China O’Brien (Richard Clouse) – Cynthia Rothrock, the star of this film, isn’t very pretty and she can’t act for peanuts. However, she is 97 times World Terminal Karate Champion, or some such stuff and is thus perfectly suited for this picture, where kicking ass is the order of the day. Her father is a Sheriff, killed by some Bad Guys and Cynthia takes over his job. Fill in the rest yourself, it’s not hard. Nice fight sequences, but why is every blow accompanied by a sound like a wardrobe smashing? 5/10.
Cyclone (Fred Olen Ray) – Not one of Fred’s better ones, despite a promising start with Jeffrey Coombs as the inventor of a super-duper, top secret motorbike. Unfortunately, he is killed early on (too expensive for old F.O.R, no doubt), leaving his girlfriend to try and save the bike from all the baddies after it. She’s played by Heather Thomas; whatever her considerable attributes might be, acting isn’t anywhere on the list. Only a couple of nice car stunts at the end, and Heather getting 30 Amps through her thighs, made this anything above not-very-good. 3/10.
Die Hard 2 (Renny Harlin) – If ever a film was damned by it’s budget, this is it – every second you see on the screen cost over $10,000 and there is no way any film can live up to that. It’s a gallant attempt though. “Ten men went to blow, went to blow some airplanes” and only good ol’ Brooce can stop them, armed with stealth, cunning and enough weaponry to take on Iraq. Definitely the highest death toll of any movie this year, thanks to 200+ people in a crashed jet, not to mention the first recorded case of icicle violence (reduced to get the ’15’ rating, I think!). Mindless, totally implausible and no attempt at any characterisation whatsoever, but suddenly, half way through, I realised I was enjoying it. From then on, I was happy – still not a patch on the first one. 7/10.
Gremlins 2 (Joe Dante) – Incredibly cute, awesomely cuddly and impossible to resist taking to bed with you. But enough of Phoebe Cates, what about the movie? Like all sequels, it attempts to be bigger than the original and it certainly succeeds – no more smalltown America, Mogwai is in a New York genetic lab at the top of a skyscraper and before you can say ‘bright lights!’ (in a high-pitched voice), he’s had a shower and exploded into thousands of you-know-whats.
Courtesy of the genetic lab, they rapidly mutate to produce bat-lins, brainy-lins and even a fem-lin and then things start to get really silly, culminating in a large musical number in the skyscraper foyer. Galligan and Cates return as the stars, but yet again the FX win; jaw-droppingly effective. And add Christopher Lee, too many film jokes to mention, office satire and Bugs Bunny. Awesome. 8/10.
The Killer (John Woo) – Trailers for this were shown at Shock 4 & Black Sunday 3, piquing my curiosity enough to go and see this Hong Kong cop thriller about an assassin who goes on one last job to pay for an operation to salvage the sight of a cute singer, whom he accidentally blinded in a gun-battle. Sweet, huh? However, 130, count ’em, people get shot – this excludes those beaten up, blown up, crashed up, stabbed and the unfortunate bystander who suffers a fatal coronary! In between these bursts of beautifully portrayed ultra-violence, are saccharine-sweet interludes straight out of Mills and Boon which give it all a surreal air and were, to this novice, hysterically funny. Given the high body count, it has a very coy attitude to nudity – a girl is shot in the chest and taken to hospital where the doctor staunches the wound by sticking the bandage down her dress! 7/10.
Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout Video (who cares?) – The purpose of this film is perfectly clear, to give adolescent American boys something to jerk off to in their bedrooms. Unfortunately, I don’t have a video in my room, so I can’t tell you if it succeeds in this aim, but I suppose you might enjoy this as a film if you like the sight of Ms.Quigley rubbing her crotch against a carpet, leading some zombies in an aerobics session or having four friends (combined IQs brushing double figures – it’s very much a case of ‘the bell is ringing, but Mr. Intelligence is not at home’) over for a slumber i.e. lingerie party. Directed with a frightening lack of skill or imagination, just a single-minded obsession centred on Linnea’s naughty bits. Now, a Winona Ryder Workout Video I could go for… 1/10.
Robocop 2 (Irvin Kershner) – part sequel, part remake, all action; ‘Robocop 2’ is superbly-engineered comicbook-styled entertainment, that more than makes up for it’s lack of originality with wall-to-wall violence and relentless pacing. The Detroit police force is on strike (again!) and social order is breaking down as gangs of murderous thieves roam the streets thoroughly freaked out on the highly addictive drug “Nuke”. Only our heavy metal hero (Peter Weller, back in armour) is still on duty to splatter gangsters over the sidewalks but when he tackles Cain, the man behind Nuke, the cybernetic Murphy is reduced to a pile of rubble.
OCP initiate a program to create Robocop Mk. 2 but after Cain gets his come-uppance from a rebuilt Murphy, his brain is transplanted into the new creature which proceeds to go on the rampage. A dazzling visual treat for action movie fans with some brilliant effects by Phil Tippett and Rob Bottin. The screenplay by Frank Miller & Walon Green is crammed full of movie references (Frankenstein to King Kong) and comic culture themes.
