Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Expendables (2010) Revised Review

What better way to kick off the new version of the blog than with a redux of one of the first reviews I ever posted here.  The Expendables is an amazingly fun throwback to the glory days of action films where the macho nonsense was laid on thick, the violence was excessive to the point of hilarity and by the end pretty much anything that could be blown up real good met with that fate.

Sly plays Barney Ross, a mercenary who heads a team that includes Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) Yin Yang (Jet Li), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren).

The plot is a favorite of mine when it comes to cheesy action movies, the good guys have to overthrow a sadistic Central American dictator.  Here, the dictator, one General Garza (David Zayas) is being funded by Munroe (Eric Roberts), a former CIA operative who is assisted by Dan Paine (Stone Cold Steve Austin) and The Brit (Gary Daniels).

Ross and company are put onto the job by a shadowy man named Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) and in a wonderfully amusing scene; Ross takes the job after it’s rejected by a fellow mercenary played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Yep, the three big names from 80’s action are in one scene together and it’s great!  Hell, even with the three teaming in the sequel and the recent Escape Plan with Sly and Arnie, it's still a fun scene.

The movie kicks off with a nice action scene with the team taking down some pirates that ends with Jensen being kicked out of the group for being an unstable nut job.  Other action highlights include a hilariously over the top scene Stallone and Statham in a plane that sees Statham getting into a gun turret mounted on the nose of the plane and the wonderfully excessive climax that has enough gunfire, flames, blood and carnage for two movies.  How can you not love a movie that ends with a huge bomb (as in the type usually dropped from planes) is thrown (Terry Crews may actually be from Krypton) at an escaping helicopter and shot at in order to create a massive explosion?

We also get some fun hand-to hand stuff during the climax as Statham and Li fight The Brit (the double team move they use to kill the guy is great); a nicely brutal punch-up between Stallone and Stone Cold and another good one with Austin and Randy Couture that ends rather badly for The Texas Rattlesnake.

There are simply not enough words to describe how much I love this movie.  The performances are great across the board (Eric Roberts is especially good as his usual slimy villain) and I should give a special mention to Mickey Rourke at this point.  He has a supporting role as a former member of Stallone’s team and serves as the team’s weapons supplier.  In a rather neat, inspired moment, he is given time to reminisce about a mission he was on that stuck with him.  It’s a wonderfully done moment that is great because it is so out of place.  Sure, Stallone tries to tie it in with his character’s psychology but come on... You come to a movie like this for loads of action, not psychological complexity.

Plus, it sort of fits with old school Stallone as he usually tries to put stuff like this in most of his scripts, usually to mixed results.

About the only real gripe I have is the rather dodgy CGI used in place of blood squibs and the editing is a little too frenetic considering the era the movie is trying to replicate.  Great flick though and Rourke is great in his scenes.  I highly recommend this movie for anyone who either was around for this type of movie when it was the norm or wants to know just how great action movies used to be.  Watching this in the theater was like going back in time and the sequels are even better... Well, the second one is at any rate.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Site Update

Checking in real quick to make a few annoucements.

1.  As of now, the site will now be called "Ed's Blasts From the Past".  The web address will remain the same.

2.  Relating to that, the posts with the "blasts from the past" tag will be adjusted over time.  I will also be updating certain older reviews (as in the ones I feel stink like death).

Stay tuned for those as well as new content (though with the holidays, they might be a little scarce)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Fifth Element (1997)

The Fifth Element is a gorgeous looking, fast paced, exciting adventure marred only by one really bad casting decision.  Directed by French action specialist Luc Besson, it stars Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas, a cab driver in the year 2263 who must help a strange but powerful young woman (cloned from a alien being who can harness the forces of the four basic elements to form a fifth) stop an ancient evil that appears every 5000 years and tries to destroy the world.

The story is pure escapism, laid out with a light and humorous touch that throws in some rather nice emotional bits while still maintaining that fun tone that makes the film worthwhile.  From the prologue in 1914 Egypt (complete with cool aliens) to the effects laden finale, the film moves at a breathless pace.  There is an immense amount of exposition we have to absorb but, as with Big Trouble in Little China, it is delivered in a fast and fairly funny manner that lets you get all the really important stuff.  If you miss a detail and you dug the film, that is what repeat viewings are for.  If not, well, it's sort of a moot point then.

