Today on the VHS Files is a super sexy Cliffhanger knockoff called Freefall starring an impossibly sweaty Eric Roberts, a super smarmy Jeff Fahey and a very foxy Pamela Gidley, who actually passed away last year and many of us fondly remember as Teresa Banks from Twin Peaks. This is actually a really solid action flick set in an exotic location and featuring these three B icons at the peak of their physical attractiveness. Pam plays wildlife photographer Katy, sent by her boss and fiancé Dex (Jeff) to get pictures of a rare bird of prey somewhere in deepest Africa. There she meets Eric’s Grant Orion, a daredevil adrenaline junkie who parachutes off waterfalls when he’s not sipping brandy on the hotel veranda, and she falls for him hard, hard enough for us to get to see them bang way up atop a waterfall with a gorgeous view. The plot goes bananas when it’s revealed that Grant is some sort of disgraced former Hollywood stuntman turned double agent for Interpol, all kinds of baddies are introduced including a freaky ass albino assassin and Dex himself who turns out it to not be the perfect fiancé she thought, and a globetrotting cat and mouse game gets underway. Roberts is terrific here, all lithe physicality and southern charm, Fahey himself tries an odd southern accent and comes across as a bit hammy but such is the arena here anyways, while Gidley fills out the action heroine role nicely. The film is directed by a dude named John Irvin who also did stuff like the Patrick Swayze western Next Of Kin, the rough crime pic City Of Industry, the cult Chris Walken curio Dogs Of War, the war film Hamburger Hill and the Schwarzenegger flick Raw Deal so he just knows his way around a good solid action sequence and how to handle tough guy actors. This is good fun with gorgeous locations, three knowingly arch lead performances and a relaxed vibe.
Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror reminds me of a raucous house party where everyone shows up in costume ready to fuck shit up; there’s a huge ensemble of partygoers, some true blue old friends you haven’t seen in years, some fresh new faces and even some people outside the gaggle of usual suspects you’d usually find at this type of thing. Everyone involved ditches their professional personas and gets down n’ dirty for change, inhibitions gone and ready to not take anything too seriously for a bit. In paying loving tribute to the 70’s Grindhouse exploitation they grew up with Rodriguez and pal Tarantino produced decidedly different tales on the aesthetic for their double feature and although Quentin’s is probably the better film when you look at the big picture, Robert’s is arguably the more entertaining one.
This is a zombie flick of sorts, employing the simple premise of a US county afflicted by a killer virus accidentally unleashed by Sayid from LOST, here playing a weirdo scientist who collects dude’s testicles in a jar. Pretty soon the horrifically gooey infection spreads into the nearby towns and causes the kind of wanton, disorganized chaos that only the best B movies have to offer. Rose McGowan (before she went all psycho feminist on us) is killer good and super hot as Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer who doesn’t let the loss of her leg stop her from being an absolute badass, hooking up a high powered machine gun to assist in killing zombies. She’s joined by many including badass gunslinger El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), the grizzled local Sheriff (Michael Biehn), a BBQ slinging old salt (Jeff Fahey), the local doctor (Marley Shelton) Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks), Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas and more. The framework of the film is essentially just a loose blueprint for bloody mayhem to ensue and the huge cast to all get their moments of inspired insanity. Bruce Willis has a deranged cameo as an army lieutenant who claims to have killed Bin Laden before swelling into a gargantuan behemoth zombie and exploding, so there’s that. Tarantino himself shows up as ‘Rapist #1’ and almost gets to live up to that name before his junk literally melts off in the film’s most inspired gross out moment. My favourite aside from Biehn and Fahey (who are epic) might be Josh Brolin, poised right before his legendary Hollywood comeback and playing the psychotic Doc Block here, an initial family man who loses it and becomes a raving lunatic before he’s even bitten by a zombie. This is pure aged cheddar through and through, and unrepentant bloodbath that finds the cheap vibe it’s going for in paying tribute to the old Grindhouse flicks of yore.
