Short Film Spotlight: Hardcore

Last night during our Extreme Horror Night screening of the low-budget "lost" slasher Headless, we were discussing films, as we always do, and the talk turned to my recent viewing of Chappie, which in turn became a discussion on the ever-great Sharlto Copley. Then someone asked if I had seen the short film Hardcore, and none of us had, or even heard of it.

Apparently it's a short film, intended to get investors interested for a possible full-length feature film. It's shot POV style, co-stars the excellent Sharlto Copley, and is arguably one of the most badass action sequences I've ever seen. And that's really all this is; a 3 minute long action sequence, and it will blow your mind.

Take 3 minutes out of your day and prepare to be amazed.

As of this post, the film has already been shot and edited. The crowdfunding campaign was a success and they were able to reach they're goal to complete the film. Now we just wait for it's eventual release date. Badass!

For more information, you can check out their official website HERE.


Review: Chappie

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Category: Science Fiction

Sadly, I fed into the consensus that Chappie was a bad film. I read too many reviews that panned Neill Blomkamp's follow up to District 9 and Elysium as nonsensical, amateurish and silly. Because of this, I had no desire to shell out my hard earned money to see this in the theater. But recently a friend of mine suggested that I give it a chance, that it's a great science fiction film, and while it's not perfect, it's not nearly as terrible as critics have made it out to be. With Chappie finally being available to rent at home, I jumped on the chance, and I'm so glad I did.

I hate when I feed into all the crap the major critics have to say about something. I always tell myself I'll never fall for it, but more often than not, I do, and Chappie was no exception. The trailers didn't really seem to help either. I couldn't tell what kind of film it was supposed to be, but I still held out hope that Blomkamp could deliver another standout like he did with District 9. But then I started thinking how much Elysium left me severely underwhelmed, and thought maybe he lost his ability to deliver something great? So I stayed away, and after having finally seen it, I regret that decision.

By no means a perfect film, Chappie surely doesn't deserve all the negativity it has received. Sure it's not without it's problems, but I doubt that Blomkamp ever intended to reinvent the fucking genre with this film, or prove artificial intelligence with some hard science. I think people oftentimes lose sight of what the intention was, and that's to entertain.

With Chappie, writer/director Neill Blomkamp displays much more of a stylistic flare, more so than in his 2 previous films. After Elysium, I wondered if District 9 was a fluke in terms of his impressive camerawork, because with Elysium I just didn't see the same aesthetic that I loved in District 9. But with Chappie, he brings back the pizzazz and I personally found it his most aesthetically impressive film to date.

I think everyone's major gripe was that the film is uneven, and I can only agree. Sometimes dark and violent, sometimes funny, and sometimes lighthearted, it's constantly changing tone threw me off from time to time, but when I stopped trying to figure out what type of film this is supposed to be, I enjoyed it. It's an immensely entertaining film, made with talent and a confidence that reminds me that Neill Blomkamp "will" be the right man for the job when it comes time to offer up the next Alien film.

One of the more surprising aspects - and there were many - of this film was it's stellar International cast representing all corners of the globe. With so much of the trailer focused on Chappie himself, I was surprised to see Hugh Jackman (Australian), Sigourney Weaver (American), Dev Patel (Indian), Anderson Cooper (American), and most shocking, Yo-Landi Visser & Ninja (South Africa), who make up the South African rap group Die Antwoord. And guess what? Visser and Ninja are surprisingly good actors. Who knew?! Hell, there's even a Hispanic in here, playing of course, a gang member.

The film plays with familiar themes, so there's nothing in here we haven't seen before. For instance, I found a lot of similarities to Short Circuit, in terms of Chappie being an artificial intelligence and believing it's alive. The ever-capable and Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley supplied the voice of Chappie, and it's really through his voice that Chappie comes to life. Moments of sadness, anger, frustration, and excitement are all brought to the surface through Copley's vocal talent. Sure, Chappie looks amazing. So much so that you honestly can't tell he's CGI; you'd swear it was an actual practical robotic effect. But it' Sharlto Copley who does the magic and gives Chappie the personality that sells everything.

