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Polar (2019)
6/10
Oddball Mishmash of Ideas that Have All Been Used Before
26 January 2019
The second I saw the trailer on Netflix and realized that Mads Mikkelsen was a retired assassin, I was instantly on board. Mikkelsen is a treasure, and I'll watch anything that has him in a starring role (thus promising that he won't be disgustingly underused like he was TWICE in 2017, in Rogue One and Dr. Strange).

Watching this movie is like watching Mads Mikkelsen on the home set of the Hannibal series as he slices ideas and dices genre cliches and blends them all in a juicer into a colourful, blood-tinged cocktail with the delicate finesse of a chef. Unsurprisingly, Mikkelsen is the best thing about this movie.

The assassins goof around, yell, do drugs, have sex, and act like entitled rich kids who I guess we're supposed to find funny. And then there's Mikkelsen--he's the straight man in this weird yet basic film that constantly shifts tones between colourful and trendy to muted and gritty. The irony here is that the funniest moments are all from him.

Sometimes, the cinematography is gorgeous to look at. Other times, it looks like an unpleasant, rainbow-y candy-coloured glob of chewed bubblegum. The assassins and the big boss man are all obnoxious, snarky, and in serious need of a new fashion trend--they all looked like they stepped out of a sex shop with anything and everything that was bright yellow, pink, orange, or purple.

The villain himself is a disappointment--they say an action hero is only as good as the villain he's at odds against. Here, Mikkelsen, a calm, regretful, reserved old man battles a cartoonish egomaniac and his army of loudmouthed decadent fools. Somewhere in this clash of two very different worlds, there is a good joke to be told. Sometimes, yes, the joke was funny, and most of the time, the film overall was pretty entertaining despite its out-of-place juvenile humour.

Ex-Disney Princess Vanessa Hudgens surprised me, though. She made a very convincing performance as Mikkelsen's troubled, depressed neighbour, although in the final half of the film she doesn't get much to work with.

The action scenes are stylish, gory, brutal as hell. A couple of times I laughed at the absurd, creative deaths Mikkelsen's character dished out. THey're filmed and edited well, and like the film itself, they're not bad, though not great, either.

There is no other way for me to describe Polar except to crack a bad pun and say that it is a polarizing film. It lives up to its title. I can't say I can be disappointed by that. Well played.
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The Meg (2018)
5/10
Decent Popcorn Fare and Nothing More.
20 August 2018
It's Jason Statham versus Megalodon, so my standards weren't all that high to begin with.

I'm unfamiliar with the original novel source material, so I can't judge its merits as a film adaptation, but as a film, The Meg is underwhelming and incredibly stupid, but still in its own way, fun.

Jonas Taylor, played by Jason Statham, is a disgraced deep sea rescue diver who, after the opening scene, escapes to Thailand to drink for a while. Strangely enough, the last Statham film I'd seen in theatres, Mechanic Resurrection, also had him running to Thailand after the opening scene. Funny coincidence. Anyway, after an exploration through the bottom of the Mariana's Trench goes awry, Taylor is pulled right back in to rescue the explorers, and winds up becoming the ace in the hole for the scientists and explorers of the underwater research facility,'Mana One' when the Meg gets out and becomes the new terror of the sea.

Despite some fun sequences and some decent visuals (especially underwater), The Meg is a half-baked end to the summer blockbuster season. I think part of the problem is its PG-13 rating. This could have been the Piranha 3D of shark films, especially where the beach sequence is concerned (which could have one-upped the Spring Break massacre scene in the Piranha remake if only the creators and the financiers behind The Meg were willing to go all the way).

Alas, what we got was a relatively tame film in the veins of Jurassic World with a moderate body count and some of the dumbest, most hilariously idiotic helicopter pilots I've witnessed onscreen in quite a long time. It also has a middle-of-the-runtime twist that feels implausible and weak that I won't spoil for you, but you'll know it when you see it, because it only reinforces the implausibility of what had already gone on, and stretches it well into unbelievable territory.

No matter. I laughed. I was entertained, and that's what's really important, right? Just don't go into this expecting something smart, or even remotely profound, and you should be in for a good time.
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5/10
A hilarious action film with an inept plot.
16 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
If London Has Fallen came out last year instead of this year, Mechanic: Resurrection would be considered the London Has Fallen of 2016. Three months from now, I probably won't remember much of this other than the fact that Statham was in it and a bunch of boats explode, and not just because it's forgettable and incredibly stupid. The story was pretty weak and despite the fact that I just saw this like three hours ago, I've already forgotten the villain's name.

Oh yeah, and I guess Jessica Alba was in it.

Luckily, the stupidity this film proudly wears on its forehead is one of the many types of stupidity I can thoroughly enjoy if done right, and I can safely say that Mechanic: Resurrection was both pleasingly stupid and probably the most decent a film with 'Resurrection' in the title could possibly be. The reason why I keep mentioning this and London Has Fallen is because both movies pretend to take themselves seriously and feature protagonists that are so humourless that they essentially become the opposite. Just look at those frowns on their faces. They are deadpan comedy acts, scowling their way through over-the-top carnage and jump-edited fight scenes. While Gerard Butler has shown some range in his other films (including a couple other action films), Jason Statham continues to prove that he's only got one act--which I'm sure he's well aware of, given that the Crank films utilized his knack for uber-seriousness to full comedic effect. This act of his is actually one of the reasons why his fans (including me) find him so entertaining to watch. He's like a lowkey Schwarzenegger with a British accent.

So when I mentioned that the story was weak, I meant that it involves some dude from Arthur Bishop's past kidnapping his girlfriend and then telling him that he has to do three impossible assassination jobs in a specific number of hours in order to get her back. Oh, and they have to look like accidents.

But see, here's my problem with that plan. I don't usually do this, but anyway; if you consider these spoilers, you can skip the next three paragraphs, and I've set the spoiler button on just in case, but since they happen in the first twenty minutes of the movie and set the whole plot into motion, I don't really count them as spoilers, so whatever.

