Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Starting with this post, I will, from time to time, review newer that I enjoyed either the first time I saw them in the theater, or stuff I just never got around to paying to see in a dark room surrounded by strangers wondering if I would ever see the money I spent on concessions ever again.  Part of this is so I can get newer material on the site, incredibly enough there are movies I have opinions on that were released in the last ten years or so. 

It's also because sometimes your first thoughts after seeing a movie in the theater aren't quite as coherent as they could be.  Basically, this saves me from having my fun time on a day off feel like work that I'm not getting paid for.

I will also be restructuring the blog in the coming weeks.

In April of this year, the second Captain America movie made a killing at the box office, becoming the top grossing movie of the year... At least until Guardians of the Galaxy came along and thus far has made even more. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is leaps and bounds better than the first one, a rather impressive feat as the first film was pretty damn good in its own right.

First and foremost, this is one hell of a fun action movie.  From Cap (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) taking out a bunch of bad guys on a boat in the opener to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) being ambushed in his car to the showdowns with The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the action is top notch and I'm even leaving out some sequences just because there are so many.

The cast is fantastic: Evans is great as Cap; Jackson and Johansson are fun, Robert Redford is terrific as senior SHIELD member Alexander Pierce (the reveal that he's the bad guy works rather nicely, though if you really think about it, it becomes a little obvious) and Stan does quite well as Winter Soldier.  Also, as a fan of 70's and early 80's Marvel, I love having Anthony Mackie present as The Falcon.  He's cool and  makes a nice addition to the world these Marvel movies have created.

The film moves along at a nice clip, giving us a very cool 70's style conspiracy thriller (which makes casting Robert Redford an especially nice touch) with a modern flair.  Great action, a fun cast with some nice laughs and surprises (having Black Widow impersonate a security council member played by Jenny Agutter is terrific) plus some nice big changes to the overall world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is quite simply one of the best superhero movies I have ever seen.  Period.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Blasts From the Past: P.O.W.: The Escape (1986)

P.O.W.: The Escape (1986)

Note: Starting with this review, I won't be doing ratings on movies.  I'm just sort of tired of it and at the end of the day, they don't really mean a hell of a lot.

In the mid-80s, there was a glut of action movies dedicated to plots concerning rescuing prisoners of war from Vietnam.  Generally these were made to just cash in on the then current real life political debates over the matter, but it was also an excuse to re-fight the one war we took a major butt whooping in (at least in the 1900's).  Notable titles were Rambo: First Blood Part II and Uncommon Valor and naturally, Cannon Films got into the fray with the first two Missing in Action films and our feature today.

P.O.W. The Escape, also known as Behind Enemy Lines and Attack Force 'Nam stars David Carradine as Cooper, a colonel sent in to rescue prisoners after the fall of Saigon in 1973, only to be captured himself, necessitating him breaking out of the prison with as many fellow soldiers as possible.  Before doing so, the camp commander, Captain Vinh (Mako) makes him a tempting offer, noting that he will let the entire camp go free and escort them to American lines if Cooper helps him get to Miami where he has family.

The film is pretty basic in terms of plot and characterization with Carradine doing a serviceable hard ass routine and Mako delivering an adequate enough job, though with a better script his rather interesting character could have been even better.  As it stands, he's interesting for the first half of the movie and afterwards, just a stock bad guy.  Steve James is given little to do, which is typical but Charles Floyd is decent enough as Sparks, the obligatory jerk soldier who is only interested in himself.

Action is plentiful but rather predictable as we get a selection of shootouts with some fist fights and a rather nice bridge explosion.  There is one pretty amusing bit towards the end as Carradine literally wraps himself in the American flag before mowing down a bunch of enemy soldiers.

P.O.W.: The Escape is a predictable, modestly entertaining piece of action fluff that is fine for the time you are viewing it but not necessarily essential.  It could have used more of the plot line of the deal between Cooper and Vinh and in some parts it feels quite disjointed with scenes ending a few beats before they feel like they should.  It's a decent enough time waster, though.  If nothing else it's more enjoyable and less unpleasant to sit through than Missing in Action 2.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Lord of Illusions (1995)

Lord of Illusions (1995)


Clive Barker has always had a way with interesting ideas and his 1995 film Lord of Illusions is a fine example of him at his best.  Scott Bakula plays Harry D'Amour, a private investigator who goes to Los Angeles to investigate possible insurance fraud and ends up getting involved with a stage magician who uses real magic and his beautiful wife.  Said magician is Swann, played by Kevin J. O'Connor and his Famke (Goldeneye, X-Men) Janssen plays his wife Dorothea.