The cast acquits itself quite nicely with Willis turning in a lighter version of his usual hard ass routine; Milla Jovovich is good and actually quite effective as the genetically engineered young woman who is the only one who can stop the evil and Gary Oldman hams it up to no end as the bad guy, complete with out of place Southern drawl.  Ian Holm is also fun as the priest who has the job of delivering the bulk of the exposition.  The cheesy movie fan in me also loves having Brion James and Tiny Lister in the same movie.

Really the only casting issue is Chris Tucker as a radio host who tags along with the heroes.  Tucker is just grating here, doing a shrill motormouth routine that honestly makes one long for the subtle humor of Jar-Jar Binks.  He's not an entirely bad performer and I've seen him be good in other things (his shtick in Jackie Brown later in the year works just fine) but he just drags every scene he's in down just a little.

That aside, the film is pretty damn great both visually and in terms of overall entertainment.  Besson creates a fantastically rich future world, sort of a lighter and happier Blade Runner with tons of detail (it's a wonder what modern filmmaking techniques can bring... or 1997 techniques in this case) and a nicely unique but familiar look that is pretty damn appealing.  Action is good too, as are the creature designs.  It's not anything really deep (and honestly, 127 minutes might be a tad longer than it needed to be) but it sure as hell gets the job done.

Apart from the one casting snafu, The Fifth Element is a visually rich, very entertaining bit of popcorn filmmaking with some well placed notes about humanity (it is, after all, a science fiction piece) and a fun cast.  It's not perfect (some feel it's a modern classic though I wouldn't go that far) but it's certainly a fine way to spend two hours.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

VHS Memories XXXIX: Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Other Slashers on VHS

I've covered the George Romero zombie flicks and Nightmare on Elm Street VHS sleeves, now it's time to go down south for some "special" BBQ and some other slasher goodies.  We got three trips through Texas (the fourth movie never happened) so let's get moving!

Let's start with some Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Sorry about the blurriness, it's the largest clean image I could find.
First off is the great early release from Charles Band's Wizard Video (more to come from that label).  Wizard also put out a video game based on the film as well as one based on Halloween.  Both were pretty bad from what I've read.

This one, however, is probably my favorite as seeing it in The Wherehouse (probably, it could have just as easily been one of the small mom and pop stores I grew up near) the first time I ever heard of the film.  That picture of Leatherface is just awesomely intimidating and hell, Media Home Video was awesome anyhow.

Come to think of it, I think the reversed image from the budget tape might be even better.  Darker lighting, Leatherface looking even more demented... Very cool.

This one is equally cool, though it does just use the film poster image.  Like the quote on the back, though.

Finally for the first film, two offerings from K-Tel.  They put out one for Night of the Living Dead as well.

The second one is pretty neat, using an image from the Australian VHS release.  UK and Australian releases were generally pretty cool as well.  Speaking of which...

The UK version of Hospital Massacre, a cheesy Cannon Films slasher from 1982 I cover4ed in my 1982 series.  A picture collage isn't the most creative thing you will ever see, but it does give an idea of what the film is about.

 Back to the saw, here's the Media cover for the second film I always had a soft spot for...

 And the alternate bargain tape from Video Treasures.

Before they flooded the market with DVD special editions of things you never knew you sort of had to own (I bought the DVD of Hell Comes to Frogtown of my own free will), Anchor Bay had some rather nice extra-laden VHS tapes, such as this one which gave the viewer the trailer and some deleted scenes.

The film stinks but the cover art and tagline are fantastic.  I think that may have been one of the battle cries for the VHS era, actually.  Well, if you tended to binge rent like me and weren't that picky.

Maybe it's just my warped sense of humor (as usual, the answer is yes, it is), but I love that the decidedly average (Generous feller, ain't I?) third Texas Chainsaw Massacre outing had not one but two VHS releases stateside.  First was the Columbia one from before New Line had its own label...

 Cool that the New Line release was the uncut, though still kind of crappy version.

