Thursday, August 25, 2011

August 13 - Bloodsport 2: The Next Kumite (1996)

The cover of my VHS copy of Bloodsport 2

Bloodsport 2: The Next Kumite (1996)
Director: Alan Mehrez
Format: VHS (Palace)

Can't afford to get Jean Claude Van Damme to come back for a sequel? No problem, just find another martial artist with a wacky European accent who kind of looks like the Muscles from Brussels.

That's just what the producers of this movie did. Bloodsport was a cult favourite (and a personal favourite of mine in my teenage years), but by the time this sequel was released 8 years later, Van Damme was commanding big money and probably unattainable. They found a handy replacement in Daniel Bernhardt, a Swiss martial artist with minimal acting experience (this was his first feature film).

The only connection to the first film is the kumite tournament, and the returning Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb), who is no longer a fighter but is involved as a handler.

Petty thief Alex Cardo (Bernhardt) steals a valuable katana sword and ends up in a Thai prison, where he meets Master Sun (James Hong, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA). Sun teaches a brand of martial arts called Iron Hand to Alex, who gets on the bad side of a ruthless prison guard called Demon (Ong Soo Han).

Released from prison, Alex enters the Kumite tournament with the help of Ray Jackson. Just like in the first movie, the tournament has a mix of fighting styles. To nobody's surprise, it comes down to Alex and Demon for the tournament title.

The acting is good across the board. Hong is always excellent, Gibb is the comic relief and there's a few brief-but-nice scenes involving good ol' Mr Miyagi, Pat Morita. Bernhardt's acting is also better than could be expected, considering this was his debut.

It's also the debut for director Alan Mehrez and writer Jeff Schechter. The plot is nothing special, but these movies are all about the action, and the fighting starts early (the first fight is on screen inside the first five minutes) and doesn't let up until the final credits. If you've seen the first movie you'll know what to expect, but in fact the fighting might actually be better in this sequel. Demon is no Chong Li in terms of size or meanness, but he's a better fighter.

In between the awesome fights there is some cheesiness to enjoy. Some of the training footage is pretty corny, especially the bits involving punching and kicking out candle flames. The romance scenes involving Bernhardt and Lori Lynn Dickerson have about as much chemistry as two rocks, mainly due to Dickerson's appalling acting. It's also quite humorous to hear Mr Miyagi talking with a British accent. And there's a funny scene where a guy walks in with a long, sword-shaped carry-bag, yet Alex asks "where's the sword?". Oh, and check out the Mortal Kombat-ripoff song that plays during the closing credits.

If you enjoyed the first Bloodsport you need to check out this sequel. The other two sequels featuring Bernhardt? I haven't seen them, but I do have the 4th movie on VHS, so will be reviewing that one sometime soon.

Previews on my VHS: The Scarlet Letter, Captives, Johnny Mnemonic, The Basketball Diaries, Mortal Kombat, National Lampoon's Senior Trip,

Saturday, August 13, 2011

August 10 - Bloody Birthday (1981)

The cover of my VHS copy of Bloody Birthday

Bloody Birthday (1981)
Director: Ed Hunt
Format: VHS (Video Classics)

This surprisingly-good killer kid flick fits into the "couldn't be remade today" category. It's hard to imagine any studio greenlighting a flick about a group of killer tykes, or at least one with kids as ruthless as the trio in Bloody Birthday.

The plot is simple enough - Three babies are born during a solar eclipse in 1970. Skip forward 10 years and as they approach their 10th birthday the murderous tykes set about killing anyone who gets in their way. They shoot, strangle, bury alive, beat to death with a baseball bat... nothing is too brutal for this triad of terror. A boy in the tykes' class and his older sister (Lori Lethin, THE DAY AFTER) learn what's going on and try to put a stop to their reign of terror.

The killer kid story has been done plenty of times before (THE OMEN, THE BAD SEED, THE GOOD SON, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED etc) and Bloody Birthday doesn't really offer anything new to the sub-genre. In essence it's a slasher (with music lifted straight from the previous year's FRIDAY THE 13TH) with cute kids in place of a hulking killer.

Director Ed Hunt (ALIEN WARRIOR, STARSHIP INVASIONS) does a good job of keeping things interesting and doesn't scrimp on the kills, which are carried out in a variety of imaginative ways. Look out for an especially cool kill involving a bow and arrow. The tension and suspense is also good, particularly in the final act.

The supporting cast is good, including square-jawed Joe Penny a few years before becoming a TV regular in RIPTIDE and later JAKE AND THE FATMAN, and former MTV VJ Julie Brown (not the more famous Downtown Julie Brown, this one went by West Coast Julie Brown, got that?) who gets her kit off early in the movie.

