2/25/2011

Under The Gun (1995)

Under The Gun (1995)-* * *

Directed by: Matthew George

Starring: Richard Norton,  Robert Bruce, Kathy Long, Jane Badler, Peter Lindsay, and Sam Greco



"You Can't Outrun A Bullet."





Comeuppance Reviews fan favorite Richard Norton stars as Frank Torrance, a man under so much pressure, he makes "Stressed Eric" look like a pot-smoking sloth. A former star hockey player, Torrance now owns his own nightclub, named Boilermakers after his old team. The problem is, he is deeply in debt, and the Italian mob as well as the Triads have him in their sights. He is also involved in a war with an army of corrupt cops and DEA, led by the evil, eyepatchioed Det. Dexter (Robert Bruce). Add to that, every slimeball in the underbelly of society has a beef with Torrance. He's trying to escape it all and fly far away somewhere with his wife Sandy (Badler), but even his flight plans are going wrong. He must use his wits, and of course his formidable martial arts skills to solve his many stressful problems all in one night. Can he do it, or will Frank Torrance be "Under the Gun" his whole life?

As Co-Producer and fight choreographer on the film, as well as starring, Norton wore many hats. Was he as stressed as Frank Torrance during the shooting of the film? The back of the DVD box says "likable action star Richard Norton stars...", and it is true, Norton does turn on the charm for this role. He had a lot of creativity with the many, many fight scenes in the film, even sporting some of the first "mop-fighting" scenes since The Toxic Avenger (1984). He even does some MMA-style takedowns, which was pretty awesome for 1995. It's a joy to watch Norton fight, as well as act, it truly is puzzling why he isn't really known outside of action movie circles. He's supported well by Peter Lindsay as his old buddy Harry, and Kathy Long as Lisa, who is not too shabby in the action department either. You may remember her from Albert Pyun's Knights (1993) or the Cynthia Rothrock vehicle Rage and Honor (1992). Her career should have been bigger as well.


We did have some issues with the film, however. The fact that it takes place all in one location, the nightclub, shows its rock-bottom budget, as does the fact that some scenes are lit too darkly to see. It would have been nice to see Norton and Long fighting the baddies in different scenarios and places. Also the movie feels unfocused and unclear at times, with not a lot established. With a more streamlined, linear drive, Under the Gun could have been an all-time classic.What they were able to achieve with the budget they had IS impressive, so let's not forget that.

As it stands now, Under the Gun is a solid Norton vehicle that displays the man's range of talents. While not perfect (but what is?), fans of the Awesome Australian Action man should seek out Under the Gun.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

2/22/2011

Living To Die (1990)

Living To Die (1990)-* *1\2

Directed by: Wings Hauser

Starring: Wings Hauser, Arnold Vosloo, Darcy DeMoss, Rebecca Barrington, Raymond Martino, and Asher Brauner 



"Some People Play for Money. Some People Play for Keeps."









In this PM production, which can best be described as a low-budget thriller with a huge film noir influence, Wings Hauser (who also directed the film) plays Nick Carpenter, a streetwise ex-cop in Las Vegas. His friend Eddie Minton (Brauner) is being blackmailed, so Eddie calls in Nick to help sort out the situation. It seems Jimmy Fargo (Vosloo) is behind the blackmail, but there are so many twists and turns it's hard to tell what's what. Minton is a corrupt, vain, selfish casino commissioner, and when Maggie (DeMoss) enters the picture, things get even more complicated. Will Nick be able to untangle the web of deceit and betrayal?

While Wings' direction does expose the film's low budget pitfalls, such as some plot/editing clunkiness and amateurish acting at times, considering what he had to work with, he acquits himself admirably and got the absolute most out of what he had to work with, which is commendable. It's wrong to look for perfection, just give us a snappy, entertaining movie, which is basically what Wings does. Somehow, in this neon-soaked Las Vegas tale, some scenes are very dark and hard to see. But there are many strengths as well to Living To Die.


