Film Review: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (complete title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1986
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W. D. Richter
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Suzee Pai, Chao-Li Chi, Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Lew

TAFT Entertainment Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Sooner or later I rub everybody the wrong way.” – Jack Burton

There are very few films I watched more than Big Trouble In Little China once it was out on VHS and I rented it to dub a copy. New release VHS tapes were like $99 back then and I was still way too young to get a real job.

Anyway, I fucking loved this movie when I was a kid and it was really my introduction to John Carpenter. His films before this one were all hard Rs and things like The Thing and Prince of Darkness would’ve given me nightmares for months. Yeah, I loved horror by this point but Carpenter’s hardest films were still way too hard for my 8 year-old brain.

I really loved this because of Kurt Russell. I can’t say that this was my introduction to him but this is probably the first film that made me know who he was.

Beyond Russell, I just loved the giant martial arts battle in the alley and found myself completely in love with this movie as soon as the three elemental dudes showed up along with the evil wizard Lo Pan. That whole sequence and its special effects blew my mind.

By this point, I’ve seen this movie dozens of times. However, it’s been at least five-to-ten years. I’ve felt the itch to revisit it for awhile now and I had to wedge it into my schedule.

I still love this movie. It’s action packed, has a great adventure, cool fantasy and horror shit, a very charismatic lead and it’s a hell of a lot more fun than anything Hollywood puts out today.

I actually enjoy Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton even more now. I think that’s because he’s heroic as hell but he really is this bumbling idiot that fucks up more than he actually does badass things. As a kid it was all just for a laugh but as an adult, I see that he wants to be that heroic guy but he gets in his own way. However, when it really comes to pulling off the big win, the dude succeeds and wins the day… and the girl. Well, until he gets in his own way again.

All the core characters in this movie are great from the heroes-to-the villains and even those with small one-scene roles are pretty memorable.

Back in the day, I loved all the monsters in this movie and seeing them all these years later, they’ve held up well. While Carpenter was working with a fairly decent budget on this movie, there were still limitations. In spite of that, the practical effects still look superb and the not-so-practical ones still pass the test.

Big Trouble In Little China is a movie that has a little bit of all the things I was into when it came out. While my tastes have evolved, these are still things I enjoy.

There are very few movies that are as fun as this one.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Escape from L.A. (1996)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. (complete title)
Release Date: August 9th, 1996
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Kurt Russell
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Shirley Walker
Cast: Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Pam Grier, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Peter Jason, Paul Bartel, Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Breckin Meyer, Robert Carradine, Shelly Desai, Leland Orser

Rysher Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Got a smoke?” – Snake Plissken, “The United States is a no-smoking nation. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. No women – unless of course you’re married. No guns, no foul language… no red meat.” – Malloy, “[sarcastic] Land of the free.” – Snake Plissken

Full disclosure, I hated this movie when it came out. And frankly, it’s still a fairly bad film for reasons I’ll get into in this review.

However, like other ’90s cringe, such as Batman & Robin, I’ve kind of accepted the movie for what it is and with that, there are things I like within it due to my evolved perspective.

But let me hammer on the negatives first.

To start, the film looks like shit. From the CGI, to digital matte paintings and other computer generated effects, this looks cheap, artificial and since 1996, has aged incredibly poorly.

The CGI effects were bad for the time even but since that technology advanced rather quickly, it all looks so much worse now. And this film is a great argument as to why practical special effects are better in a lot of ways, especially in regards to the era in which this was made.

John Carpenter has had amazing practical effects work in most of his movies before this one but I guess he had to embrace the emerging technology, despite it being a really poor choice for this picture, which should’ve been dark, gritty and real.

The film is also full of terrible dialogue for the most part. While I still love Snake and he has some solid one-liners, most of the movie’s dialogue is just shit. I think that the good actors in this also underperformed and I guess I’d have to blame Carpenter for that, as he was directing them and then accepting the takes he was getting.

Expanding on that point, though, it looks like the performers are clunkily acting off of nothing. It’s as if there was so much greenscreen work and strangely composited shots that the performances were just off and didn’t match up in the way they were supposed to. This issue could also be due to the fact that this greenscreen style of shooting was still pretty new when used this frequently in a single production.

Additionally, the story just wasn’t good or that engaging. Other than Snake, I didn’t care about any of the characters and while it was cool seeing Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Cliff Robertson and Bruce Campbell pop up in this, they were used too sparingly.