The entire cast is pretty outstanding all around. It was strange seeing Jackman as a villain, but he's eerily effective. But the ones who surprised me the most were the duo that make up Die Antwoord, who go by Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser. I had heard of them as my girlfriend likes their music, but I was rather shocked to see them pull out some impressive acting abilities in this, essentially looking like themselves, and assuming acting like themselves as well. But still, what could have been a disaster in the casting department, really lends a bit of authenticity to these two characters having cast them.

A bit uneven at times, I found a lot to love about this latest science fiction film from Neill Blomkamp. While District 9 is still his standout, I think Chappie easily falls a close second. I found myself always surprised at the direction this film took, as it kept veering left and then right, and never the way you expect it to. Incredible effects work, impressive camerawork, and a knockout cast deliver a helluva fun ride. I'm  more confident than ever that Blomkamp can deliver a badass Alien sequel.


Revisiting Albert Pyun's Captain America

Directed by: Albert Pyun

When I revisited this film years ago, I remember thinking it was laughably terrible. How naive I was then. In all seriousness, I have to admit that I think I judged it too harshly, and to this day, feel terrible about it, because I know since then that Albert Pyun himself has read that review, as well as many others I've done on his films, and I'd do anything to take some of those hurtful comments and critiques back.

Since then, I've slowly come to appreciate this camp classic, as my appreciation for this character, Albert Pyun, and this type of film in general has grown. Within this past year especially, my love for campy comic book adaptations has grown considerably, as has my love for Albert Pyun directed films. I wish I could say why I felt the need to be so harsh before, but I can't. There is no answer really. They were feelings I had at the time, and thankfully, my feelings have changed since then. But anyway, moving on. After reading many interviews, and hearing from Albert Pyun's own words in his commentary on his self-released Directors Cut, it's painfully apparent his hands were tied. So much so that we're lucky we even got what ultimately ended up on screen in the final released version. I'm not going to say I agree with every choice he made, because I don't. But for the most part, he did the best he could under rigorous circumstances, and I applaud and commend him for what he was ultimately able to pull off on such an increasingly limited budget.

In the plus department, Albert Pyun directs Captain America with gusto. While there were a few shots I would have done differently, for the most part he pulls this film off with his signature style that he's become known for. I'm glad he directed this in 1989 and not recently, where he's now become more known for his use of green-screen than filming on actual location. I miss those days. His films now have a drastically different feel, approach, and vibe altogether, and I've struggled to get excited about an Albert Pyun project since his days in the 80's and 90's when he turned out stylish films like Cyborg, Nemesis, Brainsmasher, Knights, Captain America, and Dollman to name a few. But thankfully Marvel's low-budget Cap film falls within this timeline and Pyun, as a visual filmmaker, is in top form.

While the film is lacking in a lot of action, when there is action, it's really impressive. And that's really the most frustrating thing about this film. There are genuine moments of "awesome" and "beauty" in some of his action sequences here, but they're far too brief, and you can't help but think what kind of Captain America film we could have gotten had he been given free reign to do what he wanted. For instance, in an interview found under the Special Features on the Blu ray, he says that originally he wanted another actor to be Captain America when he transformed from a weakling with polio. In fact, he wanted football hero Howie Long to don the costume. But the studio refused. And if memory serves me, I remember in a previous interview where Pyun stated that he wanted to take the dramatic approach, and rely less on action in this version, but I could be wrong. If that's the case, then maybe the lack of action isn't entirely the studio's fault or the fact that money was drying up fast. In either case, the few action sequences we do get are outstanding. If only there was more in here. There always feels like there should be more.

Since money was virtually nonexistent, they shot most of this film in Yugoslavia, with the third act almost taking place entirely in a huge castle. It's with these locations where Captain America really shines, and makes the film look and seem bigger than it actually is. It's with the final act where Pyun really struts his stuff and gives us some excellent camerawork, utilizing his surroundings to the best of his ability.

Another thing you'll notice, like my 12 year old did, is that this film is oddly edited. One could argue that it's over-edited, if that's even a term. There are a number of action sequences where it appears a good 10 different cuts were used to comprise a shot that takes 5 seconds. Meaning, if there's a shot of Cap jumping on a ledge, it looks like either there were 5 different camera's filming this one sequence and edited together, or they shot it repeatedly, and combined all best takes. It's a little jarring at times, and almost comes off as strange, but in an odd way, adds a little bit of excitement to the action sequence.