For example, there's the aforementioned film noir style, which Wings clearly is a fan of. There is some memorable dialogue, such as "I'm not here to borrow trouble, but I can afford it", and "Trouble and beautiful women seem to travel well together". Lines like these could have been said in classic noir movies like Kiss Me Deadly (1955)or The Big Heat (1953). The infamous Asher Brauner's performance here could be termed "Asher Unleashed", as the man goes off the chain with his unrestrained yelling and zero-self-control performance. It really makes you dislike his character, Minton (it sounds like everyone in the movie is calling him "Mitten" and it was only the end credits that made us see his name was not in fact Mitten). But maybe that's the point and Brauner is a genius actor. The jury is still out.

Sadly, Wings and Brauner never worked together again after this outing. They seem to work well together, I wonder if they had a falling-out? Maybe Brauner was jealous that Wings got to race a go-kart against some kids in an outdoor go-kart track. But Wings redeems his cool factor as he cruises along the Vegas strip on his motorcycle, no doubt seriously pondering the questions of loyalty surrounding Maggie and Minton he has embroiled himself in.


No movie of this kind would be complete without a saxophone soundtrack, alternately smooth and blaring, and, to Living To Die's credit, it actually credits the sax solos to one Lon Price. Wings must be a fan. He wouldn't let Mr. Price's blowings go unappreciated.

Featuring an eyebrow-raising unorthodox ending, Living To Die is a good piece of the puzzle for PM or Wings completists.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty



2/18/2011

Steele Justice (1987)

Steele Justice (1987)-* * *

Directed by: Robert Boris

Starring: Martin Kove, Robert Kim, Sela Ward, Bernie Casey, Ronny Cox, Soon-Tek Oh, Shannon Tweed, Eric Lee, Irene Tsu, and Asher Brauner

Choreography by Jeff Kutash




"You Don't Recruit John Steele. You Unleash Him."





Lt. John Steele (Kove) is a man who plays by his own rules. He survived the horrors of the Vietnam war, including being trapped in a cave with "ratbombs", or bombs strapped to rats. Now, in the "present day", both he and his 'Nam buddy Lee (Robert Kim) are L.A. cops. Helping them in their quest to take down the evil drug-dealing gang the Black Tigers is Reese (Casey). When the Black Tigers do something really, really bad (I'm a master at avoiding spoilers), Steele straps two bandoliers of bullets to his bare chest and gets the only kind of justice he can...STEELE JUSTICE!

Released in the prime of the video-store action glut of the 80's, despite its killer cast of favorites, it's fairly easy to see why Steele Justice got overlooked at the time. If a video store patron wanted this type of fare, are they going to spend their hard-earned money on a Rambo film or a Schwarzenegger vehicle, or Steele Justice? Thus it became a "die-hard action fan only" film. While it does have plenty of "shirtless shooting" and classic barfights, there are some things about the movie that are worth noting...

First off, John Steele (gotta love the name) has a gun that shoots knives. That's pretty memorable right there. But also he has a pet: Threestep the snake. He is named this because his poison is so deadly, you won't make it three steps before you die. Also, and this isn't said in the film, we can gather that Steele is a big fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd, especially the song "Gimme Three Steps". The bar he frequents also features the Desert Rose Band, featuring Chris Hillman of Byrds fame, so we know Steele likes country-rock. And speaking of his musical tastes, during a movie highlight, a car chase interrupts a video shoot for Astrid Plane (of Animotion fame), so we can also gather he hates 80's pop. Even though the video was choreographed (and perhaps stars) Jeff Kutash. And in true 80's fashion, there is a montage set to the song "fight fire with fire" by Hot Pursuit.


Sela Ward, as the love interest, appears heavily medicated. However, she does get to say the line to Steele, "The war isn't over for you. It just changed locations." Asher Brauner makes a brief appearance as "Mob Thug #1", and most of the names in the cast, including Shannon Tweed, Irene Tsu and Eric Lee make very short, almost walk-on roles.

