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Corey Yuen spread the cheese on a little too thick...
24 January 2000
I decided to rent NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER II due to the man also responsible for Jet Li's fight choreography...however not even Corey Yuen's stylish chop socky could save this....not saying it wasn't fun though. Cross a low budget Rambo rip off with a quality hong kong kung fu film and you've got NRNS 2. Hero Scott Wylde (Loren Avedon) travels to Thailand to meet with his fiance (who is also daughter of a wealthy business man financing anti Soviet forces in Cambodia). The obligatory kidnapping of the fiance takes place forcing Scott to join forces with weapon specialist Mac and pilot/martial artist Terry (Cynthia Rothrock) as they make their way into Cambodia to take on the Soviet forces led by one big Russki known as Yuri (Matthias Hues).

If you can survive the ridiculous dialogue between the three leads(especially former lovers Mac and Terry), outdated one man army shootouts, and Matthias Hues's facial expressions then you may be in for a treat. Although not "Grade A" martial arts sequences, the film does provide entertaining brawls in the opening sequence between kidnappers and Scott, Scott and Mac vs others in an outdoor dining establishment, the three leads vs an army of monks (netting included) and finally the climatic showdown between Scott and a barechested (wouldn't you tear off your shirt if you were buff as hell before a bare knuckled melee?)Yuri. Once again this movie is highly cheesy and lost credibility as a true action movie once you push the VCR play button. Seen as an action parody through the eyes of any martial arts fans, NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER II may still have a chance. What gives this viewing priority over such direct to video turkeys as POINT BLANK and any offering by the PM group is in the fights...imported straight from Hong Kong.
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The sequel may have been lacking, the prequel sure isn't
21 January 2000
This followup to FROM DUSK TILL DAWN reestablishes the series as a credible action/horror flick amongst the other direct to video bombs on the shelves. Many would agree the first sequel hardly lived up to the production values of the first (despite a creative directorial effort by Scott Spiegel). So what do Tarantino/Rodriguez do with their next FDTD? Set it back 100 years to explore the origin of Satanico Pandemonium (played by Salma Hayek in the original) and the infamous vamp-infested bar. The film begins with a short introduction of novelist and journalist Ambrose Pierce mysteriously disappearing and then surviving (God knows how) a shooting squad. He sets his sights on joining a revolutionary's forces somewhere south of the border. His journey leads to a small town where a young outlaw, Johnny Madrid, is sentenced to death by hanging. In a spectacular sequence, Johnny escapes with the help of an unknown aspiring to be just like him and takes the Hangman's very own daughter (who has a very bad relationship with daddy and has the whip scars to prove it) as a willing hostage. The beginning of the story is very similiar to the original except set in the wild west with obviously Rodriguez inspired gun battles and characters who want to rip each others throats out (a la Tarantino). If you thought the uneasy alliance in the first was bad, imagine a group consisting of Johnny, the Hangman (whose daughter was kidnapped by Johnny), a recently married pseudo religious conman who recently lost his wife to the vamps, one of the Hangman's cronies who hates the conman, and finally Ambrose Pierce whose despised by just about everyone. Add a bar/inn full of vampires with all new characteristics and this time good KNB effects (look out for a face literally being blown off and spilled intestines) and you've got yourself an official sequel with some flair. Don't expect anything wildly originally that hasn't been covered in the first, just a good old fun rehash with some gunslinging characters and a western backdrop. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER was definitely worthy of a theatrical release but went direct to video instead.
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Point Blank (1998)
I really wanted to like this movie...
2 January 2000
I decided to roll the dice when renting POINT BLANK. My desire for a B-action film became unbearable and past experience proves that solid B-action films do exist in the direct to video market (e.g. Black Cat Run, The Guyver II: Dark Hero). Mickey Rourke is an established actor (YEAR OF THE DRAGON) who in the past years traded his legitimacy for a few inches on his bicep (I did enjoy DOUBLE TEAM however). But then the ripoffs within POINT BLANK became unbearable... Mickey Rourke plays an ex-military, ex-Texas Ranger now working for Pa who mentions to him one day that his brother is one of a group of convict escapees now holding an entire shopping mall hostage. Pa also mentions his brother's future is in his hands. An overriding theme of sentimentality plays well in the movie between the two brothers and even with some of the convicts revealing their human side. I also enjoyed the music played during these sequences. But that's about it... Paul Ben Victor (over)plays a gay ex-business man convicted of money laundering coming back to roost in his office underneath a mall, now stashed with military weaponry. Having masterminded the convict breakout, his motives conflict with the other convicts including Rourke's brother (who merely wants freedom and money....I think....the storyline gets a tad muddled here). With the ok from lead Tex Ranger in charge, Rourke makes his way into the mall and "pays homage" to many of the action movie greats of the 1990's: Martial arts by a non-martial artist, two gunmen shooting at each other between obstacles a la John Woo's Hard Boiled and Hard Target (but looking MUCH more clumsy), high floor mini gun without the dramatic punch of T2, and finally the most blatant artistic theft possibly EVER coming straight from Luc Besson's THE PROFESSIONAL (you've got to see it to believe it). Couple this with extremely sloppy editing and you've got yourself a film that maintains the reputation that direct to video films are of low quality. As an action hero, Mickey Rourke does have potential. He possesses a cool, calm bad ass quality reminiscint of an early MAN WITH NO NAME Clint. His physique compares to that of a Van Damme (of course without the grace or charisma). However, if he ever wants legitimacy as an action hero, a film of "grander" (not necessarily more expensive) proportions is needed.