Massive plotholes aside, if you can try to overlook the amazing number of things that just don't make sense, then you can appreciate this little slice of low-budget awesome. The costume design is great, and Albert Pyun's direction is solid. It could have used a better score and more action, but it sports an impressive cast, some solid action, and an air of camp that is sadly missing from films like this. All that is to say is that I love it. I can overlook the films less impressive aspects, and praise it for it's many positive ones.


Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Directed by: Michael Bay
Category: Action/Sci-Fi

I'll be right up front, I loathe these Transformers movies. I've never been a fan of Michael Bay as a director, and I've hated what he's done to this franchise. I hate how he shoots these films. I hate the design of the Transformers. I hate that you can't tell what the fuck is going on three quarters of the time because of his ADD style of filmmaking. This list could go on and on because while I do have a young son, I have been forced to endure these shitty movies made to sell toys more than anything. And you know what? Making movies to sell toys is fine, it's nothing new, but from the beginning, I have not liked how this property has been handled. Every time a new Transformers film is completed, Bay "always" states that this is his last one, yet he keeps changing his mind and keeps making more, and I get more and more disappointed with the franchise, the studio, and the director himself.

But a funny thing happened. When my son suggested watching this, as there are fewer and fewer movies we can enjoy together, I figured what the hell. While none of the previous films in this franchise would be considered anything but popcorn entertainment, this last entry was so batshit insane, so utterly ridiculous, with so many WTF? moments that I actually found myself enjoying this shockingly entertaining piece of rubbish. Yes folks, I enjoyed Age of Extinction, or a Transformers film rather, for the reasons that make it unintentionally terrible.

Much like AVP: Requiem, this latest entry in the series just seems to go a completely radical direction. Maybe to go out with a bang, or maybe as a big "fuck you" to the critics, Bay seemed to throw any sense of logic out the window and literally throw as much insane action and spectacle as possible at the screen, often times with so much of it serving no real purpose to further the story along. In fact, I'm not really sure why the second half of the film needed to take place in Japan. I'm sure it's mentioned, but for the life of me, I can't remember how or why. And that's what happens a lot in this entry. A lot of things happen, and most of it is so crazy and batshit insane, that you sort of just give up trying to figure out the "how" or the "why" that you just ease up on that mindset and enjoy the ride, and what a ride it is. "Let's go out with a bang" seems to be the motto and driving force behind this one.

While I still have a hard time liking the design of the Autobots and Decepticons, what I did enjoy was the fact that Michael Bay, because of the use of 3D cameras, was forced to keep the fucking camera still for once, resulting in some of the best visuals he's had to offer since The Rock. No joke. I found myself consistently in awe of how gorgeous his shots were, his compositions, and how fluidly the visuals flowed with 99% of his camerawork being pretty impressive. Meaning, no shaky-cam. Finally! If you know me, you'll know my extreme HATE for Bay's specific style of filmmaking. It seemed that with every successive Transformers film, it only got worse. And when he finally had a chance to prove himself as a talented filmmaker with Pain & Gain, a film completely outside of the Transformers universe that he's immersed himself in for the last 10 years, he only seemed to take that opportunity to go drastically further in the shaky-cam department that it literally ruined the experience for me, which is a shame, because it had the potential to be a pretty fun film. Instead it was an infuriatingly nausea-inducing experience. Thanks for proving once again that you were at one time a visually impressive filmmaker Mr. Bay, but sadly those days are long behind you.

Enter 3D camera's. For the record, I guess I don't really know if it's solely the fact that he used these monstrously heavy 3D camera's that we finally got some "stable" camerawork out of him - something he hadn't done since 2005's The Island, a good 10 years ago. For all I know, it could have been a conscious decision on his part to finally execute some of that slick camerawork that he became known for in his music video days. I'd like to think so. Whatever the reason, it was honestly a breath of fresh air, and made the experience of watching a Michael Bay movie a decent one once again.

