (who is operating this?) spilling the corpses onto the ground. How does anything in this scene make sense?

The casting leaves a lot to be desired too. Peter Hyams, if he had any hand in it at all, clearly just hired people from the local area with not much experience instead of employing actually imposing stunt men or Hollywood day players for the job. Many of these villains are horrible, scraggly, ratty little men that Van Damme could easily knock-out with a miss. Faith Minton, as Carla, is the only one who is a formidable opponent for Van Damme, and she's the first one to die. Even supporting characters such as the chef with the completely diagonal mouth are irritating, and the acting is mostly atrocious. Jack Erdie as Scratch is particularly terrible, but the frequently rotten dialogue doesn't help anyone. The phone call between McCord and Foss is embarrassingly bad.

There's a misconception that this movie was written as a comedy before being retooled as an action movie. That is incorrect. Karen Baldwin was the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time and wrote the story as a way of featuring her own unique location in an action movie (she's actually in the movie too not as herself, while another actress plays the part of her, which is rather odd). Gene Quintano, known mostly for writing comedies such as Police Academy and Loaded Weapon, then turned that story into the script.

For a supposed action film, Sudden Death really only comes to life in the final ten minutes as the clock strikes zero and the game goes into overtime/Sudden Death before McCord scales the dome, swings from the ceiling and storms the owners box. Everything before that is very badly done with Van Damme not even present in his own action scenes. Ever since accidentally blinding a stuntman on Cyborg and getting sued JCVD has never shot fight scenes in the US so we're treated to shots of a very obvious stunt double fighting with jarring inserts of Van Damme falling to the ground and reacting to punches someone else is receiving. It's so bad. There is, what is intended to be, an action scene in a locker room where Van Damme and his opponent fire suppressed micro-Uzis at each other but there's no actual choreography or stunt design, so the bullets just uselessly spark off the weights and gym equipment or shatter the mirrors on the wall. Without these basic effects the fact that they're obviously firing blanks would become all too apparent.

In 1995 CGI effects were beginning to seep into medium-to-big budgeted movies. The effects of True Lies, Forrest Gump, or The Mask still look good today, but Sudden Death has no CGI and features some very bad optical effects. The compositing, especially on the climactic helicopter crash, look absolutely appalling. There's movies from the 1950s that have better opticals than this. Why is Foss even escaping by helicopter anyway when he clearly disguised himself to escape with the panicking crowds.

No one brought their best effort to Sudden Death, other than 7-year-old Whittni Wright who is quite compelling (such an odd thing to say about an action film). There are some merits though. John Debney provides a decent musical score and Peter Hyams (always his own cinematographer) fills the movie with lots of darkness, flares, gloom and anamorphic Panavision compositions that are clearly taking a lot of cues from Jan De Bont's career-defining work on Die Hard.

Though he's terrible here, I do believe that Van Damme can be a very good actor when given the right material. He has charisma and intelligence and deserves to be a movie star, which is more than I can say for contemporaries like Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum. Sudden Death is no one's finest hour and all the tough guys and technical skills involved are upstaged by a 7-year-old girl.

Pathetic!
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Peppermint (2018)
4/10
Butterscotch
25 January 2020
Is there anything more formulaic than a revenge thriller? Perhaps a romantic comedy? Jennifer Garner can now call herself a veteran of both, but the romantic comedy has thankfully disappeared over the last decade while trashy action movies still find their way to cinema screens. In the 1980s Peppermint would be a shameless Cannon Films vehicle and star either Cynthia Rothrock or Chelsea Field. In 2017 it's a starring role for the underused Garner who seems to have let her career take a backseat while she raises her ungrateful husband's children.

Still trying to sell herself as 35, the 45-year-old Garner is Riley North, a working class mother doing her best to raise her daughter and keep her household afloat. When her husband and child are killed in a senseless drive-by she wakes from a coma weeks later to find them already dead and buried while the killers are set free on a ludicrous technicality. Riley then disappears off the face of the Earth for five years only to suddenly show up once more leaving a trail of dead bodies behind her.

As purile and tawdry as it is, Peppermint could have been a lot better. Taken director Pierre Morel appeals to our primal desire for bloodlust and payback but damn is this film U-G-L-Y. The setting of modern-day Los Angeles captures the grottiness often unseen in movies that still portray it as a sunny paradise and not the homeless hellhole it has become but there's no need for such dour, static, empty, drab cinematography and epileptic editing. The production values of this movie could have been found in the discount bin at the 99-cent store. Cheap, quick, and nasty, and with noticeably obvious deleted scenes that were likely cut for pacing but leaves a lot unexplained.

This is a lazy, by-the-numbers dumpster fire and it probably would have been better if it were made in 1985 for a quarter of the budget.

The title is also meaningless, btw.
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4/10
The Last Viewing
25 January 2020
The late 90s were a wasteland of action stars starring in crash-and-burn duds beset by production problems, low budgets, and multiple name changes. I can name ten such movies off the top of my head and The Last Patrol is but another.

Set in California after an earthquake has isolated it from the rest of America (via footage stolen from Dante's Peak) there is a mild allusion to pre-millennium doom before settling in with a ragtag group of survivors in a desert outpost led by Dolph Lundgren. There is a muddled plot about a plague killing off the population while occasionally cutting to a secondary plot involving a heroin farm operated by a death row inmate freed from the electric chair at the moment of the quake. None of it stitches together very well, though the material is more ponderous than I anticipated but it has ideas well beyond its meagre budget. It seems to be going for a Mad Max vibe but with a slightly goofy, oddball tone.

The Last Patrol could have benefited from a re-write by a more experienced writer but the executive producers wouldn't allow their own script to be altered. Director Sheldon Lettich, who was a low-level mover and shaker in many Stallone, Van Damme, and Lundgren movies of the era, capably directs what little action there is with no particular flair. There are a couple of striking shots in there but its mostly all very flat with no thought given to camera blocking or composition. It was actually shot in Israel, and you might recognize a couple of locations from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. David Michael Frank (a once talented composer who seems to have just disappeared) provides an okay score that sounds a helluva lot like Uru: Ages Beyond Myst but precedes it by four years. There's a couple of oddities in the casting too. Sherri Alexander ended up giving birth to her first child at the age of 45 a decade later, and a few months after the death of her husband, who never got to see his child come into the world. That man was Michael Crichton! Also, the actor who plays the villain was assassinated in Palestine for corrupting the local Islamic youth by bringing theatre and and performance art into their community. Pretty heavy stuff! Other than that there's nothing notable here.

