Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

There is a word that bests describes the Coen brother’s irish mafia tale, brooding. This beautiful looking film is all style and little substance. There is an awful lot of commotion in Miller’s Crossing, but very little emotion. Set in an unnamed city during the 1920s, a war is about to breakout between the Irish and Italian families. All can be forgiven if a man named Bernie (Tuttoro) is killed. The trouble is Leo (Finney), plans on marrying Bernie’s sister. This doesn’t sit well with Casper (Polito), the bullish Italian leader, who is still smarting from a series of boxing fixes gone awry. Adding to the complicated matter is the fact that Leo’s right-hand man, Tom (Byrne) is sleeping with his fiancee.
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Mission: Impossible III (2006) – Review

3 Stars

T.V. director J.J. Abrams makes his feature film debut with the third installment in the Mission Impossible franchise. This entry is a slam-bang action thriller; throwing plausibility out of the window early on and reveling in the techno-gadgetry that makes the series so appealing. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is aided this time out by series regular Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), as well as two new operatives on the IMF team. The MacGuffin in this episode is called ‘the rabbits foot’, a mysterious device that can cause a doomsday affect. Abrams and his writers have wisely chosen to treat the object as a perfunctory part of the storyline. The real focus in the screenplay by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, is on the relationship between Hunt and his fiancee, Rachel.
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Hercules (1983) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

Hulking mesomorph Lou Ferrigno, grunts and flexes his way through the title role in this ridiculous space epic. Hercules appears to be a Conan-clone but this Cannon Films production owes as much to Star Wars and Superman than Schwarzenegger’s barbarian. Ferrigno battles various villains and monsters in his quest to rescue a princess. The absurd screenplay is a mockery to Greek mythology, and the film is rife with effects more suited to a SCI-FI picture.
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Conquest (1983) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Conquest is a little seen Italian import from famed horror director Lucio Fulci. It takes place during a time of darkness in the once peaceful land of Cronos. The demon sorceress Ocron controls the sun and threatens to bend all to her savage will. The only hope lies with LLias and Maxz, two warriors who have boldly set forth to Ocron’s dark territory to destroy her.
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Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) – Review

4 Stars

Of all movies in the original Star Trek saga the Nicolas Meyer directed films are not only the best written in the series, they are also the most polished in terms of film-making. In the thrilling second installment we were introduced to the greatest villain in the franchise with Khan. Much like the James Bond films each Star Trek chapter is defined by the villain to an extent. And with this entry we are given General Chang one of the all-time great bad guys and with the performance by Christopher Plummer we have arguably the classiest thespian to ever enter the Trek universe.
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Hard Rain (1998) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

There was a brief moment in the mid 1990s when Christian Slater was being sold as (possibly) the next action star. Certainly in the wake of Keanu Reeves career making a turn in Speed and with action vets Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Seagal and Van Damme in career free fall studio heads began the search for an apt replacement. During this period we were treated to the goofy screen charms of Howie Long in Firestorm and Christian Slater in Hard Rain. To be fair Slater was a mini sensation after the surprising box office performance of 1996s Broken Arrow.
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Deathfight (1994) – Review

2 Stars

Deathfight is aimed at undiscriminating fans of Martial Arts B-movies. Even so the script is horrendous and the dialogue is unbearable. The saving grace of the film is the unique screen presence of Aussie karate master and action hero Richard Norton. Here he plays a wealthy business man falsely accused of murdering his mistress. Imprisoned and left to fend for himself Jack befriends a jailhouse snitch nicknames who serves as the film’s sidekick for the rest of the running time. The story is the usual nonsense involving two warring brothers and a bid to gain control of a Bangkok corporation. In truth there isn’t much in the death or fighting department for a film with both words in the title.
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Mission: Impossible (1996) – Review

3 Stars

Brain De Palma’s big screen incarnation of the venerable 1960’s television show arrived in theaters riding a wave of promotional hype. A high concept premise with roots to older audiences starring a proven box office draw (a mixture that proved successful for The Fugitive) had summer ticket buyers expecting a balls out action extravaganza. So inevitably audiences were greatly disappointed when Mission: Impossible turned out to be a quiet almost cerebral thriller more akin to 1970’s government paranoia thrillers like The Parallax View than the Bond films.
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Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor (1994) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

