Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Air Force Two (2006)

Air Force Two (2006)
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: David Keith, Mariel Hemingway, David Milbern, Jill Bennett
Format: DVD (Flashback)

I got this low budget DVD as part of a "5 Disc Action Collection" released by Flashback Entertainment. I popped it into the DVD player in search of something low key to watch on a Sunday night, without knowing anything about it.

The first thing I noticed was the name Brian Trenchard-Smith pop up on screen as director, which got my attention. The ozploitation legend directed some real classics in the 70s and 80s (TURKEY SHOOT, DEAD-END DRIVE IN, FROG DREAMING, BMX BANDITS etc), before getting the "honour" of doing two Leprechaun sequels in the 90s. He's carried on working consistently since then, although the names of some of his more recent movies (Atomic Dog? Pimpin' Pee Wee?) had me curious and a little worried.

The second thing I noticed was that the scenery looked very familiar, and so did a lot of the minor cast members and extras. A quick check of IMDB.com confirmed that this movie (known as IN HER LINE OF FIRE upon release) was shot here in my home nation, New Zealand.

David Keith (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, FIRESTARTER) is US Vice President Walker, whose plane (the titular Air Force Two) crashlands in the Pacific Ocean. Walker, secret service agent Lynn Delaney (Hemingway, STAR 80) and a reporter (Bennett) wash up on an island inhabited by military rebels, headed by the maniacal Armstrong (Milbern). Capturing the second most powerful man in the western world would be quite a coup for Armstrong and his men, but the VP is an ex-soldier and his secret service gal-pal is quite the Rambo-ette, so it's not going to be easy.

The acting is good across the board, with veterans Keith and Hemingway dependable as ever. Milbern also stands out as the bad guy - his look and acting style kept reminding me of Bruce Willis (not a bad thing). The action is okay, but sadly you wouldn't know this is a Trenchard-Smith movie if you didn't see the credits. Fans of his ozploitation stuff will be disappointed if they're expecting anything like that.

Other reviews of this movie mention a lesbian love subplot between the characters played by Hemingway and Bennett (the latter, according to IMBD is openly lesbian), but there was nothing of that in the cut I watched. I guess that plot point was taken out for some releases? It's a shame, because it might have lifted Air Force Two above the level of run-of-the-mill action flick.

I probably enjoyed Air Force Two a little big more than most non-New Zealanders will. I had fun playing spot-the-Kiwi-actor, and also got a few laughs out of the island terrorists speaking in their native tongue (in reality the actors were just stringing together a bunch of non-sequitor words in our native tongue, Maori). But for the non-NZ viewer this is an adequate if unspectacular time waster. It's worth a watch on a lazy afternoon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Black Gestapo (1975)

A scan of my VHS copy of Black Gestapo 
The Black Gestapo (1975)
Director: Lee Frost
Starring: Rod Perry, Charles Robinson, Phil Hoover
Format: VHS (Prestige Video)

Lee Frost directed everything from 1960s Mondo shockumentaries and softcore roughies to biker flicks and the campy scifi comedy THE THING WITH TWO HEADS. In 1966 he helmed Love Camp 7, which is widely considered a pioneer in the nazi exploitation genre. Nine years later he revisited the nazi theme with a twist, nazi blaxploitation!

At least that's what this movie's title and cover art would have you believe. In truth there's no real nazi content beyond the uniforms worn by The People's Army, a black revolutionary group who dress like a cross between Hitler Youth and the Black Panthers.

And to call it blaxploitation isn't totally accurate either. Sure, the antagonists are African American but The Black Gestapo doesn't really play up black culture in the way true blaxploitation movies do. It's more of a straight up exploitation movie that just happens to have a majority of black characters. And what exploitation there is! Nudity, racism, violence against women, rape, castration... The Black Gestapo doesn't pull any punches.

The plot follows The People's Army as they fight back against a group of white gangsters who're shaking down the black neighbourhood in Watts, Los Angeles. Led by General Ahmed (Rod Perry, THE BLACK GODFATHER, SWAT TV series) and Colonel Kojah (Charles Robinson, best known as Mac in 80s TV show Night Court), the revolutionaries use their training in guerilla tactics to wage a full-out war with the honkey hoods.

Once the white guys are out of the picture, Kojah is quickly corrupted by his new found power. Breaking away from Ahmed, he and his men soon enough take the place of their former white oppressors, shaking down bookies, selling drugs and killing anyone who gets in their way. It's up to the principled Ahmed to try to put a stop to his former righthand man's delusions of grandeur.