Swann used to be part of a death cult run by a nutter named Nix (Daniel von Bargen) who has legit magical powers and saw Swann as his protege.  In the opening fifteen minutes, we see Swann return to Nix's compound after leaving for a brief period and rescuing a young girl Nix was planning to sacrifice for more power before killing Nix and burying him in the desert.  Dorothea turns out to be the young girl Swann rescued and, as tends to be the case in this sort of movie, Nix isn't exactly 100% dead.

Lord of Illusions is an interesting, entertaining horror film with some nice film noir elements thrown in for flavor.  Actually, it might be the other way around but either way, Clive Barker made something pretty damn good here, for the most part  Scott Bakula is good as Harry; Famke Janssen and Kevin J. O'Connor are solid in their roles and Daniel von Bargen is a nicely creepy, low key villain.

The first two thirds of the movie are quite good, bordering on great though the film does falter during the last act when Nix is resurrected.  For starters, as soon as Nix is brought back he promptly kills his followers which is fine and the way he does it is nicely unpleasant (turning the floor into quicksand after making it rain indoors is pretty damn evil) but it is undercut somewhat with one of the followers rather hammily flipping him off as he dies.  It's a bad laugh and sort of takes one out of the moment.

Following that is the showdown with Swann, Nix and Harry which one would expect to be a real showstopper based on how Nix has been built up.  Sadly, it comes off as sort of lame as Nix simply gets into Harry's head briefly, menaces Dorothea and kills Swann.  His death is decent enough but for a guy who was built up as a potential world killer, it's a swing and a miss.

That aside, Lord of Illusions is worth a look for the first two thirds which nicely blend noir detective stories with horror.  Clive Barker is a talented writer and director and it would be nice to see another directorial effort from the man.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

1985: The Best

The last post of this series, the top ten for 1985.  It's been a fun ride that took a little over two years to complete.  Hope all enjoyed it.

10. Return of the Living Dead

Terrific zombie movie with a clever plot revolving around the original Night of the Living Dead turning out to be based in truth and a chemical spill which wakes the dead.  Dan O'Bannon made one hell of a movie here with a fun cast, some great gore and load of laughs.  It's a real classic, plus you get Linnea Quigley nude... Which is nice to have if you can get it.

9. Mask

Very moving, well acted drama about a young man with a heavily disfigured face and his fight to just live a normal life.  Eric Stoltz is very good as the kid, as is Cher as his mother.  The film is based on a true story and Peter Bogdanovich directs things with a nice, laid back skill that simply lets the characters exist.  Just a really good film.

8. Real Genius

I really love this fun college comedy about a bunch of uber smart kids engaging in the usual 80's comedy stuff, only with a wining Val Kilmer performance and William Atherton as a jerky professor.  The overall plot revolves around the building of a chemical laser but that sort of gets shoved aside in favor of some really funny scenes and performances.  Real Genius is a fantastic comedy.

7. Rambo: First Blood Part II

Set aside the politics and the second Rambo movie is just one hell of a run ride.  Stallone's second run with the character is a perfect brainless summer action movie with tons of action, some cheese and a fun Steven Berkoff performance as the bad guy.  This is pretty much the only possible year this movie would have made the top ten.  1985 was pure 80's in general, and so is this movie.

6. Fletch

Great comedy mystery based on the novel of the same name by Gregory McDonald.  Chevy Chase plays the title character, a smartass investigative journalist with a taste for disguises who stumbles upon a drug dealing police chief in cahoots with a rich jerk trying to make a killing.  Chevy is funny as hell in this, lots of laughs and overall just a solid, fun movie.

5. Lifeforce

Any other year, this would probably be on the guilty pleasures list but Lifeforce is so awesomely over the top that it deserves a spot on the top ten.  Tobe Hooper directs this fantastic movie about nude space vampires and a zombie outbreak that is endearingly overblown with great f/x and fun acting from Steve Railsback, Patrick Stewart and the rest of the cast.  It's quite good, provided you like over the top B movies.

4. Fright Night

Great vampire movie with William Ragsdale as a young man who becomes convinced his neighbor is a vampire.  Chris Sarandon is terrific as the ghoul and Roddy McDowall as a TV horror host who helps Ragsdale.  Good acting, some terrific f/x and an awesome finale help make this one of the best horror films of the year.

3. Commando

Arnold Schwarzenegger is at his best here in this nonstop, cheesy action classic.  Arnold is a former Special Ops expert who is basically a one man army, especially when his daughter is kidnapped.  Aided by the cute Rae Dawn Chong, he embarks on an absolute slaughter of every bad guy he finds including Bill Duke, Dan Hedaya and Vernon Wells as the most over the top bad guy Arnold has ever faced.  Tons of action, tons of laughs, classic Arnold all the way!