Everybody knows/says the name "Steele" throughout the movie, and in true action movie fashion, it all ends in the typical abandoned warehouse. For generic 80's action that's so formulaic it can't miss, check out Steele Justice.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also Robert Kim sent us this email with this interesting story: 

My name is Robert Kim, I'm an actor and portrayed the role of Lt. Lee Van Minh (Martin Kove's Vietnam buddy) in the 1980's action flick, "Steele Justice."

I just read you review on Imdb, and had a little bit of trivia for you.  Remember you mentioned that, "Sela Ward, as the love interest, appears heavily medicated," you were actually more correct than you may have imagined…

As it turns out, at the time we shot the film, Sela was living with Richard Dean Anderson of "MccGyver" fame.  On the day before we filmed, she had accidentally walked through Richard's plate glass door leading to his swimming pool,
breaking her nose in the process.  So yes, she WAS medicated for most of her scenes, but she just put on her game face and did a credible job when most people would have not even showed up.

Just an interesting piece of movie trivia.

All the best!

Robert Kim
NYC

2/14/2011

Masterblaster (1987)

Masterblaster (1987)-* * *

Directed by: Glenn R. Wilder

Starring: Jeff Moldovan, Raymond Forchion, Donna Rosea, Joe Hess, Earleen Carey, Richard St. George, Yoshimitsu Yamada, and Big Mike Tiederberg












Somewhere in the wilds of Florida, the "First Annual Master Blaster Grand National Championships" is going on. Here, the best people in the world at paintball (truly something to be proud of in life) assemble to win the fifty thousand dollar prize. But something sinister is afoot. Someone in their midst is using real weapons and killing off these "weekend warriors" for real.  Will the Vietnam Vet loner/drifter Jeremy Hawk (Moldovan) be able to save the day, meanwhile romancing the ex-cop with a tragedy in her past, Samantha Rosen (Rosea)?

A clear attempt to marry the prevailing 80's trends of paintball and wilderness horror movies best exemplified by most of the Friday the 13th series, with a dash of Romps thrown in for good measure as exemplified by some of the crude and juvenile summer-camp humor, Masterblaster truly exemplifies the phrase "jack of all trades but master of none" and fails at providing fans of any of these three things with what they really want. But that's not to say the movie is a failure. The way we see it, these malformed elements place it in a unique position to be an underground 80's classic. The ridiculous music (check out the awesome title song by Ezo Hernandez), hair and clothes, not to mention the absurd cast of characters, provides entertaining fun for most of its running time.


Speaking of some of the crazy characters (the movie is a character study if nothing else), we have Moldovan as Jeremy Hawk (not Jay Sherman's friend from The Critic), a man who really knows how to look at stuff. His reaction shots are priceless and worth the price of admission right there. As this is a "rural" movie, we have menacing redneck Leon (Antoni Corone), Snake and Monk (George Gill & St. George, respectively), the Cheech and Chong of the film. Many of the competitors have painted-on beards, which seems odd for the people that are supposedly the best in the world at this activity. There's Yoshimitsu Yamada as Yamada, "The Shadow Warrior", a nod to the Ninja Boom going on at the time. The "Oriental" music on the soundtrack every time he appears could be described as ill-advised, if not downright racist. Speaking of the soundtrack, there's bizarre, funny male operatic vocals that appear at times. Just weird.

There are others vying for the top paintball spot, but top, top honors go to Ray Forchion as Lincoln. He steals the movie with his hilarious performance. The man really stands up for his Kobe beef.

It's silly, there's funny dancing, alliances between paintballers (or "blasters" as they are called), and it all has a Young Warriors (1983)-style schizophrenia to it. It's pretty clear the filmmakers had no real grasp of what makes things suspenseful or interesting, but that's what makes Masterblaster so engaging. In the grand tradition of other "paintball gone wrong" movies such as TAG: The Assassination Game (1982), Gotcha! (1985), Hostile Intent (1997), and Backwoods (2008) , Masterblaster is recommended, even with its flaws, for Moldovan's stare, the performance of Ray Forchion, and all the 80's goodness it provides.