Our villain wants Bishop to do these jobs before he even kidnapped his girlfriend, but he refused because he wants to stay "dead" after the events of the first movie and then flees to Thailand like every sensible action protagonist does when they need to live a new life under the radar. The villain's solution? He kidnaps Jessica Alba and sends her to the island Bishop is hiding with an "abusive boyfriend" whom Bishop kills and saves her from. But if it weren't for a horribly misplaced Michelle Yeoh (seriously, Ms. Yeoh, why would you let them do this to you?) with whom Bishop is also friends with noticing the scuffle on a boat floating a good distance away from the island, Bishop would've never even known about it. And if poor Ms. Yeoh didn't turn his attention to it and give him a quick moral motivation sentence to get him to change his mind about minding his own business, he wouldn't have gotten involved even if he DID know about it. And since our villain knew him since childhood, one would think he would've seen the flaw in the first step of that plan.

But it gets even better: the villain not only expects Bishop to save Random Jessica Alba, but he also expects him to fall in love with her in such a short amount of time so that when he eventually sends his goons to kidnap her, he'll be too scared for her life to say no. His entire plain hinges on this cold professional assassin falling in love with a random stranger in the course of two days. He didn't stop to consider that maybe the man he blames for leaving him behind in a war zone so many years ago wouldn't care about what happens to Jessica Alba when he kidnaps her? He didn't think the amount of time he gave Bishop to fall for Jessica Alba might not be enough? What if Bishop didn't care what happened to Jessica Alba? Would he let his goons try to use brute force to persuade him like they failed to do in the opening scene? Why wouldn't he just try this honeypot thing with Jessica Alba first so that he could get Bishop when his guard is relatively down instead of trying it when he's already chased him off to Thailand with his guard raised to maximum? And why Jessica Alba? Was Eva Green too busy?

It would make a little more sense if he mentioned that Bishop still has some kind of moral code that would keep him from letting Jessica Alba die, but throughout the whole movie, he goes on about how he would do anything to save Jessica Alba because he's so in love with her or something. He's THAT convinced that part of his plan worked. The rest of the movie's preposterousness at least makes sense compared to this one stupid detail. This plan should've already failed before it even started! The best thing about this is that the villain died believing that his plan actually worked, and never once was corrected by Bishop or anyone else with any shred of common sense.

Anyway, the three jobs Bishop has to do are fairly clever in a low rent Jason Bourne/James Bond kind of way. They're probably the few highlights the film actually has, aside from the boat battles and the hilariously stupid glider scene at the beginning of the film. It's a good thing this movie didn't take itself so seriously, or else I might not have had nearly as much fun as I did. The action scenes are entertaining, but not all that engaging, and the music is serviceable at best. Tommy Lee Jones stuck out a bit as an eccentric gun runner with far too little screentime, and despite this being intentionally deadpan-comedic in its presentation (I hope), I feel as though they missed an opportunity to explore some of Bishop's background to make him seem a bit more human and add a more personal connection to the villain whose name I've unregrettably forgotten. Because of the nonexistence of that element, the villain just comes off as a whiner with a big boat and a chip on his shoulder. "You left me to die" is about as fleshed-out as his character gets, and that does a service to the film's short runtime, but a disservice to its already shallow, unoriginal plot.

Having caught this on closing night, I felt kind of lucky, because I didn't even know that this was showing in my local theatre until I walked by it earlier today and saw "ENDING THURSDAY" slapped across its poster. Lucky me! I went in with low expectations and came out a happy man knowing that Jason Statham hasn't changed a bit since his last movie and probably never will!
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7/10
It escalates... it builds...
15 August 2018
...and soon enough, like any situation where the pressure does nothing but build, it'll explode.

Chow Yun-Fat plays Chung Tin Ching, a prisoner on a manslaughter charge, who befriends a harmless, naive twig of a man named Yiu, also on a manslaughter term. At first, he's a nuisance, but as he sees just how useless Yiu is in his situation, he can't help but step in when Yiu's blunders aggravates the wrong people. Friendship blossoms, and then the two of them must fend for themselves and each other against the cruel warden, Officer Hung, and Hung's obnoxious rat. The situation intensifies... it escalates... and when it finally explodes, it is intense, emotional, and effective.

I've seen six of Ringo Lam's films now, the other four being Prison on Fire II (right after I saw this one), City on Fire, Full Contact, and two of his Van Damme vehicles, and Prison on Fire is definitely the second-best film I've seen from him so far. It's nothing original, and the villains are a little cartoonish at times, but for the most part, it's a great movie, and definitely among the best of Chow and Lam.
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Hard Boiled (1992)
8/10
Hard as hell!
15 August 2018
What's there to be said about John Woo's Hard-Boiled that hasn't already been said? What else is there to say about John Woo in general? His over-the-top and strangely balletic approach to action has been highly influential in the action genre, spawning copycats and rip-offs the world over for decades. Even today, long after Woo's last stylized action extravaganza hit theaters, directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodrigeuz (to name the most obvious ones) still mimic Woo's kinetic approach.

Hard-Boiled is Woo's last Hong Kong film before he emigrated to good ol' Hollywood, where his style was utilized with higher production values and restrictions Woo had never had to deal with before. Sure, he went back after a while, but things were never the same (or nearly as fun) after Hard-Boiled. His previous films, most of which starred Chow Yun-Fat, were all exercises in pretentious melodrama and frenetic gun violence.

It has all led to this. Hard-Boiled, also starring Chow Yun-Fat, cranks down the melodrama a few notches and kicks the gun violence into high gear. It's darker and has less heart than Woo's previous films, but Woo will still find a way to film a tragic scene in blurry slow motion from multiple angles, and he'll be damned if he doesn't add in the obligatory reaction shot of an emotional onlooker. No matter what movie it is, or what actor, it's always the same look in the John Woo Obligatory Reaction Shot. With emotional jazz music. Don't forget the emotional jazz music.

