Film Review: Action Jackson (1988)

Release Date: February 12th, 1988
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley
Written by: Robert Reneau
Music by: Herbie Hancock, Michael Kamen
Cast: Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Vanity, Sharon Stone, Thomas F. Wilson, Robert Davi, Bill Duke, Jack Thibeau, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams, De’Voreaux White, Miguel Nunez, Al Leong, Sonny Landham, Mary Ellen Trainor

Lorimar Film Entertainment, Silver Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“[turning a flamethrower on a bad guy] How do you like your ribs?” – Action Jackson

This was a film that was supposed to be the first in a franchise. That never happened and that could be due to the film being critically panned and for it being absolutely ridiculous and the type of cheese that induces a wee bit of cringe. But I still dig the hell out of Carl Weathers in this and it was cool seeing him step out from behind more famous action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But this also was born from Weathers’ involvement in the Schwarzenegger starring Predator, as he and producer Joel Silver loved blaxploitation flicks. Silver told Weathers to come up with something and its that idea that became the basis for this film.

The plot is pretty simple, Jericho “Action” Jackson is a no nonsense cop that loves the ladies and hates yuppie scum that kills and destroys for their own selfish, greedy means. In this film, the scum is played by Coach star Craig T. Nelson. And we even get to see Coach do some kung fu trickery.

Similar to a Bond film and other films with macho gun wielding heroes, there are two hot chicks. In this we get a very young Sharon Stone, just before she reached superstardom, as well as Vanity, who was super popular at the time due to her relationship with Prince. We also get boobage from both, which from my perspective, is a strong plus.

But this film is also like a who’s who of cool character actors from the era. We get Bill Duke, De’Voreaux White, Miguel Nunez, Robert Davi, Thomas F. Wilson, Sonny Landham, Chino “Fats” Williams and ’80s action star/stuntman Al Leong.

Add in a sweet score by Herbie Hancock and you’ve just got a cool motion picture.

Overall, this is an action heavy film but it was the ’80s and all we really wanted back then was good, high octane, power fantasy escapism. You know, back in the day before that stuff was frowned upon and deemed as toxic masculinity, politically incorrect and insensitive. You know, back when people were happier and most of us got along regardless of political or social affiliation.

I really do enjoy the action in this and while it can be an ’80s cheeseball extravaganza in parts, who really gives a shit? Action Jackson actually drives a Ferrari-like supercar into Coach’s mansion, up the stairs and then smashes it through his bedroom door for the big final fight. Is that dumb? Of course it is! But that’s the appeal, people!

I can’t say that this has aged well but it might not have aged well in its current year. It’s noticeably more corny than similar films but I do like the humor, its lightheartedness and its insanity.

Action Jackson isn’t an ’80s action magnum opus by any means but it was a pretty enthralling and amusing flick with Carl Weathers being a badass, Craig T. Nelson being an evil shithead and lots of other actors that were at the height of cool at the time.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Cobra, Lethal Weapon, The Last Dragon, Showdown In Little Tokyo, Firewalker and Hurricane Smith.

Film Review: Mandy (2018)

Release Date: January 19th, 2018 (Sundance)
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Written by: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Music by: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Sam Louwyck, Hayley Saywell

SpectreVision, Umedia, Legion M, XYZ Films, RLJE Films, 121 Minutes

Review:

“You are a vicious snowflake.” – Red Miller

Everyone is raving about Mandy. Most of the comments I’ve seen have painted this as a modern surreal horror masterpiece. Well, it’s definitely not a masterpiece but it was a serious mindfuck and pretty enjoyable.

It’s almost two movies though, perfectly split down the middle and broken into two solid hours.

The first half of the film is romantic, sweet and then very fucked up and disturbing. It tells the story of Red and Mandy, shows their love for one another but also brings in the evil Jeremiah Sand and his cult. Sand has an obsession with Mandy, after seeing her walking through the woods.

The second half of the film deals with Red, having watched his woman burn alive due to the actions of Sands’ cult, walk into the mouth of hell for a one man revenge killing spree. And as enchanting and mesmerizing as the first half of the film was, this is where shit really hits the fan and it’s a balls to the wall blood feast.

What makes the film so surreal is the mixture of it’s bizarre plot and evil characters along with the use of color, lighting and overall cinematography. This mixture of narrative and visuals makes this feel like early David Lynch meets recent Nicholas Winding Refn. It’s a pretty interesting marriage of styles but at the same time, that alone can’t carry a film and this thing is more drawn out than it needs to be.

There isn’t as much action as the trailer might imply but the action is pretty good where it occurs. This is a bloody film and it really hits a raw nerve in several places. But one could make an argument that this is style over substance. I won’t necessarily say that but I will point to the fact that the things I found most interesting weren’t really expanded on or fleshed out enough, in my opinion. I definitely felt like I needed to know more about Sand and his minions.