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Blue Ice (1992)
above average spy thriller from above average director
1 January 2000
I was recently on a Russell Mulcahy kick and decided to view his second hard to find direct to video film BLUE ICE after being pleasantly surprised by SILENT TRIGGER with Dolph Lundgren. BLUE ICE has a very engaging storyline but ultimately falls short in the ending. Michael Caine plays ex-British operative Harry Anders unexpectedly and unofficially brought back into action after a traffic accident with mysterious beauty Stacy (Sean Young). A mutual attraction leads Harry to do Stacy a seemingly small favor involving Stacy's ex boyfriend. What follows is a intricately weaved scheme involving arms dealing and some very high ranking "w******". Caine is excellent as the lead character and reminded me of Roger Moore in his heyday as Bond. Sultry and convincing, Sean Young definitely heats up the screen. Look for a good but shortlived cameo by Bob Hoskins. Russell Mulcahy once again puts some effective visuals onto the screen including a hyper intense torture/interrogation sequence and effective lighting.

However, the time it took to create such an effective story and relationship between the two leads is wasted with a conclusion that emphasizes what Michael Caine is not: an action hero. Although the fight scenes in Harry's bar were forgivable, Michael Caine running around with a gun (albeit a cool gun) in the final showdown just struck me as awkward. The action also was a unnecessary reminder that the film was done on a low budget...a very low budget. Yet another film that came into fruition with a strong story and performances but would ultimately run out of steam with uninspired and unspectacular action. Of course Mr. Mulcahy would come back in fine form later with direct to video films SILENT TRIGGER, TALOS THE MUMMY, and RESURRECTION.
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Made Men (1999)
The exception to my rule...
28 December 1999
Once again I come across a direct to video title (MADE MEN)and the first thing I do is turn the video cover around and identify the movie's director (Louis Morneau) and producers (Joel Silver, Richard Donner). The chances of me renting this film increase with the degree of knowledge I have of these names. I ended up renting MADE MEN. Why? Not because Louis Morneau directed the recent theatrical release BATS (a fact that I knew of but was hardly a selling point). The two producers of this film know action very well (Donner responsible for the LETHAL WEAPON series, Silver responsible for DIE HARD and THE MATRIX). This film should be great right? Wrong. John Belushi plays organized crime informant Bill Manucci now in the witness protection program. Having stolen a large sum of money from a big boss known as the Skipper, our hero is tracked down and kidnapped by 3 of Skipper's representatives. The local law enforcement also gets involved in the form of corrupt Sheriff Dex Drier (miscast Timothy Dalton) and his deputy. Finally, a third party of hick illicit drug makers join in the pursuit after their lab is accidently destroyed in one of many gun battles.

Technically this film is sound. Aesthetically, it has all the elements of a quality action film: Explosions, gun fights, corny one liners, etc. I enjoyed a few of the action sequences (eg man on roof shooting down at main character whose double fisted while shooting up. However, the film is lacking in a strong central character who deserves the audience's attention. Belushi is normally a likeable actor (I liked him in RED HEAT) but is downright annoying and unfunny. The villains are hardly ruthless. Vanessa Angel plays a thankless role as Bill's wife. Finally, the story that unfolds contains very few twists and is altogether boring (the final story twist comes too little and too late). Looking for a B-movie with solid credentials? Try Black Cat Run.
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Superfights (1995)
Throw in a Hong Kong director and a little bit of cheese....