But the real stars are the murderous mopheads, or at least two of the three. The blond-haired boy doesn't stand out, but Elizabeth Hoy is the right mix of adorable and creepy as Debbie and Billy Jayne (who a decade later would star as Parker Lewis's best friend on the TV show PARKER LEWIS CAN'T LOSE) is fantastic as the nerdy-but-cold-blooded Curtis.

Bloody Birthday is a definite case of don't judge a VHS by its cover. I went in expecting an 80s slasher but was surprised to find a nice little killer kid flick. Definitely worth watching.

Previews on my VHS tape: Dawn of the Mummy, Get Mean

August 9 - City Limits (1984)

The cover of my VHS copy of City Limits

City Limits (1984)
Director: Aaron Lipstadt
Format: VHS (Vestron)

In the future a plague has wiped out most of the population. Motorcycle gangs the Clippers and the DAs share control of a major US city, fighting gunless battles. Young Lee (John Stockwall, CHRISTINE) leaves the desert and goes to the city in search of adventure and joins the Clippers. A corporation from outside the city sides with the DAs, but wants control of the whole city, so starts breaking the rules. Lee and the Clippers must fight back, and soon they unite with the DAs to try to rid their city of the evil outsiders.

This was the second film by director Aaron Lipstadt, who went on to a lengthy career directing TV. It's easy to see how he made that transition, because City Limits has a definite television feel to it. The fights and violence are done in a non-exploitive way and the overall vibe is that of a slightly grittier version of an 80s TV show like Street Hawk or Blue Thunder.

Like most 80s futuristic scifi action flicks, this one is clearly influenced by The Road Warrior, with lots of bulky costumes and motorbikes covered in armor. The sets are your usual post-apocalyptic cityscapes.

The acting is really quite good. Stockwell does a good enough job as the naive young hero and is ably supported by a cast that includes legend James Earl Jones (two years after his villainous turn in CONAN THE BARBARIAN, but back to playing a good guy role) and a whole host of young up and comers. They include Rae Dawn Chong (a year before her star turn in COMMANDO) and Kim Cattrall (already established as an actress but a couple of years prior to breaking out in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and MANNEQUIN).

Also in the cast are familiar faces Robby Benson (WALK PROUD), John Diehl (KICKBOXER 2) and DON OPPER (CRITTERS franchise), who also helped write City Limits. And look out for bit parts by stuntman extraordinaire Gene LeBell and Jason Vorhees himself, Kane Hodder.

The biggest failing is the plot. It lacks direction and just seems to meander along. The concepts are good, but Opper, Lipstadt and company just plain failed to turn them into anything noteworthy.

That's not to say City Limits isn't worth watching. It has a great cast, some interesting ideas and the odd piece of good action. Oh, and Kim Cattrall gets her kit off.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 5 - Backwoods (2008)

Backwoods (2008)
Director: Marty Weiss
Format: DVD

Backwoods is one those dime-a-dozen 2000s horror flicks, the kind that don't offer much in the way of originality but can still be worth watching if you're in the right mood.

It has elements of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wrong Turn, Hills Have Eyes and even Masterblaster (the obscure-ish paintball game slasher I reviewed in May).

A group of workmates head into the forest for a team-building game of paintball, but stumble on a group of crazed hillbilly types that are intent on making their game a matter of life and death.

Yep, your basic survival horror slasher. With a semi-recognisable hollywood lead (Haylie Duff, sister of singer/actor Hilary Duff) and a bunch of nobodies filling all the pre-requisite roles (loudmouth party animal, token black guy, Asian guy, ditzy chick etc).

One recognisable face is Jonathon Slavin, who has a regular gig as a quirky geek on TV comedy show BETTER OFF TED. Also popping up are Robert Allen Mukes (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES) as a hulking freak and veterans Mark Rolston (ALIENS) as a park ranger and Deborah Van Valkenburgh (DEVIL'S REJECTS) as the matriach of the redneck family, Mother Ruth.

There's no real gore, but Backwoods doesn't really suffer because of it. It still manages to be violent and brutal in places. The acting is good and the one piece of originality in the plot offers a variation on the usual hillbilly inbred bad guys by making them a religious cult.

Along the same lines as Wrong Turn and countless other recent survival horror slashers, Backwoods is fun enough and worth watching if you like this type of movie.

Monday, August 1, 2011

July 30 - Cocaine Wars and Solar Warriors

Hey, it's a "movies released on video in 1986" double feature! First up is an action flick starring a former 1970s TV star and heartthrob.

The cover and back of my VHS copy of Cocaine Wars

Cocaine Wars (1985)
Director: Hector Olivera Format: VHS (Media)

From director Hector Olivera (BARBARIAN QUEEN) comes this mid-80s actioner set in South America. Released theatrically in 1985 and on video in 1986.

