Film Review: Alien From L.A. (1988)

Also known as: Wanda, Odeon (alternative TV titles)
Release Date: February 26th, 1988
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Regina Davis, Albert Pyun, Debra Ricci
Music by: Jim Andron, Simon LeGassick, Anthony Riparetti, James Saad
Cast: Kathy Ireland, William R. Moses, Richard Haines, Don Michael Paul, Thom Mathews, Deep Roy

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Bitchin’ left hook, Crassus!” – Wanda Saknussemm

Albert Pyun directed a lot of schlock but he directed a lot of wonderful schlock like The Sword and the Sorcerer (his debut), Cyborg, Captain America (1990), Kickboxer 2, Arcade and a slew of others. While his films won’t resonate with most audiences, schlock lovers would probably bask in Pyun’s schlock-y glory.

Alien From L.A. is a special film, though, even for Pyun. It’s a vanity project for Kathy Ireland. She had no real experience acting but she was at the height of her modeling career, was the top Sports Illustrated swimsuit model of the time and the movie was probably greenlit just so Cannon Films’ top dogs Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus could meet one of the hottest women on the planet.

The story is about an L.A. girl that goes to Africa, after she gets a letter saying that her father died from falling into a bottomless pit. She goes to the site of his fall and falls into the pit as well. However, it isn’t bottomless and what we get is an extremely loose adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth. So Kathy Ireland, in this situation, is actually the alien to a subterranean society – so I guess the weird title makes some sense.

While the acting is terrible and the script is even worse, the film isn’t all bad but as stated earlier, you’ve got to have a palate for schlock and in this case, overly cheesy schlock.

Kathy Ireland is certainly likable, for the most part. However, her soft cutesy voice can get grating at times and I’m not sure why they had her talk like this the whole movie. I think they thought it would make her less attractive, just like they thought her glasses, until they were destroyed, would make her an ugly nerd. No, it’s Kathy f’n Ireland in her prime, nothing is going to make her unattractive.

Ultimately, this is a film that would have withered away and been forgotten years ago. However, it was immortalized after being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. At the time, it was fairly current and cool to see on the show because of how modern it was when compared to the Roger Corman, Bert I. Gordon and Coleman Francis movies that played much more frequently.

While I love Cannon Films, this doesn’t fit with their branding, as they were mostly known for their over the top ’80s action films that starred two guys named Chuck, one named Jean-Claude, a Dudikoff, a Kosugi and an infinite supply of ninjas and bullets.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s celebrity vanity movies and it’s sequel 1989’s version of Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Film Review: The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)

Release Date: April 30th, 1982
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Albert Pyun, Tom Karnowski, John V. Stuckmeyer
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Lee Horsley, Kathleen Beller, Simon MacCorkindale, George Maharis, Richard Lynch

Sorcerer Productions, Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd., 100 Minutes

Review:

“I will allow you to live as long as you serve me. Betray me, and I will joyfully send you back to rot in hell.” – Titus Cromwell

This was the first feature film directed by Albert Pyun, who would go on to direct such hits as CyborgCaptain AmericaKickboxer 2Kickboxer 4 and Arcade. Okay, I’m being sarcastic. I figured I’d have to point that out, as people’s sarcasm detectors don’t seem to work as well these days.

Anyway, this is a sword and sorcery movie that came out at the height of sword and sorcery movies.

That being said, this can’t compete with films like Conan the Barbarian or The Beastmaster but it has some impressive stuff in it.

First off, the bad guy is cool as hell and the opening scene that sees him come to life was well crafted for a motion picture with no budget. The walls of the pit he was in were made up of faces and it was just creepy as hell and looked damn good. Also, I liked the look of the bad guy in his true form and there’s this really cool bit where he rips a witch’s heart out of her chest, pulling it into his fist with telekinesis.

Also, the hero has a three bladed sword. That may seem impractical and silly but it actually shoots it’s blades like the friggin’ sword from The Legend of Zelda. Granted, they’re actual blades and not some sort of energy projection but it’s a neat idea and it works for what this film is, an imaginative but kind of hokey, violent fantasy film.

There is no one of note in the movie and with that, the acting is definitely subpar. But it’s not so terrible that you feel the need to laugh at it.

The biggest problem with the film is that it has a lot of slower, filler moments and those get quite boring. The highpoints are solid and fun but there isn’t enough of them to make this a better than average film.

People may see this and think it’s terrible and I can’t argue that it’s not. But if you pay attention to the little things that add a level of real sword and sorcery coolness to this picture, it’s an enjoyable experience for fans of the genre. The good parts are much better than the bad parts are bad. I just wish it had more of the good bits.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery films of the early ’80s.

Film Review: Captain America (1990)

Release Date: December 14th, 1990 (UK)
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Stephen Tolkin, Lawrence Block
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Barry Goldberg
Cast: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Scott Paulin, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, Francesca Neri, Michael Nouri

21st Century Film Corporation, Marvel Enterprises, Jadran Film, 97 Minutes, 124 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Assassination isn’t worth the trouble. It took me two years to find Sirhan. Three to find Oswald. The King job alone cost me over twenty million dollars. What do we get for our pains? Saints. Martyrs to the cause.” – Red Skull

Somehow this attracted the talents of Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Darren McGavin. Although, I’m not sure why. There couldn’t have been much money for them to make and had they read the script, they probably would have ran away. I mean, I can only assume that they didn’t read the script.

This movie has a terrible reputation and it is very apparent pretty much immediately, as to why. At the same time, it’s not that bad and is almost enjoyable for its cheesiness and its lighthearted, playful nature.

It is very clear that Marvel had no idea on how to make movies with their characters at this point in history. Granted, it’s not Marvel’s fault, as they didn’t have the control they have in modern times and they were just selling off the film rights to their key characters in an effort to stay financially afloat. But this was produced by one half of the duo behind Cannon Films and yet it didn’t even come close to matching their action pictures in quality, gravitas or fun.

