So far, I’ve looked back at my favorite blockbuster and newer horror viewing experiences of the year, so now it’s time to talk about action flicks! In 2017, I discovered some underrated movies in this department, saw some way more well-known ones, dipped into a few new genres and even marathoned the films of a particular 80s and 90s action icon!
I’ve been a fan of Scott Adkins’ action flicks since I first saw Assassination Games back in 2012. The next year I was blown away by Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning, which is still one of the best action films I’ve ever seen. With that in mind, I’m pretty much watching every one of his movies that pop up on Netflix or Amazon Prime. As it happens, the Flix has a nice pair in Close Range and Hard Target 2!
I could have sworn that I’d seen Bloodsport before, but actually sitting down and watching the movie on Netflix felt like a new experience, so who knows? This movie, which was said to be based on a true story that turned out to be BS, is about a guy named Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who traveled to Hong Kong to compete in a secret underground fighting tournament called the Kumite. He’s there to honor his teacher, a man who started training him after he broke into his house as a kid (who was NOT a good actor BTW). Along the way, he makes friends with another competitor, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and gets with reporter Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) who wants to find out what this whole Kumite thing is all about. There’s also the requisite, over-the-top bad guy champ Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) who is basically Roger Rabbit with giant pecs and the ability to destroy dudes in the ring. Oh, there’s also a subplot about Frank ditching the US military so he can compete which results in two agents — one of which is Forrest Whitaker! — pointlessly chasing after him.
I can’t really say that this is a great movie, but it has good parts. The pacing and structure are super weird. The movie, directed by Newt Arnold, starts with a multi-person training montage that visually introduces many of the competitors and their fightingh styles before shifting over Frank breaking away from wherever he’s stationed (his bosses don’t want him to get killed, thus making the government’s investment in his training pointless) and then a prolonged flashback of him as a kid, his teacher and then him training as an adult as well. It takes FOREVER. And then he’s traveling and meeting Ogre from Revenge Of The Nerds and the pretty reporter lady and his mulleted guide.
Eventually we actually get to the fights and they’re pretty cool, but by this point I’m a little tired and these fights don’t hold up to the ones you see today. Hell, Arrow has faster, more intense scenes in many cases. I can contextualize all that given that this is still a pretty early example of a western fight film, so it went through so many of the conventions we’re used to (many of which are also in Kickboxer which I watched last week and will write about soon).
Bloodsport does greatly benefit from Bolo Yeung’s presence. This dude fought Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon and certainly has the chops, which is rad, but he also gives better crazy face and infant-like ring dance moves than anyone I’ve ever seen. His pecs are also insane. You could serve dinner off of them. Speaking of the cast, I really enjoyed Gibb as well, which is surprising considering I have a longstanding dislike of him from his Revenge Of The Nerd days (though he did win me over with his turn in the sequel). Even JCVD is pretty entertaining. He’s wooden at times, which is to be expected, but these were the days when he was actually super expressive and had softer features even than he had in movies like Hard Target or The Quest. In other words, dude might not act like a movie star, but he sure looked like one.
In addition to the fights, there are some interesting moments that made me smile. Frank makes strong bonds with relative strangers VERY quickly. He’s besties with Ray after playing a karate video game and falls hard in love with Janice almost immediately and would face a crazed killer for them in a heartbeat. He also gets into some ridiculous antics with the officers, like leading them on a wild goose chase through the city that looks like something out of a cheesy 80s comedy (and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of them). Still, if you can forgive the slow-ish-by-today’s-standards action scenes and some of the cornier elements, it’s a pretty fun martial arts movie from the 80s that helped launch JCVD’s career. Here are some of my favorite moments from the film.
As is the case with Kickboxer, there’s also a remake in the works, which is a pretty good call. We don’t have enough martial arts tournament films these days and the advancements in film making will allow for faster moves to be captured more fluidly. Here’s hoping, though, that they carry over some of the bonkers nature of this final fight into the new one!
