My New Favorite Thing: Italian Action Films

1990-bronx-warriors-ridersIt all started at a New Year’s Day party this year. We packed up the kids and headed down, with everyone having a great time. There, on the wall I saw the poster to a film I’d heard about, but never fully watched: 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Soon after, I started looking around on Amazon Prime and found that both that film and its sequel Escape From The Bronx were on there along with The New Barbarians.

I added all three and watching the first one lead me down a tour of Italian cinema from the 70s and 80s that has encompassed sci-fi, action, adventure, crime, mafia and the awesomely bizarre. Even with the less than easy to follow plots, bad dubbing and frameworks that feel very similar to more famous American films, I love how these writers, directors, actors and everyone else just went for it. The key here is that, even though the springboards feel familiar, the dives are completely different making for a group of films awesomely enjoyable in their own ways. Continue reading My New Favorite Thing: Italian Action Films

Classic Comic Double Feature: The Rocketeer (1991) & Dick Tracy (1990)

rocketeer posterA few weekends back we found ourselves in the enviable position of experiencing a light snowfall without much else to do so we decided to scroll through our On Demand options for a family movie. As it turns out we have free Showtime for a bit and The Rocketeer was on there, so we decided to give it a watch.

I don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theaters when it came out, but we did subscribe to Disney Channel back then (long before it was free) so I remember seeing a lot about it and probably caught it on TV.

Set in 1938, it’s about a stunt pilot named Cliff who discovers a rocket pack in his plane, designs a costume and helmet and fights bad guys including local mobsters (lead by Pau Sorvino) and movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) all while trying to keep things going with his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelley).

Directed by Joe Johnston who went on to eventually helm Captain America: The First Avenger, the movie not only works as an action-packed superhero film, but also a fun period piece that references a number of classic actors, actresses and other historical figures from the era (including Lost star Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes!). Add to that that real-life elements like potential Hollywood stars working with the Nazis and mobsters refusing to do the same and you have a great film that holds up really well aside from a few clunky special effects scenes here and there.

As a kid, I had no idea who the Rocketeer was before the film hit, but now I know that it was an indie comic book created by Dave Stevens in the 80s during that boom. However, I never got around to reading the actual comics until last year when I got my hands on the IDW-published reprint of Stevens’ entire run, though I was more interested in the pictures. You really don’t need to read the words because the art is just so crisp, clear and expressive. Plus, the colors in that book are just amazing. I don’t know how they compare to the original, but imagine they’re much better given IDW’s reputation for doing super high quality reprints and today’s far better printing techniques.

Dick-Tracy-PosterWhile scrolling through the options to get to The Rocketeer, I also saw Dick Tracy as an option. I LOVED this movie as a kid and realized that, given the obvious similarities, it would make for an excellent double feature mate with Rocketeer.

Based on the classic comic strip created by Chester Gould in the 1930s, Dick Tracy was directed by and starred Warren Beatty as the yellow-clad copper. He’s joined by Charlie Kormo’s The Kid, Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney, Al Pacino’s Big Boy and a variety of others as Tracy attempts to bring the mob boss down while keeping his relationship with Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) together and figuring out what to do with his new ward.

The beauty of this movie is that Beatty went full boat when it came to recreating the look and feel of the comic strips on the big screen. The suits and cars are all wildly colorful, matte paintings give the world an ethereal feel and the bag guy make-up brings characters like Little Face, Flat Top and Pruneface fully to life. Add in the idea of a kid trying to constantly get in on grown-up cop action, the pseudo love triangle with Breathless and the mystery of No Face and you’ve got a super fun and compelling movie that doesn’t get enough kudos from the comic-loving crowd.

As I mentioned, I was a huge fan of this flick when it came out. I definitely remember seeing it in the theater and as scenes appeared on my TV I remembered them from that viewing experience as well as moments captured by the trading card set. That feeling has lingered to this day when I basically want an Apple Watch just so I can feel like Dick Tracy (anyone else remember the wrist watch walkie talkies they sold?).

My four year old daughter slept through most of the first film and was looking at Disney princess dresses during the second, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend these for kids her age. Given the presence of mobsters, shooting, concrete and Madonna’s crazy dresses, it might not be appropriate.

That reminds me. I’m not a fan of Madonna’s outside of this movie and A League Of Their Own, but man, she just KILLS it in this movie. I’m sure I was dazzled by her sheer dresses as a kid, but this time around I really found myself feeling bad for her when she was ever so desperately trying to convince Dick Tracy to love her. Her character adds an interesting intensity to this film that just adds to the overall unique nature of a project that could have easily become what all the terrible late 90s comic book movies turned into: exaggerated cartoons with no concept of what made the source material work.

So, while these might not be the best movies to show a couple of kids (like we did), they are a ton of fun and act as a kind of vanguard for quality comic-based films that would come a decade or so later.

