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Heroes Shed No Tears, but they sure do shed a lot of blood., 24 June 2016

A team of tough mercenaries attempt an extremely dangerous mission: enter the 'Golden Triangle', kidnap a drug lord and bring him to justice, all the while pursued by the drug lord's men, and the forces of a corrupt Thai officer (Lam Ching-Ying) seeking revenge for the loss of his eye. At the same time, one of the team, Chan Chung (Eddy Ko), tries to escort his young son, Little Keong, to the safety of the Thai border.

My first experience of John Woo's film-making brilliance was in 1989, when I caught a trailer for one of his 'Heroic Bloodshed' films—possibly The Killer—at a horror film festival; it opened my eyes to a whole new kind of entertainment, the crazy Asian action flick. I've been a fan ever since, but for some reason, I have rarely delved into Woo's earlier work (my only experience of his pre-Killer repertoire being A Better Tomorrow and Hand of Death). Having just watched and thoroughly enjoyed Heroes Shed No Tears, I now realise my mistake.

An extremely violent, gung-ho men-on-a-mission movie, this hugely entertaining action flick is like a cross between one of my favourite '80s martial arts movies, Sammo Hung's Eastern Condors, and the brilliant Lone Wolf & Cub series. If you've already seen those films, then you'll understand what a great combination that is: stylish action, cool martial arts, explosions, slo-mo stunts, bullet squibs and excessive bloodletting, with some overwrought drama and just a couple of quieter moments to allow the viewer to catch their breath (and if you haven't seen them, I strongly suggest that you rectify that situation ASAP!).

8.5 out of 10, rounded up to 9 for the guy who is skewered by multiple spears, and for the sexy naked Thai chick who gives one of the soldiers of fortune a soapy full body massage (yup, this film even finds time for some gratuitous female nudity!).

Do not disturb., 23 June 2016

Their ship's instruments irreparably damaged, three astronauts from Earth are forced to land on an asteroid 655 million miles away from home. When they leave their craft, they are not only surprised to learn that the atmosphere is breathable and the gravity similar to Earth, but also that their new surroundings seem remarkably familiar. On searching the area, they discover a town similar to that of Earth from two hundred years ago, before the atomic war of 1985, complete with inhabitants who are seemingly trapped in time.

Elegy is one of my favourite episodes of Season One of The Twilight Zone for several reasons: Firstly, there is the puzzle to be solved: where is this strange place that they have landed? Why does it resemble Earth? How come nobody there can move? And who is the old man watching their every move?

Even more fun than the mystery is watching the extras to see how well they can remain perfectly still. With today's technology, this would be an easy effect to achieve, but back in the '50s it involved holding your breath and trying not to twitch or blink. Some of the extras manage it better than others.

Last but not least, there is the wonderfully ghoulish ending served with a huge helping of black humour and cynicism, all of which would seem more suited to a Tales from the Crypt story if it wasn't for the sci-fi setting. In short, an essential episode for fans of the macabre.

War is hell… especially in The Twilight Zone., 23 June 2016

Lt. Fitzgerald (William Reynolds), stationed in the Philippines during World War II, develops the ability to identify the men in his company who will be next to die, an eerie supernatural glow lighting up the faces of imminent goners.

The best Twilight Zone episodes are the ones that are either so clever that the twist is impossible to guess, or so engrossing that already knowing or accurately predicting the ending doesn't spoil matters. To be honest, The Purple Testament is neither of these—I figured out what the twist was well before it arrived, and the plot wasn't gripping enough to prevent this detracting from my overall enjoyment. That said, this episode is far from the worst the show has to offer, benefiting from strong performances, a palpable atmosphere of dread (no doubt helped by Serling's own experiences during the war), and a suitably sober ending, Lt. Fitzgerald realising that there is nothing he can do but accept his fate.

