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The Crow (1994) – Review

4 Stars

The Crow is a landmark achievement in many regards but the film carries a morose weight given the tragic underpinnings of the behind the scenes death of the late Brandon Lee. However the look, style and energy are so sensational that the film leaps off the screen at times, engulfing the viewer in the filmmaker’s vision of a semi-futuristic and hellish society of psychopaths, impotent authority figures and the stunning charisma of its star.
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The Crow: City of Angels (1996) – Review

1 Star

Simply stated at the top, The Crow: City of Angels is one of the worst sequels ever produced and shown theatrically in this country. This is a stunning fall from the creative heights of the first film, almost nothing works in this limp follow-up, which apparently was slashed down from 160 minutes to its current length of 84 minutes. Not that a nearly three-hour long version of this depressing (although beautifully shot) sludge would benefit anyone, but it would most likely be more coherent than what is present here.
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Hercules Reborn (2014) – Review

3 Stars

It’s summertime blockbuster season at the multiplexes, so of course it is also time for the seasonal mock-busters from The Asylum. July sees the forthcoming release of Hercules starring former WWE sensation and now full-blown movies star Dwayne Johnson inhabiting a role previously outfitted to the likes of Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. The accompanying knockoff titled Hercules Reborn is actually quite good, enough so that with a few more solidly watchable outings like this, Asylum may be able to graduate from their messy rep as the house of low-budget guilty pleasure regurgitations into Lionsgate territory.
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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) – Review

4 Stars

The fifth Spiderman movie in the last 12 years is actually the best since that original back in the summer of 2002. This absolutely smashing sequel does the seemingly impossible (or at least improbable) feat of besting all the other superhero movies of the year, rendering the previous film irrelevant, and creating genuine excitement for the oncoming third installment of this reboot trilogy. Excellent casting and unusually strong writing along with er…amazing direction from one-time indie darling Marc Webb, who has fully established himself as an exciting big budget helmer.
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Predators (2010) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

This reboot/sequel has been 23 years in the waiting and at times the lengthy window between movies helps the film feel fresher, but before too long redundancy and low-brow thinking nearly sink the project. The construction of this admittedly B-Movie is solid and the addition of Alan Silvestri’s original score helps the film tremendously. However, second and third act plotting run the story into the ground making the film alternately confusing and dull.
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Pure Danger (1996) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

C. Thomas Howell isn’t a name that is commonly referred to any more, but back in his heyday (the mid 1980s) the teen idol was a fairly large player on the scene. He wasn’t a full-fledged member of the Brat Pack but he was in The Outsiders, a film that featured a number of future movie stars. Yet while his brethren Cruise and Swayze went on to headline hits like Top Gun and Dirty Dancing, Howell made a series of forgettable films that started with the ill-fated Soul Man (which astonishingly grossed $59 million in adjusted dollars). Things went the way of Judd Nelson from that point on, which is not indicative of talent, just bad management.
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Brick Mansions (2014) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

I can’t really recommend Brick Mansions, but I must confess that it plastered a silly grin on my face for the duration of its brief running-time. This is a supremely simple action flick that serves as popcorn theater, with virtually zero plot and loads of well choreographed physical stunts. The ambition is so low for this American remake of Luc Besson’s District B-13 that the fact it is watchable is a victory in its own right.
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Non-Stop (2014) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

The very first shot in Non-Stop is a close-up of Liam Neeson’s grizzled face. The scene is captured in slow-motion, as he looks down at a bottle of whiskey, contemplates, then pours its contents into his morning coffee. His creased face winces with the pungent taste of the brew, the camera lingers on his unshaven face for another second before breaking to the desolate parking lot of an International Airport. In trying to decipher why Neeson has become the Steven Seagal of the new millennium, I can see now that the appeal may be in part because the actor isn’t a superhuman do goodie, a vitamin chomping, mystical preaching martial artist. Rather, he is an alcoholic withdrawn man of regret and missed opportunity awoken by the chance to prove himself worthy for perhaps the final time in his life.
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Unstoppable (2004) – Review