But we don't really watch John Woo's films for the silly melodrama, do we? No, not particularly. Woo's idea of drama is laughable and kind of childish. His dialogue is often just as stupid as his drama is over-the-top waterworks about loyalty and brotherhood and redemption and the like. The brotherly bonds Woo's protagonists share add to the overall appeal of his work and has been copied almost as often as his shootouts. In A Better Tomorrow, it was a cop brother dealing with the road his triad brother has taken--with Chow Yun-Fat kind of slapped in between them as the middle man who wants to keep them both together. A Better Tomorrow II was more of the same. The Killer was a hitman (also Chow) being pursued by and later becoming partners with a dedicated cop.

This time, it's Chow playing an angry cop named Sergeant "Tequila" Yuen, eventually teaming up with a triad named Tony, played by Tony Leung, who may or may not be an undercover. Of course, that answer is obvious, though Woo tries to lead us astray at first. They're both caught on the same side and also opposite sides in a triple-threat death match between two warring gangs and the police. Poor Tony gets mixed up with all three at once. Sooner or later, he'll have to pick a side and betray the other two.

Sound confusing? Not quite. It's one of those mixed bags where the film is executed in a more complicated fashion than the plot ought to allow. The plot is simplicity itself. Think if The Raid 2 was made in the early 1990's and had blazing guns instead of blurry fists and feet. A crazy gunrunner wants to expand his business and the cops don't want that. Plain and simple.

Aside from some decent acting from Leung and Chow--Leung for his emotional performance as a man torn by multiple loyalties, and Chow as a jaded cop who struggles to maintain control of his rage--the only other things worth mentioning are the higher production values and Woo's fantastic gun battles, since the soundtrack is wonky and hard on the ears when it isn't a sad jazzy melody, and the dialogue is a borderline joke at times, both in Cantonese with an English subtitle option AND with an English dub track (the latter of which makes this even more fun to watch just for the unintentionally comedic values it brings).

So why the 8/10 rating? I'll tell you why: Hard-Boiled knows what it is, and it is the best of both worlds. It's a dark, brooding crime saga and a highly stylized action feast with some good-natured dark humour and a surprising amount of camp sprinkled in for good measure. Sure, lots of films can get away with the argument that "they know what they are," but few are executed as well as Hard-Boiled was. Hard-Boiled is just a wide load of fun for everyone--or at least, every action fan who's tired of the sterile quick-cut-zoom-close-up saturation style that generally infects most Hollywood films. In this case, it's not the "why," but the "how" and the "what;" it's not the idea, but the execution of that idea. And Woo's execution of Hard-Boiled as a whole is both masterful and excessive. We're treated to wide shots, panning shots, and chaos in its most raw and balletic forms, and of course a two-minute continuous shot of our heroes rampaging through the corridors of a hospital swarming with flying cannon fodder. With Woo, no blank is spared, no explosive is abandoned, and not a single shot is wasted. And I mean EVERY shot--be it from a gun or a camera.

As excessive as it is, it's quite amazing that Woo managed to film these things with multiple cameras without so much as a boom mike being present within the frame. He manages this throughout the film, which is two hours, six minutes in total--approximately an hour and a half of which accommodates one of its three major action setpieces (and a fourth brief one somewhere in the middle). Each setpiece is crazier than the one before it, and by the finale, which goes on for a whopping forty minutes; the actors were practically blowing each other up for real. In fact, Woo DID blow up Chow for real (or singed him, at least...) when he reset the explosives for the sole purpose of getting a more authentic reaction from poor Chow.

This is basically The Wolf of Wall Street of action films minus the third hour, for both our sakes and, well, everyone else's. I don't think anyone could handle a third hour of this kind of mayhem--not even the best of us. We're out of breath by the second exhilarating hour. By the third, if such a thing existed, there would be nothing left of us but exhausted shells. Action fans looking for a quick fix would find themselves OD'ing three times in a single sitting on this.

Is John Woo's Hard-Boiled worthy of being called an action classic alongside films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon? It depends on who you ask. If you asked me, I would tell you the latter options have better characters and dialogue, but the former trumps both of them and several others combined for kinetic thrills and cartoonish mayhem.

I wouldn't, however, take Hard-Boiled as seriously.
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6/10
Good, but not that good.
15 August 2018
Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a good film, but it's not a great one. It's not as great as everyone says it is. Oh, it's definitely beautiful in every sense of the word. It's wonderfully choreographed. It's skillfully directed, and all of the acting talents ARE talented, and they depict their characters with depth, grace, and sometimes when necessary, wit.

But its handsome qualities can't hide its meandering, sometimes tedious storyline, although the storyline itself isn't the problem. Take into account the execution. Take out the dance-number action sequences, and what have you got? A bratty girl who wants to rebel and gets people killed as a result of her reckless actions and poor judge of character. Her motivations are indeed valid, but her actions are childish and grating, and not always justifiable as a 'means to an end' sort of thing. I'm glad Ang Lee didn't depict her actions as such, but she was still an obnoxious character whose lack of responsibility is almost rewarded with secrecy by people who are trying to help her despite how often she backhands them with her attitude.

I found the story underwhelming, to put it simply. The only other flaw I can think of is the dialogue, at least in the English-subtitled version (I haven't seen the dub, and don't plan to), where character traits and motivations are often explained to us in dull exposition sequences that could have been shortened or even cut out completely in favour of showing us their motivations through their actions. A skilled director can show his audience what his characters are thinking and feeling without telling them through stinted lines of dialogue, and I think Ang Lee is skilled enough to do it--he just didn't want to, I guess.

Anyway, despite my gripes, I think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still a well-told film with a kind of beauty and grace that few others can match, visually and aesthetically. Wuxia isn't a genre I'm big on, but I can't say I've any feelings against it outright. I appreciate its capacity for amazing visuals and thematic symbolism, but it's a fickle style. Lee did an amazing job, and despite the hype surrounding this film, and the underwhelming execution of the story, I was not disappointed.
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4/10
Hilarious.
15 August 2018
Two street rats named Alan and Ah Tien (Alan Tang and Chow Yun-Fat respectively) grow up to become members of the Triads until Tien finds a girl he fell for during his childhood, and decides to settle down with her. But things aren't that simple, and the conflicting interests of a powerful gangster are about to bring them back together.