The Twilight Zone takes off again., 23 June 2016

Cowardly World War I pilot Lt. William Terrance Decker (Kenneth Haigh) is lost, not only in terms of maps and miles, but also in time. Having fled from a dogfight, leaving his friend Alexander 'Leadbottom' Mackaye seriously outnumbered, Decker loses his way in a strange white cloud, after which he lands his biplane—in Lafayette Air Base, 1959.

After a few rather weaker episodes, The Twilight Zone is back on form with a really great Richard Matheson story, a neat time-twister of a tale that not only smartly handles the paradoxical issues that go with the territory, but which also deals with the classic theme of redemption, Decker given a second chance to prove his worth and save the life of a pal.

Performances are strong, with a particularly fine turn from Haigh, and the pacing is superb, with not a dull moment despite this being quite a talky episode. All in all, a well-told story with a satisfying conclusion that ranks among the best of them.

Foxy Brown (1974)
Ow, foxy lady, you look so good., 23 June 2016

Director Jack Hill's Foxy Brown was originally intended as a sequel to his cult classic Coffy (1973), which also starred voluptuous black babe Pam Grier in serious revenge mode. Which film you prefer will depend entirely on what you expect most from the blaxploitation genre—gritty violence or shameless fun—with Foxy Brown leaning towards the lighter side of things, while Coffy is a much rougher affair. Since I like my blaxploitation films to have a more raw, exploitative edge, I rate Coffy higher than Foxy, but that's not to say I didn't have a good time with this funky follow-up.

The film opens as Foxy (Grier) is about to start a new life with her supposedly dead undercover cop boyfriend Dalton (Terry Carter), who has just undergone face-change surgery to complete his new identity as Michael Anderson. Unfortunately, Foxy's drug-pusher brother Link (Antonio Fargas) realises the truth about Dalton/Michael and sells him out to the mobsters, who proceed to gun him down. More than a little upset, Foxy goes undercover as an escort girl to seek revenge. What follows is shameless trash, complete with a kitschy lesbian bar brawl, a redneck rapist, an evil honky mobster bitch (Kathryn Loder), a bit-part for Hill regular Sid Haig, and a fair amount of nudity from its beautiful buxom star.

6.5 out of 10, rounded up to 7 for the airplane propeller death scene.

Mildly diverting Hong Kong action nonsense., 22 June 2016

Michelle Yeoh might not be a trained martial artist, but with her background as a dancer, lots of meticulous choreography and more than a little help from Hong Kong cinema magic, she is suitably convincing as a kick-ass kung fu cutie. Here, she plays a female Indiana Jones-style character, a daring aviator and mercenary who, with help from a secret agent (Derek Yee) and a wacky con-man/wanderer (Richard Ng), helps the people of a small Northern Chinese town to fight the evil Japanese invaders who want to build a poison gas plant on their land.

As is often the case with '80s Hong Kong actioners, Magnificent Warriors suffers from a touch too much screwball silliness (mostly courtesy of comic relief Ng) and some lightweight flirting between Yeoh and Yee, all of which would be excusable if the action, of which there is plenty, was sufficiently exciting. Unfortunately, the countless explosive set-pieces and fast-moving fight scenes never really set the pulse pounding: there's lots of crash, bang and wallop, but very little that sticks in the mind as jaw-dropping, making it a frustratingly mediocre adventure overall.

Alyssa gets them out for the lads., 21 June 2016

According to IMDb's summary, Embrace of the Vampire is about an 18-year-old college freshman (Alyssa Milano) who is seduced by a handsome vampire lover (Martin Kemp) who introduces her to a dark world of carnal desires.


To cut a long story short, it's about getting its 22-year-old star Alyssa Milano to show her tits as often as possible! The weak, romantic (or should that be 'new romantic'?) Gothic horror plot merely serves as an excuse for the actress to bare her breasts (with the occasional shot of her ass). Not that I'm complaining of course—I just would have preferred a stronger story to go with the copious T&A from young Alyssa.