One of the highlights of my podcast-listening week is seeing a new episode of How Did This Get Made pop up. I’m a huge fan of this show about wacky movies hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas. Sometimes I watch the movie before the episode goes live, sometimes I’m pretty familiar with them already and other times, I just go along for the ride and check it out later. In the past few weeks, I’ve actually watched a trio of films inspired by the podcast and figured I’d group them all together. I also just realized that these three movies feature three of my favorite action stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone in some of their most bonkers movies ever.
The gang covered the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sinbad holiday comedy Jingle All The Way on their first Christmas episode back in 2011. I watched this one a few weeks back, but thankfully took notes to help jog my memory. The movie finds workaholic dad Schwarzenegger going crazy trying to find an action figure for his son, played by future Anakin Skywalker Jake Lloyd. Sinbad moves in an out of the movie doing the same thing. Meanwhile, it seems like Phil Hartmann is moving in on Arnie’s wife Rita Wilson and this is all leading towards a huge holiday parade in what’s supposed to be a snow-covered town, but is clearly a side street in LA in the spring.
I thought I had this movie figured out for the first 20 minutes or so. That part is basically a movie for kids with over-the-top, cartoony style gags. Heck, there’s all kinds of talk in the first 10 minutes that set up the entire film (toy, parade, snow, etc.). Cool, I got it, let’s roll. And then things start getting weird and dark. The whole Hartman thing was pretty crazy, plus Sinbad is a nutso postal worker (remember when that was a thing?) who actually hands a cop a bomb that explodes! Luckily, he’s okay because he’s apparently facing off against the Road Runner. The whole thing culminates in a big parade where Arnie dresses up as the action figure hero and has a pretty epic fight with Sinbad. I feel like I could use the word “bonkers” to describe roughly everything in this movie. I wound up watching the end with my kid and I’m pretty sure she didn’t pick up on any of the insanity, so maybe you can get away with this one with a tyke if you have one. Maybe just cover their eyes when Arnie punches a reindeer in the face. That might be damaging.
Before moving on, if you’re looking for any kind of message, don’t. The obvious and seemingly intended point is that commercialism is not the point of Christmas, but that being with people is. And yet, the ENTIRE MOVIE is actually about commercialism, getting things, taking them away from other people and keeping them. You can’t just tack on a nice moment from Lloyd at the end and flip the whole script, you know? Ah well, moving on…
This spring, HDTGM covered one of the greatest bad video game movies around when they did Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen (who’s as wooden here as she is on S.H.I.E.L.D., zing!), Kylie Minogue and Miguel A. Núñez Jr. who was in both Return Of The Living Dead AND Friday The 13th: A New Beginning. I’ve probably only played a Street Fighter game for about an hour in my whole life and know next to nothing about the franchise, but it’s still clear from watching this movie that the writers didn’t really care about any of that as far as plot goes and instead decided to just shoehorn in nods to the games.
Basically, Julia plays a guy who wants to not so much rule the world, but his own country. JCVD isn’t down with that, especially after Julia captures one of his pals. Thankfully, JCVD leads some kind of UN-type military group that wears bright blue camouflage for no reason. I honestly can’t remember many of the details beyond that because every single character in this movie is lying about what they want or why they’re there. So many of them switch sides that you practically need a score card. Actually, that’s an overstatement as the good guys are clearly good and the bad guys, well, usually wear masks, hats or have crazy blades on their hands.
The funny thing about this movie is that, I was pretty sure I’d seen this back in my high school days or maybe when I lived with my buddy Rickey and we watched a ton of JCVD movies. When I went to Netflix to give it watch, I laughed because it asked if I wanted to watch again and the screen capture was of the end credits. Guys, I can’t stay away from a good-bad JCVD movie and this is one of the best-worst. If you do watch this movie, please do yourself a favor and listen to the episode. They point out so many awesome bits of craziness that I kind of want to listen to it again right now.