The third sequel to the popular 1990’s chop ’em up low rent Kickboxer franchise is a pretty fun ride that serves as a great example of b-movie filmmaking during that era. Disregarding the exploits of the third entry this fourth film is a direct sequel to the events from part 2, are you still with me champ? David Sloane has been framed in a sketchy setup and is currently serving time in a state penitentiary. While incarcerated the villainous Tong Po (the heavily scarred kickboxing ace from the original) has kidnapped Sloane’s wife with the intention of imprisoning her at his hacienda deep within Mexico for his personal sexual amusement. The D.A. comes to Sloane and offers him a temporary parole if he agrees to travel across the border and participate in a fight tournament being held at Tong Po’s compound. So Sloane reluctantly agrees to enter the competion while secretly planning to free his enslaved wife and kill Tong Po.
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Witness to a Kill (2001) – Review

3 Stars

Gary Daniels makes a smashing James Bond-esque secret agent in the very under rated (and little seen) B-movie gem titled Diamond Cut Diamond or Witness to a Kill, depending on what region of the world you live in. Here he plays Anthony Strong, an SAS leader and queens messenger. Strong had been assigned to accompany a German girl to South Africa on a diplomatic mission, however upon their arrival in the exotic location they are quickly targeted by a group of assassins working for a diabolical mercenary known as The Wolf. It turns out that The Wolf is in the diamond smuggling trade and business is good. He plans on overthrowing the current government, that is until Captain Strong throws a wrench in the scheme.
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The Art of War II: Betrayal (2008) – Review

3 Stars

The Art of War II is directed by Josef Rusnak. A filmmaker that has had a curious career. His big screen films never took, yet he’s much too talented a craftsman to be stuck in the low rent world of straight to DVD action films. He’s like a David o’ Russell with a compelling inclination toward action thrillers. The Art of War II is the follow up to the minor hit from eight years ago. I have no idea why it took them almost a decade to package a sequel to an obviously franchise ready character. War 2 follows retired special agent Shaw, currently working as a technical advisor on an acton film. The star of the movie within a movie is a blockheaded ego maniac with a desire to run for senate (sound familiar Californian’s?). Soon after the actor makes his intentions to campaign public, embarrassing photos begin showing up in an effort to blackmail the star. He hires Shaw and his team to find out who’s behind the attempt to derail his political aspirations. This leads to a double-cross in which it appears that Shaw is responsible for murdering two senators. Forced to clear his name he springs into action and uncovers a web of conspiracy involving illegal arms sales.
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Knock Off (1998) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Knock Off is a strange concoction that was met with nearly unanimous critical scorn and absolute indifference from Van Damme’s once sizable fan-base at the time of its release. The second collaboration between heralded director Tsui Hark and Jean Claude Van Damme is (in hindsight) one of the most underrated films of his career. The picture is a fast, light and sometimes funny action film with a script from Die Hard scribe Steven E. de Souza. The story is set in the days leading up to Britain’s relinquishing control of Hong Kong to China in 1997. During this time local authorities have stumbled across a new type of terrorist threat, nano-bombs. The small miniature explosive device is the size of a watch battery yet packs the bang of half a stick of dynamite. Caught up in this is a local knock off king Marcus Ray (Van Damme). Unbeknownst to Ray and his over anxious, ever talking partner (Rob Schneider) the jeans their company produces are discovered to be the housing device for the explosives. All of this leads up to an extended sequence that takes place aboard a cargo ship full of bombs making its way from Hong Kong to America.
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48 Hrs. (1982) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs. is a modern classic most fondly remembered for being the impressive film debut of Eddie Murphy. The comic genius of Murphy aside, this is a violent crime thriller with atmospheric cinematography by Ric Waite, a rousing score from James Horner and top notch direction from Hill. Many point to this as the beginning of the ‘Buddy Cop’ sub genre and even the ‘High Concept’ film; each are valid arguments. However unlike the hundreds of sub-par imitations and variations that followed in its wake, 48 Hrs. is well written and acted.
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Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Recently I reviewed the new release Batman: Year One and praised its handsome animation techniques and efficient adult level storytelling, in short I proclaimed it the best feature to ever come out of the DC Comics studio. My colleague Trevor Anderson urged me to take a look at Batman: Under the Red Hood before I made such a bold proclamation. So I did and he was correct in the recommendation. If Year One played in the similar territory established by the Nolan directed Batman films, than Under the Red Hood is inspired by the darkness of Burton’s take on the character and the wall to wall action and abundance of villains from the Schumacher chapters.
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Death Wish 2 (1982) – Review

1/2 Star

Vigilante Paul Kersey (returning star Charles Bronson in arguably his signature role) has moved out west only to find more trouble and scumbags that need eliminating in Los Angeles. After surviving the horrific events of the original film, Kersey and his daughter are attempting to repair their lives when another vicious attack, including the rape and murder of a helpless maid (the picture’s most sympathetic character), sets the lone wolf in action.
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