Flaming Brothers is... well, it's pretty bad. Enjoyable, and hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons. The stock sound effects for the action scenes are distracting, and the acting by most of the cast is more scattershot than a blast from a Mossberg in the hands of a child. Characters die hilariously--I'll never forget the guy who kept himself alive just long enough to shoot the fuel tank on a forklift before lying down and "dying" instantly. The film is filled with moments like this, and all the better for it. Otherwise, it would be a boring mess.

It's toned unevenly, as Ah Tien bonds with his love interest while his brother Alan tries to work an arms deal. One is silly romantic slapstick and the other is amateurishly made action drama. It just doesn't mesh well.

Despite its massive flaws, though, I enjoyed Flaming Brothers, only because it's so bad, it's good.
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Peace Hotel (1995)
5/10
Watchable. That's about it.
15 August 2018
Chow Yun-Fat in the wild west? Why not?

Known as "The Killer" yet again, Chow commits mass murder in a blind rage, and then vanishes from the murder scene to build the "Peace Hotel," a supposedly sacred place for crooks and degenerates to run to if they're on the run from the law or any criminal element, and have nowhere else to go.

That all changes when a woman played by Cecilia Yip arrives claiming to be Chow's long-lost wife. I tell you, I've never heard more lies spewed forth from a movie character in such a short amount of time until I saw this movie. It's just lie after lie with this one, and she's persistent, too. Chow never falls for these sob stories of hers, and quickly debunks them as the myths they are, usually following up with a smack upside the head with a paper fan or a broom or something.

Then a gang arrives, apparently after her for killing one of their bosses, but Chow's code won't allow her to be killed by them. No matter. It's obvious and inevitable that he'll take up the sword once again.

As a comedy-drama, Peace Hotel works in a few ways, but not many. It makes for an unconvincing romance story. And as an action story, it's abysmal. The swordfights are some of the worst-edited sequences I've ever seen. Imagine Paul Greengrass filming a man swinging a flaming torch (and later, a sword) through countless bad guys. Now imagine Olivier Megaton, fresh from Taken 3, editing that footage. Now imagine that footage sped up. Yeah. It's bad.

The single shootout sequence, however, is fantastic, and a major contrast to the editing style applied to the swordfights. I suspect John Woo, who helped produce this film, took over the director's chair for this sequence, because I can't see how the same director who did such poor swordfight sequences could have done such a grand shootout like the one on display here. It's the only plausible explanation.

Overall, the acting is corny and not all that great, although Chow seems to really give it his all and seems to be the only one really trying to churn out a decent performance. The comedy works, sometimes, but often falls flat. The plot twists are silly. The music is distractingly poor sometimes. I think the second half, with the exception of the shootout, is where things really started to fall apart. Unfortunate, because this could have been better had it been handled with more care.
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Batman: The Animated Series: See No Evil (1993)
Season 1, Episode 56
8/10
One of the Creepiest Episodes in the Series
17 October 2015
The episode starts with one of the creepiest opening scenes in the entire series, with a little girl being greeted in her room by her 'imaginary friend,' Mojo. It's quickly revealed that 'Mojo' is actually a small-time thief who uses an invisibility suit to steal jewellery and visit his young daughter, whom he's forbidden from seeing. Of course, like most criminals who get out of jail and don't learn their lesson, this guy has some devious plans to steal his daughter away from his ex-wife.

This episode takes the fears every parent has, and uses them to great effect here to create an unsettling mood and a REALLY dark plot. Shirley Walker's amazing score doesn't just add to the disturbing atmosphere, either, because aside from the colour palette and themes, it IS the atmosphere! But holy crap, the score is amazingly creepy, it's hard to accurately put into words how good it is. Walker was known for providing separate scores for each individual episode while still maintaining key themes. Her music rarely fails to bring an episode up, and this episode has some of her best work. Even in a series as well-made as this one, with excellent EVERYTHING 95% of the time, this episode's score stands out.

Despite its darkness and spine-tingling moments (literally, it creeps ME out more than any horror movie ever could so far), 'See No Evil' also has a few of the season's funniest moments, which don't detract from the overrall quality or atmosphere of the episode. I won't spoil them, but you'll know them when you see them. The animation quality is also high, in a cartoon series that is known for its budgetary problems and fluctuating animation quality. Thankfully, it seems that the creators know when they've got a gem and when they've got a throwaway episode, because the animation quality seems to follow the patterns of story quality. 'Heart of Ice,' 'Beware the Gray Ghost,' etc. have outstanding quality, while a few others, like 'The Underdwellers' and 'I've Got Batman in My Basement,' have poorer quality. I'm glad the creators know when to pinch their pennies and when to dish it out.

So yes, it's good. 'See No Evil' is one of the best episodes in the first season box set. It doesn't stand as THE best episode of the season, since there are SO many good episodes in this season alone, but it definitely stands out as one of them.
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Double Team (1997)
6/10
Watch it for the Laughs
18 June 2015
Have you ever seen anyone survive the fiery destruction of the Colosseum by hiding behind a Coca-Cola machine in one of the most blatant forms of product placement ever to grace the screen? Have you ever seen a non-Michael Bay movie ever out-Michael Bay a Michael Bay film? If you see this movie, you will. And then you can brag about it to all your friends.

This movie's a bit weird... it's like a strange mix between The Prisoner and Face/Off--only without the menacing big white balloon to stop you from escaping, and the fact that faces aren't switched around like trading cards between arch enemies. Instead we have Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman teamed up in one of the more unusual movie pairings I've seen lately. Mickey Rourke, despite looking very out of place in a movie like this, plays a decent villain to menace Van Damme and his family. The one-liners suck, the acting is pretty bad, and in case you didn't get the idea from my first paragraph, this movie is completely stupid.

But, hell. Hilariously stupid things like that are one of the reasons why I watch Van Damme movies. Tsui Hark, like the other two major Hong Kong cult legends who ran to Hollywood in the 90's (John Woo and Ringo Lam), Hark's first task in Hollywood is to work with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Apparently he was the default actor for these kinds of things. At least Hark did what he could with this movie--he delivered some great camera-work, stuntwork, and typical action movie mayhem a little higher in quality than this film deserves.