Danny Trejo has been acting for so many years that he’s now a totem of the collective action crime genre, and it was only a matter of time before he got a lead role. Thanks to pulp wizard Robert Rodriguez, that lead role came along in the form of Machete, a fake trailer preceding Rodriguez’s contribution to his Grindhouse mashup with pal Quentin Tarantino that was so popular it was only a matter of time before the feature length outing arrived. Well it arrived, and despite being a bit over saturated and too homogenized for its genre inspiration (where was the nudity??), it’s actually a barrel of fun. Rodriguez seems to have attracted Hollywood stars like a magnet since day one, and this one is positively peppered with high profile talent in the kind of roles you’d think they’d never be caught dead in. Trejo is all scowls and moody machismo as Machete, an ex Federalè turned brutal mercenary who seeks vengeance against the ruthless cartel boss responsible for the murder of his family, played of all people by Steven Seagal in the funniest work he’s ever done. There’s also a rigged election subplot stateside in which corrupt, evil senator Robert Deniro schemes all kinds of nasty shit. His lieutenant is played by Jeff Fahey, who was the villain in the fake trailer and expands his sinister presence here. He’s a natural born scene stealer and his businessman/hitman Booth is an especially violent creation, but I suppose if I had Lindsay Lohan for a daughter (she makes a cameo, parodying her own hard partying image) I’d be a tad grumpy too. There’s also Jessica Alba’s Sartana, a sexy female agent who plays both sides and lets the romantic sparks simmer between her and Trejo, until the film pussies out before we get a deserved sex scene. Michelle Rodriguez is a lot of fun as Luz, a revolutionary badass who disguises her operation in a taco truck. The cast is unreal and includes Shea Wigham as Fahey’s exasperated lead assassin, Tom Savini as the world’s most elaborate contract killer, Don Johnson as a racist scumbag southern fried Sheriff and Cheech Marin as Machete’s brother, a catholic priest who isn’t afraid to use a couple holy shotguns to do do the lord’s dirty work. Robert Rodriguez really jumped onboard the grindhouse train after his joint venture with Tarantino, while QT abandoned ship. This flicks is a lot of fun and allows esteemed actors to play in the sandbox with reckless abandon, and most importantly, Danny Trejo to bask in the spotlight after toiling so hard in the supporting ranks for decades. My only complaint is that it’s a bit too tame in the sex department to count as grindhouse fare (all these hot actresses and not a single nipple flourish or bush brandish), but I suppose when Big Hollywood green-lights a gritty fake trailer, you have to somewhat tow the line, even if you are one of Hollywood’s greatest genre magicians. The sight of Trejo ripping out a dude’s intestines and using them to repel down the face of a building is definitely in the spirit of the sort of films that inspired this though. Great stuff.
Quick doesn’t quite live up to it’s title, and probably should have been called something contrary to that like “Slow” or “Take Your Time”. It’s technically an action thriller but it ambles along at a leisurely pace, one pearl in a strand of interchangeable 90’s B Movies that you’d never dream of actually watching unless you’re a serial cinephile like myself. Actually, there is one reason this one stands out and may be worth one’s time: Teri Polo. Mrs. Gaylord Focker from Meet The Fockers to most, she’s on an early career rush here as the titular assassin, a deadly femme fatale playing the cops and the mob against each other whilst simultaneously romancing a meek accountant (Martin Donovan) who knows too much about a powerful crime boss (the legendary Robert Davi in relaxation mode). Polo is probably one of the sexiest female protagonists I’ve seen in an action flick, exuding natural sex appeal, especially in a scene with Donovan that would get anyone hot and bothered. It’s too bad the film itself can’t keep up with her and arrives pretty limp. Not even the usually magnetic Davi can seem to rile up a pulse. The only other spark of life is Jeff Fahey as a psychotic corrupt cop who’s into violent kinky sex and probably should never have been given a badge. Tia Carrere isn’t bad either as his foxy partner. Not a terrible flick when you consider the cast and what they get to do, but at the end of the day it’s still essentially just polished up time filler junk.
I have always been a fan of underdog stories. They hold for the viewer a message of hope that – should one’s fortitude and perseverance be fixed to the sticking place – then there is nothing that can’t be accomplished or overcome.
Having enjoyed the first installment of the Martial Arts Kid, as well as having a chance to chat with two of its legendary cast, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock, I was thrilled at the prospect that, not only would the story continue, but that I would have a chance to meet the players from this exciting second chapter.
Of course, it is obvious, that there are parallels to be drawn with John G. Avildsen’s iconic The Karate Kid. Still this is a story onto itself – a story of the discipline it takes to rise to the challenge, and ultimately find redemption in the wake of defeat.
The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback sees the return of Wilsonand Rothrock, headlining an all-star cast of Martial Arts professionals in a tale of courage and honor in the face of adversity. My guests include Producer, Dr. Robert Goldman and stars T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff and Brandon Russell – all returning from the MAK. I’m certain this shall be another inspirational story, combined with the finest Martial Arts action, and featuring the real life champions of the various styles. A pleasure it was to talk to each of them, and more exciting, the anticipation of the release of the MAK 2. I trust you will enjoy my guest’s insights along with the movie . . . upon its release.
Dr. Goldman is a 6th degree Black Belt in Karate, Chinese weapons expert, and world champion athlete with over 20 world strength records and has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of his past performance records include 13,500 consecutive straight leg situps and 321 consecutive handstand pushups. Dr. Goldman was an All-College athlete in four sports, a three-time winner of the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Physical Fitness Award, was voted Athlete of the Year, was the recipient of the Champions Award and was inducted into the World Hall of Fame of Physical Fitness, as well as induction into numerous Martial Arts Hall of Fames in North America, Europe, South America and Asia. He founded the International Sports Hall of Fame, recognizing the world’s greatest sports legends, with ceremonies held annually at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival the largest sports festival in the world, with over 200,000 participants, 70+ sports represented and over 20,000 competing athletes, making it double the size of the Olympic Games.
In high school Storm was shy and started break-dancing as a way of trying to “fit in”. Dance quickly became T.J.’s passion and he would win over 200 dance competitions in the genres of hip hop and break-dancing. He received a dance scholarship and this paved the way for his move to Los Angeles and dancing in music videos. Dance was his passion, but it only provided him with enough money for rent and a diet of Ramen Noodles and Pop Tarts, with little left for anything else. Devoted to the martial arts, Storm often found himself stopping by and observing an outdoor Northern Shaolin class on his way home from work. Eventually Storm was approached by the teacher and he was asked to join class, allowing him to add the knowledge of Northern Shaolin to his others arts. Using his talents for dance and martial arts, T.J. began to pursue acting. He graduated from the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Acting Academy. While playing the role of Bayu on the television series, Conan The Adventurer, Storm developed the unique action style that he is known for. His brand of action is a combination of martial arts, acrobatic skill, comedic timing, and an almost balletic grace. Storm has since gone on to work with Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Kelly Hu, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michelle Rodriquez, Neal McDonough and Kristanna Loken. T.J. Storm made motion captures for Captain Josh Stone and Dave Johnson in Resident Evil 5. He is known for his roles as Criag Marduk in the Tekken Series, and Strider Hiryu in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Soon you will hear T.J. Storm in the video game Battlefield Hardline (2015), and see him in The Gold Rush Boogie (2015), Jonny Flytrap (2015) Bullets Blades and Blood (2015), Boone: The Bounty Hunter 2014 and as Coach Laurent Kaine in The Martial Arts Kid (2014).