I realized yesterday that Netflix Instant is about to cut a ton of titles on January 1st. Turns out there are 25 of those soon-to-be-gone flicks in my queue so I figured I’d watch a few when I can. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot popped out from the batch because of one thing: How Did This Get Made (episode 61 to be exact). Since Lu had laid claim to the big TV, I actually broke out the Kindle Fire and watched that way which worked pretty well.
Sylvester Stallone plays a supercop in this one whose mom — Estelle Getty — comes for a visit only to witness a murder that she teams up with her son to solve. This movie is so all-over-the-place that it’s really hard to get a handle on. It starts off with a solid action scene which eventually leads into an airport scene where a group of stewardesses comment on his physique based on pictures — many of them baby pics — that Estelle showed them. One of them even says something about him being attractive in a diaper which is just so weird and gross that it’s hard to handle. In fact, there’s a lot of awkward sex jokes that leave you off balance.
Keeping you further off balance is a scene where Estelle — who is super annoying in that way that moms of this time were on TV and film — actually washes his gun with soap and water in the sink. Up to that point she was just overbearing, but at this point she’s dumb verging on insane. That gets compounded by the fact that she brought an entire suitcase of canned pineapple as well as another one with cleaning products. That’s obviously pre-intense airline security, but I’m fairly certain you can make something terrible with at least one of those cases.
Oh, I forgot to mention that his house is kind of crazy too. He’s got a ton of random stuff all over the place from a ceramic pumpkin and a rubber ducky to a bunch of board games and a tiny red gumball machine. And there’s a dream sequence where Stallone’s in a diaper. And Estelle Getty shoots a guy. And there’s a henchman thrown out a window. And, and, and. None of this is actually about story so much as the crazytown things thrown in to launch an admittedly silly plot over-the-top into bonkersville.
Again, do yourself the service of listening to this episode if you decided to watch the movie (or even if you don’t, it’s that good). They point out a lot of the elements I noticed but also so many more. And remember, while you’re watching this one, remind yourself that Stallone has an Oscar for writing.
The biggest new release in our arena is the disaster comedy This Is The End which finds hyper-real versions of Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, James Franco and Jonah Hill surviving the apocalypse.
John Cusack has been kind of slowly turning into Nicholas Cage over the past few years (see: The Raven), so it only makes sense that they’d appear in a movie together. In the thriller The Frozen Ground, Cusack’s a serial killer and Cage is trying to stop him. What more do you need to know?
Jean-Claude Van Damme fans will be happy to discover that two of his films are making their way to Blu-ray on the same set. Thanks to the Jean-Claude Van Damme Double Feature: The Order / Nowhere to Run you can watch both movies back to back without getting up from the couch.
We here at Explosions Are Rad hadn’t heard of the Chinese crime thriller Cold War before seeing it on Amazon this morning. But after seeing the trailer above, it’s certainly one we’re going to check out.
A pair of very different director’s cuts made their debut this week. Troy Duffy’s cut of The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day and Luc Besson’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec [Director’s Cut] now offer their more complete visions for their films.
1997 was a big year for fire-coming-out-of-the-ground movies. You had your Dante’s Peak and your Volcano. Whose side were you on? Well, either way, the Tommy Lee Jones starring Volcano is now available on Blu-ray.
We’ve only seen a handful of episodes of the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show on Nickelodoen, but it’s pretty darn cool. We’re thinking of catching up more with the latest DVD release Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ultimate Showdown.
If you’re looking to relive Tom Selleck’s 80s hey day all in one convenient box set then Magnum P.I.: The Complete Series might be right up your alley. The series lasted from 1980-1988 and consists of 42 discs.
Finally, Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel was pretty hilarious and you should watch it.
The biggest release of the week by far is Louis Letterier’s Now You See Me, the magic-themed heist flick starring Morgan Freeman, Common, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco.
How is it possible that a movie featuring Dwayne Johnson, Liam Hemsworth and Emma Roberts didn’t get a wide theatrical release as was the case with Empire State? Maybe it’s because, cool as the movie looks, Johnson just doesn’t fit in with the 70s period piece aesthetic of the film.