The film’s score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, this was his final film, was a perfect compliment to the film’s visual and dark allure. Jóhannsson’s work here magnified the effect of key scenes.

This is definitely a memorable film that I know I will watch again in the future but it isn’t so compelling that I’ll fire it up again anytime soon. I do, however, wish that I could have seen this on the big screen.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow.

Film Review: Bird On a Wire (1990)

Release Date: May 18th, 1990
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Louis Venosta, David Seltzer
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, David Carradine, Bill Duke, Joan Severance, Stephen Tobolowsky

Interscope Communications, The Badham/Cohen Group, Universal Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“You come to Detroit and you rent a Beamer? That’s like going to Germany and eating Jimmy Dean sausages!” – Rick Jarmin

I hadn’t seen this in a decade or so but I forgot how enjoyable this was until I revisited it.

I mean, it has Mel Gibson during the height of his career, coming off of the first two Lethal Weapon movies and the Mad Max trilogy. It also has Goldie Hawn who was the quintessential ’80s comedy damsel in distress archetype. You also have them being hunted by David Carradine and Bill Duke, alongside Stephen Tobolowsky, who I will always just see as Stu from Californication. I also can’t forget the small part Joan Severance has in this as a total badass.

Mel Gibson plays Rick but he has a bunch of different names because he has been bouncing around for fifteen years, as he’s under witness protection after sending David Carradine’s drug smuggling character to prison. Carradine gets out, re-teams with his old partner, played by Bill Duke, and they set out to finally take out Rick, the one man that can stop them from going back to their old ways. Rick runs into his ex-fiance Marianne, played by Hawn, and this exposes him to the bad guys. Rick and Marianne then spend the movie on the run from Carradine and Duke, as they are forced to revisit several people from Rick’s witness protection past.

The plot is pretty good, fairly believable and a nice unique narrative twist that calls back to classic noir. Although, this is not a film-noir in any way, really. It’s an ’80s style action movie with a lot of laughs.

The coolest thing about the entire film is the final showdown, which happens at an indoor zoo exhibit that features tigers, alligators, monkeys and other dangerous creatures ready to make lunch out of anyone that finds themselves in their path. I absolutely love the finale of this film and while it has a hokiness to it, it is just a badass and incredibly well shot spectacle. The sequence of Marianne running from the tigers is better choreographed than one would expect from a simple action comedy from 1990.

The other thing that makes this work so well is that Gibson and Hawn have incredible chemistry and are believable as ex-lovers that fell away from one another, only to reconnect and find the spark is still burning strong.

Bird On a Wire is a better movie than it deserves to be, honestly. That’s not a knock against the filmmakers or actors, it’s just that films like these aren’t typically this good.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Lethal Weapon 2Air America, See No Evil, Hear No EvilWildcats and Overboard

Film Review: Predator (1987)

Also known as: Alien Hunter, Hunter, Primeval (working titles)
Release Date: June 12th, 1987
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Shane Black (uncredited)
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weather, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Lawrence Gordon Productions, Silver Pictures, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Run! Get to the chopper!” – Dutch

Outside of the first two Terminator movies, this is the best thing that Schwarzenegger has ever done. In all honesty, I hold it in the same regards as the first two Terminator films because it is that damn good and it still works really well today.

Predator is one of those films that you assume every red blooded American male has watched, memorized and has the same appreciation for it as the other real red blooded American males. When you meet a guy that hasn’t seen it, you have to suspect if they are a communist or if they grew up “winning” a bunch of participation trophies for a pottery competition. Any red blooded American male that has seen this 107 minute masterpiece of majestic masculinity knows that Schwarzenegger is the second coming of the Jesus and that his mercenary crew are his apostles while Carl Weathers is his Judas.

This is a damn near perfect movie if all you’re looking for is chiseled beast men with massive guns (literally and figuratively), stomping through a jungle, spitting tobacco, making pussy jokes and murdering the everliving crap out of whatever they’re paid to murder the everliving crap out of. Throw in a giant beast alien with high tech gadgetry, stealth camouflage and a penchant for skinning its victims and you’ve got the cinema’s equivalent to the Holy Bible for dudes. Although, I also know several ladies who have been captivated by the Holy Word of John McTiernan with this and his other Holy work called Die Hard.

Apart from the reasons I’ve already talked about, this film also benefits from the incredible theme and score by Alan Silvestri. It is still one of the best scores he has ever done and it is simply badass.

The film also makes incredible use of its environment. You feel the heat and the discomfort, as these beefy men traverse through a thick jungle in Central America. The jungle is really the main character of this film and it overshadows the cast, despite the incredible lineup of talent that is in this: Schwarzenegger, Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, the Predator itself, etc. The film was actually filmed in Hawaii, for the record.

