Here’s a concept: The feds camping out in suburbia with annoying Chevy Chase and his annoying family trying to lay down surveillance on the murderous counterfeiter who lives next door. It’s as asinine as it sounds, and as much as I actively avoid Chase (the guy just isn’t and has never been anything close to funny), the film has two redeeming factors: Jack Palance as the cranky, chain smoking veteran agent in charge, and Robert Davi as the scary criminal who has a habit of killing anyone he does business with, and a few watermelons along the way. Palance and his junior agent shack up with Chase’s hapless blue collar simpleton, his wife (Dianne Wiest) and kids. The old grump couldn’t be unhappier about it either, especially when Chase takes it upon himself to do recon all his own, royally screwing up the operation and nearly blowing their cover at every turn. Palance is priceless as always, Davi is reliably menacing and even Wiest has a sunny naivety that’s almost winning… the problem is just Chase. The guy is neither funny nor engaging, and just looks like a thumb with hair sitting there trying every trick to make us laugh and failing. An above mediocre comedy that’s best viewed on cable as background noise.
Soulkeeper is a diamond in the rough, in the sense that it has all the trappings of a forgettable trashy B grade flick, and ends up being something way more fun and adventurous than it has any right to be. Dressed up like your average schlocky horror fling, it also carries a cheeky Indiana Jones vibe with it’s two treasure seeking bro-tagonists and all the right character actors showing up in all the right places. The two renegade brothers are after an ancient relic from the age of Simon Magus (he shows up briefly too) and all that hocus pocus, an artifact that is valuable beyond anything but also has the power to bring evil souls and demon spirits back from the underworld, which naturally causes all kinds of gory chaos for everyone later. It’s super duper fun, with evil curses bringing forth all kinds of gooey special effects, in the tradition of everyone from Joe Dante to Sam Raimi. Then there’s the eclectic genre cast: Brad Dourif does a hysterical Vincent Price pastiche as an eccentric archeologist, Robert Davi charms as the ghost of some Italian nobleman who guides our heroes here and there, Michael Ironside literally phones in a cameo a lá Charlie’s Angels as the mysterious employee of their mission, and watch for Tiny Lister as well as the late great Karen Black too. This won’t go down in history as one of the greats, but you can certainly do a lot worse in terms of this genre and budget range, it’s pure horror/fantasy/adventure escapism. Oh and if you can score a DVD somewhere it comes with a wicked cool retro cover slip with an awesome hologram 3D poster where one of the many gruesome monsters leers out at you. Cool 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.
This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .
Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.
These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly, died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.
The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.
For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky(The man on the rise), Matthias Hues(The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman(the veteran screenwriter).
Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.
Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.
Night Trap is so old, obscure and out of print that I had to order an Amazon copy just to make sure it was even real, and not some dream I had as a kid. It’s real enough, and a glorious helping of low budget supernatural tomfoolery at that, with two charismatic character actors headlining. Robert Davi, in a rare lead role, plays a headstrong New Orleans cop who is hunting down a serial killer (Michael Ironside) that appears to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for invincibility and a host of freaky deaky evil superpowers. Davi’s father was also a cop who pursued Ironside, and the monster likes to taunt both of them, leaving a trail of bodies in the hectic celebration of Mardi Gras. There’s a million of these type of movies, and they’re all across the board in terms of quality. It comes down to script and actors, really, as there’s never enough money to make any real visual magic. This one has a mile wide mean streak though, Ironside’s villain is a full on moustache twirling, nightmarish fiend and the veteran tough guy plays him as such. Matched against Davi, another notorious badass, it’s a B movie royal rumble that hits high notes of intensity, schlock and pulpy, violent delirium in all the right cues. Fun stuff if you’re a fan of these actors, and can actually locate a copy.