I don't think this movie even got released in the UK. It certainly never showed up in Blockbuster during my 5-year tenure in the 2000s. The end credits imply that it was intended for cinema exhibition but it's clearly not marketable any territory. I can't imagine anyone giving this a second viewing and it has rightfully ended up in obscurity.
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1/10
The truth is not in here
20 January 2020
A real Amityville horror did occur, that is for certain. Ronald Defeo murdering his entire family did happen. The oddities surrounding the murders been fully understood. Then George Lutz and his blended family came along and moved into the murder house on Ocean Ave and they lasted less than a month, claiming that the house was haunted. The supernatural horror of the Ocean Ave house has never been proven or disproven, but there have been innumerable attempts to cash-in on its notoriety, including (currently) fourteen movies and umpteen novels.

This "documentary" features Daniel Lutz, the ex-treme-ly angry stepson of George Lutz, who has multiple obvious mental health issues. He is selling this 85-minute insight into the supernatural occurrences in the house as "his story". Okay...so when are you going to actually tell your story, Danny? Because you don't tell it here. A window might have slammed shut on your fingers but that doesn't prove anything. This movie is a gigantic nothing burger. He loses all credibility he might have been loaned when he goes on about George Lutz moving things in the garage with newly found telekinetic powers because he read-up on it in a book. Um...it doesn't work that way.

Daniel Lutz is clearly a desperate, confused man with very poor recollection (no matter how much he claims the opposite). Why did he even agree do to this documentary? He says he doesn't like talking about it, mumbles a little bit, then gives us no real information. There's no "his version" of events here. There's almost no content to this movie. The only interesting part is the interview with the late Lorraine Warren.

The phenomenon of the Amityville horror house can be summed up by a few simple components - greed, the public's love for scary stories, and mass hysteria. I do believe something very unusual and likely supernatural happened there, but it's been exploited and misinterpreted into obscurity over the years and the last thing we need is a self-pitying, deeply angry Daniel Lutz muddying the waters with his arrogance and nonsense.

A complete waste of time.

Oh, and the shot of Daniel Lutz trying to look hard-man-cool by lighting a cigarette in front of the horror house at the very beginning is obviously a green-screen effect as the owners of the house do like such attention and I doubt he would return to the scene after all these years.
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8/10
How to make Good Bad Boys - Subtract Michael Bay
19 January 2020
I don't think that the original Bad Boys is a great movie (or a particularly good one) but it WAS lightening in a bottle and the correct mix of talents at the right time. It kickstarted the career Michael Bay and turned Will Smith from a TV star into a movie star. It took an unusual amount of time for the sequel to arrive and by the time summer 2003 came around we were treated/subjected to Michael Bay at his absolute worst with full creative autonomy. Bad Boys II is one of the most utterly repugnant films I have ever seen and I once thought that it killed the series forever. In the nearly seventeen years since its release there has been lots of talk about a Bad Boys III but with the once high-flying, then stalling career of Will Smith and the non-star power of Martin Lawrence there was never a right moment.

Thankfully, the long wait meant that Michael Bay was off the project. Instead Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are calling the shots and new writers are involved, and it's far, far superior to either of the previous movies with some truly shocking moments that will have you holding your breath. What a happy surprise.

Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowry are now in their 50s and feeling the toll that their lifestyle has taken on their bodies, though Mike is in denial about it. They know that they are nearing the end of their careers and partnership but are finding transitioning into the next phase of their lives difficult. Meanwhile, a maniacal villainess down in Mexico is planning a series of revenge executions with Mike Lowry as the final target into backstory before the events of first movie and ties them all together.

The bad guys in the first two movies were just cardboard cut-outs with little-to-zero motivation while Marcus and Mike themselves had rather poor character development, relying too much on the ad-libbed chemistry between the stars and the perceived idea of childish "cool" that they were supposed to exhibit. Bad Boys for Life delivers so much, much more than that. Not only is the directing more mature and restrained but the writing is far superior, giving everyone depth, meaningful dialogue, and some really involving conflict and character development.

This movie is "Bad Grown-Ups". Michael Bay makes movies for angry teenage boys, but Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have superseded him and delivered the absolute best in the series so far. You could call it a million times better than Bad Boys II but a million times nothing is still nothing, though it's better than that. I went in with expectations lower than minus infinity and was quite surprised and taken aback. Lorne Balfe even brings back Mark Mancina's original themes, which Trevor Rabin unwisely ditched for the second movie.

I'd like to see Bad Boys for Life be the success that it deserves. Will Smith's career has been a trainwreck for a long time now, and with the recent bomb of Gemini Man still haunting him it would restore his credibility if Bad Boys for Life did bigger business than Bad Boys II. The theatre I went to was packed for an afternoon showing, so it's looking promising. They've made a silk purse out of a pig's ear and in the process they have, by accident, bigged-up the first two movies. Michael Bay does make a cameo as a wedding announcer, but that's the limit of his involvement, and everyone is better off for it.
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Krampus (I) (2015)
6/10
The Real Bad Santa
20 December 2019
I've abstained from reviewing Krampus since I first saw it in the cinema four years ago as I could never figure out what the movie's problems and strengths were, but after seeing the movie five times now and feeling the same frustrations over and over I think I've got it sussed.

Krampus is best described as a combination of Christmas Vacation and Gremlins, opening with a satire of mindless Yuletide consumerism before settling in with a middle-class family in the suburbs including German grandma, emotionally distant teen daughter, and idealistic son. Their cheer is soon ruined by the arrival of extended family who bring trashy, redneck values that are at odds with the atmosphere of the household. After mocking the poor son's belief in Santa Claus and his desire for a wholesome family Christmas he decides not to mail his letter to the big man and rips it up, surrendering the shreds to the winter wind.

Someone else is the recipient of that letter. Someone darker and malevolent.

A darkness falls over the neighborhood, town, and world, isolating our disparate gang from any outside saviors while a host of nasty creatures invade their safe space, offing them one by one, and it's at this point the movie begins to come apart as the pacing and structure becomes far too chaotic and annoying. A clever kill every ten minutes with clearly defined rules and building mystery would have resulted in a far better movie, but Michael Dougherty fumbles this all-important middle act, leaving the audience desperate and impatient for a quick ending.