NOTE: Masterblaster was released on VHS in the U.S. by Prism. The box states the running time is 95 minutes, but it is actually 80 minutes.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


2/11/2011

Malone (1987)

Malone (1987)-* * *

Directed by: Harley Cokeliss

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Lauren Hutton, Kenneth McMillan, Tracey Walter, Cynthia Gibb, Scott Wilson, and Cliff Robertson 












Richard Malone (Reynolds) is a former CIA assassin and Special Ops soldier whose car breaks down in the sleepy burg of Comstock, Oregon. He’s trying to escape his past, but he runs afoul of the sinister Charles Delaney (Robertson), a small-town megalomaniac who is trying to take over the world. While in Comstock, he makes friends with the kindly mechanic and garage owner Paul (Wilson), and develops an interesting relationship with his young daughter Jo (Gibb of Death Warrant  fame). The town he’s in is so small, he even develops fame among the locals as “The Guy With The Car Trouble”. Even though Jamie (Hutton) is trying to stop his violent ways, he cuts through the corruption and red tape of the local Sheriffs and takes on Delaney and his many goons. 


Malone is 90 minutes of stupid entertainment at its finest. It’s chock full with funny lines and absurd situations, way too many to recount here. Burt Reynolds' monosyllabic performance is just amazing - his contempt for the very fact that he has to be there is so open and unmasked. Luckily for the audience, that’s absolutely hilarious.  But it’s not just Reynolds who has checked out: Robertson as the smarmy land developer who sends thugs to kill off his rivals is a total paycheck role. Both men phoned in their roles to extremely funny effect. I assume this was unintentional. Perhaps Reynolds assumed his mustache, funny faces, expanding gut and bizarre toupee would carry the day. As it turns out, he was right! It totally does.

A lot of the running time of Malone is comprised of various people asking Richard Malone what his name is. There’s always a pause, and then Reynolds exasperatingly exhales “Malone”. This takes up a good 20-30 percent of the film’s running time. Fortunately, this scenario gets funnier every time it happens.


It has been noted the film’s many similarities to the classic Western Shane (1953), but it also appears the later Radical Jack (2000) was heavily influenced by Malone (as has everyone else that’s ever seen it). A mysterious man comes to a small town, a man that happens to be trained in the deadly arts, and tries to stop yet another small-town crime boss (I guess every little town has one) and must fight the “evil yokels” along the way.


On the technical side, if you live in America and have Netflix streaming, watch Malone that way. It’s in widescreen and the print they found is stunning. Even though we had seen it on VHS previously, watching it on streaming was like watching it for the first time. It really brought out the full potential and many nuances of the film.

You’ll be singing “I think we’re Malone now” as you laugh your way through this very enjoyable gem.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

2/08/2011

Enter The Ninja (1981)

Enter The Ninja (1981)-* *

Directed by: Menahem Golan

Starring: Franco Nero, Susan George, Christopher George, Will Hare, Zachi Noy, and Sho Kosugi













Cole (Nero) is a macho, mustachioed man who trains at a ninja school to master the art of Ninjitsu. Upon completing his studies, his rival, Hasegawa (Kosugi), presumably because Cole is a white Westerner, screams “He is not a ninja!” and storms off. Undaunted, Cole travels to the Philippines to visit his old army buddy  Frank (Courtney) and his wife Mary Ann (George). They have a lot of property there and they while away the hours enjoying cockfights with their poor laborers.

As it turns out, the sinister, “Mr. Big”-type villain, Mr. Venarius (Christopher George, no relation to Susan) wants their land. His henchmen, Mr. Parker (Gregory) and the memorable Siegfried “The Hook” Schultz (Noy) are ineffectual in securing Frank’s property for their own evil ends, so Venarius commands an army of white-suited baddies to take it. But they didn’t count on one thing: Cole and his newly-minted Ninjitsu skills! Additionally, Cole’s old nemesis Hasegawa is on the loose and Cole must deal with that. Will the power of Ninjitsu prevail for the good guys?