Matthew Ziff’s professional career started two months after he was born when he signed with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency in New York. He has been featured in numerous print ads and campaigns including Glamour magazine. By age 10, due to his talent as well as his professionalism, not only was he considered a top child model, called upon constantly for magazines, clothes and toy boxes, as well as various commercials, he had already appeared in comedy skits on both the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows. During his high school years at The Blair Academy, Matthew kept active with acting classes, as well as performing in stage productions, not only as an actor, but also as a director. Once in college at the University of Miami, he signed with Stellar and Elite Talent agencies where he filmed multiple commercials and embarked more thoroughly on his film career. Matthew has worked in many genres in such films as Six Gun Savior (Eric Roberts, Martin Kove), Treachery (Michael Biehn, Sarah Butler, Jennifer Blanc), Hardflip (John Schneider, Randy Wayne), Online Abduction (Brooke Butler, David Chokachi), Mansion of Blood (Robert Picardo, Gary Busey), Safelight (Evan Peters, Juno Temple), Among Friends (Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder) and Searching for Bobby D (Paul Borghese, William DeMeo). In addition to acting, Matthew has his second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and has studied Hapkido as well as Kendo (swords). In July, 2012, he represented the USA in the International Quidditch Association’s Summer Games during the Olympic Torch Relay in England, where Team USA won the Gold medal. He is also a marksman with rifles and pistols and is a multi-instrumental musician specializing in guitar, bass and saxophone. Matthew has a Master’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Miami. He is a member of SAG, AFTRA, AEA and GIAA. He maintains homes in California, New York and Florida.
Brandon expressed an interest in acting at the age of 3 and by 5 was already a member of SAG. His biggest role to date was his lead role in the feature film, Smitty (2012), which was released in April 2012. Brandon plays the lead role of Ben Barrett and worked alongside: Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Louis Gossett Jr., Lolita Davidovich, Jason London, and Booboo Stewart. Since filming Smitty, he has gone on to film supporting roles in Wiener Dog Nationals (2013) and The Martial Arts Kid (2015). He also had a lead role in the UPtv holiday movie, Beverly Hills Christmas (2015). Brandon has also been seen on Tosh.0 (2009), Supah Ninjas (2011), and Instant Mom (2013). Later, he portrayed Peter Michaels in Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent (2016) alongside Patrick Muldoon and Dina Meyer.
Sam Raimi made comic book cinema history with his gritty Darkman, which was solid entertainment, but the real dark and demented side of the franchise came through on the two sequels, which tossed aside stalwart leading man Liam Neeson as the titular antihero and went for offbeat, edgy character actor Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep in Stephen Sommer’s The Mummy) as the doomed Dr. Peyton Westlake, a once brilliant and handsome scientist reduced to a disfigured, monstrous vigilante known as The Darkman. Raimi’s film played it with a mix of straight and subversive, going for the underdog hero approach, while the third sequel, which is my favourite, is literally called Darkman III: Die Darkman Die, because someone at the studio boardroom table had too much caffeine and brainstormed the shit out of that abrasively hilarious title. Dr. Westlake is still doing his research on synthetic skin and skulking out there in the night pilfering supplies from random warehouses, one of which he’ll wish he didn’t mess with. Enter tyrannical, psychopathic drug lord Peter Rooker, played with moustache twirling, freaky panache by Jeff Fahey. Said warehouse belonged to him, and now he’s zeroed in on Darkman and his super strength abilities, shrewdly trying to pirate them for his organization’s nefarious deeds. The two wage a bloody war, with both of their families as collateral damage in between, an exploitation palooza of trashy, effects oriented fun. The first two films housed the villain Durant, embodied by inherently weird looking actor Larry Drake, who left big shoes to fill. Fahey seems to know this and plays up every campy aspect of this scumbag, his greased back hair lit perfectly, every mannerism an over-pronounced, garish villainous flourish to be savoured. I think the very concept of Darkman suits the tasteless excess of these two sequels better than it does Raimi’s upright origin story, as classic as it is. I actually prefer the B Movie Glory approach to the material, and this third one is schlock incarnate.