It stars John Schneider (DUKES OF HAZZARD) as Cliff Adams, an undercover DEA agent, posing as a pilot flying drugs for a South American cartel. Kathryn Witt (FLYING HIGH TV series) is American journalist Janet Meade, his on-again, off-again lover.

Cliff uses confidential papers to blackmail drug lord Gonzalo Reyes (Guillermo del Toro regular Federico Luppi CRONOS, PAN's LABYRINTH), but when Janet's colleagues in the US prematurely run with a story, his Stateside operation is busted and all hell breaks loose for Cliff and Janet.

Also making an appreance is the always-great Royal Dano (OUTLAW JOSEY WALES) as the owner of the town's brothel.

The action doesn't really pick up until the final act, when the bad guys capture Janet and Cliff goes all Rambo to bust her loose. Machine gun fire, fist fights and explosions are the order of the day.

Cocaine Wars was filmed in Argentina, which provides the type of South American setting you'd expect (Spanish pueblos, rainforest etc) and some not-so-typical bits (a polo match, a car chase along cliff-hugging mountain roads).

Schneider is likeable enough as the cookie cutter anti-hero (rebellious, selfish, afraid of commitment etc), but on the downside the music and editing are sub-par. Even a car chase loses suspense and drama because of the choppy editing and camerawork.

Cocaine Wars is definitely nothing special. If, like me, you were a Dukes of Hazzard fan as a kid, it's worth checking out for John Schneider, but there's not much else to recommend about it.

The cover of my VHS copy of Solar Warriors

Solar Warriors (1985)
Director: Alan Johnson
Format: VHS (CEL)

Roller skating. Lazer guns. A post-apocalyptic future. A glowing alien orb. Man, I would have loved this movie when I was 10.

In fact, at the age of 36 I still really enjoyed it. As family-friendly futuristic scifi goes, SOLAR WARRIORS is a lot of fun.

Director Alan Johnson only helmed two movies, spending most of his career as choreographer on a bunch of Mel Brooks movies (who incidentally produced SOLAR WARRIORS, but don't expect any Brooksian hijinks here).

The movie starts off with narration explaining that far in the future the world is a barren wasteland (what else?) and all the water is controlled by a corporation.

At an orphanage where kids are indoctrinated to serve the corporation, two teams of teenagers engage in a game that's part lacrosse and part rollerderby, until the E-Police break it up.

While escaping from the E-Fuzz, Daniel (Lukas Haas, WITNESS) stumbles upon a cave and, inside it, a glowing ball of light that is some sort of alien lifeforce (but thankfully doesn't talk, keeping things from going all Disney on us).

Daniel takes the orb back to the orphanage and shows it to his friends, a roller-game team known as the Solar Babies. When the orb is stolen by another orphan and Daniel heads into the wasteland after him, the Solar Babies go in search of him. Lucky for all of them the barren lands just happen to have paved paths they can skate along. They all unite, but are soon on the run from the E-Police.

The main reason to watch this movie is for its cast of young actors who went onto bigger and better things (although for some fame would be fleeting).

Jason Patric, in his feature film debut, is the leader of the Solar Babies, the imaginatively-named Jason. His girlfriend is Terra, played by Jami Gertz, who of course would reunite romantically with Patric in THE LOST BOYS a year later.

Other Solar Babies include Tug (Peter DeLuise, 21 JUMP STREET) and Metron (James LeGros, POINT BREAK), while Adrian Pasdar (a year before NEAR DARK) plays the mysterious bird-loving Darstar.

James Van Der Beek lookalike Peter Kowanko (AMITYVILLE 3D) appears as Jason's antagonistic rival Gavial, a member of the Nazi Youth-esque junior division of the E-Police, while character actor Charles Durning (THE FINAL COUNTDOWN) is the orphanage warden. THE YOUNG ONES regular Alexei Sayle and Bruce Payne (ONE TOUGH BASTARD) are bounty hunters and the late Richard Jordan (LOGAN'S RUN) is top-billed as E-Police leader Grock.

The costumes are also good, and the sets are damn impressive - someone on the IMDB boards suggested this movie was made up of deleted scenes from MAD MAX 3: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, which is a load of hokey, but the sets here definitely wouldn't out of place in that flick.

But don't be fooled. This is a rollerskating movie and much of the action is set up to show off stunts on skates. Luckily the stunts don't detract from the storyline and are much better handled than in PRAYER OF THE ROLLER BOYS.

If you're looking for cheese, skip past SOLAR WARRIORS, but if you're looking for family-friendly scifi with a point of difference (roller skating), check it out.