The movie's worth watching for its entertaining ridiculousness and above-average direction. The rest of it is pretty underwhelming. Van Damme and Rourke more-or-less go through the movements, when we all know they're a lot more fun to watch when they're given something to do in whatever else we've seen them in. But anyway, if you're looking for a less-popular Van Damme movie that's so bad it's good, check this one out. Anyone else, give it a rental, or skip it, I guess.

That Coke machine scene alone should be justification enough to sit through this movie. Who knows, you might have a blast.
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6/10
Better than The First in Every Way
14 June 2015
Yes, I actually bothered to watch the sequel to the 1982 Italian exploitation snoozefest Bronx Warriors, which I found really boring with little redeeming entertainment value (I'd rated it a 4). I'm kinda glad I did, though, because while this one is just as stupid as its predecessor, it's also twice as enjoyable. Most of the movie is like the final battle in Death Wish 3--unhinged, unrestrained madness cranked to 11. It's got a lot more action and carnage than the first one did, and its action scenes are also major improvements. The story is still idiotic, with a greedy corporation trying to force the inhabitants of the 'No-Man's-Land' Bronx out of their homes so that they can build a shiny new city on top of it, resorting to spaceman suits and Nazi tactics to get the job done.

The acting still sucks as much as it did in the first one, but at least here, it's got a more corny, hilarious vibe to go with it. Before, all we saw for an hour and a half was a bunch of guys in leather running around a post-apocalyptic Bronx, talking tough and riding bikes, and doing nothing for long periods of time. Now, we're seeing endless carnage and gratuitous destruction of model buildings, model cars, and plenty of surprisingly well-done stunts in slow-motion (a favourite of the director's seems to be an often- repeated shot of people launched into the air by explosions--back before John Woo's Heroic Bloodshed glory days).

If you're looking for a trashy, entertaining action fest with more cheese than a bag of Tex Mex, see this movie. If you're looking for something with intelligence and restraint, skip it--although I don't know why you'd go into this movie expecting those things anyway.
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4/10
Underwhelmed by Its Own Lack of Potential... But At Least It Tried.
13 June 2015
There's very little good I can say about this movie. The promotional artwork was actually better than the movie, with their old-fashioned drawn posters of macho men wielding machine guns and roaring to a black sky. The only thing it really seemed to have was a cool location that was appropriate for its story, and I seriously doubt it took a lot of work to find rundown locations in the Bronx (and places that obviously weren't the Bronx) during that time. The acting sucks certain cavities like a vacuum cleaner sucks hairballs. The main actor's facial expression doesn't change for at least half the movie--or more. Everyone's acting is equally abysmal, with two exceptions: Fred Williamson was above-average as Ogre, and the guy who played the villain Hammer (a psycho cop/mercenary... type person) was as over-the-top and as cheesy as they come. I get that low-budget Italian exploitation is crap by default, especially in the acting department, but the bad acting wasn't even a fun kind of bad here.

The plot is the type of thing you'd want to see in a Hollywood type of movie, with a gang protecting an heiress of a gunrunning company from the psychos that are sent by her father to retrieve her. She doesn't want to run the business, so automatically her first choice is to flee to the Bronx, which has apparently become the most dangerous, lawless, gang-ridden part of New York, and a total 'No- Man's-Land'. Think Old Town from Sin City, but with less babes and an unclearer reason as to why cops aren't supposed to be in the Bronx anymore. For what it is, we have an interesting story shoved into a boring movie. The whole thing is so dull that whatever story potential it may have had is ruined by its mediocre acting, uninteresting characters (except for the aforementioned Ogre and Hammer), bland action sequences (I mean come on, half the deaths in this movie were caused by slapping their opponents), and lack of resolution. It literally ENDS after a few deaths, and we aren't told what happens to half the characters involved in the end (the ones that are still alive, anyway).

I enjoy some low-budget movies if they're done well. Or even semi- well. I like exploitation movies for their weirdness and occasional boldness. Hell, I even like the odd ripoff here and there. Speaking of which, this movie was clearly inspired by the 1979 movie The Warriors. Just look at the costume design and the way the actors talk tough in chest-baring leather and the now-classic 80's mullet hair. It's as ridiculous as it sounds, but it's not that fun to watch.

I guess this could be a good movie if you're looking for some unintentional comedy or if you just want to pass the time on a boring afternoon. Even I would put it on as background noise and nothing more. It's underwhelming and more boring than it needs to be, and not as fun as it could've been. Still, it had its moments.

There will always be better ways to pass the time than watching this, though. Like watching The Warriors instead. Or staring at a brick wall.
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6/10
The Greatest Pro-Vegan Film Ever Made!
10 June 2015
Probably a prime example of 'style over substance.' This movie's got some serious technical skill, even for today. That's not to say it doesn't have substance. A theme seems to be an ironic swap, evidenced further by a character's rant about cattle in a slaughter house early in the film. For the rest of the film, we see people in a sort of slaughter house, and frankly, they're not treated much better than the cattle.

Intensity builds from mildly unsettling to outright disturbing. Ever have nightmares where you're watching a horrifying scene unfold before your eyes as if you were an invisible third person, unable to turn away or retreat from the craziness that's going on? That's this movie. It's like a nightmare you can't wake up from.

It achieves this with some brilliant camera-work and spends a good portion of the movie setting the tone. It prepares you for what's coming next, while telling you that you'll never truly be prepared for what's coming next. It looks cheaply made (well, I guess it looks that way because it WAS), which doesn't take away from this movie like it takes away from most movies--in fact, it adds to the realism. Everything in this movie, in theory, COULD have occurred back then. I'm not saying it did and we just didn't know about it-- I'm just saying it would have been possible for such a situation to occur. And just sitting back and thinking that all of this could have been possible just makes it even creepier.

After reading up some trivia on this movie, I was surprised to find how much of this movie was actually real. No, psychopaths didn't wear masks made of human faces and chase screaming girls in classic 70's jeans with an actual intent to murder them. But the working conditions were terrible. They were filming long hours to save on equipment rental costs during a heatwave in a house full of film crew members with no air conditioning. In Texas. Due to budget restrictions, one guy actually had to lie completely still while they pretended to behead him by holding a running chainsaw three inches from his face. The stench in the farm house got so bad crew members were stepping outside to vomit between shoots. That's what I call dedication! No wonder everyone was hysterical by the time the film wrapped.