I’m not too sure just how much of Kill The Irishman is based in actual truth, but if even half of what we see on screen did happen, that is some pretty impressive shit. The film focuses on the life of Danny Greene (a bulked, sturdy Ray Stevenson), who was an Irish American mobster working out of Cleveland back in the 70’s, a guy who seems to have caused quite a stir of chaos amongst organized crime back then. Getting a leg up from the longshoreman’s union, Danny quickly rose to power alongside several other key figures including numbers man John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio), enforcer Joe Manditski (Val Kilmer) and nasty kingpin Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken). It seems it all went south pretty quick though, because before he knew it he was at odds with Birns, and dodging multiple brash assassination attempts coming at him from all directions. What’s remarkable about Danny’s story is his sterling resilience: something like over a dozen attempts were made on his life and the darn mick just kept on going, even taunting the underworld between car bomb blasts and raucous shoot outs. Of course, such a life alienates him from his wife (Linda Cardellini) and puts him in perpetual crosshairs, but Stevenson plays it casually cavalier, a gentleman gangster who really cares not for the danger he’s wading into, and treads lightly amongst the mess, making me wonder if the real Greene had such an attitude and the sheer luck to back it up. Walken is quiet and dangerous in a somewhat underplayed role, but he is entertaining doing anything, so it’s all good. The cast is enormous, and includes the like of Vinnie Jones as a bruiser of an Irish street soldier, Robert Davi in an explosive third act cameo as a lethal specialist brought in to neutralize Danny, and your usual kennel of Italian American character actors like Mike Starr, Bob Gunton, Tony Lo Bianco, Steve Schirippa, Paul Sorvino and others. It’s loud, fast paced and ever so slightly tongue in cheek. As a crime drama it works great, could have been slightly longer, but Stevenson keeps things moving briskly with his affable, hyperactive performance and it goes with out saying that the rest of them provide excellent supporting work.
Predator 2 is a gem of a film, and don’t let anyone ever try and convince you otherwise. It’s just so different and so much crazier than the first that I think people had a knee jerk ‘wtf’ reaction and panned it. It’s tough to top the sheer bombastic overdrive of the first one, which is considered a classic, but if anything the sequel switched the nitrous dial past maximum and blasts off into the stratosphere of excessive R rated chaos, an impressive feat. It also switches settings, from the sweaty jungles of South America to the equally sweaty and opulent grime of the urban jungle, namely Los Angeles of the future, bursting at the seams with so many over the top criminals and hectic, delirious violence that by the time the Predators show up they not only fit in, but seem relatively sane compared to everyone else. Seriously, every human character in this film is a coked up tornado of cartoonish energy and brashness it’s hard to keep up unless you’ve hoovered up a few rails yourself prior to sitting down and popping in the blu ray (the blu ray of this is wicked by the way, gorgeous transfer). So get this: Danny Glover, before he got too old for this shit, basically serves as a renegade SuperCop in this hellhole of a metropolis, waging all out war on loads of feral gang members and degenerates, constantly leaned on by the obligatory pain in the ass of a police commissioner (Robert Davi, god bless his republican ass) and backed up by a team of state of the art badasses, including Aliens’s Bill Paxton, who gets all the best lines and delivers them with the gusto the material deserves. He’s also backed by Ruben Blades and tough girl Maria Conchita Alonso, whose appearance and scenes with Paxton call to mind him and Jannette Goldstein side by side in Aliens, or is that just the fanboy in me having an aneurysm? Together they achieve 80’s action movie squad goals by messily wiping out as much of the criminal faction in the city as they can, including weird Rastafarian crime lord King Willie (Calvin Lockhart, spooky as all hell), until something else comes along. Something they can’t see, hear, or easily empty clips at whilst cheerfully spewing profanity. The predators have branched out, and this time there’s more than one, giving their inherent tactical nature a whole new twist. So who better to take on these extraterrestrial game wardens? Glover of course, who positively froths at the mouth. You know you’re overacting when Gary Busey has to keep up with you, and he does his loony best as some hush hush Fed who has been keeping tabs on the Preds for sometime, and has big notions of taking them down. It’s all in good fun, with jaw dropping, spectacularly brutal set pieces, violence that would not go over well these days (the 80’s didn’t give a fuck, man) and a seriously chaotic vibe humming through the whole breathless ordeal. I’d even be so bold as to say that this is the better of the two Predator films, upon getting all misty eyed and craving a rewatch after writing this. Go ahead, shame, me. It’s just too great of a flick to be as under appreciated as it is. Oh, and watch for a sly cameo from another otherworldly baddie late in the third act.