TV-wise, Person of Interest: Season Two, Revolution: The Complete First Season, Spartacus: War of the Damned – The Complete Third Season, Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete First Season and Sinbad: Season One are all available now.
WB has a 20th Anniversary The Fugitive Blu-ray to check out, but there aren’t any special features listed.
We haven’t seen Mulan: Rise of a Warrior, but seeing this movie for sale on Amazon lead us to the above trailer and now it’s definitely on our to-watch list.
Hey, Jean-Claude Van Damme fans both Hard Target and Sudden Death now have fancy new Blu-ray versions. Note that both of these are all regions import discs that come with zero special features, so they might not actually be very fancy.
You guys like multi-packs? We here at Explosions Are Rad LOVE them. As you might expect we’re all over 4 Film Favorites: The Matrix Collection (BD) [Blu-ray] (basically the same thing as the DVD version that’s been out for a while) and the Dusk Till Dawn Blu-Ray/DVD Combo pack which features the three movies as well as Full Tilt Boogie, a documentary shot during filming of Robert Rodriguez’s initial film.
We’re also interested in multipacks with less well known films like Echo Bridge’s 8-Film Fast Action [Blu-ray] which includes People I Know, Ordinary Decent Criminal, Malevolent, Albino Alligator, David Cronenberg’s Existenz, B. Monkey, Dolph Lundgren’s Men Of War and Sean Bean’s Bravo Two Zero.
Finally, if you just can’t get enough Sharknado on Syfy, you can now buy your own copy for repeated watching.
Variety reported yesterday that Relativity’s looking to bring 1988’s Bloodsport back to the big screen, this time with V For Vendetta director James McTeigue at the helm. The new version, which was written by Robert Mark Kamen (Taken, The Transporter), is said to “explore the life of 21st century mercenaries as they collide with the underground world of Brazilian Vale Tudo fighting.”
With McTeigue on board, the remake — which previously had Salt‘s Philp Noyce in the director’s chair — he’s going to work closely with Craig Rosenberg (After The Sunset) on a rewrite more in line with his vision. No casting announcements have been announced yet.
Meanwhile, Deadline posted a story that same day about Radar Pictures’ interest in revisiting the world of 1989’s Kickboxer. Hong Kong director Stephen Fung (Gen X Cops, Tai Chi Zero) has signed on to direct the project which is being written by Jim McGrath and Dimitri Logothetis.
Casting is currently underway. The original Kickboxer found Van Damme learning Muay Tai to avenge his brother. It’s currently unknown whether that same fighting style will be the focus of the remake or not, butere’s hoping Tony Jaa’s somewhere in the running!
I’ve watched a lot of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, to the point where I’ve given him his own category, something I’ll be doing for actors and actresses I find myself watching over and over again. While I’ve made my way through a good deal of his filmography, there are still plenty of movies I either haven’t seen or haven’t written about here on UM. Lionheart actually falls into both categories, so I was pretty excited when I saw it added to Netflix Instant recently.
This time around, JCVD’s brother gets in some trouble in the States. He tries to leave the French Foreign Legion by the books, but they’re jerks and don’t let him, so he kicks his way out. Once he gets to America he’s disheartened to learn the boat he’s on is going to New York and not California, where his brother lives. After wondering around awhile he finds his way to a street fight run by a guy named Joshua Eldridge (Harrison Page). JCVD wins handily and eventually decides to team up with Eldridge who knows where all the highest paid fights are. With each fight he wins, our hero gets a few dollars closer to being able to afford transport to LA.
Or at least that’s the set-up your given. You expect him to go through a series of fights across the country or something, but instead Eldridge sets up one fight for an uber-80s business lady who takes a liking to JCVD. Soon enough they’re in LA and doing awesome trying-on-clothes montages. But the goodness doesn’t last forever as Jean-Claude eventually has to throw down with a guy who’s considered one of the best around. Will he win? Well, yeah, of course he does. He’s gotta help his brother’s wife and kid after all.