Aside from its technical execution and genuinely disturbing atmosphere and intensity, the movie itself really isn't anything special. It's a major influence on the slasher genre, and rightfully so, if only because it was the first of a handful of slashers that just happened to introduce many of the genre's classic tropes. Surprisingly, for a movie with this kind of reputation, it's very low in the gore department. Not much is actually seen on screen. A lot is left to your imagination, and for a movie like this, that's definitely something worth bragging about.
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Death Warrant (1990)
4/10
Early Goyer is a Disappointing Goyer
10 June 2015
Sheesh... this was not one of Van Damme's better films...

David S. Goyer has always been a hit-or-miss from the start, but I still can't believe he wrote this crap for one of his first-ever movie industry projects. I guess you had to start somewhere.

Burke is a cop who goes to prison as an undercover inmate to investigate a series of inmate murders. His cover is threatened when one of his old busts is taken to the same jail. Throw Van Damme and a hot supervising officer into the mix, and you should have an undeniably fun action gem chock full of helicopter kicks and Van Damage.

But it isn't.

So what went wrong?

The plot twist was a bit clever. That's probably the best thing I can say about this movie. Van Damme at least has some kind of charm about him in most of his movies--that kind of charm that makes you want to see more of an actor, even if his or her acting is terrible at the time (Schwarzenegger is another good example).

One of the most annoying things about this movie was the dialogue. It obviously wasn't Goyer's strong suit back then, because in the opening scene, we find out who Van Damme's character is, where he came from, why he's there, and that he isn't a guy who plays by the rules--in three lines of some of the most forced dialogue I've heard in quite a while. Expository dialogue is everywhere in this movie. They even explain the twist and the motivations behind it.

The generic music sucks at setting the right tone, sucks at building suspense, and even sucks at being generic. Van Damme's acting is Oscar-worthy, as usual. Then again, his hilariously poor acting skills are not why I watch Van Damme movies. But the reason I watch his movies wasn't present in this one: he's usually fun to watch. Unfortunately, here, he was a bore.
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Hellraiser (1987)
7/10
Made Great Use of Good Suffering!
9 June 2015
This movie is twelve kinds of effed up. Back when horror movies were straightforward without being stupid; gory without being senseless; and freaky without resorting to cheap tactics (like jump scares-- God, I hate those).

What am I talking about? The 1980's had plenty of those. Luckily, Hellraiser isn't one of them. Having recently read the novella from which this is based on, I can say that this is an almost totally faithful adaptation--and any changes in the movie are improvements over the original source material. That's a rarity for book adaptations, for sure--but then again, maybe it's because Clive Barker, the writer of the original novella, decided to adapt it on his own. I guess if you really want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.

Also, they kept my favourite line from the book: "No tears please. It's a waste of good suffering!"

I am pleased...
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6/10
"Quick! DON'T Change the Channel!"
9 June 2015
Yes. I actually enjoyed this movie. It's stupid and nonsensical, with silliness that doesn't belong, and explosions where there shouldn't be, and Van Damme out of his element (but then again, this movie IS a big P.O.S.--so maybe he's IN his element). The plot involves M. Bison taking on the world and demanding the payment of 20 billion dollars so that he will release the hostages. Whether he does that or not doesn't really matter because there's so much else going on that we tend to forget about a few plot points here and there. It's only until they spring up again does anyone go, "Oh, right, I forgot about this thing. It's still going on?"

So why did I give this a 6? Does that seem a little high to you? Probably. Critics despise it. Fans of the games despise it. It's got a 3.7 on IMDb. I haven't played the games. I'm not officially a critic. And unlike a lot of critics and would-be critics, I enjoy some terrible movies as guilty pleasures. Max Payne, Spirit of Vengeance, Double Impact, etc. etc. etc.. Street Fighter isn't much of an exception. It's got the energy of a Saturday morning cartoon, and it's twice as fun as most PG-13 action films these days--which, in a way, is kind of sad. I laughed countless times at this movie's screwball antics, and I was very entertained for the hour and a half it lasted.

I guess I gave this a 6 because I appreciate a terrible movie with a good sense of humour.

Even when it's not trying to be funny.
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Double Dragon (1994)
3/10
What a Waste
9 June 2015
What a horrible waste of perfectly well-crafted set designs. What an even worse waste of Robert Patrick, who was menacing and even cool two years prior to this film's release with Terminator 2.

Coherency and smarts are not what I look for with these types of movies. I look for something fun, something that's both enjoyable and interesting enough to hold my attention. Aside from the creative locations and punk/sci-fi atmosphere, there isn't much good I can say about this movie. The characters suck. Some of them are even obnoxious, made even more annoying by their crappy acting skills. The fights are lame, as is the story and its execution. It's too simplistic and too lazy for it to work. This movie is a monster truck that tries to do high energy on a quarter-tank of gas. The result is disastrous.

It's not the worst debut film for a new director I've ever seen, but it's close.
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4/10
A Grave Error
9 June 2015
This sequel takes everything that was decent about the first one and craps all over it.

Literally, it spends an hour and a half sucking itself off with the whole "The first movie was real!" nonsense. Plus, this time around, we've got weed-smoking college kids who laugh loud and scream even louder. The effects are better, but when all they do is show giant moronic zombies chasing after the camera with that clichéd distorted movement thing that made Kayako from The Grudge so creepy (but of course, it doesn't really work here), who cares? It's got the whole half-assed package of jump scares (complete with sudden loud noises edited into the footage) and none of the cleverness of the original (yes, the original at least had SOME clever ideas and stuff, but not that much). The movie is a chore to sit through, and you'll probably find yourself constantly checking the runtime to see how much longer you have to wait for the credits.

Give it a pass, or just watch the first one again. Or not. I guess it all depends on how productive you'd like to be during a quiet afternoon.
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Everly (2014)
7/10
A Perfectly Sadistic Christmas Movie for Your Collection
9 June 2015
This is officially the most sadistic Christmas movie I've ever seen. ...So far. I mean, I haven't seen Black Christmas yet. So maybe that'll change once I see those movies.