Not only did Cannon films and Sho Kosugi lead the pack during the ninja boom of the 80’s, they actually kicked it off with this, their first “ninja” film back in ‘81. Let’s remember that besides the Sho movies, Cannon also gave us the American Ninja titles as well as movies such as Ninja III: The Domination (1984). Smartly, the main hero role is played by a man who was an established star, at least in many territories around the world: Franco Nero. It may seem weird that Sho has a secondary role as Cole’s rival ninja, especially when most of the film’s running time is devoted to “Nero-Fu”, but this was a proving ground for Kosugi, who after this ruled the ninja film world.


However, the opening titles sequence does have Sho, well, “showing” off his array of ninja moves and weaponry (a la Revenge Of The Ninja). Unfortunately, there’s no opening or closing credits song. The beginning and end of the movie deliver the ninja goods, but it’s what’s in the middle that lags. Yes, there is a lot of cool and bloody ninja violence, but the audience is not emotionally invested in the Cole character as portrayed by the dubbed-by-someone-else Nero. (Also I should mention that the “bad” ninja, Hasegawa wears a black outfit, the white guy, Cole, wears a white outfit, and there are some red ninjas as well. Could this be ninja profiling?) The characters of Dollars (Hare) and the aforementioned hook-handed Siegfried add color to the proceedings, and Christopher George camps it up as an over the top baddie, but the movie is just too long at 104 minutes.


While Enter The Ninja is classified rightly as one of the premier ninja movies, its slow pace is a hindrance and most of the film is a run-of-the-mill actioner - one that should have been trimmed down to at least 90 minutes. It has silly, Scooby-Doo-like musical stings, and despite the presence of people like Susan George, who we always love seeing, it’s hard to become invested. However, it is very well-shot and the Philippines locations look beautiful.

Like certain TV shows when you compare the first season to later seasons when the show hits its stride, such as The Simpsons or South Park, this pioneering Ninja Boom entry is not a bad film, but, for the ninja film fanatic, the best was yet to come...

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

2/04/2011

Gang Wars AKA: The Devil's Express (1976)

 Gang Wars (1976)-* * *

AKA: Death Express and Devil's Express

Directed by: Barry Rosen

Starring: Warhawk Tanzania, Larry Fleischman, Thomas D. Anglin and Wilfredo Roldan


 

"50,000 years of Death stalks the subways!"







Gang Wars is a unique movie everybody should see.

The man with one of the most awesome names in human history, Warhawk Tanzania, stars as New York City Kung-Fu instructor Luke Curtis. He and his none-too-bright compatriot/student Roldan (Roldan) travel to "China" to brush up on their martial arts. While there, they just happen to stumble into a mysterious hole where, in 200 B.C., some monks buried a secret medallion. Despite Luke's admonition that "this place has strange vibes!", Roldan sees the medallion and decides it's just the ice he needs to bling-bling up his fly threads (hey, I'm just trying to keep up with the movie's lingo), and he takes it.

Unfortunately, this angers the medallion's owner, an ancient zombie with orange skin and ping-pong ball-like eyes. The zombie gets on a boat and follows them back to New York, and while he's there, causes all sorts of havoc in the subway. Meanwhile, due to that crazy Roldan and some mix-ups of murdered people involving the zombie, two street gangs, the Blackjacks and the Red Dragons, are at war. Can two cops on the beat stop the madness, or will Warhawk have to don his bright yellow overalls and take matters into his own hands?


What's great about Gang Wars is it truly is down-and-dirty, street-level, even guerrilla filmmaking of the New York City 70's, whose sole intention was to play some grindhouses. All the kung-fu fights are actually outdoors in the streets and alleys of the city. Yes, the filmmakers' hold on the technical aspects of filmmaking is...shaky at best, but for pure entertainment, it's hard to beat a hybrid blaxploitation/kung-fu/zombie horror film, and even if it doesn't ALWAYS gel, which is normal, the film certainly gets an A for effort.

Warhawk Tanzania is like a cross between Commodores-era Lionel Richie and Jim Kelly. Roldan is his John Leguizamo-like sidekick, who, though he's constantly referring to Curtis as "Sifu", it sounds like he's calling him "seafood", but that just naturally fits in with all the other 70's jive dialogue. Not to mention the great clothing, cars and NYC locations of the time - it's an excellent time capsule, and the icing on the cake is the super-funky and catchy soundtrack by famed musician/producer Patrick Adams.