Frost regular Phil Hoover (THE THING WITH TWO HEADS) plays bigoted white goon Vito, who gets his comeuppance in a painful way, while Frost himself plays campy toupee-wearing criminal overlord Vincent.

You could say there's a serious message in all of this - that the oppressed can quickly become the oppressors if they give in to the temptations of power. But really, who cares about morales and messages when there's so much sleazy exploitation to enjoy? Especially when it comes wrapped in a parcel of funky 70s music and fashions (I wonder why plaid trousers have ever made a comeback? Or maybe they have and I didn't notice?).

The action is sometimes brutal, sometimes goofy, but always good sleazy fun. The best stuff is during the black-white war at the start and Ahmed's assault on Kojah's compound at the end. The gratuitous shots of naked breasts at regular intervals certainly don't hurt either.

Fans of low budget exploitation will have a ball watching The Black Gestapo. I mean, how often do you get to see black guys dressed like Nazi soldiers raising their fists while audio of mass "Sieg heil" chants plays? Not often, I can tell you that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Chain (1996)

A scan of my VHS copy of The Chain
The Chain (1996)
Director: Luca Bercovici
Starring: Gary Busey, Victor Rivers, Jamie Rose, Rez Cortez
Format: VHS (Palace Home Video)

Two prisoners hate each other but must work together when they escape captivity, because they are joined at the wrist by a heavy metal chain. As a plot hook it's been done many times, most famously in Stanley Kramer's 1958 classic The Defiant Ones. In 1996 two movies were released with this premise. Fled, starring Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin, had a theatrical release and made quite a bit of money. The Chain, on the other hand, was shot in The Philippines on a small budget and probably went straight to video, forever consigned to obscurity.

Frank Morrissey (Busey) is an American cop obsessed with catching international gunrunner Carlos (Rivers, BLOOD IN BLOOD OUT). He travels to South America in pursuit of his taunting nemesis, but both end up being captured by soldiers  and thrown into a jungle prison. When they repeatedly try to kill each other, the two rivals are chained together (hence the name). An attack by rebel forces allows them to escape into the jungle, but the soldiers are hot on their trail and they're still chained together, forcing them to put their hatred aside and work together to survive.

If you're like me, you'll watch anything Gary Busey is in. Whether he's appearing in genuinely good movies (Point Break) or action movie escapism (Under Siege, Eye of the Tiger, Surviving the Game), Busey is always entertaining to watch. Is his unorthodox acting style the result of drug addictions or a head injury he supposedly suffered in 1988? Either way there's only one Gary Busey.

Here he's in good form. Not great, but good. There's also a couple of big battle scenes you'd expect from a Philippines production (it's funny that despite this movie being set in South America, the soldiers and rebels in said battle scenes are quite obviously Asian). On the down side, director Bercovici (who interestingly along with co-writer Jefery Levy shares the original Ghoulies movie in his film credits) is clueless about pacing an action movie and some of his camera work is distracting rather than innovative.

Also of note is a brief scene involving Philippino action flick regular Ken Metcalfe (WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE, THE MUTHERS etc) in his second to last movie.

The Chain is by no means a good movie. It's not the worst thing out there, but I think most action fans will find it boring for the most part. If you want another chance to see the Buse-meister in action during his heyday (before he became a complete caricature of himself) check it out, but otherwise there are much better films worthy of your time. Especially disappointing because of its filming locale.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

VHS collection update - May 18 2012

The first update of my VHS collection in six months shows all the tapes I've picked up over that time. Horror, comedy, TV, and lots and lots of cheesy action flicks!

In two parts...


Monday, May 14, 2012

Ghettoblaster (1989)

 A scan of my VHS copy of Ghettoblaster
Ghettoblaster (1989)
Director: David DeCoteau
Starring: Richard Hatch, Del Zamora, Diane Moser
Format: VHS (Applause Home Video)

Travis (Hatch) is a single dad who returns home to find his old neighbourhood is now a ghetto overrun with gang violence. When Travis' father is killed by The Hammers, a ruthless Latino gang run by Jesus (Zamora), he takes over the family store and tries to resist their standover tactics. But of course that's never going to work, and after more witnessing and becoming victim to more violence he finally takes a stand, becoming a one-man vigilante force.