2. Re-Animator

The best horror film of the year is Stuart Gordon's gory adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story.  Jeffrey Combs is fantastic as the mad scientist, as is David Gale as his nemesis and the special effects are wonderfully hideous.  The humor also works with lots of deadpan lines from Combs and the rest of the cast.  It's a real classic.

1. Back to the Future

Robert Zemeckis really hit the jackpot with this fantastic comedy.  The story is fairly well known: Michael J. Fox uses mad scientist friend Christopher Lloyd's time machine to travel back thirty years and ends up having to make sure his parents fall in love.  Fox and Lloyd are fantastic, as are Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson as Fox's parents.  Thomas F. Wilson is also classically funny as Biff.  Back to the Future is the best movie of 1985: It's funny, smart and chock full of great moments.  It doesn't get much better than this.

1985 wasn't the best year, but it certainly was one of the most enjoyable.

1985: Guilty Pleasures

Lots to see here as this was a very good year for fun crap.

It's not really that great, but Roger Moore's swan song as 007 is just entertaining enough (having Christopher Walken as the bad guy helps lot) to make me enjoy it... Though it has a lot to do with nostalgia.  Lot's of nostalgia.

My favorite of the series, Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment is really, really stupid as the recruits (the ones they could get to appear at least) are given their first assignment (clever title, eh?) which is to clean up a rotten neighborhood being terrorized by Bobcat Goldthwaite and his gang.  The usual gags ensue and against my better judgment, I find it pretty damn funny.

I enjoy this rather cheesy Stephen King adaptation produced by Dino DeLaurentiis.  Based on his novella Cycle of the Werewolf, Silver Bullet is an agreeably silly werewolf movie with some nice f/x (though the werewolf looks more like a bear than a wolf) and a fun turn from Gary Busey who for once is the voice of reason in a movie.

The most enjoyably sleazy of  the Friday the 13th films, this fifth entry has more cheese than you can stand with a dumb Jason impersonator plot; a scene where a cute chick does the robot dance before getting skewered, the loosest definition of mental illness I've ever seen (stuttering counts now?  damn!), a massive body count and an oddly washed out look that seems to be prevalent in some other lower budgeted films from this year.  It's quite the crap fest.

The most gloriously cheesy of the Rocky films, this has Sylvester Stallone single handedly winning the Cold War by winning a boxing match against Dolph Lundgren.  Stallone is cheesy as ever, the training montage is awesome (Sly carries a tree yup a snowy hill) and Dolph makes for a nicely intimidating villain.  It's not as good as the third movie, but it's one of the most hilarious Stallone movies out there.

 And to finish, a quartet of Cannon goodies.  As I said, 1985 was the best year for the company, though more than likely not in the way they intended.

First off is the wonderfully insane second Hercules movie from Luigi Cozzi.  Herc must retrieve Zeus' lightning bolts in order to save the world along with battling an old rival.  That';s about as coherent as I can make it as the movie is 85 minutes of sheer weirdness.

Charles Bronson is back again in the third Death Wish film which is the cheesiest and probably most entertaining, along with the fourth one.  Paul Kersey is back in New York after his Los Angeles detour in the second movie and now he's fighting the most over the top street gang imaginable in order to save a neighborhood.  Tons of cheese and violence along with some really bad acting.  What more could you want from a Death Wish sequel?

Speaking of really bad, King Solomon's Mines.  Loosely based on the H. Rider Haggard novel, it stars Richard Chamberlain as hero Allan Quatermain, Sharon Stone as the love interest and John Rhys Davies in a nicely hammy villainous role.  Herbert Lom is also on hand as a bad guy and the entire film is chock full of bad f/x, bad acting, cheese and stupidity.  It's the sort of thing you kind of have to see for yourself.

And last but not least, the ultimate Chuck Norris movie!  Invasion U.S.A. is a simple tale of one man fighting off a Russian invasion of Florida, led by Richard Lynch.  While Lone Wolf McQuade is the better movie, this one is Chuck's most memorable with tons of cheesy action scenes and Chuck strutting his stuff.  It's quite bad in a very good way, though the reporter character grates on the nerves like nobody's business.

Coming soon: The Best of 1985

1985: Leftovers

No worst of 1985 post as most of the bad stuff goes to the guilty pleasure section.  Also, this post will be a little shorter as I decided to save a few films from this year for regular reviews.  In light of that, let's get moving onto the middle of the road...

Entertaining, fairly minor action film from Cannon about a trucker and his grandson trying to transport some plutonium to Arizona.  It takes about twenty minutes or so to get warmed but once it does, it's a fun action film with some amazing stunt work.  Good work from Forrest Tucker in his last role as the hero and Alan Rachins as the bad guy.