Naturally, even though the zombie is an unimaginably ancient, gooey monster with eyes like those protectors people wear when they go tanning, somehow he is wearing a contemporary suit and tie. Those prehistoric demons sure were fashion-forward. The zombie also shrieks like a banshee and the whole "horror from underground" thing predates C.H.U.D. (1984) by 8 years. You might even say the kung-fu zombie is the original C.H.U.D. Where else will you read a sentence like that last one?

It's gritty, silly, fun and very entertaining. The screenplay was written by five people - presumably each person was assigned a different genre then they mashed it all together. Warhawk Tanzania is a man of the people - see him in action as soon as you can.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty



2/01/2011

Blood Street (1990)

Blood Street (1990)-* * *

Directed by: Leo Fong

Starring: Leo Fong, Richard Norton, Chuck Jeffreys, Kym Paige, and Stack Pierce













Starting, inexplicably, with a Star Wars-style crawl of text going up the screen informing us of the ever-important back story (and where "San Francisco" is misspelled), we are then re-introduced to P.I. extraordinaire Joe Wong (Fong), last seen in Low Blow (1986). The trouble begins when Vanna MacDonald (Paige) walks into Wong's office and asks him to find her missing husband. Thus, Wong begins an odyssey into the criminal underworld to find Aldo MacDonald, the gangster with the funny bug-eyes. The father-son team of Solomon (Pierce) and Bones (Jeffreys) work as Aldo's muscle, and lest we forget Malcolm Boyd (Norton) a kickboxer/gangster who stages illegal cage fighting matches in his living room. Teaming up once again with Woody Farmer (the guy who played "Fuzzy" in Low Blow) and his accountant (or perhaps his lawyer) Mark, can Wong avoid an oncoming gang war, dirty cops, many bullets, and a rock-bottom budget in order to get to the truth?

Leo Fong is back! He's got a new car, a new hat, and a new attitude. Also, the hat may contain magical properties. 

In this lesser-seen sequel to the aforementioned Low Blow, Leo Fong, who starred in, wrote, and directed the film, gets to indulge all his Sam Spade-like film noir fantasies, putting himself in the driver's seat alongside some of his buddies like Stack Pierce (and Director of Photography Frank Harris, but surprisingly no Cam Mitchell), drowning it all in a moody sax soundtrack. One character even calls him "a cross between Bruce Lee, Philip Marlowe and a Catholic priest". I guess that's the beauty of writing a starring role for yourself. His flat delivery and brutal martial arts moves remain unchanged, and this time it's topped off with a voice-over by Fong himself, containing many groan-inducing single-entendres. But at least you can hear and see everything this time around, despite the bad video quality and junky overall feel.

One of the villains' names is Aldo MacDonald, but it sounds like Fong is calling him "Old MacDonald". Many other characters have funny voices, and Chuck Jeffreys MUST be related in some way to Eddie Murphy. Fong has really ramped up the brutality this time around, and, because it is Fong, sadism has never been so funny. Blood Street is also fairly nonsensical: right in the middle of Joe Wong's journey, we see a title card that says "Four Years Earlier" and we go back in time to basically another plot where he's chasing down this dude in Mexico. Add to that the fact that the plot has more twists and turns than Lombard street in Fong's beloved San Francisco, and you have another mind-bending (or perhaps numbing) Fongtabulous experience.

The S.F. locations are a highlight of the film, and another great facet of Blood Street is that it is filled with dialogue and racial slurs you would never hear today. Fong is the most lovable wooden thing since the Nutcracker and you can't help but admire the guy and his work, defying the rules of budgets, acting, technical ability and even filmmaking itself to produce a highly entertaining product strictly meant to delight his fans. And it works.

Released on VHS in the U.S. on the small KB Releasing label (does anyone out there know anything about them?), the running time stated on the box is 88 minutes, but in fact is is a brief 79.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett