It’s a shame that Michael Mann feels the way he does about The Keep, and although I can’t really blame him after the Leatherface worthy hack job the studio inflicted on his original three plus hour cut, it’s a heartbreak and a half that we may never see a director’s version because what is left is still one of the most haunting, beautifully done Lovecraftian horror fever dreams one can find in VHS-land. Based on a brilliant novel by F. Paul Wilson, Mann employs a legion of smoke machines, a troupe of eclectic character actors all cast against type and giving marvellous work, and a drop dead gorgeous original score from Tangerine Dream that remains in my top OST’s to this day. Somewhere deep in the Romanian mountains, a squadron of German soldiers led by weary Captain Woerman (Jurgen Pröchnow) comes a across a tiny hidden village that harbours a dark secret: just beyond the township is a looming, mysterious structure built to keep something locked inside, and has lain dormant for centuries. Their gravest mistake is setting up camp in this unholy basilica, for soon they’ve awoken whatever resides within, and it really wants out. Cue the arrival of sadistic SS officer Kaempffer (a very young Gabriel Byrne) and his Nazi bastard crew, as well as a professor of ancient languages (Ian Mckellan) with his daughter (the late Alberta Watson). Elsewhere in Europe, otherworldly stranger Glaecken (the great Scott Glenn) is stirred by the happenings at the Keep and treks across the war torn continent towards an unknown end. What follows is an entrancing supernatural fusion mixup of old school prosthetic effects, genocide metaphors, lovingly creaky production design and synth music that will scorch your soul. Glenn plays the shadowy warrior better than ever here, with a paranormal gleam in his eyes and the stone-faced, gravel voiced resolve to see his strange quest through to a brutal conclusion. McKellen emotes fiercely both in and out of some well done old age makeup, sometimes almost unrecognizable but always spirited and present. Pröchnow rarely gets non villain roles with depth but this might be his best ever, early in his career too. He turns the Captain into a sorrowful picture of regret and compassion that one doesn’t often see in Hollywood based German army roles from WWII. Watson is a doe eyed beauty whose loss of innocence and discovery of love is portrayed wonderfully by the actress, who sadly passed away long before her time. Byrne is evil incarnate, with a startling cropped haircut that would be right at home in this day and age it seems. Mann favourite Robert Prosky also shows up as a local priest with knowledge of The Keep. Somewhere out there in someone’s garage there lies a full cut of this film, just waiting for an extended Blu Ray transfer, complete with tweaks on sound design (its fuzzy commotion at times), special features and the redemptive treatment that a sterling genre addition like this deserves. There’s so much quality to be found in it, from the alluring atmosphere that’s so thick it finds its way into your dreams after, to the aforementioned Tangerine Dream soundtrack that haunts the film’s visual landscape like an auditory phantasm to the silver and purple hued neon production design, resplendent in its tactile, tangible glory, it stands as a flawed classic with the potential to be so much more, if Mann mans up and makes the effort to give one of his very best efforts that care and time it deserves to rise from the void and soar again. If only. Oh and one more thing: there’s one more scene before the credits that isn’t in the actual cut, but go find it on YouTube because it’s really worth it and adds a lot to the story.
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.
Michael Mann’s Luck was a painfully short lived HBO original series with reach-for-the-stars potential, a mind blowing cast and a terse, eccentric script from David Milch, all fuelling a brilliant ensemble storyline set in a pristine Los Angeles horse racing track. I’ll get the elephant out of the room right away: the series was cancelled due to a few of the horses dying on set, for whatever reasons. Had it been allowed to continue though, I imagine it would have gone on to become one of the network’s, and Mann’s, most hallowed and heralded works. Dustin Hoffman is the centrepiece of the cast as Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, a sharp witted Jewish mobster who’s recent stretch in the joint has somewhat dulled his edge. Nevertheless, he slyly takes a stab at playing his hand with horse ownership, joined by his charismatic driver Gus (Dennis Farina, reliably wonderful). There’s all kinds of other hoopla going on, and it’s cool to see the story focus on both the upper crust elite doing their shady deals as well as everyday joes tossing their money into these worshipped games. Kevin Dunn is terrific as a disabled firebrand of a gambler, joined by his two scrappy pals (Ritchie Koster and Jason Gedrick) as they try out their own brand of luck. Jill Hennessy is a determined horse trainer who clashes with a belligerent owner (Yul Vasquez), and there’s two ominous crime kingpins played by Michael Gambon and Ted Levine who hover in the shadows as well. Further still is a heartbreaking turn from Richard ‘Bing Bong’ Kind as a stressed out jockey manager, Nick Nolte as a crusty, broken-down horse trainer, Joan Allen, Alan Rosenberg, Spencer Garrett, Don Harvey, Ian Hart, W. Earl Brown, Shaun Toub, Bruce Davison, Frank Collison, Mercedes Rhuel, Tony Curran and a cameo from Jurgen Pröchnow as the stern owner of the whole track. How’s that for a cast. I must say that the dense, peculiar dialogue from Milch takes some time getting used to, but once you tune in to it’s jive, it’s pure poetry being rattled off by every character, and a gorgeously structured, meticulously layered script at that. The actors are all on a plane of pure excellence as well, many of them turning in career best efforts and bringing their roles vividly to life. The cinematography from various artists is pure spun gold too, every sparkling irrigation sprinkler, glistening horse coat, careful closeup and crop of dirt kicked up by hooves captured succinctly and smoothly. This seriously is as near to a perfect season of television as one can get, and it kills me that it got cut down before it had a chance to really get going, because just think of the places it could have gone. At least we still have this first glorious season to admire, and I recommend every minute of it.