As far as positives go, I did find the makeup and prosthetics work to be really good. But this gets back to my point earlier about the overabundance of digital effects. When Carpenter and his effects team employed practical effects in this film, they looked solid.

Also, I really liked Snake in this, as previously stated, and he got some solid, badass Snake Plissken moments that we would’ve missed out on had this film never been made. As awfully hokey as the surfing scene was, we still got to see Snake “hang ten” with Peter Fonda and then jump onto an escaping car. It was an awfully crafted sequence in the movie but it’s also hard not to love it in spite of its very apparent issues.

In the end, I don’t hate this movie, as I once did. But I do have a hard time trying to get myself to watch it. Honestly, I only watched it this time to review it.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as other John Carpenter sci-fi movies.

Film Review: Double Dragon (1994)

Also known as: Double Dragon: The Movie (alternative title)
Release Date: November 4th, 1994
Directed by: James Yukich (as James Nickson)
Written by: Paul Dini, Neal Shusterman, Michael Davis, Peter Gould
Based on: Double Dragon by Technos Japan
Music by: Jay Ferguson, Tolga Katas
Cast: Robert Patrick, Mark Dacascos, Scott Wolf, Julia Nickson, Alyssa Milano, Leon Russom, Kristina Wagner, George Hamilton, Vanna White, Andy Dick, Cory Milano, Al Leong, Jeff Imada

Greenleaf Productions, Imperial Entertainment, Les Films du Scarabée, 96 Minutes

Review:

“I just want total domination of one major American City! Is that too much to ask for? Is it? Is it? Huh?” – Guisman

So out of all the “terrible” video game movies of the ’90s, this is one I hadn’t seen until now. While I loved the Double Dragon video game franchise, I never wanted to see this after the trailer for it dropped back in 1994. It looked horrendously bad, poorly adapted and like a hokey, steaming pile of shit.

That being said, I did enjoy the hell out of this even if it’s a pretty shitty movie. I know that I would’ve hated it when it was current, however. Especially, because I loved the tone of the Double Dragon games and in that regard, this didn’t just miss the mark, it wasn’t even aiming in the first place.

The film is bad from top-to-bottom but some of the big action sequences are actually kind of impressive in regards to how well this made the most of a moderate budget. It was able to give us a cool boat chase scene with good pyrotechnics and action. Plus, some of the sets, as corny as they are, were fairly large and well designed for the bizarre world that this film takes place in.

Sadly, the special effects took somewhat of a budgetary hit in the poor use of obvious matte paintings and the giant rubber suit the Abobo actor was forced to wear.

Additionally, the acting is pretty damn bad but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy how over-the-top and hammy Robert Patrick was in his role as the villain.

To put it bluntly, this is a bad movie but it’s weird as fuck. I really enjoy weird movies and because of that, I liked this. That doesn’t mean that I’ll ever watch it again or give it a positive rating but I’ve enjoyed other films that were far worse than this.

Granted, I would watch a RiffTrax version of this movie if one exists.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s video game film adaptations.

Film Review: Savage Beach (1989)

Release Date: October, 1989
Directed by: Andy Sidaris
Written by: Andy Sidaris
Music by: Gary Stockdale
Cast: Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, John Aprea, Bruce Penhall, Al Leong, James Lew, Andy Sedaris (uncredited)

Malibu Bay Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“The cancer clutches ever tighter at my heart.” – Admiral Kenji Inada

This is the fourth movie in the twelve film Triple B Series by director, Andy Sidaris. While I enjoyed the first three quite a bit, by this point, I feel like these movies are losing steam.

Savage Beach is just more of the same but it also lacks the energy and charming amusement that made the first three films so enjoyable.

Now I still like this picture for the most part but it has more working against it than for it and it’s the first movie in the series to feel that way to me.

This is simply a movie about taking scantily clad (and sometimes naked) hot chicks, giving them guns and giving them stuff to shoot at or blow up.

We’re reunited with the same female duo that has been featured in the previous two movies but without the film’s trailer pointing that out, I either wouldn’t have noticed or cared. These movies are full of so many generic Playmate types that they all just blend together in my brain.

Overall, this is lacking in action when compared to the earlier movies and it all seems a bit pointless.

If I’m being honest, as much as I like Malibu Express and Hard Ticket to Hawaii, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get through all twelve of these films when I’m only at the fourth one and it feels extremely derivative and kind of boring, even with boobs and explosions.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the other 11 films in the Triple B Series by Andy Sidaris, as well as the American films of Amir Shervan.