My dad likes to ask me sometimes regarding action movies: "Is there a purpose to all this?" There IS no purpose. The whole movie is one big, fat excuse to slam a bunch of crazy action scenes at you. As an exercise in brutal violence, it succeeds. It's got style, and it's even got some genuinely funny moments of black humour to go along with it. The movie's premise is absolutely ridiculous and stupid, and laughably insane, but it plows through it with an almost completely straight face. In that respect, the movie is a deadpan masterpiece.

Anyway. Salma Hayek's acting, along with Joe Lynch's neat direction, are both too good for this type of movie. This is a modern-day exploitation film at its most blatant. This is Die Hard with Salma Hayek and the Yakuza. It's limited to one floor of an apartment building as a setting, and it's set during Christmas, and the main character is trapped in one room. Only unlike Die Hard, this movie has some truly cruel material to make you squirm in it. I mean wow.

Despite its flaws (and it has a lot of them) it was an entertaining movie. It's shallow, it's not all too smart, and for people with weak stomachs, it's pretty much unwatchable. Its low-budgetness isn't all that obvious unless you REALLY look for it, and most of its effects are refreshingly practical. It's nice to see blood squibs in action movies this day and age, instead of the regular old CGI clouds we're stuck with eighty (or ninety?) percent of the time. Salma Hayek hasn't been this good since Desperado, and that was freaking 1995.

I recommend any action fans to seek it out--unless, of course, you like some brains to go with your bullets, and/or you're not too keen on seeing the effects of swallowing battery acid. The rest of you should have a good time. Good times all around.
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6/10
Muddled, but Decent--and Even a Little Creative
9 June 2015
Well. I'll say it was a bit neat. Nothing original, and it did rely on some cheap tricks (well, maybe not just SOME...), and the characters occasionally had some stupid moments (like the guy who leaves the screaming girl alone with the mentally insane 'patient' to go find a metal bar). They at least tried to make it look like an authentic TV show gone horribly wrong, and it played that part out fairly well.

Even the premise is flawed in the fact that a TV crew of would-be ghost hunters have themselves locked inside a mental institution with no way out. They may be brave, but this tells (or warns) us something else about our characters early on: they're idiots. They're the types to call out "Who's there?" with every sound and then go investigate when no one answers. They're the types to run towards the scary noises and then scream in terror when they find something. I find it really amusing how while they run for their lives from distorted-featured ghouls, they somehow manage to hold the cameras somewhat steady enough to capture a few decent shots of their pursuers.

My favourite bit is when every 'exit' they go through ends up having another hallway on the other side, or it is blocked off completely with a wall that shouldn't be there. Apparently they're stuck in there for days because their watches keep on going, but the sun never comes back up, as if it's eternal night time (or maybe they were really elaborate with all that black paint). Both of these really helped the isolated feeling.

Thankfully, it didn't resort to the characters looking for the true story behind the supposed mystery. Instead, it kind of shows us. It's nothing clever, but hey, it reminded me of The Twilight Zone for a second near the end so it gets points for that.
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Cop Land (1997)
8/10
Stallone Stands Out--and Up
31 January 2015
A movie with a plot like this usually only goes two ways in Hollywood: the main character joins the man the crooked cops are trying to kill and get back at them in a twenty-minute blaze of gratuitously violent, over- the-top glory; or the main character will simply screw himself over with his moral dilemma and get himself killed by those he used to consider his friends and idols.

Luckily, Cop Land isn't as generic as that sounds, since it doesn't really go either way. De Niro and Keitel are great as always, reviving their old Scorcese days for their roles here. What really stands out is Stallone's performance. Having only seen him in movies like Cliffhanger, Rambo, and Rocky, I figured he had about as much range as say, Bruce Willis--always playing himself, running (or shooting) his way through the movie while still maintaining his usual look. Willis is always quiet and snappy unless the situation takes a turn for the worst. Jason Statham is always the angry British guy. Arnold Schwarzenegger is always big and booming. Stallone himself was always a bit jumpy and wild, mumbling through conversations whenever he wasn't yelling a battle-cry.

But here, while he still mumbles, he's almost a completely different person. Here, Stallone's a quiet, somewhat socially awkward, friendly sheriff named Freddy who idolizes members of a police force he couldn't get himself into due to an ear injury from rescuing a girl in a car crash years earlier. He's got a gut, and no spine to support it, turning a blind eye to the little crooked things his idols let slip. He doesn't act against them due to loyalty to men he admires for doing what he couldn't do: join the force.

All of that changes when a young hero cop nicknamed "Superboy" blunders, whose death is faked at the crime scene by Freddy's idols as a cover-up. Freddy soon realizes the truth when he sees "Superboy" in the back of Ray Donlan's (Keitel) car, alive and well, hiding from the public. He's pushed by an Internal Affairs agent named Tilden, to do the right thing and help him bring Donlan and his to justice. It's generally up to Freddy to disregard his loyalty for what's right.

Now, there's a whole connection with the mob thing and other complications I won't spoil, and while there's a brief 'blaze of violent glory' I hinted at in the first paragraph at the end, it's not really glorified in a Hollywood sense of "hero comes in and saves the day, leaving the evil villains to burn in a giant overblown explosion that somehow doesn't deafen him or send him flying as he's walking away from it in slow motion." No, it's more of a quiet act of retribution. Stallone's never been better, and with the way he's going with his career choices these days, I doubt he'll ever be this good again.
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5/10
From revenge drama to exploitation b-movies to TV action F-movie
4 September 2014
Despite the fact that I still managed to enjoy this movie despite its many, MANY flaws, I have to admit I'm sad that the series ended this way. It started off great, and while it was going downhill with all the sequels (thankfully not as many as Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th) it still remained an entertaining series all the way down to the fifth and final movie. The quality dropped considerably with each stupidly fun sequel, until finally we reach 'The Face of Death': it seemed so much like a TV movie, all the way down to the opening credits and the wooden acting. Even Bronson seemed less charismatic than usual.