24 December 1999
Tony Leung along with Steve Wang (DRIVE, THE GUYVER II: DARK HERO) are responsible for some of the best direct to video martial arts films since Jackie Chan earlier films began to be released theatrically. SUPERFIGHTS is Tony Leung's American directorial debut followed by the stunning BLOODMOON. If you can excuse the storyline implausibility and Hong Kong-esque ridiculousness (e.g. the running sequence probably intended as a homage to ROCKY with everyone and I do mean everyone acknowledging our hero) then sit back and enjoy the ride martial arts fans because will make you giddy with adrenaline. Newcomer Brandon Gaines plays self trained martial artist Jack Cody, a dead end box boy aspiring to join the SUPERFIGHTERS. SUPERFIGHTS is a pro wrestling type entertainment company promoted by corrupt businessman and martial artist Robert Sawyer (Keith Vitali) whose illicit activities go far beyond that of the training room and fighting ring. Serendipity occurs for Jack one night when his heroics in saving an innocent girl by the name of Sally from a robbery is caught on tape turning him into a hero overnight. His skills also catch the eye of promoter Robert Saywer who makes him an offer he can't refuse. In becoming a superfighter, Jack eventually uncovers the true nature of the business forcing him to take a stand against Mr. Saywer and his army of drug enhanced, mind altered warriors. With the aid of Sally and her tai chi master grandfather, Jack Cody does just that and the results are spectacular. While the in-ring fighting choreography is commendable, the outside fights are dizzying. Brandon Gaines agility is a feast for the eyes along with female trainer Angel's physical prowess. Also worth mentioning are performances by UFC veteran Keith Hackney and ECW regular ROB VAN DAM (also seen in BLOODMOON). Make no mistake about it, Tony Leung can choreograph a fight sequence. I sure hope SEASONAL FILMS has this guy on a multi-film contract.
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Scarecrows (1988)
Evil dead and Day of the Dead minus the humor and social satire
17 December 1999
I ran out to rent SCARECROWS after reading stellar reviews on the internet. My verdict: not bad. Highly visceral horror without any kind of humor and/or parody which is not necessarily a bad thing. This film doesn't leave much to the imagination and is very effective as a simple terror generating tale (a la HALLOWEEN). A paramilitary group of robbers manage to loot Camp Pendelton and take a pilot (who happens to operate the get away plane) and his daughter hostage. During the flight, a member of the criminal team takes the $3 million plus for himself and unsuccessfully attempts to blow the others away as he parachutes into unknown territory. What follows is a chase to track down the money, the traitor and some unexpected nasties in the form of lethal scarecrows. Not much of a background is given to the origin of the killer scarecrows (unless you read into a certain photo and power generator) but then again one is not needed (a la Halloween 6). Our heroes are heavily armed with night vision and automatic weaponry and the scarecrows are virtually indestructible. Enough said. While the first half hour may run a little slow and light on the body count, the remainder of the film more than makes up. As mentioned earlier, the tension building and horror are pretty straight forward. The knife in face, finger biting, scythe in leg, money up your yahoo style of horror FX doesn't make one think much. The confrontation between the traitor and his former commando buddies is especially fun to watch and reminiscent of some Brian Yuzna classics.

All in all, one may possibly do better at the video store but would most likely do worse in the low budget horror genre.
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Modern Vampires (1998 TV Movie)
play it straight, Matthew
14 December 1999
If anyone can write a perverted yet entertaining vampire film on a shoestring budget, Matthew Bright can. Or at least I thought he could. As a huge fan of Freeway I and II, I was disappointed with my latest viewing of a Bright production. Freeway showcases Bright's ability to write a witty urban thriller. Freeway II allows him to stray from realism a bit with a hint of the supernatural but still providing a strong story, characters and entertainment value. Modern Vampires allows him to jump off the deep end with a modern retelling of the vampire legend. The film is an awkward mix between satire, outlandish lampoon and a straight action/revenge/fantasy tale. Casper Van Dien plays Dallas, an exiled vampire returning to LA to discover that bad blood still exists between him and THE COUNT (Dracula). He teams with Nico (Natasha Wagner), a naive young vampire who rejects all that is traditional. Finally, Rod Stieger plays Dr. Van Helsing who is bent on exacting vengeance on Dallas for coverting his own son (whom he had to kill). I enjoyed the main three actor's performances: Van Dien is convincing as a nightcrawler with a heart, Nico is tough, sexy, and unrefined while Van Helsing (Steiger) is over the top as the top vampire slayer. The story, on the other hand, attempts to play for occasional laughs (Crips as vampire slayers?), traditional horror/gore, and your patented Bright quirky characters and lewd subject matter (I don't believe the Crip conversion is based on vampire lore). The final product is low budget schlock without the shock value of a Freeway and absent of the visual panache of a Blade. I understand Matthew Bright is for selective tastes. Modern Vampires, on the other hand, is for bad movie tastes.
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End of Days (1999)
Bad reviews be damned...