Documentary Review: In Search of the Last Action Heroes (2019)

Release Date: September, 2019
Directed by: Oliver Harper
Written by: Oliver Harper, Timon Singh
Music by: Peter Bruce
Cast: Scott Adkins, Shane Black, Ronny Cox, Steven E. de Souza, Bill Duke, Sam Firstenberg, Jenette Goldstein, Matthias Hues, Al Leong, Mark L. Lester, Sheldon Lettich, Zak Penn, Phillip Rhee, Eric Roberts, Cynthia Rothrock, Paul Verhoeven, Vernon Wells, Michael Jai White, Alex Winter, Graham Yost, various

140 Minutes

Review:

When this popped up on Prime Video, I got pretty excited. Especially, because I had just watched Henchman: The Al Leong Story and felt that ’80s action flicks needed more documentary love.

Overall, this was enjoyable and it covered a lot of ground but it also had a beefy running time. However, I felt like they jumped from movie-to-movie too quickly and nothing was really discussed in depth.

Still, this gives the viewer a good idea of how broad, vast and popular the action genre was through the ’80s and into the first half of the ’90s.

I guess the thing that I liked best was that this interviewed a lot of people that were involved in the making of these iconic films. You had actors, directors, writers and stuntmen all taking about their craft and their love for a genre that hasn’t been the same since its peak, a few decades ago.

Now this was a crowdfunded project and with that, you can only do so much. But I wish that some distributor or streaming service saw this and decided to make it much broader like a television series where episodes can focus on specific films or at the very least, spend more time on each era or topic.

Maybe someone will see this, take the bull by the horns and actually do that at some point. But this could be a solid pop culture documentary series like Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us.

For those who love the action flicks of this era, this is certainly worth checking out. Had I known about it when it was raising funds, I would’ve backed it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent historical filmmaking documentaries, most notably Henchman: The Al Leong Story and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

Documentary Review: Henchman: The Al Leong Story (2018)

Release Date: December 15th, 2018
Directed by: Vito Trabucco 
Music by: DJ Disco T.
Cast: Al Leong, John Carpenter, Jeff Imada, Dave Callaham, James Lew

Yinzer Enterprises, 110 Minutes

Review:

Growing up in the ’80s, I saw Al Leong everywhere. I didn’t know who he was; all I knew was that he’s a really unique looking dude that would show up as a henchman to the villain in just about every iconic ’80s action flick.

As I got older, I learned more about him but still, most people just saw him as that dude that popped up all over the place, who eventually got killed after doing some badass shit.

So I’m glad that this documentary was made, as the guy deserves to be showcased and to have his story told to all the fans who have appreciated him over the last four decades.

Leong’s story is much deeper and richer than I had expected and it was fantastic getting to hear him talk about his life in his own words.

We also get to see his colleagues discuss him and his career. It’s really cool seeing John Carpenter talk about Leong and why he used him in his films so often.

Overall, this isn’t a great documentary but it will satisfy fans of the guy’s work or just those who remember seeing him everywhere.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about character actors and filmmaking in the ’80s.

Film Review: I Come In Peace (1990)

Also known as: Dark Angel (original title), Lethal Contact (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1990 (South Korea)
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley
Written by: Jonathan Tydor, David Koepp
Music by: Jan Hammer
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues, Jay Bilas, Michael J. Pollard, Al Leong, Sherman Howard

Vision PDG, Epic Productions, Trans World Entertainment, Triumph Releasing Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Either you’re Santa Claus or you’re dead, pal.” – Jack Caine

At least this movie isn’t as bad as its poster.

That’s not to say that this is a good film by any stretch of the imagination but I enjoyed it for what it was, a pretty mindless, hard-edged action flick starring Dolph Lundgren at the height of his earlier career.

The story follows a badass, no nonsense, “fuck playing by the book”, ’80s movie cop. He discovers that an alien drug dealer has arrived on Earth and is killing people to steal endorphins from their brains, as that’s a powerful narcotic on his home planet. He uses some snake-like tendril that shoots out of his wrist and sucks the endorphin juice out of humans like a crazy straw.

The alien has a goofy weapon that is basically a CD disc what flies around, slitting throats and chopping off body parts. He also has a pretty badass gun that looks like a fairly normal pistol but it fires more like an attack from an Apache helicopter. It’s absolutely ridiculous but it definitely gives this film a few extra badass points.