Anyway, Kersey now has himself a family of three with him. That is, until the mom has her face disfigured with a mirror ('Face of Death,' get it?), the daughter is kidnapped, and...... actually, nothing happens to the maid. Shocking.

Kersy may as well have named everyone he meets 'Kenny,' because no matter where he goes all of these Kenny clones are killed within the first twenty minutes of the movie (forty, tops). Once again, Kersey wants revenge, and he'll get it. Because we wouldn't have a movie if he didn't. The daughter is kidnapped by her mobster dad, played by Michael Parks, who proves to be a really nasty piece of work.

'The Face of Death,' while it is a tired sequel, still manages to have its moments. Remote control soccer balls (that EXPLODE), badass exits after committing a murder just TWO SECONDS before a cop goes in the same door without noticing the murderer leave; silly dialogue, nudity, brutal violence, and the sleaze that this exploitation franchise is known for.

Unfortunately, the acting is the worst it's ever been, and the quality is also the lowest in the franchise. Despite that, it still delivers some fun and good-natured vengeance.

And vats of hot wax.

It's worth a watch, if only to say that you saw everything this series had to offer (although you could say that after just watching the first three). The series ends on a low note, which is a shame, but it gets the job done in a sort of half-baked way.

"If you need my help, call me."

No, Mr. Kersey. You've suffered enough. Goodbye.
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Death Wish 3 (1985)
8/10
The funn(i)est of the series
4 September 2014
Charles Bronson/Paul Kersey is back, and this time he's taken up the gun once more to avenge his one-dimensional girlfriend who was murdered by the hands of a vicious street gang.

Now that the plot's out of the way, the good: Bronson returns; the action scenes are arguably the best of the series; the villains are nasty; rape is minimal-to-non-existent; the acting is bad, but on a fun level and not a cringeworthy level; it doesn't pretend to be what it isn't. What this movie DOES manage to be is entertaining, fun, and violent--at the same time. The last thirty minutes alone is worth sitting through the filler dialogue and laughable villains who get their kicks from stealing purses and running away (and getting shot in the back), and managing to destroy entire buildings with just a handful of grenades.

The bad: Lieutenant Richard Shriker (played by Ed Lauter) is a douche; dialogue is clearly filler to give some sort of plot; the main villain's rage-inducing smug face isn't punched enough times.

This movie is stupid. It's garbage. And it's sleazy. But that's all part of its nasty, perverse charm. It's a laugh riot with enough hilarious unintentional stupidity, comic gold, and over-the-top violence to keep you entered for a good hour and a half. It's arguably the best of the Death Wish series just because of how silly and fun it can be. It's to be seen to be believed.

It's worth a watch.
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8/10
Paul Kersey: Not great, but pretty damn good.
4 September 2014
That quote right there is this movie in a nutshell.

'The Crackdown' is the second-most entertaining of the series, behind Death Wish 3. It's actually a little smarter than the second and third ones, but it still has its moments of hilarious stupidity and trashiness, which is a good thing. It also tones down the rape considerably (a trend that began with 3) and ups the action. A lot. Which is a fantastic thing.

We follow Paul Kersey (once again played by the one and only Charles Bronson) as he sets out to avenge the death of his girlfriend's daughter, who died of a drug overdose. Before, Kersey's enemies were idiotic street punks who lived to spread the message of anarchy and trouble-making through the streets of New York and Los Angeles. Now, his enemies are a variety of L.A. mob figures who are also responsible for the drugs that killed the one-dimensional daughter. Kersey seems to be an assassin-for-hire in this one, as he's hired by tabloid owner Nathan White (played by John Ryan) to take down the mob.

This movie's budget is noticeably lower than that of its predecessors, but aside from one obviously cheap shot of a restaurant being blown up (if you call a sheet of fire running up the screen effect 'blowing up), it doesn't affect the overall viewing experience much. The action scenes are still fantastic and the violence is still brutal. Charles Bronson is a welcome presence, as always, and while his role by this installment may be tired and routine, he still gets the job done without dropping his quality too low. Plus you get to see Bronson use an M-16 equipped with a grenade launcher as he takes on baddies (the grenade, of course, he saves for last).

Take it for what it is: a fun, moronic, hour/forty-minute ride through the dirtier side of 80's cinema. It's definitely one of the better Death Wish films.
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Death Wish II (1982)
6/10
First-ever sequel for Bronson, but not the best sequel ever
4 September 2014
While the first film was a dramatic classic, upon switching to Cannon Films, director Michael Winner and Charles Bronson return to the sequel, which blasts the series in an entirely different direction: the sleazy action film. It's a big difference between the too, but it still works. Bronson's character Paul Kersey could do anything from shooting unarmed thugs at point-blank range to electrocuting a mental patient and you'd still like him.

Or feel sorry for him. Sort of both in this case.

Anyone close to Kersey dies. His daughter, who barely managed to survive the first film, was unfortunate enough to once again get attacked, kidnapped, and eventually killed off. Their housemaid was also a victim, and she didn't survive either--she arguably got the worst of it (though honestly I don't know which is worse: getting bludgeoned to death or impaling yourself on a fence). This sets Kersey once again on a journey for revenge through the greasy slums of L.A., and this time he DOES find those who are responsible for the attack. They're determined to get away, but Kersey won't let the culprits who are actually responsible for attacking his loved ones get away with it this time (which is good because that was the most unsatisfying aspect of Part I).

This sequel is louder, more action-y, more violent, and a little more sillier. It transforms the drama/revenge franchise into an action/revenge franchise, and it manages to be entertaining despite having even less of a plot than the first one (if that's even possible). Charles Bronson plays the character well, and the action scenes are fantastic and a step above Part I's, which is good because that's just about all this movie has going for it.

It's not the worst installment in the series, but it's close. Luckily though, good ol' Bronson keeps this movie from becoming a cringeworthy sequel that, while inferior, is still quite a bit of fun to watch (in a really sick way).

The uncut version is the best way to see this, just like the rest of them. It's harder to watch, but it gives you a better idea of how nasty the villains are and it helps justify even the cruelest of Kersey's actions.
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