24 November 1999
Thank God Arnold's three year film hiatus is over. I have read many mixed reviews on this film and allow me to set the record straight. Three types should see this film: horror fans, action fans, and Arnie fans. End of Days successfully combines the horror and action genre for one "hell" of a thrill ride. Arnold plays an ex-NYPD cop now private security agent (along with partner Kevin Pollack providing good comic relief) who comes to the aid of a young woman marked for consummation by Satan (thus ending mankind as we know it). Two schools of thought exist to foil Satan (Gabriel Byrne), one group (knights of the sacred heart I believe they call themselves) wants to kill Satan's unwilling bride-to-be while the other relies on the more traditional aspect of faith in God (both stemming from the very same Vatican!) In a radical departure from his traditional action roles, Arnie plays flawed hero Jericho Cane, a drunkard down on his luck and without faith (lost both his wife and daughter). It is definitely an interesting character study as Cane must not only grapple with personal issues but the greatest manifestation of evil the human mind can acknowledge. Byrne, on the other hand, plays the devil with charisma and intelligence. Although many may be disappointed with his initial entrance, one cannot deny his screen presence. Many critics have complained the film lacks originality. End of Days indeed does borrow visuals and concepts from the Omen/Exorcist I and III as well as from numerous Schwarzenegger flicks ranging from Terminator to Predator. The brilliant opening sequence also reminded me of THE MATRIX. However the combination of religious horror with the bravado of a Schwarzeneggar persona is ultimately the films greatest triumph. Peter Hyams (THE RELIC, TIMECOP, THE STAR CHAMBER) provides enough eye candy for any genre fan (e.g. the most wicked inbred since DELIVERANCE, stigmata, crucifixions, Arnie double fisted, the most firepower since Terminator II). Finally, the film does successfully manipulate emotions to the point where I could honestly say I care if Evil wins over Good. If this isn't a fun time at the movies maybe its the "end of days" for you.
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A promising title amounting to nothing...
19 October 1999
Killer kids led by a charismatic bible-versed midget (Isaac) claiming to be a prophet of "he who walks behind the rows"...thus the series began. Although the first "Corn" was not a great film, the premise alone kept it engaging. Amazingly enough, it has spawned 5 sequels. The latest involves a daughter of a former cult member of the original "Corn" returning to the corn-stalked town of Gaitlin with the hopes of tracking down her mother. What follows is an incoherent mess including the return of Isaac from a 19 year long coma, a "prophecy" foretelling a breed of new "killer kids" coming from our lead character Hannah and Isaac's firstborn son, and a case of mistaken identity resulting in the definitive answer of the question who is "he who walks behind the rows?". You will be disappointed with the answer. Fans of cheap scares, ultra-gore, shoddy but entertaining special effects and other B-movie characteristics will find this movie absent of all the above. Fans of serious cinema would not have rented this movie due to the title alone (try to tell your significant other that we are going to enjoy CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC'S RETURN tonight). Consequently, this dull movie has no audience. B-movie fans DYING to enjoy a COC sequel tonight should look up COC 3: Urban Harvest. Directed by Anthony Hixox and effects by Screaming Mad George, it is the liveliest entry in a series that should have died before it even began. I am no longer renting any more COCs unless John Woo wants to take a stab at horror.
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King Cobra (1999 Video)
The saving grace is in the ending...
17 August 1999
What makes KING COBRA a step above your typical direct to video B horror film? Well, (I hate to say it)the ending is downright thrilling.....not giving away any details but the confrontation between Pat Morita's herpetologist/snake wrangler character and the giant cross-breeded snake is a great showdown...leading to the main characters (local policewoman and doctor who happen to be dating)last ditch effort to destroy the snake. Do not rent this film expecting JAWS. However, every now and then a subpar film rolls along teetering between a * and ** rating until the last half hour pushes into a respectable ** and a half star rating. KING COBRA is one such film. (then again the drop kick scene may very well be worth the price of rental...) Gore fans may be disappointed due to its PG-13 rating and its reliance on "appear from behind" scares...go into this accepting its low budget and you should be ok
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The series continues to entertain...
15 August 1999
Having enjoyed the first two and recognizing the director of the great BEST OF THE BEST II at the helm (along with fight choreographer, Simon Rhee who played De Han in THE BEST OF THE BEST series), I had high expectations going into this. WOW were they met. Treat Williams returns in the title role this time substituting as a college English professor replacing the daughter of an old mercenary buddy beaten up by some steroid crazed college football players. I won't give it away but the the villains go far deeper than the corrupt football program and the action moves at a brisk pace. Treat Williams, teaming with some old military buddies, take on the baddies in ultra violent fashion. Following in the same style as THE SUBSTITUTE I and II, this film continues to provide great gunplay and fight sequences(the fight between Treat and "BO" in the classroom is a classic). Treat is especially fun to watch as an even more refined teacher and 'bad ass' pursuing "truth, justice and the American way." (Is his character really that educated?) "Sub" fans and action fans will not be disappointed. Catch this on video tonight. And ARTISAN FILMS, please keep this series alive and entertaining.
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