To this day, I couldn't tell you what Age of Extinction was all about. All I keep thinking about is the insanely outlandish and ridiculous action sequences that never seemed to stop, in the most bizarre locations you'd never expect. The story and action fly at you at such a furious pace that there's little room for exposition. So much so that there's a scene halfway in the film where a small Transformer basically lays out what's going on and why in the matter of 2 minutes to the band of human characters helping them out. It was an odd scene, and takes you somewhat out of the film, yet it's important, because you learn what's been going on in the timeframe of the last 2 films and why this and that is happening. He even goes on to explain how Megatron is now Galvatron and why. A little silly, but also very important for the casual viewer.

I've since learned more Transformers films will be coming, but different, as the studio is looking to overhaul the franchise in a new direction, without Michael Bay at the helm. That idea gets me really excited, as I hope and dream that they will in some way go back to the franchise's roots, which started with my beloved 80's cartoon. I would love to see a film that more resembles the franchise I grew to love as an 80's kid, and not the Manga looking version we've had since 2007. In the meantime, this film is undoubtedly my favorite of the "Bay Universe", and while it seemed to have gotten slaughtered by critics more than any other in the series, I found it in the least, entertaining in a "WTF? am I watching" sort of way.


Review: Swamp Thing

Directed by: Wes Craven
Category: Comic Book Adaptation

If you'll recall, I nearly lost my shit when, after years of searching, I finally scored one of my most sought after tapes - the Swamp Thing Embassy Clamshell release; the first ever VHS release of this film. What makes it so sought after is it's gorgeous black clamshell and cover design. Embassy's subsequent video release was unfortunately in the standard cardboard slipcase. But acquiring this Holy Grail tape got me to thinking that I hadn't actually seen this movie in decades...literally. Lucky for me, HuluPlus has it available for streaming, so I jumped on it the first moment I could.

One of the things I always took away from Swamp Thing as a kid when I saw it back in the day was that I always thought it was weird. I don't know how exactly, but I always had these specific images stuck in my head, and when I tried putting these images together I would always come away with something odd and dark. So I guess it's because of this that I never really made the effort to see it again. However, with the recent popularity of this film with a handful of releases on DVD in the last few years, with Shout! Factory even putting a blu ray of this out recently, I figured now is a good as time as any to jump on the bandwagon.

Here's one thing that still surprises me to this day. Wes Craven wrote and directed this before A Nightmare on Elm Street. I don't know why I just can't wrap my brain around that little fact. But, I'm glad I revisited this, because there were a few other things that surprised me as well. For one, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. While not a great film by any means, it possesses an unintentional campiness that I oh so love. That, coupled with the films stellar cast, make for an enjoyably cheesy 80's experience I was not expecting.

While the film tries to take the serious approach, it ultimately and unwittingly comes off as campy. Lucky for us, it works splendidly, thanks to a solid structure, some excellent performances, and a score that ramps the excitement level to 11. That brings me to an interesting point. As soon as the film began, and it's excellent score started blazing, I couldn't help but notice it sounded shockingly similar to the theme for Friday the 13th. Well that's because Friday the 13th's composer, Harry Manfredini, supplied the score for Swamp Thing, and if you closed your eyes, you'd swear you were listening to Friday the 13th. But in a surprising twist, it works effectively well. Had there been a less engaging score, I doubt the fun level would have been as high as it is.

Swamp Thing succeeds as well as it does for a number of reasons, largely Manfredini's incredibly fun score, but also with it's surprisingly stellar cast full of cult icons such as Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise and David Hess. The film's also slightly quirky, whether intentional or not, and while most of the film can be called dark, which it also is, it's campiness shines above, and I love it for that. I think that's why I found it weird back as a kid. I remember not being able to figure out what kind of movie it was supposed to be. I mean, I knew it was based on a comic book, yet he's not a superhero. But revisiting it 33 years later and it's clear that this film is deeply flawed, but it's because of these flaws that it succeeds. Had it played out as intended by everyone involved, I think it's safe to say that Swamp Thing would have gone down as another "failed" live action comic book adaptation. Writer/Director Wes Craven might not have been at the top of his game, which he would clearly rectify and demonstrate just 2 years later with the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, igniting a new horror icon and franchise for the hungry masses, but with Swamp Thing, his inability to choose a specific genre or tone gives it that little bit of spice that makes it stick out of the crowd.