Matt Salinger looked the part for Captain America but he wasn’t qualified for the role. Really, no one in the cast was qualified to do anything other than the three actors I mentioned in this review’s first sentence.

Red Skull at least looked cool when he was actually Red Skull. However, for the majority of the movie, he is just a scarred up looking Italian mobster guy. This film also has his daughter, known as Sin in the comics, but she is a poor version of the character that doesn’t amount to much.

The story is hard to follow but mostly just because it’s boring and paying attention is hard to do with this movie, as I’d rather mindlessly scroll social media feeds on my smart phone than try to stay locked on this picture.

I can’t say that this is as bad as Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four movie from 1994 but this makes the 1989 Punisher movie look like the 2004 Punisher movie.

This isn’t a film worth watching unless you enjoy torturing yourself or you love Captain America so much that you’ve tattooed his entire costume under your street clothes.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other terrible early Marvel films like 1994’s Fantastic Four and 1989’s The Punisher but at least that one was much better than this. Also, the ’70s Captain America live action stuff and The Incredible Hulk TV movies.

Film Review: Arcade (1993)

Also known as: Arcatron (Spain), Cyber World (Germany)
Release Date: July 20th, 1993 (Germany)
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: David S. Goyer, Charles Band
Music by: Alan Howarth, Tony Riparetti
Cast: Megan Ward, Peter Billingsley, John de Lancie, Sharon Farrell, Seth Green, A.J. Langer, Bryan Dattilo

Full Moon Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Games like Arcade go beyond interaction. I’m telling you, man, Virtual Reality is the way of the future!” – Nick

Arcade is a movie about a video game machine called “Arcade”, which is confusing, as the place where video game machines are held is called an “arcade”. Did the makers of the game not have any creativity? Well, if you actually see their game in this movie, the answer is definitely “yes.”

This movie is terrible in the way that sitting in the waiting area of a pediatric doctor’s office in a room full of fussy sick kids with millennial parents handing them iPads is terrible.

This actually has some known people in it. John de Lancie, Q from Star Trek, actually plays a sort of sinister corporate asshole that runs the company that manufactured this killer arcade game. Then you have Megan Ward, most notably from Encino Man, Seth Green, A.J. Langer and A Christmas Story‘s Ralphie, Peter Billingsley.

Granted, the acting lineup isn’t one that should wow anyone but considering that this is the cast of a Full Moon movie, the lineup is somewhat impressive.

The film is about a killer arcade machine that lures in teens, throws some shoddy virtual reality at them and eats their souls. Actually, I sat through this entire thing and I’m not really sure I even understand how it works.

I’ve heard people knock the video game and its look but this isn’t too dissimilar from what virtual reality technology was at the time, as far as its visuals went. However, the game is of very poor design and completely uninteresting, nonsensical and looks like an absolute bore to play. I mean, you skateboard through a dungeon with kitchen utensils sticking out of the wall, trying to avoid a yellow ball of light.

I don’t know how this movie has a 5.2 on IMDb. People have no taste.

It’s films like this that made me wish I didn’t have to do a full write up and I could just do movie reviews with a simple GIF reflecting my reaction after seeing them.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: Brainscan and The Lawnmower Man.

Film Review: Cyborg (1989)

Release Date: April 7th, 1989
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Kitty Chalmers, Daniel Hubbard-Smith
Music by: Lalo Schifrin, Kevin Bassinson
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Vincent Klyn, Dayle Haddon

Cannon Film Distributors, 82 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll take you to Atlanta, and you’ll give me the cure. And if you don’t, I’ll give you the horror show.” – Fender Tremolo

In the late 1980s, I was a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan like every red blooded American boy. However, I really hated Cyborg when I saw it and I was endlessly reminded of my dislike for it once it started appearing on cable almost weekly for a span of several years. Out of Van Damme’s early stuff, it just completely missed the mark, even if it did have several cool things that could have made it good.

However, seeing it now, a few decades later, I no longer hate it. In fact, I found most of it to be fairly enjoyable, even if it is incredibly cheesy, full of atrocious acting and looks very dated.

To start, it was put out by Cannon Films, who were responsible for dozens of exciting balls-to-the-wall 80s action flicks. It also starred their new up and coming star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. It had a sci-fi setting and was like an American East Coast Mad Max minus the cool vehicles. This would have been much better with cool vehicles. However, this was a good mixture of good elements to make something great. The film lacks in most regards though and it obviously didn’t have cool cars because it was made for the same cost as a case of discount domestic beer, a couple Koozies and a bag of Ruffles.

Most of the fight choreography is pretty good for what this is. Van Damme has the uncanny ability to throw kicks that don’t just look elegant but seem to look powerful as well. He’s always had a grace with his movements that most likely comes from his dancing background but because of this, he just always looks fantastic when he has to pull off that big roundhouse kick to the face.

Cyborg doesn’t have great cinematography. However, there are a few shots that do look amazing and hold up well today. Most notably, the scene where a thug walks into a dark sewer corridor, looks up, and there is Van Damme, above his head, doing the splits while holding a nasty looking dagger. The lighting, the panning and the overall shot was just beautifully done and certainly stands out among the rather drab cinematography.

One thing that significantly hurts this picture is the music. The score sounds like some toddler slamming away on a small Casio keyboard with his sippy cup. The score is so bad that you never get used to it and it sticks out like a sore thumb through every major action sequence.

Cyborg could have been a much better movie, it had some things that worked, but ultimately it was like it was out to sabotage itself. For some reason, there are two sequels to this, neither of which star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Maybe I will watch them someday if I really want to torture myself.

Rating: 5/10