Thursday, July 30, 2009

Catch the Heat

The Action Mutant…
didn’t know Nixon’s dog was Jewish!


Catch the Heat


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
In reading up on Tiana Alexandra, one could make the argument that we all missed out on a great Action star (or at least another famous one). Born Thi Thanh Nga in Vietnam in 1961, Tiana moved to America when she was 15 but not before she was personally trained by Bruce Lee himself. She became involved with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (who was 43 years her senior…yes…a nice, odd number) & was integral in many of his future projects, most notably the TV miniseries Pearl. Unfortunately for her, Catch the Heat was the peak of her career as she decided to go back to Vietnam & chronicle her (and her country’s) past in what would eventually become her 1993 documentary From Hollywood to Hanoi. She would never go back to acting and while it’s arguable if her success would have been any more prevalent, it is kind of a shame that we’ll never know. Then again, she may have never been big. Maybe it would have had something to do with her character in this film being named…

The Plot, as it was:
CHECKERS GOLDBERG (That deserves an internet acronym…here it goes…WTF?)!!! Anyway, ahem….Checkers is a hot Asian cop that revels in taking down rapists & cracking wise at her lovelorn partner Waldo Tarr (David Dukes). It is soon brought to the duo’s attention that talent magnate Jason Hannibal (Rod Steiger) is smuggling drugs out of Argentina through mysterious means, which warrants an undercover job to crack the ring. Seeing as Waldo doesn’t look good in a dress, Checkers becomes “Cinderella Pu” (Character names on Acid 101) and travels to Argentina to get in Hannibal’s good graces & to uncover the dark secret behind his operation. I would say she gets into some “deep Pu” but can I really come up with a better joke after hearing that name?

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Despite the goofy ass names, Tiana’s astounding hotness and the eventual revelation of the secret behind the smuggling ring (which fits right in with the exploitive vibe of 80s B movie actioners), Catch the Heat doesn’t prove to be a wholly memorable tale at all. You think it would be with all I mentioned above but those are sadly the most notable elements. Though Tiana looks great in all of her various costume changes, her dialogue from the Silliphant penned script sabotages her chances at making many impressions. It doesn’t help that she has to speak stereotypic broken English in her Cinderella Pu persona for a majority of the pic (or “pigeon English” as an IMDB poster referred to it as; the kind of English Truman Capote’s character in Murder By Death would be repelled by) though it does add to the camp value quite a bit (as well as the “politically incorrect” quotient). The fact that the “pigeon English” seems to fool everyone Cinderella comes in contact with makes the gag become more annoying as it continues. Dukes puts a lot of bluster behind his lines & seems to relish his role for what it is. Surprisingly, it’s Steiger (who usually didn’t have to wait for the proverbial hat to drop to overact his ass off) that comes off nearly sedate in the heavy role. It’s almost as if he figured “Hey, I’ve never been to Argentina…sounds like a good vacation…and I get a payday out of it, too!” I doubt if Steiger going MD (20/20) on everyone would have elevated the film but it couldn’t have hurt. Though CtH is never boring, it is something you have seen before & the novelty of having a lady kung fu lead isn’t presented with enough “wow” factor to have one remember the film a few hours after they saw it.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Professor Toru Tanaka (The Running Man, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning) plays Hannibal’s guard Dozu. He was also “Sumo Wrestler #1” in an episode of the ABC drama Life Goes On, which really makes me curious as to what THAT episode was about (when it comes to Corky, the possibilities are endless).

Body Count/Violence: 35. Nothing unusual aside from some moderate (yet bloodless) gunplay & fighting near the end. There’s also a car chase (featuring a nifty motorcycle jump onto a flatbed truck), explosions, strangling, neck breaking & head puncturing. The best death occurs when Checkers (…seriously?) maneuvers a knife betwixt her toes during a grounded struggle & kicks it into a guy’s back. I don’t care what your name is at that point…that’s pretty cool.

Sexuality/Nudity: Tiana’s overall yumminess is first on display when she emerges from the San Francisco bay in a wet t-shirt. Strangely, I can’t remember any dialogue during that scene…Anyhow, Tiana also graces the screen in a topless shower scene & and in several cute, Asian gowns that bring the Japanese submissive fetishist out in all of us (guys, that is). There are also some shots of scantly clad models backstage at a show.

Language/Dialogue: A few F words and other mild obscenities to go around. However, none of those beats Waldo’s epic threat of “Give me a name or I’ll give you a vagina!” while interrogating a male suspect & holding a gun to his crotch.

How bad was it?:
The few reviews on Catch the Heat don’t outright bury it but do reiterate the fact that it was nothing more than a routine Action flick in a decade that churned many of them out (and yet, are still like crack to many of us still young at heart).

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Catch the Heat actually made its premiere at Cannes on 5/13/87 & was released in America in October of that year by Trans World Entertainment. No box office/budget figures are known and since few ever heard of Tiana Alexandra after this, I can safely say it wasn’t a monetary success. Maybe if her name wasn’t fucking CHECKERS!!! If you're curious, you can find the film on the MGM DVD label on Amazon.com for as low as $2.76.

Film: *1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Blood Games

The Action Mutant…
guesses rednecks make their own gravy.


Blood Games


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
(Note: The “Perspective” will be tweaked somewhat, as it will now be a quote from one of the principles of the film. I may jump back on the soapbox without warning, though.)

“Probably because I look like a dirty drunk and a drifter. They say we play best what we are. God! I hope that's not true.”

- Charles “Buck” Flower, on being typecast.

The Plot, as it was:
Laura Albert plays the pitcher of an all female baseball team that’s managed by her pops Midnight (Ross Hagen). The team whoops on a gaggle of yokels in a game for a grand prize of $1,000 by the score of 17-2 (with the money going forward to pay off Midnight’s gambling debts). The yokels aren’t too pleased about the outcome & a series of events leave Midnight and the local bigwig’s son Roy (Gregory Scott Cummins) dead. The girls end up on the run from the townsfolk, who are offered a grand a head by the bigwig Mino Collins (Luke Shay) to kill all of the baseball babes. It’s like deer hunting season…with boobs!

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
In the “Foxy baseball playing women hunted by crazed, backwoods rednecks” genre, Blood Games is absolutely at the top of the list. In all fairness, Blood Games is one of the most entertaining of the trashy, “women seeking revenge” pics out there & definitely an overlooked one amongst such genre staples as I Spit on Your Grave and Ms. 45. There’s nothing particular that stands out about it but it has the right amount of dark humor, tits & ammo to make for a fun, drunken night of movie watching. Of course, all of this makes for a bad movie in the traditional sense. The “actresses” (many of which can only claim this as their only acting credit) aren’t on screen for their “acting”…lets just say you can’t put your finger on them…err, it. That doesn’t work, either. Anyway, the male side compensates by overacting at every turn but they do have veteran character actors like Hagen & Charles “Buck” Flower (under the pseudonym “Ernest Wall” & playing what he plays best: a goofy, drunk bumpkin) to make things interesting. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Don Dowe as crazed drunk Holt, who gets extra points for wearing a Roddy Piper “Hot Rod!” shirt during the ballgame! Director Tanya Rosenberg gets credit for making the most of a small budget by touching the action with frequent slow motion shots & a fair buildup of the action. Despite these occurrences of competency, Blood Games isn’t meant to be taken seriously at any moment during its run time. The sequencing goes something like this: hillbillies kill one of the gals (or attempt to rape, which may be the only thing that may get to some people), gals mourn their pal, gals plan elaborate ruse & kill hillbilly. Later, rinse & repeat, says the Grindhouse bible (which someone should get to writing…). In fact, the only thing missing from making Blood Games perfect GH fare are the pops, hisses & cig burns that became en vogue with the release of the Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration. All in all, it’s worth a solid triple (yeah, a baseball cliché…I’m fired, aren’t I?).