Depending on your taste and point of view, one of the things that works against Swamp Thing or for it, is the sub-par makeup work. While the Swamp Thing makeup and costume design is vastly superior in Jim Wynorski's campy (on purpose) sequel, the suit here is painfully, dreadfully and obviously a wetsuit embellished with random swamp greenery. And the bad makeup doesn't stop there. The other creature that makes it's appearance in the final act of the film looks like it was bought at a costume shop. So in short, the makeup work is pretty bad, but for me, it only adds to it's unintentional cheesiness and charm.

I had a blast revisiting this cult classic. All of the things that keep this from being a great comic book adaptation are the things that I love about it, making it a helluva fun cheesy 80's experience. Despite it's issues, there are tons of things to love about this, and if you haven't seen Wes Craven's classic in a while, do yourself a favor and track this sucker down.


Review: Class of 1999

Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Category: Action

Forward: Gosh, I really feel like I've been slacking these past few weeks. What began as a daily onslaught of reviews and inspiration has quickly fallen to a few posts here and there recently. I've learned in the last 10 years that when I get into something, I tend to become obsessive. So I suppose you can say I've had an undiagnosed OCD thing and it's taken me nearly 40 years to realize this. LOL. So these past few weeks my focus has been on VHS collecting. I apologize, and with things getting somewhat back to normal, I'll try to get these out more quickly.

Though I still to this day have not yet seen the original film in this series, Class of 1984, Class of 1999 was a staple of my viewing experience as a teen in the 90's. I loved it, and remember wearing out my VHS of this to the point of unwatchable. I always knew that it was from the same guy who directed Commando, another staple of my 80's and 90's viewing experience, and that it was a Direct to Video release, but man, I loved the shit out of this film.

What's funny to see now is that back when I first saw it, 1999 was the future, but now we're a good 16 years later and 1999 never turned out to be the way it was portrayed in the film, as is "always" the case isn't it? But I honestly forgot about this film until recently. When a fellow filmgeek casually mentioned it, it immediately set off a barrage of images from the film that I had totally forgotten about. As luck would have it, it was on YouTube, and in widescreen. Score!

Mark L. Lester's Class of 1999 is undoubtedly one of the most underrated sequels out there. Not only that, it's always surprising to hear that whenever I discuss it or bring it up to anyone, they're completely unaware it's a sequel. But I guess that's also a testament to how good it is, that it's able to stand on it's own without any real connection to the first film. What also blew me away was how damn near impressive this killer cast is. A virtual smorgasbord of familiar faces from nearly every genre rooted deep in the 80's, it's almost like a game of "Name That Face and Movie". For starters, we've got Stacey Keach and Malcolm McDowell; no introduction needed on them. But then we've got the three new teachers assigned to the school, and they're none other than Pam Grier (yes, "that" Pam Grier), Patrick Kilpatrick (a regular baddie), and John P. Ryan. If you don't know they're names, you'll most certainly know their faces. But then we've got Bradley Gregg (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3), Tracy Lind (Fright Night Part 2), and Joshua John Miller, that annoying little kid that always seems to pop up everywhere. But you'll mostly remember him from the annoying vampire in Near Dark, or the annoying little brother in Teen Witch. But there's more, a lot more. I often caught myself mumbling "He's in this?", or "Him too?!". It's pretty fun.

When 3 new teachers are brought into a new school overrun with chaos, they seem to be able to bring the chaos under control. But when they begin to go too far, some of the students begin questioning what these new teachers really are. When they discover that they're actually robots as part of a new government program, it's an all-out war between students and teachers. 

The film starts off rather predictably, but not any less enjoyable. By the halfway mark though, it takes a considerable shift in tone and turns more into an all out sci-fi/action flick, complete with old school robot animatronics, lots of explosions, deaths, gun battles and impressive stuntwork. Looking back on it now, it has aged rather well, with the depiction of the punks via the future in 1999 not being that far off, surprisingly. Costume design aside, everything in this film comes together so well, culminating in a killer finale, making this easily one of the most enjoyable low-budget action/sci-fi flicks out there.