The practical effects in this movie are also quite, quite appalling, especially the actual Krampus creature, which barely has any points of articulation. Even the 1987 Garbage Pail Kids looked better than this. Exactly what are his minions supposed to be? What are the rules here? Some wonderfully devilish elves appear but nothing is done with them and they disappear just as fast. The fight against the demonic toys in the attic is terribly done, with nothing clearly shot, and also confusingly intercut with a ridiculous gingerbread man fight in the kitchen. The cutting back and forth between these events neuters both to the point of irrelevance.

In its favor, Krampus has surprisingly good characterisation, an immense amount of atmosphere and a cold, otherworldly feel that really helps sell this as a dark Christmas alternative. So many movies aim to be the new Christmas classic and become an annual tradition but the majority of them fail. Krampus barely makes the grade. This could/should have been a much better movie and I can understand why less patient viewers would dislike it.
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5/10
All the Chuck in the world
7 December 2019
Wow! Let's talk about a trailer overselling a movie. I happened upon the trailer for Invasion USA on another Blu-ray and it seemed to be a Christmas siege flick where Chuck massacres invading forces who have unwisely stepped into his neighborhood. That is absolutely not what this movie is.

Chuck is Matt Hunter, a retired CIA heavy who now makes a living capturing alligators while living in his everglades shack. As he attempts to enjoy his quiet life a plot involving a Russian/Cuban/German/Communist/Whatever invasion very, very slowly boils in the background and eventually leads to all-out war declared on the streets of Miami (actually Atlanta). With a handful of ammo clips and grenades Chuck has it all sorted.

The editing of this film is very poor, but not from a coherence angle. The story flounders, starts, stops, starts, stops, hits a dead end, starts again, stops, roll credits. We cut between Chuck being stoic and beardy and heavily-scarred maniacal villain Rostov (Richard Lynch, who looks like a burns victim combination of Rutger Hauer and Christopher Walken) with scenes of police detectives sandwiched in-between who walk around scenes of devastation bluntly repeating to each other what we've just seen happen. The mutual hatred between hero and villain is built up for the entire movie only for it to climax, rather disappointingly, in a generic, unfurnished office building while a full-scale war rages just outside. Another stupid aspect of this scene is that the intense gunfire and constant explosions are happening mere feet away but the sound editor was so lazy he couldn't be bothered mixing them in for the interior shots. My neighbors heard those sounds of war, and I had my volume at a medium level.

Characters come and go without ever feeling important. No sequence of scenes seems to have any connective tissue. Bad guys plot some evil, Chucks appears out of nowhere and stops them, the police walk around and vocally echo what occurred, rinse and repeat. The movie comes across as a series of vignettes instead of a three-act structure. Why is Christmas even featured for five minutes and never mentioned again? What about New Year? That's not brought up days later either.

Jay Chattaway's score is very boring and sounds a lot like leftover material from Silver Bullet only without the melody. Chattaway has only scored two movies since 1990 but he has worked extensively in television, especially in Star Trek. If the producers spent the money on a better composer it would have made up for the rest of the movie's shortcomings, but 1985 was a busy year for all the big names.

For fans of Chuck this movie is a goldmine of ridiculous action, mindless killing, unbuttoned shirts, and macho hardassery. It's well directed by Joseph Zito, with visceral special. Nerds like me might get a laugh out of the sly Friday the 13th in-joke, Richard Lynch is oddly expressive villain despite his extensive scarring, though it's all badly hurt by the choppy structure. Anyone looking for action driven by an actual story going to be quite frustrated.

I don't often say this, but Invasion USA could do with a remake. The themes of the movie seem to be quite ahead of their time and foresaw the worst nightmares of the Department of Homeland Security all the way back in 1985. It could work quite well with a smart and thoughtful script and a similar commitment to over-the-top violence it could work as an exploitative thriller in the vain of Taken and as a gung-ho war flick like American Sniper. I can see the dollar signs already.
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9/10
Quite quiet
28 November 2019
There are several dsytopian "downer ending" sci-fi apocalypse flicks from the 70s, usually starring Charlton Heston, that predicted and seemingly longed-for an extinction level event to wipe the scourge of mankind from the Earth. It's not happened just yet, so we're doing just a little bit better than those cynical Hollywood visionaries guessed. The Quiet Earth, from 1985, had the benefit of distance in both time and from the mainstream cycle. There's no zombies here, no nuclear armageddon, no volcanos or plagues. Just a man who wakes up one morning to find that there is no one else around, not even cats or dogs, or birds and bees.

Zack Hobson (Bruno Lawrence - an exact cross between Robert Duvall and Lance Henriksen) is that man, a seemingly ordinary suit who is at first mildly miffed than no one is answering the phone, but becomes more and more alarmed as he drives across town to find empty cars, downed airliners, deserted stores, and vacated streets. Where did everybody go? Where is the animal life? Why was he spared?

It's a captivating premise and the first act has a lot of fun with Zack being able to do whatever he wants in this newly empty world before he eventually becomes despairing and desperate. Then the mysterious Joanne shows up. How come there is someone else? What connects them? Through a series of experiments and observations Zack theorizes that his involvement in the top secret "Project Flashflight" is to blame and that a new tangent universe has been created that may be unstable and about to collapse.

There is loads to consume here. The material goes very far and I guarantee that this movie was a huge influence on Christopher Nolan as there are sci-fi elements and themes here that were very loudly echoed in Inception and Interstellar. The ending is wide open to interpretation and is more "Operation Mindf*" than contemporary shocking endings. Nothing is explained for certain, and none of Zach's theories are proven to be accurate but the movie manages to avoid the usual "silly science" that many horrors and sci-fi flicks of the era resorted to when the screenwriting hit a dead end. The science here are actually quite strong and the script feels more like important Philip K. Dick material instead of b-movie nonsense.

Directed by eccentric Kiwi auteur Geoff Murphy, who only ever made eleven films in his entire career, there is nothing in The Quiet Earth that feels dated. The story is timeless (pun intended) and feels fresh every single time you watch it. Considering how much acclaim lesser movies receive it's a shame that it doesn't get more recognition. Of the eleven films that Murphy directed only four were in Hollywood and three of those were sequels with Young Guns 2 his only Oscar-nominated movie and Under Siege 2 the biggest financial success of his career. All of this was in the 90s, by the 2000s he had returned to New Zealand to work on much smaller projects but he did work as a producer on Dante's Peak as well as being Peter Jackson's assistant director for all three Lord of the Rings movies. A small resume he may well have had but he left a huge impression on science fiction with The Quiet Earth which, with it's low budget and high imagination, manages to stand above many of today's $200,000,000 trash flicks.
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Doom Asylum (1988)
5/10
A silly and fun horror comedy
24 November 2019
He 80s was the decade of schlock horror at its most earnest and exploitative. The video stores were packed with more cheap trash than you could possibly count, all with vivid cover art and giant 18-certificates. As a kid the 18 logo meant that you were in for the good stuff (and I suppose it still does, to lesser standards). Despite their low budgets the vast majority of these movies were shot on 35mm, often by contemporary cinematographers in the infancy of their career. The gore effects were practical, the filmmakers were hungry, and there was always an earthy realness to them.