Body Count/Violence: 16. Have a hillbilly hunt with his bare hands and he’ll last a day…give a hillbilly a shotgun to hunt with and he’ll be in the movies for life! The main death is by said implement & leads to the most blood splatter in the film. People are also run down by buses, shot by arrows, beaten down with baseball bats, hit with big rocks, hanged from trees & impaled. Twas needing a bear trap, though.

Sexuality/Nudity: No exaggeration here…EVERY woman on the baseball team gets naked. The obligatory “locker room” scene has the ladies in several forms of undress & everything is shown in one form or another. A few rape scenes lead to more T&A, which are staples in this sub-genre. The woman also sport the usual tight, clingy early 90s fare that we all know & (not really now) love. Oh, and one of the babes looked like a blond Patricia Tallman. If only…

Language/Dialogue: Ranges from mild to strong but it’s not the thing to look for.

How bad was it?:
The only legit review I read for this little seen fare was from Joe Bob Briggs & needless to say, he says you should check this out. The fan feedback seems to recognize the type of flick this is & don’t try to needlessly compare it to anything Oscar-worthy.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Known by the superior alternate title Baseball Bimbos in Hillbilly Hell in Australia, Blood Games was partially filmed in the Sequoia National Forest in California. It was produced by Epic Video & released through RCA/Columbia Home Video on 12/12/90. The VHS (sorry…no DVD yet) can be found on Amazon for as low as $4.98. That’s folding money, baby!

Film: *1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ****/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Extreme Prejudice

The Action Mutant…
thinks Walter Hill should just go ahead and make a film called “BALLS”.


Extreme Prejudice


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
“Funny, ain't it…how it comes around. Right way's the hardest, wrong way's the easiest. Rule of nature, like water seeks the path of least resistance. So you get crooked rivers… crooked men.”

- Sheriff Hank Pearson

Seriously, that's fuckin' deep, man. And shit gets blown up, too! Can't get much better than that.

The Plot, as it was:
Nick Nolte stars as Jack Benteen, a towering Texas Ranger who’s seeing his past catch up with him in a bad way. The ranger & his right hand man Sherriff Hank Pearson (Rip Torn!) have gotten into too many violent altercations with “drug mules” that have been sent across the border to transport narcotia for Benteen’s childhood friend Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe). When Benteen left Texas to become cop many years before, Cash ditched his informant gig, slinked off to Mexico & became a drug kingpin/militant warlord. As if it wasn’t hard enough for Jack to decide whether to go at his former pal with guns ablaze, his girl Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso) is tired of the lawman’s macho bullshit & threatens to go back to her former flame…Cash Bailey! Meanwhile, a group of off-the-grid soldiers (led by Michael Ironside, so you know they’re all balanced) are planning on taking Cash out themselves & ending all of this drug business. Now, this sounds like a Mexican standoff!

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
At one point in Extreme Prejudice, Cash Bailey snarls at a female to “show us your tits if you want to be useful”. That pretty much spells out EP to the casual audience, as this is a MAN’S movie. You got Nolte looking like he’s been carved from an oak tree & resembling a modernized Gary Cooper. There’s Boothe, all P&V and mirroring the devil incarnate per Sonny Crockett’s evil twin. Add to that Rip Torn cracking wise, Ironside being Ironside (himself, not Raymond Burr in a wheelchair), William Forsythe, Clancy “The Kurgan himself” Brown and the fact that this is directed by Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Southern Comfort)…well, lets just say no one is going to be sitting down for tea in this one! EP plays out like a lost Peckinpah film (only with less slo-mo) and continues the tradition of Hill’s films being present day Westerns, which starts with Nolte. This is not the scraggly, booze soaked Nolte from 48 Hrs. or the goofy eccentric seen a year before in Down and Out in Beverly Hills; this one leaves the over-the-top histrionics behind. Tough & lean, Nolte’s Benteen has been weathered by the Texas sun & haunted by the inability to settle things right. He doesn’t want violence to take place but he doesn’t necessarily have to be talked into a gunfight, either. He’s easily complemented by Boothe, whose sardonic tone adds to every line the man utters (“I got a feeling the next time we run into each other, we gonna have a killin'.”). The supporting work is tops as well & Torn just about steals the flick outright with his snappy dialogue. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to be nearly deflated when he was taken out of the pic way too early (sorry to spoil it but the sidekick/older mentor always gets plugged so it’s not like its something new). Don’t fret however…the film boasts everything that makes an 80s Action classic and then some. The action is expertly shot & photographed to the point that you somehow FEEL sweaty and dusty after watching. If EP has anything going against it, it’s that it may be a bit too ambitious. The subplot with the “dead soldiers” complicates the rest of the framework & you can definitely tell it was John Milus’ contribution to the story. It’s arguable that the story would work just fine if Jack & Cash were left alone but the inclusion of the mercenaries makes it ultimately seem like an excuse to make sure the body count is upped. The end brings that prophecy to fruition (as well as enough plasma for half a dozen blood banks) but even the convoluted plot is not enough to dampen the grade A entertainment that is Extreme Prejudice.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Mickey Jones plays Chub Luke. Jones has been in just about everything but may be best known as the grease monkey that tells Chevy Chase “All of it, boy!” when pressing him for money in Vacation. Jones actually signs all of his autographs with that line.
- Lin Shaye (Kingpin, 2001 Maniacs) is the “Employment Office Clerk”.

Body Count/Violence: 42. The red soaked year of 1987 was aided immensely by Prejudice as the majority of the cast is blasted into bloody heaps by everything from shotguns, pump action Winchesters, Gatling guns and other automatic weaponry. This one may only be behind Robocop for that year’s bloodiest American Action flick. Also included is an explosion, a rat being knifed and…what ever you do, don’t accept a rabbit as a gift any time soon!

Sexuality/Nudity: Alonso fulfills the male checklist early on with a nice full frontal shot of her coming out of a shower. Another woman’s breasts are shown while she’s in bed in one scene.

Language/Dialogue: Fairly strong for the era, with a decent amount of strong profanities involved. Plenty of memorable lines are spoken but nothing stands up to Torn’s immortal “The only thing worse than a politician is a child molester.”

How bad was it?:
Siskel & Ebert gave it two thumbs up and Siskel went as far as calling it the closest to the mold of a classic Western in the 80s. Other critics not in tune with the genre gave it a mixed response, citing either its resemblance to The Wild Bunch or the fact it was just too ghastly & violent. Look at the cast, the director & the fact that the story was partly accredited to Captain NRA himself; if you were expecting Disney then you deserved to be disgusted because you’re dumb.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
TriStar & Carolco Entertainment released Extreme Prejudice on 4/24/87, where it debuted in 2nd place behind the Michael J. Fox vehicle The Secret of My Success with $3.5 million. The spring of ’87 proved to be a slow patch at the box office in general & EP dropped out of sight about a month after its opening, closing out with $11.3 million (no budget was announced). Despite its lackluster B.O., Extreme Prejudice developed a cult following since then & can be found on DVD on the Artisan Entertainment label.

Film: ****/*****
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ninja Death

The Action Mutant…
doesn’t even know what that means!


Ninja Death


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
I have read everything from “It’s the greatest martial arts saga ever made” (with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, I’m sure) to “Why wasn’t this ever on MST3K?” Reading this kind of “buzz” made me want to see Ninja Death which, as at it turns out, is not just a feature length film but a three part serial. I should have realized this when the first part didn’t really end…it just kind of stopped in mid-stream. Then again, does a film that has no opening or closing credits really end to begin with? End…to begin with? Did I just say that? Harrumph! I had obviously found a formidable film to review in Ninja Death, a flick so bad (or good) that it could make my head spontaneously combust in a bright, red scream…or just develop a dull headache after thinking about it too much.