Rat Pack Theater: Sergeants 3 (1962)

Unlike say, Salt & Pepper or Murderer’s Row, Sergeants 3 is a full-on Rat Pack movie because all five remembers actually appear in it. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford make up the main leads, but Joey Bishop’s also there too. I think Ocean’s 11 is the only other movie that boasts the full roster. Anyway, this one’s apparently a remake of Gunga Din, though it might not have been intended as such. Hollywood legend (and the IMDb Trivia Page for the flick) says that the filmmakers had to pay out a bunch of money towards the makers of GD in order to get S3 released. Whether it was an out-ripe rip-off or a series of honest mistakes I have no idea because 1. I wasn’t there and 2. I haven’t seen GD yet (it’s sitting in my to watch pile from Netflix).

So, here’s the basic plot as far as I could follow: Sinatra, Martin, Lawford and Bishop are all in the Cavalry out west. They’re a rambunctious group who loves carousing, drinking and fighting, but they’re also apparently pretty damn good at their jobs which include trying to find a bunch of murderous Indians called Ghost Dancers. Meanwhile, Lawford wants to get out of the service so he can get married and Davis–a freed slave–wants to join up and kind of tags along, helping where he can here and there.

I’ll be honest, the plot seems a little overcomplicated and I didn’t quite catch everything. The Sergeants 3 spend so much time not chasing down the Ghost Dancers, that you almost forget that’s the point of the movie. I’ll also say, some of the editing is crap, but I think that comes from the well known fact that Sinatra would only ever do one take of anything, which results in some off-looking fight scenes.

However, as a Rat Pack fan, this film is fantastic. Dean plays the charming drunk as a cowboy really well and does one of my favorite gags in the movie involving shooting Roman candles at the invaders which Lawford accidentally replaces with dynamite. Frank is basically Frank, being the tough guy leader, Lawford brings some legitimacy to the proceedings with his acting skills and Bishop (who I’m not sure if I could pick out of a line-up) does well as the straight man but Davis really shines in this flick. This guy was SO talented. The movie might feel a little uneven with its mix of seriousness and cartoony action (the aforementioned dynamite scene), but Davis always feels genuine and real. I even got a little choked up when he got what he wanted throughout the whole movie at the end.

So, in the end Sergeants 3 isn’t the greatest movie ever made. It’s got crazy mood swings and feels like what it is: a movie made by a bunch of friends so they could make a movie and hang out, but even with all that, I love seeing these guys on screen together. And, for what it’s worth, the movie looks amazing. They shot out in Utah and man, that desert and mountains look amazing on film even all these years later. I bet this thing would benefit from a Blu-ray transfer.

Chuck Norris Double Feature: The Octagon (1980) & Code Of Silence (1985)

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Hope everyone had a great Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.

I’ve got to be honest, the last thing I saw Chuck Norris in was a series Karate Kommandoes clips I was watching on YouTube a few months ago. Before that it would be Dodge Ball (great cameo), then Walker Texas Ranger episodes and before that, Sidekicks. So, I don’t really have a lot of experience with his more action-oriented flicks. I’ve got to say, I’m none too impressed with my double feature of The Octagon and Code of Silence. So, here goes

Let me start by telling you all that it took me FOUR DAYS TO WATCH THIS MOVIE. Which is to say that it’s not the most thrilling of films. It’s also close to incoherent as you’re never really sure who Chuck’s character really is. He seems to be a law enforcement agent of some kind, but, as far as I can remember, it’s never directly stated what kind. From there we get all kinds of ninja attacks (did American audiences not know what ninjas were pre-1980?) that look close to slow motion and Chuck talking to himself in this weird, annoying echoy internal monologue.

This really is a lame movie. Please don’t watch it unless you’re in a room full of your friends with a few dozen beers each. In that case, it would be a grand viewing experience, otherwise, it might take you four days to watch it. That’s about 20 minutes a night I’ll never get back, sigh…

code of silence posterLuckily, Code of Silence was much better, though not really all that good in and of itself. It’s good in the sense that it’s a crazy, 80s action movie with a remote control tank of sorts as back up! The basic idea is that Chuck’s a good cop who doesn’t like how all the other cops are covering for this old cop who shot a kid in cold blood. His friend’s kid also gets kidnapped, so Chuck’s going after her, but he can’t get any help from his fellow officers. So, he’s got to go after the bad guys on his own (with the aforementioned tank-thing). There’s a pretty cool scene where Chuck holds his own in a bar full of attackers until a dude throws a pool ball at the back of his head. There’s not much past that as far as the martial arts go, but the last scene with Chuck and the tank going after the bad guys is classic 80s action (what more would you expect from the guy who directed Above the Law, Under Siege¬†and The Fugitive). COS is way better than Octagon, though it’s nowhere near the martial arts extravaganza I was hoping for. Also, in the plus column is that Dennis Farina co-stars as a wounded cop (love that guy).

Well, there’s not much else to say about these movies. Neither is awesome, even by action movie standards. I was pretty shocked by how slow the fight scenes in Octagon felt. I mean, I didn’t expect him to be kneeing people in the face Tony Jaa-style, but even the penultimate fight between him and the masked ninja felt more like a fight from Double Dragon for the NES than one featuring Bruce Lee’s sparring partner. Well, at least I didn’t buy these movies and I can always watch Chuch fight Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (it’s Way of the Dragon) yeah, that’s what I meant (then why did you say Enter the Dragon?).