Antoine Fuqua’s The Replacement Killers is one of the most stylish and visually synergistic action flicks ever made. It’s like John Woo meets John Wick, and seriously has some cool to it. Chow Yun Fat, that effortless, laid back badass, plays lethal hitman John Lee, who suffers a crisis of conscience at the worst professional crossroads. When Detective Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker adds to the noirish feel) kills the son of powerful Chinese crime boss Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang), he and his family are marked for death by the syndicate. Lee is employed to take out his young son, but holds back in the last moment, making a split second decision to defy Wei, take a rogue’s path and create a huge problem for everyone involved. Now, Wei has replacement killer after not only Lee, but Zedkov again and anyone unlucky enough to get in the way. Lee teams up with sexy identity forger Meg Coburn (love me some Mira Sorvino) and the two evade bullets, bombs and multiple murderous assassins all in the highest of style. Chow is the perfect action hero, with a mournful like ability and stoic streak that’s never too serious and always punctuated by his baleful sense of humour. Plus the guy can make bloody magic with two handguns in a career of epic stunt work that is almost as big a feat as that of the characters he plays. Sorvino also has a downbeat energy, adorable self deprecation and tough chick sarcasm that she masquerades with to hide the bruised girl beneath. They are a wonderful team, and I like that the film never outright forced any romance, but rather let the performances subtly suggest it via the absence in the script. Rooker holds up his end with endearing toughness, especially when forced to work alongside Lee and Meg to save their asses, a perfect character arc that he really sells.Jurgen Prochnow is deadly and devilish as Michael Kogan, the only German mercenary I know of that works for a Chinese crime syndicate lol. Danny Trejo and Til Schweiger are hilariously over the top as two silent monster assassins, leather clad death angels hired by Wei to hunt our heroes. The action really steps it up into comic book mode when they show up. Keep any eye out for Frank Medrano, Patrick Kilpatrick and a young Clifton Collins Jr as a street vato named ‘Loco’. Epic cast, unmatched visual style, an action gold mine.
Ah yes, the 90’s version of Judge Dredd, featuring a hopped up Sylvester Stallone as the titular comic book lawman. There is so much hate floating around for this flick that I feel like radios have picked up some of it right out of the air. There used to be a lot more loathing, but then the 2013 version graced our presence, and it was so good, so true to the source material and such a kick ass flick that the collective bad taste left the fan’s mouths, leaving this version somewhat forgotten and to many people, for good reason. But.. but… bear with me for just a moment, readers, and I’ll tell you why it’s not as bad as it’s utterly poopy reputation. Yes it’s silly, overblown, altogether ridiculous and Stallone takes off his helmet to yell about the law a lot. Basically pretty far from the source material and weird enough to raise eyebrows in many others, and prompt the torch and pitchfork routine from fans of the comic series. But it’s also a huge absurdist sci fi spectacle that will blow up your screen with its massive cast, opulent and decadent special effects and thundering, often incomprehensible plot. It’s in most ways the exact opposite of the 2013 version, all the fat that was trimmed off of that sleek, streamlined vehicle is left to dangle here, resulting in a chaotic mess that looks like a highway pileup between Blade Runner, Aliens and some Roger Corman abomination. But.. is it terribly unwatchable? Not in the least, or at least not to me. Like the highway pileup, it’s so off the rails that we can’t help but gawk in awe, and if we’re not some comic book fan who is already spiritually offended to the core by it, even enjoy that madness and lack of any rhyme or reason in it. Stallone uses his bulk to inhabit the character, and infuses a level of stagnant processed cheese to his dialogue that would be distracting if it weren’t for the electric blue contact lenses he sports the whole time, which look like traffic lights designed by Aqua Man. He’s embroiled in one convoluted mess of a plotline involving a former sibling (a hammy Armand Assante with the same weird eyes). Joan Chen and Diane Lane fill out the chick department, the former being some kind of cohort to Assante, and the latter a fellow judge alongside Dredd. Dredd has two superiors, the noble and righteous “” (Max Von Sydow in the closest thing he’ll ever make to a B-movie), and the treacherous Griffin (a seething, unbridled Jurgen Prochnow). The cast is stacked from top to bottom, including a rowdy turn from James Remar who sets the tone early on as a rebellious warlord who is set straight by Dredd. Rob Schneider has an odd habit of following Stallone around in films where his presence is wholly not needed (see Demolition Man as well), playing a weaselly little criminal who pops up whenever we’re off marveling at some other silly character, plot turn or risible costume choice. Scott Wilson also has an unbilled bit as Pa Angel, a desert dwelling cannibal patriarch, and when one views his scenery chomping cameo, although no doubt awesome, it’s easy to see why he had his name removed from the credits. The whole thing is a delightful disaster that shouldn’t prompt reactions of hate, at least from the more rational minded crowd. Yeah its not the best, or even all that good, but it’s worth a look just for the sake of morbid curiosity, and to see an entire filmmaking, acting and special effects team strive way too hard and throw everything into the mix, forgetting that less is more as they pull the ripcord of excess. Sure I’m generous, but I’d rather be puzzled and amused rather than bitter and cynical when a lot of work still went into this and me as an average joe has no right to bring down artists when my greatest life accomplishments so far are riding a bike with no hands while I have a beer in one and check my phone in the other. Such silliness is what we find in this movie, and I gotta say I was tickled by it.