The Plot, as it was:
Alexander Lou is Tiger, a bouncer at a Hong Kong brothel who is dismayed to learn that another brothel has opened up on the other side of town. The Grand Master (the owner of the new brothel and, judging by his costuming, an extra from Flash Gordon) did not just set up shop to compete as he is looking for the man that possesses a tattoo of a plum flower on his chest. The tattoo is symbolic of future greatness for the one who wears it…and a target for those wanting to take him out. Tiger’s mentor The Master (who apparently isn’t good enough to be “Grand”) readies his tattooed pupil for combat against GM and his many fighters, which includes Devil Mask, a crazy cat that can be lulled into calmness or combat by a play of Grand Master’s flute. Oh, and there’s seemingly a dozen other parallel plotlines that appear & reappear without rhyme or reasoning.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Knowing of Ninja Death’s existence is one thing; watching the whole 254 minute trek from bell to bell is another. I did NOT watch this all in one sitting, mind you. I may be a masochist but I don’t advocate running crotch first into a cactus either, since both of these activities are as equally risky. Let’s put it another way…think of every amateurish trapping that cheap kung fu flicks that air on your local TV station at 2 a.m. are known for. Now think of them running non-stop for a little over four hours. Mind bending, no? Though viewing Ninja Death in three increments doesn’t make it any better in quality, it does help absorb the eternal badness of it all. The first part is not only loaded with some (admittedly) good fight scenes but enough gratuitous sex & raunchy jokes to make you think this was produced in Canada by two guys from National Lampoon (and with a budget to match, too!). Part two gets relentlessly talky & ends up making for a boring midsection by trying to fill in all of the backstory at once (like anyone is actually watching this for the plot, which is a mess to put it lightly). The concluding third goes all out with the fight scenes & actually ends this polarizing craziness about as well as it can be. All of this doesn’t make the viewer forget that this is staggeringly horrible, yet it is strangely watchable in its ineptness. Hell, the dubbed voices switched from American to British mid-way through the first part! The SFX & dialogue are laughable (In response to Tiger wanting a fire to be made, Master retorts “If we made a fire, the cold air would go directly into your body and kill you!” Remember that one for camping trips, scouts.) and some of the deaths are absurd to the extreme. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all you can ask for in your grade Z, chop socky fare & Ninja Death delivers in spades. If only there was more Devil Mask!

Body Count/Violence: 126! (Part 1=73, Part 2=16, Part 3=37). Seeing as it clocks in at over four hours, the rate of death in Ninja Death may not be as great as you’d expect. However, the troublemaker kid in you will be on the floor once ninjas of all kinds are stabbed & slashed with swords from every corner. Along with the standard martial arts (which are pretty fun & actually the one part of the production resembling competence), there’s a decapitation & a bashed in head or two. Of course, Devil Mask provides the best NINJA DEATH as he rips off a guard’s head & pulls what appears to be phone cord covered in cranberry sauce out of another guard’s chest (or out of his vest…I could have been mistaken).

Sexuality/Nudity: Tiger’s whorehouse shows off a good deal of bare breasts & behind, either in undress or in some sexual position. There are two lengthy sex scenes, including a flashback scene complete with the screen focused in a golden tint so…that’s classy, huh?

Language/Dialogue: Not a lot but there are a few “shits” & Tiger responding to his whorehouse being slain by yelling “Who did it, motherfuckers?” in a manner so out of place you’d think Van Damme said it.

How bad was it?:
Apparently, only a small number of reprobates and/or unemployed know of Ninja Death because there isn’t much in the way of opinion for it. Every piece of fan feedback I read pretty much echoes my statements of it being one of the most hilariously inept kung fu epics ever put on celluloid.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
There are only two credited actors & an unaccredited director listed on IMDB so I’m just assuming this crap was produced by magic, crack smoking pixies and distributed by some one with a Mexican black tar heroin addiction. It was supposedly distributed in Hong Kong in 1987 but it looks like it was made a few years before that to me. It’s available on DVD through Reel Classic Films (two disc set, no less!) or in the now infamous Martial Arts 50 Movie Pack Collection that you can find on Amazon for fairly cheap.

Film: */*****
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Honor

The Action Mutant…
thinks 12 Rounds isn’t enough.


Honor (2006)


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
Note: This review is brought to you by Fighting, which is what this film should have been called. Seriously, Terrence Howard will sign his name to…almost anything. Luis Guzman? He will sign his name to anything.

The Plot, as it was:
Jason Barry is Gabriel, a Gulf War vet who comes home to find things totally different & not for the better. His childhood friend Ray (Russell Wong) has just gotten out of the clink & is bent on taking over the old neighborhood with a trusted gang of thugs. As a soldier who’s seen some things and done some stuff, the last thing Gabriel wants to do is get involved in another (albeit different) type of war. Gabriel seems reluctantly content with letting Ray and his gang extort money from local patrons but when they start hassling his adopted father & former police officer LT (Roddy Piper!) and tough cop/budding love interest Kate (Linda Park)…well, the shit is on!

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
If you turn Honor on about midway through and expect Van Damme or Don “The Dragon” Wilson to walk on the screen, you probably aren’t the only one. Honor is a flick fully entrenched in the “street fighting” sub genre of Action & doesn’t apologize for it. In fact, the only thing that may distinguish it from the majority of other fight films is the inundation of many MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) personalities such as Masakatsu Funaki, Don Frye and two Gracies (the Gracies are like the Wayans family of MMA; as in sheer numbers & not necessarily in talent). As far as anything new in the tried & true formula, that’s pretty much it. Despite all of the MMA talent on display, the fights are filmed with such quick edits & tight focusing that there’s very little visceral impact. It’s understandable that this is most likely done to make the viewer feel like they’re “right in the action” & it’s a novel idea but it just comes off very clumsily. And though one doesn’t watch these flicks for the acting…well, that doesn’t work well here either. If Barry had a moniker for his acting style, it would be “Master of the Clenched Jaw” for as much brooding he does. He basically is called to look sullen, whisper his lines, look morose, occasionally yell his lines, (have the stunt double) do some fighting and look dour. The guy just comes off too clean to be someone that supposedly just came back from war torn hell. In the same respect, it’s hard to buy Wong as a badass gangland demigod. I didn’t laugh at him or anything but his mere presence doesn’t seem to be the type to strike enough fear into people to make them hand over their business earnings. Like two pro wrestlers who try to sell their hatred toward each other for the crowd, you never buy that these two used to run together or anything (and the flashback scenes? No help). The subplot with Kate taking a shine to Gabriel is even worse as it basically boils down to her thinking “I know nothing about the guy…he is hot, though.” Shockingly, the one that gives the best show of everyone here is…Roddy Piper! No, he’s not DeNiro or anything and his character does kind of come off like Uncle Ben Parker at times but his downplay act does offer a few genuine moments. Piper resembles less of a cardboard cutout than the other principles involved, which admittedly make the scenes where he finally gets to kick some ass (but not chew bubblegum) all the more fun. By that time though, you might have already switched over to Spike to watch MMA fighters used in a more appropriate (and much better) setting.

Body Count/Violence: 7. Well, there is a lot of fighting, I’ll give them that. Plenty of kicking and punching with some decent blood splatter on connecting blows. Also peppered in is some shooting, a sick, Seagal-esque arm break, weapon beatdowns, neck breaking, knife play, etc. And fighting.

Sexuality/Nudity: None.

Language/Dialogue: Strong but only on occasion. My favorite one off moment in the flick is when Roddy slams a guy up against a wall, leg trips him, flips him off & spits out a “Fuck you!” Don’t ask me why but it put a smile on me face.

How bad was it?:
Being a DtV release (see below), Honor didn’t get many reviews upon its debut or since then. The lone review I found puts it as pretty bad but still kind of praises it as a guilty pleasure. Fan feedback seems to skew between those who enjoy the “street fight” type films of the late 80s & early 90s and those who don’t.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Birch Tree Entertainment & Monterrey Media released Honor worldwide and on U.S. DVD respectively. Made on a $6 million budget, Honor was released in America on 7/29/06 (I’m guessing for a small theater premiere, as I don’t believe it had any legit widespread release). It was released on DVD on 2/27/07 and can be seen on Starz or Encore Action occasionally.