The one thing that could’ve really been the “make or break” moment of the film ended up being one of the most memorable scenes of the entire 1980s. That was the reveal of the monster. The Predator creature design was handled by the maestro, Stan Winston. The look of the creature is friggin’ incredible and it is still one of the coolest and most badass movie monsters going today.

The problem with this film and its monster being so damn great and iconic, is that no sequel will ever live up to this film. And so far, no sequel has. People seem to have a sort of disdain for Predator 2 but fuck those people. It’s also damned good, not a classic as this one is, but it is true to the spirit of the original. Also, Predators was a good experience as well. I think it is the weakest of the three Predator films but it is still a lot of fun and has some big iron balls like the other two films. Then there are those Alien Vs. Predator movies. While the concept works great in comic books and video games, it wasn’t very good on the big screen, sadly.

On a side note, Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally in this, as another alien creature, but the whole thing got cut from the film. Just saying, if Van Damme made it into this picture too, even if he was obscured by his costume, the testosterone levels in this movie would have run over and flooded whatever village this was filmed near.

Predator is one of my all-time favorite films. It will always be one of my all-time favorites. If you don’t feel the same way, you’re probably a hippie communist that writes poetry for your plants.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Predator 2 and Predators. Ignoring those AvP movies is probably best for everyone.

Film Review: Commando (1985)

Release Date: October 4th, 1985
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke, Dan Hedaya, Bill Paxton, Drew Snyder

Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“These guys eat too much red meat!” – Cindy

Commando is the quintessential 80s Schwarzenegger flick. This is the standard bearer for any motion picture featuring Arnie, where he isn’t a Terminator or a barbarian. It is straight up action with the right balance of Arnold’s style of comedic delivery. I mean, you could really even make the argument that this is a comedy – not to take away from the fact that it is balls to the wall bad ass.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix, a swollen and hard manly man that is a purebred killing machine. However, Matrix loves his daughter, the very young Alyssa Milano – before she was every 80s boy’s crush on the sitcom Who’s the Boss?

Matrix’s home is attacked and his daughter is kidnapped by bad men that have ties to his past. The bad men want Matrix to carry out an assassination. However, Matrix doesn’t take any shit whatsoever and he evades the bad guys and starts picking them off, one by one, in a race against time to save his daughter before the baddies discover that he didn’t carry out his mission.

What we get with this film is a big beefy charming bad ass with great one-liners and an arsenal that would make the Punisher weep in shame. In fact, just about everything in this movie explodes. Even Rae Dawn Chong, his cutesy fish out of water sidekick, gets to fire a rocket launcher a few times.

This movie also has a plethora of great actors. The evil and very homoerotic Bennett is played by Australian heavy Vernon Wells, probably most known as Wez from Mad Max 2 a.k.a. The Road Warrior and a parody of Wez in John Hughes’ Weird Science. You also have Bill Duke, who got to star alongside Schwarzenegger as Mac in Predator. Then there is the always enjoyable David Patrick Kelly, the leader of the bad guys in The Warriors and known for his time on Twin Peaks. The cast also includes Dan Hedaya, a guy who never gets enough props, and a small role by a young Bill Paxton.

Commando has just about everything you want in an 80s action flick without a lot of the stuff you don’t want. It isn’t an artistic masterpiece, per se. That is, unless you consider an intense crescendo of exploding buildings and flying bodies to be fine art: I friggin’ do. If that’s the case, this is true art in a classical sense that rivals the Sistine Chapel. Director Mark L. Lester is Michael-friggin’-angelo and Arnold is Adam reaching out to touch the finger of God.

The film is also only ninety minutes, so a bunch of boring character development and filler doesn’t get in the way of Schwarzenegger waving his peen around like a lasso trying to capture the hearts of 80s action fans.

The plot is simple, that is all you need to blow up an island fortress. Movies today try to get overly complicated and seem to have a guilty conscious about gratuitously shooting bullet holes in everything and everyone. Commando doesn’t have time for that horse shit. It throws its dick on the table and says, “Yeah, let’s fuckin’ rage!”

Commando was the perfect template for all Schwarzenegger movies going forward. Predator took it and added in a bad ass alien killer. The rest of his movies fell a bit short and tried to fill up the running time with annoying things like plot and character development.

If you watch Commando and you don’t have a fun time, we probably can’t be friends. Growing up in the 80s, this is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me that didn’t involve Harrison Ford or ninjas. It is actually a good thing that this didn’t have Harrison Ford or ninjas because it would have literally shattered the Earth’s crust with its intensity and the weight of its gargantuan gravitas.

Rating: 9/10