However, about 80% of these movies featured a killer-on-the-loose plot that copied the one-by-one falling dominoes structure of everything from Halloween and Alien all the way to present day trash. Doom Asylum is no different and features a thin plot of a crooked lawyer horribly injured in a car wreck that killed his girlfriend stalking the hospital where they brought his body after the accident. A group of teens arrive to explore and waste the day but confront an all-girl punk band using the building to practice their songs. Thirty years after its release these girls are pure alt-left nutcases. Unknown to them, the horrifically scarred lawyer prowls the grounds and offs them in various gory way.

Doom Asylum makes no effort at seriousness, instead embracing the camp and stupidity in much the same way as Lloyd Kaufman did with his Troma movies. Produced on a meagre budget of $90,000 and shot in an actual abandoned insane asylum there's enough here to warrant curiosity. Writer/director Richard Friedman is clearly struggling very hard to make this movie feature-length, but the material just isn't there. The silly sense of humor and gore effects work well, though the jokey villain is no Freddy Kruger, no matter how hard he tries. The acting is broad and terrible, but acceptable given the nature of the movie. A young Kristen Davis shows up as one of teens looking incredibly cute and wearing a very revealing bathing suit. I'm glad to see that modern women's grooming styles were being pioneered by her in 1987.

The cheap, cheap, cheapness of the movie means it all had to be shot during the daylight, which indirectly gives it a bright and peaceful feel. A lot of horrors use rain and thunder as a way to add easy tension to a scene but Doom Asylum takes place entirely on a quiet and sunny summer day, lending it an odd edge.

Had a better writer given the script a redraft and beefed up the story a little then we could have had a fairly decent 85-minute funhouse. It just barely limps over the finishing line though. Not terrible, but not enough redeeming factors to make it a classic, just notable.
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House IV (1992 Video)
5/10
Four Closure
18 November 2019
And so House IV finishes off Sean Cunningham's secondary horror series (after Friday the 13th) and while it's an improvement on House 3 it doesn't have the maniacal energy of the first two movies, though it's not all bad.

This one has Roger Cobb return and he's inherited another spooky, old house from his recently dead daddy. His brother wants to sell to some evil toxic waste disposal company and cash-in but Roger wants to keep the promise he made to his old man and be a custodian to the house's mysterious past and secrets. After Roger is killed in a car accident his widow begins to experience visions and see ghosts, though they could actually be trying to help her, not scare her.

Original writer Ethan Wiley was not on board for this one, he checked-out after House 2 (still the best one), and a bunch of new writers have all pitched in with their own ideas, and are clearly trying to riff on Twin Peaks at one point, though they don't all add up. House IV was made because Sean Cunningham found himself with a budget for one last movie only he didn't have a script. He owed Lewis Abernathy a favor so allowed him to direct and develop the story. It was only after the script had been through a few drafts and some of the cast had been given their roles that they decided to continue/end the story from the first House by bringing back Roger Cobb. Though they did this very lazily, and I don't think the writing team even bothered to watch the first movie as there is absolutely zero connective tissue. Just a couple of lines of dialogue or a quick reference here and there would have made all the difference.

Shot in November 1990, but not released until 1992 due to marketing issues, House IV has a noticeable drop in production value, mainly down to the naff photography by James Mathers, who's career is all TV drivel and cheap schlock. Mac Ahlberg shot the first three movies with lots of shadow and atmosphere. He understood lighting and mood while Mathers doesn't seem to have a clue or any artistic vision and the quality of the film suffers under his lack of ability.

House 3 killed the accidental tradition of actors from Cheers appearing in this series (a quick cameo from Ted Danson or Frasier himself would have been that movie's saving grace) and House IV does nothing to remedy that, but there are three actors from this rather small cast who went on to appear in Con Air, which is odd.

Harry Manfredini scores all four films, but for budget reasons he's limited to a synthesizer to deliver the music for House IV, much like his terrible score to Jason Goes To Hell, though it's good enough without being the least bit memorable. Trust me, no one is going to be releasing a vinyl soundtrack for this movie.

It still manages to be an oddball horror/comedy and, despite a few shortcomings, holds together just enough to make it a good, if hardly spectacular, end for the House series.

I'm very confused about Lewis Abernathy though. This man has barely any credits at all and House IV is his only venture into directing, with a few other minor credits on smaller films here and there. But he played the significant role of Lewis Bodine (keeping his first name) in Titanic, dropping the movie's only F-bomb if I recall correctly. Who IS this man? I can only assume he became pals with James Cameron from working on Deepstar Six since he's a big fan of deep diving and had a fondness the movie.
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4/10
Anyone laughing at this? Anyone at all?
15 November 2019
I'm quite a fan of Vincent Price's work and the effect he had on horror and pop culture. The works of Tim Burton, Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper, and even Scooby-Doo owe huge debts to "the master of the macabre". But The Comedy of Terrors does him no favors, and seems like a quick, cheap rehash of Trilogy of Terror from the year before, recycling the same actors, sets, and almost the title.

Trumbull and Hinchley (and Gillie) are undertakers stuck in debt who decide to do a little bit of killing to add customers to their list. Prone to the odd bit of deception, murder doesn't seem like a big deal to make a quick buck. It's almost a rehash of the legend of Burke and Hare. Though when they target the man they owe a debt to "hilarity" ensues when he just won't die.

The best kind of comedy is dark, macabre, and sadistic. The first two could have been enough given the nature of the movie, but instead it's overplayed slapstick and far too broad to really appeal to anyone. The characters have an aggravating knack of screaming (or opera singing, very, very badly) at such a high volume you'll want to smash your foot through the TV. It's not funny. Not at all.