Film: *1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Action Mutant presents...The April 2009 TAM Hall of Fame class...Villains Edition!

(Note: I am writing this based on the assumption that the reader has seen the films in question. If you don't want stuff SPOILED,...as in SPOILERS... you best be moving on.)

Bad news: I've been so swamped lately that I haven't gotten to update a new wing of The Action Mutant Hall of Fame. It is just as well though, as my lack of reviews recently has meant there aren't too many names that would qualify for the...ahem, honor. Good news: I have come up with a new wing for the Hall, one that makes so much sense that my head would explode if I only began to know what I was thinking about. See, those currently in the TAM HOF are the heroes. That's a given. And we look forward to their exploits with each new screen venture, even if many of them are just playing the same role with a different name. However, there are roles that are so memorable in scale that when that particular actor is brought up, it is THAT role that is first thought of. These are the roles of the villains. Sure, we "hate" them but things would be a lot less interesting if they weren't in the mix. I mean, would you watch Superman issue parking tickets for two hours? Would it be as memorable for Captain Kirk to, instead of yelling "KHAN!!!", yell...something else (Mandelbaum, perhaps)? Would Rocky IV be as legendary as it is if Ivan Drago came from Finland? Exactly. And with that, the best of The Action Mutant villains...so far...

- Det. Stansfield (as played by Gary Oldman in Léon: The Professional)
There's a litany of psychos to pick from in Gary Oldman's repertoire but none are quite as villainous, slimy & just plain fucked in the head as Stansfield. A renaissance man amongst wackjobs, Stansfield pops pills like Mentos & conducts his investigations by listening to some of the ol' Ludwig Van as his soundtrack. A botched drug deal leads to the crooked cop ordering the slaughter of the family involved & although one of the killings is accidental, you'd have to think Stansfield isn't going to be losing much sleep over it. Mainly because one can't imagine the guy ever sleeping. The viewer can make the argument that all of the pills have made Stansfield the way that he is but considering the man is played by an actor that has made playing the insane his bread & butter, I'd have to guess Stansfield was paddling the slowboat to Crazyland long before the medicine came into play.

- Patrick Bateman (as played by Christian Bale in American Psycho)
Although Bateman isn't your traditional Action movie villain, he possesses many of the archetypal trappings. Quick witted, charming on the surface, vain as all hell and...oh yeah, batshit insane, Bateman makes for a dangerous villain simply because there is no master plan to his madness. In the decade where every one was seemingly addicted to something, Bateman's vice was killing anyone & everyone (with a penchant for Coke and kinky sex along the way). Women were the main victims, though any gender or race would do. Bateman thrived in a time period where the serial killer was en vogue & showed his penchant for using the tools of the day (chainsaw, axe, nail gun, etc.) at every turn. However, the ultimate villain in this tale may have just been the very decade that Bateman was made of, as everyone was so self absorbed that no one apparently cared or noticed that Bateman was taking out a small chunk of NYC on his off nights. Guess they just figured Bronson would take care of it, like in 10 to Midnight (a film that Bateman might have taken some notes from at one time).

- Emil Fouchon (as played by Lance Henriksen in Hard Target)
When he's not starring in whatever dog feces Sci-Fi flings toward its schedule on Saturday nights (Heh, he said TURD!), the great Henriksen makes his living portraying highly articulate, heavily bent maniacs. And who else could take up the ultimate in fanatical self-employment...providing others the chance to kill other humans for sport! When he's not playing the piano & eerily staring off into space, Emil is like a modern day Harry Lime in profiting off of the fruits of wars (both past & present). Only in this "black market", Emil is providing violence & mayhem (which he sometimes partakes in himself, particularly when one of his clients balks at the opportunity he paid for). The only qualm against the man may be that he could have been a little more selective in pooling his killers together, as apparently an infinite amount of artillery was no match for a high kicking, Belgian/Cajun (cue Rome...allegedly) longshoreman with a monster mullet. Shame for him it didn't come down to a staring contest. (Note: How can I not include Henriksen here? He volunteered to be set on fucking fire!)









- Toecutter (as played by Hugh Keays-Byrne in Mad Max)
There has always been room for evil biker ganglords in Action cinema but very rarely are they as enigmatic as Toecutter. Leading a gaggle of soulless mucketymucks about the Australian desert, Toecutter decides to interject himself in policeman Max's life after the law takes one of his own. Pure magic lies in Toecutter's wild-eyed speeches urging his minions on...or crack. Carrying himself like a strung out Genghis Khan, Toecutter's ruthless nature peaks in the running down of Max's wife & infant son. I'm sure no one told Toecutter that Mel...err, Max can get very irritable & pissed off at little things like that. As for the pic of pro wrestler Raven...c-mon, I've been saying it all along that they're like twins. I can't help it that when I see Toecutter, I see Scott Levy with a hangover & 5 o' clock shadow.

- The Kurgan (as played by Clancy Brown in Highlander)
Seriously, if you were chased though time by someone wanting to cut your head off in an attempt to win a centuries long contest to be the "one", would you want it being this guy? A towering monster soldiering through time itself, Kurgan chases Connor Macleod to modern day New York City (circa 1985), where a giant in a trench coat & wielding a heavy sword would hardly get noticed. Despite not getting the job done at the end, Kurgan (and Brown in turn, who rocks here) would go on to legend not only as a villain but an icon for DIY punkers everywhere who have to respect someone that can fasten their head back onto their neck using nothing more than a few paper clips.
- Mary Ann (as played by Gene Hackman in Prime Cut)
Long before The Hackman retired from acting & became a Lowes pitchman, Gene was an unscrupulous meat mogul with a fruity name. I'm sure there must have been many people who felt that one couldn't run a successful prostitution ring in the Midwest but Mary Ann achieved that American dream! He may have had to run a few mobsters through the abattoir or keep his women drugged up so they couldn't advance off of the premises but we aren't here to award goodwill points. Like any corrupt politician, Mary Ann manages to hold on to the peoples' collective ear as well as rule with an iron fist. How else do you explain the slew of cornhuskers that become rural hitmen ready to blast away city boy Nick Devlin when he rolls into town? Kind of makes you shudder of the thought of Bill O' Reilly as a crime boss, huh?


and, of course...the main reason I thought of the column in the first place...

- Clarence Boddicker (as played by Kurtwood Smith in Robocop)
When one thinks of a super-villain, they think of a Bond villain or one of those slimy dictators from a Chuck Norris/Missing in Action movie. While Clarence Boddicker isn't going to siphon gold from Fort Knox or torture P.O.Ws with rats, he certainly comes off as one of the vilest, sickest villains ever put on cinema. We first see Boddicker sacrificing one of his gang members in an attempt to distance themselves from cops on the chase. When the gang corners Ofc. Murphy in their headquarters, they administer one of the most brutal slayings ever & Boddicker makes sure to get his taunts in (as well as the final shot). As much as Patrick Bateman exemplified the 80s & all of its tawdry glory, Boddicker is the quintessential 80s Action villain. All the guy is concerned about is himself; when his coke is out on the streets & when his bitches leave. He's never going to be able to overpower his opponent so he will attempt to weasel out of any predicament but not before trying to eliminate his foe with high grade firepower. Though he isn't exploded like many of his counterparts during their demises, Clarence goes out in a flourish that harkens back to classic Shakespeare. And if you can make anyone think of Shakespeare during this classic era of Action cinema, then you are truly a Hall of Fame VILLAIN!
TAM

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Downtown

The Action Mutant…
brings to you Montezuma’s Revenge…in type form.