It’s always fun to come across genuinely intelligent science fiction films, especially when you go into them expecting a half assed, clunky yawn, which happens frequently. Johnny 2.0 is an overlooked little cyber-punk gem in an unassuming release package, a thinking man’s sci-fi story that could have easily gone the other way, but contains enough inspired creativity to rise above the muck. Jeff Fahey plays Johnny Dalton, a genetic researcher whose facility is attacked by activists. Waking up from the disaster he is stunned to find that he’s not Johnny at all anymore, but a clone who has been in cryo for 25 years, awakened now for one purpose: set out across a post apocalyptic wasteland to retrieve the original Dalton and smoke out a web of conspiracies that have hatched over the years. There’s all sorts of really intriguing ideas at play here including MRI memory mapping, organic tracking suits, genetic reconfiguration and personalized holograms, a wealth of scientific world building that earns this film its stripes in the artistic departments. Fahey is excellent, as is a noble Michael Ironside, Tahnee Welch and John Neville. Super solid storytelling, ideas worth exploring, an impressive level of design and atmosphere achieved despite the limited funds, there’s not too much you can say about this one that is not the highest of praises.
My Grandmother was the avid cinema-goer in our family. She passed her love of movies down to my Mother who in turn, passed it on to me. Another little boy who learned about the wonders of the movies from his Mother was Brett Leonard.
This love would grow, forging a filmmaker whose career that has been eclectic, but always on the cutting edge. The man who was once a killer clown from outer space, has in many ways been one the pioneers in the eventually, all-compassing integration of the digital age into the celluloid art form. With his ground-breaking work in The Lawnmower Man, Leonard has since been blazing a trail throughout the industry. His early concepts of combining virtual reality with the cinematic experience are still expanding, and his vision of where it is all going to go, is far from complete.
Yet I was fascinated with the journey this humble gentleman has taken. He has worked both independently and with the studios, he has directed some of the finest actors to grace the screen, he has bore the brunt of the dark politics that whirls below surface of the filmmaking process. Still, he manages to laugh it off and move on to the next project with an energy and optimism that has served him well.
I thrilled at the revelations Brett shared with me about his movies, which I admire greatly, but also about his personal adventures including something I was, I admit, grossly unaware of: he a spent a significant period of his life living and working here in Australia. To such an extent he even was labelled an Australian filmmaker by the local media. He said, in the great Down Under, he learned not only the true value of mateship, but also spent some of his most glorious days.
He was a pleasure to interview, a true gentleman, a fabulous filmmaker – ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Brett Leonard…
Unspeakable revels in its southern fried trashiness, pulling forth a lurid and grotesque pseudo mindfuck serial killer story that I don’t recall making a whole lot of sense, yet is still barrels of fun to behold the seasoned cast play out. The film’s writer, Pavan Grover, also stars as Jesse Mowatt, a mysterious serial killer with ties to the occult who frames an innocent Mexican migrant (Marco Rodriguez) in several horrific murders. When a scientist (Dina Meyer) uses an experimental mind mapping and truth seeking method on the wrongfully accused man, she is led to Mowatt via some dodgy telepathy. To be sure that Mowatt is guilty, she tries the same method on him and comes across readings that suggest he may be not only inhuman, but altogether unspeakably evil. The gung ho, sadistic prison warden Earl Blakely (a hopped up Dennis Hopper) is ready to pull the switch, but Meyer wants more time to examine Mowatt. Her colleague and mentor Jack Pitchford (Lance Henriksen) advises her against it, sensing the evil. She appeals to the state Governor (a brief Jeff Fahey) who happens to be her former lover, but he is unyielding. Her curiosity towards Mowatt puts her in grave supernatural danger, as Mowatt leers from the shadows of his cell and causes all sorts of unexplainable havoc. It’s a B movie thrill ride through and through, the plot barely registering to the viewer beyond the shock value tactics it employs, mainly giving Grover and Hopper scenery to voraciously gnaw on. In fact, Hopper is so rabid in one particular sequence it makes the viewer question whether the director just told him to ‘go full retard’. I enjoyed it for the actors, all of which I greatly admire. It’s schlock, of the marginally nonsensical variety. As long as you go in with that pre-notion, you can’t blame me for the reccomendation. At least the startling instances of gore are guaranteed a spike in our pulses.