As far as fight scenes go, these definitely aren’t some of JCVD’s best. It’s not really his fault though. You can see he’s got the moves, but it looks like his adversaries aren’t nearly as good as him. Also, the choreography and editing are a little iffy in the beginning. But, the street fights were all pretty convincing, so that’s a plus.
It’s interesting to note that JCVD has worked with writer/director Sheldon Lettich on several occasions. Lettich wrote JCVD’s breakout hit Bloodsport. He then wrote Rambo III and then got the chance to write and direct this film. Lerrich then went on to direct Van Damme again in The Order, but also wrote the scripts for Double Impact, Legionnaire and The Hard Corps (apparently he specializes in JCVD movies I haven’t reviewed). However, he also directed Dolph Lundgren in The Last Patrol (haven’t seen it, but want to) and the Marc Dacascos high school capoeira fight film Only The Strong which I have seen and even wrote about!
All in all I’d say this is a pretty good entry in the JCVD’s filmography. It’s kind of a small little story that pits him against some interesting characters along the lines. It’s not the ultra-slick fight film you might want, but it delivers on what it is. I also like the time capsule aspect. Even though this movie came out in 1990, it certainly feels like it shares the sentiment of Gordon Gecko 80s NYC.
I’m making my way through the Universal Soldier franchise in a very non-chronological way. After being completely blown away by the latest installment in the franchise, the amazing Day of Reckoning, I looked at the second film The Return which was just kind of whatever. I’ve been a little lax in getting to my Netflix discs lately, but I did my best to get to the 1992 original directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, White House Down) in a timely manner which meant it took me three or four days to get through. Again, it has nothing to do with the film and more my inability to stay up past 11:30PM anymore.
The film stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as Vietnam soldiers who killed each other only to be rejuvenated in modern times by the Universal Soldier program which is supposed to create ultimate killing machines from dead soldiers. JCVD’s going along alright until a reporter stumbles upon the truth behind the program and is about to get executed by Dolph. At that point, Jean-Claude remembers some of his protective past and runs off with the woman to rescue her. From there, it’s a series of chase and fight scenes as Dolph and the other UniSols are sent to get their brother in arms back. While watching the film, I realized it was a combination of RoboCop and the Terminator movies, but with guys who can actually fight.
This movie definitely delivers on the action promise you expect from looking at the above poster. You’ve got two of the greatest action actors of their day not only teaming up, but facing off. You’ve also got a pretty epic assault on the Hoover Dam, a bonkers truck chase and all kinds of cool looking sci-fi military tech. The movie’s packed with action fun and Emmerich did a pretty stellar job making a great looking movie for what was reportedly a fairly modest budget. On the acting side of things, both of the leads do a great job. JCVD does a pretty good job playing the conflicted solider while Dolph just jumps full-on into his role as the psychotic vet.
I watched the Blu-ray of this film and was impressed with how good it looked. As I mentioned, Emmerich did a great job the first time around and the LionsGate presentation looked pretty great. There were also a few special features that I checked out and really enjoyed, one is a small behind-the-scenes type featurette featuring JCVD, Dolph, Emmerich and his writing partner Dean Devlin. The real bonus jewel for me, though, was a piece where JCVD and Dolph each talk about how they came up in the business juxtaposed against each other. I realized I didn’t actually know anything about either actor, so it was an education, but it also proved something I’ve kind of half-known for a long time: Dolph Lundgren is one of the most fascinating action actors around and deserves a documentary about his life. Anyone working on that?
After being so impressed with Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning, I wanted to go back and check out the other movies in the Soldier franchise, just to remind myself of what had happened. I didn’t expect them to be as good as the latest installment, but I was curious to see what had been done in those other films and how the mythology had been handled. The first movie isn’t on Netflix Instant and neither is the third, but The Return was, so naturally, that became the next one I watched. Turns out it wasn’t terrible, but definitely has a very 90s vibe to it.