I did enjoy the dark anamorphic Panavision photography though, and I miss movies being shot with this aesthetic. Some of the externals shots seem to be filmed in the Hollywood Hills, and I'm certain I've walk along those paths. Other than this the location of the story is never really defined.

For fans only.
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4/10
To let: Empty Lot
15 November 2019
If you were charmed by the fun and high imagination of the first two House movies then you're in for a shock (pun intended) with this third entry as it plays it straight and grim while never managing to find a real identity of its own.

Condemned serial killer Max Jenke (a larger-than-life, as usual, Brion James) is put to death in the electric chair before an audience who are happy to watch him roast, only it takes a few more volts of juice to finish him off. I'm sure you're all familiar with the scene in Green Mile where Percy neglects to wet the sponge. Before dying Jenke makes a promise to Lucas McCarthy (the always compelling Lance Henriksen), the cop who captured him, that he'll come back to haunt him.

There are multiple Treehouse of Horror episodes that have the same set-up and pulled off way more in 7 minutes than this bore does in an hour and a half. House 3 had a six-week shoot but lost original director David Blyth for unknown reasons after only two. He was replaced by the late James Issac, who appeared in House 2 as a cop and would go on to direct Jason X, but neither of them can find a vision with such weak material. The originality and spirit of the first two movies is long gone, leaving House 3 to build a sequence of scenes out of bog-standard tropes and boring cliches. It never feels like its going anywhere and doesn't have the imagination or moxie to become a send-up, instead digging deeper and deeper into its own straight-faced stupidity.

At the time of release the story of killers executed on the chair coming back to torment the people who condemned them was very popular. Prison, Shocker, and The First Power all used this idea (strangely, MGM funded 3 of 4, so they were really into this) and all of them did it better, even if with average end results, as House 3 just squanders everything.

The spirit of House is still with the production team, but the story is garbage. Writer Allyn Warner removed his name from the movie but Leslie Bohem, who would later write Daylight and Dante's Peak, remains credited. I've no idea what went on between these two at the scripting stage but the fact that neither of them could give this movie a soul reeks of laziness.

Lock the doors and put it on the market. No one wants to live here!
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6/10
Do the schlockomotion
11 November 2019
Of the many horror films Cushing and Lee made together Horror Express is one of the lesser-known vehicles (or trains) and has languished in public domain prints for quite some time. It was only when Arrow made a 2K restoration of the original camera negative that the movie even popped up on my radar. I'd never heard it referenced anywhere or read about it in magazines.

Set in 1906 in a snowy Shanghai/Peking (the movie isn't sure which city it is) the movie begins with Christopher Lee discovering a frozen neanderthal in the mountains, which he promptly carts off to be studied. His mode of transport is the Trans-Siberian and it's loaded with meat for killing. Also on board is Peter Cushing as a rival Doctor who is grudgingly bunked with Lee, a spy, a Count and his daughter, and a mad monk. When the frozen primitive begins to thaw and comes back to life, it goes on a killing spree as the train hurtles through the frozen wastelands.

There's a decent amount of wit and cleverness to the script, but this really is pure schlock that resorts to the usual "silly science" that movies of that era had no shame with. It also takes several cues from John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There?, which was previously made into The Thing from Another World, and latterly, John Carpenter's The Thing. You can certainly notice a lot of similarities between these movies but Horror Express has enough of its own gumption to stand alone and not be considered a rip-off.

With a gloomy atmosphere and some shocking kills, Horror Express is fine late-night entertainment if you are in the mood for such schlock. Television Savalas even shows up in the third act as an eccentric Cossack captain who owns the movie for a couple of scenes before things start getting silly again. Rightfully not a classic, but not rightfully forgotten.

Arrow Video presents the movie in 1.66:1 1080p with LCPM Mono sound. The entire movie was shot wild (no sound) with the three lead actors dubbing their own voices in later while everyone else is speaking with some unknown uncredited voice. As such, the movie is never going to sound amazing, though it's good enough, if rather unnatural and a little echo-y but John Cacavas' lush score comes through rather well. There's quite a lot of extras included and overall this is the best home video package that the movie ever get, so if you're a fan of this strange 70s oddity it's a must have.
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1/10
Utter garbage!
30 October 2019
So this looked like fun, judging from the box art and all of the extras included. I've never seen the Fairytale TV show but I figured the movie would act as a competent entry into the universe as long as it wasn't too reliant on material I had not consumed. I was both right and wrong. The movie is extremely simplistic in regards to story but it's also a confusing mess of chaos and utter drivel.

There is a magical artefact of a "Dragon's Tear" that gives whoever wields it enormous power, so, naturally, the big bad of the movie wants to get his hands on it. A team of heroes (who all look identical to each other) band together to stop him in several loud, confusing nonsense scenes of supposed "action" that absolutely did my effing head in! There is nothing to recommend this anime, not even the plentiful, bouncing, busty, buxom babes and the crotch shots that followed them around could stop me from falling asleep.

If THIS is what Anime has become then I'm checking out now. Beautifully animated it may be, but Fairytale Dragon Cry is complete trash and the English dub is frequently quite poor.
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6/10
The harmless cartoon that created an unstoppable monster
29 October 2019
I expect that it is utterly forbidden to speak of Steamboat Willie unless you are going to praise it with all the usual soundbites of "milestone", "landmark", or "icon" but I'm not going to do that. Despite its historic significance Steamboat Willie is no different to any other "silly symphony" in that animation is drawn to a noticable tempo and outlandish things happen in-sync with the music. This can often be creative in the Silly Symphonies (or not) but that doesn't make them classics or clever, in fact they can get quite tedious and boring, and three minutes in to this eight-minute cartoon I was already becoming quite tired with it.

The sound and image could do with a restoration (which I am sure it has had) as the version I watched with crackly and dirty. Now that I've suffered it I'll never waste my time on Steamboat Willie again.
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6/10
The third rate
28 October 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw the trailer for The First Power when I was 11 and thought it looked awesome. How naive my young mind was. More than 27 years later I finally got around to it and the wait wasn't much worth it.

When Keanu Reeves wasn't available or unaffordable movies of this era would typically cast Lou Diamond Phillips, in this case as an LAPD detective (on the edge, as they all were during this era) chasing a serial killer who the press were not even kind enough to grant a nickname to, but he's played by 90s Bacardi ad man Jeff Kober, who looks like the lovechild of Gary Busey and James Le Gros. Once he's been offed in the gas chamber (the 20-year wait on death row was bypassed for the sake of speeding up the plot) discount Keanu keeps seeing him everywhere and the killings continue.