A lot of this film's success can be traced down and attributed to director Mark L. Lester. The guy has been making films for decades, in nearly every genre, and while action seems to be the one he's most comfortable with, and with which his most memorable films can fall under, when he's firing on all cylinders, he can deliver some really fun stuff. Class of 1999 is a perfect example.

With classics like the original Class of 1984, Firestarter, Commando, Armed & Dangerous and a personal favorite of mine, Showdown in Little Tokyo, under his belt, Lester has proven a formidable force in films, most notably the action genre. But while the 80's was his most respected output, after the Lundgren/Brandon Lee Showdown in Little Tokyo, he seems to have made the DTV market his home, where he still directs and produces films to this day. Unfortunately none of his output in the last 20 years is honestly very good, or hold a candle to his previous work, but I'm always hoping he'll be given that one last project where he can shine, and show us some of that spark he once had as a talented action filmmaker.

Class of 1999 is easily available on multiple formats, most notably on DVD singly, or as part of a horror pack. If you get the horror pack where this is included, be warned, as it's in full frame. If you pick up the single DVD, it'll be in widescreen, but with a really lame cover, and not the cover we grew up with on VHS. Either way, it's worth tracking down, and it's a helluva fun time.


Review: Cyber Tracker

Image courtesy of Moviepostershop.com

Directed by: Richard Pepin
Category: Action

Richard Pepin is my favorite low-budget action director. Hands down. The first time I saw Hologram Man, I was instantly enthralled with what this guy was able to accomplish on such a small budget. It's like he took all the best qualities of Albert Pyun and Craig R. Baxley in their prime and mixed them together to create the ultimate action director, Richard Pepin. His films are cheesy, but insanely enjoyable, filled with enough shootouts, explosions, fist fights and out of nowhere car chases that assault your senses at every turn. One of the things you'll notice almost immediately in nearly every sci-fi/action film of his is that they borrow heavily from other big budget films. Watching films like Hologram Man and T-Force and you'll see the Robocop, Terminator, Blade Runner, and hell, even Under Siege influences all throughout. But that's okay! He's not here to give us something new. He's here to give us some entertainment, and that he does...in spades.

Eric (Don "The Dragon" Wilson) is a bodyguard for Senator Dilly. After saving Senator Dilly's life in an assassination attempt, he's quickly moved up the ranks in his unit. Soon Eric realizes that Dilly is not all he makes himself out to be. When he witness Dilly commit murder, he tries to bring him down, only to have Dilly's new Cyber Droid Unit's at his disposal and after Eric no matter the cost. 

I really enjoyed Cyber Tracker, but I have to admit that it didn't blow me away the way Pepin's T-Force and Hologram Man did. Thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless, with a killer opening sequence (a staple of Pepin films), and plenty of action, car chases and out of left field unnecessary explosions, yet feeling a little less awesome than some of his other efforts. I'm still not sure why. Everything works on a level that you'd expect; pyrotechnics are top-notch, Wilson is a good lead, the fight scenes and action sequences are done with gusto by Pepin and co., but I think it was lacking some genuine WTF? moments. It's really these WTF? moments that make is other efforts stand out, and unfortunately, for all it's awesome action and stuntwork, these crucial WTF? moments were surprisingly absent.

Not that Cyber Tracker is any less less entertaining, because it's not. Believe me, if you're in the mood for some great cheesy low-budget action that steals heavily from Robocop, you'll have a grande ol' time with this one. My beef is that after coming off of 2 phenomenal entries like Hologram Man and T-Force, it's hard not to feel slightly let down by this one. But that's just me, and I doubt most will feel the same, especially if you check this one out before those others.

Despite my personal feelings of being slightly underwhelmed, it's still an excellent film. Tons of action, style, explosions, fights, shoot-outs, and car chases leave the causal viewer nothing less than enthralled, excited and satisfied. Here's to hoping that with Cyber Tracker 2, which Pepin released the following year, he adds a lot more of everything to ramp up the awesome.