To wrap things up, a little from, good old Friday the 13th.  Their English language releases tended to be simple re-dos of the poster artwork, as you can see with the Part 6 one (my favorite tape of the series, incidentally).  Sometimes, though, you would get something a little  out there.

This beauty is the German release of the third film (I think the theatrical release got the same art).  I think there is only one proper way to respond to this thing.  Holy scheiss!

I can't really follow that.  Until next time...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tactical Force (2011)

I generally don't care much for the more current direct to DVD action movies but this one from Canada caught my eye.  Stone Cold Steve Austin is the leader of a wild LAPD SWAT unit whose idea of sound tactics include chucking a frozen steak at a bad guy's head, shooting one with a Daisy Air Rifle and simply opening a giant can of whupass, as we see in the opening action scene where they rescue hostage from a grocery store.

They are given the required ass-chewing from, their boss and sent to brush up on their training out at a warehouse where it just so happens two rival gangs have a dispute over stolen goods.  Naturally, the good guys need to improvise their way to victory since they only have blank ammo and of course, much mayhem ensues.

Performances are more or less what you'd expect with Stone Cold turning in a nicely laid back badass performance; Michael Jai White is pretty fun as another team member and the other two (Steve Bacic and personal fave Lexa Doig) are decent enough as well.  Well, okay, I was mainly focusing on Doig and the other guy gets killed about thirty minutes in.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for cute Canadian ladies who tend to show up on cheesy Canadian lensed sci-fi shows.  Michael Shanks is also pretty fun as a bad guy.

Tactical Force is an agreeable enough, really stupid, ridiculous action comedy with a decent amount of humor and loads of action.  Steve Austin and Michael Jai White are also a pretty solid action hero unit and Lexa Doig is... Well, she's pretty at least.  Barely does anything in the film, though.

Overall the film is worth checking out, though it does get a little repetitious and there are some needless editing touches (slow motion when none is needed accompanied by a loud whooshing sound) that sort of grate.  The twist at the end is also quite dumb as a supposedly dead snitch the baddies are chasing turns out to be an undercover FBI agent.  Still, it's a solid enough meat and potatoes action film.

VHS Memories XXXVIII: Goodtimes Home Video

This one is gonna be a king-sized edition simply due to the amount of stuff this company put out.  Probably the best of the bargain labels, Goodtimes was started in 1984 with some public domain titles and eventually would up putting out tons of animated films, TV movies, stuff from Columbia, Universal and other companies and a bunch of documentaries.  Here is but a mere sampling of their wares with remarks wherever I am inspired.

We kick off with some genre classics...

 Classic monster movies...
Low key gems (great monster in this one, even if it does make the rather nicely ambiguous story more overtly supernatural).

 They also put out legit award winners...

 Middle of the road Hammer films.

 Disaster movies...

 Disaster movies with overly enthusiastic banners touting them as classics...

 Cheesy Chuck...
 Classic Chuck...
 And overrated Chuck.

 I rather like the cheesy artwork on some of their tapes.  For instance...

 Early Spielberg done by early Photoshop.

Lots of Japanese monster movies...

 And here is where it gets weird.  And by weird, I mean wonderfully esoteric.

In the 80's, this man became a sensation.  Might have something to do with the rise in cocaine usage but that's purely speculation on my part.

 Or at the very least claim to in order to avoid hurting Grandma's feelings.

Actually, this was a 1992 adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story, one of many animated films Goodtimes put out to capitalize on more successful theatrical releases.

The thing I love about the bargain labels is that they'd get the rights to the most bizarre, obscure crap possible at times.  To finish things off, here are a few of the more amusing ones I've come across.

Trailer compilations are always good for a chuckle or two.  I remember one time snagging a compilation of James Bond trailers along with another 007-centric tape I have no recollection of

I wonder if Godzilla phoned his agent after seeing this and gave him hell for letting him take third billing after Gorgo and Rodan.  Nah, probably just stepped on him.

Celebrity bloopers and commercial tapes were generally a sign that you were either at your grandparent's house, or they were at yours and had gotten stumped on what to give you for your birthday.