The First Power is very derivative of demonic possession B-movies that were popular at the time, but actually precedes the serial killer trend that followed later in the 90s. Sadly, it features none of the style or depth seen in Se7en or Silence of the Lambs. This is just straight-up schlock with a vanilla flavor. While it may be passably entertaining, The First Power never really surpasses "above average" in any department and doesn't take advantage of its ridiculous premise, keeping the possibilities at arm's length and only making cursory, superficial attempts at building a supernatural plot.

It's fun to see early 90s Los Angeles and spotting locations that were used in other movies. I'm sure that the psychic's house was used as Danny Trejo's house in Heat, the chase through the old factory was definitely the old soap factory seen in Darkman, also from 1990, and the sleazy hotel was definitely used as the "Squealers Hotel" in Loaded Weapon.

Phillips and Kober are great as rivals, but they're not given much to do together, though the climax was exciting, if illogical (I am not really sure why would a water treatment plant would have a vat of boiling acid which explodes when a lighter is dropped into it). Writer/director Robert Resnikov completely disappeared after this. I'm really not sure what the deal is with all these one-shot filmmakers. Resnikov doesn't shoot this film with any particular flair but it is competent and will it will meet your needs if you are in the mood for distracting trash.
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Scarecrows (1988)
6/10
An 80s oddity worth checking out
19 October 2019
I'd never heard of Scarecrows until I saw the trailer featured on another Blu-ray, which is crazy as this is the kind of movie that would have been prominent in video stores in the late 80s, a time when I was deeply immersed in studying and memorizing rental VHS artwork and taglines. A quick bit of research revealed that it was actually released to the UK rental market in 1989 by Medusa Pictures (remember them?) a major horror label at the time. Somehow Scarecrows managed to elude me, but I was intrigued by the trailer that was included in another 88 Films release and had to see the movie.

At 83 minutes, there's little time wasted, and we're immediately thrown into a post-heist getaway on a private cargo plane as a group of five bandits have purloined a cache of cash (!) and hijacked the pilot and his teenage daughter. One of the bandits (or Crows, as they are credited) betrays the others and bails out with the cash, failing to destroy the plane in the process. The rest soon follow, but unfortunately for them they land on a large, overgrown cornfield in the absolute middle of nowhere and find themselves trapped in a ramshackle farmhouse with a mysterious past. No one seems to live there, but there is definitely life in the corn rows and they don't like trespassers very much.

The cheapness of the production is both blatant AND invisible. It looks amazing, with darkness and gloom oppressing every inch of the screen with spooky atmosphere. The entire film is set at night (with some terribly edited in day-for-night shots of the plane buzzing around) and the small cast and isolated location create such a strange, otherwordly mood that I can't help but think that it later inspired The Blair Witch project in some ways. I can definitely see a tonal parallel between the movies.

Scarecrows' only real failing is the super-duper overuse of ADR which seems to have been a quick fix for budget issues and post-production problems. Half of the dialogue takes place off screen, the pilot's daughter seems to be dubbed over by a completely different actress for some reason, and the inner monologue for one of the bandits was completely unnecessary though they filmmakers obviously felt that the audience needed to be told what he was thinking instead of letting the actor's facial expressions do the job. Still, it gives the movie an unusual edge.

An obscure movie with otherwise good production value and a great atmosphere. Scarecrows is perfect late-night viewing especially on a dark, stormy night.
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Rampage (2018)
3/10
Dumb as a sack of rocks
15 October 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I remember playing Rampage on the Commodore 64 when I was a kid (I never got to play the arcade version) and I enjoyed it for the macabre mash-up of King Kong, Godzilla, and Werewolf chaotic action. It was so satisfying to pound on tall buildings and watch them crumble while munching on the puny humans that tried to stop you.

Over 30 years later, and with so many, many video games offering an embarrassment of riches when it comes to movie-making possibilities, what kind of nitwit would consider Rampage, of all things, to be the best material worthy of a screenplay and feature-length running time? There is so little work with here it literally makes the Double Dragon movie look like a classic.

Dwayne Johnson is Davis Okoye, a primatologist who is best friends with George, an albino ape who's family was murdered. This is the part of what appealed to me about Rampage. I like things with big apes and I especially like movies where humans make best friends with animals. If more time had been spent establishing George and Davis as pals it might have been better, but the title promises a Rampage so we need to get to that, eventually.

After an actually exciting opening scene where a space station lab disintegrates and scatters a infectious pathogen across North America, a wolf, an alligator (it seems) and George himself are caught in the chaos when it crash-lands. All of them begin to grow to out-of-control proportions and become highly sought-after by Energyne, the shady company that owned the space station. Brother/sister company directors Claire and Brett Wyden switch on a special beacon on the roof of their Willis Tower headquarters to lure in the animals but Davis, and his FBI side-show (a wasted Jeffrey Dean Morgan) get in on the action and try to save George.

Wow, what a load of convoluted garbage! I can't believe I just wasted a chunky paragraph attempting to relay the hodge-podge of trash that is this movie's plot. There's nothing remotely original or unique about Rampage as it's blatantly derivative of many other movies such as Congo, Godzilla, King Kong, 2012, and Pacific Rim, particularly in the city destruction scenes, which I have referred to as "9/11 porn" for a few years now. So many, many, many movies now feature these tiresome, redundant climaxes of CGI chaos and non-existent cartoon adversaries clobbering each other until one of them falls over for good. It's a ludicrous irony that the fun of watching a building crumble on my Commodore 64 was more enjoyable than the mind-numbing fury that was this movie's big ending.

Spoiler alert: the Willis Tower, once the tallest building on the planet, topples over during the climax, and not once is there any sense of scale, awe, excitement, vertigo, or panic. It's just an empty CGI spectacle that we have all become desensitised to and has all the breathtaking punch of TV static. No one cares about this anymore. We can't believe in any of this nonsense if it is never presented as anything resembling reality. For all of his interactions with George, you know it's just Dwayne Johnson talking to a green screen with his eye-line slightly off-point. Only in one shot in the entire movie is his interaction with George a practical effect. The aforementioned Congo has endured a lot of hate since it's release in 1995, but at least those apes were tangible animatronic effects or men in suits and the effect was a lot better than this.