Let’s not talk about the acting, the direction or the paper thin plot that makes you suspend disbelief at record levels. The quality of those things are exactly what one would expect from a cheesy sci-fi action flick from this era.

I like the tone and the visual style of the movie. It’s certainly derivative of the other schlock-y goodness one can compare this film to but it utilizes these things much better than average and setting it in Houston, as opposed to L.A., New York or Chicago, was a nice touch that gave the viewer something cool to look at, as far as the background environments.

Honestly, this isn’t a motion picture that I’d really recommend to anyone, other than those that really like the combination of the action and sci-fi genres from a time when action films were still unapologetic, balls out bonanzas. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dolph Lundgren action pictures of the era, as well as other R-rated sci-fi action flicks.

Film Review: Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

Release Date: May 25th, 1994
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: characters by Danilo Bach, Daniel Petrie Jr.
Music by: Nile Rodgers
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Hector Elizando, Theresa Randle, Timothy Carhart, John Saxon, Alan Young, Gilbert R. Hill, Bronson Pinchot, Stephen McHattie, Michael Bowen, Al Leong (uncredited), Al Green (cameo), George Lucas (cameo), Joe Dante (cameo), Ray Harryhausen (cameo), John Singleton (cameo)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[his last words] Axel, you on a coffee break? Go get that son of a bitch.” – Inspector Todd

The words “they waited too long” definitely apply to what was Beverly Hills Cop III.

This was one hell of a dud that lost many of the key players and only brought back Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Gil Hill… just so they could kill him in the opening sequence, and Bronson Pinchot, who only appeared in the first movie in two very minor scenes.

Additionally, this closing chapter in the franchise was mostly devoid of any real humor, as Eddie Murphy barely told any jokes, barely did his signature laugh and kind of just zombie walked through his scenes giving one of the flattest performances of his career.

In fact, his scenes with Bronson Pinchot actually show how dry Murphy is in this, as Pinchot steals the scenes right out from under him.

Judge Reinhold was made to look like a total doofus and they ignored what was established with his character in the previous film, which saw him open up and reveal that he was a gun nut similar to Eugene Tackleberry from the Police Academy movies. Here, he just carries a tiny pistol, looks the opposite of badass and pretty much just acts like a total dope.

Being that this was directed by John Landis is absolutely baffling. Landis is a top notch director that made several classics over the course of a decade and a half before this movie. I’m not sure if the script ended up getting butchered or if a lot was left on the cutting room floor but this is, hands down, one of the worst things Landis has ever had attached to his name.

Harold Faltermeyer didn’t return to score this film and man, it really shows. The score is generic as fuck and the famous Axl Foley theme is reworked and completely destroyed by brass instruments, completely taking away from the funky synth grooves that we got in the first two pictures.

In fact, when the brass gets real heavy in the score, it almost sounds like its trying to emulate a James Bond movie. I guess that’s fitting as Bronson Pinchot essentially plays a ripoff of Q and Axl Foley has a bunch of weird gadgets to use ala Bond.

I think that the franchise should’ve just ended with two. This proves that it’s really, really hard to catch lightning in a bottle for a third time.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Beverly Hills Cop movies, as well as the 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon films.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

Also known as: Lethal 4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 7th, 1998 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Channing Gibson, Jonathan Lemkin, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Kim Chan, Calvin Jung, Eddy Ko, Conan Lee, Richard Riehle, François Chau, Jeff Imada, Al Leong (uncredited)

Donner/Shuler Productions, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

Well, I’ve reached the end of my Lethal Weapon reviews. From memory, I thought that the third one was my least favorite but having re-watched them all now, so close together, I’d say that this is the worst.

That being said, I still like Lethal Weapon 4 a lot.

I think that the problem with this one is that we get to check in with characters we’ve grown to love but the Murtaugh-Riggs Family has grown so much that the dynamic between the core characters is kind of watered down and subtracted away from, due to the additions of so many new faces.

This does setup a really sweet ending for the final scene in this, the final film (for now), but the core dynamic worked best when it was just Riggs, Murtaugh and sometimes Getz, when you needed to throw in some comic relief.

Moving past that, I think that this film also suffers from the same thing that the third one did, it lacks the chutzpah of the first two films. Those movies were written by Shane Black, at the top of his game, and even though he is still credited for creating these characters, these last two films don’t have the same girt or energy as their predecessors.