Mediocre, somewhat overrated Chuck Norris film that is essentially a formula cop film that tries to be a little more serious and misses the mark a little too often.  Norris is fine when he's in action and the finale is nice but the film just doesn't quite do it for me.

The sequel to Romancing the Stone isn't nearly as good, but still fun as Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner end up on an adventure in Africa with Danny DeVito tagging along as well.  Some fun action and a few funny bits make this one worth the effort.

Apart from the nice action scene in the middle and at the end plus a good performance from Angelo Rossitto, there isn't a hell of a lot to recommend in this third Mad Max movie.  Max finds himself in a town run by Tina Turner (in an okay performance, though the song she sings over the end credits is better than anything else she does) and after being exiled into the desert, he teams up with a bunch of kids to get some payback.  The stuff in the town is fine but after the exile, the film just dies on the vine until the last stunt sequence.  It's a real disappointment as the first two films are some of the best action films of all times.

Some scattered fun bits and Geena Davis' costume are the only things keeping this film from the worst of the year list.  A drab, not really that inspired or funny take on the Universal monster movies, this has a talented cast (and Michael Richards) wasted in a limp, routine comedy.  Pity.

 Coming soon: The Guilty Pleasures of 1985

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

1985: Honorable Mentions

And we come to the last year in this series: 1985.  It's not as jam-packed as 1987, not as over the top as 1984 or 1990, but it is just simply a solid year of fantastic cinema, lots of fun.  Probably the most "80's" year of the decade as we will see.  Let's get started with the honorable mentions.

Fun adventure from Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner that takes a cast of future stars and puts them in a search for lost pirate treasure.  Lots of great lines and moments with a fun cast and a nice pace.  Not a classic, but still a fun ride.

Harrison Ford is terrific in this thriller about a cop who goes undercover in Amish country in order to find a killer and protect the young Amish boy who can finger him.  Ford is good, as is the rest of the cast and it's fun to see Danny Glover in a rare villainous role.

Martin Scorsese's pitch black comedy is a grueling experience starring Griffin Dunne as a man who meets a nice girl and goes deep into New York to pick her up for a date.  A series of misadventures keep him from his evening and the film becomes almost Kafka-esque in the way it torments its hero.  Good performances make this one a winner.

Clint Eastwood returned to the western in this fun reworking of Shane that also touches on some of the themes High Plains Drifter hit.  Clint plays a nameless stranger dressed as a preacher who helps out a bunch of poor miners against nasty piece of work Richard Dysart and his gunmen.  While the story is rather predictable, the fun comes from Clint's character who may or may not be a supernatural force.  He has some decidedly fatal bullet wounds on his back and rides a pale horse but the film is smart to never explain.  It is content to let you decide for yourself and the end result is a solid mid-range Eastwood flick.

The debut for the Coen Brothers, Blood Simple is a nicely dark film noir thriller with John Getz and Frances McDormand as lovers who want to get rid of abusive husband Dan Hedaya.  The film is impeccably and inventively shot, well written and acted and in general is just a fantastic film.

An all-star cast headlines this entertaining, sort of old fashioned western directed by screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.  A big, sprawling epic with gunfights, punch-ups and general entertainment, Silverado is a really terrific western for the 80's.

George Romero's third zombie movie has terrific f/x from Tom Savini and really, that helps the film more than anything else as the script is sort of overdone and heavy handed.  Still, performances are pretty good and like I said, the f/x are fantastic which makes this good enough for the list.

While not as awesomely cheesy as the second one, the first American Ninja movie is a fun, action packed ride as Michael Dudikoff and Steve James take down a weapons smuggling ring in the Philippines.  1985 was Cannon's best year with great films throughout, as we will see in this series.  American Ninja is an 80's cheese classic.

Who the hell would have guessed one of the best comedies of the year would be based on a frigging board game?  A great cast more or less acts out the game in a very funny murder mystery, highlighted by nice comic turns from Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and Martin Mull.

I've come to sort of love this underrated sequel.  It's not the greatest, but it's still an entertaining enough entry in the series with a typically good Robert Englund performance, some nice (though sometimes hard to see) f/x and to be honest, the undercurrent of sexuality makes the film a hell of a lot more interesting to watch.

Just the idea of soldiers in World War II being helped by aliens is a delightful enough concept on its own but the way Zone Troopers executes it makes it even better.  Essentially an old fashioned war picture with a group of American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines being aided by aliens, it has two B-movie greats in Tim Thomerson and Art La Fleur as hard ass soldiers and some nice John Carl Buechler alien effects.  Empire Pictures released this and I gotta say it's truly refreshing to see something with Charles Band's name on it that's actually good.  Zone Troopers is a fun, entertaining romp that makes good use of its low budget and endlessly entertaining.

Coming soon: The Leftovers of 1985

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.