In addition to Milano's nudity, male viewers are also treated to Charlotte Lewis as a bisexual photographer who indulges in a spot of lesbian action with Alyssa; we also get a brief but welcome turn from Jennifer Tilly as a bar room slut, the actress offering no nudity but plenty of raunch as always. Martin Kemp and Harold Pruett are on hand for the ladies in the audience, the Spandau Ballet star playing the sappiest bloodsucker imaginable (he makes the sparkly vampires from Twilight seem positively terrifying by comparison), with Pruett his young love rival.

Flat direction, zero gore, a hilarious turn from Kemp (he's comedy gold, that much is true!), risible dialogue, and Alyssa's tits. 4/10.

Silly vampire nonsense starring a young Jim Carrey., 20 June 2016

Jim Carrey plays frustrated teenage virgin Mark Kendall, who is unable to talk his long-time girlfriend Robin (the lovely Karen Kopins) into going all the way. Mark is convinced by two friends—even bigger losers in the love department—to pay a visit to West Hollywood where they believe they might be able to score with a woman. In a dating bar, Mark meets the sexy Countess (Lauren Hutton) who invites him back to her place, unaware that his new acquaintance is a vampire who needs to feed three times from a virgin before Halloween to retain her youthfulness.

Everybody has to start somewhere. For Jim Carrey, an illustrious career as a leading comedy star started with Once Bitten, a not-particularly-funny vampire comedy that displays little evidence of the performer's trademark madcap style. Fortunately, despite very few genuine laughs, the film's amiable approach and 80s trappings still make it a reasonably fun viewing—harmless nonsense for when there's nothing better to watch. Helping to pass the time less painfully: a fun dance sequence at the High School Halloween Hop, and a scene in the school shower that is actually pretty amusing just so long as you're not bothered by un-PC humour.

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Fails to hit the jackpot., 19 June 2016

Elderly married couple Franklin and Flora Gibbs (Everett Sloane and Vivi Janiss) win an all-expenses paid hotel break in Las Vegas. Franklin doesn't approve of gambling and insists that his wife stays away from the one-arm bandits, but after a drunk gives Franklin his last silver dollar, the old man becomes gripped by the 'fever': a gambling addiction that robs him of his sanity, making him believe that one particular slot machine is calling his name, enticing him to play.

At face value, this is a rather unexceptional tale of severe mental breakdown caused by an obsessive disorder, as well as a non-too-subtle warning against the evils of gambling. This being The Twilight Zone, however, The Fever can be seen as something else entirely: a story of a malevolent metal monster that sets out to rob a man of his dignity, his money, his mind, and—ultimately—his life. You decide.

A long way from my favourite episode of season one, a fruit machine menacing Franklin in his hotel room being a rather laughable sight rather than the stuff of nightmares.

Reptilian rubbish., 19 June 2016

After patrons at a Coyote Ugly-style Hong Kong nightclub begin to turn up dead, their bodies bearing strange wounds and traces of a rare poison, Melissa (Marsha Yuen)—one of its five feisty female owners, and an avid snake collector—becomes the prime suspect. Inspector Chi-Wai Man (Jackie Lui) is assigned to the case, and, as the bodies pile up, he slowly falls for the lovely Melissa (despite being phobic about reptiles). Can the woman he cares about really be a cold-blooded killer?

Snake Charmer suffers heavily from an excess of irritating editing and erratic camera-work (especially whip pans, each accompanied by annoying 'whoosh' sound effect), but strip away all of the unnecessarily showy film-making techniques, and there's still very little of interest—a mediocre mystery, saddled with dodgy CGI effects (the poisoned victims hallucinate, imagining that they are being attacked by giant snakes), boring action scenes, dull dialogue (including a riveting chat about Japanese coffee and German crockery), and forgettable characters.

When two of the most memorable things about the film are its use of a bad instrumental version of The Pet Shop Boys' cover of 'Always On My Mind', and a hilarious anti-drugs message during the closing credits, then it's fairly safe to say that Snake Charmer has all the appeal of a sack full of angry King Cobras.

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