There's virtually nothing to recommend about Rampage. Fans of Joe Manganiello will be baffled as to why his character is introduced as a hardcore antagonist only to be killed mere minutes later. It adds absolutely nothing to the movie but to further convolute a muddled, derivative plot that is nothing but a blatant mish-mash of scenes stolen from other, better movies.

Utterly uninspired, ugly and ultimately pointless. Rampage tastes like bin juice. 107 minutes has never felt so long, I thought this junk would never end.
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The Shallows (2016)
7/10
Jawsbreaker
10 August 2019
There are more bad shark movies than I can possibly count, and I can count all the way to about 7 or 8. Jaws is obviously the gold standard of shark movies, but even that series, after the first (very underrated sequel) became a laughing stock. Since then we've had the "just about passable" fare of Deep Blue Sea and 47 Meters Down to the simply awful Meg and Sharknado. The Shallows quietly usurps all of these and manages to cut out a respectable corner in a horribly crowded sub-genre.

Blake Lively is an adventure-seeking surfer taking a break from her med school studies to discover the secret Mexican (actually Australian) beach her late mother surfed at when pregnant with her. She's given a lift to this secret beach by a guy I was dead certain was Justin Long but it turns out that it's just a Spanish actor who looks exactly like him. Once in the water she immediately feels uncomfortable and is attacked by a Great White Haddock. The shore is only 200 yards away, and the water is only a few feet deep, but it's an impossible distance with an angry Great White circling in ever-diminishing diameters. Stranded on a tiny rock island, there is nowt to do but wait, scream for help, or take a million-to-one chance.

Jaume Collet-Serra, who has carved a name for himself by directing half of Liam Neeson's recent filmography, wisely understands that less is more and that underplaying the suspense makes for a far more effective film that anything that indulges in overblown nonsense. He fills The Shallows with his usual visual trickery but it never feels out of place or overly stylish. There are some truly gorgeous shots here and some moments of tangible atmosphere, which is more than I can say about the majority of latter day studio features. Though the "deep fake" of the stunt double catching a tube, which Blake Lively was clearly unable to do, is a jarringly obvious effects-failure.

For sure the winner of shark movies this decade. The Shallows is suspenseful and exciting, and, for someone who enjoys prolonged spells in tropical waters, quite nerve-wracking. Though, with a title like this, you'd think it was about modern-day females. It's 86 minutes of thrills and it's better than most movies twice that length.
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Ride Along 2 (2016)
1/10
Let me out, now
4 August 2019
Could anything be worse than Ride Along? Hold my beer, Ride Along 2 is here.

Even if you set your standards lower than minus infinity you will still be appalled at how shameless and soulless this committee-designed cash-grab sequel is. The "plot" is not even worth reciting, but I'll give it a go since it's been a while since I typed out something I have hated with a passion.

James and Ben (Cube and Hart) are still not yet friends and Ben, now a probationary officer, is a hindrance on James' detective work. When a new lead suggests corruption down in Miami, Ben's bride-to-be/James' sister is keen for him to ride along on the case to get out of the way and stop interfering with the wedding plans. Once in Miami the pair find themselves involved in the most cliched, bolted-together, mass-produced, generic, uninspired, worthless plot you could possibly (not even) imagine (as no imagination was used to create this). I do believe that Ride Along 2 was actually manufactured by a computer that studied the algorithms of every single "comedy" cop movie and defecated out the most tepid, gutless script possible.

How much longer can we suffer this sub-genre? I guess you could argue that Freebie and the Bean back in 1974 was the first "buddy cop" movie and there have been innumerable spins on it since, including 48 Hrs, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, Red Heat, Tango & Cash, Bad Boys (already getting stale a this point), Rush Hour (please, God, I want to die), National Security, Hot Fuzz, 21 Jump Street, Let's Be Cops, The Heat, The Other Guys, Cop Out...it just goes on and on and on. We're tired of this. It's been done to absolute effing death. Please stop!

Directed by man-with-no-vision and surname-of-pure-irony Tim Story there is no director flare here and it might as well have been made by producers with a man off the street yelling "action" and "cut" taking the director credit.

This movie hates you more than you hate yourself for watching it.

Ride Along 3 has been greenlit. Pass me that .357 Magnum!

Shot in 6K resolution with a Red Epic camera in a native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Ride Along 2 was mastered in 2K resolution, thus losing 66.666% of the picture detail in the process. Why-oh-why do studios do this? It makes absolutely no sense. Not that I care. Cinematographer Michael Amundsen has a filmography of various "tat" in his career and he fills this movie with the usual hard contrast/boosted saturation that we have all come to expect from rotten comedy movies in the past decade. It looks just awful, and it would still look bad in 6K. The sound is in DTS HD-MA. If there are extras I sure as **** did not watch them.
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The King of Dragons (1991 Video Game)
4/10
Unending bore
11 July 2019
Another Golden Axe clone from Capcom, more so than the rest. The backgrounds are occasionally pretty but this is not so much a beat-em-up as a side-scrolling hand-and-slash with zero environment interaction and about five different kinds of bad guys.

It just goes on and on forever, with 14 levels instead of the typical 8 for the genre. The power-up ability is quite cool though, and it was the only good thing about this game. I couldn't wait for it to be over but it just kept going on and on. I'll never play this again.
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6/10
He said he'd be back
11 July 2019
So, for this sequel they dropped "The" from the title and simply go for Exterminator 2. There might not be a "Judgment Day" tagged on there but I still think that James Cameron was watching and taking notes.

Production on this sequel was famously chaotic from the very beginning. Since the first one was such a success Cannon Films Group, smelling money, greenlit the sequel. James Glickenhaus didn't want anything to do with it as he felt the story ended with John Eastland falling int the Hudson at the end of the first movie. Instead, producer Mark Buntzman (who also had the undignified role of "Belching Ghoul" first time around) bought the rights and wrote his own sequel. Keen to develop the character, Robert Ginty brought many of his own notes and ideas for John Eastland, which Buntzman immediately vetoed and, somewhat arrogantly, insisted that his screenplay be strictly adhered to. Now rather dispirited, Ginty still took the role, though the film would further fall apart under Buntzman's non-experience.

Appalled by his final cut, Cannon Films (who ought to know crap when they see it) brought in William Sachs to rewrite the ending and make massive changes in reshoots, only Ginty wasn't available as he was off shooting Mission Kill, so innumerable problems meant that Sachs had to somehow find a way to stitch the movie together along with whatever new footage he could shoot. The result is an entertaining, if hollow, patchwork/sketch show of mostly disconnected vignettes that eventually come together in a decent climax. Considering how badly the movie fell apart, this is nothing short of a miracle.