Agatha Christie takes a trip to the Pacific Northwest in The Last Stop, a chilly little indie B movie in which we have the pleasure of watching Adam Beach and Rose McGowan try to smoke out a killer amidst a group of people stranded in a remote motel during a blinding snowstorm. A welcome setup for intrigue indeed, if you’re into cozying up to these actors for a tense little 90 minute guessing game packed with just the right amounts of cheesiness and tension. Beach plays a local Sheriff who is stuck at the establishment while its Proprietor (the great Jurgen Prochnow, refreshingly cast against type) struggles with a guest overload as the storm gathers steam. Beach’s old flame (the ever alluring McGowan) has resurfaced in his life with little explanation. There’s also an obnoxious hustler (Callum Keith Rennie) a sleazy would be cowboy (Winston Reckert) and other disconcerting weirdos lurking about. Some are red herrings, some simply filler for the narrative, and all are entertaining, whether intentionally or not. The plot meanders in snowy, typically nonsensical b-movie form until it pulls itself together for a very grounded finale that seems misplaced given what came before, but welcome all the same. McGowan could dub a Korean pop song and still be riveting, and it kills me she isn’t in more stuff, but she’s made it clear that acting was never her first love. Nevertheless she’s great as both the most mysterious and fascinating character. Shades of The Hateful Eight, Eye See You with Stallone, and many a snowbound mystery. Fun stuff.
Sinners And Saints is a very adeptly made New Orleans set cop thriller that pays homage to tough archetypes of yore such as Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry and Bad Boys. It’s far more serious and sinewy than those movies though, sucking the humour off its own bones and leaving a grim tale of one man ditching the force and going rogue in an attempt to hunt down some extremely bad people. Johnny Strong, a formidable, mscular guy, plays Detective Sean Riley, trying to sort through the post-Katrina chaos of the city whilst internally dealing with the loss of his wife and infant son. Strong is known for The Fast And The Furious as well as Black Hawk Down, quickly making it his calling card to play tough outsiders who get shit done with a fiery knack for not always playing by the rules. As it turns out, New Orleans is rife with psychopathic criminals up to no good, starting with evil mercenary Raymond Crowe (a badass, hateable Costas Mandylor), leading a crew of paramilitary scumbags into some very nefarious deeds. Riley discovers that his old army buddy Colin (the blonde half of the Boondock Saints, Sean Patrick Flanery, getting some nice, quiet moments of introspect before the firefights) is involved somehow, spurring him further into action. His commanding officer Trahan (Tom Berenger, stoically reminiscing about the youthful days in which he headlined flicks like these), worries that the path he’s headed down is too dark and similar to the men he is hunting. He’s paired with an unseasoned rookie (Kevin Philips), and an inevitable bond is forged in between and during bouts of gunfire. The action is wickedly staged, rising above the ineptitude that usually brands direct to video efforts like this. No, these filmmakers know exactly what they are doing and how to raise a pulse, demonstrating care and passion in creating their battle scenes. The cast is stacked high as can be as well. A boisterous Kim Coates has a fleeting scene to kick off the film. Resident baddie Jurgen Prochnow shows up a few times as malicious arch villain Mr. Rhykin, pulling strings which we are never fully privy to (I’ve heard rumblings about a sequel, hopefully with answers regarding his character). The other Mandylor brother Louis plays a bleach blond Australian mercenary and is beyond priceless. UFC legend Bas Rutten plays Dekker, a frightengingly nasty dude who proves a tough obstacle for Riley. Rapper Method Man even rears his head as a bad tempered, disfigured street thug who has his part to play in the whole cluster fuck. I watch countless direct to video action flicks that try their absolute adorable best to emulate the films they admire, often very lazily and without adding any new flavors. Can’t say that about this one. It fires up such a wicked, visceral punch while maintaining it’s own solid gold originality that it can scarcely even be called a B movie save for the fact that it wasn’t released theatrically. It’s pure, first class action, and demands a watch from anyone who says they’re a completist of the genre, before that claim can be validated.