2 Stars

Wesley Snipes’ first foray into the world of straight-to-DVD is an un-magnanimous affair. It’s not fair to say this is Snipes’ first B-movie, most of his filmography could be considered such, but those movies had a style and technical proficiency that is for the most part missing. Nicely lensed by veteran cinematographer Ward Russell, Unstoppable looks great but is overly plodding for a movie with such a simple plot-line. The headliner looks bored and goes through the motions delivering a few kicks and punches while phoning-in the more dramatic parts of the anemic script.
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Firewalker (1986) – Review

1/2 Star

Firewalker is grade Z, bottom of the barrel trash from Cannon films and their top work-horse Chuck Norris. This flimsy ripoff apes Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Romancing the Stone, while lacking any charm or technical proficiency to match anything in those previously mentioned titles. Firewalker has more in common with King Soloman’s Mine, another Cannon films release which this film recycles sets from. The film was advertised as Norris’ first comedy although audiences will be hard pressed to find anything remotely amusing.
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Ulterior Motives (1993) – Review

2 Stars

Thomas Ian Griffith’s bid to overtake the mantle of 1990′s action-star/sex-symbol continues with Ulterior Motives, a private eye thriller with a bit of martial arts fighting thrown in for genre fans. The cover art on the DVD showcases Griffith in a Karate gi, holding a samurai sword in a battle posture. That leads potential viewers to believe that Motives is an action flick, in reality it’s a drama about industrial espionage and secret identities. Griffith is a pleasing screen presence, even if he’d rather talk it out with a bad guy instead of kicking him in the face.
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A View to a Kill (1985) – Review

2 Stars

A View to a Kill wheezes and lumbers through the motions, while trying to conceal the advanced age of its ‘action-hero’ star. By 1985 Roger Moore had claimed full title to the role, but he truly should have been replaced by Timothy Dalton at this point. Not that View would have been a good Bond installment with a younger lead, but at least it wouldn’t have been creaky and creepy. This swan song for Moore is a major letdown, since it is filled with beautiful women, a dastardly villain, and a worthy nemesis in May Day (Grace Jones).
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Cyber-Tracker 2 (1995) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson came up through the ranks of Roger Corman productions. Launched into the mix of Oliver Gruner, Thomas Ian Griffith and a host of other actor/athletes who producers and profiteers hoped would breakout and become the next Seagal or Van Damme type success. While Wilson was unquestionably gifted in the ring performing actual combat, his movies rarely lived up to his fighting prowess. Wilson became the ‘face’ of Corman’s martial arts series Bloodfist, and it’s rumored that since Wilson was still fighting, Corman actually once insured Don’s face for $10 million with Lloyd’s of London. Yet, it’s Wilson’s pictures under PM Entertainment that are the real treats in his spotty filmography.
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Rocky (1976) – Review

4 Stars

Rocky is a study of isolation and despair, love and triumph and many other facets of the human condition. That the film is wrapped in a Cinderella story of a down on his luck pugilist given a million to one shot at the Heavyweight title, and features one of the screen’s greatest characters of all time, is just icing on the proverbial cake. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a broke down fighter, past his prime and never much good anyhow, these days he works as a part-time leg-breaker/collector for a local mob figure. The problem is Rocky is too compassionate for the job, when he’s ordered to break a guy’s thumb for late payment, Balboa instead tells the man “he should have planned ahead”. He walks the cold and desolate Philadelphia streets alone, bouncing a rubber ball like an over-grown child and wearing a floppy fedora, that gives the character a Chaplin-esque quality.
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Rocky II (1979) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Rocky II is the most delicate entry in the long-running series. Set directly after the events in the first film, Balboa and his opponent Apollo Creed find themselves laid up in the same hospital for over-night observation. Unable to sleep and temporarily bound to a wheelchair, Rocky (Stallone) quietly opens the door to Creed’s room and asks the champ, “Did you give me your best?”. Small moments like these are sprinkled throughout the movie and it’s a richer experience for it. Stallone has taken over directing duties from OSCAR winner John G. Avildsen, and it is remarkable how consistent the two films are in tone and visual quality. The deserted Philly streets of the first picture, which were symbolic of the isolation and despair felt by its characters, have been replaced by a Philadelphia that feels lived in but alive. People on the streets recognize the slugger and with Balboa’s new-found popularity comes the responsibilities of public life.
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