They also put out whatever TV movies were left over after all the other companies had said "No way in hell are we charging ten bucks for this piece of crap!"

Goodtimes was an awesome label that delivered just that, good times.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Eraser (1996)

Eraser is the last truly great Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.  The big guy plays Federal Marshal John Kruger, a specialist in witness relocation who is assigned to protect federal witness Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams), an executive at a company with several defense department contracts that is looking to sell weapons to Russian do-badders.  In addition, there is a mole inside Kruger's agency, high-tech pulse rifles that of course Arnie ends up wielding at the end, shootouts, wild stunts and some endearingly unconvincing CGI alligators.

Eraser is a wild, fun blend of classic 80's action nonsense with 90's techno-thriller style.  The plot is more or less the same as the first Mission: Impossible (government agent gets thrown into conspiracy plot with his mentor at the center of it all) minus the flashy cinematography and overly convoluted plot.

Arnold is just fine here, doing his usual (he looks less bulky though, I think it was around this time he had heart surgery) and looking great.  Vanessa Williams is okay but the real fun comes from James Caan as Kruger's mentor.  No prize for guessing he's the bad guy here and he tucks into each scene he has with his usual mildly sleazy charm and coolness.  Robert Pastorelli and James Coburn are also fun in their supporting roles.

Action is pretty great with a fantastic gun battle in a plane and a nice climax as Kruger goes Commando on the bad guys, wielding two huge pulse rifles (everybody else who uses the things has to hold one with both hands) with a nice train stunt to close things out.  I also get a chuckle out of the shootout in a zoo which features the aforementioned CGI gators, courtesy of KNB.

Eraser is pure, unadulterated, no frills entertainment.  A real throwback film that's still a blast today.  Arnold has yet to make anything as good since, though The Last Stand does come close.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Iron Man (2008)

With the recent huge announcement of the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I figured now is as good a time as any to go back and look at the path we have already traveled to get here.  I've already covered the second Captain America film so now, we're going back to where it began.

Iron Man.

Iron Man is, to me at least, the best superhero movie of 2008.  Yes, The Dark Knight is damn good and deserves the praise it's gotten but let's be honest, by the time it came out Batman was already pretty well ingrained into the general pop culture mindset.  To me, it's more interesting to see a take on a character we haven't seen multiple incarnations of on film.

For the most part, Iron Man (and the rest of the Avengers for that matter) was sort of a second tier hero.  Sure, he'd get a good storyline in his own book or a high-profile spot in a major company-wide arc but for the most part, Spider-Man and the X-Men tended to get the majority of the attention with maybe the Fantastic Four pre-80's.

And if my reviews of other comic book movies have told you nothing else, dear reader, it's that I have soft spot for the second tier guys.

Iron Man is, by necessity an origin story and a damn fine one at that.  Told simply and in a nicely streamlined and efficient manner, it follows Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as he goes from callous playboy to callous playboy who fights for the good of the world.  The entire movie is basically the origin story which ordinarily would lead to pacing issues but the script is so deftly constructed and the performances so energetic and fun that the spacing out of the action beats ends up making the film even better.  Come to think of it, the scenes where Tony is designing and building his stuff are even better than the scenes where he's actually using it.

When the action does come, it hits hard and heavy.  The first version of Iron Man is awesome as Stark escapes from a cave where he is being held captive and the finale is a nice punch-up as Stark goes against his insane business partner, Stane (Jeff Bridges).  The action would be just sound and fury though, without a good cast.

Right of the bat, Robert Downey Jr. pulls you in as Tony Stark, giving a cocky and arrogant jerk who is still likable enough to where  you want to root for him.  It helps that Downey is an intensely likable guy in his own right and he makes Tony a genuine, complex human being which helps.

The supporting cast is good too with Jeff Bridges giving a fun villainous turn, Gwyneth Paltrow turning in a charming performance as Pepper Potts and Terrence Howard doing solid work as Rhodes.

Iron Man started off the Marvel Cinematic Universe about as well as anybody could have hoped.  Jon Favreau directs things smoothly and efficiently, the script is well done and executed, the action and f/x work is great and the cast is even better.  Iron Man is quite simply awesome.

About Me

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