Downtown (1990)


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
(Editor Note: I haven’t been reviewing for a while. Simply got burned out on the whole thing. I don’t know frequent these will be from here on out but I will try to make an effort to get some new content out. As I started writing the perspective on this a few months back, I decided to make it into sort of a mini journal entry. Just like on a very special Blossom!)

January, 21, 2009
Your fellow AM went to see The Wrestler last week, in one of only four theaters it was playing in the Maryland area. You know, when you say your film is going into wide release, you may want to define exactly what that means because I don’t consider 144 theaters nationwide a wide release. So, off to Harbor East Landmark in downtown Baltimore I went, where the ticket price was $10.50 & the advertised “validated parking” was nowhere in sight. And yet, the movie started & I could have cared less about all of that. The Wrestler just plain rocked from a dramatic standpoint (though I thought the scenes with “Randy the Ram” dealing with his daughter were a little out of place in comparison to the rest of the flick) & a “wrestling nerd picking out all of the details” standpoint. I won’t go into how The Rourke deserves all of the accolades for his performance because that would just be reiterating the obvious.

January 25, 2009
Just got to the news about Rourke laying down his plans for Wrestlemania XXV. Guess he’s fucked out of his Oscar now, I suspect. The Academy was probably secretly waiting for him to slip up somehow because as much as they like redemption stories, they like them better when the board gets exclusively sucked up to. Doing any business with Vince McMahon is probably worse than slipping into a booze filled rampage in their eyes, as I can imagine they don’t want the terms “WWE” and “Oscar” anywhere near each other. Screw the Oscars anyway; I tuned out completely after Benigni did cartwheels in the aisles & I realized none of this political glad-handing would ever clock in less than four hours. Funny thing is that the WWE wanted nothing to do with The Wrestler (with it portraying the business as…well, sordid) but decided to clasp itself to its bandwagon once the awards started rolling in. Vince McMahon…media whore.

February 22, 2009
The Oscars have come and gone. I didn’t watch the entire boring spectacle, though I saw that bizarre Hugh Jackman musical number & James Franco verbally put Necro Butcher over on national TV. As I guessed, Rourke didn’t win for Best Actor which is just as well because those old codgers rarely pick the best choice anyway. Maybe they were trying to show how progressive they were by having Sean Penn win for portraying one of those “fancy lads”. Finally, Hollywood picks up the ball when it is dropped by real life politicians (and the voting public)! Sorry, but you can’t tell me that more went into a singular performance this year than did Rourke’s in The Wrestler (though I’m sure Penn calling the Academy “commie, homo loving, sons of guns” made them cringe a little deep down inside). Oh well, back to 1985 for me.

The Plot, as it was:
Anthony Edwards stars as Alex Kearney, a cop that works the streets of an affluent Philadelphia suburb. A choice run-in with local bigwig Jerome Sweet (David Clennon) leads to Kearney getting a one way ticket for his punishment: to the Diamond Street precinct, Philly’s roughest police district (it’s worst than Beirut, apparently). And wouldn’t you know it, Alex get paired up with the sourest hardass on the force: Det. Dennis Curren (Forest Whitaker). When Kearney’s former partner Mickey (Rick Aiello) is murdered, the two partners-at-odds must attempt to find to killer & find the link between the murder & a car smuggling ring. Will Kearney & Curren be at each other’s throats because of their differing backgrounds? Will they bond only after beating each other senseless? Can you figure out who will be behind the smuggling ring? Must you ask?

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
In the pantheon of Cop/Buddy teams, Edwards & Whitaker are no Nolte & Murphy. They’re no Gibson & Glover. They’re not even Treat Williams & Joe Piscopo! They might be somewhere slightly ahead of Turner & Hooch, though. Perhaps I’m being too harsh; especially in remembering the old phrase “You’re only as good as your material”. Some actors have experiences like this & in the case of Downtown scribe Nat Mauldin, he must not have wanted his actors to be very good. The guy obviously blasted through his cliché rolodex in making this pic, as they are laid on thickly even for a normal genre entry (quick inquiry: Who do you think had the cliché rolodex first…Joel Silver or Simpson/Bruckheimer?). You get the condescending insults, thinly veiled racism (though it’s against a white guy, so its ok…), conflicts over police procedure, befriending of the hardass’s family (those moments SO wanted to be like Lethal Weapon) and the inevitable “bonding fight”. Even Art Evans shows up as the police chief who’s loud enough to put Frank McRae to shame & spouts enough profanity for five Joe Pescis! Many times, Downtown comes off like the most profane pilot for a Cop/Buddy TV comedy, both in look & setup. And quality. Much like signing up Michael Jordan to your basketball team only to have him take part in a few practices, a production team would have totally lucked into having the two leads in this film if it were made today. The sad part is Whitaker & Edwards didn’t have as much award cred to them at the time as they would go on to have…and they still come off as slumming here! Edwards is serviceable with material that doesn’t go past “I like Beach Boys music and I dress like a nerd” and Whitaker does well with raising his material past having to bully the white guy & acting pissed off (might not have needed much motivation…). The only other semi-memorable performance is Joe Pantaliano making for a pretty spooky psycho, though that’s like asking Van Gogh to paint something passable. Unfortunately, the film is an Action/Comedy that’s not big enough on action or fun enough to sit through (ok, the punchline to the “wrath of God” speech made me chuckle). In order to get to the “big twist” at the end (which isn’t that big) & the requisite final shootout, you may need to turn off the sectors of your brain that process logic & political correctness. Oh, and a pot of coffee or four wouldn’t hurt.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Glenn Plummer (Speed, Showgirls) is Valentine.

Body Count/Violence: 8. Until the obligatory “high noon” shootout, there isn’t much going on in Downtown action-wise. Along with occasional gunplay, there’s some beating, a slit throat and a car chase or two. Things get bloodier in the final scenes, including one doozy of a dispatching of one of the main villains. Let’s just say this one is gorier and more elaborate than when the same implement was used in Fargo.

Sexuality/Nudity: Kearney is stripped of his uniform by a large Mexican brood but nothing’s really shown....other than Edwards's skinny, white ass.

Language/Dialogue: Plenty of profanity, especially when the venerable Art Evans speaks about…well, anything (“Every backward, candy-ass, shit-for-brains fuck-up in the city, I get 'em!”).

How bad was it?:
Seeing as Downtown wasn’t very widely seen in its initial release (or since), there aren’t many reviews on it. That may be a good thing, considering that all of the reviews I picked up were as negative as could possibly be. My favorite review line: “The film was about as much fun as having your car stolen.” Unfortunately, I don’t think Cronenberg will be chronicling that fetish anytime soon.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Despite being a 20th Century Fox release, Downtown didn’t see much of anything in its dismal box-office history. Released in only 349 theaters on 1/12/90, the film only grossed $821,626 its opening weekend, good enough for 16th place behind newbies Internal Affairs, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Ski Patrol (in the tradition of Hot Dog…The Movie…). It limped to a final gross of $2.3 million (no budget numbers available) & would end popping up on the FOX network a few times in the mid-90s. You can find it on Encore occasionally every few months but skip to the end because…well, that death…boy… whoo!

Film: *1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hard Target

The Action Mutant…
would make a joke about Lance Henriksen being “flaming” but is afraid he would be glared to death.


Hard Target


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
(Note: Interesting to point out that after 132 reviews, this will be my first review of a Jean Claude Van Damme flick. I agree, it’s long overdue. I’m assuming that you are agreeing with me.)

At one time, a foreign filmmaker doing an American studio film for the first time was considered a big deal. When it was announced John Woo would be directing his first American made feature, the JCVD vehicle Hard Target, there was a sense of excitement but really more of unease. The inevitable questions arose…Would Universal, the film’s distributor, break down their new find & have him make the film the way an American studio film should? Would the MPAA neuter the bloody, grandiose violence that Woo was known for from his Hong Kong efforts? Would Wilford Brimley ride in on a horse, jump onto a larger horse, then a slightly smaller horse & ride off into the sunset? If you can’t figure out the answers to these questions (well, at least the first two) then you haven’t read too much about these sorts of things.