What was so 90s about it? Well, one of the central figures in the film is a computer called Seth (or more likely S.E.T.H., though I don’t feel like looking up the reason) who spends the first part of the movie existing as a cube in a ball at the end of some kind of robot construct. He basically looks like a Trapper Keeper from the same year, but sounds like Michael Jai White. There’s also a character named Squid who plays the hacker in the movie. He has blue hair, fancies himself some kind of cyber anarchist and makes every character in Hackers look GQ. Oh the 90s.
Anyway, the film follows Jean-Claude Van Damme’s character from the first film, Luc Deveraux. For some reason he’s not a UniSol anymore, though I don’t know if they every explain how or why. I remember almost nothing from my first viewing of that movie, so this was a curious development. He does hang out with and train UniSols, though, with a few pals. Everything’s going okay until one day — a day when a news crew is in the building, of course — SETH figures out that the program is going to be shut down. He then unleashes all of the Soldiers from the military’s command and sets them against Deveraux and company. The local General wants to just blow the building up, but Luc can’t allow that because, yup, you probably guessed it, Seth kidnapped his daughter. SPOILER WARNER, the following video is the final battle from the movie, so watch at your own discretion:
Hokey, contrived and over-used plot lines aside (what do you really expect from a 90s action movie?), I had a pretty good time with USTR. In his prime, Van Damme was one of the best action guys around, not the greatest actor in the world, but able to play concerned father while kicking ass at the same time. I was also impressed with both White and Bill Goldberg’s performances. Why didn’t either of these guys really hit in the film industry? They both cut imposing figures — Goldberg is like sculpted meat in this thing — and can handle themselves in a fight scene, so what happened there? Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a mostly fun action romp, give this movie a look, but don’t expect the greatness seen in Day Of Judgement which gets better and better in my memory the more “just alright” and downright-bad action movies I watch.
For me, JCVD’s movies are like potato chips or whiskey and sodas, I can’t have just one. While clicking through Netflix Instant I saw that Sudden Death had been added to the list of flicks. I have trouble remembering which of these movies is which and it doesn’t help when Netflix claims the film takes place in a baseball stadium (it’s a hockey game).
Van Damme stars as the difficult to kill Darren McCord, a firefighter in Pittsburgh who had some bad luck with a blaze. After that, he’s having a hard time of things and has taken a safer job as the fire marshall of the Civic Arena. Or something. There’s a lot of details in this movie that seem way too complicated, but we’ll get to that more in a bit. McCord takes his son and daughter to the last game of the Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks, game that the Vice President is also attending. Powers Boothe takes this opportunity to kidnap the VP and hold him for ransom. That’s the simple version. There’s more about unfreezing bank account numbers and setting the time table of the caper to the game itself, but all you really need to know is that Powers Boothe is the bad guy, something that becomes eminently clear the moment you look at this guy. Have you seen him on Nashville? He’s gotten more evil looking as he ages. I think he’d make Hannibal Lecter uncomfortable at this point.
Because he’s awesome and because his daughter gets dragged into things — what is it with JCVD’s kids movie getting involved with villains? — McCord has to face his fears and fight…ahem…fire with fire (ie violence with violence, sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). This leads to a series of fights with individuals in various parts of the arena including my personal favorite, one with a woman in the penguin mascot costume. It sounds goofy, but it actually makes sense given the plot.
What I really liked about this movie is that it took full advantage of the setting, one that you almost never see in films. Even the above penguin-lady fight is unique even though it takes place in a kitchen. I like that kind of ingenuity used in designing the fight scenes. There’s also a nice flow from confined to dangerously huge as not one but two battles take place on the dome of the Civic Arena. It’s nowhere near a perfect film because there are some goofy moments and the occasional bad effect (the showcase one at the end of the film looks 15 kinds of bad), but overall I had a really fun time with the movie and think you will too if you’re jonesing for some vintage Van Damme.