Now Lethal Weapon 4 still boasts some stupendous action sequences. It’s certainly not lacking in that regard, I’m grateful that it still brought the fire and frankly, Richard Donner just knows how to shoot and present action better than most directors.

After analyzing the four films in this series with a sharper eye than I’ve given them, previously, I can see that Donner has a certain style in regards to action. Everything just looks organic and real and it’s edited to maintain a quick, flowing pace but not so quick that it becomes choppy and disorienting like modern action films. In fact, a lot of modern directors should take notes from these pictures.

Speaking of action, I really enjoyed the opening of this film. It’s the second best opener in the series, after Lethal Weapon 2, and it really gets things moving and off to a bang. However, the sequence that immediately follows with the Chinese boat, stifles the momentum.

Additionally, there are too many things that happen within the plot that just seem way too convenient to be real. This was a problem that started in the third film but it’s much more apparent here.

As far as the plot, it’s okay. It’s definitely a bigger scheme on par with the first two movies but it’s not that interesting. I guess it works to shed light on the fact that some Chinese are treated like modern slaves in an effort to buy their way into the United States but it’s presented pretty heavy handedly and also quite cheesily.

There are two saving graces in this film that keep it from sinking too far down in the muck. The first is the great action, which I already mentioned, and the second is the characters. The camaraderie is generally really solid and this movie does generate some real feels, especially towards the end in a scene with Riggs and Getz and then the big finale at the hospital, where two babies are born, expanding the family even more.

In the end, this is a “feel good” movie in how it closes things out for these characters. You kind of hope that you’d get to see them again but for now, this is the conclusion of the series. Granted, the television reboot did fairly well and stayed on TV for three seasons but that version of the characters is different. However, due to the show’s popularity, they have been talking about a Lethal Weapon 5 for the first time in years. So, maybe, just maybe… this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the real Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

Film Review: They Live (1988)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s They Live (complete title)
Release Date: November 4th, 1988
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage)
Based on: Eight O’Clock In the Morning by Ray Nelson
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, Raymond St. Jacques, Peter Jason, Sy Richardson, Susan Blanchard, Norman Alden, Jason Robards III, Jeff Imada, John Carpenter (voice – uncredited), Al Leong (uncredited)

Alive Films, Larry Franco Productions, Universal Pictures, Carolco Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” – Nada

I remember wanting to see this in the theater so damn badly but no one would take me because I was nine years-old and my family was being really lame about it. To make up for that, I rented the hell out of this when my local video store got their copies in. In fact, I eventually dubbed a copy because that was the benefit of having two VCRs in the ’80s and ’90s. I think I still have it buried in one of my many boxes of old VHS tapes that I haven’t been able to play for fifteen years.

Anyway, They Live is a spectacular film.

While it’s not John Carpenter’s best, it’s pretty high up on the list and it is my favorite film to star wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Considering that this also has Keith David in it, there’s almost too much testosterone and gravitas that I don’t know how the celluloid didn’t melt from the masculine heat.

The story is pretty simple: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper shows up in town, tries to earn some honest money and work towards the American dream but soon finds out that the world is completely fucked because it’s been taken over by aliens hiding in plain sight. How does he discover this truth? With special sunglasses. Seriously, what the fuck is there not to like about this picture?

Also, this has, hands down, the greatest one-on-one brawl in the entire history of Western cinema. A fight so epic and so perfect that its choreography was stolen for the infamous “Cripple Fight” episode of South Park.

The film also features Meg Foster and her eyes that can melt steel, Buck Flower playing not just a hobo, Carpenter regular Peter Jason, as well as blaxploitation veteran Raymond St. Jacques, the cool Sy Richardson and an uncredited bit part for the greatest motion picture henchman of all-time, Al Leong.

As is usually the case with most Carpenter films, this one benefits greatly from his score. It’s brooding, sets the perfect tone and just has the right kind of vibe to enchant your mind and pull you into this cool and crazy film.

I also like the physical atmosphere in general and how Carpenter used daytime and nighttime as a sort of narrative tool, drawing allusions to the seen world and the unseen world in this story. I also liked how the special sunglasses displayed reality in black and white while the visible world was in full color. I’m not sure if that was decided upon in the initial draft of this story or if it was a convenience in pulling off certain effects that still worked and added another layer of duality.

They Live is just solid, all around. It’s one of those movies I can watch anytime and it’s just cool as hell.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other John Carpenter films of the ’80s.