Problems began almost immediately, as Universal hired director Sam Raimi to be one of the executive producers in the event that he would become the “real” director of the flick once Woo fucked up. Raimi looked at it as an opportunity to work with one of his heroes, which was a far more respectable stance shown towards Woo than anyone at Universal showed. It got more ridiculous as studio execs were on set every day (during a two month shooting schedule, a timeframe half that of his filming of his opus Hard Boiled a year previous) handing down mandates on how many people could die during a scene, how much they could be shot & most likely how many squibs could be used! And then, there was Van Damme. Still having the clout of a major movie star at the time, JCVD felt during the editing process (which shockingly didn't involve Woo) that the film could use more of him…more Van Damme close-ups, more Van Damme action shots, more Van fucking Damme! Even if entire characters or scenes had to be compromised, so be it! People were paying to see him, not some guy with a fixation on guns & doves flying in slo-mo. When Woo delivered his 116 minute cut of Hard Target, Universal balked at the length (probably figuring JCVD fans didn’t have an attention span to stick with their hero for two hours). On top of that, the MPAA slapped Woo with the ever deadly NC-17 rating & had him edit and submit the film seven times before it was given an R. Hard Target made it to theaters at the end of the summer of 1993 at 97 minutes & while profitable, was nowhere near the success anyone had thought it would be. Woo’s career arguably never recovered, despite a few successful American features (Face/Off, the almost parody level Woo that was M-I:2). Amazingly, if this was all done in the present day, fans would most likely have to wait only a handful of months before the Director’s Cut would be available on DVD & all parties (studio, MPAA, fans, director, star) would be satisfied. It’s a shame that ego & supposed morality have gotten in the way of more than one promising effort and it’s even more of a shame that no one will seemingly ever learn from these mistakes.

The Plot, as it was:
Van Damme plays Chance Boudreaux, a merchant seaman (heh…merchant) who’s hard up for money in New Orleans. He takes the offer of distraught woman Nat Binder (Yancy Butler) to help her look for her homeless father (Chuck Pfarrer, the film’s screenwriter), whom she hasn’t seen in years. They find out that he’s been murdered as part of a sick game set up by madman Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) where the latter enlists homeless combat vets to be chased through the N.O. streets by millionaires paying for the “rush” of hunting down another man. Emil’s men start killing off anyone close to the deceased Binder but soon realize that Boudreaux will not be easy to silence, especially when Chance makes his way to the backwoods where he grew up. Regardless of what you may have heard, hunting season has just begun!

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Despite all of the studio tomfoolery & MPAA dickery, Hard Target is still a pretty entertaining action showcase. The amount of dilution of Woo’s trademarks cannot totally take away from the fact that it is still a John Woo film, though more in a B movie sense. There’s still enough to satisfy an ardent Woo mark, even if nothing gets anywhere close to the crazed brilliance of Hard Boiled or The Killer. The action set pieces are the flick’s bread n’ butter, as they get progressively larger in scale until the warehouse finale, which is classic Woo the whole way through. As a pure Action film in America, few can touch Hard Target even if it was made 15 years ago. Unfortunately, every other aspect of HT is scattershot at best, which leads to its mixed reception. The main discrepancy for me has to be the old genre problem of having far more compelling villains than heroes. Though not exactly unexpected, Henriksen is the main reason to see this as far as performances go. He turns Fouchon into an amoral slime on par with Clarence Boddicker in Robocop & his role would probably be on par with that one in people’s minds if this film was looked at more favorably. The inflections he adds to certain lines & subtle movements (like the Napoleon stance when he orders his men) make his act far better than the final product deserves. Hell, he allowed himself to be set on fire for one scene…how can you not love that? As Fouchon’s second Van Cleef, Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) brings a sardonic glee to his work & compliments Lance’s glower. This is all well and good because when it comes to the face side, it turns into a Horror film situation where you can’t help but want to root for the killer(s). A side of drywall could have been put in Butler’s place for as much emotion she displays, with her range going from “comatose” to “slightly startled”. You would think this would make JCVD look positively Looney Tunes by comparison but he’s just as uninteresting. His attempts to incorporate the Cajun speech into his dialogue are amusing & you will know that he’s at least awake in those scenes (oh, and the one’s where he’s kicking people). At least Wilford Brimley had his Quaker Oats & provides some moments as Chance’s Uncle Douvee, even if most of those moments are in an incomprehensible Cajun drawl (“Good whiskey make jackrabbit slap de bear!” Well…bye bye jackrabbit, then). However, the main thing that will irk Woo fans is that Hard Target lacks something in its hero that is readily apparent in Woo’s HK work: heart. In Hard Boiled & (especially) The Killer, the main characters were not only Supermen with guns but fully functioning, emotional characters. Van Damme’s infallible good guy may have worked in lesser efforts but it proves to be Hard Target’s biggest failing. When he encounters Fouchon for the final showdown, there’s little catharsis in seeing the baddie get his because the result is never in doubt, not even for a spilt second. Shame someone of the set didn’t realize Van Damme was lacking emotional pull, what with all of that screen time he had and all.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Ted Raimi, Sam’s brother, is the guy on the street hassled by Elijah (Willie Carpenter).
- SVEN…Ole Thorsen is back at it again as Stephan, the killer with the goofy looking shirt that Chance ruins.

Body Count/Violence: 36. Normally, thirty six dead bodies in a Woo film are equal to “a good start” or “one hell of an opening five minutes”. There’s still enough craziness abounding, with a few pretty sweet gun battles & a good amount of bloody hits to every part of the anatomy. Add to that some stabbing, explosions, arrow shots (both regular & metal tipped), grenade attacks, ear cutting (a nod to QT’s Reservoir Dogs, though it’s cut from impact to only show the results), people set on fire, snake attacks (and blown off snake head) and Van Damme’s brawling and you got a party. The best kill in the flick (IMO) involves a surprised biker, JCVD’s shotgun & a gas can. You’re the amateur chemistry major, you figure it out! Much of the violence is shortened from the original cut, which accounts for some of the film’s choppy editing.

Sexuality/Nudity: There’s a topless woman on a paper flyer but its in black & white (well, black & pink actually) so that’s about it.

Language/Dialogue: A few strong profanities (several F words, some SOBs) but not overly bad.

How bad was it?:
Most of Hard Target’s reviews put it squarely in the middle, which is better response than most of Van Damme’s movies and worse than Woo’s HK works. Those that wondered what the big deal was with Woo did at least cite the studio interference, as it wasn’t exactly a largely kept secret. Even with Van Damme and some of the other uninspired casting choices (and by that, I mean Yancy Butler), many admitted Hard Target was the best Action film that year though (to most critics) it was like saying what AC/DC album was their favorite.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
After raping John Woo’s creative efforts for all their worth, Universal released Hard Target in America on 8/20/93. Made on a modest budget of $15 million, the film debuted in 2nd place behind the third week of The Fugitive (which still had three more weeks before it was knocked out of that spot) with $10.1 million. It took a little less than a month for it to drop out of the top 10 & it finished its run in the States with $32.6 million (and $41.6 million overseas, for a final take of $74.2 million). This made it the 49th top grossing movie of the year, which did nothing more than give Woo the stigma of failure in America for a few years. Despite the grand age of DVD & countless versions of several films on the market, Hard Target is still only available in retail in its 97 minute theatrical version. If you go to certain sites, you may be able to find the 100 minute Unrated, overseas cut or the 116 minute Director’s Cut if you dig a little deeper.

Film: **1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Death Hunt

The Action Mutant…
sells his own pocket sized Charles Bronsons for trips out into the wilderness.