So it's all pretty predictable, but one nice plot point is that Travis is ex-army, specialising in urban warfare tactics. This allows for some interesting guerilla-style attacks (an exploding ghettoblaster is especially fun) and some lame TV-style antics (dressing up as a clown to infiltrate a drug deal at a park).

The bad guys aren't going to stand for that, so they kidnap Travis' daughter, setting up a final confrontation with The Hammers. Of course there's also a love interest, predictably the sister of one of the gangbangers, Gina (Diane Moser). It's just a shame there's so little chemistry between Hatch and Moser.

Ghettoblaster would be a yawnfest if wasn't just so 80s. The Beat Street-esque rap music, the fashions, the lack of true grittiness... all of it makes Ghettoblaster feel like an extended episode of a Stephen J. Cannell show, but with nudity, swearing and violence thrown into the mix. The violence is for the most part quite tame, but there is a rather nasty drive-by shooting of a young kid in the opening scene.

Richard Hatch isn't overly impressive as an action star, but he's likeable enough. I grew up watching him on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and have always liked him as an actor, so getting to watch him in his own action movie was a treat. The rest of the cast does an adequate enough job.

Ghettoblaster is definitely worth a watch, particularly if you're of my generation and grew up watching Richard Hatch and 70s/80s TV shows.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Seeing Red double feature

Red Dawn (1984)
Director: John Milius
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson
Format: VHS (MGM/UA)

For his follow up to the 1983 Arnie vehicle CONAN THE BARBARIAN, director John Milius transported from mystical Cimmeria to contemporary USA and swapped swords and loin cloths for machine guns and army uniforms. The result was RED DAWN, an excellent "what if" actioner that stars a handful of not-yet-famous young actors.

RED DAWN is one of those movies - like THE OUTSIDERS, RUMBLEFISH and TAPS - where part of the fun is watching these young actors before they were famous. In fact, Patrick Swayze, C Thomas Howell and Darren Dalton (as well as William Smith, but he could hardly be considered a "young talent" at this stage of his career) had all appeared in THE OUTSIDERS the year before RED DAWN.

The opening scene sets up what is to come and is powerful stuff - paratroopers begin falling from the sky onto the football field of a small town US high school. When they start attacking, it's clear that someone is invading America, soon revealed to be Russia and its communist allies Cuba and Nicaragua.

A group of the students (including Sheen, Howell and Dalton), escape with an older brother (Swayze) into the mountains, taking supplies and weapons with them. They are soon joined by two teenaged girls (Thompson and Jennifer Grey). At first they are content to hide out, but when they witness the brutality of the invaders firsthand the teens begin fighting back, adopting their high school mascot and carrying out raids and attacks as the resistance group The Wolverines.

With a plot summary like that, it would be very easy for RED DAWN to get carried away with a "Rah, rah, USA, USA!" mentality, but it manages to restrain that side of things while still portraying the invaders as evil bastards who are keen on lining up townsfolk and murdering them by firing squad. This movie also resists the urge to trivialise war and make it all fun and games - characters die regularly and a downbeat (but necessary) conclusion offers some hope but doesn't fit into the "happy ending" mold.

There's lots of good action - explosions galore, tank battles, rocket launchers etc - but Milius also uses his talented young actors to bring a real heartfelt quality to proceedings. Swayze, Sheen, Howell and Thompson in particular shine. It's also fun to see some fleeting chemistry between Swayze and Jennifer Grey three years before their starring roles in Dirty Dancing.

While the kids take center-stage, the adult supporting cast has plenty of familiar faces - Harry Dean Stanton (ALIEN), William Smith (CONAN THE BARBARIAN), Powers Boothe (TOMBSTONE) and BEN JOHNSON (WILD BUNCH) among them.

I see on IMDB that a remake is planned for release this year, with North Koreans replacing Russians/Cubans as the invaders. While this original is far from perfect - its pacing lags in places - I doubt the remake will be able to top it.

A scan of my VHS copy of Red Scorpion

Red Scorpion (1988)
Director: Joseph Zito
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, M Emmet Walsh, Al White
Format: VHS (CEL/Vestron)

In the 80s Dolph Lundgren cornered the market on playing Russian badasses, despite actually being Swedish. After a non-speaking on-screen debut as a KGB agent in the 1985 Bond flick View to a Kill, Dolph shot to stardom as Rocky Balboa's Soviet nemesis Drago in the same year's Rocky IV (who can forget that training montage - Hearts on Fiiiiiiire!).