Review: No Contest

VHS cover scan courtesy of Talesfromthesnikt.blogspot.com
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Category: Action

So here's a film that just kind of sort of came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of me. I'm not even sure how I came across it, or aware of it, but doing some random search on Andrew Dice Clay (must have been because I just revisited Ford Fairlane) I came across this little unknown film from way back in 1995. Now I love action. Most importantly, I love low-budget action. So it surprises me that I hadn't heard of this until now, considering the talent that's involved in front of and behind the camera. Once I did a little digging I realized that it's on YouTube, so I threw it on the other night while I was in one of my "action" moods and hoped for the best. Let's see how it went.

No Contest is arguably one of the most entertaining Die Hard ripoffs I've had the pleasure of experiencing. Sure there are tons of these, some big budget and some low budget, but I had never come across one that was blatantly ripping off that original Die Hard film in such a drastic way that you couldn't help but laugh, in the best possible way. Yes, substitute a few things here and there, and it's essentially Die Hard with a female lead. Not just with the story, but with specific sequences, characters, supporting characters, plot points, and even down to it's visual aesthetic. Yea we always hear the term "Die Hard on a boat", or "Die Hard on a train", but this is seriously "Die Hard in a hotel", and it was awesome.

Shannon Tweed plays pageant host Sharon Bell, who also happens to be an action star who's proficient in Tae Kwon Do. When a terrorist (Andrew Dice Clay) and his crew takes the pageant and all of it's contestants hostage, it's up to Sharon Bell, with the help of a former Seargent on the outside (Robert Davi)to take them down one by one and save the day.

Image courtesy of Thedullwoodexperiment.com
No Contest is pure 100% action cheese at it's finest. There is so much that works so well in this, that you can easily forgive the few things that don't. Though technically a DTV (Direct to Video) affair, for the most part, you'd never know it. Director Paul Lynch (Prom Night) seems to have studied both John McTiernan and Renny Harlin's camera work on both Die Hard 1 & 2 because if you didn't know any better, you'd swear that either of them had directed this thing themselves. It's pretty spot-on in my opinion, and it's because of this visual flare that No Contest succeeds as well as it does. Of course, there are other attributes, most notably the killer cast, starting with Robert Davi in the Sgt. Powell (Reginald Veljohnson) role from the first Die Hard. A total badass, even wen he spends most of the time on a walkie talkie. Andrew Dice Clay did a good job as the main villain, without cracking jokes, which was kind of surreal. Don't let the cover fool you, he's not the action star in this. But the biggest surprise for me was Rowdy Roddy Piper as one of Clay's henchmen. I have to say, he's never shown or even mentioned in the trailer, so when the opening credits rolled up, I was shocked to see his name. But I assumed he'd be a rogue cop trying to save the day or something, like his role from Back in Action. Instead he plays a regular henchman, but the more sadistic of the group. In this Die Hard ripoff, he would resemble the character of Karl, played by Alexander Godunov in the original Die Hard. There's even a similar sequence in the end that Godunov made famous in that original classic; you'll know which one I'm talking about when you see it. But do you see what I'm getting at? It's just like they remade Die Hard, only on a tighter budget, but not any less entertaining or fun.

So that leaves us with the films star, Shannon Tweed. I will say this, she's attractive, there's no doubt about that. But though she's made a reputation at being nude in Playboy and in a slew of erotic thrillers, unfortunately you won't see any of that in here. So that leaves us with her acting, which can only be described as wooden at best. She's a looker, but she's not the most expressive actress. And while I admire the idea of having a female in the hero lead role, it was hard to find her believable as someone who can go one on one with any of these guys. You can tell she did some fight training for the role, but some of the fight scenes are almost laughable at how slow and choreographed they are. She can throw a punch, but it certainly doesn't look like a hard punch. But I have to say that the big fight between her and Andrew Dice Clay in the climax was hilariously awful. I mean, they tried their hardest to mask the fact that it's not really Andrew Dice Clay doing roundhouses and Shannon Tweed doing uppercuts by having the stunt doubles in the shadows and using far away camera angles, but even then, the editing is what gives it all away anyway because it's so ridiculous. By this point you have to wonder why Clay's character even bothers with these ridiculous roundhouse kicks when he can just grab her and choke her to death because he's twice her size. But then that wouldn't be any fun, would it?