Death Hunt


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
A few numerical facts about Charles Bronson & Death Hunt:
- One of seven Bronson films to include the word “death” in the title (along with the five Death Wish films & 1988’s Messenger of Death).
- First of two films Bronson starred in that was directed by Peter Hunt (1987’s Assassination being the second).
- Released almost 14 years after The Dirty Dozen, which was the first on-screen pairing of Bronson & Lee Marvin.
- Third of four Bronson films that Ed Lauter appeared in (the others being Breakheart Pass, The White Buffalo & Death Wish 3).
- Though not a numerically based fact, did you know Ed Lauter was a stand up comedian before he started acting? Somehow that reminds me of Superintendent Chalmers’ assistant from The Simpsons doing a stand up routine. Lauter did star on one episode of Manimal in 1983, which would account for at least one laugh if he did stand up today. Hey, this was a numerically based fact after all!

The Plot, as it was:
Bronson stars as Albert Johnson, a mysterious drifter that rides into the Yukon Territory in 1931. His trouble begins when he rescues a wounded dog from a fight set up by the animal’s owner Hazel (Lauter). A visit by Hazel’s posse to Johnson’s cabin results in one dead dog & one dead posse member, so Mountie Edgar Millen (Marvin) and his crew come to the cabin to bring Johnson in peaceably. When a resolution seems almost in reach, Hazel’s trigger happy thugs start a shootout & a later dynamiting of Johnson’s cabin leads to Albert’s escape. Johnson, an experienced outdoorsman that knows the lay of the land, is chased by Millen, Hazel & many others looking to bring him down for a hefty reward ($1,000…remember, its 1931). If that’s not enough, the rumor that Johnson is the so-called “Mad Trapper” (some loon that carves out people’s gold fillings for monetary gain) adds fuel to the chase…a chase Millen is determined to end himself.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
One of the old adages that come to mind while watching Death Hunt is “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Despite that the film is based on the true life chase of the “Mad Trapper of Rat River”, writers Michael Grais & Mark Victor (Marked for Death) reworked history so the film resembles a more traditional chase pic (history lesson this isn’t…this is). Words also don’t get in the way for our hero as I would be genuinely surprised if Bronson spoke over 75 words during the course of the film (though that does work for the character, as the real Albert Johnson was heard to have not said a word during the five week chase). On the surface, this seems like any other Bronson shoot-‘em-up style piece: it’s slam-bang, bloody escapist fare in which Bronson glares long & says little. This is all true but there are a few things that differentiate this from the usual notch on Old Stoneface. For one thing, the casting is spot on in every which way, from Bronson in the no nonsense lead to Marvin as his weathered yet cagey adversary. I enjoyed the subtleties that came about during their scenes together, such as the stares & grins during the heat of the chase that communicated (to each other & the audience) that an odd camaraderie was there, despite the fact that one wants to bring the other man to justice. Carl Weathers & Andrew Stevens also provide solid support as Millen’s deputies, as they get to somewhat flesh out their archetypes. Director Hunt, at the helm of globetrotting adventures such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service & Shout at the Devil, makes the most of his Canadian scenery with grand cinematography from SatD camera operator James Devis. The buildup to the inevitable violent catalyst is handled very well, with the action being gritty & appropriate against the wilderness landscape. So, it comes as a bit of a disappointment when the film starts to slow up in the middle & only gets by on the two leads’ effortless screen presence. Two stars such as Bronson & Marvin can take away from some of the more glaring mistakes here, like suspect audio synching & editing (as well as Johnson jumping onto a snow bank that is located near a modern day traffic guardrail! I knew the 1930s were progressive but, shit…). Thankfully at 97 minutes, the film recovers for a stellar ending & makes for one of Bronson’s more viewable post-Death Wish vehicles.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Sean McCann (Run, Tommy Boy) is the news reporter that offers the reward for Johnson’s capture. McCann also co-starred with Bronson in the latter’s last film role, the 1999 TV film Family of Cops III: Under Suspicion.

Body Count/Violence: 11. The bloodbath that was Chuck Bronson’s career was only accentuated with this effort. Whilst the number of dead bodies doesn’t reflect it, the blood per corpse factor is fairly high here. The dead are mostly handled by Bronson’s sawed off shotgun, resulting in blood splattering shots to the head, neck & chest. My favorite is when the rodent faced Charlie Rat (Maurice Kowaleski) is urged to break down Johnson’s door after his cabin has been shot up. Once the door opens, Johnson greets him from the foxhole in his floor & promptly blasts the poor bastard five feet out of the doorway with said shotgun. Unfortunately, the gore is skimped on the final few deaths & that takes away from their visceral impact. There’s some fighting, bear trap snaring, plane crashes & the aforementioned dog fight in the beginning.

Sexuality/Nudity: No nudity but there are the subplots of Sundog (Weathers) offering the “Buffalo Woman” (Amy Marie George) to Constable Adams (Stevens) & Hazel eventually revealing his true nature. And yet, Angie Dickinson is in the film for about as long as it takes to prepare a ham sandwich & nothing happens. Guess it just reestablishes the fact that there’s no room for women (Buffalo, Police or otherwise) in the Great Wild.

Language/Dialogue: A few F word instances & some old salt slang, mainly courtesy of Millen (“That look on your face would turn good whiskey into sour piss.”)

How bad was it?:
Not much in the way of reviews on this one, despite the fact that it’s not all that obscure (pops up on Encore or AMC several times during the year, for example). Few called it a serviceable actioner while others unfairly lumped it in with Bronson’s other “revenge” pics. Ok, so I suppose he is getting revenge for someone here (the wounded dog) but that’s pushing it a little.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Northshore Investments Ltd. & Golden Harvest (who would later pair up for the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie) produced Death Hunt & released it in New York on 5/22/81 through 20th Century Fox. No budget figures were made public but the film made $5 million in the U.S. during its initial run & is available on DVD through Anchor Bay.

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: ****/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bloody Mama

The Action Mutant…
shudders if there’s a sexual education film of the same title.


Bloody Mama


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
I don’t usually shill a movie on here & definitely don’t do so before its premiere but the exception is this case. Simply put…go see The Wrestler. I was jazzed when I first heard about the project, being the grapple aficionado that I am. Hearing that Nicholas Cage was supposed to be the lead caused a few lumps in the throat, as I could only imagine the manic promos (interviews) he would have conjured up while in character (“HI-FUCKING-YA to YOU, Mr. Fuji!”). When Cage dropped out & Mickey Rourke took over, my heart grew three sizes immediately. In reading about the storyline for the film & the cementing of Rourke’s involvement, I could just feel this was going to be something special. Out of all of the past Hollywood tough guys out there, which one conveys “beaten down, husk of a former giant” better than Mickey Rourke? As the release draws near (goes wide January 16th), I’m smiling on the inside at the fact that I will see a film that actually takes the subject of pro wrestling seriously for a change. Because lets face it, for every Beyond the Mat there are five of Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred. Also, WWE head Vince McMahon got a special screening of the film recently and (shockingly) hated what he saw. Considering what’s happened the past few years, I’d be thankful someone wasn’t making a movie about Chris Benoit right about now if I was “Vinnie Mac”. Anyway, go out and see this on the 16th & check out this TAM friend if you’re a Mickey Rourke fan (or about to become one after you see…THE WRESTLER!).

The Plot, as it was:
Shelley Winters (The Poseidon Adventure) stars as “Ma” Barker, the verbose mother of a gang of bank robbing sons during the Depression era. Ma’s oedipal hold has produced an eclectic menagerie of sons, including gun happy Herman (Don Stroud), quiet Arthur (Clint Kimbrough), drugged out Lloyd (Robert DeNiro) and masochistic homosexual Fred (Robert Walden). The matriarch is content with the family robbing banks to carve out a living (as well as conveniently timed sing-a-longs) but they all end up on the run after a few innocents are murdered under Ma’s orders. As authorities close in, Ma’s “boys” begin to realize that their mother doesn’t really know best (Ed note: I know it’s supposed to be “Father Knows Best”. Just go with me, here!).