In 1987 Dolph top-billed for the first time as He-Man in the live-action MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, but I would argue he wasn't actually the lead actor, as a lot of that film's plot was taken up with the human protagonists (one played by Courteney Cox). It wasn't until the next year that Lundgren got his first chance to really taken center-stage in RED SCORPION.

Dolph is Lieutenant Nikolai Rachenko, a crack Soviet soldier based in Africa. His latest mission is to assassinate a pesky African rebel leader. He gets close to his target but fails to kill him. Then his own superiors want him dead, so Nikolai switches sides and helps the rebels fight back against the Communist oppressors. Along the way he befriends an African bushman who teaches him the ways of his people and dubs him Red Scorpion.

If you're familiar with Dolph Lundgren you'll know what to expect here. Dolph has never been mistaken for a talented actor - he simply had "the look" and while not as good as Van Damme, Seagal or Norris when it came to hand-to-hand combat, could handle himself in a fight. In RED SCORPION he spends most of his time shirtless, showing off his impressive physique. But at the same time Dolph does get the chance to act a bit - the interaction between Nikolai and his bushman mentor (who don't speak the same language) allows him to break his icy demeanor and have some fun for once.

The final showdown brings the action in spades, with enough gunfire, explosions, attack helicopters, rocket launchers etc to keep the discerning fan happy. Director Joseph Zito got his start in slasher films (THE PROWLER, FRIDAY THE 13TH THE FINAL CHAPTER) but prior to RED SCORPION had cut his action teeth with a pair of Chuck Norris vehicles (INVASION USA, MISSING IN ACTION) so knew his way around this kind of material.

The supporting cast reunites BLADE RUNNER alumni M Emmet Walsh and Brion James, but let's face it, this is Dolph's show. While not the best movie he's been in (ROCKY IV, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, THE EXPENDABLES are all better), RED SCORPION is perhaps big Dolph's finest hour as a headline act.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fire with Fire (1988)

A scan of my VHS copy of Fire with Fire   

Fire with Fire (1988)

Director: Cedric Sundstrom
Starring: Lisa Rinna, Oliver Reed, Robert Vaughan
Format: VHS (Palace)

Released in the US as both Captive Rage and Fair Trade, this "chicks fight back" jungle actioner was released here in New Zealand (and Australia) as Fire with Fire. Not to be confused with the 1986 Fire with Fire, a Craig Sheffer-Virginia Madsen love story, of course.

Eduard Delacorte (Vaughan) is a DEA agent who locks up the son of a South American drug lord/dictator, General Belmondo (Reed). In retaliation, Belmondo hijacks a plane containing Delcorte's daughter, Lucy (Rinna), and her perky college girl friends and takes the girls captive in his jungle camp. He wants to exchange them for his son, but the feisty babes bust out of captivity and go all Rambo-ette.

Thrown into the mix are a tribe of native Indians, and a pair of American surveyors who team up with the girls, the latter offering some mild comedic relief (one of these bumbling dudes is B-movie journeyman Greg Latter - MUTATOR, LUNARCOP, KICKBOXER 5 etc).

Rinna, who would go on to become a soap star in Melrose Place and Days of Our Lives, is all cute and perky here in her on-screen debut. Her friends are played by a bunch of no-names (including former Miss South Africa Diana Tilden Davis - this film was financed by her home country), who also look good in their camo cut-offs. None of them are particularly believable as gun-toting badasses though, and it's never explained how they know how to use guns so well.

Reed and Vaughan were fading stars by this point. Vaughan's on-screen time is minimal, while Reed is obviously phoning in his performance, but even then he's the most entertaining thing about Fire with Fire, particularly his terrible South American accent. Another highlight is Belmondo's blonde prison captain whose giant hair and shoulderpads would have made Bonnie Tyler envious.

South African director Sundstrom went on to helm two American Ninja sequels (3 and 4 to be exact).

There's just enough gun fights, explosions and nudity to keep things from getting too tedious, but for a jungle action flick things are kept pretty tame. An adequate time-waster, but don't expect anything great.

We're back

Wow, I can't believe it's been four months since I've posted on here.

I haven't stopped watching movies, I've just been so busy I haven't had time to write reviews or make videos about my collections.

I'm not sure if anyone's even still reading, but regardless I'm going to start publishing reviews again more regularly.

I also plan to make a video showing the VHS I have added to my collection over the past few months, so keep an eye out for that.