I have never been a fan of director Paul Lynch, mostly because of his amateurish work on the original Prom Night. That was always a letdown to me. I feel I could have enjoyed it more had it been shot better, but it's tacky and uninspired camerawork ruined the whole experience for me. Since then he's done mostly television work, with the occasional DTV flick here and there. So when it came time to watch this, I was more than surprised to see how well it all looked. I don't know if Lynch owes most of that to his DoP or Cinematographer, but holy hell did this look like a big budget studio action flick with all the trimmings. As I mentioned before, he seemed to be channeling Renny Harlin in his heyday (Die Hard 2, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane), and it looks amazing. Every shot looks to have been conceived to take full advantage of it's widescreen aspect ratio, giving it a much more polished and professional look than you'd expect.

One thing I learned, surprisingly, was that when it comes to Roddy Piper, we all know he's good at playing crazy. He's made a career out of it, whether it be in the ring or on film. But here in this particular instance, he plays his character unsettlingly calm, and it comes off far more creepy than if he were to play it "crazy". It's because of this that Piper's character ultimately comes off as the most memorable in the film, even though technically he's just a hired henchman with a penchant for being shockingly brutal.

This movie won't change the genre or anything, but I'd be hard pressed to find another one as good that can define it. Die Hard ripoff's are a dime a dozen in the industry, especially in the 90's, but we can all agree that most of them were paint-by-numbers at best. No Contest, while adding nothing new to the table, seems to know where it's roots are, and in doing so, gives us exactly what we want; low-budget action cheese at it's best.


Review: Best of the Best 2

Directed by: Robert Radler
Category: Action

I always remembered liking this action/martial arts sequel to the equally great Best of the Best. But even going back to when I was younger and very much into these films as a teenager, I always remember liking this one much more. It seemed like the team behind the first film knew they had a good property on their hands and went all out when it came time to do a sequel. And when it comes to Best of the Best 2, boy did they ever.

Picking up right after the events of the first film, most of the principal players have returned, as well as director Robert Radler, and the result is nothing short of 100% Badass Cinema. While the first film was more of a martial arts/drama in the form of a competition film, this sequel goes straight for the "awesome" and ramps up everything considerably, giving us a lot more action, a lot more violence, and a lot more fighting. Best of the Best 2 is what sequels should be about, taking everything that made the first film so good and dialing it up to 10. Except in this case, they didn't do that. Instead they went up to 15!

When their friend Travis (Chris Penn) is killed in an underground Las Vegas fighting ring run by a ruthless show promoter (Wayne Newton), it's up to Alex (Eric Roberts) and Tommy (Phillip Rhee) to find out who's responsible. When they discover that fighter responsible is Brakus (Ralf Moeller) the current ruler of the ring, they band together to take him down once and for all with the help of Tommy's brother (Sonny Landham). 

I really can't say enough great things about this killer sequel. Everything you could possibly want in an action sequel is here, and it's just so much damn fun. Being a 90's action film, you can bet your ass there's a training montage cue'd to some cheesy rock music. Yes! It's overall aesthetic just screams 90's action nostalgia, made all the more awesome by it's supporting cast of character actors that have played nothing but bad guys all throughout the 80's and 90's. You may not know all of their names, but you'll certainly recognize their faces. But even aside from the regular set of baddies, you've got Meg Foster, Kane Hodder, Patrick Kilpatrick, Nicholas Worth, Sonny Landham, and the list goes on and on. The cast in this is amazing!

Recently a film buddy of mine online had mentioned how he was watching the first one, and I mentioned how this sequel is so much better in a different way. So he threw it on and agreed. But that got me to thinking and realizing that it had been ages since I'd actually seen it myself. Doing some digging online for the DVD I discovered that the DVD typically goes for around $20 on up, depending on the seller. And as easy as it could have been to just snag the VHS for cheap, I really wanted to see this in widescreen. As luck would have it, a day or so later I just happened to be casually browsing the Laserdisc selection on eBay and wouldn't you know it? Best of the Best 2 on Laserdisc was the first one to pop up, in Widescreen no less! $7 and several days later and it was in my hands. I love it when the universe works in my favor like that.