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Those expecting a low budget gorefest in the grand Grindhouse tradition may be somewhat disappointed with the results of Bloody Mama (based on the true story of the Barker clan, to which the movie is mostly faithful to the source). Directed & produced by B movie impresario Roger Corman, BM shoots to be a bit more ambitious than the base instincts of the genre. The main focus of the film is how the sons progress from one crazy, (usually) murderous situation to the next, usually at the prompting of Ma & their slow descent into certain doom. There’s nothing wrong with this sort of build & the cast representing Barker’s brood displays their characters well (with an indication of the future to come in DeNiro’s oddball portrayal). Of course, these subtler, character based elements conflict with the movie’s flow & the result is something that is rarely seen in a Corman flick: it slows up! It actually seems longer than its 90 minute run time & there are actually times where the viewer looks for something to happen, only to be greeted by one of Ma Barker’s domineering song sessions. The exploitive nature that’s usually a given in Corman productions is curbed somewhat here & when it does show up, it only make things more uneven. However, it’s easy to get distracted by all of this whenever Winters’ Ma Barker is on screen. “Barker” ends up to be a very appropriate character name as Shelley literally barks, snarls, spits and eschews scenery with every motion. It takes immeasurable bravado to overshadow both yeomen’s work by Pat Hingle (as a businessman the Barkers kidnap) and Bruce Dern’s usual eccentric self (as Fred’s menacing boyfriend) but Winters does it. Her freaking out in the final moments is the perfect capper & carries the movie out on a high note. Without it, Bloody Mama is only intermittently interesting & alternates between audacity and waiting.

Body Count/Violence: 16. Despite its title, Bloody Mama doesn’t live up to the former half of its moniker until the last ten minutes of the film. Here, the Barkers & the police shoot it out with each other with grand abandon (and a live audience!), resulting in several bloody bullet hits (including Tommy gun fire to someone’s face & the brief, yet nasty aftermath). Before that, there is more shooting, fighting, a car chase that results in an explosion, drowning, drug use & an old woman being thrown from a moving car!

Sexuality/Nudity: Diane Varsi (as Herman’s girl Mona) shows her breasts in a bedroom scene & a woman shows her curvy backside while running from the Barkers after a backwoods tryst. Pamela Dunlap is shown in a suggestively cut up swimsuit & three old broads are left in the woods in their bloomers and topless (stop vomiting; they have arms over them the whole time). I’m sure Corman had to be chuckling at that one a little.

Language/Dialogue: Mild for the most part, with Ma having an affinity to calling cops “sons of bitches”.

How bad was it?:
Though the reviews were mixed (and expectedly so), opinions skewed more wildly than most Corman efforts. Some critics deemed it as straight exploitation while others praised it for its attempt at looking at the Barkers in a psychological manner. There was even some citing back to the film it’s obviously compared to (Bonnie & Clyde), saying that the violence & lifestyle wasn’t as glamorized as it was in B&C. And when you think glamorous, you think Shelley Winters (c-mon, did you really think I’d get through the whole review without even the slightest of shots at ol’ Shelley Win? I kid, I kid.).

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Being an American International release & produced by the “King of the Bs”, it would be fair to presume that Bloody Mama was a financial success, even without the budget or box office gross figures to back it up. It was released in America on 3/24/70.

Film: **1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hangfire

The Action Mutant…
waits for Hangfire 2: Hangnail!


Hangfire


review by Joe Burrows


Perspective:
This past Christmas was a fairly uneventful one for TAM. I didn’t receive any new review fodder like last year, which produced the Lethal Weapon trilogy for my collection. However, I’m sure the post-holiday residuals will produce some great material that will be summarily broken down into hackneyed musings written for my enjoyment & no one else’s. That said, the start of TAM’s year brings him back to the public domain sector via Fancast.com, which offers a stellar selection of free films & TV episodes to watch (and no, this is not a cost cutting measure resembling those you have heard on the news as of late). And my first reviewed flick of the year…comes from the production team that brought the world the Barbarian Brothers vehicle Double Trouble! God Bless Us…Everyone!

The Plot, as it was:
Brad Davis (Midnight Express) plays Ike Slayton, the newly married Sheriff of a small New Mexico town. Before any honeymoon can commence, Ike’s prosecutor wife Maria (Kim Delaney) is taken hostage along with other townspeople by escaped killer/rapist Kuttner (Lee de Broux) & a posse of escaped felons. Caught in between a standoff with the convicts & a glut of National Guard soldiers led by the quite tweaked Col. Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent), Ike teams with best bud Billy (Ken Foree) and attempts to diffuse the situation his way (which is hopefully not the “Max Power” way).

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
A strange thing happened while I was watching Hangfire…I kept expecting it to suck. I mean wholeheartedly suck. Suck to the point that I would have to go order Taco Bell immediately afterwards so I wouldn’t feel as dirty as I had after watching it. Seriously, the cast consists of Jan-Michael Vincent, James Tolkan (Principal Strickland in the Back to the Future films…slacker!), George Kennedy, Yaphet Kotto, Lou Ferrigno and Lyle Fucking Alzado!...tell me this doesn’t sound like a Cannonball Run flick to you? And yet, Hangfire is much like the Krevoy/Stabler production I mentioned in the opening paragraph, as it’s quick, somewhat breezy Action fare that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It takes the whole “convicts busting out & raising hell” premise (done with a far bigger budget in Con Air) and does modestly well with low funding, squeezing a good amount of shootouts from it. The menagerie of former award winners & B flick luminaries actually fare well for the most part, though Kennedy & Kotto’s roles are fairly glorified cameos that take up about seven minutes of screen time combined. Davis & Foree have good buddy chemistry for the most part, even if Davis tends to be a bit dull in the lead. The solution to that quandary is to have a great villain to pick up the slack and de Broux plays the part in all of its slimy, over the top glory. You can tell he’s having fun with the role & he gets some great support from Tolkan as his confidant-in-arms. And who can’t appreciate JMV cracking tough guy lines in a slightly bent fashion (“I think we should march right in there and kick ‘em in the balls!”)? Things start to sputter around the end though, as the final confrontation in a helicopter comes off looking awkward (lots of long shots) & ends rather anticlimactically. In turn, the end’s a little too neat but it ends up fitting in with the already light tone of the movie. If you don’t mind your Action films being very digestible & compact for a rainy day afternoon, Hangfire will work for a decent 90 minute fix and may offer a surprise or two along the way.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Fred Schneider (lead singer of The B-52s) is Attorney Allen. There goes a narwhal! (err…narwhal noise).

Body Count/Violence: 28. Hangfire starts things off with a moderately gory shower stabbing & continues to bring the blood on an intermittent basis. Most of it comes about by shooting, with at least one character getting it point blank in the head. The film also sports a nice car crash, some strangling, explosions, fighting, etc. It’s nothing to get crazy over but it’s enough to satiate as well.

Sexuality/Nudity: None. Who would have thought Delaney would flaunt her body more on TV & not in B movies such as this?

Language/Dialogue: Some occasional F bomb usage, as well as Kuttner calling Maria “bitch” while trying to “seduce” her. Ok, so those scenes kind of reminded me of the local gym teacher trying to come on to a hot MILF. And not in the slightly uncomfortable, yet still funny Coach McGurik on Home Movies type of way.

How bad was it?:
Being a not-so-widely-seen feature, there aren’t many reviews or feedback on Hangfire. What’s there is pretty mixed, with exactly one decent review and one bad fan feedback message.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Filmed on the cheap in Santa Clarita, California, Motion Picture Corporation of America released Hangfire on video (through the Columbia/TriStar label) on 8/7/91. No box office/budget figures are public & it is only available on VHS (for as low as $1.49 on Amazon…or for FREE!).

Film: **1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.