There are faults: the characters are mere cyphers and some of the illogical events, where commonsense is abandoned for the sake of narrative expediency and superheroic vigour, do tend to be a little distracting. It lacks any of the humanist concerns of Verhoeven’s original, replacing that film’s erudite sub-text with the unsophisticated nature of pulp adventure. Excellent as graphic actioners go, but negligible as science-fiction. 9/10. (TL)
Robot Jox (Stuart Gordon) – See how the mighty are fallen. Difficult to believe the director of the all-time classic ‘Re-Animator’, the pretty-damn-good ‘From Beyond’, and the not-bad ‘Dolls’ can be responsible for this live-action Transformers movie. Perhaps something was lost in the crash of Empire Pictures. After WW III, international disputes are settled by giant robots battling it out, controlled by men in their heads (remote control not being conducive to the plot, I assume). After an accident kills 300 spectators, the US champion, Achilles (yes, it’s US vs USSR – passe‚ or what?) retires, only to be dragged back for a last battle. Any guesses as to the outcome? The FX are more realistic than the acting, and in the future, you’ll be glad to know white boiler suits are in. 3/10.
Special Effects (Larry Cohen) – One of the best psychological thrillers I’ve seen in a long time, has Zoe Tamarlis playing an actress, murdered by a director (Eric Bogosian), who films the event and uses it as a basis for his next film, getting the murdered woman’s husband to play the murdered woman’s husband, and an actress, played by Zoe Tamerlis, in the role of the victim. Then art starts imitating life… Inventive and gripping, with Tamerlis giving both characters depth, and Cohen’s direction keeping the viewer locked in their seat. Is it real or is it Memorex? Who cares, when the result is this good! 9/10.
Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven) – Four directors, innumerable rewrites and $63 million after starting, the most-expensive-movie-ever-made arrives. Was it worth it? First of all, forget the Philip K.Dick story; this was “inspired” by it but you’d have as much ground for claiming ‘Robocop’ or ‘Commando’ were the base sources. All the subtle nuances and disquieting paranoia goes out the window, except where it allows Arnie to blow up a few people/objects/vehicles, and you’re left with a generally predictable story. Characterization is next to non-existent as far as Schwarzenegger goes – he plays the same character as in his previous movies, dumb and tough with a basically good heart.
Yet it is one hell of an action pic – Paul Verhoeven could make ‘Brookside’ a tense and gripping drama so given the large amounts of pyrotechnics available here, he’s on home territory. Michael Ironside, as the chief violent opposition for Arnie, is psychotically vicious and delivers the groceries. Overall, the film does so too – in terms of FX, sets and nice touches to give the future some substance you’ll not see better this year, but I was sorta hoping for something more than ‘Rambo on Mars’. 7/10.
Wild at Heart (David Lynch) – Judging from the furore round this one, I was expecting ‘Dawn of the Dead’ crossed with ‘Debbie Does Dallas’. It’s not, despite some messy bits that suggest Peter Jackson was a second unit director. Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern are Sailor and Lula, lovers who run off, pursued by a detective and a vicious hit man, both unleashed by Lula’s vengeful mother. Lynch keeps his audience on their toes by spraying fragments from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ left & right and throwing in disconcerting sequences that would get laughed off screen anywhere else – it’s all played with straight faces for most of the time. The occasional flash of genius succeeds in lighting up the movie like the fires which punctuate it and it’s often these seeming irrelevancies that are most chilling, as when the lovers come across a car accident and are forced to watch one of the passengers die, but it lacks a really powerful central performance to hold the whole thing together. A flawed diamond. 8/10.
Xtro (Harry Bromley Davenport) – Small kid sees father abducted by UFO – no-one believes him. Then, some time later, Dad comes back. Or is it really an extra-terrestrial with strange desires? Three guesses! Interesting British horror/sf pic takes a while to warm up, though when it does, it belies it’s low budget and scarcely world-famous cast and pulls off one top-notch sequence that will make you look askance at Action Man for a long time to come. Includes Maryam ‘The Living Daylights’ d’Abo as an au-pair and yes, she does take her clothes off, which has to be worth a few minutes of anyone’s time… 7/10.
Stop Press Darkman (Sam Raimi) – It looks like our Sam has finally proved he can make a successful film without the words ‘Evil’ and ‘Dead’ in the title; has he sold out to join the Hollywood gravy-train? In a word, “No”. While this movie has elements which could be compared to ‘Robocop’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and, of course, ‘Batman’, it produces something totally distinct, individual and really quite wonderful. The hero, played by Liam Neeson, is Peyton Westlake, a chemist developing artificial skin whose fiancee (Frances McDormand) comes across a memo which implicates her boss, property developer Louis Strack (Colin Friels) in corruption and graft. Strack sends in the heavies, who blow up Westlake’s lab, leaving him hideously burned and barely alive. He escapes from the hospital where he’s been treated (beats me why he’d want to do this when he has Jenny Agutter for a nurse!) and recreates his laboratory. He uses the artificial skin to make masks, which are then used to impersonate members of Strack’s mob to try and bring the evil empire down, or allow him to rejoin his fiancee – temporarily, as unfortunately the skin only lasts 99 minutes before melting into sludge.
It all builds to a climax on top of a skyscraper, licking ‘Batman’ into a cocked hat, before the usual sequel-open ending. And it beats that obvious comparison in almost every other area too – the plot is far more coherent, justification being given for almost every detail, the acting is solid if unexceptional and the effects (with the exception of some shaky back-projection) look a lot better than they should given the budget. But, as in all his other films, the direction overshadows almost everything else – only Raimi could get away with a point-of-view shot for a rivet! There is one sequence involving a helicopter which is just jaw-dropping and other scenes leave you with the breath ripped out of your lungs. It’s not really violent or gory; the most squirm-inducing scenes all involve fingers (I’ll leave the interpretation to the psychologists out there). It is tense, exciting and tremendously entertaining – if the rest of Hollywood could show as much imagination per dollar, the whole world would be trading in their TV sets. 9/10.