The movie has John Eastland still roasting New York scum to death with his trademark flamethrower while courting stripper Caroline. When he flash-fries the brother of messianic gang leader X (Mario Van Peebles getting a lot of mileage out of a poorly-written character) he finds himself the target his minions, which makes up the bulk of the movies hypnotically lurid, violent action scenes. Be honest, you're not watching this movie expecting high art, and it more than delivers what it promises, so I cannot fault it.

It's a little slicker and more "Hollywood" than the original movie and it lacks the raw, tangible intensity but it's still interesting to see the scummy old New York and the vermin that lurked on every corner. In real life it took Disney money to clean it up, not a crazed ex-soldier with a flamethrower.
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6/10
Too little, too late.
11 July 2019
Despite the many complaints I will get to with Independence Day: Resurgence it will always stick in my mind as the first premiere I attended at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The Brexit vote was counted during the screening and when everyone exited the movie the press were sticking mics in the faces of celebs asking them for their opinion on Britain leaving the EU - a fitting occurrence considering the title of the movie.

Sadly, the film bombed, raking in just $100,000,000 during it's run, a fraction of the original's box office takings. It was too little too late. A 20-year gap between movies was just too long and the politics and culture of the US is now drastically different. Independence Day came out in a time when spirits were high, the '96 Olympics had everyone pumped up, the summer season was full of exciting blockbusters, and painful, boring superhero movies were virtually non-existent. Fever Pitch was the feeling all summer long and a jingoistic, heroic movie was exactly what audience wanted at the time. ID:4 delivered all that and more. In 2016 the culture war had already started and self-hatred in America was beginning to rip the country apart. Independence Day 2 really should have come out in 2000, when there was still optimism, but Roland Emmerich was too busy making The Patriot during that time, plus he and Dean Devlin had no idea how to tackle the gargantuan scope a sequel would inevitably have.

It's a shame, because this is actually much more thoughtful film than the first and I really dug the psychic storyline. But everything else in the film is pedestrian and lazy, even for Emmerich these cliches and tropes are tired and dull. Remember David Arnold's rousing, exciting score from the first movie? Of course you do! It's not here. Instead, excruciatingly untalented "composer" Harald Kloser (also serving as producer) cranks out worthless noise that a high-schooler could beat. There are musicians with real talent out there, chomping at the bit to get a start in movies and yet this man constantly gets work (only with Emmerich). It boggles my mind.

With Will Smith asking for a stupendously arrogant $50,000,000 paycheck they wisely wrote his character out. How dare this man ask for that money! His star power has been on the decline for years now (thanks largely to fast-tracking his untalented children into movie stardom) and he should have embraced this movie as a comeback. Margaret Colin is also written-out with no explanation within the movie (in the prequel novel she died in a car wreck). Mae Whitman has been replaced with Maika Monroe because she didn't grow up to be pretty enough, apparently. At least Brent Spiner came back (his character's fate was left unexplained in the first one, be he was never written to die, it just seemed that way) and Jeff Goldblum is front and centre, whether he likes it or not, but he's got the charisma to carry it. He's certainly far, far more appealing than the lesser Hemsworth and Jessie Usher, who are given virtually nothing to do and really shouldn't have been in the movie when their screen time could have been used for building suspense instead.

The scenes of destruction in the first movie were breathtaking at the time, and still have impressive effect all this time later thanks mainly to the extensive model work used (ID:4 holds the record for the most model work ever used in a movie, which will likely never be broken thanks to the advent of excessive CGI) but we're so used to scenes of cities being destroyed at this point that none of the effects, no matter how elaborate, really fill us with awe.

The model work and real locations in the first movie gave it a tangible realness and placed it in a world you could identify. Here literally EV-ER-Y-THING is done against a green screen, giving far too many shots a flat, static look where the lighting on the actors doesn't match the light on the CGI background. It's horrible, and gives the film the look and feel of a cheap TV movie. This is Emmerich at his laziest. There's no passion behind this.

First time around we had a double climax and two reasons to cheer (and, believe me, audiences did). No such luck with the sequel. The ending is completely disappointing and any excitement you might feel will completely fizzle out before the credits roll. They strongly hint at a third movie, but there's no way that will ever happen now. The energy in this franchise drained out a long time ago and the culture in the US is too self-hating to embrace it.

I really wanted to like this movie, and it has some really good ideas, but it squanders all of its potential and sleepwalks through poorly-directed familiar territory. Such a huge shame.
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Captain Commando (1991 Video Game)
5/10
Even for 1991 this feels dated
9 July 2019
I'm not sure where to begin moaning about Captain Commando. For an arcade game the graphics are nothing that the Mega Drive couldn't produce, and the gameplay is fairly boring.

A side-scrolling beat-em-up featuring 4 playable characters (including a baby in a mech suit!) in which you fight your way through various levels, some of them eye-catching and fun, and face-off against some bully boss is hardly the most unique concept, but they could have made it a bit more enjoyable to play. The lead character was a mascot for the developer who would often appear to promote more popular and better games such as Strider and Ghouls and Ghosts. I wasn't smitten by him, but he's the best character to play as for the duration.

There are some cool power-ups including machine guns, pistons, laser guns etc, but you never really get a chance to use them as the controls are so sluggish you'll barely get off one lucky shot before a bad guys smashes you and it falls from your hand. Same goes for the mech suits, you'll spend all of two seconds in there before being punched off. What's the point?

I can't imagine anything ever dragging me back to Captain Commando. There are many other better beat-em-ups out there
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Battle Circuit (1997 Video Game)
7/10
Crazy Cartoon Action
8 July 2019
From how colorful and cartoonish this beat-em-up felt I was sure that it must have been based on a comic-book but it ain't. Battle Circuit is simply 90s video game madness set on an alternate future Earth where you play as eccentric bounty hunters sent on a mission through various city environments to retrieve a disc containing a dangerous computer program.

It's a lot of fun, but the collision detection was a little too precise. If you're just one pixel off none of your attacks will connect, which is especially infuriating when you are at half-life and see an energy boost at the other side of the screen. You'll never make it as the enemies will just swarm you and kill you before you reach it. You're best option is just to spam the special attack button all the way through the game, which gets tiresome after a while, no matter how colorful the graphics are.

A revision of this game would be awesome, but as it is it's still a lively 90s arcade actioner.
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